Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Passion of Joan of Arc

I kicked off the Visualising Medieval Women course with Carl Theodore Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc; yes, a daring choice as I could more or less assume that none of my students had ever seen a silent film. But after showing them Terry Jones' "The Damsel" episode from Medieval Lives, I wanted to hammer home the point that Joan was not "burnt as a witch" but for usurping male clothes and by implication, a male role, which gave suitable grounds in what was really a political battle. Witch burning, by the by, is from the so-called age of Enlightenment the so-called Renaissance gave us -- just another myth about the Middle Ages.





Dreyer's film -- like all his work -- is richly imagined and visually stunning. The Criterion DVD features the evocative "Voices of Light," a choral and orchestral work composed by Richard Einhorn and performed by the wonderful Anonymous 4 and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic and Choir. This edition of the long-thought-to-be-lost film came when a complete version was located in a Norwegian mental institute in 1981.

Dreyer's vision is always arresting. For a film awash in white, it often seems so dark. Renée Falconetti's Joan offers a compelling vision of a suffering young woman who nonetheless stubbornly fights for her beliefs against harsh treatment. We examined how the internal space of the trial (ecclesiastic, confined and male) suddenly explodes into the public space (cacophonous, open and mostly female). Good to see a young Antonin Artaud as a sympathetic priest; practising for that theatre of cruelty, eh?

See all the recommendations for overlooked media at Sweet Freedom.

7 comments:

Todd Mason said...

I hadn't looked into her enough to know that witchcraft wasn't the excused used, though I was under the impression that that was the figleaf for terminating her Inconvenient Woman status.

K. A. Laity said...

Absolutely -- and associating with the losing side.

Yvette said...

I saw this film for the very first time last year sometime. I was blown away by how impressive this silent movie actually is. The acting is incredible.

Renee Falconetti is a revelation as Joan. (I'm not sure, but I think she never made another movie. Hard to believe.) I'm not a big fan of silent movies, but I sat through this one transfixed.

SteveHL said...

A truly great film with one of the best screen performances ever.

K. A. Laity said...

Yvette -- totally agree. I was nervous about my students' reactions, but they were impressed.

SteveHL -- it's incredible! The depth of emotion she gets across with her eyes alone is awe inspiring.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never seen this film. Looks like a good one. Wish netflix was still an option.

K. A. Laity said...

Check your library system! It's well worth finding. If all else fails there's always YouTube.