Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade
Ivo Leopold Blom
Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade

Since 1957 the Film Museum in Amsterdam has been in possession of the Desmet Collection which contains the estate of the Dutch cinema owner and film distributor Jean Desmet (1875-1956). The collection comprises almost nine hundred European and American films in all genres, a collection of publicity material and a dauntingly large business archive. These three sources form the basis of this first comprehensive reconstruction of Desmet's career: from his nomadic beginnings as a traveling showman, working the seasonal fairgrounds of the Netherlands and Belgium, to his successful switch to permanent cinema operation and film distribution. The history of Desmet's career offers not simply an abstract of an individual character and his personal ambitions and motivations, but also epitomizes transformations in the world of cinema as an industry. Between 1907 and 1916 the world of cinema experienced radical structural change which Desmet not only witnessed but also helped to bring about. Given the insufficiencies of Dutch film production, Desmet became a link between film production abroad and film exhibition in the Netherlands. Desmet is not merely representative of the rise of the permanent movie house and the coming of the film distributor. This book shows how his fortunes also encapsulate a series of structural changes within the new culture of permanent cinema and film distribution. In film distribution these changes embraced the introduction of film rental, the advent of the long feature film, the introduction of the monopoly distribution system and the periodic transformation of the products on offer. In the business of cinema operation change involved specialization, the creation of fixed theater venues, the development of a theater hierarchy, expansions of scale, the introduction of trade journals and the gradual legitimization of cinema as a popular cultural institution. These transformations were not confined to the Netherlands but were also taking place in the rest of Europe. Indeed, they were first set in motion by other European countries, and in order fully to understand Desmet it is necessary to situate him in his larger European context. In this original and wide-ranging study Ivo Blom uses the career of Jean Desmet as a means of exploring the history of cinema from the ground-level position of film distribution and exhibition. His copiously illustrated and scrupulously documented exposition swells into an epic narrative that offers a richer, more rounded -indeed 'truer' - account of early urban cinema culture than is possible from the confined perspective of production-based film histories.

De levensloop van de Nederlandse bioscoopeigenaar en filmdistributeur Jean Desmet (1875-1956) biedt niet alleen inzicht in een excentrieke persoonlijkheid, maar staat ook model voor de veranderingen in de filmwereld als geheel. Door buitenlandse filmproducties voor vertoning naar Nederland te brengen leverde Desmet een substantiële bijdrage aan de radicale veranderingen die tussen 1907 en 1916 plaatsvonden in de filmindustrie. Het Filmmuseum in Amsterdam is sinds 1957 in het bezit van de Desmet-verzameling waarin de nalatenschap van deze excentrieke filmliefhebber bewaard is gebleven. Dit materiaal vormde het uitgangspunt van deze originele studie waarin Ivo Blom aan de hand van Desmet's levensverhaal de geschiedenis van de filmdistributie en -vertoning vertelt. Zijn rijk geïllustreerde en grondig gedocumenteerde uiteenzetting is uitgegroeid tot een episch verhaal dat - meer dan een productie-georienteerde geschiedenis - een rijk en afgerond beeld schetst van de vroege stadse filmcultuur.

Table of Contents
Abbreviations, Unidentified Films and Historical Currencies
1. The Story Behind the Collection: A Career and Its Perspectives
2. Film Distribution as the Missing Link
3. The Career in Perspective
I. La Comète Belge: Jean Desmet’s Travelling Cinema, The Imperial Bio (1907-1910)
1. Desmet’s Debut in Dutch Film Culture
2. Lutte pour la Vie: Jean Desmet on the Fairground
3. The Imperial Bio Grand Cinematograph
II. In The Beginning...: Film Distribution in the Netherlands
1. Nöggerath
2. Pathé
3. Fresh Developments
III. Gold Rush: In the Throes of Cinema Mania (1909-1914)
1. Desmet in Rotterdam
2. Desmet Goes to Amsterdam
3. The Hierarchy of Permanent Cinemas
4. New Desmet Cinemas Outside Amsterdam: the Gezelligheid in Rotterdam, the Cinema Palace in Bussum
IV. Film Market Europe: Buying Films Abroad (1910-1914)
1. Second-Hand Films (1910-1912)
2. Between Brussels and Berlin. Desmet’s Purchases 1912-1914
3. Survey of Desmet’s Purchases 1910-1914
V. White Slave Girls and German Kultur: Film Rental and Distribution Strategies in the
1. The Beginnings of Desmet’s Distribution Business and the Consolidation of His Clientele (1910-1912)
2. Films by the Kilometre
3. ‘Monopoly’ Films. Distributing the Exclusive Film in the Netherlands (1913-1914)
4. Mature Clients. Desmet’s Shifting Clientele (1912-1914)
5. Expansion. Distribution in Belgium, the Dutch East Indies and Elsewhere
VI. Onésime et Son Collègue: Competition (1910-1914)
1. Gildemeijer versus Desmet. The Tug-of-War for Asta Nielsen
2. Desmet versus Pathé. Competitor and Client
3. Nöggerath, Desmet and the Italian Costume Epics
4. New Competitors
5. The Ranks Close. The Trade Journals and Control of the Cinemas
VII. Das Ende vom Lied: The Impact of the First World War (1914-1916)
1. The Impact of the Outbreak of the First World War on the Dutch Film Trade and Film Availability in the Netherlands
2. Jean Desmet’s Wartime Purchases
3. Desmet’s Wartime Clientele
4. Mounting Competition
VIII. Quo Vadis?: Desmet’s Film Rental and Cinema Operation
1. The Exhibition and Reception of Desmet’s Films During the War Years
2. Desmet’s Cinema Operations and Dutch Cinemas (1914-1916)
3. New Cinemas in the Desmet Family
IX. Afterlife: A New Career and the Beginning of a Collection
1. The Dutch Film World from 1916. The Demise of Desmet as a Motion Picture Exhibitor
2. Desmet’s Activities after 1916
3. The End of Desmet’s Film Distribution Business
4. Jean Desmet’s Career after the First World War: Cinema Royal and the Flora Project
5. From Film Stocks to Museum Pieces
X. In Retrospect: Jean Desmet’s Place in Film History
1. The Netherlands in an International Perspective: 'Open' and 'Closed' Situations
2. The Institutionalisation, Internationalisation and Localisation of Cinema
3. Who’s in Charge?
4. Between Conservatism and Modernity
5. Business Archive or Trade Press?
6. The Perspective of the Present
Photo Credits
Index of Film Titles
General Index
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