The Cool About: Criterion’s Master of the House on Blu-ray

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Criterion has a couple of titles releasing next Tuesday, April, 22nd – Don Segal’s 1954 film Riot in Cell Block 11, which I’m very much looking forward to, and Carl Dreyer’s 1925 precision piece, Master of the House (Du skal ere din hustru).

Master of the House? A precision piece?” you may say. Hell yeah! … That’s what’s cool about it (among other things).

Now, although I have a degree in History and many classes about cinema under my belt, I’m no Dreyer expert. Cards on the table, I’m a dilettante of silent cinema, every day discovering more about it.

At the other end of the people-who-know-a-lot-of-things-about-Carl-Dreyer spectrum are film historians David Bordwell and Casper Tybjerg. They deliver the two video supplements – which, by the way, are included on both the Blu-ray and the DVD (Thank you, Criterion! You put Paramount Home Media Distribution to shame!) – on the Master of the House discs. It’s from Mr. Tybjerg’s 20-plus-minute interview and Mr. Bordwell’s visual essay that I convey the following takes (i.e. the coolness gleaned) …

It’s all about the details – Until perhaps the mid-1920’s, Danish films predominantly utilized a coverage technique referred to as a “tableau” process, or the “tableau effect” – a style of filming or staging in which the action is covered with a single camera, without zooming in on the actors, sort of like filming a play.

Being that Master of the House, a domestic drama (and some say comedy, but I wouldn’t go that far), is set almost entirely in a two-room apartment, Dreyer sought to meticulously stress details, minor details, believing that this would then sharpen characterizations. By granting close attention to preparing breakfast, washing clothes, and, as Mr. Tybjerg says, the general “process of managing a home in the days before modern appliances,” it constituted a turn from the Danish film-making norm, and an acceptance of American influences (Cecil B. DeMille). To film a master shot and cut to a close-up? Sacrilege!

Also, as Master of the House gets deeper into the story, you’ll notice that Dreyer goes for more close-ups of his actors, in a way abstracting them from their everyday environment. This he did to greater effect in The Passion of Joan of Arc (’28). I mean, seriously. Who at that time, besides maybe Buñuel, would want to photograph an actor eschewing a fly from her eyelid?

What’s also cool?

  • In the set’s booklet, Criterion – perhaps unknowingly paying homage to the film – details the process of the film’s restoration down to the number of hours spent on certain elements.
  • The video supplements are in HD, a quality that can’t be said for the supplements on even Universal Pictures best Blu-ray sets (note: E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Jaws, and To Kill a Mockingbird).
  • The new cover and booklet art created by papercut artist Béatrice Coron. Here’s her official website. You might also be interested in her TEDx lecture entitled Stories Cut from Paper, and her short film Daily Battles, which you can watch here.

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About Stephen Slaughter Head

Stephen Slaughter Head co-founded the much-loved movie news website IGN FilmForce. He has more than 2,000 published articles at IGN.com. His filmmaking interviews, reviews and features have been published at AOL, Script magazine, Esquire magazine and the Boston Phoenix. He is also the host of the Diabolique Webcast at DiaboliqueMagazine.com. You can contact him directly on Twitter at twitter.com/stevehead.

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