Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Herman Teirlinck & film

Last Friday, I participated in a seminar on Herman Teirlinck, one of the protagonists of Flemish cultural life in the first half of the 20th century. He’s most famous for his literary works, his innovations in theater and, after the Second World War, for establishing ‘De Studio’, a drama workshop that educated various generations of actors. I presented a study on the only film in which Teirlinck was involved, the remarkable The Evil Eye (1937, Het Kwade Oog, dir. Charles Dekeukeleire).

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Niets bestaat vóór het spel, by Toon Brouwers

The seminar was organized by the University of Antwerp (the Research Center for Visual Poetics, my colleagues from last year), the Conservatory and the Royal Academy for Fine Arts Antwerp, to celebrate a new book by Toon Brouwers, on Teirlinck’s ‘De Studio’, its importance for theater education and its evolution until the 1990s.

Radio dramas & ‘transmediality’

This morning, I participated in an exciting ‘audio workshop’ organized by the Study Centre for Experimental Literature (Ghent University & Vrije Universiteit Brussel). After some fascinating introductory reflections by the organizers on the historical context of radio dramas in Flanders, the Netherlands and Germany, and their theoretical and analytical possibilities in the light of ‘transmediality’, four speakers approached one or more radio dramas from a different angle. Janine Hauthal (VUB) talked about Samuel Beckett’s Cascando from a drama perspective, thereby including some critical gender-related observations (why are the roles in Cascando always interpreted by men, while Beckett doesn’t prescribe any sex to the characters? Is it really only because of a dominant – and restricting – autobiographical reading?). Luk Vaes (Orpheus Institute) offered a musicology perspective on the ‘radio dramas’ by the fascinating composer Mauricio Kagel.

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Lars Bernaerts (Ghent University) shared his insights on the practice of novel-to-radio drama adaptations, taking Terug tot Ina Damman, based on Simon Vestdijk’s novel, as a starting point to talk about how literary conventions are taken over and slightly adapted, while the multi-modal possibilities of the radio drama medium itself are also at play. In my own talk, I also focused on a literary adaptation: how the theatre play De Vertraagde Film (1922), by the Flemish writer Herman Teirlinck, was made into a radio drama by the same name in 1967. The transmedia-perspective was enriched as there was also made a film based on De Vertraagde Film in 1937, Het Kwade Oog, by Charles Dekeukeleire in co-operation with Teirlinck himself. This transmedia perspective was follow by some institutional considerations, as the radio drama was made by the public service broadcaster BRT to pay tribute to Herman Teirlinck, who had just passed away. As I’m invited to give a talk on Teirlinck’s relation to film during a study day in February, I’m looking forward to work further on this material!

Writer’s residence in Paris

Since Friday, I’m in Paris for a writer’s residence organized by the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren. They give the opportunity to 18 young Flemish and Dutch (fiction and non-fiction) writers to spend two weeks in Paris and to write some texts inspired by the city. Throughout these two weeks, literary, cultural and political figures such as the Dutch author Adriaan van Dis and the Flemish Minister of Culture Sven Gatz are invited for a meal, a talk and a discussion.

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The participants and coordinators of the deBuren writer’s residence

This residence also feels a bit like coming home, as we are staying at the Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre (la maison des belges), where I resided during my research stay at the Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas last year. Moreover, I will again be spending quite some time in the Cinémathèque française, for archival research on the Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens.

Easy virtue

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During my last days in Amsterdam, I visited the exhibition ‘Easy virtue’ at the Van Gogh Museum. The exhibition, which was first at view at the Musée d’Orsay, focuses on the 19th-century depiction of prostitution in France. Visiting the exhibition is a breathtaking experience, as you become completely immersed in the fascinating nightlife of late-19th century Paris.

Left: Woman with shawl or melancholy woman, Picasso – Right: Woman washing her hair, Walter Sickert

The exhibition reminded me of reading Gajto Gazdanov’s masterpiece Night roads, in which Gazdanov fictionalizes his experiences as a Russian immigrant nighttime taxi driver in Paris during the 1920s. But the immersive experience of the exhibition can even better be compared to what I felt after watching Bertrand Bonello’s beautiful film L’appolonide (2011).

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Woman at the Champs-Elysées by night, Louis Anquetin

L’appolonide opens with a woman who tells of a dream in which she welcomes a man, after which his sperm, like thick white tears, is running down her eyes, over her red lips. The opening images set the tone of the film; it will be about longing and sorrow, deeply intertwined in their fatality. The film is set in a Parisian maison close at the end of the 19th century, but the link to the present is constantly made. This is done explicitly in the soundtrack and in the final scene including contemporary images. And yet, as one of the girls puts it: Ça a changé, ça change doucement. – Comment? – Ça change doucement, c’est tout. This theme of continuation and ‘soft’ change is underscored by the stylistic features of repetition and depicting rituals.

l'appolonide.jpgStill from L’appolonide

The initial scene with the dream is followed by the opening credits, which are supported by a collage of superb black and white photographs, thereby paralleling the composition of the film: L’appolonide is a collage of fragments of the girls as individuals and of the girls as a group. Very often, the fragments that are shown are drowning in melancholia. A girl dies of syphilis, the other girls are humming, dancing and mourning – slowly. The masquerade, the fireworks we cannot see but only hear. Throughout the film, eyes are saying everything. A girl asks: if we don’t shine, who will lit up the night. Or how great cinema is always about life and about cinema.

Opera Forward Festival: opera & film

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The National Opera in Amsterdam is celebrating its 50th birthday, but instead of looking back, it chooses to look forward with the Opera Forward Festival, including many lectures, artist talks, performances and, of course, opera shows. In the framework of this festival, Ernie Tee gave a talk today about the relation between opera and film. He gave a short (and perhaps a bit too superficial) historical overview of cinematic adaptations of operas, the genre of the ‘backstage opera’ (in which the film’s story takes place in the world of the opera) and the possibility of an ‘opera aesthetics’ in cinema (e.g. the work of Luchino Visconti). The lecture ended with a great  performance by opera students from the Utrecht Conservatory of Music (Elvire Beekhuizen, Judith den Dool, Satriya Krisna, Dody Soetanto, Ernst Munneke), who live accompanied the Dutch silent opera film Gloria Transita (1917, Johan Gildemeijer).

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Opera singers and pianist accompanying Gloria Transita

Close-up (EYE expo)

The current exhibition at the EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam is called Close-Up. Unlike previous EYE exhibitions, this expo doesn’t focus on the oeuvre of a single great filmmaker (in the past they had Kubrick, Antonioni, Kentridge …) but instead focuses on a group of film and video artists who work or worked in the Netherlands. This may seem somewhat chauvinistic, but the Netherlands does indeed play an important role in some of the most interesting things happening in contemporary film and video art.

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Image from the single-shot film Requiem to a shipwreck

It’s a very diverse exhibition, with stop-motion films by Cristóbal León and Joaquin Cociña (heirs of Jan Svankmajer and the Quay brothers?) a (sound) installation with 16 mm projectors by Mariska de Groof and new video work by David Verbeek. My personal favourites were the melancholic and beautifully shot video’s by Janis Rafa (Requiem to a shipwreck and Requiem to a fatal incident) and the installation Void fires by the French Brother Florian and Michael Quistrebert. In this work, they take the aggressive colours used to advertise energy drinks and use them to create serene, fire-like images, contrasting with the original use of the colours.

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Void fires