Author Topic: The Love Witch  (Read 7841 times)

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Ghostboy

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #15 on: December 17, 2016, 12:21:28 AM »
+1
This movie is the bee's knees, btw. Just wonderful.

jenkins

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2017, 03:27:24 AM »
+2
it embarrasses me to try to think of how to phrase my compliment to this movie, so i just mentioned that and provided this photo


matt35mm

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2017, 04:17:35 AM »
+1
God this movie really blooms upon re-watch. Can't and don't want to get it out of my head. A complicated swirl of ideas and rich images. It sings. It seduces. It confronts. This is cinema, and Anna Biller is a true cinematic artist.

matt35mm

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2017, 06:39:30 PM »
0
This movie, which is my favorite movie of 2016, is now available for rent or purchase on VOD. If you get it directly from Oscilloscope (for the same price as iTunes or Amazon), there are 30 mins of deleted scenes.

http://thelovewitch.oscilloscope.net/#

wilder

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #19 on: February 15, 2017, 03:12:20 PM »
+2
Under the Influence: Anna Biller on Donkey Skin
via Criterion

Back in the fall, writer-director Anna Biller traveled to New York from Los Angeles for the theatrical premiere of her third feature, The Love Witch, a subversive horror-fantasy about a spell-casting temptress who falls prey to the psychosis of romantic desire. As with Billerís previous films, this exploration of female pleasure pays homage to the splendor of classic cinema from both Hollywood and abroad, giving her the chance to showcase her gifts as a writer, producer, editor, composer, costume and production designer, and set decorator.

While she was in town, she visited us to talk about her love for French director Jacques Demy, whose mix of candy-colored imagery and psychological darkness has made a lasting impact on her filmmaking approach. In the latest episode in our Under the Influence series, Biller explains how Demyís 1970 Donkey Skin (originally titled Peau dí¬ne) directly inspired scenes in The Love Witch and how his singular career gave her the confidence to follow her own path as a director.



jenkins

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #20 on: March 28, 2017, 02:06:14 PM »
+1
reminder: the good fight is never easy --



it's an emotional fb thread which popped into my feed via a shared friend. the consensus was this btw: 1 these reviews happen after torrents become available, so they both steal from her and shut her down 2 imdb removed their message board so the angry people go directly to reviewing now

polkablues

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #21 on: March 28, 2017, 02:26:23 PM »
+2
IMDb user reviews are the finest possible testimony for the ongoing value of a professional movie review industry.
Now you're in the *spoiler* place.

Alexandro

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #22 on: March 28, 2017, 07:22:21 PM »
+1
this was lovely and sexy as fuck.
the whole film is so carefully realised, it's like a giant awesome meal some expert cheff made just for you.
It goes a little too long, but it was never less than fantastic.

I do gotta say cheking out reviews - let alone IMDB user reviews - of your own films is bad for your soul and should be avoided at all costs.

wilder

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #23 on: March 29, 2017, 06:55:14 PM »
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Interview: Anna Biller on The Love Witch, critics, feminism and female pleasure
via Vodzilla.co



Rachel Bowles | March 27, 2017

Anna Biller is a 21st century auteur. For her new film, The Love Witch, she acted not only as director, producer, scriptwriter and art director, but also designed and crafted most of the costumes, scored the film and had a hand in its sumptuous classical lighting and cinematography.

The Love Witch centres on Elaine (a pitch-perfect Samantha Robinson), a widowed witch who just wants a man to love. Like a classic Hitchcock heroine, Elaine drives through Americana, glancing in her rear view mirror, as she flees gossip surrounding her husbandís suspicious death. Setting up shop in San Francisco, Elaine rebuilds her life, peddling her witchy wares, making friends and trying to mend her broken heart through love potions and sex magick. However, trouble stalks poor Elaine, her beaus begin to act hysterically, and it isnít long before they start to disappear or die, one by one.

The movie has earned a cult following and critical acclaim, setting the festival circuit ablaze with its feminine charms, stunning 60s aesthetic and cutting gender politics. Itís intelligent, suspenseful and riotously funny, but the film (and even Biller herself) has also received some backlash, dismissal and mislabelling Ė even, occasionally, from its fans.

With The Love Witch now out on DVD and VOD, we sit down to chat with her about cinema, the reality of being a female director, and the male-dominated nature of film criticism.

Warning: This conversation contains spoilers for the film.


How are you feeling about The Love Witch blowing up as such a cultural phenomenon since it first premiered last year?

Itís amazing. I wasnít expecting it, so itís nice to have your work seen and talked about.

What has been the most surprising reaction to The Love Witch?

I havenít really been too surprised by any of the reactions, but I have been a little disappointed in some of them. I wish there had been more people that just took the film seriously as a regular piece of cinema.

It seems to have been taken seriously within womenís journalism and particularly within feminist journalism.

Thatís true; itís mostly split along gender lines. Then the reactions are also a little bit split along cinephilia lines, so that the men who do respond to The Love Witch and take it seriously tend to be cinephiles. So thereís two splits. Iím not really sure, but I think people who have watched more cinema, those who have a broader understanding of cinema from different periods of time, they seem to understand what Iím doing better. I think that the broader cinema knowledge makes it so that people donít tend to take such a narrow view of what they think film and The Love Witch should be.

Itís such a rich film, thereís so manyÖ not influences because that seems a little reductive. Youíre taking those cinematic influences and doing something entirely different with it, rather than anything derivative.

Itís more that Iíve just watched so many movies in my life so Iím just taking from that general experience of cinema and not from trying to copy any specific type of movie, so I think people who have watched as many movies as I have may understand what Iím doing a little bit better because they wonít have the style be such a block in terms of what Iím doing. I think if youíve seen as many movies as I have, youíll actually realise that itís not a pastiche. Youíll realise that out of maybe hundreds or thousands of films youíve seen, that you actually havenít seen a film like it.

I realised when I was writing it and making it that it was a completely original film. What bothers me about being compared to sexploitation directors is that their films were made for a specific audience and a specific market and a specific time. That time doesnít exist anymore, where filmmakers were breaking apart censorship codes to try to rebel; where sexuality and nudity were seen as a new frontier, and this in of itself being interesting to people. It was sort of a liberal left achievement to be able to go into more explicit forms of filmmaking. So that time isnít now, itís passed. Ironically, the emphasis on the sexuality and nudity of the heroine in The Love Witch is quite low. Itís much more about Elaineís interior life and the things that happen to her. Comparing the contexts of old sexploitation films and cinema now Ė they were making the most explicit movies they possibly could and showing as much female flesh as they possibly could, and Iím living in a time where what Iím showing is tamer than what you see on cable television, so surely itís kind of a strange comparison to make.

I think what men fail to see is this phenomenon of how women are excluded from so much of cinema in terms of their fantasies, their desires, their concerns, so they donít actually understand when they see a movie that is different, that comes from a female consciousness and concerns female fantasies, how different that is. I think thatís the most interesting thing about my film in a way, how it actually is able to depict women without showing them in terms of male fantasy.

Definitely. A big part of that when watching the film is that it really embodies the female gaze. Would you be happy with that label? Is that something you tried to achieve?

Oh yes, absolutely! My whole goal in creating cinema is to see how I can create cinema from a female gaze, and it doesnít always have to be feminist; it can be more that itís coming from a female consciousness. Sometimes people use the term Ďfeministí in kind of a meaningless, generic way.

Would you be happy with your film being labelled a feminist work or would you qualify that in a certain way?
No, I think it is feminist, I just think that a lot of the people that use the word Ďfeministí donít know what it means. Itís a little strange, because if someone can say itís sexploitation and yet itís feminist, it means they may not know what either of those words actually mean because itís an oxymoron; you canít have both. You can say itís an erotic film thatís feminist, but you canít talk about exploitation being feminist, issues like that.

Also, I think thereís a way in which the word feminist has been co-opted for use by people who are not feminist at all in their thinking and ideas. For example, the sex industry tries to co-opt the word Ďfeministí to talk about their thinking, their ideas. They think of these old sexploitation movies as being feminist because theyíre allowing women to express their sexuality Ďfreelyí, but they would also call a lot of hardcore pornography feminist because theyíll say the woman is enjoying herself. This is why the word Ďfeministí is pernicious, because different people will use it for different agendas.

