Solving the problem of a Danish Shakespeare film (1921)

March 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Another intriguing tidbit of US silent cinema exploitation in the 1920s. This is the problem: how to exploit a Danish version of Hamlet (there is a version on YouTube…)  that features Asta Nielsen is Hamlet, the girl who was a man who couldn't make up his mindAsta Nielsen in a female version of the title role (to paraphrase Laurence Olivier: “this is the story of [a girl who was] a man who could not make up his mind”). The film clearly has potential (Nielsen is a recognised star; it has literary tradition behind it, even if it does not draw directly from the play…).

The solution: live reciting of the lines during the film is the answer – a multimodal performance that may not have been Shakespeare, but was certainly quite a sensory pleasure:

Asta Films, Inc., in conjunction with National Arts of America, announced this week the presentation at the Lexington Theatre on Nov. 7 of the motion picture production of Hamlet, which is creating a sensation in Europe. This production is based upon the old legend of “Hamlet” from which Shakespeare drew his first conception of the immortal tragedy, and upon the conception of Hamlet in the book, “The Mystery of Hamlet,” by the late Edward P. Vining.

The players who appear in this picture are celebrated European stars, headed by the famous Danish tragedienne Asta Nielsen. This will be the first showing in America of this great artist’s work. She is one of the best known artists in Europe.

The production is said to be an elaborate and artistic one, and is faithful to the time and place. It will be presented with an elaborate musical setting, specially composed and arranged for it, by a large symphony orchestra. Scenes from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” will be given during the progress of the picture by an interpreter of Shakespeare.

From The Exhibitor’s Trade Review vol. 10 n. 23, Nov. 5, 1921, p. 1590 (as always, from the invaluable Media History Digital Library).

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