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.

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