Laila (George Schnéevoigt - 1929)

Tonight was one of the most fun movie experiences I've ever had. As part of the Silent Movie Mondays series put on by Seattle's Paramount Theater, the 1929 Norwegian film Laila was shown with live accompaniment on the Wurlitzer organ, played by Tedde Gibson. The movie is epic: a story spanning years, beautifully shot across expansive snow-covered landscapes, told in 145 minutes during which I could not take my eyes off the screen. Tedde Gibson did an incredible job playing through it all, with colorful imagination and a sense of suspense, and the audience stood to cheer loudly for him when it ended.

There's much that's remarkable about this movie, not least the cinematography, which captures the whites and grays of a snowbound world in so many gorgeously-composed shots, and that also moves with the action: in one thrilling scene on river rapids, the camera flies along sideways with a man running down the shore chasing a boat, and for a few moments the camera is actually in the boat looking back at Laila standing in it as she rushes downstream.

The story concerns a Norwegian baby girl who ends up being raised by the native Sami people (called the "Lapps" in the movie). There's definitely some of the 'noble savage' stereotype going on here, but it struck me that the 'Lapps' were not portrayed as evil and truly loved Laila. I certainly did — I'm still crushing on Laila. A sassy dark-haired girl wearing intricately-embroidered furs being pulled on skis across the snow by a reindeer? Hey, that's my type! I looked up the actress Mona Mårtenson, who turned out to have been Swedish and only lived to 54 years old. She was good in this movie, a personality that popped off the screen. You can find this film on disc, restored in 2006 with a jangly piano score taken from Grieg tunes, but for me nothing will ever compare to seeing it with a friend in a crowd with a live organ.



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