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Ordet (1955)

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Doug C wrote:

: Film is a visual medium; it can only represent what is physical and tangible or it becomes artificial,

: make-believe fantasy. . . . the medium's inherent literalness . . .

I guess a Dreyer thread isn't the place to say that animation is one of the best kinds of filmmaking around ...

Suffice to say that photography and painting are both visual media, and while film as we know it is dominated by photography, the earliest experiments in moving images were not necessarily so ...

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: Film is a visual medium; it can only represent what is physical and tangible or it becomes artificial,

: make-believe fantasy. . . . the medium's inherent literalness . . .

I guess a Dreyer thread isn't the place to say that animation is one of the best kinds of filmmaking around ...

That's true (the ostensibly subordinate clause, anyway), and given Doug's express appreciation for, say, The Miracle Maker (which FWIW has come up earlier in this thread), I'm sure we can all agree on that. (Fantasia also comes to mind.)

The concatenation "artificial, make-believe fantasy" sounds rather slighting and derogatory, though perhaps Doug didn't mean it that way. E.g., just last night my kids and I rewatched Laputa... and all of those terms apply -- it's overtly, even grandly artificial, make-believe and fantasy -- but I don't think this goes against anything "inherent" to the medium.

And even when the medium is physical and tangible, it isn't always literal. Ordet is both physical/tangible and literal; Fellini's 8 1/2, say, is physical/tangible, but not what I would consider literal in any useful sense. It's true that when he shows us a man soaring in the sky like a kite, we really see a man soaring in the sky like a kite... but I wouldn't find it helpful to consider this "literal" in the way that, say, Inger's resurrection is literal.

Suffice to say that photography and painting are both visual media, and while film as we know it is dominated by photography, the earliest experiments in moving images were not necessarily so ...
True! And some great work continues to be done in this vein. E.g., visually, I thought Waking Life was one of the most fascinating films of the last few years, though I wasn't bowled over by the film as a whole.

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We were discussing the live action cinematographic medium, not animation. In that context, anything that isn't natural is artificial...despite its perceived verisimilitude or our willingness to suspend disbelief (both of which evolve over time and differ between individuals; a lot of CGI still looks fake to me). Its a quality unique to the film medium, unlike the written word, which has no inherent difficulty depicting the ineffable. My point still stands that filmmakers who suggest or reveal the invisible offer a particularly unique and meaningful spiritual service, because they come the closest to approximating how we (or at least I) perceive spiritual realities in life.

I love fantasy, but that involves entirely different criteria.

Edited by Doug C

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We were discussing the live action cinematographic medium, not animation.
Well, I don't know. I thought the discussion was about issues like ambiguity, poetry, beauty, etc. in film. I'm not sure why or how live action would have become an implied parameter to the discussion?

In that context, anything that isn't natural is artificial
Well, in any context, anything that isn't natural is artificial. That's sort of a tautology, isn't it?

And of course there is also a sense in which all film, like all art, inherently involves artifice, and thus the artificial. There is not a frame in Ordet that is not artifice. Scripted dialogue, enacted line readings, ultra-deliberate mise-en-scene, etc. If we are to speak of the "natural" in connection with this film, or most films, it seems to me it will have to be in a highly qualified sense.

...despite its perceived verisimilitude or our willingness to suspend disbelief (both of which evolve over time and differ between individuals; a lot of CGI still looks fake to me).
Absolutely! Even the best of it. And sometimes the fakest is the easiest to accept (I can accept Toy Story far more easily than The Polar Express). And while I didn't particularly like Hoodwinked, I loved the director's conceit of "Kermit the Frog and Howard the Duck."

Its a quality unique to the film medium, unlike the written word, which has no inherent difficulty depicting the ineffable.
That seems to me a contradiction in terms, or at least a major heavy paradox. "Ineffable" means precisely "incapable of being expressed or described in words." How can the written word have no inherent difficulty depicting what is incapable of being expressed or described in words? Surely images (or sounds, such as music, or some combination of the two, such as film can provide) would be more able than words, not less, of evoking the ineffable?

My point still stands that filmmakers who suggest or reveal the invisible offer a particularly unique and meaningful spiritual service, because they come the closest to approximating how we (or at least I) perceive spiritual realities in life.

I love fantasy, but that involves entirely different criteria.

I think I would put it differently myself. For me, a film like, say, Andrei Rublev, or The Passion of Joan of Arc, doesn't approximate how I perceive spiritual realities in life -- it is itself an experience in my life in which I encounter spiritual reality (or, at least, a particular viewing of it may be).

I value such films not for opening a window onto the experience or perception of transcendence in life, but for opening a window to transcendence itself. I don't watch the film thinking, "Yes, this shows me how I perceive spiritual realities." Ideally, I watch it for the reality itself.

But I also find that I may experience the same sort of encounter with the ineffable, as it were, reading Tolkien, or watching the last act of Laputa. In other words, I don't find that I experience a sharp distinction between drama that approximates reality to a greater degree versus drama that is overtly fantastic, at least with respect to the experience of transcendence.

If I did put them in different categories with different criteria, I'm not sure where I would classify a film like The Miracle Maker.

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I thought the discussion was about issues like ambiguity, poetry, beauty, etc. in film. I'm not sure why or how live action would have become an implied parameter to the discussion?

Then you failed to grasp my argument.

Well, in any context, anything that isn't natural is artificial. That's sort of a tautology, isn't it?
Badump-bump! But back to what I was saying...

If we are to speak of the "natural" in connection with this film, or most films, it seems to me it will have to be in a highly qualified sense.
Which, of course, is how I was using it.

And sometimes the fakest is the easiest to accept (I can accept Toy Story far more easily than The Polar Express).
I can't; they're both as artificial and make-believe fantasy to me as the last half of Return of the King. However, I do accept Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast more readily because its fantasy is more rooted in the real world--wires, lighting tricks, and all. (Anyway, if you want to worry about rhetorical qualification, I'd urge you to qualify "fakest.")

Your definition of "ineffable" is so 19th century. There are indescribable images today, photographically speaking.

I think I would put it differently myself. For me, a film like, say, Andrei Rublev, or The Passion of Joan of Arc, doesn't approximate how I perceive spiritual realities in life -- it is itself an experience in my life in which I encounter spiritual reality (or, at least, a particular viewing of it may be).
Those films are both for me, but particularly the latter because of the former. No matter how much I like The Miracle Maker, it remains somewhat abstract in my mind.

I value such films not for opening a window onto the experience or perception of transcendence in life, but for opening a window to transcendence itself. I don't watch the film thinking, "Yes, this shows me how I perceive spiritual realities." Ideally, I watch it for the reality itself.
You've typically never gravitated to formal meanings in film, so it doesn't surprise me that you would say this, but I definitely differ. Of course the ontological thumbprint of a film is implicit with viewing experiences, no one I know watches a film with the perspective you cite; an appreciation of the medium comes later through thought, analysis, and reflection. Art affects us and we often only understand later how it does so.

In other words, I don't find that I experience a sharp distinction between drama that approximates reality to a greater degree versus drama that is overtly fantastic, at least with respect to the experience of transcendence.
Well, I do.

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Well. That seems rather unhelpful to me.

I certainly see that your comments implicitly assumed live-action film -- which is precisely why Peter made the observation he did -- but I don't see that the overall subject under consideration was inherently live-action oriented -- which is why I found Peter's comments a helpful corrective. Ambiguity, poetry and beauty, which were the larger issues under discussion, relate to all types of film, not just live-action.

When the rimshot echoes have faded, if you have any thoughts on the the interaction of natural and artificial in film, I'd be happy to hear them.

If you'd like a different definition of "ineffable," take your pick. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that the ineffable cannot (or should not) be expressed in words. Given that, it seems to me least paradoxical to seek the ineffable in art through music, followed by images. Words seem to me the very last way of evoking the ineffable, though I have a healthy enough appreciation for paradox to be willing to seek it even there.

For "fakest," I would begin by directing you to the link provided, from which the term was borrowed.

What do you mean by "formal meanings"? I'd like to know more about what it is that I've never gravitated toward.

I accept that you experience more approximately realistic drama (or rather what C. S. Lewis called realism of content, as opposed to realism of presentation) in a qualitatively different way than more fantastic drama. I'm merely suggesting that this may be as much a fact about you as a fact about art, or more so.

Edited by SDG

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Isn't using ineffable itself a paradox?
Well, I don't know. Like Peter Kreeft says, "Things too deep for words are... too deep for words." :)

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Sigh.

I just remembered why I participate in so few A&F threads any more. We were having such a nice dialogue about Ordet and Dreyer and what not...

Well. That seems rather unhelpful to me.

I certainly see that your comments implicitly assumed live-action film -- which is precisely why Peter made the observation he did -- but I don't see that the overall subject under consideration was inherently live-action oriented -- which is why I found Peter's comments a helpful corrective. Ambiguity, poetry and beauty, which were the larger issues under discussion, relate to all types of film, not just live-action.

When the rimshot echoes have faded, if you have any thoughts on the the interaction of natural and artificial in film, I'd be happy to hear them.

Steven, Peter himself introduced his comment that began derailing this strand of the conversation (mixed metaphor, I know), with "I guess a Dreyer thread isn't the place to say that animation is one of the best kinds of filmmaking around ..."

I'm sure if Doug had any thoughts about the interaction of the natural and artificial in film that he wanted your thoughts and comments on, he'd participate in one of the places where that particular subject of interest to Peter is the focal point of discussion.

I don't intend to speak for Doug, but for me, the larger issues under discussion here (i.e. in this thread, recently) were not "ambiguity, poetry, and beauty" but whether and in what way Ordet was ambiguous (or whether and it what way it was polyphonic) and whether ambiguity was a good thing to be praised or a crutch for fuzzy thinking.

The introduction of animation into the discussion, for me, anyway, came across as a non-sequitur that was at worst an attempt to irritate or needle Doug with the insertion of an old topic of disagreement into a conversation he appeared to be enjoying and at best an interjeciton into a dialogue of subject matter that the people currently conversing (about something different) have indicated little interest in discussing in the past or currently.

But, for whatever reason, the subject has been successfully diverted from what (in my opinion) Doug, IM, and I were talking about to the merits of animation. So have at it--I yield the thread floor to Peter, Steven, and Alan to discuss animation versus live action.

Doug, and IM, if you have any further thoughts on the issues we were discussing, I'd be happy to continue this dialogue with you on PM or e-mail.

Peace.

Ken

Edited by kenmorefield

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kenmorefield wrote:

: The introduction of animation into the discussion, for me, anyway, came across as a non-sequitur that

: was at worst an attempt to irritate or needle Doug with the insertion of an old topic of disagreement

: into a conversation he appeared to be enjoying . . .

I don't recall ever disagreeing with Doug about animation before -- especially given the esteem with which he regards The Miracle Maker and Waking Life. I cite animation only as an extreme example that, in my view, falsifies the idea that film is inherently "physical" or "tangible" or "literal" (or even "photographic"). Yes, some filmmakers make a point of pursuing an aesthetic that tilts more towards that part of the spectrum than other parts, but it is only one aesthetic use of film among many.

: . . . and at best an interjeciton into a dialogue of subject matter that the people currently conversing

: (about something different) have indicated little interest in discussing in the past or currently.

I'm actually a bit surprised to see the sub-thread that has developed. I did intend my post as a "corrective" (to use SDG's word), but to a debatable and even distracting idea that had already been "interjected" into a discussion that, like SDG, I had thought was about something else ("ambiguity, poetry, beauty, etc. in film").

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I don't intend to speak for Doug, but for me, the larger issues under discussion here (i.e. in this thread, recently) were not "ambiguity, poetry, and beauty" but whether and in what way Ordet was ambiguous (or whether and it what way it was polyphonic) and whether ambiguity was a good thing to be praised or a crutch for fuzzy thinking.
Yes, that is the perspective from which ambiguity (and polyphony, which I didn't include in my catalogue because I was trying to be brief) was being discussed.

Poetry and beauty were raised by Doug as adjuncts in this post.

So, you say you are disagreeing with me, but I don't see that you are.

The introduction of animation into the discussion, for me, anyway, came across as a non-sequitur that was at worst an attempt to irritate or needle Doug with the insertion of an old topic of disagreement into a conversation he appeared to be enjoying and at best an interjeciton into a dialogue of subject matter that the people currently conversing (about something different) have indicated little interest in discussing in the past or currently.
That seems a rather cynical construal. To me, Doug's comments about film as "physical," "tangible" and "inherently literal" naturally invited the question whether this is really so, and as a point of reference, not to derail the conversation, but to expand upon the nature of film as a medium, animation seems a reasonable counterpoint.

By the same token, if someone were to talk about film as an "inherently narrative" or "inherently dramatic" medium, I wouldn't be surprised if you, Doug, Peter or I were to point out instances of non-narrative and non-dramatic films (or genres of films) as counter-examples. I'm not sure why you would find this kind of exercise in non-parochial thinking to be irritating.

But, for whatever reason, the subject has been successfully diverted from what (in my opinion) Doug, IM, and I were talking about to the merits of animation. So have at it--I yield the thread floor to Peter, Steven, and Alan to discuss animation versus live action.

Doug, and IM, if you have any further thoughts on the issues we were discussing, I'd be happy to continue this dialogue with you on PM or e-mail.

This is just silly, and there is no need for melodramatic exit scenes. The side discussion has not been about "animation versus live action," but whether film is inherently literal, physical and tangible -- words that certainly describe Ordet, though not necessarily the medium of film per se.

