Denmark Cinematography Part II

By | December 18, 2021

The silent crisis, 1916-1930

The crisis of Danish cinema began in 1916, and was caused in part by the war and in part by the repetitiveness of the subjects, who were no longer able to face German and American competition. From 152 films in 1916, it went to 66 in 1919, 12 in 1924 and finally down to 2 in 1930, while the companies were reduced to three (Nordisk, Astra, founded in 1916, and Palladium, in 1920). Even local audiences abandoned Danish cinema: at the end of the 1920s only 1% of tickets sold went to national production.

In the period 1918-1926 the most commercially successful director was Anders Wilhelm Sandberg, who became the most important figure of Nordisk and received significant acclaim at home and abroad mainly thanks to his adaptations of works by Ch. Dickens, Vor faelles ven (1919, Our Mutual Friend), Store forventninger (1921, Great Expectations), David Copperfield (1922), Lille Dorrit (1924, Little Dorrit). The only other directors who continued to shoot with moderate commercial results were Forest Holger-Madsen and Lau Lauritzen Sr. The first specialized in dramas with a historical-social background, such as Ned med vaabnene (1915, Giù le braccia) – scripted by Dreyer – and Himmelskibet (1918, The Spaceship). The second was the greatest author of comedies and farces, as well as founder of the Palladium; between 1921 and 1931 he directed a series of thirty films with the comedic couple formed by Fytrårnet and Bivognen (‘the lighthouse’ and ‘the wagon’), played by Carl Schenstrøm and Harald Madsen. In terms of aesthetic results, however, the two major innovators were Benjamin Christensen and Dreyer, even if the commercial response of their works was on the whole rather modest. Christensen only directed two films in Denmark: Det hemmelighedsfulde X (1913, The Mysterious X) and Hævnens nat (1915, Night of Vengeance), produced by Dansk. He then worked in Sweden, Germany and the United States, where he created his best-known works. Dreyer, on the other hand, began his collaboration with Nordisk to coincide with the company’s decline, which produced Præsidenten (1918, The President) and Blade af Satans bog (1921; Pages from the book of Satan). He continued his career in Sweden, Germany and Norway, to then achieve critical success at home with Du skal ære din hustru (1925; The master of the house or L’angelo del focolare), shot for the Palladium. His fame reached as far as France, where he was offered the direction of La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1927; The passion of Joan of Arc). For Denmark 1998, please check constructmaterials.com.

The advent of sound

In 1928, Nordisk Tonefilm (heir to Nordisk Films, which had gone bankrupt a few months earlier) was born, producing in 1931 the first entirely Danish-funded sound film, Præsten i Vejlby (The Shepherd of Vejlby) by George Schnéevoigt. The film was a notable success and gave all Danish producers hope for the future. In 1932, a private body was created, the Dansk Kulturfilm, intended to produce documentaries and films for children. For the first time, a public film policy was also enacted: the first act was the law of 1933, which rigidly divided the figures of producers from those of distributors and exhibitors. The production companies could therefore neither distribute films nor own cinemas (except one for each company, in Copenhagen); likewise, distributors were prohibited from managing venues and participating in productions: the aim was above all to prevent a liberalization of the market from allowing large US distribution companies to control theaters as well. The programming of the latter would also be directed by government-designated ‘cinema experts’, who would have chosen works of social and cultural value. In 1938 a new law established the Statens Filmcentral (state cinema center), intended to coordinate all public policy on the subject and to promote short films, documentaries and films for children; to finance these works, a special tax was created on the revenues of cinemas (except those belonging to Danish production companies), which went to set up a special fund (Statens Filmfond). However, there was no form of incentive for non-educational films; taxation was also so high that Danish films had to be seen by a substantial part of the population in order to be profitable. To achieve this, the production companies were forced to indulge the tastes of the spectators, and the consequence was a certain flattening of the subjects. The project of a quality cinema therefore obtained modest results, and the prevailing genre at that time was the musical, which was much loved by the general public. To achieve this, the production companies were forced to indulge the tastes of the spectators, and the consequence was a certain flattening of the subjects. The project of a quality cinema therefore obtained modest results, and the prevailing genre at that time was the musical, which was much loved by the general public. To achieve this, the production companies were forced to indulge the tastes of the spectators, and the consequence was a certain flattening of the subjects. The project of a quality cinema therefore obtained modest results, and the prevailing genre at that time was the musical, which was much loved by the general public.

During the Thirties the cinema became a truly mass phenomenon for the first time: numerous theaters opened (especially starting in 1935), while others were enlarged and modernized, and the tickets sold increased considerably, reaching 28 million in the 1939. National production went from four films in 1931 to nine in 1934, and then stabilized on an average of ten per year for the whole of the second half of the decade, while its market share gradually increased to reach 30%; the two surviving companies, Nordisk and Palladium, were joined by the ASA in 1936. Major successes include Schnéevoigt’s Nyhavn 17 (1933), Friedrich Dalsheim’s Palos brudefærd (1934, Palo’s Honeymoon) and Sommerglæder (1940, The joys of summer) by Svend Methling.

Denmark Cinematography Part II