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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Chaotic Interlude

Bert to the Rescue

The children, having escaped the chaos at the bank are in a state of chaos themselves; they are frightened and run through London into dark backstreets, dodging a menacing granny and an angry snarling dog. Finally, Jane and Michael run into a dark figure, who grabs Jane. Michael struggles with the man to free his sister, and because they are already afraid and since he is covered in soot, the children do not recognize that this seemingly menacing stranger is in fact their friend, Bert. Order has reemerged out of chaos for them.

Jane remarks, “you’re filthy.” Bert is now a chimney sweep, hence the soot, and after identifying himself, he assures the children that he will look after them as if he was their own father, only to find out that their father is precisely who Jane and Michael are fleeing. They are unsure of what they have done “but it must have been something dreadful,” Jane remarks. Michael then exaggerates the entire incident telling Bert their father has sent the police and the army after them. Bert doubts this and tells the children that their father loves them, to which they remark "He doesn't love us at all."

Bert then masterfully reframes the situation through the use of metaphor, which allows the children to see the world from their father’s point of view. “Beggin’ your pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father,” Bert says and he proceeds to characterize their father’s job as being “hemmed in by mounds of cold heartless money” in a “cold heartless bank” and continues metaphorically “I don’t like to see any living thing caged up.” Jane replies: “Father in a cage?” Bert answers: “They make cages in all sizes and shapes, bank shapes some of them, carpets an' all.”

Bert explains that while the children have many other people to look out for them, their father has no one to tell his troubles to. Jane begins to understand and asks, "Do you think father really needs our help?" Bert observes, “A father can always do with a bit of help.” While accompanying the children home through the misty park, Bert sings…

“Chim Chim Cher-ee”

“Chim Chim Cher-ee” won the Academy Award for the Best Song in 1965.  Although we heard the chorus of the song during the opening credits, and the tune when Bert was a one-man-band and a screever, we finally get to hear the Bert singing about being a chimney sweep. In the following scene, Bert will use the same tune again, when he sings about the chimney sweep’s world.  These songs combined are liminality par excellence.  As previously mentioned, V. Turner expands van Gennep’s notion of liminality in seeing that entire groups can be liminal. V. Turner includes “everything from holy mendicants and millenarian movements to subjugated aboriginals and court jesters to ‘dharma bums’ and hippies during the 1960s."  For V. Turner (1969), all of these people had in common the characteristic of being “persons or principles that (1) fall in the interstices of social structure, (2) are on its margins, or (3) occupy its lowest rungs” (p. 125).  Bert sings “Now as the ladder of life has been strung, you may think a sweep’s on the bottommost rung, though I spend me time in the ashes and smoke in this whole wide world there’s no happier bloke.”  Thus, Bert as a chimney sweep would definitely qualify as liminal, and as far as spending his time in the ashes and smoke goes, this brings back allusions to alchemy where Mercurius is both prima materia and the philosopher’s stone.

Bert sings that sweeps are lucky: "Good luck will rub off if I shakes hands with you, or blow me a kiss, and that's lucky too," and Hermes comes to mind.  When Mary, Bert, and the children "accidentally" begin their rooftop excursion, Bert exclaims: “this here is what you might call a ‘fortuitous’ circumstance,” but let us not get ahead of ourselves.  Bert is a sharp contrast to George Banks and his prestigious orderly job and life.  Bert is a bricoleur who changes jobs as the situation warrants.  Unlike their father who is stern and aloof, Bert is warm and relational.  Bert includes the children in whatever he is doing and always has time for them.

As they arrive at the Banks’s home, Bert and the children run into Mrs. Banks who is on her way to a rally.  Winifred convinces Bert to look after the children, since the cook and Ellen will not and Mary Poppins is on her day off. Mrs. Banks asks Bert to clean the chimney in the drawing room, because it “smokes incessantly… and besides, it will amuse the children.”  Bert reluctantly agrees and sets about preparing the room. The children help him by putting white sheets on the furniture and Bert recommences the song.  They all peer up the chimney together, and Jane remarks, “It's awfully dark and gloomy up there.”  Bert, never one to miss a chance for a reframe, replies: “There now, you see how wrong people can be, that there is what you might call a doorway to a place of enchantment” [emphasis added]. Bert does not personalize the statement by saying that she is wrong, but makes a more ambiguous comment using the word people, and he says “you might call” offering, instead telling them what the chimney definitely “is.”  His indirect way serves to keep the rapport. Bert gives a breathtaking description of the liminal land that lies waiting above. ∆RC[mp35]

Up where the smoke is all / billowed and curled, /‘tween pavement and stars that’s / the chimney sweep world. /When there’s ‘ardly no day nor / ‘ardly no night / there’s things ‘alf in shadow / and ‘alfway in light / On the rooftops of London/ Coo, what a sight.

The children then, predictably, express a desire to go up there, and Bert begins to tell them about the wondrous quality of chimneys in drawing the smoke up the flue, and he demonstrates the strength of the pull of the air, letting Michael feel for himself how strong the pull is.  At that moment, Mary Poppins arrives home from her day off, warning “Michael, be careful, you never know what might happen around a fireplace.”  No sooner has Mary said this than Michael disappears up the chimney.  Remembering that chimneys are channels that witches use to go to their Sabbaths, it is no surprise that magical things happen in their vicinity.

Throughout the entire movie, the fireplace is a place of magic and transformation.

Bert meanwhile has given Jane a brush and she is inside the chimney calling to Michael, as Mary scolds Bert: “I’ll thank you to stop putting ideas into their heads,” and then Jane disappears up the chimney, too.  This comment is like the pot calling the kettle black, and in a moment everyone will be black, as a liminal rooftop adventure ensues across the “trackless jungle, just waiting to be explored.”

The song “Chim Chim Cher-ee” reflects a beautiful version of the liminal times that the America was experiencing in the mid-1960s.  Less than a year before, JFK was assassinated throwing the entire country into a deep state of nepantla

The Rooftops of London

When they are all together on the roof, the children ask if they can go adventuring and Mary grudgingly agrees, and appropriately powders her nose with soot.  The foursome proceed to explore the rooftops to the tune of “A Spoonful of Sugar” and when it appears that they have come to the end, Mary Poppins turns the smoke into a stairway and they ascend to the top of a widows walk on a higher building, where they have a breathtaking view of the city.  This proves Bert’s point,  that if you look at the world in a different way, there is no telling the sights you will be able to see: “What did I tell you, there is a whole world at your feet.  And who gets to see it but the birds the stars and the chimney sweeps.” As he says this we hear the “Feed the Birds” theme in the background, as the sun sets and the lights come up over London. 

Here again, something that is very small—changing a location— can end up changing one’s point of view, opening up a whole new world.  When we are willing to see things from a different point of view than from our own, we may be able to see and experience wondrous and beautiful things. All of their adventures have been liminal, and show the transformative power of nonordinary states of consciousness.  While make-believe and reverie may seem like a waste of time to some, they are responsible for many momentous discoveries from the theory of relativity to the benzene atom.  As we saw, and will continue to see, the various outings and adventures, mini-pilgrimages if you will, have taught the children important lessons, and have had significant consequences, as we will continue to see as the rest of the movie unfolds.  A small story, told about someone else, an amusing piece of entertainment, may hold the key to powerful transformation, and it doesn’t cost much really. ∆RC[mp36]

Montagu (1983) notes “putting oneself in the place of the other is a skill that plays a highly important role in successful social relations” (p. 164).  Role-playing or make-believe is behind this and allows us to do this.  The adult form of make believe is the “as if” principle.  Montagu explicates:

“believing, in short “as if” we were in fact what we ought  to be and are now striving to be –can literally work miracles.  By acting the role, for example of a loving open person, an unloving person can become a genuinely loving one—but only if, like a child, he believes in his make-believe.  And every adult should, because such make believe has the power to create him anew . . . . The ability to modify, change, to re-create oneself is the mark the species to which we belong, and it is a mark of health . . . . The dimension of the unreal in human experience constitutes a critical feature of humankind’s ultimate reality . . . the highly developed ability to fantasize is perhaps one of the criteria that differentiates humans from all other creatures, and is to be counted among the most valuable adaptive traits of our species.  As Singer has pointed out, to dream makes it possible to examine the alternatives with which virtually every moment challenges us as we organize our immediate experience.  “To be able to make-believe gives both the child and the adult a power over the environment and an opportunity to create one’s own novelty and joy.” (p. 165)

Vahinger wrote the Philosophy of As-If in 1911, and this "as if" nature is one of the many gifts of play, which Victor Turner refers to as the "subjunctive mood" of play. Hillman (1983b), in Healing Fiction, and Spariousu (1989), in Dionysus Reborn, both discuss this important "as if" aspect of play. ∆RC[mp37]

A Bit about Black

The color black is featured prominently in this scene and the next.  The chimney sweeps are all in black, the smoke and soot are very black, and the night becomes blacker as it progresses.  Black is often associated with mourning, death and the underworld, with chaos, nothingness, evil, anguish, the unconscious, and the night sky, but also with rich earth;  the chthonic world “lying beneath the crust of apparent reality is also the womb of the earth in which the regeneration of the world of sunlight takes place.  The underworld contains the treasury of hidden life because it is a storehouse of all things” (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1996, p. 93). Black's association with chaos and nothingness relate to confusion and disorder and the darkness before time began.  Black is the equivalent of the Chinese yin, and is associated with the feminine, intuitive, earthly, and maternal. In India, black is the color of the universal substance (prakrti). Black is also the color of the prima material in alchemy, of the primordial formlessness, of Chaos at the beginning of time. 

Although black sometimes has associations with darkness and impurity, it is conversely a

higher symbol of nonmanifestation and of primordial ‘virginity’ and it is this sense that links it with the symbolism of medieval black Madonnas, as well as with Kali, black because she returns to the state of formlessness and of diffused shapes and colors . . . .  “as well as being the image of death, earth, burial and the mystics’ “dark night of the soul,” black is also connected wit the  promise of the renewal of life, just as darkness holds the promise of dawn and Winter of Spring.  Furthermore, we know that in the majority of ancient mystery religions, the initiate had to undergo certain ordeals by night or experience rituals performed underground in darkness. (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1996, pp. 94, 96)

As Bert, Mary and the children descend down a black column of smoke, Mary and Bert sing the last stanza of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and are answered by Bert’s fellow chimney sweeps, who echo the last word “Cheroo.”  Bert then invites his buddies to “Step in Time.”

“Step in Time”

“Step in Time” was inspired by a pub song from Disney matte artist Peter Ellenshaw’s youth, called “Knees up Mother Brown,” and has similar tune.  In that song, men would lock arms and race back and forth from one end of pub to the other, kicking their knees up and causing a ruckus, oftentimes being expelled (Stevenson, 2004, DVD).

“Step in Time” is the big “production number” in the movie and features a whole crew of black-clad sweeps dancing with Bert on the rooftops of London.  They dance all over, with their brooms and without, between roofs, on the edge of buildings, on railings, even doing jigs on top of square chimneys.

At one point Mary, joins the dance and dazzles everyone with her ability to spin around weightlessly in mid-air.  “Step in Time” is a wonderful piece of choreography. All of the sweeps are actually stepping in time with one another, their dance is orderly, but it changes and seems to self-organize spontaneously.  However, to Admiral Boom, viewing it from afar, nothing but chaos is evident, and he thinks that the Hottentots are invading.  Hottentots are aboriginal African people, and this racially insensitive comment alludes to the shadow. 

Bert, as we have seen is all that George is not.  He can be viewed as George’s shadow, for the shadow can contain beneficial as well as troubling aspects.  Bert and his fellow sweeps symbolize this.  Like Mary, Bert is a trickster and Jung (1954/1990) saw the trickster as a shadow figure.  Hynes explains that Jung saw the trickster as

“a primitive cosmic being of divine-animal nature, on the one hand superior to man because of his superhuman qualities, and on the other hand inferior to him because of his unreason and unconsciousness.” (Jung, 1955:203-4).  Jung considers the trickster to be a “shadow” that brings to the surface or the underside or reverse of dominant values.  Breaking through into the world of normalcy and order, the trickster plays out subterranean forbiddens in dreamlike fashion.  For Jung this process represents both the ongoing fugue between the personal consciousness and the more trans-personal unconsciousness, as well as the dynamic byplay between the civilized and the primitive.  As a civilization rises to consciousness it may attempt to clean up or repress the trickster altogether (Jung, 1955: 202-209), yet even as civilization constructs a shared conscious order of beliefs, the pesky trickster disrupts all such orderings with reminders of a shared disorder or collective unconsciousness (Neumann, 1954: 8). (Hynes, 1993, pp. 209-10)

These chaotic sweeps are seen by the Admiral as a disruptive element, and so he launches a colorful fireworks attack on them: “Cheeky devils, let’s give’em what for.” The explosions of this skyrocket attack beautifully light up the sky but cause the sweeps to chaotically scatter and true chaos ensues momentarily, while they make their escape. Bert even uses his brush as a bat and sends a rocket back to Admiral Boom, who momentarily forgetting himself, remarks “Good shot,” before remembering himself and ducking. All of the sweeps, along with Bert, Mary, and the children go down the Banks’s chimney, the same chimney that the children’s advertisement ascended earlier. They end up back in the drawing room—the scene of the competing advertisements, Mary Poppins’s interview, and George’s decision (induced by Mary Poppins) to take the children on an outing.

Once inside the house, the sweeps begin chaotically dancing around. The cook spots them and shrieks “They’re at it again.” At first she waves them off with a frying pan, but the sweeps take up this call and add it into their song, taking the cook into their dance. Next, Ellen gets involved, as she shrieks “Ow” which the sweeps also incorporate into the dance along with her, reminsicent of the taffy puller in the chaos theory discussion in the "Cosmic Game" chapter [link]. Mrs. Banks arrives and spontaneously, upon seeing her sash, they begin to shout: “Votes for women, step in time.” Although hesitating at first, Winifred cheerfully joins in and they all march around in formation to the “Sister Suffragette” theme. Ellen, in mid-dance, notices that Mr. Banks has arrived and shrieks “it’s the master,” and then all the chimney sweeps do likewise, changing their song to reflect this new utterance as they continue dancing. George walks into the middle of the chaos, asking “What’s all this,” and the sweeps then reiterate his call as well, and sort of reel him in, passing and turning him around down the line, and into the kitchen. Although the scene is chaotic, it is well-orchestrated self-organizing chaos. George is not participating with them like the others, but gets caught up in the chaos anyway.

The sweeps are delightfully demonstrating deterministic self-organizing chaos from which a higher order eventually arises. Each of the different tunes that the sweeps embrace are similar to strange attractors, around which they organize themselves as they adopt different patterns, via their steps, vocalizations, and the different tunes that are played in the background. Here the sweeps, led by Bert represent the creative chaos aspect of the trickster. Hynes (1993) notes that:

In Jungian interpretation, the trickster as shadow can therefore serve as a breakthrough point for the surfacing of repressed values.  At a deeper level he remains a creative mediator between that which is differentiated, ordered, predictable, and distinct, on the one hand, and that which is undifferentiated, unordered, spontaneous, and whole, on the other.  In this way, the trickster may be understood as the embodiment of such productive chaos as creativity, play, spontaneity, inventiveness, ingenuity, and adventure.  The trickster not only helps us encounter these yet-to-be focused energies but also ventures forth in an ongoing exploration and charting of the inchoate, the “otherness” that always resurges to challenge our neat and organized sense of personal control. (pp. 209-210)

Mary Poppins, upon seeing that George has arrived, has Bert call the chaos to an end. All the sweeps then depart, shaking hands with George on the way out. George is dazed by the entire episode, but when Michael attempts to sneak out as one of the sweeps, his father pulls him aside.  The sweeps then dance down the street toward the park entrance, in the same direction that the nannies blew away at the beginning of the movie.  After the sweeps have left, the children remark that their father is very lucky because every one of the sweeps shook his hand.   George then asks Mary Poppins to explain:

George: Mary Poppins, what is the meaning of this outrage?
Mary: I beg your pardon?
George: Would you be kind enough to explain all this? 
Mary: First of all I would like to make one thing quite clear,
George: Yes?
Mary: I never explain anything.

From the beginning, Mary has shown that she can step outside the box of George’s way of being and assume her own authority.  She is a hermeneut who helps George eventually construct his own construct, and not merely remain in the traditionally, socially imposed one:

Tricksters are agents of creativity who transcend the constrictions of monoculturity . . . . There is a more subtle, deeper and broader meta-affirmation that life is much more than the sum of its social or religious constructs.  Beyond all mere “scouting out” of possible alternative personal or social constructs, the trickster reminds us that every construct is constructed. Not only is someone not confined to a single construct or system of order, she is not confined to a choice among alternative constructs.  (Hynes, 1993, p. 213)  ∆RC[mp38]

This scene has shown the powerful potential for creativity in chaos, that allows for rebirth to occur.  Old patterns die and are replaced by new ones.  Mary as hermeneut is a polymorphous, Plutonic player. 

The hermeneut puts us in contact with the sources of creativity from which we can be empowered to construct our own construct.  The trickster’s constant chatterings and antics remind us that life is endlessly narrative, prolific, and open-ended.… just as the presence of a child reminds adults how rigidly they have taken on a certain kind of order, the trickster reminds us that there is no single way to play.  “Thus the trickster incarnates in every culture the oxymoronic imagination at play, literally “fooling around” to discover new paradigms and even new logics.  As such, he reveals man’s freedom to shape the world just because it actively offers itself to him—even if he must trick it to make it come across" (Pelton 1980: 272) . . . .
At one end of the scale of social cosequences, the trickster offers ritual rebellion in lieu of actul rebellion . . . . But at the other end of ths scle of social consequences, however, the trickster may prepare the way for adaptation, change or even total replacement of the belief system—the very process of registering and sharing social complaints can initiate movement toward a new consensus.  In fact, the system is reopened to its own inward resource of power where imaginative alternatives are glimpsed. (Hynes, 1993, pp. 212-213)

Mary through her unexpected Uranian actions is able to help those around her to transform.  Her unique ways of seeing and doing things upset the established order which allows for new things to happen, and for new ideas and views to appear in the cultural clearing or horizon.   Bert and his chimney sweep friends show us the Plutonian power and richness of chaos and liminality.

Victor Turner reminds us that the liminal figure of the trickster breaks “ the cake of custom and enfranchises speculation” so that there is a “promiscuous intermingling and juxtaposing of the categories” (Turner, 1969: 106).  Furthermore, this promiscuous intermingling may engender new progeny, never of a type previously envisioned:  “Such creative negations remind us of the need to reinvest the clean with the filthy, the rational with the animalistic, the ceremonial with the carnivalesque in order to maintain cultural vitality. And they confirm the endless potentiality of dirt and the pure potentiality of liminality. The mundus inversus [inverted world] does more than simply mock our desire to live ccording to our usual orders and norms; it reinvests life with a vigor and a Spielraum  [an arena of playful inventiveness] attainable (it would seem) in no other way.” (Babcock-Abrahams 1978: 32)

This liminal chaotic adventure has taken place in the surrounds of the hearth, representing the cultural center of the family, and alludes to the Trickster as culture bringer. 

Thus the trickster’s breaking and reaffirming the rules represents a move beyond order and disorder to transformed order significantly revitalized and repopulated with a wider breath of options. (Pelton, 1979: 8).
As an agent of creativity, the trickster is often associated with activities that center upon human creativity: the bringing of culture, laughter, business transactions as well as opening the doors of perception . . . the trickster’s association with creativity parallels his common linkage with creation and innovation: the creative process mimics the creation process itself.  Tricksters in their own way counter the Stoic argument that the trait that we have in common with God and the universe is logos: word, logic and order.  Tricksters argue that the common trait is creativity, imagination, invention and experimentation. (Hynes, 1993, p. 213)

Bert and Mary have demonstrated play’s transformative power, at once destructive and creative.  Play has the power to create the world anew, to cleanse the doors of perception, yet at this point, all George can see is chaos and ruin everywhere.  He has left the chaos of the bank to come home to even more chaos.  George is deeply in the third matrix, BPM III, in a seeming life or death struggle, as his previously well-ordered routine lies in ruin all around him.  His structures and schedules are all in shambles—tradition, discipline, and rules have all vanished, leaving what appears to be “a ghastly mess.”  His old way of being seems to be as good as dead.  The disastrous outing will probably result in his ousting from the bank, since his job is almost certainly in jeopardy.


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