Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Verdict (1946)

Don Siegel: The Verdict (US 1946) starring Joan Lorring (Lottie Rawson), Sydney Greenstreet (George Edward Grodman) and Peter Lorre (Victor Emmric).

Musta hansikas / Svarta handsken.
    US © 1946 Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. EX: Jack L. Warner. P: William Jacobs.
    D: Don Siegel. Dialogue D: Felix Jacoves. [Ass D: Elmer Decker]. SC: Peter Milne – based on the novel The Big Bow Mystery (New York, 1895) by Israel Zangwill. DP: Ernest Haller; [second camera operator: William Schurr]. AD: Ted Smith. Set dec: Jack McConaghy, G. W. Berntsen. Cost: Travilla. Costume jeweller: Eugene Joseff. Makeup: Perc Westmore. SFX D: William McGann. SFX: Robert Burks. [VFX: Russell Collings]. M: Frederick Hollander. Orch arr: Leonid Raab. M dir: Leo F. Forbstein. Song: "Give Me a Little Bit," lyr. Jack Scholl, comp. M. K. Jerome, sung by Joan Lorring. S: C. A. Riggs – RCA Sound System. ED: Thomas Reilly. Montages: James Leicester.
    C: Sydney Greenstreet [(George Edward Grodman, retired superintendent)], Peter Lorre [(Victor Emmric, artist)], Joan Lorring [(Lottie Rawson)], George Coulouris [(new Superintendent John R. Buckley)], Rosalind Ivan [(Mrs. Benson)], Paul Cavanagh [(Clive Russell)], Arthur Shields [(Rev. Holbrook), the key witness who returns from New South Wales, NZ], Morton Lowry [(Arthur Kendall)], Holmes Herbert [(Sir William Dawson)], Art Foster [(P. C. Warren)], Clyde Cook [(Barney Cole, burglar)]. - [Janet Murdoch (Sister Brown)], [Ian Wolfe (jury foreman)], Creighton Hale (reporter).
    Helsinki premiere: 18.7.1947 Metropol, released by: Warner Bros. – LP680 – VET 27457 – K16 – 86 min
    The previous film adaptations of Israel Zangwill's novel had modernized the Victorian story to the present: Perfect Crime (Bert Glennon, 1928), and The Crime Doctor (John S. Robertson, 1934).
    A Classic Films print without subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Detectives on Screen), 30 March 2014

London, 1890. Settings include Scotland Yard and the Highgate Prison.

In his first feature film Don Siegel already displays an interest in matters of the law - and the matter of a police officer taking the law into his own hands.

The Verdict was the ninth and the last film teaming Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, who had first been cast together in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon. The Verdict was the only film where the duo received top billing. Greenstreet's film career had started in The Maltese Falcon, and it lasted only eight years.

It is based on the first novel in the "locked room mystery" genre, Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery, with precedents since Biblical times, most importantly Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin mystery "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", and followers by the hundreds, including Gaston Leroux's Le Mystère de la chambre jaune, and the entire oeuvre of John Dickson Carr.

Even the top burglar of London is called to examine the case, and even he cannot figure it out.

The film starts with a quick succession of tragic events. An innocent man is hanged. The key witness of the defense, Rev. Holbrook, with a solid alibi for the convict, returns too late from New South Wales, New Zealand. There had been an attempt to locate him in Wales. The investigator, superintendent Grodman (Greenstreet), is forced to resign in disgrace after thirty years of honourable service. He is immediately replaced by a haughty successor, Buckley (George Coulouris), who does not even bother to conceal his glee (Schadenfreude): "no more such tragic mistakes now that I'm in charge".

Some time later, the true murderer, Kendall, a Tory Member of the Parliament, is found dead. Kendall, a notorious philanderer, had murdered his aunt who had threatened to cut him off from her will, framed another man, and fed false evidence to Grodman and his best friend, the artist Victor Emmric (Lorre). (I borrow here some expressions from Dennis Schwartz's apt remarks in Ozu's Film Reviews, 25 Jan 2011.)

The prime suspect is Russell, a liberal Member of the Parliament, who has had a vicious row with Kendall the night before, heard by everybody in the neighbourhood. Russell lives in the same house as Kendall, as does Emmric, while Grodman lives on the opposite side of the street. Awakened by the landlady, Mrs. Benson, Grodman breaks into the locked room of Kendall, who has not reacted to Benson's calls. The police is alerted, led by Buckley, to investigate the murder.

The locked room mystery is so puzzling that one by one we start to suspect every character in the story. Richard Aldarando in his Don Siegel book stresses that in contrast to the previous film adaptations this one maintains the Victorian period atmosphere, and Siegel uses the period for maximum impact: the almost impenetrable fog, the over-furnished rooms, and the climate of moral laxity personified by the music hall singer Lottie Rawson (Joan Lorring).

Aldarando points out that Siegel proved his capacity when he compensated with thick fog deficiencies of art direction and created high tension in sequences staged in a single room. He finds Siegel's thrilling jury sequence a forerunner to Twelve Angry Men. From Michael Curtiz, one of his mentors, Siegel learned how to express menace via shadows.

The Victorian atmosphere is also emphasized by the motif of the bells of the Big Ben ringing in the beginning and the end of the film. The flag appears as a sign of death. "May his soul rest in peace". When Grodman leaves his office in disgrace, he takes with him only his letter of assignment with the initials V. R. (Victoria Regina).

Interesting features of the film include the artist Emmric's habit of sketching caricatures of everybody. The montages, now no longer created by Siegel, himself, are still quite good.

The approach is very dramatic. Frederick Hollander's thundering score is heavy and ominous. The weak link of the cast is Rosalind Ivan as Mrs. Benson. She exaggerates and contributes to a hysterical and overblown tone. But also Grodman's nightmare sequence, with his inner voice speaking, is overdone. "Ever since he has been a man in a daze". "You are brooding too much", comments Emmric.

A modern viewer may read into Grodman and Emmric aspects of a friendship that dared not speak its name.

Thanks to Greenstreet and Siegel there is a true sense of tragedy in The Verdict. Greenstreet interprets Grodman's tragic agony with a force of conviction. This kind of story would have been classic Emil Jannings or Orson Welles material: it's about a mighty man who perishes utterly. Greenstreet responds to the challenge memorably.

The print is clean, intact, and complete, at times with a feeling of being slightly duped, but as a whole providing a quite good film experience.

PS. 18 May 2021. Today I met the detective fiction expert Lars Lövkvist who also highlighted Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery as a pioneering work in the locked room mystery genre.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Aki Kaurismäki Crosses the Digital Rubicon

Aki Kaurismäki: Leningrad Cowboys Go America (FI 1989) with Matti Pellonpää as Vladimir Kuzmin, the Manager.


Although I regard digital technology as a devil's invention which destroys human culture as we know it, robs us of our jobs and makes us in the long run slaves of artificial intelligence (a bit like we ourselves treat livestock) I am simultaneously conscious of the fact that what is done cannot be undone, you cannot reinstate the genie back into Aladdin's lamp, there is no use to close the gate after the cow has run away or anyway cry over spilt milk.

Therefore (and because there is no other way), in order to maintain my humble film oeuvre accessible to a potential audience, I have ended up in rendering it to digital in all its present and several of its as yet unknown forms.

I admit that digital definition of colour is childishly easy compared with traditional film in which every primary colour is a prisoner of its complementary colour.  In turn, compared with film, the surface of the digital image is and remains "dead", because it is not based on light or a photochemical reaction, which generates a kind of a vibration on the surface of the film. Which is why we call it "elokuva" in Finnish ("living images").

However, those things are only noticed by change-resistant old codgers hobbling by the grave like me, whose opinion does not count anyway in our ever-improving world in which the experience of yesterday is a burden for tomorrow.

May it be also mentioned that a digitized traditional movie is technically as good as its original negative, that is, the newer the product the easier it on the average is to digitize, since grain has been getting smaller by the year as the sensitivity of the negative has grown.

Because it is not possible to "transfer to digital" a traditional movie as such the films discussed here have been colour defined anew to correspond to the originals by myself or the cinematographer Timo Salminen so to speak "frame by frame" within a reasonable time window. Afterwards younger and more proper parties have "re-mastered" them to various formats in ways which are impossible and even needless for me to grasp.

To a blissful conclusion I need to state, to avoid misunderstanding, that the inordinate sympathy for the digital dissemination technology I have displayed here does not mean that I would not plan to shoot on 35 mm film as long as it is possible regarding access to stock and existence of laboratories.

Were I but ten years younger things would undoubtedly be otherwise and I would swallow the poison with the serenity of Socrates.

Aki Kaurismäki
28 March 2014
Translated by AA

The digitized films of of Aki Kaurismäki
Subtitled in English, Italian, French, German (and Finnish)

Boheemielämää / La Vie de bohème
Calamari Union
Hamlet liikemaailmassa / Hamlet Goes Business
I Hired A Contract Killer
Kauas pilvet karkaavat / Drifting Clouds
Laitakaupungin valot / Lights in the Dusk
Le Havre
Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses
Mies vailla menneisyyttä / The Man without a Past
Pidä huivista kiinni Tatjana / Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana
Rikos ja rangaistus / Crime and Punishment
Total Balalaika Show
Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö / The Match Factory Girl
Varjoja paratiisissa / Shadows in Paradise

Rocky VI
Thru The Wire
Rich Little Bitch
These Boots
Those Were The Days
Valimo / The Foundry
Juice Leskinen & Grand Slam: Bluesia Pieksänmäen asemalla

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Muurmanin pakolaiset / [The Refugees from Murmansk]

Muurmanin pakolaiset. 6-osainen näytelmä maailmansodan ajoilta / Flyktingarna från Murman. FI 1927. PC: Suomi-Filmi. P+D+ED: Erkki Karu. SC: Lauri Vesala, Erkki Karu – based on the novel Kiveliön karkurit (1923) by Kaarlo Hänninen. DP: Frans Ekebom – 1:1.33. AD: Martti Tuukka. Makeup: Hannes Kuokkanen. Stills: Kalle Havas, Kosti Lehtinen. C: Gunnar Brygge (lieutenant Herman Braun, a German prisoner-of-war), Berndt Lindahl (field priest Gottleben, a German prisoner-of-war), Sulo Räikkönen (sergeant major Schönemann, a German prisoner-of-war), Heikki Välisalmi (sausage master Sonntag, a German prisoner-of-war), Lea Franck (the artist Haase, a German prisoner-of-war), Kullervo Kari (Hahn, a German prisoner-of-war), Paavo Costiander (a cook, a German prisoner-of-war), Jalmari Sauli (Väinö Taipale), Ellen Sylvin (Saima Niva), Heikki Valtonen (the master of Niva), Juho Puls (talollinen = a peasant), Thorild Bröderman (Braun's father), Naemi Kari (Braun's mother), Eine Laine (Braun's bride), Otto Al'Antila (fisherman), Waldemar Wohlström (Simpura, the policeman), Yrjö Somersalmi (santarmipäällikkö = gendarme commander = podpolnikov Pjotr Vasiljevitsh Tshernomordikov / Pyotr Vasilievich Chernomordikov), Markus Rautio (Russian soldier), Paul Troupp (Russian soldier), L. Pajunen (Russian soldier), Martti Tuukka (Russian soldier). Loc: Tornio - Sweden: Haparanda - Helsinki (North Harbour, the outer archipelago) - and Iitti (the Mankala falls). Helsinki premiere: 9.1.1927 Kinopalatsi – classification: 14030 – S – Finnish / Swedish intertitles - received information: 2250 m / 82 min. - A KAVI print of the tinted and toned Centenary of the Cinema restoration (1995) /22 fps/ 83'47" viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Erkki Karu), 26 March 2014

A war film, a WWI film about the year 1916, about the escape through Finland of German prisoners of war from a Russian hard labour camp at the Murmansk railway. They cross the border in Kainuu (perhaps Suomussalmi) and proceed towards Oulu, Kemi, and Tornio, and to Haparanda in Sweden.

In 1916 Finland was a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, and passing through Finland the German refugees are in enemy territory. The Finns who help German soldiers do so at the risk of their lives. Finnish officials are duty bound to arrest the refugees.

After a two year break Erkki Karu directed again. He had peaked as a film director in 1923-1925, and now he was regressing while the international art of silent cinema was reaching its heights.

But there are interesting things in Muurmanin pakolaiset.

The most endearing feature is the feeling for the wilderness by the director Erkki Karu and the cinematographer Frans Ekebom. They are at home in the forest, on the wild rivers, and the dangerous swamps. The motif of the huuhkaja (eagle owl) is majestic and impressive. The image of the flying cranes, the kurkiaura (the flock of cranes flying in a plow formation) presents a poignant parallel to the refugees' desperate journey. A fine adventure film could have been made from this stuff.

The wilderness is calamitous for the stranger. The refugees meet a skeleton of an unlucky forerunner. The hunger gets desperate, and although "they say that the swan of the wilderness is holy", Hahn and Braun shoot one. But when they set to reach it by a tree trunk, Hahn drowns, and Braun loses consciousness, to be rescued in the nick of time by Saima Niva.

The artist among the refugees discovers in the wilderness imperishable values. The field priest discovers his congregation there. "The people in the South are not happier than us - it is rather on the contrary". These are impressive statements, but the film does only partially justice to them.

Erkki Karu still knows how to create a stream of consciousness. The montages of mental associations and flashbacks are fluid.

The most impressive flashback is of the hard labour camp of the Murmansk railway surrounded by barbed wire. Brutal wardens do not hesitate to use their guns.

As a rule the performances are bland, but Ellen Sylvin (born in Kajaani, in the very milieu of this story) creates a natural and unaffected character of Saima Niva.

Jalmari Sauli seems authentic and in his own element in this sole film role of his. He was an Olympic sportsman (London 1908), a distinguished editor-in-chief in major newspapers, and a prolific author of wilderness adventures and historical novels. As a boy I found him not worse than Jack London or James Oliver Curwood.

The historical background is relevant to the militant independence movement of autonomous Finland. Young Finns were getting recruited by Germans to get military training and exercise. The film is set in 1916, and two years later, in 1918, Germans, with their superior military know-how, sided with the white army in our civil war.

Erkki Karu was a super patriot, and this film of his was his tribute to the Finnish-German Waffenbrüderschaft (brotherhood in arms) in the first world war. As many Erkki Karu films do, it ends with a close-up of the Finnish flag waving in the wind.

It is also the story of a platonic love affair between a German war invalid and a young Finnish woman who nurses him back to health. After the war, the German returns to see her. Teuvo Tulio in his final film Sensuela created a completely mad variation of a similar situation.

The Russians and their minions are portrayed in gross caricature. This diminishes the film and makes the combat sequences tame as there seems to be no real threat from such bunglers.

The Centenary of the Cinema reconstruction of 1995 is complete and makes sense. There are at times beautiful passages of sepia and brown toning. But there are also less fortunate instances of tinting and toning. We screened it at 22 fps, but next time let's try it at 20 fps.

Kun isällä on hammassärky / [When Dad Has Toothache]

In this Prohibition farce Dad (Aku Käyhkö) soothes his tootache with a three gallon bottle of liquor - externally and internally.
När far har tandvärk / När pappa har tandvärk / [Quando papà ha maldi denti]. FI 1923. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. P+D+ED: Erkki Karu. SC: Köpi (= Artturi Järviluoma). DP: Kurt Jäger. C: Aku Käyhkö (Dad), Naimi Kari (Mom), Toivo Louko, Martti Tuukka, Eino Jurkka (dad's card-playing pals), Emmi Jurkka (maid), Armas Fredman (a dentist's patient). Erkki Kivijärvi (in the Kämp scenes). Finnish / Swedish intertitles. 550 m / 20 min
    Suomi-Filmi 50th Anniversary re-release in 1969: Se oli vuonna 1923... Kun isällä on hammassärky. Edited by Kari Uusitalo. There was a 7 minutes prologue of vintage compilation footage. The total length of the sonorized compilation was 770 m / 28 min. A colour print, reconstructing tinting and toning. 1969 score: Eero Ojanen, Outi Kääriä. There are also sound effects.
    Centenary of the Cinema in 1995: a new print was struck of Kun isällä on hammassärky, of the 1969 sonorized reconstruction, without prologue.
    KAVI Centenary of the Cinema print (1995) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Erkki Karu), 26 March 2014. The duration of the sonorized print: 18'50".
A short farce by Erkki Karu. A tiny piece of bone causes such misery that Dad has to resort to a giant bottle of spirit - this in the era of Prohibition.

Erkki Karu made his first feature films Koskenlaskijan morsian and Nummisuutarit in 1923. Before that, he rehearsed with short farces, the best of which is Kun isällä on hammassärky.

Reviewers even claimed that Kun isällä on hammassärky started to approach the standards of good foreign film buffoonery, but that is an overstatement. Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd were already at their best, and their films were well-known in Finland. Erkki Karu's farce resembles more the ones that were made 10-15 years earlier, early Keystone at best.

Having said that, there are interesting things in Kun isällä on hammassärky, which belongs to the inspired, experimental and inventive period of Erkki Karu as a director.

There is a nice Jan Olsson moment, a split screen telephone call shot with Dad and Mom appearing in separate balloons.

As Dad is about to depart from his card-playing pals he sees the harridan wife's face reflected in the bottom of his overshoes.

In the throes of his toothache Dad rolls on the table and under the bed. He scales walls and jumps to the ceiling.

Finally he produces from a locked safe a ten liter bottle of spiritus fortis. During Prohibition, doctors and dentists belonged to the sole legal sources of alcohol.

The aqua vita, consumed mostly by a single gulp, pacifies Dad for the time being. But in his nightmare he sees a vision of the Devil with an immense chisel, set to "kill the nerve" and to remove the aching tooth.

Dad has a mortal fear of dentists, but a female dentist dresses as a nurse, and via this trick manages to draw the sick tooth with her forceps in no time.

The visual effects and the special effects are good, but the farce is overstated and does not stand repeat viewings very well.

Kun isällä on hammassärky belongs to the forerunners of the Bringing Up Father cycle of three farces made in Finland in the 1930s. Aku Käyhkö and Naimi Kari are among the first Finnish film appearances of a Jiggs and Maggie type of a couple (in Finnish, Vihtori and Klaara). The word "Vihtori" became proverbial of a father who has a harridan wife.

In a bit role as Dad's card-playing pal, in his debut film performance, is Eino Jurkka, who played Jiggs / Vihtori in all three Finnish Bringing Up Father films (Kun isä tahtoo / Valentin Vaala, 1935, Kaksi Vihtoria / Nyrki Tapiovaara, 1939, and Vihtori ja Klaara / Teuvo Tulio, 1939).

Kun isällä on hammassärky was screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 1999, but I don't recall any particular response there.

The sonorized version of 1969 was compared favourably by contemporary critics to the mutilated versions of silent films then circulating on tv. Kun isällä on hammassärky is intact and integral, the tinting and toning is often beautiful, and the print does justice to the fine cinematograpy of Kurt Jäger. The soundtrack of the film imitates the 1960s style of silent farce reissues; I remember having laughed as a child at the Pat and Patachon sound effects. But the prima vista piano improvisation and the overdone sound effects (gargling, slurping, etc.) have not stood the test of time. A good print, anyway, of this reconstruction, but it would be a good idea to create a new music track someday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Higanbana / Equinox Flower

L to R: Fujiko Yamamoto, Ineko Arima, and Yoshiko Kuga as the three daughters (Yukiko Sasaki, Setsuko Hirayama, Fumiko Kuga) who oppose their respective fathers and marry the ones they love.
彼岸花 / Jævndøgnsblomst / Sovinnon kukka / Päiväntasaajan kukka. JP 1958. PC: Shochiku. P: Shizuo Yamanouchi. D: Yasujiro Ozu. SC: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda - based on the novel by Ton Satomi. DP: Yuharu Atsuta - Agfacolor. AD: Tatsuo Hamada. Set dec: Setsutaro Moriya. Cost: Yuji Nagashima. Makeup: Yuko Nakajima. M: Takanobu Saito (Kojun Saito). S: Yoshisaburo Senoo. ED: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. C: - Shin Saburi (Wataru Hirayama), Kinuyo Tanaka (Kiyoko Hirayama), Ineko Arima (Setsuko Hirayama), Miyuki Kuwano (Hisako Hirayama) - Keiji Sata (Masahiko Taniguchi) - Chieko Naniwa (Hatsu Sasaki), Fujiko Yamamoto (Yukiko Sasaki) - Chishu Ryu (Shukichi Mikami), Yoshiko Kuga (Fumiko Mikami) - Teiji Takahashi (Shotaro Kondo, a junior officer at Wataru's office), Fumio Watanabe (Ichiro Naganuma, pianist, Fumiko's boyfriend), Nobuo Nakamura (Toshihiko Kawai). Telecast 30.10.1988 YLE TV2. 3225 m / 118 min. A DFI print with Danish subtitles by Mette Holm screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Eija Niskanen, at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yasujiro Ozu), 25 March 2014

The title of the film refers to the flower called red lycoris / lycoris radiata / red spider lily / red magic lily / hurricane lily / röd tempellilja. It blossoms in the late summer or autumn, often in response to a heavy rainfall, according to Wikipedia.

Ton Satomi was Yasujiro Ozu's favourite writer, and also Akibiyori was based on a novel by Ton Satomi.

The last time I saw Higanbana was in a 16 mm screening in 1979 (film society Monroe, Tampere), and I had entirely forgotten its individual features. I had only seen one Ozu film previously (Soshun, in 1970), and my energy was spent in getting adjusted to the general characteristics of what was then for me an entirely foreign way of film-making. How I have changed: now Higanbana the film felt clear as water, but then the ceremony, the formality, the stiffness, felt utterly strange to me.

It all revolves around the pater familias Wataru Hirayama (Shin Saburi), a traditionalist as the executive at the office, with his circle of old friends (they have been together since school, and also through the war years), and especially at home, where he has a loyal wife (Kiyoko / Kinuyo Tanaka) via an arranged marriage and two daughters who are at the marrying age: Setsuko (Ineko Arima) and Hisako (Miyuki Kuwano).

The women respect Wataru and simultaneously devise ingenious solutions to have their way. Setsuko wants to marry Masahiko Taniguchi (Keiji Sata), but Wataru refuses his permission. Wataru is an advisor to Mrs. Hatsu Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), an innkeeper from Kyoto, who is comically keen on finding husband candidates for her daughter Yukiko (Fujiko Yamamoto) ("the next one - a pharmacist"). Yukiko elicits from Wataru the firm advice: "let the daughter follow her own wishes" in matters of marriage - and based on that declaration a marriage between Setsuko and Taniguchi becomes imminent. Wataru refuses to attend, but at the last moment gives in. He refuses to give his blessing, but in the final image he embarks on a train to Hiroshima to meet the newlyweds.

It was not about Taniguchi but about Wataru's authority.

This is a comedy about family and relationships. The main character is Wataru as the embodiment of tradition. He seldom smiles. He is carrying responsibilities, and while his loyal friends share his values and traditions, the young generation is moving to another world where they cannot follow.

There is a running joke in the film that if the husband is stronger, there will be daughters, and if the wife is stronger, there will be sons.

The most comical scenes are at the Luna Bar in Ginza where Wataru enters to investigate the situation of Fumiko Mikami (Yoshiko Kuga) who works there as a bar hostess, at the request of his old friend Shukichi Mikami (Chishu Ryu) who is concerned about his daughter, who has eloped with a boyfriend. Wataru is accompanied by his young colleague Shotaro Kondo (Teiji Takahashi), who tries to conceal the fact that he is a regular at the bar.

The most poignant scene is the class reunion. The patriarchal order is being questioned. At the class reunion traditional and even ancient songs are sung, and Wataru recites a poem about Masashige Kusunoki (1294-1336), "the ideal of samurai loyalty". The legend of Kusunoki, called Dai-Nanko, "epitomized loyalty, courage and devotion to the Emperor". He was a patron saint of WWII kamikaze (according to Wikipedia). "We are carrying the ideals of youth", remarks one of them. They realize that those ideals are now obsolete.

There are many references I don't get, including those about Kyoto, Gion, and bamboo sprouts.

At the next viewing I may pay more attention to Kinuyo Tanaka as the long-suffering wife Kiyoko. She is quite unglamorous and weather-beaten in this role. In a memorable scene she remembers fondly the war time when the family was always together. For Wataru, those were "the worst years of my life", always having to surrender to others in command.

Ozu's touch in his first colour film is immediately assured and playful. Higanbana has been thought in colour, and the colour red is a running motif; also the title of the film refers to a bright red flower. Ozu's characteristic insert shots gain a new punch as bright colour often appears in them. They serve as caesurae, punctuation marks and visual jokes.

It's playful on the surface. There is gravity underneath.

The print is complete, bright and clean. There are long stretches of interior scenes where the visual quality is excellent, and other stretches where there is a slightly duped quality. The colour in general is fine. At times it is unrealistic, perhaps intentionally. Nature footage does not look good. At times I was thinking whether this print might have been at least partly struck from a digital intermediate. But I have no point of comparison, and conceivably this print conveys the original quality well.

Moderato cantabile

Seven Days... Seven Nights.
    FR/IT 1960. PC: Iéna Productions, Documento Film. Original distributor: Paramount. P: Raoul J. Lévy.
    D: Peter Brook. Ass D: Serge Vallin. SC: Marguerite Duras, Gérard Jarlot – based on the novella (1958) by Marguerite Duras – translated into Finnish (Moderato cantabile: sonaatti rakkaudelle) by Marita Hietala / WSOY 1967. DP: Armand Thirard – b&w – CinemaScope 2,35:1. PD: Robert André. Makeup: Jean Paul Ulysse. M: Antonio Diabelli: Sonatina in F major, op. 168, no. 1 (I: Moderato cantabile). S: William Robert Sivel – Mondiaphone. ED: Alberet Jurgenson.
    C: Jeanne Moreau (Anne Desbarèdes), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Chauvin), Pascale de Boysson (la patronne du bar de La Gironde), Jean Deschamps (M. Desbarèdes), Didier Haudepin (le petit Pierre Desbarèdes), Valérie / Valéric Dobuzinsky (l'assassin), Colette Régis (Mlle Girard, la professeur de piano).
    Loc: Blaye (Gironde, France).
    VET 94759 (SEA 25.5.1987, 16 mm) – S – sources give 91 min, 95 min – this screening ran 95 min.
    A Tamasa Distribution print with Finnish e-subtitles by Lena Talvio viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Marguerite Duras Centenary), 25 March 2014

While I have not read the novel by Marguerite Duras I count Peter Brook's Moderato cantabile to the film adaptations which convey a true Duras flavour.

Monsieur Desbarèdes is the biggest boss of the little ocean seaport town, the CEO of the great foundries. The family lives in the most lavish mansion at the end of la Boulevard de la Mer. The little town is located in Gironde, Aquitania, by the Atlantic Ocean. "There is always a wind here".

Every day Anne Desbarèdes takes her little son to a piano lesson at a strict music teacher, Mlle Girard, to practice sonatinas by Diabelli, who composed an entire cycle of them for children.

One day there is a shattering scream from the bar de La Gironde downstairs. The piano lesson is interrupted, and Anne joins the crowd shocked to see the female murder victim. There is a chance meeting with a young, handsome, unemployed witness, an ex-worker at the Desbarèdes foundry, called Chauvin.

Anne and Chauvin start to meet daily to figure out theories about the murder case. A Platonic love affair begins. At home Anne is alienated as the hostess of high society soirées, and her stern husband is upset by her visible estrangement. At the end there is another shattering scream at the bar, by Anne, after Chauvin has left her forever.

Central motifs include – the sea – the clouds – the fog – the wind – screaming birds – boats and ships – cranes – harbour equipment – sirens – the Diabelli sonatina – red wine (consumed by Anne often) – the wood, the bare springtime trees – and magnolias (Anne's signature flower).

It is a facade marriage, but also the relationship of Anne and Chauvin is Platonic. The sole real love affair is between Anne and her son.

Peter Brook, still active, is one of the greatest theatre directors since the 1940s, but he has also a distinguished career as a film and tv director.

The mise-en-scène of Moderato cantabile, largely shot on location, is very cinematic, and the black and white CinemaScope frame is constantly dynamic.

The little son Pierre has talent in music, but little motivation. He has no patience with "moderato cantabile". He wants to go out to play with other children.

Anne is stuck in a loveless facade marriage, but she has no energy to change things. She is drawn to Chauvin, but although she is the active partner, she does not take the decisive step to a love affair. She does not really want to play.

It's a study in frustration, melancholia, solitude, and alcoholism. Anne is drinking too much. She neglects blatantly her duties at the final high society soirée, makes a fool of everybody, and embarrasses her husband utterly. At the bar, Chauvin abandons her, she emits a piercing scream, and faces the glaring light of her husband's automobile.

The film has been strikingly shot by Armand Thirard, and the brilliant 35 mm print does justice to the photochemical glory of the cinematography.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Leo Tolstoy: Sevastopol Sketches (a book)

William Simpson: Crimean War - Huts and Warm Clothing for the Army. Print shows soldiers transporting winter clothing, lumber for huts, and other supplies through a snow-covered landscape, with partially buried dead horses along the roadside, to the British camps; huts under construction in the background." Tinted lithograph, digitized from the original print. March 13, 1855. Library of Congress. (Copied from French Wikipedia). Click to enlarge.
Leo Tolstoi: Valitut kertomukset 1 / [Leo Tolstoy: Selected Stories 1]. Translator: Juhani Konkka. Introduction: Mikko Kilpi. Helsinki-Porvoo: WSOY, 1963.
Hyökkäys / "The Raid" ("Набег" ["Nabeg"], 1852)
Metsänhakkuu / "The Wood-Felling" ("Рубка леса" ["Rubka lesa"], 1855)
Pyry / "The Snowstorm" ("Метель" ["Metel"], 1856)
Kaksi husaaria / "Two Hussars" ("Два гусара" ["Dva gusara"], 1856)
Sevastopol / "Sevastopol Sketches" ("Севастопольские рассказы" ["Sevastopolskie rasskazy"], 1855–1856)
- Sevastopol joulukuussa / "Sevastopol in December 1854" (1855)
- Sevastopol toukokuussa / "Sevastopol in May 1855" (1855)
- Sevastopol elokuussa / "Sevastopol in August 1855" (1856)
Kolme kuolemaa / "Three Deaths" ("Три смерти" ["Tri smerti"], 1859)
Avio-onni / Family Happiness (Семейное счастье [Semeynoe schastye], 1859)

On my trip to Russia I had Leo Tolstoy's Sevastopol Sketches as my travel reading, topical this week as Russia occupied and annexed Crimea, which had belonged to Ukraine since 1954. The rest of the world condemned the occupation as a breach of international law, and the annexation was not recognized by the international community.

The Sevastopol connection inspired me to read this entire volume of the earliest stories by the young Leo Tolstoy, himself a veteran of the wars in Caucasus and the Crimea.

The stories are fresh and modern in the same way as stories belonging to the Ernest Hemingway school, and there are also affinities with the New Journalism and the trend of the non-fiction novels of the 1960s. Tolstoy has even been called the pioneer of war journalism.

Striking features of the Sevastopol stories include - an in medias res approach - they seem to be based on first hand observation - a sober, unflinching realism - characters are portrayed via action and dialogue. Stendhal was Tolstoy's model in the representation of war, and Turgenev in the representation of Russian reality, but evidently Tolstoy's own experiences provided the compelling sense of urgency which is distinctive to these war stories.

These are not tales of heroic feats. The Russians are beaten, and we witness an entire gamut of weaknesses: vanity, cowardice, corruption, gambling. Despite all this there is a sense of an invincible patriotic spirit.

The unique grandeur of Tolstoy is already evident in these stories of youth. It has been said that if life could speak, it would speak like Tolstoy. The great paradox is Tolstoy's obsession with death. Nobody has faced death more bluntly. Very soon in the first Sevastopol story we are taken to the field hospital, to the desperately wounded and amputated war invalids, to the awful, dizzying stench.

The second Sevastopol story Tolstoy ends with the remark that the hero he is trying to portray is nothing but the truth.

The third Sevastopol story expands to an epic vision of society, of bureaucracy, ambition, careerism, and cowardice. We follow the tragic path of two brothers, an experienced one and a novice, as Sevastopol falls.

There are also four earlier stories stemming from the military experience in the Caucasian wars, including in Chechnya. The Raid is the tale of a young volunteer in his first combat. The Wood-Felling ventures to discuss questions of "why we fight": different types of soldiers and their reasons to risk their lives in Chechnya. The Snowstorm is an account of a desperate journey somewhere around Don, not far from Novocherkassk. Two Hussars is a more lightweight yarn about the reckless life of hussars of two generations, father and son.

Elaborating the death theme, a pantheistic story called Three Deaths features a dying woman of the world and a dying old driver, both infected by tuberculosis. And finally a tree felled, to make a wooden cross out of it.

Tolstoy's first povest (a long short story, a novella, 150 pages in this volume) is called Family Happiness, told by a female first person narrator. (The three first tales are by a male first person narrator, and the rest by a third person narrator, presumably male.) It is a Bildungsroman of a teenage girl who falls in love with a man 19 years older than she. It is a psychologically sensitive account of the education of love, the expression of love, the disillusion with the original love experience, and the new perspective of motherhood. I glanced a little bit at what has been written about this tale, and the accounts do not even seem to get the basic facts right. For me, this story is about growing up in love, from romantic imagination to a realistic facing of the facts of life. It's about opening one's eyes to life.

Tolstoy, himself, was disappointed with Family Happiness, but it is amazing that he wrote such a story when he himself was still unmarried. Three years later he married Sophia, 16 years his junior.

Tolstoy's first stories, including the Sevastopol tales, were written from the perspective of youthful male bravado. Family Happiness is a volte-face, written from the perspective of a romantic, sensitive teenage girl who has lived a protected life in the countryside.

Of Tolstoy's masterpieces, one can discover interesting links to War and Peace in the Sevastopol stories and beginnings of Anna Karenina's female psychology in Family Happiness. The laconic, pervasive sense of death, stunning and unforgettable in Hadji Murat, is also already present in these earliest tales of Tolstoy.

Tolstoy has a unique sense of humour. He did not write funny stories or comedies like Chekhov often did. But he has an omnipresent humoristic world view. We are always aware of the comme il faut - the ideal, the purpose, the meaning, the destination, the grand design, the war strategy, the marriage facade. Nothing ever goes according to plan. Tolstoy finds delight in the fact that life is stronger than the plan.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Fatal Look exhibition at Nizhny Novgorod

Our touring exhibition of Finnish silent cinema, The Fatal Look, has now arrived at Nizhny Novgorod, the fifth largest city of Russia, an important centre of industry, commerce, and culture.

