Swedish pioneer Mauritz Stiller has never been completely forgotten, but the majestic epics he made in his homeland before disastrously (for him) escorting Greta Garbo to Hollywood have been rarely seen since. Sir Arne’s Treasure (1919) and The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924) are giant, undulating tales of greed, lust, slaughter, and salvation, set in a perpetual winter and boiling with Stiller’s restless pacing. Far from mere scenery, ice is a plot factor: Set in the 16th century, Treasure begins with a snowy massacre and famously climaxes with a funeral march across a glacier. The three-hour, 19th-century Berling tracks the pilgrim’s progress of an alcoholic defrocked priest (Lars Hanson) whose fate intersects with a young Italian wife (Garbo), with whom he is chased, in a breathtaking sequence, across a frozen lake by a pack of wolves. Credit should go, and rarely has, to Nobel-winning source-novelist Selma Lagerlöf, whose gargantuan melodramas perfectly fit the vocabulary and shorthand sweep of silent cinema. DVD gifties include Garbo fragments, newsreel footage, and lectures by critic-scholar Peter Cowie.
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