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Dreyer Diary #1: “Joan”

The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be running a Carl Th. Dreyer retrospective, appropriately and monolithically titled DREYER, from March 13 - March 31. Here you will find my quick notes as I plunge in deep with the Dane. I hope we learn something as we march forward (and step back) with care.
Cinema is a pure and brisk series of faces in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), a set of expressions abutting and overlapping to build a stream of tears and tears. The fabric rends itself and reweaves with new material. It's a fast film, dancing across these faces and cropping the world into boxes of quiet pain. It lights up to our late eyes as almost a parody of Deleuze's "affect image" with its flux of close-ups bleeding unsaid feelings. I happened to see the earlier show with Donald Sosin accompanying on piano; the later screening was just the flicker. Unfortunately, for a lot of the film, rather than paying attention to the textures Dreyer captures with simple spotlights and frames, I found myself thinking about what music I would have scored the film with instead of just a piano. Joan seems to ask for silence, or, as the Criterion disc offers, a fuller backdrop to color over its unheard lips (I can read Joan say, "Oui," without the need of inter-titles; I can almost hear it, too). Joan also seems to rebel against itself, against rules or accepted traditions, against its time, against rebellion just for the sake of rebellion, until its final montage swings cacophonous with wild violence. Joan has no need for simple geometry: her space is a swelling, circulatory plot of angles (not rows) that will, without fail, will themselves into each other to become mass coordination and not competition. Joan finds us across a moat looking up, solid, seeing the flames lick the sky like wings. All of it close, all of it immediate, none of it dramatic so much as anxious collision.
See some of how over here, from when I first saw this film last September.
BAM and Criterion´s decision to include musical accompaniment is a bit of an understandable problem; Dreyer himself wanted the film to be seen without music, and it´s one of those movies, like Man with a Movie Camera, that suffers badly with added music—it´s already completely musical.
I agree: the images sing. When I watched that DVD, I kept my tv quiet.

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