Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Witches


Today was spent in readying merchandise for my new infomercial, Virtually Vicki . The Mrs. Norman Maine fashion dolls are nearly ready. GAC cosmetics has been faxing over sample shades of rouge and lip liner for my approval. I envisioned the Lesterene label as being full of vivid reds and pinks but they all seem to be coming out of the machine as shades of gray. Norman suggested that I also try selling some of the bales of Meow Mix cat food still cluttering up Chateau Maine from my lifetime supply. I think it’s a marvelous idea and, to make them even more desirable, I'm going to paste glossy photos of myself on the front, dressed in the Grizabella from the GlamourPuss collection of haut couture.

Mr. Carducci, the lovely New Jersey gentleman in charge of my signature line clothing manufacture who tells everyone to call him ‘Don’, has also been in touch. He tells me his Indonesian ladies have been working double shifts getting the first shipments of VickiWear ready for the distributors. I'm just thrilled that soon, women all over America will be able to afford a piece of Hollywood high fashion at a low price. I vow not to rest until there's marabou trim and bugle beads in every closet. Madame Rose is working on a gala launch party at the Beverly Center Pic-n-Save. All styles from the Anything Goes line of nautical clothing will be 15% off.

Stumbling over a bale of House O'Hair 'Russet Potato' wigs, I collapsed semi-exhausted in the home theater where I decided it was time for a movie featuring ladies with fashion emergencies so I tuned in Nicolas Roeg's 1990 film, The Witches with Anjelica Huston. The film is adapted from one of Roald Dahl's books and Dahl, unlike many modern parents, is smart enough to realize that children's stories should not be sanitized of all scary and subversive elements.

There has been a tendency in this country over the last generation or so, especially by the middle class, to try and shield children from the 'bad things' in life. Children's fairytales have been Disneyfied to remove their baser and darker elements. Kids are raised in homogeneous suburbs where they have no interactions with those of different cultures or value systems. Schools have become bastions of mindless 'zero tolerance' policies. Parents have forgotten that children need to process these evil and bad events in order to learn how the world works so they will be prepared to cope with the problems they will face as adults. Time and again, I run into young people, in college and beyond, who face a common life problem and who have absolutely no skills for getting through it because of their overly sheltered upbringing.

But enough of the polemic.

The Witches revolves around the adventures of a young English boy named Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his Norwegian grandmother (Mai Zetterling). Grannie is a woman wise in the old ways and she instructs young Luke as to the reality of witches and how they can be recognized and avoided - a life skill useful to young children, whom are their favorite prey. When Luke's parents are killed in a car crash, he goes to live with his grandmother. Some months later, they take a seaside holiday in a grand old hotel. While they are there, the hotel is host to a convention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which seems to consist of seriously ugly British character actresses with bad teeth and bad wigs (obviously not from House O'Hair). Luke suspects that the ladies are not what they seem and soon recognizes that it’s a witches meeting in disguise.

Leading the witches is the most evil woman in the world, the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston). To show her true baseness, she demonstrates her magic mouse potion to the assembled coven. Her unwitting guinea pig is Bruno (Charlie Potter), another young boy with singularly awful parents (Bill Paterson and Brenda Blethyn) staying at the hotel. Luke witnesses this, is captured by the witches and is also turned into a mouse. It's up to the boy mice to alert Grannie and for these three unlikely folk to save the day.

Roeg ( Walkabout Don't Look Now ), who has never been the most linear and literal of filmmakers, eschews his usual tricks for rather straightforward story telling. However, he brings a bit of an edge to the material that lesser directors might not have and he gives the film a great visual styling. He is most ably assisted by Jim Henson's creature shop that supplied the human mice. The close ups of the boys turned mice, who retain the character and body language of the human actors, is seamlessly intercut with longer shots of actual mice doing their mousy stunts.

The performers are all obviously having a great time with the material, especially old pros Huston and Zetterling. Anjelica Huston sashays around in a black sheath and magenta lined cape and speaks in an indefinable Teutonic accent, snarling her way through her lines and evincing wonderful comic timing when she has to pretend to be a human. Zetterling, under used in films, is the grandmother we all wish we had; resilient, wise and not above having a good time. Rowan Atkinson ( Mr. Bean ) has a supporting role as the hotel manager and is relatively restrained. Bruno's horrible parents are also a lot of fun.

Roeg's film has fairy tale violence and evil, which some parents will find objectionable and it's not a film for the Teletubby set. Eight to twelve year olds will love it, but it should be watched as a family, not popped into the machine as a baby sitter.

Magic painting. White mice. Rotary club joke. Elbow gloves. 'Odessa Steps' baby carriage. Green smoke. Tainted soup. Evil cat. Diabetic coma. Happy Ending.

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