The Passion of Joan of Arc (Formerly Lost Silent French Film; 1928)
The Passion of Joan of Arc is a 1928 silent French film by Carl Theodor Dreyer. It was incredibly influential and innovative for its time, pioneering new shot types like close-ups. The film chronicled the events of the final days of Joan's life leading up to her execution. The dialogue was taken primarily from her court records. To this day, it is considered one of the most powerful and impressive films of its time.
It also contains what is often considered to be cinema's greatest onscreen performance: Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc. It is often rumored that she got so into acting that she had to be briefly institutionalized for believing she really was Joan of Arc.
The film went through a long and troubled production. Dreyer, a perfectionist, demanded several takes of scenes. Dreyer slaved over hours of raw footage to create his vision of the perfect film. However, the film was met with controversy upon release.
Many theaters refused to screen the film because it portrayed members of the British church so starkly. As such, very few copies of the film were created. It became one of the first films to be destroyed due to it's silver nitrate composition in many studio fires, with the final known copy having been destroyed in 1929 in a lab fire.
The film was re-made using spare footage and alternate takes in 1933 into a briefer 61-minute version. Considered vastly inferior to the original, the film was mostly only shown to people for educational purposes.
Dreyer passed away in 1968, thinking that his masterpiece would forever be lost. However, by a stroke of luck, a pristine condition 35 mm nitrate print was discovered in the storage closet of the Dikemark Mental Hospital in Norway in 1981. The film was sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where it was stored for a period of time. Technicians at the Institute finally examined the film in 1984 and determined that the print contained Dreyer's original cut. The film was restored in 1985, and is now available on various forms of home video.
Many musical compositions, most notably Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light," are known to accompany the film today. "Voices of Light" is now acclaimed as one of the greatest film scores of all time. However, some may prefer to watch the film in total silence, as Falconetti's performance and the passion in the film is considered among cinema's most captivating.