Wednesday, December 31, 2014


DE/US © 2014 Praxis Films. P: Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras, Dirk Wilutzky. D: Laura Poitras. DP: Kirsten Johnson, Trevor Paglen, Laura Poitras, Katy Soggin – DI: ARRI Film & TV Services. VFX: Killian Manning. Titles: Neil Reynolds. M: portions of the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I–IV. S: Frank Kruse. ED: Mathilde Bonnefoy.
    A documentary film.
    Featuring: Edward Snowden. And: Jacob Appelbaum, Julian Assange, Kevin Bankston, William Binney, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Lindsay Mills, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill.
    And: Barack Obama (archival footage).
    Loc: Room 1014, Mira Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
    114 min
    2K DCP with German (Fran Sahlberg) and English subtitles viewed at Kant Kino 3, Berlin, on New Year's Eve, 31 Dec 2014
    The title: Citizenfour was the alias of Edward Snowden.

    "Dedicated to those who make great sacrifices to expose injustice."

Official synopsis: "Citizenfour is a real life thriller, unfolding by the minute, giving audiences unprecedented access to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s encounters with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, as he hands over classified documents providing evidence of mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA)."

"Poitras had already been working on a film about surveillance for two years when Snowden contacted her, using the name “Citizenfour,” in January 2013.  He reached out to her because he knew she had long been a target of government surveillance, stopped at airports numerous times, and had refused to be intimidated. When Snowden revealed he was a high-level analyst driven to expose the massive surveillance of Americans by the NSA, Poitras persuaded him to let her film."

"Citizenfour places you in the room with Poitras, Greenwald, and Snowden as they attempt to manage the media storm raging outside, forced to make quick decisions that will impact their lives and all of those around them."

"Citizenfour not only shows you the dangers of governmental surveillance—it makes you feel them. After seeing the film, you will never think the same way about your phone, email, credit card, web browser, or profile, ever again." (Official synopsis)

The final film in the documentary trilogy of the United States post 9/11 by Laura Poitras: My Country, My Country (2006, on Iraq under U.S. occupation), The Oath (2010 on two men whose paths cross with al-Qaeda), and Citizenfour (2014).

AA: Citizenfour belongs to the heavyweights among current documentaries, those which challenge us to reflect upon the state of the world with utter gravity – like The Salt of the Earth (2014) by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

At the center of Citizenfour is the Edward Snowden whistleblowing story recorded in real time as it happened at Mira Hotel in Hongkong. We register the nuclear news bomb explode all over the globe.

The taut and sober documentary by Laura Poitras also expands to relevant contexts with startling testimonies by William Binney and Jacob Applebaum.

It is all about the subject-matter, but the personal presence of Edward Snowden is essential for us to be aware that here is someone who has sacrificed everything and has benefitted nothing from his revelation.

A parallel story is that of Laura Poitras herself who has been forced to settle from the U.S. to Berlin to secure her footage from being seized.

The gravity is in the fundamental concern for the ideals of freedom, the right to privacy, free speech, and democracy. The reality of surveillance and the police state today makes Orwell's 1984 and Stasi look amateurish.

"Privacy is dead" is the motto here. I remember when I first went to the Internet in the mid-1990s that ECHELON was supposed to register everything. "In cyberspace everybody can hear you scream" became my motto. Yet all this was an educated guess until Snowden proved it.

What can we do? On the Citizenfour homepage ( there is a surveillance self-defense kit for starters. In the movie is included a sequence of the FBI's attempt to crush Lavabit, so it is an ongoing battle.

Citizenfour is a key film for our age. Films of espionage, surveillance and paranoia have a distinguished tradition, Fritz Lang and Alan J. Pakula belong to its masters, and in Finland Matti Salo has written a great book on that legacy (Viitta ja tikari / Cloak and Dagger, soon forthcoming). Reality has now surpassed fiction as documented in Citizenfour.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Patong Girl

Susanna Salonen: Patong Girl (2014) with Aisawanya Areyawattana, Max Mauff. Quelle: Barnsteiner Film, DIF, © Yoliswa von Dallwitz. From: Filmportal.

