Popular Cinema For A Small Nation

Already in 1923 the Danish engineers Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen had presented their sound system. Nordisk went into liquidation in 1928 but was re-established in 1929 with the new sound system. The first feature film with Danish dialogue was Prasten i Vejlby (The Vicar of Vejlby, 1931), based on a literary classic and directed by George Schneevoigt. In the 1930s, Denmark, too, was marked by depression and unemployment, but perhaps for that reason the dominating film genre was the jovial ''folk comedy''—a light comedy with songs, and marked by an unfailing optimism—whose leading stars were Marguerite Viby (1909-2001) and Ib Schonberg. Outside the mainstream, Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) created Danmark (Denmark, 1935), the seminal and controversial work of the new Danish documentary film, a description of Denmark in a lyrical style that anticipated that of the British documentary Night Mail (1936).

The Nazi German occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945 meant restrictions for Danish film as well as for the society in general. There was soon a ban on showing American and British films in Danish movie theaters, and censorship did not allow the realities of the Occupation to be shown in Danish films. Instead, there was a demonstrative change to other darker genres, such as Danish noir films influenced by French poetic realism. In addition to sophisticated entertainment, there existed heritage films that presented nostalgic visions of a lost Denmark. After a long hiatus, Dreyer returned with the witch hunt drama, Vredens Dag (Day of Wrath, 1943), set in Denmark in the 1600s. With its story of torture and persecution, it was generally understood as an implicit commentary on the German Occupation. In addition, a short documentary by Hagen Hasselbalch (1915-1997), Kornet er i Fare (The Harvest Is in Danger, 1945), became famous because it appeared to be an informational film about agricultural pest control but clearly was a witty allegory about the Nazi invaders.

A few months after the end of the Occupation, the first films about the Danish Resistance appeared, and soon thereafter, a realistic breakthrough in Danish cinema came about with films about everyday life and social problems that somewhat resembled Italian neorealistic films. Most important were Bjarne Henning-Jensen's Ditte Menneskebarn (Ditte, Child of Man, 1946) and Johan Jacobsen's Soldaten og Jenny (Jenny and the Soldier, 1947). In the 1950s, a number of didactic films warning the nation about alcoholism and juvenile crime appeared, but generally the 1950s meant a return to the popular, cosy style of prewar Denmark. Die rode heste (The Red Horses, 1950), based on a novel dealing with an idyllic rural Denmark that probably never existed, by Morten Korch, a popular kitsch writer, was seen by over 60 percent of the population. The production company, ASA, made a whole series of successful Korch films (1950-1967) and also a series of more modern comedies about suburban life, Far til fire (Father of Four, 19531961), based on a comic strip about a widowed father with four children. Most of ASA's films were directed by Alice O'Fredericks (1900-1968), who had started at Palladium in the 1930s and probably is the only woman director in world cinema who for several decades was a major force in mainstream cinema. Her example may have been the inspiration for the relatively large number of female directors in Danish cinema, among them Astrid Henning-Jensen (1914-2002), who made Palle alene i verden (Palle Alone in the World, 1949), the seminal work of the Danish children's film tradition, and later Susanne Bier (b. 1960) and Lone Scherfig (b. 1959). Nordisk released the first Danish feature film in color, Erik

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