Master of the House – The Criterion Collection #706 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 19, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“Master of the House” is an entertaining and magnificently performed silent masterpiece from Carl Theodor Dreyer. It may not be a grandiose film, nor it may be his deepest film that he has ever made, but it is a silent classic that balances comedy and drama with a storyline that is relevant today. “Master of the House – The Criterion Collection #706” is highly recommended!
Image are courtesy of © 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Master of the House – The Criterion Collection #706
YEAR OF FILM: 1925
DURATION: 107 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, LPCM 2.0, Black and White, Silent film
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: April 22, 2014
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Written by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Screenplay by Svend Rindom
Based on the play “Tyrannens fald” by Svend Rindom
Co-Producer: Fabio Conversi, Jerome Seydoux
Music by Gillian B. Anderson, performed by pianist Sara Davis Buchner
Cinematography by George Schneevoigt
Edited by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Art Direction by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Set Decoration by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Johannes Meyer as Viktor Frandsen
Astrid Holm as Ida Frandsen
Karin Nellemose as Karen Frandsen
Clara Schonfeld as Kryger
Aage Hoffman as Dreng
Byril Harvig as Barnet
Before he turned to the story of Joan of Arc, the Danish cinema genius Carl Theodor Dreyer fashioned this ahead-of-its-time examination of domestic life. A deft comedy of gentle revenge, it is the story of a housewife who, with the help of a wily nanny, turns the tables on her tyrannical husband. In it, Dreyer combines lightness and humor with his customary meticulous craft and sense of integrity. Master of the House, an enormous box-office success in its day, is a jewel of the silent cinema.
Before filmmaker Carl Th. Dreyer would create cinematic masterpiece such as “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, “Vampyr”, “Day of Wrath”, “Ordet”, “Gertrude”. He would create the 1925 Danish silent drama “Du skal ære din hustru” (Master of the House).
A classic in Dutch cinema, “Master of the House” will be released on Blu-ray + DVD combo courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
“Master of the House” focuses on the Frandsen family.
Ida Frandsen (portrayed by Astrid Holm) is the family matriarch, trying to take care of her children, her eldest daughter Karen (portrayed by Karin Nellemose), and her two young sons.
But life is not too easy for Ida as her husband Viktor (portrayed by Johannes Meyer) is very demanding. He wants things done his way, wants his breakfast made a certain way and his demeanor is cold and mean when dealing with Ida and the children.
But when Viktor’s old wetnurse, Mads (portrayed by Mathilde Nielsen) comes by, she sees how badly Victor has become and she is worried about how Viktor treats them.
And as Mads tries to speak out against Viktor, she slaps him and he ends up giving her a bloody nose.
Fearing for Ida’s health, Mads contacts Ida’s mother, Alvilda (portrayed by Clara Schonfeld) and both come up with a plan to take Ida out of the house and for Viktor to realize how much he needs and love his wife, and how fortunate he is to have a loving wife.
Upset that Mads and Alvilda are in the house, he gives his wife an ultimatum, if they are not gone by the time he gets back, their marriage is over.
Seeing how badly Ida’s health is, Alvilda takes her daughter out of the home and takes her to an area where Viktor can not find her.
But what happens when Viktor returns back home to find out that his wife is now gone? Will he learn a big lesson what life would be without his wife not being there?
“Master of the House” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) in black and white. Having owned the 2006 BFI DVD version of the film, “Master of the House” looks great on Blu-ray. There is much more clarity when it comes to the picture quality, while close-ups feature very good detail considering the film’s age. Granted, it’s not amazing detail but the fact that this film is 90-years-old, the fact that the film looks this good without major tears, scratches, white specks or dirt, nitrate warping or any destruction to the original negative, picture quality is very good!
According to the Criterion Collection, “this new restoration, undertaken by Palladium, a digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 2 DataCine from a duplicate negative and other source materials at Digital Film Lab in Copenhangen.The film was also restored at Digital Film Lab, where 3,2000 hours were spent removing dust, blotches and scratches using the DaVinci Revival and Phoenix restoration systems. Fifty hours were dedicated to image stabilization, where a Flame workstation was used to remove jumps caused by splices. The film’s original flicker, the result of varying image exposure from the hand-cranked film camera, has been preserved.