DE/TH 2014. PC: Hanfgarn & Ufer Film- und TV-Produktion (Berlin). P: Andrea Ufer, Gunter Hanfgarn.
    D+SC: Susanna Salonen. DP: Yoliswa von Dallwitz – HD – 1:1,85. PD: Pongnarin Jonghawklang, Iris Trescher. Cost: Stefanie Jauss. Make-up: Stefanie Jauss, Alexandra Lebedynski. S: Manuel Meichsner. ED: Bettina Böhler.
    C: Max Mauff (Felix Schröder), Aisawanya Areyawattana (Fai), Victoria Trauttmansdorff (Annegret Schröder), Uwe Preuss (Ullrich Schröder), Marcel Glauche (Tommy Schröder), Gigi Velicitat (Maurice).
    Loc: Thailand. Kinostart: 25.12.2014. FSK Freigabe 6 J. In German, Thai, and English. Filmportal 89 min, I counted 93 min
    In the presence of Susanna Salonen.
    2K DCP with German subtitles viewed at Bundesplatz-Kino, Berlin, 29 Dec 2014
Official synopsis: "It's their last Christmas vacation together as a family, and the Schroeders are spending it on a resort island in Thailand. There, the 18-year-old son Felix falls in love with Fai, a beautiful Thai woman. His brother and mother suspect that the slightly enigmatic Fai is a prostitute, but Felix is simply swept away by her. At the end of the vacation, already at the airport, he announces that he has decided to simply stay longer and follow Fai to the North of the country, where her parents live. Felix' parents are appalled. Mother Annegret too decides to cancel her flight home and goes looking for her son in the backwaters of Thailand, which leads to several complications. Meanwhile, Felix discovers the true mystery behind the beautiful Fai." (Filmportal)

AA: Patong Girl is the fiction feature film debut of Susanna Salonen who was born in Finland but has lived all her life in Germany.

The narrative may have a distant affinity with The Crying Game or even Some Like It Hot, but it is not based on other films. Instead, it is based on first hand observation. Susanna Salonen has been a diving instructor in Patong since 1990, studying Thai life for a long time.

The story of a German family's Christmas vacation leads to a cycle of revelations. The 18-year old Tommy has a holiday romance with Fai. The first revelation: his mother suspects Fai to be a gold-digger, but she is nothing of the kind. The second revelation: Fai is not a regular woman but a member of the third sex. The third revelation takes place during the last part of the movie which takes us to North Thailand where we meet Fai's very conservative, highly respected and affluent family.

Susanna Salonen has an eye for the interesting observation and the illuminating detail. The difficult roles are carried well by Aisawanya Areyawattana and Max Mauff.

There are memorable images by the water. The flying lanterns lit to the memory of the victims of the tsunami ten years ago, meant to catch their still erring souls, to carry them to heaven. The rising light phenomena by the sea in the finale at night.

Salonen calls her film little, but there is a delicate psychological sense in Patong Girl that is out of the ordinary.

There was a Q and A with Peter Latta after the screening.
    Salonen told us about her fascination with the witty, weird and interesting scene in Thailand.
    Patong / Phuket / Pattaya / Bangkok are the great bordellos of Thailand, but 97% of the people have nothing to do with that.
    The ancient Thai view is that there are three genders; in some cultures there is a view of five genders and also a view of a grayscale of genders.
    Salonen was happy with her actors, including with the young Max Mauff, who is very good in underplaying.

NB. Also for a Finn, this was in an important way a decennial screening of the tsunami of 26 December 2004. 179 Finns died in the biggest peacetime disaster for Finns.


