31 Days of Witch Movies: #24 Excalibur

[My guest reviewer today is Virginia Chandler, a friend and fellow writer. She has released her most recent book, The Devil's Treasure. Before Virginia wrote about the pirate world, she spent many years reading, studying, watching and enjoying Arthurian legends. If anyone should be reviewing Excalibur, it is her.]

220px-Excalibur_movie_poster

John Boorman’s 1981 film, Excalibur, was an enormous and ambitious undertaking wherein Boorman attempted to adapt Thomas Malory’s massive compilation of Arthurian tales, La Morte D’Arthur, into a movie “for the masses”.

I saw the film on the “big” screen back in 1981, and like most, was mesmerized. In fact, Alex Thomson was nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography, and Bob Ringwood was nominated for a BAFTA for his costume designs.  It is indeed a gorgeous, sexy film with provocative costumes.

It’s not perfect, of course, so let’s just get the “ack” stuff out of the way:

  • Yes, the hair of just about every character is out of control and wacky: Guinivere almost has a ‘fro, Merlin is wearing a silver something that substitutes for a groovy, wizard hairdo, and with the exception of Lancelot and Morgana, everyone else’s hair just seems unkempt.
  • Igraine’s “seduction” dance scene is just a wee bit on the weird side.  Okay, more than a little weird, but as long as Uther finds it sexy, it’s all good.
  • Igraine and Uther’s initial sexual encounter is both brutal and somehow quite sexy.  Her lack of clothing contrasted with his full armor plus little Morgana looking on is unsettling.
  • The laugh of boy Mordred is annoying and makes you want to slap his mouth shut.  Every time you see it.

Despite the “ack” elements, there is PLENTY to savor, even for an old Arthurian Purist like myself.  Nicol Williamson’s Merlin is endearing, funny, and tragic.  His feathered cloak is totally awesome as is his *ahem* somewhat ridiculous silver headgear, and when he gets his staff to belch smoke along with his glowing, red eyes, it just makes one want to squeal with delight. Seriously.

Nigel Terry’s Arthur is also quite funny, sweetly awkward, and yet, so very sincere in his doomed efforts to be everything that Merlin wishes him to be.  He tries, dangit, and he tries hard.  He learns most of his lessons the VERY hard way and, in the end, he can only be redeemed in the tragic embrace of death with his one and only son (born from incest and trickery, no less). The poor fellow really never had a chance.

Paul Geoffrey’s Percival is bright and shining as the Grail Winner, while Nicholas Clay’s Lancelot is tortured, mad, and (like Arthur) doomed. Doomed. Doomed. It’s fun to see a very young Liam Neeson play Gawain, even if Gawain is portrayed as easily influenced and an ass. Gabriel Byrne (also very young) is an Uther that you just love to hate, (I still enjoy watching him get shanked), and when he selfishly slams Excalibur into the infamous Stone, (like the young Mordred), you just want to slap him.

Then…there’s the magic that we, the Pagan hordes of dragon fanatics and Arthurian geeks, just LOVE! Who doesn’t know the “Charm of Making”? Who doesn’t LOVE to say it? Who doesn’t get chills when your best buddy Pagans join in?

nál nathrach,
orth’ bháis’s bethad,
do chél dénmha

If you didn’t know, translated it means:

Serpent’s breath,
charm of death and life,
thy omen of making

But, you knew that, didn’t you, you lovable Pagan geeks! Of course you did!

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And, sure, a lot of neo Pagans prefer Arthur’s sister as Morgaine from Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, (and admittedly, Julianna Marguile’s film portrayal of Morgaine is pretty sweet), but a sexy, SEXY Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur is to be savored. Mirren’s Morgana is delicious to watch, and when she speaks, when she breathes, all eyes are drawn to her.  She might be a “bad” girl in Boorman’s film, and she was pretty gnarly in the Malory compilation, but admit it, when you watch her in action, you TOO want to know the Charm of Making, and you can hardly blame her for being pissed off at Merlin and later, Arthur, for all of the muck that was thrown her way in those early years of her life.   She gets her revenge, too, and since you know it’s coming, you may as well enjoy the brilliance of it.  Boorman doesn’t dwell too much on Merlin’s fabled desire for Morgana, but it’s obvious that Merin is intrigued by her and on some deep, dark level, he admires her raw, Witchy talents.  Why else would he finally reveal the Charm to her?   Besides, Merlin will get her back with a clever twist on the Charm before it’s all said and done, but in the meantime, Morgana will rule as the “Queen of Bad”:  She will orchestrate the downfall of “noble” Lancelot and send him off to the forest as a mad “monk”; she will seduce her half brother; she will give birth (in a nifty lightning shrouded birthing chamber) to a “god”; she will destroy the Round Table with a wicked mocking of the Grail Quest; and, she will raise her nephew-son to be a rather pretty and quite formidable warrior who wears some really groovy armor.

