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Jazzaloha

Ordet (1955)

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Herbie Goes Banannas.

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Close.

My strategy to keep my marriage intact is alternating the heavy film/light films in the queue. I'm now strangely self-conscious about revealing that the masterpiece of world cinema, Taken, sits above Ordet in the queue. But I don't think I can manage a Kurosawa + Dreyer one-two punch on the Jones' household. Such is life, a wonderful mixture of the sublime and the crap.

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I can relate, Ed.

I often get questions like, "__________ is in theatres, but you went and saw __________ instead?" I often have to respond, "Believe it or not, I have higher priorities in my life than to see the most artistic movies currently in theaters. I have relationships. I have friends who have different preferences. And sometimes a movie like The Hurt Locker really isn't want Anne and I feel like seeing on date night."

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Now it All Makes Sense. Your cineaste membership card will not be revoked.

I'm lucky. My wife and I have practically identical tastes when it comes to film.

I also, about 90 percent, although Suz does get depressed every year in late December / early January as I'm trying to watch all the acclaimed movies I've missed during the rest of the year. That's when she starts talking about wanting a support group of film critics' wives who are forced to watch one depressing foreign film after another.

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If it is any consolation, compared to other similar films, Taken really isn't all that bad. And it is certainly better than Herbie Goes Banannas, which I knew was bad even as a fifth grader. (Now that's bad.)

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Yes, but Stef, did you ever read the movie novelisation of Herbie Goes Bananas? I did. I think you may have overlooked that film's profound literary richness.

Edited by Overstreet

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I want to point out right now that I wasn't alone in taking this thread from Ordet, and questions about theology, to the "profound literary richness" of the novelisation of Herbie Goes Banannas. It is your fault, you people pushed me over the edge.

There's some kind of "six degrees" thing here, I'm certain... :)

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Tyler and Herbie just taught me that I don't know how to spell bananasnaz

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I have a letter from a guy who testifies that he became a Christian because he saw The Love Bug. I am not making that up.

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Close.

My strategy to keep my marriage intact is alternating the heavy film/light films in the queue. I'm now strangely self-conscious about revealing that the masterpiece of world cinema, Taken, sits above Ordet in the queue. But I don't think I can manage a Kurosawa + Dreyer one-two punch on the Jones' household. Such is life, a wonderful mixture of the sublime and the crap.

C'mon on Buckeye, Taken is a fun movie. Much better than The Other Guys which the husband and I saw on our last day in Santa Fe.

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Deb, wow. Was it raining or something? I mean, sunny, 5% RH, 75 oF, mountains, enchiladas, hiking (don't go with me or Joel S. as a guide), and all that. Or Will Ferrell.

Was it Film Appreciation antidote?

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Deb, wow. Was it raining or something? I mean, sunny, 5% RH, 75 oF, mountains, enchiladas, hiking (don't go with me or Joel S. as a guide), and all that. Or Will Ferrell.

Was it Film Appreciation antidote?

We were trying to kill a couple hours until we could check into our hotel. Plus I wanted to see if Wahlberg could be funny outside of SNL.

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Not every meal can be steak. Sometimes, you just need a donut. Even if it turns out to be disappointingly stale.

Now, back to Ordet... I love watching it now knowing that Johannes ends up at Babette's table. Or, at least the actor who plays him does.

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It's obvious that Johannes keeps some pretty smart company. Both Ordet and Babette's Feast are both such rich viewing experiences that continue to reveal themselves through repeat viewings.

I think each film deals with something that has its roots in the wonder and the provision of God, and illuminates our need to let go of our petty divisions and stubbornness, and choose to experience, to partake.

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Okay. Finished it. Tried to read the thread, but with Alan and Ken's posts deleted, it was unreadable beginning at the sixth page. I gave up and returned here to the end. Count me as an admirer, but with some misgivings on its stylistic formalism. No time to write more--just one thought, I guess. When the minister and the doctor debate theology at the coffee break, I love the fact that Dreyer places a flickering lamp in the foreground dividing the space between them.

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Had a bit more time to reflect on the film and on the thread—enough to know that what would have really made Ordet a masterpiece would have been if it were animated instead of live action.

I jest, of course. But that begs the question—what is it that makes this film so acclaimed? It’s not an easy film: it’s Danish; it’s stylistically formal; it’s context is obscure, even more so for its Danishness; it’s religious.

This film’s direct and frank dealings with Johannes, first as the confused and mad Christ, then as the hesitant prophet who speaks out with faith, hold such an audacity that almost boggles the mind. For instance, in my class at the Glen we workshopped a piece about a faith healer in which the healings were treated as matter of fact—they just happened, and their was very little dramatic capital spent to get us to that point. We highlighted that as an issue—the protagonist hadn’t earned the right to suspend our disbelief by performing miracles.

Does Dreyer earn our suspension of disbelief? I know Jeffrey and I often run into the point of tension (for sake of argument—I hope not in terms of our friendship!) in which I want to know, “What is this film saying?”, whereas he reminds me to consider, “What is this film asking?”. But here, I want to know, what is Dreyer saying? Is insufficient faith really the cause for the loss of the miraculous? Several pages above in this thread this point was tossed and turned, the consensus being that Dreyer is not offering a tract—he’s offering a contemplation on the nature of faith and doubt.

I’m not so sure though—is he? I cite above the lamp, shining its illuminatory light between the parson and the docter; light shining a middle ground between the false dichotomy of faith and reason. Johannes himself transcends his madness to bring about a true miracle—the culmination of Inger’s little miracles.

Dreyer’s technique and craft is superior—far better than the little message films produced by many Christian films, such as the Fireproof ilk, but is his intent the same? To evangelize? To call to a renewed faith for the lukewarm faithful? To ask, why don’t you believe? To chastise, for our atheistic tendencies.

I haven’t read much – read a single word – about Dreyer, and have only seen his Joan of Arc and Vampyr, so perhaps more context opens it up. But what I’m wrestling with, is “Is Ordet just a very well-made sermon?”

I think, at one level, I’m just poking and prodding to work out my own thoughts—and hoping that will involve dialogue from this community—but as an aspiring screenwriter interested in exploring faith in the context of my stories, and the gospel in meta-context of those stories, I want to wrestle with the giants who’ve gone before.

Edited by Buckeye Jones

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These are things that I have wrestled with as well. No doubt Ordet is a filmmaking masterpiece, and seeing the film once at the Flickerings festival and once at the Glen, I am blown away by the film. But I will try to offer some thoughts to answer some of Buckeye’s questions.

(It goes without saying, there are SPOILERS below)

To understand what Dreyer is saying, or asking through this film, I don't think I can fully put myself into his point of view, because of the time he lived in and that I live in. Being raised an American evangelical, in a charismatic church, I've heard a lot of sermons about faith, miracles, revival, why we don't see miracles or revival in the modern church, etc, etc. And often times, the purpose of having these miracles and revival is more utilitarian rather than being awestruck by mystery and the majesty of God. Miracles are necessary to heal people of various ailments and revival will increase attendance at our churches and make American more of a "Christian nation". This is the same American utilitarianism that causes us to use art as a tool rather than to appreciate it as art's sake. And seeing the silliness and fraudulency that goes on with people like Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, and TV evangelists in general has made us all a little jaded as to whether what people say are miracles are really true.

However, Dreyer, being from a different perspective, is looking at the scriptures with a non-jaded perspective, and sees the awesome power and audacity of the literal Word of God, that in the gospels and Acts, Jesus and the apostles do miracles, and they are accepted as truth. I think Ordet simply takes it for granted this awestruck perspective, that someone can really be raised from the dead. And the miracle strikes the film viewer with awe. Because Dreyer has no hidden agenda, I believe, to try to bring about some kind of charismatic revival, he is free to let the story speak for itself. And in reading through the historical background on this thread, which has been very enlightening in its discussion of "happy Danes" and "sad Danes", of Danish pietism; I think Dreyer’s primary focus, as reflected in the formalism previously referred to in this thread, is how the miracle of Inger brings about another miracle, of reconciliation between the two families, of them letting go their theological ideological prejudices and letting these two kids in love get married.

To answer the question of comparing Ordet to modern evangelical films, I think what Dreyer does is raise the stakes higher than the Fireproof films and their ilk, dare to do. You can’t have higher stakes in a film than life and death. And raising someone from the dead is the ultimate miracle. Honestly, for evangelicals of a charismatic bent who talk about faith and miracles, none of us have the faith to believe that someone really be raised from the dead like Lazarus. And evangelical filmmakers don’t try to deal with the ultimate high-stakes miracle. Rather, evangelical films tend to hang on lower-stakes conflict and resolution. Like Fireproof is about saving someone’s marriage, and other films deal with healing of various ailments, and Tyler Perry’s films deal with family and relationships and race and reconciliation. All of these are important, no doubt, but none of them have the audacity to raise someone from the dead. Which is why the resolution of Ordet is so shocking and powerful. Because he is outside the evangelical culture, he doesn’t deal with the fears and prejudices that we evangelicals deal with. “Wait, we can’t raise someone from the dead? That won’t sell. Nobody will believe it.” But Dreyer just goes ahead and does it. And what’s amazing is the admiration that non-religious film critics and film connoisseurs have for this film. So I believe that Ordet is far more than just being a sermon, of having any kind of utilitarian purpose. Rather, it touches the mystery and majesty of God.

About Johannes, is he a prophet or a madman? Is God really speaking through him, or is God working in spite of him? An interesting ambiguity here. The Old Testament prophets were thought to be mad by their hearers, and the kings in power persecuted them. Johannes in this film is thought to be mad, and he is shunned by everyone else. I think that he serves as something of God that can’t be understood by human knowledge. The rationalism given is to dismiss him with a humorous line, that Johannes because mad through reading Kierkegaard. But he is mystery, someone who can’t be explained by human knowledge.

Another thought I had about the impact of this film: The Word, God’s Word, trumps human knowledge, and there is a mysterious power we can’t fully understand. The human institutions of religion are inferior to God’s Word. But Dreyer doesn’t take this as far as many American Protestants do, to try to do away with any vestiges of traditional religion, to offer a completely utilitarian American faith with no sacraments, no theology, just a man with a Bible and a congregation held together by the force of his personality. Rather, Dreyer takes religion seriously, and while he offers a critique, it is not an outright condemnation. I believe the formalism of the film shows our need for a structure in which to practice our own faith. Unlike an Evangelical film, where the message operates outside of structure. The message becomes just a sermon, a message that the filmmaker wants to push on us, and it looks inauthentic to human experience. But in Ordet, meaning and structure work together and this is the power of art.

Edited by Crow

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To answer the question of comparing Ordet to modern evangelical films, I think what Dreyer does is raise the stakes higher than the Fireproof films and their ilk, dare to do. You can’t have higher stakes in a film than life and death. And raising someone from the dead is the ultimate miracle. Honestly, for evangelicals of a charismatic bent who talk about faith and miracles, none of us have the faith to believe that someone really be raised from the dead like Lazarus. And evangelical filmmakers don’t try to deal with the ultimate high-stakes miracle. Rather, evangelical films tend to hang on lower-stakes conflict and resolution. Like Fireproof is about saving someone’s marriage, and other films deal with healing of various ailments, and Tyler Perry’s films deal with family and relationships and race and reconciliation. All of these are important, no doubt, but none of them have the audacity to raise someone from the dead. Which is why the resolution of Ordet is so shocking and powerful. Because he is outside the evangelical culture, he doesn’t deal with the fears and prejudices that we evangelicals deal with. “Wait, we can’t raise someone from the dead? That won’t sell. Nobody will believe it.” But Dreyer just goes ahead and does it. And what’s amazing is the admiration that non-religious film critics and film connoisseurs have for this film. So I believe that Ordet is far more than just being a sermon, of having any kind of utilitarian purpose. Rather, it touches the mystery and majesty of God.

...

Another thought I had about the impact of this film: The Word, God’s Word, trumps human knowledge, and there is a mysterious power we can’t fully understand.

Thank you for this most perceptive and excellent post, Crow.

It's been awhile since I last read up on this subject, but I recall that Dreyer's long-planned, never-executed film about Jesus was much on his mind during the planning of Ordet. In particular, since he knew he'd be portraying miracles in his Jesus film, Dreyer thought of the climactic scene in Ordet, where Inger is raised from the dead, as a sort of trial run for the miracles he planned to show in the future film. Right up until the scene's production, Dreyer seemed genuinely unsure whether he could pull off filming a miracle. He knew it was a supreme challenge. It would be so easy to make a misstep, and Dreyer knew the audience would reject the miracle instantly if even slightest "off" note were present. But the scene was directed and played note-perfectly, and while there will always be those who reject the idea of resurrection out of hand, no matter how it is cinematically portrayed, even hardened atheists have been known to acknowledge that Dreyer pulled it off. And it isn't only a question of the final scene. One could say that the whole film leads to, and prepares the viewer for, the miracle.

When last I posted here about Ordet, several years ago, I hadn't yet read Lev Shestov (1866-1938), a Russian philosopher who emigrated to France in 1921. Shestov's works defy easy labeling, but they can be classed as religious existentialism, in the tradition of Kierkegaard. It is not inconceivable that Dreyer knew of Shestov, since Dreyer spent time working in France when Shestov was there and well-known in literary and philosophical circles. But whether Dreyer knew of Shestov or not, I think Shestov's work resonates very well with Ordet. I haven't yet written about this, but I should. In the meantime, one of my blog posts about Shestov, from a few months ago, is suggestive in this context. Besides offering a general introduction to Shestov's thought, it examines in some detail the question of Job's children, and their possible resurrection by God, in the book of Job. My blog post can be found here.

Michael McIntyre

Edited by tenpenny

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Crow, one point regarding the treatment of the miraculous in evangelical films (which I haven't seen many of) and in Ordet. You raise the idea of marketing ("this will not sell"). I have no idea about Dreyer--were his films commercial? What model was he working under? My gut feeling is that his were government subsidized, but I could be completely wrong.

My point is, I don't know if I can drive towards commercial concerns on the "Fireproof" crowd as the reason they pursue small miracles; my guess is that their reasons are theological in nature. Sermonizing, actually, as you mention.

The bit about the form and structure and the story all working together in Ordet is well taken.

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FWIW, I didn't take the word "sell" to mean anything particularly commercial. I just took it to mean that the director had to "sell the audience" on this plot twist. The question isn't whether audience members would buy tickets to the movie; the question is whether audience members might sit there and say, "I don't buy that!"

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