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Rapunzel Let Down Your Hair (1978)

British Film Institute

Main image of Rapunzel Let Down Your Hair (1978)
Directed, producedSusan Shapiro
& written byEsther Ronay
 Francine Winham
Production CompanyBFI Production Board
PhotographyDiane Tammes
AnimatorsÅsa Sjöström
 Susan Shapiro

Cast: Margaret Ford (Mother); Rachel Steel (Daughter); Dave Swarbrick (Detective); Mica Nava (Martha); Suzie Hickford, Jessica Swift, Laka Koc (Rapunzel); Kathy Idden (Mrs. Heron); Christopher Ettridge (Mr. Heron); Patricia Leventon (Doctor)

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The problem of women's sexuality in patriarchy, and the ways in which women receive ideas about themselves, told through a treatment of the Grimms' fairy tale.

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Through a close scrutiny of the fairy tale of Rapunzel - imprisoned in a tower by a wicked witch - Rapunzel Let Down Your Hair (d. Susan Shapiro/Esther Ronay/Francine Winham, 1978) reveals the underlying meaning of a story told to children for centuries, employing bold tactics, like the modern day dramatisation of the attempted heroics of a private detective in a 1970s housing estate. Scenes highlight the ways in which the morality and characterisation of the original story are continually played out in more modern fictions, in film, television and in our everyday lives. Illustrations and art works informed by the tale reinforce how pervasive has been its influence.

The film rigorously deconstructs the tale's assumptions about a women's role in society and its implicit moral values. Animated sequences, overlaid text and dramatisation are combined in an attempt to explore the subject thoroughly, disrupt the narrative sequence and reflect the subjectivity of the viewer.

The film pays special attention to the representation of witches, viewed historically as a threat to the morality of women, examining the ways in which the Christian Church used the mythology of witchcraft to suppress women's sexuality and undermine women's status as healers.

In the second of the film's dramatisations, the mother/witch appears as a doctor, but is portrayed as obstructive and cruel, raising the question, is growing up harder for women because of the conflicting emotions of motherhood?

The final sequence tries to break out of these stereotypes and offer an optimistic view of how women could break the cycle of dependency, work autonomously with other women, have good relations with their mothers, live without men and raise children.

Emma Hedditch

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Video Clips
1. Rapunzel in the tower (3:54)
2. Rapunzel in the tower block (3:03)
3. The witch myth (01:49)
5. Changes, freedom, power (1:28)
London Women's Film Group
Political Film