Early & Silent Film

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Story of a Boy / Historien om en gut, Norway 1919

Posted by keith1942 on August 20, 2019

An attempt by Esben to escape

This film was part of ‘A Hundred Years Ago: 1919’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato and in a Chapter entitled ‘Independent Cinema’. This rare term in relation to early cinema referred to

“showing film from countries that were not the key players in silent film production in 1919.” (Karl Wratschko in the Festival Catalogue).

So whilst Scandinavia was one of the most impressive sites of film-making at this time Norway was not in the forefront. The introductory talk mentioned only ten productions in the territory in this decade.

The Catalogue notes also note that

“Most of the time independent films were obliged to work with a limited budget, which often meant shooting outdoors. In those movies actors are recorded on location in a frame filled with natural details and snippets from daily life.”

This title is a good example of both of these comments. However, it only survived in an incomplete form. The version screened was 987 meters which gave 54 minutes at 16 fps. It is reckoned that about a third of the original film is missing, something like 500 meters; about 30 minutes.

However, the truncated version made narrative sense with sufficient inter-titles and presented a seemingly complete story.

The film opens with a title card,

“Wrongfully convicted.”

Esben is a thirteen year old boy. We see him first at home at breakfast time in what seems to be a substantial middle-class household which includes servants. Then he  is involved in a fight at school. His opponent, the ‘prankster’, seeks revenge by stealing the watch of the class teacher and secreting it in  Esben coat.

Questioned by the Principal Esben denies the accusation. But when the teacher uses his cane,

“An excellent educational method”

Esben confesses. Fearful of the consequences, instead of going home Esben sells his school books  in a shop, and some of his school clothes in a second-hand store. He takes  a skiff on the river and then sneaks on board a sailing vessel. Meanwhile his parents discover his absence and the accusation of theft. Whilst the mother wants to find her son the father brandishes a whip with which

“he will teach him a lesson.”

Esben hides in the hold but, ill from malnutrition, he is discovered by the crew. The Captain of the brig. Bella Rosa, has already established his character when we see him alone in his cabin drinking. He decides Esben will serve punishment through working and immediately sends Esben up into the rigging. Esben falls and is only saved by a sympathetic sailor.

Back at the school another boy has exposed the lies and theft of the prankster. The principal and the parents learn how Esben sold his possessions. The mother distraught faints.

Esben is able to escape from the brig and lands on shore. He survives on the countryside and then at a farm gets work for ‘bed and breakfast’. His task is minding the goats. The daughter of the farm becomes friendly with Esben but when a goat is lost Esben is summarily sacked.

Meanwhile we see Esben’s school mates reading of his being missing in a newspaper. The father offers  reward; we see him in his office, obviously a professional of some standing. The reward leads to a stranger attempting to obtain money with false information.

Esben’s next adventure is in a logging yard where he narrowly escapes attack by the guard dogs. However, in escaping, he falls in with a criminal gang who propose to train him a s pickpocket. When he escapes from here they pursue him and there is a long chase over gardens, walls, rocks and a river. Esben is then rescued by a group of Boy Scouts who also assist the police in arresting the gang. So Esben returns home in the uniform of the Boy Scouts. He is embraced by his mother and then by the father, who relents from punishment.

The narrative of a boy unjustly accused and running away is familiar and conventional. This does have distinctive features like the selling of the boy’s school books and the positive role played by the Boy Scouts. The latter presumably represent certain values; the movement was only a decade or so old and inculcated fairly traditional values among young men. It also offered a particular feel for nature and the great outdoors.

The film combines studio sets and natural locations. The former, as in the ship’s hold, are rather obvious. The latter provide that sense of natural place and detail noted by the Catalogue. The cinematographer, Carl Alex Söderström, worked on three productions by the director and here makes effective use of the countryside.

The director, Peter Lykke-Seest, was a writer of fiction and poetry. He started writing film scripts in the 1911, for film-makers in both Denmark and Sweden. In all he wrote 21 screenplays, some directed by prestigious names such as August Blom, Victor Sjöström and Maurice Stiller. In 1916 he set up the film company Christiania Film Co. with a studio in Oslo. He produced  nine films up until 1919 both writing and directing most of the titles.  This is the title is the only one to survive. Like two others in the series the protagonist is a child and here played by the director’s son, Esben.

So this was a film worth catching with a reasonably good print, an interesting introduction by Erik Frisvold Hanssen of the Library of Norway and a good accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: