It's New Year's Eve. Three drunkards evoke a legend. The legend tells that the last person to die in a year, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive during the whole year the Phantom Chariot, the one that picks up the souls of the dead... David Holm, one of the three drunkards, dies at the last stroke of midnight... Written by
Victor Sjostrom's silent film masterpiece The Phantom Carriage has recently been released on DVD with a new soundtrack recorded by KTL. The duo, comprising American guitarist Stephen O'Malley and Austrian laptop artist Peter Rehberg, has conjured an extraordinary collection of sounds to accompany and accentuate the original film footage from 1921. An ominous banging sound introduces each Act and a medley of drones, guitar chords and feedback ebbs and flows as the grim drama unfolds.
As impressive as the new soundtrack is, the film remains the real star with its timeless rendering of a dark and dystopian fairy tale. According to this tale the last person to die before the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve is condemned to spend a year behind the reins of the eponymous phantom carriage, collecting the souls of the dead. This is the fate of the anti-hero of the film, David Holm, who is moved to painful scrutiny of his life following his untimely death and subsequent encounter with the driver of the carriage.
This film is often referred to as a horror film and although this is a fitting label, the real horror here resides not in the supernatural elements but rather in the depiction of human suffering at the hands of others. Sjostrom gives a remarkable performance as the drunken, spiteful and menacing Holm in life, and the wretched, frightened Holm looking back from the land of the dead and shrinking from his past deeds.
Striking imagery abounds throughout The Phantom Carriage and more than compensates for the inevitably limited dialogue. The ill-omened onset of midnight is powerfully illustrated through the image of a clock-face hovering alone in the darkening night sky like a second moon. Equally impressively, the dead are depicted through pioneering semi-transparent imagery and the scenes of the phantom carriage riding over land and sea remain chilling to watch.
Sjostrom's film deserves its place as one of the most esteemed silent films of all time and the new soundtrack by KTL is a superb accentuation of its themes. This is a must-see.
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