Tomorrow, Friday12 December, the exhibition Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory opens at EYE. Three years after the recognition of EYE’s Desmet Collection by Unesco, accepting it in its Memory of the World Register, EYE organizes a lavish exhibition on the cinema and the film world of film distributor and cinema owner Jean Desmet (1875-1956). The exhibition is a new step in the policy of exhibition making at EYE’s new building in Amsterdam-Noord, and starkly contrasts with the previous exhibition of the light sculptures by Anthony McCall. Curator is Mark Paul Meyer, my former head of department when I worked in the nitrate archive in the early 1990s and when it was still called (Nederlands) Filmmuseum. When I was asked to write an article for the accompanying book, instead of repeating what I had written in my 2000 dissertation and my 2003 commercial edition Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade, I focused on the wonderful poster collection, which more matched my present teaching and research on crossmedial ties between cinema and other arts, in this case graphic design. I also taught a course on film posters for some five years, which triggered me as well. Since I started the research for this article a year ago, I contacted poster curators at various European archives and consulted recent and older publications, in particular those by Roberto Della Torre on early Italian film posters, and Johannes Kamps on early German posters. Research on early film posters has been scarce so far, but thanks these archives and authors I got more grip and was even able to identify various designers of Desmet posters. The result you can read in the book Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory, which appears in an English and a Dutch edition. I will also give a free lecture (in Dutch) on this topic this Sunday at 15.00 at EYE, preceding the projection of the Italian sensational crime film Filibus, live accompanied by the EYE Film Ensemble. The exhibition Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory runs exceptionally long, until 12 April 2015, enabling international scholars visiting the conference The Colour Fantastic: Chromatic Worlds of Silent Cinema at EYE to visit the exhibition.
This year’s Giornate was again a a full plate for foodies – and I am not just talking the exquisite Friulian kitchen, filling our dinner slots. I arrived too late for the opening film When a Man Loves (1927), one of the Barrymore (John, Lionel Ethel) programme – pity you cannot book tickets in advance. I started on time on Sunday morning with Hans Steinhoff’s Das Frauenhaus von Rio (1927), a well made late silent on the white slave trade film with Albert Steinrück as a bourgeois father who leads a double life in the city and together with a luxurious lady (Vivian Gibson) sends girls to Rio, supposedly as dancers but ending up in a bordello. The man’s errand boy (Ernst Deutsch), kept dangling by his boss, avenges himself, by luring the boss’s daughter to sail for Rio. In the afternoon it was time for havoc, with all the car crashes from films in the Desmet Collection, a nice entree to the upcoming exhibition and book at EYE. The main evening film was Fred Niblo’s overwhelming epic Ben Hur (1925), part of the Technicolor programme at the Giornate. Not only the famous chariot chase is stunning and memorable, but also the focus on the male body is quite hilarious, with a naked slave in chains seen on his back in the galley, just like the tilt from legs to face of Ramon Novarro’s Ben-Hur, supposedly a POV by Bebe Daniels’ character Iris. Monday was my start of the Protanazov comedies with The Tailor from Torzhok (1925), about a naive, chubby tailor, whose rotound female boss wants to marry him, while he is in love with a simple, slnder servant girl, whose tutor uses her as a slave. More comedy that day came with Colleen Moore and Antonio Moreno in the really funny Synthetic Sin (1929), in which young Moore, after a failed stage career and wanting to become ‘sinful’, joins New York thugs for fun, not realizing her life is in danger. The rest of the day was soso, with a quite tedious and overrestored Lady Hamilton (1921) by Richard Oswald (with only Werner Krauss giving it some spice as art lover and limping Lord Hamilton), and with a rather disappointing series of badly printed and dull comedies and dramas, celebrating the 50 years of the Italian Association of Film Historians AIRSC. The last film, though, turned the scales: The Power of Love (1911), a touching, tinted melodrama by August Blom starring Clara and Carlo Wieth, reminding of Blom’s Ekspeditricen, also with the same actors.
Tuesday was early colour niceties in hand- and stencil colouring and early colour systems, including fires as mere display or part of a plot, fashion, abstract film and an early sound film. Quite a shocker was the fragment of George Fitzamaurice’s The Eternal City (1923), with Lionel Barrymore defending the fascists and Mussolini, and partly shot on location in Rome, with fascists and communists fighting each other. Luckily the Americans changed their ideas in ’40-’45, but it was clear that the reds were conceived as more dangerous than the blacks. Already half an hour of this weird ideology was much, let alone the full film. After lunch, though, the reds avenged with the delicious comedy The Trail Concerning Three Million/ Three Thieves (1926), about an experienced burglar and a schlemiel in the same branche, meeting in the same villa to rob a crooked banker. When the poor guy is caught, the rich one saves his butt in the courtroom by scattering fake banknotes, which everyone starts grabbing, thus discrediting justice and public opinion. Wednesday morning it was again time for colour, this time the Prizmacolor film The Glorious Adventure (1922), a British period piece about the Great Fire in London, in which the bulging bicepses of Victor MacLaglen and the boiling lead menacing the protagonists were more impressive than the plot. Also memorable was the shot in which the hero just chops off the hands of one of the villains, duelling with him in an inn. In the afternoon it was time for some fine Italian melodrama: La statua di carne (1921), with the not too beautiful but still very expressive Italian Almirante Manzini in a double role as a chaste lower class girl who befitting dies of exhaustion, after which her lover, the rich Paul (Lido Manetti) is definitely through with women …until he meets her lookalike, but now a mundane actress. It is the plot from Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, but also that of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as Paul moulds the actress into the simple girl. Unlike Rodenbach and Hictchcock, the second woman survives. While skipping the two-part special night of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (we had an important birthday dinner, which still kept us in German moods), I was back in the saddle on Thursday morning for a huge series of Edwardian views from the Mitchell & Kenyon collection (which might have benefiited from some more context), followed by the rather heavy Italian melodrama L’angelo che redime (The Redeeming Angel, 1913) with Pina Fabbri, and a new series of colour niceties, including a sequence from the 1923 Ten Commandments (the Exodus), as antipasti to The Toll of the Sea (1922), which was not only a wonderful film with Anna May Wong, but was also splendidly restored in its early Technicolor system. While too late in the nighttime for John Barrymore’s metamorphoses from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde and viceversa, I did see the endearing Protanazov tragicomedy about burocracy: Don Diego and Pelageya (1928), about two youngsters defending an old woman unjustly imprisoned because of an overzealous and pompous station master. It was the first Protazanov comedy, though, with a very clear communist ideology, I saw this week. The old woman playing the victim, Maria Blumenthal-Tamarina, is outstanding and became a Marie Dressler-like star after this, the Giornate catalogue mentions.
Friday was my last day. I started with the John Barrymore vehicle The Beloved Rogue (1927), on thief, poet and freefighter François Villon, but Conrad Veidt as the paranoic, cruel and half mad king Louis XI steals the show in the scenes in which he performs. The sets are impressive, as well as the stunts. Because of business talks, the AIRSC meeting and a lovely early dinner I had to skip several films, but I was in time to see some Technicolor antipasti again plus Douglas Fairbanks in the two-colour Technicolor film The Black Pirate (1926). Unfortunately the musical accompaniment was a bit less impressive than the full orchestra lead by Gillian Anderson, playing with it in Utrecht in 2004. Still, the dynamic, almost final shot in which the pirate is pulled up through several floors remains a classic, and in Pordenone the audience appreciated this by applauding the scene, before the final ovation to the full film followed. Looking forward to next year’s Giornate!
In just a few days the new academic season will start at my university. We have various niceties in store. The first generation of our new 2nd (and 3rd) year’s BA track Media starts in September with my own 2nd year’s course Film & Media History (September-October), an extended version of my former course in film history. On top of the six lectures plus film viewings, we will have response lectures, guest lectures by Connie Veugen (CGI and postmodern Hollywood) and Bert Hogenkamp (Dutch television documentary) and one excursion to the David Cronenberg exhibition at EYE. Considering innovation in education, we will work with concept maps to train historical knowledge.
In the Fall with the students from our master Comparative Arts and Media History, we will visit the subsequent Anthony McCall exhibition Solid Light Films (1971-2014) at EYE, which will be the first Dutch solo exhibit of this British artist. It will be intriguing material to compare with the Winter exhibit at EYE, Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory, which will show an innovative, dynamic and modern look at the Desmet Collection, part of Unesco’s Memory of the World Register.
The Desmet exhibition will be the exhibition in focus for our course Crossmedial Exhibitions (February-March 215) and will be food for thought for discussions on the museum of the 21th century. The master course The Cinematic City will continue with its focus on Amsterdam as site for fiction and nonfiction filming by Dutch and foreign filmmakers. And if you don’t know too much about Amsterdam and film, check this behind the scenes of the recent film The Fault in Our Stars, which has promoted Amsterdam, and in particular one bench, as the most romantic spot on earth.
Just out: my publication ‘Diva Intermedial. Lyda Borelli between Art, Photography, Theatre and Cinema’, in: Kaveh Askari et.al. eds., Performing New Media, 1890-1915 (New Barnet: John Libbey, 2014), pp. 22-33.
Prepare for another Stendhal syndrome sensation at Bologna’s 28th edition of Cinema Ritrovato. For a full week (28 June to 5 July) the capital of Emilia Romagna will be in the grip of almost non-stop film watching, in daytime spread over four different cinema auditoria plus some additional spaces, in the nighttime on the wonderful and ancient Piazza Maggiore. As the festival announces on its website, “A marvellous time and space machine launched 28 eight years ago, travelling between Bologna and the rest of the world, taking film buffs on a wonderful journey of staggering aesthetic experiences, historical spectacles, linguistic innovations, untamed classicism, black and white, colour and hand coloured films, sound or silent and accompanied live by the best musicians, film print as well as digital projections.” Countless films, but also various workshops e.g. on films of the Ottoman Empire, and on film & antiquity (of which I’ll moderate one myself on orientalism, on the last Saturday). Opening night is Rebel Without a Cause, while the festival closes with the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night. In between piazza screenings of The Merry Widow, Maudite Soit la Guerre and Salvatore Giuliano. On Friday Night the classic epic Cabiria (1914) with orchestra at the Teatro Comunale, but also screenings with carbonic lamps in the square of the Cineteca, including the diva film Sangue bleu (Nino Oxilia 1914) with Francesca Bertini. Finally, the presentation of the DVD of Sangue bleu, including loads of illustrations, a short documentary by Giovanni Lasi, and a text by myself. Plus the restored version of Addio giovinezza with Jacobini, Effetti di luce with Napierkowska, films by Germaine Dulac et.al. I am already in crisis now about which films to let go. How can I match the 1914 delicacies with the William Welman films (Wild Boys of the Road, Beggars of Life!), the Polish widescreen art cinema (Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Ash & Diamonds), the Riccardo Freda films, the Rosa Porten and the Werner Hochbaum films, Japanese cinema? Embarras de choix but also fierce competition.
Our Master course Cinematic City is almost over. Like last year, our course was dedicated to Amsterdam film locations, mostly from the 1950s to our own times. Thanks to a pilot project in collaboration with KPN and Surfnet, and through the mediation of my colleague Sylvia Moes, innovation manager education, we had 4G internet connection all over town. Students could do field research with tablets (iPads on loan by KPN), and watch either film clips we offered them from our DVD collection, or consult databases such as photos on the Beeldbank Stadsarchief (the image data bank of the city archive) and the Nationaal Archief (national archive), and films and contextual information on the websites of Open Beelden (Open Images, site of Institute for Sound & Vision) and Film in Nederland (Film in the Netherlands, site of EYE). So students could watch and compare on location all of these sources with the real location, thus deepening their visual analysis of the city and its mediation, representation and reuse over time, in either newsreels, documentaries or fiction films. The fiction films regarded both Dutch and foreign films, from Wolfgang Staudte’s Ciske de Rat, Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Puppet on a Chain, and Tati’s Trafic, to Verhoeven’s Turks fruit, Maas’ Amsterdamned, Oesters van Nam Kee, De Heinekenontvoering and Ocean’s Twelve.
Locations ranged from classical, iconic sites loaded with (art) history such as the Oudezijdskolk and Magere Brug, to pre- and postwar modern architecture such as the Olympic Stadium by Wils, the Havengebouw by Dudok & Magnée, and the Europahal of the RAI, and even contested sites such as Dam square (the 7 May 1945 incident, the Damslapers, the yearly war remembrance, the coronations) and Nieuwmarkt metro station (with its art referring to the protests and demolitions of houses because of the building of the metro). The homefires were being kept burning weekly by blog posts reacting on field research, literature, lectures by prof. Koos Bosma, prof. Bert Hogenkamp and myself, and a guest lecture by prof. Steven Jacobs (University Ghent) on city symphonies. Next Tuesday the final presentations: I am looking forward.
Just published: ‘Morte a Venezia fra fotografia, pittura e cinema’, in: Francesco Bono, Luigi Cimmino, Giorgio Pangaro eds., Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann/ Luchino Visconti: un confronto (Cosenza: Rubbettino, 2013), pp. 129-148.