I would say my film is feminist in almost a purer way, and so I donít like the word Ďfeministí, because itís used for movies that contain really ridiculous female superheroes for a lot of men to enjoy, for cinema thatís really quite misogynistic, and itís just used too much nowadays in silly, meaningless ways. I feel like when people are using the word, they should be using it seriously or not at all. It weakens the movement, it makes the term completely meaningless, so that kind of usage takes a lot of power away from it.



Do you get annoyed at people thinking that Elaine or The Love Witch, in general, isnít feminist, because the film deals with a lot of issues of femininity?

Thatís kind of my point. Women are often feminine, and thatís not a bad thing to be feminine; itís just that itís been used against women. I donít think thereís any problem with femininity and feminism being used together, because if that were a problem, that would mean we should be ashamed somehow of being women, being feminine. Thatís a problem; itís a problem to think feminism is about trying to be like a man. Iíve tried to explore the experience of being a woman and Iíve noticed I actually have some feminine traits and qualities that are innate to me, that I donít think are results of me being brainwashed by some force thatís been telling me to be feminine or some kind of problem or flaw in my character or personality or who I am. I feel quite strongly about that, because I really wasnít raised in a conventional way as a girl.

I was closer to my father and was not really socialised as a girl very much, so my discovery of my femininity came later through a lot of psychological examination of myself and soul searching, and so I feel like I adopted it and I felt comfortable with it, but I felt, culturally, it was hard to do that, because thereís so much anger and negativity around femininity. I think itís horrible for women to have be so ashamed of being feminine, girls having to be ashamed of themselves. I want to make movies that are honest about what itís like to be a girl and I think thatís something that people need to think about sometimes.

So many people have so much internalised misogyny; itís probably something that almost every woman has experienced.

I think no matter what kind of woman you are, even if youíre extremely masculine, butch etc., youíre going to experience internalised misogyny. So when women see that thereís a woman in a movie and sheís being tormented by a lot of ominous male voices repeated from memory in her mind Ė theyíre tormenting her all the time and sheís got all this self doubt and she has so much fear, and her response is to create her own image out of make-up, clothes, etc., they understand that that response is real. They donít think of it as camp or kitsch or that itís something retro; they feel it in their daily lives. I think thatís a real difference between male and female interpretations of the movie.

Itís a very urgent, pressing film and very contemporary. Was it important to you to use gothic conceits? The gothic deals with excessive pleasure and excessive love and whatís the right kind of woman and whatís the wrong kind of woman. Your film deals with that incredibly well.

I think thatís one way in which we try and go to female fantasy. A lot of romance novels that were written for women and by women were written in a gothic setting because women like to fantasise about sexuality and love and romance in a setting that isnít threatening to them, which is far enough removed from them so that they can be comfortable. I think that the character of Elaine, her fantasies about herself, are almost based on those type of romance novels, where sheíll be a perfect heroine, either a perfect My Fair Lady actress in a tearoom, or sheíll be a perfect Victorian gothic heroine painting in her parlour, another romantic setting.

Another way I was trying to signal female fantasy was by putting her in these pseudo-Victorian dresses with her perfect hair and makeup Ė itís a kind of mask that she was hiding behind where she felt safe. Itís also a barrier between her and the men she dates, because I feel men always want women nude and natural and stripped down and bare, and so she puts on all these layers to protect herself; even [with] her fetish lingerie, the idea is that she has so many contraptions and things to get through before we can get to the real her, and sheís really sensitive.

Theyíre really pleasurable for her. The Love Witch highlights feminine labour in Elaineís makeup and food preparation and spells, but these are rituals that are really pleasurable for Elaine to do and for us to watch. You were saying how men want natural women but actually they donít really want natural, they want what they think is Ďnaturalí, like, for example, invisible, natural-looking makeup. The Love Witch makes all these pleasurable feminine rituals and labour visible.

Yeah, absolutely. I spent so long on crafts, making those soaps and candles and herb bags and dolls, that was all part of it as well.

One thing thatís happened, going back to an earlier question about the [critical] response, is Iíve felt all this backlash against myself being a woman. I made this movie partly as a response to all the misogyny Iíve experienced in my life, but I didnít realise how much misogyny there really was until this movie came out.

The thing thatís sad for me is that so many people love the movie so much, and that they love it in a misogynistic, sexist way. They feel like Iím giving them something that theyíve been missing, a way to very overtly objectify a woman in a movie because they feel theyíve been sanctioned or allowed to do that because Iím a female director so itís okay. In a way thatís a big relief for them, to be able to have this very stark objectification. They can come out in the open about it because they think Iím condoning it. So the sexism that has come at me has been very condensed and has been very sad for me, in a way, because itís made me feel very objectified as a director actually.



Is it because you identify with Elaine? Obviously, sheís your creation.

Itís more the feeling of being a flesh-peddler madam rather than a film director. Like Iím giving them a sexual spectacle or a sex show, and Iíve done it for men and so they come and gawk. Itís sad for me that people look at it that way, because itís actually kind of horrifying. Since Iíve been talking more openly in interviews about what my intentions are and [how] Iím not trying to be like Russ Meyer and I donít think itís sexploitation, Iíve got a little backlash about that too, so now Iíve got people in their reviews commenting on my comments. Saying things like ďshe obviously doesnít know what sheís really doing but she really is doing thisĒ; ďshe really is doing sexploitation whether she knows it or notĒ.

Itís horrifying because [of] what it is that people are sayingÖ Iím fully aware that Iíve created a character that men are going to lust after; Iím not unaware of that, that people would have that reaction. Itís not like Iím clueless about the fact that men would find [Elaine] attractive and they would have lust over her. Thatís not what Iím saying, but when theyíre saying Iím doing this thing but Iím unaware of it, really theyíre saying the only consciousness is a male consciousness. Theyíre saying that their male consciousness trumps my female consciousness, even though Iím the filmmaker; that their desire and their lust trump my desire to explain the interior of a womanís life and consciousness.

What it makes it feel like, to me, is that men think that Iím painting a negative portrait of men in the movie, but from the response [to the film], itís more negative than even the movie is. I identify with the character [Elaine], in the sense that it makes me feel that, actually, men donít care about a womanís life, what a woman goes through and theyíre not interested in it. Even though itís being presented to them as a story, theyíre refusing to look at the significance of it as a story or even to give it credit for being a story or even talk about the story as a story. Itís some kind of simulacrum or a pastiche or itís a joke, so they refuse to look at the story, so theyíre totally uninterested in what a womanís life is and what theyíre saying is that all that women are is to be looked at. That is what theyíre saying: I enjoy looking at this woman, this is my sexuality, this is my gaze, and this is what it means. Then, if Iíve come out in interviews and said that Iím doing something more serious, theyíre actually rejecting that; theyíre rejecting what Iíve said, that Iím doing something more. So theyíre rejecting me, my actress and my consciousness and, by extension, the consciousness of all women, the validity of female experience; so it becomes highly political, the reaction of the film.

Itís interesting how the film is a mirror [for how] people feel, not only about gender but about cinema, so I think that if people love old movies, then they donít have these problems with it. A lot of these problems are like twisted up, strong emotions they have, not only about gender but also about lighting, things like lighting or the pace of editing. So this is why cinephiles that are comfortable with a large range of movies, starting from the 1920s, who are used to different kinds of rhythms and colours and lighting, arenít having these issues or problems. So thereís also that, thereís the gender problem, but thereís also the problem of people watching cinema that doesnít look like cinema from today.

Those are two hugely important issues. Speaking as a female film critic, we have a huge problem with lack of representation and it sounds like there have been male critics who have co-opted the language of film studies in general to dismiss you. Like the notion youíre subconsciously putting out an idea rather than that this is your film Ė to basically deny that you have consciously made this incredible film.

It works on a couple of different levels. One level that I mentioned before is it takes the woman out of the picture as a subject in my story; it makes it more about a male audience looking at her, so it makes it indistinguishable from other movies that were partly or highly sexist, bad for women, terrible for women Ė misogynistic directors like Russ Meyer. Then, the second thing is a refusal to place me within a history of cinema in terms of some of the things Iím doing, which should be seen as interesting, in terms of an original type of mise-en-scene or cinematography or the kinds of thing that, if I were a male director, theyíd be given credit for having made something a little bit more original.

The comparison to sexploitation, first of all, is a comparison to a degraded, disrespected genre that isnít considered serious cinema; second of all, itís a way of saying the film isnít original but is a copy of something, which also takes me down quite a bit, in terms of being an author of anything.

An answer to the first part might be that if we look at The Love Witch as a gothic text, gothic literature was always put down because it was about women, often written by women and women enjoyed reading it.

Actually, men refuse to acknowledge itís a movie for women. Theyíre saying itís a movie for them; itís for their sexual excitation.

And this is why we canít have nice things.

It makes me think I donít want to give men sexual pleasure on the screen. I wasnít doing it for them; I was doing it for myself, because I enjoy some sensuality on the screen and some beauty, so it was really for me. I wasnít doing it with men in mind at all.

That response shows a complete lack of understanding of female sexuality and how we see ourselves.

This is because I think men donít think women know anything about sexuality. In fact, Russ Meyer, who Iím always compared to, had a quote where he said, I donít know which book I read it in, women donít know anything about sex, women donít know anything about sexuality. But, of course, they donít have male sexuality, but I think thatís because male sexuality is considered the only sexuality.

If anything weíre more sexual because we have to be. If we have the male gaze, most of the time we have to identify with women who are very sexualised, and then weíre finding our own pleasure within perhaps a very sexist text. The next stage of that is making your own, something like The Love Witch, which is taking something that was once sexist and then making it into something pleasurable.

Women have to go through that and itís very difficult, and their sexuality has to be very mediated through a lot of things before it can be discovered to be what it truly is for each woman. Obviously, women recognise that. The women who have not responded to the film are women who are not comfortable with gender either, in an interesting way. Theyíre not comfortable with the feminine; theyíve been [patriarchy]-identified in the sense that they feel that feminine women are ridiculous.

Which is so sexist.

Absolutely, itís a sexist view, but they might think Iím sexist for thinking that Iím buying into this trap of women needing to be this, but the film is a polemic on that and it doesnít really take one point of view or the other on it. It just presents it, because I present Trish [Laura Waddell] and sheís a sympathetic character as well. Thereís moments of the film where you completely go into her world and you get away from Elaine and then you start to hate Elaine, so I feel like most women can relate to both sides, both characters, because theyíve had moments where theyíve had both kinds of consciousness or decisions theyíve made about how to present themselves to the world.



The characters are so amazing, theyíre so fully realised. Trish doesnít necessarily have a lot of screen time but we still know her so well and we can slip into her subjectivity.

Yeah, and I think thereís that whole sequence near the end where weíre [focused] almost entirely on her for quite a while. She has the tragedy with her husband in the tea room, then she discovers Elaineís apartment and she goes through a transformation, so we stay with her for quite a few minutes there going just completely into her world, and for me that was important.

Something really striking in the film is when Elaine is being sensual and sheís kind of fantasising but sheís remembering things as well, and sheís remembering her father talking to her and her husband saying abusive things to her. That really made me think about how women deal with trauma. One in four women have been sexually assaulted, one in four women have been domestically abused, so thereís a significant number of women that have to get past some kind of trauma in order to feel that kind of sensual pleasure again. Thatís something very rarely shown on screen, and you did it with Elaine and it was a really important moment in the film.

That was difficult for me to put that in there. It made me almost a little bit afraid, but it was powerful and I felt it was scary. It scared me because women do have these negative thoughts about themselves constantly that come from their experiences and things men have said to them. She talks in the beginning in a voiceover about how she still has intrusive thoughts, and I thought I have to put in some of her intrusive thoughts, the way that sheís made to feel so worthless and how you can also see that her desire to be perfect is also because her husband rejected her because he didnít think she was tidy enough or thin enough or anything.

You can see, if youíd like to call them this, Elaineís excessive or monstrous qualities where sheís really OTT about being perfect and theyíve come from this abuse. Speaking as a champion of wicked witch characters or female baddies, itís wonderful to have her side of the story rather than just: this is an evil woman that should be burnt at the stake.

This is why Iíll always insist that the character is coming more from the older horror films and pre-code films more than from any later period, because this is where youíll find these kinds of delicious wicked heroines where you could get inside their modus and their reasons for doing things even though they were so wicked. You could really see why they were going the way they were going and what drove them to it and how they were living in a manís world and this was the only way they could claw their way to the top Ė movies like Baby Face [1933], all of the great noir films about wicked women. They were only shown to be wicked due to their circumstances, not because they are women and women are horrible and incomprehensible and evil.

I think some time in the 60s, cinema really changed its attitude towards women and women started to have really terrible roles and this is when they made all the sexploitation movies and all the slasher movies. In slasher movies, women are just killed and mutilated and theyíre not real characters. So you have the horror films before that period where there would be women in danger, women in peril; the noir films with a really interesting heroine and youíd feel her fear and go through her danger, but it was not in order to brutalise and kill her and enjoy the spectacle of her death. It was in order to experience her feelings sheís going through Ė a tragedy. Also, the men were implicated in these films as being the reason for her problem, the men were the violent ones; violent husbands. Now we have killers in slasher films, they donít even have a face or a name, theyíre just wearing a mask. Theyíre not implicated as real men, like real men in the world who actually kill women. You mentioned domestic violence, but men should have to look at these movies of male monsters killing women, they should be able to look at themselves and their own violence.

Theyíre not being made aware that theyíre voyeuristic and theyíre part of the killing; the monster is masked or faceless, thereís no responsibility, thereís no sort of Peeping Tom [1960] awareness.

All male responsibility is taken away for the violence towards women and then the deaths of women are so incredibly gruesome and painful, and Iíve been in public audiences where people are cheering and laughing and getting very excited and happy when women are becoming killed, mutilated, raped and everything like that. They really seem to enjoy that happening and the older films had nothing but pity for anybody who died; the death was treated the way it would be treated in life about someone you loved, so youíd be in deep grief.

Then I get people interviewing me and asking me, ďWhy are your films about love? Why are you interested in love?Ē These defensive questions as if what Iím doing is sort of suspect, suspicious. No one interviews a horror director and asks why they mutilate women, but question me about somebody wanting love as if thatís somehow perverted. So thatís where we are.

Speaking as someone who watches a lot of horror at festivals, if a womanís sexually assaulted youíll hear smatterings of laughterÖ

Clapping even, and cheering and rejoicing.

At festivals like Frightfest, there are always wonderful films by female directors but then thereíll be just absolutely terrible films; not just misogynistic but where there is that kind of atmosphere where people are cheering and clapping.

For me it makes me wonder, is that what men think of me, do men want me dead? Do they just want me to be dead? Women dead? They love to watch us dead, itís their favourite thing.

And it always has been, all the songs, poems and paintings about dead women.

I have this joke where I say I donít like to watch too many slasher films because I think women are more interesting alive than dead. So I think about a movie like Blood and Black Lace, people compare me to Mario Bava all the time, which is interesting but I donít think is accurate. So maybe Blood and Black Lace [1964], what I would do if I was directing that movie is that I would keep all of the women alive through the whole movie because theyíre beautiful models, and Iíd have conversations and dialogues and maybe someone would get killed somewhere but I wouldnít be killing off all those actresses one by one, thatís for sure. Iíd keep them alive and Iíd have them do more fashion shows and have some interesting conversations with each other at least, and maybe one or two could get killed for the story, but it would be later, so you would at least get to see them acting and being pretty on screen. So that sure isnít how I would make a movie.

Iíd love to see that, and to see them murdering as well! Itís interesting with Elaine in The Love Witch that she doesnít actually go around murdering everyone the way maybe a femme fatale character would.

She only directly kills one person. There is a question about the other deaths, whether she was directly responsible or maybe just more indirectly responsible.

The tampon scene, where sheís found out sheís menstruating is so good. Itís just such a simple thing and itís something you never see. Itís something thatís thought of as so disgusting even to women, which is sad. Itís just wonderful to see that in a film, represented really casually; as totally fine and not disgusting.

So for all the stylisation of the film, in terms of the cinematography and some of the costumes and make-up, what actually happens is a lot of it is very naturalistic in terms of just watching her do the things she would do, go about her life and how she is, just doing things like painting or making crafts; or putting in a tampon or gathering herbs and just doing normal things. I donít think you see women in movies just going about their lives too much, going about doing normal things. I was inspired by Jeanne Dielman (1975) for some of that. I had a lot more scenes originally of her doing things like cooking and more crafts and things like that, and I had to not make the movie too long so I cut it out. I originally wanted to spend more time just following her around doing just very basic things.



It is so very pleasurable; sheís not just magically there and magically beautiful.

Yeah, you see her and she wakes up and her make-up is a little bit smeared and she has to put her hair on and make herself pretty again for him, to bring him breakfast, and you see the labour of that.

Weíre so used to Hollywood films, or even indie films, where the woman wakes up looking perfect and thatís that. I wanted to talk a little about your lighting and cinematography because I think itís so beautiful and just adds to the richness of the film. I read about you using Dior tights over the lens.

My cinematographer [M. David Mullen] did that, he has all these tricks and one of them is using antique silk stockings over the lenses, which Von Sternbergís cinematographer did. He used that to create the glints on the chalice Ė those sparkles where itís like a big diamond of sparkle that comes out. He just absolutely knew how to recreate the type of classic cinematography that I wanted. It was really wonderful working with him.

Itís so sumptuous to look at and adds a another layer to the sensuality.

Itís very hard to get cinematographers to light that way, because theyíve all been trained that dark is better, not to use too much light or just use available light and make it look as if thereís no lighting. They think itís artificial and donít believe in it. To get someone whoís even interested in it is difficult and then you need to get somebody who can actually execute it, because itís much more difficult than contemporary lighting. You have to create highlights and shadows and then people need to walk through them, if you get someone perfectly lit in one spot, they wonít be perfectly lit in another spot. The actors have to hit very exact marks and they have to keep their heads almost tilted. Itís more difficult for the actors, because they have to not feel self-conscious about hitting a spot.

You have to plan everything out ahead of time, all of the blocking. You really have to have storyboards for every shot. Otherwise, the lighting takes too long because the cinematographer has to know exactly what shots youíre doing in the day and this is why itís also very difficult to shoot in real houses. You want to pre-light everything on a grid so you have cords and cables and stands off the floor, because every angle you have to re-light, so everything has to be moved so it can take an incredible amount of time, if youíre moving all the cables and all the lights round on the floor. So this is why they shot all the old movies on soundstages and it made more sense. We couldnít do that, we couldnít build all of our sets, because itíd have been too expensive so we had to try to light that way on location, it was very difficult.

The Love Witch is so detailed and rich. Considering how incredibly involved you were with every part of the film, itís infuriating that youíve had that kind of response from male critics suggesting you didnít know what youíre doing when every detail is so painstaking.

So often the words used are like Ďtrashí and Ďsleazeí and Ďschlockí. Negative words are so often applied to it, which is surprising me because of the amount of work and labour and craft that went into the production and lighting, and into the acting. I got very good actors whoíve been made fun of a lot, so itís been weird. Whatís interesting is that a lot of it has been really passive aggressive in terms of getting a four or five star review, but where they say something like how this is such a delicious film even though itís silly, frilly, trashy, sleazy. They use every horrifying adjective in the book but they love it because they love trash movies or something like that.

Itís maybe a way to dismiss the value of pleasure; and definitely about you being a female auteur.

Thatís very interesting, the value of pleasure, because I think weíre living in a time where pleasure is very much looked down on. Of course, male directors wonít be questioned about their pleasures.

Yes, of course. Itís not like a throwaway pleasure. I donít want to make to distinctions, but something like pornography is a perhaps a trashy throwaway pleasure and The Love Witch isnít at all.

Itís actually the pleasure of cinema, an aesthetic cinema of images of beauty and a detailed thought process, itís that kind of pleasure. The pleasure of a pure cinema. I donít mean to sound arrogant but thatís what I think it is, itís not the pleasure of a B movie, itís the pleasure of cinema itself.
Iíve had two people recently compare The Love Witch to Garth Marenghiís Darkplace, and that really, really shocked me. I think this is [symptomatic of] how people struggle with cinematography or anything that isnít just completely current or in the current style. They just take anything that just isnít the current style and lump it into this category of spoof.

Regarding Samantha Robinson, her performance is just incredible. What was your working relationship like and how did you manage to achieve that?

It was really wonderful working with her because sheís very open and she takes acting very seriously, and we both approach material from an intellectual standpoint. I donít think Iíve ever worked with an actor who is so intellectual, whoís so much coming from the brain as her. A lot of actors come more from movement or different things. You have to tap into how the actor works, but she and I work in a similar way, so I was able to just explain the concepts behind the character and she was able to take those and try to internalise them as if they were her own feelings and thoughts and values. Thatís how she came at the character; to try and understand what everything was, where it was supposed to be coming from, and just create the character very deeply.

In the beginning we watched some movies to inspire her. Different kinds of femme fatales, especially noir films, but it was more that she was just trying to grasp all the layers and nuances of the character so she could, when she was playing the scenes, come from an authentic place rather than her trying to copy anything or do anything mechanically.

Thereís definitely nothing sheís parodying, itís Elaine.

What was really nice about her is I think she played love very well, very authentically, and I also thought she played fear very well. The character is wearing a mask a lot of the time, so I think thatís what people mistake for wooden acting; the character herself is playing a role where sheís putting something on. But then there are moments where the mask slips and she shows real love and longing, and then when she shows real fear when sheís being attacked by Trish and by the mob, and where her real feelings come out and you can see that sheís very vulnerable. I thought that was wonderful the way she did that.

She was incredible. Youíre really identifying and rooting for Trish at one point, but then Elaineís so afraid and your heart breaks for her.

I think, in a way, thatís true; part of the success of the movie is that I did have really good actors. I also wrote them to be really deep characters because nobody is a stereotype, or this person is a good person, that person is the evil person. Everyone has nuances, so the actors were excited to get roles that were nuanced and they did as much as they could with the material they had.

Masculinity and male fragility is also dealt with really well through the male characters.

With the male characters, I didnít really have to direct any of them, they just came naturally to those performances, and what they told me was that the script felt very real to them and they were pulling the stuff out of their experiences and own lives as well, so that was interesting.

Itís really funny when Wayne [Jeffrey Vincent Parise] the lecturer says that the women who stimulate him intellectually are too unattractive homely, and the attractive women arenít smart enough, and Elaineís saying Ďpoor, poor babyí. And obviously Elaineís extremely intelligent and sheís just cooing him, and he doesnít have a clue what heís into at all.

Yeah thatís fun in a way to write a scene like that. That dialogue from Wayne came from a friend of mine who said those exact things to me when he was complaining about women.

Oh my god, did you correct him?

No, it was great material. I study what they do, so I can write good characters. So all the men come from men I know, they werenít coming from movies or fictional characters, and it was fun to write these scenes where sheís cooing at these men and theyíre so clueless and, you know this isnít going to work out very well for them. Theyíre not really going to get away with it.

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #24 on: April 05, 2017, 04:56:45 PM »
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A Woman Constructing Her World: Anna Biller Interview
April 5, 2017
By Christopher Heron
via The Seventh Art

American independent filmmaker Anna Biller discusses her latest film, The Love Witch (2016), which investigates gender and psychology through the prisms of love and witchcraft. Following Viva (2007) and her preceding short films, the aesthetic of  The Love Witch is a bricolage of different formalist reference points found across the writing, performance, sets, music and more. Through this unique world building, Biller explores the underlying narcissistic personality of the complex main character, Elaine, as well as a means to explore notions of fantasy, desire, patriarchal structures, craft, and meta-level symbolism, among its many themes. We discuss these components of the film, its reception, critical misunderstandings of cinema history, and the realities of making films as a woman.

The Seventh Art: I was just reading the newly published article on Viva from MUBI.

Anna Biller: I liked that. A lot of people didnít take Viva seriously when it first came out, but it seems people are taking it more seriously now. I did get a couple of academic pieces of writing on it, but I guess most journalism is pretty much on the surface [laughs].

I was reminded that it played at [International Film Festival] Rotterdam. It had that context then, but I guess the Internet and time level everything.

Yeah, even some of the reviews were trying to get it some more mainstream attention, so they were pushing it as something that was more populist, a sex comedy. Itís something thatís happening with The Love Witch, as well. I think critics like to pick up on what is the most popular aspect of the film and try to sell that so more people see it.

Itís a paradox. I guess they assume theyíre doing a favour to you by doing that, butÖ

Öif they were taking it more seriously, they would be doing me more of a favour [laughs], because Iíd be considered more of a serious filmmaker, rather thanÖ I donít know what [laughs].

Another way to think of the problem is that theyíre putting the movie into the wrong frame. People are characterizing it as a lowbrow genre film thatís too long and slow for what it is, when actually itís an art film that uses popular forms and techniques. People are scratching their heads, wondering why the acting is the way it is, and the pacing, and the deliberate design, when if they would put it into the correct frame none of that would seem strange at all. People recognize all of the elements individually: that it has a contemplative pace, declarative acting, a deliberately constructed mise-en-scene, and a thematic structure Ė all elements that should place it squarely in the art-film category And yet many characterize it as a cheap, sleazy genre film, or a one-line joke. The question is, why is it being put into the wrong frame?

I had read an interview with you before seeing The Love Witch, so I have to assume it altered my perception. I donít think it would have been drastically different otherwise, but it certainly added something to a first viewing.

An expectation of watching something a little more trashy, maybe?

Yeah, it definitely removed that. I was more aware of the theoretical rigour.

Yeah, my interviews tend to be a little bit different than how other people talk about it. Iím a little more serious when I talk about things, but thatís how I think about things. Iím not trying to be pretentious or pretend Iím something Iím not; these are really the concerns I have when making a movie. I watch a lot of really serious cinema and think deeply about my themes. So Iím always a little surprised when a film comes out and people are looking at just the silliest, most surface aspects. Theyíre put there on purpose as a surface, but it isnít all thatís there.

For someone who performs so many roles on this film [writer, director, producer, composer, editor, production designer, art director, costume designer, etc.], it seems like the screenwriting aspect gets talked about the least. Iím curious how that portion started and how it evolved before shooting.

The screenwriting was Ė in a way Ė the most important part of making The Love Witch. I started off with theme: wanting to make a movie about a femme fatale and to show her life from the inside. Thatís a feminist project because sexualized, beautiful women in films are only ever looked at, usually, from the outside. I wanted to show her insides. All the films that I watch, that I talk about Ė the classic movies, some of the foreign movies, like [Ingmar] Bergmanís Ė the reason I get so much out of those films is because they have such interesting female characters. Theyíre so much more dimensional and you did see some of their insides. I just donít see that very much now in filmmaking. I wanted to kind of bring that back, that was the most important thing, but also drawing heavily on my own life in terms of creating the actual events that happen in the film.

The Gertrude (1964) reference youíve also made is interesting because it isnít realist, it participates in a higher register performance style, but when a film like yours alters how the actors behave in a way thatís not the most contemporary realist style, people see it as an inherently negative quality.

I love symbolist theatre, I like things that are abstract, artistic and thematic. Thatís a lot of what my taste is: Maeterlinck plays, things that are not sexploitation. [The films] are stylized, but not stylized from the sources that people think that they are. I think people take their own experience of stylized texts, which is limited for most people, and they compare it to that. Their only experience with stylization may be Russ Meyer or John Waters.

Iíd like to talk more about the well-roundedness youíre describing and the interior life of the Elaine character. One thing I found interesting about the film, which isnít mentioned as much, is the basic point that she paints Ė someone who creates objects and approaching her world in that way. Yet sheís not described by this in writing on the film. What function did that serve for the character for you?

Thatís what I do, Iím an artist and I make everything for my films. Iím constructing a world and I wanted that to be part of the movie: this idea of the artisanship of witchcraft. The idea that to create a film about witchcraft, you have to make a lot of objects that witches use. I wanted there to be a sense that sheís an artisan thatís crafting a world thatís very meaningful to her through objects and thatís what I do as a filmmaker. I wanted that connection to be there. The idea is that Iím sort of like Elaine because Iím a woman and Iím constructing my world, and sheís a woman and sheís constructing her world. I wanted that parallel to be there.

Would that be why sheís so adept at understanding the rules of the game, the world around her, and the psychology of the men sheís engaging with?

For me, thatís me trying to make a real feminine character, because women are intuitive. Sheís an intuitive woman Ė sheís also an obedient woman and people donít talk about that too much, either. Sheís twisted and shaped herself to fit an ideal that men have created for how she should be. Sheís actually trying to be accommodating, pleasant, and use love to shape her world. It doesnít work, for various reasons. It doesnít work because we live in a patriarchy where men are not really interested in women having power over them. It also doesnít work because sheís become mentally ill in the process of transforming herself, so that sheís not very much able to give and receive love by the time that sheís doing these experiments.

I saw in an interview that you compared this to Frankensteinís monster, because as you say, thereís a patriarchal structure and sheís not necessarily trying to topple it, sheís obedient to its rules, but the act of willingly conforming is like a too-human goal that doesnít turn out how you planned.

Yeah, because itís really about a power imbalance. You canít change other people through witchcraft, a little through persuasion, but if youíre living in a culture where men insist on being dominant and thatís their main joy in life, youíre not going to succeed in actually being dominant over a man. Itís the fact that sheís trying to become dominant through becoming passive that it became a kind of demonic project that was bound to fail.

When sheís engaging with Wayne and asks whether heís a Libertine and he responds about different time periods engaging with this differently, it reminded me of texts on so-called Satanism. It is sometimes portrayed as having an Utopian, mutual participation between genders, but in this context, he uses his knowledge of this as a way to keep her from discussing it further.

Sheís playing a game and theyíre playing a game, as well. Thereís another way to look at how they fall apart. You could say itís because she cast a spell on them or she gave them a drug, or on the other hand you could say theyíre falling apart because this fantasy of love she has, as soon as theyíve got the woman they want, they become very unhappy. Theyíve conquered and thatís what they wanted, they donít really want to be staying there with that woman after theyíve conquered her. [Laughs] So this is where this gets into realism. Then it becomes all about them, she shifts from being the whore to the mommy. ďOh, mommy it hurts,Ē then theyíre weak and crying, and want mommy to patch everything up for them. Itís what happens when men get married, actually.

Beyond realist experience, was there any investigation into psychology? Youíve mentioned in other interviews gestalt therapy, fetishes, and she mentions parapsychology in the film.

Oh yeah, I did, I read a lot of psychology books Ė probably even more than witchcraft books when I was writing this. I was trying to understand the narcissistic personality disorder, but also a lot of stuff about gender. I was reading Jung, a lot of Adler, and older psychology to understand how these dynamics work. Iíve always been really interested in gender psychology and theory. You have to take all of that and turn it into characters and make it into a drama, try to not have it be too didactic. Thatís where my experience comes in and thatís also where my love of cinema comes in. You take all this theory and psychology and you turn it into a story, and you try to make that story simple, archetypal, and also cinematic. What ends up happening with my work is my interest in making it cinematic is where all the attention goes. You mention that people donít notice the screenplay or the themes as much as they notice the craft, where you turn it into cinema using lighting techniques, design techniques, to try to bring you story to life. Thatís the stage that people focus on with my work Ė it seems Ė the craft, the cinematic side.

I know youíve mentioned that if this was literature, would there be the same hang-up over style. Maybe with more established media, where a new book chose to engage in a 19th Century style, it would just be seen as a choice that was made as opposed to ďWhy is this different from everything else that is coming out?Ē

Yeah, I think about that all the time. If you were to write a novel in the 19th Century style, letís say Ė as you said Ė would that be all everyone talked about? That you were using language that was a bit archaic? They probably wouldnít. I think itís because cinema is so tied into the mainstream market and there are expectations. Since movies mostly all look the same, people think they all look the same is because the technology has changed, and thatís the only way movies can look: how they look now. They think the reason people act the way they do in movies now is because thatís better or realistic acting and the acting of the past was bad. So if you show them a movie that doesnít look like new movies and people donít act [in it] the way they act in new movies, they donít understand it. It makes them question everything else theyíre watching and realize everything they watch, the filmmaker is making a choice. That theyíre making choices that are different than the choices that Iím making. It makes them question their whole viewership. I think thatís what makes people so excitedÖ and sometimes upset.

Are you concerned that it hampers the ability for the communication of a specific meaning?

Absolutely. Yeah, it actually for many people absolutely destroys their ability to engage with the movie in terms of what itís doing. For me, because I watch so many classic movies, I donít have any sense of it being different [laughs] from other movies, because itís so similar to movies I watch. I think probably my core audience is classic movie fans because they donít have these hang-ups or problems with the style.

One other thing thatís interesting is that people are ascribing [the style] to a type of movie that didnít really exist, theyíre just inheriting an idea that itís a sexploitation film or a [Mario] Bava type film, but if youíve see those films, they donít really apply.

They donít apply at all and thatís whatís so interesting: they are inventing a genre that didnít exist and then saying Iím copying that genre. Then they go into detail about how I do that, itís so fascinating. There was one reviewer that talked about a whole genre of witchcraft movies from the í60s and í70s about witches creating love spells that didnít quite work out, they were sort of comic and had sex scenesÖ there was not a single film made like that in the history of cinema [laughs]. There was one film that was made, it was called Bell, Book and Candle (1958), it was a studio movie from the 1950s and there was the TV series Bewitched (1964-72) with that theme. Then from the í40s there was I Married a Witch (1942) and as far as I know, those were the only three things with that sort of plot that that person describes [laughs]. This whole Ďgenreí and theyíre studio films, not low budget movies, b-movies, sexploitation movies. Itís fascinating to me that people are inventing this.

Itís also interesting that when they do discuss the form Ė when theyíre only focused on the form Ė theyíre not really interested in each choice as an individual decisions. Maybe not even related to one another in a recreation project.

Theyíre also mainly not looking at the forms that I actually am referencing. A few people do mention Hitchcock, who I directly visually reference, but I donít directly visually reference anything from Russ Meyer or giallo films or anything else that they compare it to. There might be something surrounding hysteria about female sexuality, Iím thinking, presented from a female point of view Ė that that makes people nervous, maybe. It might be something to do with me being a female filmmaker and that females canít make meaning on their own, but they can copy. Iím not sure. I think itís entirely possible if I was a man, there was a manís name on this movie, that none of this would really be happening. Iím not sure, but I think itís possible.

It could also be because thereís a political component to it that I think people are maybe trying to compartmentalize. If you look at someone like Wes Anderson, someone who is very in control of the mise-en-scene as well, I think people are comfortable with that because theyíre not also feeling like thereís a greater political project at play Ė like an understanding of gender, which is political.

Yeah, thatís right, itís political. I think all of the reviews are politicized in some way. I donít think they have to be, itís a story and Iím creating a piece of cinema and it can be talked about on that level without having to be politicized.

To pursue these formal questions at a more specific level, how was your relationship with M. David Mullen while shooting the film?

We had a fantastic relationship because we were completely on the same page. I interviewed dozens of DPs and I knew none of them could do what I wanted to do, but I knew he could because Iíve worked with him before. When I was interviewing people, I was mainly trying to get them to talk about lighting to see if they were interested in lighting and to see what kinds of things they had to say about lighting. I have to say, out of dozens of qualified DPs with good resumes, I didnít meet with anyone who was actually even interested in lighting or discussing it. The thing is that to create this beautiful look that I wanted, itís all about the lighting. I guess DPs, I donít know, they donít tend to learn lighting or focus on it or have it be part of the aesthetic for them. Things need to be illuminated so you can see things, but I donít think DPs are so much studying lighting. Thatís the whole key to getting this movie looking the way it looks and I knew that because from the time that I was making my first student films, I didnít like the lighting. I studied lighting to understand what it was, how to get the images I wanted. Iíve been trying to light this way ever since I started shooting film, so I knew the importance of it. But itís also time consuming and involves a lot of skill. So my DP for Viva did a good job, but he was very slow because he wasnít as experienced and that can be death for your days, because you go over twelve hours and it kills the crew. I knew I needed somebody who could do it and do it quickly Ė and masterfully Ė and this was David. I knew David was an expert on this.

This would be portrait lighting?

Yeah, itís basic three point lighting, yeah, but there are a lot of things you need to know to light an entire set, pre-light a set from a grid. Itís complicated because now people are using soft lights where you donít have to control the light as much. Itís a basic glow that youíre creating. But with hard lights, you have to control the light and shape it. It has to be shaped with scrims and flats and nets and barn doors. Youíre painting with light, making painting, and itís complicated because you have to make the light look good for the wide shot of the set and then you have to re-light every side of the shot so that if you go in for a medium shot, you have to make the light more precise on the faces. Then if you go in for a close-up, you do something else. Youíre lighting actors, so you have to have eye lights so their eyes ping Ė sometimes put out a flag to shadow the forehead. There are all these things that you do and itís complicated. There are filters for softening womenís faces especially and itís beautiful, itís like a whole lost art, and David is even more of a fetishist than me. Heís been studying this since he was a kid. I went to the same school as him. I kept asking him and asking him, and he was busy and said no. So I didnít shoot until he was available [laughs] because I just knew. I kept trying to find other people, but in the end I knew that I had to have him in order to get it to come out right.

Did you board most of your shots because it seems that thereís a consistent approach with them, beyond even the lighting: how characters are blocked in scenes, how singles are set-up with the set seen clearly in the background and the actors centred usually.

Yeah, everything was boarded and I did some larger paintings, as well. Itís interesting you mention seeing the set behind people, because itís a whole process where you design the sets that way ahead of time for the shots that youíre going to need. When Iím designing the living room set of the apartment, I make sure thereís depth on both sides. Thereís depth going back into the dining room and depth going back into the magic room. You have windows on the other side for depth and a fire place on the other side, archways, and every wall has a painting or vase Ė some kind of interest. You have texture and depth going all the way back so you always have a good shot. There is always something to capture, you know? I really think about that when I prepare my sets. You have a couch and you have a dining room way in the back thatís blue, and you have a living room thatís orange and red, which stays in front. You can get a beautiful two-shot of two people sitting on a couch, going back in that depth, and you also know that when you get the singles, youíll have depth going the other way. I think about that when Iím designing.

Did you also have an idea for the colour palette and how that would mesh with your interest in symbolism or certain themes that you want to articulate in each scene?

Yeah, mainly in Elaineís apartment it was all symbolic from a Thoth tarot deck. The movie is about gender polarity in witchcraft, so the sun is the masculine element and the moon is the feminine element. I had her living room be the sun colours (orange, yellow and red), and her magic room and dining room be the moon colours (blue, purple and white). The colours that people wore Ė the Renaissance Fair was a summer solstice festival so it was all yellow, gold, marigold and yellow daisies. Thereís this colour symbolism that goes throughout the film. Because she was falling in love with him and heís a man, his masculine was shining down upon her, it was all about celebrating her finding this man who is a golden man. I thought about everything that way. In the tea room, itís all pink and peach at the beginning because itís supposed to represent ladies, female space, and then later Trish and Elaine are opposite colours. Trish is in black because sheís in mourning and Elaine is in white because she feels sheís about to be a bride. People in the background are mainly in white, so the idea is that at the beginning they were becoming friends and wearing the same colour, and at the end theyíre on opposite sides and enemies although they donít know that yet. These seem like very obvious colour choices to make as far as symbolism, but they work for the audience because when you see two people sitting on opposite sides of the table and one is in black and one in white, it has an emotional-psychological effect on the audience. I have that two-shot, where Iím not shooting it the same way, either. Rather than shooting mostly an over-the-shoulders where they relate to one another, itís either in singles or a two-shot where they seem very far away from one another.

