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Cinderella on Strings (c.1947)

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Cinderella education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

This clip depicts a marionette theatre performance of the fairytale Cinderella. It begins with a pop-up book depicting scenes from the story and then the marionettes perform the tale. It shows the puppeteers above the stage operating the marionettes and the elaborate sets and costumes in which the puppets perform. A female voice-over narrates the Cinderella story while the scenes unfold to piano accompaniment. The clip ends with Prince Charming meeting Cinderella at the ball.

Curator’s notes

The story is filmed in a similar way to live action, with establishing shots, close-ups and multiple angles. This has the effect of creating a believable world within the narrative (which replicates the experience of watching it performed 'live’) as well as highlighting the beautiful costumes, props, sets and carved puppets of the marionette theatre. The narration is scripted as a storyteller would read a book to a child, but is interrupted by occasional moments of self-reflective humour (note how the narrator introduces Prince Charming).

Stop-motion animation is used to turn the mouse-drawn pumpkin into a stagecoach. The impression of movement is created by exposing one or two still frames at a time. In this case, the pumpkin is removed from the set in between turning the camera off and on again. The puppeteers don’t go unnoticed either. They appear above the stage to remind the viewer of the skill and technique required to operate a marionette. It is a delightful and informative segment from the film.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip features a filmed marionette production of Cinderella with piano accompaniment performed by an Australian marionette company in the 1940s. A male narrator and rotating cut-out scenes of a storybook version of Cinderella introduce the marionette production. A female narrator tells the story as the marionettes perform. Stage lighting, elaborate sets and stop-frame film techniques contribute to the drama of the filmed production. The marionette operators are shown and close-ups reveal the puppets’ elaborate costumes.

Educational value points

  • This clip provides an insight into the style and techniques of marionette puppetry as used in Australia in the 1940s. Marionettes, or string puppets, appear on a stage in costumes with sets to act out a story. Operators, who may be seen or may be hidden from view, control the actions of the puppets from above. The operators normally provide voices for the characters as they manipulate the puppets, but in this clip a narrator supplies the voices.
  • The design of marionette puppets is unlike other puppets as they are usually made of wood and jointed for movement with key points on their bodies attached to strings. A manipulator above the stage controls their actions through the strings, which are attached to a wooden cross device for control. The relatively simple marionettes shown in the clip have about ten strings. By adding strings, more sensitive and lifelike movements are possible.
  • Marionette theatres of the type shown, rather than fairground booths, emerged in 19th-century Europe, imitating the increasingly elaborate ‘realism’ of live theatre at that time. The story of Cinderella seen here includes lifelike sets, props and costumes. The sets use design conventions from live theatre but on a miniature scale. Cinderella’s kitchen, for example, contains furniture and ornaments. The marionettes also wear elaborately decorated costumes suitable for a royal ball.
  • Even as viewers are drawn into the story, they are given insight into the craft of marionette theatre. The narrator both tells the story and draws attention to the fact that the protagonists are marionettes. Footage of the marionette operators, close-ups of the dolls, editing, camera angles and stop-frame filming (when Cinderella’s rags turn into a ballgown) are all used to create the sense of being both behind the scenes and within the world of the story.
  • This marionette production was performed at a time when puppetry was being established as a serious art form in Australia. In 1945 W D Nicol (1907–78) led a group of enthusiasts to form the Puppet Guild of Australia. Their 'Littlest Theatre’ became the centre of puppetry in Melbourne. Nicol’s student Peter Scriven (1930–98) created the marionette musical Tintookies, which toured all over Australia in the 1950s. Scriven was instrumental in founding the Marionette Theatre of Australia in 1965.
  • In producing a documentary such as this one, the Australian National Film Board was fulfilling the function for which it was established – the production of films illustrating aspects of Australian life for Australian and international audiences. This film showcases the skill and artistry of Australia’s marionette theatre, when puppetry was a developing field in the nation’s artistic life. The Board became the Commonwealth Film Unit in 1956, and later Screen Australia.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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