Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Why We Fight 2: The Nazis Strike

US 1942. PC: 834th Signal Service Photographic Detachment, Special Services Division, U.S. Army. No personal credit titles in the film. [In charge of production: Frank Capra, with a mighty staff of film professionals]. A fine Imperial War Museum print. 42'. Viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 30 Aug 2005. The history of German militarism: Bismarck, Wilhelm II, Hitler. A background figure to Hitler: Genghis Khan. Interesting footage of Karl Haushofer's Institute of Geopolitics in Munich in the 1910s and the 1920s, with huge files of your hometown with information you yourself did not know. Land, water, natural resources, manpower. Control the land, control the world. Control the heart of Europe, control the master island (Central and Eastern Europe), control the super-continent (Europe, Asia, Africa), control the world. Nazi activity in Liberal countries. The re-armament of Germany. The Haushofer strategy, already explicit in Mein Kampf, being put to action in the 1930s. The importance of Rheinland, Austria, Sudetenland. The importance of the Munich agreement. The fate of Poland (excellent sequence). Forceful animation on Hitler's military strategy in the 1930s. The Molotov Ribbentrop pact: too fantastic to make any sense; the Russians had read Mein Kampf. Hitler's smile as he flies over the ruins of Warsaw. The dedication of the Western allies. Churchill: there will be no compromise. Liberty Bell and the huge V sign. - The first two Why We Fight films (I saw them for the first time) were better than I expected. They have a strong viewpoint: strategy. It is mostly evident in the commentary (often read by Walter Huston) and in the illuminative animation.

Why We Fight 1: Prelude to War

US 1942. PC: 834th Signal Service Photographic Detachment, Special Services Division, U.S. Army. No personal credit titles in the film. [In charge of production: Frank Capra, with a mighty staff of film professionals]. A fine Imperial War Museum print. Special British version with a Winston Churchill foreword. Standard version 53', special British version 55'. Viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 30 Aug 2005. Heavy artillery of war propaganda, forcefully built. It's about the free world and the slave world (Russia and China belonging to the free world here). The faith in equal rights in the free world. Hitler: in the eyes of the youth I want to see the gleam of the beast of prey. Most effective now are the close-ups of common people with sad eyes. This film shows the rise of the Axis powers and follows the strategy of Mussolini and Hirohito. It's a wake-up call for America. Life and death struggle for freedom. We lose it, we lose everything. It's us or them. The Liberty Bell and a huge V letter end the film(s). It's quite a compilation from many sources, and the animation is truly effective in showing the strategy of the Axis.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Strong Man

Vahva mies. US (c) 1926 First National Pictures. PC: Harry Langdon Corp. PRES: Richard A. Rowland. D: Frank Capra. SC: Capra, Tim Whelan, J. Frank Holliday, Murray Roth - Hal Conklin (adapt.) - Arthur Ripley (story) - Harry Langdon (story and intertitles) - Clarence Hennecke, Bob Eddy (intertitles). DP: Elgin Lessley, Glenn Kershner. AD: Lloyd Brierly. ED: Harold Young. Starring: Harry Langdon (Paul Bergot), Priscilla Bonner (Mary Brown), Gertrude Astor (Gold Tooth), Arthur Thalasso (Zandow the Great). 2098 m /24 fps/ 74'. A Rohauer 1981 reissue with beautiful image, frame cropped for sound, lousy Lee Erwin organ score, from Winstone. Viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 25 Aug 2005. Capra's first feature as a director is already a masterpiece, very carefully produced and vigorously built to a rousing climax. In the prologue Harry is a soldier in WWI, then he arrives past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis, and goes in search of his mail-girlfriend Mary Brown, naively looking for her in Manhattan. He meets a vamp: this sequence is masterfully built to brilliant comedy, as the vamp tries to retrieve a roll of money from his pants, and Harry misunderstands the situation. As an assistant to the strongman Zandow he travels in a bus and annoys everyone with his cough and a box of Limburger cheese. The little town of Cloverdale has become a haven for crime. There Harry meets his Mary, who is the blind daughter of the parson. Zandow gets drunk, and Harry has to step in for him in a huge saloon. This sequence is the wonderful climax of the film, first with Harry's helpless motions in front of the irate audience, and then his one-man battle with the drunken mob. As an ex-soldier, he turns Zandow's big gun into his own use, and the saloon comes tumbling down. He is appointed the sheriff of Cloverdale, but needs the help of his blind fiancee as he is about to tumble down from the sidewalk. - Langdon at his best in the vamp sequence and in the saloon sequence. - Already a personal work of Capra with a quasi-autobiographical Ellis Island scene. The theme of the blind loved one is repeated in The Miracle Woman. The theme of honour that cannot be bought returns in Platinum Blonde, for instance.

Platinum Blonde

Platinapommi. US (c) 1931 Columbia. P: Harry Cohn. D: Frank Capra. DP: Jo Swerling, Robert Riskin, from a story by Harry E. Chandlee, Douglas W. Churchill. DP (1,2): Joseph Walker. PD: Stephen Goosson. S: Edward Bernds. ED: Gene Milford. Starring Loretta Young (Gallagher), Robert Williams (Stew Smith), Jean Harlow (Ann Schuyler). 89'. A brilliant LoC print viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 24 Aug 2005. One of Capra's early comedies set in the newspaper milieu: Stew Smith is a tough reporter on a case of a millionaire family being blackmailed by an ex-girlfriend. He does his job but treats the family fairly (he manages to return the risque letters to them). He falls in love with Ann, the daughter of the family but realizes that he is like an eagle in a gilded canary bird cage living in their mansion. So there's the boy-girl Gallagher whom he'd noticed in that way. A witty film full of great satire and fine acting, including Jean Harlow who is warm, funny, and sexy, cast against type. Robert Williams, who died soon after this, is interesting and original. Loretta Young is already very good. The sense of rhythm was even better in The Miracle Woman. The luminous print brings out the mastery of Joseph Walker's cinematography in many milieux including the newsroom, the mansion, and the nocturnal garden party. The camera movement and the variety of camera angles and shot sizes is very effective.

Ruma Elsa

Fula Elsa / Ugly Elsa. FI 1949. PC: Suomen Filmiteollisuus. P: T.J. Särkkä. D: Edvin Laine. SC: Topias based on the play by Ensio Rislakki (1947). DP: Kalle Peronkoski. PD: Aarre Koivisto. M: Nisse Rinkama. S: Kurt Vilja, Taisto Lindegren. ED: Armas Vallasvuo. Starring Eeva-Kaarina Volanen (Santtu / Elsa Kassel), Arvo Lehesmaa (prof. Taavi Harjula), Kullervo Kalske (sculptor Pertti Oras), Elsa Turakainen (Vivi Kassel), Liisa Tuomi (Irma Kassel), Rauha Rentola (Paula Kassel), Lasse Pöysti (Usko Aamunen), Hannes Veivo (Erkki the agronome). 73'. A beautiful vintage nitrate print viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 24 Aug 2005. The popular comedy which had been directed recently by Laine at the theatre was filmed with many of the theatrical cast but starring Volanen whose breakthrough this became. The comedy is somewhat forced, yet it's a pleasure to watch fine actors doing their stuff. Visually, it's great to see a film of this vintage in such good form. Laine was much more visual a director than he is usually credited for, and Suomen Filmiteollisuus did make brilliant prints (usually it's the rivalling Suomi-Filmi with the luminous prints and Suomen Filmiteollisuus with shabbier ones). There is a variety of milieus including the chemistry class of the university, the ballet rehearsal hall of the opera, and the cultural home of the deceased professor whose three wild daughters include the impossible Elsa. She is the boy girl who breaks all the rules, and, for a joke, transforms from the ugly duckling into swan to woo the suitors of her sisters and her mother. Gross caricature is the main spirit.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Miracle Woman

US (c) 1931 Columbia Pictures. P: Harry Cohn. D: Frank Capra. SC: Jo Swerling - based on the play Bless You Sister (1927) by John Meehan and Robert Riskin. DP (1,2): Joseph Walker. M: "Over There", "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel". S: Glenn Rominger. ED: Maurice Wright. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (Florence Fallon), David Manners (John Carson), Sam Hardy (Hornsby). 93'. A fine LoC print viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 23 Aug 2005. Capra and Stanwyck in good form in a satiric drama about a preacher. Her tabernacle is run by conmen, who employ professional cripples and widows besides circus lions and show people. Sharp dialogue by Riskin and Swerling, Capra keeps it all running in a fine tempo. It's about hypocrisy and true love and faith. The relationship between the blind war veteran and Stanwyck is interestingly developed with sewn love letters. His spokesman is his ventriloquist's dummy who speaks out his mind.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Offret

