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Reviewed by:
  • The Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinemaed. by John Sundholm
  • Lena Frey
John Sundholm et al., eds., The Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinema. Scarecrow Press, 2012. 482 pages. $120 hardcover.

The Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinemaprovides a thorough documentation of prominent films, filmmakers and production studios in Scandinavia’s rich and lengthy film history. Sundholm, Thosen, Andersson, Hedling, Iversen and Møller begin their book with a timeline chronicling significant filmic events in Scandinavia– from its first film screening in 1896 to Susanne Bier’s Oscar win in 2011 for In a Better World. Among many others topics, the work includes the opening of the first Scandinavian movie theaters, the development of censorship laws, and the Dogme 95 movement. The contributing authors state that their text is “a balancing act between the typical and the deviant; national and territorial boundaries will be both confirmed and exceeded” (3), and the first section of the introduction expands on this idea.

The authors divide the remainder of their introduction among the Nordic countries and provide a concise history of film culture and production within each. They discuss the international success of Danish cinema during the silent era, the rise and fall in popularity of certain genres, and the effects of German Occupation on film production and subject matter during World War II. The introduction also includes a history of the Danish Film Institute and mention of the international acclaim brought about by the avant-garde Dogme 95 movement. The section on Finland addresses the development of Finnish film culture and the complicated effects of war and independence on film production and content as well as on state funding and the division of popular films and art films. Next, the authors discuss Iceland’s relatively late emergence into regular film production in the 1980s, but also highlight earlier films shot in Iceland and those about Iceland. The section on Norway covers the unique municipalization of movie theatres there to provide funding for public works, as well as the development of national film themes and styles. This section also touches on the critically acclaimed and successful film, Ofelas, or “Pathfinder,” (Nils Gaup, 1987), as well as the general rise in popularity of Hollywood-style genre films. The final section of the introduction traces the history of film culture and production in Sweden, from the first film screening in Malmo to the recent critical success of Lukas Moodysson’s films. The authors discuss the Swedish studio system of the 1930s-50s, Ingmar Bergman’s career, censorship laws, as well as the more recent cinematic trends, including both the themes and styles of the new wave (led by Moodysson), and the more popular crime films.

Next the volume moves on to the alphabetical listing of films, production and distribution companies, institutions, directors, actors and genres. These entries vary from brief summaries, such as the recent Norwegian production company 4 ½, to lengthier and more complicated entries on the likes of Aki Kaurismäki, Art Cinema, Carl Dreyer, and several of Ingmar Bergman’s films. The entry for Ingmar Bergman himself discusses his “important contributions to the European art cinema and its aesthetics” (73), as well as chronicling his career from his start as a young theater enthusiast to his retirement. Citing his groundbreaking trilogies and founding of the Dogme 95 movement as well as his work in television, Lars Von Trier’s notes his wide influence and calls him “one of the most significant European directors of the last 25 years” (397).

Shorter entries cover individual films, such as the recent debut of Icelandic director Dagur Kári’s Nói Albínói(Noi the Albino, 2003). Kári is praised for creating “visually strong tableaus” and for his deadpan humor (290). The lengthiest entries in the dictionary are larger thematic sections such as those on genre films, animation, film criticism, and Hollywood’s relationship to Scandinavia. The section on film criticism and journals, for example, covers everything from early fan magazines to trade journals like the Danish Kinobladet(The Kino Paper, 1919-1926) to recent scholarly film journals like the Norwegian Filmtidsskrifet Z(1983–) and the Swedish Filmrutan(The Film Frame, 1958–).



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