This film, directed by Benjamin Christensen is regarded by many who have seen it as one of the greatest directorial debuts in cinema history. The Museum of Modern Art in New York houses a print of the film, without subtitles which makes it hard to follow at times, and not even a title or credits sequence, if the film ever had one. Two years ago, MOMA had a wonderful tribute to Christensen in which they screened all of his surviving films. This one is one of his two or three most important and one has to keep reminding his or herself that this is his FIRST film at a time when motion pictures were not even twenty years old!
Christensen is credited with being the first filmmaker to consciously shoot into direct light, creating silhouettes and magnificent compositions. He doesn't waste any time in this film, dazzling the audience with (at the time) very complicated lighting set-ups involving sunsets and characters lighting up a lamp in a rooms of darkness. Indeed this film was made two years before "Birth of a Nation" and artistically is just as good as that film and in some ways better.
It would be hard to assess if Christensen was the first to achieve the great things he accomplished since so much early cinema is lost, but there is no doubt that he had a mastery of lighting and composition, and for such an early filmmaker it is truly astounding. Very few of his films are available to the public, but the few that are findable (Mockery, Seven Footprints to Satan, and Witchcraft Through the Ages) are all cinematically interesting and at times downright fascinating.
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