Films past

Silent Films from the Golden Age of Danish Cinema Sealed Orders/Det hemmelighedsfulde X

Wed—3-23-2016
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Image courtesy of the Danish Film Institute

WED—3-23-2016—7 PM
$10 ($7 ASF Members)
84 min. | Silent with English subtitles

The film will be screened with live musical accompaniment.

 

Directed by Benjamin Christensen (Denmark, 1914). Sealed Orders/Det hemmelighedsfulde X is one of the greatest masterpieces of the first Danish Golden Age in cinema, dating from around 1911 to 1918. Despite being a small country, Danish films were very successful internationally because of their restrained acting, beautiful pictorial cinematography, and interesting mise-en-scène. Det hemmelighedsfulde X is a highly dramatic espionage thriller that has Lieutenant van Hauen (director Christensen) dealing with impending war on the basis of secret sealed orders.

The evil Count Spinelli is out to double-cross him, however, and enemy spies are lurking close by. When van Hauen is unrightfully court-martialed, Spinelli goes after his wife, and the involvement of a mysterious spy known only as “X” becomes ever greater. The film taps into the dangerous tensions that were building up in Europe prior to the Great War, and its stark chiaroscuro cinematography is so intense at times that it verges on the abstract.

Sealed Orders will be introduced by Vito Adriaensens, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Columbia University.

About the director

Benjamin Christensen started out studying medicine and singing opera in Denmark, before pursuing acting at the Royal Danish Theatre. Oddly, he came to film via his work as a champagne salesman. After a few acting jobs in 1913, he burst onto the international scene as a director with the beautifully dramatic Sealed Orders/Det Hemmelighedsfulde X, a film he also wrote, produced, edited, and starred in. He would do the same for Blind Justice/Hævnens Nat (1916), gathering critical acclaim for his lead as wrongfully convicted circus strongman Strong Henry.

Christensen later earned his place in cult film history directing Witchcraft Through the Ages/Häxan (1922), a riveting part-documentary exploration of witchcraft and Satanism with Christensen taking on his finest role, that of the devil. He went on to star in Dreyer’s Michael (1924) shortly after and was then brought to the U.S. by MGM. He made films with Lon Chaney and Norma Shearer before moving to Warner Bros., but in spite of his relative success returned to Denmark in the late 1920s, never matching his previous accomplishments.

About Vito Adriaensens

Vito Adriaensens is Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a Postdoctoral Fellow from the Belgian American Educational Foundation via the University of Antwerp.

His research focuses on the aesthetic, cultural and (art) historical interaction between film, theatre and visual arts, with an emphasis on silent cinema.

 
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