Looking through a glass onion

Reichstag Dome, Berlin (Miss Thropist)

Rediscovering forgotten gems from your childhood can be absolutely magical. Almost effortlessly you’re transported back to a simpler world, and you get to experience something akin to the childlike wonder and adoration you once felt.

Of course rediscovery can also be a double-edged sword. You might think that something you loved in your younger days was fantastic, but taking it in again without the rose-coloured spectacles of youth can be pretty disappointing.

That’s why I was a little nervous when I popped my brand spanking new Through the Glass Ceiling DVD in. (Well I was also a bit stressed cos my DVD drive had randomly stopped working earlier that day, stupid Windows 7 glitch, but I managed to fix it in MS-DOS cos I’m totes a genius.)

Through the Glass Ceiling, all seventeen minutes of it, may very well be my favourite film of all time- but I hadn’t seen it for years. What if it didn’t live up to my (very high) expectations? What if my own personal mythology was about to be ruined?

My grandmother was the one who first showed it to me, and I loved it so much I watched it over and over- and over- again. I wore out the tape and she got a friend to sneakily use college resources to make me another copy- more than once.

I probably wasn’t the core audience that the Leeds Animation Workshop had aimed their short films at. I believe they are designed to be primarily used at training sessions and conferences- to illustrate and facilitate discussion of the issues raised. Through The Glass Ceiling is mostly concerned with equal opportunities at work.

The name is obviously a take off of Through The Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, although the film doesn’t specifically reference Alice. Instead it effortlessly blends together aspects from various fairy tales- including Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Snow Queen- to tell the story of Princess Ella’s quest for a job.

The film tackles various issues that women may have in the workplace, such as poor career guidance, sexual harassment and the gender-salary gap, culminating with Ella taking on the titular Glass Ceiling. Although the film (and, I’m assuming, the literature that accompanies it) were made in 1994, these issues are far from being historical curiosities. Indeed the short still seems incredibly relevant, perhaps aided by the timeless quality of  familiar fairy stories.

This mash-up and re-appropriation of traditional tropes is brilliantly done. I love it all, from Princess Ella throwing away her bloody painful glass slippers, to her singing “Some day my promotion will come” to herself. It’s the perfect antidote to every Disney-esque sanitised version of a fairy tale.

I’d recommend this film to everyone- I enjoyed it as a child, and just as much as an adult. The writing is slick and clever, the hand-drawn animation is sweet and soothing, and Alan Bennett’s narration is fantastic. You can order it from the Leeds Animation Workshop’s website, along with all their other films. At £40 (or £20 to those based in Leeds!) it might seem a little steep,  but I do think it’s worth it. Plus it does come complete with discussion notes, which flesh out the issues touched on it the film, it’s as if Princess Ella’s Report on the Economics of the Glass Ceiling was published.

Personally I’m hoping on being able to treat myself to a copy of the sequel, No Offence, soon. Again it’s an animated fairy story narrated by Alan Bennett, but this one deals with harassment at work- looking at sexism, racism and homophobia. Although it is Chrismukkah soon- I think I may start hinting to absolutely everyone that it would make the perfect stocking filler for me!

8 thoughts on “Looking through a glass onion

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