Thursday, October 5, 2017

Showcase Event Cinema: The Witches of Eastwick (1987) 30th Anniversary Screening

Showcase Superlux Chestnut Hill

On Monday I had the privilege of attending an exclusive event hosted by Showcase at their Super Lux location in Chestnut Hill, MA.  Showcase Event Cinema is the theater chain's initiative to bring classic movies, documentaries, anime as well as ballet, opera, stage productions and other entertainment to a wider audience.

The event I attended was a 30th anniversary screening of The Witches of Eastwick (1987). With Halloween just around the corner and the fact that the movie was filmed in Massachusetts, this seemed like the perfect pick for a Boston area event. Attendees mingled during the cocktail reception while a violinist serenading us as we nibbled on some delicious h'orderves and sipped on our signature cocktail. There was also a mini-red carpet and photography session. I got a couple photos taken and even had one printed out as a keepsake.

Jared Bowen of WGBH was on hand to kick off the event which would be capped off by an interview with screenwriter Michael Christofer. Before the attendees were whisked away to cinema #5 for the screening, we were treated to  a live performance of Je Suis Encoure Tout Etourdie performed by soprano Carley DeFranco with Stephanie Mao accompanying on the piano.

I've never been to one of the Super Lux cinemas so this was a real treat. The cinema boasts plush reclining seats with swivel trays and a call button. Visitors can order food and cocktails to be delivered to their assigned seats. Much to my delight I was offered a plush blanket to use during the screening. I'm always cold at movie theaters so this felt ultra luxurious. I also received a complimentary tub of popcorn and a bottle of water. I felt pampered in a way I don't usually experience when going out to the movies.

Directed by George Miller, The Witches of Eastwick follows the story of three women who suddenly find themselves single. Alexandra (Cher) is widowed, Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been abandoned by her husband and left to raise her six children and Jane (Susan Sarandon) just finalized her divorce from a husband frustrated by her inability to bear them a child. The three don't realize it yet but they're witches with magical powers. On a drunken night, they come up with the idea of their ideal man who materializes as Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), AKA the devil. He invades their town and their lives. The women feel liberated until their relationships with Daryl quickly spiral into chaos. Their small town, including the outspoken Felicia (Veronica Cartwright), can't handle the chaotic developments. Will the triumvirate be able to get rid of Daryl before he ruins all of their lives?

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

"If we're gonna have it, let's have it all." - Cher as Alexandra
"How much can you take before you snap?" - Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne

The Witches of Eastwick is not your typical family Halloween movie which is why it still flies under the radar. It can be raunchy and vile and is definitely a film to be enjoyed by adults. I love it's feminist message of empowerment. It's a smart movie that lacks the cheesiness of many others in its genre. However, as someone who loves cherries I might not be able to eat my favorite fruit for quite some time after watching this. Lucky for me, cherries are currently out of season.

Michael Christofer and Jared Bowen in conversation
Michael Christofer and Jared Bowen in conversation

The story was adapted from a novel by John Updike by the same name. Screenwriter Michael Christofer was intrigued by the first half the novel but not the second which had the three female protagonists turn on the local women in spite. In conversation with Jared Bowen, Michael Christofer called the second half of the book "John Updike's very very very dark view of women. It was not a story I wanted to tell." Christofer went on to say, "this was a very pertinent and hot political, sociological issue about women in a repressed state finding their own power and then getting to use it. [And] this devil was an extraordinary character that I have never seen before. It was fun to write."

The filming of The Witches of Eastwick was anything but smooth sailing. In particular producer Jon Peters drove everyone nuts. Christofer said, "it was the '80s. There was a thing called cocaine that many people indulged in. There was a lot of strange behavior on the set."  In fact, director George Miller walked away from the movie twice and the three female leads walked away once. Who brought them back? Jack Nicholson. About Nicholson, Christofer said "He's a madman. He's completely crazy. But he was so dedicated and so disciplined. There is not a word on screen that was not right out of the script. He made it into something extraordinary. I have enormous respect for him."

The cast originally was supposed to be Bill Murray, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey and Susan Sarandon, in Cher's role. According to Christofer, Wiest and Hershey were dropped because Jon Peters and other executives didn't think the three women would make for a good movie poster. Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer were brought on with Sarandon's role switched. Have you noticed the particular attention to hair in the film? The three women each have a distinct hair color and style and Sarandon's changes as her character blossoms. Nicholson sports a wild man that is as untamed as his character. Producer Jon Peters was a former hairdresser and his influence can be seen in this respect. Christofer, in his best Jack Nicholson voice, recalled the actor saying to Peters, "Jon, you know we all get nervous when you start talking about hair."

Christofer's script was to have the climax of the film in the church scene followed by a short coda. However, movies with special effects were trending and a spectacular scene with the devil coming back for the women was added. While it's quite dramatic it doesn't add anything to the film and makes the ending longer than it needs to be. It was also very expensive and in Christofer's opinion "it was boring."

The Witches of Eastwick was filmed in Massachusetts notably Cohasset, Ipswich and Marblehead. The story is set in Rhode Island and they were supposed to film in Little Compton. Christofer recalls 'The deacons of the church threw us out. The Massachusetts film board lobbied really strongly to get us to come to Massachusetts."

Could this film be made today? Christofer's answer: no. He went on to say:

"It would have to be a small art film, done by independent financing. The language alone, the sexuality, these things... I had a lot of freedom then in terms of dialogue, in terms of writing those and in terms of writing that character. Which we don't have any more... I don't know what this movie cost. I'm going to guess $25 million maybe $30 million. To make this movie now the way we made it would be over $100 million. It was championed as a huge hit. It brought in $20 million in the first two weeks. Compare that to $50 million on the first weekend which is what films are expected to do now. Money, it's all about money."

Showcase Event Cinema will be hosting screenings of The Witches of Eastwick (1987) on October 26th. They'll also be showing the following classic movies:

TCM The Princess Bride 30th Anniversary - 10/15 and 10/18
TCM Casablanca 75h Anniversary - 11/12 and 11/15
TCM Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? 50th Anniversary - 12/10 and 12/13

Many thanks to the folks at Showcase and Marlo Marketing for the opportunity to attend this event.

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