She was discovered on the Danish stage by August Blom who directed her in Ved Faengslets Poi1 (10), Eivets Stonne (11), and Ballet Danserinden (11). Then she married the director Urban Gad who directed her in Afgntnden (10). He took her to Germany and directed her next thirty films, until 1914: Der Fremde Vogel (11); Der Schwarze Traum (11); Die Anne Jenny (12); Das Madchen ohne Vaterland (12); Der Totentanz (12); Engelein (13); Die Filmprimadonna (13); Die Suffragetten (13); Der Tod in Sevilla (13); Elena Fontana (14); Die Eicige Nacht (14); Das Feuer (14); Die Tochter der Landstrasse (14); and Zapatas Bande (14).
That remarkable continuity could only be broken bv divorce. From 1916 onward, she worked with a much wider range of directors: Das Liebes- ABC (16, Magnus Shifter); Das Eskimo-Baby (17, Walter Sehmidthassler); Die Bose der Wildnis (17, Sclnnidthassler); Der Fackeltrager (IS, Holger Madsen); Das Ernie vom Tied (19, Willy Grundwald); and Rausch (19, Ernst Lubitsch). With her second husband. Danish director Svend Gade, she formed a company specially to film Hamlet (20), playing the prince herself. Then Kuifursten- damm (20, Richard Oswald); Der Reigen (20, Oswald); Die Spielerin (20, Oswald); Die Geliebte Roswolskys (21, Felix Basch); Irrende Seelen (21, Carl Froelich); as Mata Hari in Die Spionin (21, Paul Ludwig Wolff); as Strindbergs Fraulein Jnlie (22, Basch); Vanina oder die Galgenhochzeit (22, Arthur von Gerlach); Erdgeist (23, Leopold Jessner); I.N.R.I. (23, Robert Wiene); Die Frau im Feuer (24, Carl Boese); Hedda Gabler (24. Fritz Eckstein); Lebende Buddhas (24. Paul Wegener); Die Freudlose Gasse (25, G. W. Pabst); Dimantra god ie (27, Rahn); Gelietzte Frauen (27, Oswald); Kleinstadt.sunden (27, Rahn); Easter der Menscheit (27, Rudolph Meinert); only one sound film, Unmogliche Liebe (32, Erich Wasclmech).
The first great actress of the German cinema, and arguably the most animated and beautiful, Asta Nielsen retired with sound, and made only one further film. But far from a casualty of technology, she was already middle-aged. Although she was a leading actress throughout the 1920s, her greatest impact had been in the decade before that when she arrived in Germany with a spontaneity- exceeding any native talent. Had she been bom ten years later, she would have lasted well into the sound period. As it is, her work is not well known—not much has survived, and her reputation is clouded with iactual errors, such as the suggestion (noted in The Times obituary) that she played in Pabst’s Die Biiclise der Pandora.
In fact, she played Lulu in an earlier version, directed in 1922 by Arsen von Czerepy. Lotte Eisner has said that “People nowadays cannot understand what that pale mask, with its immense blazing eyes, meant for the nineteen-tens and twenties. ... A hypercultivated, unstable, sophisticated period had lound its ideal, an intellectual of great refinement. . . . Asta Nielsen was more than what a generation cultivating the linear and the arabesque was in search of.
It was impossible to put a label on this great actress: she was neither modernistic nor ‘Expressionistic. Her warm humanity, full of the breath of life and presence, refuted both abstraction and the abruptness of Expressionist art. The few films available, and a range of stills, suggest that by the standards of her time—which are those of Theda Bara—she was exceptionally unmannered. The variety of her work indicates a full-blooded artistic ambition.