Wednesday, October 31, 2012

50 years of James Bond movies

Skyfall is breaking box office records in Finland and elsewhere. After 50 years, the producers are still having a huge commercial success with James Bond movies. In film industry terms such a long-term success is extraordinary.

Interestingly, Skyfall is about old-fashioned secret agent methods getting obsolete in a world where cyber espionage is more efficient. In the first part of the movie James Bond is already declared missing in action and given a funeral service. He has been shot by a fellow agent on the orders of M. There is a resurrection, and then a dark double appears, a former colleague turned super-villain called Silva. With Bond they had been the top agents, and also Silva had been left by M to die. While Bond represents the old school, Silva is a grand master of the new school of cyber-terrorism.

Kalle Kinnunen has paid attention to the similarity between Skyfall and The Dark Knight, for instance in the characterization of the villain (The Joker / Silva). In both Skyfall and The Dark Knight Returns the antihero (Batman / Bond) is fatally wounded and has to save the day with significantly diminished strength.

This kind of approach is novel in the history of the Bond movies, although You Only Live Twice had similar dimensions. But such an approach was part of Ian Fleming's concept from the very beginning.

Casino Royale (1953), the first James Bond novel, has a deranged mood which the movie adaptations have not even tried to reach. The first Bond villain, Le Chiffre, had gotten his name because he had lost his identity during WWII; all that remained was the number tattooed on his arm. Bond poses as a rich Jamaican playboy gambler to break Le Chiffre and the chain of financing to French Communists, but Le Chiffre almost breaks Bond with sadistic torture.

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning” belongs to the great opening lines in the history of literature, but in the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale there was no smoking at all.

The 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale which introduced Daniel Craig as James Bond was appreciated by many, and it was a huge commercial success, but for me that Bond revival movie was largely an imitation of the inventive Bourne movies. For me, sex was missing, and also the visual quality was weaker due to the restrictions and limitations of the digital process. Even worse was Quantum of Solace, where the relentless blitz montage weakened the impact. Skyfall is clearly the best of Daniel Craig's Bond movies.

Because Skyfall dares to face the mortality of its antihero it may succeed in giving a new lease of life to him.

The James Bond movies make no sense as suspense thrillers, but when they work, they are impressive spectacles. Skyfall works, and as a spectacle it is catchy. There is an assured touch and a sense of confidence in how the crazy story is told. And there is substance in the cultural references, as analyzed by Henry K. Miller on the BFI website.

Interesting debate on Jim Emerson's site, 14 Nov 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sen noci svatojánské / A Midnight Summer's Dream

Kesäyön unelma / En midsommarnattsdröm. CZ 1959. PC: Československý Film. P+D+SC: Jiří Trnka – based on the romantic fairy-tale comedy (1596) by William Shakespeare. Co-SC: Jiří Brdečka. AN: Jan Karpaš, Stanislav Látal, Vlasta Jurajdová, Břetislav Pojar, Jan Adam, Bohumil Šrámek. DP: Jiří Vojta – Eastmancolor, scope. Design: Jiří Trnka. M: Václav Trojan. ED: Hana Walachová. S: Emanuel Formánek, Josef Vlček, Emil Poledník. Czech version with a commentary in Czech. 80 min. Print from Národní filmový archiv (Prague), electronic subtitles in Finnish by Tomas Lehecka. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jiří Trnka), 28 Oct 2012.

Shakespeare's cast of characters (from Wikipedia):

The Athenians
Theseus – Duke of Athens
Hippolyta – Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus
Philostrate – Master of the Revels
Egeus – father of Hermia, wants her to marry Demetrius
Hermia – in love with Lysander
Helena – in love with Demetrius
Lysander – in love with Hermia
Demetrius – in love with Hermia at first but later loves Helena

The Fairies
Oberon – Titania's husband and King of the Fairies
Titania – Oberon's wife and Queen of the Fairies
Robin Goodfellow/Puck – servant to Oberon
Peaseblossom – fairy servant to Titania
Cobweb – fairy servant to Titania
Moth – fairy servant to Titania
Mustardseed – fairy servant to Titania
First Fairy, Second Fairy

The Mechanicals (An acting troupe)
Peter Quince – carpenter, leads the troupe and plays Prologue
Nick Bottom – weaver, plays Pyramus
Francis Flute – bellows-mender, plays Thisbe
Robin Starveling – tailor, plays Moonshine
Tom Snout – tinker, plays Wall
Snug – joiner, plays Lion

The number of characters in William Shakespeare's romantic fairy-tale comedy can seem intimidating, and in the beginning one must pay a lot of attention as many new characters are quickly passing by. Among the Athenians true love must find its way through arranged marriage plans. The escape to the midnight forest exposes everybody to the fairies and their formidable love potions. To the wedding a performance of a troupe of amateur players has been promised, and the troupe, too, gets involved in the goings-on in the magic forest. Everything gets mixed up, but in the end there will be three happy weddings.

There is a consistent droll and enchanted mood in this puppet animation adaptation of the play. Charming features include: - The stars and the star signs - Funny paintings about love and sculptures of battles - The enchantment in Oberon's kingdom - The transformations - The funny effects of the love potion: even statues start to make love - The donkey trick to Titania - Official ceremonies bore everyone to death - The full moon smiles approvingly.

In this adaptation Puck says in his final words that "there is a lot in our dreams that will live forever".

The colour is beautiful in this print.

Kybernetická babička / Cybernetic Grandmama

[Kybermummo]. CZ © 1962 Kratky film Praha. EX: J. Možíš. D+design: Jiří Trnka. AN (moving of the dolls): Stanislav Látal, Vlasta Pospíšilová, Jan Adam, Zdeněk Šob. DP: Jiří Šafář. M: Jan Novák. Narrator: Otylie Beníšková. ED: Hana Valachová. 29 min. Print from Národní filmový archiv (Prague), electronic subtitles in Finnish by Tomas Lehecka. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jiří Trnka), 28 Oct 2012.

A modernistic parody of the computer world with a story vaguely resembling The Emperor's Nightingale - both being about the real thing and the mechanical substitute.

In the world of the future the little girl is walking together with her grandmother. They cross a dangerous bridge and enter an airplane hangar. The mother is in the galaxy, light years away. The cybernetic grandmother is a computer whose mouth is computer graphics, whose singing is electronic music, who urges the girl to health via play, who is uncannily adroit with ball games and skip rope and whose fairy-tale about three wooden eggs, Brok, Flop and Chlup is seen in limited animation.

There was a cordial laughter in the audience at the cyber comedy. In this movie Jiří Trnka also plays with psychedelia and avantgarde. The electronic music score by Jan Novák is inspired.

The print looks used but has good colour.

Anita Björk (1923-2012)

"Miss Julie - she's me" says Monica (Ellen Page) in Woody Allen's To Rome with Love. Monica is a young Hollywood actress who knows one line from every poem and who has an instant comment to every cultural reference.

But Anita Björk (*24 April 1923, †24 October 2012) was the one who had the true right to say "Miss Julie - she's me". This year is the centenary of the death of August Strindberg. Alf Sjöberg's Miss Julie (1951), starring Anita Björk, is the best film adaptation of Strindberg's work and one of the best literary adaptations of all times, which means that it is a genuinely cinematographic work on the same spiritual level as the original text. In my student days I made a scene by scene analysis of the movie and the play for the Film Society of the Tampere University Students' Union, and since then I have admired both the play and the movie even more.

The substance of Anita Björk's career was in the theatre, but she also played in the movies. As a Finn it is a pleasure to remember her superior performance as Kyllikki in the 1956 adaptation of the most-filmed Nordic novel, Johannes Linnankoski's The Song of the Scarlet Flower. All the five movie Kyllikkis have been very good, but Anita Björk was the definitive Kyllikki in an otherwise not very inspired movie adaptation. Olavi the Nordic Don Juan (in this adaptation perhaps inevitably played by Jarl Kulle), the wandering lumberjack and logroller, has been flying from flower to flower, but when he meets Kyllikki it's the end of his wandering days.

Anita Björk's last appearance in moving images was in Ingmar Bergman's television adaptation (2000) of Per Olov Enquist's play Bildmakarna / The Image Makers. She plays Selma Lagerlöf in the story about the making of The Phantom Carriage; it turns out that the story is profoundly personal both for the author and the director. For both, the story about the deranged alcoholic is the story of their father. Both had been forced as children to assume responsibility when the drunken father had threatened the family. The scene where Sjöström shows his film to Lagerlöf, and Lagerlöf, shattered by the shock of recognition, rises to touch the screen, is unforgettable.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sirocco (Mikko Kuparinen 2012)

Mikko Kuparinen: Sirocco (2012) starring Eeva Putro as Raisa who finds an abandoned baby in a garbage container.

D: Mikko Kuparinen
SC: Mikko Kuparinen, Elina Pohjola, Mira Muikku – based on the short story Merkki by Tuuve Aro
C: Eeva Putro, Tuukka Martiskainen, Luna Huotari
DP: Juice Huhtala
PD and costume design: Laura Haapakangas
S: Pekka Aikio
ED: Matti Näränen
P: Elina Pohjola, Pohjola-filmi
    2K DCP released by Pohjola-Filmi with English subtitles n.c.
    Viewed in the programme "Lähiöleffat: Korsoteoria ja Sirocco" [Suburban Movies: Korsoteoria and Sirocco]
    at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 27 Oct 2012 (premiere weekend).

Sirocco refers to the comment overhead at the party: "pakko päästä Italiaan – sirocco kutsuu" / "I must get to Italy – the sirocco is calling".

The production information: "Raisa (Eeva Putro) who avoids human contacts finds an abandoned baby from the garbage shelter of the apartment house in which she lives. What will happen when the lonely woman does not tell anybody but decides to keep the baby?" (my translation)

AA: The connections between Korsoteoria and Sirocco include the urge to travel abroad and an abrupt situation with a baby. Raisa works at the laundry of a hospital, and when she discovers the baby hidden in the garbage shelter of her apartment block she starts to take care of the baby without telling anybody. There is a nice-seeming man who invites Raisa to the party of the hospital workers, but when his approaches become violent and a rape is imminent Raisa hits him with a metal tube. We do not learn whether she knocks him unconscious or whether she actually kills him. The police is after the baby, but Raisa repeats to them a line overheard at the office party: "I must get to Italy – the sirocco is calling". – I watched the movie attentively but also here I failed to connect with the abyss of alienation and desolation.

