Dreyer, Carl Theodor
DREYER, Carl Theodor
Nationality: Danish. Born: Copenhagen, 3 February 1889. Family: Married Ebba Larsen, 1911, two sons. Career: Journalist in Copenhagen, 1909–13; after writing scripts for Scandinavisk-Russiske Handelshus, joined Nordisk Films Kompagni, 1913; directed first film, Praesidenten, 1919; moved to Berlin, worked for Primusfilm, 1921; joined Ufa, 1924; returned to Copenhagen, 1925; hired by Société Generale de Films, Paris, 1926; left film industry, returned to journalism in Denmark, 1932; returned to filmmaking with documentary Good Mothers, 1942; awarded managership of a film theatre by Danish government, 1952; worked on film project on the life of Jesus, 1964–68. Awards: Golden Lion Award, Venice Festival, for Ordet, 1955. Died: In Copenhagen, 20 March 1968.
Films as Director:
Praesidenten (The President) (+ sc, co-art d)
Prästänkan (The Parson's Widow; The Witch Woman; The Fourth Marriage of Dame Margaret) (+ sc)
Blade af Satans Bog (Leaves from Satan's Book) (+ co-sc, co-art d) (shot in 1919)
Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized One; Love One Another) (+ sc); Der Var Engang (Once upon a Time) (+ co-sc, ed)
Michael (+ co-sc)
Du Skal Aere Din Hustru (Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife; The Master of the House) (+ co-sc, art d)
Glomdalsbruden (The Bride of Glomdal) (+ sc, art d)
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (+ co-sc)
Vampyr (The Dream of David Gray) (+ co-sc, pr)
Mdrehjaelpen¡ (Good Mothers)
Vredens Dag (Day of Wrath) (+ co-sc)
Två Manniskor (Two People) (+ co-sc, ed)
Vandet Pa Låndet (Water from the Land) (never finished) (+ sc)
Landsbykirken (The Danish Village Church) (+ co-sc); Kampen Mod Kraeften (The Struggle against Cancer) (+ co-sc)
De Naaede Faergen (They Caught the Ferry) (+ sc)
Thorvaldsen (+ co-sc)
Storstrmsbroen¡ (The Bridge of Storstrm¡) (+ sc)
Et Slot I Et Slot (Castle within a Castle) (+ sc)
Ordet (The Word) (+ sc)
Gertrud (+ sc)
Bryggerens Datter (The Brewer's Daughter) (Ottesen) (co-sc)
Balloneksplosionen (The Balloon Explosion) (sc); Krigs-korrespondenten (The War Correspondent) (Glückstadt) (sc); Hans og Grethe (Hans and Grethe) (sc); Elskovs Opfindsomhed (Inventive Love) (Wolder) (sc); Chatollets Hemmelighed, eller Det gamle chatol (The Secret of the Writing Desk; The Old Writing Desk) (Davidsen) (sc)
Ned Med Vabnene (Lay down Your Arms) (Holger-Madsen) (sc)
Juvelerernes Skrœk, eller Skelethaanden, eller Skelethaandens sidste bedrift (The Jeweller's Terror; The Skeleton's Hand; The Last Adventure of the Skeleton's Hand) (Christian) (sc)
Penge (Money) (Mantzius) (sc); Den Hvide Djœvel, eller Djœvelens Protege (The White Devil; The Devil's Protegé) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Den Skonne Evelyn (Evelyn the Beautiful) (Sandberg) (sc); Rovedderkoppen, eller Den rde¡ Enke (The Robber Spider; The White Widow) (Blom) (sc); En Forbryders Liv og Levned, eller En Forbryders Memoirer (The Life and Times of a Criminal; The Memoirs of a Criminal) (Christian) (sc); Guldets Gift, eller Lerhjertet (The Poison of Gold; The Clay Heart) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Pavillonens Hemmelighed (The Secret of the Pavilion) (Mantzius) (sc)
Den Mystiske Selskabsdame, eller Legationens Gidsel (The Mysterious Lady's Companion; The Hostage of the Embassy) (Blom) (sc); Hans Rigtige Kone (His Real Wife) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Fange Nr. 113 (Prisoner No. 113) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Hotel Paradis (Hotel Paradiso) (Dinesen) (sc)
Lydia (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Glaedens Dag, eller Miskendt (Day of Joy; Neglected) (Christian) (sc)
Gillekop (Blom) (sc); Grevindens Aere (The Countess' Honor) (Blom) (sc)
De Gamle (The Seventh Age) (sc)
Radioens Barndom (ed)
Shakespeare og Kronborg (Hamlet's Castle) (Roos) (sc)
Rønnes og Nexøs Genopbygning (The Rebuilding of Ronne and Nexø) (sc)
By DREYER: books—
Om filmen, Copenhagen, 1959.
Five Film af Carl Th. Dreyer, edited by Ole Storm, Copenhagen, 1964.
Jesus fra Nazaret. Et filmmanuskript, Copenhagen, 1968; as Jesus, New York, 1972.
Four Screenplays, New York, 1970.
Oeuvres cinématographiques 1926–1934, edited by Maurice Drouzy and Charles Tesson, Paris, 1983.
By DREYER: articles—
"Lunch with Carl Dreyer," with Ragna Jackson, in Penguin FilmReview (London), August 1947.
Interview with John Winge, in Sight and Sound (London), January 1950.
"Visit with Carl Th. Dreyer," with James Card, in Image (Rochester, New York), December 1953.
"Rencontre avec Carl Dreyer," with Lotte Eisner, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), June 1955.
"Thoughts on My Craft," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 3, 1955/56.
Interview with Herbert Luft, in Films and Filming (London), no. 9, 1961.
"Dreyer Mosaik," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1963.
"Carl Dreyer nous dit: 'Le principal intérêt d'un homme: les autres hommes,"' an interview with Georges Sadoul, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 24 December 1964.
Interview with Michel Delahaye, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 170, 1965.
Interview with Børge Trolle, in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1966.
"My Way of Working Is in Relation to the Future: A Conversation with Carl Dreyer," with Carl Lerner, in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1966.
"Carl Dreyer: Utter Bore or Total Genius?" with Denis Duperley, in Films and Filming (London), February 1968.
Interview with Michel Delahaye, in Interview with Film Directors, edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1969.
"Metaphysic of Ordet," in The Film Culture Reader, edited by P. Adams Sitney, New York, 1970.
On DREYER: books—
Neergaard, Ebbe, Carl Theodor Dreyer: A Film Director's Work, London, 1950.
Trolle, Børge, The Art of Carl Dreyer: An Analysis, Copenhagen, 1955.
Sémolué, Jean, Dreyer, Paris, 1962.
Bowser, Eileen, The Films of Carl Dreyer, New York, 1964.
Monty, Ib, Portrait of Carl Th. Dreyer, Copenhagen, 1965.
Dyssegaard, Soren, editor, Carl Th. Dreyer, Danish Film Director, Copenhagen, 1968.
Milne, Tom, The Cinema of Carl Dreyer, New York, 1971.
Ernst, Helge, Dreyer: Carl Th. Dreyer—en dansk filmskaber, Copenhagen, 1972.
Schrader, Paul, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, Los Angeles, 1972.
Bordwell, David, Dreyer, London, 1973.
Skoller, Donald, editor, Dreyer in Double Reflection, New York, 1973.
Nash, Mark, editor, Dreyer, London, 1977.
Bordwell, David, The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer, Berkeley, California, 1981.
Drouzy, M., Carl Th. Dreyer, né Nilsson, Paris, 1982.
Carney, Raymond, Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films ofCarl Dreyer, Cambridge, 1989.
Aumont, Jacques, Vampyr de Carl Th. Dreyer, Crisnée, Belgium, 1993.
Bassotto, Camillo, Carl Th. Dreyer: La passion de Jeanne d'Arc, Venice, 1996.
Drum, Jean, and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life andFilms of Carl Th. Dreyer, Lanham, Maryland, 2000.
On DREYER: articles—
"Dreyer Issue" of Ecran Français (Paris), 11 November 1947.
Rowland, Richard, "Carl Dreyer's World," in Hollywood Quarterly, no. 1, 1950.
Duca, Lo, "Trilogie mystique de Dreyer," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1952.
Rehben, Ernst, "Carl Dreyer, poète tragique du cinéma," in Positif (Paris), no. 8, 1953.
Trolle, Brge¡, "The World of Carl Dreyer," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1955/56.
Luft, Herbert, "Carl Dreyer—A Master of His Craft," in Quarterly ofFilm, Radio and Television (Berkeley), no. 2, 1956.
Eisner, Lotte, "Réalisme et irréel chez Dreyer," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), December 1956.
Luft, Herbert, "Dreyer," in Films and Filming (London), June 1961.
Cowie, Peter, "Dreyer at Seventy-Five," in Films and Filming (London), no. 6, 1964.
Kelman, Ken, "Dreyer," in Film Culture (New York), no. 35, 1964/65.
Milne, Tom, "Darkness and Light," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 4, 1965.
Téchiné, André, "L'Archaisme nordique de Dreyer," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), no. 170, 1965.
Bond, Kirk, "The World of Carl Dreyer," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1965.
"Dreyer Issue" of Kosmorama (Copenhagen), June 1968.
"Dreyer Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1968.
Amette, Jacques-Pierre, "Carl Th. Dreyer," in Dossiers du cinéma:Cinéastes I, Paris, 1971.
Bordwell, David, "Passion, Death, and Testament: Carl Dreyer's Jesus Film," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Wood, Robin, "Carl Dreyer," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1974.
Vaughan, Dai, "Carl Dreyer and the Theme of Choice," in Sight andSound (London), Summer 1974.
Petric, Vlada, "Dreyer's Concept of Abstraction," in Sight andSound (London), Spring 1975.
De Benedictus, M., "Dreyer: La regola del pendolo," in Biancoe Nero (Rome), January-February 1979.
Schepelern, P., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1982.
Devilliers, M., "Dreyer, la chair et l'ombre," in Cinématographe (Paris), November 1983.
Lardeau, Yves, and C. Tesson, "Dreyer en images," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), December 1983.
"Gertrud Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), December 1984.
"La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc Section," of Skrien (Amsterdam), November-December 1985.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "Gertrud: The Desire for the Image," in Sightand Sound (London), Winter 1985–86.
"Passion de Jeanne d'Arc Issue," of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January-February 1988.
Milne, Tom, "Carl Dreyer," in Radio Times (London), 25 February 1989.
"Special Issue," Kosmorama (Denmark), vol. 35, no. 187, Spring 1989.
Véronneau, P., "C.T. Dreyer, 1889–1968," in Revue de laCinémathèque (Montreal), no. 2, August-September 1989.
Donovan, F., "La magie Dreyer," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 461, November 1989.
Filmcritica (Italy), vol. 41, no. 107, July 1990.
Drouzy, M., "Les années noires de Dreyer," in Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 4, Autumn 1993.
* * *
Carl Theodor Dreyer is the greatest filmmaker in the Danish cinema, where he was always a solitary personality. But he is also among the few international directors who turned films into an art and made them a new means of expression for the artistic genius. Of Dreyer's feature films, seven were produced in Denmark, three in Germany, two in France, two in Sweden, and one in Norway.
If one tries to understand the special nature of Dreyer's art, one can delve into his early life to find the roots of his never-failing contempt for pretentions and his hatred of bourgeois respectability, as well as his preoccupation with suffering and martyrdom. In his biography of Dreyer, M. Drouzy revealed the fate of Dreyer's biological mother, who died in the most cruel way following an attempted abortion. Dreyer, who was adopted by a Copenhagen family, learned about the circumstances of her death when he was eighteen years old, and Drouzy's psychoanalytical study finds the victimized woman in all of Dreyer's films. But of what value is the biographical approach to the understanding of a great artist? The work of an artist need not be the illumination of his private life. This may afford some explanation when we are inquiring into the fundamental point of departure for an artist, but Dreyer's personality is expressed very clearly and graphically in his films. We can therefore well admire the consistency which has always characterized his outlook on life.
Like many great artists, Dreyer is characterized by the relatively few themes that he constantly played upon. One of the keynotes in Dreyer's work is suffering, and his world is filled with martyrs. Yet suffering and martyrdom are surely not the fundamentals. They are merely manifestations, the results of something else. Suffering and martyrdom are the consequences of wickedness, and it is malice and its influence upon people that his films are concerned about. As early in his career as the 1921 film, Leaves from Satan's Book, Dreyer tackled this theme of the power of evil over the human mind. He returned to examine this theme again and again.
If the popular verdict is that Dreyer's films are heavy and gloomy, naturally the idea is suggested by the subjects which he handled. Dreyer never tried to make us believe that life is a bed of roses. There is much suffering, wickedness, death, and torment in his films, but they often conclude in an optimistic conviction in the victory of spirit over matter. With death comes deliverance. It is beyond the reach of malice.
In his delineation of suffering man, devoid of any hope before the arrival of death, Dreyer was never philosophically abstract. Though his films were often enacted on a supersensible plane, and are concerned with religious problems, his method as an artist was one of psychological realism, and his object was always the individual. Dreyer's masterly depiction of milieu has always been greatly admired; his keen perception of the characteristic detail is simply dazzling. But this authenticity in settings has never been a means towards a meticulous naturalism. He always sought to transcend naturalism so as to reach a kind of purified, or classically simplified, realism.
