Danish cinema has just celebrated a historic anniversary.
No, it was not the founding of Nordisk Film, which is widely recognized as the world’s oldest producer still in existence. It happened ten years later in Valby.
It was actually the anniversary of the first screening. The story doesn’t remember what the movie was, but it does document the vendor and location.
On June 7, 1896, the impresario Vilhelm Pacht presented the audience at the Panorama pavilion on Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen with a collection of short films – presumed to be English productions – just six months after the famous premiere of their first productions in Paris.
So that moment when late 19th century moviegoers fled from the train rushing towards them on screen… it was the moment of the Danish audiences on the run.
To the best
It’s a reminder that Denmark was at the forefront of cinema – from the very beginning.
Just outside of Copenhagen, the town of Valby quickly became home to several successful film studios, making it the Hollywood of its day.
Of course, sound hadn’t been invented yet, which meant Denmark could really compete without worrying about language issues. As long as a movie’s subtitles were properly translated, international viewers were ready to watch the movie. The films were short, lasting no more than half an hour, offering straightforward plots with little character development.
In 1906, director and producer Ole Olsen founded Denmark’s first film company, Nordisk Film, with the aim of making films for showing in his cinema, Biograf-Theatret, which were longer than the standard tariff, allowing for intrigue. more complicated and more realistic characters. .
During this first year, a housing estate in Valby was acquired and it was decided that a polar bear sitting on top of the globe should represent Nordisk Films Kompagni. The iconic logo remains to this day.
The same year, the first short film was produced, “Pigeons & Seagulls”, a two-minute report. Many more will follow and the company has instant success, ushering in what is known as the golden age of Danish cinema, and in 1909 other film companies began to spring up.
Psilander the star
In 1910 Fotorama, a direct competitor of Viborg-based Nordisk, released the first Danish multi-reel film, “The White Slave Trade”, which was a huge box office success.
Olsen was quick to respond with his own version, essentially the first remake (Fotorama threatened legal action and they settled out of court), starting a global trend for longer films with a melodramatic subject matter – often with a mild form of sexual interest.
Nordisk came off brilliantly with the release of their film soon after, “At the Prison Gates,” which was their first production with Valdemar Psilander, who made 83 films for Nordisk in just six years.
Due to the universal nature of silent cinema, its popularity was worldwide. He was largely responsible for a huge increase in international sales and cemented Nordisk Film’s status as a major player with branches, subsidiaries and theaters around the world.
Despite his success, however, Psilander committed suicide in 1917, aged just 32.
Nielsen the mermaid
Nevertheless, perhaps the most famous film of this time is “The Abyss”. Produced by Kosmorama, it was directed by Danish debut director Gad Urban and starred Asta Nielsen and Poul Reumert, who play both sides of a love triangle.
In the film, Nielsen’s character abandons her fiance to join the circus to be with her lover, where she gets a job as a gaucho dancer.
While the film established both Reumert and Nielsen as the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet of their day, the gaucho dance scene earned Nielsen an even greater reputation. Part of the dance required her to turn her hips. In addition to the suspicion of bondage created by the lasso, this “bad hip twist” caused an international scandal.
“The Abyss” also earned Nielsen the distinction of being the world’s first erotic movie star, and Nielsen is widely believed to be the first performer to portray what has come to be known as the “third sex” – a erotic androgynous. This distinction places Nielsen at the start of a long line of performers such as Marlene Dietrich, Mick Jagger, Boy George and Annie Lennox.
After his work in ‘The Abyss’, Nielsen received international fame. She moved to Germany, where she became known as Die Asta. Married five times, first to Gad Urban, Nielsen has appeared in over 70 films. In the 1930s, German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels offered Nielsen his own film studio, but she refused.
The rise and fall of Nordisk
At the start of World War I, 98% of the company’s revenue depended on international sales. Distribution across Europe became increasingly complicated, and while Denmark remained neutral, a large slice of Nordisk’s pie came from Germany.
Authorities had banned films there made by countries they fought against – like Britain and France, and later the United States – and so there was an opening, which Olsen didn’t. delayed in exploiting. In 1917, Olsen had almost 40 cinemas in Germany, plus a production house.
However, when Germany decided to nationalize its cinema, Olsen was forced to cede all German interests to German studio UFA. Its North American branch soon closed and the Russian market was lost. Nordisk Film suffered as many abandoned the studio, including in 1922 Olsen himself.
A new direction has arrived and has chosen to focus on higher quality images, with a smaller outlet. Throughout the 1920s, Nordisk Film produced high-budget adaptations of the novels by Charles Dickens and others, sparking many new talent.
Among them was the great director Carl Theodor Dreyer who later left the company, finding recognition in France with his masterpiece of the silent era, “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. Although this period was artistically fruitful for Nordisk Film, they struggled to find their audience, and in 1928 Nordisk Film filed for bankruptcy.
Fortunately, Nordisk was kept afloat by Carl Bauder, a wealthy stock broker who took a controlling stake in the company. Sensationally, he also won a lucrative patent for a “noise-free” sound projection that saw all of the major US studios pay him to use the new technology as “talkies” took over.
Nordisk went on to produce the first Danish speaking film: a classic detective drama called “Vicar of Vejlby”, released in 1931.
The advent of talking cinema
The golden age of Danish cinema was quickly forgotten, the arrival of spoken dialogue depriving Danish cinema of its international appeal, the cinema becoming more and more provincial.
In the wake of sound technology, tastes were such that all-sung and all-danced folk comedies were gaining popularity.
At the same time, on the fringes of this artifice and farce, the documentary began to find a new form – and to flourish quietly.
With the invention of sound, moviegoers began to demand films in their own language: the more the language is spoken, the greater the demand.
He limited the likes of Asta Nielsen and Poul Reumert to appearing only in Danish films.