Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages

Seeing as it's Spooky Month--or at least ten more days of it--why not get in the Halloween spirit with a classic documentary? And by classic, I mean 1921, black and white silent film, Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages.

I enjoy documentaries and this one in particular is neat, partly do to its age, but also some great imagery. It's definitely not your typical documentary--think of it as more of a prototype.

The documentary starts off with informative bits, setting up the time and place when witchcraft was widely believed to be real. I'm not sure how historically accurate this part are, but the director does cite his sources, although I don't know if you can find those sources anymore. There's still images straight from books to help illustrate the information. This part feels more like a lecture, even has a pointer!

Next parts are the best, with live action skits reliving the Dark Ages and the supernatural beliefs that existed back then. Often the belief in the supernatural was enough to make it real, with poeple claiming to have seen the devil. Oh, and the devil in this, played by the director, is awesome, always wagging his forked-tongue. One of my favorite depictions. Seemed like the director had a hell of a time playing the devil.

The Black Sabbath scenes are great too. Phantom witches flying through the air, devils cuddling with their witch-mates, kissing the ass of Satan, throwing rubber babies into cauldrons, spreading ointment on a witch's back while the skeleton of a horse walks past, and a devil furiously churning butter. It's pure awesomeness. 

Despite the fun, there is a serious tone. An old beggar woman is accused of witchcraft and is totured until she confesses to what the Inquisition wants to hear. The old beggar woman goes on to blame others of witchcraft, and it just snowballs from there.The old and poor were often targeted, likely because they were easy scapegoats.

The final segment links witchcraft to modern day (aka 1921); odd behaviors that were considered signs of witchcraft, now are symptoms of mental illness. Though back in that day, they committed people to asylums, which may not have been much better than torture.

The director poses some interesting questions at the end, how despite taking better care of the old and poor, and better notice of the mentally ill, society still hasn't done enough.

And the little woman whom we call hysterical, alone and unhappy, isn't she still a riddle for us? 

Sadly, I think even in today's society, she would still be a riddle for us.

Check it out. it's free on Youtube. I recommend the silent version over the narrated one, due to the narrated version adding jazz music, which is extremely inappropriate when there are scenes of torture. And honestly, it's not that much to read.

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