Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Tarnished Angels

Douglas Sirk: The Tarnished Angels (US 1957). Robert Stack (Roger Shumann), Jack Carson (Jiggs), Dorothy Malone (LaVerne Shumann), Rock Hudson (Burke Devlin), in front Chris Olsen (the son Jack Shumann).

Douglas Sirk: The Tarnished Angels (US 1957). Jack Carson (Jiggs), Robert Stack (Roger Shumann), Dorothy Malone (LaVerne Shumann), Rock Hudson (Burke Devlin).

Paholaisen enkelit / Svarta änglar / Ángeles sin brillo. 
    US © 1957 Universal Pictures. PC: Universal International Pictures. P: Albert Zugsmith. 
    D: Douglas Sirk. SC: George Zuckerman – based on the novel Pylon (1935) by William Faulkner. DP: Irving Glassberg – 35 mm – b&w – CinemaScope 2,35:1. Special photography: Clifford Stine. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Alfred Sweeney. Set dec: Oliver Emett, Russel A. Gausman. Cost: Bill Thomas. Makeup: Bud Westmore. M: Frank Skinner. M supervisor: Joseph Gershenson. Flute: Ethmer Roten. Stock music: Henry Mancini, Herman Stein. "Old Folks at Home" (Stephen Foster). S: Leslie I. Carey, Corson Jowett. ED: Russell F. Schoengarth. 
    Loc: San Diego (California). 
    Studio: Universal Studios (Universal City).
    C: Rock Hudson (Burke Devlin), Robert Stack (Roger Shumann), Dorothy Malone (LaVerne Shumann), Jack Carson (Jiggs), Robert Middleton (Matt Ord), Alan Reed (Colonel Fineman), Alexander Lockwood (Sam Hagood), Chris Olsen / Christopher Olsen (Jack Shumann), Robert J. Wilke (Hank), Troy Donahue (Frank Burnham), Betty Utey (dancing girl).
    Helsinki premiere: 30.5.1958, distributor: Oy Filmiseppo – telecast 1973: MTV1, 1992: TV3, 2000: YLE TV1, 23.7.2006: YLE TV2 – VET 48639 – K16 – 2500 m / 91 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 28 Sep 2016.

Revisited Douglas Sirk's favourite film which I had seen only on tv 43 years ago.

I have not read William Faulkner's novel Pylon but The Tarnished Angels feels like an adaptation faithful to the spirit of Faulkner. It is a "lost generation" tale with affinities with Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

In the cinema The Tarnished Angels can be compared with flying movies by William A. Wellman (Wings) and Howard Hawks (The Dawn Patrol). Those were WWI movies directly; also The Tarnished Angels is one, albeit indirectly.

The Tarnished Angels is a Great Depression era story set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. There is a chaotic joy of celebration with an undercurrent of desperation. Because the director is German I was also thinking about affinities with Weimar cinema, its obsession with the fairground / circus / variety world, and I was even thinking about Siegfried Kracauer's analysis of major Weimar motifs such as "the circle as a symbol of chaos". There are the ferris wheels and the carousels and the circle of the daredevil pilots around the three pylons, with outer circles and inner circles. And the entire lifestyle which may turn into a vicious circle.

Douglas Sirk was a WWI veteran, having served in the German Navy (Seekadett bei der Reichsmarine), himself one of the "lost generation". This story is profoundly personal, deeply felt especially in the performance of Robert Stack as the air force veteran Roger Shumann. Roger only feels at home in the air. He is lost on the ground.

For the second time Sirk worked with the producer Albert Zugsmith with whom he made his two best films, Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels. And again he has the same trio of actors, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, and Rock Hudson. For the last time Sirk worked with Hudson, an actor whose scope had been revealed by him. The raw nerve of Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone is balanced by the somewhat wooden but reliable presence of Hudson. The chemistry is powerful between the three. The alcoholic ace journalist Burke Devlin (Hudson) enters the life of the two flying desperadoes, Roger and LaVerne Shumann, in search of a scoop, even a scandalous one. But Jack, the little son of Roger and LaVerne, wakes the better angels of Burke's nature, and he changes into their friend and helper.

The action scenes are well directed. The entire cinematography by Irving Glassberg is marvellous in black and white and scope. Sirk's mise-en-scène is at its most exciting in this film. There is a rewarding feeling for the spectator that in this movie Sirk wants to give us his very best.

A mostly good looking, much used print.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interlude (1957)

Salzburgin rakastavaiset / Sista ackordet / September-intermezzo. US © 1957 Universal Pictures Co., Inc. PC: Universal International Pictures Co., Inc. P: Ross Hunter. D: Douglas Sirk. SC: Daniel Fuchs, Franklin Coen – adaptation: Inez Cocke – based on the screenplay When Tomorrow Comes (1939) by Dwight Taylor  – based on the unpublished story ”A Modern Cinderella” by James M. Cain. DP: William H. Daniels – Technicolor – CinemaScope 2,35:1. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Robert Emmet Smith / Robert E. Smith. Cost: Jay A. Morley, Jr. Makeup: Bud Westmore. M: Frank Skinner. M dir: Joseph Gershenson. Flute: Ethmer Roten. Song: “Interlude” (comp. Frank Skinner, lyr. Paul Francis Webster) perf. The McQuire Sisters.
    Music: Symphony no. 41 in C (Jupiter Symphony, KV 551), Symphony no. 36 in C (Linzer Symphony, KV 425) and other selections by W. A. Mozart; Symphony no. 1 in C Minor, op. 68 by Johannes Brahms; Symphony no. 3 in E flat (Eroica Symphony ) and Piano Sonata no. 2 in C-sharp Minor ("Moonlight Sonata") by Ludwig von Beethoven; Symphony no. 4 in D Minor by Robert Schumann; The overture from the opera Tannhauser by Richard Wagner; Consolation No. 3 by Franz Liszt.
    S: Leslie I. Carey – mono (Westrex Recording System). ED: Russell F. Schoengarth. Technicolor consultant: William Fritzsche. Rossano Brazzi's piano performances and advisor: Wolfgang Edward Rebner.
    Shot entirely on location in Munich, Germany at the Hercules Hall, Konigsplatz, Bernried Castle, Schleissheim Castle, Starnberger See and Amerika Haus (built in 1935 as the Nazi party headquarters), and in Salzburg, Austria at Geburthaus, Mozart’s birthplace. Interiors were shot at the Geiselgasteig Studios in Munich.
    C: June Allyson (Helen Banning), Rossano Brazzi (Tonio Fischer), Marianne Koch / Marianne Cook (Reni Fischer), Françoise Rosay (Countess Irena Reinhart), Keith Andes (Dr. Morley Dwyer), Frances Bergen (Gertrude Kirk), Lisa Helwig (housekeeper), Herman Schwedt (Henig), Anthony Tripoli (Dr. Smith), John Stein (Dr. Stein), Jane Wyatt (Prue Stubbins).
    Helsinki premiere: 27.9.1957 Elysee, distributor: Oy Filmiseppo – tv: 4.10.1992 TV3 – VET 47293 – K12 – 2450 m / 90 min
    A previous film adaptation: Huomispäivä on meidän... (When Tomorrow Comes, US 1939), D: John M. Stahl, C: Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer.
    A 35 mm print, dansk tekst, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 27 Sep 2016.

Interlude is a well made entertainment film with good production values. Main assets include beautiful location shooting in sunny Munich, Bavaria, and Salzburg. That asset is so strong that the film has travelogue value. Another asset is the magnificent score with symphonical works by Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, and Wagner, and solo piano works by Liszt and Beethoven.

The story follows the classical narrative formula true to convention, even including the final demand: "Take me home". The performances are professional. Interlude is the coming of age story of Helen Banning, and June Allyson plays her role of "an American abroad" well ("I'm an ordinary girl"). There are two rivals to Helen's attentions. Unfortunately, the male performances are uninspired. Rossano Brazzi is stiff as the conductor Tonio Fischer, and so is Keith Andes as the doctor Morley Dwyer. Douglas Sirk belongs to the directors who can elicit interesting performances from wooden actors, but here he was not inspired enough.

Richard Brody has written that in Interlude Sirk takes the opportunity to film music itself, and it is true that there is real passion in the sequences where music is being played. Brody singles out the interesting camera movement at the Munich Concert Hall where Schumann is being played, and he compares the approach with Straub and Huillet. Memorable are also the solo piano sequences where Tonio plays Liszt's Consolation and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to his wife whose face we see reflected on the lid of the grand piano. All music in Interlude is meaningful.

Interlude is a sunshine film with one storm sequence: when Tonio takes Helen to picnic a thunderstorm breaks out, and they take shelter in Tonio's summer house across the lake. Storms are important turning-points in Sirk's films (Summer Storm). The inevitable happens, but Tonio has not told Helen that he is married.

Next morning Helen is surprised to meet Reni, Ms. Tonio Fischer. Marianne Koch's performance as the mentally unbalanced Toni is subtle and convincing. "Don't take him away from me" is Toni's plea to Helen. Françoise Rosay, the veteran of the opera, the stage and the screen who had started before WWI (including in Les Vampires) and who was Mrs. Jacques Feyder, offers a performance of gravity as Countess Irena Reinhart, Reni's aunt. "Be selfish", is Irena's surprising advice to Helen. "There is no Reni anymore". Sirk has taken good care of the psychologically most delicate dimension of the story, but there is not enough passion in the main triangle itself.

The visually most powerful scene is Reni's suicide attempt. It has been foreshadowed by a sunny sequence at Lake Starnberg historically known as the site where the dead body of Ludwig II of Bavaria was found. We see Reni's empty bed, the wind blowing in the curtains of the open window, and Reni wandering like a ghost towards the lake at night. Helen rescues her in the nick of time and is almost dragged to the lake herself by Reni.

An enjoyable print with a pleasantly saturated Technicolor look.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Emily Dickinson: "The Soul selects her own Society" (a poem)

Jenny Lind in La sonnambula. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Emily Dickinson

The Soul selects her own Society
Then – shuts the Door –
To her divine Majority –
Present no more –

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat

I've known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone –

[303] ca. 1862

Valitsee sielu seuransa
ja sulkeutuu,
sen ylhäisyyteen tunkeudu
ei enää muu,

ei liiku, vaikka vaunut ovat
ei liiku, vaikka keisari on

laajasta kansasta vain yhden
Kivenä holvit huomion jo

Finnish translation by Helvi Juvonen (1959)

A Quiet Passion

Belgium, Great Britain
Director: Terence Davies
Language: English126 min
Rating: K7
Distribution: NonStop Entertainment
Print source: NonStop Entertainment
Love & Anarchy. Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
Theme: Life in the Arts
First screened: 17.9.2016 at 18:30 Kino Sheryl

Andrew Pulver quoted in the HIFF catalog: "(I)n 2015 Terence Davies released Sunset Song, his expansive adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of Scottish hill-farm life; now, early in 2016, another film has emerged: a biopic of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886 after a lifetime of respectable frustration. On the face of it, the two couldn’t be more different: the former revels in its sweeping landscapes and full-blooded screaming matches, while the latter is a resolutely-controlled miniature, barely setting foot outside the Dickinson house in Amherst, Massachusetts."

"For all that, A Quiet Passion sees Davies returning again to some familiar themes. His Dickinson – superbly played with a sort of restless passivity by Cynthia Nixon – is, like Sunset Song’s Chris Guthrie, a figure trapped by history and circumstance, desperate to find an outlet for the overwhelming emotions (…)."

"After a long period in the wilderness, A Quiet Passion is Davies’ third feature (…). We should be relieved that there’s no diminution of powers: rather, the opposite, in that Davies appears to be getting better every time."
- Andrew Pulver, The Guardian

AA: As different as Terence Davies's two new films seem, there are similarities. Both are period films. Both feature a female protagonist, and the story is about her struggle for a life of dignity. Both take place in an atmosphere of strict Protestant faith. Both are powerfully visual and image-driven.

Sunset Song is shot by Michael McDonough, based on splendid landscape cinematography belonging to the "landscape as soulscape" tradition. A Quiet Passion, a chamber play, is based on a totally opposite approach by Davies's trusted cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister: a spare, ascetic, intensive interior cinematography with an affinity with painters such as Vilhelm Hammershøi. As for cinema, aspects of Carl Th. Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman come to mind. And "die Konstitution der Innerlichkeit" discussed by Theodor W. Adorno in his first book, Kierkegaard: Konstruktion des Ästhetischen. For authentic interiors the film crew had access to the Emily Dickinson Museum at Amherst in Massachusetts.

The transcendence of music is essential in the evolution of Emily Dickinson. In his Helsinki masterclass Terence Davies told us that his research had proved that "Come per me sereno" from Vincente Bellini's La sonnambula (which we hear in the opera house sequence of the film) belonged to Jenny Lind's legendary American tour in 1850-1852.

For me, A Quiet Passion is a film about a poet's search for a higher level, transcendence, the beyond. The first attempt is a religious one which fails because of the church's ossified and limited stance. The second pathway is art, music, whose grandeur wakes in Emily something that nothing can stop. Her love is impossible because her spirit is too great for ordinary life. But she finds a way to express that grandeur in poetry.

Cynthia Nixon may be best known as Miranda, one of the four protagonists in Sex and the City. But she is a versatile actress with a long career, and now she is fully convincing in the challenging role of Emily Dickinson. It is a story of a disappointment in life and triumph in art. Emily the woman is not always nice. Emily is like Baudelaire's albatross, clumsy at land although she flies magnificently in the air. In this role, not based on external beauty, Cynthia Nixon projects a great power of personality.

Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets in the history of literature. In translation in Finnish she is not as prominent as she would deserve, although there are great translations of her poems in Finnish, including ones by Helvi Juvonen, her Finnish soul sister.

"Time heals" is a proverb that Emily Dickinson would never accept. Her wounds never healed, but much was sublimated into great poetry. Much of which is heard in this distinguished film.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Sunset Song (2015)

    Great Britain, Luxembourg
    Director: Terence Davies
    Language: English
    135 min
    Distribution: Fortissimo Films
    Print source: Fortissimo Films
Theme: Impossible Girls
Love & Anarchy, 29th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF)
First screened 16 Sep 2016 at 20.45 Kinopalatsi 2

Mark Kermode quoted in the HIFF catalogue: "(M)many elements from Grassic Gibbon’s novel (…) resonate with the autobiographical themes explored in (…) Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. There is the abusive father, brilliantly played by Peter Mullan, who breathes both fury and pathos into the role of John Guthrie, a turn-of-the-century farming patriarch torn between the anger of devotion (he sings hymns while harvesting) and the demons of violence and lust (…). There is the yearning female voice, Agyness Deyn providing internal monologue narration for Chris, who is torn between the beauty of the ancient Scottish land on which she toils, and the “sharp, clean and true” English words of an education that may yet take her away from all this."

"Most importantly, there is song, ringing out through the natural rustle of wind and bird and harvest, threatening to transform this drama into a musical (…)."

"What sings clearest, however, is Michael McDonough’s ravishing cinematography, a blend of 65 mm celluloid stock and resiliently responsive digital that takes us from the (…) candlelit interiors through glowing fields of gold and green and up into cloudy skies (…)." - Mark Kermode, The Guardian

AA: After the personal Liverpool documentary Of Time and the City (2008) there has been a comeback for Terence Davies with The Deep Blue Sea (2011), Sunset Song (2015), and A Quiet Passion (2016). The newest two films are very different, yet they share certain features: both are coming-of-age stories of young women of an independent spirit who fight for their dignity. In both, there is a background of Protestant Puritanism.

Sunset Song is based on a novel from 1932 by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, whose books have not been translated into Finnish. Sunset Song is a coming of age story of young Chris[tine] Guthrie facing the harshness of the nature and the brutality of her father John. She gets married with a tender young farmer, Ewan, but the Great War breaks out, and Ewan returns home as a brutal monster not unlike Christine's father, and later he is later executed by firing squad as a deserter. Kevin Guthrie [it's confusing with the names of the actors and the characters, isn't it] portrays the terrible transformation of Ewan memorably.

The magnificent outdoors cinematography by Michael McDonough has been conducted on 65 mm film. The interiors have been shot in digital. The landscapes look magnificent, and it is no wonder that Sunset Song has been screened in IMAX theatres. A point of comparison might be David Lean, including Ryan's Daughter. I interviewed Terence Davies in the Helsinki International Film Festival masterclass, and Davies reported that Sunset Song was produced on a low budget. It certainly does not look like it. Sunset Song is a feast of sublime landscapes.

The performances are fine. Agyness Deyn embraces with conviction the challenge to portray Christine, the coming of age of a young girl, her growing up to a woman and a mother, protecting her child, and protecting herself against a husband turned violent. Peter Mullan is powerful as the evil father. There are predecessors to such figures in Davies's work. I was also thinking about a recent viewing of William Wyler's A House Divided with Walter Huston as a tyrant father, dangerous to everybody in his circle.

The language is sometimes hard to understand. It is essential that the characters speak Scottish, but I confess that I for one would benefit of subtitles - even in English.

In these years we remember the centenary of the First World War. The brutalization of Ewan is relevant to a contemporary understanding of the psychological impact of war trauma. We now know more than people did at the time. Also in Finland we are still coming to terms with our wars of the last century. During this festival is also screened Timo Korhonen's new documentary Sodan murtamat [Broken by the War]. Fathers came home, and how they had changed. There was sometimes a Jekyll / Hyde experience with veterans. In the court-martial and execution of Ewan I was thinking about King & Country, a favourite WWI film of mine. Ewan is not a coward. But sometimes too much is too much.

Christine looks fragile, but there is a survivor spirit in her, what we in Finland call sisu (stamina, endurance, perseverance). She is a Scottish counterpart to our Finnish Loviisa, the mistress of the Niskavuori farm, in Hella Wuolijoki's Niskavuori Saga. When men are broken they will carry on.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Out 1 (2015 digitally restored edition)

Out 1. Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud).

Out 1: Noli me tangere. FR 1971. General theatrical release: 2015. PC:  Sunchild Productions. Co-production: Les Films du Losange. Distribution (2015): Carlotta Films. P: Stéphane Tchalgadjieff, Danièle Gégauff, Gérard Vaugeois. D: Jacques Rivette. Assistant directors: Suzanne Schiffman, Jean-François Stévenin. SC: Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman. DP: Pierre-William Glenn; assistant camera: Dominique Chapuis – negative: 16 mm – colour and b&w – 1,37 or 1,66 – digitally restored: 2015 – release: 35 mm or 2K DCP. S: René-Jean Bouyer; boom operator: Michel Laurent; sound mixer: Bernard Aubouy – mono. ED: Nicole Lubtschansky, Carole Marquand. Continuity: Lydie Mahias. Loc: Pariisi.
    C: Michèle Moretti (Lili), Hermine Karagheuz (Marie), Karen Puig (Elaine), Pierre Baillot (Quentin), Marcel Bozonnet (Nicolas / Arsenal / Papa / Théo), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Colin), Michel Lonsdale (Thomas), Sylvain Corthay (Achille), Edwine Moatti (Béatrice), Bernadette Onfroy (Bergamotte), Monique Clément (Faune), Juliet Berto (Frédérique), Gérard Martin (un faux célibataire), Gilette Barbier (la logeuse de Colin), Jean Pierre Bastid, Urbain Dia Mokouri and Jacques Prayer (trois truands), Michel Berto (Honeymoon), Michel Delahaye (un ethnologue), Bernard Eisenschitz (un pornographe), Pierre Cottrell (un pornographe), André Julien (le brocanteur), Brigitte Roüan (Miss Blandish), Françoise Fabian (Lucie), Éric Rohmer (le balzacien), Christian de Tillière (le noctambule), Christiane Corthay (Rose), Patrick Hec (Léonard), Bulle Ogier (Pauline / Emilie), René Biaggi (Chaussette), Barbet Schroeder (Gian-Reto), Jean-François Stévenin (Marlon), Bernadette Lafont (Sarah), Marc Chapiteau (a football player), Alain Libolt (Renaud), Jérôme Richard (Martin), Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (Étienne), Ode Bitton (Iris), Jean Bouise (Warok), Louis Julien (Max), Marie-Paule André (une amie de Nicolas), Mathieu Schiffman (un jeune garçon ), Lorraine Santoni (une demoiselle à lunettes), Michèle Khan (la minette), Stéphane Tchalgadjieff (an envoy of Lorenzo), Michel Chanderli (a villain), Guillaume Schiffman (the child in the empty boutique), Jean-Claude Valezy (a villain).
    Not released in Finland – workprint 1971: 760 min – release version: 749 min = 12 h 29 min
    1 - De Lili à Thomas (86')
    2 - De Thomas à Frédérique (104')
    3 - De Frédérique à Sarah (105')
    4 - De Sarah à Colin (103')
    5 - De Colin à Pauline (87')
    6 - De Pauline à Émilie (98')
    7 - De Émilie à Lucie (95')
    8 - De Lucie à Marie (71')
    2K DCP with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jacques Rivette in memoriam / Carte blanche à Satu Laaksonen), during four days (in two screenings each at 17 and 19 pm): 12 Sep, 13 Sep, 14 Sep, and 15 Sep, 2016.

Out 1. Thomas (Michel Lonsdale) travels to Normandy to invite Sarah (Bernadette Lafont) to join his theater group rehearsing Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus.

Out 1. The Balzac specialist (Eric Rohmer) gives a lecture to Colin about Histoire des Treize.
Out 1. Behind Moulin Rouge Frédérique (Juliet Berto) tries to blackmail Lucie (Françoise Fabian) with letters stolen from her husband Etienne.

Out 1. The last adventure of Frédérique.
Out 1. The last image of the movie. Marie (Hermine Karagheuz) in front of a Greek goddess (Athena?) in Paris. Still trying to find Renaud who stole a million francs from Quentin in their theatre group rehearsal of Seven Against Thebes.

I saw for the first time the complete 12½ hour Out 1. I had seen in the 1980s the much shorter Out 1: Spectre version at Arsenal in West Berlin. I do not remember that version clearly, but I find Jonathan Rosenbaum's claim plausible: the long version is much easier to watch.

There are the two theater groups, both rehearsing a play by Aeschylus (Seven Against Thebes and Prometheus Bound), one led by Lili (Michèle Moretti) and the other by Thomas (Michel Lonsdale). There are also two outcasts. Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a beggar, pretending to be deaf and harassing café patrons with his out-of-tune harmonica until they pay to get rid of him. Frédérique (Juliet Berto) is a small time thief.

A central location is L'Angle du hasard, a boutique owned by a woman (Bulle Ogier) called Emilie at home and Pauline at the boutique. There are many hangers-on but the boutique does not seem to make sense as a business. Apparently Emilie is well off and able to run the boutique nevertheless.

Another central location is the Obade, the seaside retreat of Emilie and her husband Igor (unseen, lost since half a year, but announcing his return at the finale) in Normandy by the Atlantic Ocean.

The outsiders, Colin and Frédérique, independently start to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of a conspiracy of "The Thirteen", based on vague references to Honoré de Balzac and Lewis Carroll (which give clues to Colin) and stolen letters (Frédérique's evidence). They are laughed out, but in the finale it turns out that such a secret society has indeed existed, although it has not been a matter of gravity. Members of The Thirteen include Emilie and Igor (unseen), Etienne (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) and Lucie (Françoise Fabian), Georges (unseen), Lili, Marie (Hermine Karagheuz), Pierre (unseen), Sarah (Bernadette Lafont), Thomas, and Warok (Jean Bouise). In the finale it turns out that the two theater groups once were one.

Colin turns truly crazy, but, cured of his conspiracy theories, regains his sanity. Meanwhile, Frédérique the small time thief gets involved with a big time thief, Renaud (Alain Libolt) who has stolen a million francs from Quentin (Pierre Baillot) of the Seven Against Thebes group and who is the object of love of a friend of Frédérique, a forlorn gay man called Honeymoon. When Renaud is about to participate in armed robbery Frédérique tries to warn him but gets shot by Renaud.

Out 1 belongs to the large format films of Jacques Rivette and to the great tradition of French film serials. There is a nominal plot structure in Out 1, but it has aptly been called un film-fleuve. It starts and ends abruptly, and could go on forever. Out 1 is about many things, and one of them is the stream of contemporary life. The eccentric story gives us an excuse to observe urban life in Paris, the contrast to which is provided by the timeless sky and ocean in Normandy. Although Out 1 is based on improvisation the cinematography by Pierre-William Glenn is excellent and professional. The mise-en-scène conducted via the long take and moving camera approach is engaging. An exciting feature of the Louis Feuillade serials was that they were shot on location, and the combination of the documentary quality of the photography and the crazy and fantastic character of the narrative was something that fascinated surrealists. A similar combination is at play in Out 1.

Out 1 is a vision of a great confusion, of being lost, and trying to make sense of life via ancient plays. With Aeschylus we return to the very beginning of classic drama. Seven Against Thebes is about the fight between the children of Oedipus. Prometheus Bound is about the hero who stole the fire from heaven. The theatre group rehearsals have aspects of primal therapy and meditation, starting with breathing; in a way they are about being born again, rediscovering body and soul. There is a sense that the rehearsal is the thing and actual performance is unimportant.

Delights of the film include long passages of improvisation of the wonderful ensemble of actors and the intensity of presence caught by the plan-séquence approach of Rivette, entire sequences shot in uninterrupted takes.

A recurrent pleasure in Out 1 is meeting as actors great men of the cinema, such as Michel Delahaye, Bernard Eisenschitz, and Barbet Schroeder. Jacques Doniol-Valcroze is excellent as the chess player Etienne who turns out to be the husband of Lucie (Françoise Fabian). My favourite is Eric Rohmer as the Balzacist who gives Colin a humoristic lecture on the novel triptych Histoire des Treize.

A beautiful achievement of digital restoration. The warm and appealing quality of the 16 mm colour photography is well conveyed in this digital reincarnation.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Lääkärin omatunto / En läkares samvete / Den store læge. US © 1954 Universal Pictures. PC: Universal International Pictures. P: Ross Hunter. D: Douglas Sirk. SC: Robert Blees – adaptation: Wells Root – based upon the screenplay (1935) by: Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman – uncredited: Finley Peter Dunne  – based on the novel (1929) by Lloyd C. Douglas. DP: Russell Metty – Technicolor – 2.00:1. Special photography: David S. Horlsey. AD: Bernard Herzbrun, Emrich Nicholson. Set dec: Russell A. Gausman, Ruby R. Levitt. Gowns: Bill Thomas. Hair: Joan St. Oegger. Makeup: Bud Westmore. M: Frank Skinner. M dir: Joseph Gershenson. Flute: Ethmer Roten. S: Leslie I. Carey, Corson Jowett. ED: Milton Carruth. Technicolor consultant: William Fritzsche. Loc: Big Bear Valley, Lake Arrowhead (San Bernardino National Forest, California), Venice (Los Angeles). Studio: Universal Studios (Universal City).
    C: Jane Wyman (Helen Phillips), Rock Hudson (Bob Merrick), Barbara Rush (Joyce Phillips), Agnes Moorehead (Nancy Ashford), Otto Kruger (Edward Randolph), Gregg Palmer (Tom Masterson), Sara Shane (Valerie Daniels), Paul Cavanaugh (Dr. Henry Giraud), Judy Nugent (Judy), George Lynn (Williams, Bob's butler), Richard H Cutting (Dr. Derwin Dodge), Will J. White (State Police Sergeant Bill Ames), Helen Kleeb (Mrs. Eden), Rudolph Anders (Dr. Albert Fuss), Fred Numey (Dr. Laradetti), John Mylong (Dr. Emil Hofer), Alexander Campbell (Dr. Allan), Mae Clarke (Mrs. Miller).
    Helsinki premiere: 7.10.1955 Elysee – telecast: 1968 TV1, 1992 TV3, 2000 Yle TV1, and 4.6.2006 Yle TV2. VET 42860 – K16 – 2980 m / 108 min
    Uncredited: a major music theme is: Frédéric Chopin: Étude Op. 10, No. 3, in E major (1832), also called "Tristesse" (though not by Chopin).
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), dansk tekst, 10 Sep 2016.

Revisited Douglas Sirk's wildest and craziest melodrama. He took the story for granted; today I see no irony or distanciation in the adaptation. On the contrary, Douglas Sirk becomes the champion of the story against all odds. Perhaps this is a post-modern reading. More to the point, Douglas Sirk was ahead of his time. He lets the material speak for itself and is excited to discover what emerges.

Far from realism and far from psychological credibility Sirk creates a unique stylized mode of melodrama with affinities with Greek tragedy (Euripides) and a Brechtian approach to popular fiction. That does not prevent the film from being engaging and engrossing. There is an emotional truth beyond the unconvincing psychology, the incredible coincidences and the miraculous healings. In some dimension the storytelling is reminiscent of Borzage: the miraculous healing of the blindness in Seventh Heaven, or the paralysis in Lucky Star. Also in Borzage we find plots impossible to believe, yet are compelled by the conviction of the storyteller.

This a story of a passion, of mad love. The irresponsible playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) tries to pick up the woman, Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman), who gives him a ride without knowing that she is the widow of the doctor loved by everybody who died because the rescue crew was busy resuscitating the reckless speedboat driver Bob while the doctor was dying. The revelation is a turning-point for Bob who realizes that he is despised by everybody and now changes his life, studies to become a top doctor himself, and in the finale rescues Helen who has lost her eyesight in a car collision trying to escape Bob.

More than this, Bob becomes a part of a special spiritual circle devoted to good deeds performed under conditions of anonymity and the principle of "paying it forward". That is the magnificent obsession of his life and this story. In fact, it is another expression for Christian faith.

In the finale I was thinking about City Lights, the comedy which turns to tragedy. These are among the last words in Magnificent Obsession: "But I think I see some light... I'm gonna see... I can see you". "May I get excited tomorrow. Tomorrow... "

There is a beautiful and juicy impression of Technicolor in the print officially meant to be screened in 2:1 but which works fine also in Academy. Only in the very final moments the colour is partially faded.


Friday, September 09, 2016

Marilyn (1963 compilation)

Marilyn (1963 compilation). Poster reworked by Mimmo Rotella.

Marilyn Monroe. US 1963. PC: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. There are no credits on the movie. [D of the scenes with Rock Hudson: Henry Koster. SC of narration: Harold Medford.] 35 mm – black and white and Eastmancolor – CinemaScope 2,35:1 – Academy footage pillarboxed – except the final "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" number reformatted from Academy to scope. S: mono. [ED: Pepe Torres. On-screen moderator and narrator: Rock Hudson.] 2290 m / 83 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Marilyn Monroe 90), svensk text, 9 Sep 2016.

Rock Hudson enters the Twentieth Century Fox soundstage, sits down in front of a film projector and narrates this compilation of Marilyn Monroe's films for Fox while chain-smoking. There is a life size prop of a schooner behind him. Fake snow is falling. "She worked here not long ago". "From among thousands it is difficult to stand out. It is like finding a needle from the haystack. Star quality is a rare commodity. What is it made of?" To the projectionist: "Is your motor running?" "We don't know what it is. We know what it does. The real world - the dream world. So many things it can do. She brought joy to the heart". (Quotes are not verbatim).

1. A Ticket to Tomahawk / Sheriffin tytär, 1950. Colour. "Oh, What a Forward Young Man You Are" (Ken Darby, John Read), performed by MM, Marion Marshall, Joyce Mackenzie, Barbara Smith, and Dan Dailey. She dances with Dan Dailey while Anne Baxter is watching.

2. All About Eve / Kaikki Eevasta, 1950. The brilliant satirical scene at a party of theatre folks, as George Sanders's companion, with Bette Davis and Anne Baxter (again).

3. Love Nest / Casanova vuokralaisena, 1951. MM as a war veteran who moves into the house of her war buddy (William Lundigan) to the surprise of his wife (June Haver) and to the delight of a wolfish attorney (Jack Paar)

4. We’re Not Married / Laittomasti naimisissa, 1952. When it turns out that due to a legal technicality their marriage is invalid Marilyn instantly registers into the Miss Mississippi contest, to the delight of her husband (David Wayne) who attends the show with their baby in his arms.

5. Don’t Bother to Knock / Draama hotellissa, 1952. Her early serious dramatic lead as a mentally unbalanced babysitter, with Richard Widmark as the male lead.

6. O. Henry’s Full House / Neljä helmeä / Viisi helmeä, 1952. Henry Koster's episode "The Cop and the Anthem". A bum (Charles Laughton) attempts to commit a felony in order to be imprisoned for the winter. He harasses a woman on the street (MM) until it turns out that she is a streetwalker.

7. Monkey Business / Rakas, minä nuorrun, 1952. The absent-minded chemist Cary Grant "before and after". We witness him examining the acetates of the stockings of the secretary (MM) through his bottle bottom glasses. After having a shot of the youth elixir the rejuvenated chemist takes her to a wild ride. "Is your motor running?"

8. Niagara / Niagara, 1953. Her mythical breakthrough into superstardom, as a vamp for the only time during her career, ruining her husband's (Joseph Cotten) life. The MM walk and the scene with the record "Kiss".

9. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes / Herrat pitävät vaaleaverisistä, 1953. Three great numbers from her best film, together with Jane Russell: ”A Little Girl from Little Rock”, ”Bye Bye Baby”, ”When Love Goes Wrong” (Jane Russell dubbed by Eileen Wilson).

10. How to Marry a Millionare / Kuinka miljonääri naidaan, 1953. Her CinemaScope debut together with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. The legendary mirror scene. And the airplane scene with David Wayne.

11. There’s No Business Like Show Business / Rytmiä veressä, 1954. The "Heat Wave" number. "Small danger of fruit frost. Hot and humid nights can be expected".

12. River of No Return / Joki, jolta ei ole paluuta, 1954. With Robert Mitchum. She sings "Down in the Meadow" to his little son (Tommy Rettig).

13. Seven Year Itch / Kesäleski, 1955. Her entrance, and Tom Ewell's reaction. The Rachmaninoff sequence ("Rachmaninoff! His second piano concerto never misses.") The mythical scene on the subway grate where a train passing below blows her white dress upwards.

14. Bus Stop / Bussipysäkki, 1956. Naturalism as Chérie, playing opposite Don Murray. "Old Black Magic" sung intentionally unglamorously. Confessions with Hope Lange.

15. Something’s Got to Give, 1962. (Unfinished). Playing opposite Dean Martin, also featuring Wally Cox. She tries to re-seduce her husband by swimming naked in their pool. This was the first time when footage of this film was released. There may be an agenda in why some of these particular shots were shown and not better ones.

16. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is a glorious climax to the compilation. The coloratura was dubbed by Marni Nixon (1930–2016), otherwise it's MM herself singing fantastically well. Shot in Academy, here processed in CinemaScope.

Missing is Monroe's work for other producers (Love Happy with the Marx Bros., The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like It Hot, The Misfits... ) is not included in this highly valuable and very entertaining compilation. Missing is her best dramatic role (in Clash by Night) and her most legendary comic role (Some Like It Hot). But included is what is in my opinion her best film (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).

This compilation reflects the contemporary view of Twentieth Century Fox on Marilyn Monroe. They totally revised their view in the excellent documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days (2001) which includes a new reconstruction of the footage of Something's Got to Give, very different from the one we have here.

The colour in the vintage print is fading, but the screening was hugely enjoyable and impressive even so. There was an applause after the rare show.

These remarks are based on my program note of 1987.

All I Desire

Douglas Sirk: All I Desire (US 1953). Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) returns home after ten years.

Douglas Sirk: All I Desire (US 1953). Naomi is a model for her daughter Lily. Lori Nelson (Lily Murdoch) and Barbara Stanwyck (Naomi Murdoch).

Douglas Sirk: All I Desire (US 1953). Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) sees her daughter Lily performing in a high school theatre performance of Baroness Barclay's Secret.

