Carl DreyerThe penetrating, soul-searching films of Carl Theodor Dreyer has confounded audiences and critics alike throughout his fifty year career in the cinema and decades after his death. A true iconoclast, the great Dane was both ahead and, oddly enough, behind his turbulent times. Dreyer’s films of spiritual torment may have baffled intellectuals and irritated non-believers but, conversely, his enlightened take on human sexuality was more progressive than what was going down in the commercial American and European cinemas. A great innovator, Dreyer embraced Expressionism in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc before developing a placid, almost invisible filmmaking style—albeit one which wielded great emotional power.

Dreyer’s purity of vision and attraction to otherworldly themes has led film critics to brand him as a transcendentalist. His stubborn protagonists choose the glorious roads less taken, even if it means their own destruction in the end. Even as his heroes and heroines suffer from the slings and arrows of ignorance and hostility Dreyer never condemns the chorus; every member of the community has well-founded reasons for doing what they do. Though Dreyer’s body of work is sparse with the completion of his final feature, the haunting Gertrud, there was little left for him to say or prove. It proved a fitting epitaph to a beguiling and often misunderstood master of his art.

Dreyer’s disadvantaged childhood sounds like an outline for a Dickens novel. Born as Karl Nielsen to a single Swedish housekeeper, the child briefly spent time with two sets of foster parents before being placed into the care of one Carl-Theodor Dreyer, a middle-class Dane, and his wife. After Karl’s natural mother died as the result of a self-induced attempt to have a miscarriage he was legally adopted by the Dreyers and re-christened as Carl Jr. Never feeling at ease with his new family, little Carl spent much time on his studies and overachieved in school. While his parents pushed for him learn piano so he could play in a cabaret, Carl chose a career in journalism. He quickly advanced as a freelancer for several Copenhagen papers before taking a job at Nordisk in the Danish film industry.

Dreyer worked as a consultant and scriptwriter for several years before getting his chance to direct the melodrama, The President in 1919. He must have felt a strange kinship to this sad saga of Victorine Lippert (Olga Raphael-Linden) a young woman who goes on trial for killing her illegitimate child. Ironically, the woman’s judge, Victor von Sendlingen (Halvard Hoff), recognizes Victorine as his own daughter fathered out of wedlock. Rather than face censure in the community Victor sentences the unapologetic woman to death. He tries to purge his guilt by working (unsuccessfully) on appeal before helping Victorine escape to the continent.

Secrets & Lies.

Though The President lacks the fluidity and simplicity of his mature work, the morality play proved to be a useful debut for Dreyer. From the get-go the novice filmmaker took great interest in casting, often choosing interesting “types” versus polished actors and the mise-en-scene for which Dreyer proved equally adept at shooting on location as he would in a film studio.

Dreyer’s next film was an ambitious assignment his Danish investors hoped would help escalate production in the country’s flagging industry. Leaves From Satan’s Book is a four-part story of the ages where God sends Satan to earth to tempt sinners into changing the course of history. In the opening sequence the Devil (Helge Nissen) masquerades as a Jew who manipulates the jealous Judas (Jacob Texiere) into betraying Jesus (Halvard Hoff). Fast forwarding fifteen hundred years to Spain Nissen plays a Grand Inquisitor who manipulates a lovelorn monk (Johannes Meyer) into bringing an innocent noble’s daughter (Ebon Strandin) to his torture chamber.

Set in Paris during 1793 the most complex episode finds Satan as a revolutionary who talks a gullible servant (Elith Pio) into first betraying the Lady and Countess in his charge. Keeping up his own masquerade the bitter servant then foils a plan which would allow Marie Antoinette (Tenna Kraft) to escape the guillotine. In the final sequence the Devil is released from his strange bondage to 1918 Finland where a young woman (Clara Pontopiddan) sacrifices her life in order to stop the Red Army from taking over her country.

Your fragrant body is greater than the mystery of life.

Another in a seemingly endless series of silent films which owes its structure to Griffith’s Intolerance, Leaves from Satan’s Book takes a rather harsh and unforgiving view of mankind. By sending the Devil into key points in history to do his evil bidding, Dreyer’s God turns out to be a stern master as well. Aside a couple over the top performances, Leaves is an aesthetic success due in large parts to Dreyer’s economic and tasteful use of the camera and a talent for editing which would flourish in the coming years.

  The Devil made them do it.

Dreyer’s third film, The Parson’s Widow will surprise viewers only familiar with the dour Dane’s classic films. This gentle comedy about a young preacher who outwits his competition to land the plum job of village parson, only to find he must wed his predecessor’s ancient wife to seal the bargain, is an earthy gem. The aspiring candidate Sofren (Einar Rod) is an opportunist and a bit of a rascal, who unlike his competitors is quite willing to marry the homely Margarete Pedersdotter (Hildur Carlberg) because he figures she is not long for this world. Waiting in the wings is Sofren’s fiancée Mari (Greta Almroth) who masquerades as his sister. When Sofren tries to act the man of the house he gets a quick comeuppance from his new wife’s hulking manservant. Finding Margarete more vigorous than he anticipated, Sofren begins to despair he will never get to marry the fetching Mari.

One day Margarete lets her guard down and confides she too was once the fiancée of a young man who had to marry a widow to become parson of this very same post. Struck by guilt, Sofren and Mari come clean about their relationship and admit they had wished ill upon their benefactor. Taking this as a sign she is standing in the way of their happiness, Margarete takes to her bed and dies soon thereafter. Though the often ridiculous plight of the selfish young couple is what drives The Parson’s Widow, it’s clear the elderly Margarete is the heart and soul of the story. Dreyer’s tender and compassionate film remains an all too rare look at those who get kicked to the curb to make way for youth.

We built our happiness on the hope of another’s death.

Like many filmmakers of the era, Dreyer gravitated to Berlin to study the methods and techniques used by German directors Murnau, Lang, May, etc. Dreyer would ultimately direct two films in Germany. The first, Die Gezeichneten, follows the plight of Hanne-Liebe (Polina Piekowskaja), a young Jewish woman leaves her prejudiced hometown to move to St. Petersburg during the fateful year of 1905. There, she finds her older brother Jakow (Vladimir Gajdarov) has converted to Christianity to appease his uptight wife and her naïve childhood boyfriend Sascha (Thorlief Reiss) has taken up with the Marxist cause. Although she has relocated to the big city Hanna-Liebe continues to be taunted by the ignorant locals who later take advantage of the revolutionary fever to track down and murder Jews.

The most commercial film in the Dreyer canon, Die Gezeichneten
often resorts to blood and thunder melodrama but the filmmakers are to be applauded for taking on such a sensitive topic during an unsettled period of German history. Dreyer coaxed several nuanced performances from his handpicked cast including Stanislavksi discipline Richard Boleslawski in the memorable role of a ne’er do well.

  The stigmatized.

Dreyer returned to Denmark to make one of the few pure entertainments of his career, Once Upon a Time. Set in the enchanting Danish countryside, this romantic play by the 19th century poet Holger Drachmann borrows its draconian premise from The Taming of the Shrew. Here, the spoiled Princess of Illyria (Clara Pontopiddan) gets a very unsentimental education from the brutish Prince of Denmark (Sven Methling) who takes her from her comfortable castle to a modest country house where she is forced to do the work of a servant in the hopes her strong will falters and she becomes the good little woman.

Since the film only survives in a truncated form (anywhere from ten to thirty minutes are thought missing) it is, at times, difficult to follow the thread of Drachmann’s fairytale. Dreyer didn’t think much of the film, but it is clear he and cinematographer George Schneevoight were inspired by the beauty of their surroundings and Once Upon a Time does have a visual lushness not seen in the director’s previous work.

Dreyer’s second film shot in Germany, the UFA production of Mikael, turned out to be a daring take on relationships and sexuality. Based on a script by Thea von Harbou who adapted the material from a novel by Herman Bang, Mikael was another tale of a feckless youth falling prey to the whims of an authoritative figure, this time in the person of master artist Claude Zoret (Benjamin Christensen). When handsome struggling artist Mikael (Walter Slezak) shows Zoret his work, the older man belittles his efforts but offers to take him on as his model. In time, Mikael becomes Zoret’s lover but he feels stifled by the great man’s jealousy and controlling ways. He strikes up a friendship with the Princess Lucia Zamikoff (Nora Gregor) who has commissioned Zoret to paint her portrait. But, the artist finds his subject elusive and it’s up to Mikael to add the defining touch to the painting.

The finished portrait is panned by the art critics except for Mikael’s curious contribution, the painting of the Princess’ eyes. As Zoret wallows in self-pity and sickness, Mikael begins an affair with the Princess draining much of the older artist’s resources. In a juicy side-plot, Zoret’s erotic art helps set off a tumultuous and tragic affair between friends of his court, Alice Adelsskjold (Grete Mosheim) and the Duc of Monthieu (Didier Aslan).

Mikael brims with sensuality, grandiosity and passion, but as with The Parson’s Widow Dreyer refuses to take sides in the affairs of the heart. We first see Mikael as a pathetic young man in a suffocating relationship with the regal Zoret. Mostly seen and rarely heard, the decorative Mikael is mostly useful for lighting the great man’s cigarettes before fading into the background. But, after the incident with the Princess’ portrait, self-doubt creeps in on Zoret’s psyche freeing Mikael to become his own person. Unfortunately, the spoiled young man cannot support himself, so in order to fund his affair with the Princess he sells off paintings given to him as a gift from Zoret. Mikael’s treacherous actions crush the older man’s spirit sending him to a premature death bed. Careful not to let the audience judge his players too harshly, Dreyer closes this sophisticated drama not on Zoret’s sad demise, but with the passive Mikael reclining into the Princess’ arms. Theirs will be a love to survive a hostile world.

  For me death is simply the last bite of life.

Dreyer returned to Denmark to make his next film Master of the House. Shot on a fully operational two room apartment-set, this is the story of Viktor Frandsen (Johannes Meyer) an unsuccessful businessman who takes out his frustrations on his long-suffering wife Ida (Astrid Holm) in an often excruciating domestic comedy. When Viktor’s former wet nurse (Mathilde Nielsen) sees how cruelly the grown-up man treats his spouse she sends Ida away and shows him just how lucky he is to have a doting wife. Though Dreyer takes his time hammering the point home, Master of the House turns out to be a droll take on family life filled with the sort of behavioral flourishes that will come to full fruition in Ordet.

  Porridge with lumps! Cold meat patties?

In 1926 Dreyer went to Norway to direct The Bride of Glomdal, yet another spin on Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet). Tore (Einar Sissener), a product of a poor farming family, is in love with the well-to-do Berit (Tove Tellback) who, in turn, is engaged to a man she does not love. Berit’s father Ola (Stub Wiberg) objects to Tore’s presence but when Berit is injured from a fall from a horse it is his parents who nurse her back to health. An intervention on the part of a kindly priest (Rasmus Rasmussen) helps Ola see the error of his ways and he finally consents to Berit’s betrothal to Tore. On the day the wedding is to take place Berit’s humiliated former beau tries to wreak havoc on the ceremony in a thrillingly-filmed sequence which vividly recalls the conclusion of Griffith’s Way Down East.

Who will save the day?

Dreyer would later dismiss The Bride of Glomdal as a mere trifle but the partially-lost film shares many of the fine qualities of his other early pastoral work The Parson’s Widow. Still, given the patchiness of Dreyer’s early output very few could have imagined the dramatic turn his career would take with his next project.

