The Art Film

The first crisis in international film production happened around 1907. Cinema attendance stagnated. Higher-educated viewers lost interest in the simple slapstick and comical one-act films that dominated the theatres at that time. In many countries, there were debates about the value of this new entertainment industry. Reform movements protested against the scandalous and morally corrupting character of most films. The film industry anticipated these changing opinions effectively. In 1908, the American Vitagraph Film Company started a campaign to win over the middle classes by making one-reel adaptations of (...) Shakespeare and Dante.

Around the same time (1908), Paul Lafitte in France founded production company Le Film d’Art,  This company won international acclaim with films featuring famous theatre actors, which were based on contemporary plays, literary classics, or the lives of well known historical or mythological characters. The films were distributed through the network of Pathé. 

The first Dutch art film (‘kunstfilm’)

In the Netherlands, both F.A. Nöggerath, jun. and Alberts Frères tried to join in on these developments. When Nöggerath, jun. took over from his father in 1908, one of his first projects was the first Dutch art film, De greep, based on a French play and featuring the famous dutch theatre actor Louis Bouwmeester. Nöggerath was almost immediately followed by Alberts Frères who, with their De legende over het ontstaan van de bloembollencultuur te Haarlem, made their own variation on the kunstfilm. After these two efforts, they stopped making art films – probably because production was expensive and recovering their costs through rental or resale was nigh to impossible.

The influence of the art film

The introduction of the film d’art brought a change in programming along with it. Looking at the film shows organised by Alberts Frères in early 1909 in society De Kroon in Haarlem, it seems that kunstfilms began to be central to the programme. Each of the shows started with a variety of films from the Mullens brothers’ enormous collection and worked toward the highlight of the evening: the screening of a kunstfilm.

This was described in a newspaper review: ‘After the intermission a drama from Victorien Sardou, La Tosca, was screened. From this film, which was the high point of the show, one can see which stage art-projection has reached and, additionally, that Alberts Frères are keeping up with the times’ (from the ‘Limburger Koerier’, 8 May 1909).

It was the next step on the path to a programme format in which nature films, current affairs, comical scenes and tragedies would follow each other in a fixed pattern. 


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