The Wind strikes me as the perfect, if more dynamic and gusty, companion piece to Polanski’s Repulsion. Both films are bravura examples of interiority masterfully expressed in a film’s putative, and gorgeously realized, external world. In the case of Sjöström, the world is Sweetwater, a lonely outpost in the American West where the wind never stops blowing soil upon the spotless person and mind of perennially chaste Lillian Gish, whose virginal Letty from Virginia finds herself sexually vexed by the thoughts these filthy gales occasion. Once in a while, a cyclone arrives to interrupt the routine of the constant blasts, and a romance for terrified Letty is brutally etched out of the frank landscape, where settlers are put up to mating in much the same fashion as livestock, and where the housewives of Sweetwater handle the organ meats of their beef carcasses with grim, workaday dispatch. Sjöström’s visuals are, by turns, pitch-perfect gothic and stunningly, even hilariously, hyperbolic. The Wind is a singular psychosexual addition to the West’s big fat books of myths, and for once it is fear, not the Native American, that is fought while America defines itself. One of the last silent films made in Hollywood, and maybe the greatest.
Live Musical Accompaniment by Martin Marks