Carl Theodor Dreyer

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Carl Theodor Dreyer 1889–1968

Danish director and screenwriter.

Dreyer stands as one of the seminal figures in the evolution of film. His output spans the most formative decades of cinema, from silent movies to sound and subsequent innovations. Before he became a filmmaker Dreyer worked as a journalist for several Copenhagen newspapers. Later he fell back on this profession during the sometimes lengthy intervals between his cinematic projects. He was next employed by Nor-disk Films Kompagni, where he adapted novels for film and acquired experience in the mechanics of the art form. In 1920 Dreyer made his first film, The President, a competent melodrama which early illustrates the director's characteristic use of the close-up. The innovator of the close-up device, D. W. Griffith, influenced Dreyer's second film, Leaves from Satan's Book, which contains structural echoes of Intolerance. More closely related to Dreyer's later style of intimate character portraits was The Parson's Widow. Influenced by the work of Swedish directors Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström, The Parson's Widow is generally acknowledged as the first artistic success among his early silent pictures.

Dreyer's last silent film, recognized as a late masterpiece of the era, was The Passion of Joan of Arc. Distinctive for its preponderant use of the close-up, this work is an unusual one for Dreyer because, rather than being adapted from literature, the story has as its basis actual transcripts from the famous trial. The Passion of Joan of Arc also introduces the thematic core of spiritual concerns central to Dreyer's mature artistic vision. Vampyr further points to a supernatural realm and more particularly examines the ordeal of those who exist on its brink. Day of Wrath revived the subject of religious persecution seen previously in the ordeal of Joan of Arc, now dramatized through the tragedy of seventeenth-century witch trials.

Dreyer is noted for his generous and compassionate portrayals of the spiritually alienated, a recurring role exemplified by the seemingly mad Johannes in The Word . His emphasis on unorthodox forms of mysticism has sometimes caused Dreyer to be stereotyped as a visionary Dane; but his...

(The entire section is 525 words.)