Architecture on Film: The White Slave / 1, 2, 3 Rhapsody + Rem Koolhaas Introduction

Mon 10 October 2011 7pm

  • The 1,2,3 Group. L to R: Samuel Meyering, Rem Kolhaas, Frans Bromet, Rene Daalder, Jan de Bont. Courtesy Rene Daalder
  • The White Slave, production still, courtesy Rene Daalder. L to R: Actress Vicka Borg with Cameraman Jan de Bont, DOP Oliver Wood and Rene Daalder.
  • The White Slave, production still, courtesy Rene Daalder

Before studying architecture and founding OMA, Rem Koolhaas embarked on a early career in film, as a member of the youthful anti-auteur 1,2,3 Group, and as a screenwriter and frequent collaborator with childhood friend Rene Daalder. This screening offers a rare opportunity to view Koolhaas' early cinematic involvement and imagination – with these films newly restored and subtitled especially for the screening.

"After going to high school together, I went to the Film Academy and Rem became an apprentice journalist at a weekly magazine. At the film school I worked together with a group of people like Jan de Bont, Frans Bromet and others shooting various student films. As always, Rem and I kept in close touch, so it only made sense that he would join us when we were making an episodic anti-auteur film in which we would perform in various functions, doing everything including being the star of one of the segments. That became the 1,2,3 Rhapsody. After that I wrote and directed several short films (with Jan de Bont as cameraman), which became very successful and gave me a shot at getting a feature film off the ground. This led to Rem and myself writing The White Slave which would become a provocative allegory about the decline of European civilization, riffing on B-movie genre films and Bunuelesque non-sequiturs. (Incidentally, Bunuel's scriptwriter Jean Claude Carriere came to our rescue reassuring the baffled Dutch subsidizers that we had written a bona fide screenplay)."
- Rene Daalder

Programmed in response to the Barbican exhibition OMA/Progress. With special thanks to Rene Daalder. We are delighted to announce that the screening will be introduced by Rem Koolhaas and Shumon Basar.

The White Slave (De Blanke Slavin) - UK Premiere

West Germany/The Netherlands 1969, Dir Rene Daalder, 103 mins 

Koolhaas co-wrote The White Slave with fellow group member and childhood friend Rene Daalder - who would later move to Hollywood, pioneer digital special effects and create an eclectic oeuvre, from the teenage cult classic Massacre at Central High to a lyrical documentary on the Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan-Ader.

The White Slave is a nightmarish, satirical and surreal film-noir. A German soldier returns to post-war Amsterdam to find himself, his relatives and a cast of idealistic nurses, enmeshed in a Tangiers slave ring. Paranoid, erotic, bizarre and bristling with ideas, this is a fascinating artefact of avant-garde Dutch filmmaking, and Koolhaas’ early imagination.

Dutch with English subtitles

1, 2, 3 Rhapsody - UK Premiere

The Netherlands, 1965, Dirs Jan de Bont, Frans Bromet, Rene Daalder, Rem Koolhaas, Samuel Meyering, 15 mins 

An iconoclastic first film from the headstrong teenagers of the 1,2,3 Group, who took irreverent turns to write, direct, and star in a series of skits.

Dutch with English subtitles

Programme Notes by Shumon Basar

Writer, editor, curator and Director of the Architectural Association's Cultural Programme

Hollywood’s obsession with prequels and sequels comes from an age-old human preoccupation: how did things start and how will they end? Creation myths and apocalypse. Birth, death. In between, there’s this thing called life.

Famed careers are often the same. They actually begin before the biographers claim they begin. Don DeLillo used to work in advertising. Tadao Ando was a boxer. Richard Serra worked as a welder.

This evening’s film oddities belong to Amsterdam in the latter part of the ‘60s and to a group called ‘1, 2, 3 enz’. Its members were journalist Rem Koolhaas; his high-school friend and film-maker Rene Daalder; Frans Bromet, a cameraman who later became a well known documentarian; Kees Meyering, future inventor of the Rolykit toolbox; and Jan de Bont, future director of blockbusters Speed and Twister.* Other members came and went, in the spirit of the collective’s open-ended configuration.

Koolhaas started to work at the magazine Haagse Post aged 19, and would come to interview—in eccentric, satirical detail—the film director Federico Fellini, avant-garde artist-cum-‘hyper-architect’ Constant Nieuwenhuys, and pen a four-piece series entitled ‘Sex in the Netherlands’. He moonlighted as script-writer. Koolhaas’ father, the acclaimed author Anton Koolhaas, was director of the Amsterdam Academy of Film, from which most of the ‘1, 2, 3 enz’ group hailed. 

The short films entitled Rhapsody 1, 2, 3 (1965) are more notable for the ideology behind their production techniques than the merits of their bawdy scenarios. As announced in the group’s three-part manifesto, published in the cine-phile magazine Skoop, what mattered was acknowledging film making as a collective, team effort and not as heroically individual. For them, the auteur cinema of the Nouvelle Vague deserved to be debunked. As such, Rhapsody puts its protagonists on a merry-go-round where they each write, direct and act (or, more precisely, goof around). According to future co-founder of OMA, Madelon Vriesendorp, on-set laughter erupted throughout the making of Rhapsody. Irreverence was paramount.     

1969’s feature film, The White Slave, is a very different effort altogether. Co-written by Daalder and Koolhaas, it became the most expensive Dutch film ever made to date, after its nervous Dutch financiers were convinced by Luis Bunuel’s scriptwriter, Jean Claude Carriere, that the two twenty-something year olds actually had written a proper script. 

The White Slave’s plot centres around the trafficking of beautiful, young Dutch women sent to Tangiers allegedly as aid-nurses. Upon arrival, however, they are trapped in an Arab brothel, forced to belly dance and appease the white slave master, the slimy Arab, Abrahami. A ‘good German’, Gunther, keen to make-up for the war crimes of his people, helps to procure his newly found near feral niece and a bewildered au pair, whom he tries, unsuccessfully, to seduce. The film both exaggerates and inverts grotesque colonial stereotypes, against an actual historical backdrop where African and Arab states were acquiring their independence. The ‘revenge of the post-colonial subject’ was imminent. Countries like Holland, France and Great Britain, would experience an unprecedented flow of immigration from their former colonies, initiating the still troubled era of ‘multiculturalism’ and presaging post 9/11 Islamophobia by decades.

The atmosphere of The White Slave is somewhere between Luis Bunuel’s social surrealism and Russ Meyer’s 60s sex-fests that dealt with the absurdities of male power and impotence. Meyer, a.k.a the ‘King of the Nudies’, was also Rene Daalder’s mentor at the time. In one White Slave scene, doctors apply fake, trompe l’oeil wounds to perfectly healthy bodies. The doctor says, ‘With wounds, reality surpasses fiction.’ A year later, J G Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition would invoke similar themes, culminating in the erotic-masochism of Crash in 1973.

A number of palpable absences haunt the centre of the film (a missing husband/brother, a missing wife) – around which Gunther assembles his own ‘harem’ of white women. They seem to congregate around fallacious motives (the central one being to ‘rescue Africa’). A low-level sadism pervades every human interaction. While the characterization of Abrahimi as a repugnant Arab may seem crude by the standards of our political correctness today, it is Gunther – the good, white German –that is the most ethically troubling of all.   

So, what to make of these filmic curiosities today? If we apply the famed Paranoid Critical Method, that technique of a posteriori fact-finding beloved of Salvador Dali and Koolhaas himself, what do we glean?

First is the importance of the scriptwriter and the scenario, which becomes the basis of a plot. Right from Delirious New York (1978), this has also been one of the guiding principles for understanding the plan of a building: a plot waiting to happen.

Second, is a human universe where contingency and predestination seem to collude on a one-way course to tyranny, executed under the benign guise of moral, do-gooding rhetoric.

And last, the same human universe is truly made manifest in details. Not the kind of details architects fetishize (shadow gaps, door frames, screws), but the idiosyncratic, unconsciously delivered details of human behaviour. Everyone is acting at being themselves all of the time. In the later Koolhaasian world of Bigness, Europe and the XL-ness of globalization, these telling, beautiful flaws of human nature will continue to manifest as narrative details against the immeasurable superstructure of economy and politics.

If life ever attains meaning, it’s either as a consequence of how it began, or, as a preparation for how it will end.

The End.

With deep thanks to Rene Daalder for his invaluable insights and anecdotes during the course of writing this text.   

*See Bart Lootsma’s extensive essay, ‘Koolhaas, Constant and Dutch Culture in the 1960s’, for a full contextualization of the political and cultural environment in which these films were conceived and made.