Korsoteoria / So It Goes

Finland | Suomi © 2012 ELO Helsinki Film School.
Fiction | 29 min | DCP | col.
Director: Antti Heikki Pesonen
Script: Antti Heikki Pesonen
Cinematography: Aarne Tapola
Sound: Toni Teivaala
Editing: Hanna Kuirinlahti
Music: Antti Pouta
Production: Aalto yliopisto / Tia Kalenius
Cast: Elli (Armi Toivanen), Santeri Mäntylä, Max Ovaska, Asko Sahlman [1955-2011], Juha Kukkonen, Sanna-Kaisa Palo
2K DCP released by Pohjola-Filmi with English subtitles by Kaisa Cullen. Viewed in the programme "Lähiöleffat: Korsoteoria ja Sirocco" [Suburban Movies: Korsoteoria and Sirocco] at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 27 Oct 2012 (premiere weekend).

The title of the movie means literally "Korso Theory", Korso being a suburb not far to the north from Helsinki.

Tampere Film Festival 2012: "So It Goes is a story about a working class woman called Elli who has never traveled outside of Finland. She will either get a cruise abroad or love. But not both."

AA: I watched Korsoteoria in Tampere Film Festival this year, but not attentively enough, and I was grateful for this chance to revisit it in normal commercial cinema programming - thanks to this rare recognition for a short film produced at the film school. I confess that the film is so desolate that I have a hard time relating to it. Elli is a thief and a robber with no redeeming features. The guy who is living with her is a drug addict. Elli plays for sucker the nerdy guy who is attracted to her. The boy is very badly hurt in the head in the robbery when Elli and her pal clean up his home, and he lands into the emergency room. Despair, deep and pure. Urban poetry: "olen umpijäässä talvella / kesällä täynnä sinilevää" ["in the winter I'm all frozen / in the summer full of blue alga"]. The boy draws a heart on the window pane with his own blood. Even the teacher has lost all hope, and upon his return from Estonia or Stockholm with a cargo of liquor he is stone drunk and hits the boy with his car, killing him. At the funeral Elli cries, maybe for the first time. "I never told him I was pregnant". - A central figure in modern Finnish cinema is the harridan, and Elli belongs to the most terrifying among them.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sinivalkoinen valhe / When Heroes Lie

Arto Halonen: Sinivalkoinen valhe / When Heroes Lie (FI 2012).

Den blåvita lögnen / När hjältarna ljuger [Swedish title in Sweden] / Når heltane lyg [Norwegian title].
    FI © 2012 Art Films Productions AFP Oy.
    P+D: Arto Halonen. SC: Kevin Frazier, Arto Halonen, Jouni Kemppainen - idea: Iikka Vehkalahti. DP: Arto Halonen, Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen - many different cameras, many cameramen - main camera a big HD camera with a zoom lens and HD resolution. D-cinema mastering: Tommi Gröhn. Colour grader: Pasi Mäkelä. M: Tapani Rinne. S: Martti Turunen. ED: Sanna Liinamaa, Antti Tuomikoski.
    119 min.
    Released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles n.c. 2K DCP (presumably).
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 26 Oct 2012.


The official synopsis: "When Heroes Lie is a daring documentary which deals with the grim history of doping in Finnish cross country skiing and exposes the web of lies in world championship sport. The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2001 in Lahti was designed to be yet another climax in Finnish cross-country skiing. It was not to be. Instead, there was a "shame of catastrophic dimensions" as six Finnish skiers were caught in the use of forbidden substances. After the collective bust questions remained: was it all about a fleeting transgression and "amateurish dabbling" or a systematic, fully planned and global fraud?"

"When Heroes Lie covers the history of doping in cross-country skiing since the 1970s until today, the dramatic turns of the Lahti Ski Championships in 2001 and the doping news trial against STT [Suomen Tietotoimisto, the leading Finnish news agency] which started in 1998. As a result of a long and comprehensive reasearch the movie offers a lot of new information about the doping culture in Finnish cross-country skiing: how it started, how widespread it was and who were the central players. The movie contains interviews with Finnish and international experts, coaches and sportspeople and archival material from different sources. They contribute to a ruthless picture about a system in which heroes were created at no matter which cost - by any means necessary and the audience was not too particular, either."

"Via the example of sport the movie shows how our society creates a foundation for a hypocritical pursuit of victory. It also raises the question whether the distortions of sport are reflections of the distortions of the society. Whether the society in general functions along similar ground rules." (The official synopsis, translation mine).

Cross-country skiing is my favourite sport as an occasional Sunday sportsman, but I haven't watched sports games since I was a kid in the 1960s. I feel sympathy for the Finnish "karpaasi" top skiers who were caught in the doping scandals in 2001. They did the wrong thing, but they would have been great athletes - or even greater ones - if they had not resorted to doping. Watching this movie I realise how overwhelming the pressure must have been since the 1970s.

The key testimony comes from Kaija Härkin who found religion and a way out of the anxiety that led her to depression and suicidal thoughts because of the vicious circle of sedatives and stimulants required of her. According to her the general brutalization took place in the 1970s. Previously the ski sport was basically clean.

Sinivalkoinen valhe is a settling of accounts of the huge web of lies related to the ubiquitous doping culture in Finnish ski sport. Much of this has been in general knowledge, but the movie expands its wings to cover a wider field.

Listening to testimonies from Sweden, Norway and Italy one cannot help but deduce that doping is the global modus vivendi in top ski sport. The evidence is convincing, and the footage of the squirming interviewees who try to testify otherwise is telling.

Mika Myllylä (1969-2011) is a martyr of this story. "What is the point of sustaining such an enormous system of fraud?" "You have to store in your memory every single step sign: how did I lie here?"

A movie which occurred to me after seeing Sinivalkoinen was Shadow of a Doubt by Alfred Hitchcock. At my most recent viewing of it I paid attention to the gallows humour about the crushing stress of Uncle Charlie having to lie at every single step and to remember how he has lied in order to avoid being exposed as a serial killer.

Even more generally, Sinivalkoinen valhe is a contribution to the Ibsenian theme of livsløgn - the life-lie - a fraudulent foundation myth.

For top skiers a gold medal translated into big money (ten million Finnish marks) in sponsorship deals. For some of the skiers a top career opened up in politics. The Italian MP Manuela Di Centa's interrupted interview is memorable. The agony on the Finnish MP Marjo Matikainen's face is the most unforgettable impression of the movie. They should tell all, they should tell the truth, and everybody would be happier and freer. Their talent is undeniable, and it is wrong that they had to compete in a system that forced them to resort to doping.

Compilation quality with lots of low definition television and video footage. No problem with new interview close-up footage made for this movie. There is no attempt to convey visually the grandeur of the ski sport.


Sam Mendes: Skyfall (GB/US 2012) starring Daniel Craig as James Bond.

007 Skyfall / 007 Skyfall.
    GB/US © 2012 Danjaq / United Artists / Columbia Pictures. P: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson.
    D: Sam Mendes. SC: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan – based on characters created by Ian Fleming. "Ulysses" by Alfred Tennyson (1833 / 1842).
    DP: Roger Deakins – Camera: Arri Alexa M, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses, Arri Alexa Plus, Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Arri Alexa Studio, Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Red Epic, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses (helicopter shots). – Laboratory: Company 3, London, UK (digital intermediate), EFilm (digital intermediate) – Source format: Codex – Cinematographic process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Redcode RAW (5K) (source format) (aerial shots) – Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), 70 mm (horizontal) (IMAX blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema – Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Digital imaging services: 4K London. Camera team: huge.
    PD: Dennis Gassner. AD: Chris Lowe. Set dec: Anna Pinnock. Art dept: huge. SFX team: big. VFX team: huge – MPC, Lola VFX, Double Negative, Cinesite, BlueBolt, Baseblack, Peerless Camera, Blue-Bolt, Nvizible, The Moving Picture Company, Hydraulx, previz. Stunt team: huge. Cost: Jany Temime. Special costume credit: Tom Ford. Makeup: Naomi Donne. Hair: Zoe Tahir. AN: David Bryan. Animatronic designers.
    M: Thomas Newman. Theme song "Skyfall" (Adele Adkins, Paul Epworth) perf. Adele. The villain's anthem: "Boom Boom" (John Lee Hooker) perf. The Animals.
    S: Karen M. Baker, Per Hallberg. ED: Stuart Baird. Casting: Debbie McWilliams. The painting: J. M. W. Turner: The Fighting Temeraire (tugged to her last berth to be broken up) (1838).
    C: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Judi Dench (M), Javier Bardem (Raoul Silva / Tiago Rodriguez), Ralph Fiennes (Gareth Mallory / M), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Bérénice Marlohe (Sévérine), Albert Finney (Kincade), Ben Whislaw (Q), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Ola Rapace (Patrice).
    Loc: Istanbul, the Varda railway bridge near Adana, Fethiye (Turkey) – London – Shanghai – Hashima Island – Smithfield Market, Holborn, London (car chase) – Glen Etive (Highland, Scotland) – Hankley Common (Elstead, Surrey).
    Studios: Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage (Pinewood Studios).
    144 min.
    Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Rabbe Sandelin.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 26 Oct 2012 (European premiere day). 

James Bond 50th anniversary logo.

Skyfall Lodge is the name of Bond's ancestral home in Scotland.

AA: There was a special feeling of attention and appreciation among the audience to a movie which is clearly better than the two previous Bond adventures. Skyfall belongs to the category of industrial design in the cinema, to the class of producers' cinema. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have taken enormous risks and solved huge problems in the changing production circumstances. To succeed again they have had to reinvent much of the success formula.

The 50th anniversary James Bond movie is a reboot of the concept. The cold war ended over 20 years ago, rendering the original Bond concept obsolete, but the movies had been making fun of it almost from the beginning, at least since Goldfinger. Now the whole idea of traditional espionage and the 00 activity with a licence to kill is being questioned.

The movie starts with the theft of a hard drive with an almost complete register of NATO agents in terrorist organizations. On the orders of M there is a shooting which brings down James Bond to almost certain death. He is declared missing, probably killed, and given a funeral. In the most important turning-point the villain Silva hacks into the MI6 data administration system and blows up the MI6 headquarters.

The rules have changed, and M and Bond fight what looks like a losing battle in the new age of cyber-espionage and cyber terrorism.

M quotes Alfred Tennyson:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The villain's intent: to destroy MI6 – and M. His motive: revenge. His character: completely mad. Silva belongs with villains such as The Joker in The Dark Knight, and there are even more sinister hints that remain unexplored in the movie.

Bérénice Marlohe's performance is impressive as Sévérine, sadistically threatened by Silva. Her voice and body language tell us about unspeakable terrors.

Memorable features in the movie: – The ruined island city of Silva. – James Bond's leap into a moving subway train in London. – The ruined buildings at Skyfall mirror Silva's desolate island. – The grave of James Bond's parents at Skyfall with the names Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix engraved on the gravestone. – Silva's tale of the two rats standing – representing Bond and Silva. – James Bond's tears as M dies. – In the conclusion we meet the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and Miss Moneypenny (Eve, the agent who shot James Bond in the prologue).

Skyfall is much better edited than the two previous Bond movies – Quantum of Solace was a mess with its relentless blitz montages. Stuart Baird is a master in this genre; I also liked his approach as an action director in Executive Decision. There is a good, strong, assured and catchy rhythm in Skyfall. Action sequences are balanced with more reflective sequences.

Also the cinematography of Skyfall – DP: Roger Deakins (a favourite of the Coen brothers! and Sam Mendes) – is better than in the previous two Bond adventures. Not yet on the same level as the glorious all-photochemical James Bond movies, but getting there again. Warm colour is back. Nature footage does not usually look good on digital, and here it is being avoided.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Staré pověsti české / Old Czech Legends

[Vanhoja tshekkiläisiä taruja]. CZ 1952. PC: Studio Kresleného a Loutkového Filmu. EX: Vladimír Janovský, Jaroslav Možiš. D+design: Jiří Trnka. SC: Jiří Trnka, Jiří Brdečka, Miloš Kratochvil – based on the works of Alois Jirásek (1894) and K. Kosma. DP: Ludvík Hájek, Emanuel Franek - Agfacolor. AN (moving of the dolls): Břetislav Pojar (gentle Neklan, Princess Libussa), Bohuslav Šrámek (Přemysl, Bivoj), Zdeněk Hrabě (dancers), Stanislav Látal (Kresomysl; a drunken page), Jan Karpaš (dancers), Josef Kluge, František Braun. M: Václav Trojan. Orchestra: FISYO, conductor: Otakar Pařik – chorister:  Jan Kühn. S: Josef Zavadil-Poledník, Emanuel Formánek. ED: Helena Lebdusková. Voice talent: Karel Höger, Eduard Kohout, Růžená Naskova, Zdeněk Štepánek, Václav Vydra. 2470 m / 90 min. This movie was not released in Finland. Print from Národní filmový archiv (Prague), electronic subtitles in Finnish by Tomas Lehecka. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jiří Trnka), 25 Oct 2012.

A puppet animation epic based on legends and myths about the origins of the Czech people as told by Alois Jirásek inspired by the national romanticism of the 19th century, like Kalevala in Finland and Kalevipoeg in Estonia.

There is a fine mood, simultaneously droll and grand, as steam rises from the pot and the storyteller plays on his harp, telling about (1) the founding father called Čech who brought his people to the shores of Elbe and Moldau. (2) After Čech the ruler is Krok who builds a castle on the Moldau and who has three daughters, of which Libuše / Libussa is the most highly regarded. (3) Bivoj is the supreme hunter able to catch a huge wild boar single-handedly. (4) The wise Libuše becomes the new leader, but her matriarchy faces fierce opposition. She withdraws into the sacred forest and sees into the future. (5) During the reign of Přemysl the maidens are longing bitterly for the matriarchy of Libuše. Mining flourishes, farming deteriorates: there are thistles instead of grain. (6) The people rises against the atrocities of the Lucanians, and there is a giant battle to defeat them.

This movie belongs to the heroic-patriotic line in Jiří Trnka oeuvre, but thanks to the droll humour and the fantastic images there is never a sense of an overbearing message. Rather this movie is a proud statement from a small and original nation. Memorable visions include: - magnificent primal landscapes in the beginning - the introduction of the forest animals (birds, buffaloes, foxes, wild boars, roe-deer) - the water nymph, the water spirit hovering around the baby on the field where the parents are harvesting - Perun, the thunder god: the village on fire - the eagles spreading their wings on the sky - the longest day of the year (Midsummer): the bonfires to celebrate the Sun God - the full moon and the smoke signals on mountain tops - atavistic dances and visions from the most ancient times - the furious war - the peaceful reconstruction, the celebration of fertility after the war.

Václav Trojan's impressive score is important for this movie, inspired in its retro-national-romantic approach.

The visual quality of the print is mostly excellent.

Román s basou / Romance with a Double Bass

[Bassoviulun tarina / Bassoviulu / Romaani bassoviulusta / Romanssi bassoviulusta]. CZ 1949. PC: Studio Kresleného a Loutkového Filmu. D+design: Jiří Trnka – based on the short story "Roman s kontrabasom" / "Роман с контрабасом" (1886) by Anton Chekhov. AN (moving of the dolls): Břetislav Pojar, Zdeněk Hrabě, Stanislav Látal, Jan Karpaš, Bohuslav Šrámek. DP: Emanuel Franek. M: Václav Trojan. There is a narrator in this movie. 398 m / 15 min. Print from Národní filmový archiv (Prague), electronic subtitles in Finnish by Tomas Lehecka. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jiří Trnka), 25 Oct 2012.

The story: before the evening concert at the prince's castle the bassist takes a swim, but thieves rob his clothes. The bassist notices a beautiful girl, the prince's daughter, fishing with a rod and line, and attaches a bouquet onto the line. Trying to pull the heavy catch the daughter needs to get into the water, too, and takes her clothes off, but the thieves rob them, as well. The gallant bassist offers the shelter of his double-bass case to the girl and tries to catch the thieves. Meanwhile, his fellow players notice the now surprisingly heavy case and carry it with them to the castle, where the surprise is great when a knocking is heard from inside the case. And still today local people claim they can hear melancholy chords of the double-bass from under the bridge.

A funny and colourful puppet animation based faithfully on an early humoristic sketch by Chekhov. In Jiří Trnka's oeuvre this animation belongs in the vicinity of Archanděl Gabriel a paní Husa based on a story in Decamerone by Boccaccio, but Román s basou is much gentler.

A nice print.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Císařův slavík / The Emperor's Nightingale

[Keisarin satakieli] / Kejsarens näktergal. CZ 1949. PC: Studio Kresleného a Loutkového Filmu. P: Bohumír Buriánek. D: Jiří Trnka. Live action D: Miloš Makovec. SC: Jiří Trnka, Jiří Brdečka – contribution: Vítězslav Nezval - based on the fairy-tale Nattergal (1843) by H.C. Andersen – several translations in Finnish. DP: Ferdinand Pecenka (live action). Agfacolor. Lab: Barrandov. AN (movement of puppets): Bohuslav Šrámek, Břetislav Pojar, Jan Karpaš, Zdeněk Hrabě, Stanislav Latal. Design: Jiří Trnka, Milena Neubauerová, Karel Sobotka, František Braun, Erik Miloš Bülow, Josef Zdrůbecký, Karel Mázel, Ludvík Hájek. M: Václav Trojan – perf: FISYO – conductor: Otakar Pařík – singing: the child choir of the Bohemian Singing Choir – chorister: Jan Kühn. ED: Helena Lebdušková. C: Helena Patočková, Jaromír Sobota. Dialogueless. 2069 m / 76 min. Not released in Finland. Print from Národní filmový archiv (Prague). Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jiří Trnka), 21 Oct 2012.

A sick and lonely boy has to stay in bed on his birthday while a girl waits outside the gates for him to come out and play in the woods. Examining the toys in his room the boy has a dream based on Andersen's fairy-tale about the emperor's nightingale. The emperor of China is almost crushed by the court routine, and when he hears the nightingale outside he is given an artificial nightingale. Everybody is euphoric at first, but the brilliant tune of the artificial nightingale always remains the same and makes the emperor mortally sick. Only the real nightingale can save the emperor from impending death. When it returns in the boy's dream he gets up, throws his ball through the window and runs with the girl to the depth of the green forest.

A masterpiece with memorable features: - A virtual silent (dialogueless) movie, driven by the beautiful music by Václav Trojan, with charming violin solos for the real nightingale - The solitude of the boy - Voyage autour de ma chambre: the boy imagines the fairy-tale based on his toys - The emperor of China paints a model moustache for himself on the mirror - His mechanical swan lake - Paradis artificiels - there is even a singing pike, just like the statue by Reijo Hukkanen erected in August 2012 in front of the Helsinki Music Center, inspired by the surrealistic poem "Hauen laulu" ["The Song of the Pike"] by Aaro Hellaakoski - In Trnka's movie the song of the pike is conveyed by a theremin - The astrologist sees a little Chinese girl by the gates with his telescope - The episode with the frog and the parasol has a funny jazzy theme music - Only the little girl can approach the elusive nightingale - Interesting triangle and circle masks and vignettes in the episode with the Chinese lanterns and fireworks - Although the real nightingale is discovered the artificial one gets the applause - The little girl rows along the stream - The spring of the mechanical bird is broken - There is a weird sequence on the graveyard.

A print with beautiful colour from Národní filmový archiv.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kevade / Spring

Kevade / Spring. Photo gallery from Filmoteca Hawkman Blues.

EE-SU 1970, year of production 1969. PC: Tallinnfilm. P: Kullo Must. D: Arvo Kruusement. SC: Kaljo Kiisk, Voldemar Panso - based on the novel (1913) by Oskar Luts. DP: Harry Rehe - black and white - scope. S: Harald Läänemets. AD: Linda Vernik. Cost: Krista Kajandu. Makeup: Rostislav Nikitin. M: Veljo Tormis. Conductor: Eri Klas. ED: Ludmilla Rozenthal.
    C: Arno Liiver (Arno), Riina Hein (Teele), Aare Laanemets (Toots), Margus Lepa (Kiir), Ain Lutsepp (Tõnisson), Leonhard Merzin (Laur the teacher), Endel Ani (Julk-Jüri the sacristan), Kaljo Kiisk (Lible the bell-ringer), Rein Aedma (Imelik), Kalle Eomois (Kuslap), Raul Haaristo (Vipper), Heiki Koort (Peterson), Heido Selmet (Visak), Tõnu Alvens (Lesta), Silvia Laidla, Ervin Abel, Evald Tordik jt.
    Loc: Palamuse, Tallinn, Torma (Jõgevamaa).
    Tallinn premiere: 5.1.1970.
    Digital intermediate produced by Digital Film Finland / Finnlab (2006). 35 mm print from Estonian Film 100 viewed with e-subtitles in English at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonian Film 100), 20 Oct 2012.

