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A Neo-Pagan Filmography
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A Neo-Pagan Filmography
An Annotated List of Recommended Viewing
(compiled 3/89)
by Mike Nichols


Although this list is a long one, it could easily have been much longer. In fact, the hard part was deciding which of many good movies had to be left out, due to limitations of space. So I used a few rules to guide me. First, I gave preference to movies that had a strong Pagan message, as opposed to films that are 'merely' entertaining. Thus, a film like 'Never Cry Wolf', though it has no supernatural elements, made the list; whereas superbly crafted atmospheric entertainments like 'Gothic' and 'Eyes of Fire' didn't. Second, in dealing with the supernatural, I concentrated on films that informed, or at least stayed within the realms of possibility. Hence, I include 'The Haunting', but not 'Poltergeist'. Inevitably, I will have left out some of your favorites, for which I apologize in advance. But I had to stop somewhere.

APPRENTICE TO MURDER, 1988, C-94m
Dir.: R.L. Thomas. Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe, Mia Sara, Knut Husebo, Rutanya Alsa.

Intriguing fact-based story of a man who was a 'hex-meister' in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. His practice of folk medicine lands him in trouble with the law, and a final confrontation with a rival sorcerer leads to a charge of murder. Sutherland is appealing in the lead role, and the story unfolds mainly through his eyes. Mia Sara does a nice job in a supporting role. There's a lot of authentic folk magic to lend atmosphere.

THE BELIEVERS, 1987, C-114m
Dir.: John Schlesinger. Martin Sheen, Helen Shaver, Harley Cross, Robert Loggia, Elizabeth Wilson, Lee Richardson, Harris Yulin, Richard Masur, Carla Pinza, Jimmy Smits.

After the death of his wife, Sheen and his son move to New York City, where they become involved in a grisly series of cultish human sacrifices. Although the religion of Santeria is unfortunately shown in a negative light, there is enough authenticity to lend lots of interest. A gripping thriller.

BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE, 1958, C-103m
Dir.: Richard Quine. James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovaks, Hermione Gingold.

Yes, I'm well aware that this movie, based on the John Van Druten play, is responsible for more misinformation about Witchcraft than anything outside the 'Bewitched' TV series. Still, I hardly know a Pagan who doesn't love it. For many of us, it was the first time we'd encountered the idea of Witchcraft alive and well in a modern metropolis. And Kim Novak is STILL my idea of what a Witch OUGHT to look like. And none of us will ever forget Kovak's reading of the line 'Witches, boy! Witches!' Or Stewart's offhand comment that it feels more like Halloween than Christmas. Lots of fun.

BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON, 1973-Italian-British, C-121m
Dir.: Franco Zeffirelli. Graham Faulkner, Judi Bowker, Leigh Lawson, Alec Guinness, Valentina Cortese, Kenneth Cranham

For most Pagans, St. Francis of Assisi is usually considered an honorary Pagan, at the very least. His insistence on finding divinity in nature is exactly what Paganism is all about. This film biography portrays his extreme love of and sensitivity to nature with poignant beauty. And the musical score by Donovan is such a perfect choice that, having heard it, nothing else would ever do. This is also a visually stunning film, as those who remember Zefferelli's 'Romeo and Juliet' might expect. If ever Christianity could be made palatable to the sensibilities of Neo-Pagans, it would have to be through the eyes of a nature mystic like Francis. The Catholic Church came close to naming him a heretic but, at the last minute, the Pope (played by Alec Guinness) sanctioned him. (Old Obi Wan comes through again!)

BURN, WITCH, BURN!, 1962-British, 90m
Dir.: Sidney Hayers. Janey Blair, Peter Wyngarde, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls.

Based on the Fritz Leiber classic 'Conjure Wife' and scripted by Richard Matheson, this is an interesting view of Witchcraft. Granted, this has as many misconceptions as 'Bell, Book, and Candle', yet the premise is intriguing: that ALL women are secretly Witches, and ALL men don't know about it. This is mainly about one woman's use of magic to advance the career of her schoolteacher husband.

DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, 1959, C-93m
Dir.: Robert Stevenson. Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, Sean Connery, Jimmy O'Dea, Kieron Moore, Estelle Winwood.

Simply the best fantasy ever filmed. No kidding. This is a PERFECT little movie, and (along with 'The Quiet Man') the ultimate St. Patrick's Day film. Sharpe is sensational as Darby O'Gill, who likes to sit in the pub telling stories about his adventures with the King of the Leprechauns. Unbeknownst to everyone, they are TRUE stories! Every tidbit of Irish folklore, from banshees to the crock of gold to the costa bower (the death coach) is worked into the plot. The music and songs are great. So is the cast, many of whom were brought over from the Abbey Theater in Dublin! Sean Connery makes his screen debut, in a SINGING role! The subsequent untimely death of Janet Munro robbed the screen of one of its brightest actresses. (Her character's combination of willfulness and femininity is a textbook study. Compared to her, Princess Leia's character is not 'strong-willed' -- it's just snotty!) The special effects are miraculous for 1959! When Darby walks into King Brian's throne room, we walks THROUGH a crowd of Leprechauns, and I defy anyone to find a matte line! In fact, the special effects are so good throughout, that you FORGET that they're special effects, and end up deciding that they must have rounded up some real Leprechauns from somewhere.

THE DARK CRYSTAL, 1983-British, C-94m
Dir.: Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Performed by Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Brian Muehl, Jean Pierre Amiel, Kiran Shaw.

The creators of the Muppets come up with an entire fantasy world, where even the flora and fauna are original. And this world is in grave peril unless the missing shard of the Dark Crystal can be found and restored to it. This is a hero-quest in the classic mold, with art stylings by Brian Froud. Although wonderfully imaginative and entertaining, it has a very strong message of mysticism, all about universal balance and the synthesis of opposites. (One wonders if the entire quartz crystal fad of the late 1980's had its origins here!)

DON'T LOOK NOW, 1973-British, C-110m
Dir.: Nicolas Roeg. Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Massimo Serato.

Based on a so-so occult thriller by Daphne du Maurier, this becomes a brilliant film in the hands of Italian director Nicolas Roeg (famed for 'The Man Who Fell to Earth). Shortly after their daughter has drowned, Sutherland (who restores mosaics in old churches) and his wife go to Venice where they meet two sisters who are spiritualists. They begin to receive messages from the daughter, who keeps warning Sutherland to leave Venice because he is in mortal danger. If ever a film captured the real feeling of how psychic ability operates, this is it. The use of subjective editing, and the symbolic use (and total control of!) color throughout the film is masterful. (This film also contains one of the most stylish love scenes ever filmed.) Squeamish people need to be warned about the violent ending, however.

THE DUNWICH HORROR, 1970, C-90m
Dir.: Daniel Haller. Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Sam Jaffe, Lloyd Bochner, Joanna Moore, Talia Coppolia (Shire).

Nice adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft story, with a wonderful cast. Dean Stockwell is the quintessential ritual magician, both mysterious and compelling. He steals the original 'Necronomicon' from a library in order to 'bring back the Old Ones', a race of powerful but dark beings that inhabited the earth before humans. Sam Jaffe is wonderful as his crazed grandfather. (What happened to the father is part of the mystery!) And Sandra Dee is perfect as the innocent virgin chosen to be the unwilling host mother for the rebirth of these demons. (Some versions of the film cut the last scene short, which shows a developing fetus superimposed over Dee's abdomen. 'Nuff said.) By the way, no film has ever shown the raw power of otherworldly beings as well as this. No 'latex lovelies' here. Just pure, unadulterated elemental force. Nice job!

THE EMERALD FOREST, 1985, C-113m
Dir.: John Boorman. Powers Boothe, Meg Foster, Charley Boorman, Dira Pass.

A look at our own culture through the eyes of the aboriginal tribes of the Amazon. (They call us the 'termite people', because of the deforestation and industrial development we have brought to their homeland.) The director's son, Charley, is totally convincing as a young boy raised by aborigines. Great music by Junior Homrich.



 
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