Still from 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' by Carl Dreyer
Posted by:

Mark Cosgrove Cinema Curator

on Sun 2 June 2019

The Renewed Passion of Joan of Arc

Posted on Tue 19 April 2011

Following the continued success of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc', the new score to Carl Dreyer's classic silent film of the same name, Watershed's Mark Cosgrove details the beginnings of the project, Watershed's involvement, and how the score has developed a life of its own.

The unknown question about putting together a creative project is "how will it be received?". Following that, there is the question "Will it find wider resonance?".

This new score to Carl Dreyer's classic silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, started off four years ago when I showed some silent films to musicians Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp). It took a few years to get their schedules together, but when they did, combined with some investment from Colston Hall, the result was a powerful new score to an equally powerful silent film, which premiered in Bristol in May 2010. The intensity of Dreyer's cinema and on-screen performances was complemented by the dynamic power of the new score, and resulted in a moving live performance.

Since then we have been spreading the word, and as I write it is about to performed in Poland at the Krakow Opera House, at London’s Southbank Centre as part of Ether Festival, and at the Brighton International Festival. What is so fascinating about these events, is the way that the project has blossomed from an initial desire from Adrian and Will to develop a score to a silent film.

The first performance in Poland is as part of the Easter holy week celebrations in Krakow, where "the passion" takes on a more intense symbolic significance. Joan, of course, is a Catholic Saint. Born in 1412, as a teenager she famously claimed divine guidance from God and led the French army to significant victories in the 100 year War. She was captured, handed over to the English, tried for heresy (the transcript of the trial forms the basis of Dreyer's film), and burnt at the stake in May 1431 at the tender age of 19. 25 years later she was declared innocent by Pope Callixtus III and made into a religious martyr. In 1909 she was beatified by the Catholic Church, and finally canonised as St Joan in 1920.

The piece is being presented at the Ether Festival in London; the Southbank Centre’s annual music festival of innovation, art, technology and cross-arts experimentation. As the score for The Passion of Joan of Arc evolved, Adrian and Will developed a sound incorporating an unorthodox mix of musicians and instruments, which combined (amongst others) electric guitars, harps, and choir.

This year's Brighton International Festival is a celebration of its guest director Aung San Suu Kyi;

"the courageous leader, human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner - has fought passionately for democracy in Burma and taken to the heart of this year’s Festival is her plea ‘use your liberty to promote ours’"
 - Brighton Festival 2011

The parallels between Joan's tale of courage, faith, and conscience, and Aung San Suu Kyi's are striking. This event will surely be powerful fusion of art and real life.

Mark Cosgrove, Watershed’s Head of Programme, 19th April 2011

This live music to silent film project was developed with and supported by Watershed, and commissioned by Colston Hall.

Related Links:
The Passion of Joan of Arc
White Light Festival

Guardian Review

Financial Times Review

The New York Times Review

The Spectator Review

The Telegraph Review

ATP review: Chris Harris's blog

ATP review: Wears the trousers magazine
Fashion is my Imaginary Friend: Adrian Utley and Will Gregory Interview (Dazed & Confused May Issue)
Lucid Frenzy Junior Review of The Passion of Joan of Arc