The Bells of Saint Joan

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Mar 22, 2018

One of the masterworks of the silent era, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) harrowingly envisions the saint’s trial and execution, evoking her physical and spiritual torment through an iconically expressive performance by Reneé Falconetti. With intimate close-ups, oblique camera angles, and stylized lighting, Dreyer makes palpable the sheer immediacy of Joan’s struggle in captivity and under threat of death. This intensity is well complemented by Richard Einhorn’s 1994 oratorio Voices of Light, a stirring piece of music that was inspired by The Passion—which, like most silent films, lacks an official score—and has often accompanied it over the past quarter century. In addition to giving viewers the option of watching the movie along with Voices of Light, our packed new edition of the film includes an interview with Einhorn about the scoring process. In the above clip from the supplement, the composer discusses the substantial amount of research that went into the piece, including his reading of medieval texts in conceiving the libretto and his pilgrimage to France, where he recorded the bells at the church where Joan prayed long ago, a sound he later wove into his orchestral and vocal work.