Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Citizenfour

DE/US © 2014 Praxis Films. P: Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras, Dirk Wilutzky. D: Laura Poitras. DP: Kirsten Johnson, Trevor Paglen, Laura Poitras, Katy Soggin - DI: ARRI Film & TV Services. VFX: Killian Manning. Titles: Neil Reynolds. M: portions of the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV. S: Frank Kruse. ED: Mathilde Bonnefoy. A documentary film. Featuring: Edward Snowden. And: Jacob Appelbaum, Julian Assange, Kevin Bankston, William Binney, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Lindsay Mills, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill. And: Barack Obama (archival footage). Loc: Room 1014, Mira Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong. 114 min
    2K DCP with German (Fran Sahlberg) and English subtitles viewed at Kant Kino 3, Berlin, on New Year's Eve, 31 Dec 2014
    The title: Citizenfour was the alias of Edward Snowden.
    "Dedicated to those who make great sacrifices to expose injustice."

Official synopsis: "Citizenfour is a real life thriller, unfolding by the minute, giving audiences unprecedented access to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s encounters with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, as he hands over classified documents providing evidence of mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA)."

"Poitras had already been working on a film about surveillance for two years when Snowden contacted her, using the name “Citizenfour,” in January 2013.  He reached out to her because he knew she had long been a target of government surveillance, stopped at airports numerous times, and had refused to be intimidated. When Snowden revealed he was a high-level analyst driven to expose the massive surveillance of Americans by the NSA, Poitras persuaded him to let her film."

"Citizenfour places you in the room with Poitras, Greenwald, and Snowden as they attempt to manage the media storm raging outside, forced to make quick decisions that will impact their lives and all of those around them."

"Citizenfour not only shows you the dangers of governmental surveillance—it makes you feel them. After seeing the film, you will never think the same way about your phone, email, credit card, web browser, or profile, ever again." (Official synopsis)

The final film in the documentary trilogy of the United States post 9/11 by Laura Poitras: My Country, My Country (2006, on Iraq under U.S. occupation), The Oath (2010 on two men whose paths cross with al-Qaeda), and Citizenfour (2014).

AA: Citizenfour belongs to the heavyweights among current documentaries, those which challenge us to reflect upon the state of the world with utter gravity - like The Salt of the Earth (2014) by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

At the center of Citizenfour is the Edward Snowden whistleblowing story recorded in real time as it happened at Mira Hotel in Hongkong. We register the nuclear news bomb explode all over the globe.

The taut and sober documentary by Laura Poitras also expands to relevant contexts with startling testimonies by William Binney and Jacob Applebaum.

It is all about the subject-matter, but the personal presence of Edward Snowden is essential for us to be aware that here is someone who has sacrificed everything and has benefitted nothing from his revelation.

A parallel story is that of Laura Poitras herself who has been forced to settle from the U.S. to Berlin to secure her footage from being seized.

The gravity is in the fundamental concern for the ideals of freedom, the right to privacy, free speech, and democracy. The reality of surveillance and the police state today makes Orwell's 1984 and Stasi look amateurish.

"Privacy is dead" is the motto here. I remember when I first went to the Internet in the mid-1990s that ECHELON was supposed to register everything. "In cyberspace everybody can hear you scream" became my motto. Yet all this was an educated guess until Snowden proved it.

What can we do? On the Citizenfour homepage (https://citizenfourfilm.com/) there is a surveillance self-defense kit for starters. In the movie is included a sequence of the FBI's attempt to crush Lavabit, so it is an ongoing battle.

Citizenfour is a key film for our age. Films of espionage, surveillance and paranoia have a distinguished tradition, Fritz Lang and Alan J. Pakula belong to its masters, and in Finland Matti Salo has written a great book on that legacy (Viitta ja tikari / Cloak and Dagger, soon forthcoming). Reality has now surpassed fiction as documented in Citizenfour.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Patong Girl

Quelle: Barnsteiner Film, DIF, © Yoliswa von Dallwitz
Aisawanya Areyawattana, Max Mauff. Filmportal
DE/TH 2014. PC: Hanfgarn & Ufer Film- und TV-Produktion (Berlin). P: Andrea Ufer, Gunter Hanfgarn. D+SC: Susanna Salonen. DP: Yoliswa von Dallwitz - HD - 1:1,85. PD: Pongnarin Jonghawklang, Iris Trescher. Cost: Stefanie Jauss. Make-up: Stefanie Jauss, Alexandra Lebedynski. S: Manuel Meichsner. ED: Bettina Böhler. C: Max Mauff (Felix Schröder), Aisawanya Areyawattana (Fai), Victoria Trauttmansdorff (Annegret Schröder), Uwe Preuss (Ullrich Schröder), Marcel Glauche (Tommy Schröder), Gigi Velicitat (Maurice). Loc: Thailand. Kinostart: 25.12.2014. FSK Freigabe 6 J. In German, Thai, and English. Filmportal 89 min, I counted 93 min
    2K DCP with German subtitles viewed at Bundesplatz-Kino, Berlin, 29 Dec 2014
    In the presence of Susanna Salonen.
   
Official synopsis: "It's their last Christmas vacation together as a family, and the Schroeders are spending it on a resort island in Thailand. There, the 18-year-old son Felix falls in love with Fai, a beautiful Thai woman. His brother and mother suspect that the slightly enigmatic Fai is a prostitute, but Felix is simply swept away by her. At the end of the vacation, already at the airport, he announces that he has decided to simply stay longer and follow Fai to the North of the country, where her parents live. Felix' parents are appalled. Mother Annegret too decides to cancel her flight home and goes looking for her son in the backwaters of Thailand, which leads to several complications. Meanwhile, Felix discovers the true mystery behind the beautiful Fai." (Filmportal)

AA: Patong Girl is the fiction feature film debut of Susanna Salonen who was born in Finland but has lived all her life in Germany.

The narrative may have a distant affinity with The Crying Game or even Some Like It Hot, but it is not based on other films. Instead, it is based on first hand observation. Susanna Salonen has been a diving instructor in Patong since 1990, studying Thai life for a long time.

The story of a German family's Christmas vacation leads to a cycle of revelations. The 18-year old Tommy has a holiday romance with Fai. The first revelation: his mother suspects Fai to be a gold-digger, but she is nothing of the kind. The second revelation: Fai is not a regular woman but a member of the third sex. The third revelation takes place during the last part of the movie which takes us to North Thailand where we meet Fai's very conservative, highly respected and affluent family.

Susanna Salonen has an eye for the interesting observation and the illuminating detail. The difficult roles are carried well by Aisawanya Areyawattana and Max Mauff.

There are memorable images by the water. The flying lanterns lit to the memory of the victims of the tsunami ten years ago, meant to catch their still erring souls, to carry them to heaven. The rising light phenomena by the sea in the finale at night.

Salonen calls her film little, but there is a delicate psychological sense in Patong Girl that is out of the ordinary.

There was a Q and A with Peter Latta after the screening.
    Salonen told us about her fascination with the witty, weird and interesting scene in Thailand.
    Patong / Phuket / Pattaya / Bangkok are the great bordellos of Thailand, but 97% of the people have nothing to do with that.
    The ancient Thai view is that there are three genders; in some cultures there is a view of five genders and also a view of a grayscale of genders.
    Salonen was happy with her actors, including with the young Max Mauff, who is very good in underplaying.

NB. Also for a Finn, this was in an important way a decennial screening of the tsunami of 26 December 2004. 179 Finns died in the biggest peacetime disaster for Finns.

AFTER THE JUMP BREAK: A LONGER SYNOPSIS

The Theory of Everything

Black hole with corona, artist's concept from Wikipedia: "NASA's NuSTAR Sees Rare Blurring of Black Hole Light". NASA. 12 August 2014. Click to enlarge.
Kaiken teoria. GB © 2014 Universal. PC: Working Title Films. P: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten. D: James Marsh. SC: Anthony McCarten - based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (2008) by Jane Hawking. DP: Benoît Delhomme - DI: Technicolor, Creative Services London. M: Jóhann Jóhannsson. ED: Jinx Godfrey. C: Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking), Felicity Jones (Jane Hawking), Charlie Cox (Jonathan Hellyer Jones, Jane's second husband), Emily Watson (Beryl Wilde, Jane's mother), Simon McBurney (Frank Hawking, Stephen's father), David Thewlis (Dennis Sicama), Maxine Peake (Elaine Mason, Stephen's second wife), Christian McKay (Roger Penrose). - Stephen Hawking provides his Equalizer computerized voice. - Loc: London, Cambridge, Ealing. 123 min
    Technical specs from the IMDb: - Dolby Digital - Color - 2.35:1 - Camera: Arri Alexa, Leica Summilux-C Lenses - Negative Format: SxS Pro - Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4:4:4 (1080/24p) (source format) - Release Format: D-Cinema
   2K DCP, DF (Deutsche Fassung = German spoken version) viewed at Eva, Berlin, 29 Dec 2014.

Official synopsis: "Starring Eddie Redmayne (“Les Misérables”) and Felicity Jones (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), this is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking received an earth-shattering diagnosis at 21 years of age. With Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, Stephen embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of – time. Together, they defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science, and achieving more than they could ever have dreamed. The film is based on the memoir "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen," by Jane Hawking, and is directed by Academy Award winner James Marsh (“Man on Wire”)." (Official synopsis from the homepage).

AA: "A British biographical romantic drama film" (Wikipedia), a well-made film, a mainstream entertainment film about the engrossing story of Stephen Hawking.

Regarding his brilliant ideas on cosmology Stephen Hawking has done a lot to popularize them himself, and his books are illuminating even for laymen. I was very impressed by The Grand Design. There is nothing of the kind in this film. And there are already other films about Hawking's ideas, for instance the fascinating A Brief History of Time by Errol Morris.

This film is the private story: the battle against odds to cope with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or motor neurone disease, which gradually paralysed Hawking over the decades (this formulation I copied from Wikipedia). The viewpoint is that of Jane, his wife, and the film is largely about her battle for Stephen.

A true story about the triumph of the spirit.

Mr. Turner

J. M. W. Turner: Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited 1842. Oil paint on canvas support: 914 x 1219 mm frame: 1233 x 1535 x 145 mm painting Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. From the production notes. By permission of Tate Press Office. Click to enlarge.
GB/FR/DE © 2014 Channel Four Television Corporation, The British Film Institute, Diaphana, France3 Cinéma, Untitled 13 Commissioning Ltd. EX: Tessa Ross, Norman Merry, Gail Egan. P: Georgina Lowe. Co-P: Michel Saint-Jean, Malte Grunert. Line producer: Danielle Brandon. D+SC: Mike Leigh. DP: Dick Pope. PD: Suzie Davies. Cost: Jacqueline Durran. Make-up & hair: Christine Blundell. M: Gary Yershon. S: Lee Herrick (supv), Tim Fraser. ED: Jon Gregory. Research: Jacqueline Riding. Casting: Nina Gold.
    C: Timothy Spall (J. M. W. Turner), Paul Jesson (William Turner, Sr.), Dorothy Atkinson (Hannah Danby), Marion Bailey Mr. Booth), Ruth Sheen (Sarah Danby), Sandy Foster (Evelina Dupuis), Amy Dawson (Georgiana Thompson), Lesley Manville (Mary Somerville), Martin Savage (Benjamin Robert Haydon), Richard Bremmer (George Jones), Niall Buggy (John Carew), Fred Pearson (Sir William Beechey), Tom Edden (C. R. Leslie), Jamie Thomas King (David Roberts), Mark Stanley (Clarkson Stanfield), Nicholas Jones (Sir John Soane), Clive Francis (Sir Martin Archer Shee), Robert Portal (Sir Charles Eastlake), Simon Chandler (Sir Augustus Wall Callcott), Edward de Souza (Thomas Stothard), James Fleet (John Constable), Patrick Godfrey (Lord Egremont), Nicola Sloane (brothel keeper), Kate O'Flynn (prostitute), John Ruskin (Joshua McGuire), Stuart McQuarrie (Ruskin's father), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Ruskin's mother), Eleanor Yates (Ruskin's wife), David Horovitch (Dr. Price), Leo Bill (J. J. E. Mayall), James Dryden (Cornelius), Sinéad Matthews (Queen Victoria), Peter Wight (Joseph Gillott).
    Technical specs from the IMDb: - Color - 2.35:1 - Cameras: Arri Alexa Plus, Cooke Speed Panchro Lenses; Canon EOS C500, Cooke Speed Panchro Lenses - source format: Codex - Cinematographic Process: ARRIRAW, Canon Cinema RAW - release format: Digital (Digital Cinema Package DCP). 150 min
    2K DCP viewed at b-ware! ladenkino (Gärtnerstrasse 19, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Samariterstrasse, Berlin), OmU = Original mit Untertiteln = original version with German subtitles, 29 Dec 2014

Mike Leigh: Director’s Statement:

Back at the turn of the century, when ‘Topsy-Turvy’ was released, I wrote that it was “a film about all of us who suffer and strain to make other people laugh.”

Now I have again turned the camera round on ourselves, we who try to be artists, with all the struggles our calling demands. But making people laugh, hard as it is, is one thing; moving them to experience the profound, the sublime, the spiritual, the epic beauty and the terrifying drama of what it means to be alive on our planet – well, that’s altogether something else, and few of us ever achieve it, much as we may try.

Turner achieved all of it, of course. He was a giant among artists, single-minded and uncompromising, extraordinarily prolific, revolutionary in his approach, consummate at his craft, clairvoyant in his vision.

Yet Turner the man was eccentric, anarchic, vulnerable, imperfect, erratic and sometimes uncouth. He could be selfish and disingenuous, mean yet generous, and he was capable of great passion and poetry.

Mr. Turner is about the tensions and contrasts between this very mortal man and his timeless work, between his fragility and his strength. It is also an attempt to evoke the dramatic changes in his world over the last quarter century of his life
.

Mike Leigh (from the production notes)

Synopsis (from the production notes):

MR. TURNER explores the last quarter century of the life of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), the single-minded artist who worked hard and travelled extensively.

Turner is profoundly affected by the death of his ex-barber father, he takes up with a widow, Mrs Booth, a seaside landlady, and is plagued occasionally by an ex-lover, Sarah Danby, by whom he has two illegitimate adult daughters, whose existence he invariably denies.

He enjoys the hospitality of the landed aristocracy, he visits a brothel, he is fascinated by science, photography and railways, he is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and he has himself tied to the mast of a ship in bad weather in order to paint a snowstorm.

He is celebrated by some, and reviled by others. He refuses an offer of £100,000 from a millionaire who wants to buy all his work, preferring to bequeath it to the British nation, whereas Queen Victoria loathes his work.


Throughout the story he is loved by his stoical housekeeper, Hannah, whom he takes for granted and whom he occasionally exploits sexually.

Eventually, he leads a double existence, living incognito with Mrs Booth in Chelsea, where he dies. Hannah is unaware of this until the very end
. (Synopsis from the production notes).

AA: Mr. Turner is one of the best films of Mike Leigh and one of the best films on painting, ranking with: - Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli / Van Gogh) -  Montparnasse 19 / Les Amants de Montparnasse (Jacques Becker / Amedeo Modigliani) - Le Mystère Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot) - Andrei Rublyov (Andrei Tarkovsky) - The Agony and the Ecstasy (Carol Reed / Michelangelo) - Painters Painting (Emile de Antonio) - and Basquiat (Julian Schnabel) - not forgetting the unique documentaries by Luciano Emmer and Alain Resnais.

Mr. Turner is a turning-point and landmark in digital cinematography.

It is a magical film about the passion and devotion to painting. It focuses on the essential: the sorcery of light and colour and how Turner was ahead of his time or timeless, already in tune with what was later to emerge in impressionism, abstract painting, and action painting.

Turner was irresponsible in his human relations and uncompromising in his art.

Digital cinematography has justifiedly been celebrated for its brightness and sharpness. The Turner aesthetics is a most perfect imaginable opposite to that.

But the cinematographer Dick Pope, in close collaboration with Mike Leigh, has managed a lot in reproducting a genuine Turnerian softness, fogginess, and cloudiness, and the warm colour palette of Turner. I had been wondering what someone with the actual Turner paintings in fresh memory would say, and I happened to meet Mr. Anders Carpelan who in London had seen Mr. Turner and the next day visited The Late Turner exhibition at Tate Gallery, and in his opinion the colour world of the film was spot on.

It has so far been difficult for digital to capture the warm authenticity of the colours of nature. Cold harshness and ultra bright have been typical digital colour worlds. There have been exceptions from the start, but now Mr. Turner is a high profile demonstration of digital achieving very well what has mostly been a privilege of photochemical film, including fog, clouds, and hazy contours. Having said this, I also add that the interiors are better than the exteriors, and some of the nature exteriors are slightly underwhelming. The red may be a touch too sweet (at least in this screening).

The vignette style of the movie is successful. Many (all?) scenes are based on well-known incidents and anecdotes. I was impressed by - Turner being tied to the mast during a thunderstorm - the sublime of the nature - the red blot transforming into a life-buoy - the action painting - Aphrodite the love goddess - Mr. Booth's story of the slave ship - witnessing the Temeraire - Turner as an awful lecturer on perspective - the old Turner being reviled by his contemporaries - the demonstration of the magnetic properties of violet light - the camera obscura - the Daguerrotypes - Turner turning down the offer of the millionaire and bequeathing his legacy to the British nation - laughing at the Pre-Rafaelites.

The sense of the epoch is engaging.

The Fighting Temeraire sequence evokes the latest James Bond film Skyfall where Bond visits National Gallery to see Turner's painting. It is about the domination of the sea and the transience of everything.

 BACKGROUND INFORMATION FROM THE PRESSBOOK AFTER THE JUMP BREAK

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

Sebastião Salgado at work. Photo: Unifrance. Click to enlarge.
Le Sel de la terre / O Sal da Terra / Il sale della terra / Das Salz der Erde. FR/BR/IT [production 100% French according to Unifrance] © 2014 Decia Films / Amazonas Images. EX: Wim Wenders. P: David Rosier. D: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. SC: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, David Rosier, Camille Delafon. DP: Hugo Barbier, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado - digital post: Digimage. ED: Maxine Goedicke, Rob Myers. A documentary film. A biographical film on Sebastião Salgado. Feat: Sebastião Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Narrators: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.
    Locations include: - Yalimo, Papua, Indonesia (Yali tribe) - Aimorés, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Salgado's hometown, Instituto Terra) - Vitoria, Espirito Santo, Brazil (archive footage) - Pará, Brazil (Zo'é tribe) - Wrangel Island, Russia (arctic island).
    Sebastião Salgado projects covered: - The Other Americas (1999) - Sahel, The End of the Road (2004) - An Uncertain Grace (1992) - Workers: Archaeology of the Industrial Age (1993) - Terra (1997) - Migrations / Exodus (2000) - Africa (2007) - Genesis (2013).
    110 min - in Portuguese, English, and French - 2K DCP of the English-language version [title on screen: The Salt of the Earth] viewed at Neues Off (Hermannstr. 22, Berlin), 28 Dec 2014

SYNOPSIS "For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty. Sebastião Salgado’s life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his last travels, and by Wim Wenders, himself a photographer." (Pressbook / Unifrance website)

AA: The Salt of the Earth came to us highly recommended by friends, and it is worth all the acclaim. It is a magnificent film, introducing through the lens of Sebastião Salgado the biggest possible topics and themes. It starts in the gold mine of Serra Pelada in Brazil. Salgado's epic photographs of 50.000 mud-covered workers evoke "the history of mankind": the pyramids, the skyscrapers - the hard work of immense masses behind our greatest achievements. This is a global movie, taking us to several continents and dozens of countries.

Salgado's epic themes include also - drought - famine - cholera - Sahel - Sahara - Ethiopia - Africa - refugees - and - genocide. The unflinching images on the famine in Ethiopia and the genocide in Rwanda are hard to watch. Salgado documented the biggest refugee camps in history - with two million people.

Sebastião and Lélia Salgado left Brazil during the 1960s military dictatorship, inspired by radical ideas and the liberation theology. They settled in Paris. Sebastião, an economist, worked for the International Coffee Organization and the World Bank before his professional career as a photographer, starting in 1973, for Sygma, Gamma and Magnum before forming their own agency, Amazonas Images.

Rwanda was devastating for Salgado, and he started a new life and a new career as an environmentalist. The conclusion of the film is about the Genesis project, "a love letter to the planet". It has taken Salgado once again around the world: - to Galapagos in the footsteps of Darwin - to the sperm whales in Argentine - to the penguins of the Antarctic - to the Nenets with their reindeer herds - "to the beginning of time" - to the paradisiacal Zo'é tribe in Brazil, observed by Jesuits centuries ago and then undetected by Western eyes until recently, distinguished by wearing a poturu lower lip plug and living in polyandry and polygamy with both wives and husbands having 4-5 spouses. The circle of Salgado's life is closing by re-planting trees to the family farm where the rain forest had turned barren. The farm was created a national park, a model for abused lands.

The imagery of the film respects the Salgado aesthetics of black and white, wide angle and deep focus. Many Salgado photographs are particularly powerful in huge enlargements on a big screen, as in the Serra Pelada cycle that starts this film.

The Salt of the Earth, one of the best films of Wim Wenders, belongs to his documentary portraits of artists - such as Tokyo-Ga (on Yasujiro Ozu), Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten (on Yohji Yamamoto), and Pina (on Pina Bausch). Co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, it is his strongest statement on society.

Susan Sontag criticized Salgado for "the inauthenticity of the beautiful". Perhaps there are magazines and contexts where the grim veracity of Salgado's photographic images has been exploited as "art for art's sake". (This has also been the fate of many films of social commitment, starting with Eisenstein.) But in this film one cannot help being convinced of the devotion of Salgado to the people he is photographing and to the biggest of concerns, expanding from human society to the fate of the planet. His photographs alert us from our inertia but also inspire us to action. He has a mission, and he has the passion.

Beyond the jump break: interviews with Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (from the pressbook)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ziegfeld Follies

Ziegfeldin tähtirevyy / Ziegfeld Follies. US 1945. PC: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. P: Arthur Freed. DP: George J. Folsey, Charles Rosher - Technicolor. AD: Cedric Gibbons, Merrill Pye, Jack Martin Smith. Cost: Helen Rose. Cost: Irene. Makeup: Jack Dawn. Hair: Sydney Guilaroff. Dance D: Robert Alton. ED: Albert Akst. A musical built of episodes.
    1. Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) in heaven, his reminiscences as puppet animation (Lou Bunin, Florence Bunin). He decides to produce a new revue from heaven.
    2. Introduction by Fred Astaire: "Here's To The Girls" / "Bring On the Wonderful Men" with Cyd Charisse, Lucille Ball, and a parody by Virginia O'Brien (*) D: George Sidney.
    3. "A Water Ballet" - Esther Williams's underwater number. D: Merrill Pye.
    4. "Number Please" comedy skit with Keenan Wynn. D: Robert Lewis.
    5. James Melton and Marion Bell: "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" from La traviata (Giuseppe Verdi).
    6. "Pay the Two Dollars" comedy skit with Victor Moore and Edward Arnold (lawyer). D: George Sidney.
    7. "This Heart Of Mine" (Harry Warren, Arthur Freed) with Fred Astaire (as a jewel thief) and Lucille Bremer (as a rich heiress). D: Vincente Minnelli. *
    8. "A Sweepstakes Ticket", a comedy skit with Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn, and William Frawley. D: Roy Del Ruth.
    9. "Love" (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane) sung by Lena Horne. D: Lemuel Ayers. *
    10. "When Television Comes", a comedy skit with Red Skelton. D: George Sidney.
    11. "Limehouse Blues" with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. D: Vincente Minnelli. ***
    12. "The Great Lady Has An Interview", starring Judy Garland, D: Vincente Minnelli, SC: Kay Thompson, CH: Charles Walters. *
    13. "The Babbitt And The Bromide" with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. D: Vincente Minnelli. *
    14. "Beauty" / "There's Beauty Everywhere" with Kathryn Grayson under Daliesque shadows of clouds. D: Vincente Minnelli.
    110 min. 35 mm print viewed at Arsenal, Berlin, 26 Dec 2014.

Wikipedia:
"Ziegfeld Follies is a 1946 Hollywood musical comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, Robert Lewis, Vincente Minnelli, Merrill Pye, George Sidney and Charles Walters. It stars many of MGM leading talents, including Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Lucille Bremer, Fanny Brice (the only member of the ensemble who was a star of the original Follies), Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, James Melton, Victor Moore, William Powell, Red Skelton, and Esther Williams."

"Producer Arthur Freed wanted to create a film along the lines of the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway shows and so the film is composed of a sequence of unrelated lavish musical numbers and comedy sketches. Filmed in 1944, '45 and '46, it was released in 1946, to considerable critical and box-office success.
"

Key songs/dance routines

"Dance director was Robert Alton, Astaire's second-most-frequent choreographic collaborator after Hermes Pan. All of Astaire's numbers were directed by Vincente Minnelli."

    "Here's To The Girls/Bring On The Wonderful Men: by Roger Edens and Arthur Freed. Sung by Astaire with a short solo dance by Cyd Charisse, followed by Lucille Ball cracking a whip over eight chorus-girl panthers, and finally Virginia O'Brien spoofs the previous scene by singing "Bring on those Wonderful Men""
    "This Heart of Mine: Classic standard by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed and written specially for Astaire who sings it to Bremer and then leads her in an extravagantly romantic dance of seduction and power-play. The choreography integrates rotating floors, concealed treadmills and swirling dance motifs."
    "Love: Another standard, this time by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, sung by Lena Horne"
    "Limehouse Blues: Conceived as a "dramatic pantomime" with Astaire as a proud but poverty-stricken Chinese labourer whose infatuation with the unattainable Bremer leads to tragedy. The story serves as bookends for a dream ballet inspired by Chinese dance motifs in a vast and extravagant, albeit racially-stereotyped, setting."
    "The Great Lady Has An Interview: Written by Kay Thompson originally for Greer Garson (she turned it down). Judy Garland spoofs a movie star who can only be cast in Oscar winning dramas, but wants to play "sexy" roles (a la Greer Garson, or Katharine Hepburn) giving an interview to dancing reporters about "her next picture": a bio-pic of Madame Cremantante (the "inventor of the safety pin"). Originally to be directed by Garland's friend Charles Walters, Vincente Minnelli ended up directing the sequence (the two were dating at the time), and Walters was reassigned as choreographer."
    "The Babbitt And The Bromide: Astaire and Kelly team up in a comedy song and dance challenge in three sections, to music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. All choreography was by Astaire (third section) and Kelly (sections one and two). This was the only time Astaire and Kelly appeared on screen together in their prime. In spite of efforts by Freed and Minnelli, the two would not partner again on film until That's Entertainment, Part II in 1976."
    "There's Beauty Everywhere: Originally filmed as a balletic finale with tenor James Melton singing and Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Lucille Bremer dancing in a melange of soap bubbles. But when the bubble machine malfunctioned (leaving only a fragment of the number filmed) and the formula flowed into the hallways of the soundstage, the number had to be restaged and the Astaire and Bremer part of this number was cut out altogether." Kathryn Grayson replaced Melton. Segments of the "bubble dance" with Charisse remain in the final film.
" (Wikipedia)

AA: Revisited a MGM genre feast from the golden age of the Hollywood musical. This episode film is uneven but there is a generous supply of truly fine numbers.
    The highlight now and always is "Limehouse Blues", a tragic ballet with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, one of the all-time greatest musical production numbers, masterfully directed by Vincente Minnelli. They are good in "This Heart Of Mine", too.
    The comedy bits are mostly forgettable. The gems are the witty satires with Virginia O'Brien and Judy Garland.
    Ziegfeld Follies was produced during 1944-1946, and it is striking to observe the familiar approach to death here. The film begins with Florenz Ziegfeld in heaven. In "The Babbitt And The Bromide" we follow the comedy duel of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to the beyond. And of course, most unforgettably, there is "Limehouse Blues" with its sublime death dream sequence.
    The print screened was complete and clean but perhaps from a duped source without full Technicolor intensity.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Listening to Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, William Walton, 1948)

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet and Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother Gertrude in the most moving performance of the film.
In celebration of the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare.

I have been listening to soundtracks and scores of films lately, including that of William Walton to Laurence Olivier's profoundly melancholy film interpretation of Hamlet. I do not like Olivier's Hamlet performance, but it is interestingly original and unique. He is like a spoiled brat, with a smug and snobbish habitus. At 40 years, Olivier was too old to play Hamlet convincingly on screen. Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother Gertrude was 11 years younger. Olivier must have had an electrifying voltage in live performances on the stage. On screen he was often too big, over-projecting, overbearing, a ham actor, although he was conscious of this, and for instance in Hamlet did much to tone his presence down. The famous monologues became whispered interior monologues. But somehow he still feels like a slithery tomcat who has just had his fill of fresh cream and also his other appetites satisfied. Olivier could be great in performances in films such as Carrie, The Entertainer, and The Merchant of Venice. His grandeur is evident in the fact that he was always developing and curious to learn something new.

I played Hamlet just to listen to William Walton's magnificent score but could not help being deeply moved by Shakespeare's dialogue. To native English speakers it must be a special experience to hear so many beloved idioms, bons mots, and winged words that here appeared for the first time.

Act I

This above all — to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
- Polonius, scene iii

But to my mind, — though I am native here
And to the manner born, — it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
- Hamlet, scene iv

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet, scene v

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
- Hamlet, scene v

Act II

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
- Polonius, scene ii.

More matter with less art.
- Gertrude, scene ii.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
- Hamlet, from a letter read by Polonius, scene ii

Polonius: Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. — Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
Hamlet: Into my grave.
- scene ii

The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play 's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
- Hamlet, scene ii

Act III

To die, to sleep; —
To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
- Hamlet, scene i

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
- Ophelia, scene i

I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
- Hamlet, scene iv

Act IV

Laertes: This nothing’s more than matter.
Ophelia: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thought.
Laertes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.
- scene v

Act V

The rest is silence.
- Hamlet, scene ii

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
- Horatio, scene ii

Monday, November 24, 2014

Finnland im Kampf

Anzeiger für die Stadt Bern, 30 Jan 1941
Finnland im Kampf / Ein kleines Volk wehrt sich: Finnlands Freiheitskampf. Ein Dokument vom heroischen Verteidigungswillen eines kleinen Volkes, geschaffen von zwei Schweizern in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Schweizer Hilfswerk für Finnland. CH 1940. D: E. O. Stauffer. DP: Charles Zbinden. S (Vertonung): Cinegram A. G. Genf. Visatone. Lizenz Marconi. The film was not released in Finland. 77 min
    Restored in August 2014 by Cinémathèque suisse (Lausanne). Kopierwerk: Digimage, Paris.
    Music excerpts include: Jean Sibelius: "Finlandia", "The Swan of Tuonela", and "Belshazzar's Feast".
    Featuring: Wäinö Aaltonen, flygflott 19 commander Bäckhammar, A. K. Cajander, minister Ecker (Swiss ambassador), Carl-August Ehrensvärd, Erik von Frenckell, Ragnar Grönvall, Haakon VII, Väinö Hakkila, Kristian X, Kustaa V, Kyösti Kallio, Heikki Kekoni, C. G. E. Mannerheim, Jussi Mäntynen, Johan Nykopp, Aitanga Oesch, Alli Paasikivi, J. K. Paasikivi, Aladár Paasonen, E. O. Stauffer, Väinö Tanner, Charles Zbinden.
     A 1940 French-language parallel version: La Bataille de la Finlande / Un petit peuple se défend / La Bataille de Finlande.
    A 1970 re-release version, 50 min
    A 1988 re-release version, at 16 mm, in a German version and a French version, 25 min
    A screener dvd of the 2014 Lausanne restoration viewed at home, 24 Nov 2014

Commissioned by the Schweizer Hilfswerk für Finnland two young Swiss, E. O. Stauffer and Charles Zbinden, traveled to Finland to cover the Winter War (30 November 1939 - 13 March 1940) equipped with a 35 mm camera and a 16 mm Bolex camera [source: Roland Cosandey, memo 2011]. The temperatures of minus 30-40 grades Centigrade did not scare them.

Erwin Oscar Stauffer was born in 1912, and he represented Berg & Heimat Film. Carl Zbinden was born in 1910, and he represented Peka-Film. They stayed in Finland from 16 February until 3 March, 1940. (Source: Martti Julkunen: Talvisodan kuva. Ulkomaisten sotakirjeenvaihtajien kuvaukset Suomesta 1939-40. Helsinki: Weilin+Göös, 1975. [The source there: Valtioneuvoston tiedoituskeskus (Matti Pyykkö) Helsingin poliisimestarille 3.3.1940 (VA Da. 4).] [Another source mentioned there: Erwin Stauffer: "Ein Finnland-Film von zwei Schweizer unter Todesgefahr aufgenommen". Schweizer Film-Revue 11.1.1941]. Stauffer and Zbinden were sportsmen, skiers, mountaineers, and mountain film makers. The Bolex camera was the best choice for extreme temperatures. [Source: Roland Cosandey, 28 Nov 2014].

There is an introduction to Finland and to events in the autumn 1939 before the war. We witness a modern total war with an all-out murderous bombing of civilians in order totally to demoralize the people. We see huge crowds of refugees. Most of this footage is from pre-existing sources.

The film then is structured as a travel story.

The first journey takes us to Lemetti. Finnish officers explain us the motti tactics with which courageous fighters can cut up a superior aggressor and destroy it bit by bit. The tactics was put into practice against the fearsome Blue Division, the 44th Division, infamous from the attack to Poland, now destroyed by Finns at the Raate road / Raatteen tie. The stunning footage of the war loot of the destroyed enemy is shot at Itä-Lemetti and perhaps Länsi-Lemetti

The second journey brings us to the bitter cold of Lapland, to Salla, where some of the most ferocious battles of the war took place. The Swiss film the Finnish trek to Salla and illustrate the counterattack to Joutsijärvi via military rehearsal footage. The Russians are beaten with heavy losses. Mannerheim inspects the troops and decorates Swedish volunteers.

The film is a heartfelt tribute to the heroism of the Finnish people. It is not a militaristic film, however. There is a profound sense of mourning about the devastation of the war. There is a human connection in the footage which always emphasizes the human face, often eloquently: the children at play, the Lotta women helping with air defense and medical care, the refugees who have lost their homes, the firemen facing superhuman challenges, the soldiers with their laconic attitude on the front, and the Russian prisoners-of-war who are treated as human beings, too. Stauffer and Zbinden also cover the Finnish madness of the sauna ritual of rolling naked in the snow at minus 30 grades temperature.

Frontline combat footage in war films, including documentaries, is almost always faked, and that is the case here, too. The combat scenes have been photographed at show battle demonstrations for foreign journalists and at military training centers.

Cinémathèque suisse has conducted a valuable work of restoration. Thanks are due to Roland Cosandey who has championed this film and reminded also us in Finland about it. There has been a 16 mm study print in Finland, but it has not been in general release.
Anzeiger für die Stadt Bern, 29 Jan 1941

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Guy de Maupassant: Bel-Ami (a novel)

Bel-Ami. Illustration de Ferdinand Bac, gravure sur bois par G. Lemoine for Œuvres complètes illustrés de Guy de Maupassant (1906). Reproduction in Billeskov Jansen - Stangerup - Traustedt: Verdens litteraturhistorie 9
Guy de Maupassant: Bel-Ami. [A novel]. FR 1885. Finnish translation: Bel-Ami. Translated by Arvi Nuormaa (Kansanvalta 1926, Tammi 1944, 1955, 1980). Read in the 1945 Finnish edition, Helsinki: Tammi.
    Originally published as a serial in the Gil Blas magazine.

A satirical Bildungsroman (un roman d'apprentissage, un roman de formation, un roman d'éducation). The novel is told by a neutral narrator. The protagonist, the subject and the central consciousness is the journalist Georges Duroy, a veteran of the French military in Algeria. The action takes place in the recent present in Paris, and there are excursions to Cannes and Rouen / Canteleu.

Bel-Ami is the story of a playboy, arriviste and opportunist - "l'arriviste absolu". In the beginning, Georges is an insecure, poor country lad from Normandy who has interrupted his military service as he has interrupted his studies before. In Paris he discovers he is irresistible to women. The women protagonists include: - Miss Rachel, a dancer at Folies-Bergère - Mrs. Madeleine Forestier, the wife of Charles Forestier, an army buddy of Georges, a journalist - Mrs. Clotilde de Marelle whose husband is seldom at home - Mrs. Virginie Walter, the wife of the owner and editor-in-chief of the Vie Française newspaper - and Miss Suzanne Walter, their daughter. In the finale there is a wedding between Georges and Suzanne. Georges is rising fast to the top of the society. The result of this novel of education is what we in Finland call "a political broiler".

Georges is active and clever, but in the beginning the aspiring journalist cannot write well, and his famous articles are ghost-written by Madeleine Forestier whose approach connoisseurs recognize not only in the writings of Georges but also of Charles Forestier and even in a successor in another newspaper much later. In the beginning Clotilde helps Georges with money, which he later pays back.

Appearances are deceptive. Articles are ghost-written. Marriages are facades behind which affairs take place. The official government policy is a front for a completely different agenda. Thanks to the double play cunning investors can buy property at ridiculous prices, and when tables turn, they become the richest men in the world. The Vie Française newspaper is a formidable tool in the power game. Georges the playboy is at first a pawn in a big game, but he learns the rules of the game and is becoming a key player in his own right.

Sex in this story is both a means to an end and an end in itself. It is not all instrumental. There is true attraction between Georges and Rachel. There is genuine admiration between Madeleine and Georges. There is real tenderness in the affair of Clotilde and Georges. The only mostly instrumental relationship is between Virginie and Georges. The marriage of Georges and Suzanne is based on calculation but not exclusively; they really love one another.

There is cynical dimension in the story, but it would be wrong to call the novel all cynical. It offers a rich perspective into life. It tells about corruption in society, in the government, in financial affairs, in the news media, and in the institution of marriage. The novel is a satire. People get power, wealth, and sex, but do they find happiness? And do we find them admirable or even likeable?

As a contrast to the high society of Paris there is a rustical episode of a visit to the countryside in Normandy, as Madeleine insists in visiting the parents of Georges. But the cultural gap is insurmountable. Georges loves his parents, but his mother and Madeleine cannot stand each other.

The account of the sex drive is a celebration of the life force. The contrast to that is the naturalistic death sequence in Cannes of Charles Forestier who perishes with TB. There is also the warning example to Georges of his colleague at the newspaper, the ageing poet Norbert de Varenne, now bitter and lonely, urging Georges to get married and have children.

The contrast to the profane goings-on is in the episodes with the sacred, the holy. The main rendez-vous between Virginie and Georges takes place in a church where Virginie also gives her confession. A central setpiece is the artwork of the decade, a painting of Jesus walking on the water, bought by the newly rich Walter family. Belatedly they realize that Jesus looks like Georges.

The main power player behind the scenes is Monsieur Walter. There is a touch of anti-semitism in the way in which his Jewish background is emphasized.

"Bel-Ami c'est moi" said Maupassant who named his yachts Bel-Ami and Bel-Ami II. But there is something profoundly paradoxical, incredible and unconvincing in such an identification. Maupassant is no Bel-Ami. Rather, Bel-Ami is something Maupassant might have become. A dark, twisted, satirical and self-mocking double.

Leo Tolstoy wrote about Bel-Ami and Maupassant in general in his Fundamentalist "What Is Art?" period. If we skip his excesses there is something there that is difficult to ignore.

The almost 90 year old Finnish translation is still a page-turner. My French is not good enough for art fiction, but occasionally glancing at the original I had a feeling that the translation is faithful. The original novel is of course in public domain as is the delightful illustrated edition available for instance at the address
https://archive.org/stream/belamiillusdefer00maupuoft#page/n8/mode/1up

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bel Ami (1939)

Quelle: DIF / Filmportal
Bel Ami. Komödie aus dem Paris der Jahrhundertwende [the title on the print viewed] / Bel Ami. Der Liebling schöner Frauen / Bel Ami / Bel Ami – kaunis ystäväni / Bel Ami. DE 1939. PC: Deutsche Forst-Film Produktion GmbH (Berlin). P: Hans L. Somborn (Gesamtleitung), Walter Lehmann (Produktions-Assistenz), Josef Aschenbrenner, Fritz Renner (Aufnahmeleitung). D: Willi Forst. Ass D: Viktor Becker. Dialogue D: Otto Fliedner. SC: Willi Forst, Axel Eggebrecht – based on the novel (1885) by Guy de Maupassant, Finnish translation by Arvi Nuormaa (Kansanvalta 1926, Tammi 1944, 1955, 1980). DP: Ted Pahle. Camera operator: Erich Rudolf Schmidtke. Assistant cinematographer: Günther Peters. AD: Werner Schlichting, Kurt Herlth. Cost: Luise Lehmann, Walter Leder. Makeup: Charlotte Pfeffermann, A. Paul Lange, Martin Gericke. M: Theo Mackeben. Song: "Bel Ami" (Theo Mackeben, Hans Fritz Beckmann), perf. Lizzi Waldmüller & Eva Busch. CH: Rudolf Kölling. S: Erich Lange. ED: Hans Wolff. C: Willi Forst (Georges Duroy), Olga Tschechowa (Madeleine Forestier), Ilse Werner (Suzanne Laroche), Hilde Hildebrand (Clotilde von Marelle), Lizzi Waldmüller (Rachel), Marianne Stanior (Grisette), Johannes Riemann (Laroche), Willi Dohm (Charles Forestier), Aribert Wäscher (Walter), Huber von Meyerinck (Varenne), Hans Stiebner (Stranoff). Premiere: 21.2.1939 (Berlin). Helsinki premiere: 22.9.1940 Capitol, distributor: Kosmos-Filmi – re-release: 21.8.1964 Kino-Palatsi, distributor: Suomi-Filmi – classification 22719 – K16 – 2749 m / 100 min – Finnish classification length 2680 m / 98 min
    A 1964 re-release print deposited by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Annikki Arni / Aina Forsström viewed at Cinema Orion (Helsinki, French Literature Adaptations), 19 Nov 2014

Watched in its own right this is a fine Willi Forst film, one of his best, a continuation of his Viennoiserie after the Anschluss of Austria, an act of inner resistance, a celebration of love, an expression of a joy of life during a sinister period of history, after Kristallnacht, during a year in which Hitler's Germany was proceeding step by step to a Nazi domination of Europe following his divide and conquer strategy.

Willi Forst believed himself to be the first to produce a Bel-Ami adaptation having acquired the rights from the heirs of Guy de Maupassant, but filmographies recognize an earlier interpretation directed by Augusto Genina in 1919.

As a director Willi Forst is in full form. He belongs to the rare group of film-makers of true elegance in stories of romantic and erotic affairs. His touch is so assured that he can be compared with Lubitsch and Ophuls. There is a musical comedy approach in this adaptation, always in high spirits. Such art is the easiest to view and the hardest to achieve.

Guy de Maupassant has been well treated by film-makers. Partie de campagne by Jean Renoir and Le Plaisir by Max Ophuls belong to the immortal masterpieces of cinema. As Maupassant adaptations they are equal and parallel to their sources of inspiration.

To that league Willi Forst's Bel Ami does not rise. It is a light entertainment version of the satirical novel about its arriviste anti-hero. The subtitle of the re-release version announces the film as comedy.

Remarks:
    1. The theme song is sung by Lizzi Waldmüller as Rachel, the lady of the cabaret, the first conquest of Georges in the story. (A good question: who conquers whom?)
    2. Madeleine Forestier, the brain and the ghost-writer behind star journalists and the well-connected mastermind of the political games, is played by Olga Tschechowa (Olga Knipper, whose aunt married Anton Chekhov - and who herself married Michael Chekhov, the son of Anton's brother Alexander Chekhov with his second wife, Natalia Golden).
    3. Omitted from this adaptation is Mrs. Virginie Walter, the wife of the financial magnate, newspaper owner and power broker Walter, himself marginalized in this version. This is interesting because Maupassant's account of the Jewish financier Monsieur Walter borders on the anti-semitic. There is nothing anti-semitic (and nothing about Jews) in Willi Forst's Bel-Ami, released after Kristallnacht.
    4. Consistently, the young charming teenage girl Suzanne - the one whom Georges finally marries - is here not a daughter of the Walters but of Laroche.
    5. Maupassant's plot has been changed. Georges does not play according to the masterplan that makes everybody rich in Maupassant's novel. Instead, he exposes the scheme. There is a great political scandal, and the screenwriters proceed beyond Maupassant's narrative. Georges himself becomes the new Colonial Minister, but just for one day, to end all financial speculation.
    6. There is a musical comedy ending where Georges, still as Minister, receives all his women via different doors - Madeleine - Rachel - Clotilde - and a nude statue of Madame la France - and bids them farewell. To all he adds: "Aber Du warst mein schönstes Erlebnis" ("But you were my most beautiful experience"). He now only belongs to Suzanne. In the novel at the wedding Georges already plans his next rendezvous with Clotilde, his truest soulmate and bedmate.
    7. The dark side is missing - the death scene of Charles Forestier, and the unforgettable confession of the ageing roué, the poet Norbert de Varenne. Even Tolstoy found them gripping.
    8. The sacred dimension, important in Maupassant (La Maison de Tellier) is missing: the rendez-vous at the church and the painting of Jesus walking on the water.
    9. The rustical side, the visit to the countryside in Normandy, also important for Maupassant, also in La Maison de Tellier, among other works, is missing.
    10. Missing is also the one truly sordid affair of the novel: the seduction of Virginie Walter, the only woman in the story who has never had an affair before. She is also the only one who falls desperately in love with Georges and who is seriously unbalanced at the revelation that Georges has only been playing games with her. The Virginie Walter story is the one that most decisively separates Maupassant's novel from light entertainment fiction.

While it is gratifying to observe that the film-makers refused to react to the anti-semitic potential of Maupassant's novel there is a slight anti-French tinge in the account of the general corruption in the politics, media, and private life in France. I was thinking about the ostensibly pro-Russian movie Der Postmeister (DE 1940, screenplay by Gerhard Menzel, direction by Gustav Ucicky) made during the crazy intermezzo of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which twists Pushkin's delicate and evocative miniature into a gross melodrama where the daughter is turned into a whore and her father the post station master into a fool. In the context of Nazi Germany both films may be seen as ridiculing the countries they depict.

The screening ran 99 minutes, and thus the print seemed complete. Some members of the audience were irritated by the highly selective subtitling. At first with low contrast or a duped look the print got better towards the end. Perhaps the first reels had been duped by the distributor during the re-relase period due to wear. There was an applause after the screening.

Theo Mackeben (composer) and Hans-Fritz Beckmann: "Du hast Glück bei den Frau'n, Bel Ami!" (song, 1939)

Theo Mackeben (composer) and Hans-Fritz Beckmann (lyrics): "Du hast Glück bei den Frau'n, Bel Ami!". DE 1939. Theme song to the film Bel-Ami directed by Willi Forst. First sung by Lizzi Waldmüller. Soon also recorded by Willi Forst himself and many others.

Ein kleines Liedchen geht von Mund zu Mund.
Es ist beliebt, und das hat seinen Grund,
denn es besingt den Liebling vieler Damen,
die ihm zuliebe fielen aus dem Rahmen.
Gott Amor selber hat es komponiert
hat es den schönen Frauen dediziert,
und weil’s bezaubernd klingt und süß,
singt man in ganz Paris:

    (Refrain)

    Du hast Glück bei den Frau’n, Bel Ami!
    Soviel Glück bei den Frau’n, Bel Ami!
    Bist nicht schön, doch charmant,
    bist nicht klug, doch sehr galant,
    bist kein Held,
    nur ein Mann, der gefällt.
    Du verliebst jeden Tag dich aufs Neu,
    alle küsst du und bleibst keiner treu.
    Doch die Frau, die dich liebt,
    machst du glücklich wie noch nie,
    Bel Ami! Bel Ami! Bel Ami!

    (Zweite Strophe)

Ich kenne einen netten jungen Mann,
der gar nichts ist und nichts Besondres kann,
und den die Damen dennoch heiß verehren,
weil er das hat, was alle Frau'n begehren.
Er macht die andern Männer ganz nervös
mit seiner tollen Chronique Scandaleuse.
Er nimmt die Frauen wie er will,
bei ihm hält jede still.

    (Refrain)

Copied from the German Wikipedia. They comment that the huge success of the song during WWII was remarkable because of the unheroic nature of the text.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Suomi-animaatio 100 vuotta 5: Nuket hämärän rajamailla / Centenary of Finnish Animation 5: Puppets in the Twilight Zone

Uralin perhonen. Anastasia Mannerheim. Click to enlarge.
International Animation Day – 28th October
October 28th is proclaimed International Animation Day, commemorating the first public performance of Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique at the Grevin Museum in Paris in 1892.

Curated by Tuula Leinonen. Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Centenary of Finnish Animation), 28 Oct 2014.
    All on 2K DCP except Uralin perhonen on 35 mm
    Total duration 114 min

Programme note by Tuula Leinonen: "Nukke-elokuvissa animaation taianomaisuus tiivistyy. Animaattori herättää hahmon eloon, ja me katsojat samaistumme sen tunteisiin; epätoivoon, rakastumiseen, pelkoon ja iloon. Näytöksen palkitut animaatiot myös murtavat todellisuuden rajoja. Ne nostavat mielikuvituksen hämäristä esiin maisemia ja antavat niille oivaltavan muodon.  Näytöksen alussa esitetään kimara vanhoja mainosanimaatioita."

Mainoskimara 5 / A commercial mix
Hjamar Löfving: Leijona. - AA: Tobacco commercial. Animation by drawing. Vihtori or Jiggs from Jiggs and Maggie (Bringing Up Father / Vihtori ja Klaara), "I smoke the Leijona" = the Lion tobacco brand.
Antti Peränne: Barnet-kampa (1961, Studio A). - AA: A comb commercial. The Barnet comb is even good enough for a music instrument. Ten year guarantee.
Heikki Tiiainen: Valio piimä herätyskello (Filmitalo). - AA: A sour milk commercial for Valio. In colour. "Drink sour milk when tired."
FA-animaatio: Setterit "Vahingonilo". - AA: A sock commercial. Regular socks roll down. The Setteri socks stay up. Dancing socks.
Yövuoro
Yövuoro
Nightshift. FI 2004. PC: Turun ammattikorkeakoulu / Taideakatemia, Yleisradio Oy. D+SC+AN: Simo Koivunen, Sara Wahl, Samppa Kukkonen. S: Sara Wahl. DP: Lotta Suistoranta. ED: Samppa Kukkonen. VET A-50003 – S – colour – 6 min
    Lintujen ja lepakon erilainen elämäntahti koettelee pesäpuun naapurisopua. Jameson-lyhytelokuvapalkinto Tampere 2005.
    AA: A bold, fine colour world. A funny story about the bat who gathers a lot to eat for the little birds at the nearby nest in order to be able to sleep at daytime.

Varjoja margariinissa
Skuggor i margarin / Shadows in the Margarine. FI 1996. PC: Turun taiteen ja viestinnän oppilaitos TuTVO. P: Eija Saarinen. D+SC+DP+AN+ED: Leena Jääskeläinen, Pekka Korhonen, Kaisa Penttilä. M+S: Timo Muurinen. VET A-27639 – S – 16 mm, colour – 164 m/ 6 min
    Marketta on joutunut vankilaan ja ikävöi Frankia. Rakkaustarinan käänne yllättää. Nuorisoraadin palkinto Tampere 1996.
    AA: The DCP for the screening was mastered from a Beta SP. A macabre margarin tale with the ultimate message from beyond the prison walls. There is a Tim Burton affinity in the tender horror atmosphere.
Pizza Passionata
Pizza Passionata
Nightshift. FI 2001. PC: Kinoproduction Oy. P: Petteri Pasanen. D+AD+puppets: Kari Juusonen. SC: Kari Juusonen, Leo Viirret. DP: Jussi Eerola. S design: Kirka Sainio. M: Markus Lahtinen. ED: Riitta Poikselkä – colour – 14 min 
    Arka lähiömies Toivo kohtaa sattuman oikusta naapurinsa Britan, ja romanttiset tunteet viriävät. Prix du Jury, Cannes 2001.
    AA: A love story between two extremely timid ones, in suburbia and in the tundra. Elements of the story: a pizza delivered at the wrong door, solo ping pong, the roaring of the bear.
Eläköön markkinatalous
Eläköön markkinatalous
The Last Supper. FI 2001. PC: LR Film Productions Oy. D+SC+DP+AN: Christian Lindblad. S design, S recording: Risto Iisalo. M: B. B. Lindström. The voice of Kete: Ville Virtanen – colour – 5 min
    Työttömyys ja tukien varassa sinnittely ovat nakertaneet Keten elämänuskon. Viimeisenä viestinään hän lähettää päättäjille terveisiä. Kettu-palkinto 2001, Kotimaisen kilpailun pääpalkinto (alle 30 min) Tampere, 2002.
    AA: The suicide video testament of the terminally unemployed Kete. His suicide fails. Let's go to the bar. An excellent monologue performance by Ville Virtanen.
Benigni
Benigni
FI 2009. PC: Turun ammattikorkeakoulu / Taideakatemia. D+SC: Elli Vuorinen, Pinja Partanen, Jasmiini Ottelin – colour – 8 min
    Mies löytää kainalostaan kasvaimen ja saa siitä itselleen ystävän. Kansainvälisiä palkintoja mm. vuoden 2010 yleisöpalkinto Rio de Janeiro ja Berliini, paras opiskelijaelokuva Fredrikstad sekä paras animaatio Budapest ja Pietari.
    AA: The strange tumour emerging from the man's armpit becomes his best friend. They even play Batman and Robin. 
Nenäliinoja myytävänä
Nenäliinoja myytävänä
Handkerchiefs for Sale. FI 2003. PC: Indie Films Oy. P: Tomi Riionheimo. D+SC+ED: Jan Andersson. DP: Jan Andersson, Anna Cadia, Tero Tolvanen, Christer Lindström. AN: Jan Andersson. Kim Helminen, Christer Lindström, Tero Tolvanen. S: Pirkko Tiitinen, Anne Tolkkinen. ED: Jan Andersson, Ykä Järvinen. VET A-29340 – S – colour – 17 min
    Paavo kaupittelee nenäliinoja, kun masentunut isä köllöttää kotona. Poika hahmottelee iloisempia aikoja piirroksissaan. Nuhainen mummokolmikko tarjoaa maksuksi väriliidut, mutta isä suuttuu. Jameson-lyhytelokuvapalkinto, Tampere 2004.
    AA: Music by Cleaning Women. An original imagery of urban decay. A poor boy sells handkerchiefs. The camera is subjective. Ancient creatures emerge. With his colour crayons the boy cconjures sunlight. A visually rich achievement.
Katja Kettu and Jan Andersson at work: Mankeli
Mankeli
The Mangel. FI 2011. D+SC: Jan Andersson, Katja Kettu - based on a poem by Katja Kettu. AN: Jan Andersson, Katja Kettu, Risto Jankkila, Mikko Torvinen. DP: Antti Takkunen. S design, S recording: Pirkko Tiitinen. M: Eero Turkka, Mamo Ensemble. Voice talent: Hannu Nurmio – colour – 11 min
    Rakkaustarina yhdistää taivaan ja maan, kun mankeli eli miespuolinen enkeli menettää siipensä, putoaa maahan ja rakastuu puuhun. Grand Prix Fredrikstad Animation Festival, Norja 2011.
    AA: I have written about this film twice before: Mankeli at Tampere Film Festival and Mankeli as the short screened before Saunavieras. There is Tibetan sounding throat singing on the music track. There is a sense of the primordial in the landscape. The story of the angel without wings.
Many Happy Returns
Many Happy Returns
Onnea merkkipäivän johdosta. GB 1996. PC: Tricky Films Ltd. D+SC+AN: Marjut Rimminen. DP: Timo Dan Arnall. S: Nigel Heath. ED: Tony Fish – colour – 8 min
    Lapsuuden käsittelemätön trauma varjostaa elämää. Marjut Rimminen yhdistää nukkeanimaatiota live-kuvaan ja kerrostaa ajan ja mielen tasoja runollisiksi näyiksi. Pääpalkinto mm. Tampere, Los Angeles, Krakova. Krok, Baden 1997.
    AA: The original format is 35 mm but we had to screen this from a DCP from a dvd. Music: Erik Satie. A subtle, powerful, multi-layered meditation on a childhood trauma, combining puppet animation with live acted narrative. Deeply felt, with a high artistic quality.
Katariina Lillqvist: Uralin perhonen. The battle of Tampere in the Finnish Civil War in 1918.
Uralin perhonen
Far Away from Ural [the title of this print] / The Butterfly from Ural / Le Papillon de l’Oural. FI 2008. PC: Osuuskunta Camera Cagliostro. P: Jyrki Kaipainen. D: Katariina Lillqvist. SC: Katariina Lillqvist, Hannu Salama - based on their radioplay (2004). DP: Miloslav Spála. AN: Alfons Mensdorf-Pouilly. ED: Katariina Lillqvist, Tatu Pohjavirta. S design: Tero Malmberg. M: Hannu Kella, Alik Kopyt – colour – 27 min
    Käsikirjoittajat kuulivat legendan Mannerheimin ja kirgiisipalvelijan rakkaussuhteesta alun perin Tampereen Pispalassa. Paras animaatioelokuva, Tampere 2008.
    AA: We screened the English language version in 35 mm. Inspired by a folk tale heard in the Pispala neighbourhood in Tampere, Uralin perhonen was seen by some a piece of slander on the national hero Mannerheim, depicted as a submissive fairy. Maybe it is slanderous for someone, but anyone who is by this offended is easily offended, with weak confidence in the respect enjoyed by the Marshal of Finland. Anyway, Uralin perhonen transcends such narrow concerns, and there is a great deal of empathy both for the kirghiz valet and Mannerheim, as well as for Anastasia Mannerheim, the frustrated wife. Among other things, Uralin perhonen is a tragedy of repression. A hauntingly poetic work of art that refuses easy classification even as a satire.

Programme notes in italics by Tuula Leinonen, 28.10.2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

Alice Guy and the French Pioneers. Treasures from Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet

Alice Guy
"All of the world's audiovisual heritage is endangered." UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage 2014.

Alice Guy and the French Pioneers. Treasures from Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet. Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), 27 Oct 2014.
    All made in France, all in 35 mm. Piano: Joonas Raninen. Total duration: 95 min

Alice Guy / ten of her films included in the collection Sieurins franska bilder, total 392 m /18 fps/ 19 min * colour
    AA: All toned beautifully in sepia except the last one multi-coloured, hand-coloured. All in plan-séquence, all in long take and long shot. A beautiful la belle époque compilation.
Entrée et sortie de la mine (1899). - AA: Non-fiction. Miners about to enter the mine.
Paris: Exposition universelle – Panorama de la Seine (1900). - AA: Non-fiction, city view. A phantom boat ride panoramic take.
L'Hiver: Danse de la neige (Cabaretnummer, Alice Guy, 1900). - AA: Non-fiction, a recorded performance of a snow dance, complete with theatre snow flakes.
Au cabaret (1899). - AA: Fiction. "Vins, liqueurs". An outdoor table of the bar. Card players share drinks and engage in a fight.
Paris: Exposition universelle (1900). - AA: Non-fiction, city view. A 360° panoramic shot.
Chez le maréchal-ferrand (En hovslagare, Alice Guy, 1900). - AA: Non-fiction. A pleasant composition. In the foreground, a horse is being shoed. In the background, a horse-shoe is being forged against the anvil.
Avenue de l'Opéra (Framför Operan i Paris, Alice Guy, 1900). - AA: Non-fiction, a city view with a twist: the film is being played backwards. (Or was it just our projection?)
La bonne absinthe (Den härliga absinten, Alice Guy, 1899). - AA: Fiction, comedy. An absent-minded customer at the outdoor table of a café, immersed in his reading, drinks from the wrong glass.
L'Aveugle fin de siècle (En stackars blind man, Alice Guy, 1898). - AA: Fiction, comedy. The blind beggar has a good eyesight, but the policeman exposes him. The scoundrel plays a trick to an innocent passer-by happening to sit on his bench, framing him to be the fake blind beggar.
10  Panorama circulaire sur le pont d'Iéna (1900). - AA: Non-fiction, city view. A long panoramic shot over the Seine.
11  Chapellerie et charcuterie mécaniques (Hattfabrik, Alice Guy, 1900). - AA: Fiction, comedy, trick film. The miracle machine can produce both hats and sausages.
12  La Fée au choux, ou la naissance des enfants (Blomkålsfest, Alice Guy, 1896). - AA: Fiction, féerie. A motherly fairy in the garden produces babies from cabbages.
13  Pédiluve (1899). - AA: Non-fiction. Horses' feet are bathed.
14  La Concierge (Ett upttåg, Alice Guy, 1900). - AA: Fiction, comedy. The stern female concierge is harassed by mischievous children. When she revenges, the target is an innocent man.
15  Chez le photographe (Hos fotografen, Alice Guy, 1900). - AA: Fiction, comedy. The impossible customer with his mad ways of posing at the photographer's. *
16  Expo 1900: le vieux Paris (1900). - AA: Fiction, city view. Another phantom boat ride.
17  Charge à la baïonette d'un régiment de ligne (1899). - AA: Non-fiction, a record of military manoeuvres. The infantry charges straight towards us, and they come real close.
18  Dans les mines: Entrée des bennes dans la mine (1899). - AA: Non-fiction, the circle closing from the first film of this show. The miners emerge from the mine. There is a change of shift.
19  Danse serpentine (1900). - AA: Non-fiction, a record of a dance performance. A fine sample of the popular subgenre of the serpentine dance. In splendid colour.

Les Frères Lumière: Scènes de la vie * acquired by SFI from La Cinémathèque française (1965) –  total 125 m /18 fps/ 6 min * [no titles]
L'Arroseur arrosé (1895)
Le Repas de Bébé (1895)
La Sortie des usines (1895)
Partie d'écarté (1895)
Débarquement des congressistes à Neuville-sur-Saône (1895). - AA: They greet us.
Barque sortant du port (1895). - AA: The might of the sea. Quite good visual quality.
Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1895). - AA: Quite good visual quality.
Démolition d'un mur (1896). - AA: Another view of working men, now not in their Sunday best. Ok visual quality.
    AA: Non-fiction. A delightful compilation of some of the most legendary films ever made. A duped quality and slightly low contrast especially in the first five. Never mind. These are among the primal images of the cinema.

Le Coucher de la mariée (Joly-Normandin, 1896) 36 m /16 fps/ 2 min * hand-coloured * [no titles].
    AA: Fiction, comedy, erotic. Last year I wrote about the Pordenone Joly-Normandin screening with two prints of Le Coucher de la mariée. This time I was thinking about the complete - and completely innocent - strip-tease of Gypsy Rose Lee in Stage Door Canteen. Here Louise Willy takes everything off - while re-dressing into a nightgown.

Georges Méliès
Le Chaudron infernal (1903) 38 m /18 fps/ 2 min * acquired by SFI from: Les amis de Georges Méliès (1976) * hand-coloured. - AA: A fragment.
Le Voyage à travers l'impossible (1904) 370 m /18 fps/ 18 min * acquired by SFI from: Prague (1958) * hand-coloured * [French intertitles]
La Fée carabosse (1906) 234 m /18 fps/ 11 min * acquired by SFI from: Prague (1959) * hand-coloured
Les quatre cents farces du Diable (1906) 317 m /18 fps/ 15 min * acquired by SFI from: La Cinémathèque française (1966) * b&w
Le Locataire diabolique (1910) 143 m /18 fps/ 7 min * acquired by SFI from: Les amis de Georges Méliès (1976) * hand-coloured
     AA: Fiction, féeries. Another set of legendary films, now from the master of magic, the first film artist, Georges Méliès. These prints are dupes of original hand-coloured prints except Les quatre cents farces du Diable which is in black and white. There is as a rule one bright red climax, an explosion or something similar, in the films.

