Date: Thursday, June 25th
Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215
What can we say about Witchcraft Through the Ages (Haxan) other than the ominous warning that you will never think the same way about the butter churn again. Well, there actually is a bit more to say about this splendid, hallucinatory spectacle of devils, demons, witches, priests, and butter churns. From its opening depictions of the medieval cosmos, to the satanic escapades at its core, to the strange postscript that jolts us into the modern age, it is a highly idiosyncratic work of silent-era cinema.
This wondrous miasma of diabolical drollery was a Swedish and Danish co-production released in 1922 -- and promptly banned in the United States for its lewdness and violence. The film's director, Benjamin Christensen, appears in the film in the roles of Satan (!), Jesus (!!), and a modern-day psychoanalyst (!!!). Much like this multiple self-casting, it is a film of strange, contradictory impulses. On the one hand it is a condemnation of the superstition of the Middle Ages and its consequent persecution of the innocent in the name of stamping out witchcraft. The gruesome tortures are not spared the female unfortunates by the sadistic priestly witchfinders. Yet on the other hand, this same repudiated superstition is made manifest on screen in one of cinema's most exquisite depictions of the Black Mass, with fantastical creatures of the underworld holding court, a receiving line of witches kissing Satan's round rump, and auto-erotic displays of butter churning.
The film once enjoyed revival by way of an update with narration by William S. Burroughs, but we shall present the splendid original -- shown on 16mm film! -- with an assembled soundtrack from 78 records DJ'd "live" upon the Victrola by filmmaker and drollerist Joel Schlemowitz. By some serendipitous accident shortly before a screening of this 16mm film print at Spectacle Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a trove of 78s of Polish Polka music was unearthed. Never was there a more fittingly demoniacal combination! Of course we are not promising wall-to-wall polka music, but only in the proper infernal moments of the movie. Diabolic music has often had a dance-like step -- from the "Danse Macabre" of Saint-Saens to Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz" to Charlie Daniels's infernal hoedown upon his Georgia fiddle -- but the "polka music / prince of darkness" pairing might very well have the torments inflicted the witchfinder one better!
We must warn you: any patrons discovered churning butter during the screening will be forcibly removed by the ushers.