Ainoa toive / Miksi jätit minut / Varför lämnade du mig / All min längtan. 
    US © 1953 Universal Pictures Co., Inc. PC: Universal International Pictures Co., Inc. P: Ross Hunter. 
    D: Douglas Sirk. SC: James Gunn ja Robert Blees – adaptation: Gina Kaus – based on the novel Stopover (London 1951) by Carol Ryrie Brink / Carol Brink. Poem: Elisabeth Barrett Browning: ”How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” (from Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1847). DP: Carl E. Guthrie / Carl Guthrie – b&w – 1,37:1. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun. Set dec: Russell A. Gausman, Julia Heron. Cost: Rosemary Odell. Jewels: Joan Joseff. Makeup: Bud Westmore. Hair: Joan St. Oegger. M: Henry Mancini (n.c.), Herman Stein (n.c.). Stock music: Daniele Amfitheatrof, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner, David Tamkin, Edward Ward. Music quoted: in the poem recital scene: Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. Song: “All I Desire” (comp. and lyrics David Lieberman). M dir: Joseph Gershenson. CH: Kenny Williams. S: Leslie I. Carey, Robert Pritchard, James V. Swartz (n.c.) – mono (Western Electric Recording). ED: Milton Carruth. 
    Studio: Universal Studios (Universal City).
    C: Barbara Stanwyck (Naomi Murdoch), Richard Carlson (Henry Murdoch), Lyle Bettger (Dutch Heinemann), Marcia Henderson (Joyce Murdoch), Lori Nelson (Lily Murdoch), Maureen O’Sullivan (Sara Harper), Richard Long (Russ Underwood), Billy Gray (Ted Murdoch), Lotte Stein (Lena Engstrom), Dayton Lummis (Col. Underwood), Fred Nurney (Peterson).
    An uncredited recurrent music theme: a violin arrangement of "Un sospiro", the third étude from: Franz Liszt: Trois études de concert, S.144 (for solo piano).
    Helsinki premiere: 11.12.1953 Elysee, distributor: Väinän Filmi – tv: 2.2.1993 TV3 – dvd: Barbara Stanwyck – Screen Goddess Collection (Universal Pictures, 2006) – VET 39134 – S – 79 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 9 Sep 2016.

The first American family melodrama by Douglas Sirk, his last conte moral set in nostalgic turn-of-the century America, his second film produced by Ross Hunter, a turning-point on his American career and on his career as a Universal house director (comprising his last 21 films, all during the 1950s, half of them produced by Hunter).

Barbara Stanwyck is the name above the title. All I Desire is a Barbara Stanwyck vehicle, shot in black and white because of her, and with profound affinities with other contemporary Stanwyck movies such as Clash by Night. Sirk considered Stanwyck one of the greatest actors in Hollywood. She has such a strong presence that a problem of balance arises because she outstages the others. But the conflict of balance is also central to the narrative: the glamorous performer returning to the little provincial community.

Only the supposedly brilliant international career of the Shakespeare actress Naomi Murdoch is an illusion. Naomi has fallen on hard times, and by now she is reduced to vaudeville, performing with dog acts.

All I Desire starts as a first person narrative with Stanwyck as the narrator.

She has left her family and hometown ten years ago. When she returns there is a perfect silence. "What a dramatic entrance". The father is shocked, the youngest child too young to remember. Naomi is warm and kind, but the family is mostly unwelcoming. "We aren't your family. You aren't our mother". Only Lily, with whom Naomi has been in correspondence, idolizes mother.

Naomi has returned to see Lily performing in a school theater performance of Baroness Barclay's Secret. It is an amateurish high school play until Lily comes on stage. There is a very moving close-up of Naomi watching her daughter perform (see image above). There are tender moments of comedy: "just a stage kiss" is Lily's instruction to the young man playing her lover. Despite or because of the amateurishness the sequence is a display of Sirk's affection for the stage. Naomi is proud of Lily, and Lily is proud of Naomi.

In the party after the show there is a dance at the Murdoch home, and Naomi is invited. It soon turns out that she is the supreme dancer, even in bunny hop, and the event threatens to turn into a Naomi Murdoch show. The rest of the family is embarrassed. But Lily keeps showcasing Naomi and urges her to give a recital. Naomi selects a poem by Elisabeth Barrett Browning, "How do I love thee?". The moment is magical and complex. The tenderness between mother and daughter reaches its peak. Lily expects Naomi to take her to New York and introduce her to the theatre world.

Another daughter, Joyce (Marcia Henderson), condemns her mother, and they have a frank confrontation. Naomi urges Joyce to live a little. "A mother with no principles", Naomi says ironically. "A daughter with no guts". Joyce is offended and affected, but mother's words give her a sting to be more active.

During the long years of Naomi's absence Lily's drama teacher Sara Harper (Maureen O'Sullivan) has become personally close to Henry Murdoch (Richard Carlson) but she soon sees what is happening. "I want him to be happy. You are the woman he needs".

Soon the make-believe of Naomi's supposedly glamorous Shakespearean career becomes unbearable, and Naomi tells the truth to her daughters, crushing their illusions. There is also a frank discussion between Henry and Naomi. Naomi tells him "how unimportant success is". Lily is angry and disappointed when it turns out that Naomi is going to stay.

Meanwhile, Naomi's ex-lover Dutch Heinemann (Lyle Bettger), a gun store keeper, has been lurking around, and he alerts Naomi with his secret code signal, "two shots and then one" (which everybody in the community seems to know). Against the warning of the housekeeper Naomi rides for one last time to the river to call it quits with Dutch. When Dutch tries to take her with force, Naomi uses the horsewhip, and Dutch's gun goes off, wounding him dangerously. (Connections with Summer Storm: the shooting party, the nostalgic river, the Chekhovian gun).

Dutch is taken to hospital. The community is alarmed, and the scandal threatens Henry's position as school principal. "I'm sorry I'm such a disappointment to everybody", comments Naomi. Especially big the disappointment has been to Ted (Billy Gray), her youngest child, the one who was too young to even remember her. Naomi cries while explaining to Ted what has happened. But facing the scandal Henry stands up to Naomi. At Dutch's hospital bed (Dutch's wound is feared to be lethal) Henry hears the full story and understands that their affair had ended. Naomi is about to leave, and Sirk shot a consistent tragic ending, following the novel on which the film is based. But Ross Hunter demanded a happy ending. "I'm asking you to stay", says Henry. "Some grow old. Some grow up".

Out of this material another director might have made a mediocre and conventional melodrama. Douglas Sirk treats it intelligently, without irony or condescension. The two worlds - the fake world of glamorous entertainment and the provincial world of the little community - reflect each other in a complex way. There is a mastery of mise-en-scène in Sirk's direction. The first thrilling instance of it is the sequence of Naomi's homecoming (see the first image above). Another great instance is the play within the play. The composition in depth and the breakdown of scenes in shots is admirably effective.

A brilliant print.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

There’s Always Tomorrow (1955)

Douglas Sirk: There's Always Tomorrow (US 1955) with Barbara Stanwyck (Norma Miller Vale), Fred MacMurray (Clifford Groves) and Joan Bennett (Marion Groves).

