Welcome to the Technicolor World of Anna Biller
The Love Witch is like nothing you've ever seen before. A spellbinding homage to classic cinema and technicolor melodramas of the 1960s, The Love Witch welcomes us into a world so dense and overflowing with detail, the film itself takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate.
In true auteur style, Biller also serves as the writer, producer, editor, costume designer, production designer and composer on what can only be described as a true passion project. The Love Witch is the result of seven years of production: two years of preproduction including research on witchcraft, narcissism, classic films; and five years in production, the majority of which taken up by the meticulous designing, constructing costumes, building props, painting the artwork in the film). Shot in sumptuous 35mm, the film follows Samantha Robinson in her breakout performance as Elaine - a beautiful, young witch determined to find a man to (literally) charm into loving her. However, once entranced by her potions, Elaine realises that each one of her hapless victims is not what she desires. Soaked in Biller’s unique visual style, The Love Witch is a stylish throwback to classic cinema and a remarkable examination of female desire.
Ahead of our UK preview tour, we caught up with Anna to discuss the inspiration, production and magic behind The Love Witch.
The Final Girls: The Love Witch has been described as a homage to exploitation and technicolor melodramas of the 1960s. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations behind the film, in particular the films that inspired you?
Anna Biller: I was most inspired by the colour films of Hitchcock and by noir films, Jacques Démy films, British horror films from the ‘60s, and the films of auteurs such as Fassbinder and Buñuel. I have always loved classic cinema; I’ve watched and studied it extensively for its aesthetic conventions and scripts. I love everything about how the classic movies were shot and lit, how they told stories, how they made everything in the frame glamorous through careful lighting. I especially love all of the great female characters in the classic films.
TFG: You're clearly a one-woman filmmaking machine. For The Love Witch alone you served as not only the director, but also a screenwriter, producer and editor, in addition to providing music, production design, set design, art decoration, set decoration, and costume design. How and why do you approach all these very different responsibilities on a project?
AB: The first reason was budget. I simply had no other choice. But I also enjoy having total creative control over the finished product, a luxury I’m not likely to have once my budgets start to become larger.
TFG: Can you tell us a little bit about how Samantha came to join the project and how you developed the character of Elaine?
AB: I found Samantha through a regular casting call. The first thing that struck me about her, besides her beauty, was her voice. She has very unusual diction that comes from being English and having moved to America as a teenager. She also has a natural reserve which is perfect for the character. Elaine needed to have that ambivalent mixture of sex appeal and icy coldness for the character to work, a fact I didn’t realise until I saw her embody those qualities in the audition. We created the character together through a collaborative process that was very satisfying, working together very fluidly. On set I had the pleasant surprise of realising that she was also extremely photogenic, a quality that partly emanates from her cinematically expressive face.
TFG: The film has such a strong visual palette, permeating from the aesthetic of the rooms to Elaine’s striking look. Can you tell us a little bit about your aesthetic vision, how you perceive it and what level of importance you it has on your storytelling.
AB: Everything in a film conveys information about the characters and the world of the film, so I like to design the world of the film very carefully. So for instance the moment you see Elaine’s apartment you know that it’s witch’s apartment. It tells you who she is, and it also teaches you something about a witch’s tools and symbols. All of it works subliminally on the audience to create a mood. It’s the same for the tea room scene: because it’s all pink and everyone is wearing pink and speaking in hushed feminine tones, we know it’s a rarefied feminine environment way before Trish exclaims to her husband that the space is for “ladies only.” Design is a wonderful way to convey story information.
TFG: The film was shot on 35mm. Why was this important to you in the making of the film and what challenges did it bring to the production?
AB: I’ve worked with both film and video, and I prefer film because of its softness, because it’s more flattering to the actors, and especially because of how it captures light. To illuminate 35mm film with lower-speed stocks you have to pump a ton of light on the set, which brings out colour beautifully. It’s not more challenging if you have a DP who is experienced with it, but you have to be careful about how much you shoot.
TFG: Do you think The Love Witch is best experienced on 35mm?
AB: The print has richer colours and more contrast, but the digital version has more precise and better-matched colour. I think they both look great.
TFG: Tell us a little bit about the witchcraft depicted in the film - what is your approach to witchcraft?
AB: I studied witchcraft extensively while writing the script. I really wanted to understand it from the inside before writing about it. It took a long time to read enough books and go to enough rituals and classes that I started to feel it more personally. Once I was able to get inside of it I started to see it without its usual stereotypes and as more parallel to other religions, and that’s how I treated it in the film.
TFG: The film clearly has a strong feminist message throughout and also carries some obvious visual homages to iconic feminist films such as The Stepford Wives. Was this something you were conscious of throughout the entire development of the film?
AB: I’m always conscious of trying to convey something about lived female experience on the screen in my films, and also of trying to create a female narcissistic gaze. The Stepford Wives was indeed a visual reference for me, especially in terms of the women’s costuming. Similarly to that film, I was trying to create a monster out of the woman who tries to be all things to all men, while also bringing out her own desires and showing how her madness is the result of living in a man’s world. At the same time the costumes and makeup in the film are meant to be a source of fun and pleasure for women. I love the fact that so many women want to be like Elaine, to do their makeup like her or dress like her. She’s a positive role model for girls who are powerful and self-driven but like to play at being feminine.
The Love Witch is released in in select cinemas nationwide and available on digital platforms from March 10, and DVD & Blu-ray from March 13. For details of our UK-wide preview tour, please see our upcoming events.