Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Asta Nielsen as Lulu

Asta Nielsen and Charlie Chaplin
as Adam and Eve
Lately, I have been reading about the great Danish actress Asta Nielsen (1881-1972). Though she worked mostly in Germany, her fame transcended that nation's film industry and Nielsen is and was widely considered one of the first international movie stars.

About her, the great French poet Guillaume Apollinaire once exclaimed, "She is everything! She is the drunkard's vision and the lonely man's dream."

Notably, Nielsen played Lulu in Leopold Jessner's 1923 film  of Frank Wedekind's play Erdgeist. However, she may best be known to film buffs for her role as an aging prostitute in the 1925 German film Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street), which was directed by G. W. Pabst and starred then newcomer Greta Garbo.

Years later, Pabst stated "One has long spoken of Greta Garbo as 'the divine' – for me Asta Nielsen has always been and will always remain 'the human being' par excellence." Wow.

I don't know that Louise Brooks and Asta Nielsen ever met. And I don't know that Brooks was even much aware of actress, an actress who in so many ways set the stage for Brooks' own performance as Lulu in Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929). Nevertheless, the two actresses had much in common. At various times in the 1920's, including for her role as Lulu, Nielsen sported a severe Dutch bob not unlike Brooks.

Asta Nielsen, 1930
And like Brooks, Nielsen was known for her erotically charged style of acting as well as for her occasional androgynous appearance. (One of her best regarded film roles was as Hamlet, from 1921.) Not surprisingly, some of Nielsen's German films were censored when shown in the United States, where she failed to become well known.

 Below is an image of Asta Nielsen, as Lulu in Erdgeist. It is a striking, and very stylized image.

And here below is another image of Asta Nielsen as Lulu in Erdgeist. It is less stylized, though still striking. The studio who took this image is Binder. They also photographed Brooks.

And finally, here is a seven minute excerpt from Erdgeist. It features a new score by Luke Styles  commissioned by and premiered at the Stummfilmtage 2009 in Karlsruhe, Germany, by ensemble Amorpha under the direction of Luke Styles.

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