Thursday, June 16, 2016

Peter von Bagh (2016 documentary by Tapio Piirainen)

Peter von Bagh interviewing Chantal Akerman at the Midnight Sun Film Festival morning discussion in Sodankylä, 1991. This image is not from Tapio Piirainen's film.
FI 2016
Ohjaus/Director: Tapio Piirainen
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Arto Kaivanto
Leikkaus/Editing: Jorma Höri
Ääni/Sound: Timo Hintikka
Musiikki/Music: Dmitri Shostakovitsh, Agustin Barrios
Esiintyjät/Cast: Peter von Bagh
Tuotanto/Production: Yleisradio (2016), Prontosaurus Oy (2008–2015)
Tuottaja/Producer: Liselott Forsman
Esityskopio/Print Source: YLE
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP
Kieli/Language: suomi/Finnish, englanti/English, italia/Italian, espanja/Spanish
Tekstitys/Subtitles: englanti/English
68 min
    © 2016 Yleisradio / Finnish Broadcasting Corporation.
    First telecast 16 June 2016 [tonight].
    Featuring: Peter von Bagh, also in lot of new footage shot for the purpose of this film.
    Other interviews made for this film include those with: Simo Näyhä (childhood friend), Lasse Naukkarinen (cinematographer of The Count), Gian Luca Farinelli (Bologna), and Marcela Cassinelli (Buenos Aires).
    Music: the theme from the film Ovod (The Gadfly, SU 1955, directed by Alexander Feinzimmer) played by Dmitri Shostakovich on the piano.
    End credit song: "Nuoruustango" (comp. Kaj Chydenius, lyrics by Anu Kaipainen), the theme from The Count sung by Kiti Neuvonen.
    Finnish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Tapio Piirainen and Liselott Forsman. Introduced by Timo Malmi.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 16 June 2016

Lauri Timonen (MSFF catalog): "Tapio Piirainen’s newly released full-length documentary about Peter von Bagh may be the most comprehensive one of its subject so far. Abundant interview material and treasures from the archives guide us in retracing the journey from the yard of Peter’s first home – the Lapinlahti Mental Hospital, owing to his father’s occupation – to the film screenings in the Oulu of his childhood, from the fan letter addressed to James Mason to the racy and eventful university years in Helsinki; to the shooting and the reception of his feature film The Count, plus his numerous careers as an author, a documentary director, a maker of radio programmes, the editor-in-chief of Filmihullu magazine, and the Artistic Director of the Midnight Sun Film Festival."

"Philosophical deliberations amid the serene nature of the summer place in Sotkamo and the hectic, irresistibly glowing throb of the magic of the seventh art at international film festivals in Bologna and South America provide additional juxtaposing."

"The humorous, intimate, even serious portrait lets the camera closely examine the bookshelves spreading in all directions in the legendary Iso Roobertinkatu den, and the chaotic store room below it, in the middle of which stands – still unopened – a parcel once sent to Chris Marker by Andrei Tarkovsky, ending up along its own routes of logic to Punavuori in Finland."

"The life of the great cinephile was filled with similar correlations where life and cinema journeyed hand in hand, eagerly engaged in a dialogue with each other."

AA: Two tv previews were screened before the feature.

Preview to Tapio Piirainen's Peter von Bagh documentary with Esko Salminen (FI 2016). Esko Salminen, one of the greatest actors in Finland, covers his lifelong friendship with Peter in a few heartfelt minutes. How Peter always greeted him by imitating a nose rubbing routine from his early performances. "He made me feel important. He hated flattery. He made me feel dignified, ten feet tall. He signed a beautiful dedication to a book for me: 'elämän lähetille', [hard to translate, approximately: 'to an envoy of life']. Nobody else expressed the calling of the actor like that. That is what one can try to aspire. I really miss him." [This quote is not verbatim.]

Preview to Tapio Piirainen's Peter von Bagh documentary with Aki Kaurismäki (FI 2016). For Aki, Peter was the one whom one could wake up at three o'clock in the morning with a film quiz question, and he never failed to give the right answer. He was the Balzac of film history and many other fields. When he programmed the Finnish Film Archive that was when I received my meager knowledge about the cinema. I teased him with questions. We invited him to direct the Midnight Sun Film Festival. His life achievement consists of monuments like The Blue Song tv series and book. With figures like him 90% of the Finnish intelligentsia has vanished. [This quote is not verbatim.]

We were in tears watching this first screening of Tapio Piirainen's film which had been eight years in the making. Peter von Bagh's own autobiographical Remembrance covers the period of his childhood and youth in the city of Oulu. This authorized portrait covers Peter's whole life, or much of it. There are big areas missing (book publishing, music, concerts and events... ).

This film starts with Peter's earliest childhood in Helsinki, at Lapinlahti Mental Hospital, where his father was a physician. Peter remembers how a mental patient saved him from drowning in a pool. His mother's grave is nearby at Lapinlahti Cemetery. She died early of an illness for which there was no cure then. Simo Näyhä remembers that in Oulu Peter liked to visit a neighbouring home in which there was a beautiful mother. He senses in a distant reverence for a beautiful figure in the clouds a connection to Peter's profound love of the cinema.

Peter insists that the biggest achievement of his life was running film societies in Oulu since age 16. Late in life he still has fond memories of the films screened such as The Lavender Hill Mob, Stagecoach, La Kermesse héroïque, Due soldi di speranza...

Back in Helsinki, studying at the university, Peter switched from medicine to literature, but soon his main occupation was writing about the cinema, prominently for the Ylioppilaslehti [The Student Journal] which was then experiencing a golden age. He "threw his consciousness to the wall" every week. The reviews were passionate, polemical, and aggressive. He lambasted Finnish films mercilessly, including those by Finnish New Wave artists like Eino Ruutsalo and Maunu Kurkvaara, singled out by Tapio Piirainen here. Ruutsalo never greeted Peter again. In his recent interviews Peter laments the state of film criticism today.

There were great commercial expectations for Peter's first and only feature fiction film Kreivi (The Count, 1971), but it was a flop at the box office, and as many critics butchered it Peter now got a taste of his own medicine. As I remember, having seen it then, the film was felt to be too weird by the general audience, and film cultural circles were disappointed by its lowbrow dimension and the grating performance of "The Count" Lindgren playing himself in the main role. The film was difficult to like at first sight and much better the second time with no false expectations. Anyway that was the end of Peter's career in fiction.

Peter's career as a director of television features began. He loved popular music artists and found in their work "a history of emotions and a secret memory of the nation". He covered in many features and series the century of Finnish popular music in the film age and interviewed everybody who was still alive. "Tapsa [Tapio Rautavaara] was the closest for me". "He was like Sillanpää, each word was pregnant".

His project grew into "discovering Finland". He states that he was the son of an immigrant: his father escaped the Russian Revolution from St. Petersburg to Finland, and that had something to do with the fact that "I turned into a hurraa-suomalainen (the jingoist Finn)."

Simultaneously, the project was a personal quest in search of lost time. "My stepmother burned all my childhood things, even my stamp collection". The pressure for reconstruction was personal. "My own childhood, its circumstantial evidence, was gone". Peter interviewed hundreds of people. The first great summing-up of that project was the film Vuosi 1952 (The Year 1952). The project grew during the decades, culminating in the Sininen laulu / The Blue Song series and book. By then many of the key witnesses Peter had interviewed over the years were no longer alive. Peter came to realize the dearth of illuminating vintage documentation. "Of Eino Leino and Juhani Aho [who are among the greatest Finnish writers] there is no film footage. Only their burials were filmed".

Films Bigger Than Life was one of Peter's most famous achievements, a radio series (100 films, each covered in a feature of one hour), also edited as two huge books. Peter takes us to his film library, the best private film library in the country. He loves books. He writes notes in them, and creates an index of his own for each. Lots of things lie dormant, and years later they are activated. Virtual knowledge is superficial. "I interviewed a big range of writers. Many of them had started by reading the books of the village library from the beginning to the end. Duration is essential. A book takes its time. A long attention span is vanishing today". We witness Peter's appearances at book fairs. He was excellent there in the twin roles of an interviewer and an interviewee.

There is a section on Midnight Sun Film Festival, the timelessness of the encounters in the long run: in the Sodankylä perspective we have Jacques Demy, Milos Forman and Francis Ford Coppola meeting in a common heaven of world (film) history. The audience creates the festival, the atmosphere. The second year was one of the most miraculous. We see footage of Aki Kaurismäki and Peter von Bagh interviewing each other at a morning discussion. Peter introduces Helsinki Forever at his 70th birthday open air screening at Helsinki Festival at the Citizen's Square in front of the Helsinki Music Center. Does a city have a soul? That is the question.

We come to Bologna. The selection of Peter as artistic director of Il Cinema Ritrovato was made in the lobby of Cinema Orion in Helsinki. Gian Luca Farinelli tells us why, and we see footage from Bologna. Marcela Cassinelli talks about "Peter's heaven" in Buenos Aires.

We visit the creative chaos of the Nosferatu company's production office when everything is being packed for a move.

Peter's private life was private. It was essential and indispensable, also the fact that it was separate from public life. In this movie he is candid about the fact that his family (his wife, children, and grandchildren) raised him. "I would not have been at home as a fiction film or theatre director", Peter confesses, because he felt too out of touch with life (= the daily fabric of life), "life" meaning approximately the same thing as the Russian expression byt, a keyword in the Chekhov tradition. Chekhov was Peter's favourite writer.

