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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)


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Hi as usual this is late notice, but I'm getting my first viewing of this tonight (and at a cineama to boot) and I wannted to get the most out of it so without resorting to spoilers [PLEASE NO SPOILERS] could those of you that appreciate the film drop me a few "watch for the juxtaposition of crucfixes" type guidelines so I can get the most out of it. (I've looked at the pictures in Baugh but not read the commentary & I'm familiar with Ordet as I've seen it twice now - the last time was last week), but just a few things so I can notice them at the time, rather than read about them afterwards and think - Oh I missed that. The films not available over here as far as I know so this is a rare opportunity.

Just to complicate it I'm leaving work at 4pm GMT (no idea what time that is where you are as it varies across the states), but if you coud pass me some commetns by then that would be good.

Thanks

Matt

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No specific viewing tips, but FWIW here's my review.

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Hi SDG,

Thanks for the review - it was very helpful. At the cinema they handed out copies of Eberts review as well. (Just to bring some brightness to your day I found yours more helpful FWIW)

I enjoyed the film, but to be honest I was disappointed that I just didn't connect with it emotionally as much as I expected. This is different from Mel (my wife) who loved it, cried her heart out and now reckons it one of her top ten films. Sometimes with films like this I get more out of them thinking back to them. Too often in films I find I want to talk to people about it, or read more about it as I'm watching (I don't - but I imagine the conversations).

I think the other thing was I was too interested in the technical aspects of the film, the closeups (fantastic detail), the camera angles, the crucifixes etc, and in some way this stopped me wallowing in it more passively and letting it wash over me.

So yeah appreciated it and enjopyed it, but not as emotionally moving as I expected (do I get banned form the board now?)

Matt

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Nah, Matt. Sometimes being told to expect an emotional experience is the best antidote against an emotional experience. Perhaps subsequent viewings will change your experience of the film, as you've now apprehended some of the technical ways in which the film communicates.

Aside from the blunt force impact of the story depicted and the technical aspects of the film, there's that other layer of appreciation present whenever I see the film: appreciation that I even able to see the film to begin with. I can't help but think of that mental institution closet and the unexpected discovery of this version of alternate takes. Alternate takes! Just as we're prodded to think of the obedience and servanthood of Joan as transcending this world, I'm also compelled to think-- while still loving what I can see-- of that other version of the film, never to be seen, perhaps comunicating something even more transcendent.

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Funny you should mention it. I was just on the phone last night with my old film history prof from SVA, and he happened to comment that there's a debate in film circles between those who love The Passion of Joan of Arc and those who find it boring and overrated. I'm certainly in the former camp, but I can understand someone being underwhelmed after having it hyped to them.

My prof also claimed last night, if I remember correctly, that the content of the Criterion DVD is scene for scene identical to his own print of the film, so he is suspicious of claims that the rediscovered print offered anything substantive in the way of new footage (alternate takes may be another matter). He says they may have found a good print of the film, but not a print with previously lost footage.

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Oh I nearly forgot I think one of the other things that kept running through my head was "its Russell Lucas" - that's avatars for you!

I did think it was good, but I was a bit disappointed. I guess part of the thing is knowing that it's not availab;e at all over here so opportunities to re-watch will be few and far between. sad.gif

Matt

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Oh, and thanks for the positive comparison of my review to RE's! biggrin.gif I'm still not entirely happy with my write-up, but I've been sitting on it for so long I figured it was better than nothing.

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Does this merit a thread of its own? We don't really have a "History" forum, but I thought fans of Joan-of-Arc movies might at least find this interesting ...

- - -

Joan of Arc's identity cast in doubt by orthopedic surgeon

Was it the Dauphin's sister who defeated the English army?

Steven Edwards

National Post

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

NEW YORK - The French have suffered a lot of bad press in the English-speaking world over the past year, most of it based on their decision to stand by as the Americans, British and Australians led the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

But at least they could always recall that a mere peasant girl we have come to know as Joan of Arc once sent a mighty English army packing.

Now even the identity of the woman French nationalists consider the very embodiment of the French fighting spirit is under question.

Basing his arguments on new circumstantial evidence and conjecture, Dr. Serhiy Horbenko, an internationally recognized orthopedic surgeon from Ukraine, says the story of Joan emerging from poverty, answering God's call to save France, then being burned at the stake, is a cover for intrigue and double-cross at the highest levels of the French court.

While it is well documented that Joan was a real person, Dr. Horbenko says it was not she who broke the English siege at Orleans in 1429.

Rather it was the Dauphin Charles' illegitimate sister, who went on to live into her 50s, he contends. He adds that the woman the English burned as Joan may have been another female already destined for immolation as a witch.

The defeat of the English forces at Orleans opened the way for the Dauphin to become King Charles VII of France.

It is a historic turning point as important to the French as the Declaration of Independence is to the Americans.

All of which wouldn't be so bad if Dr. Horbenko's revision of history were something he had dreamed up in his native land at the other end of Europe.

What has the French kicking themselves, is that they personally invited him to France because they considered him the best in his field.

They wanted him to reconstruct the face of Charles VII's son and successor, Louis XI, from his skull, then do the same for Louis' second wife, Clemence.

Dr. Horbenko had already received international acclaim for having reconstructed the appearances of a Ukrainian monarch and a 5,000-year-old Germanic tribal leader working only from their bones.

But trouble began soon after Dr. Horbenko opened Louis XI's tomb in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Clery, near Orleans.

Whether it was out of curiosity or as a result of some hunch, he asked for permission to open other tombs in the basilica, which contains the remains of many members of the Valois dynasty to which Charles VII and Louis XI belonged.

One female skeleton shocked him. He deduced the woman had worn heavy armour and had developed muscles consistent with a warrior used to riding on horseback.

Further deliberation led him to conclude the skeleton was that of Marguerite de Valois, the illegitimate daughter of Charles VI, and therefore the half-sister of Charles VII.

Dr. Horbenko believes Marguerite received military training from her father, who feared her illegitimacy would make her a target in the royal court.

Her military expertise, he says, would also have enabled her to lead the French armies against the English, and make way for her brother's accession to the throne.

Her success on the battlefield, however, may also have been her downfall. Dr. Horbenko believes that nobles backing Charles VII feared Marguerite might try to press her own claim to the throne as a Valois.

She was quietly removed from the scene and effectively held prisoner for the rest of her life, Dr. Horbenko believes.

The fact the bones presumed to be Marguerite's ended up in the basilica alongside those of Louis XI suggests she was being honoured for saving France, Dr. Horbenko says.

The standard story taught to generations of French children says Joan was surrendered to the English after being captured by their Burgundian allies.

Dr. Horbenko suggests the woman who was burned in Rouen may have been one of five women he learned had been condemned to the pyre.

Such switching, he contends, was possible in an age when there were no newspapers or television to reproduce pictures.

The French, however, have reacted to Dr. Horbenko's theories in quasi-xenophobic terms.

Denise Reynaud, deputy mayor of Clery, is reported to have branded him "a very difficult man to work with owing to his Slavic temperament."

The French Culture Ministry dismisses his work as "speculation."

There is no word on the fate of the French bureaucrat who granted Dr. Horbenko permission to open the additional tombs in the basilica.

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So I joined Netflix and after a couple of years of reading amazing things about Dreyer and seeing The Passion of Joan of Arc at the top of many people's favorite lists I put it at the top of my queue. My wife and I watched it over the weekend, and I searched both far and wide for a thread about it here, but I could not find one. Even with the last resort Google tool, no dice. I did find SDG's review from the Top100 listing and decided to start a new thread. Assume spoilers throughout.

We watched it with the Voices of Light score on, which I liked. Other than that, we didn't do any exploring on the disc, so if Criterion had a bunch of goodies, we missed 'em. I can sure see why this was such a highly rated film. Even though I am not much of a silent movie guy (was this my first? I think so), Dreyer held my attention from the first moment we see Joan to the final frames. I was surprised by the movement in the camerawork--I expected to see more static framing, but the camera was constantly moving during the inquiry/trial. The dynamism of the camera brought me into Joan's emotions, nicely complimenting the actress's work.

I was reminded of Gibson's Passion in several shots, possibly due to the parallels Dreyer included in JOA from the Gospel accounts. I particularly liked the scene in which Joan's pyre was being prepared: as a mound of dirt is filling the screen, a skull is tossed up from the digging, forming her own Golgotha. In fact, by the end of the film, I forgot I was watching a silent film at all.

One thing that did not work too effectively (I felt) was the riot at the end. I had no context--why are the peasants being attacked? Were they Joan's followers (one guy says that the English have martyred a saint)? Random peasant's swayed by her piety and death? Anyway, it didn't seem as effective as a more muted death scene or if had been set up with more explanation.

So now I've finally seen a Dreyer film. What should I pick up of his next?

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Welcome to the Dreyer Club, Buckeye. You can leave your tuxedo with Von Trier at the check-in... grin.gif

So now I've finally seen a Dreyer film.  What should I pick up of his next?

If you want to go eerily lit and creepy fun, go with Vampyr. Just make sure that you watch the good DVD and not the tape that so many of us have complained about. (There are large gothic-style subtitles on the tape that take up the lower third of the screen.) If you want to go for the greatest of Dreyer's works (and perhaps the greatest film of all time, the I-Can't-Understand-Why-This-Is-Not-A&F's-#1-Spiritually-Significant-Film), go with Ordet. That is all I'll say about that -- the less you know about Ordet, the better. Except maybe that it was made later (mid-50s) so it is a sound film. Vampyr has sound, I believe, but not enough to be called a sound film, IIRC.

Or am I wrong about that? I forget -- I need to see Vampyr again soon. (I own it so this shouldn't be a problem.) The point is that it is creepy and fun and makes excellent use of shadows and cool Lynchian ghostly tricks, and for early thirties filmmaking, it is brilliant.

For the record, I just reviewed a live screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc with full orchestral accompaniment here. I'll be the first to admit that I love doing fanboy style reviews more than any other, but it was one of the best nights of my Spring and I was really moved by both the score and the film. And yeah, it was Voices of Light live. The two together live are mesmerizing.

I tried to look up our old Novogate discussion on Joan and it appears to finally be gone. Or -- Peter?...

-s.

Edited by stef

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So now I've finally seen a Dreyer film.  What should I pick up of his next?

You can't go wrong with Ordet (or any of Dreyer's films, heh), but recently I was very moved by a second viewing of Day of Wrath. It is an incredibly powerful commentary on spirituality and repression. Not many directors can balance spiritual and erotic tension at all, but it seems to come almost naturally to Dreyer.

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Buckeye, thanks for starting this thread. I don't know of a single open-minded person who has ever watched The Passion of Joan of Arc who was not very moved to blown away by it, and I know scores of folks who have watched it for the first time the past few years. It's such a visceral, dynamic film with an astounding lead performance that Dreyer dotes over, not to mention its potent theological discourse based on the historical record.

I love the skull at the end of the film, too--so horrifying in its certain finality. I think your speculation about the rioting is just right--that the peasants were so moved by Joan's spirituality and courage/faith in the face of death that they were moved to revolution. One of the interesting things about those scenes is that the viewer finally gets to see the scale and detail of Dreyer's sets, which he completely obscures throughout most of the film by his use of disorienting close-ups.

Stef, I have always admired your review of your Passion of Joan of Arc screening a lot--it's very well written.

I agree with jord, you can't go wrong with Dreyer, but I would strongly recommend The Parson's Widow (a macabre comedy), Vampyr (unfortunately, the DVD is just as bad as the VHS so you might wait for the newly restored version from the Cineteca di Bologna to be released), and the three films in the Criterion set, Day of Wrath, Ordet (my favorite film of all time), and, of course, Gertrud, a highly unusually-styled meditation on relational idealism. Once you accept its formal approach and find your groove, it can be emotionally shattering and deeply revealing.

It's very cool that Wrath is opening up for you--I totally agree about the erotic/spiritual tensions in the film as well as the spiritual/repressive component. Perhaps no other filmmaker could evoke such innate tensions in such seemingly restrained works. Wound up like a spring is more like it.

Edited by Doug C

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Ahem.

Doug C wrote:

: I don't know of a single open-minded person who has ever watched The Passion of

: Joan of Arc who was not very moved to blown away by it . . .

By definition, then, I and others (like one of the people at the original thread) who appreciated the film but were not blown away by it are "closed-minded"? Doesn't seem very open-minded.

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Link to the duplicate A&F thread on this movie.

Link to a thread on this film from three message boards ago, including a lively debate (from my pre-Orthodox days) on the question of whether Joan deserves Christ-figure status, given how Christ was non-violent and Joan was executed partly because of her militarism.

There isn't much in that discussion from three years ago that I would retract, personally. As an Orthodox, I'm a little more open to the notion of "warrior saints" -- and thus I don't tilt as strongly towards pacifism now as it might seem that I did then -- but obviously, I would not consider Joan one of these saints.

I DO still think it's profoundly ironic that people who object to warfare so strenuously here and now are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that it was Joan's militarism which got her into so much trouble. And I am still very intrigued by acquarello's theory that Dreyer actually doesn't mean to show how spiritual or transcendent Joan is, but rather, he wants to show how impractical it is to live according to absolutes, and it is only we religious viewers who appropriate the film for religious purposes (kind of like how we appropriate subversive films like Magnolia and The Matrix for conventional religious purposes).

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Peter & Alan

Thanks for the links and organizing!

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s'funny looking back, I feel the film impacted me more at the time than my own post viewing accounts do. Certainly when held up against other silent films (mainly the hollywood variety) it stands out for me (now).

Matt

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Arghh! Typed long reply--vanished into the ether!

Oh well, here goes round two.

@ Stef, Doug, & jord (from the other thread)--Netflix apparently doesn't have Ordet, but I'll keep my eye out for it. Vampyr sounds fun to try next then. After I get through selections by my wife and an oldie but goodie John Wayne Western. (You definitely need an antidote to Bride and Prejudice.)

Stef, loved the review--must have been quite an experience. I'm surprised the young adults choir made it through--that's a long time of singing for kids!

@ Matt--I'm noticing a similar reaction. I wasn't rendered too emotional by the film, but its got a lot of staying power--did you have any soundtrack when you saw it? I read somewhere (IMDB, I think) that Dreyer intended it to be viewed without sound accompaniment. I wonder what that would have been like...

@ Peter--I've not been able to bring up the old thread. Sounds like a good discussion, but perhaps more focused on the real Joan of Arc than on the film? FWIW, I have no background other than what's popularly known about Joan. I mean, the whole "warrior saint" discussion is probably cool and all, but probably one in which I'd read rather than participate.

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IIRC it had a new orchestrated soundtrack which had been done more in line with Dreyer's wishes (although don't ask how they figured that one out)

Matt

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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: @ Peter--I've not been able to bring up the old thread. Sounds like a good discussion,

: but perhaps more focused on the real Joan of Arc than on the film?

It starts off pretty film-intensive, IIRC, but -- as with The Passion of the Christ, Downfall, and other historical movies on controversial subjects -- the discussion went from there.

I've seen this film a couple times, but not for several years, so I can only wonder how I would respond to it nowadays. One interesting thing I remember from my film-history textbook, though, is how it said that The Passion of Joan of Arc, coming as it did at the end of the silent era, exposes and strains against the limitations of silent film -- the dialogue is pretty essential to the movie, yet the title cards always feel like intrusions on the movie's sheer visual power. Something like that, anyway.

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Buckeye, I think Criterion's Dreyer set must be the most-oft requested discs at Netflix (if this board is any indication). It's an egregious oversight.

After I get through selections by my wife and an oldie but goodie John Wayne Western.
Edited by Doug C

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As an Orthodox, I'm a little more open to the notion of "warrior saints" -- and thus I don't tilt as strongly towards pacifism now as it might seem that I did then -- but obviously, I would not consider Joan one of these saints.

...and that's obvious because.... why?

Are you referring only to the comparatively trivial fact that you wouldn't celebrate her feast day on the Roman calendar, or recognize her canonical status as a saint of the Latin Church?

Or is there some obvious reason why you would not consider Joan to be among the holy ones in Heaven (traditionally the primary meaning of the word "saint"), or to have lived a holy life on earth?

The fact that we have partially differing martyrologies is no reason, by my lights, to preclude our considering at least some of one another's saints to be true friends of Christ and worthy role models. As a Catholic, I can and do honor as saints holy men and women in the Eastern Orthodox (not just Eastern Catholic) tradition, and I hope that if I were Orthodox I would not refuse to consider as saints holy men and women in the Western tradition.

For a number of years I included a Russian Orthodox spiritual writer in my personal litany of saints. I have no problem saying that I personally consider him a saint. I could be wrong -- I don't know for certain he is in Heaven (or even whether the Russian Orthodox Church itself regards him as an "official" saint). But I would never say that I "obviously" wouldn't consider him a saint, as if it went without saying.

BTW, do Orthodox Christians really use the word "Orthodox" as a noun, as in "I'm an Orthodox" or "As an Orthodox"? I understand that to insist on the adjectival form can be a little awkward; "I'm Orthodox" (adj) works fine, but "As an Orthodox Christian" gets a little clunky. (Perhaps "Being Orthodox"?) Anyway, it sounds much better to me as an adjective.

Frankly, I'm not even fond of the nounification of "Catholic" ("I'm a Catholic"), though in colloquial usage it enjoys overwhelming acceptance. Properly speaking, it would be better to say "I'm Catholic" or "a Catholic Christians" or "I belong to the Catholic Church," but there's no sense making a big deal about it.

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: ...and that's obvious because.... why?

Cuz she's totally post-Schism. Kind of like how you wouldn't recognize St. Alexander Nevsky (who was not only post-Schism, but was canonized precisely because he fought back against Catholic invaders; Joan, of course, never fought the Orthodox, because she was too busy fighting her fellow Catholics).

: Or is there some obvious reason why you would not consider Joan to be among the

: holy ones in Heaven (traditionally the primary meaning of the word "saint") . . .

I think it's pretty clear I wasn't using the word "saint" in THAT sense.

: . . . or to have lived a holy life on earth?

I frankly have no idea how "holy" her life was. She heard voices, yes, but schizophrenics (and perhaps others, for all I know) hear voices all the time. And she invested most of her spiritual energies in a highly partisan war of no obvious spiritual merit or benefit. These things made her famous, and it is possible that she was both famous and holy, but being famous itself does not make someone holy.

: The fact that we have partially differing martyrologies is no reason, by my lights, to

: preclude our considering at least some of one another's saints to be true friends of

: Christ and worthy role models.

No worries on that score. C.S. Lewis is very popular at my church, and I'm sure there are plenty of other non-Orthodox role models we like. smile.gif

: BTW, do Orthodox Christians really use the word "Orthodox" as a noun, as in "I'm

: an Orthodox" or "As an Orthodox"?

I'm pretty sure I've heard it used that way, but yeah, I agree it's clunky.

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Have you tried The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Red River, or Rio Bravo?  I recommend them all heartily.

Love them all, I own The Searchers, but in this case I'm renting True Grit. Probably about as un-Dreyer as you can get, but as long as its un-foreign chick flick too, I'm happy. biggrin.gif

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: ...and that's obvious because.... why?

Cuz she's totally post-Schism.  Kind of like how you wouldn't recognize St. Alexander Nevsky

To my ear, at least, there's a subtle but important difference between saying that I (or we) "don't recognize St. Alexander Nevsky" and saying "Obviously I would not consider Alexander Nevsky a saint."

The former connotes a primarily juridical and jurisdictional point; the latter suggests that I have reason to doubt Nevsky's earthly sanctity, ultimate salvation, or both.

I don't want to make too much of this; you seem to be implying, at any rate, that what you meant was what I called the "comparatively trivial fact that you wouldn't celebrate her feast day on the Roman calendar, or recognize her canonical status as a saint of the Latin Church."

If that's all you meant, I have no problem with that. OTOH, if that's what you meant, you could easily have cited this snippet from my post and said "Yes, that," instead of responding to the grafs before and after this comment while omitting the comment that most accurately characterized what you meant.

: Or is there some obvious reason why you would not consider Joan to be among the

: holy ones in Heaven (traditionally the primary meaning of the word "saint") . . .

I think it's pretty clear I wasn't using the word "saint" in THAT sense.

Well, I didn't suppose so, though I don't know how "clear" it was, at least to me.

: . . . or to have lived a holy life on earth?

I frankly have no idea how "holy" her life was.

Fine; my point is simply that to say "Obviously I wouldn't consider X a saint" suggests more than that your have no idea how saintly X was, it suggests that you consider X to be at least probably not a saint.

She heard voices, yes, but schizophrenics (and perhaps others, for all I know) hear voices all the time.  And she invested most of her spiritual energies in a highly partisan war of no obvious spiritual merit or benefit.

I dunno. True, England was still Catholic, but the Anglican rebellion against Rome wasn't a million years off. A number of the priest-martyrs and secret priests of Anglican Britain were trained in or otherwise supported from France. It seems to me not entirely out of the realm of possibility that God might have considered it a good thing that English power wasn't on top at that particular juncture in Anglo-Frankish relations.

: The fact that we have partially differing martyrologies is no reason, by my lights, to

: preclude our considering at least some of one another's saints to be true friends of

: Christ and worthy role models.

No worries on that score.  C.S. Lewis is very popular at my church, and I'm sure there are plenty of other non-Orthodox role models we like.  smile.gif

A non-Orthodox role model is one thing; a Catholic one might be something else. biggrin.gif I suspect the Orthodox have an easier time liking a Protestant than a Catholic, even though (or rather precisely because) Catholics and Orthodox are closer. I wonder if Lewis would still have been popular in your church if he'd poped. Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: The former connotes a primarily juridical and jurisdictional point; the latter suggests

: that I have reason to doubt Nevsky's earthly sanctity, ultimate salvation, or both.

Then your ears over-parse. smile.gif

: I wonder if Lewis would still have been popular in your church if he'd poped.

Well, the archpriest cites Tolkien's works in his homilies, too. smile.gif

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