Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: Frans Mettes affichevirtuoos ✭✭✭✭✭

When we think of famous Dutch artists, names like Rembrandt and Vermeer usually spring to mind. Soon we may be able to add Frans Mettes to that list thanks to the beautiful new volume Frans Mettes affichevirtuoos. Affichevirtuoos translates as “poster virtuoso” in English, and the book’s 144 pages make a compelling case for Mette’s inclusion among the 20th century’s great commercial illustrators. Along with painstakingly researched information on Mettes’ life and times, the book offers a wealth of splendid reproductions from Mettes’ portfolio. Ads for such clients as Heineken, Philips and Droste are featured along with a selection of film and theatre posters; all attesting to Mettes’ childlike humor and strong sense of design. Mettes’ bold and graphic compositions possess a deceptive simplicity crafted to break through the visual clutter of the urban world. By reducing his message to the primal elements, Mettes created images that capture the social dynamics of the modern age, while never losing the poetic innocence of childhood memories.

One of the book’s creators is Paul van Yperen, who will be a familiar name to regular readers of this blog. Paul is the proprietor of the excellent website European Film Star Postcards, where the movie careers of both well known and obscure talents are immortalized in words and images. Paul and I had a chance to discuss the origins of Frans Mettes affichevirtuoos recently and his comments give us a rare insight into the book’s creative process:

Paul, would you tell us about Frans Mettes affichevituoos and your background in the arts?

"This book on Frans Mettes is a labour of love for my co-authors and me. I wrote it together with Dutch designer and poster collector Gielijn Escher (a nephew of famous artist M.C. Escher by the way) and Paul Mertz, one of the great names in the history of Dutch advertisment. I am very honored
to be able to write this book with them. I am a film historian and started my career in the archives of the Dutch Filmmuseum. The poster archive was like Aladdin's cave of wonders full of treasures. The original German poster for Metropolis was there, all the posters designed by Saul Bass,
Russian avant-garde posters from the 1920's. Incredible, and there were Dutch posters designed by artists that were completely forgotten. After five or six years I went on and started to work for Dutch television, but continued to research these Dutch film poster designers. I wrote several
articles and three books about them (often together with my former colleague Bastiaan Anink), and now there is this book about designer Frans Mettes."

Considering that I was a graphic arts major in college, taking several courses in advertising history, I was surprised that the work of Franz Mettes was new to me. Perhaps you could give us some background on his life and work?

"Frans Mettes (1909-1984) was a typical commercial artist. Although his wonderful posters coloured the Dutch streets for decades and everybody here seems to remember his designs for Heineken, for the Dutch railway, for cigarette labels etc., but the critics did not see him as a serious artist. So, he never worked for museums nor for prestigious theatres. He never won an award.
Mettes started his career making film posters, and many artists thought that a very lowly job. But some of his designs are now classics, and were reprinted as postcards. Especially his poster for the film Angel with Marlene Dietrich is still very popular. Since he was a boy, Gielijn Escher collects Mettes' posters. His collection is huge and was the basis for our book."

Have there been many books about Mettes? Tell us about some of the research that went into the book.

"No, there weren't even any serious articles about him. Very strange, but a typical story for many Dutch commercial artists. So, it took a lot of research and oral history to write this book. Happily, Paul Mertz was a youth friend of Frans Mettes' children, so there was a connection. Besides that, my last book - rather a booklet - was on Ad Werner, another great Dutch designer who started his career painting film posters. He is still alive and we talked a lot about the trade and also about Mettes."

There are some wonderful old photos of the posters in the original urban environments.
How did you discover them?

"These pictures are very rare. Gielijn and I love them. We both visit many auctions and fairs and sometimes you are lucky."

I understand Frans Mettes affichevituoos is now involved in a prestigious competition. Tell us about that.

"Something incredible happened. This book about a man whose work was always scorned by the serious critics and the museum world has now been selected as one of the Best Dutch Book Designs of 2012. It will be exhibited in a huge competition in Leipzig, Germany and will go on a tour along several important museums in the Netherlands. Mettes work is presented by various museums and galleries. And we also got great reviews in two of the leading Dutch newspapers. I have to confess I am flabbergasted about this all, but also very proud."

Mettes was also a bookbinder and designer and your book is very high quality in design and printing. What printer did you work with?

"Thank you. Like I said, it's a labour of love for all involved. The design is by Gielijn Escher, and I can say he worked for years on it. Through the years, Paul and I saw parts of it and discussed it with him. Publisher is De buitenkant in Amsterdam. Printing was done by Lenoirschuring and Terts, both in Amsterdam."

Thanks Paul. Your description of the book as a labor of love is apt, and I predict readers will fall equally in love with the world of Frans Mettes affichevirtuoos. For more information or to purchase visit the Idea Books website at the link below:

Click Here

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guest Post by Paul van Yperen

Many thanks to Paul van Yperen of the blog European Film Star Postcards for today's guest post. He shares the story of a surprise hit movie from the 1930s and its equally surprising poster...

Can Love Be A Sin? 

Nobody in the Netherlands of the 1930s portrayed divas like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich more gorgeously than graphic designer Frans Mettes. He made this 1939 poster, De vrouw met de blauwvos (The Woman with the Blue Fox), for a forgotten German comedy starring sultry Swedish singer Zarah Leander.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Frans Mettes (1909-1984) made elegant, humorous advertising posters for Dutch products like Droste chocolates, Hartevelt gin and Heineken beer. Less known are his hundreds of film posters from the period 1934 - 1949, fluently drawn star portraits as ‘De vrouw met de blauwvos’, made for the Ufa production ‘Der Blaufuchs’ (1938). In his book ‘Die Ufa Story’ (1992, Munich), Klaus Kreimeier describes ‘Der Blaufuchs’ as the first Zarah Leander film in a series of "artistic flops with uninspired directing hand in hand with mindless stories". In 1939, the Dutch public thought quite differently about the film. In Amsterdam, ‘Der Blaufuchs’ ran from 3 March 1939 for two weeks in the Rembrandt Ufa-Theater (with over 1250 places). It did equally well in cinemas in Rotterdam and The Hague. In April the movie was reprised in all these cities. That was a remarkable success in an era when movies were rarely prolonged.

So, ‘Der Blaufuchs’ was a surprise hit in The Netherlands, but Zarah Leander was already very popular in continental Europe at the time and she became even more so during WWII when Hollywood productions could not be shown here. ‘Der Blaufuchs’ is not the typical Leander-melodrama, but a comedy. Zarah plays the flirtatious and frivolous heroine who breaks away from her boring marriage. She does that without a penalty nor guilt. Unthinkable for a Hollywood production of the 1930’s. But Leander shines and sings her biggest hit: ‘Kann denn Liebe Sünde sein?’ (Can love be a sin?). The Dutch film censorship thought so. They forbade the film: "coarse, sensual, dirty, filthy, frivolous, provocative", even after a re-inspection ("a perverted spirit") and a second re-inspection. Only after various edits the film was finally allowed in Dutch cinemas on February 14, 1939. However, still only for spectators older than 18 years.

His poster ‘De vrouw met de blauwvos’ shows how Frans Mettes could lure the Dutch public to come flocking to the cinemas. In the blink of an eye, a passerby saw on his poster where the movie was all about. Although this film was a comedy, Mettes did not make a comic design. No, he portrayed Leander in a cool blue with her fox as her only attribute. His red titles are a frame to her beautiful face. The effect is subtle. The red-on-blue letters seem to come forward to you. These Dutch film posters were placed behind windows and glass doors of shops and cafés. The winter of 1939 must have been very cold in Holland. And then suddenly, you saw Zarah from behind a window pane, staring into the freezing dark outside, looking at you. But the gaze that Frans Mettes gave her is not cold. The eyes of Zarah Leander seem to beg and to entice you.

Can love be a sin?

Paul Yperen

This short article was published before in the former Dutch magazine Skrien in a series about the treasures of the Dutch Filmmuseum (now Eye Film Institute) . If you want to know more about Zarah Leander, please check out the post on her at my blog European Film Star Postcards.

The Music Room (1958) ✭✭✭✭1/2

Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room, subject of a brilliant Criterion release, is a somber, hypnotic film that deals with the wretched symbiosis of pride and regret. All about the slow decline of a former unimaginably rich landowner named Biswambher Roy (Chabbi Biswas), the film adopts elements of classic tragedy and transposes them to the barren deltas of Bengal. While the landscape presents surreal vistas of seemingly endless horizons, The Music Room is a study of self inflicted entrapment and the hard, heavy burdens imposed by illustrious family history. Through Roy’s arrogant and naïve sense of entitlement, he lives his life in a perpetual folly, never recognizing the shifting realities beyond his own darkening, decaying walls. And just as rising rivers have rendered the bulk of his vast holdings worthless, a flood of changing ideas and the enlightened, democratic thinking of a new age threaten to wash away the shabby remnants of his faltering empire.

In tone and theme, The Music Room is reminiscent of the later reels of Citizen Kane, where Charles finds himself reduced to a sad, empty husk amid his ruinously overbuilt Florida pleasure palace. But the emotional issues that plague Charles Foster Kane are mere child’s play compared to the karmic ravages faced by the aging Biswambher Roy, for as we learn through extended flashback, Roy’s hubris has extracted a devastating price, well beyond measure in silver rupees.

The Music Room also shares visual similarities with the Welles masterpiece, as Ray and cinematographer Subrata Mitra create exquisitely composed frames characterized by enormous, and at times seemingly infinite, depth. Filmed almost entirely within the Roy family’s crumbling, neo-classical estate, the colossal mansion becomes a mute but indispensable character; its long hallways and massive porticos forming deep backdrops that appear to recede not only in space, but to the dawn of time. The castle’s bare windows offer stark prospects on the treeless riparian plains; the distant, dusty gallop of a lone horseman providing a counterpoint to Roy’s dour inertia. A new, alien ethos is loose in his ancient world of pampered privilege: social standing based not on esteemed ancestry but individual merit. And as Roy watches the bags of gemstones that have defined and shaped his world view slowly dwindle, his egotistical stubbornness will not allow him to submit to the heresy of an ascendant middle class.

A monument to Roy's youthful excess is the palace’s music room, a grandiose atrium decorated with priceless art work and ornate finery. Once the site of weekly concerts, Roy would magnanimously invite a cross section of the local populace to enjoy performances by India’s elite musicians, and pay tribute to their host’s splendid beneficence. As his guests reveled in the music and lounged on sumptuous silk pillows, Roy sat in smug self-congratulation. He clearly deserved his inherited riches because he was such a kind and generous person, and the world was very lucky to have him.

As Roy’s parties become more elaborate and expensive, his blissful dream world is rocked by the arrival of a new neighbor: a cheerfully obnoxious bourgeoisie banker named Mahim (Gangapada Basu), the product of a local family Roy has long considered socially inferior. Schooled in modern business practices, Mahim has returned to Bengal to exploit the region’s riches in the name of international commerce, bringing the noise and obtrusiveness of the modern world with him. His loudly sputtering electric generator makes Roy’s musical reveries all but impossible, and the estate’s meditative atmosphere is frequently ruined by screeching horn blasts from Mahim’s spanking new tin-lizzie.

Satyajit Ray’s slow and careful construction of the social tension between the two men is masterfully delicate, and a joy to watch. Mahim’s behavior at the sedate Roy soirees is like a squirming, distracted choirboy, straining to maintain a veneer of reverence. Ray exploits the mesmerizing quality of traditional Indian music, and draws visual parallels with a large, swaying chandelier, reinforcing themes of hypnotic denial. The camera becomes mobile during these musical sequences, creating the flowing sense of ancestral spirits among the Earthly audience. When a life-altering tragedy strikes during a performance, Ray communicates the horror through a simple bit of foreshadowing; an image of a grasshopper struggling in a glass of wine, and we immediately share our protagonist’s shock and devastation. As a result of this incident, the music room is closed and sealed, its reverberant walls abandoned to the silence of the dead.

Four years later, with word of the depleted Roy fortune on the lips of every neighborhood gossip, Mahim decides to build his own music room and revive Roy’s musical traditions. But Roy, now grown old and paunchy and mired in a depressed torpor, sees Mahim’s gesture as more insult than accolade, and decides to unlock his musical chamber for one last grandiose shindig, a gala affair that will wipe out the diminished ancestral vault once and for all. And while the last of the loyal family retainers (Kali Sarkar) looks on, happy to see his beloved boss fully embracing life again, there is the tacit understanding that this celebration will in truth be a going away party; a bon voyage to a journey from which there is no return.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

TCM for April, 2013

The highlight of the month is a Charlie Chaplin festival on the 16th, with commentary from The Dardenne Brothers, Jim Jarmusch and Bernardo Bertolucci. Watch for the camp classic Reefer Madness on the 19th and a public service short on the 20th about why you should give your wife tranquilizers. Also of note is Dick Cavett's TV interview with Kate Hepburn on the 2nd. I remember this from its original airing in the 1970s and the feisty Miss Hepburn pulled no punches.

Click here for full schedule.
Below are my recommendations, all times Eastern.


8:00 PM
A man's joking suggestion that he and a chance acquaintance trade murders turns deadly.
BW-101 mins, TV-PG, CC,

10:00 PM
A free-spirited convict refuses to conform to chain-gang life.
C-126 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

12:15 AM
A recent college graduate has an affair with his neighbor's wife, then falls for their daughter.
C-106 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

2:15 AM
An aging couple's liberal principles are tested when their daughter announces her engagement to a black doctor.
C-108 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

Katherine Hepburn and Dick Cavett
4:15 AM
Katharine Hepburn appears on The Dick Cavett Show in an interview that originally aired September 14, 1973.
C-68 mins, TV-14, CC,

5:30 AM
Katharine Hepburn appears on The Dick Cavett Show in an interview that originally aired October 2, 1973.
C-70 mins, TV-14, CC,


2:00 PM
Motorcycle-riding delinquents take over a small town.
BW-79 mins, TV-14, CC,

3:30 PM
A young stevedore takes on the mobster who rules the docks.
BW-108 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

5:30 PM
A big-city gambler bets that he can seduce a Salvation Army girl.
C-149 mins, TV-G, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
Shakespeare's tale of the warrior king who learns the meaning of heroism during a daring invasion of France.
BW-137 mins, TV-PG,

10:30 PM
The melancholy Dane flirts with insanity while trying to prove his uncle murdered his father.
BW-154 mins, TV-14, CC,

1:15 AM
A hunchbacked madman plots to make himself king of England.
C-158 mins, TV-PG,

4:00 AM
A famed general convinces himself that his wife is unfaithful.
C-166 mins, TV-PG, Letterbox Format

Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins in "Goodbye Again"
6:00 PM
A 40-year-old woman swaps her sophisticated lover for a young law student.
BW-120 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A dedicated teacher sacrifices everything to send a young miner to Oxford.
BW-114 mins, TV-G, CC,

10:00 PM
A Welsch mining family faces the struggles of life together.
BW-119 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


5:45 PM
Two bounty hunters join forces to bring an outlaw to justice.
BW-132 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A British military officer enlists the Arabs for desert warfare in World War I.
C-227 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

4:45 AM
This anti-porn documentary shows a floodtide of filth engulfing the country in the form of newsstand obscenity
C-31 mins, TV-MA,

4:45 AM

A disturbing animated short that details the effects of alcohol on the body and mind.
C-10 mins,

4:45 AM
Short film that details "internal forces" that damage a nation, such as drugs, gambling, and unwed pregnant women.
BW-26 mins, TV-PG,

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray in "Double Indemnity"


3:30 PM
An insurance salesman gets seduced into plotting a client's death.
BW-108 mins, TV-PG, CC,

5:30 PM
A young lawyer from the wrong side of town tries to break into society.
BW-137 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A psychiatrist tries to help the man she loves solve a murder buried in his subconscious.
BW-111 mins, TV-PG, CC,

10:00 PM
A cruel man's wife and lover plot to kill him.
BW-117 mins, TV-MA,


12:00 PM
An arrogant stock-car racer ignores his family.
C-89 mins, TV-14,

1:30 PM
An academic couple reveal their deepest secret to a pair of newcomers during an all-night booze fest.
BW-131 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 PM
A novice schoolteacher faces delinquent students and apathetic administrators in a tough inner city high school.
C-124 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

Jean Renoir's "Woman on the Beach"

8:45 AM
A coast guardsman begins to think his mistress's blind husband can really see.
BW-71 mins, TV-G, CC,

10:30 PM
Teenagers elope with the help of an aging pickpocket.
C-110 mins, TV-14, Letterbox Format


4:30 PM
A bored boy enters a fantasy world where letters and numbers are at war.
C-89 mins, TV-G, CC,

6:15 PM
A World War I U-boat takes a wrong turn and discovers a lost world of dinosaurs and cavemen.
C-91 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


1:30 PM
A substitute teacher changes the lives of the slum children in his class.
C-105 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

3:30 PM
A young woman tries to recover her sanity in a corrupt mental institution.
BW-108 mins, TV-PG, CC,

5:30 PM
Sexual repression drives a small-town Kansas girl mad during the roaring twenties.
C-124 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
Three prospectors fight off bandits and each other after striking-it-rich in the Mexican mountains.
BW-126 mins, TV-PG, CC,

10:15 PM
A husband whose wife left him looks for new love in Europe.
BW-101 mins, TV-PG, CC,

2:00 AM
The story of an androgynous jewel thief, based on a novel by Japan's master of suspense, Edogawa Rampo.
C-101 mins, Letterbox Format

Chaplin Festival!


7:30 AM
In this silent film, an overworked farmhand dreams of marrying the farmer's daughter.
BW-29 mins, TV-G,

8:00 AM
In this silent film, a lost soul in the Yukon seeks love and wealth.
BW-72 mins, TV-G,

9:15 AM
In this silent film, the Little Tramp joins a circus to hide from the police.
BW-72 mins, TV-G,

10:30 AM
The Tramp struggles to live in a modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.
BW-87 mins, TV-G,

12:00 PM
Filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Darenne share their impression of Charlie Chaplin's classic Modern Times.
C-26 mins, TV-G, CC,

12:30 PM
A Jewish barber takes the place of a war-hungry dictator.
BW-125 mins, TV-PG, CC,

2:45 PM
A European king loses his money while stranded in the U.S.
BW-105 mins, TV-PG,

4:30 PM
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch discusses his impressions of Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York.
C-27 mins, TV-G, CC,

5:00 PM
A broken-down comic sacrifices everything to give a young dancer a shot at the big time.
BW-138 mins, TV-G, CC,

7:30 PM
Director Bernardo Bertolucci shares his impressions of Charlie Chaplin's classic Limelight.
C-27 mins, TV-G, CC,

8:00 PM
The son of a ruined millionaire and a horsewoman becomes a clown and restores their fortune.
BW-92 mins,

9:45 PM
A young woman waits and waits for her delayed husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
BW-15 mins,

Oh No! It's Reefer Madness!

6:00 AM
Drug dealers lure a pair of young innocents into marijuana addiction.
BW-65 mins, TV-14,

4:00 AM
A young single mother and her co-worker try to unionize the milll where they work.
C-115 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format


1:45 PM
True story of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who rose to the top while fighting for the rights of migrant farm workers.
C-148 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

5:45 AM
The modern miracle of tranquilizers helps working men and their wives deal with life's little problems.
C-13 mins, TV-G,

Milos Forman's "Loves of a Blond"


2:15 AM
A young woman in a small Czech town sleeps with a musician. When she doesn't hear from him, she packs up and arrives on his doorstep in the big city.
BW-90 mins,


1:45 PM
An experienced cavalry officer tries to keep his new, by-the-books commander from triggering an Indian war.
BW-128 mins, TV-PG, CC,

10:00 PM
A scientist's experiments with invisibility turn him into a madman.
BW-72 mins, TV-PG, CC,


10:30 PM
Cowboys compete in a grueling horse-riding marathon.
C-131 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format


8:00 PM
A Texas ranching family fights to survive changing times.
BW-201 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds in "The Tender Trap"

2:00 PM
A swinging bachelor finds love when he meets a girl immune to his line.
C-111 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

2:15 AM
A medieval knight challenges Death to a chess game to save himself and his friends.
BW-97 mins, TV-PG,

4:00 AM
A devout coward vows to assassinate Napoleon in the name of love.
C-85 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

2:45 AM
A femme fatale lures an unemployed man into helping her with a criminal scheme.
BW-82 mins, TV-PG,

4:15 AM
A gambler discovers an old flame in South America, but she's married to his new boss.
BW-110 mins, TV-PG, CC,