Once Upon a Time…in Amsterdam

In 1996, I took a tour which began with the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart, Germany and ended with the Freakzone Festival in Lille, France. Roughly in the middle of that trip, I showed films at the Theater DeSmet in Amsterdam, being there for almost a week. In my free time I watched movies at the Film Museum in Vondelpark. The museum was in a grand old house and was dedicated to the art of film. It continually filled the screen with gems of world cinema. There I got to know the museum director Hoos Blotkamp and the director of film programming Ruud Visschedijk.

One fine spring day, I was talking to Hoos and Ruud, just outside of the entrance to the museum screening room. They told me this story.

In 1992 the museum had produced a major retrospective titled “The Essential Hawks.” It was an ambitious endeavor created by Peter Delpeut. Every Howard Hawks title was combined in a double feature pairing with a related film. One example: Hawks’ The Crowd Roars (1932) was paired with Jacques Rivette’s La Religieuse (1966).

The whole thing took about a month. Everything was on film and most were 35mm prints. For the color features they did their best to get Technicolor prints.

One young man, an American, came to every show. He became so familiar to them, that when he would appear, one would say to the other “The kid is back.” The kid knew that this was a once in a lifetime chance to see many of the rare films in the series and to come to a clear understanding of the career of the great Howard Hawks, with the bonus of an understanding of just how Hawks fit into world cinema.

The series finally came to an end, and on the day of the last screening, the kid showed up late. He might have known, but it also may have been a surprise, that the Film Museum did not seat people after the film had started. It was long held policy that showed their respect for the art of film and the belief that once in your seat on time you had the right to watch the film undisturbed. This was explained to the kid by the ticket seller Arthur Kleintjens. The kid was devastated. He was stunned. He could not comprehend his being stopped from seeing what he wanted. He began to plead. He explained how important the films were to him and how faithful he had been showing up every day. It was clear he truly believed that he had earned a right and there would be an exception made in his special case. It didn’t work. To each entreaty the answer was no. The kid didn’t give up. He tried every argument he could think of. He beseeched and cajoled. He was a very creative kid. It is possible that anywhere else in the world he would have won the day and seen the film, the people who got there on time be damned. Well, not that day, not that time, and not with Arthur Kleintjens, who was now backed up by a small crowd attracted by the argument.

Did he give up and leave? Did he turn tail and run? Did he crawl away humiliated? Did he just turn and walk away? Not on your life!

He exploded with rage. He screamed. He ranted. He roared with disapproval. He was hopping mad. He used every swear word in his vast vocabulary. He insulted them in every way possible. He called them fascists. He called them Nazis. It was a mighty thing to see. It was heard and witnessed by many in the park walking by, attracting even a larger crowd. He didn’t care. He was on the stage. He was in the moment. He considered himself an unstoppable force of righteous fury.

And then the sound and fury stopped. It had failed to dent the solidly established position of the institute. A slow realization, and it was a painful thing to watch, came over the kid. He realized he was going to be denied entry and there was not a thing he could do about it.

The kid seemed to deflate like a punctured balloon. All the air had been knocked out him. He walked away and was never seen again at the museum.

Years passed.

On March 27, 1995, Hoos and Ruud were watching the Academy Awards. When it came time for the award to be given for best original screenplay, they both were startled into instant awareness. Seeing the face of one of the acceptors of the Oscar, they simultaneously turned to each other and shouted “It’s the kid!”

The kid was Quentin Tarantino. He and Roger Avery were accepting the award for the screenplay that Tarantino had written while living for several months in Amsterdam in 1992.

Bonus: Here is a partial list of the pairings in The Essential Hawks.

  • A Girl in Every Port (1928) with Submarine (Frank Capra, 1928)
  • Air Force (1943) with The Long Voyage Home (1940, John Ford)
  • The Big Sleep (1946) with A Bout de Souffle (1959) Jean-Luc Godard
  • Bringing Up Baby (1938) with What’s Up, Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972)
  • Ceiling Zero (1935) with Corvette K-225 (Robert Rossen, 1943)
  • The Crowd Roars (1932) with La Religieuse (Jacques Rivette, 1966)
  • The Dawn Patrol (1930) with The Green Berets (Wayne, Kellogg, LeRoy, 1968)
  • Fig Leaves (1926) with Such Men are Dangerous (Kenneth Hawks, 1930
  • Hatari! (1962) with La Nuit Americaine (Francois Truffaut, 1973)
  • I Was a Male War Bride (1949) with Le Beau Mariage (Eric Rohmer, 1981)
  • Rio Bravo (1958) with Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
  • To Have and Have Not (1944) with The Devil is a Woman (Von Sternberg, 1935)
  • Twentieth Century (1934) with The Awful Truth (Joseph McCarey, 1937)

Categories History

Dennis Nyback is a legendary independent film archivist and historian. Formerly of Seattle, he now resides in Portland, OR with his 13,000 film collection and a clear conscience.

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