(1922) dir. Benjamin Christensen
Häxan is an amazing find, an amazing film, utterly, utterly unique and fascinating. One of the first cinematic documentaries, though also much more than a standard approach to documentary, Häxan is writer/director Benjamin Christensen’s masterpiece of silent cinema.
Christensen delves into the history of witchcraft, starting with an analysis of ancient art that depicts Satan and devil worship, and then moves into sequences of 15th Century Dark Age witchcraft. He breaks it into three main focal points. First, those who actually practiced some sorts of Pagan rituals or traditional medicines, potentially others who truly practiced “magic’. But mainly, he focuses on the church and the traveling priests who tried and executed “millions” of would-be witches who were merely victims of paranoia and zealotry. And thirdly, he suggests that some women who were considered witches probably suffered from types of mental illness (he suggests “hysteria” which is its own form of mythology itself), but his view is quite insightful and humanistic.
Of the film’s many qualities, the visual imagery and cinematography is vivid and amazing. Christensen depicts hell, the devil, demons, witches flying through the air on broomsticks, even portrays with some elegant models, images of the universe as seen by ancients and Dark Age thinking. Christensen plays the Devil himself and the sequences of the raging nuns and the ass-kissing witches (literally) are wild and amazing.
It’s truly unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s a tremendously fascinating, beautifully made, and visionary. A true work of genius.