Monthly Archives: December 2015

Publication on Jean/Jan Van Raemdonck

The latest issue of the Dutch-language journal Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis includes an article I’ve written about the art documentary, television and (mainly) film production activities (running from the 1950s until the 1990s!) of the Belgian producer Jean Van Raemdonck.

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Cover for the latest issue of the Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, featuring the poster of a film I discuss in my article

As head of the production company Art et Cinéma or Kunst en Kino, Van Raemdonck made an important contribution to the professionalization of the Belgian audiovisual industry in general and the Flemish film sector in particular. His professional enthusiasm was also revealed in his strong personal commitment to his productions. This points at the complexity of the question of creative authority over his film productions, which are often described as ‘auteur’ (and therefore director centered) films. Van Raemdonck’s biggest professional talent definitely was attracting funding for his projects. Not only did he have great business skills and a nose for finding out where the money is, he even changed his first name according to the fund he was applying to: the Dutch-language ‘Jan’ when he was applying to Flemish institutions versus the French-language ‘Jean’ (his birth name) when applying to francophone Belgian institutions.

You can download the article here. The article is in Dutch, but I’ve written a similar piece on Van Raemdonck in English in the book Beyond the Bottom Line: The Producer in Film and Television Studies (eds. Andrew Spicer, Anthony McKenna, Christopher Meir).

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Akerman’s News from home

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Steven Jacobs introducing Akerman’s film

This afternoon, there was a special screening of Chantal Akerman’s film News from home in the Sphinx cinema in Ghent. A full house with people even sitting in the corridors for Akerman’s 1977 film… a nice tribute to Belgium’s most extraordinary filmmaker indeed. The film was screened partly in honor of Akerman, who unexpectedly passed away two months ago, and partly as a special event in professor Steven Jacobs’ lecture series on the representation of New York.

Akerman inscribes News from home within a city symphonies tradition, displaying the urban infrastructure of roads, subways and car noise. This is accompanied on the soundtrack by Akerman reading letters that her mother wrote her while she was in New York. All letters are variations of the same message: we miss you, we send you some money, we hope you’re happy, you must write us back soon and often. Akerman underlines the repetition by reading the letters in an almost automatic manner. At the end of the film, the fixed and straight shots of the dirty city that New York in 1970s was, are contrasted by the meandering line of a boat, showing every second more of the archetypical New York image, accompanied by seagulls, giving it a romantic layer – leaving NY, heading home?

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Color in cinema

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Hilde D’haeyere showing a clip of Soy Cuba (1964, Mikhail Kalatozov)

Last week, I attended the yearly ‘COFIB’ film seminar in Neerpelt, deep down in the Limburg. For Belgian standards, it’s a long train travel from Ghent, but it was definitely worth the trip. As Technicolor celebrates its 100th birthday this year, the central focus of the film weekend was the use of color in cinema.

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Lisa Colpaert on Leave her to Heaven

It was most exciting to hear Hilde D’haeyere talk about color in the silent film period (hand-colored, stencil-colored, tinted) and in a second lecture about the further development of color from the 1930s until the 1960s. Bregt Lameris gave insight into the restoration process and the difficult search for the various colored versions of the canonical experimental film Ballet mécanique (1924, Fernand Léger). Lisa Colpaert told us more about color films in the 1940s and 1950s that can be labeled as film noirs, thereby focusing on Leave her to heaven (1945, John M. Stahl) and the narrative functions of its conscious use of color in costumes.

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Bregt Lameris on the use of color in Ballet Mécanique

Apart from Ballet mécanique and some early short films, film highlights were the beautifully restored version of the German expressionist classic Das Cabinet des dr Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene) and Jacques Demy’s over-the-top 1970 musical Peau d’âne (although it appeared to be not done to admit to other cinephiles that I liked the film…)