Sunday, May 05, 2019

Gone to Earth (Blind Date with Nitrate at The Nitrate Picture Show)


Gone to Earth. Jennifer Jones.

Gone to Earth. The wedding cake. The Blind Date quiz image.

Lumottu veri / Villebråd.
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, UK 1950
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 110 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
Donated by Daniel Selznick (son of David O. Selznick), this print was in the family collection before it arrived at the museum in 1999. This is the UK version of the film, not the version released in the United States as The Wild Heart, which ran 82 minutes. Shrinkage: 1,05%

About the film
"Written, produced and directed by Messrs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the adaptation of Mary Webb's loamy novel... has all the makings of a masterpiece. Unfortunately, however, save for a fine beginning and a magnificent ending, the masters have gone to earth themselves, and there is a long deathly dull wodge in the middle when hunters, hounds and quarry appear to be sleep-walking in deep Shropshire mud. Beautifully coloured, it is as lovely a film to look at as I have ever seen, and when the direction deigns to be mobile it is infinitely rewarding."
– Virginia Graham, The spectator, September 29, 1950

"Experience has taught me to approach without enthusiasm the efforts of established Hollywood stars to portray essentially British characters. But Jennifer Jones's enchanting performance as that fey young country creature, Hazel Woodus, of Mary Webb's oddly harsh and cruel novel, almost vindicates past sad failures. Indeed, as she races barefoot across the Shropshire fields, her hair streaming behind her, like some mystic being from a quaint old folk tale, she must surely be exactly as the author imagined her when she wrote this story about a sensual child of nature who cannot find it in herself to resist the attentions of a demanding lover."
– M. H., Picturegoer, October 21, 1950

"Never have I seen the English countryside in its many moods so beautifully photographed in discriminating Technicolor."
– Maud Hughes, Picture Show, October 14, 1950 (NPS)

AA: "Gone to earth!" is a fox hunt term, meaning that the fox has been killed. Revisited Powell and Pressburger's haunting Technicolor tragedy in which a beautiful woman dies like in Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.

...

Like Rebecca screened at this festival last night, Gone to Earth is a film in which the will of the producer David O. Selznick clashed with strong auteurs, in this case, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Gone to Earth was a vehicle for Jennifer Jones who had just married Selznick. From her perspective the movie belongs into the context of Duel in the Sun and Portrait of Jennie.

Selznick, Powell and Pressburger shared a passion for Technicolor. In the Selznick continuum the glowing use of Technicolor can be linked with Gone With the Wind and Duel in the Sun.

From the Powell & Pressburger perspective the nature mysticism is also related with The Edge of the World, A Canterbury Tale, and I Know Where I'm Going! An erotic tragedy in a remote location was also on display in Black Narcissus, also starring David Farrar in the male leading role.

...

Gone of the Earth is a pantheistic vision about a nature child, Hazel Woodus, trying to protect animals in the Shropshire countryside. She is being raised by her single father. Her departed gypsy mother has left her only a book of spells.

Hazel is being chased by the squire Jack Reddin, but she marries a Baptist minister, Edward Marston, because of her vow at her mother's grave to marry the first man who comes for her. Aware of her vow and that she does not love her, Edward remains in a separate bedroom on wedding night.

Jack manages to take Hazel with him at her free will. Hazel is unhappy with the brutal Jack and his cruelty at animals. She comes back to Edward, but Edward's mother (Sybil Thorndike) then leaves home, and villagers come to complain about Hazel. Edward rises to the occasion, defends Hazel and takes all the blame. During the incident Hazel's pet fox escapes, and a fox hunt is going on...

Gone to Earth is Hazel's tragedy since it leaves her only unsatisfactory choices: a brutal squire and a minister dominated by his mother. For the minister, Edward Marston, it is a growing-up story: he stands up and defends his wife, defying his mother and the entire community. But it is too late.

...

The sense of nature is enchanting in this Technicolor saga shot by Christopher Challis on location in Shropshire. Gone to Earth was one of the first assignments in Challis's distinguished CV.

On display was the complete original British release version in a vintage Selznick estate nitrate print. It is a joy to view the landscapes, the sunsets, and the nocturnal silhouettes like this. There is a hazy, fuzzy quality in the general views, typical for Technicolor. Close-ups are pleasingly bright, warm and engaging.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: DATA FROM BFI SCREENONLINE AND THE AFI CATALOG ONLINE:

Counsellor-at-Law (The Nitrate Picture Show)


Counsellor-at-Law. John Barrymore.

Skilsmässoadvokaten.
William Wyler, US 1933
Print source: UCLA Film and Television Archives, Los Angeles
Running time: 82 minutes
The film was not released in Finland.
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
The print is in very good condition, with little scratching and warpage. Despite overall stiffness of the base, the copy has an excellent look on screen. As it is an early sound film, the print has some volume issues printed in, but this can be adjusted in the projection booth. Shrinkage: 0.70%

About the film
“John Barrymore is to be seen in an incisive and compelling pictorial translation of Elmer Rice’s play, Counsellor-at-Law, which undoubtedly owes no small part of its strength to the fact that the screen script was written by the author himself. The film, which has succeeded Little Women at the Radio City Music Hall, moves along with lusty energy, the scenes being so complete that none of them seems a fraction of a minute too long.”
— Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, December 8, 1933

“John Barrymore gives us one of his most controversial portrayals in a film that has many claims to distinction. . . . The result is likely to give rise to much conflicting opinion. By sheer perfection of technique he contrives convincingly to suggest Simon’s sharp, legal mind, his generosity, his dread of being debarred when a political enemy gets the goods on him for faking an alibi and his blind love for an unworthy wife, while the spectacle of Barrymore in full eruption at least makes the personality vivid and interesting, which is all that matters, I suppose.”
— M. D. P., Picturegoer, January 27, 1934

“A veritable Hope Diamond of a movie is sparkling on the Palace screen! A picture that holds you raptly absorbed from opening to closing scene. You simply HATE to have it end! . . . The action speeds into the tensest sort of drama, resulting in a knockout finale that sends you tingling from the theater. Never has John Barrymore done anything as human, as many faceted, as vivid, as persistently appealing, as his portrayal of Simon. The fact that he is a Gentile makes his performance the more remarkable.”
— Mae Tinee, Chicago Daily Tribune, January 8, 1934 (NPS)

AA: Revisited William Wyler's Counsellor-at-Law, a film produced in his last period at Universal before he switched to Samuel Goldwyn. Having started at Universal with programmers, Wyler had by now advanced to prestige productions of high profile subjects.

Wyler mobilizes the mise-en-scène and the cinematography in this adaptation of the powerful drama by Elmer Rice, but never for a moment do we forget that this is a filmed play. It is good to see this and compare it with Wyler's future successes in filming plays in The Little Foxes, The Heiress, and These Three / The Children's Hour.

Together with Ben-Hur this film was the only one in which Wyler had an explicitly Jewish theme. The casting coup of John Barrymore is brilliant, unexpected and perhaps somewhat distancing, but it does make the film more interesting than an authentic ethnic casting choice might have been. Also Ben-Hur had Gentile casting: Charlton Heston.

On display was William Wyler's personal copy of a 1947 re-release print. The visual quality is stunning and exemplary, doing justice to the cinematography by Norbert Brodine. I may have seen this very print before because the last time I saw this movie was at UCLA's William Wyler retrospective in May 1996.

Dead Reckoning (The Nitrate Picture Show)


Dead Reckoning. Humphrey Bogart.

Kuumat paikat / Heta dagar.
John Cromwell, US 1947
Print source: Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA
Running time: 102 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
This copyright deposit print from the Library of Congress does show some changes with the audio track, as it switches from variable area to variable density midway through reel—listen for change in volume. There are slight emulsion cracks along the edges and a slight curl toward the emulsion, as well as intermittent edge creases. Shrinkage: 0.63%

About the film
“There are a lot of things about the script of Dead Reckoning that an attentive spectator might find disconcerting, but the cumulative effect of the new Humphrey Bogart slug ’em–love ’em and leave ’em picture at Loew’s Criterion is all on the good side of entertainment. Old ‘Bogey’ takes the drubbing of his cinematic life from a tough, psychopathic character who delights in ‘messing up’ his victims to the strains of sweet music, but the revenge our hero ultimately enjoys is a dilly and, correct us if we’re wrong, sets something of a new high in savage melodramatics.”
— T. M. P., New York Times, January 23, 1947

“In Columbia’s homicidal orgy now on view at the Earle, Mr. Bogart is cast as Capt. Rip Murdock, of the paratroopers, intent—after the first reel—on solving the mysterious disappearance of his sergeant, Johnny Drake, on the eve of receiving the Congressional Medal. Miss Scott is the languorous blonde, Coral Chandler, of whom Johnny prattled incessantly in both his day and night dreams—that throaty love song, purling from her gentle lips, the scent of jasmine in her hair, etc., etc. Between them, they churn up as sanguinary a yarn of violence and murder as ever compounded high nervous tension or challenged credulity.”
— Nelson B. Bell, Washington Post, April 18, 1947 (NPS)

AA:

Wikipedia: "In navigation, dead reckoning is the process of calculating one's current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. The corresponding term in biology, used to describe the processes by which animals update their estimates of position or heading, is path integration."

"Dead reckoning is subject to cumulative errors. Advances in navigational aids that give accurate information on position, in particular satellite navigation using the Global Positioning System, have made simple dead reckoning by humans obsolete for most purposes. However, inertial navigation systems, which provide very accurate directional information, use dead reckoning and are very widely applied."

"By analogy with their navigational use, the words dead reckoning are also used to mean the process of estimating the value of any variable quantity by using an earlier value and adding whatever changes have occurred in the meantime. Often, this usage implies that the changes are not known accurately. The earlier value and the changes may be measured or calculated quantities."
(Wikipedia). Dead reckoning in other languages: laskelmasuunnistus / död räkning / Koppelnavigation / navigation à l'estime / navigazione stimata / cчисление координат.

Revisited a film noir that I had not seen since September 1971. The director John Cromwell was a Hollywood professional whose career was interrupted by the black list, as was the one of Morris Carnovsky who plays the gangster boss Martinelli. Dead Reckoning is a Humphrey Bogart vehicle, and cast in the female lead as Dusty Chandler is Lizabeth Scott, imitating Lauren Bacall as closely as possible.

The heroes are war veterans, demobilized paratroopers: Rip Murdock (Humphrey Bogart), Johnny Drake (William Prince), and Father Logan (James Bell). 

The plot is convoluted. It is possible to make sense of it but I give up and get caught in the torrent. I receive the movie as something between L'Âge d'or and a straight gangster thriller.

There is a flashback structure (but in the middle the movie is reset into "real time"). There is voiceover narration (too much of it). The dialogue is hard-boiled.

It's a nightmare movie with brutal killings. Rip's face is beaten to a pulp and he barely survives a car crash. There is a whiff of jasmine before Rip is knocked out. There are subjective vertigo montages of losing consciousness when Rip is drugged or beaten. Rip's special weapons include fire grenades.

Dusty Chandler, who always wears jasmine perfume, is a treacherous woman who has conspired to have her husband murdered for his fortune. Dusty and Martinelli have framed Johnny for the murder. When Johnny seeks justice they have him murdered, too. Next in line is Rip who wants to bring Johnny's murderers to justice.

While suspecting Dusty Rip gets caught in her spell as well. In a brilliant film noir torch song sequence Dusty sings "Either It's Love Or It Isn't". Dusty confesses that with Johnny it was a one-sided love affair. "It happened to Johnny. It didn't happen to me. It never happens the way you want. It never reached the pitch" (the quote is approximate).

In true film noir mode the ambiguousness around the woman lingers until the finale. "Night blooming jasmine grows all over the country", is Dusty's defense when Rip suspects that it was she who clubbed him unconscious. After the lethal crash of the finale Rip recovers while Dusty perishes on her deathbed at the hospital.

In John Cromwell's direction there is no Liebestod approach like in Criss Cross. The romantic angle is tame, and the general atmosphere is balanced more towards a fundamental distrust in relationships, not without nuances of cynicism and misogyny.

Cromwell's touch is prosaic when material like this might be more effective in an all-out dream mode, in an uninhibitedly oneiric and romantic treatment.

It was a luxury to see a glistening vintage nitrate print displaying Leo Tover's film noir cinematography in its original glory.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Rebecca + Rebecca Screen Tests (The Nitrate Picture Show)


Rebecca. Judith Anderson, Joan Fontaine. Behind them, the portrait of an ancestor of Maxim de Winter wearing the dress that had been unforgettably copied by Rebecca.

Rebecca / Rebecca.
Alfred Hitchcock, US 1940
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 130 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: One of three prints donated to the museum in 1999 by Daniel Selznick (son of producer David O. Selznick), it has the original distribution company, United Artists, credited in the opening of the film. There is very light scratching on the emulsion throughout. Shrinkage: 0.60%

About the film
“No one knows better than ‘Hitch’ how to cast a Poe eeriness about a scene, how to use the commonplaces of life to deadly effect, how to isolate a detail so that it shouts drama in your face. From the opening shot . . . he builds up the mood . . . so that every stick and stone, every flimsy knick-knack about the house, has its place in the pattern that fire ultimately devours.”
— C. A. Lejeune , The Observer, June 30, 1940

“A practically perfect translation of Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling novel into a picture. All the old-fashioned charm, the mystery and the originality of treatment which characterized the book may be found in the talkie. . . England’s premier director has combined with Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in turning out a picture that ought to delight every person who has read the book and every person who meant to read it.”
— Daily Boston Globe, March 22, 1940

Followed by: Rebecca Screen Tests
Alfred Hitchcock, US 1939
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 10 minutes

About the prints: These tests, also donated by Daniel Selznick, show slight emulsion and base scratches with splices between takes. Shrinkage: 0.90%

About the film: Rare tests show actors and costumes tested for the production of the feature film. Look closely and you may recognize some of the costumes that were used in another famous film made in 1939. (NPS)

AA:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley, Manderley, secretive and silent. Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls. Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that light came from the windows. And then a cloud came upon the moon and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of a past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the strange days of my life which began for me in the south of France... " (The opening monologue of the Second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca).

Rebecca was a personal project both for the producer David O. Selznick and the director Alfred Hitchcock. For Selznick, it was another magnificent woman's picture after Gone With the Wind.

For Hitchcock, it was a meditation on the power of the past. Like in Vertigo 18 years later, and like in Psycho even later, a dead woman overshadows everything. In Vertigo, it's Madeleine, in this film, it's Rebecca. We never even learn the first name of the living female protagonist, the second Mrs. de Winter.

Rebecca is a masterpiece in the sub-genre of the Female Gothic, comparable with Jane Eyre in its use of the first person narrative and a male protagonist with a dark secret like Rochester. It is a brilliant variation of the archetypal Female Gothic narrative of the young and innocent woman entering a sinister house possessed by the past.

The second Mrs. de Winter is a stranger in her own home at Manderley. Scarier than her husband Maxim are the women, starting with her hostess Edythe Van Hopper in Monte Carlo. Mrs. Danvers incarnated by Judith Anderson does her best to make the new mistress feel unwelcome.

Revisited after many years the performances of Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier strike me as even greater than I remembered. They are full of wit, nuance, gravity, and humour. This is a Bildungsroman of a young woman developing from an awkward and clumsy outsider to a heroine of her own life. A turning-point is when she declares to Mrs. Danvers that "I am Mrs. de Winters now".

Finally it turns out that the splendour of Rebecca de Winter's household was only a facade. "I hated her, there was never a moment of happiness", confesses Maxim. That is why he has tried to find a genuine and honest woman in contrast to the glittering fraud of Rebecca.

Robin Wood has assessed Rebecca as a study in patriarchy. He finds ominous Maxim's observation that "It's gone forever, that funny, young, lost look that I loved" and also his quip that his new wife should never be thirty-six. Another way of looking at it is that Maxim has conflicting feelings of patriarchy and modern terms of relationships. The past is a nightmare, but honest and genuine feelings can save the future.

Heikki Nyman has commented on Rebecca's influence on Citizen Kane down to the significant detail (Manderley / Xanadu, the letter R / the letter K, the burning negligée case / the burning sled... ).

I have never had such a stunning visual experience of Rebecca before. The vintage nitrate print from the Selznick estate is clean, refined, and ravishing. It is interesting to observe that the original visual quality is hazy in the framing footage and establishing shots of Manderley.

...

The ten minutes of tests are moving and charming.

Joan Fontaine's forlorn looks in her four silent costume tests.

Nova Pilbeam and Wyndham Goldie in sound test footage directed by Edmond T. Gréville. She plays the role of the gauche and awkward young woman.

Anne Baxter at age 16 directed by Hitchcock acting with Reginald Denny. She is still too young.

The Nevadan (The Nitrate Picture Show)


The Nevadan. Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker. Photo: a frame enlargement from the print screened.

Nevadan kultarosvot / Duell i bergen.
Gordon Douglas, US 1950
Print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna
Running time: 82 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
With 133 splices (all of which have been blooped), this rare Cinecolor print also shows some orange scratches where the two-sided emulsion was slightly scratched on the blue-green side. Shrinkage: 0.95%

About the film
“Westerns come out of Hollywood like a string of sausages from a meat factory. We like sausages, but we tend to take them for granted. Every so often, however, a Western comes along that is a fine specimen of its kind. The Nevadan, with Randolph Scott as a lean US marshal who ties in with an outlaw (Forrest Tucker) by way of recovering a quarter of a million in gold, is a prime example. It may not make any converts to horse-operas, but it will make those who enjoy them happy. Dorothy Malone cuts a trim figure on a horse, and George Macready and Frank Faylen are as obnoxious a pair of gold-hungry skunks as we’ve had around.”
– Edwin Miller, Seventeen, March 1950

“Ruggedness and realism, plus the employment of effective Cinecolor photography, have established several cuts above average westerns the sagebrush sagas being produced by Harry Joe Brown and starring Randolph Scott. This entry is no exception. It’s as tough as a rawhide latigo and as western as cactus. Where vigorous, action-laden, suspenseful drama is appreciated the picture should prove to be a certain hit. The story, through the introduction of several away-from-formula twists, transcends the stereotyped oater yarn; but the innovational angles are not projected at the expense of chases, gunfights, fisticuffs and the other desirable western ingredients.”
– Boxoffice, January 14, 1950 (NPS)

AA: A mighty good Western. Directed by Gordon Douglas, The Nevadan is yet another proof of how wrong we can go if we only follow the great auteur trail in search of good movies.

The Nevadan is a Randolph Scott star vehicle. Perhaps typically, I have been learning to know Scott by crabwalk: starting with Ride the High Country, proceeding to the Ranown cycle, then to films directed by André De Toth and Joseph H. Lewis, meanwhile realizing the distinction of Roy Huggins in his sole credit as a cinema-released film director.

The Nevadan is a Harry Joe Brown – Randolph Scott production for Columbia, and it seems that the Brown-Scott brand was a promise of quality. Scott did great work with others, as well, so he must have had a good sense in selecting his projects and assessing his strengths. Scott could often be bland, but I still also need to see his Paramount cycle of Zane Grey westerns. Henry Hathaway debuted in them and directed Scott to his breakthrough in stardom.

The Nevadan starts in medias res. The introduction is amazingly quick, taking largely place during the opening credits. The plot of the compact film is pretty complex, based on conflicts and tensions between four sets of partners. The distinction of the film is in its witty character studies and great ensemble playing. The granite-faced and ramrod-straight Scott understood to surround himself with actors livelier than himself: Forrest Tucker, Frank Faylen, George Macready, Charles Kemper, Jeff Corey, Tom Powers, and Jock Mahoney.

The story and the screenplay are by George W. George and George F. Slavin, and contributing to the juicy dialogue was none other than Rowland Brown, the director of the stunning pre-Code trio of crime films (Quick Millions, Hell's Highway, Blood Money) who had largely disappeared from the Hollywood scene during the Production Code but was still involved in selected high profile projets including What Price Hollywood? / A Star Is Born and Angels With Dirty Faces. I sense in the dialogue a special sting and a sense of humour that might be attributed to Rowland Brown.

A further distinction of The Nevadan is the strong female role of Karen Galt, a rancher who gets to know Andrew Barclay (Scott) when he needs to trade horses. Her cowboys try to trick him with a wild and untamed horse, but he impresses everybody with his prowess. Andrew, in turn, is impressed by Karen and tells her she seems "pretty sure of herself".

It's gratifying to see Dorothy Malone in an early leading role. She is a convincing rancher, and she interprets the Oedipal / Electra theme with a persuasion that helps understand why Douglas Sirk cast her in his two greatest films, Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels. The attraction between Karen and Andrew is based on a meeting of two independent spirits. She is no routine love interest.

The AFI Catalog editors report that they were only able to access a black and white print of The Nevadan, but today we saw a genuine vintage nitrate Cinecolor print from Vienna. The colour world is not perfect but it is expressive within its limitations.

Ihmiset suviyössä / People in the Summer Night (The Nitrate Picture Show)


Ihmiset suviyössä / People in the Summer Night. Eila Pehkonen, Matti Oravisto.

Människor i sommarnatten.
Valentin Vaala, Finland 1948
Print source: KAVI, Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti (National Audiovisual Institute), Helsinki
Running time: 67 minutes
Translation into English: Maarit Tulkki, live e-subtitling operated by AA.
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
This release print shows some wear and tear on the edges, but overall the quality of the image is good and any scratches do not detract from the exquisite Finnish landscape and people of the film. Shrinkage: 0.85%

About the film
“We have never before seen such a wonderful and delicate representation of Finnish nature. For that we can thank Eino Heino, who in this film has also depicted the people excellently and with great sensibility, and thus proved to be first among our cinematographers.”
— Toini Aaltonen, Suomen Sosialidemokraatti (Finnish Social Democrat), October 17, 1948 (translated by Taina Meller)

“Vaala has sensitively and warm-heartedly conveyed the novel, which is epically narrated but at the same time marked with intense empathy, tocelluloid. . . . This kind of inspired narration, steeped in the artistically poised personality of the director, we have been entreatingly and for long praying for. Valentin Vaala has now given us a movie that shows such artistic maturity, and after seeing it, one feels happy.”
— Raoul af Hällström, Uuden Suomen (New Finland), October 17, 1948 (translated by Taina Meller) (NPS)

AA: People in the Summer Night is based on an impressionistic novel by F. E. Sillanpää, a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1939. Sillanpää was usually lucky with film adaptations, and never more so than in this one.

People in the Summer Night belongs to an international category of the cinema known as the multi-character study, launched in Weimar Germany as the Querschnittfilm. Prominent directors in this mode include Duvivier, Preminger, Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alejandro G. Iñarritú.

The excuse for the multi-character story may be an object such as a forged banknote passing from hand to hand in Tolstoy adaptations including L'Argent or a dance card with a list of partners in Un carnet de bal. It may be a Don Juan or roundelay story like Reigen (La Ronde). Or a search for an unknown mother like Broken Flowers.

The excuse may also be a location such as a hotel (Grand Hotel), ship, train, airplane or any vehicle on a perilous journey (Stagecoach). War and catastrophe films are often multi-character studies. In this film the excuse is the summer night, or, in fact two nights during a summer weekend.

Four storylines and some twelve characters intertwine, but Sillanpää's advice to the director Valentin Vaala was: "Remember that there is but one protagonist – the summer night!"

Aarne Laurila has observed that nuances of light are of the essence already in the source novel. "The narrative follows the movements of light. People in the Summer Night is the most musical of Sillanpää's texts".

...

Two years ago at the Nitrate Picture Show another Finnish film was shown: Restless Blood directed by Teuvo Tulio. Tulio and Vaala were schoolmates and lifelong friends who made their first four films together.

Their careers evolved in opposite directions. Tulio, "the wild bird of Finnish cinema", was an independent film-maker, no stranger to controversy. Some of his solutions may be seen as "exercises in poor taste" in the sense of John Waters.

Vaala became the house director of the venerable Suomi-Filmi company, the oldest film company in Finland, celebrating its centenary this year. It was the house of good taste, and Vaala became the paragon of good taste.

Vaala was a total film-maker. He had an assured sense of the mise-en-scène, paying close attention to locations and sets. He was a fine director of actors. He was Finland's starmaker number one. From the start he worked with top cinematographers. During 1941–1958 his trusted DP was Eino Heino whose wife, Emma Väänänen, was Vaala's actrice-fétiche, here in the role of the mother giving birth. 

Vaala's devotion did not stop when principal photography finished. He supervised the grading and the definition of light. He edited his films personally.

Already before his contract with Suomi-Filmi Vaala became the founder of an original style of Finnish urban comedy. He was a great women's director who liked to work with women screenwriters such as Lea Joutseno here. Joutseno was a bright actress who became a screenwriter and later a translator – like Regina Linnanheimo, the partner of Tulio.

...

Vaala was an ardent film buff and a lifelong cinephile. He loved René Clair, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. I would compare him with George Cukor because he was equally good in comedy and drama.

Vaala's favourite director was Ernst Lubitsch. Affinities include a love of music and dance, a wit and spirit of expression, sparkling dialogue, a sense of humour and tender irony. People in the Summer Night is a rural story so there is little room for Lubitsch-style urban wit.

But great affinities remain: a fundamental sympathetic understanding of ambiguity and a general sense of the transience of life.

With directors like Vaala and Lubitsch, surface is never superficial. Schein is not far from Sein.

In the appreciation of such an elegant surface it is particularly rewarding to be able to view a first generation nitrate print. Nordic films of the studio era were as a rule struck directly from the camera negative.

...

In our Finnish old-fashioned mono culture Vaala was a stranger in many ways.

He was Russian in a deeply anti-Russian Finland.

His religion was Russian Orthodox in the most Lutheran Protestant country in the world.

He was gay in a country where homosexual acts were criminalized by the law.

And he made the most definitive native Finnish films such as this one.

...

The figure of the lumberjack called Nokia was unique in Finnish cinema for a long time. (Yes, Nokia shares his name with the famous cellphone brand. Nokia is an ancient name of a place in Häme where the story takes place).

Nokia is a lumberjack, but although he is gay, he is completely different from the lumberjacks of the cartoons of Tom of Finland.

Martti Katajisto gives a sensitive and moving performance of a man agonized by feelings he has a hard time making sense of.

[Based on my notes to the introduction for the screening].

...

I did not see the screening properly because I was sitting in the projection room of the Dryden Theatre operating the live electronic subtitling. I viewed the film from a long distance and through thick security glass. The projectionists defined the print as having been "well-loved" (probably it has been screened a thousand times), but with only four splices.

I have seen most of Vaala's nitrate era films in glorious nitrate but never People in the Summer Night because it happened to be the first Vaala nitrate title of which a safety screening print was created. The first screening of the safety print was a revelation of Vaala's genius for a young generation of cinephiles including Peter von Bagh. 

The English translation by Maarit Tulkki is accurate in every detail but fails to convey the distinguished flavour of the dialogue.

Strandhugg (The Nitrate Picture Show)


Strandhugg. Image: Filmarkivet.se.

Rantautua / [Hitting the Shore].
Arne Sucksdorff, Sweden 1950
Print source: Svenska Filminstitutet (Swedish Film Institute), Stockholm
Running time: 15 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 3 May 2019.

NPS: About the print: The print displays rich, deep contrast and very little scratches or damage. Shrinkage: 1.05%

About the film: A seaside poem by the Swedish master of short form whose nitrate highlights of past years’ festivals include the unforgettable Symphony of a City and A Divided World. (NPS)

AA: Strandhugg is one of the last of Arne Sucksdorff's cycle of 15 short films made before he directed his first feature-length masterpiece, The Great Adventure. As usual, this is a semi-documentary, and in this case there is a moving central performance of a young fisherwoman who experiences a bitter disappointment with a playboy on the beach. Each shot in this film is a work of art in itself, brilliantly photographed by Sucksdorff.

I watched the film from the projection booth of the Dryden Theatre and was not able to fully appreciate the quality of the print which looked brilliant even from a distance. Because I had never seen Strandhugg before I revisited it online where it is legally available in a handsome digital transfer: Strandhugg at Filmarkivet.se

Nightmare Alley (The Nitrate Picture Show)


Nightmare Alley. Joan Blondell (Mademoiselle Zeena), Ian Keith (Pete, her alcoholic husband), and Tyrone Power (Stan Carlisle, the carnival barker).

Painajaiskuja / Mardrömsgränden.
Edmund Goulding, US 1947
Print source: UCLA Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 113 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
Although the print has several edge nicks and some splices, the overall image and sound quality are excellent. The blacks are saturated to give the eerie feeling of night shadows and life on the dark side. Wonderful resolution is seen in the details. Shrinkage: 0.60%

About the film
“Nightmare Alley sets out to prove, in an original setting, that though you can fool most of the people most of the time you will find in the end, quite simply, that dishonesty does not pay. It is nice to know that, at any rate in the film world, this principle still holds good. Mr. Tyrone Power rises from being a skillful circus trickster to reading written messages blindfolded in a night club, and then with the aid of an unscrupulous female psychoanalyst seeks fresh pasturage in the field of bogus spiritualism. It is here, while bringing spurious comfort to a naïve millionaire, that his fraudulence provokes heaven to justifiable anger. Cast into the awful darkness of drink, he ends up as a Geek, which is a half-man half-beast freak in a circus.”
— Virginia Graham, The Spectator, August 6, 1948

“Nightmare Alley is a harsh, brutal story told with the sharp clarity of an etching. There isn’t a really sympathetic or inspiring character in the show, but acting, direction and production values lift the piece to the plane of gripping drama. In spots it approaches the dignity of authentic tragedy. The picture will satisfy no demands for light entertainment, hence the box office is problematical and largely conditioned on the femme draw of Tyrone Power in the lead. The film deals with the roughest and most sordid phases of carnival life and showmanship. Despite the grim realism of its treatment, it has all the shuddery effect of a horror yarn.”
— Fisk, Variety, October 15, 1947 (NPS)

AA: Last night The Nitrate Picture Show ended with a Fox Technicolor musical. Today it begins with a Fox film noir made two years before.

Nightmare Alley was exceptional for all involved. Fox made fine films noir, but rarely of so dark and daring material. George Jessel, the original Jazz Singer, as a producer focused mostly on light entertainment. Tyrone Power was one of the studio's biggest stars best known for his roles in Jesse James, The Mark of Zorro and Blood and Sand. It was he who insisted on doing this film, and he demanded Edmund Goulding to direct. Goulding, best known as a women's director, had had a tremendous career starting as a screenwriter of Tol'able David, becoming a MGM house director working with Marion Davies, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford, then directing Bette Davis at Warner Bros. until he moved to Fox. There he directed the impressive Razor's Edge the year before, screened at this festival last year, also starring Tyrone Power.

The excellent screenplay is by Jules Furthman, based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. The film is well cast, and knowing Goulding's experience, it is not surprising that female performances are outstanding. Joan Blondell, who had had her breakthrough as a pre-Code star at Warner Bros., was just experiencing one of her comebacks (she never stopped having them: one of her last films was Grease); at Fox she had just appeared in Elia Kazan's debut film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Her role as Zeena is deeply moving. As is Coleen Gray's as the young and naive Molly who refuses to follow through the grand scam plan. The true adversary to Tyrone Power's Stan Carlisle is the psychologist Dr. Lilith Ritter impressively played by Helen Walker. "It takes one to catch one". Walker and Carlisle use their special skills for criminal purposes, but the upstart Stan is outwitted by Lilith.

Much of the special interest of the story is based on Gresham's intimate and detailed knowledge of the world he is portraying. Nightmare Alley belongs to the great carnival stories and it is also rewarding about mentalism, spiritualism, mind-reading, hypnotism, and "the spook racket". It is also a warning tale about the abuses of psychology, the possibility of criminal breaches in confidentiality. It is equally thought-provoking about the exploitation of religion. Like Orson Welles's F for Fake it is a film about the power of illusion with wide-ranging associations. With his mentalism Stan is able to move people more deeply than anybody else, although he is just a showman.

The tragic substance of the story is based on the fact that Stan has real talent and profound insight in psychology. He perishes because of his lack of ethics and professional discipline. He remains a charlatan, but he could have been more.

All this is conveyed brilliantly by Goulding and his team. Tyrone Power, often one of the cinema's "hollow men", succeeds here in a harrowingly tragic role. Although the material is sordid, the approach is not, thanks to the fundamental humanity of the performances. In this tale we are all victims of the Great Depression, trying to survive by any means necessary.

Lee Garmes, Josef von Sternberg's trusted DP, was currently also in favour of De Toth, Vidor, Hitchcock and Ophuls, also known as a "women's cinematographer". Here he displays his skill in film noir, displaying a darkness both physical and metaphysical. The brilliant UCLA print is mesmerizing to watch, conveying themes of illusionism and anti-illusionism in purely visual terms.

The screening of an authentic print confirms the original film's status as a masterpiece on the eve of a remake in pre-production by screenwriter Kim Morgan, director Guillermo del Toro and star Leonardo DiCaprio.

Friday, May 03, 2019

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (The Nitrate Picture Show)


The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend. Olga San Juan, Betty Grable.

Vaalea villikissa / Västerns vilda blondin.
Preston Sturges, US 1949
Print source: Museum of Modern Art, New York
Running time: 77 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 3 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
There is very little scratching to mar the bold colors used to create the texture and vividness of this Twentieth-Century Fox production, a beautiful Technicolor print of the late 1940s. Shrinkage: 0.80%

About the film
“The Beautiful Blonde never aims much higher than the idea that to shoot a man in the posterior is highly hilarious. They do it three times in the picture, on the theory that a good socko situation bears repetition. It’s Betty Grable who is responsible for the rear-guard action. She’s a smart-shooting babe of the Old West, whose romance with a handsome gambler is carried on to sound-track strains of Frankie and Johnny. Forced to skip town, she is taken for a school-teacher and becomes involved in another feud. Eventually, but not soon, Miss Grable wings the same character (a Judge, no less) in the same place, and the picture stops, figuring we are about helpless with laughter by now anyway.”
— Herbert Whittaker, The Globe and Mail, June 18, 1949

“After a dubiously ethical, but dramatically effective, opening, in which a small girl is taught by her grandfather that a woman’s best friend is her gun, it relapses into an outrageous and rather cruel fun fair, with all the popinjays of a backwoods town set up to be shot at. Hot Technicolor makes the actors appear to be in a constant fever; strident noise mercifully makes most of the dialogue inaudible. In a rowdy mood, it might be possible to enjoy this screaming hurly-burly, but if you are looking for wit, taste, or adroitness of performance the Odeon, Marble Arch, is hardly the right address.”
— C. A. Lejeune, The Observer, March 19, 1950 (NPS)

AA: Preston Sturges is one of my favourite directors, but I saw this movie for the first time. Having directed a brilliant satirical cycle of eight films for Paramount (1940–1944) Sturges made a comeback sequel to Harold Lloyd's The Freshman called The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1946) before moving to 20th Century-Fox with his final masterpiece Unfaithfully Yours (1948) ("Can you handle Händel?"). The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend was Sturges's penultimate film as a director before Les Carnets du Major Thompson produced in France (1955).

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, Sturges's second Fox production and last Hollywood movie, was his only film in colour.

It was an odd departure for Sturges. Until then he had clearly been the auteur. His films had been auteur-driven except the star-driven The Sin of Harold Diddlebock based on the comic character of Harold Lloyd.

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend is a star-driven studio product, a typical 20th Century-Fox Technicolor musical: brash, earthy and unsubtle, in contrast to Sturges's sharp and witty Paramount satires. Sturges was no stranger to loud farce, but at Paramount and in Unfaithfully Yours it was tempered by wit.

20th Century Fox was a studio founded on 31 May 1935 in a merger of Fox Film Corporation and Twentieth Century Pictures. This year, on 20 March 2019, its story ended in a merger with The Walt Disney Company.

Among the studio's hallmarks from the beginning to the end of the studio era in the early 1960s were "Fox blondes" such as Alice Faye, Sonja Henie, Betty Grable, June Haver, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sheree North, and Stella Stevens. Although they played a variety of characters, typically they were of the girl-next-door / friendly lover / potential mother types. During WWII (Betty Grable as the super pin-up) and after the war (Marilyn Monroe as the biggest superstar) they were love goddesses, symbols of procreation and fertility in a venerable tradition dating back to the Venus of Willendorf, Aphrodite and Venus. They were Venus figures of the baby boom era.

Fox blondes were often incarnations or subversions of the "dumb blonde stereotype". The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend plays on expectations of that stereotype and reverses them. In the beginning we witness the protagonist, Winifred (Freddie) Jones being taught to shoot by her grandfather. As C. A Lejeune states in her review quoted above, in this movie "a gun is a girl's best friend". Winifred (Betty Grable) becomes the fastest draw. In this story the woman is dominant.

It's a big, loud and violent farce. The Winifred character is to some extent like Mae West, but Mae West only needed wit and sex appeal to dominate. Guns appeared only in bits of dialogue such as "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

It's a musical comedy, and Betty Grable has an attractive voice in her solo performance of "Everytime I Meet You" and her duet with Rudy Vallee of the hymn "In the Gloaming". The title song "The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend" is sung by a chorus. "Frankie and Johnny", the most recurrent theme, has a Mae West connection: Mae West sang it memorably in her play Diamond Lil filmed as She Done Him Wrong.

A glowing vintage Technicolor print with beautiful saturation in the colours. The reds are warm and vivid and the blacks awesomely deep.

L'Âge d'Or / The Golden Age (The Nitrate Picture Show)


L'Âge d'Or. Lya Lys by the magic mirror. Photo: Céline Ruivo (Facebook, 16 May 2019).

L'Âge d'Or.

Kulta-aika / Guldåldern.
Luis Buñuel, France 1930
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 63 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 3 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque française was traveling the US with nitrate prints, and while visiting Rochester found himself low on funds. His friend (and Eastman Museum’s first film curator) James Card purchased this print for the museum’s collection. Shrinkage: 0.65%

About the film
“Never before at the cinema, and with such vigor, such contempt for decency, has bourgeois society and its properties—the police, religion, the army, morality, the family, even the State—received such a volley of kicks in the ass. . . . Obviously, in making L’âge d’or, the authors wanted snobs and fashionable people, who had freely admired Un chien andalou and had, thus, insulted them, not to misunderstand their intention this time and to feel the disgust in which they hold them.”
— Léon Moussinac, L’Humanité, December 7, 1930 (translated by Alicia Chester)

“Will discord always reign over the Surrealists? . . . Wednesday evening . . . around thirty protesters had decided to interrupt the screening of a film whose incoherence, to tell the truth, must more readily draw a smile than indignation. But it was in the plans of this little troop to be indignant. They did so by blowing whistles, throwing bottles of ink that splattered in unexpected overlays, and using batons to break everything around. Calm was restored only by a squad of agents.”
— Le Figaro, December 13, 1930 (translated by Alicia Chester)

“All those who have safeguarded the grandeur that is France, all those, even if they are atheists, who respect Religion, all those who honour family life and hold childhood sacred, all those who have faith in a race which has enlightened the world, all those sons of France whom you have chosen to defend you against the moral poison of unworthy spectacles appeal to you now to uphold the rights of the censor.”
— Richard Pierre Bodin, Le Figaro (NPS)

AA: Un film maudit banned from general distribution until 1980, L'Âge d'Or was the favourite film of Henry Miller who wrote the definitive essay on it. An uninhibited outburst from the unconscious, the key Surrealist film has lost none of its power to baffle and offend.

After many viewings the punk energy starts to lose its shock value. Instead, lyrical and humoristic passages grow in intensity.

Cast in the male leading role is Gaston Modot, a guardian spirit of the French cinema from the golden age of comedy since 1909 until his last roles on television in 1966. Modot had acted in more than a hundred farces, and Luis Buñuel uses his deadpan quality for instance in the scene where Modot shows the policemen his letter of attorney from the Society of Good Deeds.

The cornerstone of the eternal city of Rome is laid. The control of violent and sexual urges is necessary, but repression leads to perversion. LÂge d'Or is a cinematic counterpart to Sigmund Freud's Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. Every image is full of a sense of urgency, yet the film refuses to make any rational sense.

The charming and humoristic Lya Lys is cast in the female leading role. In one of the most hauntingly poetic images of the movie she is looking at the mirror, but instead of her reflection she sees her shadow. A wind blows filling the mirror with clouds.

Previously in certain sources the original duration was given as 80 minutes, but the 1980 general release version was 62 minutes – as is this nitrate print which carries the authority of provenance from Henri Langlois.

I have seen L'Âge d'Or many times in satisfactory prints and accepted its technical quality as stemming from its status as an independent production.

As for visual quality, the documentary insert of scorpions is found footage. Might it be Éclair's Le Scorpion Languedocien (1912) or Pathé's Le Scorpion (1911)? I think it was Raymond Durgnat who observed that there are six parts in L'Âge d'Or like in a scorpion – and the final part is the one with the poison sting.

The cinematographer was Albert Duverger. He had already shot Un chien andalou. It had generally been seen in cropped and battered prints until the 2003 Madrid restoration revealed for me how brilliant its true visual quality was.

Now this stunning nitrate print of L'Âge d'Or proves to me the perfect visual glory of Buñuel's second film for the first time. There is a caress and a sting in the refined whites and the dark blacks on Buñuel and Duverger's canvas.

The Nitrate Picture Show: Nitrate Shorts (2019)


The Battle of Midway (John Ford, 1942).

The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 3 May 2019.

Battle of Midway
John Ford, US 1942
Print source: Museum of Modern Art, New York
Running time: 18 minutes
     NPS: "About the print: Frequent framing adjustments are needed from shot to shot of this archival footage. Heavy perforation and edge damage was repaired. Shrinkage: 0.75%
     About the film: Shot on 16 mm Kodachrome (some scenes with a handheld camera), this Technicolor film was released as a 35 mm documentary about the strategic importance of the island during World War II. Commander Ford personally shot some of the footage and was wounded while filming the battle. With voice-over narration by Ray Milland, Donald Crisp, and Jane Darwell. Preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2006." (NPS)
    AA: The Battle of Midway was the turning-point in the WWII Pacific theatre, like the battle of Salamis among the most decisive sea battles in history, and John Ford was there with his camera. There is no bombasm. Instead there is a human scale, with marines identified by name in medium shots, and an intimacy of tone with the various narrators. A Fordian soundtrack incorporates "America, My Country Tis of Thee", "U. S. Marine Corps Hymn" ["From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli"] and "Onward Christian Soldiers" but also "Red River Valley" bringing associations to The Grapes of Wrath among other films. A film of gravity and dignity. Visual quality: blow-up from 16 mm Kodachrome with a lively warm glow.

Frank Tashlin: Swooner Crooner. Frank Sinatra reincarnated as a rooster singing "It Can't Be Wrong" and "As Times Go By".

Swooner Crooner
Frank Tashlin, US 1944
Print source: Museum of Modern Art, New York
Running time: 7 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: While the stock does not have a visible edge code to date it, the print is nitrate with a print-thru edge code of 1943 and only minimal scratches. Shrinkage 0.70%
    About the film: A look at propaganda during the war—but with humor, as hens lay eggs based on the effect of crooning roosters at the henhouse." (NPS)
    AA: Another war contribution! Among Frank Tashlin's satirical targets are Taylorist production methods. Hens punch timecards diligently upon arrival at the workplace and manufacture eggs literally on a conveyor belt. To boost production there are two competing roosters. One croons like Frank Sinatra, the other like Bing Crosby, and soon there are mountains of eggs. A bright and vivid Technicolor print of a Warner Bros. cartoon.

Tulips Shall Grow.

Tulips Shall Grow
George Pal, US 1942
Print source: Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA
Running time: 7 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: Though the print required extensive edge repair, the image and sound remain in excellent condition, including the Technicolor dyes. Shrinkage: 0.83%.
    About the film: A Dutch boy and girl fall in love, only to be invaded by an army of Screwballs that threaten to destroy their land. Perseverance and a hand from Mother Nature are their only defense." (NPS)
    AA: A WWII allegory in an animated puppet film. A romance in the land of the windmills is threatened by a Screwball army. Rainfall brings rust and corrosion to the attacking war machine. Life begins again. In pleasing Technicolor.


Looking at London
US 1946
Print source: Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA
Running time: 10 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: Aside from a fair amount of scratching, this print is in generally good condition. Slight repairs were needed. Shrinkage: 0.70%.
    About the film: This Technicolor Fitzpatrick Travel Talk takes a look at postwar London, including the devastation caused by bombing." (NPS)
    AA: A postwar travelogue about London with Buckingham Palace intact but entire city blocks in ruins. Another genuine Technicolor experience, colour-driven.

Gardens of the Sea
US 1947
Print source: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 9 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: Emulsion on both sides of the base makes this a tricky film to inspect and project, but the color remains astounding and the film itself remains in good shape. Shrinkage: 0.60%.
    About the film: Shot and distributed in Cinecolor (like last year’s Lost Lake), this Lowell Thomas Movietone examines Australia’s Coral Reef and the myriad strange creatures that live and build there." (NPS)
    AA: Also Gardens of the Sea is colour-driven with fantastic views of strange fish, turtles, spider crabs, starfish, little squids, mutton fish, snails, sea hares and hermit crabs. Cinecolor has its limitations but the print still looks charming.

Landscape of the Norse.

Landscape of the Norse
Earl Allvine, US 1947
Print source: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 8 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: The amount of edge repair in this print causes a lateral movement in the gate, requiring special projectionist attention to make sure the image remains in frame. Shrinkage: 0.70%.
    About the film: A trip to Norway includes Constitution Day celebrations in Oslo, the shipping and fishing industry in Bergen, and a journey north of the Arctic Circle." (NPS)
    AA: Also this travelogue about Norway is inspired by colour. In the old town of Bergen we visit the fish market and take the funicular to the mountains. Also in this film the shadow of WWII is present. From Norwegian Lapland there is beautiful footage of Sami life and reindeer herding.


The Cobweb Hotel
Hämähäkkimotelli / Hotel Spindelnätet / Spindelhotellet.
Dave Fleischer, US 1936
Print source: UCLA Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 8 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: The wonderfully conserved print shows some edge repair, but little work was needed for this program. Shrinkage: 0.70%.
    About the film: This “Color Classic” finds a spider opening a hotel for unsuspecting flies on what may have been Fleischer’s actual desk." (NPS)
    AA: A gruesome horror cartoon of a spider managing a hotel. A pair of newlywed flies arrive, get immediately trapped but display a fighting spirit. They rebel and liberate all the other victims, too. The third three-strip Technicolor film of the Fleischer studio.

The Temperamental Lion.

The Temperamental Lion
Connie Rasinski, US 1939
Print source: George Eastman Museum / Chicago Film Society
Running time: 7 minutes
    NPS: "About the print: This is possibly a rejected print; the color dyes occasionally seem “smeared” throughout the film. The stock is somewhat brittle, and there is decomposition affecting the image in the opening credits. Shrinkage: 0.90%.
    About the film: A captured lion is taken unwillingly to the zoo, full of complaints and waiting for the opportunity to take revenge on his captor, Major Doolittle." (NPS)
    AA: A funny character study of a hammy and conceited lion at the zoo ("they can't do this to me"). Of course he is right to claim that "I don't belong here". Good voice talent. Aware of the disclaimers in the program notes I nevertheless received a good impression of the colour world.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Variety (Bette Gordon 1983)




US 1983. PC: Channel Four Films / Variety Motion Pictures / Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). P: Renée Schafransky.
    D: Bette Gordon. SC: Bette Gordon (story), Kathy Acker (script), Jerry Delamater & Peter Koper (screenplay). Cin: Tom DiCillo, John Foster – 16 mm [not 35 mm as IMDb claims] – colour. Props: Elyse Goldberg. S: Helene Kaplan – mono. ED: Ila von Hasperg. P assistant: Christine Vachon.
    M: John Lurie.
Little Anthony & The Imperials: "The Diary" (Neil Sedaka, Johnny Greenfield, 1958).
    C: Sandy McLeod (Christine), Will Patton (Mark), Richard M. Davidson (Louie), Luis Guzmán (Jose), Nan Goldin (Nan).
    Loc: New York City (Tin Pan Alley, Times Square, Manhattan).
    Festival premiere: 10 Sep 1983 Toronto International Film Festival.
    General release date: 8 March 1985.
    Not released in Finland.
    100 min
    16 mm print from Arsenal (Berlin) viewed at Fifth Viva Erotica! festival, WHS Union, Helsinki, 28 April 2019

IMDb summary: "Christine (Sandy McLeod) takes a job selling tickets at a porno theater near Times Square. Instead of distancing herself from the dark and erotic nature of this milieu, she develops an obsession that begins to consume her life. Few films deal honestly with a female sexual point-of-view, controversial and highly personal, Variety does just this." – Anonymous.

AA: In March we screened Bonnie Sherr Klein's documentary Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (1981), and it was interesting to view now Bette Gordon's Variety made two years after. Both take a close look at pornography from a feministic point of view.

Unfortunately I had misremembered the hour of the screening and missed half of the show. I only saw the last 50 minutes of Variety but was able to register a number of impressions.

There is a documentary quality in the account of the pornographic milieu of Times Square in the early 1980s. Mainly lurid, depressive and demeaning but not without some genuine erotic charge.

Mostly, however, this is a tale of urban alienation and aberrations of desire. Bette Gordon introduces a feminist twist into Godardian modernism.

Between Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise John Lurie composed for Variety an engaging score with some gripping saxophone solos.

Tom DiCillo and John Foster caught the sleazy atmosphere of the Times Square porn hub in lush and vibrant colours. The vintage Arsenal print retains the heat and intensity of the colour. Olaf Möller praised the recent 35 mm blow-up but remained open to the possibility that this 16 mm print might be superior.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Voyna i mir / War and Peace Part III: The Year 1812 (in 70 mm)


War and Peace. Vyacheslav Tikhonov as Andrei Bolkonsky.

War and Peace. Upwards tracking shots from a helicopter reveal the most magnificent battle scenes ever filmed. Photo: my screen shot from YouTube. Please click to enlarge.

Война и мир / Voina i mir / Sota ja rauha / Krig och fred.
    SU 1967. PC: Mosfilm. D: Sergei Bondarchuk. SC: Sergei Bondarchuk, Vasili Solovyov – based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy (1865–1869). DP (Sovcolor, shot simultaneously in 70 mm and 35 mm): Anatoli Petrisky – 1:2.2. AD: Mikhail Bogdanov, Gennadi Myasnikov. ED: Tatyana Lihachova. M: Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov. Opera: L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642) by Claudio Monteverdi. "Dies irae" theme in two sequences. Choreography: Vladimir Burmeyster. S: Yuri Mikhailov, Igor Urvantsev – 5+1-channel stereophonic sound. Cost: Mihail Chikovani. VFX: G. Ayzenberg. SFX: F. Krasnij, M. Semyonov. Pyrotechnics: Vladimir Likhachyov. Military advisor: General V. V. Kurasov.
    C: Lyudmila Savelyeva (Natasha Rostova), Sergei Bondarchuk (Pierre Bezuhov), Vyatsheslav Tikhonov (Andrei Bolkonsky), Viktor Stanitsyn (Ilya Andreyevich Rostov), Kira Golovko (Countess Rostova), Oleg Tabakov (Nikolai Rostov), Seryozha Yermilov (Petya Rostov), Irina Gubanova (Sonya), Anatoli Ktorov (Nikolai Andreyevitsh Bolkonsky), Antonina Shuranova (Princess Marya), Anastasia Vertinskaya (Liza Bolkonskaya), Boris Smirnov (Prince Vasili Kuragin), Irina Skobtseva (Hélène Kuragina / Bezuhova), Vasili Lanovoy (Anatole Kuragin), Boris Zakhava (Kutuzov), Gyuli Chohonelidze (Bagration), V. Murganov (Alexander I), Vladislav Strzhelchik (Napoleon Bonaparte), V. Sofronov (Emperor Franz).
    Original in Russian with passages in German and in French.
    Helsinki premiere 10.11.1967 Capitol, released by Kosmos Filmi.
    KAVI 70 mm print deposited by Kosmos Filmi.
    Screened was the 362 min Finnish cinema release version in 23 reels of ca 600 m, with electronic subtitles by Tuulia Lehtonen. Screening schedule: 14.00 Part I, 107 min, 16.15 Part II, 80 min, 18.00 Part III, 82 min, 19.45 Part IV, 94 min.
    Screened at Kino Regina (Film Heaven), 27 April 2019.
    In memoriam Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov (1936–2019).

I viewed our 70 mm print of War and Peace in extenso in our previous screening at Bio Rex seven years ago. I then found Part III (the Battle of Borodino) clearly superior to the rest. Examining information on the different versions I discovered that our Part III is the only one which has not been cut. The original version runs seven hours, and our print only six hours, but Part III is intact. This year I learned from Peter Bagrov that Anatoli Petrisky, the cinematographer, also preferred Part III when War and Peace was screened at the Belye Stolby Film Festival.

At Kino Regina the 70 mm projection is superior to Bio Rex. The proportions of our new cinema are perfect for 70 mm. The cinema does full justice to the masterful composition of this film. I focused now more on the cinematography and the mise-en-scène and was much more impressed by the visual experience.

Otherwise my observations remained the same. Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov has created an excellent, intriguing and highly moving score, different from mainstream epic film music.

A special feature is a mumbling approach to dialogue, probably as a counterweight to the inherent danger of bombasm. Thus the soundtrack (both music and dialogue) are based on understatement. There is an attempt to maintain dimension of intimacy in this history of the masses.

Part II ends with one of the finest scenes, Natasha and Pierre's encounter where they first recognize that they are special to each other. Part III has several outstanding scenes. The death of the old Count Bolkonsky (a great performance by Anatoli Ktorov). The meeting of Kutuzov and Andrei Bolkonsky (Tolstoy would have smiled approvingly to Boris Zakhava's earthy interpretation of Kutuzov). The holy procession with epic grandeur. The meeting of Pierre and Andrei on the eve of the battle. The battle of Borodino, perhaps the most formidable battle sequence ever filmed.

Andrei falls with mortal grenade wounds to his stomach. At the field hospital he is startled by cries of agony: a leg is being amputated on the adjoining bed. It is no one else but Anatoli Kuragin, his rival for Natasha's love. On the death bed values and proportions change. A quintessentially Tolstoyan moment, powerfully dramatized by Sergei Bondarchuk.

The Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812 was the biggest and most disastrous of Napoleon's battles. Napoleon won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, and from then on la Grande Armée was fatally injured. Half of the Russian army was destroyed, but Kutuzov, Field Marshal of the Russian Empire, saved its fighting spirit.

Our print is clean and intact and at Kino Regina it looks better than at Bio Rex. 2805 prints were struck of War and Peace, and due to the duplication processes there is a loss of fine detail and the image is often somewhat soft. The 70 mm experience is not perfect but this print is still worthy of screening.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

First Reformed



US 2017. PC: Killer Films, Fibonacci Films, Arclight Films, Big Indie Pictures, Omeira Studio Partners. Released by Universal. EX: Isabel Henderson, William Perkins. P: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Gary Hamilton, Victoria Hill, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray, Deepah Sikka, Christine Vachon.
    D+SC: Paul Schrader. Cin: Alexander Dynan. PD: Nadya Gurevich. Cost: Olga Mill. Make-up: Adam Bailey, Eldo Ray Estes, Jackie Fundus. M: Lustmord. S: Isaac Derfel, Jerry Stein, Michael McMenomy.ED: Benjamin Rodriguez, Jr.
    C:  Ethan Hawke (Toller), Amanda Seyfried (Mary), Cedric Antonio Kyles (Jeffries), Victoria Hill (Esther), Philip Ettinger (Michael), Michael Gaston (Balq), Bill Hoag (Elder), Kristin Villenueva (nurse), Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz  (middle-aged tourist), Ken Foreman (middle-aged man), Christopher Dylan White (college student), Frank Rodriguez (sheriff), Gary Lee Mahmoud (doctor), Sue Jean Kim (Suriya), Mia Issabella Velasquez (Rose), Tyler Bourke (Benny), Van Hansis (Roger), Ramon Nuῆes (Jason), Delmo Montgomery (Jake), Satchel Eden Bell (Cynthia).
    Not released theatrically in Finland – K12 – 113 min.
    DCP from Park Circus.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Film of the Month) with e-subtitles in Finnish by Joel Kinnunen, 24 April 2019

Paul Schrader is at his best in First Reformed, well written with a clear vision, directed with a sense of purpose, an assured mise-en-scène, and strong performances.

