The Wind is generally recognised as one of the last great silent films. I’ll admit from the outset the ugly fact that I have never seen the film, so I’ll refrain from commenting on the accuracy of the statement. However, judging by director Victor Sjöström’s immediately previous collaboration with actress Lillian Gish in the free but excellent adaptation of Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, I can’t but look forward to tomorrow’s screening of this 1928 classic in Brussels CINEMATEK..
The Wind was Sjöström’s last American film before returning to Sweden to pick up his former acting career. As an actor he will always be remembered for his final role in Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 masterpiece Wild Strawberries. Young Sjöström had played in several films by Mauritz Stiller before turning to direction. Together with Stiller, he became the leading Swedish helmer of his time. He showed a deep attachement to the Swedish landscape, using it to bring out the correspondence between the natural events and the inner life of his films’ characters. After WWI Swedish cinema began to decline and Sjöström accepted an offer from Hollywood, where he scored big successes with He Who Gets Slapped (1924) and the Greta Garbo vehicle The Divine Woman (1928), as well as the two films with Lillian Gish.
Lillian and sister Dorothy Gish were born to a stage actress and an absent father and were already earning their living on a stage at the age of 5. Now largely forgotten, Dorothy had a more than decent stage career after the emergence of the talkies until her death in 1968 and her performances were never overshadowed by her sister’s in the many films they shared, most notably by D.W. Griffith.
Griffith, however, favored Lillian’s more restrained acting style and she landed the best parts, including the leads in the legendary silent films The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). While Dorothy turned to comedy, Lillian exploited the mixture of outer frailty and inner strength in roles like that of the abused child in Broken Blossons (1919), again with Griffith, or Way Down East (1920).
By the end of the 1920s the silent cinema was coming to an end and Lillian returned to the stage. She would moderately but regularly appear in films until her nineties, though, among others Duel in the Sun (1946), for which she received her only Oscar nomination, The Night of the Hunter (1955) and The Whales of August (1987), in which she played alongside Bette Davis, Anne Sothern (one of the addressees of Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives) and Vincent Price, in an unforgettable reunion of film legends.
She died in her NY home some months before her 100th birthday. She had outlived her younger sister Dorothy by a quarter-century, a period in which she could calmly and lucidly enjoy the general acknowledgement of her status as the greatest actress of the silent era.
The Wind plays tomorrow, Saturday January 16 in Brussels CINEMATEK at 8pm. See you there.