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Montage for Carl Th. Dreyer, part 1

 
The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be running the Carl Th. Dreyer retrospective, appropriately and monolithically titled DREYER, from March 13 - March 31.
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"What I seek in my films, what I want to obtain, is a penetration to my actors’ profound thoughts by means of their most subtle expressions. For these are the expressions that reveal the character of the person, his unconscious feelings, the secrets that lie in the depths of his soul. This is what interests me above all, not the technique of the cinema. Gertrud is a film that I made with my heart."
-- “Between Heaven And Hell: Interview with Carl Dreyer by Michel Delahaye,” Cahiers du Cinéma (in English), c. 1960s.
"Dreyer simply isn’t cinema. Cinema is Dreyer. That wildly beating heart struggling against its mortal coils, that fierce resignation one encounters in characters who realize too late that love is the meaningful issue of life, the only consolation of memory."
-- Andrew Sarris, quoting his original review of Gertrud, N.Y. Observer, 10/18/99.
"Dreyer is perhaps, with Eisenstein, the only director whose work matches the dignity, the nobility, the elegant power of the masterpieces of painting. Let’s not have any false modesty when it comes to cinema: a Dreyer is the equal of the great paintings of the Italian Renaissance or the Flemish school."
-- André Bazin, Le Cinéma de la Cruauté, orig. From Radio-Cinéma, 1952. P. 39. (my translation)
"The recent Dreyer retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art confirmed the greatness of the Dane. Particularly revelatory was the [sic] The Parson’s Widow (1920), Mikael (1924), Master of the House (1925), and The Bride of Glomdale (1926). Up to now when anyone throws up Eisenstein as the screen’s great director, I have retorted with Ophuls, Renoir, Mizoguchi, Murnau, Griffith, Chaplin et al. Now I can add Dreyer’s name to the list. The last shot of The Parson’s Widow in which the young girl assumes the silhouette of the old woman moved me more than the entire oeuvre of Eisenstein. There is never any sense in Eisenstein that a man is born, grows old and dies. Even Ivan lacks any organic development as he dominates a succession of Byzantine tapestries with his baroque expressiveness. Yet his obsessions never attain the human scale of the homosexual painter’s in Mikael. Nor can I imagine Eisenstein ever rendering the warmth of family life so vividly as Dreyer does in Master of the House. Normality, as such, is beyond Eisenstein’s range of expression. Not that domesticity is the end of Dreyer’s art even in Master of the House as it is in Ozu’s. The dire discipline of eternity shapes all his characters, and even the race against the rapids a la Way Down East in The Bride of Glomdale invests the ritual of marriage, of crossing the river of life as it were, with metaphysical melodrama."
-- Andrew Sarris, “Random Reflections,” Film Culture no. 35, Winter, 1964-65 ($1.00). P. 11. (note:  Sarris soon lists Eisenstein as one of the greatest directors of all time).
"With the exception of a few images, the film [Joan of Arc] is entirely composed of close-ups, mostly of faces. This technique was in response to two objectives seemingly opposed, but in fact, intimately complementary: spiritualism and realism... It’s a useful paradox, the inexhaustible lessons of the film that extreme spiritual purification offers itself in the most scrupulous realism under the camera’s microscope… Dreyer, for his part, regretted that he couldn’t use sound, already starting to stammer in 1928. To those who still think that cinema departed us when it started to talk, one only need oppose this masterpiece of silent cinema that’s virtually already talking."
-- André Bazin, Le Cinéma de la Cruauté, orig. From Radio-Cinéma, 1952. P. 38-39. (my translation)
"The strangest thing about this extremely fantastic film [Vampyr] is that Dreyer has never worked with more realistic material. All those taking part, the rooms, the objects, are as close to everyday reality as it is possible to make them in a film… Not one set was built. With one or two exceptions, none of those taking part were professional actors, and there is hardly any so-called acting in the film. And yet the result is a most distinguished performance. These people live through their expressive naturalness… Did the eye of the camera reveal something in these people?... Has every person perhaps such sinister possibilities hidden in him? It was the very ordinariness of these people which paradoxically linked them with the extraordinary atmosphere…"
-- Ebbe Neergaard, Carl Dreyer (A Film Director’s Work), translated by Marianne Helweg, 1950. P. 28-30.

"I wanted to make a film about angst, about how the fear of death and the unknown colors everything and makes the real unreal, and the unreal real."
-- Carl Th. Dreyer, quoted by Elsa Gress, “The White Nightmare,” Scandinavian Review, 1989. P. 54-56.
"For cameraman of this fantasy, he chose France’s best ‘realist’-such: Rudolf Maté: who’d worked with him on ‘Joan’—“cinematographer par excellence,” as it’s called…. Then stuck his lenses in an endless fog—directed every shot to look as crude as ‘home movies’ would: he insisted each object, from chateau to grave, be real… even the vampire book in the film, authentic…., then slanted every sight to give the sense each prop was phony as Hell—lighted every scene to make them look as-if composed-of studio ‘flats.’ All evening shots were photographed at dawn: :etcetera: :vice-versa triumphant!
The sound-track, added later to make this his first ‘talky’-movie, contradicted itself too: human speech, unnecessary to its ‘silent’ movie plot, often degenerated into animal grunts—emotional sound-effects…. As when the master-vampire (supposed by horror-movie audiences to be immortal) dies, smothered by grain (a trick stolen from Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat) muttering: “I don’t want to die!” in such a way that the language degenerates into a series of desperate ‘barks’ as the white wheat covers him up: “Arg-rarh-rargh-a-rah!” Whereas the background of human converse of the track is continually pierced by animal cries—cock crowd, barking dogs, parrot shrieks, etc….. these done by professional imitators—human beings imitating such sounds in the recording studio (and sounding as such to any listening ear)."
-- Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures, 1972. P. 70-72.
"Very often, Dreyer’s most striking lighting effects are designed not only to lift the object into some transcendent, heavenly sphere, but equally to emphasize its physicality, to give it weight, texture, solidity. In Mikael, light becomes a caressing thing, sensate and sensual, when Mikael plays a spotlight along the body of a woman he is attracted to; in a later shot, after the attraction has been consummated, sunlight pours down upon Mikael’s figure as he stands near a window in his master’s study, producing an effect of such fierce, vibrating aliveness that the master, horrified, immediately orders that the window be closed. The spiritual, in Dreyer’s films, is reached through the physical: through sexuality as well as prayer, through physical intensity as well as emotional abstraction."
-- Dave Kehr, “A Love that Caresses the Soul,” The Chicago Reader, c. 1989.

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