Communism & The Singing Ringing Tree

Communism & The Singing Ringing Tree

Static Mass Rating: 5/5

Release date: December 12th, 2011
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 148 minutes

Country of origin: East Germany
Original language: German with English subtitles

Year of production: 1957

Director: Francesco Stefani
Writers:Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm

Cast: Fredy Barten, Maria Besendahl, Richard Kruger

The Brothers Grimm gave the world some of our most treasured children’s fairy tales including Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty and of course Snow White.

But these 19th century writers were also responsible for writing Das singende springende Löweneckerchen from which The Singing Ringing Tree is based on.

Made in 1957 by the East German studio DEFA, it’s a surreal tale shot in stunning ORWOcolor, formerly known as Agfacolor, which was developed by the Third Reich to The Singing Ringing Treecompete with Hollywood’s Technicolor. It tells of a handsome but foolishly naive prince (Eckart Dux) who sets off on a quest to find the Singing Ringing Tree. After his gift of pearls to an arrogant princess (Christel Bodenstein) is rejected, she demands that he find and bring her this tree instead.

When the prince finds the tree, he also finds it’s guarded by a sinister dwarf (Richard Krüger) who will only let him have the tree if he agrees to one condition – the princess must fall in love with him by sunset for the tree to sing and ring for her. If she fails to do this, the prince will become the dwarf’s prisoner. He’s so confident the princess will love him that he adds his own condition – that he shall turn into a bear if he doesn’t win her heart It’s no easy task to accomplish because the princess is not only arrogant, she has no heart.

The Singing Ringing Tree

The naive prince turns into a bear and takes the princess with him to live in a cave but her arrogant behaviour incites the eavesdropping dwarf to cast a spell causing her beauty to fade. Without her beauty, without her subjects and without her wealth, she gradually comes to learn what a simple of kindness can afford her and how much more powerful it can be against meaningless material items or even a wicked dwarf.

The Singing Ringing Tree

As an East German film, made for children, its Socialist ideas are firmly in place but there’s an abundance of creativity to be found in it as well. The set pieces and costumes, ranging from the sublime to the bizarre, goes against the usual propaganda that’s pumped out about what life in the DDR was like with limited resources stifling the world of art and culture.

Especially in the 1960s and 1970s, there’s been much talk about The Singing Ringing Tree being a vehicle for East German communist propaganda — understandable as the apologists on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’ used any chance to slander the adversary with wild and unfounded claims. However, 40 years later everyone would see such talk as political sparring far away from the The Singing Ringing Treestory and not least the work of cinematic art. Most likely, “the world’s first communist princess” always has been the hero of a fairy tale that didn’t hurt anyone’s mental health.

With its message about the importance of kindness over material wealth The Singing Ringing Tree, with its East German origins, certainly tells viewers a lot more about the important things in life. It’s in stark contrast to other Brothers Grimm fairy tale adaptations favoured by the Walt Disney Company where Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel either reclaim their birthrights as princesses or rise to become one, rather than learn such intrinsic truths.

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