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The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924) and Swedish silent cinema

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phil noir
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The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924) and Swedish silent cinema

Postby phil noir » April 15th, 2008, 6:43 am

I had the Kino DVD of this for my birthday recently, and have just watched it as my first experience of Swedish silent cinema. I really liked it! The storytelling was very generous - so much going on, and so many interrelated plots. It's interesting, I think, to see something from a different but related culture. To not know the actors - apart from Garbo and Lars Hanson - and to be unsure which genre it might fit into is disorientating at first, but refreshing as well. I liked Lars Hanson's performance, but it was not until a couple of hours in that I realized his character was meant to be irresistible to the ladies. (Silly me.) That explained a lot. (By the way, did they photograph his eyes in some special way, I wonder? They seemed very bright and penetrating. I can see why, thematically, director Mauritz Stiller might have chosen to do this.)

The DVD packaging makes it seem like Garbo's film, but hers is a relatively small part. In the first half, I was not particularly impressed by her - I thought that the film historian introducing it was using the benefit of hindsight a bit too freely by saying she was an obvious star from the word go. However, in the second part she really came into her own - she looked absolutely luminous in some of the close-ups. And the scene where she and Lars Hanson were driving a horse-drawn cart across the ice, pursued by wolves, was fantastically tense and emotional.

I've read that the original cut of the film was nearly four hours long - the restored version I saw was just over three, and there were occasionally parts where it took a while to realize what had happened - evidence maybe of lost footage?

I'm definitely going to investigate some more Swedish silents. Has anyone got any recommendations?

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Ann Harding
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Postby Ann Harding » April 15th, 2008, 6:58 am

Well, Phil Noir, you should get ASAP another Stiller released by Kino: Sir Arne's Treasure. The film IMO is even superior to Gösta. The Kino edition is stunning. A fantastic film. :)

The other great man of silent Swedish cinema is Victor Sjöström. I have been lucky enough to see The Outlaw and His Wife (unfortunately no DVD for this one), Terje Vigen (available on DVD in Sweden only) and The Phantom Carriage (recently released in the UK). They are all masterpieces to investigate ASAP. 8)

I am sure Synnove can suggest a few more!!! :)

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » April 15th, 2008, 7:04 am

Annharding, I almost started to compose a love letter. :)

Phil noir, Sir Arne's Treasure is indeed a must-see. The Kino release of Sir Arne's Treasure is excellent. It has a good music score and good picture quality for its time. The Kino version of Erotikon is not so good, though. The tinting is overdone, and it is scored as if it were a high tragedy, instead of a comedy!

The Phantom Carriage is the ultimate classic from this cinema according to me.

The best thing to do is to seek out the DVD box Svenska Stumfilmsklassiker. It has better music scores, and subtitles in English. Their copy of Erotikon looks better too, at least on my DVD. You can read about it here:
http://www.svalanderaudio.com/bracd/stu ... ssiker.php

Your reaction to Garbo in Gösta Berling is the same as many reviewers experienced at the time. One of them wrote, after he had seen the second part of the film, that they must have given her the wrong kind of lighting in the first part.

Gösta Berling might be difficult to follow because there is footage missing, and also because it is based on a very complicated, popular book. Gösta Berlings Saga was published in 1891, and was widely read. Each chapter of the saga was a story in itself, and all the little stories were, sometimes very loosely, tied together by Gösta Berling's adventures. It's the kind of thing that would be a nightmare to adapt to film.

I like this kind of cinema. Since I live close to Stockholm and used to work at an archive there, I have had the opportunity to see a few rare silents, like Mauritz Stiller's Vingarne, and the recently rediscovered Madame de Thebes and The Avenger. They show that at the beginning of his career, Mauritz Stiller dealt with as many controversial social topics as he dared to, and that he always felt a certain sympathy for minority groups, and women.

Victor Sjöström was also preoccupied with women's problems, social issues and human suffering. Many of his films carry hope for improvement and forgiveness. The war propaganda elements of Terje Vigen are undermined because he is never really that interested in propaganda. He always tries to depict people in a human way.

Recently, I saw the first masterpiece of Swedish cinema, Ingeborg Holm. It has been noted for the way its scenes are aranged to have depth. What strikes me is the story though, a biting social critique of the poorhouse system, which was run by people out of touch with the suffering the poor were experiencing at their hands. Ingeborg Holm added fuel to the debate which was to eventually change the law.

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phil noir
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Postby phil noir » April 15th, 2008, 9:10 am

Thanks, Ann Harding and Synnove, for your interesting posts. I have added The Phantom Carriage to my Amazon rental list, and also Haxan, from the box set. I'm also going to add Sir Arne's Treasure to my Christmas present list (I'm quite good with delayed gratification!)

Synnove wrote:Your reaction to Garbo in Gösta Berling is the same as many reviewers experienced at the time. One of them wrote, after he had seen the second part of the film, that they must have given her the wrong kind of lighting in the first part.

Gösta Berling might be difficult to follow because there is footage missing, and also because it is based on a very complicated, popular book. Gösta Berlings Saga was published in 1891, and was widely read. Each chapter of the saga was a story in itself, and all the little stories were, sometimes very loosely, tied together by Gösta Berling's adventures. It's the kind of thing that would be a nightmare to adapt to film.


Synnove, your point about the lighting is such a funny coincidence. I thought Garbo was much more flatteringly lit in the second half. I wonder if this was deliberate, perhaps to suggest how she becomes more beautiful to Gosta as he falls in love with her?

I hadn't realized the original book was episodic in nature. That would be hard to adapt. Mind you, it does make sense of the way Gosta moved from Ebba to Marianne to Elisabeth, all of whom seemed at that particular point in the tale the love of his life.

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Postby Synnove » April 15th, 2008, 9:36 am

In the book there is yet another "love of his life", Anna Stjärnhök, who he rides with to escape the wolves. Stiller thankfully combined her character with Garbo's. Elisabeth Dohna doesn't escape the duke so easily, she gets pregnant with his illegitimate child.

The ending of the book isn't as cheerful as the one in the movie.

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phil noir
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Postby phil noir » April 15th, 2008, 9:53 am

And I thought it was just Hollywood which imposed happy endings on its literary adaptations...

Talking of which, I was reading about Ivan Mosjoukine recently. Apparently he got his break in Russian cinema through filming alternative unhappy endings for American films, since the Russian audiences preferred a tragic outcome.

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » April 15th, 2008, 10:24 am

That was common practice here too, and in Denmark. They showed examples of that in Cinema Europe, I remember.

Gösta Berling was the most expensive movie made to date at that time, and they had ambitions to make it popular abroad. Anyway, the ending of the book isn't unhappy. It's just not very happy. They didn't change it that much, they just put a more positive spin on it.

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Postby MikeBSG » April 15th, 2008, 11:37 am

I really enjoyed the silent movies I have seen that were directed by Victor Sjostrom. "Terge Vigen," about a sailor during the Napoleonic Wars, and "The Outlaw and His Wife," about a blood feud, and "The Phantom Carriage" are all wonderful. Sjostrom had a real eye for landscape, and as good as "The Wind" (from his Hollywood experience) is, I still like his Swedish films better.

He was also a comedian in the "Thomas Graal" movies. I actually think the young Sjostrom looked a bit like John Cleese.

I never liked the films of Mauritz Stiller as much as I liked those of Sjostrom. (The Cleveland Museum of Art showed a number of Swedish silent films in the late 1980s, which is where I saw these. I was very, very lucky.)

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Re: The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924) and Swedish silent cine

Postby Jezebel38 » April 15th, 2008, 10:24 pm

phil noir wrote: I liked Lars Hanson's performance, but it was not until a couple of hours in that I realized his character was meant to be irresistible to the ladies. (Silly me.) That explained a lot. (By the way, did they photograph his eyes in some special way, I wonder? They seemed very bright and penetrating. I can see why, thematically, director Mauritz Stiller might have chosen to do this.)


Phil - I find Lars Hanson to be "irresistible" and a lot has to do with those eyes of his and his penetrating gaze; no special photographic trick by Stiller here, Hanson's eyes just naturally appear this way on film.

I started a thread on Lars a few weeks back under the People of Film catagory, but didn't get any response - maybe we can talk about him a bit more? See my previous remarks below:

As Synnove has recently joined our board, I thought I might like to ask her about Lars Hanson, and how he is regarded now in her country. I would be interested to read a biography of him, although I doubt one exists in English – have any been published in Sweden? Is he still remembered today, or just by old film buffs? Are classic Swedish films from the 1920’s and 30’s shown on television over there? I would say my favorite silents of his are The Scarlet Letter and The Saga of Gosta Berling. Apart form his silents, I have seen him in Walpurgis Night, which I like quite a bit – he has a wonderful soft speaking voice.

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » April 16th, 2008, 11:04 am

I'm sorry Jezebel38. Somehow, I missed that thread, otherwise I would have replied to it immediately!

When I saw Gösta Berlings Saga together with my dad at the Stockholm cinematek, he told me he was surprised to find out Lars Hanson had acted in films. I was surprised in turn to find out from him that this was not what Lars Hanson has been generally known for in this country. He was a famous theater actor, a legend, in fact.

You can tell from his acting style that he came from the theater, can't you? From what I have seen, he tended to be more restrained in movies that took place in a contemporary setting, like Vingarne, Erotikon and The Wind, while he acted out more in historical movies like The Scarlet Letter and Gösta Berling. In Gösta Berling this fits particularly well with the dramatic and emotional tone of Selma Lagerlöf's original story.

Out of his films, his most famous one, Gösta Berlings Saga has been shown regularly on TV in an edited, grainy version. It was recently restored to its full length, given a new score and released on DVD here in 2007.

There haven't been any well known books written about Lars Hanson from what I have seen. I do know of a book written in 1947, which is available from the internet. Perhaps it's time I bought it.


MikeBSG - I'm with you, I respect Stiller and enjoy his movies, but Sjöström's films are the ones I connect to more emotionally.

John Cleese? I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps, with that chin.

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Gagman 66
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Postby Gagman 66 » April 17th, 2008, 4:40 am

Everyone,

:) Actually, I think my favorite Lars Hanson feature among all the films that I have seen, is CAPTAIN SALVATION (1927), Directed by James Robinson. I wonderful director who is sadly forgotten today.

:) Just an excellent film, with a top notch supporting cast. Plus I am kind of sweet on Marceline Day, so She definitely has influence. But Pauline Stark is great in the picture too! Donald Crisp, Ernest Torrence, such a powerful story, beautifully photographed! A very under-rated film. The TCM print is beautiful, and the Philip Carli Orchestral score is just superb.
Anyone else seen this one? I have not heard it mentioned at all here?

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silentscreen
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Postby silentscreen » April 17th, 2008, 6:05 am

Yes Gagman, I've seen it. You're right, a really wonderful Lars Hanson vehicle! Good story, good acting, beautiful print. I had forgotten about that one, shame on me! :oops: I'll have to look for it and revisit it soon!
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » April 19th, 2008, 4:04 pm

I'm a big fan of Swedish silents too.

I've seen three of Stiller's Swedish films, Sir Arne's Treasure is a definite must see. Gosta Berling Saga is a great film but Sir Arne's Treasure is more poetic.

Like Synnove I connect more with Sjostrom, my favorite of his Swedish films being The Phantom Carriage.

I know many women find Lars Hanson attractive, to me he is a great actor but I too had missed the fact he was meant to be irresitable to women. It was my very first silent purchase. I'm sure if I rewatched it I would view it a little differently. My mind is far more in tune with silents these days.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Synnove
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Postby Synnove » April 19th, 2008, 4:18 pm

Welcome back Alison! I hope you had a great trip!

Gösta Berling wasn't the first silent I saw, but I think it was the first I saw that was acted out in a grand, traditional manner, similar to Metropolis and other German films. I hadn't read the novel then either, so I didn't realize how well the style fit with Selma Lagerlöf's writing. I do think the film gets the tone right, but it might be less easy for a modern audience to get into than the book is. In books, there are hardly any limits to what characters can say, think and do. With a film it's different. I could appreciate Gösta Berling the movie, after reading the book, and getting used to the acting style. And seeing it in a nice print at a big movie theater with comfy seats.

I like Lars Hanson, he acts with intensity and conviction which the role requires. I don't find him irresistible in Gösta Berling though. I prefer him in his more modern acting parts. It might have something to do with my foibles for regency clothing, I don't know.

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Postby charliechaplinfan » April 19th, 2008, 4:21 pm

Thanks Hedvig, the trip was lovely, so busy. Tomorrow I'll write it up on the thread. 7 stops in 8 days, my head is spinning :D
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin


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