Sacrificatio / Uhri. SE/FR (c) 1986 Svenska Filminstitutet. EX: Anna-Lena Wibom. P: Katinka Faragó. D+SC: Andrei Tarkovsky. DP (Eastmancolor, 1,66): Sven Nykvist. AD: Anna Asp. M selections: Bach: "Erbarme dich" from The Passion According to St. Matthew; Hotchiku flute music composed by Watazumido-Shujo; summoning calls from Dalarna and Härjedalen. ED: Tarkovsky, Michal Leszczylowski. ED consultant: Henri Colpi. Starring Erland Josephson (Alexander), Susan Fleetwood (Adelaide), Valérie Mairesse (Julia), Allan Edwall (Otto), Gudrún Gisladóttir (Maria), Sven Wollter (Victor), Filippa Franzén (Marta), Tommy Kjellqvist (Little Man). Leonardo: The Adoration of the Magi. 149'. A VHS video cassette released by Showtime/Finnkino (1989), original in Swedish with Finnish subtitles, viewed at home, 16 August 2005, PAL duration 143', in preparation of the Helsinki Festival opening gala. A former actor celebrity famous as Richard III and Myshkin has retired to Gotland where his little mute son is the apple of his eye. On his birthday he is rather irritated by his family and his entourage. WW III breaks out, and a sacrifice has to be made. He spends the night with the Icelandic maid Maria. In the morning, the war is over. Alexander sets his house on fire while his entourage is taking a stroll, and is taken to a mental hospital by ambulancemen. In the last image the little mute son waters the barren tree in the hope that it will spring to life. This austere film is mostly conceived in long shots and long takes. Almost all the time there is talk, mostly it is the monologue of Alexander, the central consciousness of the film. There are a few visionary sequences in the mostly realistic film which takes place during ca 24 hours. The presence of the war is experienced mostly through the shattering sound of the fighter jets. On the other hand, there are swallows apparently having their nest under the roof of the house; they are also experienced through their song only. - When I saw this film 19 years ago I was irritated by what I felt as Tarkovsky Mannerisms. As much as I love Tarkovsky's Russian films, I felt he lost his vitality abroad. And yes, this is a film about death and loss of creativity, it's a film about the end of life, the end of the world. It's also an homage to Bergman (mostly to Såsom i en spegel and Persona). The powerful visualization with Sven Nykvist is great; it's Tarkovsky's study in Nordic light. There is no original score in the film, but the soundtrack is exquisite. Even on VHS, a moving experience; looking forward to seeing the restored SFI print.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Entre tinieblas

Yön sisaret / Sisters of Night. ES (c) 1983 Tesauro. P: Luis Calvo. D+SC: Pedro Almodóvar. DP: Angel Luis Fernández - Eastmancolor - 1,85. Set dec: Pin Morales, Román Arango. M: Cam España. "Salí porque salí", "Dime" sung by Sol Pilas. Sound: Martín Mueller, Armin Fausten. ED: José Salcedo. Starring Cristina Sánchez Pascual (Yolanda), Julieta Serrano (Mother Superior), Marisa Paredes (Sister Dungheap), Mary Carrillo (Marchioness), Lina Canalejas (Sister Viper), Manuel Zarzo (Chaplain), Carmen Maura (Sister Lost), Chus Lampreave (Sister Sewer Rat). Dep. legal M-2533-1983. Originally 115'. This was the director's definitive cut, 101'. Fine new 2005 print from El Deseo / Technicolor Madrid. Print check viewing 8 Aug 2005 at Orion, Helsinki. Yolanda, a Madrid nightclub singer, witnesses her boyfriend's death of heroin, and escapes to the convent of the Humble Redeemers dedicated to help lost women. The finances of the convent come from a Marchioness about to withdraw her support. The Mother Superior is herself a heroin addict; Sister Rat writes books under a pseudonym; Sister Lost takes care of animals including a tiger; Sister Dungheap cooks; Sister Viper sews, even fashion designs; Sister Rat does the gardening. Mother Superior falls in love with Yolanda, who reforms and rejects her. The storyline seems delirious, but already Almodóvar is focusing on the profound humanity of her characters, and the nuns seem genuinely good people who really want to help. It's nice to see the faces later made familiar by Almodóvar in nuns' habits.

¿Qué he hecho YO para merecer esto!!

Mitä olen tehnyt ansaitakseni tämän?!! / What Have I Done to Deserve This?!! ES (c) 1984 Tesauro / Kaktus. EX: Hervé Hachuel. D+SC: Pedro Almodóvar. DP: Angel Luis Fernández - Eastmancolor - 1,66. Sets: Pin Morales, Román Arango. FX: Francisco Prosper. M: Bernardo Bonezzi. Songs: "La bien pagá" lip-synched by Almodóvar; "Nur nicht aus Liebe weinen" (Mackeben) sung by Zarah Leander. Sound: Bernardo Menz. ED: José Salcedo. Starring Carmen Maura (Gloria), Angel de Andrés López (Antonio), Chus Lampreave (Grandmother), Verónica Forqué (Cristal), Kiti Manver (Juani), Juan Martínez (Tony), Cecilia Roth (Girl in Commercial), Jaime Chavarri (Striptease customer), Gonzalo Suárez (Lucas). Dep. legal 12705-1984. 102'. Fine new 2005 print from El Deseo / Technicolor Madrid. Print check viewing 8 Aug 2005 at Orion, Helsinki. Almodóvar's first great film in which Carmen Maura stars as Gloria, the overburdened housewife kept up through her 18-hour day with amphetamines. For the first time Almodóvar mixes his absurd vision with everyday life, and thus wins more profound emotional force. The fine ensemble of actors includes Verónica Forqué as the stripper with a heart of gold and Chus Lampreave as the eccentric grandmother with a pet lizard. It's a multi-story film, but the exhausted-yet-vital Maura is the center.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dark Water

Tumma vesi / Dark Water. US (c) 2005 Touchstone. P: Bill Mechanic, Roy Lee, Doug Davison. D: Walter Salles. SC: Rafael Yglesias - based on the novel Honogurai mizu no soko kara by Koji Suzuki - and the motion picture (JP 2002, D: Hideo Nakata). DP: Alfonso Beato - colour by DeLuxe - prints by Technicolor. PD: Thérèse DePrez. Digital effects: Digital Domain. Visual effects: Flash Film Works. M: Angelo Badalamenti. Sound: Frank Gaeta. ED: Daniel Rezende. Starring Jennifer Connolly (Dahlia Williams), John C. Reilly (Mr. Murray, real estate agent), Tim Roth (Jeff Platzer, lawyer), Dougray Scott (Kyle, her ex-husband), Pete Postlethwaite (Mr. Veeck, building superintendent), Camryn Manheim (teacher), Ariel Gade (Ceci), Perla Haney-Jardine (Natasha Rimsky / young Dahlia). MPAA 41559. 105'. Ugly digital look. A Buena Vista International Finland release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Saliven Gustavson. Viewed on Monday 2 August 2005 at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki. Apartment horror. Urban environment horror. Single parenting horror. Mother horror. Child horror. Already the dirty, low definition images from the digital intermediate create an atmosphere of disgust and unease. Even Jennifer Connolly looks drab in the picture. After the successful remakes of Ring and Ring 2, the third Hollywood version of a Hideo Nakata horror film. A quality film but very depressing to watch. Salles, Badalamenti unrecognizable.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sin City

US (c) 2005 Miramax. EX: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. P: Elizabeth Avellán. Shot and cut by: Robert Rodriguez. D: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino. Based on the Sin City graphic novels by Frank Miller. AD: Jeanette Scott, Steve Joyner. FX: Troublemaker Studios, Hybride, Cafe FX, The Orphanage. M: Rodriguez, John Debney, Graeme Revell. Location: Austin, Texas. Starring Jessica Alba (Nancy Callahan), Devon Aoki (Miho), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Jaime King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Roark, Jr. / Yellow Bastard), Bruce Willis (John Hartigan), Elijah Wood (Kevin). MPAA 41611. 125'. Extra heavy digital look. Rated 18. A FS Film release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen / Patrik Edman. Viewed on Sunday 31 July 2005 at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki. Kim Newman writes in Sight & Sound that few comic-book adaptations have actually tried to look like comic books, with exceptions like Diabolik and Dick Tracy, and this is the most successful attempt. He remarks that the film is less a heir to Spillane paperback covers as to the Girl Hunt Ballet parody in The Band Wagon. - I would like to add that the overwhelming content of the film is gratuitous violence and extreme sado-masochism. The film is structured as a series of excessive acts of violence, which are horribly revenged. Even the characters who act nobly at first are finally reduced to sadistic monsters. We are in a world of horror without a redeeming character; everybody is highly corrupt, only some even more incredibly so than others. We are in a world of nightmare. The film belongs to the tradition of Expressionistic horror, and in its emphatic graphic quality it is also a direct heir to Caligari. Nominally, there are women as main characters (all prostitutes to some degree except one nude Lesbian parole officer), but the force of action belongs to the men, who are all killers. - It's an important exercise in digital art, but it's stone cold dead inside.