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Fante-Anne / Gypsy Anne, Norway 1920

Posted by keith1942 on June 20, 2019

Jon with the adult Anne

This title was screened at the 2017 Giornate del Cinema Muto in the Scandinavian Cinema programme. The film stood up well in a strong collection. It was the earliest example of a feature length Norwegian production with an indigenous narrative and a strong rural focus. It was adapted from a short story by the writer Kristofer Janson. A C19th writer and minister who wrote popular rural dramas; he had worked in the USA amongst Norwegian-Americans. This added a US audience to that at home and the director, Rasmus Breistein accompanied a tour and the films with a fiddle.

Breistein was a pioneer in the Norwegian film industry which, up to this point, had not really produced films that reflected Norwegian life and culture. Breistein would go on to direct films in Norway right up until the 1950s. His more famous silent is The Bridal Party in Hardanger / Brudeferden i Hardanger (1926),

This film opens with two ‘foster siblings’; Anne who is ‘a wild one’ and Haldor who is ‘more tranquil’. We see several scenes where Anne leads Haldor into more adventurous escapades and for which he is punished. Spying on a romantic couple motivates Anne to take Haldor to a small waterfall and encourage him to act romantic with a kiss. And the final event is in the creek, off-limits to the children, and into which Haldor falls. When his mother sees his state she complains that Anne should

“’never allowed to stay here.”

The listening Anne runs to her adult friend, Jon, a labourer on the Storlien farm. He explains Anne’s history which we see in flashback. A wandering woman with child is refused help at the farm. But the next morning Jon finds the dead woman and her surviving child in the barn. Thus Anne came to stay on as an ‘adopted’ sister to Haldor. Anne cries as Jon comforts her. The sequence ends with an iris shot of Jon. A title follows with a comparison of the children to ‘the prince and Cinderella’ but notes the

‘she’ has to ‘stay in the cottage’.

An ellipsis of several years follows.

The ‘adult’ section of the film opens with an iris shot of a tolling bell and then a cut to Anne happily pulling on a bell rope. This has no plot significance but presumably establishes that Anne remains a ‘wild spirit’. There follows a long shot of two men in a field, the adult Haldor and Jon. They are identified by further shots, first of Haldor in a long shot and then of Jon. But Jon, it what is presumably a sign to the audience of later developments, is presented in the foreground with Haldor in the background. And this follows the privileging shot of Jon at the end of the childhood sequence.

A long section has sequence of Anne working up the hillside at the summer farm tending for goats and cows. Both Haldor and John visit Anne. Jon makes a rather shamefaced proposal which Anne deflects. She is really in love with Haldor which is apparent on his visits. And we also see her in the village and the couple attending an open-air dance. Here the character of the two suitors is emphasised. Haldor gets in to a fight with another young man who has the temerity to dance with Anne. This is intercut with a shot of Jon and home with his mother and reading

“his collection of sermons.”

Village gossip about the romance between Haldor and Anne comes to the ears of his mother. She retains her old disdain for Anne and questions Haldor whether he should

“marry a girl of unknown origin.”

She suggests a local girl Margit whose family is

“rich and respectable.”

In fact, Haldor has already proposed to Anne. But he backtracks and stats to woo Margit. We see her visit his mother and inspect a new house which Haldor, as the

“richest bachelor in the village”

is building for himself and now his new bride.

Matters now come to a head. Haldor and Jon drop in at the summer farm whilst on the hill gathering moss. They do not see Anne but she overhears their conversation as Jon upbraids Haldor for his cavalier treatment of Anne. This scene is cut relatively fast and combines mid-shots and iris shots of the trio, including Anne listening at a door. Later Haldor returns home whilst Jon stays on the hillside with a lame horse. Fired by what she has heard Anne slips down the hill and waits till late. Then she creeps in to Haldor’s unfinished new house and set fire to kindling. The fire of the house is hot in red tints. Then we see the fire from afar as viewed by Jon descending the hillside. He finds Anne who is creeping back to the summer arm. Panicking she tells him

”if you say a word …. in the waterfall.”

There is another ellipsis and we find ourselves outside the local Court house where the villagers gather for an investigation into the fire. After another witness Anne is questioned by the recorder [magistrate]. She is cheeky in her responses and denies nay knowledge of the fire. The Jon is called forth. Passing Anne who gives him a terrified look he stands and confesses that he started the fire, suggesting jealousy as a motive. He is bound over and sentenced to prison.

The following scene sees Jon come to say goodbye to his mother. But Anne is already at the hut, having confessed to his mother. When Jon sees Anne he tells her that he believes that he can cope with prison better then her and it would likely have an adverse effect on her. The accompanying policeman has not seen Anne and he takes Jon away to begin his prison sentence.

Anne runs across the hills and is seen standing outside the prison as Jon is led in. Anne stays in town and obtains a job as a nanny. When Jon is released he is met by Anne who take shim to his mother. He says that he will

“go to America … if you and mother join me.”

Anne;’s acceptance is signalled as she shakes Jon’s hand. We last see them in a reverse shot as they stand at the rail of the ship,

“three happy people.”

Off to the USA ..

“a place without prejudice.”

The cast of the film perform well. Anne Nielsen is convincing as the adult Anne. Eino Tveito’s Jon is a serious character and presents the restraints that follow from his working status. He does not age in the move from childhood to adult world, but in both he seems a paternal figure. It is noteworthy that at the film ‘s resolution we have a feel of comradeship between Anne and Jon with their handshake rather than a more conventional romantic tone.

It is this style of treatment that contributes to the film’s achievement of a realist feel.

“The film’s authenticity in its treatment of environment and character remains striking, as does its beautiful cinematography, and is all the more impressive considering that the vast majority of those involved in the production were making films for the first time. But the director, the cinematography, and the actors all had a solid base in Norwegian music, literature and peasant culture.” (Festival Catalogue).

