That first trip on the tricycle, that black beret at the graduation ceremony of that ice-cream lamb at the communion party. In many Flemish families, those family scenes are stored on video in the basement of the attic. But what do family films tell us about our lives and the time in which they were shot? Erik Martens immerses himself in Bobonneke falls into the radishes in this phenomenon. The Antwerp resident worked in film criticism, in the film archive, in the film school and at the film fund. For a year now, Martens has been coordinating the operation of De Cinema, the place in De Studio where cinephile films are shown. He will also present his new book on 30 September in the culture house on Mechelseplein.
“There are a lot of films that lie deep in the archives and never surface”, Martens explains. “When I started working for Cinematek in early 2002 (Royal Belgian Film Archive, ed.) started working, I was responsible for publishing the most important Belgian and Flemish films on DVD. With the opening of the MAS in 2011, we have made a nice series of archive films about Antwerp accessible through the release of the DVD book Antwerp, located city. That is how I came across the films of the Lefèvre family.”
In 1930, the Antwerp pastry chef Maurice Lefèvre buys a camera with which he begins to film family life. In the same year his ice cream parlor opens on De Keyserlei and the family visits the World Exhibition in Antwerp. During the Second World War, his son René took over the camera from his father and four generations of Lefèvres were photographed until 1958. “With my book I want to bring the world of the family to life, starting from the movies. If you look at documentary images from the 1930s, you see how formally society was organized on the street, but you have no idea about water playing in the living room. In the book I try to link the images from the family films to other images from history.” Martens got some explanation about the film through the commentary that René Lefèvre had recorded in the 1990s, when the VRT had transferred the celluloid films to video for a broadcast. “When the pastry chef Lefèvre bought his camera in 1930, he was among the first amateur filmmakers in the country. Pioneer Henri Storck, known for his documentaries, was only beginning filming in 1929. The White of Zichem, the first Flemish feature film, dates from 1934. At that time Maurice had already been filming for four years! He also took seriously seriously: not he reported on the traditional holidays, but also on his children playing and family visits in the children and family visits. Filmed images of daily life from those days are quite unique. More and more, and certainly with the arrival of video cameras in the 1970s, more amateur filmmakers came to Flanders. But home cinematographers who have an entire oeuvre and who also portray four generations in a period of 30 years are still strange. I can’t think of anything similar in Belgium.”
Streets full of carts
The films left by the Lefèvres show how the jovial family enjoys outings, but even good ones paint a picture of pre-war Antwerp. “In a film from 1934, for example, you see how the monument by Henry Van de Velde in honor of Peter Benoit’s 100th birthday arrives just before the opera. Maurice shows it all. The opera district, with the grand hotel Weber that has since disappeared, was a hub in the city at the time. Due to the impact of two V-bombs at the end of 1944, that place looks completely different today.”
“In addition to the evolution in urbanization, the films also paint a good picture of sailing and sailing on the street. When son René gets off the bus at Astridplein that takes him from the boarding school in Turnhout, the family picks him up and takes the tram to Katelijnevest. As they drive through the streets, you can see how little traffic there is on the street. You still see a lot of carts driving and people cycling, but all in all the streets are actually quite empty. Compared to today, motorized traffic is still limited.”
For those who want to take a look at the films of the Lefèvres, Cinematek put some on their YouTube channel. “When you start with the smartphone, image and sound are automatically controlled, you can’t really do anything wrong, but first you have to be able to get the technical knowledge. In the 1930s, it was really a craft to get a movie to a good end. While films are now shared with the whole world, often with a view to the largest possible audience, films are only made for their own circle. No account was taken of the self-image, what the outside world would think. Bloopers were not cut out. On the contrary, when the uncle tripped over the mat, it definitely ended up in the movie.” Just like bobonneke who falls in the radishes of course.
‘Bobonneke falls into the radishes’, Erik Martens, EOB, 336p
Book presentation (with images from the films), 30/09 at 8 pm in De Studio. Free, subject to reservation. www.destudio.com