Cinema and Media Studies Carl Theodor Dreyer
Casper Tybjerg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0282


Carl Theodor Dreyer (b. 3 February 1889–d. 20 March 1968) was a Danish film director; in Danish usage, his middle name is normally abbreviated (Carl Th. Dreyer). Besides Denmark, Dreyer also worked in Sweden, Norway, Germany, and France, but he made only a small number of films in the course of a very long career (fourteen features from 1918 to 1964). Dreyer’s name has remained in the pantheon of great film directors, but several more recent writings about him argue that his critical reputation has declined somewhat. One of the great interests of Dreyer as a filmmaker is the length of his career and the variety of his output; some of his films seem similar to Griffith, some to Eisenstein, some to Antonioni; but this has also made it difficult to find a formula that easily sums him up as a filmmaker. The two strains of film criticism that regarded Dreyer with the greatest veneration were probably postwar humanist criticism, whether Christian or atheist, and high-modernist avant-garde formalism. Despite their very different concerns, Dreyer’s films were central to both of them. However, newer schools of film criticism have not been kind to either, dismissing them as old-fashioned. Moreover, the perception that Dreyer was a godly filmmaker promoting Christian beliefs, while widely questioned by Dreyer scholarship, is probably shared widely enough to make other film scholars who are uncomfortable with overt religiosity hesitant to focus their research on his work. Finally, the literature on Dreyer, while not overwhelmingly extensive, is in several different languages and it is often difficult to find outside major film studies research libraries. The most important books on Dreyer in French and Danish have not been translated into English (or vice versa), and this does seem to have held back at least some scholarly interest. This article prioritizes writings in English over writings in other languages, and newer writings over older. It largely excludes writings specifically about La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, since that film has a full, separate Oxford Bibliographies article devoted to it, “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”

Online Resource

The most important resource for anyone doing research on Dreyer is Carl Th. Dreyer: The Man and His Work, the website on Dreyer maintained by the Danish Film Institute. A few significant articles have been given their own entries in this article, but the site repays exploration.

back to top

Your subscription doesn't include the subject of this book.