Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poruchik Kizhe / Lieutenant Kije

Поручик Киже / Porutshik Kizhe / Lieutenant Kizhe / The Czar Wants to Sleep / [Luutnantti Kizhe / Näkymätön mies / Löjtnanten Kizhe / Den osynliga mannen].
    SU 1934. PC: Belgoskino. P: M. Minin. D: Aleksandr Feinzimmer / Aleksandr Faintsimmer. SC: Juri Tynyanov – based on his story (1928). DP: Arkadi Koltsatyi – b&w – early sound aperture 1,2:1. AD: Pyotr Snopkov, Konstantin Kartashov. Cost: Mariya Itina. Makeup: Anton Andzhan. M: Sergei Prokofiev. Conductor: Isaak Dunayevsky. Orchestra: Leningrad State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. S: N. Kosarev, B. Beerwald – Tagefon sound system. Brigade director: I Rummel. Consultants: B. Glinka, Y. Krinkin.
    C: Mikhail Yanshin (Czar Paul I), Boris Gorin-Goryainov (Count von Pahlen), Erast Garin (adjutant Kablukov), Nina Shaternikova (Princess Gagarina), Sofia Magarill (Maid of honour Nelidova, her companion), Mikhail Rostovtsev (fortress commandant), Leonid Kmit (army scribe), Andrei Kostrichkin (Lieutenant Sinyukhaev), Konstantin Gibshman (Leibarzt).
    Russian Wikipedia: 98 min [?]. 2370 m / 86 min
    Classification in Finland 18408 – board 30.5.1934 and appeal board 31.5.1934 verdict: banned – import attempted in 1934 by The Trade Delegation of the USSR.
    Sergei Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije suite (op. 60): «Рождение Киже» / The Birth of Kizhe, «Романс» / Romance, «Свадьба Киже» / The Wedding of Kizhe, «Тройка» / Troika, and «Похороны Киже» / The Funeral of Kizhe. Plus two songs (op. 60bis): «Стонет сизый голубочек» / Glaucous Dove Moans and «Тройка» / Troika.
    In Ernst Lubitsch's film on Czar Paul I, The Patriot (US 1928), Emil Jannings was cast as Paul I and Lewis Stone as Count von Pahlen. Florence Vidor played the female lead.
    Introduced by Martti Anhava who has translated Tynyanov's story into Finnish (2015).
    A KAVI print of 86 min with e-subtitles by Timo Suni operated by Onni Nääppä viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Lieutenant Kije), 31 March 2016

IMDb plot summary: "A sarcastic comedy about the Russian-Soviet bureaucracy, based on the eponymous novella by Yuri Tynyanov. Set in the reign of Emperor Paul I. A copying error by a military scribe turns the Russian words for "the lieutenants, however" into what looks like "lieutenant Kizhe". The Tsar reads the error, and wants to meet this (non-existent) Lieutenant Kizhe. His courtiers are at first too frightened to contradict the Tsar, but then the fiction turns out to be all too convenient for them. So Lieutenant Kizhe gets himself exiled to Siberia, recalled from exile, promoted, and married. He dies and receives a state funeral. In many ways, he is the most charming and lovable character in the film, even though he remains throughout the film a "confidential person, without a shape"." - Written by Steve Shelokhonov, rev. by Skripach

A satire on bureaucracy, a farce, a fairy-tale.

Martti Anhava in his introduction found an affinity in Yuri Tynyanov's story with H. C. Andersen, and indeed, "The Emperor's New Clothes" springs to mind while reading the story and watching the film. The  difference here is that clothes do exist for General Kizhe (for that is the rank to which the title character is elevated) but there is nobody inside. Tynyanov's story belongs also to the tradition of Potyomkin's village tales: the main thing is to keep the facade.

As a satire on bureaucracy and the madness of dictatorship Lieutenant Kije is blunt and bold. It belongs to the amazing films of the early Stalin era like Viktor Shestakov's Can't You Leave Me Out? (1932) which stunned us last year in Pordenone. This was the feature film breakthrough for Aleksandr Feinzimmer who had debuted two years earlier as a director. His long career continued into 1980.

As a film Lieutenant Kije resembles a little also the films based on H. G. Wells's The Invisible Man, but here the man is not only invisible, he is non-existent, although he is the title character. Everybody goes through the motions of pretending that Kije is there. He is whipped a hundred times. He is escorted to Siberian prison exile on foot by a drummer and two grenadiers. He is promoted, brought back, wined and dined, and given a magnificent wedding, an estate with 3000 souls, and a government treasury of 10.000 rubles. He is claimed sick, taken to the Czar's personal physician, given a lavage, declared dead, and honoured with a big state funeral. "My best men die on me", laments the Czar until he hears that Kije has embezzled the entire treasury entrusted to him. He is posthumously demoted, and Adjutant Kablukov is promoted to General instead, free to marry the "widow", Princess Gagarina. Kablukov and Gagarina's flirtation which had disturbed the Czar's sleep was one of the two accidents which had given birth to "Lieutenant Kije" in the first place.

Interestingly, Ernst Lubitsch had made a serious drama on the mad Czar Paul six years earlier. Even Tynyanov's story would have been in his territory. There is some affinity with Forbidden Paradise but even more with Lubitsch's early fairy-tale films such as Die Puppe. Lieutenant Kije looks like a modest budget film with superimpositions, miniatures, and simple optical effects.

Sergei Prokofiev's music has gained a life of its own more prominently than this film itself which suffers from clumsiness. There are funny and witty scenes and good performances, especially by Boris Gorin-Goryainov as Count von Pahlen. But the characters of the young lovers remain too shallow for us to relate to them particularly. There is a studio echo in this early Soviet sound film.

I have been fascinated by cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. Here there is a related case, a wedding with an absent husband. (In Nagisa Oshima's The Ceremony there is a wedding without a bride).

The source of this print is not brilliant. Instability, wrong framelines, and soundtrack noise belong to the problems. I hope there is a good print somewhere.

PS. 1 April 2016. Lieutenant Kije is an excellent April Fools' Day movie. Today in Kauppalehti Martti Kiuru writes from St. Petersburg: "When Czar Peter the Great opened the windows to Europe in the beginning of the 18th century also the tradition of the April Fools' Day was washed up on the shore of Russia as a side effect. On April Fools' Day (in Russian, День смеха, День дурака = "the day of laughter", "the day of the fool") communists bury V. I. Lenin and Siberian mammoths are revived from deep freeze. Occasionally it may seem that a culture of fooling is inbuilt in the entire Russian society, and every day is April Fools' Day. Several classics of literature, including The Twelve Chairs by Ilf & Petrov, and Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, are based on the theme of fooling. According to Russian sources Gogol was even born on April Fools' Day in 1809".


Monday, March 28, 2016

Andrei Rublyov / Andrei Rublev

Андрей Рублёв / Страсти по Андрею [pre-release title] / Strasti po Andreju / The Passion According to Andrei / Yttersta domen. A film in two parts. SU 1966. Release: 1966 (a single screening at Dom Kino in Moscow), 1969 (Cannes). PC: Mosfilm. P: Tamara Ogorodnikova. D: Andrei Tarkovsky. SC: Andrei Mikhalkov-Kontshalovsky, Andrei Tarkovsky – [based on an idea by Vasily Livanov, n.c.]. DP: Vadim Yusov – 35 mm - camera: Convas Camera - Sovscope 2,35:1 – b&w, epilogue: Sovcolor - lab: Mosfilm. VFX: V. Sevostyanov. SFX: Pavel Safonov. PD: Yevgeni Chernyayev, with Hippolyte Novoderyozhkin and Sergei Voronkov. Cost: Lydia Novi, M. Abar-Baranovska. M and conductor: Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov - performed by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. ED: Lyudmila Feiginova, Tatyana Yegorycheva, Olga Shevkunenko. S: Inna Zelentsova. Consultants: Vladimir Pashuto, Savely Yamschikov (historical objects), Maria Mertsalova (historical costumes).
    C: Anatoli Solonitsyn (Andrei Rublyov), Ivan Lapikov (Kirill), Nikolai Sergeyev (Theophanes the Greek), Irma Raush (Irina Tarkovskaya) (durochka = the holy fool girl [yurodivy]), Nikolai Grinko (Daniel Chorny / Daniel the Black), Yuri Nazarov (malyi knyaz = Prince Yuri of Zvenigorod / veliki knyaz = Grand Prince Vasily I of Moscow), Rolan Bykov (skomorokh = the harlequin / the minstrel), Nikolai Burlyayev (Boriska), Bolot Beishenalyev (Edigu, Khan of the Nogai horde), Mikhail Kononov (Fomka the monk), Yuri Nikulin (Patrikei the monk), Stepan Krylov (starshy liteyshchik = head of the bell foundry), Nikolai Grabbe (Stepan, sotnik Velikogo knyazya), Anatoli Obushov (Alex), Nikolai Glazkov (Efim, the hot air balloon inventor), Igor Donskoi (Christ), Tamara Ogo (Maria, mother of Jesus), Irina Miroshnichenko (Mary Magdalene), Nelly Snegina (Marfa, the woman who approaches Andrei in the Midsummer Night feast), Dmitry Orlovsky (stary master = the old master), Nikolai Kutuzov (strashiy igumen = senior abbot).
    Helsinki premiere: 15.12.1972 Capitol, released by: Kosmos-Filmi – telecast: 8.7.1985 MTV1 – vhs: 1988 Capitol Video – dvd: 2007 Finnkino (the Ruscico edition with Finnish subtitles) – VET 81193 – K16
    The project was launched in 1961, and the principal photography took place from September 1964 to November 1965. After the 1966 Dom Kino screening the film was shelved in Russia and first released in 1971. A truly wide release took place in 1987.
    Loc: Nerl River (the hot air balloon, the feast), Vladimir (the last judgment) / Suzdal (the bell), and the Pskov region (Pskov, Izborsk, Pechory).
    Tarkovsky planned to start the film with the battle of Kulikovo but abandoned the plan for budget reasons. (Dmitri Ivanovich, The Grand Duke of Moscow, defeated the Tatars at Kulikovo in 1390, ten years after the birth of Andrei Rublev).
    Rolan Bykov studied vintage profane limericks for his role as the buffoon. Anatoli Solonitsyn went silent for four months during the filming of the episode of the silence of the artist.
    Pre-release version 205 min – Tarkovsky's favoured Russian version 86 + 99 = 185 min – according to Maya Turovskaya 192 + 219 = 411 shots – shorter international versions exist – Kosmos-Film shortened the film before the Finnish classification – Finnish classification length 5040 m / 182 min
    Episodes: Prologue: The Hot Air Balloon. The Jester 1400. Theophanes the Greek 1405. The Passion According to Andrei / Страсти по Андрею 1406. The Feast 1408. The Last Judgment / Страшный суд 1408. The Raid / Набег 1408. The Silence 1412. The Bell / Колокол 1423. Epilogue: the paintings.
    The icons in the colour epilogue montage: Enthroned Christ, Twelve Apostles, The Annunciation, Twelve Apostles, Jesus entering Jerusalem, Birth of Christ, Enthroned Christ, Transfiguration of Jesus, Resurrection of Lazarus, The Annunciation, Resurrection of Lazarus, Birth of Christ, Trinity, Archangel Michael, Paul the Apostle, The Redeemer.
    A SFI print of the 182 min version.
    Screened with new e-subtitles in Finnish by Onni Nääppä at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Andrei Tarkovsky), 27 March (Easter Sunday), 2016

When I saw Andrei Rublyov for the first time in October 1973 on a leave from the military service it was already a hugely respected masterpiece. It was special, it was strange, it was unique, it was difficult. Solaris had also recently been released so there was already a Tarkovsky phenomenon, an awareness of a new great spirit in film art. From the Finnish perspective there was Bergman, a great Western neighbour, and Tarkovsky, a great Eastern neighbour.

The last time I saw Andrei Rublyov was in 2007 when I checked the Ruscico dvd edition released in Finland by Finnkino. But Andrei Rublyov needs to be seen in a cinema. It is a historical epic, and you need the magnitude of the widescreen to appreciate it.

In this film the two friends Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky challenged the historical epics of Sergei Eisenstein. The events portrayed here take place two hundred years after Alexander Nevsky and one hundred years before Ivan the Terrible. Instead of the montage approach of Alexander Nevsky and the operatic excess of Ivan the Terrible there is a mise-en-scène favouring the long take and an approach of psychological realism in the performances. The cutting is not based on Eisensteinian montage but on the Tarkovskyan concept of "sculpting in time" with a sense of real duration; switching from one block of time to another Tarkovsky is not afraid of jump cuts.

For Tarkovsky, Andei Rublyov is a key work in his quest of the spiritual history of Russia. Russian civilization had started four hundred years before Andrei Rublyov with the Holy Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus. Then Genghis Khan invaded Russia, and after him, there was a tatar reign of the Golden Horde for centuries. While Western Europe had Renaissance and Reformation, universities, Gutenberg, and Columbus, Russians were fighting murderous Mongols who crushed their budding culture. Ivan the Terrible defeated the khans of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia, but Crimean tatars were still so powerful that they managed to burn down Moscow.

From a Russian point of view there is a profound link from the tatar terror seen in Andrei Rublyov via the Ottoman Empire to the ISIS terror of today. This is the key Russian nightmare, also in the sense that when you fight a monster you risk turning into a monster yourself.

That happens even to the painter monk Andrei Rublyov in this movie. When he interferes to protect a "holy fool" girl he kills the rapist soldier with an axe. The experience for him is so shattering that he ceases to paint and takes a vow of silence.

Also Ingmar Bergman directed a film on the silence of the art in the same year: Persona. 50 years ago, in 1966, a great year for the cinema.

We hardly see Andrei paint at all. There is a scene of him facing a white wall and splashing paint, like in action painting (Andrei has just learned that fellow artists have been blinded by the prince in order to prevent them to create for others). The holy fool girl starts to cry. (Which reminds me than in yet another 1966 film, Au hasard Balthazar, there is also a reference to action painting. Tarkovsky and Bresson also share the focus in the suffering of a vulnerable girl and an innocent animal). In the final montage Tarkovsky creates of Andrei Rublev's colour world a mosaic that is so abstract and nonfigurative that there is an affinity with abstract expressionism.

This spring we have screened films of Vincente Minnelli, and from Kenji Mizoguchi, Saikaku ichidai onna. Tarkovsky loved Akira Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai, and there are homages here to that film. But more profoundly Tarkovski comes close to Mizoguchi. Minnelli, Mizoguchi, and Tarkovsky belong to the masters of the the long take and the crane shot. Mizoguchi and Tarkovsky are masters of the plan-séquence. The long crane shots give us an overview of the historical suffering. We witness everything, we see the big picture instead of succumbing to confusion. In the final narrative episode of the film, the engrossing story of the casting of the bell, this approach contributes to the paean for collective work. This aspect of Andrei Rublyov is compatible with the official aesthetics of "socialist realism" even if little else is.

The cinematography by Vadim Yusov (1929-2013) is splendid. The music score by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov (born 1936) is always fascinating and mixed with the sound world in a refined fashion. All artists give their best here like the collective in the bell casting sequence. Andrei Rublyov may be an auteur film but a true auteur is someone who inspires the entire cast and crew to give their best. There are no weak links in this picture.

Also Onni Nääppä's new Finnish translation is the best I have seen. Andrei Rublyov is a literate film and deserves a good translation like this.

The print screened was beautiful and complete and the colour was intact.

Andrei Tarkovsky likes long takes, sometimes ultra-long ones, and I had stocked chocolate in a noiseless handkerchief in order to fight fatigue but there was no need for that. Andrei Rublyov is still unique but no scenes now seemed too long.

We screened the 205 minutes pre-release version in 2004 at Helsinki Festival. Busy hosting Andrei's sister Marina Tarkovskaya and her husband Alexander Gordon I failed to see that version then and have not seen it since but Tarkovsky himself said that he came to prefer the standard three hour cut. Everything essential is in it I believe.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Äkkilähtö / Off the Map

Tiina Lymi: Äkkilähtö / Off the Map (FI 2016).

En hastig sorti.
    FI © 2016 Solar Films Inc. Oy. EX: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin. P: Nina Laurio. Line P: Jonna Enroth. 
    D: Tiina Lymi. SC: Nina Laurio, Tiina Lymi. DP: Henri Blomberg (Hena Blomberg) - colour - scope - release format: 2K DCP. AD: Otso Linnalaakso. Cost: Riitta Röpelinen. Makeup: Pia Mikkonen. M: Vesa Mäkinen. S: Karri Niinivaara. ED: Iikka Hesse. 
    C: Lotta Kaihua (Katri), Jussi Vatanen (Johannes), Eedit Patrakka (Anna), Antti Holma (Mikko), Ville Tiihonen (Tero), Marja Packalén (grandma), Antero Nieminen (Vaittinen), Maaja Hallik (Sirle), Sten Karpov (Jaanus), Allan Kress (Siim), Iina Kuustonen (Ansku), Emilia Sinisalo (Susanna), Tero Koponen (Komulainen), Kaisa Leppänen (Julia). 
    98 min
    Loc: Helsinki, Sotkamo.
    Songs:  "Mulle käy" perf. Ella Lymi, "Aurinkoo" perf. Lucas.
    Released by Oy Nordisk Film Ab.
    The title is a wordplay meaning both "a last minute travel deal" and "leaving suddenly". "Alarm Exit" might be a possible translation.
    2K DCP viewed at Kino Kellokas, at Kellokas Nature and Cultural Center, Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Äkäslompolo, 23 March 2016

Tiina Lymi, the beloved Finnish actress, is also a theatre and television director, writer and playwright. Last year she released her first short film Naisen nimi [A Woman's Name], a witty piece of satire with a perfect sense of comic timing and ensemble playing.

In that film she crystallized a complex web of questions into a single detail: should a woman take her husband's family name? The characters of Naisen nimi are comical but credible, the dialogue and the plot turns unpredictable.

The cinema is sold out save a couple of seats in the front row when Äkkilähtö [Alarm Exit] starts at Kino Kellokas on the slope of the Ylläs fell. We have been skiing all day, and there is a dazzling view from the picture windows of the Villi Pohjola [Wild North] restaurant of the Kellokas Center. The audience is enjoying an entertainment film featuring some of the most popular and attractive actors of the country.

Äkkilähtö is a road movie, a crime story, a comedy, and the story of a childless career woman.

The successful 30-something apartment broker Katri leaves her man Mikko when she discovers that he has been living a double life with Sirle who in the finale is exposed to be the boss of an Estonian criminal gang. She discovers in her car another fugitive, the 8-year old Anna, whose parents, too, are a part of the world of crime. They cannot go to Anna's grandma's place in Vuokatti because the crooks would find them there. They find shelter at Johannes, a second hand and car repair shop keeper who lets them use his hideout in the deep forest of Kainuu.

This is a summer film, and the contrast between "civilized Helsinki" and "the wild forest of Kainuu" is used ironically.

There are funny scenes such as Katri abandoning all her needless cards to a beggar (at the start she believes she is about to move to France with Mikko for good). The streetwise Anna, in order to escape, feeds her crooked foster-father Tero yoghurt which causes him an acute bowel crisis.

The encounter with little Anna arouses Katri's protective instincts but she does not turn into a tigress like Gloria. Yet her motherly side wakes up. The tigress of the movie is Grandma (Marja Packalén) who rides a tractor and is armed with a shotgun.

The crime dimension of the story weighs a lot. Not only are Katri's man Mikko and Anna's foster-father Tero criminals. We also learn that Katri's mother has turned her heritage into money which she is now busy drinking away at Torremolinos, only needing Katri to help her avoid taxes.

A major income of Johannes seems to stem from the renting of his forest hideout. In reality it functions as a love hotel, complete with a comically tawdry bedroom. Apparently most of the female partners are prostitutes from the other side of the Eastern border which is not far. There is a comedy angle in Katri and Anna selecting the notorious "secret" forest cabin as their hideaway since everybody in the neighbourhood knows about it, and thus it is very easy for the crooks to find.

Anna's mother is a drug addict and a prostitute. The streetwise Anna seems to be more aware of that side of life than Katri. Everybody is involved in crime in a way that casts a deep shadow on the comedy.

The crime side weighs so heavily that it is at times difficult to relate to the characters. Of Katri's strengths we learn very little, as we only learn to know her outside her comfort zone. That she has been totally ignorant of Mikko's double life (as a criminal and with another woman) is possible to believe only if we understand her as a complete workaholic with a tunnel vision. In the countryside she is utterly helpless and cannot cope with the simplest tasks such as lighting a fire or rowing a boat.

The first main theme of the film is about Katri's waking up from illusions and growing up to a more complete and mature approach to life.

The second main theme is about the fate of children of dysfunctional parents, dramatized in the story of Anna. We laugh while we realize how such a life hurts and causes irremediable damage.

The main weakness of Äkkilähtö is the screenplay which would have benefitted from a thorough rewrite.

The music is pleasing with two key songs and an occasional blues slide guitar which always seems to fit well with the road movie.

The cinematography is pleasant in cityscapes, interiors and dialogue scenes. In nature scenes the limitations of digital are apparent.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Järven tarina / Tale of a Lake

Shooting Järven tarina. All photos by Pasi Lensu. No humans appear in the film itself. Please click to enlarge the photos.

Sagan om sjön.
FI 2016. PC: MRP Matila Röhr Productions Oy. P: Marko Röhr.
    D: Marko Röhr, Kim Saarniluoto. SC: Antti Tuuri, Marko Röhr - based on the story by Antti Tuuri. DP: Teemu Liakka. Nature cinematography: Teemu Liakka, Hannu Siitonen, Mikko Pöllänen, Jan Henriksson, Atte Henriksson, Juha "Norppa" Taskinen, Juha "Tyyne" Laaksonen. Underwater cameraman: Pasi Lensu. Aerial cinematography: Teemu Liakka. The hot air balloon pilot: Jukka Kujala. The drone: Kari Ylitalo / MADEinSKY Oy. Post production: Post Control / Tuomo Hintikka. VFX: Turo Mallinen, Ville Koivuranta, Sebastian Drews, Sakari Raappana. Colour definition: Pentti Keskimäki. DCP mastering: Juuso Selin. Narrator: Samuli Edelmann. Singer: Johanna Kurkela. M: Panu Aaltio. S: Juha Hakanen. ED: Kim Saarniluoto. Hydrobiologist: Juha "Roope" Flinkman. Diving master: Ari Ilola. 76 min
    Main locations: Saimaa: e.g. Savonlinna, Puumala, Pihlajavesi, Tuunaansalmi, Puruvesi, Haapavesi, Linnasaari, Lappeenranta, Sulkava, Vuoksi, Imatra, Kitee / Puhos, Hollola, Parikkala, Simpele, UKK National Park / the northern part of Saariselkä, Kuusamo, Oulanka, Puula, Inari, Kainuu.
    Further locations: Heinola, Jaala, Sipoo, Raasepori, Lauhanvuoren kansallispuisto, Päijänne. Vaasan seutu, Jämijärvi, Hämeenkoski, Repovesi, Verla, Evo, Helsinki, Liippilampi, Kolkonjärvi.
    Starring: nieriä (the char), koskikara (the dipper), laulujoutsen (the whooper swan), saukko (the otter), rupikonna (the toad), hirvi (the moose), kurki (the crane), ahven (the perch), karhu (the bear), kuikka (the black-throated loon), majava (the beaver), rapu (the European crayfish), hauki (the pike), kalasääski (the osprey), kaakkuri (the red-throated loon), lokki (the gull), merikotka (the sea eagle), sudenkorento (the dragonfly), vesimittari (the water strider), polyyppi (the hydrozoa), kulkusammaleläin (the bryozoa / the walking moss animal), Saimaannorppa (The Saimaa ringed seal), hanhi (the goose), taimen (the brown trout), made (the burbot), simpukka (the bivalvia),
    Released by Oy Nordisk Film Ab.
    2K DCP viewed at Kino Kellokas, at  Kellokas Nature and Cultural Center, Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Äkäslompolo, 20 March 2016

AA: Eight teams of top nature cinematographers started work on Järven tarina in the autumn of 2012. The follow-up to the popular Metsän tarina [The Saga of the Forest] (2012, directed by Ville Suhonen) is again an ambitious contribution to the nature documentary. Again, there is a deep mythical background to the unique and rare nature footage. The excursion to the secrets of nature is at the same time a spiritual quest. The mythical background has this time been provided by Antti Tuuri, a major contemporary Finnish author many of whose novels have been successfully filmed.

Nature documentary has been enjoying a golden age on television during the recent decades. Only the most special nature documentary projects now reach the cinema theatre screen. Järven tarina does not cover exotic  locations. On the contrary, it approaches predominantly ordinary phenomena of nature but in a way that brings out the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Visually, Järven tarina is a treat, and it constantly presents angles and approaches that make us see nature like we have never seen it before. In this it belongs to a noble tradition dating back to the Éclair documentary unit 110 years ago, Jean Painlevé, and Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Marko Röhr is the Finnish master of underwater films (Underwater Iceland), and here again the underwater photography is astounding and revelatory. There is also staggering aerial footage shot from hot air balloons and drones. Thus Järven tarina breaks in all three counts the prohibition of the image from the Decalogue which forbids us to make any likeness of anything in the heaven above, the earth beneath, or the water under the earth.

The structure: the four seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter. The snowy spring and winter footage is stupendous. The footage on the underwater fountainheads has a special weight in the entire project.

There are many delightful and unique scenes in this film that will be worth revisiting. The swans arriving at their icy landing strip. The playful otters and their sizable catch of fish. The wrestling match of toads. Perches swimming upstream to spawn. Bright underwater footage of giant schools of perches. Loons fighting for leadership. The amazing transformation (ecdysis) of the dragonfly from a diver to a flyer. The underwater life of beavers. The trouts swimming upstream in the autumn to their spawning rituals, complete with dancing. The secret, belligerent winter life of crabs. Among the most unique scenes are those of the ultra rare Saimaa ringed seals which have their pups in winter and are dependent of sufficient sheltering snow for their nests.

While the concept of the film is admirable, I find the parts stronger than the whole. The film is full of images and scenes that are fabulous and awesome.

And while those images are powerful and well composed and lit under almost impossible circumstances, there are issues of digital quality (texture and colour), as nature is still more difficult for digital to convey than the urban and technological world. Anyway, this is a delightful and family-friendly film for all nature lovers.

Järven tarina, released two months ago, is already the most popular Finnish documentary film in the period of modern viewer statistics starting in 1970.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Daguerréotypes (2014 digital restoration in 2K)

Daguerrotypen – Leute aus meiner Strasse. FR/DE 1975. PC: ZDF / Ciné-Tamaris / INA. P+D+SC+narrator: Agnès Varda. DP: Nurith Aviv, William Lubtschansky – 16 mm – 1,37:1 – Eastmancolor - blown up to 35 mm. M: from the Paris Accordéon. S: Antoine Bonfanti, Jean-François Auger – mono. ED: Gordon Swire, Andrée Choty. Mixing: Maurice Gilbert. Featuring: inhabitants and shopkeepers of Rue Daguerre (Paris 14e), Mystag the magician. Shooting: October-November 1974 and February 1975 – Rue Daguerre, Parc Montsouris (XIVe arrondissement), Esplanade du Trocadéro-Parvis des droits de l'homme (XVIe arrondissement). First telecasts: ZDF 24.6.1975, TF1 29.11.1976 – tv documentary – long métrage documentaire – MEKU 7.3.2016 – K7 – 80 min
    2012 digital restoration in 2K, based on the 35 mm negative.
    2K DCP from Ciné-Tamaris with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Agnès Varda), 16 March 2016

Agnès Varda's loving tribute to her home street, the little Rue Daguerre. Made only 40 years ago, it shows a way of life and a way of trade that have already changed. There is a still a strong sense of an organic community here, organic solidarity in the sense of Durkheim, Gemeinschaft in the sense of Tönnies and Weber.

The film is politely familiar and deferential. We get to observe the trade taking place at the Au Chardon Bleu perfumery, the Paris Accordéon store, a grocery store, a hairdressing salon, a clock repair shop, a charcuterie, a laundry, a driving school, a tailor, and naturally a boulangerie where bread and baguettes are baked in an oven heated by live fire. Gas bottles are changed, and a postlady delivers mail to everybody. A little boy plays "Sous les ponts de Paris" charmingly on the accordeon. Familiar faces start to reappear in the different destinations. There is a montage of them telling when and where they have come from to Rue Daguerre. In another montage they tell how they discovered their spouses. Everyone's eyes are shining in that montage. And there is a final montage of poses of the protagonists. A playful "narrative framework" is provided by Mystag the Magician who reads aloud the opening credits and whose show is a centerpiece of the movie. He swallows fire, turns fire into money, pierces a beautiful woman's head with knives, and hypnotizes a voluntary patron to a state of total paralysis.

There is a warm, lively, and intimate sense of colour in the cinematography. This appealing glow has been preserved in the digital transfer successfully.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Carolus Enckell (exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum)

Carolus Enckell: Taulun valo / The Light of a Painting I-III. 1975-1980. Three paintings, 3 x 200 x 140. Oil on canvas. Sara Hildén Foundation Collection. Image: Jussi Koivunen, © 2016 Kuvasto.

Carolus Enckell. Exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, 6.2.–15.5.2016
    Exhibition committee: Carolus Enckell, Päivi Loimaala, Sarianne Soikkonen.

The catalogue:
Carolus Enckell. Edited by: Sarianne Soikkonen. Writers: Juha-Heikki Tihinen, Camilla Granbacka, Carolus Enckell. Printed: Helsinki: Lönnberg Print & Promo. Published: Tampere: Sara Hildén Art Museum, 2016. 256 pages. - Essays, curriculum vitae, a list of the works on display, and colour illustrations of almost all of them.

Carolus Enckell: Komposition / Composition / Sommitelma. 1968. Oil on canvas. 100 x 100. HAM Helsinki Art Museum.
An early abstract painting by Carolus Enckell with a dynamism which makes it constantly fascinating to watch. A film aficionado may notice an affinity with the Stenberg brothers poster for Battleship Potemkin.

The Sara Hildén introduction: "Carolus Enckell is one of the foremost Finnish painters of his generation. The retrospective exhibition in the Sara Hildén Art Museum presents works from the late 1960s to present day."

"The Finnish Swedish-speaking painter Carolus Enckell (b. 1945) is a modernist. The central elements in his expression are colour and light. The starting points for his undemonstrative works is often a space or a landscape. In addition to the immediate act of observation, the work process is governed by thought and planning to produce works that are reduced to pure colours and geometrical forms."

"Stripes have been one of the fundamental themes in Carolus Enckell’s art. The stripes in the paintings have later expanded into vertical and horizontal rectangular fields of colour. The serial variation of a single subject has been a characteristic approach for Enckell."

"Carolus Enckell is interested in a theory of colour that communicates the internal experience of colour and light. He strives to eliminate individuality from his works and to keep himself in the background after the fashion of icon painters."

"Carolus Enckell has been particularly inspired by the history of modernism. He has described his role as a transmitter and arranger. His works are often based on borrowing from art and cultural history, which is the artist’s subtle way of criticising the overestimation of originality in the art world."

"Enckell’s numerous journeys to North Africa, America, the Far East and the Mediterranean area have offered him endless material for his work. He is interested in and has drawn inspiration from architecture and ancient cultures."

"Carolus Enckell studied at the Free Art School in Helsinki under Unto Pusa and Tor Arne. In addition to his career as an artist he is also known for his work as a long-serving teacher and principal of the Free Art School and as the editor-in-chief of the art journal Taide. Enckell was nominated Artist of the Year in 1990, and among other distinctions he has received the Carnegie Art Award (2001) and the Pro Finlandia medal (2009).

Carolus Enckell: Oe. 2005. Oil and wax on aluminium. 190 x 110. Carolus Enckell. Image: Jussi Tiainen © 2016 Kuvasto.
AA: There has been a splendid opportunity to examine the passion for colour in Finnish art in recent high profile exhibitions.

At Amos Anderson Art Museum there is still until next year a wonderful Sigurd Frosterus collection exhibition. Among Frosterus's favourite artists were A. W. Finch, Magnus Enckell, Verner Thomé, and Sigrid Schauman. They were figurative artists, but the predominant interest of Frosterus was colourism.

The Taidesalonki Centenary and the Bäcksbacka Collection exhibition at Helsinki Art Museum was to a large part overlapping with the Frosterus exhibition with many of the same artists, but, of course, different artworks. A major focus even here was colour, and the temporal span was expanded to a hundred years, until the present. Mostly figurative art was on display even here. One of the key artists was Alvar Cawén, also present in a big retrospective Alvar & Ragni Cawén exhibition at Tampere Art Museum.

Even Didrichsen Art Museum contributed in their beautiful 50th anniversary exhibition Colour Liberated: Finnish Art Reformers 1908-1914, interestingly overlapping with the Frosterus and Bäcksbacka tributes.

Carolus Enckell: Eutropia 22.3. 1982. Oil on canvas. 160 x 240. Carolus Enckell. (I do not think this image reflects the original colour particularly well). Image: Jussi Koivunen © 2016 Kuvasto.

Carolus Enckell belongs to the most profound artists of colour in Finnish art. He has practised colour in his art since half a century. He has taught it. He has studied the classic colour theories of Goethe and Albers. He has written about them.

Artists hate classifications. Labels are for the critics and the historians. Carolus Enckell is known as a modernist and a master of abstract art with a geometrical penchant. But his real essence is in his approach to colour. His works are vehicles for a projection of colour which seems to shine from the inside. His art is about an inner light which appears in colours.

Enckell's affinities are in the spiritual tradition of art: from ancient sacred art and mythological imagery till Buddhist abstraction, including Tantrism. He loves Fra Angelico, Piet Mondrian, and Mark Rothko.

His forms are windows, doors, and gateways which take us from the visible to the invisible.

Carolus Enckell: Untitled (Eutro) (1990). Oil on canvas. 120 x 480. Jenny ja Antti Wihurin rahaston kokoelma / Rovaniemen taidemuseo. Image: Arto Liiti © 2016 Kuvasto.

It is rewarding to read the catalogue and to refresh the memory of the artworks. One immediate observation is that size matters. Many of the artworks are big, even five meters long. Studying them at the museum they embrace us, they immerse us into the world of colour spaces. Watching the reduced images in the catalogue we must try to imagine them covering an entire wall.

The Carolus Enckell colours are difficult to reproduce. In Pinx, the history of Finnish art, the colour reproductions in the Carolus Enckell chapter do justice to him, but in this catalogue they do not. They are not terribly wrong, but there is a certain edge of the mysterious glow that is missing.

In reproductions colour surfaces appear simplified. The artworks themselves are usually oil paintings, and examining them we notice texture and patterns. They are alive with the traces of the brushwork.

Last Christmas I celebrated the centenary of The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich at the Russian Museum. A hundred years ago it meant the end of something, "The End of Art" in a serious way. But it also meant the beginning of something, or a return to an ancient tradition of non-figurative art. The work of Carolus Enckell is relevant in reflections like this. For him, abstraction means to focus on meditation and regeneration.

Carolus Enckell: Jag / Minä / Me. 2006-2007. Oil and wax on canvas. 150 x 240. The Pro Artibus Art Foundation. Image: Jussi Tiainen © 2016 Kuvasto.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Eleganssi / Elegance

Virpi Suutari | Finland 2015 | Documentary | 26 min
PC: Euphoria Films Oy. P+D+SC: Virpi Suutari. DP: Jani Kumpulainen. S: Olli Huhtanen. ED: Jussi Rautaniemi. M: Sanna Salmenkallio.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "Elegance is a short film about a group of Finnish men, and the style and elegance of hunting partridge and pheasant. The film’s protagonists are all wealthy men, for whom hunting is a treasured hobby, a passion and a way of life. The film unfolds in three acts on a scenic autumnal field. Meet the three businessmen: Nokia’s former CEO, Jorma Ollila, engineering company Kone Oy’s owner, Antti Herlin, and the charming narrator, Publishing Company Otava’s former CEO, Heikki A. Reenpää. His narration leads the viewer through hunting expeditions, creates the mood and introduces the people. Almost equally important are the gentlemens’ dogs: handsome pointers and setters, whose pedigrees, abilities and hunting prowess ultimately determine whether any birds are caught at all."

AA: I blogged about the delicious Eleganssi at DocPoint.

The Contract / Sopimus

CHRZU | Finland 2015 | Fiction | 7 min
PC: Twisted Films. P: Jupe Louhelainen. D+SC+ED: CHRZU. DP: Ville Muurinen. S: Antti Siniranta. M: Nightsatan. Contact: Jupe Louhelainen,
    In English with Finnish subtitles
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "The drag queen housewife Carlotta Moore is minding her own business in her suburban home. The doorbell rings. The dog goes crazy. It’s the fucking Jehova’s witness at the door! And she’s got a .357 Magnum and an itchy trigger finger! A day in the life of a cocaine peddling cross dresser."

AA: Dedicated to John Waters. Sex, violence, transgression, provocation, scatology, cocaine addiction, masturbation, vomiting, cannibalism, splatter. A drag queen housewife with a one meter long penis has a contract of living together with a dog woman. A bizarre Jehovah's witness appears at the door. A Nicole Kidman ring is rescued from the toilet. The drag queen cancels her contract with the dog woman when she has sex with the Jehovah's witness. Ousted, the dog woman starts to eat the bowels of the Jehovah's witness.

Puuni / My Tree

Salla Myllylä | Finland 2015 | Experimental | 1 min
P+D: Salla Myllylä. Contact: Vesa Puhakka,
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "A hand paints an outline for a tree on a window on a sunny spring day. People and cars pass by in the suburban backyard. The painting advances little by little. Passing of seasons is filmed through the aperture created by painting. The work describes a gesture of mark making and note taking in an everyday environment."

AA: A view from the window to a tree in the courtyard in spring. A hand appears painting the outline of the tree on the window. The entire window is painted. We see the passing of the seasons through the apertures.


Katja Niemi | Finland 2015 | Documentary | 11 min
P+D+SC+ED: Katja Niemi. DP: Eemi Lehto. S: Aleksi Tegel. Contact: Katja Niemi.
    The voice of thousands of women: Heini Vahtera.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "It was like any other midsummer party before. There were a lot of people, everyone had fun, got drunk and naked. But one girl also got raped, by her friend`s fiance."

AA: The voiceover of a woman's account of a group of men and women in a hot tub naked. I still do not know what happened when I was sleeping in the room. In the courtroom it embarrassed me to tell about it. I was afraid if it were my own fault. I was drunk and went to sleep in a cabin. I remember very little of what happened. Two girls entered screaming. Next time I realized my friend's fiancé is having sex with me. My menstrual cup was still inside which is why it felt painful. Two girls asked what was wrong. I told them. The other girl said there had been a similar experience. She claimed I was partly guilty myself and not to spoil the Midsummer feeling. One boy said it's a rape. I instinctively thought it was not a rape. There was something wrong. I was very ashamed. What if it was my fault after all? Why was I so drunk? Why was I carousing naked? I had feelings of being discarded and did not want to summon the police. I was afraid that the police would despise me. I had a feeling of shame and being dirty and worthless, like an animal. That was an epiphany: how it feels to be a worthless animal. It was a new state of mind of which I was not aware of before. "If you take this to court, it will be a two year process, but I did not care any longer, as I realized it will take me years to get over it anyway". For me it was liberating to start the therapy. It was a place where I had worth. It's important that I have the courage to speak up. Every other woman has had the same experience and kept quiet about it.
    The image is one single long take of a close-up of a dead perch being gutted on a plank. Though gutted the perch is still having breathing reflexes. The guts are returned to the perch. Hands of a man and a woman alternate doing the gutting. --- NB Correction 16 Oct 2021 Vouloir, c'est pouvoir: "To correct the last sentence: The hands of a man and a woman do NOT alternate doing the gutting: the man cuts the fish, the woman puts the organs back, "healing" it."

Finnish Midsummer 2169 / Auringonpimennys

Finnish Midsummer 2169 / A Solar Eclipse. The ratman in his cave.

Anssi Kasitonni | Finland 2016 | Animation | 11 min
P+D+SC+DP+S+ED: Anssi Kasitonni. M: Stereo 8000. Contact: Vesa Puhakka,
    In English.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "In the year of 2169 there will be a solar eclipse during Midsummer Eve in Finland. That changes the life of a certain female vampire bat."

AA: A low tech scifi horror puppet animation. We learn some factual information on the solar eclipse during the midsummer in the year 2169. The narrator's voice is matter-of-fact. Nature footage, an indicator in the meadow. There is a dormant vampire bat and a rat man tending the vegetable garden. There are indicator systems. The female vampire bat emerges from her sarcophague in mock sexy, cheesy 1950s scifi Z budget gear. Her lair is full of DIY home video style scifi paraphernalia. The vampire bat observes the sky. She detects the rat man planting pumpkins. There is an irrigation hose.
The bat voice is translated into English via subtitles. The solar eclipse takes place. Darkness falls outside. The vampire bat examines her reflection in the pond. The batwoman enters the ratman's cave. The rat man speks in perfect English and cannot understand a word of the batwoman. The batwoman kisses the ratman. Rock music starts to swell on the soundtrack.

Feed Me, Adults / Ruokkikaa minua, aikuiset

Maira Dobele | Finland 2015 | Documentary | 3 min
PC: Aalto-yliopisto. P: Maira Dobele. D+SC: Maira Dobele. DP: Aarne Tapola. S+ED: Henrik Duncker. Contact: Maira Dobele,
    In English.
    Poem "Adults" by Kārlis Vērdiņš, translation to English: Ieva Lešinska, voice: Robin Ellis.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "Recycling for the poetry: Latvian poem combined with left out footige from directors previous work. Feed me, adults, I no longer remember your names, yet I recognize every feature in your cross faces. For many long years I listened and learned, there is much I could tell you now, yet the spoons keep getting in the way – interrupted mid-word, I swallow it all unsaid, with my mouth half-open, my mouth full of wonders."

AA: A short film response to a poem by Kārlis Vērdiņš. Noise in the evening. Imagery in low definition. Fast edit. A sculpture park. Children, fast montages of lights of the night traffic. Impressions, warm colours, night lights, potato harvest, a farmers' market, children having a break, farm life, children's world.


Inka Matilainen | Finland 2014 | Animation | 8 min
PC: Aalto University. P: Jussi Lehtomäki. D+SC+AN: Inka Matilainen. DP: Tanja Heikkilä. S: Tuukka Nikkilä. ED: Inka Lehti. Contact: Maira Dobele,
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "Novell is a film about the breach between a child’s and an adult’s world and the inevitable change that growth brings told via encounter between a girl and a horse."

AA: A black and white animation. There is a deep thunderous noise in darkness, like that of an elevator. We see the carcass of a foal, hear sounds of a horse. A little, young, luminous, transparent girl appears to examine the carcass. The girl moves very slowly. A crow is crowing. The girl walks a horse towards a man with a pistol. Very slowly. The horse is hesitant. The girl looks depressed. The sound is loud and thunderous. A grave is dug. Snow starts to fall. We notice a bullet hole on the head of the carcass. The girl cuts a lock from the horse's mane. Next to it is the carcass of the foal. The casket with the lock of hair carries the title Novell. There is an atmosphere of melancholy. We are back at the city. There is a long shot of the cityscape. Snow falls.

Zvjerka / The Beast / Peto

Daina O. Pusic | Croatia, Finland 2015 | Fiction | 22 min
PC: Slavica Film / Napafilms Oy. P: Mirta Puhlovski, Annamaria Kapulica. Liisa Juntunen. D+SC: Daina O. Pusic. DP: Arthur Mulhern. S: Toni Teivaala. ED: Arttu Salmi. Contact: Liisa Juntunen,
    In Serbocroatian with English subtitles.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "Vera, a childlike seventy five year old woman, lives with her demented but authoritarian hundred-year-old mother Nada in a large squeaky house in Zagreb. The women have a strained relationship, which is observed and related by the narrator of the story – Vera’s favourite dress. The white dress with yellow flowers tells us of the constant power struggle and intense co-dependence, which defines their relationship. Vera is a sensitive and childlike person, a bit of a teenager who has been frozen in time by her forceful and slightly sadistic mother. However, due to the old woman’s physical and mental weakness Vera has been able to forcefully dominate over her mother. One evening, after a particularly bad fight, a bat flies into Nada’s room and starts to hibernate underneath her bed. Upon discovering it the next day Vera’s first instinct is to get rid of the beast but her mother insists they keep him alive. Vera is told to regularly place a fresh basin of water underneath the animal in order to keep him hydrated and alive. Slowly and with a sense of doom, Vera begins to realise that the longer she keeps the bat alive the stronger and more lucid her mother gets. This new symbiotic relationship, this energy emanating from under her bed gives Nada the strength to return to her forceful abusive self. The two women, fuelled by a complicated mixture of resentment, hate and love, begin an epic struggle the result of which will determine who lives and who dies."

AA: A very old lady, mother Nada, takes a bath, helped by her daughter Vera who is not young, either. Nada cannot control her bowel movement anymore. Disgusted, her daughter opens the window, and a bat flies in. After the arrival of the bat under the bed Nada gets stronger and even resumes her voice, her power of speech. There is a horizontal split screen: the view on the bed and under the bed. Nada resumes smoking, starts to dominate Vera, and talks dirty. Finally Vera gets violent and beats her mother viciously. A macabre saga of a mother and daughter relationship.

Split / Ero

Okku Nuutilainen | Finland 2016 | Experimental | 3 min
P+D: Okku Nuutilainen. Contact: Okku Nuutilainen.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 11
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 5, 2

TFF: "I wish I´d seen my parents kiss."

AA: Split screen black and white home movie compilation. The source looks like 8 mm with scratches, featuring the parents of the director, a vision of them going in their ways in their life,
a life amongst nature. "They did other things instead".

Other Planes of There. Unbelievable Animations Restored by the Academy Film Archive (curated by Mark Toscano)

John Whitney: Permutations

Other Planes of There. Unbelievable Animations Restored by the Academy Film Archive
Curated, introduced, and program notes by Mark Toscano.
Tampere Film Festival (TFF), 11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 6

John Whitney | United States 1968 | Experimental, Animation | 8 min
    Mark Toscano: "An utterly formative computer animation classic, Permutations is an early apotheosis of John Whitney’s deep- and far-reaching ideas about image, motion, and the complementarity of music and visual art."
    AA:  Spinning, swirling, spirals, colour systems, non stop transformations, computer graphics, resembling Whitney's Vertigo Lissajoux patterns in black and white, like an electronic jellyfish, a rhythmic universe, a cosmic dance. IBM grant. Music: Sundaram Balachander (tbc). This film like Penelope Spheeris' Synthesis brings to my mind Erkki Kurenniemi and Spindrift (1966).

Jane Conger Belson Shimane | United States 1957 | Experimental, Animation | 2 min
    Mark Toscano: "One of only two films completed by the former Jane Belson, this short but dense film is a fun, hypnotic, and lively Beat-era mini-masterpiece, full of energy and accompanied by an electronic score by the legendary Henry Jacobs."
    AA: Clearly defined abstract patterns against a black background.

Peter Spoecker / B.Y.M. Productions | United States 1968 | Experimental, Animation | 9 min
    Mark Toscano: "In some ways, this film could be described as a quintessential psychedelic animation, with its radical abstractions and mind-bending visual transformations. But its virtuosic technique and sophisticated conception allow it to rise above the merely “trippy” and become something transcendent."
    AA:  Psychedelic curves, meditations of existence, an adventure into metamorphoses, in black and white.

Primary Stimulus
Robert Russett | United States 1977/80 | Experimental, Animation | 8 min
    Mark Toscano: "As the title suggests, this film is, in some ways, cinema at its essence. An utterly binary black/white, articulated in the kineticism of a rapidly changing set of horizontal lines (which also produce the elementally pulsating sound), creates a tightly wound cinema of stimulus response."
    AA: A highly graphic movie, flicker movie, noise like static, sound frequencies and line density correlating.

James Otis | United States 1981 | Experimental, Animation | 2 min
    Mark Toscano: "Cinematic polyglot James Otis produced a striking group of monochrome computer animations in the early 1980s, each articulating a beautifully refined distillation of movement, form, and space. Gridrose, one of the shortest in the series, is also one of the most bewitchingly simple, as a stylized floral form expands and collapses in and out of great complexity."
    AA: Silent. Extreme abstraction.

Water for Maya
Stan Brakhage | United States 2000 | Experimental, Animation | 4 min
    Mark Toscano: "In tribute to Maya Deren, this late hand-painted film by the absolute master of the form is a poetic study in contrasting, simultaneous planes of image, flowing like liquids at different speeds over an implied landscape."
    AA:  Silent. An incredible movie which looks like every single frame is separately painted. This would merit being transferred to a slow motion version. Yet the fleeting nature of the images is of the essence.

Flesh Flows
Adam Beckett | United States 1974 | Experimental, Animation | 6 min
    Mark Toscano: "Adam Beckett’s virtuosic, metamorphosing line animation, here invoking the erotic and the grotesque, is rendered exponentially more complex as he treats his raw material with his characteristic, utterly transformative optical printing techniques."
    AA:  The sound of a stream gives a flowing sense to this weirdly sexual vision of strange creatures in non stop intercourse. The images metamorphose in a peaceful rhythm, at times appearing in naked human forms, forever changing.

A Film for Log Hill Dogs
Diana Wilson, David Wilson | United States 1974 | Experimental, Animation | 2 min
    Mark Toscano: "The Wilsons’ radical transition from living remotely in the Colorado Rockies to a small apartment in Los Angeles in 1974 serves as inspiration for this beautiful line animation which uses iconic forms and changing spatial relationships to express a first-person conflict pivoting on feelings of confinement and yearning."
    AA:  Silent. Sneaking forms.

Film for Log Hill Dogs: The Log Hill Story
Diana Wilson | United States 1976 | Experimental, Animation | 2 min
    Mark Toscano: "This haunting follow-up to the previous Log Hill film visualizes a lost landscape drawn from dream and memory, elevated to the level of myth by its use of expressive textures, movements, and dissolving forms."
    AA:  Silent. I failed to take notes here.

Hifi Cadets
Lewis Klahr | United States 1989 | Experimental, Animation | 11 min
    Mark Toscano: "In his major series of twelve super 8 films, Tales of the Forgotten Future (1988-91), Lewis Klahr created an incredibly sophisticated collage epic that draws richly on the embedded emotional and psychological histories of the American consciousness. Hifi Cadets, working with themes of longing, disappointment, and the questionable role of the mythic, interweaves the stories of a few characters who, in one way or another, are doing what they need to do to make it through their lives."
    AA:  Screened as a digital file. Falstaff and Prince Hal speech bubbles in type written pieces of paper. DIY approach, cut-out space adventure animation.

Suzan Pitt | United States 1971 | Experimental, Animation | 7 min
    Mark Toscano: "In her early masterpiece, Suzan Pitt created a movingly intimate and dream-like self-portrait of the young artist in the conflicted, prismatic identity of mother, wife, artist, and sexual being."
    AA:  Ultra limited animation in a naivistic mode, intimate scenes of family life, joy of love, a cucumber like a Zeppelin flying across the bedroom.

A Hard Passage
Sky-David (formerly Dennis Pies) | United States 1981 | Experimental, Animation | 9 min
    Mark Toscano: "A breathtakingly beautiful, strangely unsettling animated adaptation of Hermann Hesse’s Der schwere Weg, Sky David’s nearly overwhelmingly gorgeous draughtsmanship pits first-person text against abstracted states of dream consciousness to illustrate an otherwise indescribable inward journey."
    AA:  Abstract visions of highly sensual motifs (organic, fecund, sexual, flowery, vaginal) with a visual approach resembling watercolour. Rorschach patterns, egg shapes, a man's face inside the vagina, inside a red membrane. Music: Ben Stoloff.

The Secret Story
Janie Geiser | United States 1996 | Experimental, Animation | 8 min
    Mark Toscano: "An elliptical but moving and impressionistic narrative is coaxed from the latent poetry of a variety of decaying toy figures. In her inspired use of the emblematic and her ability to conjure so many unexpected emotional resonances, Janie Geiser has created a powerful, mysterious story, the secret of which will perhaps be distinctly unique for each viewer."
    AA:  Photographic imagery plus cut-outs. A multi-layered, multi-material object animation. The patina of time as a means of expression. Old toys. Objects and images damaged by rain. Regression to infantilism as an approach. Fast edits. The sound: rain.

Penelope Spheeris. Restorations by the Academy Film Archive (curated by Mark Toscano)

Penelope Spheeris. Restorations by the Academy Film Archive (curated by Mark Toscano).
Tampere Film Festival (TFF)
Curated, introduced, and program notes written by Mark Toscano.
Prints: 16 mm
11+12 March 2016, Plevna 6

Penelope Spheeris | United States 1968 | Experimental | 8 min
    Mark Toscano: "Synthesis is director Penelope Spheeris’ first film, made in 8mm Kodachrome while she was a student at UCLA. In a seemingly near-future control room devoid of people, various readouts and calculations suggest that humankind is not altogether compatible with the grand scheme of the universe."
    AA: An early instance of cyber cinema, a vision of the computer age and the techno world, one of the pioneering visualizations of a world dominated by information technology, made in the same year when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. This is a voyage of exploration inside a computer. The computer prints out sentences such as "synthesis impossible". The fight of man against machine is not lost. There is an alarm signal. A contemporary Nordic phenomenon is the work of Erkki Kurenniemi, including Spindrift (1966, by Jan Bark and Erkki Kurenniemi). Musique concrète.

Penelope Spheeris | United States 1969 | Experimental | 6 min
    Mark Toscano: "Made in an environment and at a time when frequent and gratuitous images of nude women permeated the work of her male counterparts, director Penelope Spheeris produced this intimate and sensual observation of a woman bathing. The appearance of Spheeris’ credit at the beginning of the film seems to ask the question: how does voyeurism change when we know the voyeur is actually a voyeuse?"
    AA:  A movie of simple observation on the perennial favourite subject of art: a beautiful naked woman taking a bath. It seems that a woman can achieve this even more sensually than a man. Pure joy.

 Penelope Spheeris | United States 1969 | Experimental | 4 min
    Mark Toscano: "Never completely finished during its original production, this snarky comic piece was rediscovered in director Penelope Spheeris’ vaults in 2010 and preserved “as is.” The titular substance plays a key role in determining an outmoded man’s role in a changing society."
    AA: A middle-aged white male dressed in a white shirt and tie has slipped on a piece of shit and lies paralyzed in the gutter. A mini story about the lack of empathy. The score: soul music. I was thinking for a moment about Alfred Hitchcock's Breakdown, with Joseph Cotten as the paralyzed victim.

The National Rehabilitation Center
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1969 | Experimental | 12 min
    Mark Toscano: "Two years before Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park (1971), director Penelope Spheeris takes the McCarran Act to its inevitable next step and shows us—via an early use of mockumentary—what the U.S. might be like if potential subversives were simply locked up en masse before they had a chance to subvert anything."
    AA: A mockumentary about U.S. black insurgents, dissident forces, the Japanese, and probable saboteurs being locked up in concentration camps. 

I Don't Know
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1970 | Experimental | 20 min
    Mark Toscano: "A truly major work, I Don’t Know (1970) observes the relationship between a lesbian and a transgender man who prefers to identify somewhere in between male and female, in an expression of personal ambiguity suggested by the film’s title. This nonfiction film—an unusual, partly staged work of semi-verité—is the first of director Spheeris’ films to fully embrace what would become her characteristic documentary style: probing, intimate, uncompromising and deeply meaningful."
    AA:  A brave early queer documentary featuring a man with breasts and a Lesbian woman living together. Intimate, revealing, humoristic. The score: a French chanson, and a song that sounds like Neil Young.

Hats Off to Hollywood
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1972 | Experimental | 22 min
    Mark Toscano: "Picking up the story first presented in I Don’t Know (1970), Hats Off to Hollywood (1972) brazenly and brilliantly mixes documentary reality with fully staged recreations/reimaginings of episodes in the lives of Jimmy/Jennifer and Dana, a loving, bickering couple who challenge the notion of homonormativity. Drugs, poverty, disease, bigotry and prostitution all figure into this disarmingly candid and often hilarious film, a remarkable work that is the apotheosis of director Spheeris’ early work, and a luminous signpost leading directly to The Decline of Western Civilization (1979-1997)."
    AA: Observations of a scene of outsiders with affinities with Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith) and Andy Warhol, in continuation to I Don't Know. Spheeris has a talent of observation of the Hollywood queer scene. The twin bath is a motif that keeps reappearing. Taboo-breaking footage and talk about syphilis and prostitution. Music: "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Bright Lights, Big City" (Jimmy Reed), slide guitar blues, soul, and fine music that I cannot identify.

No Use Walkin' When You Can Stroll
Penelope Spheeris | United States 1998 | Experimental | 11 min
    Mark Toscano: "One-time carny, bartender, and married 9 times, director Penelope Spheeris’ mother was an uncommon woman. In this sweet, funny, and moving video portrait, Spheeris gives us a vivid glimpse into the richness of her mother’s life and character."
    AA:  Shot on video, the look is that of a television screen. The story of Penelope Spheeris' mother is amazing. Let's hope that she will turn it into a feature film.

An essential contribution to our appreciation of Penelope Spheeris, best known for the Decline of Western Civilization series and Wayne's World. The prints and the colours of all films were good, as was the projection.

Mausoleum / The Mausoleum

Мавзолей. Lauri Randla | Estonia, Finland 2016 | Fiction | 26 min
PC: Aalto University / Exitfilm. P: Maira Dobele, Peeter Urbla. D+SC: Lauri Randla. DP: Peter Salovaara. S: Jorma Kaulanen. ED: Leo Liesvirta.
    Contact: Maira Dobele,
    In Russian with English subtitles.
    C: Matti Onnismaa (Stalin).
    "На сопках Маньчжурии" / "Mantšurian kukkuloilla" / "On the Hills of Manchuria".
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 8
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 2 and 5

TFF: "The Mausoleum is a short story about the pathologist Aleksey Abrikosov who embalmed the body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1924. Abrikosov gets a phone call in the middle of the night just before the 1936 May Day festivities and is informed that there is a fly inside Lenin's sarcophagus. No one knows how to get rid of it as Lenin lies in a sealed micro climate, designed to preserve the God of Communism forever."

AA: A macabre episode from the period of the Terror in the Soviet Union in 1936. A fly has appeared in the Lenin sarcophagus, and with only an ingenious method it can be removed: a diamond drill and a special vacuum cleaner. Stalin himself inspects the result and does not comment on the little cut that has appeared in Lenin's ear. The atmosphere of utter fear and absurd authority is conveyed very effectively.


J. Karelius | Finland 2015 | Experimental, Documentary | 7 min
P+D+M: J. Karelius.
    Contact: J. Karelius.
    Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 8
    11+12 March, 2016, Plevna 2 and 5

TFF: "On the brink of the First World War, the Dadaists made a statement that ”not them, but instead the whole world and its people have gone insane”, which brings forth similar reactions in today’s world. Is the threat of war real? Do the mega-wealthy own virtually everything on the planet, including power? Does art bow down to money and Machiavelli’s princes? DaDa: One of the perpetual tasks of the artist is to create chaos, to confuse fixed views and values, to erase the boundary between good and bad, to stand up to the academic tyranny of being right, to corrupt the current taste and to encourage the revolution of spirit."

AA: A comprehensive summary of the Dada experience. It started a hundred years ago during WWI in Zürich. We learn about Hugo Ball, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and their friends, about Cabaret Voltaire and Lenin staying on the other side of the Spiegelgasse playing chess, about Guillaume Apollinaire who died on the front, about Alfred Jarre. The name came from Russian ("da, da") or French (a rocking horse). The world had gone insane in a cloud of poison gas. Art had been destroyed. Traditional values had led to the catastrophe. The Venus of Milo was given an enema. The movement was in a constant fight with itself, riddled with personal conflicts. Huelsenbeck spread the influence in Germany. The Dada movement has many rightly heirs.

A film not only about the Dada but itself Dada, a collage of superimpositions and impossible associations.