Saturday, April 22, 2017

Monkey Business (1952)

Monkey Business: the rejuvenated Dr. Fulton (Cary Grant) takes Lois Laurel (Marilyn Monroe) to a ride.

Rakas, minä nuorrun / Åh, en sån fräckis / Föryngringsprofessorn / Chérie, je me sens rajeunir / Liebling, ich werde jünger. US © 1952 Twentieth Century Fox Corp. P: Sol C. Siegel. D: Howard Hawks. SC: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, I. A. L. Diamond – based on a story by Harry Segall. CIN: Milton R. Krasner – b&w – 1,33:1. AD: George Patrick, Lyle R. Wheeler. Set dec: Thomas Little, Walter M. Scott. Cost: Travilla. Makeup: Ben Nye. Makeup for Marilyn Monroe: Allan Snyder. Hair: Esperanza Corona, Louise Miehle, Helen Turpin. SVX: Ray Kellogg. M: Leigh Harline. M dir: Lionel Newman. Theme song: "The Whiffenpoof Song" ("We are poor little lambs / Who have lost our way") (The Whiffenpoofs group at Yale University, published in 1909, derived from "Gentlemen-Rankers" by Rudyard Kipling, comp. Guy H. Scull, ad. Meade Minnigerode). S: W. D. Flick, Roger Heman, Sr. ED: William B. Murphy.
    C: Cary Grant (Dr. Barnaby Fulton), Ginger Rogers (Edwina Fulton), Charles Coburn (Oliver Oxly), Marilyn Monroe (Lois Laurel), Hugh Marlowe (Hank Entwhistle), Henri Letondal (Dr. Siegfried Kitzel / Jerome Kitzel), Robert Corthwaite (Dr. Zoldeck), Larry Keating (G. J. Culverly), Douglas Spencer (Dr. Brunner), Esther Dale (Mrs. Rhinelander), George Winslow (little Indian). –  Uncredited: Emmett Lynn (Gus), Heinie Conklin (house painter), Gil Stratton, Jr. (the Yale man), Harry Carey, Jr. (reporter), Olive Carey (Johnny's mother), Kathleen Freeman (Mrs. Brannigan, neighbour), Roger Moore (bit part).
    US premieres: 29 Aug 1952 (Atlantic City), 5 Sep 1952 (New York City). Helsinki premiere: 30.1.1953 Rea, distributed by Oy Fox Films A.B. – telecast: TV1: 13.8.1967 and 16.9.1988, MTV1: 9.2.1980, MTV3: 18.2.1995 and 2.2.2002, Nelonen: 11.9.1999; Yle Teema 2.9.2012 and 3.11.2013 – VET 37176 – S – 2740 m / 97 min
    A print with Swedish subtitles (svensk redigering Elna Gardart) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Howard Hawks), 22 April 2017

Revisited Monkey Business, one of those Howard Hawks comedies which turn out to be the more strange, curious and unclassifiable the more often one sees them.

A special quality of Monkey Business is a play with tempi which can be compared with Dave Brubeck's album Time Out in which each track ("Blue Rondo à la Turk", "Take Five") is composed to a different time signature. In the 1930s, particularly in His Girl Friday, Hawks tried to break speed records in his dialogue. Monkey Business starts at a daringly slow tempo, and there are passages later that border on somnambulism. But the tempi keep changing, and the amazingly downbeat opening provides a striking contrast to later fast slapstick passages.

The comedy concept of monkey tests to produce a youth or virility elixir is traditional. Last year in Pordenone in Steve Massa's Al Christie retrospective we saw Monkey Shines (1920) with a similar basic idea. It would be interesting to learn about the origins of this concept. In Hawks's film there is a sense of gravity in the theme of growing old and losing one's youthful zest of life. At the same time Monkey Business is a merciless satire on the youth cult and commercial attempts to provide elixirs to turn back time. "You are old when you forget you are young" is the final word of wisdom on the youth business adventure.

I Was a Male War Bride, Hawks's previous comedy, was an explicit tribute to the golden age of American screen comedy, most prominently to Chaplin and Keaton. The same goes for Monkey Business where the marvellous car racing sequence of Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe has touches that resemble Keaton such as speeding through a straddle carrier. The roller-skating sequence with the acrobatic Grant brings to mind Chaplin's The Rink. Monkey Business has also affinities with the films of Laurel and Hardy such as the scene where Ginger Rogers drops a live goldfish into the pants of the big boss, Oliver Oxly (Charles Coburn), bringing to mind Liberty. There is also a classic "tit for tat" sequence between Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers where they splash each other with paint with an abandon worthy of The Second Hundred Years. Let's note the name Oliver, and also the name of his secretary: Marilyn Monroe as Lois Laurel plays the Stan Laurel character here (and, probably not coincidentally, Lois was the name of Stan's daughter). As in I Was a Male War Bride Hawks and Grant seem to relish classical physical slapstick.

There is an even more profound level of affinity with Laurel & Hardy. The essence of Laurel and Hardy is that they behave like children in grown-ups' clothes, exactly what happens to the scientists in Monkey Business after they have drunk the B-4 elixir. Which also reminds of Sergei Eisenstein's essay Charlie the Kid: to Eisenstein, Chaplin's secret is his double vision of everything with eyes of both a grown-up and a child.

Ginger Rogers gets to do her thing in the ballroom sequence at Pickwick Arms, the honeymoon hotel. She performs a stunning dance number, but Cary Grant falls asleep during a slow waltz. Let's face it: their chemistry is not convincing except as an account of growing estrangement in marriage. This is the only Hawks movie where the main couple is already married in the beginning. We are persuaded by the screenplay and the dialogue to believe that the thrill is alive in the marriage of Barnaby and Edwina Fulton. but it does not feel that way. Barnaby is introduced as a professor who is absent-minded in the extreme. There are even touches of dementia and Alzheimer's in the performance, and Edwina compares her husband to a zombie – a living dead.

The only moments when Barnaby comes fully alive are in the elixir sequences, and Cary Grant is in full form in them.

For Marilynologists Monkey Business is interesting for several reasons. It was Marilyn Monroe's last role before superstardom in Niagara. It was the last of her underwritten, demeaning, stereotyped supporting sex kitten roles. Neither Hawks nor Grant understood Monroe's comic talent. Nevertheless the Grant & Monroe "elixir ride" sequence is the highlight, the anthology piece of the film. The comic timing is brilliant between the two (– "Is your motor running?" – "Is yours?" – "Takes a while to warm up". – "Does, me, too".) With Monroe, it took Hawks a while to warm up, but he would soon direct Monroe's best film, the brilliant Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In the Fulton marriage the question of childlessness, a probable source of its apathy, remains unaddressed. Children are missing, and the regression of grown-ups themselves to childhood and even infancy can be seen as a curse of childlessness. Children are usually not important in Hawks's films, but in this period he introduced children in several comedies, always as savagely satirical mirror images of grown-ups. Towards the finale children are playing Indians in a nearby wood, and Cary Grant is again at his best when he joins their war dance in order to scalp Hank Entwhistle, played by Hugh Marlowe, the Ralph Bellamy character of this film, and indeed he succeeds in turning the respectable lawyer's haircut into a Mohawk (Mohican / Iroquois). George Winslow, soon memorable as Henry Spofford III in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, here plays the Indian chief.

The dreadful signature song of the Fulton couple, "The Whiffenpoof Song" ("We are poor little lambs / Who have lost our way"), is instinctively abhorred by Lois Laurel when it is heard on the car radio, but its lyrics about having "lost our way" do seem relevant to the story.

Monkey Business is a weird comedy, and its themes, the dream of eternal youth and turning back time, remain topical.

A print with a very good visual quality.


Joka toinen pari / Every Other Couple

FI © 2017 SAHADOK Oy. Year of production and first festival presence: 2016. P: Aleksi Salmenperä, Mia Halme, Timo Vierimaa. D+SC+S: Mia Halme. CIN: Heikki Färm, Peter Flinckenberg. Helicam cinematography: Ville MJ Hyvönen. M: Ville A. Tanttu. S: Micke Nyström. ED: Antony Bentley.
    Featuring (with their families): Sanna From and Mikko Leino.
Kaisa Karirinta and Ville Tanttu.
Ykä Nieminen and Jonna Mannila.
    Distributed by: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus. No Swedish title, no Swedish subtitles. 77 min
    Premiere: 21 April 2017.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, Helsinki, 22 April 2017.

Every Other Couple is a documentary journey to the epicenters of earthquakes in relationships.

Mia Halme's talent in intimate documentary film-making and her ability in creating an atmosphere of confidence in sensitive personal territory was evident in her previous feature film Ikuisesti sinun [Forever Yours, 2011], about children taken into custody.

Halme's new film Every Other Couple tells three stories of divorce, each of them showing the full scale of the jolt that a divorce brings to the family chain and the surrounding circle of life. Each story is personal, but the film is balanced to express the viewpoints of both parties of the divorces and their children, as well.

I belong to a generation that is still incredulous about such confidentiality in personal documentary film-making although in Finland this trend started already in the 1990s with none other than Antti Peippo in Sijainen [The Substitute, 1990]. I keep wondering about the shifting zone between fiction and documentary and the fundamental epistemological problem. When you know you are being observed you consciously or unconsciously start to perform.

I don't watch television but I am aware of reality television, and I actually did get to watch some of The Real World (1992-) when it was launched on MTV. Perhaps reality television has meanwhile changed reality itself. Perhaps concepts like "intimacy" and "privacy" are becoming obsolete. Perhaps there is now more than before an element of performance in private life. Which changes the rules and opportunities for documentary film-making completely.

Mia Halme's approach is the opposite to the voyeuristic appeal of reality television. Halme's approach is responsible and even relevant to a professional attitude. With the participation of the families discussed we get to observe at close range the turbulent core of crises in relationships. Every Other Couple provides a wide array of situations and solutions. It is interesting to watch and should be rewarding material for family counseling.

Every Other Couple is a multi-layered film that would be rewarding to see again. The divorce stories do not remain on the level of the immediate present but open up family histories of broken homes.

Much of the film is in close-up or extreme close-up.


Friday, April 21, 2017

I Was a Male War Bride

Olin mies-sotamorsian / Jag var en manlig krigsbrud / Allez coucher ailleurs / You Can't Sleep Here (GB). US © 1949 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. P: Sol C. Siegel. D: Howard Hawks. SC: Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass, Hagar Wilde – based on the autobiographical account I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress by Henri Rochard. CIN: Osmond Borradaile / O. H. Borradaile (on location in Germany and in London at Shepperton Studios), Norbert Brodine (in Hollywood). AD: Albert Hogsett, Lyle R. Wheeler. Set dec: Thomas Little, Walter M. Scott. Cost: Bonnie Cashin. Makeup: Ben Nye. Hair: Irene Brooks, Linda Cross. M: Cyril J. Mockridge. S: Roger Heman, Sr., George Leverett. ED: James B. Clark.
    C: Cary Grant (Captain Henri Rochard), Ann Sheridan (1st Lt. Catherine Gates), Marion Marshall (Lt. Kitty Lawrence), Randy Stuart (Lt. Eloise Billings), Bill Neff / William Neff (Capt. Jack Ramsey). – Martin Miller (Schindler, lens maker), Eugene Gericke / Gene Garrick (Tony Jowitt), Ruben Wendorf (innkeeper's assistant), Lester Sharpe (waiter), John Whitney (Trumble), Kenneth Tobey (Red, Yeoman First Class), Robert Stevenson (lieutenant), Alfred Linder (bartender), David McMahon (chaplain), Joe Haworth (shore patrolman).
    Loc: Baden-Württemberg (Germany). The base was Heidelberg, and location shooting took place also in the 15th century village Zuzenhausen. The port of Bremerhaven (Bremen). San Pedro docks (California).
    US premieres: 9, 11, 26 Aug, 1949. Helsinki premiere: 17.3.1950 Rea, Ritz, distributor: Oy Fox Films A.B – VET 31112 – S – 2850 m / 105 min

Howard Hawks's comedies have the distinction that their subject-matter is sometimes as deadly earnest as in tragedy, and they are accounts of exceptional ordeals. This is rare enough but not unique in screen comedy. In I Was a Male War Bride there is an affinity with the commedia all'italiana cycle of the 1950s and the 1960s.

Until now Hawks as a comedy director had been a master and co-founder of the screwball trend in Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and Ball of Fire (whose remake A Song Is Born was a stunning success commercially but not artistically).

I Was a Male War Bride was a new opening for Hawks. For the first time in his life he travelled to Europe. Who would have the bright idea to make a comedy in the ruins of post-WWII Germany? Hawks did, but he was not first. The year before Billy Wilder had shot his masterpiece A Foreign Affair in the ruins of Berlin. Hawks went to South Germany, Heidelberg.

The depressing background provides a special bite to this film. The documentary current also serves as a contrast to the lunatic love story, which puzzlingly, is based on reality, the true story of the real Henri Rochard.

At the same time Hawks returns to the masters of the Golden Age of American screen comedy, the classics of the 1920s. I Was a Male War Bride is a hommage to Buster Keaton. The central action is Catherine and Henri's motorcycle ride which brings to mind Sherlock, Jr. It culminates in the sleeping Henri's perilous gag-ridden solo ride ending in a haystack. During their odyssey Catherine and Henri face a roadblock and decide to take the motorcycle onto a rowboat. There is a last minute rescue from a waterfall like in Keaton's Our Hospitality. The Keaton connection makes sense because both Hawks and Keaton shared a passion for machines and the world of technology. I am not aware that this connection is this obvious in other Hawks films or the existence of studies about it. I would be surprised if there weren't.

Equally profoundly I Was a Male War Bride is a hommage to Charles Chaplin, as emphasized by Todd McCarthy: "As in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, his inspiration was Chaplin, whose genius made great comedy out of everyday adversity, setbacks and inequities". Following on McCarthy's insight I would add that the Chaplin connection is made explicit in Henri's scene with the baby which brings to mind The Kid. And most prominently the entire final sequence of the film is a reference to The Immigrant. Henri, whose cross-dressing has been exposed, has been confined to a lockup, but when Catherine comes to visit him he throws her key out of the porthole. In the final image The Statue of Liberty emerges in the porthole.

Chaplin inspired Hawks to approach tragic real world events as comedy material. Keaton inspired him to a deadpan approach in performances. There is no comedy acting in this film. Even in the brief cross-dressing episode (the first and often only thing that most remember from this film although it only lasts six minutes) Hawks insisted that Cary Grant play it straight.

I Was a Male War Bride may be classified as "romantic comedy", but it is by no means self-evident that it is a romantic film. Typically for Hawks, it is an account of the battle of the sexes, the war of the sexes, sex antagonism. Suspicion, distrust and disappointment is often stronger than attraction. Yet finally the mutual attraction is stronger than the obstacles, and the odyssey of I Was A Male War Bride is a veritable obstacle course for Catherine and Henri.

It is also one of Hawks's strongest achievements in satire, the main target here being bureaucracy. A unique sequence takes us to the three weddings of Catherine and Henri. They need to take into account that they are a Frenchman and an American, members of two military forces, belonging to different churches, and getting married on the soil of Germany. After the three weddings there will, however, be no wedding night, not even a place for Henri to sleep, thanks to the bureaucracy. Not until they lock themselves into the ship cell on their voyage from Bremerhaven to Ellis Island, serving as their honeymoon trip.

The production of the film itself was an ordeal, and all major talents fell ill, most gravely Cary Grant, causing long interruptions to the shooting schedule. There is a curious lack of chemistry between Grant and Ann Sheridan, and Sheridan's harridan approach to the character threatens to put the film off balance. But on the other hand, thanks to the unconventional nature of the relationship this film remains also bizarre and extraordinary. Perhaps to compensate for the missing chemistry there is an emphasis on physical intimacy rare for Hawks. Henri is a good masseur willing to help Catherine when her leg muscles are cramped and when her back is hurting after a rough motorcycle ride across fields and through woods.

It is amazing that this grim and satirical film was a big commercial hit, "Hawks's third most popular film ever, after Sergeant York and Red River" (McCarthy).

A complete print with good visual quality. Sound levels we needed to adjust a few times.

I Was a Male War Bride. Cary Grant (Henri Rochard) and Ann Sheridan (Catherine Gates).


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach

Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach. Anna Magdalena in the company of her daughter, playing from her beloved Klavierbüchlein.

Anna Magdalena Bachin kronikka / Anna Magdalena Bachs dagbok. DE/IT 1968. Year of production: 1967. PC: Franz Seitz Filmproduktion (Munich) / IDI Cinematografica (Rome) / Radiotelevisione Italiana RAI (Rome) / Straub-Huillet (Munich) / Hessischer Rundfunk HR (Frankfurt am Main) / Telepool Europäisches Fernsehprogrammkontor GmbH (München). P: Franz Seitz, Gianvittorio Baldi, Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet.
    [The first credit title cards of the film: (1): Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach, (2) von Danièle Huillet und Jean-Marie Straub.]
    D+SC: Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub. CIN: Ugo Piccone. M: Johann Sebastian Bach:
5. Brandenburgisches Konzert / Allegro D-Dur / Solokadenz etc. (1721), BWV 1050
Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach / Neun kleine Präludien / Das Präludium in E-Dur / (1720-1722), BWV 924-932 [Das wohltemperierte Clavier, Svite 6 avec Prelude, BWV 854/1], [Die französische Suite VI E-Dur BWV 817]
Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (1722) / Die französische Suite I in d-Moll / Menuett II, BWV 812
Sonate D-Dur [2] [für Viola da Gamba und Cembalo] / Adagio, BWV 1028
Triosonate 2 c-Moll [für Orgel] (1727) / Largo, BWV 526
Magnificat, D-Dur (1723) / 11. Chor "Sicut locutus est", BWV 243
Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach / Clavierübung: Partita VI e-Moll (1731-1741) / Tempo di Gavotta, BWV 830,
Kantate Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus (1725) / Zerreisset, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft / Bassrezitativ und Arie, BWV 205
Kantate Trauer-Ode (1727) / für Königin Christiane Eberhardine / "Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl" / Finale "Doch Königin! Du stirbest nicht", BWV 198
Kantate Trauermusik (1727) / "Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt" / Köthener Trauermusik / für Fürst Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen / Sopran-Arie / BWV 244a
Matthäus-Passion (1727), Anfangschor, BWV 244
Kantate "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" (1725), 1. Sinfonia, 2. Recitativo (Tenor, Fagott), BWV 42
Orgelpräludium h-Moll, BWV 544
Die h-Moll-Messe (1714–1749) / 1. Kyrie eleison, BWV 232
Kantate "Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen" (Geburtstagskantate) (1734) / Anfangschor, BWV 215
Himmelfahrtsoratorium (1735), 11. Choral (Finale): "Wenn soll es doch geschehen", BWV 11
Léonin: Florilegium portensa (Leoninus) (1100) / Missa latina / 11. dominica post Trinitatis, finale, 2. part
Clavierübung Teil III / Chor "Kyrie, Gott, Heiliger Geist", g-phrygisch, a 5 con organo pleno (1739), BWV 671
Italienisches Konzert (aus Clavierübung Teil II) / Concerto nach italiaenischen Gusto / für zweimanualiges Cembalo in F-Dur (1735), Andante d-Moll, BWV 971
Kantate "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", Teil 3: Arie "Wenn kömmst du, mein Heil?" / "Wann kommst du, mein Heil?", Erstes Duett für Sopran und Bass (1731), BWV 140
Goldberg-Variationen, Variatio 25 a 2 Clav (für zweimanualiges Cembalo) ("adagio") (1741), BWV 988
Kantate "Ich habe genug" (1727), 4. Recitativo: "Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun!", 5. Aria: "Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod", BWV 82
Musikalisches Opfer, c. 1–39, ricercare a 6 (sechsstimmiges Ricercar) (1747), BWV 1079
Die Kunst der Fuge (1750), contrapunctus XIV, BWV 1080
Orgelchoral "Vor deinen Thron tret ich" / Achtzehn Choräle von verschiedener Art / Leipziger Choräle (1750), BWV 668
    Perf: Musica Antica Ensemble of Concentus Musicus, dir. Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, dir. Heinz Henning. ED: Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub.
    C: Gustav Leonhardt (Johann Sebastian Bach), Christiane Lang (Anna Magdalena Bach),
    Paolo Carlini (Doctor Hölzer), Ernst Castelli (Steger), Hans-Peter Boye (Born), Joachim Wolf (Rector), Rainer Kirchner (Superintendent), Eckart Brüntjen (Prefect Kittler), Walter Peters (Prefect Krause), Kathrien Leonhardt (Catharina Dorothea Bach), Anja Fährmann (Regine Susanna Bach), Katja Drewanz (Christine Sophia Henrietta Bach), Bob van Asperin (Johann Elias Bach), Andreas Pangritz (Wilhelm Friedemann Bach), Bernd Weikl (singer in Cantata BWV 205), Wolfgang Schöne (singer in Cantata BWV 82), Karl-Heinz Lampe (singer in Cantata BWV 42), Bernhard Wehle (Treble Voice in Cantata BWV 140), Christa Degler (voice of Anna Magdalena Bach in Cantata BWV 244), Karl-Heinz Klein (bass voice in Cantata BWV 140), Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen).
    93 min
    A KAVI print (2005) with Finnish subtitles by Antti Alanen, Finnish lyrics to the Matthäus-Passion by Heikki Klemetti.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Reformation 500, Easter), 16 April 2017.

One of the greatest and most original films on music, Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub's Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach, is our Easter film and Reformation 500 celebration film. Lutheranism was "the singing Reformation" and Johann Sebastian Bach its master. His life's work has been called "the fifth Gospel".
    The screening is also a hommage to the memory of the musical directors and interpreters of the film, the masters of the 1950s Bach renaissance based on original Baroque instruments and interpretations, Gustav Leonhardt (1928–2012) and Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929–2016)
    Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach is a spiritual biography that covers the life of Johann Sebastian (1685–1750) during his second marriage (1721–1750), the one with Anna Magdalena. In this music-driven film music is more than the theme, it is the substance and the material. Everything is in its service.

5. Brandenburgisches Konzert / Allegro D-Dur / Solokadenz etc. (1721), BWV 1050
    The freedom and joy of life under Prince Leopold at Köthen. A brilliant solo clavier cadence by Leonhardt as the spiritual incarnation of Bach followed by an eruption of happiness from the orchestra.

Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach / Neun kleine Präludien / Das Präludium in E-Dur / (1720–1722), BWV 924-932 [Das wohltemperierte Clavier, Svite 6 avec Prelude, BWV 854/1], [Die französische Suite VI E-Dur BWV 817]
    Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach's eldest son, at play with exercises about to develop into The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (1722) / Die französische Suite I in d-Moll / Menuett II, BWV 812
    This Klavierbüchlein was Johann Sebastian's labour of love for his musical family and a source of ideas for his creative career. The newly married Anna Magdalena plays with slow concentration a famous theme now known in faster virtuoso intepretations by Glenn Gould and others.

Sonate D-Dur [2] [für Viola da Gamba und Cembalo] / Adagio, BWV 1028
    Bach in the same viola da gamba territory as his French contemporaries Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais, immortalized in the film Tous les matins du monde.

Triosonate 2 c-Moll [für Orgel] (1727) / Largo, BWV 526
    A solo organ piece. Anna Magdalena's commentary covers key points in Johann Sebastian's Werdegang. We learn about his crushing workload after the happy days at Köthen.

Magnificat D-Dur (1723) / 11. Chor "Sicut locutus est", BWV 243
    The evolution of the mastery in the architecture of the chorale.

Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach / Clavierübung: Partita VI e-Moll (1731–1741) / Tempo di Gavotta, BWV 830
    The family keeps growing. Johann Sebastian had 20 children, half of them with Anna Magdalena. 10 survived. The agony of the deaths of children is sublimated in music. Also in this piece the interpretation is more slow and emphatic than is usual today. (See image above).

Kantate Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus (1725) / Zerreisset, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft / Bassrezitativ und Arie, BWV 205
    The performance of the magnificent secular cantata is conveyed via a moving camera and expressive tracking shots.

Kantate Trauer-Ode (1727) / für Königin Christiane Eberhardine / "Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl" / Finale "Doch Königin! Du stirbest nicht", BWV 198
    The official funeral music expresses also private mourning in the Bach family.

Kantate Trauermusik (1727) / "Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt" / Köthener Trauermusik / für Fürst Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen / Sopran-Arie / BWV 244a
    The happy days with Leopold are past. Now the Prince himself is dead.

Matthäus-Passion (1727), Anfangschor, BWV 244
    From the very first notes this interpretation takes our breath away. The passion of Jesus, the passion of Johann Sebastian, the passion of us all.

Kantate "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" (1725), 1. Sinfonia, 2. Recitativo (Tenor, Fagott), BWV 42
    Among deeply spiritual works we learn about temporal woes of Johann Sebastian and his family. The troubles, the envy, the persecution. The rising costs of living, the necessity to get extra income.

Orgelpräludium h-Moll, BWV 544
    Bach at his most magnificent as a solo organ player. Work as life, life as work. Friedemann the eldest son is getting a solid foothold in life.

Die h-Moll-Messe (1714–1749) / 1. Kyrie eleison, BWV 232
    Composed during a Landstrauer and family mourning. Children keep dying. The pain and the suffering border on the unbearable.

Kantate "Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen" (Geburtstagskantate) (1734) / Anfangschor, BWV 215
    A royal birth celebration at night lit by a torch, with what looks like rear projection.

Himmelfahrtsoratorium (1735), 11. Choral (Finale): "Wenn soll es doch geschehen", BWV 11
    Bach keeps composing large scale works for major celebrations of the church calendar. This is the Ascension Oratorium. Meanwhile he keeps fighting mediocrities who try to interfere with his work.

Leoninus: Florilegium portensa (1100) / Missa latina / 11. dominica post Trinitatis, finale, 2. part
    The only composition not by Bach in this film, a classic Medieval chant by Léonin, a Frenchman. Bach keeps fighting a mediocre choir leader. The choirboys join to say grace before dinner.

Clavierübung Teil III / Chor "Kyrie, Gott, Heiliger Geist", g-phrygisch, a 5 con organo pleno (1739), BWV 671
    For organo pleno, another magnificent solo organ piece. The camera tracks slowly towards Bach.

    The music sampled on the clavier remains unidentified as Bach is seen teaching the basso continuo and the Generalbass. He makes explicit the deepest meaning of music. It is composed in God's honour and to the recreation of the spirit. There are woes with the prodigal son of the family.

Italienisches Konzert (aus Clavierübung Teil II) / Concerto nach italiaenischen Gusto / für zweimanualiges Cembalo in F-Dur (1735), Andante d-Moll, BWV 971
    A visiting cousin practises at the clavier. A beautifully singing redpoll bird in a cage is welcomed at the Bach house. Anna Magdalena is bedridden, not feeling well.

Kantate "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", Teil 3: Arie "Wenn kömmst du, mein Heil?" / "Wann kommst du, mein Heil?", Erstes Duett für Sopran und Bass (1731), BWV 140
    The duet of the soprano and the bass conveys the deep longing of the bedridden Anna Magdalena. Clouds move slowly across the sky. The foliage of the trees moves almost imperceptibly.

Goldberg-Variationen, Variatio 25, a 2 Clav (für zweimanualiges Cembalo) ("adagio") (1741), BWV 988
    This "black pearl" (Wanda Landowska) of the Goldberg Variations harks back to Anna Magdalena's little clavier book. Played by Leonhardt on the zweimanualiges cembalo it sounds very different from contemporary piano interpretations.

Kantate "Ich habe genug" (1727), 4. Recitativo: "Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun!", 5. Aria: "Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod", BWV 82
    "I have had enough". Another composition germinating from Anna Magdalena's little clavier book. A frank expression of the death wish. On the other hand, Johann Sebastian is now a proud grandfather. A profound joy comes forth.

Musikalisches Opfer, c. 1-39, ricercare a 6 (sechsstimmiges Ricercar) (1747), BWV 1079
    Bach's mastery and virtuosity is demonstrated with instant variations on a princely theme. At the same time this work is a display of musical thinking at its deepest.

Die Kunst der Fuge (1750), contrapunctus XIV, BWV 1080
     While Bach is busy working on this magnum opus he falls victim to a vicious eye disease. Operations fail repeatedly.

Orgelchoral "Vor deinen Thron tret ich" / Achtzehn Choräle von verschiedener Art / Leipziger Choräle (1750), BWV 668
    "I step forward in front of your throne". The blind Bach stands in front of a window – and a light he cannot now see. The music continues after the image turns dark. There is no "The End" title.

A brilliant print that we bought 12 years ago from Danièle Huillet. It looks like it has been struck from the camera negative.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saattokeikka / Unexpected Journey

Saattokeikka. Please do click on the image to get a sense of the composition in scope.

Udda vänner. FI © 2017 Solar Films Inc. Oy. P: Jukka Helle, Rimbo Salomaa, Markus Selin. D: Samuli Valkama. SC: Khadar Ahmed, Samuli Valkama – based on a screen story by Khadar Ahmed. CIN: Anssi Leino. Aerial cin: Ville MJ Hyvönen. AD: Antti Nikkinen. Cost: Ninna Päiväläinen. Makeup: Anu Rokkanen. M: Pessi Levanto. S: Micke Nyström. ED: Mikko Sippola.
    C: Heikki Nousiainen (Veikko), Noah Kin (Kamal), Mikko Nousiainen (Mika), Saga Sarkola (Noora), Naomy Hyvönen (Nasra), Mazdak Nassir (Abbas), Iikka Forss (Peter), Christian Sandström (Harri), Panu Vauhtonen (iso paikallinen mies / big local guy), Marjaana Maijala (doctor), Rauno Ahonen (policeman), Sami Huhtala (policeman), Jerry Mikkelinen (jakelufirman mies / man from the delivery company), Hassan Maikl (Abdi).
    Nationwide premiere: 10 March 2017. Distributed on [2K?] DCP with Swedish subtitles (n.c.) by Oy Nordisk Film Ab.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki, 15 April 2017

"Do not go gentle into that good night"
– Dylan Thomas

There was a thoughtful and focused atmosphere in the screening of Saattokeikka, a film that shares its Finnish title with Hal Ashby's The Last Detail. Directed by Samuli Valkama, Saattokeikka has been written by Khadar Ahmed, a Finnish film-maker of Somalian origins. Noah Kin, a Finnish rap star, plays the leading role as Kamal, a 17-year old boy about to fly to Nigeria to meet his father. To finance the ticket Kamal agrees to drive Veikko, his ageing and fragile neighbour, to his summer house.

The approach is comical. Keys gets forgotten inside homes and cars. On the road Veikko realizes that Kamal is underaged and has no driver's license. Kamal works as a carrier of free newspapers and has woken up early. On the road he falls asleep and almost hits a truck on the oncoming lane. Because of his colour Kamal is targeted in a brawl in a village bar and leaves without his jacket and papers. But he is helped by Noora who lends the guys her miniature city car (Finns call them "ostoskassi", "shopping bag").

Under the surface the issues are serious. Kamal is looking for his father who has abandoned him, but he finds out that his father's telephone number that he has been carrying with him is no longer in use. Veikko's wife has recently died, and he has disowned his son Mika. Kamal cajoles Veikko to attend Mika's wedding anyhow. First at the big wedding gala ceremony Kamal realizes that it is a gay wedding and that Mika's orientation is impossible for Veikko to stomach.

When Kamal tries to act as a peace negotiator for Veikko and Mika a key line of dialogue is uttered by Mika: "Mikä helvetin kiintiömamu antaa mulle elämänohjeita?", impossible to translate, but meaning that Mika is pissed when a "quota immigrant" wants to teach him how to live. There is a pun reference to the "quota gay" concept. A running joke, if it is a joke, is about Kamal having to repeat that he is not an immigrant but born in Finland.

Heikki Nousiainen gives a strong interpretation as Veikko, the grumpy old man, who can be compared with Jack Nicholson (the star in The Last Detail) in About Schmidt and Antti Litja as the popular Finnish comic character Mielensäpahoittaja / The Grump. He smokes incessantly. He listens to Finnish rock'n'roll from the 1960s. He follows football obsessively.

Noah Kin plays Kamal who at first just drifts into the absurd scenario with Veikko but then takes an active role, for better or worse. Kamal is a new kind of character in the Finnish cinema. Noah Kin is doing remarkable pioneer work here, and there is an assured touch in his approach.

Saga Sarkola's role as Noora is small  but thanks to her presence the character grows bigger than its size. Saga Sarkola is a truly photogenic, radiant, and memorable revelation waiting for her breakthrough.

A fun fact is that Mika the grumpy son of the grumpy Veikko is played by Mikko Nousiainen, the real life son of Heikki Nousiainen.

Among the motifs of the film is the telephone. The film starts and ends with mere audio tracks of telephone conversations. There is symbolism in a repeated view of a broken mobile phone screen. Symbolical weight is also in images of airplanes and their trails sighted far away on the sky.

The meaning of Veikko's recently deceased wife is succinctly observed in a view of a berry jar carrying the label "Sirkan puolukat 2015" / "Sirkka's lingonberries 2015". In the finale we are reminded of "Sirkka's three principles: 1) don't hit the one who's been hit, 2) defend the weak, 3) never lie".

There is a sense of grandeur in Anssi Leino's widescreen cinematography, complemented significantly by Ville MJ Hyvönen's aerial cinematography. The grandeur can only properly be appreciated on a cinema screen. This is a voyage that takes us from the city to the countryside. We are constantly aware of the elements: the road, the forest, the sky, and the lakes. Visual quality: no problem with interiors, roads and cityscapes. Nature has the usual digital look.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rose Bernd (1957)

Rose Bernd (1957). Käthe Gold (Henriette Flamm), Maria Schell (Rose Bernd)

Himoittu / Rose och kärleken.  DE 1957. PC: Bavaria Filmkunst (München-Geiselgasteig). P: Hans Abich. D: Wolfgang Staudte. SC: Walter Ulbrich – based on the play (1903) by Gerhart Hauptmann. CIN: Klaus von Rautenfeld – 1,33:1 – Agfacolor. AD: Robert Stratil, Hans Berthel. Makeup: Karl Hanoszek, Susanne Krause. Cost: Lilo Hagen. M: Herbert Windt. S: Hermann Stör. ED: Lilian Seng.
    C: Maria Schell (Rose Bernd, maid), Raf Vallone (Arthur Streckmann, excavator driver), Käthe Gold (Henriette Flamm), Leopold Biberti (Christoph Flamm, lord of the manor), Hannes Messemer (August Kiel, printer), Arthur Wiesner (father Bernd), Krista Keller (Maria Schubert), Siegfried Lowitz (Amtsrichter / judge), Helmut Brasch.
    Helsinki premiere: 27.6.1958 Adlon, Allotria – distributor: Allotria Film – VET 48441 – K16 – 2680 m / 98 min
    Introduced by Olaf Möller.
    A vintage KAVI print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Geliebt und verdrängt), 13 April 2017

Rose Bernd is Wolfgang Staudte's distinguished adaptation from the play of social engagement from 1903 by Nobel laureate Gerhart Hauptmann, the leading German representative of Naturalism. Hauptmann based the character of Rose Bernd directly on an actual process where he had been a juror. Having contributed to the acquittal of the accused his services as a juror were no longer in demand. When the play was performed in Vienna the Arch Duchess arranged its performances to be discontinued after the premiere.

