Monday, January 30, 2012

The Jussi Awards for the best Finnish movies of 2011

BEST FILM: Le Havre / producer Aki Kaurismäki
BEST DIRECTOR: Le Havre / Aki Kaurismäki
BEST SCREENPLAY: Aki Kaurismäki / Le Havre
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Timo Salminen / Le Havre
BEST MUSIC: Timo Hietala / Hiljaisuus
BEST SOUND DESIGN: Olli Huhtanen ja Pietari Koskinen / Hiljaisuus
BEST EDITING: Timo Linnasalo / Le Havre
BEST ART DIRECTION: Kari Kankaanpää / Hella W
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM: Ikuisesti sinun / Mia Halme



BEST SHORT FILM (KETTU AWARD): Ö / Kari Juusonen / short animation / 12 min

The Jussi Awards were first given on 16 November 1944. They are reportedly the oldest national film awards in Europe.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gustav Leonhardt (1928-2012), the J.S. Bach of Straub and Huillet

Gustav Leonhardt, the great man of Renaissance, Baroque and Classical music, is dead. He is film-relevant because of his central role in Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (1968), the labour of love of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. The movie is a spiritual biography of Johann Sebastian Bach based on material aesthetics, the materials being the music, the instruments, the documents, the places and the buildings in the life of the J.S. Bach family. The bewigged Gustav Leonhardt "plays" Bach without any representational psychological approach. But he does really play the instruments in this remarkable movie which has practically "musique non stop" on the soundtrack, and his interpretations are the ones that we hear. They are one man's interpretations among many, but they are compelling ones.

Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach belongs to the highest plateau of cinematic biographies of artists. It belongs to the company of Alain Resnais's Van Gogh where we stay exclusively within the frames of his paintings and follow his spiritual journey via them only.

From the English Wikipedia: "Gustav Leonhardt (30 May 1928, 's-Graveland – 16 January 2012, Amsterdam) was a highly renowned Dutch keyboard player, conductor, musicologist, teacher and editor. Leonhardt was a leading figure in the movement to perform music on period instruments. He played professionally the harpsichord, pipe organ, claviorganum (a combination of harpsichord and organ), clavichord and fortepiano, and conducted orchestras and choruses."

"Leonhardt performed and conducted a variety of solo, chamber, orchestral, operatic, and choral music from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. Among the dozens of composers whose music he recorded as a harpsichordist, organist, clavichordist, fortepianist, chamber musician or conductor were Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Heinrich Biber, John Blow, Georg Böhm, William Byrd, André Campra, Francois Couperin, Louis Couperin, John Dowland, Jacques Duphly, Antoine Forqueray, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Johann Jakob Froberger, Orlando Gibbons, André Grétry, George Frideric Handel, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Georg Muffat, Johann Pachelbel, Henry Purcell, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Christian Ritter, Johann Rosenmuller, Domenico Scarlatti, Agostino Steffani, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Georg Philipp Telemann, Manuel Valls, Antonio Vivaldi, and Matthias Weckmann."

"Central to Leonhardt's career was Johann Sebastian Bach. Leonhardt first recorded music of the composer in the early 1950s, with recordings in 1953 of the Goldberg Variations and Art of Fugue. The latter embodies the thesis he had published the previous year arguing that the work was intended for the keyboard, a conclusion now widely accepted. The recordings helped establish his reputation as a distinguished harpsichordist and Bach interpreter. In 1954 he led the Leonhardt Baroque Ensemble with the English counter-tenor Alfred Deller in a pioneering recording of two Bach cantatas."

"In 1971, Leonhardt and Harnoncourt undertook the project of recording the first complete cycle of Bach's cantatas on period instruments; the two conductors divided up the cantatas and recorded their assigned cantatas with their own ensembles. The undertaking took almost twenty years, from 1971 to 1990. Leonhardt also recorded Bach's St Matthew Passion, Mass in B minor, Magnificat, and complete secular cantatas, as well as the harpsichord concertos and Brandenburg Concertos, and most of his chamber and keyboard music; he recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations (three times), Partitas (twice), The Art of Fugue twice, The Well-Tempered Clavier, French Suites, English Suites (twice), Inventions and Sinfonias, and many individual works for harpsichord, clavichord, and organ. Further, Leonhardt appeared bewigged in the role of J. S. Bach in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, the 1968 film by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet."

"Leonhardt had a significant influence on the technique and style of many harpsichordists of the second half of the 20th century, through his recordings, editions, and teaching."

I noticed the news about Gustav Leonhardt's passing in The Economist (28 Jan - 3 Feb, 2012) whose remarkable obituary is unsigned.

Punaisen Metsän Hotelli / Red Forest Hotel

The director Mika Koskinen (to the right) and a member of the Pumi people. Photo: Luxian Production Oy.

Chinese schoolchildren plant trees. Photo: Luxian Production Oy.

Punaisen Metsän Hotelli [the title in the Swedish-speaking Hufvudstadsbladet] [the title is the name of an actual hotel, therefore the capital letters].
    FI/CN © 2011 Luxian Productions. Year of Finnish release: 2012. P: Mika Koskinen, Risto Rumpunen. D+SC: Mika Koskinen. DP: Mika Koskinen, Mika Mattila - 2K DCP mastered at Toast Post Production. M: traditional Pumi and Hami folk music. S: Janne Laine. ED: Kauko Lindfors. 87 min.
    With commentary in Finnish and dialogue spoken in Chinese including in the Guangxi dialect.
    Distributed in Finland by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus with Finnish subtitles only by Katja Paanala (Broadcast Text).
    2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki, 28 Jan 2012.

From the production information: "The attempt of a Finnish cinematographer to make a movie about the tree planting projects in the newly green oriented China turns into a nightmare when the officials defending the reputation of a pulp and paper manufacturer set themselves against it."

"The Finnish news cinematographer who has worked for 15 years in Beijing starts to make a movie about China's massive tree planting campaigns. Facing the climate change the giant state invests also into recycling and renewable energy. The cinematographer is intrigued to observe whether authoritarian China might grow into a model of green politics for the whole world."

"There is a surprise turn in the film-making project when local authorities stop the cinematographer on his way to the tree plantations in the Guangxi province in Southern China."

"The Finnish-owned pulp and paper manufacturer is planting immense eucalyptus plantations for raw materials for a planned paper mill. The atmosphere turns Kafkaesque. The helpful officials praise the project but try with every means to prevent interviews in their district. The film-maker is isolated in his hotel, and his local contacts are caught." (My translation.)

AA: The backstory I was not familiar with: in modern green China a lot is invested into wind energy and solar energy. There is a plan of a green Great Wall - an immense zone of trees. Planting trees is a civil duty. China plants two and a half times more trees than the rest of the world together. China is the biggest importer of trees.

Another backstory is China's ancient ecological tradition, not strange for a Finn: the beliefs of the old Pumi and Hami peoples about the protecting powers of old trees, some of them over a thousand years old.

But something is going wrong with Stora Enso. The film-makers speak about "totalitarian ecology": the exploitation of nature in the service of the destructively "efficient" eucalyptus cultivation. Eucalyptus trees drain the water from the sources and their cultivation makes life hell for the people living there. Famous springs and wells dry up. The establishment of eucalyptus plantations is achieved with violent enforcement.

In the final credits we learn that the sober lawyer Yang Zaixin who accompanies the filmmaker Mika Koskinen has been sentenced into prison on 13 June 2011.

"Even the word Finland scares us" state the villagers (Stora Enso is a Finnish company). I have heard the same claim during my visits in Brazil and Argentine because of Finnish companies' ruthless ways and gross neglect of the local people's interests.

The visual quality is understandably that of a basic video record. The grandeur of the nature is not visually evident, but the focus of the film is in the serious and balanced exposé of industrial corruption. What price success?

End credits beyond the jump break:

Canned Dreams

[Only the English-language title was visible on screen] / Säilöttyjä unelmia / Säilöttyjä unelmia [the title used in the Swedish-speaking Hufvudstadsbladet]. IE/NO/PT/FR/FI © 2011 Oktober. Year of Finnish release: 2012. P: Joonas Berghäll, Petri Rossi. D: Katja Gauriloff. SC: Katja Gauriloff, Joonas Berghäll, Jarkko T. Laine. DP: Heikki Färm, Tuomo Hutri - shot on Super 16 (Kodak) - Kodak Cinelabs Romania - 2K digital intermediate: Generator Post. M: Karsten Fundal. S: Peter Albrechtsen. Loc: Brazil, Portugal, France, Italy, Ukraine, Romania, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Finland. 75 min. Spoken in Portuguese, Danish, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and Romanian. The captions on the viewing copy are in English. Released in Finland by FS Film with Finnish subtitles only (n.c.). 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 8, Helsinki, 28 Jan 2012.

From the production information: "Canned Dreams is a Finnish documentary film about how industrially processed foodstuff ends up on the shelf of a Finnish grocery store. The movie follows the incredible journey of 35.000 kilometers of one can of food starting from the ore quarries of Brazil and making the rounds of many different countries of production until the cannery in France."

"Above all the movie tells about the life and the dreams of the people participating in the production in different countries. Behind every finished product one can find countless working hands, and the can of food grows into a metaphor of multicultural Europe." (End of quote, translation mine.)

Based on the advance buzz I was expecting a muckraking exposé, but Canned Dreams is a sober account on industrial food production. I have respected Katja Gauriloff as the director of Huuto tuuleen (A Shout into the Wind), an important statement on behalf of the Sami people, and Canned Dreams confirms her status as a top documentary film director.

Katja Gauriloff's movie is an amazing reminder on the global aspect of food production. The account of industrialized agricultural processes are in the best tradition of documentary observation. The special distinction of the movie is in its focus on the personal stories and dreams of working people in various countries. Human labour is behind everything.

Two patrons left the cinema during the pig slaughter sequence. Canned Dreams belongs to the tradition of Frederick Wiseman's Meat of which it is a well known claim that people who see it stop eating meat. Canned Dreams also belongs to the cinema's cross-section (Querschnitt) tradition. It also belongs to the even older tradition of documenting how products are made, starting from the very beginning. I seem to remember having seen non-fiction accounts about the production of canned fish that are over a hundred years old. But Canned Dreams is a fully original update of all such traditions.

The visual quality is high and the editing rhythm intensive. Shot on Super 16, even the 2K DCP of the movie conveys the value of Heikki Färm's top drawer cinematography.

