Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Herr Arnes pengar / Sir Arne's Treasure

Herr Arnes pengar (1919). Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet
Albert Edelfelt: Herr Arnes penningar (1904). Gösta Werner paid attention to how Mauritz Stiller did hommage to this ink wash and others in the well-known first illustrated edition of Selma Lagerlöf's tale. Click to enlarge.
Sergei Eisenstein: Ivan Groznyi / Ivan the Terrible. Mauritz Stiller inspired Fritz Lang in Die Nibelungen, and Eisenstein was inspired by both Lang and Stiller.
Herr Arnes pengar. En vinterballad i 5 akter / Aarne-herran rahat (Il tesoro di Arne / Sir Arne’s Treasure) (AB Svenska Biografteatern; dist: Svensk Filmindustri, SE 1919) D: Mauritz Stiller; SC: Mauritz Stiller, Gustaf Molander - based on the tale Herr Arnes penningar (1903) by Selma Lagerlöf - and the stage adaptation Winterballade (1917) by Gerhart Hauptmann; DP: J. Julius [Julius Jaenzon]; C: Richard Lund (Sir Archie), Mary Johnson (Elsalill), Erik Stocklassa (Sir Filip), Bror Berger (Sir Donald), Axel Nilsson (Torarin), Hjalmar Selander (Sir Arne, the parson), Concordia Selander (his wife), Wanda Rothgardt (Berghild, his niece), Gustav Aronson (skipper); 35 mm, 2062 m, 106' (17 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet method);titles: SWE; print source: Filmarkivet vid Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    With e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 7 Oct 2014

Jon Wengström (GCM catalogue and website): "Mauritz Stiller’s Herr Arnes pengar (Sir Arne’s Treasure, 1919) was made at the height of the so-called “Golden Age” of Swedish silent cinema, when fewer but more prestigious films were made. It has all the traits of the famous films of the era: it is based on a famous literary work, with location shooting used not only as a spectacular backdrop for the unfolding drama, but also showing Man’s interaction with Nature. Herr Arnes pengar is an adaptation of a short novel by Selma Lagerlöf, published in 1903. The script is also partly based on an adaptation by Gerhart Hauptmann of Lagerlöf’s story for the stage (first performed in Berlin in 1917, under the title Winterballade)."

"The main part of the action is set during a severe winter in the 17th century, during the reign of Johan III, on the Swedish west coast (then a Danish province), where Scottish mercenaries in the Swedish army seek refuge after having turned against the king. In this tale of ominous premonitions, legends, greed, and cold-blooded murder, the wrath of Nature is bestowed on human ill-doers, and only loosens its grip when the sins committed are atoned for. The tormented soul of the leader of the mercenaries, as well as the agony of the main female protagonist Elsalill, torn between love and grief, is evidence of the impossibility of escaping from one’s past."

"Stiller creates stunning compositions with elaborate geometrical patterns. Swedish scholar Bo Florin has interestingly pointed out how the film’s visuals display affinities with drawings and illustrations that accompanied early publications of Lagerlöf’s text. Stiller found cinematic expressions for the author’s typical mélange of realism and an other-worldly eeriness, beautifully captured by the ingenious camerawork of cinematographer Julius Jaenzon, most notably in the multiple exposures depicting how Elsalill’s foster sister comes back to haunt the living. Some of the film’s set-pieces are among the highlights of Swedish silent cinema, such as the fire at the vicarage, and the endless line of grieving women on the ice. The latter shot bears a strong resemblance to how Eisenstein would stage similar compositions in Alexander Nevsky (1938)."

"Herr Arnes pengar was Stiller’s first work based on Lagerlöf’s writings, and it is arguably more faithful to the original story than Stiller’s later Lagerlöf adaptations Gunnar Hedes saga (1923; screened in the 2009 edition of the Giornate) and Gösta Berlings saga (1924). Stiller co-wrote the script of Herr Arnes pengar with Gustaf Molander, who returned to the story in 1954, directing his own sound and Gevacolor version."

"In 1978, a downsized, Academy ratio, black & white duplicate negative of Herr Arnes pengar was made from a nitrate print held by the film’s producer and rights-holder, AB Svensk Filmindustri. A tinted nitrate print from the collections of the BFI National Archive in London was accessed in 1986, and used as a reference for the colours, later confirmed by a tinted print at the Národní filmový archiv in Prague. The Czech print was also used as a guide to re-insert the original intertitles, which had been removed when the film was shortened for distribution to schools in the late 1920s. Additional shots were inserted into the negative in 2001 and 2003, originating from elements held at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen and the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin. The Desmet colour print screened in this year’s edition of the Giornate del Cinema Muto was struck from this negative in 2004." – Jon Wengström

AA: Sir Arne's Treasure was for many a / the highlight of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

Mauritz Stiller's masterpiece keeps growing in impact, and the final cathartic sequence is tremendously powerful, a consistent climax to the tragic, often surprising and unpredictable tale. There is psychological complexity in the main characters of Elsalill (Mary Johnson) and Sir Archie (Richard Lund). There is a sense of rugged authenticity even in the smallest roles.

John III reigned in 1568-1592, one of the sons of Gustav Vasa, who brought Reformation to Sweden-Finland, one of the original Lutheran countries of the world. Consequently the properties of the rich Catholic monasteries and nunneries were confiscated - like Sir Arne's treasure.

A contemporary of John III on Sweden-Finland's Eastern border was Ivan the Terrible who reigned in 1547-1584.

In France after the Reformation were raging the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre took place in 1572.

One could imagine a historical film evening starting with L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise (1908) and proceeding with Sir Arne's Treasure and Ivan the Terrible, all covering the same tragic decades.

In Italy, full Renaissance was blooming a century before the death of John III, and Reformation was an essential expression of Northern Renaissance humanism. Otherwise influences spread slowly and took generations. The Bible was translated for the first time in Swedish in 1541 (Gustav Vasas bibel) and into Finnish by Mikael Agricola (who died in 1557 and managed to publish the New Testament in 1548 and portions of the Old Testament), a student of Erasmus and Luther. Latin was the lingua franca, but literatures in national languages and developments into universal literacy were launched with a fundamental impact much later.

Stiller had an instinctive talent in visual composition; he seemed incapable of filming a dull shot. In Sir Arne's Treasure he brings history alive and gives us people with genuine feelings. The sense of emotional truth grows into an engrossing tragic grandeur.

The Swedish Film Institute has done a magnificent job in reconstructing and restoring the great heritage of classic Swedish cinema. The feat is all the more remarkable as they have had to conquer the catastrophe of 1941 when negatives and best prints of almost all Swedish classic films burned in a fire. Fortunately there were other prints in Sweden and in many other countries. As there is no negative and Sir Arne's Treasure is a winter film - a film largely without sunlight - tinting is risky business. The Desmet tinting has been conducted with the best professional talent and knowhow, but in the Teatro Verdi circumstances I had the feeling that the result was too dark. Mauritz Stiller was a poet of light, and I would prefer Sir Arne's Treasure toned or even in black and white.

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