Written by: Johan Fundin on December 2nd, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: 8 November 1920 (Sweden)
Director: Mauritz Stiller
Screenplay: Ferenc Herczeg, Gustaf Molander, Arthur Nordén, Mauritz Stiller
Photography: Henrik Jaenzon
Cast: Anders de Wahl, Tora Teje, Karin Molander, Lars Hanson, Vilhelm Bryde, Torsten Hammarén
DVD release date: 6 June 2006 (US)
Approximate running time: 97mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 Academy ratio, B&W – Colour tinted restoration
Rating: Unrated (US)
Sound: Silent (New title cards in English, new score by Bruce Bennett and Paul Mercer, occasional subtitles in English)
DVD release: Kino Video/Solar Films
Region coding: R1/NTSC
Retail price: $26.96 (US)
“Erotikon surely pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on the screen in 1920” – Kino International Corp. (New York)
A re-discovered masterpiece from the early days of the moving picture (1920) – is now available to the world again in a restored colour-tinted DVD edition. DVD released by Kino International Corp. (NYC, USA), produced in cooperation with the Swedish Film Institute (SFI). Restoration credited to SFI.
By the end of the 1910s the first great artists had emerged in cinema. They were Yevgeny Bauer, Yakov Protazanov, D.W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Victor Sjöström – and Mauritz Stiller. Kino Video has released four Stiller titles on DVD – some of the very few of Stiller’s films that have survived to this day. At the beginning of his career he was extremely productive, directing some five, six or seven feature films a year. Unfortunately though, most of his work is lost forever. One of Mauritz Stiller’s masterpieces – Erotikon – is the extravagant, provocative, silent comedy that influenced Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game and countless of comedies of the 1930s and beyond.
The most expensive film of the Swedish silent cinema, Erotikon tells the story that revolves around primarily six characters and their complex interpersonal relations: Professor Leo Charpentier (Anders de Wahl), his wife Irene (Tora Teje), his niece Marte (Karin Molander), the sculptor Preben Wells (Lars Hanson), the aviator Baron Felix (Vilhelm Bryde) and Professor Sidonius (Torsten Hammarén). As a complement to his wife Irene, Leo seems to have a crush on his attractive niece (and housekeeper) Marte. The naughty Irene is in turn seeing both Preben and Baron Felix. Then the sculptor has more than just an artistic interest in his female model, and naturally that does not look very popular in Irene’s eyes! The ‘forbidden’ adventures of Leo and Irene are kept secret to each other for most of the film’s duration – only to be revealed at the end, not without consequences. Erotikon consists of five episodes, including the long fascinating sequence in an opera house, and the set of the very large house of the Charpentiers: the entrance hall with its massive staircase and creepy, lurking butler is strongly reminiscent of the dance academy reception hall in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977).
“Generally two females will suffice – but one is never enough”
Stiller develops the erotic precision into a metaphysical state of parallel events; a scientific lecture about beetles, a ballet fantasia that is playing one night at the opera, and the real, actual lives that the characters in the film are living. The film opens with Leo Charpentier giving a seminar in entomology, more specifically about cohabitation among beetles. Some varieties of male beetles opt for polygamy while others are monogamous. A third type indulges in bigamy. “Generally two females will suffice – but one is never enough,” the professor says. (Is he aware of the similarities to his own life?) Another key sequence takes place one evening in an opera house, a remarkable set of lavish production design including some 800 extras. It is the premiere of ‘Schaname’, and Leo, Irene and Prof. Sidonius are in the audience (well, Leo’s ‘best friend’, the sculptor is there too…). The play is the story of Schaname, favorite wife of the Shah in Persia, but she loved Prince Tariel. The Shah and Tariel were friends though. When the Shah went hunting, Schaname urged Tariel to run away with her, but he refused since she was the wife of his best friend…(again, the setup is strikingly similar to the real lives of some people in the audience).
Erotikon was an atypical film and way ahead of its time. The provocative body language and daring dress code of the female characters, their almost risqué behavior, would not be remarkable compared to cinema of today, but remember that this was 1920. The humor is absolutely priceless at times. Look out for actress Karin Molander as Marte, the attractive real-life wife of one of the screenwriters – Gustaf Molander. Both Mr. And Mrs. Molander would become key characters of the Swedish silent film era. The talented Karin would star in several masterpieces, while Gustaf Molander would become an influential producer/writer for both the stage and silent/sound films in the 30s and 40s including involvement in Ingmar Bergman’s early works.
Erotikon is a film essential to check out by cinema lovers who have an interest for the silent era of the medium, Profoundly recommended.
About the DVD:
Despite restoration there are scratches and spots in the picture but given that the film is almost 90 years old such artifacts are perhaps not completely avoidable. Obviously the look of the final result also depends on the state of the source material. However, I have no problem with a film that shows its age and I don’t find these artifacts disturbing in any way. Furthermore, this edition of the film is colour tinted in order to give it a fresh, new look.
Even if it would have been interesting to have the original score, I do enjoy the new score by Bruce Bennett and Paul Mercer a lot. Credit to them; their mythical, dreamlike score fits perfect to the mood of the film.
DVD extras: Special Feature: “Rediscovering Sweden: Peter Cowie introduces the films of Mauritz Stiller”, director biography and selected filmography.
For more information about Erotikon visit Kino Video here.