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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Gabriel de Gravone
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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 kleptomaniac and the jeweler enter through a door on the right-hand side of the room. In the next shot, they are standing on the left side on the room, and the objects on the shelf behind them have changed position. The shot in which they enter is flipped (look closely at the buttons on the actors' clothes). 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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The striking visuals would in themselves be sufficient reason to watch "Häxan", but in addition it is a thought-provoking feature that combines dark humor, some occasional chilling moments, and perceptive commentary on human nature. It's an unusual package and an unusual feature, and there aren't many films quite like it.
Simply on the surface, the series of unusual visuals and believable recreations of bygone eras would make for interesting viewing. Benjamin Christensen added a strong dose of the macabre to practically every scene, even in some of the smaller details that are only noticeable upon repeat viewings. Some of it is fascinating, some of it unsettling, all of it interesting.
But there is much more to "Häxan" than a mere collection of grotesque images and vignettes. Towards the end, in particular, the commentary becomes quite pointed. It is quite easy for anyone - film-maker, writer, commentator - to criticize and condemn the beliefs and practices of the Middle Ages or of any other long past era. But it is far more of a challenge to, as Christensen has done here, point out the sometimes devastating parallels to one's own era. It is always such a comforting fiction to believe that we are so much more enlightened than past generations have been, and yet it is rarely if ever true.
Christensen aptly illustrates the point that the inability to deal with the odd, the eccentric, and the unusual in our fellow beings is a perennial failing of humanity. Each generation simply devises its own means of stigmatizing and punishing those who cannot conform. (Nor is our own generation markedly better than was Christensen's.) This feature can certainly be viewed (either in the original silent version, or in the 1960s version with some spoken narration) for entertainment value alone. But it is even more pertinent in its observations on human nature. It's an often unsettling movie, with some images that might be bit too uncomfortable for some viewers. But for all that, it's an unusual and worthwhile viewing experience.
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