Steve Jobs

Steve, thank you for everything. It is a sad day today. We will miss you.

As a child, at a friends house we played endlessly with the Apple II and then the first MacIntosh. We were fascinated by the mouse and visual environment, and I still chuckle inside remembering the text-to-speech electronic voice which could read to us. Hypercard which showed us what the internet would look like. Déjà Vu. Lode Runner. MacWrite. MacPaint. We learnt about so many different things – it was a parallel world which had opened up to us.

But it was only as a university student, that I got my first real Apple computer – after the launch of the iMac. And it was then that I was introduced to the internet. Not really an early adopter, but the iMac made it possible for me. My first email address, my first webpage and discovering the ever-growing wealth of information and discussion on the web. And it only got better, as connection speeds increased and the tools (both by Apple and others) kept improving.

By now, I have written thousands of pages with iWork on successive Apple laptops, each version cooler than the previous one. Email became an integrated communication form in my life, whose instant delivery we now take for granted. I learnt about desk top publishing, image manipulation, how music is put together and how movies are edited. I had video calls with people on Skype, looked things up on Wikipedia and started a blog with WordPress. I became proficient with computers despite not being particularly technical. And thathad become possible just because you, with the people you surrounded yourself with at Apple, had taken such care to properly develop your products, and setting a standard which others could live up to. You inspired a whole generation of entrepreneurs, developers and engineers to the great benefit and fascination of all of us.

In more recent years, your iPod and iTunes made my music truly portable, and accessible like it never was. And then the introduction of the incredible iPhone… I was stunned. The internet had now made the huge leap from being the ultimate working tool to being the ultimate travel companion. Smart-phones, both iPhones and now others, are everywhere enriching our lives, allowing us to make more of the time we have and stay close to the ones we love. You made it all possible, taking us form one exciting development to the next.

Steve, thank you for everything. It is a sad day today. We will miss you.

My condolences to your family, your friends and your colleagues.


Publishing democratically

PARIS – Say you have written a book. It has been lying on your desk for a few months now and you are ready for the plunge: you decide to send it off to a publishing house. Big brown envelope. 300 pages inside. And then wait. For a month. Perhaps two. Perhaps more. No matter how grand the merits of your book, you know that  your chances are low. But on the other hand, if it is picked up, they will really help promote your work, getting it out there. And then, hopefully, it will win over an audience.

A young Dutch company from The Hague is changing the game. They are proposing a new and simpler approach: getting the readers to vote for their favourite (unpublished) works. If a book manages to obtain 250 votes by its readers, it will be published (by their publishing house Het Tweede Gezicht). Isn’t that exciting? Publishing what the readers love, rather than what the publishing house think is good. After all, it is the readers who buy the books if they’re published. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? If you think about it, then… no, not really. I will show you why.

This company is tapping into a HUGE market, even for a small country. In the Netherlands, an estimated 1 in 15 adults has literary ambitions – that is a million people! We can safely assume that these people like reading too, which would not exclude them from playing judge to the works of others. There are so many writers, that there are bound to be some who pick up on this idea. But then what? Should the author send out messages to all his Facebook friends to get them to vote for him?

The author probably should call up his friends, but the company charges 5€ a vote, so people will not be voting willy-nilly. If ‘their’ book has gathered enough votes (the 250), they will receive a copy of the book personalized with their name in it. But is this worth the 5€ vote? Would people not just vote for the book which is closing in on the tipping point of being published? This is more like a stock market than literary criticism. Again other people will not care for the personalized copy (after all, they have already read the book), in which case they will not be too thrilled to pay 5€ for a vote. It does not sound like it would work, and even more so if we consider the arrival of more and more ebook readers on the market which are pushing aside printed books.

