Early Danish Film

EFG THEME. From the very beginning of film history Denmark made a mark on the international scene, where Nordisk Films Kompagni until 1920 held a central position among the world's leading production companies.

It took a little more of a year from the first public exhibition of moving images in Paris December 1895 before the Danish photographer and film pioneer Peter Elfelt had made his own film camera to film the first Danish film. Driving With Greenland Dogs / Kørsel med grønlandske Hunde (Peter Elfelt 1897), which was shot in the beginning of 1897.

/ Watch excerpt from Driving with Greenland Dogs at Europeanfilmgateway.eu

From this seed Danish films evolved into an industry as Ole Olsen in 1906 founded the world’s oldest still existing production company, Nordisk Films Kompagni.

After the early shorts Nordisk Film began producing longer features, which gave the company its international position in a time when American film was beginning to regroup in Hollywood. The Danish recipe for success was melodramas based on subjects like prostitution, kidnapping, spionage and murder.

An early success for the approach is The White Slave Trade / Den hvide slavehandel, August Blom 1910). August Blom’s remake of a film by a smaller Danish company became the international success that helped make Nordisk Film one of the world’s leading production companies.

/ Watch excerpt from The White Slave Trade at Europeanfilmgateway.eu

The next decade was the Golden Age of Danish film with Asta Nielsen as the international star. With her debut The Abyss / Afgrunden, Urban Gad 1910), Asta Nielsen created a stir. Firstly, her subdued and intensified acting style made film acting something distinct from acting in theaters. Secondly, her suggestive dance showed the erotic possibilities of film. With director Urban Gad, she relocated to Germany, where Die Asta became the leading star of silent cinema.

The most prolific director of Danish cinema was Benjamin Christensen. Sealed Under Orders / Det hemmelighedsfulde X, Benjamin Christensen 1914) shows the director using cinematic style in a way that releases film from the influence of drama and literature.

One of cinema's singular masters Carl Theodor Dreyer started work as editor, writer and director at Nordisk Film. Nordisk Film housed several of Dreyer’s early film. Among these Leaves From Satan’s Book / Blade af Satans bog, Carl Th. Dreyer 1921). The large-scale examination of evil in four separate storylines shows the scope of Dreyer’s visions. But soon after the director left Denmark to follow his visions of an ascetic cinema where the spiritual dimension took center and the appeal to audience thrills. After working in Sweden, Norway, Germany and France he returned to Danmark to create his mature sound features Day of Wrath / Vredens dag 1943), The Word / Ordet 1955) and Gertrud (1964).

The EFG-website contains excerpts from most of his major films as well as full length documentaries about and by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The First Golden Age of Danish film ran for a decade. The decline had several causes. Firstly, Nordisk Film fell out of favor with the public’s taste with a series of literary adaptions. Secondly, key personnel went to work for competitor Palladium. Finally, taxes on cinema revenues lead to a declining return from the home market.

From 1914 to 1926 A.W Sandberg made 58 features at Nordisk Film. As the main director of the company in the years of decline he is mostly remembered for his well-crafted adaptations of Charles Dickens; the prime example being Great Expectations / Store Forventninger, A.W. Sandberg 1922).

In the twenties, the position held by Danish film was taken over by Swedish and German cinema while the American film industry gradually established a firm hold of the international market which it has never given up.