Witchcraft through the Pages

12Feb07

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A dream comes true. Jack Stevenson’s Witchcraft through the Ages is  a whole book devoted to Benjamin Christensen and one of my favourite films. Although of small size – somewhat reminiscent of the BFI Film Classics series – it offers loads of information and is beautifully illustrated.
The book confirmed that Christensen was influenced by Michelet’s La Sorcière. Georges Bataille said about Michelet that he was “one of those who spoke most humanely about evil”. This quote can also be applied to Christensen’s film about witches.
Before becoming a filmmaker Christensen pursued a career as an opera singer, but a rare nervous condition caused his unability to perform before audiences. It is interesting here to note that  another man who took an empathic approach to social outcasts – Hans Prinzhorn, author of Artistry of the Mentally Ill – shared a similar destiny. He was also a very gifted singer and lost his voice completely near the end of his life.
Jack Stevenson rightly states that the film became one of the favourites of the Parisian Surrealists. This is particularly interesting, because what is common knowledge about films like Nosferatu and Peter Ibbetson is very rarely mentioned concerning Christensen’s film.
Louis Aragon and André Breton wrote in La Révolution Surréaliste Nr. 11: “Those who saw the very fine film Witchcraft through the Ages will certainly feel much livelier instructed than from the books of Hippocrates and Plato…”
And Ado Kyrou stated with hyperbole that it “should be screened in all the schools of the world”.

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