The Theory of Everything

Black hole with corona, artist's concept from Wikipedia: "NASA's NuSTAR Sees Rare Blurring of Black Hole Light". NASA. 12 August 2014. Click to enlarge.
Kaiken teoria. GB © 2014 Universal. PC: Working Title Films. P: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten. D: James Marsh. SC: Anthony McCarten - based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (2008) by Jane Hawking. DP: Benoît Delhomme - DI: Technicolor, Creative Services London. M: Jóhann Jóhannsson. ED: Jinx Godfrey. C: Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking), Felicity Jones (Jane Hawking), Charlie Cox (Jonathan Hellyer Jones, Jane's second husband), Emily Watson (Beryl Wilde, Jane's mother), Simon McBurney (Frank Hawking, Stephen's father), David Thewlis (Dennis Sicama), Maxine Peake (Elaine Mason, Stephen's second wife), Christian McKay (Roger Penrose). - Stephen Hawking provides his Equalizer computerized voice. - Loc: London, Cambridge, Ealing. 123 min
    Technical specs from the IMDb: - Dolby Digital - Color - 2.35:1 - Camera: Arri Alexa, Leica Summilux-C Lenses - Negative Format: SxS Pro - Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4:4:4 (1080/24p) (source format) - Release Format: D-Cinema
   2K DCP, DF (Deutsche Fassung = German spoken version) viewed at Eva, Berlin, 29 Dec 2014.

Official synopsis: "Starring Eddie Redmayne (“Les Misérables”) and Felicity Jones (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), this is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking received an earth-shattering diagnosis at 21 years of age. With Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, Stephen embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of – time. Together, they defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science, and achieving more than they could ever have dreamed. The film is based on the memoir "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen," by Jane Hawking, and is directed by Academy Award winner James Marsh (“Man on Wire”)." (Official synopsis from the homepage).

AA: "A British biographical romantic drama film" (Wikipedia), a well-made film, a mainstream entertainment film about the engrossing story of Stephen Hawking.

Regarding his brilliant ideas on cosmology Stephen Hawking has done a lot to popularize them himself, and his books are illuminating even for laymen. I was very impressed by The Grand Design. There is nothing of the kind in this film. And there are already other films about Hawking's ideas, for instance the fascinating A Brief History of Time by Errol Morris.

This film is the private story: the battle against odds to cope with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or motor neurone disease, which gradually paralysed Hawking over the decades (this formulation I copied from Wikipedia). The viewpoint is that of Jane, his wife, and the film is largely about her battle for Stephen.

A true story about the triumph of the spirit.

Mr. Turner

J. M. W. Turner: Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited 1842. Oil paint on canvas support: 914 x 1219 mm frame: 1233 x 1535 x 145 mm painting Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. From the production notes. By permission of Tate Press Office. Click to enlarge.

GB/FR/DE © 2014 Channel Four Television Corporation, The British Film Institute, Diaphana, France3 Cinéma, Untitled 13 Commissioning Ltd. EX: Tessa Ross, Norman Merry, Gail Egan. P: Georgina Lowe. Co-P: Michel Saint-Jean, Malte Grunert. Line producer: Danielle Brandon.
    D+SC: Mike Leigh. DP: Dick Pope. PD: Suzie Davies. Cost: Jacqueline Durran. Make-up & hair: Christine Blundell. M: Gary Yershon. S: Lee Herrick (supv), Tim Fraser. ED: Jon Gregory. Research: Jacqueline Riding. Casting: Nina Gold.
    C: Timothy Spall (J. M. W. Turner), Paul Jesson (William Turner, Sr.), Dorothy Atkinson (Hannah Danby), Marion Bailey Mr. Booth), Ruth Sheen (Sarah Danby), Sandy Foster (Evelina Dupuis), Amy Dawson (Georgiana Thompson), Lesley Manville (Mary Somerville), Martin Savage (Benjamin Robert Haydon), Richard Bremmer (George Jones), Niall Buggy (John Carew), Fred Pearson (Sir William Beechey), Tom Edden (C. R. Leslie), Jamie Thomas King (David Roberts), Mark Stanley (Clarkson Stanfield), Nicholas Jones (Sir John Soane), Clive Francis (Sir Martin Archer Shee), Robert Portal (Sir Charles Eastlake), Simon Chandler (Sir Augustus Wall Callcott), Edward de Souza (Thomas Stothard), James Fleet (John Constable), Patrick Godfrey (Lord Egremont), Nicola Sloane (brothel keeper), Kate O'Flynn (prostitute), John Ruskin (Joshua McGuire), Stuart McQuarrie (Ruskin's father), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Ruskin's mother), Eleanor Yates (Ruskin's wife), David Horovitch (Dr. Price), Leo Bill (J. J. E. Mayall), James Dryden (Cornelius), Sinéad Matthews (Queen Victoria), Peter Wight (Joseph Gillott).
    Technical specs from the IMDb: – Color – 2.35:1 – Cameras: Arri Alexa Plus, Cooke Speed Panchro Lenses; Canon EOS C500, Cooke Speed Panchro Lenses – source format: Codex – Cinematographic Process: ARRIRAW, Canon Cinema RAW – release format: Digital (Digital Cinema Package DCP). 150 min
    2K DCP viewed at b-ware! ladenkino (Gärtnerstrasse 19, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Samariterstrasse, Berlin), OmU = Original mit Untertiteln = original version with German subtitles, 29 Dec 2014

Mike Leigh: Director’s Statement:

Back at the turn of the century, when ‘Topsy-Turvy’ was released, I wrote that it was “a film about all of us who suffer and strain to make other people laugh.”

Now I have again turned the camera round on ourselves, we who try to be artists, with all the struggles our calling demands. But making people laugh, hard as it is, is one thing; moving them to experience the profound, the sublime, the spiritual, the epic beauty and the terrifying drama of what it means to be alive on our planet – well, that’s altogether something else, and few of us ever achieve it, much as we may try.

Turner achieved all of it, of course. He was a giant among artists, single-minded and uncompromising, extraordinarily prolific, revolutionary in his approach, consummate at his craft, clairvoyant in his vision.

Yet Turner the man was eccentric, anarchic, vulnerable, imperfect, erratic and sometimes uncouth. He could be selfish and disingenuous, mean yet generous, and he was capable of great passion and poetry.

Mr. Turner is about the tensions and contrasts between this very mortal man and his timeless work, between his fragility and his strength. It is also an attempt to evoke the dramatic changes in his world over the last quarter century of his life

Mike Leigh (from the production notes)

Synopsis (from the production notes):

MR. TURNER explores the last quarter century of the life of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), the single-minded artist who worked hard and travelled extensively.

Turner is profoundly affected by the death of his ex-barber father, he takes up with a widow, Mrs Booth, a seaside landlady, and is plagued occasionally by an ex-lover, Sarah Danby, by whom he has two illegitimate adult daughters, whose existence he invariably denies.

He enjoys the hospitality of the landed aristocracy, he visits a brothel, he is fascinated by science, photography and railways, he is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and he has himself tied to the mast of a ship in bad weather in order to paint a snowstorm.

He is celebrated by some, and reviled by others. He refuses an offer of £100,000 from a millionaire who wants to buy all his work, preferring to bequeath it to the British nation, whereas Queen Victoria loathes his work.

Throughout the story he is loved by his stoical housekeeper, Hannah, whom he takes for granted and whom he occasionally exploits sexually.

Eventually, he leads a double existence, living incognito with Mrs Booth in Chelsea, where he dies. Hannah is unaware of this until the very end
. (Synopsis from the production notes).

AA: Mr. Turner is one of the best films of Mike Leigh and one of the best films on painting, ranking with: – Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli / Van Gogh) – Montparnasse 19 / Les Amants de Montparnasse (Jacques Becker / Amedeo Modigliani) – Le Mystère Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot) – Andrei Rublyov (Andrei Tarkovsky) – The Agony and the Ecstasy (Carol Reed / Michelangelo) – Painters Painting (Emile de Antonio) – and Basquiat (Julian Schnabel) – not forgetting the unique documentaries by Luciano Emmer and Alain Resnais.

Mr. Turner is a turning-point and landmark in digital cinematography.

It is a magical film about the passion and devotion to painting. It focuses on the essential: the sorcery of light and colour and how Turner was ahead of his time or timeless, already in tune with what was later to emerge in impressionism, abstract painting, and action painting.

Turner was irresponsible in his human relations and uncompromising in his art.

Digital cinematography has justifiedly been celebrated for its brightness and sharpness. The Turner aesthetics is a most perfect imaginable opposite to that.

But the cinematographer Dick Pope, in close collaboration with Mike Leigh, has managed a lot in reproducting a genuine Turnerian softness, fogginess, and cloudiness, and the warm colour palette of Turner. I had been wondering what someone with the actual Turner paintings in fresh memory would say, and I happened to meet Mr. Anders Carpelan who in London had seen Mr. Turner and the next day visited The Late Turner exhibition at Tate Gallery, and in his opinion the colour world of the film was spot on.

It has so far been difficult for digital to capture the warm authenticity of the colours of nature. Cold harshness and ultra bright have been typical digital colour worlds. There have been exceptions from the start, but now Mr. Turner is a high profile demonstration of digital achieving very well what has mostly been a privilege of photochemical film, including fog, clouds, and hazy contours. Having said this, I also add that the interiors are better than the exteriors, and some of the nature exteriors are slightly underwhelming. The red may be a touch too sweet (at least in this screening).

The vignette style of the movie is successful. Many (all?) scenes are based on well-known incidents and anecdotes. I was impressed by – Turner being tied to the mast during a thunderstorm – the sublime of the nature – the red blot transforming into a life-buoy – the action painting – Aphrodite the love goddess – Mr. Booth's story of the slave ship – witnessing the Temeraire – Turner as an awful lecturer on perspective – the old Turner being reviled by his contemporaries – the demonstration of the magnetic properties of violet light – the camera obscura – the Daguerrotypes – Turner turning down the offer of the millionaire and bequeathing his legacy to the British nation – laughing at the Pre-Rafaelites.

The sense of the epoch is engaging.

The Fighting Temeraire sequence evokes the latest James Bond film Skyfall where Bond visits National Gallery to see Turner's painting. It is about the domination of the sea and the transience of everything.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

Sebastião Salgado at work. Photo: Unifrance. Click to enlarge.

Le Sel de la terre / O Sal da Terra / Il sale della terra / Das Salz der Erde.
    FR/BR/IT [production 100% French according to Unifrance] © 2014 Decia Films / Amazonas Images. EX: Wim Wenders. P: David Rosier. D: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. SC: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, David Rosier, Camille Delafon. DP: Hugo Barbier, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado - digital post: Digimage. ED: Maxine Goedicke, Rob Myers. A documentary film. A biographical film on Sebastião Salgado. Feat: Sebastião Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Narrators: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.
    Locations include: - Yalimo, Papua, Indonesia (Yali tribe) - Aimorés, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Salgado's hometown, Instituto Terra) - Vitoria, Espirito Santo, Brazil (archive footage) - Pará, Brazil (Zo'é tribe) - Wrangel Island, Russia (arctic island).
    Sebastião Salgado projects covered: - The Other Americas (1999) - Sahel, The End of the Road (2004) - An Uncertain Grace (1992) - Workers: Archaeology of the Industrial Age (1993) - Terra (1997) - Migrations / Exodus (2000) - Africa (2007) - Genesis (2013).
    110 min - in Portuguese, English, and French - 2K DCP of the English-language version [title on screen: The Salt of the Earth] viewed at Neues Off (Hermannstr. 22, Berlin), 28 Dec 2014

