The Emergence of the Sound Film

The introduction of the sound film in the Netherlands occurred quite rapidly. In 1930, more than half of all Dutch cinemas had sound projectors, making this country one of the forerunners in Europe; within a few years, that percentage had increased to 90%. All over the country, filmgoers could enjoy this new form of entertainment, and films with songs and music were particularly popular. 

Call for Dutch

In nearly all of these films, however, the talking and singing were done in languages other than Dutch. Only the newsreels, such as Polygoon’s Hollands nieuws and Nederland in woord en klank by Orion-Profilti, were offered in Dutch. Shortly thereafter, the demand for Dutch-language films was heard among the Dutch press and audiences. This call was also heard from the cultural sector: many people were concerned that Dutch would be threatened by foreign-language films, and a few of them saw opportunities to spread Dutch culture through feature films produced in the Netherlands.

Lack of experience

There were quite some problems, however. At that point, the Dutch had no experience in making sound films (the production of feature films in the Netherlands had come to a standstill at the end of the 1920s) and the market for Dutch-language films was too small to support a flourishing industry.

In addition to this, the film industry lacked governmental support. The Dutch government kept its distance, in contrast with other countries such as Sweden and Hungary. The stipulation in those countries that only films in their native languages could be shown led to a form of protectionism and resulted in a huge number of films being produced in those countries. 

Synchronised singing and studio dreams

Despite this, the first careful attempts were made in the early 1930s. Short (one-act) sound films were made with well-known actors such as Lou Bandy, his brother Willy Derby and Kees Pruis who performed popular songs such as 'Ich küsse ihre Hand Madame' and 'Turf in je ransel'. 

The sound in these films was not directly on the filmstrip itself, but on gramophone records that were played synchronously with the film. It was only around 1933/1934 that the time was ripe for synchronised sound in films, and it was in those years that plans were made to build three sound recording studio complexes in the Netherlands. These were Filco, near Ter Heide (south of The Hague), the Philips studio in Eindhoven and Cinetone Studios in Duivendrecht.

Filco turned out to be little more than a daydream, and the Philips studio was only in service for a short time. Only the first Dutch feature sound film, Willem van Oranje, was recorded there. Cinetone, however, was a direct hit. Between 1934 and 1940, around 20 Dutch feature films were recorded in this studio complex.

Crisis year

The first film to be recorded in Cinetone was De Jantjes in 1934. The film was hugely successful, and at last it seemed possible to build up a viable national film industry. Considering how many films were made in the period between 1934 and 1940 – about 40 in total – this would also seem to be the case. That number, however, obscured the truth. After the initial euphoria passed, the popularity of Dutch films declined. The year 1936 was classified as a ‘crisis year’, during which the studios (besides Cinetone, there was also Filmstad, founded by Barnstijn in Wassenaar) were vacant for quite some time.

It was only in the second half of the 1930s, with the arrival of producer Rudolf Meyer, that some sort of continuity came about. Meyer, like so many others employed in the film industry, came from Germany. Thanks to him, and with the help of several directors (also Germans), a whole series of high-quality films were released. These films – Pygmalion, Vadertje Langbeen, Morgen gaat het beter! and Ergens in Nederland – were extremely popular with audiences and featured Lily Bouwmeester, who shone brightly as the Netherlands’ only true real film star.

Bombed and plundered

When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, all of this came to a sudden end. During the war, only one feature film was recorded: Drie weken huisknecht. The two studio complexes served as recording studios for German feature films. In 1944, Filmtone was destroyed in a bombing and Cinetone was plundered during the last days of the war. 

It would take until the 1960s and 1970s before the Dutch feature film would flourish again. 


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