Film History Essentials: Komische Begegnung im Tiergarten zu Stockholm (1896)

(English: Comic Encounter in the Djurgården)

What it’s about:

A group of drunkards stroll boisterously through a park, sowing chaos in their wake. Pedestrians collide, several people drop things or fall down, and fights break out as the whole scene descends into anarchy.

Why it’s essential:

After arriving in both Paris and in London for engagements with their bioscop, only to find newly-invented (and somewhat superior) projectors had already appeared just ahead of them, the Skladanowsky brothers must have felt at least a little unlucky. The poster to the right shows that they leapt into action while they were still in France. It gives the date as December 31, 1895 (a mere three days after their arrival), and launches into a brash bit of personal mythmaking, bragging about how their invention has solved a problem that stumped the likes of Muybridge and Edison.

They talk for awhile about how amazing and lifelike their projections are, and then relate how they learned on the very day of their arrival in Paris that the Lumières (“imitators!”) already held the patent for operating a projection device in France. They explain that this is the only reason why they’re now free to be engaged in February and March (presumably they were still anticipating an engagement in London for January), assure everyone that they do have full legal patent protections in Germany, and then advertise a bioscop ready for sale for 2500 marks, and are ready to manufacture more.

Emil, the promoter of the two, found them engagements back in Germany. They stayed busy giving shows in the center of the country through the end of March, before departing to spend the rest of the spring and summer months touring Northern Europe. By August they were in Stockholm, where they used a new and improved camera to shoot the Comic Encounter in the Djurgården, the first film ever made in Sweden.

A troupe of professional actors from the Victoria Theatre performed in the film, at a time when this was still uncommon. The Djurgården is a nearly four square mile island park in the middle of Stockholm that has various attractions, amusements, and leisure areas. It is a place where, even in 1896, people would go to stroll and relax, as is evident from the activities we see being disrupted in the film.

They were back in Berlin once more by early 1897, and they concluded their final show in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland) on March 30. Their trade license to exhibit films had expired, and (their status as early adopters notwithstanding) they failed to get a new one due to authorities claiming there were already too many film exhibitors in operation. In fact, an actual dedicated movie theater had opened in Berlin the previous April. The brothers’ brief career in film was effectively over.

A few months later, when their father died, Emil was accused by the rest of the family (the brothers had at least 3 additional siblings) of attempting to cheat them over the inheritance, and they all turned against him. Max and Emil never reconciled, though both stayed in the entertainment business. Emil went back to managing theater tours, and Max began producing flip-books from his film footage, engaging in several other photography and projection-related projects over the years.

The Skladanowsky story has one final, dark chapter. When the Nazis came to power over 35 years later, the Skladanowskys and their early success with film projection was recast as a success story illustrative of German supremacy. Max was plucked from semi-obscurity for a series of events including galas, a private screening for Hitler, a speaking tour around the country, and a celebratory 40th-anniversary film festival.

Max was near-broke by the time of his rediscovery, and whether opportunistically or sincerely, he appeared to whole-heartedly embrace the Nazi message and cause. He became something of an embarrassment, however, when other German filmmakers accused him, apparently with some accuracy, of having greatly exaggerated his achievements over the years. By the time of his death in 1939, the parties were long over.

Why you should see it:

This film feels notable for a few reasons. First, of course, is the absolute madness and confusion that consumes the entire screen for most of its brief runtime. It’s genuinely impossible to tell what’s going on in the first scene without carefully rewatching it several times, and the second scene still baffles me entirely. There are almost always at least 3 or 4 things happening at once, weaving in and out of each other, as the actors all seem to try and upstage each other with pratfalls, boisterous gestures, and broad posturing.

Speaking of the second scene, this is also one of the first films to contain more than one scene. Again, much of the language of cinema had yet to develop, and there is no clear connection between the locations of the first and second shots, or any of the events or people that appear in them. It’s just the same force of random physical comedy, but unleashed against a different backdrop. It feels almost surreal in its commitment to pure pandemonium.


~ by Jared on February 25, 2023.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: