Copenhagen, 3 February 1889.
Married Ebba Larsen, 1911, two sons.
Journalist in Copenhagen, 1909–13; after writing scripts for
Scandinavisk-Russiske Handelshus, joined Nordisk Films Kompagni, 1913;
directed first film,
, 1919; moved to Berlin, worked for Primusfilm, 1921; joined Ufa, 1924;
returned to Copenhagen, 1925; hired by Société Generale de
Films, Paris, 1926; left film industry, returned to journalism in Denmark,
1932; returned to filmmaking with documentary
, 1942; awarded managership of a film theatre by Danish government, 1952;
worked on film project on the life of Jesus, 1964–68.
Golden Lion Award, Venice Festival, for
In Copenhagen, 20 March 1968.
Praesidenten ( The President ) (+ sc, co-art d)
Prästänkan ( The Parson's Widow ; The Witch Woman ; The Fourth Marriage of Dame Margaret ) (+ sc)
Blade af Satans Bog ( Leaves from Satan's Book ) (+ co-sc, co-art d) (shot in 1919)
Die Gezeichneten ( The Stigmatized One ; Love One Another ) (+ sc); Der Var Engang ( Once upon a Time ) (+ co-sc, ed)
Michael (+ co-sc)
Du Skal Aere Din Hustru ( Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife ; The Master of the House ) (+ co-sc, art d)
Glomdalsbruden ( The Bride of Glomdal ) (+ sc, art d)
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (+ co-sc)
Vampyr ( The Dream of David Gray ) (+ co-sc, pr)
Mdrehjaelpen¡ ( Good Mothers )
Vredens Dag ( Day of Wrath ) (+ co-sc)
Två Manniskor ( Two People ) (+ co-sc, ed)
Vandet Pa Låndet ( Water from the Land ) (never finished) (+ sc)
Landsbykirken ( The Danish Village Church ) (+ co-sc); Kampen Mod Kraeften ( The Struggle against Cancer ) (+ co-sc)
De Naaede Faergen ( They Caught the Ferry ) (+ sc)
Thorvaldsen (+ co-sc)
Storstrmsbroen¡ ( The Bridge of Storstrm¡ ) (+ sc)
Et Slot I Et Slot ( Castle within a Castle ) (+ sc)
Ordet ( The Word ) (+ sc)
Gertrud (+ sc)
Bryggerens Datter ( The Brewer's Daughter ) (Ottesen) (co-sc)
Balloneksplosionen ( The Balloon Explosion ) (sc); Krigs-korrespondenten ( The War Correspondent ) (Glückstadt) (sc); Hans og Grethe ( Hans and Grethe ) (sc); Elskovs Opfindsomhed ( Inventive Love ) (Wolder) (sc); Chatollets Hemmelighed, eller Det gamle chatol ( The Secret of the Writing Desk ; The Old Writing Desk ) (Davidsen) (sc)
Ned Med Vabnene ( Lay down Your Arms ) (Holger-Madsen) (sc)
Juvelerernes Skrœk, eller Skelethaanden, eller Skelethaandens sidste bedrift ( The Jeweller's Terror ; The Skeleton's Hand ; The Last Adventure of the Skeleton's Hand ) (Christian) (sc)
Penge ( Money ) (Mantzius) (sc); Den Hvide Djœvel, eller Djœvelens Protege ( The White Devil ; The Devil's Protegé ) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Den Skonne Evelyn ( Evelyn the Beautiful ) (Sandberg) (sc); Rovedderkoppen, eller Den rde¡ Enke ( The Robber Spider ; The White Widow ) (Blom) (sc); En Forbryders Liv og Levned, eller En Forbryders Memoirer ( The Life and Times of a Criminal ; The Memoirs of a Criminal ) (Christian) (sc); Guldets Gift, eller Lerhjertet ( The Poison of Gold ; The Clay Heart ) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Pavillonens Hemmelighed ( The Secret of the Pavilion ) (Mantzius) (sc)
Den Mystiske Selskabsdame, eller Legationens Gidsel ( The Mysterious Lady's Companion ; The Hostage of the Embassy ) (Blom) (sc); Hans Rigtige Kone ( His Real Wife ) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Fange Nr. 113 ( Prisoner No. 113 ) (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Hotel Paradis ( Hotel Paradiso ) (Dinesen) (sc)
Lydia (Holger-Madsen) (sc); Glaedens Dag, eller Miskendt ( Day of Joy ; Neglected ) (Christian) (sc)
Gillekop (Blom) (sc); Grevindens Aere ( The Countess' Honor ) (Blom) (sc)
De Gamle ( The Seventh Age ) (sc)
Radioens Barndom (ed)
Shakespeare og Kronborg ( Hamlet's Castle ) (Roos) (sc)
Rønnes og Nexøs Genopbygning ( The Rebuilding of Ronne and Nexø ) (sc)
Om filmen , Copenhagen, 1959.
Five Film af Carl Th. Dreyer , edited by Ole Storm, Copenhagen, 1964.
Jesus fra Nazaret. Et filmmanuskript , Copenhagen, 1968; as Jesus , New York, 1972.
Four Screenplays , New York, 1970.
Oeuvres cinématographiques 1926–1934 , edited by Maurice Drouzy and Charles Tesson, Paris, 1983.
"Lunch with Carl Dreyer," with Ragna Jackson, in Penguin Film Review (London), August 1947.
Interview with John Winge, in Sight and Sound (London), January 1950.
"Visit with Carl Th. Dreyer," with James Card, in Image (Rochester, New York), December 1953.
"Rencontre avec Carl Dreyer," with Lotte Eisner, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1955.
"Thoughts on My Craft," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 3, 1955/56.
Interview with Herbert Luft, in Films and Filming (London), no. 9, 1961.
"Dreyer Mosaik," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1963.
"Carl Dreyer nous dit: 'Le principal intérêt d'un homme: les autres hommes,"' an interview with Georges Sadoul, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 24 December 1964.
Interview with Michel Delahaye, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 170, 1965.
Interview with Børge Trolle, in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1966.
"My Way of Working Is in Relation to the Future: A Conversation with Carl Dreyer," with Carl Lerner, in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1966.
"Carl Dreyer: Utter Bore or Total Genius?" with Denis Duperley, in Films and Filming (London), February 1968.
Interview with Michel Delahaye, in Interview with Film Directors , edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1969.
"Metaphysic of Ordet," in The Film Culture Reader , edited by P. Adams Sitney, New York, 1970.
Neergaard, Ebbe, Carl Theodor Dreyer: A Film Director's Work , London, 1950.
Trolle, Børge, The Art of Carl Dreyer: An Analysis , Copenhagen, 1955.
Sémolué, Jean, Dreyer , Paris, 1962.
Bowser, Eileen, The Films of Carl Dreyer , New York, 1964.
Monty, Ib, Portrait of Carl Th. Dreyer , Copenhagen, 1965.
Dyssegaard, Soren, editor, Carl Th. Dreyer, Danish Film Director , Copenhagen, 1968.
Milne, Tom, The Cinema of Carl Dreyer , New York, 1971.
Ernst, Helge, Dreyer: Carl Th. Dreyer—en dansk filmskaber , Copenhagen, 1972.
Schrader, Paul, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer , Los Angeles, 1972.
Bordwell, David, Dreyer , London, 1973.
Skoller, Donald, editor, Dreyer in Double Reflection , New York, 1973.
Nash, Mark, editor, Dreyer , London, 1977.
Bordwell, David, The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer , Berkeley, California, 1981.
Drouzy, M., Carl Th. Dreyer, né Nilsson , Paris, 1982.
Carney, Raymond, Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer , Cambridge, 1989.
Aumont, Jacques, Vampyr de Carl Th. Dreyer , Crisnée, Belgium, 1993.
Bassotto, Camillo, Carl Th. Dreyer: La passion de Jeanne d'Arc , Venice, 1996.
Drum, Jean, and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer , Lanham, Maryland, 2000.
"Dreyer Issue" of Ecran Français (Paris), 11 November 1947.
Rowland, Richard, "Carl Dreyer's World," in Hollywood Quarterly , no. 1, 1950.
Duca, Lo, "Trilogie mystique de Dreyer," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1952.
Rehben, Ernst, "Carl Dreyer, poète tragique du cinéma," in Positif (Paris), no. 8, 1953.
Trolle, Brge¡, "The World of Carl Dreyer," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1955/56.
Luft, Herbert, "Carl Dreyer—A Master of His Craft," in Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television (Berkeley), no. 2, 1956.
Eisner, Lotte, "Réalisme et irréel chez Dreyer," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1956.
Luft, Herbert, "Dreyer," in Films and Filming (London), June 1961.
Cowie, Peter, "Dreyer at Seventy-Five," in Films and Filming (London), no. 6, 1964.
Kelman, Ken, "Dreyer," in Film Culture (New York), no. 35, 1964/65.
Milne, Tom, "Darkness and Light," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 4, 1965.
Téchiné, André, "L'Archaisme nordique de Dreyer," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 170, 1965.
Bond, Kirk, "The World of Carl Dreyer," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1965.
"Dreyer Issue" of Kosmorama (Copenhagen), June 1968.
"Dreyer Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1968.
Amette, Jacques-Pierre, "Carl Th. Dreyer," in Dossiers du cinéma: Cinéastes I , Paris, 1971.
Bordwell, David, "Passion, Death, and Testament: Carl Dreyer's Jesus Film," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Wood, Robin, "Carl Dreyer," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1974.
Vaughan, Dai, "Carl Dreyer and the Theme of Choice," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1974.
Petric, Vlada, "Dreyer's Concept of Abstraction," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1975.
De Benedictus, M., "Dreyer: La regola del pendolo," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), January-February 1979.
Schepelern, P., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1982.
Devilliers, M., "Dreyer, la chair et l'ombre," in Cinématographe (Paris), November 1983.
Lardeau, Yves, and C. Tesson, "Dreyer en images," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1983.
" Gertrud Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), December 1984.
" La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc Section," of Skrien (Amsterdam), November-December 1985.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, " Gertrud : The Desire for the Image," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1985–86.
" Passion de Jeanne d'Arc Issue," of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January-February 1988.
Milne, Tom, "Carl Dreyer," in Radio Times (London), 25 February 1989.
"Special Issue," Kosmorama (Denmark), vol. 35, no. 187, Spring 1989.
Véronneau, P., "C.T. Dreyer, 1889–1968," in Revue de la Cinémathèque (Montreal), no. 2, August-September 1989.
Donovan, F., "La magie Dreyer," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 461, November 1989.
Filmcritica (Italy), vol. 41, no. 107, July 1990.
Drouzy, M., "Les années noires de Dreyer," in Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 4, Autumn 1993.
* * *
Carl Theodor Dreyer is the greatest filmmaker in the Danish cinema, where he was always a solitary personality. But he is also among the few international directors who turned films into an art and made them a new means of expression for the artistic genius. Of Dreyer's feature films, seven were produced in Denmark, three in Germany, two in France, two in Sweden, and one in Norway.
If one tries to understand the special nature of Dreyer's art, one can delve into his early life to find the roots of his never-failing contempt for pretentions and his hatred of bourgeois respectability, as well as his preoccupation with suffering and martyrdom. In his biography of Dreyer, M. Drouzy revealed the fate of Dreyer's biological mother, who died in the most cruel way following an attempted abortion. Dreyer, who was adopted by a Copenhagen family, learned about the circumstances of her death when he was eighteen years old, and Drouzy's psychoanalytical study finds the victimized woman in all of Dreyer's films. But of what value is the biographical approach to the understanding of a great artist? The work of an artist need not be the illumination of his private life. This may afford some explanation when we are inquiring into the fundamental point of departure for an artist, but Dreyer's personality is expressed very clearly and graphically in his films. We can therefore well admire the consistency which has always characterized his outlook on life.
Like many great artists, Dreyer is characterized by the relatively few themes that he constantly played upon. One of the keynotes in Dreyer's work is suffering, and his world is filled with martyrs. Yet suffering and martyrdom are surely not the fundamentals. They are merely manifestations, the results of something else. Suffering and martyrdom are the consequences of wickedness, and it is malice and its influence upon people that his films are concerned about. As early in his career as the 1921 film, Leaves from Satan's Book , Dreyer tackled this theme of the power of evil over the human mind. He returned to examine this theme again and again.
If the popular verdict is that Dreyer's films are heavy and gloomy, naturally the idea is suggested by the subjects which he handled. Dreyer never tried to make us believe that life is a bed of roses. There is much suffering, wickedness, death, and torment in his films, but they often conclude in an optimistic conviction in the victory of spirit over matter. With death comes deliverance. It is beyond the reach of malice.
In his delineation of suffering man, devoid of any hope before the arrival of death, Dreyer was never philosophically abstract. Though his films were often enacted on a supersensible plane, and are concerned with religious problems, his method as an artist was one of psychological realism, and his object was always the individual. Dreyer's masterly depiction of milieu has always been greatly admired; his keen perception of the characteristic detail is simply dazzling. But this authenticity in settings has never been a means towards a meticulous naturalism. He always sought to transcend naturalism so as to reach a kind of purified, or classically simplified, realism.
Though Dreyer occupied himself with the processes of the soul, he always preserved an impartiality when portraying them. One might say that he maintained a high degree of objectivity in his description of the subjective. This can be sensed in his films as a kind of presentation rather than forceful advocacy. Dreyer himself, when describing his method in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc , once employed the expression "realized mysticism." The phrase indicates quite precisely his endeavours to render understandable things that are difficult to comprehend, to make the irrational appear intelligible. The meaning behind life lies in just this recognition of the necessity to suffer in order to arrive at deliverance. The characters nearly always suffered defeat in the outward world because Dreyer considered defeat or victory in the human world to be of no significance. For him the triumph of the soul over life was what was most important.
There are those who wish to demonstrate a line of development in Dreyer's production, but there is no development in the customary sense. Dreyer's world seemed established at an early period of his life, and his films merely changed in their way of viewing the world. There was a complete congruity between his ideas and his style, and it was typical of him to have said: "The soul is revealed in the style, which is the artist's expression of the way he regards his material." For Dreyer the image was always the important thing, so important that there is some justification in describing him as first and foremost the great artist of the silent film. On the other hand, his last great films were concerned with the effort to create a harmony between image and sound, and to that end he was constantly experimenting.
Dreyer's pictorial style has been characterized by his extensive and careful employment of the close-up. His films are filled with faces. In this way he was able to let his characters unfold themselves, for he was chiefly interested in the expressions that appear as the result of spiritual conflicts. Emphasis has often been given to the slow lingering rhythm in Dreyer's films. It is obvious that this dilatoriness springs from the wish to endow the action with a stamp of monumentality, though it could lead dangerously close to empty solemnity, to the formalistic.
Dreyer quickly realized the inadequacy of the montage technique, which had been regarded as the foundation of film for so many years. His films became more and more based on long uncut sequences. By the end of his career his calm, elaborating style was quite in conformity with the newer trends in the cinema.