“Master of the House” is presented in LPCM 2.0. The musical soundtrack is crystal clear and was a magnificent choice for this film.
As for the soundtrack, according to the Criterion Collection, “in 2000, composer Gillian B. Anderson, with the help of Jim Luke, reconstructed the score from the film’s premiere based on those original cues, substituting only one piece. The score was performed on piano by Sara Davis Buechner and recorded at CBS Vancouver in 2004; it was remastered for this release at 24-bit from the 17.5 mm magnetic track using Pro Tools HD”.
Intertitles are in the original Danish version with a new set of English intertitles.
“Master of the House – The Criterion Collection #706” comes with the following special features:
- Interview with Casper Tybjerg – (15:27) Danish film historian Casper Tybjerg discusses how “Master of the House” went from being a popular play to a film and how it became a major stepping stone for Carl Th. Dreyer.
- Visual Essay by David Bordwell – (22:45) The cinematic innovations of Carl Th. Dreyer utilized in “Master of the House”.
“Master of the House – The Criterion Collection #706” comes with a 24-page booklet featuring the essay “In the Corner” by Mark Le Fanu.
I know it may be hard for some to consider “Master of the House” was one of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece.
The storyline is not as serious, nor is it as deep when compared to his other greater titles such as “The Passion of Joan of Arc” or “Ordet”, but “Master of the House” takes a normal-day situation that people at the time and people of today can sympathize and that is a woman, a wife and mother being a hero for all the work contributed at the home.
This is very fascinating because a lot of early silent film and even talkies would focus on the patriarch and if anything, the man is the master of the house.
But for this 1925 film, Carl Th. Dreyer takes Svend Rindom’s play “Tyrannes fald” and makes the viewer feel that the situation of these characters are realistic and plausible.
Johannes Meyer plays the tyrant patriarch, the cold husband and father Viktor to the saintly Ida portrayed by Astrid Holm.
We watch as the caring wife does all she can for her family, taking care of her children but wanting to keep her husband happy. She cooks, she cleans, she prepares his food but nothing is ever good for him, he has something to complain about and he acts the least bit grateful.
And as both Meyer and Holm give us a fantastic performance as husband wife, it’s Mathilde Nielsen as Viktor’s wetnurse, Mads, who manages to steal the film with her cold stare and her tough as nails attitude as the person who would have to punish a younger Viktor (whenever he got into trouble), now standing defiant as she watches him behave coldly to his wife and family. Knowing that she must step in before Viktor pushes his wife to the extreme and he possibly losing her for good.
But can this older woman change Viktor for good?
Watching this film, you have to appreciate what Dreyer was able to accomplish. For one, no grandiose expensive sets. Just a living room for the majority of the film where the family interacts and if anything, Dreyer wanted the set to feel like an actual living room of an apartment for a middle-class family who are trying to survive during tough times.
Dreyer utilized four walls for the set, but which one wall could be taken down to accommodate a camera, a cinematic technique now employed today for a lot of TV series. But what is most interesting is the fact that Dreyer wanted a real gas stove and anything he can to keep this film to seem authentic as it was shot indoors at a normal home.
Each shot is carefully planned, every performance on mark and pacing for the film flows smoothly from beginning to end.
As for the Blu-ray release, when compared to the 2006 BFI DVD release, the first thing you will see is much better clarity. Details from closeups of a person’s face, details on clothing or the environment of the Frand’s home. Also, the restoration work done for this film shows the painstaking commitment to remove any blemish that this film may have had as the film looks amazing on Blu-ray considering the film’s age. This Blu-ray release looks so much better than the BFI DVD release and for those who owned it previously, will definitely want to upgrade.
The music is by pianist Sara Davis Buechner sounds crystal clear via LPCM 2.0 and you get two special features that explores the cinematic innovation utilized for the film.
Overall, “Master of the House” is an entertaining and magnificently performed silent masterpiece from Carl Theodor Dreyer. It may not be a grandiose film, nor it may be his deepest film that he has ever made, but it is a silent classic that balances comedy and drama with a storyline that is relevant today.
“Master of the House – The Criterion Collection #706” is highly recommended!
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