"I resigned from the church during the Salama trials" (the last blasphemy trials in Finland took place against the writer Hannu Salama in the 1960s). Peter confesses that he has no connection to religion. But he has understood that in his films, however, there is a religious connection, including in his Mikko Niskanen series An Artist on His Way to Become a Human Being. He sees an affinity in his films with the ceremony of the funeral. They are about remembering and spiritual resurrection. "In the end, life will overcome".

About death: "There is no eternal life." "Many messages will remain". We see footage from our memorial event for Peter von Bagh at Cinema Orion. It had been scheduled as a tribute for Il Cinema Ritrovato, to be opened by Peter.

Peter von Bagh was in combat with cancer for 20 years, but he refused the role of victim. Instead, he insisted on working to the end. Work was his best medicine. His appearance changed dramatically, but that final face is not how I remember him. For me Peter's last years were more and more about a triumph of the spirit.


Tapio Piirainen ja Peter von Bagh

Peter von Bagh ja kuvaaja Arto Kaivanto
Tapio Piiraisen dokumentti Peter von Bagh saa ensi-iltansa torstaina 16.6. klo 21 Yle Teemalla ja samaan aikaan Sodankylän elokuvajuhlilla.
Peter von Bagh -dokumentin ohjaaja Tapio Piirainen oli yllättynyt, kun Peter pyysi häntä ohjaamaan itsestään kertovan dokumentin. Peterin luottokuvaaja Arto Kaivanto oli vinkannut tälle Tapiosta.
”Oli yllätys, että he pyysivät minua. He ilmeisesti ajattelivat, että meillä Petterin kanssa sujuisi homma mutkitta. Olen eräänlainen cinefiili itsekin. Harrastan elokuvaklassikoita, mutta Petteriin verrattuna melko vaatimattomalla tasolla”, Piirainen sanoo.
”Sanoin useampaan kertaan, että dokumentti ei ole minun alani, mutta se ei Petteriä haitannut”, fiktio-ohjaajana uransa luonut Piirainen tarkentaa.
Kaivanto ja Piirainen kuvasivat dokumenttia hiljalleen kuuden vuoden ajan, materiaalia kertyi runsaasti niin koti- kuin ulkomailtakin. Dokumentissa reissataan Petterin matkassa mm. Bolognaan, jonne hänet pyydettiin paikallisen Il Cinema Ritrovato -filmifestivaalin taiteelliseksi johtajaksi.
Von Baghin maine maailmalla oli vailla vertaa, minkä myös Piirainen pääsi todistamaan.
"Petterin kansainväliset kontaktit olivat ihan ainutlaatuiset. Hän oli mm. Cannesin juryssä ja Bolognan elokuvafestivaalin taiteellisena johtajana. Hänellä oli yhteydet Martin Scorseseen, hän oli tavannut Nicholas Rayn, Alfred Hitchcockin, Fritz Langin, Dreyerin, Bressonin ja niin edelleen”, Piirainen luettelee.

Petteri ei pysähtynyt koskaan

Piiraiselle dokumentin teko oli hyvin mielekästä. Hän oppi sen kautta syventämään ymmärrystään dokumenttien teosta alan kirkkaimman ammattilaisen kautta.
Jos on neljä työtä kesken, eikä tiedä, miten edetä, ota viides.
”Olennaisin osa oli tietysti oppia tuntemaan läheisesti Petteri ja hänen ajatusmaailmansa. Hän ei pysähtynyt koskaan. Jos on neljä työtä kesken, eikä tiedä, miten edetä, ota viides, oli yksi hänen kantavista ajatuksistaan.”
Peterille oli tärkeää, että dokumentissa ei kuvata häntä arkisten asioiden, kuten kotitöiden tai vapaa-ajan vieton, äärellä vaan keskitytään hänen työhönsä. Perheensä von Bagh piti tiukasti poissa kameroiden edestä, myös tässä dokumentissa.
”Perhe oli hänelle yksityisasia, mutta dokumentissa hän puhuu perheen ja lastenlasten merkityksestä avoimemmin kuin koskaan aiemmin”.
Tapio Piiraisen dokumentti Peter von Bagh saa ensi-iltansa Teemalla torstaina 16.6. klo 21 ja samaan aikaan Sodankylän elokuvajuhlilla.

Peter von Bagh

Kuvaaja Arto Kaivanto ja ohjaaja Tapio Piirainen tallensivat vuosina 2008–2014 professori Peter von Baghin elämää hänen kuolemaansa saakka. Joskus pieniä, joskus suuria hetkiä.
torstai 16.6. klo 21.00

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