Friday, December 4, 2009

Dreyer & Griffith

The Bride of Glomdal could've been a D.W. Griffith film -- but, then again, Dreyer and Griffith were often attracted to the same subject matter anyway. You get this sense that, had Joan of Arc been a man, D.W. Griffith would've made a film about her. She's a Griffithian character, but not a Griffithian woman.

Both men adapted Marie Corelli's novel The Sorrows of Satan (Griffith under its original title, Dreyer as Leaves from Satan's Book), and Griffith could've directed Master of the House or Day of Wrath (as a silent with a happy ending), just as Dreyer could've directed Abraham Lincoln or True Heart Susie (as a sound film that doesn't end happily). Dreyer's late films, with the physicality, the weight, the concreteness they give each synchronized-sound take, sometimes feel like descendants of Griffith's two talkies, films whose technique is so singular than they can only be described in terms and through references that would've appear until decades later. You can't compare them to Josef von Sternberg or Rouben Mamoulian, but to Straub & Huillet or John Cassavetes, much the same way as one has to go past Dreyer to find a reference point for describing Ordet or Gertrud. (The same is true of Pal Fejos -- just as good as Murnau or Vidor, but completely unlike them. Fassbinder, Tati, Rouch and Jia seem like better reference points).

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