By Deirdre McCluskey
“Historically, men are not used to watching films that are made from the point of view of women. They are almost never called on to do that.”filmmaker Anna Biller
Our local public library allows members access to a great movie streaming site, and while browsing their collection, I came across what looked like a movie from the sixties. The title was The Love Witch, and the poster featured a glamorous heroine with long, black hair reclining on a fiery pillow, tenting her bloodstained hands and gazing into the distance. How had I never heard of this movie?
The Love Witch was released in 2016, (not 1966!) and was created by filmmaker Anna Biller. I say “created”, because she not only produced, wrote, directed and edited the film, but also designed the sets and costumes, and even wrote the music.
On the surface, The Love Witch is a comedy-horror about a serial killer named Elaine whose obsession with romantic love drives her to lure men with witchcraft. But the heightened artifice, stock characters and plot tropes prompt the viewer to think more deeply about the assumptions around gender and romantic love at the root of popular culture.
“The sexy witch is a loaded archetype that is simultaneously about men’s fears and fantasies about women, and women’s feelings of empowerment and agency. . . we are used to seeing the sexy witch or the femme fatale from the outside, I wanted to explore her from the inside.”Anna Biller
In the movie, Elaine’s narcissistic need to be loved and willingness to use the conventions of female beauty (and witchcraft) to secure love lead to the destruction of the men in her path. But there’s sympathy for Elaine, too. Her victims are easily captivated by the ultimate male fantasy she presents – beautiful, glamorous, and willing to meet their needs without question. They display little interest in the “real” Elaine, and there’s a glimpse of an abusive past relationship. And female viewers can relate to Elaine’s longing to be sexy and desired, and her rebellion against a culture that creates that desire within women and then ridicules or rejects them for pursuing romance and attractiveness.
“Women are necessarily paranoid about their image because everybody is judging you by your image—not by what you can do, who you are, what your skills are, how smart you are. You are treated differently depending on how you look. . . It’s a terrible burden to bear, and that’s partly what I’m talking about in creating a character like this. Elaine is a hysterical embodiment of this perfect woman that every man wants. But what does it take to construct herself in this way every day? And have that be her whole identity? With the film, I’m trying to say that that pressure can drive you crazy.”Anna Biller
These thoughtful ideas about gender and relationships are conveyed in a movie that’s fun, funny, sometimes campy and always visually stunning. The cinematography, costumes and sets are meticulously crafted to create a technicolor dream that is a pure pleasure to watch.
If you like classic and B films from the fifties and sixties, comedy-horror mashups and quirky art films with something to say, you will love The Love Witch.
What are you watching and loving? Share with us in the comments below!
An interview with Anna Biller at No Film School: https://nofilmschool.com/2016/11/the-love-witch-anna-biller-interview
A Q&A with Anna Biller on her website: https://www.lifeofastar.com/about.html