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Montage for Carl Th. Dreyer, part 2

 
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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"Hands, which feel life, by which the things of the earth become tangible: so Inger ties old Borgen’s hands with yarn when she advocates Anders’ marriage; so the Doctor puts on his gloves before the birth; so Anders takes Anne’s hand when Petersen has given her; so the child takes Johannes’ as they pray for her mother to live. And the camera itself caresses the objects and creatures of Ordet, glides through the air to make it tangible. The camera moves to impart a fullness, roundness of life to its subjects, as when it turns full circle round Johannes telling Inger he will bring her mother back to life. The camera searches out space, touching livingly upon all details as it travels to capture an act or gesture."
-- Ken Kelman, “Dreyer,” Film Culture no. 35, Winter, 1964-65. P. 8.
"[Dreyer] was perhaps closer to Orson Welles than to Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson, with whom he is more commonly compared. Like Welles, he knew the best special effects are often the simplest. And so in Vampire [sic] he created a moment more chilling than all the installments of Poltergeist combined, merely by having an actress smile. In Day of Wrath, the sound of a woman softly humming resounds more dramatically than any of John Williams’s overblown scores. And in Ordet Dreyer carried off what may be the cinema’s ultimate special effect: a convincing on-camera resurrection, using nothing more than the movement of a hand."
-- Stuart Klawans, The Nation, March, 1989.
"He is keenly aware of the work of other directors, is most enthusiastic about Kazan, thinks “Baby Doll” one of his finest."
-- Walter Ross, “Carl Dreyer: Move Master in Slow Motion,” The New York Times, c. 1960.
"For at the heart of a system as rigorous as this, at the centre of so meticulous a structure, the least vibration figures as an uncertain gravitation, and an equilibrium disturbed and causing a divergence in the contours. The blink of an eyelid, a gesture by a hand, become irretrievable. Because they incessantly elude the schematism that provokes and haunts them at every moment."
-- André Techiné, “The Nordic Archaism of Dreyer,” Cahiers du cinema nr. 170 (post-Gertrud, translated by Tom Milne, available in Mark Nash’s Dreyer, 1977).
"When the two fathers in Ordet quarrel over the children whose marriage the older generation want to prevent because of religious differences, two mongrels can be heard fighting in the background. They justify their behaviour in The Name of the Father, not in terms of the paternity which is in fact their’s. The Symbolic Order places its stamp upon the real. Gertrud opposes them both by refusing to have any name, either that of her father, or that of her husband, cut upon her gravestone. All she allows is Amor Omnia. She wanted, finally, to be herself and only herself. The mirror that men had given her and that they had loved was a prop she found she no longer needed. Like many of Dreyer’s women, Gertrud is a statue, a memorial. Her demands are as absolute as the contours of the film, its spaces and the gestures of the figures in it are hard and angular. Her demands are too idealistic, a sign of their detour through men. But sometimes one can hear the rustle of the long dresses: some little intimacy is established. And then she travels off to Paris to study with Charcot, Freud’s teacher. The real name in the fictitious context operates as a breakthrough, which can be compared with the pictures of nature in Michael. An order, long valid, is challenged. Reality announces the appearance of a new dimension."
-- Frieda Grafe, “Spiritual Men and Natural Women,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 9/10 Feb. 1974. (Transl. by R. Mann, available in Mark Nash’s Dreyer, 1977).
"…Of Dreyer’s earlier films, though, the one that seems to illuminate best the persistence of his themes and the evolution of his style is Leaves From Satan’s Book (1919-21). To see this picture in the context of all his work is to understand Dreyer anew. Based on a novel by Marie Corelli, the film is Dreyer’s rather odd response to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Like Griffith’s film, it tells four different stories, from four historical epochs, linked by a common moral theme. Griffith, with great self-confidence, cuts back and forth between the epochs, building up a dynamisism that not only thrills the audience but also drives it to accept his message. He’s like a tent preacher, or a Chautauqua showman, barraging the folks with gee-whiz facts till they yield to his point of view. If Dreyer labors to re-create each period, it’s from a much different motivation: skepticism. He present his epochs separately, as if acknowledging that historical accuracy is an illusion, which an be maintained only by keeping each story sealed off from the rest. Having been realized, the illusion is then abandoned, much as the film’s one continuing character takes on appearances and then throws them off again. This character—the only figure in Dreyer’s film to exhibit anything like Griffith’s moral certainty—is Satan himself, who shows up through the ages disguised as a Pharisee, the Grand Inquisitor, a Jacobin and a charismatic Russian monk."
-- Stuart Klawans, The Nation, March, 1989.
"The shock of Ordet comes from the recognition that “life” is not a given in cinematic realism, but that only the most intense confrontation with death can make it palpable."
-- P. Adams Sitney, Modernist Montage, p. 73.
"White is the color of bloodlessness, of death, but also of innocence."
-- Carl Th. Dreyer, quoted by Elsa Gress, “The White Nightmare,” Scandinavian Review, 1989. P. 54-56.
"The same shot in The President that introduces Dreyer’s light and darkness also inaugurates another of his formal strategies, less well noted than his lighting but perhaps even more expressive and original—his highly charged representation of space. The dark figure moves along the white wall (which, placed flat to the gaze of the camera, is indistinguishable from the surface of the screen itself) and opens a door set into it, revealing another room beyond, where another dark figure stands. Dreyer carefully establishes a back limit, a flatness, to his images, only to undercut the flatness by opening into a deep-focus space beyond. Shallowness is succeeded by a depth, which—as the repetition of the device implies—is itself a shallowness for another depth beyond it. As a filmmaker, Dreyer is concerned with photographing the unphotographable, showing the unshowable—the fluctuations of a heart, a soul, a spirit. If he cannot directly depict his unshowable subjects, he will foreground their unshowability, emphasizing the limitations of the image, the narrowness of the photographic point of view. Out of this impulse comes a profound appreciation of “behindness” as a cinematic quality—and, by extension, as a spiritual metaphor. The device isn’t always as “dramatic” as it is in the shot from The President, with its explicit opening out: more often, it is latent in the image in the form of frames-within-frames—doorways, arches, prosceniums (Mikael is especially rich in them) that divide the composition into areas of shallowness and depth, concealment and revelation. Dreyer’s famous taste for photographing his actors’ backs during their most emotional scenes is another manifestation of “behindness”—it points our attention to the invisible, demonstrates the presence and importance of what cannot be seen. And as the critic Noel Burch has noted, Dreyer’s last and possibly greatest film, Gertrude, is constructed almost entirely of straight-on, frontal shots. We’re never given the reverse angles, the alternating over-the-shoulder shots, that Gertrude’s dialogue confrontations call for: we’re restricted to one point of view—the frontal. What’s behind the characters—behind their homes, their lives, their faces—remains mysterious. Dreyer invokes its presence, but he cannot, will not show it."
-- Dave Kehr, “A Love that Caresses the Soul,” The Chicago Reader, c. 1989.

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