Monday, March 21, 2011

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Christensen. 1922)

"We no longer burn our old and poor. But do they not often suffer bitterly?"


Do you think that silent films are boring? How about foreign films? The majority of you just answered those questions with an unmistakable- yes! Well, I would like to introduce to you a silent foreign film that is the opposite of boring. In fact, Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Benjamin Christensen, the film's writer/director, manufactured a fascinating "documentary" that was seemingly split into three parts.

I put quotes around documentary because, much like The Man with the Movie Camera, I do not consider this to be an absolute documentary film. The film is split into several chapters that make up three very different film styles. The first of these three is your standard documentary.

Häxan opens with several pictures and diagrams that teach the viewer about witchcraft. It is almost like you are watching a really interesting college lecture. This is the closest thing to documentary I have seen so far on the 1077 Films to See Before You Die. A man stands with a pointer at the side of these pictures and directs your attention to the important images. This is the least stunning part of the film, but it is still intensely thought provoking.

Christensen then throws you into the second part of Häxan. He stages and acts out scenes of what being accused of witchcraft may have been like in those times. This part of the picture is pure fiction - though based on factual accounts. These scenes are interesting and slightly disturbing. They feature men in devilish make-up that posses the souls of innocent women. These sequences are scary enough that you will be entertained. It is easy to see the influence that Häxan had on early horror film making.

The final stage of the film is more of a political statement than a documentary. Christensen spends the latter third of the film comparing the witch hunts of the earlier centuries to the treatment of the impoverished and elderly in modern times. He tells us that we treat our poor and old the same way that accused witches were treated. This is a neat and timely commentary that has the power to make you feel pretty awful about yourself. Though his message was meant for a 1922 audience, the ideals are not lost on today's youth.

The overall message of Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is that we should not let fear and religious fanaticism dominate our behavior. We have a responsibility to try and understand the world and the people in it who are different than us.

So yeah, the film is silent and the dialogue cards are in Swedish. But, with English subtitles, this is still a film that I very much encourage you to watch. It is one of the oldest films on the list, but it can be found on Youtube. So....no excuses.


Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages: A


My Next Film....Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror (Murnau. 1922)

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