Live Cinema: HAXAN, Witchcraft Through the Ages
Vancouver’s Funerary Call performs a new, specially commissioned live score for this mind-blowing 1922 cult classic. Grave robbing, torture, possessed nuns and a satanic Sabbath are just a few of the ingredients that make up Benjamin Christensen’s witches’ brew of superstition, sorcery, surrealism and enlightenment.
As many as 50 000 people were burnt at the stake in Europe during the Middle Ages, including the deformed, the demented, and anyone who might be characterised as a dissident or non-conformist. Chistensen’s film contends that in many cases the prosecutors were the true demons. But it also mixes documentary rationalism with sinister dramatic vignettes that sometimes fly in the face of the movie’s avowed thesis. Not only does the devil play a prominent role in Haxan, he’s played by the director himself.
With its astonishing blend of production design, costume design, camera trickery and animated effects, Haxan stands as one of cinema’s earliest and most spectacular incursions into the phantastic.
Although it was a great success in Christensen’s native Denmark, the film was banned in most other countries. The 1923 Variety review concluded, "Wonderful though this picture is, it is absolutely unfit for public exhibition." That didn’t stop Hollywood from enticing the director over to the US, but sadly almost all of his American movies have been lost. He returned to Denmark in the 1930s and Haxan was rereleased there to great acclaim in 1941. Later a 76 minute version was edited and rereleased with narration by William S Burroughs and a score by Jean Luc Ponty.
About Funerary Call
Created by Vancouver musician Harlow Macfarlane in 1994, Funerary Call draws from a diverse palette of analog and digital hardware, found objects, field recordings and ritual implements to conjure an unsettling ancient atmosphere that aims to transcend the perceptive listener, spiritually and emotionally - beyond all boundaries and limitations. Joining Harlow for these shows is drummer Nathan Funk.
"A unique film for its boldness in dealing with its taboo subject, for its amazing visual inventiveness, and also for its complex structure." Fernando Martin Pena, Defining Moments in Movies
"A truly unique work that still holds the power to unnerve even in today’s jaded era." Jyotsna Kapur, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
"An amazing experience. The film is overflowing with dark fairytale imagery, incredible makeup effects (especially Christensen himself in the role of a leering Lucifer) and shocking portrayals of torture that still make viewers cringe over 90 years later." Gregory Burkart, Fearnet.com