Friday, April 23, 2010

PuSh Festival Post I (again): The Passion of Joan of Arc

I am sure I have already done these PuSh posts, but the blog says otherwise. So, round two...

I attended The Passion of Joan of Arc on 28 January 2010 at the Christ Church Cathedral. It went something like this (from the PuSh Festival website):

“With the haunting face of actress RenĂ©e Falconetti playing the doomed Joan of Arc as inspiration, Vancouver-based composer Stefan Smulovitz has written a luminous score to accompany Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Performed by the Eye of Newt Ensemble, this PuSh Festival commissioned piece for ten musicians includes text by Colin Browne and combines the stunning voice of Viviane Houle with the city’s top instrumentalists and Christ Church Cathedral’s legendary pipe organ, in a sublime tribute to one of film’s most enduring performances.”

While the original film—La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, directed Dreyer—is brilliant, I did not think the musical and text accompaniment contributed much, beyond pretentious appropriation, that is. In La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, Falconetti's performance, complemented by relentless close-up shooting and use of panochromatic film renders Joan of Arc, canonised by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920, intensely human. There are several themes at work in this amplified humanism. One I find particularly interesting is the emphasis on personal confession, not only as purging of sinful behaviour, but also as a necessary means of legitimating a higher authority. In “Chapter XV” of the Essence of Christianity, German philosopher and anthropologist Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach argues that Christianity creates the illusion of a higher authority—God—as a means of controlling humanity, when in reality the higher authority of God is entirely based on human self-subordination: humans create the God they cannot live up to. This is particularly evident in the figure of Christ that, neither wholly human nor wholly God, keeps humanity under servitude in cycle of aspiration and inadequacy. Joan of Arc is similarly asked to confess her sins to God as represented in oppressive law. The deviant must validate the law of her exclusion.

In this sense, Joan of Arc’s refusal, her silence is a very powerful resistance. Adding music and text—to give voice to—this silence is merely a buying into “active” conventions: active voice versus passive silence, masculinity versus femininity, authority versus subordinate. It is little more than an old-hack, pretentious, masculine appropriation, even if sung by Viviane Houle.

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