Cinema Ritrovato in retrospect

•July 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment
Richard Lund in Herr Arnes pengar0001

My collection

It was embarras de choix again at Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and this year even more so than before. Of course, for the silent cinema lovers, there were the programs with films from 100 and 120 years ago, so 1899 and 1919 this year, including the 1899 Biograph films in the Dutch and British collections and home movies of the French aristocracy, and well-known and hardly known titles for 1919, such as Anders als die Anderen, Back to God’s Country, and Sir Arne’s Treasure (Herr Arne’s Pengar).

I missed the Musidora’s and Buster Keaton’s – you have to make choices. Also, I missed the immediate post-war German films (1945-1948), which was a pity as I will co-curate a program on Dutch and German cinema next year myself, at the 2020 Cinefest in Hamburg. Instead, I was glad to have a seen a few of the lesser known films with French tough guy Jean Gabin, such as Litvak’s underworld and prostitution film Coeur de lilas (with songs by Gabin, Fréhel and Fernandel), René Clément’s Au-delà des grilles/Le mura di Malapaga (with the postwar ruins of Genoa as setting, and with Italian actress Isa Miranda as the independent, single mother), and En cas de malheur (with a young Brigitte Bardot, who doesn’t want to choose between wealthy, adulterous lawyer Gabin and poor, hot-headed Franco Interlenghi). I planned to see a few of the Eduardo de Filippo films, but in the end, I only saw Napoli milionaria, with Totò in an important supporting part. From the film noir films by Felix Feist, a director unknown to me, I only saw one, but it was an interesting one: The Man Who Cheated Himself, with a slightly overacting John Dall discovering his elder brother Lee J. Cobb isn’t such a role model at all.

Within the Technicolor program, the scheming and sharp-tongued social climber Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp was one of my favorites, though I enjoyed Under Capricorn as well because of its actors and mise-en-scene (such as the eerie manor and the impressive and expressive costumes), and despite the political incorrectness of the film. Margaret Leighton’s evil housekeeper gave the plot the thriller element, but basically, this was a love triangle and class conflict, which critics despised at the time but was no problem to me. The Hitchcock film was a challenge though,  as the Arlecchino cinema was packed to the rim, imitating the Australian heath on the screen. At times, the often packed cinema had hampering airconditioning, so later in the week, little fans were even distributed. With outside temperatures going to 41 Celsius on Thursday and Friday, we were happy to stay inside in the ‘cool’ cinemas.

While I loved Henry King’s silent film The Winning of Barbara Worth, with the excellent actors Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky and a dashing and jealous young Gary Cooper, good sidekicks, and astounding special effects creating a flood in the desert, I later saw a 1950s Henry King movie because we couldn’t get in at the Piazza’s screening of Keaton’s The Cameraman (not even 30 minutes in advance was  enough). But Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie, evolving in smalltown life in a village near Chicago, was a provincial, conservative drama with quite an unimpressive actor in the lead. Moreover, the main character, supposedly sympathetic, was such a jerk and cheat you could well understand why his wife left him. Within the Fox program, a masterpiece was John Ford’s Three Bad Men, in which not only the leads were interesting (tough and witty George O’Brien looking very dandy in his chaps and bad guy Lou Tellegen presented as the only man who shaves in the West), but also the three horse thieves and persistent alcoholists (Tom Santschi, J. Farrell McDonald, Frank Campeau) who help the damsel in distress and select possible husbands for Olive Borden were great fun to watch. Of course, as usual, the scenery was tops with Ford.

George O'Brien, Iris, Fox

We had learned our lesson, so we were one hour in advance with Chaplin’s The Circus on the Piazza, and boy, was it a treat: both the incredibly witty film in a splendid restoration by l’Immagine Ritrovata), and the orchestra led by Timothy Brock. Other highlights for me were the two Mauritz Stiller films. Song of the Scarlet FlowerSängen um den eldröda blomman, starred Lars Hanson (aka Large Handsome, thank you Pam), performing breathtaking stunts on logs floating in the river and having a splendidly filmed confrontation with his conscience through a mirror. Also, Stiller’s classic Sir Arne’s Treasure was a feast for the eye, with the setting of snowy Scandinavia of centuries ago and a ship stuck in the ice, Mary Johnson discovers she has fallen in love with the murderers of her family and adopted sister (the ghost of the sister leading her to wisdom). But then, leading bad guy Richard Lund is such a lovable man. Sure, but wait until he uses you as a human shield. While I saw a few lesser films in the 1919 program too (one was a curious Protazanov that looked like a lesser Bauer from 1915), the Stiller was absolutely a highlight.

