Beauty and the Beast starring Drew Barrymore

THE FABULOUS PHOTOGRAPHIC FANTASIES OF ANNIE LEIBOVITZ Series

Thoughts and observations inspired by pictorial constructions of renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz.

When Beauty was alone, she felt a great deal of compassion for poor Beast. “Alas,” said she, “’tis thousand pities, anything so good natured should be so ugly.” – Beauty and the Beast, Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont

Belle or Beauty, as the famous fairy tale intonates, is the epitome of compassionate altruism. Beautiful in spirit as well as appearance, the story’s heroine sacrifices her happiness in return for her father’s freedom. Beauty’s martyrdom reflects a depth of character that is embellished by her unprejudiced love for the hideous monstrosity that keeps her prisoner. Belle is able to see past Beast’s ugliness into his soul, the reward for which is a rich and handsome Prince.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast teaches that good morals and wholesome thoughts are honoured with love and long life.

The unashamed magnanimity and nobility of Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s vision of humanity is obviously unrealistic (hence the term ‘fairy tale’) and largely incongruous with the human condition, which is intrinsically selfish, egotistical and superficial, especially in matters of the heart. Belle, as a metaphor for the ever-elusive notion of humility, has captivated the art world for decades. Enamoured with Beauty’s anomalous generosity of spirit, artists have gone to great lengths to capture the essence of the character’s selflessness. Consequently, de Beaumont’s utopian tale has been re-imagined and reinvented through the ages.

Vogue‘s recent rendition of Beauty and the Beast is enveloped in the elegance of antiquity and the bold inflection of social commentary.

Drew Barrymore, an unconventional beauty, is an interesting choice as Belle – perhaps in an attempt to remind onlookers that Belle’s physical beauty is only secondary to her magnificence of spirit. The drooping eyelids and woebegone crestfallenness of the lovely actress exude an enchanting ambience of tragic melancholy. The resonance of innate sadness that accompanies the images successfully tells the tale of a woman who yearns for a life lost and mourns a love forbidden.

The absurdity inherent in the affection shared between Belle and the Beast is emphasised in the photographs by the sheer irrationality of a carnivorous lion sitting down for dinner, passing the peas and lifting a fork. It is rather farcical. The social impropriety of love’s primal animalism (the barbarism of bestiality) is eluded in the fairy tale when the Beast assumes his true form, that of a man. Only when he is ‘civilized’ in action and appearance is he worthy of Belle’s love. The story’s blatant avoidance of man’s inherent animalism and primal nature makes love ring false. Love (and certainly lust) is not always civilized. The underlying moral is that social propriety reigns supreme in matters of the heart.

Annie Leibovitz, in her imagining of the fairy tale, draws on the condoned falsity that prescribes human interaction. The Vogue shoot offers an astute commentary on the façade that so often dictates the game of love; we live by social conventions but really we are all quite improper in our thoughts and minds, even if our actions say otherwise.

Thanks for keepin’ it real Annie!

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