Thursday, July 30, 2020

Get Swept Up In The Overwhelming Feature The Wind

We're nearly five months into this whole pandemic thing in America. Considering we've all spent way more time in our own homes in 2020 than we ever could have imagined, I think we can all relate to The Wind protagonist Letty Mason (Lillian Gish) right about now. Specifically, the way Mason finds her home in Sweetwater, Texas to be more of a prison than a home. Granted, when it comes to COVID-19, I'll take being stir-crazy over getting sick any day of the week. Still, it's understandable to feel a touch tired of your own four walls after a while. Mason gets it, though she's got way more to worry about than just how overly familiar her home is.

Mason came into Sweetwater, Texas with high hopes. Arriving by train from Virginia, Mason came to this town to see her cousin, Beverly (Edward Earle). Upon arriving, it was clear Mason wasn't in Virginia anymore. Herds of cattle peppered the land as far as the eye could see while enormous gusts of wind were ceaseless. It wasn't just the terrain that was hard to get used to, though. Mason also has to contend with Beverly's jealous wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming). Once Cora believes Mason is there to steal away Beverly, she kicks Mason out. Now with nowhere to go, Mason ends up hooking up with Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson) just to have a roof over her head.

The Wind is a tale of survival. Just getting from the train station to Beverly's house see's Mason struggling to endure against the harsh winds. Her persistent quest to hold out in the face of turmoil only gets more difficult from there. It especially gets challenging once the possessive Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), a man Mason ran into on the train to Sweetwater, re-enters Mason's life. Screenwriter Frances Marion, adapting a Dorothy Scarborough novel of the same name, creates plenty of engaging hoops for Mason to jump through. Partially why the onslaught of turmoil works as well as it does is because Marion is willing to hang everything on Marion just trying to make it from one day to the next.

There is no grander moral to be found in Mason's struggles. Every one of her actions is just meant to represent her trying to ensure she isn't homeless in this wind-dominated area. This is a smart move on the part of The Wind. It's as much of a barebones survival story as a modern-day film like Arctic yet it still registers as compelling. Much of Mason's determination to survive is well-realized in understated terms. She may not be screaming about her desire to keep on living but you can see that yearning in every one of her interactions with other characters. The prospect of whether Lige Hightower or Sourdough (William Orlamond) will take Mason to be their bride, for example, is rife with this kind of subdued suspense.

There is no love in the air as these characters contemplate Mason's future. It's a transaction, pure and simple. It's sad that Mason's life has come to this. But Marion's screenplay, not to mention Victor Sjöström's direction and Lillian Gish's performance, have so immersed us into Mason's perspective that we're engrossed to find out what happens next. Of course, when the occasion calls for it, The Wind can create more overt representations of Mason's internal feelings. Most notably, much of the third act sees Sjöström embracing appropriately trippy visuals to convey Mason's fractured mental state as she grapples with an overwhelming storm of wind.

Combining these lucid visuals with the ominous presence of Wirt Roddy make the final half-hour of The Wind a real treat to watch. This juncture of The Wind basically becomes a combination of The Shining and Goodbye, Earl. If that doesn't make you want to watch this movie, I don't know what will! In these sequences and throughout the rest of The Wind, Sjöström's filmmaking is utterly remarkable. I especially loved a pair of shots that begin with Roddy's eyes seemingly watching Mason before cutting to Roddy peeking through what looks like an old-fashioned ViewMaster. It's a clever piece of visual misdirection that still potently conveys the idea that this Roddy guy is bad news.

The Wind was the end of an era, proving to be one of the last silent movies released by MGM. What a bittersweet moment in film history, but at least the silent film era winded on down with a film as good as The Wind.

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