Questions for Dreyer

When Dreyer showed up at Filmmuseet on 22 February 1968, the students had a long list of questions ready. We have cut the 80 minutes of footage into 11 parts, chronologically from 1-11. The following is an overview of the students’ questions.

01: On style and colour

Marguerite Engberg: Did you consider Dutch painting in your adaptation of Day of Wrath?

John Menzer reads a quote from Dreyer’s book Om Filmen [On Film] about planes of colour and asks Dreyer to comment on the statement.

John Menzer: How do you plan to make your Jesus film? (A long answer follows about how Dreyer found Falconetti for the role of Joan of Arc).

John Menzer: What is your view of colour films, specifically Antonioni’s psychological use of colour in Il deserto rosso?

Ib Lindberg returns to the question of colour planes and asks about a Swedish illustrator, Adolf Hallman (1893-1968) as an inspiration for the turn-of-the-20th-century period look of Gertrud.

Ib Lindberg goes on with the issue of colour, working with a few nuances, 4-5 colours: Did you consider doing that in Gertrud?

Ib Lindberg: You had an idea for the colours in Medea, which you wouldn’t reveal at the time. Are you willing to do that now? (No!)

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 01

02: The early films – The Parson’s Widow and Leaves from Satan’s Book 

Carl Nørrested: Did Louis Moe’s illustrations for Prestekonen have any influence on your adaptation?

Carl Nørrested: Leaves from Satan’s Book is based on the book by Maria Corelli: Did you and Edgar Høyer freely make up the last three tales?

Carl Nørrested: How much influence did you have on the screenplays that were accepted at Nordisk Film in the period up to Leaves from Satan’s Book?

Marguerite Engberg: Have you seen the Italian film Satanas from 1912?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 02

03: On actors and casting

Henrik Lundgren asks about the casting choices for Leaves from Satan’s Book – Helge Nissen? Tenna Kraft? Particularly, whether the actors’ stage and opera backgrounds figured in the casting.

Henrik Lundgren: Did you pick Lisbeth Movin to play Anne in Day of Wrath because of her face?

Henrik Lundgren: Why Clara Pontoppidan for the role of the princess in Once Upon a Time? (Dreyer mentions her role in the fourth section of Leaves from Satan’s Book and its famous close-ups).

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: Question about Ahnfeldt-Rønne’s free acting style in Once Upon a Time, which contrasts with Svend Methling’s stiff and controlled acting.

Henrik Lundgren: Was your adaptation of Once Upon a Time inspired by the Royal Theatre’s production of the play, which also starred Clara Pontoppidan?

Henrik Lundgren: Why did you decide to adapt Once Upon a Time?

Henrik Lundgren: The casting of Gertrud: Is it true that you wanted Bodil Kjer and Frans Andersson for two of the roles? (Dreyer replies that he wanted Erling Schrøder for Ebbe Rode’s part).

Henrik Lundgren: Very few actors you have used more than once. Johannes Meyer and Preben Lerdorff Rye are two – is that because of some special qualities that they have?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 03

04: On editing, rhythm and dialogue

Many critics have mentioned the rhythm of your films. What elements do you consider to be most significant in creating rhythm? (Dreyer replies that he has put a lot of importance on the dialogue, which has led to a lot of close-ups in his film, creating a special rhythm).

Are Danes particularly good at getting the rhythm of your films – the slow rhythm?

How do you decide on a film’s rhythm?

Do you see other foreign or Danish directors consciously working with rhythm as an independent storytelling element?

When you’ll be working with colour in your upcoming Christ film, do you intend to work with a particular painter?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 04

05: The Jesus film, TV and Good Mothers

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: Is your view of Christ significantly different from, for instance, Pasolini’s in his Il Vangelo secondo Matteo?

When you were told that you would be receiving 3 million kroner [for the Jesus film], is it true that your answer was, "That’s it?"

What do you think about television as a medium? Would you like to do teleplays? The TV studio is eminently suited for the camera movements you like to use? (No, Dreyer only wants to make films!)

Cultural-radical and leftist critique of your films has called you Danish cultural life’s prophet of doom because of the heavy and seemingly pessimistic religiosity that marks your films.

About Good Mothers: In your view, could the issue of legal abortion and the whole role of Mødrehjælpen [a public maternity services organisation] be seen in the same way today as what you express in this film, which surely had an impact when it came out?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 05

06: On Vampire and They Caught the Ferry

Viggo Holm Jensen: Did you personally pick Wolfgang Zeller to compose the score? (Extended elaboration on the soundtrack for Vampire).

Viggo Holm Jensen: Had you seen Sybille Schmithz on stage? (Long story about Dreyer’s enthusiasm for her and how the casting came about).

Viggo Holm Jensen: Is it true that you travelled around England with Christen Juhl to find a book to inspire the film?

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: They Caught the Ferry: How much do you think of the film as your own and how much credit would you give Jørgen Roos?

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: You have been reproached for the bombastic symbols in the film, the bone drawings on the truck and the coffins with crosses on the lids on Charon’s boat?

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: What film do you consider to be your most improvised?

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: Which of your films turned out most different from the way you originally conceived it?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 06

07: Style (inspiration from painting) and music

John Menzer asks Dreyer about his inspiration from painting, specifically whether he has paid special attention to Rembrandt. (No, Dreyer answers, he was never inspired by any painters. Yet, he then goes on to say that the very simple scenes in The President were close to Hammershøi’s pared-down rooms).

Henrik Lundgren: You have employed some of the greatest composers of your day, Schierbeck, Schultz and Tarp. It is true that Carl Nielsen was supposed to have scored one of your films?

Henrik Lundgren: How much importance do you put on the music in your films?

Henrik Lundgren: Did you think Zeller’s score for Vampire covered what you were looking for?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 07


On Good Mothers

Philip Lauritzen: The shorts: You seem to have always sided with humanity, yet in Good Mothers you appear to unquestioningly accept Mødrehjælpen’s view of a mother who wants to give up her child for adoption?

Philip Lauritzen: Did you intentionally choose to place an old social worker across from a young girl? Was that to show a generational difference in terms of morality?

Philip Lauritzen: What is your view of documentaries today? Would you like to make documentaries again?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 08

09: On the Jesus film 

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: How realisable or utopian is the Christ project?

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: Have you been to Palestine? Have you scouted locations? Will you be shooting on location?

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen: In Paris you had a whole town built for Joan of Arc. Will you also be building a Jerusalem in Israel?

John Menzer: Which director is closest to your own way of thinking? (There are none!). Not even Bresson? (No, I haven’t seen any of his films).

Marguerite Engberg: Love One Another includes a depiction of a very Jewish environment. Can we expect you to present the Christ film as being very Jewish, very Semitic? (Extended answer about the Jesus film – the purpose is to show that it wasn’t the Jews, but the Romans, who caused Jesus to be killed).

Hans Kragh-Jacobsen would like to discuss the role of the Jews in relation to the judgment and crucifixion of Christ.

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 09

10: The style of dialogue in Gertrud, why the Vampire film, why do you shoot in sequence, Paul la Cour and Joan of Arc, the depiction of an environment in The Word 

The vocal delivery in Gertrud, do you think it is right?

Why, after The Passion of Joan of Arc, did you suddenly get the urge to do a ghost story?

What was Herman Warm’s job on Vampire? After all, it was shot on location. (Long reply, as Dreyer also touches on Joan of Arc, including Jean Victor Hugo’s work on the film).

Viggo Holm Jensen: Regarding Vampire, were you inspired by German films, such as Murnau’s Nosferatu, or French films?

Ib Lindberg: Do you shoot your films in sequence? Isn’t that an uneconomical way of working?

Why did you employ Paul la Cour in the preparations for Joan of Arc?

Marguerite Engberg: The Word is set in a revivalist-Lutheran and a Grundtvigian milieu. Did you take pains to depict the differences between them – in the set design?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 10

11: On Michael

Henrik Lundgren: How important do you consider Michael to be in your production?

Henrik Lundgren: You cast Benjamin Christensen as the old artist? (Albert Bassermann was busy.)

Henrik Lundgren: How did you find Nora Gregor who plays the countess?

Henrik Lundgren: Do you see any connection between the portrait of an artist in this film and yourself?

Astrid Pade: As I see it, you put more emphasis on the love intrigue than what is the main theme of Bang’s book, the decline of a genius. You changed the final line by using the word "passion" instead of "love." Aren’t you, then, "reducing" the relationship between Michael and the countess to pure passion?

See Dreyer at Filmmuseet 11

By Lisbeth Richter Larsen | 03. May