Saturday, September 29, 2012

Searching for Sugar Man

SE/GB © 2012 Canfield Pictures / Documentary Company. P: Simon Chinn. D+SC+ED: Malik Bendjelloul. DP: Camilla Skagerström - post-production: The Chimney Pot. AN: Filmtecknarna - d: Arvid Steen. VFX: Olle Petersson. M: Rodriguez (songs beyond the jump break). S: Per Nyström. Featuring:  Rodriguez (see others beyond the jump break). Loc: Detroit, Cape Town. 86 min. Source: NonStop Entertainment. Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki (Helsinki Film Festival), 29 September 2012.

An amazing documentary on a major American singer-songwriter, Rodriguez, who has remained unknown for decades except in South Africa.

Malik Bendjelloul has reconstructed the detective work needed to track down the mystery man who did not know that he was as big as Elvis in South Africa during its years of international isolation. His songs meant a lot for the anti-establishment movement in that country.

The basic drive in Malik Bendjelloul's movie is a passion for the songs of Rodriguez, his poetry and his art as a songwriter and singer. I had not known about Rodriguez before, and it was a thrill to discover his songs. As a lyricist he is among the greatest songwriters, and, based in Detroit the Motor Town, he managed to get fine Motown-style arrangements to his records.    

This is a story of a big rip-off: somebody played a deeply unfair game. The South African success of Rodriguez lasted for decades, but it was never reported to the artist who believed he was a failure. Rodriguez was also startlingly indifferent to the symbols of success.

The most engrossing aspect of the tale is that of the forgotten artist, still in full command of his talent, finally discovering that he has a big audience who loves him for the right reasons.

The visual quality of the new footage, mostly talking heads, is fine, and the rest of the movie has understandably a compilation quality. There is no high quality concert footage.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ruggiero Ricci 1918–2012

Beethoven: Violin Concerto. Ruggiero Ricci, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Adrian Boult, 1952.

Browsing the programme information of the Yle Ykkönen radio channel I noticed a memorial programme forthcoming tonight dedicated to the American master violinist Ruggiero Ricci.

I had not known he was dead and started to play his interpretation of Beethoven's violin concerto, a precious childhood memory for me. In our childhood home then at Neljäs linja in the neighbourhood of Kallio in Helsinki I lay in bed in a fever and listened to music. One of the selections was an LP record of Ruggiero Ricci playing Beethoven's violin concerto in 1952 with Sir Adrian Boult conducting The London Philharmonic Orchestra. I do not remember these details by heart but I checked from the internet that this is the only recording Ricci had made of Beethoven's violin concerto by then. There are also quite recent cd publications, with him playing all the cadenzas that can be selected at will.

That record was for transformative for me. For the first time I identified with a long-form musical composition, starting to grasp detail and structure. I liked the sense of play in the bombastic story, which is like an adventure romance full of passion and tenderness. The concerto is like a voyage on the high seas with passages of thunderstorms and calms and with a basic sense of confidence in the captain and the crew's command of any calamity.

My school was on Ratakatu in another neighbourhood, and I walked all the way down from Kallio Church along Siltasaarenkatu which continued as Unioninkatu, the end of which is close to Ratakatu. It was a long straight line, ideal for an absent-minded kid like me. Not far, at Eteläranta, was the office of the Finnish Film Archive whose library I started to frequent. I got money from home for the season ticket of bus 17 but kept the money as pocket money instead to buy paperbacks from Kirjavintti at Korkeavuorenkatu. I loved to walk but made life difficult for teachers getting late to classes. I was constantly punished by Saturday detention, serving time after school hours.

My favourite way to spend the hour was to listen in my mind to Beethoven's violin concerto as played by Ruggiero Ricci. I was not and am not a music connoisseur, and I was so ignorant that I thought Ruggiero Ricci was the name of the composition until somebody corrected me. Thanks to Ricci Beethoven's violin concerto still is my favourite piece of music.

About the same time, in 1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles was released. We had a copy of the record at home, but I also visited the Helsinki Main Library, then at Rikhardinkatu, near the school, to listen to the stereo version with headphones. (I did not know then that the mono version was definitive). Listening to Sgt. Pepper in my mind was another splendid way to spend an hour of detention.

Kuningas Litmanen / The King – Jari Litmanen

Arto Koskinen: Kuningas Litmanen / The King – Jari Litmanen (FI 2012).

Kung Litmanen.
    FI © 2012 Marianna Films. P: Mika Kaurismäki.
    D: Arto Koskinen. SC: Mika Kaurismäki, Arto Koskinen. DP: Tahvo Hirvonen - post-production: Post Control. ED: Jukka Nykänen. Featuring: Jari Litmanen (and see beyond the jump break).
    107 min. 
    Mostly in Finnish, also in English, Dutch, and Spanish.
    Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Aretta Vähälä / Karin Nynäs Aspö and separate translators for Dutch and Spanish.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 29 September 2012 (premiere).

A straight and respectful documentary on the Finnish king of football, Jari Litmanen, an attacking midfielder and a second striker.

Wikipedia: "Jari Olavi Litmanen (born 20 February 1971 in Lahti) is a former Finnish footballer who last played for HJK. He also played for the Finland national football team, where he served as a first choice captain between 1996–2008. His international career ran from 1989 to 2010, making him the only footballer to play an international in four different decades."

"He is widely considered to be Finland's greatest football player of all time. He was chosen as the best Finnish player of the last 50 years by the Football Association of Finland in the UEFA Jubilee Awards in November 2003. Litmanen also finished 42nd in the 100 Greatest Finns voting in 2004. The Association of Football Statisticians' (The AFS) compendium of 'Greatest Ever Footballers' listed Litmanen as the 53rd best footballer ever."

"Litmanen was the long-time captain for the Finnish national team, in an international career lasting two decades. During his club career he has represented Reipas, HJK, MyPa and Lahti in Finland, as well as Ajax, FC Barcelona, Liverpool, Hansa Rostock, Malmö FF and Fulham abroad. Once considered one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, he became the first Finnish footballing superstar while playing for Ajax in the mid-1990s, and won the 1995 Champions League with them."

I am an ignoramus in football, but I watched Kuningas Litmanen with great interest. It is a straightforward biographical documentary basically told by Litmanen, himself, with comprehensive interviews of important people in the football scene.

It's a story of total devotion and commitment since early childhood, about passion in training, about team spirit, about psychological forces behind physical achievements, about the eye for the game, and about the intelligence in grasping a constantly changing field.

It's also about fair play.

The most engrossing sequence of the movie is the account of the Turkey-Finland match.

The premiere is in the second biggest regular cinema in Helsinki, Kinopalatsi 1, and I learn from the staff that the evening screenings will be at least very full, much booked in advance.

The new digital footage, mostly talking heads, looks fine. The compilation quality with much television footage is understandable in a subject like this. The epic sense of audiences of 100.000 watching a football game is not visually evident but conveyed indirectly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

1 Plus 1 Plus 1 - Sympathy for the Decay (Soundtrack performed live: electronic music by Jim McKee & Pekka Lappi)

FI 2012. PC: Crystal Eye. P+D+SC+AN: Ilppo Pohjola. DP: Arto Kaivanto, Seppo Rintasalo, Antti Ruusuvuori - shot on 35 mm - the interviews have been recorded on video - released on 2K DCP. M: Elliott Sharp. S: Jim McKee. ED: Heikki Kotsalo. 60 min. A 2K DCP from Crystal Eye viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Helsinki Film Festival), 25 September 2012 (Finnish premiere).

Live cinema event with electronic music performed by Pekka Lappi and Jim McKee.

The third part of Ilppo Pohjola's experimental trilogy about cars (Asphalto, Routemaster, 1 Plus 1 Plus 1) - and about technology in our après nous le deluge age.

Like many true experimental movies 1 Plus 1 Plus 1 is also a meta-reflection on perception and experience at the most basic level. It is also a meditation on time, eternity, and the transience of everything.

The first episode takes place at a graveyard of cars in an autumnal wood. Organic processes are slowly overcoming inorganic bodies.

The second episode is a furious animation fantasy on the functioning of micro-organisms. It is also material cinema, as the decay of the wilfully polluted film itself has been documented.

The third episode is a flash-montage, split-screen account of crash test dummy tests with real cadavers (donated for medical purposes by the dying).

It was a thunderous experience with the electric music performed live by Pekka Lappi and Jim McKee. There are both harmony-based passages and rhythmic electronic music passages in the score.

The movie itself is based on rhythm, the extremes ranging from the slowness of the decay to the flicker effect on the microlevel.

1 Plus 1 Plus 1 is a meditation on mortality. Yet there is a fundamental, vigorous sense of a life force.

The organic quality of the transformation has been caught on photochemical film, but the movie itself is projected from a DCP. The digital intermediate has been performed very well, as can be witnessed immediately in the first episode amongst the autumnal nature. In the rest of the movie there is a quality more clean and polished than might be on a 35 mm or 16 mm projection, and that digital quality is being used as a means of expression.

1 Plus 1 Plus 1 - Sympathy for the Decay (Ilppo Pohjola's production notes)

ILPPO POHJOLA: 1 PLUS 1 PLUS 1 – SYMPATHY FOR THE DECAY (2012). 1H; DCP; 1:1,85: Audio 5.1


1 Plus 1 Plus 1 – Sympathy for the Decay is an abstract expressionist film in three episodes about the consequences of moral choices. Using three different documentary formats, it explores the disappearance of man-made materials into nature, pollution-related changes in micro-organisms, and tests performed on human cadavers. Each autonomous episode has its own distinct theme and form, yet together they built up into one conceptual, contextual, cinematic unity.