The farmer’s posh daughter.

In 1927, Dreyer was signed by a Parisian banking firm to make a historical film, preferably of French origins. Dreyer chose La Passion of Jeanne d’Arc and soon began spending a fortune of the firm’s money building spare, visually abstract sets. He then cast the Parisian stage actress Renee Falconetti to play Jeanne. Already in her mid-thirties, Falconetti was a controversial but brilliant choice to play France’s original teen icon.

In service of an unrecognized King (Charles VII) and on a mission from God, Joan was given control of the French Army at the age of seventeen. After a series of surprising Joan-inspired victories, Charles ascended to the throne but his young female warrior nearly fell into obscurity. Injuries on the battlefield and a lack of concern for her own fate led to her capture by the English in 1431. Looking to make an example of the national hero, a British ecclesiastical court condemned Joan as a heretic and sentenced her to burn at the stake.

Though shot as a silent, Dreyer created his Jeanne with an unmistakably musical texture. Dreyer and cinematographer Rudolph Mate frame the events in a jagged yet lyrical manner, suggesting the violent and pastoral beauties of a Stravinsky ballet. The film is indeed a symphony of faces where the composer reveals himself as a master of counterpoint; playing the excruciating, spiritual torment of Joan against a Greek chorus of hideously ugly friars shouting her down at every opportunity. Falconetti is filmed almost exclusively in close-up and her only film performance is subtle, growing in power as her fate becomes clear.

Initially, her face is a blank mask befitting an unquestioning nineteen-year-old girl on a holy mission. Worn down by questions about and attacks on her faith, Joan’s only solace is her belief, giving her the inner strength to face her accusers. After her already short hair is completely shorn for a lengthy prison sentence, the now unconscionably beautiful Joan seems purified, giving her the courage to call back her judges and make her great sacrifice. Once the die is cast and Joan is sentenced to death, the film descends into madness. As Joan is led out into the public square of a Rouen town, Dreyer quickens the tempo, juxtaposing the workmanlike methods of her executioners with the brokenhearted townspeople. As Joan slumps then burns at the stake, the occupying British soldiers turn on the stunned locals in a chilling fury of ignorance and hatred.

Has God promised you things?

Despite the film’s reputation as a museum piece, nothing could be further from the truth. Dreyer’s remarkable take on the martyred saint feels ancient, yet plays modern. Where many of the Berlin films of the 1920s can seem exceedingly self-conscious or the products of an overzealous set designer, Dreyer’s stab at Expressionism is more nervous and alive, giving La Passion of Jeanne d’Arc the sort of timelessness its German counterparts often lack. Unfortunately for Dreyer Jeanne was a box office disaster and when word of clashes with his producers spread he didn’t get another chance to make another film for five years.

In the meantime Dreyer supported himself, as he always would, by writing pieces of journalism and working in the theatre. With the Depression shutting down a great deal of film production in Denmark, Dreyer managed to find financing through a sympathetic Dutch aristocrat (Baron Nicholas de Gunzberg) to make a picture very loosely based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novella Carmilla.

  Dreams come through stone walls.

Shot essentially as a silent on location in France and later re-synched in French, German and English, Vampyr is the director’s most bizarre film. Dreyer changed the structure of the horror story to fit his peculiar dreamscape. The protagonist is not Le Fanu’s Laura or Carmilla, but a British sportsman Allen Grey (Julian West aka Nicholas de Gunzberg) who takes a room in a village tavern. It is clear from the hallucinogenic opening this is no ordinary town—a haunting is going on. An elderly Lord of a nearby manor (Maurice Schutz) asks Grey to look out for his daughters Gisele (Rena Mandel) and Leone (Sybille Schmitz) in the event of his death. The Lord believes his family is being pursued by the vampire Marguerite Chopin (Henriette Gerard) and her henchmen, the village doctor (Jan Hieronimko) and a peg-legged local.

The bewildered Grey can offer little help to either the Lord, who is promptly murdered, or Leone who falls under Marguerite’s spell. Grey reads a book about vampires and his newfound knowledge helps immeasurably when he saves Leone from taking some poison the doctor has provided. Meanwhile, the doctor has kidnapped Gisele prompting Grey to take action. After a bizarre and eerie sequence, in which Grey vividly imagines his own funeral, he and a manservant find Marguerite’s grave, opens her coffin and drives a stake through her heart. Grey rescues Gisele then chases the doctor to a mill where the cornered old man suffocates in an avalanche of flour.

  Curiosity is a restless and scrupulous passion.

Dreyer’s weird little masterpiece often gets lumped-in with two other early landmarks of the bloodsucking genre; Todd Browning’s Dracula and Murnau’s Nosferatu. While the Lugosi film is the stuff of high camp, comparisons to Murnau’s horror classic aren’t too out of line. Both the Dane and the German filmmakers have penchants for heavy atmosphere and the inexplicable; implied by expressionistic montage and a restless moving camera. In his vampire film Dreyer makes greater use of off-screen space and suggestion than Murnau, creating more frightening effects and psychological wallop.

Despair has its own calms.

But, by the time of its release the murky and almost incomprehensible Vampyr felt like old hat to audiences of the 1930s, who wanted their entertainment to snap, crackle and pop. The uncompromising Dreyer returned to journalism. He was not given another chance to make a feature-length film for eleven years.

Set in a small Danish town in 1623, Day of Wrath follows the pathetic plight of Ann Pedersdotter (Lisbeth Movin), a young woman unhappily married to the Reverend Absalon Pedersson (Thorkild Roose) and hopelessly in love with his son from his first marriage Martin (Preban Lerdorff Rye). Absalon and his church brethren are in the midst of a witch-hunt, purging the community of local outcasts they deem possessed. Sometime back, Anne’s mother was accused as a witch but Absalom hypocritically pardoned the older woman so he could marry Anne. Anne has never loved Absalon and her youth and beauty grates on his possessive mother Merete (Sigrid Neiierndam) who lives with the couple. Merete’s open dislike of Anne makes life in the house especially tense, so when Martin moves in to live with the Pederssons the lonely Anne quickly befriends him. They witness the shameful and grisly execution of Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier), an old occultist accused of being a witch. Tied to the stake, the angry Marte vows her revenge on Absalon moments before she is dropped onto a burning pyre.

Bonded by their youth and shame the friendship between Anne and Martin blossoms into a full-blown affair. Anne’s intensity frightens the mild-mannered Martin who suffers from pangs of guilt. One night, after Absalon returns from giving last rites to a neighbor, Anne confronts her husband and says she wishes he was dead. Already weakened by his journey through a stormy night, the old man is struck down by a stroke and dies. At Absalom’s funeral Merete accuses Anne of being a witch claiming the young woman is solely responsible for her son’s death. When the weak-willed Martin turns on Anne and backs his grandmother’s claim, the devastated Anne admits her guilt.

Nothing is so quiet as a heart that has ceased to beat.

Produced at the height of the German occupation of Denmark, Day of Wrath is a remarkable film about faith, fear, persecution and human frailty. Dreyer employs a sparser, ethereal style as befits the anguished storytelling. Camera movement is kept at a minimum and the mise-en-scene takes on a painterly quality. Early on, we find the pleasant, boxy interiors of the Pedersson home to be Vermeer-like, with Anne’s blonde presence radiating light. But, the appearance of the hateful and jealous Marete turns the same quarters into a dark and claustrophobic cell. When Anne and Martin venture into the lush countryside, Dreyer’s palette brightens and the ensuing portraits of the couple’s lovemaking suggest the sort of earthy, lighthearted fare of Pissarro or Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Such privileged moments befit the calm before the storm.

While Anne is comfortable with nature (and her sexuality) Martin’s guilt is such he becomes anxious to get back indoors to the safety of his books and studies. He is bound to disappoint Anne, but the deluded young woman does not understand his reticence. Carried away by her newfound joy, she projects a serene future with her beloved, living far from the prejudices of small town life. Determined to escape her bondage, Anne takes matters into her own hands destroying Absalon and, in the end, herself as well. As a creature who acts on her strong desires, Anne is clearly mentally unbalanced. Mother Marete has her own strange passions as well. Sensing Anne, like her mother, is possessed by demons the jealous Marete tries to poison Absalon’s mind against the younger woman. Failing in her mission to save Absalon, the vengeful Marete offers Anne to the witch-hunters in order to keep her grandson in the fold.

Shall we ever find each other again?

Coincidentally, Day of Wrath premiered in Copenhagen only weeks after the Nazis purged the local Jewish population in 1943. Fearing his life was in danger, Dreyer’s friends convinced him to relocate Stockholm under the guise of finding a distributor for the film.

Dreyer remained busy directing government documentaries during and after the war and working in the theatre. The eleven minute short They Caught the Ferry follows a pair of young motorcyclists who ride willy-nilly across the Danish countryside to catch a soon departing boat. Dreyer seems to have had fun making this wry piece of propaganda about traffic safety and even adds a distinctive touch of grim humor at film’s end.

Thorvaldsen is an elegant but mostly straightforward short about the 19th century sculptor who has been generally recognized as Denmark’s greatest artist. Dreyer’s lingering adulation of the sculptures recalls some of the more sensual sequences in Mikael, his previous foray into the world of art.

  Brief interludes.

Dreyer’s next feature, Ordet (The Word), a film about of faith and lack thereof, may be his greatest masterpiece. Based on a play by Kaj Munk, Ordet follows the spiritual and sentimental plights of two generations the Borgen family. The patriarch Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg) is a farmer who lives with his three sons, Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) and Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye) and Anders (Cay Kristiansen) and Mikkel’s wife Inger (Birgitte Federspiel). Driven to insanity by the intensity of his theological studies Johannes believes he is Christ and wanders around the farm in an exalted state. Guilty about having made Johannes become a scholar in the first place, Morten’s belief in God is a tempered one. So when Anders decides he wants to marry Anne (Gerda Nielsen), the daughter of a local tailor and evangelical, Peter Skraedder (Ejner Federspiel), Morten’s initial response is to oppose the wedding. But, when he learns Peter but is also against the marriage (because Anders is not good enough for Anne) Morten decides to confront the rigid tailor once and for all.

In the midst of an argument at the Skraedder home, Morten learns his pregnant daughter in-law Inger is gravely ill. Peter thinks this is a blessing from God and the mortified Morten rushes to Inger’s bedside. Once there, he learns the local doctor (Henry Skjaer) has to abort the unborn child to save the mother. During this dangerous operation, Johannes appears and claims he has seen the grim reaper take the baby boy. The doctor proclaims the operation is a success. Over coffee and cigars, the doctor and the local parson (Ove Rud) discuss religion and science with the professional man boasting faith alone would not have saved Inger. The doctor and parson leave then Johannes reappears.

The weird prophet claims the grim reaper has come back for Inger. Mikkel then leaves Inger’s side to tell his father his beloved wife has died. During preparations for Inger’s funeral, Johannes disappears and the family fears the worst. At the funeral, the grief-stricken Mikkel refuses to let go of Inger. Johannes reappears, apparently cured of his malady. He chastises the family and friends for not having true belief and with the help of Inger’s daughter he performs a miracle and brings the dead woman back to life.

I tell you, it’s not enough to have faith.

Filmed on simple soundstages and in regal black and white stock by cinematographer Henning Bendtsen, Ordet finds Dreyer at his most philosophical. He handles this difficult material in a polite and stoic manner, the players seem too reserved to even face one another when speaking. Still, they have the grace to listen to each other’s reasoning even when they violently disagree. Dreyer accomplishes this delicate balance by swish panning back and forth between his actors, presenting both sides of the coin with equal diplomacy. Yet, there are major fundamental differences within the small community represented in Ordet. As secular figures, Mikkel and the doctor are in the minority but they are still able to gain respect and prosper. Morten opposes Skraedder’s Calvinistic dogma, but he remains convinced Peter is fundamentally decent and will ultimately let Anne marry Anders.

Oddly enough, it’s the earthy Inger and mad Johannes who turn out to be the family’s chosen people. Inger is clearly the soul of the family and after her departure from their world the male Borgens seem lost. These same men are disturbed by Johannes’ deranged “mission” and secretly wish he will either die or go away for good. When Johannes returns with his wits about him he brings the greatest gift of all, life.

The rest of us, we go straight down to hell.

Dreyer finally received worldwide accolades with Ordet but it would be another nine years before his next feature would see the light of day. Based on a play by the play by the great Swedish novelist Hjalmar Soderberg, Gertrud is a morality tale about a retired singer/socialite who decides to leave her politically ambitious husband on the day of his appointment to an important government post.

Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) tells Gustav (Bendt Rothe) she no longer loves him but he must realize their marriage was likely one of convenience in the first place. Confounded by his wife’s confession, the jealous Gustav later looks all over town to confront Gertrud and beg her to reconsider only to find she is in the company of her lover Erland (Baard Owe), a dissolute concert pianist. When Gertrud tells Erland she has left Gustav the musician is initially delighted. But, he too disappoints Gertrud when he admits he has impregnated another lover and cannot leave her.

As fate would have it an old love, the famous poet Gabriel Lidman (Ebbed Rode), reappears at the time of her greatest need but he cannot rekindle the flame in her heart. Gertrud still holds a grudge against the once-ambitious man for putting his career before their love. Finding no lover to live up to her high standards, Gertrud cultivates a long-term Platonic relationship with a psychologist (Axel Strobye) who can only admire her from afar.


Critics and audiences of the era were surprised, and perhaps disappointed, the seventy-five year old director would make such a romantic, Ophulsian film for a swan song. But as we have seen, Dreyer was never one to judge the motivations of his troubled characters and in Gertrud we find a principled, if irrational, heroine not unlike the martyred Jeanne. Neither woman could compromise in the affairs of the heart or the soul.


Books on Dreyer:

Dreyer in Double Reflection – Carl Dreyer, Donald Skoller (ed.) **** A collection of essays, letters, interviews and notes by the director spanning his long career. Clear, concise talks about the art of filmmaking from a cinematic poet which should be part of every film school’s reading list. Out of print.

Transcendental Style In Film – Paul Schrader **** The son of a strict Calvinist father, Schrader offers illuminating insight and keen observations about Dreyer’s background and searching filmmaking style. A must read.

The Cinema of Carl Dreyer – Tom Milne **** This lucid and well-written book on the great Dane does a marvelous job in breaking down and analyzing themes as well as chronicling Dreyer’s battles with producers and his frustration with the Danish film industry. Out of print.

The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer – David Bordwell **** This formalist tome is likely to be the most comprehensive book about the Dreyer style we’ll ever encounter. A layman could well get lost in the density of Bordwell’s theory, but he provides much excellent and valuable documentation of the master’s career. Out of print.


Films by Dreyer:

1919  The President ***
1920  The Parson’s Widow ***1/2
1921  Leaves From Satan’s Book ***1/2
1922  Die Gezeichneten ***1/2
1922  Once Upon a Time ***1/2
1924  Mikael ****
1925  Master of the House ***1/2
1926  The Bride of Glomdal ***1/2
1928  La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc *****
1931  Vampyr ****
1943  Day of Wrath ****1/2
1948  They Caught the Ferry ***1/2
1949  Thorvalsen ***1/2
1954  Ordet *****
1964  Gertrud ****1/2

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