Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Spirit of the Place - How Remembrances Are Born? (a seminar on Peter von Bagh)

PAIKAN HENKI - KUINKA MUISTEJA SYNTYY? A seminar on Saturday, 13 April 2013 at 10-14, Cinema Plaza, Oulu. Arranged by Merikoskikerho / Uuden Oulun juhlavuosi, Oulun elokuvakeskus, and Illume Oy.

10.00 - 10.10 Opening
10.10 - 11.00 Olaf Möller: The Home and the World (in English)
11.00 - 11.15 A film screening: Oulu - Pohjolan valkea kaupunki [Oulu - White City of the North]. FI 1956. PC: Suomi-Filmi. D: Aimo Jäderholm, Yrjö Aaltonen. 14 min. An Oulu 350th anniversary film. Screened from a computer file (low and poor definition). The film is available on 35 mm, but there are no 35 mm film projectors in Cinema Plaza.
11.15 - 12.00 Samuli Onnela: Lapin ja Lannan rajalta Oulun lyseolaiseksi / From the Border of Lapland to a High School Student in Oulu - ex-director of the archive of the Oulu province
12.00 - 12.15 Intermission
12.15 - 13.00 Kari Sallamaa: Vaiennut koski: sodanjälkeisen kirjallisuuden Oulu / The Silent Waterfalls - Oulu in Post-War Literature - professor emeritus of Oulu University
13.00 - 13.15 Peter von Bagh
13.15 - 14.00 Panel discussion (Samuli Onnela, Kari Sallamaa, Marja Tuominen [professor of cultural history at Lapland University] ja Kaarina Niskala [architect, kotiseutuneuvos])

Olaf Möller presented outlines of Peter von Bagh's film oeuvre, his starting-point being that the viewpoint of Peter is that of an alien, a foreigner, all of his works growing out of his childhood. The 1950s is the key period. The music, the films of the 1950s are what matter the most, and there is a skepticism towards what came after. What counts in Peter's films are the dimension of dreams and the tendency of making an argument. Bagh's films are not linear, they proceed in knots of arguments, presenting different angles, not in classical progression, with a logic which is often intuitive and emotional.

Olaf showed us the first three minutes of Lastuja / Splinters, a montage of works created by the Aho-Soldan family - films, poetic prose, paintings, photographs - also crystallizing a hundred years of history.

In the international circles of cinephiles Peter von Bagh is the über-cinephile. Yet hardly anybody has read Peter's writings outside Finland, because they have not been translated.

And foreigners seldom know about Bagh's film productions.

Studying the remarkable publication programme of Love Kirjat one can detect the names of B. Traven and Jack London with their mix of adventure and an interest in socialism and the class struggle.

Music has also a big part in Peter's life. All of these are like continents, clusters - the year movies (1939, 1945, 1952...) with their recurrent key people, not least from the popular culture - the series about the film studios (The Suomen Filmiteollisuus Story, the Suomi-Filmi Story, the Fennada Story... ). There are the unifying works, the syntheses, such as the Sininen laulu series. Lastuja is like a condensation of the synthesis. And there are interconnections, between the films covering the years from 1939 until 1952. Peter's project about socialism seems to be like a film version about the Love Kirjat publishing programme. While making non-fiction he is also creating a world of his own.

Peter von Bagh was not born in Oulu. He was sentenced to Oulu. So far Oulu has been the blank spot in Peter von Bagh's filmography, and Sininen laulu was, in fact, criticized for the absence of Oulu.

Peter's father was the director of the mental asylum of Oulu. And a connecting feature in Kreivi, Olavi Virta, and the asylum is that things are not what they seem. This world is topsy-turvy, upside down. Like in Pockpicket, the reversal of Bresson's Pickpocket: the protagonist puts surreptitiously money in people's pockets.

Or in Kreivi, in which Peter had a real conman play himself. It is a film about somebody who does not know where his home is. There is no safety at home in Peter's films. Neither in the cinema, the space where maybe you yourself have changed. But contemporary cinema does not want me to change. The hallmark of the cinephile is change: he changes personality twelve times a day, six times a day.

In Oulu's Bio Rio Peter saw the film of the great Gerd Oswald, Schachnovelle, in the 1950s. That was for him the real Oulu experience: Bio Rio, while thrown into this exile.

Film-makers change when they make their films. Few films are fixed to being anti-bourgeois, marked by anarchism. Bourgeois films present a series of consequences, on the way to their own extinction.

Peter's project is to invent and re-invent Finland. There is no other film-maker in the world who so consistently invents and re-invents his own nation. Who are we? Who am I?

The Winter War in Sininen laulu - a war that could not produce prose - only poetry.

La Condition humaine (André Malraux): a free man chooses his home where the highest clouds pile up. Peter hasn't reached the highest plateau yet.

Q: Your [Olaf Möller's] first encounter with Finland? A: A friend of mine had a cd of Finnish iskelmä [hit song] tracks. 15 years ago I saw a work by Peter von Bagh for the first time and thought: this is interesting film-making. Kreivi was mentioned: it is an insane masterpiece - crazy, fantastic, even 40 years after it was made. I was spellbound and slack-jawed. Then I met him in Bologna. We have a 30 years age difference, yet when I asked something from him he replied: "Yes, my master". The last 2-3 years have been a time of intensive research.

Q (Jouko Aaltonen): Peter's soulmates in his essay style? A: Chris Marker and Emile de Antonio - though they did not use that much found footage. In Russia, Esther Shub was the first artist of the compilation cinema. There are also the roots of the socialist film practice: Dziga Vertov. In Austria, there is Norbert Pfaffenbichler. But I cannot think of another film-maker who in such a grand style, so obsessively, covers other arts - literature, music, painting - as a whole, moving in one.

SCREENING of Oulu - Pohjolan valkea kaupunki (1956, see details above), a solid professional short non-fiction programmer with footage that is now precious, invaluable. Cultural references abound: Sara Wacklin - Samuli Paulaharju - Yrjö Mäkelin - Teuvo Pakkala - Mikael Toppelius. Three of the greatest men instrumental in the national awakening of Finland in the 19th century went to school in Oulu: J.L. Runeberg - J.V. Snellman - Sakari Topelius. - Not forgetting M.A. Castrén, V.A. Koskenniemi, and Kaarlo Kramsu. - The statue of Franz Michael Franzén. - Oulu: the great cultural center of Northern Finland.

Samuli Onnela covered his personal journey in Oulu.

Kari Sallamaa gave an account on the rich literary scene of post-war Oulu.

He started with the silencing of Oulu's hallmark roar of the Merikoski waterfalls in the 1940s [the reference to the roar is known to all Finns in the most famous Oulu poem and song, "Ja sen rannalla koski soittaa tutun sävelen ilmoihin" {"And on its shores the waterfalls are playing out their familiar tune"}]. By 1946, the waterfalls were no longer singing. The primordial sound had been silenced.

Matti Hälli was a key writer in his Oulu trilogy: Valkea kaupunki ([The White City], 1957), Lassinkallio (1959), and Kosken kuuluvissa ([Within the Range of the Waterfall], 1967). He also covered life "on the wrong side of the river".

The political geography was that the center of the city had belonged to the bourgeoisie since the age of the tervaporvarit = the tar bourgeoisie, the Laanaoja [Plaanaoja] park zone to the Oulujoki delta being divisive.

Teuvo Pakkala's Vaara [a workers' district] [covered in the novel Vaaralla, 1891] was the place where the SKDL [Finnish People's Democratic League - a left-wing party in 1944-1990, a coalition of those to the left from Social Democrats] house was particularly prominent. Yrjö Tönkyrä covered the Kemi strikes and was sentenced to fines. Contributions to leftist publications included Haanpään juttuja = short stories by Pentti Haanpää - and writings by Raoul Palmgren, Kaarlo Kramsu, Esa Paavokallio, Yrjö Mäkelin - and Kössi Kaatra during his period in Oulu in 1917-1918.

Further prominent writers include Anu Kaipainen and Erkki Hyytinen.

Arto Paasilinna contributed to the Oulu-based newspaper Pohjolan Työ.

