I remember interviewing Anna Biller in Griffith Park when Viva came out in 2007. Her dedication to cinema was beyond obsessive–not only writing, directing, and starring in the feminist reconstruction of ’70s smut but actually crafting era-appropriate props and costumes by hand. The film went beyond being an eye-popping, 35mm homage to trashy movies by Russ Meyer or David Friedman and was a true labor of love just like theirs and not just cheap satire or ironic regurgitation. It was her vision and her art.
So how could I pass up a chance to see her long-awaited follow-up feature, The Love Witch?
Like Viva, every frame of it is lovingly colored and composed by Biller with shades and details that reveal not only meticulous research but a real passion for the era of inspiration. Unlike Tarantino, who is inspired by genre flicks to create big-budget movies, she slavishly recreates the B-movie feel to the point of overkill. There’s a Renaissance Fair scene that is almost painfully correct, and it should be added that the UCLA and Cal Arts graduate even wrote the songs played by the scops.
By some miracle Biller managed to find a perfect surrogate to play her latest protagonist, a “love witch” who uses black magic to seduce men that are doomed to perish after inevitably disappointing her. Samantha Robinson has ample boldness and disaffection to channel vintage softcore, and she looks as natural in uncomfortable undergarments as she does with a bloody knife in her hands. Perhaps she will even inspire a mini spike in the popularity of wigs and eye shadow.
Although fans of both vintage nudie and gore movies will be attracted to The Love Witch, the amount of lovemaking and blood splattering is actually rather tame and this is no feel-good fantasy. It is not like a video game where dudes get to live out their fantasies from a hot chick’s perspective. Biller’s goal is not to help audiences get off or gross them out but create a 35mm time machine that reframes typically male-defined genres from a female point of view, and the trail of bodies and puddles of bodily fluids are accompanied by consequences and questions.
Despite the complexities in characters and concept, the movie is a blast to watch and demands to be seen in a theater to appreciate its gorgeous colors and opulent textures. Artsploitation like this is most effective and best enjoyed in overwhelming, dizzying, and far-out quantities.