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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light: A choral and orchestral work performed by vocal group Anonymous 4 soloist Susan Narucki and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic and Choir
  • Audio essay by Casper Tybjerg, a Dreyer scholar from the University of Copenhagen
  • An extensive production design archive
  • A history of Passion's many versions, with clips
  • Audio interview excerpts with the star's daughter, Hélène Falconetti
  • An essay by Richard Einhorn on Joan of Arc and Voices of Light, plus a video essay on the music's production
  • Voices of Light libretto booklet, including the medieval texts used in Einhorn's composition

The Passion of Joan of Arc


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Carl Th. Dreyer
Starring: Renee Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley, Maurice Schutz, Antonin Artaud, Gilbert Dalleu, Jean d'Yd, Louis Ravet
1928 | 82 Minutes | Licensor: Gaumont

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #62
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: November 9, 1999
Review Date: March 20, 2018

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SYNOPSIS

With its stunning camerawork and striking compositions, Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc convinced the world that movies could be art. Renée Falconetti gives one of the greatest performances ever recorded on film, as the young maiden who died for God and France. Long thought to have been lost to fire, the original version was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981-in a Norwegian mental institution. Criterion is proud to present this milestone of silent cinema in a new special edition featuring composer Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, an original opera/oratorio inspired by the film.

Forum members rate this film 9.7/10

 

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PICTURE

The Criterion Collection’s original DVD edition of Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc presents the film on a single-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Because of the standard aspect ratio the image has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The progressive digital presentation comes from a restoration done at 24 frames-per-second, scanned from a 35mm fine-grain master positive.

The digital presentation itself isn’t too bad, managing to deliver details fairly well, providing crystal clear close-ups and long shots. The finale of the film presents a lot of smoke but the DVD, rather surprisingly, doesn’t have trouble handling this. Yet there is quite a bit of compression noise present, with some noticeable blocky patterns around the edges of some objects. Impressively contrast is still nicely managed, delivering decent tonal shifts and excellent shadow definition. The black and white photography manages to still come through wonderfully and isn’t held back by any shortcomings of the standard-definition presentation.

It’s obvious a lot of work has gone into this (and the included restoration demonstration verifies this) but there are still a large number of marks, bits of dirt, and instances of mold. Fine scratches still litter the image, raining through consistently, and there is some sort of crease on the right side of the image throughout the film’s entirety. There are also jumps in the frame, pulsing, and some obvious splices. Still, this isn’t all too surprising considering the age of the film, and limitations with restoration tools at the time would have limited what could be done. Still, the digital presentation at the very least didn’t enhance any of the inherent source problems, and this presentation was the smoothest—and cleanest—I had seen at the time.

6/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion includes two audio tracks: a silent track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround presentation of Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light score. The score is mixed nicely and makes wonderful use of the surround environment, directing various sounds and instruments between the speakers. The track is crystal clear, with no distortion or noise, not a surprise for something that would have been recorded fairly recently at the time. It’s also has an incredible amount of range to it, with some nice quiet moments and some surprising booming moments.

The silent track is, of course, just that, with no obvious noise present.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

It’s a single-layer disc surprisingly but there is some decent content on here. Scholar Casper Tybjerg first provides an audio commentary, which was recorded for this release in 1999. It’s about as academic a track as you could ask for, Tybjerg talking about the film’s look, its editing, angles, symbolism, and even compares it to other cinema of the time, providing a context as to what a revelation this film would have been. He also covers its production history, its reception, and the various edits. It’s probably most interesting, though, when he talks generally about Dreyer, how he worked with actors, and how he felt about this film. Dreyer was especially disappointed that the film was distributed as an art film where Dreyer intended for it to be released to a much wider audience and felt it was absolutely ridiculous to corner the film in such a way. To back his comments research Tybjerg also quotes from various writings and articles throughout the track. It can be a little dry and clinical but it gets the job done and will be of value to newcomers to the film or Dreyer’s work.

Criterion also provides a section going over the opera Voices of Light, included as the optional score for the film. Criterion lists out the “Movements” in a chapter index that just takes you to that portion of the film, and then this is followed by an essay by Richard Einhorn presented in a text format (with some photos), where the composer explains the project, even going over his travels while doing research. There is then a 5-minute video essay, which appears to be more of a promotional video featuring Einhorn, summarizing, more-or-less, what Einhorn goes over in his essay.

Another section is devoted to the film’s “History and Production.” There is a rather large gallery covering the film’s production design. This includes a large number of pictures from the set, of the various models created for the sets, sketches, costume designs, and even pictures of the 14th century material that Dreyer referenced for his research, primarily the manuscripts for “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.”

Also here is a lengthy text essay on the version history of the film, covering the many edits of the film, including the fairly infamous Lo Duca cut, which had been the only readily available version for a long while, before a print of Dreyer’s preferred cut (or as close as possible to it) was discovered in a mental hospital (which is the version included on this disc). Despite being a text supplement it does present clips from the Duca cut for comparison, showing that it also made use of alternate takes.

An audio-only interview with Renée Falconetti’s daughter, Hélène Falconetti is presented here as well, where she talks about her mother’s career before and after the film, and how she came about to be cast in the film. It runs about 9-minutes. It has been indexed here and plays over the menu.

The disc then concludes with a 3-minute restoration demonstration, which points out this was the first video release of this cut of the film. The video then shows a number of before-and-after comparisons highlighting the amount of work that went into restoring the film, removing the larger and more in-your-face marks.

This edition then comes with an insert featuring an essay written by Dreyer in 1929. Criterion also includes a copy of the libretto booklet for Voices of Light, as well as an advertisement card for the CD.

It seems pretty skimpy now (especially with the new Blu-ray edition) but at the time I was quite satisfied with what we got here. Tybjerg’s commentary is in-depth and all-encompassing, and I enjoyed the text essays on the film’s production and the various versions that exist of the film.

7/10

CLOSING

The new Blu-ray clearly improves over this edition in every way but at the time I was quite pleased with it. Yes, the image was open to improvement but I feel everything that could have been done at the time was done and the image still looks pretty good. The features are also informative and engaging.


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