I saw some more modern stuff too, ranging from the first Bond film Dr. No – a guilty pleasure but a print with some problems, alas – to revisiting A Bigger Splash on David Hockney and his circle – I had just visited the Hockney-Van Gogh-exhibition a few months ago – and to Varda par Agnès, the swan song of the recently died French filmmaker, who proved to be ego-centered but also warm and endearing.  On my last day, I was less impressed than others with La maschera e il volto, an Italia Almirante vehicle about a woman declared dead who returns (rather Feydeau than Pirandello). Instead, I was heavily struck by Jean Epstein fishermen’s drama Finis terrae, with amateur actors – very well – playing themselves on the coast and islands of Brittany, with all the roughness of the climate, the scenery, and the morals, and with images reminding at times of Visconti’s La terra trema, both in subjects (e.g. the women on the rocks) and in – excellent and innovative – cinematography.

Main title designed by Maurice Binder, animation by Trevor Bond.

WSS10/Eye International Conference 2019 – Sisters

•May 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment


Coming up soon is the EYE International Conference 2019, “Sisters”. This is the tenth edition of the Women and the Silent Screen conference, focusing on female film pioneers all over the globe. While I am not presenting a paper, I am very curious about this conference. Presently my research goes in a bit different directions, i.e. early Italian cinema and its relationships with either the arts (visual arts in the first place) or popular culture (postcards, tourism, etc.). Still, I am very aware of the importance of women in the early film industry, and not only as film actresses or stars.

Because of our Flickr site, Truus, Bob, and Jan too! (visited nowadays by some 100.000 viewers per day), and our blog European Film Star Postcards (some 1000 viewers per day), we have established biographies of many female actors who also have been directors, producers, and screenwriters. While some biographies may not have been as profoundly researched as the ones on the website of the Women Film Pioneers Project, we always compare existing biographies on Wikipedia with other sources online, such as IMDB, Filmportal, the Early German Film Database (alas, almost obsolete now), the websites of film archives such as those from Denmark and Sweden, or paper sources such as the reference books on Italian silent cinema by Bernardini and Martinelli. We have been able to trace thousands of vintage postcards of actresses who also worked as directors, producers, and screenwriters, expanding our horizons, and learning about the rises and falls of these women in their various professions.

So, for the International Women’s Day of 8 March, we launched a blog post with a selection 20 postcards of American women who both worked in front of and behind the camera, including Leah Baird, Bessie Barriscale, Grace Cunard, Marie Dressler, Gene Gauntier, Lilian Gish, Corinne Griffith, Florence Lawrence, Cleo Madison, Mae Murray, Alla Nazimova, Mabel Normand, Mary Pickford, Anita Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Constance and Norma Talmadge, Alice Terry, Pearl White, and Clara Kimball Young. All with short bio’s, and linked to the research on the Women Pioneer Project website. During the Sisters conference, we will launch on 25 May a new blog post with 20 postcards of 20 European film stars, including Sarah Bernhardt, Francesca Bertini, Carmen Cartellieri, Diana Karenne, Musidora, Aud Egede Nissen, Fabienne Fabrèges, Asta Nielsen, Rosa Porten, Anny Ondra, Rita Sacchetto, Peggy Hyland, Hella Moja, Erna Morena, Wanda Treumann, Zorka Grund, Fern Andra, Olga Tschechowa, Elena Sangro, and Elettra Raggio.

Elettra Raggio in Seduzione


Workshop early Italian cinema at EYE Film Museum

•December 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Poster for Vittoria o morte (1913), designed by Pier Luigi Caldanzano.

Yesterday night, we finished our workshop in early Italian cinema within the collection of the Amsterdam EYE Film Museum. On behalf of my university, I was co-organizer of the workshop, with Céline Gailleurd (Université Paris VIII, Paris) and Elif Rongen (EYE Filmmuseum). The workshop is part of a large international research project,  Le cinéma muet italien à la croisée des arts, led by Céline Gailleurd, and in which various French, Italian and Dutch universities and film archives are united.

This two-day workshop brought together researchers of different nationalities, in order to explore and comment on the film and non-film collections related to Italian silent cinema, held at the Eye Film Museum. All these topics were introduced and commented upon by a group of international experts, who also acted as moderators for the discussion with the audience. We worked on a corpus of films preselected by the researchers and the organizers, either presented in their entirety or by use of indicative fragments.


Vittoria Lepanto, in Lucrezia Borgia (Gerolamo Lo Savio, Film d’Arte Italiana 1912).

First, after introductions by Giovanna Fossati (EYE) and Céline Gailleurd, we had two sessions of 35mm screenings of hitherto little-shown prints of early Italian films, not only full films (only one- and two-reelers), but also a fragment of La vita o  la morte, and a weird hodge-podge of nonfiction officially on Rome but in reality, rather showing more of Turin and even the Capitol in Washington. The difference between comic film and comedy became already clear in the difference between the action-driven film Kri-Kri e il tango (which has some weird special effects) and the quite daring situational comedy Acqua miracolosa, starring Gigetta Morano and Eleuterio Rodolfi. The two-reelers were recomposed of multiple original prints. Lucrezia Borgia started as a black-and-white film (due to a part based on an original negative from Paris), and then halfway spurted glorious stencil-coloring (thanks to a nitrate distribution print in EYE’s holdings). Amore bendato combined two incomplete British and Dutch prints in one complete one. We had our share of actors, such as Leda Gys in Amore bendato, and a pre-diva Francesa Bertini in the romantic comedy Panne d’auto.


Kri Kri senza testa (Cines 1913), poster design by Marchetti.

Our first slots set the tone for the subsequent slots, where discussions were made from the point of view of the close relationship that Italian cinema has with other arts or popular culture, such as visual arts (e.g. with the slot on the Italo-French company Film d’Arte Italiana, moderated by Andrea Meneghelli, Olivier Bohler, and Marion Polirsztok), burlesque (comedy, moderated by Laurent Guido and Emmanuel Dreux), dance (Elisa Uffreduzzi, echoing her fascinating PhD), and theatre (melodrama, moderated by Stella Dagna and Céline Gailleurd). Different acting styles in comedy and drama, and their developments became clear, as well as such topics as recycling in set design, the 1913 tango craze, the role of the family, the monstres sacrés of the stage in film (Ermete Zacconi, Italia Vitaliani), and the discovery of a film like La Madre (Giuseppe Sterni, 1917), considered a counterreaction to Duse’s Cenere, but also a nice pendant to Padre (1912) with Zacconi. A special section was dedicated to Italian non-fiction from the teens, which Luca Mazzei presented with me. Here we had an e.g. fruitful discussion on nationalism and colonialism versus tourism and a craving for beauty, but also on individual cameramen, and on the importance of the Italo-Turkish war for the rise of early Italian non-fiction.


A scene from La Madre (Giuseppe Sterni, Milano Films 1917). Emmanuele overpaints the portrait of his model, as he needs it to paint his mother’s portrait.

Soeluh van den Berg, finally, gave an overview of the so-called film-related material objects in the EYE Collection, first of all in the Desmet Collection, but also some recently found 1910s posters, discovered under the shelves of a closed down cinema, including e.g. one of Marco Visconti. In a mini-presentation, I highlighted myself the richness, modernity, sensationalism, and originality of the early Italian posters in Desmet’s collection, such as those by designers such as Mauzan, Nicco, Terzi, Caldanzano, Metlicovitz, and others.  Our goal was to rediscover this cinema, through an academic confrontation with several disciplinary fields, but also we widely benefited from the presence of various Italian and Dutch archivists to discuss archival issues as well, and the interconnections between these two fields. In the very end, we had two quick visits to the life of a film within the EYE Collection Centre, which Catherine Cormon kindly showed to us, with all the time constraints we had by then, but a real highlight was Soeluh van den Berg’s showing of the vintage paper objects from the EYE collection, including vintage stills, bills with artistic letterheads, brochures, distribution leaflets, and as coup de theatre, the wonderful posters, such as the burning ship on Vittoria o morte, designed by Pier Luigi Caldanzano.


Posters for La tutela (Ambrosio 1913) above the entrance of the Rotterdam Parisien cinema (1913).

This workshop served as a basis to open research tracks on e.g. the Film d’Arte Italiana and Italian comedians, as a prologue for future research and a conference to be held in December 2019. The debates have been recorded, and thanks to a subvention of the Research School CLUE+ (Vrije Universiteit), will be transcribed and published. I say thank you to all the persons involved in this workshop, which I consider to have been a great success: all the moderators and workshop participants, all the people of EYE Film Museum helping to realize the workshop (in particular Soeluh, Catherine, Hadley and Martin), transcriber Lexie Davis, and of course, the two co-organizers Elif Rongen and Céline Gailleurd.


Workshop at EYE

•December 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment


I am co-organizer for this workshop.

More Visconti presentations

•July 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment
Ivo AAIS Sorrento 2018

Courtesy Francesco Pitassio

After presentations of my new book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art in Rome in March, in Amsterdam in April and in Milan in May, additional presentations followed in June. First I presented the book, together with Francesco Pitassio, at the conference of the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) at the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento.  Though we were a small group, responses were very good, including by Letizia Bellocchio, whose article on Visconti was a key text to my book, and Francesco Pitassio himself. I also gave away the book to a few people who will write reviews on the book: Giorgio Bertellini, Vito Zagarrio and Giuliana Muscio.

Brunette ik Bologna interview Visconti

Courtesy Cineteca di Bologna

Next, the book was sold out at the book fair of Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and the organisation kindly added a webpage to their site, announcing my book. Here you will also find a link to a filmed conversation between prof. Gianpiero Brunetta and myself on the book (in Italian).

Poster Visconti juni 2018-01.jpg

Lastly, I presented the Visconti book, together with prof. Agnes Pethö (Sapientia University, Cluj), at the NECS conference Media & Tactics & Engagement, at my own university (Vrije Universiteit/VU, Amsterdam). Again a small but refined audience, with whom I raised the glass afterwards, just before the keynote of Henry Jenkins at the VU Initium Auditorium.

Ul till now, reviews have been promised to appear in e.g. Screen, The Journal for Italian Film & Media Studies, Burlington Magazine, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, Leonardo Reviews, Imago, and Medienwissenschaft.

Trailer for my new book, EYE book launch, and upcoming presentation in Milan

•April 22, 2018 • 2 Comments

Here is the trailer for my new book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art. Editing was done by my colleague Hans Wevers (Vrije Universiteit), selection by myself, the music is Ravel.

Last Friday, 20 April, we had the book launch at EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. Kind words by Managing Director Sandra den Hamer, Curator-in-Chief Giovanna Fossati, and Chair of the Research School CLUE+ Prof. Gertjan Burgers, plus an illustrated lecture by myself. Attached a photo of my speech (photo Ellen van Yperen).

On Monday 7 May I will present the book at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, with a round table with art historian Elena di Raddo (art history, Cattolica), film scholar and Visconti specialist Mauro Giori (Università degli Studi, Milano), and myself. Chair will be Mariagrazia Fanchi. I will afterwards donate the book officially to Luchino Visconti’s nephew Luchino Gastel, his godson and assistant director on Visconti’s Ludwig.

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

•March 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment


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)


Rome Past & Present: my new book brings back old memories of my (hi)story with Rome and its Dutch Institute

•February 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Finally, after many, many years my book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art will appear this March with Sidestone Press. It is the result of a project that took more time than my PhD and my first monography together. It also partly retakes an old research of mine.

On 20 March I will present the book at the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome, with a round table with Francesco Bono (Università di Perugia), Veronica Pravadelli (Roma3), Stefania Parigi (Roma3), and Matteo Lafranconi (Scuderie del Quirinale). Discussion leader will be Dr. Arno Witte, staff member of the Dutch Institute and expert in art and culture. Afterwards I will present 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. She will also accept the book for the three men to whom my book is dedicated: costume designer Piero Tosi, the late art decorator Mario Garbuglia, and Giuseppe Rotunno.

Rome en Chieti 2016 002.JPG

I am very happy with the location, as I have a long history with this Institute, and thus with Rome. I first came here in 1982, when Johan Offerhaus was the Institute’s managing director. It was during an excursion within my studies of art history at the University of Utrecht. Our group stayed at Pensione Mimosa near the Pantheon while another one was hosted at the Institute. But one night we had a merry get-together there with drinks on the balcony and piano playing. I was enchanted with this place, its stylish garden, the nearby Villa Borghese park. 1982 was also the year I did an intense course language course at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia. It enabled me to discover the splendors of Umbria, but also enjoy old Italian films in the nighttime, among which Il Gattopardo. I was immediately hooked. To the Dutch Institute in Rome I came back in 1984 for my MA thesis research at the University of Leiden, which was already on Visconti and painting, and supervised by the late Nico Brederoo. Another thriving force in those years was Laura Schram-Pighi, who was Mrs. Network – her book with names and addresses was legendary – and introduced me to various Italian experts. For one course of her, I wrote an essay on the adaptation of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo, comparing it to the published script and the film itself. Video was in its infant state, so the only way to be able to analyze the film was to personally bring two giant 35 mm reels (the film is over 3 hours) on loan from the Istituto di Cultura in Amsterdam to the Utrecht University lab to convert it to video, probably UMatic. From there I could do a shot by shot analysis.

I still cherish friends from those years, fellow MA researchers like myself such as Guus van den Hout, Tanja Ledoux, and the late Marie-José Schunck. It was Caterina D’Amico who in 1984 generously introduced me to Visconti’s former collaborators. So in addition to professors such as Mario Verdone and Lino Miccichè, I could also interview many former collaborators of Visconti, some of whom, such as Mario Garbuglia, I met even a few times. Others were e.g. Piero Tosi (whom I met at the famous Caffè Greco), Vera Marzot, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Nicola Badalucco, Mario Chiari and Giuseppe Rotunno, some of whom I remet a few years after for a series of interviews for VPRO television, done by Marion Derksen but with my help as liaison and translator. I also became friends with Visconti’s former set photographer Paul Ronald and his wife Huguette, whose apartment in the Flaminia neighbourhood I often visited. Staying two months at the Dutch Institute in Rome made me aware of the nearby zoo, as lions roared sometimes at night, while early in the morning the squeaking trams would start their travels underneath the Institute. In 1986, while living in a rented room in an apartment, near Ottaviano (convenient with the then new metro line A), and run by a most remarkable landlady, I was extraneus at the Centro Sperimentale at the sections of directing and scriptwriting. Not being a regular enabled me to follow cinematography and editing lessons too. It brought me into contact with co-students such as Heidrun Schleef, Doriana Leondeff, Paolo Virzí, Massimo Martella, Roberta Canepa, André Prass, Claudio Antonucci, and many others. I recall auditoriums blue with smoke within an hour, students on strike, capable and incapable teachers, visits to Cinecittà across the street, and the documentary teacher adopting me as I came from the land of Joris Ivens.

