May 16, 2010

Dreyer's 'Passion' Fuels Faith in Silent Cinema

Sometimes, you just wanna sit back and watch a good ol' silent movie.

I did that last night when I checked out Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film I'd heard about for years but hadn't yet seen (for no apparent reason). I chose to watch it without the accompanying musical score, as I wanted to know how good it could be in a soundless state.

Well, it was good, all right. Typical Dreyer: deliberately but not slowly paced, with a focus on faith and emotional details...though one of the surprising aspects of the film was how timeless it seemed--with its quick cuts, stark closeups and curious camera angles, Passion would be difficult to place in a particular time period if I hadn't known it came out in 1928.

Unlike, say, anything by the incredibly overrated D.W. Griffith.

Yeah, let the hate mail come in. I'm ready.

Dreyer's attention to detail and focus on facial expressions were superlative and reminded me a bit of the Eisenstein classic Alexander Nevsky. I wonder if ol' Sergei had seen Passion. I wouldn't be surprised if he had. Dreyer's less well known but almost as great a director, and the two shared, I think, many sensibilities.

As well as sterling silent-film credentials.

OK, so Rouen's cathedral doesn't look like the one in Passion. Big deal. There was greatness in the movie that transcended reality. And it was such a simple subject, too.

Not easy filmmaking, and not for the novice. This is a world that requires strong faith in the director.

But I think I have it.

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