Watch the trailer for "The Love Witch."
For a lot of people, The Love Witch will be an introduction to your work. What should those people know about you and your M.O.?
I think people should come to the movie innocent! That said, I'm on kind of a mission to create strong female characters and a female psychology and consciousness on the screen. That's the most important thing for me: telling women's stories. After that, I'm also a big cinephile. I'm very interested in aesthetics and how art can be used to tell a story. But I think you can see that in the work without knowing ahead of time.
Your protagonist, Elaine, is such an original character, and beyond that, such an original witch. In what ways did you want her to be different from other witches we've seen before?
She's not a typical witch, but she is a typical femme fatale character, in the sense that she's very heavily involved in the battle of the sexes. She pits herself against men because her experience has been that men have pitted themselves against her. She's trying to win in the battle of the sexes. A lot of people think that's an old-fashioned idea, but in my experience, I haven't found it to be old-fashioned. I've found it to be relevant [laughs].
"The witches are saying, 'We need to teach them how to love us.'" –Anna Biller
I think that's the most common misconception: that there's an outdated, '50s, '60s kind of game between men and women that doesn't happen anymore that I'm conjuring up for some bizarre fetishistic reason. But the reason I wanted to make this film was because I wanted to talk about relationships between men and women today—about misogyny, and the choices women make with their bodies, and how they're sometimes coerced to make those choices.
That actually brings me to my next question about the feminist monologues in the film—like the one about how many men have never seen a used tampon. I loved that we as viewers had been seduced by the amazing set, the beautiful actress, and then seduced into listening to some of these really important feminist ideas. How do you see the place and purpose of those moments in the film?
There's a speech that's given to the girls in the burlesque club in the film. They talk about all the things that you have to do to enchant a man and open his heart to love. Most of those things are sexual, seductive things that you have to do to capture his attention visually.
"They'll whine about everything else that's not funneling into male fantasy."
That's what I'm doing in the movie. That lecture to the girls is the same technique I'm using in the movie to catch the viewers. It's the same concept of power, that once you seduce them, then you can teach them. The witches are saying, "We need to teach them how to love us." Through this beautiful character, I'm seducing the male audience to be open to the movie and to feel that it's the kind of movie they want to watch, that's interesting to them. Then, inadvertently, they might learn something about female consciousness.
So you had that in your head from the beginning that that's how this could work?
Yeah, that was my diabolical master plan [laughs].
Some men will actually lay it out starkly in reviews or on social media that they were seduced by the spectacle, but they'll reject the other elements. Even the really positive reviews, they'll gush over the visuals and over Samantha Robinson [who plays Elaine]. Then they'll pick apart the story and say it was "preachy" and too long and they'll whine about everything else that's not funneling into male fantasy. I find that really interesting because that is the movie. I think if you're rejecting the lesson but you're seduced by the visuals, then you actually are rejecting the entire movie.
I read that you made lots of the props in the film, like the six-foot-long hooked rug. What else did you make?
The rug was really time-consuming and tedious. It was just labor, basically. Then I made a spell book. It wasn't a very special spell book, but it was done in calligraphy. That was difficult because I'm left-handed and the pens are made for right-handed people, so I had to get a weird pen and extension. The thing that took me the longest time to make was the Renaissance costumes. I couldn't really find patterns for them, so I had to make the patterns as well. I made some magic wands and soaps. Paintings, a lot of paintings.
5 Things That Helped Anna Biller Make "The Love Witch"
No. 1: Tarot Decks
"There were two tarot decks that inspired me. The Rider-Waite deck inspired the costumes for the renaissance fair. The Thoth deck inspired all of the colors in Elaine's apartment."
No. 2: 15th-Century Italian Fashion (...and Robes)
"I was trying to tie the Renaissance fair [in the film] to the occult. I thought that was the way to do it, because those are the kinds of ceremonial robes that magicians wear, with flowing fabrics and silks and long sleeves that trail to the ground. I wanted to develop an overall consistency in the costumes, so there are many robes in the film. There are bathrobes, ritual robes. There's a robe that Trish [Elaine's friend] puts on in the end that's a silk marabou robe. Richard wears a robe. They all wear robes. I don't know if you've noticed, but almost every scene, people are wearing robes [laughs]."
No. 3: Hair Falls
The beauty aspects come from fantasies that I have about glamour, that I've had since I was a child from looking at fashion magazines and beautiful women in old movies. There's a type of super, super-too-beautiful makeup from the '60s that I really love. At that time, you didn't wear a wig—you wore a fall. It was exactly the same hair as your hair. It would just enhance the height and the body. I remember there were dolls like that, with all this big hair. Jane Fonda had hair like that for a while. All the bombshells in the late '60s had hair like that.
No. 4: The "Peau d'Ane" Soundtrack
The film was directed by Jacques Demy. It's a musical and a fairy tale. It was a big influence on The Love Witch, in general—not just the soundtrack, but the visuals, too. The music in Peau d'Ane was written by Michel Legrand, and it's a kind of Renaissance music that has 1960s elements in it, like a rock drumbeat or jazz flutes. I really, really love that. I was inspired by it when I was writing my songs, like "Love is a Magical Thing."
No. 5: "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" by Laura Mulvey
When I read this essay back in school, it gave me the ambition to prove Laura Mulvey wrong, in the sense that visual pleasure in the cinema doesn't just have to be for men. It can be for women. From then on, I thought, "I'm going to try to experiment to see if I can do that." Not that it would be only for women, but that it would include women or that women would be first. I think I've actually succeeded in doing that with this film. I think that men can enjoy it, but not as deeply as women.