Thursday, November 28, 2013

Autumn reading: film books

Peter von Bagh: Chaplin. Helsinki: Like, 2013. In Finnish, 496 pages. Peter von Bagh has written dozens of books during some fifty years, but Chaplin, one of his best, is his first monograph of a film-maker. (He has written and co-written monographs of music stars.) Von Bagh has written remarkable essays on Chaplin's films over the years, but the new book is not a compilation of them. It is a new whole with a strong, consistent breath, taking us from the earliest Keystone farces to Chaplin's late unfinished projects. The 40 chapters on selected shorts have occasionally a rough note quality, but the chapters devoted to the feature films are compelling to read. My favourite chapters include: The Count, The Kid, A Woman of Paris, Gold Rush, The Circus, and City Lights. A work of cultural history, a history of Chaplin's spirit, its evolution during many phases and stages. In that profound sense von Bagh's work belongs with André Bazin. A work of lasting value, based on a lifelong commitment, it should be published in English.

Glenn Mitchell: The Chaplin Encyclopedia. London: Batsford, 1997. 288 pages in small print. Always a solid reference book, with a comprehensive collection of entries and a lot of rare and fascinating detail besides the basic facts, synopses, and biographical data.

Charles J. Maland: Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1989. 442 p. One of my favourite Chaplin books, a social history of Chaplin's star image, full of original insight.

Frederic Lombardi: Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2013. 370 large format pages. Last summer in Bologna I had not yet access to this seminal study about Allan Dwan. Indispensable in getting facts straight about the great mythomane (for instance about the infamous legend of his last film, Most Dangerous Man Alive). An essential Allan Dwan companion.

Outi Hupaniittu: Biografiliiketoiminnan valtakausi: Toimijuus ja kilpailu suomalaisella elokuva-alalla 1900-1920-luvuilla / [The Reign of the Biografi Business. Operators and competition in Finnish cinema from the 1900s to the 1920s]. Turku  Turun yliopisto, 2013. 525 p. Annales universitatis Turkuensis. Ser. C, Scripta lingua Fennica edita; 367 Arkistolaitoksen toimituksia, 16. Outi Hupaniittu's dissertation from September 2013. Finland belongs to the privileged countries in the world of film studies because we have the unique, detailed books by Sven Hirn about the gradual development from the pre-cinema decades to the early cinema period; there was a long transitional period of co-existence. I had thought that we already know a lot about early cinema in Finland, but Hupaniittu, a skilled historian and archival expert, has unearthed a huge array of sources previously never reasearched in film studies. I have now read a third of Hupaniittu's dissertation, and every page has amazing discoveries.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Autumn reading

Kai Ekholm, Jussi T. Koski: Pysähtymiskirja. Paremman etsijälle. / [The Book of Standing Still. For the One Who Is Looking for Something Better]. Helsinki: Into Kustannus, 2013. A good suggestion for a gift book: wisdom of life for our age. It's about living in the escalating media torrent, how to be a master of one's own life in the middle of the raging data storm.

Dorrit Gustafsson, Kristina Linnovaara (ed.): Essays on Libraries, Cultural Heritage, and Freedom of Information. Helsinki, 2013: Publications of the National Library of Finland 81. - Essays written by Janne Andresoo, Pekka Gronow, Juha Hakala, Tuomas Heikkilä, Kristiina Hormila-Poutanen, Esko Häkli, Päivikki Karhula, Matti Klinge, Mikael Korhonen, Tuija Laine, Jukka Liedes, Kai Linnilä, Ilkka Mäkinen, Hanna Nikkanen, Yrjö Repo, Hermann Rösch, Jarmo Saarti, Gunnar Sahlin, Sinikka Salo, Sinikka Sipilä, Vigdis Moe Skarstein, Paul Sturges, Pia Södergård, Jukka-Pekka Timonen, Gunilla Widén, Timo Virtanen, Mauri Ylä-Kotola. - Festschrift published on the occasion of Kai Ekholm's 60th birthday. - Kai Ekholm has been the director of the National Library of Finland since 2001, during the age of the greatest turbulence in literature since Gutenberg. Free speech has been Ekholm's central theme in his scentific work, including in his dissertation. Such issues, and questions of copyright and heritage, are covered in the essays written by high profile authors.

Kai Ekholm: Niiden kirjojen mukaan teidät on tuomittava / [By Those Books You Will Be Judged]. Helsinki: Atena, 2013. A detective novel. The title has been inspired by the Last Judgement fresco of the Albi Cathedral whose concept is based on the Book of Revelation. The book is a page-turner. I have had my period of devouring detective fiction, but now I am completely out of touch though I know there's a lot worth reading. I have my own comparable hobbies such as Marilyn Monroe biographies (I was about to write "Marilyn Monroe fiction"). I'm also amazed at the Rashomon-like discrepancies in the accounts of the JFK assassination. Currently I am an avid reader of the case of Cornelius Gurlitt, the Munich hermit with his cache of 1300 artworks. I'm incapable of assessing Ekholm's book as detective fiction, but I'm fascinated by the Gurlitt link in this novel whose deep background story is about the giant black market of looted cultural heritage, also one of Ekholm's concerns of study as a researcher.

Markku Jokisipilä, Janne Könönen: Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraat. Suomi Hitlerin Saksan vaikutuspiirissä 1933-1944 / [Guests of the Third Reich. Finland in the Sphere of Influence of Hitler's Germany 1933-1944]. Helsinki: Otava, 2013. Books like this are more thrilling than fiction. This is the most comprehensive study of the relations between Germany and Finland during the Third Reich. Much of this is familiar, but the general picture is new, and there is also a lot of previously unpublished material. Finland was not German-oriented in the 1930s, but there was an important cultural bloc that was, and German links and sympathies among the military were strong. This book offers the greatest comical writing I have read all year: the "dinner of nine provinces" the writer Maila Talvio offered to Alfred Rosenberg accompanied by Karelian dirge singers, utterly demolishing Talvio's pretenses of our Aryan heritage. And also some of the most horrifying writing, in the account of the visits of Hitler and Himmler to Finland in 1942, the year of the Final Solution. The authors are fully tuned to the extreme complexity of the situation. Finland had a unique position during WWII. This book helps understand better. A splendid example of Finland's new history school, able to offer truths that might have been too uncomfortable to discuss in public during the Cold War.

Matti Salminen: Pentti Haanpään tarina / [The Story of Pentti Haanpää]. Helsinki: Into Kustannus, 2013. Pentti Haanpää belongs to my handful of favourite Finnish writers, word magicians with a compelling vision of life and society. Good books have been written about him, but Matti Salminen manages to uncover much that is new. Haanpää's life and work needs to be reconsidered fundamentally in the light of this new information. Haanpää was a bitterly critical writer during the reactionary 1930s. His work was being suppressed but he found channels to publish, sometimes in papers and magazines that have been obscure until now, as discovered by Salminen. This book is a must for Haanpää aficionados although the text is unpolished and the approach is needlessly and heavy-handedly undiplomatic towards other Haanpää scholars. Salminen should be proud of what he has accomplished and let readers draw their own conclusions about other scholars.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson: Fantastic Mr. Fox (US 2009).

Kekseliäs kettu / Den fantastiska räven.
    US © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox [yes!] Film Corporation / Indian Paintbrush / Regency Enterprises. P: Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Wes Anderson, Allison Abbate.
    D: Wes Anderson. SC: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach – based on the children's novel (1970) by Roald Dahl – translated into Finnish by Panu Pekkanen / WSOY (1978). DP: Tristan Oliver. M: Alexandre Desplat – M dept.: big – most of the score is based on the soundtrack playlist, see beyond the jump break. AD: Francesca Berglingieri Maxwell. Art Dept.: big. SFX crew: big (puppet crew big - Mackinnon and Saunders, etc.). VFX crew: big (rotoscope artists, compositors, digital artists). AN dept.: big – AN director: Mark Gustafson – AN supervisor: Mark Waring. Cost: Catherine Allen Busch. S: David Evans, Jacob Ribicoff. ED: Andrew Weisblum.
    Voice talent: George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep (Mrs. Fox), Jason Schwartzman (Ash Fox), Eric Chase Anderson (Kristoffersson Silverfox), Karen Duffy (Linda Otter), Wallace Wolodarsky (Kylie), Bill Murray (Clive Badger), Owen Wilson (Coach Skip), Willem Dafoe (Rat), Michael Gambon (Franklin Bean), Adrien Brody (Field Mouse), Jarvis Cocker (Petey), Brian Cox (Daniel Peabody), Wes Anderson (Weasel), Roman Coppola (Squirrel Contractor).
    87 min.
    A KAVA print deposited by FS Film (released without subtitles at Kino Engel), with e-subtitles in Finnish by Leena Virtanen (the nursery rhyme and the names of the three farmers by Panu Pekkanen) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Wes Anderson), 24 Nov 2013.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 – Camera: Nikon D3, Nikon and Cooke Varotal Lenses – Laboratory: DeLuxe, Hollywood (CA), USA (prints) – Technicolor Creative Services, London, UK (digital intermediate) – Negative Format: Digital – Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format) – Digital Stills (source format) – Printed Film Format: 35 mm (spherical) (Fuji Eterna-CP 3513DI), D-Cinema

IMDb synopsis: "An urbane fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers' retaliation."

AA: One of the best and most original achievements of the current golden age of animation. A puppet animation which has been photographed digitally.

A rich and weird animation about an animal community fighting for its existence in the territory of three mighty farmers. The film has a more lively tempo than other Wes Anderson movies. It is so full of inventive scenes and gags that I already know I will want to see it again.

The visual look of the film is unique. The stills which I do not particularly like do not convey it very well.

The sound is very important. The performances of the voice actors are inspired, and the compilation score (The Ballad of Davy Crockett, Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones... ) is well complemented by the new score music by Alexandre Desplat, including some Morriconean action music stretches.

The film is very literate, and luckily we had a good Finnish translator.

The screening was well attended, and there were many laughs. A part of the audience seemed to know the film well. There were also children in the audience, even very little ones. This autumn we have mounted the first Wes Anderson retrospective in Finland. Finland has not been a land of an equally big Wes Anderson cult as Sweden, but judging by the enthusiastic reception of our retrospective we are on our way to become so.

Our screening of Fantastic Mr. Fox was not perfect. The mirrors of one of our projectors are being readjusted, and the subtitling light was also slightly distracting. A fantastic experience all the same.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't Shoot the Messenger. The Expanding Field of Graphic Design (exhibition)

Don’t Shoot the Messenger
The Expanding Field of Graphic Design //
11.10.2013 - 12.1.2014 @ Design Museum, Korkeavuorenkatu 23, Helsinki

Official info: "Design Museum’s main exhibition of the autumn season addresses contemporary phenomena and challenges in graphic design from the perspectives of Finnish and international designers."

"Graphic designers are messengers, whose role is being redefined as their professional field is expanding, as in many other areas of the arts and design. This exhibition at Design Museum explores the present state of graphic design and asks where it is headed."

"Sixteen designers or design offices from five European countries have been chosen for the exhibition. The participants include Ben & Julia (DE), Carnovsky (IT), Eike König (HORT) (DE), (US), Kokoro & Moi (FI), Letman (NL), Linda Linko (FI), Merijn Hos (NL), Metahaven (NL), Milla Ahola (FI), Tsto (FI), Studio Moniker (NL), Santtu Mustonen (FI), Ollanski (DE), Janine Rewell (FI), Thisissand (FI) and Tzortzis Rallis (GR/GB)."

"A separate entity within the exhibition consists of the exhibit Fully Booked: Ink on Paper which has been compiled of work by 29 designers in up to 300 printed publications. This exhibit has been curated by the Gestalten publishing house of Berlin. The featured designers include Stefan Sagmeister and Coralie Bickford-Smith."

"Don’t Shoot the Messenger asks how contemporary phenomena appear in the work of contemporary designers. These include critical design and political views, the birth and death of media, the changing concept of work, new methods such as participatoriness, and changes in tools and technologies."

"The graphic design of the exhibition is by Tsto, a Helsinki-based design office."

"Visitors to the exhibition can also see a graphic designer in action. The Dutch graphic designer Letman (Job Wouters) will paint a 17-metre long mural in the exhibition space. Letman will paint from 31 October to 3 November during the museum’s opening hours and the public is welcome to follow his work."

The book to the exhibition is in Finnish only: Johannes Ekholm (ed.): Graafinen suunnittelu. Käytännöt, tekniikat, strategiat. [Graphic Design. Practices, Techniques, Strategies]. Tallinna: Tsto, 2013. Cost: 2 Euro.

The introduction is a manifesto about graphic design today. It is one of the most remarkable texts I have read this year. It should be translated into English.

It is about the fundamental transformation of a graphic designer's job in a world of neverending and ever-expanding stream of images and information.

According to Ekholm, the traditional connections of a graphic designer's job in Finland to a national romantic identity project or to advertising have been severed.

Simultaneously long-term commitments have been replaced by short-term jobs.

There is a risk of cynicism.

"After the shipwreck of the project of modernism, is there anything left of graphic design but a digital but alienated labour attitude? On the one hand there are the conveyor belt jobs, draft services, logo-on-demand, homepage machines and default templates, on the other hand extremely specialized luxury markets".

It is an ironic, challenging, combative stance. The exhibition is a reflection of many kinds of contemporary graphic design. I think it is all about being against cynicism.

Go see it.

Read the introduction to the book. I have started to sample the 300-page dialogue chapters of the book, too, and I don't know yet what to make of them. At least they are a record of the dialogue of our times.

Kaj Franck Design Prize 2013: jewellery artist Björn Weckström (exhibition)

Necklace Planetaariset laaksot / Planetary Valleys worn by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in Star Wars / Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). Silver, 1969. Photo: Lucasfilm, Ltd. Björn Weckström 2013, Kaj Franck Design Prize Catalog.
Kaj Franck Design Prize 2013 – Björn Weckström. 15 November–14 December 2013. Design Forum Showroom, Erottajankatu 9 B (inner courtyard), Helsinki. Mon–Sat 11am–6pm, Sun closed, free entrance

The press release: "The Kaj Franck Design Prize of 2013 awarded by Design Forum Finland has been given to professor, jewellery artist and sculptor Björn Weckström. The prize is one of the most eminent design prizes in Finland and was now awarded for the 22nd time."

"Björn Weckström is a reformer of Finnish jewellery art, whose unique style has aroused both national and international attention since the 1960s. He was among the first designers to combine new materials such as acrylic with traditional precious metals. He created jewellery, among other work the renowned Space Silver collection, that was both miniature sculpture and miniature landscapes. In addition to his extensive output, mostly for the Lapponia Jewelry company, Weckström has also created impressive works in sculpture, many of them inspired by the mythology of Antiquity."

"The prize jury stated that Björn Weckström’s identity as an artist is of a markedly classical orientation. It is based on a thorough knowledge of culture, crafts skills, his vision as an artist, and ethical standpoints. Weckström has explicitly sought to provoke and pose questions in both his jewellery and sculptures and he has been attuned to his times in an uncompromising and astute manner. The members of the prize jury of 2013 were Pentti Kivinen / Finnish Fair Foundation (chairman of the jury); Professor Heikki Orvola; Arto Ruokonen / Desigence Oy; Ulla Uimonen / Nokia Plc, and Mikko Kalhama / Design Forum Finland."

"The Kaj Franck Design Prize is awarded annually to a designer or team innovatively creating both high-quality industrial design and unique, one-off works. The winners of the prize represent comprehensively top Finnish design. The prize sum of €10,000 is donated by the Finnish Fair Foundation. The prize also includes a medal designed by Tapio Junno and an exhibition presenting the prizewinner’s oeuvre. The Kaj Franck Design Prize 2013 exhibition will be on show at Design Forum Showroom 15 November – 14 December 2013."

There are the jewels with their rugged elegance, with a touch of something primordial, including Princess Leia's necklace.

There are the bigger than life sculptures of neo-mythological subjects, prophetic of cyberpunk and the era of genetic engineering, always based on well-endowed athletic men. Film associations range from Metropolis to Alien to RoboCop.

There are the acrylic sculptures and the glass creations.

An intensive showcase of Björn Weckström. Anne Veinola's essay "Myth and landscape" in the exhibition catalogue is worth reading. The motto: "I think with my hands". The chapters: - Origins - Lapland Gold - Space Silver - Reflections of Light - Sculpture - Myth - Dynamics - Time.

Master glassblower Jaakko Niemi and Björn Weckström in the early 1980s. The impossible became possible when working with Jaakko. Photo: Björn Weckström's Archive.
Björn Weckström and sculptures Helios and Daidalos.
Photo: Liisa Valonen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sampling Ninotchka

Ninotchka. US © 1939 Loew's, Inc. PC: MGM. P+D: Ernst Lubitsch. SC: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch – based on a story by Melchior Lengyel. DP: William Daniels. AD: Cedric Gibbons. Cost: Adrian. M: Werner R. Heymann. ED: Gene Ruggiero. C: Greta Garbo (Ninotchka), Melvyn Douglas (count Léon), Ina Claire (Grand Duchess Swana), Bela Lugosi (commissar Razinin), Sig Rumann (Iranoff), Felix Bressart (Buljanoff), Alexander Granach (Kopalski). 110 min. 35 mm film print (KAVA, deposited by UIP / MGM: 1981 re-release print) sampled at the Marilyn screening room at Lume, Department of Film, Television and Scenography, Aalto University (School of Arts, Design and Architecture), Helsinki, 18 Nov 2013

We screened Ninotchka in its entirety in our Asta Nielsen - Greta Garbo class. This time I watched just the beginning and the ending. Ninotchka still looks brilliant and, like all comedies, is at its best seen together with a receptive audience such as today.

Greta Garbo almost always played tragic or dramatic characters, but she had a good sense of humour like her good old friend Ernst Lubitsch knew. Too bad that Garbo only got to do two comedies, Ninotchka, and her last movie, Two-Faced Woman, both starring Melvyn Douglas.

Garbo loved to act, and she always came to the stage or to the set fully prepared and ready to go. On the set even her trusted collaborators such as her cinematographer William Daniels were surprised to see nothing remarkable. First from the film image on the screen they realized. Garbo's expression may have remained the same, but when she turned her eyes from one character to another, the attitude changed profoundly. It was something subtle and interior which, however, projected powerfully on the screen.

Garbo had four especially important directors. Mauritz Stiller was her discoverer and mentor. Clarence Brown directed her in seven films, more than any other. Edmund Goulding was able to get deep with Garbo in the two films they did together. George Cukor also directed Garbo twice, in Camille, an essential Garbo vehicle, and in her last film Two-Faced Woman. Not forgetting the masterpieces of G. W. Pabst (Die freudlose Gasse) and Lubitsch. The paths of Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo crossed in Die freudlose Gasse. Both were also directed separately by Lubitsch: Lubitsch directed an adaptation of Strindberg's Crime for Crime as Rausch, starring Nielsen (the film is unfortunately missing).

For Stiller, it was a big misunderstanding to come to Hollywood where he was prevented from directing. But he influenced Garbo deeply in the interior approach to acting, an approach opposite to the young actor Stiller's own acting style which the Finnish poet Eino Leino commented with a pun in German "Stiller, seien Sie stiller" ("Stiller, please keep more silent").

Stiller also advised Garbo to her refusal of interviews and public appearances, which she followed to the dismay of the MGM publicity department. Garbo's private life did not become public. Amazingly, the reticent policy bolstered Garbo's public image, and Garbo became MGM's biggest superstar.

The refusal of publicity created an air of mystery, yet there was no mystery in Garbo. She was a plain woman who followed a health diet, liked to exercise (especially to swim), understood to rest well, loved her family in Stockholm, yet always knew she shouldn't marry. Maybe her sexuality was not very high, maybe it was. It was none of our business.

In her films she had occasionally worthy and interesting subjects, including As You Desire Me based on Pirandello. Twice she played Anna Karenina although she was not the type (yet able to project her intelligence and maturity in the latter adaptation). But like Asta Nielsen, Garbo also played in many trivial entertainment stories, and somehow there was no difference, because both Nielsen and Garbo transcended the script characters.

There was no mystery in Garbo, but there is a Garbo mystery: how such an actress of solitude became a superstar. Her quality was best defined by Béla Balázs: "Greta Garbo's beauty is the beauty of suffering; she suffers from life and the world around her. And this sadness is something very precise: a sadness of solitude, of an estrangement based on a lack of a common bond with other people. A sadness of withdrawn beauty and inner nobility, an estrangement of a sensitive plant in the nightmare of the harsh touch of the world - this we find in Garbo even when she plays a hardened woman of easy virtue. Even then her dreamy look comes from somewhere far away and looks into an infinite distance. Even then she is a refugee in a distant land, and we can never tell how she arrived into where she is at." This quality had been present in Eleonora Duse as documented in her sole film performance in Febo Mari's Cenere. But more generally this quality precedes the cinema of alienation of the 1960s for instance in the films of Antonioni.

The Greta Garbo book I recommended to the students is the splendid biography by Barry Paris (1995).

There are more than 200 books on Garbo, but none of their writers seem to have noticed the remarks of Abraham Stiller on Garbo. Abraham Stiller was the brother of Mauritz who became a leading figure in the Finnish Jewish community, heroically so during the Second World War. Abraham took care of the funeral of his brother. Greta Garbo was unable to attend, but they met later in Stockholm.

When Abraham Stiller saw Greta Garbo for the first time he recognized his brother in her.

Garbo asked to be buried with Mauritz, but Abraham told it would require her to convert to Judaism. He advised her against it, and mentioned also that she is too young to think of such things.

Sampling Afgrunden / The Abyss

Afgrunden / The Abyss. DK 1910. PC: Kosmorama. D: Urban Gad. Starring Asta Nielsen (Magda Vang), Robert Dinesen (ingenieur Knud Svane, Magda's fiancé), Poul Reumert (Rudolf Stern, circus performer). Dvd sampled at the Marilyn screening room at Lume, Department of Film, Television and Scenography, Aalto University (School of Arts, Design and Architecture), Helsinki, 18 Nov 2013

Asta Nielsen became an international star with her debut film Afgrunden. We sampled the opening, one of the most memorable entrées of a star, and the gaucho dance, still stunning in the age of Jennifer Lopez and Miley Cyrus.

The topics of the lesson were Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo, two Nordic stars, a Dane and a Swede. Nielsen became great in Germany, which, paradoxically, was a lesser force in film production than Denmark in 1910. Garbo went to superstardom in Hollywood at the MGM. Their paths crossed in Die freudlose Gasse / The Joyless Street directed by a still unknown G. W. Pabst.

Both were born in working-class circumstances, and both lost their fathers at the age of 14.

Both were unique. They copied no one. Both were unsuccessfully imitated by others, but successfully parodied and caricatured.

Both were compared with Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt, the greatest divas of la Belle Époque. The comparison was made in the sense of each of them being unique.

Asta Nielsen belonged to the very earliest international film stars. She was always unconventional. She left Denmark because of the dearth of good roles, and she often fought in Germany to get good scripts. She was so vocal in her criticism that she was boycotted by the film industry in 1925-1927. That did not matter because she was active in many fields, most importantly in the theatre.

She was good both in tragedy and comedy. She was an active creative partner in her vehicles, starting with the first 30 films directed by her husband Urban Gad. She produced herself three films. The first was Hamlet, not based on Shakespeare but on a tradition that Hamlet was a woman, an inheritor to the throne forced to live as a man. She played Stendhal, Strindberg, Dostoevsky, Wedekind, and Ibsen. But even second-rate subjects she transcendended with her presence. Half of her films are lost, and the remaining films, too, survive often in a battered condition (Afgrunden, fortunately, is not one of them).

Also in her roles she played characters who transcend their circumstances. Artists, starting with Afgrunden. Women who enter unconventional relationships. Women who refuse to accept their traditional roles. Women who cross class boundaries. Women who are victims of prejudice. Women who fight for their dignity after having been once off guard.

Henri Langlois saw in her "a figure from Van Gogh", and he called her "Baudelaire's daughter".

Asta Nielsen was able to project interiority through her performance no matter how dreary the script was. She was called "a genius of the gesture". Her method: for weeks she immersed herself into the character. She did not like rehearsals. At the performance she acted as if in a trance.

There are good books on Asta Nielsen, and an indispensable one is Asta Nielsen's autobiography Den tiende Muse I-II (1945-1946), in German Die schweigende Muse (1961, 1977) / [The Silent Muse].

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A day at galleries and exhibitions in Helsinki

Tuomo Rainio: Marble Stairs, 2013
HD digital video. Galerie Anhava.

Muriel Kuoppala: Gate #7, 2013
oil and ink on unprimed canvas. Galerie Anhava. Click to enlarge.
Emil Westman Hertz: Face of Another II, 2013
vitrine, beeswax, polystyrene, paper. Galerie Anhava.Click to enlarge.

Anssi Pulkkinen & Taneli Rautiainen: Departures (Sign) [detail], 2013
aluminium, acrylic, engraving. Galerie Anhava. Click to enlarge.
I started the day at the Erkki Kurenniemi exhibition at Kiasma and continued at the linked exhibition Mika Taanila: Time Machines (see two Erkki Kurenniemi and two Mika Taanila comments below).

GALERIE ANHAVA (Mannerheiminaukio 3)
Next door, Galerie Anhava presented EMERGING 2013, new talent. Muriel Kuoppala's paintings are playful patterns. Tuomo Rainio's video art presents uncannily deformed human figures. Emil Westman Hertz creates assemblages from organic and unorganic materials. Anssi Pulkkinen and Taneli Rautiainen work in conceptual art, transforming the space itself.

Pekka Halonen: Auringonlasku Tuusulanjärvellä / [Sunset at Lake Tuusula], 1902. Private collection. Photo: Valtion taidemuseo, Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto / Kirsi Halkola. Click to enlarge.
Pekka Halonen: Uimaan lähdössä / [Going for a Swim], 1910. Private collection
Photo: Tuusula Museum / Matti Ruotsalainen. Click to enlarge.
Ateneum presents a new montage for an exhibition from the Golden Age of Finnish art, a huge crowd-pleaser, also drawing a lot of children today. "Järven lumo" / ["Spellbound by the Lake"] covers the legendary artists' community around Lake Tuusula in the end of the 1890s and in the early decades of the 1900s: Juhani Aho & Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, Pekka Halonen, Jean Sibelius, Eero Järnefelt, J. H. Erkko, and Eino Leino were there. Such a concept provides an opportunity to revisit favourite classics and introduce unknown works on themes such as childhood, home, studio, and the nature. Full of detail about the daily life, the families and the friendships, about art as a way of life during the incubation period of Finnish independence. Curated by Riitta Konttinen and Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff. There is also a splendid new exhibition book by Riitta Konttinen: Onnellista asua maalla / [Happy to Live in the Country]. Siltala, 2013. Pekka Halonen's nature paintings were my favourites today.

Marie Brask: Italian and other gardens. Taidesalonki. Click to enlarge.
Taidesalonki had an opening today: 25 paintings by Marie Brask from "Italian and other gardens", all painted this year. It was a cool and refreshing visit into a blue world of gardens and waterlilies.

Tähtitiet / Stjernvägar. Carolus Enckell. 2013
Gouache on plywood, balsa. Galerie Forsblom.
Ron Gorchov at Galerie Forsblom. Click to enlarge.
GALERIE FORSBLOM (Lönnrotinkatu 5)
Galerie Forsblom has two hot exhibitions. Carolus Enckell's Open Symbols exhibition presents conceptual art: paintings, aquarelles, gouache works. Works for thinking and meditation. Ron Gorchov's Recent Paintings includes colourful, starkly reduced organic forms on saddle-form canvases.

Sam Vanni: Portrait of Tove Jansson, 1940. Oil on canvas. Photo: Kari Siltala / Amos Anderson Art Museum. Click to enlarge. They were lovers at the time.

I finished the day with four exhibitions at Amos Anderson, all full of discoveries.

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST is a delightful and inspiring selection. It presents self-portraits of artists ranging from Sulho Sipilä and Åke Mattas to Rabbe Enckell and Jalmari Ruokokoski but also portraits of artists as models such as Sam Vanni's portrait of Tove Jansson in the year 1940.
Jeppe Hein: Smoking Bench (2002). Courtesy: Johann König, Berlin and 303 Gallery, New york. Photo: Ole Hein Pederson. Amos Anderson Art Museum. Click to enlarge.
JEPPE HEIN: THERE ARE NO ORDINARY MOMENTS. I sat on the smoking bench. I approached the mirror which started to vibrate. I looked at the screw on the wall which screwed itself. I looked into the hole and saw my own eye in the tiny mirror beyond. Everyday magic they call this.

August Uotila: Seine-fishing on the Shore of Corsica, 1886. Yleisradio. Photo: Ilari Järvinen. Amos Anderson Art Museum. Click to enlarge.
AUGUST UOTILA (1858–1886), PAINTER OF THE GIRL WITH ORANGES, curated by Synnöve Malmström, the first true Uotila exhibition in Helsinki in over a hundred years. One of the founders of the "Golden Age" of Finnish painting, Uotila was influenced by the realism of Frenchmen and painted a lot in France, Italy, and Corsica. He painted both in Bretagne and the Riviera, both summer views and winter scenes. The orange girl may be his finest work. He loved to paint children and fishermen, and he brought a Manet touch to his views of Finnish landscapes. He, too, had an artist as a model: Amélie Lundahl painting in Brittany.
Onni Oja: Forest Work, 1953. Oil on canvas. Stora Enso Finland's Art Foundation. Photo: Rauno Träskelin. Amos Anderson Art Museum. Click to enlarge.
METSÄRETKI / FOREST OUTING. I was about to call it a day, but fortunately Anton Asikainen tipped me that the best is yet to come. "Metsäretki" / "Forest Outing" is an inspired exhibition following a special "forest map" which takes us to romantic landscapes by Berndt Lindholm, to the Nordic shaman Reidar Särestöniemi, to the wintry scenes of Pekka Halonen (again today!) and Jussi Mäntynen, to the majestic birds of Lennart Segerstråle and to the zoologically accurate illustrations of the brothers von Wright. A good combination of magic and realism, also with a room dedicated to the hard work of forestry workers and lumberjacks. My favourite is the sculpture of the mama bear with two little cubs playing on its back. This exhibition has been especially planned for children with a special book and many interesting activities. An attractive concept to introduce art for children.

Erkki Kurenniemi: Towards 2048 (exhibition at Kiasma)

Erkki Kurenniemi. Photo: Kiasma.
I spent the day visiting galleries and museums in Helsinki, 16 Nov 2013.

I started at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art visiting the exhibition: Erkki Kurenniemi: Towards 2048. The first definitive Werkschau of Erkki Kurenniemi (b. 1941), "a Finnish futurist, electronic music pioneer, and experimental film-maker. Considered a visionary extraordinaire, Kurenniemi's life has been dominated by a total documentation project which aims to unite man and machine - to replicate the human soul in a computer of the future". See separate entry below about the remarkable Spindrift (1966) perhaps the first computer animation in Finland and Sweden. Works on display include: - Mika Taanila: Sommerreise - Photographs of Erkki Kurenniemi in five decades - Portraits by various artists on Erkki Kurenniemi in various media - The private Kurenniemi (the megalomaniac all-encompassing diary project in writing, on audio tapes, on film, on video, on the computer) - The public Kurenniemi - The video journals - The audio journals - Constant (Nicolas Malevé & Michael Murtaugh): Data Radio: Erkki Kurenniemi (in 2048) ( - 2048: the construction materials for a virtual Erkki Kurenniemi - Films (all unreleased at the time): Carnaby Street (ca 1971), Computer Music (ca 1966), Electronics in the World of Tomorrow (ca 1964), The Punched Tape of Life (1967), Ex nihilo (1968), Florence (ca 1970), Flora & Fauna (ca 1965), Huumaava elämänlanka / The Intoxicating Thread of Life (ca 1968), Joulumysteeri / Christmas Mystery (1969), Talo / House (1969), Tavoiteltu kaunotar / Coveted Beauty (1965), Winterreise (1965). - Erkki Kurenniemi's Pathé Reflex Webo "M" - Home movies on 8 mm and 16 mm - Photographs on the damage done to the Master Chaynjis robot - DIMI-O video organ - DIMI-H converting movements into sound - Integrated synthetizer (1964- ) - Electric quartet (1968), a collective instrument for four players - Dico (Digitally Controlled Oscillator (1969) - DIMI-A (Digital Musical Instrument with Associative Memory), 1970 - DIMIX, a digitally controlled mixing console and patchbay with video output - DIMI-S Sexophone, 1972, a collective instrument for max four players: the unit responds to changes in the electro-resistance of human skin when people touch each other by converting signals into music - DIMI-6000: a microprocessor controlled synthetizer for the Finnish Broadcasting Company - Computer art - Photographs - Photo index cards - DIMI is born poster - Kurenniemi's music - Andromatic diagrams - DIMI-T Electroencephalophone, translating thoughts into music, controlled by the EEG of the player - Erkki Kurenniemi interviewed by Erkki Pirtola - Mika Taanila: The Future Is Not What It Used to Be - Jan Bark & Erkki Kurenniemi: Spindrift (1966 / reconstructed in 2013 by Mika Taanila) - Flashing lights on the Kiasma facade.

Kuuden päivän juoksu / Six Day Run

Photo: Kiasma.
 FI 2013. A single channel projected installation. Screening format: DCP, blu-ray, or digital file - original format: Super 8 mm film - 1:2,35 - colour - 5.1. - dialogue in English - 14'25"
    D: Mika Taanila. DP: Jussi Eerola. S design: Olli Huhtanen. M: Circle. P: Kinotar / Cilla Werning, Lasse Saarinen.
    Screened at Kiasma's Mika Taanila: Time Machines exhibition, 16 Nov 2013

"New York's Six Day Race is an extreme endurance sports event. The competitors run laps around a one-mile loop in a park, striving to cope with as little sleep as possible. The film's main protagonist is the Helsinki-based ultra-marathon runner Ashprinhanal Pekka Aalto."

"Dating from the 1870s, the race originally focused on betting, but today it is more about spiritual self-transcendence and meditation. Like many of his fellow contestants, Ashprihanal is a devotee of the Bengali spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy." (Kiasma exhibition presentation).

A documentary vision on transcending one's limits, on the zone between the physical and the spiritual, on the triumph of the spirit over matter.

Suomen sähköisin kunta / The Most Electrified Town in Finland

Photo: Kiasma.
 FI 2012. A three-channel video installation. Screening format: digital files. Original format: 16 mm, video - 3 x 1,1,77 - colour & b&w - no dialogue - 15 min - loop
    D: Mika Taanila. DP: Jussi Eerola. S design: Olli Huhtanen. M: Pan sonic. P: Kinotar / Lasse Saarinen. Source: Kiasma Collections.
    Non-stop three-screen presentation at Kiasma's Mika Taanila: Time Machines exhibition,16 Nov 2013.

"The small town of Eurajoki on the west coast of Finland is constructing what is touted as the world's most powerful nuclear reactor, Olkiluoto 3. There are already two older reactors in Eurajoki. Construction of the third reactor began in 2005. It was supposed to be up and running four years ago, but the official estimated opening date is in three years - at the earliest."

"Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola have been documenting the project since its inception. The piece juxtaposes construction scenes with images of the changing rural landscape and experts performing radiation measurements. The title is the town's former slogan. The installation is based on Return of the Atom, a documentary feature by Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola (work in progress)." (From the Kiasma exhibition presentation.)

Based on the work-in-progress by Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola on the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reaction projects during 2004-2012 the installation has an epic quality in its time-lapse cinematography covering the huge construction site during a number of years. There is also an objective quality in the movie. We are left to reflect ourselves on the overwhelming implications of nuclear energy. The approach is cool and distanced but never indifferent. Nature is present in the wintry footage. Technology is introduced in its most refined and advanced state. The colour world is on the glacial side. The experience is powerful while all obvious emphases are avoided.

Spindrift (1966, reconstructed by Mika Taanila in 2013)

Photo: Kiasma
Spindrift. SE/FI 1966. Created by Jan Bark and Erkki Kurenniemi. An abstract cybernetic computer animation shot on 16 mm. 2K DCP and 35 mm reconstruction of the original film.
    P+SC+DP+S+M: Jan Bark.
    Analogue computer programming: Erkki Kurenniemi.
    Technical operations manager for telephotography: Måns Reuterswärd.
    Electronic camera: Wulf Meseke.
    Editor: Thomas Öhrström.
    Sound technician: Beng Nyqvist.
    Musicians: Bengt Berger (tabla), Jan Bark and Bengt Ernryd (tambura).
Black and white, 14 min

"The original film is missing. The version seen here is a reconstruction edited by Mika Taanila for this exhibition. It is based on the original script and raw material found in the archives of Svenskt visarkiv / the Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research. Music by Jan Bark was edited into the film by Petri Kuljuntausta".

Spindrift (Revisited 2013)
ED: Mika Taanila.
Sound mastering: Petri Kuljuntausta.
2K scanning: Samuli Kytö.
P: Perttu Rastas.
PC: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / National Audiovisual Archive.
Screened from computer files at a Kiasma screening room in the Erkki Kurenniemi exhibition, 16 Nov 2013

"Experiments with an analogue computer", Teekkari student magazine, 1 Nov 1963, No: 3-4B.

"Kurenniemi programmed an analogue computer to generate the visuals for Spindrift. These illustrations published in Teekkari magazine in 1963 were produced on the same computer in Helsinki University's Department of Nuclear Physics. In the accompanying text Kurenniemi explains that the images are by-products of differential equations."

Jan Bark: Synopsis for the film Spindrift (copy). Script for Spindrift (copy). Original script and synopsis: Svenskt visarkiv / Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research.

"Jan Bark, writer and composer of Spindrift, outlined his project for Sveriges Radio with this synopsis in 1968. Next to it is a copy of the original script. At the end of the scropt Bark describes Spindrift as 'kinetic music heard with the eyes'. Traditional Indian instruments (tamburas and tabla drums) are featured on the soundtrack which has been manipulated by slowing the tempo and adding electronic effects. The vocals are by Gayathri Rajapur." (From the Kiasma exhibition information)

AA: A wonderful discovery: probably the earliest Finnish computer animation, more precisely, a Swedish-Finnish co-production of Jan Bark and Erkki Kurenniemi, programmed by Erkki Kurenniemi at Helsinki University's Department of Nuclear Physics and shot from a computer screen in Helsinki in 1965-1966, now reconstructed by Mika Taanila from footage found at Svenskt visarkiv.

Rough notes: - A computer screen with lines like in fingerprints - the lines start to get distorted - with the Indian music moving mandala figures appear - the transformations are often quite quick - I think of psychedelia - and Harry Smith - the figures are like flower patterns on icy windows - moving Lissajous curves appear - like in the credit sequence of Vertigo, computer programmed by the Whitney brothers - I think of Oskar Fischinger - and Walther Ruttmann - the figures are very versatile, and the rhythms of the metamorphoses keep changing - there are vertical figures - horizontal figures - diagonal figures - static figures - moving figures - dotted figures - checkered figures - growing figures - diminishing figures - black on white - and white on black - bleached images - images resembling X-rays - there are fast, emergining, rotating, and pulsating movements - throbbing maelstroms - dancing jellyfish - galaxies - nebulae - black holes - white noise - this is a non-figurative, ornamental, patterned work - visions of the ocean - visions of heaven - bending - like neon lights in a big city - crescendoes - ritardandi - accelerandi - overspeed - ultra-rapid edits - contractions - swellings - like meteors in the night sky - like electric power fields - like thunderballs - like lightnings - like the big bang.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Muisto ‒ itsenäisen Suomen ensimmäisten vuosien kertomus / [Memory ‒ the Story of the First Years of Independent Finland]

Not from the film Muisto. Celebrating the February 1917 revolution in Jyväskylä, 21 March, 1917. Keski-Suomen museon kuva-arkisto.
FI 1987. PC: Yleisradio / TV1 / Opetustelevisio ja asiaohjelmat. [EX: Astrid Gartz]. P: Pekka Holopainen, Ulla Launonen. D: Peter von Bagh. DP: Raimo Hartzell - 16 mm sepmag. FX: Jussi Olkinuora. M: (I) Fredrik Pacius: finale from the opera Kung Karls jakt - (II) "Ole armollinen" sung by Väinö Sola - (IV) Jules Massenet: "Elegie" sung by Väinö Sola. Kuvanauhan koostajat: Harri Vainio, Heikki Lehtinen, Asta Pystynen. ED: Elina Katainen. Kuvaussihteeri: Asta Parikka. Colour, 1,37:1 ‒ 119 min
    Hellä Päivänsalo, Valborg Holm, Irja Oesch, Eugen Malmstén, Alli Suhonen, Viljo Sohkanen, Elina Hämäläinen, Martti Ruutu, Ilmari Turja, Rakel Wilen, Viljo Sohkanen, Sirkka Mäkinen, Kalle Kaihari, Eino Hokkanen, Tyyni Tuulio, Lauri Karke, Gösta Palander, Valborg Holm, Väinö Valve, Ida-Maria Saarinen, Bertta Niemelä, and Hellä Päivänsalo remember the first steps of Finnish independence.
    Suomi armas synnyinmaa. The 70th anniversary of Finnish independence.
    Muisto ‒ itsenäisen Suomen ensimmäisten vuosien kertomus.  Osa I: Vuosi 1917 / [The Year 1917] (1/4). First telecast: 3.11.1987 Yle TV1 ‒ 28 min
    Muisto ‒ itsenäisen Suomen ensimmäisten vuosien kertomus.  Osa II: Veli veljeä vastaan / [Brother against Brother] (2/4). First telecast: 10.11.1987 Yle TV1 ‒ 32 min. The civil war.
    Muisto ‒ itsenäisen Suomen ensimmäisten vuosien kertomus. Osa III: Voittajat ja voitetut / [The Victors and the Vanquished] (3/4). First telecast: 17.11.1987 Yle TV1 ‒ 29 min. Finland after the civil war.
    Muisto ‒ itsenäisen Suomen ensimmäisten vuosien kertomus. Osa IV: Itsenäisen Suomen ensimmäinen kesä / [The First Summer of Independent Finland] (4/4). First telecast: 24.11.1987 Yle TV1 ‒ 30 min. Finland in the summer of 1918.
    There is also a two-part version.
    Introduced by Ilkka Kippola, presented by Peter von Bagh.
    Yle Export digibeta at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Peter von Bagh / In the Core of the Documentary 74), 13 Nov 2013

The film about the earliest period covered in Peter von Bagh's "series about years" crucial in the history of Finland is one of his least known, and thanks to Olaf Möller we have been alerted about the significance - even the existence - of the work that has been missing even from lists of von Bagh's films, even from the authoritative Tenho and Elonet databases until now.

The other films in von Bagh's "year series" are The Year 1939, The Last Summer 1944, and The Year 1952.

Muisto [Memory], about 1917 and 1918, Finland's road to independence and the bloody civil war, I now saw for the first time.

Muisto is stark in concept. It focuses heavily on talking heads only. There are brief newsreel glimpses, some photographs, and laconic, compressed intertitles. There is no narration, and the voice of the interviewer is never heard.

In its absence of narration Muisto resembles the Emile de Antonio approach.

In the intensity of its close-ups Muisto brings to mind Claude Lanzmann's Shoah. Both are attemps to approach something overwhelming, something almost beyond comprehension. One of the subjects of Muisto is the Finnish concentration camps of 1918 and their horrible death toll. (Did we provide one of the models for Hitler and Stalin?)

The people were young when the events took place. They were around 90 years old when the interviews were made 70 years later. They still remember well.

The events of the years 1917 and 1918 have been often covered, but this film is full of fascinating material that I do not remember having encountered elsewhere.

The four-part series ends in a montage of vintage photographs of the protagonists - they were young men and women, teenagers, or children, but old enough to understand.

There is music only in the conclusions to episodes I, II, and IV. The first episode ends with the finale to the first Finnish opera, Kung Karls jakt by Fredrik Pacius (1852), obviously inspired by such Giuseppe Verdi operas as Nabucco. A tune of a dream of liberation common to all.

Ilkka Kippola in his opening remarks reminded us about the surprising fact that there were hardly any documentary overviews about the years 1917-1918 in Finnish history before Muisto. Antti Peippo and Arvo Ahlroos had made works of distinction, but Muisto was the first general documentary film study about the period, later followed by the cycle of films directed by Seppo Rustanius. (My digest of Ilkka's remarks).

In his introduction Peter von Bagh claimed that this is a modest film. The human face is the most fascinating subject, and there was no other way to do a film like this. There is not a single expert involved. These are people who have lived that period. Muisto was done in the nick of time. Yle had missed the opportunity of interviewing many people, say, since around the year 1960, but they were gone by now. On the other hand, the period depicted was so traumatic that it might have been impossible to cover it in this way much earlier. The most important unused interview was that with Edvin Laine. It was too theatrical, but it became the material for the Edvin Laine portrait 20 years later. (My digest of Peter's introduction.)

Muisto is not modest at all. There is great dignity in the memory quest to the most devastating years in Finnish history.

Muisto does avoid exaggeration and emphasis. The subdued approach is well considered in a subject-matter like this.

The eyes are of the essence. What these eyes have seen. The looks help us make emotional contact with the turbulent period. They remember, and via this film they make us remember.

Good video quality, perfectly adequate for the talking heads approach.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) at the film history class at Aalto University

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. US 1953. PC: Twentieth Century-Fox. D: Howard Hawks. Based on the novel by Anita Loos and its Broadway musical adaptation. Blu-ray at the Marilyn (yes!) screening room at Lume, Department of Film, Television and Scenography, Aalto University (School of Arts, Design and Architecture), Helsinki, 11 Nov 2013

The topic was Marilyn Monroe at the film history class for students of film and theatre schools. We discussed the Hollywood star system, the genre system, and the studio system, and the pressures they put to screen acting in a big budget film production.

Yet there was room for personality and individual expression of talent even under such conditions especially if the director was of the caliber of Howard Hawks. Marilyn Monroe had just become a superstar in Niagara, but in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes she created, in the direction of Hawks, her unique variation of "the dumb blonde stereotype". She did it already so well that she soon grew tired of it, although her studio just wanted her to repeat it and do little else. That meant war with Twentieth Century-Fox. In 1954-1955 MM declared her "Monroe doctrine" and moved to New York, where she soon found a network of new friends passionate about art. One of the first was the writer and playwright Carson McCullers who introduced MM to Cheryl Crawford.

I never tire of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It is a tough, bold, direct, and garish film in a pre-pop art kind of way. It seems to glorify money, power, sex, and glamour, but is actually a brilliant satire of them all. In his action films Hawks celebrates the team of male professionals; in Hawks's comedies the men are clowns, never more than here. There is an ostensibly happy ending with a double marriage, but with men like this the film ends up being also a satire of the marriage institution.

There is one real and human relationship in the film, though, and that is between Lorelei and Dorothy as incorporated by Marilyn and Jane Russell. They chide each other incessantly like true friends do.

Howard Hawks often delegated action sequences, location shooting and special scenes to second unit masters and other professionals. The unforgettable and often imitated production numbers of GPB are not directed by Hawks but by Jack Cole, who was also responsible, credited or uncredited, for many of the subsequent musical numbers in Monroe's films.

Hawks concentrated on the direction of actors. He was a master of bringing actors together and creating a wonderful ensemble. He was a genius in discovering the unique quality of the actor. He made the actor feel comfortable, at home in his role. His focus was in creating a character who enjoys being who he is, no matter how incredible or fantastic, and as a consequence we also enjoy the company of such characters. In GPB Hawks created fantasy characters in a brilliant and timeless parody of class and gender.

A paradox of Marilyn Monroe is that since the 1940s she was being educated in the general direction of Method acting - starting from Actors Lab, the West Coast version of Actors Studio - Michael Chekhov (Anton Chekhov's nephew) - Natasha Lytess, and  - since 1955, Actors Studio itself after she met with - Cheryl Crawford who introduced her to - Lee Strasberg (who led her to - the infamous black lady Paula Strasberg). That was the interior approach to acting as opposite to the star system glamour acting in films such as GPB. The glamour acting MM already mastered, but now she wanted to break new ground, yet she never got a great vehicle for her new approach.

I recommended to the students one book: Barbara Leaming's Marilyn Monroe (1998). It is a unique study of the Elia Kazan - MM - Arthur Miller triangle. Leaming is also good about the paradox of The Prince and the Showgirl, the first independent production by MM, directed by Laurence Olivier who hated the Method. Vivien Leigh had played Blanche DuBois in the direction of both Olivier and Kazan, and to Olivier's chagrin she preferred Kazan. Now there was Monroe, also in the spell of the Method. Leaming is good about the drama behind the drama. About MM's death most biographers have a bias and an agenda. Leaming's (unsensational) agenda and bias is (a bit too much) pro-Ralph Greenson. Otherwise her book, based on original archival sources, is balanced and sober, ideal for professionals.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Nordic meeting of film archives: restoration screenings

Nordic film archives' restoration screenings at Ingebill, Filmens Hus, Oslo, 8 November 2013.

Min Svigerinde fra Amerika / [My Sister-in-Law from America] (DK 1917), PC: Nordisk D: Lau Lauritzen, Sr. - A short comedy of a husband having a meeting with his mistress. The wife arrives unexpectedly, and the husband explains that this is his sister-in-law (his brother's wife) from America. His brother happens to arrive at that very moment from America with his wife, to "gamle Danmark". The guy explains that these are Mormons, "but if more were coming I wouldn't know what to do". Even so, the furies are at large. - AA: Lau Lauritzen at his best. There is a lively mise-en-scène and rapport among the actors in this goofy comedy. - Nice job of making a new print with green colour in favour.

FROM HELSINKI (a sample, 4K DCP, scope)
Sampo. FI/SU 1959. PC: Suomi-Filmi / Mosfilm. D: Alexander Ptushko. Based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala. - A test reel of our new 4K digital restoration, starting with a couple of minutes of footage without colour correction. The new colour looks better than anything of the faded or even newly made prints of the Sovcolor epic. - For Finns the film is a blasphemy, the authentic Kalevala spirit missing. - Having said this, I have to admit that the views of primordial forests are gorgeous. And there is a poetic moment as Louhi sends an enchanted black cloth to Annikki. It turns at once into a black sail to her boat, rushing her to Louhi in the land of Pohjola. - I look forward to the restoration which we plan to screen next year. There will be also a dvd release with many subtitle options based on the new restoration.

Le Coucher de la mariée / Bedtime for the Bride. FR 1896. PC: Joly-Normandin. P: Eugène Pirou. D: Léar (= Albert Kirchner). C: Louise Willy. - "The first sex film" where nothing is seen but everything is anticipated. - The delightful pochoir-coloured version from Stockholm, from the 4-perforation version. This I saw also a month ago in Pordenone in the magnificent Joly-Normandin programme.

Midvinterblot. En filmvision av Gösta Werner / The Sacrifice. SE 1946. D: Gösta Werner. DP: Sten Dahlgren. M: Björn Schildknecht. Rådgivare: Arbman. C: Gunnar Björnstrand. A stark winter vision of a blood sacrifice for the sun from the age of pagan Sweden. Visually intensive, with bold music. The first Swedish digital restoration.

FROM OSLO (a sample)
Mot ukjent land. Norvegia-ekspedisjonen 1929/30 / [Toward an Unknown Land]. NO 1930. D: Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen. The feature-length documentary film of the third of four Norvegia expeditions to the Antarctic to explore whaling areas, with two airplanes on board. The route of the ship is seen in animation. The longest segment of the film is a very detailed account of hunting a blue whale with an exploding harpoon. The value of these documents keeps growing the further removed we are from this period of seamanship. - This restoration is a part of a huge project of identifying a large collection of unidentified nitrate holdings in Norway's film archives in Mo i Rana.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Kon-Tiki (1950)

Thor Heyerdahl: Kon-Tiki (NO/SE 1950). P: Olle Nordemar.

Thor Heyerdahl: Kon-Tiki (NO/SE 1950). P: Olle Nordemar.

Kon-Tiki / Lautalla yli Tyynenmeren / Filmen om Kon-Tiki / L'Expédition du Kon-Tiki.
    SE/NO 1950. Viewed in the American release version © 1951 Sol Lesser Productions. D+SC+narrator+himself: Thor Heyerdahl. P: Olle Nordemar. Featuring: Herman Watzinger, Erik Hesselberg, Knut Haugland, Torstein Raaby, Bengt Danielsson. American introduction narrated by Richard XXX.
    DV viewed at the Sortebill screening room, Filmens Hus, Oslo, 7 Nov 2013

AA: A dream come true: at last I saw this legendary film based on a voyage of exploration, also thrillingly covered in Thor Heyerdahl's book I loved as a child. The Heyerdahl film was immortally discussed by André Bazin in his seminal essays about reality and the cinema.

The cinematographic quality of the movie may be partly amateurish, but there is nothing amateurish in the passion of Thor Heyerdahl's dedicated crew.

This is a movie about a true adventure, well prepared, well executed, and with everybody participating with total devotion.

That is why this movie is so engrossing, and because of the absolute and sincere dedication and sense of mission everything else falls into place.

Kon-Tiki is still one of the greatest documentaries ever made, and also one of the greatest adventure films.

I liked the recent big budget fictional film Kon-Tiki (2012) very much, too. It shows all the storms and dangerous encounters missing from this real film. Yet the original film conveys the sense of adventure better.

I'm still puzzled why in the new film they show fake old footage. Why did they not show some of the real footage?

André Bazin, “Kon-Tiki et Groenland: Poésie et aventure”, Le Miroir de Paris, Vol. 2371 (28 April 1952).

André Bazin, “Le Kon-Tiki ou grandeur et servitudes du reportage filmé”, France Observateur, Vol. 103 (30 April 1952), p. 24.

Kalde spor / Cold Tracks (2013 digital restoration by Nasjonalbiblioteket in 2K DCP)

Arne Skouen: Kalde spor / Cold Tracks (NO 1962), a film about the tragedy of 12 refugees during the Nazi occupation of Norway.

Kalde spor / [Cold Tracks]. NO 1962. D: Arne Skouen. C: Toralv Maurstad, Henny Moan, Alf Malland. 96 min. A digital restoration (Nasjonalbiblioteket 2013) screened in 2K DCP with English subtitles. Viewed at Tancred, Cinemateket, Filmens Hus, Oslo, 7 Nov 2013

Introduced by Erlend Jonassen who told us about the centenary of Arne Skouen, regarded by many as the finest Norwegian film director. There is this retrospective screened in Oslo and all around Norway, and an Arne Skouen dvd box set (complete save one comedy which Skouen did not find worthy). Skouen started with neorealism (Gategutter / Street Kids), proceeded to realism, and went on into modernism especially in his 1960 trilogy of psychically disturbed children. In Cold Tracks he had a drive to a bolder form. War is just a background. It is a vision of high mountains, bad weather and a lot of snow. (My summary of Erlend Jonassen's introduction).

NFI website (rough translation by me): "War winter 1944. Oddmund is in a cabin on a snowbound plateau together with a convoy of twelve refugees whom he is determined to guide to the coast where a boat is waiting. The weather is fine and the convoy is pressed for time but Oddmund is hesitant to proceed. He is waiting for his girlfriend Ragnhild. The plan is for him and Ragnhild to flee together with the others. When Ragnhild finally reaches the cabin a storm has broken but the convoy needs to proceed anyway. Ragnhild is not able to withstand the storm, and Oddmund has to take her back. On their way they meet Tormod, a friend who has followed them because he is worried about Ragnhild. Tormod takes up the task of escorting Ragnhild home. Oddmund can now go on with the convoy but he hesitates - he is afraid of losing Ragnhild to Tormod whom he has reason to believe a rival. Due to the hesitation he never finds the convoy again. First in the spring twelve corpses emerge from the snow, and after the war a memorial is erected on the spot. Only three people know the truth about the twelve. One of them, Oddmund, leaves the country."

"Fifteen years later he's back trying to liberate himself from the guilt which has tormented him ever since. To make sense of the guilt issue and to make a final settlement with the past he seeks Ragnhild, Tormod and the fjells in the hope that the last pieces of truth will fall onto place."

"Skouen wrote the screenplay for this taut drama together with Johan Borgen. Sønstevold's musical contributions are finely tuned to the cinematographer Sørensen's magnificent black and white vision of the Norwegian fjellscape  in its drastically changing manifestations. The framework is specifically Norwegian but thanks to its universal perspective the film also attracted attention abroad. An excited Tom Milne hailed Kalde spor in Sight and Sound as 'an outstanding study in the obsession of guilt'" (NFI website, rough translation by me)

AA: A stark winter drama where the battle with the elements is also an expression of the battle with the past.

This outdoors film about the fight for survival against snowstorms in the mountains is essentially a psychological film about inner torments.

The sound and the music are inspired by stylized sounds of the wind and the storm.

The narrative of Kalde spor starts today, and in flashbacks we learn little by little what happened in 1944 when the twelve refugees perished in the snowstorm. There are moments where the story feels a bit repetitive.

Visually, Kalde spor is magnificent, striking, and thrilling. Well shot, well lit, well composed. The stunning visuals are always functional, expressive of the theme and the subject of the movie. Kalde spor belongs to the soulscape tradition of the cinema established by Perret, Griffith, early Westerns, and Sjöström and Stiller.

I like Kalde spor very much, and even more I liked Arne Skouen's Ni liv / Nine Lives screened in Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato this year. The battle with the elements is the common denominator for the two films which are however otherwise completely different.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Med Maud over Polhavet / [On the Maud over the Arctic Ocean] (2013 digital restoration by Nasjonalbiblioteket, 2K DCP)

Med Maud over Polhavet / [On the Maud over the Arctic Ocean]. NO 1926. PC: Bio-Film. D, pilot, cinematographer, photographer: Odd Dal. Featuring Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, Gennadi Olonkin, Kakot. 80 min. Based on a dupe negative struck in 1966 from nitrate sources. 2013 digital restoration by Nasjonalbiblioteket, 2K DCP with Norwegian intertitles and English subtitles.  Recorded music score by Stephen Horne (August 2013, piano and other instruments). Viewed at Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo (Nordic Meeting of film archives), 6 Nov 2013

English Wikipedia on the Northeast Passage: "In 1918, Amundsen began an expedition with a new ship Maud, which was to last until 1925. Maud sailed West to East through the Northeast Passage, now called the Northern Route (1918–1920)."

"With him on this expedition were Oscar Wisting and Helmer Hanssen, both of whom had been part of the team to reach the South Pole. In addition, Henrik Lindstrøm was included as a cook. He suffered a stroke and was so physically reduced that he could not participate."

"The goal of the expedition was to explore the unknown areas of the Arctic Ocean, strongly inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's earlier expedition with Fram. The plan was to sail along the coast of Siberia and go into the ice farther to the north and east than Nansen had. In contrast to Amundsen's earlier expeditions, this was expected to yield more material from academic research, and he carried the geophysicist Harald Sverdrup on board."

"The voyage was to the northeasterly direction over the Kara Sea. Amundsen planned to freeze the Maud into the polar ice cap and drift towards the North Pole (as Nansen had done with the Fram), and he did so off Cape Chelyuskin. But, the ice became so thick that the ship was unable to break free, although it was designed for such a journey in heavy ice. In September 1919, the crew got the ship loose from the ice, but it froze again after eleven days somewhere between the New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island."

"During this time, Amundsen participated little in the work outdoors, such as sleigh rides and hunting, because he had suffered numerous injuries. He had a broken arm and had been attacked by polar bears. Hanssen and Wisting, along with two other men, embarked on an expedition by dog sled to Nome, Alaska, despite its being over one thousand kilometres away. But they found that the ice was not frozen solid in the Bering Strait, and it could not be crossed. They sent a telegram from Anadyr to signal their location."

"After two winters frozen in the ice without having achieved the goal of drifting over the North Pole, Amundsen decided to go to Nome to repair the ship and buy provisions. Several of the crew ashore there, including Hanssen, who had not returned to the ship. Amundsen considered him to be in breach of contract, and as such, dismissed him from the crew."

"During the third winter, Maud was frozen in the western Bering Strait. She finally became free and the expedition sailed south, reaching Seattle for repairs in 1921. Amundsen returned to Norway, needing to put his finances in order. He took with him two indigenous girls, the adopted four-year-old Kakonita and her companion Camilla. When Amundsen went bankrupt two years later, however, he sent the girls to be cared for by Camilla's father, who lived in eastern Russia."

"In June 1922 Amundsen returned to Maud, which had been sailed to Nome. He decided to shift from the planned naval expedition to aerial ones, and arranged to charter a plane. He divided the expedition team in two: one part was to survive the winter and prepare for an attempt to fly over the pole. This part was led by Amundsen. The second team on Maud, under the command of Wisting, was to resume the original plan to drift over the North Pole in the ice. The ship drifted in the ice for three years east of the New Siberian Islands, before it was finally seized by Amundsen's creditors as collateral for his mounting debt."

"The attempt to fly over the Pole failed, too. Amundsen and Oskar Omdal, of the Royal Norwegian Navy, tried to fly from Wainwright, Alaska, to Spitsbergen (now Svaldrup) across the North Pole. When their aircraft was damaged, they abandoned the journey. To raise additional funds, Amundsen travelled around the United States in 1924 on a lecture tour. Although he was unable to reach the North Pole, the scientific results of the expedition, mainly the work of Sverdrup, have proven to be of considerable value. Many of these carefully collected scientific data were first lost during the ill-fated journey of Peter Tessem and Paul Knutsen, two crew members sent on a mission by Amundsen. The scientific materials were later retrieved by Russian scientist Nikolay Urvantsev from where they had been abandoned on the shores of the Kara Sea."

Two films were made of the eight-year (1918-1925) expedition: Med Roald Amundsens Nordpolsekspedition (covering the years 1918-1923) and Med Maud over Polhavet (covering the years until 1925).

A work of distinction in the history of expedition films. Roald Amundsen with his several impressive films is evidently a central figure in this tradition.

Most importantly, Med Maud over Polhavet is a sober record of the hard work of exploring the Arctic Ocean. As we know, with global warming this part of the globe has become a center of increasing attention during recent years.

The documentary value is great due to the matter-of-fact approach of the movie.

There are also moments of drama and thrills such as hunting walruses and icebears. There is an interesting episode about the polar biplane Kristine. After three test flights it crashes fatally. The most dramatic episode is about the pack ice which almost crushes the ship. Then a crack in the ice opens, saving all. Thrilling is also the footage about transportation of men and dogs on ropes over crevasses.

Memorable: the junkyard of the ship Maud after years in the Arctic Ocean. Also memorable: the footage of the reconnaissance on canoes.

The first people the men of the Maud meet are the natives at Kolyma. They also visit the Kolyma area and meet American merchants there. I believe this was before Kolyma became the most dread location of the Gulag system, unforgettably described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I believe the Gulag system expanded there around 1932.

The Maud expedition brought to an end the entire traditional era of polar expeditions. After that the expeditions were conducted by air. The movie ends with shots of a Zeppelin and the Norwegian flag.

"No one can understand the meaning of the open sea like the men of the Maud did after leaving the polar ice area".