Friday, 17 July 2009

The Wind (1928)

Sometimes life is a series of coincidences with an unrelated starting point. When I found out that the BFI was going to show Victor Sjöstöm’s “The Wind” I decided to change my plans and take a holiday a week later than I originally intended. This turned out to be a very good decision not only because I loved the film, but also professionally due to circumstances no one could have guessed in late April/early May.

“The Wind” is one of the swansongs of silent cinema. It tells the story of Letty who goes west from Virginia to a desert area to live with her cousin. Perceived as a threat by his wife and pursued by a married man, she is forced into a loveless marriage. And all this with a constant desert wind which has a reputation to drive women mad. There is a strange happy ending to the whole thing, which doesn’t fit the film very well, but it does survive quite well despite it.

After “A Woman of Affairs”, this only the second silent film that I have seen, loved and gladly will see again – especially because I think there is so much in it. It is a truly disturbing film at parts. The wind imagery, aided by Carl Davis’ score, succeeded in producing in me a similar effect to what Gish’s character was going through. Its intensity, repetitiveness, the fact that everyone else seem to be perfectly accommodated to it, just highlight the isolation and the alienation that the combine effect of the wind, the desert and the loneliness produce in someone who seemed to have been sheltered from much hardness in life up to that point.

There are other amazing moments in the film – an extraordinary efficient and clear ellipse of an event that is crucial to the plot, so that no censor board could complain, and the final build-up of Gish’s madness, with the sand revealing way more than it should (if you watch the film you’ll know what I am talking about).

The screening I attended to was completely sold out, which I think is fairly impressive for a silent film. It was also introduced by Kevin Brownlow, which is one of the great champions of silent films and the main reason I am curious about so many of them, and by the leading actress herself in a recorded introduction from the 1980s – Gish died in 1993. I hope both the film and the intro will make it to DVD very soon.

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