Saturday, September 04, 2010

New essays by Antti Nylén

Antti Nylén: Halun ja epäluulon esseet [Essays of Desire and Suspicion]. Turku: Savukeidas 2010

Antti Nylén (*1973) is one of the most interesting Finnish contemporary authors, well-known as a Catholic dandy, his format of choice being the essay. Nylén is also a translator of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Huysmans, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, and Colin MacInnes. Cinema Orion Nylén has visited memorably as a lecturer on "Ecriture and Robert Bresson", and one can sense his special affinity with Bresson's film Le Diable, probablement. A week ago Nylén published his second collection of essays with topics covering Nico, Morrissey, the Pope as "an European intellectual", great technical devices of yesterday, and vegetarianism. Tipped by Mika Taanila I bought my copy as soon as I could and read it by the next day. I don't share Nylén's approaches or ways of thinking, but his level of reflection is stimulating and original.

One chapter is devoted to Robert Bresson and Cinema Orion, and the cover image of the book is from Au hasard, Balthazar. Nylén is a great Bressonian in this curiously Bressonian land of ours (Finland being one of the original Protestant countries). Myself, consciously Godless since the day I was forced to think about those matters at Sunday school when I was six, I have always put Bresson on the pantheon of cinema in the way J.S. Bach is on the pantheon of music. And unquestionably the art of both is inconceivable without profound religiosity.

Antti Nylén's chapter is also a praise to Cinema Orion where he has had his deepest Bresson experiences. Words like his are to us behind the programming reminders of why we exist. Nylén seems to be concerned that the future of cinematheques might be threatened, but there is no reason for that. Our attendance is good, and young audiences keep discovering us. We are currently enjoying the co-existence of all generations of cinephiles alive. Many of those who started to follow the Helsinki cinematheque screenings in 1957 are still around, but there are also the very young ones now discovering the classics for the first time. I don't see why a similar demand wouldn't exist three generations from now, the young generation of today being the veterans then. Think about the Sistine Chapel: Michelangelo's frescoes are easily available for examination in books and on the internet, but people will always also want to see the real thing. I hear the place is always packed.

Although it's great that almost all Bresson films are available on dvd, a true Robert Bresson experience can only be the cinema projection. In Finland we were blessed by the fact that Mr. Aito Mäkinen (also the founder of the Finnish Film Archive) saw to it that Robert Bresson's films were released and distributed in prints with a brilliant definition of light.

When Antti Nylén refers to "old scratchy prints" at Orion he is not being completely fair. The honest truth is that our range of prints is extremely varied. We screen both the latest, most immaculate prints fresh from the lab - and, undeniably, also old scratchy ones.

The newness of a print may sometimes be a mixed blessing. The new print may be several generations removed from the camera negative, and the definition of light may be mediocre. An old print may be struck directly from the negative (the more uncommercial the film the higher the probability) and have an incomparable visual quality. Yes, there are scratches, but there are scratches also on the varnish surface of Mona Lisa. One might digitally restore Mona Lisa without scratches, but it would not be the real thing, and we would feel it. Look beyond the scratches of the vintage film print and see the amazing original visual texture designed by the director, the cameraman, the lab experts, and the editor. It is almost impossible to recreate even if we would have new prints struck from the original negative.

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