Elsa Brita Marcussen was a Swedish-Norwegian journalist, film critic and film pedagogue, who also worked as a film consultant, magazine editor, investigator into film politics, member of state committees and was involved in many more activities within the cultural sector.
Elsa Brita Marcussen was born Elsa Brita Hansson in Stockholm in 1919, in a social democratic family which influenced her political commitment all her life. Her father was a member of parliament, later party leader and prime minister Per Albin Hansson. Her mother was Elisabeth Norlén, then married to Per Albin Hansson and columnist for the daily newspaper Social-Demokraten. Elsa Brita Marcussen had two half-siblings from her father’s relationship with Sigrid Vestdahl. Her father later returned to this relationship that led to marriage in 1926, after he had left seven-year-old Elsa Brita Marcussen and her mother, with whom he had had a second daughter in 1921: Karin.
Elsa Brita Marcussen attended the eight-year girls’ grammar school Wallinska skolan in Stockholm, but escaped domestic science classes on Saturdays since she worked instead as a 15-year-old journalist apprentice at Social-Demokraten. She has herself written that when she was as young as five or six years old, she already wanted to become a journalist, with her father as her ideal. This wish was carried on by her two sons, who both became journalists, probably with her as their role model. She was widowed in 1966.
Elsa Brita Marcussen started to write film reviews when she was 17 years old for Social-Demokraten, the newspaper for which her father was editor in chief during the first four years of her life. She advanced gradually to be one of its most eminent film critics under the signature ”Chat”, and remained loyal to the newspaper until after the end of the second world war when she moved with her Norwegian husband and her first-born son to Norway. She continued however to write in Swedish newspapers and magazines, most notably in the social democratic ideological magazine Tiden, apart from writing in the Norwegian daily newspaper Arbeiderbladet. In the 1950s and1960s, she also published several books on film in Swedish popular and adult education contexts.
Elsa Brita Marcussen and Gerd Osten were together the leading women film critics during the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s, but with opposed ideological standpoints. While Gerd Osten stood for an auteur perspective and emphasised film aesthetics and artistic style, Elsa Brita Marcussen represented a sociological perspective and emphasised the societal role of film. She also held a central position in the Swedish workers’ movement’s discussions on film politics, and in its film involvement in the companies Filmo and Nordisk Tonefilm. Not least, her main interest was documentary films. She herself wrote the manuscripts for a few short documentary films, among others Per Albin regerar in 1942 that depicts the prime minister’s typical working day.
In both Sweden and Norway, she was an energetic participant in the discussion on film as a cultural factor. In 1952, she wrote in the magazine Tiden: ”Film must be in tune with the wishes and interests of the people, but it must at the same time have the visionary power and the idealistic passion to enable it to carry people a few steps further on the path of progress than they themselves knew they were capable of taking”.
She was thus no cultural snob, but was not on that account uninterested in qualitative film-making. She asked herself two years after her father’s death in an article about him: ”How could I hope to awaken my social democratic readers’ interest in artistically valuable films and open people’s eyes to the conservation of middle-class ideals to which films contribute, when Father drove down to Bromma Cinema to watch the apostle of the petty bourgeoisie Edvard Persson?”. She reconciled herself with her father’s choice of film on account of the mitigating circumstance that Per Albin only had six years of elementary schooling. She consequently emphasised the need for extending the number of school years and of creating a more living school as an important factor in the struggle to make cultural values accessible to many.
For Elsa Brita Marcussen, school constituted an important cultural institution, or rather it had the potential to be that. She wrote therefore books and study guides in film knowledge, held courses and started a film magazine. She also worked politically and organisationally to create change and to bring about the showing, analysis and discussion of film in the classroom. In this field, she was a woman pioneer in all the Nordic countries, even in Europe, and she was awarded several international prizes by Unesco as well as France, Belgium, Austria and Sweden. Right up until the mid-1980s, she was a regular lecturer at Nordic conferences and seminars.
In her film criticism she also wanted to communicate film understanding, knowledge and democratic values, not least those that were attainable in films that were critical towards society — including American films on ordinary people’s life conditions, that in the film criticism of the 1940s were otherwise bundled up with ”Hollywood”. In a congratulatory pamphlet on the occasion of Elsa Brita Marcussen’s 70th birthday, the film writer Trond Olav Svendsen precisely described her film activities as both pedagogical and ideological.
Elsa Brita Marcussen’s versatility and energy were and are astounding. She clearly had as great a work capacity as her father had had. Over and above her work as leader of state committees, boards and investigations as well as her activities as a critic, she was tirelessly active as an ambassador for children’s film in a number of societies for film critics, film pedagogues, film festivals, film juries and international organisations. As a new mother and in her role as a woman, though she admittedly felt that she had so many more time-consuming duties than any man, she never felt she could measure up to her father’s work contribution. In her film criticism, she also brought up the issue early on about the lop-sided representation of women and workers in films.
Apart from all her political, administrative and organisational contributions to film in Norway, and her assignments internationally, she also burned for Nordic cooperation and was active in both the Norwegian-Swedish society, that she also led for 10 years, and one of the representatives in Föreningen Norden. Above all, she was known in all of film-Europe for her pioneering contributions to popular education particularly concerning film knowledge in schools, educational materials in understanding film for young people and adults, the introduction of school cinema with film showings organised by schools, and for her struggle for a larger and broader range of children’s films.
Elsa Brita Marcussen died in Oslo in 2006.