The Brooklyn Academy of Music is running a Carl Th. Dreyer retrospective, appropriately and monolithically titled DREYER, from March 13 - March 31. Here you will find my quick notes as I plunge in deep with the Dane. I hope we learn something as we march forward (and step back) with care.
Daily ritual cramps life at the outset in Master of the House (1925). Complacency is the target as a good wife's dutiful acceptance of her role, which she props up larger than her capacities, has bred a spoiled husband—and exhausted her to illness. Thus a plan to reform the husband through punishment and denial. The old tough love routine: wife recovers in secluded country air (she's seen enclosed there, too) while husband endures a new training from an old nanny on how to participate in a home. Routine becomes repetitive, becomes explicit behavioral training, and education is a one-way battle. It's also about asserting the feminine right to power in a patriarchal order, a gender study decades before co-eds could sign up. A key image late shows three generations of ladies looking at this now-reformed man of the house willingly wash his dishes, their faces triangulated over the top two thirds of the frame. Dreyer shoots the couple's reunion from behind the man with the woman's hands—hands we've seen butter bread and skin potatoes, load wood and carry laundry, burn on the stove—creeping into sight around his neck, as if to assert her claim. Finally we see her hands start the clock, as echoed by Ordet, and we see their love in a metronome swing between them, heart to heart. Their marriage finds a new beginning, as echoed by Ordet, with the man acceding to his better. And the woman shines fresh with life. If Dreyer is the ultimate master of this house, as he angles our eyes on its every cranny, he does his best to build a space where optimism may brim.