• The Phantom Carriage is both a tour de force technical achievement and a groundbreaking film for narrative form.
  • It is the story of David Holm- again played by Victor Sjöström himself- a powerful story of reform. It borrows from Charles Dickens, but also certainly influences 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
  • We need a Bordwell study on the flashback within a flashback nesting doll strands. There’s the slow unveiling of Holm’s character– often the different time flashback threads unfurl at the same time to quite an effect.
  • The shot of death at the 18-minute mark- scythe and cloak. Fritz Lang’s Destiny (the other best film of 1921) also has an embodiment of death. Sjöström uses tinting again here- the blue day for night. The representation of death on screen also is connected to the other great Swedish auteur of the 20th century: Ingmar Bergman. I would say that too much of the writing on Sjöström in general has to do with Bergman- so I will try not to do it here- but Bergman was heavily influenced by this film, claims to have seen it 100 films.

sublime symmetry in this composition from the silent master

  • The Phantom Carriage does not just feature the storytelling gymnastics – but it also is renowned for its technical prowess. The double-exposure effect—essentially like a sustained variation on the dissolve, is utterly genius. It certainly is a technical achievement tied to both form and content.

The shot of death- scythe and cloak.

  • Less reliant on the location shooting and elements than the other films in the Sjöström study
  • The shot in the bottom of the sea is borrowed for one of the best frames of the 1955 film The Night of the Hunter from Charles Laughton.

At the 24-minute mark, there’s another splendid composition of the four men gathered around- posing like in a painting- with a lamp

  • Part of Sjöström’s parallel editing sequences use a cutaway to a clock as a character.

Like all of his previous works there is an Eden scene (all parables, rise, fall, redemption, punishment). In The Phantom Carriage it is an idyllic picnic.

  • The narrative plays well even without the time manipulation and technical expertise.
  • There are a pair of sublime doorway frame within a frame shots- one of the Salvation Army women at the 47-minute mark- and one of death.
  • The story, and the David Holm character, go to some dark places. He’s wicked- he’s no George Bailey. There is a scene of him ripping a coat that was just carefully mended. And- in another feat of parallel editing- there’s the axe-hacking the door scene from The Shining. It is all there for Kubrick to riff on gloriously.

59 years before The Shining

  • This is some 70-years after Dickens. A Christmas Carol is 1843. This book (Novel Prize winning Selma Lagerlöf) is 1912.
  • Sjöström’s own work has to be among the best of this time era as an actor as well. He’s nasty one minute- groveling the next
  • Parallel editing once again as he races to stop the poison.

The super-imposition double exposure match from her floor to the grave he’s lying in- snapping the narrative back – wonderful work.

  • A masterpiece