Sunday, February 24, 2013


This was the second time visiting the Glasgow Cathedral for me , the first time was during the day, the starting point for the Glasgow Slavery Walk Tour.This time was an evening visit to see one of the all time applauded silent films ever made.

It was fitting the film , with live beautifully haunting accompanying singing and full musical score from the enormous chloral organ with tubes seemingly as big as a double decker bus , was showing in a building which would have stood as the tallest established landmark at the time of the actual trials and tribulations of Joan of Arc herself.

The inside of the Cathedral has many weird seemingly incongruous features , from graves of previous benefactors ( including those that made fortunes from Jamaican tobacco plantations ) to tattered flags of Scottish Regiments in what is a very unsymmetrical layout that belies the exterior.

Inside there is a delicate , captivating delight for the eye to focus on no matter which height or direction you look , seeing an ever increasing intricate detail the closer you examine , the light from the stain glassed windows makes every vista a new fresh chromatic perspective that is never the same from one glance to the next.

The film was made less than a decade after Joan of Arc was made into a saint.The very choice of the director not being French made him and the commissioners of the project subject to vehement , tasteless, chauvanist and arrogant attacks from nationalist and cultural communities.For the director the project was aimed to see if the film format could capture emotion, Human intensity, and the ellusive spirituality that few art can as this review from The Guardian illustrates.  

"So extraordinary and otherworldly is this film's power, you could believe you were watching the actual trial of Joan of Arc, rather than just actors recreating it for the camera. The fact that it was based on the original transcripts of the trial could be a factor, but Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer was not much concerned with historical accuracy (Joan had been canonised in 1920, seven years before this film was made). "The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life," he later wrote"
The verdict through the ages since has been that this film fulfilled all the ambitious briefs with astonishing success.It is easy for us in this age to forget that films that send us powerful spiritual emotional messages would not have done so until this work in particular showed it can be done , and more powerfully in this medium than any other for the time and effort expended by the viewer.

The film was made on a huge set , painted in deep pink to provide contrast with the sky for cameras of the time.The actors performed with no make-up so faces could show the full emotional canvas when shown , almost exclusively , in close shot where the full nuance of complexity of feelings shines through.

The film was banned in France , and the UK, by intervention of the Church in the former and the Military reputation in the latter , not surprising as one of the fiercest aspects that almost strangulate the viewer is the intense oppression of the crushing mass of accusers representing any State backed Dogmatic institution suppressing a captive individual at any given time and any given place.

It was thought the original film as intended to be shown by the director had been lost forever due to two fires.Even the much lauded film the World has been watching was constructed from  cuts put together from previously edited-out material that survived.In 1981 canisters containing original shots turned up in a Norwegian Mental Hospital.They were restored in 1985 to a version very close to one Dreyer would have intended the public to see.

In the case of Joan of Arc herself there has been much controversy as to why the King she had helped to Throne did not do enough to rescue or foster an exchange which seemed to be well within negotiating options.The cold,harsh political explanation would be he would not really want to have a highly influential hawkish member of the military chief-of-staff who claimed divine visions and a mandated mission from God for a perpetually expansive continuing endless military campaign.Even in her letter to the English before the capture of Orleans ( note Note:12) she stressed the long term goal was to take the war south and possibly to initiate yet another crusade against the Muslims once the Hussite Czechs had been forcibly converted or exterminated.This point is further validated when she wrote this letter to the Hussites in the few months of peace between the King and the English allies in which her turn to the Southern front is shown. ( take particular notice of note:3)

Having just established his Throne the priority would have been to stabilise and consolidate gains which would have been unimaginable only a few humiliating years ago.The presence of Joan of arc in his court would have been a liability to political settlements in the North , when her "inspired" presence may have encouraged more campaigns than all parties at the time had energy or resources for , especially if attention to on-going rivals in the North were diverted to a campaign in Czech Lands which would have brought the Poles and the Holy Roman Empire into a multi-frontal conflict.

The twist of History is that when the English burnt Joan of Arc at the stake they may also have burnt the chances of exterminating the Hussite Czechs and yet another ill-advised crusade against Muslims with her.

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