“Lights, Camera, Witchcraft” – LCW, is a thorough historical and cultural look at the expressions of witches and witchcraft in American movies and television since Hollywood or its variants began (1880s pretty much). Even limiting this review to American movies/media finds more than enough material for this weighty work. At 460 pages it is a complete reference of this topic.
It’s taken me a while to get to this review but here it is. It may be hard to come up with new things to say about the great book, but I’ll try. My first disclaimer is that I did not own the previous book, “Bell, Book and Candle”, this current edition is the 2nd, Revised edition. But I did recommend the first edition to the library I worked at as well as friends or other libraries. And years ago I also was a co-National Officer with Heather in Covenant of the Goddess and admire her work there too.
I’ve always been intrigued with movies about horror, including witchcraft. Being an indoors child I watched a lot of TV, some of these films are well known to me. Reading LCW has been a grand walk down memory lane, yet with many things to find anew.
A brilliant foreword by Peg Aloi, Media studies scholar, shows why this scholarship is so necessary, perhaps now more than ever. Aloi writes that by understanding the cultural evolution of witches, how it teaches history too, also helps us teach and understand ourselves.
LCW begins with stating Greene’s methodology for media selection, the various layers of witch’s roles in films from incidental to full characters and the different archetypes of the witches as portrayed. There is an overall typology of witches in the films, and a variety of sub-types to each. We are taken through decades of thematic constructions of the witch in an interesting and vibrant way. Greene’s writing has a fine cadence and although the matter and study is in depth and comprehensive this book is never dry or too academic. It is an accessible and delightful study of the witch in film.
Each chapter takes us through about a decade of the American cinema with a review list at the end displaying the main filmography detailed. LCW covers all the great films you’d expect but also pays critical attention to the ones you may not know about. I was gratified to see two or three movies receive their place in the sun – or would that be moonlight!? With the advent of television and the appearance of witches there, we see the cultural power of women and ‘others’ advances too.
There is an extensive art credit list of the many photos and illustrations as well as a bibliography and standard index. It really belongs on anyone’s bookshelf if you are interested, fascinated, or need an exhaustive analysis of the witch through American film, cinema, and television.
No one should understate the importance of the cultural evolution and zeitgeist that bridges the cinematic witch with so many other currents in our society: women’s rights and roles, gender identity’s, civil rights, and all other freedoms of expression. The discussion on Witches of Color and aspects of othering and stereotyping of black witches, male witches as it relates to the advances made in roles for POC in general was invaluable.
Drawing from the rich tales and stories of our human cultures through millennia, this exploration of witches in the American cinema is delightful and scholarly. Through time and the camera’s eye we see the witch as transformative, transactional, and hopefully transcendent. While the witch may remain a part of society’s collective subconscious (and therefore ‘fantasy’) for much of the world, this study and analysis shows the great importance of movie and television influences on both our self-images as real witches, today and how society may normalize us too. -- reviewed by Oberon Osiris