REFLECTIONS ON SAVAGE WITCHES by Jit Phokaew

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Film blogger Jit Phokaew offers some reflections on our film Savage Witches.

 

SAVAGE WITCHES (2012, Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais, A+25)

 

SAVAGE WITCHES is something so strange that it is beyond my ability to describe. Anyway, here is what I think about this film:

 

1.This film says that it is “a motion picture exploration”, and indeed it is. I have never found a film which explores various techniques used in cinema as many as this. But I don’t know much about cinematic techniques, so I don’t know how to describe all of them. But it is such a joy to find various kinds of them in one film. Parts of this film are in black-and-white, or in oversatured colors, or in negative colors, or in pale colors. The scope of the picture changes from time to time. The texture of the film also changes from time to time.

 

Though SAVAGE WITCHES can be categorised as an experimental film, parts of the film seem to belong to various kinds—fiction, animation, stop motion, music video, behind-the-scene footage, news footage (scene of a protest), documentary (the bee scene), and home movie (the scene of a chicken in the garden). Parts of the film also look like still photos with grainy pixels, parts of it look like a slide show, and parts of it is a storyboard.

 

The film was shot by various types of cameras, but I don’t know much about cameras, so I can’t tell which part was shot by which type of cameras. I just know that the texture of the film changes from time to time. I think the kind of texture that I personally like is the one shot by Super8, because it reminds me of some old films, especially the ones directed by Herbert Achternbusch, or because it makes the film look like a very old film.

 

I can’t think of any films which explores as many cinematic techniques as this one. Normally a film only belongs to a genre, is shot by one or two types of cameras, and employs only one or two techniques found in this film. Some films may show us three different film styles or film genres in just one film, but these films are rare already. Films like this include NOW SHOWING (2008, Raya Martin, 280min), which seems to be shot by three different types of cameras, and HSP: THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM THE TERRORS OF THE MIND (2013, Rouzbeh Rashidi), which was shot by three types of cameras.

 

So SAVAGE WITCHES is a very very rare case for me.

 

2. Because SAVAGE WITCHES focuses on the exploration of cinematic techniques, it stands out from most films I have seen, which focus on storytelling, entertaining, or sending messages in the case of mainstream films. It also stands out from many independent films I have seen, which focus on the atmosphere or some interesting aspects of human beings. I think that for SAVAGE WITCHES, the styles have become the content. Thus, the story in this film is not as important as how each segment of the story is portrayed or is stylized.

 

So what is interesting for me is that the two heroines of this film seem unlike real human beings. I can’t sympathize with them. In my personal opinion, I think of the two heroines of this film as “creative filmmaking spirits”. The rules they want to destroy are not exactly laws or social rules, but cinematic rules. They may be the alter egos of the two directors of this film. The heroines of this film are not human characters with full flesh and blood, but they are the innocent, childlike spirits of filmmaking. They don’t want to be confined in a prison of standard mainstream films. They want to explore the whole wide world of cinematic techniques. Their journey is a cinematic journey.

 

When I was watching this film for the first time, it was a little bit difficult for me to attune myself to the film, because the film doesn’t conform to my expectations. At first I thought that I could attach my feelings and emotions to the story (I thought it might be like THE LINE, THE CROSS, AND THE CURVE (1993, Kate Bush)) or to the two rebellious heroines of this film, but after a while I knew that this is not how I should approach this film. And I’m glad to find a film like this, a film which prompts me to try to find a new way to approach it. It is as if I am a radio which is normally attuned to FM wavelengths, but this film is on AM wavelengths, and it is difficult at first to try to attune myself to it, but after you can attune your wavelengths to it, you will find a whole new world to explore.

 

 

3. Because SAVAGE WITCHES has so many styles and techniques in it, various parts of this film reminds me of various directors, and that makes this film rare, because normally one film doesn’t remind me of as many directors as this. Apart from the obvious homage to Vera Chytilová, this film also unintentionally reminds me of the following directors:

 

3.1 Derek Jarman

3.2 Ryan Trecartin

3.3 Jan Svankmajer

3.4 David Lynch, because the mysterious key in this film unintentionally reminds me of the mysterious key that the two heroines find in MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

3.5 Terrence Malick, for the scene in which the two heroines of SAVAGE WITCHES lie on the grass, and we hear their voiceovers ruminating on nature.

3.6 Heinz Emigholz. Because some scenes in SAVAGE WITCHES show us pages of books, it untentionally reminds me of THE BASIS OF MAKE-UP I (1983, Heinz Emigholz).

3.7 Wisit Sasanatieng, because TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (2000, Wisit Sasanatieng) also shows us the world of oversaturated colours, and TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER is also a film in which the style has become the content.

3.8 Takagi Masakatsu, for the part which seems a little bit like Impressionist paintings

 

The ending credit of SAVAGE WITCHES tells us that the film is influenced by Vera Chytilová, the Kuchar Brothers, and Jeff Keen, but unfortunately I haven’t seen any films by the Kuchar Brothers and Jeff Keen yet.

 

4. I also like the self-reflexive quality of this film. At the beginning of this film, we hear voiceovers telling us some information about Gretchen and Margarita. I think the effect of this voiceover is a little bit Brechtian, because it keeps us some distance from the film, reminding us indirectly that these two girls are “very fictional”. Later on, we hear the voices of the two actresses commenting on the making of this film. We see someone shooting this film. We also see the beautiful storyboard (which is one of my most favorite parts of this film).

 

5. One of my most favorite parts in this film is the scene in which the cartoonish fire suddenly becomes real fire near the end of the film. I don’t know why this scene is very powerful for me. But it affects me much stronger than any techniques used in 3D movies. Maybe it affects me very much because it makes me feel as if the wall separating the fictional world and the real world has been destroyed.

 

6. Many things in this film are intriguing. They make me wonder if they symbolize something or don’t have any particular meanings. These intriguing things include the appearance of fish in various styles, the three blackouts (after the bee attack, after the heroines say, “Let’s destroy the world”, after the burning alive), and the death and the resurrection of the heroines. Does it symbolize that cinema is not dead?

 

 

7.Though I like this film very much, I can’t say that this film touches me personally. But that doesn’t mean this film has any weaknesses. This is partly just because this film is very new for me, and maybe it needs some time for its effects to grow on me. The visual and the sound in this film are very pleasant. Its ideas are very interesting, but the film somehow doesn’t affect my feelings and emotions that strongly. Anyway, this is just a matter of my personal taste, and also a matter of time.

 

8. If I have to compare this film to standard Hollywood films, I think SAVAGE WITCHES makes me feel as if those Hollywood films are like fashion photos in fashion magazines. Some of these photos may be well-crafted, very beautiful, very glossy, very professional, and a little bit creative, but they are somehow confined by some rules or some conventions. They are bound by the fashion “industry” or by “the current trend”. They may be good, but “in a restricted standard”. And if standard Hollywood films are like photos in fashion magazines, what is SAVAGE WITCHES like? I think it is like paintings by Magritte, because it is handmade, enigmatic, intriguing, proud to be unreal, and it helps us unlock our eyes and our minds from our old ways of seeing, thinking, imagining, and experiencing.

 

9. Since I am not a real film critic, but a cinephile who likes to make some useless lists, I will end this comment by making a list of my favorite films with two main heroines, especially the ones in which the heroines go on an adventure together.

 

I think what makes SAVAGE WITCHES very different from most films with two main heroines is the fact that the two heroines of SAVAGE WITCHES almost have no conflicts with each other. We know the main difference between them only when a voiceover tells us that Margarita is more responsible than Gretchen. Apart from that voiceover, it seems that the differences between the two girls have no effect on the story at all. But it is also said in the film that they may be one mind with two bodies.

 

I think I can divide my favorite films with two heroines into four main groups: pure entertainment, good films with obvious plotlines, good films which are character-based, and films which have something surreal in them. SAVAGE WITCHES easily belongs to the last group.

 

A: Pure entertainment

1. WINNING LONDON (2001, Craig Shapiro) and other films starring Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen

 

B. Films with obvious plotlines

2.BAISE-MOI (2000, Virginie Despentes + Coralie Trinh Thi)

3.MIDNIGHT FLY (2001, Jacob Cheung)

4.NABI (2001, Moon Seung-wook)

5.THELMA & LOUISE (1991, Ridley Scott)

6.TO BE TWENTY (1978, Fernando Di Leo)

 

C. Films which are not plot-driven

7.CAGEY TIGERS (2010, Aramisova)

8.CAREER GIRLS (1997, Mike Leigh)

9.FOUR ADVENTURES OF REINETTE AND MIRABELLE (1986, Eric Rohmer)

10.TANGERINE (2012, Kawitsara Phannapanukul + Wassachol Sirichanthanun)

11.W (2013, Chonlasit Upanigkit)

 

D. Films which have something surreal in them

12.CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (1974, Jacques Rivette)

I think this film should be compared to SAVAGE WITCHES in a way, because one can see CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING as a film about cinema, too, as the librarian and the magician in this film may be symbols of different aspects of cinema, or something like that.

13.DAISIES

14.LIFE ON MARS (2013, Natchanon Vana)

15.MULHOLLAND DRIVE

16.NATHALIE GRANGER (1972, Marguerite Duras)

17.SAVAGE WITCHES

 

 

 

Jit Phokaew is a Thai blogger and cinephile, you can read more of his reflections on cinema at his blog.

 

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