There's a debate among film snobs (no wait, don't click away yet!) about whether affixing modern soundtracks to vintage silent films is a useful tool or an incongruous distraction. Or, worse, an affront to the purity of the original work. I do not subscribe to the latter two schools of thought. If the images are strong enough on their own, they can certainly withstand musical re-contextualization.
The classic case in point is The Passion of Joan of Arc. Carl Dreyer's 1928 film has, basically since its premiere, been acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made. It's bobbed in and out of Sight & Sound's prestigious, once-per-decade critics poll, and in 2012 planted itself firmly in the all-time top 10. Pauline Kael (arguably the most influential film critic of her era or anyone else's) cited the central performance of Renée Falconetti as the finest ever committed to film.
It's safe to say that, yes, the movie can hold its own.
When the film was introduced to DVD via the Criterion Collection, they included as an audio option the 1994 orchestral work "Voices of Light," by Richard Einhorn, featuring the vocals of Anonymous 4 and the heft of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. He utilized medieval writings, predominately favoring the voices of women, to provide an period-appropriate but contemporary, feminist context for the film, in which Dreyer submits Falconetti to a veritable wall of authoritarian male litigants.
If I have any reservations about "Voices of Light," it's that it's almost too emotionally overwhelming for a film that already stretches the limits of how intimately you can portray panic, terror and possibly madness. Dreyer's film deliberately minimizes establishing shots, instead focusing on an Eisensteinian montage of extreme close ups of Saint Joan and her accusers, turning their heightened emotional state into the movie's physical setting. Einhorn's motifs are sweeping, but any audience for Passion will already be drowning in the moment.
Nonetheless, as one who seeks to die from too much cinema (to use a phrase once coined by Stuart Klawans), I'm looking forward for the chance to screen the film with a live accompaniment of Einhorn's music in a cavernous religious structure, shifting uncomfortably on a church pew. In collaboration with the Oratorio Society of Minnesota, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival has arranged for two performances -- one tonight at the Cathedral of St. Paul and another next week at the Basilica of St. Mary. If there's a can't miss at this year's MSPIFF, this is it.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is playing at 8 p.m. at Cathedral of St. Paul, and then again at 8 p.m. at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis on Friday, April 22.
Other Highlights For Friday, April 15
Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, France) If you missed the chance to see this Academy Award-nominated French coming-of-age drama about five young girls in Turkey, you might want to consider heading to Rochester and pronto. Mustang was widely acclaimed as one of the year's finest. (Rochester Galaxy 14 Cine; 9:15 p.m.)
Lamb (Yared Zeleke, Ethiopia) Part of the family-friendly section of MSPIFF's programming, vegetarians should flock to this African offering about a burgeoning cook who can't bring himself to cook his friend, a lamb named Chuni. (St. Anthony Main Theatre; 7:15 p.m.)
Holy Hell (Will Allen, U.S.) A real eye-opener of a documentary, filmed by someone who spend 20 years inside what he thought was a spiritual oasis but instead turned out to be a cult. (St. Anthony Main Theatre; 9:50 p.m.)
Throughout the entirety of the 2016 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, WCCO.com will be spotlighting one notable movie each day, along with other notable screenings. To see WCCO.com's complete coverage on the MSPIFF, click here.
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