Michael and Gertrud: art and the artist in the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer

Heinemann, David (2012) Michael and Gertrud: art and the artist in the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer. In: Framing film: cinema and the visual arts. Allen, Steven and Hubner, Laura, eds. Intellect Books, Bristol, UK, pp. 149-164. ISBN 9781841505077

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Abstract

The films of Carl Theodor Dreyer are among the most painterly in cinema. Paintings and painting traditions are referenced throughout Dreyer’s work, and his scenographic space contains numerous paintings and objets d’art. These works play a decorative role, but also a narrative one: they presage and mirror events; they express or catalyse characters and relationships. While characters relate actively to these works of art, interpreting and communicating through them, the films’ narration frequently aestheticises the characters, transforming them into works of art in their own right. Through composition, staging and performance – Dreyer’s tableau style, close-ups of disembodied faces, statue-like poses – characters are compared, and compare themselves, to figures in art, even as they attempt to assert themselves within the diegesis. At once automaton and agent, the characters inhabit an uncertain realm between object and subject, predetermination and free will. From the conflict between these opposing orientations, often manifested through the forced marriage of narrative development and pictorial stasis, Dreyer reveals the dislocations of the human soul.

Dreyer’s concern with the narrative possibilities of painting is most evident in Michael (1924), a film about the relationship between two painters, and the director’s most sustained elaboration of his tableau style prior to Gertrud (1964), which it anticipates. Together the two films bookend the major works of Dreyer’s career, while remaining stubbornly on the fringes of greatness, their narrative and stylistic difficulties preventing a wholehearted embrace by most critics. Drawing on Bordwell’s magisterial study of Dreyer, the recent monograph on Gertrud by James Schamus, and notions of the automaton as explored by Deleuze in Cinema 2: The Time-Image, this paper examines the pictorial, narrative and thematic roles played by painting and objets d’art in the two films and situates the films within the context of Dreyer’s oeuvre, paying particular attention to their broader function within the director’s cinematic thought and practice.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 13185
Useful Links:
Depositing User: David Heinemann
Date Deposited: 08 Apr 2014 14:24
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2019 17:20
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/13185

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