Carl Theodor Dreyer

Carl Theodor Dreyer

February 3rd, 1889 in Copenhagen was born Carl Theodor Dreyer a future great director and screenwriter of European cinema. Dreyer’s mother died when he was a little child and he was adopted by a family of Danes. Karl took their name and puritanical mores, which affected the whole his career.

When he was eighteen Dreyer Jr. completed his studies in high school: he was recognized as the best student in the class. He received the award for his studies and after hat decided to never return to the home of his foster parents.

Over the next years, Carl was constantly changing jobs until finally he found work at a newspaper named the Liberals’ policy. There he began writing articles on literature, film and theater; as he was instructed to conduct critical Chronicle column. Dreyer gradually accumulated important links in the most popular newspapers of Copenhagen. Perhaps because of this he continued writing even in his mature years even after becoming a well-known director, he tried not to leave journalism.

The studio ‘Nordisk’ Dreyer first visited in 1912, where he first worked as a writer titer, then the editor and developer of the plot. Gradually he gained the trust to work on a full script (Larsen & Nissen, 8). So, for the period of the next six years by his scripts were delivered twenty-two movies. It is essential to mention that some of them are deeply respected by film critics until now. But Carl Dreyer’s films were too unusual to have the public and critics not have any desire to reconstruct the personality behind them (Milne, 19). Some have tried to do this by interpreting the great movie director. In 1951, in the journal ‘Theatre Arts Magazine’ published an article about Carl Theodor Dreyer with the characteristic title ‘Despotic Dane’. Journalists often called Dreyer simply ‘Dane’. This meant to emphasize his unique position in the Danish film industry. On the other hand this can also refer to the severe, ‘Nordic’ character of the director that became a legend already in the 20s of the last century.

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The next decade was the most fruitful in the life of Carl Theodor Dreyer: he became a director. From 1920 to 1927 he managed to produce seven feature films. Finding means to them was not as easy as he had to move out of the country, in order to find sponsorship.

In 1925, after the success of the film ‘Honor your wife’, Dreyer received an offer to work in France. He received an offer to make three films based on real historical stories, probably involving kings. However, Dreyer was not interested in regal persons; he decided to make a film that describes the last days of Joan of Arc. The work process took more than two years, but the result was worth it: ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’” is still considered one of the best works of this great director (Milne, 22).

With the advent of the sound era it became much more difficult for Dreyer to raise money for his films. In addition, in the thirties the entire Scandinavian cinema was in crisis. It order not to fall in the final melancholy, Dreyer decided to return to journalism. For the third decade of the twentieth century, he managed to write many articles about the movie that became the material for the book ‘On the movie’. After that Carl Theodor Dreyer was able to return to the cinema, but until his death he was haunted by the lack of funds to implement his plans.

Around the same time, when Dreyer received a license to operate ‘Dagmar’, that is, in 1952, he began working on the script for his new film ‘The Word’. When the film came out, Dreyer recalled that he wanted to make this film as soon as he saw the ‘Word’ in the theater at its premiere in 1932 (Drum & Drum, 14). It has artistic integrity and a kind of artistic naturalness, which is very suitable for the film.

Shortly thereafter, he wrote to Kaj Munk, whom he had never met in person, and asked him how much he is willing to sell the rights. When the sum of money turned out to be rather high Dreyer, did not stop thinking, but he was not thinking about the money but about ‘The Word’. Only two years after that he wrote a script staging ‘Kaj Munk’ served as a Lutheran pastor in the fishing community in Jutland, where he went after the theological faculty of the University of Copenhagen. In 1924 Munk was engaged in literary work, and is the author of about fifteen plays. In addition, Munk was a publicist and active anti-fascist. Back in 1938, he wrote articles against Benito Mussolini. During the German occupation he did not cease in his sermons to condemn fascism and Danish collaborators. Despite the entreaties of friends, Munk did not want to go into hiding, and in 1944 he was shot by three officers of Gestapo far away from his own home. Munk was one of the most famous Danes who were killed for their beliefs during the occupation (Drum & Drum, 10).

In 1943, the ‘Word’ was filmed in Sweden, and the role played by older Borg Victor and Inger role by Wanda Rotgart, with who a year later Dreyer was so unhappy during the filming of the ‘Two’. Dreyer saw the Swedish version, but he did not like it as it involved everything they tried to avoid in Denmark. They made a Swedish morality out of this story, rather than managed to catch up and render the spirit of Kaj Munk. Even before filming the ‘Day of Anger’ in 1942, the head of Palladium Tage Nielsen signed a contract for three films by Dreyer. However, nowadays it is not clear who initiated the screening of the ‘Word’ – either Dreyer or Nielsen, but, anyway, the contract was renewed eleven years past. Although Dreyer said that he wanted to screen the ‘Word’ as early as in 1932, and now, in 1953, he pursued only one goal: the ‘Word’ was meant to become a kind of rehearsal before ‘Jesus’.

Dreyer wanted to check whether it is possible to show a miracle on the screen so that the viewer to believe it. In a certain sense, for him it was an intermediate experience. He wanted to see how people react to a miracle, because in the film about Christ there will be a lot of miracles. He thought this new film will help prepare the viewer to see a miracle on the screen. And yet, while Dreyer was shooting the film, which he wanted to do for a long time, and saw it as a rehearsal for ‘Jesus’ during filming, he repeatedly expressed regret that ‘Jesus’ had to be postponed for that time. Dreyer even jokingly explained bad weather that was pursuing the group on location shooting. He said that the answer was very simple, that the Lord was a little bit angry with him as Dreyer was not shooting the ‘Jesus’. Dreyer treated very carefully the text of Munk, however, on the basis of their goals, he made some changes in the play. The main changes introduced by Dreyer were as follows. Firstly, he lowered the background associated with the death of Johannes’ bride, partly due to his illness. Secondly, the dialogue has been removed in the final, in which the doctor and pastor discussed the possibility that the death of Inger was mistakenly pronounced, and thus made it possible rather natural interpretation of events. Dreyer hesitated which option to choose until the end, and finally both of them were shot (Milne, 190). But as a result, the film acquired something that corresponded to the goal to make the viewer believe in miracles. However, Dreyer explained this miracle rather from the point of view of parapsychology rather than in terms of traditional religion.

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Dreyer coordinated all changes in the script with Lisa, Kaj Munk’s widow, in order to make sure that the film remains true to the ‘spirit of Munk’. Lisa Munch really helped Dreyer as she took an active part in the process of filming as she had a great power as she was a widow of national hero, all doors were open before her. In addition, Lisa Munk often acted as an interpreter. Although Dreyer did not experience language problems in Norway, Sweden, Germany and France, however Lisa helped him in his native Denmark, as the population of Jutland speaks several very specific dialects.

Solemn and slow pace, which confused the audience of the ‘Day of Anger’ was the basis for the next full film by Dreyer ‘The Word’. The premiere of this film was at the Venice Film Festival in 1955 and won ‘Golden Lion’ award as well as caused a huge international response. The Danish government has placed metropolitan cinema ‘Dagmar’ at Dreyer’s disposal, the income from which the director is now recognized as a source for screening living classic drama and his latest film ‘Gertrude’ (Schamus, 38).

From the creative nothingness Dreyer returned to the International Film Festival in Venice in 1955, as a new masterpiece director of religious and philosophical film ‘The. By setting the film, which became a triumph of ‘spiritual resistance’ cinema, the Dane was preparing nearly thirty years. If to speak about the story it is remarkable for its prominent actors’ playing, plot and the main idea of this story. The main character, Johannes visionary fancies himself by Jesus Christ and becomes spiritual power only after realizes his mistake. Every frame in the ‘Word’ features a formal perfection, reaching the highest perfection in its form. But it is known that Dreyer is not just a ‘painter’. The picture was taken in a very slow pace, acting was magnificent and severe, but the rhythm and the game were completely controlled by the director. Not a single square inch of the film escape the watchful eye of Carl Dreyer.

Two families are divided by religious enmity, and as it becomes immediately clear that God and His Word, has nothing to do with this hostility. In the end, religious strife destroys life of heroes, by killing one of the heroines and her unborn child. In the heroes of the ‘Words’ embodied different types of religiosity and here there is a fine dialectic. As a result, one of the ‘minor’ characters becomes an atheist, the other one turns out to be crazy, imagines himself to Christ (Drum & Drum, 112). Madness of Johannes is the main mystery of the film: is it really madness or foolishness? In any case, the words of Christ, spoken by Johannes are perceived by heroes as madness. Before the last scene of the film it is tempting to understand how the prosecution is realized and how religion kills the life. Johannes, considering himself the Christ, tells the woman who died and resurrected but nothing happens. Johannes regained mind. It would seem that this should be a final. But the daughter of the deceased believes in miracles again and asks Johannes to pronounce a ‘word’.

After Eisenstein Dreyer was undoubtedly the most demanding film director. Strict, austere means of expression in film by Dreyer was about the power of human faith, and was able to snatch a loved one in death and bring the dead back to life. In fact it had a huge international impact.

In Denmark, there is a collection of articles directed which is published shortly in Europe. Premiere of the stylistically refined retro film ‘Gertrude, or Strange Adventures of David Gray’ out of the competition were demonstrated at the International Film Festival in Venice (Schamus, 27). The cinema ‘Dagmar’ in Copenhagen became the ownership of Dreyer and non-taxable income from it came to his account.

Carl Dreyer, a deeply religious man who was in love with cinema, all his life cherished two dreams that he had not managed to realize. First, he wanted to make a film the ‘Life of Christ’ and the second – to work in Hollywood as his teacher David Griffith. The plans of the director and film adaptor was to shoot his beloved novel ‘Doctor Zhivago’ by Pasternak, which he read and re-read at least ten times. However, these plans unfortunately, did not come true. Carl Theodor Dreyer died March 20, 1968 in Copenhagen. He is buried in the town cemetery ‘Frederiksberg Kiergaard’.

Now Carl Theodor Dreyer remains one of the indisputable classics of the world greatest cinema. ‘The gloomy Dane’, ‘stubborn individualist’, ‘lonely Scandinavian, as critics called him, became a director-legend. ‘Dreyer is above all theories’, – said Jean Renoir (Wahl, 68).

Carl Theodor Dreyer is one of the most outstanding directors of the world cinematography. His films are not easy to understand but at the same time the director manages to say more that the actors of the play say in fact. The ideas behind each of his works are huge and highly spiritual. The main goal of his work was to state something important, to make something valuable, and to emphasize main and necessary features of human life. He was a very strict director but he managed to make the masterpiece using the actors’ play and scene layout. People could not watch his movies calmly as they lived the life of all the actors and saw the miracles that filled the cinema during the process of watching. Theodor Dreyer had not an easy life and he always experienced a lack of money for shooting his new movies. However, he was also a strong person and always dreamt to write a screenplay to his favorite stories or to shoot a movie that was already shot but did not produce the effect, required by Dreyer’s imagination. It becomes clear that the main aim of this person in life was to make the heroism brighter and humanity the most important thing and he managed to state that in his numerous works. Of which the ‘Word’ is one of the most important ones. He dreamt to make the film about Jesus but this dream never come true. However, the work behind it was huge and this was really a work of his whole life. Unfortunately, he did not manage to make it realized but sometimes it is even more important to leave something untold and leave the place for imagination and miracles.

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Works Cited

Drum, Jean, and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2000. Print.

Larsen, Lisbeth Richter, and Dan Nissen. 100 Years of Nordisk Film. Copenhagen: Danish Film Institute, 2006. Print.

Milne, Tom. The Cinema of Carl Dreyer. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1971. Print.

Schamus, James. Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud: The Moving Word. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008. Print.

Wahl, Jan. Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2012. Print.

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