Film

The 100 Essential Directors Part 9: Victor Sjöström to Luchino Visconti

Today we present a glorious spate of international auteurs that range from cinematic innovators from the silent era to those who continue to push the limits of film in their contemporary work.

In between Victor Sjöström and Luchino Visconti there is a glorious spate of international auteurs that range from cinematic innovators from the silent era to those who continue to push the limits of film in their contemporary work, carrying on the rich traditions of those who came before them and directly referencing these innovators in their work, re-interpreting the past for modern movie-going audiences, often brilliantly.

 

Victor Sjöström
(1879 - 1960)

Three Key Films: The Phantom Carriage (1921), He Who Gets Slapped (1924), The Wind (1928)

Underrated: The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

Unforgettable: Letty (a career-best Lillian Gish), shot in agonized close-up, as the sandstorm wailing outside the door of her shack threatens to tear both her and the entire place to pieces. Insidiously, her new environment has eroded her mind and in this moment, Letty goes from perfectly rational city girl on the prairie to wide-eyed madwoman lost in the eye of a monstrous Texas cyclone. Though The Wind is one of the final films of the silent era, this ghostly image is always the first that comes to mind when I think of silent film, for the very expressiveness of that violent moment defines what can be said onscreen without words.

The Legend: Sjöström is arguably best known to today's cinephile crowd as an actor rather than a director, appearing in the key leading role of Isak Borg in Ingmar Bergman's melancholic masterpiece about aging, Wild Strawberries (1957), for which he was recently celebrated in PopMatters' 100 Essential Male Film Performances as one of the classics that everyone should know. Even though his uncomfortability with the form's transition into sound is allegedly what sparked his return to the theater and to acting, as a pioneering film director Sjöström's contribution to cinema as both a visual storyteller and technician remains one of the most under-appreciated of the silent era.

Beginning in his native Sweden, where he made over forty films after leaving the theater and before being drawn to Hollywood by Louis B. Mayer, Sjöström honed his craft on films such as Sons of Ingmar (1919) and Karin, Daughter of Ingmar (1920). Though much of his early Swedish ouevre has been forever lost, Sjöström would come to be known for building poetic, surrealist paens to love, obsession, and brutality in the decade that immediately preceded the first sound films. Initially, his stylistically-innovative work was more than often dismissed by critics of the time as a pastiche of old conventions, of techniques that were quickly going out of vogue, from expressive, theatrical acting performances to the clean, clear moments of repetitive visual symbolism (think the wedding ring or the transposed, braying horses in The Wind). Thankfully, modern film critics have slowly but surely given Sjöström his proper due as one of the medium's earliest and most influential artists to dynamically cross international borders as an actor, and most importantly, as a director who seemed to be in constant pursuit of technical excellence and innovation through pure artistic impulse and expression. Matt Mazur

 

 

 

Next Page

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.