The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be running the Carl Th. Dreyer retrospective, appropriately and monolithically titled DREYER
, from March 13 - March 31.
"There were to be no horror scenes at all, just all the time this feeling of something evil lurking behind the actors and the scenes. As if there were something behind you that you do not dare turn around and face."
-- Carl Th. Dreyer (on Vampyr), quoted by Elsa Gress, “The White Nightmare,” Scandinavian Review, 1989. P. 54-56.
"If a faint sound is heard, outside the picture, Dreyer does not immediately cut to where the sound is coming from; he lets the camera pan slowly round, so that we only discover its source after a period of suspense. It is what we do not see which makes the everyday things we do see seem strange."
-- Ebbe Neergaard (on Vampyr), Carl Dreyer (A Film Director’s Work), translated by Marianne Helweg, 1950. P. 28-30.
"To look behind things is not for Dreyer a matter of seeking their ideal depths. Their beyond is not, as with Fritz Lang, the underground, the paths, cavities and dungeons under the earth. It operates on the same level as the visible. The crucial thing is not what is behind the images, but what is visible in them as an aspect of white. The beyond of Dreyer’s films, which he often hides behind historical materials or period dress is the repressed, censored portion of the ‘this-side’ of things. ‘I build houses’, complains Johannes in Ordet, ‘in which no one wants to live’, taking two lit candelabra and putting them in a window. Gertrud could say exactly the same thing.
Dreyer uses cinema to wake the dead. The centre of Dreyer’s films never appears directly. Only its outline is marked. The images are only scraps of the infinite, of the unformed, the possible, hieratically and rigidly demonstrating their own limitations. One can never wholly identify with any single figure in a Dreyer film: there are no heroes and no villains. The conflicts are cosmic but not historical. Different types of order clash with one another, or rather order clashes with disorder. When one things of the miracle at the end of Ordet, that is in fact the real triumph of disorder.
An event beyond all interpretability, outside any context. A zero point, another white speck, a gap in the chain of causality. When Freud began to describe the Unconscious and to comprehend it in a theoretical manner he could only establish that he was in an aera where the conceptual apparatus of the existing sciences broke down. That it was the great Other on which we all depend, and which we all depend, and which, at first, could only be conceptualized by means of negative categories.
When one sees Dreyer’s films today one is often struck by the thought that they are not of this world."
-- Frieda Grafe, “Spiritual Men and Natural Women,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 9/10 Feb. 1974. (Transl. by R. Mann, available in Mark Nash’s Dreyer, 1977).
"Characters are seen going back and forth through the door as if into and out of an unearthly zone."
-- Tony Pipolo, on Ordet, dissertation on Joan of Arc, c. 1980, p. 107.
"…there being no absolute dark anywhere throughout Vampyr…. Only tendencies toward any such—shades of photo-smoke, mists, blacks-of-dress, shadows, underexposures of all object…. Every subjective detail as-if ‘about-to-be’ crowded-out by encroaching dark…. Each recognizable object subject to the continual threat of black—all image, then/therefore, obscure as folklore itself and/or any literary description of, say, “evil”…. IE: what can only exist in the mind of man…. What cannot be seen: he’d photograph invisibility then—and he did!"
-- Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures, 1972. P. 70-72.
"Thematically, the use of the mirror is identical in the play and the film, but Dreyer’s careful filming of that icon of loss and temporal instability suggests, as the play could not, that Gertrud’s “love,” oddly lacking narcissism, cannot be realized because it cannot be imaged… at the perigee of despair, the characters seem to insist that they are looking into, staring at, or facing up to: Nothing. It is the void which eludes coming into sight; it cannot be painted, dreamed, reflected, filmed."
-- P. Adams Sitney, Modernist Montage, p. 75-76.
"…inspiration from a totally ‘other’ source. Such an impression almost always accompanies the ‘beyond’ look which characterizes Joan’s outward regard at such moments. This ‘beyond’ looking, coming as it often does after a similar breakdown of connective off-screen glances, clearly is not directed at anything or anyone in the off-screen space and so by implication seems to refer either to Joan’s inner self or to some notion of the transcendental."
-- Tony Pipolo, dissertation on Joan of Arc, c. 1980, p.79-80. (note: on sequences in which Dreyer cuts the same shots of Joan looking with various scenes of what she might—or might not—be looking at in off-screen glances).
"A sense of Dreyer’s singular completeness as a filmmaker can be gained by seeing how the two contradictory methods, montage and mise-en-scene, ultimately feed into each other—for what are his white walls but a way of dissolving space within the frame, of creating a montage effect through visual style? The white walls both limit and liberate the space of Dreyer’s images, simultaneously collapsing space into the flatness of the movie screen itself, and extending space infinitely by denying the clear black lines of perspective."
-- Dave Kehr, “A Love that Caresses the Soul,” The Chicago Reader, c. 1989.
Above: Leaves from Satan’s Book.