Gosta Werner: Film historian and the world's oldest living film director
Wednesday 21 October 2009
From a long and influential career as a film director and historian, Gosta Werner is remembered abroad for three acclaimed short films of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice, 1946), The Train (1948) and To Kill a Child (1952), which were received at the time as marking the emergence of an important new talent. He was the world's oldest living film director.
Midvinterblot, the first of Werner's films to be screened abroad, was described by Richard Griffith in his 1949 revision of The Film Till Now as "One of Sweden's principal contributions since sound"; and nearly 30 years after he saw it at the Edinburgh Festival the impression it had made on Basil Wright remained indelible when he recalled it in The Long View (1974). Anticipating the extraordinary conclusion of The Wicker Man, Midwinterblot depicts gory human sacrifice in a chill winter landscape accompanied by the relentless beat of drums, creating what Forsyth Hardy described in Scandinavian Film (1952) as "an experiment in sound and picture which excitingly conveyed the mystic atmosphere of Stone Age blood sacrifices".
Midvinterblot was entirely without dialogue or commentary, as was the impressionistic The Train, in which, in Hardy's words, "using a train as a symbol, he visualised life as a journey". Much of Werner's subsequent work likewise tended, according to the film historian Peter Cowie, to shun narration, "relying instead on natural sounds and music to suggest a mood and to dictate the pace of a picture".
Graduating from Lund University in 1930, Werner was one of the founders in 1929 of the pioneering film society, the Lund Film Studio, which he chaired between 1932 and 1935. From 1932-34 he was a journalist in Stockholm. He had worked as assistant on a couple of films in 1931 and later found employment as an advertising manager and text translator for various studios, in which capacity he edited about 600 foreign-language films between 1934 and 1946. He also wrote a couple of scripts before directing his first short in 1943, followed by several wartime public information films.
Between 1948 and 1955 he made six features, but none matched the impact achieved by his short To Kill a Child, from a story by Stig Dagerman. Wright described it as having "the same compelling quality as Midvinterblot", the action drawing us inexorably to a fatal road accident involving a child, of which the narrator has forewarned us. "By choosing a beautiful summer day and exquisitely composing all his shots," Wright observed, "Werner adds to the gruesomeness."
He made shorts regularly until the late 1960s, including City Twilight (1955), a glowing Eastmancolor evocation of Stockholm's neon signs at dusk commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the light bulb manufacturer Lumalampan, which received the Grand Prix at the 1956 Montevideo Film Festival; Living Colour (1961), depicting the work of the artist Eric H. Olson; and Waiting Waters (1965), an interior monologue shot in two long takes based on a story by Lars Ahlin, with Anita Bjork as a woman standing by the waterside contemplating suicide while reflecting on her life, and particularly the men in it.
By now he was also researching and writing about Swedish film history, especially the silent era, trawling archives in search of lost Swedish silents. His books included a monograph on the director Mauritz Stiller in 1969 and, the following year, a history of the Swedish cinema. During the 1970s he was an associate professor at Stockholm University and in 1988 was appointed Professor of Film Studies. He continued to make occasional shorts and documentaries, including feature-length portraits of the Swedish silent directors, Victor Sjostrom (1981) and Mauritz Stiller (1987); the eerie Den Roda Flacken (Blood and Lipstick), nominated for a Golden Bear in the Best Short Film category at the 1996 Berlin festival; and his final short, Spokskepp (Ghost Ship, 1998), made when he was 90.
Gosta Werner, film director and film historian: born Ostra Vemmenhog, Sweden 15 May 1908; married 1935 Kaj Bjorkdahl; died Stockholm 20 July 2009.
Top Un: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un is Maverick as he poses with all-female pilot crew of the Anti-Air Force Unit
Belle Knox: How the porn star student from Duke University became bigger than Justin Bieber
Top 10 most expensive cities in the world: Singapore named costliest place to live – but what about London?
Oscar Pistorius trial: Athlete 'cheated on me' with Reeva Steenkamp, former girlfriend Samantha Taylor tells Pretoria court
Channel 4 announces two-hour TV show to be broadcast 'Live from Space' later this month
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Italian pensioner hires an escort who turns out to be his son's girlfriend
- 4 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role to marry Natasha Richardson
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...