Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 16 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1994)

Cd cover art: Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840): Tageszeitenzyklus: Der Abend. 1821. Öl auf Leinwand. 22 cm x 30.5 cm. Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover. Photo: Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum. Please click to enlarge the photo!

 Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 21/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 16–20
Stephen Kovacevich, 1994 (Nos. 16–18) and 1999 (Nos. 19–20)

Opus 31 Nr. 1: Klaviersonate Nr. 16 in G-Dur (1802)
    Erster Satz: Allegro vivace, G-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 325 Takte
    Zweiter Satz: Adagio grazioso, C-Dur, 9/8 Takt, 119 Takte
    Dritter Satz: Rondo, Allegretto, G-Dur, alla breve, 275 Takte

AA: Like Beethoven's piano sonata no. 6 and piano sonata no. 10, the piano sonata no. 16 is a comic number. Alfred Brendel in his essay "Must classical music be entirely serious?" (in Music Sounded Out, 1990) singled out this sonata and stated that "only the comic intent makes it plausible". He also quoted Jean Paul who claimed that comedy is "the sublime in reverse".

Edwin Fischer and András Schiff find in the Adagio grazioso movement a parody of Italian opera. Before them, Romain Rolland had found in the entire sonata an "imitation of Italian theatre" and in the Adagio grazioso an affinity with Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Rossini's opera was published 15 years after this sonata. Perhaps the earlier phase of Italian opera buffa, whose success overwhelmed Beethoven in Vienna, already displayed similar bel canto features.

Schiff in his Guardian lecture compares the middle movement with Verdi's "Va pensiero" and "Bella figlia dell'amore", composed 40–50 years later. The spirit of opera buffa, dramma lirico and melodramma seems to have been alive so much earlier that it is recognizable even in parody. If it is parody, is a good question. When an artist has a sense of humour, he does not take himself seriously even when he takes his subject seriously.

In the first movement the hands are struggling to play in unison. I am thinking about the horror movie The Hands of Orlac where a virtuoso pianist (Conrad Veidt) becomes a victim of a cruel accident, and a surgeon transplants a killer's hands on him. There is something jokingly mechanical in the movement, and I'm also reminded of the cuckoo motif favoured by many composers (also Beethoven later composed a "cuckoo sonata"), even J. E. Jonasson's earworm "Gökvalsen" ("The Cuckoo Waltz", 1918, most memorably used in the cinema by Akira Kurosawa in The Stray Dog).

The second movement is exaggerated and ornamental, like a "play within a play". I'm thinking about Chaplin's Burlesque on Carmen, Jean Renoir's Madame Bovary where the protagonist visits a provincial opera to see Lucia di Lammermoor, and George Cukor's Little Women, made in the same year, where Jo March visits the same opera in old New York during the Civil War. The scenes are both amusing and touching.

The third movement, Rondo allegretto, starts with a breezy theme that has a fleeting resemblance with the famous Boccherini minuet (from his opus G 275) known to cinephiles from The Ladykillers and the music box of Two Rode Together. 

For Anton Rubinstein, this was Beethoven's weakest sonata, but probably he did not get the joke. It's about relaxation, flexing one's muscles, overcoming the horrible adversities that the composer was facing in these gloomy years. The composer refuses to get depressed and faces fate with a smile. The piece must be played with wit and panache, like Alfred Brendel, Emil Gilels, Daniel Barenboim and András Schiff.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Mälarpirater (1923) (2019 digital restoration by Svenska Filminstitutet)

Gustaf Molander: Mälarpirater (1923) with Albert Christiernsson (Erik Schalén) and Einar Hansen (Georg Schalén).

Gustaf Molander: Mälarpirater (1923) with Einar Hansen (Georg Schalén), Albert Christiernsson (Erik Schalén) and Tom Walter (Fabian Scholke). My screenshot from Bonner Sommerkino digital.

Gustaf Molander: Mälarpirater (1923) with Inga Tidblad (Rose). My screenshot from Bonner Sommerkino digital.

Gustaf Molander: Mälarpirater (1923). Art title design by Alva Lundin. My screenshot from Bonner Sommerkino digital.

Mälarpirater : Ett pojkäventyr i 6 akter / Mälarin sissit / Die Mälarpiraten.
    SE 1923. PC: AB Svensk Filmindustri.
    D+SC: Gustaf Molander – based on the novel (1911) by Sigfrid Siwertz – in Finnish: Määlarin risteilijät, translated by Simo Pakarinen (Otava, 1939). Cin: Axel Lindblom. AD: Ragnar Brattén. M for Röda Kvarn's Orchestra (18 players): Rudolf Sahlberg. Intertitle design: Alva Lundin.
    C: Einar Hanson (Georg Schalén, son of the editor Karl Schalén), Albert Christiernsson (Erik, Georg's brother, 11), Tom Walter (Fabian Scholke), Nils Arehn (the Count of Tollerö), Inga Tidblad (Rose, daughter of the Count), Georg Grönroos (Mayor Konrad Schalén), Tekla Sjöblom (Mrs. Schalén), Georg Blomstedt (salmon merchant Anakreon Vinquist), Carl Browallius (Nicander), Albert Ståhl (Scholke, master sweep, Fabian's father), Tyra Dörum (Mrs. Scholke), Justus Hagman (butler to the Count), Josua Bengtson (fisherman), Gustaf Aronsson (fisherman), Tyra Ryman (maid with Mayor Schalén), Julia Cederblad (funeral hyena), Julia Cæsar (funeral hyena), Anna Diedrich (Amalia, funeral hyena), Carl-Gunnar Wingård (adjugate teacher Arborelius), Gösta Hillberg (priest at the funeral).
    Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda), early summer and summer 1923.
    Loc: Stockholm's archipelago, Trosa, Tyresö Castle.
    2129 m, 2190 m / 18 fps/ 106 min
    Urpremiär: 22 Oct 1923 Gävle, 107 min
    Finnish premiere: 17 May 1924 Helsinki: Kino-Palatsi, distributed by Suomen Biografi Osakeyhtiö at 1710 m.
    Digital restoration: 2019 Svenska Filminstitutet based on a nitrate print and a 35 mm duplicate negative.
    Corona lockdown viewings / Bonner Sommerkino: Internationale Stummfilmtage 2020 / Deutsche Untertitel von Andrea Kirchhartz.
    Vimeo link viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a large computer screen, 9 Aug 2020.
    Remakes: Mälarpirater (1959, D: Per G. Holmgren), Mälarpirater (1987, D: Allan Edwall).
    Sequel to the novel: Saltsjöpirater (1931): we meet Georg, Erik and Fabian again, now as grown-up men.

AA: Gustaf Molander's fourth feature film as a director is a rousing adventure film about three boys' escape from oppressive homes to the freedom of the wide open Lake Mälaren. Sweden's third biggest lake is located to the west from Stockholm. The young rebels break the law and land on a collision course with society.

Molander has an assured touch in mise-en-scène, the action scenes are thrilling, the locations (the lake and the castle) are impressive, and an exciting storm sequence is a high point. Molander had not yet found his trusted DP Åke Dahlqvist, but Axel Lindblom's cinematography in this movie is also brilliant.

The main trio is well cast. The established star Einar Hanson plays Georg Schalén, the orphaned son of the editor Karl Schalén. His little brother Erik is interpreted by Albert Christiernsson, who had played the protagonist as a child in Gunnar Hedes saga in which Hanson had his international breakthrough.

Georg and Erik refuse to listen to insulting remarks about their newly deceased father in their foster home. At the same time, their friend Fabian Scholke breaks free from his brutal father, a master sweep; Tom Walter's performance is memorable, original and close to tragedy in his "rebel without a cause" interpretation. Teamwork is essential for survival at the stormy lake, but a violent conflict of leadership puts all three boys in danger. Reconciliation is possible, but the underlying tension is never resolved.

The weaknesses of the movie include trite caricatures of most grown-up characters and failed attempts at parodic ghost visions and fantasy and horror elements. In his next film, a Fy & Bi vehicle, Molander displayed talent in farce, but here he fails to maintain a comic touch successfully. The only convincing grown-up characters are two old fishermen. Their presence feels genuine.

A refreshing addition by Molander is the character of Rose, played by Inga Tidblad in her breakthrough year in which she also appeared in the humoristic Norrtullsligan. Rose is a Hawksian woman, an outdoors type, in her element on horseback and in a canoe. Her intervention is decisive in rescuing the young outlaws before their adventure turns desperate.

The changes that Molander made to Sigfrid Siwertz's novel transformed the story towards the conventional Hollywood narrative. A benign Count saves the brothers from their fosterparents. A promise of love awakens between Georg and Rose, the daughter of the Count. There is something coy, predictable and mediocre in the fairy-tale conclusion.

The film is well cast. We meet as the Count Nils Arehn, familiar from the classics of the golden age of Swedish cinema. Georg Grönroos had launched his film career in some of Sjöström and Stiller's first films. Tekla Sjöblom had debuted with Georg af Klercker, and her film career lasted until the birth of Nordic Noir (her final film role was in the Maria Lang adaptation Ljuvlig är sommarnatten). Georg Blomstedt was also an established presence in classics of the golden age.

The graphic design of Alva Lundin's art titles is attractive, and the restoration looks fine.


Thursday, August 06, 2020

Eden (Ulla Heikkilä, 2020)


Ulla Heikkilä: Eden (2020). Bruno Baer (Panu), Linnea Skog (Jenna), Aamu Milonoff (Aliisa), Amos Brotherus (Sampo).
FI © 2020 Tekele Productions. P: Miia Haavisto.
    D+SC: Ulla Heikkilä. Cin: Pietari Peltola. PD: Juha-Matti Toppinen. Cost: Roosa Marttiini. Makeup: Kaisu Hölttä. M: Babel (Karin Mäkiranta, Mikko Pykäri). S: Arttu Hokkanen. ED: Hanna Kuirinlahti. Line P: Marja Pihlaja. Script editor: Jan Forsström.
    C: Aamu Milonoff (Aliisa), Linnea Skog (Jenna), Bruno Baer (Panu), Amos Brotherus (Sampo), Pinja Hiiva (Jutta), Jere Ristseppä (Esa), Tommi Korpela (Juhani), Satu Tuuli Karhu (Tiina).
    Nooa Salonen (Ilmari), Alisa Röyttä (Ella), Irina Pulkka (Sari), Ona Huczkowski (Maryam), Elsa Brotherus (Emilia), Anna Kauppinen (Kreeta), Amadou Abdoulrahman-Coulibaly (Hasim), Vanotit Muyau (Bilal).
    Essi Patrakka (Lola), Elina Knihtilä (Leena), Jani Volanen (Asko), Minna Haapkylä (Kristiina), Juho Milonoff (Jyrki), Siru Summanen (Nela), Pietu Kukkonen (Myrsky), Inka Liukkonen (Sarkku), Toni Nikka (Kari), Matias Löfberg (Tuomas), Edit Viljamaa (Iisa), Sela Rubinstein (Ruusa), Onni Vesikallio (Nestori), Pablo Ounaskari (Ville), Irina Pulkka (Sari), Yasmin Najjar (Silja), Pyry Vaismaa (Matti), Severi Vilkko (Santtu), Laura Birn (Laura), Sirkka Tanttu (Aliisan mummo), Raisa Karimo (Aliisan sisko)
    Loc: Kurssikeskus Hvittorp (Kirkkonummi), June–July 2019.
    In memory of Pauli Heikkilä and Pirkko Haavisto.
    92 min
    Translations: Aretta Vähälä, Anna-Maija Lehmus.
    Premiere: 7 Aug 2020, distributor: Nordisk Film.
    A Vimeo screener viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv set, 6 Aug 2020.

 AA: Eden is an assured feature film debut from director Ulla Heikkilä. She displays a keen sense of psychology and a talent of satirical observation in contemporary life. These have already been hallmarks in her short films Golgotha (2016), #sovitus (2017) and Let Her Speak (2019).

As the director and the critics have incredulously noticed, Eden is the first film about a beloved Finnish institution, the rippileiri – the confirmation camp. Hardly any works of literary fiction have focused on it, either, although it is a rewarding subject in many ways. It's about coming of age. It's about a generational experience. It's a dramatic stage for the clash of contemporary life with ancient faith.

When Lutheran youth reaches the age of 15, confirmation instruction is offered.  The tradition dates back to Reformation, but the rippileiri arrangement is a Finnish innovation from the year 1936. In the course of a six-month confirmation instruction, it is optional, but the rippileiri has become so popular that it has defied even secularization as a rite of passage, a fixture of youth culture and even an export article copied in Sweden, Norway and Germany.

In previous centuries, confirmation instruction was different. In Aleksis Kivi's novel Seven Brothers (1870), the brothers run away from the harsh discipline of the confirmation school to live as outlaws in the forest. But affirmation of baptism is a condition for Christian marriage. You must master the tenets of faith, and to achieve that, you must know how to read and write. All this to qualify to marry (naimalupa).

In Aleksis Kivi's times the confirmation school with locked doors, corporal punishment and yelled inquisitions may have had affinities with the concentration camp, but since the establishment of the rippileiri it may have started to resemble the Garden of Eden, Terrestrial Paradise. The locations are often the most beautiful, such as Lapland or Punkaharju – or Hvittorp, as in Ulla Heikkilä's movie.

Ulla Heikkilä captures special qualities of the rippileiri experience: summer camp circumstances, a life-affirming approach, an atmosphere of dignity and respect, welcoming young people on equal terms, an open and relaxed attitude to criticism, and a seriousness in meeting the biggest questions in life. 

Eden is an ensemble piece, and there is a fine sense of unanimisme in conveying the growing communal spirit of the young protagonists, though they are all different and full of conflicts and insecurities. The main parts are played by Linnea Skog (Jenna), Aamu Milonoff (Aliisa), Bruno Baer (Panu) and Amos Brotherus (Sampo). This is a tale of "Disorder and early sorrow", Unordnung und frühes Leid, to quote the title of a story by Thomas Mann.

Heikkilä has a fine sense of humour in her dramatic setpieces, and the audience is caught in the thrill of making sense in the modern world of Genesis, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sex, a topic everybody is interested in, is introduced by a beautiful passage from the Song of Songs. An enactment of the Christian wedding ceremony is an eagerly expected part of the agenda.

All this is so out of touch with today's views about science and gender that the trappings appear as historical relics. We may smile and we may laugh, because there is something ridiculous in the spectacle. But there is more than meets the eye beyond the quaint surface. In all cultures even humble objects may convey a sense of the sacred.

Two priests carry the main charge. The seasoned veteran Juhani (Tommi Korpela) represents a relaxed and easy-going approach, understanding very well the confusion of the young confirmands. The newcomer Tiina (Satu Tuuli Karhu) would prefer a higher voltage of religious passion. She proposes starting each morning with a flag ritual, but to her chagrin everybody votes her down. She transforms a storehouse into a field chapel, which proves popular for private retreat and worship.

Towards the finale, Tiina stages "a Way of Atonement", an imitatio Christi, complete with everybody taking turns in hanging on the cross. Such a dramatization seems controversial (too "hard core" for Juhani), but provokes emotional reactions. Powerful religious experiences and conversions were common in confirmation schools in the past, but today they are avoided. Tiina comes to repent the turmoil she has caused, but her lingering questions about the lost sense of the sacred and the mystery remain. And she has managed to shake the confirmands deeply.

The topics are great. "Life is God's speech". "The visible is timebound, the invisible is eternal". "The search is the reason why we are here". Drama, even clumsy and ridiculous, even hide-and-seek, a ball game, a dance contest or a wedding enactment, can contribute to our quest.

The Genesis motif has topical and alarming implications: the Expulsion from Paradise, Noah's Flood and the Tower of Babel. We inherited Eden, and we are busy destroying it. Everybody knows this, and the Greta Thunberg generation of young people cannot go on living like we have done. "Our family does not fly anymore", says one of the young ones. "Does anything matter any more?", comments another. Heikkilä does not push this issue, but for me, the lingering impact of Eden is a look of profound unrest on the young people's faces.

