Saturday, September 26, 2015

The telegram in Ernst Lubitsch's The Merry Widow

The millionaire Sonia (Jeanette MacDonald), the Ambassador of Marshovia (Edward Everett Horton), and Count Danilo (Maurice Chevalier) in Paris in The Merry Widow (1934). Please click to enlarge the image.

The funniest telegram in the history of the cinema is in Ernst Lubitsch's version of The Merry Widow (1934). It is in code. The mission: to save Marshovia's finances in Paris where the millionaire widow Sonia is in danger of getting married with a foreigner.

Edward Everett Horton's expression is worth seeing when he hears the code word "darling", meaning: "I consider you the greatest idiot in the diplomatic service". The code reader is the embassy official Zizipoff (Herman Bing) who seems especially to relish the word "greatest". The Ambassador looks even more alarmed when he hears the next code expression: "lilac time"... The urgent message is finally unencrypted (roughly, from memory and partial notes):

I consider you the greatest idiot in the diplomatic service.
Act quickly.
Be brilliant.
Meet crisis.
Kill rumours.
Admit nothing.
Deny everything.
Evade issues.
Face facts.
Stand pat.
Something must be done.
Do it.
Do it now.
What are you waiting for?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tunteiden temppelit / Temples of Dreams

[Direct translation of the Finnish title: Temples of Emotions]. FI © 2015 Illume Oy. P+D: Jouko Aaltonen. Ass. P: Marianne Mäkelä. Ass. D: Toni Puurtinen, Henri Waltter Rehnström. DP: Timo Peltonen. Add. cinematography: Pekka Uotila, Jouko Aaltonen. M: Markku Kopisto, Robi de Godzinsky. Musicians: Mikko Virto, Aale Lindgren, Marko Portin, Johanna Almark-Mannila, Robi de Godzinsky. M recording and mixing: Robi de Godzinsky / Soundteam Godzinsky Oy Ltd. S design: Martti Turunen. Kenttä-äänitys: Martti Turunen, Juho Tanskanen. Miksauksen tarkistus ja siirrot: Peter Nordström / Meguru Film Sound Oy. ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. Materiaalisiirrot ja leikkausassistentit: Antti Tuomikoski, Saara Murto, Jenny Timonen, Pia Kautto, Juho Tanskanen. Colour definition and mastering: Antti Hirsiaho. P assistants: Maarit Mononen, Jenny Timonen. Tuotantopäälliköt: Toni Puurtinen, Henri Waltter Rehnström, Venla Hellstedt.
    Stills: Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti KAVI, Helsingin kaupunginmuseon kuva-arkisto, Vapriikin kuva-arkisto, kuvaajat: Arto Tamminen, Arthur Laurent; Kuopion kulttuurihistoriallinen museo / Pekka Kankkunen.
    Archival footage: KAVI / Tommi Partanen; Yle Arkisto / Eva Lintunen; Juha Korhonen.
    Distribution: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus (PEK). Graphic design: PEK / Juha Lassila.
    In collaboration with: Yle / Iikka Vehkalahti, Erkko Lyytinen, Erkki Astala.
    Production support: Suomen Elokuvasäätiö / Elina Kivihalme; AVEK / Outi Rousu; Konstsamfundet / Kaj-Gustaf Bergh.
    83 min
    Premiere scheduled on 4 Dec 2015.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    A special event of Love & Anarchy, Ilmarinen, and Kämp Group, celebrating the future of Cinema Maxim. Introduced by Pekka Lanerva, the Ilmarinen representative, Ari Tolppanen, Juha Elomäki, and Jouko Aaltonen.
    2K DCP with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Maxim, Helsinki (HIFF), 24 Sep 2015

Featuring interviewees: Reino Vahteri, Satu Koskimies, Kauko Puustinen, Matti Kassila, Marjut Kekoni, Aki Kaurismäki, Liisa Pajukaarre, Matti Asikainen, Ann Philp, Outi Vuorikari, Ville Koivisto, Leo Nordberg, Keijo Karhunen, Ahti Pitkänen, Merja Luotola-Maarnela, Raija Luotola, Linda Maarnela, Henry Maarnela, Jaakko Maarnela, Lasse Lind, Anssi Luoma, Toivo Reijonen, Peter von Bagh, Maija Kormano, Jari Mäkilä, Jukka Mäkilä, Jesse Mäkilä, Tapio Koski, Juha Lindroos, Juha Korhonen, Sari Korhonen, Matti Kakki, Juhani Suokas, Ari Saarinen, Pekka Laukkanen, Veikko Viitanen, Marko Hartama, Ville Walo, and Mikko Jokipii. [My notes scribbled in the dark].

Featuring cinemas: Domino (Turku), Tennispalatsi (Helsinki), Kuva-Tähti (Vehmaa), the Gloria chain (Pohjanmaa), Forssan Elävienkuvien Teatteri (Forssa), Lapinsuu (Sodankylä), Adlon (Helsinki), Aloha (Helsinki), Arita (Helsinki), Kino-Palatsi (Helsinki, the one abolished in 1965), Maxim (Helsinki), Sininen Kuu (Helsinki), Kino Nuijamies (Lappeenranta), Bio Rex (Hamina), Matin-Tupa (Ylistaro, Seinäjoki), Tivoli (Helsinki), Navettakino (Pyhälahti, Konnevesi), Kino Aula (Helsinki), Kuvakukko (Kuopio), Kino-Sampo (Valkeakoski), Kino Tuomarila (Tuomarila), Kuvahovi (Hämeenlinna), Kino-Kouvo (Kouvola), WHS Teatteri Union (Helsinki), Kino Jalasjärvi (Jalasjärvi), Orion (Helsinki). [My notes scribbled in the dark].

AA: The first documentary on the history of Finnish cinema theatres deserves attention internationally. The affectionate and humoristic account might strike familiar chords among professionals and aficionados everywhere.

Over a period of more than three years Jouko Aaltonen and his team have conducted a remarkable oral history project on cinema-going and cinema managing in Finland. The result is a work of cultural history.

There is a dramatic arch in this documentary. A similar dramatic structure would emerge in histories of cinemas in other countries, but there are differences. The crisis of the nitrate fires: after the tragic fire of Cinema Imatra in Tampere in 1927 there was a strict law on cinema safety and professional licensing of projectionists. WWII: cinema was more popular and important than ever, but there were also devastating air raids (Leo Nordberg reminiscing how he survived the bombing of Cinema Tivoli where 27 died, mostly children). The 1950s were the most golden decade in the popularity of the cinema, abruptly ending in the breakthrough of television (because of the geographical structure of the population the blow of television was particularly harsh in Finland, more severe than in other Nordic countries). The next huge blow was the breakthrough of the home video around 1984. The death of the cinema has been predicted in each turning-point, but the latest one - digitalization - has rescued cinemas because now everywhere it is possible to access the current blockbuster on the day of global premiere.

An example on the power of the cinema is the first run of The Unknown Soldier (1955), the all-time most popular Finnish film by a far distance, an extremely important work in the psychological healing of the nation after devastating wars. In the city of Lappeenranta its audience was bigger than the population since people from the neighbouring countryside booked buses to come and see the film. Nobody talked after the screening (usually there was lively talk). Many, especially war veterans, were crying. Women mourned the loss of young lives. Projectionists learned by heart the dialogue around the changeovers.

Among the memorable sequences: a documentation on the abolishing of the big, legendary Finnkino central film vault, the last major commercial film vault in our country. The film titles were deposited with us, but parallel prints were shipped to be massively destroyed.

Tunteiden temppeli laments the passing of many fine cinemas, now refunctioned as gyms, bowling alleys, restaurants, places of worship, or Freemasons' lodges. But the film also celebrates the birth of new cinemas, regular ones and bizarre ones, including a cinema where the owners' bedroom is located between the projection booth and the auditorium. And a cinema called Navettakino (Cow Stable Cinema). There is also a sequence on touring cinemas; at best there were 120 such tours in Finland, able to function everywhere, also in spaces without electricity. All valuing a community of experience.

I was happy to see many familiar faces among the interviewees, and happier to learn even more that was new. There are successful cinema chains in Finland, and on the other hand there are strong traditional family-owned cinemas around the country, now saved by digitization. To run the family cinemas is a passion, a labour of love. Jouko Aaltonen's film is a tribute to all of them - to all of us.

The visual quality: compilation quality.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Äidin toive / Mother's Wish

Mother's Wish [the on-screen title]. South Africa, Great Britain, Canada, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Russia, United States 2015. PC: Oktober Oy. P: Satu Majava. D: Joonas Berghäll. DP: Heikki Färm, Tuomo Hutri, Henrik Ipsen. DI: Huefilm. 85 min
    Languages: Finnish, English, Spanish, Nepali, Portuguese, French, Russian, Xhosa.
    Distributor: Nordisk Film.
    2K DCP with English subtitles
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    HIFF Finnish Gala introduced by Pekka Lanerva, Joonas Berghäll and Satu Majava, Bio Rex, Helsinki, 22 Sep 2015

Production notes: "Mother’s Wish is a documentary film that gathers together stories from women in different parts of the world. The narrators of the stories form an unbroken chain around the globe. The stories are connected by the theme of motherhood: the presence or absence of a mother has been a decisive factor in the fates of our main characters."

"Told together, the women’s narratives form a poetic and intense film of motherhood and love: of the moment after first childbirth, of a mother’s pride on her daughter’s first school day, but also of the effects of tragic events, such as the emotional scars left by sexual abuse, or breaking free from forced marriage – but above all the stories speak of survival: The women have struggled through life against incredible odds. They give the viewer hope of a better tomorrow."

"The central themes of the films are motherhood and love. The mothers’ wishes are universal ideals of a better world, one that we would want to leave for our own children. Women around the world were interviewed for the film’s script, which has shaped the fifteen scenes on mothers’ universal wishes and fears. The film deals with these ideas through personal stories, transforming the personal into political, socially critical debate.
" (Production notes)

AA: Like Canned Dreams (2012, directed by Katja Gauriloff), also produced by Oktober Films, Mother's Wish is a global film, a vision of our world today seen from a special angle.

The director's own mother (Finland). Karen (Kazakstan). Lilitha (South Africa). Sushmita (Nepal). Nallely (Tijuana). Terri (Fairface, Virginia). Carla (Santo Tirso, Portugal). Rachel (Great Dunmoin, GB). Maria (Moscow). Riikka (Tampere). These are among the protagonists of this survey of mother's love today.

There is a literally cosmic perspective as one of the mothers, Karen, is an astronaut who communicates with her child from space. If Mother's Wish were fiction we'd call it a multi-character study. The genre might be melodrama, more specifically the weepie. There is a high charge of emotion. Tears are flowing.

The intimacy in the documentaries of the recent decades is astonishing. There is a new stage in the representation of self, the concept of privacy, the expression of subjectivity, performed reality.

We visit a childbirth, we meet a mother who has lost her child in a car accident (she was herself to blame), a mother whose son is in prison, a mother whose baby is being saved via a liver transplant. We meet a victim of incest whose biggest fear is that they might tell her mother. We get to know a mother who works night shifts as a pole dancer.

The cosmic perspective is not only achieved in the space footage. There is a powerful dynamics in the excellent cinematography from the extreme intimacy of the mother-child union to the majestic global perspective. In the ten stories we see epic long-distance views, establishing shots, of ravishing landscapes from all around the world. Big cities, slum communities, the Himalaya, a cliff by the Atlantic Ocean, all in gorgeous widescreen. There is an excitement of the place.

A sense of the sublime is a keyword.

Another relevant expression is a sense of wonder, usually the keyword to a completely different genre, cinéfantastique.

The digital presentation of the magnificent cinematography was quite successful.


Listen Up Philip

Hei kuule Philip [Yle Teema 23 Sep 2015]. US © 2014 Listen Up Philip, LLC. PC: Sailor Bear / Washington Square Films / Faliro House Productions. P: Joshua Blum, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Katie Stern. D+SC: Alex Ross Perry. DP: Sean Price Williams - negative: 16 mm - Super 16. PD: Scott Kuzio. AD: Fletcher Chancey. Set dec: Nora Mendis. Cost: Amanda Ford. Makeup: Amy L. Forsythe. M: Keegan DeWitt. Diana Ross & The Supremes: "I Hear A Symphony". S: Ryan M. Price. ED: Robert Greene. Casting: Lois J. Drabkin, Susan Shopmaker. C: Jason Schwartzman (Philip Lewis Friedman), Elisabeth Moss (Ashley Kane), Krysten Ritter (Melanie Zimmerman), Joséphine de La Baume (Yvette Dussart), Jonathan Pryce (Ike Zimmerman), Jess Weixler (Holly Kane), Dree Hemingway (Emily). Narrator: Eric Bogosian. 108 min
    Distributor: The Match Factory
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 22 Sep 2015

HIFF catalog and website:

"Alex Ross Perry continues his cinematic quest to test the limits of just how far you can take the obnoxious misanthropy of your leading characters in Listen Up Philip. Explicitly set in the literary world for which the writer-director has indirectly evinced a great affinity in his previous, ultra-low-budget features, Impolex and The Color Wheel, this more ambitious venture focuses on the wilfully self-destructive impulses of a talented young novelist who simultaneously sabotages the potential success of his new novel and his love life, partly through his admiring relationship with a venerable older writer whose antisocial behavior is far more evolved than his own. (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter)

By any measure, the pic formally announces Perry as one of the most promising young talents on the indie scene. (Scott Foundas, Variety)

Director Alex Ross Perry will attend all the screenings of Listen Up Philip (21st – 23rd of September)." (HIFF catalog)

AA: In this my first encounter with Alex Ross Perry I very much agree with the review of Scott Foundas in Variety (copied beyond the jump break) to which I have little to add.

Openly influenced by Philip Roth, even in homage to him, Listen Up Philip is an account of writers who are constitutionally incapable of empathy like blind bats fumbling in daylight. "You just don't see anything clearly."

Jason Schwartzman and Jonathan Pryce bring a raw honesty to their performances as writers who do not know how to live. There is the young promise and the established master. Ike Zimmerman refuses to be a mentor, Philip Lewis Friedman to be a protégé. Ike is both a model and an anti-model. Anyway Ike helps Philip by letting him work at his country place and helping him to get a job as a teacher. But his cynical and callous advice to Philip is more poisonous than fruitful. At the college Philip is alone, avoiding meaningful contact with anyone.

Called a comedy, Listen Up Philip amazes us constantly in scenes where famous writers fail utterly in basic human contacts.

There are moments of illumination. At the college, the fellow teacher Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume) is first Philip's nemesis, then his girlfriend. To her Philip reveals his unhealed wound: "my uncle raised me, as both my parents were killed in a car accident. Mom was pregnant, seven months". Philip has lost his compass and never found a sure footing since, which is perhaps the source of his sense of urgency in writing.

Ike has found fame and fortune but he is never happy, suffering from chronic narcissism and egocentrism. He writes for the world but offends everybody in his private life, most hurtingly his daughter. There is a moment of self-revelation when his daughter leaves.

These are difficult roles to play, and all the actors rise to the occasion. Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, and Elisabeth Moss have been deservedly praised, but I found also Joséphine de La Baume impressive as Yvette, as well as Krysten Ritter as the daughter of the great old writer.

Jason Schwartzman plays the anti-hero who has a hard time making sense of life. He has two girlfriends, Ashley and Yvette, and he loses both. There is a feeling of constant unease and intolerable arrogance in him, yet also a stamina and a persistence (sisu in Finnish). We know he'll never give up even if he is facing "a lifetime of enemies and scorched earth".

Listen Up Philip is a paradoxical tribute to literature. We feel for the poor professionals at the publishing house who have to face the toxic presence of Philip. There are connections to James Salter and William Gaddis in the movie. The end credits are a montage of stylish hard cover book designs made for the movie. The literary quality is emphasized by the omniscient narrator ("nothing lasts forever").

The music is very enjoyable, and it adds a liberating, relaxed and humoristic dimension to the movie.

There is a warm glow in the hues due to the Super 16 mm cinematography. The autumn leaves shine bright. A lot of the cinematography in this chamber piece is handheld, a lot in medium, close-up, and extreme close up, with a sense of immediacy.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Queen of Earth

US © 2015 Her Majesty September LLC. PC: Washington Square Films. P: Elisabeth Moss, Alex Ross Perry, Adam Piotrowicz, Joe Swanberg. D+SC: Alex Ross Perry. DP: Sean Price Williams - negative: 16 mm. PD: Anna Bak-Kvapil. Cost: Amanda Ford. Makeup: Amy L. Forsythe. M: Keegan DeWitt. S: Ryan M. Price. ED: Robert Greene. C: Elisabeth Moss (Catherine), Katherine Waterston (Virginia), Patrick Fugit (Rich), Kentucker Audley (James), Keith Poulson (Keith), Kate Lyn Shell (Michelle), Craig Butta (Groundskeeper), Daniel April (Warlock). 90 min
    Distributor: The Match Factory.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 21 Sep 2015

Two women who grew up together discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together. (IMdB)

HIFF Catalog and Website:

"Hell is other people – especially the ones who know you best (…)."

"Catherine (…) comes to spend a week of self-imposed “exile” at the lake house of her best friend, Virginia, following the death of her father and a bad breakup from her longtime boyfriend. We are somewhere in the tranquil Hudson River Valley, and the silence is deafening."

"Catherine arrives seeming almost shell-shocked, sleeping most of the day away (…). Against this, Perry shows us what life at the lake house was like a year earlier, when Catherine previously paid a visit – earlier times, and happier ones, too, for some characters if not for others. The Catherine we see there is in the full bloom of her romance with James (…) whose influence over his girlfriend is a source of pronounced irritation for the dyspeptic Virginia."

“We should trade roles and see how we feel then,” she says to Catherine, intoning the shape of things to come. Back in the present, the tables have indeed turned, with Virginia now under the sway of the literal boy next door (…)."

"The wonderfully eerie tone (…) keeps you on a razor’s edge of uncertainty as to whether a murder or a reconciliation – or both – lurks just around the bend." (Scott Foundas, Variety)

Director Alex Ross Perry will attend all screenings of Queen of Earth (21st – 23rd of September). (HIFF Catalog)

AA: Alex Ross Perry's previous film Listen Up Philip was about male unrest. Queen of Earth is about female anxiety. The scale is more compact in Queen of Earth.

Again there is a country home for solace and refuge. The retreat in the countryside is a place of getting in touch with oneself more deeply.

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is recovering from deep shocks: the death of her father, and a break-up with her boyfriend. Her friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) has already recovered from her disturbances the year before.

The intimate story has affinities with Persona (Bergman), Three Women (Altman), and Interiors (Allen). It is a tale of fragile psychological conditions. There are long monologues. The film is a tale of friendship and a study on the microphysics of power.

The nightmare about metal disintegration evokes Polanski's Repulsion. There is a hallucinatory dimension in the film and also a touch of a Henry James ghost story in the undercurrent. The film is a mystery tour into the psyche, enigmatic, contradictory, ambiguous. [In Jutta Sarhimaa's interview with Alex Ross Perry in Helsingin Sanomat today the director himself also mentions affinities with Altman's Images, Harvey's Carnival of Souls and Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death.]

The music of Queen of Earth is different from Listen Up Philip, a part of a rich and evocative soundscape including ghostly electronic sounds.

As a non-native English speaker I found the mumbling and whispered dialogue at times hard to follow and longed after subtitles. (They call this trend mumblecore).

Even more than in Listen Up Philip there is in Queen of Earth a predilection for extreme close-ups. There are scenes in long takes in close-up. There are hallucinatory superimpositions and bitter memory flashes. There are also interesting compositions where we follow the two women in different rooms and floors like on a split screen but without optical tricks. The colour world of Listen Up Philip was warm; Queen of Earth is cooler.

A film of unique sustained psychological tension.


Sunday, September 20, 2015


US © 2015 Papate, LLC. PC: An 1821 Media Prod. presentation of a Depth of Field production. (International sales: WME, Beverly Hills.) P: Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas. EX: Stephanie Meurer, Dan Balgoyen, Danielle Renfrew Behrens. Co-P Brenda Vogel. D+SC: Paul Weitz. DP (color, Arri Alexa HD), Tobias Datum. PD: Cindy Chao, Michele Yu. Set dec: Brittany Ruiz. Cost: Molly Grundman-Gerbosi.VFX: Patrick Longstreth, Sarah Sang.M: Joel P. West. S: Vincent Jay Schelly; supervising sound editor: Christopher Sheldon; re-recording mixer: Yagmur Kaplan. ED: Jonathan Corn. Assoc P: Lauren Tuck. Ass D: Cory Johnson. Casting, Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein, Deborah Maxwell Dion. C: Lily Tomlin (Ellie Reid), Julia Garner (Sage), Marcia Gay Harden (Judy), Judy Greer (Olivia), Laverne Cox (Deathy), Nat Wolff (Cam), John Cho (Chau), Sam Elliott (Karl), Mo Aboul-Zelof (Ian), Missy Doty (Mom), Sarah Burns. 78 min
    Ellie's car: Dodge Royal (1955).
    Distributor: Sony Pictures Finland.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 20 Sep 2015

HIFF Catalog and Website:

"Playing an ill-tempered lesbian on an all-day odyssey to raise the money her granddaughter needs for an abortion, [Lily] Tomlin is in her glorious element. It doesn’t hurt that there are numerous other expertly gauged performances to savor, plus a bundle of heart, in this small-scale but consistently funny and poignant comedy-drama."

"While it’s very much Tomlin’s show, the movie is actually about three generations of women – the forces that shape and scar them, the thorny histories and divergent life choices that distance them, the lessons they absorb or ignore and the ties among them that weaken but seldom break."

"And though the termination of a pregnancy is what drives the plot, that sorrowful step is treated with the gravity it warrants in a story that’s also about the many imperfect paths of motherhood. Grandma is not as self-congratulatory and in-your-face as the recent Obvious Child (…). But there’s admirable frankness, intelligence and sensitivity here. Additionally, the film is a thoughtful, funny reflection on the gains and losses of growing old."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter (HIFF Catalog)

AA: Paul Weitz is one of my favourite contemporary film directors, and in Grandma he is in great form.
    Grandma seems to have been inspired by a colleague, Alexander Payne, especially by Citizen Ruth (the topic of abortion) and Nebraska (the old-timer on the road connecting with the younger generation). Both contribute to the brilliant tradition of satire of Lubitsch, Sturges, and Wilder. All dare attack topics that are deadly earnest.
    Grandma is irreverent, shocking, and audacious. At the bottom there is gravity. (And gravidity).
    Grandma belongs also to the tradition of Une vieille dame indigne / The Shameless Old Lady (René Allio directed the film inspired by a short story by Bertolt Brecht).
    Grandma starts with the rampage of the septuagenarian butch Ellie Reid (Lily Tomlin) who meets the dude who has made her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) pregnant and evades responsibility. Ellie hits his balls with his own ice hockey club. Sage reveals that her mother calls Ellie misanthropic. "That's an understatement". The first acts of the story are an escalation of disasters aggravated by Ellie's existential lack of diplomacy.
    The turning-point is the key scene with Karl (Sam Elliott), Ellie's ex-husband before she came out. The wounds have not healed in fifty years. The switch from farce to profound emotion deserves comparison with Leo McCarey.
    But then we meet Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), Ellie's daughter, Sage's mother, in full speed at her treadmill desk, one of the most formidable harridans in film history, almost as awesome as the ones that have been rampant in Finnish cinema during the last decades.
    The film is funny and unpredictable. There is a core of genuine emotion, a concern for loneliness and neglect, and a celebration of the life force in unexpected places.
    The dialogue is witty, the comic timing of the actors perfect. This is Lily Tomlin's show. Sam Elliott brings a strong counterweight to a key sequence. All are good.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Speed Sisters

Speed Sisters. Click to enlarge.
GB/CA/Palestine/Qatar/DK/US © 2015 Speed Sisters LLC. 2014 Crowdfunding Campaign - IndieGoGo. P: Amber Fares & Avi Goldstein / SocDoc, Jessica Devaney. D: Amber Fares. DP: Amber Fares, Lucy Martens. M: Youssra El Havary, Kareem Roustom. S: Steve Borne. ED: Rabab Haj Yahya. Featuring the drivers Marah, Mona, Betty, and Noor, as well as their manager Maysoon. Original in Arabic with English subtitles. 80 min
    Distributed by Dogwoof. Introduced (3 Sep 2015) by Pekka Lanerva, Janne Sundqvist, and Sara Norberg.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    DCP viewed at the HIFF general press information event, Maxim 1, Helsinki, 3 Sep 2015

Introduction from the HIFF catalogue and website:

"When one of the profiled figures in a documentary comments, “The smell of tear gas reminds me of my childhood,” it’s obvious that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Rather, Amber Fares’ film is set in Palestine, chronicling the Middle East’s first all-women race car team. Delivering a lively portrait of its trailblazing subjects while examining the cultural and political complications attendant to their pursuit of becoming the region’s “Fastest Women Driver,” Speed Sisters is an eye-opening doc that succeeds in its goal of shattering stereotypes."

"The team consists of drivers Marah, Mona, Betty and Noor, as well as their manager Maysoon, all of whom reveal sharply distinct personalities. The film details the myriad problems the women encounter (…). Simply getting around is a logistical nightmare, with Israeli military checkpoints omnipresent."

"Interweaving the personal stories with rough-hewn footage of the racing competitions, Speed Sisters is an entertaining portrait of its engaging subjects who have become instant role models for young Palestinian women."

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

AA: An exhilarating documentary by the Palestinian Amber Fares on the first all-female race car driving team in the Middle East.

It is a true tale of multiple transgressions. The women defy the patriarchal oppression of the Arab world. The Palestinians defy the almost insurmountable obstacles in moving in the current circumstances of Israel and Palestine.

It is a tale of an action with symbolic resonance. Where latitude is almost non-existant our heroines become race car drivers.

We see a lot of action and cover a lot of ground in Palestine and Israel. This is a novel approach to a tragic knot of world politics. Politically, we learn only the Palestinian side of the issue and are not reminded of the agendas and practices of Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, and Iran against Israel.

The movie focuses largerly on the drivers, and we are given portraits of each, all quite different. Marah is the champion, a great professional. Howard Hawks would have loved her. Betty is the beauty queen. Mona is in it for the pleasure of speed. Noor agonizes over the difficult racing routes.

The visual quality: a compilation from extremely variable sources. A lot of the footage has an amateur video look, perhaps even a mobile phone video look.


Friday, September 18, 2015


Altman [Yle Teema 26 Sep 2015]. CA © 2014 Sphinx Productions. P+D: Ron Mann. In collaboration with Mathew Seig and Kathryn Reed Altman. SC: Len Blum. DP: Simon Ennis. AD: Matthew Badiali, Craig Small. M: Phil Dwyer, Guido Luciani. S: John Laing. ED: Robert Kennedy. Featuring: Paul Thomas Anderson, James Caan, Keith Carradine, Elliott Gould, Philip Baker Hall, Sally Kellerman, Lyle Lovett, Julianne Moore, Michael Murphy, Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis. Uncredited: Robert Altman (archive footage), Kathryn Reed. Also other family members have been interviewed. 96 min
    Distributor: The Match Factory.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 18 Sep 2015


"ALTMAN is a tribute to the life and times of filmmaker Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Gosford Park, and many more.) Director Ron Mann take us on a revelatory road trip through the highs and lows of this uncompromising visionary’s career, using rare interviews, representative film clips, archival images, and musings from Altman’s family and most recognizable collaborators."

"ALTMAN explores and celebrates the epic fifty-year redemptive journey of one of the most important and influential filmmakers in cinema history. While refusing to bow down to Hollywood's conventions, or its executives, Altman's unique style of filmmaking won him friends and enemies, earned him world-wide praise and occasionally scathing criticism, and proved that it is possible to make truly independent films."

"Maverick. Auteur. Rebel. Innovator. Storyteller. Rambler. Gambler. Mad man. Family man. Director. Artist."

"The very term “Altmanesque” has come to denote a cinematic style characterized by dark humor, chaotic choreography, overlapping and sometimes murky dialogue, multi-layered storylines, iconoclastic characters, omniscient cinematography, and a seat-of-the-pants ensemble approach to imagining and crafting a film."

"A dynamic and heartfelt meditation on an artist, produced and directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Ron Mann (Grass, Comic Book Confidential, Twist, Go Further). Featuring Kathryn Reed Altman, Michael Murphy, Lily Tomlin, Julianne Moore, Keith Carradine, Elliott Gould and many more."

SCOTT FOUNDAS: "To great, stirring effect, “Altman” charts a different course, drawing on a wealth of existing material to tell the filmmaker’s story largely in his own, brashly eloquent words, and through generous clips from his massive, admittedly uneven, always uncompromising filmography. The result captures Altman the artist and the man, the one inseparable from the other, about as well as any two-hour film could hope to do… Working closely with Altman’s widow, Kathryn, and his frequent producer Mathew Seig, Mann draws on a treasure trove of archival material (family photos, homemovies, unreleased short films and rare behind-the-scenes footage)… Mann also stages original interviews with such close Altman collaborators as Keith Carradine, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman and Lily Tomlin, as well as longtime fan Paul Thomas Anderson … In a bold formal stroke, he asks each of these subjects — elegantly photographed in medium closeup against a black background by Mann and d.p. Simon Ennis — only a single question: to define, in their own words, the term Altmanesque." — Scott Foundas, VARIETY. (Official information from the film's promotion material)

AA: Engrossing, masterful, of lasting value.

Like Stig Björkman's Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words, Ron Mann's Altman belongs to the highest rank of documentaries on film-makers. And like Stig Björkman's film, Altman is also largely based on unpublished material: home movies, behind-the-scenes footage, and short films never released (The Party). There are samples of Altman's early industrial films at Kansas City. To a North European viewer one must also add that there are samples from Altman's extensive television career, largely unknown here. It was Alfred Hitchcock who discovered Altman for television. Whirlybirds are included. The episode Survival for the series Combat!, starring Vic Morrow, was a trial. Altman was a war veteran, himself, and his approach to shell shock almost led to his being fired. He was not allowed to cast a black protagonist to the episode The Hunt in Kraft Suspense Theatre, and he subsequently quit television. Ron Mann's documentary is also an anthology of Robert Altman's public performances on tv shows, festivals, etc. A highlight: the life achievement award at the Oscar gala. Robert Altman was eloquent, good copy. Because of all this Altman is not only a wonderful general overview of the maverick master but a genuine and indispensable addition to the Robert Altman canon. Besides, the clips of the feature films, the famous ones and the less known ones, are great, as well.

The funny refrain: each interviewee is asked to define "Altmanesque". Each answer is different ("fearless", etc.). The very film starts with three "official dictionary definitions" by Ron Mann and Len Blum.

A constant theme: facing adversity, opposition, failure; never giving up. The crushing reactions of Jack Warner (to overlapping dialogue) and Darryl F. Zanuck (to blood). The toughest adversity was the final one. I had not been aware of Altman's serious health condition (resulting to a total heart transplant) during the making of his last eight films, starting with Prêt-à-porter. I am reminded by what my late mother told me: "a man's measure is how he faces adversity".

A film of many surprises and revelations, including the final, touching one where Kathryn Reed tells about the turning-point film of Robert Altman: Brief Encounter.

Technically a top professional production.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs: Devin Druid, Gabriel Byrne.
NO/FR/DK 2015. P: Thomas Robsahm / Motlys, Alexandre Mallet-Guy / Memento Films, Joshua Astrachan / Animal Kingdom, Ron Yerxa & Albert Berger / Bona Fide Productions, Marc Turtletaub. D: Joachim Trier. SC: Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier. DP: Jakob Ihre - negative: 35 mm. PD: Molly Hughes. M: Ola Flottum. S: Gisle Tveito. ED: Olivier Bugge Coutté. C: Gabriel Byrne (Gene Reed), Jesse Eisenberg (Jonah Reed, elder son), Devin Druid (Conrad Reed, younger son), Isabelle Huppert (Isabelle Reed), Amy Ryan (Hannah), Rachel Brosnahan (Erin), Ruby Jerins (Melanie), Megan Ketch (Amy), David Strathairn (Richard). Original in English. 109 min
    Finnish distributor:  SF Film Finland
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Opening Gala
    DCP viewed without subtitles at Bio Rex, 17 Sep 2015

Introduction from the HIFF catalogue and website:

"(…) The title, which, apart from being a reference to the Smiths’ classic compilation album, feels like false advertising for such a quiet film, which is carried along by Ola Flottum’s low, trancelike score, yet is set so far away from the front lines where Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) is out trying to change the world. Your average picture may say a thousand words, but one of Reed’s, snapped in hot zones around the world and routinely landing on page one of the New York Times, is potentially powerful enough to have an almost nuclear effect."

"Obviously, such a career can ruin a person, too, making it impossible to readjust to a society (…). Huppert barely appears in the film, haunting the edges like some sort of ghost, viewed slightly differently by everyone who remembered her (…)."

"For Times colleague Richard Weissman (David Strathairn), Isabelle represents a fallen hero whose memory he seeks to honor by writing an in-depth column timed to coincide with a posthumous retrospective of her work – a story in which he intends to reveal that Isabelle’s death was almost certainly a suicide. For Isabelle’s husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), that deadline means having to re-examine his feelings toward his wife, as well as breaking the news to his sulky teenage son, Conrad (…)."

"(…) Conrad relays a lesson learned from his mother, who taught him how changing the framing of a photograph can completely change its meaning – which invites us to reflect on what Trier has cropped out of his own story (…). As conceived, Louder Than Bombs remains a melodrama, but a curiously non-explosive one. The fuses appear to be burning on the inside here, as Trier focuses on the surviving Reeds’ almost tragic inability to connect.

Peter Debruge, Variety

AA: Louder Than Bombs is a film of quality in which Joachim Trier has an assured grip on an intimate family drama which unfolds in alternating time circles. A baby is born and as the young father Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) visits his childhood home we start to learn that his own mother, the famous photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) has died three years ago. Her retrospective exhibition is being prepared, and as Isabelle's long-term colleague (David Strathairn) composes an essay on her for The New York Times we slowly begin to realize that her death maybe was no accident but a suicide. The family has always had difficulties of communication, and they are comically exaggerated between the father Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and the younger son Conrad (Devin Druid). Conrad is almost totally immersed in cyberworld, and when the desperate Gene tries to enter it in a game avatar, it turns out to be a bad idea.

Essentially Louder Than Bombs is a chamber piece. The big world is reflected in Isabelle's career as a photographer, excelling in wars and crises. Her images on Afghanistan are haunting. But while being occupied with the big world she becomes a stranger in her little world.

Louder Than Bombs is character-driven and carried by strong performances by the established stars Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg. Isabelle Huppert makes her flashback role bigger than its size. The revelation is the young Devin Druid in his interpretation of the anxiety of Conrad, a teenager of today. It is a difficult part, and Devin Druid carries it memorably.

When we are first introduced to Conrad he seems impenetrably immersed in his world of portable music, virtual games and internet communication. But he is revealed to have original literary talent. We start to feel that actually Jonah may be the shallower one, judging by his comments on the object of Conrad's attentions, a girl on the sportsfield with her arm in bandage. The shy Conrad genuinely seems to care as we follow his first steps in approaching her. Towards the conclusion the frozen ground of family communication is on its way to melt.

The cinematography has been conducted by Jakob Ehre on 35 mm photochemical film. There is a refined sense of intimacy and an emphasis on faces in two-shots, medium close-ups, close-ups, and extreme close-ups (warts and all as it seems).

No problem with the digital presentation.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wutai jiemei / Two Stage Sisters (2011 2K DCP from CFA)

Xie Jin: 舞臺姐妹 / Wutai jiemei / Two Stage Sisters (CN 1964) with Xie Fang as Zhu Chunhua and Cao Yindi as Xing Yuehong.

舞臺姐妹 (trad) / 舞台姐妹 (simple) / Stage Sisters / [Näyttelijäsisarukset]. CN 1964. PC: Studio Tianma (Shanghai). P: Ding Li. 
    D: Xie Jin. SC: Lin Gu, Xu Jin, Xie Jin. DP: Zhou Daming, Chen Zhenxiang. M: Huang Zhun. ED: Zhang Liqun. C (Wikipedia):
    Xie Fang as Zhu Chunhua (竺春花), the main protagonist, a Yue Opera performer. Originally a tongyangxi [child bride], she is adopted and later excelled in the dan [female lead] role. She becomes a leftist and performs revolutionary operas.
    Cao Yindi as Xing Yuehong (邢月红), daughter of Teacher Xing. She plays the xiaosheng (male) parts. Enticed by Manager Tang to forsake her art, but is abused frequently until reunited with sworn sister, Chunhua.
    Feng Qi as Teacher Xing (邢师傅), father of Yuehong, a Yue Opera teacher.
    Gao Aisheng as Jiang Bo (江波), a "progressive" leftist lady reporter
    Shen Fengjuan as Xiaoxiang (小香), a former troupe performer who plays supporting roles. Later reunited with Chunhua.
    Xu Caigen as Jinshui (金水), Xiaoxiang's husband and former troupe member.
    Shangguan Yunzhu as Shang Shuihua (商水花), an aging former star in the Shanghai opera scene, a former mistress of Manager Tang who was jilted. She later hangs herself.
    Ma Ji as Qian Dakui (钱大奎), a Yue performer at the Shanghai theater
    Luo Jingyi as Yu Guiqing (俞桂卿), a Yue performer at the Shanghai theater
    Wu Bofang as Little Chunhua (小春花), a village tongyangxi who is Chunhua's namesake.
    Li Wei as Manager Tang (唐经理), the unscrupulous stage manager and theater owner who keeps Shang and Yuehong as his mistresses.
    Deng Nan as A'xin the “Monk” (和尚阿鑫), the former troupe owner, a not-so-educated boor who will do anything for money.
    Shen Hao as Ms. Shen (沈家姆妈), a wealthy heiress who tries to adopt Chunhua and has illicit dealings with Manager Tang.
    Dong Lin as Third Master Ni (倪三老爷), a provincial landlord who tries to take Yuehong for sexual favors.
    Ding Ran as Commissioner Pan (潘委员), a Kuomintang official intent on ruining Chunhua and her revolutionary opera troupe. (Cast listing from Wikipedia)
    115 min, our screening 113 min
    Digitized edition (2011, 2K DCP): Zhongguo Dianying Ziliaoguan / China Film Archive (CFA). [There is a 2014 4K restoration conducted by Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna.]
    2K DCP with English subtitles from CFA viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Treasures of Chinese Cinema), 16 Sep 2015

Synopsis from Wikipedia: "In 1935 a runaway tongyangxi [child marriage bride], Zhu Chunhua, takes refuge at an itinerant Yue Opera troupe performing at a Shaoxing village. The head of the troupe, A’Xin, intends to send the girl away, but Yue Opera teacher Xing, seeing her potential, takes Chunhua in as a disciple and trains her. Chunhua signs a deal with the troupe and becomes the performing partner (in a dan [female lead] role) to the teacher’s daughter Yuehong, the latter performing as a xiaosheng [female in a male role]."

"A rich provincial landlord Ni invites Chunhua and Yuehong to sing at his house privately after the troupe reaches his province. He takes an interest in Yuehong; however, Yuehong and her father spurn his interest and as a result, Kuomintang cops forcibly seize Yuehong one day during a performance. Chunhua is also arrested and tied to a pillar for days as “public humiliation”. The two are released after Xing and A’Xin send bribes to the KMT cops."

"During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Yuehong, Chunhua and the troupe go through hard times. In 1941, Teacher Xing dies of an illness, and troupe master A’Xin sells his two best performers to Tang, a Shanghai opera theater manager, on a three-year contract. Yuehong and Chunhua, now sworn sisters, rapidly become Tang’s biggest stars, causing Tang to forsake his aging star and former lover, Shang Shuihua."

"Three years elapse. Yuehong and Chunhua are renowned in the city. Chunhua remains down-to-earth but Yuehong grows steadily more materialistic. Sick of having to sing opera for life, Yuehong rashly agrees to Tang's proposal, but Chunhua distrusts Tang and refuses to support Yuehong’s marriage plans. Unbeknownst to Yuehong, Tang already has a wife, and is keeping her as a mistress."

"One day faded ex-star Shang commits suicide by hanging herself backstage. Chunhua is incensed that Tang, her former lover, attempts to shirk his responsibilities by claiming he has nothing to do with her death. Through this episode, Chunhua gets to know a "radical" lady journalist Jiang, who advises her to become "progressive" to teach other Chinese to distinguish between truth and falsehood. She starts performing “progressive” operas like an adaptation of Lu Xun’s ‘’The New Year Sacrifice’’."

"Chunhua’s works alert the KMT regime who gives Tang the task to ruin Chunhua's reputation. They get A’Xin to file a lawsuit against Chunhua and Manager Tang coerces Yuehong to testify against Chunhua, but at the crucial moment in the courtroom, Yuehong faints."

"The film ends in 1950, one year after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Chunhua prepares to perform The White-Haired Girl for country folks at Zhejiang. Tang has run off to Taiwan with the KMT cohort and Yuehong is quietly abandoned at Shaoxing province. Although Yuehong witnesses Chunhua’s drama, she is too ashamed to face her sworn sister again. Near a quay later the day, however, the sisters manage a tearful reunion. On the boat the following day, Yuehong vows to learn her lesson and walk the "correct" path while Chunhua dedicates her entire life to performing revolutionary operas.
" (synopsis from Wikipedia)

AA: Sources report that the director Xie Jin himself was unhappy with the second half of Wutai jiemei, one of the last Chinese films made before the Cultural Revolution.

Indeed, the two halves are very different. The first half is a very engaging melodrama, the second half more schematical and forced. As if the Cultural Revolution had happened during the filming, and Xie Jin would have been forced to finish his movie with the approach of a revolutionary model opera.

Wutai jiemei starts gloriously with a montage of traditional Chinese buildings proceeding to epic distant views of landscapes with a mighty river. When the crane shot descends majestically into an open-air performance of the all-female opera troupe I'm reminded of the opening sequences of Fritz Lang and Kenji Mizoguchi. In the first half of the film there is a profound understanding of the metaphor of the stage as life worthy not only of George Cukor and Vincente Minnelli but also of Jean Renoir (Le Carrosse d'or). Wutai jiemei is a road movie about an opera troupe touring through China and through history: from the still feudalistic conditions in 1935 until the establishment of the People's Republic.

The first half of the film is magisterial film-making. Xie Jin is in full command of all aspects of mise-en-scène, and his sense of colour and movement is no less eloquent than in Cukor's Bhowani Junction. I was thinking about Hoyningen Huene, Cukor's valued colour consultant. The first half is at once stylized like a musical or an opera but also with a firm grip on reality, the conditions of life in China attacked by Japanese invaders and torn by an internal struggle between Kuomingtang and the Communists. The poetic unity of music, colour and movement is touching.

The arrival to Shanghai is still engaging. Wutai jiemei is a film about the liberation of women from feudalistic, patriarchal oppression where they are seen as property that can be bought and sold, and when they resist, they can be tied to a pillory. The previous star-mistress of the Shanghai opera house owner is discarded unceremoniously, and she hangs herself. There is a basic solidarity between the women which the patriarchs fail to break.

In the second half of the movie caricatures start to emerge and the film fails to convince. The propaganda is crude and obvious.

Music is essential in the movie, and it is often carried via songs.

In the electronic subtitles texts of billboards and newspapers are left untranslated. Fortunately, many important song lyrics are translated.

The colour cinematography is excellent and the digital edition does justice to the refined colour world.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Malu tianshi / Street Angel (2012 DCP 2K CFA)

马路天使 (simple) / 馬路天使 (trad) / [Kadun enkeli] / Les Anges du boulevard. CN 1937. PC: Mingxing Film Company (Shanghai) / Star Film. D+SC: Yuan Mu-zhi. DP: Wu Yinxian - b&w - sound - 1,37:1. M: Hu Lu-ding. "Song of the Four Seasons" (四季歌) and "The Wandering Songstress" (天涯歌女), both composed by He Lüting, with lyrics by Tian Han, sung by the star Zhou Xuan. S: mono. C: Zhao Dan (Xiao Chen, musician), Zhou Xuan (Xiao Hong, singing girl), Wei He-ling (Lao Wang, newspaper seller), Wang Jiting (Qin player), Feng Zhicheng (gangster), Chen Yiting (henchman), Qian Qianli (barbershop worker), Tang Chaofu (barbershop owner), Shen Jun (young peddler), Qiu Yuanyuan (unmployed person), Yuan Meishao (young widow), Zhao Hui-chen / Zhao Huishen (Xiao Yun, prostitute), Liu Jinyu (brothel madam), Sun Jing (lawyer), Xie Jun (misfortunate man), Liu Liying (misfortunate woman), Han Yun (police officer), Li Diyuan (rent collector), Yao Ping (dandy), Yuan Aye (car driver). 91 min, 100 min. Our screening 95 min
    Digitized edition (2012, 2K DCP): Zhongguo Dianying Ziliaoguan / China Film Archive (CFA).
    2K DCP from CFA with e-subtitles in English operated by Otto Pietinen, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Best of Chinese Cinema), 13 Sep 2015

Wikipedia: "The film deals with two sisters, Xiao Hong (Zhou Xuan) and Xiao Yun (Zhao Huishen) who have fled from the war in Northeast China to Shanghai, where they are living under the brutal thumb of their adoptive parents. Xiao Yun has already been forced into prostitution while her sister serves as a teahouse singer. Soon the sisters realize that the adoptive parents have decided to sell Xiao Hong to a wealthy patron, whereupon they seek the aid of their neighbors, a street musician, Xiao Chen (Zhao Dan), and his misfit friends."

"As one of the early sound films in China, Street Angel is often praised for its innovative use of music, as well as its unique mix of melodrama and comedy. One sequence in particular, where Xiao Chen and his friends attempt to act as barbers, reveals a moment of slapstick or physical comedy in the otherwise dreary third act. There are also several musical interludes, sung by Zhou Xuan (Xiao Hong)."

"Praised for its portrayal of the downtrodden in Shanghai at the time of its release, today, Street Angel is often considered one of the classics of the "leftist" filmmaking period that reached its peak in the 1930s. It was selected as one of the Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures by the 24th Hong Kong Film Awards, ranked 11th."

"Featured in the film are two original songs, "Song of the Four Seasons" (四季歌) and "The Wandering Songstress" (天涯歌女), both composed by He Lüting, with lyrics by Tian Han. Sung by star Zhou Xuan, these songs became popular and are still recognized as expressions of the turbulent 1930s era of Chinese history and among the most famous songs in modern Chinese culture." (Wikipedia)

Revisited a wonderful work of Chinese popular culture from the 1930s starring the charismatic singer-actress Zhou Xuan in her favourite role.

"Chinese Renoir" was Georges Sadoul's verdict of Yuan Muzhi's film inspired by Frank Borzage. I believe Sadoul meant the Renoir of Le Crime de Monsieur Lange: cinema of social awareness made in the spirit of comedy, fantasy, fairy-tale, and entertainment.

Malu tianshi is both a serious social drama (the fate of the tragic Xiao Yun in street prostitution) and a musical romantic comedy (the story of the singer Xiao Hong). The sisters have fled the Japanese war of invasion in Manchuria to Shanghai.

The night scenes of Xao Yun with their neon montages seen already during the opening credits belong to the international 1930s trend, with affinities with French poetic realism.

The song scenes are realized as montages of associations, linking Japanese invasion imagery with lyrical images of the seasons. They could be shown independently as short music films belonging to the development that led to the music video.

The milieu is slum-like, the film is about life in poverty, but with vitality and great spirits, incarnated by Xiao Chen the street musician and magician constantly inventing new tricks. Xiao Chen condemns Xiao Yun and first at her deathbed there is a reconciliation. He understands that she has become a victim of human traffic.

The comical, even farcical, dimension culminates in the disastrous barbershop sequence. The desperate friends run out of money and cannot pay the rent and are anxious to try anything.

A running joke is about reading items from the newspapers glued to walls. The walls are crumbling and need constant repairing by fresh newspapers.

A unique film about the spirit of the times in Shanghai.

The visual quality of the DCP: it looks like it has been digitized from partly difficult and worn sources, perhaps even from 16 mm. At times the visual quality is good, making possible to project how the entire film must have looked; at times the image is on the soft side. There were slight freezes (part of the image or the whole image) and other digital issues. A rewarding screening even so.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Inside Out 3D

Inside Out: Joy and Sadness. Photo Disney / Pixar
Inside Out - mielen sopukoissa / Insidan ut. US © 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Pixar. Disney presents a Pixar Animation Studios film. P: Jonas Rivera. D: Pete Docter. Co-D: Ronnie Del Carmen. SC: Pete Docter, Meg Lefauve, Josh Cooley - original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen. DP Camera: Patrick Lin. DP Lighting: Kim White. Supervising Technical D: Michael Fong. Production Manager: Dana Murray. Supervising AN: Shawn Krause, Victor Navone. Character Supervisor: Edwin Wooyoung Chang. Rendering Supervisor: Alexander Kolliopoulos. Global Technology and Second Unit & Crowds Supervisor: William Reeves. Second Unit & Crowds Animation Supervisor: Paul Mendoza. Character AD: Albert Lozano. Sets AD: Daniel Holland. Shading AD: Bert Berry. M: Michael Giacchino. S: Ken Klyce - Dolby Atmos. ED: Kevin Nolting. Casting: Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon. Created and produced at Pixar Animation Studios, Emeryville, CA.
    Animated with PRESTO animation system. Rendered with Pixar’s RenderMan®
    Characters and C (original): Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), Mom (Diane Lane), Dad (Kyle MacLachlan), Forgetter Paula (Paula Poundstone), Forgetter Bobby (Bobby Moynihan), Dream Director & Mom's Anger (Paula Pell), Subconscious Guard Frank (Dave Goelz), Subconscious Guard Dave (Frank Oz), Jangles (Josh Cooley), Mind Worker Cop Jake (Flea), Fritz (John Ratzenberger), Helicopter Pilot (Carlos Alazraqui), Clown's Joy (Peter Sagal), Cool Girl's Emotions (Rashida Jones).
    C and characters (Finnish): Minka Kuustonen (Ilo), Turkka Mastomäki (Kiukku), Pamela Tola  (Inho), Kari Ketonen (Pelko), Tiina Weckström (Suru), Seera Alexander (Riley Anderson, 11-vuotias tyttö), Rebecca Viitala (Rileyn äiti), Arttu Wiskari (Rileyn isä), Peik Stenberg (Bing Bong).
    94 min
    Released in Finland in 3D in the original and Finnish spoken versions by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland, premiere 28 Aug 2015
    2K DCP in 3D, Finnish spoken version viewed at Plevna 1, Tampere, 12 Sep 2015

Inside Out is one of the most ambitious and inventive animations ever made. It is an experimental film daringly produced for mainstream distribution. It brings to mind the playful tradition of Len Lye and Norman McLaren, the abstract trend in the Disney team in the 1940s and the 1950s, and the UPA school, itself inspired by the Disney avantgardists.

How to project the inner world of the psyche? Sigmund Freud found "a plastic presentation of our abstractions" impossible and objected to the project that resulted in Geheimnisse einer Seele / Secrets of a Soul directed by G. W. Pabst with haunting dream visions.

Simultaneously in Russia Vsevolod Pudovkin debuted as a feature film director with Mekhanika golovnogo mozga / Механика головного мозга / Mechanics of the Brain, a showcase for the classical conditioned reflex theory of Dr. Ivan Pavlov. In Pudovkin's Kulturfilm we see the legendary Pavlovian dogs in action.

Inside Out is turbulent animated drama inside the mind world of the 11-year-old girl Riley whose family moves from happy Minnesota to the big city of San Francisco. Her emotions do battle as animated characters, and elements and dimensions of the psyche appear as animated locations (headquarters, long term memory, imagination land, subconscious, island of personality). There are witty inventions about phenomena such as "abstract thinking" "a train of thought", and "memory dump".

The external world is rendered in more natural colours; the inner world in brighter caricature.

I consider Pixar one of the key creative phenomena in the cinema of the last 20 years, and I find John Lasseter and his team geniuses. The Pixar spirit has become as wonderful as was the Disney spirit during their golden age. Many of the Pixar films have been the best or among the best of their release years.

A few years ago, when Brave was made, I started to fail to be as enthusiastic as I had been before about Pixar. The films were not weaker but I felt I had already seen them. The same thing about the entire mighty stream of digital animation. It was now commercially the golden age of world animation: never before had so many feature animations hit the global screens annually. I overdosed.

I know I need to see Inside Out again but fail to be as deeply impressed as the world's critics. After seeing so many animations during the last decades I have my reservations about the hectic pace, the sometimes overused mannerisms, and the easy caricature about psychic processes slanted a bit towards the mechanistic and behavioristic Pavlov-Skinner approach.

I have admired digital animation since the early Pixar shorts (Tin Toy, Knick Knack... ) and have been an avid follower of the digital animated feature since Toy Story. Digital animation can be excellent with figures such as toys, cars, and superheroes. It has its limitations in human, natural, and organic forms; somehow drawn / watercoloured / painted /sculpted images catch life better than digital. A hybrid of traditional and digital methods may be the future.

The digital colour world is not (yet) as rich as the traditional one. It keeps changing and developing but often feels synthetic.

The digital 3D presentation of Inside Out was perfect, the image brightness wonderful.

Warmly recommended: Pixar's remarkable Inside Out pressbook introduction copied in a previous blog article.

Lava 3D

Laava. US © 2015 Pixar Animation Studios. P: Andrea Warren. D: James Ford Murphy. DP: Colin Levy - colour - 2,39:1. AN: James W. Brown, Royce Wesle. Layout artist: Seong-Young Kim. M: "Lava": music, lyrics and ukulele by James Ford Murphy, perf. Kuana Torres Kahele & Napua Makua. S: Ren Klyce. Voice talent in the original version: Kuana Torres Kahele, Napua Makua. 7 min
    Screened before Inside Out, released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland.
    3D 2K DCP projection sung in Finnish, Plevna 1, Tampere, 12 Sep 2015

A music short film to the song "Lava", a primordial romance between two volcanoes, personified as masculine and feminine, erupting together.

It is a bold and beautiful concept. Perhaps there is too much idealization and photorealism in the pantheistic romance where everybody is mating: birds, turtles, dolphins... a bit like in Cole Porter's "Let's Fall In Love". But who can object to an atavistic, oceanic, volcanic paean to love.

Digital is not ideal to a presentation of the organic world, but in these circumstances the visual quality is perfect.

Inside Out (pressbook introduction)

The fascinating official artistic agenda of one of the most ambitious animation projects ever realized.


Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?

Disney•Pixar’s original new film “Inside Out” ventures inside the mind to find out.

Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy, whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear heads up safety, Anger ensures all is fair and Disgust prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else.

“The Emotions are kind of like the voices in our heads,” says director Pete Docter. “When we were just getting started on this film, we looked around—at our kids, friends, co-workers—and we realized that everybody has a default temperament. We all go through periods of being happy or sad, but certain people are just happy or angry or what have you. Riley is one of those happy kids. So Joy had to be the first Emotion to show up, and she has a very special bond with Riley.”

“Joy has 33 beautiful seconds of being the only one there,” says Amy Poehler, who lends her voice to Joy. “Then Riley starts to cry and Sadness shows up. Joy realizes that she’s going to have to share Riley with all the other feelings and emotions.” 

When Riley’s family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind — taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge. “Think about that,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “An 11-year-old is left without Joy and Sadness—only Anger, Fear and Disgust. Does that sound like any 11-year-olds you know?”

Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places—Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions—in a desperate effort to get back to Headquarters, and Riley. Along the way, they meet some colorful characters—from the Forgetters, who are Mind Workers in charge of sorting Riley’s memories, to Riley’s imaginary friend named Bing Bong, who is searching for a way to make Riley remember him. “He was a favorite when Riley was a little kid with an active imagination,” says Docter. “But these days, he’s like an out-of-work actor who’s desperately trying to make his comeback.”

Loaded with Pixar’s signature charm, “Inside Out” features a mind full of memorable characters, poignant moments and humor. “Our goal, right off the top, was to make it fun,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “My kids have seen it and all they talk about is Anger. They think he’s really funny. And the journey that Joy and Sadness take is one big, cool adventure.

“I think adults—parents—will see it in a completely different way,” continues Rivera. “It’ll still be fun, but there’s something deeper in it for them. That’s something Walt Disney always wanted to do.”

“I just love the crazy amount of heart that’s in this film,” adds Poehler. “In minutes you go from crying to laughing. And it just looks so incredibly beautiful.  It is like a world that feels very familiar and really magical at the same time.”

Helping to bring the characters to life is a creative and comedic ensemble voice cast, including Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) as Joy, Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live”) as Fear, Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”) as Disgust, Lewis Black (“The Rant is Due: Part Deux” tour) as Anger and Phyllis Smith (“The Office”) as Sadness. Riley is voiced by Kaitlyn Dias (“The Shifting”), and providing the voices of Mom and Dad are Diane Lane (“The Mystery of Love and Sex” play) and Kyle MacLachlan (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). “We have a dream cast,” says Docter. “We could bring in material, describe what we want out of a scene, and then workshop with them about how they might say it. They would give us what we wrote, plus plenty of improvised alternate lines. It’s been fun.”

“Inside Out” was directed by Docter (“Up,” “Monsters, Inc.”), produced by Rivera (“Up”), co-directed by Ronnie Del Carmen (“Dug’s Special Mission”) and executive produced by Lasseter (“Toy Story,” “Cars”) and Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL•E”). The screenplay was penned by Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley from an original story by Docter and Del Carmen. Academy Award®–winning composer Michael Giacchino (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Up”) was called on to provide the score.

Rated PG, Disney•Pixar’s original movie “Inside Out” opens in theaters June 19, 2015.


Oscar®-winning Director Pete Docter Finds Inspiration at Home

What is she thinking?

It’s a question that has gone through the minds of parents worldwide who are attempting to raise teenagers—and it’s one that occurred to Oscar®-winning director Pete Docter as he witnessed his own daughter Elie growing up.

“My daughter did the voice of young Ellie in ‘Up’—that spirited, spunky kid with hair out to there—and she was a lot like the character at the time,” says Docter. “But by the time we started ‘Inside Out,’ Elie was older—about 11—and she’d become quiet and withdrawn. It made me think, ‘What’s going on in her head and why is she changing?’”

But then Docter recalled that era in his own life. “It’s a big deal,” he says. “The innocent bubble of childhood bursts and you feel like you’re thrust into an adult world where you’re judged and expected to behave in a certain way. You want to be cool, but you’re not really sure what that means.”

Cue the emotions.

From the beginning, Docter loved the idea of going inside the mind, challenging the imaginations of many of the same filmmakers who took audiences to Monstropolis and later to South America in a house flown by balloons. “I thought it would be fun,” says the director. “I wanted to explore the abstract version—not the brain, but the mind. I thought it was perfect for animation. And if this was going to be a story about emotions and it’s done by the same team that did ‘Up,’ it had to be emotional.”

Ultimately, this idea of emotions as characters sparked the story of "Inside Out”—with daughter Elie as the inspiration for Riley, an 11-year-old, hockey-loving Midwesterner whose life is mostly happy until her family relocates to the big and unfamiliar city of San Francisco. Her Emotions—led by energetic Joy—are on the job, eager to help guide Riley through this difficult transition. But while Riley’s life is what gives her Emotions purpose, filmmakers say that “Inside Out” isn’t really Riley’s story.

“It’s a very personal story about what it means to be a parent,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “As a parent, there are so many perfect moments when I wish I could make time stand still forever. But that’s not right. That’s not our job. Our job is to be their guides.”

“As our kids grow older, we tend to miss those days when they were little and would sit on our laps and hug us,” adds Docter. “And while all parents want their kids to go out into the world—I’m happy for my kids and want nothing more than where they are right now—it’s bittersweet and a little sad when childhood passes by. That’s a key element to this film.”

So filmmakers called on Joy—who bounces and glows (literally), overflowing with optimism—to tackle the ever-complicated task of raising Riley—metaphorically—along with the other Emotions who contribute their own unique perspectives. “Joy has been there the longest—Riley was born happy,” says Rivera. “But the cross-country move is really upsetting and Joy finds that she’s getting less and less time at the wheel, so to speak. She just can’t let Sadness mess up all the hard work she’s done over the years.”

The journey Joy takes with Sadness is eye-opening. “Joy realizes that Sadness may have a purpose in Riley’s life after all,” says Docter.

According to Docter, the key to happiness—in the movie and beyond—is likely in how you define it. “Joy is able to learn and grow and reconsider what she thinks happiness is,” he says. “In the beginning, it’s all about laughter and ice cream—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But life shows us that it’s so much deeper.

“As I was making the film, I realized that family and close friends are what make me happy,” he continues. “Sure, those are the people who I share fun times with, but they’re also the people who I’ve been angry at, scared for and sad with. It’s really the depth and complexity of all these emotions that bring a real connection between people.”


Pixar filmmakers are known for the research they do—whether it’s becoming an expert in automotive design for “Cars” or trekking to Scotland to inform the breathtaking backdrop in “Brave.” The artists and storytellers behind “Inside Out” wanted to immerse themselves in the mind, studying memories, human emotions and how they evolve during adolescence.

They worked with scientists, neurologists, psychologists and other experts to better understand how the mind works. Dr. Dacher Keltner, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. “I’ve spent 25 years of my career studying human emotion,” he says. “I’m interested in how we express emotions in our faces, voices and in touch.”

Among other things, Keltner’s expertise helped filmmakers choose the Emotions to feature. “Researchers have different ideas of how many emotions we have—there are anywhere from four to 27, depending on who you ask,” says Docter. “Dr. Keltner’s work suggests that there are 21, with emotions like boredom, contempt and embarrassment. There were so many possibilities in terms of character. It was fun to explore. We ultimately landed on five Emotions that pretty much make all of the researchers’ lists.”

Keltner also helped to define the Mind World in terms of how the Emotions worked together to help Riley cope with the changes in her life. “I just saw the movie and I was blown away,” he says. “I think it’s extremely hard to put into words how the emotions inside your mind affect how you behave in the world and how you see the world. The film achieved that remarkably well. I loved the dynamic tension between what’s happening inside the psyche and what’s going on outside in the world.”

Filmmakers studied adolescence and how a pre-teen might deal with traumatic events. So it was no accident that Joy and Sadness were the two Emotions that went missing. “It all lines up with being an adolescent,” says co-director Ronnie Del Carmen. “Riley changes and no longer feels happy—then she can’t express empathy. She becomes your typical sullen teen.”

Says Keltner, who’s a father of two daughters who’ve survived their pre-teen years, “Part of adolescence—part of growing up—is loss. Loss of friends, loss of childhood—it’s necessary to human development. The way that ‘Inside Out’ really grapples with Riley’s feelings of loss and how her family ultimately surrounds her in that experience is really powerful.”

According to Keltner, acceptance is an important takeaway from both the movie and a host of scientific studies of emotions. “I believe that our emotions oscillate,” he says. “There will be a time when your mind is filled with fear—a second or two—before shifting to anger. The movie portrays that struggle over the control panel that I feel to be true scientifically. But one of the key lessons is that you have to embrace all of your emotions. You have to realize that they’re all part of your normal, everyday mind and that’s OK.”


Emotional Tale Told Through the Eyes of Five Emotions

“Inside Out” features a team of Emotions who helps guide 11-year-old Riley through an unsettling change in her life. But as the story was being developed, filmmakers weren’t sure which emotions should make the cut. “Some psychologists claim there are as many as 27 Emotions,” says director Pete Docter. “We toyed with adding Pride. Or Schadenfreude, who delighted in the pain of others. But it started getting crowded in there. We ultimately settled on five.”

Filmmakers then went about defining each Emotion, assigning them a purpose in Riley’s mind, and tackling the difficult process of finding the right look for each. “The look and design of the Emotions had to remind people that they are personifications of feelings,” says Docter. “They’re not little people. They’re Emotions. They’re made of energy—they’re made up of thousands of particles, which kind of looks like energy. We wanted to capture what emotions feel like—the shapes, the colors—as well as their personalities.”

But finding the look of the Emotions wasn’t easy. Says character supervisor Sajan Skaria, “It’s probably the hardest thing we’ve had to figure out in the character department. When we started out, it wasn’t clear where we were going.  Pete [Docter] said, ‘Make something my mom has never seen before.’ That’s it. That’s all we had to go on in the beginning.

“As we began to land on some really cool and fun designs,” continues Skaria, “we had to figure out how to make them happen. We had to make sure we had the technology in place to render what we created.”

When it came to Joy and the rest of the Emotions, the production team was committed to getting it right, committing resources, technology, imagination and research. “It’s all about the Emotions—they’re running the show,” says Docter. “We can control how we act, but we don’t get to choose how we feel.”

“We love the idea that they come to work every day,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “This is a job and they’re going to do their very best because they love this kid. The key, of course, is that they each have a different job—and each job is equally important.”

“One of my favorite aspects of animation is how expressive it is,” says Docter. “You can make a character move in ways that are physically impossible, but really show the way you feel. We were able to push movement in this film in ways that we’ve never done in other films.”

Tony Fucile, whose credits include Disney’s “The Lion King” and “Aladdin,” served as an animation sketch artist for the film. He was tasked with bringing the best of hand-drawn animation to the CG film. Fucile attended animation dailies and often provided his notes as actual draw-overs that could be captured and provided to the animator. “I worked with the animation team to juice up the poses a little bit,” says Fucile. “I like to push the poses or expressions a little further—rarely will I ever suggest to pull it back.”

“All of the Emotions are the most cartoony, most stylized characters that we’ve ever attempted in a feature film here at Pixar,” says supervising animator Victor Navone. “They are the kind of characters that might actually be easier to draw on paper—but they’re really hard to do in three dimensions. These characters are so special, so unique—we just wanted to hit a home run.”


JOY’s goal has always been to make sure Riley stays happy. “In the moment Riley is born, Joy appears—she’s the first one there,” says Docter. “She has a very special connection to Riley and she treasures that bond.”

According to Docter, they picked Joy as Riley’s main Emotion because they felt Riley was the kind of person who was naturally happy—minus a few bumps along the way. They also felt it mirrored that one true desire every parent has for their children. “We want our kids to be happy, enjoy life, embrace everything,” he says. “Life doesn’t always work out that way and we have to adjust—which is a lesson for all of us, including Joy.”

With a sunny hue, Joy is lighthearted, optimistic and determined to find the fun in every situation. She sees challenges in Riley’s life as opportunities, and the less-happy moments as hiccups on the way back to something great. As long as Riley is happy, so is Joy.

Amy Poehler was called on to help bring Joy to life. “She’s like the motor of the film: arms open, eyes open, face toward what’s next,” says Poehler of her character. “She’s just so beautiful and takes a journey—literally and emotionally. She experiences a real change, which was an exciting and cool challenge as an actor.”

According to supervising animator Shawn Krause, the introduction of Poehler as the voice of Joy helped the animation team land the character. “Pete [Docter] wanted Joy to feel grounded, athletic—a bit of a tomboy. We didn’t want Joy to be saccharine or like a cheerleader. Amy’s acting choices really informed the animator’s performance.

Krause continues, “Joy’s high-energy, fun-loving, over-caffeinated. She bounces off the walls; she’s a trickster, but she’s not mean-spirited. She inspires happiness. She’s infectious—a big ball of energy. Once we had Amy cast, we knew how to push the animation with Joy.”

Albert Lozano, character art director, was inspired by production designer Ralph Eggleston’s early efforts. “The way that the chalk spattered on Ralph’s pastels, it reminded me of bubbles. Joy is effervescent. Opening a champagne bottle in celebration felt like Joy to me. I do a lot of collage work, so I took the image of a sparkler, added a face, legs and arms, and that felt like Joy to me, too. I knew she had to emit joy.”

“Joy is very bouncy—almost like a star,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “She’s full of life and energy, which led us to the physical makeup of the Emotions. We decided they should all be made up of energy.”

Filmmakers called on effects supervisor Gary Bruins and his team to figure out how to showcase that energy. “Pete wanted Joy to have particles that radiate and shoot off her skin throughout the entire film,” says Bruins. “That meant creating an effect that would appear in hundreds and hundreds of shots. It had never been done before.”

As the story’s star character, Joy not only has a lot of scenes, her activities in each runs the gamut—walking, running, gesturing broadly and enthusiastically. The effects team had to develop a solution that would work well in each situation. “I had my hand on the red flag, ready to raise it,” says Bruins. “But each shot we tried worked so well, we realized we were on to something.”

The rig they developed, which uses changing color and opacity to represent the movement of particles, surpassed their expectations. “It really supported the idea that she’s so joyful that her energy cannot really be contained,” says Bruins. “Then we came in and on top of that, we ejected airborne particles that break her silhouette and leave a trail as she walks or makes a quick movement.”

Joy, whose eyes have at least twice as many controls as any Pixar character before her, also serves as a light source, casting a yellow-blue glow around her. According to global technology pro Bill Reeves, a whole system needed to be built to achieve the look filmmakers wanted. “We tried dozens of ways of creating Joy’s glow and ended up with a volumetric solution. But since she’s in so many scenes, we needed to configure the software to be able to compute it.”

FEAR’s main job is to protect Riley and keep her safe. He is constantly on the lookout for potential disasters, and spends time evaluating the possible dangers, pitfalls and risk involved in Riley’s everyday activities. There are very few activities and events that Fear does not find to be dangerous and possibly fatal.

According to storyman Josh Cooley, filmmakers instantly connected to Fear. “He was one of the easiest characters to write because everybody is driven by Fear at some point in the day,” Cooley says. “We had no trouble imagining how Fear might react to a given situation: He overreacts.”

Filmmakers found a lot of physical comedy in Fear’s wiry, purple build. Character artist Chris Sasaki started the look with a very simple idea. “Early on, I just asked, ‘What if he’s just like a line and two eyes?’ he says. “It was as extreme as we could go and it snowballed from there.” Ultimately, Fear evolved to allow for more performance, but his shape didn’t change much. “He’s like one frazzled, frenetic, kinked-up nerve,” says Docter.

Adds Navone, “He has a nice noodley silhouette with his long, skinny spine that we could squash and stretch and bend and bow. His personality allowed for broad performances. He gets flattened and crumpled. He’s a scaredy-cat, yet he has a bit of a swagger. He’s the comic relief.

“Fear has a curlicue hair that can hit a million different poses to match whatever attitude he’s giving,” Navone continues. “We can treat it like a dog’s tail: If he’s sad, it droops; if he’s in pain, it behaves like a lightning bolt.”

“To me, he’ll always be a weird purple guy in a bow tie,” says Bill Hader, who lends his voice to Fear. “I imagine him as a very put-upon middle-management kind of guy who’s desperate to be eight steps ahead of everything. He has to over-assess every situation in order to protect Riley.

“What’s so brilliant about the movie,” continues Hader, “is that the dialogue we have as the Emotions is very much like the conversations you have in your head.”

ANGER feels very passionately about making sure things are fair for Riley. He has a fiery spirit and tends to explode (literally) when things don’t go as planned. He is quick to overreact and has little patience for life’s imperfections. “From the beginning, I could just picture Anger, both in writing and design,” says Docter. “We knew what we could do with him and how he could be funny.”

“Red just seemed right,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “He explodes with anger all the time, so we decided it would be fun to have flames come out of his head when he gets really mad.”

“Anger worked right out of the gate,” says Navone. “Once we had that rectangular shape and those angry brows and eyes, we just knew who he was. He has stubby arms and stubby legs and he can’t really turn his head because he doesn’t really have a neck. So we give him constant energy by having him shake and grumble. He does a lot of stomping around—very Lewis Black. And the fact that they cast Lewis Black really took it to the next level.”

Early film pitches actually named the comedian to illustrate how an iconic voice like Black’s could bring a character like Anger to life. “I used him as an example for the fun we could have with casting,” says Docter.

Black, who’s a fan of all things Pixar, calls the opportunity a career-defining role. “I knew from the very beginning that this was going to be special,” he says. “I’ll be remembered as this little red guy who yells and his head goes on fire.”

The look of that fire, says Bruins, came after early tests revealed what wasn’t going to work. “We started with a traditional, very realistic-looking fire coming off Anger’s head. But the character is so stylized—he’s made out of particles. He lives in Headquarters, which is also very stylized and colorful. The realistic fire was really jarring. So we decided to take it in a different direction.”

In a nod to the particles that make up the Emotions, the effects team added particles to Anger’s fire, blending the color of the character with the color of the fire. “The fire itself is very stylized,” says Bruins. “It doesn’t have the traditional details that you might see in a live-action film.”

DISGUST is highly opinionated, extremely honest and prevents Riley from getting poisoned— both physically and socially. She keeps a careful eye on the people, places and things that Riley comes into contact with— whether that’s broccoli or last year’s fashion trend. “She wants to make sure that people won’t taint Riley with their toxic behavior or bad clothing advice, as well as steering clear of untested food combinations,” says co-director Ronnie Del Carmen.

Disgust always has the best of intentions and refuses to lower her standards. “She’s very opinionated and not afraid to share it,” adds Del Carmen.

Filmmakers decided that green was the perfect color for Disgust, which wasn’t their only nod to the vegetable that was top of mind in her creation. “She’s shaped a bit like broccoli,” says Docter, who summoned his team of emotion experts to nail down Disgust’s personality. “She emanates from bitterness,” he adds. “When you feed bitter food to babies, they make a face and stick their tongues out to spitout the food. That is the root of Disgust.”

Mindy Kaling says she was instantly game to play the part. “I think it’s true of most actors: If you get a call from Pixar, you’re already excited. The movies that Pixar makes are just incredibly well made, so I was really excited. What surprises me about the movie is how funny it is, given that at its core, it’s a very poignant movie.”

Kaling quickly understood her character’s motivation. “Disgust just wants to protect Riley,” she says. “She wants to keep her from being in any situation that’s unsafe or uncool.”

Filmmakers were inspired by Kaling’s interpretation of the character. Says Krause, “Disgust is fastidious and a little hands-off in her movements. She’s the last to join in. She’s strong and sure of herself. If she was in high school, she’d be the popular cheerleader.”

Adds Navone, “Her movements are dainty. Her gait is tighter with a lot of hip swing. Of all the characters, Disgust is the one who went to finishing school. She’s walked around with a stack of books on her head.” None of the other Emotions really understand what

SADNESS’s role is. “Sadness actually questions her own role,” says Del Carmen. “What is she good for? She’s an insecure character who wants to help, but is faced with the notion that she might actually be bad for Riley.”

Adds Rivera, “She doesn’t want to see Riley unhappy, but Sadness has good instincts. She senses when she should step in, even if she’s the only one who realizes it.”

Filmmakers had an affinity for the Emotion, even if she is often blue. “Sadness is indecisive and tentative, but so sweet and loving,” says Docter. “She loves Riley and wants nothing but the best for her.”

Phyllis Smith was called on to provide the voice of Sadness. “I’ve never done an animated film before, so at first I just tried to be sad,” says Smith. “But by the end of the first session, I found her voice. It just came naturally. She’s not very energetic. Joy literally has to drag her around.”

Sadness has a childlike quality to her, and according to Krause, the animation team slowed the pace when it came to the character. “She’s definitely more restrained, lethargic—not particularly motivated. Less is more with Sadness.”

Her blue hue and upside-down-teardrop shape are quite befitting. And while Sadness would love to be more optimistic and helpful in keeping Riley happy, she finds it so hard to be positive. Sometimes it seems like the best thing to do is just lie on the floor and have a good cry.

BING BONG is Riley’s imaginary friend. (You gotta remember, when Riley was 3 animals were all the rage.) Unfortunately, he’s been out of work since Riley turned 4, and he’s desperate to not be left behind as Riley grows up.

Richard Kind was tapped as the voice of Bing Bong. “Before their minds are fully developed, a lot of kids make up friends who they can talk to when they’re lonely or scared,” says Kind. “And these feel real—they’re truly friends. Is there any rationale to them?  Absolutely not, but an imaginary friend can be calming and is always there when you need him.” Bing Bong has been wandering around Riley’s mind for a while when Joy and Sadness meet him. “He’s a bit of a hobo these days,” says Kind. “So he’s more than happy to show them around.”

Like all good imaginary friends, this one is certainly creative. “Bing Bong is made out of cotton candy,” says Docter. “He has a nougat-y center, which we never really see, and shape-wise he’s part cat, part elephant and—according to him—part dolphin, which is a little sketchy. He’s basically an amalgam of all the things we loved as kids.”

Artists were initially inspired by the director’s own childhood imaginary friend, which was at least part elephant, says Sasaki. “When I was a kid, I loved animal crackers. You could take one head and mix it with another body. There’s something nice about that. That evolved to ‘Why can’t it have cat whiskers?’ and ‘Let’s give him dog ears and a raccoon’s tail.”

“We all wanted to work on Bing Bong,” says Navone. “He’s just such a fun, broad, kind of vaudevillian character. He’s just someone we all want to play with. The idea was to maintain his childlike appeal.”

The animation team used references from Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason and John Candy to help drive home the character. “The trick with Bing Bong technically was figuring out his mouth,” says Navone. “His mouth has to get really big and his lips go all the way around it like a piece of licorice—it’s a little like Art in ‘Monsters University.’ It was a challenge in terms of rigging to keep it simple—then add in Bing Bong’s trunk and it was that much harder.” The team actually borrowed an early version of some technology that’s being built for an octopus in “Finding Dory” to deal with Bing Bong’s trunk.

RILEY Andersen is an eternally happy kid, at least until she turns 11 and her dad gets a job across the country, forcing the family to relocate to San Francisco. As she struggles to navigate a new home and school, Riley experiences an unfamiliar mix of Emotions.

“If you look at your own kids, friends, family—it seems that everyone has a default temperament,” says Docter. “Some people are sad or angry at their core—but Riley is happy. So this big change at the age she is turns out to be a very big deal.”

According to Lozano, Riley’s look was very much inspired by her place in her life. “She’s at that age where she’s starting to grow up,” he says. “So she doesn’t quite fit into her body yet. She’s lanky and sort of gangly, a little bit awkward.”

Kaitlyn Dias is the voice of Riley. Initially hired to record a temporary track, Dias’ performance proved so touching, filmmakers decided to cast her in the part. “She really was perfect for the role,” says Rivera. “Her voice has this heartbreaking honesty to it. She’s so good.”

MOM would do anything for her family, so when they relocate to San Francisco, she puts her best foot forward to help them adjust to this odd new world.

Lozano says that artists wanted to infuse a little spark into Mom’s look. “We knew she was the kind of person who could either fall for a Brazilian helicopter pilot or the nerdy square-pants guy. We wanted to imply that although she settled down, she still retained some of her free spirit.”

Audiences get a glimpse inside Mom’s mind, where her Emotions each don her red glasses. Filmmakers also designed a unique set for Mom’s Headquarters.

Diane Lane lends her voice to Mom. “As a mom, I get it. Invariably when you’re raising your children, you actually sort of relive these stages of your own childhood. Your own memories come into play as your children struggle. Riley’s an only child, as is my experience as a mom and my experience as a child, so I could relate on many levels.”

DAD is a fan of family, hockey and new adventures. So when opportunity knocks, he’s game—even if it means moving across the country. Admittedly, he can’t always figure out what the women in his life are thinking, but he loves them with all his heart. Inside Dad’s mind, his Emotions are—like Dad—prone to distraction, particularly if there’s a hockey game on. They also all sport his signature mustache.

The mustache started as a goatee, but filmmakers wanted to emphasize that Dad doesn’t exactly fit into his new city. “We wanted to make them stand out as a conservative kind of family that just got dropped into San Francisco,” says Sasaki, who adds that the San Francisco crowds characters are pretty stylish. “You’d be able to pick our Minnesota family out of a crowd for sure.”

Dad is voiced by Kyle MacLachlan, who is Dad to a 6-year-old son. “I’m not there yet as a parent, I’ve got a little bit of time before he hits those pre-teen years,” says MacLachlan. “But it’s going to be interesting to maneuver through it, to try to support him, to maybe even have a little bit of influence in how he handles it all. As a parent, you really want them to find their way, but you want to be there to support them, too.” 

The FORGETTERS are in charge of—well—forgetting. Mind Workers in Long-Term Memory, they sort through Riley’s memories and eliminate those they deem unimportant—like most of the U.S. Presidents she memorized in grade school or much of what she learned on the piano (except “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks”).

Paula Poundstone and Bobby Moynihan were tapped to voice the Forgetters.


Filmmakers Venture Inside the Imagination to Create Complex New World

It was both a blessing and a curse that the world of “Inside Out” was like nothing anyone had ever seen. “Narrowing our choices on how to visualize this world, how to visualize these Emotions, was really fun,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “But it was so challenging.”

While the possibilities were endless, filmmakers were able to narrow things down fairly quickly. “The film takes place in the mind, not the brain,” says director Pete Docter. “We were very specific from the get-go. We didn’t want blood vessels and dendrites. The mind is metaphorical. We imagined our thought processes, memories, feelings.”

But according to Daniel Holland, sets art director, the team used the physiology as reference. “We were inspired by shapes—the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, cells under a microscope,” he says. “Everything was heavily caricatured, but we wanted to start from somewhere that made sense.”

Filmmakers actually had two worlds to contend with—the real world, in which Riley is experiencing major life changes, and the world inside her mind, where her Emotions reside. “It was like making two films,” says production designer Ralph Eggleston. “One little change in the real world affects everything in the Mind World, and vice versa.”

The Mind World features bright, saturated color. “We looked at it as a Broadway musical from the ’50s,” says Docter. “There’s a great sense of caricature. The human world is more real: Wood looks like wood, cement looks like cement. And color-wise, it’s desaturated.”

Filmmakers actually made separate rules for each world when it came to the camera plan. “It was important to create two distinct styles for the cameras inside the mind and in the real world so that the audience can instantly tell the difference,” says Patrick Lin, director of photography – camera. “In the Mind World, everything is more perfect. Our lenses have less distortion, and the camera movement is reminiscent of the 1940s studio-style camera with track and boom. It’s more mechanical. In the human world, we wanted it to feel a bit more real, so our lenses have more distortion and the cameras are more of a handheld or Steadicam look.”

The team employed camera capture technology for the human world to achieve a more photo-real look. The technology was best showcased in Pixar’s short “The Blue Umbrella.” Says Lin, “We always approach the cinematography with the story in mind.”

Docter says the team of designers and artists presented hundreds of different directions via thousands of drawings to develop the locations within Riley’s mind and beyond. “Our choices in the end were based less on anything scientific and more on our guts. We went with what felt right—what felt truthful.”


HEADQUARTERS is the control center in Riley’s mind where all five Emotions live and work, monitoring Riley’s day-to-day experiences and guiding her along the way.

“The idea of Headquarters came pretty early on in the process,” says Docter. “We knew it would be a workroom and that there would be a console, but we went down a few paths in determining exactly what the console controls. In the end, we decided to keep it very simple so that it’s clear that Riley is still in control of her behavior.”

Adds Eggleston, “The shapes within Headquarters are based on the hypothalamus, which is the cognitive center of the mind, theoretically.”

Bert Berry, shading art director, and his team were tasked with making sure Headquarters felt homey. “Ralph [Eggleston] and Pete [Docter] really wanted Headquarters to be soft and inviting,” says Berry. “So there’s not a lot of reflective or harsh surfaces. There’s carpeting, cloth and translucent materials. Some of the walls are made out of a sort of neoprene material.”

The shading team did add some shiny and reflective elements to shake things up a bit. “If we made it all soft and matte, then there’s nothing for light to catch,” says Berry. “We needed to have some variation for it to look dynamic.”

Located within Headquarters are shelves that hold Riley’s memories from the day. The memories themselves are delicate spheres that can replay memories. Says Eggleston, “Originally, I was looking at dewdrops. I envisioned Long-Term Memory as spiderwebs and the memories as dewdrops on the webs. Then they became spherical—like the leading tip of a synapse flash. And we placed imagery inside each of them to represent a memory—like a great day on the ice with Mom and Dad.”

Each memory carries the color of the Emotion assigned to it. The great day on the ice, for example, would be yellow for Joy, who prefers a wall of yellow memories at the end of the day.

LONG TERM MEMORY is a vast floor-to-very-high-ceiling storage facility that houses millions of Riley’s memories. Long-Term Memory is staffed by Mind Workers, including the Forgetters, who evaluate the usefulness of each memory and eliminate those that no longer seem relevant.

“During the day,” says Lasseter, “all of your memories are collected in short-term memory, but at night, as you sleep, your short-term memory literally gets dumped and only those memories that are imbued with an emotion get saved. Everything else just gets dumped into the Memory Dump. That’s what we learned from the scientists.”

To get the look of Long-Term Memory, filmmakers researched manufacturing facilities. “We had millions of memories and weren’t sure how to store them and move them around,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “We wanted it to feel legit and believable with weight and movement and structure, so we visited the Jelly Belly candy factory and spent some time at an egg processing plant.”

Holland says the tour of the Jelly Belly factory was more than just your average tour. “We got to suit up and go down on the floor and see a lot of stuff,” he says. “They have interesting automated packaging machinery, and I really liked watching the way the colors would move through tubes. It was inspiring.”

Holland says that the egg processing plant provided reference for transporting the memory balls from one location to another. “The eggs are delicate, yet could be easily moved with the right system.”

Built and staffed like a full-fledged Hollywood studio, DREAM PRODUCTIONS is where Riley’s dreams (and nightmares) are created. The writers here are not afraid to take risks and often dance on the edge of logic when it comes to Riley’s dreams.

“It’s a giant soundstage with sets and props,” says Docter, who was invited by Bill Hader to spend a week observing “Saturday Night Live” behind the scenes. “Dream Productions can produce anything the writers come up with. Nothing’s too crazy or out there—it’s a little like ‘SNL’ mixed with the magic of Hollywood.”

It’s all about fun in IMAGINATION LAND. Says Lasseter, “Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera are two of the biggest Disneyland fanatics that ever walked the Earth. So it looks a lot like a theme park.” Anything goes: Love French fries so much that you wish you could build a whole forest made of them? Done. Wish you could use couch cushions to navigate a lava-filled living room? Welcome to Lavaland.

“Imagination Land is where all of Riley’s flights of fancy and daydreams are built full-size and come to life,” says Docter. “It’s a place where you go to play.”

And like all good theme parks, some attractions last a lifetime, while others get replaced: Preschool princess fantasies make way for imaginary boyfriend generators. “From the beginning,” says Docter, “we wanted to show this idea of growing up. So as she outgrows certain fantasies, areas in Imagination Land get torn down.”

Locked inside the SUBCONSCIOUS are all of Riley’s darkest fears. According to Kim White, director of photography – lighting, the lighting in Subconscious actually tips its hat to horror films. “It’s dark and we use a lot of bright colors,” says White. “It’s overly theatrical—we push it till it feels a little spooky. It’s the kind of sequence that people will remember.”

One of the most unique and bold locations in Riley’s mind, ABSTRACT THOUGHT is an area that turns ideas, Emotions and imaginary friends into two-dimensional shapes and lines. According to Docter, this is likely a newer area in Riley’s mind. “Abstract thought develops around age 10. ”While still under construction, Abstract Thought showcases Riley’s transformation from a child into a young adult who can see beyond what’s right in front of her.

TRAIN OF THOUGHT is an all-terrain choo-choo with a self-generating track that delivers daydreams, ideas and other thoughts to Headquarters. It’s also used to transfer memories to different regions of Riley’s mind. But take note: When Riley sleeps, so do the operators. Designers went to a train museum to develop the look. They also consulted lifelong train enthusiast Lasseter and his personal collections.

Riley’s ISLANDS OF PERSONALITY are powered by core memories, which are memories of extremely significant times in Riley’s life. Says Docter, “The Islands physically represent Riley’s personality, which is what’s at stake for Joy in the film. Core Memories are those things that you’ll think about or remember on your deathbed. They are those big moments we all have that led us to be who we are.”

Each Island defines a different aspect of Riley’s personality:

• Hockey Island
• Friendship Island
• Family Island
• Goofball Island
• Honesty Island

According to Eggleston, the islands are located an average of 7.3 miles away from Headquarters. “Each island has a handful of iconic structures on it that had to read clearly to the audience,” he says. “They couldn’t be too close or they would appear too large. And they couldn’t be too far, or they wouldn’t read. We had very little time to sell something visually.”

Deep and spacious, the MEMORY DUMP is a vast wasteland of faded and forgotten memories. Can’t remember your locker combination to save your life? That’s probably where it is.

MINNESOTA is home to Riley—at least before she and her family moves across the country. That’s where she fell in love with hockey and where all of her friends live.

Docter, who grew up in Minnesota, felt it would be a good representation of childhood. “Even now when I go back, I’m surprised to be able to stand somewhere and see nothing on the horizon—no mountains or buildings cropping up. Yet weirdly, I get a feeling of being under a dome—it feels protected and safe.”

The big move called for a series of detailed sets designed to transport Riley—and the audience—to a very different place. Says sets supervisor Robert Moyer, “When they leave Minnesota, we see sunflowers, wheat fields, and an intersection shot, followed by shots of the mountains, the desert and Marin County. We show the Golden Gate Bridge, the Embarcadero, and one or two shots of Lombard Street. As they get close to their new home, we see Hyde Street – it’s basically a 13-shot montage featuring a series of completely unique locations.”

To Riley—and therefore to her Emotions—SAN FRANCISCO represents the unknown, which triggers big reactions in Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness—while Joy scrambles to keep everyone at ease.

Filmmakers chose the city for its unique qualities. “Instead of making it ‘Anytown U.S.A., we wanted to be specific,” says Docter. “San Francisco is so picturesque.”

But they were keen to portray the city—at least in part—from Riley’s point of view. “San Francisco is not home to Riley,” says Berry. “It feels like a little bit dirty and run-down. We didn’t want it to feel like overly decrepit, but we did want to give the city a sense of lived-in history through the dirt and grunge.”

Eggleston wanted to capture the rough, overlapping painting style of Disney’s animated feature “101 Dalmatians” with textures in San Francisco. “We didn’t want to replicate the film,” he says. “But we utilized it to find a simplified way to replicate what we really see in the city—bricked-over windows, painted-over graffiti and muted, receding color that could be enhanced with the hazy, foggy light we were planning to implement.”


Lighting Team Makes Joy Pop, and Helps Define Two Worlds

Filmmakers couldn’t wait to take moviegoers inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley—building a whole new world never before imagined. But the Mind World would be presented alongside the outside “real” world, which presented a bit of a challenge. “We had to figure out how to help viewers know when they’re in each world,” says Kim White, director of photography – lighting. “Outside the mind, we used high key, low saturation and low contrast, while the look inside the mind is more theatrical. It’s very saturated with tons of contrast. That makes it possible to recognize in an instant—as the film cuts back and forth—which world we’re in.”

But to support the story, White and her team played with the general rule. For example, from the very beginning of the film, Riley is happy. Filmmakers opted to make the human world more saturated for those sequences—almost aligned with the Mind World. “Then she moves to San Francisco and things change,” says White. “Things are no longer quite right for Riley. Her world becomes less saturated, while the Mind World stays really saturated. So there’s an intentional disconnect.”

According to White, the team makes adjustments to the lighting in the Mind as Riley’s world starts to fall apart. The Mind World begins to take on the lighting and colors of a gathering storm. The brooding, ominous feel to the lighting underscores the storyline, showcasing just how dire the situation has become. “Of course we want our sets, our characters, our worlds to look appealing,” says White. “But our number-one goal for every show is helping to support the story in a way that the audience feels, but probably never realizes.”


Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, when it came to lighting for “Inside Out” was the optimist herself, Joy. Filmmakers felt that an Emotion that represents happiness should light up a room—literally. So Joy—who appears in nearly every sequence set in the Mind World—is actually a light source. “The problem is that if you take a picture of a lightbulb,” says White, “it’s just a flat bright thing. There’s no definition. We wanted Joy’s face to be round and appealing.”

Angelique Reisch, who served as one of the lighting team’s lead technical artists, was brought on early in the production to tackle the challenge. Reisch took her lead from production designer Ralph Eggleston and the art department. “There was one pastel Ralph did early on that’s absolutely stunning,” she says. “He created an inner glow that’s really bright—brighter than her outer glow—and colored one side pink and one side white. It was beautiful.”

The pastel inspired the team’s use of hue versus value to achieve the desired shaping of Joy’s features. The use of color—lightest yellows to richer oranges and even red—does for Joy what adjustments in value traditionally do for a character.

Joy as a light source presented some challenges that called for new technology. “Inside Out” became the first film to employ the use of a geometry light. Says Reisch, “Instead of using an erect light or a series of spheres, we actually took a piece of geometry and turned it into a light source. So in this case Joy is an actual light. And then we get really natural lighting: If she touches the paper it’ll be bright where she makes contact.”

Interestingly, Joy does not cast a shadow. Says Reisch, “We came up with a different approach for her. The other Emotions receive light like any normal character would—master lighting from the set, plus some special lights for their glow and their volumes. But Joy has her own special rig, so she’s emanating light onto them. And she doesn’t receive light—like from the screen in Headquarters. Other sources of light don’t affect her because she is the brightest source.

“But what I really like is when she’s having a moment with another character like Sadness,” continues Reisch. “We can push her glow onto Sadness to say something about that relationship.” 

Like a good glass of champagne, Joy is also effervescent. Beneath the volume—those particles that make up the Emotions—is a body surface. “We blended her surface shading to give her that effervescent look,” says Reisch. “We also came up with tools and lighting so the lighters could work with the hard-surface version of Joy versus the volume version. That made her faster to light.”


Joy isn’t the only Emotion who glows.

• Sadness has her own blue glow—that may not be as bright as Joy’s, says Reisch, but it’s equally special.
• Disgust and Fear also glow, but to a lesser extent. And Fear’s single hair actually called for its own light.
• Anger lacks glow, but lights up with fire when he’s really mad.

(The pressbook also covers the full credits, the music, the voice cast, and the filmmakers).