Le Spectre rouge (Segundo de Chomón, 1907) 180 m /18 fps/ 9 min * hand-coloured.
    AA: Fiction, féerie. In this film Segundo de Chomón still clearly imitates Méliès. The Devil, introduced as a living skeleton, inflicts a wild and crazy series of metamorphoses: will-o'-the-wisps, levitations, conflagrations, shrinking, disappearing, switching, apparitions, thunderstorms. But finally the gentle fairy overcomes the Devil.

Le Serment d'un prince / Prins De Lacerda (Max Linder, 1910) 104 m /16 fps/ 6 min * Desmet colour * [French intertitles]
    Restored by SFI in 2008.
    AA: Fiction, drama. The poor girlfriend of the wealthy prince gives birth to their baby out of wedlock. Max and the girl are thrown out of the house by the callous parents of Max. "Pour gagner sa vie": Max starts as a clown in utterly humble circumstances. Three years later: "une grande vedette de music hall". His muscles are prominent in a dangerous act. The parents appear, there is a reunion, and a happy end. - It is interesting to see Max Linder in a non-comic role. The main theme is dignity: Max does not abandon his sweetheart. Instead, he abandons his own safe world.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Marika Mäkelä (exhibition at Sara Hildén Art Museum)

Verhoutuneena yön kobolttiin / Clad in the Cobalt of the Night (1993). Öljy ja pigmentti kankaalle / Oil and pigment on canvas, 160 x 285 cm. Pyynikinlinnan kokoelma © Jussi Koivunen. Click to enlarge.
Marika Mäkelä 20.9.2014 - 25.1.2015. Sara Hildén Art Museum, Laiturikatu 13, Särkänniemi, Tampere. www.tampere.fi/sarahilden
    Visited on Saturday, 25 October 2014

The book to the exhibition:
    Marika Mäkelä. Tampere: Sara Hildén Art Museum, 2014. Articles written by Timo Valjakka and Hanna Johansson. Introduction by the museum director Päivi Loimaala, Marika Mäkelä interviewed by the intendent Sarianne Soikkonen, biography by Timo Valjakka and Tomi Moisio. Bilingual in Finnish and English. Fully illustrated. 256 p. 40 €. 

The official introduction:

"Marika Mäkelä is one of the foremost Finnish painters of her generation. Primary characteristic of her richly colourful, multilayered oil and acrylic paintings are their sensuality and decorativeness. She paints a humanity that is mirrored in nature, but equally frequently the work can spring from a feeling of perfect happiness, or even from a difficult stage in life. The retrospective exhibition in the Sara Hildén Art Museum presents works from the late 1970s to 2014."

"Marika Mäkelä (born 1947 in Oulu, Finland) studied fine arts in the Liminka Folk School and in the School of Fine Arts Academy in Finland in Helsinki. She graduated in 1973 and started her professional painting career in the early 1970s. She lives and works in Helsinki and Pernaja. In this retrospective exhibition the earliest works are from the 1970s and the most recent ones from 2014. Marika Mäkelä is one of the artists represented in the Sara Hildén Foundation's collection."


"Ornament plays a principal role in Marika Mäkelä's art. Her painting is mostly abstract. The figurative elements in her works involve ornaments, cultural symbols, and human-like figures. Impressions of nature and the representation of light have always been important to her. Her works display a tangible sense of the material achieved by thick layers of paint and carved wooden surfaces."

"Early in her career Marika Mäkelä was an abstract colorist, and went then through a red period. In her breakthrough exhibition in 1983 she introduced works in an earthy and subdued palette. Paintings from this period, for example All Is Quiet, the Night Approaches (1982) are abstract only tokenly, with obvious allusions to natural elements such as caves, rain, and lichen. In the mid-1980s Mäkelä started using gold leaf. Dark Light (1984) is a prime example of the new dimension that gold leaf brought to her studies of light. She also began to paint on wooden boards. The theme of mother and child, based on a symbolic image used by the African Yoruba people, was her central motif in several works in the 1990s. Inspired by the sculptor Tapani Kokko, Mäkelä started to carve wooden boards and create works that look like reliefs, for example The Officer's Daughter (2006). Co-operation between the two artists continues to this day. Her latest works, the The Secret Garden series (2014), Mäkelä refers to as constructed paintings."

"Marika Mäkelä was awarded the Finnish State Prize for visual arts in 1974 an 1984. She was shortlisted for the Ars Fennica Award in 1992. In 1994 The Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded her a prize for outstanding cultural achievements, and in 2006 she received the Pro Finlandia Medal."

"Mäkelä was shortlisted for the Carnegie Art Award 2014 with three works: Eastern Flowers, Tibetan Bridal Saddle, and Three Times Warm." (Official introduction)

AA: Marika Mäkelä is a key Finnish abstract painter and artist since forty years, still going strong and progressing to new discoveries as is evident in her The Secret Garden series (2014), with influences and affinities with late Matisse, yet quite original.

Marika Mäkelä is not afraid of the ornamental and the decorative - she embraces those qualities, conscious of the fact that the realistic impulse and the abstract impulse are equally fundamental and primordial in the human art urge. Her works have references to ancient signs of old cultures and traditions all over the world.

There is at first glance a distancing effect in that ornamental and formal quality, with finishes in gold leaf and glitter. This year I have been reflecting on the death drive aspect in Andy Warhol (in the memorable previous exhibition at Sara Hildén Art Museum) and in the pop art exhibition curated by Timo Valjakka in Mänttä - in both the King Midas touch seemed to be at first sight a celebration of wealth, at second thought a chilling reminder of the lethal impact ot that touch.

The deeper impact of Marika Mäkelä's art is different. Beyond the chilly glitter and ornament surfaces, and, in this exhibition, often cold or at least broken colours they are a celebration of the life force. Their very surface is often very physical, rugged, alive. With multiple viewings the numerous giant abstract oil canvases in broken colours look different every time. They start to evoke the mysterious interior of an old, rainy forest in the autumn, the leaves no longer green, the sun starting to fade. They also evoke the underground, the underneath: what lies beneath the surface of a forest or a meadow. Although they do not convey the sense of blossoming life, they convey a sense of fertility, of a latent potential to growth.

There is an earthy dimension in many of these paintings, a feeling of nature conveyed via abstraction. There is also a subtle element of sexuality in several of the artworks: in the egg forms, ovular forms, spiral forms, flower forms and other inspirations from plants (like in the pioneer of abstract art, Hilma af Klint), yoni symbols, womb forms, and the theme of the mother and child, all abstract, yet with subtle figurative references. Many of the paintings are explorations into and reflections on the physical interior of the woman.

The colour blue introduces to such earthy forms an element of intelligent meditation, of sublimation, perhaps a little like in the art of tantra, in which the primal sexual force is elevated to the entire sphere of being. In fact, Marika Mäkelä has created sculpted works that evoke the various chakras.

The titles of the paintings are often inspired by poems or film titles, such as À bout de souffle, a huge gold-leaf creation with no obvious connection to Jean-Luc Godard's film, yet with a backstory essential to the painter herself, who was highly impressed by both the film and the location of the finale of the film in Montparnasse which she happened to visit.

The book to the exhibition is excellent and worth reading from cover to cover. The colour of the reproductions is superb. Studying the book it struck me how different many of the works and series of them looked although the colour reproductions are faithful. Part of the exhibition is not fully lit, and some works remain in shadow. But the more fundamental revelation is that Marika Mäkelä's works do look different depending on the way they are hung and on the environment they are in.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tuula Leinonen: 100 vuotta suomalaista animaatiota / [100 Years of Finnish Animation] (a book)

Tuula Leinonen: 100 vuotta suomalaista animaatiota / [100 Years of Finnish Animation]. A book. Helsinki: Aalto-yliopisto / Aalto ARTS Books, 2014. Graphic design: Camilla Pentti, Jani Pulkka. Editor of illustrations: Kyösti Mankamo. Hard cover, 245 x 215, almost a thousand illustrations, 510 pages.
    Link to Aalto ARTS Books web store

The supreme highlight and a lasting achievement of the centenary of Finnish animation, Tuula Leinonen's book 100 Years of Finnish Animation, was published today by Aalto ARTS Books at Restaurant Adams at Erottaja in Helsinki.

Dozens of key animation artists and producers from several generations were celebrating, many of them appearing as major players in the book for which Tuula Leinonen conducted about a hundred extended interviews. The book is based on first hand research. 30 years ago Juho Gartz and Lauri Tykkyläinen conducted indispensable groundwork on the pioneers, some of whom they managed to get on record in the nick of time for their priceless documentaries. Tuula Leinonen has now brought the history up to date.

The chapters: - 1: The early development - 2: Commercials - 3: Cut-out animation - 4: Puppet and wax animation - 5: The living drawing - 6: Animation on the tube - 7: Experimental animation - 8: Sound in animation - 9: Professional education at animation schools - 10: The conquest of the computers - Keywords - Register of persons - Glossary.

Tuula Leinonen's book on Finnish animation is as large as the best general histories of world animation. It is in Finnish but thanks to the almost one thousand wonderful illustrations it makes sense also to a non-Finnish reader. The visual quality of the book is high, the colour register is refined, the book itself is a work of art. It can be recommended to film and art schools everywhere.

This year I have been learning a lot of new things from the rich heritage of Finnish animation. From this book I realize that there is still much more that I need to see.