Earlier this week, I read John Beckett's recent piece, Twelve Movies to Inspire Your Magic, and I was, I must say, uninspired. I've seen all those movies, and I enjoyed many of them, but the only one I ever found inspirational on that list was Practical Magic. To me, the magic that movie inspires is the radical act of being out, loud, and proud as a witch, and about the life-changing magic of convincing people that witches aren't evil the only way that works; by being consistently, publicly, undeniably Good. That's a tightrope I try hard to walk. Then, I read John Halstead's piece, “You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up" which I agreed with most of, but it too was also uninspiring (and, honestly, a little mean-spirited).
A lot of you might not know this, but I used to write a movie review blog. So, I'm about to step in the ring. Here are twelve movies that inspire my magic, with brief explanations. I've tried to, more or less, rank them from funniest to most serious. I also tried to find twelve, but these nine really said everything I have to say.
TRIGGER WARNING: There are a surprising number of suicides in the movies on this list. I'm not sure what that says about me and our media culture. Also, there's a sexual assault and a stoning.
1) The Men Who Stare At Goats. This witty comedy has sparkling writing that kept me laughing the whole way through. It stars George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges, and a funny goat. Several funny goats, actually. It tells the story of an Army unit devoted to developing super soldiers with psychic powers. Jedi warriors, if you will. If you've ever spent any time in the "occult" community, you'll recognize several of the characters as brilliant send-ups of our tropes. What it inspires: For me, this movie inspires me to not take myself too seriously until it's time for seriousness, and then it inspires me to remember that I'm a mother-fucking sorceress, and I do not take shit lying down.
2) When Do We Eat? is a Passover movie. Ira Stuckman (Michael Lerner) runs a christmas ornament empire, and prides himself on the fastest passover seder ever (although I suspect my family could give him a run for that money). The Stuckmans haven't had a Passover together in years, but this year, Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren) has gone all out. All the Jewish family stereotypes are present; the holier-than-thou newly chasidic son (Max Greenfield), the lesbian-sex-therapist daughter (Meredith Scott Lynne), the disaffected teenager (Ben Feldman), the autistic savant youngest son (Adam Lamberg), the Holocaust survivor grandfather (Jack Klugman), etc... Ira is still committed to getting through as quick as possible. However, he is accidentally dosed with LSD and ecstasy, and the real magic of Passover shines through. What it inspires: For me, this movie inspires most that feeling we Jews call k'lal Israel; the bonds of family and tribe. But it's also about the overwhelming power of myth to transform and inspire. It's about the magical power of love in all it's messy complicated forms. And it's (of course) about the inherent magic of Passover: it inspires hospitality for the stranger, because I was a stranger in Egypt. It inspires me to work for the liberation of all, because I was a slave. Finally, it inspires tears of gratitude, because I was brought out of the house of Bondage, and led past the land of limitation.
3) Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity is the only movie on my list to feature magic qua magic. It stars Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy) as a frustrated single mother who has not time for romance, magic, or nonsense. Her young daughter (played BRILLIANTLY by Valerie Tian) discovers a book on Taoist magic at the local shop, and begins to experiment. Her magic enriches the lives of her whole neighborhood. This is an adorable movie about the power of small magics. When I saw it on Netflix, portions of the movie were in Chinese without subtitles, which I thought was fine, and had no trouble following, but viewing companion found very frustrating. What it inspires: For me, this movie inspires me to find the child-like wonder that accompanies all good magic.
4) The Matrix. Sure, sure. It's overplayed. Sure, sure, some people claim there were some very bad sequels, but I deny their very existence. Sure, sure it's been largely co-opted by douchey dude-bros. Sure, sure, sure. But, if you can tell me this movie didn't inspire you to do some magic the first time you saw it, I just don't believe you. Like...really...do you even magic, bro? What it inspires: There is no spoon.
5) Fantasia was, full disclosure, my late mother's favorite movie, so I saw it at least once a year since I was about 6 and VCRs were invented. It might be less inspiring for you. But, Fantasia is also the only movie on my list that qualifies as a "classic". If I were writing a list of the best movies every made, Fantasia is the only one on this list that might make it there too. When it was released in 1940, Fantasia was a ground-breaking, world-changing piece of art, and it still is. For many people, Fantasia is their first exposure to the gut-wrenching power of classical music, and the first (and tragically, for many, the only) time they loose themself in a piece of abstract art. When I put Fantasia on this list, I had genuinely forgotten it even had a piece about magic. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, is, I suppose, inspiring, but mostly in a "I'll show you!" kind of way. For me, the most inspiring b oitsf Fantasia are the first piece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which teaches how to visualize music, and the "intermission" where Leopold Stokowski, one of the great conductors, teaches how he understands music. If you have the chance to watch the extended DVD with commentary, I strongly recommend it. Few people know how involved Stokowski was in the conceptual framework of the movie; in many ways, Fantasia is a collaboration among some of the greatest artists, musicians, and storytellers of its day. It's Bardcraft for Bards. What it Inspires: For me, more than anything else, Fantasia is about the interplay of music, visual art, and mythic narrative. It taught me how dramatic tension works, and how to draw an audience's heart after mine. More that anything else, Fantasia taught me that the most "sophisticated", "complex", and "abstract" arts were well within reach of everyone. Like I said, this movie is a Masterclass in Bard Magic. If you've never seen Fantasia on a big screen, ideally in a park, I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.
6) Dead Poet's Society is, admittedly, a little cheesy. But, the line between inspirational and cheesy is actually kind of a fine one. :) I don't know how to explain why this movie is inspiring to me without spoiling it, but remember that I spent most of the last decade being a priestess of knowledge, undercover as a prep school teacher. You might be starting to sense a theme about magic=bardcraft in this list, which isn't ALL of my magic, but it is a lot of it. This movie is a bit dated, but it holds up well. Excellent performances by archbard Robin Williams (the only actor to headline two movies on this list; peace be upon him), as well as young Robert Sean Leonard (House), Josh Charles (The Good Wife), and Ethan Hawke (literally everything).
6) Like Water for Chocolate in some ways, is another version of Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity, and it touches on similar themes. I am a complete sucker for Latin American magical realism romances about food; for a lighter, Candomble-themed, version of these same themes, check out "Woman on Top". Like Water for Chocolate is passionate and sad, and teaches about the power of passion and sympathetic magic. What it Inspires: Advanced Kitchen Witchery.
7) What Dreams May Come is an intoxicatingly beautiful movie whose cosmology I mostly disagree with. Another excellent showing by archbard Robin Wiliams, the writing and acting in this movie are good, but it's the direction and art-design that really shine. The underlying notion of creating, and exploring a world made out of imagination was a powerful one for me, as a 10-year-old bussing magician, and the notion of how all of our imaginal realities might intersect was even more inspiring. Also, truth be told, I learned to psychopomp from this movie. What it Inspires: An understanding of the nature of the astral/imaginal worlds, and how they intersect with both our world and the Other Place. How to guide a man through hell.
8) Vision is a German biopic about Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century visionary, radical feminist, artist, musician, polymath and "Catholic" saint. I cannot say how historically accurate this movie is; I suspect it rather plays up the feminist and pagan themes. However, it's beautiful, both visually and musically, and wonderfully lush. The acting is excellent; I really like the way they avoid "modern" body language and facial expressions. You never really know what's going on in Hildegard's mind. However, once again, it's the art direction that does it for me; this movie, much like Hildegard, conveys its message best in music, art, and poetry. What it inspires: About two months after I saw this movie, St. Hildegard appeared to me in a vision, and charged me to found an abbey, which is now called the Pittsburgh Witch House.
9) Agora is the only explicitly pagan movie on this list. It's a biopic about Hypatia, the last dean of the great Academy and Library at Alexandria. Hypatia was, in the movie and in life, a brilliant mathematician, inventor, orator, and poetess; Hypatia was, unquestionably, one of the last great pagan thinkers of the classical world. Like Vision, this is not a historical documentary, its an artistic retelling of history with a clear bias. (and, honestly, more or less the same bias...a feminist/pagan/pluralist one) Even I think this movie is heavy-handed with it's Pagans=civilized, Christians=barbarians message, but, I mean...I'm pretty alright with that. I have seen this movie at least 12 times, but when (SPOILER, but, I mean...this is history) she is sexually assaulted and then stoned to death by a mob led by Cyril, "Pillar of Faith and Seal of all the Fathers", Patriarch of Alexandria, I have never failed to weep. What it Inspires: It might not be a shock to you, if you've gotten this far, but I'm a radical feminist priestess of knowledge dedicated to mathematics, art and mythopoetry, who also really likes costume drama. So, this movie pretty much ticks all my boxes. But, a deeper level, this movie inspires me to keep fighting, in the face of sometimes overwhelming hatred and ignorance. At the end of the day, what this movie inspires, in me, is that I rage, rage at the dying of the light.