Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Three women: Alex Medford (a sculptress), Jane Spofford (a cellist), and Suke Ridgemont (a writer).  All three previously married, presently single, and feeling emotionally and sexually repressed.  That is until they meet the mysterious and flamboyant Daryl Van Horne, the new resident in the sleepy and cozy small New England coastal town of Eastwick.  He "meets" with them one-on-one which seems to be just fine.  He's awakening within them feelings they haven't felt for a long, long time.  But when an incident happens involving a town local, the three women must take matters into their own hands, even if it involves some sort of witchcraft. 

"The Witches of Eastwick" made its premiere on June 12, 1987 and earned over $63.7 million at the box office.  Based on a novel by John Updike, John joined up with Tony award winning Michael Crisofer to write the screenplay, his third screenplay attempt.  George Miller directed the film and seemed to have stepped out of his norm, having already directed such box office hits as "Mad Max," "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior," and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" as well a few others.

This film had a triumphant and powerhitting cast such as Jack Nicholson (Daryl Van Horn), Cher (Alexandra Medford), Susan Sarandon (Jane Spofford), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Sukie Ridgemont).  It also co-stars Veronica Cartwright (Felicia Alden) and Richard Jenkins (Clyde Alden, her husband).

Nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Music/Original Score by the infamous John Williams, "The Witches of Eastwick" was also nominated for various other awards, some of which it won.  Here are some other factoids regarding it...

1.  Bill Murray was originally cast to play Daryl Van Horne.

2.  Anjelica Huston was auditioned for the role of Alex, but she was passed over for the part which eventually went to Cher

3.  Cher was offered the role of Jane but preferred the part of Alexandra, the role that Susan Sarandon had been hired to play. Sarandon did not discover that she would be playing Jane until she showed up on location.

4.  The opening shot zooming in on the town of Eastwick was originally to feature a seagull flying along with the camera. Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Owens had great difficulty finding a suitable bird. The plan was to acquire a taxidermy-type bird and put animatronics in it. First, it turned out to be illegal to own a dead seagull in California. When they were able to borrow one, another law stated it to be returned to its legal owner in the same condition it came in. After turning the bird into a rod-puppet of sorts, the team spent weeks perfecting the motion with up to ten puppeteers working simultaneously. In the end, none of their work ended up on screen, because the opening credits were added to the shot, and the seagull was found to be too distracting.

5.  In an interview with the Australian magazine Cinema Papers in the early 1990s, the director, George Miller, revealed that the shoot had been extremely difficult as he was initially unfamiliar with Hollywood-style communication. In a meeting to discuss ways to reduce the budget Miller volunteered to give up his trailer because he was always needed on the set and had no time to use it. This was interpreted by the studio as him being a pushover, so they began to interfere with his production requests. If he asked for 50 extras, the studio would provide a dozen. If he asked for two cameras they would provide one. Miller decided to fight fire with fire and refused to shoot each scene until his production demands were met. The studio responded by looking for a new director but were prevented by Jack Nicholson, who supported Miller and vowed to walk off the production if he was replaced. 

6.  The piece Daryl Van Horne plays on the violin is Caprice #16 in Gm by Niccolo Paganini.

7.  The quote "A woman is a hole, isn't that what they say? All the futility of the world pouring into her" is from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's book, "Being and Nothingness".

8.  Industrial Light and Magic was hired to animate the tennis ball, as it violates the laws of physics in the tennis match. However, when it turned out the three main actresses were not very proficient tennis players, the effects company saw their workload doubled as they were asked to create the ball for the entire sequence (with the exception of some close-ups).

9.  Composer John Williams' own whistling was dubbed in over Jack Nicholson's for the scene in at the ice cream counter.

10.  A life-size animatronic puppet was made of actress Veronica Cartwright for the cherry pit vomiting scene. It gathered a lot of attention on set because it could realistically thrash about convulsively and spew out massive amounts of vomit on cue. However, preview audiences found the sequence too disgusting, and all the shots involving the puppet were cut out of the film.

11.  The snake seen crawling over Van Horne's bowl of fruit is a harmless gray-banded king snake (Lampropeltis alterna), common in Texas.

12.  While getting into bed with the mountain of snakes, Cher famously quipped, "Which one is (producer) Jon Peters?" 

13.  Jane's character believes she can't have children of her own until Daryl gets her pregnant. Susan Sarandon also thought she couldn't have children, until becoming pregnant with director Franco Amurri's child Eva Amurri Martino who was born in 1985.

14.  Test audiences were displeased with the original ending of the film, prompting several versions of the ending to be shot. 

15.  One of the endings that was abandoned even before shooting was completed took place in the pool area instead of the kitchen. This version would have had noticeably less special effects, apart from the fact that Jack Nicholson was to have walked on water. 

16.  The movie was turned into a television series, "Eastwick," also starring actress, Veronica Cartwright.

17.  The movie was turned into an award-winning comedy musical by Cameron Mackintosh.

And now you know.

It's rather difficult to classify this film as as comedy because it isn't just a comedy (though it certainly has its moments).  I would think it's a blend of comedy, drama, fantasy, and even a bit of the occult due to witchcraft being used.  One thing is for sure, though: For its time, the special effects was quite good and even won a BAFTA award for its achievement in that category.  And, of course, John Williams musical score was a triumph in and of itself, having been nominated for various awards and winning the BMI Film Music award.

Here are some picture stills from the film for your enjoyment...

Alexandra Medford: I think... no, I am positive... that you are the most unattractive man I have ever met in my entire life. You know, in the short time we've been together, you have demonstrated EVERY loathsome characteristic of the male personality and even discovered a few new ones. You are physically repulsive, intellectually retarded, you're morally reprehensible, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, stupid, you have no taste, a lousy sense of humor and you smell. You're not even interesting enough to make me sick.

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