FILMS AND DRAMATISATIONS
Many film directors, dramatists, choreographers and composers, from both Denmark and abroad, have been inspired to create works in their own media based on Karen Blixen’s writing and/or life. Many of these have achieved worldwide distribution and have contributed to developing interest in Karen Blixen’s works, and some have been created as works of art in their own right alongside the original source.
It almost goes without saying that feature films have reached the widest audience, and of those which have been made, Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa has been the biggest box-office success. Kurt Luedtke’s script for the film was based on Out of Africa, Shadows on the Grass, Letters from Africa, Judith Thurman’s biography Isak Dinesen. The Life of a Storyteller and Eroll Trzebinski’s biography of Denys Finch Hatton Silence Will Speak. John Barry wrote the music and the film stars Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, Robert Redford as Denys Finch Hatton and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Bror Blixen.
OUT OF AFRICA, PREMIERE 1985
The film had its world premiere in New York on December 10 1985, its premiere in Nairobi on January 31 1986 and in Denmark on February 21 1986. At the Oscar ceremony on March 24 that year, Sydney Pollack’s film received seven awards. The book Out of Africa. Omkring en film af Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa. A film by Sydney Pollack, not translated into English), 1988, edited by Aage Jørgensen, lists all the film credits, a selection of reviews from both Denmark and abroad, and articles about the film.
The Danish film director Gabriel Axel’s film version of Babette’s Feast, 1987, also won an Oscar; in 1988 it won the award for Best Foreign Film. Gabriel Axel wrote the script, Per Nørgård composed the music and the main characters were played by Stephane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel and Jarl Kulle.
The American director and actor Orson Welles had many plans over the years to film Karen Blixen’s tales, but only one ever came to fruition: The Immortal Story (1968), for which Orson Welles wrote the script and played the leading role of Mr. Clay. Jeanne Moreau played Virginie, and Roger Coggio played Elishama. Music: Erik Satie. French production, title Une histoire Immortelle.
Portrætsamtale. Karen Blixen (interviews, in Danish). Filmed at Rungstedlund, summer 1953. Interviewer: Karl Bjarnhof. With, among others: Karen Blixen, Alfred Petersen (driver and odd-job man at Rungstedlund), Nils Carlsen (son of Karen Blixen’s housekeeper). Karen Blixen did not want the film to be shown until after her death. It was therefore shown for the first time at a meeting of the Karen Blixen Society in 1977. In 1996 Minerva Films/Statens Filmcentral released it on video.
A documentary of feature-film length – Karen Blixen – Storyteller – made by the director Christian Braad Thomsen, had its Danish premiere in 1995. In this the director interviews a number of people who knew Karen Blixen well: her friend, the poet Thorkild Bjørnvig; Professor Aage Henriksen; Knud W. Jensen, founder of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Nils Carlsen, son of Karen Blixen’s housekeeper; Jonna Dinesen, wife of Thomas Dinesen (Karen Blixen’s brother). There is also footage from old TV interviews with Karen Blixen, both from Denmark and abroad. A number of the interviews from abroad had never been shown in Denmark before – for example, an entertaining interview made in 1959 for the American TV programme Alex in Wonderland, with the studio host Alex King; Karen Blixen was 74 at the time and used to being addressed as “Baroness”, but she was not in the least perturbed by Alex King consistently calling her “darling”.
In his book Karen Blixen og filmen (Karen Blixen and the Cinema, not translated into English), 1999, the author and film journalist Keith Keller, who had been married to Karen Blixen’s niece, gives a personal account of every completed and planned film version of Karen Blixen’s works, including the following 6 films made for television:
Samtale om Natten i København (Converse at Night in Copenhagen)
Danish TV film, 1970, scripted and directed by Kaspar Rostrup.
Drömmare på besök (The Dreaming Child)
Swedish TV film in 3 parts, 1978. Scripted and directed by the Swedish photographer and director Georg Oddner.
Originally an Italian feature film made in 1982, but with a short screen-life. Later shown on Italian and Swedish television. Directed by Emidio Greco, script by Greco and Enrico Filippini.
Danish TV film, 1987. Scripted and directed by Morten Henriksen.
Ringen (The Ring)
Danish TV film, 1988. Scripted and directed by Kristoffer Nyholm.
TV film, 1992, made by the American composer and dramatist William Luce. Lucifer’s Child was originally a stage monologue, premiered on Broadway in 1991 with Julie Harris in the role of Isak Dinesen/Baroness Blixen. William Luce drew on Out of Africa, Shadows on the Grass and Judith Thurman’s biography of Karen Blixen. The stage monologue was performed in Denmark in 1993 by Birgitte Federspiel, directed by Lærke Reddersen.
Danish dramatisation of Karen Blixen’s novella, 1989. Scripted and directed by Per Brink Abrahamsen. Performed at Svalegangen, Århus, 1989 and 1998.
Gengældelsens Veje (The Angelic Avengers)
Danish dramatisation, 1991, by John Dove. Performed at Århus Theatre, 1991.
Den udødelige Historie (The Immortal Story)
Two-act Swedish opera, 1971, based on Karen Blixen’s tale. Music: Leif Thybo. Libretto: Arnold Östman, translated into Danish by the composer. Director: Leif Söderström. First performance: Internationella Vadstena-akademien, Sweden, 1971. Danish premiere: Søllerødscenen, 1971. Broadcast on Danish television, September 26 1971.
Drømmerne (The Dreamers)
Danish music-drama, 1974, based on Karen Blixen’s tale. Music and text: Ebbe Hamerik. Director: Peter Eszterhas. First performance: Århus Festival, 1974.
The Bond (The Ring)
Opera, 1979, based on Karen Blixen’s tale. Music: Bo Holten. Libretto: John von Daler. Director: Lennart Toft. Performed by Musikdramatisk Teater at Det Danske Teater, Copenhagen, 1979.
Sandhedens Hævn (The Revenge of Truth)
Danish opera, based on Karen Blixen’s marionette play from 1926. Co-production, the Danish Royal Theatre and Den Jyske Opera. Music: Ib Nørholm. Premiere: Østre Gasværk, Copenhagen, May 1986.
Grinning at the Devil or Aria to Ariel
Opera, 1989, a fantasy inspired by Karen Blixen’s life and work. Music: Anglo-Irish composer, James Wilson. Libretto: Elsa Gress. Performed at Riddersalen, Copenhagen, 1989.
Lucifers datter (Lucifer’s Daughter)
Two-act ballet, 1992, for three dancers: the man, the woman and her lover. Choreographer/director: Flemming Flindt. Music: Carl Nielsen. Vivi Flindt, Peter Schaufuss and Peter Bo Bendixen danced the three roles. Performed in Musikhuset, Århus, 1992. Danish television, TV2, June 28 1992.
Poetic dance scenes, 1994, based on selected scenes from Karen Blixen’s life. Choreography and concept: Warren Spears (American choreographer, artistic director of Nyt Dansk Danseteater, 1987-98). Music: Fuzzy (Danish composer). Performed at Dansescenen, Copenhagen, 1994.
Per Nørgård: two small piano pieces composed for the film Babette’s Feast, 1987.
Edwin Kammerer: for solo soprano and chamber orchestra. Cantata composed for the 10th anniversary of Hørsholm Musikskole (College of Music), 1977.
Erik Norby: poem set to music. Sung by Edith Guillaume on the occasion of Karen Blixen’s centenary celebration, University of Copenhagen, 1985.