Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Dreyer, Carl Th

(1889-1968) Danish movie director and screenwriter. The first movie he directed was Praesidenten ["The President"] (1919). With his next, Blade af Satans Bog (1919; vt Leaves from Satan's Book), whose screenplay he based on Marie Corelli's The Sorrows of Satan (1895), he moved into the territory of fantasy, showing Satan's activities in various epochs from the time of Christ onwards; the movie was attacked on several fronts, notably for its portrayal of Christ. After several other movies and now much lauded in France, CTD made in that country La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1927; vt The Passion of Joan of Arc), a movie made all the more powerful by the fact that its screenplay (by CTD) was based on the extant trial records. Almost all further cinematic representations of Joan of Arc have been affected by the imagery of this silent movie; its script appears in CTD's Four Screenplays (trans 1970). Despite the fact that this was swiftly recognized as a classic of cinema – a status it still enjoys – CTD was on his uppers when he accepted private financing from Baron Nicholas de Gunzberg to make Vampyr (?1932 – may have been released in early 1930 or 1931), one of the oddest of all fantasy movies. His next movie of interest was Vredens Dag (1943; Day of Wrath), in which an innocent 17th-century woman is burnt as a Witch; she pronounces a Curse on the local cleric, who soon dies; his wife, who loves another, is accused of witchcraft ... and so the vicious round of human stupidity and vindictiveness continues. Ordet (1954; vt The Word) – by now CTD was much less prolific – was another complex tale, and probably a considerable influence on Ingmar Bergman. It is just about viewable as a realistic drama in which revelatory religious experiences are merely a matter of Perception, but it plays with the viewer's perception to make one realize that the supernatural is truly at work. Gertrud (1964) uses Surrealist techniques born purely of the cinema, rather than derived from painted Surrealism, to convey emotional anguish in a carefully understated tale of emotional deprivation.

It was CDT's last movie: he died while planning Jesus, for which his extensive research included touring Israel at length and learning Hebrew. Not all of CDT's movies were well received at the time, and many have become hard to find; but all share a sense of the mysterious that is very close to the heart of fantasy – while yet being entirely cinematic, owing little or nothing to the written word. [JG]

Carl Theodor Dreyer


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.