Archive for Victor Sjostrom

The Sunday Intertitle: Going to The Circus

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on January 23, 2022 by dcairns

THE CIRCUS is the next Chaplin film for me to consider. As with many of the major ones, I’ve written about it before, and touched on it in a video essay for Criterion. But there’s always more to say, I suspect. I’ve even made the effort of BUYING the movie on DVD this time.

In Bengt Forslund’s respectable study Victor Sjostrom, we learn that Chaplin was a great admirer of this Swedish director in Hollywood: “There is a wide discrimination between Seastrom and the rest of us. He distinguishes himself with finer feeling and better taste. He is the greatest director in the world.”

So Chaplin would have seen HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, and could not have failed to be impressed by it. His own circus film would have followed it much sooner if not for the considerable delays and difficulties Chaplin was beset by in production. Forslund even suggests that a famous Chaplin routine, Hynkel playing with the globe in THE GREAT DICTATOR, may have been inspired by an image in Sjostrom/Seastrom’s movie. But THE CIRCUS is where we see that influence most strongly.

Sjostrom had been inspired to get into showbusiness by a childhood visit to the circus, so his own clown tragedy comes from quite a personal place. Chaplin had no real connection to the circus, but had trod the boards of the music hall from a tender age, and of course he WAS a clown, in a slightly different sense.

In adapting (and improving) Leonid Andreyev’s play, Sjostrom was himself influenced by another source, a well-known painting by Nils Forsberg. In fact, this image is somewhat reproduced in his film, but forms only a minor moment in the story. Chaplin’s film takes the idea of a cruel instructor and his acrobat victim and makes it a central plank of his story. So hats off to Nils Forsberg.

In seeing HE as an influence on Chaplin — both films feature scary situations with caged lions, and confusion between comedy and tragedy, slapstick and reality — I take nothing away from Chaplin. It’s a feature of his genius that whenever you find someplace he got an idea from, you find that what he did with the idea was so original or just plain effective, his brilliance loses nothing.

The Sunday Intertitle: Slap!

Posted in FILM with tags , , on August 27, 2017 by dcairns

After yesterday’s rare two-gif post, I thought I’d like to follow up Aunt Delilah’s neon sign with this one from my all-time favourite movie, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. It’s not an original idea, though — I’ve seen a gif of this somewhere before.

One of the many things I like in the film is the positively Langian connection between intertitle and image, so that three questions raised verbally can be answered with a single picture, as I discuss here and here. But director Victor Sjostrom (billed as Seastrom) also merges image with image to make the same point, as when a globe of the world dissolves into a circus ring, the disc of sawdust embracing the earth’s equator like a Saturnian cummerbund.



The Sunday Intertitle: Ich

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 5, 2017 by dcairns


“What power is at work here?” asks the government man, and Fritz Lang cuts to his chief villain, Rudolph Klein-Rogge, who says, simply “I” — even though he’s in another room in another building in another part of town and can’t be conversing with the spymaster who doesn’t know he exists…

The idea of words connecting to images to bridge scenes is a big Fritz Lang trope, and he used it again, after SPIONE, the example quoted above, in M and THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE. And then he took it to Hollywood and did it a bit in FURY at MGM. And then he phased it out, as if he felt it were somehow un-American, until his return to Germany to make THE INDIAN TOMB and THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR MABUSE, and it came back in full force: a line at the end of one scene will be picked up by an image at the start of the next. A bit of film language that had lain dormant in Lang’s dark heart for decades, and suddenly burst into life again under the lights of Babelsberg.


MGM seems like a peculiar home for Lang anyway, and indeed “that marriage did not last,” as Donald Sutherland would say, though in fairness none of Lang’s studio relationships lasted for more than a few films. His journey back to Germany may have been prompted by the fact that nobody in Hollywood would talk to him anymore, I don’t know.

But the weird thing is, there’s a beautiful example of this device in my favourite movie, Victor Sjostrom’s HE WHO GETS SLAPPED — see here. And this was the very first MGM release. It was meant to be.