Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)


Tag Gallagher on Gertrud
April 13, 2009, 3:11 am
Filed under: quotes

From Chain of Dreams by Tag Gallagher:

What interested him most about making movies, said Carl Th. Dreyer a few years before his death, was to “reproduce the feelings of the characters in my films […], to seize […] the thoughts that are behind the words […], the secrets that lie in the depths of their soul”.

“Gertrud [1964] is a film I made with my heart”, he added. With the heart. About the heart. “What interests me before all, it’s this, and not the technique of cinema.”

Technique, nonetheless, is the tool the heart must use. Accordingly, Dreyer mobilizes all cinema for the hunt. “I need a big screen”, he said. “I need the communal feeling of a theater. Something made to move has to move a crowd.” He wanted to do Gertrud in colour. Maybe 70mm, too, like Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). Isn’t Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) on a camel in a desert like Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) on a seat in a parlour? Dreyer wanted mass catharsis, the way Greek theatre did, or maybe the way college basketball does, with thousands of pulses synched to that ball’s movements. With the result that Gertrud is more like a basketball game than Lawrence, has more action, excitement, spills, chills and thrills, and has some of the “coolest” scenes in movies, piled on top of each other.

Curious it is, then, that some people complain Dreyer is slow and intellectual, talkie and dull, Gertrud particularly. They never spot the ball. As a result, it is unlikely in my lifetime that I shall share Gertrud on a big screen with two thousand pulses synched to her every movement. Like most people, I shall see Gertrud at home alone, on my television, and even with a large screen and Criterion’s excellent DVD, I shall have to press my player’s zoom button in order to see into her eyes. She and her men sit in full-length compositions like figures in gigantic tapestries. “I don’t like television”, Dreyer said.

Gallagher is a fantastic critic that deserves much more credit. More of his writing is available on his website, including (quite generously) downloadable pdf files of his 884 page tome on Rossellini (“The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini”) and his tome on John Ford (“John Ford: The Man and his Films”, revised in 2007 and with frame enlargements).

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