This year’s Master’s course Cinematic City of my master Comparative Arts & Media Studies is again full of innovation and experiment. The course is taught by my colleagues Koos Bosma (Professor in Architecture), Bert Hogenkamp (our Endowed Professor in Commissioned Filming), and myself. Last year we worked with Geoplaza, a log journal on Wikispaces, and archival research collected on presented through Wikispaces as well. The central theme was cinemas in Amsterdam now and and in the past, a second theme was European film museums. The connecting factor was the new EYE Filmmuseum building along the IJ river, just behind Central Station. This year’s course instead is focused on the representation of the cinematic city, so films shot in Amsterdam or films pretending to take place in Amsterdam (but in reality shot elsewhere or simply in a film studio). Repeating an experiment I did last year with my Bachelor course Film in Rome/Rome on Film, in collaboration with the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome, we managed to get hold of a few iPads (thanks to a generous colleague) and transfer clips of films on the iPads (thanks to a helpful collaborator). Doing so, we will be able to compare on location the film clips with the real locations. In addition, we will make photos on location and compare these with the locations within the clips. A new iPhone app, Vistory, has already experimented with this, using non-fiction footage from the site Open Beelden [Open Images] from the Institute for Sound & Vision (Beeld & Geluid), permitting you to take captures and compare these with your own photos. But what if we add fiction film as well? And what if you compare both sources with the static images of the Amsterdam City Archive image bank (Beeldbank) or those of the National Archive? So this year’s course will be a testcase. Moreover, the Geoplaza site of Amsterdam of last year (sorry, limited access), indicating cinemas in Amsterdam during four time layers, has been reused and expanded with four time layers of historical maps from 1904, 1941, 1972 and now (thanks to Maurice de Kleijn and Peter Vos of SPINlab). After the course the results of the course can be implemented in the Geoplaza maps. The field work in May starts after some serious input by the teachers and after thorough literature study (Stieber, Bass, Certeau, Clarke, Penz, Schwarzer, Shiel etc.) in the past three weeks. For the literature discussions we have experimented with Kogeto cameras. These are little cameras you can stick to an iPhone (unfortunately not to other smartphones yet) which record the discussions in small groups, 360 degrees around, as if you are in the midst of a 19th century panorama like the Panorama Mesdag in The Hague. O.k. the image is not perfectly sharp and the time span is very short (8 minutes per take). But afterwards the Kogeto website permits you to see the films either as a panorama you can scroll around in the typical smartphone way, selecting the speaker whom you hear, or you can select to see it in a synthetic way like the small panoramas from the early 19th century, showing you all group members within one frame. The latter is a more relaxing version to watch, I need to say. My colleague Sylvia Moes (Innovation Manager Media at VU University) was most helpful in introducing us to these little panorama cameras and showing the benefits they may have for education. In the end the practical field work needs to be reconnected with the literature, ‘zooming out’ from the ‘cityscapes’, ‘screenscapes’ and ‘zoomscapes’. Anyway, in Rome, the “iPad moments’ became something magical during the course, a revelation to both teachers and students. I am curious to see how this will work out in Amsterdam, and how it will sharpen our eyes, ears, and minds.
Last week we finished our Course in Crossmedial Exhibitions with a fruitful brainstorm session with the Van Gogh Museum on the Van Gogh-Munch exhibition in 2015, and its accompanying cultural programme. This was a kind of extra, an epilogue to this year’s course, dedicated to the Oskar Fischinger exhibition at the EYE Filmmuseum, which opened exactly a year ago now. Just like in previous years with the exhibitions The Art of Fashion, Illusions of Reality and the joint venture Life Like, and last year the new permanent exhibition Amsterdam DNA, this year we were warmly welcomed by the institution. We had three discussions in a row with the professionals involved in this exhibition, after a serious literature session on contemporary ideas and practices regarding museum and exhibition studies. We had one session with Sanne Baar, Claartje Opdam (both involved in the practical organisation of the exhibition) and Michiel de Rooij (policy & finance), a second session with the curator and Head of Exhibitions Jaap Guldemond, and finally a session with communication and p.r. staff members Marnix van Wijk and Inge Scheijde. All three sessions proved to be fruitful and enlighting, because of insights in logistics (the architecture as surplus but also as obstacle, the practical changes in the original architectural plans), the application of the central themes by the exhibition planners, the collaborations with artist and art institutions (like the Center for Visual Music), and the sometimes complicated relationships with local, national and international audiences, with the local and international press, and with users of social media. It was clear that EYE is a new institution which, since it opened in 2012, has been experimenting with exhibitions and exhibition design, with defining exhibition narratives and exhibition audiences. It is perhaps too early to give a clear judgment, but apart from practical problems to overcome, the exhibition space of EYE is a challenging enrichment and expansion of the Amsterdam cultural field. End of this week the new Johan van der Keuken exhibition opens, the first time one of the four themes of the exhibition policy – the collection – will be repeated. Looking forward to see this.
On March 5, the exhibition Play & Prosume will open at the Kunsthalle Wien, accompanied by a symposium featuring a number of VU University faculty members. The exhibition and symposium result from the HERA funded research project “Technology Exchange and Flow: Artistic Media Practices and Commercial Application”. It brings together the key research findings of the project research teams at Plymouth University, VU University Amsterdam and the University of Applied Arts Vienna together with contributions from the EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Hilversum. A catalogue (Verlag für moderne Kunst) will accompany the exhibition, which includes contributions by the project partners about major findings, as well as reflections about key terms such as “serious games”, “interfaciality” or the “prosumer”. The character of texts ranges from essays, interviews, commented images to literary reflections. On Friday 8 March, I will hold a lecture myself on Crossmedial Exhibitions, together with Wilbert Schreurs who will lecture on exhibitions on publicity.
On Tuesday 8 January 2013, I will hold the lecture ‘Van Aida tot Cleopatra: Egypte in de zwijgende film’ for RoMeO, association of Friends of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden. The lecture is in occasion of the exhibition Egypte on Film, held at the museum. My paper will focus on the representation of Egypt in silent cinema, from the first films by the Lumiere Brothers (1897) to epic cinema such as The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. deMille (1923). I will dedicate special attention to the representation in Italian silent cinema and to the relationships between cinema and 19th century painting, such as the Orientalism by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Also the biblical and non-fictional aspects will be part of the presentation. Of course I will show various film clips, partly from the collection of EYE Filmmuseum. One week after, on Monday 14th of January, I will contribute to a round table during the symposium Beeldvorming in de historische film [Representation in historical cinema]. This symposium will take place at the same museum as well, 09.00-18.00.
Today I sadly read that Jan Bons died on 22 November. Bons was one of the most famous Dutch designers. I met Bons in 2005 when, inspired by a course on film posters I had started in 2004, we organised at the exhibition space Exposorium of the Vrije Universiteit an exhibition called Blikvangers [Eyecatchers] on 60 years of Dutch film poster design. Two of my students who had participated in my course, plus Hendriekje Bosma of Exposorium organised the whole exhibition, in close collaboration with EYE/Netherlands Filmmuseum (Soeluh van de Berg, Rob Lambers) and – let’s not forget – the Premsela Foundation (Paul van Yperen). At the opening, Bons was honored as doyen of Dutch poster design related to cinema. Indeed, from 1990 Bons had been the very recognizable designer of the posters for the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). Several examples of these were visible in the Blikvangers exhibition. Typical was Bons’ minimal style, composed of forms and letters torn from paper. His image of a camera with a tripod was the IDFA logo for years and remained so even after the festival selected another designer for the yearly IDFA posters. Specially for the Blikvangers exhibition, designer Lex Reitsma, who designed the beautiful exhibition poster as well, made an intriguing short film on Bons’ work, in particular his last poster for IDFA. It showed Bons as a modest but also self-willed older man working in his small studio in the Flevopark or scrutinizing the prints of the posters. When in 2008, in occasion of his 90th birthday, a large exhibition on Bons was organised by Reitsma at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam, he not only published an extensive book but also a feature-length documentary, inspired by the short for the Blikvangers exhibition. In addition to the IDFA posters, Bons was also famous for his theater posters for De Appel in The Hague and Studio in Amsterdam, his posters for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, plus the logo for VPRO television (1966). In addition to designer, Bons was also painter and sculptor. In the postwar era he had met famous Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld with whom he collaborated until the latter’s death in 1964.
Today I had an assessment interview with a number of colleagues from my university who were involved in the development of the course Film in Rome/Rome on Film. Both the student evaluation and the teacher evaluation were discussed.
What the student evaluation concerned: first of all, the course was judged positive to very positive. In the future we will bring more balance in the program, ie a less demanding program in week 1 and just more contact moments in week 2. Presumably introductory lectures on Italian film and political history are necessary, as well as more room for discussion, such as aftertalks after the films and discussions around the research’ progress. Geoplaza was unfortunately hardly used. so improvement is necessary there; the Galileo app was hardly used either. On the other hand, both the knowledge clips and the film clips on the iPads were clear enrichments for the course, the ‘iPad moment “became a household name and provided a sharper look. To stand on the Forum Romanum and – despite a nasty drizzle – to be able to compare ‘in situ’ with a classic epic like The Fall of the Roman Empire was ‘epic’, as young people say. Finally, there was praise for the teachers, the combination of history / film studies and the organization.
The teachers (Arthur Weststeijn, Gerdien Smit and myself) responded positively as well, in particular regarding the iPads and knowledge clips, but they also found that the potential of Geoplaza not enough been exploited. On the one hand this could be remedied by a more explicit treatment in the lectures by the teachers – eg within a separate lecture on Roman urban development – and by specific assignments to the students. We will convert the students’ results in Google Maps to the Geoplaza site for our course, including all the visuals the students gathered during the course.
The busy week 1 could be overcome by giving 1 or 2 days of lectures in the Netherlands, including film screenings, preceding the course in Rome. We could also make use of so-called webinars, ie presentations accessible from home by the students, during which the teacher can interact with the students. This prevents students residing far away from Amsterdam to travel, but it would enable teachers from the Dutch Institute’s own staff to teach without coming over to Holland. We would work with a moderator who can insert pauses in the presentation and can help with short assignments distributed on the spot. The VU University has already experience with this. Screening films this way might be possible as well, but this needs more investigation.
The experience of Rome Course will be used in a master course on film locations in Amsterdam, which I am giving in April-May (The Art of Comparison: The Cinematic City). Probably I will collaborate with the same team of people now involved.
Clip from the Russian comedy Devushka s korobkoy/The Girl with a Hatbox (Boris Barnet 1927). Source: Jonatan 79 (YouTube)
I had a great time in Pordenone this year, at the Giornate del Cinema Muto. Although I started to hate Charles Dickens after the umptieth Christmas Carrol or Oliver Twist adaptation (Instead of Please, sir, can I have some more? I begged: Please, sir, can we have a version less?), Anna Sten was a real revelation, in particular in the film My Son/Moi Syn (Yevgenii Cherviakov 1928). Though the DVD was not grand and neither was the used print – the Argentinians excused themselves for this – you could still see the high quality of this film. Already the beginning: a series of close ups and medium shots of an unknown man and a woman. She has just had a baby but she tells him: it’s not yours! Smack in the face. The real father proves to be a young, cowardly temporary fling, while the husband might be a grumpy but he proves to be the real hero in the end, during a big fire which menaces Anna and her child. The film merits a thorough re-restoration and grand premiere. Another Anna Sten film, The Girl with a Hat Box/Dewuschka s korobkoi (Boris Barnet 1927), was equally fascinating, though this time it was more comedy. Anna plays a poor hat maker who officially has a room in the house of owners of the hat shop, but they use the room for other purposes such as private parties. Anna pities a rather stupid, pennyless soldier and gives him shelter in the room, by doing a fake marriage with him. What the guy lacks in his head, he has in his muscles and in his heart. The owner pays Anna off with a lottery ticket instead of paying her salary, but of course she wins the lottery then, causing the guy to go berserk and run after her. In the end the husband/soldier isn’t as stupid as he seemed, winning the girl from the preposterous owner and a romantic young railway boy.
Jean Darling & David Robinson. Audience in S. Marco waiting for La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc with live orchestra.
Other memorable shows were the first night with the just found Les aventures de Robinson Crusoé (1903) by Georges Méliès – the trademark for this year’s edition, on every cover, display etc. – followed by the delicious Marion Davies comedy The Patsy (King Vidor 1928), all in a score by and orchestra led by Maud Nelissen. Less adapted to the film was the score accompanying Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), performed twice at the local S. Marco cathedral in Pordenone. I had a concert above me and a film in front of me, at start; later on the two became more unisono. Incredible to see all those close ups of Falconetti and the judges on a big screen. I also noticed I had forgotten so many little scenes. And despite their severe questioning and insinuations, one can see that in the end even the judges are moved by Jeanne’s self-sacrifice and persistence. So it is not that black and white, after all. Anyhow, a wonderful night out in a packed church (actually, even the general repetition was sold out). Memorable as well was the meeting with Our Gang actress Jean Darling, now 90, but still a vivid talker and singer. I couldn’t stay until the final night but highly enjoyed the Thursday night screening and performance of the Phono-Cinema-Theatre programme of early sound films (from around 1900!),some with audible delights (Jeanne Hatto singing Gluck’s aria from Iphigénie en Tauride in an incredibly touching way), some with visual delights (Cléo de Merode dancing, Sarah Bernhardt fencing in Hamlet), and many coloured. An ensemble led by John Sweeney masterfully accompanied the films, sometimes filling in the missing waxrolls with the voices or accompanying music. It really felt as if I was visiting an auditorium during the Paris 1900 Exposition.