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Kino on Video presents
A Man There Was / Ingeborg Holm (1917, 1913)

"Farthest in there, on the stony shore, stands my poor wife at the cabin door, and waits with our child for bread."
- Terje Vigen (Victor Sjöström)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 05, 2008

Stars: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström
Other Stars: August Falck, Edith Erastoff, Bergliot Husberg
Director: Victor Sjöström

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:05m:34s
Release Date: July 29, 2008
UPC: 738329059729
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B D+

DVD Review

Swedish cinema for some people begins and ends with Ingmar Bergman, but there was a Golden Age of Swedish cinema about 90 years ago that was both a forerunner to Bergman and to more modern and naturalistic portrayals than were seen on American screens for many years to come. One of the leading masters of this Golden Age was Victor Sjöström, and this disc from Kino collects two of his earliest surviving features.

A Man There Was (Terje Vigen) (1917) is credited by some as ushering in that Swedish Golden Age. Although brief for a feature at 52m:49s, it has a very lineart narrative style that has nothing extraneous attached to it; Sjöström is determined to make his point as cleanly and directly as possible. Sjöström himself stars as sailor Tirje Vigen, who turns from his wild life once his child is born. Terje's village runs into hard times in 1809 when the British, waging economic warfare against Napoleon, blockade the coast. With his family and the rest of the village starving, Terje resolves to try to run the blockade to obtain food, only to be captured by an English captain (August Falck). After spending five long years in prison, Terje returns home a veritable Rip van Winkle, with few remembering him and his family dead. Embittered, he works as a pilot and answers the call to rescue a yacht that is in trouble off the coast. Terje must face a moral dilemma when he learns that this yacht is that of a lord, who was that same captain who took Terje away from his family.

Sjöström uses location photography heavily, especially with the many sequences at sea, which for the most part are effectively shot. The actual capture of Terje is somewhat confusingly edited to modern eyes, but otherwise the picture flows in a straightforward manner almost like a folk tale. That resemblance is emphasized by the intertitles, which are in the form of loose verse narration (only two lines of dialogue occur in the entire film). Sjöström in particular does a fine job with Terje's character, convincingly playing him as both young and old, and conveying his desire for revenge without ever going over the deep end. It's an admirably restrained and effective portrayal, with a difficult moral choice deep at its heart, a situation that would be mined by Sjöström himself as well as Bergman afterwards.

Just as effective, if not even more so, is the companion feature, Ingeborg Holm (1913), based on a drama by Nils Krok. What begins as the idyllic life of the Holm family quickly falls into disaster as Sven, the father (Aron Lindgren), falls ill and dies, plunging his widow, Ingeborg (Hilda Borgström) into bankruptcy. Losing everything thanks to an ill-advised letter of credit and dishonest employees, Ingeborg winds up in the workhouse, where also she faces the loss of her children thanks to a bureaucracy that treats the poor as something less than cattle. Matters reach a head when Ingeborg learns that her daughter is ill, and escapes the workhouse to visit her.

Borgström is fabulous in the lead, with a natural performance that compares very favorably indeed with the melodramatic styles of the American, British and French cinema of the time; it's hard to believe that this is a picture from just after the feature film was invented; it seems far more mature in style and content. It has plenty of elements of social drama, with the absence of the social safety net and the cruelty of the workhouse managers being thoroughly in the tradition of the muckrakers. But there's a complex psychological background to the title character, who faces loss with a variety of emotions, from stoicism to denial to utter breakdown at last. It's high tragedy, with only a slight (and somewhat unconvincing) nod to redemption present at the very end. The supporting cast has some small issues; the child actors are a bit unruly and some of the supporting actors, such as the Holms' maid, have a tendency to stare fascinatedly into the camera. But those are fairly minor quibbles in what is otherwise a superb presentation. Sjöström shows himself already a master of visuals, with light playing a tremendous part in the effectiveness of the characterizations and in setting the mood.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A Man There Was is derived from the only known print, discovered in 2004. Unlike many such situations, however, there's no need to make excuses for the condition of the film: it's in quite good shape indeed, with a few nicks and scuffs being the worst damage visible and there's no significant nitrate damage or major wear. The tinting seems a bit heavy at times, and the nighttime scenes (especially at sea) can be a trifle difficult to make out at times. Ingeborg Holm isn't as dark, but it does have a slightly more dupey presentation, with highlights being blown out on occasion and shadow detail rather lacking. It does have a bit of nitrate decomposition present, but it's only for a few seconds, and it serves as a good reminder as to just how fragile the early cinematic heritage is. Happily, there's no sign of PAL/NTSC ghosting present on either feature.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no

Audio Transfer Review: The films include piano scores by Donald Sosin and David Drazin, both of which sounds fine and have nice presence. Drazin's score for Ingeborg Holm has an occasional string backing that sounds a shade synthesized. Sosin contributes a masterful score for A Man There Was, with a constantly flowing background emphasizing the role of the sea in the story, while keeping the tenor suitably dramatic if not tragic throughout. Both tracks are rather center-bound and offer no surround information of any note.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Galleries
Extras Review: On disc, the only extras are a pair of galleries that offer a small selection of stills from the features. More substantial is a pamphlet including notes on Sjöström's career with particular emphasis on these two pictures.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Two early tragic classics from Victor Sjöström make for surprisingly modern viewing and tear at the heartstrings. Highly recommended to fans of early cinema.


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