The structure of the movie and the rippileiri camp itself are divided into the seven days of the week like the Creation. The graphic design, including the chapter titles for the days, are appealing, and a special feature in the closing credit sequence is a montage of actual confirmation age photographs of the cast and the crew.

Lauluja rakkaudesta / Still Into You


Anu Kuivalainen: Lauluja rakkaudesta / Still Into You (2020). Ritva Oksanen – Sirkka & Yki – Ahti & Paavo.

Sånger om kärlek.
    FI © 2020 BonsaiFilms Oy. P: Anu Kuivalainen, Marianne Mäkelä.
    D+SC: Anu Kuivalainen. Cin: Saija-Mäki-Nevala. With: Marita Hällfors, Jarkko T. Laine, Mauri Lähdesmäki. Post production: Whitepoint Digital Oy. Digital effects: Jouko Manninen. Sound design and music: Janne Laine. S recording: Pirkko Tiitinen. ED: Mervi Junkkonen.
    A documentary film featuring:
Ahti & Paavo
Sirkka & Yki
Ritva [Oksanen]
Maricca & Antti
Risto & Pirjo
    Performer, songs and poems: Ritva Oksanen. Piano, arrangements: Pedro Hietanen.
    Poems: Aino Suhola: "Old Woman's Prayer" and "Of People and Computers"
    Sunlines "Helmiradion diskoristeilyt", TYKS neurokirurgian osasto.
    Songs include: "Akselin ja Elinan häävalssi", "Syvä kuin meri", "Kultainen nuoruus", "Hiljaiset sillat", "Minä olen muistanut", "Born To Be Alive", "Niin paljon kuuluu rakkauteen", "Itke sydämein", "Syli", "Sisältäni portin löysin".
    Film clip: Hän tuli ikkunasta (1952).
    In memory of Pirjo.
    70 min
    Translations: Tiina Kinnunen. Translations of poems and songs: Maria Lyytinen.
    Premiere: 7 Aug 2020, released by Arto Heiskanen.
    A Vimeo screener viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv set, 6 Aug 2020.

AA: Lauluja rakkaudesta / Still Into You is a candid and tender documentary quest into love at a venerable age.

We meet Sirkka and Yki, a "young pair", who have found each other just a few years ago. There are Ahti and Paavo, two men happily in love. Maricca is a passionate woman in love with a much younger man, Antti. We also follow the last act of a long marriage. Risto accompanies his wife Pirjo to the final journey.

Anu Kuivalainen's previous film Sielunmetsä / Into the Forest I Go was a pantheistic survey into the love affair of Finns with the forest. I can presently totally identify with that film, watching Kuivalainen's new film and blogging about it in the forest myself.

The new film is much more intimate, and both the film-maker and the people featuring in it are generous in letting us accompany them in such private moments.

The need for love at an advanced age is a theme that has been getting more prominence in recent times. Michael Haneke's Amour was a trendsetter, and there have been several mainstream entertainment films on the theme such as Song for Marion. This year, Teräsleidit / Ladies of Steel was a big hit in Finland. All this reflects changing demographics in "developed" countries.

The title of Kuivalainen's movie is "Songs of Love" in literal translation, and popular songs are important for all main characters. There is also a professional singer and performer, Ritva Oksanen, continuing her career at age 80. She recites satirical poems by Aino Suhola about the paradox that our life ideal is to stay healthy and live long, but there is a subtext about people in an advanced age being an "expense to society".

The message of the movie is life-affirming. Protagonists in the movie declare that they are living the best times of their life*. They are active in exercise, trekking in Lapland, dancing, even indulging in burlesque. Looks aren't everything. When looks are gone, you may get deeper in love. You no longer love appearances and discover essences.

Ritva Oksanen has chosen to stay solo, because she refuses to become a servant to a man. But desire never dies, and the longing of the skin is imperishable. In Sielunmetsä the director herself performed the traditional Nordic "swimming job" as a pantheistic union with nature. In the finale of the present movie Ritva Oksanen exposes her al fresco beauty in a similar scene. The film ends with a montage of the sublime nature and the wild rivers of Lapland. It is a Tolstoyan feeling: facing death, when the end is near, we return to nature in a final embrace. In the closing song Ritva Oksanen sings Mikko Alatalo's "Syli" [Love Records, 1975, "Take Me In Your Arms"], with Pedro Hietanen at the piano.

* Cicero would have agreed: see Cato maior de senectute.


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 15 "Pastorale" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1998)

Julius Schmid (1854–1935): Ludwig van Beethoven beim Spaziergang in der Natur. Gemälde. The painting was used as cover art for The Etude magazine in February 1909.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 20/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 12–15
Stephen Kovacevich, 1999 (Nos. 12–14) and 1998 (No. 15)

Opus 28: Klaviersonate Nr. 15 in D-Dur „Pastorale“ (1801)
    Grande Sonate pour le Pianoforte.
    Joseph Edlem von Sonnenfels gewidmet.
    1. Satz: Allegro, D-Dur, 3⁄4, 461 Takte
    2. Satz: Andante, d-Moll, 2⁄4, 99 Takte
    3. Satz: Scherzo, Allegro vivace, D-Dur, 3⁄4, 94 Takte
    4. Satz: Rondo, Allegro ma non troppo, D-Dur, 6⁄8, 210 Takte
The title "Pastorale" was given without consulting the composer, but he did not object to it.

AA: "The sonata is an essentially dramatic art form, combining the emotional range and vivid presentation of a full-sized stage drama with the terseness of a short story", wrote Donald Tovey, but after several pathbreaking sonatas, Opus 28: Klaviersonate Nr. 15 in D-Dur, is a kind of a reset, a breather.  There is nothing revolutionary here, no mountain tops, no thunderstorms, no heroic adventures.

Among Beethoven's symphonies, the even numbers are often such breathers, and I have a particular fondness for them, because they are not played to death, yet they are as wonderful as the most famous ones when you get to know them.

In the continuum of Beethoven's piano sonatas, the distinction of Nr. 15 is the absence of drama. It offers a full experience of being without showy external effects.

The year 1801 was Beethoven's most active in piano sonatas. He composed four in one year, and the D Major sonata was the last of them. It is a genial piece, displaying some of the same moods as the sunny Second Symphony and the lovely Spring Sonata for violin and piano (Op. 24), both also from 1801.

The D Major sonata is very laid back, avoiding drama and contrast. Melodically, it is enjoyable light entertainment, and the depths of the experience emerge from the sonority. Joachim Kaiser called it "idyllic and generous", "in medium style" but not mediocre, about identity and moving forward.

The Andante was Beethoven's own favourite movement among his piano sonatas, and for years he loved to play it among friends. There is a special joy of improvisation and sense of play in some of the passages. There are parallels to the freedom of jazz. It is a funeral march performed as a dance tune.

The sonata continues in a humoristic mood, and the leisurely atmosphere changes only in the rousing finale where the pianist has the opportunity to take us by surprise.

I listened to various interpretations, including Stephen Kovacevich (immaculate), Artur Schnabel (takes shortcuts), Wilhelm Kempff (halting), Vladimir Sofronizki (good), Emil Gilels (too slow), Igor Levit (brilliant) and Grigori Sokolov (profound).

András Schiff in his inspired Guardian Lecture finds that the title "Pastorale" "can be excused" and finds here many similarities with the Pastoral Symphony: "mehr Empfindung als Tonmalerei". In the opening "timpani strokes" he recognizes an affinity with the beginning of the Violin Concerto. The form is conventional, but "the sound world is revolutionary", it sounds like Schubert, "all these inner voices", "like a murmuring forest". Beethoven "always wanted the piano to sing and speak". Schiff also analyzes Beethoven's methods of foreshortening and inversion in recurrent motifs. In the Andante Schiff observes the contrast to the Moonlight sonata with its emphatic use of pedals. Here it is ostinato sempre staccato. In the third movement, the Scherzo, Beethoven composes four different ways to harmonize a very simple menuet theme. The fourth movement, the Rondo, begins with a "swinging bagpipe drone", from which the piano proceeds to express the impact of a whole orchestra playing. The Bachian development section foreshadows the late Beethoven. The simple music is intricately polyphonic, with a wonderful chromaticism. The brilliant coda is very difficult to play, "to annoy the amateurs".

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (2016 digital restoration)

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). The long take in the beginning with Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marta), Anita Björk (Rakel), Gerd Andersson (Maj), Eva Dahlbeck (Karin) and Aino Taube (Annette).

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). Anita Björk (Rakel) in the Lady Chatterley episode.

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). Birger Malmsten (Martin Lobelius), Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marta).

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). Eva Dahlbeck (Karin), Gunnar Björnstrand (Fredrik Lobelius).

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). The opening credits.

Odottavia naisia.
    SE 1952. PC: Svensk Filmindustri (SF). P: Allan Ekelund.
    D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. [Based on the story by Gun Grut, n.c.]. DP: Gunnar Fischer – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1. PD: Nils Svenwall. Cost: Barbro Sörman. M: Erik Nordgren. "Danza degli spiriti beati" / "Dans i de saligas ängder" from Orfeo ed Euridice by C. W. Gluck, lyrics Raniero de Calzabigi (1762), Swedish lyrics by Göran Rothman (1773). "(Marta är) Ett rosende träd" comp. Erik Nordgren, lyr. Ingmar Bergman, sung by Birger Malmsten. S: Sven Hansen. ED: Oscar Rosander. Stills: Louis Huch.
    C: Anita Björk (Rakel), Eva Dahlbeck (Karin), Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marta), Birger Malmsten (Martin Lobelius), Gunnar Björnstrand (Fredrik Lobelius), Karl-Arne Holmsten (Eugen Lobelius), Jarl Kulle (Kaj), Aino Taube (Annette), Håkan Westergren (Paul Lobelius), Gerd Andersson (Maj), Björn Bjelfvenstam (Henrik Lobelius). Ingmar Bergman (man in the stairs at the gynecologist's, n.c.), Naima Wifstrand (Mrs. Lobelius, n.c.).
    Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda, Stockholms län). May 1952.
    Loc: Paris, France (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, Arc de Triomphe). Siarö (Stockholms län).
    2945 m / 107 min
    Swedish premiere: 3 Nov 1952.
    Finnish premiere: 3 April 1953 at Maxim, released by Maxim.
    2016 digital restoration.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles by Seija Kerttula.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 26 July 2020.

Fredrik Lobelius: No man is great in the presence of their wife.
Karin: No. God is probably not married.

AA: Waiting Women came about after the Swedish film crisis of 1951–1952: the film business was in doldrums after a strike had halted production. Now Ingmar Bergman was committed to make a commercial film to help save the production company Svensk Filmindustri. As a father of six children he had to save his family, as well.

His previous films had provided new openings: to the political thriller (This Can't Happen Here, a dead end, disowned by the director) and to an assured personal vision (Summer Interlude, his first mature masterpiece). Also Waiting Women was a new opening: after a decade of young rebellion, this was Bergman's first bourgeois film.

I agree with François Truffaut that there is an affinity with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives, but the affinity is not deep. Both stage a meeting of women, and their stories are seen as flashbacks, that's all. The most profound difference is that Mankiewicz was a misogynist where Bergman loves women and is likely to portray men as failures, even when they are winners. (When Fredrik catalogues his achievements, including the fact that he has no enemies, Karin quips: "No friends, either").

There are three main stories flanked by a prologue and an epilogue. The women, waiting for their men at an idyllic summer dacha, confide to each other. The stories are marital, premarital and extramarital. One is about the flesh, the second about the heart, and the third about marriage as a modus vivendi.

The prologue belongs to Annette (Aino Taube) who states that she has nothing to tell. "We're never close to each other. There's never any intimacy or contact." "I have my life. My only life. And that's my life with Paul. I'm sure we loved each other as eagerly as Maj and Henrik do now. But what have we become? Two bowing Chinese."

The first flashback belongs to Rakel (Anita Björk) whose marriage with Eugen (Karl-Arne Holmsten) is no longer physical. An old friend, Kaj (Jarl Kulle, appearing for the first time in a Bergman film), senses the opportunity and acts decisively. The feeling of the summer heat is palpable. We notice the shadow of a large pike lurking in the water. The episode is not a divertissement. It leads close to tragedy. With tact and taste Bergman touches delicate issues such as a woman's need for sexual fulfillment and orgasm. Also Anita Björk appears here for the first time in a Bergman film. The second time was in her final, unforgattable performance as Selma Lagerlöf in The Image Makers (2000).

The second flashback is a memory of Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson) about her adventures in Paris, largely seen as a flashback in a flashback. She gets pregnant by Martin (Birger Malmsten), and in a narcotic state at the maternity ward she hallucinates parts of the story, a device similar to Narkose, the first film adaptation of Letter from an Unknown Woman. The episode has a conventional framework, but with purely visual means Bergman tells a complex story about intimacy and distance, a love story full of misunderstandings. This episode is the heart of the movie. Bergman said that he had been inspired by Gustav Machaty's Ekstase and Nocturno in this episode, but I would see the Machaty inspiration also in the first episode. Ekstase and Rakel's tale are Lady Chatterley stories in the spirit of D. H. Lawrence.

The third flashback is the most famous one. The broken elevator episode about Karin (Eva Dahlbeck) and Fredrik (Gunnar Björnstrand) is Ingmar Bergman's first comedy. It is brilliantly written and even more brilliantly executed by the two stars. It is Bergman's original contribution to the Hollywoodian "comedy of remarriage", the title coined by the philosopher Stanley Cavell. The spark is reignited in Karin and Fredrik's marriage, but for how long? "For the first time I heard people laughing at something I had created", stated Bergman.

The epilogue belongs to the young ones. Annette's daughter Maj (Gerd Andersson, Bibi Andersson's big sister) elopes with Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam). Paul, her father: Let them run away. Marta: What are you saying? Paul: I'm saying let them run away. They'll be back in time. Marta: You think? Paul: The main thing is that they do something they think is forbidden. Marta: Oh, Paul. Paul: Let them have their summer. Soon enough, the hurt, the wisdom, and all that other stuff will come.

In this epilogue Bergman, the father of six children, switches for the first time to the perspective of the parents. His young rebels are now seen from the outside. But in his next film, Summer with Monika, he sided with the young rebels one last time from their perspective.

I have always admired Waiting Women, and seen in it an elegant and engaging movie. For Robin Wood it is much more, and reading the definitive edition of his Ingmar Bergman book I realized that I need to revisit the film. This summer I read for the first time Marianne Höök's book on Bergman (she and Jörn Donner wrote the first book-length studies on Bergman, both in 1962), and for her Waiting Women was a turning-point in "authentic female reality" not only in Bergman's oeuvre but in Swedish cinema in general.

Höök praises Bergman's insight in showing how different women are when they are in the companyof their own. Such accents female audiences registered immediately, as well as the absence of the belittling of women, so taken for granted in films in general.

For Höök the theme of the film is that women's need for love is overwhelming for men. In such circumstances both are resigned to compromises to make life tolerable.

For Höök, the most complex figure is Rakel: hers is the tragedy of a woman who is never given the chance to blossom into full, mature womanhood. Yet, when her husband is humiliated by her lover, Rakel defends the husband and assumes the role of his mother.

In Waiting Women Höök also sees an early crystallization of Bergman's three dominant female types: the triumphant Venus (Eva Dahlbeck), the solidary Diana (Anita Björk) and the youthful Hebe (Gerd Andersson).

It is difficult to determine in which period Waiting Women is supposed to take place. From a contemporary perspective, although the viewpoints are entirely feminine, it is clear that the female protagonists are all dependent from their men and defined by those relationships. Perhaps Maj will be different?


Törst / Thirst

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Eva Henning (Rut) and Birger Malmsten (Bertil). Midsummer 1946: the Swedish couple is having lunch while returning from an Italian holiday. Passing through Germania anno zero, the train is surrounded by starving children. Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From: Svensk Filmdatabas.

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Midsummer 1946: passing through Germania anno zero. The train of the affluent Swedes is surrounded by hungry people. Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From: Svensk Filmdatabas.

