De Uitkijk – the Little Cinema with a Big Name
De Uitkijk was the first avant-garde cinema in the Netherlands. It opened its doors in 1929, and was located at Prinsengracht 452 in Amsterdam. Up until then, that had been the home of the City Bioscope, which had been there since 1912.
The new owners wanted to give the cinema a sleek, modern interior when they first opened, but there wasn’t enough budget for that until 1933. Once they renovated, that modern design made them one of the forerunners of what came to be called the ‘black boxes’. (In this case, that name would be a bit of a misnomer, however, as the walls were actually painted white so that film could be projected on them.)
These cinemas expressly tried to eliminate the environment as a factor. When the Uitkijk put new chairs in, these were a bit spartan, but that fit in with the idea that the true film lover didn’t care about comfort.
A new experiment
When De Uitkijk started, there were only ‘regular’ cinemas, where the film programmes were always aimed at the general public. A cinema that concentrated on a small set of connoisseurs was something new. Experimental and artistic film was on the rise, but up until that point there were no dedicated venues to show them in. Outside the Netherlands, big cities had founded film clubs where the films could at least be shown in private screenings.
The first Dutch film club to follow the international example was called the Filmliga, started in 1927 in Amsterdam. The Filmliga quickly began to antagonize the large cinemas (represented by the Nederlandsche Bioscoopbond) with a flood of polemical publications which condemned not only the offerings and the environment of the cinema, but the entire screening industry as well. Abraham Tuschinski and the Theater Tuschinski, in particular, bore the brunt of these attacks.
The Filmliga goes into business
The Filmliga was looking for a cinema where it could have the final say in the programming. The filmmaker Mannus Franken, who’d just returned from Paris at the time, set about to realise this and proposed the ailing City Bioscope as a location for their own cinema.
The Filmliga got a business licence to enable them to commercially operate De Uitkijk and the Centraal Bureau voor Ligafilms, which would handle distribution. The Filmliga however had underestimated the costs of running the Uitkijk . Fortunately, De Uitkijk’s director, Ed Pelster, had a lot of experience and a broad network.
The fact that the Filmliga complained because Pelster also programmed ‘ordinary’ films to keep the Uitkijk financially afloat testifies to how unrealistic the Filmliga was. After three years, Pelster was fed up with the complaining and quit. He was replaced finally in 1934 by Mannus Franken, who fulfilled the artistic aspirations but was totally uninterested in the business aspects of his post.
The next director, a friend of his from university named Wim Hulshoff Pol, put things in order and provided much-needed continuity. Hulshoff Pol was the director of De Uitkijk for more than three decades.
Films at De Uitkijk
De Uitkijk’s opening consisted of an introduction by Pelster and a speech by Filmliga founder, Henrik Scholte. This was followed by several shorts – two pre-WWI films and Heien by Joris Ivens – and a feature film: Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc from 1927. This film, ‘which people approach with respect, because of its terrific gravity and noble austerity’ (as quoted from the NRC, 10 October 1929), lasted three hours. The last film in the programme was Jardin du Luxembourg by Mannus Franken. It was a tremendous success.
De Uitkijk showed films from the international avant-garde such as Mother (1926), Pudovkin’s film that first inspired the Filmliga to action, Battleship Potemkin (1925) by Eisenstein and the absurdist Entr’acte (1924) by René Clair.
They also screened the Filmliga’s own films, such as Regen by Mannus Franken. In line with these, they also showed company films, such as Kabels leggen and the scientific, almost abstract films from J.C. Mol. In addition, there were also films by Charles Chaplin such as The Circus (1928).
If De Uitkijk was famous for one film, however, it was the The Robber Symphony (1936) by Friederich Feher, which, through its status as a ‘forbidden film’ in the Second World War, would attract an unprecedented amount of attention up until the 1960s.