Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Taxi Driver soundtrack

Yesterday morning I had the chance to sample the opening scenes of Taxi Driver in 2K and 4K. Since then the prelude of Taxi Driver, composed by Bernard Herrmann, has been playing in my inner soundtrack.

In the soundtrack album the Theme from Taxi Driver is the name of the jazzy-bluesy theme played by an alto saxophone.

But for me the true main theme is the one introduced in the prelude, with variations during the film, and building to a shattering climax in the finale. With radical minimalism, it consists of two chords only, played with magnificent intensity, with a heavy emphasis on dark brass and powerful percussion instruments. Crescendo, diminuendo. Crescendo, diminuendo. There is not much in the way of melody. It's all about orchestration. Although Herrmann was not the conductor, the soundtrack sounds like him. The tempo is slow. It is the sound of the ocean, not calm, not stormy, but with infinite power.

Herrmann was a versatile talent. He was the composer of two all-time top ten films, Citizen Kane and Vertigo. He created darkly romantic neo-Wagnerian music to Vertigo and delightfully fantastic fandangos to adventure films such as the Sinbad films and North by Northwest. He loved to experiment, for instance with the theremin in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Psycho, played by strings only, is minimalist in inspiration. Herrmann was a sound consultant to The Birds, a film without music.

Herrmann's best score is in my opinion On Dangerous Ground. There he established his "deranged mode", which was continued in Psycho and Cape Fear. Also the effectively contrasting "adventure mode", vigorous and relaxed, started in it. The main themes of Taxi Driver are brilliant conclusions to the "deranged" and "adventure" continua in Herrmann's work. Herrmann died the night after he had finished his work for Taxi Driver.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Taxi Driver in 2K and 4K

Kino Tulio, Helsinki, 29 April 2011. Just had a chance to compare Taxi Driver in 2K and 4K (the opening scenes). First, watching the 2K at the nearest possible distance, I thought this is so good that I couldn't tell the difference from 4K. But then the same images in 4K looked even much better, with a richer, finer and juicier touch. Of course, both DCP's are based on a brilliant restoration and post-production at Sony Pictures.

P.S. 17 June, 2011 at Porttikoski Falls (Sodankylä) I congratulated Michael Chapman for the wonderful 4K restoration, and he confirmed that he is happy with it. Especially regarding the terrible condition of the original 1970s Eastmancolor negatives.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taxi Driver 4K

Kino Tulio, Helsinki, 27 April 2011. Taxi Driver on 4K looks excellent. I sampled it long enough to appreciate the fine definition of light in this top digital restoration from Sony Columbia. Technically and artistically it looks brilliant.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finland during the Cold War

Easter Sunday starts beautifully in Helsinki, and I find Financial Times Weekend in the nearest seven-eleven store, the K-Market Pietarinkatu. Because today is holiday the boss himself, Mr. Mikko Länsiluoto, is taking the shift. The tall boss goes by the nickname "Little Mikko" with a similar sense of humour as "Little John" in the legend of Robin Hood.

In the morning sun at Café Ursula I find the article on Finland by Tony Barber, FT's specialist writer on international affairs, called "Frustrated True Finns feed Europe's very own Tea Party". The article is intelligent and Tony Barber seems to understand a lot of what is going on here. Many of us have lost with the globalization, and many blame it on the EU. These are real concerns that need to be faced seriously, not populistically.

To Mr. Barber's analysis I would like to add that the Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) party was founded in 1995 to directly to continue the activity of a previous populist party, Suomen Maaseudun Puolue (The Finnish Rural Party) (SMP), founded in 1959. Timo Soini, the chairman of the True Finns, was also a veteran of the SMP, led by the charismatic Veikko Vennamo. Vennamo was and Soini is a top orator with a great sense of humour admired also by those who oppose their views.

A famous slogan of the SMP was "For the Forgotten People". Tony Barber comments on "Finland's rapid modernization after the end of the cold war", but the most rapid modernization took place already in the 1960s when agrarian Finland turned into an urban Finland. The SMP tapped into the reality of those who were forgotten in that devastating structural change. Now the True Finns have won by a landslide much bigger than SMP ever did. But it is impossible to handle globalization with provincialization.

