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Critical acclaim for Ray Carney's Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer

David Sterritt, The Christian Science Monitor

“In his new book on Dreyer, as in his earlier Cassavetes and Capra studies, Carney shows himself to be an auteur in the cinematic sense – that is, a thinker whose preoccupations and concerns show a telling similarity even when different subjects are under investigation."

“In each of his books, Carney examines formal and thematic ideas, as any thorough film explicator must. But he insists on the primacy of human values, and spends most of his energy showing how such values are expressed and illuminated by the filmmakers in question."

“His study of Dreyer rejects the formalistic and symbolic approaches that David Bordwell and other scholars have taken, suggesting that Dreyer’s technical and metaphoric strategies are of limited importance if one separates them from the filmmaker’s overriding interest: the struggle between individual freedom and spirituality, on the one hand, and the repressions of social structures and psychological habits, on the other."

“Carney makes a compelling case for Dreyer as a profound humanist whose works are misread if one treasures only their visual ingenuity or their more obvious thematic levels. Beyond the scholarly apparatus of his book, he shows a healthy appreciation for the immediacy, emotional depth, and respect for “human resilience” that underlie the great director’s greatest work.”

R. Thorstensson (Gustavus Adolphus College), Choice
“In this exhaustive and spirited study, Carney attempts to ‘rehabilitate’ the works of Carl Dreyer (1889–1968), the Danish filmmaker whose films are often listed among the masterpieces of all times while being practically unknown to contemporary film-goers. Carney wants to make the director’s work more accessible to ‘common, intelligent, curious readers and viewers.’ Carney dismisses the common argument that Dreyer’s films are neglected because of economic, linguistic, and cultural forces outside the films themselves – most of Dreyer’s films are low budget, in Danish, and with Danish actors. Instead he maintains that it is Dreyer’s style, his greatest asset, which makes his films hard for today’s viewers to appreciate. The study is divided into two parts: in Ways of Knowing, Carney outlines approaches to Dreyer’s style, thus helping readers overcome the greatest obstacles to understanding the director’s films. In Speaking the Language of Desire, Carney provides detailed analyses of Dreyer’s last three films, Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1963). Recommended for academic libraries, upper division undergraduate students, and above.”

American Cinematographer
“Prof. Raymond Carney’s controversial interpretation of Carl Dreyer’s films, Speaking the Language of Desire, attempts to dispel the generally held view that his films, as exemplified in Ordet, are esoteric and demanding, while in reality they present, as in The Passion of Joan of Arc, an image of passionate human drama.”

Films and Filming
“A work of committed interpretive scholarship aimed at rescuing one of the world’s great filmmakers from the obscurity into which his own uniquely elevated vision and austere cinematic language have cast him.”

CAST Communication Booknotes
Speaking the Language of Desire by Raymond Carney is published on the 100th anniversary of Dreyer’s birth. The author concentrates on Dreyer’s three most accessible sound films: Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud. The book contains the usual scholarly apparatus. Perhaps its most interesting section is the opening 50 pages where Carney attempts to differentiate his approach to film criticism from that of David Bordwell, the author of the major previous work in English on Dreyer.”

Raymond Durgnat, author of Durgnat on Film, Films and Feelings, Jean Renoir, WR – Mysteries of the Organism, Luis Bunel, and other books
“Your Dreyer book made me feel a lot better about the future of film criticism and culture.”

Scott Simmon, author of King Vidor American, The Films of D.W. Griffith, The Invention of the Western Film, and other books
“Exhilarating! Speaking the Language of Desire comes out swinging and ends up transcendent. It was as close to un-put-downable as film criticism gets. I loved the book’s way of maintaining that come-see-this, come-observe-this, come-feel-this non-reductionist guidance, that style of passion that reads like logic or is it logic that reads like passion, so meshed with the subject. But did I laugh loudest at the Bordwell band as Day of Wrath inquisitors, making lists and naming names – or at Bordwell as Gustav in Gertrud – either way a Malvolioesque comic act, the straight man caught with garters crossed in the garden of everybody else’s genuine desire.”

Ray Carney, Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 50 illustrations, paperback, 365 pages. This book is available directly from the author for $20 in a Xeroxed bound copy of the original published book edition. (The book itself is now out of print.)

Although Carl Dreyer is universally acknowledged to be one of the supreme masters of world cinema, it is one of the oddities of film history that beyond The Passion of Joan of Arc, his films have seldom had the general recognition that they undeniably deserve. This book is an attempt to bring his work to the awareness of contemporary filmgoers everywhere.

Ray Carney argues that the key to an understanding of Dreyer’s work is to be found in an appreciation of his distinctive style. Professor Carney argues that Dreyer’s style creates a "radically new way of knowing and feeling" that can change how we understand our experiences and identities outside of the movies.

Following a general consideration of Dreyer’s style, the book offers lucid and comprehensive interpretations of the three crowning masterworks of Dreyer’s career: Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud.

The study will appeal both to general filmgoers and to undergraduate and graduate students interested in film.

* * *

This book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookseller, or, for a limited time, directly from the author (in discounted and specially autographed editions).

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If you order directly from the author, also included will be a copy of Ray Carney's "Learning from Dreyer: Reflections on the Lessons His Work Teaches," which originally appeared in Lene Crone and Lars Movin, eds. Close-Ups: Contemporary Art and Carl Th. Dreyer, Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center (Copenhagen, Denmark, November-December 1999).

To obtain a bound Xeroxed copy of the original published book edition directly from the author (please stipulate if you would like an inscription or autograph on the inside front cover), please send $20 (US Postal Money Order only) with your name and address, and the title of the book you are ordering, to the following address. (Domestic US orders only.)

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