Monday, October 07, 2013

Den starkaste / [The Strongest]

DEN STARKASTE. En berättelse av Ishavet / [Not released in Finland] / [Il più forte / The Strongest. A Tale from the Arctic Ocean] (AB Svensk Filmindustri, SE 1929) D: Alf Sjöberg och författaren = Axel Lindblom; SC, DP: Axel Lindblom; C: Bengt Djurberg (Gustaf, a sailor), Anders Henrikson (Ole, a hunter on the “Viking”), Gun Holmquist (Ingeborg Larsen), Hjalmar Peters (Larsen, Ingeborg’s father, skipper of the “Viking”), Gösta Gustafson (Jens, a hunter on the “Maud”), Civert Braekmo (Olsen, skipper of the “Maud”); 35 mm, 2541 m, 106' (21 fps); print source: Filmarkivet vid Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm. Swedish intertitles. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 7 Oct 2013

Jon Wengström: "In 1920 cinematographer Axel Lindblom (1891-1967) was assigned by AB Svensk Filmindustri to film a pictorial reportage in the Arctic Ocean with author Albert Viksten. Their journey took them from the Norwegian port of Tromsø across the Barents Sea to the Russian island of Novaya Zemlya, and resulted in several short non-fiction films, which were included in screening programmes in the early 1920s. More importantly, Lindblom’s experiences led him to write a script for a fiction film, Den starkaste (literally, “The Strongest”). Completed in 1923, the script lay dormant for some years until the studio decided to realize it in 1929. To co-direct the film, the studio engaged the young stage and film actor Alf Sjöberg. Location shooting started in late Spring in Tromsø, followed by five weeks on the Arctic Ocean off Spitsbergen."

"The film opens with a sailor arriving in northern Norway, biding his time as a farm-hand while waiting for the next opportunity to board a ship bound for the Arctic Sea. The images of Tromsø and the surrounding areas on the mountainsides overlooking the fjord are picturesque, but the opening of the film is at best slow, if not uninteresting. But when two rival ships, the Maud and the Viking, set sail on a hunting expedition for seals and polar bears, the film is transformed. The confined spaces on board the ships are nicely used to advantage by alternating camera set-ups, and the long sequences of the men jumping from ice-floe to ice-floe, largely told without intertitles, are among the most striking images in all Swedish silent cinema."

"At times the film contains visual references to sound, including having musical instruments and gramophone records in frame, an indication that the studio at one point was contemplating releasing the film with sound. However, no records exist to indicate that the film was ever released with synchronized sound played on from separate discs. Lindblom shot 17 feature films in the 1920s. Also being shown at this year’s Giornate are Polis Paulus’ Påskasmäll (The Smugglers, 1925, Gustaf Molander), and Fången n:r 53 (A Cottage on Dartmoor, 1929, Anthony Asquith), which was his last film as cinematographer. After this film, Lindblom left cinema altogether and settled down as a farmer. Alf Sjöberg (1903-1980), on the other hand, would become one of Sweden’s leading stage and screen directors. In the 1930s he focused on his first love, the theatre, before picking up his film career again in the 1940s, making films such as Iris och löjtnantshjärta (Iris and the Lieutenant, 1946), Karin Månsdotter (1954), and of course Fröken Julie (Miss Julie), for which he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1951. Hailed as the foremost theatre director of the 20th century in Sweden, Sjöberg had a tremendous influence on the young Ingmar Bergman, and in fact they collaborated on the film Hets (Frenzy, 1944), directed by Sjöberg from Bergman’s script."

"The Print: A duplicate negative, downsized to Academy ratio, was made from a nitrate positive source in 1982, when viewing prints were also struck from the new negative. The inferior image quality in parts of one of the reels is due to the fact that the new negative was completed with images taken from another safety positive source existing at the time, with more generation loss from the original." Jon Wengström

AA: I saw this late Swedish silent masterpiece for the first time, although I had been aware of its high standing for a long time.

There is an assured sense of the mise-en-scène, and in the triangle drama the looks tell everything.

Alf Sjöberg was lucky to have the experienced cinematographer Axel Lindblom as his partner. There is nothing amateurish in this movie.

In this story of seamen there are many scenes on land. It's hard work on the farm both for the men and the women.

But the bitterest drama takes place on the Arctic Ocean, in the climactic reels 5-8, in the desolate world of ice and fog. Men lose their sense of direction although foghorns are used. It's a battle of survival, a survival of the fittest, "rätt har den som är starkast" = "might is right".

We may now find cruel the scenes of shooting seals and icebears. The scenes on the ice floes seem dangerous and thrilling.

A fine job of producing a print from sometimes difficult sources. Occasionally there is a low contrast and a slightly duped look, but mostly this movie looks fine.

Axel Lindblom on location in the Arctic Ocean during the shooting. Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm © 1929 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.

Bengt Djurberg - Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm © 1929 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.

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