Friday, January 27, 2012

Good reading at my coffee-table

Eight weeks have passed since my traffic accident. Last week I started working at the office again, but in the afternoons I'm so exhausted that I don't really have the energy to even to go the cinema yet. It's difficult to concentrate for two hours, but with reading it's easier to have breaks.

1. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow: The Grand Design. London etc.: Bantam Press, 2010. Quantum theory for laymen. I predict innovations based on it will change a lot of things, for example digital information circumstances, during our lifetime.

2. Caroline Frick: Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation. New York etc.: Oxford University Press, 2011. A good general introduction into film preservation during the biggest change in our profession.

3. Sauli Miettinen: Marlene Dietrich: nainen ja tähti [Marlene Dietrich: A Woman and a Star]. Helsinki: Otava, 2011.
    Mr. Sauli Miettinen has dedicated much of his lifetime to this original study on one of the world's most famous stars, Marlene Dietrich. Her impact is timeless, and Marlene Dietrich continues to define style and charisma for a new generation after one another.
    This amazing 639-page original study on Marlene Dietrich is based on first-hand sources in Dietrich's own archives in Berlin. For the first time anywhere Sauli Miettinen publishes a lot of revealing new material.
    Much has been written about Dietrich, and a lot of it is highly entertaining but utterly unreliable - including Dietrich's own statements.
    Marlene Dietrich was not only a figure of myth - she was also a mythomaniac. Sauli Miettinen acknowledges both the legend and the fact with a spirit of tact and a sense of humour.
    Marlene Dietrich was well-known as a film star and a charismatic photo model.
    But Sauli Miettinen's focus is on Dietrich's career as a singer. She herself saw it as the most important area of her professional activity. This is the most substantial new ground covered by this impressive book.
    The sensations of Dietrich's private life are not in the main focus, but Miettinen gives a compelling account also of the private sphere of a brave and unconventional woman who was much ahead of her time in her love life. Also from this viewpoint, his book stands out.
    Sauli Miettinen's book is a lasting achievement, well-researched, well-written, exciting yet in good taste. It belongs to the international pantheon of books written on stars.

4. Panu Rajala: Naisten mies ja aatteiden: Juhani Ahon elämäntaide [A Man of Women and Ideas: Juhani Aho's Life Art]. Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. Antti Aho's biography on his father, the writer Juhani Aho, is a favourite book of mine. Panu Rajala starts his new biography in an easy reading mode, but towards the end, in his account of Juhani Aho and our terrible civil war in 1918, and on the final years he actually picks up gravity and emphasizes the family drama which in the 1950s was still too sensitive for Antti to discuss: that his brother Heikki fought with the reds and that also his mother, Ms. Aho, Venny Soldan, was a red sympathizer. Juhani Aho abhorred the terror of both the reds and the whites which he witnessed first hand. During the 1950s modernism Aho fell out of fashion, but for me has a timeless appeal.

5. Arto Salminen: Varasto [The Storeroom]. Helsinki: WSOY, 1998. Inspired by Taru Mäkelä's movie I read this novel for the first time. Arto Salminen is a master of dialogue and the Finnish language and a satirist of the desolate condition of society. The movie is quite faithful to the novel which is grimmer, however. Rousku's betrayal of Raninen is uglier in the novel, and there are no redeeming later encounters between them. A feature not in the novel but in the movie is Rousku's attempt to poison Karita's yoghurt and the store manager's effeminization after eating it. In my school and student days I have worked in jobs like this, and I recognized some of that reality in the novel. But I feel the novel is biased because of its exaggerated account of the spiritual emptiness in the storeroom. I have had some of the most interesting and passionate discussions in jobs like that (about music, movies, tv, news, society, women, etc.). My guess would be that the world hasn't changed that much.

6. Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen: Valoa valoa valoa [Light Light Light]. Hämeenlinna: Karisto, 2011. A novel, a love story between two 14-year-old girls. The poet Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen has written a fresh and original novel set in the spring and summer of 1986, the year of Chernobyl. The title "light light light" has a double meaning.  There is a joy of language in the book which it will be a pleasure to read again.

7. Eeva-Kaarina Aronen: Kallorumpu [Skull Drum]. Helsinki: Teos, 2011. A memory novel. One day in 1935 in Mannerheim's house in Helsinki viewed through a cinematic project devised by an old man who was a little boy at the time. Easy reading around Mannerheim, not a historical novel.

8. The New York Review of Books, Jan 12 - Feb 8, 2012. - Russell Baker on Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar (he finds a "curious lack of menace" in it). - Colin Thubron on Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Biography. - Sue Halpern on Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography. - Orlando Figes on Bulgakov and Stalin (John Hodge's Collaborators). - Lee Siegel on The Two Walkabouts: the novel and Nicolas Roeg's movie. - Jeremy Waldron on Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (the critic remains skeptical about Pinker's view).

9. TIFF Bell Lightbox Programme Guide, January-April 2012. Toronto's TIFF Cinematheque's programme texts are among the best. James Quandt writes about Yilmaz Güney, Nicholas Ray, and Robert Bresson. Other inspired themes include "Design for Living: Gary Hustwit's Design Trilogy" (Helvetica, Objectified, Urbanized), a tribute to 50 years of la Semaine de la Critique at Cannes film festival, Attack the Bloc: Cold War Science Fiction from Behind the Iron Curtain, black filmmakers in Canada, the US, the Caribbean and Africa, John Greyson impatient, Human Rights Watch 2012, and Spirited Away: the films of Studio Ghibli.

10. Arsenal, Februar 2012, Berlin. In February Arsenal is a venue for the 42. Forum and the 7. Forum Expanded of the Berlin Film Festival. Other themes include Sandrine Bonnaire, Magical History Tour, Yuzo Kawashima, Shirley Clarke, Ulrike Ottinger, and James Benning.

11. La Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg, Février 2012. Carl Davis conducts a Charles Chaplin and a Harold Lloyd concert. - The Tous les genres du cinéma en 10 leçons proceeds into the Western. - There is a Laterna Magica performance by the Ensemble Illuminago and a Filmreakter Double Feature. - The François Truffaut 80th anniversary tribute is the Antoine Doinel cycle. - The Martin Scorsese retrospective continues, as does the Road Movie, Europe series.

12. Det Danske Filminstitut: Cinemateket Februar 2012, Copenhagen: Orson Welles II: Europæisk eksil. - John Le Carré. - Europæisk film: nationale favoritter. - Errol Morris: bag den amerikanske drøm. - Månedens film: Bellflower. - Fashion in Film: Stumfilmens modedivaer. - Dickens 200 år: Store forventninger / Great Expectations (A.W. Sandberg) [which I believe David Lean may have seen].

13. Filmoteca Española (Cine Doré in Madrid): diciembre 2011, enero 2012: - Recuerdo de Raúl Ruiz. - Recuerdo de Blake Edwards. - Jan Švankmajer. - Edgar Neville. - II Muestra de cine palestino: Michel Khleifi. - Premios Goya. - Gastrofestival: Cine y gastronomia.

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