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In the Eyes of a Silent Star: Asta Nielsen at BFI Southbank in February and March 2022

Finally, the time has come for me to stop sitting on my hands. Those of you who are on Twitter may have seen a sneak preview of this, but I am delighted to say that I can finally announce … Astafest!

Earlier this year I was honoured to be asked by BFI Southbank to curate a season of Asta Nielsen films. The Danish Diva has not been honoured by the NFT in this way since 1973, shortly after her death. And the wonderful news is that the season will carry on over two months, and will feature introductions, and events some of which are TBC at the time of blogging, as well as live music to accompany the films, many of which are screening in new restorations, and some on 35mm. The season will run from 3 February to 15 March 2022, all things being well.

Asta Nielsen in Die Freudlose Gasse (1925)
Asta Nielsen in Die Freudlose Gasse (1925)

We’ll be showing Nielsen’s breakthrough role in The Abyss (Urban Gad, 1910, with THAT rope dance), her towering cross-gender Hamlet (Svend Gade, 1921), and several of her early transgressive comedies and powerful melodramas, and later mature work too. You will be able to see her her astonishing performance in GW Pabst’s The Joyless Street/Die Freudlose Gasse (1925) for sure. We’ll show her self-directed documentary portrait from 1968 (in which she sheds her final tear for the camera) and her first and last sound role, in 1932’s Unmögliche Liebe. I’d especially recommend you don’t miss Dora Brandes (Magnus Stifter, 1916), for which we should have a very special introduction.

Unmögliche Liebe (1932)

There are so many highlights in the programme that I don’t want to spoil just yet, so watch this space for more news on the season that we’re calling In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen, in tribute to her remarkable expressiveness.

I can tell you already, however, that there will be an opening event on 3 February at BFI Southbank called The ABC of Asta Nielsen. At the event, I will be giving an illustrated talk on Die Asta and then will be joined by some fascinating speakers for a panel discussion as well.

Asta Nielsen in The Black Dream (1911)

The title of the event is inspired by this quote from Béla Belázs, who was so passionate about Nielsen and her technique:

“Only when advances in cinematography enable us to assemble our first gesture lexicon will we be in a position to gauge the extent of Asta Nielsen’s thesaurus of gestures.”

Watch this space for more news!

• For more on the In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen season, visit the BFI website

• … and look out for updates here and on the Silent London socials.

• Don’t forget to vote in the annual Silent London poll.

• Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.

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