The site is the spacious lobby of the number one art cinema of the city, Cinema Orlyonok ("The Young Eagle"), at the central pedestrian street Bolshaya Pokrovskaya 35 A, situated in a historical building designed by the great Friedrich Schechtel / Фёдор Осипович Шехтель, the master of Russian Art Nouveau and late Russian Revival. In the same address the first permanent cinema of the city, Cinema Palace, was opened in 1912.

This month's programme includes Alexei German's testament film Трудно быть богом / It's Hard to Be a God, Stephen Frears's Philomena, Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel - and a selection of shorts from Tampere Film Festival, and Finnish silent films.

There are over a hundred people at The Fatal Look reception and at the screening of Tampere shorts. There are four films by Hannes Vartiainen and Pekka Veikkolainen (Emergency Calls, 2013, Hanasaari A, 2009, Traces of Life, 2012, and The Death of an Insect, 2010), plus Jani Ilomäki's Ajatuksia kuolevaisuudesta / Thoughts of Mortality (2013). This is not a mainstream selection, but the audience is discerning, and this is a distinguished entry in the long-term cultural exchange between Tampere and its sister city Nizhny Novgorod, both cultural centers with a substantial industrial past.

Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum

Любовь Попова: Живописная архитектоника, 1918.
Холст, масло. Lyubov Popova: Pictorial Architectonics. Oil on canvas.
Нижегородский государственный художественный музей / Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum, Nizhny Novgorod, Kremlin, 3. Visited on 19 March, 2014.

The official intro: "The history of the Nizhny Novgorod state Art Museum covers more than a century. It was founded in 1896 as "The City Art and Historical Museum", which alongside with the pieces of art included a small collection of antiques from the formerly established "Petrovsky" museum."

"Opening of a new, united and accessible museum was timed to the All-Russia Art and Industry Exhibition which was to be held in Nizhny Novgorod."

"As opposed to the number of other provincial museums, based on somebody's particular private collection, the Nizhny Novgorod museum has been created by the efforts of many people. Among them - professor of historical painting N. A. Koshelev, an artist A. A. Karelin, an writer A. M. Gorky, members of the Academic Archival Committee, local merchants and entrepreneurs, representatives of general public of the city, amateurs of art, patrons of art from Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow."

"Having been accumulated for the whole century, the museum is marked with a high artistic level and has its own image. Its basis is compiled of works of native masters and of the pieces are rightfully considered to be the classical ones."
Wikipedia: "The art gallery in Nizhny Novgorod is a large and important art gallery and museums of human history and culture. Nizhny Novgorod has a great and extraordinary art gallery with more than 12,000 exhibits, an enormous collection of works by Russian artists such as Viktor Vasnetsov, Karl Briullov, Ivan Shishkin, Ivan Kramskoi, Ilya Yefimovich Repin, Isaak Ilyich Levitan, Vasily Surikov, Ivan Aivazovsky, there are also greater collections of works by Boris Kustodiev and Nicholas Roerich, not only Russian art is part of the exhibition it include also a vast accumulation of Western European art like works by David Teniers the Younger, Bernardo Bellotto, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Pieter de Grebber, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and lot more. Finally what makes this gallery extremely important is the amazing collection Russian avant-garde with works by Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov and so on. There is also collection of East Asian art."

The representatives of Nizhny Novgorod arranged for me a wonderful tour to the historical centre of the city, all in superb condition. I realized I was in the heart of Russia when I was taken to the grave of Minin at the Archangel Michael Cathedral inside the Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod.

We had a panoramic look at the crossing of the mighty rivers Oka and Volga (the crossing is known as "strelka", "the arrow"), and it was easy to realize why Nizhny Novgorod became a booming town of industry and commerce in the 19th century, famous for its great annual trade fairs, connecting merchants from Asia and Europe. The great rivers had been connecting them for centuries.

During WWII Nizhny Novgorod, a center of Russian automobile industry, become the center of tank and airplane industry. In Finland we know the secret recording made of the dinner talk of Hitler and Mannerheim on 4 June 1942. In it Hitler is amazed at the might of the Soviet tank force which surpassed his wildest expectations. The heavy industry of Nizhny Novgorod was largely to thank.

The crown of the tour was a visit to the Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum, the section that is on display inside the Kremlin.

It is a lovely collection from ancient Russia till the avant-garde of the early 20th century. Many of the treasures are circulating constantly in exhibitions around the world, and thus I did not get to see the famous Shiskhin or Levitan selections of Nizhny Novgorod.

I did get to see ancient icons (The Fiery Ascension of Elijah the Prophet, The Miracle of St. Demetrius of Solun and His Deeds), works by Karl Bryullov (Svetlana Guessing on Her Future), Alexey Venetsianov (A Girl with a Concertina), Ivan Aivazovsky (The Shores of Dalmatia), Ilya Repin (A Shy Peasant), Viktor Vasnetsov (The Magic Carpet), Konstantin Korovin (Autumn), Stanislav Zhukovsky (Spring), and Boris Kustodiev (the two-sided miracle work: On the Terrace, and Russian Venus; I like also the Merchant Dealing in Chests). There is an impressive room full of Nicholas Roerich's visionary red-hued paintings.

I did get to see samples of the avant-garde such as Pictorial Architectonics by Lyubov Popova and works by Natalia Goncharova. I hope to return to see more of works I discovered in the beautifully illustrated catalogues of the museum - works by Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Alexander Rodzhenko, and an interesting ensemble of women avant-gardists, besides Popova and Goncharova, also Nadezhda Udaltsova, Vera Pestel, and Olga Rozanova.

There is also a Western European section with rare pieces of El Greco, Tintoretto, Renoir... Next time, I hope!
Борис Кустодиев: Русская Венера, 1926. Холст, масло. Boris Kustodiev: Russian Venus. Oil on canvas

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Destination Nizhny Novgorod

Destination Nizhny Novgorod. Our exhibition The Fatal Look, curated by Kai Vase, is on display at Cinema Orlyonok there.

"Last night I was in the kingdom of shadows. If you only knew how strange it is to be there", wrote Maxim Gorky in Nizhegorodsky listok (4 July 1896) after having seen the first Lumière Brothers film show at the huge Nizhny Novgorod trade fair in 1896. During the same tour, the Lumière show came to Helsinki.

"Вчера вечером я был в царстве теней, Если бы вы знали, как это странно, чтобы быть там."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tove Jansson (centenary exhibition at Ateneum)

Tove Jansson: Mysterious Landscape, 1930s. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. © Tove Jansson Estate. Please click on the image to enlarge it!

Tove Jansson. Centenary exhibition
at Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, 14 March – 7 September 2014.

Tove Jansson vernissage at Ateneum, 13 March 2014
– introduction by Tuula Karjalainen
– opening speech by Jenni Haukio, spouse of the President of the Republic
– three Tove Jansson songs sung by Birgitta Ulfsson

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Tee työtä ja rakasta [Tove Jansson: Work and Love]. Helsinki: Tammi, 2013. (A book.)

Official intro: "To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson (1914–2001), Ateneum will host a major centenary exhibition presenting Jansson’s impressive career as an artist, illustrator, political caricaturist, author and creator of the Moomin characters and stories."

"Ateneum’s exhibition covers all the periods in Jansson’s productive career, including her surrealistic paintings of the 1930s, modernist art of the 1950s and more abstract works in the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as her satirical anti-war illustrations for the magazine Garm, her monumental paintings for public spaces, and of course her enormously popular and internationally renowned Moomin characters and stories."

"Other Finnish museums have been generous in lending works to Ateneum. The exhibition will feature major works from Tampere Art Museum’s considerable Jansson collection, including paintings, drawings and Moomin tableaux, as well as costumes on loan from the Theatre Museum that were used in the Moomin opera that debuted in 1974.The exhibition also includes many previously unseen works from private collections. The curator of the exhibition is Tuula Karjalainen, and the exhibition architecture is by Marjaana Kinnermä."

"Tove Jansson had many careers and many faces. As an artist she was not only multifaceted, but also extremely hard working. Most of Jansson’s paintings are landscapes, interiors and still lifes. Favourite themes are the sea and islands, which she depicts in all types of her artistic output. Jansson created art based on her own life, and real events and peoples can be found in her paintings. Portraits and especially self portraits form an interesting category in the artist’s abundant output; her self portraits reflect the freedom and independence that were so vital to the artist."

"The Moomins that Tove Jansson created during the war years represent a complete philosophy of life, and they are familiar to children and adults around the world. Although today the Moomins are best known from the Japanese animated films made in the 1980s and ‘90s, Jansson herself brought the Moomin characters to life in books much earlier. In addition to the illustrations and sketches for the Moomin stories, the exhibition will feature around twenty 3D tableaus, most of which Tove Jansson built together with her partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. The tales and adventures of the extended Moomin family really come to life in these tableaus."

"Tove Jansson was also a master of monumental paintings and compositions for large surfaces. She created murals for many public spaces throughout Finland, especially in the 1940s and ‘50s. Jansson adorned many of these narrative paintings with small glimpses of paradise. The main hall of Ateneum will display two large wall paintings originally made for Helsinki City Hall and now housed at the Swedish-language adult education centre Arbis: Party in the City and Party in the Countryside."

The exhibition at Ateneum is part of the official programme of the Tove Jansson centenary year: 

At home in the land of magic and the fairy-tale. Having seen Alexander Ptushko's Sampo yesterday this thought returned to my mind at Ateneum's Tove Jansson exhibition today.

It is even better than I expected. I had not realized that Tove Jansson's (1914–2001) scope was this wide. She learned to draw in her artist mother's arms before she could speak or walk, and she never stopped creating. (It is striking how fully Tove Jansson is already herself as a six-year-old girl in the bust sculpted by her father in 1920.) She was educated in several art schools in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Paris, and she enjoyed her versatility, from monumental murals to miniature vignettes.

Tuula Karjalainen points out that Jansson had many full careers: as a painter, as a writer, as an illustrator, a caricaturist, a comic strip artist, an art director, a playwright, and a poet.

This richness is reflected both in the Ateneum exhibition and in Karjalainen's book.

Jansson's Moomin stories have tens of millions of fans around the world. England and Japan are countries with a special affection to them, perhaps because they are islands, and the sea is a strong presence in Jansson's world?

The full Moomin story is on display here: the genesis during the Winter War 1939–1940, the breakthrough in the 1950s, the many incarnations on tv, in the radio, in the theatre, in the opera, and in fairy-tale theme constructions. This exhibition is a family affair.

But there is much more than that. We follow Jansson's entire artistic journey starting with childhood and schooltime drawings. She really loved Matisse and the impressionists, but was also briefly influenced by surrealism in the 1930s. From her father, the sculptor Victor Jansson, Tove learned that art is a serious calling, and that calling was always supreme for her.

One of the most striking passages in Karjalainen's book is about the triumph of abstract informalism in the 1950s. In the annual exhibition of the Finnish Artists' Association in 1961 Jansson was the only naturalist left. Then even she succumbed to abstraction, giving in to peer pressure.

As a painter Jansson created some of her best work already in the 1930s, such as the Mysterious Landscape (above). She kept evolving constantly. There was no single Tove Jansson style. But there are certain characteristics. She was a master of an expressive line. She loved colour, the brightness of which the book's reproductions do not convey. There is the paradise theme, of which the Moomin valley is the best-known expression. There is an innate sense of enchantment: surrealism, paradise themes, fairy-tale images, and magic touches are expressions of it.

Tove Jansson belongs to the great artists of the comic strip.

There is a lot to discover in the exhibition. The monumental murals are awesome. The political caricatures from the 1930s and the 1940s have bite. Jansson lambasted mercilessly both Stalin and Hitler.

Jansson was a prolific painter, and never before has there been as comprehensive an exhibition as this. The works on display have been borrowed from over a hundred different sources. Jansson's paintings from the 1960s and the 1970s are exhilarating displays of colour. Having definitely stopped making comic strips in the 1950s she now revelled in pure paint and pure colour.

Also her most profound books she wrote after having stopped grinding those comic strips.

Karjalainen's book is an excellent companion to the exhibition. It is the story of "work and love", according to Jansson's own motto, in this order, always inseparable. It is also the story of a woman who mingled with radical Leftists when their parties were banned, whose best friends were Jewish during the Holocaust, and who, with her companion Tuulikki Pietilä, was the first same-sex couple to attend the Independence Day Reception of the President of Finland (the most prominent official annual event in our land) (in 1992) (in Finland homosexual acts were illegal until 1971 and homosexuality was classified as an illness until 1981). She never made a big deal of that, and neither did the media.

Karjalainen discusses five important love affairs in Tove Jansson's life: with Sam Vanni (his portrait of Tove Jansson is inside this blog note), Tapio Tapiovaara, Atos Wirtanen, Vivica Bandler, and Tuulikki Pietilä. A deep friendship always remained after the love relationship ended. But the greatest love of all was with her mother.

PS. Film-related. Tove Jansson declined co-operation with both Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki. She protected the artistic integrity of the Moomin world, and she was upset by the breaches against it in the first anime project.

Tove Jansson and Sam Vanni belonged to the Projektio film society, where Jansson may have seen Un chien andalou, among other films. The chairman was Alvar Aalto, and the same people who founded Artek were also active in Projektio. The Tapiovaara brothers also belonged to Projektio, and Jansson designed a film poster for Nyrki Tapiovaara (Kaksi Vihtoria).

It was a thrill to see the portrait (1939) of Maya Vanni (Maya London) / / ( מאיה לונדון) / / (1916-2010) in the Tove Jansson exhibition in a painting inspired by Paul Gauguin, another expression of Tove Jansson's quest for paradise. I knew Maya Vanni in the 1980s when she was our translator to Swedish. Among other things, she was a gifted film translator (to Swedish at least). In 1992 she moved to Jerusalem for the rest of her life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sampo (4K, premiere of the KAVI digital restoration 2014)

Sampo photo montage by the Night Visions festival, 2013

Сампо / Sampo / Sampo / The Day the Earth Froze (US).
     SU / FI 1959. PC: Mosfilm, Suomi Filmi. P: Georgi Kuznetsov, Risto Orko.
    D: Aleksandr Ptushko / Alexander Ptushko. Ass. D: B. Jevgenev / B. Yevgenev, Holger Harrivirta, A. Vanitshkin / A. Vanichkin. SC: Viktor Vitkovitsh / Viktor Vitkovich, Grigori Jagdfeld / Grigori Yagdfeld –  Finnish dialogue and Swedish subtitles: Väinö Kaukonen (from Kalevala) - based on the Sampo poems as compiled in Kalevala (1835 and 1849). Consultants: Väinö Kaukonen, Kustaa Vilkuna, Jorma Leppäaho, Erkki Ala-Könni. DP: Gennadi Tsekavyi, Viktor Jakushev / Viktor Yakushev - Sovcolor - Dyaliscope / Sovscope 2,35:1. AN: V. V. Smirnov. AD: L. I. Miltshin. Set dec: Aleksandr Makarov. Cost: Ritva Karpio. Jewels: Kalevala-Koru. Makeup: M. Rozhkov. SFX: L. Dovgvilo, Z. Morjakova / Z. Moryakova, Aleksandr Renkov. M: Igor Morozov - played by Neuvostoliiton kulttuuriministeriön orkesteri / The Orchestra of the Soviet Ministry of Culture - conducted by: S. Saharov / S. Sakharov - the choir: Suomen Laulu, conducted by Martti Turunen. S: Marija Bljahina / Mariya Blyakhina - magnetic stereophonic sound - 4-Track Stereo. ED: Holger Harrivirta. Special thanks to: The National Museum of Finland.
    C: Urho Somersalmi (the shaman Väinämöinen), Anna Orotshko / Anna Orochko (Louhi, the Mistress of the North), Ivan Voronov (the blacksmith Ilmarinen), Andrei Osjin / Andris Oshin (the great lover Lemminkäinen), Ada Voitsik / Ada Vojtsik (mother of Lemminkäinen), Eve Kivi (Annikki, the fiancée of Lemminkäinen), G. Miljar / G. Milyar (wizard), M. Trojanovski / M. Troyanovsky (sage), Lennart Lauramaa, T. Romppainen, Emma Hippeläinen, N. Kollen, A. Barantsev, Viktor Uralski / Viktor Uralsky, V. Borinski / V. Borinsky, B. Modnikov, V. Brulejev / V. Bruleyev – Finnish voice actors: Aune Somersalmi (Louhi), Mauno Hyvönen (Ilmarinen), Kako Kokkonen (Lemminkäinen), Hilkka Helinä (mother of Lemminkäinen), Anneli Haahdenmaa (Annikki), Toivo Lankinen (wizard), Kuuno Sevander (sage).
    Loc: Jalta / Yalta (Krim / Crimea), Koli (Lieksa), Seurasaari (Helsinki), Kalkkistenkoski (Asikkala), Ruotsalainen-järvi and Ruissaaret (Heinolan mlk.), Myllykoski, Jyrävä (Kuusamo), around Petroskoi, around Moscow.
    Helsinki premiere (Finnish language version): 16.10.1959 Kino-Palatsi, distributed by: Suomi-Filmi Oy – telecasts: 2.12.1979 MTV1, 3.3.1999 YLE TV1 – VET 51883 – K8 – 2480 m / 91 min
    Four versions were shot: both in Russian and in Finnish, both in Academy and in scope. The Russian versions' rights run via Mosfilm, the Finnish versions' via Suomi-Filmi.
    A 35 mm restoration was conducted by SEA in 1995 (Dolby Stereo) (The Centenary of the Cinema).
    Premiere of the 4K DCP (KAVI 2014) restoration, Cinema Orion, Helsinki (KAVI Digitizes), 12 March 2014.

Pekka Tähtinen: Sampo restored in 4K at KAVI (2014):

The source material was the original 35 mm nitrate negative. In some scenes individual frames were patched from a dupe positive due to severe tears. Special attention was paid to the Sovcolor colour system and the Dyaliscope scope format.

Before the scanning the films were repaired and cleaned manually. The negative was compared with an original print for missing frames. The image was scanned with a DFT Scanity film scanner resorting to the native resolution 4152 x 3164 of the cell of the scanner. All further restoration and post-processing was conducted in this original resolution, and the image was scaled to the 2,35:1 frame ratio first at the mastering stage. The screening format is 4K DCP.

The restoration of the image started with flicker removal which was conducted scene by scene. In superimpositions, fade-outs, and images lit by the blaze of flames flicker removal was, however, impossible.

An automatic dirt removal with easy settings was conducted to the image throughout. After that the image was stabilized, and further dirt removal was conducted with various settings, partially resorting to masks. Some dirt and other artifacts were also removed fully manually. Also scratches in the negative were removed whenever possible. The most arduous handicraft stage was repairing scanning failures due to tape joins in the film negatives. As a rule there was an attempt to repair the joins, but in certain cases an entire frame had to be reconstructed.

The impressive visual effects of the film have not been touched up digitally. Instead, certain original technical disorders have been left as they are.

The DaVinci Revival was mostly used in the restoration. Part of the stabilization, dirt removal and scratch removal was conducted with the Phoenix system of DigitalVision.

The image scanned from the negative has been colour redefined throughout. The objective was to maintain the shades of the original viewing prints, but there was a problem with a reliable reference. Sovcolor is specially apt to fade, and thus existant film prints could not be used as a basis for colour definition. This is why there was an attempt for maximal neutrality in the colour definition, yet making use of the nuances of the original negative. For instance there was an attempt to appraise the differences between the colour worlds of Pohjola and Kalevala based on the negative. Sovcolor is typically regarded to lean slightly on the blue side, and this is evident especially in the scenes that take place in Pohjola. The colour definition was conducted via the DaVinci Resolve programme.

The source material of the sound was the original four-channel magnetic sound. The restoration of the sound was conducted via Cedar's Cambridge system and ProTools. Disorders such as noise, clicks and hisses were removed in the restoration of the sound, and phase errors were repaired, among others. Clicks stemming from the channel switches at the sound editing board in the source material have been repaired manually throughout.

The original stereo sound image has not been edited. It has been preserved as it is, that is, quite broad, also with regard to dialogue. The four channel sound was mastered throughout to correspond to its original sound world. The sound of the digital viewing copies (DCPs) corresponds to the modern 5.1 sound system.

The dialogue of Väinämöinen's wedding speech is worksound of quite weak quality. There was an attempt to bring this dialogue in balance with the rest of the sound world of the scene. Also one of the songs in the scene had to be transferred from stereo to mono sound due to disturbances. Otherwise the sound is faithful to the original. The next time a comparable multi-channel soundscape was heard in a Finnish film was first in the 1980s, presumably first in Markku Lehmuskallio's Korpinpolska (1980). Pekka Tähtinen, 12 March 2014 (my translation)

My first viewings of this film have been disheartening. There is such a giant effort by many talents, yet the heart and soul of Kalevala is missing.

Today there was a particular frisson in witnessing the gorgeous vistas of Crimea, under an acute threat of annexation by President Putin.

Another frisson stems from the twin logos of Mosfilm and Suomi-Filmi side by side in the opening scope format credit sequence.

Watching the film with lowered expectations there were things I could now appreciate.

1. The special effect of the Statue of Elias Lönnrot with Väinämöinen coming alive as living statues (like it has been in fashion in the street culture in recent years). The film is very strange for a Finn, yet there is a sense that Ptushko does love the Kalevala lore. A similar feeling comes from the Walt Disney Fantasia Continued episode of The Swan of Tuonela.

2. Lemminkäinen is introduced as a dashing and brave logroller.

3. Annikki is introduced with flowers blossoming in time lapse images. Also in Pohjola supernaturally fast-blossoming flowers emerge, only to be crushed by Louhi and her henchmen as fast as possible.

4. Sampo belongs to the early primitive phase of stereo sound: there is a sharp distinction of left and right in the dialogue of the scope frame. It sounds funny. (As it did in The Robe).

5. Alexander Ptushko is always at home in scenes and effects of magic. The wizards conjure visions of far away events, seen in miniatures in a magic fire. The most expensive sequence was the one in which Lemminkäinen ploughs the field of vipers. A funny and comical feature are the chained windbags in Louhi's vaults. Louhi can conjure storms with them.

6. The aesthetically most impressive effect is Louhi's black magic cape which turns into a sail with a will of its own, bringing Annikki to Pohjola.

7. Urho Somersalmi, the great veteran of Finnish theatre and cinema - he started before WWI - is the only actor who speaks in his own voice in this Finnish version of the movie. He also sings impressively in his own voice as Väinämöinen. He was still at his best.
    Hilkka Helinä's voice performance as the mother of Lemminkäinen is very fine.
    Interestingly, Urho Somersalmi's little sister Aune Somersalmi performs in the voice role of Louhi, the adversary of Väinämöinen.

8. Peter von Bagh has compared the burning bush of The Ten Commandments to electric fireplaces popular in America in the 1950s. A similar impression is given by the underwhelming sampo in this film. Sampo is a mythological mill of success, wealth, prosperity, salt, gold, and grain. The Kalevala and the Pohjola peoples conduct their battle for the possession of the sampo. The blacksmith Ilmarinen is able to forge one, but only with a special effort in special circumstances.

9. Sampo the movie is a naive fairy-tale. It fails to achieve grandeur in the sampo scenes and its performances, except for Väinämöinen and the mother of Lemminkäinen.

10. The heart of the emotional authenticity is the distress of the mother of Lemminkäinen. Lemminkäinen has been assassinated by Louhi who lets her snake bite him in the neck and orders her henchmen to throw the corpse to the sea. With her immense effort, helped by a weeping birch and a living rock, the mother of Lemminkäinen conjures her son back from the bottom of the sea and revives him, also helped by the light of the sun and her bottomless motherly love.

11. The conclusion is dramatized as a battle of light and darkness. Louhi is able to extinguish the sun, but the Kalevala braves put the Pohjola people to a trance with their kantele concert and are able to release the sun. The Kalevala people defeat the Pohjola people with music. The film ends with Väinämöinen's paean to the sun.

12. Ivan Morozov's score is neo-national-romantical in style, and the orchestra plays it magnificently. The songs are not bad, and they have something of the ancient Kalevala spirit.

The new digital 4K restoration is fine, and I like the colour solutions. I had been introduced to Sampo by the prints availabe in the 1980s with their faded and drab colour. The 1995 35 mm SEA restoration was a revelation of how exhilarating Alexander Ptushko's colour fantasy really was. Now a similar feat has been achieved in the digital world. We should arrange a comparison screening of both the 35 mm (1995 restoration) and the 4K DCP (2014 restoration).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hiroshima mon amour 4K (Argos Films digital restoration 2013)

Alain Resnais: Hiroshima mon amour (FR/JP 1959). Photo: The Cinema Archives.

I checked the beginning of the 2013 Argos Films digital restoration of Hiroshima, mon amour in 4K at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Marguerite Duras Centenary, Carte blanche à Pirjo Honkasalo), 11 March 2014.

It is a refined job of digital restoration done with great taste and sensitivity. A special feature either in the original cinematography or in this restoration is that deep black is missing.

Or perhaps the dcp was not like it should be? Dcp's are not identical. Of the same film, some dcp's are successful, some are not, and distributors know that they sometimes need to order a new dcp when the one sent is not good enough.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated

In Italian, with Finnish and English subtitles.

Finland 2013
Fiction | 24 min

Director: CHRZU
Karjalan aavikot vuonna 2034, jossa aluekiistat käydään äänen ja musiikin avulla. Syntetisaattorisoturien joukko, joka tunnetaan nimellä Nightsatan, ajaa takaa neitoa hädässä. He päätyvät alueelle, jossa valtaa pitää tuntematon muusikko, joka orjuuttaa uhrinsa. Nightsatanin haastaa varteenotettava vastustaja.
Karelia deserts 2034, where territorial disputes are settled with sound and music. A pack of synthesizer warriors known as Nightsatan are pursuing a damsel in distress. They wander into the habitat of an unknown musician, who enslaves his victims. Nightsatan is challenged by a worthy adversary

AA: A neo-infantile post-apocalyptic bricolage style, low budget pastiche of the way they did it in the 1980s, also in home-made vhs splatter films created everywhere around the Finnish peninsula. In Italian. Is this extreme misogyny, or a parody of it.

Electric Soul

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated

Finland, South Korea 2013
Animation | 5 min

Director: Joni Männistö
Sukellus kaupungin sähköiseen sykkeeseen.
An electrifying view to a buzzing micropolis

AA: A stop motion object animation created with electric circuit elements and pieces of electronic devices. A playful vision of havoc in the electric city. There is a shutdown, and then things start to get switched on again. There are abstract inserts.


Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated

In Afghan, with Finnish and English subtitles.

Finland 2013
Fiction | 15 min

Director: Sawandi Groskind
Afganistanista paennut Sulaiman päätyy pohjoissuomalaiseen mökkiin piilottelemaan ja odottamaan oleskelulupaa. On ruokaa, on eksistentiaalisia ajatuksia ja kysymyksiä.
After fleeing from Afghanistan, Sulaiman finds himself hiding in a cabin in northern Finland, waiting for a residence permit. He’s got food, and some existential thoughts and questions

AA: There are the orders to stay strictly indoors. He goes out all the same and eats some apples from a neighbour's tree. The permission is granted. What is it to live as a free man? Reminiscences from during the flight. The high cliff, the will to jump. "I'd love to pick some berries". Finding clothes at the used clothes' store. Picking buckthorn (tyrni) berries. Working as a library help. We are in a Swedish speaking area. The final image: passing a football. The location was: Jakobstad / Pietarsaari.

Santra ja puhuvat puut / Santra and the Talking Trees

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated

Finland 2013
Documentary | 28 min

Director: Miia Tervo
Nuori nainen pölähtää maailman ääristä karjalaiseen idylliin ja kohtaa Santran – vanhan naisen, joka on viimeinen linkki naisen ja karjalaisen kulttuurin juuriin. Elokuva kertoo kodin löytämisen vaikeudesta ja kauneudesta.
Fate brings a young woman to idyllic Karelia in Russia, near the Finnish border, where she meets Santra, an old woman who’s the last link to the Karelian culture of her ancestors. This film is about the difficulty and beauty of finding a home

AA: A first person narrative of a young woman. Scope. "I am from nowhere". Object animation inserts. Fast edits. We are from a country where they always sing. It was so beautiful in Karelia. She laughs and cries at the same time. The Karelia visitors smuggle Karelian soil. Restlessness finds its expression in travel. "Actually I lived in the wind." I also wanted to escape in time, to the past. First I found Markku, and the biggest birch in Finland. Then Markku took me to Santra. I had such a longing to the sacred and the simple. Santra is the last seer and singer of ancient songs. Even on the back seat of a car she sings, and Markku records it all. Among the inserts there are liberal helpings of  footage from Häidenvietto Karjalan runomailla. Sauna spells. "Myöhäistä on silloin kun tuonen tuvill' ollaan" / "It's too late when we are knocking at the doors of Death". Time-lapse footage of a Karelian pie being made. The knife to the sheath. Love found me. Baby footage. Tradition is a form of love. The love will run over graves and never die. Featuring Santra Remsuyeva, who died at her home in Vuokkiniemi at 96.

Miia Tervo has a distinctive voice as a film-maker. I liked Lumikko, and this one is another distinguished piece.

Jack the Monster

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated

Finland 2013
Animation | 4 min

Director: Sindy Tatiana Giraldo Saldarriaga, Iina Kuula
Jack the Monster on tarina yksinäisestä tytöstä joka tutustuu mystiseen olentoon puistossa ja alkaa ruokkia sitä. Pian hän kuitenkin huomaa että ystävyys hirviön kanssa voi vaatia enemmän sitoutumista kuin luulisi.
Jack the Monster is a story about a lonely girl that meets a weird creature in the park and starts to feed him soon to notice that staying as friends asks for more commitment than she thought

AA: Cut-out animation, reduced drawn animation, paper toy animation, rain effects, light effects, a creek created from moving plastic. A poem of urban nocturnal solitude.

Hätäkutsu / Emergency Calls

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated

Finland 2013
Documentary | 15 min

Director: Hannes Vartiainen, Pekka Veikkolainen
Ihmisenä olo on herkkä ja ohikiitävä tilaisuus kokea elämä ja ympäröivä maailmankaikkeus. Musertavan pimeyden keskellä voimme vain turvata toisiimme ja etsiä toisistamme lohtua. Elokuva perustuu aitoihin hätäkeskuspuheluihin ja radioliikenteeseen.
Being human is a fragile and fleeting opportunity to experience life and the universe around us. In the face of overwhelming darkness all we can do is to rely on and find solace in one another. The film is based on authentic emergency calls and radio traffic

AA: Real emergency call center documents: an emergency birth, the last messages from M/S Estonia, the Jokela school killing, a chain crash on a highway, a vicious accident, a fire alarm, a woman attacking a man ("otatko sinä pataan naiselta?" = "are you having your ass kicked by a woman?"). The sound is documentary. Actors do some lip-synching, as in the image above. There is gorgeous, sublime footage of the grandeur of nature. Disquieting.

The Wapiti

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 11 X-rated
Original in English.


Finland 2013
Experimental | 3 min

Director: Anssi Kasitonni
Opetusfilmi vapiteista ja hirvistä.
Educational film of wapiti and moose

AA: Low tech, low def, low budget pseudo pastiche educational film, the mystical "wapiti" animal being represented by actors wearing a moose skin as in a children's school play.

After Everything / Kaiken jälkeen

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 10

Original in English.

Finland 2014
Fiction | 29 min

Director: Pekka Sassi
Kertomus kahdesta pojasta maailmassa, jossa raakuus, epäinhimillisyys ja enkelin tappaminen ovat arkistuneet ja tulleet osaksi päivittäisiä rutiineja. Mustavalkokuvaus, rujo ympäristö ja industrial noise -musiikki korostavat lopun aikojen tunnelmaa.
Story of two boys in a world where brutality, inhumanity and killing an angel are commonplace and part of everyday routine. The atmosphere of doom is emphasized by the combination of black-and-white footage, harsh settings and industrial noise music

AA: A futuristic dystopy in black and white and scope. It starts with the world upside down. Two guys in a desolate industrial environment throw body bags onto a conveyor belt. Caught at the evening fire, attacked by a white winged demon. The immense sky. The existence of God. A demon of fire and a deafening shrieking voice. It also meets its fate and is wrapped into a bodybag. A barren forest after a forest fire. Destroying things in a fire at night. They douse the factory with gasoline. They set it in fire, it goes up in flames and explodes. The final image is of the world upside down. "The world will perish, but there is no end". Juho Rantonen, Juuso Timonen, Jorma Uotinen (angel = demon). Music: Pekka Sassi. Loc: FN Steel, Fjäder Groupo, Ruukki Group, Hangon lentokenttäyhdistys. P: Ilppo Pohjola. PC: Crystal Eye.

Viis varpaista / No Time for Toes

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 10

Finland 2013
Animation | 8 min

Director: Kari Pieskä
Joskus kasvattaminen on puuroa, pukemista ja hampaiden harjaamista.
How does a father do? A short film about eating, sleeping, and brushing teeth

AA: Stylized, reduced animation (drawn, painted), white background, father with a crying baby. The sketchy animation focuses on outline and movement, sometimes there are no facial expressions. At the study: nothing goes right. The baby requires all the attention and energy. And then there is another baby. Taking care of both of them, endlessly running. A huge bear is reduced into a puppet teddy bear. "Tuu tuu tupakkarulla". A father's exhaustion. A third one is dumped on him, he ends up juggling them all.

Ghost Train / Kummitusjuna

Tampere Film Festival. National Competition 10

Original in English.

Finland 2013
Fiction | 17 min

Director: Lee Cronin
Kerran vuodessa toisistaan vieraantuneet veljekset Michael ja Peter tekevät vastentahtoisen matkan hylätylle huvipuistoalueelle muistamaan ystäväänsä, joka katosi siellä. Tällä kertaa Michaelilla on salaisuus tunnustettavanaan.
Once a year, estranged brothers Michael and Peter make a reluctant pilgrimage to the old fairground where their Sam went missing three decades ago. This time, Michael has a secret to confess

AA: A Gothic tale in two time dimensions: the present and the past thirty years ago. The guys might be forty now, they were ten then. Michael: "I'm leaving the country, with my family to Finland." Peter is an alcoholic. Peter was hitting the skull at the entrance, and the ghost train took Sam to who knows where. Sam's fifty pence: never put it in.

The coin still has an effect. There is the sound of the ghost train. A pale hand appears, a monster emerges. It is Sam, ghostly, eyes closed, black-eyed. He hits Michael. He slashes Peter. Flashback to childhood: the camera rises to an immense long shot of the three guys running away on a field.

Shot on location in Donadea Forest Park Co. Kildare.