Friday, October 27, 2017

Practical Magic Was Cursed

Here's an interesting tidbit of Hollywood lore about the 1998 film Practical Magic. In a recent interview published by Vulture, director Griffin Dunne claimed that the film was cursed by a real witch. The film did poorly at the box office when it first came out and critics hated it, but it apparently has developed something of a cult following over the years. You know, just as if somebody threw a curse that waned over time. In the article, Dunne explains how it happened.

There’s something that I’ve never told anyone about before, it’s an interesting story and kind of scary too. I had a witch consultant on the movie. While I was developing it, I was never quite sure I had a real handle on the movie because, quite honestly, witches had no great interest to me. But I loved the book and I liked the setting and when I was working with this witch consultant, it occurred to me that I was making a movie about something I do know a lot about — strong women. I grew up in a house with a strong mother and my grandmother. These were formidable women. And my sister was no slouch.

So I had three generations of formidable women and when I got that into my head, I realized it’s not really about spells and spell books and all that — it’s about a legacy being passed from one generation to another. That helped me understand it, and that understanding came out of these conversations I had with this witch consultant. I thought she was a really intelligent person and I invited her to come to Los Angeles to observe the rehearsals with Sandy and Nicole. I had my producer make her a reservation at a nice hotel, and call her, and the witch goes, “You’re not going to buy me off with a hotel room. I want a percentage of the movie. I’m going to have my own Practical Magic cookbook.” She was paid quite well, and she says, “I want an additional $250,000 dollars.” The producer told her that’s just not possible. And she goes crazy and scares the shit out of the producer.

She says, “I’m going to put a curse on you. I’m putting a curse on this movie, and I’m putting a curse on Griffin.” So the producer comes back to my rehearsal, white as a ghost, and she tells me, “That call did not go well. She’s really really angry.” I had no idea quite what happened, so I get back to my office on the Warner Bros. lot and I listen to my voice-mail. [Drops voice to a growl.] “How dare you sic that shrew on me? You think you can buy me off, well let me tell you something? There is a land of curses!” And then she slips into tongues. It was terrifying. I listened to as much as I could and then I hung up. Within minutes, Warner’s been served with papers. She’s suing Warner Bros.

The movie flopped, Dunne never worked as a director again, and Warner Bros. would go on to settle the suit for an undisclosed sum. So there's really no way to say that the curse didn't work. The witch got everything she wanted. As for the cult status of the film, I've never seen so I have no idea if it's any good. But all curses wane over time, so if the film was good and its quality was at first being obscured by a curse - well, everything would work out pretty much as it has. I do find it bad form, though, to make threats if you're planning on cursing someone.

For one thing, threats render your results unscientific. If your target knows they're cursed they might change their behavior, and that means whatever happens won't necessarily be the result of paranormal action. So it makes your results hard to compare with those of other pure-probability spells that don't involve people. As I see it, a magician who threatens is doubting his or her ability to get the job done with magick alone. Magicians who are confident in their abilities simply curse, say nothing, and then sit back and observe the results.

In the interview, Dunne also mentions that in response to the curse he added the line to the film, “Curses only have power when you believe them.” That's a common New Age trope, but don't buy it for a second. It's true that a curse with no paranormal power, that works only by fear and suggestion rather than probability manipulation, won't work if you don't believe in it. But a real paranormal curse shifts probabilities around a target, so belief doesn't matter at all.

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