See studies by T. Milne (1971) and D. Bordwell (1973).
Although his career spanned from the 1910s to the 1960s, his meticulousness, dictatorial methods, idiosyncratic shooting style, and stubborn devotion to his art ensured that his output remained low. In spite of this, he produced some of the most enduring classics of international cinema.
As a young man, Dreyer worked as a journalist, but he eventually joined the film industry as a writer of title cards for silent films and subsequently of screenplays. His first attempts at film direction had limited success, and he left Denmark to work in the French film industry.
In 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Working from the transcripts of Joan's trial, he created a masterpiece of emotion that drew equally from realism and expressionism. Dreyer used private finance from Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg to make his next film as the Danish film industry was in financial ruin. Vampyr (1932) is a surreal meditation on fear. Logic gave way to mood and atmosphere in this story of a man protecting two sisters from a vampire. The movie contains many indelible images, such as the hero, played by de Gunzburg (under the screen name Julian West), dreaming of his own burial and the animal blood lust on the face of one of the sisters as she suffers under the vampire's spell. The film was shot as a silent but had dubbed dialogue added later.
Both films were box office failures, and Dreyer did not make another movie until 1943. Denmark was by now under Nazi occupation and his Day of Wrath had as its theme the hypocrisy of people who engaged in witch hunts. With this work, Dreyer established the style that would mark his sound films: careful compositions, stark monochrome cinematography, and very long takes. In the more than a decade before his next full-length feature film, Dreyer made two documentaries
Dreyer's last film was 1964's Gertrud. Although seen by some as a lesser film than its predecessors, it is a fitting close to Dreyer's career, as it deals with a woman who, through the tribulations of her life, never expresses regret for her choices.
The great, never finished project of Dreyer’s career was a film about Jesus. Though a manuscript was written (published 1968) the unstable economic conditions and Dreyer’s own demands of realism together with his switching engagement let it remain a dream. In return a manuscript about Medea (1965) was realised by Lars von Trier in 1988.
Dreyer died of pneumonia in Copenhagen at age 79. The documentary Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier contains reminiscences from those who knew him.
|Year||English title||Original title||Production country||Notes|
|1919||The President||Præsidenten||Denmark||Based on the novel by Karl Emil Franzos.|
|1920||The Parson's Widow||Prästänkan||Sweden/Denmark||Based on the story "Prestekonen" by Kristofer Janson.|
|1921||Leaves from Satan's Book||Blade af Satans bog||Denmark||Loosely based on the The Sorrows of Satan.|
|1922||Love One Another||Die Gezeichneten||Germany||Based on the novel by Aage Madelung, this film is extremely rare (only 4 prints survive in archives).|
|1922||Once Upon a Time||Der var engang||Denmark||Based on the play by Holger Drachmann.|
|1924||Michael||Michael||Germany||Based on the novel Mikaël (1904) by Herman Bang.|
|1925||Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife (aka Master of the House)||Du skal ære din hustru||Denmark||Based on the play by Svend Rindom.|
|1926||Bride of Glomdal||Glomdalsbruden||Norway/Sweden||Based on the novel by Jacob Breda Bull.|
|1928||The Passion of Joan of Arc||La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc||France||Co-written with Joseph Delteil, author of the novel Jeanne d'Arc (1925, Prix Femina).|
|1932||The Vampire||Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey||France/Germany||Based on the novella Carmilla (1872) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.|
|1943||Day of Wrath||Vredens dag||Denmark||Based on the play "Anne Pedersdotter" by Hans Wiers-Jenssen, hymns by Paul La Cour.|
|1945||Two People||Två människor||Sweden||Based on the play "Attentat" by W.O. Somin. Made in Nazi-related exile to Sweden, the film was disowned by Dreyer and withdrawn from distribution.|
|1955||The Word||Ordet||Denmark||Based on the play by Kaj Munk.|
|1964||Gertrud||Gertrud||Denmark||Based on the play by Hjalmar Söderberg.|