If we take a step back, what attracts authors to traditional publishing houses is two fold – the prestige of being published by an old and respected house and their ability to promote the work. Even in the unlikely case that many books in the future never see a paper version, the attraction of the prestigious house remains. Imagine an author defrauding the Dutch company, and forking out the 5€ for each of the 250 votes required for publication (i.e. 1250€). Would the publishing house then foot the bill for the promotion of his book, get it distributed to the shops if they did not really believe in the project? I don’t think so. It is worth reminding ourselves, that the attraction of the house for an author is minimal, after all, they have no glorious publishing history with big names, in fact, they have no visible experience in the field at all. If an author would be willing to go with them, he should also be considering self-publishing. It is more likely that this book-voting concept is inherently doomed to failure.

If readers-voting is to have a future, it would have to be organized by a respectable old-school publishing house, for a book a year, and offering the voting readers a trip to come and visit them in Paris or London or where ever they are based, and meet their favourite authors over lunch. That is an exciting motivation to vote for people who like reading. It is also a way for a prestigious house to take a bite out of a ever-growing market of unpublished works (blogs included!) but remaining faithful to their calling of promoting books they believe in. It is an idea to consider. Anyone at Hachette or at Pearson out there?


Transformers shooting down movie critics

Transformers 2PARIS – When I argued, a few months ago, against using popularity rankings to judge the quality of a film, I did so out of a love for film. Today, the emblem of the popularity vs quality debate is Transformers 2 (which I have not seen). What makes this particular film more interesting than others like it, is that there is a near unanimity about its lack of merits. But people still go to see it, presumably thinking that with more robots and more of Megan Fox and it being a success – it can not be too bad. And then, inevitably, the audience is surprised to find that the film is actually bad! But so many people went, in fact, that the film has already hit the 9th place of top grossing films of all times in the USA! You can not help but wonder: Why?

It is hard to quantify how determined people must be to go in, despite having heard and read things like Roger Ebert’s a “horrible experience of unbearable length”; or Quinn from The Independent resorting to “boring, preposterous nonsense”. It would seem that the audience has shut itself off from all criticism. We could also turn to Ebert and Quinn and ask them why they bothered to review such a film at all? The audience obviously does not care, in this case at least, what the critics think. The divide between the critics and the audience has never seemed so wide, with people already proclaiming the death of movie reviewing.

Let us go back in time to look at the development of the interplay of critic and audience to see what is happening and how we got here. The two camps were once clearly marked, with newspapers hiring educated people with insight and writing skills to come up with critical reviews. The critics were in competition amongst each other, being judged by other film fans. Over the last decade, the internet gained so much ground that it is becoming a universal medium. The internet offers everyone the possibility to voice their opinion on a film, competing with the paid reviewers of the newspapers. Now that you can put the two groups side by side, what do we see happen?

The audience accuses the critics of forgoing the pleasure of movie-watching in exchange for pretentious analysis. The critics, in the their turn, feel that if you are not going to “really watch” the film, what is the point in writing about it? It might be added that the critics have seen too many films to be able to rave about a copy-paste production, making them pretentious in the eyes of the more indulgent young cinema-goer. This feeds the separation of critic and audience which has become so wide that we have reached this point where the press is clearly irrelevant to the success of this film Transformers 2. This is not a co-incidence. I think the critics misunderstand the films they are reviewing, at least they misunderstand their role.

People do not go to see the film because it is any good (the critics are not wrong). People go to see the film because it is the “hype” of the moment, it gives them something to discuss in a world where television is losing ground through over-production. There is no specific channel airing programmes everybody will have seen the following day, TV viewers can have been watching anything. Similarly with music – there is so much choice, what should you be listening to? Transformers 2, and other such commercial splash-outs, are the common culture. They give you not only something to discuss, unpretentiously, but it is also a guide in music choice, fashion and even political ideology. And they are international. In a globalized world, these films offer “something” in common between people. Whining about how bad the latest commercial film is, is a shared pastime. It is a pleasant and easy subject of conversation between people of different (sub)cultures.

Even besides actually discussing a film, one can say “Optimus Prime” or “Voldemort” in conversation and get away with it. It creates a shared global culture out of nothingness – “agile like a Jedi, but tall as a Hobbit”, without risking the embarrassment of ignorance on a reference to Mr Darcy’s fate. Of course film references in conversation are often silly, but then that is part of the appeal. Calling Human Resources the “Dementor of the office”, or referring to the consultants as the “Men in Black” will be understood.

It is also about what constitutes “public knowledge”. It would be a stretch to assume, even in France, that people know what is in the old French national library now, but you can easily presume that everyone knows that people speak “Chti” up north (thanks to Bienvennue chez les Chti’s).

For a film to be able to take on these roles, as leaders in conversation fluff or assessments of public knowledge or opinion, a film must be a huge success. But not only that, but advertised as such. These are commercial films we are talking about. Audiences will still want to read reviews on Sin Nombre (Mexican gangstar love story) but critics can perhaps give Lucky Luke a miss – although a lot of fun, it is the audience which will decide whether or not they go, irrespective of any critic’s vision.

It would make sense for movie reviews of commercial films to be replaced by press releases, advertisements and the audience’s comments (“It was like awesome”), as they are consumer goods which fit a product launch and life cycle. This sounds somewhat depressing, but it is actually just a more realistic approach then writing crushing reviews for films (such as Transformers 2) which lack the pretension of quality. Someday movie reviewing may even become the distinguishing criterion – if it is taken seriously by the critics (positively or negatively) the film belongs in the category of art and culture rather than in commerce. And that would not be such a bad thing.

Blueprint for a new Paris

Grand Paris

Grand Paris :: exposition :: Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine :: 29 April 2009 – 22 November 2009

In the ever urbanizing world post-Kyoto, cities face the challenge of creating an ecologically balanced, pleasant and efficient metropolis for future generations. In June 2007, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy commissioned 10 architect and urban planning agencies to propose a vision for Paris 2030. These projects are now presented to the public at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine under the name Grand Pari(s).

What you can see

The exposition does not do justice to neither the excitement and magnitude of the project nor to the elabourate work which was put into it. The 10 agencies all present themselves using multi-media technology in booths too small to cater for the affluence, and their presentations are too brief to be seriously contemplated. There is, however, an excellent exposition overview book to compensate (see below).

Who was commissioned

Six French architects including Jean Nouvel, Yves Lion, Christian de Portzamparc, Antoine Grumbach, Roland Castro and l’AUC, plus the Dutch practice MVRDV, Germany’s LIN, the UK’s RSH+P and Italy’s Studio 09.

What you can read

There are quite a few options, but the best introduction is surely the  exposition’s overview book, Le Grand Pari(s). It is available in the museum bookshop for 29€ and covers the 10 different projects with the agencies’ own words and with plenty of images to bring it to life. It is prefaced by president Sarkozy, who explains the need for not only new urban planning but also for administrative reform for the Paris region, and the challenges of the Kyoto protocol.

What is going to happen

The different projects should not really be seen as a competition, as with large prestigious public buildings,President Sarkozy has ear-marked 35 billion euros initially for the development of the capital. Presumably, the vision of Antoine Grumbach, with the city of Paris following the Seine to Le Havre, will be developed with priority. Also, presumably 20 billion euros will be invested into the 140 km long new fully automatic metro line which is to circle the city linking new developments and the airports.


Several British newspapers criticized the entire project in times of recession and social upheaval. It is worth remembering that the project was launched in a pre-recession 2007. But even besides that, the timing is not inappropriate, as the most common anti-financial crisis measures taken by countries has been mass investment into the economy. Public works is a long term investment which equates, in this case, to a projected 35 billion euros investment over the coming years. Improving infrastructure and the attractiveness of the city are worthy destinations for the capital injection, especially considering that they are destined to create jobs and activity in the troubled suburbs. A recent poll by the newspaper Le Parisien amongst the residents gave a staggering 70% approval rating to the project as an economic booster.

From the general public, voices have been heard worrying about the destruction of a beautiful city. These people should not overly worry, the project will not create a highway cutting trough Ille Saint Louis. The French capital is one of the most visited cities in the world and loved by its inhabitants. The project is intended to re-shape the city (12 million people) by improving the interaction with the suburbs, through remodeling, improving transport, changing the political structure, reshuffling economic and administrative focal points. The general idea would be to integrate the suburbs with the city, as to make a greater whole of the parts. And that, in an ecologically and aesthetically sound package.

