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Henning Bendtsen, 1925 - 2011

Bendtsen and Dreyer on the set of Gertrud (DFI); Ordet

"Danish cinematographer Henning Bendtsen — whose career stretched from the 1940s to 1991, with his final film, Lars von Trier's Europa — has died at the age of 85," reports Criterion. "Bendtsen is best known, perhaps, for the transcendent images he created with director Carl Theodor Dreyer on the films Ordet (1955) and Gertrud (1964). For the former, he devised what we believe to be one of the greatest shots in cinema history: a late-film, almost three-minute pan around the possibly mad character Johannes and his niece, Marren, fearful of her mother's death." And Criterion posts the clip. Bendtsen, by the way, supervised the digital transfers you see in Criterion's editions of Day of Wrath, Ordet and Gertrud.

"Forging a very direct link to Dreyer, von Trier hired Henning Bendtsen as DP on parts of Epidemic, a collaboration that continued on Europa," writes Peter Scheperlern Carl Th Dreyer site. "It was also thanks to Bendtsen that von Trier, already the happy owner of Dreyer's desk and teacup, came into possession of Dreyer's old tuxedo. Dreyer had bought the tuxedo in 1926 in Paris, when he was working on Jeanne d'Arc. He later gave it to Bendtsen, who passed it down to von Trier. Von Trier wore it in his TV series The Kingdom (1994, 1997), in the short intro and outro sequences where he addresses the audience, making both the sign of the cross and the sign of the devil. Von Trier later donated the tuxedo to the Danish Film Institute."

Darren Hughes in 2002: "Ordet is, quite simply, one of the most beautifully photographed films ever made. Dreyer's cinematographic trademarks are all on display: slow, elegant tracking shots and pans; stylized, almost expressionistic lighting; meticulously orchestrated movements and compositions. Favorite images: those clothes blowing in the wind, Morten Borgen isolated (as in his life) in the lower right corner of the frame, Peter the Tailor's family arriving at the funeral a la The Searchers (also one of my all-time favorite music cues), and, of course, any number of shots from the final sequence."

Viewing (9'04"). Birgitte Federspiel and Henning Bendtsen talk about Ordet.

Update, 2/17: "As can be seen in Ordet and Gertrud, it is clear that Bendtsen understood what Dreyer meant by 'realized mysticism,'" writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "The contrasting tonality of lighting both reflects and creates the moods within the same frame, resulting in an almost hypnotic atmosphere of stillness so that each image could continue to exist as an eye-catching still."

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Ordet is one of my favorite films. Bendtsen captured THE LOOK for Dreyer’s films. None of his other films, except for Vampyr, are as haunting, visually. It’s rare to find such artistic collaborations in the cinema. For Hitch, Robert Burks, for Bergman Nykvist. American directors never seem to maintain those collaborations, only the Europeans do. They understand innately how style is wed to lighting, composition, colors and movement. I think Tarkovsky is an interesting example: no other filmmaker experienced such troubled shoots due to the cinematographer. Stalker had to be almost entirely reshot, and everyone’s familiar with the fiasco of the final shot of Sacrifice. He’s the only auteur whose style cannot be defined by the “look” of the film. Of course, that’s also why his ouvre seems more diverse than other filmmakers. Goodbye Henning. You’ve inspired generations of filmmakers with your work.

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