1921, Movies

Körkarlen [The Phantom Carriage] (1921, Victor Sjöström)

This is an early pseudo horror movie slash morality drama that makes extensive use of special effects and flashbacks. It’s not quite as significant as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but it’s still major landmark in film.

Though I’m sure it aired in parts as it came out, I suspect there wasn’t a lot of precedent for seeing a feature-length film like this in theatres. Caligari certainly set a certain standard but I’m not sure how many people had seen it when this came out.

The story is relatively sophisticated, and quite sophisticated for early 20s cinema – with its flashbacks within flashbacks, it sort of doubles down on its inspiration, A Christmas Carol. (As usual, with any film that is inspired by A Christmas Carol, it’s possible it was inspired by something else that I’m unaware of.) A lot of the films of this era were quite primitive in terms of storytelling (compared to literature) but this one is mostly on the more sophisticated side.

The effects are great, they make extensive use of double exposure (something that was common in the most avant garde shorts but I don’t know how common they were in features) and also tinting. I have no idea what seeing double exposure would have been like to a regular film goer (someone used to epics and newsreels) but I suspect it would have been shocking or magical or both.

The story gets predictably sentimental and the whole thing is too melodramatic. As with many other films that feature a Come to Jesus moment, it doesn’t necessarily feel real. But the rest of the film is so good for the era that I can get over that.

10/10, a true landmark

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