Filmmaking History in Denmark

Article excerpt

Producer-cinematographer George Mitchell became 'fascinated by Denmark's rich film heritage after reading Bebe Bergsten's book, "The Great Dane" (Locare Research Group, Los Angeles, 1973), and studying early Danish films that were restored by Kemp Niver, ASC, from the Library of Congress paper print collection. Recently Mitchell, an ASC associate member, visited the Nordisk Studio in Copenhagen through the courtesy of Bo Christiansen, producer of the 1988 Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language Film, Babette's Feast, and managing director of Nordisk Production A/S.

-Ed.

Denmark was the first of the Scandinavian countries to adopt and develop the motion picture as early as 1898, when a Lumiere Cinematograph was used by the court photographer, P. Elfelt, to record the Danish Royal Family The early years paralleled other countries in the evolution of motion pictures, the cameras being used to record mainly news events or items of interest.

This all changed when Ole Olesen, onetime poor Danish farm boy, carnival performer, amusement park director and movie house owner formed Nordisk Films Kompagne in some bungalows in the Valby section of Copenhagen. The date was November 6, 1906. Despite the first World War, which cut off its international market, and the German occupation of Denmark in the second, Nordisk has survived. It remains today an active, thriving organization owning a well-equipped studio, theaters and a distribution network.

Nordisk is the oldest motion picture studio in the world in terms of continuous operation. It has achieved a long and honorable history.

Olesen's little studio prospered and quickly became internationally known for delivering popular entertainment. Its trademark (still used today) of a polar bear atop the world become a symbol of top quality films of the early days.

In 1907 Nordisk began exporting films abroad. Within three years, 1907-1910, the studio turned out 560 pictures, mainly 10 to 15 minutes in length. Film exchanges were opened in London, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Zurich, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg (Leningrad). In the United States an office was opened at 7 East 14th Street in New York City, next door to the Biograph Studio - no accident because the company was licensed under Biograph as a member of the Motion Picture Patents Group or "Trust" as it was called. The American name for Nordisk was the Great Northern Film Company.

According to Bebe Bergsten in her history of Nordisk, Ole Olesen and two associates, an engineer named Sorensen and an ex-Army sergeant Viggo Larsen, who doubled as both an actor and director, turned out over a hundred films during their first year of production. These were five minute comedies, sporting shorts and nature films - an impressive feat for amateurs. Larsen directed and starred in some of the earliest Sherlock Holmes films.

One of Olesen's earliest actors was Jean Hersholt, whom he introduced to films. He soon came to the United States where he became a versatile and popular character actor, best remembered today for his work in organizing the Motion Picture Relief Fund. The Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarium Award is named in his honor.

Olesen is credited with introducing the multiple reel feature abroad. Many of these early pictures are preserved at the Danish Film Museum in Copenhagen. Others are at the Library of Congress film archives in Washington. They show a characteristic national style, a dramatic conflict of human emotions with social conventions. Much of this was due to the creative skills of the studio's directors.

August Blom was one of the early Nordisk directors of ability. Others were A. W. Sandberg, Urban Gad, Lau Lauritzen, Benjamin Christiansen and Sven Gade. (The last two came to Hollywood in the rnid-1920's directing for MGM and Universal respectively.) The most famous of the Nordisk directors was undoubtedly Carl Theodor Dreyer, considered by many film historians and critics as one of the world's all-time great directors. …