Already one of my favorite movies from having seen it on TCM a couple times in the 1990’s, but watching in a theater (from DVD, tho) with live music (stayed atmospheric for the most part, with even the opera singer keeping to tones and drones) was sensational.


I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life … Rudolf Maté, who manned the camera, understood the demands of psychological drama in the close-ups and he gave me what I wanted, my feeling and my thought: realized mysticism. But in Falconetti, who plays Joan, I found what I might, with very bold expression, allow myself to call “the martyr’s reincarnation.”

No finches were hurt (but it was a close call).

Watched with Katy after episode 2 of The Story of Film (and after Chaplin’s The Circus, since I didn’t want to limit silent cinema viewing to the famous comedians). Pretty straightforward: husband (Johannes Meyer of Dreyer’s Leaves From Satan’s Book) has become a tyrant, mistreating his kids, disrespecting his nana (Mathilde Nielsen of The Parson’s Widow), and driving his wife (Astrid Holm, dying woman in The Phantom Carriage) away to her mother’s to recuperate. Now he has to run the house without his wife’s help, learning to appreciate all that she regularly does for the family.

Katy and I haven’t extensively studied the cinema of 1925 so we had little to say, style-wise, and I saw little in common with the later Dreyer films I’ve watched. Mostly it seemed a well-assembled showcase for great performances by the husband and nana. I’d have some nice screenshots of the close-ups if we hadn’t watched it on Hulu… oh wait, here are a couple stolen from the great DVD Beaver site:

Chess Nuts (1932)

Where I last left off with Betty Boop cartoons: a less-than-thrilling circus romp with Koko the Clown from 1932, but previous to that was the insane and wonderful Bimbo’s Initiation. All three characters are back in this one. I think Bimbo is a dog, but he’s pretty uninteresting, like Mickey Mouse minus the voice and ears. Anyway this opens with a live-action chess game then turns into the animated world of the chess pieces. Queen Boop is kidnapped by a wicked king and Bimbo comes to the rescue. No lipsync on dialogue, Popeye-style, except during songs. These are the ideal cartoon shorts – fun and extremely inventive, never content to have a character walk from here to there without trying something new (“what if he’s high-stepping but his shoes glide forth independently of his feet?”)

The Betty Boop Limited (1932)

The crew travels by train to their next short-film adventure. Betty sings a song. Train hits a cow, which transforms into bottles of milk, in a scene I played over and over.

Betty Boop, M.D. (1932)

Betty and gang sell snake oil to townspeople, who experience psychosomatic symptoms.

Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (1932)

Okay I was surprised that Boop is blacked up until I realized it’s a damn cartoon and that she’s no more “white” than anything else, so I relaxed for a second then “white” Bimbo blacks up to escape capture by the earringed and bone-haired island natives, so I suppose that’s license to be offended but there’s too much else going on… like Betty doing a topless hula dance (apparently rotoscoped from the live-action dance that opens the short). Sure she’s got a lei covering her boops, but still. Took a wikipedia sidetrack and discovered that animator Shamus Culhane married Chico Marx’s daughter, so there’s your Boop/Marx connection.

Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (1933)

Watched one with Katy, who enjoyed it more than she expected to. Betty hangs out at home with all her sentient objects, like the Beauty and the Beast castle gone haywire, when her friends (Bimbo, Koko, a hundred others) show up to throw her a surprise birthday party ending in a huge food fight. Of course it ends with Betty hugging George Washington.

All these Boops were by Dave Fleischer, and I also managed to watch one other short…

Good Mothers (1942, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Work-for-hire shorts made for government organizations by great filmmakers don’t tend to be essential. This one was pretty surprising, though – an ad for the Mother’s Aid group, which convinces young mothers not to have abortions (“Erna has listened to reason and has decided to give birth to her child”). They also convince Erna not to give up her kid for adoption by forcing a waiting period before she decides, during which she bonds with the kid. But Erna can’t afford a child… no worries, Mother’s Aid teaches her how to make her own clothes, and make baby toys out of paper. There’s no further mention of the job Erna was afraid of losing by having the baby, or where she finds time to work, raise the kid and make all these paper toys. Finally they teach Erna songs to sing her kid. I didn’t realize this was a primary problem for mothers, not knowing what songs to sing, but Mother’s Aid wants particular songs: “Poor little negro boy / he is black from tip to toe.”

Dreyer made this just before Day of Wrath, and given his own upbringing (unmarried mother, orphanages, adoption) and conservative leanings, I’m sure it’s of interest to biographers at least. More importantly, it was Dreyer’s re-entry into Danish cinema, proof that he could produce an appealing film inexpensively, after his reputation of excess in the silent era, and after the success of this short he worked on ten more government shorts over the next decade.

Baby power!

It’s stupid to chuckle at foreign words, but I can’t help it when the end title card for a short about pregnant unmarried women reads:

Premiered accompanying a feature by Christen Jul, the cowriter of Dreyer’s previous film Vampyr.

Proud father of three Morten Borgen has carved out a name for himself in the community. A devout Christian farmer, his beliefs differ somehow (I wasn’t exactly sure how) from those of the local prayer group and he’s trying to win more converts to his side. His son Mikkel’s wife Inger, the only woman of the house, is a mother of two with a third on the way.

Son Johannes was supposed to be a religion scholar, but he had a terrible time with Kierkegaard and lost his damned mind, now walks the house claiming to be Jesus Christ when he isn’t wandering the countryside lost.

Youngest son (right) Anders wants to marry the daughter of Peter Petersen (left), leader of the town prayer group, but he’s disallowed because of the two older men’s religious feud.

When Inger’s pregnancy is suddenly in trouble, Peter wishes her death.
His wish is granted.

Johannes reappears mid-funeral during a reconciliation of the two stubborn men, who put aside their differences of belief so their children can be together. In front of the men, the kids, the doctor and Inger’s atheist husband Mikkel, Jesus-Johannes raises Inger from the dead.

Movie is set in 1925, so only the doctor has a car. Moves rather slow, glad I had some coffee in me. Didn’t seem like my thing for a while – flashbacks to Gertrud, a movie I didn’t get – but an hour later I’ve gotta admit it’s one of the most beautiful works of cinema ever made. Just look at these fucking stills. I’m sure there’s more reading I could do, tons and tons of articles written about it, but I’m gonna skip ’em and let it stand for itself right now.

I’m gonna get this out of the way:
“It’s like Kafka meets Lovecraft in Ingmar Bergman’s Nosferatu!”
Criterion can feel free to quote me on the upcoming blu-ray edition of Vampyr.

Not an official 1930’s Month selection since I watched it by myself while Katy was enjoying reality TV in the other room. I don’t have a hella lot to say about this movie other than it is a masterpiece of mood and weirdness, a slow, trippy phantom dream of a vampire flick. Love how three of my favorite movies are by Dreyer and those three are almost nothing alike.

Allan Gray, dreamer and occultist, drifts into town, gets a room, starts seeing weird things right away. Old guy comes in, gives Allan book on vampires, says “she must not die” then goes home and dies himself. “She” is probably one of his two daughters, Leone, who gets bitten. With help of the frozen-faced other daughter, blank-faced Allan goes off into the world of shadows… but unlike most movie heroes, he never actually does anything. The thankless house servant discovers that the lead vampire is a woman named Marguerite Chopin so he opens her tomb and stakes her, releasing the spirit of the dead father whose ghostly head scares the doctor’s henchman into falling down the stairs, while Allan himself is busy having out-of-body experiences while his body is carted off in a coffin. The death of the vampires fixes everything, Leone wakes up happy and Allan and Gisele stroll together into the sunlight as the doctor drowns in flour, trapped in the mill by the house servant. If that doesn’t all make sense, well, I don’t think a straightforward storyline was the point of this film.

an evil doctor drowning in flour:

Assorted gems from the Tony Rayns commentary:

What Vampyr has in common with Penelope: distributor shelved it for a year before release (Tony didn’t phrase it that way).

Main dude who played Allan Gray was no actor, but a fashion journalist, a rich baron who financed the movie. “I think Dreyer makes astute use of his blankness in this role.”

Allan Gray as a blank-faced corpse:

Allan Gray as a blank-faced ghost:

On the film’s style: “it’s full of disjunctions; it’s full of unorthodox editing, unorthodox framing and unorthodox cutting. None of it fits together in the way that one has come to expect classical storytelling in film to do… constant dislocations.” Has a lot to do with subjectivity, opening titles introduce Allan Grey as an occultist, a dreamer. Film came hard on the heels (eww) of L’Age d’Or and Blood of a Poet – indie weirdo films were briefly in fashion in Paris at the time.

At the nineteen minute mark – “etc., rendering indistinct and uncertain the offscreen spaces of the film,” he’s still going on about how weird a film it is. Like I know.

Lead vampire Marguerite Chopin talking with the Doctor (who may also be a vampire) around 19:30 is the first scene not directly witnessed by Allan Gray, but by an animated skull on the dresser. Hmmm. Allan himself is out with “the grave undigger and the world of shadows,” awesome.

Like The Passion of Joan of Arc, made up of many short shots, also many close-ups, but Joan was extremely planned, each detail carefully chosen, Vampyr by contrast is a very cluttered film, but every detail counts. Reading that again, I’m not sure that I see the difference he’s talking about.

Sybilla Schmitz (below) who plays daughter Leone (one of the only pro actors here) had a small part in Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl – her real-life story of morphine addiction was the prototype for Fassbinder’s story Veronika Voss.

Three choice quotes:

– “It’s almost like a Mike Leigh film in a sense in that people are passing cups of tea.”
– “It’s a kind of anti-Griffithian cross-cutting – but let’s not get too film-theoretical about this.”
– “He’s informing himself how to slay vampires. This, needless to say, is more than seven tenths of a century before Joss Whedon and Buffy. The modus operandi for slaying a vampire hasn’t changed all that much.”

Commentary mentions why Vampyr was a long-coming follow-up to Joan of Arc (legal/financial battles), but why was it over a decade before Dreyer’s next proper film, the hugely excellent Day of Wrath? Oh, IMDB says everyone hated Vampyr so he went back to being a journalist after that. Also there’s whole documentaries on the DVD so I should not blame the commentary for lack of stuff.

His spirit released, the old man’s head seeks vengeance:

Cast/crew photo. I think that’s Dreyer on the left with his hand up. Dig how Allan Grey stays in character, haha

Didn’t know that Pál “Lonesome” Fejös did a remake of Fantômas – it came out the same year as this and featured the actor who played the murdered master of the house in Vampyr (Maurice Schutz, below, also of Passion of Joan of Arc).

From the Casper Tybjerg doc/essay:

He pronounces it sorta like “Vam-pure”. I’d been wondering.

Dreyer: “I just wanted to make a film different from all other films”

All films shot on actual locations. Movie was shooting as early as April 1930.

Art director Hermann Warm also worked on Caligari, some early 20’s Murnau films, and Lang’s Destiny.

Two overtly Christian scenes were removed before the film’s release. And German censors had him tone down the staking scene and remove some shots from the drowning-in-flour scene – they’re restored in this documentary.