Greta Garbo

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Swedish Silent Film, The Golden Age in Decline


Swedish Silent Film scholar Bo Florin makes note of the province held by Nils Bouveng at the newly structured Svenska Filmindustri after the merger had taken place of the smaller companies into one and that Bouveng had published an article entitled Swedish Film Advertising: How the Industry Plans to Conquer the World in the 1919 periodical Filmjournalen. Nils Bouveng of Swedish Biograph was very much responsible for the distribution of Swedish silent film in the United States. The publication Exhibitor's Herald during 1921 noted that although Bouveng was deemed to have thought the film market overcrowded, he would still export film "of merit" to the United States. It wrote,"Swedish Biograph has control of all product of Scandinavian studios and will offer only the cream of these pictures to American theaters...While Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness is regarded as its finest offering, company executives believe that Judge Not, Sir Arne's Treasure, Youth Meets Youth, Dawn of Love and Secret of the Monastery will compare favorably with any American made production." Actors that were anticipated to greet audiences in the United States included Mary Johnson, Gosta Ekman Renee Bjorling, Tora Teje, Edith Erastoff Lars Hanson, Karin Molander and Victor Sjostrom.
Scandinavian films were often peered at by American and British film magazines and for thos looking for film rveiews, extatextural discourse on European films can often be located within them. Picture Play Magazine during 1921 looked at the theater screens of Sweden. "Lars Hanson, a star of the Swedish constellation may be added to the European counterparts of American stars. Lesley Mason denominates him 'the Charles Ray of Sweden' and considers him the best male bet of Europe so far as American popularity is concerned. The most popular of the Swedish feminine stars, according to Mr. Mason, are Tora Teje, Karin Molander and Mary Johnson. During the following year, 1922, the periodical Picturegoer magazine in fact recognized actress Mary Johnson as being the leading actress from Sweden in an article about actors known internationally and transnational cinema but opined that as a foreign celebrity she entertained a more subdued fame, as though to denote a lack of commodification of the female in extratextural discourse, ie. exploitation. "Although she rejoices in the title of 'Sweden's Sweetheart", loveable, little Mary Johnson has never recieved a 'fan' letter from Sweden. The reason is extremely simple. There are no 'fans' there. The star, as a star and personality, simply doesn't count. The Swedish picturegoer is very critical as to story, technique and acting and highly appreciative too; but as to writing to the movie stars- perish the thought." Author Walter Bloem, in his volume The Soul of the Moving Picture from 1924, in a discussion on The Scene, singled out two Swedish Silent Film actresses by briefly mentioning Karin Molander and Tora Teje as having "the psychic power which spells variety in the creation of character" as contrasted with a plentiful supply of American actresses that presented "a soporific drama of a single sorrow or grief or pain, of a conventional melancholy, sadness or lament." Author Benjamin B. Hampton to the contrary, in his volume A History of the Movies, published during 1931, seems to transverse the period following the Golden Age of Silent Film as though from 1925-1930 were stagnant, typifying Swedish Silent Film as tendentious. "The Scandinavians, despite fine actors and directors, lean so frequently toward gloomy, sophisticated stories, that they have been negligible factors in production as far as production is concerned." Hampton overlooks that this is exaclty what helps to account for the film made in Sweden after 1925 having been attempts at commercial success through light hearted comedies.

During 1921, the periodical Motion Picture Magazine reported there would be an increase of importations from Stockholm and while it featured still photographs from the films Dawn of Love, The Secret of the Monsastery and A Fortuned Hunter, it marked that the storylines we're to be adaptations from the literature of Ibsen, Bjornsen and Selma Lagerlof and that the principal players had come from the Swedish theater, which aptly describes the way in which actress Greta Garbo would be introduced to Swedish film audiences two years later.

Swedish director Ivan Hedqvist during 1919 directed the Svenska Biografteatern film "The Downy Girl"(Dunungen) from a play by Selma Lagerlof, the film having starred Renee Bjorling, Jenny Tschernichin-Larssen and Mia Grunder in her first appearance on the silent screen. Among the films produced by Filmindustri Skandia during 1920 photographed by Raol Reynolds and directed by Rune Carlsten was the film "The Bomb" ("Sunshine and Shadow", "Bomben"), starring Karin Molander and Gosta Ekman. Actress Karin Molander had starred in the lost film "Surrogatet" during 1919, the being no surviving copies of the film. A short film lasting only slightly over a half hour, it was directed by Einar Braun for Filmindustri Scandia, Stockholm. Rune Carlsten in 1920 wrote and directed the film "A Modern Robinson" ("Robinson i skargarden") with actress Mary Johnson. The cinematographer to the film was Raoul Reynolds. Actress Mary Johnson married Norwegian actor Einor Rod after having appeared with him in the film. Director Rune Carlsten that year also directed Mary Johnson with Tora Teje and Hilda Castegren in "Family Traditions" ("Familjens traditioner") which he cos ripted as well, his co-author having had been being Sam Ask. The film was produced by Svensk Filmindustri and photographed again by Raoul Reynolds.
Solve Cederstrand directed his first film, "A Fateful Incognito" (Ett odesdigert kognito), starring Tage Alquist and Signe Selid in 1920. The film was written by Axel Essen and photographed by Kurt Jager, who went on to direct the film "Elaman maantiella" (1927) in Finland. Children were allowed to public exhibition of the 1920 film "The Shoemaker Prince",directed by Hjalmer Davidsen and scripted by Jens Locher for Palladium film. The film starred Maja Cassel as Princess Charlotte and Oda Larsen. In her paper The Excavation of New Swedish Childen's Film History, scholar Taichi Niibori, Stockholm University, asks if Pauline Brunius, wife of Swedish Silent Film director John Brunius was the "Founding Mother" of the Swedish Barnfilm with the film "Dragonfly" (1920) in a chapter on the Ambiguity of Generic Identity in exhibition strategies, that its "textural aspect symolises the contemporaneuous concept of children's films". It is a short film of 21 minutes running time. Brunius often made short films with child actors in the leading parts.
Scripted by Hjalmer Bergman as an adaptation of his 1917 work "Friarna pa Rockesnas", the 1921 film "Fru Mariannes fare" was directed by Gunnar Klintberg, the cinematographer to the film having had been Robert Olsson. The film starred Astri Torsell, Ingrid Sunblad, Aslag Lie-Erde and Gota Klintberg. Gunnar Klintberg continued by directing Astr Torsell in two more Swedish Silent Films, "The Love Circle" [Elisabet) with actresses Julia Hakanson and Gota Klintberg and in "Lord Saviles Brott", adapted from the work of Oscar Wilde. Gunner Klintberg's wife, actress Gota Klintberg had appeared with Signe Kolthoff during 1919 in the film "Jefthas dottar", directed by Robert Dinesen.

Formerly a journalist, Gustaf Edgren in 1922 had founded his own film company, Varmlandsfilm, making his screenwriting and directorial debut with the film "Miss at Pori" (The Young Lady of Bjorneborg/Froken pa Bjorneborg) starring actresses Rosa Tillman, Elsa Wallin and Edith Ernholm in her first film. The photographer was Adrian Bjurman. Adrian Bjorman was again the photographer for Gustav Edgren during 1923 for the film "People of Narke (Narkingara), which Edgren wrote and directed. Starring in the film were Anna Carlsten, Gerda Bjorne, and Maja Jerlstrom in her first appearance on screen. The film was also produced by Edgren's company Varmlandfilm, which would continue to produce only the flms of Gustaf Edgren.

Aparrently actress Karin Swanstrom was required to give co-directing screen credit to her screenwriter Oscar Rydqvist to the first film she was to direct, "Boman at the Fair" (Boman at the Exbhition, Boman pa Uttstallingen", 1923). Photographed by Gustav A Gustafson, the film starred Ingeborg Strandin and was the only film in which Karin Gardtman was to appear.

Although it joins the narrative of film history in a chapter concerned with the decline of Swedish Silent Film and its Golden Age, author Forsyth Hardy describes the work of Inga Tiblad and Einar Hanson in the 1923 Gustaf Molander film "Malapirater" as "pleasant acting". The film is a comedy. Ragnar Widestedt in 1923 directed Agda Helin and Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson in the film "Housemaids" (Hemslavirmor) written by Ragnar Hylten-Cavallius.

Frederick Andersson in 1923 directed the film "En rackarunge" with actresses Elsa Wallin and Mia Grunder. Gustaf V, King of Sweden, is listed as being in the film. It was photographed by Swedish cinematographer Sven Bardach. Per Lindberg directed his first film during 1923, "Norrtullsligan", written by Hjalmer Bergman and starring Tora Teje, Stina Berg, Linnea Hillberg and Nils Asther. Peter Cowie, in his volume Scandinavian Cinema, commended the film by writing it "nelongs among the most courageous and enjoyable films of the European decade. Films prior to 1923 had presented individual female characters of flesh amd blood, but the Nortell Gang established a precedent....The screenplay by Hjalmer Bergman transcends the familiar image of women as decorative objects." Hjalmer Bergman was in fact the borther-in-law of director Per Lindberg.

John Lindlof in 1924 directed the film "Man of Adventure" (Odets Man) with Inga Tiblad and Uno Henning, photographed by Gustav a Gustafson and written by J. Evicius. Knut Lambert who appears as an actor in the film and subsequently several later films, directed the lost film "Equal Among Equal" (Lika mot lika) in 1906, it having been the first film in which actress Tollie Zellman was to appear. Lambert appears with Tollie Zellman in the film as an actor with his wife Helfrid Lambert. There are no surviving copies of the film.

Sigurd Wallen during 1924 directed Inga Tiblad with Einar Froberg in " Greune pa Svanta" photographed by Henrik Jaenzon. Mostly known for being a theater director it was the first of only a handful of films Froberg had appeared in and the only film script that he had written. Froberg had directed an earlier film, "Lunda-indianer" starring Ture Sjogre and Malte Akerman, during 1920, his only time behind the camera, and had directed his own play, "Individerna Forbund' in Stockholm during 1919. Gustaf Molander appeared on stage in Stockholm in Froberg's play "Erna" under the direction of Gustaf Linden at The Drama (Dramaten) during 1922.

Ivar Kage in 1924 directed Gosta Hillberg and Edvin Adolphson in the film "When the Lighthouse Flashes" (Dar fyren blinken) for Svensk Ornfilm. The script was written by Esther Julin who had earlier adapted the novels of Selma Lagerlof to the screen for Victor Sjostrom. A fairly obscure or nonprolific photographer, Hellwig Rimmen during 1924 photographed the only film that he was to direct, "Hogsta Vinsten", it having starred actress Hilma Bolvig. The running time to the film was a half hour. Rimmen had began filming in Sweden under the direction of Einar Fronerg during the only film he was to direct, the 1920 film "Lunda-Indianer".

During 1925, Pauline Brunius was appearing on stage with Gosta Ekman in the play "Dalin och Drottningen", written by her brother in law, August Brunius. August Brunius has recently been described by one biographer as having been "the first professional Swedish critic", his having had begun writing essay on the theater in 1917.

Swedish Silent Film director William Larsson during 1925 directed the films "Broderna Ostermans huskors" with Jenny Tscherichin-Larsson and Frida Sporring and "For hemmet och flickan" with Jenny Tchernichin Larsson and Elsa Widborg in what was to be the first film in which she was to appear. The former was photographed by Arthur Thorell, the former by Henrik Jaenzon.

Swedish Silent Film director Sigurd Wallen during 1925 directed the film "Hennes lilla Majestat" starring actresses Margita Alfven, Stina Berg, Gucken Cederborg, and Olga Andersson in the first feature film in which she was to appear. With a photplay scripted by Henning Ohlson, the film was photographed by Axel Lindblom.

Olaf Molander, to bring the Golden Age of Swedish Silent Film to an anticlimax rather than a crescendo, directed only three silent films, the first in 1925, the next the following year and one the year following that. About the 1925 film, "Lady of the Camelias"(Damen med kameliorna) Forsyth Hardy writes,"The film derived some distinction from the delicately composed interiors and the touching performance of Tora Teje gave in response to Molander's skilled direction." Peter Cowie writes, "Molander knows how to rein in the histrionics of his players (Nils Arehn, for example creates an excellant Georges Duvall) and he copes well with the outdoor scenes." Photographed by Gustaf A. Gustafson, the films stars Ivan Hedqvist, Hilda Bjorgstrom and Lisskulla Jobs in the first film in which she was to appear.

Sigurd Wallen during 1926 directed the film "Ebberods Bank", the assistant director to the film Rolf Husberg. The film starred acresses Stina Berg, Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson and Carina May in her first of three screen appearances. Petschler-Film during 1926 produced the film "Brollopet i Brana" directed by Eric A. Petschler and written by Esther Julin and Lars Tessing. The film, photographed by Gustav A. Gustafson, teamed Edvin Adolphson, Mona Martensen and Emmy Albin.

"Mordbrannerskan" (1926), directed by John Lindlof, photographed by Gustaf A. Gustafson and starring Vera Schmiterlow and Brita Appelgren was the first film in which Birgit Tengroth was to appear.
Gustaf Edgren in 1927 directed "The Ghost Baron" (Spokbaronen) starring Karin Swanstrom and photographed by Adrian Bjuman, which was followed by "Black Rudolph" (Svarte Rudolph) in 1928, starring Inga Tiblad amd Fridolf Rhudin, both films having been written by Solve Cederstrand. The assistant director to the film "Black Rudolph" had been Gunnar Skogland. It was the first film in which actress Katie Rolfson was to appear.

Vilhelm Bryde directed his only film during 1927, "A Husband By Proxy" (En Perfekt Gentleman) a comedy scripted by Hjalmar Bergman starring Gosta Ekman, La Jana and Karin Swanstrom. The film was produced by Minerva Film. Bryde had acted in a more than a dozen Swedish Silent Films beggining with "Erotikon", directed by Mauritz Stiller.

Sam Ask wrote and directed the 1928 Swedish Silent Film "Erik XIV", it having starred Sophus von Rosen, Eva Monk af Rosenchold, Lisa Ryden and Gosta Werner. Nothwithstanding, despite the film "Erik XIV", author Peter Cowie sees 1928 as the beginning of a "barren period" ensuing after Charles Magnusson was "eased out of" Svenska Filmindustri by Ivar Kruger with Olaf Andersson as head of the firm. Charles Magnusson had folded, and left his position at Svenska Filmindustri during 1928, but the present author feels that perhaps author Peter Cowie is either mistaken or exaggerating when he claims that it had precipitated a "veritable exodus of talent"- the directors Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller admittedly were in the United States, but contrary to Cowie's volume Scandinavian Cinema, actor and actress Greta Garbo and Lars Hanson had u doubtedly left Sweden prior to the departure of Charles Magnusson, as had Einar Hanson, leaving only the screenwriters Hjalmer Bergman and concievably Tancred Ibsen. And yet the spirit of Cowie's passage views him as essential as a founder and catalyst, which he was.



Peter Cowie, in his volume Scandinavian Cinema chronicles the end of the silent era in Sweden as being a time of less output, "Swedish film production declined through the 1920's, reaching a nadir in 1929, when a mere six features were released."

Danish Silent Film

Victor Sjostrom
Victor Sjostrom

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