Sean Dixon

On The Other Hand

“Why do you search so diligently for sorcerers? Take the Jesuits — all the religious orders — and torture them. They will confess. If some deny, repeat it a few times. They will confess. Should a few still be obstinate exorcise them, shave them, only keep on torturing. They will give in. Take the canons, the doctors, the bishops of the church. They will all confess.” Friedrich von Spee with regards to the Inquisition

Twice I’ve depicted happy, joyful executions here on Ryeberg. The pattern has barely even occurred to me. I apologize to anyone who might have experienced anything senseless lately. Because there is also the solo death, the lonely death, the meaningless death, the really stupid death.

And then there is the innocent death, conducted in the name of an ignorance that burns all in its path — rational minds doing the work of careless, reckless nature, cutting a swath as terrible as a house on fire with your children inside it, or your friends’ children, or anyone’s children in it.

No celebration there.

Carl Dreyer, “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” (1928)

As with Jeanne d’Arc in Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece of close-ups, there are no words for this kind of condemning. No sound at all in fact (the way it’s presented in the clip above) to help you with your mourning and your dread.

In the film, Dreyer has cut even the dialogue from from the final print, leaving only the faces of those who stand in judgment. Their silent ignorant jawing. The occasional glimmer of awareness of their own colossal continent-burning stupidity. And, beyond that, the face of Antonin Artaud, whose reaction cannot be described or even understood. Cruel and kind and crazy and full of longing. Does he want to be a part of her innocence or a part of their relentless nature? He wants to make a celebration of her death, but isn’t it way too soon? Or he wants to comfort her, but she can’t be comforted. What will become of him when all this is done? Will he pound the earth or praise the sublime nature of being?

And then there is Maria Falconetti. A comic actress, who has never before done film, and who does not understand its limits.

Carl Dreyer, “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” (1928)

You can choose to watch it in silence, as was intended, or you can watch with a beautiful score. Music makes it easier to watch. Why is that?

I watched this film with my mother-in-law a year and a half ago when she was fighting a very serious illness. Three weeks away from her death, she was still very much alive, fighting patiently and with much humour. We watched the film with the score instead of the silence. She had grown up behind the Iron Curtain in Prague and had never seen any of these silent expressionist masterpieces — had never even really heard of them. She had seen the films of their heirs, though. She’d always loved Ingmar Bergman particularly, but had never seen his sources — the clay from which he was made.

Carl Dreyer.

Carl Dreyer, “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc” (1928)

The “Passion of Jean d’Arc” was a revelation for her. It was for me too, but I was proud, so proud, to have found this for her, to have given her such a revelation. We saw it together, watched it twice in a row, tears streaming the whole time. My wife and father-in-law came to rescue us at the end of the second viewing. They were laughing. We had gone mad.

I thought of it again the other day upon receiving the news that friends have lost a daughter. I find I can’t say any more about it than that. They lost their daughter. Why do these things happen?

“… no wind, and no hope of heaven, and no wish for heaven, since the meanest of people show more mercy than hounding and terrorist gods.” Annie Dillard, Holy The Firm

– Sean Dixon

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Sean Dixon is a novelist, playwright, and actor. His novels include "The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn" and "The Girls Who Saw Everything" ("The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal" in the U.S. and the U.K.) — named one of the Best Books of 2007 by Quill & Quire. His plays have been produced in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K., and three have been collected in "AWOL: Three Plays for Theatre SKAM." There is also his drama, "A God in Need of Help."