The Passion of Joan of Arc
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Passion of Joan of Arc (French: La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc) is a silent film produced in France in 1928. It is based on the trial records of Joan of Arc. The film was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti and Antonin Artaud. It is widely regarded as a landmark of cinema.
Story and style
The film details the last hours of the life of Joan of Arc and takes place after she was captured by the English. It depicts her trial, imprisonment, torture, and execution much as a passion play would. What especially stood out at the time when Passion was made was the film's camera-work and emphasis on the actors' facial features. Dreyer shot a great deal of the film in close-up and did not allow his actors to wear makeup, the better to tell the story through their expressions—this choice was made possible through use of the recently developed panchromatic film. Falconetti was commended for her multifaceted performance as Joan, which was her second and last movie role.
Dreyer intended the film to be watched in complete silence with no musical accompaniment. However, in 1994 composer Richard Einhorn wrote an oratorio based on the movie, entitled "Voices of Light". This piece is now available as an optional accompaniment on the Criterion Collection's DVD release of the film. In 1999, American singer/songwriter Cat Power provided musical accompaniment at several screenings of the film in the U.S. In 2003, Norwegian electronic music act Ugress released a limited edition CD entitled "La Passion De Jeanne D'Arc: Soundtrack to a silent movie. On 16th April 2008, neo-classical/martial electronica group In The Nursery premiered a new sound track for the film at Sheffield Cathedral.
Danish composer Jesper Kyd was commissioned by Danish Film Festival founders Christian Ditlev Bruun and Lene Pels Jorgensen to provide a new score for the Danish Film Festival: Los Angeles.
Responses and legacy
Pauline Kael wrote that Falconetti's portrayal of Joan of Arc "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." However, it was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film. Whether or not this request was honored in any way is unknown.
The original version of the film was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative. Dreyer himself attempted to reassemble a version from out-takes and surviving prints, but he died believing his original cut was lost forever. In one of the most important discoveries in cinema history, a virtually complete print of Dreyer's original version was found in 1981 in a janitor's closet of an Oslo mental institution. This version is now available on DVD.
Scenes from Passion appear in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa Vie (1962), in which the protagonist Nana sees the film at a cinema and identifies with Joan. In Henry & June Henry Miller is shown watching the last scenes of the film and in voice-over narrates a letter to Anaïs Nin comparing her to Joan and himself to the "mad monk" character played by Antonin Artaud.
The Passion of Joan of Arc has appeared on Sight & Sound's top ten films poll three times:
- 1952: #7
- 1972: #7
- 1992: #10 (Critic's List)and #6 (Director's List)
It placed 31st in the 2002 Director's Poll and 14th on the Critic's Poll. Maria Falconetti's performance was named the 26th greatest film portrayal of all time in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time giving her the highest ranking silent performance on the list. The film is currently sixteenth on the "1000 Greatest Films" of They Shoot Pictures Don't They? (a ranking based on votes by more than 1,600 critics, filmmakers, and film scholars). It was named one of Art and Faith's "Top 100 Spiritually-Significant Films". The Village Voice ranked it the eighth of the twentieth century in a 2000 poll of critics.