Author and former deputy chief director of Tracks sur Arte, Sophie Peyrard directs numerous documentaries on the female archetypes of pop culture. As part of a special thematic evening on OCS on Sunday April 12, his documentary The Witches in Hollywood, broadcast in the second part of the evening following the film The Adorable Neighbor of Richard Quine, explores the origins of this emblematic figure.
What was the initial point of your approach?
Sophie Peyrard: I have been interested in my documentaries, and this for several years, in female figures of pop culture, such as pin-ups or divas. I was in the United States in 2016 at the time of the election of Donald Trump, and I began to see in activist and artistic underground circles the figure of the witch come back in force. When I met some people, especially those who demonstrated at the foot of the Trump Tower to symbolically cast spells for the new elected president, I saw the unifying power of this figure. I then saw two aspects of the witch: an element of protest for women wanting to express their anger following this election, which coincided with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and also a feminist figure anchored in pop culture.
We are currently witnessing a veritable “pop” revival of the witch in big productions. Do you think current feminist movements have contributed to it?
There is something truly cathartic in claiming to be a historical figure who has suffered so much violence, and making it evolve to make it its own in a dynamic of reversal of the stigma. When Disney made a film like Maleficent in 2014, they took the train a bit. Something is happening, the studios are repositioning themselves and defining an image of the witch who will speak to a greater number of people. Afterwards, to find out which one influenced the other first, I can’t say too much!
Why did this matter seem important to you, from a personal point of view ?
In my work, Itry to go see what is hidden behind the image of very popular characters of pop-culture, which we do not necessarily question as they are part of the cultural landscape. We have all been lulled by tales, cartoons which approach the figure of the witch, it is really the popular character par excellence. But until today we never really wondered about what she was saying. Sometimes pop culture tends to be seen as mere entertainment, as something secondary, but that says a lot about the image we give of women and the “norm”. Personally, I feel close to this figure because it is a woman on the fringes, independent, who does not fit into the boxes where we would like to put it. I come from the counter-culture, I worked for Tracks for a long time for Arte … Showing different lifestyles has always interested me because it suits me too.
How did you orient your research in the conception of the documentary? Did some films surprise you by rediscovering them?
Cinema seemed to me to be a very good medium for dealing with the subject; the witch is a popular character whose Hollywood potential has seen from its creation, its narrative potential and it has not ceased to be present on the screen until today. By choosing a filmography for the general public, I wanted everyone to be able to easily reconnect to the stories while looking at them with a new eye. I wanted to show in this documentary the obvious link between the way in which witches are represented and the vision that we give of women on screen. As for Disney cartoons in particular, which we have all seen as children, I did not have a feminist reading at all compared to them and I was very surprised to see them from another angle! I also rediscovered a lot of Hollywood classics, which I didn’t necessarily know, L’Adorable neighbor in particular.
There would be a whole historiography to redo around representations of women in art and culture …
It’s exciting, and we’re only at the beginning. We have the opportunity to look at stories we know with a new eye, and we are rediscovering things with other perspectives, and this is a very stimulating time. We change glasses, without considering that everything that was said before is thrown in the trash. But this multiplication of points of view is liberating.
Finally, like a quote from the collective W.I.T.C.H that you mentioned above, highlighting the book by Mona chollet “every woman, if she dares to look deep inside, is a witch“Do you consider yourself a witch?
For me, declaring myself a witch is saying “I am different”, I represent an alternative to the standards imposed by society, I create my own narrative outside of stereotypes, I am sovereign and free. I also like the idea that the witch is a historical, transgenerational character, found in all cultures. In this sense, yes I feel like a witch, even if I have no spiritual or occult practice of witchcraft!
Watch the trailer for the documentary The Witches in Hollywood, this evening at 10:20 pm on OCS Géants: