Filmstaden Råsunda, the old Swedish springboard to Hollywood

Hollywood may be be located in the United States, but many of their stars are not actually American. In fact, many of its breakout celebrities were born outside the shores of the United States – think Emma Watson (England), Charlize Theron (South Africa), Alicia Vikander (Sweden), Christian Bale (Wales), Ryan Gosling (Canada), Idris Alba (England), Marion Cotillard (France), Edi Gathegi (Kenya)… you get the point.

That’s not counting the massive stars from other parts of the world who then go onto the silver screen based in Los Angeles, think Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Aishwarya Rai from Bollywood in India or Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Fan Bing Bing from the Sino-speaking world.

In a way, without particularly intending to, some of the cinema* in these countries are essentially feeder systems for the American giant. Sweden too has its own feeder system.

The Swedish contingent in Hollywood is not small, there’s Alicia Vikander, the Skarsgård brothers (Alexander, Bill, Gustaf), Malin Åkerman among others.

They follow in the footsteps of other Swedish cinematic greats including – Greta Garbo, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Bergman, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller.

There is a difference between the latter group and the former group though, the latter group all began their careers in Swedish cinema, during the heyday of Swedish film before moving over to Hollywood, while the former group moved to Canada or America to begin their careers with either a short time in Sweden or none at all.

Much of this difference can perhaps be attributed to the rise and fall of Swedish Cinema, and it all took place here at the Filmstaden Råsunda.

1919 marked an important year in Swedish film and it had nothing to do with film-making and all to do with business. That year marked the merger of the two largest studios in the country, Svenska Biografteatern and Scandia, into one singular entity Svensk Filmindustri. The new SF studios decided to mark their creation with the establishment of a new film studio, which they completed just outside of Stockholm in Solna municipality, the place was simply called Filmstaden, Film Town.

And a town it became. Fans would linger round the gates waiting for their favourites to come out so as to get their signatures.

The actors and directors got to work and released the first film ever made there on New Year’s Day 1921. There was no gentle runway, filmstaden soared with its first production. The film entitled The Phantom Carriage was directed by the legendary Victor Sjöström and became one of the most seminal works of Swedish cinema. A sort of allerogical morality play, The Phantom Carriage tells a much darker version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

The work has been widely considered a techincal masterpiece, because of the sheer number of technical advances used in making this film. This was the 1920s. The film was silent and was originally performed with a real orchestra at the back. This film was powerful because it inspired perhaps the greatest Swedish film-maker, Ingmar Bergman to work on cinema his whole career. The sequences used have also  perhaps inspired parts of the 1980s film The Shining.

Filmstaden immediately entered its golden age with other greats such as Mauritz Stiller with his final film The Saga of Gosta Berling in 1924 propelling himself and his discovery a certain Greta Gustafsson (later Greta Garbo) to Hollywood.

The departure of this first group of greats meant more space for younger talents to emerge and the next wave of talented performers emerged in the 1930s with Ingrid Bergman.

This was followed by a new entrant, Ingmar Bergman. More films came out, a total of 400 by the time the studio closed, many of these works were by the master director Ingmar Bergman including WIld Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, Fanny & Alexander and Hour of the Wolf.

Bergman’s influence surpassed his predecessors and the bright lights of Hollywood came calling, yet through it all Bergman stayed in Sweden working on films as a means of art seeing the business motive as one that sapped his soul.

The Filmstaden moved out of its premises in 1969 and with it came the slow decline of the Swedish film industry. The old Filmstaden was taken over by the Academy of Dramatic Arts and other cultural enterprises. By 2000, the last of the large studio buildings was demolished so as to build new residential housing, leaving a mere shell and a few buildings to hold the fort and vaguely harken back to the filmstaden and Swedish cinema’s former glory.

Time had been called on the Swedish springboard to Hollywood.

Aspiring young celebrities had to find another way to the bright lights of Los Angeles. That, they clearly have done.

*Most often European ones but most probably not the Hindi-speaking and Chinese-speaking markets since those are huge on their own.

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