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

 

 

 

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #21 So I Married A Witch

I need to go back in time at least once more to exame this classic witch movie from 1942.  So I Married a Witch is a Paramount Studios film starring Frederic March, Veronica Lake and Susan Hayward.  It tells the story of two 18th century witches, a father and daughter, who are burned at the stake at the hands of Puritan Jonathan Wooley (Frederic March). Before their souls are imprisoned in an Oak tree, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) curses the Wooley family ensuring that all its men would marry “the wrong woman.” Fast forward to the 1940s, the tree is hit by lightening and the witches’ souls escape. From that point, the story begins.

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So I Married a Witch was featured in my Wild Hunt article called: Representations of the Hollywood Witch 1939-1950.  Here is some of what I wrote:

I Married a Witch is unique because it was made specifically for female viewers. It’s a variation on a [genre] theme prevalent during the World War II era. As Jeanine Basinger states, “..the woman’s film juxtaposes in unrealistic ways two contradictory concepts:  the Way Women Ought to Be and the Other Way.”  These films gave women the opportunity to temporarily step out of societal expectations and explore the “other way.”  [Regardless, the female characters] always end with marriage and the acceptance of traditional roles. (Jeanine Basinger, A Women’s View)

 

In I Married a Witch, the “other way” is “witchcraft” and the “Ought to Be” is love and marriage. In the end, Jennifer proclaims “Love is stronger than Witchcraft” and, as a result, is lead from a sinful immortal existence to a traditional life of family and marriage.  In the final scene, she is shown quietly knitting with her long tresses piled neatly on her head. [Her] father, who never accepts [his] proper societal role as the “good father,” is forever trapped in a liquor bottle.

 

Setting aside the film geek analysis, So I Married a Witch is a flimsy film with very little in the way of depth. It is mildly entertaining at best. Vernoica Lake, as alluring a star as she might be, plays a very whiny, irritating young witch who, at times, seems more like a spoiled sorority girl than a 200+ year old magical being. The uncomplicated plot becomes tiresome as it continually spins around Jennifer’s attempts to win Wallace Wooley’s (March) love. The one high point is Cecil Kellaway’s performance as the witch daddy.  His drunk scenes are quite amusing and very well-acted.

Courtesy of doctormacro.com
Courtesy of doctormacro.com

Aside from its place in witch film history and other similar academic studies, So I Married a Witch is mostly unremarkable. If you want to see a good classic romantic-comedy or woman’s film, there are far better options (Bringing Up Baby 1938; His Girl Friday 1940)  If you want to see Veronica Lake whine about love and men for 77 minutes, watch this one.

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

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #20 Harry Potter and the 8 Movies

This film review showcase wouldn’t seem complete if I didn’t mention Harry Potter. The books and movies are a megalithic entertainment commodity that is now entrenched in our American culture. Harry Potter is like Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown, and the Beave!

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But how do I review Harry Potter?  Which movie do I review? What more is there to say that hasn’t been said, considered or debated? Maybe the best approach is to toss out the movie review idea completely and talk my visit to ”Harry Potter land” (a.k.a. Universal Studios)?

Two words:  Butter Beer!

In all seriousness, the Harry Potter series of films is an example of very well-constructed and balanced story telling. Filmmakers saddled themselves with the daunting job of converting a series of successful novels into a series of successful movies. That is not easy. The two art forms work entirely differently and very often a movie adaptations of books fall flat. (Dune 1984Mists of Avalon 2001.)  There time and space limits of cinema do not exist in the literature.

Die-hard Harry Potter book fans may have been disappointed at times.  But this is the nature of adaptation.  Elements must be omitted to make a movie work.  And the Harry Potter movies worked. .

Harry Potter Land
Harry Potter Land

 

How did the Potter filmmakers accomplish this task? The films are story-driven – not special effects, not music, not character and not philosophy. These are stories and every other filmic element is a slave to telling that story within the confines of the film medium.  When asked about the darkness of the last films, David Heyman says “We did what’s right by the story.”  This can be applied to all of the film choices made. This is why Harry Potter works.

What I find interesting is the religious-based reaction to the books and films. Since the books grew in popularity, the Christian right has contended Rowling’s stories are evil and promote Satan. In some cases, the stories are linked to the growth in Wicca and an interest in Witchcraft.  In my world view, these are two separate concerns that need addressing.

The first argument is purely based on Rowling’s use of witchcraft and the surrounding age-old tired mythology. Nothing more. If someone feels that Rowling’s books and movies promote evil, then my response would simply be: “Don’t read them. Don’t watch them.”

Of course, I disagree.

The second argument is more complicated. Here is where Wiccan practitioners and other Pagans need to be careful. While it is fun to pretend that the World of Harry Potter is synonymous with the real Wiccan world, it isn’t. Rowling’s Wizarding World is fantasy. Yes, it is wonderful to see positive and non-stereotypical constructions of witches (Hermione and Professor MacGonagall, in particular) and to imagine a world centered around magical practice.  However, distinctions need to be made and maintained between a Wiccan reality and the Harry Potter fantasy.