NB More about the projects will follow, right here.

Flying without a ticket

cdg-04We had to try it – take a plane without a ticket or anything else printed which proves we had the right to be on that flight. The concept of the e-ticket has been widely in operation for about 10 years now, allowing passengers to skip the check-in queue. But they all show up with paper print-outs of their tickets, or have their passports or credit cards scanned by machines on arrival to obtain that print-out at the airport. We all know it must be possible to get on board completely without paper, say by flashing your phone, but does that actually work? Read on if you want to find out…

Last weekend, we were on a return trip from Paris to Amsterdam. On the way up, we mechanically went through our usual routine of printing out the pdf with our flight details as they had been issued to us by the web-site that sold us the ticket. On Saturday morning, we checked in on the Air France website before leaving for the airport, so that we would not have to queue up there. On arrival at the beautiful 2F Terminal of  Charles de Gaulle Airport, we could skip the check-in and walk through the checkpoints to our gate, showing the print-out of the ticket. Nothing remarkable there.

On the way back, however, we were no longer at home, so we were caught without a computer or a printer. Hence no printed ticket. After our sunny stroll along the Amsterdam canals on Monday morning, we got on a train to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. In the train, we logged onto Air France’s website to check-in on our mobile phone (iPhone in our case). We were checked-in and it sent us our boarding card electronically as a pdf. We arrived at the airport and had to show a ticket and identification to get passed the first hurdle: a pretty Air France-KLM staff member. She let us through as if we had been holding an old-fashioned ticket rather than an iPhone with a pdf on the screen. We must have arrived in the 21st century!

Naturally, the second step -security- kills off any of the joy of travel, even high-tech travel, as you are forced to walk through a metal detector holding up your trousers as your belt, shoes and iPhone are having their interior operations examined on a widescreen. Security staff is traditionally not impressed by anything, not even the fact that they just scanned our phone without noticing our invisible ticket on there…

But then the gate – the ultimate test. We are in line behind old people who may have invented the phone, youngsters who may be tweeting, YouTube-ing and facebook-ing themselves through life but they all pulled out their paper tickets as if it was KLM’s first flight in 1920. But then there was us – out comes the iPhone with the pdf on the screen ready to scanned and BEEP: my name appears on the scanner’s screen and I can walk through. Feeling positively cool with our success, we scroll through on the phone to the next ticket. Enlarge it a bit… and … nothing. The steward types something into the computer and we can walk through, but there was the stench of humiliation in the air.

Why did it not work the second time round? And then it struck me – the scanners are made to read bar codes which are always the same size (paper does not stretch). On the iPhone, you enlarge and reduce texts all the time, so you would have to get it just the right size for the barcode reader to read it. Hum. A little awkward. Walking onboard we were still feeling 21st century, but as always with new technologies, also a little displeased – it works, but it’s not quite there yet. Other cool developments flash through my mind, and I make a mental note not to be an early adopter of the Segway either… I do not want to be seen pulling that thing back home half way across the city…


Image of Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. (c) David Guerrero. Source:  http://www.david-guerrero.com // Segway in Paris image by Jen Chung.

Is anyone still respectable?

La Mode Illustree

To get back my youth I would do anything  in the world,

except take exercise, get up early or be respectable.

Oscar Wilde

When Oscar Wilde wrote those words, he was no doubt thinking of his more outrageous side, with his fine -effeminate- sense of dress, his taste, his bisexuality and the contrast with the plainness of the bourgeois “respectable” life. In today’s world, the norms have shifted, partly turning Oscar Wilde himself into the concept he rejects, by virtue of his elegance and eloquence, his individuality and his intellect. But if he is almost today’s emblem of respectability,  who else in our contemporary world would find themselves in the “respectability” mold? Our world today has an inconspicuous aristocracy blacked out by a screamingly loud  class of hyped entertainers. As an invisible respectable class is useless as a role-model, do then these actors and singers take their place? If not them, then who? Who takes on this role of respectable citizens, those to whom we can aspire (or not) to be like?

Let us first dispel the concept of “respect”, which had such a flourishing US TV life that they managed to sap all the meaning out of the word. It came to be a term suggesting tolerance, before sinking into the other depths of street kids and rappers where it was transformed into a contemporary expression like “cool”. But if we climb up the ladder away from TV and rappers, to the notion of “respectable”  who should we look to?

The “respectable” is an elite which not only dictates a morality of a society, but lives it as well, even if perhaps in farce, hypocritically. They are both the pressure and norm by which to live in a given time. The historical top of the social ladder, is the royal family. But in today’s world, are they still respectable?

princess-victoria_2_492886aEven leaving aside perhaps the worst offenders, the UK and Monaco, recently it was announced that the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria was to be married to her fitness trainer. Does it still need to be said that this is not the right thing to do for a member of the Royal family. Not many people think that being noble elevates you to a higher moral ground, but the Princess in question is destined to be the future Queen of Sweden. Is this a fair exchange for the country? The Royal Family is offered a privileged position in society in exchange for upholding a cultural moral excellence earning the title of “respectability”. But by marrying a commoner, surely their elevated status evaporates. Was it then too much of a sacrifice to marry a foreign prince (or high nobility if it must be) to justify their position, to give Sweden the honour it expects. Why would the Swedish population even be willing to support their royal family if they are not capable of handling their side of the representative bargain? A Royal Family as any other family becomes any other family – their respectability will depend on their personal merits and no longer on their historical status.

queen-rania-in-parisWithin the world of royalty, there is someone who not only plays their role but also uses it for the bettering of the world: Queen Rania of Jordan (who incidentally was raised into nobility). Besides caring for a family of four, she has used her position as Queen of a ruling monarch, to promote a lot of different philanthropic, economic, and social issues, both in Jordan and in the world. She is not only a regular speaker at international Forum’s, but she also did not shy away from opening her own YouTube channel to answer viewers’ questions to promote understanding of the arab world. But of course, not all royalty tries to better the world or make something of themselves. Queen Rania is the exception, having justified the respect and trust she was given by virtue of her position.

On such an individual level, to be respectable, or honourable, is to play with the cards you are dealt with best you can, to try to make something of yourself, to better yourself, and those around you. You have to be a model people can pull themselves up on, aspire to, even if they can never do what you do. This is the material for hero’s more than for a respectable class, which can be dull as long as they abide by their own rules.

Royalty, in general, do not live lives worth being impressed by, nor to be copied by those of less noble origins. They do not have to either, but they did manage to loose their respectability, their claim to being a class of moral and cultural leaders.

So who is today’s respectable elite? The noisiest class of people are the actors and singers, but surely they are not the respectable ones? In some societies they have taken in a place of a sort of contemporary aristocracy, but surely acting and singing is not the most impressive basis for being a role model? Singing or pretending to be someone else on film does not sound like the material for an elite, but something could be said for those that use their star status to promote political and humanitarian goals.

george_clooney_01Think of the good looking soap star turned feature film actor George Clooney. Despite mostly playing in commercial films, he has been politically active. He helped bring desperately needed attention to the Darfur crisis, amongst other important issues. But does that make him respectable? He is also known to be a drugs user and exhibits a greed in not only being paid in millions for his films, but in pursuing more through the selling his image to advertising (for an excellent, but ecologically unsound coffee product and a strong alcohol). I do not mean to particularly single him out,  but he is a remarkable example of the complexity of character of a public figure. And notice that his selection of vices and virtues are not those of an entire class of entertainers, they are his alone.

