Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art presented at EYE (and my history with this institution)

 

On 20 March we had the Italian book launch of my book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art (Sidestone 2018), at the Dutch Royal Institute in Rome. We started with a trailer Hans Wevers (AVC, Vrije Universiteit) and I had created. Hosted by staff member Arnold Witte, we had an inspiring round table with Veronica Pravadelli (Roma3), Stefania Parigi (Roma3), Matteo Lafranconi (Scuderie del Quirinale), and Francesco Bono (Università di Perugia), talking about spectacle and melodrama, the duality of identification & Brechtian distancing, the recognition of 19th century Italian painting and the recognition of Italian sound cinema under Mussolini. Afterwards I illustrated with images the production of the book and my sources of inspiration, after which I presented the book in homage to Caterina D’Amico, keeper of Visconti’s film heritage, Head of the Roman Scuola del Cinema (Centro Sperimentale), and daughter of Visconti’s regular screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico. The following day I personally gave the book to Piero Tosi (91), while unfortunately Giuseppe Rotunno (95) was too ill to receive me. I was very happy Daniela Garbuglia, daughter of Visconti’s art director was present at the book launch, as well as Nicoletta Manino, Visconti’s niece, Antonella Montesi, editor of the biblioVisconti book series, and prof. Giovanni Spagnoletti from the Tor Vergata university. Bad weather surely scared many people away, but we had a merry night. At dinner ‘en petit comité’, Caterina D’Amico told us many tales around Visconti.

On 20 April we will have the intimate (closed) book launch at the ‘Room with a View’ of the Amsterdam EYE Filmmuseum, where I will give a lecture, instead of a round table. Giovanni Fossati, Head Curator, will host the event, while prof. Gertjan Burgers, Head of the Research School CLUE+ and its book series CLUES will give a short speech. After my lecture, EYE’s Managing Director Sandra Den Hamer will receive the book from me. It will also be an occasion to thank all the Dutch people who helped in my research, the production of this book and the organization of the event, first of all CLUE+, the publisher Sidestone Press, and the research school Huizinga Institute.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor die nibelungen filmstar

Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang 1924)

Just as with the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome, I have a long history with the EYE Filmmuseum. I already visited this institution under its first director Jan de Vaal, when following a film history course with Nico Brederoo (University of Leiden). Every two weeks we had four films in a row, shown on 35mm at the small auditorium of the old Filmmuseum in the 19th century pavilion at the Vondelpark, in squeaking, not too comfortable chairs. Filmmuseum then followed the invention of tradition to show silent films without any live accompaniment – a tradition set up by film archives after the silent era, I found out in recent times. You didn’t dare to move in your chair, as every little sound could spoil the spell of films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Die Nibelungen or Dreyer’s Joan of Arc. In half a year’s time I saw much more than any of my today’s students see within their program – as vexing as that may be to me.  In sharp contrast to the heavy silence in the screening room stood the Filmmuseum’s library, as the local librarian talked and talked, and quite loud too. We later became friends, so sans rancune.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor overveen koningshof

Coach house, Koningshof, Overveen

After my thesis on Visconti I drifted towards silent cinema with my film manifestation Il primo cinema italiano 1905-1945. It was then that I met Arja Grandia and realized how important it was to respect people in institutions that are not the directors, as she sternly safeguarded the patrimony of  the Filmmuseum, and only allowed to negotiate within the rules. We too became friends afterwards. In the 1980s scholars and festival programmers started to discover the Desmet Collection, one of the richest silent film collections in the world. I had realized its value during my manifestation Il primo cinema italiano, during which I also discovered Italian silent film and its scholars. In 1988 Paolo Cherchi Usai, film historian but then also director of the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, the leading silent film festival, visited the Filmmuseum’s film archive at Overveen, near Haarlem, located in the villa and a coach house on a vast estate, Koningshof. I was permitted to accompany him and thus watch countless nitrate prints of Italian silent films within the Desmet collection. Soon after I was admitted as civil servant employee at the film archive, where I worked at the coach house for five years in 1989-1994 and had various bosses: Peter Westervoorde, Peter Delpeut, Mark-Paul Meyer and Paul Kusters, while of course the ‘big boss’ was managing director Hoos Blotkamp, plus in my first years Eric de Kuyper as her artistic director. I closely collaborated with my fellow catalogers and film viewers Lisette Hilhorst, Ine van Dooren, Robert Muis, and (Jean-)Paul Kusters. But local Head of Overveen was clearly Herman Greven, who came from film lab Cineco and thus could be most critical in technical quality of the new film restorations. The lab that won the tender to henceforth restore the Filmmuseum’s prints, was ‘re-educated’ by Herman. In 1991 in Pordenone, Filmmuseum and Haghefilm won the Jean Mitry Award for their work. We were mighty proud.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor cissy van bennekom 1991

Cissy van Bennekom and Eva Waldschmidt (1932)

The awarding coincided with the 1991 opening of the newly restored auditorium in the Vondelpark, sponsored by VSB and thus named VSB room, but unofficially named the Parisien room, as it hosted the interior of Jean Desmet’s former cinema (now installed at the Filmhallen complex). Together with the paper archives, the library moved out to a former school next-doors, so the space became a second auditorium, sponsored by Grolsch. As the Amsterdam brewer Heineken ruled the Amsterdam bars then, it was a clever streak to attract a competitor in the lion’s den. In occasion of all this, a temporary exhibition was installed on Parisien and Desmet, while day after day parties were organised for various groups, e.g. one for the archives. Memorable was the Dutch cinema night, where forgotten star of the thirties Lily Bouwmeester gloriously entered and where I accompanied Cissy van Bennekom, “as you are accustomed to divas” I was told.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor le dirigeable fantastique

Le dirigeable fantastique (Georges Méliès 1906).

Especially in my first years, I had many Ali Baba moments in the archive, opening tins and finding treasures, such as the lost Méliès film Le dirigeable fantastique even used in Scorsese’s Hugo), a short with Lyda Borelli as Saint Barbara, and various up till then missing reels from features plus some onereelers in the Desmet collection. Later on, I also could see the original, sometimes tinted nitrate prints from the Filmliga collection (I recall e.g. Berthold Viertel’s film Die Perrücke), as well as the silent Joris Ivens prints (the nitrate of his The Bridge was starting to decay). I even went to Joris Ivens’s sister with Hans Schoots to show her some home movies from the twenties. Bert Hogenkamp would afterwards be involved in a large restoration project of the Ivens films, while Ansje van Beusekom did extensive research for a publication on the Filmliga, the Dutch film society of the late twenties.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor lucky star borzage

Lucky Star (Frank Borzage 1929)

I was also the detective in the archive. Even if my superiors didn’t like it too much – making ‘kilometers’ of celluloid was the motto then – once a month I spent a Friday in the library researching, while I also had close contacts with many foreign specialists and created myself a network. Thus I was able to identify many titles, and occasionally I still do, in particular for Italian silent cinema. I was also always eager to accompany foreign visitors screening the nitrate prints, and thus was able to see many of the Desmet films myself on a viewing table, before they were restored or even after restoration. I could see the restored prints not only in our private screening in Overveen, where I organised lunch screenings of freshly restored films, occasionally accompanied on an electric piano (I was a lousy player, I admit) or with 78 shellac records. Apart from the screenings in the Vondelpark, in the early 1990s the Filmmuseum prints were the toast of the town at international festivals in Pordenone, Bologna (Cinema Ritrovato) and Paris (Cinémémoire). One of my favorites was Borzage’s Lucky Star, with Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. Musical accompaniment to silent film came to the foreground then, the Filmmuseum musicians even gave workshops, and international first class musicians made new scores for the Filmmuseum films.

Jan Bons at the opening of our exhibition Blikvangers (2005)

But by 1993 the fat years were over and money ran out. Even if I left the archive in 1994 when I got my PhD position – and just in time before a massive firing of my colleagues in Overveen – I always kept contact with the Filmmuseum/ Nederlands Filmmuseum/ NFM/ EYE (the name changed quite a few times). I had my PhD party there in 2000, I married at the EYE premises in 2002, and presented my Desmet book there in 2003. Many of my students of the Vrije Universiteit did internships at EYE, some of them work there now. I have often collaborated with projects of EYE, in particular with Rommy Albers, Head of Dutch Film and a good friend from my student years, and Elif Rongen, Head of Silent Film.  My past course on film posters meant close collaborations with Soeluh van den Berg and Rob Lambers and even a joint exhibition at my university, while a course on research practice involved EYE collaborators Maureen Mens (p.r.) and René Wolff (programming). I also collaborated quite a few times with the exhibition team of Jaap Guldemond, including Sanne Baar and Claartje Opdam, and with the communication and marketing team of Marnix van Wijk and Inge Scheijde, as the inspiring and innovative cross-medial exhibitions match so perfectly the Master course I teach: Crossmedial Exhibitions. So, yes, presenting my new book at EYE seems the most ‘natural’ place to do this.

Jaap Guldemond talks to my students (Crossmedial Exhibitions 2013)

 

~ by Ivo Blom on March 30, 2018.

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