Sunday, October 05, 2014

Pan (1922)

Hjalmar Fries-Schwenzen (Lieutenant Glahn), Gerd Egede-Nissen (Edvarda). Photo: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo. Click to enlarge.
[Not released in Finland] (Harald Schwenzen, Kommunernes Filmscentral - NO 1922) D: Harald Schwenzen; SC: Harald Schwenzen, based on the novel by Knut Hamsun (1894); DP: Johan Ankerstjerne, Thorleif Tønsberg; C: Hjalmar Fries-Schwenzen (Lieutenant Glahn), Gerd Egede-Nissen (Edvarda), Lillebil Ibsen (Eva), Hans Bille, Rolf Christensen, Harald Schwenzen, Falhi; 35 mm, 2170 m, 105' (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: NOR (subt. ENG); print source: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo.
    Digitally restored at Arri in 2012.
    With e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Mauro Colombis, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 5 Oct 2014

Bent Kvalvik (GCM catalogue and website): "Norwegian feature-film production in the 1920s was infrequent. It could hardly be considered a major industry at the time; there were very few full-length movies being made annually, and very few trained and experienced filmmakers working in our country. It was therefore quite a sensation when someone suddenly had the nerve to go ahead with a film adaptation of Knut Hamsun’s famous 1894 novel Pan, which by then was already a national literary classic, and widely appreciated abroad. The film was well-timed; Hamsun had recently received the Nobel Prize (1920), and was naturally then one of Norway’s biggest heroes."

"A talented young actor from Norway’s National Theatre in Oslo, Harald Schwenzen, wrote the script and directed the film. The project apparently was a labour of love for him – it was his first film as a director, and he never made another. The rest of his career he concentrated on acting, on both stage and screen. He cast his own brother, the actor Hjalmar Fries-Schwenzen, in the male leading role of Lieutenant Glahn, and he himself played Glahn’s hunting companion in the film’s epilogue. One could almost imagine the two brothers planning it all back in their nursery!"

"Kommunernes Filmscentral (Norwegian Municipalities’ Film Central) – primarily a corporation for the distribution of films, but for some years also credited as a production company – supported the project. Probably the most daring idea was the plan to shoot the epilogue on location in Algeria. Never before had a Norwegian film crew travelled so far. Harald Schwenzen himself related the adventure in an interview many years later, published in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenposten (27 February 1945): “We were three of us travelling down to Algeria, my brother Hjalmar, the photographer Tønsberg, and myself, all of us packed for summer holidays, furnished with passports and other suitable things. From Algiers, we travelled further on the governor’s recommendation, with safe passage by bus or camel, 500 km down south, through the stone desert and into the sand desert to an oasis, where no Norwegians had ever set foot before; there were only some Arabs and Frenchmen there. And very hot it was – oh my! – 45 degrees in the shade! And in that heat we were to work from 4 in the morning until 8 in the evening, with a dinner break of two hours. The Frenchmen said we were mad to go on working in this heat, and even the Arabs were sceptical. When we arrived at the oasis we were met with a huge disappointment, and I feared that the whole journey had been in vain: they told us that Arab women were never allowed to leave their houses. And we needed an Arab girl for one of the leading roles, of the Arab girl Maggie, Lieutenant Glahn’s sweetheart. But helped by the powerful French prefect we made contact with a young Arab girl, who was absolutely thrilled to get out of her imprisonment, when she learned that it was properly allowed. And she was a real find! Yes, Falhi, a slim and charming creature, an 18-year-old Nature Girl. She appeared to have a natural talent, gracious like a gazelle and extraordinarily flexible. We stayed on there the whole summer, and it was a wonderful time. We were shooting the epilogue of Pan, and it was really great fun to make a Norwegian film in Africa for the very first time.”"

"This filming in Africa was done during the Summer of 1921. The main portion of the film was not shot until the following year, in Melbu, in the Vesteraalen archipelago, northern Norway. Two young actresses were hired for the main female leads, Gerd Egede-Nissen as Edvarda and Lillebil Ibsen as Eva. They both had already played great film roles abroad, but had never appeared in a Norwegian film before."

"When the film premiered in the Autumn of 1922, it was anticipated with both excitement and scepticism, but the critics were mostly enthusiastic, in some cases even amazed. The newspapers generally lavished praise on the film: “The images of Nordland in this film are probably the most beautiful ever seen in a movie. And what is more, in an excellent way one has succeeded in placing the characters effectively against the surroundings. The strange sentiments of the characters in Pan, which can only be understood with Nature as a background, never seemed unnatural on the screen. This is probably the film’s greatest triumph.”"

"Another review observed: “The daring step to put the novel Pan on film has succeeded beyond all expectations, due to the film company’s wisdom of casting first-class actors in the leads, and first-class photography. Edvarda is played by Gerd Egede-Nissen. An achievement like this is rarely seen on the screen. Here comes Hamsun’s Edvarda, walking right out of the book, messy and erratic, but intense, lively, and lovely.”"

"Though warmly received upon its release, the silent film Pan gathered dust in the film archives for many decades afterwards. Whenever it was shown in recent years, it was a reprinting of an old nitrate print, which was unable to recapture the film’s original picture quality, and in which, sadly, half of the film’s epilogue was missing. Happily we were able to reconstitute this when restoring the film in 2012, making use partly of the film’s camera negative (great portions of which were intact) and partly of a safety dupe print made in the early 1960s. There were no original intertitles in the restored footage, so we reconstructed them, modelling their style after the titles in the old print, and gathering the text information from the Swedish censorship report. All earlier safety prints had been produced in black & white. For the new print, we followed indications in the original material and chose to reconstruct the tinting. The film was restored digitally, at Arri Film and TV Production in Munich."

"Let Harald Schwenzen have the last word. As he wrote in the film’s original programme brochure: “The task we have given ourselves is to make a beautiful and artistic picturization of this, perhaps Knut Hamsun’s strangest story. Outwardly, there is no strong plot in Pan which could possibly tempt us, but the book is, with its powerful beauty and lyricism, so rich in atmosphere, so characteristic and strong in its human descriptions, that it offers both the director and the actors a very special artistic task. If we have succeeded, through our images, together with excerpts of Hamsun’s text, to give life to these people and this atmosphere, as in the book, then we have fulfilled the great task we set for ourselves.”"

"Harald Schwenzen (1895-1954) was one of Norway’s leading stage actors at the National Theatre, Oslo, for nearly four decades, from his debut there in 1918 until his death. In the early years he played attractive roles like Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and Schiller’s Don Carlos, Orsino in Twelfth Night, and Sebastian in The Tempest. He also occasionally directed plays, and moved over to darker character roles in later years. He had his first film role in Sweden, working for Victor Sjöström in Mästerman (1920), and after his sole director/actor achievement in Pan (1922), he returned to Sweden in Elis Ellis’ Två konungar (1925) and Gustaf Molander’s Till Østerland (1926; screened at Pordenone in 1998). His last silent film part was back in Norway, in George Schnéevoigt’s Laila (1929; shown at Pordenone in 2008). During World War II Schwenzen worked actively in the Resistance against the Nazi Occupation forces, and in 1944 was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Although largely forgotten today, Harald Schwenzen deserves to be remembered, as both a dignified artist and a brave man." – Bent Kvalvik

AA: The sense of the grandeur of the nature of Nordland is the great strength of this first film adaptation of Pan. The achievement of Harald Schwenzen and his cinematographers Johan Ankerstjerne and Thorleif Tønsberg is very high in this aspect. They are equal to the task of the title of the novel and the film Pan - this is a pantheistic story, and this is a pantheistic movie, about the divine of the nature, about the divine in the existence.

Harald Schwenzen's movie belongs to the greatest tradition of classic Nordic cinema, which started with Victor Sjöström's Terje Vigen. The landscape is the soulscape. The character is reflected in the landscape.

There is also an obvious affinity with Mauritz Stiller's The Song of the Scarlet Flower. Both Knut Hamsun's Ltn. Glahn and Johannes Linnankoski's Olavi are mysterious wanderers. Their affairs with women are central to the story. (Later Jarl Kulle got to play both Olavi and Ltn. Glahn).

Hjalmar Fries-Schwenzen is a charismatic Ltn. Glahn. Gerd Egede-Nissen gives a psychologically refined performance as Edvarda. Lillebil Ibsen is memorable as the unfortunate Eva. (In a later film adaptation, Kort är sommaren, directed by Bjarne Henning-Jensen, Edvarda and Eva were played by Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson - before Ullmann had met Bergman).

Knut Hamsun in the period of writing Pan was under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche like his contemporary August Strindberg, and I have always had a hard time relating to the misogyny and the racism of that heritage. In this movie those traits are at their most blatant in the African epilogue which for me is a demonstration of cultural imperialism and exploitation.

Hamsun has been criticized for his Nazi sympathies but I think they were a logical continuation of his Weltanschauung since youth. There are touches of the Übermensch in Ltn. Glahn.

But Hamsun is a great artist, therefore able to transcend his own limitations, and with an insight in the complexity of life. His characters are deeply unique, mysterious, tragic, and unsettling. Hamsun has no agenda.

I was impressed by Pan, but not convinced.

The excellent digital reconstruction and restoration has made an important Nordic movie available again.

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