THE LOVE WITCH – Feminist Fantasy or Stylish Stereotype?
28 July 2022
Beloved camp horror-comedy THE LOVE WITCH was celebrated in an evening of ‘love potion’ cocktails, bedazzling Elaine inspired fits and tarot card collecting at a sold-out, special event screening at Cinema Nova last week.
Anna Billers meticulous film is much loved by audiences world wide and Umbrella has had the pleasure of connecting the title furthermore with Australian audiences.
Cinema Nova Programmer and Content Coordinator Lucy Fenwick Elliot sat down with Anna to discuss THE LOVE WITCHs passionate production process and feminist tropes in cinema.
A version of this Q&A will screen alongside THE LOVE WITCH at Cinema Nova’s special event screenings.
Lucy Fenwick Elliot: What was your inspiration for the character of Elaine? And do you think she is a bad person?
Anna Biller: The femme fatale stereotype tells us that a woman is evil because she’s beautiful, and because men want her. That made me think of the history of witchcraft, and how women were seen as evil just because they had desires.
Ultimately, I wanted to create the character of a witch who elicits very intense feelings from men, just because she’s so beautiful and so desirable. And on the inside, she’s a positive witch that controls her own destiny, like she makes her spells and her potions to get what she wants. I guess she is kind of evil, but she’s been driven towards that because of the patriarchy.
Lucy: Yeah. I love that parallel between witches and the femme fatale. This question is from Emery D’Angelo on Instagram, and she says: ‘I’m currently writing a short film, which takes some visual inspiration from The Love Witch. Where did you find your props, costumes, set pieces, etc? And how did you explain and execute your ideas?
Anna: Well, I had to make a lot of things. The visuals were so excessive in terms of the work it took to put it all together.
Lucy: Yeah, I don’t think people realise how much of the visuals in this film come from you – you made almost everything from the costumes, to the art in the background!
Anna: Yeah, so firstly I make lists and drawings of what I need. And the next thing I do is I to go to the rental houses to see what I can rent. And a lot of the things for this film were not available to rent: things like the pentragram rugs, the witches goblets … they’re impossible to rent. So I tried to see if I could buy them. And sure enough, you can buy certain witchcraft things online, but they’re not very high quality, and mostly they’re really small. So I quickly realised that if I wanted an altar, or if I want a rug, I would have to make them.
I made a bunch of medieval costumes for the renaissance fair scene, too. We just didn’t have the budget for an art department or a costume team – so I was like ‘I better get the sewing kit out’.
Lucy: I think that really speaks to the specificity of your vision.We had another audience question from Kashmir, and she wants to know: ‘What are some of the top films that you think of as inspirations for The Love Witch?’
Anna: We were looking at a lot of colour Hitchcock films like The Birds, Vertigo, Marnie, and North by Northwest. I also love the film Leave Her to Heaven. I wanted a very 50s, 60s technicolour type of look. There was a way of lighting them that almost sparkled and was very high-contrast. It’s very different to the realism we have now.
When we shot Elaine driving a car, she’s just static in the studio with a background being projected behind her, so that you can get this beautiful, so we could have perfect lighting on her face. I think it just looks incredible, almost supernatural. It’s so much fun to design and paint with colour and light like that.
Lucy: It’s such a beautiful film. It’s not really a parody or homage to those past styles, it’s something fresh, and I think that comes down to what’s going on with the gender politics. Do you think the craft of the film plays into the kind of story you’re trying to tell about men and women?
Anna: Yeah, of course it does. It’s trying to recreate a woman as an autonomous being. Because the eyes are ‘the windows to the soul’, if you light her eyes so they sparkle in closeup then that’s like she’s letting us in to her inner world. She’s three-dimensional. That’s very different to lighting a woman so that she’s in shadow, or she’s fading into the background.
I started [my career] as an artist, and I think great portrait paintings do the same thing. When you paint a three dimensional figure that’s kind of glowing, it has its own life.
To read more of Lucys interview with Anna Biller, find the full article on Screenhub here
Looking for your closest more THE LOVE WITCH screenings? Go here!