Carl Theodor Dreyer is a name that, unless you are a serious film student or cineaste, may not ring any bells with you. The Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, who was born in 1889 was one of the first to see the artistic possibilities of film to a large audience. His landmark film The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, made in 1928 has been acknowledged as one of the greatest examples of cinema ever produced. His career began in 1913 when, as a journalist, Dreyer was hired by Nordisk Film to write title cards and eventually wrote screenplays. His early career was unremarkable, with a string of films in his native Denmark from 1919 to 1926.
He left Denmark for Paris to work in the French film industry. It was there that he met Jean Cocteau and others who made up the Avant-garde in the Parisian arts community. In 1928 he made Joan of Arc. It was revolutionary for the time, as it was one of the very first instances where the use of extreme closeups and emotional realism were used, and it laid the groundwork for filmmakers to follow suit from that point on.
However, both Joan of Arc and his next film Vampyr from 1932 were considered box office flops, and it wasn’t until 1943 when Dreyer, back in his native Denmark, which was now under Nazi occupation, that he made Day of Wrath, followed almost a decade later with his next film The Word. Between Day of Wrath and The Word he made another film, Two People, which Dreyer disowned and was withdrawn from circulation.
Although he made comparatively few films, his style was original and uncompromising and his work has influenced countless filmmakers since.
This interview, done in connection with the New York Film Festival premier of his last film Gertrud is a little over-the-top in places. Dreyer is unassuming and matter-of-fact about his work. The interviewer gushes with superlatives – and even though it’s well meaning, it’s cringeworthy at times.
But that shouldn’t derail you from listening to one of the rare interviews with one of the early innovators of film.
Not for all tastes, but The Passion of Joan Of Arc is one of the truly remarkable films for its time, as is most of the artistic output of Carl Theodor Dreyer. His innovations took film from an amusement to an art form, and was on the ground floor of its evolution at a time when film was very new and the possibilities were endless.