But life for a penniless youngster in Rome wasn’t easy – the extranei were often begging regular students for mensa tickets. My film career wasn’t really taking off, despite some efforts here and there, such as a one minute film shot at the Casina Valadier, part of an amateur film course with Silvano Agosti, with future novelist and filmmaker Luigi Sardiello as my ‘scriptwriter’ and an amateur actress friend of him in the lead: Wanda. Because of art history I was thinking in symbols, metaphors, iconology, but because of Visconti also of style, architecture, decadence, decay and death. Old Europe Dies. So poor Wanda elegantly enters the frame, climbs the stairs, has a heart attack, slowly bends, falls and dies. One minute. Wanda didn’t have the Viscontian physique I wanted to turn her into, but she bravely fell down. We only had to clean her hands after every take. I had learned my lessons of reverse shots, so the editing looked good – even if we had to edit in the camera, not afterwards. Luckily I had my super-8 with me to do tests beforehand. Nasty we never got from Agosti the real 16 mm film I paid him for; he only showed it to us. The images were very atmospheric, I recall, with light filtered through the foliage. I remember endless wanderings through Rome in search of the perfect staircase I wanted, thus discovering the many faces of Rome, thanks to my Roman friends. At least that one I finished, as I also started another film project at the Centro, which collapsed as soon as it took off – promises by others unkept, lack of funds, and let’s face it: over-ambition. Trying to film a period piece within the old slaughterhouse – then a junkie paradise, now a fancy entertainment area – where we thought we could borrow one of the tourist coaches, and trying to hide our lacks by very close filming, wasn’t really a good idea.

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Instead at the Centro one day, I met a former fellow student from Utrecht University, Nelly Voorhuis, and we decided that work wasn’t waiting for us after our graduation – the 1980s were a poor decade to find jobs – so we should simply create it, by raising an Italian film manifestation in the Netherlands. So I did not publish my MA research then, but instead discovered the attractions of Italian silent cinema during a Dutch manifestation Il primo cinema italiano 1905-1945, organized by Nelly Voorhuis and me for the Foundation Mecano, and resulting in a book (gorgeous design), a travelling film programme, and a modest exhibition of blow-ups of diva postcards (my actual film star postcard mania may have had its prologue then). The preparation for this brought me back to the Institute in 1987-1988, and also in 1992 when Nelly and I, intrigued by the Italian divas, were trying to raise an exhibition, book and retrospective on Lyda Borelli. At that time Ted Meijer was director at the Dutch Institute. I remember him as a very encouraging, friendly man, who was eager to know about our recent visit to an opera at the Scala in Milan (my first there), as Queen Beatrix was planning to go there.

(to be continued)

Closure of the Alma-Tadema project

•November 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Last weekend, the exhibition Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity closed at the London based Leighton House, former home to the artist and contemporary of Alma-Tadema: Sir Frederick Leighton. After the modern styled Fries Museum in Leeuwarden in 2016-17 and the spacious baroque Belvedere Museum in Vienna last Spring, the exhibition reached its third and final venue in London last June.

Each exhibition had its own definite character. The Dutch exhibit had a special narrative on Tadema’s houses and its interrelationships with the paintings, while a second important plotline was that of the connections with cinema, from early French and Italian cinema via the classical Hollywood of Cecil B. deMille to Ridley Scott’s post-classical Gladiator. I still think the design for the combination of film and art in the final room was a master stroke of designer Paul Toornend and Studio Louter, the company that made the slowed down film clips projected on top of the paintings (instead of on the side, as is common but often not working well). By consequence, you could decide for yourself whether you wanted to make the crossmedial connections or not. In the light of innovative ideas within museum and exhibition studies of offering the visitors multiple options to experience an exhibition, this perfectly fell in line. On the other hand, in earlier, smaller rooms, the amount of paintings was perhaps a bit large and some pictures may have been high up to see.

Instead, in Vienna all paintings were at eye level, which was convenient for people, especially the elderly. Some paintings by Tadema’s family was added. Indeed, the curators and all three venues made clear that the contributions of Tadema’s second wife Laura and his daughter Anna were well worth showing too. Vienna, though, drastically reduced both the relationship with the house and with cinema. Moreover, the giant walls of the former monumental stables building of the Belvedere seemed to dwarf even the few giant paintings by Tadema, such as The Finding of Moses. The film clips were shown separately from the paintings at the end of the exhibition, in a kind of double screen projection with digital versions of the paintings, and this at a kind of dead end where you were forced to return and walk back to the entrance. In addition, the originally tinted film clips were quite a-historically turned into black and white. One wonders what would have happened, had the museum given the paintings a colour make over. What was also a pity, is that both at the opening and in the accompanying book ties between Tadema and Gustav Klimt, the Belvedere’s hero, were accentuated, but this element lacked in the exhibition. One had to walk to the main palace where the Klimts were hanging, and make a virtual connection. Finally, while Leeuwarden had a clear narrative, even accentuated by the colour scheme on the walls, Vienna had a quite loose narrative, thus presenting a more classical exhibition in which the art works speak for themselves.

The London exhibition was very different from the other two, as it was presented in a former private villa in South-West Kensington, which was practically cleared from the permanent collection on display to make room for this exhibition, the biggest ever held at Leighton House, and the largest in London since his memorial exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1913. The art works perfectly matched the atmosphere of the late 19th century rich British artist home and studio. While the Arab Hall in the entrance with its little fountain made you lower your voice, the squeaking old staircase to the first floor confirmed your physical experience of walking around in somebody’s home. The At Home in the title therefore did not only relate to the art works but also to the venue. Film here was again separated from the paintings, but less so than in Vienna, as you still had to visit the grand finale room with The Finding of Moses and The Roses of Heliogabalus. The connection with cinema was well picked up in the press too, such as The TelegraphStudio International, and Apollo, I understood. I put in my five cents myself by an article on Tadema and film in Art Quarterly, the magazine of the British Art Fund. Finally, the film connection also worked out well in a promo film, in which Gladiator costume designer Janty Yates confirmed the ties with Tadema (see the film above).

Two weeks ago, I attended what was for me the symbolical closure of the project: a three day symposium at the Paul Mellon Foundation and the Birkbeck University, both in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum. Co-organized by my fellow co-curators Peter Trippi and Elizbeth Prettejohn, we first had a kind of speed dating at the Paul Mellon Foundation on Tadema & artists houses, with a series of five minute presentations, followed by ample space for discussion. The format worked surprisingly well. In the evening we all visited the Tadema exhibition at Leighton House once more (and for some speakers for the first time). The second day, again at the Paul Mellon Foundation, we had various lectures on artists houses in general. In between I had to skip a few talks, as I was finally able to meet Janty Yates in person, after I had interviewed her over the phone last year. Yates is constantly employed, often by Scott, and travels the whole world, but had a relatively quiet time last month and is based in London, so I was lucky. She once more confirmed the Tadema-Gladiator ties, but also for Exodus, and generously explained me her working methods. Of course I heard details about present and upcoming films by Scott, but those things are always ‘for your eyes/ears only’. The last day we shifted to Birkbeck University’s cinema auditorium, where Ian Christie (Birkbeck), Maria Wyke (UCL) and I had organised a programme going from Tadema and theatre, Tadema and tableau vivant, and Tadema and Pompeii films, to art direction with Enrico Guazzoni and Ridley Scott, the divine status of Hollywood stars, and Gabriel Pascal’s Caesar and Cleopatra as a kind of anti-Tadema film. In the end we showed four short Antiquity films (1908-1911) from the Desmet Collection of EYE, live accompanied on piano. All in all, we had three intense but very inspiring days, with lots of new and refreshing research coming up.

The Alma-Tadema project has been an immense learning project for me, in the research and preparation, in the team work, in the pluriformity of the three exhibitions, and in the contacts with the media. Of course, the cherry on the cake was that last month we heard that the Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Fries Museum/Belvedere/Leighton House has been nominated for the Global Fine Arts Awards, a kind of Oscars in the arts world. The finalists will be announced in January 2018.

In memoriam: Karel Dibbets (1947-2017)

•June 2, 2017 • 1 Comment

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Firstly, I need to unmask a myth. Karel was not related to renowned General Dibbets, the man who kept Maastricht Dutch in the early nineteenth century but paid the price for it with a reputation as boogeyman. For a long while Maastricht mothers didn’t threaten their brethren with Black Pete but with Dibbets: “Behave, or Dibbets will get you!” “I didn’t know that anecdote when I wrote my thesis about Jean Desmet under the direct care of Karel in the nineties. Our Dibbets was not a bogeyman, he captivated you. Encouragingly, he challenged me when discussing my research. After me, Karel again and again inspired young researchers on theses, dissertations and early careers, such as Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Head of the Silent Film Collection at EYE. Karel made curious. He challenged. He asked for historical explanations – the word explanation was high on his agenda. And he rubbed in that history was not simple or one-dimensional. One of his other favorite terms was historical complexity.

Karel Dibbets has contributed significantly to the scientific study of film history in and about the Netherlands. Karel graduated at the Dutch Film Academy in the section of Camera and Editing in 1971, and in 1982 also at the University of Amsterdam at Economic and Social History, at a time when departments of media studies in the Netherlands didn’t yet exist. His MA thesis from 1980, Bioscoopketens in Nederland: economische concentratie en geografische spreiding van een bedrijfstak, 1928 – 1977 (Cinema chains in the Netherlands: Economic concentration and geographical distribution of an industry, 1928-1977), was a systematic empirical research that, afterwards, paved the way for digital humanities at large, and more specific his now-known and widely used cinema history database, an exhibition and distribution database of Film in the Netherlands, which originated from a research project supported by the national research council NWO in the years 2003-2007. After his thesis, Karel continued to focus on film exhibition and distribution. He wrote about it in the film magazine Skrien in 1981-1983, where he also served as editor-in-chief in that period. With the late Frank van der Maden he set up an authoritative volume in 1986: De Nederlandse film en bioscoop tot 1940 (The Dutch film and cinema [theatre] until 1940). That “and cinema” in the title was very important to the editors: film was not just a story on the canvas, a medium, or “text” in semiotic sense, but it was also a place of exhibition and an object of trade. That recognition was in line with the so-called “Historical Turn” in film studies from the late 1970s onwards, even if in general mostly focused on exhibition and reception rather than on distribution.

Through his own research into the Dutch exhibition and distribution world of the interbellum, Karel became fascinated by the rise of the Dutch sound film and its context. Today, we know very well that there was something more internationally and certainly in Europe than the alleged first sound movie The Jazz Singer of 1927, but Karel knew that if you only delve into the Dutch side of that story you already trace an exciting young adult book. And this was Hans Blom’s characterisation of Karel’s dissertation Sprekende Films (Talking Pictures), debated at the University of Amsterdam in 1993. From the late 1980s several articles preceded it, including those in the Dutch Jaarboek voor Mediageschiedenis (Yearbook for Media History) which Karel edited together with others between 1989 and 1997 and which was the forerunner of the current Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis (Journal for Media History). Not only did Karel’s dissertation prove that the powerful German sound film company Tobis had originated largely because of Dutch financial input, but also for a few years, competing Dutch financiers and firms had been squandering money until they fell into oblivion – ‘a history of castles in Spain’, as Karel himself wrote. Karel also discussed the important role of Philips within this period of experiments and towering ambitions. While Karel’s Dutch-written dissertation has never been fully released in English, it did lead to English and German articles in edited volumes and magazines.

From 1983, Karel, as well as his colleague Ed Tan, and from 1985 also Jan Simons, were already active as lecturers on film and television at the Department of Theater Studies at Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, right in the heart of Amsterdam.  On instigation of Prof. Hans Blom and Karel himself, a new Film and Television Studies department was founded in 1991, for which professor Thomas Elsaesser was appointed as chair. This also resulted in a manifesto-like publication Nieuwe Doelen, referring to new targets but also the premises of the new department, and containing articles by Karel, the new chair and the other staff members. The young department soon attracted masses of students, so the staff had to increase. Yet, partly because of a then unjustified fear of a possible students decline, expansion was slow. Permanent staff like Karel but also newly hired lecturers had to work beyond their forces. The organization did not really go smoothly; there was rumble and grumble at the Nieuwe Doelenstraat.

Positive was that film-historical research in the Netherlands grew and flourished. In 1986, a Dutch branch was established by IAMHIST, the International Association for Media History, which quickly would be called Vereniging Geschiedenis Beeld en Geluid  (Association for the History of Sound and Image) instead of mere ‘IAMHIST Netherlands’. The association organized a conference twice a year and published a modest magazine, GBG-News, but since 1989, the mentioned thick Yearbooks of Media History also featured in which Karel played such an important role. He would also be a cordial and humorous chairman at the GBG conferences. Karel never lacked a joke when in company, although he did not care to be the center of interest. In 1993, together with Bert Hogenkamp and many others, Karel organized the Amsterdam edition of the IAMHIST Congress, which focused on Film and the First World War, and also edited the homonymous volume (1994) with a selection of the papers. It was a memorable conference, in which the bridge between historians and media scholars was growing but still weak at times. Karel would henceforth accompany theses on film and the First World War and publish with his MA student Wouter Groot an article on the various films on The Battle of the Somme.

In 1994, I managed to obtain a PhD position at the programme Infrastructure of Cultural Life of the research school Huizinga Institute for Cultural History. My promoter was Thomas Elsaesser, but because of his membership of another research school, Evert van Uitert was appointed a second promoter. I went on well with both, but my true supervisor was Karel. Karel was very committed to the main source of my research, the Desmet Collection of the Film Museum (now EYE), so much that when in 1989 the Film Museum management exchanged unique films from the Desmet collection for famous films that were easily available on the market, Karel stepped down from the Board of Directors of the Film Museum and signed a joint protest released at the 1989 edition of the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. The Desmet Affair was born. Gradually, the Film Museum realised that the Desmet collection should remain a collection and eventually the collection even became recognized as UNESCO World Heritage.

For my PhD, Karel generously let me read for a full year, so that I could appropriate all the film-historical and theoretical literature. Not until my second year, I left for the archives and started writing chapters. In addition, Karel coached me in teaching the so-called A-Workgroup, a second-year course where students in addition to literature studies (Film History: Theory and Practice by Allen & Gomery was regular fare) also learned to conduct archival research in the collected cinema reviews in the press archive from the Amsterdam City Archive. Until the release of the Dutch online newspaper database Delpher, this was a gold mine. Of course, after five years (1989-1994) of film archiving and film identification at the Film Museum, and first articles about silent Italian and Dutch film, I had already gotten familiar with the archive world, but the fascination for research into film exhibition and reception came to a good start at the above course.

Karel and I regularly had discussions about the progress of my dissertation and discussed my set-ups, first chapters, reports, and so on to the finish line. Afterwards, there was always room for relaxation, because Karel was an epicurean. He would gladly take you to one of his favorite restaurants. I never got a chance to pay even when I got a paid job, because Karel could be quite stubborn and persistent. He decided, he invited and he enjoyed the company so much. In that respect, he was really a sociable animal, not only in Amsterdam but also at foreign festivals like Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and the Giornate in Pordenone. Karel was also a gourmand. I will never forget how in 2005 he urged my man Paul and me to help devouring a huge rhombus in Bologna in the fish restaurant opposite the film museum. “I cannot eat him on my own, so you have to help me, and it’s now or never.” So we helped eating the rhombus and it was delicious, of course. It was therefore bitter to Karel that when he heard a few years ago he was incurably ill, it was over with the copious repasts.

While living in ‘extra time’, I’m very happy that Karel still managed to finish quite a few things. First of all, this was the safeguarding of Cinema Context, Karel’s magnum opus, started in 2003. This extensive online encyclopedia of cinema culture in the years 1895-1940 had already been beneficial for several researches, e.g. the PhD research of Clara Pafort-Overduin. A large team of young master students such as Caroline van Leeuwen, Mike Peek, Rixt Jonkman and Kathleen Lotze were hired to help collect and enter data. The project was again part of a much larger NWO project in collaboration with the University of Utrecht, Cinema, modern life and cultural identity in the Netherlands, 1895-1940, which resulted in three PhD’s by Thunnis van Oort, Clara Pafort and Fransje de Jong. The Cinema Context site is divided into four sections: the featured movie (including its distributor and a link to IMDB (InternetMovieDatabase) for more information about the production), the building (with the architect), the people in the cinema (owners, staff) and the exhibition company behind it. “These elements form the DNA of film culture,” Karel boasted. “The website is a Hubble telescope that clarifies patterns in cinema exhibition,” he also said. He was still working on systematics in the development of the Dutch film world, as in his own master’s thesis. With computers and new software it had become much easier now.

Of course, the database was not perfect, the trust in IMDB was quite big, sections missed such as reception history and the whole post-war period lacked as well – which made comparison with other countries focusing on post-war film culture rather difficult. But as with other pioneers, there was an impressive beginning and the refinement could be done thereafter. I am therefore pleased that recently, the UvA and especially Julia Noordegraaf has adopted CinemaContext and will expand it. Over a decade ago I steered my bachelor students at the Vrije Universiteit to do cinema research on three leading Amsterdam cinemas during the interbellum: Rembrandt, Royal and Tuschinski. We worked with a simple related database in Access – those were the days. However, when Karel gave demonstrations with CinemaContext, it was quickly clear that the future was his. The database was launched with the impressive symposium Cinema in Context in 2006, organized by Karel in collaboration with the international network HOMER (History of Moviegoing, Exhibition and Reception). Wanda Strauven and I published the symposium keynotes by Robert Allen, Jean-Jacques Meusy, Richard Maltby and Ian Christie, along with an article by Karel, in the homonymous special issue “Cinema in Context” of Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis (2006). In this issue Karel’s focus on the Dutch pillarization as the explanatory factor for the look and content of Dutch sound cinema was contrary to his plea for historical complexity, and to contemporary critical views of Dutch pillarization at large, so it received comments from André van der Velden and Judith Thissen. Oh well: thesis, antithesis; that is how science works.

Karel has also been able to complete other projects. After his retirement in 2011, he translated his years of research into the Dutch cross-links between theatre and film around 1900 into the fascinating 2014 article ‘Paul Kruger als toneelheld en filmster: de verbeelding van de Boerenoorlog en de opleving van het nationalisme, 1899-1902’ (Paul Kruger as stage hero and film star: the imagination of the Boer War and the revival of nationalism, 1899-1902) in the journal De Negentiende Eeuw (The Nineteenth Century). A similar study of the representation of Queen Wilhelmina around 1900 unfortunately did not materialize. However, in his last years Karel did experience a few nice trips to Berlin and visited the HOMER conference in Glasgow in 2015. Karel Dibbets reached the age of 70. Many of his publications are available at  or on the UvA site. His own site lists a selection of his publications. Cinema Context: See also Luke McKernan’s obituary: His legacy won’t be forgotten.


Ivo Blom