Häxan – Witchcraft through the Ages

Sweden I 1922 / 1968 I 74 minutes

Director: Benjamin Christensen
Screenplay: Benjamin Christensen
Cinematography: Johan Ankerstjerne

With live musical accompaniment by Matthew Nolan, Sean Mac Erlaine, Lisa Dowdall & Catherine Sikora Mingus, along with live narration by Eric Mingus and Matthew Causey (based on the 1968 version narrated by William S. Burroughs).

Häxan (pronounced “hek-sen”), was made in Sweden at the invitation of Svensk Filmindustri and released in 1922. It is one of those legendary films that many people have heard about but few have seen. It really should be better known. With vivid depictions of witch persecutions and medieval sorcery, frank physicality, and fluid and detailed mise-en-scène, Häxan surely has more chance of pleasing contemporary audiences than 95 percent of surviving silent films.

In bringing together witch-finding judges, convent misdeeds, and black magic, Häxan prefigures no less than three cinematic genres that would become popular – Michael Reeves’ 1968 Witchfinder General, Ken Russell’s ’s 1971 The Devils, and Terence Fisher’s 1968 The Devil Rides Out. Häxan also has ties to F. W. Murnau’s Faust and later films based on the Faust legend, to demonic-possession movies like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), and to the many movies in which the devil comes to Earth in human form.

Häxan endures because of Christensen’s tremendous skill with lighting, staging, and varying of shot scale. The word “painterly” comes to mind in watching Christensen’s ingeniously constructed shots, but it is inadequate to evoke the fascination the film exerts through its patterns of movement and its narrative disjunctions. Christensen is at once painter, historian, social critic, and a highly self- conscious filmmaker. His world comes alive as few attempts to recreate the past on film have.

Upcoming Show

Púca Festival 2019
Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda
November 1st, 8pm

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