Dreyer. The strength of Dreyer’s case is not in his production quantity but quality. Oddly enough, Dreyer only one archiveable film a decade for 5 straight decades from the 20’s to 60’s- wild. I’ve seen some of his work prior to The Passion of Joan of Arc—Master of the House from 1925—not great—but from 1928 to his death 40 years later in 1968 Dreyer made only 6 feature films (his disowned 1945’s Tva Manniskor and I don’t know of anyone that’s ever seen it) and 5 of those are MP, MS, MS, MS, MP. His first and final films are massive masterpieces in my top 40.
Best film: The Passion of Joan of Arc. It’s #8 on my list all-time and right now I’m looking at little sideways at #4-7 to wonder why I put them ahead of this. This masterpiece has a moving camera, some of the best montage work of all-time, and a penchant for some of the greatest close-ups in cinema history (benefitting from an all-timer of a performance by Falconetti). I think more of it every time I see it and it is truly one of the best films of all-time. It’s an incontestable work of art and, I think, the greatest single example of film form. The way Dreyer weaves it all together is—perfection. It’s a film I’m going to try to get to every year or so. It’s formally faultless and stylistically audacious at the same time. It’s one of the 10-12 films I think you could legitimately call the greatest film of all-time at this point. Ebert review references Bordwell’s book on the film—apparently there’s a study on the disorienting cuts and he does a breakdown (I can only imagine- how awesome)—there’s true theme and variation in the choices by Dreyer- many don’t carry directly over- either way it’s a masterpiece built, amongst other things, in the editing room. It’s also a masterpiece in front of the camera (performances, mise-en-scene) and with the camera movement (cinematography as Bordwell defines- there are many rolling tracking shots. Formal brilliance. Reoccurring tracking shots of judges. It’s a top 5 edited film of all-time It’s a symphonic repetition in the editing. There are countless inventive shots- too many to mention- over 100 in an 80 minute film. Both stark and expressionistic. Gorgeous mise-en-scene shot of a hill with a cross. The entire film is form and aesthetic choices. Another stunner shot is the overhead upside down shot of soldiers. The rolling tracking shots of the sad crowd at her death perfectly mirrors the opening of the judges shouting at her.
total archiveable films: 5
top 100 films: 5 (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gertrud)
top 500 films: 5 (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gertrud, Ordet, Vampyr, Day of Wrath)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gertrud, Ordet, Vampyr, Day of Wrath)
most overrated: Ordet. It has grown on me but I still can’t come close yet to putting at #33 of all-time which is where the TSPDT consensus has it. There’s a great 360-shot of the Rye character and child. It’s a slow 360 and a complete stunner. Characters are really talking to the air—it takes you out of it until you’ve seen it a time or two or adjust. The décor of the furniture is carefully chose. The coffin. The gorgeous wooden chairs. It’s an Old Testament fable in modern day. There is a very well-earned wallop of an ending. Extremely sparse, deliberate and dogmatic in approach—medium shot, mostly interiors in two houses, almost no close-ups (couldn’t be less like Joan of Arc here).
most underrated : Gertrud. I have it at #38 of all-time and the TSPDT consensus has it at #87. That’s close but still- an excuse for me to wax poetic about Gertrud a little. Evidence that I was dead wrong in my first viewing of the film (2010 I believe- I was not a fan) is readily apparent in the first 10 minutes— this is one of the most assured artistic examples of mise-en-scene in cinema history. It’s a game changer for me on Dreyer—it’s clearly his second best film (after Joan of Arc) and I think it’s going to be one of the films I mention again and again when praising production design, mise-en-scene, and film décor- it’s up there with von Sternberg’s achievement in this area, ahead of Sirk, and even modern masters like Wes Anderson. There’s the ornate details in both wooden chairs used again from Ordet. Ordet’s mise-en-scene is much more stark by contrast- this is more opulent and really something to behold in each setting. Like Ordet the characters are talking to air very deliberately – -a very stylized approach (which is a bit ironic because I believe Dreyer’s goal was to entirely strip them of falseness and “performance”). At times the actors are close to seeming possessed or like Zombies. Dreyer’s first film in 9 years (Ordet 1955). Pictures of ancestors on walls like Ordet. Absolutely meticulous in the design of the frame—really stunning– exacting. The 2nd scene- the pond with the reflection of the water and the statue in the background is as much a stunner as the first. It’s avant-garde in its approach- reminds me of Peter Greenaway. Later we have gorgeous shots of the piano and candlestick setting the frame—yet another looks similar to Vertigo (in B/W of course) with drapes and light coming in from the window. While praising a poet character in the film Gertrud (the character) actually says “each sentence is well-constructed and considered”. Another gorgeous scene of a doctor talking with her (the film is a serious of conversations in perfect framing and in front of gorgeous backdrops) in front of a massive tapestry—it’s a mirror to the doctor/religion discussion in Ordet.. Dogmatic and aesthetically ambitious. Symmetrical unlike anything I’ve seen up to 1964. The narrative and themes match perfectly with Ordet and Passion of Joan of Arc. Gertrud, the character, is a zealot for love. She won’t budge or settle. Obsessive and monomaniacal to the point of self-infliction and degradation. (hello Breaking the Waves)—fellow Dane von Trier. Devoutness. A great Bergman-like framed two shot at 90 degrees (see pic) and at 84 minutes a shot of Gertrud in the mirror that is breathtaking. There is much more for the cinematic eye here than in Ordet (some of the best scenes from Ordet, like the coffin framing scene) are routine here.
gem I want to spotlight: Vampyr . Once you get over that it’s going to be a somewhat (relative to a top 10 film of all-time) disappointing follow-up to The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer’s previous film) it’s a very impressive gothic/expressionist moody slow-burn of a film. Gorgeous wallpaper throughout- great décor. It’s absolutely fair to call this his “Murnau film”—and a damn good one. Reoccurring formal shot of the sky. Strong climax with superimposed head outside and the camera whipping around. The shadow expressionism here is clearly influenced by Caligari and Nosferatu by Murnau—the camera is also very adventurous like Murnau’s Sunrise. More experimentation with film techniques from Dreyer- we have him playing with film stock speed and reversing the photography as well— he also messes around with technology here making Julian West transparent. Rolling tracking shots along a dark coordinator (and that corridor has complicated mise-en-scene and silhouettes).
stylistic innovations/traits: Tough here because his best film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, is one of the 5 best edited films of all-time and has a ton of close-ups—and his other works really don’t feature those two stylistic traits at all. Gertrud is one of the absolute greatest films in the aesthetic realm of mise-en-scene, production design and décor. All of his films (Joan of Arc included) have beautiful, stark mise-en-scene (peaking in the perfection of Gertrud). Wooden furniture, often gothic architecture, intelligence and theology- resurrection, doubt. An obsession with clocks. In both Day of Wrath and Ordet we get dazzling 360 shots. Consistent in content/themes (struggle of women, innocent against repression/intolerance, death/fate, power of evil). Feminism- Day of Wrath, Joan of Arc,Gertrud, Master of the House. This could be a little autobiographic but Gertrud (the character here) sure seems as obsessive as Dreyer is- unrelenting.
- The Passion of Joan of Arc
- Day of Wrath
By year and grades
|1928- The Passion of Joan of Arc
|1943- Day of Wrath
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives