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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
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The Passion of
Joan of Arc

(1928)

 

You should not pass up any opportunity to see one of the greatest films ever made. La Passion et la mort de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) is one of the most artistically mature and influential films of the silent cinema. We feel that it is the Citizen Kane of the silent era. Its groundbreaking use of close-ups marked a dramatic departure from the filmmaking conventions of its time. Films like this make us wish that the sound era could have waited another five years to become popular. The world cinema had just developed a rich and mature vocabulary when it was silenced forever by the din of the talkies. This is an absolutely stunning film.

The film is beautifully filmed and the story is told almost entirely in close-up shots, tracking shots and dynamically angled shots. The film’s unusual shot framing still looks fresh to modern eyes and every shot is a visual feast. Low camera-angle shots emphasize the anglar placement of actors in the image frame and also reveal early ceilings to the sparse and slightly askew sets by Hermann Warm. Some camera set-ups emphasize the geometric forms of props and set details. Actors’ faces are the focal point near a frame edge in shots where much of the frame is negative white space. Dreyer almost appears to have designed and selected shots based on dynamic symmetry, a design discipline popular in the early 20th century that emphasizes the focal point of an image somewhere off-center yet rigidly established somewhere on a mathematically calculated spiral within a rectangle.

The original camera negative was lost to an Ufa laboratory fire in December 1928. Early in 1929, Dreyer assembled a replacement negative utilizing alternate takes. That negative was also thought to have burnt in April 1929 but surviving evidence indicates that many of the truncated prints of the film available over the years originated from this second negative. In 1951, French historian Lo Duca prepared a version of the film (apparently from the second negative then held by Gaumont) for sound film rerelease; that truncated and reedited version is now known as the Lo Duca version. This version is characterized by its loss of the left side of the picture to make room for an optical soundtrack in release prints, its sound narration and new intertitles. Other truncated versions of the film survive, including one that includes a few outtake shots that were not included in the original version. For years considered a lost film in its complete form, an early 35mm nitrate print of La Passion et la Mort de Jeanne d’Arc (struck in 1928) was recovered from a Norwegian mental institution in 1981 in near-perfect condition. It is this print that is now the basis of most home video editions of the film. — Carl Bennett

The Criterion Collection
2018 Blu-ray Disc edition

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), black & white, 81 minutes, not rated.

The Criterion Collection,
CC2864BD (spine number 62), UPC 7-15515-21241-0.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region A Blu-ray Disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan AVCHD MPEG-4 format, 33.5 Mbps average video bit rate (24 fps version) and 28.0 Mbps average video bit rate (20 fps version), 2.1 Mbps audio bit rate (Einhorn score), 2.3 Mbps audio bit rate (Gregory-Utley score and Yanashita score) and 192 Kbps audio bit rate (commentary), DTS-HD Master Audio 48 kHz 5.1 surround sound (Einhorn score), LPCM 48 kHz 2.0 stereo sound (Gregory-Utley score and Yanashita score) and Dolby Digital 1.0 48 kHz 1.0 monaural sound (commentary), French language intertitles (24 fps version) and Danish language intertitles, optional English language subtitles (both versions), 16 chapter stops; standard BD keepcase, $39.95.
Release date: 20 March 2018.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 9 / additional content: 10 / overall: 9.

This Blu-ray Disc edition has been mastered from the 2K high-resolution restoration by Gaumont from the Danish Film Institute’s duplicate 35mm preservation negative of the Oslo version of the film and is presented at 24 frames per second (fps) and at 20 fps. The picture has been stablized and digital restoration has removed dust, speckling and any minor print damage. The results are stunning — with a caveat. As any still frame from the disc will reveal, the digital scan renders a picture with over-emphasized film grain that appears as a fine swarm of black dots rather than as continuous greytones. This is a common rap we have on most home video editions of silent films presented on Blu-ray Disc. We feel that, despite the inevitable presence of film grain in vintage film prints, the goal should be to present the image of a silent era film as close as possible to a projected picture, with as much continuous greytone information as can be rendered from the source material. For this reason, we sometimes prefer viewing the 2012 Eureka Entertainment Blu-ray Disc edition, although its image detail appears a little bit smeary. (If you are technically savvy, some of the black-dot issue can be mitigated by adjusting the sharpness control of your HD monitor to a slightly softer focus to attempt to achieve a more filmlike image. If your monitor will allow, these settings could be saved for silent film viewing and the standard settings used for viewing the ultra-sharp images of contemporary films presented on 4K UHD discs.)

The film is presented with three music scores: Richard Einhorn’s oratorio “Voices of Light”, a choral and orchestral work (24 fps version); another by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Portishead’s Adrian Utley (24 fps version); and the third composed and performed by pianist Mie Yanashita (20 fps version). There is an option to view the film without any musical accompaniment (both versions). Originally presented in their 1999 DVD edition, Criterion producers have chosen the oratorio entitled “Voices of Light” by composer Richard Einhorn as the primary musical accompaniment to the film. The classical music work was inspired by the Dreyer film and thus became a logical choice for an accompanying music score. The performance by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Choir, with vocal performances by classical quartet Anonymous 4 and soloist Susan Narucki is highlighted by the use of Anonymous 4 for the ‘voice’ of Joan in the music. Of note is Einhorn’s inclusion of his personal recording of the church bell at Domremy, France — home village of Joan of Arc — in the recording of his composition. A short supplementary documentary on the composition and its pairing with the film for this home video edition has been included. The Gregory-Utley score is certainly interesting and appealing but is far overshadowed by the Einhorn score performance when viewing the 24 fps version. The Yanashita piano score is pleasing and perhaps best conveys, among the scores available on home video, the somber tone of the film.

The supplementary material includes an alternate presentation of the film at 20 fps, with the original Danish intertitles; new video-based French language intertitles with optional new English subtitles are available in the 24 fps version; the 1999 audio commentary by film scholar Casper Tybjerg (24 fps version); a new video interview with Einhorn (11 minutes); a new conversation between musicians Will Gregory and Adrian Utley regarding their score (15 minutes); a new video essay by Casper Tybjerg exploring the debate over the film’s frame rate (12 minutes); an audio interview from 1995 with actor Renée Falconetti’s daughter and biographer, Hélène Falconetti (9 minutes); a film version history (10 minutes); a production design archive presentation of still photographs (4 minutes); and a 42-page insert booklet with photographs and frame enlargements, an essay by critic Mark Le Fanu, a 1929 director’s statement by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and the full libretto for “Voices of Light.”

With no reservations, we highly recommend this home video edition of the film as the best Region A Blu-ray Disc edition available.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Eureka Entertainment
2012 Blu-ray Disc edition

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), black & white, 97 minutes, BBFC Certification PG.

Eureka Entertainment,
EKA70085 (MoC 50), UPC 5-060000-700855.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region B Blu-ray Disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan AVCHD MPEG-4 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Mbps audio bit rate, DTS-HD 48 kHz 2.0 stereo sound, Danish language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, 9 chapter stops; standard BD keepcase with booklet in cardboard slipcase (also available in steelbook packaging), £19.95.
Release date: 26 November 2012.
Country of origin: England

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 10 / overall: 9.
This Region B Blu-ray Disc edition has been transferred at 2K resolution from the Danish Film Institute’s duplicate 35mm preservation negative of the Oslo version. Since the 1981 recovery of an original 1928 Danish print from the closet of an Oslo mental institution, the world no longer has to experience this great film through truncated, substandard prints. And, by all rights, we shouldn’t have a quality print of this film at all. But here we have an amazingly clear print of one of the boldest cinematic creations of the 20th century. A print, presented in HD, that is detailed enough that the viewer can see the texture of the actors’ faces and of the clothing they wear. Upon review on a 4K UHD monitor in 2020, we have chosen to downgrade our rating of this edition’s image quality: while the image is composed of continuous greytones (as opposed to the 2018 Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc edition) the fine image details here appear a little smeary. The picture, which may look better on smaller monitors, here may have benefitted from a continuous tone 4K high-definition scan of the source print.

That being said, various image defects such as speckling, dust, scuffing, print perforation in the image area, image instability and more have been digitally removed and repaired. The included restoration demonstration includes side-by-side and A/B comparisons to document the clean-up work for this edition.

The film can be viewed at 20 fps silent (as is thought to have been Dreyer’s preference) with the accompanying score by Mie Yanashita performed on piano, or at 24 fps silent or with the accompanying Avant-Garde/Ambient score by Loren Connors. One of the truncated prints of the film, known as the Lo Duca version, is also presented here at 24 fps from a 16mm reduction positive for comparison purposes as it contains alternate takes from the restoration version. No restoration work has been done on either the picture or the source print’s soundtrack for the presentation of this version.

The edition is supplemented with a 100-page booklet that features articles by Jean Drum, Dale D. Drum, Hilda Doolittle, Luis Buñuel, André Bazin, Chris Marker, Casper Tybjerg and Carl Theodore Dreyer, frame enlargements from version comparisons, and a contemporary interview with Antonin Artaud.

With unabashed enthusiasm, we highly recommend this home video edition of the film as the best Region B Blu-ray Disc edition available. North American collectors will need a region-free Blu-ray Disc player to view this edition. We feel that serious silent film collectors will want both this BD edition and the 2018 Criterion BD edition in their home video collections.
The Criterion Collection
2018 DVD edition

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), black & white, 81 minutes, not rated.

The Criterion Collection, unknown catalog number, UPC 7-15515-21251-9.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 2.1 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $34.95.
Release date: 20 March 2018.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD edition has been mastered from the 2K high-resolution restoration by Gaumont from the Danish Film Institute’s duplicate 35mm preservation negative of the Oslo version of the film and is presented at 24 frames per second (fps) and at 20 fps. The picture has been stablized and digital restoration has removed dust, speckling and any minor print damage.

The film is presented with three music scores: Richard Einhorn’s oratorio “Voices of Light”, a choral and orchestral work (24 fps version); another by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Portishead’s Adrian Utley (24 fps version); and the third composed and performed by pianist Mie Yanashita (20 fps version). There is an option to view the film without any musical accompaniment (both versions). Originally presented in their 1999 DVD edition, Criterion producers have chosen the oratorio entitled “Voices of Light” by composer Richard Einhorn as the primary musical accompaniment to the film. The classical music work was inspired by the Dreyer film and thus became a logical choice for an accompanying music score. The performance by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Choir, with vocal performances by classical quartet Anonymous 4 and soloist Susan Narucki is highlighted by the use of Anonymous 4 for the ‘voice’ of Joan in the music. Of note is Einhorn’s inclusion of his personal recording of the church bell at Domremy, France — home village of Joan of Arc — in the recording of his composition. A short supplementary documentary on the composition and its pairing with the film for this home video edition has been included. The Gregory-Utley score is certainly interesting and appealing but is far overshadowed by the Einhorn score performance when viewing the 24 fps version. The Yanashita piano score is pleasing and perhaps best conveys, among the scores available on home video, the somber tone of the film.

The supplementary material includes an alternate presentation of the film at 20 fps, with the original Danish intertitles; new video-based French language intertitles with optional new English subtitles are available in the 24 fps version; the 1999 audio commentary by film scholar Casper Tybjerg (24 fps version); a new video interview with Einhorn (11 minutes); a new conversation between musicians Will Gregory and Adrian Utley regarding their score (15 minutes); a new video essay by Casper Tybjerg exploring the debate over the film’s frame rate (12 minutes); an audio interview from 1995 with actor Renée Falconetti’s daughter and biographer, Hélène Falconetti (9 minutes); a film version history (10 minutes); a production design archive presentation of still photographs (4 minutes); and a 42-page insert booklet with photographs and frame enlargements, an essay by critic Mark Le Fanu, a 1929 director’s statement by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and the full libretto for “Voices of Light.”

We have not viewed this DVD edition but, based on the high quality of its Blu-ray Disc sister edition (noted above), we highly recommend this as the best available DVD home video edition of the film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
The Criterion Collection
1999 DVD edition

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), black & white, 82 minutes, not rated.

The Criterion Collection, PAS030DVD, UPC 0-37429-13982-0.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 4.8 Mbps average video bit rate, ? Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 2.1 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 21 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $39.95.
Release date: 9 November 1999.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 10 / overall: 9.

This high-quality DVD edition has been mastered from the La Cinémathèque française restoration print that was completed in 1985. The Danske Filmmuseum in Copenhagen provided the complete but slightly worn 35mm positive print to La Cinémathèque française for restoration in the mid-1980s. The surviving footage, a version of director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s original cut, well represents the original quality and visual intent of the film. The Danish intertitles of the source print were translated into French by Maurice Drouzy, presumably consulting contemporary sources. The restoration results, supervised by La Cinémathèque française’s Vincent Pinel, are nothing short of spectacular.

For this edition of The Passion of Joan of Arc, additional digital clean-up of the video transfer, from the Cinémathèque française restoration print was performed to remove dust, scratches, visible splices, chemical spotting, etc. A few shots still reveal the fine patina of scuffing that lightly mars the highlights of the original print. As we have said, the original Danish print held a broad range of greytones and fantastic detail that is retained in this quality video transfer which, in its generous full-frame framing, is stunning — even though it could have benefitted from a higher average video bit rate and less MPEG-2 compression, which would have rendered an even smoother, more filmlike picture on HD monitors.

The supplementary materials include a valuable audio commentary by Casper Tybjerg, notes on the accompanying Einhorn music, interactive essay, multimedia history of the film’s variant editions, and a section on the digital restoration which notes that, in all, 20,320 individual print flaws were digitally removed from the transfer.

Still a great-looking disc but, we now recommend Criterion’s updated and remastered DVD home video edition (noted above).

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Mon Inter Comerz
2015 Blu-ray Disc edition

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), black & white, 96 minutes, not rated.

Mon Inter Comerz SL, unknown catalog number, UPC 8-43655-530617.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 Blu-ray Disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan AVCHD MPEG-4 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Mbps audio bit rate, DTS-HD 48 kHz 2.0 stereo sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, Danish language intertitles, optional Spanish (Castellano) and Portuguese language subtitles, chapter stops; standard BD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
Release date: 2015.
Country of origin: Spain
This Blu-ray Disc edition appears to have been mastered at 20 fps (or a slower frame rate), given the noted running time.

We have no indication as to what kind of musical accompaniment is presented with the film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Colección Cine Mudo
2011 DVD edition

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), black & white, 110 minutes, not rated.

Cinema International Media, unknown catalog number, UPC 6-436022-304529.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 2 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 2.0 stereo sound, Danish language intertitles, optional Spanish (Castellano) and French language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
Release date: 23 March 2011.
Country of origin: Spain
This Region 2 DVD edition appears to have been mastered at a frame rate less than 20fps, given the noted running time. This could mean that the film is presented at a sluggish pace, one slower than natural speed.

We have no indication as to what kind of musical accompaniment is presented with the film.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era CARL THEODOR DREYER films available on home video.

Other FRENCH FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Other RELIGIOUS FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Other FILMS FROM 1928 available on home video.
 
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