Criterion Prediction #87: The Wind, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Wind
Director: Victor Sjöström
Cast: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Dorothy Cumming, Montague Love
Synopsis: Letty (Gish) moves to her cousin’s remote ranch in the sandblasted town of Sweetwater, Texas. The isolation and torrent of windstorms drive Letty to the brink of sanity while she is constantly smothered by unwelcome suitors and love interests in a hostile and oppressive environment.
Critique: For me, The Wind was a blind spot (as was its director, “the Professor from Wild Strawberries“) that would appear in documentaries, interviews, etc. Given the importance of its director and star clips from the film were pretty frequent; after a first watch it’s safe to say that The Wind exceeded expectations. Modern sensibilities always tether silent cinema to comedies or German expressionism, but this pastoral psychodrama lensed by Sjöström is as progressive in tone as it is in technical prowess.
Sometimes movie stars and their bigger-than-life reputations can overshadow their actual work, so seeing Lillian Gish’s cherubic performance feels touching. In an era when amplified emotions were the norm, Gish has a glacial aura that is stirring and magnetic.
For such a focused narrative, The Wind maintains an epic sense of scope, driving this elementally powered story. Sjöström’s deft handling of symbolic decor is forward without being blunt; there’s an intimidating richness to the landscape and the cloistered interiors are evocative of the mental and physical tension, emphasizing them without falling toward baroque dramatic devices.
The oppressive representation of pioneer life and its climate has dual functioning power as a proto-feminist parable magnified by a deeply felt performance from Gish. Sjöström’s aesthetic dexterity pairs well with Gish’s emotional versatility and screen presence.
There’s a whimsical diversion in tone by the time we reach the breaking point of the final act, giving way to lyrical flights of expression; galloping stallions cruise through the frame, the corpse of Roddy emerging from the shallow grave.
The representative power of filmic structure lies in its deconstruction, showing how remarkably modern Sjöström was in conveying the shared complexities of his characters and using the medium to its full advantage.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: A movie like The Wind seems like it’s destined to fall into the Kino or Criterion camp; there’s crossover with European movies from the silent era between the two companies. Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage is in The Criterion Collection and his 1918 film The Outlaw and His Wife was distributed by Kino. This pattern repeats itself with Fritz Lang (more so on Kino’s side) and their capital on German Expressionism constitutes a bulk of their catalog. But with the Criterion release of Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage and the influx of MGM titles that have gotten the Criterion treatment in recent years (Cul-de-sac, Satyricon, Red River), perhaps The Wind will follow?