The Passion of Joan of Arc

March 17, 2013 2 Comments

The Passion of Joan of Arc will light up the screen (bad pun, but I couldn’t help it) on Saturday, March 23 at 8pm at the magnificent Detroit Film Theatre.

If you have never seen director Carl Dryer’s 1928 masterpiece, now it your opportunity.  Maria Falconetti stars as Joan, the French maiden who led France to military victory, only to be burned at the stake for heresy.  The film demonstrates why “silent” film is such a misnomer. The film has been accompanied by a variety of musical scores and has never been “silent”.  This screening stars the live Rackham Choir singing Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light”.   The film has consistently been recognized as one of the most influential of all time.  The New York Time’s original review simply said that films that preceded Dryer’s Joan of Arc now appear to be merely “tinsel shams.”

Dryer’s realist style is stark and graphic.  His use of close ups to capture the torment and anguish of Falconetti’s Joan (shot without makeup) was a major innovation.  The use of mise en scene to create a sense of captivity in the spectator, which we then share with Joan, becomes nearly unbearable as she (we) are sentenced and destroyed.  The burning at the stake (done of course minus any CGI effects) is riveting.

The mythology surrounding the film is nearly as intriguing as the film itself.  The film was denounced by French and British officials.  Edits were demanded that damaged the coherence of the film.  The original negative was destroyed in a fire shortly after its opening in 1928 (how’s that for creeepy coincidence?)  A second print was cobbled together with Dryer’s assistance and THAT was also destroyed by fire.  Now of course, film at that time was highly flammable, but it is strange.  A copy of the second version was found in 1951, but failed to capture the essence of Dryer’s original work.  Then, in 1981, a pristine print of the original negative was recovered in the janitor’s closet of a mental institution.  This is the print that we are fortunate to see at the DFT.

I was lucky to see the Voices of Light program when the Rackham Choir performed Dryer’s film at the Redford Theatre about six years ago.  I had read about the movie, but was unprepared for the emotional whallop.  The experience of live voices adds depth that is difficult to capture with words.

This is a MUST MUST See movie.  If you are unable to attend on Saturday, there is a live rehearsal on Friday night.  Dare I say there’s a lot at stake here?     See it!    Jolyn Wagner

Must See Movie of the Week
2 Comments to “The Passion of Joan of Arc”
  1. Sorry for ANY confusion! Joan meets her tragic end on Saturday MARCH 23 at 8pm!
    Don’t miss it!

  2. Bruce Russell says:

    It was only through Divine intervention that I saw this film last night. I foolishly presented my little discount ticket to the DFT ticket-takers at the door, expecting to sashay in after they punched out one of the admission stars on my budget pass. They turned me away telling me that the performance was sold out. By the grace of God :), a film professor from some local college had brought his class and had one extra ticket. Earlier I had asked a woman in the lobby if she had an extra ticket. Later, she found me and pointed out the good professor! Though I offered to pay him, he just gave me the $25 ticket. God is good; God is great!

    However, the same can’t be said of the Catholic Church. They concluded that Joan was the devil (or sent by him?) because she preferred wearing her male clothes to going to mass and because she refused the sacrament and to repent. They questioned her as to how she knew that she was visited by St. Michael rather than the devil. That’s a nice epistemological question. A similar one might have been put to Abraham when he assumed that God told him to sacrifice Isaac! How did he know it wasn’t the devi instead? Of course, Joan also needed a course in epistemology since she assumed that God had spoken to her through St. Michael. How did SHE know it wasn’t the devil impersonating St. Michael or God himself? OK, let that go. She was brave and sincere, brave enough to choose burning at the stake when she could have gone free. Maybe that’s being foolish, not brave. Let me check Aristotle on the difference between rashness and courage!

    Still, the performance was stunning. The Rackham Choir made the show. I kept thinking how acting and movie making has come a long way since 1928 and how boring the film would have been without the choir. The wide-eyed look of Falconetti portraying a frightened Joan made me want to close my eyes. Back to the choir. The young woman on the far right of the stage had a voice to die for…but certainly not at the stake. The theater was packed, which added a huge element of excitement. The choir, the crowd, the corrupt Catholics, the courage: it was worth the price of admission, clearly!

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