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  • Risen from the Ashes:The Complex Print History of Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  • Stephen Larson (bio)

Carl Theodor Dreyer's (1889-1968) La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928) has endured a harrowing journey since its 1928 premiere. Prints of Passion were butchered and put through fires on at least three reported occasions.1 However, the film miraculously survived and resurfaced in almost immaculate shape. Passion had become so associated with flames, both in Joan's ordeal and the film's prints, that a book publisher titled an anthology of Dreyer's screenplays Fire Film.2

Ironically, in a strange twist of fate, objects that burned with Joan on the pyre later helped save one of the few prints of Passion. After he cofounded the Cinematheque Française in 1936, film archivist Henri Langlois (1914-77) located an interpositive of Passion that he included as one of the film museum's top artifacts.3 When the Germans [End Page 53] occupied France during World War II, Langlois reportedly hid this print in his bathtub through the end of the war.4 Coal and firewood apparently covered the boxes of film reels that contained a copy of Passion.5 After the war, Ebbe Neergaard (1901-57), manager of Denmark's national film institution, Statens Filmcentral, obtained a new print made from Langlois's duplicate negative. This copy was handed over to the Danish Film Museum (DFM).6 The Langlois print became known as the "mother copy" for all later prints made in the United States.7

This article examines the various roles content providers have played in changing the form and content of Passion. It seeks a balanced analysis of Passion's various incarnations and their content (re)producers—delivering relatively equal breadth and depth to each. It argues that the DVD and Blu-ray releases issued by the Criterion Collection and Masters of Cinema Series have given the film a new life and contributed to the rebirth of Dreyer's work. The article also sheds additional light on some rare prints of the film, including an unreleased cut that was supposed to play in Paris in autumn 1928. It calls for archivists, digital restoration artists, and an independent video distributor to reassemble the cut based on existing footage. In film preservation discourse, this is known as a reconstruction. A reconstruction entails locating the most original material artifacts (if available), comparing all existing sources, and producing an editing decision list that will guide the editing process throughout the workflow.8 A completed chart will document all the decisions made by the restorer with regard to assembling the restored version and the sources needed to reconstruct it.9

To illustrate the contributions that Dreyer and his collaborators brought to Passion, I first survey the film's origins and its production history. I then deliver a chronological history of Passion's release versions. The purpose of this section is to identify the film's different remediators, ascertain their roles in the process of remediation, and determine specific changes that they made to the original. In the context of film laboratories, archivist Giovanna Fossati defines remediation as a practice that refashions old restoration technologies by means of new ones.10 The first part explains how Passion came together, describes Dreyer's working relationship with novelist Joseph Delteil, and delineates sources for the screenplay.


In 1926, Master of the House (Dreyer's seventh silent feature) became a box-office success in France, screening in fifty-seven Parisian cinemas in three weeks and in seventy-two provincial cinemas overall.11 Dreyer emerged as a rising director in Western Europe, [End Page 54] prompting the French company Société Générale des Films (SGF) to offer him a major film project on one of three historical female figures: Catherine de Medici, Marie Antoinette, or Joan of Arc. Dreyer chose the last, and SGF granted him a budget of seven million francs (about three hundred thousand dollars).12

SGF's producers purchased the rights to Surrealist writer Joseph Delteil's (1894-1978) biographical novel Jeanne d'Arc (1925).13 They were...


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