A historical view of witchcraft in seven parts and a variety of styles. First, there is a slide-show alternating inter-titles with drawings and paintings to illustrate the behavior of pagan... See full summary »
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A historical view of witchcraft in seven parts and a variety of styles. First, there is a slide-show alternating inter-titles with drawings and paintings to illustrate the behavior of pagan cultures in the Middle Ages regarding their vision of demons and witches. Then there is a dramatization of the situation of the witches in the Middle Ages, witchcraft and witch-hunts. Finally the film compares the behavior of hysteria of contemporary (1921) women with the behavior of the witches in the Middle Ages, concluding that they are very similar. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
To achieve the scene in which the witches are flying over the roofs of the town, Benjamin Christensen and his cameraman Johan Ankerstjerne photographed a miniature town (with each house about 2 meters in height) on an enormous turntable, which operated manually and took the strength of 20 men to operate. Then, several costumed actors were photographed on broomsticks against a black background. To make the heavy costumes ripple in the "wind" Christiansen brought in an airplane motor. A total of 75 witches were photographed, each individually, and a special optical printer was built by Ankerstjerne to put them together (only about three of four appear on the screen at one time). The construction of a model town was decided upon after test footage proved the original idea of shooting from a movie train was a bad one, as too many modern structures, not to mention telephone poles and wires, were unavoidable. The test footage survives and is superimposed with Christiansen seated in a chair, acting out the part of a witch. See more »
The monk drains his wine glass. When he chases the maid round the table in the next shot it is half full. See more »
Poor little hysterical witch! In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church. Now it is with the law.
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More commonly known as "Witchcraft Through the Ages", this is definitely one of the most bizarre, visually arresting movies of all time, even nearly 80 years later. It starts out as a rather dry documentary, detailing medieval superstitions and folklore while showing ancient woodcarvings of witches and demons in various forms. Then we move on into the dramatic portion of the film. In one scene we see witches concocting potions using the body parts of corpses from the gallows. One witch walks in carrying a bundle of sticks, and undoes the bundle revealing a decomposed human hand hidden inside. Fans of "The Blair Witch Project" should take notice, especially considering that the Danish title of this film is "Haxan", also the name of the movie company that created "Blair Witch".
Director Benjamin Christensen appears as a leering, tongue-wagging Satan, with very realistic makeup. The witches are shown with the Devil and his minions performing various acts of sacrilege and perversion that must have been extremely shocking at the time the movie originally appeared, and would be offensive to many people still. The film was banned for many years because of the depiction of these acts (not to mention the occasional nudity), as well as sacrileges performed by nuns and monks. There are some stop-motion animation sequences (pre-Harryhousen, no less) that are very good, especially for the time. This is a difficult movie to describe. It really is something that you'd have to see for yourself.
The version I am reviewing is actually the re-issue from 1966, with a dubbed-over narration by beat novelist/junkie William Burroughs, and a modern, jazzy score featuring Jean-Luc Ponty. I enjoyed Burroughs' narration quite a bit, but oftimes the music is annoyingly inappropriate. Sometimes it works very well, but most of the time I was wishing for a standard orchestral, or vitaphone, score. A Klezmer score, even, would have been very effective. There are a few different versions available, some with subtitles and an orchestral score. Maybe one of these days they'll come out with a version featuring the Burroughs narration along with a more appropriate orchestral score. That would be perfect. As it is, this an impressive, compulsively watchable film that still goes further than most dare to go, even in these much more permissive times.
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