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Dreyer Diary #2: "Wrath"

Ryland Walker Knight
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.
Where can we sit in comfort to watch something like Day of Wrath (1943)? It is certainly not the cinematheque. Nor is it a bed. Recliners sound about right, but I feel a lack sitting solitary. In fact, I'm wary of couches, too, for this vision. I wanted to abandon my drowsy body throughout the film—to just be my eyes—and float with the camera, but I'm happy I saw the film with people.
There must be witches. There is no reason to doubt their presence: not in 1943, not in 1623. We ought to believe in them as Dreyer does not explain, we know; he rather offers a fiber of perspectives on events. The first "scene" is one long shift left, as if transposing a chord down a scale one paused step at a time, where the camera first turns curious by inches then glides invisible through a wall we saw angled and "real" at our fade in. In the bow of a boat, two young lovers so thick against the other cannot form together and their separate bodies double that bent tree's reflection to further cloud their love. Later, we observe them from behind, a pair of shadows talking against a mist backdrop. So many "characters" look like heads floating over their bodies, hardly tethered, just figures (just things) to track. And when the young girl runs, she bobs like a ghost: the image curls, falls away and pushes, confuses whether we follow her or if she chases the camera.
I know I heard the film well (all those bells, the scratch of winds), but I was not prepared: I will need to see this odd, relaxed film again. I wish I knew how to sit. Then I might be able to see better.
As is, the film is a fantasy: hazy, truly bizarre, a pellicular splinter (if that's possible) nestling into my folded sense of how anybody could be ready for it upon its initial appearance, much less now. Is Dreyer the witch? Why is that a bad word? Maybe we need a cellar to screen this thing. Definitely not a loft. It might break the beams.


Carl Theodor Dreyer
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