Onni päättyy huomenna / I morgon är också en dag / Siempre hay un mañana. 
    US © 1955 Universal Pictures Co., Inc. PC: Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc. P: Ross Hunter. 
    D: Douglas Sirk. SC: Bernard C. Schoenfeld – based on the novel (1929) by Ursula Parrott. DP: Russell Metty – b&w – 1,85:1. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Eric Orbom. Set dec: Russell A. Gausman, Julia Heron. Cost: Jay A. Morley, Jr. Jewels: Joan Joseff. Makeup: Bud Westmore. Hair: Joan St. Oegger. M: Heinz Roemheld, Herman Stein. M director: Joseph Gershenson. Flute: Ethmer Roten. Theme song: “Blue Moon” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart). S: Leslie I. Carey, Joe Lapis – mono (Western Electric Recording). ED: William Morgan. 
    C: Barbara Stanwyck (Norma Miller Vale), Fred MacMurray (Clifford Groves), Joan Bennett (Marion Groves), William Reynolds (Vinnie Groves), Pat Crowley (Ann), Gigi Perreau (Ellen Groves), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Rogers), Race Gentry (Bob), Myrna Hansen (Ruth), Judy Nugent (Frances /Frankie/ Groves), Paul Smith (bellboy), Helen Kleeb (Miss Walker), Jane Howard (flower girl), Frances Mercer (Ruth Doran), Sheila Bromley (woman from Pasadena), Dorothy Bruce (sales manager), Hermine Sterler (tourist's wife), Fred Nurney (tourist), Hal Smith (bartender), Ross Hunter (cameo).
    Loc: Mojave Desert – Apple Valley (California), Universal Studios (Universal City).
    Helsinki premiere: 18.5.1956 Elysee, distributor: Väinän Filmi Oy – tv: 20.9.1992 TV3, 18.6.2006 Yle TV2 – dvd: Barbara Stanwyck – Screen Goddess Collection (Universal Pictures, 2006) – VET 44423 – S – 86 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk retrospective), 8 Sep 2016.

Previous film adaptation: Rakkauden uhri (There’s Always Tomorrow / Too Late for Love), US 1934, PC: Universal Pictures, D: Edward Sloman, C: Frank Morgan, Binnie Barnes.

Who would not be thinking about Double Indemnity when Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray are paired again, and who would not immediately forget the film noir classic while watching this drama in a completely different register, about a reunion of two ex-lovers who meet twenty years after. We started our Douglas Sirk retrospective with Summer Storm, an interesting adaptation of a minor Anton Chekhov novel, but in the approach of There's Always Tomorrow there is an affinity with some of Chekhov's great tales, such as "The Lady with the Dog", about coming to terms with the passing of time, the question of "is that all there is", of love turned into routine in a long marriage.

"Once upon a time in sunny California" is the ironic title after the opening credits, immediately followed by a signature Sirk shot of feet walking in the rain.

The toy manufacturer Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) is lonely and alienated at work and at home. His factory has grown and he cannot participate in the creative side as much as he would like. At home he is taken for granted by wife and three teen-aged children. Cliff would like to invite his wife Marion (Joan Bennett) to a night out to celebrate her birthday and to a weekend in Apple Valley, but Marion is too busy with the children for that.

Like in a dream, when Cliff is alone at home, Norma (Barbara Stanwyck) appears, a co-worker and lover from twenty years ago, now a glamorous fashion designer based in New York. They end up spending the night out and even the weekend in Apple Valley together.

The advertising angle of the film is that of a triangle drama but it really is not. Critics like Michael Stern have commented that Marion is not jealous because it would never occur to her that Cliff might have an affair but I do not believe that. Marion is happy in her marriage and accepts it as a fact of life that there is no erotic charge in the union anymore. She is aware of Cliff's anxiety and happy if something nice happens to him.

There's Always Tomorrow is fundamentally anti-melodramatic in its account of the relationships between Cliff, Norma and Marion. There is no affair on the side, and no drama of jealousy. There is certainly a desire for a newly rejuvenated passion, but Norma does not want to break Cliff's marriage because of her insight that his children will always have priority.

The melodramatic characters in the movie are the children who spy, eavesdrop and make plots around Cliff and Norma. They misunderstand what they see, but their concern for the family is genuine. Only they do not see that they have themselves contributed to Cliff's alienation which is why he is so happy for moments of joy and tenderness with Norma.

The angle of the children's intervention in their parents' relationships is prominent in Back Street (1932), perhaps the model of this tradition in melodrama? In There's Always Tomorrow the most narrow-minded character is Cliff's son Vinnie, and the most broad-minded character is Vinnie's girlfriend Ann who sees through the family situation and defends Cliff: "I wouldn't blame him if he had" (had an affair). The children go so far that they confront Norma in her hotel room, leading her to believe that Cliff is coming. Like in Back Street, there is a strong dramatic scene between the children and the adult. Norma is frank and outspoken in her defense of Cliff to his children. But when they are gone Norma bursts into tears. There is a shot of a crying Norma by a rainswept window which prefigures the famous shot in In Cold Blood.

The shot that should have been the last is of Cliff looking at the sky where the airplane carrying Norma disappears into the East. But there is also an obligatory happy end. The children and Marion are attentive to Cliff again. "You know me better than I know myself" says Cliff to Marion.

All performances are good. Barbara Stanwyck is marvellous. I have never read a biography on her. What a career, from the silent age (1927) until prominent roles in television series until 1986, an active career of 60 years. It strikes me that during the 1950s she favoured films in black and white. In this film she seems to wear heavy make-up, and she is filmed with soft lenses. She was almost 50 and maybe wanted to look younger. But the character she plays is the dynamo of this movie. And the voice of reason for everybody.

A battered 35 mm print which gives a good enough experience of the film.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Reading classics of Antiquity III: Julius Caesar: The Gallic War

Outbreak of the Gallic War. West Point. United States Military Academy. Department of History. Atlas for Ancient Warfare. One of 13 maps of the Gallic Wars. Please click to enlarge the map.

Map of Roman Gaul detailing Gallic tribes. MacQuarie University, Sydney, Australia. Please click to enlarge the map.

Map of the Gallic Wars. Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge the map.

Lionel Royer: Vercingetorix jette ses armes aux pieds de Jules César (Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar) [52 BC]. [Percheron horses did not exist in Gaul at the time. In reality Gauls rode bareback. Shields were mostly oval]. 1899. Image and remarks from Wikipedia. Musée Crozatier du Puy-en-Velay. Please click to enlarge the image.

Julius Caesar: Commentarii de Bello Gallico
The Gallic War / Commentaries on the Gallic War / Bellum Gallicum. Written in the Roman Republic during the Gallic war campaign. Written in 51 BC. Written in classical Latin. Divided into seven books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Read in Finnish:
Gaius Julius Caesar: Gallian sota. Translated into Finnish by Hannes Korpi-Anttila. Introduction by Edwin Linkomies. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 244 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1961

The Gallic War has been required reading for students of classical Latin for millennia. I have now read it for the first time, in my native Finnish, but the great style of Julius Caesar is evident also in translation. Experts of the language value it as a model of Golden Age Latin. The writing is simple and forceful and always forward moving. There are digressions (for instance on bizarre animals skulking in the deep forest of Germania, including a species of moose without joints in its legs) but not very many.

In my project of reading classics of antiquity I have Thucydides fresh in the memory, and for me Thucydides remains the greater master of style, surpassing Caesar. Probably Thucydides had been among Caesar's models, and Xenophon, as well. All three share the feature of writing an account of their own experiences, and all three write of themselves in the third person. (A feature satirized by Goscinny and Uderzo in Asterix comics).

Thucydides wrote about the tragic Peloponnesian wars where Spartans and Atheneans slaughtered each other. It was a battle between equals.

Xenophon told about the daredevil adventures of his soldiers of fortune tangled in the power struggle for the kingship of Persia. Ten thousand fighters agains millions.

My favourite historian of antiquity is Herodotus because his is an account of the incredible victory of the little and divided Hellas for its freedom against the ten times more powerful army of Persia (in battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataea... ).

The Gallic War is Caesar's callous, imperialistic account of how he crushes brutally three million freedom-loving warriors splintered into 300 tribes. 800 cities were destroyed, one million Gauls killed, and another million enslaved. Reading this book I rooted for the Gauls. And Helvetians, Germans, and Britons.

Caesar never belittles his adversaries. On the contrary, he prizes their skill and bravado.

The Gallic wars were a historical turning-point, as a result of which Romanic languages are today spoken in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. They were a big step in the formation of Europe. Caesar's book is the sole account of the wars and the single source of many aspects of the 300 tribes involved.

Random observations. Caesar sees Gauls as born rebels (at least in the interpretation in this Finnish translation, Book Four). In Book Six there is an important account of the druids, the spiritual leaders of the Gauls. It even contains the earliest remarks on traditions made memorable to filmgoers by The Wicker Man.

An interesting remark for a cinephile: "Multum ad terrendos nostros valet clamor, qui post tergum pugnantibus exstitit, quod suum periculum in aliena vident salute constare: omnia enim plerumque quae absunt vehementius hominum mentes perturbant." ("The shouts which were raised by the combatants in their rear had a great tendency to intimidate our men, because they perceived that their danger rested on the valour of others: for generally all evils which are distant most powerfully alarm men's minds."). ("Pelottava vaikutus meikäläisiin oli myös sillä huudolla, jonka he taistellessaan kuulivat selkänsä takaa, koska he oivalsivat, että heidän oma vaaransa oli riippuvainen toisten taistelusuorituksista. Ihmisessähän tavallisesti herättääkin suurempaa levottomuutta kaikki sellainen, mikä on poissa näkyvistä."). The essence of Jacques Tourneur's l'effet-bus in Cat People.

Book Seven contains the horrendous tales of the massacres of Avaricum and Alesia. Caesar's story ends with the surrender of Vercingetorix (see image above).

I was also thinking that forty years after Caesar's death Jesus Christ was born, and his life was a rebellion against the very mentality reflected in The Gallic War.

What the druids knew they learned by heart. There was a ban of writing among them. Which is why we do not have alternative histories of the Gallic wars from their viewpoint.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Ganashatru / An Enemy of the People

Soumitra Chatterjee as Dr. Ashok Gupta, the mild-mannered doctor who is unflinching in his concern for public health.

Ganashatru. Dipankar Dey (Haridas Bagchi, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper), Monoj Mitra (the publisher of the newspaper), Dhritiman Chatterjee (Nishith Gupta, the doctor's businessman brother). Photo from The Criterion Collection site.

গণশত্রু / Ganasatru / Gonosthotru / The Public Enemy / Un ennemi de peuple / Ein Volksfeind / Nemico pubblico / Враг народа / [Kansanvihollinen] / [En folkefiende]. IN 1989. PC: National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). P: Ravi Malik. D: Satyajit Ray. SC: Satyajit Ray – research: Nirmalya Acharya – based on the play by Henrik Ibsen: En Folkefiende (1882) – translated into Finnish as Kansanvihollinen by Eino Palola and Katri Palola in: Valitut draamat 5 (Porvoo: WSOY, 1962) – Finnish premiere: 24.9.1889 Suomalainen Teaatteri, as Kansan vihaaja. DP: Barun Raha – 35 mm – colour. AD: Ashoke Bose. Cost: Bablu Das, Ratan Lal. Makeup: Ananta Das. M: Satyajit Ray. S: Sujit Sarkar (sound recordist), Hitendra Ghost (re-recording) – mono. ED: Dulal Dutta. C: Soumitra Chatterjee (Dr. Ashok Gupta), Dhritiman Chatterjee (Nishith Gupta), Dipankar Dey (Haridas Bagchi), Ruma Guha Thakurta (Maya Gupta), Mamata Shankar (Indrani Gupta), Subhendu Chatterjee (Biresh Guha). In Bengali. Not released in Finland. 99 min
    A 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Satyajit Ray), 2 September 2016

Henrik Ibsen's drama An Enemy of the People has been filmed many times, especially in Germany, even in Nazi Germany, starring Heinrich George. On the other hand, when Arthur Miller made his acclaimed adaptation he made changes to the play's anti-democratic stand. In the age of Trump and Brexit it is easy to understand Ibsen's view that "The minority is always right" and Dr. Stockmann's dictum "Fools are always in the majority". But Ibsen and Dr. Stockmann were wrong. Democracy has its weaknesses but it is still the least unsuccessful system we know.

Satyajit Ray has changed Ibsen's drama even more thoroughly than Arthur Miller. Ingeniously he has turned the drama of the polluted water of a health spa into a story of a popular Hindi temple whose water turns out to be polluted, causing a lethal jaundice epidemic.

A convalescent from a debilitating stroke, Ray was forced to change his approach as a film director in his last three films (An Enemy of the People, Branches of the Tree, The Stranger). They are mostly confined to interiors and focused on dialogue. Much of An Enemy of the People looks like television drama. But there are also expressive exterior shots from the temple.

An Enemy of the People is a well made film. It is more static than Ray's previous films, but the drama itself is electrifying. It has a sense of urgency relevant to Ray's topical engagement in politics. Ray devoted himself to a public fight against corruption and warned Indians of religious fundamentalism. Ray himself became "a public enemy" in the ironical meaning of the title of Ibsen's play. Andrew Robinson points out that the Ibsen film adaptation started "a trilogy of corruption" in Ray's oeuvre.

"The strongest one is the one who stands alone" is the subtitle of Ibsen's play. Andrew Robinson comments that Ray turned that view upside down. Ray's Dr. Ashok Gupta is a mild-mannered man, seemingly easy prey to his ruthless brother Nishith. Nishith bullies the editor of a newspaper to cancel Ashok's article about the holy water. When Ashok arranges a meeting to warn the public Nishith sabotages it and gives Ashok no chance to explain terms of immunity. Nishith even has the meeting bombed in order to interrupt it. Ashok is fired from his job, his daughter, as well, and the family gets an eviction notice. Hired hoodlums throw stones on their windows. But in the finale a crusading reporter who has also been fired takes their side. There are signals of solidarity, and from the outside they hear a rising chorus chanting "hurrah Doctor Gupta".

The plot concept is still topical in many ways, and it provides a good dramatic structure for many kinds of stories involving a conflict between quick profit and sustainable practice.

Jerker A. Eriksson, the grand old man of Finnish film criticism, has remarked that An Enemy of the People is a blueprint for entire currents in catastrophe and horror genres, including films such as Jaws. One might list The Towering Inferno, Jurassic Park...

A good and clean print with pleasant colour; only in the beginning there is for a while a duped look.