films seen
average score
Alive and kicking


The Wind

1928 / 95m - USA
The Wind poster

The best Sjöström I've seen so far. The Wind is a typical late-20s film, one that isn't so much interested in telling an elaborate story, instead, it cares more about communicating a certain mood. I will say that I found a version with a pretty nice and fitting score, which makes these silent film a lot easier to watch.

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The plot is pretty basic, then again that goes for most silent films. Letty is a young girl who moves from Virginia to go live with her cousin in Texas. Her cousin's wife isn't too happy with Letty and kicks her out not long after she arrived. Desperate, Letty decides to marry a young cowboy, but their marriage isn't meant to last either.

There are some comical bits that feel quite out of place, but the outside scenes with the wind are pretty impressive, especially the more dream-like moments. Lillian Gish is also pretty mesmerizing, combined with the fine (but randomly added) soundtrack it made for a decent watch.

Ingeborg Holm

1913 / 96m - Sweden
Ingeborg Holm poster

A tough film to judge. My trip through Swedish classic cinema hasn't been very successful so far, and Ingeborg Holm suffers from the same traits that made me dislike the earlier films I tried. The biggest difference here is the score, which is really haunting and emotional. Very modern and tacked on too, making it extra tricky to judge the film.

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Ingeborg and her husband open up a small grocery store. While it doesn't make them rich, it allows them to live a comfortable life. But then Ingeborg's husband falls ill and though she tries her best, the shop has to close after he passes on. Ingeborg is separated from her kids and has to stay in a poor house. All she wants is to see her kids one last time.

It's a very sentimental film that piles on the misery, but because the score is so beautiful and calming (a big contrast with most scores for silent films) it really balances out the drama. I'm sure that with a different soundtrack my score would be halved, but as it stands the restored version is not that bad.

The Phantom Carriage

1921 / 107m - Sweden
Drama, Fantasy
The Phantom Carriage poster

One of the biggest classics in Swedish cinema, often cited as one of the all-time horror greats and almost always linked to German expressionist cinema. That raised my expectations, sadly I found a very melodramatic and overly sentimental film with some minor fantasy touches.

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The last person who dies before New Year has to drive Death's carriage for an entire year and collect all the souls of the deceased. David Holm, a drunkard who once led a joyous life, gets hit on the head with a bottle right before the clock strikes 12, his old friend (and the one who led him astray) shops up and transfers the job of carriage driver to David.

Some characters are ghostly apparitions, that's about as horrific as it gets. They're not made to be scary though, so the film's categorization is more than a little deceptive. Performances are grossly overstated, the cinematography and sets are rather plain and the endless drama is tiring. Supposedly a big influence on the cinema of Bergman, if I'd known that up front I'd been a lot less excited. Disappointing.

Eyvind of the Hills

Berg-Ejvind och Hans Hustru
1918 / 102m - Sweden
Eyvind of the Hills poster

I've been watching quite a few Swedish silents this past year. Though some have been clearly better than others, they're mostly very sturdy films. Films that neatly plow through their narratives, caring less about aesthetics or other cinematic virtues. This early Sjöström is no exception.

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Eyvind is a criminal on the run from his past. He stumbles upon a farm where Halla lives. The two grow fond of each other and decide to marry, but Eyvind can't escape his past. Eyvind has to come clean to his wife and the two leave the farm behind, fleeing into the mountains, where a life of poverty and hunger awaits.

Like most silent dramas, I feel that the exaggerated performances and constant interruptions of intertitles stand in the way of the enjoyment. Especially when little effort is made to make the film look good. There are a handful of decent nature shots here, other than that it's just a simple plot spread out over 100 minutes of film.

A Man There Was

Terje Vigen
1917 / 65m - Sweden
A Man There Was poster

Another Swedish classic from the earliest days of (feature-length) cinema. So far, these films haven't been a big success and A Man There Was seems to be continuing that disappointing tradition. For someone who likes a little subtlety to his dramas, most of these silent film turn out to be a real test of endurance.

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Victor Sjöström's wide-eyed performance is the opposite of subtle. His character is all about grand gestures and big emotions, many of which you'll read about first in the numerous intertitles. Again there's too much reading to be done, especially for a film that isn't exactly difficult to follow.

The scenes at sea provide a nice little diversion and the length of the film is quite short, but the bland plot, over-the-top performances and poor pacing make it quite a chore to sit through. If I've learned one thing from watching these films though, it's that sound is actually quite crucial to good drama.