Thursday, 13 September 2018

Meet the ancestors... Book now for the BFI London Film Festival.


Booking is now open for the 2018 London Film Festival and it's a special year for silent film.

The Archive Gala will be a spectacular glimpse of our Great-Grandparents' lives in the IMAX screening of The Great Victorian Picture Show, a compilation of films from 1897 to 1901 all taken from 68mm film (four times the size of ordinary 35mm) which has captured so much detail from the samples I have seen.

We're promised "...gorgeous panoramic vistas to dizzying 'phantom rides', from music hall turns to the pomp of royal pageantry, from the bustle of the Victorian street to genuine dispatches from the Boer War" drawn from over 700 newly-digitised films that will be launched online to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth next year.

Meet the ancestors
For those who don't know, the BFI IMAX is the largest cinema screen in Britain, measuring 26m by 20m with a total screen size of 520m²... you will never be this close to stepping into your forefathers' shoes and watch out for those trams, they come at you pretty fast!

BFI silent film curator Bryony Dixon has programmed the screening and will be act as our guide on the night through this extreme close-up on history. I am also very excited to hear the score from the Kennington Bioscope's own John Sweeney and his Biograph Band.

Be there on 20th and be Victorian! Mine's a flat cap and a pint of Mild please!

Fragment of An Empire (1929)
Another film I'm particularly looking forward to for musical as well as cinematic reasons is Fridrikh Ermler's Fragment of An Empire (1929) which will feature accompaniment from multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne along with Frank Bockius for whom the term percussionist seems so inadequate. The film concerns a soldier returning to Russia after losing his memory for ten years... the country he finds is vastly different than the one he remembered or anticipated.

This film has been described as the most important film in Soviet cinema and you can understand how its critique of the post-revolutionary world might justify that. We'll find out on Friday 19th.

Lovely couple, aren't they?
Two films I have seen I can heartily recommend: the stunning new restoration of Frank Borzage's 7th Heaven (1927) which I saw in July at Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna. It's a beautiful film with two stunning leads in Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor - one of the greatest love stories in silent film (yes, I do have a poster of Janet on my wall...). It's a film in love with the idea of love, its power and endurance in spite of everything. You will be moved!

Marion Davies and Conrad Nagel don't quite hit the same heights but Lights of Old Broadway (1925) is a cracking film based around the shift from gas to electric lighting in New York. Marion plays twins separated at birth - one growing up posh and the other Irish (or Oirish given the tone of the intertitles!). There's plenty of action and it also features gorgeous sequences in colour using tinting, Technicolor, and the Handschiegl colour process.

Lights of Old Broadway (1925) Technicolor fragment from Library of Congress Photograph of the nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger
One of the most important films of the entire festival is Be Natural: the Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, not only the first woman director but one of the major figures in all early film.

Alice Guy-Blaché is missing from most film histories and, in her first film, Pamela B Green aims to correct this injustice by highlighting her importance as a cinematic pioneer. Guy-Blaché directed her first film in 1896 and she became head of production Gaumont studios in Paris, before opening her own studio and moving to the US. Guy-Blaché was astonishingly prolific working as a director, producer or writer on more than 1000 films - she helped develop the technique at the birth of cinema and her influence is still being felt. Jodie Foster narrates as if this wasn't already unmissable.

Alice Guy-Blaché directs Bessie Love and a horse

There's plenty more to be found in the Treasures strand including my Dad's favourite acting genius, Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and a fascinating French film about the early years of cinema, Silence is Golden (1943) starring Maurice Chevalier and directed by René Clair.

Elsa Lanchester - wife no. 4 and Charles Laughton - Henry no. 8
The most controversial classic film will no doubt be Peter Jackson's colourised compilation of Great War footage, They Shall Not Grow Old, which is also showing in 3D. The purists may baulk at the treatment of the source material but this sounds like an interesting way of bringing a new audience to the period both historically as well as cinematographically.

As an act of rememberance it's undeniably powerful and I always get lost in the faces of the men, fighting for an unknown future. Silent film is about reconnection and the London Film Festival is bringing us all a little closer this year.

They Shall Not Grow Old

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 10-21 October 2018 and you can order your tickets NOW from the BFI website. 


Monday, 10 September 2018

Lulu and Lili, Clara and Curt… Kennington Bioscope Silent Weekender 2018, Day Two


Let’s start at the end with a hi-energy workout from luminous Lili Damita abetted by livewire Curt Bois. Curt is not the leading man in The Golden Butterfly (1926) but he is the one who really clicks with the leading lady both as a dancer – if that is indeed him lifting Lil high and perfectly straight into the air – but especially as characters; eye-rolls and flicks of the hands, the little messages sent by friends amidst the power play around them: these two truly belong in a nightclub, they’re performers and not actors, speaking to us in cabaret-code across the years of dull rom-coms and worthy romantic winners.

Given a choice between marrying uptight restaurateur Andy (Nils Asther) or overly-casual inherited-millionaire Aberdeen (Jack Trevor) I’d pick Bois’ steadfast André Dubois for Lili every time, even if as a best male friend over romance.

Jack Trevor, Lili Damita and Curt Bois
This is the third film Damita made with Michael Curtiz – her lover for a while but never her husband as Curtiz expert Adam Feinstein said in his erudite and informative introduction: there is no evidence the future Mrs Errol Flynn married the future Mr Curtiz when he was simply Manó Kaminer.

The two shared an undoubted creative bond too and this film, along with Red Heels and Cab No. 13 are spectaculars that highlight not just Lili’s extraordinary talent and beauty but also the glamorous world from which she came. The sets are stunning and her dresses jaw-dropping – this is GIF-gold once these films get released in the kind of quality seen in tonight’s 35mm BFI print.

Lili Damita
Based on PG Wodehouse’s short story, The Making of Mac’s, it tells the story of a besotted couple, Andy an undergraduate at Cambridge and Lilian (Lil) who works at his father’s restaurant a rather staid if high-quality eatery. The film was partly filmed in Cambridge and the Cam, railway station and colleges are, of course, largely unchanged.  Sadly, his father dies, and he must quit the dreaming spires for the hard work of running Mac Farland’s restaurant a rather staid but high-quality institution.

Andy finds out that Lilian has been sharpening her dancing skills and, what’s more, attracting the attention of Aberdeen who decides he can turn her into a star after seeing her dance with Bois’ dance-master André Dubois. As her star rises she and Andy separate and she loses herself in the thrill of it all, but she hasn’t forgotten Andy even though he’s desperately trying to forget her.

Personally, I think he’s stubborn and pretty stupid but none of this spoils the Damita-dazzle and this is possibly the best of the trilogy although I’d love to see Red Heels on the big screen with Cyrus Gabrysch’s spirited accompaniment.

Swinging Curt Bois
Before this, ace-programmer Michelle Facey talked us through the career of Curt Bois with clips from Wings of Desire, Casablanca (another Curtiz of course) and a screening of Patent Glue a short comedy he made in 1909: his career was even longer than Lillian Gish’s – officially the longest in cinema history. A high-impact character actor who never starred but always added flavour as in the above film where he’s the only one really on Lili Damita’s wavelength.

That was the finale, but we have five other sessions on Day Two, as, according to the Bioscope’s master projectionist Dave Locke, more film was projected than ever before including 10 features and many, many shorts.

Lois Wilson, cowed as Lulu
Miss Lulu Bett (1921), with Meg Morley

This immediately jumped to the top of the weekend’s charts with a superb performance from Lois Wilson in the lead and smooth direction from everyone’s third-favourite de Mille… William ranking behind his brother Cecil and then his daughter Agnes according to Amran Vance’s introduction.

In its own quite way it’s as powerful as anything we saw with a story featuring Wilson as the titular Lulu, the family drudge, run down by the domineering master of the house, her sister’s husband Dwight (Theodore Roberts) who brooks no challenges from his wife or his two young daughters.

Everyone has written Lulu off – destined for spinsterhood and chained to the household chores. Lois Wilson is a revelation; emoting in an understated way and carrying a lot of subtle meaning. She becomes accidentally married to her tormentor’s brother Ninian (Clarence Burton) – Dwight, somehow not surprisingly, is both a liar and a Justice of the Peace… and, whilst Ninian is sincere it turns out that he’s already married, and life threatens to get a whole lot worse.

Yet Lulu discovers new depths: “The only thing I’ve got left is my pride and you’ve got to let me keep that…” and she works upwards from there. As the poet said, you’ve got to hope for the best and that’s the best you can hope for and Lulu Betts does not disappoint.

Also flourishing was Meg Morley on piano accompanying with deft flourishes of jazz-age melancholy.


The Silent Enemy (1930) with Lillian Henley

A change of pace now with one of the best-looking films of the weekend, directed by H.P. Carver and set in the Canadian Northwest, where the Chippewa tribe struggles to find food before the onset of winter in the time before the coming of the white man.  The enemy in question is hunger and there’s a documentary feel as the tribe and their animals go in search of caribou to secure their future. The cinematography of Marcel Le Picard is breath-taking.

The cast was largely native American including Chief Yellow Robe (Chetoga, tribe leader), Chief Akawanush and Molly Spotted Elk (Molly Dellis) The rather strapping Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (Baluk, mighty hunter) was actually Sylvester Clark Long an African American but it matters not especially if you can carry off a loin cloth like he can! He’s a fascinating character in his own right as are the others: given cinema’s history of black-face/fake-race this film deserves credit for authenticity.

The writer Robert E Sherwood summed things up better than I can: “High on the list of the cinema’s nobler achievements are the names of Nanook, Grass, Stark Love and Chang. Now there is another picture to be added to the distinguished list – The Silent Enemy. It is beautiful, it is superbly acted, and in many of its scenes tremendously exciting. It is a permanent, eloquent record of a race that is vanishing from the earth. Don’t fail to see it.”


Dancing Mothers (1926), with Cyrus Gabrysch

There is no hierarchy of “It” you either have it or you don’t but there’s something about Clara Bow that fills the heart with superior levels of joy; it’s partly human pattern recognition as you react to an unconscious display of emotion but it’s also a recognition of one of the best actors in cinema. I don’t mean technically but I do mean naturally, and Clara Bow can radiate in my general direction every day.

She doesn’t steal this picture from Alice Joyce, who is superb technically and emotionally, but you find it hard to ignore Clara whenever she’s on screen. In the end, though, the narrative forces Alice centre stage and in an unexpected way…

It’s an interesting film not just for its emerging star and Alice Joyce shows what a fine dramatist she was: a very professional job all round, high-quality generational comedy that asks, once again, if parents are really people.

The Emporia Gazette described Clara Bow as “a real little modern." Which I think is undeniable.

Bobbie Rudd with Johnny Butt - his "adopted" dad and Tom Coventry. Harry Green on the right.
Messing about on the river: films from the banks of the Thames with Lillian Henley and Meg Morley

Bryony Dixon, curator of silent film at the BFI introduced a series of shorts and a feature all based on Old Father Thames.

Lieutenant Lilly and the Splodge of Opium (UK 1913) was off its head years before Fairbanks’ Coke Ennyday whilst Broken in the Wars (UK 1918) was more serious being about a charity scheme to help veterans start their own business. It featured Henry Edwards and Chrissie White who was in most things at the time.

Trips and Tribunals (UK 1918) starred Lupino Lane and was a whole mess of tribulations. Up the River with Molly (UK 1921) sounded like a throw-back to Sparrows (Mary Pickford’s character Molly escaping up the river…) but it was far gentler following a man and his dog (yay!) on a trip up the Thames. The Haunted Hotel (UK 1918) is part of a series of Kinekature Komedies using a special lens to create distortion: gimme another splodge of opium maan!

The finale was Sam’s Boy (UK 1922) with Lillian Henley on excellent, sparkling form. Directed by Manning Haynes and starring the legendary Johnny Butt – and a host of increasingly familiar faces on location around the Thames Estuary and along the Kent coast and there were docks and old pubs too… I was transported by an admitedly daft tale about a boy named Billy who adopts the ship's captain (Butt) as his father.

Again, this section was presented with support from the AHRC project ‘British Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound’ and of the British Silent Film Festival.


Turksib (1929) Costas Fotopoulos

Now for a real change of pace and Viktor Alexandrovitsh Turin extraordinarily rhythmic “propagandist” documentary about the building of the Turkestan–Siberia Railway. The editing and cutting are mesmerising, and Turin manages to create such momentum by selecting images of things happened or about to happen: it’s rapid-fire and grabs the viewer from the first few cuts before leaving you exhausted and rather pleased that they completed the 1445 miles construction “on time.”

This was also due to a positively Stakhanovite contribution from Costas who, even though he hadn’t seen the film before, piled in cluster after cluster of artful arpeggios and fluid, fast playing never once running out of crescendos!

And then onto our grand finale with Lili and Curt.

A superb weekend and, knowing how hard the organisers, helpers, Cinema Museum staff and all the contributors work I don’t take anything for granted. As Neil Brand said during his introduction on Saturday this is a fantastic event and we are so lucky to be able to celebrate silent film in this way.

It is the Silver Age of Silent Film and it continues in just two days with Au Bonheur des Dames (1930): details on the website!


Sunday, 9 September 2018

Dogs and Alligators… Kennington Bioscope Silent Weekender 2018, Day One



There’s a grand tradition of animal acting at the Bioscope and this third silent “weekender” carried this on in some style: two different dogs, a host (a “pool”?) of alligators as well as hair: not a hare, just hair but it’s close enough for my quality control.

Day One also featured maestro John Sweeney playing for four programmes and largely for films he hadn’t seen; the fact that he played four completely different and yet seamlessly compelling improvised scores says it all. It is not possible to take this for granted, and I am applauding as I type: bravo Mr Sweeney!

A candid shot on the set of Where the North Begins...
Where the North Begins (USA 1923), with John Sweeney

I’m not that big on dog-led features, the scars of Disney’s Old Yeller run deep; borderline child cruelty in my book from a company clearly with form (c.f. Bambi and many more…) but Rin Tin Tin is a German Shepherd with attitude and the fine-chiselled profile of a classic leading hound.

Directed by Chester M. Franklin, Where the North Begins, features many heroic moments from the dog du jour including wolf-battling, taking down obvious wrong-uns, even if they escape and an astonishing range of learned behaviours. This dog not only works out that humans are his friends and not the wolves he was raised by, he also calculates the correct speed and trajectory to leap through a window in order to save innocents from bad-guy assault.

The film was projected from a gorgeous tinted Kodascope print and was very enjoyable including fine performances from human side-kicks Claire Adams and Fred Huntley and some excellent hand-held camerawork showing sleigh rides, men on horseback and more. Abel Gance (probably) was going to cast a Golden Retriever in Napoleon but the insurance premiums were prohibitive, and a suitable fee could not be arranged with the dog’s people…

Nice hair... Gertrud Welcker
Die Geliebte Tote (When the Dead Are Living Again) (Germany 1919)

This film featured Gertrud Welcker in three and possibly four roles and Director Erwin Báron as a man who just can’t get her hair out of his head.

It’s pretty rum I have to say but striking all the same. Based on an 1893 novel by George Roenbach it became an opera and then finally a film. There may be elements missing but what we have is early-Weimar Gothic which mixes the real with the dreamt.

Axel Törnberg (Erwin Báron) is an artist visiting a fishing village where he meets and falls in love with local lass, Ingeborg Sunvall (Gertrud Welcker) who he starts to paint obsessively. Báron shows the painting as a still of Welcker which adds to the oddness: she/it looks pretty finished to me but the artist clearly thinks otherwise.

The two marry but Dagmar dies in childbirth leaving Axel distraught and hanging on to a lengthy cut of her hair as a means of maintaining their connection. Some time later he meets an opera singer who is the absolute spit of his late wife (played, naturally by Gertrud Welcker) … he starts to get her to pose as he attempts to complete the painting of Ingeborg but, now insane with jealousy as well as everything else, strangles the singer with Ingeborg’s hair.

He ends up in a lunatic asylum for ten years where – and it might be just me on this – one of the burses also looks a lot like Ingeborg/Opera singer. If true, this will not be the last role played by the hard-working Gertrud in a story that questions the nature of Alex’s reality and much more besides.
Is this the real life or is it just fantasy…? I’m not sure but I enjoyed every Germanic moment and Mr Sweeney took it all in his inimitable stride.

Guy Newall worries about his looks.
The Garden of Resurrection (UK 1919) with John Sweeney

It was time for a British silent film, this one directed by Arthur Rooke and starring 
Guy Newall and Ivy Duke. Guy was a witness at Maurice Elvey’s wedding, according to Elvey-expert Dr Lucie Dutton, proving the rule of Three Degrees of Maurice Elvey and the close links of the domestic scene were every bit as close as in the US or Sweden. A tight-knit group that produced increasingly-worthwhile films despite the War and competition from abroad.

Dr Lawrence Napper, author and Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at Kings College London is another champion of British silent film and he introduced this deliberate but highly enjoyable tale of renewal. As with the German film, the immense backstory of the Great War cannot be ignored and here was another character in search of new belief.

A contemporary review in the Hawick News and Border Chronicle was enthused, describing the film as … something more than entertainment. It is a restorative, perhaps a cure, for people who have lost faith in human kindness, who are ready to believe that all life is ugly.

The lead character, Bellairs (played by Guy Newall) is convinced that he is ugly and heads off to Ballysheen in Ireland to “recuperate” with his dog (played superbly by Newall’s actual dog) who, unlike the more physically-showy Rin Tin Tin, gets his own intertitles meaning that we see his thoughts!

Despite this load of old Bonio, the story is essentially serious as Bellairs becomes fascinated by a woman of mixed race, Clarissa (Ivy Duke) who is held virtual prisoner by her mean aunts who are ensuring she falls victim to Cruickshank (Franklin Dyall) a fortune hunter. Clarissa won’t believe in Bellairs’ warnings and even calls him ugly – which the truth can be more than the man perhaps.

There’s some great scenery with Cornwall doubling for Ireland and once again John Sweeney played a blinder. Humberson Wright also popped up as the local bore, desperate to tell anyone about Queen Victoria’s visit whether they want to hear it or not.

Newall and Duke were very much the Beckhams of their day with Dr Napper venturing that nowadays they’d be concatenated to “Guvy”: I think that one’s got to stick, don’t you?

We watched a 16mm print from the BFI National Archive and the screening was enabled with support from the AHRC project ‘British Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound’ and of the British Silent Film Festival. This is a skip year for that Festival but this entertaining film gave me wistful thoughts of Leicester 2019. Roll on…

The Mighty Pearl White
Pearl White: A Cliffhanging Life, presented by Glenn Mitchell and Michael Pointon.

“You want some pluck? You can’t handle the pluck!” as Jack Nicholson has not so far said to his President… We have #fakenews but you simply can’t #fakeperformers like Pearl White.

Now Pearl’s a swinger and she’s frequently damned with the faint praise of being “plucky” but this hard-working, chance-taking gal worked her chances well and did most of her own stunts inspiring the likes of Lloyd and Keaton when they could only dream of her success.

Glenn Mitchell and Michael Pointon took turns in relating Pearl’s story whilst Mr Sweeney accompanied the clips. Pearl’s real name was White, Pearl White and she was a genuine phenomenon we should treasure what remains of her startling legacy even whilst wishing there could be more. She seemed very smart, beautiful and adventurous and it’s fascinating how her fame came at this point in history.

The suffrage movement was undoubtedly impressed. Reality quotient: high.


Her Night of Romance (USA 1924) with Neil Brand

Neil Brand accompanied this film – which he hadn’t seen – in the style of a Leo McCarey 1930’s screwball comedy and nailed it perfectly! There were times when I could swear I heard Ronald Coleman and Constance Talmadge talk and they were a perfect match.

It’s a close-run thing but seeing “Dutch” Talmadge (her mother thought she looked like a Dutch schoolboy… go figure?) on screen finally edged her into Number One position on the Favourite Talmadge League. That said, I’d have to see Norma’s hilarious Kiki – also with Coleman - to be conclusive.

Younger sister Constance is spell-binding in this film as is Ronald to be fair, but he doesn’t have her huge expressive eyes and comic energy. For this film she is billed as the star, but Ron’s time would come even with his markedly smaller eyes and his moustache.

She plays Dorothy Adams, unwilling heiress to daddy Samuel C. Adams’ (Albert Gran) immense fortune, who has had enough of men fancying her money and not her moxie – if that’s not rude? Enter Ronald as Paul Menford a Lord on his uppers who makes the mistake of joking with his attorney (Jean Hersholt: never joke with Jean) that he’ll give him 10% if he married her.

This is never Paul’s intention and a classic rom-com back and forth ensues. It’s made worthwhile by the excellent performances and Sidney Franklin’s smart direction: this was the feelgood hit of the day!


Sparrows (USA 1926) with Costas Fotopoulos

It was time for American Gothic, a trip to a baby farm somewhere in the swampy South for what Ernst Lubitsch described as "...one of the eight wonders of the World..."

Sparrows is influenced by European cinema – Mary and Doug had visited the UFA studios in 1925 - but was also influential with art director Harry Oliver also working on films with FW Murnau and Frank Borzage and, famously, cameramen Charles Rosher and Karl Struss both later winning Oscars for their cinematography on Sunrise.

Director William Beaudine turns Oliver’s incredible swamp-stage into a world of mysticism and dread as children on a baby farm (yes, they did exist) are abused by Gustav von Seyffertitz’ Dickensian horror, Mr Grimes a man who’s answer to most things is to just drop them in the swamp and let then be sucked into oblivion.

Mary is 34 by this point and her Molly is a child-woman grown-older though her responsibilities as de-facto mother for the unfortunate waifs around her, including babies, whereas in A Beast at Bay (1912), the DW Griffith short screened before this main feature, Mary is 20-going on 16. It’s always an issue for modern audiences but in Sparrows it’s the fear that matters. Producer Pickford knew exactly what she wanted and put Beaudine under such pressure that falling ill he could not complete with the un-credited Tom McNamara finishing off the story, no doubt with Mary’s help.

It’s a film with hidden messages and as Amran Vance pointed out in his introduction, may even provide and allegory for the repeal of slavery with, for example, the hymn in Molly’s dream of her dead baby, also featured in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Molly leads the children to safety through impossibly dangerous swampland; sinking sand and alligators added to by a mad dog and hoodlums… she may be pointing the way forward for many more.

Costas Fotopoulos played up a storm and left the audience on a high after a full day.

The only “worry” I have is that, if anything, Sunday looks even better… Bring it on!


Monday, 27 August 2018

Gypsies, tramps and arsonists… Fante-Anne (1920)


I saw this film at last year’s silent film festival in Pordenone and whilst I was impressed, it was slightly lost in the rush of Scandinavian and other silent treasures. Watching it again on this sparkling Norwegian Film Institute DVD/Blu-Ray pack, I can appreciate its strengths a lot more: superb lead performers, top-notch cinematography and location backdrops to die for.

All this you tend to take for granted with Scandi-silents, but this was the first Norwegian film to be made by entirely by Norwegians and not led by Swedes, Danes or Germans. It was also, wiki-parently, the first film to feature professional actors, in this case led by the formidably expressive Aasta Nielsen - a 23-year old theatre actor and not the Danish Asta (an extra “a”) already established as Europe’s leading lady.

Directed by Rasmus Breistein, Fante-Anne (Gypsy Anne) was based on the 1868 novel by Kristofer Janson and, like so many films of the North, attempts to recreate the rural past as accurately as possible with milk-maids, grizzly farm hands and romantic dramas set to rural rhythms.

Norway's Aasta Nielsen
It’s also a film with a message and in which the outsider, the un-belonging gypsy, has to fight for her rightful place in a society constricted by tradition and prejudice. There are similar narratives throughout the films of this period from Europe to the USA addressing class as well as race: given the view of gypsies even now, integration in straight society would be as unlikely as say marriage between the leads in Broken Blossoms or The Red Lantern. The times, they were, very slowly, a-changing and, as usual, liberal artistes were leading the way.

Anyway… what we have here is a gently gripping story of a love triangle that succeeds in the improbable task of confounding expectations in ways that reinforce the morality of the tale. It’s a little slow perhaps but so absorbing especially here with the new orchestral score from Haldor Krogh as played by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra which looms over the action like the peaks on either side of the valley in which the Storlein family farm is based.

Elsa Vang in a tree
Here a young orphaned girl Anne (Elsa Vang) is taken in and grows up like a sister to Haldor Storlein (Olaf Solberg) with farm hand Jon Sandbakken (Einar Tveito) like the father she never had. The two children play, and we see Anne quickness of thought and playfulness, Haldor the slower of the two and often the butt of her pranks and the one who gets caught when her mischiefs gets spotted.

The years pass and Haldor is now played by Lars Tvinde and Anne by Aasta Nielsen; the two youngsters are still very close and, more than that are united by un-fraternal affection which causes the young man’s mother (Johanne Bruhn) some anxiety: the girl is not from here and of unknown origin, she cannot marry her son.

Meanwhile Jon’s affection is far from paternal and he surprises Anna by asking her to marry him… Anne smiles it off, she loves Haldor and just doesn’t think of the poor Jon as anything other than the surrogate he’s always been to her.

Einar Tveito
We know this story, we think, and surely the young lovers will follow their hearts to break with the requirements of the rural social order? Haldor’s mother has other ideas and pushes her son to abandon his ideas and court more worthy women whose lineage is without question. Sure enough, after a month of not seeing Haldor as she works as a milk maid up in the hills, Anne discovers he has been seeing a wealthy farm girl, Margit Moen (Kristine Ullmo) and they are going to be wed.

This naturally pushes all of the wrong buttons for Anne, betrayed and humiliated by her life-long friend. Jon warns Haldor of what she might do but the young dunderhead has underestimated his old friend just as he always did when they were younger. Anne takes things to another level, torching the new house he has been building and as the magistrate investigates, surely there’s a high price to pay for this impulsiveness…

Anne and Haldor share a joke
But the true heart of the story is only just starting to be revealed and I won’t spoil it.

Cinematographer Gunnar Nilsen-Vig deserves credit for some stunning composition, a world of crystal clear close ups and magnificent vistas, the farmers often dwarfed by their hugely impressive surroundings. The Scandinavian films of this period had almost every other country beat in terms of the natural backdrops and they were also favoured by the light for at least part of the year. In North America you’d have to be Nell Shipman to find this kind of rugged beauty and very few had followed her example by this stage.

Aasta Nielsen is superb, amongst a very naturalistic cast and she looks very much at home with farm duties as well as the drama. Einar Tveito, who will later feature in Dreyer’s The Bride of Glomdal and many more, is also good as the love-lorn Jon who has the most complex story arc of all – the transition from “uncle” to suitor is not an easy one after all.


Fante-Anne is a “bunad” film – one that looks back to the rural tradition – but unlike most other films, it doesn’t over romanticise the period and obviously highlights the inequalities that came with it. Too often the past and costume dramas are an escape for audiences but not here, it looks nice yes, but it is not a fair society.

The Fante-Anne dual format is available through Amazon or direct from the Norwegian Film Institute – well worth your time, I mean, just look at the view.