Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ordet - A 1955 Carl Dreyer Film

You can watch this film at YouTube (in a 12-part playlist) here:

And here is a snippet from near the end that I found on YouTube: Warning: This gives away the whole film, so if you think you might want to watch it one day, I would avoid watching this scene.

I've recently discovered the genius of Carl T. Dreyer, a Danish filmmaker who started with silent films in 1918 and made his last in 1964. No matter which of his films you start with, his style of framing and storytelling is unique and was developed early. The first thing you'll likely notice is how much Ingmar Bergman took from him. Their films look very much alike and move with a slow deliberation where the silence is as important as what's being said. "Haste" is simply not in their vocabularies. But where Bergman's films were full of questions, Dreyer's are full of answers.

Dreyer was born a bastard child and initially orphaned before being adopted at the age of two by a Lutheran couple who he felt mistreated him. He was a very bright child, and after taking his school finals at sixteen, he left home and never returned. He found a job as a clerk and after a couple of years managed to find a position as a journalist. In his spare time he wrote film scripts and eventually was hired by Nordisk Films to both write screenplays and to sort through those that were sent in by others. Of course this eventually led to directing.

Despite Dreyer's disdain of his childhood, his Lutheran upbringing seems to have played a very important part in his life, and his religious faith made its way into nearly all of his films. He was a perfectionist and this shows in his films where every shot is just the right shot with just the right lighting, and even his actors in bit-parts were carefully selected. His films were shot mostly in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. Unfortunately, these were, even in those days, countries with a strong atheistic air that defined the spirit of the age, and thus, many of his films were considered flops. After German audiences laughed at his only horror film—Vampyr—Dreyer had a breakdown, checked himself into a clinic in Paris, and quit the cinema for a number of years, returning to journalism. He gradually got back into filmmaking with mostly documentary shorts throughout most of the 1940s and then went on to make two of his best films, Ordet in 1955 and Gertrud in 1964. It wouldn't be until after his death in 1968 that much of the rest of the world would discover his films and appreciate the underlying warmth of the message they contained.

Carl Dreyer's movies are in my opinion among the best of all-time and well worth seeking out. He wrote some 49 scripts; several, especially among the earlier ones, were made into films by other directors. He directed only 14 features and 8 shorts himself:

The President (Denmark, 1919)
Leaves From Satan's Book (Denmark, 1921)
The Parson's Widow (Sweden, 1921)
Love One Another (Germany, 1922)
Once upon a Time (Denmark, 1922)
Michael (Germany, 1924)
Master of the House (Denmark, 1925)
The Bride of Glomdal (Norway, 1926)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (France, 1928)
Vampyr (France/Denmark, 1932)
Good Mothers (Denmark, 1942) short
Day of Wrath (Denmark, 1943)
Two People (Sweden, 1945)
Water from the Land (Denmark, 1946) short
The Danish Village Church (Denmark, 1947) short
The Fight against Cancer (Denmark, 1947) short
They Caught the Ferry (Denmark, 1948) short
Thorvaldsen (Denmark, 1949) short
The Storstrøm Bridge (Denmark, 1950) short
A Castle Within a Castle (Denmark, 1954) short
Ordet (Denmark, 1955)
Gertrud (Denmark, 1964)

Probably among the best of these are Leaves from Satan's Book, Love One Another, Michael, Master of the House, The Passion of Joan of Arc (often referred to as his masterpiece), Day of Wrath, and Ordet (which means "The Word" in English).