Schrader pays hommages to Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest, Bergman's Winter Light and Scorsese's Taxi Driver (which of course had been written by Schrader).

But all this prepares the ground to something new and different.

First Reformed is not a film about the loss of faith or even about churches getting empty. Churches are getting full in our age of the prosperity gospel, incarnated by the figure of the financial tycoon Balq (Michael Gaston), although the old and small First Reformed Church is becoming obsolete in the care of the priest Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke).

"Will God forgive us for what we are doing?" is Toller's big question to Balq, meaning the destruction of the Earth during our lifetime. To Michael (Philip Ettinger) the issue is so overwhelming that he would even like to interrupt the pregnancy of his wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried). Instead, Michael draws the same conclusion as Jonas (Max von Sydow) in Winter Light, depressed by the perspective of the end of the world.

Even Ernst is thrown violently off balance. He has been shattered since he had urged his son to enlist in the war and lost him in Iraq, which led also to the end of his marriage. Ernst rejects brutally the tender contact attempts of Esther (Victoria Hill), like Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand) did to Märta (Ingrid Thulin) in Winter Light, but Ernst is attracted by the widow Mary whom he wants to protect even from himself.

The conclusion remains open until the very end, dramatizing the choice between life and death in the extreme.

First Reformed is a masterpiece of contemporary cinema.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON: JOSH LARSEN, JAMIE GRAHAM, GODFREY CHESHIRE AND JOONA HAUTANIEMI:

They Shall Not Grow Old



NZ/GB © 2018 Imperial War Museum. PC: WingNut Films. Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Imperial War Museum in association with the BBC. Executive Produced by House Productions. Distr: Warner Bros. Pictures. P: Clare Olssen, Peter Jackson.
    D: Peter Jackson. M: Plan 9. ED: Jabez Olssen.
    A montage film based on WWI footage at the Imperial War Museum and oral history recordings at the BBC.
    Music selections include vintage songs popular during the era such as:
– "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (Jack Judge, Harry Williams, 1912)
– "Oh! It's a Lovely War" (J. P. Long, Maurice Scott, 1917)
– "Mademoiselle from Armentières" (Harry Carlton, Joseph Tunbridge, originally from the 1830s, WWI lyrics probably 1915, first recording 1915)
    Filmed on location in World War I.
    Dedicated: For My Grandfather Sgt. William Jackson
    Released in 2D and 3D.
    Release dates: 16 October 2018 (London Film Festival), 9 November 2018 (United Kingdom), 17 December 2018 (United States).
    99 min
    DCP viewed at a Espoo Ciné press screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 24 April 2019.

Official introduction: "On the centenary of the end of First World War, Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) presents the World Premiere of an extraordinary new work showing the Great War as you have never seen it."

"This unique film brings into high definition the human face of the First World War as part of a special London Film Festival presentation alongside a live Q&A with director Peter Jackson hosted by Mark Kermode."

"Using state of the art technology to restore original archival footage which is more than a 100-years old, Jackson brings to life the people who can best tell this story: the men who were there. Driven by a personal interest in the First World War, Jackson set out to bring to life the day-to-day experience of its soldiers. After months immersed in the BBC and Imperial War Museums’ archives, narratives and strategies on how to tell this story began to emerge for Jackson. Using the voices of the men involved, the film explores the reality of war on the front line; their attitudes to the conflict; how they ate; slept and formed friendships, as well what their lives were like away from the trenches during their periods of downtime."

"Jackson and his team have used cutting edge techniques to make the images of a hundred years ago appear as if they were shot yesterday. The transformation from black and white footage to colourised footage can be seen throughout the film revealing never before seen details. Reaching into the mists of time, Jackson aims to give these men voices, investigate the hopes and fears of the veterans, the humility and humanity that represented a generation changed forever by a global war."
(Official introduction)

AA: Peter Jackson brings an experimental approach to the hundred-year-old subgenre of the WWI compilation feature film. Jay Leyda discusses this subgenre in Films Beget Films (1964) as the starting point of the very phenomenon of the montage film – films based solely on pre-existing footage.

Now with digital transfers, computer colorization, and cropping from 1,33 to 1,85 the imagery certainly looks different. Jackson's film has also been made available in 3D, but I saw the 2D version.

This project has been hugely beneficial in professional archival terms: 100 hours of WWI footage has been digitized in high resolution during the project.

They Shall Not Grow Old became a big phenomenon in 2018, the centenary of the WWI armistice,  in honour of the memory of those who gave their lives and suffered during WWI.

xxx

I belong to a special audience category because I have followed WWI centenary film series for five years, starting from pacifist pre-war visions such as Ned med Vaabnene! / Lay Down Your Arms! / Waffen nieder! (1914) based on the novel by Bertha von Suttner via a screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer.

I have also studied the European Film Gateway portal EFG 1914 with a massive collection of contemporary footage from the WWI period.

Five years ago I tended to support the view of the historian Marc Ferro who stated that no non-fiction films could compete with the best fictional accounts of the Great War. The non-fiction records were usually made for military or government propaganda purposes. They showed parades of our victorious troops marching into the ruins of occupied cities.

But accounts of other aspects of the war have emerged, including documentaries of the rehabilitation of war invalids, legless, armless, blind, faceless... And accounts of millions of war orphans. Yet the unheard-of massacre in industrial scale characteristic of WWI has been best conveyed in fictional masterpieces such as Les Croix de bois. An account of the callous Machiavellism of the military command was certainly absent from official newsreels, and was portrayed only in exposés such as Paths of Glory.

Speaking of glory, the lesson of WWI was indeed that there was no glory in war.

xxx

Peter Jackson is not shy in portraying violence on the screen. He debuted in the cinema as a maestro of gore and splatter with Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead. He would be the perfect choice to make a fictional movie about WWI, the home of gore and splatter. Horror film as a genre truly blossomed in the wake of WWI, and horror cinema was one of the key reflections of WWI both in Weimar Germany and in the phenomenon known as Universal Horror.

Jackson does portray the slaughter of the war but remains dependent on the official propaganda character of much of his source material. We learn in the conclusion that the war was of a magnitude beyond comprehension and that there was a wall of silence because people never talked about the war. But the film does not convey this with full dramatical, physical and visceral impact.

xxx

An artist is free to experiment with found footage, and Jackson has used his freedom. In the beginning and the end we see footage reduced to small size, presented in accelerated speed which makes movement look ridiculous, and played with a whirring sound evoking a film projector.

At about 9 minutes of screen time the speed returns to natural while the image grows to full screen size, but that size is 1,85:1 (reduced from the original 1,33:1) which means that the footage is cropped from the top and the bottom. The footage has also been computer-colorized in a procedure that was fashionable in the 1980s. Technically today's computer colorization is superior but the aesthetical concerns remain.

I am not a purist. All these changes have been conducted with supreme skill and taste. But personally I would prefer a straight version in glorious black and white, all natural speed, all in the original aspect ratio.

xxx

The soundtrack consists of a symposium of voices from BBC's oral history archive. The storytellers are not identified during the course of the movie, but they are named in the end credits.

They Shall Not Grow Old is an impressionistic film. The film focuses on the eye level experience. We are often lost in chaos, lost in combat. We do not get a general view of WWI nor a vision of the course of the war. This is a film about the minutiae, not the big picture. But certainly this is a distinguished film and an inspiration to learn more.

xxx

P.S. 17 May 2019. I visited The Nitrate Picture Show in Rochester two weeks ago and listened to the amazing introductory lecture by David Walsh, a veteran of The Imperial War Museum and one of the most distinguished representatives of the international film archive community. His presentation was for me the highlight of the festival. One of Walsh's topics was They Shall Not Grow Old. It turns out that the digital manipulation of the image is more thorough than might be imagined. When skies were cleared, birds disappeared. Elements of the image were digitally removed, buildings were replaced, and compositions were altered, even when there was no particular reason. The movie is a digital reconstruction to such an extent that its documentary credentials are questionable.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: FROM WIKIPEDIA: