Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Raymond Durgnat resurrected

Raymond Durgnat (1932–2002) was one of the most exciting film critics of all times. Now the Raymond Durgnat website has been reopened as a portal to his wonderful legacy. Thank you, Jarmo Valkola, a long term friend of Durgnat's, for the alert.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Estonian Film Archive / Eesti Filmiarhiiv

We made a day congress trip to Tallinn on the M/S Nordlandia of the Eckerö Line and had the opportunity to visit the impressive premises of the Estonian Film Archive at Ristiku 84, led by the director, Ms. Ivi Tomingas. They are going full speed ahead digitizing their film heritage on a 4K scanner and have also achieved a lot in making accessible much of the Estonian image and sound heritage. The relatively young archive has risen fast to become a top establishment. Fascinating samples of their collections are accessible online at the Estonian Film Archive website. A special frisson at Ristiku 84 is that it is a former Soviet era military prison, and there are prison cells still at the basement. No longer in active use, we could observe, except as a memorial of a dark period. The day was mostly beautiful, and there was about an hour to explore the Old City, teeming with tourists. The medieval buildings have been lovingly restored, and since Estonia joined the Euro, it is easier than before to compare the prices, which are still more affordable than in Finland, although they keep rising.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sergio Donati discussion hosted by Lauri Lehtinen

Cinema Orion, Helsinki (For a Few Sergios More / Helsinki Festival), 27 Aug 2011

Sergio Donati told us about his work with Riccardo Freda, on a project based on James Hadley Chase, and his involvement in a Spanish Western. One project fell through because the producer's condition was that the location should be a particular hotel to acquire some advertising for the hotel and for the producer to meet a certain actress. Donati focused on his career in advertising, becoming an executive in the second biggest advertising company in Italy, and contemplating establishing a company of his own.

Sergio Leone, an old friend, kept calling Donati, and asked him to see Yojimbo, for a basis for a Western. "I had a good career in advertising, and I rejected. Leone called, called, called." Being a friend of Vincenzoni, Donati came to help in For a Few Dollars More, to help solve trouble with overlength. The solution was a discussion in the scene of the legless soldier.

The great work was Once Upon a Time in the West. Donati showed us a copy of his screenplay of 420 pages, for which he has the credit with Sergio Leone. "No computer, it's Olivetti." Some people don't know the difference between a story and a screenplay. Italian screenplays are not like the American ones where one page equals a minute. Italian screenplays are detailed to the second. Ennio Morricone composed the music based on this screenplay. Claudio Mancini the production manager was the one that was hanged in the flashback. He plays Harmonica's father. Charles Bronson approached Donati to discuss the lines, to have the "f" eliminated. He has a lisping problem with "f".

Face to Face was a Alberto Grimaldi Western directed by Sergio Sollima, for whom I had written The Big Gundown. Sollima was very political and wanted a lot of dialogue. He wanted to explain, explain. A very good director.

Duck You Sucker Leone just wanted to produce, he had already ended the West. Eli Wallach they couldn't cast because Rod Steiger was the big star. Eli I adore. I suffer even today when I see Rod Steiger. Leone wanted Giancarlo Santi to direct. He presented him to Rod Steiger, saying, he is just like me, can do it as well as I. Rod Steiger said to him, ok, tomorrow I'll bring my cousin, he is just like me. There were 25 weeks of shooting. In the massacre there is a reference to the Fosse Ardeatine massacre conducted by the Nazis in Rome. In 1968-1969 we reacted to the Leftist wave in the world. LL: The film seems to be on the side of the revolution but is indifferent. SD: Leone was unpolitical. I disliked the quote from Mao about revolution being an act of violence. Not from me. LL: In the political phase you were disappointed. SD: In 1968 things seemed to change. Nothing changed.

Once Upon a Time in America: I was not part of the actual production, but I was involved in the preparations long before the film was shot. I did research in New York, met with cosa nostra characters and policemen and we found locations in New Jersey that could be used for New York in the 1930s. But Leone had a talk with Fellini who was shooting E la nave va in Cinecittà. Fellini lived on the set, had a big room there, with a shower. So Leone built New York in Cinecittà. The film is beautiful but it did change, change, change, from 1967 to 1984. My son was the first assistant director, the only Donati in the production team.

LL: You also had a comedy phase in films directed by Michele Lupo. [In the extract of Ben and Charlie there is another occasion of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. The tramp has escaped from his own wedding. The fiancée is a prostitute.] SD: The author of the story was Luigi Montefiore, an old friend, also known as George Eastman. He is still very busy writing for the tv.

With Sollima I had to fight, his dialogues were too long. With Leone, it was strictly business. Lupo was a friend.

LL: On Holocaust 2000: it was riffing on popular themes of the current cinema such as a nuclear powerplant, the second coming of Jesus and Antichrist. SD: Kirk Douglas was a macho man who invited us to his home in Beverly Hills. He had a fantastic wife, and he was proud of his son Michael who had produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Dino de Laurentiis produced the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Raw Deal. Arnold had a terrible accent, and we decided to exaggerate and use irony. Arnold is very smart, and from this movie on, there was always some kind of irony in his films.

LL: What about Italian cinema today?
SD: Dead.

Mr. Berlusconi owns half the television and controls the other half. He owns Medusa, the biggest cinema distribution company. If you want to make a movie you have to secure the rights for primetime tv. In Italy, you don't see Italian films. My last work, The Sicilian Girl, has been seen all around the world, but in Italy, hardly at all.

Producers like de Laurentiis, Ponti, and Cristaldi, there are no more. We have very good actors. Previously there was the system of prima visione, second, third, etc. for cinema exhibition.

LL: Why were Italians successful with Westerns? SD: French producers don't understand Westerns. In Italy there was always a sense of i film di genere. After the Leone period it developed into Terence Hill, Bud Spencer movies.

LL: The Colt tv series? SD: In 1989, it was my last project developed with Leone, about a gun passing from hand to hand. It faded.

The first Q from the audience was from Kari Peitsamo, a Finnish rock legend. He asked what it means when Harmonica calls Frank "a man of ancient race". SD shrugged. Henry Fonda came to the set with his very young wife looking himself very old. But as soon as he was in costume he looked 20 years younger. My 3 year old son was watching cartoons in Spanish with him in Almeria.

Q: The bandits waiting at the station, was there an idea that they would be "the good, the bad, and the ugly", including Clint Eastwood? SD: I don't think so. Leone's relationship with Clint - bye. Leone didn't speak English actually. In the dubbing Americans were unexperienced. They worked on the same take on different days with different actors. Clint initially requested only to speak the lines that were in the original script. Clint is a fantastic director and writer, but then we didn't know. He sat silently in the corner. He hated smoking, yet he had to bite that cigarillo. Nobody understood his talent. The original choice had been Cliff Robertson, but Leone had seen Clint in Gunsmoke as the limping deputy. For the first movie he got $ 12.500, then $ 200.000, then a million. Leone shouted "I invented him, without me you'd be nobody". Clint said the same, "without me you'd be nobody". Leone used to joke that Clint had two expressions: one with the hat, the other without the hat.

Q: Is it true that Leone was unmusical? SD: Leone loved music and sound effects. Morricone became great with Leone. The Mexican trumpet and the Bach melody, those were suggestions from Leone.

Q: You have worked with many great directors: Corbucci, Castellari, Bellocchio, D'Amato... SD: Corbucci let actors improvize.

Q: Can you explain what a screenplay is more precisely? SD: In the USA, the screenplay of Raw Deal is 120 pages. In Italy, a screenplay is more like a novel. Leone used the expression desunto. What you see is written here exactly. Leone didn't improvize.

Excerpts viewed: Face to Face, Duck You Sucker, Ben and Charlie, Holocaust 2000, Raw Deal.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris / Midnatt i Paris [could be called Keskiyö Pariisissa]. ES/US © 2011 Mediapro / Versátil Cinema / Gravier Productions. EX: Javier Méndez. P: Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures, Stephen Tenenbaum. D+SC: Woody Allen. DP: Darius Khondji. PD+AD: Anne Seibel. Set dec: Hélène Dubreuil. Cost: Sonia Grande. Makeup: Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen. [No original music but a great 1920s soundtrack, the list not available online]. S: Jean-Marie Blondel. ED: Alisa Lepselter. Casting: Stéphane Foenkinos, Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto, Juliet Taylor. Cast: Owen Wilson (Gil Pender), Rachel McAdams (Inez), Kurt Fuller (John, Inez's father), Mimi Kennedy (Helen, Inez's mother), Michael Sheen (Paul Bates), Nina Arianda (Carol Bates), Carla Bruni (museum guide), Yves Heck (Cole Porter), Alison Pill (Zelda Fitzgerald), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Tom Hiddleston (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Sonia Rolland (Josephine Baker), Daniel Lundh (Juan Belmonte), Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Marcial Di Fonzo Bo (Pablo Picasso), Marion Cotillard (Adriana), Léa Seydoux (Gabrielle), Emmanuelle Uzan (Djuna Barnes), Adrien Brody (Salvador Dalí), Tom Cordier (Man Ray), Adrien de Van (Luis Buñuel), Gad Elmaleh (detective Tisserant), David Lowe (T.S. Eliot), Yves-Antoine Spoto (Henri Matisse), Laurent Claret (Leo Stein), Vincent Menjou Cortes (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), Olivier Rabourdin (Paul Gauguin), François Rostain (Edgar Degas). 100 min. Released in Finland by Scanbox with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm. DCP 2K viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 26 Aug 2011 (day of Finnish premiere).

The 39. feature film directed by Woody Allen is one of his most lightweight. It is a romantic fantasy comedy about a young engaged couple travelling to Paris with the fiancée's parents. Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter with ambitions to write a novel. Inez, the daughter of a wealthy family, is a matter-of-fact woman with little patience for illusions.

I agree with critics that this is a minor Woody Allen film, but there are interesting features in it.

1. While it is a romantic comedy, the development is about the two main characters (Gil and Inez) realizing that they are wrong for each other.

2. Gil is the identification figure interested in the culture and history of Paris so deeply that every night he makes virtual trips to his "golden age" of the 1920s. Inez seems to be the conventional and prosaic killjoy with a sense for immediate reality only. But gradually Gil realizes that Inez is right. The funny and original concept of the comedy is the development of the fantasy time travel. Gil visits his golden age of the 1920s, but Adriana, his beloved during the time trip, wants to go back to the early belle époque of the 1890s and the artists they meet there dream about the Renaissance. Inez's father hires a detective to follow Gil's nocturnal adventures, and the detective gets lost in time and finds himself chased by the bodyguards of the Sun King. Gil has to come to agree with Inez that nostalgia for a lost golden age is a romantic illusion. And maybe Hemingway has taught him a lesson, too.

3. There is a travelogue and tourist advertising film aspect in the film, it is "Paris for beginners". Woody Allen is happy with the best-known things about Paris, but I hesitate to use the word cliché. Chaplin and Hitchcock worked like this, too, starting with the best-known things. This is the illusion of Paris, but it is also an aspect of the real Paris. Woody Allen's showing the first-timers' Paris befits his story. The opening montage is a counterpart to the one about New York in the movie Manhattan.

4. The parody of snobism in the character of Paul Bates (Michael Sheen) is the flipside of the conscious naivism of this movie. Paul Bates belongs to Woody Allen's most enjoyable snob figures.

5. The dozens of vignettes of famous artists are a bit hit and miss. Among the most memorable performances are those of Alison Pill (Zelda Fitzgerald), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Vincent Menjou Cortes (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), and Olivier Rabourdin (Paul Gauguin).

6. Marion Cotillard (Adriana) and Léa Seydoux (Gabrielle) are charming, and Rachel McAdams creates a fine caricature as Inez. Owen Wilson is a funny new alter ego for Woody Allen.

7. Inez's parents are Tea Party Republicans, and Gil is a Democrat. Gil provokes the old folks humoristically, and their dead silence at his remark about free debate is so perfectly timed that it leads to the biggest laughter in the movie. Their silence is also slightly ominous. Midnight in Paris is the Hollywood screenwriter's Rive Gauche adventure.

The English Wikipedia: "This is the first Woody Allen film to go through a digital intermediate, instead of being color timed in the traditional photochemical way. According to Allen, its use here is a test to see if he likes it enough to use on his future films." Already in the beginning the park, the nature, and the long shots look denatured, very digital. The electric, artificial, video green looks like colorized. No problem with close-ups and interiors. By seeing this movie I could never tell that it is the work of Darius Khondji.

Beyond the jump break there is a list of the film's Paris locations:

Sergio Donati in Finland

Sergio Donati is visiting Finland as a guest of Helsinki Festival and us. He is a major screenwriter behind three other Sergios (Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima) featured in our series "For a Few Sergios More" curated by Lauri Lehtinen and Antti Suonio.

Sergio Donati will meet the audience
today 26 August, at 19.00 at Bio Rex, introducing For a Few Dollars More
tomorrow 27 August, at 14.00 at Cinema Orion, in a Q & A session
tomorrow 27 August, at 20.00 at Cinema Orion, introducing Once Upon a Time in the West

Arriving at Helsinki yesterday Sergio Donati was in good spirits and amazed that it is so warm here. Coming from hot Rome he would actually have preferred it to be cooler. He speaks good English, and he is an avid raconteur.

Professional screenwriters are highly regarded by fellow film professionals but sometimes neglected in film criticism and film studies. Especially highly valued since the silent era are those masters who can rescue troubled projects and devise ingenious solutions to tighten films while saving the most precious parts. Sergio Donati belongs to those wizards whose uncredited work is as important as the credited part of their CV.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

High Hopes

Suuria toiveita. GB 1988. PC: British Screen Productions / Channel Four Films / Portman Productions. P: Simon Channing-Williams, Victor Glynn. D+SC: Mike Leigh. DP: Roger Pratt. M: Andrew Dixon. AD: Andrew Rotschild. ED: Jon Gregory. Cast: Philip Davis (Cyril Bender), Ruth Sheen (Shirley), Edna Doré (Mrs. Bender), Philip Jackson (Martin Burke), Heather Tobias (Valerie Burke), Lesley Manville (Laetitia Boothe-Braine), David Bamber (Rupert Boothe-Braine), Jason Watkins (Wayne), Judith Scott (Suzi), Cheryl Prime (Martinin ystävätär). 112 min. Print: Park Circus, with permission from Endemol Worldwide Distribution Limited. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Mike Leigh / Helsinki Festival), 25 Aug 2011.

BFI synopsis: "The plight of youth and old age in contemporary society is revealed through the lives of Shirley and Cyril, a working class couple in dispute over whether they should have children, their problems with 'yuppies' moving into the neighbourhood and outpricing them and the advent of Cyril's ageing mother's seventieth birthday." Sampled Mike Leigh's second theatrical feature film with which he started his cinema director's career seriously after a long spell as a director predominantly for the theatre and for television. Mike Leigh has a rare talent to catch real life as if it were unaware, without self-reflection, without self-consciousness, without a feeling of posing. A young, confused visitor asking for directions brings us to the world of Cyril and Shirley, a motorcycle courier and his girlfriend, and their family and circle of friends. "Vanhuus ei tule yksin" ("Old age does not come alone") is a Finnish saying illustrated by the situation of Cyril's mother. In the introduction of the relationship the evocation of mutual tenderness is original. There is a unique sense of humour in the world of Mike Leigh. The print viewed is immaculate. There is an emphasis on gray and brown in the colour palette, but in this print the definition is perfect: there is a rare beauty and a feeling of illumination.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Xiao Wu / Pickpocket

HK/CN 1997. PC: Radiant Advertising / Hu Tong Communication, Beijing Film Academy. P: Li Kit Ming, Jia Zhangke. EX: Wang Hong Wei. D+SC: Jia Zhang-ke. DP: Yu Lik Wai – 16 mm. AD: Liang Jing Dong. ED: Lin Xiaoling. Cast: Wang Hongwei (Xiao Wu), Hao Hongjian (Meimei), Zu Baitao, Ma Jinrei, Liu Junying, Liang Yong Hao, An Qunyan, Jiang Dongdong, Zhao Long, Wang Reiren, Gao Jiunfeng, Li Renzhu, Wu Juan. 107 min. A Tamasa / Celluloid Dreams print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jia Zhang-ke / Helsinki Festival), 24 Aug 2011.

Sampled an early feature film by Jia Zhang-ke, who switched from video to 16 mm film while retaining his almost documentary sense of authenticity. Jia Zhang-ke reacted against the fifth generation filmmakers' way of story-telling and instead tuned his antennae to the undercurrents of modern life. Wang Hongwei, Jia Zhang-ke's alter ego, stars as the pickpocket. In contrast to the pickpocket films of Fuller and Bresson Jia Zhang-ke presents his protagonist as a barometer of the rapidly changing society. Xiao Wu starts to lose his friends because they are ashamed of him. An old fellow criminal is now a model enterpreneur. But also rich big league smugglers are admired. Jia Zhang-ke has a sensitivity to the rhythm of the rapidly changing life in China. The visual quality is soft because of the 16 mm photography, but the image looks lively on this print.

8 mm to digital

In Finland like everywhere people want to move their audio tapes and home movies into digital formats. Although I am not an expert in these matters people often ask even me how it could be done. A good starting-point is your nearest library. They know where to go and might offer help themselves. In the center of Helsinki at the Glass Palace at Mannerheim Street Reel One is another good starting-point.

In today's Iltalehti (24 Aug 2011, page 14-15) Jarno Juuti has collected useful comparisons on the digitization of
- C cassettes
- 8 mm films
- Slides
- Photographs
- Vhs cassettes
- 35 mm camera negatives

P.S. 14 Sep 2011: In Finland also 1", D2, HighBand and other tapes to DigiBeta, DVCam or QuickTime-movies: Skarvi Oy (Satamakatu 4 A, Helsinki).

As every photographer's guide will tell you, digital files are durable for only ca five years, and you need to update or migrate them regularly, also to conform to the ever-changing computer programs. It's a good idea to make quality prints of photographs and keep photochemical negatives and images (also 8 mm films) in cold storage, where the life expectancy is some five hundred years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Il colosso di Rodi / The Colossus of Rhodes

El coloso de Rodas / Le Colosse de Rhodes / Taistelu Rhodoksesta / Striden om Rhodos. IT/FR/ES 1961. PC: Comptoir Français de Productions Cinematographiques, CTI-Cinema Television International, Cineproduzioni Associate, Procusa Films. EX: Michele Scaglione. D: Sergio Leone. SC: Luciano Chitarrini, Ennio De Concini, Carlo Gualtieri, Sergio Leone, Luciano Martino, Ageo Savioli, Cesare Seccia, Duccio Tessari. DP: Antonio Ballesteros – Eastmancolor – Supertotalscope. PD: Ramiro Gómez, Jesús Mateos, Francisco Rodríguez Asensio. Cost: Vittorio Rossi. M: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. Choreography: Carla Ranalli. ED: Eraldo Da Roma. Cast: Rory Calhoun (Darios), Lea Massari (Diala), Georges Marchal (Peliocles), Conrado San Martín (Thar), Ángel Aranda (Koros), Mabel Karr (Mirte), George Rigaud (Lissipu), Roberto Camardiel (Xerxes), Mimmo Palmara (Ares), Félix Fernández (Carete), Carlo Tamberlani (Xenon), Alfio Caltabiano (Creonte), José María Vilches (Eros). 139 min. Versione italiana. Restauro Cineteca di Bologna. E-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio. 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (For a Few Sergios More, Helsinki Festival), 23 Aug 2011.

Revisited and sampled Sergio Leone's debut film as a film director. IMDb synopsis: "While on holiday in Rhodes, Athenian war hero Darios becomes involved in two different plots to overthrow the tyrannical king, one from Rhodian patriots and the other from sinister Phoenician agents." The story takes place in the year 280 BC. It is an assured spectacle that impresses with professionalism but hardly much more. Familiar as I am previously with an old print of the English version it was now a revelation to see the excellent Bologna restoration of the original Italian version with its wonderful colour.

Bleak Moments

Ilottomat hetket. GB © 1971 Autumn Productions. P: Leslie Blair, Albert Finney. D+SC: Mike Leigh - based on his play. DP: Bahram Manoochehri. Songs: Mike Bradwell. AD: Richard Rambant. ED: Leslie Blair. Cast: Anne Raitt (Sylvia), Sarah Stephenson (Hilda), Eric Allan (Peter), Joolis Cappleman (Pat), Mike Bradwell (Norman), Liz Smith (Pat’s Mother), Malcolm Smith, Donald Sumpter, Christopher Martin, Linda Beckett, Sandra Bolton, Stephen Churchett, Una Brandon-Jones, Ronald Eng, Reginald Stewart, Susan Glanville, Joanna Dickens, Christopher Leaver. 111 min. A BFI Distribution 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Mike Leigh, Helsinki Festival), 23 Aug 2011.

Sampled Mike Leigh's first theatrical film set in London's South Norwood. BFI synopsis: "Centres around a shy but intelligent middle-class girl, Sylvia, who is barely surviving suburban loneliness while looking after her mentally retarded sister Hilda." Other characters are Sylvia's friend at work, Pat, her boyfriend Peter, a teacher, and Norman, a flegmatic hippie. Evident is already Leigh's exceptional intimacy and confidentiality, the sense of being, of persons revealed in almost inaccessible situations. Mike Leigh is already a master of Innerlichkeit. Bleak Moments is a chamber piece about solitude, but it is illuminated by profound understanding. Solitude, but not despair. Although the print viewed is slightly worn at the heads and tails of the reels, the visual quality is wonderful, radiating a photochemical liveliness. Although the colour world is often grayish, there is an underlying warmth.

Sanxia haoren / Still Life

Hiljaiseloa / Stilla liv / [literally: Good People of the Three Gorges]. CN 2006. PC: Shanghai Film Group, Xstream Pictures. P: Wang Tianyan, Xu Pengle, Zhu Jiong. EX: Zhang Dong, Chow Keung. D: Jia Zhang-ke. DP: Yu Li wei – HD digital. AD: Jing Dong Liang, Liu Qiang. M: Lim Giong. S: Zhang Yang. ED: Kong Jing Lei. Cast: Han Sanming (Sanming), Zhao Tao (Shen Hong), Ma Lizhen (Missy Ma), Li Zhibin (Guo Bing), Ma Xiang, Wang Hongwei (Wang Dongming), Luo Mingwang, Chen Kai, Chen Ronghu, Lin Zhou. 108 min. A NonStop 35 mm print with Swedish subtitles by Roger Ericsson and e-subtitles in Finnish by Otto Pietinen. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jia Zhang-ke, Helsinki Festival), 23 Aug 2011.

Sampled Jia Zhang-ke's vision of the immense ecological change in China, as experienced at the ancient Chinese cultural landscape by the Three Gorges at the Yangtse (Chang Jiang) River. Sanming visits the old town in search of his wife and daughter whom he hasn't seen in 16 years and discovers that the whole neighbourhood of his youth has been flooded because of the Three Gorges Dam. I am impressed by the assured intensity of the rhythm which follows the duration of real life. Although I'm disappointed by the fact that the cinematography is high definition digital, I must admit that the images have been designed so that the visual quality is surprisingly good.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eesti vabaks - rockfestivaali joka ei päättynyt / [Free Estonia - the Rock Festival That Never Ended]

FI 2011. PC: Nouhau Productions Oy. P: Anne Veijalainen. D: Sanna-Sisko Tohka, Markku Veijalainen. SC: Sanna-Sisko Tohka. Loc: Tallinna laululava. Feat: Martti Syrjä, Eppu Normaali, Juice Leskinen, Johnny Rotten, Big Country, Sakari Kuosmanen, Pave Maijanen. Juri Makarov, Ivo Linna, Markku Veijalainen. 59 min. A video projection preview at Bio Rex, Helsinki (YLE Teema Tenth Anniversary), 22 Aug 2011.

Presented by: Ulla Martikainen-Florath, Markku Veijalainen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Juri Makarov, and Ivo Linna.

[On tv on the 3 September 2011 this will be followed by the concert documentary: Glasnost Rock - Rock Summer 88. 82 min. A concert documentary of the big three-day-rock festival at Tallinna laululava in the summer 1988. Featuring Eppu Normaali, Juice Leskinen, Leningrad Cowboys, John Lydon alias Johnny Rotten, and Big Country.]

From the official presentation: "YLE Teema celebrates the 20th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Estonia. Eesti vabaks - the Rock Festival That Never Ended is a documentary of stars of Finn rock who got a gig in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1988 and were driven almost by accident to fight for free Estonia with an electric guitar in their hand."

"Markku Veijalainen, a Finnish boss of a city radio and a jack-of-all-trades in the entertainment business, started to realize a wild dream in 1988: the first big international rock festival in the Soviet Union, to take place at the legendary Tallinn Song Arena in Soviet Estonia."

"The idea was to organize an unforgettable summer festival and a rock experience for the Estonians living under Soviet rule. Unexpectedly, the August weekend developed into something completely different. 150.000 people got to witness how an innocent festival became a part of Estonia's singing revolution, in which Finnish and Estonian stars defied the KGB agents, militia and Red Army soldiers and demanded freedom for Estonia."

"The Radio Ykkönen (Radio One) channel taped on video and audio the whole three day event which was in Finland called Glasnost Rock and in Estonia Rock Summer. The tapes were forgotten in Veijalainen's vault for over two decades."

"The documentary film Eesti vabaks! The Rock Festival That Never Ended and the one-and-a-half-hour concert documentary Glasnost Rock - Rock Summer 88 have now been produced from this unique, mostly previously unseen material."

"In the documentary the Finnish and Estonian activists tell how the impossible became possible. Pave Maijanen, Martti Syrjä, Sakari Kuosmanen, and other veterans of Finnish rock illuminate how it was to make a first gig in the Soviet Union."

YLE Teema is not only the best television channel in Finland but a top forum of our country's cultural life in general. For their tenth anniversary celebration they had selected a new documentary film that represents two of their main concerns: social history and music.

The Singing Revolution is a well-known watchword, but I had not realized that even Finnish rock musicians had an important part to play in it. The Estonian friends witnessed that Finnish rock musicians ignited sparks that had tremendous consequences. Sakari Kuosmanen had been forbidden by his Estonian friends to say it, but he said it loud anyway at the Tallinn Song Arena in 1988: "Eesti vabaks"! And he said today that never in his life had he received such a warm applause as on that day from the audience of 150.000.

I was able to see the introductions and the beginning of the documentary movie which obviously will have lasting historical value.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peter Aspden: The Zorba syndrome (a column)

Peter Aspden: "The Zorba syndrome". A column in Financial Times, 20 Aug 2011.

Living in an era of turbulence in the world economy, much of my reading consists of business newspapers and magazines such as Financial Times and The Economist, and Kauppalehti and Talouselämä in our country. Helsingin Sanomat also has a good business section. Refreshingly, business papers have strong cultural sections, in a time when there is a trend in Nordic newspapers to abolish theirs. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. But in Financial Times, there is a splendid long essay by Martin Amis on Philip Larkin, and Charles Clover has written a surprising backstory about the end of the USSR, about what really went on with Yeltsin and Gorbachev.

Today's wittiest reading comes from Peter Aspden, who refers in his column to the international hit film Zorba the Greek (US/GB/GR 1964) directed by Michael Cacoyannis (1922-2011), based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, and composed by Mikis Theodorakis:

"Zorba was great for the balance of payments, but could the Greeks themselves have become rather too infatuated with him? With the roguish charm, the charisma, the terminal irresponsibility? With the devil-may-care attitude towards economic planning?"

"Well, the devil does care. And so does the rest of the world. It was the abiding achievement of Athenian classicism that it understood this precarious balance, between the forces of order and chaos, that made for peace and prosperity. The perfect proportions of the Parthenon symbolized the attainment of that equilibrium. But it was no more than an evanescent moment. War and destruction were around the corner."

"Being of half-Greek parentage, I naturally wish Greece well in its efforts to find a way out of its current predicament. But please, enough with Zorba. He was a fool. It's good to be uptight about the budget deficit. And some troubles just can't be danced away."

Raoul Ruiz 1941-2011

The Chilean born Raoul Ruiz was a fantastically productive man of the theatre, television and the cinema. In 1956-1962 he wrote about a hundred experimental plays. He worked in the newsroom of Argentinian television and wrote screenplays for Mexican telenovelas. Together with Miguel Littin, Pedro Chaskel, and Aldo Francia he launched the new Chilean film movement and supported Salvador Allende during his presidency 1970-1973. Yet Ruiz was not a political agitator but an avantgarde film-maker, who attracted immediate attention with his first film Three Sad Tigers (Tres tristes tigres, 1968). After the military coup of Augusto Pinochet and the death of Salvador Allende Ruiz went permanently into European exile, with Le Havre (France) as his stronghold.

Ruiz had affinities with the writers Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. He filmed Franz Kafka (La colonia penal), Pierre Klossowski (L'Hypothèse du tableau volé), Racine (Bérénice), Calderón (Mémoire des apparences), Shakespeare (Richard III), Stevenson (Treasure Island), Proust (Le Temps retrouvé), and Balzac (La Maison Nucingen).

L'Hypothèse du tableau volé was an ironical thriller about the art world. The secret of a lost painting was tracked down via tableau vivant reconstructions. Les trois couronnes du mathelot was a meta-fictional sailor yarn, in which fantasy sequences led to a world of ghosts. With films like these Ruiz became known as a modern surrealist. In his movies the boundaries of high culture and poplore became meaningless in the same way as with Orson Welles.

Ruiz had been filming low budget art movies, but in the 1990s his budgets grew, and he got to direct stars such as Marcello Mastroianni (Trois vies & une seule mort), Catherine Deneuve (Généalogies d'un crime), John Malkovich (Le Temps retrouvé, and Klimt), and Isabelle Huppert (Comédie de l'innocence).

After the reconstitution of democracy in Chile Ruiz dealt with the predicament of his native country in the tv series Cofrolandia. In his tv series Ruiz also indulged in fantasy and adventure.

Raoul Ruiz, who had been diagnozed with cancer, died yesterday in Paris. The man who had directed 114 movies was at the top of his game. Mistérios de Lisboa (2010), produced in Portugal as a tv series and as a theatrical movie, was one of his most admired works.

The obituary by J. Hoberman in Village Voice is worth reading. Hoberman quotes his own early characterization of this unique guy: "this dude with B-movie monicker--e.g. the Godard of the '80s, Mister early-Borges-plus-middle-period Welles, a Barthesian Buñuel, the Edgar G. Ulmer of the European art film, a Third World H. Rider Haggard, the García Márquez of French TV." The obituary by Miguel Littin has been published by the Chilean newspaper La Segunda.

So far I have seen only a handful of Raoul Ruiz' films. My awareness of him, as Raúl Ruiz, started in 1974 with ¡Qué hacer! (CL/US 1970), a blend of fiction and non-fiction which he co-directed (the main author being the producer Saul Landau) and which was transmitted by the Finnish tv channel YLE TV2. ¡Qué hacer! is song-narrated by Country Joe McDonald, and it is an account of the turbulence surrounding Salvador Allende's rise to power. A film without simplification, rather chaotic, acknowledging fatal contradictions, with premonitions of the impending tragedy.

P.S. David Bordwell's tribute to Raúl Ruiz (25 Aug 2011) is worth reading, and it has many valuable links.

The obituary by Miguel Littin is beyond the jump break.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Michaël Borremans: Eating the Beard (exhibition)

Michaël Borremans: Eating The Beard. Taidehalli / Kunsthalle, Helsinki, 20 August - 9 October, 2011. Helsinki Festival Opening, 19 Aug 2011.

Official introduction: "The Belgian Michaël Borremans (b. 1963) is one of the most fascinating and sought-after artists today. Described as a sceptical romanticist, Borremans’ works contain a mysterious, even frightening tension. A virtuoso painter and draughtsman, Michaël Borremans conjures up strange scenes and mysterious figures that stay unsettlingly in the subconscious mind. The exhibition is the first major review of the artist’s work in Finland."

"In his art, Michaël Borremans’ investigates the individual’s identity, choices and potential for freedom. He also draws attention to conflicts between the individual and society, order and chaos, the moral and the forbidden. His works are studies as well as evidence of humanity. Borremans has said: ”My greatest fear? That people are not aware, and that is frightening.”"

My first encounter with Michaël Borremans' work. His paintings are figurative and representational, but they belong to no pastiche or photorealistic current. There is no post-modernist meta-dimension or self-reflectivity. Borremans reaches the level of the great figurative masters, but his visions are oneiric, and more precisely, nightmarish. I see Borremans as a surrealist. (I'm aware that artists hate labels but we critics need them). In the cinema I see affinities with David Lynch, Jan Švankmajer, and the Quay brothers. 

In one word the exhibition is about death. La Mort en ce jardin. On the Beach (the Finnish title: Viimeisellä rannalla = "On the Last Beach"). Rigor mortis. Rue Morgue. Divina Commedia, Cantica I: Inferno. The Swan of Tuonela.

But this is no Orphic descent into the underworld, the land of Hades, producing art with messages from beyond that the whole living nature can listen. Instead, Borremans' works resemble death masks. The message seems to be that it's too late now.

The hanging of the paintings has done with great sensitivity and understanding, and Borremans thanked the Taidehalli staff emphatically. There is breathing space for the paintings, some of which are small in size but very forceful. The lighting at the Taidehalli exhibition is not especially bright. On the Taidehalli website the paintings seem brighter, and one can see details more clearly.

Worth watching even if you have visited the exhibition: Taidehalli @ Flickr.

A list of the paintings on the Taidehalli website is beyond the jump break:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Queen Kelly

Kuningatar Kelly / Drottningen Kelly. US 1929. Unreleased at the time in the US, released in Europe in 1931. PC: Gloria Productions / United Artists. P: Joseph Kennedy. D+SC: Erich von Stroheim based on his story “The Swamp”. Titles: Marian Ainslee. DP: Gordon Pollock, Paul Ivano. M (1931): Adolf Tandler. AD: Harold Miles. Cost: Max Rée. ED: Viola Lawrence. Cast: Gloria Swanson (Patricia "Kitty" Kelly), Walter Byron (Prince Wolfram von Hohenberg Falsenstein), Seena Owen (Queen Regina V), Lucille Van Lent (the prince's chambermaid), Wilson Benge (the prince's valet), Sidney Bracey (the prince's lackey), Wilhelm von Brincken (the prince's adjutant), [Florence Gibson n.c.] (Kelly's aunt), Tully Marshall (Jan Bloehm Vryheid), Madge Hunt (Mother Superior), Mme. Sul Te Wan (Kali), Ray Daggett (Coughdrops). Reconstruction US © 1985 Kino International / Dennis Doros. 101 min. The Nordfilm 1987 release print with Finnish / Swedish intertitles by Mikko Lyytikäinen / Eirik Udd, no English intertitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Stars of the Summer), 18 Aug 2011.

After the opening at The Amos Anderson Art Museum there was still time to catch the last part of Queen Kelly, Erich von Stroheim's last substantial work as a director.

My first encounter with Queen Kelly was with the 1931 release version which ends with the suicide by drowning of Patricia Kelly after a horse-whipping by the sadistic, deranged, jealous Queen. Then in 1985 Kino International released this reconstruction of Erich von Stroheim's original version with its African section: Kelly is rescued from the dark waters by a policeman back to the nunnery, where she receives a telegraph from her aunt in Dar-Es-Salaam who asks her to come to her deathbed at once. In Africa Kelly finds out that she is becoming the inheritor of the popular Poto-Poto brothel, but first, at the aunt's deathbed, she has to marry the degenerate plantation owner Vryheid.

This lurid story repeats obsessions from Stroheim's previous films such as his version of The Merry Widow and The Wedding March. The subject is over the top, grotesque, and delirious. It is full of excess, Pre-Code frenzy, and Victorian dualism in the extreme. But the realization is sober and lucid. My favourite moment is the one where Patricia Kelly examines the plantation owner Vryheid, and we see a revealing montage of close-ups of his pistol, cigars, liquor bottle, et cetera. Like his predecessor in Stroheim's oeuvre, Baron Sadoja, also played by Tully Marshall, the crippled Vryheid suffers from locomotor ataxia, the sign of his being in the final stages of syphilis. Vryheid is Stroheim's blackly comical counterpart to Joseph Conrad's Mistah Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness.

Depravity would be boring without the contrast of the sacred in the world of the nunnery and the dignity personified by the black priest who gives the last rites to the dying aunt and weds simultaneously Kelly and Vryheid in holy matrimony in a double sacred ritual.

The weak link of the movie is Walter Byron's matter-of-fact performance as the prince. John Gilbert and Erich von Stroheim, himself, were able convey the change of the male protagonist from a roué to a true lover with a shattering intensity, but Walter Byron seems indifferent.

I love Adolf Tandler's melodramatic music which carries and tells the story determinedly and passionately with means of its own. It is a good example of the film music of the late, high silent era. It is one of my three favourite Stroheim scores: 1) The Wedding March (the original Zamecnik-de Francesco sound-on-disc score), 2) The Merry Widow (the Maud Nelissen score based on Lehar), and 3) Queen Kelly by Adolf Tandler.

The visual quality of the print is largely ok, with variable quality in the shots, perhaps with a generally slightly duped look, and sometimes signs of nitrate / water damage in the sources. After Kelly's suicide attempt the movie is largely reconstructed via stills, but the music carries the emotion magnificently. I'm grateful for Kino International for this reconstruction. Unfortunately the Finnish distributor removed the English titles and replaced them with Finnish / Swedish titles only.

Rax Rinnekangas: Face to Face (photo cinema exhibition)

Rax Rinnekangas: Face to Face. FI © 2011 Bad Taste, Ltd. P+D+SC: Rax Rinnekangas. S+ED: Jari Innanen. Photo cinema exhibition. 50 min. Finnish / Swedish intertitles. Helsinki Festival / The Amos Anderson Art Museum, 19.8.–31.10.2011, Helsinki. Opening, 18 Aug 2011.

The official presentation: "Film director, photographer and author Rax Rinnekangas' exhibition opens to the public on 19 August at the Amos Anderson Art Museum. Face to Face is a Photo Cinema installation that explores the Western concept of time and the relationship between Mother Europe and her son America."

"After decades of moving between different cultures, Rax Rinnekangas has come to understand that the carbon footprints of the migratory wave from Europe to America can be detected in almost everything this so-called white America – The United States a.k.a. The Good Bad Son – produces in its entertainment industry and politics. Rinnekangas regards America as an "oedipal bonus family made up of descendants of Europeans in ‘another Promised Land', which was unlawfully and forcibly taken from its native people. This original sin has left an indelible mark on the subconscious of the White Man, which is why the Doomsday theme is a key element of American culture. The modern concept of time manipulates man into 24-hour spending and supports this obsession". According to Rax Rinnekangas, immigrants from Mother Europe are aware of the homelessness of their souls, which is why The Good Bad Son wants to cure this homelessness by turning domestic policy into foreign policy."

"Rinnekangas' Photo Cinema installation is an interpretation of the mechanisms at play that result in Europe and the United States facing each other in perpetuum, entranced by a concept of time that accelerates spending. The imagery consists of a series of realistically depicted people photographed from behind. The photographs – set in different cultures from the Urals to the Atlantic, from Mexico via the United States to Canada – tie in with an almost dream-like narrative."

"The 50-minute film will be screened non-stop on the sixth floor of the museum. Editing and sound editing by Jari Innanen. Face to Face is a co-production of AVEK / Heidi Tikka and the Amos Anderson Art Museum."

"The exhibition is part of a broader presentation of Rax Rinnekangas' oeuvre "Short Shadow, Long Journey – The Universe of Rax Rinnekangas" on view during the Helsinki Festival. The Face to Face-exhibition kicks off the Rax Rinnekangas-series, which consists of ten films and two exhibitions. The series will also be on view in the Ateneum Hall, the Museum of Finnish Architecture, Laterna Magica and Bio Rex during the Helsinki Festival."

A critical essay on the Western culture realized mostly via photographs with moving image footage inserts (the silhouette of a swimmer seen from below). A global vision which is part of an ambitious whole. It will take time to digest this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Herr Puntila och hans dräng Matti / Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti

Herra Puntila ja hänen renkinsä Matti [the title on the film is in Finnish]. SE / FI 1979. PC: Reppufilmi Oy, Svenska Film Institutet. P: Anssi Mänttäri. D: Ralf Långbacka. Ass. D: Ilkka Vanne. SC: Ralf Långbacka - based on the play Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matt (1940 / 1948) by Bertolt Brecht and Hella Wuolijoki. DP: Heikki Katajisto - negative: Kodak 35 mm. ED: Irma Taina. AD: Ensio Suominen. Cost: Liisi Tandefelt. Make-up: Eva Ekman. M: Kaj Chydenius. S: Jouko Lumme. Narrator: Ralf Långbacka. Cast: Lasse Pöysti (Mr. Johannes Puntila). Pekka Laiho (Matti Aaltonen), Arja Saijonmaa (Eeva Puntila), Martin Kurtén (Attaché Eino Silakka), May Pihlgren (ruustinna: Dean's wife), Tauno Lehtihalmes (rovasti: Dean), Sven Ehrnström (Fredrik), Elina Salo (apteekkineiti: chemistry clerk), Ritva Valkama (Trokari-Emma: Emma Takinainen, bootlegger), Soli Labbart (telefooni-Santra: Telephone Sandra), Sulevi Peltola (Surkkala, "Red Surkkala"), Pirkko Nurmi (Liisu), Maria Aro (Laina), Karin Pacius (Fiina), Yngve Lampenius (Butler), Asser Fagerström (pianist), Atso Fagerström (violinist), Martti Palasti (cellist), Paavo Piskonen (worker), Pehr-Olof Sirén (Secretary of State, Minister of Foreign Affairs). 112 min. Original in Swedish. A vintage Adams-Filmi distribution print with Finnish subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Hella Wuolijoki), 17 Aug 2011.

Revisited the only Finnish Bertolt Brecht film adaptation.

Since the mid-1930s the industrialist and playwright Hella Wuolijoki developed several versions of her play and story called Sahanpuruprinsessa [Sawdust Princess].

After Hitler's invasion of Denmark and Norway Bertolt Brecht applied for a visa to the United States and was forced in 1940 to leave Sweden for Finland where he stayed as a guest of Hella Wuolijoki until 3 May 1941. Based on Hella Wuolijoki's subject they developed together the play Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti. Wuolijoki's version was a well-made play; Brecht developed a Brechtian version with instructions to perform it in commedia dell'arte style, perhaps even with masks.

Ralf Långbacka is one of Finland's top theatre directors, also an experienced Brecht expert. In his only cinema feature film he follows Bertolt Brecht's version of the play but realizes it in the way of social and psychological realism.

Mr. Puntila was written consciously as a popular comedy. The concept of Mr. Puntila being a warm human being when stone drunk and a callous patriarch when sober was inspired by Chaplin's City Lights. The spineless, ingratiating suitor, the attaché Silakka, resembles his counterpart in the most popular Finnish movie of the 1930s, Siltalan pehtoori [The Caretaker at Siltala].

The difference to Chaplin is that in the Wuolijoki-Brecht story the tycoon is the clown, and the servant is the straight man.

Mr. Puntila the movie is a well-made comedy, but it is not a Brechtian film in the sense in which we call Godard and Oshima Brechtian. (But maybe in the sense in which we can detect a Brechtian approach in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.)

The main reason for Mr. Puntila's status in film history is Lasse Pöysti's magnificent performance in the title role. Lasse Pöysti's long and still continuing film career started in 1941, but this performance is my absolute favourite. A double role is an actor's dream, and here Lasse Pöysti has the opportunity to perform two completely different aspects of a single personality. His Puntila is a man we love to hate.

The other actors have a hard time trying to keep up with Pöysti. Pekka Laiho is masculine and dignified as the chauffeur Matti who refuses to be insulted. Arja Saijonmaa is controlled as the daughter Eeva, the sawdust princess, unable to pretend excitement towards her suitor, the attaché Silakka. Finally she has had enough with her father's antics and explodes memorably in a way that puts an end to Puntila's efforts to arrange her marriage.

The film is an example of the Finnish culture's obsession with alcoholism. Puntila, who has declared war against temperance, becomes a poet and a dreamer when drunk. At night, on his way to obtain legal alcohol, he engages four women with large holder rings of curtain rods. In the story's final reverie he lets build from his furniture the legendary Hattelmala Ridge in his pool room and starts to sing on top of it. (Qf. Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)

It is Finland in 1935. Puntila is not too drunk to fire the red worker and family man Surkkala, although he is his best worker. This is the last straw for Matti, who leaves Puntila for good, while admitting that Puntila is not the worst of masters.

The film adaptations of the Puntila play are also instances of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding, or here, cancelled betrothal. The Secretary of State, no less, is present at the scandal when Puntila gets stone drunk and banishes the suitor, the attaché Silakka, from the premises ("no wonder our foreign policy is going to the dogs").

The print has been heavily used. The colour has started slightly to redden, and the film looks like it might have been shot in 16 mm although it was shot on 35 mm. Nevertheless, it is still nice to watch.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

La Femme d'à côté / The Woman Next Door

Kohtalokas nainen / Kvinnan i huset bredvid. FR 1981. PC: Les Films du Carrosse / TF 1 Films Production. P: Jean-François Lentretien. D: François Truffaut. SC: François Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman, Jean Aurel. DP: William Lubtchansky. AD: Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko. M: Georges Delerue. ED: Martine Barraqué, Marie-Aimée Debril. Loc: Grenoble. Cast: Gérard Depardieu (Bernard Coudray), Fanny Ardant (Mathilde Bouchard), Henri Garcin (Philippe Bouchard), Michèle Baumgartner (Arlette Coudray), Véronique Silver (Mme Odile Jouve), Roger Van Hool (Roland Duguet), Philippe Morier-Genoud (doctor), Olivier Becquaert (Thomas Coudray), Nicole Vauthier, Muriel Combe. 106 min. A Nordfilm 1983 print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Satu Laaksonen / Eirik Udd. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (François Truffaut), 16 Aug 2011.

A love tragedy. Revisited the first hour of François Truffaut's penultimate film which belongs to the pièces bien faites he was happy to do in the final part of his career. The subject is familiar and eternal - mad love - and Truffaut's account is original in every detail. La Femme d'à côté was Fanny Ardant's breakthrough movie to the international audience, and she is surprising and convincing in the title role. Gérard Depardieu performs his character's change, his volte-face, memorably. As soon as Mathilde returns to his life, he becomes silent, earnest, and absent-minded. I like the sense of gravity which Truffaut conveys in this story. It is about passion which does not bring happiness. It is about love which has to lead to death. Truffaut's accomplishment is to convey this without exaggeration. The story is rooted in realistic everyday circumstances in Grenoble with many humoristic details and observations, and the contrast makes the tragedy stronger.

Georges Delerue's romantic music is essential to the movie. It has an affinity with the grand romantic mode of Bernard Herrmann, his Liebestod mode, but there is no imitation. The 30 year old print is ok but it was probably not brilliant to begin with, and has a slightly duped look. The colours are broken, with a brown ambience, and they seem right to the picture.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d'Or / Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece

Tintti ja merirosvon aarre / Tintin och guldskatten / Tintin och sjörövarskatten. FR/BG 1961. PC: U.C.E. – Union Cinématographique Européenne / Alliance de Production Cinématographique. P: André Barret. D: Jean-Jacques Vierne. SC: André Barret, Rémo Forlani – based on the cartoon characters created by Hergé. DP: Raymond Pierre Lemoigne (Raymond le Moigne) – Eastmancolor –1,66:1. Underwater cinematography: Alain Boisnard. AD: Philippe Ancellin, Marilena Aravantinou (Marilene Aravantino), Jean-Pierre Thévenet (Pierre Thevenet). Make-up: Serge Groffe. M: André Popp. S: Guy Villette. ED: Léonide Azar (Leonid Azar). Loc: Istanbul (Turkey), Pireus (Greece). Cast: Jean-Pierre Talbot (Tintin), Georges Wilson (Captain Haddock), Georges Loriot (Professor Tournesol), [the brothers Gamonal, n.c.] (Dupont ja Dupond), Charles Vanel (Father Alexandre), Dario Moreno (Midas Papos), Dimos Starenios (Scoubidouvitch), Ulvi Uraz (Malik), Marcel Bozzuffi (Angorapoulos), Demetrios Myra (Karabine), Henri Soya (Clodion), Max Elloy (Nestor), Serge Marquand (mailman), Michel Thomass (Yéfime). The Greek music and dance ensemble: Dora Stratou (Panygrist de Dora Stratou). The dog: Milo (Milou). 103 min. A 1971 Suomi-Filmi re-release print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Lea Joutseno / Maya Vanni. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 14 Aug 2011.

Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d'Or is a live action movie not based on a pre-existing Hergé album. Instead, based on this film, a Hergé fotonovela album was published in French, Spanish, and English.

Tonnerre de Brest! Revisited a movie that I had not seen in 48 years. As a child I was a Tintin fan, and the four albums published in Finnish by WSOY were among my favourite reading. This movie did not disappoint me then, and already then I wanted to see it again, but sometimes one has to wait.

Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d'Or is light adventure entertainment for children. A strength of the Tintin albums is the sense of place, and similarly, in this movie it was a wise decision to shoot on location. The sunny landscapes of Turkey and Greece are perfect for the adventure. The famous characters are well cast. Jean-Pierre Talbot is a sportsman, and his action and fight scenes as Tintin are believable. Georges Wilson gets to play the most colourful character, Captain Haddock, with a short temper and a taste for drink. The villains operate under the cover of a company called Karexport. Professor Calculus (Tournesol) saves the day with his Super-Tryphoniol. The heroes finally discover the hidden gold treasure in the dilapidated cargo ship. In a nice twist ending Captain Haddock gets a decoration for having repatriated the treasure to South America. The prologue and the epilogue take place at Castle Moulinsart (Marlinspike Hall) with a scene with a mailman on bicycle, like in Jacques Tati's first feature film, and there is something Tatiesque in the approach of the movie. Tati it ain't, but there is a sense of an authentic Hergé spirit in this undertaking.

The 40 year old print has been in heavy use, but there is enough of the original colour left to give a genuinely pleasant impression.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Klovn: The Movie / Clown: The Movie

Klovni - kyllä nolottaa / Clown - pinsamt. DK © 2010 Zentropa. P: Louise Vesth. D: Mikkel Nørgaard. SC: Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam - from a story by Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam, and Mikkel Nørgaard. DP: Jacob Banke Olesen. PD: Rasmus Thjellesen. Makeup: Louise Hauberg Nielsen. M: Kristian Eidnes Andersen. S: Henning Mortensen. ED: Morten Egholm, Martin Schade. Casting: Anders Nygaard. Cast: Frank Hvam (Frank), Casper Christensen (Casper), Marcuz Jess Petersen (Bo), Mia Lyhne (Mia), Iben Hjejle (Iben), Lars Hjortshøj (Hjortshøj), Tina Bilsbo (Tina Bilsbo), Mads Lisby (Mads). 88 min. Released in Finland by Bio Rex Distribution with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Carina Laurila. DCP 2K viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 13 Aug 2011.

I have not seen the Danish tv sitcom Klovn (in Finland called Kyllä nolottaa), which had its original run in 2005-2009, with the same four main cast members as in the movie, reportedly similar to the US show Curb Your Enthusiasm. The premise of the movie is that Frank's girlfriend Mia gets pregnant but is not convinced that Frank is father material. She tests him by letting him take care of the ten-year-old Bo. However, Frank has agreed to accompany his best friend Casper to a canoe tour, which unbeknownst to Casper's wife Iben is also a "pussy tour" the high point of which will be a visit to a private castle-turned-brothel with a possibility of a "world tour". There is also a bus full of college girls also taking a canoe tour.

Klovn: The Movie was Denmark's most popular movie last year. It is well made and structured, and the canoe tour is a good idea to keep things moving.  Klovn: The Movie is a lowbrow farce. Lowbrow farce has been popular in the cinema since the early days, for example Charles Chaplin started with stories like this (The Star Boarder). There is also a connection with certain Laurel and Hardy films such as Blotto. Because there was little to engage me in the sex and toilet jokes of Klovn: The Movie I had a lot of time to try to figure out the secret of this film's success. I remembered Leonard Maltin's recent assessment that there have never before been so many gross toilet jokes in the cinema ("Comedy Goes Down the Toilet"). The attraction of the cinema has much to do with regression, but in a good movie it is only one of the starting-points. I remain curious about Klovn: The Movie. I would have expected more from the friendship of Frank and Casper. The wives / girlfriends are as hostile as the ones in the Laurel and Hardy films. I sense a strange misogyny and a lack of tenderness in the film, but maybe I'm misunderstanding something.

There is a digital video look in the movie.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cars 2

Autot 2 / Bilar 2. US © 2011 Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios. P: Denise Ream. D: John Lasseter. Co-D: Brad Lewis. SC: Ben Queen - from a story by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis, and Dan Fogelman. AD: Jay Shuster. Art Department. Visual Effects department. Animation Department. Other crew (software, desktop and infrastructure, etc.). M: Michael Giacchino. S: Tom Myers. ED: Stephen Schaffer. Voice talent (English): Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Michael Caine (Finn McMissile), Emily Mortimer (Holley Shiftwell), Eddie Izzard (Sir Miles Axlerod), John Turturro (Francesco Bernoulli), Brent Musburger (Brent Mustangburger), Joe Mantegna (Grem). 106 min Walt Disney Company Finland, released in an original version and in a version spoken in Finnish (credits beyond the jump break). DCP 3D XpanD, Finnish-spoken version viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki (day of Finnish premiere), 12 Aug 2011.

I have failed to see Cars  (2006) but I was now impressed with Cars 2, a top Pixar digital animation directed by John Lasseter. The film-makers have seen classics such as Grand Prix (the approach to the locations is similar) and Le Mans (starring Steve McQueen: the Pixar star is called Lightning McQueen). There has been car-racing animation before, the Norwegian Flåklypa Grand Prix / Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (Ivo Caprino, NO 1975), but Pixar's approach is completely different. The approach to the action is consciously similar to the James Bond films starring Roger Moore. Even Michael Giacchino's music is like from a James Bond movie. Cars 2 is inspired by those models but not actually parodying them. There is a fiendish plot about global oil domination which British spies help foil. The novelty of the high tech story is that the actual protagonist is the battered and slow-witted tow truck Mater. A unique sequence is Mater's self-realization flashback montage. The Finnish version is inspired especially in Mater's voice performance by Heikki Silvennoinen, who speaks in the accent of Tampere. While the animation of the main story is astounding, I preferred the more stylized end title sequence animation.

The DCP 3D is successful in XpanD, and I had no problem with the brightness of the image.

P.S. 18 Aug 2011. There is now a debate in Finland about the rating of Cars 2; it is unrated here. In the screening I visited I noticed some five instances of walk-outs with very small children. There may be many reasons to walk-outs, but it crossed my mind that I would not recommend this movie to children under seven. The soundtrack was so thunderous that I don't think I was able to hear laughter from the audience. A special treat in cinema screenings of classic Disney films is the sound of the audience full of children laughing (my special memory of this is the Berlin premiere of Pocahontas at Zoo Palast), but it would not have been possible with a soundtrack like this. - P.S. 22 Aug 2011. Disney Finland has changed the rating to 7 (a 5-year-old may attend in the company of parents).

The Finnish-spoken version's credits are beyond the jump break.

Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation

Toy Story -pätkis: Loma Havaijilla. US 2011. PC: Pixar. D: Gary Rydstrom. Digital animation, DCP 3D, Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 12 Aug 2011. - A short animation before Cars 2. Because Ken and Barbie are not taken to the family's Hawaiian vacation, the other toys stage it in the nursery. Funny.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The classics... never heard of

Bill Mesce writes on the Sound on Sight site about his experiences as a teacher for a film appreciation class ("'The Gray Ones' Fade to Black"):

"“The movies none of us ever heard of” included, among others, Dead End (1937), His Girl Friday (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), This Gun for Hire (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), On the Waterfront (1954), Ben-Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Fail-Safe (1964), In the Heat of the Night (1967), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), Patton (1970), Network (1972), Chinatown (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979)."

"Not to mention they didn’t know who Bogart was, or Stanwyck, Lancaster, Grant, Fonda, Bergman… Some didn’t know there’d been a The War of the Worlds (1953) before Spielberg’s (let alone that there’d been a – “Really?” – book!); that there’d been a Planet of the Apes (1968) before Tim Burton’s monkey fest. And those few who did know, hadn’t seen the originals. With the exception of Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and (for just a few) The Godfather (1972), it seemed most of them didn’t know any movie before Independence Day (1996) and Titanic (1997)."

The situation is familiar also in Finnish schools and even in university film courses and at the Department of Motion Picture, Television and Production Design. It is hard to be a professor when the students have hardly any previous knowledge! But from the viewpoint of our Cinema Orion and, say, Midnight Sun Film Festival, there seems to be a strong young cinephilic audience in Finland.

Bill Mesce gives an interesting backstory about the American development. But the situation is global. Yet I don't think there is a reason for pessimism. We are in the middle of the greatest ever media turbulence. These days we are experiencing a phase of technology fetishism, where new information technology is king, and substance is being reduced to "content". The turbulence will continue, and we may have a completely different media technology in 10-15 years. But quality movies will survive and find audiences on a new scale. Already now obscure silent and experimental films are getting manifold audiences via the internet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Une aussi longue absence / The Long Absence

Pitkä poissaolo / Gengångaren [title on print] / En man kom tillbaka. FR/IT 1961. PC: Procinex / Société Cinématographique Lyre - Galatea Film. D: Henri Colpi. SC: Marguerite Duras, Gérard Jarlot. DP: Marcel Weiss - b&w - Dyaliscope 2,35:1. M: Georges Delerue. "Trois petites notes de musique" (comp. Georges Delerue, lyrics Henri Colpi) perf. Cora Vaucaire. Three opera arias ("Ecco ridente in cielo", "Una furtiva lagrima", etc.). AD: Maurice Colasson. ED: Jasmine Chasney, Jacqueline Meppiel. Cast: Alida Valli (Thérèse Langlois), Georges Wilson (the tramp), Charles Blavette (Fernand), Amédée (Marcel Langlois). 85 min. A Suomi-Filmi 1962 release print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Darling Alfthan / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 10 Aug 2011.

