Master of the House Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
“‘Heroes’ is just the word for the patient wife of the home, the brave mother of the home—she who, behind her loving smile, hides her fatigue, her sorrows, her worries…”
There she is: doing the laundry, fixing a button on her son’s shirt, helping him with his math homework, tidying up wherever there may be a speck of dirt or an item left behind. It’s what’s expected of her by her husband, who is busy sleeping. The only help Ida (Astrid Holm, 1921’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE) gets is from her daughter, Karen (Karin Nellemose, who would go on to win two Bodil Awards in 1949), who is well aware of the consequences of not having her father’s coffee on the table for him.
Viktor (Johannes Meyer, whose lengthy career ran from 1909 to 1967) is the kind of man whose first words when he wakes aren’t “Good morning” but rather “Where are my slippers?” And when he’s not hurling insults at his family, he’s starting tirades off with, “I thought I told you…”
There’s really only so much a woman can take. Suspecting Ida is on the brink of madness, a former nanny named Mads (Mathilde Nielsen, who previously starred in director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s THE PARSON’S WIDOW) advises Ida to go off so she can whip some sense and decency into Viktor.
One can imagine a series of montages where Viktor dons an apron, misuses the broom, fumbles trying to fold a bed sheet and shrugs his shoulders comedically for the camera, because that’s how may sitcoms would handle it. But there is none of that. MASTER OF THE HOUSE is certainly a comedy, it just has more clever laughs, as when Viktor finds himself facing the same corner his son was once made to do. (Such categorization may come as a surprise to those familiar with Dreyer’s works, which have dealt with witchcraft, soul seeking, martyrdom and thinking oneself is Jesus Christ—topics generally not considered reliable comedic fodder.)
At its core, though, MASTER OF THE HOUSE (also known as THOU SHALT HONOR THY WIFE, despite there being no usage of religion in the entire film) is a work of feminism—and a very early one at that. It is a film that blatantly says to all men, “Make your own coffee, find your own slippers, learn the subtle intricacies of washing a dish; you’re not worthy of sharing your life and breath with such a wonderful human.” There is a terrific and blunt line late in the film delivered by Mads that sums up the thoughts of what possibly every female viewer will be thinking within the first minutes: “You men are all alike…foolish…stubborn…vain…conceited…” That MASTER OF THE HOUSE came out in 1925 shows just how much it and its director (whose other iconic works include 1928’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, 1932’s VAMPYR and 1943’s DAY OF WRATH) were ahead of the time.
MASTER OF THE HOUSE is based on a play by Svend Rindom titled “Tyrannes fald,” which translates to “The Tyrant’s Fall.”
MASTER OF THE HOUSE CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “For 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 Copenhagen. 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.”
As they have with previous silent film releases such as THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE and PEOPLE ON SUNDAY, Criterion has done a spectacular job with MASTER OF THE HOUSE. The transfer cleans up the picture nicely by removing any significant damage, but still maintains the look and feel of the film, remaining faithful to director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s vision and cinematographer George Schnéevoigt’s work.
Audio: Silent. “MASTER OF THE HOUSE premiered on October 5, 1925, at the Palads Teatret in Copenhagen. Shortly thereafter, the theater published a list of the music cues that accompanied the film that night. 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 CBC Vancouver in 2004; it was remastered for this release at 24-bit from the 17.5 mm magnetic track using Pro Tools HD.”
“When MASTER OF THE HOUSE was originally released, Palladium distributed two versions: one with Danish intertitles and the other with English ones. For this edition, Criterion returned to the original Danish version to create a new set of English intertitles. The translation was done by Signe Juul Hansen and Ina Bjerre Larsen.”
The score comes through wonderfully and sounds as nice as it likely ever will on home video.
Interview with Casper Tybjerg (15:27): Danish film historian Tybjerg discusses how MASTER OF THE HOUSE came to be and its place in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s oeuvre.
Visual Essay by David Bordwell (22:45): Still images and footage accompany Bordwell’s narration, which highlights the various techniques Dreyer used.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a 20-page booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu.