"Asta Nielsen was always very much her own woman. And always ahead of her time. Her acting style was naturalistic, while others were still gesticulating furiously on screen. She had no explicit wish to be a pioneer. She just did what she wanted."
So says Madeleine Schlawitz, collection manager at the Danish Film Institute, about Asta Nielsen and the Danish silent film star’s impact today.
"Though Nielsen had her heyday a century ago, she deserves to be enshrined as one of the world’s greatest silent screen stars," Schlawitz adds.
The Danish star is now being celebrated with a theme section on the Danish Film Institute’s silent film website, stumfilm.dk. Nielsen’s reputation as a modern female role model is getting a good dusting off and several of her films are available for streaming.
Asta Nielsen in 2020
"A lot of people may know more or less about who Asta Nielsen is, but few know how tough and modern she was, and how relevant she still is. That’s the story we want to tell,” Schlawitz says about the theme section, which is accompanied by an on-site exhibition at the Brandts art museum in Odense, focusing on Nielsen's film career in roaring Berlin.
"She deserves to be rediscovered in all her many facets. Even more so now in light of the heightened focus on 1920’s Berlin following the TV series 'Babylon Berlin', which has a character, Betty Winter, that’s a lot like Asta Nielsen,” Schlawitz says.
Nielsen stands out as a woman who did what she wanted, not just in terms of her acting style but also in how she approached her roles.
"Asta never compromised her career. She founded her own production company, Art Film, to make 'Hamlet'. Was Asta going to play Ophelia? No, she played Hamlet, of course. She was a true gender bender. Women like Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon are hailed for producing and writing lead roles for themselves, but Asta Nielsen was doing that 100 years ago,” Schlawitz says.
"A lot of women in history are falling by the wayside in 2020. That must not happen to Asta Nielsen. There was never anyone like here, and there likely never will be."