Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Black Book: 1949 and 2007

The film “Black Book” (“Zwartboek”) from Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, completed in 2006 after many threats to its production budget and purchased by Sony Pictures Classics (essentially the indie division of Columbia), missed the DC Filmfest, although it would have obviously been an interesting film for it. A Jewish girl Clarice (Rachel van Houten) joins the Resistance in northern Holland after she escapes the slaughter of her family because of an informant to the Nazis. She eventually has an “affair” with a Nazi officer (Sebastian Koch) but all bets are off when Amsterdam is liberated, and all the intrigues of the secret lists of dissenters kept in the “black book” are uncovered as the violence reaches its climax. The film runs for 135 minutes, is in Cinemascope and is quite spectacular in recreating the Nazi era in the low countries. The film has played in the DC area for three weeks now , in a limited list of theaters (now just at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA) but it was, curiously, advertised in the Washington Blade although there is no real gay content.

Not many people know that there was a black-and-white film in 1949 also called “The Black Book,” also called “Reign of Terror,” directed by Anthony Mann, 89 min, from an obscure company called Eagle Lion. The film concerned Robespierre (Richard Basehart) during the French Revolution, with Napoleon uttering one clever line (“I am a soldier”) at the end. Robert Cummings is Charles d’Aubigny. The basic plot is similar in structure tit gar if the Verhoeven film, and probably inspired it. There is a black book with government dissenters during the revolution, and it is unclear whether Robespierre has let it loose. A secret list in those days was as deadly as anything on today’s Internet; Nazi Germany, after all, required all Germans to carry “work books” with them.

Picture: My “black Bible”, a King James Version from 1949, turned to the story of the Parable of the Talents, with the words of Jesus in red (hard to find today).

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