falderal : a moving images blog
Den sorte drøm (The Black Dream) ; 1911  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Urban Gad
Actors: Asta Nielsen, Valdemar Psilander, Gunnar Helsengreen
Country: Denmark

Another long-winded Steph post. If you can stand it, feel free to read it. You can skip on to the “Thoughts/Analysis” section if you don’t want much of the film to be spoiled.

Asta Nielsen plays a circus performer, Stella, who has two admirers: Waldberg (Valdemar Psilander) and Hirsch (Gunnar Helsengreen). Stella at first does not care about her admirers and probably just sees them as fans. When Waldberg follows her and he walks her to her apartment, Stella leaves him at the door. She realizes that she does like Waldberg and their romance starts when she lets him into her house. Hirsch is a wealthy jeweler who wants Stella for himself and in the beginning, she has no opinion about him and even eats at his table at a dinner party. Hirsch finds out about her relationship with Waldberg and tries to rape her (or so it seems) but Waldberg comes to save Stella. Hirsch challenges Waldberg to a cards duel and Stella tells Waldberg to not play. Nonetheless Waldberg plays cards and loses all his money and owes Hirsch a large sum. Waldberg becomes depressed and decides to commit suicide but Stella intervenes when she finds out that he has a gun and takes it away from him. Hirsch promises Stella jewelry and she uses this as a way to help Waldberg. She tells Waldberg that she has an expensive necklace that he could pawn and she goes off to meet Hirsch to get the necklace. Stella understands the implications of receiving Hirsch’s gift and instead of choosing an item, she steals a pearl necklace while Hirsch is looking away. But what Stella doesn’t know is that Hirsch sees her actions from a mirror. Hirsch lets Stella leave with the necklace but later confronts her after she gave the necklace to Waldberg and makes her promise to meet him at 12. Stella and Waldberg are later together in her dress room and Stella doesn’t tell Waldberg where she is going. When she leaves, he has a jealous fit and gets the gun Stella took from him. When he opens her purse, he sees the note about the 12:00 meeting and in a jealous rage, he goes to Hirsch’s house. Stella is obviously disgusted with Hirsch and tries to pull away from his advances. Right when Hirsch pushes Stella onto a couch and gets on top of her, Waldberg enters. After a small skirmish, Stella comes between them to make them stop and Waldberg shoots her. While dying, Stella gives him a note that explains why she is there and Waldberg regrets his actions. Stella dies in his arms after they kiss.

I did not expect much from this film because the other two Nielsen films were somewhat of a disappointment, but I actually enjoyed this film!
Maaike commented on one of my previous entries about Nielsen’s films and she brought up a great point.

Also something which I think might explain the… badness of those films, basically, is that not only did Asta’s films not really need to be good since they sold on star power alone, but also in the early 1910s it was rare for directors to really see their medium as an art form or to have any ambition in that direction. Obviously there were exceptions, but most directors considered it a job really, like I presume writers of crappy romance novels also don’t care about the quality of the entertainment they churn out.

It was an entertaining melodrama to watch and although it’s Despite being a film purely for entertainment, there were some moments when I thought Gad did something interesting. One is when he frames the scenes with curtains and I thought that it brought a voyeuristic feel to the scene and made the audience aware of where the camera was placed. Also, the use of the mirror to show what was truly happening was a great plot device and I wish that there was a motif in the film with mirrors, but there isn’t. I felt like this film had so much potential especially when I saw the curtain scene, but Gad has failed me. But then again, is it really necessary to create a film that is loaded with meaning and symbolism when the film was created for entertainment (hypothetically)? I wish I knew more about Gad because at the moment, I’m just getting this feeling that he made films for entertainment. Look at what film classes have done to me! I feel empty when there isn’t something to analyze and pick apart. There are probably many things to analyze, but I’m simply too lazy for that. I’m not into theorizing much either, so how about we all just leave this film as a melodrama and that’s that?
The acting in this film was incredibly naturalistic on every actor’s part. The only time they hammed it up was when it was necessary to show some action, such as a fight. The acting was so naturalistic that it just seemed like I was people watching, but when it came to facial expressions to portray emotions, Nielsen gets the prize. I was amazed at how much she could express just with her face (particularly her eyes) during the scene when she is at the jewel store and in her dying scene.
While watching this film, I made a small observation: indoor shots are most likely a set while all outdoor shots (except maybe the circus) are shot somewhere in Denmark. I think that Danish directors used their surroundings as much as they could and I really liked seeing the outdoors and what Denmark looked like back then. If all the outdoor shots are actually sets themselves, then I’m impressed! While the indoor shots clearly look like sets, none of the outdoor shots do, which leads me to think that they aren’t.
And of course, there is the obligatory “SLUT” intertitle at the end. I thought that there wasn’t going to be one, but right before I pressed my eject button, “SLUT” came on the screen. It really didn’t help that the term “slut” sort of did fit. Well, not really, but Stella was sacrificing herself for her lover.

I recommend this film for people who can stand melodramas, like Asta Nielsen, or have time on their hands. Other than that, I don’t think this film is anything spectacular or that you’ll be missing out on something if you don’t watch this. Although I have not watched Mod lyset yet, out of the three Danish silents I have watched so far with Nielsen, this one is the best.something that I would probably not think about much in the future.

IMDb Link: Den sorte drøm
Where to buy: Danish Film Institute Net Shop, Edition Filmmuseum

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