Benjamin Christensen
Date of Birth
Sep 28, 1879
Birth Place:
Viborg, Denmark

Biography

A former opera singer, Danish director Benjamin Christensen acted in and directed stage shows before entering films as an actor in 1906. Making an impressive debut as a director/star six years later with the erotic suspense thriller Det Hemmelighedsfulde X (1912), Christensen won accolades for his inventive use of light and darkness in an otherwise overly melodramatic story of a navy officer falsely accused of spying. The director astounded audiences by filming the turning on of an electric light in a key scene in this film. Motion pictures were still filmed in natural sunlight and Christensen was forced to use trick photography to reach his objective. Such inventiveness brought the filmmaker a world-wide reputation and Christensen's days in Danish films were numbered. In Sweden, Christensen directed the episodic Häxan (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages [1920]), where his obsession with bizarre lighting effects perhaps reached its zenith. A progression of dramatic vignettes illustrating the power of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, the film featured Christensen as Satan and retains its impact even on a modern audience. Häxan paved the way for Christensen to sign a contract with the leading German film concern UFA, for whom he directed three films. More importantly, perhaps, the director also played the leading role in his countryman Carl Dreyer's evocative Mikaël (1924), an erotic drama about an Auguste Rodin-like painter seduced by his pupil (Walter Slezak). Christensen finally heeded the call of Hollywood in 1925, but his stay there proved anticlimactic. Häxan had typecast him as somewhat of a horror specialist but MGM was no UFA and Christensen found himself directing Lon Chaney in such thoroughly manufactured fare as Mockery (1927), about a Russian peasant whose revolutionary fire is doused by his love for a beautiful aristocrat. The Haunted House (1928) and the not uninteresting Seven Footprints to Satan (1929) were pure hokum that, in the end, delivered far less than their titles would suggest. The advent of sound left Christensen out in the cinematic cold and he returned to Denmark. Welcomed back with less than open arms, Christensen did not direct a film again until Skilsmissens Børn (Children of Divorce [1939]). As a comeback, the film -- a treatise on the relationship between parents and their increasingly "modern" offspring -- was a major box-office triumph if not all that popular with the critics. Christensen's play with light and darkness was again much talked about, but reviewers were this time more irritated than bowled over by what they now considered mere trickery for the sake of cheap effect. Barnet (The Child [1940]) is remembered as the screen debut of Mogens Wieth and for dealing with unwanted pregnancy in a surprisingly frank and realistic manner. Gaa Med Mig Hjem (Return Home with Me [1941]), starring Danish theater's Grande Dame, Bodil Ipsen, was overly talkative, however, and criticized for employing "a constant opening and closing of doors." Damen Med de Lyse Handsker (The Lady with the Pale Gloves [1942]), a return to the melodramatics of the silent era, was a flop of near cataclysmic proportions and Christensen's now-legendary opening and closing of doors once again became the target of derision. Apparently one major blunder such as this was enough to banish the legendary director from the Danish film industry and he retired a bitter man. Although Christensen for many years lived around the corner from Carl Dreyer, the former colleagues reportedly ignored each other whenever they could. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Provided by Rovi