March 31, 2012
"Erotic" Is Really the Wrong Word
One of the things the Coming of Sound really did to the film industry was limit distribution. In the days of silent films, it didn't take much to prepare a film for foreign distribution. All you had to do was swap out title cards. The audience was used to reading bits of plot all the time anyway; it was, however, a lot less reading than is required for subtitled movies with sound. There wasn't the sub/dub dilemma. It took less concern about accuracy in translation, simply because there was less to translate. Savvy producers probably prepared prints in several languages at once, if they were planning international distribution, because it was probably cheaper. But when sound came, all the ease of distribution collapsed, and it took a very long time for the foreign film market, at least in the United States, to pick up to anywhere near silent levels. Or at least foreign-[i]language[/i] film; British film continued to do just fine.
To be perfectly honest, I didn't entirely keep up with the plot of this one. There's going to be a bit of guesswork here, because I missed a few important details. Broadly, however, this is the story of the lovely and vivacious Irene Charpentier (Tora Teje). She is married to entomology professor Leo Charpentier (Anders de Wahl). He is staid and dull, and I kind of missed how she came to marry him in the first place. Especially since she is being pursued by two men who seem rather more her type. There is Baron Felix (Vilhelm Bryde), adrenaline junkie (not that the term existed in 1920!), and sculptor Preben Wells (Lars Hanson). Meanwhile, the professor lectures solemnly on bugs with more interesting sex lives than his own. He lives a quiet life, and he is taken care of by his niece, Marthe (Karin Molander). Irene wants to go out and spend nights on the town and wear beautiful dresses, and the professor wants to stay at home, eat mutton casserole, and talk about bugs.
I really don't understand how Irene came to marry Leo. And that isn't simply "why would she saddle herself to such a boring guy?" That's "where did she meet him?" I cannot see where their paths would have crossed. Possibly that's in the bits of the movie I wasn't paying strict attention to, but surely, that's an important issue. It doesn't strike me as though Leo's lectures were for anything but the university, not the kind where a Bright Young Thing might go for an evening's attempt to present herself as intellectual in case that intrigued a suitor. Their families might be acquainted, but if so, I missed it. Marthe is intrigued by her butterfly of an aunt, but when they have a dinner party, she is sitting quietly in a corner, reading a recipe. And Leo, as I said, wants to go off and talk about bugs with another professor. And he was dense enough about people so that he didn't have a problem when Irene went off with her suitors instead.
There's one scene somewhere in the middle which is the closest this movie gets to erotic. Various of the characters have gone to an opera, and what happens onstage is a lot more torrid than what is happening during the rest of the picture. It is also, of course, one of those theatre-going experiences so specific to fiction, where what plays out onstage is directly relevant to what's going on in everyone's lives. Indeed, it was the catalyst for the climax of the film, as is right and proper. I'm not entirely sure where and when it was supposed to have been set, but it does address whether it's right in the characters' minds to split up a marriage just because one of the partners is in love with someone else. Really, this may be my modern way of thought, but I think that's the sort of thing you should work out before you get married. I don't think you need to think the same way about everything, but some of the disagreements between Leo and Irene are pretty fundamental, and that's one of them.
One of the constant problems of presenting silent films to modern audiences, especially for home entertainment, is the issue of soundtrack. Many silent movies had scores written for them, but not all. I do not know if this one did or didn't; the information on it available online in English is kind of scanty, as is so often the case for silent films made in non-English-speaking countries. (And it isn't often better with sound films, but the more recent it is, the better your chance at having good information.) However, I do know that the Kino release [insert standard grumbles about Kino here] comes with a rather interesting electronic score written for this release. In fact, I might almost say that the score is the best part about the thing, which doesn't bode terribly well for the movie itself. There have been silent movies over which I have wept. There have made silent movies which made me laugh until I shook. This didn't really manage to make me feel much at all.