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Word of the Day: BIOSCOOP, cinema

In our intermediate Dutch course Natalia asked me why the Netherlanders use the word BIOSCOOP instead of ‘cinema’ or ‘kinema’ or ‘kino’. Most languages have variations of the originally French word cinématographe, which combines Greek ‘κίνημα’ = movement + ‘graph’ and literally means ‘moving drawing’ or ‘writing’. In Natalia’s native Russia the word is Cyrillicly spelled ‘кино’ but it is pronounced as ‘kee-noh’ (with the emphasis on ‘noh’). Andrew, however, who is in the same course but who originates from Indonesia, told us that his countrymen also use the word ‘bioskop’. The Dutch must have introduced BIOSCOOP in the colonial days of long ago. Andrew said it was now slowly being overtaken by the word ‘sinema’.

BIOSCOOP and ‘cinema’…. Odd, indeed that the Dutch chose for BIOSCOOP and discarded the ‘cinematograaf’ in the nineties of the nineteenth century when the first film projectors were introduced. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word ‘bioscope’ had already been in existence in the early nineteenth century. The word then referred to a circular scale representing the seven stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, vigour, maturity, decline, and decay. This meaning has been long forgotten.

In 1895 the word ‘bioskop’ was used for the first film projector with which the Skladanowsky brothers showed the first moving pictures in fin de siècle Berlin. The Lumière brothers in Paris called their invention ‘cinématographe’ and Thomas Edison in New York talked about his ‘kinetoscope’.

‘Cinématographe’, ‘kinetoscope’ and BIOSCOOP were especially coined for the newfangled magic lantern that could produce moving images. In Greek ‘bíos’ means ‘alive’ and the verb ‘kopeĩn’ ‘to watch’. After a while people must have forgotten that these words indicated the hidden machines and they must have used them to refer to the temples where the miracle of the moving image could be experienced. The cinema and the BIOSCOOP were born.

Some of the earliest cinemas are still in use. In Amsterdam for instance the beautiful Pathé Tuschinski (originally Theater Tuschinski) in de Reguliersbreestraat opened in 1921. A century later you cannot help but feel a sense of awe when you enter this cathedral of the motion picture.

The moving image has been around for 120 years now. Films… I must admit that I am addicted to them. I love to explore undreamed of realities in my mind. Films and books too. Film, story, they are close relatives. I understand why novelist James Joyce was fascinated by the new medium and why he established Ireland’s first cinema, the Volta Cinematograph, on 45 Mary Street in Dublin on 20 December 1909.

At the beginning of the twentieth century in the Netherlands the two brothers Albert and Willy Mullens (their company was known as Alberts Frères) produced and projected films in tents and halls of clubs These travelling businessmen were called ‘les rois de bioscope’ (the kings of cinema). Each winter, starting in 1904, they showed their films in De Haagse Kunstkring (The Hague Circle of Art), now on the Denneweg. This ‘new’ practice of screening of the Mullens brothers is now seen as the cradle of the BIOSCOOP, the cinema in the Netherlands. The Mullens Brothers made a lovely short film in Zandvoort in 1906. Albert was the cameraman en Willy played the part of Mijnheer van Dommelen. This naughty film was a great success.

The latest development in screening practices can be seen in Amsterdam. Last week my daughter and I visited the capital of sin, mustered in on the free ferry and crossed the IJ harbour, north of Central Station, to see this new architectural miracle. You cannot miss it. This stunning eye-catcher was opened on 4 April 2012. Its name? EYE!

This new cultural institution with its striking and telling name EYE accommodates four modern cinemas, an exhibition area, a shop and a café-restaurant. At the moment there is a fascinating exhibition (which will close 14 September 2014) focusing on film director David Cronenberg. The exhibition explores the artist’s weird and horrific world. In the cinema you can see several of his films. But the experience of straying in and around this strange building and drinking a cappuccino in the sun watching the moving panorama of the harbour with Amsterdam in the distance is unforgettable.