REALIZING THE WITCH

Editors note: Richard Baxstrom, co-author (along with Todd Meyers) of “Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible”, contacted us with a request that we add the recently included book to the bibliography on our Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] Certified Weird entry. He also included some thoughts on the book and why this academic work would be of interest to readers of this site. His commentary was long and detailed enough that we thought it merited its own post. Neither 366 Weird Movies nor Mr. Baxtrom were paid for this article; we simply thought it was an unusual situation which might be of interest to our readers.

’s 1922 film Häxan certainly qualifies as one of the strangest films ever made. This is the power the film possesses, and it caught Todd Meyers and me in its spell from the first time we encountered it. And this is what compelled us to write a book about it. We begin our book Realizing the Witch this way:

The Wild Ride. The Sabbat. Child sacrifice. Diseases, ruin and torture. The old hag. The kleptomaniac. The modern hysteric. Benjamin Christensen took the threads of phantasm and wove them into a film thesis that would not talk about witches, but would give the witch life. Häxan is a document, an amplified account of the witch insistent on its historical and anthropological qualities, presented through excesses so great that they toyed with his audience’s skepticism as much as their sensitivity. Christensen created an artistic work filled with irrationalities that not only made the witch plausible, but real.

Yes, you read that correctly—we argue that Benjamin Christensen shows us how the witch was real for sixteenth century Europeans. Our book is ultimately an attempt to understand how this could possibly be so. Even more strangely, we assert without shame or irony that Häxan has a great deal to say about what we take to be real or true today. Christensen always insisted that Häxan was a non-fiction film. We take his assertion very seriously and it is only by giving one’s self over to the utterly excessive, outlandish weirdness of Christensen’s creation that his claim and our agreement with it makes any sense at all. Anyone who has truly seen Häxan will immediately understand what we mean by this – the reality of the dark power of the witch is made known to us through her excessiveness, her weirdness.

We wrote this book for scholars and for fans of the film alike. This is a tricky balance to achieve. Our solution was to go as far as we could with Christensen and Häxan, to embrace and immerse ourselves in the film’s weirdness and try to come back from this journey with our own expression of why “the weird” is powerful, important, and truthful in its own way. This seems to be entirely consistent with what we perceive 366 Weird Movies is seeking to do and we are quite happy to find Häxan presented in the company of so many other wonderful, weird, and important films.

Richard Baxstrom

Edinburgh – March 2016

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