On Art

Thoughts about art and culture taken from my correspondence
Last updated July 25th, 2006

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Old film boxes
"On Art - Books"
On Paint

Film Collecting:
The Early Years

It's going to storm and snow here tonight. I went to the city center to buy tea,
and then went to the one good dvd shop. I had a moment of nostalgia there
when I saw a film called Slaughter of the vampires.
When I was 13, I started film collecting. The only films you could buy then
were Castle films, which were 3- or 9-minute exerpts from long films, and
they were quite expensive. Three years later, on a trip to London, I found a
little shop owned by Mountain films. It was full of films, like a paradise. They
even had a small number of long, complete sound films. It was unheard of!
(That may have been the year my school acquired a video recorder, which
didn't impress me at all, because it was meant to tape stupid educational tv pro-
grams. It seemed the most boring thing in the world). But to own a sound
projector, and films to show on it, seemed an impossible dream of the future!
I've often devoured the Mountain catalogue (and others like it, which I sent for
by mail) and one of their complete films was Slaughter of the vampires. Later
I read somewhere that it was rather a good film, with romantic music like the
"Warsaw Concerto"(film music which used to be quite famous). So I bought
it today, together with one of Joe d'Amato's opuses.I just had a look at it, and it
seemed the dvd was made from a very worn print. I've never seen a dvd with
lots of splices before! Maybe they used an 8mmprint? And the film seems
boring. The cover's nice, though.

Here are more images from the Castle and Mountain catalogues, ca. '66-'69.
Click here for a collection of old film boxes.
Click here for home movie projectors!

8 and 16 mm
In those days, collecting films depended on so many arbitrary factors, like
where were you, how much money did you have, or someone wanted to trade
films and you gave him films you didn't like in exchange for films you didn't
know, sometimes I even bought piles of films without knowing what they
were, if they seemed cheap enough.It was not like now, when one can just
order titles from a vast amount of books, dvd's and cd's.
But then collecting films was almost the only way of seeing old or special
films, they were rarely on tv, there were no dvd's and video was almost

But nowadays there's another problem which I would have never thought of
before. Film prints of silent films mostly had no sound, sometimes there was a
music track but then the film ran at the wrong speed, so I made cassettes for
the films I liked most. And now when I buy a dvd of a silent film the image
is often very good, but someone has been pasting a music track on to it which
is completely wrong and ruins the film. And then I put the dvd away and don't
look at it anymore, it just doesn't interest me anymore. Of the silent dvd's I
bought (only 7, I just counted them) only 1 has music I really like, that's Ima-
ge's 2-dvd set of The Phantom Of The Opera ('25), with orchestral music by
Carl Davis. Why didn't they ask him for better films? Anyway, I've become
very cautious about buying silent films, because these dvd's are very expensive!
To me, the music has become a big issue because I can't spend weeks making
sountracks for dvd's! Once the soundtrack is ready you've seen the film so of-
ten it makes you sick. There seems to be no solution.

Harold Lloyd
Did you know that Harold Lloyd was completely obsessed by the problem I've
just described? In the twenties, for some years he was more popular than Chap-
lin, and earned a lot of money, but his sound films earned less and less, until he
had to stop making films. He had money and a big house and indulged in his
hobbies. In the sixties there was renewed interest in silent comedy because of
tv. Lloyd had carefully kept the negatives of almost all his films (hundreds),
but he refused to sell them to tv because he was sure they would be shown at
the wrong speed, and with piano music which he hated. For many years the on-
ly way people could see his films was to go to his lectures, where his films
were shown like he wanted it, with an orchestra or cinema organ. And when he
died, the first thing that happened was that his films were sold to tv and shown
in a mutilated form, but by that time most people had forgotten who he was.

Realism in Mannequins

It's very funny, but you could see traces of male genitals in papier mache
mannequins of the forties and fifties. Maybe these were made from casts
made from real people in underwear. I noticed this for the first time
in a shopwindow full of old, undressed mannequins when I was 8 or 9
and I was very shocked by it! In British antiques programs on the BBC I've
seen several times very old dolls with realistic genitals, and in these cases
the expert/presenter was shocked. "This is a family program", she said, "there
are children watching!" And for that reason mannequins don't have genitals,
sometimes they are in the shopwindows without clothes on! Old manne-
quins were even prudishly dressed in a kind of under garment that was
fastened with many nails.


I started the mannequin collection mainly to be able to make photos. Some of
the old ones are made up of separate parts I collected; the others I restored.
One of them I worked on for quite a long time: when I bought the head, there
was a large hole in the face and when I had put a new mouth in, the nose and
eyes were all wrong, etc. Plaster and cardboard is a horrible combination! Next
time I went to the fleamarket I found a perfect body for the head, it was almost
too much of a coincidence. That body really looked like something out of a Fulci
film, it left little heaps of debris wherever it stood. And when he was ready, I
wasn't satisfied, and later started again, and again! The face is very subtle. He's
quite old too, 1905 - 1910, or older. People often ask for his desktop picture
"lonely boy".

The Greek Helmet

Very nostalgic weather we're having, the dutch writer Reve called
it in the 60s "weather of all people", gusts of wind, no wind, sun, lots
of clouds, he hated that weather, but I always like it as long as it doesn't
rain. Ideal weather to go to the fleamarket. Because of the good weather
the market wasn't busy, people started packing up early and everything
was cheap! As always, I found nothing, and then at the last moment a lot.
O yes, there was a woman desperate to get rid of stuff, she sold me 4
Chinese singing and moving birds, all for 1 euro and even packed them
in quite a good shopping bag. Then someone else gave me a glass Murano
sweet, with gold leaf in it. At first the cat liked one of the birds, but it star-
ted chirping a merry song when he touched it, and he didn't like that so
much. They're so monstrous already, maybe I'll make them more mon-
strous and put them in a strange room. But the strangest thing I bought
is a big helmet for a Greek soldier, boy's size, judging by a little metal
plate inside it must be from the twenties. I tried it out on several manne-
quins, and it really looks best on the head of the boy-mannequin which I
repaired and painted last year. It isn't on my website yet, I've been planning
to make a new version of that chapter for a long time. I bought that manne-
quin's head many years ago, and used it as a model for several paintings,
later I found a suitable body for it, but it had a broken foot, which I only
managed to repair last year by filling it with plaster. Then I made the clothes,
and cloth flowers, stiff with many layers of lacquer paint. Pity the helmet
has been painted. It's made of copper and it should be possible to make it
look much better, when I have the right stuff to take the paint off.

Yesterday I've been working on the helmet, I repainted the gold and took
the broom out and painted it blue, I used a lot of turpentine. Maybe purists
won't like that but it looked just like a broom. It's still wet and as it dries
the color becomes paler. When it's dry maybe I'll make the bottom part
darker again, and touch the tips of the hairs with gold! I found a beautiful
big white and pink flower which goes marvelously on the top of the helmet,
and some other flowers, and now it really suits the glittery boy. It's the War
of the Roses! I've also made him a wooden sword, but he can't hold it yet, he
hasn't got a right hand. Imagine that helmet full of ostrich feathers! It'd be
just like the Folies Bergeres. But I'd need quite a lot. When drag queens die,
the faded collections, smelling of sweat and patchouli, are passed on to
other drag queens, or thrown away in shame, but are rarely sold on flea-

Click here for my other painted mannequins.

Adriaan Brolsma.

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