Friday, September 14, 2012

#128: Carl Th. Dreyer - My Metier

(Torben Skjødt Jensen, 1995)

My Metier is a mostly straightforward profile on one of the most important filmmakers in history. His life and work are profiled in chronological order, with voiceover of his own writing and various talking heads serving up anecdotes and personal reflections on working with Dreyer. In this regard, it's not much of a film, and entirely forgettable on a technical level.

That said, this is a very well-done version of the respectable television profile. The insights and stories from people who worked with him are funny and engaging, and the story told is informative and useful for understanding Dreyer's relatively small output. Despite the fact that Dreyer's final four films were spread out over more than 20 years, very little of his life outside of these movies is covered, yet the second half of the film is almost entirely dedicated to the three films that accompany this one in Criterion's boxset. This is partially because many of the people who worked with Dreyer on the films were still alive in 1995, whereas his earlier collaborators were long gone, but it's also an indication of just how significant these later works were (and still are) for film to come. In many ways - and despite its clear influences on later movies - silent film as an artform is completed, and can be viewed as a dead and preserved medium. It would be silly to argue that Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr do not continue to influence film to this day, but their overall style and impact are impossible to capture today (Vampyr of course does have some talking, but is mostly silent).

Now, do we see films like Gertrud and Day of Wrath in today's modern American marketplace? No, of course not. But their influence in things like personalized camera technique, heightened reality which veers towards the abstract, and deliberate pacing are evident in arthouse and commercial films alike. Dreyer to this day seems less commercial than even a filmmaker like Bresson, but his films seem both more and less singular in different regards - more in that it is impossible to replicate Dreyer's style, less in that virtually every spiritually minded director seems to have tried. My Metier doesn't break any ground as a film, but it's a vital piece of the puzzle for understanding Dreyer's more earthly achievements, even if the ineffable quality of his work remains a mystery.

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