Passing away: Piet Meerburg and Werner Schroeter

Next to former Dutch song festival winner Teddy Scholten, two important persons in the cinema world have passed away: Piet Meerburg and Werner Schroeter.

Piet Meerburg (1919-2010) saved the lives of many Jewish children in Amsterdam during the war, by smuggling them away from a creche/Kindergarten. He founded the student’s cinema Kriterion in 1945 in a time when student fees did not exist yet; it was an immediate hit despite the resistance of the cinema union. The cinema still exists and is still run by students. Within the framework of Kriterion, Meerburg also cofounded the forerunner of the Netherlands Filmmuseum, whose first film collection was kept in a closet in the cinema. He managed to obtain the precious Filmliga collection of avant-garde and documentary cinema. Soon young and enthusiastic Jan de Vaal would run this archive and expand it. Meerburg expanded his possession of cinemas and at the peak of his reign he ran some 50 cinemas in the Netherlands and 5 in Belgium. In the 1950s he saved the Nieuwe de la Mar theatre in Amsterdam from going under, together with Wim Sonneveld. Next to programming he produced succesful plays and musicals such as The Diary of Anne Frank and My Fair Lady. In 1984 Meerburg sold most of his cinemas but until the 1990s kept the Uitkijk, the first art house in the Netherlands, still running in the heart of Amsterdam. In 1989 he left De la Mar, which was taken over by Dutch musical king Joop van den Ende, who clearly is indebted to Meerburg’s activities and is building a new theatre complex on the same location.

‘The greatest marginal filmmaker of the German cinema’, Thomas Elsaesser called him: Werner Schroeter (1945-2010). After years of struggle against cancer he lost the battle. Schroeter started his career in the same era as the more famous representants of the New German Cinema: Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but remained more an outsider, though, who after his initial career as super8 experimental filmmaker always kept some of his underground character. His love for melodrama resulted in experiments around opera singers such as a photo collage of Maria Callas, or his first artistic success Der Tod der Maria Malibran – shown at the 1972 Documenta in Kassel. Schroeter also combined operatic melodrama with neorealist-like human tragedy in Palermo oder Wolfsburg, his only commercially successful film, dealing with Italian factory workers in Germany. After that Schroeter made films like Malina with Isabelle Huppert and the trilogy Regno di Napoli. Schroeter was also active as theatre and opera director in Germany and abroad, as well as lecturer and art photographer. Schroeter was openly gay and had a longstanding relationship with film director Rosa von Praunheim.

~ by Ivo Blom on April 13, 2010.

2 Responses to “Passing away: Piet Meerburg and Werner Schroeter”

  1. Hi Mr Blom

    I am trying to find a reference to my grandfather Max Baer in you work on the early Dutch cinema. I can’t find it. Can you help. Many thanks

    Roger Baer

    • Dear Roger Baer,

      There are several Max Baer’s: the boxer, his son the actor, probably more. In my research on Dutch film distribution (see my book Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade) I found out that one Desmet’s British contacts was M. Baer & Co aka The Continental Film Exchange in London. I am sure there is correspondance with this firm in the Desmet business archive, now at the Filmmuseum – now known as Eye Filminstituut Nederland. The Filmmuseum has completely digitized the business archive, but I don’t think it is online yet.

      Kind regards,

      Ivo Blom

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