Echoes and Contributions

ARTICLE BY CARRIE GATES

A report appeared in the News Section of the portal for Arts and Letters

 

NOTES ABOUT THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC BY TED BARRON, SENIOR ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE DE BARTOLO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME  AND PROFESSIONAL SPECIALIST IN THE DEPARTMENT OF FILM STUDIES

 

As an undergraduate film student, I had read about Dreyer’s film but never had the opportunity to see it in any of my classes.  At that point, my only direct exposure to the Joan of Arc narrative in film was via its clumsy referencing in the 1980s teen drama, The Legend of Billie Jean, in which the eponymous, justice-seeking heroine is radicalized after seeing Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan. This was before the days of DVD and the wonderful 1999 Criterion Collection reissue of The Passion of Joan of Arc so the only way to experience Dreyer’s film was via worn 16mm film prints or degraded VHS transfers.

A few years later as a graduate student, I served as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class for which the professor planned a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc from a 16mm film print.  The only drawback was that the print had no soundtrack.  As this was an introductory film class, many students had limited experience with silent movies.  The professor made the bold decision to run the film with no musical accompaniment since she believed that this was the one film which warranted this unique style of presentation.  The result was astounding.  The students were transfixed.  No one dared cough, sneeze or, dare I say, breathe as Falconetti’s incomparable performance unfolded.  I swore solidarity with my professor that this film should never be presented with sound accompaniment.
When I had the opportunity to teach the film in my own film history classes, a new resource had emerged: the aforementioned Criterion Collection DVD which had the option to be played silent or with a recent composition, Voices of Light, written by Richard Einhorn.  As I heard the opening choral notes of this remarkable work, I quickly softened on my earlier stance regarding the film’s soundtrack and embraced this score which, I believe, beautifully captures the essence of Dreyer’s work.  I have since taught the film several times and each time, I use Einhorn’s composition.  Inevitably, there are many young students who resist the film’s formal rigor but there are always one of two who are literally transformed by the experience of seeing this film, whether it is a spiritual connection to Joan’s life or the cinematic revelation of Dreyer’s stark, yet beautiful cinematography.  But, of course, it’s Falconetti whose impact is most notable. One student became so fascinated with the actress and her mysterious life that she developed a thesis project which explored what happened in the wake of this demanding production.
How privileged we are to have the opportunity to see and hear this monumental film like never before!