Garbomania at the Swedish Film Institute

The Swedish Film Institute is joining in the Greta Garbo centenary celebrations over the next month, with a complete programme of her films.

The festivities kicked off on the 100th anniversary of her birth on Sunday with a screening of the silent classic Gösta Berling’s Saga in Fimhuset’s Victor cinema.

Film Institute director Åse Cleveland introduced the film and told the packed house that even in Norway, Garbo is still front page news.

Gösta Berling´s Saga, directed by Mauritz Stiller with the screenplay by Ragnar Hyltén Cavallius, is based on the novel by Selma Lagerlöf about a defrocked priest, Gösta Bergling and the cavaliers that serve the Ekeby manor, run by the strong-willed Majorskan.

The setting is Värmland and Greta Garbo plays a young Italian woman betrothed to a Swedish Count.

The film was accompanied by Matti Bye’s newly-written score backed by a string quartet.

Bye’s score was exquisitely crafted, with themes that became familiar as the 10-act film went on. The pristine quality of the new print revealed in splendid fashion a scene in which Garbo and Hanson are pursued across the ice by a pack of wolves.

A preview of the exhibition Images of Greta included displays entitled Garbo Talks, Garbo Laughs and Queer Christina about the cross-dressing role Garbo played in Queen Christina.

“I never said I wanted to be alone. I said I wanted to be left alone,” was one of Garbo’s famous statements about keeping her private life distinct from her public one.

She also remarked that “no one ever seemed to think I was young”. But young she was in Gösta Berling’s Saga – a mere 18 – and short films screened in the exhibition hall screened reveal an even younger Garbo at the PUB department store modelling clothes, eating cake with friends or camping near a lake.

The Film Institute collection on display for the birthday centenary include a black velvet and white lace dress Garbo wore in Gösta Berling’s Saga for a seemingly petite woman, private letters and her notebook from the Royal Dramatic Theatre drama school.

The Cinemateket film club will 13 of her films during September and October including Garbo’s first Hollywood film, Virveln (The Torrent), accompanied on the piano by Matti Bye.

The complete program of Garbo films

Greta Garbo, Cinemateket in Stockholm, Sep-Oct 2005

18/9 + 19/9 Gösta Berling’s Saga by Mauritz Stiller, Sweden 1924

Swedish title cards.

The young Garbo is chased by a pack of wolves in a free adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s novel, much to the author’s displeasure. New copy plus newly-written score by Matti Bye.

23/9 Den glädjelösa gatan (The Joyless Street / Die freudlose Gasse) by G.W. Pabst, Germany 1925

Garbo obtains a fur coat on credit from the madam of a brothel in this restored melodrama in which starving housewives prostitute themselves to the local butcher.

21/9 Virveln (The Torrent) by Monta Bell, USA 1926

In Garbo’s first American feature, a provincial Spanish girl becomes a prima donna having been ditched by a landowner under the thumb of his mother.

Advertising film PUB department store, Sweden 1921

Luffar-Petter by Erik A. Petschler, Sweden 1922

En gudomlig kvinna (The Divine Woman) by Victor Seastrom, USA 1928,

Unidentified documentary, Sweden 1929

28/9 Åtrå (Flesh and the Devil) by Clarence Brown, USA 1927

Duels and passionate love scenes in this romantic classic in which childhood friends become rivals for Garbo’s affections.

1/10 Gröna hatten (A Woman of Affairs) by Clarence Brown, USA 1928

Society lady sacrifices herself for the man she loves yet may not marry.

7/10 Kyssen (The Kiss) by Jacques Feyder, USA 1929

Garbo’s final silent film, in which a French woman accused of the murder of her husband is defended by her former lover.

2+4/10 Susan Lenox (Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise) by Robert Z. Leonard, USA 1931

Melodrama in which a young woman runs away to escape from an unwanted marriage and ends up in the circus.

8+12/10 Mata Hari by George Fitzmaurice, USA 1931

Legendary German spy uses her seductive and exotic dancing charms, inducing men to reveal their secrets.

9+13/10 Grand Hotel by Edmund Goulding, USA 1932

A lonely ballerina meets a seductive jewel thief at a luxury hotel in Berlin.

16+20/10 Christina (Queen Christina) by Rouben Mamoulian, USA 1933

Garbo is magnificent as Sweden’s Queen Christina Kristina who would “rather die a bachelor” than marry.

Anna Karenina by Clarence Brown, USA 1935 with Fredric March, Basil Rathbone.

Greta is perfect as Tolstoy’s tragic heroine in this superior sound version of the 1927 silent film.

24+30/10 Ninotchka by Ernst Lubitsch, USA 1939

Female Soviet agent acquires a taste for the high life of Paris in this comedy that was launched with the tagline “Garbo laughs!”.

29+31/10 Tvillingarna (Two-Faced Woman) by George Cukor, USA 1941

Garbo’s final film – a comedy of errors in which a man believes he is cheating on his wife with her twin sister.

Moira Sullivan

Moira Sullivan is a freelance journalist and member of the Swedish Film Critics Association