Note: Please use the drop-down menu to the left to see the lists of reviewed films by year.
1910-1909 was a decade of upheaval, not only in the world of film, but the world as a whole. Socialism was on the rise, and gave birth to the Soviet Union in the East, as well as created a strong workers’ movement as well as social and political unrest in many parts of the world, perhaps most notably in Europe. Industrialism was in full bloom, and the factories required coal and minerals, that were provided by an ever growing league of underpaid and overworked miners. All this of course reflected many of the movies made in this era, although perhaps even more so in the 1920’s. Prominent Danish film maker August Blom’s Verdens Undergang (The End of the World) included class struggle as a central plot element – it is also by all accounts the first film to realistically depict the end of the world through a natural disaster, and the first post-apocalyptic film.
Another event of significance was, of course, the First World War. As is often the case with traumatic events, artists tended to find more metaphorical ways to describe the war than realism, which is one of the reasons we see a slight rise in the number of ”serious” science fiction films after 1915. Up until that year, the only films that can be described even remotely as sci-fi was the Edison Company’s first adaptation of Frankenstein, made in 1910 and Walter R. Booths Verne-inspired The Airship Destroyer (1911). A good example of these kind of anti-war films is the Danish Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars), where a group of trigger-happy, bickering and selfish explorers travel to mars, to find a society built upon vegetarianism, pacifism and love.
The second decade of the 20th century was very formative for the movies. The feature film with a running time of 85 minutes or more became the norm, cinemas became common and actors were now regularly credited, as the standing of film as an art form improved. The hub for movie production in America moved from New York to Hollywood, Los Angeles – partly as a way for independent movie makers to avoid the Edison Company’s monopoly, but also because of the light and the scenery, especially crucial for the popular westerns.
WWI was disastrous for European cinema, which helped the already strong American film industry to become the dominant player in cinema, and by the end of the decade it produced films stars like Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Buster Keaton, who became household names all over the world. Italy and Britain fared best among the European contries, whereas the French and German industries were ruined. As a ”blockbuster country” France never really recovered, but the Germans were back in style by the last years of the decade, with the fledgling German expressionism, which would prove highly influential in the years to come. Denmark was one of the leading film contries in this decade with the company Nordisk (today Nordisk film, Great Northern in the US) producing dozens of feature films a year. By the end of the decade, though, they produced so many films that they experienced something as strange as a film inflation, which led to a total collapse of the Danish film industry (this is then where the Swedes started picking up the slack in the twenties).
The rise of the studio system and the growing popularity of the cinemas also meant that greater sums of money could be used to make films, reflecting in longer production times, more lavish set, prop and effect design, as well as better acting, writing, direction and staff. Visually the film also went through big changes in the 1910’s. Although the linear narrative was still almost exclusively used, film makers were moving away from the theatrical style of a static camera with actors moving in and out of frame. Scenes were now being filmed from different angles, and the use of close-ups to show details, objects or facial expressions were widely used by 1915. With the actors getting closer, a more naturalistic acting style was also of necessity for more serious films. Directors like Cecil B. DeMille (USA) and Victor Sjöström (Swe) started depicting the woes of ordinary people through fictional films, adapting a highly realistic tone. One of the directors that most successfully put all these new elements into play was American D.W. Griffith, expecially in his epic – and widely controversial – The Birth of a Nation. Another novelty were insert images that had symbolic and artistic value, and didn’t do anything to move the plot along. Russian Jevgeni Bauer was one of the frontrunners of cinematic symbolism.
All these changes also affected the few sci-fi films made in this decade, which counted as no than about a dozen. Expecially after 1915 one can see a slight rise in themes of sci-fi. This may or may not also have something to do withe the rise of science fiction through the lasting popularity of H.G. Wells’ books, and the birth of pulp sci-fi with Edward Rice Burroughs’ books At the Earth’s core and A Princess of Mars. Certainly the notion of space travel and aliens on distant planets was now ingrained in collective fantasy. But we still have to wait until the the 1930’s until we may talk about the making of sci-fi films on any large scale.