Though Dreyer occupied himself with the processes of the soul, he always preserved an impartiality when portraying them. One might say that he maintained a high degree of objectivity in his description of the subjective. This can be sensed in his films as a kind of presentation rather than forceful advocacy. Dreyer himself, when describing his method in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, once employed the expression "realized mysticism." The phrase indicates quite precisely his endeavours to render understandable things that are difficult to comprehend, to make the irrational appear intelligible. The meaning behind life lies in just this recognition of the necessity to suffer in order to arrive at deliverance. The characters nearly always suffered defeat in the outward world because Dreyer considered defeat or victory in the human world to be of no significance. For him the triumph of the soul over life was what was most important.
There are those who wish to demonstrate a line of development in Dreyer's production, but there is no development in the customary sense. Dreyer's world seemed established at an early period of his life, and his films merely changed in their way of viewing the world. There was a complete congruity between his ideas and his style, and it was typical of him to have said: "The soul is revealed in the style, which is the artist's expression of the way he regards his material." For Dreyer the image was always the important thing, so important that there is some justification in describing him as first and foremost the great artist of the silent film. On the other hand, his last great films were concerned with the effort to create a harmony between image and sound, and to that end he was constantly experimenting.
Dreyer's pictorial style has been characterized by his extensive and careful employment of the close-up. His films are filled with faces. In this way he was able to let his characters unfold themselves, for he was chiefly interested in the expressions that appear as the result of spiritual conflicts. Emphasis has often been given to the slow lingering rhythm in Dreyer's films. It is obvious that this dilatoriness springs from the wish to endow the action with a stamp of monumentality, though it could lead dangerously close to empty solemnity, to the formalistic.
Dreyer quickly realized the inadequacy of the montage technique, which had been regarded as the foundation of film for so many years. His films became more and more based on long uncut sequences. By the end of his career his calm, elaborating style was quite in conformity with the newer trends in the cinema.
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Although the output of Danish film director Carl Dreyer (1889-1968) was slim by Hollywood standards, he was nonetheless a master of early cinema. His insistence on artistic independence and the personal, idiosyncratic style of his films have influenced generations of European filmmakers.
Born in Copenhagen on February 3, 1889, Dreyer's childhood is somewhat clouded in mystery. What facts are known are those he himself revealed to his friend and biographer, Ebbe Neergaard. According to some sources (and his own claim) he was the illegitimate son of a Swedish woman and that his father was unknown; other sources mention that his father was the Swede and his mother a Danish housekeeper. At any rate the boy was orphaned at an early age and was adopted by the Dreyer family. Dreyer's original family name remains unknown. His early life had something of a Dickensian tone about it. David Bordwell, in The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer, quotes one of Dreyer's recollections to Edde Neergaard, saying that his adopted family "consistently let me know that I had to be very grateful for the food I got and I really had no claim on anything because my mother had cheated her way out of paying for me by going off and dying… ." One cannot, however, discount Dreyer feeding his own legend as the gloomy, independent-minded artistic genius.
A Dickensian Background
Dreyer claimed his family wanted him to earn his way by playing piano in a cafe, for which he had no aptitude. Instead, after completing school he left home at the age of 17 and embarked on a series of office jobs: the young Dreyer worked in the municipal administration, a power company, and a telegraph company. In 1909 he quit the telegraph company job in a moment of existential despair and went to work as a journalist. During the next three years Dreyer wrote for the Copenhagen newspapers, Berlingske Tidende and Riget, concentrating on aviation and nautical reporting. In 1912 Dreyer moved to the daily newspaper, Ekstrabladet, where in October of that year, writing under the pseudonym "Tommen," he introduced a series of feuilletons (literary sketches of people and events) titled Vor Tids Helt (Heroes of Our Time), which where profiles of Copenhagen's celebrities. This proved fortuitous for Dreyer because in the years just prior to the First World War many of Copenhagen's celebrities were associated with the film industry. In these years the Nordisk Films Kompagni dominated the Danish film industry and earned a good profit from its foreign market (which included the United States, France, Britain, and Germany). Dreyer profiled Ole Olsen, the head of Nordisk Films, and director Asta Nielsen among others. Eventually he tried his hand at film writing.
Held Various Jobs at Nordisk Films
Dreyer wrote or co-wrote three film scripts for a small studio, Skandinavisk-Russiske Handelshus, before joining Nordisk Films in 1913. His first two years at Nordisk were part-time positions. Dreyer began by writing intertitles (brief verbal plot explanations that were flashed on the screen and which served as narrative bridges in silent movies). He was also a reader of film script submissions and acquired the film rights to literary works for the company. Soon Dreyer started writing adaptations of these acquired works and also original screenplays. Including his three pre-Nordisk screenplays, there are 23 films, shot between the years 1912 and 1918, which had Dreyer's name in the credits as script-writer, though nearly all have been lost. These include originals as well as adaptations of works by Zola, Balzac, and others. Dreyer also wrote another 17 film scripts for Nordisk, but it is unclear whether or not they were filmed.
Nordisk Films was hit hard financially by the First World War, forcing the exodus of numerous personnel, including directors. The vacuum gave Dreyer his opportunity. The first of the 15 films on which Dreyer's reputation as director rests was Pr3 sidenten (The President), based on a novel by Karl Emil Franzos. In his acquisitions capacity at Nordisk, Dreyer had purchased the film rights. Completed in 1918, Praesidenten was released in Sweden in 1919, but not screened in Denmark until 1920. Critics have recognized influences as varied as German avant-garde theater and the innovative American director, D.W. Griffith. His second film was Blade af Satans Bog (Leaves from Satan's Book), loosely based on a novel by Marie Corelli. It was filmed in 1919, but not released in Denmark until 1921. During the pre-production of the film Dreyer quarreled with his superiors at Nordisk over the budget. For Dreyer, however, the quarrel was more than that: he saw it as a battle between art and commercialism. In the end he was forced to accede to Nordisk's demands for a smaller budget. Despite the budget constraint, edits that Dreyer had not authorized and criticism leveled against the film by political and religious groups, Blade af Satans Bog established Dreyer as a director. It was also his final film for Nordisk.
Dreyer next went to work for Svensk Filmindustri, but he would leave after making only one film, Prastankan (The Parson's Widow), in 1920. The film was shot in Sweden. Because Svensk Filmindustri, like Nordisk, was experiencing postwar financial troubles Dreyer went to Berlin the next year. Thus began his period as a nomad, working wherever in Europe he could find financing—a recurrent problem for Dreyer since he refused to compromise his artistic vision. In Berlin, he made Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized One) for Primusfilm in 1921. Considered by critics to be one of the great films about the plight of Jews in pre-Revolutionary Russia (certainly the best by a non-Russian filmmaker), it was an adaptation of a Danish novel, Love One Another, by Aage Madelung and featured Richard Boleslawski, who had been a member of Stanislavsky's acting troup before the Revolution. Actors from Max Reinhardt's troupe as well as Scandinavians such as Johannes Meyer (a Dreyer favorite) were also in the film. It was Die Gezeichneten which caught the eye of film critics in France.
For his next film Dreyer returned to Denmark. In 1922 a theater owner, Sophus Madsen, agreed to finance Der Var Engang (Once Upon a Time), a sentimental operetta. (During the early years of the film industry it was not uncommon for production companies to own theaters, or vice versa.) The most interesting aspect of this film (slightly more than half of Der Var Engang remains) was Dreyer's plan to build sets within sets to economize during filming. However conflicting schedules forced him to abandon this plan. Dreyer returned to Berlin in 1923. The following year he directed Michael for UFA—actually Decla-Bioskop, which David Bordwell describes as "the artistic wing of UFA." Michael was a remake and again Dreyer quarreled with his producer, Erich Pommer, who made changes to the ending without consulting him. The assistant cameraman for this production was Rudolf Mate, who would work with Dreyer on some of his most famous films, and later went to Hollywood.
By 1925 Palladium Films had taken control of the Danish film industry from Nordisk and Dreyer signed on to direct the tragicomedy, Du Skal AEre Din Hustru (translated as both Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife and The Master of the House). The film starred Johannes Meyer and proved to be a huge success in Europe, especially France, where it was named one of the year's best by a film magazine. In 1942 it was remade as Tyrannens Fald—the title of the play on which it was based. Dreyer also shot Glomdalsbruden in Norway in 1925. It was primarily an improvised affair that was far overshadowed by his next film. Indeed, everything Dreyer had done to date would be overshadowed by La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc.
Directed a Silent Classic
Produced by Societe Generale de Films, in Paris, the film follows the last day in the life of Joan of Arc, who had been canonized as a saint only in 1920. The Societe Generale de Films allowed Dreyer a free hand; Rudolph Mate was his cinematographer and he used primarily stage actors including Renee Falconetti (Jeanne), who never again acted in film, and Antonin Artaud. The film was shot in chronological order and the actors appeared without make-up, which intensified the film's "realism" all the more since it relies upon an extraordinary number of close-ups. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc premiered in Copenhagen in April 1928 and was first shown in Paris in October 1928, though it wasn't until June 1929 that French audiences finally saw an uncensored version. Unfortunately the film was a financial failure (as was Abel Gance's Napoleon, another picture produced by the Societe Generale de Films) and Dreyer never worked for them again.
The subsequent history of the film is somewhat murky. There are conflicting accounts by Dreyer himself as to whether or not he edited it, though evidence seems to point that he did. Also the original negative was destroyed in a fire and various versions of the film have been floating around since. A print discovered in 1952 was for years the standard version, but in the early 1980s a copy of the original print that was submitted to the censor was discovered in a Norwegian mental hospital and was proclaimed the authentic version. In 1990 La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc was voted by film critics as sixth among the world's ten best films; directors gave it ninth place. In 1992 noted film critic David Robinson declared in the (London) Times, "The film has no parallel, either in stylistic austerity or emotional force." David Cook in his study, A History of Narrative Film, regarded La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc as "the last great classic of the international silent screen." It was the first of the five films (each filmed in a different decade) on which Dreyer's reputation rests.
Film legend has it that Dreyer's next film, Vampyr, (1932) was a response to Todd Browning's Dracula. Dreyer's first sound film was financially backed by the young Baron Nicolas de Grunzburg, who was credited as co-producer along with Dreyer. De Grunzburg, under the pseudonym Julian West, played the role of David Gray, the film's protagonist. The film premiered in Berlin to only mixed success. In subsequent years it has become a classic. However a decade passed before Dreyer made his next film, Modrehjaepen (Good Mothers). It was financed by a consortium, which included Nordisk. It is a wartime documentary (at the time Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany) showing how the state assists an unmarried mother.
Wartime and Post-War Features
In 1944 Dreyer made Vredens Dag (Day of Wrath) for Palladium Films. The film is about witchcraft, persecution and murder in the 17th century. However, as Derek Malcolm pointed out in the Guardian, it is "sometimes seen as an allegory of the German occupation of Denmark." It is the third of Dreyer's five great films and Bordwell (in The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer) observes that "it is a moment of equilibrium in Dreyer's career … but not in any simple way." As with La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc Dreyer used established stage actors (this time from the Danish Royal Theatre) and wanted to film in chronological order, but could not because of previous commitments of one of the actors. The Danish critics hated the film, but as Bordwell points out Andre Bazin (in Jours de colere) wrote, "like its contemporary Ivan the Terrible, this is a film which is not of the moment, a masterpiece at once anachronistic and ageless." In 1944 Dreyer also made Tva Manniskor (Two People) for Svensk Filmindustri. It was an artistic and commercial failure, all but disowned by both Dreyer and his producer.
During the ten years following the Second World War Dreyer worked on a dozen short documentary films. In not all of these was he the director, sometimes working only on the script, sometimes only the editing. It was an extremely fallow period for him as he struggled to find financing and uphold his personal artistic vision. This came about in 1954 when Palladium financed Ordet (The Word). Ordet has a Romeo and Juliet plot interwoven with the symbols of religious mystery and theological differences as two families seek to reconcile their different beliefs. Dreyer employed long takes that effectively highlighted his slow, deliberate style. The film was a commercial and critical success, and was awarded the Golden Lion at the 1955 Venice Film Festival.
It was another ten years before Dreyer made Gertrud (1964), his final film. The distinguishing aspect of the film is that sound, particularly speech, supercedes image: Dreyer had the characters realistically speak past one another's lines. For this reason the film was initially poorly received in France (where Dreyer was revered) and elsewhere. Dreyer remained undaunted. For years he had been researching and writing a film, Jesus, but had unsuccessfully sought backing. In late 1967 and early 1968 the Danish government and RAI, the Italian film and television company, decided to finance the film. However Dreyer died on March 20, 1968 before work could proceed.
Bordwell, David, The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer, University of California Press, 1981.
Cook, David A., A History of Narrative Film, W.W. Norton and Co., 1981.
Guardian (London), April 6, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1989.
Newsday, April 9, 1947.
Times (London), December 10, 1992.
"Biography of Carl Theodor Dreyer," http://clickit.go2net.com(October 21, 2001). □