Digressing from the True Finns phenomenon Tony Barber discusses the Finnish condition during the Cold War reverting to the term "Finlandisation" claiming that it was "taboo, for instance, for politicians, bureaucrats, and the media to criticise Soviet policies. Books and films considered to be anti-Soviet were removed from circulation".

Certainly that is a partial truth, but during the Cold War it was always evident to everybody that Finland was a Western liberal capitalist society, and President Urho Kekkonen even said that even if the rest of the world would turn socialist Finland would stay capitalist. There was a surface liturgy of slogans that were exchanged, but on all sides it was known what was really thought.

The media was predominantly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, and also in the neutral Finnish Broadcasting Company events like the crushing of the Prague Spring were memorably reported.

The most devastating anti-Soviet influence was the reality of the USSR itself. On the popular conducted tours to the USSR there were no Potyomkin villages in Eastern Karelia. Even a child could see at once the disastrous condition there and realize how incomparably better the condition was this side of the border in Western Karelia.

The most terrible treatment from the USSR was suffered by Finnish Communists. During the Great Terror of the 1930s Stalin got almost all of them (some 20.000) murdered in Eastern Karelia. Stalin had as many Finnish Reds killed as the Whites after the 1918 war. The best = the worst anti-Soviet jokes were famously told by Finnish Communists.

Jokes such as: "One morning at the Lenin Mausoleum it was discovered that Lenin had disappeared. The KGB was assigned to investigate. After a thorough research they found on the wall a writing in invisible ink: 'Comrades! Last night a took a stroll around the city. I have now retreated to the underground. Comrades! We need to start everything from scratch."

There were a lot of anti-Soviet books available in Finnish and in foreign languages without difficulty in bookstores and libraries. As a schoolboy in the 1960s I read classics of Koestler, Orwell and Solzhenitsyn, as well as Finnish anti-Soviet books such as the best-selling works by Arvo Tuominen. The books of Alexander Solzhenitsyn were published by the Tammi publishing house with the exception of The Gulag Archipelago, self-censored by Tammi and published in Finnish by Kustannuspiste (and the first volume in Finnish by the Swedish Wahlström & Widstrand) with great success. It was the most prominently displayed book in the city of Tampere where I then lived.

The end of the Cold War in Finland did not mean that we got access to some new information that we did not have before. But it meant the end of pretense. It is good to be able to say consistently what one thinks, without double-speak!

The least popular films were Soviet propaganda films, whose true impact was, however, to function as unintentional anti-Soviet propaganda. It was relatively hard to see them, as it was also to see non-propagandistic films from Eastern Europe. The Western hegemony was strong. The film societies tried to correct the balance for those that belonged to them.

On cinema there was real political censorship in Finland. Cinema was the only media regulated by legal preventive censorship. Certain Cold War films from the West and the East were banned, but other films were distributed, such as Animal Farm, Dr. Zhivago, the James Bond films, and L'Aveu (The Confession) by Costa-Gavras. The last instance of political censorship being considered for a movie was in the year 1985 when Renny Harlin's Born American was first banned, then released. It was already the age of glasnost. The Cold War period in the Finnish media ended then, not first in 1991. The Cold War cinema censorship in Finland was a stupid cat-and-mouse game where the USSR played the role of the ridiculously clumsy cat.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany's (a novella)

US 1958. Read in a Penguin Editions copy: London: Penguin Books, 2011.

Having read Breakfast at Tiffany's a couple of times in the Finnish translation by Inkeri Hämäläinen (Helsinki: Tammi, 1967) I now read for the first time in English the work that stirred Norman Mailer to call Truman Capote "the most perfect writer of my generation".

I'm back from under the jacarandas of Pretoria to face the still naked trees of springtime Helsinki. Spring is late. Unto Hämäläinen, a top journalist at the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, reports that last Sunday he was still cross-country skiing at Paloheinä in the northern section of the Helsinki Central Park.

Finland is reeling from the shock of last Sunday's election, where the populist Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) party won by a landslide. On the planes from Johannesburg via Amsterdam to Helsinki I read alarmed articles and columns in the international press with titles such as "Finnished?" The True Finns' victory may jeopardize the EU financial aid to Portugal - and the status of the Euro currency - and the future of the European Union. How stupid can we get?

The Compass (Kompassi) café by the popular Kaivopuisto seaside walk has opened. Three days ago I visited the new Mattolaituri Café not far away; it is easy to predict that that place will also be a success. It is named by the most famous seaside carpet-washing platform of the country (matto = carpet, laituri = platform).

The Compass is a favourite of the motorcyclists, as there is ample parking space for them. A few years ago hundreds of them gathered there to watch the Night of the Fireworks. The motorcyclists have been riding here for two weeks now, but I heard that today is the first really nice day for them as the temperature is above ten grades Centigrade.

Truman Capote is a writer's writer. His prose is terse but vivid, constantly on the move, with a sense of purpose. Capote mastered both fiction and non-fiction, and there is a sense of poetry in his art of crystallization and creating memorable images. Much of it is lost in the Finnish translation.

Set in the 1940s, Breakfast at Tiffany's is based on real-life models and experiences. The novella touches me also because I have known a Holly Golightly or two, myself. In 1955, Capote met Marilyn Monroe, who had left Hollywood and moved to New York. Capote's "conversational portrait" of their encounter in his anthology Music for Chameleons in 1975 is one of the best pieces of writing on Marilyn. Marilyn was Capote's candidate to portray Holly Golightly, but Lee Strasberg advised her against it.

Both Truman Capote and Audrey Hepburn, herself, thought that Audrey was an impossible candidate to portray Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards' exceptionally successful film adaptation. The movie does not make sense, and I'm amazed that intelligent women consider Breakfast at Tiffany's their personal favourite film. I suspect the same women would probably vote for a ban of prostitution. Does Holly Golightly belong in their opinion with Manon Lescaut, Marguerite Gautier, and Madame Butterfly, or with Pretty Woman? And maybe the profound contradiction is the secret to the extraordinary success of Breakfast at Tiffany's the movie?

In the advertising copy Breakfast at Tiffany's the movie is marketed as "a romantic comedy", and the misrepresentation now seeps back to Capote's book. On the book cover they call it "the most romantic story ever written"! Actually it's an anti-romantic story with no love interest at all. But it's a tender and unforgettable portrait of a bright café society girl who may be deeply mad. Or maybe just young and crazy.

In the Finnish-language Parnasso literary magazine (1/2011) Martti Anhava has published a magisterial essay "The Art of Finishing On Time" about how writers finish their careers. Capote belonged to the ones who experienced a creative crisis. In the preface to Music for Chameleons he says that most writers like to overwrite but that he himself prefers to underwrite. "Simple, clear as a country creek. But I felt my writing was becoming too dense". Music for Chameleons remained Capote's last published book during the writer's lifetime. In the last sentence of its preface he writes: "Meanwhile, I'm here alone in my dark madness, all by myself with my deck of cards - and, of course, the whip God gave me".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Back from South Africa

In a week on a business trip one can barely scratch the surface of a big and vibrant country like South Africa. We were taken good care of by the National Library of South Africa. That meant staying in safe hotels, transportation in shuttle buses, and minimal contacts beyond our own group. My first impressions of the land include: professionalism and dedication in our African colleagues (I heard the same appraisal from a colleague who has a tendency of cynical realism), a feeling of visiting a country of the future, and of a thoughtful optimism. Africans have a positive spirit, and they are puzzled by the European crisis of the spirit. In the Africans I met I was struck most by a cordial and spiritual disposition. I had the pleasure to join a table of African film-makers, and when I asked which South African film they would recommend they answered: "wait for ten years", and: "no, wait for five years".

I have found apartheid disgusting as long as I have been aware of it, but The Apartheid Museum, one of the best museums I have ever visited, opened my eyes to understand much better both the "grand apartheid" and the "petty apartheid". On the other hand, South Africa has been the home of two of the greatest heroes of social justice. The young Gandhi was for ten years a civil rights activist in South Africa, where he developed his concept of satyagraha, "the soul force". Mandela was a great fighter against apartheid and a great reconciler after apartheid.

Even in our secluded existence we could not ignore the social injustice of unemployment, homelessness, and inequality. The young unemployed men hanging out in the streets. The constant potential of violent crime. Where inequality reigns, no one is free.

I'm happy that our single excursion day was dedicated to social reality (Soweto: a view into the way in which most Africans live) and history (The Apartheid Museum).

Every African I met hoped that I would return for a holiday, and South Africa would indeed be an inexhaustible holiday target with its multiple wonders of nature. I flew to Johannesburg next to a pilot on holiday who said he's lived all his life in South Africa but that he's still constantly amazed by its many-sided and breathtaking beauty. He also said that South Africa is less dangerous than Paris. Once you get there it is not an expensive country for a European tourist.

My favourite Nelson Mandela story: having been convicted to the lifetime sentence, on arrival into the prison, Mandela adopted the attitude of a generous host, even politely introducing a guard to another by name.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Apartheid Museum and Soweto (Johannesburg)

The FIAF Congress was taken to a day-long tour by the National Library of South Africa on 14 April, 2011.

The first stop was The Apartheid Museum, a powerful display of the history of South Africa with a special section about Nelson Mandela. It was especially impressive to follow a class of African schoolchildren there. It was impossible not to cry, also because of the realization about the degradation of the spirit of the perpetrators of apartheid. Yet, in the end, this inspiring exhibition is about the triumph of the spirit.

In Soweto there was a delicious lunch at Ubuntu Kraal, a conference centre built in traditional African village style. We visited the Nelson Mandela House and had a shopping opportunity of beautiful African artwork.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

FIAF Symposium: Indigenous Film Collections in Africa and the World (Day 2)

The second day of the 67th FIAF Congress in Pretoria continued in an inspired atmosphere. 

Restitution / Repatriation / History and the future for Indigenous collections

Session 4
Repatriation. Colonial perspectives, Practicalities and the return of control over indigenous filmed records
Chair: Mr. Éric Le Roy, AFF /CNC, Paris-Bois d'Arcy
1. Mr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Haghefilm Foundation, Amsterdam
“Concept Theory and Practicalities of Repatriation” - Deeper into matters of repatriation, analyzing its meanings, tracking down its history in the arts and in the FIAF tradition, paying attention to film's character as a reproducible object, and the conditions of repatriation.
2. Mr. Dennis Maake, National Film Video and Sound Archives, Pretoria
“Repatriation of filmed collections held elsewhere: projects done and future projects” - Aspects of approaching objects of indigenous culture taken away from its original possessors such as information, visiting, consultation, formal requests, repatriation, and access.
Also present on the panel: Ms. Seipati Bulane-Hopa, Federation of Pan African Filmmakers, Ouagadougou
- José Manuel Costa introduced the concept of common heritage. - Seipati Bulane-Hopa emphasized the aspect of spirituality. - Karl Griep discussed the problem of the right to one's own image, and questioned the concept of the nation, as African borders are based on colonial borders.

Session 5
Indigenous collections today to outline the challenges in Africa – film versus digital, etc.
Chair: Ms. Melisia Shinners, National Film Video and Sound Archives, Pretoria
1. Mr. Karl Griep, Bundesararchiv - Filmarchiv, Berlin
“Challenges in Africa: Surveys and ideas for the future” - Projects realized in Cameroon, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana.
2. Ms. Eva Orbanz, Berlin
“Africa Holdings / Collections around the world” - A survey on African film holdings in FIAF archives.
3. Prof. Herbert Vilakazi, Representative of South Africa, Pretoria
“Indigenous Cultures, Film, and Problems of the 21st Century” - The spiritual crisis of the Western world and the destruction of the traditional rural communities.
4. Mr. Clarence Hamilton
“Indigenous Film Funding” - In South Africa, of 147 films 8 were directed by black artists and 3 by women. Who's telling our story?
Discussion: Mandy Gilder brought up the concept of Nollywood, films produced on minimal budgets.

Session 6
Access to Indigenous collections. How do archives deal with traditional rights / sensitive material / commercial / academic demand for such footage etc.
Chair: Mr. Patrick Loughney, Library of Congress, Washington-Culpeper
1. Professor John Botha, North West University, Potchefstroom (SA) - Case study of the film A Reasonable Man (ZA/FR 1999) - introducing the concept of the Tokoloshe (the evil spirit).
2. Mr. Adrian Wood, Independent Film Researcher and Archival Expert, Beds (UK) - Presenting a documentary film about India's independence struggle with devastating footage of the carnage of the mass emigration between India and Pakistan. The moral responsibility of the film-maker. - Adrian's suggestion: share resources in Africa.
3. Ms. Meg Labrum, NFSA, Canberra. - Culturally restricted materials in Australia: the indigenous collections branch includes 20.000 - 30.000 films. They include irreplaceable, hidden, and forbidden films. There are special restrictions, and community relations are cultivated with formal agreements with several communities.
4. Mr. Devin Herd and Mr. Greg Matthew, Doxa Productions – Visual History Explorer (VHX), Cape Town - The liberation struggle of South Africa produced as an interactive VHX online video.

Session 7
Summary session and discussion about FIAF’s role in supporting indigenous film collections. What is the role of FIAF and audiovisual archives overall in supporting, collecting, preserving and accessing indigenous film collections? Is repatriation a genuine opportunity? How can we support both the principles of archives which have traditionally collected and used this material and the needs and moral rights of Indigenous communities and their associated archives?
Chair: Ms. Mandy Gilder, Acting National Archivist of South Africa, Pretoria
1 Mr. Hisashi Okajima, FIAF President, Tokyo. - Repatriation is a spiritual journey.
2. Professor John Botha, North West University, Potchefstroom (ZA). - Err on the side of caution. Repatriate when people are ready.
3. Ms. Huia Kopua, New Zealand Film Archives, Wellington - Don't be too judgemental with colonial films, they may be precious for the people although they may be embarrassing for the film-makers today.
4. Mr. Jon-Arild Olsen, National Library of Norway, Oslo. - The Sami collection can be more easily accessible via digitization, and Sami films can be prioritized in digitization.
5. Mr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Haghefilm Foundation, Amsterdam. - Cinema is a colonial form. We cannot change history.
6. Ms. Silja Sombay, Sami Film Center, Oslo. - "The modern family consists of mother, father, and a French anthropologist".
7. Mr. Karl Griep, Bundesarchiv, Berlin. - The Chile archives were kept in Berlin during Pinochet and repatriated to Santiago. Palestinian collections are deposited in Berlin since preservation in Palestine is impossible today.

Monday, April 11, 2011

FIAF Symposium: Indigenous Film Collections in Africa and the World (Day 1)

The first day of the 67th FIAF Congress in Pretoria opened full of substance. The keynote speech of Ms. Seipati Bulane-Hopa (FEPACI) raised fundamental issues on people's rights to images of themselves.

FIAF Congress welcome and associated speeches
Chair: Ms. Mandy Gilder, Acting National Archivist of South Africa, Pretoria
1. Mr. Hisashi Okajima, FIAF President, Tokyo
2. Clr. K. Ramokgopa, Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane
3. Keynote Speech: Context and examples of Indigenous collections and their challenges
Key note speaker: Ms. Seipati Bulane-Hopa, Secretary General of the PAN African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), Ouagadougou - a remarkable statement raising fundamental issues on people's rights to their own images - she also introduced the concept of REMATRIATION: returning to Mother Africa - the speech should be published on a prominent forum
4. Mr. Joe Phaala, Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture of South Africa - with remarks on Nelson Mandela's prison films (including Cleopatra)

Session 1 (panel session)
Topic: What are Indigenous Collections? How and why do we distinguish them from the rest of the film collection?
Chair: Ms. Meg Labrum, NFTVA, Canberra
1. Ms. Melisia Shinners, NFVSA Representative, Pretoria - The Bushmen of the Kalahari, Bantu Tribes of Southern Africa
2. Ms. Huia Kopua, New Zealand Film Archives, Wellington - Maori representations in the cinema
3. Ms. Silja Sombay, Sami Film Center, Oslo - Sami representations in the cinema