Gunnar Nilsen-Vig is credited with design, cinematography and editing. So his input is an important aspect of the final film. Visually the film has an impressive look and contributes to the feel of authenticity. There is amount of iris shots, common in this period. This is particular so in the dramatic sequences. However, such shots also privilege certain characters like Anne and Jon who enjoy the majority of these.

This is an interesting and convincing drama. The catalogue notes the influence of Swedish films and I was struck by some crossovers between this film and Victor Sjöström’s Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar but Dawn of Love in Britain, 1919). However, in that film it is the women who goes to prison, making the latter a more subversive narrative. Still, Anne is a strong women who eventually finds her way in life.

Director and scriptwriter, Rasmus Breistein. Based on a short story by Kristofer Janson (1878). Cinematography, design and editing; Gunnar Nilsen-Vig.

Cast: Anne Nielsen – Anne. Einar Tveito – Jon. Lars Tvinde – Haldor. Johanne Bruhn – mother of Haldor. Henny Skjønberg – mother of Jon. Edvard Drabløs – magistrate. Dagmar Myhrvold – mother of Anne.

Kommunernes Filmscentral.

DCP from 35mm, 75 minutes transferred at 15 fps. Tinted. Titles, Norwegian, English sub-titles.

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The Parson’s Widow / Prästänkan, Sweden 1920

Posted by keith1942 on April 25, 2019

This title was part of the programme, Swedish Challenge: the quality of Scandinavian cinemas in this period meant there was never a challenge in enjoying the films. This is one of the earliest films of Carl Theodore Dreyer that I have seen. Here he is working for AB Svensk Filmindustri. Of his titles that I have seen it has the most light-hearted story. The film is set in C17th Norway and adapted by the director from a short story by Kristofer Janson. The basic plot follows the efforts of theologically trained Söfren (Einar Rød) to obtain a parish incumbency. He needs a stable income so that he can marry his sweetheart Mari (Greta Almroth). However, obtaining a benefice rendered vacant by the death of the incumbent he finds that the rules require him to marry his predecessor’s widow.

The film is divided into five acts. It opens with Söfren and Mari in a verdant setting, the young lovers. We then follow an extended sequence where Söfren must compete with two rivals for the vacancy. Söfren comes from a poor family and so the living is essential if he is to merry Mari. His rivals, Olev and Kurt, are both from more affluent families. We watch as in delightful comic modes the film shows us the travails and successes of the contest. Söfren is not above sabotaging his rivals. But they lack the dynamism that Söfren brings to the exemplar sermon which is judged by the congregation. All three have to preach to a congregation that fills the small church. In delightful scenes, that reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Life’s Little Ironies’, Olev and Kurt lull the audience to sleep. Söfren, with a brand of bravado, keeps them wide awakes. These scenes in the church are intercut with shots of Mari as she wait in trepidation for the outcome. All through the film Dreyer has nicely judged counterpoints between the dramatic and the comic. Once Söfren is successful and wins the vacancy he discovers the catch; having to marry the widow of the deceased parson. Uncertain, Söfren goes to the parsonage and succumbs to the pleasures of the food and wine that are his new lot. As Mari remarks later, he has ben ‘bewitched’ [through physical pleasures] by the widow. The rest of the film follows as Söfren adapts different stratagems to inveigle Mari into the household [as his sister] and in a more sardonic tone, to remove the widow he has married.

There are a couple of ‘accidents’ but, this being a comedy, no fatalities. And towards the end of the film we are shown a more sympathetic side of the widow. Her memories of her own romantic youth and the impediments that she encountered point the way to a solution of the predicament. This sets up a satisfying and happy resolution.

The film is beautifully handled with many of the stylistic characteristics of Dreyer on show.

Dreyer emphasises ethnographic realism throughout his film. He shot the whole film in real 17th-century houses at Maihagen, an open-air museum near Lillehammer, not just the exteriors but the interiors too, despite the considerable logistic al difficulties this entailed.” (Notes in Festival Catalogue).

Extras were played local people in the area.

Geroge Schnéevoigt

Visually the film is a real pleasure. The interiors are convincing and the exteriors have that sense of authentic nature that graced Scandinavian cinema in this period. The cinematography, by Geroge Schnéevoigt, is very fine. Dreyer himself both scripted and edited the film. The cast are equally good. Einar Rød’s Söfren offers a rather passive lover which assists in much of comic business: a man clearly out of his depth away from the pulpit. Greta Almroth is the somewhat long-suffering fiancée facing the travails with patience. I had previously seen her in Victor Sjöström’s The Girl from Marsh Cottage / Tösen frân Stormyrtorpet (1917) where, as Helga, moral issues stood between her and happiness. She has a delightful screen presence. The widow is played by Hildur Carlberg who give the change in character of the woman real conviction .

The film has been restored and transferred to a DCP with a frame rate of 18 fps. Not a fan of digital transfers this look really good, one could imagine one was watching a 35mm print, including the tin tin g and toning. The Scandinavian archive do seem to set the quality standard for working with digital. John Sweeney added to the pleasures with a fine accompaniment.

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The Maharajah’s Favourite Wife / Maharadjaehens Yndlingshustru, Denmark 1917

Posted by keith1942 on September 6, 2018

This title was included among the 35mm screenings at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: in the Chapter headed ‘Dark and Strangers’. In its year of release the film was a ‘crash box-office hit’.

In early 1917 ‘Paimann’s Weekly Film-Lists’ warmly recommended to its subscribers, the cinema owners of Austria, to book Robert Dinesen’s latest film: “The story is gripping and highly dramatic; the acting and photography are excellent, the sets lavish and the harem scenes first-rate.”” (Marianne Lewinsky in the Festival Catalogue).

The film is conventional for the time in many ways. The cinematography tends to offer long shot and medium shots [American shot]. The editing provides straightforward linear development and scenes are relatively short as one follows another. The sequences are constructed around the intertitles which provides much of the plot information. But the film is unconventional in the way it develops a story that is the product of European Orientalism. The film was adapted from a novel. I have not found any references to this so I am unsure how closely the film follows the original source.

