Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt. The hour-long documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man” has had a long, strange, trip to getting aired. A look at the life of Gerald Gardner, hosted by scholar Ronald Hutton, the program was commissioned by Channel 4 in Britain and initially scheduled to be aired sometime in 2012. That didn’t happen, and eventually a truncated 27-minute version popped up on Australian television earlier this Summer. Now, it seems the long journey is over, and the full documentary was finally aired this weekend in the UK under the new title of “A Very British Witchcraft.”
“There is no escape from the cycle.” – Richard Ravish, With Love from Salem
Like another recent documentary involving modern Pagans that I enjoyed, Alex Mar’s “American Mystic,” Karagan Griffith’s “With Love from Salem” is not an introduction or history lesson, but is instead a portrait of a belief system, a culture, in action. It follows Richard and Amy Ravish, Wiccan clergy who led rituals on Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts for more than 20 years. While ostensibly about their Samhain ritual and procession on its 20th anniversary, what emerged to me on my viewing was surprisingly personal, an intimate look at the lives of two elders whose duty to Salem has become deeply intertwined with their faith, their friendships, and how they interact with community.
The mere mention of Salem, Massachusetts can be divisive within modern Pagan circles, with some Witches and Wiccans decrying the tourist-drawing Mardi Gras-like atmosphere around Halloween, and the Witches who have embraced that spirit of spooky fun as well.
Yesterday I highlighted a scathing review at Salon.com of new horror-thriller “The Conjuring.” Critic Andrew O’Hehir found the Salem witch-trials subplot to be tasteless revisionism, despite admiring the film’s creepy construction. “Here’s the real ‘true story’ behind “The Conjuring”: Any time people get worked up about a menace they believe in but can’t actually see – demons, Commies, jihadis, hordes of hoodie-wearing thugs — they’re likely to take it out on the weakest and most vulnerable people in society [….] along with the overall tone of hard-right family-values messaging, “The Conjuring” wants to walk back one of America’s earliest historical crimes, the Salem witch trials of 1692, and make it look like there must have been something to it after all. Those terrified colonial women, brainwashed, persecuted and murdered by the religious authorities of their day – see, they actually were witches, who slaughtered children and pledged their love to Satan and everything! That’s not poetic license.
On Monday morning the film production and distribution company StudioCanal announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall. For devotees of the film, which includes myself, this is exciting news. Up until now, the only versions of the film you could easily get were the mangled “Theatrical Version” (aka the “short” version) which is what usually pops up on streaming services and DVD, and “The Extended Version” (aka the director’s cut/the “long” version) which was included in the two-disc edition released in 2006 (and earlier VHS releases). The problem with the previously released extended version was that it melded film-quality material from the short version with NTSC tape of the additional footage, creating rather glaring differences in video (and audio) quality. Better than nothing, surely, but hardly optimal.
Our last stop on this cinematic journey was 1937 with the release of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Up to that point, the Hollywood witch had already evolved from a turn-of-the-century “clown witch” to a stereotypical cartoon “hags in rags” and finally into an animated femme fatale. Throughout that early period, the witch was contained within the framework of fantasy. Even those few outliers created a wall of separation between reality and the witch. MacBeth (1916) is just a retelling of a Shakespearian drama. In the Witch of Salem (1913), the “witch” is a victim of hysteria. In film studies speak, the witch never threatens to enter into the viewer’s world.