The Passion of Joan of Arc had its world premiere on 21 April 1928 at Paladsteatret in Copenhagen. The French premiere was held in Paris six months later, on 25 October. Dreyer had shot around 85,000 metres of footage, which he cut down to approx. 2,200 metres. There has always been some doubt about the film’s original length. In an interview with Paul Salomonsen in B.T. on 13 April 1928, Dreyer said, "The film is 2,400 metres long and runs for about an hour and a half." However, a Danish censor’s card for the film (of 21 April 1928) lists the length as 2,210 metres. Another print of the film was censored the day before (20 April), and the censor’s draft does not mention any differences between the two prints.
Dreyer reconstructs and rages
In December 1928, the original negative was destroyed in a fire at UFA in Berlin, where it was stored. Dreyer and his editor, Mrs Oswald, now began to cut a new version of the film based on the footage that had not made it into the original version. In a conversation with Knud Schønberg in Ekstrabladet on 1 February 1964, Dreyer discusses this version in relation to the original,
"I could tell the difference and she could tell the difference, but the executive director of the head of the Company could not."
A second negative was made from the new version, but that, too, went up in smoke shortly after – laboratory fires were common at the time because of the highly flammable and volatile nitrate film stock.
On the threshold to the sound film era, the prospects for Jeanne d'Arc looked bleak, but the film was not entirely lost. At some point after 1936, Henri Langlois, head of Cinémathèque Française, the newly founded French film museum, locates a rather worn and incomplete print. He guards it well and after the war it is possible to pull new prints from a dub negative, so that the film can be distributed for screening.
In 1952 another find is made: the French film writer Lo Duca claims to have found the second negative in Paris, the one that was thought lost in the second fire. This one is longer and the image quality is better than Langlois' print. Based on this negative, the film was reissued in the 1950s with a score by Albinoni, Bach, Vivaldi and Scarlatti. Dreyer was furious about this version and protested in a letter to Lo Duca, but to no avail.
Over the years, many different versions of La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc have existed in film archives around the world. In the 1960s, the Danish Film Museum – working from a number of different prints borrowed from various foreign archives – cobbled together a version that was as close to the original as possible.
What the mental hospital was hiding
Then, in 1981, under sensational circumstances, a print of Jeanne d'Arc popped up at a mental hospital in Norway. Two prints had been sent from Paris to Copenhagen for the premiere in April 1928 and had previously been considered lost, but now one of them suddenly re-emerged – more than 50 years later. During a cleanup at Dikemark Sygehus, a mental hospital in the Oslo suburb of Asker, the print was discovered in its original packaging with a shipping note addressed to Consultant Physician Harald Arnesen, dated 1928 and shipped from Copenhagen. The first box still contained the original Danish censor’s card.
So, who was this Harald Arnesen (1862-1953)? A physician specialising in psychiatry, he became a consultant physician and in the 1920-29 period was director of Dikemark Sygehus. Beyond medicine, he had a special interest in the French Revolution. On a study trip to Paris around 1924, he acquired books and periodicals from the days of the Revolution. Why the second Danish print of La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc was sent to him so shortly after the premiere, no one knows. The film was never released in Norway – perhaps because it was not a popular success in Copenhagen.
'Offensive ' clips and 'new' angles
The new print turned out not to be much different from the print that the Danish Film Museum until then had considered to be the most complete. The newly discovered print had a few scenes that were not included in the museum’s version – typically, scenes rejected by foreign censors as "violent" or "offensive" in connection with a Catholic icon:
1) A close-up sequence of Jeanne’s bloodletting after she was tortured.
2) A nursing baby in the crowd.
3) A child crawling towards its mother, who has been beaten to the ground by soldiers.
4) An image of dying Jeanne as a shadow behind the smoke of the fire.
But the most interesting thing about the rediscovered print is the camera angles on Jeanne and her judges, which oftentimes differ from the previously known ones. Plus several of the scenes are a bit longer, heightening the emotional effect.
Martin Drouzy: "Jeanne d’Arc genopstået," in Tusind Øjne 76, Dec. 1984.
Marguerite Engberg: "Historien om den genfundne Jeanne d’Arc," in Kosmorama, No. 171, 1985.
Ib Monty: "Den genopstandne Jeanne d’Arc i Paris," in Kosmorama, No. 183, 1988.
By Lisbeth Richter Larsen | 23. May