auritz Stiller's long-vanished film The Wings [Vingarne]
made in 1916, was rediscovered in spring 1987 in Norway on a stall
in a street market. The film was given its second premier in November
1987 at the Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm. To avoid offending
the official morals of the day, Stiller presented his "gay"
theme with hints, and wrapped in cultural allusions, which still
seem to confuse some film scholars.
Based on the novel by Herman Bang published in 1904, Vingarne
was long believed to have vanished without a trace after the original
was destroyed in 1941 in a major fire at the archives. The Wings
is perhaps the first film ever that had a gay love story as its
subject. The "codes" and cultural detours that Stiller
had to use in 1916 are in themselves part of cultural history. The
two men behind the film, Mauritz Stiller and the author of the screenplay,
Axel Esbensen were either gay or bi-sexual and their attempt to
deal with the classic homoerotic topic, albeit coded and melodramatic,
deserves to be presented today.
GANYMEDE was such a handsome young man, that in Homer's
„Illiad" he was described as the most beautiful
mortal who ever lived. Zeus, the father of the gods,
fell so deeply in love with Ganymede, that he turned
into an eagle and and flew with him to Mount Olympus,
where Ganymede served Zeus as cupbearer.
Both the novel and the film tell how an artist, "The Master",
takes in a handsome young man with talent. The Master, a childless
bachelor, adopts the young man, Mikael who moves into his home.
Everything is fine until Mikael falls in love with a female acquaintance
of the Master - Lucia, a beautiful countess with an extravagant
lifestyle. That Mikael is basically hetero while the Master is homosexual
is illustrated in both novel and film by the fact that the Master
is unable to capture on canvass the sparkle in Lucia's eyes, while
Mikael manages it with a few strokes. The Master is proud of his
assistant and does not suspect a personal disaster for himself.
Lucia's lifestyle leads to the brink of bankruptcy, and to save
her Mikael sells a work of art of the Master for which Mikael was
himself the model, and he has promised not to sell. When he hears
of this the Master is despondent, but more at the personal betrayal
than the sale of the work of art. This is clear when the Master
asks Lucia for the return of Mikael - not the work of art! - "Give
me back my child!" he begs. But Mikael is no child, and the
Master's feelings not only fatherly. His reaction to Lucia's "You
are old and do not understand love." show the opposite to be
true. He has, however, to hide his feelings.
The work of art plays nevertheless, a highly symbolic role in both
novel and film. In the novel it was a painting "Victory"
which may be a reference to a well-known sculpture of the "The
Victory at Marathon" (Max Kruse), countless copies of which
were to be found not least in "gay" homes. It may however,
be a reference to Michelangelo's sculpture which depicts the victory
of an older man over a younger one.
In the film, however, the work of art is Carl Milles "The Wings"
which now stands near the entrance to the national Museum of Art
in Stockholm.(Photo) The youth and the eagle are "homoerotic"
a symbol of love between men, related to the story of Zeus and Ganymede.
Zeus fell so much in love with Ganymede that he turned himself into
an eagle and "kidnapped" Ganymede, taking him off to Olympus,
where G. had to serve as a cupbearer! The association was known
within educated circles of the Swedish public at the turn of the
century. August Strindberg, for example, used the Ganymede myth
to criticize the criminalisation of homosexuality in his short story
The opening scene shows the Master standing on a hill, imitating
an eagle spreading its wings, (like Zeus) looking down at Mikael,
but to confuse the censor, the prologue deals with the Ikarus myth.
Both the novel and the film end with the master becoming seriously
ill while Mikael is enjoying life with the countess. In the novel
Lucia triumphs over the Master's love for Mikael - who stays with
her as the Master is dying. In the film Mikael rushes home - to
find the Master already dead. When Lucia tries to comfort him she
is pushed aside, and he leaves, lost to her forever BUT in the epilogue
the actor who plays Mikael is prevented from shooting himself when
the actress (Lucia) refuses his love - and the all live happily
80 years ago, Mauritz Stiller made a feature film based on a homoerotic
theme, which perhaps some day you will get the chance to see.
Colin de la Motte-Sherman