Dec 082013
 

On Thursday, NBC aired a live production of the classic musical The Sound of Music.  It starred country singer and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood in the iconic role of Maria and True Blood star Stephen Moyer as the stern but warmhearted Captain Von Trapp.  The evening was a rousing success for the network.  It earned NBC 18.4 million viewers, its best night since 2009.

It was easy to miss that fact, however.  Media reports were mostly about the casting of Underwood and her performance.  The singer received angry tweets both before and after that can be summed up to “you’re not Julie Andrews.”  Other people in social media (at least on mine) got angry that the songs were in a different order than they were in the 1965 film.

 

The first issue is ridiculous.   Characters are not museum pieces.  They are played by different performers over time.  Should all new versions of Cabaret be avoided because no one else is Joel Grey? Of course not.  It’s a wonderful play and people should see it.  Besides, Alan Cumming and Neil Patrick Harris, among others, have all received acclaim for their performances as Cabaret’s Emcee.  That’s how theater works.

 

And really, all you need for Maria is an excellent singer who can look a little awkward, out of place, and naïve.  I once saw Marie Osmond play Maria, and she brought all of those things into a perfect performance. Underwood did too.  Sure, there are trained actors who could have played the role, but few of them could have brought live theater to 18.4 million viewers who may never have seen it before.

 

Of course, the other criticism also is silly.  They were performing the stage musical, not the movie.  The songs were in the correct order: the original order, telling the original story the original way.   The very fact that people complained about this goes to show the need for this production.  Not enough people are seeing live theater anymore.

 

Live theater, invented by pagan cultures and suppressed for centuries by the Church, is a magical experience.  For a few short hours, hundreds of people suppress their logical minds and enter a new reality together.  Through the suspension of disbelief, cultural stories, values, and ideas are passed along.  The magic can be uplifting, thought-provoking, subversive, or inspiring.  It can change lives or it can make life a constant garden of rich ideas.

 

But it can’t do any of that if no one sees it, and theater is in trouble.  Once the sleazy pastime of the underclass, live performance has become the exclusive property of the wealthy.  The cost for a single seat can be over $100 for a quality, professional production, and your average person simply can’t afford it.  Add to that competition of nearly free entertainment coming from Netfix, Xboxes, and the smart devices that each one of us carries in our pockets, and real live performance is hitting an era where fewer people attend and younger people will stop caring.

 

To have 18.4 million people view a three-hour long classic is a success.  If even half of them were viewing their first live production, nine million more people have been exposed to theater than had been last week.  That’s magic.

 

The Sound of Music is about a young woman who uses music to bring joy to children and warm the frozen heart of a grieving man.   Last week, the venerable musical got a chance to bring the power of music into another generation of homes and expose them to the power of live performance.  The world of theater needed that, and I hope that NBC does this again.  I welcome any ally that wants to help show the world how magical live theater can be.

 

Sep 122011
 

All right True Blood. I championed you all season hoping that you might come around and show the Wiccan characters in a positive light. Instead, you disappointed me with many things but not the least of which was your continuing lack of detail. It really isn’t that hard to find out how to pronounce Samhain. And while I understand that there may be many variations, there are some common pronunciations. This is just like your rather embarrassing Dionysian invocation from Season 2; “Lolo Bromios!”  In that case, you didn’t even have to go talk to the weird polytheists to get the real info. Talk to a classics professor to make sure you’re getting it right. With that level of sloppy story telling, it isn’t hard to imagine what else you got wrong. Problem is, non-Pagans don’t necessarily know that.  Like I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be looking to HBO for our accurate information about Wicca, but to screw up something so basic more than once is just sloppy – and I would consider it sloppy no matter what it was they missed the mark on.

