featured screening: “Passion of Joan of Arc”

Too many good screenings to pick from this week! Aguirre, the Wrath of God is essential cinema, and the most interesting adaptation ever made of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (sorry, Marlon Brando fans). The MFA is showing Josef von Sternberg on 35mm! Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides is at the Brattle — her first feature film is still her best, as far as I’m concerned. And any other week I would have highlighted the underrated remake of Night of the Living Dead, which sticks to the original plot but with a clever reversal that makes Barbara into the central, fearless protagonist rather than the catatonic victim of the original.

However, this week there’s a chance to see Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc on the big screen; it’s an experience that doesn’t come up very often and one that every serious film fan should be lucky enough to have at least once. Dreyer’s silent masterpiece is told almost entirely in jarring close-ups; it’s a relic of a time when the visual language of narrative film was still being invented, a branch of the evolutionary tree of cinema which never ended up becoming the dominant species. It’s a truly weird experience even for those accustomed to watching silent film, but a powerful one. It’s a credit to the programmers at the Coolidge that they are putting enough faith in the audience to show the film not once but twice, with two different musical scores. I can’t speak to either of these scores, but silent film is special in that it can be recontextualized by music in a way that contemporary films cannot. If you’ve never seen Passion on the big screen, make sure you do so, even though this is a digital screening and not on film; the huge, screen-spanning close-ups can only do so much if they are 30 or 40 inches across, and were always meant to be projected at 30 or 40 feet wide instead.

Screening this week at the Coolidge Corner Theatre at 7pm and 9pm on Monday, March 12 as part of the Big Screen Classics series.Screens at 7pm with Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light score and at 9pm with a score by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, featuring vocalizations by Jónsi of Sigur Rós.

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