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Stories
to Move you to Tears




Just some anecdotes on Dutch movies and their makers: Movie, Meet thy Maker!
These are pretty old, if admittedly (by me at least) funny, and so are most of the movies. I never liked Dutch movies much in the first place. But having been one of the pioneers in getting that show on the road as a regular industry, I have to tell you it's almost impossible not to feel an attachment to a production that has been part of your life; working in movies can get pretty intense.
Having said that, I must go on to tell how I was flabbergasted when a movie like The Assault won an academy award as best foreign-language production (especially after I'd seen it.) At least one Dutch short had won an oscar before then (please note how I refuse to give those stupid statuettes their capital letters), and I mention Bert Haanstra's Glas — a nice big fat round of applause for Mr. Haanstra, please!
Since then, more Dutch movies have been winning oscars. But I put it to you: What's the use, when they also tell me nowadays a Dutch movie is a big hit when it attracts 40 thousand visitors. That's right — a mere 100 full audiences; and in small theaters at that. Why bother?

Camera Noise
heard by Pim de la Parra
Long before I'd ever been on a movie set, Pim asked me this question of what cameras those Japanese used in the movies I was importing. Because he could hear this distinctive rattle. So, at my next visit to the Photokina K÷ln I went over to the stand of the Japan Camera Institute, I forget what exactly it was called, and asked them. A very nice gentleman told me they used regular Mitchells.
Still later, I asked my friend Noune Hiroshi of the Toho Paris office about it. He replied We dub everything.
So I can't possibly tell you what it was Pim heard there. Projector noise? Maybe. My best guess is, this is a real case where it's all in the mind.

See It in Color
with Frans Bromet
Frans Bromet was the cinematographer for many of Pim de la Parra's movies, among which one of the all-time-greatest Dutch hits Obsession, starring Dieter Geisler. Dieter, who was the producer as well, was rather worried because Frans had never photographed a feature film, let alone one in color. So Pim, at least that's what he told me, bought (or rented, or even stole - you can always hope for the best) some Dutch movie short in color and spliced in a falsified camera credit, putting Frans' name up there in light. Dieter liked it and gave the OK.
But Frans really hardly had any experience at all. He had never even worked with those anti-aircraft gun like contraptions where you have to turn two wheels to make the camera pan and tilt. They're tricky until you get used to them. So he hired one of those tripod heads and put it in his living room for a week or so, on top an old shoe box with two holes cut in it to simulate a camera viewfinder, he sitting behind it and practicing by following his wife around as she moved around.

Photography
noted by Mat van Hensbergen
Mat was one of the most promising young cinematographers in Holland; I got to know him pretty well. After he'd seen Kurosawa's High and Low, he wondered out loud "How do they get this incredible quality?" meaning the extremely long tonal range. When I asked Noune Hiroshi from Toho Paris' Office about this, he just replied We print from original negative - only, and we went on to a discussion of how Tsuburaya Eiji really thought that the only really good monster film they'd made was the first Godzilla, King of the Monsters Amazon.uk Amazon.ca, as later on they were forced to make them in color, really at that time not good enough for their (moving matte and dupe internegative) technique. (Interestingly, one of the very few ever Japanese Agfacolor films was Tsuburaya's The Three Treasures, replete with special effects.)
Anyway, this information rather surprised Mat, who exclaimed But that's exactly what we do! I never had the heart to tell him what you could conclude from that; maybe he's figured it out for himself. The same guy used to tell me I didn't know how to make a decent print.
But Mat was the only Dutch cinematographer I ever talked to who understood the first thing about gamma values and such. I swear another top cameraman once explained to me that Eastmancolor Negative had an exposure latitude of 7 stops; well, you could say that this was its exposure range, expressing it loosely to the point of sloppiness; not the same thing at all. I'm not going to explain. All that stuff almost is history, anyway.

Original Negative vs. Dupes
or, the Military as Art Critics
Toho Film Co., Ltd. was formed in 1936 by the head of PCL Photo-Chemical Laboratories. Small wonder they have a high standard of photography. And it shows. To print from original negative only indicates a (what some people would call) maniacal insistence on quality, but a remarkable confidence in your lab as well, because every print inevitably means negative wear and maybe even tear.
I now have to side-track to the story of how the Americans, upon occupying Japan, burned the negative of Kurosawa's Judo Saga, as this was declared to be a filthy nationalistic warmongering production. Yeah, beats me too. I have long thought those militaries in their pacifist zeal also burned MŘnchhausen in Germany, but now it has turned up Amazon.uk Amazon.ca again. Anyway, Hiroshi-san smiled Japanesely when we got to talk about it and just remarked We still have another copy. This is available on DVD now. The quality is great — especially for a mere dupe, Mat.
Most of Kurosawa's movies were Toho productions. Until Seven Samurai overtook it in popularity, Rashomon was his most famous one; ironically, it was produced by Daiei motion picture company. We finally made it to the point I wanted to make: The Rashomon negative has been damaged, showing cables and splices where it has been torn—and it's only a dupe!

Joris Ivens
photo by Frans Bromet

Joris Ivens
the Habit of Legend-Forming

The case of Dutch movie-maker Joris Ivens is rather exceptional. Like KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, he is a national Institution, with, not very subtle, differences. First, let me get off my chest that I'm a heretic, and really like only two of his movies: the very early ones Regen (Rain) and De Brug (The Bridge). The rest are good enough, but not that great; is just what I feel.
It's several years later that I stumbled over RenÚ Clair's 1928 short La Tour (Eiffel, of course) - so that's where Ivens got De Brug from. Anyway, for much of Ivens' best works he has to thank collaborator of John Fernhout/John Ferno; but that's another story.
Like Jan de Hartog, Joris Ivens left Holland at an early age. This was after making a documentary on the building of the Afsluitdijk, the first step in turning the Zuiderzee into a polder. The last sequence shows how the first crops were dumped into the sea to keep prices up; the Dutch government, who paid for both dyke and movie, failed to enjoy the joke; so, Ivens was forced to look elsewhere for further employment.
The point is that Ivens was a political na´ve. He never saw how the 1930s Zuiderzee works were nothing but provision of work in the crisis years, and believed public statements they served to enlarge agricultural acreage. One understands his disgust and sympathizes, but that does not make him any less na´ve.
Ivens then went to Spain, where he made a movie Spanish Earth on the civil war, with a narration by Ernest Hemingway. Needless to say, maybe, like George Orwell he was on the 'communist' anti-Franco side. He made a movie Indonesia Calling which, I feel with 20/20 hindsight, was much too uncritically supportive of Sukarno. The same for his East-European movies as regards the C**t party. You really have to read Solzhenitsyn to get the other view on Maxim Gorky, after whome a canal was called. I don't know if Joris actually shows it, but it's all in the same period. Solzhenitsyn almost, maybe really, have to re-read him, claims its foundation literally consists of human bones.
Much later still, he went to Castro Cuba and started a film school there, where they used wooden cameras — just like ChÚ's trainees used wooden guns. After that, the Dutch counterpart to the Nouvelle Vague started a movement for Ivens' rehabilitation, and finally the Dutch government let him make a documentary on Rotterdam-Europoort harbor; after which he left the country again.
Among the last projects he undertook was a series of movies in China, Comment Yukong Deplaša les Montagnes, finished in 1976. Here again, he was oblivious to what was going on there in terms of oppression by the dictatorial communist party leaders. (I once met a Chinese who ran a snack in Trinidad, after escaping from China by swimming across the Yang-Tse. He commented China no good. Everybody must work for the government.)
To me, Joris Ivens may innocently have afflicted much damage by not looking far enough behind the propaganda to check what was really going on. His intuitive reflex was to jump in support of the underdog, which became him well. But beware: That underdog may be a viciously biting bastard mongrel, afflicted with rabies.
All that doesn't change the fact Joris Ivens was one of the nicest persons I ever met. The first time was in the Haags Gemeentemuseum, where a bunch of Important People had gathered to receive him. Ivens, with his never-failing instinct looked around the mob and, disregarding all the collected dignitaries, picked me standing right across the hall to walk over to, hand outstretched to introduce himself. Really made me laugh and goes to show you where he was at.
Joris Ivens
the official site



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