05 June 2010

Carl Theodor Dreyer

Over the past three years, I have become an avid film buff, watching on the order of 600 films, and making a semi-systematic effort to fill gaps in my knowledge of classic films and directors. At the moment, I subscribe to only two film blogs, but both are essential.  One is Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's Observations on film art, which seems to me a model of how one can publish original scholarship on the web (of course, they have day jobs, so they don't have to worry so much about being paid for it). The other is the blog of film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who has been regularly publishing on his blog the hundreds of reviews and essays that he has written over his career. I don't read everything Rosenbaum posts, but I read most of his posts on films or directors I've recently watched, and I find what he has to say always enlightening, and informed by a wide knowledge of film and film history.

Today Rosenbaum posted an essay on Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, who directed the silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927), and the sound films Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1964). Dreyer is considered by many (including Rosenbaum) one of the greatest directors (if not the greatest) in the history of film.

I have to confess, though, that I haven't been able to muster enthusiasm for Dreyer so far. This is not because I've given him a fair shake; I haven't. In fact, the only film of his I've watched is Ordet, sometime last year, and I didn't even make it to the end of that (I found it rather tedious). Rosenbaum has almost convinced me, however, to give Dreyer another shot, and I'm somewhat encouraged by his admission that "I initially hated [Ordet] when I first saw it in my teens."  Well, in film terms, I was still in my teens last year, so perhaps now that I've entered my filmic majority (I hope), it's time for another try. But he will have to wait until I finish the stack of CarnĂ© on the coffee table, plus the VHS of Renoir's La Chienne, which I have from the storage facility of some remote outpost of the Minuteman System.

David Bordwell also had a brief post on Dreyer this past Thursday, noting that the "comprehensive and authoritative" Dreyer site of the Danish Film Institute is now online (with an English version available).

If I were a real film geek, I'd right now be watching The Magnificent Ambersons at the Brattle in Cambridge.  I've seen this only once before (at a Welles festival at the LA Art Museum in the 1980s), and chances to see it are few and far between. So far as I've been able to determine, it isn't available on DVD, at least not in the US.

But I've grown tired of going to films (and concerts, for that matter) alone.


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