Sunday, October 30, 2011

Books on my nightstand this week

1. Kjell Westö: Missä kuljimme kerran [Where Once We Walked] (2006). I read Westö's novel mostly on the train ride to Punkaharju and back. An engrossing historical novel with a fresh approach. I read it now because of the premiere of Peter Lindholm's film adaptation this week.
2. Arto Melleri: Pääkallolipun alla [Under the Skull and Crossbones Flag], Melleri's collected prose edited by Martti Anhava, 2011. Melleri was a modern Villonian-Rimbaudian poet, perhaps not a master of structure in his prose, but with a fecund talent for words.
3. Night Visions 26-30 October 2011 festival catalogue (also sporting a skull and crossbones emblem), festival director Mikko Aromaa. I was not able to attend the festival because of a funeral trip to Punkaharju, but I had a great time with the catalogue which is good reading in its own right.
4. Österreichisches Filmmuseum November 2011 programme booklet, director: Alexander Horwath, themes: Dreyer das Gesamtwerk, James Benning: New York, Italy Experimental 1905-2010, What Is Cinema, Die Utopie Film. Some of the best writing on the cinema is also in the programme booklets of film archives.
5. Jacques Malthête, Laurent Mannoni (ed.): L'Œuvre de Georges Méliès. La Cinémathèque française, 2008. This richly illustrated catalogue raisonnée on the non-film elements of Georges Méliès is also a good general survey into the work of the first magician of the cinema, .
6. Kirsi Raitaranta, Leena Virtanen: Ruutia, räminää ja rakkautta: Elokuvaklassikoita lapsille ja nuorille [Film Classics for the Children and the Young.] KAVA / SKS 2011. Published this week: a colourful and attractive media education textbook for schools.
7. Andreas Lommel: Maailmantaide: Esihistoriallinen ja primitiivinen taide (Landmarks of the World's Art: Prehistoric and Primitive Man, 1966, in Finnish 1967). Rereading a childhood favourite: an introduction to the most ancient forms of art. African demon masks are not an expression of demonism but a weapon to master the demon inside. In Lascaux there are abstractions comparable to Paul Klee. Picasso, Klee, and Miró rediscovered something of the inner vision of the primordial man in the age when art was not yet perceived as art but something necessary in man's relationship to the interior and exterior world. The layout is magisterial.
8. Samuli Paulaharju: Wanha Raahe [Old Raahe / Old Brahestad] (1925). The great ethnographer and folklore expert wrote the history of a Finnish seaport town from the 17th century to the present, in search of lost time, rescuing vanishing forms of life. One might expect a subject like this to be provincial, but many of the citizens of Raahe had seen the world as seamen, and it was not unique to have made the trip around the world. During the golden age of the tall ships Finland was a world power in tar and wood export. Paulaharju was a brilliant wordsmith comparable to Aleksis Kivi, and also his own photographer, drawer, and graphic artist. He drew his titles by hand using vintage writing styles and designed the layout of his books which are artworks in every way.
9. A collection of Lutheran psalm books from the 19th century to the present, family inheritance, read and sung in preparation of the funeral service. There are passages of poetry in them, facing the grimmest ordeals with powerful words. The oldest layers are from the Catholic age (before Reformation). "Dies irae", topical today perhaps as an ecological warning, still belongs to the present-day Lutheran psalm book, called in Finnish "Vihan päivä kauhistava" ["The Day of Wrath is Horrifying"]. This Gregorian hymn is much quoted in serious concert music (Berlioz, Mahler, Orff... ), in heavy metal, and in the cinema (Dreyer, Kubrick's The Shining), but the oldest hymn in the current Lutheran psalm book is from the 4th century. Omitted from the current editions is the old Swedish hymn "Kun vääryys vallan saapi" ["When Injustice Reigns"], which sounds topical in the current world financial situation.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Film concert Elämän maantiellä / [On the Highway of Life]

På livets landsväg. FI 1927. PC: Oy Komedia Filmi Ab. EX: Gustaf Molin. D: Kurt Jäger, Ragnar Hartwall. SC: Ragnar Hartwall. DP: Kurt Jäger. Assistent cinematographer: Ama Jokinen. AD: Ilmari Mattsson. Cost: Augusta Blomberg Oy. ED: Kurt Jäger. Production manager: Ragnar Hartwall. Still photographs: Kurt Jäger. Loc: Helsinki. Shot in the summer 1927. Cast: Waldemar Wohlström (Tarini), Lia Lae (Irmela), Eric H. Broman (impresario Greeving), Halvar Lindström (Georg), Ella Tigerstedt (Irmela's foster mother), Asser Fagerström, Atso Fagerström, Ama Jokinen (street audience), Armas Laitinen (strongman at the variety). – Bocci (Tarini's donkey). 2290 m /20 fps/ 91 min.

Film concert in the Helsinki Music Centre, 28 Oct 2011. A 35 mm film projection of a version preserved by KAVA, with the original Finnish and Swedish intertitles, opening and end title credits missing. Premiere of the music composed by Yrjö Hjelt. With a piano solo passage by Iiro Rantala. Conductor: Ralf Kircher. Played by the Radio Symphony Orchestra at a strength of 59 (tbc).

Yrjö Hjelt's second composition for a silent film: the first one was Mustalaishurmaaja [The Gypsy Charmer] in 1995. Besides, Mr. Hjelt has arranged the original music for the movies Korkein voitto [The Supreme Victory] and Häiden vietto Karjalan runomailla [Karelian Wedding in the Land of Poetry].

As was the case with Mustalaishurmaaja, this is full, powerful, rich concert music that enhances the film experience tremendously. The scope is large, from war scenes and urban views to intimate moments of solitude and love. The diegetic scenes with the street piano work very well, and Iiro Rantala played his solo passage with inspiration.

The movie is highly regarded because of its visual power in both urban and nature scenes, exteriors and interiors, and because it was a breath of international air in the then highly domestic world of Finnish cinema. This time I noticed interesting aspects that I had not paid attention to before: the dream sequences with the playing children, the nightmare where Tarini transforms into a big fish, the animated scene with the puppet dog. The plot of the movie (the orphan girl discovering that her long lost father is the wandering street piano player) is rather familiar, but there are delicate touches in the scenes which make this a unique and touching movie to watch at least for lovers of the Finnish cinema.

This was the first film concert in the Helsinki Music Centre, and special care had been taken to build a projection booth and a screen for the event. The visual quality of the screening did not meet theatrical standards, but the sound of the orchestra was magnificent. It is a treat to really hear the ensemble sound and to be able to focus at will on the playing of an individual musician.

Composer Yrjö Hjelt interviewed by Markku Pölönen

Before the Elämän maantiellä film concert the director Markku Pölönen interviewed the composer Yrjö Hjelt in the concert hall of the Helsinki Music Centre. Mr. Hjelt told that he had followed the Leitmotif principle in for instance composing a bassoon theme for Tarini and a flute theme for Irmela. Film composition is precision work in several stages, and I actually use millimeter paper in planning a score. I'm a pedant, composing with the precision of a fraction of a second. In the opening war montage I composed non-tonal clusters to express violence and evil. And when Greeling appears, there is a trombone with rancid glissandoes and glib elements. There is also diegetic music in the movie. In the intertitles the wanderer Tarini's instrument is called a barrel organ, although it is actually a street piano. A street piano cannot be imitated with an ordinary piano, but fortunately in the city of Varkaus there is a museum of mechanical music, and there they have a Czech street piano built in 1890 by Karel Čech. We went there with the movie downloaded in my laptop, and I played the street piano in the tempo of the movie. The music is rather supporting the imagery than in contrast to it, but not like in an animation. At times, distance is held to what is taking place in the story. Externally there is sometimes not so much going on, internally infinitely much. There are glimpses of Wagner and Händel in the music. Sometimes a composer is called to save a scene, to paint with protective paint an unsuccessful scene. Here, nothing of the kind. I have no real models, especially not silent movie composers. I am not oriented into film music especially. I am oriented in the music of the era and the heritage of the last 300 years.

Där vi en gång gått / Missä kuljimme kerran / Where Once We Walked

FI © 2011 Helsinki-Filmi. P: Aleksi Bardy, Annika Sucksdorff. D: Peter Lindholm. SC: Jimmy Karlsson - based on the novel Där vi en gång gått by Kjell Westö (2006, translated into Finnish by Katriina Savolainen, 2006). DP: Rauno Ronkainen. AD: Kaisa Mäkinen. M: Mauri Sumén. Cost: Anna Vilppunen. Makeup: Mari Vaalasranta. ED: Anders Refn. Cast: Jessica Grabowsky (Lucie), Jakob Öhrman (Eccu), Andreas af Enehielm (Allu), Oskar Pöysti (Cedi), Niklas Groundstroem (Ivar Grandell), Martin Bahne (Henning), Alma Pöysti (Aina), Elmer Bäck (Enok). 121 min. Original in Swedish. Distributed by Scanbox with Finnish subtitles by Maria Wiren-Malo. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 2, Helsinki, 28 Oct 2011 (day of premiere).

Kjell Westö's acclaimed novel Where Once We Walked covers the turbulent years 1905-1944 in the history of the Swedish-speaking world of Helsinki. It follows the struggle for Finnish independence, the Civil War, the reconstruction, the jazz age, the depression, the extreme right in the 1930s, and the WWII tragedy. The civil war spring of 1918 is the most important turning point in the novel, and from the vantage point of White Finland it also covers the spiritual degradation of those who participated in the vigilante action of the retribution patrols of the winners. Kjell Westö reveals a magnanimous spirit as a writer of a historical novel, refusing to take sides, instead opening new significant horizons of understanding to traumatic chapters of Finnish history.

The novel has 600 pages in its Finnish translation, and there has already been a theatrical play adaptation. A six-part television series will be transmitted during the winter 2011-2012. The theatrical movie has been edited from the television series footage.

I look forward to the tv series. This 121 min theatrical movie version covers basically the complete novel but suffers from a lack of a well-laid-out structure and from jerky editing in which scenes are not allowed to grow to their full power. The movie is to some degree a "highlights from Where Once We Walked".

Even so, I was grateful to see this adaptation, most importantly because of the actors in the roles of the two young rebels, one from the white Helsinki, the other from the red Helsinki.

Jessica Grabowsky is a revelation as Lucie, the new woman, an incarnation of the jazz age, but always a surprising and original personality, full of life, refusing to defend the atrocities of her brother. Her development is the most fascinating aspect of the movie.

Andreas af Enehielm is convincing as Allu the working-class hero, the sailor, the football player, the rebel from the other side of the Long Bridge. He has a charisma that can be compared with John Garfield, John Lennon, Robert De Niro, or Sean Penn. Kjell Westö idealizes nobody, and neither do the actors.

There are reflections of a similar impossible love story in two Finnish movies with contemporary subjects made this year, Elokuu, and Roskisprinssi, but in them, the male figure is the well-to-do partner. The poster image of Where Once We Walked featuring Jessica Grabowsky and Andreas af Enehielm is misleading, but both performances are first rate.

Digital is getting better, but issues of nature footage and a tendency for the clinical remain.

It has been commented that this all-Swedish speaking movie misrepresents the multi-lingual Helsinki. It is also true that almost all Finnish movies misrepresent the language world of our country. The Unknown Soldier is good in the many dialects, though.

The novel is strongly rooted in the districts, streets, and addresses of Helsinki, and a reader born in Helsinki such as myself can easily follow and locate the events to actually existing places. In the movie adaptation this aspect is lost, but I'm grateful for it for the fresh approach it brings to events of history.

Kari-gurashi no Arietti / The Secret World of Arrietty

Kätkijät / Lånaren Arrietty. JP © 2010 [an acronym tbc]. PC: Studio Ghibli. EX: Hayao Miyazaki. P: Toshio Suzuki. D: Hiromasa Yonebayashi. SC: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa - based on the novel The Borrowers (1952) by Mary Norton (translated in Finnish as Kätkijät in 1959 by Ulla Lehtonen / WSOY, illustrated by Ilon Wikland). AN D: Megumi Kagawa, Akihiko Yamashita. AD: Yoji Takeshige, Noboru Yoshida, M: Cécile Corbel. S: Koji Kasamatsu. ED: Rie Matsuhara. 94 min. Released by Cinema Mondo. 2K DCP of a Finnish spoken version viewed on 28 Oct 2011 (day of Finnish premiere), Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki.

Finnish spoken version supervised by Pekka Lehtosaari. Japanese voice actor - English character name - Finnish character name - Finnish voice actor. [Ryunosuke Kamiki] SHO (Antti LJ Pääkkönen), [Keiko Takeshita] Sadoko / MUMMO (Anitta Ahonen), [Mirai Shida] Arrietty / ARIETTA (Satu Pikkusaari), [Shinobu Otake] Homily / HEMMELI (Eija Ahvo), [Kirin Kiki] HARU (Titta Jokinen), [Tomokazu Miura] Pod / PODI (Seppo Honkanen), [Tatsuya Fujiwara] Spiller / PETTERI (Rasmus Lehtosaari).

A strong new Studio Ghibli anime feature based on the popular English children's book which has been published also in Finnish in several editions, although I don't remember reading it as a child or since. This is good animation material (there have been already three English animations, none of which I have seen), and the masters at Studio Ghibli are up to the task. They have created a whole world for the lilliput characters which live in a symbiosis in the interior of the human house. The story is a great adventure of survival, and it is also a Bildungsroman of the young girl with a weak mother and a strong father; she identifies more with the father. Her contact to the regular humans is to a boy of the same age, fatally ill with a weak heart. The big themes include dealing with failure, disappointment, loss, and giving up, and finding new goals and new horizons when things get impossible. It is also a tale of impossible love, but not in a morbid way. "You gave me courage to break out of my sheltered life. You will be eternally be a part of me", confesses the boy. A family movie of lasting value.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Taxi Driver (Cinema Orion's 4K premiere)

I sampled for the fourth time the 2011 Sony 4K restoration of Taxi Driver. This time it was the first 4K screening for the general audience at Cinema Orion. Each of the four screenings (4K at Kino Tulio, 2K screening of the 4K DCP at Kino Tulio, 2K screening of the 4K DCP at Piazza Maggiore, and this) has been different. I confess I'm taking baby steps in learning to appreciate a good digital screening.

The beauty of the detail is stunning, and there is also the fine soft touch which is generic to good photochemical film and difficult to achieve in 2K DCP. True, Taxi Driver is about urban hell: stone, concrete, asphalt, metal, clothes, faces, no nature.

If it would be possible to see side by side a good photochemical print and this, I believe they would both look great but slightly different: the 35 mm might feel more organic, the 4K DCP finely reconstructed. In reality the prints of Taxi Driver I have been seeing may have been several generations removed from the original negative and battered in heavy use. Watching the 4K DCP we are as close to the origins as possible.

The movie itself keeps growing in power. Many talents contributed, and Martin Scorsese had the vision to fulfill the explosive potential.

The cinema was packed with young people, and from the first minute we watched in silent awe and concentration. This modern classic is alive today.

Today, watching Taxi Driver, I keep thinking about the marginalized Finnish and Norwegian young men who have become mass murderers of innocent victims.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Etäällä ja läsnä. Kärsimyskertomus. / Presencia lejana / [Present Far Away]

FI 1982. PC: Epidem Oy / Yleisradio TV-1. P: Mikael Wahlforss. D+SC: Angelina Vásquèz. Ass: Anita Mikkonen. DP: Jouko Lehmuskallio - 16 mm. ED: Irma Taina. M: Joe Davidow. Toivo Kärki: ”Karjalan kukka”. Nelson Villagra: ”Ne gustantodas las cosas” ja ”La muchacha del obrero”. "Volver" presented by Carlos Gardel in moving image footage. Cast: Shenda Roman, Yrjö Tähtelä. Sound editing: Pekka Vanhanen. Trick photography: Erkki Salmela. Colour definition: Seppo Virtanen. 790 m (16 mm) / 72 min. In Spanish and Finnish, with Spanish and Finnish subtitles [by Anita Mikkonen?]. Cinema Orion, Helsinki (In the Core of the Documentary), 26 Oct 2011.

From Ilkka Kippola's programme notes: "Angelina Vásquèz, having lived in exile in Finland for over six years, discussed in her movie a topic sensitive for the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The theme of the exile was brought to home viewers in dramatic close-up, and the destiny of the Finn Hanna Hietala was connected with the political passion play experienced in Argentine."

"Hanna Hietala and her son Vilho, who had moved to Argentine in 1936, were among the persecuted who perished in the concentration camps established by the junta for trade union activists in 1976. After the military had taken the power from Maria Péron over 15.000 people had been executed in the country. The tortured and assassinated Hanna Hietala was a defender of equality and justice in the local church; the son Vilho was a trade union activist. Only the brother Reino survived in the underground resistance movement. Among the tortured and the executed there were priests, artists, scientists, workers, students, and mothers whose sons were connected with civil activity stigmatized as communistic."

"Reino Hietala related the revolting facts already in 1976 in a secret interview in front of the cameras of the Epidem company. Out of camera curiosity grew a bigger picture about the 40 years of the leftist Hietala family in Zarate in Argentine and in Juuka in Finnish Karelia. The connection between Finland and Argentine was upheld by the correspondence between Hanna and her Finnish sister Helmi Väyrynen and Hanna's authentic audio tape recordings. They are the most empathy-evoking material of the movie as well as the vivid memories of the Argentinian seamen's priest and the Argentinian tangos tinged with poignant longing. Certain potent numbers are interpreted by the Cuban actress Shenda Roman. As therapeutic listeners together with Yrjö Tähtelä they carry their roles to an endpoint and open up the story of Hanna Hietala built into the accounts of the relatives." (From Ilkka Kippola's programme notes, translated by AA).

A memorial to courageous people, fighters for justice, persecuted and executed, but living in the warm memories of those who knew them. Angelina Vásquèz is sensitive to the documents and the testimonies available and develops her movie in a personal essay form. An exile herself, she can identify with her subjects. The asides are as interesting as the main story. "Generals want to become presidents." "A country is governed by the capital invested in it" (Woodrow Wilson). "Political fanaticism is alien to the basic Finnish character". "The longing will remain forever, but we won't cry". There is a warm photochemical feeling in the vintage 16 mm print the colour of which is still ok.

Otteita keskenjääneestä päiväkirjasta / Fragmentos de un diario inacabado / [Fragments from an Unfinished Diary]

FI 1983. PC: Epidem Oy, Yleisradio. P: Mikael Wahlforss. D: Angelina Vásquèz. Ass: Anita Mikkonen. DP: Johan Engbom, Pablo Perelman - 16 mm. ED: Anja Rouhivirta. M: Joe Davidow. S: Marcos De Agullre. Trick photography: Tahvo Hirvonen. Sound editing: Matti Nuotio. Negative editing: Maire Seppälä. Colour definition: Olli Sarnasto. 60 min. The beginning (29 min) of Epidem's 16 mm print was screened, in Spanish and Finnish, with Spanish and Finnish subtitles. Cinema Orion, Helsinki (In the Core of the Documentary), 26 Oct 2011.

From Ilkka Kippola's programme notes: "Fragments from an Unfinished Diary was the last of Angelina Vásquèz's films during her exile, and it was her first update on the state of her country after years spent abroad. A sound camera conveys lethally dangerous comments from everyday Chilean life during the military terror. Comments by mothers of prisoners in concentration camps, a trade union leader sent to isolation far away, the Christian Democrat Gabriel Valdés freed from prison, and the General Gustavo Leigh who has stepped out of the military junta."

"Epidem's cinematographer Johan Engbom was deported from the closely observed country, but the Chilean Pablo Perelman brought the verbally agreed shooting plan into a conclusion. Vásquèz's travel diary, updated during the terror, is without names, dates, and places. The abstract, evasive comments, and sporadic candidness to the hidden camera all heighten the Orwellian atmosphere in a movie divided into episodes, which is fragmented by empty black frames by the trick photographer Tahvo Hirvonen." (from Ilkka Kippola's programme notes, translated by AA).

Unique clandestine footage on Chilean suffering during the military terror. The harassed grandmother, the importance of the common soup kettle, the land of the deported (relegacio), the calm account of the trade union leader on torture, "you surprise me, Santiago, with your vitality", the hidden camera on the train, "folklore is like a whisper", the importance of song: "I play my guitar to ease my pain as I think about my missing son", "it is not the same to die of pain as of shame": a motto for the general who stepped out of the junta. Only the first half of the movie was shown. The 16 mm print was apparently vintage, an used print with the colour intact.

Dokumentin ytimessä 59: Angelina Vásquèz – ihmiskohtaloita Chilessä ja Argentiinassa / [In the Core of the Documentary 59: Angelina Vásquèz: Destinies in Chile and Argentine]

I dokumentärens kärna 59: Människoöden i Argentina och Chile. Presented by Ilkka Kippola, programme compiled by Ilkka Kippola and Jari Sedergren. Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 26 Oct 2011.

Angelina Vásquèz is a Chilean film director who was imprisoned by the military administration in 1973. Acquainted with the Finns Mikael Wahlforss and Kai Salminen of the Epidem film company, Vásquèz decided to come to exile into Finland for almost ten years. Epidem had a profile of strong female directors such as Honkasalo, Cederström, and Luostarinen. Here Vásquèz directed four documentary films, often studying the theme of exile, confronting Catholic, Lutheran, and Marxist views of the human condition.

Anita Mikkonen, a close collaborator of Vásquèz's, was present in the screening, and she told of her experiences with Vásquèz, who chose to learn to speak Swedish in Finland. Vásquèz carried a Spanish passport, and thanks to it, she was able to travel to Chile during her exile, together with her sons, and Mikkonen. But the Chilean authorities found out about Vásquèz, and even her Spanish passport was stamped with a deportation label.

Of Vásquèz's Finnish debut film, Gracias a la vida - elämälle kiitos (1980), no print was to be found by this screening.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Film and digital: updates

Leonard Maltin in his blog offers excellent links to latest updates in the "film and digital" drama:
Debra Kaufman reports that motion picture film cameras are no longer manufactured.
The Guardian publishes excerpts from artists ranging from Steven Spielberg to Jean-Luc Godard for Tacita Dean's celebration of photochemical film.

I would like to add that there are more than a million feature films (multiply that for short films) on photochemical film, and it will take generations to digitize them.

As for preservation robustness, even digitally created movies are preserved on photochemical film.

P.S. "Celluloid" in the cinema always means nitrate film. "Cellulose" is the accurate word for safety film stock. But there is a tradition of poetic licence ("Celluloid Heroes" by Kinks, etc.) in journalistic language.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kotirauha / [Trespass]

Hemfrid. FI © 2011 Solar Films Inc. Co. P: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin. D: Aleksi Mäkelä. SC: Marko Leino based on his novel (2010). DP: Pini Hellstedt - 2,35:1. AD: Pirjo Rossi. Cost: Tiina Kaukanen. Makeup: Riikka Virtanen. Special effects: Konsta Mannerheimo. Digital visual effects artists: several. M: Lauri Porra. Theme: Adagio attributed to Albinoni (actually composed by Remo Giazzotto in 1958). S: Jyrki Rahkonen. ED: Kimmo Taavila. Cast: Samuli Edelmann (Sami Luoto), Katariina Kaitue (Sari Luoto), Santeri Kinnunen (Santtu Luoto), Kerli Kyllönen (Annika Luoto), Kristo Salminen (Jere), Aake Kalliala (Reijo Luoto), Petra Frey (Kaarina), Niina Nurminen (Jutta), Aku Hirviniemi (Koistinen), Tommi Korpela (Jaatinen), Pekka Huotari (Kaskela), Taisto Oksanen (bank manager), Erkki Saarela (doctor), Asko Sarkola (lawyer), Ville Myllyrinne and Katja Küttner (clients at a real estate presentation). 100 min. Distributed by Nordisk Finland. 2K DCP without Swedish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 13, Helsinki, 22 Oct 2011 (premiere weekend).

From the official synopsis: "A movie about Sami Luoto (Samuli Edelmann) a fortysomething family father with a secret dream. He wants to succeed like his father did and build for himself, his wife Sari (Katariina Kaitue) and their teenage daughter Annika (Kerli Kyllönen) a gorgeous house. To achieve this Sami, who has already experienced bankruptcy much earlier, establishes a company to build and sell houses. The financial prospects are great, and nothing can go wrong, or can it?"

"Before he knows the situation has spiralled out of control, and Sami is in the middle of a hostage drama."

"The movie is the story of one man's tailspin, a thriller-like drama which delves deep into human destinies with topical and social relevance. What is the measure of love and success? Can a man fail and start anew?" (My translation from the official synopsis.)

Of the active contemporary directors Aleksi Mäkelä is the one who has directed the domestically most successful films in Finland, while Aki Kaurismäki is the internationally most successful Finnish film director.

Since 1993, Aleksi Mäkelä has directed action films, crime films, thrillers, and a biopic on Matti Nykänen. From the beginning he has often cast Samuli Edelmann and Santeri Kinnunen in leading roles. Even Katariina Kaitue starred already in his theatrical debut film 18 years ago.

Kotirauha is an evident turning-point: a family drama conceived in turbo action mode. Crime belongs to the ingredients. Samuli Edelmann is the crooked businessman Sami, and Santeri Kinnunen plays the role of his brother, the policeman Santtu. Kristo Salminen plays Sari's stepbrother Jere, an enforcer who cannot control his violent urges.

The actors are effective, and the thriller aspects of the movie are exciting. In the beginning the movie feels amazingly bleak. Sami is caught in a web of lies which keeps getting more and more desperate. In all his encounters (with the real estate dealer, at the bank, in the sales presentation of a house - and at his own home) he seems to be lacking in elementary social and psychological skills. The lie is total, even bordering on the absurd.

There is no genuine happiness and joy in any of the family meetings. The mega-successful grandfather Reijo has a new young female companion Jutta, younger than his son's wife.

The nadir of the incredible web of lies is the crazy "presentation" of a plot to Sami's own family, after which violence explodes, an innocent worker is murdered, his children becoming orphans, and Santtu killing the reckless Jere who has shot at the policemen. The violence in this movie is more tragic and serious than in Aleksi Mäkelä's previous movies. There is nothing entertaining in it. Santtu, the policeman who has only been performing his duty, is nevertheless so shocked that he considers resigning from the police force (and seeking employment in Sami's company... !!) Remain big turns in the plot that cast the brothers' parents' situation in a new light.

During the last decade the most dominant and typical female leading character in a Finnish movie has been the harridan, and in Kotirauha Katariina Kaitue brings forth her own variation of it. (Qf. Juoksuhaudantie, Miehen työ, Valkoinen kaupunki, etc.). Divorce is imminent and richly deserved, but the restoration of the family is wanted, although I don't understand why. The family seems to make everybody unhappy.

Kotirauha is an action film that reflects currents in the contemporary economic situation. It offers an alarming view of the breakdown of the social contract.

There is a grayish digital look in the transitional 2K imagery, often fitting to the grim subject. Even nature looks slightly denatured, offering little contrast to the bleak urban world.

Elias och jagten på havets gull / [Elias and the Hunt for the Gold of the Sea]

Elias ja aarrejahti / Elias och jakten på havets guld. NO © 2010 Filmkameratene A.S. P: Sveinung Golimo, John M. Jacobsen. D: Lise I. Osvoll. SC: Anne Elvedal, Lise I. Osvoll - based on an idea by Frode N. Nordås & Øyvind Rune Stålen. AN: André Hay. M: Gaute Storaas. ED: Benjamin Sjur Blom.

Finnish voice edition supervised by: Pekka Lehtosaari. Finnish voice talent: Joel Bonsdorff (Elias), Seera Alexander (Mini-Sub 043 Dippy), Titta Jokinen (Polar Queen), Ossi Ahlapuro (The Lighthouse), Petri Liski (Pedro), Marko Stjärnvall (The Cruiser), Katja Sirkiä (The Crane), Antti L. J. Pääkkönen (The Herring), Jenni Sivonen (The Boathouse to the Right), Vappu Virta (The Boathouse to the Left), Pauli Syrjö (Father), Kaisu Kaikkonen (Junior), Rasmus Lehtosaari (Red Boat), Ruska Lehtosaari (Yellow Boat), Tonia Kovanen (Pedro's Sister).

77 min. Distributed by FS Film, 2K DCP of the Finnish-spoken version viewed at Tennispalatsi 10, Helsinki, 22 Oct 2011.

From the official synopsis: "Familiar from the movie Elias and the Royal Yacht and previous dvd releases, the little rescue boat Elias with his friends is set to seach for a treasure buried in the bottom of the sea."

"The annual winter fishing season is about to start, and the future of the tiny Puffin seaport is at stake. If there will be not enough fish during the winter, the idyllic harbour will be closed down."

"The same fishing ground is, however, also being targeted by a fleet of competing vessels, ultra-modern trawlers which belong to the Polar Queen. She has built a modern fishing station right to the north of the Puffin and plans to put the cozy little fishing boats out of business."

"But fish are not the only thing the Polar Queen is after. She has gotten wind of the treasure in the bottom of the sea. Elias plans to acquire it first and use the gold coins to rescue the Puffin port." (From the distributor's synopsis, my translation.)

My first encounter with the Norwegian Elias animation series. I'm positively surprised by the interesting and original animation idea and the excellent production. Impressive visions include: the old-fashioned Puffin seaport, the ultra-modern fishing factory of the Polar Queen, the abandoned fishing port (in the Finnish version called Puhurilahti = Gale Bay), and the thousand-year old Viking shipwreck with its immeasurable gold treasure.

Like Cars 2, this movie also seems inspired by James Bond adventures. The Polar Queen and her lair bring to mind Bond villains and their strongholds. The intention of the Polar Queen is to ship the old fishing boats in a container to China to be recycled as scrap iron. The Polar Queen's mini-sub Dippy switches sides and becomes Elias's best ally.

Despite certain familiar connections the Elias movie feels fresh with scenes such as the one where the container lands on the top of an iceberg. The final turn: the gold may remain in the sea, the fish are the real treasure of the sea.

An exciting movie for children (of all ages) with topical themes such as overfishing, ecological concerns, and offshoring. Yet it functions very well as a pure adventure yarn.

The animation of buildings and machines is surprisingly effective. No problem with digital in visions of winter, snow, ice, buildings and machines. The ocean looks photorealistic, and it would be interesting to learn how the effect was achieved.

Aki Kaurismäki's Top 10 at The Criterion Collection

Copying here: The Criterion Collection Newsletter October 2011

"The more pessimistic I feel, the more optimistic I need to make my movies."
—Aki Kaurismäki

The Many Happy-Sad Faces of Aki Kaurismäki

Nobody makes a sincere deadpan comedy like Aki Kaurismäki. His latest, Le Havre, may be his best. A fable-like tribute to classic French cinema, Le Havre opens today in New York and Los Angeles from Janus Films. After winning the International Critics’ Award at Cannes, it has played to acclaim at the New York and Chicago film festivals (garnering the grand prize at the latter) and been selected as Finland’s official Oscar submission. It’s “a heartfelt hat tip to the power of community and cinema” (Time Out New York) and “pure pleasure” (The Hollywood Reporter); “Kaurismäki has joined the ranks of the master auteurs” (Dennis Lim, Los Angeles Times). Learn more about the film at janusfilms.com.

Aki Kaurismäki’s Top 10

Our favorite Finn didn’t have an easy time picking his ten favorite titles in the Criterion Collection. He writes, “I didn’t really concentrate for this selection, since all my energy from now on will be solely used for suing Criterion, accusation being torture. It can’t be anything less when a disoriented young mind is put in a situation where he has to leave Chaplin, Renoir, Tati, Clouzot, Malle, Truffaut, Godard . . . outside of a minimal-sized list, the size controlled by these Janus-faced Criterion people, who don’t seem to understand the laws of any reason.

Casque d’or #1 Jacques Becker
Au hasard Balthazar Robert Bresson
Here we find two versions of the same story, both unique.

Tokyo Story #2 Yasujiro Ozu
Late Spring Yasujiro Ozu
An Autumn Afternoon Yasujiro Ozu
It is almost impossible to find sharp prints of these films. But your tears are the ones to blame.

Ikiru #3 Akira Kurosawa
Red Beard Akira Kurosawa
This double bill gives an excellent chance to compare the acting of Takeshi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. Neither is anything but perfect. It is a mystery how Kurosawa, who always refused to make a film without a social statement, manages at the same time to be one of the most entertaining of all filmmakers.

