Strange Contests in the Netherlands

OPEN IMAGES - Harry van Biessum gives a little tour through some of the collection's stranger films, in particular those Dutch newsreels from the 1930s which centred on reporting a wide-variety of bizarre competitions.

March 4, 2015

Competition can drive people mad and make them do strange things. Especially in times when being recorded with a movie camera was quite unique. People still make a fool out of themselves on YouTube, true, but to make your dog smoke a cigar, is something you do when your moral compass does not point perfectly North... Or when living on a different end of the human timeline of course. Well, these videos were all shot in the 1930s, so let's just say it’s the latter.

In 1933 the Dutch organised an event where ostriches and humans combined forces in a weird race against time. The ostrich can run at a speed of about 45 miles per hour. However, when burdened with carts and humans the maximum speed of the wonderful African bird is limited. The combination of these two non-flying species is not unheard of: In some parts of the world you actually still can ride an ostrich.

The year: 1937, when things like cigars, smoking animals and Charlie Chaplin moustaches were still accepted in public society. In those happy times a jury was formed in order to determine who was the best smoker in Den Bosch. It certainly wasn’t the man who ‘accidentally’ sucked his cigar on the wrong end.

Drivers of two 30 horse-powered cars are flooring their pedals, but the cars aren’t moving. How is that possible? The answer to this riddle can be found in the muscular arms of a strong man who is attached to both of the cars by ropes. In an attempt to prove his strength some more, he lets people hit him in the stomach whilst looking around casually, undaunted, as if flies were landing on his stomach instead.

With a typewriter and a lot of time on your hands, apparently the best thing to do is to make a piece of art, or that is what the teacher of a 1937 classroom full of young adults thought anyway. As we can see in this video the typewriter was transformed from a tool for dull letters into a tool for true artists. Pictures of camels, goalkeepers and children pass along. Typewriters were not only used for visual. In the 1950s Leroy Anderson used the typewriter to compose an orchestral piece called “The Typewriter”.

Harry van Biessum holds a master degree in media studies (Utrecht University) and works for the Research and Development department at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. The main mission of the projects he works for centres around opening up digital cultural heritage, via Open Images (open video), Europeana Sounds (sound related objects in Europe), the Amateur Film Platform (Dutch non-profit films and home movies) and Digitale Collectie (the Dutch dark aggregator for digital cultural heritage objects). Furthermore he is supporter of the Long Now Foundation, an initiative that is trying to make long-term thinking more common, which can be considered as an important step for a sustainable future.

The text of this essay is published under a CC BY-SA license, see here for details.