Revisited Henri Colpi's serene, compelling film based on an original Marguerite Duras screenplay. With this film Colpi shared the Palme d'Or in Cannes 50 years ago together with Luis Buñuel's Viridiana, but Une aussi longue absence is not as well remembered as it would deserve to be.

Thérèse (Alida Valli) is a café-owner in a suburb of Paris. A tramp (Georges Wilson) passes by mumbling fragments of opera arias. The tramp has lost his memory and identity in WWII in Germany. Thérèse starts to believe he is her husband Albert, lost in the war, although nothing supports it and nobody confirms it, on the contrary (the height is different, the colour of the eyes is different... ). Thérèse has not remarried but he has a nice boyfriend, a truck driver, whom she now discards.

The film is the story of Thérèse's attempt to revive forgotten memories. She visits the tramp's clochard-like shack by the Seine. The tramp is no alcoholic, though, but a gentle soul. She invites him to drinks, to leaf through old magazines, to a discussion with relatives about things that happened 16 years ago (torture... Angers... Gestapo... Fresnes... 14.7.1944... déporté... ). She invites him to dinner, to listen to opera arias, to dance to the wistful theme waltz "Trois petites notes de musique". During the dance Thérèse feels a long scar in the tramp's head. This should be the peripeteia, the fatal recognition that becomes a turning-point. The rational Thérèse must realize that the tramp's brain has been damaged beyond recovery. When the tramp escapes Thérèse and her neigbours on the square, he acts like a fugitive wanted by the enemy, holding his hands up. But against reason Thérèse persuades herself that the tramp must return in the winter. "Il faut attendre l'hiver".

Thérèse and the tramp are both psychological war invalids. Une aussi longue absence is a strong companion piece to Hiroshima mon amour. More generally, it is about the persistence of traumatic memories and about livsløgn (Ibsen's term about fundamental self-deception, the whole life based on a lie).

The magisterial black and white scope cinematography is lucid in the same way as in Alain Resnais' L'Année dernière à Marienbad. The brilliant vintage print conveys this perfectly.

This time I realized that Une aussi longue absence has one of my all-time favourite theme songs. The lyrics to "Trois petites notes de musique" are beyond the jump break:

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly / Kohtalokas tapaaminen / Natt utan nåd. US © 1955 Parklane Pictures. EX: Victor Saville. P+D: Robert Aldrich. SC: A.I. Bezzerides - based on the novel by Mickey Spillane (1952, in Finnish Suutele minua julmuri). Incorporating Christina Rossetti's poem "Remember". DP: Ernest Laszlo. AD: William Glasgow. Makeup: Robert J. Schiffer. M: Frank De Vol. "Rather Have The Blues" (Frank De Vol) sung by 1) Nat "King" Cole and 2) Kitty White. There are many classical music samples in the score (heard from the classic radio channel). S: Jack Solomon. ED: Michael Luciano. Casting: Jack Murton. Cast: Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer), Albert Dekker (Dr. G.E. Soberin), Paul Stewart (Carl Evello), Juano Hernandez (Eddie Yeager), Wesley Addy (Lt. Pat Murphy), Marian Carr (Friday), Maxine Cooper (Velda), Cloris Leachman (Christina Bailey), Gaby Rodgers (Gabrielle), Jack Elam (Charlie Max), Mady Comfort (Nightclub Singer), Strother Martin (Harvey Wallace). 106 min. A 1988 Urania Film release print with only Finnish subtitles by Mikko Lyytikäinen viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (François Truffaut: Les Films de ma vie), 9 Aug 2011.

Revisited one of Robert Aldrich's strongest films of which François Truffaut wrote that there is an invention in each shot. Jean-Pierre Coursodon says that he wants to see it at least once a year.

Mike Hammer is the anti-hero, a Neanderthal private dick out of his depth. Yet he is not completely nihilistic or callous. He is devastated by the fate of his car mechanic Eddie (va va va voom!), and he risks his life to save Velda.

The quest leads the small-time divorce case veteran to find Pandora's Box. The mythological implications are made explicit, whether Biblical (Lot's wife) or from classical Greek mythology (Pandora, Medusa). There is a sense of humour in the way the rough Mike Hammer meets culture everywhere: poetry, large book cases, record collections, and a museum of modern art.

I have been reading this summer J. Hoberman's book An Army of Phantoms. American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011), and watching Kiss Me Deadly now I realize more deeply how much it is a film of its time. The constant atmosphere of fear and surveillance. The fundamental despair of the nuclear holocaust.

The quality of the definition of light in the 1988 print is not always even, but the print is on the whole quite watchable.

Christina Rossetti's poem "Remember" is beyond the jump break. 

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life / The Tree of Life / [could be called in Finland: Elämän puu / Livets träd]. US © 2010 Cottonwood Pictures. Year of release: 2011. EX: Donald Rosenfeld. P: Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, Brad Pitt, Bill Pohlad. D+SC: Terrence Malick. DP: Emmanuel Lubezki. PD: Jack Fisk. AD: David Crank. Set dec: Jeanette Scott. Cost: Jacqueline West. Makeup: Meredith Johns. Hair stylist: Charles Yusko. Visual effects crew: big. Credited are among others the creators of the astrophysical realm, the microbial realm, and the dinosaur maquettes. M: Alexandre Desplat. There is a rich compilation score of classical music. S: Craig Berkey. ED: Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa. Loc: Smithville (Texas); Villa Lante (near Rome, Italy). Casting: Vicky Boone, Francine Maisler. Cast: Brad Pitt (Mr. O'Brien), Sean Penn (Jack), Jessica Chastain (Mrs. O'Brien), Hunter McCracken (Young Jack), Laramie Eppler (R.L.), Tye Sheridan (Steve), Fiona Shaw (Grandmother). 139 min. A FS Film 35 mm print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Minna Franssila / Carina Laurila viewed at the Espoo Ciné press screening, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 9 Aug 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Arricam LT, Zeiss Master Prime and Ultra Prime Lenses; Arricam ST, Zeiss Master Prime and Ultra Prime Lenses; Arriflex 235, Zeiss Master Prime and Ultra Prime Lenses; Arriflex 435, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses; Dalsa Evolution; Phantom HD Gold; Red One Camera (some shots). - Laboratory: EFILM Digital Laboratories, Hollywood (CA), USA (digital intermediate); Laser Pacific Media Corporation, Los Angeles (CA), USA. - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision2 200T 5217, Vision2 500T 5218): 65 mm (also horizontal) (Kodak Vision2 200T 5217, Vision2 500T 5218); Redcode RAW. - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Digital (4K) (source format) (some shots), IMAX (source format) (some scenes), Panavision Super 70 (source format) (some scenes), Redcode RAW (4K) (source format) (some shots), Spherical (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (Fuji Eterna-CP 3523XD), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

Terrence Malick's new film is always an event also in our land. I don't belong to the inner circle of Malickians, but I have always respected his work.

The Tree of Life I find instantly engaging. It is a poetic film partly inspired by the lyrical trend of the New American Cinema of the 1960s, such as the work of Stan Brakhage. Interestingly, the previous year's Cannes Palme d'Or winner, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, was also inspired by those films while studying in Chicago.

A son of the O'Brien family dies at the age of 19, and the Trauerarbeit (the processing of the sorrow) sets his brother Jack's memories back to their childhood in the 1950s in Texas. This is the slender narrative which leads to a meditation of life. Jack is played by Hunter McCracken as a boy and Sean Penn as a grown-up man.

The film is deeply felt. Brad Pitt plays the father who gets much too harsh but has the generosity of spirit to grow in understanding. (Brad Pitt is in an interesting phase. Some years ago he expanded his comic horizon and now he excels in an authoritarian role.) Jessica Chastain is the loving mother who tries to steer the family away from conflict.

The Tree of Life is a coming of age story. The three brothers find the world and discover the nature playing in the neighbourhood. Jack the firstborn is always the first target.

The title The Tree of Life has a Biblical meaning: it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This film is among other things about Jack's discovery of good and evil - the birth of conscience. The way this has to do with his father and his mother has also psychoanalytical relevance. "I'm as bad as you are".

The cosmological images (the astrophysical realm, the microbial realm, the Jurassic imagery) have been much discussed. I think The Tree of Life would have been strong without them, but I accept the cosmic and Jurassic scenes, too. They are playful, and there is no kitsch.

Tarmo Poussu, a top Malickian, told me after the screening that this film had been edited for four years. I do think it has been worth the effort.

In the visual quality of the 35 mm print one can appreciate the decision to process the digital intermediate in 4K.

There is an interesting round-table debate on The Tree of Life in Cinema Scope.

P.S. 24 Aug 2011
Jim Emerson on The Tree of Life
http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2011/08/did_sean_penn_pee_on_the_tree_.html#more
from him I find this great link:
Bilge Ebiri on The Tree of Life
http://ebiri.blogspot.com/2011/05/at-violet-hour-first-stab-at-tree-of.html

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Alamar / To the Sea

Merelle / Till havet. MX © 2009 Mantarraya Producciones / Pedro González-Rubio / I... M... C... P: Pedro González-Rubio, Jaime Romandia. D+SC+DP+PD+ED: Pedro González-Rubio - digital intermediate: Lupe Postproduction. Underwater cinematography: David Torres Castilla, Alexis Zabe. M: Diego Benlliure. S: Rodolfo Romero. Loc: Banco Chinchorro (Quintana Roo), Mexico, near Belize. Cast: Natan Machado Palombini (Natan), Jorge Machado (Jorge), Nestór Marín (Matraca), Roberta Palombini (Roberta). 73 min. A Cinema Mondo release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Topi Oksanen / Markus Karjalainen. 35 mm print viewed at Maxim 2, Helsinki, 6 Aug 2011.

Before Natan has to return to Italy his Mayan father takes him out to the open sea.

From this slender narrative Pedro González-Rubio creates an engaging movie about a little boy seeing the wonders of nature. The approach is in the same class as Flaherty (Louisiana Story) and Sucksdorff (Det stora äventyret). The result is a fine family film.

There are three generations, son, father, and grandfather, fishing in the traditional way with harpoons and a long line. The little boy is taught to dive. They catch lobsters and barracudas. The grandfather is the professional fisherman. They also eat fish soup and prepare tortillas. Seagulls and frigatebirds hover above. There is even a cattle egret that starts to follow them, called Blanquita. The feeling of the sky and the sea is powerful. On the coast there are mangrove trees, anacahuite, and ziricote.

The composition is fine, but the definition of the image is low, with a heavy digital video look. The sense of full colour is missing. Yet Alamar is screened in a 35 mm print, and it is the only 35 mm print being screened in Finnkino's Helsinki cinemas.

The Slutwalk in Helsinki

Slutwalks were arranged for the first time in Finland on 6 August, 2011. There were 3500 participants in Helsinki, 1500 in Turku, and 1500 in Tampere. The idea is to defend a woman's absolute autonomy about her body no matter what she wears. About a third of the demonstrators were men. The last section of the demonstrators were dressed as zombies like those in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, revealing the condition of rape victims, unable to express themselves. We watched the whole demonstration while standing in front of the Academic Bookstore.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Jean Sibelius: Pelléas and Mélisande conducted by Dalia Stasevska with a movie directed by Lauri Danska and Elina Oikari

Jean Sibelius: Pelléas et Mélisande. FI 1905. Orchestral music to Maurice Maeterlinck's play. 26 min
- At the Castle Gate
- Mélisande
- At the Seashore
- A Spring in the Park
- The Three Blind Sisters
- Pastorale
- Mélisande at the Spinning Wheel
- Entr'acte
- The Death of Mélisande

Pelléas et Mélisande. FI 2011. PC: ELO / Aalto-yliopisto. D: Lauri Danska, Elina Oikari. Loc: Belgrad, Berlin (old, deserted NATO base), St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Tampere, and Reitkalli Village in Hamina. A silent movie directed to the composition by Jean Sibelius. Blu-ray projection. 26 min

vl: Silja Fontana, Anna Vähälä, Sara Etelävuori, Sofia Greus, Salla Savolainen, Ingrid Lindblom
vla: Olga Reskalenko, Barbora Hilpo
vc: Jaani Helander, Oona Rosenlund
cb: Hannes Biermann
fl: Malla Vivolin
Ob: Saku Mattila
cl: Taavi Oramo, Markus Kaarto
fg: Asko Padinki, Noora Kärnä
cor: Henriikka Teerikangas, Aino Koskela
perc: Samuli Viitanen

Movie premiere at Kamarikesä (Chamber Summer Festival), Ritarisali (Palace of Nobility), Helsinki, 5 Aug 2011.

The first part of the concert evening "For Love". The second part:
Johannes Brahms: Two Songs for mezzosoprano, viola, and piano
Jeni Packalen, mezzosoprano
Dalia Stasevska, viola
Kirill Kozlovsky, piano
...
Sergei Rachmaninov: Sonata for cello and piano
Samuli Peltonen, cello
Kirill Kozlovsky, piano

A wonderful musical evening at the Chamber Summer Festival. The young film directors Lauri Danska and Elina Oikari have created a new silent movie to Jean Sibelius's Pélleas et Mélisande, originally stage music to Maurice Maeterlinck's Symbolist play about doomed love, a royal triangle drama between Mélisande and the two brothers Pélleas and Golaud. Lauri Danska and Elina Oikari's film is stark and poetic, refusing to illustrate, instead adding new webs of associations. Todays' screening was the premiere. The movie concert deserves to tour.

After the concert there was a huge vintage car exhibition at the Market Square. Proud owners put their treasures on display, from 1910s T-Model Fords to the astounding 1960s Cadillacs, Chevrolets, and Mustangs.

The nights are getting darker. The Suomenlinna lighthouse-churchtower keeps sending its life-saving rays. In the Merisatama the benji jumpers are almost caught in the crescent of the Moon.

Roskisprinssi / Garbage Prince

Sopåkarprinsen. FI / NO © 2011 Periferia Productions / Flimmer Film. EX: Outi Rousu. P: Markku Flink. D: Raimo O. Niemi. SC: Juuli Niemi - based on the novel (1991) by Tuija Lehtinen. DP: Kari Sohlberg. AD: Pirjo Rossi. Makeup: Kristiina Kinnunen. Cost: Ritva Muikku. M: Stein Berge Svendsen. Theme song: "Yhtenä iltana" ["One Night"] by Hector (1990). S: Thomas Angell Endresen. ED: Jukka Nykänen. Loc: Joensuu. CAST: Jon Jon Geitel (Jed), Pihla Maalismaa (Lulu), Kristiina Elstelä (Veera), Heikki Silvennoinen (Saastamoinen), Milla Kaitalahti (Salla), Taisto Reimaluoto (Immonen), Kari Heiskanen (Juhani Pohjakallio), Katariina Kaitue (Eeva Pohjakallio), Milla Kaitalahti (Salla), Antti Virmavirta (Lulu's father, a minister), Marjaana Maijala (Lulu's mother), Oiva Lohtander (Little Antti), Risto Salmi (Big Antti), Jon Eikemo (Børje), Mari Perankoski (Salla's mother). 100 min. Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland. DCP 2K viewed at Tennispalatsi 11, Helsinki, 5 Aug 2011.

Tuija Lehtinen (born 1954) is a popular Finnish author who has published ca 73 novels since 1984. A large part of her work is targeted to young readers. Roskisprinssi the movie is based on her popular novel. The director is the veteran Raimo O. Niemi who has also often targeted his films to young audiences. The screenwriter was his daughter Juuli Niemi.

An entertaining coming of age story about teenagers. Having just finished school Jed refuses to follow his father's stern advice, drops out, boards a Northbound train and leaves the train in Joensuu on a whim following the smile of a beautiful blonde girl (Salla). He buys a tent and settles down on a camping area. Soon he has used up his pocket money and gets jobs as a newspaper delivery man and by the winter as a garbage truck assistant. In the Joensuu parks Jed meets the elderly Bohemian Veera, who collects bottles etc. on her own and meets her three drinking companions at her Bohemian but cosy wooden house by the forest. Jed persuades Veera to rent him a room in the attic.

Roskisprinssi is a story about teenage confusion, about not yet knowing who one is and what one wants from life.

Initially attracted by Salla, Jed can't help being more interested in Lulu, a confused and talented soulmate. But Lulu has also her reservations about Jed. "Don't you use us as a freak circus footnote in your finely polished CV".

I looked through my fingers at some of the film's easy wish-fulfillment aspects, clumsy features, and a certain lack of edge. But there are things to like such as Pihla Maalismaa's performance in the female lead and the use of the city of Joensuu as the location. As the film went on I liked it more because of the sense of gravity beyond some stereotypical elements. The theme song "Yhtenä iltana" keeps playing in my mind for days.

Critics have compared this movie to Elokuu / August which had its premiere earlier this year. In both a scion of a wealthy family drops out after school and has an adventure which starts in summertime Finland. Both are entertainment films but both also face the serious theme of the necessity of leaving the childhood home and finding out about one's identity alone. Elokuu seems to end more conventionally. Roskisprinssi has an open ending. Both films share a curiously bland performance in the male leading role. Wondering about that I also considered the possibility that that may be intentional.

Reportedly Roskisprinssi is the last film of the master cinematographer Kari Sohlberg. Like his films of the previous years, it's digital. Like often in Raimo O. Niemi and Kari Sohlberg's work, nature is important. Digital is getting better. I appreciated the fine soft detail now evident in scenes in the beginning. Colour is difficult, especially the colour of nature.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Marlene before Sternberg

Marlene Dietrich was an international star and a legendary performer until the 1970s. Her breakthrough film was The Blue Angel (1930) directed by Josef von Sternberg for Ufa in Babelsberg. She had by then already appeared in some 18 silent films since 1922 or perhaps even earlier. But Marlene preferred to consider The Blue Angel her debut film, because a silent film career would have made "the world's most glamorous grandmother" (a nickname of hers since 1948!) seem older.

Yet there were accomplishments before The Blue Angel of which she could be proud of, such as Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt / The Woman Men Yearn for (1929). Leonard Maltin has published illuminating remarks by Eddie Muller during San Francisco Silent Film Festival on that film and Marlene Dietrich and the director Curtis Bernhardt on his website. Please scroll to the end of the SFSFF entry to find them.

An early Hitchcock discovery

Alfred Hitchcock's career as a film director started in 1925. Before that he had gathered significant experience as an assistant director for Graham Cutts at the Balcon, Freedman and Saville company. Now half of one of those films, White Shadow (1923), has been discovered in New Zealand, as reported by Los Angeles Times.

One film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Mountain Eagle / Der Bergadler (GB/DE 1926), shot in Geiselgasteig in Bavaria for Gainsborough Pictures and Emelka, is still lost.

The early Hitchcock story is equally remarkable for another giant of the cinema: the quality producer Michael Balcon, who got started on his career with Hitchcock.

P.S. 4 Aug 2011. Luke McKernan in his The Bioscope blog comments rightly that we should really be talking about "a Graham Cutts discovery": "Graham Cutts (1885-1958) was arguably the leading British film director of the 1920s. Working with Herbert Wilcox and then Michael Balcon, two of Britain’s top producers of the period, Cutts made stylish romantic dramas characterised by fluid narrative, sumptuous production (on slim budgets) and subtly emotional performances. It could be argued that he was the first British film director to think cinematically."

The Guardian pays tribute to Kevin Brownlow

I copy from Luke McKernan's The Bioscope site a link to a tribute to Kevin Brownlow in The Guardian (the same newspaper which achieved the journalistic feat of the year by exposing the News International phone hacking scandal). Kevin Brownlow is a hero among film historians and preservationists. His films, restorations, tv series, and books have inspired generations of experts since the 1960s. Last year he received a special lifetime Academy Award, along with Henri Langlois the only film preservationist to achieve that.