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Transition and Transformation

Transition and Transformation: Victor Sjöström in Hollywood 1923-1930

Bo Florin
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 164
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  • Book Info
    Transition and Transformation
    Book Description:

    In 1923, Victor Sjöström (1879-1960) got an offer from Goldwyn Pictures to come to Hollywood. This was nothing unusual for a successful European director: "Metro's bring - ing them in by car load", as Photoplay stated in 1926. At the time, Sjöström was Sweden's most renowned director, who had become world famous for his austere and naturalistic film style. Sjöström stayed in Hollywood for seven years and made nine films. What happened during those years to the characteristic style that he had developed in Sweden? How was it transformed by Hollywood? Did he maintain any of his stylistic particularities from the Swedish period? How were his Hollywood films received by the American and Swedish critics? This portrayal of a European in Hollywood reveals how Sjöström, in adapting to the new production system, integrated and developed various stylistic elements from the Swedish years in a radically different context. Transition and Transformation is the first book-length study dedicated to the films of Victor Sjöström made in Hollywood, which also nuances the picture of the American production system.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1818-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 7-8)
    Bo Florin
  4. Introduction From Sjöström to Seastrom
    (pp. 9-16)

    Victor Sjöström (1879-1960), or Victor Seastrom as he was known during his Hollywood career, is undoubtedly the most renowned Swedish director from the period of silent cinema. In the present digital era, however, a long time has passed since these early years of moving pictures, and his contribution to film history might at least seem distant, if at all important. However, numerous retrospectives during the first decade of the twenty-first century (e.g. in Stockholm, Helsinki, New York, Montreal, Toronto, Munich, London, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, São Paulo) and some important restoration projects, as well as the sensational rediscoveries of hitherto lost...

  5. Sjöström From National to International
    (pp. 17-26)

    To fully understand Sjöström’s position as one of the leading Swedish film directors at the time when he was moving to Hollywood it is necessary to first take a closer look at his Swedish background, both as actor and director.¹ After this general background, the change in Swedish production strategies during his early years as director will be shortly discussed, which leads on to a more specific description of the particular film style that has been identified with “Sjöström” as an early Swedish auteur. The public debate concerning film cultures, on the specific issue of national versus international, that took...

  6. A European in Hollywood Name the Man and the Shift of Production Systems
    (pp. 27-42)

    When Victor Sjöström arrived in Hollywood in 1923, it was, as already mentioned, part of a strategy carefully worked out by Samuel Goldwyn and his fellow producers, to import a number of influential European directors and actors. As the director of a number of films in Sweden which were generally considered as being among the most acclaimed critical and public successes in world cinema, Sjöström was certainly a hot name, well worth acquiring for Hollywood producers. But he and his colleagues would also, had they remained in Europe, become a possible threat to the American hegemony of the market to...

  7. From Scientist to Clown He Who Gets Slapped
    (pp. 43-62)

    Sjöström’s second film in Hollywood, He Who Gets Slapped, was shot under the aegis of the newly established MGM company, which launched “Seastrom” as one of its first directors. After finishing Name the Man, Sjöström was offered a new script called “A Tree in the Garden”, written by Hjalmar Bergman, but to Bergman’s great disappointment, he expressed his scepticism towards this scenario, in which he had himself been involved. It should be noted that Sjöström had already made four films based on Bergman’s scripts in Sweden, and it was to a large extent through Sjöström’s mediation that Bergman had come...

  8. A for Adultery The Scarlet Letter
    (pp. 63-78)

    If He Who Gets Slapped represents to some extent an exception in Sjöström’s American career (during which he was able to develop his auteur qualities in a unique way), The Scarlet Letter (1926) also brought forward certain specific aspects of his auteurism, perhaps most notably his “Swedish ” quality as director. This fifth film in his career as a Hollywood director was based on the classic mid-nineteenth-century novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne and was scripted by Frances Marion. The year before Lillian Gish had been offered a contract by MGM that gave her the right to choose her own scripts as...

  9. Conquering Nature The Wind
    (pp. 79-98)

    “Man – puny but irresistible – encroaching forever on Nature’s vastnesses, gradually, very gradually wresting away her strange secrets, subduing her fierce elements – conquers the earth!” This introductory intertitle from Victor Sjöström’s sixth Hollywood film, The Wind (1928), based on a 1925 novel with the same title by Dorothy Scarborough, opens the story in evoking a grandiose register.¹ Scarborough, however, interestingly enough, was not only a novelist, but also an English professor, whose dissertation dealt with Gothic themes which she then developed in her own writing, not least inThe Wind.² The script credit was, as with The Scarlet Letter, given to...

  10. Fragmented Pieces: Writing the History of the Lost Hollywood Films
    (pp. 99-118)

    The historiographical question of how to deal with lost or only partly preserved material has been asked repeatedly by film scholars and archivists, in particular those dealing with the silent era. Perhaps the most elaborate account of the question has been offered by Giuliana Bruno in her groundbreaking studyStreetwalking on a Ruined Map, on the films by Elvira Notari.¹ Notari’s films are to a large extent unpreserved, and there is little documentation on the production company in which she was the driving force. In this book, the author thus aims at “looking differently”: “While dissecting the minute and the...

  11. The Shadow of the Silents A Lady to Love
    (pp. 119-132)

    The story of Sjöström’s last film in Hollywood has mostly been told as a story of failure, though the fact that the film has recently been rediscovered has made it difficult for later historians to judge the work itself.¹ In the following, I will not make any judgements of the work as such, but rather try to frame the film historically as an early sound film. This question will be approached first by presenting the two language versions that were made, but then also by discussing the way that the film expresses the transition to sound in various ways, in...

  12. The Genius and the System Some Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 133-136)

    Contemporary critics just like later film historians seem to have read the history of Victor Sjöström’s years in Hollywood in a quite ambiguous manner: as both a story of success and a story of failure. This, of course, relates to the different degrees of critical or public success of each film at the time of its release. These ideas of success or failure have since then also undergone historical changes, in Sjöström’s case particularly concerning the reception of The Wind. The fact that only three of Sjöström’s silent films have survived in their entirety has, of course, also added to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 137-148)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 149-152)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 153-154)
  16. Index
    (pp. 155-158)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 159-162)