Notes from a pre-screening lecture by a Dreyer scholar
(whose name escaped me)
Dreyer shot the film at the beginning of sound cinema,
althought it is built almost like a silent film, with intertitles,
large use of writting on screen (pages of book and handwritting)
and very little dialogue. it was also originaly shot in 3 versions
: German / French / English, to be distributed without subtitles.
The english version is partly destroyed and was lost.
the score was composed for the german version, so on the french
version (the one i saw), the editing freeze-frame when the german
intertitles were longer to read.
Also the german version was censored on release and some images
were cut. The french version features a longer dance sequence with
the shadows on the wall, the "very graphic and violent"
shots where they plant a stick in the corpse's heart, and the scene
with the man burried alive under flour.
however the german version shows the gears of the flour mill stop
at the very end of the film (in the french version the gears keep
running until the end cut)
The lead actor (Allan Gray) credited as Julian West,
was Baron Nicholas De Gunzberg, the producer of the film who funded
Dreyer's project. He was a non-professional actor like most of the
cast (only Lord of the Manor and Leone were professional). The film
was a commercial failure and he gave up his acting career.
Dreyer even cut the film between the morning show and the late show
on release day!!! 150 meters of film are gone, and we'll never know
what was on it
Allan and David are the same firstname respectively
in german and French/English
Inspired by a Sheridan Le Fanu's novel In a Glass Darkly
(as mentionned on credits), Dreyer used some elements in other
short stories contained in the book to compose his scenes. In
a Glass Drakly is a quote from the scripture, meaning what
humans see alive is like looking at blury shapes in a rough mirroring
surface, while dead people (after life i.e. eternity with God)
acquire a total vision, a deeper sight... this theme helps to
understand the film which interpretation is hard to grasp.
The quirky death trip, where the lead might be asleep or awake
(according to intertitles version), walks outside of his body
and visit a world of shadows, spirits and vampires.
The narrative and performance manner are stylized, overplayed,
slow, discontinuous. Pauses and poses might kill the frightening
atmosphere if you look for classic vampire flick, and the silly
voices did it for me, but as a silent film it works perfectly.
The use of light and shadows is outstanding!!! this sequence with
the shadows on the wall that live their own lives (with no actual
people on screen to cast the shadow), and like Cocteau, he uses
a couple of clever tricks to fake special effects.
The film could be inspired from Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)
and Browning's Dracula (1931)
All the camerawork and the subjective point of view in the death
trip where Allan Gray is in a coffin with a glass window over
his face, the camera is upside down and looks at the top of the
trees and the houses. This is somehow reminiscent of De Palma's
Carlito's way opening/ending scene.
1932 - Carl Theodor Dreyer - France - Germany
Directing : Carl Theodor Dreyer
Scenario : Sheridan Le Fanu / Dreyer / Christen Jul
Photo : Rudolph Maté / Louis Née
Cast : Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Sybille
Content : + + +
Playwright : + +
Mise en scene: + + +
Craft : + + +
Inspiration : + + + +