The film opens with Elly (Lilly Jacobsson) and her family staying at a seaside resort. She is accompanied by her admirer Kuno von Falkenberg (Carlo Wieth), a naval captain. They meet the Maharajah (Gunnar Tolnaes). He is the embodiment of Orientalist representation,. Dressed in a western variant of Indian costume [similar to some worn by Rudolf Valentino), and resides in an apartment lavish with jewels and decorations. Elly is immediately struck as is the Maharajah. He sends via his servant, ( an oriental stereotype) a present of a book,. ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. Elly meets in him a garden pavilion at night and they plan to elope. This is effected next day by Elly going out alone in a skiff. The currents threaten her but the Maharajah sends his servant to rescue her and the couple elope.

Arriving in the Maharajah’s home state Elly is disconcerted when she becomes a member of the harem, peopled with attractive and scantily clad women. Later the Maharajah orders,

Bring my favourite wife here.’

And following an ellipsis Elly receives jewels and special treatment in the harem, though this excites the jealousy of the other wives. Later, unhappy in her situation, she rejects the gift of more jewels from the Maharajah and pleads,

Set me free.’

Meanwhile Kuno, still carrying Elly’s photograph in his pocket, is ordered aboard the cruiser Neptune and to India. Co-incidentally the ship stops at the port near the Maharajah’s palace and he invites the officers to his palace. Once there, to impress them he orders,

Gentlemen …. My harem where no European has ever set foot’.

And then,

Send for my favourite wife’.

Kuno realises the situation and later, in private, Kuno claims that the Maharajah

stole that woman.’

Surprisingly the Maharajah responds by offering Elly a free choice, opening his safe and showing her all his jewels, the alternative to leaving.

Later Elly leaves at night. The Maharajah has ordered his servants that if she is wearing European clothes she must be allowed to pass. As Elly nears the water and the waiting Kuno, she sees a figure draped in white. It is the Maharajah holding a dagger with which to end his life. Elly, overcomes, chooses to remain and they embrace and return to the Palace,.Kuno leaves.

Since the film included so many conventional tropes from Orientalist dramas I was really surprised when Elly changed her mind. This sequences is intensely dramatic and produces what is [in contemporary terms] a fairly subversive ending. The film plays with stereotypes that are presumed to appeal to a female audience; stereotypes that fuelled Valentino’s stardom. Mariann comments in the Catalogue:

“Miscegenation goes unpunished in this film, contrary to the racist US productions in a similar vein: …. (…. it seems no problem that The Sheik, 1921, is a rapist, after it is revealed that he is white after all).”

We had a 35mm print from the Danske Filminstitut in good condition; and the intertitles had an English translation. And Neil Brand provided a suitable accompaniment on the piano, which included the dance provided as entertainment for the Officers at the palace.

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Anna-Liisa, Finland 1922

Posted by keith1942 on April 27, 2018

 

This title was screened in the Scandinavian Cinema programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017. It was the only Finnish film and these are relatively rare anyway. It was, for me, the best early Finnish film that I have seen. It was adapted from a popular play by Minna Canth first produced in 1895. The production was from Suomi-Filmi OY, and the comments in the Festival Catalogue notes that,

“Canth was a pioneer of realism on the Finnish stage and a committed participant in the debates on women and the institution of marriage that raged across the Nordic countries in the 1889s and 1890s. Her strong stance against the oppression of women and the poor made her work controversial, but when the film was made, Canth was recognised as the most popular and prolific Finnish-language dramatist. Adapting one of her plays was therefore a logical choice for a film company wanting to make Swedish-style national film based on a distinguished literary work.”

The titular character Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelof) belongs to a well-to-do farming family. She is engaged to a wealthy neighbour Johannes (Emil Autere), But a dark secret from her past disrupts her life and the planned nuptials. Some years earlier she had a brief affair with a labourer on the Kortesuo farm. This resulted in an illegitimate child which she killed. The father, Mikko (Einari Rinne) has moved away but now, affluent after working in a logging firm, is returning and himself wishes to marry Anna-Liisa. He is supported by his mother Husso (Mimmi Lähteenoja) who still lives and works on the farm. Anna-Liisa, not wishing to marry Mikko and attempting to keep her secret is caught in a traumatic series of events.

The drama and the cast are portrayed very effectively. As the conflicts increase the film generates both violence – between Johannes and Mikko – and trauma, between Anna-Liisa and her family. The plot is filled out with flashbacks which present quite lyrical scenes of young romance but also darker events that have an almost noir quality.

The original play was set in interiors at the Kortesuo farm but

“The film effectively opens up the play, moving quite a bit of the action outside and adding little vignettes of Finnish rural life, including a shot of Johannes merging from a sauna and a scene of Mikko among his fellow log-rollers, visualizing an important type in Finnish films, the virile but loutish lumberjack.”

The latter emphasizes the contrast between the two suitors. And the filming emphasises the contrast between interior and exterior. The former were photographed by Kurt Jäger and the latter by S. J. Tenhovaara. This may explain the shooting schedule which was divided between summer and winter. The interiors make effective use of the placing of characters and, at the dark moments, of shadows. The exteriors include a number of lyrical scenes which recall those that grace Swedish films.

Several of these occur in flashbacks which fill out past events in the story. In one such sequence Mikko is sitting on the bank near the logging camp , smoking and remembering. The flashback opens at an open-air dance. Mikko sits on a swing as the sun sets over the nearby lake. Then he and Anna walk down to the a boat on the lake. The scene has a blue tint for evening. They cross the lake and walk into the woods. Cutaway shots how us reeds and trees, a bird in an iris shot and the boat drifting on the water. Mikko and Anna sit beneath a tree and then lay back and embrace. An ellipsis presumably covers coitus. The flashback ends as Mikko rises, returns to the camp and then sets out to make his claim for Anna-Liisa.

Later in the film there is a much darker flashback. This is motivated by Husso reminding Anna,

‘The night you came to me..’

To which Anna replies,

‘I was a child at the time’.

Then the flashback opens in dark night as Anna-Liisa staggers out into the farm. She runs to Husso’s house and knocks on the casement widow. By the time Husso opens the door Anna-Liisa is prone on the ground, she whispers,

‘Help me’.

Then two women go into the woods where the child [we realise it is dead] is buried beneath a tree. The sequence is all chiaroscuro. The flashback ends and Husso comments,

‘No one has a clue’.

There follows an exterior scene where Anna-Liisa attempts suicide but is saved by her father. And then the violent confrontations, with an intense and closely focused interior and the physical conflict between Johannes and Mikko in an exterior.

The working out of the plot in this way develops a powerful drama. The central focus on infanticide is interesting. This occurs in several Swedish films. Several of Victor Sjöström’s films deal with both illegitimacy and cross-class romance: Ingmarssönerna (1919) includes infanticide with the consequent scandal and punishment.

 So I wonder whether there was an influence. As well as the issue of women’s’ oppression the question of sex and illegitimacy appears to have been a potent issue in this period in Scandinavia. Whilst Anna-Liise’s plight is treated sympathetically the story emphasises the moral dimension at that time, Anna-Liisa repents and at the conclusion accepts that she will face punishment for her crime. It is redolent of the morals that when the birth and death of the child becomes public knowledge not one character asks,

“who was the father?”

The film was screened from a DCP, and like the other Scandinavian titles in the programme, this was a transfer of high standard preserving many of the cinematic qualities of the original.

The Catalogue notes included information regarding the restoration and transfer which provide interesting detail.

”A new digital restoration based on a duplicate positive was carried out by KAVI (The National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki) in 2013. The material was scanned at 2K but because of the frame-line issue sin the first-generation material the image had to be scanned twice; the best alternative was selected scene-by-scene. The restoration was conducted using DaVinci Revival and PFClean software programmes. Almost all the scenes have been stabilised, and flicker, dirt, scratches, tears, splices, and all manner of patina have been removed when possible. Contrast has been corrected, and colour has been added according to original model using DaVinci resolve software, the DCP has a colour solution similar to tin ting.”

DaVinci and PF Clean are standard software packages used in the film industry. They offer functions for repair, grain manipulation and colour manipulation, The tinting equivalent in this screening was pretty good and avoided the over-saturation that is often a problem. And whilst the frames were fairly clean they avoided the patina that sometimes arises from repair work. As with other presentations at the Giornate the film was recorded as transferring at 20fps, but I am not sure is this was a definite transfer rate or an equivalent with some step-printing.

The screening also benefited from Gabriel Thibaudeau’s piano accompaniment. He has a lyrical style that was especially pleasing with the visually lyrical sequences in the film.

 

NB The Catalogue notes were the work of Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg and Antii Alanen.

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The Bride of Glomdal / Glomdalsbruden, Norway 1926

Posted by keith1942 on February 14, 2018

This film, written, directed and edited by Carl Th. Dreyer, was screened in the ‘Scandinavian Cinema’ programme at the 21017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The programme was one of the highlights of the Festival and this was a title that stood out. Unfortunately we did not see the entire and original film. Morten Eghom’s notes in the Festival Catalogue explained:

“In many description of The Bride of Glomdal it is assumed that the film is relatively complete, but at the premiere in Oslo the film’s length was 2525 metres. Whereas the surviving material in 0nly 1250 metres. The surviving version, though coherent and logical, differs considerably from what appears in the original Norwegian title list. Probably a re-editing took place around the time of the Danish premiere on 15 April 1926.”

The plot and the characters of the film certainly worked and provided an interesting narrative filmed with Dreyer’s usual style and grace. The titular character is Berit Glomgaarden (Tove Tellback) who lives with her father Ola (Stub Widberg). Berit’s childhood friend and current sweetheart is Thore Braaten (Einar Sissener) whose family occupy a poorer farm than that of Glomgaarden. There is an economic and class divide between the couple and an actual divide, a river, which figures importantly in the plot.

Ola is a widower and plans to marry Berit to Gjermund Haugsett (Einar Tweito) from a relativity affluent farm. Initially this arranged marriage is opposed both by Berit herself and and Gjermund. But as the action develops Gjermund comes to favour the match and develops a serious antagonism to Thore.

This turns into a fight at an open-air dance near the village. This is a beautifully presented sequence in a meadow overlooking the river. The couples dance under the sky and a fiddler provides the music. It is Gjermund who interrupts Berit and Thore as they dance. And the two men have to be separated by the villagers.

Despite the mutual affection of Berit and Thore Ola is adamant that his daughter should marry Gjermund.

‘No beggar should ask for daughter of Glomdal’.

The conflict grows more divisive. Ola takes Berit to the Haugsett farm but she rides off. Berit has a fall crossing the river to Thore’s side. She ends up injured and cared for at the Braaten farm, unable to be moved. Ola now disowns his daughter,

‘I have no daughter’.

The point is emphasised by him dumping Berit’s trunk of belongings at that farm.

Whilst Berit and Thore are now together the dominant values hold sway. Berit does not feel that she can marry Thore without the approval of her father. At the same time she ‘does not trust herself’ in such close proximity to Thore. The film here develops a sensuous feel in the embraces and kisses of the young couple.

But following the path of virtue Berit moves to the house of the Vicar of the village. Meanwhile Thore approaches Ola and ‘honestly’ asks for the hand of his daughter. Ola remains adamant. It is suggested that the lack of a wife and mother at the farm is a factor in his intransigence. It is the vicar who comes to the rescue and Ola finally accedes to his daughter’s wishes.

However, one last dramatic conflict remains. On the day that the bride sets out to the ceremony and the house of her husband to-be Gjermund re-appears. He waylays the party at the river crossing by sabotaging the boats. Thore falls in the river and is wept downstream by the current. A distraught Berit follows his progress on the bank. Finally, and exhausted, he is able to near the bank and Berit assists him from the river. The film ends as the young bride arrives to celebrate her nuptials as the villagers crowd round the church. A long shot provides a graceful camera tilt up the church spire, ending on an iris.

Morten Egholm explained the source of the film,

“The film is based on a novel of the same title by the Norwegian author Jacob Breda Bull (1853 – 1930), and is a classic example of the ‘Norwegian Village’ film, in which contemporary love stories take place in sunny Norwegian villages. Since the actors only had the summer off from their respective theatre contracts, Dreyer for the first and last time in his career decided to be looser in the preparations for a film – the shooting was virtually improvised from day to day, without a script. A list of individual scenes was made, though, including some narrative elements from Bull’s novel ‘Eline Vangen’, since Dreyer felt that the novel ‘Glomdalsbruden’ didn’t contain enough story elements.”

The film’s love story also fits into the wider Scandinavian cinema of the period, sharing a number of themes and tropes with the other films in the programme. So there is the class division which frustrates the desires of the young couple. We have another strong-willed and independent heroine who comes into conflict with traditional mores. And the conflicts lead to violence. The distinctive aspect of the film is the physical relationship. Egholm describes the couples’ scenes at the Braaten household as ‘erotic’ [possibly more so in the longer version] and Berit certainly displays a physical passion. But she works within the mores of the community, something some of the heroines resist.

The pleasures of this film include the beautifully realised naturalism and use of natural locations. The several river sequences are impressive. However, it seems that the original longer version would have offered more of this. Morten Egholm comments,

“By comparing some production stills from an illustrated version of the novel with the Norwegian title list and the Norwegian and Danish printed film programmes, it becomes clear that much footage is missing, especially the sequences from ‘Eline Vangen’ giving a more nuanced depiction of Thore and his family. ….

A number of lyrical nature sequences were probably also cut. Dreyer himself stated, “I have realised that the poor peasant’s son in the film is depicted in rough surroundings, whereas the rich farmer’s daughter is surrounded by gentler nature.” This use of nature as a social contrast … is not very obvious in the existing film, possibly because of its shortening after the premiere.”

The contrast is there though and it also works as a gender contrast. But Thore seems less developed as a character than Berit. Gjermund is allowed a limited sympathy, but this is dissipated as the film and his malevolence develop. The actors in these roles, like the supporting cast, are another excellent aspect of the film.

The film was one of the titles screened from a DCP. However, this was a quality transfer. The digital version had many of the cinematic qualities enjoyed by ‘reel’ films. It was the best set of digital files that I saw at the Festival. The Catalogue notes that the surviving film was transferred at 17 fps. However, the Verdi Theatre projectors apparently only run at 24fps or faster. I suspect that in fact the transfer relied on digital step-printing. Given the rhythms that Dreyer and his cinematographer, Einar Olsen, offer this was not noticeable. The screening enjoyed a fine accompaniment by John Sweeney.

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The Girl from the Marsh Croft / Tösen Frän Stormyrtorpet, Sweden 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on November 21, 2017

 

This film was screened in the ‘A Hundred Years Ago: fifty films of 1917 in 35mm’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017. It demonstrates how Swedish cinema in the late teens was a trailblazer for artistic cinema and this was one of the most accomplished titles in the programme . It was directed by Victor Sjöström and it was in many ways typical of his work, with the redemption of a key character after a fall from  grace. There were some parallels with his later masterpiece Ingmarssönerna (1919). It was also typical of Swedish cinema of the period focussing on a romance that was inhibited by class and moral prejudices.

The film was the first adaptation in Swedish cinema of a story by Selma Lagerlöf [Ingmarssönerna was also adapted from one of her novels]. This famous and popular author won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1909  “in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings”. Her works were a staple of Swedish filmmaking in the 1920s. This title was adapted from a tale in a collection of short stories. It seems that there are six other later film adaptations, including [intriguingly] a German production directed by Douglas Sirk. They would have to be very well done to surpass this version.

Lagerlof’s story is really a novella with six parts. The narrative opens in a court room where Helga, daughter of a poor family, is taking a paternity case against a wealthier famer in whose service she conceived. The case is never bought to a conclusion because, despite her determination to receive acknowledgment and support, she cannot stand by and watch the man who fathered her child commit perjury. Before the court case it appears that Helga has been the recipient of moral indignation but her unselfish act in the trial changes many attitudes among the village folk. Helga and her parents live in a croft on a hill above the village and close the forest. Here is she is visited by Gudmund, the son of a relatively affluent farmer, who was at the courthouse and was impressed with Helga’s virtuous conduct. She is offered service caring for his disabled mother.

Meanwhile Gudmund is courting Hildur, the daughter of the most affluent farmer in the village. They become engaged but Hildur, a relatively unsympathetic character, insists that Helga’s service is ended before she will marry Gudmund. Helga returns to the Marsh Croft, though she continues to work of Gudmund’s parents with washing and sewing.

Following a stag night in the city the drunken Gudmund is involved in a brawl. It appears that he may be responsible for the death of a participant. Thus Gudmund also falls from grace and is faced with a moral choice akin to that made earlier by Helga. It is the resolution of this trauma that also bring resolution to t the romantic drama.

Lagerlof’s novella is narrated in a third person, providing the dialogue of the characters but with their actions and inner thoughts described by the narrator. As the Nobel citation suggests there is a particular emphasis on the spiritual and moral aspects. But the story is also imaginative as the writer describes in detail the interior and exterior settings. The croft and it environs are especially well presented. And Lagerlöf spends time describing particular actions such as the wood chopping that both Helga and Gudmund perform.

The Swedish film version follows the plot fairly closely. However, since we watch the charterers they are far more personalised than in the written version . And the film uses only some of the narrative comments relying on performance to suggest the moods and feelings of the characters. The prejudices in the village community seem slightly starker in the film: only a select number of the inhabitants demonstrate a change of heart after Helga’s virtuous act.  The film presents particular actions as sequences in close detail as in the book: the sequences of chopping wood are important and the wedding preparations are also shown in full detail. The film does omit one interesting facet of the book: Lagerlof’s novella makes use of a traditional rural ritual involving ashes and a sense of home which is left out of the film. As with the novella the illegitimate child is rather conveniently left aside.

Sjöström with cinematographer Henrik Jaenzon makes a fine job of the filming. As is the case in Swedish cinema of the period the use of landscape is excellent, including both lakes, forests and mountains. The camera shows us both the village and its court house and the farm of the Hildur family which is effectively contrasted with that of Helga’s, high up and alongside the forest. The settings, both interior and exterior, are carefully crafted and the furnishings and objects delineate the characters. So the rich hustle and bustle of the wedding sets the scene for Gudmund’s confession. At another point a shot of Helga as she prepares the coffee for the visit by the Hildur family emphasises the social contrasts.

There is frequent deeps staging, well served by the deep focus available at the period. In one sequence Gudmund father, set back in the frame. watches his son, set forward, as he searches for an incriminating object. The Production Design by Axel Esbensen and Art Direction by Axel Esbensen enables the blending of locations and sets effectively.

Helga is played by Great Almrof, a popular and busy actress of the period. She is really convincing as the young woman with a strong moral sense and behaviour. Lars Hansen, in one of his early roles, is equally effective as Gudmund, a character who displays the impetuosity and exuberance that was the common characterisation played by Hanson. The pair were teamed together again in Maurice Stiller’s equally fine Song of the Scarlet Flower / Sången om den eldröda blomman (1919). The supporting cast are good as well. Karin Molander does well with the unsympathetic part of Hildur: we saw her again later in the week in Stiller’s Thomas Graals Best Film / Thomas Graals Bästa Film (1917).

The Catalogue entry, by Jon Wengström, noted that

‘The film was a critical and commercial success, not least in the US where more than forty prints were distributed. The “National Board of Motion Picture review” in January 1919 praised the film for its “excellent photography, unusual acting, exceptional technical handling” and its excellent moral effect”.

 

 

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Min Svigerinde Fra Amerika / My Sister-in-law from America, Denmark 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on September 9, 2017

This was one of the 1917 films at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto from ‘The Danish Film Institute at 75’. It was a comedy short written Waldemar Hansen with cinematography by Hugo Fischer. The Catalogue notes by Thomas Christensen  gave more detail about the director:

“Lau Lauritzen Sr. was among the most productive film directors in Danish Cinema. While he is best known by many as the director and creator of “Pat & Patachon” comedy films, he started his career with Nordisk film, where he began directing in 1914 and throughout the 1910s made almost one short subject every week.”

Unfortunately this film is incomplete, missing up to a reel. Even so the surviving nine mines [172 metres at 16 fps] was a delight.

A husband is entertaining his mistress and is discovered by his returning wife. Taking advantage of a telegram announcing the visit of his brother from America he introduces her as ‘my sister-in-law from America’. Meanwhile we watch the travails of the brother and his wife as they land in Denmark and become separated. When the brother arrives he plays along with charade. But, predictably, the wife then also turns up. The film has a brilliant final one-liner.

The cast are excellent though I could not find a cast list to identify who played whom. Whatever, the characters deliver with real panache. Christensen has a droll comment, which refers to the final sequence:

“The double cover-up at the end, …, might interest viewers studying the representation of religious and cultural differences as humorous'”

Definitely a title to track down.

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The 18th British Silent Film Festival – finale.

Posted by keith1942 on September 21, 2015

Anzac Cove.

Anzac Cove.

Sunday morning returned us to World War I. The scene was set with a presentation on how film had treated the ill-fated Gallipoli failure. This was an event on which troops from the then empire – especially Australia and New Zealand – suffered heavy casualties. It is even now a day of remembrance in Australia. We watch several aspects including two films based [rather differently]] on the same book by Ernest Raymond. One was the relatively recent Gallipoli (1981) following the fate of two Australian recruits. The second was from a 1930 sound film, Tell England. A recent film, The Water Diviner (2014) also deals with these events: interestingly it provides much space and a certain sympathy for the Turkish combatants: not noticeable in the earlier films.

Tell England was also the morning feature. This was filmed by British Instructional Films and directed by Anthony Asquith. Asquith is a much neglected British director. His earlier silent films are very fine, and so is this early sound film. His output in the 1930s is less distinguished which is presumably down to the failings of the British industry. Whilst some of the sound sequences are clichéd there are stand-out action sequences. The most impressive is one featuring the allied landings, which intercuts specially filmed material with ‘found footage’ from 1915. Asquith’s early films show the influence of Soviet cinema, which he presumably saw at the London Film Society. There are examples in editing and montage in this film: and Asquith not only learnt from the techniques of Soviet filmmakers, but also clearly comprehended their use of montage. There are three listed cameramen, Jack Parker, Stanley Rodwell and James Rogers, and their black and white cinematography is extremely well done. The editor is Mary Fields and she also was obviously a fine talent.

After lunch we had a presentation on Early British Advertising Films. These ranged from 1903 to 1947. We saw scotch, matches, boot polish soap, railways, cycling and hot drinks. The early ones ran for under a minute. Then oddly there was a period of extended advertisements of several minutes, reverting in the 1950s to the earlier and shorter length. This is what we suffer today. The blessed aspect of early adverts is the absence of sound. I tend to think that the dialogue and commentary in contemporary adverts is somewhat worse than the images.

A 1920s advert.

A 1920s advert.

The last two films in the programme had already featured at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto. So, being fairly wacked, I am afraid I missed them. The first is a very fine late Scandinavian silent, Ragens Rike (The Kingdom of Rye, 1929). This is a rural drama with fine location filming: one of the pleasures of Swedish silent cinema.

The final film was Oleksandr Dovzhenko’s 1929 Arsenal. This is a classic of Soviet cinema, always worth revisiting. The film had a newly prepared electronic score by Guy Bartell. I have to ask friends how they found it. I trained back to Leeds, tired but replete.

This was a rewarding four days, and extremely well delivered. I did have some minor reservations, which are worth airing because they seem to me to be on the increase. The advance programmes did not have information on formats. One of the helpful De Montfort organisers provided me with a partial list. But even in the programme notes it was not always clear what format would be screened: there were 35mm, DCPs and DVDs. With some of the films from elsewhere it apparently was not always certain what format would arrive. But the bulk of the programme came from the BFI, so there must have been certainty in these cases. There is a mistaken assumption that watching digital is the same or better than celluloid. I thought, as with the Hitchcock silents and on this occasion with the Keaton, that this is not the case.

The notes on 35mm did provide frame rates. But this was not the case with DCPS. The sound films would run at 24 fps, but what happens with silents. FIAF has now provide specifications for silent running rates on digital: but there seems to be very little usage of these in the UK.

And none of the notes provided aspect ratios. This was a particular problem because early sound films tended to be in 1.33:1 with the framing reduced by the added soundtracks. And there was apparent frequent cropping in the 35mm sound prints. These require appropriate projection plates and lenses, which I assume the Phoenix do not have. But it would have been good to have been forewarned about this.

One of Leeds' 100 year-old cinemas.

One of Leeds’ 100 year-old cinemas.

Still my views are predominately positive and hopefully there will be future silent festivals. So I wanted to add two suggestions. One is that by number nineteen it will be long overdue to have a festival in the North of England. Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle and Sheffield could all provide excellent venues. And my own city of Leeds could also do so: and there are in or nearby the city five working cinemas that a hundred years ago were already exhibiting the films that are the subject of these festivals. We could also have an overdue appreciation of Louis Le Prince.

My other suggestion is regarding content. The films were fine, but I did weary slightly of the uncritical patriotism. It would be good to have early films from the Socialist and Labour Movements. Groups like Kino and the Film and Photo League continued making silents into the 1930s. And there were talented and interesting filmmakers like Ivor Montagu and Ralph Bond. Some of these films certainly survive, even if only in their original 16mm format. Wheel them out?

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The 18th British Silent Film Festival – Day 2.

Posted by keith1942 on September 18, 2015

Maurice Elvey - the film director.

Maurice Elvey – the film director.

The Friday was devoted to silent films and included some titles from Europe. We opened with a film by the British director Maurice Elvey, The Rocks of Valpre (1919). Elvey was a prolific but uneven filmmaker. This however was one of his finer films. Unfortunately there were at least two, probably three, missing sequences. However, the film followed fairly closely [I was advised] the adapted novel by Ethel M Dell and even with plot ellipsis it was possible to make sense of events. What distinguished the film was the locations [partly filmed in Torbay though set in France) and the style, with distinctive use of iris, shot placement and cutting. And there was a fine piano accompaniment by Neil Brand.

There followed Not for Sale from the Stoll Company (1924). The film was scripted by Lydia Hayward who has featured in earlier festivals with adaptations of stories by W. W. Jacobs. This was early example of the ‘romcom’ or romantic comedy. Ian Hunter plays a rich aristocrat, Lord Denny, whose spindrift ways are bought to a sudden halt by his father. He is forced to find paid employment and moved from a Mayfair flat to a lower class boarding house run by Anne (Mary Odette). Hunter played the lighter comic touch well and there were many engaging scenes and, as you might expect, economic and romantic travails. The film also enjoyed a suitably light accompaniment from John Sweeney.

Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter

The day also saw two films on which the young Alfred Hitchcock worked at the London studio of Famous-Players. Hitchcock is credited with the film titles, though none of the actual title cards survive. Charles Barr provided introductions to the films and a possible relationship to the body of Hitchcock’s full directorial work. The Man From Home (1922) followed a young US heiress on a European tour and mainly set on the Italian Rivera. The plot was fairly generic and predictable, with the young heiress and her brother tempted astray by continental fortune seekers. But the production values of this US company were notable. The second film from the same studio was a unusual, bizarre example. Three Live Ghosts (1922) only survives in a re-edited version from the Soviet Union and Gosfilmofond. In the 1920s films from the capitalist west were frequently changed through editing and titling to accord better with the socialist values of the new Republic. There were performances of Intolerance (1916|) with added live choral inserts to improve the film. And Eisenstein, whilst learning his craft with Esfir Shubb, did some re-editing on films by Fritz Lang. Unfortunately whoever worked on this film was not of the same calibre. The changes relied almost wholly on new titles and the plotting was confusing and the political comment simplistic to say the least. However, it is a rare example of a uncommon cinematic form. We also enjoyed a fine Swedish import, Den Starkaste / The Strongest (1929). The films had previously been screened at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2013, but this fine production is worth several viewings. It is partly a romantic drama, but much of the film involves arctic voyages and hunts, and the quality of the settings and cinematography is admirable. Stephen Horne provided a suitable and lyrical musical accompaniment.

Ivan Mosjoukine.

Ivan Mosjoukine.

The evening screening was Michel Strogoff (1926). This was one of the French films involving Russian émigrés in the 1920s. It stared Ivan Mosjoukine, a really charismatic actor of the silent era. A Siberian adventure based on a Jules Verne novel, one of the attractions of this film version was the use of Pathecolor [a stencil colour process] for a dramatic sequence. It was also an epic, running 169 minutes.

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Asta Nielsen

Posted by keith1942 on March 31, 2015

Asta

Nielsen was a successful and popular actress in European cinema from 1910 to the mid-1920s. She was also possibly the first cinematic diva. Her career was launched with great panache in Denmark in 1910. She later moved to Germany, where Danish cinema was already popular. Though she is remembered mainly as a combination of femme fatale and tragic heroine she appeared in a wide range of genres, including comedies. Her films have appeared at both Le Giornate del Cinema Muto and Il Cinema Ritrovato. However it was the latter festival that provided an overview of her career in a retrospective in 2007, with a particular focus on the teens.

The programme was curated by two German scholars, Heide Schlüpmann and Karola Gramann. As well as programming a wide range of films bought together from a number of archives they provided the notes for the Catalogue and some very interesting introductions to the films.  One point that they emphasised was the task of trying to achieve some sense of Nielsen’s persona and impact back in the teens and 1920s.

For example, we scarcely have any sense anymore of the drama of passion, the pathos of the sexual, the significance of the gender conflict. Yet these were very much part of everyday life around 1900 – something to which not only Sigmund Freud, but also the sexual reform movement and the woman’s movement, testify

Ritrovato Catalogue, 2007.

Nielsen could certainly generate both passion and pathos. But whilst in a number of films she portrayed the victim of male exploitation she was also frequently a strong and forceful female character. And this aspect of her persona was apparent both in dramas and in comedies.

Nielsen was already an established stage actress when she was recruited into the Danish cinema in 1910. Whilst she was discovered by August Blom most of her films were directed by Urban Gad, whom she married. They were both recruited to Germany in 1911 and most of her film career was spent in that Industry. She was already a popular star before World War I and she continued a successful film career after the war.

The 'gaucho'dance in Abyss

The ‘gaucho’dance in Abyss

Her earliest film screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato was Afgrunden (The Abyss, 1910): the film ran for 44 minutes at 18 fps and the Danish intertitles had an English translation. In the film she plays Magda who starts a romance with Knud (Robert Dinesen) after a chance meeting on a tram. Knud is a conventional professional; his mores illustrated by his father being a minister. But Magda is taken by Rudolph, a performer in a travelling circus. Thus she is caught between the domesticated male and the lover figure, a staple of film melodrama. What made the film stand out was the vitality and forcefulness of Magda’s character. There is an erotic sequence where Magda vamps Rudolph on stage: and later she wields a knife when she is caught between the competing desire of Knud and Rudolph. The Catalogue included a contemporary review, which gives some sense of the impact of this new film actress.

All these may have contributed to the sensational success of the film drama The Abyss, which is currently showing to full houses twice every evening at the Palasttheater in Dusseldorf…. [re the gaucho dance in the film] Asta Nielsen, in the role of Magda, dances out her ill-fated and ruinous passion for the artist Rudolph.

“Die Kinematograph”, Düsseldorf, December 1910.

As was conventional in this period the film was presented mainly in long shot with just a few mid-shots. Even so Nielsen generated obvious emotion in her stance and movements: posture and gesture was as important as facial expression.

Francesco Bertini, an Italian Diva who followed on Nielsen in 1914, recalled being shown The Abyss in preparation for one of her early dramas and even then, four years later, it was still regarded as shocking.

An example of her later work was found Mod Lyset (Towards the Light, Denmark 1918) written and directed by Holger-Madsen, [screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 1999). It ran for 68 minutes at 16 fps and had Danish intertitles with a translation into English. It was a single Danish production for Nielsen in this period.

The reformed Countess in Towards the Light

The reformed Countess in Towards the Light

The film had a far more complex style than Afgrunden. There were innumerable close-ups of the characters intercut to the mid-shots and long shots. For a number of shots an iris effect was used. The film also used chiaroscuro, and there was an impressive night-time sequence with a boat crossing and then a fire. The film also used a mirror as a plot device: a trope that appeared in Afgrunden and was common in this period.

The basic story was depicted at the start in a series of dissolving shots of the main character Countess Ysabel (Nielsen). Unlike many of her earlier melodramas, rather than a ‘fall from grace’ this film depicted a character’s ascent from ‘frivolity’ to religious and social commitment.

The film also had a complex plot with a number of intersecting strands. There was Sandro (Anton de Verbier), ‘the ruler of her [Ysabel] heart: who was not all he seems. There was professor with a nephew Felix (Harry Komdrup); the latter was smitten with Ysabel. And there were a separate set of characters around Elias (Alf Blütocher), a preacher involved in community work, including an island settlement for the homeless. These different characters were carefully integrated in the story to provide the motivation for the final and deliberately uplifting resolution. Nielsen was, as ever, excellent and charismatic; but the part did not offer the panache one felt with her less reputable characterisations.

In 1920 she starred as the protagonist in film a version of Hamlet based on a stage version by Erwin Gepard. The Catalogue quoted Lotte Eisner who opined:

The soulful eyes, the slim figure, the strange, cultivated pallor make Asta Nielsen the perfect Shakespearean Danish prince – exactly as we ant to see the prince.

In 1923 she starred in a film version of Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) from the play by Franz Wedekind: more famously filmed in 1929 by G. W Pabst. The director Leopold Jessner gave the film a rather expressionist look. But the character of Lulu, igniting uncontrollable desires in men, suited Nielsen perfectly.

Then in 1925 she was a leading player in a film by G. W. Pabst, Die Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street). Here, in a different role, she played a victim of the harsh economic conditions of the time and of an exploitative member of the petit bourgeoisie. The film is relentlessly grim, but beautifully filmed and edited: moreover for the price of one ticket you can see Nielsen, Great Garbo and Marlene Dietrich all in the same film.

Nielsen did essay some films in the early sound period but her great roles were from the teens through to the mid-1920s. She was in many ways the defining actress for the European diva of the silent era. She could play both victim and femme fatale but also handle the lighter touch of comedy. The films of the teens have a different focus and different style from the 1920s. But Nielsen was able to work effectively in both areas.

As the experience of Bertini demonstrates, she was an important influence across European cinema. And without a voice she communicated with her body, her gestures and her face.  The Catalogue notes:

Asta Neilsen discerned the potential of a style of acting that was not just unfettered by words but uninhibited in every respect. She took leave of the rigid linguistic forms by means of gestures and facial expressions, behaviour patterns which she clearly displayed. (Heide Schlüpman, Karola Gramann).

Note May 9th sees a screening of the Asta Nielsen Hamlet at the University of York Campus.

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