Jonathan Rosenbaum's global dvd discoveries

My favourite cyberspace reading this morning: Jonathan Rosenbaum's column in Cinema Scope 49 on "Global Discoveries on Dvd: about 40 More Items (or Thereabouts)". Whets my appetite to see many of the releases discussed even when I know the films well. Jonathan Rosenbaum has a good grip on his rambling web column format. There is no lack of space, and thanks to the limitlessness there is a relaxed approach and no need to omit the exciting detail. Artists and releases discussed include James Benning, Miklós Jancsó, Manoel de Oliveira, Jackie Raynal, Treasures 5: The West, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Fanny and Alexander the full version, Chantal Akerman, Peter Thompson, Françoise Romand, Lucy Massie Phenix, Ernie Kovacs, Claude Chabrol, Prima della rivoluzione, Cœur fidèle, Criterion's The Complete Jean Vigo, Elizabeth Marton's Swedish movie in German: Ich hiess Sabina Spielrein / My Name Was Sabina Spielrein, Landmarks of Early Soviet Film, Eclipse's Leningrad Cowboys collection, Víctor Erice's La Morte Rouge, rare Hollywood movies on Spanish labels, Jerzy Skolimowski, André Delvaux, Matt Porterfield, Warner Bros.'s Citizen Kane the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition blu-ray release, Straub & Huillet, The Savage Eye, and Un condamné à mort s'est échappé. Incredible.

I copy here Rosenbaum's remarks on Víctor Erice's masterpiece La Morte Rouge, which was screened in the Kiarostami Erice Correspondances exhibition only, and is now available for the first time for the general audience on dvd.

Jonathan Rosenbaum on La Morte Rouge: "Soon after I arrived in San Sebastian to serve on the New Directors jury, I picked up Víctor Erice’s La Morte Rouge (2006) on the Rosebud label at FNAC, and watched this 33-minute masterpiece with English subtitles soon afterwards, for the first time, in my hotel room. It’s my wholly unexpected good luck that the principal location of this autobiographical essay about the first movie Erice ever saw, Roy William Neill’s The Scarlet Claw (a creepy 1946 Sherlock Holmes opus dubbed into Spanish), is the Kursaal, visible from my room—a one-time casino (until gambling was outlawed) that also housed an ornate cinema. (The French title refers to the imaginary French Canadian town where The Scarlet Claw is set.)"

"There are many other things about this film that kept me spellbound: not just the sumptuous beauty and mystery of the (mainly black-and-white) images and the entrancing rhythm of their succession, but the uncanny closeness of Erice’s childhood experience to my own first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, whereby the mix of newsreel and fantasy conjures up an indelible sense of contemporary actuality (in Erice’s case, postwar Franco Spain). I was also fascinated by the recurring Spanish theme of perceiving the Franco period through the metaphor and vehicle of horror films that’s also evident in Pere Portabella’s Cuadecuc-Vampir, Umbracle (both 1970), and the beginning of his Informe general (1977), not to mention Erice’s own The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)."

"On the same disc, among a rich profusion of extras, is Erice’s 11-minute Alumbramiento/Lifeline (2002), also in black and white, his fictional contribution to the sketch feature Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet—in some ways even more ambitious and jam-packed, albeit much less immediately accessible, at least to me. (Linda Ehrlich’s detailed essay about it, “The Promise of Time”—another extra, also included in the second edition of her invaluable collection, An Open Window: The Cinema of Víctor Erice—offers a lot of useful contextual information.) There’s also a 53-minute conversation between Erice and Manuel Asin included, and everything comes with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles." (End of the Jonathan Rosenbaum quote).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book favourites at my coffee table

Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen: Valoa valoa valoa. Hämeenlinna: Karisto, 2011

Eight weeks have passed since my traffic accident. Last week I started working at the office again, but in the afternoons I'm so exhausted that I don't really have the energy to even to go the cinema yet. It's difficult to concentrate for two hours, but with reading it's easier to have breaks.

1. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow: The Grand Design. London etc.: Bantam Press, 2010. Quantum theory for laymen. I predict innovations based on it will change a lot of things, for example digital information circumstances, during our lifetime.

2. Caroline Frick: Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation. New York etc.: Oxford University Press, 2011. A good general introduction into film preservation during the biggest change in our profession.

3. Sauli Miettinen: Marlene Dietrich: nainen ja tähti [Marlene Dietrich: A Woman and a Star]. Helsinki: Otava, 2011.
    Mr. Sauli Miettinen has dedicated much of his lifetime to this original study on one of the world's most famous stars, Marlene Dietrich. Her impact is timeless, and Marlene Dietrich continues to define style and charisma for a new generation after one another.
    This amazing 639-page original study on Marlene Dietrich is based on first-hand sources in Dietrich's own archives in Berlin. For the first time anywhere Sauli Miettinen publishes a lot of revealing new material.
    Much has been written about Dietrich, and a lot of it is highly entertaining but utterly unreliable - including Dietrich's own statements.
    Marlene Dietrich was not only a figure of myth - she was also a mythomaniac. Sauli Miettinen acknowledges both the legend and the fact with a spirit of tact and a sense of humour.
    Marlene Dietrich was well-known as a film star and a charismatic photo model.
    But Sauli Miettinen's focus is on Dietrich's career as a singer. She herself saw it as the most important area of her professional activity. This is the most substantial new ground covered by this impressive book.
    The sensations of Dietrich's private life are not in the main focus, but Miettinen gives a compelling account also of the private sphere of a brave and unconventional woman who was much ahead of her time in her love life. Also from this viewpoint, his book stands out.
    Sauli Miettinen's book is a lasting achievement, well-researched, well-written, exciting yet in good taste. It belongs to the international pantheon of books written on stars.

4. Panu Rajala: Naisten mies ja aatteiden: Juhani Ahon elämäntaide [A Man of Women and Ideas: Juhani Aho's Life Art]. Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. Antti Aho's biography on his father, the writer Juhani Aho, is a favourite book of mine. Panu Rajala starts his new biography in an easy reading mode, but towards the end, in his account of Juhani Aho and our terrible civil war in 1918, and on the final years he actually picks up gravity and emphasizes the family drama which in the 1950s was still too sensitive for Antti to discuss: that his brother Heikki fought with the reds and that also his mother, Ms. Aho, Venny Soldan, was a red sympathizer. Juhani Aho abhorred the terror of both the reds and the whites which he witnessed first hand. During the 1950s modernism Aho fell out of fashion, but for me has a timeless appeal.

5. Arto Salminen: Varasto [The Storeroom]. Helsinki: WSOY, 1998. Inspired by Taru Mäkelä's movie I read this novel for the first time. Arto Salminen is a master of dialogue and the Finnish language and a satirist of the desolate condition of society. The movie is quite faithful to the novel which is grimmer, however. Rousku's betrayal of Raninen is uglier in the novel, and there are no redeeming later encounters between them. A feature not in the novel but in the movie is Rousku's attempt to poison Karita's yoghurt and the store manager's effeminization after eating it. In my school and student days I have worked in jobs like this, and I recognized some of that reality in the novel. But I feel the novel is biased because of its exaggerated account of the spiritual emptiness in the storeroom. I have had some of the most interesting and passionate discussions in jobs like that (about music, movies, tv, news, society, women, etc.). My guess would be that the world hasn't changed that much.

6. Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen: Valoa valoa valoa [Light Light Light]. Hämeenlinna: Karisto, 2011. A novel, a love story between two 14-year-old girls. The poet Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen has written a fresh and original novel set in the spring and summer of 1986, the year of Chernobyl. The title "light light light" has a double meaning.  There is a joy of language in the book which it will be a pleasure to read again.

7. Eeva-Kaarina Aronen: Kallorumpu [Skull Drum]. Helsinki: Teos, 2011. A memory novel. One day in 1935 in Mannerheim's house in Helsinki viewed through a cinematic project devised by an old man who was a little boy at the time. Easy reading around Mannerheim, not a historical novel.

8. The New York Review of Books, Jan 12 - Feb 8, 2012. - Russell Baker on Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar (he finds a "curious lack of menace" in it). - Colin Thubron on Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Biography. - Sue Halpern on Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography. - Orlando Figes on Bulgakov and Stalin (John Hodge's Collaborators). - Lee Siegel on The Two Walkabouts: the novel and Nicolas Roeg's movie. - Jeremy Waldron on Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (the critic remains skeptical about Pinker's view).

9. TIFF Bell Lightbox Programme Guide, January-April 2012. Toronto's TIFF Cinematheque's programme texts are among the best. James Quandt writes about Yilmaz Güney, Nicholas Ray, and Robert Bresson. Other inspired themes include "Design for Living: Gary Hustwit's Design Trilogy" (Helvetica, Objectified, Urbanized), a tribute to 50 years of la Semaine de la Critique at Cannes film festival, Attack the Bloc: Cold War Science Fiction from Behind the Iron Curtain, black filmmakers in Canada, the US, the Caribbean and Africa, John Greyson impatient, Human Rights Watch 2012, and Spirited Away: the films of Studio Ghibli.

10. Arsenal, Februar 2012, Berlin. In February Arsenal is a venue for the 42. Forum and the 7. Forum Expanded of the Berlin Film Festival. Other themes include Sandrine Bonnaire, Magical History Tour, Yuzo Kawashima, Shirley Clarke, Ulrike Ottinger, and James Benning.

11. La Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg, Février 2012. Carl Davis conducts a Charles Chaplin and a Harold Lloyd concert. - The Tous les genres du cinéma en 10 leçons proceeds into the Western. - There is a Laterna Magica performance by the Ensemble Illuminago and a Filmreakter Double Feature. - The François Truffaut 80th anniversary tribute is the Antoine Doinel cycle. - The Martin Scorsese retrospective continues, as does the Road Movie, Europe series.

12. Det Danske Filminstitut: Cinemateket Februar 2012, Copenhagen: Orson Welles II: Europæisk eksil. - John Le Carré. - Europæisk film: nationale favoritter. - Errol Morris: bag den amerikanske drøm. - Månedens film: Bellflower. - Fashion in Film: Stumfilmens modedivaer. - Dickens 200 år: Store forventninger / Great Expectations (A.W. Sandberg) [which I believe David Lean may have seen].

13. Filmoteca Española (Cine Doré in Madrid): diciembre 2011, enero 2012: - Recuerdo de Raúl Ruiz. - Recuerdo de Blake Edwards. - Jan Švankmajer. - Edgar Neville. - II Muestra de cine palestino: Michel Khleifi. - Premios Goya. - Gastrofestival: Cine y gastronomia.

The Iron Lady

Rautarouva / Järnladyn. GB/FR © 2011 Pathé / Channel Four / BFI. P: Damian Jones. D: Phyllida Lloyd. SC: Abi Morgan. DP: Elliot Davis - negative: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 500T 5219) - digital intermediate: DeLuxe 142 - 2,35:1 - release formats: 35 mm and DCP. PD: Simon Elliott. AD: Bill Crutcher. Set dec: Annie Gilhooly. Cost: Consolata Boyle. Makeup artist and hair stylist for Ms. Streep: J. Roy Helland. M: Thomas Newman. S: Nigel Stone. ED: Justine Wright. Casting: Nina Gold. Cast: Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher), Jim Broadbent (Denis Thatcher), Susan Brown (June), Alice da Cunha (cleaner), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Susie), Iain Glen (Alfred Roberts), Alexandra Roach (Young Margaret Thatcher). 105 min. Released in Finland by Scanbox with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by J.G. Lähdesmäki / Saliven Gustavson. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, 27 Jan 2012.

Another top performance by Meryl Streep, said to give a better performance in her role than the original Margaret Thatcher. Very good is also Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher. As a story of the psychological development of a woman in a man's world The Iron Lady is moving.

As a historical drama or a political play The Iron Lady is weak. Social substance is missing. The great themes, arguments and conflicts of Margaret Thatcher's career are mere illustrations, soundbites and background to the psychological story.

Like in J. Edgar there is a flashback structure that unfolds from the protagonist's memories at old age. There is too much footage about the old Ms. Thatcher's senility.

The visual quality of the 2K DCP is ok. The movie takes mostly place in interiors, and there are many medium close-ups. There is also a deliberate news video quality in some of the footage.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Senses of Cinema: 2011 World Poll

The Senses of Cinema 2011 World Poll is the most undisciplined and the most stimulating of the 2011 polls of the world's best films. There are a lot of old films listed, newly discovered by the participants. I was delighted to notice Loviisa (1946) on the lists of Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber. Loviisa is little known abroad, but in Finland it is a popular choice for one of our all-time best films along with The Unknown Soldier (1955) and The Eight Deadly Shots (the full 5 h 16 min version, 1972).

Johnny Otis and Etta James R.I.P.

Two pioneers of rhythm and blues have died: Johnny Otis and Etta James. I started to discover them in the early 1970s, which was a good period for teenagers to find out the "golden oldies" of the 1950s. Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City became one of my favourite books (and it still is).

"Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes (December 28, 1921 – January 17, 2012), better known as Johnny Otis, was an American singer, musician, talent scout, disc jockey, composer, arranger, recording artist, record producer, vibraphonist, drummer, percussionist, bandleader, impresario and pastor. Born in Vallejo, California, he is commonly referred to as the "Godfather of Rhythm and Blues"." (The English Wikipedia)

"Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins; January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012) was an American singer whose style spanned a variety of music genres including blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz. Starting her career in the mid 1950s, she gained fame with hits such as "Dance With Me, Henry", "At Last", "Tell Mama", and "I'd Rather Go Blind" for which she claimed she wrote the lyrics. She faced a number of personal problems including drug addiction before making a musical resurgence in the late 1980s with the album, The Seven Year Itch." (The English Wikipedia).

Johnny Otis was the one who encouraged and helped the 14-year-old Etta James launch her professional singing career. "Roll With Me Henry" (1955, renamed "Dance With Me Henry" for self-censorship reasons) was Etta James's humoristic breakthrough song, an answer to the hit song "Work With Me Annie" by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. There were several "sequels", such as "Annie Had A Baby (Can't Work No More)" and "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More)".

Johnny Otis was the producer of Big Mama Thornton's original recording of "Hound Dog", and his pioneering career was amazing during several decades. Born of Greek parents, "Otis was well-known for his choice to live his professional and personal life as a member of the African-American community. He has written, 'As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.'" (The English Wikipedia).

A Johnny Otis favourite of mine: "Every Beat Of My Heart", classic performances by The Royals and Gladys Knight & The Pips. His feelgood shuffle "Willie And The Hand Jive" became a part of Eric Clapton's repertory.

An Etta James favourite of mine is "I'd Rather Go Blind", particularly deeply felt.

Johnny Otis and Etta James were creators, inventors, interpreters and inspirers for new ways of expression. I have spent this morning listening to their music.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Antti Alanen: Viewpoints on Israel in the Cinema (a lecture)

Israel in 5772 lecture series 17 Jan 2012, at Helsinki University, arranged by the Finland-Israel Society of Helsinki

My topics included:

BEFORE ISRAEL (during the Ottoman Empire, and during the British Mandate since the 1917 Balfour Declaration): Lumière 1897 and other pioneers like Oskar Messter and Edison's cinematographers came - showing Mount Zion, the Grave of Lazarus, the Jordan River, the Dome of the Rock, the Via Dolorosa, the Wailing Wall. Sidney Olcott came from the US to shoot From the Manger to the Cross (1912) on location
Zionism and the cinema were born simultaneously, and films about Zionism were important in the beginning, also showing the Holy Land
Film production in the area starts in 1911, Nathan Axelrod in 1926, the first feature Oded Hanoded / Oded the Wanderer (1933), D: Haim Halakhmi
Aleksander Ford: Sabra / Tsabar (1933)

1950: Mordechai Navon establishes the Geva studios
1951: Pargot Klausner establishes the Herzlyia studios
These two are powerful in 1950-1980, in 1980 merging into United Studios
In the beginning focusing on weekly newsreels
One of the rare feature films is Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955) directed by Thorold Dickinson, the first fictional feature film entirely produced within the borders of the state of Israel.
Another landmark is Hem hayu assarah / They Were Ten directed by Baruch Dinar, on the 19th century immigrants.
The state started to regulate cinema in 1954, but it was an affair of commerce strictly.

In the 1960s there was a growth in production from 2-3 movies into 10-15-20 movies annually.

MENAHEM GOLAN was interested in all genres including thrillers (El Dorado, 1963), musicals (Dalia vehamalakhim / Dalia and the Sailors, 1964), espionage (Mivtsa Kahir / Operation Cairo, 1966) and social melodrama (Fortuna, 1966). Not forgetting children's movies (Shmona bikvot elehad / When Eight Become One, 1964) and farce (Aliza Mizrahi, 1967). Critics ignored Golan. Golan had success with Kazablan (1973), a musical version of El Dorado, and Mivtsa Yonatan / Operation Thunderbolt (1977), a reconstruction of the Entebbe hostage drama. Later Golan had international success in partnership with Yoram Globus and the Cannon company in the 1980s.

BOUREKA was the first original Israeli genre. Bourekas were ethnic comedies about the meeting of the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi. The first boureka was Sallah shabbati (1964) produced by Golan and directed by Efraim Kishon.

The most personal Israeli comedy director was Uri Zohar. Khor balevana / A Hole in the Moon (1965) was an anarchistic satire with avantgardistic features. Uri Zohar made both personal movies and broad farces. Among his main works are Metzitzim / The Watchers (1972) and Eynaim gedoloth / Big Eyes (1974), starring himself. In 1977 Zohar started studies to become a rabbi.

In the late 1960 braver winds emerged, inspired by the new waves. Turning-point movies included Yehuda "Judd" Ne'emanäs Ha'simla [The Dress] (1970), Dan Wolman's Ha'timhoni [The Dreamer] (1970), and Avraham Heffner's Le'an ne'elam Daniel Wax? [Who Was Daniel Wax?] (1972).

MOSHE MIZRAHI was the new wave director who had most success with the audience in movies such as Ani ohey otakh, Rosa [Rosa, I Love You] (1972), and Ha bayit be Rekhov Chelouche [A House at Chelouche Street] (1973).

ISRAELI TEEN COMEDIES became another original Israel genre. They became international hits, produced by Golan and Globus, and directed by Boaz Davidson, starting with Lemon Popsicle (1977).

In 1979 the ministry of culture started to support film production on cultural grounds. A new wave of film-makers was more political and demanding than the previous film-makers. They did not hesitate to bite the hand that fed them. Since then the artistically ambitious Israeli cinema has been critical of the military-minded national policy of the country.

Among the new generation Yaki Yosha made striking movies such as Ha'ayt [The Vulture] (1981) and Dead End Street (1982). Daniel Wachsman made challengin films like Hamsin (1982). Other ambitious artists included Dan Wolman, Michal Bat-Adam, Mira Recanati and Itzhak "Zeppel" Yeshurun.

Yehuda Ne'eman who had acted as a professor continued his film-making career.

A disappointment with the national policy and the Lebanon war (1982-1984) was common to directors such as Uri Barbash [Beyond the Wall] (1984), Nissim Dayan [A Very Straight Bridge] (1985), Shimon Doran [A Lamb's Smile] (1986), Rafi Boukai (Avanti popolo, 1986) ja Eli Cohen [Ricochets] (Shtei etzba'oth me-Tzidon, 1986).

The myth of heroism was reconsidered in Yehuda "Judd" Ne'eman's movie Massa alounkoth [Paratroopers] (1977) and Dan Wolman's Ayal halayla [Soldier of the Night] (1984).

The myth of the victims of war was investigated in Yaki Yosha's Ha'ayit [The Vulture] (1981).

The concern about the uncertain future of schoolchildren facing military service was discussed in Renen Schorr's Blues la'hofesh hagadol [Late Summer Blues] (1987). Same topics were handled in Dan Wolman's Miskh'kei makhbu'im [Hide and Seek] (1981).

The intifada and the radicalization of the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1988 caused turbulence among film-makers. Itzhak "Zeppel" Yeshurun discussed the escalation of violence in Sadoth yerukim [Green Fields]. Assi Dayan directed The Life According to Agfa (1992), "Israel's Do the Right Thing" where people from different backgrounds face the vital / mortal questions of the nation. Also intimate films reacted on the change, films such as Avraham Heffner's Ahavata ha'acharona shel Laura Adler [Laura Adler's Last Love] (1990) and Eitan Green's Ezrakh amerikai [An American Citizen] (1992).

Women became more active. The director-actress Michal Bat Adam made an autobiographical series including Al khevel dak [On a Narrow String] (1981), Ben lokeakh bat [Children's Games] (1982) ja Aya, autobiografia diionit [Aya, a Fictional Biography] (1994).

Israel's first woman film-maker Gila Almagor became a film producer who produced Eli Cohen's Hakaitz shel Aviya [Aviya's Summer] (1989) and its sequel Etz hadmim tafus [Under the Domim Tree] (1995).

After the Fall of the Wall in Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War half a million Jews immigrated from the ex-Eastern Bloc countries. There was a rise of antisemitism in Europe. Film-makers sought a new way to deal with the new problems.

The meaning of short films grew especially via the Tel Aviv film schools, and they received international awards. There was a new rise in documentary film making.

AMOS GITAI was the artistically leading film director. In the jom kippur war in 1973 he started to film, and his helicopter was shot down on the Golan Hills, discussed in Gitai's movie Kippur. Gitai made critical documentary movies about the occupation of Palestine (Bayit) and the Lebanon war (Yoman Sadeh). Facing censorship Gitai moved to France for ten years. He directed movies about the Jewish heritage (the Golem movies) and the birth of Israel (Berlin-Yerushalaim). In 1992 Gitai returned when Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister and the Oslo peace talks led to an agreement about Palestine government. In Kadosh Gitai criticized the emphasis on religion in Israel. Kippur gained strength from autobiography. Kedma was a critical view about Israel's war of independence in 1948. Altmanian multi-narrative was on display in the tragicomical Tel Aviv account Alila. Promised Land discusses foreign prostitutes in Israel. Free Zone, starring Natalie Portman, is an account of meetings between the Israeli and the Palestinians on the border zone governed by black market.

Commercial film production crumbled with the success of television. Public film subsidies were never strong. The new generation often used video. Facing the past and criticizing the national policy are hallmarks of Israeli quality cinema.

David Noy's What Now? (1998) was a critical 50th anniversary movie of the state of Israel.

Encounters between the Israeli and the Arabs started to grow into a central theme in the 1990s. In Udi Ben-Arieh's short film [The Second Guard] (1995) the soldier Berkowitz patrols the Israeli-Jordan border. Synyora Bar David discussed the theme in his documentaries as did Adok Dror. Artists feel that borders and walls are strange. To the great tradition of Israeli documentary film belongs Ron Havilio's Fragments Jerusalem (1998).

Since 11 September 2001 film-makers in the Middle East seem to agree on better understanding in a world of terror. Between Palestinian and Israeli quality film-makers there is no wall. They share the values of international humanism.

Movies in a spirit of reconciliation include the works of Amos Gitai (Kedma, 2002, and Free Zone, 2005), but also the work of the Palestinian Elia Suleiman (Divine Intervention, 2002) and Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, 2005). The French-Israeli Simone Bitton faces the reality in Mur (2004). Among the highlights are Ari Folman's factual animation Waltz with Bashir (2008), Samuel Maoz's tautly autobiographical tank story Libanon (2009) and Julian Schnabel's Miral (2010).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A new blog by Tim Lucas

Tim Lucas, one of the best writers among film historians, is well-known for his magazine Video Watchdog, for his column in Sight & Sound and for his book Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. He has had a blog of his own, Video Watchblog, and on the 1st of January 2012 he has launched another blog, called Pause. Rewind. Obsess., his movie watching diary. It may not be unusual that he has watched 22 movies so far this year, but he has also written an eminently readable instant review of each of them.

Books on my coffee table this week

It has been almost seven weeks since my traffic accident, and tomorrow I have the doctor's permission to return to the office. Little by little I am rehabilitating and starting to frequent my regular places. Yesterday I returned to Café Aalto, a favourite café of mine, located at the Academic Bookstore, the architecture and the furniture design of course by Alvar Aalto. An excellent place for intellectual and romantic meetings, and reading. I also finally ventured to the sauna and even a few meters of swimming, selecting the Yrjönkatu Bath. Established in 1928 it is the oldest public bath in Finland. Too bad that the bath turns are for men only or for women only. The neoclassical architecture, beautifully restored, is by Väinö Vähäkallio with inspiration from the Roman bath culture and touches of Art Deco. Upstairs they have a café and private lodges where it is possible to take a nap after the sauna and delve deep into good reading while enjoying a cup of coffee.

1. Financial Times Weekend (Saturday Jan 14, Sunday Jan 15, 2012 Europe) surprises us by launching a "Capitalism in crisis" series. In the first dossier the articles are by Edward Luce on the American situation and Arundhati Roy on the Indian questions. There is also a special section on their website: Relevant is also the interview with the legendary cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, 83 but not sclerotic, and with startling things to say. I admire Peter Aspden's cultural section (great interviews with Quincy Jones and Charlotte Gainsbourg, for instance), but these days financial news are more exciting than culture. In my student days I was a subscriber to three economic magazines, Talouselämä [Economic Life, the equivalent of The Economist in our country] and the quarterlies of the then two main merchant banks, known at the time as Suomen Yhdyspankki (their quarterly was called Unitas) and Kansallis-Osake-Pankki. The slogan "Capitalism in crisis" was heard then, too, but never in their quarters, although the beginning of the 1970s was turbulent, too. Towards the end of the costly Vietnam war President Nixon called the Bretton Woods agreement off which meant the end of the gold standard. But the IMF could deal with that, and the "capitalism in crisis" remained a purely Marxist slogan.

2. Ene Mihkelson: Ruttohauta (Katkuhaud, 2007) [The Plague Grave], translated into Finnish by Kaisu Lahikainen. Helsinki: WSOY 2011. A woman's bitter journey into the past of her family and her nation, a novel by one of Estonia's leading authors and intellectuals. In the recent years books by Imbi Paju, Seppo Zetterberg, Sofi Oksanen, Erkki Tuomioja, and others have opened new depths to the Finnish understanding of the Estonian tragedy during the Soviet and Nazi rule. We are deeply moved, because the same thing could have happened to us, and almost did. We have known about this, but not in such a profound and shattering way. This journey proceeds both outwardly (the realization of the horror of the torture chambers) and inwardly (the guilt inside the family).

3. Eugene O'Neill: Pitkän päivän matka yöhön (Long Day's Journey into Night, written in 1942 / posthumously published in 1956), translated into Finnish by Juha Siltanen. Helsinki: Love, 1989. I missed seeing the Sidney Lumet film adaptation of O'Neill's powerful autobiographical play about his childhood home while laying at the hospital, but as a compensation I read the play itself. In a rare arrangement for a major film, there was no screenplay for Lumet's production. He directed the movie directly from the O'Neill play itself. It is a page-turner, a dark and grim tragedy, yet (and maybe inevitably) full of humour. Unforgettable.

4. Peter Brunette: Roberto Rossellini. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1987, 1996. While writing the Cinema Orion programme note for Luciano Serra pilota I again enjoyed reading Peter Brunette's book on the fascinating career of the master of neorealism and his roots in the development of the Italian film culture since the 1930s, including his friendship with Vittorio Mussolini, the son of Il Duce.

5. Maailmantaide: Michael Kitson: Barokin aikakausi. Barokki, rokokoo ja uusklassismi (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Age of Baroque, 1966). Translated by Sakari Saarikivi. Helsinki: Tammi, 1968.

6. Maailmantaide: Norbert Lynton: Moderni maailma (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Modern World, 1965). Translated by Raija Mattila. Helsinki: Tammi, 1967.

7. Maailmantaide: Peter Kidson: Keskiajan taide (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Medieval World, 1967). Translated by Pirkko Lilius. Helsinki: Tammi, 1968.

8. Maailmantaide: Ernst J. Grube: Islamin taide. Rakennustaide, keramiikka, maalaustaide, matot, metallityöt, koristetaide (Landmarks of the World's Art: The World of Islam, 1967). Translated by Panu Pekkanen, supervised by Sakari Saarikivi. Helsinki: Tammi, 1968.

9. Maailmantaide: Kaukoidän taiteet: Jeannine Auboyer: Intia ja Kaakkois-Aasia. Roger Goepper: Kiina, Korea ja Japani (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Oriental World, 1967). Translated by Sakari Saarikivi. Helsinki: Tammi, 1968.

I have now finished revisiting in its entirety a favourite book series from my school days. In these books I have had some of my first encounters with images by Klee and Miro. At school age I sometimes even copied images from these books via drawing (pencil, charcoal, crayon) and painting (watercolour, oil), but soon enough realized that my talent was limited.

Now I realize there are imbalances in the concept of the book series. There are two volumes on the same period: one about early Christian art and another about Medieval art, both covering the same arid thousand-year period. The volume on Baroque actually starts with Mannerism and includes the Rococo and Neo-Classical periods. Certainly the series is Eurocentric. But in the world of Islam there is the question that muslims take the Biblical prohibition of the (graven) image seriously, which is why representative and figurative art has not flourished in their cultures. No such problem in the Oriental world which would have deserved many more volumes. As it is, the single Oriental volume is one of my favourites, presenting approaches to art radically different from the European tradition.

All the time I am rethinking my habits of seeing. The digital world in the 2K transitional phase of the digital cinema has brought us a relative poverty of visual quality. The 2K image in the cinema is deservedly praised for its brightness and sharpness. But visiting art galleries and art history books everybody can see that brightness and sharpness are not the hallmarks of refined art but of primitive art, also of children's drawings (often astounding in their own right). Leonardo and Turner did their best to avoid brightness and sharpness.

Primitive art is not inferior art. It is a sign of vitality that artists go back to the roots. See Picasso. Klee and Miro and Abstract Expressionists have their own direct links to the origins of art. Some modern paintings could be installed into the caves of Lascaux, and nobody would notice the difference. We need the whole richness of the experience of art.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Herra Heinämäki ja Leijonatuuliviiri / [Mr. Heinämäki and the Lion Weathercock]

FI © 2011 Jackpot Films. P: Timo Kahilainen. D: Matti Grönberg, Pekka Karjalainen. SC: Timo Kahilainen, Heikki Salo. DP: Harri Räty. AD: Marjatta Kuivasto. Cost: Jaana Aro. Makeup: Erja Mikkola. M: Timo Kahilainen, Janne Louhivuori. Song list beyond the jump break. S: Pekka Karjalainen. ED: Kimmo Taavila. Loc: Kangasala. CAST: Heikki Hela (Mr. Heinämäki), Adalmiina Pelli (Arska), Jukka Rasila (Mauri Mutka), Timo Kahilainen (Reppanainen), Heikki Silvennoinen (Kakelberg), Satu Säävälä (Liisa Kakelberg), Atte Reunanen (Jaakko Kakelberg), Outi Mäenpää (Matleena Mutka). HERRA HEINÄMÄEN LATO-ORKESTERI: Janne Louhivuori (Timotei), Mikko Löytty (Punanata), Jouko Mäki-Lohiluoma (Strongman Horsma), Heikki Salo (Pujo). WITH: Tuija Ernamo, Matti Grönberg (waiter), Aku Hirviniemi (Jeppe Antinpoika), Miia Selin (as Mia Selin). 95 min. Distributor: The Walt Disney Company Nordic AB, filial i Finland. In Finnish with some Swedish with Finnish subtitles in the prologue. 2K DCP without Swedish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 7, Helsinki, 14 Jan 2012.

Technical specs (from Pekka Karjalainen 17 Jan 2012): Digital camera: Red One - master format in 4K - digital post-production, colour definition, digital effects: Talvi Digital Oy - sound production: Meguru Film Sound Oy - distributed in 2K DCP's (70) and 35 mm prints (10).

From the production information: "THE BIRTH OF HEINÄMÄKI. In 1999 Heikki Salo and Janne Louhivuori published an album of children's music called "Omskista" [untranslatable, and nonsense also in Finnish] based on which Timo Kahilainen and Heikki Salo wrote for YLE TV2 a children's series called Herra Heinämäki [Mr. Heinämäki]. Heikki Hela got the role of Mr. Heinämäki. The series was directed by Matti Grönberg. Simultaneously established was Herra Heinämäen Lato-orkesteri [Mr Heinämäki's Barn Orchestra]: Heikki Salo (vocals), Janne Louhivuori (guitars and many other instruments), Jouko Mäki-Lohiluoma (drums), and Mikko Löytty (bass). The Herra Heinämäki tv series was continued in 2008 and 2009 via the new albums "Nyree näkkäri" [Sullen Crispbread] and "Äiti venyy" [Mother Is Flexible]. The series have been released on dvd in 2010. During the Christmas season of 2010 the musical Christmas show Herra Heinämäen joulu [Mr. Heinämäki's Christmas] was transmitted on YLE TV2."

"THE MOVIE. In 2009 Salo and Kahilainen started to plan a feature theatrical Heinämäki movie with music, warmth, friendship, humour, adventure, and an exciting plot. Previously Salo and Kahilainen had co-written based on a play by Salo the movie Beatlehem, directed by Pekka Karjalainen. The new Heinämäki movie was directed besides Matti Grönberg by Pekka Karjalainen whose company was responsible for the sound production. The movie was shot in Kangasala during June-July 2011."

"THE CONTENTS OF THE MOVIE. Herra Heinämäki ja leijonatuuliviiri is a funny and exciting family movie. During the Finnish war in 1808-1809 Jeppe Antinpoika the highwayman manages to rob the treasure of the King of Sweden. A bag full of jewels remains behind the oven structure for over 200 years. The city girl Aurora, also known as Arska [a male nickname], comes to spend summer days with her eccentric country relative Mr. Heinämäki. Heinämäki's neighbour, the baker Kakelberg, is in trouble, for ghosts have started to appear in his house, and his business is being sabotaged. One night Arska catches a strange prowler in the cellar of the baker's house. Together with Mr. Heinämäki Arska starts to solve the clue of the baker's house."

Among the main ingredients are also: - The orchestra, Herra Heinämäen Lato-Orkesteri, is on the run from the police because of overspeeding. - The girl Aurora / Arska gets the idea to arrange a garage sale and a charity concert to help the unfortunate baker family. - Mauri Mutka is a big crook in a policeman's uniform.

Because there are laptops the story seems to take place in the present, but on the wall of the police station is the portrait of Urho Kekkonen whose term of presidency ended in 1982.

The Kummeli comedy team has been active on the YLE TV2 channel since 1991, with Heikki Silvennoinen (1991–), Timo Kahilainen (1991–), Heikki Hela (1992–), Heikki Vihinen (1995–), Mari Turunen (1994–), Olli Keskinen (1991–1994, 1999–2000), Janne Saarinen (1991), Tom Lindholm (1992-1993), Miia Selin (2003–2004) and Mikko Kivinen (2003–2004) [the list copied from Finnish Wikipedia].

There have been four theatrical Kummeli feature films before. Herra Heinämäki ja leijonatuuliviiri is the fifth. The focus is different since it is family entertainment with a young girl in the leading role.

This movie is light family entertainment, a summer farce with its fair share of original ideas and performances. The basic Kummeli ensemble has an assured sense of play, and the children blend with them in a natural way. The family audience at the cinema obviously enjoyed the show.

The digital look is artificial in an interesting way like in the previous Kummeli production, Kummeli alivuokralainen. Sometimes I regretted the over-bright colour settings, in the beginning some grayish settings, and as a rule the usual digital difficulties with nature footage.

The song list is beyond the jump break:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meet Me in St. Louis (2011 digibook blu-ray edition)

Tyttö ja kosija / Vi mötas i St. Louis. US © 1944 Loew's Incorporated. P: Arthur Freed. D: Vincente Minnelli. SC: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe - based on the book by Sally Benson (1942) - based on her "5135 Kensington" vignettes in The New Yorker (1941-1942). DP: George J. Folsey - Technicolor. AD: Lemuel Ayers, Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith. Set dec: Edwin B. Willis. Cost: Irene [Sharaff]. Makeup: Jack Dawn. Makeup for Judy Garland: Dorothy Ponedel. Score adapted by Roger Edens, orchestrations by Conrad Salinger, conducted by Georgie Stoll. Songs: Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane – »The Trolley Song»; »The Boy Next Door»; »Over The Banisters»; »Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas». Other songs: »Meet Me In St. Louis» (Andrew B. Sterling, Kerry Mills); »You And I» (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown); the cakewalk »Under The Bamboo Tree» (Bob Cole, J. Rosamond Johnson). Folk song dance medley »Skip To My Lou» (trad. arr. Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane). Dance D: Charles Walters. ED: Albert Akst. Cast: Judy Garland (Esther Smith), Margaret O’Brien (Tootie Smith), Lucille Bremer (Rose Smith), Mary Astor (Mrs. Anna Smith), Leon Ames (Alonzo Smith), Tom Drake (John Truett), Harry Davenport (grandpa Potter). 113 min. Blu-ray released by Turner Entertainment / Warner Bros. 13 Dec 2011. 1030p High Definition 4x3 1,37:1 DTS-HD Master Audio English 5.0. With subtitles English, Français, Español. Viewed at home, Helsinki, 13 Jan 2012.

Special features from the 2004 special edition (information copied from DVD Verdict, by Judge Erich Asperschlager): "Introduction by Liza Minnelli" (4:59). - Audio Commentary: hosted by historian John Fricke, with archival interviews from Margaret O'Brien, screenwriter Irving Brecher, songwriter Hugh Martin, and Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Arthur Freed's daughter. - "The Making of Meet Me in St. Louis" (30:47): Hugh Martin recollecting the original, darker version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that Garland refused to sing — with lyrics like "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past." - "Hollywood: The Dream Factory" (50:31), narrated by Dick Cavett, focuses on the history of MGM and Hollywood's "Golden Age," including a profile of Louis B. Mayer. - "Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland" (46:10), a Turner Classic Movies TV special, hosted by Robert Osborne, is a collection of trailers from Garland's major movies: "Everybody Sing," "Love Finds Andy Hardy," "The Wizard of Oz," "Babes in Arms," "For Me and My Gal," "Presenting Lily Mars," "Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Clock," "The Pirate," "Easter Parade," "Summer Stock," "A Star is Born," and "I Could Go On Singing." - Meet Me in St. Louis 1966 TV Pilot (26:35). - "Bubbles" (7:54), the 1930 short is one of the earliest surviving records of Garland on film, as a singing-dancing member of The Vitaphone Kiddies. - "Skip to My Lou" (3:11), Martin and Blane's rearranged version of this pop standard goes back to the days when they were part of a singing group called The Martins, as seen in this 1941 "soundie." - The three remaining bonus features all fall under the category "Audio Vault": "Boys and Girls Like You and Me": Before it was cut from the film, this Rodgers & Hammerstein song appeared immediately after "The Trolley Song" sequence. Because footage of the scene no longer exists, it is presented here alongside a collection of rare photographs. - Lux Radio Theater Broadcast: this hour-long radio play version of Meet Me in St. Louis was broadcast on 12/2/1946, with Garland, O'Brien, and Drake reprising their roles, along with various other actors. - Music Only Track.

New 2011 special bonus features in the blu-ray set: a 40-page booklet, and a bonus CD sampler of four songs.

The music comments from English Wikipedia: "The musical score for the film was adapted by Roger Edens, who also served as an uncredited associate producer. Georgie Stoll conducted the orchestrations of Conrad Salinger. Some of the songs in the film are from around the time of the St Louis Exposition. Others were written for the movie.
* "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis" Kerry Mills and Andrew B. Sterling, 1904
* "The Boy Next Door", Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 1944, performed by Judy Garland.
* "Skip to My Lou", Traditional, with section sung to the tunes of "Yankee Doodle" arranged by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 1944
* "I Was Drunk Last Night," performed by Margaret O'Brien.
* "Under the Bamboo Tree," Words and music by Robert Cole and The Johnson Bros., 1902, performed by Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien.
* "Over the Banister," 19th-century melody adapted by Conrad Salinger, lyrics from the 1888 poem "Over the Banisters" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, adapted by Roger Edens (1944), performed by Judy Garland.
* "The Trolley Song", Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 1944, performed by Chorus and Judy Garland.
* "You and I," Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, sung by Arthur Freed and D. Markas, mimed by Leon Ames and Mary Astor.
* "Goodbye, My Lady Love," (Instrumental), Joseph E. Howard, 1904.
* "Little Brown Jug", (Instrumental), Joseph Winner, 1869.
* "Down at the Old Bull and Bush," (Instrumental), Harry von Tilzer, 1903.
* "Home! Sweet Home!", (Instrumental), Henry Bishop, 1823/1852.
* "Auld Lang Syne", (Instrumental)
* "The First Noel", (Instrumental)
* "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 1944, performed by Judy Garland. The lyrics for "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" were originally different. The lyricist, Hugh Martin, wrote lyrics which referred to the soldiers fighting during World War Two. Judy Garland thought the song as written was too mean to sing to Margaret O'Brien, so he changed the lyrics. Further revisions were made when Frank Sinatra objected to the generally downbeat tone of the piece. The latter revised version is the one most commonly performed.

Having read Dave Kehr's review in The New York Times and his blog entry on the movie in I ordered a copy of the blu-ray edition of Meet Me In St. Louis to the Filmihullu [Movie Crazy] dvd and blu-ray store. It did not arrive in time for Christmas but exactly a month after its U.S. release date. A suitable ending to my extended Christmas holiday related to my recovery. Four seasons in St. Louis in the life of a large family in 1903-1904 just before the St. Louis World's Fair. This is the movie where Judy Garland met Vincente Minnelli, the result being Liza Minnelli, who appears in the special dvd / blu-ray introduction. Judy Garland is wonderful, but the most astonishing performance is by Margaret O'Brien in one of the most original and most personal performances of a child actor. Unsentimental, profound, terrible, and funny. The 60th anniversary dvd of 2004 was reportedly already excellent, and the blu-ray does look brilliant. The Technicolor is wonderful, sometimes bordering on the excessive, and the family feeling gets sometimes too cute, but deep conflicts appear, and Minnelli shows his psychological sense in handling them. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" may be the saddest mainstream Christmas song number in a movie. It's not always fair weather. The profound feeling of sorrow and longing seems to reflect the situation of the nation and the world at the time when the movie was made - even after the Judy Garland revisions. Families were broken, and husbands, brothers and sons were fighting abroad. But "next year all our troubles will be out of sight", "Someday soon we all will be together / if the fates allow. / Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow".

I can personally relate to this movie as a child of a large family which moved constantly during my childhood (from Helsinki to Vaasa, Lempäälä, Tampere, Helsinki again, and finally Pirkkala; and before Pirkkala we always moved to summer homes for the whole summer). The family meetings in Meet Me in St. Louis about the impending move from St. Louis to New York have some emotional truth in them. After Tootie destroys the snowpeople because they cannot take them with them to New York anyway the father decides the family will stay in St. Louis. So this is a movie about permanence. But in my childhood the only permanent thing was change.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My favourite Finnish films of 2011

My favourite Finnish films of 2011 include (while I look forward to see one theatrically released movie that I have not yet seen, Herra Heinämäki ja leijonatuuliviiri, and many high profile non-theatrically released movies):
MY FAVOURITE FILMS: Le Havre (D: Aki Kaurismäki), Hiljaisuus ([Silence], D: Sakari Kirjavainen), Pussikaljaelokuva ([Bag Beer Movie], D: Ville Jankeri), Varasto ([The Storeroom], D: Taru Mäkelä).
MY FAVOURITE CINEMATOGRAPHY: Matka Edeniin ([Journey to Eden], D+DP: Rax Rinnekangas) (although I would have preferred it in all-photochemical 35 mm or higher resolution DCP)
MY FAVOURITE DOCUMENTARY: THEATRICAL: Salla: Selling the Silence (D: Markku Tuurna) - NON-THEATRICAL: Lastuja - taiteilijasuvun vuosisata ([Splinters - A Century in a Family of Artists], D: Peter von Bagh)
MY FAVOURITE ANIMATION: Ella & Aleksi - yllätyssynttärit [Ella & Aleksi - a Surprise Birthday Party], D: Juuso Syrjä.
MY FAVOURITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES IN LEADING ROLES: Jessica Grabowsky (Missä kuljimme kerran [Where Once We Walked], D: Peter Lindholm), Minttu Mustakallio (Varasto [The Storeroom], D: Taru Mäkelä)
MY FAVOURITE MALE PERFORMANCE: Heikki Silvennoinen as the voice talent of Martti / Mater in the Finnish voice version of Cars 2 / Autot 2, D: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis.
MY FAVOURITE MUSIC:  Ella & Aleksi - yllätyssynttärit [Ella & Aleksi - a Surprise Birthday Party].
Ilmianto [The Informers], D: Milla Pelkonen.
Miten marjoja poimitaan [How to Pick Berries], D: Elina Talvensaari.
Erään hyönteisen tuho [The Death of an Insect], D: Hannes Vartiainen, Pekka Veikkolainen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Jussi Award nominees for the best Finnish films of 2011

From today's Filmiaura newsletter:

In 2011 there were 29 Finnish premiere films in the cinemas, more than during any year since 1986. Finnish cinema production is strong, and the Jussi nominations were widely spread: Le Havre (9), Hiljaisuus (7), Hyvä poika (7), Hella W (3), Likainen pommi (3), Pussikaljaelokuva (2), Varasto (2), Herra Heinämäki ja Leijonatuuliviiri (1), Ikuisesti sinun (1), Iris (1), Kotirauha (1), Matka Edeniin (1), Missä kuljimme kerran (1), Salla - Selling the Silence (1), Syvälle salattu (1), and Tuntematon emäntä (1).

Hiljaisuus - producers Joonas Berghäll, Alf Hemming, and Petri Ross
Hyvä poika - producers Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff, and Elli Toivoniemi
Le Havre - producer Aki Kaurimäki

Hyvä poika - Zaida Bergroth
Le Havre - Aki Kaurimäki
Varasto - Taru Mäkelä

Hiljaisuus - Joonas Saartamo
Hyvä poika - Samuli Niittymäki
Kotirauha - Samuli Edelmann

Hyvä poika - Elina Knihtilä
Missä kuljimme kerran - Jessica Grabowsky
Syvälle salattu - Krista Kosonen

Hiljaisuus - Ilkka Heiskanen
Le Havre - Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Pussikaljaelokuva - Ylermi Rajamaa

Hyvä poika - Anna Paavilainen
Le Havre - Elina Salo
Varasto - Hannele Lauri

Hiljaisuus - Esko Salervo
Hyvä poika - Zaida Bergroth ja Jan Forsström
Le Havre - Aki Kaurismäki

Hella W - Peter Flinckenberg
Le Havre - Timo Salminen
Likainen pommi - Hena Blomberg

Hiljaisuus - Timo Hietala
Herra Heinämäki ja Leijonatuuliviiri - Timo Kahilainen ja Janne Louhivuori
Matka Edeniin - Pascal Gaigne

Hiljaisuus - Olli Huhtanen ja Pietari Koskinen
Hyvä poika - Micke Nyström
Likainen pommi - Pasi Peni

Le Havre - Timo Linnasalo
Likainen pommi - Iikka Hesse
Pussikaljaelokuva - Harri Ylönen

Hella W - Kari Kankaanpää
Hiljaisuus - Tiina Tuovinen ja Jukka Uusitalo
Le Havre - Wouter Zoon

Hella W - Anu Pirilä
Iris - Riitta Peteri
Le Havre - Fred Cambier

Ikuisesti sinun - Mia Halme
Salla - Selling the Silence - Markku Tuurna
Tuntematon emäntä - Elina Kivihalme

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (the Finnish dvd release title) / Innan djävulen vet att du är död (the Swedish title on the print). USA © 2007 Capitol Films. PC: A Unity Production / Linsefilm, Ltd. Production. EX: Belle Avery, Jane Barclay, David Bergstein. P: Michael Cerenzie, William S. Gilmore, Brian Linse, Paul Parmar. D: Sidney Lumet. SC: Kelly Masterson. Digital cinematography: Ron Fortunato – technical specs (IMDb): camera: Panavision Genesis HD Camera, Panavision Primo Lenses – lab: Technicolor, USA – camera format: HDTV – source format: HDCAM SR (1080p/24) – digital intermediate in 2K – released on: 35 mm – 1,85:1 – colour. PD: Christopher Nowak (prod. des.), AD: Wing Lee , set dec.: Diane Lederman. Cost: Tina Nigro. Make-up: Patricia Regan, Jeong-Hwa Fonkalsrud. Hair: Wayne Herndon, Diana Sikes. M: Carter Burwell. S: Dave Paterson. ED: Tom Swartwout. Loc: New York City: Bayside, Queens (jewelry store) – Douglaston, Queens (Hanson's house) – St. Agnes Hospital, White Plains, New York. Studio: Hell Gate Studios, Astoria, Queens, New York City. Casting: Ellen Lewis. CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Andy), Ethan Hawke (Hank), Albert Finney (Charles), Marisa Tomei (Gina), Aleksa Palladino (Chris), Michael Shannon (Dex), Amy Ryan (Martha), Sarah Livingston (Danielle), Brían F. O'Byrne (Bobby), Rosemary Harris (Nanette), Blaine Horton (Justin). Swedish classification length: 3188 m / 117 min. A 35 mm SFI-Filmarkivet print with Swedish subtitles by Jennifer Warrender viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (A Tribute to Sidney Lumet), 8 Jan 2012.

The motto before the title: "May you be in heaven for a full half hour"
The title: "Before the Devil knows you're dead". (From a traditional Irish saying).

My first visit to Cinema Orion since my traffic accident 41 days ago, the last screening of our season from late August till early January, the last movie directed by Sidney Lumet, which went straight to dvd in Finland but was released theatrically in 35 mm in Sweden.

It was a great pleasure to meet the cinema staff and the Orion regulars and sit on my regular place again in one of our top comfort seats. Installed in 1977 by Leo Karni then collaborating with the WSOY publishing house, they are still widely appreciated as the best seats in Helsinki.

This was the first Sidney Lumet retrospective in Finland, and as was the case in many prominent Lumet obituaries, it was largely an occasion for reappraisal and rediscovery. I was struck by the positive reaction of the young cinephiles. Sidney Lumet has not always been considered a hot director, but his body of work is full of fresh approaches and frank attempts to reinvent himself: in the 1950s he was a leading director of the television generation, in the 1960s he was profoundly influenced by Alain Resnais and the Rive Gauche (Fail-Safe, The Pawnbroker), in the 1970s he was maybe at his best with the New Hollywood inspired gritty street realism and the new generation of actors such as Al Pacino.

In his last movie Sidney Lumet took up the challenge of Quentin Tarantino and created something surprising and original from a grim contemporary crime story. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead does not feel like an old man's film. The time labyrinth structure has an affinity with Tarantino but can also accurately be said to be influenced by Resnais. There is frank sex and violence in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, but the frank scenes are motivated.

Interestingly, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead seems also to reflect Lumet's personal favourite film, his movie adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. In both, there is the overbearing father (Ralph Richardson / Albert Finney), a self-made man from whose shadow the sons (here: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) can never rise. The stories differ completely as to the mother figure whose fragility is central in the Eugene O'Neill tragedy; in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead she and the father are equally strong. There is a surprising but logical tragic ending in the Devil, probably the most devastating in Lumet's oeuvre.

And awesome finale to Sidney Lumet's awesome career which started in the 1920s as a child actor.

The digitally photographed Before the Devil Knows You're Dead may be the visually shabbiest theatrical movie in Sidney Lumet's career. The print was excellent, but the trouble stems probably from the original digital cinematography. The lighting obscures facial expressions, and there is an overall shoddiness in the visual quality which cannot be intentional.

Impersonating celebrities on screen

Impersonating celebrities on screen is so difficult and actually impossible that is is no wonder that the attempts usually fail. Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is full of such failed attempts, but the viewer can enjoy them as jokes.

The bigger the star's charisma the more useless it usually is to attempt a biopic about him or her.

Michelle Williams succeeds in My Week with Marilyn because she avoids straight imitation and instead creates a playful and personal impression of the love goddess. My two other favourite Marilyn Monroe impersonators have been Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd - both in the same movie, Norma Jean & Marilyn, representing two sides of the troubled star. In My Week with Marilyn I also admire Kenneth Branagh's memorable study or essay on Laurence Olivier.

I have also liked Eric Elmosnino as Serge Gainsbourg in Gainsbourg: Vie héroïque, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray, and David Bowie as Andy Warhol in Basquiat.

Anthony Hopkins is a chameleon who has played memorably Richard Nixon and Pablo Picasso without surface likeness but with a lot of charisma.

Another chameleon is Gary Oldman who has played both Sid Vicious and Ludwig van Beethoven.

The best movie performance of W.A. Mozart is by Innokenti Smoktunovsky in Mozart and Salieri based on the Pushkin play.

A Finnish chameleon is Martti Suosalo who repeated the Gary Oldman stunt of playing both a rogue singer (Irwin Goodman) and a classical composer (Jean Sibelius).

Varasto / The Storage

Taru Mäkelä: Varasto / The Storage (FI 2011) starring Aku Hirviniemi (Raninen), Kari-Pekka Toivonen (Rousku), Minttu Mustakallio (Karita).

    FI © 2011 Kinosto. EX: Taru Mäkelä, Jouko Seppälä. P: Markku Tuurna.
    D: Taru Mäkelä. SC: Veli-Pekka Hänninen – based on the novel (1998) by Arto Salminen; there is also an acclaimed theatrical adaptation (2005) based on the novel. DP: Jouko Seppälä – camera: RED ONE – aspect ratio: 16:9 – screening copies: DCP and 35 mm at 1:85. AD: Tiina Paavilainen. Cost: Merja Väisänen. Makeup: Anne Airaksinen. M: Raoul Björkenheim. S: Kyösti Väntänen. ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. Loc: Helsinki.
    C: Kari-Pekka Toivonen (Rousku), Minttu Mustakallio (Karita), Aku Hirviniemi (Raninen), Esko Salminen (Kataja), Juha Muje (store manager), Hannele Lauri (Aino), Vesa Vierikko (Jylhäkorpi), Jope Ruonansuu (Ykä), Tomi Lauri (Rofa), Vesa-Matti Loiri (Mynttinen).
    Bit parts: Elina Knihtilä, Pirkko Hämäläinen, Vera Kiiskinen.
    100 min.
    A Nordisk Film release.
    2K DCP without Swedish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 8 Jan 2012.

"The wind was blowing because the elm branches were swaying. Or so one might think but it was not so. The branches were swaying because there was a wind."
– Arto Salminen in his novel Varasto

From the production information: "Varasto is a lusty, urban comedy about working people. The characters are tough, uneducated realists. They will never build a career but they work hard and never fail to give an answer. The men are men: they express their affection with blunt words and channel their rebellion into senseless gags. There are also two strong and quick-witted women: Karita and her mother are no yes women. Arto Salminen's source novel is a classical coming-of-age story where an immature young man grows – involuntarily – into love."

"Synopsis. Antero Rousku is a storeman in a paint store. His job requires raw muscle power, mixing paints and carrying house repair materials around to earn his daily bread. But the basic salary is not enough for Rousku. He also sells a lot of stuff on the side from the storeroom directly to Jylhäkorpi, a frequent visitor, bypassing company bookkeeping."

"Rousku's colleague in the cellar storeroom is Raninen whose life consists of work, quarreling with his wife, and lottery. Raninen wants to win the main prize but he wants to have the right numbers in exactly the order in which they appear from the lottery machine. Raninen is not the sharpest pencil in the pencil box."

"Rousku's freedom is threatened by his relationship to the saleswoman Karita. Rousku wants to keep a distance to the woman except in bed. Karita has decided otherwise." (From the production information, translation mine.)

AA: Arto Salminen (1959–2005) was one of the most acclaimed contemporary Finnish novelists. With a brilliant command of language and a black sense of humour he discussed the life of the newly poor, the outcasts and the not so successful people in the neoliberalistic society.

Taru Mäkelä and Arto Salminen were schoolmates, Taru had directed a theatre adaptation of another Arto Salminen novel, Paskateoria, and she had seen theatre interpretations of Varasto.

Taru Mäkelä I have learned to know as the director of serious documentary films such as Lotat, Daavid, and Saalis. Because I am not familiar with her work in television and in the theatre the assured comedy touch of Varasto took me by surprise.

In the screening the audience responded to the comedy immediately. The punchlines are well timed, and the performances blend together in a seamless ensemble which is necessary for a comedy like this to succeed.

We laugh, but we laugh with these people who are not the winners in the current desolate battle for survival. Some of the jokes are grim such as the one where Rousku attempts to poison Karita's yoghurt with double hormone medicine treatment to have her pregnancy discontinued. The male store manager (Juha Muje) eats the yoghurt instead with surprising results. The big storeroom thief Jylhäkorpi seems to be an ex-Brezhnevian communist whose mobile phone tune is L'Internationale. The character of Ykä is a memorable satirical vignette of a man permanently marginalized and stigmatized by unemployment.

The movie starts and begins with a close-up of storeroom gloves. A zoom into their black dots is the space odyssey of the have-nots.

At first sight Varasto is a well-made situation and character comedy. On second thought it is a successful and topical social satire.

The visual look of the 2K DCP is clean and bright, sometimes perhaps emulating the colour world of the house paints mixed in the storeroom. The outdoors winter footage looks fine on digital.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Hiljaisuus / [Silence] (2011)

Sakari Kirjavainen: Hiljaisuus / [Silence] (2011).

[Tystnaden]. FI © 2011 Cine Works Koskinen Rossi. EX: Petri Rossi. P: Joonas Berghäll.
    D: Sakari Kirjavainen. SC: Esko Salervo. DP: Petri Rossi. AD: Jukka Uusitalo, Tiina Tuovinen. Cost: Janne Karjalainen, Kata Launonen. Makeup: Kata Launonen. M: Timo Hietala. S: Olli Huhtanen, Pietari Koskinen. ED: Jukka Nykänen.
    C: Joonas Saartamo (Eino), Lauri Tilkanen (Antti), Terhi Suorlahti (Jaana), Joanna Haartti (Siiri), Ilkka Heiskanen (Korpikangas), Sinikka Mokkila (Miina), Kari Hakala (military chaplain), Eeva Putro (Ilona), Matti Onnismaa (father), Harri Liuksiala (Nikolai), Kari Ketonen (artilleryman), Eero Järvinen (truck driver), Karri Lämpsä (medic), Thomas Dellinger (lieutenant), Tatu Siivonen (guard), Teemu Kaskinen (Helminen), Sari Lilliestierna (a lotta), Marc Gassot (sharpshooter), Mika Nuojua (chef), Leo Honkonen (lieutenant of the armoured brigade), Timo Julkunen (tanker), Riku Korhonen (staff sergeant), Janne Hyytiäinen (pastor), Vincent Saares (one taken for dead), Eduard Härkönen (enemy officer), Tatu Mönttinen (sergeant), Aaro Ruisvaara little Eino), Eija Ahvo (mother).
    110 min
    Released by Buena Vista International Finland with Swedish subtitles by Saliven Gustavson.
    2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 7 Jan 2012.

Technical specs (from Petri Rossi, 10 Jan 2012): Digital camera: RED Mysterium X - shot on 4,5K in 1:2 - projection formats: DCP and 35 mm cinevator suorakopio, aspect ratio 1:2,35 cinemascope - sound: dolby surround 5.1 - 2K post-production of the image: Generator Post - colour definition: Lustre - sound post-production: Finnvox - mixed at Meguru.

Tagline: "When the fire ceases... silence remains".

From the official presentation in the production information: "The final spring of the Finnish war against Russia in 1944. Right behind the lines there is an evacuation center for the fallen. Dead soldiers are collected there to be sent home. Eino (Joonas Saartamo) together with his friend Antti (Lauri Tilkanen) begins his service in a unit where a few women and men carry a heavy and demanding task. Eino is full of heroic ideals, but life in a small community proves more complicated than war".

"Eino's most important duty is to take care of his promise to Antti's father - to keep him out of trouble and, most importantly, alive. Antti is a happy-go-lucky merchant spirit who charms the lottas with his smile, charges Eino with the heaviest chores and focuses relentlessly on illegal trading with his business partner Siiri (Joanna Hartti) right under the eyes of the military chaplain Hiltunen (Kari Hakala). Together with Korpikangas, a former student of medicine, Eino lands into the twilight zone between dream and reality. Jaana (Terhi Suorlahti) and Miina the cupper (Sinikka Mokkila) perform their uncompromising service in the shadow of death. Like others they try to survive in their everyday life full of contradictions while they send fallen soldiers to their dearest ones to bury."

"In WWII Finland was the only country which send the corpses of the fallen soldiers home for burial. In the corpse evacuation centers men and women collaborated in 1939-1945 and brought 83.000 fallen heroes back to their home burial grounds. Silence is not an account of history but of the mood of a community which has been been formed in strange circumstances. In the land of the shadow of death hell touches the earth, love touches death, and friendship touches betrayal." (From the production information, translation mine).

In Kalle Kinnunen's blog discussion chain Hiljaisuus has been appreciated as one of the two or three best Finnish movies of 2011, and I agree that it is now also my favourite along with Le Havre. Hiljaisuus has not been getting the attention it deserves, but let's hope it will become a sleeper like Letters to Father Jacob did a few years ago. Certainly there was a rare feeling of concentration and intensity in the screening I visited.

Hiljaisuus belongs to the best Finnish accounts of war. Its approach is new, different, original, interesting, and surprising. It takes place behind the lines, but the soldiers of the corpses' evacuation center face danger like everybody else, having to enter no-man's land to retrieve corpses under enemy fire. Also the lottas perform their service under mortal danger. The interaction of young men and women under wartime circumstances rings realistic. The account is beyond clichés.

The main dynamics is between the seemingly simple and stupid Eino and the apparently cunning ladies' man Antti, but their story is full of surprises. The highlight of the movie is Antti's funeral at the church of his home village, where Antti's own father condemns his son and Eino defends him eloquently.

From Esko Salervo's strong manuscript (which might be good reading in its own right) Sakari Kirjavainen has directed a gripping movie which is driven largely by fine performances. These are people of flesh and blood that we care deeply about. Sakari Kirjavainen was Åke Lindman's co-director in his war films, but now he shows what he really can, and the result is on a totally different, much higher level than Lindman's, pardon, wooden films of his final phase as a director.

Among the impressive themes of the movie is the terrible psychological pressure felt by everybody during the last year of the war.

The later parts of the movie are a growing-up story of Eino through hell (planned suicide), purgatory (severely wounded on duty, facing death, but: "Eino, your place is not yet here"), and paradise (having his back washed in the sauna by the lotta Jaana, whom we see as his wife in the epilogue). The account is firmly realistic, yet with an understanding of the dimensions of dreams, nightmares, and myths.

