Monday, March 20, 2017

Coming up: 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'
on Wednesday, March 22 at Rogers Center

Maria Falconetti in 'The Passion of Joan of Arc.'

I hope you'll join us on Wednesday this week for a movie that will change your mind about silent film.

It's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), a feature from Danish director Carl Dreyer. I'm doing music for it on Wednesday, March 22 at the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.

Why will this change your mind about silent film?

Because more than any other film I can think of from that era, it demonstrates how cinema (a brand new art form at the time) had qualities that were distinct from other art forms that came before it.

And it did all this without dialogue or a sound track. It did this through images alone.

In doing so, Dreyer's film hinted at the true potential for this new art form in its purest state, meaning a story told through pictures that moved.

Alas, a cinema of images (and without dialogue) was already in the process of being swept aside by cinema with synchronized dialogue, sound, and effects.

But still, Dreyer was able to give us a sense of what was possible, even without all these added attractions. And in that sense, he helped change my mind about silent film, and I hope 'Joan of Arc' has the same effect on you.

To find out, come see it! Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center, which is on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

And if all that's not enough, how about this? Admission is free!

* * *

An original poster for Carl Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rediscovered silent religious drama to be shown at Rogers Center for the Arts on Wednesday, March 22

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), long thought lost until a copy was found in Norway, to be screened with live music

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—A ground-breaking European feature film—considered lost for decades until a copy surfaced in Oslo, Norway—will soon return to the big screen at the Rogers Center for the Arts.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), a film noted for its innovative camera work and an acclaimed performance by actress Maria Falconetti, will be screened on Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. as part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.

Admission is free and the program is open to the public. Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Directed by Denmark's Carl Theodor Dreyer, 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' chronicles the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

The film’s courtroom scenes are shot almost exclusively in close-up, situating all the film’s meaning and drama in the slightest movements of its protagonist’s face.

Of Falconetti's performance in the title role, critic Pauline Kael wrote that her portrayal "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." Her performance was ranked 26th in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time, the highest of any silent performance on the list. Falconetti, a legendary French stage actress, made only two films during her career.

The film has a history of controversy. The premiere of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' in Paris on Oct. 25, 1928 was delayed because of the longtime efforts of many French nationalists, who objected to the fact that Dreyer was not Catholic and not French and to the then-rumored casting of Lillian Gish as Joan.

Before the premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Dreyer had no say in these cuts and was angry about them. Later that year, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film's original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer's original cut of the film existed.

Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. This version was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929. Over the years it became hard to find copies of Dreyer's second version and even harder to find copies of the original version of the film.

It was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror Biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was released near the end of the silent film era. About 70 percent of all movies made during that time are now lost due to decomposition, carelessness, fire, or neglect. But copies of "missing" films still occasionally turn up in archives and collections around the world, so researchers and archivists continue to make discoveries.

In the case of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' the original version of the film was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative. In 1981, an employee of the Kikemark Sykehus mental institution in Oslo, Norway found several film cans in a janitor's closet that were labeled as being The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The cans were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that the prints were of Dreyer's original cut of the film before government or church censorship had taken place. No records exist of the film being shipped to Oslo, but film historians believe that the then-director of the institution may have requested a special copy.

For 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he creates beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Rogers. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will be shown on Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. as part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.

Admission is free and the program is open to the public. For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355 or visit

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