1911: Joris Ivens’ First Movie

De wigwam (aka De Brandende Straal, Flaming Arrow)
R: Joris Ivens. B: Joris Ivens. K: Kees Ivens. D: Dorothea Ivens, Hans Ivens, Jacoba Ivens, Joris Ivens, Peter Ivens, Theodora Ivens, Willem Ivens. P: Joris Ivens. NL 1911
Filming Locations: Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands
Print: Film Institute Netherlands

“Ivens is thirteen years old when he shoots his first short film. Fascinated by Karl May‘s books, Ivens turns a story about good and bad Indians into a film. In revenge of the reprimand given to his daughter, the bad Indian, Black Eagle, kidnaps the youngest daughter of a farmer’s family. The good Indian, Blazing Beam, goes after the kidnapper, shoots him, takes his scalp en brings the child back to her family. Afterwards, the family offers gifts to Blazing Beam and together they smoke the peace pipe. Ivens made use of a professional wooden Pathé handcamera from his father’s shop. To Ivens, the availability of the camera was the reason to switch from ‘playing Indian’ to making a film about Indians.”

Joris Ivens in his book “The Camera and I” about what he found in his father’s photographic shop and what he did to use it consequently:

“There was a white elephant in my father’s shop – a professional Pathé cinema camera, wooden and hand-cranked, that my father despaired of selling to the citizens of Nymegen. It was not a difficult transition from playing our Indian games outside the town to thinking up an Indian film for our own fun. The old Pathé camera was the spur. I organized my two brothers, two sisters, parents and naturally myself, as a double cast of Indians and whites. When playing Indian roles our make-up was good Dutch chocolate powder. My headdress, as the Indian hero, Flaming Stream, was made of stolen turkey feathers. The landscape exteriors turned out splendidly with sand hills and heather fields doing duty as the Mojave Desert and the Rocky Montains. An old white horse played a romantic role in the sand hills. But we forgot to take his close-up. This we had to do weeks later in the garden to the rear of the house. I solved this, my first film production problem, by bringing the big white horse to the garden, leading him straight through the narrow marble-floored corridor of our good burgher home, his old flanks scraping the walls, the pictures and the gaslight fixtures – resulting in broken tubes and escaping gas with an imminent explosion barely voided. My mother had less pleasure than the rest of us at the screenings of our Flaming Arrow.”
Joris Ivens: The Camera and I. Berlin (GDR) 1969, p. 14

Sidney Olcott’s Jesus Film

From the Manger to the Cross; or, Jesus of Nazareth
R: Sidney Olcott. B: Gene Gauntier (scenario). K: George K. Hollister. D: R. Henderson Bland, Percy Dyer, Gene Gauntier, Alice Hollister, Samuel Morgan. P: Kalem Company. USA 1912

The first feature length film about Jesus

“(…) film-makers had begun to progress in their thinking from film being a novel form of side-show entertainment, to it being an extension of the theatre, and onto understanding it’s place as one of the visual arts. Hence, whilst the film is still largely shot in middle distance, there are a few exceptions, and we also begin to see some more visually pleasing camera shots, with more interesting compositions. (…)
Even a brief glimpse at the episodes shown in the film show that, as one might expect, this film emphasises Jesus’s actions rather than his words. There are ten or more healings in the film, and the supernatural is in evidence also in a number of dreams, although in stark contrast to earlier films the angelic presence is shown off screen, only represented by a stream of light, or the character’s gaze off screen. This active Jesus closely aligns with that of Mark’s all action Jesus, even though the film is really a harmonisation of stories from all four gospels.
The film was (…) highly controversial. Robert Henderson-Bland, the actor playing Jesus, or Christus as he preferred to call it, claimed that ‘No film that was ever made called forth such a storm of protest’. For some, the offence was based solely on an objection to any cinematic depiction of Christ at all. The medium was increasingly being viewed as depraved, and rotten to the core in some church circles. Perhaps some fo the objections however related to the way the film attempted to wrestle its imagery away from the confines of church tradition. For example, the use of a T-shaped cross, or the composition of the last supper which emphasised how some at the meal ate whilst reclining (Luke 22:14). Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film was it’s omission of the resurrection.”
Matt Page
Bible Films Blog

The Judith-Barabbas Story:

The Shadow of Nazareth – Part 1
R: Arthur Maude. D: Constance Crawley, Arthur Maude, Joe Harris. P: Venus Features. USA 1913
Print: Prelinger Archives, San Francisco

“Shadow of Nazareth is unusual amongst Jesus films because it sits, somewhat awkwardly between films that are primarily about Jesus, and those where Jesus is a peripheral player, making the odd cameo appearance in an occasional scene.
The opening credits give us a clue – only the actors playing Barabbas and the fictional Judith Iscariot (sister of Jesus’ infamous betrayer) are named. Instead of the focus being Jesus it is on these two, whose role and relationship with Judas are pivotal in the events leading to Jesus’s death. Jesus himself is a principal, but in terms of screen time he is far from the lead.
Whilst the full film runs to only a little over 30 minutes, it manages to include a reasonably complicated plot. Judith is very much the principal character, with whom not only Barabbas, but also a pharisee called Gabrias as well as Caiaphas are in love. An altercation between the three men results in both Barabbas and Caiaphas stabbing Gabrias, and then to further blacken the high priest’s character he has Barabbas arrested for the murder. 18 months later and Caiaphas decides that the now imprisoned Barabbas is less of a threat than Jesus and so he persuades Judith to convince Judas to betray him. Jesus is condemned, Judas hangs himself and the liberated Barabbas heads to the nearest tavern.”
Matt Page
Bible Films Blog

More early Jesus films on this website:
>>> Luciuen Nonguet: Lucien Nonguet
>>> Alice Guy: A Feminist View on Jesus Christ?
>>> Louis Feuillade: A Biblical Thriller

Hungary 1917: Jenö Janovics

653 The last Night-HungaryClick at the picture to view the film on EFG

Utolsó éjszaka, az (The Last Night)
R: Jenö Janovics. B: Mihály Fekete, Jenö Janovics, Ede Sas. K: László Fekete. D: Lili Berky, Adorján Nagy, Vilmos Lengyel, Mihály Fekete. P: Transsylvania Filmgyár. Hungary 1917
Print: Hungarian National Film Archive / Magyar Nemzeti Digitális Archívum és Filmintézet
German intertitles

This film is a special presentation and an exception on my site (which is mainly dealing with movies produced before WW 1.) It is an outstanding example of the early Hungarian (Transylvanian) film production and one of very few surviving Hungarian films of this era. The story is extraordinary as well as its special Hungarian-Russian background, the acting, the tinting techniques, and, last but not least, the brilliant copy thanks to the restoration at the Haghefilm Laboratory. (KK)

“Gitta, a young woman who used to be a famous primadonna before her marriage, abandons her husband and her son for the sake of the theatre and goes to Russia with an actor, Vándori. She performs in cabaret as a dancer and is very popular with Russian officers. A Russian colonel falls in love with her, and the debauched Vándori organizes a secret date for the colonel with Gitta. The colonel wants the woman to become his mistress, but she rejects him. Vándori is a gambler, first he gambles away Gitta’s jewellery, then Gitta as well. Years later, at the outbreak of WWI, Gitta leaves Russia with the help of the colonel. She returns home to find her family. She learns about her husband’s death and her son’s disappearance. She becomes a successful actress. A young man falls in love with her, but she recognizes him as her son.
The surviving print of the film is incomplete. The Hungarian National Film Archive won the 2001 Haghefilm Award for the restoration of ‘The Last Night’. The restored colour print was produced at the Haghefilm Laboratory in Amsterdam using the Desmet method. The surviving print contains German intertitles.”
europeana 1914-1918

“Central to the question of Hungarian language culture in Kolosvár was the Hungarian National Theater (Magyar nemzeti szinház). The first permanent theater in Kolosvár was built in 1821 and the Hungarian National Theater was established in 1906, with Jenö Janovics as its director. The theater was one of the foci of Hungarian cultural life in Kolosvár, which was by no means a backwater despite its distance from Budapest; on the contrary, the town supported two theaters and a traveling company that played in the countryside. (…) The establishment of filmmaking in Kolosvár, therefore, arose on fertile soil and, in addition, was helped by the ready acceptance of film as a new art form by intellectuals, artists (particularly those associated with the theater), journalists, and writers—paralleling the milieu of the coffee house culture of Budapest that was so central to the development of film in the capital.
The outbreak of war does not appear to have disrupted film output in Kolosvár. Although exports of Hungarian films and imports of foreign films were affected by the war, Hungarian output levels were maintained as other countries within the Austro-Hungarian empire, which previously had little taste for Hungarian films, imported them in considerable numbers as the opportunities for access to French, Italian, Danish, and American films disappeared or diminished. In 1915, ten films were made in Kolosvár. A peak was reached in 1916 with 19 films and the figures for the following years are only slightly down: 17 for both 1917 and 1918 (after the war there was a drastic downturn in production).
Of the films from 1917, ‘The Last Night’ (Az utolsó éjszaka) deserves special attention. A print was discovered in the Berlin Film Archive under the German title ‘Roman einer Schauspielerin’; it was restored and shown at the Pordenone Film festival in 2002. This achievement makes it the earliest of the only two films directed by Janovics in existence. The plot has many staple elements, ranging from the Oedipal conflict to the theme of the lover betrayed. (…) One aspect of interest in the restored print is the use of staging in depth. In one scene Gitta, having initially resisted the amorous advances of the actor, watches through a window as he walks away from her house. Although the actor is out of focus, we can clearly see two planes — Gitta, her face pressed against the window, and outside the actor slowly walking away, doffing his hat as he goes on his way. Staging in depth, even of this relatively primitive nature, was not new in cinema; it had been around for a few years. What this suggests is that, despite the relative isolation of Kolosvár, the Transylvanian filmmakers were not far behind the rest of the world. The film was first shown at the Szinkor cinema in Kolosvár in November 1917.”
John Cunningham (Sheffield Hallam U): Jenö Janovics and Transylvanian Silent Cinema. 2008

Austria: World War 1 as Event


Wien im Krieg
R: Fritz Freisler, Heinz Hanus. B: Fritz Freisler, Heinz Hanus, Edmund Pordes. D: Georg Kundert, Paul Olmühl, Eva Karina. P: Sascha-Messter-Filmfabrik. Austria 1916
Print: Filmarchiv Austria

Please, view this film here

Wien im Krieg ist eine komödienhaft inszenierte Collage von Stimmungsbildern rund um die Auswirkungen des Weltkrieges in der Hauptstadt. Dieser auch formal interessante Titel ist im Filmarchiv Austria leider nur in fragmentarischer Form in Dutzenden kleinen Röllchen – aufgestöbert am Wiener Flohmarkt – erhalten. Nach der inhaltlichen Rekonstruktionsarbeit wurde das Material gesichert und eine neue Farbkopie nach der Methode Desmet hergestellt. Krieg spielt nur eine untergeordnete Rolle, gibt eigentlich nur den Rahmen für die Handlung. Zwei Handlungsstränge: einerseits Wamperl beim Militär, andererseits Ferdl und seine Geliebten. Beide Stränge werden am Ende des Filmes zusammengeführt und es kommt zur Eskalation. Der Film endet jedoch mit einem Happy End.”
European Film Gateway

“Das Scheitern an der Front und die Verelendung in der Heimat standen in deutlichem Gegensatz zur offiziellen Propaganda des k. u. k. Kriegspressequartiers, das noch immer Kriegserfolge verkündete und Durchhalteparolen ausgab. Bereits mit Kriegsbeginn als Abteilung des Armeeoberkommandos gegründet, sollte es alle Presse- und Propagandaaktivitäten Österreich-Ungarns unter Einbeziehung sämtlicher damals verfügbarer Massenmedien koordinieren. Es war eine gigantische PR-Maschinerie, die den Krieg als das größte Ereignis einer Generation inszenierte. Künstler versorgten die illustrierten Blätter mit Schlachtengemälden oder komponierten patriotische Märsche, ’embedded journalists’ wie Roda Roda oder Alice Schalek berichteten über die Heldentaten der Soldaten. Mit Kriegsausstellungen, wie jener im Wiener Prater 1916, wurde der Krieg als ‘Event’ inszeniert, bei dem das Publikum sogar durch eigens ausgehobene Schützengräben flanieren konnte. Selbst die Kinos zeigten zur Unterhaltung Filme wie Der österreichisch-ungarische Krieg in 3000 Metern Höhe oder Wien im Krieg, ein, wie es auf dem Plakat heißt, ‘ernstes und heiteres Zeitbild in 4 Akten’. Doch sogar die Propaganda musste schließlich vor der Realität kapitulieren.”
Redaktion Österreichisches Pressebüro

Germany, 1913/1914

Hurra! Einquartierung!
R: Franz Hofer. B: Franz Hofer. D: Manny Ziener, Franz Schwaiger, Rudolf Del Zopp, Karl Harbacher. P: Luna-Film. D 1913
Print: Bundesarchiv / Filmarchiv Berlin
Dutch titles

588-LeutnantsstreicheClick the picture to view the film on filmportal.de

Leutnantsstreiche (1. Akt)
R: Unknown. B: Freiherr von Schlicht. P: Deutsche Bioscop GmbH. D 1914
Print: Deutsche Kinemathek
Der 2. Akt des Films ist verschollen.

Freiherr von Schlicht ist ein Pseudonym des Schriftstellers Wolf Ernst Hugo Emil von Baudissin (1867–1926)

“Mit dem vom Dienstag, den 1., bis Freitag, den 4.Dezember, angesetzten Spielplan werden wir diesmal durch eine Premiere überrascht werden, der man in den weitesten Kreisen Weimars mit Erwartungen und Interesse entgegensieht. Es handelt sich in diesem Falle um ein Werk unseres sehr geschätzten Weimarer Schriftstellers und Humoristen Frhrn. v. Schlicht. Leutnantsstreiche betitelt sich die lustige zweiaktige Komödie, die uns da im Film vorgeführt wird und dank ihres humorvollen Inhalts dazu beiträgt, den Besuchern eine höchst anregende Unterhaltung zu bieten, um ihnen für einige Zeit den Ernst der Gegenwart vergessen zu machen.
Der Autor führt uns in seiner dramatischen Novelle in die Regionen eines kleinen Hofstaates hinein, aus dessen würdevollem Rahmen der Held des Ganzen, ein junger, flotter Offizier, in seiner herzensfrischen Naivität, gleich einem lustigen Kobold, hervortritt. Beim Herzog mag es der mimende Marsjünger um etwas versehen haben, denn nach dessen Willen soll ihm die Gunst, die Hofluft zu atmen, versagt bleiben, allein in ihrem Banne lebt und webt ja gerade jener Magnet, durch den der junge Offizier sich angezogen fühlt. Voll schlauer List weiß es der Hofverbannte geschickt anzustellen, den Herzog wiederholt zu täuschen, und so in die Nähe des geliebten Gegenstandes zu kommen, bis eines Tages die Entdeckung naht und reuevolle Beichte vor dem Herzog stattzufinden hat, der in seiner alles vergebenden Huld zwei liebende Herzen glücklich macht.
Der reizende Film ist bereits in Berlin, Hamburg und Leipzig mit den größten Erfolgen aufgeführt worden und wird sicherlich auch hier Beifall finden.”
Weimarer Landeszeitung, 1. Dezember 1914
Karlheinz Everts

>>> more Hofer films on this website: Franz Hofer-1,  Franz Hofer-2

Raoul Walsh’s “Regeneration”

R: R.(= Raoul) A. Walsh. B: Owen Frawley Kildare (book), Carl Harbaugh & Raoul Walsh (screenplay). K: Georges Benoît. D: Rockliffe Fellowes, Anna Q. Nilsson, Carl Harbaugh, James A. Marcus, William Sheer. P: Fox Film Corporation. USA 1915
Print: Museum of Modern Arts / Lobster

“Urban criminals have been part of cinema at least since The Bold Bank Robbery and Capture of the ‘Yegg’ Bank Robbers – both follow-ups to Edwin S. Porter’s smash hit The Great Train Robbery. Many of the tropes now familiar to the genre were established when D.W. Griffith made The Musketeers of Pig Alley. Raoul Walsh, who learned filmmaking from working for Griffith, returned to the theme for his first feature, Regeneration, and in doing so quite probably made the first feature-length gangster movie. The similarities between Musketeers and Regeneration are pronounced – both involve the redemption of tough guys who’ve grown up in a harsh environment, and both emphasize the human side of the underworld, drawing on the audience’s desire to sympathize with the criminal.

This movie may confuse modern fans, however, because rather than spending the bulk of its length depicting its protagonist’s criminal career, it chooses to focus on his efforts to rehabilitate himself (his ‘regeneration’). This can partly be explained by the source material, a book called ‘My Mamie Rose’, by Owen Frawley Kildare. This book is a fairly typical ‘conversion narrative’ from the point of view of a former hoodlum gone straight, who wanted to tell of ‘the miracle that transformed me’. Unlike most such narratives, it isn’t Jesus Christ or a particular church that Kildare credits with his salvation, but the love of a woman named Marie Deering. The real Marie Deering died of pneumonia in 1903, the same year Kildare wrote his autobiography. It was popular, especially among reform-minded progressives, who held Kildare up as an example of the basic decency inside of every criminal, and gave rise to a stage version by 1908. In 1915, William Fox, a successful Nickelodeon entrepreneur who was breaking into movie production (…), bought the movie rights and handed the direction to Raoul Walsh.”
Century Film Project

“Walsh had been directing since 1913 but Regeneration really told audiences and critics that he had arrived as an important filmmaker. Walsh worked for Fox and much of his early work has decayed (…). Regeneration also fits into the then-popular social film genre. In 1915, the realization that the First World War would change the world forever had not quite sunk in for American audiences and they enjoyed films that assured them that social problems could be solved with a little know-how and a lot of hard work. (…)

While some of the actors overdo it (particularly the cartoonish Sheer, complete with eyepatch), Anna Q. Nilsson brings her usual restraint and grace to the role. It really is a shame that she is only known as one of the Sunset Boulevard waxworks because she was one of the finest leading ladies of the silent era. Before Ingrid Bergman, before Greta Garbo, Nilsson was showing audiences what a Swedish leading lady could do. She always brings dignity and good humor to her roles, infusing her characters with humanity even if the script does not give her much to work with. (…)

Raoul Walsh, meanwhile, is committed to grit and he doesn’t compromise. Regeneration feels authentic and there are no obvious sets to distract from this authenticity. Casual violence, alcoholism and drug abuse are all presented as a reality of the slums. Walsh went on location and made the most of the local color, though I must say his fixation with inserting shots of people with bad teeth and disfiguring ailments starts to feel voyeuristic after a while. (…) However, Walsh does show considerable flair at this point in his career. Moody lighting was all the rage in the 1910s and he employs it liberally, along with bold imagery and the generous use of close-ups. The quality of motion picture direction was all over the place during this period, with some directors looking extremely modern and others still stuck in the ‘people pay to see the whole actor so show them head to toe’ mindset. Walsh is on the cutting edge for 1915 and the result is an extremely watchable picture for modern audiences.”
Fritzi Kramer
Movies Silently

>>> The Great Train Robbery: Edwin S. Porter: Blockbuster for Edison
>>> The Musketeers of Pig Alley: Griffith 02: Close-up
>>> The Bold Bank Robbery and more: Al J. Jennings, the Robber

A ‘Cinderella Narrative’

The Courage of the Commonplace
R: Rollin S. Sturgeon. B: William E. Wing. D: Charles Bennett, Mary Charleson, Myrtle Gonzalez. P: Vitagraph Company of America, USA 1913

The Courage of the Commonplace (…) contains elements of the ‘Cinderella narrative.’ The short and relatively uneventful film centres on a young Irish-American girl named Mary (Mary Charleson), the eldest daughter of a large family that includes three younger sisters and two brothers. Mary works on the family farm but dreams of a better life while completing her monotonous daily chores. She wants to go to college, get married and have children. Yet the film ends with Mary giving up on her dreams and realising that her place is on the farm. It is likely that the ending of The Courage of the Commonplace was a result of the period in which it was made. While Irish representation began to improve during this period, it would be a few more years before upwardly mobile Irish women regularly appeared in American films.* According to the information included in the listing on the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s online catalogue, the film was shown at a sermon in San Francisco during a time when the church demonised the film industry. A Fresno minister claimed that god was present in Mary’s sacrifice. This rather unrewarding conclusion was a rarity, however, with the cheerier and more Cinderella-like ending far more common.”
Thomas James Scott: The Irish in American Cinema 1910–1930: Recurring Narratives and Characters. University of Ulster (2013 Conference Issue), p. 126/27

* Mary Charleson was born on May 18, 1890 in Dungannon, Ireland.

Stencil coloring – frame by frame

La danse du diable
R: Gaston Velle. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1904

Pathécolor / Pathéchrome / stencil coloring
“Stencil coloring required the manual cutting, frame by frame, of the area which was to be tinted onto another identical print, one for each color. Usually the number of colors applied ranged from 3 to 6. The process was highly improved by the introduction of a cutting machine. Thus the cutter could follow the outlines of the image areas on a magnified image from a guide print projected onto a ground glass. A pantograph reduced the enlargement back to frame size. The machine performed the cutting on the stencil print with a needle. When cut-out manually, the gelatin had to be removed from the stenciled print to form a transparent strip. In the machine cutting process the stencil was cut into a blank film directly. For every color the stencil print was fed in register with the positive print into a printing machine where the acid dye was applied by a continuous velvet band.
Several hundred women performed the exacting task at the Pathé workshop in Vincennes. Similar techniques were applied by Gaumont, Oskar Meßter and the Cinemacoloris process invented by Segundo de Chomón.”
Barbara Flückiger
Timeline of Historical Film Colors

Les fleurs animées
R: Gaston Velle. K: Segundo de Chomón. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1906

>>> George A. Smith’s Colour Experiments
>>> The Colours of Pathé
>>> Alice Guy: Hand Colored Films, 1900
>>> The Tableau System of Presentation

The German-Danish War 1864

En Helt fra 64
R: Gunnar Helsengreen. K: Th.S. Hermansen. D: Aage Schmidt, Philip Bech, Alfred Cohn, Sophie Eskildsen. P: Fotorama. Dk 1910 (Frgm.)

“Everything is peace and quiet at the family Kemp’s house in Sønderborg, but danger is lurking outside their doors. The war has just begun, and the young Valdemar Kemp goes away to fight for his mother country. The Danish soldiers put up a brave fight on the battlefield, but the German army is too strong. One after the other, Valdemar’s friends are slaughtered, and his hopes of reuniting with his girlfriend and family slowly fade.”
Danish Silent Film

“The film is one of several national war drama produced by Fotorama. This film followed the young sønderborgenser Valdemar Kemp in the 1864 war with the Germans storm Dybbøl. You saw fighting in the redoubts – here proceeds with Vejlby bold – and could be through the family’s windows experience the hostile bombardment of Sønderborg. (…) The press was not particularly thrilled with the creative approach to the war’s progress as the movie had and some went so far as to speak of ‘… grave sins against his country‘s history.'”

Den lille hornblæser
R: Eduard Schnedler-Sørensen. B: Eduard Schnedler-Sørensen, H.P. Holst (poem). K: Alfred Lind. D: Christel Holch, Frede Skaarup, Gunnar Helsengreen. P: Fotorama / A/S Th.S. Hermansen. Dk 1909 (Frgm.)

“The film in question here is undoubtedly the most successful Danish historical film of the early silent film era. (…) Unfortunately, only two-fifths of the originally eighteen part film still exists (150 meter which, depending on the projection speed, is approx. 5­7 minutes). Besides the introductory seven scenes in Copenhagen, there exists another scene in which the mother receives the news of the death of her husband, as well as the scenes in which Frans the spy is put into prison and subsequently shot dead by Christian during his attempted break-out. Unfortunately, all the war scenes which make up the (narrative and historical) main focus of the film are missing. (…) The film’s title refers to a work by H.P. Holst (1811-18­93) from 1849, entitled ‘Den lille Hornblæser’. Translated as ‘The Little Trumpeter’, the work is an over two-hundred pages epic poem full of nationalistic pathos for the war of 1848, in which Holst took part as a middle-ranking civil servant under the North Jutland general command. (…)
The brave foot soldier had already been given a national monument in 1858 in Fredricia to commemorate the Fredericia battle of 1849 ­ at that time an unprecedented occurrence: the sculptor, Herman Bissen (1789-­1868) chose to commemorate the battle not by representing a commander or a king, but instead a private. (…)
That The Little Trumpeter functions so explicitly as an illustration of a memorial and its accompanying cultural narration is typical for a film of the last years of the first decade of this century. These years are known in film history as a transitional period between two basically very different forms of cinema and film.”
Stephan Michael Schröder: History Without Diegesis
Film as History/History as Film

Historical background:
The German-Danish War

Valdemar Psilander

Ved Fængslets Port (Temptations of a Great City)
R: August Blom. B: Ljut Steensgaard, Erling Stensgaard. K: Axel Graatkjær. D: Valdemar Psilander, Clara Pontoppidan, Augusta Blad, Holger Hofmann, Richard Christensen. P: Nordisk Film Kompagni. Dk 1911
Print: Danish Film Institute
Engl. and Span. subtitles

“The morally weak son of a rich widow gets into trouble because of his debts to a money lender, whose daughter becomes his fiancée. The drama reaches its climax in the famous ‘mirror-scene’, where the desperate son sneaks into his mother’s living room at night to steal her money. The film was Psilander’s debut at Nordisk and one of the company’s most successful films ever.”
Danish Film Institute

Valdemar Psilander (1884-1917) was probably the greatest male star of Danish silent cinema. He died in 1917, only 32 years old. Despite his early death, he nevertheless acted in 83 films during his 6 years with the Nordisk Films Kompagni. (…) Already shortly after his first film, Ved Fængslets Port (Temptations of a Great City), he became the company’s highest paid actor. ‘Psilander-films’ became a goldmine for Nordisk Film. In particular, the German, Russian and Hungarian audiences were taken by storm, and even a mediocre script became – at least in the eyes of the public – a film worth seeing simply because of this charismatic actor.
It was lucky for Psilander that his debut at Nordisk Film Ved Fængslets Port was, and still is, one of the best films of the period – innovative in its style, with many fine details and excellent acting performances. The roles are well cast, the acting subdued and moving. Marguerite Engberg goes as far as describing the film as ‘one of the most outstanding August Blom has made’, although at this point he had only directed a handful of films. Psilander is in good company and does particularly well. Right from the start, there is a naturalness and youthful integrity in his acting, which comes across as dazzling on the big screen. The film is one of the first in a long row of ‘erotic melodramas’ – a genre that almost became the trademark of Danish film abroad – and Psilander was born for this type of film with his masculine charm and elegant poise.”
Lisbeth Richter Larsen
Edition Filmmuseum

For aabent Tæppe (Desdemona)
R: August Blom. B: Louis Møller / William Shakespeare. D: Valdemar Psilander, Thyra Reimann, Nicolai Brechling, Henny Lauritzen , Henry Knudsen, Zanny Petersen , Svend Bille. P: Nordisk Films Kompagni. Dk 1912
Engl. titles

“Mise-en-scène gets much more attention than camera-work in Desdemona. Especially interesting is the use of mirrors, which take on an associative nature with cinema in Scandanavian films during this period. In this film, they nicely underscore the point of life and theatre reflecting each other. In another film from 1911, Ved Fængslets Port, the same director, August Blom, used mirrors to show action out of frame, which compensated some for the lack of camera movement and editing in the film.”

>>> Valdemar Psilander on this site:  Exquisite interiors, magnificent exteriors,  Asta Nielsen: A Kind of Trance State, Urban Gad, Holger-Madsen 02