Cast: Renée Falconetti
Extras: Commentary Track, Interviews, Archival Photos, Orchestral Cantata
Some movies are blessed — genius direction, script, actors, and editing. Others are cursed — troubled production, butchered edits, and deteriorating film stock. Few movies are both blessed and cursed. The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Dreyer is one of these. Perhaps no other film has been lost twice and restored three times in the course of its history. Destroyed in a fire shortly after its initial showings, Dreyer reconstructed his film from alternate takes only to have this version destroyed in another fire some years later. Yet, based on a second, botched reconstruction (which Dreyer denounced), the film has been hailed as a masterpiece of silent cinema, though more seen in textbooks than on screen.
All that changed in the 1980’s when a virtually intact copy of the original film was found in the closet of a Danish mental institution. After a third painstaking restoration, composer Richard Einhorn was commissioned to create music for the film and it was shown in live performances throughout the world. Now Criterion has brought the movie and the music to home theater.
In this disc Criterion has created the film buff’s dream. The movie can be viewed either silent, accompanied by Einhorn’s cantata, Voices of Light, or with audio commentary. The film transfer is extremely clean and crisp, presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio. In addition the disc is loaded with extras that cover many aspects of the film and the music. These include commentary from the composer, audio interviews, essays on the history of the film and Joan of Arc, stills of source material, examples of the digital restoration undertaken for this version, and a brief but fascinating back-to-back comparison with scenes from the earlier, denounced restoration. Finally a booklet with complete libretto is included in the package.
Although more than 70 years old The Passion of Joan of Arc still has the emotional power well-deserving of a masterpiece. The intensity Dreyer’s spare close-ups and the naturalistic performances of his actors are raised even higher by Einhorn’s rich music. Perhaps now, thanks to good luck and Criterion’s attention to detail, more people get a chance to see what all the fuss was about.