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I would be curious to read what others who may have read Carney's book thought of it. Although I am in basic agreement with much of what he wrote in the book, I do have to part company with him on the subject of Gertrud. I certainly didn't dislike Gertud. But I do think Gertrud was a step down for Dreyer from both Day of Wrath and Ordet. I found it frankly unbelievable that Gertrud would have men falling all over each other to get at her. There was just nothing alluring about her in my opinion. Bottom line, for me: liked the movie -- didn't love the movie. Carney, on the other hand, seemed to think it was the pi
Edited by tenpenny

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So great to read Ebert on Ordet:

Now I will not tell you the rest of the story, at least not in so many words. Up to this point, I have practiced more description than "criticism," because to closely observe this film is to criticize it, struggle with it, respond to it, understand it, and finally respect it. It is what it is, fearlessly, without compromise. Its characters lead their lives in their own ways, not for the convenience of the plot or the audience. They stand where they stand. ...

When the film was over, I had plans. I could not carry them out. I went to bed. Not to sleep. To feel. To puzzle about what had happened to me. I had started by viewing a film that initially bored me. It had found its way into my soul. Even after the first half hour, I had little idea what power awaited me, but now I could see how those opening minutes had to be as they were.

I have books about Dreyer on the shelf. I did not take them down. I taught a class based on the Schrader book, although I did not include "Ordet." I did not open it to see what he had to say. Rosenbaum has written often about Dreyer, but when I quote him here, it is only things he has said to me. I did not want secondary information, analysis, context. The film stands utterly and fearlessly alone. Many viewers will turn away from it. Persevere. Go to it. It will not come to you.

Edited by Christian

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Saw this one recently, and immediately felt that I had to buy the Dreyer box-set so that I could start delving into his films more. Really great film. I love how there are some hints of comedy: in the affectedness of the Johannes' vocal delivery and in the buffoonery of the two fathers for example. The characters are well drawn and the actors inhabit the space very effectively (especially the characters of Morten, Inger, Mikkel, and Johannes) which makes the meditative camera work all the better as we move between the characters in and around the farmhouse.

And of course, the ending is a ridiculous, astonishing, and wonderful move.

Looks like there are a lot of great posts in this thread that I'll have to look over.

I've got Silent Light at home here and I look forward to seeing whether the two shed light on each other, as others have suggested.

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re: your Spoiler.

I wept. I do this from time to time. Probably not often enough though.

I'm pretty certain what you mention here, whether it was meant/taken as a surprise moment or not, is how this little black and white Danish film from 1955 keeps showing up at #1 on the A&F Top 100 Spiritual Films list.

Edited by Persona

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re: your Spoiler.

I wept. I do this from time to time. Probably not often enough though.

I'm pretty certain what you mention here, whether it was meant/taken as a surprise moment or not, is how this little black and white Danish film from 1955 keeps showing up at #1 on the A&F Top 100 Spiritual Films list.

Ah, I hadn't remembered that Ordet was at #1. Cool.

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Actually I wish I'd said that a little differently. There are many reasons Ordet should be #1. Your spoiler is the 4000 pound boulder that broke the camel's back.

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Still #1.

Anyone here still not seen it? Netflix has it. I have a copy, too, that has been lent out more than a few times. If I get your word and you post here, I'd probably send it.

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I added this to my Netflix queue because of reading all the recommendations on here. It just arrived today, so I haven't watched it yet. I'll report back when I have.

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I added this to my Netflix queue because of reading all the recommendations on here. It just arrived today, so I haven't watched it yet. I'll report back when I have.

I still have not seen this one. I'm adding it to my Netflix queue tonight.

Sounds like you'd better be quick with it Mich!

Matt

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Jeffrey's old book "Through A Glass Darkly" has some great paragraphs on Johannes, and Ordet in general, in the "Suffering Fools Gladly" chapter. Maybe if I ever get the author's permission I'll type a few paragraphs here...

Edited by Persona

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Kyle Smith just posted an item at the New York Post movie blog on the increasingly cliched use of the phrase "formal rigor". Just out of curiosity, I did a search of this discussion board to see if the phrase came up anywhere. And, well, this was pretty much the only thread that came up. So, hmmm. :)

(To be fair, the phrase also comes up in the thread on Akeelah and the Bee, but there, the phrase is used to describe one of the characters -- and an aspect of the character that needs "deflating", in fact -- rather than the film itself.)

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Jeffrey's old book "Through A Glass Darkly" has some great paragraphs on Johannes, and Ordet in general, in the "Suffering Fools Gladly" chapter. Maybe if I ever get the author's permission I'll type a few paragraphs here...

Or just message him to cut and paste the relevant bits from his word file.

Matt

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One of the many pleasures of the Glen was that Jeffery's Film Appreciation class was across the hall from my screenwriting class. So, I would frequently pop in before the courses started to ogle his DVD collection for the week. And to my surprise, he informed me that Ordet was now available on Netflix--I'd had it saved in my queue for years. But as "The Word", which, of course, never released. But Ordet, as it happens is available. And now it's sitting at position #2.

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