Once Upon a Time in the West. The Shining. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Ganja and Hess.
What do all these films have in common (besides being great, that is)? They are all classic films that I finally got to see on the big screen thanks to the Danish Film Institute.
Being a lifelong movie nerd hailing from Green Bay, WI, a small town with delusions of grandeur, I’ve often felt thwarted in my desire to see great films in the manner they were intended to be seen. It’s rare that the great films of today make it to our neck of the woods, much less the great films of the past, seeing as how we don’t really have a repertory cinema to speak of (though the Meyer Theater occasionally fills that void, though it’s far from a regular occurrence).
Thus, it was like a breath of fresh air when I was exploring Copenhagen for the first time, and I literally stumbled on the Danish Film Institute. It was pretty much the first thing I saw when I stepped off the train, and just like something out of some great romance film, it was love at first sight.
A little context; I moved to Roskilde, Denmark in February of this year, both for personal and professional reasons. It was initially supposed to be a six month stay, but then that turned into 10 months. I was hoping to live in Copenhagen, but seeing as how the university I where I was going to work was closer to Roskilde, it made more sense to settle down there. Thankfully, Roskilde proved to be a lovely little city, and it’s not far from Copenhagen, only half an hour away by train. Thus, I am able to go into the Big City pretty much whenever I want, which is good, since the Filmhuset offers a wealth of great entertainment every month.
Funded by the Danish Ministry of Culture Affairs, the Danish Film Institute is dedicated to the cultivation of film and cinema culture. It is one part cinema, one part film archive, one part library, and all parts awesome. It is a nirvana for film geeks, and if I could move in there, I would.
Every month, the Filmhuset focuses on a particular area of cinema history, whether it be a particular genre, movement, or notable person. For instance, the month I arrived was dedicated to Akira Kurosawa, and they were showing several of his films, including a restored print of Seven Samurai (I would have gone, but the subtitles were in Danish, and I wasn’t strong enough in the language at that time to be able to read them). Since then, they’ve done retrospectives for Kubrick, Eastwood, Hitchcock, and Westerns. Currently, they are in the middle of celebrating the career of Marilyn Monroe.
The first movie I saw at the Filmhuset was a restored 35 mm print of Once Upon a Time in the West, which is one of my top five films. Even though I wasn’t seeing the film in its full 70 mm glory, it was nonetheless a transcendent experience, and made me wish I’d had access to a place like this sooner. It was simply glorious, and was topped only by the restored print of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was stunning, due in large part to the impressive sound system in the theater. I have never heard that film sound better, and there were moments that sent chills up and down my spine.
But it was seeing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in a packed house with my partner and our friends from Turkey, neither of whom had seen the film prior to that night, that proved to be the most fun, and one of the most satisfying movie-going experiences of my entire life. The crowd was really into the movie, and our Turkish friends laughed harder than anyone, which in turn made my partner and I laugh harder, even though we had seen the movie several times before between us. It was a wonderful experience, and a memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
They are also host to a club dedicated to cult cinema, which is how I got to see Ganja and Hess. They meet at the Filmhuset once a month, and screen grindhouse classics, weird horror films, and experimental cinema, all of which are preceded by an introduction (in Danish, of course) from someone who has knowledge of that area of cinema history. Even better, they have the backing of the Ministry of Culture, which means that the films they screen are in top notch condition, as was the case with Ganja and Hess, which was a beautifully restored print. It made seeing it for the first time an even more magical experience.
Of course, in addition to classic films, they also play host to newer movies as well. In April, the Filmhuset participated in an international film festival, and they held screenings for films such as Hump Day, The Human Centipede, and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, just to name a few.
I haven’t even mentioned the restaurant yet, or the gift shop. They offer a pretty great array of posters (their advertising one-sheets are absolutely gorgeous, and I now own three of them), tee-shirts, DVDs, and books about film from all over the world. Every time I go there, I lament the fact that I’m not independently wealthy, because I just want to buy everything I see.
Overall, I’m sure this sort of thing is old hat for Chewers who live in big cities that are home to great repertory theatres, but for someone like me, who hails from a small town that doesn’t have much of a film culture to speak of, this was a revelation. To know that I could simply hop on a train, and in less than an hour, I would find myself seated in a theater watching some of the greatest films in cinematic history play out before my eyes…well, that was sort of a big deal.
I’m going home in less than two months, but I will be bringing back lots of great memories with me. Some of them are about the places I’ve been in the last year. Others are filled with the amazing people I’ve spent this time with. But some of them will be reserved for the Danish Film Institute, and it’s one place I will always be thankful for.