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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

I was working at a movie theater in my home town the summer this movie came out. I am a big Disney nerd, especially for the parks, and was really excited for it. I told my boss we should do a To Do for the release weekend but he didn't believe me. My friends and I got dressed up like pirates and the theater was packed. Every show sold out that weekend. And we all had a blast. I still remember the grin on my face during the opening shots, a little girl singing one of my favorite tracks on my well loved Disney Parks vinyl. I'm haunted by the whimsically sinister image of that floating parasol.

This is, to my mind, a perfect movie. The screenplay is a masterclass in writing (setting and leaning on expectations just to subvert them in new ways each time!). The design is detailed and studied and immersive. The direction is swift and smart and even with a heap of actors I'm indifferent to (at best...), the acting is exactly what it needs to be. The score is maybe the finest score of the century thus far.

Gore Verbinski is one of my favorite modern directors. I'm crazy about his strong visuals and excellent pacing. I'm always a little bummed that he hitched his wagon to Johnny Depp because he has the chops to do so much more (and better!) than the likes of ...The Lone Ranger. The Ring is a favorite too (I was surprised to see it wasn't on the list. I must have sold the DVD thinking I could never watch it again. A shame. It was one of the best and most impactful movie theater viewing experiences of my life). Just incredible visuals. The cinematography is delectable too. It needs to be, I realized in this viewing, to highlight the Pearl's curse in the moonlight, but every frame is like a painting.

I can't remember if I've encouraged it here before, but I cannot recommend the Disney+ series, Prop Culture, enough. The episode on Pirates has a lovely discussion with the costume designer, Penny Rose, and she articulates some of the best parts of the work. Her story (I'll let her tell it - go watch!) about Geoffrey Rush and his hat is magic. Her work on this movie is so thorough and perfect, I can forgive the screenplay for its many sins regarding corsets and corset tropes.

Speaking of Geoffrey Rush, Barbossa is my favorite character in this series and it's 100% because of his teensiest reactions, eyerolls, sighs, and general flair for the dramatic. His speech, explaining the curse to Elizabeth, is haunting and beautiful. It's so campy but he connects to the horror of it so deeply, I find myself holding my breath while he's speaking. His performance grounds Jack Sparrow but also raises the camp and I just really hope they teach this movie in film school.

The score, by Klaus Badelt (out-Zimmering Hans Zimmer) is just killer. I can't say enough about it but I keep wanting to come back with "And another thing!" The use of percussion. The percussive style of the horn and string beats. The use of very short rests after strong notes to create a sort of negative aural space that makes those strong notes even bolder. It's just fabulous. All the character motifs, the clear instrumental choices for each character/group! The fact that the love theme is used just as much for Jack and the open ocean as it is for Will & Elizabeth!! AND ANOTHER THING! No, no, I'll stop. But do give it a listen.

Once again, an adventure movie on this list has me longing for a life I wish I'd led. I've lost so much to my perfectionism and primness. I wish I was more Elizabeth Swann (the true hero of the trilogy) and less Norrington (even though that sweet, lawful good sadboi can get it). I wish, in the days that I did actually wield a sword and dress like a pirate that it had been with less purpose and more fun. A little more abandon. I know it's never too late but my knees hurt and I get seasick so maybe my chance at high seas adventure truly is behind me. I hope not. Maybe I'll turn my eyes to that horizon and play the score really loudly on my drive into work this week. Maybe that will spark something.

(Update: I did, and it sparked tears and plans.)

Acrylic on stretched canvas. 28x22"


-I was so scared to start on this large (for me!) canvas. But basing the sky and ocean was a blast. I really enjoyed it! I have lots to learn.

-This was a rare week in that I knew what I wanted to do going into the movie. My paternal grandmother had what I thought of as a "pirate ship" painting in her living room that I was fascinated by as a kid. I have icky feelings about "claiming" bits of inheritance (or any sort of inheritance at all), but given the chance, I would have claimed that painting. The background was fiery red & orange with black, spindly ships moored in the foreground. I've since learned that it was a midcentury style of painting made popular by Vanguard Studios and a man named Lee Reynolds Burr. Here's a history of the studio and here's the closest image I can find to my grandmother's painting! I opted for a green background because, unless portraying the sacking of Port Royal, red/orange seemed wrong.

-One of the things I really want to get better at is nice, thin, clean lines. The Burr paintings have such lovely delicate lines. This painting.... has lines!

-I also strayed from the Burr style a bit in that the nonsensical lighting bothered me. I tried to do motivated, directional lighting.

-Speaking of motivated painting, I found myself wishing I knew more about rigging so that my fat, ragged lines were indicative of actual rigging, and not just my best approximation from the many ship images I printed out to reference.

-Vanguard Studio used oil paint and I want to give that a spin but I have No Clue what to do with oil, whereas I have Some Clue about acrylic and the dry time on oil freaks me out. Another art. I'm sure I'll give it a whirl. And I think that might help with some of the cleanliness of the lines.. (But also, just practicing with acrylic will help.)

Up next: Galaxy Quest! So much to love and so many recurring players from my collection. Have a great week go chase whatever it is your heart compass is pointing to!

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