Kevade / Spring, the novel and the movie, belong to the most beloved treasures of Estonian culture. The novel is the first work in the Paunvere trilogy (Spring, Summer, Autumn) by Oskar Luts; there were also Paunvere short stories, and a posthumous work called Winter. The director Arvo Kruusement has made movies of the trilogy (1970, 1976, 1990), the same actors playing the same characters. The dialogue of Kevade has become a part of Estonian folklore.

I saw Kevade for the first time, and I look forward to seeing it again. Impressive features include: - The ensemble playing of more than ten central characters: teen-age schoolchildren and their teachers - The sense of the epoch, the late Belle Époque just before WWI - The fights of the gangs of boys (Estonian and German) bring to mind Ferenc Molnar - The pranks such as drowning the raft - The pain of first love (Arno - Teele - Toots) - The rich flavour of the cinematography - The central motif of the magnificent willow, "my grandfather planted it" - The central motif of the river, the melting of the ice - Teele invites Arno to the new home - the school is out, the summer is there, with flowers, meadows, sunshine.

The print, struck from a 2006 digital intermediate, is clean, and good in close-ups and interiors, but the limitations of the digital process used are evident in the nature footage.

Hope Springs

Lemmenlomalla / Hope Springs [Swedish title]. US © 2012 GHS Productions, Inc. PC: Film 360 / Escape Artists. Columbia Pictures, Mandate Pictures, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures present. P: Todd Black, Guymon Casady. D: David Frankel. SC: Vanessa Taylor. DP: Florian Ballhaus: - Camera: Arri Alexa, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses - Laboratory: DeLuxe, New York - original format: Codex - Cinematographic process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format) - release format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. PD: Stuart Wurtzel. AD: Patricia Woodbridge. Set dec: George DeTitta, Jr. Cost: Ann Roth. Makeup: Louise McCarthy. Hair: Jerry Popolis. M: Theodore Shapiro. S: Rick Chefalas. ED: Matt Maddox, Steven Weisberg. Casting: Margery Simkin. C: Meryl Streep (Kay), Tommy Lee Jones (Arnold), Steve Carell (Dr. Feld), Elisabeth Shue (Karen, the bartender), Mimi Rogers (Carol, the neighbour). Loc: Connecticut (Guilford, Norwalk, Stonington). 100 min. Released in Finland by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Mariia Haatanen / Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski. 2K DCP (presumably). Viewed at Maxim 2, Helsinki, 20 Oct 2012. 

Official synopsis: "Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are a devoted couple, but decades of marriage have left Kay wanting to spice things up and reconnect with her husband. When she hears of a renowned couple's specialist (Steve Carell) in the small town of Great Hope Springs, she attempts to persuade her skeptical husband, a steadfast man of routine, to get on a plane for a week of marriage therapy. Just convincing the stubborn Arnold to go on the retreat is hard enough - the real challenge for both of them comes as they shed their bedroom hang-ups and try to re-ignite the spark that caused them to fall for each other in the first place."

Feelgood entertainment with serious themes: it's about a marriage which has turned into a dreary routine. Kay wants to save it, and even Arnold has the insight that if he does not restart everything he'll end up a lonely man because Kay cannot live without love.

Meryl Streep gives a brilliant humoristic performance, largely based on little touches and gestures which hit exactly the right buttons.

Tommy Lee Jones surprises me as a comedy actor, and his performance is worthy of Walter Matthau ("if looks could kill").

The visual quality of the screening was fine.

Must Have Been Love

Kaksi tarinaa rakkaudesta / Det måste ha varit kärlek. NO/FI © 4½ Fiksjon / Kinotar. P: Karin Julsrud, Lasse Saarinen, Rimbo Salomaa. P assoc: Linn Kirkenær. D: Eirik Svensson. SC: Eirik Svensson, Jyrki Väisänen. DP: Martin Hogsens Solvang. M: Verneri Pohjola. S: Micke Nyström. ED: Karsten Meinich. C: Pamela Tola (Kaisa), Espen Klouman-Høiner (Jacob / Andreas), Pihla Viitala, Laura Birn, Mattis Herman Nyquist (August), Audun Lunnan Hjor (Audun). Loc: Istanbul, Helsinki, Oslo (Tøyen, Kaffeflugen on Pilestredet street, kebab restaurant on Torggatan), Berlin. In Finnish and Norwegian. 91 min. Released by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Saliven Gustavsson. 2K DCP (presumably). Viewed at Tennispalatsi 12, Helsinki, 20 Oct 2012 (Finnish premiere weekend).

Official synopsis: "During a holiday trip to Istanbul the dancer-choreographer Kaisa becomes infatuated with the handsome Norwegian Jacob, but the romance that has started beautifully is interrupted as the Norwegian guys continue their journey. While working in Oslo Kaisa bumps into Andreas who looks exactly like Jacob, but as a human being Andreas is completely different. By and by, a serious relationship is started, but the memory of Jacob still lingers in Kaisa's mind."

"Must Have Been Love tells about the incessant tension between infatuation and insecurity while falling in love and finding 'the right one'. How can one tell true love from a romantic dream whose object is inaccessible? Can one find the right one, or is the whole life fundamentally a journey of self-discovery?" (official synopsis, my translation)

There is talent among the cast and the crew, but Must Have Been Love is seriously underwritten and fails to reach an aching, irresistible approach to the interesting story: with one guy (Jacob) everything goes right, with the other guy (Andreas) nothing goes right. The guys look identical, played by the same actor, and Kaisa tries to project the good qualities of Jacob to Andreas, but it is impossible.

Aspects of interest: - There are scenes where the interplay of the actors is engaging: the three Finnish girls meeting the three Norwegian guys in Istanbul, all communicating in bad English while arranging a barbeque party. - When Kaisa meets Andreas, Kaisa is not dancing anymore, and Andreas has stopped playing basketball. Kaisa is now a dance coach for children. She speaks about the difficulty of verbalizing choreography. - Paavo Nurmi was a great runner, but "he could not run away from himself".

The location shooting is great in Istanbul (the panoramas, the fish market), in Oslo (see above), in Helsinki (Corona Bar among other places), and Berlin (U-Bahnhof Möckernbrücke).

The visual quality of the screening was ok.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Veden peili / Watermark

Vattenspegel. FI © 2012 Oy Bad Taste Ltd. P+D+SC: Rax Rinnekangas. DP: Tuukka Ylönen - Venice footage: Camera: Canon 5D Mark II (95% of the final Venice footage) and Canon 7D (5% of the final Venice footage), lenses: Zeiss Compact Primes set & Zeiss Distagon lenses set + Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 (steadycam), recording: Full HD 1920x1080, 8 bit and Technocolor Cinestyle - colour profile. - Finnish footage: Camera: RED Scarlet-X - Lenses: Zeiss Compact Primes set & Zeiss Distagon lenses set, recording: RED RAW 4K. Post house: James Post. Colour definition: Pasi Mäkelä in a DaVinci Resolve unit. Release format: 2K DCP. Camera ass: Jarkko Virtanen. M: Pascal Gaigne - played by a trio. S: Heikki Innanen. ED: Jari Innanen. C: Hannu-Pekka Björkman (Lauri Harkko), Kalle Holmberg (his father), Seela Sella (his mother), Nacho Angulo (Carlos Hermita). Loc: Venice (Italy) in winter. In Finnish and Spanish. 97 min. Distributed by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus with Swedish subtitles by Jani Kyllönen. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 19 Oct 2012.

Synopsis from the production information: "A half-Jewish Nordic photographer arrives at Venice, Italy, in wintertime to seek the beauty of "Other Leningrad" that Joseph Brodsky, a Nobel -prized Russian poet, found there. The photographer takes silent images in Venice and opens his sinful reality to Brodsky, his only mental brother. The photographer carries the weight of his father who worked as an informer of Jewish people to Nazis during II World War in their home country."


"There is a thematic continuation in Watermark to what I started in Journey to Eden (2011) - both are accounts of a man's guilty mind and his atonement."

"The form of Watermark is, however, new. Instead of essayism it is a dramatic movie interpreted by strong actors and growing into a psychological thriller. Hopefully it is also enigmatic from the beginning to the end."

"It is about an inner crisis which takes the form of a confession during a few days of everyday work in Venice of a man who has been stranded in his life - the photographer Lauri Harkko, played by Hannu-Pekka Björkman."

"We often confess our nightmares to someone who is crucial to us while somehow invisible. In Venice Lauri Harkko opens the weight of his soul to his only soulmate, the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1972 and settled in the United States."

"In Venice Brodsky found his 'other Leningrad' which he visited regularly until his death. Lauri's settlement with Brodsky is related to his father, a scholar at Helsinki University (Kalle Holmberg) who had been an informer of Jews to Nazis during the Second World War."

"The borderline between two religions, shame, guilt, and the search for redemption are subjects which have always interested me. In Watermark these grow into central themes besides the startling relationships to father and mother, in the midst of the wintry beauty of Venice."

"A counterweight to Lauri's shattered mental world is the Spanish pianist Carlos Hermita (Nacho Angulo) who has arrived in Venice for reasons of his own. The encounter of the strangers opens unexpected doors to the realities of the men."

"How little we know ourselves. And each other. Watermark is a reflection on these questions. It is also an account of reintegration which in the narrative requires a shocking action to be possible. But who finally is guilty alone? And who is guiltless - in anything in one's life?"

"I would not have made this movie without these extraordinary actors. Nor without this artistic team." Rax Rinnekangas (my translation of the Word from the Director)

It is always a reason to be cheerful when an experimental movie is being released in commercial first-run cinema distribution. Rax Rinnekangas has now made it twice. Watermark is a companion piece to last year's Journey to Eden, which was a cryptic but intriguing pilgrimage story.

