Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Movie Review: The Passion of Joan of Arc (silent)

Year of Release: 1928
Country of Origin: France
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Cast: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain

Plot outline: A chronicle of 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 (IMDb).

Although silent and filmed in black and white, The Passion of Joan of Arc seems almost contemporary because of its timeless historical subject, and Dreyer's disregard for dramatic filmmaking techniques of the era. None of the actors wore makeup, and were filmed in extreme closeup under harsh lighting conditions. The kindly priests are better looking than the treacherous and bullying ones, who have enormous creases and pockmarks on their aged faces. But even St. Joan, who died while yet a teenager, is plain, especially with her masculine dress and hairstyle. The film does not attempt to put Joan of Arc's life into perspective. It is assumed that the viewer knows her background, emerging from a peasant upbringing to becoming essentially a field general for the French forces loyal to King Charles VII. Naturally, England and France have differing interpretations over Joan of Arc. For England, the hero of the Hundred Years War is Henry V, who began the conflict with a conquest of much of France. Shakespeare glorified Henry V in the play of the same name, while vilifying Joan of Arc as a witch in his "Henry VI". In France, Joan has a national holiday. Although Dreyer was from Denmark, the movie was a French production, thus portraying her as a devout patriot. He time compresses her lengthy interrogations into a single afternoon, no doubt confusing the viewer when Joan of Arc rises from her sickbed (the final sacraments were even to be performed) as if waking from a nap. He is merciless in the punishment that he inflicts on Joan, who is emotionally alone and surrounded by hostile clerics. Joan, memorably portrayed by Maria Falconetti, is frequently brought to tears from her piety and the cruelty of the clergy. The trial and execution of Joan of Arc has parallels with that of Jesus. In fact, Joan tells her questioners (the script benefits from a surviving transcript of the trial) that she is a daughter of God, just as Jesus was the son of God. Of course, this was blasphemy to the Catholic Church of the era. Nonetheless, Pope Benedict XV would canonize Joan as a saint in 1920. (BK)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Monday, 1 June 2009

Calamity Jane

Movie Review: Calamity Jane

Year of Release: 1953
Country of Origin: USA
Director: David Butler
Cast: Doris Day, Howard Keel

Plot outline: The story of Calamity Jane, her saloon, and her romance with Wild Bill Hickok (IMDb).

Calamity Jane is loosely based on the real life of Wild West heroine Calamity Jane and explores an alleged romance between her and Wild Bill Hickok in the American Old West. The movie is a fine musical from an age of great musicals, which makes no pretence at being in any way historically accurate and concentrates instead on being good entertainment. Doris Day outing as Calam may have been her finest performance - and certainly her most energetic. Howard Keel is a charming, if unlikely, Wild Bill. Although the plot is a simple one, the action never flags right up until the happy ending. All the songs are outstanding, not just the Oscar-winning "Secret Love", and are performed with great joy and verve. Calamity Jane is pure unadulterated fun. (AC)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars