Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Internet Archive: legally free

From the mail of the European Commission's Audiovisual and Media Policy Unit:

The Internet Archive
The Internet Archive works to bring together anything and everything that resides in the public domain, including movies:
For instance, they have gathered together 40 best movies that can be downloaded legally and for free:
The Internet Archive has a collections of some 150 billion web pages, 900,000 audio recordings, almost three million books and more than half a million moving image items.

In the ‘moving images’ list of ‘most downloaded’, cinema content is second only to games with an interesting mix of fiction and documentaries. Some examples include :

- 765,503 downloads for Night of the Living Dead (1968), the first ‘zombie classic’
- 516,196 for Duck and Cover, a 1952 cartoon teaching kids how to protect themselves from a nuclear attack.
- 363,556 for a montage of US Department of Defense footage on Nazi concentration camps
- 279,487 - The Fighting Lady, a 1944 war documentary by William Wyler
- Various Charlie Chaplin’s shorts from the late 1910s regularly score between 250,000 and 280,000 downloads
- 265,636 for D.W. Griffith’s 1930 Abraham Lincoln biography

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Books on my nightstand this week

1. Jukka Kemppinen: Informaatio-oikeuden alkeet [A legal handbook of the information age.  There is no English counterpart for the keyword "informaatio-oikeus" in the book's title] (2011). A comprehensive introduction to many of the most difficult legal problems of the information society written in an understandable language, yet without simplifying genuinely complex cases where there is often a right against another right, an aspect of justice against another aspect of justice.

2. Peter Englund: Menneisyyden maisema (Förflutenhetens landskap. Historiska essäer, 1991) [The Landscape of Times Past] (in Finnish, 2011). Historical essays in which for instance the myth of the military leader is debunked. From a historical perspective things at the battlefield start to seem much clearer than in the chaotic actuality itself. Military leaders often had to make their decisions in situations in which there was even literally hardly any visibility.

3. Jean Lassus: Varhaiskristillinen ja Bysantin taide (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Early Christian and Byzantine World, 1967) (in Finnish, 1968). The thousand years in the history of art after the Classical Age and before the Renaissance. What a downturn. There were even over a hundred years of iconoclasm during which art heritage was systematically destroyed.

4. Arsenal (Berlin), programme booklet, Dezember 2011 with an Andrzej Wajda retrospective (which includes a favourite of mine, the rarely seen Invitation to the Inside, 1978); Magical History Tour: Filmmusik und Musikfilm; Living Archive introducing Mary Ellen Bute; Ulrike Ottinger.

5. Cahiers du Cinéma, Novembre 2011. The cover title is "Adieu 35, la révolution numérique est terminée". Too bad that an intellectual journal adopts the marketing jargon of information technology. Yet information technology engineers are the first to warn that although digital can be great for distribution, the digital world is in constant turbulence. 35 mm film is robust for preservation even for a thousand years. Fortunately the articles in the digital dossier offer more profound reflections of the digital transition.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


FI © 2011 Yellow Film & TV. P: Olli Haikka, Samuli Norhomaa. D: Tuomas Summanen. SC: Mikko Reitala. DP: Arno Launos. Definition of colour and digital intermediate: Post Control. AD: Kaisa Mäkinen. Cost: Minni Härkönen. Makeup: Laura-Melanie Hecht. M: DJ Slow. S: Erno Kumpulainen. ED: Jyrki Levä. MAIN ROLES: Risto Kaskilahti (Risto "Ripa" Kaskilahti), Aku Hirviniemi (Pasi Happonen), Krista Kosonen (Anna), Elena Leeve (Inka), Jarkko Niemi (Akseli), Jaakko Saariluoma (Erik). SUPPORTING ROLES: Stan Saanila (editor), Mika Nuojua (Tuukka), Mika Räinä (policeman), Elina Knihtilä, Jussi Vatanen (manager), Petteri Summanen (lawyer), Riku Nieminen, Joanna Haartti (teacher), Ville Myllyrinne (producer), Kari Ketonen (assistant director). 98 min. Released by Scanbox with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 26 Nov 2011 (premiere weekend).

From the official synopsis: "The beloved actor Risto (Risto Kaskilahti) gets paralyzed - quadriplegiac - in a studio accident. The accident brings him massive financial compensation and a flood of sympathy. Suddenly there is money for everything that Risto's young and beautiful wife (Krista Kosonen) has always wanted. She gives up her boring job and becomes an artist."

"The brew is mixed by Risto's obsessed little cousin (Aku Hirviniemi) who wants to become an actor and tries to take advantage of Risto by all means. Confusion get even worse by Risto's twenty-something son (Jarkko Niemi) who falls in love with his mother-in-law. And this is just the beginning. There is a surprise twist."

"What happens when Risto experiences a surprising recovery? The beloved star gets well but cannot tell it to the world. Must the popular actor pretend to be paralyzed for the rest of his life? Has Risto found the role of his life which he'll never get rid of?" (my translation).

Black comedy is a difficult genre. The risk is to get so cynical that there is nothing left to relate to.

Risto has been made by television entertainment professionals, and I realize I miss most points because I don't watch tv. My notes written during the screening include words like: "mean-spirited, love is missing, fraud, demoralization, erosion of trust". There is little complexity in the characters.

There are good performers, though, such as Krista Kosonen and Elena Leeve, both among my favourite actors in contemporary Finnish cinema. Elena Leeve plays a religious fanatic, and Krista Kosonen is the young wife of the veteran actor Risto. The most recurrent female figure in contemporary Finnish cinema is the harridan, and now it's Krista Kosonen's turn to play it. Yawn. Why don't their men just say "get out!"

The atmosphere of sleaze is pervasive, most memorably incarnated by Jaakko Saariluoma as the scandal reporter Erik in a performance that can be compared with [Kirk Douglas - Siru, thanks] in The Big Carnival and Burt Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success. The absence of conscience is terrifying. The malaise of the yellow press, such as in the contemporary Rupert Murdoch case but also in the Finnish tabloids and the even worse weekly gossip trash, is crystallized in Erik. This kind of comedy is not even funny anymore, and the approach can be compared with the commedia all'italiana of the 1950s and the 1960s, sometimes more grim and severe than so-called serious drama. Speaking of The Big Carnival, Risto brings to mind also another black Billy Wilder satire, The Fortune Cookie, because of its theme (Risto Kaskilahti gets to play the Jack Lemmon role).

There is a flat digital video look in the movie, appropriate to the theme of the degradation of spirit.

Maaginen kristalli / The Magic Crystal [3D]

Den magiska kristallen. FI / BG © 2011 Epidem ZOT / Skyline Animation / Aranéo. P: Mikael Wahlforss, Mark Mertens. D: Antti Haikala. SC: Thomas Wipf, Bob Swain, Dan Wicksman, Nuria Wicksman, Alessandro Liggieri, Kurt Weldon, Antti Haikala, Aki Martikainen - from an idea by Mikael Wahlforss. AN: Anima Vitae - Luca Bruno - Aki Martikainen, Meruan Salim, Antti Ripatti, Teemu Auersalo, Peke Huuhtanen. AD: Antti Haikala. M: Menno van Riet. S: Quentin Collette. ED: Antti Haikala. FINNISH VOICE VERSION: translation: Mari Virtanen; directed by: Antti Haikala; studio: Uptempo; VOICE TALENT: Jukka Nylund (Yotan), Veeti Kallio (Basil), Kiti Kokkonen (Jiffy), Santtu Karvonen (Reindeer), Paula Vesala (Jaga), Henni-Liisa Stam (Didi), Aapo Haikala (Alpo), Jon-Jon Geitel (Smoo), Veikko Honkanen (Santa Claus), Antti Jaakola (Lätty). 76 min. Distributed by Future Film with Swedish subtitles by Janne Staffans. 2D 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 26 Nov 2011.

I saw this 3D movie in 2D.

From the official synopsis: "A new family adventure animation from the makers of Niko, lentäjän poika (The Flight before Christmas)".

"It's almost Christmas, and the magic crystal of Santa Claus has been stolen! With the help of the crystal Santa Claus delivers the presents to children. The crystal needs to be returned to Santa's headquarters at the Korvatunturi fjell, or there will be no Christmas."

"The crystal has been seized by Basil, the evil twin of Santa Claus, who wants to conquer children's minds and spread evil in the world. A special patrol is sent to redeem the crystal. The human boy Yotan joins the Korvatunturi elves in it."

"During the quest Yotan with his friends experiences exciting adventures, solves difficult problems and gets to test his forces with Basil and his henchmen. Yotan also needs to overcome his own fears and weaknesses" (from the official synopsis, the translation is mine).

There are similarities with The Nightmare before Christmas, but the concept of The Magic Crystal is original. There is an anti-Christmas dimension in the story. "The evil Santa" gets more screen space than the good one. The good Santa and his wife are jovial characters, and the bad Santa is a bit like yet another version of a James Bond villain in a children's animation. "Who would be crazy enough to build an ice castle on top of a volcano?" "I am!" One can already guess what will happen later. The explosive climax is my favourite sequence in this movie. There is a question of rhythm and dynamics here: I would expect a Christmas movie to have some relaxed and peaceful sequences besides the anti-Christmas action setpieces. The Finnish voice approach is based on the Särkkä school of dialogue. The colour palette is artificial and antirealistic.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Apflickorna / She Monkeys

Apinatytöt. SE © 2011 Atmo Produktion AB. P: Helene Lindholm. D: Lisa Aschan. SC: Josefine Adolfsson, Lisa Aschan. DP: Linda Wassberg. PD: Kia Nordqvist. Cost: Kia Nordqvist. Make-up, hair: Sandra Wolterdorf. M: Sami Sänpäkkilä. S: Andreas Franck. ED: Kristofer Nordin. Casting: David Färdmar. Loc: Göteborg (Gothenburg). CAST: Mathilda Paradeiser (Emma), Linda Molin (Cassandra), Isabella Lindqvist (Sara), Sergej Merkusjev (Ivan), Adam Lundgren (Jens), Sigmund Hovind (Tobias), Kevin Caicedo Vega (Sebastian), Nasrin Pakkho (simfröken), Maria Hedborg (voltigetränare), Inger Lindberg (linförare), Elin Söderquist (badvakt), Malin Müller (expedit). 90 min. Released in Finland by KinoScreen Illusion Ltd. with Finnish subtitles by Emmi Juutilainen. Viewed at Kino Engel, Helsinki, 25 Nov 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Aaton Penelope - Laboratory: Nordisk Film Post Production, Sweden - Film negative format: 35 mm (Fuji) - Cinematographic process: Techniscope - Printed film format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383, Vision Premier 2393) - Aspect ratio: 2.39:1. --- According to the end credits the digitital intermediate is in 2K.

Svensk Filmdatabas: "She Monkeys is about the art of survival. We follow 15 year old Emma, her seven year old little sister Sara, and Emma’s newfound friend, Cassandra. Emma and Cassandra meet at the vaulting club and soon develop a symbiotic friendship."

"When Emma meets Cassandra a relationship full of brutal physical and psychical challenges starts. Emma does everything to master the rules of the game. Boundaries are transgressed, and the stakes grow higher and higher. Nevertheless Emma cannot resist the intoxicating sense of total control."

A coming-of-age story of two teenage girls, and the seven-year old sister Sara. A tale of the turbulence, disorientation and chaos of youth. These are wild girls like those in Vera Chytilova's Sedmikrasky (Daisies) or Marja Pyykkö's Sisko tahtoisin jäädä (Run Sister Run). Lisa Aschan and Josefine Adolfsson touch especially sensitive ground in the account of the little Sara who is forced to wear a bikini and gets to witness a stallion mounting a mare. I don't know what this modern account of (mostly sexual) awakening is finally all about.

But there is no doubt that Lisa Aschan knows how to tell it. The movie is original and interesting in its mise-en-scène, imagery, rhythm, and visual storytelling. The movie is both exciting and relaxed. The performances seem natural and spontaneous. Probably only women filmmakers could have made such a confidential and intimate film about girls.

The visual quality looks all-photochemical, but according to the end credits there was a 2K scanning. If it is so, congratulations for the soft, natural feeling of sensuality which is still rare in digital intermediates.

J. Edgar

J. Edgar / J. Edgar. US © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. P: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz. D: Clint Eastwood. SC: Dustin Lance Black. DP: Tom Stern. PD: James J. Murakami. AD: Greg Berry, Patrick M. Sullivan, Jr. Set dec: Gary Fettis. Art dept.: big. Cost: Deborah Hopper. Prosthetic makeup artist (Leonardo DiCaprio): Sian Griff. Makeup dept.: big. S: Bub Asman, Alan Robert Murray. Special FX: Steve Riley. Visual FX: Ollie Rankin, Edison Williams, dept. huge. ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach. Casting: Fiona Weir. LEADING ROLES: Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar Hoover), Armie Hammer (Clyde Tolson), Naomi Watts (Helen Gandy). SUPPORTING ROLES: Damon Herriman (Bruno Hauptmann), Jeffrey Donovan (Robert F. Kennedy), Judi Dench (Anna Marie, Hoover's mother), Ed Westwick (Agent Smith, Hoover's biographer), Josh Lucas (Charles Lindbergh), Ken Howard (U.S. Attorney General Harlan F. Stone), Stephen Root (Arthur Koehler), Denis O'Hare (Albert S. Osborn), Geoff Pierson (Alexander Mitchell Palmer), Lea Thompson (Lela Rogers), Gunner Wright (Dwight D. Eisenhower), David A. Cooper (Franklin Roosevelt), Jessica Hecht (Emma Goldman), Dermot Mulroney (Col. Schwarzkopf). 137 min. Released in Finland by FS Film. Unsubtitled 2K DCP viewed in an internal screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 27 Nov 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision C-Series Lenses, Panavision Panaflex Platinum, Panavision C-Series Lenses. - Laboratory: Technicolor, Hollywood. - Film negative format: 35 mm (Fuji Eterna Vivid 160T 8543, Eterna Vivid 500T 8547). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

The official synopsis: "During his lifetime, J. Edgar Hoover would rise to be the most powerful man in America. As head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years, he would stop at nothing to protect his country. Through eight presidents and three wars, Hoover waged battle against threats both real and perceived, often bending the rules to keep his countrymen safe. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted, if ever elusive, prize."

"Hoover was a man who placed great value on secrets–particularly those of others–and was not afraid to use that information to exert authority over the leading figures in the nation. Understanding that knowledge is power and fear poses opportunity, he used both to gain unprecedented influence and to build a reputation that was both formidable and untouchable."

"He was as guarded in his private life as he was in his public one, allowing only a small and protective inner circle into his confidence. His closest colleague, Clyde Tolson, was also his constant companion. His secretary, Helen Gandy, who was perhaps most privy to Hoover's designs, remained loyal to the end... and beyond. Only Hoover's mother, who served as his inspiration and his conscience, would leave him, her passing truly crushing to the son who forever sought her love and approval."

"As seen through the eyes of Hoover himself, "J. Edgar" explores the personal and public life and relationships of a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it during a life devoted to his own idea of justice, often swayed by the darker side of power." (From the official website.)

Clint Eastwood keeps surprising. J. Edgar is a more irreverent biopic than the production company's official synopsis gives away. All the tabloid ingredients are here, but the treatment of the potentially scandalous subject-matter is sober. The director's touch is solid, maybe even a bit stolid. Eastwood has avoided flamboyance in a story like this.

Dustin Shane Black has written a daring screenplay that covers the entire grown-up life of the protagonist via a mosaic flashback structure. The scope is epic but there is a chamber-play core with the trio of J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson, and Helen Gandy.

At the first glimpse of Leonardo DiCaprio as the aged J. Edgar Hoover I had to laugh, and in retrospect I think I did not laugh at him but with him. There is somehow the familiar boyish trademark wink in DiCaprio's performance behind the forbidding prosthenic bulldog mask. This is an interesting and memorable performance, much better than DiCaprio's previous efforts as violent and troubled men with wrinkled eyebrows because here DiCaprio has found space for his unique sense of humour. Naomi Watts gives a first-rate performance as Helen Gandy.

The account of J. Edgar Hoover's subdued homosexual love story with Clyde Tolson rings believable. This interpretation is compatible with the classical psychoanalytical view of repressed homosexuality as a possible source of paranoia.

Among the interesting themes of J. Edgar is the power of the media. We see Hoover witness the audience applauding James Cagney as the Public Enemy. Hoover then gets media-conscious and starts a FBI collaboration with Warner Bros. and comic books publishers. In the satirical view of the movie, Hoover, who was a pioneer in serious crime investigation and criminology, got lost in public image fabrications, disinformation, secret files for blackmail, and finally blatant lies.

I have seen The FBI Story which belongs to the FBI's promotion projects with Warner Bros. J. Edgar could not be further from it. Instead, it could form a double feature with the Stasi exposé The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen).

Clint Eastwood's photochemical films always boasted refined dark cinematography. The digitally processed 2K visual quality of J. Edgar is icy, stony, and slightly stuffy.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Bill Condon: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (US 2011) starring Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan) and Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen). 

Twilight - Aamunkoi, osa 1 / Så länge vi båda andas.
    US © 2011 Summit Entertainment. P: Wyck Godfrey, Stephenie Meyer, Karen Rosenfelt.
    D: Bill Condon. SC: Melissa Rosenberg - based on the novel Breaking Dawn (2008) by Stephenie Meyer. (In Finland the Twilight book series is called Houkutus, and the title of this novel is Aamunkoi. The first two novels are translated by Tiina Ohinmaa, and the second two by Pirkko Biström.) DP: Guillermo Navarro. PD: Richard Sherman. AD: Troy Sizemore, Lorin Flemming. Set dec: David Schlesinger. Art dept.: big. Special effects: Alex Burdett, David A. Poole. Visual effects dept.: huge. Animation dept:: Tom Gibbons. Cost: Michael Wilkinson. Animatronics and special makeup dept.: big. M: Carter Burwell. Sound dept.: 18. ED: Virginia Katz. Casting: Debra Zane. Stunt team: big.
    MAIN CAST: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black).
    SUPPORTING CHARACTERS (as edited in the English Wikipedia): Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale, a member of the Cullen family who helps Bella through her pregnancy), Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen, a compassionate doctor who acts as a father figure to the Cullen coven), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen, the most loving member who acts as the mother of the Cullen family), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen, a member of the Cullen family who can see "subjective" visions of the future and who is close friends with Bella), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen, the strongest member of the Cullen family, and provides the comic relief), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale, a member of the Cullen coven can feel/control/manipulate emotions), Julia Jones (Leah Clearwater, a member of Jacob's pack who is constantly bitter and pained), Booboo Stewart (Seth Clearwater, a carefree member of Jacob's pack), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan, Bella's father and Forks' Chief of Police), Sarah Clarke (Renée Dwyer, Bella's mother who lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Phil), MyAnna Buring (Tanya, the leader of the Denali coven), Maggie Grace (Irina, a member of the Denali coven whose lover, Laurent, was killed by the werewolves), Casey LaBow (Kate, a member of the Denali coven who has the ability to run an electric current on her skin), Michael Sheen (Aro, the leader of the Volturi), Jamie Campbell Bower (Caius, one of the three founders of the Volturi), Christopher Heyerdahl (Marcus, one of the three founders of the Volturi), Chaske Spencer (Sam Uley, the Alpha of the werewolves pack), Christian Camargo (Eleazar, a member of the Denali coven), Mia Maestro (Carmen, a member of the Denali coven).
    119 min
    Released in Finland by Nordisk with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Hannele Vahtera.
    2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 25 Nov 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Arricam ST, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Arriflex 435, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Moviecam Compact, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. - Laboratory: EFILM Digital Laboratories, Hollywood, (digital intermediate). - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (master format), Super 35 (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

AA: One of the most scary horror films of all times. The English Wikipedia calls it a "romantic fantasy film". Bella the human gets married to Edward the vampire, gives birth to a monster baby, dies at childbirth, and is resurrected as a vampire by Edward's vampire venom.

This viewing is my first acquaintance with the Twilight phenomenon. The book series (2005-2008) is one of the biggest bestsellers in history. The film series (2008-2012) belongs to the biggest box office phenomena of the period.

The author Stephenie Meyer belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Twilight was her debut novel, the inspiration to which she received in a dream.

The twist of contemporary vampire fiction is that vampires have become love objects and identification objects. This is the most astounding volte-face in the history of horror fiction.

The vampire is traditionally an incarnation of the Devil in the same meaning as Jesus was an incarnation of God.

Bill Condon directs this movie with a sense of solemn gravity. Breaking Dawn is like a requiem. There is an affinity with Lars von Trier's Melancholia and with the final episodes of the Harry Potter saga. The visionary horror montage sequences belong to the tradition of experimental film.

I have been fascinated with the cinema's obsession with an interrupted wedding or betrothal. Breaking Dawn is the story of a successful wedding, honeymoon, childbirth and the mother's rebirth... from a vampiric point of view. "Let's start with forever" says Edward in his wedding speech. From a human point of view the story is utter horror almost without redemption, almost without counterforce. The monsters have taken over, and there is hardly anything else.

Except details such as Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue which welcomes the newlyweds to their Brazilian honeymoon. It is an alienated image such as the one in the beginning of La dolce vita.

The horror pregnancy, childbirth and resurrection are the movie's original horror elements. Breaking Dawn goes beyond the Rosemary's Baby, the It's Alive, and The Brood traditions, although it avoids gore and splatter. The ultrasonic test gives no response. No future is visible. The fetus is kept alive by pints of blood.

In the Harry Potter saga I was amazed by the absence of a sense that the protagonists would see themselves as "heroes of their own lives". There was an overwhelming sense of lethargy. In the Twilight saga the lethargy has developed into its logical endpoint, death.

Even visually, there is a death breath in the movie. The digital denaturation of nature is appropriate to the subject.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shelagh Delaney 1939-2011

Morrissey's obituary of Shelagh Delaney (thank you, Antti Nylén, for the link):

21 November 2011

A genuine poet has passed through the world. Shelagh Delaney exercised a wide influence with the shock of plain language, and shafts of satiric wit, into a severe and donnish 1950s world where working-class people had thus far been assumed to be simplistic, flag-waving cannon-fodder. Her writing was a magnificent confession of life as it was commonly lived in her hometown of Salford, with all of its carefully preserved monotony. She was attacked for immorality, which, then as now, is proof that you have hit on something.

'A Taste of Honey' was a sentiment that had not been expressed before its time - far more real than life.

It was the Salford of sagging roofs, rag and bone men, walk-up flats, derelict sites, rear-entrance buses, and life in tight circumstances.

Shelagh Delaney did not become fat with success, or become a celebrity, because she was of richer intellect.

She has always been a part of my life as a perfect example of how to get up and get out and do it. If you worry about respect you don't get it. Shelagh Delaney had it and didn't seem to notice it.

Los Angeles, November 2011.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Books on my nightstand this week

1. Pekka Suhonen (1938-2011) died a week ago, and I have kept reading his work, essay collections such as Kun Roomasta tuli ikuinen [When Rome Became Eternal] (1995), Rooli ja kohtalo [Role and Destiny] (1996, a third of it dedicated to Marlene Dietrich), Yöllä he menivät uimaan [At Night They Went Swimming] (1998), my favourite of them being Delfiini ja muita esseitä [The Dolphin and Other Essays] (1973, with interesting essays on 1960s architecture and the Alvar Aalto legacy). Suhonen's writing on design and architecture is his most solid and substantial, books such as Tapio Wirkkala (1981, the key article written by Suhonen), Artek (1986, on Alvar Aalto and his colleagues), and Ei vain muodon vuoksi: Suomen Taideteollisuusyhdistys 125 [Not for Form's Sake Only: Design Forum Finland 125 Years] (2000).
2. Jake Nyman: Tähtisumua: unohtumattomia sävelmiä menneestä ajasta [Stardust: Unforgettable Tunes from Lost Time] (2011). Jake Nyman is a leading Finnish expert of popular music. I have started to realize better the full proximity of the cinema and popular music during the last ten years or so, and this book is chock full of further evidence of it.
3. Harvard Film Archive, October November December 2011 programme magazine. Written by Haden Guest, David Pendleton, and Brittany Gravely. Great writing on Frederick Wiseman, the Romanian film essayist Andre Ujica, the cinematographer Agnès Godard, the countercultural star Taylor Mead, the animator Helen Hill, Sergio Leone, and Henri-Georges Clouzot.
4. Markku Kuisma: Sodasta syntynyt: itsenäisen Suomen synty Sarajevon laukauksista Tarton rauhaan 1914-1920 [Born out of War: The Birth of Independent Finland from the Shots of Sarajevo till the Tartu Treaty, 1914-1920] (2010). A broad perspective of world history (including economic history) as a background to the many stages on the road to Finnish independence.
5. The New York Review of Books, 10-23 Nov 2011. Jeff Madrick and Frank Partnoy discuss in their article "Should Some Bankers Be Prosecuted?" the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation (US Senate): Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse (2011), William D. Cohan's Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World (2011), and Goldman Sachs: Report of the Business Standards Committee (2011). Thrillers and detective stories seem trite in comparison with these true stories of fraud of world catastrophic dimensions. Madrick and Partnoy suggest measures by which the biggest villains could be prosecuted.
6. On my mother's nightstand I discovered Kiveen hakatut: Urheilijat maineen polulla [Carved in Stone: Sportsmen on Their Way to Glory] written by Arto Teronen and Jouko Vuolle, 2011, with a chapter on Tapani Niku, my grandfather, a ski champion in an era when that sport still had glory. My mother had revealed that Tapani was also interested in nature conservation. Tapani was a bog expert, among other things. Walking on bogs was also supreme training in his youth a hundred years ago. Today's cross-trainer gym machines strive for a similar impact.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My favourite seat

David Bordwell writes in his and Kristin Thompson's blog about his favourite seat: the middle seat in the very first row. In Finland those seats were called "shell collecting seats" because kids who went to see Westerns used to sit "where the shells flew".

I don't have a consistent answer to the question of my favourite seat. When I visit Finnkino cinemas in Helsinki the ticket seller always asks me to select from among the green dots on a computer screen, and I always authorize the ticket seller to dictate because all Finnkino seats are good. Sometimes I get a first-row seat when the screening is going to be sold out. Sometimes I get to sit in the back, from where I can witness the epic of the audience participating in a hit film. Having already seen the 15 minutes of commercials and previews too often I sometimes arrive later than most, and then it is a good idea to have a side seat by the entrance in order not to bother others. But on the other hand I am also always the last patron to stay to the very end of the end credits, and it is a good idea to be in the middle of the row in new hit movies.

Everything is different at Cinema Orion where I do have a favourite seat, one from where it is easiest to jump away to react if there is something wrong in the screening. It would distract me if I would have to sit elsewhere.

At festivals I would have favourite seats, but the same seats are highly desired by others, and life has been easier since I gave up on them and decided I can sit anywhere.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hiljaa toivotut / Silent Longing

Stilla längtan. FI 2011. PC: Vaski Filmi. P: Janne Niskala. D+SC: Timo Haanpää. DP: Timo Haanpää, Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. M: Tapani Rinne. S: Lauri Leskinen, Kimmo Vänttinen. ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. Loc: Helsinki and Tampere. Cast: Heli & Toni, and Matti & Marjaana. 75 min. Released by Suomen Elokuvakontakti with Swedish subtitles by Kajsa Wikström. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 18 Nov 2011 (day of Helsinki premiere; the Finnish premiere was in Oulu 11 Nov 2011).

A documentary film on two couples' fertility treatment.

Based on the film's official synopsis: True stories about the joy and the sorrow of trying to become a parent. The film tells about two childless couples, who use fertility treatments to help them get a biological child of their own.

The film is an account of the emotional journeys of two couples through endless hospital visits where their life is divided between home and clinic. Uncertainty about the future and fertility treatments are challenging for relationships. Childlessness forces the characters to make difficult decisions and think about their lives, its meaningfulness and future - with or without a child. The idea of one's own child turns into a silent longing.

Silent Longing tells how much involuntary childlessness can hurt. The protagonists of the film are not alone. Childlessness is common nowadays. In Finland every fifth couple remains involuntarily childless, and the proportion of the involuntarily childless is increasing (based on the film's synopsis).

A straightforward, honest and intimate account of two couple's struggles to get a child. The struggles are difficult and heartbreaking, but there is a happy end for both. The movie is almost artless, a basic newsreel camera record. The approach is factual, medical, practical, and educational, but not cold, indifferent or distancing. The movie is warmly confidential and startlingly candid in extremely private situations where most would never consider camera presence. I keep being amazed at this current age of candid documentary cinema. There is often a low definition video look, but visual quality is hardly the point in this matter-of-fact movie.

There are events and websites around this movie:

Jodái-e Náder az Simin / Nader and Simin, A Separation

جدایی نادر از سیمین / Nader ja Simin: ero / Nader och Simin: en separation. IR 2011. P+D+SC: Asghar Farhadi. DP: Mahmoud Kalari. PD: Keyvan Moghaddam. Make-up: Mehrdad Mirkiani. M: Sattar Oraki. S: Reza Narimizadeh. ED: Hayedeh Safiyari.
    Cast: Shabab Hosseini (Hodjat), Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), Merila Zarei (Miss Ghahraii), Ali-Asqhar Shahbazi (Nader's father), Babak Karimi (interrogator), Kimia Hosseini (Somayeh), Shirin Yazdanbakhsh (Simin's mother), Sahabanu Zolghadr (Azam). 123 min.
    A Cinema Mondo release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 18 Nov 2011 (day of Finnish premiere).
    Technical specs (IMDb): Film negative format: 35 mm (Fuji Eterna 500T 8573, Eterna 400T 8583) - 1.85:1.

A modern Iranian couple gets separated because the mother Simin wants to move abroad for the education of their 11-year old daughter Termeh, and the father Nader needs to stay in Tehran to take care of his father who has Alzheimer's disease. They don't get a divorce, so Simin moves to her parents. Nader's father now needs a housemaid, and they get the young, traditionally religious Razief who is pregnant, comes with her little daughter, and has to work in secret from her hot-tempered husband Houjat who is under heavy pressure from debtors. The father's Alzheimer's disease is getting worse, and complications and misunderstandings set in motion a dramatic chain of events.

Nader and Simin is one of the best films of the year. It may be an authentic account of life in modern Tehran, but for a viewer like myself with no acquaintance with Iran its universal values stand out. At first sight, Nader and Simin is about sex, class and religion, but the fundamental concerns of the movie are even deeper than that.

Nader and Simin is a story- and character-driven film. The story and the characters are powerful and full of details worth reflecting. The issues in the dramatic conflicts are relevant, and the strands of the storyline intertwine in meaningful ways. David Bordwell has paid attention to the special kind of suspense in Asghar Farhadi's movies - a suspense often conveyed via dialogue.

Children are prominent in modern Iranian cinema, and in Nader and Simin the two daughters are main carriers of conscience. When Termeh asks: "Father, are you telling the truth?", it is a question that Nader cannot ignore. Honesty is one of the themes of the movie (what if honesty leads to injustice?), pride is another (pride as a form of misunderstood self-respect), and love still another (the imperatives of love may transcend other values). To support her family Razief takes the job about which she has to lie to her husband, and she experiences a miscarriage because of a collision with a car into which she has landed to save the Alzheimerian father in the traffic. (The story's complications include her baby daughter's fiddling with the father's medical equipment, which may have aggravated his condition.) There are no simple solutions. A basic issue is that Nader and Simin live a relatively safe life. Razief and Houjat live in mortal danger: Houjat under a death threat from his debtors, Razief under a death threat from her husband. The priorities of the two couples are incompatible. There are tragic values in Nader and Simin: there is greatness in the pursuits of the protagonists, but they fail because of their own shortcomings such as false pride.

Visually Nader and Simin is largely a realistic chamber piece, based often on medium shots of people in interiors. In the 2K DCP the digital post-production based on the 35 mm film negative looks fine, and there is a refined intensity in the cinematography of the faces.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike: Marx - Eisenstein - Das Kapital / [News Dispatches from an Ideological Antiquity: Marx - Eisenstein - Das Kapital]

DE 2008. D: Alexander Kluge. Original format: dvd. 3-dvd. Duration with extras: 570 min. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag (Filmedition Suhrkamp), 2008.

The linear duration is 189 + 120 + 183 = 492 min = 8 h 12 min

A grand, playful dvd essay by Alexander Kluge, updating a critique of Marxist ideology in multiple ways, including interviews, readings, montages, lettering, documentary inserts, enactments, songs, collages, and animation.

Dvd I: Marx und Eisenstein im gleichen Haus [Marx and Eisenstein in the Same House]. The visionary project of Sergei Eisenstein was to film Das Kapital after October, inspired by Ulysses by James Joyce and by the novels of John Dos Passos. Oksana Bulgakova on Eisenstein. Kluge satirizes the ossification of totalitarian state Marxism by having Stasi recruits repeating dogma. Hans Magnus Enzensberger discusses the casting flaws of Marxism.Werner Schroeter discusses the rebirth of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with Linda Watson and Raimo Sirkiä from the spirit of Battleship Potyomkin. 189 min

Dvd II: Alle Dinge sind verzauberte Menschen [All Things are Enchanted People]. An essay on commodity fetishism. Includes: Tom Tykwer: Der Mensch im Ding [The Man In Things] 12 min, an experimental short film about the things around us in an urban freeze-frame setting. A visit at the official grave of Karl Marx - but there is a true grave that is hard to find. Peter Sloterdijk discusses the metamorphoses of the surplus value. "Only a great storyteller is capable of penetrating the world of Karl Marx - the world of this greatest analyst of enchantment". Oskar Negt: what is the meaning of happy failure in a risk society? Discourses on the French revolution.120 min

Dvd III: Paradoxe der Tauschgesellschaft [Paradoxes of the Exchange Society]. An essay on  second nature. Reflections on the Dialectics of Enlightment by Horkheimer and Adorno. Oskar Negt about the humanization of machines and about how to read Das Kapital. Durs Grünbein on the Manifesto as Lucretian poetry. Karl Korsch's analysis of the impossibility of the Russian and Chinese social experiments. A socialist Robinsonade of Diana Leibowitz on Bear Island in 1942. The history of alienation. Helge Schneider's Marx-relating performance. 183 min

Three-blade shutters at Cinema Orion

Yesterday we (more precisely: Jarni Susiluoto, our projection wizard) installed at last three-blade shutters at our Cinema Orion. They are basic equipment in silent film projection when the film is projected at speeds slower than the standard 24 fps, as we have always known, but we had not been able to solve issues of lamp brightness before this year. A three blade shutter needs more light than the usual two blade shutter. Starting from tonight's screenings of København ved Nat (DK 1910) and Afgrunden (DK 1910) we can enjoy silent films at Orion without flicker.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

KAVA buys more rights to the Finnish film heritage

On 16 November KAVA (the National Audiovisual Archive of Finland) has bought from Suomi-Filmi company rights to over 150 Finnish films from the silent era to the 1970s. This is in continuation to the purchase on 29 August 2011 from Finnkino of 300 Finnish feature films that were produced from the 1930s to the 1980s. The whole number of Finnish feature films is 1300.

The incentive to the acquisitions is 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.

The recent purchase includes over 150 feature films produced by the Suomi-Filmi company, and other feature films the rights of which had been transferred to Suomi-Filmi. Also included is a big number of short films and commercials.

Tv rights remain with YLE the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation. The rights to dvd's already published remain with Finnkino during a period of transition.

Among the treasures purchased are the majority of the Finnish silent feature films, the oeuvre of Valentin Vaala (such as Loviisa, for many the all-time best Finnish film), and many other prominent films such as The White Reindeer.

Cinema Context (Amsterdam), "the finest film reference source on the Web"

Luke McKernan keeps plugging Cinema Context: Film in the Netherlands since 1896. An Encyclopedia of Film Culture, as a model for everybody. This is what he had to say four years ago:

“What is the finest film reference source on the Web, for all film let alone silent film? With all due respect to the Internet Movie Database, I think it is Cinema Context, a Dutch site created by Karel Dibbets and the University of Amsterdam. Describing itself as 'an encylopedia of film culture', the site documents film distribution and exhibition in the Netherlands in 1896. It does so through four data collections, on films, cinemas, people and companies, derived from painstakingly researched data on nearly all films exhibited in Dutch cinemas before 1960. The research team located film programmes from 1896 onwards in each of the major Dutch cities, entering all film titles, names, dates, cinemas etc, and then ingeniously matched this data to the records of these films on the IMDb."

"The result is an incomparably rich resource for tracing films, the performers and the producers across time and territories, opening up whole new areas of analysis. Cinema Context also contains comprehensive data from the files of the Netherlands Board of Film Censors 1928-1960. As the site states: 'Cinema Context is both an online encyclopaedia and a research tool for the history of Dutch film culture. Not only can you find information here about who, what, where and when: you can also analyse this information and study patterns and networks. Thanks to Cinema Context, we are now able to expose the DNA of Dutch film culture.' Naturally, it is available in both Dutch and English."

"This is the new film research. Every nation should have the same.

Luke's view is still the same, only even more so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ski Patrol

Jägarpatrullen. US © 1940 Universal Pictures Company, Inc. P: Warren Douglas. Associate P: Ben Pivar. D: Lew Landers. SC: Paul Huston. DP: Milton Krasner, A.S.C. AD: Jack Otterson; associate: Ralph M. DeLacy. Set dec: R.A. Gausman. Cost: Vera West. [M: Frank Skinner (n.c.)]. M director: H.J. Salter. S supervisor: Bernard B. Brown. Technician: Robert Pritchard. ED: Edward Curtiss. Cast: Philip Dorn aka Frits van Dongen (Lt. Viktor Ryder), Luli Deste (Julia Engle), Stanley Fields (Birger Simberg), Samuel S. Hinds (Capt. Per Vallgren), Edward Norris (Paavo Luuki), John Qualen (Gustaf Nerkuu), Hardie Albright (Tyko Gallen), John Arledge (Dick Reynolds), John Ellis (Knut Vallgren), Henry Brandon (Jan Sikorsky), Kathryn Adams (Lissa Ryder), Abner Biberman (Russian Field Commander), Wade Boteler (German Olympics Spokesman), Addison Richards (James Burton, American speaker), Reed Hadley (Ivan Dubroski), Trevor Bardette (Aranoff, Russian Tunnel Team Commander), John Gallaudet (Russian prisoner), Jodi Gilbert (Fanni Nerkuu), Nels P. Nelson (Finnish camp cook) Christian Rub (Jakob Sorenson, old villager), Karl Hackett (Gregor, tunnel soldier), Leona Roberts (Viktor's mother), Jack Gardner, George Magrill (Russian soldiers). 64 min. MPPDA certificate 6225. Screener dvd viewed at home in Helsinki, 13 Nov 2011.

An American film about the Winter War (1939-1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, based on Luis Trenker's Tyrolean WWI movie Berge in Flammen / The Doomed Battalion (1932). The movie was never released in our land.

There is a 1936 Olympic Games poster behind the opening credits. Bobsleigh, skating, ski jumping, cross-country skiing and downhill racing are among the sports. With a gentlemanly spirit the Finnish Viktor helps Ivan during the race. Ivan (USSR) wins the ski marathon, Viktor (Finland) is second, and Dick (USA) the third. (USSR did not participate in Olympics before WWII). In the medal ceremony the American speaker praises world peace. Cut to a montage of explosions in Ethiopia, China, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Finland. There is an idyllic mountain landscape supposedly in Finland, and a folk dance. (There are hardly any mountains in Finland, and none on the Karelian border. The folk dance scene in all its details is strictly Ruritanian, or perhaps Tyrolean.) Julia is already preparing and in uniform, a member of the Lotta Battalion. We see an image of an Order of General Mobilisation, 8 Jan 1940 (the Winter War started on 30 November, 1939). Finns are surprised and reluctant to go to war (in reality there were were special exercises and a general mobilization months in advance, and there was a rare determination to fight). A Red Army plane fires, and Paavo's sister Liisa is the first casualty. Magnificent footage of torch-bearing skiers on a nocturnal mountain slope (perhaps from Luis Trenker's movie Berge in Flammen / Doomed Battalion). "There's our stopping place: Silver Mountain, we must hold it." The Finns dig trenches, set up barbed wire, and build a dugout. There is a daredevil sharpshooter Simberg, ready to fight: "I can shoot, I never miss". "Save the bullets for men". One of the men is a Nobel Prize winner, and other carry names of prominent artists such as Engel, Gallen, Vallgren and Simberg. The Russians' plan is to explode the mountain. The Finns' goal is to prevent them. Russians launch an avalanche which wipes out the Finns' supply team. We see the daredevil Viktor racing downhill. The men in the dugout cannot sleep listening to the Russians drilling. Gustav falls down to his death on the ski track at the very moment when his baby boy is born. There is a final race of the Finnish suicide patrol along the mountain slope with great action footage (probably from Luis Trenker's film), and devastating casualties on both sides. When the target is near Viktor is about to shoot a Russian, but it is Ivan, who takes his explosives and refuses to kill Viktor. "The penalty for a traitor is death", says Ivan's officer and executes Ivan point-blank - defusing the explosives and destroying his whole unit. At Paavo and Liisa's graves the Finnish officer speaks: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they have done. The victory is theirs, but they couldn't realize the cost to them and to us. The flower of our youth trampled by their mad ambition. All of them gone, destroyed before their life has begun. And to what end, my Lord, to what end?"

This is a quickie production with a lot of back-projection and no commitment in the performances of the actors (Luli Deste and Samuel S. Hinds are good, though). The film is so oblivious of reality that it would not have been even offensive if it would have been released in Finland at the time. There is a blatant disregard for authenticity. The best aspect of the movie is the downhill racing footage probably lifted from Luis Trenker.

Books on my nightstand this week

1. Pekka Suhonen (1938-2011), a refined man of letters and a critic of architecture and design, died on Friday. Pekka Tarkka's remarkable obituary in today's Helsingin Sanomat alerted me to read Suhonen's first three books, Kootut runot [Collected Poems] (1965), his debut book with a hilariously misleading title, Tytöt lähtevät maailmalle [Girls Get Out to See the World] (1966), a collection of short stories, and Palava omaisuus [Burning Property] (1968), with more poems. There are also film connections, especially in the short story "Garbo at Stiller's Grave".
2. Jorge Luis Borges: Kuvitteellisten olentojen kirja (El libro de los seres imaginarios) (Book of Imaginary Beings), 1957 / 1969, translated into Finnish by Sari Selander, 2009. Adventures of language and imagination in a uniquely humoristic pseudo-encyclopedia, Sari Selander succeeding in an almost impossible translation mission.
3. Aulis Tynkkynen: Muistoja elämästä ja ihmisistä Pahatson lapsuuden kodista 1930- ja 1940-luvulta [Recollections of Life and People in our Childhood Home in Pahatso in the 1930s and the 1940s], 2007. My wife's mother Aino died last month (born in 1917 before Finnish independence but just after the Czar had resigned from power, during the Russian Provisional Government), and these are the recollections of Aino's brother of their childhood and their fighting youth in Punkaharju in Southern Savo. These self-published memoirs are an invaluable record of a traditional way of life that has vanished with modernization.
4. Donald E. Strong: Maailmantaide: Kreikan ja Rooman taide (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Classical World), 1965, in Finnish in 1967. Continuing with a favourite childhood book series, the selection of artworks and the layout of their reproductions consistently in excellent taste. In classical Greece one starts to discover faces and expressions that are recognizable as contemporary with nothing archaic in them. The realism of the discus thrower is still unsurpassed.
5. MMM: Mitä Missä Milloin 2012 [What Where When 2012], 2011. The publishing house Otava's annual yearbook of what has happened in the world, in the society, and in culture. I always spend several hours studying it from cover to cover, my favourite section being "new words of the year". Editors: Tiina Aalto (editor-in-chief), Päivi Syrjänen.
6. Lauri Piispa: Sentimentaalinen marssi [A Sentimental March], 2005. A master's thesis with profound insight into the historical meanings in Marlen Khutsiev's movie Zastava Ilyicha.
7. La Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg programme booklet, Novembre 2011, edited by Claude Bertemes. Another film archive programme booklet worth reading in its own right, this one especially for the Regards sur le cinéma israélien notes. Other features include: Tous les genres du cinéma; Filmreakter Double Feature (Twin Tales of Terror and Madness); Voir Naples et sourire; Citizen Lumet; Cinema Paradiso for children.
8. Paul Klimpel (ed.): Bewegte Bilder - starres Recht? [Moving Images - Rigid Rights?], 2011. New openings in matters or rights regarding film heritage. Even I contributed an article on the topic of the exceptions to the droit d'auteur (as we say in Europe) / fair use (as they say in the US).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Immortals 3D

Immortals / Immortals. US © 2011 War of the Gods, LLC. P: Mark Canton, Ryan Cavanaugh, Gianni Nunnari. D: Tarsem Singh. DP: Brendan Galvin. PD: Tom Foden. AD: Michele Laliberte. Art dept: big. Cost: Eiko Ishioka. Makeup dept: big. Special FX team: big. Visual FX team: really massive. Stunt team: large. M: Trevor Morris. S: Paul Timothy Carden, David Evans, Mandell Winter. Sound dept: big. ED: Wyatt Jones, Stuart Levy. Casting: Andrea Kenyon, Joseph Middleton, Randi Wells. Cast: Henry Cavill (Theseus), Mickey Rourke (King Hyperion), Stephen Dorff (Stavros), Freida Pinto (Phaedra), Luke Evans (Zeus), John Hurt (Old Man), Joseph Morgan (Lysander), Anne Day-Jones (Aethra), Greg Bryk (The Monk), Alan Van Sprang (Dareios), Peter Stebbings (Helios), Daniel Sharman (Aries), Isabel Lucas (Athena), Kellan Lutz (Poseidon), Steve Byers (Heracles), Stephen McHattie (Cassander). 110 min. Released in Finland by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles. 2K DCP viewed in XpanD 3D at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 12 Nov 2011 (weekend of Finnish premiere).

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Panavision Genesis HD Camera - Original format: HDCAM - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), HDCAM SR (1080p/24) (source format) - Printed film format: D-Cinema (also 3-D version) - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

Official synopsis: "Visionary director Tarsem Singh and producers Gianni Nunnari (300), Mark Canton (300), and Ryan Kavanaugh (The Fighter) unleash an epic tale of treachery, vengeance and destiny in Immortals, a stylish and spectacular 3-D action adventure. As a power-mad king razes ancient Greece and threatens to destroy mankind, a heroic young villager rises up against him in a thrilling quest as timeless as it is powerful."

"The brutal and bloodthirsty King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his murderous army are rampaging across Greece, demolishing everything in their wake with ruthless efficiency. Village after village falls to Hyperion's legions and each victory takes him one step closer to his goal: unleashing the power of the sleeping Titans to vanquish both the Gods of Olympus and all of humankind."

"It seems nothing will stop the evil king’s mission to become the undisputed master of the world, until a stonemason named Theseus (Henry Cavill) vows to avenge the death of his mother in one of Hyperion’s raids. When Theseus meets the Sibylline Oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), her disturbing visions of the young man’s future convince her that he is the key to stopping the destruction. With her help, Theseus assembles a small band of followers and embraces his destiny in a final desperate battle for the future of humanity."

Tarsem is an image-driven film-maker, a modern artist who keeps developing the tableau style and the Symbolist approach to the cinema which flourished before WWI, Maurice Tourneur and Yevgeni Bauer among its most talented artists. Influenced by Sergei Paradjanov, Tarsem's cinema has also affinities with the work of Yuri Ilyenko and certain visual aspects of Andrei Tarkovsky. The Cell and The Fall were movies strong with vision and slight with narrative. Immortals has a strong narrative with superficial connections with Greek mythology, but actually it is an original story, and it is only confusing to think about the mythic Theseus here. I feel that the story is only apparently strong and powerful tableaux are still the true raison d'être. The gods at Mount Olympos, the appearance of the virgin oracles in their red robes, certain psychedelic visions, and the tsunami caused by Poseidon are memorable Tarsem tableaux.

Immortals is among other things an explicit movie about brutal, sadistic violence, a splatter movie. I have become bored with splatter ever since I saw the Eugène-Louis Doyen brain surgery movies from a hundred years ago in Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2004. I think it is worthwhile to have that experience, but it is not something I look forward to any more. Splatter is something I've seen already.

The 3D here is boldly anti-realistic, psychedelic, and vertiginous. There is nothing wrong with the 3D technically but I often removed my glasses to enjoy a brighter image with full colours, including Tarsem's signature reds. Five years ago The Fall was based on a 4K transfer so successfully that such a digital critic as myself did not find anything to complain. This 2K presentation looked shabbier, perhaps also because of the 3D.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friends with Benefits

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Ikuisesti sinun / Forever Yours

Mia Halme: Ikuisesti sinun / Forever Yours (FI 2011).

För evigt din. FI © 2011 Avanton Productions. P: Sonja Lindén. 
    D+SC: Mia Halme. DP: Peter Flinckenberg; Anssi Leino. S: Kirka Sainio. ED: Samu Heikkilä. Production manager: Mina Laamo. 
    79 min. 
    Distributed by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus with Swedish subtitles by Jani Kyllönen. 
    2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 11 Nov 2011 (day of premiere).

From the film's website: "Forever Yours is a film about children who have been taken into custody. Through the children, their biological parents and foster parents, the film depicts love in everyday life. The film describes the entire foster care process: a child being brought into a shelter home, a teenager's everyday life in a foster family, and siblings preparing to return to their biological mother, after five years in a foster family."

"Forever Yours explores the invisible bond between a child and a biological parent. Even when a child is taken into custody, the yearning for closeness to the biological parents and need for their approval never seems to disappear. This longing is a form of loneliness that the foster parents struggle to overcome at the end of their tether."

Remarks of the director: "How much love is enough for a child? Are a warm embrace, food and clean clothes enough? Can anyone replace the love of a biological parent? Is it more important to love than to carry a responsibility? I don't know the answers."

"With this account of children taken into custody and their closest circle my aim is to mitigate shame. All the biological parents involved are not heavy duty drug addicts. Increasingly they may be lonely mothers suffering from depression. They could be anyone of us."

"I am not portraying foster parents as heroes. Many of them have been taken by surprise by the challenges involved. Many solicit social security and get disappointed. Some get totally exhausted."

"The breakdown of the relationship between a child and a parent and the yearning to be loved seem to be repeated from one generation to another. Many a parent of a child taken into custody is experienced the same longing for belonging. I presume that the breakdown of the biological bond between a child and a parent can never be completely repaired, but an atmosphere of safety and a chance to be accepted can alleviate the pain. In my movie I want to picture humanity, the difficulty of loving and the necessity of being loved." (The director's remarks, translation mine.)

AA: A documentary film about children and their guardians in overwhelming circumstances. The film itself is facing the overwhelming: situations utterly sensitive, intimate, and explosive. Children abandoned and rescued, sometimes in an atmosphere totally thankless to the guardians, sometimes in a neo-family full of positive emotion and mutual affection. An important film on big themes. I keep wondering about definitions of documentary and role-playing. Today people are more prepared to expose themselves and play themselves in front of the camera in this new world of reality media. Visually Forever Yours is a basic record which is fine for the subject. There is no problem with the 2K DCP in faces and interiors, but nature looks denatured.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Zastava Ilyicha / [Ilyich's Gate]

Застава Ильича / Zastava Iljitsha / [Iljitshin vartio] [The original version, unreleased at the time and first released during glasnost. The release version was called Mne dvadtsat let / Мне двадцать лет / I Am Twenty / Olen 20-vuotias / Jag är 20 åring].
    SU 1962 / 1988 / 1990. PC: Kinostudija imeni Gorkogo, this 1990 reconstruction by Mosfilm. D: Marlen Khutsiev. SC: Marlen Khutsiev, Gennadi Shpalikov. DP: Margarita Pilihina - b&w - 1,37:1. AD: I. Zaharova. Cost: K. Rusanova. M: Nikolai Sidelnikov. "Sentimentalnyi marsh" perf. Bulat Okudzhava. "Past One O'Clock" by Vladimir Mayakovsky. "Solovi" ("Nightingales") by Mikhail Dudin. S: Aleksandr Izbutski. Loc: Moscow, 1961. The exhibition of modern art: Tretyakov Gallery.
    C: Valentin Popov (Sergei), Nikolai Gubenko (Kolya), Stanislav Ljubshin (Slava), Marianna Vertinskaja (Anja), Zinaida Zinovjeva (Olga Mihailovna Zhuravljova), S. Starikova (Vera Zhuravljova), Lev Prygunov (Sergei's father, ensign Aleksandr Zhuravljov), Lev Zolotukhin (Anya's father) Svetlana Svetslitshnaja (Sveta), Pjotr Shtsherbakov (Tshernousov), Andrei Tarkovski, Andrei Kontshalovski, Natalja Rjazantseva, Pavel Finn, Olga Gobzeva, Oleg Vidov (youngsters at the party). - Dmitry Urnov adds on 5 Feb 2016: Gennady Shpalikov ("I do not drink") and Oleg Dahl (standing by Tarkovsky).
    The poets at the Polytechnical Museum: Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Robert Rozhdestvensky, Andrei Voznesensky, Bella Akhmadulina, Rimma Kazakova, Boris Slutsky, Mikhail Svetlov, Bulat Okudzhava. Also being read: Mihail Kulthsytski. - Dmitry Urnov adds on 5 Feb 2016: Grigory Pojenian, Boris Slutzky. "Contrary to the widespread opinion that the film shows an actual reading at the Polytechnical, the scene was staged for the movie, but does recreate the atmosphere of real events regular at the time. There were plenty of volunteers ready to act at the audience."
    197 min
    A Gosfilmofond print with e-subtitles in Finnish by Tuulia Lehtonen viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Russian Cinema), 10 Oct 2011.
    This version was 197 min, a duration longer than mentioned in any source (they give durations of 175 min, 189 min, etc.). Lauri Piispa's screener dvd is of the same version, 190 min at 25 fps.

Revisited Marlen Khutsiev's masterpiece in the director's cut. I was previously familiar with a three-hour cut of the I Am Twenty version.

One of the most remarkable Russian films of all times. This is the story of three young 20-something friends in Moscow in 1961, when "the times they were a-changing" even in Russia. Sergei has been demobilized from the military service; Slava has become a young father; Kolya is interested in chasing girls. They all have blue collar jobs. They have been friends since 15 years, since childhood.

Unintentionally the film-makers caught a documentary record of the highest point of the thaw era, when freedom of expression was increasing. The poets' evening (see the name of the poets above) is stunning. The extraordinary record of contemporary poets reciting and singing their poems to a spellbound audience can be compared with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen documentaries that were made some years later. There is a warmth of a common spirit blending with the pursuit of freedom.

"20 years" is a significant number. The year 1961 is reflected to the year 1941, the fatal 22th of June. This is a fatherless generation: 27 million died in the war, and many perished during Stalin's great terror (the year 1937 is mentioned as a marker). Some 20 before there had been the Civil War. And in 1961 the communist party (never mentioned in the movie, not even in the first of May parade) predicted that in 20 years the country would reach communism.

There is this epic background of the tragedy of history in the movie which is also in many ways a nouvelle vague and direct cinema style account of the private life of three young men. There are ominous encounters. Sergei meets Anya's father; Lev Zolotukhin gives a memorable performance as a Stalin-era apparachnik survivor. Kolya's boss would like him to become an informer, which request offends Kolya profoundly. Anya's friends, "the golden youth", don't take anything seriously (even Andrei Tarkovsky gets to play a shallow friend of Anya's). They will become the future apparatchniki.
There is a sense of joy and vitality in the movie, a feeling of being alive in 1961, and at the same time a sense gravity about the history and the future. In 1962 this movie and Solzhenitsyn's debut novel were still possible, but the thaw era was coming to an end, and Zastava Ilyicha was one of the casualties, shelved, cut and changed. The I Am Twenty version is not bad, but this is the real deal. Thanks, Lauri, for insisting on this version.

The thaw ended, and the country experienced a long era of stagnation until Brezhnev's death in 1982 (another 20-year period). Glasnost was a kind of continuation to the thaw, much too late. Zastava Ilyicha is a reminder of an alternative possibility to history: these youngsters were not cold warriors, but they were not strong enough to stop what happened.

This only film print of the director's cut is often fine, sometimes with a duped quality, and unfortunately our current provisional subtitling arrangement cast a light on the lower part of the image.

The lyrics to Bulat Okudzhava's "Sentimental March" are beyond the jump break as well as A TRANSCRIPTION OF THE POETS' NIGHT BY TUULIA LEHTONEN

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Books on my nightstand this week

Besides some books that I still haven't finished reading and that I mentioned a week ago:

1. Antti Tuuri: Ikitie [Eternal Road], 2011. A historical novel written in a matter-of-fact style, with a sense of epic grandeur. Set in 1930-1938, it starts in Kauhava, Pohjanmaa, where the liberal leftist protagonist is taken to a ride at night by vigilantes of the extreme right. Barely surviving an assassination attempt he escapes into Soviet Karelia where he has to endure the Great Terror of the 1930s with its genocidal massacres of Karelian Finns. Barely surviving again he escapes back to Finland where the vigilantist movement of the extreme right has been outlawed. From the world of the cinema this shattering novel reminds me of Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition, Part III. Thanks to Jukka Kemppinen for recommending this remarkable novel in his blog this week. Kemppinen remarks that Tuuri has also been a translator of Icelandic sagas. But the sober and rugged style is Tuuri's own. From my own family tradition not far from Kauhava I know that disgust was felt towards the vigilantes whose action was contrary to the tradition of freedom in Pohjanmaa, the cradle of free speech. The Enlightenment philosopher - and Lutheran minister - Anders Chydenius was the father of the world's first legislation of free speech in 1766. He also defended the freedom of religion and the freedom of enterprise before Adam Smith.

2. Jari Sedergren and Ilkka Kippola: Dokumentin ytimessä. Suomalaisen dokumentti- ja lyhytelokuvan historia 1904-1944 [In the Core of the Documentary. The History of the Finnish Documentary and Short Film 1904-1944], 2009. There have been about ten books on the documentary film in Finnish during the last decade, but this is the most significant, a foundation work with an abundance of original research. Besides its explicit subject-matter it offers also new insight in the founding of Finnish film companies more generally, the birth of the sound film in Finland, the construction of the image of the newly independent nation, the significant achievements in anthropology, and the various stages of the WWII propaganda.

3. Giovanni Garbini: Maailmantaide: Muinainen maailma (Mesopotamian, Egyptin ja muiden Lähi-idän maiden taide) (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Ancient World [Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Middle East], 1966, in Finnish in 1968. I continue revisiting this favourite book series from my childhood. The emergence of high culture in the most ancient urban societies in the river valleys of the Middle East, where architecture starts, writing systems are born, and history begins. There is archaic power in the images the oldest of which are from 8000 years ago.

4. Parnasso 6/2011, the leading Finnish literary magazine: Martti Anhava's essay on the writer Antti Hyry on his 80th anniversary, Antti Nylen's interview on his new translation of Les Fleurs du mal, and a translation of Thomas Mann's short story Das Wunderkind (The Child Prodigy).

Brassed Off presented by Neil Hardwick

Neil Hardwick presented Brassed Off (GB/US 1996, D+SC: Mark Herman, starring Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, and Ewan McGregor), his personal favourite film, in our Director's Choice: The Film of the Month series at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 6 Nov 2011.

Hardwick, born in 1948 in Teversal near Nottingham, moved to Finland in 1969 and has become a prominent figure in Finnish television, literature, theatre, and the cinema.

Hardwick told us about the background of Brassed Off: the destruction of the British mining industry during the reign of Margaret Thatcher. Brass bands of high artistic quality were prominent in mining towns. Hardwick, himself, was born to family with deep roots in an old mining community. He told the place has become almost unrecognizable after the closing of the mine: nothing reveals that there has ever been a coalmine there. Brassed Off was shot on location in Yorkshire with actual brass band veterans.

I have also always liked Brassed Off, even more than The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, and Bend It Like Beckham, with which it has similarities, but the sense of gravity in Brassed Off is of a different order.

We screened a vintage Finnish release print, and it was a pleasure to sample the juicy photochemical flavour of the cinematography. I revisited the beginning until their first rehearsal with the Aranjuez Concerto (dubbed "Orange Juice Concerto" by some of them), the double agent Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) upsetting the macho attitudes of the miners with her wonderful flugelhorn playing. This print has been struck from a source not too far removed from the negative.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Steven Spielberg: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (US/NZ 2011) with Jamie Bell as the model for the digitally animated Tintin.

Tintin seikkailut: Yksisarvisen salaisuus / Tintins äventyr: Enhörningens hemlighet.
    US / NZ © 2011 Paramount Pictures. P: Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg.
    D: Steven Spielberg. SC: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish – based on the comic book series The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. DP: Janusz Kaminski. AD: Andrew L. Jones. Cost: Lesley Burkes-Harding. Makeup: Tegan Taylor. Visual FX (Weta Digital): Matt Aitken, Scott E. Anderson. AN dept: huge. M: John Williams. "Ah! Je veux vivre" (Charles Gounod) – Bianca Castafiore's aria. S: Brent Burge, Chris Ward. ED: Michael Kahn. Casting: Scot Boland, Victoria Burrows, Jina Jay.
    Models and voice talent for the digitally animated characters: Jamie Bell (Tintin), Andy Serkis (Captain Haddock), Daniel Craig (Ivanovich Sakharine / Red Rackham), Simon Pegg (Inspector Thompson), Nick Frost (Inspector Thomson), Gad Elmaleh (Sheik Omar Ben Salaad), Kim Stengel (Bianca Castafiore), Enn Reitel (Mr. Crabtree / Nestor), Toby Jones (Aristides Silk, the pickpocket), Tony Curran (Ltn. Delacourt).
    99 min.
    Released in Finland by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland in a Finnish-dubbed version and an original version with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marko Hartama / Saliven Gustavson.
    2K DCP in XpanD 3D viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki (weekend of Finnish premiere), 5 Nov 2011.

Technical specs from IMDb: Camera: Canon 5D H4.1, Panavision Cameras and Lenses – Laboratory: DeLuxe – Original format: Digital – Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Digital (source format) – Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic), 70 mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (dual-strip 3-D) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema – Aspect ratio: 1.44 : 1 (IMAX 3-D version), 2.35:1.

Reading Tintin comic books belongs to my fondest childhood memories. Four hard-cover albums were published into Finnish in 1961–1962, including the ones that are the most important basis for this movie, Le Secret de la Licorne (1943), and Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge (1944).

The really big success of Tintin in Finland started only during the 1970s when the rest of the albums were finally translated, too, so as a child in the 1960s reading other Tintin books was an incentive to even to try to read them in French and other languages with the help of a dictionary. I even liked the live-action movie Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d'Or (1961) which caught something of the true Hergé spirit and style: a fairy-tale adventure set in the real world.

A deep bow to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson for this ambitious experiment with a new kind of animation. The production is first class and will become a deserved success. My favourite sequence is the opening credit sequence with stylized silhouette animation.

Watching the movie I tried to reflect on the secret of the Hergé magic: very limited drawing in the human faces, sometimes almost photorealistic accuracy in the milieux, outlandish fantasy in the adventure plots, eccentric characters, a great sense of humour. The Tintin – Haddock – Milou trio is essential. Tintin is a boy scout. Haddock is a temperamental, cursing, alcoholic captain, but with a healthy sense of self-respect. Milou the dog is small but fearless, and it can sense what others cannot and go where others cannot go.

Wit is of the essence. That essence I tried hard to find in this movie.

The digi-animated Tintin is uncanny, a homunculus like the character played by Haley Joel Osment in A.I. I find this Tintin impossible to relate to, and in the Hergé books Tintin is a tabula rasa, too, only defined by his action. But in this movie I sense something slightly monstrous. This balance of animation and photorealism does not work for me.

No problem with the 3D, but the image is not particularly brilliant or sharp, and the feeling of sunshine that even a battered print of Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d'Or emits is missing. There are, however, splendid new 3D effects in the picture: optical effects seen through glasses and magnifying devices, for instance. There are other subtle inventions in making the depth of space come alive.

A list of the talent of the Finnish voice version is beyond the jump break: 

Friday, November 04, 2011


Drive / Drive [could be called Kylmä kyyti in Finnish]. US © 2011 Drive Film Holdings, LLC. P: Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Adam Siegel. D: Nicolas Winding Refn. SC: Hossein Amini - based on the novel (2005) by James Sallis (translated into Finnish in 2009 as Kylmä kyyti by Mika Tiirinen / Arktinen Banaani). DP: Newton Thomas Sigel. PD: Beth Mickle. AD: Christopher Tandon. Set dec: Lisa K. Sessions. Cost: Erin Benach. Makeup: Gerald Quist. Special FX: James Lorimer. Visual FX: Jerry Spivack, Dottie Starling. M: Cliff Martinez. S: Victor Ray Ennis. ED: Matthew Newman. Casting: Mindy Marin. Loc: Los Angeles. Cast: Ryan Gosling (Driver), Carey Mulligan (Irene), Bryan Cranston (Shannon), Albert Brooks (Bernie Rose), Oscar Isaac (Standard), Christina Hendricks (Blanche), Ron Perlman (Nino), Russ Tamblyn (Doc). 100 min. Released in Finland by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Iira Mukka / Carina Laurila. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 4 Nov 2011.

Technical specs from IMDb: Camera: Arri Alexa, Cooke S4, Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Iconix HD-RH1, Weisscam HS-2. - Laboratory: Company 3, New York (NY), USA (digital intermediate), FotoKem Laboratory, Burbank (CA), USA (dailies). - Original format: ProRes 4:4:4 HD. - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4:4:4 (1080p/24) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

IMDb synopsis: "A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong."

Drive had its Finnish premiere a month ago, but I had not been hurrying to see it although the buzz has been good. People I respect consider it as the best / one of the best films of the year. But reading the reviews, I had the feeling I have seen enough films of this kind already, Michael Mann being one of the current masters.

Certainly Drive is original. The film-makers are clearly aware of tradition, but there is no imitation or pastiche in Drive. Genre situations such as the hold-up, the double-cross, the chase, and the loner's revenge are all reinvented by the writers and the film-makers.

The most striking revision concerns the loner's character. Departing from most of the tradition, he is depicted starting a serious relationship with a woman with a child. The father is in prison and meets a brutal end although the driver tries to help the family.

Drive is a fairy-tale. The gangland is stylized but unglamorous. The ugliness of the violence reflects an ugliness of mentality.

Drive has a sense of tragedy. There is a dimension of dignity in the driver, but he has already been caught too tightly in the web of crime. The best he can do is save the woman and the child.

It is a top job from everybody: presumably James Sallis who wrote the novel, Hossein Amini the screenwriter, Nicolas Winding Refn in his Hollywood debut, the star Ryan Gosling who hired the director, and Carey Mulligan who creates a counterworld to the criminal milieu without glamour but with a great deal of original charm.

The 2K digital cinematography looks good in the urban world of streets, cars, buildings, clothes, and faces.

Matti Piuhola, a man of the cinema (exhibition)

Matti Piuhola (1929–2007), a man of the cinema

The Museum of the Moving Image of KAVA, Vanha talvitie 9, Helsinki. Introduced by Lauri Tykkyläinen.

Matti Piuhola (born in Isokyrö in 1929, died in Seinäjoki in 2007) wanted to be known as "a man of the cinema" (elokuvamies).

When Piuhola started his career as a travelling film exhibitor at the age of 16 his vehicle was a bicycle. At 17 he owned the first car in the village. Piuhola toured Finland with his projection equipment during the decades when travelling cinemas were at the height of their popularity, from the 1940s to the 1970s. Touring cinema exhibitions were licensed outside the regular cinema circuit.

People travelled miles to the screenings. As a prelude, sound records were played. Then there was a film suitable to all audiences such as Teuvo Tulio's Unelma karjamajalla [A Dream at the Pasture Hut], and the final number was a movie for adults only such as Sellaisena kuin sinä minut halusit [The Way You Wanted Me].

Sometimes the show was delayed until the entire audience had formed a search party to track down a girl lost in the woods while picking berries. Occasionally a patron was late because he had encountered a bear on the forest path. When necessary, the showman's car served as the generator.

In the 1950s old-timers gave up their nitrate 35 mm equipment, and Piuhola based his shows on 16 mm technology. He bought the historical equipment from the veterans, and thus became a collector and a historian. He conducted interviews, visited garage sales, and researched basements and attics. His knowledge was of an international standard, although he only spoke Finnish and Swedish.

Piuhola looked after old films, equipment, and music machines. He was interested in rare printed matter such as posters, labels, and postcards, which he tracked down in old printing houses. He cultivated contacts to the earliest film families.

From his own collections Piuhola mounted a centenary of the cinema exhibition. He wrote remarkable historical articles in the newspapers of Pohjanmaa and helped with his discoveries the professors Sven Hirn and Hannu Salmi. Piuhola discovered the oldest Finnish film poster (anno 1897, Vaasa), the first Finnish sound films, believed lost (made in 1929 by Lahyn-Filmi in Turku), and the Turku-based movies of the Kivimäki brothers from the 1940s.

Unique foreign nitrate prints rescued by Piuhola have been preserved at New York (The Museum of Modern Art), Washington (The Library of Congress), and Berlin (Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv). The American-Filipino production Zamboanga (1937), shot on location in the Tausug language was believed lost until Piuhola sent his 16 mm print to Washington. When The Library of Congress repatriated a print to Manila it made front-page news in the Philippines.

"Piuhola's interests were admirably many-sided", said Sven Hirn, "but he had a good grip on the whole". Piuhola, having toured Finland during several decades, was a first-hand witness to fundamental changes. "Previously, people were more original", he observed. Until media made everybody alike.

I had the privilege to belong to Matti Piuhola's circle of friends, and the text above is the obituary I wrote about him to Helsingin Sanomat, slightly modified.

In Piuhola's childhood his family had had to endure hard times and devastating losses during the great depression of the 1930s. Matti Piuhola lost his illusions about human nature very early, but his spirit of enterprise was undaunted. Bringing the joy of cinema to people was to him more than business. It was his passion and vocation. He was a happy man when he showed a film.

The Matti Piuhola exhibition at Helsinki's Museum of the Moving Image is a tribute to many sides of Piuhola's work. There are fascinating samples of old film projectors. There are unique posters of local film screenings.

Most grateful I was of the insight in exhibiting early film posters from the 1890s and the first decade of the 1900s, from the decades before the reign of the feature film. These posters are strong extra evidence that a feature film like format existed early on in compilations such as the ones about the Dreyfus affair and the Russian-Japanese war. The posters are very detailed: all the short films are listed, and there are often elaborate descriptions of each. They also help understand better why teachers around 1905 were often happy when children flocked to the cinema to see the wonders of the world, the nature, and history.

In the museum cinema Lauri also showed three of the early Finnish sound films (our counterpart to the Vitaphone shorts), two of which I had seen before, Raf. Ramstedt's Mun kehtoni on keinuellut [My Cradle Has Been Rocking] (1929) and Rönnbergska dansen [The Rönnberg Dance] (1929). Two years after making them Ramstedt met the most gruesome ending a ladies' man can imagine (his final woman did to him what Gérard Depardieu does to himself in La dernière femme).

Laulu- ja tanssiesitys
[A Song and Dance Number] (1929), reconstructed with music ("Ich hab' das Fräulein Helen baden seh'n") a year ago I now saw for the first time. The synch is perfect, and Eva Hahn and Helmi Vuorisola perform a delightful dance number. In Elämän maantiellä shown at the live cinema concert a week ago Lia Lae was supposed to play a dancer although she cannot dance. Here is the real deal.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

An Hour of Pure Georges Méliès (and some Lobsters)

Georges Mélièsin parhaita Lobster Filmsin kokoelmasta / Det bästa av Georges Méliès från Lobster Films. Country: France, PC: Star Film, D: Georges Méliès, 35 mm, prints from: Lobster Films. Screened at 16-18 fps, total duration 57 min. The Lobster Films' Georges Méliès show screened in Il Cinema Ritrovato (Bologna) in 2009 revisited in Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 1 November 2011.

Le Cauchemar [Painajainen]. 1896. - Passable b&w print - man asleep in bed, in his nightmare, transforms into a woman, etc. - a moon nightmare - 1'33"

Un homme de tête [Monipäinen mies]. 1898. - Passable b&w print - he severs his head repeatedly, and the severed heads give a concert - 1'11"

L'Illusionniste double et la tête vivante [Silmänkääntäjä kahtena ja elävä pää]. 1900. - Passable b&w print - the magician doubles himself and meets a magical vanishing lady who comes alive from a paper head - in fact, the magician is tripled - 1'25"

Le Livre magique [Noiduttu kirja]. 1900. - B&w print from damaged source - the figures in a giant book come alive: Pierrot, Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Colombina, Cassandra - there is a fight over the ladies - also here, there is a final meta-dimension - 3 min

Nouvelles luttes extravagantes [Uusia eriskummallisia taisteluja]. 1900. - Passable b&w print - buxom ladies wrestle in tights, transformations, sex changes, disjecta membra, flattening as in animation - 3 min

Le Rêve du radjah [Rajahin uni]. 1900. - Passable b&w print - The rajah's dream: changes in space, apparitions, buxom dancing ladies, transformations, it turns out it has all been fight with the pillow - 2'20"

Le Réveil d'un monsieur pressé [Kiireisen herran herätys]. 1900. - The man wakes up, tries to dress, but his clothes undergo relentless transformations, exhausted, he returns to bed - 2 min

Le Sorcier, le prince et le bon génie [Noita, prinssi ja hyvä haltija]. 1900. - Passable b&w print - two men and a woman - magic dresses, apparitions, disappearances, constant transformations, the theme of frustrating action - 2'08"

Le Tonneau des danaïdes [Danaidien tynnyri]. 1900. - B&w print - 8 woman and 1 man - the magic barrel can contain an endless number of women - but finally it's empty - 1'11"

Le Chapeau à surprise [Yllätyshattu]. 1901. - B&w print - a magician's miraculous table and trunk - a giant top hat - the magician conjures even his dinner guests from his trunk - even the painting on the wall comes alive - but everything disappears, as well - 2'33"

Excelsior! 1901. - Passable b&w print - the magician conjures a handkerchief from his assistant's mouth, and a bowl from the handkerchief - the magician uses his assistant as a water pump - he even gets fish to the bowl from his assistant's mouth - fire to the torch - the bowl turns into a shrimp (NOT a Lobster!) and into a beautiful woman dressed as a clown - 2'04"

Nain et géant [Kääpiö ja jättiläinen]. 1901. - Passable b&w print - GM doubles himself - one grows into a giant - in comparison, the other is a midget - 0'51"

La Danseuse microscopique [Mikroskooppinen tanssijatar]. 1902. - Passable b&w print - the bearded magician conjures eggs from his assistant's mouth - breaks the eggs into his top hat - a big egg grows even bigger - a dancing mini woman grows into life size - changes of form and place - 2'50"

L'Equilibre impossible [Mahdotonta tasapainottelua]. 1902. - Starting with images of classical antiquity - the acrobat GM multiplies into four identical copies, three of them performing acrobatics on his head and arms (the trick of filming from a high angle, from the ceiling, motions on the floor) - 1'11"

Les Trésors de Satan [Saatanan aarteet]. 1902. - Print has low contrast in the beginning - in the Satan's tresure cave - female assistants give the Devil a hard time - diabolic dance with a miser - the moneybags have a life of their own - 2'39"

L'Auberge du Bon Repos [Hyvän levon majatalo]. 1903. - Passable b&w print - the slightly intoxicated traveller tries to go to sleep - but the portrait on the wall comes alive - his boots start to walk on the walls - the bed rocks like a boat on waves - strange faces on the walls haunt him - the Devil jumps in from the window - 5'30"

Le Monstre [Hirviö]. 1903. - In Egypt, the sphinx, the pyramid - a living skeleton from the tomb becomes a ghost - who turns into a living woman, a temple beauty - and back to skeleton again - 2'31"

L'Oracle de Delphe [Delfoin oraakkeli]. 1903. - In Egypt, in Delphi, the sphinxes come alive - a thief's head turns into that of a donkey - 1'40"

Le Chaudron infernal [Hiidenpata]. 1903. - Colour print - Belphegor puts a woman into his devil's cauldron - the vapours of the cauldron turn into ghosts - everybody lands into the cauldron - 1'39"

La Fée carabosse [Noita-akka]. 1906. - Colour print - a princess appears from a mirror - money turns into sand - the witch's revenge, magic dagger, magic smoke - chase by a magic broom at full moon - the shamrock: the ghosts disappear - a giant frog, an immense owl, a dragon, two snakes - a magic whisk, a magic sword - the prince met the princess - the flight in the sky - refuge by the sea - 9'58"

The Méliès films are an expression of modernity: the constant transformations and interrupted actions are a vision of modern life. There is unity in these series of non stop miracles: a sense of humour, a joy of life, and the presence of Georges Méliès and Jehanne Méliès, themselves.