The Passion of Joan of Arc

When one is 76 as I am, one can (I can) look back on a lifetime of events that includes entertainment. This can be film, opera, theatre, dance, concerts, reading and art exhibitions.

It is only in this 21st century that I have come to realize that part of being alive should include sleep, rest and entertainment. Because I no longer have to work for a living (nor could I now if I tried) all that I have left is “make work”, reading, and sharing my obsolete, redundant and retired life with my Rosemary and our cats Niño and Niña.

That entertainment can be escapist or it can be educational, particularly if it is challenging. I stopped being interested in escapist entertainment around the time that Sean Connery stopped being James Bond. I do not care for heroes and superheroes. I have come around to agreeing with Rosemary that a film with violence and too much sex is not for me. I like my film sex to be elegant and subtle.

Because of age I have now decided that I never ever want to listen to Bach’s Double Violin Concerto or to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I crave stuff played by the Turning Point Ensemble that may challenge my ears or simply sound new. That moment that I experienced in 1962 when I first heard Jazz Samba with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd has rarely been repeated. In the last few years I have discovered a bit of that with the listening to chaconnes in concerts related to Early Music Vancouver.

Something that is also finally lodged in my brain is that film is really an art form. It was an art form that in the 20thcentury replaced (almost?) opera, an art form of previous centuries. Such has been the proliferation of 19thcentury Italian opera in this century that I agree with those who prefer to listen to operas of the 18th and 17th century. These days it’s Handel or Monteverdi over Puccini for me.

Now with films I can look back at some of the ones that have remained in my memory. Perhaps it could be because they were very good or perhaps also because of the company I had when I saw them.

As a 9 year old my friend Mario and I went around 1950 to silent films in our Cohglan neighbourhood in Buenos Aires at a salon next to a nearby Capuchin church. It was there that we discovered El Gordo y el Flaco and Carlitos Chaplín.

On the Buenos Aires film street of Lavalle I saw Colt .45 (Randolph Scott) with my father or Romeo and Juliet with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer. In the mid-60s I took my new girlfriend to see it and she told me that the actors were too old to play the parts. She insisted we see Help! with the Beatles and because I her I learned to like them. She also took me to see the fabulous film The Woman of the Dunes.

Back in Mexico in the late 60s my friend Raul Guerrero Montemayor made me fall for Monica Vitti in the Antonioni films. Monica Vitti almost made me forget Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, Rear Window and her last film The Swan.

To this day I equate the Third Man with my mother as she adored Joseph Cotten. Having lived in Mexico for many years I have always had a liking for Touch of Evil.

Perhaps the first really big film that made an impact in my life was 2001- A Space Odyssey because I saw it with Rosemary not too long after we were married. We saw it in a big new movie house that had cutting edge sound. We were wowed.

Since then we have seen many films and liked a lot of them. But, and this is a big loud but I had never been so affected by a film as the one I saw Sunday night on TCM. This was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Five minutes into the movie Rosemary could not stand the sound track by Richard Einhorn’s 1995 oratorio Voices of Light.

I was mesmerized by the music and the Dryer’s camera work (mostly closeups) that seems avant-garde 21stcentury with its black and white contrast in simple sets. And there is nothing that I have ever seen that will compare to the acting of Maria Falconetti who like all the other actors in the film wore no makeup.

As a photographer I had this strange reaction to pick up my camera and shoot my own “version” of movie stills.

If anything this film has made it most evident that there is certainly a lot of new under the sun even it is a film from 1928.

I find it interesting that Falconetti (born Renée Jeanne Falconetti in 1892, in France) died almost forgotten in Buenos Aires in 1946.

A Restored Passion of Joan of Arc Still a Trancendent Masterpiece
1929 NY Times Review by Mordaunt Hall

A YouTube Version

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: