Carl Theodor Dreyer was born the illegitimate son of a Danish farmer father and a Swedish mother; when he was a young boy his mother died and he was adopted by a Danish family named Dreyer. He embarke...
Just when you think James Franco can’t get any more pretentious, he finds a way to raise the threshold. Take his latest project. No, it’s not reviewing Man of Steel, though that was pretty darn pretentious. It’s a 15-minute, dialogue-free film he’s directed for Gucci called La Passione. It imagines the degradation and judgment of a gorgeous supermodel until she’s finally burned at the stake. Franco says that it was inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. I suppose in that it features a woman burning at the stake, preceded by said woman staring purposefully off into space for long stretches of time, it is like The Passion of Joan of Arc — if Dreyer had included more cleavage, heavier eye shadow, longer lashes, and a wind machine to tousle Maria Falconetti’s hair for full fashion-shoot effect.
Mixing religious and sexual imagery as deftly as a Madonna video, La Passione shows Franco knows how to hit all the right buttons. Some guy wields a whip, recalling the scourging of Christ, but he's obviously wearing BDSM attire. Two women bathe each other — one with Hebrew characters tattooed on her arm! — to Baptismal and titillating effect. He even has the ATL Twins — the identical Spring Breakers siblings who do everything together, including have sex — make an appearance, to, I assume, form a symbolic Holy Trinity with himself. All the dudes, symbolic I suppose of the British and Church forces that condemned Joan to the stake, are dressed in tuxes. Because you may be participating in a barbaric execution, but there’s no reason why you can’t be stylish. They don’t call it a “show trial” for nothing.
Like Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, Franco’s symbolic Joan is deprived of her clothing of choice. But instead of being made to wear female peasant costume instead of male armor, she’s stripped down to lingerie. Which is unfortunate, because, as the pyre engulfs her, the flames are supposed to be the only thing that are hot. But I suppose, even if it’s not the Joan we need, each generation gets the Joan we deserve. Shakespeare imagined a lunatic Joan, Dreyer one of transcendent spirituality. Leelee Sobieski gave us a feminist Joan. And where Robert Bresson envisioned Joan as a political prisoner, James Franco has remade her into a prisoner of fame, stripped down to nothingness by a rapacious media culture.
But in the end, it’s really subtlety that gets burned.
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Every ten years since 1952, the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound magazine has published a list titled the Critics' Top Ten Poll: the organization's ranking of the ten best movies ever made. And every ten years since 1962, there has been one standing consistency: Citizen Kane has always been BFI's number one pick. Until now.
The 2012 incarnation of the list has been published, and Citizen Kane has fallen to the number two spot. Taking its place: Alfred Hitchcock's classic Vertigo. Check out the full list below: 1) Vertigo (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock
2) Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
3) Tokyo Story (1953), directed by Yasujiro Ozu
4) La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939), directed by Jean Renoir
5) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), directed by F. W. Murnau
6) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
7) The Searchers (1956), directed by John Ford
8) Man with a Movie Camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov
9) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
10) 8½ (1963), directed by Federico FelliniVertigo is a great film, no doubt. Better than Kane? Maybe. But why has this movie, which came out in 1958 (before Citizen Kane's first turn as number one, even) suddenly been recognized as the superior picture?
The 1952 Top Ten list didn't include Citizen Kane at all, even though it had come out eleven years prior. But over time, it grew on people. Quite effectively. Now, over half a century after Vertigo's release, it has inched to the top of the list (the movie first graced the list in '82 at the number seven spot, inching up to number four in '92, and reaching number two in '02).
It took twenty-one years for Citizen Kane to earn the top spot, and fifty-four for Vertigo. Maybe a film's persistence of quality is considered by the critics brought on to devise their choices. As such, Vertigo maintaining its appeal so long after its creation would afford it a few extra points in the minds of contributors to the list. Or maybe there's just a stigma against pictures that have come out too recently. Is a critic deterred from recognizing the power of a movie that came out in his or her lifetime?
Four out of the ten recognized films came out prior to 1940. Even the most recent release on the list, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is forty-four years old. The critical community cherishes the old; and while this can be chalked up to the pioneering of new ideas and artistic methods, there are plenty of movies from 1970 onward that deserve credit for their achievement and influence.
This is reflected in the Directors' Top Ten Poll — a list that Sight & Sound began publishing in 1992. This year's incarnation of the list includes a handful of more recent, and probably more widely familiar, pieces of cinematic art:1) Tokyo Story (1953), directed by Yasujiro Ozu
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick
3) Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
4) 8½ (1963), directed by Federico Fellini
5) Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese
6) Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola
7) The Godfather (1972), directed by Francis Ford Coppola
8) Vertigo (1968), directed by Alfred Hitchcock
9) Mirror (1975), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
10) Bicycle Thieves (1948), directed by Vittorio De SicaVertigo, Citizen Kane, and 2001 again find recognition, as do the films Tokyo Story and 8½. But beyond those are a slew of '70s pictures: The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and the Russian film Mirror. But is there any chance that either of BFI's lists can recognize films from the '80s, '90s, even the 2000s, in the near future? And if so, what films would most likely earn highlighted spots? Some other contemporary lists could provide insight:
The American Film Institute recognizes the 1993 film Schindler's List as number nine on its Top 100 Movies list.
The rating results on Rotten Tomatoes event in a Best Movies of All Time list that is largely recent films. Here is the site's top five:1) Man on Wire (2008), directed by James Marsh
2) Toy Story 2 (1999), directed by Josh Lassiter (co-directed by Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich)
3) Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), directed by Alex Gibney
4) The Interrupters (2011), directed by Steve James
5) Toy Story (1995), directed by John Lassiter(It warrants mention that this was not created as a comprehensive list, but resulted automatically from the ratings applied to these movies by the site's active critics. Nevertheless, it's proof that people are still making terrific, important, resonant movies.)
Various outlets will cite some newer pictures as superior products. 1993's Shawshank Redemption is consistently the highest rated film on IMDb. The Google search for "Top Movies of All Time" results in thumbnails including 1982's E.T., 1994's Pulp Fiction, 2008's The Dark Knight, and 1994's Forrest Gump. And if you ask anyone from my high school, the absolute best thing to come out of the realm of cinema is invariably 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious. Seriously, we watched that movie all the time.
So if newer pictures are so prevalent in other venues' recognition of great cinematic art, why does the BFI tread so differently? Why does it feel more "respectable" to love older movies when plenty of newer ones are just as good? Why does it take fifty years to admit, "Okay, we can finally shift this film up to the number one spot"?
We won't know what turns the perspectives of Sight & Sound will take for ten years now. And of course, there's nothing substantially wrong with one organization that seems to religiously prefer old to new — just as long as film continues to be appreciated, and contemporary artists are afforded due credit for pioneering new ideas and new means of storytelling. Because as many ideas there are that have been captured on screen, and as many devices for committing those ideas there are that have been utilized, there are still an endless supply being explored and invented today.
[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros., Universal Pictures]
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Made last and most notable silent film, "The Passion of Joan of Arc"
Last film, "Gertrud"
Worked as a theater critic
Made manager of Copenhagan cinema house, Dagmar, by Danish government
Adopted by the Dreyer family
First passenger to fly between Denmark and Sweden
Formed independent production company with Baron Nicholas de Gunzburg in early 1930s
Film directing debut with "Praesidenten/The President" (also screenwriter)
Left Nordisk Films Kompagni
Screenwriting debut with "Bryggerens Datter/The Brewer's Daughter"
Carl Theodor Dreyer was born the illegitimate son of a Danish farmer father and a Swedish mother; when he was a young boy his mother died and he was adopted by a Danish family named Dreyer. He embarked upon several careers before becoming a journalist in 1909. In this position, he wrote a series of articles profiling Danish celebrities which put Dreyer in touch with the world of film and theater. In the tradition of other Scandinavian directors, he began his film career by writing scripts; he joined the Danish state studio, Nordisk Films, in 1913 and became a full time screenwriter two years later, scouting for and adapting literary material, writing intertitles and editing film.
With 23 scripts to his credit, Dreyer was given a film to direct in 1919, beginning a career that would virtually span the history of cinema. "The President", like each of Dreyer's subsequent films, was based on a literary work that Dreyer himself had selected. Adaptation was essential to his aesthetic, in which film was envisioned as an extension of literature and theater, and narrative and psychological truth were paramount. "The President" is memorable for its simple sets, carefully created to reflect each character's personality. Perhaps most significantly, Dreyer believed that it was a personal work of art, unlike the assembly-line product of the day.
"Leaves from Satan's Book/Blade at Satan's Bog" (1919) solidified Dreyer's reputation as a director with an uncompromising personal vision. This elaborate project, which Dreyer had been planning for years, faced numerous production difficulties and was altered without the director's permission when it was shown. Even so, "Leaves" was praised for its sophisticated composition and for the subtlety of its character portrayals; it also raised controversy for its treatment of socialism and its depiction of Christ.
Dreyer left Nordisk and made "The Parson's Widow" (1920) for the Swedish company, Svensk Filmindustri, before filming "Love One Another" in Berlin in 1921. The latter film employed Russian emigre actors from Stanislavsky's troupe as well as some of Max Reinhardt's performers. At this time Dreyer began his lifelong habit of collecting and studying prints and photographs to get ideas for sets. Although he returned to Denmark to make "Once Upon a Time" (1922), a beloved operetta filmed with theatrical actors, he would spend the rest of his career as a free-lance director, working for any film company that would offer him artistic freedom.
In Berlin, Dreyer made "Mikael" (1924) for UFA, a film known for its ambitious and scrupulously designed sets, which Dreyer helped to dress with items bought throughout the city. Unhappy that the film's ending was changed without his consent, Dreyer returned to Denmark to make "The Master of the House" (1925). For this film, which established Dreyer's reputation in France, a fully functioning two-room apartment was built in the studio to provide the actors with a realistic space in which to perform. "The Bride of Glomdal" (1925) was made in Norway with the mere outline of a script and much improvisation.
During the 1920s and 1930s, when many of Europe's great directors emigrated to Hollywood, Dreyer remained in Europe. Under contract to the French firm Societe Generale des Films, Dreyer was given a seven-million franc budget to make "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1927). He rejected the original script, based on Joseph Delteil's biography of the heroine, in favor of the actual trial records. Preparations for the eight-month production included the construction of a vast concrete recreation of Rouen castle, complete with sliding walls to facilitate shooting. The realism of the sets extended to every aspect of the production; actors were cast according to facial type; makeup was rejected; and the film was shot in exact sequence. On the unusually silent and intense set, the actors--ruled by Dreyer's belief that the face was the mirror of the soul--were left alone to find the essence of their character, which was then captured in closeup. The film remains one of the most closely examined, and highly acclaimed, in the history of cinema.
With the Danish film industry in financial ruins, Dreyer turned to private financing from Baron Nicholas de Gunzburg to make "Vampyr" (1932), an hypnotically photographed supernatural tale with an elliptical narrative which brilliantly blends fantasy and reality in a uniquely nightmarish manner. After abandoning "Mudundu," an African project that was completed by another director, Dreyer returned to Denmark to work as a journalist.
After the Nazi invasion of Denmark and the subsequent ban on film imports, Danish films were once again in demand. Dreyer worked on a number of documentary shorts for the government before embarking on "Day of Wrath" (1943), a somber, slowly-paced account of a woman who is wrongly burned as a witch.
Over the next decade Dreyer assumed the job of managing a film theater. He also wrote a script for a film about Mary, Queen of Scots, with his son and started research for a film about Christ which would preoccupy him for the rest of his life.
In 1954, Dreyer made the award-winning "Ordet/The Word", based on the Kaj Munk play. It is noteworthy for its unusually long takes, shot with the continual smooth camera movement that Dreyer believed to be characteristic of modern film technique, as opposed to the short scenes and quick cutting of silent cinema.
After a ten-year silence, the much-anticipated "Gertrud" (1964) appeared, only to face a disastrous reception. Dreyer used silence and softly-spoken dialogue to portray the failure of communication in this story of a middle-aged woman who leaves her home and husband to live alone in Paris. 25 years later, the film still divides critics. Dreyer's last years were spent researching "Jesus," as he scouted locations in Israel, learned Hebrew and collected crates of photographs and notes. Although financial backing finally came through in 1967, Dreyer died before he could start the film.
Dreyer's transcendental aesthetic, his search for a spiritual truth beyond the surface of everyday life, marks him as a quintessentially Romantic artist. Yet, as critics have pointed out, his later films are among the most modern ever made, conveying the tension between a conservative vision and an experimental style. The integrity of his vision, combined with his consummate grasp of the film medium, make him one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.
born in 1913
born in 1923
married from 1911 until his death in 1968
Swedish; had son illegitimately; died from accidental phosphorus poisoning in 1891