Wednesday, February 08, 2012

An early celluloid due for the Djavil

Last seen on: Turner Classic Movies. I didn't think Robert Osborne was going to talk about this one, but it's got a fascinating history to it. This isn't my usual cup of tea, which is part of its charm, I suppose. From the sound of it, the writer/director Benjamin Christensen a-holed his way out of the biz after getting bounced out of MGM and Warner Bros. after going Hollywood. Now, MGM I can understand, but Warner Bros.? He must've pissed off the wrong person, and bad. Maybe he couldn't bridge the language gap. Take heed, jungherr!
Still, there is Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. I hate to carelessly toss around phrases like 'one-of-a-kind masterpiece,' but I suppose this qualifies. It's part documentary, part docudrama, and the two go together pretty well, and even though there's a heavy reliance on text, the film finds its own rhythm. Osborne said it seems tame by today's standards, but it has its moments. The Hays Code would probably have trimmed this down to a two-reeler. There's certainly lots of interesting tidbits you learn, especially about the Devil and certain body parts of his that people would kiss... Good Lourdes.
The film kinda breaks down into three parts, even though it's officially in seven parts. The first lays the historical groundwork for witchcraft, going back to the 15th Century. There's an episode involving a woman looking for an aphrodisiac to seduce this wicked fat man of God. The witch has three different potions... oh, the whole thing is terribly bawdy and tawdry, but doesn't run off the rails like the time George Costanza combined food and sex... which episode was that?
The second part is a highly effective drama, involving the actual processing of a witch by an evil, righteous inquisition. So righteous and scared, they torture a poverty-stricken older woman who's accused of being a witch, because a dude looks at a hunk of lead in the shape of a turd and declares that a man is sick with dizziness due to witchcraft. The man's plight will eventually look a bit like the man who keeps hearing about how his dog ate some burnt horse flesh. Okay, I'll spoil the plot for you: the old woman accused of witchcraft eventually leads to the most of the rest of the family getting accused of witchcraft and similarly processed by the Inquisition. The sequence ends with narration informing us that about 8 million people during this time were accused of witchcraft and killed. A sad, unfortunate chapter in human history that makes me glad that science has advanced us a little further down the right roads.
A long time ago I took a drama class in college. Unfortunately, no one told me that I was a handsome guy and that I oughta become an actor, so it wasn't meant to be for me. But I did learn that, once upon a time, acting was considered to be a kind of witchcraft. That always stuck with me. But now, in this age of internet memes and internet thinking, the constant shortening of thoughts and drawing of conclusions, I can't help but equate witchcraft and sex. After all, both do require a certain trance-like state, and you probably shouldn't do either one out in public. But according to the film, witchcraft has always been with us, for even cavemen were looking for some sort of advantage. A great food-for-thought film if you're interested in its topics.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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