Director of photography and producer, 31 March 1916 – 21 February 1949.
Frank was a trained lithographer who had been working with plate photography as a hobbyist since 1925. For a period he worked as a stone printer in Odense. Frank was very active in the circle around Dansk Smalfilmklub (the Danish 16mm Film Club, founded 1936) and in that connection made reportage films that served as advertisements for the Danish Hikers’ League (Dansk Vandrelaug, DVL, founded 1930). He won a prize in the Berlingske Tidende newspaper’s first 16mm film contest in 1938 for a black and white film he had shot in Austria the year before. In summer 1939, he bicycled all around Denmark, on his own initiative shooting the footage for a colour film, Der er et yndigt Land ("There is a Pretty Land," named after the Danish national anthem), screened in the hall of Turistforeningen, the Danish Tourist Association, on 4 October 1940. The film became one of the most beloved "association films" during the Occupation and was shown to associations and groups accompanied by a lecture by the director of Danmarks Turistforening, Mogens Lichtenberg, and sometimes with community singing led by great singers like Aksel Schiøtz or Einar Nørby and declamation by poet Hans Hartvig Seedorff. In 1942, Frank worked for Dansk Kulturfilm on a traffic-safety film, Om igen, fru Jensen ("Over Again, Mrs Jensen"), and was instantly regarded as a typical Dansk Kulturfilm director on a par with Gunnar Robert Hansen and H. Reichstein-Larsen.
After World War II, in 1946, Frank worked with Carl Th. Dreyer, not without some friction, on the eventually shelved Water from the Land, the first of five films on which they collaborated.
The Danish Cancer Society (Landsforeningen til Kræftens Bekæmpelse) had had a film proposal rejected by Dansk Kulturfilm in 1944 but submitted a new proposal in April 1946, which was now approved, likely because it came recommended by Professor Carl Krebs, head of the Radium Station in Aarhus, who also offered his services as an advisor. Dansk Kulturfilm, in partnership with Preben Frank Film, was planning two films on the subject: a standard propaganda film for cinemas and a silent lecture film. Dreyer wrote the scripts for both versions of The Fight against Cancer in June 1946, while doing the initial photography for The Danish Village Church. Principal photography for The Fight against Cancer was completed quickly and smoothly, and the film was finished already in October 1946. Frank was credited both as writer and director. However, the film was not distributed until 25 April 1947. It had no opening credits (though Frank is again attributed as director) and Carl Krebs was credited for the screenplay.
The Fight against Cancer does not figure among Dreyer’s films in Bjørn Rasmussen’s 1957 reference work Filmens hvem-er-hvem (Who is who in film), though Politiken’s reference work Dansk film gennem næsten 40 år (1929-1967) mentions Dreyer’s unofficial contribution as writer and director. The Fight against Cancer was first added to Dreyer’s filmography by Bjørn Rasmussen. Martin Drouzy, whose book Carl Th. Dreyer født Nilsson (Gyldendal, 1982) has few kind words for Dreyer’s short films (with the exception of Thorvaldsen), writes, in Vol. 2, p. 185,
"On the other hand, he [Dreyer] – for reasons unknown to us – denied being the author of a short film, The Fight against Cancer (1947), which he reportedly both wrote and directed."
The film’s conversational situations are clearly distinguished by their naturalness and a sure handling of the actors, qualities in which Frank certainly had no track record. Lars Bo Kimergård later investigated the specific circumstances of the film in an article, "Kortfilm som redningsplanke" (Sekvens, 1993).
Likewise in 1947, Dreyer completed The Danish Village Church for Dansk Kulturfilm, and Frank apparently shot the film to Dreyer’s satisfaction. Rasmussen, in Dansk film gennem næsten 40 år, writes that Carlo Jacobsen, a former Nordisk Film production designer, designed the sets on The Danish Village Church. Though Jacobsen isn’t mentioned in the opening credits, the trick set visualising the history of church building might very well be his work. Frank had used Jacobsen as production designer in 1944 on Fra Danmarks Oldtid (Prehistoric Denmark), which was produced by the National Museum of Denmark and the Politiken newspaper.
In summer 1948, Frank shot The Storstrøm Bridge (released by Dansk Kulturfilm, 23 March 1950). The bridge is first viewed from different viewpoints on shore, mainly in long clips. Next, closer shots of the actual bridge construction dominate, juxtaposing arches and horizon plane, including a focus on the different means of transport on the bridge. A single aerial shot from a plane contrasts the final phenomenological coup, where the shadows of the bridge glide down the tall mast of a ship sailing under the bridge, putting some very playful, though somewhat tempered, ideas into play.
Dreyer and Frank’s final collaboration – on Thorvaldsen, shot in autumn 1948 and released 26 January 1949 – was fraught with conflict. Frank, who was saddled with the difficult task of lighting selected statues at Thorvaldsen’s Museum in Copenhagen, had advanced cancer, a fact that Dreyer for all intents and purposes chose to ignore. This is apparent from Dreyer’s many disgruntled reports to Ib Koch-Olsen, head of Dansk Kulturfilm. Frustrated, Frank for his part wrote Koch-Olsen on 8 October 1948,
"…on 'The Storstrøm Bridge' I was just a photographer under a famous director, and I was supposed to be the same on 'Thorvaldsen.' Dansk Kulturfilm had no other photographers, however, and because the film had to be finished for the exhibition in London, you yourself suggested that I co-direct with Mr Dreyer. I have acted accordingly and hence I am surprised that you still name me only as director of photography in the opening credits."
On 14 November 1948, Frank asked Koch-Olsen to have his name removed from the credits entirely, stating that his and Dreyer’s collaboration on the last three films was marked by the fact "that Mr Dreyer and I both are too independent to collaborate." Frank died on 21 February 1949, five days before Thorvaldsenwent into distribution. The Storstrøm Bridge was released the following year.
Further information on Preben Frank in the Danish National Filmography (in Danish).
By Carl Nørrested | 04. June