Victor SjÖstrÖm - Director

Nationality: Swedish. Born: Victor David Sjöström in Silbodal, Sweden, 20 September 1879; also known as Victor Seastrom. Education: Attended high school in Uppsala, Sweden. Family: Married 1) Sascha St. Jagoff, 1900 (died 1916); 2) Lili Bech, 1916; 3) actress Edith Erastoff, 1922 (died 1945), two children. Career: Lived in Brooklyn, New York, from 1880; returned to Sweden to live with aunt, 1887; stage actor and director in Sweden and Finland, from 1896; formed own theater company, 1911; film director for Svenska Biograf film studio, Stockholm, from 1912; director for MGM, Hollywood, from 1923; worked under "Americanized" name, "Seastrom"; returned to Sweden as actor, 1930; artistic director, Svensk Filmindustri, 1943–49. Died: In Stockholm, 3 January 1960.

Films as Director:


Trädgárrdsmaästaren ( The Gardener ) (+ role); Ett Hemligt giftermaål ( A Secret Marriage ); En sommarsaga ( A Summer Tale )


Lö jen och tårar ( Ridicule and Tears ); Blodets röst ( Voice of the Blood ) (+ sc, role) (released 1923); Lady Marions sommarflirt ( Lady Marion's Summer Flirt ); Äktenskapsbrydån ( The Marriage Agency ) (+ sc); Livets konflikter ( Conflicts of Life ) (co-d, role); Ingeborg Holm (+ sc); Halvblod ( Half Breed ); Miraklet ; På livets ödesvägar ( On the Roads of Fate )


Prästen ( The Priest ); Det var i Maj ( It Was in May ) (+ sc); Kärlek starkare än hat ( Love Stronger than Hatred ); Dömen icke ( Do Not Judge ); Bra flicka reder sig själv ( A Clever Girl Takes Care of Herself ) (+ sc); Gatans barn ( Children of the Street ); Högfjällets dotter ( Daughter of the Mountains ) (+ sc); Hjärtan som mötas ( Meeting Hearts )


Strejken ( Strike ) (+ sc, role); En av de många ( One of the Many ) (+ sc); Sonad oskuld ( Expiated Innocence ) (+ co-sc); Skomakare bliv vid din läst ( Cobbler Stay at Your Bench ) (+ sc)


Lankshövdingens dottrar ( The Governor's Daughters ) (+ sc); Rösen på Tistelön ( Havsgammar ; The Rose of Thistle Island ; Sea Eagle ); I. Prövningens stund ( Hour of the Trial ) (+ sc, role); Skepp som motas ( Meeting Ships ); Hon segrade ( She Conquered ) (+ sc, role); Therese (+ co-sc)


Dödskyssen ( Kiss of Death ) (+ co-sc, role); Terje Vigen ( A Man There Was ) (+ co-sc, role)


Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru ( The Outlaw and His Wife ) (+ co-sc, role); Tösen från stormyrtorpet ( The Lass from the Stormy Croft ) (+ co-sc)


Ingmarsönerna, Parts I and II ( Sons of Ingmar ) (+ sc, role); Hans nåds testamente ( The Will of His Grace )


Klostret I Sendomir ( The Monastery of Sendomir ) (+ sc); Karin Ingmarsdotter ( Karin, Daughter of Ingmar ) (+ co-sc, role); Mästerman ( Master Samuel ) (+ role)


Körkarlen ( The Phantom Chariot ; Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness ) (+ sc, role as David Holm)


Vem dömer ( Love's Crucible ) (+ co-sc); Det omringgade huset ( The Surrounded House ) (+ co-sc, role)


Eld ombord ( The Tragic Ship ) (+ role)


Name the Man ; He Who Gets Slapped


Confessions of a Queen ; The Tower of Lies


The Scarlet Letter


The Divine Woman ; The Wind ; Masks of the Devil


A Lady to Love


Markurells I Wadköping (+ role)


Under the Red Robe

Other Films:


Vampyren (Stiller) (role as Lt. Roberts); De svarta maskerna (Stiller) (role as the Lieutenant); I livets vår (Garbagni) (role)


Nar karlekan dodar (Stiller) (role as the painter); Barnet (Stiller) (role as medical student)


För sin kädleks skull (Stiller) (role as Borgen); Högfjällets dotter (Stiller) (role); Guldspindeln (Magnusen) (role); Thomas Graals bästa film (Stiller) (role as Thomas Graal); Thomas Graals bästa barn (Stiller) (role as Thomas Graal)


Synnove Solbakken (T. Ibsen) (role)


Valborgsmaässoafton (Edgren) (role)


John Ericsson (role)


Gubben Kommer (Lindberg) (role); Mot nya tider (Wallen) (role)


Striden går vidare (Molander) (role)


Det brinner en eld (Molander) (role); Ordet (Molander) (role)


Kejsaren av Portugalien (Molander) (role)


Rallare (Mattson) (role)


Till Glädje (Bergman) (role); Kvartetten som sprängdes (Molander) (role)


Hård klang (Mattson) (role)


Nattens väv (Mattson) (role)


Smultronstället ( Wild Strawberries ) (Bergman) (role as Professor)


On SJÖSTRÖM: books—

Idestam-Almquist, Bengt, Den Svenska Filmens Drama: Sjöström och Stiller , Stockholm, 1938.

Hardy, Forsyth, Scandinavian Film , London, 1951.

Lauritzen, Einar, Swedish Film , New York, 1962.

Jeanne, Rene, and Charles Ford, Sjöström et l'ecole suédois , Paris, 1963.

Cowie, Peter, Swedish Cinema , London, 1966.

Pensel, Hans, Seastrom and Stiller in Hollywood , New York, 1969.

Petrie, Graham, Hollywood Destinies: European Directors in Hollywood 1922–31 , London, 1985.

Forslund, Bengt, Victor Sjöström: His Life and His Work , New York, 1988.

On SJÖSTRÖM: articles—

Vaughn, Dai, "Victor Sjöström and D.W. Griffith," in Film (London), January/February 1958.

"Bergman on Victor Sjöström," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1960.

Turner, Charles L., "Victor Sjöström," in Films in Review (New York), May and June 1960.

Wood, Robin, "Essays on the Swedish Cinema (Part 2)," in Lumière (Melbourne), April/May 1974.

Gillett, John, "Swedish Retrospect," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1974.

Milne, Tom, "Lost and Found," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1975.

Beylie, Claude, and M. Martin, "Sjöström, Stiller et L'Amérique," in Ecran (Paris), September 1978.

Torbacke, J., "Vem såg Victor Sjöström mästerverk?," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 22, no. 6, 1980.

"Victor Sjostrom Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1984.

Niogret, H., "Notes sur quelques films de Victor Sjöström," in Positif (Paris), September 1987.

Viviani, C., "Trois films américains pour connaître Victor Sjöström," in Positif (Paris), June 1989.

* * *

With a career in film that in many ways paralleled that of his close friend Mauritz Stiller, Victor Sjöström entered the Swedish film industry at virtually the same time (1912), primarily as an actor, only to become almost immediately, like Stiller, a film director. Whereas Stiller had spent his youth in Finland, however, Sjöström had spent six formative years as a child in America's Brooklyn. Once back in Sweden after an unhappy childhood, his training for the theater proved fruitful. He became a well-established actor before entering the film industry at the age of 32. "The thing that brought me into filmmaking was a youthful desire for adventure and a curiosity to try this new medium," he once said in an interview. The first films in which he appeared in 1912 were Stiller's The Black Masks and Vampyren. Although Sjöström proved excellent as an actor in comedy, his innate seriousness of outlook was reflected in the films he directed. He developed a deep response to nature and the spectacular northern landscape, capturing the expanses of ice, snow, trees, and mountains in all their (to him as to other Scandinavians) mystical force. One of his earliest films was Ingeborn Holm , which exposed the cruelties of the forced labor system to which the children of paupers were still subjected. This film was produced partially outdoors; Sjöström's pantheistic response to nature was developed in Terje Vigen , his adaptation of Ibsen's ballad poem, with its narrative set in the period of the Napoleonic confrontation with Britain. Sjöström himself played Terje, the bitter Norwegian sailor who had been imprisoned for a while by the British for attempting to break through their blockade at sea in order to bring food through to the starving people, including his wife and son, in his village. He fails in this attempt and they die as a consequence. Terje's obsessive desire for vengeance is later purged as a result of his response to his British captor's child, whom he rescues in a storm.

Sjöström became a prolific director. He completed nearly 30 films between 1912 and 1918, the year he directed The Outlaw and His Wife. Of that film, French critic and filmmaker Louis Delluc wrote in 1921: "Here without doubt is the most beautiful film in the world. Victor Sjöström has directed it with a dignity that is beyond words . . . it is the first love duet heard in the cinema. A duet that is entire life. Is it a drama? . . . I don't know. . . . People love each other and live. That is all." In this film a rich widow abandons her estate to live in the mountains with her outlaw lover until, hounded by his pursuers, they die together in the snow. It is typical of the Swedish film that winter, after the symbolic summer of love, should become the synonym for death.

Sjöström's intense feeling for nature expanded still further in his first adaptation of a novel by Selma Lagerlöf who, as a writer in the grand tradition, became one of the primary inspirers of the Swedish cinema of this period. This adaptation was from The Lass from the Stormy Croft and featured a magnificent rustic setting which seems at once to transcend and embody the exigencies of human passion—the frustration of the poor peasant girl with her illegitimate child and the troubles that afflict the son of a landowner (played by Lars Hanson in his first important film role) who tries to befriend her. As Carl Dreyer, who in the same year made The Parson's Widow in Sweden, commented, "Selma Lagerlöf's predilection for dreams and supernatural events appealed to Sjöström's own somewhat sombre artistic mind."

Sjöström's most famous film before his departure for Hollywood in 1923 was The Phantom Chariot (also known as Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness ), also based on a novel by Selma Lagerlöf. The legend had it that the phantom chariot came once each year, on New Year's Eve, St. Sylvester's Night, to carry away the souls of sinners. In the film the central character is David Holm, a violent and brutalized man who is brought to relive his evil past on St. Sylvester's Night, especially the ill-treatment he had given his wife, until his conscience is awakened. As Holm recalls his wicked deeds in flashback he is haunted by the approach of the chariot, and is saved just in time through reunion with his wife, whose imminent suicide he prevents. Holm is played brilliantly by Sjöström himself, while Julius Jaenzen's multi-exposure camerawork emphasizes the distinction between body and soul in visuals that surpass virtually all that had been achieved in cinematography by 1920.

In the postwar era, Swedish films, with their comparatively heavy themes, began to prove less popular as exports. Sjöström, like Stiller, left for America on the invitation of Louis B. Mayer at MGM. He was to remain in Hollywood for six years, directing nine films under the name of Victor Seastrom. Of these, The Scarlet Letter , with Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne and Lars Hanson as the priest, and The Wind , also with Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson, are the more significant; the latter now ranks as a masterpiece of the silent cinema. Lillian Gish said of Sjöström that "his direction was a great education for me . . . the Swedish school of acting is one of repression." In The Wind she plays a sensitive girl from Kentucky forced into marriage with a coarse cattleman from Texas, a repellent marriage which, along with the harsh Texan environment, finally drives her nearly insane and impels her to kill a male intruder in self-defense. The film, shot in the Mojave region, suffered from re-editing by the studio and the imposition of a sound track.

Sjöström's single attempt to recreate Sweden in America was The Tower of Lies (with Lon Chaney and Norma Shearer), an adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf's novel The Emperor of Portugal , which at least one American reviewer praised for, "its preservation of the simplicity of treatment in Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness. "

Sjöström returned to Sweden in 1928 and directed one good sound film, Markurells i Wadköping , in which he starred as a grim man, much like Terje Vigen, who is finally purged of his desire for revenge. Apart from directing a lame period romance in England called Under the Red Robe , with Raymond Massey and Conrad Veidt, Sjöström concentrated on his career as an actor, giving at the age of 78 a great performance as the aged professor in Bergman's Wild Strawberries.

—Roger Manvell

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