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The Wind
(1928)

 

When Lillian Gish signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925, she suggested to the head of production, executive Irving Thalberg, that La Bohème and The Scarlet Letter would make good films. Thalberg and MGM agreed and they allowed her to do both film adaptations in 1926. Both films were reasonably successful.

After an unsuccessful production of Annie Laurie (1927), Gish suggested to Thalberg an adaptation of the 1925 novel The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough. The novel was a psychological examination of mounting insanity set on the rough, windy plains of north central Texas, near the tiny town of Sweetwater. It had been attacked by some as nothing more than a hatchet job on a noble rural community, while others acknowledged that the conditions present in that area of Texas were, regrettably, accurately portrayed. Lillian thought that the wind itself would become a central character of the film and provide a movement-filled backdrop to a woman’s interiorized struggle with her life’s unfortunate circumstances.

Gish remembered that the overworked Thalberg gave the project his approval and allowed Lillian free-rein to choose her creative team, effectively making her the uncredited producer of the film. She gave her own four-page treatment of the story to top Hollywood writer Frances Marion to adapt the scenario. Lillian chose Victor Sjöström as her director and his fellow Swede Lars Hanson as her leading man. Gish, Hanson and Sjöström (his name Americanized to Victor Seastrom while he was at MGM) had worked together on The Scarlet Letter (1926), and they all seemed to be well-suited to this new project.

The Wind (1928) was shot on-location in the Mohave Desert near Bakersfield, California, and at the MGM studios in Hollywood from May through June of 1927. It was so hot during desert shooting that the camera negatives had to be packed in ice for transport to Hollywood, where they were slowly thawed for processing. Lillian remembered that she left behind a layer of the palm of her hand when she thoughtlessly gripped the metal handle of a makeup trailer door.

To produce the effect of constantly raging winds for the camera, eight aircraft motors — each mounted to trailers — blew sand and the thick smoke of burning sulphur pots past the camera, singeing and blinding the actors. While crew members used goggles and bandanas to keep sand and cinders out of their eyes and lungs, the actors could not do the same and thus risked serious injury. Lillian cited The Wind as her “most uncomfortable experience in pictures.”

Altogether, principal photography for The Wind took less than a month and it appears that the film was quickly assembled into a viewable working cut. Apparently, MGM executives were worried about how the film would perform in theatres. A private preview of the film was arranged for a group of the nation’s largest exhibitors to solicit their opinions. They hated The Wind — especially the ending. That meant that studio president Louis B. Mayer also hated it, and he demanded that the ending be reshot.

Despite the support of Irving Thalberg and the pleas of Lillian Gish, Frances Marion and others for the artistic integrity of the film, a happy ending was cobbled together in July 1927. Once the The Wind had been completed, MGM executives still didn’t know what to do with it. Gish went on to make The Enemy (1927), her final film for MGM, which premiered in December. Still, The Wind sat on the shelf at the studio . . . and it sat, and sat.

Had MGM executives known that the film would eventually lose them $87,000 after the film’s November 1928 release, they surely would have destroyed the film . . . but, fortunately, they had no such crystal ball, and today we have the opportunity to see this exceptional film.

Lillian Gish’s performance is extraordinary. Victor Sjöström’s direction is masterful. And, as fate would have it, modern audiences have taken to The Wind with a fervor that trumps the contemporary opinions of wise-cracking film critics and indifferent audiences who, late in 1928, were more interested in a jazzy sound film musical than a silent tale of a young woman’s descent into madness.

Throughout her life (and she lived to be 99 years old), Lillian Gish maintained that The Wind was her favorite among her many exceptional film accomplishments. — Carl Bennett

coverBach Films
2013 DVD edition

The Wind (1928), black & white, 75 minutes, not rated.

Bach Films, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, optional French language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested list price.
Release date: 16 September 2013.
Country of origin: France
This French edition has likely been mastered from 35mm materials.

Among the supplemental material is an interview with Agnès Michaux, five photo cards, and an insert booklet.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.
coverLlamentol
200? DVD edition

The Wind (1928), black & white, 74 minutes, Rated 7.

Llamentol S.L., unknown catalog number, UPC 8-436022-303317.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, optional Spanish language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested list price.
Release date: unknown
Country of origin: Spain
This Spanish edition likely was originally transferred from 35mm print materials, but it reportedly has been mastered from a commercial VHS videotape. The visual quality is likely to be only fair to good. Intertitles are in English, with optional Spanish subtitles.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era. AmazonUK
Other silent era LILLIAN GISH films available on home video.

Other FILMS FROM 1928 available on home video.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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