The Huset Biograf, Copenhagen
© Illustration by Lucinda Rogers

I first visited Husets Biograf in 2009 when I was invited to show my debut feature, Katalin Varga, at the CPH:PIX festival in Copenhagen. Although it was my first time in Denmark, the first thing I did on arrival was look up Jack Stevenson, an American film writer and teacher whose presence is central to Husets Biograf, where he works.

Husets Biograf, Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Built 1732
  • Opened as a cinema 1973
  • Former names Delta Biografen, Biografen i Huset, Luna Biografen, Grasshopper Biografen
  • Read more: cinematreasures.org/theaters/25507

In a time when anyone (including myself) gets called a ‘curator’ for picking ten films from an online spreadsheet while on a sandwich break, the heroic efforts of the likes of Jack Stevenson put the rest of us to shame. Even rummaging through a skip for discarded films is nothing out of the ordinary for him.

Mr Stevenson’s touring film-shows and books on cinema’s hidden and disreputable ephemera are legendary, and the fruits of his labours can often be seen projected (in their original film format) at Husets Biograf, with historical context given by his introductions.

Built in 1732, and the last remaining commercial cinema in Copenhagen to project 35mm, 16mm and Super 8, Husets Biograf is a lifeline for all manner of cinemagoers. It’s a small cinema that doesn’t punch above its weight in terms of capacity, which might explain its survival in such a merciless climate for film. The bunker-like auditorium has 70 seats; at the entrance a skeleton playing the piano underneath an Eraserhead poster sets the tone.

Peter Strickland

The gaudily decorated bar could easily double as a set from the kind of ‘psychotronic’ movies whose posters adorn the walls along with thrift-store paintings and more familiar exploitation fare. Japanese toy monsters and volumes on witchcraft compete for space on the shelves, and books on underground cinema are on sale in the foyer.

One half-expects to find the late George Kuchar working behind the bar, and indeed, Husets Biograf is one of the very few cinemas in the world to stock a print of Curt McDowell’s incorrigibly torrid Thundercrack! (1975), which Kuchar wrote and starred in. The projection room has its own collection of rarities and among the cornucopia of cinema’s exotic detritus is a shelf reserved for “cut-outs for psychedelic shows”.

The cinema’s garret houses a collection of outmoded analogue projectors and tape machines with various mannequin limbs strewn among them. One might fondly or dismissively regard all these curious machines as quaint or gimmicky, but the arguments over the longevity of film versus digital are still unresolved, particularly when it comes to data migration for the latter and all its unknowns over the decades to come.

Recent guests include Anna Biller, director of The Love Witch (2016), and legend has it that Nicolas Winding Refn placed two of his actors in the cinema for a month on a diet of his favourite extreme art and exploitation films. Although, based on the above, Husets Biograf undoubtedly appeals to an audience with a predilection for the wayward, there are sturdier films for the wider public, along with programmes for children.

It’s a small miracle that places like this still exist when so many of the films they show can be found online, yet the emphasis on creating a space with an atmosphere that corresponds with many of the works it screens is irresistible to many, coupled with the relatively affordable ticket prices. Like all great cinemas, Husets Biograf has its own character and understands the importance of that.

Above all – and this is very telling of the tenacity of its staff in putting their passion for cinema before themselves, something that is extremely difficult in this day and age – Husets Biograf is an all-volunteer collective.

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Originally published: 21 April 2020