The subject of the movie is deadly earnest, yet it is told with of a sense of humour, as many of the best war stories are. "Man's wisdom is limited, but his stupidity is limitless", as the military chaplain states in Biblical terms.

The physical production feels authentic. There is a transitional 2K digital visual quality in the picture; the colour world looks unintentionally gray, and the nature feels unnatural.

My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn / My Week with Marilyn. GB/US 2011. The Weinstein Company / BBC Films. EX: Kelly Carmichael, Bob Weinstein. P: David Parfitt, Harvey Weinstein. D: Simon Curtis. SC: Adrian Hodges - based on Colin Clark's books My Week with Marilyn (2000) and The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me (1995). DP: Ben Smithard. PD: Donal Woods. AD: Charmian Adams. Set dec: Judy Farr. Cost: Jill Taylor. Makeup: Jenny Shircore. M: Conrad Pope, with “Marilyn’s Theme” by Alexandre Desplat, piano solos by Lang Lang. "Tropical Heat Wave", "I Found A Dream", "Old Black Magic" sung by Michelle Williams. ED: Adam Recht. Casting: Deborah Aquila, Nina Gold, Tricia Wood. WITH: Michelle Williams (Marilyn Monroe), Kenneth Branagh (Laurence Olivier), Eddie Redmayne (Colin Clark), Dominic Cooper (Milton Greene), Philip Jackson (Roger Smith), Derek Jacobi (Owen Morshead), Toby Jones (Arthur Jacobs), Michael Kitchen (Hugh Perceval), Julia Ormond (Vivien Leigh), Simon Russell Beale (Cotes-Preedy), Dougray Scott (Arthur Miller), Zoe Wanamaker (Paula Strasberg), Emma Watson (Lucy), and Judi Dench (Sybil Thorndike). 99 min. Released in Finland by Scanbox Entertainment with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by J.E. Lähdesmäki / Saliven Gustavson. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 10, Helsinki, 7 Jan 2012.

40 days after my traffic accident my movie-sitting muscles are fit enough to visit the cinema again.

I like the Michelle Williams impersonation of Marilyn Monroe. Wisely, it is not too much of an imitation. Instead Ms. Williams uses her own considerable personal charm and lets Marilyn be the inspiration. I like the combination of courage, frankness, joy, sense of humour, sensitivity, pain, vulnerability and fausse-naïveté in Michelle Williams's performance. She cannot be the immortal sex goddess, and she has nothing to envy about that, because the deepest secret of MM's star charisma lay in the desperate conditions of her early years, as is hinted at during the film. A deep bow to Michelle Williams who is not overwhelmed by the role she is portraying. She makes it her own in a naturally attractive and appealing way.

I also like Kenneth Branagh's performance as Laurence Olivier. Olivier was at a turning-point in his career, and it soon turned out that he was capable of reinventing himself during the revolution of the Angry Young Men. But at this moment he was old hat, and it was an interesting point in this movie that through Vivien Leigh's experience with Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando he had heard so much about the Method which he hated. The Prince and the Showgirl was not a happy experience for him, but he went on record that he had a high regard for Monroe's performance afterwards, although the production itself was unhappy.

The casting of Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike is a masterstroke.

The Prince and the Showgirl was not a topical subject for a movie when it was made. Ernst Lubitsch could have made a great film of the material, but even Otto Preminger and Billy Wilder were no longer able to direct a sparkling film of such a story. The result was not very successful, but Marilyn Monroe was at her most beautiful in the movie, the only one produced by herself. It was shot in glorious Technicolor by the master Jack Cardiff (1914-2009).

The modest visual quality of the 2K DCP of My Week with Marilyn does not pay justice to the Technicolor glory of the original Marilyn Monroe footage of 1957.

P.S. 1 Feb 2012: my good friend Valerie from Los Angeles, who knows much more about Marilyn than I do, comments that Michelle Williams' baby voice is ok for Marilyn's dumb blonde act in the movies, but in real life she had a grown-up woman's voice which we don't get to hear in My Week with Marilyn. Marilyn's real voice has been documented on her interview tapes.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Pleasures of reading: international cinematheque programme booklets

Cinematheque programme booklets are among my favourite reading, and not only for professional reasons. The writing is by top talent. Sometimes there are articles and essays in extenso, sometimes the presentations have been boiled down to capsule formats, which may be even more challenging. Programmers are self-sufficient with ideas. As with every good editor, the final programme represents around one per mille of the ideas that have been circulating and accumulating before the final scheduling phase. There are many similarities and coincidences in our programmes, though. Many of us are paying attention to Georges Méliès around his 150th anniversary, and many of us highlight the 2010 restoration of Metropolis, because we are proud of such high profile achievements that also attract new spectators to see film classics, maybe for the first time in their lives.

Rehabilitating from my traffic accident I have started to frequent neighbourhood cafés such as the little cosy Café Succès on Korkeavuorenkatu 2, legendary for its oversized korvapuusti cinnamon rolls (the literal Swedish translation is örfil, in German Ohrfeige). Around Christmas the café-keepers have parked in front of their place a motorcar-sized advertising fairy-tale toy engine with the label Korvapuustitunturi (an untranslatable wordplay that refers both to the cinnamon roll and the home mountain of Father Christmas). Café Succès has been an institution since the 1950s. It was there before we moved to Cinema Orion in 1984 from our previous cinema location at Kino Joukola one block to the south of Café Succès. Between the archival screenings at Joukola a visit to the café was a must. I'm still a regular, and I usually carry copies of foreign cinematheque programme booklets to read while enjoying a cup of coffee and a gravlax sandwich. Last night some scoundrels had abducted the toy engine and hauled it to the nearby park.

La Cinémathèque française: Programme décembre 2011, janvier-février 2012. La Cinémathèque française (Paris) is the great-grandfather of visionary film historical programming, and they are still going with full speed ahead. Main themes include a giant Exposition Metropolis, a full Fritz Lang retrospective, a Récits américains triple retrospective dedicated to Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and Robert Altman, Centenaire de la Nikkatsu, a series on Images des outre-mer, and a full King Hu tribute. And much more for instance under the ongoing, delightfully eclectic Histoire permanente du cinéma title.

L'Institut Lumière: Rue du Premier-Film, Magazine de L'Institut Lumière. L'Institut Lumière (Lyon) hails from the home city of the fathers of the cinema, themselves, the Lumière brothers. The cover theme is "Play It Again Sam! Rétrospective Samuel Fuller". Other themes include: Maurice Tourneur années 1930: 5 films restaurés par Pathé; Rétrospective Michel Deville; Metropolis; Célébration Méliès; Spécial vacances de Noël: 4 westerns en couleurs: Ciné-concerts Chang and Prix de beauté, and La nuit RoboCop. The glossy and colourful Lumière magazine is a splendid showcase for vintage stills and poster art, a keepsake also for visual reasons.

La Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg offers double reading. Programme booklets of their own: 12 Décembre 2011, and 01 Janvier 2012. And Luxembourg city magazines with prominent cinémathèque sections: Tom's: City Magazine Luxembourg Dezember 2011, and Gabriele's: City Magazine Luxembourg Januar 2012. December themes include Soirée spéciale Méliès, 30 Years of Aids, Regards sur le cinéma israélien 2, the Finnish Rare Exports (with Finnish glögg afterwards!) and Sidney Lumet 3. January themes include Martin Scorsese, Road Movie Europe, Sidney Lumet 4, Ciné-debat: Le cinéma de la Révolution du Jasmin, and Ciné-concert Lubitsch (La Poupée, Roméo et Juliette dans la neige).

Filmoteca Española (Cine Doré in Madrid): octubre 2011 boasted themes such as Año Dual España-Rusia 2011: Mosfilm (1924-2009) II, Jacques Demy, Recuerdo de Luis G. Berlanga II, Sombras recobradas VIII (Shadows Recovered with restorations with special introductions of Cabiria, Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei, , Premios Goya I, and Cine para todos. 

BFI Southbank: BFI Southbank January 2012, BFI Southbank February 2012. London's legendary cinema formerly known as NFT (National Film Theatre) is a part of the BFI (British Film Institute). Along the complete set of our Helsinki programmes (since 1957) I also keep my annotated NFT / BFI Southbank sets (since 1980) and the collected La Cinémathèque française sets (since a bit later) always at hand in my personal shelves. January themes include Dickens on Screen, Woody Allen, the ongoing The Disney 50, and London Comedy Film Festival. February topics include David Lynch, Dickens on Screen 2, the Chinese New Year, and Raj Kapoor.

Arsenal, Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V.: Arsenal, Januar 2012. Berlin's avantgarde-oriented Arsenal cinema is located at the Filmhaus am Potsdamer Platz. January themes include Werkschau Sandrine Bonnaire, Kamera: Boris Kaufmann, Andrew Bujalski zu Gast, Magical History Tour: Der Kammerspielfilm, Living Archive: Archive Work as a Contemporary Artistic and Curatorial Practice, Ulrike Ottinger, and Zum Holocaust-Gedenktag.

Filmmuseum: Filmmuseum Dezember 2011 - Jänner 2012, Filmmuseum Jänner - Februar 2012. Vienna's Filmmuseum programmes and programme texts are among the most ambitious anywhere. They always offer new insights, redefinitions and discoveries in film history. Their whole programming project is a series of explorations, with special emphases on the essay format and the experimental traditions. Many retrospectives are more complete than anybody else's. December 2011-January 2012 themes include Robert Mitchum and Santiago Alvarez. January-February 2012 topics include Giuseppe De Santis, Elio Petri, Hall of Mirrors: Hollywood über Hollywood, and In the Loop by Armando Iannucci. Permanent features include Was ist Film and Die Utopie Film.

Det Danske Filminstitut: Cinemateket December 2011, Cinemateket Januar 2012. The Danish Film Institute runs the most popular cinematheque programming of the Nordic countries in the heart of the city at the Filmhuset on Gothersgade 55 in Copenhagen. December themes included Elia Kazan: elsket og hadet, Disney Greatest, Dreyers mirakler, Beat: Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, D.A.F.F. Danish Adventure Film Festival, Speak Up! Censur og ytringsfrihed, and reruns of the highlights of the year. January topics include Orson Welles: det uregerlige geni with Stefan Drössler as a guest, Femmes fatales: farlig lidenskab på fransk, They rode to the East: Westerns beyond the Iron Curtain, Dansk film 2011: mod og mangfoldighed, and Marilyn på film. Permanent features include The documentary of the month, and Bio 12:30: film at noon with coffee and a cake.