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Archival Spaces 259  

Cinefest: 33rd Film Historical Congress

Uploaded 30 December 2020

The 17th International Festival of German Film Patrimony, sponsored by the Hamburg Cinegraph, was accompanied by a film historical conference from 20 – 22 November under the heading, “Cinema, War and Tulips. German-Dutch Film Relations.” As in the case of the film festival (see Archival Spaces 257), the Congress took place online, but during regular business hours in Hamburg (9:30 AM GMT), which meant this reviewer in California pulled three all-nighters, something I haven’t done since college.

The keynote, titled “Panorama, Academy and Archive, German-Dutch Film Relations,” was given by Ivo Blom, a professor in Amsterdam and former curator at the Eye Institute. Blom noted that Dutch images of Germany and German images of the Netherlands have always been based on stereotypes, even if many Dutch people worked in Germany over the years (Truus van Alten, Ernst Winar, Jaap Speyer), while many German-Jewish refugees fled to Amsterdam in the 1930s. However, the rich history of German-Dutch production, distribution and exhibition, has yet to be written, e.g. by analyzing the Eye’s pre-WWI Jean Desmet Collection or the Filmliga Collection of avant-garde film.

Independent scholar Thomas Tode followed up with a discussion specifically of the Dutch and German film avant-garde, beginning with the thesis that the Dutch masters (Rembrandt) in art were fascinated by light, an obsession shared with filmmakers, like Joris Ivens, who has started his career studying optics and working on the design of the Kinamo, a lightweight 35mm camera that became the workhorse of avant-garde filmmakers, like Ivens, Moholy-Nagy, Luis Trenker, Hans Richter, and Alexander Hackenschmied. Next, Rommy Albers, Head of the Dutch Film Collection at EYE, discussed the career of Haro von Peski, a little known film director and producer, who after directing two films in Holland, set up a production company in Berlin in 1931, Majestic-Film, which produced 13 films under van Peski (the company continued to produce films until 1939). Peski returned to Amsterdam in 1935, but was not able to produce any more films under the Majestic label.

Kinamo 35 mm movie camera
Rain (1929, Joris Ivens)

The afternoon sessions began with EYE researcher Annette Schulz’s talk on Rudi Meyer, the German Jewish film producer who was responsible for numerous exile films in the 1930s and became a prominent film distributor in the Netherlands after surviving Auschwitz, also producing films in the 1950s by Gerard Rutten and Bert Haanstra. André Van Der Velden, a professor at the University of Utrecht, discussed the rivalry between the Dutch Tuschinski owned cinemas in Rotterdam and Amsterdam and the German UFA-owned Rembrandt (Amsterdam), Luxor (Rotterdam) and Asta (Den Haag) cinemas.    

Saturday morning began with Bundesarchiv archivist Evelyn Hampicke discussing  the ambiguous career of Fritz van Dongen, the Dutch actor who was featured in at least two Nazi propaganda films, which communicated racist ideology, before emigrating to Hollywood, where he changed his name to Philip Dorn and became an upstanding anti-Fascist in numerous anti-Nazi films.  After the break, Timur Sijaric, a doctoral candidate in music at the University of Vienna, lectured on the film music of Alois Melichar for the Hans Steinhoff Nazi bio-pic, Rembrandt (1942), which was wholly shot in the occupied Netherlands. Interestingly, Sijaric notes that the composer utilized verboten 12-Tone techniques in his composition for Rembrandt, but Goebbels hated the film anyway, and it failed with audiences, despite being one of the most expensive German films of the war years.

Komedie om Gekd (1936, Max Ophuls)

Next, Kathinka Dittrich van Wehring, who received this year’s Reinhold Schünzel Prize, spoke about her efforts to research German refugee filmmakers in Holland, when she directed the Goethe Institute Amsterdam in the 1980s, and in her 1987 dissertation. Van Wehring noted that the home office of the Dutch government banned any anti-fascist topics in films, so the features made by German émigrés  were apolitical and mostly harmless entertainment. In the afternoon session, Tobias Temming spoke about the image of Germans in post 1945 Dutch feature films, while Katja S. Baumgärtner, a doctoral candidate at the Berlin Humbolt University, discussed an East German documentary, Women in Ravensbrück (1958), co-directed by the Dutch-German team of Joop Huisken and Renate Drescher.

Alleman (1963, Bert Haanstra)

Sunday morning began with Anke Steinborn, an academic at the Viadrina University of Frankfurt/Oder, discussing Bert Haanstra’s use of Rembrandt lighting. Next, Karl Griep, former director the Bundesarchiv’s film department, presented a classic content analysis of the image of Holland and the Dutch in German post war newsreels, noting that stories about sports far outstripped any other topic. Finally, Anna Schober de Graaf discussed the use of identification figures  (taxi drivers, pedestrians) in Dutch post war documentaries to create empathy, while independent researcher Michael Töteberg reviewed the film careers of two Dutch producers who helped jumpstart New German Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, namely Rob Houwer and Laurens Straub.    

Michael Kohlhaas (1969, Volker Schloendorf, produced by Rob Houwer)

Despite a few very minor technical glitches, Hamburg’s Cinegraph, the Eye Institute and the Bundesarchiv should be congratulated on this conference on German-Dutch film relations, which despite a degree of heterogeneity certainly pointed the way towards further research in this under-exposed area of film history. A publication in German is forthcoming.

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Archival Spaces 258

Edward Stratmann (1953-2020)

Uploaded 17 December 20

Edward Stratmann, my colleague and friend, has died. His distinguished career in film archiving began almost at the same moment in the same place as mine, making us life-long fellow travelers on a remarkable  professional journey into what was then still a field in its toddler stage. Even though we were never close friends in the 45 years I knew Ed, we had a relationship of mutual respect while he worked for me that turned into a deep sense of caring and warmth, once I left Rochester. Edward was one of the most down to earth people I ever met, absolutely honest, loyal, discreet, and extremely good-natured. In the rarified academic atmosphere of the museum, Ed was a nuts-and-bolts practitioner, who learned film preservation from the bottom up.

Born November 29, 1953 in Biloxi, MS at Kessler Air Force Base, he moved to Rochester with his large family, where he graduated from high school and attended Monroe Community College and Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1975, he started working for Seymour Nussbaum, the facilities manager at George Eastman House, then transitioned to the film department. It was in September 1975 that I came to Rochester on an National Endowment for the Arts post-graduate internship in the film department, where I spent a year working for the legendary James Card. Ed was already reporting to Assistant Allan Bobey, so he would often hang out with us film dept. grunts, including projectionist Bob Ogie, while Card was often absent.

George Eastman Museum

When I returned to Eastman Museum in 1984, Ed was handling vault management and shipping, as well as sometimes projecting films when no one else was available. I almost immediately took over programming the Dryden Theatre from Kay Mcrae, Director John Kiuper’s secretary, so I had to work closely with Ed to traffic prints. At that time, as later after I had become head of the department, I spent a lot of time hanging out in Eddie’s Dryden Theatre office, usually to have a cigarette break (still smoked back then), since I could always rely on him having a smoke.

The Bluebird (1919, Maurice Tourneur

In 1987, I asked Edward to become our preservation officer with the title of assistant curator. Although he had no professional training, I knew he was a quick learner and I was confident we would learn together. One of our first projects was Maurice Tourneur’s The Blue Bird (1919), a beautifully tinted nitrate print from the Cinémathèque Française. Ed also started accompanying me to the Association of Moving Image Archivists conferences, where he happily mingled with other film preservation technicians, soaking up their expertise. In 1998, I had the privilege of successfully nominating Eddie for AMIA’s Dan + Kathy Leab Award, given to film archivists for their contributions to the field of film preservation.

The Lost World (1925, Harry O. Hoyt)

But the project Ed was really passionate about was the reconstruction of The Lost World (1925) with stop-motion animation by Willis Obrien. We had a very good tinted 16mm print, which had been cut down for it’s Kodascope release, which we blew it up to 35mm, producing the most complete negative available, though still only 40% of its original length. Then in 1992, we discovered a 35mm nitrate material in Czechoslovakia, probably struck from the original foreign negative. I left Eastman before the lost material arrived, but Ed followed through, working with Paolo Cherchi-Usai to crowd-source $ 80,000 and  eventually produce a magnificent new negative and print that was now missing only about a reel, much of it consisting of shortened titles and only one major sequence, namely the attack of cannibals. The reconstruction premiered in 1997 and was one of Edward’s proudest achievements and a major contribution to film history.

Print

While continuing his work overseeing the Film Department’s film preservation work, Ed also became a teacher after the founding of the Jeffrey Selznick School in 1996. As the instructor of record for the school, Ed was lionized by the students, especially because of his story-telling prowess. Ed organized annual student trips to John E. Allen, to the Library of Congress, to Syracuse Cinefest, where Ed would invite me to give impromptu talks to the students. Since its founding, the school has graduated more than 280 archivists from twenty-eight countries in its one year certificate and two year Master’s programs. Just how much the students idolized Ed became clear when more than seventy-five alumni attended his retirement party, held in May 2016 in conjunction with the Eastman Nitrate Film Festival. Indeed, many of today’s most prominent younger generation moving image archivists received their training with Edward, including Rita Belda, Jared Case, Liz Coffey, Brian Graney, Andrew Lampert, James Layton, Heather M. Linville, Regina Longo, Brian Meacham, Anke Mebold, Paul Narvaez, , Cyndi Rowell, Ulrich Rüdel, Vincent Pirozzi, Christel Schmidt, Albert Steg, Dwight Swanson, and Katie Trainor.

Jeffrey Selznick Students, 2013

Seeing Ed in 2016 at his party, I realized his health was extremely fragile and was the main reason for his retirement. However, until this last week, I was unaware of the fact that he had been in and out of the hospital several times this last year. Edward Stratmann passed on 10 December 2020 in Greece, New York. For me it is the end of an era.

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Archival Spaces 257

Cinefest: Cinema, War and Tulips

Downloaded 4 December 2020

The 17th International Festival of German Film Patrimony, sponsored by the Hamburg Cinegraph, screened online from 14 to 22 November: “Cinema, War and Tulips. German-Dutch Film Relations;” it was accompanied by a film historical conference (20-22 November). I’ll discuss the conference in my next blog, while focusing on the film program today, which presented 11 Dutch films, made between 1929 and 1939, the majority being so-called “exile” films made by German émigrés from Nazi Germany. I’ve been trying to track down some of these films since the 1980s, when researching my dissertation on Anti-Nazi films made by German émigrés in Hollywood. I became aware of the Goethe Institute Amsterdam presenting a film program and catalog on German refugees to Holland in the 1930s, documenting the incredible influence they had on jump-starting the Dutch film industry. 

Thanks to the influence of German émigrés and some Dutch expatri­ates returning from Germany, the indigenous sound film industry in the Netherlands blossomed. The producers Gabriel Levy, Leo Meyer, and Rudi Meyer, the directors Jaap Speyer, Ludwig Berger, Max Nosseck, Friedrich Zelnik, Rudolf Meinrad, Richard Oswald, Henry Koster, Max Ophüls, and Kurt Gerron, as well as the script writers Jane Besss, Walter Schlee and Alexander Alexander played a decisive role in this development. However, due to the size of the domestic market and the limited possibili­ties for export, these films remained relatively unknown outside Holland.  Surprisingly, of 31 films produced in the Nether­lands in the 1930s, 23 can be classified as “exile” films, including Bleke Bet (1934, Richard Oswald), De vier Mullers (1934, Rudolf Meinert), De Big von het Regiment (1935, Max Nosseck),  Drei Wenschen (1937, Kurt Gerron) and Vadertje Langbeen (1938, Friedrich Zelnik). Considered mindless entertainment by some critics, many of these films nevertheless offer fissures that communicate the anxieties of exiled German-Jewish artists.

Zeemansvrouwen / Sailor’s Wives (1929/2003)

The present series started with three Dutch sound films, before the rise of Nazism brought German filmmakers to the Netherlands. Zeemansvrouwen / Sailor’s Wives (1929/2003, Henk Kleinman), which was to be the country’s first sound film, was released silent and only sonorized in 2003 (with post-synchronized dialogue); it is a neo-realist melodrama of a pregnant fishmonger, shot around Amsterdam’s docks.  Likewise, Jaap Speyer’s De Jantjes / The Tars (1934), produced by Leo Meyer, Holland’s second sound film, plays in the same milieu of Amsterdam’s Jordaan district and concerns three sailors returning home, who are unable to adapt to civilian life, while popular folk songs mitigate the tragedy. Finally, Dood Water / Dead Water (1934, Gerard Rutten) visualizes the reclamation of land from the Zuidersee, but killed off the local fishing industry; while the opening documentary prologue is a patriotic even nationalist hymn to progress, the fictional narrative that follows focuses on the human toll of modernization.

I first heard about De Kribbebijter / The Cross Patch (1935, Henry Koster) when I interviewed Koster about his career in 1976. A light comedy of mistaken identities with music, De Kribbebijter concerns a Baron, a wealthy grouch who disowns his son for wedding his secretary and is trying to marry off his daughter to an accountant, whereby the children have their own ideas. Koster, who had specialized in comedies in Germany (The Ugly Girl, 1933) and Austria, before discovering Deanna Durbin at Universal, keeps it light, despite the Depression economics that motivate the action. The film was produced by Leo Meyer, who would become Holland’s most important distributor after World War II and would continue a correspondence with Koster well into the 1960s, and co-written by Alexander Alexander and Jane Bess, one of the most prolific women screenwriters in Weimar.

Mystery of the Mondscheinsonata (1939, Karel Lamac)

Kurt Gerron’s Het Mysterie van de Mondscheinsonate / Mystery of the Mondscheinsonate (1935), based on Willy Corsari’s detective novel, is a crime drama about the murder of a retired cabaret star, supposedly at the hands of her dance partner. With its expressionist cabaret set harking back to Weimar, Het Mysterie also touches on German exile themes, in particular, the threatened loss of economic status and identity, which motivates the murder. The film can also be considered a pure German exile film, given that the director, scriptwriter (Walter Schlee), producer (Leo Meyer), cameraman (Akos Farkas), art director (Erwin Scharf) and sound technician (Gerhard Goldbaum) were émigrés.

Another crime drama that starts out as a horror-comedy based on Arnold Ridley’s often filmed play,  was De Spooktrein / The Ghost Train (1939, Karel Lamač), which dumps a motley crew of train passengers in a deserted, “haunted” train station. Like many “haunted house” films of the period, the focus is on the eccentricities of the various characters who are trapped against their will. The ghosts turn out to be weapons smugglers, a highly politicized subject released only weeks after the start of World War II, but Lamač avoids politics like the plague, as did all Dutch features in the period, given the censorship restrictions of the government regarding discussion of Nazi Germany.  

The three best films in the program were undoubtedly Max Ophüls’ Komodie on Geld / Comedy about Money (1936), Ludwig Berger’s Pygmalion (1937), and Douglas Sirk’s Boefje (1939), the latter produced by Leo Meyer. I had seen the first two films at the Berlinale 1983, but realized just how good they were. All three films allude to themes of exile. Komodie om Geld satirizes the obsessive quest for money, its “rags to riches to rags story” closely resembling the fate of many émigrés, while the décor of the cabaret recalls Weimar Cubism and art deco. Pygmalion, starring Lili Bouwmeesteras Eliza Deuluttel, receives an exile-centric reading of Shaw’s text, in that language defines class and status, a fact that German refugees were painfully aware of, given they were forced to work in foreign languages after the loss of Germany. Boefje, which means brat in Dutch, concerns a good boy who is invariably regarded as a juvenile delinquent by the authorities, simply because of his origins. The prejudices encountered by Boefje as a member of the Lumpenproletariat reflect the situation of German Jewish refugees:  Often without passports, residency permits, or working papers, they were literally hounded from country to country by the authorities, like common criminals.  

Given the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Holland remained a transit country for German émigrés, most eventually finding their way to Hollywood, although some, like Rudolf Meinert, Willy Rosen, and Kurt Gerron, were murdered in Nazi concentration camps, while Rudi Meyer survived Auschwitz, and Ludwig Berger remained hidden with false papers until war’s end. According to Ivo Blum, Leo Meyer committed suicide in Amsterdam in 1944. Jane Bess emigrated to Nazi-infested Argentina, while Alexander Alexander disappeared without a trace.  

Rudolf Meinert
Kurt Gerron

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27 thoughts on “Blog

    1. Wow… Not a very profound word. However, I am totally entralled by your ability to capture the moment of truth through enlightenment of diametrical pose. What a wonderful worldly resource of knowledge you embody. Please sign me to your blog.

      Graciously:

      Timothy Patrick Prince Princetimothy58@gmail.com

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  1. Chris, Sorry to tell you there is no “page 3” on this site and no link. We should talk. Joan’s father and mother lived across the street from Villa Aurora, to the right of the photo. Her mother was also called up by one of the HUAC subcommittees.

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  2. Thanks for sending me the link to your blog. Reading your blog was eye-opening for me!
    I was impressed you had saved the Winterim program from 1971. There was a lot of unrest at the University of Delaware(as at many other college campuses). In retrospect, I see Winterim 1971 as an attempt by the university to engage the students on a not so formal academic basis.

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  3. Much of the information in the Jan-Christopher Hiram regarding my rediscovery 6 year involvement with the 1969 Harlem Cultural festival is incorrect and incomplete. It is a shame I was not contacted for this piece. The Mia information continues!

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      1. my phone speaking there sorry – your telling of the technical end of the Harlem Fest is fabulous -however there are so many inaccuracies being repeated and repeated regarding my end and my company Historic Films’ involvement that i am weary of trying to “correct” them all – I only wish your diligent research on the tech end could also have been extended to me . i will though forward you some info being prepared now that will illustrate that story in an accurate manner

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