Victor Sjöström – Körkarlen AKA The Phantom Carriage (1921) (HD)

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The last person to die on New Year’s Eve before the clock strikes twelve is doomed to take the reins of Death’s chariot and work tirelessly collecting fresh souls for the next year. So says the legend that drives The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen), directed by the father of Swedish cinema, Victor Sjöström. The story, based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, concerns an alcoholic, abusive ne’er-do-well (Sjöström himself) who is shown the error of his ways, and the pure-of-heart Salvation Army sister who believes in his redemption. This extraordinarily rich and innovative silent classic (which inspired Ingmar Bergman to make movies) is a Dickensian ghost story and a deeply moving morality tale, as well as a showcase for groundbreaking special effects. (-Criterion) Continue reading

Benjamin Christensen – Häxan (1922)

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“Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen’s obsession with bizarre lighting effects reached its apotheosis with his 1920 masterpiece Witchcraft Through the Ages. Beginning in a deceptively sedate fashion with a series of woodcuts and engravings (a technique later adopted by RKO producer Val Lewton), the film then shifts into gear with a progression of dramatic vignettes, illustrating the awesome power of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. So powerful are some of these images that even some modern viewers will avert their eyes from the screen. Though obviously a work of pure imagination, the film occasionally takes on the dimensions of a documentary, a byproduct of the extensive research done by Christensen before embarking on the project (incidentally, the director himself can be seen in the film in a dual role as Satan and the Doctor) Also known as Haxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages marked a parting of the ways for Christensen and the Danish film industry; thereafter, he confined his activities to the German cinema, before answering Hollywood’s call in 1928.” — Hal Erickson (allmovieguide) Continue reading

Victor Sjöström – Trädgårdsmästaren AKA The Gardener (1912)

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The Gardener is a 1912 Swedish silent drama film directed by Victor Sjöström. It is mostly known for being the first film to ever be banned by the Swedish censor system. It was long thought to have been lost, but in 1979 a copy was found in an archive in the United States. The Swedish premiere followed on 14 October 1980 when it was shown at the cinematheque in Stockholm.

In Sweden, the film was banned in 1912. The director said, “To the best of my recollection, the wreched faith of my ‘maiden work’ was due to the final scene. The president of the studio was horrified by the grubby, brutal gardener (played by yours truly)-according to him, the public didn’t want to see me tromping around with a big moustache. But I insisted that it was indispensable from an artistic standpoint, and I finally got my way. This particular stubby, brutal gardener lusted after a young lady in his employ, and he seduced- well, he virtually raped- the innocent thing in a lovely greenhouse among beautiful roses and every other flower imaginable. In the final scene, the girl is found dead the next morning on the floor of the greenhouse, with red roses and exquisite blossoms delicately strewn all around her. The marriage of death and beauty, in other words. But the thick-headed censors didn’t understand a thing- they had no feeling for that kind of beauty- and the film was banned.” The official comments of the censors were, “A breach of respectability. The association of death and beauty poses a threat to public order.” Continue reading

Mauritz Stiller – Herr Arnes pengar aka Sir Arne’s Treasure (1919)

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In the sixteenth century, the Swedish king availed himself of mercenaries from other nations to wage his wars, however, rumors of mutiny and insurrection made him banish and imprison a force of Scottish soldiers. Having escaped prison, three such mercenaries find themselves adrift in the icy wasteland of the severe Swedish winter. Half mad from starvation and drink, they commit a senseless and utterly bestial crime. Although they initially manage to evade justice, no ship is able to carry them away through the frozen waters and back to Scotland. They remain stranded on the coast of Sweden, waiting for Spring to arrive, knowing not that destiny’s nimble hands are weaving its web around them with every passing day. Continue reading