As many Christian groups claim, people may in fact seek out Wiccans in order to “become a witch” assuming there is a sorting hat on every coven shelf.  Is that a problem?  Yes and no. Increased interest brings increase awareness. That is good. However what happens when the sorting hat isn’t found?  Disillusionment? The creation of covens that mirror Harry Potter and are devoid of spirituality?  Is that a problem?

As Wiccan practitioners, we can also fall into a trap of feeding this confusion by publicly using Potter language in jest which can open us up to mockery.  I have heard comments like, “She thinks she’s a “real” witch” followed by patronizing giggles. The implied tone is that the said woman is “one witch short of a full coven” so to speak.

Confession: We have four Harry Potter wands in our house – all purchased at Harry Potter land. While visiting I periodically found myself speaking in an awful British accent.  “Remember the wand chooses the witch.”

What I present here is a tiny example of a greater sociological issue that concerns the “cross-contamination” of reality and fantasy.  When is it harmful?  When is it beneficial?  I’ll leave you with those questions to consider as you enjoy your coffee and crumpets.

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Courtesy of Flickr’s Colin ZHU

Overall, the Harry Potter movies are undoubtedly an amazing accomplishment in the entertainment industry. All eight are entertaining on many levels.  In addition, the films offer a new presentation of witchcraft and witches – one that contains depth and moral ambiguity. That is very refreshing.

One last trip back to Harry Potter Land: The Hogwarts ride is hands-down the best ride that I’ve ever been on.  It was is worth the 1.5 hour wait.  Here’s one warning. You will wait for over 2 hours if you don’t get to the park as it opens and race at top-speed from the front entrance directly to the ride. You may have to push over a few people and hurdle baby carriages to accomplish this task. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #19 Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Last night I decided to watch Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) and found it to be a thoroughly delightful kids movie. While it is very dated, the movie has a highly imaginative narrative containing a very interesting twist on witchcraft.

How can you resist Angela Landsbury astride a flying broom wearing proper 1940s ladies’ attire?  No black pointy hat.  No warts.  No ragged old patchwork cloak.

Based on the children’s stories of Mary Norton, Bedknobs and Broomsticks opens in England in the small town of Pepperinge Eye to where London’s children are being evacuated during the War.  Three of these children are sent to live with Eglantine Price who is secretly learning the art of witchcraft through a correspondence course.  At the start of the film she receives a letter informing her of her successful completion of one course level.  She is now a qualified first degree, apprentice witch.

As it turns out, the Correspondence College of Witchcraft is a sham run by conman Emelius Brown. He is reminiscent of Ozzie in Oz, the Great and Powerful Despite his makeshift school, his magic spells do seem to work. As he explains to Ms. Price,  they were stolen from an old book called “The Spells of Astaroth,” a man who allegedly was a real magician.

In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, witches are not inherently powerful. They aren’t a non-human race of people. They are mystical super-beings or agents of Satan. Anyone can be a witch if she has the right spells and if she believes.  This goes hand in hand with Disney children’s films that inspire believing in one’s dreams. “If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” – Cinderella (1950)   Even the charlatan Mr. Brown is able to perform a spell once he lets go of his self-absorbed nature. He turns himself into a rabbit to escape the Nazis.

In that sense, this film expresses a much closer sense of real world Witchcraft than anything we’ve seen. In addition, it is also pro-woman.  Ms.Price is far and away more of a feminist than any of the three women in The Witches of Eastwick.  Within the narrative of the film, we see her devotion to witchcraft, her determination to finish her course by locating the final spell.  She does all of this after being saddled with three children.  Despite having kids in tow and a tag-a-long love interest, she remains persistent in her goasl and steadfast in her beliefs.

The most interesting aspect and perhaps the most feminist element is the reason behind Ms. Price’s actions. She becomes a witch in order to contribute to the war effort.  As a woman, she wasn’t eligible for the armed forces which is signified by the brigade of gnarly infantry men who march about town.  So, what does Ms. Price do?  She learns witchcraft, defies the male preacher and sets out to protect her beloved country in her own way.  With magic, she creates an animated army of medieval weaponry who successfully chase away the invading Nazi army.

Comically that band of male soldiers arrive on the scene just as the enemy is fleeing.  From over a cliff, the men shoot a few shots into the air after which tye take all the credit for winning the battle. Of course, we know who really saved England – a witch!

One last point, this film is refreshing in that it is a throwback to a time when children’s films didn’t present the parents as complete duds or the bumbling “uncool” idiots who need saving.  While the three kids can be sassy, a camaraderie develops all based on mutual respect.  I’d love to see that return to children’s films.

Revisit this 1971 classic!

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