“REAL WITCHES DO REAL THINGS.” - Azaelia Banks

– Essay door Philippa Snow, als onderdeel van de tentoonstelling HOST. Uitgegeven in de Engelse taal.

Anna Billers The Love Witch is one of the greatest films about witchcraft, and one of the greatest films about women, made in the last five decades. Maybe these arent necessarily two separate categories. It is funny in the style of a film by David Lynch — a knowing pastiche of a certain brand of heterosexual, antiheterogenous and haute retro sexual-romantic interaction — and it is also sometimes funny in the manner of the kind of spoof “old movie” where they let you see the boom mikes, and the actors speak as though their dialogue is written out on cue cards. The titular witch Elaine, who looks like a sixties Hammer Horror babe, kills men as if its going out of style, and speaks as if she is a very sexy baby, has the same approximate power as all Hollywood-hot women: she makes guys forget themselves.

As women of all grades of hotness are encouraged to, she places True Love above all else in her mind. Invariably, her love spells turn out catastrophically; invariably, she has to turn to murder as a means of getting back into the dating pool. “According to the experts,” she purrs loonily but sweetly, “most men are very fragile. They can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way.” Made to look like a technicolour sixties horror even though a number of the characters have cellphones, it appears that Biller is suggesting that her heroines desperate attitudes to love, and to her magic and her sexuality as little more than tools for ensnaring a man, are just as retro(grade) as the set design. “When I tell people The Love Witch is autobiographical,” Biller tweeted this month, “they just laugh, but it is!

“THE WOMAN WHO GRASPS AND FULLY UNDERSTANDS THE MASTERY OF THE WORLD INHERENT IN SATANIC TEACHINGS WILL USHER IN A TRUE FEMINISM: THE LIBERATION OF THE DEMONIC IN EVERY WOMAN.” - Zeena LaVey, The Church of Satan.

I would not laugh; I believe her. I said earlier The Love Witch was a funny film like Lynchs films are funny: it is also funny in the way a heterosexual male predator invoking “witch hunts” as a neat analogy for holding heterosexual male predators accountable is funny — meaning, painfully so. Funny in the way that people are implying when they say they “had to laugh, or else [theyd] cry.” I saw the movie with a Q&A with Biller via Skype straight afterwards, and she expressed surprise at how far audiences saw The Love Witch as a comedy, when she herself had watched it for the first time after making it and cried. “I write a script about a womans life being destroyed, which is a very personal story,” she would later say in an interview with The AV Club, “and thats all they get out of it? Theres an insensitivity to that.”

Witching aint easy. Womanhood, a synonym for witching in some contexts, does not feel particularly easy these days, either. Truer than the take on witches in 2005s Bewitched, where Nora Ephron makes Samanthas power a rom-com hurdle, or The Craft, where magic is first badass, then a cautionary obstacle to the real girl power of teen friendship and a dreamy boyfriend, Billers Love Witch offers a perspective on what happens when the only power women-witches are allowed is sexual: and, more crucially, when its employed in the service of men, instead of the actually-empowering service of self. “[Men are] so blinded by [Elaines] sexuality,” the director says, “that they cant see her as a human being.” What does Elaine think of her sexuality? She never gets the chance to tell us; if she ever considers it, we cant know. By the films end, she is driven mad by the unrealistic and unworkable power dynamics of straight romance — by their fundamental brokenness, their old-school dumbness.

And, if we blur “romance” to mean any relationship between a man and a woman thats imbalanced — like, for instance, the relationship between a queer American woman and a homophobic, anti-female President, or an actress and a pig of a producer, or a transwoman and the men who have a weird, unasked-for preference about how and where she uses the bathroom — what could be more realistic, more relatable, in 2017? Little wonder that since Trumps election three days before the release of The Love Witch, witchcraft as a practice has become both more widespread and further interlocked with feminism in the U.S. and here, too, in Europe. Little wonder the real life miserablist, pop nihilist and sex-positive-feminist love witch Lana Del Rey used her Twitter account to encourage the casting of a spell on the President. “Ingredients,” she reassured, “can be found online.”

“WHERE THERE ARE MANY WOMEN THERE ARE MANY WITCHES. WHEN A WOMAN THINKS AL- ONE, SHE THINKS EVIL... A WOMAN KNOW[S] NO MODERATION IN GOODNESS OR VICE...I HAVE FOUND A WOMAN MORE BITTER THAN DEATH, AND A GOOD WOMAN SUBJECT TO CARNAL LUST.” - Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, 1486.

Eight months prior to The Love Witch and to Lanas spell, another stellar cinematic look at womens witching, and at ties between old-school misogyny and a misuse and abuse of offbeat womens “magic,” was released: The Witch, by Robert Eggers. (Being set in the 1630s, I admit that “old-school” means something rather older than the sixties, i.e. literally Puritanical.) Like Elaine, its witch-girl Thomasin is set to “blossom,” in the films own words, into a dangerously sensuous woman. Like Elaine, she is suspected as a source of evil as the cruel result. Unlike Elaine, she ends the movie face-to-face with the devil in the form of a large black goat. It is the crucial moment in which Thomasin is given, somewhat interestingly, something like a choice; the moment she cements her witchhood, which she does by answering the single question we intuit to be at the heart of witchiness, its central tenet, in the affirmative.

“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” the devil asks her. Yes, of course she would. Who wouldnt? Billers poor Elaine, stuck living undeliciously and desperately for the sake of being found delicious by a man, meanwhile, is never asked. I agree — you have to laugh at The Love Witch to keep from crying. Its too little like fantasy, and too much like real, female life.

“I KNOW IT MAY LOOK LIKE I WAS BEING A [W] ITCH, BUT THAT’S ONLY BECAUSE I WAS ACTING LIKE A [W]ITCH.” - Cady Heron, Mean Girls (sort of)

Geschreven door:
Philippa Snow

Gelinkte tentoonstelling:
HOST

Related