SYNOPSIS "For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty. Sebastião Salgado’s life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his last travels, and by Wim Wenders, himself a photographer." (Pressbook / Unifrance website)

AA: The Salt of the Earth came to us highly recommended by friends, and it is worth all the acclaim. It is a magnificent film, introducing through the lens of Sebastião Salgado the biggest possible topics and themes. It starts in the gold mine of Serra Pelada in Brazil. Salgado's epic photographs of 50.000 mud-covered workers evoke "the history of mankind": the pyramids, the skyscrapers - the hard work of immense masses behind our greatest achievements. This is a global movie, taking us to several continents and dozens of countries.

Salgado's epic themes include also - drought - famine - cholera - Sahel - Sahara - Ethiopia - Africa - refugees - and - genocide. The unflinching images on the famine in Ethiopia and the genocide in Rwanda are hard to watch. Salgado documented the biggest refugee camps in history - with two million people.

Sebastião and Lélia Salgado left Brazil during the 1960s military dictatorship, inspired by radical ideas and the liberation theology. They settled in Paris. Sebastião, an economist, worked for the International Coffee Organization and the World Bank before his professional career as a photographer, starting in 1973, for Sygma, Gamma and Magnum before forming their own agency, Amazonas Images.

Rwanda was devastating for Salgado, and he started a new life and a new career as an environmentalist. The conclusion of the film is about the Genesis project, "a love letter to the planet". It has taken Salgado once again around the world: - to Galapagos in the footsteps of Darwin - to the sperm whales in Argentine - to the penguins of the Antarctic - to the Nenets with their reindeer herds - "to the beginning of time" - to the paradisiacal Zo'é tribe in Brazil, observed by Jesuits centuries ago and then undetected by Western eyes until recently, distinguished by wearing a poturu lower lip plug and living in polyandry and polygamy with both wives and husbands having 4-5 spouses. The circle of Salgado's life is closing by re-planting trees to the family farm where the rain forest had turned barren. The farm was created a national park, a model for abused lands.

The imagery of the film respects the Salgado aesthetics of black and white, wide angle and deep focus. Many Salgado photographs are particularly powerful in huge enlargements on a big screen, as in the Serra Pelada cycle that starts this film.

The Salt of the Earth, one of the best films of Wim Wenders, belongs to his documentary portraits of artists - such as Tokyo-Ga (on Yasujiro Ozu), Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten (on Yohji Yamamoto), and Pina (on Pina Bausch). Co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, it is his strongest statement on society.

Susan Sontag criticized Salgado for "the inauthenticity of the beautiful". Perhaps there are magazines and contexts where the grim veracity of Salgado's photographic images has been exploited as "art for art's sake". (This has also been the fate of many films of social commitment, starting with Eisenstein.) But in this film one cannot help being convinced of the devotion of Salgado to the people he is photographing and to the biggest of concerns, expanding from human society to the fate of the planet. His photographs alert us from our inertia but also inspire us to action. He has a mission, and he has the passion.

Beyond the jump break: interviews with Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (from the pressbook)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ziegfeld Follies

Ziegfeld Follies (US 1945). P: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Arthur Freed. D: George Sidney (3 production numbers), Merrill Pye, Robert Lewis, Vincente Minnelli (5 production numbers), Roy Del Ruth, Lemuel Ayers, Charles Walters.

Ziegfeldin tähtirevyy / Ziegfeld Follies.
    US 1945. PC: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. P: Arthur Freed. DP: George J. Folsey, Charles Rosher - Technicolor. AD: Cedric Gibbons, Merrill Pye, Jack Martin Smith. Cost: Helen Rose. Cost: Irene. Makeup: Jack Dawn. Hair: Sydney Guilaroff. Dance D: Robert Alton. ED: Albert Akst. A musical built of episodes.
    1. Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) in heaven, his reminiscences as puppet animation (Lou Bunin, Florence Bunin). He decides to produce a new revue from heaven.
    2. Introduction by Fred Astaire: "Here's To The Girls" / "Bring On the Wonderful Men" with Cyd Charisse, Lucille Ball, and a parody by Virginia O'Brien (*) D: George Sidney.
    3. "A Water Ballet" – Esther Williams's underwater number. D: Merrill Pye.
    4. "Number Please" comedy skit with Keenan Wynn. D: Robert Lewis.
    5. James Melton and Marion Bell: "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" from La traviata (Giuseppe Verdi).
    6. "Pay the Two Dollars" comedy skit with Victor Moore and Edward Arnold (lawyer). D: George Sidney.
    7. "This Heart Of Mine" (Harry Warren, Arthur Freed) with Fred Astaire (as a jewel thief) and Lucille Bremer (as a rich heiress). D: Vincente Minnelli. *
    8. "A Sweepstakes Ticket", a comedy skit with Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn, and William Frawley. D: Roy Del Ruth.
    9. "Love" (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane) sung by Lena Horne. D: Lemuel Ayers. *
    10. "When Television Comes", a comedy skit with Red Skelton. D: George Sidney.
    11. "Limehouse Blues" with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. D: Vincente Minnelli. ***
    12. "The Great Lady Has An Interview", starring Judy Garland, D: Vincente Minnelli, SC: Kay Thompson, CH: Charles Walters. *
    13. "The Babbitt And The Bromide" with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. D: Vincente Minnelli. *
    14. "Beauty" / "There's Beauty Everywhere" with Kathryn Grayson under Daliesque shadows of clouds. D: Vincente Minnelli.
    110 min. 35 mm print viewed at Arsenal, Berlin, 26 Dec 2014.

"Ziegfeld Follies is a 1946 Hollywood musical comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, Robert Lewis, Vincente Minnelli, Merrill Pye, George Sidney and Charles Walters. It stars many of MGM leading talents, including Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Lucille Bremer, Fanny Brice (the only member of the ensemble who was a star of the original Follies), Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, James Melton, Victor Moore, William Powell, Red Skelton, and Esther Williams."

"Producer Arthur Freed wanted to create a film along the lines of the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway shows and so the film is composed of a sequence of unrelated lavish musical numbers and comedy sketches. Filmed in 1944, '45 and '46, it was released in 1946, to considerable critical and box-office success.

Key songs/dance routines

"Dance director was Robert Alton, Astaire's second-most-frequent choreographic collaborator after Hermes Pan. All of Astaire's numbers were directed by Vincente Minnelli."

    "Here's To The Girls/Bring On The Wonderful Men: by Roger Edens and Arthur Freed. Sung by Astaire with a short solo dance by Cyd Charisse, followed by Lucille Ball cracking a whip over eight chorus-girl panthers, and finally Virginia O'Brien spoofs the previous scene by singing "Bring on those Wonderful Men""
    "This Heart of Mine: Classic standard by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed and written specially for Astaire who sings it to Bremer and then leads her in an extravagantly romantic dance of seduction and power-play. The choreography integrates rotating floors, concealed treadmills and swirling dance motifs."
    "Love: Another standard, this time by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, sung by Lena Horne"
    "Limehouse Blues: Conceived as a "dramatic pantomime" with Astaire as a proud but poverty-stricken Chinese labourer whose infatuation with the unattainable Bremer leads to tragedy. The story serves as bookends for a dream ballet inspired by Chinese dance motifs in a vast and extravagant, albeit racially-stereotyped, setting."
    "The Great Lady Has An Interview: Written by Kay Thompson originally for Greer Garson (she turned it down). Judy Garland spoofs a movie star who can only be cast in Oscar winning dramas, but wants to play "sexy" roles (a la Greer Garson, or Katharine Hepburn) giving an interview to dancing reporters about "her next picture": a bio-pic of Madame Cremantante (the "inventor of the safety pin"). Originally to be directed by Garland's friend Charles Walters, Vincente Minnelli ended up directing the sequence (the two were dating at the time), and Walters was reassigned as choreographer."
    "The Babbitt And The Bromide: Astaire and Kelly team up in a comedy song and dance challenge in three sections, to music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. All choreography was by Astaire (third section) and Kelly (sections one and two). This was the only time Astaire and Kelly appeared on screen together in their prime. In spite of efforts by Freed and Minnelli, the two would not partner again on film until That's Entertainment, Part II in 1976."
    "There's Beauty Everywhere: Originally filmed as a balletic finale with tenor James Melton singing and Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Lucille Bremer dancing in a melange of soap bubbles. But when the bubble machine malfunctioned (leaving only a fragment of the number filmed) and the formula flowed into the hallways of the soundstage, the number had to be restaged and the Astaire and Bremer part of this number was cut out altogether." Kathryn Grayson replaced Melton. Segments of the "bubble dance" with Charisse remain in the final film.
" (Wikipedia)

AA: Revisited a MGM genre feast from the golden age of the Hollywood musical. This episode film is uneven but there is a generous supply of truly fine numbers.
    The highlight now and always is "Limehouse Blues", a tragic ballet with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, one of the all-time greatest musical production numbers, masterfully directed by Vincente Minnelli. They are good in "This Heart Of Mine", too.
    The comedy bits are mostly forgettable. The gems are the witty satires with Virginia O'Brien and Judy Garland.
    Ziegfeld Follies was produced during 1944–1946, and it is striking to observe the familiar approach to death here. The film begins with Florenz Ziegfeld in heaven. In "The Babbitt And The Bromide" we follow the comedy duel of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to the beyond. And of course, most unforgettably, there is "Limehouse Blues" with its sublime death dream sequence.
    The print screened was complete and clean but perhaps from a duped source without full Technicolor intensity.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Listening to Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, William Walton, 1948)

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet and Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother Gertrude in the most moving performance of the film.
In celebration of the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare.

I have been listening to soundtracks and scores of films lately, including that of William Walton to Laurence Olivier's profoundly melancholy film interpretation of Hamlet. I do not like Olivier's Hamlet performance, but it is interestingly original and unique. He is like a spoiled brat, with a smug and snobbish habitus. At 40 years, Olivier was too old to play Hamlet convincingly on screen. Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother Gertrude was 11 years younger. Olivier must have had an electrifying voltage in live performances on the stage. On screen he was often too big, over-projecting, overbearing, a ham actor, although he was conscious of this, and for instance in Hamlet did much to tone his presence down. The famous monologues became whispered interior monologues. But somehow he still feels like a slithery tomcat who has just had his fill of fresh cream and also his other appetites satisfied. Olivier could be great in performances in films such as Carrie, The Entertainer, and The Merchant of Venice. His grandeur is evident in the fact that he was always developing and curious to learn something new.

I played Hamlet just to listen to William Walton's magnificent score but could not help being deeply moved by Shakespeare's dialogue. To native English speakers it must be a special experience to hear so many beloved idioms, bons mots, and winged words that here appeared for the first time.

Act I

This above all — to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
- Polonius, scene iii

But to my mind, — though I am native here
And to the manner born, — it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
- Hamlet, scene iv

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet, scene v

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
- Hamlet, scene v

Act II

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
- Polonius, scene ii.

More matter with less art.
- Gertrude, scene ii.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
- Hamlet, from a letter read by Polonius, scene ii

Polonius: Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. — Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
Hamlet: Into my grave.
- scene ii

The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play 's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
- Hamlet, scene ii


To die, to sleep; —
To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
- Hamlet, scene i

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
- Ophelia, scene i

I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
- Hamlet, scene iv

Act IV

Laertes: This nothing’s more than matter.
Ophelia: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thought.
Laertes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.
- scene v

Act V

The rest is silence.
- Hamlet, scene ii

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
- Horatio, scene ii