June 20, 2006

Carl Theodor Dreyer

Carl Theodor Dreyer made only four sound films in his luminous career, in addition to some classic silents, but he made an impact on film history like few others. As Gary Morris wrote in his excellent essay in Bright Lights Film Journal, "These were independent works, shot mostly with actors unknown outside Denmark, dismissed as perverse and uncommercial and thus poorly distributed beyond Europe. Dreyer's slow, deliberate, gorgeously lit stories about vampires, witch trials, resurrection, faith, and infidelity were mostly rejected as old-fashioned even when they debuted; and it's true that he worked in conservative forms like the chamber play, and with demanding stylistic strategies like the long take. But more than any director, Dreyer is sui generis, and his films now appear among the most daring in cinema, with a visionary power that makes them unique."

Criterion, which also released Dreyer's absolutely haunting and striking silent film classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, adds to the legacy with these new digital transfers of three of his sound films - Day of Wrath (1943) , Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1964) - supervised by Gertrud's cinematographer, Henning Bendtsen. Also released for the first time on disc is a masterful documentary, Carl T Dreyer -- My Métier (1995), which uses extensive interviews with collaborators and actors to provide fresh insight into this complicated filmmaker. Ordet (The Word), Dreyer's next-to-last feature, was a groundbreaking mix of formal style - realistic, naturalistic filmmaking mixed with unusual editing which played around with the syntax of film. And the miraculous ending is one you will not soon forget. His final film, Gertrud, also exploded film syntax, but to an even greater extent (consecutive shots that don't match; unresolved camera movements); all in all, one gathers the impression that there is much more going on than what you see on the surface.

Dreyer was one of the greats of international cinema, ahead of his time and due for a revival. Start one in your own living room with this new collection. -- Craig Phillips

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Posted by cphillips at June 20, 2006 10:10 PM | TrackBack
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