Carl Th. Dreyer (1966) - full transcript

At the world premiere of "Gertrud" in Paris, December 1964, Dreyer is greeted by many celebrities of the French cinema: Clouzot, Langlois, Truffaut, Godard, Anna Karina. Afterwards Dreyer delivers short comments on the style of each of his films. Already in his first film, from 1920, he strove for simplicity, especially in the set design. He started from the idea that each apartment gives an impression of the owner's personality. By removing all superfluous details of the furnishing, the remaining, simplified scenery gives a heightened sense of authenticity. An authentic setting creates, according to Dreyer, a genuine style. To find this authenticity he often studies paintings from the period in which the story takes place. In his later films he brings this simplification process even further. He removes everything from the film that is not related to the story. He also simplifies the dialogue to find a more concise form, whereby he comes closer to the style of tragedy. - stop by if you're interested in the nutritional composition of food
In 1909, a ship
arrived in Copenagen.

On board was
the American explorer Dr. Cook,

who claimed to have been
to the North Pole.

A young Journalist
is seen on the newsreel:

Carl Dreyer,

20 years old at the time.

Fifty-five years later,
in December 1964,

the world premiere

of his last film, Gertrud,
took place in Paris.

My name is Henri Clouzot.

I know your films.

Well, it's mutual!

This is my wife.

So we're to see a world premiere
of Mr. Dreyer's film, right?

And I believe we'll dine together
Wednesday evening.

When is the screening?


He's a wonderful man.

I watched him
as he spoke to the audience.

He has the profound shyness
of the true artist.

I know
he's a Danish filmmaker,

but to me he is, above all,
a great international filmmaker.

Mr. Dreyer's career
was very difficult.

He was out for work
for 13 years

between Vampyr
and The Day of Wrath.

But he stayed true to his ideals
and explored them to the end.

He only made
a few films,

but each one is important
in the history of film.

It's a dinner
with other directors.

- Will you be there?
- Perhaps.

Don't worry.
No one will make you dance.

Dreyer's world
is a spiritual one,

one ruled by love.

By means of the story
on the screen,

we glimpse another story
behind the screen:

the world
of good and evil,

the world of grace...

and the world of tolerance.

was Dreyer's 13th film.

It was made in Copenagen
in the summer of 1964.

In the studio we are equals.

We discuss things
back and forth

until everything's in place.

It's my Job to take part

in as much as possible.

Two things
play a crucial role.

One is the script,

and the other is
casting the actors.

The entire film

rests on those two pillars.

Dreyer always took great care
with the style of his films.


In my first film, The President...

I strove for simplicity,

especially in the set design.

My theory was that,

when entering
someone's living room,

one could form an impression

of the owner's personality.

The president's living room

consisted of plain walls
and very little furniture.

There were a few portraits

with the black frames
common in that period.

For the interiors

I was inspired
by Wilhelm Hammersh?j,

whose specialty
was painting empty rooms.

They were very
beautiful paintings.

I insisted

that the older characters

be played by old actors
with their own beards.

"Condemned to death!"


The style developed on its own

as we worked
in 1 7th-century houses.

The roofs formed
part of the image,

which was unusual at the time.

Ceilings are rare
in studio-built sets.

And looking out the windows

we could see the countryside,

which lent the film

exceptional authenticity.

He's raising his hackles, Steinar.
Could you calm him down?


Just outside Berlin,

we had to reconstruct
a corner of Russia.

We succeeded

because I was lucky enough
to find refugees

who'd lived through
the Russian Revolution.

They gave me hundreds of amateur
photographs, which were a great help.

I also found

two Russian artists -
a painter and a sculptor -

who still shook with fear.

They too were very helpful.

We created
an authentic setting,

and therefore
a genuine style.

Herman Bang's book

reflected a time

when it was the fashion to have

pulpits, baptismal fonts,
and censers

in the parlor as antiques.

It was a time of falsehood,

and so the film too
was in a false style.

Perhaps it was the first time

that style
was consciously applied.

We therefore ended up
with a thoroughly false style.

"But it's you!"

In a library we found
a handwritten document

decorated with small
watercolor drawings

from the 15th century,
the time of Joan of Arc.

The characteristic traits
of these watercolors

were small, stylized houses
in the background,

and in the foreground,

people of a normal,
realistic size.

We imitated this style,
especially in the exteriors.

We painted the decor white

to create a distinct style.

The actors' faces stood out well

against the white background...

which kept
the viewer's attention.

The flat white surfaces
didn't distract.

The script was taken
practically directly

from the transcript of her trial.

Lines followed one after the other,

like blows in a sword fight.

Translated to film,
that meant that each line

corresponded to a close-up.

The speed of the dialogue

called for a stream of close-ups

with corresponding text.

It was the only way

to give the audience an impression
of what really happened.

The public became

part of the snide way

in which the interrogation
of Joan of Arc

was conducted.

So it is God who orders you
to dress as a man?

And what reward
do you expect from God?

The salvation of my soul.

You blaspheme God.

We had planned
on a rather heavy style,

but by chance we discovered
something much better,

so we changed our plans.

Examining the first rushes...

we stopped at a scene

that seemed
to have been shot in fog,

a muddle of grayish white.

To us this was the solution,

at least for the interiors.


At the end of the script,

the village doctor,
the vampire's accomplice...

was to flee the village.

In the middle of a marsh

he was to fall into a mire

where, unable to save himself,

he would lose his life.

One day we set out
to find a suitable mire,

and we drove around
looking at marshes.

But we discovered
a house by the road

where strange white shadows danced
around the windows and doors

as though some white fire inside
was throwing off clear flames

through the openings and cracks.

We couldn't resist.

We had to explore that white fire.

We went inside
and saw some dark silhouettes

walking around a grindstone

and making plaster of Paris.

The air was thick
with fine powder.

When we saw that,
we knew what our style had to be:

black silhouettes

against a white background.

So we had to think
of the ending taking place

inside a white mill.

We knew then
how the doctor should die:

He'd be suffocated
under an endless stream

of milled flour.

Listen to me!


Curse you, you bastard!

Open up!

Let me out of here!

Open this gate!

Over here.

This way.


The period of this film

coincides with the age of Rembrandt.

Both are characterized
by white plaster walls,

heavy oak furniture,

candlelight and oil lamps.

The clothing is the same
as that period too:

long black garments

with large white collars and cuffs.

So the two styles
resembled each other,

though it was never
our intention to imitate.

I began using dolly shots

to provide some variation
to the heavy style.

Dolly shots give a feeling of life.

The aim was to follow
the actors in their roles,

including in close-ups
as they moved from spot to spot.

That meant I had to take
much greater care

with the composition
of the image,

because it changed
from second to second.

I wanted to be sure
the style remained consistent.

The old one's giving in.

Will you confess?


Let her down.

"...after all she has confessed."

In Ordet I began

a radical simplification.

I would only accept things
directly related to the story.

In old Borgers living room,

there was only
a portrait of Grundtvig,

a barometer,
and a grandfather clock.

There was a large kitchen
that I wished to simplify,

and I succeeded.

You can't simplify reality
without understanding it first,

so I asked the woman
who ran the studio canteen

to equip the kitchen
as if it were her own,

the way she would feel
at ease in it.

She brought
all kinds of kitchen stuff -

plates and pots and pans -

which she arranged as she wished.

When she'd finished,
the cameraman Bendtsen and I

began taking objects away
one by one,

until only four or five were left.

In this simplified form,

the notion of a kitchen
was much clearer than before.

Karen, run out
with that to the hens.

You'll have to give me
a bit of help.

With what?

Well, you see, Anne and I,
we're thinking of...

Anders! You haven't fallen in love
with the tailor's Anne?

Yes. Is there anything wrong
with that, Mikkel?

It's the worst thing
you could do.

The worst thing?

I don't mean anything against her.
She's a sweet girl.

But what?

What would Father think?

With Gertrud,
right from the start...

I attempted
a process of simplification,

especially with the dialogue,

to find a more concise form.

I also turned my attention
to the characters' figures,

making them statuesque,

to come closer
to the style of tragedy.

Good-bye, Axel.
Thanks for visiting.

Thank you for your book.

Goodbye, Gertrud.