Written on the Wind #4 Douglas Sirk
The shot with Dorothy Malone walking down the stairs makes all rock videos ever after resemble forgotten, anemic nuns.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul Rainer Werner Fassbinder
With his small masterpiece, Fassbinder shows us the basic tenderness of his heart, this time not hidden behind his cinematic skills.

Shadows #5 John Cassavetes
Faces John Cassavetes
A Woman Under the Influence John Cassavetes
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie John Cassavetes
Opening Night John Cassavetes
There would be no sense in trying to select one of John Cassavetes’ films, since they are all one expression of a genial and exceptionally generous mind.

À propos de Nice #6 Jean Vigo and Boris Kaufman
Zéro de conduite Jean Vigo
L’Atalante Jean Vigo
Nanook of the North Robert Flaherty
I have always considered Jean Vigo and Robert Flaherty close relatives. Between Nanook and L’Atalante, you can place practically all cinema except Bunuel’s L’age d’or.

49th Parallel #7 Michael Powell
The Small Back Room Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Both of these films can be considered B movies in the standards of Powell and Pressburger, but maybe partly because of that they seem to remain extraordinarily fresh, even if the first one (made in 1941) is clearly made partly for war propaganda reasons. All films made by the Archers are among the most beautiful.

Army of Shadows #8 Jean-Pierre Melville
Le deuxième souffle Jean-Pierre Melville
Jean-Pierre Melville is once more a director from whom one could pick any film for this kind (cruelly controlled by the Criterion criminals) of list. With this double bill there comes a chance to study twice the work of two great actors, Lino Ventura and Paul Meurisse.

Port of Shadows #9 Marcel Carné
As clearly as there is only one Lino Ventura, there is a sole Jean Gabin. Neither have I seen a replica of Michèle Morgan nor Michel Simon (one of the reasons why Renoir’s Boudu should be in this list, but . . .). Port of Shadows is a pure actor-based melodrama full of prewar pessimism.

Bicycle Thieves Vittorio De Sica
Bicycle Thieves proves that even the tiniest dreams can be torn to pieces. Never in the history of cinema has hope been served in so minimalistic but heartbreaking a way as in the last shot of this masterpiece.

The Night of the Hunter #10 Charles Laughton
Ace in the Hole Billy Wilder
Simon of the Desert Luis Buñuel
These wonderful films are tied together in thousands of hardly visible ways.

This Is Spinal Tap #11 Rob Reiner
Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus
Bonus!

A great link, thanks to Mikko Pihkoluoma:
http://www.filmlinc.com/film-comment/article/aki-kaurismaki

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sea Rex 3D: Journey to a Prehistoric World

Sea Rex 3D: matka esihistorialliseen maailmaan. GB/FR © 2010 Land Mantello. PC: N3D Land Productions. Co-production: Mantello Brothers Productions. P: Francois Mantello, Catherine Vuong, Pascal Vuong. D: Ronan Chapalain, Pascal Vuong. SC: Ronan Chapalain, Richard Dowlearn, Pascal Vuong. DP: Christophe Grelié. M: Franck Marchal. S: Gilles Vivier. ED: Hugo Caruana. Principal scientific advisor: Dr. Nathalie Bardet. Scientific advisors: Zulma Gasparini, Dr. Benjamin Kear, Dr. Ryosuke Motani, Dr. Olivier Rieppel. Loc: the Red Sea (Egypt), New Zealand, etc. Cast: Guillaume Denaiffe (conservatory assistant), Norbert Ferrer (Jacques), Chloe Hollings (Julie), Richard Rider (Georges Cuvier). 41 min. Released in Finland by Finnkino. A 2K DCP of the Finnish-spoken version in XpanD 3D viewed at Tennispalatsi 5, Helsinki, 21 Oct 2011.

Featuring in 3D digital animation: Quetzalcoatlus, Elasmosaurus, Liopleurodon, Tanystropheus, Henodus, Rhomaleosaurus, Ammonite, Leedsichthys, Tylosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Ichthyornis, Cryptoclidus, Nothosaurus, Shonisaurus, Ophthalmosaurus, Mixosaurus.

Technical specs (IMDb): Laboratory: Arane-Gulliver, Paris, France. - Film negative format: 65 mm. - Printed film format: 70 mm. - Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 (IMAX version).

An educational film. The movie starts with the huge fossil of a giant marine lizard which Georges Cuvier named Mosasaurus in 1808. When Julie visits a Georges Cuvier exhibition in a museum of natural history, Cuvier, himself, comes alive as her guide, and the ancient creatures roam before us in 3D, as photorealistic animations and also as living skeletons like those familiar from the Ray Harryhausen creations in the Sinbad movies. There are also illuminating animated graphics reminding us how recent a phenomenon we human beings are, emerging just a few seconds ago on the earth clock. The focus is on the Mesozoic era, and specially its last phase, the Cretaceous era, "the golden age of all life". Pangea (when all continents were one) continued to grow apart. Many children were present in the screening, and the film is very good for school classes and family viewing. Truth can be stranger than fiction. It is a well-known phenomenon that pre-historic giant creatures are especially fascinating for children (... of all ages...). Shot on 70 mm film and designed for IMAX, Sea Rex 3D looks good too on 2K DCP in 3D.

Vares - sukkanauhakäärme / [Vares - The Garter Snake]

Strumpebandsormen. FI © 2011 Solar Films. P: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin. D: Lauri Törhönen. SC: Mika Karttunen - based on the novel by Reijo Mäki (1989). DP: Jari Mutikainen. PD: Antti Nikkinen. Cost: Janne Karjalainen. Makeup artist: Hannele Herttua. M: Samuli Laiho, DJ Slow. Sound designer: Panu Riikonen. ED: Kimmo Kohtamäki. Casting by: Tutsa Paananen, Pia Pesonen, Pauliina Salonius. Loc: Turku. Cast: Antti Reini (Jussi Vares, private detective), Matti Onnismaa (Alanen, owner of a second hand bookstore), Eppu Salminen (Luusalmi, writer of short stories), Jasper Pääkkönen (Kyypakkaus), Mikko Leppilampi (Ruuhio), Maria Järvenhelmi (Anna, taxi driver), Ilkka Heiskanen (Inspector Hautavainio), Katja Kiuru (Inga Näs, "Ingen Aning", gym proprietor), Carl-Kristian Rundman (Pauli Kontio, financier), Rebecca Viitala (Annika Kontio, gallerist), Petri Manninen (Torsten Rapp, dangerous prison inmate), Ari Wirta (Voitto Fjäder), Ilkka Villi (Jesus Maria Lobo, the bar pianist), Panu Vauhkonen (Rönkkö), Sökö Kaukoranta (Korsio), Markku Toikka (Wasenius, "private detective"), Laura Elo (Kaunispää, dentist), Vesa Wallgren (Kunkku). 99 min. Distributed by Nordisk with Swedish subtitles by Joanna Erkkilä. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki, 21 Oct 2011.

The third film in the new series of exploits of private eye Jussi Vares, the permanent characters played by the same ensemble. This is light entertainment with a reinvigorated approach in comparison with the previous adventure, and this might even be the best of all the Vares movies so far. I have liked the relaxed attitude of the previous films, and now there is more ambition, as well. The vignettes and the caricatures are juicier, there are good lines of dialogue, and several laughs thanks to good comedy timing. The balance of comedy and gravity is getting better. Crime and violence are not trivialized. The main killer Torsten Rapp (Petri Manninen) is scary in a realistic way, and the powers behind everything are genuinely chilling (Carl-Kristian Rundman as the lawyer with deep pockets). "The big fish always remain free" seems a topical remark in the current world economic situtation. Vares is aware that he is out of his league with the big businessmen. New satiric targets include gallery art, gym business as a front for drug traffic, and the contemporary expert playboy lifestyle of a Spanish jazz pianist. There is fresh observation in the account of the old Kakola prison and the prison escape. A grown-up woman's desire is again overwhelming for Vares. This time Laura Elo gets to play the puma woman with a healthy libido: the dentist Kaunispää. The bars of Turku (Uusi Apteekki, Bogart, Sticky Fingers) remain strongholds for Vares the barfly. Some critics have reproached the narrative drive which they feel is too slack but I see it as a conscious and original approach. Vares, himself, looks like a lazy bum, but his brain is alert, and his outward appearance is a way to get the criminals off balance. (A method like Columbo's, only more so. The private eye Vares has no problem getting drunk during office hours.) Also I prefer the digressions to the plot itself.

The manuscript is on the movie's official website, fun to read, but occasionally the dialogue has been made sharper during the shooting.

The DCP still has a 2K transition digital look. The sharpness in the bar scenes is still impressive, and as was the case the last time, there is no trouble with close-ups and shots of faces and buildings. Aerial shots look better, nature footage is the worst, but getting better, too, or the film-makers know better how to focus on subjects that look good on 2K. I saw this movie on a smaller screen than the previous Vares films.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

La piel que habito / The Skin I Live In

Iho jossa elän / Huden jag lever i. ES © 2011 El Deseo. P: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García. D: Pedro Almodóvar. SC: Pedro Almodóvar with the collaboration of Agustín Almodóvar - based on the novel Mygale (1984, rev. 1995, alternative English title: Tarantula) by Thierry Jonquet. DP: José Luis Alcaine. PD: Antxón Gómez. AD: Carlos Bodelón. Cost: Paco Delgado. Wardrobe: Jean-Paul Gaultier. Special makeup effects: Tamar Aviv, David Martí, Montse Ribé. Hair: Manolo Carretero. Mold maker: Aleix Torrecillas. Special effects experts: several. Digital visual effects experts: several. M: Alberto Iglesias. S: Pelayo Gutiérrez. ED: José Salcedo. Casting: Luis San Narciso. Acknowledgements: Louise Bourgeois. Loc: A Estrada (Pontevedra, Galicia) - Madrid - Ponte Ulla (A Coruña, Galicia) - Santiago de Compostela (A Coruña, Galicia) - Toledo. Cast: Antonio Banderas (Robert Ledgard), Elena Anaya (Vera Cruz), Marisa Paredes (Marilia), Jan Cornet (Vicente), Roberto Álamo (Zeca), Eduard Fernández (Fulgencio), José Luis Gómez (Presidente del Instituto de Biotecnología), Blanca Suárez (Norma Ledgard). 117 min. Distributed in Finland by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by ... Rousi / Heidi Nyblom-Kuorikoski (the names flashed by too fast). 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 7, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2011 (premiere weekend).

Technical specs from IMDb: Camera: Arricam ST, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses, Panasonic AG-HVX200 (some scenes). - Laboratory: Fotofilm S.A., Madrid, Spain. - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, Fuji Eterna Vivid 160T 8543), HDCAM-SR (some scenes). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm, D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

Official short synopsis: "Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault."

"In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed three more things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig..." (From the pressbook on the movie's official website).

Pedro Almodóvar belongs to the directors whose new movie I always look forward to. He is one of the best and most reliable friends a contemporary film aficionado can have. He knows the tradition, and he has always something new to offer.

The Skin I Live In is Almodóvar's first horror movie, and as he explains in his remarks below, he decided to avoid gore in a story that could have become a splatter movie. The Skin I Live In has actually some affinity with the wildly bizarre silent movie vignette featuring Paz Vega in Talk To Her, and it is interesting to read below that Almodóvar had considered to make even The Skin I Live In as a black and white silent film.

In certain ways The Skin I Live In is a Cronenbergian movie, minus the splatter. It is about body horror, skin horror to be more precise, and it is also about the definition of gender. The Skin I Live In is not as cold and clinical as Cronenberg's works, but there is an approach of cool stylization that makes it impossible to relate to the characters or even believe in their reality. The approach is a blend of the macabre and the sensual.

The Skin I Live In is also inspired by Metropolis, with Antonio Banderas as Rotwang and Elena Anaya as Hel / Maria (and something more complicated... ).

I watch the movie in amazement of the audacity of the narrative, but for me the movie ceases to remain character-driven or even story-driven. It is a brilliantly image- and music-driven movie, gloriously shot by José Luis Alcaine, composed by Alberto Iglesias, costume-designed by Paco Delgado and Jean-Paul Gaultier, with visual inspiration from Louise Bourgeois. It is a haunting piece of modern art. Vera's yoga exercises in her skin suit. Her Robinsonic diary written with a mascara pen on the bare walls. The movie is full of reflections of art (I didn't find online the list of the artworks on display listed in the end credits, starting with Titian / Tiziano / Tizian), and Vera, too, in her captivity, creates a macabre set of artworks.

Pedro Almodóvar's remarks are beyond the jump break:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Syvälle salattu / Body of Water

Det djupt dolda. FI © 2011 Matila Röhr Nordisk Oy. EX: Marko Röhr. P: Mikko Tenhunen. D: Joona Tena. SC: Mikko Tenhunen, Pekka Lehtosaari, Joona Tena. DP: Kjell Lagerroos. Special effects: Amin Kassam. Visual effects: Ville Lepistö, Petri Siitonen. AD: Päivi Kettunen. Cost: Anne-Maria Ylitapio. Makeup: Kati Koskela. M: Panu Aaltio. S: Juha Hakanen. ED: Benjamin Mercer. Casting: Tutsa Paananen, Pia Pesonen. Loc: Joensuu, Lieksa, Outokumpu. Cast: Krista Kosonen (Julia), Kai Lehtinen (Leo), Viljami Nojonen (Niko), Peter Franzén (Elias), Risto Aaltonen (Lantto), Kari Hietalahti (Koskela), Ilkka Villi (Julia's ex-husband). 105 min. Distributed by Nordisk Finland. 2K DCP without subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 9, Helsinki, 15 Oct 2011.

A Finnish horror movie with good production values, a strong sense of milieu, effective cinematography, impressive visual ideas, including underwater cinematography, powerful sound effects, and fine actors. There are affinities with the Japanese horror movies by Hideo Nakata. The horror element is the fear of the Näkki, a variation of the water spirit of ancient folk tradition: it will come and get the first born son (this story has also been recorded in the Grimm brothers' fairy-tale of the poor miller who sacrifices his son in exchange for a treasure). Krista Kohonen plays Julia with a sensitivity worth comparing with Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion. There is finally an explanation, a hidden truth behind the macabre experiences, but it means that much of what has been seen has been just a hallucination of Julia's. Julia is an environmentalist on a tour (with her 9-year old son) to help protect lakes. I had problems with the set-up that Julia is mentally unbalanced in a story like this, and also with the account of the villagers so hostile to her. There may be many truths about these things, but in my experience local people value their natural surroundings more highly than anybody and have a lot of "silent knowledge" worthy of respect. Also regarding her responsibility as a single mother Julia's trip to madness leaves an uneasy aftertaste. The basic drive of the movie is to make us identify, sympathize, and root for her as an environmentalist and a single mother, but in the end we are made to feel concerned for her sanity. How much of the hostility of the villagers was just hallucination?

Beyond the jump break: The artworks in the montage during the opening credits (edited by Joona Tena):

Friday, October 14, 2011

10:30 P.M. Summer

22.30 kesäiltana / 10.30 en sommarkväll. US/ES © 1966 Jorilie Productions / Argos Films. EX: Louis Marquina. P: Jules Dassin, Anatole Litvak. D: Jules Dassin. SC: Jules Dassin, Margueritte Duras – based on the novel Dix heures et demie du soir en été (1960, in Finnish Puoli yksitoista kesäiltana) by Marguerite Duras. DP: Gábor Pogány - black and white and Technicolor. AD: Enrique Alarcón. Cost: Dimitri Kritzas [Dimis Kritsas]. M: Christóbal Halffter. S: Jean Labussière. ED: Roger Dwyre. Loc: Castilie. Cast: Melina Mercouri (Maria), Romy Schneider (Claire), Peter Finch (Paul), Mateos Julián (Rodrigo), Isabel María Pérez (Judith), Beatriz Savon (Rodrigo's wife). 86 min. Original in English. A Park Circus print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Romy Schneider), 14 Oct 2011.

This rare Marguerite Duras movie has been criticized for its linear adaptation but is worth seeing at least because of Romy Schneider whose performance is sensitive and complex. Melina Mercouri plays the alcoholic Maria who helps the persecuted murderer (a crime of passion opens the film: a man catches his wife and her lover almost in flagrante and shoots them both). Peter Finch suffers between Romy and Melina, and the daughter is the joy of them all. The cinematography is powerful, the suspense efficiently handled. There are black and white and colour sequences, which feels only decorative. The print is complete and clean but maybe one generation too far removed from the original.

This week we have installed new lamps in the 35 mm projectors of Cinema Orion. Since 1984 we have had 2000 W lamps partly because we have been screening hundreds of nitrate prints. Now we have 3000 W lamps. In our digital projector we have 4000 W lamps also because we screen 3D with it.

10:30 P.M. Summer was the first movie I saw projected with the new lamphouses. Comparisons are difficult: films are different, prints are different, and even the same lamps are brighter in the beginning and less so later. I have been both happy and unhappy with the old lamps, and when there have been complaints, we have tried to change lamps. 10:30 P.M. Summer looked fine on the screen, and with more powerful lamps the probability of better screenings is higher.

Matka Edeniin / Un viaje al Edèn / A Journey to Eden

Längtan efter Eden. FI/ES © 2011 Bad Taste Ltd. / Sonora Estudios. EX: Pako Ruiz, Álvaro Herrero, Martín Guridi. P+D+SC+DP: Rax Rinnekangas. Dialogues: Rax Rinnekangas, Nacho Angulo, Hugo Wirz. Digital post-production: Generator Post. Excerpt from Dante's Divina Commedia, Finnish translation by Eino Leino. Voiceover: Nacho Angulo. M: Pascal Gaigne. "Eva's Song" comp. Pascal Gaigne, lyrics: Rax Rinnekangas. Music editing and mixing: Martin Gurídi. S: Heikki Innanen. ED: Jari Innanen. Vicente Ameztoy’s paintings 1993 – 2000 (San Estebán, San Cristóbal, San Vicente, San Ginés, Santa Eulalia, Santa Sabina, Paraiso). Hugo Wirz’s drawings: Hands 1–5 series. Actors: Nachio Angulo (Ignacio), Hugo Wirz (Comaz), Celia de Juan Hatchard (Lucía), Saana Vuorenmaa (Ignacio's daughter), Ramon Zuriarrain (Fireman). The voice of Comaz: Ian Bourgeot. 100 min. Original in Spanish, Finnish and English with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Suvi Salmilampi / Saliven Gustavson. Distributed by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, Helsinki, 14 Oct 2011.

Based on the production information: "Rax Rinnekangas is a prolific director of artist's films and documentary films focusing on visual arts, architecture, and modern music. He is also a writer and a photographer. He has published several books on the Basques and is a connoisseur of Basque art history and the oeuvre of Vicente Ameztoy. A Journey to Eden has been planned since 2002 in Spain."

"The French-born Pascal Gaigne, now based in San Sebastián in the Basque Country, is a top composer of Spanish film music and modern concert music."

"A Journey to Eden is a movie of two artists' winter journey in the La Rioja wine country in Northern Spain."

"One of the men, the Basque modern composer Ignacio, now living in Finland, is traumatized by a guilt on his daughter's tragic car accident: the daughter is in coma in a hospital in Helsinki and will be awakened within ten days. The other man, the Swiss graphic artist Comaz living in Spain, is suffering a block in his creative work. His model for his great theme about the human hands, Lucía, in La Mancha, does not want to continue their collaboration."

"During their winter journey the men visit religious paintings in various churches and monasteries in La Rioja, study the way hands are portrayed in them, and discuss Dante's view of paradise and the meaning of faith and prayer. After several episodes the men land into the chapel on the Remellur vineyard in Alavesa in La Rioja. There the agnostic Basque artist Vicente Ameztoy created in 1993-2000 his own modern interpretation on the last blissful moment of Adam and Eve in Eden."

"Visiting the painting the travellers experience a miracle - Adam and Eve come alive. Through their experience the artists discover something new and relevant about their traumas and the meaning of forgiveness."

AA: An artist's film released commercially in the regular first-run cinema programme is a rare treat. Rax Rinnekangas is a fine visual artist whose sense of light and composition make A Journey to Eden worth watching more than once. A Journey to Eden is an image-driven film. The sense of landscape and light resembles certain of the finest Spanish directors such as Medem and Eríce, but the vision of Rax Rinnekangas is original. The film is also a reflection of the relationship of reality (the landscape, the model) and art. And it belongs to the current revival of religious themes in the cinema: see also Eija-Liisa Ahtila's Marian ilmestys (God is the image we make of Him), Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (the dawn of conscience: the movie is also actually about the tree of good and evil), and Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre (love thy neighbour, help the child). There is a digital look in the movie: the composition and the light are as good as on a film, but the texture is more like video.

P.S. 1 Jan 2012 (revisited on a screener dvd). My first observation is that the scope aspect ratio of this movie has been designed for a big cinema screen, and much of the impact is lost when the image is reduced to tv monitor size.

Paradise lost: according to the Bible, ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, men and women have been strangers in their own world. This has been a major theme in key films of the recent years.

A Journey to Eden is my Jussi candidate for the best cinematography of a Finnish film in 2011 [Update 3 Jan 2012] for its composition and its beauty of light; however, the digital visual texture is not ideal for a theatrical screening. The movie is like an excellent moving art gallery exhibition, but the structure is cinematic - a journey. It is a journey to landscapes which are also inner landscapes, soulscapes.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A 30th anniversary of discoveries in Pordenone: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2011

Since the reign of the silent feature film lasted only 17 years, from 1913 until 1929, it is amazing that a silent film festival, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, is still able to present substantial new discoveries every day on its 30th anniversary year.

Many friends of the Giornate have expressed wishes that famous films might be reconsidered or repeated for the benefit of young generations. The festival's response, the "Canon Revisited" project, has been an unpredictable mix of rediscoveries and surprises. This year's selection consisted of Asphalt (1929), Joe May's darkly glistening street film, Borderline (1930), Kenneth Macpherson's experimental feature film starring Paul Robeson, The Circus (1928), Charles Chaplin's least often screened silent feature, El Dorado (1921), Marcel L'Herbier's perhaps most charming avantgarde film, Hintertreppe / Backstairs (1921), Leopold Jessner and Paul Leni's chamber piece based on a Carl Mayer screenplay, Klostret i Sendomir / The Secret of the Monastery (1920), a nocturnal Victor Sjöström chamber play, and Oblomok imperii / A Fragment of an Empire (1929), Friedrich Ermler's unusual revolutionary account.

In his catalogue introduction to the "Canon Revisited 3" Paolo Cherchi Usai publishes research results of a "FIAF archival canon" based on our silent film holdings, interesting to study for all of us. Paolo also celebrates the work of the FIAF Cataloguing Commission as our silent film register, Treasures from the Film Archives, is about to reach the landmark of 50.000 preserved titles. In 1988 the count was only 15.000 titles. Many archives are not participating yet...

There were two Pordenone sequels to last year's unorthodox Soviet discovery series. The tribute to the FEKS (The Factory of the Eccentric Actor) included a live cinema event of The New Babylon (1929) with the original score by Dmitri Shostakovich performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra and conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald. The new arrangement makes much more sense of the avantgardistic music than the ones we have been used to hearing. There was also an incredible newly recorded video interview with Raisa Garshnek (101) who had screen tested for The New Babylon and who had hand painted the flag red in Battleship Potyomkin.

Full of noble surprises was the Georgian retrospective. Ivan Perestiani's The Case of Prince Tariel Mklavadze's Murder (1925) was an ardent account of feudal injustice. Nikoloz Shengelaya's Eliso (1928) invited us to identify with the proud Chechen villagers oppressed by the Czarist empire. Lev Push's Amerikanka (1930: the name refers to a printing press) emphasized the factual details in the underground revolutionary story. Shalva Kushikivadze and Lev Push's Mzago and Gela (1930 / 1934) juxtaposed tradition and modernity with original touches not yet crushed by Stalinist conformism.

The "Kertész before Curtiz" retrospective included representative samples from the European career of the 66 films of the Hungarian director who became known as Michael Curtiz. In the Napoleonic drama The Young Medardus (1923) based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler and set in Vienna he already showed a sense of world history besides which the private love intrigue begins to resemble "a hill of beans". The discovery of Lily Damita, whom he married, obviously electrified Curtiz in the elegant The Plaything of Paris (1925) which was fortunately screened in its worldly, unmelodramatic version. A more realistic aspect of Lily Damita was on display in Fiacre Nr. 13 (1926), designed by Paul Leni, and resembling the visions of Paris by Jacques Feyder.

An especially well curated retrospective was "The Race to the Pole" programmed by Bryony Dixon and Jan Anders Diesen to the centenary of the conquest of the South Pole. We saw Roald Amundsen's South Pole Expedition (1912) shot by Amundsen himself and lovingly restored by the National Library of Norway. The magnificent British feature films South – Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (1919) and The Great White Silence (1924, on the R.F. Scott expedition) were seen in wonderful restored colour prints from the BFI. There were surprise polar expedition movies from New Zealand and Japan, too.

This year's Japanese theme was "The Birth of Anime: Pioneers of Japanese Animation" with new subtitled prints provided by The National Film Center of The National Museum of Modern Art of Tokyo, and curated by Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström. So many newly rediscovered movies were included that they require a reassessment of the history of anime (and animation). The most remarkable titles included Tomu Uchida's The Tale of Crab Temple (1924), and Sanae Yamamoto's Ubasuteyama (1925, about the habit of the elderly being left on a mountain to die). A science fiction surprise was Shigeji Ogino's A Day after a Hundred Years (1933) in which WWII and nuclear power are foretold. The final trip to Mars fails because "there is a spirit from the past on board"!

There was an unbureaucratic approach in Pordenone's tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Italian Risorgimento. Francesca Bertini was seen in full diva mode in Il veleno delle parole / The Poison of Words (1913), La serpe / The Snake (1920), and most audaciously in Febo Mari's Maddalena Ferat (1921). There were funny ladies, too, and perhaps a bit of bunga bunga. Pina Menichelli starred in Una tragedia al cinematografo (1913) which its name notwithstanding is a farce about the romantic uses of the darkness of the cinema. Gigetta Moreno starred in Mario Caserini's Santarellina (1912), regarded as Italy's first sophisticated light comedy, and in Eleuterio Rodolfi's Le acque miracolose / The Miraculous Well (1914) with a Renoiresque solution to the problem of childlessness.

National Film Preservation Foundation's dvd box set "Treasures 5: The West" was celebrated by selected screenings. One of the best shows of the year was the one which started with Deschutes Driftwood (1916), a scenic short from a hobo's point of view, haunting like a Jimmie Rodgers song. But that was just for starters. The feature presentation, The Lady of the Dugout (1918), directed by W.S. Van Dyke, was a totally unorthodox Western based on the true story of the actual outlaws Al and Frank Jennings playing themselves.

Ned Thanhouser introduced the Edwin Thanhouser show and his website www.thanhouser.org/index.html where the 56 surviving Thanhouser films are accessible online. Edwin Thanhouser produced 1000 films and burned all the negatives as he finished his business. For 25 years Ned Thanhouser has been collecting the surviving legacy.

The rediscovered footage of The White Shadow (1924) directed by Graham Cutts and assisted by Alfred Hitchcock, found in The New Zealand Film Archive and restored at the Academy Film Archive, made big news, and reading the capsule synopsis of the missing reels caused big laughs. Even more amazingly the first British fiction film, The Soldier's Courtship (1896) by R.W. Paul, has been restored by Cineteca Nazionale – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. An even more frank and funny display of passion than Edison's May Irwin Kiss from the same year.

The Jonathan Dennis lecture was given by the dynamic duo of Lobster Films, Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange, as great showmen as they are film restorers. The focus was deservedly on the hand-coloured version of Le Voyage dans la Lune, the restoration event of the year.

Among the musical highlights were Günter Buchwald conducting the orchestra San Marco, Pordenone to Charles Chaplin's score to The Circus and the final gala event with Carl Davis, himself, conducting FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra to his magnificent score to Victor Sjöström's The Wind (1928).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cinema concert: The Wind (score by Carl Davis conducted by Carl Davis, FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra)

Closing Event. Pohjoismyrsky / Stormen / Il vento (MGM, US 1928). D: Victor Seastrom; SC: Frances Marion, based on the novel by Dorothy Scarborough (1925); intertitles: John Colton; DP: John Arnold; ED: Conrad A. Nervig; AD: Cedric Gibbons, Edward Withers; cost: Andre-Ani; add. D: Harold Bucquet, Red Golden; cast: Lillian Gish (Letty), Lars Hanson (Lige), Montagu Love (Roddy), Dorothy Cumming (Cora), Edward Earle (Beverly), William Orlamond (Sourdough), Don Coleman (cowboy), Laon Ramon [Leon Janney], Carmencita Johnson, Billy Kent Schaefer (Cora’s children); filmed: 1927; 35 mm, 6407 ft (including introductory cards), 78' (22 fps; with certain sections 18 fps); from: Photoplay Productions, London. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, 8 Oct 2011.

Score by Carl Davis; performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra; conducted by Carl Davis. Score commissioned by Thames Television for Channel 4; performed by arrangement with Faber Music Ltd., London, on behalf of Carl Davis. The Live Cinema presentation of The Wind by arrangement with Photoplay Productions. Originally produced by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow.

Kevin Brownlow (GCM Catalogue): "Dorothy Scarborough’s novel of life in Texas was so unflattering that she thought it prudent to publish anonymously. It was inspired by her mother, a delicate girl from the South who goes to live with her cousin in an arid area of the Panhandle, and is driven into a loveless marriage. A terrifying “Norther” drives her into the desert, insane. Lillian Gish realized it would make an exceptional film and recommended it to MGM. Irving Thalberg, who was overworked, trusted her to produce it. Gish chose first Clarence Brown, who had just directed Garbo, but he saw no way of making it work. “People just don’t like wind,” he said. She then selected Victor Seastrom, the director of her previous film, The Scarlet Letter, in which she also played opposite Lars Hanson. “Both Hanson and Seastrom were perfect for that film,” wrote Gish. “The Italian school of acting was one of elaboration, the Swedish was one of repression.” Seastrom had been an influential pioneer of Swedish cinema who had made the classic The Phantom Carriage. He ended his career as the leading character in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. It says something for Louis B. Mayer that Seastrom was his favourite director. The Hollywood technicians found Seastrom such a kind, thoughtful, and lovable man that they nicknamed him Jesus. (“Where’s Jesus?” “He’s in the men’s room.”)"

"The script was written by Frances Marion, one of the most gifted and prolific writers in Hollywood, responsible for an astonishing series of classics, from Humoresque to Stella Dallas to Camille with Garbo. Though the interiors were shot at the MGM studios in Culver City, Seastrom took the company to the Mojave Desert for exteriors. Katherine Albert, reporting for Motion Picture Magazine, followed them out there, and quickly regretted it. She had to drive miles to the town of Mojave, where the company made their headquarters: “To reach the location, one had to drive over awful dirt roads into the sweltering heat – the thermometer was seldom lower than 115 degrees all the time the company was on location – into the blinding sun, the bleak, barren waste that is the Mojave Desert. That anyone could be active in that scorching heat is almost inconceivable. Yet there were cameras, generators, and other studio equipment planted in the broad expanse of wasteland… There were the usual number of workers, all wearing high boots in case they encountered rattlesnakes, and most of them had whitish-looking stuff smeared over their faces to keep off sunburn. Goggles, making them look like men from Mars, were worn to protect their eyes from sand."

“But there was Lillian Gish in little, low-heeled slippers, hatless and without any protection for her eyes. As I drove up I heard a frightful noise and in a second the scene was clouded by enormous drifts of sand. The noise came from the giant machines used to create wind. The eight propellers seemed to lift the desert and blow it before the cameras."

“‘It is without doubt the most unpleasant picture I have ever made,’ said Lillian Gish. ‘I mean by that the most uncomfortable to do. I don’t mind heat so much, but working before the wind machines all the time is nerve-wracking. You see, it blows the sand and we’ve put sawdust down, too. And there are smoke pots to make it look even more dirty. I’ve been fortunate. The flying cinders haven’t gotten into my eyes, although a few have burned my hands.’

"Gish thought it the best film she had done at MGM. Thalberg agreed, but the months went by and she heard rumours that it was being cut. “Irving explained that eight of the largest exhibitors in the country had insisted on a change in the ending. Instead of the heroine disappearing in a storm, she and the hero were to be reconciled in a happy ending. The heart went out of all of us, but we did what they wanted. Frances Marion told us later it was the last film to which she gave her heart as well as her head.” The irony was that the film now violated the Hays Code; a girl, having killed a man, lives happily ever after. The Wind received mixed reviews. The New York Times said that Seastrom hammered his point until one longed for just one suggestion of subtlety. Picture Play called it “a fine and dignified production”. Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, wrote to Lillian Gish: “A combination of the greatest sincerity, brilliance, and unvarying charm places you in the small circle of the first tragediennes of the world.”" – KEVIN BROWNLOW

The music

Carl Davis: "My reaction to the first screening of The Wind in silence was one of physical discomfort – the combination of dry wind and sand invading everything and that the music I would write would have to reflect the extreme harshness of the environment of western Texas. My second reaction was the way the landscape impinged on the lives of the characters whose drama would be shaped by it. Wind storms and tornadoes were frequent occurrences and informed the climaxes of the story."

"I started by thinking of what I could eliminate from the orchestra: so no pretty winds or sonorous brass. Instead, strings grouped in sixes, and a large percussion ensemble of five players, each equipped with the instruments that would produce a convincing sandstorm, as well as the unusual clatter of the Hungarian cimbalom. I called on the contemporary English composers Colin and David Matthews to help with the orchestration. They had the necessary vocabulary to produce the a-musical sound effects so that the semi-improvised passages would be sufficiently well-organized as to allow me to fit the score to the film."

"In the stiller passages, a barn dance and a lull in the storm, I used the songs “Goodnight, Irene” and “Oh Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” (the words appear on the screen). But Swedish director Victor Seastrom’s film and Lillian Gish’s performance were the true inspiration, and called for a mixture of tortured chromaticism and Stephen Foster-like simplicity. The climax of the film is so intense that I for one am relieved that the MGM producers insisted on tacking on a happy ending, rather than the tragic one of the novel and the first cut of the film, in which Gish’s character is carried off in madness by the storm after she has killed the man who raped her. After its London premiere in 1983, the film with my score was performed in Pordenone in 1986, followed by performances in Frankfurt, Luxembourg, and Brussels, and in 1987 in New York, as part of a season of four silent films at Radio City Music Hall." CARL DAVIS

AA: Drama. Revisited Victor Sjöström's masterpiece which has stood the test of time. The wind is the central visual motif of the picture. Psychological, mythical and metaphysical meanings of the wind emerge. (According to the Indian myth the Northern wind is launched by a wild horse on the sky.) From the train ride through the desert to the ball interrupted by a tornado to the final violent confrontation it is Letty's rite of passage to master the forces of nature. I had heard the music by Carl Davis before, and I prefer his to the original score which exists on the sonorized version (which is not bad either). In a live performance by a full orchestra it gets more physical. The score is also versatile with delightful inventions and varieties of mood. Most importantly, there is a sense of grandeur worthy of the movie.

[Lillian Gish's introduction to the Wind]

Video. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, 8 Oct 2011.

A video introduction with Lillian Gish (1983?). She tells how she proposed to Irving G. Thalberg ambitious subjects such as La Bohème and The Scarlet Letter, and also The Wind. She tells about the terrible conditions of shooting in Bakersfield with eight airplane propellers creating the wind. The unhappy ending was a problem, although she had already starred in seven movies with unhappy endings. The unhappy ending with the woman disappearing in the wind was shot but finally changed to a happy ending.

Jack and the Beanstalk (Disney Laugh-O-gram, 1922)

(Laugh-O-gram, US 1922) Reissue: On the Up and Up (1929) D: Walt Disney; anim: Walt Disney, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Carman “Max” Maxwell, Lorey Tague, Otto Walliman; DP: Red Lyon; filmed: ca. 6-7.1922, Laugh-O-gram studio, 1127 E. 31st St., Kansas City; dist: Pictorial Clubs Inca. of New York (non-theatrical, regional circuit); 35 mm, 632 ft, ca. 8' (22 fps); from: John E. Allen Collection, Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 8 Oct 2011.

Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman (GCM Catalogue): "Of all the rarities in this series, Jack and the Beanstalk is the rarest. This is the last of the “lost” Laugh-O-grams to be restored to view, discovered in the John E. Allen Collection, recently acquired by the Library of Congress. Even then, it turned up in the form of a nitrate negative, and required printing to safety stock before it could be projected. It will be unveiled to the public for the first time in this Giornate retrospective."

"And, happily, it’s worth the wait; this picture turns out to be a fascinating addition to the Laugh-O-gram library. If Four Musicians has raised the bar for pictorial richness in these films, Jack and the Beanstalk escalates the imagery to spectacular heights – literally. Storytelling becomes more assured in this film, with less repeat movement and more imaginative visual ideas that could take place only in the world of animated cartoons."

"The film becomes even more fascinating in the context of Walt’s career, for we know in hindsight that Mickey Mouse would be cast in the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story in 1933 and again in 1947. Now at last we can see Walt’s original approach to the story – and, characteristically, it’s nothing like the other two. Certainly Mickey’s beanstalk never carried him as far as Mars, nor did he acquire a pair of wings during his adventures. Jack’s comic stratagem in the 1922 film – painting a hole on the surface of a cloud, then tricking the ogre into falling through what is now a real hole – makes use of the kind of optical illusions that were not available to Mickey in later years. And the ogre, plummeting to earth at film’s end, falls into another “impossible” gag, which had appeared, in a different form, in Buster Keaton’s Hard Luck the previous year."

"A word about character design. Jack and the Beanstalk seems to inaugurate a deliberate practice of recycling characters from previous Laugh-O-grams, recast in new roles appropriate to the story. Here we see return appearances by both Little Red Riding Hood and her mother – or, at any rate, characters who bear a strong resemblance to them. The dog and black cat from the earlier films are also back, and, in fact, will go on to appear in all seven Laugh-O-grams. In the title role of Jack, Walt introduces a generic all-purpose “boy” character. In later entries in the series, the boy, girl, cat, and dog would coalesce into a kind of Laugh-O-gram “stock company.” Rudy Ising recalled decades later that Walt had created model sheets of these characters and that the animators had actually traced them: “It was sort of a fastidious thing to trace the characters, and keep the likeness.”" Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman

AA: There's no money, so the cow ("it's no bull!"), for which an ingenious milking device has been designed, has to be sold, and Jack gets a handful of miracle beans for it. Immediately he is in deep space, and when he's back he's with flying money bags and a self-playing harp. And the giant's head interrupts a game of dice in China.

Das Spielzeug von Paris / [The Plaything of Paris]

Pariisin leikkikalu (La Poupée de Paris / Célimène, la poupée di Parigi) (Sascha-Filmindustrie AG, AT 1925) D: Michael Kertesz [Michael Curtiz]; P: Alexander Kolowrat; SC: Michael Kertesz [Michael Curtiz] (?), based on the novel Red Heels (1925) by Margery H. Lawrence; DP: Max Nekut, Gustav Ucicky; AD: Artur Berger, Gustav Abel; cast: Lily Damita (Susanne Armand, known as “Célimène”), Hugo Thimig (Duval), Eric Barclay (Miles Seward), Georges Tréville (Charles, Vicomte de la Roche de Maudry), Theo W. Shall (Michel Fournichon), Hans Moser (Nouvel Eden manager), Maria Fein (Ninette), Marietta Müller (Nan Seward), Maria Asti (Germaine Landrolet), Traute Carlsen (Lady Madison), Ria Günzel (Dorothy Madison); filmed: 4-6.1925; première: 1.9.1925 (Wien); released: 16.10.1925 (Wien); 35 mm, 3059 m, 110’ (24 fps); from: Filmarchiv Austria, Wien. Spanish intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 8 Oct 2011.

Miguel A. Fidalgo (GCM Catalogue): "The change of orientation was not only thematic, but stylistic. Kertész assembled a new multinational cast, with the Swedish Eric Barclay (born Erik Altber), the French Georges Tréville, the German Theo Shall, and the Italian Maria Asti, to surround Damita, the absolute star of the enterprise. Behind the camera, however, were several of his regular collaborators, including Gustav Ucicky and the art director Artur Berger, whose marvellous sets recreated nocturnal Montmartre in the Sascha studios in the Viennese Prater. Kertész’s script depicted a Paris where everything was different from the rest of Europe: night was more alive than day, parties were massive, feelings extreme, and love might be possessive or free, according to who was practising it. Célimène is the centre not so much of a romantic triangle, as of a “ronde”. A cabaret star and indisputable queen of the city, a series of characters obsessively move around her, all wanting something: the very mature Viscount of Maudry sees in her his last romantic opportunity in life, and clings painfully to this strange relationship; Germaine, an old lover of the viscount, wants to recapture him by provoking Célimène to fancy another; Miles Seward, an insipid British diplomat, at first approaches Célimène in a cautious and conceited way, but ends completely obsessed with making her his wife; Nan Seward wants to marry her brother to the equally insipid Dorothy Madison, involved through her nobility and wealth; Duval, the cabaret manager, wants Célimène on his stage; and Michel Fournichon, Miles’ French friend, simply wants her in bed, though he has never the opportunity to tell her. And Célimène herself? She only wants to be happy, to enjoy life and the moment, love and fame. Such a sexual cocktail was too explosive for certain countries to accept, and Kolowrat did not want to risk losing money at such a delicate moment. Though reluctant to compromise his vision, Kertész shot two quite different endings, leaving each country to decide which best suited its public and market: a moral story in which the “frivolous” Célimène either becomes an “honest” woman or pays for not being one, or a plot with a Lubitsch-like irony on the matter of love and life. In the first version, released in Austria, Germany, and Britain, the comedic tone of the start ultimately gives way to tragedy: the protagonist, understanding that this is her one chance of a pure and redeeming love in marriage, goes in search of Miles in a stormy night, and ends up expiating her sins by dying of pneumonia – decorous, but inconsistent with what has gone before. The version released in France and Spain as La Poupée de Paris, however, offered a vital and carefree vision of promiscuity: instead of dying from her pneumonia, Célimène survives it to resume her privileged place in Paris night-life, with her dear viscount observing her backstage, and boring Miles continuing his boring life with his boring fiancé. Though both versions are valid in their different ways, Kertész’s real sympathy is certainly with the ironic cut, not only because it better matched his personal reality, but because it finally makes the story more finished and substantial. After all, Damita had captured him romantically, and Kertész could understand how easy it was to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by such a possessive and devouring passion."

"Accepting the ironic version as the most suitable and closest to his intentions, we can marvel at Kertész’s accomplishment, and the multitude of significant details: the joint where the Viscount discovers Célimène, with its suggestive name, Le Lapin rouge (The Red Rabbit), peopled with romantics, dirty old men, thieves, lesbians, mystery-men, beauties, victims, all presented in revealing close-ups; the suggestive manner in which Célimène drinks before Miles, slowly and seductively, and her extremely sexual reaction to the kiss on her hand; the dullness of Dorothy, with her “sweet and quiet, a little gray” love; the uninhibited tone of “rivals” but friends Célimène and Germaine, who greet each other with a kiss on the mouth and always gravitate to physical contact; the castrating scissors with which Michel toys when he sees Célimène and Miles entwined by a thread; and, especially, the delightful game of love and desire that Célimène and her maid play with dolls."

"Das Spielzeug von Paris is so different from Kertész’s previous films that it demands radically different staging. The inventive “musical” numbers – different as they are from the future choreographic fantasies of Busby Berkeley – are credible not only because they develop in a theatrical setting, but because while Damita knows perfectly how to move and dance, her supporting chorus is charming in its awkwardness. Berger’s work is equally expressive in showing the difference between the “mondaine” world – fantastic and attractive – and the serious and solemn “normal” world to which the story constantly refers. The rhythm, as usual, is strongly maintained; and in the dramatic storm sequence, the tough realism of the staging confirms again that Kertész has no qualms in his demands on the actors: the spectacle of the seminude Damita buried in the mud and about to be struck by a car is shocking. It is one of the frequent paradoxes of film history that a film as marvellous as this is today virtually forgotten." – Miguel A. Fidalgo

AA: The source novel is apparently trivial entertainment, but this movie comes alive with certain exciting strengths: the performance of Lily Damita in the leading role (she is very good both in sexy dance numbers and on the sickbed fighting an almost lethal attack of fever), the exotic production numbers at the cabarets of Paris, the montage of the faces watching Lily Damita at "la Butte", and the visual power of the climactic storm scene. There is nothing banal in them. The performances of the actors are credible, and Michael Curtiz has a good command on the total vision of this big production. Miguel A. Fidalgo told me before the screening that he had insisted on this version of the movie to be shown (a long version, and an ironic, not melodramatic, version). The Spanish titles have also a pleasant design very appropriate to the subject. There is a slightly duped quality in this print which is not baneful, and I had in fresh memory the brilliant visual quality of the trailer of this movie which was screened a couple of days ago before Der junge Medardus.

Cinderella (Disney Laugh-O-gram 1922)

(Laugh-O-gram, US 1922) Reissue: The Slipper-y Kid (1929) D: Walt Disney; anim: Walt Disney, Ubbe Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Carman “Max” Maxwell, Lorey Tague, Otto Walliman; DP: Red Lyon; filmed: ca. 11-12.1922, Laugh-O-gram studio, 1127 E. 31st St., Kansas City; dist: Pictorial Clubs Inca. of New York (non-theatrical, regional circuit); 35 mm, 685 ft, 8' (22 fps); from: John E. Allen Collection, Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 8 Oct 2011.

Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman (GCM Catalogue): "Tentatively unearthed for the 1992 Giornate in the form of an abridged 16 mm print, now represented by a complete version in 35 mm from the John E. Allen Collection at the Library of Congress, Cinderella takes its place as one of the most enjoyable Laugh-O-grams. Its setting seems to be the same “Kingville” (a cross between a fairy-tale kingdom and small-town U.S.A.) that we’ve just seen in Puss in Boots; and the four stock characters are back again, as is the King. Cinderella is one of the Laugh-O-grams that tells its traditional story more or less straight – that is, allowing for such minor variations as Cinderella’s arrival at the ball in a chauffeured limousine, and a dance party for a gang of bears, interrupted by a bear-hunting Prince on horseback!"

"Here again Walt and his co-workers indulge in an appealing pictorial effect – far more pronounced than the earlier sunrise scene in Goldie Locks – for Cinderella and the Prince’s silhouetted romantic interlude on the balcony. (Something about the romantic aspect of Cinderella’s story seems to have softened the hearts of the most satiric cartoon makers, even that of so ruthless a prankster as Tex Avery.) On a technical level we may also note the several long pan shots. Perhaps most remarkable is the lengthy bi-level pan just after Cinderella’s escape from the ball: as she runs through the streets, the buildings and the starry sky seeming to move in perspective behind her. Even working with a bare minimum of resources, the Laugh-O-gram crew achieve a striking pictorial effect in this scene."

"Of course this Cinderella is still built for laughs, and there are still plenty of gags, ranging from droll whimsy (the shimmying bears at the dance party) to outright slapstick (the “slipper,” discarded by Cinderella, that brains the Prince and knocks him out cold). Continuing the trend started in Puss in Boots, this film combines its sight gags with a complement of verbal humor: the stepsister’s self-help manual, “Eat and Grow Thin”; the non-sequitur invitation to the Prince’s ball; the inane question to an obviously injured character who has just fallen down a steep hill. And one of the benefits of this restored complete version is a wrap-up gag missing from the earlier print – revealing that, in this edition of Cinderella, Walt and company ultimately turned the romantic story on its head after all!" – Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman

AA: A funny modernization of the story. The "happily ever after" is followed by a big question mark and a final scene where rolling-pins fly.

The Race to the Pole III featuring South (Shackleton's Glorious Epic)

SOUTH – SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON’S GLORIOUS EPIC OF THE ANTARCTIC (Imperial Trans-Antarctic Film Syndicate, GB 1919) D, DP: Frank Hurley; 35 mm, 4835 ft, 72' (18 fps), col. (tinted and toned); from: BFI National Archive, London. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, live audio commentary: Paul McGann, piano. flute, and accordeon: Stephen Horne, 8 Oct 2011.

GCM catalogue: "At this performance, Paul McGann will read extracts from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1919 memoir, South, providing additional commentary to the images. The piano accompaniment is by Stephen Horne. Paul McGann first achieved international celebrity with his performance in Bruce Robinson’s cult British film Withnail and I (1987). His numerous stage, film, and television roles since then have included Doctor Who (he was the eighth incumbent), and his acclaimed 2011 performance in the revival of Butley at London’s Duchess Theatre."

Bryony Dixon: "Frank Hurley was already an experienced Antarctic traveller when he took up the position of official photographer and cinematographer for Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914. The young Australian was only 26 when he first went to Antarctica in 1911 with still- and cine-cameras as part of Douglas Mawson’s Aurora expedition. His time with Mawson and Herbert Ponting’s success with his Scott footage persuaded Shackleton that he needed an experienced professional to photograph his expedition. Raising money for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on the brink of war with Germany was a feat of will-power of which only someone of Shackleton’s determination was capable, but to which the rights to Frank Hurley’s films and photographs would significantly contribute. Hurley was much inspired by Herbert Ponting’s masterly and popular multi-media lecture on the Scott Expedition, which combined film, music, still images, maps, and, of course, commentary. This lecture format is the key to understanding the structure of most of the Polar films of the “Heroic Age”. Hurley’s South (1919) was, after Amundsen’s film, the first to be packaged for stand-alone release in cinemas, but still retains much of the feel of the lecture, incorporating still images and explanatory titles. It was released in Australia in 1920 under the title In the Grip of Polar Ice."

"Sir Ernest Shackleton, having been somewhat eclipsed as premier Antarctic explorer by Scott, planned a brave attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica via the Pole. But his ambitious plan faltered soon after they left the Falklands in unusual weather and the Endurance became trapped in heavy pack-ice. Completely stuck, Shackleton and his crew drifted helplessly northward during the long Antarctic winter while listening to the creaks and groans of their ship the Endurance slowly being crushed by the ice. What followed is one of the greatest survival stories ever told as Shackleton became entirely focused on saving his men, which he did against almost impossible odds. Hurley had documented their time in the ice using specially rigged-up lights to produce stunning images of the break-up and sinking of the ship, but of course he could not film the extraordinary 850-mile journey in the open boat undertaken by Shackleton. He and the shore party were left on Elephant Island to wait for help, so that the (to us) most exciting part of the narrative is not covered in the film, and we default to the images of Antarctic wildlife which he already had in the can. This gives the cinema version of South a slightly interrupted feel, whereas the lecture format would have had the advantage of smoothing out the narrative using commentary and still images. Nevertheless, the film was an extraordinary achievement in such circumstances."

"A record of one of the greatest epics in the history of exploration, this is the original 1919 film produced by Shackleton and Frank Hurley, now restored by the British Film Institute with the original tints and toning." – Bryony Dixon

AA: The film presentation was a successful reconstruction of a lecture show with live audio commentary and music. Beautiful cinematography in this thrilling story in which the topics include dogs, icebreaking, migration of seals, emperor penguins, an experimental motor-sledge, biological samples via a deep net, shags, and giant petrels. The expedition was a devastating experience, and the demise of the ship is the central event of the movie. There is also impressive footage from the whaling station. The restoration is beautiful, and the toning hues are successful.

EL HOMENAJE DEL URUGUAY A LOS RESTOS DE SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON (Henry Maurice, UY 1922) DP: ?; 35 mm, 667 ft, 10' (18 fps); from: Imperial War Museum, London. Spanish intertitles. No translation. Grand piano: John Sweeney.

"Huge crowds gather for the lying in state of the body of Sir Ernest Shackleton in Montevideo, Uruguay, and its transfer to ship for burial on the island of South Georgia." – Bryony Dixon
AA:  A fine composition in the cinematography in this movie memorial. Duped quality in the print.

SOUTHWARD ON THE “QUEST” (GB 1922) (extract) DP: J.C. Bee-Mason, Hubert Wilkins; 35 mm, 386 ft, 5' (20 fps); from: BFI National Archive, London. English intertitles. E-subtitles in Italian. Grand piano: John Sweeney.

Bryony Dixon: "A record of the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic expedition, 1921. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s fourth and final voyage to Antarctica marked the end of the “Heroic Age”. Restless after the War, the great explorer originally intended to go north to the Arctic, but instead planned a a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent to map around 2,000 miles of uncharted coastline and take soundings to investigate the possibility of an underwater continental connection between Africa and America. An airplane was taken but never used."

"Although most of the film was shot after Shackleton’s death, the first shot shows the great man bathing “Query”, the expedition’s dog, on board the Quest. Some views of Grytviken, South Georgia, were taken before Shackleton’s sudden death there, of a coronary thrombosis. The ship, under Frank Wild, sailed to Montevideo, from where they intended to send the body back to England, but Lady Shackleton requested that they bury him on South Georgia. Leonard Hussey took the body back to Grytviken while the Quest sailed on. On the ship’s return members of the expedition and crew were filmed visiting Shackleton’s grave and erecting a memorial cairn over him."

"We know very little about the film. J.C. Bee-Mason, having film-making and expedition experience, was appointed as cinematographer, but he succumbed to very bad seasickness in the unsuitably small Quest and was forced to quit the ship at Madeira. The practical Hubert Wilkins, who had been his cabin mate in the ship’s darkroom, undertook the rest of the filming." – Bryony Dixon
AA: An interesting complement to the Shackleton odyssey. A duped quality of the image.