EYE and Desmet

In 1957, the first items from the Desmet Collection came to the Dutch Filmmuseum, the predecessor of EYE. At the time the Filmmuseum was a very small institution, and most of its attention went to the films.

preservation practices

Until the eighties it was common practice to preserve coloured nitrate-based films by copying them to black and white acetate film. Not only was black and white cheaper and chemically more stable than a colour copy, but colourings in silent film were also considered to be incidental additives which could be ignored.

colour restorations

But the times were changing. A new generation of film scholars found that colouring was actually so prevalent in silent nitrate, it should be considered an integral part of early cinema.

The Filmmuseum was one of the first film archives to change its restoration policy, mainly because of the films in the Desmet collection. In 1986 and 1987, colour restorations of Desmet films caused quite a stir when they were screened at Giornate del Cinema Muto – the most important international festival for silent film. Some critics thought the colours made the films look garish and vulgar, but others were very enthousiastic and felt a new standard had been set.

unknown masterpieces

Not only the splendour of the colours took the audiences by surpise. Also, some of the films were recognized as masterpieces very few people had ever heard of. Suddenly, the Desmet Collection had the attention of eminent film historians from Europe and the United States.

more than 100.000 pages

Although most photos and posters had been catalogued and scanned earlier on, an inventory of Desmet’s paper archive - mostly business papers and administration - took years to complete. The sheer amount of documents is daunting; when the paper archive was digitized, the result was more than 100.000 scans.

Only when the paper archive was thoroughly studied in the 1990s, it became clear that Desmet did not abandon all his film-related activities after 1920, as had previously been thought.

The first scientific work on the Desmet Collection appeared with the PhD research of film historian Ivo Blom in 2000. In 2003 the English edition of his thesis came available: Jean Desmet and Early Dutch Film Trade.

filmography Desmet Collection