Dreyer’s work is legendary, his 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered one of the greatest films of all time. And more modern filmmakers like Von Trier, Lukas Moodysson, Susanne Bier and Nicolas Winding Refn are constantly pushing the envelope and crafting excellent works of cinema.
With so much to choose from I decided to go back to the early days of film. I actually thought I already discussed this movie but apparently I haven’t. Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 pseudo-documentary Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is today’s horror film.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a documentary which features several dramatized or fictional scenes. The film looks at witches, how superstition has appeared throughout history and how the persecution of women as witches is a primitive misunderstanding on dealing with mental illness. The film recreates some medieval scenes of a witch’s sabbath and their dealings with Satan. Filmmaker Benjamin Christensen had studied the German inquisition book Malleus Maleficarum and used it as a basis for all the reenactments.
It was on the most expensive silent films ever made and it suffered from bans in the U.S. and severe cuts in other countries when it was original released. It was re-released in the U.S. in the 1960’s in a slightly cut version with a new jazz soundtrack and William S. Burroughs reading the narration. The movie is pretty entertaining and the reenactments are amazing for the time. I’m not sure I buy the whole mental illness angle that Christensen was pitching near the end, I think a lot of the witch prosecutions were just plain old women bashing but it still an innovative film.
The original film
The 1968 re-release.