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After seeing D. W. Griffith's epic Intolerance, Denmark's greatest director, Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr), was inspired to make his own four-episode historical epic with each story told end to end, anthology-style, linked by theme to the others. The unifying character, Satan, attempts to win God's favor but is doomed to cheerless participation in dark episodes of human history: the temptation of Jesus, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the Russo-Finnish war of 1918. Few directors resisted compromise and convention the way Dreyer did; fortunately, the Nordisk Film Company was artistically progressive by Hollywood standards and agreed that this should be a prestige film made to the highest standards. More than two years in production, Dreyer not only directed but also controlled every facet of this ambitious production. Written by
"Blade Af Satans Bog" ( Leaves Out Of The Book Of Satan ) (1921) was Herr Dreyer's most ambitious early silent film, a big "Nordisk" film production that depicts a challenge between Satan and God spanning 2000 years; fortunately the Danish Film Institute has shortened such a huge lapse of time to 157 minutes in a recent and beautiful film restoration for the pleasure of silent film fans around the world.
This age old conflict is represented by four episodes: the betrayal of Herr Jesus by Herr Judas, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the Finnish civil war in 1918. In "Blade AF Satans Bog" there are echoes of Griffith and certainly "Intolerance" (1916) was a big influence on Dreyer in terms of his film's construction and narrative not to mention the moral treatise. However Dreyer, unlike Griffith, is more interested in ethics than spectacle. Blade Af Satans Bog" is basically a moral story in the shape of a big film production, in which evil deeds and human weaknesses became a metaphor and eternal parable.
The moral treatise mentioned by this Herr Graf is probably the most interesting aspect of the picture as the Danish director carefully develops the struggle between evil and good: Satan disguised as a Pharisee, a Grand Inquisitor, a Jacobin leader and a Bolshevik monk, must tempt his victims by appealing to their inner human weaknesses. In the background to this fight is religion, betrayal, ambition and power. The fallen angel knows how to persuade men towards his evil ends but is aware that there is no real comfort finally in his cruel doings. It is this aspect of the story that really counts for Herr Dreyer and he takes splendid advantage of the many technical resources at his disposal for this big budget film.
Herr George Schnéevoigt was the cinematographer of the film and does excellent work, especially during the scene wherein Herr Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He also captures the dark atmosphere of the Inquisition and provides a human portrait of Frau Marie Antoinette. The cinematographer's use of light and shadows captures the tragic mood perfectly.
This Herr Graf does not overlook the splendid and restrained acting by Herr Helge Nissen who, as the wicked Herr Satan, achieves a brilliant portrayal in his four different guises.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must continue to speak evil of one of his Teutonic rich heiress to another one.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com
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