Session 2 (panel session)
Topic: Case studies of Indigenous collections from Africa and the World
Chair: Michael Loebenstein, Oesterreichisches Filmmuseum, Wien
1. Dr. Jacqueline Maingard, University of Bristol, Edinburgh - A Day in the Life of a Rickshaw Boy, The Boy Kumashenu
2. Mr. Ivan Murambiwa, National Archive of Zimbabwe, Harare - reappraising images of Africans in the cinema
3. Mr. Gakumo Thiani, Department of Film Services, Nairobi - the reality of film archiving in Kenya

Session 3 (case studies)
Chair: Mr. Christian Dimitriu
1. Mr. José Manuel Costa, Cinemateca Portuguesa, Lisbon - preserving the INAC Mozambique film collection - excerpt from: O vento sopra do norte (The Wind Blows from the North, 1987).
2. Mr. Eric Le Roy, Archives Françaises du Film / CNC, Paris - preserving Alger le Cap (1951).

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Clint's diet

In the HS-raati ("The HS council" of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper) debate the topic this week was meat-eating, which is sometimes associated with machismo. Clint Eastwood is a major representative and parodist of machismo in contemporary culture. But Clint, the "ambassador of fitness", does not eat red meat. Eric's Gym's website runs an interesting article on Clint's workout by Scott Hays, written in 1991, with the following information:

Eastwood maintains a low-fat, high protein diet. He also pays close attention to his cholesterol levels (his father, a meat and potatoes man, died at an early age of cardiovascular disease). He consults with a nutritionist, but generally sticks to the following diet:
- Fish (his main source of protein)
- Pasta
- Fruits and vegetable
- No dairy products (he hasn't had an egg in years)
- No red meat (except for the occasional Dirty Harry burger at his restaurant, the Hog's Breath Inn in Carmel)
- Protein supplements
- Aminos acids
- Vitamin supplements and antioxidants

Saturday, April 02, 2011

In memoriam Kaisaleena Mäkelä (1963-2011)

Today was laid to rest Kaisaleena Mäkelä, jewelry designer of the Kalevala Koru. She was full of life just a while ago. She had a fresh and original approach to ancient Finnish mythology in her jewelry lines with titles such as The Kaleva Bear, The Horse of Poetry, The Forest, The Fjeld, The Power of the Earth, and The Incantation. She also wrote a poetic book on the Dreaming of the Australian Aborigines.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
- W.H. Auden

Rules of Single Life

Sinkkuelämän säännöt. FI/BG/NO © 2010 Making Movies / Agitprop. Year of release: 2011. P: Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg. D+SC: Tonislav Hristov. DP: Peter Flinckenberg. M: Petar Dundakov. S: Anne Tolkkinen. ED: Joona Louhivuori. Loc: Finland, Bulgaria. Featuring: Zoran Atanasov, Hristiyan Dimov, Radost Dimova, Tonislav Hristov, Kiril Jovchev. 75 min. In Finnish, Bulgarian, and mostly foreigner's English. A Sandrew release with Finnish subtitles by Kaisa Cullen. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 7, Helsinki, 2 April 2011.

A humoristic non-fiction movie about young Bulgarian men's (and one Macedonian's) efforts to find female company mostly in Finland. Comic observations about everyday life. I kept thinking that with the camera present, everybody must be acting a role in some sense. A cinema feature movie made with the rules of reality tv.

The visual quality: shaky handheld video look. Interestingly, there is a 8 mm look in the home movie scene in the end of the movie.

Tsägäateria / Meal with a Deal

FI © 2011 Making Movies. D: Antti Heikki Pesonen. Cast: Outi Mäenpää, Max Ovaska. 8 min. Released by Sandrew as a short film before The Rules of Single Life. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 7, Helsinki, 2 April 2011.

"A black comedy about the pressures of the everyday on both sides of the counter of a hamburger bar." (The official tagline.) - Outi Mäenpää's performance is another contribution to the "monster woman" obsession of Finnish cinema of the last ten years.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The original ending of North by Northwest

On April Fools' Day Jason Haggstrom introduces on his site the North by Northwest joke ending in its "original" version. Those were the days!