Blog posts with the tag: "Film"

 

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film since I first saw the trailer last August. I bought a ticket to see it at FrightFest in London, but in the end, couldn’t attend, so I was thrilled when it finally came out in cinemas and streaming websites in the UK last week and on DVD today.

 

The Love Witch tells the story of Elaine (a beguiling Samantha Robinson), a beautiful woman who is unlucky in love. Taking matters into her own hands, she uses witchcraft to control her romantic destiny, with disastrous consequences. Although she has no problem bewitching men with her seductive beauty and charm, her fatal flaw is failing to understand that a love spell does not result in true love and a fairy tale ‘happy ever after’, but instead turns her conquests into lovesick emotional wrecks. She uses her lovers as pawns in her game, playing the role of Stepford Wife to catch them in her web, before ultimately becoming irritated with them when they get too needy. It’s a clever role reversal of the stereotypical man who ditches the woman when she becomes too clingy or seeks commitment.

 

The film is completely unique its look and feel. It does pay homage to a certain aesthetic of the 60s and 70s in its cinematic style, and especially in the stunning costumes and heightened acting, but from a refreshingly modern and feminist angle. Auteur Anna Biller shows her passion for cinematic history and she did years of research on witchcraft and practiced solitary magic, so she is not depicting the craft from an outsider’s view. Biller designed all the luscious sets, including the beautiful Victorian tea room and Elaine’s witchy apartment, which we are told, was inspired by the Thoth tarot. I particularly love the purple damask wallpaper in Elaine’s bedroom, the apothecary style shelves and bench where Elaine cooks up her potions, and the pentagram rug.

 

 

The Love Witch is sumptuous to look at – Biller really went to town with the detail – and as a result, I was spellbound much like Elaine’s doomed lovers. It mixes deadpan comedy and horror perfectly, but I don’t think it could be categorised as such. I certainly don’t think it’s a pastiche. Really, I believe, it’s quite a tragic tale about a delusional woman who cannot separate fantasy from reality. We see and hear evidence that Elaine has a history of abuse, and that she has probably created this ideal for herself as a way of holding power over men and protecting herself.

 

The film is shot in 35 mm and uses many of the techniques used in classic old films. It is not a realistic film, nor could it be, because, for those 121 minutes, we are living in Elaine’s fantasy world. One of her lovers tells her “what you call love is a borderline personality disorder”, and we see this in her emotional detachment from other people and her total lack of responsibility for her actions. She completely disregards the Wiccan Rede of An harm it none, do what ye will. In other words, Elaine practices magic that changes people’s will and eventually harms them. She is ruthless in her search for her Prince Charming.

 

 

I think it’s important that Biller made Elaine, her tragic femme fatale a witch, for what other symbol is s0 pertinent in female history? Women, in particular, were singled out in witch persecutions because men feared their innately feminine traits, traits such as intuition, creation and an affinity to nature. In Victorian society, the dichotomy of the angel and the whore was a common theme. Women have always been polarised, but witches transgress this in their autonomy and in their ability to shapeshift, whether metaphorically or literally. With glamour and magic, Elaine is able to become powerful. One of the definitions of glamour is that it is an enchantment, it is magic. We know the power that make up gives to us. It’s no wonder the beauty industry is worth £17 billion in the UK alone. Elaine knows she is gorgeous, but she also relies on wigs and heavy make up to achieve a certain look.

 

The glamorous woman is often the victim of the male gaze in films, particularly in films such as the Hammer Horror movies of the 60s and 70s, which lingered on the female characters and in particular their naked flesh. This film does not dwell on female nudity, it does not feel gratuitous, and in fact, men are shown nude here just as often as the women are. When Elaine falls for a guy, we see a close-up of her eyes, of her intense gaze on them.

 

There is a prolonged Renaissance scene which some reviewers have deemed unnecessary, yet I think it’s an important scene in showing the audience just how detached from reality Elaine really is. We see her fairy tale come true; a ‘play’ marriage with her as the radiant princess being led away on a unicorn by her dream prince. But we also see that the object of her affection is merely ‘playing along’ and has no illusions about romance, but instead harbors a rather pessimistic view of love and women in general.

 

 

 

There is one scene in a burlesque bar where the drunken punters turn on Elaine and the fear of a modern day reenactment of the classic ‘kill the witch’ scenario genuinely left me unsettled. It captures the undercurrent of creepiness which I think permeates through those old films, behind the paint-like fake blood and flashing of bare flesh. It is also timely, given the recent US election, Trump’s presidency and the resulting women’s marches worldwide.

 

This film could be viewed initially as a period piece but it is actually set in the modern day; the aesthetic mirrors the old-fashioned behaviour which Elaine thinks men desire; playing the role of the whore in the bedroom and the angel in the kitchen. Although there are some modern cars in the film, it’s still a shock when Trish, Elaine’s neighbour, pulls out a mobile phone. It’s akin to the helicopter arriving at the end of the French fairy tale film, Donkey Skin, which I’d assumed was set in the middle ages.

 

Anna Biller is an exciting filmmaker for women and says she will continue to make films for a female audience. In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “All women’s pictures. That’s where I’m heading next.” I’m looking forward to her future projects, especially her next film, which will be her take on the Bluebeard fairy tale, and I’m keen to check out her first feature-length film Viva, which is available on demand from her website. In many ways, The Love Witch is a refreshingly honest movie, largely because of its female director. I hope this becomes commonplace in an industry still largely run by men.

 

Highly recommended!

 

The Craft

 

 

On May 3rd, 1996 a film called The Craft was released. I was 14 at the time and when I saw the film advertised in one of my teen magazines I knew instantly that I would absolutely love it. I’ve always had this sixth sense about movies, but this cult film has remained one of my favourites long past my teens. This week The Craft celebrated its 2oth anniversary.

 

It began a trend of aligning young women with witchcraft with TV shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, and in films such as Practical Magic. The Craft also arguably reignited the teen horror genre which exploded the next year with Scream.

 

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I remember going to HMV to buy the soundtrack and buying black nail polish and lipstick from Boots the Chemist. I found a metaphysical shop in the nearest town and spent many an afternoon there breathing in the scent of patchouli incense and reading the books there. Teen magazines featured interviews with teen witches and I desperately wished I could be a part of a coven and bewitch cute guys. One magazine even had a free gift of a tarot deck and I used to practice different spreads trying to see what my future held.

 

The Craft

 

 

I related to The Craft as a teen uncomfortable in her own body. I think that’s where it’s popularity lies, in that it has universal appeal. Everyone can relate to feeling like an outsider at some point in their lives. I wasn’t the most popular girl in my class, nor was I a loner, I just kind of was, that invisible purgatory where sometimes more popular girls said catty remarks and I was often ignored by boys (although that was ok, I’d set my sights on Hollywood stars instead).

 

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The film follows troubled teen Sarah Bailey as she starts at a new school and is swiftly humiliated by her crush, Chris. She attracts the attention of three outcasts; (whom Chris dubs “the bitches of Eastwick”) Bonnie, Rochelle and Nancy, and they quickly recruit her as the fourth member of their circle on account of her natural magical abilities. With Sarah’s powers the circle quickly find their spells coming true; Chris becomes infatuated with Sarah, Bonnie’s burn scars disappear, Nancy’s abusive step-father dies leaving her mother and her enough money to move from their trailer to an apartment, and Rochelle stops being bullied by “racist piece of bleach-blonde shit” Laura Lizzie. With this wish-fulfilment comes greed and abuse of power, and Sarah is the only member of the group who sees that the power is backfiring on them in increasingly more dangerous ways.

 

 

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I was already familiar with the actresses in the film. I knew scene-stealer Fairuza Balk (Nancy) from The Worst Witch and Return to Oz, Neve Campbell (Bonnie) was in the tv drama Party of Five, Rachel True (Rochelle) had been in the saucy Embrace of the Vampire and Robin Tunney had played another suicidal young woman in another great film, Empire Records. I loved their Catholic schoolgirl/goth style and most of all I was enchanted by the magic.

 

The film is not without its flaws; the scene in the magic shop, when Sarah seeks help from Lirio promises something which doesn’t deliver, and I always wondered why Rochelle’s home life was overlooked. Nancy may be the villain of the story but she is absolutely the most fun to watch. The Craft is being remade this year. Apparently it is not a sequel but a reimagining. I don’t know who they will cast that could have even half of the intensity of Fairuza Balk, and of course, any new film will lack the nostalgic 90s charm of the original. The 90s did teen angst so well with tv series such as My So-Called Life, Buffy and Dawson’s Creek. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but the teens in the latest tv shows all seem so glossy and cookie-cutter perfect.

 

 

The Craft

 

Most importantly, The Craft showed me that it was ok to deviate from the norm, to seek your own answers in life, and of course, to be a weirdo. It started my interest with all things witchy and I’m certainly not the only girl influenced by the characters’ interest in spells and incantations. Wiccan writer Silver Ravenwolf published her book Teen Witch and subsequent Teen Witch Kit no doubt in response to all the interest in witchcraft from teens after the release of the film.

 

The Craft was not the first, nor the last film to use the female teenage experience in all its messiness and emotions as a horror allegory. Horror allows for agency and transcendence, whether it is through magic, being the ‘final girl’ or through literal transformation (watch Ginger Snaps – the town is called Bailey Downs – a nod to The Craft perhaps?). And teenage girls will always straddle that mysterious, scary place between childhood and womanhood, and will no doubt always be drawn to witchcraft as an exploration of themselves (and here I am in no way saying that an attraction to magic is merely a phase – I am living proof of that!). We only need to look at the teen witches in recent television, such as American Horror Story: Coven and The Vampire Diaries, Little Mix’s music video Black Magic, and all the witchy articles in the online magazine Rookie to show just how popular witches are. But also, a search on Instagram for witches shows that women of all ages are embracing the craft, consulting the tarot and exploring their spiritual sides.

 

 

 

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I first heard about the film The Witch last summer while I was writing a thesis on the depiction of witches in modern film and television. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film since critics clearly adored it, yet the trailer showed an all too familiar notion of the witch as the frightening old hag of fairy tales and witch-hunting propaganda. Despite the many ‘cool’ young witches in television shows such as Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the short-lived series The Witches of East End and The Secret Circle, film incarnations of witches still tended to favour the wizened crone with a habit of hunting children and serving the devil.

 

The Witch is set in New England, a few decades prior to the infamous Salem witch trials. Indeed, the film is subtitled as A New-England Folktale. The story begins with a puritan couple, William and Katherine, and their five children, being banished from their settlement after William argues with the church elders. Beyond the safety of the fortress-like plantation, they are thrust out into an ominous hinterland at the edge of a deep looming forest. Tensions rise within the family when their crop fails and the baby, Sam, disappears while under the watch of eldest child Thomasin.

 

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While William and the eldest boy, Caleb, must resort to hunting for food, Katherine descends into utter despair over the loss of her infant, and Thomasin is left to discipline her young siblings, the twins, Mercy and Jonas. It is Mercy who first mentions the word witch, as she is playing by the river and pretending to ride a broomstick. To frighten her, Thomasin jokes that she is the witch. When Caleb goes missing and returns in a frightening condition, Thomasin is accused of witchcraft. It is frightening to think that such accusations happened so readily throughout the time when witch-hunting was prevalent, both in ‘the New World’ and especially in Europe. Those accused were rarely found innocent, as they were usually forced to confess to bargaining with the devil through various methods of torture.

 

A woman had no rights in those times, and as any form of birth control was deemed sinful, no rights over her body either. At one point in the film, Katherine and William discuss sending Thomasin to work for another family, as a way for them to make some money. Thomasin is trapped between serving in a secondary mother role and farm worker within her own family or serving another family, who would probably have less respect for her than her own kin. Women were also the most frequently blamed for witchcraft because they were deemed weaker, both physically and morally, and were, therefore, more likely to be susceptible to temptations.

 

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Women are to be controlled and tamed, their wild nature suppressed by a patriarchal society who fears them. It is the female who, with her abject, unclean body, is more closely situated to the animal. As explained by Barbara Creed in her work, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis;

 

“In patriarchal cultures woman is aligned with the animal. Like the animal, woman also has a blood cycle, becomes pregnant, gives birth, sheds afterbirth, lactates, and suckles her young […] Unlike the idealised male body, the female body is not taut, discrete and classical; the female body is unstable.”

 

The shadowy scenes of the witch in this film shows her as a hunched woman with drooping breasts and wrinkled skin. The barren body of the elderly woman was frightening to men in the age of witch-hunting because it had no function – it could no longer procreate, and was no longer desirable. This certainly echoes modern society’s prejudices against the aging female form and the lack of representation of the older woman in popular media. In this age of photoshopping and plastic surgery, youthful physical perfection is the holy grail.

 

The sylvan setting for the film is a metaphor for the feminine. As the family travel toward their new home, William states that they must “tame the wilderness”, just as the women are tamed – confined in their corsets and cumbersome clothes, confined in their roles of mother and wife, and confined in the domestic sphere.

 

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This could also be a metaphor for the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans. Though Europeans only populated a small area of North America at that time, only two Native Americans are shown in the film; glimpsed through the closing gates of the colony. The first settlers to those shores were disgusted by the ‘savage’ ways of the natives. Their lack of understanding of the native ways made them intolerant of their traditions and beliefs. Their lack of clothing and seemingly primitive religions rendered them sinful in the eyes of Christians. Yet the Europeans filled in their gaps of understanding with superstitions and medicine which appears savage in modern terms. We see Katherine trying to cure the feverish Caleb by cutting his face with a knife, yet bloodletting was common practice in that time. This certainly highlights the intolerances we still hold in society today in regards to other cultures.

 

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The forest is a common setting for nefarious witches seen in fairy tales, as well as a place of temptation for young maidens on the cusp of womanhood. In his seminal book, The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim writes; “Since ancient times the near impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious.”

 

This film is rich with the mythology and beliefs of witchcraft held in the past, beliefs encouraged by such propaganda as in the books Malleus Maleficarum and Daemonologie, the latter written by King James I of England who believed witches conjured ferocious storms to kill him as he sailed back from Denmark with his new bride.

 

The witch of this film looks like the monstrous women in Francesco Goya and Albrecht Dürer’s artwork – crudely naked and sinewy with hanging breasts – and she was believed to have the power to shape-shift into such animals as hares and ravens to outsmart her captors. In many of these paintings, she is seen with a black horned goat –  the devil – and some of the most memorable scenes from The Witch involve the family’s capricious goat, Black Philip.

 

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It is refreshing to see a horror movie with a historical setting. And it is refreshing to see such an unsettling and beautiful horror film. Although I tend to dislike the typical portrayal of witches, I believe here, that the witch can be seen as a transcendent figure who has moved beyond the boundaries set by patriarchy. The scene in which we think we see the witch about to sacrifice the infant (it’s all about suggestion – we never find out what happens to Sam) could be symbolic for women having autonomy over her right to choose childbirth or not. The witch lives beyond a typical societal structure, she makes up her own rules and is not ashamed of her body, nor her sexuality.

 

The acting is very believable, unnervingly so at times. The script uses genuine old phrasing taken from diaries and other documentation from that era. Probably my favourite aspect of this film is the ambiguity of it. Is there indeed a witch toying with the family? Is it all down to over-active imaginations or fantasies, or, as the subtitle suggests, is it all merely a folktale?

 

For further reading on the subjects raised here, I suggest the following books:

 

The Witches: Salem, 1962 by Stacy Schiff

 

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim

 

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Frederici

 

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis by Barbara Creed

 

What did you think of The Witch?

 

 

 

 

Hello!
Heather Blanchard

Welcome. Are you a writer, a bookworm, a daydreamer? Are you still clinging on to that magic that pervaded childhood? Pull up an armchair and get cosy. This blog is my dreamscape through an enchanted forest to a world of stories and the little things that make me happy; a chance to add a dash of sparkle to the daily grind. Here you will find the whimsical, the coveted, the Gothic and the romantic. Happy exploring!

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