Key visual of the exhibition Close-up. Making Swiss Film History

Close-up

Making Swiss film history

Exhibition | accessibility.time_to

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Exhibition

Praesens-Film AG is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2024. Switzerland’s oldest surviving film company has an eventful past that has taken it all the way to Hollywood. Founded by Jewish immigrant Lazar Wechsler, the company notched up its greatest successes from the 1930s to the mid-1950s, producing some of the classics of Swiss film history. Praesens-Film was behind motion pictures ranging from Füsilier Wipf, Gilberte de Courgenay and Heidi, as well as the international award-winning Marie-Louise and The Last Chance.

The exhibition shines a spotlight on the people who wrote Swiss film history, in front of and behind the camera. It tells anecdotes from the making of the films and shows the extent to which the silver screen has always reflected the zeitgeist: From the dawn of the film industry with its early advertising and commissioned productions, to the successful feature films of the war years characterised by spiritual national defence and humanitarian tradition, to idealised notions of homeland in the post-war era.

The exhibition is being held in partnership with Cinémathèque suisse.

Guided tours

Key visual of the exhibition Close-up. Making Swiss Film History

Close-up. Making Swiss Film History

Guided tour for private groups

Guided tour of the exhibition "Close-up. Making Swiss Film History".

Tour: 1 hour

Guided tours can be arranged outside opening hours: Mon between 9.30 am and 6 pm, Tue to Fri between 9.30 am and 7.45 pm. Sat and Sun between 10 am and 5 pm

Registration:  

 2 weeks in advance

Duration:

 

60 minutes; special packages can be offered on request

Group size:

 

max. 25 participants per tour

Languages:

 

English, German, Italian, French. Other offers upon request.

Cost:


 

 

CHF 180 for the guided tour + CHF 10 admission per person

Children up to 16 years free.

For groups of people with permit N, S, B, F (refugee) or F (foreigner), the guided tour and admission are free of charge.

accessibility.sr-only.person_card_info Reservations desk

+41 44 218 66 00 reservationen@nationalmuseum.ch

Schools

Key visual of the exhibition Close-up. Making Swiss Film History

Close-up. Making Swiss Film History – Introductory tour

Secondary level I and II

Guided tour of the exhibition «Close-up. Making Swiss Film History».

1 hour
Guided tours are free of charge for school classes from Switzerland.

Guided tours in English can be arranged, even outside opening hours. Guided tours are free of charge for school classes from Switzerland.

Booking:  

at least 2 weeks in advance

Duration:

 

1 hour guided tours, other services by prior arrangement

Group size:

 

max. 25 people

Cost:
 

 

Guided tours for school classes from Switzerland are free of charge.

accessibility.sr-only.person_card_info Reservations desk

+41 44 218 66 00 reservationen@nationalmuseum.ch

Audio story

Key visual of the exhibition Close-up. Making Swiss Film History
 

Close-up. Making Swiss Film History

With the audio story to “Close-up. Making Swiss Film History”, listeners get the opportunity to plunge into a number of cinematic episodes and anecdotes which have been told over and again through the years and occasionally garnished with a pinch of imagination. Showtime for the in-ear cinema!

Blog articles

Media

Close-up. Making Swiss Film history

National Museum Zurich | 12.1.2024 - 21.4.2024
published on 10.1.2024

Praesens-Film AG is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2024. Switzerland’s oldest surviving film company has an eventful past that has taken it all the way to Hollywood. The exhibition at the National Museum Zurich shows the extent to which the silver screen has always reflected the zeitgeist.

The company Praesens-Film, which was founded in 1924 by Jewish immigrant Lazar Wechsler and Swiss aviation pioneer Walter Mittelholzer, specialised from the outset in advertising films, a format which was little known in Switzerland at the time. Its clients included brands such as Lux, Grieder and Bally. It soon expanded into commissioned films, which in the 1930s addressed controversial topics such as alcoholism and abortion.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Lazar Wechsler and his team devoted themselves to the defence of the common spiritual values of Switzerland. This was the age of Praesens-Film’s most successful motion pictures, such as Gilberte de Courgenay, which paints a romanticised picture of military life for the Swiss soldiers stationed at the border during the First World War. In the film, comedic interludes involving a horse bring a light-hearted touch and raise morale while the eponymous Gilberte provides comfort and solace to the lonely and homesick soldiers. The film made its lead actress Anne-Marie Blanc Switzerland’s first female film star.

When it started to become apparent in 1943 that the Allies would win the war, Praesens-Film turned to Humanism. Marie-Louise tells the story of a French girl who, thanks to the children’s aid programme run by the Swiss Red Cross, is taken in by a Swiss family for three months during the Second World War. The film picked up on Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition and reinforced the audiences’ sense of national identity. Marie-Louise was not only a hit in Switzerland, but also internationally. In 1946, the film was the first non-English language production to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

In the post-war period, audiences appreciated light-hearted films without any political undertones. Two Heidi films that were released in quick succession offered the perfect chance for escapism into an idyllic mountain world. Heidi was a global success and became a wholesome advert for Switzerland’s tourism and policies. The sequel Heidi and Peter was the first Swiss colour film. Like its predecessor, it presents the mountains as a healthy travel destination, contrasting them with menacing urban settings.

By the late 1950s, Swiss commercial cinema could barely cover its growing production costs any longer. In addition, Praesens-Film started to experience one financial flop after another. In 1972, after the death of his wife Amalie, the despondent Lazar Wechsler had some of the company’s archives destroyed. The company was subsequently taken over by brothers Martin and Peter Hellstern, who then ran it merely as a film distributor. Since 2009, Praesens-Film has shifted its focus back to co-productions.

The exhibition at the National Museum Zurich shines a spotlight on the people who wrote Swiss film history, in front of and behind the camera. Covering the entire film production process, from screenplay and directing, to acting, camera work, editing and music, it not only recounts a piece of Swiss cultural history through objects and anecdotes, but also provides an exemplary insight into topics that shaped the 20th century socially, politically and economically.

The exhibition is being held in partnership with Cinémathèque suisse.

Images

Lazar Wechsler

Lazar Wechsler as a student, Zurich before 1919.

© Cinémathèque suisse

Film crew on the road

Eduard Tissé, Sergej M. Eisenstein, Lazar Wechsler at the lido in Wollishofen, 1929.

© Cinémathèque suisse

Young director

Gilberte Schneider-Montavon wished for her story to be filmed under the patronage of the Swiss National Donation. In order to receive the go-ahead from this military foundation, the director had to be Swiss. The choice fell on the young theater director Franz Schnyder.

© Cinémathèque suisse

Mothering the soldiers

Gilberte de Courgenay paints a romantic image of frontier service during the war. On New Year’s Eve, funny sketches in horse costumes make despair and homesickness go away, not least with the help of Gilberte who comforts the soldiers and nurses wounded hearts.

© Cinémathèque suisse

Swiss film stars

Anne-Marie Blanc was Switzerland's first female film star and also enjoyed international renown. She made her debut in the crime film Constable Studer (1939). Heinrich Gretler played the lead role as inspector, a man intent on upholding Swiss democracy wherever he could.

© Cinémathèque suisse

Behind the camera

Hermann Haller, Leopold Lindtberg, Emil Berna, Franz Vlasak (v.l.n.r.)

Egon Priesnitz. © Cinémathèque suisse

At the editing desk

The German-British editor Käthe Mey worked at Praesens-Film from 1933. Being a foreigner, she was no longer issued a work permit during WWII. Her position was taken over by Hermann Haller, the only permanent employee at Praesens-Film who had attended a film school. Käthe Mey around 1935.

© DLA Marbach

Worldwide success

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer distributed The Last Chance in the U.S., South America, and the UK. The New York Times listed the refugee drama as one of the ten best films of 1946. As a result, Lazar Wechsler began casting an eye on Hollywood. Transporting film reels, 1945.

© Cinémathèque suisse

View of the exhibition

© Swiss National Museum

View of the exhibition

© Swiss National Museum

View of the exhibition

© Swiss National Museum

Swiss National Museum press contact

+41 44 218 66 63 medien@nationalmuseum.ch

Partner

The exhibition is being held in partnership with Cinémathèque suisse.

Exhibition imprint

  • Overall management Denise Tonella
  • Project direction Aaron Estermann
  • Curators and Concept Aaron Estermann, Rahel Grunder
  • Scenography Rappaport Szenographie Architektur GmbH, Christa Held, Alain Rappaport
  • Exhibition Graphic Vieceli & Cremers
  • Advisory committee Günhan Akarçay, Heidi Amrein, Beat Högger, Markus Leuthard, Sabrina Médioni, Denise Tonella
  • Controlling of project Sabrina Médioni
  • Cultural services and museum education Gerda Bissig, Lisa Engi, Vera Humbel
  • Technical management Henrike Binder
  • Exhibition construction Ira Allemann, Marc Hägeli, Philippe Leuthardt, Sophie Lühr, David Schwitter
  • Conservation management Charlotte Maier
  • Conservation and montage of objects Anna Jurt, Iona Leroy, Véronique Mathieu, Jürg Mathys, Ulrike Rothenhäusler, Tino Zagermann
  • Lending and logistics of objects Christian Affentranger, David Blazquez, Simon d’Hollosy, Reto Hegetschweiler, Laura Mosimann, Markus Scherer,Claudio Stefanutto, Samira Tanner
  • Photography Jörg Brandt, Felix Jungo
  • Picture library Andrea Kunz, Fabian Müller
  • IT, web, media stations Alex Baur, Thomas Bucher, Ueli Heiniger, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
  • Audio guide (production) Rahel Grunder, Hipp Mathis
  • Audio guide (speakers) Margherita Coldesina, Irene Godel, Regula Imboden, Sarah Robins
  • Marketing and Communication Andrej Abplanalp, Anna-Britta Maag, Sebastiano Mereu, Carole Neuenschwander, Alexander Rechsteiner
  • Advertising graphic Res Zinniker
  • Translations Dana Braziel-Solovy, Marco Marcacci, Laurence Neuffer, Nigel Stephenson, Nicole Weiss
  • In partnership with Cinémathèque suisse, Moïra Cambridge, Oscar Corthésy, Barbara Elsener, Denis Emery, Caroline Fournier, Alix Hagen, Virginie Havelka-Berset, Silvia Kolly, Frédéric Maire, Valéry Martseniuk, Achilleas Papakonstantis, Jérôme Piller, Isotta Regazzoni, Rebecca Rochat, Loïc Salomé, Manon Sauvage, Lucas Taddei, Demian Tschumi, Nicolas Verdes, Petra Vlad, Daniela Wegmann, Seraina Winzeler
  • With the support of cinefile.ch, filmo.ch

Items generously loaned by

  • Archiv für Zeitgeschichte ETH Zürich
  • Archiv SRK, Bern
  • Cinémathèque suisse
  • ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv
  • Familie Gamma, Zürich
  • Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich
  • Kostüm Kaiser AG, Aesch
  • Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Plakatsammlung, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste
  • Peter Beck, Zürich
  • PeWe, Wien
  • Praesens-Film AG, Zürich
  • Schauspielhaus Zürich
  • Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek: Plakatsammlung, Bern
  • Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Bern
  • Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRF, Zürich
  • Sibylle Sameli Raible, Flurlingen
  • Staatsarchiv Aargau, Aarau
  • Stadtarchiv Zürich
  • Stiftung SAPA, Schweizer Archiv der Darstellenden Künste
  • Susanne Lindtberg, Münchenstein
  • Thomas Mittelholzer, Zürich
  • Universität Zürich, Institut für Evolutionäre Medizin (IEM)
  • Zentralbibliothek Zürich