I had high hopes for Holly Cleary. All season I hoped she took up the mantle of Wicca and rode fearlessly into the night.  Not only did she not, she only reluctantly helped Tara and Sookie in this episode and that was only after a nice long toke.  I didn’t really want to see the only “real” Wiccan character is a pot smoker. It just doesn’t give me the best impression. And why would she be so nervous on Samhain in the first place? And why is she working?  Shouldn’t she be honoring the Gods?  I guess that is what you get from living in weirdness magnet Bon Temps.

I thought season 4 had its moments, but as a package it fell short of the typical standard that HBO sets for series television.  I suppose there is only so much you can do with it in the first place. The last few minutes were interesting, but it leaves me wondering just what storyline they are going to use next season. Does’t seem like the books fit in any more.

If you’re looking for some great television to cleanse your palate this week, check out the newest episode of Doctor Who which aired on BBC America on Saturday.  The Girl Who Waited was engaging, beautifully acted, and heartbreaking. I cried a couple of times watching this episode, and it was worth it. It might be my favorite hour of television all summer.

Sep 092011
 

Sorry for the radio silence folks. I went to Dragon*Con last weekend, which was awesome, but then came down with what some folks like to call the Con Crud, which was not awesome.  I am just now starting to feel human again, so I wanted to pop by to post my impressions of the most recent True Blood episode that aired last Sunday, September 4th, Soul of Fire.

So, now to see who read past the title to see what I meant by it. It seems to me that the producers of True Blood (and of any similar television series, really) have just one objective: to get ratings. For this episode they tapped into the dark and sexy magic of Bon Temps resident Brujo, Jesus. To that end they use a lot of death, blood and special effects – things that are sexy on television. In a way that makes it sometimes difficult to tell “good guy” from “bad guy”, Jesus uses his powers to save everyone from Marnie who has now bound Antonia’s spirit to her self and is hell bent on killing the vampires and anyone else who gets in the way.  Marnie, who started out as a pretty sympathetic (or pathetic) character really turned the tables once we learn that she is not just a conduit for an evil spirit from the Spanish Inquisition but, rather, a disturbed woman using her magic, and even religion, to get her own revenge on the world.  I am not saying that is completely inaccurate. I have known plenty of Pagans who might be on this path for what we perceive as the wrong reasons. True Blood just takes that to the next level – a Hollywood level.

But the real Wiccans are left in the dust. Holly Cleary is exactly that character. I guess when it comes down to brass tacks, it is simply more sexy to show Jesus and Lafayette covered in blood invoking a demon than it is to show Holly lighting some candles and honoring the Goddess.  The truth is, what we do as Pagans is still considered “weird” by most non-Pagans, if they even know we exist in the first place.  I bet if you asked the producers of True Blood how they did, the would feel they did a pretty good job depicting Wiccans.  Wiccans, in general, are kind of boring and we don’t make very good television.  Brujos and demons and vampires and misguided women who use magic negatively – those make good television.

The show isn’t done yet. One more episode is set to air this coming Sunday, September 11th.  It seems to me that they have an awful lot of content to wrap up in just one hour of television.  Especially with the “surprise” ending of last week’s episode.

Aug 292011
 

Well, it seems that mild-mannered Marnie isn’t as mild-mannered as we had assumed. Even Antonia is a little frightened by what she has witnessed.  The old spirit wants to call off the whole thing, but Marnie maintains control to get revenge on not only the vampires who have wronged her but the humans as well.

Marnie/Antonia are holding the witches hostage in Moon Goddess Emporium.  Holly, Bon Temps real Wiccan, talks Tara into helping her find and cast a counter spell. Tara is concerned that she doesn’t speak Latin so they shouldn’t try the spell but Holly maintains that magic is about intention and she would like to believe the Goddess would hear them even if they don’t get all the worlds right.  They cast the counter spell right under Marnie’s nose proving that while she is evil, she isn’t very observant. But she is faster than she looks and as the girls are making their escape, she stops them and transports them to somewhere unknown.

Just like in life, in True Blood there are good people and bad people. There are good vampires and bad vampires. There are good witches and bad witches.  There are only two more episodes left, so I am curious to see how the season plays out.

Aug 232011
 

I thought season four of True Blood started out a little slow, but I liked the newest episode “Let’s Get Out of Here” that aired yesterday, Sunday August 21.

There was an exploration of polyamory which was as informative as it was sexy. There were some witchy stereotypes played off for laughs. There is Roy, and we all know a Roy. In fact, I’ve known several.  He seems to represent that wide-eyed naive newbie witch who wants to try some of everything, even if that means following the spirit of a long dead Spanish woman taking revenge the vampires. Back in the day, when I was in college, we did stuff like this but we were playing at it. I call it Dungeons and Dragons Wicca now. We also see Antonia, now fully possessing Marnie, become more and more cruel as she kidnaps the Wiccans to keep them out of her way while she goes off to kill the vampires.  Holly once again expresses that she can get caught up in the dark magic.  And then we have the unnamed Wiccan who declares that she is not a real witch, she just got into to piss off her parents.  I’ve known those folks too.

There are only a few episodes left. In two weeks I will be at Dragon*Con in Atlanta where Charlaine Harris will be a featured guest.  I’ll see if I can get any insider information for our faithful Juggler readers.

 

Aug 162011
 

On Friday, I got an email from Jason over at The Wild Hunt asking me for my take on a recent article by Reuters about Real Witches and True Blood.

I had read the article and it struck me, as things like this typically do, as a bit of overwrought hype. Reuters goes after “real witches” to get their take on insert-pop-culture-reference-here. And, as expected, people with fantasy-novel sounding magical names with inexplicable extra vowels respond with great dismay to the way a fictional series portrays Wicca.  I’m sorry, is my bias showing? Don’t even get me started. I have some issues with our ability to be taken seriously as a community and I’m not sure that responses to the media like this do Pagans any justice.

So, I answered Jason. And he shared my ideas with the readers of The Wild Hunt. And, I think that he sums everything up perfectly at the end his posting.

When a newspaper, newswire, or tabloid calls us up looking for a “real Witch” to give an opinion on “True Blood” we need to decide which narrative we are going to feed. Whether we feel positively, negatively, or don’t really care, we should always emphasize that we realize this is simply fiction, and that we are engaging with it on that level. That we are dealing with a show that places a priority on melodrama, blood, and sex. We should reference the Harry Potter years and point out that it never turned out to be a significant recruiting tool for Witchcraft traditions, and that we don’t expect “True Blood” to be either. If “True Blood,” when the season closes, ends up being a largely positive portrayal of Wicca or Witchcraft then all better, but even if it isn’t we have bigger things to worry about than a television show that mainly exists to show off attractive people in various states of undress.

The most recent episode, airing yesterday, showed the conflict of the Witches and Vampires coming to a head. It is no doubt that Antonia is very powerful. It is also no doubt that she is very fictional. She is a necromancer, a Catholic and a woman burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition by vampires moonlighting (pun intended) as priests. Centuries later, her restless spirit attached herself to a vulnerable soul to exact her revenge. The writers have taken a very real community, Wiccans, and put them in an improbable situation including vampires, werewolves and countless other supernatural beings. So far it has made for exciting, or at least entertaining, television if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Aug 092011
 

True Blood Update: I really have little sympathy for Tara Thornton at this stage of the game. She wonders why she is always in dangerous situations – well, it seems you keep putting yourself in dangerous situations, sweetheart!  If all she wants to do is get the hell out of Bon Temps, she shouldn’t be aligning herself with the big bad in every season.

There was some new activity with our witches this week. Mild Mannered Marnie is no longer inhabiting her body and an old timey witch named Antonia has taken over in order to plot revenge on all the vampires.  Never mind that vampires have apparently reformed since the seventeenth century. Marnie/Antonia recruits oft-abused Tara to help her with this mission since Tara has experienced much pain at the hands of vampires. Rather than getting the hell out of dodge with her super hot girlfriend, Tara agrees to help and begins gathering Bon Temps witches, Wiccans, new agey weirdos and hippies to come together for this purpose. It seems that Antonia’s supernatural magic doesn’t require what we real-world modern Pagans and Witches would call “magic”. She just needs people to come together.  With their network of energy she is able to cast a spell to control all the vampires (in Bon Temps? Louisiana? The US? the World?) and get them all to come out into the sun to face the truth death. We are left with a cliffhanger at the end of the episode.

