Over at HiLoBrow, writer Colin Dickey has a fascinating three-part essay examining a filmic phenomenon that he dubs the Mystery Cave — a mystical dreamworld, oozing with erotic energy, that threatens to escape into the "main" world of the story.
There's certainly nothing new about a literary analysis of some fantastical Other World. How many classic epic Greek narratives involve a journey into the literally underworld, for example? But Dickey's essay examines this trope as a meta-textual twist where the libidinal energy contained within the Mystery Cave is perceived as a threat to our own world (and/or the film industry), as well as the base reality known to the fictional characters within the story. Even more curious are the two examples that Dickey draws from to illustrate his theory: David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Max Fleischer's classic 8-minute Snow-White adaptation starring Betty Boop.
Both stories, curiously, centered on the apparent mystical death of a young woman on the verge of sexual maturity.
The pitch of the show followed Poe's claim, that "the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world." Both the studio and the mass public wanted nothing but this singular, unified effect whereby the entire series was structured around this one dead beautiful woman. Meanwhile, the story that Lynch and Frost wanted to tell was a heterogeneous one, where repressed libidinal energy infected the world of things, which then spilled out into the lives of the living in ways both fantastical and horrific. This narrative tension between a central through line and endless digressions and associations, proved more or less untenable in network television, leading to the show's rapid decline after the murder had been solved and its eventual cancellation at the end of season two.
But in an eight-minute film like Fleischer's Snow-White, this tension can be played out more productively — further, Snow-White offers a more benign version of this world of things that have come alive, a world brimming with erotic desire.
This definition of the erotic in Snow-White has nothing to do with the sexualization of Betty Boop; the erotic is not about her exaggerated figure, her voice, or dress. (For that matter: while Betty Boop was an early, pre-Code sex symbol, in Snow-White she is alternately pathetic and, at times, ridiculous, pratfalling regularly.) The erotic is quite the opposite — it happens at the moment when a certain kind of libidinal energy is no longer restricted to bodies, but begins to infect the world of things.