Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922) | Shockingly weird! The cinematic oddity still illuminates
Since its premiere in 1922, Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen’s exploration of the role of superstition in medieval minds has caused outrage and protest from both the general public and religious groups. With its graphic visions of devilish seductions, black masses, monstrous births, flying hags, cannibalistic feasts, orgiastic nuns and rampant satanic worship – not to mention its presentation of the clergy as repressed, treacherous and sadistic – it is hardly surprising this genre experiment provoked such a furore upon its initial release, seeing it condemned by various religious authorities and banned outside Sweden for years.
An imaginative masterpiece and a genuine cinematic oddity, it wasn’t until its re-release in 1941 that Christensen earn belated fame and respect, proof that his pioneering documentary was far ahead of its time. In 1968, the film gained a whole new audience when it was re-released with a William S Burroughs narration and a discordant free jazz score under the title Witchcraft Through the Ages. It became a staple of the midnight movie circuit, and a countercultural manifesto for the pot smoking, free loving beatniks, hipsters and rebellious youth of the era who, like witches, felt equally misunderstood by the authorities. Looking at it today only makes you question whether we have advanced any further in our own understandings and dealings of seeing people tortured and imprisoned for their beliefs.
• Häxan screens occasionally on Film4 in the UK, using the print that features the score based on the music played at the film’s Danish premiere in Copenhagen on 7 November 1992, arranged and conducted by Gillian Anderson with the Czech Film Orchestra in Prague (June, 2001).
The 2013 Tartan DVD release includes both the Burroughs-narrated shorted version and the original film for which two new scores have been created, one by composer Geoff Smith performed on hammered dulcimer and the second offering a dynamic score by UK electronic group, Bronnt Industries Kapital.
Posted on January 21, 2015, in Cult classic, Documentary, Horror, Must See, World Cinema and tagged 1920's silent, Benjamin Christensen, Czech Film Orchestra, Documentary, Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages, Horror, Must See, William S Burroughs, World Cinema. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.