My only hope is that Holly, Bon Temps’ real Wiccan, is only involved for the greater good. I want to see her character represent the fictional Wiccan community is a more positive way. If you have read the books, you may already be familiar with her character and understand my concern about her place in the story right now.

In other Witchy news – Jesus and Lafayette are at their weird family reunion in Mexico where surprisingly everyone speaks English and we learn that Lafayette is a powerful medium.  Seemingly he is as powerful as Marnie. Could it be possible that this is a sign of things to come? Perhaps an epic battle between good and bad spirits who are dwelling within Marine and Lafayette?

There are, of course, the rest of the stories. Can amnesiac-Eric really be in love with Sookie? What will happen when his memories are restored? What about all this lead up to Jason being turned into a werepanther? Is it all for nothing? And creepy baby…what’s up with you?

Jul 202011
 
The summer season seems to be full swing. HB0 and Syfy seem to have some winners or at least some non-losers on their schedules.
Hit: Syfy’s Alphas.  I wasn’t planning to watch this show until my partner – who doesn’t watch nearly as much television as I do – told me he saw the pilot and loved it.  I watched the pilot episode and was pleased. In some ways it was what I desperately wanted Heroes to be.  But what I liked the most about it was that the “super powers” portrayed weren’t necessarily super at all.  Each member of the alphas team seems to have more of an enhanced ability. Their powers come from real sources in their brains. It is exploring the full spectrum of human potential.  I think this would be interesting to those of us magically or spiritually minded.
The second episode aired last night.  I enjoyed it as much as the first.  Looks like, as of right now, the concept will be an “Alpha of the Week” storyline.  I cant wait to see what kinds of enhanced human abilities they continue to come up with week to week.  Check it out – it is available on your cable’s On Demand, streaming at the Syfy page, and airs Mondays at 10pm.
Miss: Torchwood Miracle Day on Starz.  I really wanted to like this. I was a huge fan of the show when it was on BBC (America).  I liked that it was a somewhat grown up version of Doctor Who. However, the move to Starz might have been the wrong choice for producers.  The premier episode played out like a parody of “American Television” ™ and I don’t think that was what they were going for. It was as though they said “oh yeah, American’s really like stuff like this” without taking in to account the actual story they were trying to tell.  The theme of the show deals with immortality and I am curious so I’ll probably keep watching, but not as “must see” TV.
I just watched the second episode last night as well and was equally as disappointed. It occurred to me that it just doesn’t feel like Torchwood.  Sure, something supernatural is going on but it is missing some sort of oomph.  The last Torchwood project was also a “mini series” (Children of Earth) but it felt like the same show.  So far, the only thing I like about it is Bill Pullman‘s portrayal of a murderer who gets out of jail free on a “beautiful technicality”.
In Between: Syfy’s Haven. I admit, I really enjoyed this how last year.  It isn’t a blockbuster. It probably isn’t even something that most people would like, but it makes for a nice summer series if you’re trying to stay cool indoors. It does deal with magic in some form or another. The show is very loosely based on a Stephen King book – but the operative word is loosely. If you watch it expecting anything to do with the book The Colorado Kid, you will be sorely disappointed. I think it might have been better served just being considered its own story.  It centers on a sleepy town in Maine called Haven where weird stuff happens.  They call it The Troubles and our intrepid law enforcement team with the requisite sexual tension spend each episode tracking down the troubled person and helping them overcome it.
And now, some True Blood. The fourth episode aired on Sunday, July 17th and like the first three it had high and low parts.  I keep forgetting to mention the Evil Baby storyline. It is completely original to the series and I find it appropriately creepy.  I’m curious to see how that will play out and if it will intermingle with the witchy plot of the season.  I’m not yet disappointed by the Witches in the story.  In this episode, we learned that there was a situation in Spain centuries ago where one rogue “Witch” caused, apparently, much trouble for the then-hidden vampires. And we quickly learn that it is that witch who is taking up residence in the mind of simple Wiccan, Marnie. I think Marnie is stellar. Frankly, I think she is authentic. I know a lot of folks like her – relatively normal but a little quirky and completely devoted to the Goddess and their spirit guides. Unlike the books, she doesn’t seem to be in control of her actions against the vampires but also her actions seem a little more realistic (well, considering the supernatural basis for them). As opposed to just a “bad witch” who just wants to control the vamps, she is actually a regular witch possessed by someone with a several hundred year grudge against the vamps. Much more reasonable.
I understand that some people are concerned about Jason’s story. I had mentioned it in passing last week and kind of blew it off as a story line that I like, but didn’t really address the violence. This was an aspect of Jason’s story that I really loved from the books and I guess maybe I’m not surprised that this was the way the producers chose to portray it. Because Charlaine Harris’s books are told from Sookie’s point of view, it is difficult to dive into the real background of the side stories. Instead, it comes down to things that Sookie observes or what Jason tells her directly. Reading the books, we didn’t get a real taste for what Jason really went through. In the series, I am intrigued by this inbred were-panther community and I am not at all surprised that this is how they would deal with Jason. I am appropriately horrified, but I know in general how it ends and would like to see if the producers take it there.
Jul 122011
 

I sat down on Sunday night to watch True Blood Season 4, Episode 3 and realized I wasn’t so sure I cared any more.  Americans, myself included, have such a short attention span that perhaps the series has run its course.

There are some things I like about this story. Most of these things are what I liked about this books as well.  Among the better subplots is the captivity of Jason Stackhouse. Having read the books, I always hoped they would explore his experience with the were-panthers.  As television is likely to do, some parts of the tale have changed a bit but I am still interested in seeing how it goes.

But, on to the witches…after the cut.

Continue reading »

Jul 092011
 

The 70s cult classic The Wicker Man has long been a favorite of Pagans.  We all know the story. It centers on a remote pagan community where an unsuspecting law enforcement officer gets tricked into becoming their human sacrifice. The movie is classic example of a B grade horror movie and one can only ponder how movies like that achieve their cult status. The movie features the amazing talents of Christopher Lee which seem almost wasted.  And, inexplicably, the movie is practically a horror-musical. As I say all of these disparaging things, I say them all with great fondness. I love the badness that is The Wicker Man.

And you know what – it seems that most Pagans love it. Many years ago for PanGaia Magazine I was part of the team that put together the Pagan Bookshelf Series.  When we were discussing the best Pagan movies The Wicker Man came up both as “the best of the best” and a movie we love to hate.

Why do pagans love it?  In this movie, we are the Big Bad – the evil force.  Pagans are the monsters who kill the devout Christian (aka the innocent victim). How does this not shed a negative light on Paganism? It places us in the position of an “Us vs. Them” power struggle. Is it playing out a rebellious fantasy for us? In spite of our calls for religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, is what we really want actually retribution?

And now, the “spiritual sequel” is due out this year.  Watching the trailer for The Wicker Tree I am both entertained and appalled.  This updated movie seems like it will have more of a horror punch which The Wicker Man lacked due to the technology of the time.  But this movie still features the evil pagan cult who tricks a virtuous Christian couple into their snare.

Jugglers, tell me – what is it about these movies that make us love them? It seems to me that our community can flip out over a beer label, but refuses to have the same reaction to The Wicker Man.  We are vocal about True Blood’s portrayal of Dionysos and, now, Wiccans.  Why aren’t we up in arms about a movie that takes Pagans and makes them into the villains and murderous monsters?