Film Industries of Finland and Denmark (1900s - 1950s)

A monochrome image that has a small vintage movie camera in the foreground with 2D graphics of film strips and movie reels in the background.

Film Industries of Finland and Denmark
(1900s - 1950s)
Animation & Film Editorial

Written by DJ Hadoken Exlamparaaghis

An animation and film industry, though not prominent, existed in Finland from the 1900s to 1950s. The most well-known work to come from Finland from this period is that of “Pekka Puupaa” (which translates to “Peter Woodenhead”) created by a caricaturist/cartoonist named Ola Fogelberg.

Likened to “Abbott & Costello” of the United States, “Pekka Puupaa” follows the character of Pekka and his short and stout partner, Patka. Pekka’s career began in comic strips, though Fogelberg eventually produced a five minute animated film of his creation in the 1920s (Bendazzi 46). Pekka and Patka are most well known for their appearances in live-action comedy films from 1953 to 1960.

Other significant figures in the Finnish industry at this time were Erik Wasstrom, Finland’s first animator, and Eino Ruutsalo, who produced experimental films from the 1950s.

Toward the end of this period, Finland's animation and film industry may not only have been hindered by World War II, but may have also suffered from the Russo-Finnish conflict, or “The Winter War” of 1939 to 1940. In this war, which lasted 108 days, Finland was invaded and defeated by Russia. Although, due to Germany’s blitzkrieg against the Russians in 1941, Finland managed to maintain its independence (Engle / Paananen).

Denmark, in contrast to Finland, has a much more diverse history. Until the 1920s, the Danish film industry was successfully producing films for the European and international market. Denmark (as well as other European nations) held a significant market share in Europe as well as in the United States.

However, by the 1920s, with the onset of World War I and the rising power of the American film industry, many countries lost their market share in the United States as well as in Europe, losing out to the foreign distribution networks of Hollywood (Bakker).

One of Denmark's most significant animators from this period is Robert Storm-Petersen. He was a writer, illustrator and actor who worked with film and animation from about 1910 to 1930. He made comics for newspapers and also owned a small production company. However, much of the animation produced at his studio was actually created by a man named Karl Weighorst (Bendazzi 45). Storm-Petersen eventually abandoned film to focus on advertising.

Robert Storm-Petersen’s only known competitor during this period was Sven Brasch. Brasch was most known for his caricatures, commercial art and advertising work, but was also known to have created an animation called “A Rather Good Intention” (Bendazzi 46). He produced work from about 1910 to 1940. Brasch was interested in American culture and displayed an understanding of it in his posters advertising American films (Dailey 10).

Brasch created his first movie posters during World War I and his career prospered until World War II, when a new generation of artists began to emerge in Denmark. This new generation incorporated a style made up of “folk art, whimsical silliness and low-brow prankishness” which became prominent in poster art and was contradictory to Brasch’s own style (Dailey 21). Brasch soon became unable to find work and his career ended.

One of the most well-known live-action filmmakers from Denmark is Carl Theodor Dreyer. He began his career as a journalist and later moved on to making title cards for films. He then became an editor and wrote 23 screenplays before directing his first film, “The President”, in 1918.

One of Dreyer’s most well-known pieces, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) was produced in France. “Vampyr” (1931), his first movie with audio dialogue, was produced in Germany. Because neither film was received well by audiences, he returned to journalism for some time. He did not make another film until “Vreden’s Dag” (which translates to “Day of Wrath”, 1943), which he produced in Denmark. His final film was “Gertrud” (1964), which was also produced in Denmark. In total, Dreyer directed 14 films, 9 of which were silent. (Milne).

As it can be noted from the examples above, Dreyer produced some of his films outside of Denmark. He was driven to do this because of the instability of the economy in Denmark. The Danish economy in particular had adapted itself to abnormal conditions during the World War I. Its economy had promoted “unstable and easy opportunities” for profit, which lead to the poor distribution of large sums of money- ultimately causing the Danish economy to suffer a number of crashes (Lauring 238).

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Works Cited

BAKKER, GERBEN. "The decline and fall of the European film industry: sunk costs, market size, and market structure, 1890–1927."
The Economic History Review 58.2 (2005): 310-51

Bendazzi, Giannalberto. Cartoons.
Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Dailey, Victoria. "The Posters of Sven Brasch."
The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 16 (1990): 4-21. JSTOR.
San Francisco Public Library. 27 Oct. 2006

Engle, Eloise & Paananen, Lauri.
The Winter War: The Russo-Finnish Conflict 1939-1940.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.

Lauring, Palle. A History of The Kingdom of Denmark. Trans. David Hohnen.
Copenhagen: Host & Son, 1960.

Milne, Tom. The Cinema of Carl Dreyer. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co, 1971.


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