Sometimes a film exists beyond words (spoken or not) and there’s no description that can accurately prepare one for what they are about to see. Some films exist solely on a visual level, are so purely cinematic, that nothing anyone could ever say about them could speak as well as the images from the film themselves. Hell, but that won’t stop film buffs and writers like myself from giving it the old college try.
Recently, I was lucky enough to have someone over there at the incomparable Wonders in the Dark toss me a copy across the pond of the Kevin Brownlow restored version of Abel Gance’s Napoleon. It included the Thames Television cut of the film (which runs over five hours and is presented mini-series style in three parts) with both the TV tailored single frame version of the Italian set finale and the phantasmagoric tripped-out red-white-and-blue triptych that is unlike anything ever seen before or since. I’ve been told this is the definitive way to view the film and far superior to the Coppola produced version that came out stateside around the same time in 1980.
If a director were to compose a film today like Abel Gance composed his untethered and monstrous epic Napoleon in 1927, it would be called audaciously experimental. Continue reading
Recently over at Wonders in the Dark, Sam Juliano posted an engaging piece where film buffs were invited to name their favorite movie scores of all time.
Even I had been so bold as to name the greatest film composers not so long ago here at The Schleicher Spin.
And while it’s true, many of the greatest films are also imbued with beautiful original musical scores where the moving images flow in perfect harmony with the composers’ notes…it made me wonder…
What of the artists who take a well-known existing piece of music and create moving images that become married to the music’s rhythm?
It’s been so parodied over the years…but can anyone deny the jaw-droppingly imaginative conceit of Stanley Kubrick using Richard Strauss’ “The Spoke Zarathustra” for the opening to his greatest cinematic achievement (hell, THE GREATEST CINEMATIC ACHIEVEMENT) 2001: A Space Odyssey? Continue reading
Re-watching Carl Dreyer’s silent classic, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), was the final piece of my self-taught Spring Film School that started in April with The Third Man and continued in May and June with M, Metropolis, The Big Heat, The 400 Blows, The Innocents, Twelve Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Citizen Kane and finally Dreyer’s film. One of the most interesting facts about Dreyer’s film is that the “text” is taken verbatim from confirmed historical documents of Joan of Arc’s actual trial. Catholics are meticulous record takers. Fans of Dreyer should also note that the Criterion Collection will be issuing a new re-mastered edition of his other bona-fide classic, Vampyr (1932), sometime next month.
CAPTION: A silent picture speaks a thousand words.
Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry.”
– Carl Theodor Dreyer, “Thoughts on My Craft”
Dreyer’s “Realized Mysticism”, 7 June 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
*Note: This a review of the Criterion Edition DVD with the “Voices of Light” accompaniment.
Over the decades Dreyer’s film was a victim of religious and politic censors, two fires that destroyed valuable prints, unauthorized cuts, and zealous editors working against his wishes to modernize the film. An original, uncensored cut was found miraculously in a Norwegian hospital for the mentally ill (ironic?) in 1981 and fully restored for the Criterion Collection. Famed composer Richard Einhorn created his libretto, “Voices of Light”, in response to his own experiences viewing the film and researching the history of Joan of Arc. The film can be viewed with or without the accompaniment, though I can’t imagine Dreyer would’ve objected as Einhorn with great care honored the spirit of the film and arguably of Saint Joan with his compositions.
Carl Dreyer’s silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, is a shocking example of the potential of film as art. No amount of scholarly critique can account for the raw power in viewing the film. It’s one of those rare experiences that can only be seen to be understood. Dreyer’s meticulously crafted aesthetics (the film is almost entirely composed of close-ups of the actors’ faces) are perfectly married to the gut wrenching performance of Maria Falconetti (a theater star who never acted in another film) in the lead role. I think Dreyer was most accurate in describing her performance as nothing short of “the martyr’s reincarnation.” One need not be religious to understand what is meant or to feel for Joan as portrayed so humanely and exquisitely by Falconetti. Her face is beyond the realm of haunting, and Dreyer seers it into the audience’s memory along with other stunning imagery like a window frame’s shadow turning into a cross on the floor, worms crawling through a skull unearthed from a freshly dug grave, or a bored executioner barely able to hold up his head in the company of his torture devices. And then there’s the burning at the stake and the brutal suppression of the peasant riot–unimaginable horrors rendered so beautifully and hyper realized onto a series of moving images projected onto a blank screen.
The genius of Dreyer’s visuals and Falconetti’s performance is that they create a deep psychological complexity that can engage a modern viewer on multiple levels. In their bold suggestions and through the artistic integrity of their respective crafts, Dreyer and Falconetti leave it to their audience (weather it be a French nation still celebrating and mythologizing their 15th century hero Joan a mere eight years after her canonization in 1920 or a more skeptical 21st scholar studying the history of film) to decide the veracity of Joan’s convictions. Was Joan truly a mystic, a martyr, a saint? Or was she simply mad and the unfortunate victim of the time period in which she lived and died? Either way, she is presented here as human. And in relating to her, one thing is for sure: the mysticism of film was realized by the Dane Carl Dreyer and Maria Falconetti in the year 1928 with The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: