Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Häxan (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages)

I was listening to some classic Donovan (the wonderful Scottish acoustic extraordinaire from the ’60s and ’70s) the other day when I came across this really cool video for “Season of the Witch” on YouTube where some dude had juxtaposed footage of Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 silent film Häxan (its English title is Witchcraft Through the Ages) with “Season of the Witch.” Although the music wasn’t really synchronized with the content of the video, I was still really intrigued by the premise of the film, which is available for free online because it’s now in the public domain.

The film is a semi-documentary about the history of witchcraft, focusing mostly on the medieval portrayal of witchcraft. It’s well researched and very insightful. Christensen, a Swedish director, presents a knowledgeable model of the Ptolemaic universe at the beginning of the film, and examines the psychology of these people and how it affected their society, presenting the society through several mostly accurate dramatic interpretations. As a medievalist, the information is quite exciting, if not horrifying at times. The film was controversial when it was first released because of the nudity and torture it featured. Of course, it’s mild by today’s standards, but it’s quite disturbing to think the people living near you would be capable of doing such horrible things to women. Christensen details the torture devices that were used by the Inquisition (mostly the friars) and the outlandish accusations that were made against these innocent women, who were most often frail and elderly. There were several scenes in the film where I wanted to take up arms and fight off as many monks and friars as I could.

Despite the disturbing content of the film, it’s a very insightful film and Christensen is a remarkable director. His depictions of devils and demons are memorable (my favourite scene is with a nun and a demon with a big knife…I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that it’s well done). The costumes are great too. Häxan emerged as the most expensive Scandinavian production of its time, but Christensen worked really well with the budget, creating an excellent horror/almost documentary film, and it proves to be a fascinating addition to the study of medieval thought. I’ve attached both the “Season of the Witch” video from YouTube and the film itself for your viewing pleasure. Please note that the user who uploaded this video onto YouTube, The MSPaintNerd, has the entire video uploaded onto his own website for viewing. He provides a link for it, and I would advise watching it on his website so that you can witness for yourself its uninterrupted brilliance.

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