Friday, February 01, 2013

Matti Kassila: How My Films Were Made (a lecture)

Matti Kassila: Miten elokuvani ovat syntyneet? The opening lecture of the lecture series organized by the HYY:n Elokuvaryhmä / The Film Society of The Student Union of the University of Helsinki. Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 1 Feb 2013.

Inspired by the lecture and book series legendary in Finland, Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet [How My Books Were Made] (five books in 1969-2012) the Helsinki Students' Film Society launches a lecture series with ten film-makers: Matti Kassila, Katja Gauriloff (who cannot come and is replaced by Joonas Berghäll, Heikki Färm, and Timo Peltola), Peter von Bagh, Anssi Mänttäri, Maunu Kurkvaara, Jari Halonen, Katariina Lillqvist, Jörn Donner, Jukka Virtanen, and Timo Koivusalo.

Matti Kassila (born 12 January 1924) is the only Finnish veteran of the film business who has started in the 1940s and is still active, for instance in making screenplays. He drives his own car and is available for introductions, interviews, and long sessions, as today.

It all goes back to the childhood. I was over-sensitive and timid and had panic attacks, for instance, when I was seven, my school burned to the ground in Haapavesi, which was a railroad junction, and a wailing sound of the engines was the fire alarm. Another bad panic attack I had at the time of a severe thunderstorm.

But I was living in a secure home village, and soon I changed to the opposite direction, and I became hyperactive. I was active in sport and in the boy scout activities. I was also interested in acting and participated in arranging iltamat (soirées).

This hyperactivity is still going on. I was active in many ways, and this became useful in the profession of the film director. In the boy scout activities I was sometimes in charge of three scout patrols (vartio), totalling 30-40, which was about the size of a film crew, and it came naturally that I was boss.

During the war I landed into a hospital due to a heart nerve failure, arrhythmia. By day I served at the drawing office of the tank force, in the evening I acted, and we had theater shows on Saturdays and Sundays.

After the war I spent all my free time in the movies. The range was awesome - American, French, Swedish movies. The entire 1950s were awesome, and I admired the great film-makers.

After the war I had the opportunity to become the continuity supervisor (kuvaussihteeri) for Valentin Vaala in Loviisa at the Suomi-Filmi company, and I also had tasks of a production assistant (järjestäjä). I realized immediately that film-making - this is for me.

I followed through with the editing and with the sound mixing and proceeded to the short film department of Suomi-Filmi. I got acquainted with Ritva Arvelo and the poet Kullervo Rainio and got mixed with radio play arrangements. Edvin Laine believed in me and took me to T.J. Särkkä at the Suomen Filmiteollisuus company: "this boy gets things done". Edvin had a good nose, and Särkkä hired me at once. I was cutting, mixing, selecting music, and reading commentaries for short films, now for Särkkä.

Aaltoska orkaniseeraa was a Särkkä production starring child actors such as Veli-Matti. Edvin launched it, and let me do much of the directing. Särkkä saw that I can manage, and gave me the chance: "you have demonstrated that you can". There was a bound screenplay for the feature film Isäntä soittaa hanuria. "Take it or leave it". We went to Loppi, to the Seppälä house, and the next day we hunted locations. Two days later later we started principal photography. 1 July 1947 wes started to shoot, and 12 August 1947 was the premiere. There was a week's delay since it rained five days. "Not sooner than that", said the cinematographer Osmo Harkimo. "Sittenhän ei ole mitään kiirettä (Oh, then we are in no hurry)".

Professori Masa was a movie starring Tauno Palo and Ansa Ikonen. I found an excellent rhythm.   When I was appointed professor h.c. myself the film was screening on tv that day. [Masa is a nickname for Matti.]

Maija löytää sävelen was a movie based on a screenplay bought in Sweden from a married couple of Austrian Jewish screenwriters who had exiled in the 1930s. First there was the song by Ahti Sonninen, "Unohtumaton ehtoo", then there was an orchestral arrangement. Leena Häkinen and Martti Katajisto starred in a story about amnesia. When the woman hears the song on the radio her memory is recovered. Jouko Tolonen played the piano.

I had made three feature films in a year. Särkkä sent me to Pohjanmaa to make a fourth, Lakeuden lukko. Aku Korhonen was outstanding. Särkkä had finished the script.

There was a famous radio journalist at the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Usko Santavuori, who staged a burglary and used hidden microphones to record the arrival of the policemen. The policemen were not prepared and they actually hit Santavuori. That was the way of the police after the war. Radio tekee murron was my fifth feature film project. Särkkä said "good, that one we'll do"

Hannes Häyrinen and Ritva Arvelo were fast-talking, modern Helsinki people. Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, and Alfred Hitchcock were among my models.

Särkkä was impulsive and abrasive. It was his way to hide his shyness.

With Aarne Tarkas and Osmo Harkimo we established an independent company called Junior-Filmi. For it we made a sequel, Radio tulee hulluksi, which was even funnier. Its a parody about the journalist who gets into a madhouse. It remained a property of Teuvo Tulio. Tulio became a hermit and he did not sell the rights of the movie. After his death the government inherited the property.

After the downfall of Junior-Filmi I returned to the SF. I had carte blanche, I could do what I wanted. Tyttö kuunsillalta was based on a radioplay by Hella Wuolijoki, the structure was based on five long telephone calls, starring Ansa Ikonen and Joel Rinne. You can make a movie from any material. I would have become mad if I had not discovered the cinema.

Sininen viikko was a summer love tragedy. The female critics Paula Talaskivi, Greta Brotherus, and Valma Kivinen resented it immensely. We made cuts into the swimming sequence. They wanted to make a distinction between swimming and love-making (uinti ja nainti). Jerker A. Eriksson was a critic with more understanding.

Hilman päivät: Edvin Laine was fantastic. The role was like Edvin himself. He starred even in Pastori Jussilainen.

Isän vanha ja uusi was a play which I opened up. All the actors were from the Kansanteatteri except Tauno Palo and Ansa Ikonen.

About Särkkä I realized that an old man is unable to change his way to produce.

Edvin Laine helped me in matters of the theatre. There were positions of theater directors opening in Kotka and in Pori. "Let me call". Aino Mantsas, my wife, was expecting a baby, and she did not want to return to Pori. I got out of the frying pan and into the fire. I directed six plays within a year, it's a horrendous amount. I had a summer holiday of one month.

Then Mauno Mäkelä from Fennada Filmi called. Their house director Roland af Hällström had died. "Would you come to us?" I had just read the novel Elokuu by F.E. Sillanpää. I said: "On one condition: if you let make a movie of this". I re-negotiated the salary. I am fast whenever I find the key (juju). I hunted locations in Ruovesi at the Kauttu canal but learned that the Murole canal is in quite a different league. I cast the movie already as I wrote it. We moved into Murole on 15 June. We shot about one month.

Critics liked Elokuu, but it was not successful with the audiences. It was selected for Cannes. There everybody was world famous. William Wyler won the Palme d'Or. Bergman, Fellini, Wajda, and Bresson were there. I got acquainted with Grigory Chukhray who was there with The Forty-First, about the doomed love affair with a Red Army sharpshooter girl and a bourgeois prisoner. When the ship arrives at the shore, the man runs towards it, and it's a ship of the Whites. The girl shoots him. Well, I can say that olin siellä minäkin (I was there, as well).

Another visit to a festival was with Tulipunainen kyyhkynen to Berlin, also there among 30 competitors.  I had also visited Moscow with Punainen viiva. It's a tragedy, and it ends with a bear killing the protagonist. It was pessimistic and had no chance in the competition, but I believe I ended up among the top five. I remember the big palace of the Kremlin. Jarno Pennanen was the interpreter.

Ihmiselon ihanuus ja kurjuus participated in Rouen and won many awards; the leading actor Lasse Pöysti was among the winners. But my child was sick and I had to leave before the awards were given.

In the 1980s I made Niskavuori combining two Niskavuori plays by Hella Wuolijoki, the story of Aarne Niskavuori. Rauni Luoma was magnificent as Loviisa, the old mistress of Niskavuori.

Jäähyväiset presidentille was based on a novel by Väinö Kirstilä. Tarmo Manni who played the president knew Urho Kekkonen, and he succeeded in the role. He was a a born storyteller. And he had come out of the closet a long time ago.

Kaikki pelissä was shot at Haapavesi. The produced was sentenced to pay back 3,9 million marks of the funding. A few years ago he told that it is now 16,5 million.

The screenplay for Ihmiselon ihanuus ja kurjuus was finished early, but I heard that "Kassila - Sillanpää is no longer a relevant combination". Then I got some advice and managed to fit the schedule with Lasse Pöysti. Ensio Suominen was the art director, and he brought his daughter-in-law Minna Santakari as well. Kari Sohlberg was the cinematographer.

There were two women at the board of the Finnish Film Foundation who were my enemies, whom I had insulted. Donner was disqualified and stayed out. Four voted for it, two against it.

It was an all-out period film of the 1930s, and it was spot-on. But there was not a single day to waste since Pöysti had booked a trip to China.

The score by Jukka Linkola was outstanding.

The minister of culture in the Mitterrand government was Jacques Lang, and he sent me a personal letter of congratulations for a big and beautiful film. It only cost 5,5 million marks, which was a regular budget.

Kaikki pelissä was butchered at the starting line. It was a desperate situation in the early 1990s. There was an economic depression. The film was released with four prints only and given only a second rate cinema. I bought the film from the estate after the company went bankrupt. I also possess split rights.

Films of my weaker period include Natalia which was a satire on the Soviet Union. It had an audience of 200.000.

Tea Ista received the Jussi for best actress for Tahdon rakastaa, Peter.

Helsinki is an elegant and active city. Two thirds of my films are set in Helsinki. The Inspector Palmu series takes mostly place south of the Esplanade-Boulevard line since the young Mika Waltari lived there, at Neitsytpolku, and visited the Norssi [Helsingin normaalilyseo]. I did many Mika films.

When I screened Kaasua, komisario Palmu to Mika he was depressed and suffering from a writer's block. I asked whether he would have new stuff about Palmu. He said: "Call me in three weeks". I did, and he said "Now it is finished". He had finished a new novel, Tähdet kertovat, komisario Palmu. The writer's block was gone, and a project in a lighter vein had helped him. Soon he sent me a copy of his new huge historical novel Ihmiskunnan viholliset with his dedication.

With Komisario Palmun erehdys I returned to Särkkä. My independent production Lasisydän had no success. Särkkä gave me the old screenplay for Komisario Palmun erehdys. It was not particularly good. There were a lot of interrogation sequences. But you can make a movie from anything. The art direction was superb.

Last year the news department of the Finnish Broadcasting Company arranged a poll about the best Finnish fiction film, to celebrate the centenary of Finnish fiction cinema. Komisario Palmun erehdys was the overwhelming winner.

At the time, suspense thrillers, detective stories and comedies were not that highly regarded. Yet nothing is as difficult as comedy.

I have also received a Pro Finlandia. And the award from Suomen Dekkariseura. A female inspector guided me to equip the award with my fingerprint.


Films of mine that have not been released on dvd before are now being processed to be released on dvd by VL-Musiikki among others.

Mr. Kassila commented on details of the locations in Ihmiselon ihanuus ja kurjuus and how Elina Ylivakeri wanted to see the film on vhs as the last thing she did before she died. Lasse Pöysti was playing King Lear at the time. He sensed the Sillanpää smell in the production.

Mr. Kassila commented on how he took advantage of all the means of the cinema in Komisario Palmun erehdys, and he was very happy with the composer Osmo Lindeman also with his sense of quick music effects. "Here we have four seconds". Lindeman took a coin from his pocket and let it glide on the strings of the grand piano, made a glissando. "I intervened in everything". The auteur is the one who is behind it all. We perused the fashion magazines of the 1930s. Chaplin was an auteur. Even during the studio era there were auteurs such as Hitchcock.

Billy Wilder who made Sunset Boulevard said that 80% is in the script. I agree with him pretty much. It is safe for the actor. With actors I always work privately. An actor is vulnerable. He is exposing his feelings. He needs to trust in the director. They always look at me. I nod and smile.

I have a screenplay for a historical film about the fatal hours of Finland. President Kallio dies in the arms of Mannerheim. It has been regarded too expensive. Olli Soinio is working on a more budget-conscious version with more interiors.

My own film favourites include Vertigo and Citizen Kane. They are mysterious, enigmatic, with multiple layers.

Mannerheim: Ermei Kanninen contacted me and I regarded Renny Harlin as the director who could pull it off. Heikki Vihinen would be the screenwriter, he is a good Mannerheim connoisseur. As are others, such as Veijo Meri.

There was a honorary commmittee with Paavo Lipponen as the chairman. The screenplay grew to 252 pages. Every film professional knows that one page equals one minute of film. And at that point Mannerheim had not arrived in Finland.

I know how it should be done. The old Mannerheim tells the whole story. Also how he committed mistakes, how he was vain, desperate.

Joel Rinne was my Mannerheim in Päämaja, but Jussi Jurkka received the Jussi Award. It was based on a play by Ilmari Turja. Turja and A.F. Airo were pals, they were two of a kind. I met Airo. They were both curt, to the point, drinking buddies.

At first Jussi Jurkka had no grip on the role. Then I told him to act like a master of a farm, how he swaggers about in his boots (kuin maalaistalon isäntä, saapastelee). He respects Mannerheim but wastes no time in standing in attention.

The black Mannerheim is the biggest blunder in the history of the Finnish Broadcasting Company but it is not an insult to Mannerheim. The final wreath on the grave is the ultimate breach of style.

We (with Mikko Sirenius chairman of the HYY:n Elokuvaryhmä, Pietari Kääpä, and Mikko Pihkoluoma) took Matti Kassila to dinner, and he went on for two and a half hours with more fascinating stories. Then some of us had to leave for Bio Rex, for the 70 mm screening of The Master. Otherwise who knows how long we would have gone on.

Mr. Kassila told a lot about his experiences in the theatre. Among the plays he has directed he remembers most fondly The Cherry Orchard, The Iceman Cometh, and Antigone (Anouilh).

Eino Kalima had a special, understated way to direct at the theatre. It was largely about presence, with him playing the piano in the background.

Aku Korhonen was an unforgettable theatre player.

Matti Kassila also told the story about how Anneli Sauli was discovered and how Kassila directed Anneli Sauli's screen test for Särkkä, with Matti Oravisto, during the preparations of Sininen viikko.

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