The most important writer of Oulu was Paavo Rintala. For him, Oulu is periphery, yet a center: everything is being compared with Oulu. His relationship is ambivalent, and he finds it an advantage not to have [vajonnut oululaisuuteen =] been sunken in the Oulu mentality. Raksila is central. And the Oulu Lyceum at the Pokkitörmä district. In his novel Pikkuvirkamiehen kuolema [The Death of a Small Civil Cervant] he writes of a person who has [huomaamatta opetettu tuijottamaan omaa herruuttaan =] been imperceptibly taught to stare at his own superiority. There was not even any need to teach that attitude - that was the very spirit of the school.

Oulu was a white city even politically in 1918. One went to Vilppula to fight. That's how Juhani Siljo fell. That was also covered in Paavo Rintala's Mummoni ja Mannerheim books. The city is now a city of heroes. There are more casualties of war than in any other city in Finland in proportion to the population.

The architecture: the white single-story wooden houses were built after the great fire. T. Vaaskivi [a brilliant essayist based in Oulu and died there at 30 in 1942] wrote about the classic dream of C.L. Engel [a German architect who came to Finland via St. Petersburg in 1815 and introduced neo-classical empire style into the monument center of Helsinki and made prominent contributions all around the country, including Turku, Porvoo, and Oulu]. Vaaskivi wrote about the model city carved of wood, the dream of harmony, the snow-white city of purity.

That Oulu no longer exists.

Who is to blame? Stalin, who had the stronghold of Germany's supply chain bombed.

The nouveau-riche building tycoons.

The praise to the eternal darkness. The uncoordinated cluster of functions.

Fires have been a cultural preoccupation of Oulu. Urban renewal has taken place at night. Heikki Kinnunen has even sung a song "A Fire in Oulu".

The architect Eino Pitkänen designed the Valkea Linna [The White Castle], the sulphate cellulose factory and the house of Bio Rio (in 1955).

Hotel Tervahovi became the center of social life. The culture at Restaurant Zakuska became legendary.

Typpi [Nitrogen] Oy produced fertilizers. Since then it was merged with Kemira. Raoul Palmgren: "it stinks here". He escaped to Tampere.

Even Hannu Väisänen remembers the smell in his novel Taivaanvartijat [The Guardians of Heaven, 2013].

Antti Tuuri covers the territory in Joki virtaa halki kaupungin [A River Runs Across the City] . He had been the technical director of Kaleva.

The Nokia syndrome started with the arrival of the university in the 1950s.

The Kaltio cultural magazine was important until it was discontinued in 1972. Erno Paasilinna was active in the Pohjoinen publishing house. In 1958 he asked whether Oulu is a city of culture. And professor Pertti Karkama stated that culture is something that one needs to organize oneself in Oulu.

Sallamaa quoted scathing remarks by writers about Oulu. It is difficult to translate them. Koskenniemeläinen pysähtyneistö [the stagnant backwater pool of the Koskenniemi spirit]. Gogolin kuolleiden sielujen kaupunki [a city of Gogol's dead souls]. Kaunis on kuolla [It is beautiful to die - a refunctioned quote from Runeberg's patriotic poem]. And ripostes to the writers: Henkisen riettalinnun paiskaama valheen törky [mendacious scum dropped by a vile bird]. Se kuusi ei kasva kaukana, johon Paasilinna hirtetään [the fir is not far in which Paasilinna will hang]. Juoksijan hyvä pohjakunto pelasti kulttuurikuikelon [the solid basic condition of the runner saved the cultural beanpole].

Juhana Lepoluoto: Jerry Cotton was the only true cultural magazine. The Jante Law [from Axel Sandemose's A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks] was valid: "You're not to think you are anything special".

The prominence of the Cathedral and the Christian revival movements. Paavo Rintala created the characters of the Laestadian revivalist Aadolf Ruotaistenmäki and the blind preacher Jalmari Isopaasi in his novel Rikas ja köyhä [The Rich and the Poor].

Anna-Maija Ylimaula covered Laestadianism in her novels such as Papintyttö [The Clergyman's Daughter]. The legendary Rattori-lupi was established by tech students in 1970, but the previous decade was different. The Oulun profetia [The Oulu Prophecy] or the Heinoslaisuus movement had been launched in 1960 by the prophetic Heinonen sisters. It was an escatological movement which seemed validated by the explosion of Typpi Oy in 1963.  In July 1967 the youth of Oulu rebelled in the so-called prophet riots. 

Anu Kaipainen wrote Arkkienkeli Oulussa [The Archangel in Oulu] which was based on a story culled from the memoirs of Sara Wacklin - the story of Huppa-Leena and the archangel Michael.

Maria Vaara in her Likaiset legendat [The Dirty Legends] launched a series of novels on schitzophrenia. Oulu meant therapy. And here Vompakki [Konrad von Bagh] was relevant, the world of straitjackets.

In Hannu Väisänen's Antero trilogy the old garrison city featured, now becoming a military vacuum. Joni Skiftesvik presented the businessman Hiukkavaara. Hannu Väisänen, who spent his childhood in the garrisons of Oulu, wrote Vanikan palat [Bits of vanikka = crispbread used by the military]. In it appears Hjördis Tykky, hirvittävä kirkkotrulli = the dread church witch who censures even the art of children. Joni Skiftesvik wrote his Nauru Vintteri and Nallu stories. If nothing else helps they threaten to contact Veikko Ennala of the Hymy magazine.

It was possible to leave, yet long for Oulu. The most beautiful image of longing is the one by Eeli Aalto from the bridges, towards the chapel. The magic emblem: The Beatles. The expression of the previous speaker, "like stagnant water", was about to change.

Q: Antti Hyry also went to school in Oulu. A: Yes, there are many more writers, and Hyry has also written about Oulu, as has Kauko Röyhkä, among others.

"Punainen akvaario" = The Red Aquarium was the clever move of the Kaleva newspaper to domesticate Jorma Etto, Aku-Kimmo Ripatti, Hannu Taanila, and Peter von Bagh. The red fish were nice to watch, but they were no piranhas.

Peter von Bagh: Kari Sallamaa's contribution was almost like the screenplay to my movie [Muisteja].

No, I have not discussed Oulu in my films before, it has been a huutava vaikeneminen = a case of a loud silence. When Sininen laulu was telecast, Kaisu Mikkola and Jukka Kajava among others noticed that Northern Finland was missing.

I had erased myself, things closest to me - including the Finnish Film Archive and the Midnight Sun Film Festival. In my books about Finnish cinema I fail to mention myself at all.

Muisteja is a more personal work. I trust that the personal appears even when I objectify.

When Helsinki Forever was screened in Madrid I heard a remark that it is one of the most personal films that have been made.

As Samuli Onnela said, background is more important than education in the lyceum of Oskari Inkala. And I am not forgetting the women of Nallikari, either.

The screenplay of my life is here.

Erno Paasilinna said that the only truly learned ones are the self-learned.

Was it a coincidence that the Oulu Lyceum was in the background? It was a coincidence and a necessity. Whether I am an artist by profession? I have yet to choose.

Me, too, have built my Oulu via literature. How little fragments of childhood are transformed into something else.

Matti Hälli, who was 30 years older, I met in the same proseminar.

Jorma Korpela I saw when I was 16 years on a train from Kajaani to Siilijärvi. He sat across me. He died pretty soon afterwards. We did not speak, but I felt his presence.

I also went to the Jerry Cotton school: before I wrote for Kaleva I contributed to the Outsider magazine a translation of a short story in English about boxing. I knew only half of the words. The result was pulp fiction. But one did not have to care about copyright after that.

In my movie there is a lot of trivia, but also images from Eeli Aalto, photographs from Uuno Laukka, Rauno Ahonen, 8 mm home movies from the Hammer family, materials from the Oulu Lyceum and the Provincial Archives of Oulu. The paucity of material is relevant to the period.

Films have a central role. The films are the whole world. The fiction, the dream.

The sound background is very versatile. The precise listing is like a screenplay to the film. Prominently featured is Leevi Madetoja, the central composer of Oulu.
One of the topics mentioned in the concluding panel was Paavo Rintala's novel Aika ja uni [The Time and the Dream].

"Joka tulee Ouluun se tulee kouluun" [Who enters Oulu enters school].

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