So the witches that pop culture is used to seeing today is cheesy witches like Wizards of Waverly Place and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, young adult witches like in Harry Potter, and a girl-power trio in Charmed. Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is another film that tries to define the documentary genre. This film shows the history of witchcraft from the middle ages until the present (1920s). You are able to see how witchcraft was treated in the past and present. Accused witches back then would endure trials, torture, and conviction. In the present, if a woman committed any sorcery, they would just be accused as crazy.
So this documentary starts off with some scholarly facts about witchcraft and sorcery and then you see a lot of narrative scenes. Big difference between this documentary and Nanook of the North is that Nanook of the North would try to fool the audience into thinking everything you see in the film is real. Häxan purposefully stages scenes into narratives but telling the audience that what we see really happened. The meaning of documentaries was still very loose. Do you believe this film fits the terms of a documentary?
Häxan uses classic double exposure effects to show the witches flying through the air. We also see literal figures of the devil and other creatures of sorcery- bringing out elements of fantasy as well. There are also a lot of disturbing elements we see such as a witch giving birth to demons, bewitching rituals, and sexual content. Because of these dark elements, this documentary was banned in the U.S. It was also considered at the time the most expensive Scandinavian film. If you see the re-established version, you’ll hear jazz music in the background which I found strange considering I thought I would hear haunting, chilling music like the kind in The Phantom Carriage.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages is a good film to see to learn what the 1920s perspective of witchcraft was, staging of the narrative scenes, and for another example of an early documentary. So tell me, witchcraft real or psychological delusions?
Watch this 1920s supernatural documentary and let me know what you think: