The unwavering power of Lillian Gish in silent classic The Wind.
Do you ever feel like you’re caught up in a seemingly endless struggle against adversity? Are you strong enough to fight back? The Wind (1928) directed by Victor Sjöström, stars Lillian Gish as a young woman pushed to her limits by the unending harshness of the prevailing, remorseless winds in the inhospitable American desert that has become her home.
It’s an extraordinary film, a triumph of endlessly building tension and sensitive melodrama, driven by an exemplary central performance by Gish.
Gish plays Letty Mason, a smart Southern belle who leaves her comfortable existence in Virginia to start a new life in Texas, the harsh life of the pioneers now her destiny. Even from the start of the film we feel the winds of change blowing through as she travels towards an unknown new life.
She is to stay with her rough and ready cousin and his family. There is a wonderful contrast between her delicate beauty and their crudeness. Not exactly feeling welcome, she quickly marries a local man, an unfulfilling and dismal outcome for her. But she also falls for a handsome stranger and things take a further turn for the worse for Letty. The constant wind becomes her enemy as she tries to find a solution to her terrible situation, but she fights back against it.
The Wind is a beautiful work of art. Dramatic yet poetic, truthful and realistic but also incredibly bold in its depiction of the harshness of living in the American desert. Gish owns every scene in the film, the director giving her space and time to build the character. She displays unenviable stoicism as she relentlessly fights against the wind which wants to destroy everything. She is strong, her portrayal of Letty is incredibly physical, but she allows us to understand the mental anguish of her character through a nuanced and delicately balanced performance. We feel her sense of isolation, and her sense of endless fight against her surroundings throughout.
There is so much to the framing of the film which brings power to the story. The depiction of the harsh desert landscape, nature battling against the invasion of the men who try to drive through their changes and modernity. The wind perhaps a metaphor for nature’s determined struggle to fight back.
The Wind is a silent classic, which showcases one of the greatest performances by an outstanding actor at the height of her career. The film is much admired and has been restored in recent years by director and film historian Kevin Brownlow with a new score by Carl Davis.
This film, made in 1928, sits on the cusp of a new era in cinema. The end of the silent age, which was at it the very peak of its artistic power and looking ahead to the sound revolution. Some amazing films were made that year, and this was one of them. It transcends era, its compelling storytelling and artistic merit means it still powerfully resonates now.