A public figure can be accused of not using his fame to some useful purpose, but expecting too much of someone who has been selected on good looks or a beautiful voice is a little extreme. That, and NOT being respectable is more amusing for an entertainer than those that are. In other words, the entertainment class is perhaps not the most logical choice. Perhaps we should turn to more old school professional roles, like the traditionally overpaid working class of bankers.

artmadoffthursdayafpgiThe financial sector with their banks and investors and accountants has long been  a respectable industry, even if the vice of greed always overshadowed them. Recent times have  given this sector a good beating with Nick Leeson and Jérôme Kerviel implicitly exposing gross mis-management. If that was not bad enough, they were followed by whole series of backrupties in the current (2008/ 2009) recession, further exposing not only banking incompetence but also general mismanagement of people and funds, and a completely inappropriate remuneration system for their corporate elite. If their image was not already bad enough, investor Bernard L. Madoff’s massive theft came along to sink it into the ground. The field is now completely tarnished with greed, perpetual ignorance and a lack of sophistication and honour.

It would seem that we live in an era which has no clear cut “respectable” class for the rest of society to look up to, only individual hero’s like Queen Rania or countless others. One could say that a liberal society is supposed to be classless, supposed to be one where every man makes something out of life for himself (or not, as the case may be). But how can we be good, as a collective, without a collective “respectable” class? That might sound like a class which is potentially corrupt or old-fashioned but such a class is more resilient than that. If “respectable” needs adjusting, as was the case with the Oscar Wilde, it will be.

The reason why nobody calls anyone else respectable is because there no longer is an objective norm defined by society’s “respectable” class, because there is no such group. Royalty is failing to uphold its own norms, the aristocracy has faded into obscurity and there is no professional class capable of taking their place. “Respectability”, if ever used today, has become  another way of saying “law abiding”, which in western society is rather vague on someone’s morals. You can be an awful person and be law-abiding. This does not make up for the lack of an ostensible “respectable” group to look up to in society, which leaves you, for all practical purposes, on your own. But of course, with your own hero’s.

Image Sources … Cover of La Mode Illustrée by Florence Lenisten // Swedish Royal Family at the engagement announcement: Swedish Royal Court Handout/ EPA // Queen Rania of Jordan in Paris: Nasser Ayoub, Royal Hashemite Court Archives // George Clooney portrait: Francois Durand/ Getty // Bernard L. Madoff entering courthouse: AFP/ Getty Images

There’s a Dutch film Industry?

Tushinski AmsterdamA short history of film from the Low Countries

The Netherlands, a few exceptions aside, offers an atrocious cinema experience. Run-down cinema’s with sub-par sound, un-sharp or faded colours on the projection screen and that is usually interrupted in the middle for a marked-up consumption break. Under such conditions you can only watch very simple movies, which, appropriately, is almost the only thing on offer. If you aspire to see a film without Will Smith, you might get lucky, but you will have to be very alert and flexible because it will be out of the cinema in less than 2 weeks. These unfavourable conditions have become a chicken and egg question, as the audience avoids the cinema because it is not attractive and they have no incentive to improve themselves because nobody comes.

But it was not just the decline of the cinema’s themselves. The VCR of the eighties certainly contributed to the plummeting cinema attendance in The Netherlands. They had dropped down to the lowest in Europe! The average Dutchman today goes to the cinema 1.4 times a year. If that does not sound low to you, consider that next door, in Belgium, the attendance is already 50% higher, while in France it is an amazing 300% that figure! If you feel bad for the Dutch, and want to help then out, you can send your complaints across the ocean: film distribution in The Netherlands is under near complete control of American companies (75% in 2004), with UIP, Warner Bros, Disney, etc. And they’re not doing a very good job over there.

The Dutch government does not help either. Of the 300 million euro budget they have to help “cultural production”, a mere 20 will go to film. Film is not seen as an art, as in France, but rather as entertainment. This, traditionally, has been the reason not to take it all too seriously, and certainly no reason to promote or to help it.

So, does anyone in Holland actually make films? You could be excused if you scratch your head remembering the last Dutch film you saw, but might be surprised to find that there are quite a few noteworthy productions. And not only that, but there are sufficiently few of them that you can become an expert in Dutch Cinema in no time, and take in a few great films along the way.

Fifty years ago, Dutch cinema was focussed on documentaries, fiction was regarded suspiciously, as an annoyance or a religious distraction.  Within the world of documentaries, the occasional work of fiction slipped through, like the hilarious Fanfare (1958)  by Bert Haanstra about an escalating misunderstanding in a fishing village leading to a brother against brother internal rivalry. Fiction remains low-key till , together with the liberalising society, the 1970s come along with Jos Stelling and Paul Verhoeven. The former could take credit for filming the 16th century drama Mariken van Nieumeghen (1975), which earned him a Golden Palm in Cannes and kick-starting a long career. The latter filmed Turkish Delight (1973) which was to become the most famous film ever to made in the The Netherlands. The quality was rewarded with becoming a huge national box office hit with 3,3 million entries. The story follows a “modern” whirlwind romance with an honest but crude look on life. The raw side of the story, with all the nudity and sex which comes with it, was a defining style for this to come (even if the raw side gets toned down with time).

Turkish Delight turned the entire crew into celebrities.  The title roles were played by Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven. The director of photography was Jan de Bont, who would later disappear into Hollywood’s machinery, directing blockbuster-type films like Speed (1994), Twister (1996) and Lara Croft (2003) and produce others like Minority Report (2002).  But before all that happened, they managed to document the wild 70s with  the explicit coming of age drama Spetters and the internationally celebrated WWII resistance film Soldier of Orange. Verhoeven himself left for Hollywood as well, making near run-on-the-mill blockbuster films like Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992) and Starship Troopers (1997). These are all clearly American films, having lost the edge of his earlier work.  In 1996 Verhoeven came back to Europe to create the acclaimed Black Book, a war film set in The Netherlands, and is currently working on another.

While Verhoeven was gone in the 80s, one Dick Maas became active in the country, producing a long series of commercial successes with silly productions like the elevator thriller De Lift (1983), Amsterdamned (1988) and the awful Flodder (1986) about an asocial family which managed to top the charts and spawn a follow-up and a TV series. Ruud van Hemert managed to further lower the level with his commercially successful Army Brats (1984) and an even worse follow-up. To save Dutch film in the 80s, Fons Rademakers produced The Assault (1986) about the moral dilemmas of war, earning him an Oscar and the country some honour abroad.

But we have to wait till the 1990s for Dutch cinema to take a turn for the better. Alex van Warmerdam, who was impressing his audience with the creative musical theatre Orkater which he created, decided to  launch himself into film. He created the curious The Northeners (1992), The Dress (1996) and the hilariously funny Little Tony (1998). His theatrical and in-habitual look on the world was a welcome breath of fresh air. The young Robert-Jan Westdijk followed suit with the funny and dramatic cam recorded Zusje (1995). Another newcomer Marleen Gorris filmed the generational Antonia’s Line (1995) becoming the first female director to win an Oscar for best foreign film. She was followed by Mike van Diem who filmed his only real feature length, the oscar-ed impressive but cold movie Character (1997), after which he disappeared again. The 1990s have been a great source for new talent, but keeping them going has proven to be still an issue.

With all this activity in recent years, Dutch film has certainly earned itself a place. Production conditions, however, are still far from optimal. The lack of state subsidy weighs heavily in a small domestic market, and the downward spiral of cinema attendance (and less and less cinema’s themselves) does not encourage private investors to take chances. If a film fails on the domestic market, there is usually not much to be expected from its export either. Remember, that in the European Union, US movies make up an enormous 70% of the market! French movies make up the next 11% and then there’s the rest… including  the Dutch productions.

Despite the grim picture, films are still being made, and the last decade is looking considerably brighter than the one before, so there is reason to be optimistic. You might be forgiven to have been oblivious to a lot of the film production in The Netherlands, but make sure you do not miss out on the little gems. And of course it is also your chance to be different – you take pride in being amongst that little group of experts in Dutch cinema!

Read the latest Dutch films reviewed.

Photo: Cinema Tuschinski Amsterdam (Source)