Ibsen on Film

By Ferguson, Robert | Scandinavian Review, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

Ibsen on Film


Ferguson, Robert, Scandinavian Review


The author considers some of the 112 film versions of Henrik Ibsen's plays and explains why Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Strindberg have fared better on the screen.

DURING THE SHOOTING OF THE MISFITS, THE SCRIPTWRITER Arthur Miller stood watching a scene in which Marilyn Monroe emerged from a truck and crossed a track to greet a dog. Clark Gable was to observe her with a mounting look of love. "But," Miller writes in his memoirs, "I noticed only a very slight change in his expression from where I stood beside the camera." The director John Huston seemed content and called a cut. Miller was doubtful, however, and asked Gable if he thought he had shown sufficient expression in the final shot. Gable was surprised. "You have to watch the eyes. Movie acting is all up here," drawing a rectangle around his eyes with his finger. "You can't overdo because it's being magnified hundreds of times on the screen." When he saw the rushes of the scene, Miller realized that Gable had been right; he had simply intensified an affectionate look that was undetectable to the naked eye only a few feet away from the camera. That a skilled dramatist like Arthur Miller had failed to consider this until after the writing of his script shows the sort of conceptual problems involved in transferring Ibsen from the stage to the screen. It at once begs the question of whether the stage play is the real father of the screenplay.

That early filmmakers should have assumed so is readily understandable. Films and stage plays were both experienced in public, in a crowd, and in the dark, as an aid to illusion in the theater, as a technical necessity in the case of the cinema. A play script consists largely of what the actors are to say to each other, a screenplay too consists largely of dialogue. But the similarities are perhaps deceptive and it is arguably the novel, with its closer attention to detail, that is the closer relative to film. The number of films (including television dramatizations) based on the writings of some of the world's greatest novelists seem to bear this out. Beyond the phenomenon of William Shakespeare, whose works have been filmed over 600 times, the novels and stories of Charles Dickens (209 times), Leo Tolstoy (115 times) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (114 times) have been adapted for the screen more often than the plays of Henrik Ibsen. Among the handful of playwrights who may be mentioned in the same breath as Ibsen, Anton Chekhov has had his plays and short stories filmed 175 times and August Strindberg has had his works filmed 117 times. Ibsen's plays (and one poem) have been filmed 112 times.

Attempts to transfer Ibsen's plays to the screen began in 1911, five years after his death, when films were made of The Pillars of Society, A Doll's House, The Lady from the Sea, and Terje Vigen. Four film versions in one year is a direct reflection of Ibsen's status at the time of his death as probably the most famous writer in the world. The spread of choice in the following ten years is remarkable. Besides the plays already mentioned, Peer Gynt, Ghosts and Brand were all turned into films, as well as a second version of Terje Vigen, Swedish this time. Four new adaptations of A Doll's House appeared, an Italian Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, another Peer, two more Pillars of Society, and-perhaps in its own way as surprising a choice to modern sensibilities as Terje Vigen-a Russian version of Ibsen's last play with its tide for some reason inverted to turn it into a question-When Will We Dead Awaken? Notable absentees from the list are An Enemy of the People, which later gained in popularity among filmmakers, and The Wild Duck. The early prominence of Russia and America, the two great powerhouses of the first years of the film industry, is in evidence, and the presence of Victor Sjöström's Terje Vtgen is a harbinger of the consistently high reputation as a maker of films that Sweden has maintained throughout the age of film. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ibsen on Film
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.