University of Wisconsin Press colophon



University of Wisconsin Madison crest that links to main university site

Association of University Presses member logo that links to main AUPresses site



Catalog Archive / Spring 2024

Visions and Victims
Art Melodrama in the Films of Carl Th. Dreyer

“Doxtater compellingly argues that Carl Th. Dreyer’s metiér was always art melodrama as a hybrid genre. In her case studies, Dreyer joins the ranks of Sirk, Ray, and Fassbinder as subversive genre filmmakers of melodrama with high-art intentions. Against the grain of the Danish director’s reputation for formalist austerity, the author reveals a surprisingly cagey, dynamic, and erotic storyteller.”
—Arne Lunde, author of Nordic Exposures: Scandinavian Identities in Classical Hollywood Cinema

Challenging assumptions about film melodrama and art cinema

Danish film director Carl Th. Dreyer, one of the twentieth century’s most famous filmmakers, is best known for his masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and his midcentury classics, Day of Wrath and Ordet. Both viewers and scholars largely leave his early work, for Nordisk Film, on the shelf, dismissing it as immature melodramatic fare produced for a company known for superficial, popular entertainment. In the received historiography, Dreyer broke with Nordisk in the pursuit of developing his film as a high art, eventually succeeding on the world stage as an auteur and eschewing melodrama in favor of austere art film.

Amanda Doxtater offers a necessary corrective to this narrative of his bifurcated career. Close readings of Dreyer’s Nordisk films alongside his mature work reveal a stylistic throughline Doxtater terms “art melodrama,” a form combining the ambiguity, stylization, and consciousness of art cinema with the heightened emotional expressivity and dramatic embodiments characteristic of melodrama. She argues that Dreyer’s major artistic concerns known from his later work—pathos, authenticity, the embodiment of psychological duress, and so on—find their first expression in his Nordisk melodramas, complicating our understanding not only of his later films but also of his early works, and even our understanding of the melodramatic mode in general. Indeed, extending well beyond the career of a singular director, this book challenges assumptions about the relationship between “low-brow” melodrama and “high-brow” art cinema.


Amanda Doxtater is an assistant professor and the Barbro Osher Endowed Chair of Swedish Studies at the University of Washington.




“Rooted in painstaking archival research that unpacks Carl Th. Dreyer’s praxis as screenwriter, archivist, and historian, Visions and Victims is a thought-provoking rumination on the temporalities, performativities, and affordances of the archive. Lucidly and elegantly written, the book resituates Dreyer’s oeuvre in the ambivalent space between art cinema and melodrama.”
—C. Claire Thomson, author of Short Films from a Small Nation: Danish Informational Cinema 1935–1965



Download Cover: color | b/w

Request Review Copy

Request Exam Copy


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 Reading Dreyer’s Early Archive: Nordisk Scripts and Art Melodrama
2 La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc: Art Melodrama, “Authenticity,” and Performance
3 Vampyr: Victims, Volition, and Melodrama of Consciousness
4 Day of Wrath and “Kniplinger”: Melodramatic Inheritance and the Domestic Sphere
5 Ordet: Art Melodrama and the Miracle
6 Gertrud: Melodramatic Refusal and the Art Melodrama Archive

Appendix: Carl Th. Dreyer’s Filmography


Of Related Interest

The Life and Afterlife of Swedish Biograph: cover depicting a black and white photograph of a crowd at a movie theatre. A woman and a man sitting beside each other take of the foreground of the photo. The woman has her eyes closed, seemingly asleep, but the man stares intently forward. The title text is written in an art deco font in the bottom right corner of the page within a gilded square.

The Life and Afterlife of Swedish Biograph
From Commercial Circulation to Archival Practices
Jan Olsson

A Cinema of Obsession: Cover showing a black and white photograph of Mai Zetterling looking out from behind a camera.

A Cinema of Obsession
The Life and Work of Mai Zetterling
Mariah Larsson

Visions and Victims: a pink cover depicting a woman with teary eyes staring off into the distance, a lopsided crown upon her head. The title text is written in contrasting white and yellow.

Larger images

May 2024
254 pp. 6 x 9
28 b/w illus.

Book icon
Cloth $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299347505
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
Review Cart