Perhaps I was not in the mood, but at first viewing I failed to connect with Watermark the way I did with Journey to Eden. I love what trend-coining critics call slow cinema; it is especially refreshing now that blitz montage is fashionable (although perhaps right now no more as much as in the recent past). Everything is so slow and meditative in Watermark, the tempo, the monologues, the music, that it sometimes borders on monotony.

The subject-matter is strong and heavy. I have a special interest in movies of Jewish relevance, and Watermark certainly belongs to that category. The mother is Jewish, and the father has been an informer of Jews to the Nazis, yet later he has converted to Judaism. But a further dark crime at the bottom of the story is parricide. Lauri has murdered his old father by smothering him with a pillow. I failed to relate with the way these subjects of grand tragedy are handled in Watermark.

Joseph Brodsky is one of the mirror figures of the movie. Another is the composer Galina Sokurova, important for Carlos Hermita. The main mirror is Venice itself, and its waters. There is a Tarkovskyan affinity in the lingering way the water and the walls marked with time are shot. Venice is a mirror of homesickness, as was the Italian experience in Tarkovsky's Nostalghia.

Memorable images: the footage shot in the Venetian Ghetto (Campo del Ghetto Novo is reportedly actually older than the old ghetto), and the Pannelli commemorativi delle vittime veneziane della Shoah; the pale-faced, in real life seriously Eastern Orthodox Christian actor Hannu-Pekka Björkman sporting a yarmulke; the grave of Joseph Brodsky in Venice. A memorable concluding remark: "the relationship of the infinite to the finite cannot be anything else but love".

The visual quality of the presentation was ok regarding that it has been shot on a system camera.

Vares - pimeyden tango / [The Waltz of Darkness]

Mörkrets tango. FI 2012 © 2011 Solar Films. P: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin. D: Lauri Törhönen. SC: Mika Karttunen - based on the novel (1997) by Reijo Mäki. DP: Jari Mutikainen - Camera: 2 x Red MX 4K - lenses: Master Primes Set and Angenieux Optimo Zoom 24-290mm - definition: 4K - post-production: Post Control Oy - colour definition: Marko Terävä at 2K DPX (information from Jari Mutikainen, 5 November 2012). Finnlab - 3-D Trix Finland Oy. Cost: Janne Karjalainen. M: Samuli Laiho, DJ Slow. Song list: see beyond the jump break. S: Tuomas Klaavo, Mikko Mäkelä. ED: Kimmo Kohtamäki. C: Antti Reini (Jussi Vares), Jani Muurinen (tango king Harry Koivikko), Mikko Leppilampi (reporter Ruuhio), Jussi Lampi (Veikko Hopea, escaped convict out to get Vares), Ilkka Heiskanen (inspector Hautavainio, on a long sick leave), Maria Järvenhelmi (Anna Huttunen, taxi driver, dating Ruuhio, making Vares jealous), Antti Virmavirta (the deranged engineer Vehmanen, who gives Vares the assignment to tail his wife), Sari Havas (Kaarina Vehmanen), Anna-Leena Härkönen (Olga, Veikko Hopea's Russian "hairdresser"), Ria Kataja (Anette Tala, music manager), Ville Tiihonen (Hessu Talvio), Andrei Alén (Micke Pinola, pop singer), Lola Wallinkoski (Donna, pop singer, dating Vares), Matti Onnismaa (Pastori Alanen), Eppu Salminen (Juhani Luusalmi), Jasper Pääkkönen (Kyypakkaus), Antti Raiski (Aaro Vartio), Jorma Sairanen (Risto Rautakorpi). Loc: Turku (Pub Uusi Apteekki, Hamburger Börs, Puutorin Vessa). 91 min. Released by Nordisk Film with Swedish subtitles by Joanna Erkkilä. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 7, Helsinki, 19 Oct 2012.

The previews included those for Django Unchained (Tarantino) and the new James Bond movie Skyfall, both catchy.

The eighth Vares movie, the sixth starring Antti Reini, has received the predictable lukewarm or negative reviews.

The milieu of this movie is that of Finnish pop music, "where everyone knows each other". The world of the dance pavilions, full of dreams of happiness, is a major background. The main crime scene is Hotel Satumaa (The Land of Fairy-Tales) referring to a Finnish tango evergeen about the better world beyond this one. We also get to visit a gold record gala event. The tango king has been murdered six years ago, the crime is still unsolved, and the main cop, inspector Hautavainio, is on a long sick leave due to an ulcer and a weakened heart. The reporter Ruuhio now declares that he has found decisive information, but he vanishes suddenly, and Vares finds his room all messed up.

A ruthless hitman, Veikko Hopea, is set free for a vacation from the Helsinki prison (not far from our KAVA office in Sörnäinen), and at once he starts a murderous rampage in Turku, also targeting Vares. He is given a Russian escort, "Olga from Chernobyl".

Vares is working on a less than lucrative assignment, tailing the wife (Sari Havas) of the deranged engineer Vehmanen. There is nothing to report except that the wife loves to dance and wants to make her husband jealous. When Vehmanen hints at a good compensation for Vares for a final solution to the marital trouble it's the end of the assignment, and Vares reports Vehmanen to the police.

There is a good satirical edge in Lola Wallinkoski's performance as Donna the ironical pop singer who confesses that 99% of her life is based on a written scenario. Ria Kataja plays the creepy music manager Anette Tala who is ready to pay Vares a lot of money if he leaks dirty stories about Donna to the gutter press although nothing has happened. The lonely stalker Hessu (Ville Tiihonen) is on Anette Tala's payroll for dirty work.

The conclusion of the movie is played for absurd comedy as three hitmen want to finish Vares simultaneously - "poika paloiksi ja pakettiin" ("chop him to pieces and pack him up") is the command of Anette Tala - and end up finishing each other, instead. The death of the tango king has been related to his hidden homosexuality, there has been a witness to the murder in the house on the other side of the street, and a chain of murders has ensued to suppress the truth about the killer.

The local atmosphere of Turku architecture has been interestingly used. There is an emphasis on the Turku art nouveau (Jugendstil). There is also an emphasis on the vertical dimension: moving up and down the stairs on the hills of Turku.

Although Vares is a bohemian and a tramp he has a moral code, and the movie has a strong stand about the gutter press and the assumption that everything can be bought.

The colour world is on the grey side in the beginning, but on the whole the digital look is either getting better or there is more success in avoiding the restrictions and limitations of digital cinema.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Best of Jiří Trnka

Jiří Trnkan parhaita / Det bästa av Jiří Trnka. Ústřední Půjčovna Filmů Praha / Studio Kresleného a Loutkového Filmu / Krátký film Praha / Bratři v triku. There is no dialogue in these films; only in Pérák a SS there is a little introductory text. Prints from Národní filmový archiv (Prague). Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jiří Trnka), 18 Oct 2012.

Four gems from the Czech master of animation.

Archanděl Gabriel a paní Husa [Arkkienkeli Gabriel ja kauppiaan rouva / Archangel Gabriel and the Merchant's Wife]. CZ © 1964 Krátký film Praha. P: Jiří Vaněk. D+SC: Jiří Trnka – based on Decamerone (1353) by Boccaccio. Puppet AN: Stanislav Látal, Vlasta Pospíšilová, Bohuslav Šrámek. DP: Jiří Šafář. Cinematographer's assistant: Jindřich Hrdina. ED: Hana Walachová. M: Jan Novák. 803 m / 29 min. Source: Boccaccio: Decamerone: Fourth Day, Second Story. The monk Alberto visits the bedchamber of the merchant's wife Lisetta in the guise of Archangel Gabriel, complete with feathers. - AA: a witty, juicy approach to the Boccaccio tale, funnily erotic, with humoristic visions such as the Arcimboldo woman.

Pérák a SS [Vieterimies ja SS / The Springman and SS]. CZ 1946. PC: Bratři v triku. P: Jaroslav Jílovec. D+SC: Jiří Trnka – from an idea by Ota Šafránek. Design: Jiří Trnka. Cartoon AN: Čeněk Duba, Josef Kábrt, Jiří Krejči, Stanislav Látal, J. Mann, Jan Müller, Bohuslav Šrámek, Karel Štrébl. M: Jan Rychlík. Orchestra: FISYO, conductor: M. Uzelac. B&w. 285 m / 14 min. The chimney sweep Pérák gets springs under his feet and becomes an overwhelming opponent to collaborators, stool pigeons, and the SS. Although the Nazis mobilize a full regiment against him he manages to save victims of the SS. - AA: A comic superhero, a bit like Spiderman, receives strong springs from the sofa on which the young lovers are supposed to kiss. Funny satire on Nazi oppression (even a songbird is chained, as is an old man whose steps on slippery banana peels resemble a Cossack dance).

Vášen [Intohimo / A Passion]. CZ 1961. PC: Ústřední Půjčovna Filmů Praha / Studio Kresleného a Loutkového Filmu. P: Jaroslav Možíš. D+SC+idea+design: Jiří Trnka. AN: Bohuslav Šrámek, Jan Adam, Zdenĕk Šob, Jan Karpaš. DP: Jiří Šafář. ED: Hana Walachová. 564 m / 20 min. Faster, faster: a little boy boosts his toy car with a clockwork. A kick scooter, a bicycle, a motorcycle, a wheelchair... everything needs to be faster. Even when his soul flies to heaven it tries to surpass a sputnik. - AA: a contribution to Paul Virilio's dromology. Funny details such as receiving horse power from the knight pieces of chess players.

Ruka [Käsi / The Hand]. CZ © 1965 Krátký film Praha. D+SC+design: Jiří Trnka. AN: Bohuslav Šrámek (the potter), Jan Adam (the hand), Ladislav Fialka (the dancing hand). DP: Jiří Šafář. ED: Hana Walachová. 511 m / 19 min. The potter makes flowerpots and cultivates a plant in one of them. A magnificent hand emerges into his study and tries to enforce him to create a monument to it. - AA: the funny details include the hand montage (a hand on tv, the scales of justice, the Statue of Liberty, the hand on the trigger, the X-ray hand, a handshake, hand silhouette figures).

The prints have a juicy sense of colour, and in the black-and-white Pérák a SS there is a good definition of light.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My highlights in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, 2012)

This year Le Giornate del Cinema Muto was at its best, with discoveries every day, either unknown / forgotten / neglected works, or new and better versions, prints or presentations. This is mildly incredible, as the heyday of the silent feature film lasted only 16 years, and the GCM has been going on already for 31 years. These are years of maturity at the GCM, the complex machine working very well thanks to the dedication of the great festival team. Promisingly, children (Striking a New Note) and young newcomers (the Collegium) keep emerging as gray panthers fade away.

Selig Polyscope 1-4. Curated by Andrew Erish, an important retrospective covering a major motion picture company. William Selig established the first movie studio in Los Angeles and launched the first Western series with real Native Americans and actual cowboys, most importantly Tom Mix. Selig also established the jungle adventure genre, using footage actually shot in Africa and building a zoo of his own, which became the first movie studio theme park. In partnership with W.R. Hearst Selig produced the first successful American newsreel. Selig also was a pioneer of longer and more complex narratives: among fiction films, The Coming of Columbus was the first 3-reel movie distributed by General Film in America; The Adventures of Kathlyn (believed lost), the first action-adventure serial produced in America; and The Spoilers, the first 2-hour fiction feature film made by an American producer. In Selig's movies, Kathlyn Williams became the first American action heroine and serial queen in jungle adventures; also a convincing Queen Isabella in the Columbus epic. (This summary based on the introduction by Andrew Erish). -- I was struck by the audacity of the vision of society in these "on the road to Hollywood" movies. Columbus is brought back to Spain in chains because he has failed to provide enough gold for Queen Isabella. The West is really wild in Selig's movies, and so are the North (The Spoilers) and the South (the Panama of Ne'er-Do-Well). The breakdown of justice is total in the Alaska of The Spoilers where law and order can be bought, and fair-playing gold-miners are evicted from their lucrative claims just like that. -- Interesting is the recurrent figure of the strong woman, in all the Kathlyn Williams movies, and also in the Tom Mix Western Legal Advice, where civilization is represented by a female attorney. -- The art of film direction and flair in cinematic expression is not particularly highly developed in the movies produced by Selig. Selig had strong concepts, he found good material and exciting performers, but a truly irresistible cinematic drive was missing in the films he produced.

Opening Gala Concert Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoe (Georges Méliès) - Maud Nelissen's quartet: the joy of music to a newly discovered full version of a major Méliès movie made soon after Le Voyage dans la Lune (but perhaps not as inspired as it).

Opening Gala Concert The Patsy (King Vidor / Marion Davies) - Maud Nelissen and FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra. A delightful and warmly humoristic score in good synch with the bright comedy which picks up in inspiration towards the ending, including Marion's funny series of parodies of Hollywood stars.

Prostoi sluchai / A Simple Case (Vsevolod Pudovkin). A major Pudovkin movie I had never seen before, as strong as his most famous works, and exploring new ground, although there is a great unsolvable problem in the fundament (the mediation between the political and the private is not really worked out). As a work of visual poetry it is superb, a movie about encountering the shock of the new. There are shots with starkly reduced composition, extreme close-ups cropped in surprising ways, lyrical passages of nature, blitz montages of war and urbanity, and enigmatic images. Devices include slow motion, reverse motion, and time lapse. The railway station sequence has montages that are indistinguishable from abstract avantgarde. The keyword is ellipsis. And there is a sense of something inscrutable, sinister, and uncanny going on beyond the optimistic hurrah facade.

German Animation, 1910-1930, 1-2. Curated by Annette Grosche, an excellent series of animations, mostly commercials, done in such an irreverent way that the attitude to the message of the miraculous might of the commodities can be seen as an intentional parody. Some of the animations are famous pieces by Ruttmann, Reiniger, et al., but the others have often an equally high quality, making this a treasury of discoveries. I have never seen better prints of these movies.

Striking a New Note 2012: Concert of the orchestras of children of Pordenone and Cordenons playing to We Faw Down and Liberty (Laurel & Hardy / Leo McCarey). The children's playing had a special feeling of delight and determination. For instance there was a memorable touch in the way they played "The Star Spangled Banner" to the opening of Liberty (Washington... Lincoln... Laurel and Hardy in striped clothes running for their life, chased by the police).

Anna Sten discoveries, curated by Peter Bagrov: Zemlya v plenu / The Earth in Chains (Fyodor Ozep): oppressed by big land-owners, the young mother forced to serve the landlord's family; Torgovtsky slavoi / The Merchants of Glory (Leonid Obolenski): the first Marcel Pagnol film adaptation, a satirical concept worthy of Capra and Sturges; Provokator / Agent Provocateur (Viktor Turin): the first movie of both Turin and Sten, a tragedy of student rebels haunted by stool pigeons and agents provocateurs of the secret police; Stürme der Leidenschaft (Robert Siodmak): Anna Sten together with Emil Jannings in a movie prefiguring film noir (the French version Tumultes starred Charles Boyer and Florelle).

"Oh! Mother-in-Law!": curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, an inspired show of early comedies based on the oldest joke in the world (according to James Frazer and Margaret Mead even jungle tribes know it). My favourites: La Garçonnière de Rigadin (D: Georges Monca), Finalmente soli (D: Ernesto Vaser), and The Making Over of Mother (P: Al Christie).

Zvenigora (Aleksandr Dovzhenko). Used to seeing our nonlinear, nonsensical Helsinki print it was a revelation to see this linear, easy-to-follow print from Vienna.

The Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture: David Sproxton. Insights in the secrets of animation revealed by one of the major figures in Aardman Animation. "Do we see what we believe or do we believe what we see?": reflections on the art of illusion and the psychology of visual perception dedicated to the memory of Richard Gregory. "The uncanny valley": ROBOT - ANDROID - HUMAN. We accept a doll, a robot, a matchstick man, and a cartoon figure as figures of fantasy and artifice. But if we move towards greater photorealistic illusion, we land into the uncanny valley where imitation starts to feel disgusting.

The Spanish Dancer (Herbert Brenon / Pola Negri): newly reconstructed and restored, a magnificent print of the Paramount version of the Victor Hugo story simultaneously filmed by Ernst Lubitsch for Mary Pickford as Rosita. A fine romantic adventure story, and an exhilarating guitar-flavoured live music performance.

Moi syn / My Son (Yevgenii Cherviakov / Anna Sten). Pyotr Bagrov has resurrected the memory of a major Russian director, Yevgenii Cherviakov, whose entire legacy was destroyed during the siege of Leningrad - until a print of Moi syn emerged from Museo del Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken (Buenos Aires) which also gave us the complete Metropolis. Stark, laconic images, and performances which are forceful without exaggeration.

Seminar: Torkell Sætervadet: Are You Ready for Digital Projection? The Norwegian author of the projectionist's bible has now written a digital update, forthcoming in November 2012. Six main reasons to be cheerful for D-cinema: 1. Colour range. 2. Bit depth. 3. Virtual losslessness. 4. Consistency. 5. Content. 6. Cost (prices now rapidly coming down, next generation projectors only cost a third of the recent ones). Problems covered: resolution (4K recommended, it does not get better than that in projection), archival frame rates (already acknowledged but not yet implemented), sound (beware of white papers), 3D (a lot of light needed), DCP problems (keep them SMPTE compliant), how often do you need a new projector: every 10 years; warranty packages are expensive but essential.

A.W. Sandberg's Charles Dickens adaptations: screened in Pordenone's Charles Dickens retrospective this year: Vor fælles Ven / Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorrit, Stora Forventninger / Great Expectations. Not shown this time: David Copperfield. Having seen Sandberg's Great Expectations and David Copperfield before I was aware that they have probably been conscious or unconscious models for David Lean's and George Cukor's later, definitive sound film adaptations of the novels. Of equally high quality was Our Mutual Friend, with a fine sense of the uncanny in a story which might have been a good subject for Alfred Hitchcock in his The Lodger mode. I look forward to seeing Little Dorrit another time.

Jenseits der Strasse / Harbour Drift (Leo Mittler).  Much stronger than I remembered, a masterpiece of urbanity, the account of the stream of consciousness no less impressive than what Joyce and Woolf were doing, with an acute sense of the contrast between reality and illusions.

Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre: Visions animées des artistes célèbres. A magnificent reconstruction in colour and with sound partly from the original sound cylinders, partly reconstructed perfectly live by John Sweeney. An essential showcase of the performing arts and their greatest artists during la Belle Époque, made for the Paris World's Fair in 1900. An unforgettable evening.

Die freudlose Gasse / The Joyless Street (G.W. Pabst): The first screening of a new colour print of the latest Munich restoration from sometimes heartbreakingly duped sources. The magnificent feeling of the epoch and the society enhanced by the full detail and the care taken with the images, all part of a vital, organic, vibrant whole.

Late Thanhouser: A Modern Monte Cristo, Fires of Youth (Émile Chautard / Jeanne Eagels) In true Thanhouser fashion there is a plain, sober, and mature approach to the storytelling regardless of how wild the plot turns may be. Jeanne Eagels in one of her earliest film roles gives a natural and realistic performance.

Premio Jean Mitry: Pierre Étaix - his silent acceptance speech.

Closing Gala Concert A Woman of Affairs (Clarence Brown / Greta Garbo) - music composed and conducted by Carl Davis, inspired by Franz Liszt, played by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra. The bestselling novel The Green Hat turned into a tragedy of the lost generation, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. dying of alcohol, Greta Garbo speeding towards death, yet protecting the honour of her loved one with dignity, John Gilbert in an understated role. Clarence Brown is in full command as a silent cinema storyteller. The Carl Davis score is refined.

MOVIES I MISSED AND LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING ANOTHER TIME: Oliver Twist (1922, Frank Lloyd / Jackie Coogan, Lon Chaney), The Corrick Collection Vol. 6, Little Dorrit (A.W. Sandberg), The Viking (Technicolor), A Tale of Two Cities (Frank Lloyd, 1917), The Only Way (Herbert Wilcox, 1926).

GREAT MOVIES I HAD SEEN BEFORE AND SKIPPED THIS TIME: The Goose Woman, Devushka s korobkoi / The Girl with the Hatbox, Hands Up!, Die Weber / The Weavers, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, Great Expectations (A.W. Sandberg).

This year for the first time archival 2K DCPs were screened in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre (from prints with a special Parnaland perforation), Provokator (from Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kiev), and two A.W. Sandberg movies from the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen (Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorrit). The change is not abrupt since we have seen prints of classic movies made via digital intermediates since the 1990s.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012 web reactions

Bristol Silents: pre-highlights
Silent London, Pamela Hutchinson for the first time in Pordenone, eight posts
Nathalie Morris at the BFI website
Pamela Hutchinson on Méliès at the Guardian website
John Wyver on Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre in Illuminations: there are three posts on Pordenone on the site
Ned Thanhouser
Maggie Hennefeld in Film Comment, 22 Nov 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Film concert A Woman of Affairs, composer and conductor Carl Davis with FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra

Kohtalokas nainen / Gröna hatten / Destino.
    US 1928. PC: M-G-M.
    D: Clarence Brown; SC: Bess Meredyth, based on the novel The Green Hat by Michael Arlen; intertitles: Marian Ainslee, Ruth Cummings; DP: William Daniels; ED: Hugh Wynn; AD: Cedric Gibbons; gowns: Adrian; ass D: Charles Dorian;
    C: Greta Garbo (Diana Furness), John Gilbert (Neville Holderness), Lewis Stone (Hugh Trevelyan), Johnny Mack Brown (David Furness), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Jeffrey Merrick), Hobart Bosworth (Sir Morton), Dorothy Sebastian (Constance), Fred Kelsey (detective), Agostino Borgato (coroner);
    35 mm, 8191 ft, 91' (24 fps); print source: Photoplay Productions, London. English intertitles.
    Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Special Events), e-subtitles in Italian, 13 Oct 2012.

Score (incorporating themes from “Sonnet de Pétrarque” no. 123 by Liszt) composed and conducted by Carl Davis; performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra.

Score commissioned by Thames Television for Channel 4; performed by arrangement with Faber Music Ltd., London, on behalf of Carl Davis.

The Live Cinema presentation of A Woman of Affairs by arrangement with Photoplay Productions. Originally produced by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow.

Performance realized with the support of Banca Popolare FriulAdria-Crédit Agricole.

Prologue of the screening: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. interviewed by Kevin Brownlow [for Hollywood, 1980?]

Kevin Brownlow: "Michael Arlen’s novel The Green Hat, published in 1924, was an international sensation, thanks to its startling subject matter. Set in Mayfair, it portrayed London society as though the writer longed to be a part of it, while despising it all."

"Hollywood could hardly ignore it; it sold far too well. There was also a stage version. Will Hays, however, had placed it at the head of his list of banned books and plays because it concerned a girl described as a nymphomaniac whose husband suffers from syphilis. That very word appeared in print."

"The property languished at Fox, where Howard Hawks was to have done it in 1926. The next company to attempt it was M-G-M. Meanwhile, a fan magazine said Blanche Sweet had met Michael Arlen and that her husband, Marshall Neilan, would be directing the film in Paris and London for First National. It is highly unlikely that Hays would have allowed him to make it – he was an unpredictable director who liked to work off the cuff. In any case, Neilan succeeded in wrecking the deal."

"M-G-M were not allowed to call the picture The Green Hat. Characters’ names had to be changed and even the story altered. Writer Bess Meredyth, who had successfully rewritten Ben-Hur, and who had scripted Garbo’s previous film, was assigned to this one, and in an eerie coincidence, was involved in a car crash. Clarence Brown, who had made the first Garbo and Gilbert sensation, Flesh and the Devil, was chosen to direct. He suggested the new title – “the only title I ever thought up”."

"Although Michael Arlen preferred Bebe Daniels, Garbo was chosen to play the heroine. It proved her favourite role, Diana Merrick being more complex and admirable than the temptress she usually played. John Gilbert was cast as her lover. But their affair had cooled and Gilbert had no desire to play with her. Garbo had to persuade him. And even when he had consented, the coolness remained."

"Gilbert and Garbo were not on speaking terms, reported Picture Play: “The love scenes had to be, as usual, fervid. They would look ritzily and disdainfully at each other when they entered the set. But immediately the camera would start clicking, they would set their mind to the important business at hand, which during the greater part of the estranged period, called for hectic and languishing embraces. Then off the set they would go in opposite directions, with their noses in the air.”"

"Douglas Fairbanks Jr., then 18 years old, who played Garbo’s dissolute brother, acted as their go-between, carrying notes from one to the other. “I used to read them,” he confessed. “They were both so angry it was sad. I thought they still loved each other.”"

"The love scenes lacked the fire of Flesh and the Devil, and John Gilbert seemed unusually restrained. Perhaps this was due to Clarence Brown’s direction. “Gilbert’s part in the film, as you may remember, is the part of a weak man, dominated by his father,” said Brown. “I quite naturally thought that Gilbert might object to the short footage which he had in the picture. Because in comparison with the footage given his co-star, he had but a small percentage of the film. I proposed that I add something to his part, making it a bigger and more manly role."

"Gilbert went right up in the air. He said, ‘I’d rather you didn’t touch my part a bit, Clarence, for if you do, I’m afraid we might weaken our story. My character is a weak character and he’s got to be handled that way. Footage doesn’t matter. I’d rather play the part of a butler in a good picture than have every foot in a film that’s a flop.’”"

"Brown recalled that Gilbert suddenly changed his style in the middle of the picture, demonstrating what he was going to do in his first sound film. “He was speaking his titles with a lot of flamboyance.”"

"No doubt Brown calmed him down. But there was another reason for his strangely muted performance. He had been attacked in an article in Vanity Fair by Jim Tully, “the hobo writer”, which had deeply injured him. His daughter, Leatrice, wrote that from that moment her father’s intensity and confidence on the screen had gone: “What is more surprising is that it never appears again. Jack, after 1928, is a different actor altogether.”"

"Louise Brooks remembered the gossip of the time. Garbo was jealous of Dorothy Sebastian, who was carrying on an affair with the director. And it was generally understood that the plot of The Green Hat was based on the death of Olive Thomas, who had supposedly committed suicide in the Hotel Crillon in Paris when she discovered that her new husband, Jack Pickford, had syphilis."

"M-G-M remade the story in 1934 as Outcast Lady, directed by Robert Z. Leonard, with Constance Bennett and Herbert Marshall. Unusually, a film had been released earlier that year called Riptide, written by Edmund Goulding and directed by him and Robert Z. Leonard, starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery and bearing strong similarities to The Green Hat." – KEVIN BROWNLOW

The Music

Carl Davis: "The score is based on a Liszt piano piece, “Sonnet de Pétrarque” no. 123, a setting of a poem by Petrarch, from the composer’s “Années de pèlerinage”. I used it in an episode of the Hollywood television series devoted to the scandals, when an extract from A Woman of Affairs showed Garbo loosening her ring in the love scene with John Gilbert. That piano piece became the basis for the whole film."

"It is scored for 18 players – but I used no percussion, to make it softgrained, to go with the lighting. When it’s not Liszt, I tried to make it sound sophisticated to replicate the atmosphere of England at that period. The performance at the Giornate will mark the first time I have personally conducted the score publicly." – CARL DAVIS

AA: Greta Garbo and Clarence Brown at their best. This interpretation of the bestselling novel grows into a tragic view of "the lost generation". The brother (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) drinks himself to death. The sister (Greta Garbo) burns herself to death. She is introduced as a reckless driver, and in the conclusion we see her final ride holding a queen of spades playing card in her hand.

In his best movies Clarence Brown was really good (as was also evident in The Goose Woman screened during this festival; I skipped it, having seen it before).

The Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - Greta Garbo interplay as brother and sister is impressive. As Kevin Brownlow says above, John Gilbert is different than usually, more serious and laid back.

Everybody blames Diana (Greta Garbo) for the suicide of her husband David (Johnny Mack Brown). Neville knows that "Diana is never a coward". When Neville (John Gilbert) finally reveals the truth, that Diana has in fact been protecting the honour of David's memory, it's the last straw for Diana: "You have taken me the only gracious thing I have done".

A Woman of Affairs is a showcase of the mature stage of storytelling in the silent cinema. The performances, the looks, the objects, the cutting: there is a real flair, and an aching impact in this movie.

A wonderful score by Carl Davis inspired by Liszt, and a great performance by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra.

The print is excellent; one scene seems like it might be a black and white duplication of a toned or tinted sequence.

Rupture (1961) Premio Jean Mitry - Pierre Étaix in Pordenone - Award Ceremony

FR 1961. PC: C.A.P.A.C. D: Pierre Étaix, Jean-Claude Carrière; P: Paul Claudon; M: Jean Paillaud; DP: Pierre Levent, asst. Jean-Jacques Flori; ED: Léonide Azar, asst. Madeleine Bibollet; S: Jean Nény; C: Pierre Étaix, Anne-Marie Royer, Anny Nelsen; 35 mm, 376 m, 13' (24 fps), sd., no dialogue; print source: Fondation Technicolor pour le Patrimoine  du Cinéma / Fondation Groupama Gan pour le Cinéma, Paris. Restoration: Studio 37, Fondation Technicolor pour le Patrimoine du Cinéma, Fondation Groupama Gan pour le Cinéma. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Premio Jean Mitry), 13 Oct 2012.

David Robinson: "To mark the presentation of the 2012 Jean Mitry Award to Pierre Étaix – in his dual role as a master of silent comedy and as restorer of his own oeuvre – the Giornate is screening his first comedy short, cowritten and co-directed with another screen debutant of 1961, Jean-Claude Carrière. Born in 1928, Étaix left his native Roanne to work in Paris as an illustrator and in time solo performer in cabaret, music hall, and circus, where he partnered the clown Nino Fabbri. In 1954 he met Jacques Tati, with whom he was to work for four years as artist, gagman, and assistant director on Mon Oncle, in which he makes an uncredited appearance. Working with Tati he collaborated with the young writer Jean-Claude Carrière on novelizations of Les Vacances de M. Hulot and Mon Oncle, written by Carrière and illustrated by Étaix. The two found an instant rapport and embarked together on their first film venture, Rupture. Their second collaboration, Heureux Anniversaire (1962), won both the 1963 Oscar and the BAFTA award for Best Short Film."

"Their partnership as actor-director and writer continued at the same time as Carrière embarked on his historic collaboration with Luis Buñuel (he was also to work, inter alia, with Forman, Malle, Wajda, Brook, and Schlöndorff); together they made the features Le Soupirant (1962), Yoyo (1965), Tant qu’on a la santé (1966), and Le Grand Amour (1969), in which Étaix was partnered by his first wife, Annie Fratellini (1932-1997), who came from a great circus dynasty to become France’s first female clown and the founder, with Étaix, of the country’s first circus school. With their sparse use of dialogue, the films were a miraculous revival of the art of silent comedy. They were all festival favourites and hugely popular with critics as with  audiences. Étaix was seen by many as the peer of his first master Tati."

"Then abruptly, after a fifth feature, Pays de Cocagne (1971), both Étaix and his films virtually disappeared from the screen. Later it emerged that through some improvident contractual deal he had lost control of the rights, and the eventual owner chose to suppress the films. Étaix returned to live clowning, and wrote many books; but two generations of cinephiles were not even aware of the name of this great master of silent comedy. It was a unique and tragic phenomenon of film history. But it was to have a late happy ending. In the early years of this century, the rights situation was resolved, as Pierre Étaix secured the support of Fondation Groupama Gan pour le Cinéma and Fondation Technicolor pour le Patrimoine du Cinéma. The film material had been badly kept over four decades, and the Fondations undertook the restoration of the films, in collaboration with Studio 37 and with constant consultation with Étaix himself. The result – five features and three shorts – were finally issued on DVD in 2010, with a sensitive and revealing documentary on the filmmaker by his wife, Odile Étaix."

"Rupture is undated after more than half a century (apart from depicting such extinct usages as pen-and-ink) and faultless. The comedy is purely visual, only enhanced by Jean Paillaud’s score and the witty sound effects. Though Étaix’s lean and handsome face and self-absorption inevitably invite comparisons with Keaton, they are irrelevant: Étaix is himself and unique, as he battles, brave and alone, with the hazards that afflict this universe, like road-crossings, ink, pen nibs, love, postage stamps, coat hangers, death, non-adhering envelope flaps, rocking chairs, and the force of gravity." – DAVID ROBINSON

AA: A speechless pantomime about separation: the man receives a letter from his girlfriend terminating their relationship, and thoroughly shattered, he proceeds to answer, tearing her girlfriend's photograph apart. There is a shock ending. The movie takes mostly place in one room, and it is an account about the man's fight with objects such as a fountain pen and ink. The film has been recently restored, and the print is good.

Live on stage Pierre Étaix was in good form giving a silent comic acceptance speech for his Jean Mitry Award. First he gave the impression that he had forgotten what to say. Then he took a paper out of his pocket but could not extend his arm long enough to see. Finally he put his glasses on, only to discover that the paper was empty.

Tempeste di passione / Stürme der Leidenschaft / Tempest (Italian version)

Robert Siodmak: Tempeste di passione / Stürme der Leidenschaft / Tempest (DE 1931) con Anna Sten e Emil Jannings.

DE 1931. PC: Ufa, Berlin. D: Robert Siodmak; P: Erich Pommer; SC: Robert Liebmann, Hans Müller; DP: Günther Rittau, Otto Baecker, asst. Karl Plintzner; ED: Viktor Gertler; AD: Erich Kettelhut; cost: René Hubert; make-up: Waldemar Jabs; ass D: Viktor Gertler; asst: Kurt Hoffmann; rec: Fritz Thiery; M: Friedrich Hollaender; lyrics: Richard Busch, Robert Liebmann, Friedrich Hollaender;
    C: Emil Jannings (Gustav Bumke), Anna Sten (Anna, called “Russian Anya”), Trude Hesterberg (Yvonne, Anna’s friend), Franz Nicklisch (Willy Prawanzke), Otto Wernicke (Chief Detective Goebel), Hans Deppe (Nuschler), Hans Reimann (Max), Julius Falkenstein (Paul), Anton Pointner (photographer Ralph Kruschewski), Wilhelm Bendow (Emmerich), Hermann Vallentin (warden);
    orig. l: 2833 m; 35 mm, 2528 m, 91' (24 fps), sd. (Italian version with original dialogue suppressed); print source: Fondazione Cineteca Italiana, Milano. Didascalie in italiano.
    Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Anna Sten), e-subtitles in English, grand piano: X, 13 Oct 2012.

Peter Bagrov: "Stürme der Leidenschaft (literally, “Storms of Passion”) marked the highest point in Anna Sten’s German career. She was now a “legitimate” Ufa star with all the consequences: an unpredictably vivid, ironic, intelligent, deliberately modern and deliberately modest girl turned into a somewhat plump blonde displaying round shoulders on most of the postcards and publicity photos. Some of those photographs caught an absolutely unexpected likeness to Brigitte Helm, while others revealed a resemblance to Lilian Harvey. But the general aim was to present Anna Sten as the new Marlene Dietrich, whose departure to the United States at the moment of the premiere of The Blue Angel was a serious blow for Ufa."

"So this time Sten was put in a Blue Angel milieu: teamed with Emil Jannings in a screenplay co-written by Robert Liebmann, shot by Günter Rittau, and even provided with a song by Friedrich Hollaender. Jannings too placed great hopes on Storms of Passion, his third talking picture, following The Blue Angel, where he was overshadowed by Dietrich’s triumph, and a modestly successful comedy, Liebling der Götter (Darling of the Gods)."

"Yet the film didn’t become a vehicle for either Sten or Jannings. Both screen personalities were effortlessly and skilfully exploited by the director Robert Siodmak, who was to enjoy international success with both the German and French versions of Storms (the French one, with a completely different cast led by Charles Boyer and Florelle, was released as Tumultes), leading to his career in France and, eventually, in Hollywood."

"“The story of ‘Stürme der Leidenschaft’ is just another one of those underworld things. Indeed, one might even say that ‘Underworld’ thing,” declared the New York Times, referring to Josef von Sternberg’s 1927 melodrama. Yet, the Germans had their own tradition of underworld films, including Bruno Rahn’s Dirnentragödie (Tragedy of the Street, 1927), Joe May’s Asphalt (1929, shot by the same Günther Rittau who worked on Storms of Passion) and Phil Jutzi’s recently released Berlin-Alexanderplatz (1931). What distinguished Siodmak’s work from these, as well as from Hollywood gangster films like Little Caesar or Public Enemy, was a complete lack of pathos and bourgeois didacticism. The authors and the characters set no hopes upon supreme justice – whether juridical or heavenly. Thus the underworld was presented not as a “sore on the body of society”, but – with a good-natured cynicism – simply as model of one."

"Siodmak was not eager to work with Jannings, having had no sympathy either for his expressive style, or for his tendency to improvise and “direct the directors”, or for the Ufa star system in general. But with the help of Erich Pommer he managed to tame the great actor with the threat to replace him with the rising star Hans Albers. In consequence the critics were quite impressed by a restraint uncharacteristic of Jannings and his ability to become an organic part of an ensemble rather than dominating a supporting cast. They went as far as to claim the birth of “a new Jannings”. Whether or not this is true, Storms of Passion was to be arguably his last international success."

"Anna Sten certainly gained popularity with this picture (along with Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff), but critical appraisal was diverse. She was criticized for unsuccessfully copying Dietrich even in her singing manner. (This was true, alas! That same year a vocal expert in Hollywood pronounced an impartial verdict: “She has a small but highly disagreeable voice.”) Yet Siodmak caught maybe the most attractive quality of her acting: spontaneity. One of the most psychologically convincing – and unpredictable – sequences in the film is Bumke’s attempt to strangle his unfaithful mistress; when his grip loosens for a second, instead of screaming or trying to escape Anya embraces him nervously and then faints in his arms. Bumke stares at her expressionless face – and kisses her. (In the French version this mise-en-scène was replicated with a slight adjustment to suit the nature of its stars: when the girl faints it’s not her face but her décolleté at which Boyer stares.)"

"Storms of Passion is often considered a precursor of Siodmak’s film noirs of the 1940s, in particular The Killers (1946) and Criss Cross (1949). This may be true in terms of subject and the aforementioned amorality, but the degree of stylization is quite different. Storms of Passion is a transitional film that still – in terms of acting and lighting – bears elements of Siodmak’s semi-documentary, semi-plotless masterpieces Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday, 1930) and Abschied (Farewell, 1930), and on the other hand has the calculated rhythm of Brennendes Geheimnis (Burning Secret, 1933) and his elegant French films. This rhythm – strange as it may seem – emerges from the Ufa musicals of the early 1930s. Which is no surprise, since both scriptwriters collaborated on some of the most significant specimens of the genre – Robert Liebmann on Der Kongreß tanzt (The Congress Dances, 1931), Hans Müller on Lubitsch’s Monte Carlo (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1930), and both of them on Liebeswalzer (Love Waltz, 1930). More important, Siodmak’s chief assistant Viktor Gertler was an expert in musical editing, whose filmography includes the first German musical, Melodie des Herzens (1929), as well as Der Kongreß tanzt, Die Drei von der Tankstelle (The Three from the Filling Station, 1930), and Peter (1934). No wonder that Siodmak’s next film was to be a Lilian Harvey circus comedy, Quick (1932)."

"The Italian distribution version of Storms of Passion is one of the most bizarre foreign-language adaptations of the early sound period. The original soundtrack was replaced by a new musical score – except for Hollaender’s hit song “Ich weiß nicht zu wem ich gehöre” (literally, “I don’t know to whom I belong”), bits and pieces of which can be heard in Anna Sten’s performance. The German dialogue was replaced with Italian intertitles, translated by Camillo Bruto Bonzi, making Tempeste di passione virtually a silent film (and justifying its inclusion in this programme). The picture did not benefit from that, since in the original version Siodmak took advantage both of Jannings’ perfect and Sten’s imperfect German; the German audience – let alone the Russian émigrés – were moved by her babble – “D’ushen’ka” [“sweetheart”], addressed to each of the three lovers with equal naïve sincerity. Despite such losses, this clumsy Italian re-editing of a German film offers a curious example of the silent/sound “interregnum”." PETER BAGROV

AA: I checked just the beginning and observed the beautiful visual quality of this strange print and got an impression of the performances of Emil Jannings and Anna Sten in the direction of Robert Siodmak.