❉ A modern-day witch uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, in a tribute to 1960s Technicolor thrillers.
‘The Love Witch’ is a 2016 horror-thriller film written and directed by Anna Biller, about a modern-day witch who uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her. It was shot in Los Angeles and Eureka, CA, and it received its UK premiere on 26 August 2016 at FrightFest.
Anna Biller Q & A
Why did you make ‘The Love Witch’?
I’m always interested in exploring female fantasy, and 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. So whereas we are used to seeing the sexy witch or the femme fatale from the outside, I wanted to explore her from the inside. The main character, Elaine, is a cross between me – an artist who has always craved love – and certain pathologically narcissistic women I’ve known. I also wanted to make a film about heartbreak, to literally put that feeling on the screen.
What were your sources of inspiration for ‘The Love Witch’?
Originally I was inspired by 1960s pulp novels and Italian horror films, and some horror movies such as Romero’s Season Of The Witch and the British movie Horror Hotel. Then, I started looking at a lot of European art films. I have been really drawn to Fassbinder, Losey and Bunuel, Douglas Sirk, and my all-time favourite, Jaques Démy. Hitchcock was very inspiring because his ‘50s colour films have exactly the look I’m trying to emulate, and I was trying to capture horror and melodrama the way he did. I was trying to find films that were similar to what I wanted to express, that I could draw from or quote. But there really is nothing similar, because I’m mixing genres so much.
What was your favourite part of the film-making process for this film?
I think my favourite part of the film-making process has been working with the actors. That’s when it all started to come alive for me. I have some really wonderful actors in this. I worked with my lead actress, Samantha Robinson, for about a year to construct the character of Elaine. We watched a ton of old movies and studied psychology and went to rituals, and she internalized the narcissism that Elaine is supposed to have, and the externalized acting of some of the old movie divas, and blended these qualities seamlessly into her character. And she has a self-contained quality of her own that knocked me out during her audition. No one else I saw had anything close to that quality. It was how Von Sternberg described the young Marlene Dietrich – someone who didn’t give a damn so she had incredible power on the screen. And the other actors are top-notch as well. Laura Waddell for instance is absolutely stunning in her role as Trish: so natural and so empathetic – so opposite from Elaine. She is the “good girl,” whereas Elaine is the “bad girl.” It will be interesting to see how many women will relate to this.
So what message should we take from ‘The Love Witch’? That it’s empowering to cater to men? Or that it’s disempowering?
Ultimately I’m saying that it’s disempowering. But the reality is that women have to cater to men to survive, and they have to make the best of that. Transgressors – women who refuse to take on a feminine role, whether in their looks or attitude – are ultimately punished. But I’m also trying to introduce this idea that it’s not all about pleasing men – that there’s also the narcissistic gaze that Laura Mulvey mentioned in her famous essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”
There is one moment where Trish tries on Elaine’s lingerie and wig and admires herself in the mirror, and that is a real moment of empowerment for Trish, because she really is in love with herself in that moment and feels sexy in a way she has never allowed herself to feel. And the burlesque dancer featured in the movie is absolutely in love with herself and her own image, in a gaze that’s also a mirror gaze. Radical feminists would say that this gaze is “bad” because it comes from being trained to objectify ourselves, but whether it’s bad or good it’s the way many of us experience ourselves, and that’s what I want to go into. For myself, I get great pleasure in watching movies with a narcissistic gaze. That’s one reason I make movies – to create that gaze on screen, the gaze of the woman in the mirror.
❉ ‘The Love Witch’ received its UK premiere at FrightFest 2016 and is on initial release on November 11, 2016.
❉ You can follow Anna Biller on Twitter.