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Audiovisual Essays

Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism invites submissions for a new strand of style-based videographic criticism.

When the original Movie appeared in 1962, its editors and critics chased films from cinema to cinema. Ian Cameron recalled attending eight public screenings to write about L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961): ‘it meant that something which turned up once or twice at the NFT presented a considerable challenge … I got very good at writing notes in the dark.’1

In the intervening period, successive changes in technology have made many films and TV programmes readily accessible for repeated home viewing, enabling scholars to study them in unprecedented detail. Recently, the availability of low-cost editing platforms has also enabled the creation of a diverse – and now rapidly developing – videographic field, exemplified in its academic aspect by the award-winning journal [in]Transition.

Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism is committed to style-based criticism. We therefore welcome the submission of audiovisual essays which meet the journal’s central aim of encouraging work responsive to the detailed texture and artistry of film and television. We hope that audiovisual essays will form a regular dimension of future issues, bringing argument and evidence together in exciting and accessible ways.

To initiate Movie’s introduction of videographic criticism, we are publishing the following pair of video essays by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye on The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, Victor Sjöström, 1921).

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phantom carriage







Part 1


Part 2


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Statement

Although Victor Sjöström’s extraordinary film The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, 1921) is widely celebrated as one of the major achievements of Swedish silent cinema, it has received very little extended analysis. In its time, the film was extremely famous and was praised by critics in many countries – indeed, Charlie Chaplin called it the greatest film ever made.2 Film histories and surveys of Swedish cinema (and overviews of Sjöström’s work) largely agree on the film’s stature and invariably refer to its complex use of flashbacks and its remarkable multiple-exposure special effects, but rarely go further.3

Our two-part audiovisual essay argues for a revaluation of Sjöström’s achievement in The Phantom Carriage. We attempt to bring a critical and interpretative approach to the film’s style into conversation with historical accounts of the evolution of film form that are central to recent silent cinema scholarship. Part 1 explores a single sequence in detail, revealing a mastery of editing and of film space which is remarkable for its period. Specifically, we analyse a segment which is in several respects at the heart of the film: it shows the first meeting between the two central characters, David Holm (Victor Sjöström) and Sister Edit (Astrid Holm); it spans the film’s exact mid-point; and it is the longest uninterrupted passage to take place in a single setting. We explore ways in which Sjöström’s creation of three-dimensional filmic space - with no hint of frontality - becomes the basis for a reciprocal relationship between spatial naturalism and performance style. Part 2 considers how the rich articulation of action, character and space that Sjöström achieves in collaboration with his cinematographer, Julius Jaenzon, becomes the basis for a mise-en-scene that can take on discrete interpretive force. We also argue that relationships articulated through the detailed decisions in our chosen sequence take on their full resonance within patterns and motifs that develop across the film. The essay complements our chapter on the film in the volume Silent Features, edited by Steve Neale (Exeter University Press, 2016).

- John Gibbs and Douglas Pye


Notes

[1] Gibbs, John (2013) The Life of Mise-en-scène: visual style and British film criticism, 1946-78. Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 131.

[2] See Forslund, Bengt (1988) Victor Sjöström: His Life and Work. New York: Zoetrope.

[3] See, for instance, Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson (2002) Film History: An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 68.