Witch Cinema 23: The Number 23
Article ID: 11691
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 8th. 2007
Times Viewed: 16,138
Hello, my darling media witches. It's been a long time since we caught up on all the latest movies of interest to pagans and witches, hasn't it? So long, in fact, that I have quite a few pithy things to say about some new television shows as well! So I hope you'll be happy to hear that this column will be in two parts and you'll have something to look forward to (in addition to the fact that spring really seems to have arrived, the latest efforts to censor adult material on the web was met with a hearty chorus of "First Amendment, Stupid!" and Howard Stern seems to be doing his best to derail the annoying trainwreck that is American Idol). This week, movies. Next week, TV.
I am sad to report that there haven't been a large number of films of interest to us magical, tree-hugging types in recent months. Perhaps the most significant were several films which also drew the attention of a number of major award competitions. But before I talk about those, let me first just remind you all of the criteria I use to determine that a film or TV show may be of interest to Witchvox readers.
Stuff I Look For: The story has an obvious (or maybe not so obvious) pagan or occult theme. It is based on myths or folklore, or magic, or the paranormal, or the supernatural, or the dark side of human nature, or nature, or environmental issues, or some sort of idyllic past or utopian future. Or it has men in kilts. Or women who can kick ass. Or children who aren't perfect. Or any mention of druids, witches, wizards, dryads, nymphs, mermaids, vampires, werewolves, unicorns, pegasi, owls, dolphins, falcons, ferrets, bunnies, horsies, or whales. Have I covered everything?
Some of these films are still in theatres (or may yet come to your town) and some are newly released or soon to be out on DVD. What's kind of nice about the home theatre revolution (other than the fact that it keeps lots of people off the streets at night) is that you can be sure to get nearly every movie that has even a limited theatrical run on DVD eventually, and if you have a crappy video store you can always order it by mail on the internet.
Ah, the internet. Is it perhaps what has caused the worldwide inability for women to conceive in 2026? That's the year it is at the opening of Alfonso Cuaron's brilliant Children of Men. As the film begins, Londoners are glued to their TV sets when they learn that the "world's youngest human" has died of an accident at the age of 18. Based on a novel by P. D. James, this is a work of speculative fiction which asks what would happen if the human race suddenly found itself unable to reproduce? Clive Owen plays a government employee who tries to help out an ex-girlfriend (Julianne Moore). He finds himself involved with a group of political outcasts who are trying to protect a young woman who is pregnant: the first women in the world to be pregnant in 18 years. He seeks help from an old friend (Michael Caine) who lives in the woods and seems to be a true pagan at heart (or at least a nature-loving hippie). This fast-paced, intelligent and suspenseful film is stunning to watch, especially some of the action sequences which are filmed in a single take. Cuaron (a Mexican director who also helmed the award-winning Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is a world-class filmmaker who knows how to find and make magic within any genre.
Perhaps you have already heard about another award-winning Mexican film, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, about a young girl who goes into hiding during the Spanish Civil War and discovers a magical garden and the mythic being who dwells within. Perhaps you have also heard that the original title is closer to "The Faun's Labyrinth" and that, far from being a film suitable for children, it is actually very violent, graphic and brutal to watch. I have heard some people complain that the film is too dark, too depressing. But for me, a story that tries to balance the light and dark of existence is a welcome change from films that only fit narrowly into one genre. The young heroine Ofelia has an active imagination and a hopeful vision for her future. The fact that human cruelty and political unrest interfere with her desire for a world of beauty and magic is not meant to be nihilistic, in my opinion. Rather, the film's distressing events and tragic ending are a testament to the power and necessity of creativity and its power to heal and inspire. Del Toro's film is beautiful and moving and thought-provoking. It may in fact be too disturbing for young children, but for kids who are adult enough to understand war's effects and life's unfairness, it may be an unforgettable experience.
Maybe you shelled out nine bucks to see Joel Schumacher's The Number 23. I am sorry. I had high hopes for this one, because at first I thought it might be a remake of an excellent German thriller based on true events, entitled simply 23, in which a young computer hacker becomes obsessed with "The 23 Enigma" after reading Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus trilogy. Ever hear about author Tom Robbins' obsession with this number? I once read that Robbins went through a period in his life where he played a simple experiment. He'd turn on the radio and wait to hear the number 23 in a headline. If he did not hear it, he'd stay in bed all day. But the thing is, he almost always had to get out of bed. Try it: watch for the number to appear in headlines. It is astounding how often it occurs, even when it turns out not to be accurate (the first body counts in the Heaven's Gate mass suicide, the Columbine school shootings, and the London subway bombings were all given as 23, but turned out later to be different). Sadly, this film is nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as the earlier one was. I also had high hopes because it stars Jim Carrey, an actor who has been making some interesting choices in his acting roles in recent years, branching out from comedy. Carrey plays an animal control officer whose wife (Virginia Madsen) buys him a book she finds randomly in a used bookstore. He becomes obsessed with it, starts seeing the number 23 in every aspect of his waking life, and nearly has a nervous breakdown. It's okay for a horror film, kind of flashy, and the actors do their best with a script that at times just makes no sense whatsoever. It'd be nice if someone would make a film about the 23 thing, or about someone obsessed with it (a condition known as apophenia describes people who become obsessed with seemingly random connections), and deliver a fascinating, complex thriller. But we'll probably wait a long time for that.
Soon some of you will be able to see a fascinating new documentary at your local arthouse cinema. It's called Glastonbury and it chronicles the evolution of the worlds largest and most controversial music festival, which takes place near the historic site of Glastonbury Tor and the nearby abbey, associated with a myriad spiritual elements including druids, King Arthur's burial, ley lines, and reputed to be the site of the ancient Celtic isle of Avalon. It's a place visited by thousands of pilgrims every year, many of them coming at the summer solstice, around the same time as the music festival. Director Julien Temple edited over 900 hours of footage, much of shot in the last three years but much of it also from earlier documentaries (like Nicolas Roeg's 1972 Glastonbury Fayre) and various individuals' amateur footage taken over the last 30 years. The festival started in 1970, held on a vast farmer's field, and the 1500 people who attended got to see a number of live bands and only paid a pound sterling apiece. Now, crowds number well over 300,000 and tickets cost over 200 pounds. Concert goers traditionally scale the walls to get in free, but after 2000 saw 250,000 people attending and only 100,000 tickets being sold, as well as increased incidents of crime, the organizers took a year off to plan and design better gate-crashing deterrents, and now a huge metal wall and "moat" separate the concert grounds from the outside, uniformed security and police officers patrol the grounds, and mounted surveillance cameras (very common throughout England these days) record potential security problems. The film itself does not follow any linear narrative or structure, and that makes it a very intriguing take on the festival, as footage from 1975 with grainy images of frolicking nude hippies is juxtaposed moments later with images of yuppies carrying pitchers of martinis, unemployed travelers in caravans with pet goats, and neo-tribal types wearing Burning Man-style neon glowstick jewelry. Ah, times have changed. But the music is still the main thing. Hundreds of bands play the multiple stages each year, and you'll and hear old-timers like Vevlet Underground, Toots and the Maytals and Melanie, and newer artists like Scissor Sisters, Bjork or Coldplay.
Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
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