VARYING VERSIONS OF SILENT CLASSICS
Today, Dudley Murphy and Fernand Léger's Ballet mécanique is commonly seen in museum and classroom screenings—yet almost invariably we see it in a shortened version. The film premiered at the Internationale Ausstellung für Theatertechnik ("International Exhibition of Theater Technology") in Vienna in 1924. A copy of this full version—which contained additional footage not seen in most prints, including several shots of Léger's paintings—was preserved by Frederick Kiesler, a modernist architect (who designed a small art theater for the Film Guild in New York in 1929). His widow donated it to the Anthology Film Archives (New York) in 1976.
Léger had reedited a shorter version, which he donated to the Museum of Modern Art in 1935. This abridgment is the basis for most current prints, although other versions of Ballet mécanique exist. For an account of the film's production and subsequent career, see Judi Freeman, "Léger's Ballet mécanique," in Rudolf E. Kuenzli, ed., Dada and Surrealist Film (New York: Willis Locker & Owens, 1987), pp. 28–45.
The distribution history of The Passion of Joan of Arc has been even more confusing. Dreyer himself claimed that he was unable to prepare the final version of the film released in France, Denmark, and elsewhere, yet there is evidence that he did edit it. The film's negative was apparently burned in a laboratory fire. A shortened sound version of the film was released in the United States in 1933, and another sonorized version was released in France in 1952. The Cinémathèque Française in Paris preserved a lengthy print, which was copied and widely circulated. On the assumption that this print was still missing significant portions, the Dansk Filmmuseum in Copenhagen undertook a painstaking reconstruction. Then, in the early 1980s, a print made in 1928 from the original negative was discovered in Norway. Surprisingly, this print turned out to be only slightly different from the standard Cinémathèque version that had been circulating for decades. A few shots were longer, and the visual quality was clearer, but in this case the familiar version of a silent classic was apparently quite close to the original. See Tony Pipolo, "The Spectre of Joan of Arc: Textual Variations in the Key Prints of Carl Dreyer's Film," Film History 2, no. 4 (November/December 1988): 301–24. For more on reconstructions of early films, see Notes and Queries, Chapters 4 and 5.