Sunday, 10 April 2011

Asta be the best actress... Afgrunden (1910)

Asta Nielsen was the amongst the first "theatricals" with the skill to moderate their expression for the confines of the new cinematic medium.

She was also one of the first truly international film stars and, as such, was voted the best female actress in a poll of Russian film fans in 1915. She later went on to play Hamlet in the 1920 film directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall and to feature in Pabst's 1925 classic "Die freudlose Gasse" ("The Joyless Street") in which she was cast way "over-age" but still managed to more than match the luminescent Garbo.

"Afgrunden", released in 1910 when she was in her late 20's, shows more clearly why european audiences loved her. Directed by future husand, Urban Gad, it tells the story of Magda, who is torn between her solid and reliable fiance and an exciting and distinctly un-reliable Cowboy from a travelling circus.

Passions run high and Magda just can't prevent her self from being stuck in the gap between her love for the two men. Things culminate in the infamous and saucy Gaga-esque dance performed by Magda in leather skirt, with her cowboy restrained by lassoo. It's eye-popping stuff for the period and gives a clear view of a world not unlike our own...

Another standout scene is at the films' start when Magda travels by tram and meets her fiance for the first time. Asta's realism and the clever camerawork show us another piercing glimpse of the world as it was and still is.

Afgrunden is viewable on youtube but there's also a DVD box set including three other films from this period from the Danish Film Institute which is recommended.

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