Thursday, February 14, 2019

Malyutka Elli / Little Ellie

Little Ellie. The opening scene. Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin, to the left) is the generous host at a dinner party in his mansion. The photos: screen caps from a low def screener from the Gosfilmofond print.

Little Ellie. Bitten by Ellie, Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) examines his wound.

Little Ellie. Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) and Clara (Nathalie Lissenko) study Little Ellie's portrait.

Little Ellie. Flashback: Ellie (E. Kudrova) the star student gets a diploma from the mayor (Ivan Mozzhukhin).

Little Ellie. Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) and Clara (Nathalie Lissenko). The ghost of little Ellie will never let Fred in peace.

Little Ellie. Flashback: Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) first escorts, then harasses little Ellie (E. Kudrova).

Little Ellie. The Russian ending.

Ivan Mozzhukhin

Nathalie Lissenko

Малютка Элли / Maljutka Elli / Maliutka Elli / La petite Elli / [Pikku Elli].
    RU 1918. PC: T-vo I. Ermoliev. P: Iosif Ermoliev. D+SC: Yakov Protazanov – based on the short story "La petite Roque" (1886) by Guy de Maupassant, in English "Little Louise Roque", translated into Finnish by Jorma Kapari as ”Roquen tytär” (in Guy de Maupassant: Novelleja, Helsinki: Otava: Kompassikirjat, 1974). Cin: Fyodor Burgasov / Fédote Bourgassov. AD: Vladimir Ballyuzek.
    C: Ivan Mozzhukhin / Ivan Mosjoukine (Fred Norton, mayor of the municipality / maire in Maupassant's story), Natalia Lisenko / Nathalie Lissenko (Clara Clarson), E. Kudrina (Elli, Clara's little sister), Nikolai Panov (Erikson, svedovatel / police investigator), Polikarp Pavlov (Patalon), Iona Talanov (Doctor).
    Premiere: 06/01/1918.
    Originally: 6 ч., 1700 м. Cохранился не полностью: 4 части. Originally /18 fps/ 80 min
    35 mm print from Gosfilmofond: /18 fps/ 61 min
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (History of the Russian Cinema curated by Lauri Piispa) with e-subtitles in Finnish by Mia Öhman and with Johanna Pitkänen at the piano, 14 Feb 2019

"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (The Gospel according to Matthew, 18:6, King James translation)

Little Ellie, one of the six films directed by Yakov Protazanov in 1918, was produced by the same team that created Father Sergius in the same year. The producer was Iosif Ermoliev, the cinematographer Fyodor Burgasov, and the art director Vladimir Ballyuzek. Cast in both was the husband-wife team Ivan Mozzhukhin and Natalia Lisenko, also starring Nikolai Panov and Polikarp Pavlov. Protazanov (1881–1941) went to exile during the civil war but returned afterwards. Mozzhukhin (1889–1939) remained in France as did his first wife Lisenko (1884–1969).

Renowned as probably the first film on pedophilia, Little Ellie differs significantly from its source, the short story "La petite Roque" by Guy de Maupassant, but is equally unflinching about its dark themes.

The mayor of the municipality has committed the worst of crimes. The guilt on his conscience finally crushes him.

In Maupassant's story, poor Madame Roque's little daughter is swimming in a pond in the wood in summer. (Her first name Louise is mentioned only once in Maupassant's original but several times in the English translation, including in its title). In the film, Ellie is the little sister of the widowed female protagonist, the well-to-do Clara Clarson. Ellie is walking home in the winter in her winter clothes when Fred agrees to escort her along a snowy road. During the investigation that lasts over a year Fred and Clara are engaged and get married.

Interestingly, a little before Maupassant Anton Chekhov had published his detective novel The Shooting Party in 1885, sharing certain affinities. The protagonist who supervises the investigation is an authority figure, himself the offender. Both share a forest milieu central to the story and the crime. In the finale of both there is a nervous breakdown around a written confession (in Chekhov the confession is the story proper). As crime stories, both belong to the "Roger Ackroyd" tradition, also with links to Elio Petri's Kafkaesque Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.

Maupassant was a genius who created his entire vast oeuvre in ten years. The storytelling in "La petite Roque" is masterful: the style, the psychology, the ethics, the milieu, the references that go deep into French history, the blend of gravity and humour.

The murder of a young girl shatters the community to the core in a way comparable with Fritz Lang's M and David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Everybody is stricken by an unusually profound sense of terror and unease.

The character of the police investigator resembles F. M. Dostoevsky's Porfiri in Crime and Punishment, both in Maupassant's story and Protazanov's film version.

In Protazanov's film adaptation much gets thrown away. Instead of a nuanced and concrete French milieu we have a generalized international setting. Maupassant mobilizes the whole milieu for the tragedy: the mayor has his beloved ancient forest felled and intends to be crushed under the tallest tree. When that fails, he plans to perish in the high watchtower of his ancestral mansion that has belonged to his family for centuries. None of this remains in the film.

In Protazanov's film the mayor harasses the girl and kills her, but in contrast to Maupassant, no sexual act takes place. The girl remains in her winter clothes all the time.

Little Ellie is a transitional film. Much of it is in early cinema mode, based on long shots, long takes, and plan-séquence. Early-cinema strengths include a refined lightning, an engaging Stimmung, a dynamic mise-en-scène, and an assured composition in deep focus.

There are also special accents. Fred's sense of guilt seems displaced in a pain in his arm where Ellie had violently bit her trying to defend herself. There is an interesting mirror shot in extreme close-up in which Fred examines the site of the pain. The apparition of dead Ellie is conveyed via superimposition. In Maupassant's story the girl's wooden clogs have a symbolic meaning. In Protazanov, we have her knit cap.

The story proceeds both chronologically and in flashback. The more Fred remembers, the greater is his guilt and pain. Ellie was the star student. Now she appears as a ghost who will never go away. Fred cannot sleep anymore. Suicide is the only way out.

The acting is mostly in early cinema mode with heavy facial makeup and reactions telegraphed in a stylized and exaggerated fashion. At times it looks alienating, but there is a consistency of style in this mode of performance.

The Gosfilmofond print has been created from obviously difficult source materials. It looks duped but watchable. It tends towards low contrast but conveys a sense of how the original can have looked.

According to all sources the original release version had six reels, but the one preserved by Gosfilmofond has four reels only. However, the print at hand is logical and coherent. This print starts with a lively scene at a dinner table in the mayor's mansion. It ends with a startling scene in which Clara finds Fred dead in his armchair just after she has burned his letter of confession.


Strekoza i Muravei / The Grasshopper and the Ant (Starewicz 1913) (2006 KAVI preservation from a vintage Finnish nitrate print)

Strekoza i Muravei (1913). The opening scene after the first quote from Ivan Krylov's poem: "Попрыгунья Стрекоза / Лето красное пропела" ["The carefree grasshopper was singing all summer long"]. Photo: KAVI.

Стрекоза и Mуравей / The Dragonfly and the Ant / Heinäsirkka ja muurahainen / Gräshoppan och myran.
    RU 1913. PC: Akts. o-vo Khanzhonkov i K.  P: Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. D+SC+Cin+AD+AN: Wladyslaw Starewicz – based on the poem (1808) by Ivan Krylov – [inspired by La Fontaine's "La Cigale et la Fourmi", 1668] – [inspired by Aesop, 620 BCE, 373 in the Perry Index, cf. also variant 112 in the Perry Index, and the counter-fable, number 166 in the Perry Index].
    Puppet animation, insect animation, fairy-tale animation.
    Premiere: 22 Feb 1913.
    158 m / 16 fps / 7 min
    From a vintage Finnish original nitrate release print with Finnish / Swedish intertitles (only), tinted copper red for summer, blue for winter, green for titles. Six intertitles.
    KAVI preservation 2006: a 35 mm polyester print with Desmet colour. Supervised by Juha Kindberg.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (History of the Russian Cinema curated by Lauri Piispa), 14 Feb 2019.

The original Russian intertitles are excerpts from Krylov's poem.

In Russian language, "Strekoza" had earlier a meaning wider than that of a "dragonfly". The word also signified various insects more generally, including "grasshopper", and also had an association with "chatterbox".

The Strekoza and the Muravei, as well as La Cigale et la Fourmi are often portrayed as female, which is the gender of the respective terms in many languages. This association is unknown in languages such as English and Finnish.

Based on one of the oldest fairy-tales Wladyslaw Starewicz directed one of the first masterpieces of animation based on his skill and artistry in stop-motion insect animation.

Starewicz's movie was not the first film adaptation of the fable, having been preceded by Georges Méliès (lost), Mario Caserini, Louis Feuillade (live action), and Georges Monca (live action), at least.

There have been many interpretations of the fable. In the original fables of Aesop / attributed to Aesop there were no "lessons" that have been popularly inserted to them afterwards. Originally they were cryptic and concise and open to many interpretations.

The Starewicz interpretation is tough and grim. Strekoza is busy partying and playing on his violin while the Muravei toils all summer long to build herself a winter home stocked with nourishment. Strekoza is not a nice character. When Muravei is almost crushed under her heavy load Strekoza does nothing to help her.

When winter comes and Strekoza asks for help Muravei is not impressed and repeats her final verdict in classical Aesop fashion. Because all summer Strekoza has been singing and playing, "Now you can go out and dance!" Russian ending: Strekoza freezes to death in the snow.

The film is very well made.

Our print is based on a vintage release print from the 1910s. It is a fine job of preservation but as usual I have my reservations against the Desmet method of simulating tinting. It looks heavy and obscures the quality of light. I don't believe that the film looked originally like this.

Walt Disney: The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934), famous for its theme song "The World Owes Me a Living" (Leigh Harline, Harry Morey). In this version the ants save the grasshopper, he sees that he owes the world a living. With his music he makes everybody happy. Photo: IMdB.


Guy de Maupassant: Little Louise Roque (La petite Roque, 1886) (a short story)

The former soldier, Mederic Rompel, familiarly called Mederic by the country folks, left the post office of Roily-le-Tors at the usual hour. After passing through the village with his long stride, he cut across the meadows of Villaume and reached the bank of the Brindille, following the path along the water's edge to the village of Carvelin, where he commenced to deliver his letters. He walked quickly, following the course of the narrow river, which frothed, murmured and boiled in its grassy bed beneath an arch of willows.

Mederic went on without stopping, with only this thought in his mind: “My first letter is for the Poivron family, then I have one for Monsieur Renardet; so I must cross the wood.”

His blue blouse, fastened round his waist by a black leather belt, moved in a quick, regular fashion above the green hedge of willow trees, and his stout stick of holly kept time with his steady tread.

He crossed the Brindille on a bridge consisting of a tree trunk, with a handrail of rope, fastened at either end to a stake driven into the ground.

The wood, which belonged to Monsieur Renardet, the mayor of Carvelin and the largest landowner in the district, consisted of huge old trees, straight as pillars and extending for about half a league along the left bank of the stream which served as a boundary to this immense dome of foliage. Alongside the water large shrubs had grown up in the sunlight, but under the trees one found nothing but moss, thick, soft and yielding, from which arose, in the still air, an odor of dampness and of dead wood.


Guy de Maupassant: La petite Roque (1886) (a short story)


Le piéton Médéric Rompel, que les gens du pays appelaient familièrement Méderi, partit à l'heure ordinaire de la maison de poste de Roüy-le-Tors. Ayant traversé la petite ville de son grand pas d'ancien troupier, il coupa d'abord les prairies de Villaumes pour gagner le bord de la Brindille, qui le conduisait, en suivant l'eau, au village de Carvelin, où commençait sa distribution.

Il allait vite, le long de l'étroite rivière qui moussait, grognait, bouillonnait et filait dans son lit d'herbes, sous une voûte de saules. Les grosses pierres, arrêtant le cours, avaient autour d'elles un
bourrelet d'eau, une sorte de cravate terminée en noeud d'écume. Par places, c'étaient des cascades d'un pied, souvent invisibles, qui faisaient, sous les feuilles, sous les lianes, sous un toit de verdure, un gros bruit colère et doux; puis plus loin, les berges s'élargissant, on rencontrait un petit lac paisible où nageaient des truites parmi toute cette chevelure verte qui ondoie au fond des ruisseaux calmes.

Médéric allait toujours, sans rien voir, et ne songeant qu'à ceci: «Ma première lettre est pour la maison Poivron, puis j'en ai une pour M. Renardet; faut donc que je traverse la futaie.»

Sa blouse bleue serrée à la taille par une ceinture de cuir noir passait d'un train rapide et régulier sur la haie verte des saules; et sa canne, un fort bâton de houx, marchait à son côté du même mouvement que ses jambes.

Donc, il franchit la Brindille sur un pont fait d'un seul arbre, jeté d'un bord à l'autre, ayant pour unique rampe une corde portée par deux piquets enfoncés dans les berges.

La futaie, appartenant à M. Renardet, maire de Carvelin, et le plus gros propriétaire du lieu, était une sorte de bois d'arbres antiques, énormes, droits comme des colonnes, et s'étendant, sur une demi-lieue de longueur, sur la rive gauche du ruisseau qui servait de limite à cette immense voûte de feuillage. Le long de l'eau, de grands arbustes avaient poussé, chauffés par le soleil; mais sous la futaie, on ne trouvait rien que de la mousse, de la mousse épaisse, douce et molle, qui répandait dans l'air stagnant une odeur légère de moisi et de branches mortes.


Ivan Krylov: Strekoza i Muravei / The Dragonfly and the Ant (a poem)

Jean-Jacques Grandville: La Cigale et la Fourmi (1838). An illustration to La Fontaine's fable, published in Russian Wikipedia on the Strekoza i Muravei page.

Georgiy Narbut: illustration to Ivan Krylov’s fable “The Ant & the Dragonfly” (1912). Source: Sergey Armeyskov / Russian Universe.

Попрыгунья Стрекоза
Лето красное пропела;
Оглянуться не успела,
Как зима катит в глаза.
Помертвело чисто поле;
Нет уж дней тех светлых боле,
Как под каждым ей листком
Был готов и стол, и дом.
Всё прошло: с зимой холодной
10 Нужда, голод настает;
Стрекоза уж не поет:
И кому же в ум пойдет
На желудок петь голодный!
Злой тоской удручена,
К Муравью ползет она:
«Не оставь меня, кум милой!
Дай ты мне собраться с силой
И до вешних только дней
Прокорми и обогрей!» —
20 «Кумушка, мне странно это:
Да работала ль ты в лето?»
Говорит ей Муравей.
«До того ль, голубчик, было?
В мягких муравах у нас
Песни, резвость всякий час,
Так, что голову вскружило».—
«А, так ты...» — «Я без души
Лето целое всё пела».—
«Ты всё пела? это дело:
30 Так поди же, попляши!»


In the summer’s gaily singing,
Of the future isn’t thinking,
But the winter’s nearby.
Field was green, it’s now reddish,
Happy days already vanished,
And it happens no more,
That a leaf gives roof and store.
All has gone. In cold winters
Want and hunger wait afore.
Dragon-fly sings no more:
Who would like to sing yet more,
If the hungry belly hinders.
She is crawling in dismay
To the ant’s not far away:
“Dear crony, don’t leave me,
I’ll be strong, you may believe me!
But to manage winter storms
Give me food, a bit of warmth.”
“Oh, my dear, it’s very queer!
Did you work in summer here?” –
So Ant his answer forms.
“But in summer I was busy:
In the pleasant grass we’d had
Many plays and songs ahead;
Very often I was dizzy.”
“Ah, you mean:” – “I made a hit:
All the summer I was singing:”
“You were singing. Well done dealing!
Now dance a little bit!”

Based on the fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant” by Jean de La Fontaine. Translated by Sergey Kozlov. Source: Sergey Armeyskov / Russian Universe.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


College (1927) with Buster Keaton and Ann Cornwall.

College (1927). Buster Keaton between girlfriend (Ann Cornwall) and mother (Florence Turner, 20 years earlier famous as the Vitagraph Girl, one of the very first film stars).

Hyppyä, soutua ja rakkautta / Rodd, hopp och kärlek.
    US © 1927 Joseph M. Schenck Productions (presents). Distr: A United Artists Production. P: Harry Brand, Joseph M. Schenck. D: James W. Horne. SC: Carl Harbaugh, Bryan Foy. Cin: Dev Jennings, Bert Haines. Technical director: Fred Gabourie. Lighting effects: Jack Lewis. ED: Sherman Kell.
    C: Buster Keaton (Ronald), Ann Cornwall (Mary Haines), Flora Bramley (Mary's friend), Harold Goodwin (Jeff Brown, the rival), Buddy Mason, Grant Withers (Jeff's friends), Snitz Edwards (dean Edwards), Carl Harbaugh (crew coach), Sam Crawford (baseball coach), Florence Turner (Ronald's mother), the baseball team of the University of Southern California.
    Premiere: 10 September 1927.
    Helsinki premiere: Kino-Palatsi 30.4.1928 – S – 1803 m /24 fps/ 66 min
    Finnish telepremiere 6 May 1973 Yleisradio TV1.
    Lobster Films restoration in 2K with a John Muri / Mont Alto Orchestra score (1992) (tbc).
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Buster Keaton), 10 Feb 2019

Produced between Buster Keaton's epic masterpieces The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr., College was modest in scale. It was the ninth of his ten independently produced feature films.

College would have provided ideal material for Harold Lloyd, and it does have affinities with The Freshman (1925).

Sometimes College is rated as conventional but I beg to differ. I included this film in my MMM Film Guides of the 1000 and 1100 best films of all times (in 1995 and 2005), and I see no reason to revise my opinion.

For 90% of its duration College is a surprisingly dark film, almost a Book of Job of humiliations and disappointments. It borders on the masochistic in its account of Buster's seemingly endless endurance tests. He is a brilliant student, a teacher's pet, but the trouble is that everybody adores physical prowess only.

Also, Buster comes from a poor home and has to work through college, although he is no good at the jobs available (as a bartender and as a blackfaced waiter). The film starts as Buster and his mother (Florence Turner, the Vitagraph Girl, one of the first film stars) emerge from a rainstorm, and enter the festive graduation ceremony soaking wet. Buster has trouble in closing his umbrella, and sitting next to a heater his clothes start to shrink so much that his buttons are opened. In this embarrassing state he has to give his graduation speech. The theme is about "brains vs. brawn", and he manages to offend everybody. When Buster is finished, the hall is empty, and only his mother remains.

This is a nightmare opening, and the film goes on in the same mood. I would almost call it monotonous, but the approach is so audacious and so contrary to the official gospel of success that I keep being amazed.

In every humiliation Buster maintains his dignity. His mother never loses faith, and although his beloved Mary is distanced from Buster's teacher's pet attitudes and his ineptitude in sports and jobs, she never loses her fundamental attraction.

Despite its allegedly conventional script College belongs to the films where Keaton is at his most existential and where we can understand why Samuel Beckett wanted to work with him. Keaton is an outsider in the game of life. When Buster Keaton was rediscovered in Finland in the early 1970s Peter von Bagh noted that he instinctively called him K. like a protagonist of Franz Kafka. Also in College there is a particularly strong sense of the absurdity of existence.

College is full of brilliant physical gags. Keaton, the cinema's most acrobatic comedian, plays the world's most miserable sportsman. In the laugh-out-loud finale he learns that he was meant to be drugged so as not to spoil the grand rowing contest. To everyone's surprise he rises to the occasion and the team wins in a comedy climax. Then he hears that Mary has been kidnapped by his rival Jeff and launches a race-to-the rescue decathlon showing his virtuosity in running, hurdles, triple jump, high jump, discus throw, shot put, baseball, javelin, etc.

The victory course is short after a long account of agony, and the film is capped by a quick montage about the rest of Buster and Mary's lives: large family, old age, gravestones. College is a most unusual comedy. I find it a nightmare comedy, a comedy of anxiety.

A beautiful restoration in which the visual quality is often very good. A fine score by John Muri / Mont Alto Orchestra.


The Scarecrow (1920)

The Scarecrow (1920). Buster Keaton and Luke the dog.

The Scarecrow (1920). Toothache. Buster Keaton and Joe Roberts.

The Scarecrow (1920). Triangle drama. Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts.

Variksenpelätin / Tulisessa kiireessä / Fågelskrämman / Buster Keatons Trauung mit Hindernissen / L'Épouvantail / Les Ruses de Malec.
    US 1920. PC: Joseph M. Schenck Productions. Distr: Metro Pictures. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton. SC: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton. Cin: Elgin Lessley. Technical D: Fred Gabourie. ED: Buster Keaton.
    C from Wikipedia:
Buster Keaton – Farmhand (as 'Buster' Keaton)
Joe Roberts – Farmhand
Sybil Seely – Farmer's Daughter
Joe Keaton – Farmer
Edward F. Cline – Hit-and-Run Truck Driver
Luke the Dog – The "Mad" Dog
Al St. John – Man with Motorbike
Mary Astor - (uncredited)
    Release date: 22 December, 1920. 19 minutes.
    Lobster Films restoration with a score by Neil Brand / Mont Alto Orchestra (tbc).
    2K DCP screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Buster Keaton), 10 Feb 2019

Of Buster Keaton's independently produced shorts The Scarecrow was the fourth to be released. It is a farm comedy jam-packed with gags.
    THE ELECTRIC HOME. Two farmhands (Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts) live in a small room full of ingenious devices. Everything doubles as something else, and with a brilliant choreography of wires they achieve everything quickly and efficiently.
    THE RIVALS. They are rivals for the attention of the farmer's daughter (Sybil Seely) but their furious combat enrages the farmer (Joe Keaton) so that the daughter decides to pacify him with cream pie.
    LUKE THE DOG. However, the pie is eaten by Luke the Dog whose mouth remains lined with foam. Buster, thinking Luke is rabid, goes into a wild escape, jumping acrobatically into windows and doorways, running on top of a ruined building and trying to hide in a haystack. When Buster emerges from the jaws of a combine harvester he is reduced to his underclothes but manages to make peace with Luke.
    THE SCARECROW. Having lost his clothes Buster disguises as a scarecrow, and even in that state the combat between the rivals goes on. On the run Buster happens to kneel, and the daughter happens to be next to him, happy to accept his proposal.
    ESCAPE TO MARRIAGE. They run from the father on horseback, but Buster's turns out to be a wooden horse. They grab a motorcycle, and on the way a priest happens between them. They act instantly on the opportunity, proceeding with the wedding on the motorcycle (with a nut [to a bolt] serving as the wedding ring), the church and the river.

Sybil Seely was one of Buster Keaton's most wonderful leading ladies.

A very nice restoration with a charming musical score.


Thursday, February 07, 2019

Magritte – Life Line

René Magritte: La Mémoire. 1948. Oil on canvas. 60 x 50. CR666. Collection of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (FWB), inv. 6.371. Photo: Amos Rex.

René Magritte: from the series À la rencontre du plaisir. 1962. Oil on canvas. Collection privée. I am not sure if this is the very version on display in the exhibition.

René Magritte: Le Noctambule. 1928. Oil on canvas. 55 x 74. CR271. Museum Folkwang, Essen. Photo: Amos Rex.

The exhibition:
Magritte – Livslinjen / Magritte – elämänviiva / Magritte – Life Line.
Exhibition at Amos Rex, Helsinki, 8.2. – 19.5.2019.
In collaboration with MASILugano.
Curated by Xavier Canonne and Julia Waseige. In collaboration with Fondation Magritte.
Director: Kai Kartio. Organizational coordination: Laura Gutman, in collaboration with Niclas von Bonsdorff, Anastasia Isakova, Susanna Luojus, Itha O'Neill, Katariina Timonen.

The book:
Magritte: La Ligne de vie. Lugano: Museo d'arte della Svizzeria italiano, 2018.
Read in English:
Magritte: Life Line. Edited by Xavier Canonne, Julie Waseige, Guido Comis. ISBN 978-88-572-3897-6. Hard cover, 198 p. Milano: Skira editore S.p.A., 2018.

Opening, Amos Rex, 7 Feb 2019.

Official introduction: "In spring 2019, Amos Rex will be showing the works of the Belgian painter René Magritte (1898–1967) for the first time in Finland. Magritte, who is considered a leading figure in Surrealism, is particularly known for his works that turn everyday reality upside down; an apple fills a whole room and a nose becomes a pipe. The familiar is suddenly bafflingly strange."

"The goal of Magritte’s various surrealistic periods was to solve the enigma of being human – Magritte sought an answer to the universal question of humanity through his art. He probed everyday reality in an attempt to grasp the mysteries hidden within."

"The exhibition puts the artist himself centre stage: it is constructed around Magritte’s Life Line lecture, given in Antwerp in 1938. This was one of the rare occasions when the inscrutable artist revealed his working methods and artistic motivations. Magritte had otherwise always refused to explain his works, which gave glimpses of what “the mystery of the world” might look like in pictorial form."

"The works on display give a multi-faceted view of the development of Magritte’s working process in different periods. The phases of Magritte’s life and his ideas lend wings to this journey through the artist’s chequered career, right from the early days of Surrealism to his “Vache period”. Besides the visual arts, the supplementary programme for this exhibition by the cinephile artist also extends to Bio Rex’s silver screen in the guise of the silent film serial Fantômas by Louis Feuillade."

"The exhibition is realised in collaboration with the MASI, Museo d’arte della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland. The curators are two Belgian Surrealism experts: Director of the Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi, Xavier Canonne; and art historian Julie Waseige."

Magrit­te's Sur­re­al­ism

"Surrealism is a movement in modern art, literature and film that was at its most influential between the world wars, but its heritage can still be seen in the visual arts today, too. It sprang up as a protest against realism and Cubism – Surrealism literally means “being above the real”. The movement was led by the French poet André Breton, and the ranks of famous surrealists include Salvador Dali and Joan Miró. The Surrealists emphasized art that comes about without the conscious control of reason, aesthetics or morality, and were interested in dreams and psychoanalytic theory."

"René Magritte and his Belgian Surrealist circle, nevertheless, diverged from the mainstream in their use of reality as a tool for calling that very reality into question. Magritte was not so interested in the subconscious, but used his art to investigate reality as an untrustworthy, ideological structure. Chopping it up and borrowing elements from it, nevertheless, allowed him to address fundamental questions about human existence – in Magritte’s words “the mystery of the world”." (Official introduction)

"L'art de peindre est un art de penser"
 – René Magritte

Today I visited my first René Magritte exhibition. Magritte imagery is certainly familiar from reproductions, and I have always considered Magritte one of the great surrealists. At the same time I have had a tendency to find aspects of his work decorative and ornamental, and to see Magritte an artist-designer in the twilight area between pure art and advertising / graphic design. Indeed, Magritte also created wallpaper designs, advertisements and book illustrations. He was a hard-working professional who often created his works in series. As have many other artists at least since the Renaissance. Andy Warhol was certainly not the first artist to have had a Factory.

Magritte had no factory, or he was the factory. He was a nine-to-five artist, very productive and creative all his life. He spent a lot of time in finding concepts and worked efficiently as soon as the concept had matured. He was an idea-driven painter. The idea came first, the vision followed, and from the ideas and the visions he could produce many variations. The first work was usually an oil painting, and the follow-ups could be in gouache.

Reading the excellent book to the catalogue edited by Xavier Canonne, Julie Waseige, and Guido Comis I realize that I have been wrong in my suspicions about Magritte as a commercial assembly line artist. On the contrary, he was a committed surrealist since the beginning of the movement and to the end of his life. He was politically radical, close to communism, although keeping a distance to political leaders. His mission was always revolutionary. For decades René lived in frugal circumstances but since the 1940s the Magrittes could enjoy a life of ease thanks to the commitment of wealthy American collectors. He lived a very orderly life together with his wife Georgette. Perhaps a little like Sigmund Freud: those with revolutionary views may prefer a conventional lifestyle. But above all, it was a life of love. Love and revolution were the surrealist watchwords. Georgette was René's great love, model and inspiration.

Revolution was inherent in Magritte's mission to see otherwise. There is a marvellous unity and consistency in Magritte's oeuvre, a commitment to see differently, to challenge our way of seeing, to think laterally. Magritte's works are not only pictorial. Words are important, too, and Magritte created many word paintings. The titles of his paintings are meaningful but have usually nothing to do with the imagery. Rather the titles are humoristic puns that undermine interpretation. Magritte's entire work has a philosophical dimension, it is a personal Kritik der reinen Vernunft. In fact, his work is also a critique of seeing itself, of visualization. Edgar Allan Poe was important for Magritte.

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream

It is essential to see Magritte "live", "in the flesh". In reproduction some of his works resemble advertising illustrations, but in this exhibition at close range they come alive. It is rewarding to examine the paintings from different distances. At close range one can usually observe a dynamic and vigorous brushstroke beyond photorealism. Or discover extremely fine and fussy brushwork in a deceptively simple image such as La Chambre écoute in which an outsized green apple fills an entire room. The protective glass is non-reflecting and so subtly installed that it is practically invisible. The Magritte show, the second main exhibition at Amos Rex, is its first traditional main endeavour. The opening number was the mind-boggling digital & virtual reality extravaganza, teamLab's Massless. Now we know that Amos Rex is perfect for a good old-fashioned painting exhibition, too. The hanging and lighting are excellent.

The book is worth reading from cover to cover, and the illustrations include famous works not included in the exhibition. The Helsinki exhibition seems to be different from the Lugano one, but it covers the full range of Magritte from the early days to the 1960s and includes all stages of his evolution. My favourite Magritte series L'Empire des lumières is not included in the Helsinki exhibition, and my favourite painting in the Helsinki exhibition, À la rencontre du plaisir (see image above), is not illustrated in the catalogue. The selection of illustrations in the book is excellent, but the colour reproductions fail to do justice to the originals. They are flat and tame in comparison with the actual paintings.

The exhibition and the catalogue are a wonderful adventure in the surrealistic dimension of the insolite, the uncanny, das Unheimliche. Magritte never lost his special talent in finding his way into that secret region. Nor his professional ability to paint his ideas with striking precision.


Like surrealists in general, all his life Magritte was an ardent film buff. Luis Buñuel was a friend of his. In the exhibition is included Le Retour de flamme (1943), his riff on the famous Fantômas book cover art (1911, artist unknown). Magritte replaced the bloody dagger in the hand of Fantômas with a rose. In the film poster for Louis Feuillade's Fantômas (1913-1914) the same image was used but the hand was empty. In the 1960s Magritte also painted a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock.

René Magritte: Le Retour de flamme. 1943. Oil on canvas. 65 x 50. CR535. Private collection. Courtesy Foundation Magritte, Brussels. Photo: Amos Rex. Hommage to the original Fantômas book cover art (1911, artist unknown).

Belgian and French surrealists in dream state around René Magritte's painting La Femme cachée (1929). The photograph was reproduced in La Révolution surréaliste, no. 12, December 1929. Photo from the book to the exhibition: Magritte: La Ligne de vie. The 16 photomatons with the surrealists with their eyes closed were compiled by André Breton. Les portraits de seize surréalistes les yeux clos, à savoir de gauche à droite et de haut en bas: Maxime Alexandre, Louis Aragon, André Breton, Luis Buñuel, Jean Caupenne, Salvador Dalí, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Marcel Fourrier, Camille Goemans, René Magritte, Paul Nougé, Georges Sadoul, Yves Tanguy, André Thirion, Albert Valentin.

René Magritte and Georgette Magritte in a photograph by René Magritte: L'Ombre et son ombre. 1932. Gelatin silver print. 7.8 x 8. Gift of Edward and Joyce Strauss, Englewood, New Jersey, to American Friends of the Israel Museum. © ADAGP, Paris. Accession number: B90.0282(e). Digital presentation of this object was made possible by: Nancy Wald, in honor of the memory of Benjamin Miller. - They met as teenagers in 1913. Their relationship was interrupted by WWI. They married in 1922. Georgette was the wife and le principale modèle for René.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Our Hospitality (world premiere of the 2019 Lobster Films restoration, 2019 original score by Robert Israel)

Our Hospitality. Buster Keaton with his wife Natalie Talmadge.

Our Hospitality. Buster Keaton, Jr., Buster Keaton and Joseph Keaton.

Our Hospitality. Buster Keaton.

Our Hospitality. The Rocket engine, Joseph Keaton as the engineer.

Our Hospitality. The Olaf Möller moment. When the donkey doesn't budge the railroad must move.

Vieraanvaraisuutta / Ruutia, räminää ja rakkautta / Krut, kulor och kärlek / Les Lois de l'hospitalité.
    US © 1923 Joseph M. Schenck Productions. PC: Buster Keaton Productions, Inc. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D: Buster Keaton, John G. Blystone. SC: Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell. Cin: Elgin Lessley, Gordon Jennings. AD: Fred Gabourie. Cost: Walter J. Israel. Technical director: Fred Gabourie.
    C: Buster Keaton (Willie McKay), Natalie Talmadge (Virginia Canfield), Joe Roberts (Joseph Canfield), Buster Keaton, Jr. (William McKay as a baby), Joseph Keaton (Lem Doolittle, locomotive engineer), Kitty Bradbury (Aunt Mary), Leonard Clapham (James Canfield), Craig Ward (Lee Canfield), Ralph Bushman (Clayton Canfield), Edward Coxen (Father John McKay), Jean Dumas (Mother McKay), Monte Collins (the parson Benjamin Dorsey), James Duffy (Sam Gardner, locomotive leader), Tom London (James Canfield), Erwin Connelly (husband quarreling with wife).
    Loc: Lake Tahoe and Truckee River, California.
    Premiere: 3 Nov 1923 Los Angeles.
    Helsinki premiere: Piccadilly, Punainen Mylly 10.10.1924, distributor: Aktiebolaget Royal Film Osakeyhtiö – film control 12831 – S – 1706 / 1880 / 1930 / 1949 m
    2019: Les Lois de l'hospitalité (Our Hospitality, 1923) a été restauré par Lobster Films en association avec Film Preservation Associates, à parti d’un contretype nitrate de la collection Blackhawk conservé à la Motion Picture Academy (Hollywood), et une copie diacétate de première génération issue des collections du Musée d’Art Moderne (MoMA, New York). La nouvelle partition orchestrale a été composée pour le film par Robert Israel, en 2018, et interprétée par le Robert Israel Orchestra. 2K DCP. In colour with a simulation of toning. 76 min
    World premiere of the restoration screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Buster Keaton / Lobster Films), 3 Feb 2019

Revisited Our Hospitality which to David Robinson is the first of his two greatest masterpieces, the other one being The General.

Never since its first run has Our Hospitality looked as beautiful as in this new 2019 restoration which we had the privilege to access in this our opening season of Kino Regina.

Our Hospitality is one of Keaton's most beautiful films. It is a romantic film, a family film, a pastoral film and a bucolic film. It is also a film about the sublime of the nature with scenes of an exploding dam, a giant flood, mountains, precipices, and a thunderous waterfall in the final climax. All this gains immensely from the refined look of the restoration. As does the lovingly cultivated wealth of period detail.

It is also a violent account of a family feud. Willie McKay (Keaton) is the last in line in his family, and during his journey on a Stephenson's Rocket train he falls in love with Virginia Canfield (Natalie Talmadge). Only when they reach home do Willie and Virginia realize the antagonism of their families and that the only thought in the minds of the Canfield males is to kill Willie. But as long as Willie is a Canfield house guest they have an obligation to Southern hospitality.

Our Hospitality was Keaton's first mature feature film. The narrative is meaningful, the milieu is convincing, and everything connects. The story belongs to the Romeo and Juliet tradition but is constantly inventive and original.

The gags and the humoristic observations grow organically from the story and the milieu. The corner of Broadway and 42nd Street anno 1830 that looks as rural as the protagonists' homes in the South. Willie's draisine (ancestor of the bicycle). The donkey that refuses to move from the railroad.

"Blessed are the peacemakers". This is the film in which the passer-by Buster tries to act as a peacemaker in a scene of family violence unrelated to the narrative. The result: the harassed wife starts to beat Buster.

Starting with the explosion of a dam Our Hospitality turns into an action film. Among the breathtaking action scenes is the fight of a Canfield with Willie on a high mountain, both tied to each another by rope. The acrobatic stunts of their falling in turns down the high slope to the wild river are amazing.

The climax is a rapidshooting and even a logrolling sequence, familiar in Nordic cinema since Mauritz Stiller's The Song of a Scarlet Flower, but never in our countries was this motif as thrilling as here. To begin with, it is rapidshooting à deux: both Willie and Virginia fall into the river and are in danger of perishing in the waterfalls. No matter how often one sees the climax it remains breathtaking.

Our Hospitality was a family affair. For the only time Buster acted together with his wife Natalie Talmadge (this was her last film). For the only time we see three generations of Keatons on screen (see image above). "I love you, I film you" is a special and distinctive phenomenon in the cinema: directors casting their wives / loved ones in leading roles. Our Hospitality was Keaton's main contribution to this trend.

Robert Israel's approach in his new (2019) score is romantic. The music is warm and tender, and it emphasizes the emotional message of the movie. "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself" is the motto on the wall of the Canfield living room. First it is seen in the light of brutal irony. In the finale it can be taken at face value.

The visual quality is brilliant and the colour solutions are subtle and refined.


The High Sign

The "High Sign" / Malec champion de tir / Henkivartija / Livvakten.
    US 1921. PC: Joseph M. Schenck Productions. Dist: Metro Pictures. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline. Cin: Elgin Lessley. VFX: Elgin Lessley. C: Buster Keaton (Our Hero), Bartine Burkett (Miss Nickelnurser), Ingram B. Pickett (Tiny Tim, tall villain), Charles Dorety (gang member), Joe Roberts (leader of Buzzards), Al St. John (man in target practice).
    Loc: Venice Pier (Venice, Los Angeles, California). Production dates: Jan 1920.
    Premiere: 18 April 1921.
    2K DCP from Lobster Films with a Donald Sosin score.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Buster Keaton / Lobster Films), 3 Feb 2019.

The High Sign was Buster Keaton's first independent short to be produced but One Week was the first to be released.

Lobster Films catalogue: "A la recherche d’un travail, un homme est engagé dans un stand de tir. Mais ce stand n’est qu’une couverture pour une association d’assassins. Et lorsque parallèlement il est engagé pour protéger le père d’une charmante jeune fille, et par les assassins pour le tuer, notre protagoniste devra faire face a un quiproquo de taille."

Wikipedia: "Buster plays a drifter who cons his way into working at an amusement park shooting gallery. Believing Buster is an expert marksman, both the murderous gang the Blinking Buzzards and the man they want to kill end up hiring him. The film ends with a wild chase through a house filled with secret passages."

AA: The High Sign, Buster Keaton's first independently produced short, is immediately brilliant, but Keaton was so insecure that he postponed its release.

The basic concept is the same as in Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars: the protagonist is hired by both sides. By August Nickelnurser the town miser as a bodyguard, and by the Blinking Buzzards gang of thugs as a hitman to kill Nickelnurser who refuses to pay protection money.

Buster Keaton is not like Yojimbo or The Man With No Name: he cannot shoot. He is just a drifter who would prefer to stay out of trouble.

The film is full of funny detail. The oversized newspaper in which Keaton finds the want ad for the shooting gallery. The banana with which Keaton replaces a policeman's gun. A cup of coffee spiked by the gangsters is superimposed with a shot of a rearing horse.

The structure is based on the escalation principle, and the climax takes place at Nickelnurser's home in which every room has been equipped with trapdoors and secret passages. Keaton handles the double chase brilliantly. A special set was constructed in which we can follow the chase on two floors without cutting. Nobody has done such comedy action sequences with more panache.

Donald Sosin's score has bite and verve, perfect for this comedy.


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Comizi d'amore / Love Meetings

Pier Paolo Pasolini conducts interviews about love for his documentary Comizi d'amore.

Comizi d'amore: Cesare Musatti and Alberto Moravia discuss the interviews with Pasolini.

IT 1964. PC: Arco Film (Rome). P: Alfredo Bini. D+SC: Pier Paolo Pasolini. Cin (16 mm, blow-up to 35 mm, b&w, 1,85): Mario Bernardo, Tonino Delli Colli.
    M: no original score. Songs "I Watussi" (Edoardo Vianello); "Partita di pallone" (Mario Cantini, Edoardo Vianello); "Son finite le vacanze" (Mario Cantini); "Se mi perderai" (Domenico Colarossi, Pasquale Tassone); "Stessa spiaggia stesso mare" (Piero Soffici). Giuseppe Verdi: "I vespri siciliani", overture.
    ED: Nino Baragli. Commentary: Lello Bersani, Pasolini.
    Loc: Napoli; Porta Capuana; Palermo; San Pietro; Camporeale, Partinico; Cefalù; Rooma; Pasolinin koti; Centocellen kirkko; Fiuminico; Milano; Idroscalo; Firenze; Viareggio; Bologna; Venetsia; Catanzaro; Crotone.
    A documentary film on Italians and love.
    Perf: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alberto Moravia and Cesare Musatti. In order of appearance: Camilla Cederna, Oriana Fallaci, Adele Cambria, Peppino Di Capri, Squadra di calcio del Bologna (Bulgarelli, Furlanis, Negri, Pascutti, Pavinato, Janich, Nielsen, Haller, Tumburus, Fogli, Perani), Giuseppe Ungaretti, Antonella Lualdi, Graziella Granata, Ignazio Buttitta. Graziella Chiarcossi.
    2572 m / 93 min
    AA add: song: "I'm Counting on You" (Don Robertson) perf. Elvis Presley (from his debut album Elvis Presley, 1956).
    A 35 mm print from Cinecittà Luce with English subtitles, courtesy Compass Film / Movie-Time. Courtesy Istituto Italiano di Cultura Helsinki.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (DocPoint / Pier Paolo Pasolini), 2 Feb 2019.

The structure of Comizi d'amore (da Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera):
Primo tempo

    Ricerche 1 - Grande fritto misto all'italiana. Dove si vede una specie di commesso viaggiatore che gira per l'Italia a sondare gli italiani sui loro gusti sessuali: e ciò non per lanciare un prodotto, ma nel più sincero proposito di capire e di riferire fedelmente.
        Come gli italiani accolgono l'idea di film di questo genere?
        Come si comportano di fronte all'idea d'importanza del sesso nella vita?
    Ricerche 2 - Schifo o pietà?
Secondo tempo
    Ricerche 3 - La vera Italia?       
        Comizi nelle spiagge romane o il sesso come sesso
        Comizi sulle spiagge milanesi o il sesso come hobby
        Comizi sulle spiagge meridionali o il sesso come onore
        Comizi al Lido o il sesso come successo
        Comizi sulle spiagge toscane (popolari) o il sesso come piacere       
        Comizi sulle spiagge toscane (borghesi) o il sesso come dovere
    Ricerche 4 - Dal basso e dal profondo

AA: We had a sneak start for our forthcoming complete Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective with this special DocPoint screening to a packed house of Comizi d'amore.

It is a unique film for Pasolini, launched by him and Alfredo Bini during their location scouting tour for The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

The super intellectual Pasolini here displays a genuine popular touch and turns out to be an excellent interviewer. His questions are intimate and direct, but his respect for the dignity and humanity of each and every one is so apparent that people are happy to answer him.

Clearly Pasolini has been inspired by the cinéma-vérité approach of film-makers such as Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin in Chronique d'un été (1961) which we screened at DocPoint earlier this week. The film has been shot in newsreel style on 16 mm by two top cinematographers, Mario Bernardo and Tonio Delli Colli.

The visual distinction of the film is the revelation of dozens of faces and eyes shining with life. The subject of love and sex is always best if you want to have people beaming with happiness: a point of comparison might be Agnès Varda's Daguerréotypes (1975). Comizi d'amore is Pasolini's sunniest and happiest film. There is like a gentle warm breath blowing through the film.

Yet Pasolini is direct in his questions. He starts by asking children where babies come from. (Answers range from "la cicogna" to Jesus and God). He asks about taboos, free love, equality, marriage, divorce, inversion (homosexuality), and prostitution. It must have been painful for Pasolini to record expressions of extreme homophobia, but he does not show it. There are at least five "autocensura" moments in the film where comments have been erased from the soundtrack.

Comizi d'amore is a documentation of the extreme diversity of views between the North and the South, of different social classes, and of men and women. It is also a documentation of the changing conditions: young women are free and independent and expect equality. Old men on the farms of the South are the most traditional, and Sicily is a chapter apart. We hear a remark about poor farmers that "a peasant woman's honour is wealth to them".

The audience had a good time. Italian viewers laughed most and in different moments than others.

The world has changed – to start with, today's children would answer differently to the first question "where do babies come from?" – but the biggest issues never go away.


Senses of Cinema World Poll 2018: my favourites

Jean-Luc Godard: Le Livre d'image (2018).

Never before have there been so many lists of the best films of the year. Particularly the compilation in Sight & Sound's end of the year double issue is amazing and well-edited with special thematic articles and essays.

The distinction of the Senses of Cinema World Poll 2018 collection of 160 lists, published yesterday, is its anarchic and unwieldy character. I have spent two days reading those lists, and it's mind-blowing. Certain titles stand out, being repeated on many lists, but even more interesting are the differences. The listings of rediscovered classics are also rewarding to study.

I sent my entry to Senses of Cinema two months ago, on 3 December 2018, and now that it has been published I copy it here. The films are in chronological order – in the order in which I saw them.

As a film viewer I am normally a heavy user. Ten films a week is my normal diet, in addition to which I watched ten dvd's a week when I had a five-year crash course in the dvd phenomenon. During a film festival my regular diet is around 40 shows (feature films or short film programmes).

Now I'm having a "less is more" period since seven years. Only in festivals do I try to watch films from morning till night, 30-40 shows per festival. Otherwise I watch less films than ever and spend more time digesting them than ever. It's gotten to a rhythm of two hours watching a film and ten hours digesting and writing. Some of the films I digest so thoroughly that I run out of time to write which is why I fail to incorporate the most important films in my blog! I keep being amazed how rich and rewarding the truly worthwhile films are when one takes the time really to study them. All the films below are such cases.


Machines (Rahul Jain, 2016). Documentary. Shot in India, the reality of labour and exploitation in global economy
Nokia Mobile (Arto Koskinen, 2017). Documentary. The inside story of the rise and fall of the Nokia community. Phenomenal call options for a tiny elite destroyed the common spirit.
G. J. Ramstedtin maailma / Eastern Memories [The World of G. J. Ramstedt] (Niklas Kullström, Martti Kaartinen, 2017). Documentary. The story of an explorer, linguist and diplomat in Mongolia, Japan, and Korea a hundred years ago. The way to the discovery of a foreign language through its spiritual essence.
Polte / Flame (Sami van Ingen, 2018). An experimental short. In the decayed footage of Teuvo Tulio's Nuorena nukkunut / Silja (1937) the fire is still burning.
The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017). Steven Spielberg in his best form in a taut historical drama about the freedom of the press and being the sole woman in an all male panel.
Une saison en France / A Season in France (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2017). Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is one of the greatest masters of contemporary cinema. A work of rare dignity and humanity about an asylum-seeker's agony.
Le vénérable W. / The Venerable W. (Barbet Schroeder, 2017). Documentary. An exceptional and terrifying movie, an inside story about the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
M – a Film by Anna Eriksson (Anna Eriksson, 2018). An artist's film, a debut film, an independent film by a popular singer. A passion play, a work of body art, about the suffering of the flesh and the illusoriness of the image.
Ilosia aikoja, mielensäpahoittaja / Happier Times, Grump (Tiina Lymi, 2018). A new entry in the saga of the Grump, the one for whom everything was better in the past. A comedy with gravity. The memorial after a funeral destroys any remaining family spirit. The Grump starts crafting a coffin for himself. In the finale he crafts a cradle for his great-grandchild.
Vieras / Strange (Mox Mäkelä, 2018). A feature length artist's film by a pioneering conceptual artist. A sound play movie, abundant, generous, literate, hand-crafted, full of associations. A paean to life, not only human, but to all living things. Unwieldy and unforgettable.
BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018). Spike Lee at his best. The approach can be compared with Ernst Lubitsch in To Be Or Not To Be. Well cast. Laura Harrier is one to watch.
Le Livre d'image / The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2018). The poet's view gets darker. This cosmic poem of associations focuses on the maelstrom of violence and terrorism of our times.
Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018). Granik's first fiction feature after Winter's Bone. The forest sense strikes a chord familiar to a Finn. The forest is the last refuge for the PTSD father whose daughter needs to break free from his nomad life.


K.S.E. Komsomol – Shef elektrifikatsii / K.S.E. Komsomol – Leader of Electrification (Esfir Shub, 1932). Non-fiction, no compilation. An industrial montage film with an avantgardistic approach in sound, including the theremin. (Our "Mothers of the Montage Film" retrospective dedicated to Esfir Shub and Nicole Vedrès.)
Scener ur ett äktenskap 1–6 / Scenes from a Marriage 1–6 (Ingmar Bergman, 1973). The 2002 restoration, part of the Bergman 100 touring show. Bergman at his most reduced and at his most emotionally powerful.
Slnko v sieti / The Sun in the Net (Štefan Uher, 1962). A Slovakian New Wave film set in Bratislava. Could be a double bill with Antonioni's L'eclisse.
Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo (Kenne Fant, 1957). A mix of Don Camillo and Bresson's The Diary of a Country Priest, a unique saga of Swedish Protestantism, starring Max von Sydow and with Ingmar Bergman as advisor in their annus mirabilis. (Ingmar Bergman Centenary).
The Patsy (Jerry Lewis, 1964). Jerry Lewis's last Paramount film, a nightmare comedy about the loss of identity, with Jill St. John as a center of sanity. The cosmic solitude. The Pygmalion narrative taken to metaphysical dimensions. (Jerry Lewis in memoriam).
La donna scimmia / The Ape Woman (Marco Ferreri, 1964). From Ferreri's greatest period, a constantly surprising saga of itinerant performers: a ruthless showman (Ugo Tognazzi) and his hairy woman (Annie Girardot). (Viva Erotica! festival, alerted by Olaf Möller).
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948). The Nitrate Picture Show. "About art worth dying for". Striking in the vintage print is the softness of the image and the subdued quality of the colour dreamspace. The 2009 digital restoration looks completely different with its loud and bright colour world.
Vechir na Ivana Kupala / The Eve of Ivan Kupalo (Yuri Ilyenko, 1968). 70 mm. Stunning Ukrainian psychedelia based on Nikolai Gogol's Dikanka stories, from the "Crazy Year 1968". (50 Years Ago).
Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968). A beautiful 50th anniversary restoration, a sing-along performance at the Big Top in Midnight Sun Film Festival. I saw this during the first run but now the surreal animation stands out more clearly. (50 Years Ago).
Seed (John M. Stahl, 1931). John M. Stahl was the discovery of this year. Melodrama taken seriously, interpreted with tact and restraint. The mystery of the wooden male protagonists in Stahl's 1930s films was illuminated by Imogen Sara Smith.
1898. Anno Tre: Vues scientifiques: science and science fiction. Curated by Mariann Lewinsky for Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, films by Londe, Doyen, Lumière, Breteau, and Méliès. Film programming of the highest order, startling associations from fiction to non-fiction, from medical records to surrealism.
Luciano Emmer: Goya: La festa di Sant'Isidoro (1950), Picasso (1954) and Leonardo da Vinci (1952). As recognized by André Bazin, Luciano Emmer was the first to truly understand the unique contribution of the cinema to art biography via a montage of the artworks themselves. Though the prints are woeful the Emmer inspiration remains exemplary. (Luciano Emmer retrospective at Il Cinema Ritrovato).
Monterey Pop (D. A. Pennebaker, 1968). 50th Anniversary Restoration in 4K. The manifesto of counterculture looks and sounds better than ever. Electrifying, mesmerizing, inspiring. (50 Years Ago).
Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977). The 2013 restoration of the Director's Cut. The burning oilfields, the Paris Stock Exchange, the Damascus Gate, and the perilous journey are even more potent images today than at the time of the first run. (Helsinki Film Festival at Savoy).
The Lincoln Cycle (John M. Stahl, 1917). This Benjamin Chapin vehicle grows into a marvellous parallel saga about the Lincoln family and the U.S. Civil War. Of equal grandeur as John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto).
Das alte Gesetz / The Ancient Law (E. A. Dupont, 1923). The 1984 restoration was distinguished but this 2018 restoration is a revelation. A masterpiece emerges. The story is the same as in The Jazz Singer, but this film is more rich and profound. We know Lotte H. Eisner's praise of the exceptional visual quality of this movie in L'Écran démoniaque, This restoration helps us understand why. (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, live cinema with Donald Sosin and Alicia Svigals).
The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932). The 2017 Cohen Collection restoration. James Whale's greatest horror film and the greatest haunted house film deserves this subtle restoration that does justice to the cinematography of Arthur Edeson and the incredible cast.
Godovshchina revoliutsii / Anniversary of the Revolution (Dziga Vertov, 1918). Nikolai Izvolov surprises the world with the reconstruction of Vertov’s first feature believed lost for almost a hundred years. It is a linear and and traditional compilation but the footage is stunning and mostly unseen. (Cinema Orion, event made possible by Birgit Beumers and Nikolai Izvolov).

Friday, January 25, 2019

Paul Osipow (exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki)

Paul Osipow. Espressopannu, juureksia [Moka Pot, Root Vegetables] (2003). Oil on canvas. 75 x 100. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki. Please do click on the images to enlarge them.

Paul Osipow: Olympia (2013) Oil on canvas. 210 x 170. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki.

Paul Osipow: Paradise View II (1989). Acrylic paint on canvas. 120 x 90. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki.

Paul Osipow: Sininen kallo ja hattu / [Blue Skull and Hat] (2006). Oil on canvas. 81 x 130. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki.

The exhibition:
Paul Osipow
    Helsingin Taidehalli / Helsingforst Konsthall / Kunsthalle Helsinki
    Producer: Suomen Taideyhdistys ry.
    Curator: Kari Kenetti.
    Team: Paul Osipow, Jan Förster, Päivi Karttunen, Kari Kenetti, Anna Kinnunen, Kiira Miesmaa, Lotta Nelimarkka, Lasse Saarinen, Martta Soveri, Pirkko Tuukkonen.

The book:
Paul Osipow. Edited by Pirkko Tuukkanen. Layout: Penni Osipow, Teemu Pokala.
    Text of introduction ("The White Hat") by Silja Rantanen, an interview with Paul Osipow conducted in July 2018 by Timo Valjakka ("I Want to Paint and Look at Paintings"), foreword by Lasse Saarinen and a translation by Aira Buffa of Umberto Eco's satire "Come presentare un catalogo d'arte" (L'Espresso, 2.4.1980). Plus "Chronological Samplings" from Osipow's life.
    Richly illustrated from 22 sources. Bilingual in Finnish and Swedish.
    ISBN 978-952-68476-3-4.
    Helsinki: Grano, 2019.

The official introduction: "The extensive retrospective exhibition of Paul Osipow, one of the top names of Finnish art, at Kunsthalle Helsinki, is a display of the transformations in the artist's oeuvre across several decades. The exhibition produced by Finnish Art Society has been curated by the gallerist Kari Kenetti."

"Paul Osipow (b. 1939) has during his artistic career spanning 60 years examined systematically the possibilities of his means of expression via painting. In the exhibition produced by Finnish Art Society are on display Osipow's geometrical and free form abstractions, classical figurative subjects such as still lives of food and ruins and also non-figurative paintings from the 1960s to this day that have never before been exhibited in public."

"In the focus of the versatile expressions has always been painting and its process. References to various painters and currents are in evidence. The artist is not a follower of any particular style or ideology. All through his career he has drawn independently from the history of art and focused on painting as an organic happening in which colours and form search their place on the canvas."

"Osipow graduated from the School of the Finnish Art Academy in 1962. His works are held in significant Nordic collections such as the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo, Ateneum, and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Osipow has received important awards including Suomen Taideyhdistyksen Dukaattipalkinto 1966, the government's 15 year artist grant  1985, Prince Eugen's medal 1989, Pro Finlandia medal 1990, Suomen Leijonan ritarikunnan komentajamerkki 2005, and a life achievement award of the Kordelin Foundation in 2009."

AA: Paul Osipow's artistic creation has gone on for more than 60 years now. In the 1960s he was reacting to trends of his times, but since then he has proceeded irreverently and independently in his own ways, always curious to try something new. Most of his major works veer to abstraction, but he is always more than happy to move back and forth between the figurative and the non-figurative.

The joy of colour and pure form are constants in Osipow's paintings. He is happy to use bright and elementary colours, and for a film person it is interesting to learn that he loved Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965) and revisited it several times during its first run. The sensual explosion of colour and the glow of the Mediterranean sun are important for Osipow to this day.

Osipow's teacher in the early 1960s was Sam Vanni, the great pioneer of Finnish abstract art, but in order to free himself from Vanni's shadow Osipow embraced Pop Art for a while. Osipow has been widely travelled since youth, with Paris and Italy as especially important destinations, and in the 1970s he stayed in the U.S. Robert Rauschenberg made a particularly great impact on him.

From the 1950s to the 1970s Osipow absorbed the creations of contemporary art but during recent decades he has been focusing on the antiquity and the classics of Italian art and stayed for extended periods in Mediterranean countries within the tradition of the Roman Empire. He has a special affection to the artists of the Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque.

In both periods Osipow's art has been "in contrast to Finnish melancholy". His colours are bright and elementary but the abstract impulse is evident in his minimalist urge. My favourite painting in the exhibition is called "Untitled" (1983, acrylic paint on canvas, 227 x 179, Gothenburg Museum of Art). It is a colour revelation in shades of dark red. It has an affinity with Rothko, his approach to nothingness, and Osipow indeed was impressed with the Rothko Chapel. I would like to provide an illustration here but the reproduction in the catalogue fails to do justice to the work. It might be a favourite of Osipow himself, as it is one in a series of three highly reduced abstractions on the wall which was right behind him in the vernissage.

Many of Osipow's approaches and motifs are on display: abstractions, skulls, hats, collages, Pop, constructivism, minimalism, letter motifs, serials and single works, pearl paintings, optical illusions, grids, ruins, sausages, walls, fruit, vegetables, cakes and pastry. The comic strip influences of Pop Art make a return in his recent Mediterranean views. There are even recent paintings of the delight of the female nude with a touch of Matisse. The latest Osipow serial is inspired by colour mosaics of rugs and carpets. Osipow, not a program painter, remembers a soirée arranged by Maire Gullichsen, a major patron of the arts, who had invited artists to celebrate the visit of the gallerist Denise René. There was a debate on the topic "How do I recognize a great work of art?". Ms. Gullichsen (80-something at the time) grabbed herself in the crotch and stated: "Then I know when I feel it here".

Osipow's paintings are often abstract, but there is a sense of something elementary, a sense of urgency, a compelling drive. I have often seen Osipow's paintings in exhibitions and private homes, but this is my first visit to a solo exhibition of his. The retrospective is a richly rewarding journey, and the fellow painter Silja Rantanen and the art historian Timo Valjakka provide us with background and context in the book to the exhibition. Its texts and the selection of its illustrations are great, but the reproduction of the colours is flat and fails to do justice to the originals.