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Den erotiskt laddade scenen mellan Viola (Birgit Tengroth) och Valborg (Mimi Nelson). Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. "På ett fint och taktfullt sätt hjälpte hon [Birgit Tengroth] mig att for­ma den lesbiska episoden. Det här var ett för sin tid eldfängt stoff." Ingmar Bergman i Bilder. From: www.ingmarbergman.se.

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Den cyniske fröken Henriksson (Naima Wifstrand) med sina båda elever Rut (Eva Henning) och Valborg (Mimi Nelson). Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From: www.ingmarbergman.se.

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949): the final montage of superimpositions starts with Bertil (Birger Malmsten) embracing Rut (Eva Henning). The emblem of the movie, the coin of Arethusa from Syracuse, appears upon them. Night waves crash against the shore. It is Midsummer. Sunlight shines beyond the dark clouds. Fade to black. My screenshot from C More.

Jano / Three Strange Loves / La Fontaine d'Aréthuse.
    SE 1949. PC: Svensk Filmindustri. Produktionsledare: Helge Hagerman. Inspelningsledare: Hugo Bolander.
    D: Ingmar Bergman. SC: Herbert Grevenius. Based on Törst (1948), a collection of short stories by Birgit Tengroth. DP: Gunnar Fischer – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1 – AGA-Baltic. AD: Nils Svenwall.  CH: Ellen Bergman. M: Erik Nordgren. Mozart: "Non più andrai" from Le nozze di Figaro (1786), lyr. Lorenzo Da Ponte, in Swedish "Säg farväl, lilla fjäril" (Bernhard Crusell, 1821), perf. Bengt Eklund. S: Lennart Unnerstad. ED: Oscar Rosander. Stills: Louis Huch.
Eva Henning, Rut, f.d. balettdansös
Birger Malmsten, Bertil, amanuens, konsthistoriker, hennes man
Birgit Tengroth, Viola, Bertils f.d. älskarinna
Hasse Ekman, doktor Rosengren, psykiater
Mimi Nelson, Valborg, Ruts kamrat i balettskolan
Bengt Eklund, Raoul, kapten, Ruts älskare
Gaby Stenberg, Astrid, Raouls fru
Naima Wifstrand, fröken Henriksson, balettlärarinna
Sven-Eric Gamble, glasmästeriarbetaren på Rosengrens mottagning
Gunnar Nielsen, Rosengrens assistentläkare
Estrid Hesse, patient hos Rosengren
Calle Flygare, den danske prästen på tåget
Monica Weinzierl, den lilla flickan på tåget
Else-Merete Heiberg, den lilla flickans mamma, norska
Verner Arpe, den tyske konduktören
Sif Ruud, den pratsjuka änkan på kyrkogården
Gerhard Beyer, tidningsförsäljaren i Basel
Herman Greid, stadsbudet i Basel
Laila Jokimo, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Inga Norin-Welton, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Öllegård Wellton, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Ingeborg Bergius, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Peter Winner, tysk polis
Britta Brunius, sjuksköterskan efter Ruts abort
Inga-Lill Åhström, balettskolepianisten
Erik Arrhenius, en man i kupén med festande tågpassagerare
Carl Andersson, en man i kupén med festande tågpassagerare
Inga Gill, en dam på hotellet
Wiktor "Kulörten" Andersson, portvakt
Gustaf A. Herzing, tysk polis
    Studio: Filmstaden Råsunda, Stockholm.
    Loc: Stockholm, Ornö (Sweden); Basel (Switzerland).
    Censorship: bared inner thigh in the second reel and Valborg's final violent advances to Viola in the fifth reel. – Censurklipp i akt 2 utgår scenerna med lårens blottande upp till blygden och i 5: sista avsnittet av den homosexuella inviten, där Valborg handgripligen söker våldföra sig på Viola (totalt 2 meter).
    2280 m / 84 min
    Urpremiär: 17 Oct 1949 Spegeln, Stockholm.
    Finnish premiere: 21 March 1952 Adlon, released by Adams Filmi Oy.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles (n.c.).
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 26 July 2020.

AA: Ingmar Bergman used to mention Roberto Rossellini as an inspiration to Harbour City, and I sense a Rossellini context even in the Germania anno zero sequence of Thirst, also anticipating a film that the Italian had yet to make: Viaggio in Italia.

The married couple Rut (Eva Henning) and Bertil (Birger Malmsten) are returning from Sicily and Italy during Midsummer 1946, one year after the end of the Second World War. The Syracusan myth of Arethusa, immortalized in ancient Sicilian coins, becomes for them the symbol of the impossibility of love.

In a bold coup Bergman stages a Strindbergian account of a private hell on a train that is passing through the ruins of Europe, surrounded by starving children. During WWII, neutral Sweden prospered while the rest of Europe was devastated.

The marriage hell is put into perspective. Bertil has a callous and resigned attitude to the starvation, but Rut is immediately willing to donate all their food to the children. She has lost a baby in an abortion, as a side-effect of which she has become infertile. But she feels a special tenderness towards children.

In Bergman's cinema, an explicit world historical perspective is rare but not unique. The sequence has been realized with simple means, but the impact is powerful, and for me, it radiates over the director's whole oeuvre.

In the finale Bertil wakes up from a nightmare that he has slain Rut to death. In the bleak final dialogue Bertil confesses that he does not want to be alone and independent, because it would be worse.
    Rut: Worse than what?
    Bertil: Than the hell we have now. At least we have each other.

"Hell on Earth" was a theme that obsessed Bergman all his life, and the most explicit discussion of it had taken place in his previous film, Prison, where the Devil comes to rule on Earth and declares that we can go on like we do now. Apocalypse Now!

Thirst is based on a collection of short stories by Birgit Tengroth (1915–1983), who also appears in the film as Viola (see photo above). Tengroth was a multi-talented professional, a writer and an actress whose career started in the silent days in an uncredited child role in the Jerusalem series based on Selma Lagerlöf (Ingmarsarvet, 1925, directed by Gustaf Molander).

Thirst was Tengroth's penultimate film as an actress. Her last performance in a fiction film was in Flicka och hyacinter / Girl with Hyacinths (1950) directed by Hasse Ekman who plays Dr. Rosengren in Thirst. Both films are among the earliest to convey Lesbianism in Swedish cinema. "For me, men are a closed chapter. I have found the way, a woman's only way to freedom and independence", states the Lesbian Valborg (Mimi Nelson).

Tengroth could hardly endure Karin Swanström, who together with her husband had been heads of production at Svensk Filmindustri; Swanström had introduced transgressive ideas into the Swedish cinema in the comedy The Girl in Tails (Flickan i frack). Tengroth was married to the formidable critic Stig Ahlgren, and the inferno couple in Bergman's Wild Strawberries is reportedly a dead on portrait of Ahlgren and Tengroth.

Marianne Höök in her wonderful book on Ingmar Bergman (1962) credits Birgit Tengroth in waking up Ingmar Bergman to a new level of insight and subtlety in his understanding of the female psyche. "With a refined sense of tact she [Birgit Tengroth] helped me form the Lesbian episode. It was inflammatory stuff for its time", stated Bergman.

Thirst is a story of two solitudes. Rut, now languishing in marriage inferno, has been freed from a relationship with a married officer, Raoul (Bengt Eklund), who made her pregnant and required an abortion which made Rut infertile. She used to be a ballet dancer, but because of an injury she cannot dance anymore.

At the same time in Stockholm the widow Viola (Birgit Tengroth), Rut's dancer colleague, visits her husband's grave. She has even briefly been Bertil's lover, now abandoned and lonely. Suffering from "brain fever", she visits a psychiatrist (Hasse Ekman), who, however, only tries to seduce her. Depressed in Midsummer Stockholm where everybody is partying, she stumbles into yet another dancer colleague, Valborg (Mimi Nelson), and they share a bottle together in her apartment. But when even Valborg proceeds to seduce her, she becomes desolate. The film has started with an image of a dark whirlpool. Viola enters the shore. We notice a ripple. The rest is silence.

In the account of the ballet world, Bergman had home field advantage. The choreographer is his wife Ellen Bergman (née Ellen Hollender, Ellen Lundström before marriage, 1919–2007). Their children are Eva, Jan, Anna and Mats. Ellen Bergman was also a director, theatre manager, playwright and innovator in the theatre world.

The portrait of the psychiatrist is a vicious caricature. In reality, a person like him would lose his licence immediately (but there is a reference in the dialogue that he does not possess a licence in the first place). Professionals of mental health usually admire Bergman, but a psychoanalyst friend of mine cannot stand him, probably partly because of Bergman's open hostility towards the profession. Perhaps Bergman felt that psychiatrists know too much and yet not enough. They could expose his screen memories without truly understanding the delicate borderland between dream and reality.

 "You know nothing about life", Viola says to the doctor. Bergman altered this scene considerably from Tengroth's story. Both Captain Raoul and Doctor Rosengren belong to the hateful authority figures of Bergman's Forties. Rosengren is also a predecessor of the Vergérus lineage, culminating in Bishop Vergérus in Fanny and Alexander. "Your benevolence is a fraud", Viola says to Rosengren.

Bergman's visual expression keeps maturing. His portrait shots are memorable, also in bit parts, including the old woman whom we meet as a patient of Dr. Rosengren. More than before, he uses mirrors in an expressive way, for instance in the multiplied look involved in the scene in the ballet where Miss Henriksson (Naima Wifstrand) examines the two young ballerinas, Rut and Valborg (see photo above). He is a master of the moving camera and the long take but also of the montage technique including in the scene in the train corridor where both Bertil and Rut consider opening the door while the train runs at full speed. Bergman was always fascinated by trains, also in A Lesson in Love, Kvinnodröm / Dreams, and Silence. The film is based on a montage of flashbacks, memories and dreams during the train ride. There is a Buñuelian moment in Rut's summer paradise flashback when Raoul in cold blood catches a snake and drops it into an anthill.

Because Thirst in some ways anticipates Viaggio in Italia, it also anticipates Antonioni's trilogy of solitude. Thirst is an account of existential solitude, with a strong 1940s accent, and a very original feminine emphasis.

What is the thirst all about? A thirst for love, I'd propose.

Rut was disappointed in her relationship with the officer Raoul, and her husband, the humanist Bertil is emotionally challenged. Also dancing was for Rut more than a métier: "For me dancing is not a profession. It is my second home, more real than the regular home". Losing her calling was a blow, and losing her baby and her fertility an even more crushing blow. She drinks a lot, which does not make life better with Bertil. But she has a great reservoir of love and a great thirst for love.

The tiny train cabin of the unhappy Swedish couple is surrounded by the darkness of devastated Europe. Upon learning the full truth of the Holocaust many found that God was dead. There was a widespread thirst for a revival of faith, hope and a reason for living.


Hamnstad / Harbour City

Ingmar Bergman: Hamnstad / Harbour City (1948). Berta Hall as the evil mother who looks forward to Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson) committing a fatal mistake so that she can send her back to the reformatory. The word Berit has written on the mirror with lipstick: "Ensam" ("Alone"). The photo at Ingmar Bergman.se is a mirror image itself. Please click to enlarge and read the word with a mirror.

Satamakaupunki / Port of Call.
    SE 1948. PC: Svensk Filmindustri. P: Harald Molander.
    D+SC: Ingmar Bergman – from the story "Guldet och murarna" by Olle Länsberg. DP: Gunnar Fischer – b&w – 1,37:1. AD: Nils Svenwall. M: Erland von Koch. Songs: "La paloma" / "Den dag, då mitt hem jag bytte mot friska sjön" (1859) sung by Bengt Eklund. "Cantique de Noël" / "O, helga natt" (1847 / 1850 / 1889) sung by Sven-Olof Sandberg. S: Sven Hansen (AGA-Baltic). ED: Oscar Rosander. Unit manager: Lars-Eric Kjellgren. Stills: Louis Huch. Cast:
Nine-Christine Jönsson, Berit (Irene) Holm, fabriksarbetare
Bengt Eklund, Gösta Andersson, stuveriarbetare
Mimi Nelson, Gertrud Ljungberg, hotellstäderska
Berta Hall, Berit's mother
Birgitta Valberg, Agneta Vilander, socialassistent
Sif Ruud, Mrs. Krona, abortör
Else-Merete Heiberg, en skyddshemsflicka
Brita Billsten, en skyddshemsflicka, senare gatflicka
Harry Ahlin, Skåningen, stuvare
Nils Hallberg, Gustav, stuvare
Sven-Eric Gamble, Eken, stuvare
Yngve Nordwall, Tuppen, förman på fabriken / supervisor at the factory
Nils Dahlgren, poliskommissarien
Hans Strååt, ingenjör Vilander, Berits chef, Agneta Vilanders bror
Erik Hell, Berits far, sjöman
Torsten Lilliecrona, Tuppens ena kompis utanför biografen
Hans Sundberg, Tuppens andra kompis utanför biografen
Bengt Blomgren, Gunnar
Hanny Schedin, Gunnars mor
Helge Karlsson, Johan, Gunnars far
Stig Olin, Thomas, pojken i trappan
Erna Groth, skyddshemsflicka
Bill Houston, Joe, negern
Herman Greid, kaptenen på den holländska lastbåten
Kate Elffors, Berit Holm som barn
Estrid Hesse, frälsningssoldat
Brita Nordin, frälsningssoldat
Vanja Rodefeldt, flickan som dansar med Gösta på Wauxhall
Sture Ericson, herr Ljungberg, Gertruds far
John W. Björling, fjärde stuvaren vid kortspelet
Rune Andreasson, swingpjatten som dansar med Berit
Inga-Lill Åhström, polissystern
Siv Thulin , en flicka
Kolbjörn Knudsen, en sjöman
Gunnar Nielsen, en herre
Georg Skarstedt, en herre
Carl Deurell, prästen
Edvard Danielsson, klockaren
Nils Poppe
Åke Engfeldt
    Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda), 27 May – 17 July 1948.
    Loc: Göteborg (Gothenburg), Hindås, train Stockholm–Södertälje.
    2735 m / 99 min
    Premiere: 11 Oct 1948 Göteborg.
    Festival premiere: July 1949 Locarno Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 28 Feb 1954.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles by Seija Kerttula.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 26 July 2020.

AA: Revisited Hamnstad / Harbour City that I last saw 25 years ago in our complete Ingmar Bergman retrospective celebrating the centenary of the cinema. The print screened was probably our own vintage nitrate print. The film has not left an unforgettable impression, but I have always been fond of Ingmar Bergman's early films, even the first five that he directed before Fängelse / Prison.

Hamnstad was the last of the early five, a professional SF production, not based on Bergman's own story but one by Olle Länsberg. Hamnstad was shot on location in the harbour city Gothenburg, familiar to Bergman who had been a theatre director there for three years. Bergman was born into the upper class, but in the beginning he identified with the underdog, the outcasts, the rebels – and the workers.

Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson) is a factory worker, and Gösta a longshoreman, a docker, a stevedore. It is rare in a Bergman film to see factory scenes and stevedores unloading cargo at the dock. There is a sober documentary approach, combined with a poetic vision of the harbour city, photographed by the maestro Gunnar Fischer in his first collaboration with Bergman.

The inspiration of neorealism in general and Roberto Rossellini in particular is justifiably evoked in discussions of Hamnstad, also the affinity of film noir (a term still unknown at the time), but I believe that a further important influence was an earlier film, Marcel Carné's Quai des brumes, one of Bergman's top favourites.

The film starts in fatalistic terms, but I find it refreshing and meaningful that it does not become a tragedy and also that in the finale the doomed lovers decide against escape and instead choose to stay and face the consequences. Life is hard, but they will persist.

Clearly this is the story of Berit, the focus of our identification and Ingmar Bergman's. She's a rebel, and the world is against her. In the beginning she tries to commit suicide, but life is stronger than death, although in a key scene she writes with lipstick on a mirror the keyword: "Alone".

All authority figures are so mean and unfair that the setting is potentially melodramatic. The actors play their roles with dedication, and there are subtle nuances in the performances that prevent the drama from becoming tedious. It is possible to smile at the monster mother who so single-mindedly undermines her daughter, but the lurid quality does not weaken the impact of the psychological minefield. Hamnstad is realistic in its milieu, but a Kammerspiel in its inner concept: a soul fight of the young protagonists, struggling to define their roles at the battleground of life.

Issues such as juvenile delinquency, sexual harassment and abortion are real and urgent, and although Bergman is a stranger in the world he depicts, his love and conviction is obvious and engrossing as he defends his young protagonists' right to live and love.

We can notice passages of original mise-en-scène and a development of the Bergmanian protagonist. Bergman and Fischer take expressive close-ups Nine-Christine Jönsson, the actor, writer and screenwriter. Her interpretation belongs to the same line of characterization as Harriet Andersson's Monika. They please by refusing to please. They are predecessors of Jeanne Moreau.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen: 12 Years a Slave (2013) with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup.

Illustration from: Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave (1855 edition). Photo: Wikipedia.

12 Years a Slave [Finnish theatrical title] / 12 vuotta orjana [Finnish tv title].
    US © 2013 Regency Entertainment (USA) Inc. and Bass Flims, LLC in the US. © 2013 Bass Films, LLC and Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l. in the rest of the world. P: Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt, Bill Pohlad.
    D: Steve McQueen. SC: John Ridley. Based on the memoir Twelve Years a Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup. DP: Sean Bobbitt – negative: 35 mm – source format: Super 35 – master format: digital intermediate 2K – colour – 2,35:1 – released on 35 mm and D-Cinema. PD: Adam Stockhausen. AD: David Stein. Set dec: Alice Baker. Cost: Patricia Norris. Makeup: Ma Kalaadevi Ananda. Hair: Adruitha Lee. VFX: Wildfire Post NOLA. VFX: Crafty Apes. M: Hans Zimmer. S: Ryan Collins, Robert Jackson. ED: Joe Walker.
    C (Wikipedia): Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup / Platt
    Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
    Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey
    Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
    Paul Dano as John Tibeats
    Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
    Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
    Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
    Adepero Oduye as Eliza
    Garret Dillahunt as Armsby
    Scoot McNairy as Merrill Brown
    Taran Killam as Abram Hamilton
    Christopher Berry as James H. Burch
    Chris Chalk as Clemens Ray
    Rob Steinberg as Mr. Parker
    Paul Giamatti as Theophilus Freeman
    Michael K. Williams as Robert
    Bryan Batt as Judge Turner
    Bill Camp as Ebenezer Radburn
    Tom Proctor as Biddee
    Jay Huguley as Sheriff
    Storm Reid as Emily
    Quvenzhané Wallis as Margaret Northup
    Dwight Henry as Uncle Abram
    Loc: Louisiana*, USA, 25 June – 13 Aug 2012.
(*New Orleans, and four antebellum plantations: Felicity, Bocage, Destrehan and Magnolia).
    3684 m / 134 min
    Festival premiere: 30 Aug 2013 Telluride Film Festival.
    US general release: 8 Nov 2013
    Finnish premiere: 24 Jan 2014
    Corona lockdown viewings / Black Lives Matter.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 25 July 2020.

AA: Only now I see Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, one of the most acclaimed films of the last decade and the most influential slave narrative of our time. It is based on the first-hand account of Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson. McQueen compares it with Anne Frank's Diary as a depiction of the Holocaust. The crimes involved are so overwhelming that they are hard to describe, but a first person singular account can help us get into the heart of the matter.

The production values are excellent in this historical epic. The story is engrossing, contrasting the way of life in free New York with slaveholding Louisiana. The approach is graphic, with justification. It is hard to forget the punishment of Solomon Northup by letting him hang on tiptoes. Or the brutal whipping of Patsey, adding insult to the injury by ordering Solomon to be the whipper (he does so, but he also helps save her life).

The account of verbal violence is also powerful. A terrifying highlight is the slaveholders' vicious anthem "Run Nigger Run".

Steve McQueen's vision is profoundly philosophical, and it is also relevant to Hegel's dialectic of the master and the slave: every sequence bears witness to the insight that where there is slavery, nobody can be free. The best must be crushed because no slave can seem better than the master. The most beautiful must be maimed. Families are destroyed to ensure sole dependence on the owner.

The most acclaimed tale of slavery until the 1920s was Uncle Tom's Cabin. One of the handful of the most powerful books in history, written by "the little lady who started the great war", as Lincoln reportedly said, it has fallen out of favour because of the stereotype of "Uncle Tomism", but I doubt that the detractors have ever read the novel. The books share much of the same ground, and it is illuminating to compare the most inflammatory scene in both. Tom refuses to whip a fellow black slave guy on the cotton field, and as a matter of restoration of discipline, Simon Legree has Tom whipped to death. In my books, Tom displays the greatest dignity and bravery. He dies, but he becomes immortal.

Steve McQueen has directed an unforgettable film. The subject-matter is harrowing, and the director displays a great sense of tact and proportion. I am currently listening to Beethoven's piano sonatas and have reached the year 1801 when the composer became a master of the pedal. Steve McQueen is also kept ultra busy with his set of pedals at his grand piano: the damper, the sostenuto and the soft pedal.

I cannot claim that he succeeds, nor that he fails. The subject-matter exceeds so many faculties of our spirit, and the magnitude of the crime committed is so manifold that the very failure has an aesthetic impact, comparable with a soul singer like James Brown who tries to convey the ultimate passion or suffering and gets out of breath but still manages to take us to the stratosphere.

The film is not full of life. It is often curiously lukewarm although the story is inflammatory. I'm happy about the full colour in the 35 mm photochemical cinematography. Typically for our times, the film is overlong, with scenes needlessly prolonged, as if an expensive prestige film must be prolonged. Most curious is the lack of fire in musical performances. The score written for the film has a regular syrupy dragging quality.

Nevertheless, this film is unforgettable.


Born In Flames

Lizzie Borden: Born In Flames (1983) starring Honey as Honey, host of the Phoenix Radio.

Lizzie Borden at Helsinki Film Festival: Love & Anarchy, 1993.

Född i flammor.
    US © 1983 Lizzie Borden.
    P+D: Lizzie Borden. SC: Lizzie Borden – story and editing consultant: Ed Bowes. Cin: Ed Bowes, Al Santana – 16 mm – colour – mono – 1,33:1. Add. camera incl.: Chris Hegedus. Video of Women in Desert: Phil O'Reilly. SFX: Hisa Tayo / Hisao Taya. Graphics: Dirk Zimmer. Video graphics: Jo Bonney. M: see soundtrack listing beyond the jump break. ED: Lizzie Borden. Special thanks to: Marvin Soloway. And Chris Hegedus, D. A. Pennebaker et al. Produced with assistance from: The Jerome Foundation / C.A.P.S. / Young Filmmakers.
CAST from Wikipedia:
    Honey as Honey, host of the Phoenix Radio
    Adele Bertei [from the bands The Bloods and The Contortions] as Isabel, host of the Radio Ragazza
    Jean Satterfield as Adelaide Norris
    Florynce Kennedy [civil right lawyer and activist] (credited as "Flo Kennedy") as Zella Wylie
    Becky Johnston as Becky Dunlop, newspaper editor
    Pat Murphy as Pat Crosby, newspaper editor
    Kathryn Bigelow [the director] as Kathy Larson, newspaper editor
    Hillary Hurst as the leader of Women's Army
    Sheila McLaughlin as other leader
    Marty Pottenger as other leader/woman at site
    Lynn Jones as other leader
    Bell Chevigny as Belle Gayle, the talk show host
    Joel Kovel as the talk show guest
    Ron Vawter as FBI Agent
    John Coplans as chief
    John Rudolph as TV newscaster
    Warner Schreiner as TV newscaster
    Valerie Smaldone as TV newscaster
    Hal Miller as detective
    Bill Tatum as Mayor Zubrinsky
    Mark Boone Jr. as man in subway harassing woman
    Merían Soto as rape victim
    The first screen appearance of Eric Bogosian (as a technician at a TV station who is forced at gunpoint to run a videotape on the network feed.
    Story contributor Ed Bowes portrays the head of the socialist newspaper that ultimately fires the female journalists.
    The title of the film comes from the music record: Red Crayola: "Born In Flames" (Rough Trade, vinyl 7", GB 1980).
    The director, born Linda Elizabeth Borden, took the name Lizzie Borden from the Massachusetts suspected double murderer Lizzie Borden (1860–1927).
    Festival premiere: 20 Feb 1983 Berlin International Film Festival.
    US premiere: 9 Nov 1983.
    Festival premiere in Finland: 1993 Helsinki Film Festival, in the presence of Lizzie Borden.
    2016 restoration in 35 mm: premiere: Feb 2016 Anthology Film Archives, followed by a world tour.
    Corona lockdown viewings / Women Make Film / Black Lives Matter.
    From the Draken Film platform without subtitles.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 25 July 2020.

AA: I saw for the first time Born in Flames by Lizzie Borden. It was so much ahead of its time 37 years ago that it is still ahead of its time.

It is a militant piece of feminist futurism.

It is science fiction shot in newsreel style.

It is a key text in Lesbian cinema and Black feminism highlighting a range of issues including independent radio, police surveillance, police harassment and police brutality.

It has been created using the idioms of "the other cinema", "the third cinema" and the countercultural cinema of the era. It is an energetic collage of disparate visual discourses. It is a sum of its contradictions but never confused or chaotic.

It is a piece of media critique, a meta-film, a montage of surveillance tapes, enacted news bulletins, talk shows and staged vérité. A key phrase in the dialogue: "The most important thing is the media".

The soundtrack is a wonderful and passionate compilation of underground, punk, gospel, jazz, rhythm'n'blues and soul.

A Social Democratic war of liberation has taken place ten years ago. New York has a Black mayor, and the President of the US is a Socialist. But discrimination based on race, class and gender goes on.

The scenes of sexual harassment, discrimination and belittling of women and outright sexual violence have lost nothing of their topicality. Women organize self-defense patrols. When women's radio stations (Phoenix Radio and Radio Ragazza) are destroyed, the nonviolent activist groups move towards a guerrilla stance including military exercise and practice at shooting ranges.

The film ends with an explosion on the top of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center – the Women's Army has detonated the antenna of the establishment's television channel.

What I saw was presumably the renowned 2016 restoration of Born in Flames. It has been rendered with good judgement. The gritty sense of the original 16 mm cinematography is conveyed even in a digital presentation on a tv screen.


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Mox Mäkelä: Andjust

Mox Mäkelä: Andjust (2020). Please click on the images to enlarge them.

Abraham Tervaluoto: Saloisten vaivaisukko / The Wooden Pauper of Saloinen, 1866. Saloisten kotiseutumuseo, Arkkukari, Raahe. Photo: Wikipedia.

Andjust. A long audio play movie.
    FI 2020. P+D+SC+DP+S+ED: Mox Mäkelä. Sound studio: Taajuusvarjostin. Narrator: Frank Boyle (English version), Martti Suosalo (Finnish version).
    With: Anders Anttila (Andjust), Ari Arvilommi, Terttu Erdmann, Aulis Junes, Osmie Järvinen, Katja Kiuru, Antti Mäkelä, Petri Kiviniemi, Anna Koskela, Rami Rusinen, Toivo Kamutta, Raakel Kamutta, Raija Anttila, Juha Mäntynen, Leo Martikainen, Martti Suosalo.
    104 min (Finnish version), 110 min (English version)
    English translation: Kristian London.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    A private Vimeo preview link.
    The English version (narrated by Frank Boyle) and the Finnish version (narrated by Martti Suosalo) viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 16–23 July 2020.

Wikipedia: "Pauper statues (Finnish: vaivaisukko, Swedish: fattiggubbe) are alms boxes in the form of carved wooden statues on the outside walls of Lutheran churches in Finland and in Sweden. The statues represent poor and often disabled men or veterans begging for alms. The figures usually have a small metal box inside and a slot in the chest for inserting coins. They were used from the 17th to 19th century for collecting money for the poor."

AA: Two years ago Mox Mäkelä released her first feature film Vieras / Strange with the subtitle "Kuunnelmaelokuva" / "Long audio play movie". It is enjoying a distinguished international run including Tate Modern, and is currently on display in the programme of Sacramento Underground Film & Arts Festival, 23-26 July 2020 (online edition due to the corona lockdown).

Mox Mäkelä is a multi-talented Finnish conceptual artist. Since 1978 she has mounted exhibitions, collages, installations, actions and performances. She has pioneered new approaches in moving images and video projections for environment art. She also creates movies, radioplays and short stories.

Andjust is another long audio play movie, driven by a narrator's voice. In Strange, there were several voices; in this movie, only one: Frank Boyle in the English edition, and Martti Suosalo in the Finnish one. It is a stream of consciousness full of allusions, associations and references.

Again, the visual approach is the opposite of minimalism. Andjust is a work of imagist excess based on collage, bricolage and a collector mania of objets trouvés. It is a Dadaist visual poem based on superimpositions, installations, collisions, animations, reflections and negative images. From sober observations it switches to low angles and majestic landscape views. Mox Mäkelä's cinema emerges from original conceptual ideas of hers. At times I have fleeting associations to others, like Harry E. Smith's occultist Heaven and Earth Magic, but in the approach to animation only.

William K. Everson analyzed the visual approaches of two masters of the Western. In William S. Hart's movies the land is dominant and the skyline is high in the frame. In John Ford's films the skyline is low, and the wide open sky is the dominant motif. Mox Mäkelä is Fordian. The cloud motif was also prominent in Finnish mainstream cinema of the studio era, particularly cumulus clouds, also central in Andjust. A recurrent contemporary image is the wind turbine.

The wabi-sabi aesthetics is another hallmark: the attraction to objects with a patina of time. The wabi-sabi dimension is one explanation to the collector mania of objects that have lost their usefulness. In the cinema the philosopher of this aesthetics is Tarkovsky (Запечатлённое время / Versiegelte Zeit). Mox Mäkelä brings this theme to the extremes of dilapidated houses, mold-ridden conserves and lichen-covered objects.

The vision of the collector mania is seemingly the opposite of Marie Kondo's Konmari discipline, but the overflow of useless things brings us to a parallel parodical viewpoint of the consumer society.

Like in Vieras / Strange, Mox Mäkelä offers a point of observation outside everything. This time the protagonist is not a creature from outer space. Andjust is a war invalid. Like the protagonist of Dog Nail Clipper, the novel by Veikko Huovinen and the movie by Markku Pölönen, he has been hit by a bullet in the head in the war. A piece of metal has stuck in the brain, and he has become an eternal outsider. A village idiot if we want to call him so. The movie is a reflection of his delirium and a catalogue of his obsessions including paranoia and a fear of radioactivity. In him we can look at our reflection in a twisted mirror.

A recurrent parallel figure is the pauper statue, a presence in Nordic Lutheran churches from the age of Queen Christina to the 19th century. They were also often reminders of war invalids who needed our help.

The musical collage has been created with loving care. The compilation score opens new dimensions to what we see. The Narva March is Finland's revered military funeral march that refers to the Great Northern War over 300 years ago. There is a rich mix of classical music from the Baroque (Couperin, Lully) to Romanticism (Saint-Saëns) and Impressionism (Debussy). There are old hymns and popular evergreens (the serene "Sunday Morning", the risqué cuplé "The Cursed Melody"). The music's wabi-sabi flavour is also essential in Mox Mäkelä's time machine.

Andjust is a barrage of sounds and images. Caught in a time warp, the protagonist, lost in his own world, makes us see otherwise. In order to digest everything, I need to stop the overflow from time to time and see this exceptional work in periods of 20–30 minutes at a time.

Like Vieras, Andust is self-financed, made outside all support systems of the establishment, and again the result is a rich, rewarding, ambitious, assured and professional achievement of contemporary art.

Toivo Särkkä: Vaivaisukon morsian / [The Bride of the Wooden Pauper] (1944) with Ansa Ikonen.