Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Gets an Epic, Instrumental Soundtrack from the Indie Band Joan of Arc

The lega­cy of the silent film era is always with us, even as we move fur­ther and fur­ther away from film and clos­er to com­put­er art. Not only do the com­po­si­tions, cos­tum­ing, and cam­er­a­work of gold­en age clas­sics like Metrop­o­lis, Nos­fer­atu, The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari and oth­ers con­tin­ue to inform cur­rent direc­tors’ work, CGI and oth­er­wise, but these films have spawned their own pres­ti­gious form of music. In recent decades scores for clas­sic silents have become the spe­cial prove­nance of avant-garde and exper­i­men­tal com­posers. The pair­ing makes sense. These are movies that raised the stakes for their medi­um and estab­lished the first gen­er­a­tion of cin­e­mat­ic auteurs—Fritz Lang, F.W. Mur­nau, D.W. Grif­fith, Char­lie Chap­lin, and, of course, Carl Drey­er, the Dan­ish direc­tor of 1928’s pro­found­ly intense The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc.

As with all of the acknowl­edged clas­sics of the era, Dreyer’s mas­ter­piece has received many con­tem­po­rary musi­cal treat­ments in the past few decades, includ­ing an orig­i­nal operetta by Richard Ein­horn (on the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion edi­tion) and many more clas­si­cal and mod­ernist scores. But it has also been part of a par­al­lel trend—of indie rock musi­cians like Dengue Fever, Yo La Ten­go, Sparkle­horse, and Dean and Brit­ta scor­ing clas­sic silent films. First, Aus­tralians Nick Cave and The Dirty Three came togeth­er in 1995 to play a live sound­track for Joan of Arc in Lon­don. Then Cat Pow­er accom­pa­nied the film in 1999 for sev­er­al dates. In 2011, for one night only, Chica­go indie stal­warts Joan of Arc per­formed their 80-minute instru­men­tal score for a packed screen­ing at the Chica­go Inter­na­tion­al Movies and Music Fes­ti­val. Hear it, along with the film, above. (A copy can be pur­chased online here.) It was an “unex­pect­ed turn for the band,” their label Joy­ful Noise notes, giv­en that they had just “released their most con­ven­tion­al­ly ‘rock­ing’ album in years, ‘Life Like.’”

Asso­ci­at­ed with singer and sole per­ma­nent mem­ber Tim Kinsella’s raspy yelps and warped songcraft, the band here takes a post-rock direc­tion, loud and dirge-like. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it does, writes Joy­ful Noise, offer a “dark, flow­er­ing son­ic coun­ter­part to the film’s grim sub­ject mat­ter (which is a rather haunt­ing depic­tion of sav­age reli­gious per­se­cu­tion).” Dreyer’s film is indeed a grim work of art, but it is not any less beau­ti­ful for its oppres­sive nar­ra­tive. As run­ning titles in the Joan of Arc-scored film’s intro inform us, like its pro­tag­o­nist, “The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc was the vic­tim of sev­er­al ordeals,” includ­ing cen­sor­ship upon release and the loss of the orig­i­nal neg­a­tive and a re-edit­ed copy to fire. Like­wise for the film’s actress, the great Renee Maria Fal­conet­ti, “the per­for­mance was an ordeal,” as Roger Ebert points out, with leg­ends telling “of Drey­er forc­ing her to kneel painful­ly on stone and then wipe all expres­sion from her face.”

Known “only in muti­lat­ed copies” for over half a cen­tu­ry, the 1985 restora­tion above comes from an orig­i­nal Dan­ish copy dis­cov­ered “com­plete and in very good con­di­tion” at a Nor­we­gian men­tal insti­tu­tion in 1981. It is a curi­ous sto­ry. Schol­ars have often spec­u­lat­ed that the his­tor­i­cal Joan of Arc was schiz­o­phrenic or that she suf­fered from “one of numer­ous neu­ro­log­i­cal and psy­chi­atric con­di­tions that trig­ger hal­lu­ci­na­tions or delu­sions.” Falconetti’s per­for­mance of Joan is ambigu­ous, sug­gest­ing on the one hand, a “faith that seemed to stay any sug­ges­tion of irri­ta­tion,” as one con­tem­po­rary review­er wrote, and on the oth­er, the dazed, far­away look of a per­son in the throes of men­tal ill­ness. And the film’s warped per­spec­tives and extreme close-ups and angles sug­gest a kind of dis­tur­bance, of the cor­rupt, super­sti­tious social order that inter­ro­gates and exe­cutes Joan, and also of Joan’s mind as she con­fronts her implaca­ble judges. Joan of Arc’s puls­ing, atmos­pher­ic sound­track, draws out this very ten­sion, writ­ten in Falconetti’s every exquis­ite expres­sion.

This ver­sion of Drey­er’s Joan of Arc will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More. Anoth­er ver­sion, with­out any sound what­so­ev­er, can be found above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Watch the Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Film, The Golem, with a Sound­track by The Pix­ies’ Black Fran­cis

Watch Online The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Drey­er (1928) 

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 358 Film­mak­ers

Watch 10 Clas­sic Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Films: From Fritz Lang’s M to The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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