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Ericka Beckman’s film, Cinderella (1986), has the uncanny quality of seeming at once current and entirely of its era. The work’s high-contrast hues, early vector computer graphics, and synthesized soundtrack peg it squarely to its 1980s origins, when Beckman was working amongst the “Pictures” artists. Yet the film’s theme of female agency in the face of entrenched social games is still as resonant as it was then, for better or for worse.
In Cinderella, Beckman reworks the classic fairytale as a musical parable rife with symbolism. The downtrodden main character—in this case relegated to a job stoking the flames of a blazing-hot forge—dons a dress that plunges her into an alternate game-world in which she has three chances to end up with a prince. The ballroom scenes, glittery and luridly colored, would feel at home in any Katy Perry music video. After several failed attempts, Cinderella realizes not only how to win the game, but that she isn’t interested in its rewards in the first place. (“No dress is ever going to shelter me,” she sings.)
The exact details of Beckman’s narrative remain unclear, and purposefully so, avoiding simplistic resolutions and morals. A looming prop in the corner of the video gallery—a bucket of molten metal emitting an ominous glow—implies that spectators may be laboring within a metaphorical forge of their own. It is here, in the exuberance of Beckman’s DIY fantasy world, that Cinderella reveals the conflict lurking at its core. For if women have more to offer than to be rescued by princes, but the workplace—however hot and stifling—is not a valid place to sweat and strive, this leaves few options for making one’s way in life. Cinderella, despite its droll designs and musical flair, speaks to these social anxieties, still unresolved thirty years on.
Ericka Beckman: Cinderella runs January 9–March 12, 2016 at Cherry and Martin (2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90034).