Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Famine-33 / Holod-33 / Golod-33

Oles Yanchuk: Famine-33 / Голод-33 (1991).

Голод-33 / [Nälkä-33] / [Hunger-33].
    SU (UA) 1991 © Kinostudija imeni Dovzhenka – Fest Zemlja, Lesbank.
    D: Oles Jantshuk. SC: Sergii Djatshenko, Les Tanjuk – based on the novel Zhvtyi knjaz by Vasil Barka. DP: Vasil Borodin, Mihailo Kretov – in black and white with colour inserts – 1,33:1. M: Mikola Kalandjonok, Viktor Patsukevitsh. S: Viktor Brjungtshugin.
    C: Galina Sulima (Darija Katrannik), Georgi Morozjuk (Miron Katrannik), Oleksi Gorbunov (Bilshovik), Maksimko Koval, Olenka Kovtun, Kostantin Kazimirenko, Nenila Svitlintsha, Leonid Janovski, Petro Benjuk, Lev Okrent.
    Original in Ukrainian.
    Genre: historical drama. [Announced duration 115 min.]
    A Dovzhenko Studio print of 96 min screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Tuulia Lehtonen at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (20th anniversary jubileum of independent Ukraine), 28 Sep 2011.

Голод transliterated from the Ukrainian: "holod", from the Russian: "golod".

A memorial to the national tragedy of Ukraine, the 1933 holodomor.

In the last year of the existence of the Soviet Union its Communist Party acknowledged its guilt in causing the famine of 1933 where seven million people died. This is evidently the first movie focusing on the holodomor, one of the most terrible events during "the age of extremes".

Oles Yanchuk presents an unforgettable succession of devastating images focusing on the fate of one family which perishes one by one. First the grandmother. Then the daughter. Then the father and the son are imprisoned. The mother dies of hunger with a large loaf of bread that came too late in her arms. The little orphan son starves during the winter and is a living dead by the end of the film.

Among the most memorable images is the Quixotic attack of the peasants, armed with farm tools only, against the Red Army post which wipes them down with a Maxim gun and rifle fire. The second climax is the unforgettable sequence of the victims being burned alive in a huge pit where the corpses, the still living prisoners and logs of wood are thrown from the freight car of the train. Also memorable is the final sequence of the harvest. The harvest of 1933 is excellent, but there are too few harvesters, and the fields are full of rotting corpses.

The film is mostly in black and white, and the black and white footage looks especially great in this brilliant print. The cinematography is of high quality, but the music track is inferior, and the sound world is not on the same level as the imagery. The general structure and the overall sweep of the movie could be even stronger, but it is highly rewarding to see for its powerful images, excellent performances and stunning visionary scenes with a true feeling of the tragedy of history.

Cinema and Zeitgeist

On top of my bedtable book tower right now is David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Minding Movies. Observations on the Art, Craft, and Business of Filmmaking (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011). It is a book based on their excellent blog, one of the best in the world wide web.

Bordwell and Thompson are central figures in academic film studies, well-known for their sober reasoning and language. They are on a warpath debunking sloppy clichés that ofter cover laziness of thought.

An example of such a cliché is Zeitgeist. David Bordwell criticizes it among other reasons because 1) there's no reason to think that millions of movie-goers share the same attitudes, 2) completely different movies are popular at any moment, 3) the movie audience is not a good cross-section of the general audience, 4) people don't necessarily find the same meanings in movies that critics do, 5) buying a ticket to a movie does not mean that the viewer shares the movie's values, 6) many Hollywood films are popular abroad in nations presumably possessing a different Zeitgeist or national unconscious.

I think everybody who uses the term Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) in film criticism should pause to consider these tests seriously. Yes, Zeitgeist is a poetic concept that should be profoundly elaborated in serious film studies. There is a relevant science of such studies: the history of ideas. There is no single and universal Zeitgeist, but there are useful tools to research the multi-level development of ideas, such as the concepts "dominant, residual and emergent" by Raymond Williams.

An example of the conventional wisdoms Bordwell and Thompson are debunking is even more generally the approach that "We can best understand cinema by seeing it as a reflection of society". They comment: "Journalists and academics think so. We think that the variants of this idea - Zeitgeist thinking, national character, collective psyche, or identity politics - usually lead to vague and vacuous explanations, and they seldom illuminate the artistic power of cinema."

True that may be, yet a great history of the cinema in several volumes could and should be written exactly from that viewpoint. A film can be an unforgettable crystallization of the great spiritual movements of the age, and movies can even change the world. For instance the Italian cinema's school of liberation and reconstruction in the 1940s played an important part in the spiritual regeneration of the country, and the impact was universal, felt even in Hollywood.

Abel Gance: I Accuse
Erich von Stroheim: Foolish Wives
Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse the Gambler
Sergei Eisenstein: The Battleship Potyomkin
Marcel Carné: Le Quai des brumes
John Ford: The Grapes of Wrath
Orson Welles: Citizen Kane
Charles Chaplin: The Great Dictator
Michael Curtiz: Casablanca
Roberto Rossellini: Rome Open City
Luis Buñuel: Los olvidados
Alain Resnais: Hiroshima mon amour
Jean-Luc Godard: Breathless
Michelangelo Antonioni: L'avventura
Marlen Khutsiyev: I Am Twenty
Dennis Hopper: Easy Rider
Martin Scorsese: Taxi Driver
Mikko Niskanen: Eight Deadly Shots
Andrzej Wajda: Man of Marble
Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker
Wim Wenders: Der Himmel über Berlin
David Fincher: The Social Network

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Stone Cross / Kaminni hrest / Kamennyy krest

Leonid Osyka: The Stone Cross / Kaminni hrest / Kamennyy krest / Камінний хрест / Каменный крест. SU (UA) 1968.

Камінний хрест / Каменный крест / [Kiviristi] / [Stenkorset].
    SU (UA) 1968. PC: Kijevska kinostudija imeni Oleksandra Dovzhenka. P: N. Jurjeva.
    D: Leonid Osyka; rezh.: A. Kozjur; assist. rezh.: M. Schwarz. SC: Ivan Dratsh / Ivan Drach – based on the short stories "Zlodyi" ja "Kaminni hrest" by Vasili Stefani. DP: Valeri Kvas; oper.: O. Martjunov; assist. oper.: V. Savtshenko – black and white – 1,37:1. AD: N. Reznik; assist. hud.: A. Hartshenko. FX: I. Blazhevitsh. M: Volodomir Guba. Orchestra: Instrumentalnyi ansambl Gosudarstvennogo simfonitshekogo orkestra Ukrainskoi SSR. Conductor: V. Kozhuhar. S: S. Sergijenko. ED: M. Ponomarenko. Red.: L. Tshumakova.
    C: Danilo Iltshenko (Ivan Diduh), Borislav Brondukov (thief), Kostjantin Stepankov (Mihaila), Vasil Simtshitsh (Georgi), Katrina Mateiko (Katerina), Boris Savtshenko (Dmitri), Ivan Mikolaitshuk, Antonina Lefti, Oleksi Atamanjuk (Andreika).
    Original in Ukrainian.
    82 min.
    Unreleased in Finland.
    An Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Center 35 mm print screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Tuulia Lehtonen, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ukrainian independence 20th anniversary jubileum), 27 Sep 2011.

On Dalia Stasevska's suggestion we showed this Ukrainian masterpiece for the first time in Finland.

The Stone Cross belongs to the treasures of Ukrainian culture, and it is easy to see why. It is a stark account of the peasant Ivan Diduh's farewell to his native Ukraine as he and his family leave to start a new life in Canada in the 1890s.  There are three acts in this movie: the thief, the farewell party, and the farewell church service. There is also a prologue with Ivan ploughing his field with his horse on a high mountain slope (reportedly a signature image in the history of Ukrainian cinema). And there is a sequence in the middle where Ivan erects the stone cross on the mountain after the thief has been killed.

There is a sense of real life and real people in The Stone Cross. The compositions are forceful, the moving camera keeps revealing new angles to the situations, and there is a rich variety in the field size from close-ups to extreme long shots. Leonid Osyka has a command of both intimate and epic views. Both the physical reality and the spiritual dimension are present. Leonid Osyka has an original way in his cinematic storytelling.

Osyka is not idealizing the past. He shows the vigilante "justice" to which the thief is subjected. But Ivan refuses to participate. "I'm going to Canada and I don't want to sin anymore." In the farewell party scene there is a rich cross-section of village life. The spirituality of the last act is powerful, and there is no satire in the account of the Orthodox liturgy although this is a Soviet film.

The stone cross is a mystery. Maybe it is Ivan's monument to the martyrs of his native village. Standing on the mountain it is a symbol of transcendence and eternity.

I like the blend of gravity, vitality and a sense of humour in this movie, which would deserve to be much better known.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Aarno Arvela (1946-2011), a man of justice

Aarno Arvela (1946-2011) was one of Finland's most highly regarded lawyers. He commanded respect because of his sober and balanced way. He had an important role in committees of the Ministry of Justice when they were preparing reforms in the criminal procedure in the 1990s. He also represented the Finnish Bar Association in several other committees.

Our paths crossed when I participated in the abolition of film censorship in the 1990s, a joint project of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice. During the "film prohibition" organized crime had interests in the huge business of illegal distribution, which sometimes made such cases interesting for the police.

In the media Arvela made headlines as the defense attorney for the most infamous criminals and the most sensational cases, although such cases were but a fraction of his work. Reporters tried in vain to detect in him a perverse streak because of them. The opposite was true. Because of his exceptional sense of balance Arvela was an excellent choice in sensational cases. He could take the pressure.

I don't know if the accounts of U.S. American trials in Hollywood films reflect reality. In Hollywood films trials are a form of show business where the most flamboyant orator with the most ingenious intrigue emerges victorious. Justice is often a casualty.

Arvela was the opposite of that, an embodiment of a long tradition of sticking to the facts and avoiding drama. He was a man of the law and an advisor to lawmakers, but law can only deal with just a little. Society is based on "un contrat social", a basic trust that people do the right thing. Justice is the foundation of society. Arvela was a man of justice.

He was also a popular public speaker on themes of education and violence. Education is more important than law. Children need to be taught about right and wrong. Our infantile instinct is revenge, but revenge is the opposite of justice. Revenge is injustice.

Arvela had his holiday home in Ireland, and he was an active member of the Finnish-Irish Society. He was also a film-lover and a Midnight Sun Film Festival regular. The last time I saw him was at our Cinema Orion, where he followed our Robert Guédiguian retrospective this spring.

Arvela was an embodiment of patience, and he had a sense of humour which was never cynical, although he knew the dark side of life. A man to remember.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Spring for the Thirsty / Krinitsja dlja spraglih / Rodnik dlja zhazhdushtshih

Yuri Ilyenko: Криниця для спраглих (Ukr.) / Родник для жаждущих (Russ.) / A Spring for the Thirsty, SU (UA) 1965. Year of release: 1987.

Криниця для спраглих (Ukr.) / Родник для жаждущих (Russ.) / A Fountain for the Thirsty / Une source pour les assoiffés / [Lähde janoaville] / En källa för de törstande.
    SU (UA) 1965. Year of release: 1987. PC: Kievska kinostudija imeni O. Dovzhenka. D: Juri Iljenko. SC: Ivan Dratsh / Ivan Drach. DP: Juri Iljenko, Volodomir Davydov – 1,37:1, black and white. AD: Petro Maksimenko, Anatoli Mamontov. M: Leonid Grabovski. S: Nina Avramenko.
    C: Dmitro Miljutenko, Larisa Kadotshnikova, Feodosija Alisova, Dzhemma Firsova, Ivan Kostjutshenko, Evgen Balijev, Juri Mazhuga, Olena Kovalenko, Kostjantin Ershov, Natalija Mishtshenko, Volodimir Lemport, Mikola Silis, Grigori Basenko, Sashko Venikov.
    70 min.
    In Ukrainian with credit titles in Russian.
    A print originally from Triangelfilm / Sovexportfilm Sweden, with Swedish subtitles on print and e-subtitles in Finnish by Tuulia Lehtonen.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jubileum of the 20th anniversary of the independence of Ukraine / curated by Dalia Stasevska), 24 Sep 2011.

We screened Yuri Ilyenko's legendary shelved debut film this week for the first time in Finland. I had been aware of it since 1987 when it was finally released during the glasnost years in the Soviet Union. The film was never released in Finland. It is an uncompromisingly original and poetic film, a strong contribution to the Ukrainian poetic film movement, much more stark than Ilyenko's third film, the popular The White Bird Marked with Black. Between them he made the wild and delirious Gogol adaptation The Eve of Ivan Kupalo, a Midsummer Night dream phantasmagoria.

A Spring for the Thirsty may not be a polished film, but a certain roughness in it becomes appealing. Ilyenko, a master cinematographer, experiments boldly with high contrast. There is a consistent oneiric quality in the film, which is, however, forcefully grounded in physical reality, the stark facts of the earth and the water.

A Spring for the Thirsty is an original blend of Ukrainian folklore and 1960s Modernist poetry. The main character is the grandfather by the well. His memories bring us to turning points of Ukrainian history, such as the Second World War. The sounds of the axe and the images of apples are reportedly references to the Stalin era, when Ukrainians were forced to chop down their apple gardens. Those references were the reason why the movie was shelved for 22 years.

During the movie the grandfather keeps building his own coffin. But the epilogue is about the old man carrying an apple tree full of apples, and his pregnant granddaughter collecting them... until it is time for her to go into labour. This motif is also an homage to Alexander Dovzhenko's The Earth, a movie which turned bitterly ironic in the light of what happened in Ukraine a few years after it was shot.

The print was ok to watch but perhaps as a result of the film's censorship history the print seems sometimes like one generation too far removed from the original source.

A treasure of the experimental cinema that deserves to be better known.

Pina / Pina – tanzt, tanzt, sonst sind wir verloren - ein Tanzfilm in 3D

Wim Wenders: Pina – tanzt, tanzt, sonst sind wir verloren - ein Tanzfilm in 3D (DE/FR/GB 2011).

Pina / Pina. 
    DE/FR/GB © 2011 Neue Road Movies / Eurowide Film Production. EX: Jeremy Thomas. P: Wim Wenders. Gian-Piero Ringel.
    D: Wim Wenders. DP: Hélène Louvart, Jörg Widmer, Alain Derobe (Stereograph) - 3D. M: Thom Hanreich. ED: Toni Froschhammer. 
    Productions covered include: "Le Sacre du Printemps", "Vollmond", "Café Müller", and "Kontakthof". 
    Loc: Wuppertal. 
    Featuring: das Ensemble des Tanztheaters Wuppertal - Pina Bausch; Regina Advento; Malou Airaudo; Ruh Amarante; Jorge Puerta Armenta; Rainer Behr; Andrey Berezin; Damiano Ottavio Bigi; Clémentine Deluy; Josephine Ann Endicott. 
    106 min. 
    Released in Finland by Bio Rex Distribution with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Katja Paa... / ... B ... [their names flashed by very fast]. 
    2K DCP in XpanD 3D viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 24 Sep 2011 (weekend of Finnish premiere).

A rich entry in the history of the dance movie. Pina resonates with the very earliest movies - Edison, Skladanowsky, and Lumière all recorded their version of Loïe Fuller's Serpentine Dance. Wim Wenders brings the dance movie to the future, experimenting with the possibilities of 3D. I am not an expert of the art of the dance nor of the contribution of Pina Bausch to the modern dance, but I guess the ambition here is to document as many facets of the Wuppertal Tanztheater as possible. The range is from tragedy (Le Sacre du printemps) to comedy (the disjecta membra simulation). The dominant feeling is an original sense of humour as in the four seasons dance in a line formation. A great documentary film with an episodic quality. One can safely predict that Pina will have permanent value.

The 3D is fine. It is interesting to notice that the 3D emphasizes the unrealistic quality of the image. Wim Wenders has often had a gorgeous visual quality in his movies, but despite the 3D this movie seems often to have low definition. It does not really harm. Some of the most powerful scenes are old black and white visual records of Pina Bausch. (Such basic televised records were my first impressions of her in the 1980s, and unforgettable they are.)

Beyond the jump break Wim Wenders on Pina Bausch (in German and in English):

Friday, September 23, 2011

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

Winnie the Pooh (2011) PC: Disney, D: Stephen J. Anderson & John Hall, EX: John Lasseter, based on the books written by A. A. Milne and illustrated by E. H. Shepard.

Nalle Puhin elokuva – uudet seikkailut Puolen hehtaarin metsässä / Nalle Puh – nya äventyr i Sjumilaskogen.
    US © 2011 Disney Enterprises. EX: John Lasseter. D: Stephen J. Anderson, John Hall. SC: based on the books written by A. A. Milne and illustrated by E. H. Shepard (1926, 1928). M: Henry Jackman. "Winnie the Pooh" theme by Richard B. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (1966).
    69 min.
    Distributed in Finland by The Walt Disney Company Nordic (Finland).
    2K DCP of the Finnish voice version viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki (day of Finnish premiere), 23 Sep 2011.

Finnish voice version edited by: Markus Bäckman. Finnish voice talent: Heikki Sankari (narrator). - Jarmo Koski (Winnie the Pooh / Nalle Puh), Markus Bäckman (Eeyore / Ihaa), Tuomas Mattila (Owl / Pöllö), Miro Widell (Christopher Robin / Risto Reipas), Riko Eklundh (Piglet / Nasu), Tiina Bergström (Kanga / Kengu), Akira Takaki (Roo / Ruu), Aarre Karén (Rabbit / Kani), Petri Hanttu (Tigger / Tiikeri), Aarni Kivinen (Backson / Pahko).

Disney's original Winnie the Pooh project (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, 1966, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, 1968, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, 1974) was one of the last ones in which Walt Disney was personally involved. 

Luckily, they respected A. A. Milne's original relaxed approach and exceptionally followed the original character illustrations. The E. H. Shepard concepts have guided Disney's many other Winnie the Pooh productions. I think I have seen The Tigger Movie (2000), Piglet's Big Movie (2003), and Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005) and liked them all. 
My big favourite is, however, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), the successful compilation of the three original shorts. There is an appeal there to "the inner child" in a grown-up viewer, and there is a fascinating meta-concept in the movie: playing with the idea that the characters come from a book, and even playing with book pages, writing, and letters of the alphabet. They become accessories of the animation.

I guess I am an ideal grown-up viewer for the new Winnie the Pooh movie, and the film-makers have studied the recipe carefully (including the meta-aspect) but strangely, I felt that they have slightly failed to find the magic touch. The movie is almost good, but not quite, not even as good as those Heffalump sequels. It is fun to watch, though. 
My favourite scenes are the special sequences with limited animation (thought bubbles etc.) where the wit of the animation is more highly emphasized. Everybody except me left the cinema during the end credits, and I was the only one to see the final joke: the actual appearance of the imaginary "Backson".

The traditional manual animation is a joy to the eye.

The Ballad of Nessie

US © 2011 Disney Enterprises. PC: Walt Disney Animation Studios. P: Tamara Boutcher, Dorothy McKim. D: Stevie Wermers. SC: Regina Conroy, Kevin Deters, Stevie Wermers. M: Michael Giacchino. S: Gabriel Guy. ED: Jeff Draheim. 5 min. Distributed in Finland by The Walt Disney Company Nordic (Finland). 2K DCP of the Finnish voice version viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki (day of Finnish premiere), shown before Winnie the Pooh (2011), 23 Sep 2011.

A fairy-tale animation in the Disney tradition of Ferdinand the Bull and The Reluctant Dragon: the creature we would suppose to be a monster is actually a gentle and sensitive character. Chased away from everywhere by developers of golf courses etc. little Nessie cries himself a lake. I saw the Finnish-spoken version where the narration is charmingly in verse.

Likainen pommi / A Dirty Bomb

FI © 2011 Juonifilmi. P: Jarkko Hentula. D+SC: Elias Koskimies. DP: Hena Blomberg. Digital intermediate: Post Control Helsinki. PD: Vilja Katramo, Okku Rahikainen, Tytti Tiri. ED: Iikka Hesse. Cast: Malla Malmivaara (Mirccu), Jukka Puotila (Martin Bakka), Ilkka Vili (Roba), Iida Lampela (PD), Niina Herala (Laura Melanie), Jussi Vatanen (Jali). 84 min. Released by FS Film with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 23 Sep 2011 (day of premiere).

From the official production information: "A Dirty Bomb is a foul, provocative, black comedy about the contemporary workplace, success, and celebrity."

"Mirccu has a dream job as the PR coordinator of a record company. When Mirccu's boss, the music mogul Martin Bakka threatens to fire her she is forced to find her own way to success. Together with her football-playing boyfriend Roba who is recovering from an ankle injury Mirccu has to reflect whether the good times are really over, and to what lengths they are willing to go to survive."

"Mirccu's last chance is the record company's new secret project, known under the code name 'A Dirty Bomb'. Revealed behind the code name is the foul teenage sensation PD, sold by her parents to the record company, and under whose service Mirccu is now consigned. In no time Mirccu's reputation, honour, soul, competence - and boyfriend - are for sale."

Perhaps I am fundamentally unable to understand this movie because I have not been watching television for years. I understand that there is a culture of humiliation in its reality shows, and probably this movie is a satire of that kind of mentality.

Later in the evening I heard an interview with the screenwriter-director Elias Koskimies on the radio. He is an experienced television professional. He told that, born in the 1970s, he belongs to a shy and deferential generation. He said that young people born in the 1980s and later are completely different, and the foul character of PD is a satire of them.

I don't have children, but in my work I have the pleasure to meet young people regularly, and my experience is completely different, and basically positive. I know people with narcissistic personality disorders and inflated egos that belong to older generations. I don't perceive it as a generational matter.

The look of the movie is digital.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bir zamanlar Anadolu'da / Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

TK/BA 2011. PC: Zeyno Film. P: Zeynep Özbatur. D: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. SC: Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Kesal. DP: Gökhan Tiryaki - camera: Sony F35 - HDCAM - 2,35:1. PD: Dilek Yapkuöz Ayaztuna. S: Erkan Altinok. ED: Bora Göksingöl, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Loc: Keskin (a district of the Kırıkkale Province in Central Anatolia). Cast: Muhammet Uzuner (doctor Cemal), Yilmaz Erdoğan (commissar Naci), Taner Birsel (prosecutor Nusret), Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan (driver Arab Ali), Firat Tanis (suspect Kenan), Ercan Kesal (Mukhtar). 157 min. A Zeyno Film print with English subtitles viewed at Bio Rex (Helsinki International Film Festival), 17 Sep 2011.

From the programme catalogue: "In a search that will last all night long, two men are being driven around a remote rural area in two police cars and an army jeep. The squinting, silent Kenan has confessed to murdering Yasar and burying him, apparently with the help of the other man. Now the police chief Naci has called prosecutor Nusret all the way from Ankara to witness the discovery of the corpse. Everything must be done properly, dictated in bureaucratic lingo, and drafted into a report."

The feeling of the vast, arid landscape drives this slow account of a murder investigation based on a true story. This is a film that has a sense of duration. The scenes play out in almost real time. Nuri Bilge Ceylan has an original eye for landscape, light and composition. There is an obvious digital look in the movie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ella & Aleksi – yllätyssynttärit / Ella & Aleksi – Surprise Birthday Party

Juuso Syrjä: Ella & Aleksi – yllätyssynttärit / Ella & Aleksi – Surprise Birthday Party (FI 2011).

Ella & Aleksi – överraskningskalas.
    FI © 2011 Bronson Club. EX: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin. P: Jesse Fryckman.
    D: Juuso Syrjä. SC: Katri Manninen. M: Sampo Haapaniemi, Markus Koskinen. Songs: Ella & Aleksi. Animation producer: Ilmari Hakkola. Character designers: Eliza Jäppinen, Antero Nuutinen. Animation dramatist: Lauri Kontto. Key animator: Janne Ronkainen. S: Magnus Axberg.
    Voice talent: Antti Luusuaniemi (Aleksi), Malla Malmivaara (Ella), Laura Malmivaara (Hely Huuhkaja / [Hely the Great Horned Owl] AND äitilokki / mama seagull), Paleface (MC Koppakuoriainen / [MC Beetle]), Jarkko Tamminen (komisario Lerppu Koiranen / [Inspector Dog] AND Lenni Lokinpoikanen [Lenni the Little Seagull]), Marek Urbanski (Ripu-Rapu / [Ripu the Crayfish]), Olavi Uusivirta (Professor Myyränen / [Professor Mole]), Eero Ritala (Hannu Huuhkaja / [Hannu the Great Horned Owl]), Juuso Syrjä (lokinpoikaset / little seagulls AND herra Saaste / Mr. Saaste AND konduktööri / conductor), Jesse Fryckman (Vaakku Varis / [Vaakku the Crow]).
    48 min.
    A sing-along animation suitable for little children released by Nordisk.
    A 2K DCP without subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 16 Sep 2011.

From the official presentation: "The adventures of the siblings Ella and Aleksi with their dog friend Inspector Lerppu Koiranen at home, on the town and in the nature making new friends. Aleksi is the reflective big brother who knows a lot about the world. Ella is the curious little sister full of the joy of life and creative solutions. Trusting in their imagination the siblings can shrink and grow, understand animal language and create an express train with their magic chalks. They help MC Beetle to fix his music gadgets, Lenni the little seagull to fly, the pretentious fashion designer Ripu the Crayfish to regain inspiration, Professor Mole to produce magic humus soil, Hely the Great Horned Owl who has been evacuated from her home forest to find a new home, and the North Star which has fallen on the home yard to climb back to the sky. And everybody joins in the celebration of Inspector Lerppu Koiranen's birthday."

AA: A delightful surprise, one of the best (Finnish) films of the year. The music-driven movie is based on four children's hit albums (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009) by the pseudonymous team Ella & Aleksi (the performers behind the pseudonyms have been changed once already). The songs are electronic music inspired by rap. The lyrics are funny ("Huhuu, kuka puhuu" ["Ooh-hu, who's talking"] is the owl song). There is a sing-along feature in the movie.

Katri Manninen's screenplay is witty. The narrative consists of funny adventure episodes of situation comedy. Ripu Rapu the crayfish is a French haute couture designer with his able claws. I was positively surprised by the literate quality of the dialogue.

The limited animation style is successful. Ella & Aleksi can be compared with Peanuts, Beavis and Butthead, South Park or The Simpsons: the lines are simple, but the ideas are witty. The colour space is warm, and there are also rich scenes full of action, such as the culminating birthday party.

Ella & Aleksi has permanent value, and I look forward for more.

The song list is beyond the jump break:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of independent Ukraine

Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 15 September, 2011.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of independent Ukraine the Ambassador himself, Mr. Andri Deshtshitsja, opened our jubileum retrospective, planned by the young Finnish-Ukrainian conductor, Ms. Dalia Stasevska. The opening film was Oleksandr Dovzhenko's wild and poetic saga, Zvenigora, perhaps a strange choice for the diplomatic corps, but at least a unique and unforgettable work from the land of poetry. There is a clear continuum of Ukrainian film poetry, and we are celebrating it with films by Dovzhenko, Paradzhanov, Ilyenko, Osyka, and Muratova. Not forgetting one of the most terrible events of the 20th century: the 1933 holodomor, when millions perished in a man-made famine during Stalin's reign of terror.

Zvenigora (1928)
Tini zabutuh predkiv / Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1965)
Rodnik dlya zhazhdushchikh / A Spring for the Thirsty (1965)
Kaminnyi hrest / A Stone Cross (1968)
Bilyy ptakh z chornoyu vidznakoyu / The White Bird Marked with Black (1971)
Astenicheskiy sindrom / The Asthenic Syndrome (1990)
Holod 33 / Famine 33 (1991)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Herra Lahtinen lähtee lipettiin / [Mr. Lahtinen Takes a French Leave]

Bättre fly än illa fläkta. FI 1939. PC: Eloseppo. P: Erik Blomberg. D: Nyrki Tapiovaara. SC: Ralf Parland, Nyrki Tapiovaara - based on the play Melodien der blev væk (DK 1935) by Kjeld Abel. DP: Olavi Gunnari. AD: Ilmari Tapiovaara, Tapio Tapiovaara. Makeup: Senja Soitso. M: George de Godzinsky. S: Evan Englund, Lauri Pulkkila. ED: Erik Blomberg, Olavi Gunnari, Nyrki Tapiovaara. Cast: Fritz-Hugo Backman (Mr. Lahtinen), Märta Laurent (= Märtha Jaatinen) (Edit Lahtinen), Hertta Leistén (mother-in-law), Lauri Korpela (Kaarlo), Liisa Nevalainen (second Ms. Salminen), Rosi Rinne (first Ms. Salminen), Antti Halonen (Lord Roqueford), Henake Schubak (street singer). Originally 77 min. Surviving footage 43 min, partly without sound. Viewed in Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nyrki Tapiovaara Centenary), 11 September 2011.

Introduced by the film director Juho Kuosmanen.

Inspired by Bertolt Brecht, René Clair, Frank Capra, and Le nozze di Figaro Nyrki Tapiovaara started to make a musical comedy with a social edge together with George de Godzinsky a bit like Fritz Lang was doing at the same time in Hollywood with Kurt Weill in his Lehrstück musical You and Me.

Most of the film was destroyed during the bombings of the WWII. What survives includes a wedding montage (telegrams, identical gifts, a vision of a honeymoon to Stockholm), a dream sequence inspired by Surrealism (Buñuel, Dali) complete with elastic clocks and "the ballast of civilization", a vision of Sunday boredom with always the same routine together with the parents-in-law, having a secret Schnapps in the kitchen, a visit to the Korkeasaari zoo where we realize that the human protagonists live in cages as well. But the frustrated young wife has had enough as his formerly virile husband is losing his joy of life. Watching a play in the theatre she exclaims "lies, lies, lies", and a chorus of wives joins her stating that their husband "is no longer a man anymore". The final surviving fragment takes place at the beach.

With stills it will be possible to reconstruct a more complete experience of Mr. Lahtinen. Miracles do happen, and perhaps there is even more actual footage in some unidentified parts of Finnish film collections.

This screening was also a memorial to Märta Laurent (1920-2011), a popular actress of the theatre, television, and radio, most famous for her work at the Swedish Theatre of Helsinki. This year at the Thalia gala she received a life award for her work of over 70 years. She appeared in only five films. The female lead in Mr. Lahtinen was her film debut role. Märta Laurent's first husband died in the Winter War soon after the production of Mr. Lahtinen.

Varastetun kuoleman maisemissa / [On the Location of "Stolen Death"]

FI 1987. PC: Yleisradio TV1 Opetustelevisio. P: Airi Vilhunen. D: Lauri Tykkyläinen. A documentary about Nyrki Tapiovaara's film Varastettu kuolema (Stolen Death, 1938). In colour. Featuring (new interviews): Ilmari Tapiovaara, George de Godzinsky, Sakari Toivianen - and others in excerpts from the documentary Nyrki Tapiovaara - elokuvaohjaaja. 21 min. A digibeta from YLE projected at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nyrki Tapiovaara), 11 Sep 2011.

Introduced by Lauri Tykkyläinen, who told how the source materials of Nyrki Tapiovaara's film heritage were rescued. They were in terrible condition. The Juha negatives were in a potato cellar. When the Red Air Force bombed Helsinki during WWII the Eloseppo negatives were thrown onto the street to save them from the fire. Everything else was recovered except the bulk of Herra Lahtinen. 40% of it was collected from a junk film heap. The famous hanging linen wash scene was shot at Luotsikatu 11, and the overhead bridge scene at Luotsikatu 13 in the Katajanokka district of Helsinki.

Precious footage of the designer Ilmari Tapiovaara, brother of Nyrki. The composer George de Godzinsky tells how he started his prominent career as a film composer with Stolen Death, watching the shots over and over again with a stopwatch. He reports that Nyrki was a musical person, with an inner ear, and a sense of the colour of music and a sense of harmony. A cinéaste par préférence. Sakari Toiviainen is the author of the only Nyrki Tapiovaara monograph. - The digibeta on display was from a workprint with unedited sound.

Lauri Tykkyläinen: Nyrki Tapiovaara – elokuvaohjaaja / [Nyrki Tapiovaara – Film Director]

Nyrki Tapiovaara (1911–1940).

FI 1973. PC: Taideteollinen Korkeakoulu / Yleisradio TV1 Filmipalvelu, Kulttuuritoimitus. Suunnittelu ja käsikirjoitus / planning and screenplay: Lauri Tykkyläinen, Pirkko Junttu, Erkki Salmela.
    Featuring Tapio Tapiovaara, Matti Kurjensaari, Raoul Palmgren, Arvo Turtiainen, Jenny Pajunen, Hans Kutter, Irma Seikkula, Walle Saikko, Erik Blomberg.
    57 min.
    A digibeta from YLE projected at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nyrki Tapiovaara), 11 Sep 2011.

Introduced by Lauri Tykkyläinen, who told that in his two documentaries on Nyrki Tapiovaara he was still able to interview many of Nyrki's colleagues who are all now dead.

I was impressed with the good spirits in which the veterans of 1930s culture were reminiscing on those exciting and dangerous times.

Matti Kurjensaari (the Finnish Boswell of his generation) told how the world opened to the young Nyrki. The first person he wanted to meet in Helsinki was Hannes Kolehmainen, the Olympic champion. Erkki Vala was leading the new, politicized Tulenkantajat: "he is already very advanced". Nyrki studies law, practised in courts.

Raoul Palmgren (professor of literature) had as his first impression was that Nyrki was very assertive and irritating, a Pan-European who carried a red cross on gold, "an aesthetician lost in law studies", a radical liberal, strict against Fascism. On the Helsinki Työväen Näyttämö (Workers' Stage) at Kirjan Talo Tapiovaara directed Elmer Rice's Judgment Day (on the fire of the Reichstagshaus in Berlin).

Arvo Turtiainen (poet) reminisced on Nyrki's relationship with Toini Aaltonen (playwright, critic), the influence of the 1930s U.S. New Left, the attack of the extreme right on the Kirjan Talo.

Jenny Pajunen (writer, political activist) remembered that Nyrki wanted to learn about the thoughts of workers, was concerned about the Spanish civil war, followed the Kirjallisuuslehti.

Hans Kutter (cineaste, film critic) had noticed that there were three film societies in Paris, and together with Tapiovaara, Alvar Aalto, Ainio Aalto, Salli Ahde, professor Lassila, Eero Erkko, Nils Gustav Hahl they founded the Projektio film society. Film prints had to be fetched from the customs office. They came via Sweden, where they had circulated in Stockholm, Uppsala, Lund, and Malmö. They were learning about the many uses of the cinema. In the Projektio evenings Tapiovaara got acquainted with Heikki Aho. The sons of Juhani Aho let Nyrki work independently. Soon they noticed that Aho's prose was impossible as dialogue. Everything was done on the cheap, simply. As a director of actors Nyrki Tapiovaara was different.

Irma Seikkula (actress) remembered how Nyrki discovered her via photographs. Professor Walle Saikko (amateur actor in Juha) remembered that he was asked whether he could dance, play the balalaika. Nyrki never raised his voice, always requested natural speech. The milieu was authentic, the place was wonderful. The local inhabitants called Irma "Marja". (The rapid-shooting from Juha, and the exchange after the love-making. Marja: - I have never known that there is something like this. Shemeikka: - Neither have I.) A real savusauna (smoke sauna) was used in Juha. Part of the material burned, and so much was lost that the conclusion of the film suffered.

Erik Blomberg (producer, director, cinematographer) is interviewed in the former Adams studio, later Eloseppo studio. Teuvo Tulio's Silja and Kiusaus were shot there. I stayed as a cinematographer with Adams. Carpelan suggested Schildt's story Köttkvarnen to be filmed. Eino Mäkinen got acquainted with Tapiovaara. The interiors of Varastettu kuolema were shot here. Kurjensaari wrote the dialogue for Varastettu kuolema. There is hardly anything left from Schildt in the movie. (Excerpt from Miehen tie: Sillanpää as the interviewer in the barn dance.)

Irma Seikkula remembers that Nyrki was very calm in 1939 when the war was approaching. Nyrki had always time for other people. In Miehen tie Nyrki was a mature artist. Through mistakes one can learn a great deal.

A top document on Finnish film history. The personalities of the interviewed are memorable. Technically it is fine, but most impressive is the humanity of this project.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nyrki Tapiovaara Centenary - The Way of a Young Man (two day seminar)

The Nyrki Tapiovaara weekend seminar was organized by The Risto Jarva Society at Cinema Orion (Helsinki), 10-11 September, 2011.

Nyrki Tapiovaara (*10.9.1911 Pitäjänmäki, †29.2.1940 Tolvajärvi) was a Finnish film director, screenwriter, actor, theatre director, film critic, and a film society pioneer. He directed the films Juha (1937), Varastettu kuolema (1938), Kaksi Vihtoria (1939), Herra Lahtinen lähtee lipettiin (only half of which survives, 1939), Miehen tie (1940, completed by Erik Blomberg and Hugo Hytönen after Tapiovaara's death in the Winter War). Nyrki Tapiovaara was born into a cultural home. The graphic artist Tapio Tapiovaara and the designer Ilmari Tapiovaara were his brothers. Nyrki Tapiovaara interrupted his studies in law, moved in the modernist and leftist circles of the 1930s variation of the Tulenkantajat [The Torchbearers], and was a co-founder of Projektio, Finland's first film society, together with Alvar Aalto et al., in 1934. He was a prominent radical film and cultural critic. Timo Linnasalo has said that Finnish film history can be crystallized into three names: Tapiovaara, Jarva, Kaurismäki.

Saturday, 10 September 2011
12.00 Opening words by Matteus Marttila (chairman) and Eero Tammi (vice chairman)
12.15 "The Cultural Background of Nyrki Tapiovaara" - by Matti Rinne, author of the excellent book Yksitoista Tapiovaaraa [11 Tapiovaaras, Helsinki: Teos, 2008] -
13.00 "Are Contemporary Finnish Film Directors Cowards?" - panel discussion with Petri Kotwica (Musta jää), Juho Kuosmanen (Taulukauppiaat), and Mazdak Nassir (Jalil).
14.00 "Juhani Aho and Nyrki Tapiovaara" - by Panu Rajala, a high profile authority of Finnish literary history and author of several books, most recently on Juhani Aho, Aila Meriluoto, and Mika Waltari.
14.30 screening: Juha (1937)

Sunday, 11 September 2011
12.00 Lauri Tykkyläinen on Nyrki Tapiovaara and his two tv documentaries on him.
screening: Nyrki Tapiovaara - elokuvaohjaaja (1973)
screening: Varastetun kuoleman maisemissa (1987)
14.15 Juha Kuosmanen on Herra Lahtinen lähtee lipettiin
screening: Herra Lahtinen lähtee lipettiin (incomplete, 1939)

Several members of the Tapiovaara cultural family were present in the audience.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Iris / Iris

    FI /SE © 2011 Långfilm Productions Finland. PC: Angel Motion Pictures. P: Mats Långbacka. D: Ulrika Bengts. SC: Angela Pearce, Matt Walker. DP: Robert Nordström. AD: Cian Bornebusch, Katariina Lume. Cost: Riitta Peteri, Heidi Wikar. Makeup: Angela Pearce. M: Peter Hägerstrand. S: Risto Iissalo. ED: Tuomo Leino, Sofia Lindgren. Casting: Pearce Walker.
    C: Magnus Krepper (Bruno), Emmi Pesonen (Helena), Agnes Koskinen (Iris), Marika Parkkomäki (Jolanda), Robert Enckell (post master / Death), Oskar Pöysti (Samuel), Maria Salomaa (Ester), Pia Runnakko (Selma), David Sigfridsson (Marius), Erik Lönngren (Albert), Richard Hägerstrand (Erik), Eleonora Andersson (Sofia), Stella Hägerstrand (dead baby).
    Loc: Björkör, Föglö (the Åland islands, Finland).
    85 min.
    Original in Swedish.
    Released by Sandrew Metronome Distribution with Finnish subtitles by Anna-Leea Kaila. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 9 Sep 2011.

My translation from the official synopsis: "The year is 1890. Iris is eight years old, and she lives in Stockholm with her mother Ester who is a painter. Her father is dead. Iris has been looking forward to accompany her mother to Paris, to the opening of her exhibition, but to her big disappointment she must stay home. And when the initial babysitter plans go awry, Iris is rushed to the Åland islands in a place of which Iris knows nothing but where she discovers her roots and where she grows into a child which she has never been before. Iris has been an only child in a Stockholm city milieu, affiliated with artist circles. Now she lands into the archipelago of Finland (then an autonomous duchy within the Russian Empire) where life is poor and simple. The clash of the cultures is huge, and for the first time in her life Iris has to establish relationships with other children. She has to fight to find her place in the new surroundings."

Ulrika Bengts is an experienced film-maker from whom I have seen at least her previous (and first) theatrically released movie, the one hour long feature Goodbye Gibraltar (1993), a road movie with an original approach and a powerful cinematography.

This is a little girl's growing-up story based on an original story and realized with an assured touch. The movie is constantly interesting and surprising.

The sentence "Man får lov att klara sig" ["One needs to find a way to make things work out", this translation misses the flavour of the original sentence] stays in my mind as a crystallization of this film's theme.

The milieu and the children's friendship and adventures remind me of Astrid Lindgren's Vi på Saltkråkan (We on Sea Crow Island / Saariston lapset) stories and the excellent films based on them, but there is no imitation here. I like the island ambience of this movie. Somebody might think it is too beautiful, but what can one do. The music score is uninspired, but the cinematography is strong again. I don't immediately remember other feature films shot on the Åland islands. I predict this movie will have lasting value.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Pussikaljaelokuva / Six-Pack Movie

Ville Jankeri: Pussikaljaelokuva (2011).

    FI © 2011 Kinotar. P: Lasse Saarinen, Risto Salomaa.
    D: Ville Jankeri. SC: Ville Jankeri, Mikko Rimminen – based on the novel Pussikaljaromaani (2004) by Mikko Rimminen. DP: Jarkko T. Laine – post production and digital cinema mastering: Generator Post. AD: Markku Pätilä. Cost: Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila. Make-up: Marjut Samulin. M: Marko Nyberg. S: Janne Jankeri. ED: Harri Ylönen. Loc: Kallio and surrounding districts of Helsinki.
    C: Jussi Nikkilä (Marsalkka), Ylermi Rajamaa (Lihi), Eero Milonoff (Henninen), Marjut Maristo (Laura), Tytti Junna (Anna), Niilo Syväoja (Erno), Veera Tapper (Veera), Paavo Kinnunen (Esa). In supporting roles: Heikki Alanko (Scoundler), Wanda Dubiel (Tuula), Kaarina Hazard (flea market saleswoman), Tuukka Huttunen (young cop), Hannu Kivioja (surprise bag man), Rea Mauranen (Rakel), Konsta Mäkelä (Jari), Sari Puumalainen (woman 1), Janne Reinikainen (book and shoe merchant), Aimo Räsänen (entrepreneur), Valtteri Simonen (Kotilainen), Timo Tuominen (old cop).
    80 min. A Nordisk release, DCP 2K without Swedish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki.

Pussikaljaromaani by Mikko Rimminen is an acclaimed modern Finnish novel which has been compared with top works in Finnish literary history such as Alastalon salissa by Volter Kilpi and Putkinotko by Joel Lehtonen.

It is the story of one day in the lives of three young men in the district of Kallio in Helsinki. The novel is highly regarded for its literary quality, its sense of humour, its stream of consciousness narration and its account of people on the verge of being marginalized from society.

The mission of the three protagonists is to get to play dice and receive at least a bit of affection. Nothing happens, but the conversation is funny and witty. Beer is consumed and attractive girls are seen, but nothing happens with them, either. There have been two theatre adaptations of the novel.

I have not read the novel (but I realize I would like to so) nor seen the theatre adaptations. The first comparisons that spring to mind are, in Finland, Dome Karukoski's Napapiirin sankarit [Heroes of the Polar Circle], also a humoristic modern story of young men on the verge of being marginalized from society. Internationally, a point of comparison might be Federico Fellini's first fully personal masterpiece, I vitelloni.

Pussikaljaelokuva is Ville Jankeri's debut feature film. His touch is assured. The subject matter might be challenging because there is no action, but the approach of the movie is character-driven, and as such it is never boring. There is a sense of real life. Ville Jankeri's approach to realism is balanced. He is interested neither in naturalism nor stylization. The viewpoint is to follow the wit, the spirit and the sense of humour of the three young men. There is no background to them.

The main strength of this movie is in the performances, which ring true. The other strength is the sense of milieu, which I happen to know. I have lived in Kallio at the Neljäs linja (the Fourth Line) in my childhood (and elsewhere in Kallio later), and the bus stop at Karhupuisto (Bear Park) was where I took the bus to school if I didn't walk through Hakaniemi. Now since two years our KAVA office is in Sörnäinen, a few blocks from the Kurvi (the Curve), prominent in the movie.

There is no explanation to the condition of the young men. This is not a film à thèse. But they are memorable characters, and they linger in my mind.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Musiikkitalo / Helsinki Music Centre: Opening Concerts

Helsinki Music Centre: Opening Concerts. 2 Sep 2011. Hosted by Helena Hiilivirta, Director of the Helsinki Music Centre.

Opening ensemble
Jean Sibelius: Finlandia. The hymn was sung to the lyrics by V.A. Koskenniemi. - Orchestra: Winds and percussion players from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and strings from the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. - Choir: the Sibelius Academy Choir of students, graduates, and members of staff, joined by other singers from the Helsinki region, Savonlinna, and elsewhere, trained by Matti Hyökki. - Conductor: Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (HKO)
Jean Sibelius: Tapiola. - Orchestra: The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (HKO = Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri). - Conductor: John Storgårds.
Jean Sibelius: "Den första kyssen" [The First Kiss]
Jean Sibelius: "Illalle"[To the Evening]
Jean Sibelius: "Var det en dröm"[Was It a Dream]
Soprano: Soile Isokoski. - Orchestra: The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. - Conductor: John Storgårds.
Encore:  Oskar Merikanto: "Kun päivä paistaa" [When the Sun Shines]

The Sibelius Academy
The Sibelius Academy Cavalcade: Hymnus
Kristiina Ilmonen: Paimensäveliä Inkeristä / Pastoral tunes from Ingria. Improvisation on the flute (pitkähuilu).
Kansanlaulajat / The Folk Singers: Väinämöisen soitto / Väinämöinen Makes Music
Johannes Piirto: Virta / The River (2011). Premiere on a piano.
Pimeydestä valoon / From Darkness to Light (2011). Premiere. Electronics: James Andrean, Visa Kuoppala. - HERD: Sanctuary, composer: Mikko Pellinen, lyrics: Aili Ikonen.
Veli-Matti Puumala: ohuesti niin kuin kaikki tässä, tai hieman runsaammin (2011). Premiere. Poem: Harry Salmenniemi. Sibelius-Akatemian Vokaaliyhtye / The Sibelius Academy Vocal Ensemble, conductor: Matti Hyökki.
Julius Klengel: Hymnus op. 57 (1920). Cello choir led by Martti Rousi and Hannu Kiiski. 36 cellists.
A greeting from Gustav Djupsjöbacka, rector of the Sibelius Academy

The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO)
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (Весна священная), Tableaux de la Russie païenne en deux parties. - Orchestra: The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. - Conductor: Sakari Oramo.

A historical week in Finnish culture: The Helsinki Music Centre opened 177 years after Fredrik Pacius launched high level music culture in Finland. Before this there has not been a really good concert hall for a full symphony orchestra in Helsinki (in other Finnish cities the situation has been better).

I am not a concert goer (my evenings are already too full with cinema related activities), so I'm not qualified to review this evening. Already in the spring, at the last cinema concert at the Finlandia Hall, I heard from the musicians in the back room that they love the acoustics of the new Music Centre. Since then I have heard of cases of musicians crying of joy having gotten to play there.

Tonight at the Music Centre I had the opportunity to meet the experts Heikki Riikonen, Susanna Välimäki, and Jorma Panula. The verdict was unanimous: this is a good one. Mr. Panula ranks Amsterdam, Vienna and certain Japanese halls at the top, and this is not yet there. The music will get even better when the players learn to play at the new Helsinki hall. They can now forget the tricks with which they made the sound at the Finlandia Hall acceptable. There will be a new joy of music.

My tickets were at the top balcony behind the conductor, which was only fair, and these seats had actually privileges. I was facing the flute soloist wandering on the opposite balcony. And I could watch each player of the orchestras from above better than the conductor himself.

The music programme consisted mainly of the best-known selections, and the logic was clear: everybody could judge how these well-known works sounded in the new circumstances and make comparisons to how it has been elsewhere. But there were also three premieres of new music in the Sibelius Academy section.

For me, the supreme experience tonight was Soile Isokoski. The songs sung by her were well-known. I usually listen to them (or sing myself in the shower) at home. As a rule, there is only a pianist, but now there was the HKO. I much prefer using just the piano in these songs, but I understand the point today which was to raise the challenge for the acoustics.

The Music Centre is 20 meters high, and the amphitheatre seats 1700. Soile Isokoski's noble voice filled the room without amplification. It rose to our highest balcony despite the fact that I was listening behind her back and despite the fact that she was backed by a symphony orchestra.

I learned something new about the songs of Sibelius, also remembering our summer trip to the Koli mountain, a favourite inspiration place of Sibelius. This is music that is meant to rise to the heights. "Ääni, joka kohoaa kirkkaana korkeuksiin", I kept thinking, and I cannot translate this well. I cannot even compare it with anything else, but this was truly great Sibelius singing.

The first RSO cinema concerts at the Helsinki Music Centre:
28 Oct 2011 Elämän maantiellä / The Highway of Life, premiere of the music by Yrjö Hjelt, conducted by Ralf Kircher.
16 March 2012 Metropolis, the 2010 restoration of the Fritz Lang movie, the original score by Gottfried Huppertz arranged and conducted by Frank Strobel.

The lyrics to the song "Den första kyssen" [The First Kiss] are beyond the jump break:

Thursday, September 01, 2011

KAVA has bought rights to a huge part of Finnish film heritage

On 29 August 2011 KAVA (the National Audiovisual Archive of Finland) has bought from Finnkino rights to 300 Finnish feature films that were produced from the 1930s to the 1980s. The whole number of Finnish feature films is 1300.

Dvd rights of films already released on dvd remain with Finnkino. Television rights are mostly with YLE the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation.

The companies involved are:
- Suomen Filmiteollisuus (which produced 235 films in 1935-1962 - the biggest production company in the history of Finnish cinema)
- Adams Filmi
- Bio-Kuva
- Fenno-Filmi
- Filmityö
- Kinosto
- Maxim-Filmi
- National-Filmi
- Valio-Filmi
- Väinän Filmi

The incentive to the acquisition was KAVA's decision to start digitizing in 4K the Finnish film heritage. It makes more sense for the government to fund such a project when it also owns the rights.

Cinema Orion expands to 4K and 3D

During the summer our Cinema Orion has been equipped with D-Cinema. We skipped the 2K transitional equipment and went straight to 4K. It is backwards compatible, and with our 4K NEC projector we can also screen 2K (and digibeta, blu-ray, dvd, etc.). We also installed the 3D equipment (XpanD, the same system that Finnkino uses). Today we did test screenings with Les Contes de la nuit 3D and the Avatar trailer 3D. While we are looking into the future we are also covering our bases. It will take generations until the millions of existing photochemical films have been digitized. 35 mm and 16 mm will be needed for decades. These are turbulent times in the world of moving image technology, and the wise attitude is to get well covered with all options.

Our 3D premiere is on 11 September at 16:00, Les Contes de la nuit (FR 2011) - from the contemporary French master of animation, Michel Ocelot.

Our 4K premiere is on 27 October at 21:00, Taxi Driver (US 1976) - the 2011 Sony restoration of Martin Scorsese's masterpiece.