In our daily lives, we frequently stumble upon cameras on the street: people taking selfies or recording videos is a common sight that none of us find odd. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, encountering a camera on the street was anything but normal – for many, it was an appalling surprise. One of these awkward moments is engraved on celluloid around 1900 at Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
De Dam te Amsterdam omstreeks 1900*, a little film from the Collection of EYE, shows Dam Square at the turn of the 20th century buzzing with trams, bicycles, and pedestrians crossing over the frame in all directions. What makes this little film so peculiar is the group of people that stand without the slightest motion at the centre of the frame, in great contrast to the fleeting passers-by. A municipality worker, a young boy, and a band of children – all seem stunned, looking directly into the camera. As being photographed would then require, they are doing their best to pose perfectly still to avoid a blurred image. Ironically, however, the machine before them is not a photography camera that requires stillness, but a film camera that is designed to capture movement.
Embalming this confusion and surprise, this little film testifies to the initial stages of a transformation in the visual culture brought by the influx of the film camera to everyday life. Portraying those that stand still and those that walk through the frame, the film captures the coexistence of stillness and movement at once. The transition from the still image to the moving image is rendered visible. The aesthetics of photography and cinematography are united in one single frame for over two minutes.
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçı, curator of Silent film.
*This film was restored in 2014 as part of a crowd-funding campaign called Amsterdam in the Picture. Read and watch more here.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Altyazi, a monthly film magazine from Turkey. English translation by Asli Özgen Tuncer.Tag:Silent cinema, silent film, amsterdam, filmcamera, stille film, filmrestauratie, restoration
In the early 2000s the EYE Filmmuseum received a large amount of film-related materials (in particular about Dutch silent film) through the estate of film collector and historian Geoffrey Donaldson (1929-2002). In a previous blog entry we already talked about the archive of the Kinsbergen family which was created from the materials from this particular archive. Another part of the collection which has recently been inventoried consisted of 2 boxes containing 8 binders with material about the British author Henry Rider Haggard. Six of which contained information about films adapted from Haggard's works. Haggard, who is most widely known for his adventure stories set in exotic locations (predominately the jungles of Africa), is widely regarded as one of the first people to popularize the so-called “Lost World” literary genre.
Henry Rider Haggard was born in Bradenham (Norfolk) on June 22nd 1856 as the eight of ten children. As the son of a barrister he was educated at Ipswich Grammar school and by private tutors. At age 19 he was sent to southern Africa as part of the staff of Sir Henry Bulwer, the governor of the South African province Natal. He was present during the signing of the treaty with the Boers (settlers in that region who had predominately Dutch ancestry) and the annexation of the Transvaal region by the British government. He later became head of his own government department. On August 11, 1880 he married Mariana Louisa Margitson and returned to England after the Transvaal gained independence in 1884. They had four children, one son (who tragically died from measles at age 10) and three daughters who he named after characters from his books. His first commercial success came with his fourth book, “King Solomon’s Mines”, an adventure novel in the vein of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. Among his most popular creations were Allan Quatermain, the hero of “King Solomon’s Mines” (and it's sequels), and Ayesha, the title character of his fifth book “She” (the novel that was most frequently adapted to the screen, at least 13 adaptations according to Donaldson).
Donaldson collected everything he could find about films made from Haggard's books ranging from the earliest silent versions till the most recent film adaptation of "Allan Quatermain", “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold” (USA, 1987) with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone. The latter a sequel to the 1985 film "King Solomon's Mines" which tried but failed to reach the same level of success as Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies. The meticulously research contained personal notes in which Donaldson gave further details about the cast and crew and discussed whether the film should be considered part of the Haggard filmography. In some cases, as with the Méliès film “La Danse du Feu” (France 1899) he concluded that the film should not be considered as a adaptation of “She”, as some other film historians had suggested.
Among the materials collected were more than 300 photographs and (vintage) postcards aquired from a number of archives around the world as well as a few original publicity items such as brochures, pressbooks and posters.
Donaldson's research included information about some of the more obscure versions of Haggard adaptations such as a Musical version of "She" called "Malika Salomi" (India, 1953) from India and a TV version of "King Solomon's Mines" from South Africa as well as a variety of photographs from lost silent films such as two US films from 1917 "Heart and Soul" and "Cleopatra" starring the famous Vamp Theda Bara.
Those familiar with Dutch silent film might be particularily interested in the Austrian silent film "Die Sklavenkönigin" (1924), a version of the novel "Moon of Israel". One of the stars of the movie was the Chilean actor Adelqui Migliar who is most famous for appearing in a great number of Dutch productions. This connection is quite remarkable given the fact that Donaldson was particularily interested in Dutch film, spoke out against the claim by earlier Dutch filmscholars that the Netherlands had not been very prolific during the silent film era and is well-known for writing "Of Joy and Sorrow" an indepth filmography about the Dutch silent film period.
Dana Pastor, intern filmrelated collectionTag:silent film, sound film, Geoffrey Donaldson, H. Rider Haggard, stille film, archief, collectie, collection, archive, lost films, adaptation
Since the inscription of the Desmet Collection on Unesco's Memory of the World Register in 2011 (actually already in the stages of preparing the application) I have been trying to explain why it is difficult to provide an exact number of the films. Although the collection seems to be a finite entity, it also keeps growing (923 and counting)*. It's hard to tell how many films would make the collection 'complete': it is difficult to establish which films exactly had been distributed by Jean Desmet and thus which ones we are still missing. From the company papers it appears that he considered many items, not necessarily acquiring them all in the end. The fact that the poster and the film holdings only barely overlap, is also curious. Even when we do know for sure that he distributed some titles (based on the company papers), not all film prints were among the collection when it arrived to our archive in 1957.Desmet himself had sold parts of his collection, and sometimes these film prints (still bearing the original Desmet company intertitles cards) find their way to our institute through private collectors. This was the case with Tragico Convegno, the 1915 film by Ivo Illuminati that we preserved a couple of years ago. Similarly, over the years, we have received and preserved more films from Desmet's distribution list; such as Loyalty of Sylvia (1912/USA, arrived to us via the Royal Information Services!), or Das Geheimschloss (1914/Germany, found in the year 2000 among thousands of nitrate cans that were privately kept inside the historic city of Haarlem for decades). In such cases, only after examining the print and identifying the contents, we can conclude that we are dealing with a film from the Desmet Collection.But what happened beginning of December 2015 was unprecedented: a few reels of nitrate (bought in a French flea market) were brought to our archive. One of the reels was still in an original Desmet company film can! It is of course very often that film cans get recycled so having the can does not necessarily mean that its content will also be related to the Desmet Collection. And yet, it was: the can contained the 1909 film Nerone by Luigi Maggi, of which EYE so far only held 12 original stills, received from the Desmet family sixty years ago!So 106 years after its release in the Netherlands, and many decades after being separated from the rest of the Desmet Collection, the film (and the can) are now reunited in our vaults.What is going to happen now? First of all, we will be putting the film reel in a new archival film can, so that it can take its permanent place in our vaults. The historic can will go to the film-related collections. The film is not a unique print; several film archives around the world report to have a copy. This means that we will start a research round asking and comparing details, before we can take further action. As part of the Desmet Collection, to have this film preserved is among our prioritites, but it is even more important to do this with all things considered. After all, our print (after so many years of wandering around) may not be complete, or may not be in the greatest condition, and it certainly does not have the original Italian intertitles... So before proceeding, we will dive into international research in order to establish the universal value of what we have.The significance of the Desmet film can, and particularly the fact that we can still receive such an item after so many years, remains very big; it keeps our hope alive that we can go on finding lost silent films from more than a century ago.
* Did you know that you can download the 'complete' filmography of the Desmet film titles as published in the book Jean Desmet's Dream Factory (2014) by scrolling down on this page? Of course with the omission of Nerone.Tag:Silent cinema, Desmet Collection, Jean Desmet, ontdekkingen, lost films, discovery, stille film, Desmet Collectie