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Friday, August 02, 2013

Häxan (1922) d. Benjamin Christensen

Häxan: worship the devil much???

Movie Review
Häxan (1922)
d. Benjamin Christensen
Criterion Collection #134

  Häxan is a Danish film about witches and witch-craft, written with the idea of exposing the ridiculousness of medieval beliefs about witches.  While watching this movie I was thinking that it was made less then 30 years after 1895- which is where I'm at in the history of the Novel.  In other words, if Häxan was made in 2013, twenty seven years ago it would have been 1986.  I think it is fair to say that everyone recognizes the influence that Art in the 1980s has on Art today, so there surely was a similar relationship between Novels of the late 19th century and the developing medium of film.

     Häxan is interesting because it is more of a "documentary" then a narrative film, and the documentary is something that film essentially brought into literature as a separate art form.  Of course, non fiction books dwarf fiction/literature, but they have not been historically considered art/literature.  Documentary film, on the other hand, has an artistic status separate and apart from the narrative film, and is recognized as a distinct kind of film literature.

  Häxan is also interesting because it deals with witches and witch craft.  Christensen uses actual illustrations from actual medieval texts that strike pretty close to the pagan roots of witchcraft related beliefs.  Of course, in the 1920s, you couldn't talk about witches without talking about the devil, but it is clear today that witch type believes pre-dated Christianity and were hold overs from the Indo-European/pre Christian era.

 If you consider the "Witches Sabbath" a corner-stone ritual of witch craft trials in the Middle Europes, the description is basically a Dionysian revel of the type common to pre Christian culture with a Satanic spin thrown on top.  That connection is made very clear by the narrative portions of Häxan, where Christensen actually shoots a witches sabbath complete with a guy dressed up as the Devil.

  My take away from Häxan was simply to reinforce how utterly ridiculous religion and religious beliefs are at a basic level, and at how much harm they can do to vulnerable parts of the population.  Witches tended to be old, poor, marginalized women who had little or no voice in society.   They were inevitably easy targets, and almost by definition had no one to speak up for them.

  It is a sad chapter in history, though an interesting one, particularly if you focus on the links to pre-Christian/pan Indo European religious rituals.

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