1 Plus 1 Plus 1 – Sympathy for the Decay explores the manipulation of reality-based content and documentary material by adapting the conventions of experimental film and minimalist repetition in music to stretch the limits of narrativity and representation.

1 Plus 1 Plus 1 – Sympathy for the Decay is an audio-visual vanitas – the mother of all Gesamtkunstwerks.

+1 – Demolition Derby Chill Out

(8 min; one manipulated image) is the first episode. It documents an encounter between nature and technology, the perishability of man-made material. We see a car scrap yard abandoned twenty-five years ago. A thousand cars lie strewn around a forested autumn landscape. The cars have rusted and disintegrated, their metal surfaces covered by moss and lichen. Some of the cars are completely covered by plants, with trees and bushes growing through their windows, motors and crushed bodies. Nature has reclaimed its space from the products of technology. The atmosphere of the place has a mysterious sense of impermanence to it.

The episode is romantic-sentimental in style. The footage consists of carefully arranged tableaux and calm, controlled camera movements. The editing is also deliberately controlled and unobtrusive. At times the episode looks like a pastoral film about metal changing into rust in a Finnish forest landscape.

++1 – Bacteroid

(12 min; one ‘polluted’ image) is the middle episode. It is an experimental animation about the effects of pollution on sex determination in micro-organisms and on the physical morphing of the body. The genotype of micro-organisms is affected by traffic pollution, by many substances used in agriculture and the chemicals industry, as well as things like primer paints in boats. The micro-organisms become hermaphroditic, their sex changing into the direct opposite. There is also another view whereby micro-organisms have no sex at all, and the whole subject arises from the human need to project ourselves onto the animal world.

The subject is treated symbolically. Without being precisely defined, the micro-organisms are represented by translucent pieces of animated adhesive tape. The pieces are manipulated to the point of unrecognisability using a Rostrum camera and solarisation with back-projection. These imaginary life-forms represent all the micro-organisms in the world that have changed their gender-identity and physical appearance as a consequence of human actions.

The footage is treated with the same kind of substances, chemicals and pollutants that the micro-organisms have to filter into their systems. Some of the film has already been kept for several years in cans filled with these substances. As a result, some of the colours in this episode have changed completely, some have eroded, some have corroded to the point of shapelessness, some of the film cans are completely rusty, some have almost been eaten through… In other words, the footage itself has been exposed to the effects of the same substances as the micro-organisms that it represents – not just the form and content of the work, but the material itself, are all one.

The rhythms of the symbolic images, the division and separation of the pseudo-organisms, are combined with electronic music in minimalistic accompaniment. The result is a trance-like mood that communicates powerfully on an emotional level the moral questions associated with the theme.

+++1 – Split Screen Stiff
(40 min; one or two b/w images superimposed into an abstract animation) is the concluding episode. It is a rhythmic triptych about the use of human cadavers in medical research. The framework of the episode is an interview with Dr Dimitrios Kallieris of Heidelberg University. Dr Kallieris covers the history of crash tests, the research methods, and the tests’ medical significance and findings. We also learn that individual people are willing to donate their body for medical research to promote the wellbeing of others.

The formal structure of the episode is based on the act of chopping up speech to establish a certain rhythm. The interview with Dr Kallieris is divided and presented in the right and left triptych frames. The middle frame presents mainly classic footage – archive tapes, diagrams, photographs, etc. Rapid cuts between the facial shots in the outer frames, repetition of key terms and words and the rhythm established thereby, together these elements create an almost musical sequence with repetition in which the interviewee seems to be having a conversation with himself.

The interview footage is black-and-white, accentuating its pixelised quality and difference from the other episodes. Some of the other footage is also monochromatic, especially the symbolic images in the middle frame, and also the transitions in the outer frames. The musicality of the episode is also underlined by the use of hand-painted, superimposed colour footage.

The soundscape of the episode consists of manipulated sounds that are mixed to resemble musique concrète. The sounds are taken from recordings made in the shooting situation, but also include individual words, speech sounds, sighs, breathing, etc. taken from the interview. These are all presented under the rhythmic speech that conveys the information. On the soundtrack, this sound material is mixed with contemporary classical music.

The key aim of the third, final episode is to orchestrate the black-and-white documentary material and the animated abstract hand-coloured footage into a musical work that functions as a film.

The film takes its name from Godard’s One Plus One – Sympathy for the Devil, a film that brought together the unrelated traditions of political fiction and the music documentary. Morals and music also play a central role in 1 plus 1 plus 1 – Sympathy for the Decay.

Crystal Eye – Kristallisilmä, 13.6.2012


US/GB © 2011 Gary Hustwit / Swiss Dots. P+D: Gary Hustwit. DP: Luke Geissbuhler. M: Kristian Dunn. S: Brian Bracken. ED: Michael Culyba, Shelby Siegel. Featuring: see my rough notes beyond the jump break. 85 min. Blu-ray from Films Transit with some English subtitles for non-English interviewees viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki (Helsinki Film Festival), 25 September 2012.

IMDb synopsis: "A documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers."

A terrific documentary on new urbanism. Half of the world's population now lives in cities, and soon many more. I have been aware of Gary Hustwit's design trilogy (Helvetica, Objectified, Urbanized), and having seen this movie I definitely want to see the first two.

Many of the world's top urban architects and planners (see my rough notes beyond the jump break) were interviewed for this documentary. Its value as a documentary record on them is tremendous, and with its sober approach Urbanized can also be warmly recommended for education purposes.

I like the global perspective and the positive and activist approach in this movie.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Film books in my summer bag

My favourite film books last summer included:

David Bordwell: Pandora's Digital Box. Films, Files, and the Future of the Movies. E-book. Madison, Wisconsin: The Irvington Way Institute Press, 2012. Based on Bordwell's superb series of essays on his website, this is the most comprehensive and intelligent survey on the digital transition I have read. I had read the original essays online, but interestingly, they made an even more profound impression after I had printed the book from the pdf and gotten to read the hard copy. A page-turner, my book of the year. It can be ordered online.

Hervé Dumont: Robert Siodmak - le maître du film noir. Lausanne: Editions L'Age d'Homme, 1981. Reading this definitive book on Robert Siodmak helped make sense of the master of film noir after our Siodmak retrospective at Cinema Orion last spring. I like the account of the genesis of Phantom Lady through "la bonne fée de Siodmak", Joan Harrison, and the cinematographer Elwood Bredell's rediscovery of the Utrecht school, "les personnages de Rembrandt surgissent de l'ombre, éclairés par une unique et mystérieuse source de lumière".

Harriet Andersson - samtal med Jan Lumholdt. Stockholm: Alfabeta Bokförlag AB, 2005. Everybody was impressed by the presence of Harriet Andersson in Sodankylä, at the Midnight Sun Film Festival last summer. The only drawback was her speaking in English in the morning discussion. Here is a unique chance to get the flavour of her original words in her mother tongue, in Swedish, telling her life story with a great sense of humour. Her talent and charm are based on real foundations which is why her attraction is timeless and ageless.

Marilyn Moss: Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011. "He never bored you with the truth" said Miriam Cooper, his first wife, which means that Marilyn Moss had an arduous mission in her groundbreaking biography of the master director with a very long and exciting career. I have read Walsh's autobiography Each Man In His Time, but this book provides new fascinating angles on every page. The publisher asked the writer to cut her manuscript in half which is why the movies themselves are discussed only briefly. We are looking forward to Part Two of this important work.

Kent Jones (ed.): Olivier Assayas. Vienna: Österreichisches Filmmuseum / SYNEMA - Gesellschaft für Film und Medien, 2012. In English. Olivier Assayas is one of the best film directors today, at the top of his game with Summer Hours and Carlos. In this comprehensive book top writers, starting with the editor, Kent Jones, himself, cover his every movie from Désordre till Après-Mai with a lot of insight. Very rewarding to read for our recent Assayas retrospective both before and after having seen the movies and the most indispensable source for our Assayas programme notes.

Data that lives forever is possible, Japan's Hitachi reveals

AFP news agency (Agence France-Presse): 24 September 2012 at 12:46

"TOKYO - As Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones prove, good music lasts a long time; now Japanese hi-tech giant Hitachi says it can last even longer -- a few hundred million years at least.

The company on Monday unveiled a method of storing digital information on slivers of quartz glass that can endure extreme temperatures and hostile conditions without degrading, almost forever.

And for anyone who updated their LP collection onto CD, only to find they then needed to get it all on MP3, a technology that never needs to change might sound appealing.

"The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven't necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones," Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said.

"The possibility of losing information may actually have increased," he said, noting the life of digital media currently available -- CDs and hard drives -- is limited to a few decades or a century at most.

And the rapid development of technologies has resulted in frequent changes of data-reading hardware.

"As you must have experienced, there is the problem that you cannot retrieve information and data you managed to collect," said Torii, apparently referring to now-obsolete record players and cine films.

Hitachi's new technology stores data in binary form by creating dots inside a thin sheet of quartz glass, which can be read with an ordinary optical microscope.

Provided a computer with the know-how to understand that binary is available -- simple enough to programme, no matter how advanced computers become -- the data will always be readable, Torii said.

The prototype storage device is two centimetres (0.8 inches) square and just two millimetres (0.08 inches) thick and made from quartz glass, a highly stable and resilient material, used to make beakers and other instruments for laboratory use.

The chip, which is resistant to many chemicals and unaffected by radio waves, can be exposed directly to high temperature flames and heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 Fahrenheit) for at least two hours without being damaged.

It is also waterproof, meaning it could survive natural calamities, such as fires and tsunami.

"We believe data will survive unless this hard glass is broken," said senior researcher Takao Watanabe.

The material currently has four layers of dots, which can hold 40 megabytes per square inch, approximately the density on a music CD, researchers said, adding they believe adding more layers should not be a problem.

Hitachi have not decided when to put the chip to practical use but researchers said they could start with storage services for government agencies, museums and religious organisations.

PHOTO: Hitachi's newly unveiled quartz glass plate technology
AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO" (AFP)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)

Margaret, starring Anna Paquin. Screen shot from The Culture Mom.

US 2011 © 2008 Fox Searchlight Pictures / / Dune / [copyright info incomplete]. EX: Anthony Minghella. P: Gary Gilbert, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin. D: Kenneth Lonergan. DP: Ryszard Lenczewski - Camera: Arricam LT - Laboratory: DeLuxe - Film negative format: 35 mm - Printed film formats: 35 mm, D-Cinema - 1.85:1. PD: Dan Leigh. AD: James Donahue. Set dec: Ron von Blomberg. Cost: Melissa Toth. Makeup: Felice Diamond. Hair: Thom Gonzales. VFX: Randall Balsmeyer. M: Nico Muhly. Theme tune: "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" by Francisco Tárrega. Opera scenes at the Metropolitan Opera: "Casta diva" from Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, sung by Christina Goerke. "Barcarole: Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" from Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach sung by Renée Fleming and Susan Graham. S: Jacob Ribicoff. ED: Anne McCabe. Casting: Douglas Aibel.
    C: Anna Paquin (Lisa Cohen, teenager of 17), Matt Damon (Aaron Caije, math teacher), Mark Ruffalo (Gerald Maretti, MTA bus driver), Kieran Culkin (Paul Hirsch, a schoolmate who takes care of Lisa's virginity), Olivia Thirlby (Monica Sloane), Rosemarie DeWitt (Margaret Marretti), J. Smith-Cameron (Joan Cohen, Lisa's mother), Matthew Broderick (John Andrew Van Tassel, English teacher), Allison Janney (Monica Patterson, casualty in the bus accident), Jean Reno (Ramon Cameron, Joan's boyfriend), Jeannie Berlin (Emily), John Gallagher, Jr. (Darren Rodifer), Matt Bush (Kurt Masur), Betsy Aidem (Abigail, Monica Patterson's cousin). - Christina Goerke: opera singer "Casta diva". - Renée Fleming and Susan Graham: opera singers "Barcarole".
    Loc: New York City. Original cut: 186 min (released on dvd). Theatrical cut: 150 min.
    2K DCP of the 150 min version from FS Film / Hollywood Classics viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki (Helsinki Film Festival), 23 September 2012.

The title of the movie comes from a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, see beyond the jump break. There is no character called Margaret in the movie.

IMDb synopsis: "A young woman witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people's lives."

A mature film about immaturity, ein Bildungsroman, une éducation sentimentale, a coming-of-age tragedy of the 17-year old Lisa Cohen.

There is a rich, novelistic approach in the movie with psychological realism and well rounded personalities. There is the school world with Lisa cheating on a math test, struggling to make sense of King Lear and Gerald Manley Hopkins during the English lessons, and debating with zero patience about America's status in the world with a brilliant Syrian-born classmate.

There is the family situation: father has left for sunny California where he lives with his new girlfriend and sustains a telephone relationship with Lisa. (In Finnish we have a word for this: kännykkäisä = mobile phone father.) For her actress mother Lisa is a nightmare daughter, using her psychological insight to make her mother feel as miserable as possible.

Mother is dating an admirer, Ramon (Jean Reno), but when he (not a native English speaker) uses the term "Jewish response" it's the end of the relationship, and Ramon soon dies from a heart attack.

For a visit to her father Lisa wants to buy a cowboy hat, and when she sees a bus driver wearing one, she distracts him so that he fails to stop at the red light and causes a lethal traffic accident. The case is already closed (it's an accident) when Lisa gives a new statement which leads to a huge settlement to the victim's distant cousin. The arbitrariness of justice is the theme of the lawyer-driven branch of the story.

Lisa books a schoolmate to take care of her virginity, but they are not using the condom when they should. Lisa also seduces her math teacher (Matt Damon) - in a classic "Dont' Stand So Close To Me" situation - and admits it's her initiative. Yet she mentions later, in a semi-threatening way while another teacher is listening, that she has had an abortion. In her micro pants Lisa is a big tease still learning to understand the power of her sexuality. 

Margaret is also a movie about the power of art. Lisa's mother is an actress highly regarded by connoisseurs but not really understood by those next to her, including her daughter. Lisa's English teacher has varying success in trying to get his students to love the classics. First the mother, then the daughter visit the opera for the first time, initially sceptically and reluctantly, but in the conclusion they can't hold back tears listening to Renée Fleming and Susan Graham singing Offenbach's Barcarole. Art gives an outlet for their profound feelings of loss.

Lisa is hardly ever acting admirably, but the basic drive of the movie is about learning through experience, even through catastrophic mistakes. There is a sense of a possibility of a new start on a firmer ground in the conclusion.

The performances are first rate, and the theme tune from Francisco Tarrega brings an interesting dimension to the urban story.

Shot on photochemical 35 mm film, the digital intermediate of Margaret has been performed so well that I could not tell the difference although I sat on the fifth row of the big Bio Rex. I was so surprised at the result that after the screening I climbed the special outdoor stairs to the projection booth (Bio Rex was built for nitrate in 1935) to make sure it really was a DCP.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Holy Motors

FR/DE © 2012 Pierre Grise Productions / arte France Cinéma / Théo Films / Pandora Filmproduktion / WDR/Arte. P: Martine Marignac, Albert Prévost, Maurice Tinchant. D+SC: Leos Carax. DP: Yves Cape, Caroline Champetier - shot digitally - post-production: Éclair Group - released on 2K DCP. PD: Florian Sanson. AD: Emmanuelle Cuillery. Cost: Anaïs Romand. Hair & makeup designer: Bernard Floch. VFX: Yoann Berger, Alexandre Bon. Cyber-creatures: check end credits. Datamoshing: check end credits. Étienne-Jules Marey footage: credited to La Cinémathèque française. S: Emmanuel Croset, Erwan Kerzanet. ED: Nelly Quettier. Casting: Elsa Pharaon. C: Denis Lavant (M. Oscar / Le banquier / La mendiante / L'OS de Motion-Capture / M. Merde / Le père / L'accordéoniste / Le tueur / Le tué / Le mourant / L'homme au foyer), Édith Scob (Céline the chauffeur), Eva Mendes (Kay M), Kylie Minogue (Eva Grace [Jean]), Elise Lhomeau (Léa [Elise]), Jeanne Disson (Angèle), Michel Piccoli (L'homme à la tache de vin), Leos Carax (Le dormeur / Voix Limousine [as LC] ), Nastya Golubeva Carax (La petite fille), Reda Oumouzoune (L'acrobate Mo-Cap), Zlata (La cyber-femme), Geoffrey Carey (Le photographe / Voix Limousine), Annabelle Dexter-Jones (L'assistante photographe). Loc: Paris, France. Language: French, English, Chinese. 115 min. 2K DCP from Wild Bunch with English subtitles viewed at Kinopalatsi 7, Helsinki (Helsinki Film Festival), 22 September 2012.

Holy Motors is the name of the stretched limousine company in the movie. In the end, when the chauffeur (Édith Scob) has donned her Les Yeux sans visage mask, and all human being are gone, the limousines start a conversation in the deserted hall ("Rolling Stones: gather no moss").

A wonderful movie in the spirit of Jean Cocteau. M. Oscar the transforming man wakes up in an airport hotel room, walks against the invisible wind through a wallpaper forest into a crowded cinema. Everything is ready for a journey into one day and one night in Paris. Cocteau references also include La Belle et la Bête and an angel of death who resembles Maria Casarès in Orphée.

The ever-changing M. Oscar resembles the early supervillains and superheroes of French cinema such as Zigomar, Protéa, Judex, and Fantômas. I was also thinking about the thousand faces of Dr. Mabuse.

M. Oscar becomes a blind beggarwoman, a cyber creature in a motion capture hall, a hideous phantom of the sewers, a "normal father" who insults his daughter ("your punishment is to be you"), a ferocious thuggish assassin who executes his double,  a dying old man who meets his angel of death, and the husband of a chimpanzee family ("our life is about to change"). There is even an entr'acte where M. Oscar is the leader of an accordion band.

Memorable ideas: the message on the gravestone engravings: "visitez mon site" - the sewer creature eats funeral wreaths, banknotes and Eva Mendes' hair - "cameras used to be bigger than us, now they are smaller than our heads".

Two of the best movies of the year take place in stretched limousines, Cosmopolis and Holy Motors. In Holy Motors, the limo is the business office of M. Oscar but even more it is his dressing room. There is an electric fireplace in  M. Oscar's limo. There is a huge HD screen where M. Oscar can watch a digital version of the view through the windshield. There are aspects of video art in the distortions of the view.

The star guests shine through the absence of their spirit. Eva Mendes is gloriously vacant in the Beauty and the Beast episode. Kylie Minogue plays the suicidal Eva Grace in the deserted Samaritaine department store building after Oscar and Eva's limos have crashed in front of it ("we have 30 minutes to catch up 20 years").

It is a sympathetic tradition in the French cinema that film directors write lyrics for the songs in their own movies (Julien Duvivier, Jean Renoir, Jacques Demy, Henri Colpi). Here Leos Carax has written the lyrics for the song "Who Were We?" sung by Kylie Minogue.

Leos Carax rose to fame in the "cinéma du look" school of the 1980s often derided for superficiality. It coincided with the usually disastrous influence of the video clip phenonmenon.

Holy Motors is consciously a film about surfaces and masks. It is impossible to distill the themes of the movie in a discursive, rational way, but it is not a movie of empty effects, either. It is a modern dream journey in touch with deep undercurrents.

Holy Motors is a labour of love, a movie made with a sense of urgency, a movie about the cyber age which is also in touch with the origins of the art and the science of the moving images (the opening and closing Marey footage). It is an intriguing meta-film with a rich series of memorable images.

The digital look of the movie is appropriate to the subject.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson: Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

Moonrise Kingdom / Moonrise Kingdom.
    US © 2012 Moonrise LLC. P: Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales, Scott Rudin.
    D: Wes Anderson. DP: Robert D. Yeoman – Camera: Aaton A-Minima, Zeiss Super Speed and Canon Lenses, Aaton Xterà, Zeiss Super Speed and Canon Lenses – Laboratory: Technicolor, New York (NY), USA – Film negative format: 16 mm (Kodak Vision3 200T 7213) – Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 16 (source format) – Printed film format: 35 mm (blow-up), D-Cinema – 1.85:1. DI: Technicolor, New York. PD: Adam Stockhausen. AD: Gerald Sullivan. Set dec: Kris Moran. Cost: Kasia Walicka-Maimone. Makeup: Björn Rehbein. Hair: Frank Barbosa. VFX team: big – Look FX, Fantasy II Film Effects. M: Alexandre Desplat. S: Craig Henighan. ED: Andrew Weisblum. Casting: Douglas Abel.
    C: Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop, Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services – Introducing Jared Gilman as Sam, Kara Hayward as Suzy – With Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben – and Bob Balaban as the Narrator.
    94 min.
    Released by Atlantic Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski.
    2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 9, Helsinki, 21 September 2012.

The title of the movie refers to the harbour of forbidden love of Sam and Suzy where they establish their private model scout camp.

Of Wes Anderson's films I'm an admirer of his early, more sober movies (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore) but had such a hard time relating to his relentlessly tongue-in-cheek approach to The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou that I skipped The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

But because Moonrise Kingdom is such an enchanting and engaging movie I realize I need to see them, as well.

The official synopsis: "Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore – and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in every which way. Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff, Captain Sharp. Edward Norton is a Khaki Scout troop leader, Scout Master Ward. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand portray the young girl’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban; and introduces Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy, the boy and girl." (from the Production Notes).

Wes Anderson has honed a unique style which is like no other, and he is now one of the most personal image-makers in contemporary cinema. His style resembles naivism, and his images sometimes border on kitsch, but they are actually very refined, and he discovers new worlds for imagination. There are connections to the tableau tradition of early cinema. The narrative and the imagery are also influenced by cartoons and animations. Wes Anderson's colour world has a tendency to the low saturation of the pastel and to brown hues in broken colours. His images are rich in inventions, and there is always a lot to see and to discover.

While his characters are simplified on the surface and the presentation is reduced, there is nothing condescending there, and the world of emotions is complex and partly mysterious, as in real life. The performances have nothing to do with psychological realism, though.

The soundtrack selection (see beyond the jump break) is very original and charming, including long excerpts from Benjamin Britten's "young person's guides" to music.

Having seen yesterday Beasts of the Southern Wild I was surprised to see again a deluge movie with direct references to the saga of Noah, here also as "Noye's Fludde". A deluge is the climax of Moonrise Kingdom.

Interestingly, both Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom have been shot on photochemical 16 mm film, probably because of the warm quality of the colour. Also in Moonrise Kingdom this quality has been reproduced in the digital intermediate very well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin: Beasts of the Southern Wild (US 2012) based on the play by Lucy Alibar, starring Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy.

US © 2012 Cinereach. P: Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn.
    D: Benh Zeitlin. SC: Lucy Alibar, Benh Alibar – from the one act stage play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar.
    DP: Ben Richardson – Camera: Arriflex 16 SR3, Zeiss Super Speed Lenses, Arriflex 416, Zeiss Super Speed Lenses – Laboratory: Alpha Cine Labs, Seattle (WA), USA – Film negative format: 16 mm (Kodak Vision2 200T 7217, Vision3 500T 7219) – Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 16 (source format) – Release format: 35 mm (spherical) (blow-up), D-Cinema – 1.85:1.
    PD: Alex DiGerlando. AD: Dawn Masi. Set dec: Annie Evelyn, Erin Staub. Cost: Stephani Lewis. Makeup: Carlos Savant. Hair: Brittany Mroczek. VFX team: big. There is a special unit called the Aurochs Unit. M: Dan Romer, Benh Zeitlin. Performed by: Lost Bayou Ramblers. S: Bob Edwards. ED: Crockett Doob, Affonso Gonçalves. There is a special boat unit.
    C: Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy), Dwight Henry (Wink), Levy Easterly (Jean Battiste), Lowell Landes (Walrus), Pamela Harper (Little Jo), Gina Montana (Miss Bathsheba), Amber Henry (LZA), Johnshel Alexander (Joy Strong), Nicholas Clark (boy with bell), Joseph Brown (Winston). Special appearance: Windle Bourg.
    Loc: Louisiana: Lafourche Parish, Terrebonne Parish.
    93 min.
    Distributed by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen / Carina Laurila-Olin.
    2K DCP viewed at the Helsinki Film Festival Opening Gala, Bio Rex, 20 September 2012.

Wikipedia: "Hushpuppy, a fearless six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in "the Bathtub", a fictitious southern bayou community on an island surrounded by rising waters. Wink teaches her to survive on her own, preparing her for a time when he's no longer there to protect her. Hushpuppy's strength is tested when Wink contracts a mysterious illness and a massive storm floods the community with help from a nearby levee. In Hushpuppy's vivid imagination these events are linked with the ice caps melting, unleashing ancient, long-frozen aurochs (depicted as boar-like rather than the ancestors of cattle). Despite attempts to rescue the community by government rescue workers, Hushpuppy, Wink and other Bathtub residents return to the Bathtub. With the aurochs coming and Wink's health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother." She brings back alligator meat cooked by a familiar looking woman at the sea brothel called Elysian Fields. After her father's death she shoves the corpse off on a boat and sets it on fire as promised.

"The fictional island of the film, "Isle de Charles Doucet" known to its residents as the Bathtub, was inspired by several isolated and independent fishing communities threatened by erosion, hurricanes and rising sea levels in Lousiana's Terrebonne Parish, most notably the rapidly eroding Isle de Jean Charles. It was filmed in Terrebonne Parish town Montegut."

"The film was shot on sixteen millimetre film, and director Benh Zeitlin created the production with a small professional crew, and with dozens of local residents in and around Montegut, Louisiana. The film-makers call themselves "Court 13" and are the first credited at the end of the film." (Wikipedia)

In the presence of the producer Dan Janvey who told us that of the cast, none had acted before. - "The Bathtub" was completely made up. - The crowd scenes were made possible by beer and fireworks. - The pig was called Hannah Montana. - Although the community seen in the movie is fictional it is based on actual resilient communities in Louisiana. - The music is all played by an actual orchestra created for the movie, and the main theme is like "a national anthem of The Bathtub" in Hushpuppy's mind. - Benh Zeitlin is from Queens, New York, a complete outsider, but he found his home in Louisiana, and was well received in Louisiana. - Obama dug it. (Dan Janvey's remarks after the screening.)

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a masterpiece. It is a work of poetry with images based on raw reality, reverberating with meanings topical and timeless. There is an assured touch in the structure and the visual storytelling.

Benh Zeitlin has direct access to ancient traditions of mythic lore reaching back to the stone age imagery of the aurochs. The antediluvian age has again passed us by. The new deluge has started in Louisiana. The melting ice fields of the poles are recurrent images in the movie. The father is dying, and he teaches his little daughter survival skills, including catching catfish with her bare hands.

The performances of the actors, especially the little Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, are moving and convincing. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie about the end of the world, but there is such a vibrant sense of passion that it is ultimately about the life instinct that will survive the mess we have made of our planet.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a brilliantly original work. Associations range from Wild Oranges (King Vidor), The Young One (Luis Buñuel), and Wild River (Elia Kazan) to Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky) but Benh Zeitlin is not copying anybody. He is creating something new from first hand observations of his own, of Lucy Alibar, and his cast and crew.

At home after the screening I was singing "Polk Salad Annie" by Tony Joe White: "down in Louisiana / where the alligators grow so mean / there lived a girl that I swear to the world / made the alligators look tame".

The warm "juicy and delicious" quality of the colour of the Super 16 mm cinematography has been successfully recreated in the 2K digital intermediate.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rakkauden kaikkivalta – Amor omnia / [All-Conquering Love – Amor omnia]

Rakkauden kaikkivalta. Carl Örn (Eugen Kopkin) falls in love with the beautiful maid Mary (Greti Grey) at his father's manor. On the left Count Carolus Örn (Konrad Tallroth) and to the right Countess Hedvig Örn (Ida Brander).

Kärlekens allmakt – Amor omnia.
    FI 1922. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. P: Erkki Karu. D: Konrad Tallroth. SC: Konrad Tallroth. DP: Kurt Jäger. ED: Konrad Tallroth, Kurt Jäger. AD: Carl Fager. Assistants of the cinematographer: Armas Fredman, Armas Valen. Production manager: Carl Fager. Still photographers: Kalle Havas, Kosti Lehtinen.
    C: Ida Brander (countess Hedvig Örn), Konrad Tallroth  (count Carolus Örn), John Precht (lieutenant Henrik Loeven), Sara Järnefelt (Margaretha von Wildheim), Alex Biaudet (Carl-Johan Örn, Carl's son), Greti Grey (Mary, count Örn's maid), Valentine Panjutin (Harriet Örn, Carl's wife), Beate-Sofi Granqvist (Adèle von Wildheim), Eugen Kopkin (Carl Örn), Eero Leväluoma (Kristian, the count's valet), Edith Lamroth (the aunt "fix it all").
    Helsinki premiere: 12.11.1922 Kino-Palatsi, distributed by Suomen Biografi Osakeyhtiö. 18 fps / 86 min. Titles and intertitles in Finnish / Swedish.
    A screener dvd viewed at home, Helsinki, 17 September 2012.

I had seen Amor omnia only once before, on a vhs video tape, and I now watched it in preparation of the Amor omnia live cinema concert on 5 October, 2012, of the Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Helsinki Music Center. Disappointingly I cannot be present at the premiere of the new score by the prominent composer Lotta Wennäkoski as I'm then on my way to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, but the film with the new score will be transmitted during the autumn on the YLE Teema television channel, the fourth in their inspired Mykkää valoa [Silent Light] project of setting five Finnish silent feature films to new music by modern composers.

Amor omnia is an example of a genre rare in the Finnish cinema, the salon drama. which, however, was a genre popular in the Danish and the Swedish cinema in the 1910s. During WWI Konrad Tallroth had directed eight feature films for Svenska Bio, usually playing in them, as well, and he brought something of the professional expertise of the Nordic film industry into the Finnish cinema.

While the film is professionally made there is no personal flair in the director's touch. The most prominent artist in the production is the cinematographer Kurt Jäger, who has a fine sense of composition and lighting values. Many of the toning and tinting effects are successful.

Amor omnia is the story of forbidden love. The culprit is Carl, the spineless son of the Örn family and the father of Carl-Johan. Carl beds his parents' maid Mary who is then promptly sent away to give birth to the unwanted baby Margaretha. Carl-Johan and Margaretha become childhood playmates at the Hanko Spa without knowing they are relatives, and their young romance leads to the altar but there is another instance of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding as the priest learns the truth at the last moment.

Carl-Johan is mortally wounded in the war, and Margaretha dies from a heart attack at his deathbed. Their mutual friend Henrik sees a strange dream where Carl-Johan and Margaretha, dressed for the wedding, emerge from a corn field and walk away into the darkness of the forest. Waking up from his dream in the morning Henrik finds the forbidden lovers dead in their final embrace.

Alex Biaudet as Carl-Johan is not an exciting actor and Sara Järnefelt (the daughter of the painter Eero Järnefelt, often portrayed by his father as a child) is not given much to do. The strongest presence is in the performances of the two veterans of Svenska Teatern, Ida Brander and Konrad Tallroth, himself.

There are aspects of the Goethean elective affinities (Wahlverwandtschaften) and the Wagnerian Liebestod in the final scenes of Amor omnia, which, unfortunately, is most of the time a rather pedestrian affair. Worth seeing because of the beautiful cinematography of Kurt Jäger, well preserved first by the Suomi-Filmi company and afterwards by Suomen elokuva-arkisto / Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen arkisto. The original camera negatives survive.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Under Capricorn

Kauriin merkeissä / Under Capricorn [Swedish title].
    GB © 1949 Transatlantic Pictures. PC: Transatlantic Pictures Corp. A Warner Bros.-First National Picture. P: Sidney Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock. D: Alfred Hitchcock. SC: James Bridie – adaptation: Hume Cronyn - story: John Colton, Margaret Linden - based on the novel by Helen Simpson (1938). DP: Jack Cardiff. Operators of camera movement: Paul Beeson, Ian Craig, David MacNeilly, Jack Haste. PD: Thomas N. Morahan. Set dresser: Philip Stockford. Cost: Roger Forse. Makeup: Charles Parker. M: Richard Addinsell. M dir: Louis Levy. S: Peter Handford. ED: A. S. Bates.
    C: Ingrid Bergman (Lady Henrietta [Hattie] Flusky), Joseph Cotten (Sam Flusky), Michael Wilding (Hon. Charles Adare), Margaret Leighton (Milly), Cecil Parkes (the governor), Jack Watling (Winter), Denis O'Dea (Mr. Corrigan), Harcourt Williams (the coachman), John Ruddock (Mr. Cedric Potter), Bill Shine (Mr. Banks), Victor Lucas (Rev. Smiley), Ronald Adam (Mr. Riggs), Francis de Wolff (Major Wilkins), G. H. Mulcaster (Dr. Mcallister), Kitchen staff at Flusky's manor: Olive Sloane (Sal), Maureen Delaney (Flo), Julia Lang (Susan), Betty McDermott (Martha), Alfred Hitchcock (man standing in front of Government House).
    Studio: Elstree (GB) 21.7.-18.10.1948, Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank 12.10.-mid Nov 1948.
    Helsinki premiere: 10.3.1950 Metropol, released by Warner Bros. - re-release 14.11.1975 Astra, by Kamras Film Agency Oy - vhs release: Nordic Video – VET 31275 – K12 – 3214 m / 117 min.
    A BFINA print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alfred Hitchcock), 15 September 2012.

Under Capricorn is one of the Alfred Hitchcock movies most highly regarded by the 1950s Cahiers du Cinéma generation who were the original discoverers of Alfred Hitchcock as a great artist.

I have always had problems with Under Capricorn. I can see what the intentions are, but I fail to discover the irresistible drive that is present in all Hitchcock's best films and also in many others which are only partially successful such as The Paradine Case.

I like the conclusion of Under Capricorn very much. The late anagnorisis, which leads immediately to the peripeteia, is the sequence where Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), who has been acting like a drugged sleepwalker during most of the picture, "wakes up" and realizes how she has been drugged and deceived by Milly. This crucial sequence is excellent and purely visual.

Under Capricorn is a triple tragedy set in 1831 in Australia. The Irish noblewoman Henrietta has sacrificed her life of luxury by escaping with the groom of the house, Sam (Joseph Cotten). Her brother tried to kill Sam, but Henrietta, defending Sam, managed to kill her brother instead.

Sam's sacrifice was that he took the blame and was sentenced to seven years of hard labour in Australia and expulsion for life. After the seven years Sam has become a rich landowner, but the years of suffering have broken Sam and Henrietta spiritually.

Enters Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) who interprets the situation in his way and plays Prince Charming to Henrietta. There is a violent scene, which might cause Sam another prison sentence, now for life. When Charles realizes the truth of the circumstances, he carries his responsibility, makes his sacrifice, and leaves Australia. There is a possibility of a new life for all.

It's an interesting performance by Ingrid Bergman, in continuation to her roles in Gaslight and Notorious. Because of the fundamentally healthy radiation of her personality such accounts of spirits broken feel especially devastating.

Joseph Cotten gives another sterling performance in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Joseph Cotten often portrayed nice guys, but here his resentful character is very convincing.

Among the striking motifs of the movie there is the absence of mirrors. "I have no mirror": Henrietta should not be able to see how ravaged she has become. Charles hangs his black coat on the other side of a glass panel, thus creating a makeshift mirror for Henrietta. And she buys Henrietta a real mirror, presented in a memorable scene.

Henrietta is supposedly the lady of the house, but the keys are in the possession of the housekeeper Milly.

Creepy housekeepers appeared in Rebecca, The Paradine Case, and Under Capricorn. Poisoning was a motif in Suspicion, Notorious, The Paradine Case, and Under Capricorn. Hirsute grooms loomed around noble ladies in The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn.

Degradation is a recurrent theme in Hitchcock's Ingrid Bergman movies: alcoholism and prostitution. Henrietta yearns to go down, down, down, so deep that nothing can hurt her anymore.

The shrunken skull, the death's head, is a motif that Hitchcock used more powerfully in Psycho. Here it is a memento mori and a sadistic reflection of Henrietta's "living dead" state before she starts to see clearly again.

The print is clean and the colour is fine.

To Rome with Love

To Rome with Love / Förälskad i Rom.
    US/IT/ES © 2012 Gravier Productions. PC also: Medusa Film, Perdido Productions. EX: Jack Rollins. P: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson, Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum.
    D+SC: Woody Allen. DP: Darius Khondji - Camera Arricam LT, Cooke 5/i and Speed Panchro Lenses, Arricam ST, Cooke 5/i and Speed Panchro Lenses – Laboratory: DeLuxe Italia, Roma, Italy - DeLuxe, New York (NY) USA – Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 500T 5219) – Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format) – Printed film format: 35 mm (spherical) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema – Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. PD: Anne Seibel. AD: Luca Tranchino. Set dec: Raffaella Giovannetti. Cost: Sonia Grande. Makeup: Alessandro Bertolazzi. Hair: Massimo Gattabrusi. SFX: Leonardo Cruciano Workshop - Daniel Acon, Stefano Corridori. VFX: Fabio Bianchi. S: Maurizio Argentieri. Casting: Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto, Beatrice Kruger, Juliet Taylor.
    C: Alison Pill (Hayley, Michelangelo's girlfriend), Flavio Parenti (Michelangelo, Hayley's boyfriend), Woody Allen (Jerry, Phyllis' husband and Hayley's father), Judy Davis (Phyllis, Jerry's wife and Hayley's mother), Fabio Armiliato (Giancarlo, Michelangelo's father who sings opera arias in the shower), Alessandro Tiberi (Antonio from Pordenone, Milly's husband), Alessandra Mastronardi (Milly from Pordenone, Antonio's wife), Ornella Muti (Pia Fusari, an actress), Antonio Albanese (Luca Salta), Penélope Cruz (Anna, a prostitute), Riccardo Scamarcio (hotel thief), Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo, a clerk and temporary celebrity), Cecilia Capriotti (Serafina, a secretary), Marta Zoffoli (Marisa Raguso, an interviewer for Leopoldo), Alec Baldwin (John, Jack's acquaintance and adviser, the narrator), Jesse Eisenberg (Jack, Sally's boyfriend), Greta Gerwig (Sally, Monica's best friend and Jack's girlfriend), Ellen Page (Monica, Sally's best friend), Lino Guanciale (Leonardo), Giuliano Gemma.
    In Italian and English.
    112 min.
    Released by Scanbox Entertainment Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 7, Helsinki, 15 September 2012.

The four stories do not intertwine. – John (Alec Baldwin) the famous architect meets the young architect student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who is about to have a triangle affair with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and the Hollywood actress Monica (Ellen Page). – Hayley (Alison Pill) is getting married with Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) whose father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) loves to sing opera arias in the shower. Hayley's father (Woody Allen) is an impresario of outlandish opera productions, and although his wife (Judy Davis) tries to stop it they produce a shower-case production of I pagliacci. – Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) come from Pordenone to Rome where positions are opening in the family business. They get lost, and Milly gets in the company of a film star (Antonio Albanese) while Antonio, due to a misunderstanding, is accompanied by Anna, a prostitute (Penélope Cruz). – Leonardo (Roberto Benigni) is an ordinary guy who becomes famous because of nothing, and soon every gorgeous woman wants to sleep with him, even in threesomes.

Woody Allen is not afraid of clichés in this lightweight comedy which follows the popular model of Italian episode movies of the 1960s. The music selections include the most obvious 1950s Italian pop hits and the best-known opera arias. Visually, the movie is a travelogue of the usual spots of Rome. Famous Italian movie concepts are recycled. Like in Federico Fellini's The White Sheik there is a "country girl" excited to get into the company of a big movie star. Like in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura there is a frustrated architect who is being paid big money for uninspired work (shopping malls in his case).

There are themes with gravity. The agony of creative people who have not made their mark. The topic of lesbianism / bisexuality returns in Monica's account of her affair with the lingerie model Victoria. The theme of Rome itself: the ruins of a formerly magnificent civilization. The extramarital affairs of Antonio and Milly are good education for both, and they love each other more as a consequence. The episode with Roberto Benigni has been criticized, but it is Woody Allen's topical satire on the Berlusconian aspect of Italy with its empty celebrities and bimbo models. Another aspect is the revelation at Antonio's introduction to Rome's business elite that for Anna, "my whole clientele is here". Like in Paris at Midnight there is a meeting with the clichés of a rich cultural heritage, and yet also, like in that movie, there is a young generation discovering their souls in an atmosphere of culture, while the older, more commercial and cynical generation warns them against idealism. Like Chaplin and Hitchcock Woody Allen recognizes the value of clichés but they all move beyond them.

The satirical account of the name-dropping Hollywood actress Monica is witty. She knows "one line from every poem". She is superficial, and "the charming con artist" covers interesting ground with her wide collection of buzzwords, not without blatant contradictions. The Fountainhead: Monica would definitely want to get laid by Howard Roark. Miss Julie: "she is me".

Fabio Armiliato the actual great opera star (La Scala, the Metropolitan...) is very funny as the "singer in the shower". 

This is Woody Allen's first appearance in a movie since 2006 and Roberto Benigni's first appearance in a movie since 2005.

A film they go to watch: La solitudine dei numeri primi (The Solitude of Prime Numbers, 2010).

The Pordenone reference regarding Antonio and Milly is all wrong. I have visited Pordenone almost every year since 1988 and discovered that Pordenone is located in one of the most distinguished regions in the world. People from Pordenone are not less sophisticated than people from Rome.

The Finnish and Swedish translations are very good and provide extra fun, but the spoken dialogue is so fast and full of references and innuendo that it's impossible to cover everything in subtitles, and anyway the movie deserves to be seen twice to get all the jokes.

Shot on 35 mm, the colour palette of the movie has been turned on the sweet side in the digital intermediate.

PS. 17 September 2012. Today I laughed out loud at the idea of Howard Roark having his way with Miss Julie. 18 September: I'm still laughing.

Café de Flore

Jean-Marc Vallée: Cafe de Flore (CA/FR 2011) starring Vanessa Paradis (Jacqueline) with her son Laurent (Marin Gerrier).

Café de Flore / Café de Flore.
    CA/FR © 2011 Productions Café de Flore / Monkey Pack Films. PC also: Item 7 / Crazy Films. P: Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin.
    D+SC: Jean-Marc Vallée. DP: Pierre Cottereau – 35 mm – digital intermediate – post-production: Fake Studio – 2K: Technicolor Montréal. PD: Patrice Vermette. Cost: Ginette Magny. Makeup: Frédéric Marin. Hair: Frédéric Birault. SFX: Guillaume Murray. VFX: Fake Studio - Marc Cote, Sylvain Theroux. S: Blaise Blanchier. Casting: Constance Demontoy.
    C: Vanessa Paradis (Jacqueline), Kevin Parent (Antoine Godin), Hélène Florent (Carole), Evelyne Brochu (Rose), Marin Gerrier (Laurent), Alice Dubois (Véronique), Evelyne de la Chenelière (Amélie), Michel Dumont (Julien Godin), Linda Smith (Louise Godin), Joanny Corbeil-Picher (Juliette), Rosalie Fortier (Angéline), Michel Laperrière (psychologist), Caroline Bal (Véronique's mother), Nicolas Marié (Véronique's father), Pascal Elso (Paul), Jérôme Kircher (Louis), Claire Vernet (Mrs. Labelle), Manon Balthazard (school teacher), Émile Vallée (Antoine at 14), Chanel Fontaine (Carole at 14), Emanuelle Beaugrand-Champagne (medium).
    Special participation: Emmanuelle Riva.
    Loc: Paris (Café de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain), Montréal.
    120 min.
    Released by Atlantic Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Hannele Vahtera.
    2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 15 September 2012.

The official synopsis: "Healing a broken heart isn't easy. Sometimes it takes a lifetime...or two. - Cafe de Flore is a love story about people separated by time and place but connected in profound and mysterious ways. Atmospheric, fantastical, tragic and hopeful, the film chronicles the parallel fates of Jacqueline, a young mother with a disabled son in 1960s Paris, and Antoine, a recently-divorced, successful DJ in present day Montreal. What binds the two stories together is love - euphoric, obsessive, tragic, youthful, timeless love."

AA: Two stories. Montréal, 2011: perfect happiness in top DJ Antoine's family, yet Antoine leaves his wife-soulmate Carole for a young girlfriend Rose. Paris 1969: the young mother Jacqueline gives birth to a baby with a Down syndrome. She fights like a tiger for her son's right to live to the full.

There are interesting observations in both stories. "I am a deejay, I am what I play" is true about Antoine, and the compilation soundtrack of the movie (see beyond the jump break) is of the essence to the story. The theme of songs as carriers of distinction and identification, carriers of memories is interesting. The tune "Café de Flore" is heard in its electro, chill out and lounge versions, and it becomes a theme for Antoine's new love. The children sabotage Antoine's feelings by playing their mother's favourite records.

The story of Jacqueline and her mongoloid son Laurent is one of "un amour mythique", "plus fort que la vie". It's a constant fight in every stage, and Jacqueline is indefatigable. The surprise is the seven year old Laurent's friendship / love affair with another child with a Down syndrome, Véronique. It is also a love affair across the class barrier. They love each other too much, and their parents have to separate them forcibly.

Café de Flore presents different aspects of love - narcissistic (Antoine's new affair maybe), and endlessly unselfish (Jacqueline's love of her son). What maybe connects them is revealed by a medium. Jacqueline, Laurent, and Véronique were killed in a car accident, and Carole, Antoine, and Rose are reincarnations. The movie ends with a hug of the present day threesome. Plot-wise this remains a trick ending.

Visually there are interesting explorations in the movie, but the free associations sometimes switch to mannerisms of le cinéma du look.

Shot on photochemical 35 mm film, Café de Flore often cultivates an intentionally soft look conveyed in the 2K DCP presentation.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Paradine Case

Kaksi pisaraa viiniä / Två droppar vin. US ©  1947 Vanguard Films. PC: The Selznick Studio. P: David O. Selznick. D: Alfred Hitchcock. SC: David O. Selznick - [James Bridie (n.c.)] - [additional dialogue: Ben Hecht (n.c.)] - adaptation: Alma Reville - based on the novel by Robert Hichens (1933). DP: Lee Garmes. PD: J. McMillan Johnson. AD: Thomas N. Morahan. Set dec: Emile Kuri, Joseph B. Platt. Cost: Travis Banton. Hair: Larry Germain. SFX: Clarence Slifer. M: Franz Waxman. S: James G. Stewart. ED: Hal C. Kern. C: Valli = Alida Valli (Mrs. Paradine), Gregory Peck (Anthony Keane), Ann Todd (Gay Keane), Charles Laughton (Judge Lord Thomas Horfield), Charles Coburn (Sir Simon Flaquer), Ethel Barrymore (Lady Sophie Horfield), Louis Jourdan (André Latour), Leo G. Carroll (Sir Joseph), Joan Tetzel (Judy Flaquer), Isobel Elsom (innkeeper), Lumsden Hare (courtroom attendant), Snub Pollard (cabby), John Williams (barrister Collins), Alfred Hitchcock (man carrying cello case). Helsinki premiere: 21.9.1951 Kino-Palatsi, re-release 14.9.1962, distributed by Suomi-Filmi. 132 min, 125 min, 119 min, 115 min, 112 min, 94 min. A 112 min 1962 re-release version with Finnish / Swedish subtitles at widescreen level by Reino Marjonen / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alfred Hitchcock), 14 September 2012.