You mentioned the affect this has on the viewer, which also comes up with the duration with your scenes. It seems like a lot of things weíre talking about are a tension that exists between a specific meaning on your behalf and the ability for that to be legible with an audience that has different viewing habits. How do you determine the length you choose for a scene, specifically the ones that push at that norm?

Again, when I watch newer movies, I canít stand the way theyíre edited because I feel like itís really not about establishing people relating to one another in a conversation as much as itís about getting a feeling of movement. But thereís not a lot of psychological movement in these movies, thereís just a lot of physical movement, so the camera is drifting slightly or whipping or cutting or drifting to the hands then back to the face or kind of wandering here and there, but nothing is actually happening in the dialogue Ė nothing interesting or exciting is happening psychologically. I go for psychological movement, movement in the mind. Most of my favourite directors do that, as well, so Iím very interested in Dreyer and Bergman, Ozu. Nobody compares me to those directors because Iím doing something much more romantic and populist, a bit more like Hitchcock, but Iím interested in the camera be still so you can actually watch people: their facial expressions, listen to their conversation. The length of things is determined by what needs to happen in the scene, what needs to occur between people, what points need to be made, what shifts need to happen.

I make these scenes as short as I possibly can to convey that because if you make a scene that has a dramatic weight between people, if you make it too short, it becomes very comic, silly. Some of my scenes are too short. Thereís a scene, for example, where Wayne picks up Elaine in the park. Thatís unrealistically brief for a pick-up. They donít get to know one another at all. If I was more interested in realism, that scene would go on for five or six minutes, or there would even be several intermediary scenes before they go back to his cabin. Iím always trying to balance getting something done in terms of realistic, psychological connection with speed and expediency, and itís not easy to do.

When it comes to the set pieces, youíre more willing to go longer on those ones. Itís interesting how you refer to not moving the camera so much, because when this style is used in foreign films itís called Ďcontemplativeí. In this sense, itís trance-like in those longer scenes.

Again, none of these scenes is that long. The longest scene would be the Renaissance Fair. That scene is a long scene, but itís a scene that is broken up in many different sections, a lot of different things happen. First they have to discover and be enchanted by something, then youíre finding out about what happens at a summer solstice ritual, theyíre watching the action and see their friends, they eventually get married, and then they have to a conflict in their minds. There are a lot of things that have to happen in that scene, a number of complex things. If youíre just looking at this scene and thinking, ďItís a dumb silly Renaissance Fair and thereís a song, why is it taking ten minutes?Ē Then youíre not really looking at the scene. One thing I spent time on that scene and spent time in the tea room [scene] Ė these are the most important scenes thematically. I want the audience to be immersed and to remember them, to find them important. If that pick-up scene had been important, I would have stayed on it a long time. If it had been something I wanted people to really sink in on and remember. Thatís one thing you do with length, you signal what scenes are the most important.

Iíve heard people say that the Renaissance scene could have been cut out or it was silly, extraneous, or what was it even doing there Ė it means that people arenít following the story [laughs]. Or it means they canít think metaphorically or something, because really that scene is the key to the whole movie. Thatís really more the kind of filmmaking that I love, the kind of filmmaking that you can tell a story through spectacle and you can tell it through metaphor. Itís also where her fantasies played out, so those two scenes Ė the tea room and the Renaissance Fair Ė are where her inner life, her inner fantasies are played out. I think those scenes are more important than the scenes where she strips for a man, you know what Iím saying? Whatís sad to me, to go back to an earlier point we were discussing, is that people are missing that when theyíre discussing the meaning of the movie when they talk about it as sexploitation. Theyíre placing undue weight on scenes of her stripping or seducing someone and theyíre placing very little weight on the scenes that are the most important, which have to do with her inner fantasy life Ė what she wants.

Itís almost as if theyíre engaging with it as if the film has been made for their voyeuristic fantasies, as opposed to maybe yours as the artist Ė the things you want to see.

Yeah, exactly. Their voyeuristic fantasies, Iím not trying to be not generous, there is plenty of material for them, but the way Iíve edited it is for my voyeuristic fantasies, which have to do with showing a pink tea room and staying in that room or staying in the Renaissance Fair. A lot of people have said that I have a problem with my editing, like I donít know how to edit [laughs]. Itís all very intentional. People refuse to see that I am more serious in my cinema goals, so for example, a put a touch of Dreyer or Ozu or Akerman in there because Iím drawing from them as well. People donít see Jeanne DielmannÖ (1975) as too long, because they know that theyíd be missing the point [laughs]. My Renaissance Fair scene is not too long compared to a scene in an actual art movie. I get this argument because itís a ďsilly-frilly sexploitation movieĒ and because itís that kind of movie itís too long. Theyíre aware when they say that that they first have to say, ďIím someone who likes art films and who understands them, but that ainít what this is and thereforeÖĒ  I think a lot of the criticism is saying, ďThis person has a lot of pretensions towards being a serious director and sheís not, and because sheís not her film should only be 70 minutes long because thatís the length of dumb, throwaway trash movies Ė thatís the length those movies should be and thatís what this is.Ē Thatís a political thing, too. Thereís a political dimension to saying that female fantasy is dumb and trashy.

Itís also an interesting parallel between you and Elaine, because sheís willing to engage in the rules of the game Ė in this sense, being aware of the conventions of American cinema of the past, but wanting to engage more deeply, and thatís off-putting to people.

Oh sure it is. I was aware, for example, when constructing that Renaissance Fair scene or the tea room scene that I was going to get flak for it. Iím always aware whatís going to cause a controversy or problem. Iím aware of the things that are going to seem corny, too feminine to people, the things that are going to seem too long, too latent. I go ahead and do them anyway, so itís not like I donít know what Iím doing. Iím doing all this on purpose as a social experiment, because itís not the most important thing to me to have the most popular film, but it is important to me to actually do these kind of cinematic experiments and see what happens. Itís really important to me as an artist to push up against, not only ideas about gender, but ideas of what cinema is and what cinema can be. I think Iíve been successful in the sense that people are talking aboutÖ not always respectfullyÖ but people are talking about the film in terms of how it was made, who made it, how it was constructed, which means people are looking at it not just as being as real and washing over them, not thinking about how itís made. That makes it an art movie, I think. Thereís this invisibility to how films are made that Iím trying to get out of.

The verisimilitude, the invisible realism.

And to me, newer movies seem less realistic than older movies because the craft is worse. I think objectively worse. For example, the craft of lighting is meant to make you see reality the way we see it with our eyes, because our eyes are so much more dimensional than a camera lens. They see so much more depth and colour and separation than a camera, so you have to add artificial lighting to see the world through a camera the way you would see it with your eyes. You have to have a lot of craft, training and acting to make what youíre doing feel believable Ė a lot of training that people donít have anymore. To me, the older movies were more realistic because they were better at illusionism. Just like how you canít take a paint brush and painting what you see, because you wonít be creating illusionism, you have to train to create illusionism. I really donít think of what Iím doing as being stylized so much as Iím trying to create illusionism the way that people used to.

The standard of illusionism changes to something that is more objectively chaotic and not really invisible.

Yeah, a really good example would be a handheld camera is much less like how we see the world because we have vision stabilization, which means that when weíre standing looking at something, our eyes donít appear to have the film wavering around in a random way. What we see appears fixed, even though we might be swaying slightly or moving slightly, our vision is fixed. When weíre walking, the image in front of us seems to be smoothed out the way that is when you have a dolly. Using a dolly, using a tripod are much better ways to imitate human perception than not using them. Not using them doesnít remind you of anything other than that thereís a handheld camera there. To me, that takes me out of the reality of the film, it just makes me aware of the production.

When you referred to this film as a social experiment, Iím wondering if thereís data that youíve collected from the experience thatís going to play into what you work on next?

Yes, absolutely. I keep learning how to make a movie that people can get absorbed in a bit better. Iím actually quite accommodating and learn from my mistakes, not that I think that this film is a mistake. I like to take away peopleís barriers between being able to appreciate the content, so I think Iíve learned how to do that a little bit better. I think part of that has to do with being a little less arty about the structure of my script. I think thatís really where it starts from, the structure of your script. I was trying to be kind of conventional, but I was being very playful, as I said. People donít understand how much of their reaction comes from the structure of my script, which has a few unconventional moments. The unconventional things in the script are really what people are responding to, but they donít think thatís what theyíre responding to [laughs]. So Iíve written a script thatís very conventional structurally. Thatís my experiment this time, to see how that works.

Are you going to maintain the aesthetic interests that you have or will that change with the script?

It doesnít have to change, except that depending on the kind of budget structure I get and the amount of creative control I get, it could change. Iím a little concerned about that, because depending on where you get your moneyÖ [laughs] I donít think Iíll want to spend seven years again making a movie, so Iíll have to do this one for more money, and when you have more money you have more pressure to give away more tasks to more department. Weíll see what happens, Iím hoping to get creative control, but I donít know how much Iíll have. Iíll still do sketches and paintings for everything and hopefully some of that can get incorporated into the movie.

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Images and clips from some of the lesser-known influences on The Love Witch:

The theater of Maurice Maeterlinck:













Aleksandr Ptushkoís film Ruslan and Lyudmila (1972):











Several of his films are streaming on Amazon Prime right now



Bell, Book, and Candle (1958):


















Konstantin Yershov & Georgi Kropachyovís Viy - The Spirit of Evil (1967)


modage

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #25 on: April 07, 2017, 06:38:34 PM »
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I was skeptical about this from the trailers and just thinking that I'm not sure I had any interest in a movie that sets out to completely recreate some kitschy forgotten style of filmmaking without attempting to add something new to it. (Even if that something new is a feminist POV not present in the mid-60s films this is referencing, I still didn't think that would be enough). Not even the near unanimous praise really made me think that this would rise above that issue for me, but finally I broke down and decided to see for myself.

And while this is an A+ recreation of that late 60s style of filmmaking, I still have to shrug. Biller has an amazing eye for detail and every shot, outfit, color, etc. is spot on but to what end? There is a difference in taking some cues from other eras and incorporating some different non-period appropriate elements to make something interesting but to simply recreate for the sake of it, I'm not sure what the point of it is other than camp value. For me you can put it on the pile with Hobo With A Shotgun and the other post-Grindhouse exercises in irony.

Also: 2 hours, Jeeezus Christ. As a 20-30 minute short it's cute, but as a feature, eh.
Christopher Nolan's directive was clear to everyone in the cast and crew: Use CGI only as a last resort.

pete

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #26 on: April 08, 2017, 01:59:30 PM »
+1
I think the kitschiness of it was just the hook but Billers' ability to both stay campy but still make very incisive commentaries about a glamorized but tragic character is the real meat. I think you're being too dismissive of the "feminist POV" - the film contained much more nuance and it wasn't just some empowerment message - it showed Biller's point of view amidst so many visual riffs and spot on production choices and pretty much just everything she's nailed.

I was skeptical about this from the trailers and just thinking that I'm not sure I had any interest in a movie that sets out to completely recreate some kitschy forgotten style of filmmaking without attempting to add something new to it. (Even if that something new is a feminist POV not present in the mid-60s films this is referencing, I still didn't think that would be enough). Not even the near unanimous praise really made me think that this would rise above that issue for me, but finally I broke down and decided to see for myself.

And while this is an A+ recreation of that late 60s style of filmmaking, I still have to shrug. Biller has an amazing eye for detail and every shot, outfit, color, etc. is spot on but to what end? There is a difference in taking some cues from other eras and incorporating some different non-period appropriate elements to make something interesting but to simply recreate for the sake of it, I'm not sure what the point of it is other than camp value. For me you can put it on the pile with Hobo With A Shotgun and the other post-Grindhouse exercises in irony.

Also: 2 hours, Jeeezus Christ. As a 20-30 minute short it's cute, but as a feature, eh.
ďTragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.Ē
- Buster Keaton

modage

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #27 on: April 09, 2017, 12:03:58 PM »
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Not slamming the message just questioning the mode of delivery.
Christopher Nolan's directive was clear to everyone in the cast and crew: Use CGI only as a last resort.

pete

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #28 on: April 09, 2017, 08:21:31 PM »
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Not slamming the message just questioning the mode of delivery.

again, it wasn't just a "feminist POV" nor was it a singular message.
ďTragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.Ē
- Buster Keaton

jenkins

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Re: The Love Witch
« Reply #29 on: April 09, 2017, 10:17:55 PM »
+1
honestly you said you didn't understand the point and it was awkward.
Sorry, what was the point?

when you get to the hard questions is when we'll be rolling

Itís such a rich film, thereís so manyÖ not influences because that seems a little reductive. Youíre taking those cinematic influences and doing something entirely different with it, rather than anything derivative.

Itís more that Iíve just watched so many movies in my life so Iím just taking from that general experience of cinema and not from trying to copy any specific type of movie, so I think people who have watched as many movies as I have may understand what Iím doing a little bit better because they wonít have the style be such a block in terms of what Iím doing. I think if youíve seen as many movies as I have, youíll actually realise that itís not a pastiche. Youíll realise that out of maybe hundreds or thousands of films youíve seen, that you actually havenít seen a film like it.

I realised when I was writing it and making it that it was a completely original film. What bothers me about being compared to sexploitation directors is that their films were made for a specific audience and a specific market and a specific time. That time doesnít exist anymore, where filmmakers were breaking apart censorship codes to try to rebel; where sexuality and nudity were seen as a new frontier, and this in of itself being interesting to people. It was sort of a liberal left achievement to be able to go into more explicit forms of filmmaking. So that time isnít now, itís passed. Ironically, the emphasis on the sexuality and nudity of the heroine in The Love Witch is quite low. Itís much more about Elaineís interior life and the things that happen to her. Comparing the contexts of old sexploitation films and cinema now Ė they were making the most explicit movies they possibly could and showing as much female flesh as they possibly could, and Iím living in a time where what Iím showing is tamer than what you see on cable television, so surely itís kind of a strange comparison to make.

I think what men fail to see is this phenomenon of how women are excluded from so much of cinema in terms of their fantasies, their desires, their concerns, so they donít actually understand when they see a movie that is different, that comes from a female consciousness and concerns female fantasies, how different that is. I think thatís the most interesting thing about my film in a way, how it actually is able to depict women without showing them in terms of male fantasy.

Definitely. A big part of that when watching the film is that it really embodies the female gaze. Would you be happy with that label? Is that something you tried to achieve?

Oh yes, absolutely! My whole goal in creating cinema is to see how I can create cinema from a female gaze, and it doesnít always have to be feminist; it can be more that itís coming from a female consciousness. Sometimes people use the term Ďfeministí in kind of a meaningless, generic way.

Would you be happy with your film being labelled a feminist work or would you qualify that in a certain way?
No, I think it is feminist, I just think that a lot of the people that use the word Ďfeministí donít know what it means. Itís a little strange, because if someone can say itís sexploitation and yet itís feminist, it means they may not know what either of those words actually mean because itís an oxymoron; you canít have both. You can say itís an erotic film thatís feminist, but you canít talk about exploitation being feminist, issues like that.

Also, I think thereís a way in which the word feminist has been co-opted for use by people who are not feminist at all in their thinking and ideas. For example, the sex industry tries to co-opt the word Ďfeministí to talk about their thinking, their ideas. They think of these old sexploitation movies as being feminist because theyíre allowing women to express their sexuality Ďfreelyí, but they would also call a lot of hardcore pornography feminist because theyíll say the woman is enjoying herself. This is why the word Ďfeministí is pernicious, because different people will use it for different agendas.

I would say my film is feminist in almost a purer way, and so I donít like the word Ďfeministí, because itís used for movies that contain really ridiculous female superheroes for a lot of men to enjoy, for cinema thatís really quite misogynistic, and itís just used too much nowadays in silly, meaningless ways. I feel like when people are using the word, they should be using it seriously or not at all. It weakens the movement, it makes the term completely meaningless, so that kind of usage takes a lot of power away from it.


 

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