Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ring the bell, close the book, quench the candle...

As a child, my favorite part of summer was getting to stay up late for "Bewitched Be-Wednesdays" on Nick at Nite. I spent every Thursday night of the fourth grade hiding under my blankets with the remote control, keeping the volume down as low as possible to avoid getting caught watching Charmed way past my bedtime. When I discovered the Harry Potter books in middle school, well, I don't think I need to explain how quickly I took to that particular phenomenon. I've just always loved stories about magic, so Bell Book and Candle is right up my alley.

The story is in many ways similar to every other portrayal of withcraft I've seen churned out by Hollywood. A group of decidedly odd and garishly dressed individuals who keep more or less to themselves go around casting spells until one of them decides not too anymore, and hilarity ensues. My fantasy-related fandoms have gotten increasingly complex as I've grown older, and this movie reminded me of the very simplest of them. I don't mean that negatively; it was like slipping on an old robe, but less tattered and more comfy.

Of course, clichés are sometimes necessary as a means of avoiding too much exposition. Director Richard Quine uses certain clichés to the best possible effect in this film. Immediately through the opening credits, the audience sees what kind of artifacts are for sale in Gil's shop and knows that these are Not Normal People, before any of the characters are even seen. The shot of Pyewacket jumping onto Gil's shoulder clarifies exactly what type of Not Normal we're dealing with; where there's a cat, there's usually a witch.

Before I give anyone the wrong impression, there are also a lot of original and interesting ideas at work here. Many fantastical works pay lip service to the notion that magical beings are a distinct species, but in this movie they have qualities apart from their powers to back that up. Witches and warlocks have no emotions, including love. If a witch experienced love, she would cease to be a witch -- at least, according to Queenie. The idea of magical powers coming with a high and very real price was interesting to me, because it's a concept that many stories flirt with but few truly follow through. I was glad to see this one did.

Overall, this is a good movie with a great cast. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a good witchcraft-and-broomsticks yarn should definitely check this one out.


  1. I dvr'd Bell, Book and Candle, I really want to watch it now after reading your review!

  2. Do it! Then let me know what you thought. It's really a cute film.

  3. For those of you who are unaware, the title of this review "Ring the bell, close the book, quench the candle", is the last sentence of the Catholic Church ex-comunication ceremonial ritual. As paganistic belief systems and practices are far older than Christianity, I do not see the relavence in a story about witchcraft. I have seen this movie many times, and although it it entertaining, it contains many factual inacuracies, mixed dogma, and outright fabricated fantasies regarding a true belif system; but that is OK, it's just a movie.

  4. Not very likely that witchcraft is older than Catholicism. If you mean that pre-Christian "belief systems" (whatever that may encompass) are older than Christianity, well then, yes: that's a tautology. But you are not referring to Baal or Dagon or some hypothetical moon god of 20,000 BC, you're talking directly about witchcraft, which does not seem to have any traceable roots in the pre-Christian era.