Screen shot from "The Passion of Joan of Arc"

"The Passion of Joan of Arc" was famed for its close-ups, facial expressions and use of extreme contrast in shots, as seen in the above frame. The classic silent film will be shown on campus and accompanied by a live orchestra and numerous vocalists as part of the "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc" performance on campus Oct. 20.

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Pacific to Give Joan of Arc a Voice after More than 80 Years of Silence

Famed performance piece will provide music to a classic silent film
by Patrick GiblinAug 23, 2012

For more than 80 years, the film "The Passion of Joan of Arc" has been lauded by critics as one of the most influential movies of all times. The British Film Institute this year named it as among the 10 best films ever made and several film critic associations have listed as among the greatest movies ever, alongside such great movies as "Citizen Kane," "The Godfather," and "Casablanca."   The film is also known for arguably one of the greatest acting performances of all time on film. 

But for the general public, most people have never seen the film, let alone heard of it. Almost every copy of the movie was believed lost over the ages to fire, wear and tear, and the unstable nature of early celluloid film. To make matters worse, the movie was made in 1928, just one year after the first film with sound - "The Jazz Singer" - wowed audiences and changed movies forever. Movie goers had no appetite for a silent flick. The original slowly faded from public consciousness.

Until now.

At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20, a digitally restored version of "The Passion of Joan of Arc" will be shown in Faye Spanos Concert Hall. While it still will be a "silent movie," there will be sound accompanying the film - specifically from musicians who will perform live during the screening.

The entire performance is called "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc," a contemporary piece that has been performed more than 200 times across the country in the past decade to rave reviews, including at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Richard Einhorn, the man who composed the score in 1995 after seeing the restored film, will introduce the show at the beginning of the Stockton performance. Solos will be performed by Pacific Professors Dan Ebbers, Ann Miller, and Burr Phillips, two Pacific vocal students, and the internationally renowned female a cappella quartet "Anonymous 4."

"It will be a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for Stockton audiences," said Ebbers, who has performed the piece all over the United States, including most recently at University of California, Berkeley in the spring. "Richard Einhorn perfectly accentuates this masterpiece film by making it a multi-dimensional experience for the audience. We see the subtitles in English from the film, but layered on top of this is the haunting and emotional orchestration along with the beautiful texts settings of female mystic poets.  I have yet to perform this piece for an audience that has not been stunned by the totality of the experience."

The Film

Filmed in 1927 and released in 1928, "The Passion's" stark elegance and innovative use of camera angles and close-ups reverberated through the artistic community. Legendary director and actor Orson Welles once said he based the camera techniques of "Citizen Kane" on "The Passion." The film also would be marked as the last movie for actress Renee Jeanne Falconetti. At the age of 35, she played the 19-year-old Joan of Arc, but gave such a passionate performance that she had an emotional collapse shortly after filming ended.

The film debuted just eight years after Joan of Arc's canonization, thus increasing interest in it, especially in Catholic-dominant communities. But the timing was terrible. During the filming of "The Passion," sound was introduced to movies through "The Jazz Singer." The public clamored for more "talkies" and quickly lost interest in silent films, including this masterpiece.

Then age took its toll. As with many movies from the early years of Hollywood, copies of "The Passion" were accidentally destroyed by mistreatment or, more commonly, through fire as the film used at the time was highly flammable and the projectors were very hot. The celluloid of the film also was prone to degrade when exposed to the environment. By the '70s, film historians thought that every known copy of the film had been lost.

Then, just like in the story of Joan of Arc, a miracle happened. During the final inspection of an abandoned mental hospital in Norway that was slated to be demolished in 1981, a completely intact, undamaged version of the movie was discovered, stashed away in a closet of a Norwegian mental hospital by a doctor who checked out the film from a library more than 50 years earlier and forgot to return it.

 The rediscovered version was digitally restored to pristine condition after 20,320 splices, scratches, cue marks and other imperfections were removed.

Joan of Arc

The film tells the story of the trial of Joan of Arc. Born an illiterate farm girl in the year 1412, she became France's 15th century mystic-warrior "Maid of Orleans." In the midst of the Hundred Years War between England and France, Joan was told by "voices of light" that she had been given a divine mission to reunite France. Believing she was on a mission from God, the 17-year-old rallied French troops to important victories before being captured by the English and turned over to an ecclesiastical court composed of French clerics who supported the English. Although she was a devout Catholic, Joan of Arc chose to honor her personal relationship with God over her duty to organized religion. In 1431, the Catholic Church put her on trial for heresy, excommunicated her and then had her burned at the stake.

By 1452, there were serious questions about Joan of Arc's conviction. The Catholic Church conducted a new investigation, and in 1456, she was found innocent and the tables were turned on her persecutor. The late Pierre Cauchon, the man who led the charge for her conviction, was instead found guilty of heresy.

Some 100 years later, Martin Luther would pick up this thread and ignite the Protestant movement.  By the late 1600s, Joan of Arc would become a symbol for the Catholic League, her name would be invoked in France as a political statement during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, and she later would be seen as a shining example of the power of women during the early years of the suffrage movement in the United States. In 1920, nearly 500 years after her death, Joan was declared a Catholic saint, the only saint who was first excommunicated and burned.

Pacific Events

There will be numerous events built around "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc." In the days leading up to the screening:

  • Composer Richard Einhorn will offer a master class at noon, Oct. 18 in the Recital Hall on the music he wrote for the movie. He also will introduce the film on the night that it is played.
  • An exhibition on Joan of Arc will be presented in the Stockton campus library Oct. 18 - Oct. 20.
  • The film "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" will be shown in the Janet Leigh Theatre at 8 p.m. Oct. 18.
  • The quartet Anonymous 4 will host an open forum at 2 p.m. Oct. 19 in Faye Spanos Concert Hall to discuss their sustained success in the classic music industry. The discussions will be led by Professors Keith Hatscheck and Daniel Ebbers.
  • Gender Studies will host a day-long "Gender and War Student Research Conference" on Oct. 20 in the Alex and Jeri Vereschagin Alumni House. The conference will feature research on Joan of Arc, gender, and the parallels that exist in modern conflict.
  • Professor Robin Blaetz from Mount Holyoke College will give a keynote address at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, October 20th, in the Alex and Jeri Vereschagin Alumni House. She is the author of "Visions of the Maid:  Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture."

Tickets for "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan Arc" are on sale online at Tickets are $9 ($10 at the door) for general admission, and $5 for seniors. Tickets also will be sold at the door on the day of the event. Pacific students will get in free but must have a ticket before the event. Students tickets are available from the ASUOP offices in the Don and Karen DeRosa University Center.

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