Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Favorite Movies about Witches

Wow.  What an important lesson about tolerance from our friends Casper and WendyI think we all just learned a lot.

But not all media is that obvious.  Movies can teach us a lot about the world we live in.  And most contain messages that work on multiple levels.  But some times even we don't know what we're receiving. 

Inspired by last week's discussions surrounding Chritine O'Donnell (and the proximity to Halloween) I've crafted a list of my favorite movies about witches, complete with a brief feminist analysis of each.  Pay attention-- there might be something you've missed. 

The Baddest Witch: Winona Ryder
Also Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen and Jeffrey Jones (Yes, Mr. Rooney.)
Oh my Goodey!  This re-make of Arthur Miller’s classic book is an obvious jumping off point.  Drawing a parallel between the McCarthy Era and the Salem Witch Trials, history repeats itself yet again.  But this time, the discussion surrounding sexuality should be provoking thoughts about archaic beliefs.  And ponderings of race concerning Tituba's crime and punishment-- not to mention her role as the ultimate instigator.  Strange, how a black woman brought black magic to Salem. 
Suddenly, everyone's a suspect.  It’s a showdown amongst the righteous and accusations are flying.  With all this dancing, lust and adultery there’s bound to be evil afoot.  Who will survive?  Who will be burned at the stake?  The purity myth comes to life as virtuous wives take on the town harlots and viewers realize the worth of a woman’s reputation.  This movie begs the question-- "what sort of witch hunts do we take on today?" 
The Baddest Witch: Nicole Kidman
Also Starring: Sandra Bullock, Dianne Wiest, and Stockard Channing (Yes, Rizzo.)
While Nicole Kidman is cute as button in Bewitched, she and her co-stars are absolutely enchanting in this movie that’s got more sisterhood than traveling pants.  These witches are modern and relatable, stirring up midnight margaritas in their cauldrons. 
Really, it’s a good movie about good witches attempting to co-exist with humans while suffering a terrible curse.  Downfall?  The plot centers on tragic romantic interests, not to mention the sisters’ virgin/whore dichotomy.  Redemption?  The film has underlying messages about family values, i.e. the value of family, and tolerating differences in communities.  This movie not only puts the lime in the coconut, but the power back in empowered. 
The Baddest Witch: Fairuza Balk
Also Starring:  Rachel True, Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich (Yes, two Scream-sters.)
Can we say evil Clueless?  Four Catholic school girls unlock the secret to getting everything they ever wanted in an uber frightening “careful what you wish for” scary-movie-with-a-moral.  A motley crew of outcasts, these amateur witches cast a spell on the entire school, delivering justice to racist mean girls, sexual assaulters, and domestic abusers. 
But with great power comes great responsibility.  And as the oppressed become the oppressors, they soon find that some magic is good, and some magic is bad.  Very bad.  While there are cat fights of epic proportions and some abominable 90's fashion, these can be forgiven for the semi-coherent depiction of Wiccan beliefs; the closest thing to accurate (which is still pretty far off) in this context.
The Baddest Witch: Anjelica Houston
Also Starring: Rowan Atkinson (Yes, Mr. Bean.)
Based on the book by beloved children’s author Roald Dahl, this movie gave me nightmares for years.  Think Little Monsters, with a British twist.  And these aren’t your typical broom-riding, potion-stirring, seductress-types.  In fact, the lead characters of this movie are downright ugly. 
Anjelica Houston’s portrayal of the Grand High Witch would leave Morticia Addams shaking in her pointy-toed-boots.  Kudos to puppet-master Jim Henson for cutting back the sex appeal and focusing up on the scary.  These hideous creatures are unveiled at a hotel convention, where they peel back the layers to reveal their true forms.   It seems this gathering of unsightly, child-loathing spinsters could be confused for a feminist conference-- Zing!    
The Baddest Witch: Bette Midler
Also Starring: Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker (Yes, Carrie Bradshaw.)
The ancient Sanderson sisters need the souls of children to stay young and beautiful, because otherwise they are unattractive and irrelevant.  Replace “souls of children” with over-priced-beauty-products, and this movie would just be called “Life.”  But who doesn’t love Hocus Pocus?  It is my guiltiest October pleasure, and an obvious favorite for ABC Family's 13 Nights of Halloween
So watch it again, but this time pay special attention to the way even Disney pokes at male virginity.  Or how the black flame candle brought back three witches, as well as three female stereotypes; the slut, the bitch and the fatty.  Consolation?  The amazing Bette Midler’s “I put a spell on you” is quite possibly the best theatrical performance of any Disney movie.  Ever.
The Baddest Witch: Susan Sarandon
Also Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Cher (yes, Cher!)
Did Susan Sarandon just out-diva Cher?  Is this Jack Nicholson more horrific than Jack Nicholson in The Shinning?  Yup, and you betcha.  Three women; single, divorced and widowed, are targeted by Satan himself to unleash their natural powers and bear his children.  (Obviously, with no husbands, they were ripe for the picking.)  He’s particularly convincing, using reason and a strong dose of feminism-- heavy on the cultural feminism
Lesson here?  Never trust a “feminist” man.  (Just kidding.) 
Nicholson references the movement against midwives, the repression of female sexuality and the problem with no name to win over his harem.  This late 80’s production was released at the tail-end of the second wave and sends conflicting messages about dominance and submission, not to mention domesticity.  For instance, sexual harassment is wrong.  Agreed.  But then we see that deep down, every woman wants to be a mother, even to demon spawn.  Huh? 
The gender politics of this movie are unavoidable, and Nicholson’s rant—“were women a mistake?” seems to echo the majority opinion about the f-word at a time when feminists were being accused of trying to have it all.  Kind of like when women were accused of being witches.   

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