Once upon a time (May 5, 1995), a critic for our most distinguished newspaper wrote an article that has stuck in my craw for nearly two decades. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Victor Sjöström’
These notes accompany the screening of The Wind, May 26, 27, and 28 in Theater 3.
As we draw toward the end of the silent period, I recognize that Victor Sjöström (1879–1960)—”Victor Seastrom” during his MGM years—has been somewhat neglected in this series. We did show his early Ingeborg Holm (1913), and several clips appeared in the documentary Swedish Cinema Classics, but that is insufficient for a full appreciation of his importance. His work between 1917 and his departure for Hollywood in 1923 (including Terje Vigen, The Outlaw and His Wife, The Phantom Chariot, and his numerous adaptations of Selma Lagerlof novels) place him in the first rank of silent-film directors, and he pioneered the pitfalls of directing himself as an actor before Chaplin, Stroheim, or Keaton. Several of his nine Hollywood films no longer survive, although the two Lillian Gish vehicles, The Scarlet Letter and The Wind, still remain and appear to be the best of the lot. He returned to Europe in 1928, directing only two talkies but continuing to act in Swedish films until his bravura performance for Ingmar Bergman in Wild Strawberries (1957) at the age of seventy-eight. Read more
These notes accompany the Nordic Gods and Directors program, which screens on February 17, 18, and 19 in Theater 3.
In a sense, there are two Fritz Langs, with his life, career, and sensibility split almost literally in half by the rise of the Nazis. The German Lang is monumental, existing in a realm of the fantastic, the superhuman, the surreal. The American Lang is naturalistic, existing in a real world inhabited by ordinary earthlings, people with feelings, folks with whom we can identify. The crossover film was M (1931), Lang’s first talkie, in which Peter Lorre’s child murderer is accorded a sympathetic hearing, evoking the genuine emotion lacking in Lang’s work over the preceding twelve years. This is not to suggest that Lang (1890–1976) ever became a conventionally naturalistic and humanistic director in the course of his honorable and mostly successful American career. He was as much a progenitor of film noir as he was of the expressionism from whence it sprung, and his later ramblings—from Brecht to Zola, from the Philippines of Tyrone Power to Jean-Luc Godard’s Capri in Le Mepris—bespeak no ordinary career.
H. G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, simultaneous with the birth of the movies. By sending out their cadre of globetrotting cameramen, the Lumière brothers quickly opened up the world of the present (replete with all its regional oddities and exoticism) to film audiences. Wells mastered the speculative future in the tradition of Jules Verne, but perhaps even more intriguing for filmgoers was the possibility film offered to travel back in time and retrieve the distant past.
D. W. Griffith had dabbled in this (with his In Prehistoric Days, 1913, for example), but the real heavy lifting was done by the Italians. This is appropriate, since the thousand-year history of the Roman Republic and Empire was unrivaled in its impact on the contemporary world; Italy practically owned history. This was accentuated for visual artists by the poignant beauty of surviving ruins and statuary, both in Rome and spread over three continents. Italy’s heritage contributed mightily to the seeming authenticity of its celluloid spectacles.
Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the "The Scandinavian Connection" program, which screens on October 21, 22, and 23 in Theater 3.
Although Urban Gad (1879–1947) made a few films in Germany in the 1920s, during the golden age of Expressionism, his career had petered out by 1927. He clearly was not playing in the same league as Murnau, Lang, Pabst, Leni, Wiene, etc., and though an argument could be made that he anticipated some trends in Expressionism and that his use of eroticism was ahead of his time, his most significant contribution was the discovery of Asta Nielsen (1883–1972). Working in Germany, mostly with her then-husband Gad, Die Asta developed a restrained style of film acting, comparable to American counterparts like Lillian Gish and Mae Marsh. (To fully appreciate the achievement of these women, one should check out the staginess of Sarah Bernhardt’s film appearances from this period, although an elderly Eleanora Duse in Cenere managed quite well.) The actress performed Strindberg, Ibsen, Wedekind, and a cross-dressing Hamlet, but her most familiar role to Museum audiences would be in G. W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925), the film that precipitated Greta Garbo’s coming to America. After appearing in just one talkie, she began a forty-year retirement (later to be topped by Garbo’s half-century “reclusion”), but it should be noted that at the age of seventy she undertook a second career, becoming a gifted collagist.