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Movies and Film

The Networks of Norway

It is typical of Norway's relatively small contribution to world cinema before the 1970s that the country's first movie, The Dangers of a Fisherman's Life (Fiskerlivets farer, 1907), was directed by a Swede, Julius Jaenzon. This situation might be very different indeed if the films of silent director and founder of the Christiania Film Compagni Peter Lykke-Seest had survived, but unfortunately almost all of them are lost.

Film historians agree that one of the major factors in Norway's less-than-impressive status on the world cinema stage was the lasting legacy of the Film Theaters Act of 1913, which gave local municipalities an astonishing amount of control over film licensing and distribution. The result was a unique but quite stifling network of local distribution arms that survives to this day and has often made it difficult for Norwegian directors to get their films seen by national audiences.

Director's Cut

The directorial voice of Rasmus Breistein was one of very few to emerge with any success during Norway's silent era. Breistein's visual celebration of Norway's natural beauty—the mountain terrain, rivers and fjords, and crystal-clear lakes—made him in many ways the John Ford of Norway, perhaps the country's only true auteur in the first half century of its cinematic history. (Breistein films to check out include Anne the Gypsy Girl [Fante-Anne] from 1920 and Kristine, the Daughter of Valdres [Kristine Valdresdatter], shot in 1930.)

Despite the FTA's choke-hold on distribution and exhibition, however, a few directors did emerge as national figures, in part due to family influence or name recognition. Tancred Ibsen, for example, was the grandson of the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. His international career included a significant amount of time in the United States with Victor Sjöström and a range of early sound films that include The Big Baptism (1931), the popular thriller Two Living and One Dead (To levende og en død, 1937), and his masterpiece, Gjest Baardsen (1939).

With the end of World War II, Norwegian directors coped with the legacy of the Nazi occupation or "Quisling" in a variety of ways. The popular war drama The Battle for Heavy Water (1947) is a celebration of the industriousness of the Norwegian resistance that contains some fabulous battle scenes. Other films turned to everyday life and neglected social groups to shed light on the more practical aftermath of the war. Arne Skouen, the country's most notable director in the postwar decades, made his first big splash with Gategutter (Street Urchins, 1949), becoming a bona fide auteur with his obsessive attention to the details of production, including casting. Indeed, the Nazis portrayed in Nødlanding (Forced Landing, 1952) and Omringet (Surrounded, 1960) were played by actual Germans recruited especially for these roles. The capstone of Skouen's career was Nine Lives (Ni Liv, 1957), an impassioned World War II drama depicting one man's struggle against snow, desperation, and betrayal in a futile bid to survive in a forbidding Nordic landscape.

Norwegian directors who have been recognized for their work in the past 30 years include Anja Breien for Rape (Voldtekt, 1971) and Wives (Hustruer, 1974), which provide fascinating explorations of women's roles in Scandinavian society; Sølve Skagen's Next of Kin (1979) and Hard Asphalt (1986), Jim Jarmusch-like dips into an underworld of drugs, alcohol, and petty criminality; Ola Solum's political thriller Orion's Belt (Orions Belte, 1985), Norway's most lavish production to date that symbolized the country's breakthrough into Hollywood-style production; Erik Gustavson's "neonoir" pictures Blackout (1986) and Herman (1990); and Nils Gaupe's stunning Pathfinder (Ofelas), which was nominated for best foreign picture at the 1987 Oscars but lost out to another Scandinavian feature, Denmark's Pelle the Conqueror.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order the e-book book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com.

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