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Norsk filmhistorie: spillefilmen 1911–2011 by Gunnar Iversen (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 86, Number 1, Spring 2014
pp. 109-113 | 10.1353/scd.2014.0006

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Gunnar Iversen’s Norsk filmhistorie, published in 2011, marks the centennial of Norwegian film. Iversen’s highly anticipated book comes forty-four years after Sigurd Evensmo’s pioneering work on Norwegian film and cinema, Det store tivoli (Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1967). Although the compilation Kinoens mørke, fjernsynets lys: Levende bilder i Norge gjennom hundre år (Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1996) supplemented Evensmo’s work with television history and film reception, at times it shifted focus toward American film and its stars. Iversen’s book fills the gaps between these two works and expands on them into the twenty-first century. In addition, while Evensmo’s book focused primarily on the social and economic aspects of Norwegian film and cinema, Iversen’s Norsk filmhistorie emphasizes content, form, and aesthetics. Iversen leaves out documentary films and short films and focuses on films that have had special attention or importance, or have helped to illustrate how film was produced and created during various time periods, conditions, styles, and genres.

Iversen writes that although earlier filmmaking took place, it was in 1911 that many cinema owners moved from making short local attraction films to longer and more exotic ones. Films created during this first period of 1911–1913 were often Danish-inspired attraction films such as Dœmonen (1911; The Demon), which centered on the sensational attractions of romantic betrayal, erotic excess, suicide attempts, and deadly duels. During this pioneering era of film production, the most prominent cinema owner and film producer was Halfdan Nobel Roede, who created eight films and directed four of them. Iversen describes Roede’s film, Under forvandlingens lov (1911; Under the Law of Transformation), as a representative of the beginning of Norwegian film history due to the mystery around the possible first film, Fiskerlivets farer or Et drama paa havet (The Dangers in a Fisherman’s Life or A Drama at Sea) created by cinema owner Hugo Hermansen some time between 1906 and 1908. The film is lost, and its actual existence is doubted. When private cinema owners took responsibility for the production of the first films in 1913, uncertainty was so great in the industry that film production stopped and talented filmmakers and actors left for the neighboring countries of Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. Yet under the film production of Peter Lykke-Seest, who dominated the second period of early Norwegian film (1917–1919), Norwegian film saw the beginnings of a narrative film tradition.

In chapter 2, Iversen describes the national breakthrough of Norwegian film and focuses on the successes of Rasmus Breistein’s film production. Breistein’s critique of village life, and his proceeding shift toward romantic representations of peasant life is discussed, as well as films such as Breistein’s Fante-Anne (1920; Gipsy Anne), Dreyer’s Prästänkan (1920; The Parson’s Widow), and Gustav Adolf Olsen’s Kaksen paa Øverland (1920; Jackal). This period also saw the beginnings of the Norwegian comedy film with Kjœrlighet paa pinde (1922; Lollipop/Love on a Stick) and the filmatization of Hamsun’s Markens grøde (1921; The Growth of the Soil). The years following often consisted of literary adaptations that centered on themes from the big city, Madame besøker Oslo (1927; Madame Visits Oslo) and Café X (1928; Café X), or dramas from the frontier such as Viddenes folk (1928; The People of the Mountain Plateau) and Laila (1929; Laila).

In chapter 3, Iversen describes the change in Norwegian film production that came in 1930 in terms of communal engagement and the beginning of a new infrastructure. Tancred Ibsen’s debut film, Den store barnedåpen (1931; The Great Christening), was emblematic of a shift in focus toward societal issues occurring in the big city, as well as the dramatic change that came with the introduction of sound and Norwegian voices essentially re-defining Norwegian film. Instead of song and dance, spoken dialogue and skillful sound editing became the most important elements in film creation. Ibsen was the most central film director of the 1930s, and his breakthrough and following films, which were contemporary films of social criticism and the changing Norwegian state and gender roles, met the expectations of both the critics and...

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