The Paradine Case is generally regarded as a failure, one of Alfred Hitchcock's least successful works, but I have always been fond of it while not pretending it is a masterpiece.

In many scenes the dynamic use of space is admirable, and especially in the final trial sequences the long camera movements around Alida Valli are unforgettable. In many scenes Hitchcock's unique direction of the look is at his best, and in those trial scenes he is discovering new dimensions in its expression. All the time Hitchcock is discovering meanings and connections among ordinary objects. The Paradine Case is often exciting to watch.

The Paradine Case is a star vehicle for Alida Valli. The cinematographer is Lee Garmes who had shot Marlene Dietrich for Josef von Sternberg. The gowns are by Travis Banton who had created costumes for Paramount stars of the 1930s, also for Dietrich and Sternberg. Alida Valli's performance belongs to the unforgettable ones in Hitchcock's oeuvre.

In The Paradine Case Selznick, Hitchcock and Alida Valli venture to revive the femme fatale, essentially an old world creature, currently being replaced by film noir women. Robert Hichens (1864-1950) was a sensationalist writer with his roots in the 19th century. He was the one who exposed Oscar Wilde and brought about his downfall. There is something that reeks stale in the story and in the way Hitchcock himself and many critics discuss the movie, but the movie is more fascinating than the surrounding discourse.   

The Paradine Case was Alida Valli's first Hollywood role, and in it she was at her best. Valli already had made over 30 movies in Italy, gentle comedies, historical roles (Piccolo mondo antico), classic roles by Balzac and Prévost, and the great anti-Bolshevik Ayn Rand spectacle Noi vivi / Addio Kira.

When baronessa Valli was asked to play a rags-to-riches murderess in The Paradine Case, she was cast against type, and she could not help her innate nobility and dignity shining through. Or maybe her presence exploded the whole cheapo stereotype as written by Robert Hichens. There is a mysterious air of transcendence in the performance.

Selznick wanted to create a new Garbo, but the divine age of Garbo had been vanishing since the advent of the sound film ("Garbo talks") and the great depression. Lubitsch realized it and took a step forward: "Garbo laughs". (Interesting coincidence: Garbo - Ninotchka, Valli - Noi vivi). In the star images of Garbo and Valli there is a sense of a possible bisexuality and at least a free and timeless concept of sexuality. Perhaps the mystery in them both was the sense of a love that was then forbidden.

From the viewpoint of the law the case is clear. Mrs. Paradine has murdered her husband.

But Mrs. Paradine is also being despised because she is not a noblewoman. Instead as a child she has known poverty in Naples. She is also being despised because of her healthy sexuality. Also the groom André Latour (Louis Jourdan) is being despised for both reasons - because of his class status and his virility. One of the great tragedies of the story is that Mrs. Paradine and Latour condemn each other in the trial ("it was she who dragged us both down"). Yet Latour was the love of Mrs. Paradine's life, and after Latour's suicide Mrs. Paradine is ready to give up everything ("my life is finished") and announce his hate towards Keane.

The whole macabre case is a crushing blow to Keane and his promising career. "I hardly recognize my lost ideals", he mumbles already in the beginning. Yet there may be a blessing in a curse. Keane has been taught a terrible lesson, and profoundly humbled, he might become a better lawyer. Perhaps even a great lawyer.

"Justice is blind" might be the watchword for The Paradine Case, but in an ironic fashion.

The theme of blindness is twofold. Colonel Paradine has been blinded in the war, and Mrs. Paradine has been "his eyes". The colonel married after he was blinded and thus never got to see his wife's beauty.

The barrister Keane is "blinded" by Mrs. Paradine's charm "at first sight" and until Mrs. Paradine's crushing final revelation he acts under delusion.

In a clear but refined way Hitchcock shows us how Keane's wife (Ann Todd) and best friend (Charles Coburn) immediately realize what has happened when Keane has met Mrs. Paradine.

The visual motif of the portrait is prominent. Mrs. Paradine is proud of the portrait of her husband with its "look of the blind man". Visiting the country house in Cumberland Keane looks at the portrait of Mrs. Paradine with a cruel and demonic or perhaps only suffering look but does not see its revelatory quality.

The performance of Alida Valli is great, and many other performances are fine, but those of Gregory Peck (as Keane) and Louis Jourdan (as Latour) I find wanting. Yet the difficult scenes around the final crush to the barrister Peck carries very well. Latour should be an irresistibly physical and virile man, as Hitchcock himself remarked; in Jourdan's performance he is not, and credibility is weakened.

What I like most in The Paradine Case is its sense of souls lost in passions that remain unfulfilled. I even like the sense of hope in the ending, that one can learn even from the most terrible failures.

The visual quality of the print is fine at times, but generally there is a duped look.

3Simoa / Simo Times Three

3 Simoa / Simo gånger 3. FI © 2012 It's Alive! Productions. P: Teemu Nikki, Jani Pösö, D: Teemu Nikki. SC: Teemu Nikki, Jani Pösö. DP: Jyrki Arnikari - digital post-production: Generator Post - DCP: Miikel Mäemees. PD+cost: Maria Ylätupa. Makeup: Kati Koskela. M: Janne Huttunen. S: Tuomas Seppänen, Timo Anttila. ED: Teemu Nikki.
    C: Rami Rusinen (Lasse, locksmith and burglar), Olli Rahkonen (Simo, burglar with rules), Paula Vesala (Eeva, single mother), Pekka Strang (Anders, the watchman), Matti Onnismaa (Rimpi, crime boss), Paavo Pyykkönen (Jaska, Rimpi's mute enforcer), Annika Aapalahti (Katja the concierge), Antti Reini (Pasi, Vieno's son, still not grown up), Ritva Vepsä [II: in her sole movie role - she is not the Ritva Vepsä with a substantial movie career] (old lady Vieno, still with an appetite for the male touch), Jouko Puolanto (Pesonen, Mimmi's lusty dad), Aksa Korttila (Mimmi Pampula, who has her uses for her uncle's vacant apartment), Hessu Rantanen (Markku Virtanen the television licence inspector), Jani Pösö (Synkkä, a thief recently released from jail), Iivari Salo (Simo the baby).
    90 min. Distributed by PEK (Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus) with Swedish subtitles by Saliven Gustavson. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki (day of premiere), 14 September 2012.

From the production information: "Eeva has had a one night stand with Simo on a night so soaking wet that Eeva does not even remember the man's face - only his name which she has given to the son that was born as a consequence of that encounter. The real Simo invents a devious plot in which Lasse gets to play Simo the father of the baby. During one day Simo and Lasse struggle both in the depth and on the surface of the mire of pretexts. They run away, start a family, try to cope with their debts and save a life. In the end all would be well, but Lasse has started to play dad all too seriously."

"One does not want to be Simo, another pretends to be Simo, and a third one does not realize he's Simo yet." A comedy about two burglars, Lasse and Simo, heavily indebted to a crime boss. Simo has lied to Lasse about a lucrative pizza restaurant project in Thailand for which he has ostensibly been investing.

There are original ideas in this comedy about the small-time criminals Lasse and Simo. Their burglary routines are examined in some detail, but the business does not seem to be lucrative. They break into a vacationer's apartment that seems to be a full-time love nest for the vacationer's relatives. After various misadventures they even break into the apartment of the crime boss himself to whom they are supposed to be covering their debts.

"Zero responsibility" is the catchword, and one of the results is the baby Simo whose mother the father Simo wants to contact solely to rob her of her gold bracelet. Yet Simo the baby has been a lucky strike for her single mother Eeva who has grown up to the responsibility and given up her alcoholism. She even possesses an alcometer and nobody is allowed to enter her home without a test. Like in Chaplin's The Kid a scoundrel is transformed against his every intention by the instinct of responsibility awakened by the baby.

A main source of comedy is the deepening web of lies into which Simo and Lasse get caught. Movies I was thinking about were Shadow of a Doubt and Lost Weekend (the anxiety and the comedy of never being able to tell the truth). Finally Lasse gives up: "I'm fed up of always having to run away". Simo: "I love to run".

Funny single jokes: "Only national romanticism, no postmodernism" as the motto of Simo and Lasse as burglars of paintings (a reference to the art programme of the True Finns, itself a fake, as confessed by Timo Soini after the elections). "I hope your pizza is better than your poem", says Eeva to Lasse who is an ardent pizza lover and a well-meaning amateur as a creator of poems.

Beyond the light entertainment touch there are serious issues, a deeper text about broken families, the family curse of many of the protagonists.

There are promising comedy elements in the movie. It has been directed with a relaxed tempo, not in a strict comedy tempo - not building up punchlines and comic climaxes. Certain situations could have been written for a Laurel and Hardy movie, but here there is no comedy build-up and no aspiration for perfect timing like in a Laurel and Hardy film or a sitcom episode.

The visual quality is that of the current transitional resolution of 2K or less, with a lot of handheld camerawork.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fin août, début septembre / Late August, Early September

Olivier Assayas: Fin août, début septembre / Late August, Early September (FR 1999), starring Mathieu Amalric (Gabriel Deshayes), Virginie Ledoyen (Anne Rosenwald), François Cluzet (Adrien Willer), Jeanne Balibar (Jenny), Alex Descas (Jérémie), Arsinée Khanjian (Lucie), Nathalie Richard (Maryelle Deshayes), Mia Hansen-Løve (Véra) and Eric Elmosnino (Thomas Deshayes).

Kun kesä on ohi / Mellan två höstar.
    FR 1999 (French premiere 10 February 1999) © 1998 Dacia Films / Cinéa. PC also: Canal+ / Centre National de la Cinématographie / Sofinenergie & Sofygram. EX: Françoise Guglielmi. P: Georges Benayoun, Philippe Carcassonne.
    D+SC: Olivier Assayas. DP: Denis Lenoir – Super 16 mm – Fuji, Kodak – blown up to 35 mm – colour – 1,85. AD: François-Renaud Labarthe. Cost: Jessica Doyle. Makeup: Thi-Than-Tu Nguyen. M: Cinquante six, Goye Kur, Hawa Dolo by Ali Farka Touré. "Altar" sung live by Elli Medeiros. ED: Luc Barnier. Wash drawing of a stag by Joseph Beuys.
    C: Mathieu Amalric (Gabriel Deshayes), Virginie Ledoyen (Anne Rosenwald), François Cluzet (Adrien Willer), Jeanne Balibar (Jenny), Alex Descas (Jérémie), Arsinée Khanjian (Lucie), Nathalie Richard (Maryelle Deshayes), Mia Hansen-Løve (Véra), Eric Elmosnino (Thomas Deshayes), Olivier Cruveiller (Axel), Jean-Baptiste Malartre (Vladimir, the publisher), André Marcon (Gérard Hattou), Jean-Baptiste Montagut (Joseph Costa), Olivier Torrès (Marc Jobert), Jean-François Gallotte (producer of the documentary), Bernard Nissille (Frédéric), Fejria Deliba (Lucie's friend), Damie Doidane (Axel's friend).
    Helsinki premiere: 1.10.1999 Kino Engel, distributed by Cinema Mondo, with Finnish subtitles only by Outi Kainulainen – 111 min
    The Cinema Mondo print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Olivier Assayas), 13 September 2012.

Six chapters:
    1 Problèmes immobilières de Gabriel
    2 Mulhouse (un mois plus tard)
    3 Admission (3 mois plus tard)
    4 Les occasions manquées (6 mois plus tard)
    5 Le dessin de Joseph Beuys
    6 Présence d'Adrien (6 mois plus tard).

One of the most personal, essential films by Olivier Assayas along with L'Eau froide and L'Heure d'été and also perhaps his forthcoming Après-mai.

An ensemble piece about a group of literary friends and colleagues and those close to them. The writer Adrien Willer battles against a terminal illness. His friend Gabriel makes a documentary on him in Mulhouse where he spent his early years. Gabriel's relationship with Jenny ends and they sell their flat. Gabriel has a new relationship with the passionately physical Anne. Gabriel becomes the ghostwriter for a politician and plans a novel of his own. After his death, Adrien's esteem is on the rise and his unfinished novel sells better than his previous ones. Some find its lack of polish an advantage. Adrien's memory keeps growing in the minds of those who knew him.

Reportedly inspired by the memory of Serge Daney and other friends of Olivier Assayas who have died of AIDS. As I was born in the same year as Assayas I know about that black crop, but because I'm a Finn, most of my contemporains who have died young have perished from alcohol. Even after decades, their personal presence is felt.

"Trop tard" ("too late") is an expression that occurs here as in L'Eau froide. "Trop tôt" ("too early") would be expressive, as well.

A performance-driven movie, a film based on a strong ensemble of actors. Their performances feel so true that it is easy to forget they act. Mathieu Amalric is at his best as the homme de lettres who is moving on to new challenges. Exciting are also Virginie Ledoyen as the passionate Anne, François Cluzet as the thoughtful Adrien Willer, Jeanne Balibar as Jenny who regrets the end of the relationship with Gabriel, and the whole team.

There is a intentionally gritty and grainy visual quality in the movie, shot on 16 mm with a lot of handheld camerawork, largely in medium shots and close-ups.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Hitchcock sound

Often and with good reason we identify Bernard Herrmann as the author of the characteristic music of suspense for Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Herrmann wrote the scores for The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1956 version), The Wrong Man, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Marnie. The Birds has no music track, but Herrmann was one of its sound consultants. Herrmann wrote music for 17 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and in further 17 episodes stock music composed by Herrmann was used. None of those episodes were directed by Hitchcock. Herrmann also wrote an excellent score for Torn Curtain (released later on dvd bonus materials), but as Hitchcock rejected it, their collaboration ended.

Yet there was a characteristic Hitchcock sound in his movies also before and after Herrmann. The turning-point was Hitchcock's first American movie Rebecca (1940), Hitchcock's first fully scored movie, and interestingly, it may have been the producer David O. Selznick who pushed the music to its place of prominence. Hitchcock (on another occasion, discussing Spellbound, also produced by Selznick) derided the Hollywood convention of emphatic violins in love scenes, but since Rebecca, music became essential in his work.

Franz Waxman was the first great Hitchcockian composer, in Rebecca, Suspicion, The Paradine Case, and Rear Window.

Dimitri Tiomkin was the second great Hitchcock composer, responsible for the scores for Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, I Confess, and Dial M for Murder.

Alfred Newman's single Hitchcock score was for Foreign Correspondent.

Universal's Frank Skinner wrote the score for Saboteur only.

Miklos Rozsa only wrote the inspired score for Spellbound.

RKO's Roy Webb also composed only one Hitchcock score, for Notorious. (He was also the uncredited musical director for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but not its composer.)

Also Richard Addinsell only composed for Hitchcock once, in Under Capricorn. Its orchestrator Leighton Lucas composed the score for Stage Fright.

After Herrmann, John Addison wrote a new score for Torn Curtain. Maurice Jarre did Topaz, Ron Goodwin composed Frenzy, and John Williams was in charge of the score of Family Plot.

There is no non-diegetic score music during the narrative of Lifeboat or Rope.

This amounts to a list of many of the best composers of Hollywood movies in the studio era and a few key names afterwards. Bernard Herrmann's significance is incontrovertible and his versatility is remarkable with quite different approaches for, say, Vertigo (Wagner), North by Northwest (fandango), and Psycho (string-bound minimalism).

Yet within such a wide array of composers and musical approaches the continuity of the Hitchcock sound is unmistakable.

Posthumously, Neil Brand has made an exciting contribution to the Hitchcock musical legacy with his 2008 score for the silent Blackmail. Neil Brand's original score is also fascinating in its insight in the essence of the Hitchcock sound.

One of the best books about Alfred Hitchcock is in Finnish: Heikki Nyman's The Hitchcock Touch I–IV

Seeing is believing. Suspicion (1941), starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, is for Heikki Nyman the turning-point in the development of the mature and profound Hitchcock touch.

Heikki Nyman : Hitchcockin kosketus : Alfred Hitchcockin elokuvat I–IV [The Hitchcock Touch : The Films of Alfred Hitchcock I–IV]. Self-published. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino, 1990 (I), 1992 (IV), 1993 (II), 1994 (III). 178 + 400 + 520 + 743 = 1841 p.

There are more books on Alfred Hitchcock than on any other film director, and the level was high from the beginning.

Éric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol's Hitchcock (Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1957), the first serious book on Alfred Hitchcock in any language, is still an astounding work as a study in forms, Catholic concepts, and basic themes such as the transference of guilt in Hitchcock's work. Published before Vertigo, the reader of this book can already anticipate the formation of Vertigo.

Robin Wood's Hitchcock's Films (London: Zwemmer, 1965, new expanded editions 1969, 1982, 2002) was the first serious book on Hitchcock in English. The first edition focused on Hitchcock's key films, most importantly, on Vertigo. Its insights in close reading and attention to the film text became a model for serious film studies everywhere.

Heikki Nyman is a philosopher who belonged to the close circle of Georg Henrik von Wright. Wright followed Ludwig Wittgenstein as professor at the University of Cambridge but returned to the University of Helsinki in the 1950s. After a remarkable series of excellent Wittgenstein translations Nyman embarked on his huge freelancing Hitchcock project studying Hitchcock's every film and reading almost everything written on him. We tried in vain to get a publisher for Nyman's 1841-page book, and when it proved impossible, Nyman self-published it in a limited edition. Copies can be studied at The National Library of Finland and at the library of the National Audiovisual Archive of Finland.

In his Hitchcock book Nyman approaches the great director as a great thinker, and only in this respect there is a connection with the approach of Gilles Deleuze. Based on the empirical evidence of the movies, themselves, Nyman's labour of love focuses on the philosophical theme of perception as a key to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. The most cinematic expression of the theme of perception is the look, the gaze, seeing in general. A turning point for Nyman is the movie Suspicion (1941) after which all the master's works are profoundly Hitchcockian from Nyman's viewpoint. Yet "the Hitchcock touch" is already present in The Pleasure Garden (1925) and can be tracked down to the very last films. Nyman acknowledges the achievements of previous Hitchcock scholars, Stanley Cavell being one of the most important writers from his viewpoint. Nyman's work would still deserve to be to be translated into English and be much better known. It has permanent value.