Impressions de France, a film that debuted almost 30 years ago, has finally gone digital. I always thought it the best of the World Showcase films, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t in 360 degrees, required no 3-D glasses, and never once squirted me with water.
I think it’s because it focused so much on the natural and historical majesty of the country, used a classical music soundtrack, and avoided too many shots of people in disco-era clothing driving disco-era automobiles. It also has one of the most amazing thing ever caught on camera: An extended sequence at the Riviera in which all the women miraculously have their tops on.
Also, the theater had seats. Wanna know how I would improve the CircleVision experience?
To be fair, the original Canada movie had a timeless quality about it as well, but it’s hard to imagine that Martin Short thing lasting 30 years. And China has the corny narrator, which sometimes feels out of place. France is classy all the way. In its remastered form (and what looks like a little bit of color work), it’s better than ever.
Not pictured in this grainy screen grab: Pure digital excellence.
With last week’s post about Disneyland Paris, and now this, you might be wondering if parkeology is about to embark on another France week. I think Teevtee has more Paris stuff planned. But today I’d rather highlight my absolute favorite moment from Impressions de France, featuring a true Disney star, one only a parkeologist would recognize or care about.
I’m speaking, of course, of the sheep.
She appears midway through the film, taking a leisurely walk along a mountain road with the rest of the herd. Out of nowhere, a group of teenage thugs descend on the herd like a gang of Hell’s Angels, driving most of the herd into a concrete wall. Our sheep, the hero of the story, is separated from the rest and nearly decapitated by these speed demons on their Slaughtercycles. With a bit of deft maneuvering, she just manages to avoid getting run down, and rejoins the herd. Meanwhile, the camera captures these demented teenagers as they race each other down the mountain, laughing at the destruction they leave in their wake.
Taking in this bucolic scene, one has no idea that mass sheep cruelty is about to occur.
My heart goes out to this sheep every time I see her. She seems so lost and terrified. Never once do these ruffians stop and make sure she is okay. They just keep laughing in their silly striped shirts and tight bell bottoms. How I despise them. Not to put too much significance on it, but I consider this candid scene in Impressions de France just as historically significant as the Zapruder film or the Rodney King tape. Brutality caught on camera.
Parkeology recently tracked down this poor sheep, who was credited in the film as Darla DeEwe. She was not easy to find. She had changed her name to Brenda Shears, and was living a quiet life in Boise, ID, where everyone just mistook her French bleating for Canadian. I had a chance to sit down with her and ask her about her brush with death, now 30 years removed from the incident. What follows is the exclusive interview:
Parkeology: What do you remember about the casting of the movie?
Brenda: I got a call from my agent. The director was doing some scouting in my province and they were looking for animal with screen experience. I had done a few commercials, mostly for fabric softener. The casting session was what’s known in the business as a “cattle call.” The whole scene was originally written for cows. But the sheep turned out to be better actors, and that’s how I got cast.
The sheep approach the camera, slowing down to take the sharp turn, heedless of the open window in the Book Depository behind them.
Parkeology: Did you get much rehearsal time?
Brenda: There was maybe a day or two of rehearsal. Learning how to move as a unit, trying not to trip over each other’s hooves, that sort of thing. The first sessions were all about learning the choreography, then they sent us to wardrobe and we tried it in costume. I remember there was this one girl, Leila, who showed up with patterns shaved into her wool. They wanted a more natural look. She tried to cover it with cottonballs, but by the end of the shoot, the glue no longer had its stickiness. You can just see her in the middle of the pack in the final film, with half her coat hanging off.
Parkeology: Tell us about the bicyclers. Was that part of the scene?
Brenda: The script called for one bicyclist, a mime in a beret. Remember, they were trying to show the true French experience. He would come down the side of the mountain, see us sheep walking in the roadway, and then dismount and pretend he had encountered an invisible wall, and then hold up a white flag. We rehearsed with him the whole time. He was a kindly gentleman. A little on the quiet side.
Parkeology: And in the actual shoot…?
Brenda: They decided to go with the gang of teenagers. I’m not sure who made that call. It wasn’t a sheep, that’s for sure.
A swarm of rogue bicyclers explode past the herd, driving them back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back and to the left.
Parkeology: The director has claimed that the whole set was very safe. The kids on the bike were trained stunt professionals.
Parkeology: I’m sorry, are you saying he’s lying, or were you just bleating?
Brenda: I’m saying he’s covering his you-know-what. I’ve heard all the claims. That we were wearing extra padding, that the bikes were made of foam material, that they had doctors standing just off camera in case something were to go wrong. It’s all a crock. There’s a sheer dropoff on the other side of the cliff. I could have been killed running the wrong direction. There’s no PA crouched down there with a mattress.
Brenda the Sheep, caught in the crosshairs as the bikers continue their mad dash. Note the look of sheer terror.
Parkeology: After things went wrong on that shoot, were you ever offered any restitution?
Brenda: I filed a complaint with the union. They sent some lamb to represent me. But the movie company had these lawyers and said I had signed a consent form. Hey, we all signed them in those days. “Yes, I give such-and-such permission to shave my wool, etc.” But nowhere in the contract did it say I could be rundown on set by bloodthirsty teenagers.
Parkeology: So nothing was settled?
Brenda: The lawyers killed us with paperwork. And after I filed, I couldn’t get work. They had labeled me a black sheep. I bounced around for a bit, took some roles I’m not proud of.
Parkeology: You don’t mean…
Brenda: Yeah, films for that Universal park in Japan. I don’t like talking about it. Eventually I got out of the business all together. Tried my hand at the petting zoo thing. Worked the Affection Section at Animal Kingdom. Eventually met a nice ram, settled down, and got out of the public eye.
Parkeology: Looking back on your experience, are there any positive memories?
Brenda: I guess just all the fan support. I don’t know how I would have survived without it. There’s been talk of adding me to the convention circuit. They invited me to that big D23 event in a couple weeks. I don’t know if I’m ready. I have to check my schedule.
Parkeology: Well Brenda, we appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. Hopefully we’ll see you around real soon.
Brenda: Take care, hon.
[For privacy reasons, Brenda Shears doesn’t release her home address, but if you would like to get in touch with her, you can contact her agency (William & Morris), or drop us a line here at parkeology.com and we will be happy to pass it along]