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Montage for Carl Th. Dreyer, part 4

The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be running the Carl Th. Dreyer retrospective, appropriately and monolithically titled DREYER, from March 13 - March 31.
"What she learns is that love simply exists, enshrined as securely in her failures as in her aspirations to perfection. Independent of volition (hence the switch from free will to Racine), independent of time (the poem that leaps the fifty years from childhood to join the epitaph she has chosen for her gravestone), and essentially a secret mystery that can be known but not possessed as by right (the letters that Axel burns, one may be sure, are destroyed so that this secret may remain unpublished, and rise like a phoenix from the ashes), the love Gertrud sought so vainly is present throughout the film in the haunting and haunted depths of its images."
-- Tom Milne, The Cinema of Carl Th. Dreyer, 1971. P. 177.
"[Dreyer’s] most supernatural film, glowing with a more secret magic than any previous work."
-- Elliot Stein (on Gertrud), quoted in Tom Milne, The Cinema of Carl Th. Dreyer, 1971, p. 170.
"Gertrude, the film of her, the greatest declaration of love of woman in the history of the medium."
-- Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures, 1972. P. 75.
"Occasionally in the same frame with Massieu or a soldier, almost never in the same frame with a judge, Jeanne inhabits a space apart. It is not just that in several scenes we can only infer the relative distances and positions of the characters. More important, we can no longer assume that a constant, homogeneous set of spatial relations exists."
-- David Bordwell, The films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer, 1981. P. 79.
"Dreyer’s manipulation of space hardly stops there. Even when space is fully exposed in his shots, it takes on a strange elasticity, expanding and contracting according to the pattern of Dreyer’s montage. In The Parson’s Widow, Dreyer is already delaying the long, “establishing” shots that allow us to make spatial sense of a setting before it is divided into close-ups of the characters within it. In The Parson’s Widow, Dreyer often begins a scene in close-up, putting off the establishing shot until the middle or end of the scene, at which point it may not correspond to the image we’ve formed in our minds. The room is larger or smaller, the characters closer together or further apart, than we would have guessed from the close-ups. At other times, Dreyer will begin with an establishing shot and then go on to undermine it: an example from The Parson’s Widow finds the three main characters sitting loosely around a fireplace, a scene that becomes much more intimate in the shot breakdown when the warmth and tightness of the close-ups seem so to draw the characters closer together. And in The Passion of Joan of Arc, there are, famously, no true establishing shots at all; it space is wholly subjective, wholly plastic.
…[In Mikael] the division of the mise-en-scene into close-up and long shot is a representation of the conflict of spirit and body that defines Dreyer’s profoundly Protestant view of the world. Protestant, that is, but not puritanical: Dreyer cannot support a strict division, just as his most “spiritual” close-ups contain, in their highlighted textures, an element of physicality, of sexuality. For Dreyer, the crisis of Protestantism is centered on the question of love, which can be both a sexual and a spiritual quantity. For Dreyer, both kinds of love contain the possibility of the sacred: he does not rule out one kind in favor of the other, but looks instead for a resolution, a new quantity that might contain them both. Mikael, through its use of long and close shots, becomes the most successful of Dreyer’s silents in portraying that quantity, which might be described (very inadequately) as a kind of spiritual sexuality, a love that caresses the soul."
-- Dave Kehr, “A Love that Caresses the Soul,” The Chicago Reader, c. 1989.
"(And gazes, we see, connect—seeing is sex in Mikael, where everyone hungers to see with their own eyes—but allow them to internalize the world: even when we see their vision, we, and they, only, perhaps, tap into the stark sur-realities of their dreams…)
This form of editing [strict, classical continuity] can be found in other sequences [in Joan of Arc] in which a concern for establishing a clearer, more defined, and unambiguous impression of the action is apparent. This impression, too, seems to parallel an identical feeling of recognition or heightened awareness of the part of a character."
-- Tony Pipolo, dissertation on Joan of Arc, c. 1980, p. 170.
"In this system the camera operates like the shadows, sometimes physically linked to the movements of the strangely ‘absent’ protagonist and his acts of bewildered attention, and sometimes veering off as if it were a disembodied consciousness."
-- P. Adams Sitney (on Vampyr), Modernist Montage, p. 72
"Oh!—the film was clearly made not to ‘scare’…. But rather to reward all attention to it (as never before or after in the history of the horror film) with ‘awareness’ of the whole bag of superstition’s tricks—each act an obvious ‘fake,’ carrying the antidote to any ‘belief’ in it in its ‘pun’ upon itself…. As when the ‘heroine,’ already vampire-bit, wakes up to smile at her sister and then broadens her smile to include her fangs (the film’s most frightening shot, and its most ‘acted’ one, thus a pun upon love’s want---not, in any sense, superstition’s fright)…. Or, for instance, when the hero is encoffined and the camera takes his place for spectator’s first-person ride to the grave, all ‘identification’ with David Gray (such as would have mad the scene ‘scary’ for identifying audiences) is deliberately ‘tossed-away’ by Dreyer—lost in an intellectual play with David’s ‘double’ (super-imposition) stepping aside to watch you/(camera)/him in a tomb (obviously) of the imagination."
-- Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures, 1972. P. 70-72.
"We had everything then, I thought: the nightmare mood, the helpless victims, the feeling that all the solid things could at any moment dissolve into thin air, that only the unseen, lurking evil was real. But it was really not until I was in the empty Tobis studio in Berlin, in the middle of the night, putting on the sound with the very gifted, inventive Werner Obitz—he was the one that had constructed spaceships and that kind of thing for Fritz Lang—it was not till the moment we were there with Zeller’s monotonous musical theme and the somnambulistic, incoherent words… Blut… Hunde… Kind… and the sounds that had no visible source but were there to increase the angst mood—it was there and then, in the empty, echoing studio, where the only sounds reaching us from outside were echoes of street brawls, the SA out with their clubs and knuckledusters, that it struck me that I had also made a film about that, about the living nightmare of violence and war and suffering that we were all drifting into, without will or knowledge. The film was premiered, to boos and catcalls on the Kurfürstendamm in May 1932, some six months before Hitler’s takeover. But his minions were already at it, and persecutions of the Jews had long been the order of the day, though the worst, of course, was still to come. Yes, Vampyr was also a period piece…"
-- Carl Th. Dreyer, quoted by Elsa Gress, “The White Nightmare,” Scandinavian Review, 1989. P. 54-56.
"His every move in the make of this film was contradiction—contrary to The Writer in himself, ‘the reporter’/’recorder’ even: he’d not get at Fact (as a journalist might) or at Truth either, but rather (as Film-maker) get at Untruth’s absolute power over both mind and material body: this film would be…. As it is!.... a journalist’s Black Mass (opposite, thus to all other ‘spook movies’ in the history of film, inasmuch as they seek with every dramatic ‘trick in the bag’ to engender Belief in the new-reality of some monster or other—some super-nature, as only the ‘realism’ of moving pictures can seem-to-be—whereas Dreyer’s Vampyr is a parody of “Belief” itself…. Thus pure blasphemy against camera-as-God from beginning to end)."
-- Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures, 1972. P. 70-72.
"The camera moves with a fourth force—besides those of life, death, faith—fate. A process hinted at in Joan of Arc and Vampyr, more noticeable in Day of Wrath, becomes here unmistakeable. Slowly, surely, the camera often moves to anticipate what happens; moves to a window which is to be looked out, moves to a door before a character enters, moves to an object about to be used. Thus a sense is conveyed that all is somehow predestined. Dreyer himself is responsible, he has created the world of Ordet, its actions and its pattern; and with the camera he expresses his absolute power over that world."
-- Ken Kelman, “Dreyer,” Film Culture no. 35, Winter, 1964-65. P. 8-9.
"The eye absorbs horizontal lines rapidly and easily but repels vertical lines. The eye is involuntarily attracted by objects in motion but remains passive over stationary things. This is the explanation why the eye, with pleasure, follows gliding camera movements, preferably when they are soft and rhythmic. As a principle, one can say that one shall try to keep a continuous, flowing, horizontally gliding motion in the film. If one then suddenly introduces vertical lines, one can by this reach an instantly dramatic effect—as, for instance, in the pictures of the vertical ladder just before it is thrown into the fire in Day of Wrath."
-- Carl Th. Dreyer, “A Little on Film Style,” 1943, reproduced in Dreyer in Double Reflection, edited by Donald Skoller.
"On another level, he is only an instrument, as the camera is his, of a force which claims his own faith and possesses him. This power charges the camera to move, and in its relation to the events of the film, takes on the guise of destiny."
-- Ken Kelman, “Dreyer,” Film Culture no. 35, Winter, 1964-65. P. 8-9.
"…this precise use of the moving camera as the sealer of doom, the signal of death, becomes a structural device in the rest of the film, repeating an identical movement on at least three separate significant occasions for the same purpose: in the scene in which Herlof’s Marte is being tortured; at Absalon’s entrance into the bedroom of the dying Laurentius; and at the end when the choir boys walk around the chapel and the camera stops on Anne. In each of these scenes, there are, of course, many other elements at work, but the movement itself seems inevitably designed to close the characters in and to foreshadow the doom not only of the central character it rests on, but of another character in that scene who appears free of the same fate, but who, in fact, becomes the subject of the next camera movement."
-- Tony Pipolo, Museum of Modern Art archive notes on Day of Wrath.
"(Dreyer’s characters try to slip fate (can’t define them), and control it; they can’t stand intolerance, and are resolutely intolerant, stubborn themselves) (ed. addendum)"
Dreyer’s figures seem almost more easily defined by what they are not than by what they are. They exist as principles of movement away from, as negations of the present, in search of the possible, of the future… They want everything, and nothing in particular."
-- Ray Carney, Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer, 1989. P. 100-101.
"The game of this film is rich with a wit like this:
I met a man upon the stair…
A little man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish to Hell he’d go away.
Thus Vampyr is one of the greatest comedies ever filmically made—its humor as sweet as a nursery rhyme…"
-- Stan Brakhage, The Brakhage Lectures, 1972. P. 70-72.
"In reducing Dreyer’s themes to their essentials (as the director operates by reducing his forms and modes to their essentials), one quickly sees that we must radically reverse the viewpoint of the spiritual analyses. Dreyer’s heroes (heroines) don’t suffer or die for a faith, an ideal, a cause (God or Love) that lives within them like the grace of a superior essence that expresses itself at the price of their ‘martyrdom’: their situation is, quite the opposite, that they don’t really know what they are, nor what they want, that rather they tend towards blindness (even Joan, stranded and astray among her judges), groping, restless with uncertainty, the famous internal flame that’s ascribed to them well wavering in actuality (examples: the sort of weary resignation that Gertrud draws behind her, the panics and reversals of Anne in Day of Wrath, and even the spiritual stubbornness of Ordet’s patriarch, totally unbalanced in sudden fits and calms). Far from them being moved by some force of the soul (or of nature, if you’re a humanist) that would arouse their (supposed) revolt and have them incarnate superior Justice against lower justice (forever rendered by injustice and intolerance) of others, according to the most classical scheme of Manichean conflict (pure/impure, etc.), the characters here aren’t positively defined but by the sum of absences and negatives that surround them: they would be precisely nothing (happiness or misery without a backstory) if they weren’t (all: Anne, Gertrud, Joan, Johannes—and Jesus) rejected by the world. Exiled from society (and all types of society, of which Dreyer draws up an inventory well enough varied and complete)—and thereby scandalous, yes, but only by this exclusion, which farm from unveiling their “nature,” denounces that of a society that would determine it."
-- Jean-Louis Comolli, Cahiers du cinema, no. 207. (my translation)
“There are no negatives in nature, but only in human consciousness.”
-- Ian Watt, “The First Paragraph of The Ambassadors: An Explanation”.
“There we are. We’re abysses.”
“His fancy had in fact, before he knew it, begun so to stray and embroider that he finally found himself, absent and extravagant, sitting with the child in a friendly silence.”
“That would be to tell her too much about himself—it being at present just from himself he was trying to escape.”
“There’s all the indescribable—what one gets only on the spot.”
“I’m true, but I’m incredible. I’m fantastic and ridiculous—I don’t explain myself even to myself. How can they then,” Strether asked, “understand me?

“He recognized at last that he had really been trying all along to suppose nothing. Verily, verily, his labour had been lost. He found himself supposing innumerable and wonderful things.”
-- Henry James, The Ambassadors.
Jesus Christ! That bit of Dreyer on VAMPYR! Thank you…
Yo dude, just returning the favor:
Wonderful. The James quotes in the context of Dreyer seem spot on.

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