In a recent Guardian interview, director Quentin Tarantino claimed he’d be retiring after completing two more films, his legacy as ‘one of the greatest filmmakers of all time’ likely assured. About the kindest thing one can say about this Trumpian piece of self-regard is that Mr. Tarantino, whose career has largely consisted of the wholesale theft of dialogue, scenarios, and music from other films (as well as depressingly liberal use of the ‘n’ word), is sadly deluded.
Which brings us to another filmmaker – albeit one unfamiliar to the general public – enamored with the look and feel of 1970s cinema. Anna Biller may not be a household name (yet), but her new film The Love Witch (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, November 11th) does everything Tarantino has attempted in the past, and does it considerably better than the world’s most famous former video store employee.
Tarantino’s films are trainspotter’s delights – opportunities for hardcore film buffs to identify the source of a particular scene, line of dialogue, or musical cue. Biller is the exact opposite: though The Love Witch accurately matches the look and feel of seventies cinema, it does so without making specific reference to any particular film.
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a witch with a problem: she loves too much. So intense is her love that the men she attracts invariably end up dead, their over-stimulated libidos sending them over the edge with a helping hand from the occasional potent dose of jimson weed.
In need of a fresh start after the suspicious death of husband Jerry, Elaine leaves Berkeley (not seen) for Eureka (seen), where she sets up shop in a beautiful Victorian rented by local realtor Trish (the amusingly quizzical Laura Waddell) and begins selling potions and witch bottles to the local apothecary. Her predilection for intense relationships, however, has followed her north, and Elaine’s latest victims soon begin to litter the quaint town and its environs.
Granite-jawed police detective Griff (Gian Keys) is assigned to investigate the deaths, but after interviewing the irresistible Elaine he, too, falls in love with her. Can his partner Steve (Randy Early) make him come to his senses, or is Griff also headed for an early grave?
Shot on location in Eureka and Arcata, The Love Witch is an impressive labor of love for the multi-talented Biller, who directed, produced, wrote, and edited the film in addition to designing its costumes and sets and even composing some of its music. Reflecting its stylistic debt to the 1970s with an onslaught of super saturated Technicolor, lens flare, superimpositions, garish set decorations, and rococo musical cues, the film also offers a refreshing feminist perspective on men’s emotional and sexual needs. Take that, Quentin.
Perhaps best of all, The Love Witch doesn’t look remotely like a low-budget production (though it most assuredly was one). Biller doesn’t seem interested in recreating some sort of nostalgic grindhouse/drive-in experience, opting instead for a lush motion picture that’s equal parts Douglas Sirk, Federico Fellini, Paul Bartel, and Radley Metzger. Job well done, Ms. Biller, whose previous feature Viva (2007) just jumped to the top of my ‘must-see’ list.
Note: Biller, along with actors Jeffrey Vincent Parise and Jared Sanford, will be in attendance for a Q & A session after the 7:15 p.m. showing on Sunday, Nov. 13.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.