A Painterly Use of Light

Expressens mysterium (Alone with the Devil)
R: Hjalmar Davidsen. B: Carl Gandrup, Laurids Skands. K: Louis Larsen. D: Valdemar Psilander, Christel Holch, Svend Aggerholm, Carl Lauritzen. P: Nordisk Films Kompagni. Dk 1914
Ital. intertitles

“A four-part offering rather artistically produced and humanly acted, so that there are many fine scenes and pleasing pictures. The story, with much that is far-fetched in it, is not without dignity, inasmuch as it gives a good portrayal of friendship which is at once both convincing and worthy. But it has a gruesome background in the work of the hypnotist devil and his influence on the wife. The effect, as a whole, is not quite pleasant enough to be truly entertaining. The ‘devil’ is the business rival of the hero and has the latter’s wife under hypnotic control, forcing her to reveal her husband’s business secrets. The husband has a friend, a lawyer, who acts as guardian angel to him.”
The Moving Picture World, April 4, 1914

“Nordisk took its place alongside Pathé and Gaumont as a major producer and distributor. Granted, smaller Danish companies sometimes proved more innovative: Kosmorama with the Asta Nielsen sensation Afgrunden (1910), Fotorama with the 700-meter White Slave Trade (1910), Dansk Biografkompani with Benjamin Christensen’s extraordinary Mysterious X (1913) and Hævnens Nat (1915). But Nordisk had the resources to capitalize on these firms’ efforts and standardize them. Benefiting from a stable of skilful directors, Nordisk was able to create films that exemplify the range of aesthetic resources during this crucial decade.
Film historians have pointed out Nordisk’s accomplishments in cinematic storytelling, especially the modulated performances of Asta Nielsen, Valdemar Psilander, and their peers, along with the painterly use of light, as here in Alone with the Devil (Ekspressens Mysterium, 1914). We can also find early uses of close-ups, crosscutting, and scene dissection in Danish cinema. Here and elsewhere, these editing-based techniques, historians argued, replaced the purportedly heavy tableaux of ‘theatrical’ cinema.
By 1919, throughout the world, silent cinema seemed to have found its mature form, and Danish directors played a crucial part in the enterprise. The evidence is now overwhelming, however, that the editing-driven account of film technique is one-sided. The international ‘theatrical’ style of the 1910s was far more complex than many historians allowed. As an aesthetic system, it was based on the idea of the shot as a rich totality. Setting, lighting, camera position, and figure movement created an expressive image that ripened through time. The most ambitious 1910s tableaux exercised the viewer’s eye in ways we have still not fully appreciated, and Nordisk played an important role in this staging-based approach to filmic storytelling.”
David Bordwell: Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

Hjalmar Davidsen (1879 – 1958), producer (Afgrunden, 1910) and director

>>> August Blom and the Nordisk on this site