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REVIEW | Fan-dumb: Josh Koury's "We Are Wizards"

Indiewire By Michael Rowin | Indiewire November 13, 2008 at 5:35AM

Full disclosure: I have never read any of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. I have never seen any of the blockbuster movies based on her series. That I plan to never do so is not entirely because of any perceived intellectual and emotional poverty of these books and movies--I know plenty of smart people who enjoy the Harry Potter stories, and there could be, at extremely generous moments, a certain side of me that would consider giving them a shot. But not as long as there are movies like "We Are Wizards," and not as long as there exist the Harry Potter-crazed subjects who comprise this painful documentary's meretricious survey of kitschy fandom.
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Full disclosure: I have never read any of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. I have never seen any of the blockbuster movies based on her series. That I plan to never do so is not entirely because of any perceived intellectual and emotional poverty of these books and movies--I know plenty of smart people who enjoy the Harry Potter stories, and there could be, at extremely generous moments, a certain side of me that would consider giving them a shot. But not as long as there are movies like "We Are Wizards," and not as long as there exist the Harry Potter-crazed subjects who comprise this painful documentary's meretricious survey of kitschy fandom.

In the spirit of "Trekkies" and the recent proliferation of docs focused on devotees of mildly eccentric cultural phenomena ("Spellbound," "Wordplay," and guess what, there's a Dungeons and Dragons film a-comin'), "We Are Wizards" presents a panoply of Potter groupies whose love for their hero is shared with the world in the form of Harry-themed rock bands, alternate soundtracks to the movies, and protests against cease-and-desist policies leveled at fan sites. In other words, over-proud, geeky "expansions" of Rowlings' universe, as the film's one interviewed professor banally deems it with academic authority, shielding the stuntedness of adolescent fantasy with self-deprecating and pseudo-irreverent adorability.

Director Josh Koury, however, believes these Potterites represent a sort of power-to-the-people explosion of imagination and anticorporate resistance. He takes great pains, for instance, to frame a young woman's organized boycott of Warner Bros. (in reaction to the corporation's strict attitude toward fans using the Potter name on websites, et al) as a courageous stance against unfair copyright laws. The possibility that her fight might ultimately make Warner cognizant of a marketing strategy in which it can rake in even more money by allowing Potter forums to advertise their brand for free is never explored.

Similarly, Koury spends time (far too much time) with various adults, teenagers, and young children's "Wizard rock" cult followings--all located on the musical spectrum somewhere between talentless They Might Be Giants-esque cutecore and contrived attempts at Daniel Johnston's brand of naive timidity--as if the mere novelty of a precocious seven-year-old screaming about dragons while assaulting a guitar were some sort of subversive act of pop-culture appropriation.

Also thrown into "We Are Wizards"' unwieldy mix as a way to prove the Potter lovers' rebelliousness is one of those religious fundamentalists who genuinely believe the series seduces youngsters toward occult practices. Ironically, just like the pro-Potter majority this alarmist woman wildly overvalues Rowling's "magic," whether it's the author's insidious, corrupting influence or her preternatural ability to inspire creativity.

There's not much creativity on display in these Harryheads' "original" takes on the Potter series. "Wizard People, Dear Readers," an alternate soundtrack to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," features self-satisfied conspirator Brad Neely's vocal interpretations of the movie. Clearly taken with himself and his minor celebrity, Neely chuckles annoyingly at his own naughty, illegal spin on the movie. His underground approach? Little more than throwing a few "fucks" into bombastic speeches spoken in an insufferable, warlock-evoking tremolo. But the most damning evidence of Potter-disciple mediocrity might be Koury's film itself, an unholy mess.

"We Are Wizards" is the kind of documentary that complements voiceovers with completely unrelated industrial film clips from the 1950s, devotes inordinate, pointless amounts of running time to its subjects' extra-Potter activities (do we care that Neely's Potter fame helped his cartooning career?), and considers prepubescent girls' fawning adoration of a band called Draco and the Malfoys worthy of serious study.

Even at 79 minutes "We Are Wizards" is endless and, to cut to the heart of the matter, nothing more than an advertisement for an entertainment juggernaut-cum-lifestyle that needs word of mouth like a billionaire needs a tax break.

[Michael Joshua Rowin is a staff writer at Reverse Shot. He also writes for L magazine, Stop Smiling, and runs the blog Hopeless Abandon.]

This article is related to: Documentary, Online