Film and Theatre
‘I always put my actors first’
The Films of Frans Weisz
Anyone wishing to call Frans Weisz (1938-) an actor manqué can count on his wholehearted agreement. All the works of this Dutch feature-film director are imbued with the love of his life: the theatre and its actors. After being expelled from drama school for not exhibiting sufficient talent, Weisz auditioned with virtually every theatrical group in the Netherlands. In 1958, when the Dutch Film Academy was founded in Amsterdam, he enrolled as its first student - still determined to find a place for himself in the theatre, even via this circuitous route. But in the event, things turned out quite differently to what he had expected. After his spell at the Film Academy, Weisz had become just as fascinated by the camera as he had been by his beloved theatre. The seeds had now been sown of his small but well-respected oeuvre.
In the 1960s, at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, Frans Weisz improved his knowledge of the cinema. He could have chosen no better surroundings for his temperament and natural talent for things theatrical. He eagerly imbibed the works of both Visconti and Fellini. It was not only his short stature which earned him the nickname ‘Mini-Fellini’; in 1965, early in his career as a film-maker, his poetical film Sunday on Grand-Jatte Island (Een zondag op het eiland van de Grand-Jatte) was awarded the Dutch State Prize for Film Art (since discontinued).
In no time at all, he had managed to persuade his friend the writer Remco Campert to write a film script of one of his novels. The Gangster's Moll (Het Gangstermeisje, 1965) was made in the wake of the brand new Dutch nouvelle vague represented by such directors as Adriaan Ditvoorst, Wim Verstappen and Pim de la Parra. The Gangster's Moll, filmed in high-contrast black-and-white, was rather confused, but very much an art film. Unfortunately, the film suffered from the misapprehension of the critics that this was an attempt at the creation of a female James Bond. In reality, it was a fairly abstract piece of work about imagination and reality.
For a long while, Frans Weisz was the one and only film director to make a living by directing advertising films. His commercials for the Drum brand of tobacco became exceptionally popular, breaking the taboo on a serious film director being involved in advertising.
The 1970s can be characterised as an unsettled period for the Dutch film industry. The nouvelle vague had ebbed silently away because of a lack of public interest, and the industry now steered a course towards more commercial, mainstream cinema. Paul Verhoeven created a stir with his film version of Jan Wolkers' novel Turkish Delight (Turks fruit, 1969) and, to everyone's surprise, Frans Weisz too was to be found in the ranks of those film directors seeking a larger audience. With The Burglar (De inbreker, 1972) and Naked over the Fence (Naakt over de schutting, 1973), both film versions of detective novels, Weisz proved he could be a skilful narrator of quick-fire, no-punches-pulled stories. And yet he was taking a risk. For the lead in both films he had chosen Rijk de Gooijer, known mainly as an entertainer, and as one half of a comic double-act. Weisz can be given the credit for having discovered in De Gooijer the great actor who would go on to play the role of his life in his latest film Last Call (Hoogste tijd, 1995).
Spurred on by the enthusiasm of the public-at-large, Frans Weisz moved on to direct two mass-audience films Red Sien (Rooie Sien, 1975) and Jet, Have a Heart (Heb medelij, Jet, 1976). With the exception of One Sultry Summer's Evening (Een zwoele zomeravond), which he made with the cooperative Het Werktheater, he now appeared to be concentrating on more seriously artistic cinema. After three tv adaptations of avant-garde musical plays, he made the film which was to establish his reputation as an almost un-Dutch director of theatre films.
Charlotte (1980) was based on the life of the Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, murdered in Auschwitz in 1943. She left behind an entire autobiography consisting of a series of 769 gouaches and writings with the title Leben oder Theater?. This was the perfect subject for a film director who had made the theatre his life and who had quite often made his life into theatre. This international production, with Birgit Doll and Derek Jacobi in the lead roles, gained Weisz the artistic recognition that had so long eluded him. He began