Recently, the Turner Classic Movies channel (TCM) ran the old movie La Belle et la Bête. This 1946 version of the ancient fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, is part of what’s called The Criterion Collection. I think I’d seen this film years ago but I decided I needed to revisit it.
Many people familiar with the story line know Beauty and the Beast from the 1987 television series that ran three years and starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. Another made-for-television rendition from 1976 aired as a Hallmark Hall of Fame film starring George C. Scott and his wife Trish Van Devere. There have been a number of other iterations (less notable in my view) through the years.
The 1946 La Belle et la Bête is different from all the others. First of all, the dialogue is delivered in French (start to finish) with English subtitles. If you’re not someone who has the patience for subtitles, you may not enjoy the film. Because the film is black and white, it’s dark (though at the same time luminous) and the score has a haunting feel about it.
Several of my previous posts deal in some way with Beauty. In his superb book Restoring Beauty, Louis Markos offers a striking paradox: “… we are often more afraid of beauty than of ugliness.”
If beauty elicits fear, aging terrifies. As long ago as 1513, explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon searched for life-sustaining water, a legendary Fountain of Youth. An elixir to ward off aging is (to borrow a song lyric from Beauty and the Beast) a “tale as old as time.” Genesis 3:22-24 refers to a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, certainly predating Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth.
Maybe it’s inborn, but most of us don’t like aging … granted, some people handle it better than others. Young people think they’re immortal; older people generally know they’re not, but that knowledge doesn’t set in with comfortability. Why else do people post selfies on Twitter with comments like: Seventy is the new fifty? Focused as it is on youth, our culture rejects the reality of aging, believing a nip here and a tuck there will somehow nullify the effects of aging.
I like what Proverbs 20:29 says: “Young people take pride in their strength, but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful.” (This quote comes from the Contemporary English Version.) Tying together the two concepts, aging (i.e. “gray hairs of wisdom”) with beauty, probably seems counterintuitive to many in today’s youth-oriented culture. But the verse says those “gray hairs of wisdom are evenmore beautiful” than a young person’s strength. Ponder that, if you will.
My poem below, Turning Fifty, speaks less about beauty than about aging, a sense one has that the sands in the hourglass of life are dwindling at an ever more rapid rate. Others who write may identify with the dilemma I present, but I think the poem is as well understood by non-writers, because the concept of aging is universal.
Turning FIfty is a Shakespearean sonnet. As mentioned in another post, I’ve set a goal to write 100 sonnets − in hopes of gaining some mastery of the form. The Bard managed to write 154 sonnets; to date, I’ve got 56, and probably another 20 in process.
I’ve also got the gray hairs … I hope they’re indicative of wisdom, but that’s for others to assess. I often tell people I’m on my way to 100 (not just sonnets), but to celebrate a century of living. Think I’ll make it?