On top of all of THAT, Helen Mirren is just sexy.  She was sexy in 1981 (and you gotta love the “dress” that she wears when she seduces Arthur), and she’s twice as sexy now. She is ageless. She’s sexy. Did I mention that she’s sexy?

If you haven’t seen Excalibur, you really have missed out on one of the most poignant adaptations of the Grail Quest. Get it on Blu Ray and enjoy 140 minutes of Arthurian legend set amidst Boorman’s elegant and striking Arthurian England. If you have seen it, go watch it again.  You know that you want to see Morgana do her wicked deeds, and I didn’t even mention Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance. Ignore the bad hair and strange dancing, and once Helen Mirren appears on screen and “bad” Morgana initiates her plot of revenge, you will be, I am quite sure, intrigued and entertained.

(Read the Interview with Virginia at The Wild Hunt)

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)
Day #23: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

 

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #23 Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

Back to Disney for a look at one of the all-time classic American Witches:  Maleficent.

I’ve been planning to do this review for sometime and the timing couldn’t be more perfect with Disney releasing the trailer for the upcoming live-action film that features their iconic villain.

Apparently Disney is taking a similar approach as Gregory Maguire did with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.  The Studio will tell Maleficent’s backstory.  How she went from innocence and purity to an evil sorceress – or fairy as it were.

Enough about a movie that has yet to be released – even if it stars the legendary Angelina Jolie.  Let’s talk about the original.

In 1959, Disney released Sleeping Beauty, only the third princess film to be made. The movie was meant to follow the success of the beloved Cinderella (1950) but it fell far short. In my own study on Disney Princess films, I noted:

Over the nine years of production, Sleeping Beauty’s budget rapidly increased, eventually totaling 6 million dollars.  Walt claimed, “I sorta got trapped” and, later referred to the picture as “an expensive failure”(Thomas, 104).  In 1959, this was a very apt name.  The film only grossed 7.7 million dollars and was also a critical failure.  However, in subsequent years, the Disney company re-released the film to the theaters and, eventually to video.  From those re-releases, Sleeping Beauty has gone from being “less memorable” to a Disney classic, and Aurora was allowed her place alongside her two predecessors.

Because it was largely considered a failure, Disney didn’t return to the princess film until 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid.

Maleficent and the Wicked Queen are the only major witches in Disney’s early period. Both of these characters stand as the two most iconic villains in the Disney canon.  Both of these witches are deeply terrifying but in very different ways.   Where the Wicked Queen is dark and sinister, Maleficent is dramatic and fierce.  The Wicked Queen becomes a ugly crone and Maleficent becomes a towering dragon.

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What makes the two witches different?  Magic. The Wicked Queen’s power comes from brews and herbs. Maleficient’s comes from an internal power.  She is magic.  Her horns recall a mythology associated with the hunt, darkness and mysticism.  She carries a staff.  A raven rests on her shoulder and her outstretched arms recall a bat’s wings, purple fire or even the raven itself.  Could she be the Morgaine in some form?

Maleficent embodies a dark beauty, a raw power and everything that the insecure, disenfranchised teenage girl isn’t.  She commands her world.

(Okay she does it for evil purposes.  But come-on… she must have a back-story.)

 

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)

 

Respecting the Journey

As we engage in self-discovery and interact with the world, we find ourselves seeking out and connecting with a community of people of like-minded people. When we find that community, we feel accepted and often thrive in a safe space. Camaraderie breeds comfort and fosters pride.

“Go Team Jesus!”  

“PantheaCon or Bust”  

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This community pride can be a very positive thing. It helps in the development and preservation of cultural nuances, language and “in” jokes.  It strengthens meaning, especially in the case of religious communities.

Unfortunately, this same community pride also contributes to the hardening of the lines between who and what we are and who and what “they” are. It divides the Christians from the Pagans from the Hindus from the Jews and so forth. This is where it gets dangerous. The “Go Team” turns to “Fight Team.” In sports that may work. However, in religion it doesn’t.

I have seen this happen frequently in the Jewish community where there is an inbred and powerful sense of tribal unity. I recall the story of a friend’s mother who had converted to Judaism from Catholicism. After being completely abandoned by her parents, this woman embraced Judaism with unbridled passion. She did everything in excess. To this day you would never believe that she had ever even entered a Catholic church let alone attended CCD.

Such stories of religious struggle are not limited to the Jewish community. This is a very common scenario. People just don’t like it when someone “switches teams.” When that convert is a team leader, an MVP or “fan favorite,” it can be even more jarring.  Fans are baffled, stunned, and shocked. They feel abandoned. “He’s one of them now.”

This may work for sports but not for religion.

Of course I’m referring to Teo Bisop‘s recent announcement on The Wild Hunt in which he openly declared a return to Christianity. Since his announcement, tremors have permeated the Pagan-osphere.  While I’m sure that the majority of Pagans are indifferent, the more vocal among us choose to comment. It seems that most comments are positive. However there has also been some backlash and even anger.  To sum that up:

Teo Bishop was accepted onto our team, taught our secret handshake, given our trust and even lauded by some as a leader. We connected with him on a personal level via his writing. Now he has jumped ship, gone back to the other side – to another team.  

But here’s the thing… that works for sports but not religion.

Religious-affiliation is not a final destination. While we like to think of it as such and often dogma tells us so, it really isn’t. Religious-affiliation is one stop on an expansive spiritual journey. The day that we can allow for the fluid nature of religion and at the same time respect spiritualism as a journey is the day the walls come down between religions. Teo is moving down his own river of experience which has taken him to another port-of-call.  That is all that has happened.  It could happen to any of us.

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Wikipedia CC Daniel Case

Spiritualism is fluid. Not only through one’s journey but through the gathering of experience.  Dogmatic devices often require a complete abandonment of one’s past religious-affiliation. Oaths must be taken and beliefs forsworn.  You can’t be Christian and Pagan and Muslilm at the same time.  You can’t be a Democrat and Republican. You can’t be a Falcons and Saints fan.  Pick one, give up the others and forever hold your peace.

That works for sports (and maybe even politics) but not for religion.

It is impossible to isolate ourselves from our past experience and the impact left behind – good or bad.  We cannot deny our past. We are who we are today because of where  and who we have been. We are formed by the experience and fluidity of life’s journey. As such, we change, grow and live to continue on. We carry pieces of our past religious experience forward which then help shape our perspective. Teo’s understanding of Christianity will be affected by his own negotiation his private Druidic experiences. It will be like that no matter how deeply into that Christian world he gets.

Spiritualism is as creative and fluid as life. Most importantly, it is personal. A heartfelt Bon Voyage to Teo as he sails forth and arrives at his new ports.

31 Days of Witch Movies: #22 The Mists of Avalon

[Here is today's review as promised.  Crystal Blanton, author and witch, has done a thorough review of one of her favorite movies, an adaptation of a the book The Mists of Avalon.  Among the many hats that she wears, Crystal is member of Covenant of the Goddess, a published author and editor of several books, a contributor to Patheos' Daughters of Eve Blog, a member of the Bay Area's Pagan Newswire Collective and a Wild Hunt monthly columnist. You can follow her on Facebook and her own blog. Enjoy! ]

Mists_of_Avalon_DVD_cover

Mists of Avalon, a book written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, was made into a television mini-series by TNT Originals in 2001. This was later turned into a movie and featured some well-known actresses in prominent roles within this made for TV drama.

The movie has an ambiance that is full of magic and mystery, full of imagery and vocabulary of the Goddess, and a carefully crafted retelling of the Arthurian legend. I re-watched this movie this week, one of my favorite Witchy movies of all time, but the question on the table would be why? Why does this equate such a rite of passage for many Goddess worshippers and Pagans today?

The movie opens with Morgaine as a young child, raised in the home with her mother Igraine and her father Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. A feast at the home of the High King brings Igraine and her husband Gorlois face-to-face with Uther Pendragon, the named successor for the throne. After a series of magically placed events, Igraine and Uther become connected to one another, and this ultimately leads to the death of her husband Gorlois. It is then that Igraine marries the love of her life, Uther, and Arthur is born.

The movie continues to intertwine the need for the magic of Avalon to live on in the minds and hearts of the people, or else it would slip away into the mists and cease to exist. The magic of Avalon, the land of the Goddess, works its way into the political construct of the story to prevent this, showing how the underlying religious climate between the rising of the new Christian religion and the ways of the Goddess were the backbone of the Arthurian legend. Having a King that has the blood of Avalon becomes the mission of the Lady of the Lake, Vivian. As the sister to Igraine, and the aunt of Morgaine, Vivian takes Morgaine to the land of the Goddess and trains her in the ways of the priestess. While Morgaine is behind the mists of Avalon, Merlin was training young Arthur to one day become a King.

From The Mists of Avalon (2001)
From The Mists of Avalon (2001)

And although many of us know the story of King Arthur, this rendition shows a different version of the women behind the mysteries of the legends. The twist on the classically “evil” Morgaine, and the other women of the throne, is refreshing and very spiritually engaging. There is something about the retelling of the classically male-centric story in a more femininely pleasing way that brings out the Goddess energy. It doesn’t hurt that the Goddess is a major part of the story itself, and her name is spoken throughout the film.

There are so many interwoven pieces to this story that I found myself, once again, wrapped up into the mystery of the story, and the complexity of the characters. Vivian commands such respect, and she is the character that you love, and hate at the same time. I think Morgaine is breathtaking in many of the scenes in the movie. She holds such poise, and power, that she inspires a vision of a priestess of the old ways.

Longer than a regular movie, this visually stunning story is 183 minutes long and I loved every moment of it. The costumes tell a story of their own, and the twists and turn of the plot makes this movie so much different than any other Arthurian movie.

In writing this review, it became clear that if I told too much it would ruin the story for anyone who has not watched it. So instead I thought I would list out some of the things I love and didn’t love about this film.

Ten things I loved about this movie:

  1. Julianna Margulies, the actress that played Morgaine, is beautiful and sexy.
  2. There is a secret and naughty chemistry between Lancelot and Morgaine that is provokingly naughty.
  3. Vivian is the High Priestess that we all want to learn from, and hide from simultaneously.
  4. Why does the actor that plays Mordred in the movie have to be so hot?
  5. The costumes of the priestesses and women in the movie are flowingly beautiful.
  6. I have wanted a crescent moon tattoo on my forehead since I first saw this movie.
  7. Fabulous sound track, which includes a song by Lorenna McKennitt that is used when the mists are opened and Avalon is revealed.
  8. Anjelica Huston plays an incredible Lady of the Lake, complex, beautiful, loving and manipulative.
  9. The magic of Beltane was fascinating to watch, and it was a beautiful scene of magic…. Even though it was distorted and manipulatively planned.
  10. The intensity in the movie matched what I would expect to feel from such a magical and passionate environment. The feeling I got when watching this made sense to me.

Five things that challenged me while watching….

  1. It is very long.
  2. Some moments in the movie fall flat, and can become a little boring.
  3. Morgaine never gets the love she craves and deserves, which deeply bothered me.
  4. Much of the magic was for a specific type of gain, and not a lot of works to honor the Goddess was shown outside of that. I would have loved to have seen some of the worship of the Goddess alone.
  5. Gwenwyfar annoyed me greatly in this film, both the character and actress.

It is a long movie and the book is more detailed in some areas of the story. I suggest reading the book, but I also recommend the movie. It is a classic, and worth the hours of watching time that you have to invest.

The book
The book

 

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch

31 Days of Witch Movies: Recap

Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain!  

I’ve got ten more movies left to complete the 31 Days of Witch Movies festival.  Due to extenuating celebratory circumstances, the film festival has been temporarily put on hold. Don’t despair! It will resume tomorrow with a special guest review from Crystal Blanton on The Mists of Avalon (2001).  Then I’ll begin posting again on Monday Nov 4.

From Oz the Great and Powerful
From Oz the Great and Powerful

 

Movies still to come The Craft, The Wizard of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Stardust and more.

Until then, here’s a recap:

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch