The Love Witch
by writer/director Anna Biller
I’ve always aspired to be like the old movie sirens—beautiful, smart, resourceful, any man’s equal. I think this is because I grew up watching so many classic movies featuring glamorous women who seemed to have everything. Throughout my life, I’ve used fantasies about these glamour girls to buoy myself up in hard times. In high school when I received unwanted male attention, I would imagine I was Marilyn Monroe lording it over her suitors in the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number. Or, when I was working at a hostess bar to put myself through college and men would leer at me as I sang karaoke songs for them, I’d imagine I was Jane Russell singing for the men at the hostess bar in The Revolt of Mamie Stover. I’ve been able to transform every hardship into a cinematic fantasy in this way, and that’s how I make films as well—transforming painful experiences into cinema fantasies.
The Love Witch is just such a fantasy. Elaine, the main character, is a combination of a cinema fantasy (an almost impossibly beautiful witch with perfect makeup who creates bubbling love potions in a mad scientist’s lab), and an ugly reality (the madness that can ensue when women succumb to the pressures of trying to maintain a cohesive identity in a man’s world). Elaine is who I wish I could be when battling my inner demons, although I could never in reality be that put together, that self-possessed, that poised, that powerful. In creating this film I was very fetishistic in my use of classic lighting and design techniques, but always trying to get to the truth about the characters. The result is a movie that feels like a movie that may have been made in the ’60s, but is contemporary in its ideas about social roles and gender identity.
Making a film in this way is a fun and impish process for me (one old professor of mine called it “puckish”), and when I’m creating all of the props and coming up with the outrageous designs and mythic dialogue it seems like I’m getting away with something that must be illegal. I was sure when I was writing this that I’d never seen a movie like it before, and when I’d finished editing it I thought with a kind of terror, “I think this is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen.” I wasn’t sure if I’d get away with it. I wanted to make a film that was pleasurable, hypnotic, truthful, witchy, dreamlike, cinematic, fun, scary, romantic, Brechtian, perplexing, obsessive and entertaining. Only the audience can tell me if I’ve succeeded.