Friday, March 15, 2013

Jari Halonen: How My Films Were Made (a lecture)

Jari Halonen: Miten elokuvani ovat syntyneet? Lecture in the series organized by the HYY:n Elokuvaryhmä / The Film Society of The Student Union of the University of Helsinki. Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 15 March 2013.

Jari Halonen (born 1962) belongs to the wildest rebels in the Finnish theatre, television, and cinema. The world heard about him for the first time as a member of Jumalan Teatteri [God's Theatre], whose performances included throwing actual shit on the audience in 1987. All of Halonen's four theatrical films have been special: Back to the USSR - takaisin Ryssiin (1992 - a mad hallucination about the ghost of the Soviet Union, featuring a vampire who is a Lenin lookalike), Lipton Cockton in the Shadows of Sodoma (1995 - a futuristic view about the year 2037. Europe has united into a giant federation. The capital of Pan-Europe is Vladivostok. Somewhere in its Ugrian quarter a man explodes, and a detective starts to investigate the flood of serial murders plaguing the overpopulated city), Joulubileet ([Christmas Party], 1996 - an ex-convict released from prison arranges a party to remember), and Aleksis Kiven elämä ([The Life of Aleksis Kivi], 2002 - an unconventional biopic about the writer who wrote the first great Finnish-language novel and the first great Finnish-language play and died in abject poverty, discriminated by the establishment). Halonen's interpretation of the Finnish national epic Kalevala is announced to be released in November.

Jari Halonen, back from India, spoke at a high energy level for two hours without any breaks for excerpts.

You need to know something more. Otherwise it does not make any sense.

The story of Aleksis Kivi: there is no escaping into the forest. He told the truth about anti-rationalism. Studying is the keyword: how a forest people became a civilized state.

Back to the USSR was the first film anywhere about the fall of socialism. The feedback included a remark wishing the members of God's Theatre to ship this effort back to where it came from [a reference to the shit incident].

Lipton Cockton was a reflection on the state of the world, where we are going. It is an image of its time, and I was also trying to make sense of myself, and I realized that I was an ultra-feminist. (Now I am an anti-feminist.) I have been raised by a single mother, meaning that I am katukasvatettu [raised on the street]. My first child was a girl. So I was an ultra-feminist, but a failed one. Femininity is inbuilt, but the world has been led to a masculine, patriarchal sidetrack. The balance is moving towards feminity. The conventional heroes are warriors, stars like Schwarzenegger. We also need heroes who are feminine men, such as Jesus and Buddha. 

In Lipton Cockton the protagonist is discovering his feminine side. The protagonist, the real man, understands the extreme solution, and saves the world.

Joulubileet [Christmas Party] was a so-called välityö, a minor commitment. Nobody wanted it. "This is the worst screenplay I ever saw", said Reima Kekäläinen. But I got some support from the short film funds at SES and AVEK. The result was the best-acted movie in the world. The distribution was a disaster.

The aim is to understand more. Be brave. Then things start to happen. But admittedly this is slow going.

The premiere of Kalevala is set for 15 November 2013. It is 100 minutes. My best movie.

With Esa Kirkkopelto we taught making observations. That was a central theme in our teaching. Make 100-200 observations. [The artist and caricaturist] Kari Suomalainen was great in observation. He had the talent of expressions. There was a sense of truth in his observations. Insight.

Jouko Turkka was the one who introduced the focus on observation. Learning is not the idea. Anybody who thinks he knows gets nothing.

The concept was that of the master and the apprentice. But there are damn few masters around. Now the only idea is that we are pals with the students. Get out! Don't be my pal.

Not that Turkka was easy. He had a thing with egoism. But he was a guru in his field.

What is new in Kalevala? The understanding of the ancestors about everything. The Lönnrot Kalevala is like Pocahontas by Disney. Lönnrot is a Christian to the core. The Gallen-Kallela Kalevala is not true, either. There is a huge history behind the tales. The Swedes from their bastion cities destroyed Finnish history. I may get a nationalist stigma. The reception of Aleksis Kiven elämä already hinted into that direction. It was called "a nationalist film". What is the reason for Finnish racism? We have never been allowed to feel what we are. 280 000 I financed myself.

Be brave! It always turns to the positive. You think that the opposite of fear is courage. You think there are two. The Tao of Yin and Yang. But there are always three. The past, the future, the present. There is no black and white. Courage is the balance, the normal state. On the one side is fear, on the other side is recklessness. 

Life is understanding what is illusory.

I am just back from India. I have put my head into the tiger's mouth. I have been giving a rap performance here. Trying to be spontaneous. It makes no sense to arrive well prepared. Anyway, I thought this would be but an introduction of 15 minutes to Lipton Cockton.

Q: What has been the easiest, what has been the most difficult? A: Lipton Cockton is like Jeanne d'Arc by Carl Th. Dreyer. Jorma Tommila is one of the best actors in the world in these fingers [shows five fingers]. He does not act. It is something bigger. For the method I give full marks to myself. Tommila did not need to go to the lataamo [battery-charging station = madhouse]. He lives, he does not act. It is truly remarkable.

In the late 1980s at TV3 they launched a series of short films. I threw the screenplays away. Out of a ten minute project I made a programme of one hour. I had never made a movie. Timo Heinänen, the cinematographer, was superb.

Jouko Turkka said [imitating Turkka]: "Remember that everybody is your enemy - they try to destroy your thing". I understood nothing. What I understood was that you need forest. I shoot for the editing room. I edited the whole thing. It was shot on video, and I decided that we need no clapperboards. In five days we shot eight hours of footage, and there were no clapperboards. It was shot on U-Matic, and I had to edit it myself.

In Back to the USSR and Lipton Cockton we had to interrupt the editing. They would be better movies if we would have been able to edit more. We did not have a Steenbeck of our own. Editing was expensive.

The direction begins when there is a problem. Trying to get at least 5% of the images in the right direction. But there are distractions all the time.

When there is no money the direction begins when you need to invent. The days get long. If I only could focus merely on the direction of actors.

You need to adapt to the resources.

Nowadays most actors won't come. I slapped Olavi Uusivirta. It only adds to my reputation. The job of the director is to help the actor.

Mike Tyson was the toughest as long as he had a good coach. When he lost him they beat him up.

Every director should go to the stage, himself. [As an actor.]

I have tested all the most notable actors
[in Finland].

In the 1980s the acting team was quite something, the mood was terrific, you could not help participating.

The standard of Finnish acting has fallen, and now it is as weak as in Sweden.

I remember when as I child I went to see Eila Pehkonen in Viekää tuhkatkin pesästä
[You Can Even Take the Ashes from the Fireplace] with my mother. The actor was bigger then. He was an artist. Bigger than the current celebrities. Now actors are businesspeople, their job is adulation. In Finland, the art of acting was bigger than in Europe.

The Jouko Turkka revolution was the insight of acting as physical action. Work out your body so that you can express with it. Some people realized it, and it pulled them higher.

Real drama has not vanished anywhere. Whenever you face death, it is there. 

The theatre is closer, more meaningful: it is the testimony of a living person to a living audience. I realized that in Daniel Hjort in Theatre Jurkka, in Kullervo, in Apteekkari at the Summer Theatre  1990.

Now the biggest thing is Putous
[The Fall, a hugely popular sketch show at MTV3 since 2010].

Q: There is a lot of video in the theatre these days. A: When you have no actor you need to get around it. Ryhmäteatteri after Jouko Turkka. Arto af Hällström was great with supporting actors. There were great supporting actors who were incapable of expressing the dramatic curve of a protagonist. There was a dearth of leading players.

In the cinema you can cheat. Aki Kaurismäki is a master in cheating. There is no drama without an actor, but he can pull it off, he can get around it.

It is the easiest thing in the world, the most difficult thing in the world.

There is the chair method of acting. The school of acting that the actor is a chair, and you build around it.

On the other hand there is the actor with as much depth as you dare look. Does it save the world?

Q: How do you get it to work? A: It is a formidable job. You need to cut your body to pieces and rediscover it all over again.

I have total respect for Kaurismäki. But if the actor would start to act, Kaurismäki would be in deep trouble. But he circles around. Affe
[Arto af Hällström] did so, too. He created a new dramaturgy, a dramaturgy of supporting players.

Q: How about dvd's of your movies? - A: Dvd's are forthcoming.
Q: Influences? A: These are my views. Others do otherwise. Observation is the key. Fellini. Chaplin. Russian literature. Turkka. My own perversions. Pasolini. Those have influenced me, too, a great deal.

Q: Joulubileet [Christmas Party]. - A: It is a true story. All the characters are real. One of them is still alive. It was an actual Christmas in my youth. It is a reconstruction of the truth. It was in a way a minor commitment since it faced such opposition. Now there are Joulubileet-seuroja [clubs]. I have participated, myself, and I nauroin sikana [laughed my socks off]. There is a sairaan hyvä [damn good] rhythm, too. It is a bit pointless. It tells where I come from.

Q: It is a brave film. - A: It is a prophecy of a kind. Egoism is stupid. If I live ten years longer I will be much humbler still. I am no author. We are all one.

[This is where I had to leave, on my way to the train to Lapland, but soon I saw the crowd coming out of Orion after the full two hours lecture. Jari Halonen's movie selection after the lecture: Lipton Cockton.]

No comments: