THE WIND (Victor Sjöström, 1928)
Museum of the Moving Image, Redstone Theater
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, October 15, $15, 2:00
Series runs October 13-22
Author Brian Selznick’s 2007 book The Invention of Hugo Cabret proved to be movie magic; it was turned into the film Hugo by Martin Scorsese, which garnered eleven Oscar nominations and won four. In conjunction with the theatrical release of the latest movie based on a Selznick book, Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Selznick’s 2011Wonderstruck, the Museum of the Moving Image is hosting the series “Inspiring Wonderstruck,” consisting of nine films that influenced and inspired the author. One of the most direct influences was Victor Sjöström’s 1928 now-classic silent film The Wind, starring Lillian Gish as Letty Mason, a young woman traveling from Virginia to Texas to live with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle). Traveling from the cultured, civilized East to what was still the wild West, the uncertain Letty must confront the fierceness of nature head-on — both human nature and the harsh natural environment. On the train, she is wooed by cattleman Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), but her fears grow as she first sees the vicious wind howling outside the train window the closer she gets to her destination. Once in Sweetwater, she is picked up by her cousin’s neighbors, the handsome Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson) and his goofy sidekick, Sourdough (William Orlamond). Both men take a quick liking to Letty, who seems most attracted to Wirt. Soon Beverly’s wife, Cora (Dorothy Cumming, in her next-to-last film before retiring), becomes jealous of Letty’s closeness with her husband and kids and kicks her out, leaving a desperate Letty to make choices she might not be ready for as the wind outside becomes fiercer and ever-more dangerous. The Wind is a tour de force for Gish in her last silent movie, not only because of her emotionally gripping portrayal of Letty but because she put the entire production together, obtaining the rights to the novel by Dorothy Scarborough, hiring the Swedish director and star Hanson, and arguing over the ending with the producers and Irving Thalberg. (Unfortunately, she lost on that account, just about the only thing that did not go the way she wanted.)
Sjöström (The Phantom Carriage, The Divine Woman), who played Professor Isak Borg in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, and cinematographer John Arnold create some dazzling effects as a twister threatens and Letty battles both inside and outside; she is regularly shot from the side, at the door of the shack where she lives, not knowing if she’d be safer inside or outside as the wind and sand blast over her. The film, an early look at climate change, was shot in the Mojave Desert in difficult circumstances; to get the wind to swirl, the crew used propellers from eight airplanes. Dialogue is sparse, and the story is told primarily in taut visuals. “Lillian Gish [is] at the height of her powers, fighting the wind and insanity nonstop for the entire movie,” Selznick says of The Wind. “A silent film made just after the silent era ended, the film is now recognized as one of Gish’s greats. The character of Lillian Mayhew, played by Julianne Moore in Wonderstruck, is directly inspired by Gish, and the fictional movie within a movie, Daughter of the Wind, is exactly that, an offspring of this very movie.” A restored 35mm print of The Wind with the original music and effects soundtrack is screening October 15 at 2:00 at the Museum of the Moving Image. “Inspiring Wonderstruck” runs October 13-22 and also includes, among others, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Haynes’s I’m Not There and Poison, Diane Garey and Lawrence Hott’s Through Deaf Eyes, Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Hal Ashby’s Being There as well as a preview screening of Wonderstruck, followed by a Q&A with Selznick, production designer Mark Friedberg, and costume designer Sandy Powell and a book signing with Selznick.