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bergmanisgod

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

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For those who enjoy Dreyer's Day of Wrath, check out the Danish/Swedish silent Haxan. Benjamin Christensen uses dark humor and gothic imagery to show how witches are dealt with in the Middle Ages. The film makes you think how easy it is to accuse someone of witchcraft and have them killed. In the end, it comes down to whether you are liked by the powers that be, or not... It's my favorite silent (of the ones I've seen) with Passion of Joan of Arc a close second. The Malleus Maleficarum was an influence on the film if you want literature on the subject.

Edited by bergmanisgod

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By strange coincidence, I watched this for the first time just hours after posting my comment about the preponderance of witch-burning narratives on our Top 100.  And I don't think this is a recommendation for this film's inclusion on our new Top 100, but I highly recommend viewing it nonetheless.  As the Criterion booklet says, this is an essay film created before that was even a term, with a thoroughly engrossing mix of re-enactment, socio-historical commentary accompanied by period illustrations, and bizarro silent era special effects.  Danish writer/director/narrator Benjamin Christensen offers a plausible (and in my opinion, completely persuasive) socio-psychological explanation for the witch panic that spanned three centuries in Europe and America, and in re-creating witch trials in one German town, he allows us to empathize with victims of the panic, torture, and ecclesiastical/judicial murder.

I remember being gobsmacked when discussion of the 2015 horror film The Witch revolved in part around speculation over whether that film was depicting actual supernatural and historical events.  A persuasively argued film like this one should put such ideas to rest.

The film is not without its problems.  More recent scholarship puts the numbers of "witches" put to death from 1450-1750 at about 80K, not the 8 million figure Christensen uses.  I can't fault him for not having better data in 1922.  Where I do fault the director is for the musical prompts used at the film's premiere, which included a Jewish ceremonial composition by Max Bruch for an imagined witches' sabbath.  That ugly anti-Semitism puts this in the "problematic" category with either films that have made "Best of" lists here in the past, including The Passion of the Christ (anti-Semitism again), You Can't Take It with You (racism), and Murnau's Sunrise (its protagonist's misogyny and violent tendencies, even after his repentance).

 


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I was just reading an interview with Stephanie Coontz, a historian of the family, and she tangentially brought up an interesting point about witch trials:

 

Quote

So I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship between people’s social location and class interests and the way that we filter the needs produced by those through our desire to believe that we are meaningful and good human beings. And eventually that led me to be interested in how people come to struggle for social justice, as well as how people reconcile acceptance or promotion of injustice with what I believe is a fundamental social impulse toward reciprocity. For example, I came to believe that the witchcraft accusations, which tended to flow, not from the rich to the poor, or vice versa, but from people slight better off toward people slightly below them, were often triggered by guilt or fear about withdrawing from traditional neighborly relations of reciprocity.

 


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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