According to Topschoolsintheusa, Norwegian cinema developed with considerable delay compared to that of other Nordic countries and only in the 1920s did it begin to gain some visibility. The first public film screening took place on 6 April 1896 in Cristiania (od. Oslo) and was organized by the director of the Circus Variété Johan Jacobsen, who had invited the brothers Max and Emil Skladanowsky to Norway with a program of nine films. In the following ten years, the projections of foreign productions multiplied and on 1 November 1904 the first cinema hall was inaugurated in Cristiania. The audience was very varied and made up mainly of women and children, enthusiastic about French and Italian comedies, soon overtaken in popularity by American westerns, Danish dramas and the early works of Charlie Chaplin.
The years of silent cinema
Having gained independence from Sweden (1905), cinema played a fundamental role in the construction of national identity. The first Norwegian film entrepreneur was Hugo Hermansen, owner of twenty-six theaters and author of the first fictional film, Fiskerlivets farer. Et drama på havet (1908, The dangers of a fisherman’s life. Drama on the sea) by Julius Jaenzon; but in 1909, following an economic meltdown, Hermansen had to leave the business. In the period between 1906 and 1919, seventeen films were made in Norway that struggled to compete with American and Danish productions. Among the pioneers we must remember Peter Lykke-Seest (founder in 1916 of Christiania Film Compagni, the first film studio in Italy), who directed six films between 1917 and 1919, arousing considerable consensus with Historien om en gut (1919, The story of a boy), also distributed abroad. In 1913 the Parliament had established that cinema projections had to be subjected to the control of the municipalities and screened by censorship; the municipalities thus began to buy the rooms from private exhibitors and, in 1925, when all the rooms were municipalized in Oslo too, the private ownership of the premises almost definitively ceased, a peculiarity that has survived over time. This condition severely hampered Norwegian production, as the proceeds were invested in public works and not in the film industry. However, the 1920s saw the birth of a good national cinematography, which tried to conquer the public by proposing romantic events of rural setting, often taken from literary works or from popular tradition. Rasmus Breistein in 1920 directed Fante-Anne (Anne the Tramp), based on a novel by K. Janson, the first Norwegian film to employ exclusively professional actors. This dramatic story of discrimination and thwarted love was a notable success and allowed Breistein, also producer of the film, to continue his business, becoming the most famous director of the decade. In 1930 he made the last Norwegian silent film, Kristine Valdresdatter, in which romanticism and idealism gave way to a more critical and realistic gaze. The introduction of a ticket tax and competition from American films gradually reduced profits and weakened production, which in 1931 was limited to a single title.
From the advent of sound to the Second World War
To revive the fortunes of national cinema, the municipal cinemas decided to finance the birth of Norsk Film A / S, which soon became the main Norwegian production company and in 1935 also equipped itself with a large studio in Jar, just outside Oslo.. Norsk Film continued to exist with a majority of state-owned shares. The first sound film was directed, in 1931, by Tancred Ibsen (grandson of Henrik and of the Nobel Prize for Literature B. Bjørnson) and Einar Sissener. It was Den store barnedåpen (The Great Baptism), a love and unemployment story set in the capital with a decidedly realistic cut. Ibsen made his mark again in 1937 with the psychological thriller To levende og en død (Two alive and one dead) and with the melodrama Fant (Vagabonda), built on the classic Hollywood model, much loved by the public (60% of the films in distribution were American). Thanks to films like these and the subsequent Gjest Baardsen (1939), the director revitalized Norwegian cinema by fighting foreign competition. In this direction also moved Leif Sinding, author of Fantegutten (1932, Lo zingaro) and De vergeløse (1939, The defenseless), a film of denunciation on the exploitation of child labor, and Olav Dalgard, who focused his attention on life in factory, as demonstrated by Gryr i Norden (1939, Alba in the North), in which the matchmakers’ strike of 1889 is recalled. The Thirties represented a sort of golden age for Norwegian cinema, also marking the transition from the rural romantic genre to the more realistic one of a city setting. April 1940 the Germans occupied the country and also extended their control over production, distribution and cinema. US and British films were banned and replaced with German ones, which were paired with propaganda newsreels. The public, however, continued to frequent the halls. Sinding, who agreed to collaborate with the Nazis, was appointed head of national production; under his leadership, only one explicitly pro-Hitler film was made: Walter Fyrst’s Unge viljer (1943, Youthful Will). The most popular genres were comedy and thriller, such as Den forsvundne pølsemaker (1941, The missing sausage makers) by Toralf Sandø and En herre med bart (1942, A gentleman with a mustache), directed by actor Alfred Maurstad; very successful was Vigdis (1943) by Helge Lunde, set in the countryside but with characters of bourgeois extraction. In that period the tax on tickets went from 10 to 30% for foreign films and from 5 to 25% for national ones, but part of these funds was destined for new productions (a system that would survive even later)
The end of the war and the 1950s
In 1945, theatrical turnout increased dramatically thanks to the return of US films. Great success was paid to the newsreels of Norsk Film (the Filmavisen), which told the truth about the war that had just ended and instilled hope in the future and in the opportunities offered by a policy of reconstruction and economic expansion. In 1960, with the advent of television, newsreels would disappear from the screens. The postwar period marked the birth of a new genre, the occupational drama, which reconstructed war episodes using witnesses of the events; in this context we should remember Vi vil leve (1946, We want to live) by O. Dalgard and Rolf Randall, Kampen om tungtvannet (1948, The battle of heavy water) by Titus Vibe-Müller and Jean Dréville, Kontakt! (1956, Contact!) By Nils R. Müller and, above all, Ni liv (1957, Nine Lives) by Arne Skouen, who was able to renew the genre by introducing the figure of the anti-hero and distancing himself from the most uncritical patriotism. Skouen, a leading figure after the war, made his debut in 1949 with Gategutter (Street Boys), a story of poverty and juvenile delinquency largely influenced by Italian Neorealism; in twenty years of activity he directed seventeen films, gradually moving away from realistic drama to embrace the chamber drama, as in Omringet (1960, Surrounded) and Kalde spor (1962, Fredde scie). The comedy also enjoyed considerable success, which had its best authors in NR Müller and Edith Carlmar. Müller conquered the Norwegian public with Vi gifter oss (1951, We get married), the story of a young couple with a housing problem; Carlmar (first female director in Norway) instead signed a funny comedy of misunderstandings, Fjols til fjells (1957, Crazy in the mountains). The main feature of these productions was the ability to combine romanticism and reflection on social and political problems, thus distinguishing themselves from classic Hollywood comedies. Müller and Carlmar also devoted themselves to social drama, addressing the problems of petty crime, drugs and the lack of ideals. all the projects presented; therefore in 1955 it was decided to restrict the premium only to films with higher grossing, however, inducing producers to focus on works of sure success and, therefore, inevitably lighter. The 1950s represented an important moment for short films and documentaries: fiction films were regularly combined with short films directed by young authors and documentaries were also widely distributed. Olle Nordemar’s Kon-Tiki (1950) won the Oscar for best documentary in 1952 and Per Høst’s Same Jakki (1957, Jakki the Lapp) won a surprisingly wide audience.