Some well-known witch burnings from film. Carl Dreyer’s 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc. Often noted as one of the greatest films in history…and so it must be. The close-ups are harrowing. Joan burned at the stake, but in Day of Wrath, Dreyer showed a woman being burned while lashed to a stretcher.
Ingmar Bergman’s stunning 1957 The Seventh Seal features a witch burning too – no stake. She’s just a young madwoman. The virtuous knight who plays chess with Death considers killing her executioners and freeing her, but she’s almost dead anyway. He gives her herbs to dull her pain. As she dies, the terror in her eyes stimulates a frenzied existentialist rant by the knight’s squire. The point? There is nothing. It was in the air in those days, but this film is no cliché.
Father Urbain Grandier, the subject of Aldous Huxley’s study, The Devil’s of Loudon, was loosely translated into riotous film by Ken Russell’s 1970 The Devils. The movie is totally over the top, but totally on the mark. The representation of the spiritual madness of cloistered nuns, walled towns, and the unspeakable brutality of Church ‘trials’ for witchcraft is disturbing. It’s also comedic at times – can you believe it? The movie was extremely controversial – contains nude scenes of nuns orgiastically blaspheming, etc. etc. – and still is not ‘officially’ released on DVD.