Denmark Cinematography Part III

By | December 18, 2021

The German occupation

In 1940 the Denmark was occupied by Hitler’s troops, and the film industry was subjected to strict control. British and US films were banned. Instead, German works were widely disseminated, but the public showed that they did not like them and deserted the halls. Therefore Swedish cinema prevailed, culturally more similar to the local one and of better quality. Overall, the influx of the public increased by almost 70% in a few years: it went from 28 million tickets in 1939 to 47 in 1945; and in 1941 the Danske Filmmuseum (the Copenhagen film library) was founded. Production also increased considerably, reaching an average of seventeen films a year in the period 1941-1944, and in 1942 a fourth company was created, SAGA; the focus was essentially on the genres of comedy and comic and farcical film of American inspiration, in order to fill the void generated by the blockade of imports. At the same time, however, a variant of noir emerged which had its distinctive characteristics in the realism and psychological deepening of the characters. Particularly significant in this sense were Afsporet (1942, Smarrita) directed by Bodil Ipsen and Lau Lauritzen Jr, and Besættelse (1944, Occupazione), again by Ipsen, who explicitly referred to the political situation of the country. It should not be forgotten that in 1943 Dreyer returned behind the camera after a decade of silence to make Vredens dag (Dies Irae), one of his great masterpieces. For Denmark 2015, please check

The early postwar years

After the liberation, protectionism was maintained against imports from the United States. The provision of the 1933 law which prevented producers from investing in the business was also repealed. Despite this, the number of films (ten a year between 1945 and 1949) fell back to the level of the second half of the 1930s, and the public response was also modest: it went from 47 million tickets in 1945 to 54 million in 1947, before falling back to 52 in 1950. The most popular genres remained comedy and detective. Documentaries and fictional films on the Nazi occupation were also made: the first category includes Det gælder din frihed (1946, It’s Your Freedom) by Theodor Christensen, and the second category De røde enge (1945, La terra rossa) by Ipsen and Lauritzen Jr, and Den usynlige hær (1945, L’armata invisibile) by Johan Jacobsen, propaganda works aimed at exalting the Resistance. Also interesting was the brief phenomenon of travel films, which were shown above all in the parish halls, where fictional cinema was prohibited: although they were not really documentaries, they were nevertheless considered as such and proposed to a large audience eager to get to know distant countries and exotic. This genre disappeared in the 1950s, when the Danes began to go abroad more frequently.

The documentary tradition was also very strong and had representatives of great value. Director Jørgen Roos pioneered this and worked in the early 1940s, following in the footsteps of Robert J. Flaherty, especially in Greenland. In the same period, Ole Palsbo and the spouses Bjarne and Astrid Henning-Jensen made their debut. The latter also devoted themselves to fictional feature films, but always with an imprint of great realism, as demonstrated by Ditte Menneskebarn (1946, Ditte daughter of man). Many works were dedicated to the most dramatic and burning social problems, including juvenile delinquency, alcoholism and marginalization: Mens porten var lukket (1948, When the door is closed) by Asbjørn Andersen deserve a mention, (1949, We want a son) by Lauritzen Jr and Alice O’Fredericks, a film that caused a scandal because it showed an authentic birth.

The fifties

In 1949 the tax on tickets instituted by the law of 1938 was significantly reduced: this resulted in a sudden drop in the production of educational films financed with this tax, and in particular of the psychological dramas that had characterized the 1940s. On the other hand, the public showed interest only in works (especially comedies and melodramas) which reflected national characters and traditions, referring to a bucolic romanticism disconnected from reality; these films, even when they posed the same moral and social problems as quality cinema, solved them not in a rational way, with a deep and precise reflection, but with a ‘stroke of genius’ of the protagonist, who found the solution by resorting to common sense or to fantasy: hence the name of hyggefilm (cinema of ingenuity) given to this type of popular production. The most striking example of this trend is De røde heste (1950, The red horses) by Jon Iversen and A. O’Fredericks, based on a novel by M. Korch. Its extraordinary success generated between 1950 and 1967 a series of eighteen feature films based on the works of Korch, directed since 1952 by O’Fredericks alone, joined since 1964 by Ib Mossin. Another O’Fredericks series, Far til fire (Father of Four), of which eight episodes were shot, also gained considerable popularity between 1953 and 1961. Even Nordisk was forced to follow the tastes of the public, and specialized in light comedies. The only Danish film that was distributed abroad in the 1950s was Ordet (1954, The Word) by Dreyer, which in 1955 won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Although production increased compared to the second half of the 1940s, maintaining an average of fifteen films a year for the whole decade, the proceeds began to decline, partly due to the high price of tickets, partly following the birth of national television (1954). After peaking in 1953, with 59 million tickets sold, it dropped to 43 in 1960 and 23 in 1970. Furthermore, viewers no longer agreed to go to technically obsolete venues, and only the great theaters of Copenhagen continued to thrive, planning the blockbusters imported from the United States. The first cinema closed in 1959; in just eight years, theaters dropped from 233 to 158. It soon became clear that the future depended on a new audience: that of young people.

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