Tag Archives: Documentary

68. HÄXAN [HÄXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES] (1922)

AKA The Witches; Witchcraft Through the Ages

Must See

“Such were the Middle Ages, when witchcraft and the Devil’s work were sought everywhere. And that is why unusual things were believed to be true.”–Title card in Häxan

DIRECTED BY: Benjamin Christensen

FEATURING: Benjamin Christensen, Astrid Holm, Karen Winther, Maren Pedersen

PLOT: The film’s narrative segments involve the betrayals and accusations of witchcraft that destroy a small town in medieval Europe, and the monks who instigate them. Most of the film, however, consists of Christensen’s free-form discourse about the history of witchcraft and demonology.
Still from Häxan (1922)

BACKGROUND:

  • Christensen was an actor-turned-director with two feature films (The Mysterious X and Blind Justice) under his belt when he made Häxan.  He later moved to Hollywood, but he never recaptured Häxan‘s magic, and most of his subsequent films have been lost.
  • The film spent two years in pre-production as Christensen researched scholarly sources on medieval witchcraft, including the Malleus Maleficarum, a German text originally intended for use by Inquisitors.  Many of these are cited in the finished film, and a complete bibliography was handed out at the film’s premiere.
  • In the 1920s and afterward Häxan was frequently banned due to nudity, torture, and in some countries for its unflattering view of the Catholic Church.
  • Some of the footage from this film may have been reused for the delirium sequences in 1934′s Maniac (along with images from the partially lost silent Maciste in Hell).
  • In 1968, a truncated 76-minute version of Häxan was re-released for the midnight movie circuit under the title Witchcraft Through the Ages by film distributor Anthony Balch, with narration by William S. Burroughs and a jazz score.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The scenes set at the Witches’ Sabbaths are overflowing with bizarre imagery.  The most unforgettable example is probably when the witches queue up and, one after another, kiss Satan’s buttocks in a show of deference.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In making Häxan, Christensen dismissed the then-nascent rules of classical filmmaking and turned it into a sprawling, tangent-filled lecture based on real historical texts.  This already makes the film unique, but the use of ahead-of-its-time costuming and special effects in order to film a demonic panorama right out of Bosch or Bruegel, and Christensen’s irreverent sense of humor as he does it, is what makes it truly weird.

Scene from Häxan (1922)

COMMENTS: In 1922, even before the documentary had been firmly established as a Continue reading 68. HÄXAN [HÄXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES] (1922)

KING OF PLUTO (2004)

Sheila Franklin’s 2004 documentary, The King of Pluto (2004) focuses on the art of Michigan politico Mike Wrathell. From the outset, it is immediately apparent that Wrathell is a genuine oddball.  I say the film is about Wrathell’s art because it is not really about his life at all.  He and Franklin do not delve into the why of his art, what drives him, or where he came from and that’s just fine because this approach renders the film as quirky, vague, and enigmatic as Wrathell’s art.

Poster for The King of PlutoWrathell considers himself a Warhol-inspired dadaist who is obsessed with the planet Pluto.  He recollects that when he met president George W. Bush, he asked Bush to support a mission to Pluto.  Bush replied  “I’m going to send you to Pluto!”  Wrathell (in 2004) predicts the mission to Pluto will be a reality by 2006.

Wrathell’s art can be seen on film can be purchased there as well.  Wrathell’s silk-screen art, not surprisingly, often deals with Pluto, but he also covers celebrities, such as Maurren O’ Sullivan, John Travolta’s “Pluto Night Fever,” Ted Koppell as an Orwellian Micky Mouse, and Gilligan (as a Plutonian).  Wrathell also covers events and topics such as 911, images of Saturn, Venus, Neptunians, Blue Dracula, and why he prefers Martha Stewart to Barbara Walters.

Wrathell is a Republican and has run for various offices, unsuccessfully.  He tells us about buying a CIA baseball cap while he was in New York City near ground zero.  He buys it so potential terrorists will think he is CIA.  Or, they will think he is not CIA since an agent would not wear a cap reading “CIA”; or, a CIA man might buy a cap reading CIA to make us think he is not with the CIA, when in actuality he is.  Who knows?  But, on reflection Wrathell admits the cap was worth five bucks.

Still from King of Pluto (2004)He takes us to Burger King where he describes the perfect Whopper as having two tomatoes, or three, if you order extra tomato, which is what he orders.  Wrathell sits down with his Whopper and explains that it should have three tomatoes.  When he unwraps his sandwich, he discovers it to be a Chicken Whopper.  He returns the sandwich and hums, masking his displeasure, as they make him a new Whopper.  They do it right this time and the world is good again.

Back to the art.  Wrathell shows us watercolors on postcards and on lined notebook paper.  He has started a movement, he says.  It is the Ultra-Renaissance art movement, of which he is the sole member.

In the end, I am not sure who Mike Wrathell really is, but then I don’t know much about Pluto either, other than that the idea of it seems pretty cool, and that is good enough.  In the end, I would say Wrathell flies the freak flag high.  He is the kind of artist to sit down and have a couple of beers with, let him talk as you drink, and the more you drink, the better and better his talk sounds.  That is a recommendation.

A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF P

thomas_pynchon_a_journry_into_the_mind_of_pThomas Pynchon: A Journey into the Mind of P, directed and produced by the brothers Fosco and Donatello Dubini, is not so much a documentary as it is a homage to that legendary recluse of post modern literature, who wrote books such as “V” and “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

The film is broken down into four appropriate sections: “Paranoia,” “Disappearance,” “Alien Territories,” and “Psychomania,” and it’s wildly mixed reviews are a bit perplexing.  One would think that a film on such a non-conventional literary figure as Pynchon would at least attempt to be fairly non-conventional in approach.  The Dubini Brothers do not disappoint there.  But then, we’ve seen this type of reaction all too often.

A number of Beatles “fans” expressed outrage towards Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe.  What made the Beatles so unique and timeless was they refused to buy into their “religious base.”  Once they were elevated to near divine status, the artists’ response could easily have been to roll with what they (intentional or not) hit upon, follow the formula and keep that money machine rolling (aka: Elvis Presley).  Instead, fans never quite knew what to expect of the fab four.  The “White Album” was as certainly startling, perplexing and unexpected as “Revolver” had been.  Of course, that didn’t keep the pseudo fans from mantling unrealistic expectations on the solo Beatles’ Continue reading A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF P