Seeing The Passion of Joan of Arc the first time, the way that I did, remains one of the most memorable cinephile experiences I’ve ever had (and probably will ever have). It was 1995, the summer, and I was out in Los Angeles visiting my brother. Modern classical composer Richard Einhorn had recently composed a piece entitled Voices of Light and was performing it for the first time in Los Angeles at the incredible John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. So I decided to go, alone (maybe my favorite way to take in a movie). They projected the film on a massive screen and then as it played, these hundreds of people behind the screen (musicians and vocals) provided the accompaniment. It was roaringly powerful and as transcendent as any artistic experience I’ve ever had.
Dreyer’s film, for me, is all about Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s face. Simply put, it’s the most emotive thing I’ve ever seen on a screen.
Everyone always talks about what the talkies could do that silent films couldn’t (and of course there are obvious things). However, in my favorite silent films it’s not just directors making a film without sound; it’s a different art form in many ways, with different strengths and weaknesses. If you ask me to show an example of what a silent film can do that the talkies can never really imitate, this is the film I would use.
What moviemakers can learn: The cinema is a different medium from theater. The camera is up close and personal, and the eyes of your actors are some of your most important tools. Sometimes consider taking away the words and using the eyes to do your work instead.
Other contenders for 1928: Admittedly, there are some major gaps I still have to fill for this year. The most notable are probably Howard Hawks’ A Girl in Every Port, Josef von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York, King Vidor’s The Crowd and Victor Seastrom’s The Wind. I also have never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s The Farmer’s Wife, Jean Renoir’s Le tournoi dans la cité and Jean Renoir’s short film La petite marchande d’allumettes. I’ve seen Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly once, but it didn’t really stay with me. I really like Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou, but it doesn’t affect me in the same complete way as my top pick. The only two runners-up that could really challenge for this spot are my two favorite Buster Keaton films: Steamboat Bill, Jr. and The Cameraman. To me, they’re the two Keaton films with the most energy and the most mind-blowing action sequences. But, finally, I give the edge to the Dreyer as it affected me more deeply than any other film I’ve seen from this year.
After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.