Music Can Change Your Life

Gunnel (Eva Remaeus) serenades a dance hall with her accompanying musicians in SVEN KLANG’S COMBO, a 1976 Swedish film about a small town Dixieland band.

Group dynamics are always a fascinating topic for stories, especially when the focus is the workplace or some social situation. Consider this scenario, for instance, involving a small traveling band that specializes in Dixieland-style dance numbers and popular big band favorites. When a new musician joins their group with innovative musical ideas and the talent to execute them, not everyone is going to be immediately smitten. Such is the case with Sven Klang’s Combo (aka Sven Klangs Kvintett, 1976), a Swedish film by Stellan Olsson, which follows a fateful year in the life of a provincial quintet. They lose a member but gain a hip, new saxophone player from the big city who is heavily influenced by the bebop sounds of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and others. The result is a bittersweet but often amusing look at how some bands either make the decision to go professional (if they are good enough) or content themselves playing for fun the rest of their lives. 

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Witchcraft Through the Ages

How to best describe the 1922 Swedish film Haxan (also known as Witchcraft Through the Ages) by Danish director Benjamin Christensen? While not a conventional documentary by anyone’s standards, it is not a traditional narrative film either and straddles several genres in its exploration of witchcraft and the black arts from the Dark Ages up to 1921.

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Off the Grid

The Swedish film poster for The Outlaw and His Wife (1918).

A master of 20th century cinema, the Swedish director and actor Victor Sjöström is best remembered for his moving performance as the elderly physician reflecting on his life in Wild Strawberries (1957). As a director, his highly acclaimed 1921 adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s novel The Phantom Carriage convinced MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer to bring him to America where Sjöström directed the prestigious projects He Who Gets Slapped (1924), with Lon Chaney, and two starring Lillian Gish, The Scarlet Letter (1926) and The Wind (1928), arguably the pinnacle of his Hollywood tenure. While The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) is not as well known, it is considered by many film historians to be Sjöström’s silent-era masterpiece and, nearly a century after its release, is enjoying a revival that should elevate its stature in the director’s pantheon.

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A Time for Demonic Visitations

“According to the ancient Romans, the Hour of the Wolf means the time between night and dawn, just before the light comes, and people believed it to be the time when demons had a heightened power and vitality, the hour when most people died and most children were born, and when nightmares came to one.”

Setting the stage for what will follow with this ominous introduction, Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 feature Hour of the Wolf (Swedish title: Vargtimmen) is probably the closest the director has ever come to making a horror film, one that crosses over into the realm of the supernatural. Continue reading