Hauptmann's theme, based on his own observations, has affinities with Russian and Nordic drama and literature, in works by Leo Tolstoy (The Power of Darkness, 1886, banned until 1902), Minna Canth (Anna Liisa, 1895), and Selma Lagerlöf (Tösen från Stormyrtorpet, 1908: the perjury motif in a similar process).

Staudte and his screenwriter updated the drama. The Bernds are now refugees from Silesia (then in East Germany). The shocking conflict was still relevant but perhaps no longer in such an inflammatory way as during the Belle Époque*. Inadvertent proofs of the continuing relevance of the story can be found in the ad copy and the foreign translated titles of the movie.

The maid Rose Bernd is a normal and healthy young woman, aggressively pursued by her employer, the lord of the manor Christoph Flamm, whose wife is an invalid. One night he takes her, and she gets pregnant. She is also pursued by Arthur Streckmann, excavator driver, who chases her into the wheatfields to have his way. There is a court process when father Bernd, Church board member in the play, accuses Streckmann of defamation while drunk, and all three – Rose, Flamm, and Streckmann – commit perjury.

Rose is a victim of men who abuse their position of strength, but in the advertising of the film there is a "Sins of Rose Bernd" angle to quote the US release title of the film. If there is sin in the film it belongs to the men who keep accosting the relucant Rose and also commit perjury. No less sinful is father Bernd who fails to protect her daughter and ultimately ruins her.

Well acted and staged, the film picks up momentum towards the finale. Rose's winter Calvary during and after the train ride is strikingly photographed. Maria Schell excels in all aspects of her characterization in the leading role. In the finale, her baby dead, she gives her final remarks: "I don't care about your world anymore. The world into which my baby was born was one in which it could not have lived. There is no place for me here anymore". She exits alone.

A used vintage print with the Agfacolor intact and with the expected "rain" in changeovers but generally clean and watchable.

* P.S. 14 April 2017. A friend reminded me today that infanticide was the most common crime in Finland in the beginning of the 20th century.


Das Mädchen Rosemarie (1958)

Tapaus Rosemarie / Fallet Rosemarie. DE 1958. PC: Roxy Film GmbH & Co. KG (Munich). P: Luggi Waldleitner. D: Rolf Thiele. SC: Erich Kuby, Rolf Thiele, Jo Herbst, Rolf Ulrich – from a story by Erich Kuby. DP: Klaus von Rautenfeld – b&w – 1,33:1. AD: Wolf Englert, Ernst Richter. Kunstmaler: Bruno Monen. Makeup: Franz Mayrhofer, Gerda Scholz-Grosse. Cost: Ursula Stutz. M: Norbert Schultze. Lyrics: Rolf Ulrich, Jo Herbst. Singers: Mario Adorf, Jo Herbst. S: Erwin Schänzle. ED: Elisabeth Neuman
    Songs on the soundtrack album (Polydor 1958):
    1. "Ballade auf den Müllkästen"
    2. "Die Halbschwachen"
    3. "Wie schön, dass es uns gut geht"
    4. "Ich hab' so viel Talent zur Liebe"
    5. "Die Liebe ist des Wunders schönstes Kind"
    6. "Die Langeweile"
    7. "Am laufenden Band"
    8. "Wir haben den Kanal noch lange nicht voll"
    C: Nadja Tiller (Rosemarie Nitribitt), Peter van Eyck (Alfons Fribert), Carl Raddatz (Konrad Hartog), Gert Fröbe (chief executive officer Bruster), Hanne Wieder (Marga), Mario Adorf (Horst), Jo Herbst (Walter), Werner Peters (Franz Josef Nakonski), Karin Baal (Do), Horst Frank (the student), Erik von Loewis (von Killenschiff), Arno Paulsen (Schmidt), Tilo von Berlepsch (Oelsen), Hubert von Meyerinck (concierge Kleie), Helen Vita (Eveline), Ruth Hausmeister (Mrs. Hartog), Karl Schönböck).
    2756 m / 101 min
    Premiere: 28 Aug 1958. Helsinki premiere: 13 March 1959 Kino-Palatsi, released by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Lea Joutseno – VET 50375 – K16
    Based on the screenplay Erich Kuby wrote a novel: Rosemarie: Des deutsches Wunders liebstes Kind. Stuttgart: Goverts, 1958.
    Screened in the context of Olaf Möller's university course on German post-WWII cinema, introduced by Olaf Möller.
    A vintage KAVI print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Geliebt und verdrängt), 13 April 2017

In his lecture Olaf Möller introduced the director Rolf Thiele and his trusted fellow artists: his actrice-fétiche Nadja Tiller, and ace cinematographer Klaus von Rautenfeld. The screenwriter Erich Kuby published a novel based on his screen story and screenplay called Rosemarie: Des deutsches Wunders liebstes Kind [Rosemarie: the Favourite Child of the German Wonder – the wordplay with "Wunderkind" is lost in translation]. The allegorical character of the Rosemarie Nitribitt murder case was generally acknowledged, and the film was so influential that its free interpretation of the facts became more persuasive than the truth. Rolf Thiele was one of the great believers in cinema. He made a different kind of cinema. He wanted to change Germany. With his stars and team he developed a sexy, modern style, with an emphasis on the experience of alienation. His films were unlike anything: sensual, erotic, politically sharp, against bigotry.

AA: Das Mädchen Rosemarie is a satire, a musical, and a crime story with a cabaret approach set in the underworld of Frankfurt. Visually it is highly stylized. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Nothing is more difficult than musical comedy because you need to establish a wavelength of stylization and keep it consistent but not annoying. Thiele succeeds in this remarkably well.

The men of the story, played by a formidable ensemble of Germany's top male actors, represent the financial elite in the guise of a "cartel of sleeping pads". They are portrayed as comically uniform, wearing identical suits, driving identical black Mercedes 300 cars, visiting the same Rialto Bar, and being provided with call girls by the same concierge of Palast Hotel. There is a choreographed quality in their action. The stylization brings to mind, among other things, Willi Forst's Bel Ami.

Alone against this elite, we first meet Rosemarie Nitribitt as a solo streetwalker who refuses to become a part of the hotel concierge's stable of call girls. Instead, first as a regular partner of Konrad Hartog (Fritz Raddatz), and particularly later, groomed by the French industrial spy Alphonse Fribert (Peter van Eyck), she is transformed into a super cocotte. Nadja Tiller gives a splendid performance. Rosemarie has a believably complex personality, and there is a fine balance between impersonation and distanciation in Tiller's interpretation.

Fribert provides Rosemarie with a tape recorder and a camera, and in a satirical montage we witness the financial elite confessing to Rosemarie their financial secrets and marital woes. The secrets are soon scandalously exposed. When Rosemarie appears as a gate-crasher to Hartog's garden party, all men at first shrink away from her but then have to dance with her. Woody Allen in his To Rome with Love has a similar party scene with Penelope Cruz as a call girl in an elite party where she knows every male guest. The wives here immediately understand. There is a strained amusement number when the desperate wives jump into the swimming pool in full dress. "Die neue deutsche Heiterkeit". ["The New German Cheerfulness"], quips someone.

Rosemarie is getting warned more and more seriously, and in an effective climactic scene there is silence at her apartment as a stranger's hands appear from behind the curtain to strangle her.

The music is provided by none other than the legendary Norbert Schultze, who composed "Lili Marlene" and Goebbels's official Feldzug anthem of Operation Barbarossa, "Von Finnland bis zum Schwarzen Meer". Mario Adorf appears as one of the street singers who sing most of the songs. Equally memorable is the female singer at Rialto Bar where one of the numbers has the telling title "Die Langeweile" ("Boredom").

There are many sides to Das Mädchen Rosemarie as a satire of the German Wirtschaftswunder. Fribert grooms Rosemarie to a de luxe courtesan with good taste, a knowledge of French, a touch of international gloss and thereby an ability to make her customers feel like "great Europeans, big and wonderful masters". In her bed Rosemarie learns the inside story of the Wirtschaftswunder: the joyless existence, the secret cartel fraudulence. She provides the only happy moments to the lives of the scheming men.

There is a distinctively German matter-of-fact approach to prostitution in this film. For Jean-Luc Godard prostitution itself is an allegory of contemporary consumer society, and in almost all the cinemas of the world prostitution has been (and still is) seen as scandalous. Not here. Prostitution is business as usual. Prostitution is not a scandal, but crime and corruption inevitably follow. There are not many films that share such a sober attitude to prostitution. Kenji Mizoguchi's farewell film Akasen chitai / Red Light District, made two years earlier, is one of them. Samuel Fuller's Naked Kiss is another of these exceptional films.

After the screening Olaf stated that we had seen a print more complete than the one released in Germany. Our print has the scene with the marching soldiers, self-censored in Germany by the FSK [The Voluntary Self-Control of the Film Industry]. The vintage print is still generally quite watchable.

Das Mädchen Rosemarie: the soundtrack album (Polydor 1958).


Saturday, April 08, 2017


Frantz. An encounter in 1919 at Frantz's grave in Germany: Frantz's fiancée Anna (Paula Beer) and the Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney).

Frantz. Frantz's mother Magda (Marie Gruber), Adrien, Anna, and Frantz's father, Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner). Frantz's family wants Adrien to play, but music has died in the war.

Frantz. A day with swimming. Only Adrien swims; Anna cannot swim. Afterwards Anna notices the battle scars on Adrien's stomach. Please click on the images to enlarge them, especially the last one, to see the scars.

Frantz / Frantz. FR/DE © 2016 Mandarin Films / X-Filme Creative Pool / FOZ / Mars Films / France 2 Cinéma / Films Distribution. In association with Universal Pictures International.
    P: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer. Co-P: Stefan Arndt, Uwe Schott. D+SC: François Ozon. Loosely based on Broken Lullaby by Ernst Lubitsch. In collaboration with: Philippe Piazzo. DP: Pascal Marti – negative format: 35 mm – Super 35 – b&w with some shots in colour – scope 2,39:1 – digital intermediate 2K. PD: Michel Barthélémy. Cost: Pascaline Chavanne. Makeup: Lili Rametta. Hair: Franck-Pascal Alquinet. M: Philippe Rombi. S: Benoît Gargonne. ED: Laure Gardette. 113 min
    C: Pierre Niney (Adrien), Paula Beer (Anna), Ernst Stötzner (Hoffmeister), Marie Gruber (Magda), Johann von Bülow (Kreutz), Anton von Lucke (Frantz), Cyrielle Clair (Adrien's mother), Alice de Lencquesaing (Fanny).
    In the credits only the Lubitsch film is given as a source, and Universal Pictures, its copyright holder, has an entry in the production credits. Both films are actually based on the play L'Homme que j'ai tué (1930) by Maurice Rostand, adapted from his own eponymous novel (1925).
    "Chanson d'automne" by Paul Verlaine from Poèmes saturniens (1866).
    Musiques additionnelles: Theme tune: Chopin: Nocturne N° 20 en do dièse mineur, op. posthume (1849). Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No 1. in D major, Op 11: andante cantabile (1871). Nuit d'étoiles (Claude Debussy) ; Shéhérazade, op. 35 (Nikolaï Rimski-Korsakov) ; Über den Wellen (Juventino Rosas) ; La Marseillaise ; Braunschweig-Polka ; Frantz-Polka ; Hupfpolka ; Die Wacht am Rhein.
     Filming locations from the IMDb. SAXONY-ANHALT, GERMANY: Quedlinburg (streets), Görlitz (Nikolaifriedhof cemetery: Frantz's tomb), Wernigerode (Hoffmeisters' home), Osterwieck, Teufelsmauer (hills that Anna and Adrien climb up), Bad Suderode (station where Adrien enters the train). FRANCE: Château du Saussay, Ballancourt-sur-Essonne, Essonne (Rivoire castle), Musée du Louvre, Opéra National de Paris Palais Garnier, 8 rue Scribe (opera house), Eymoutiers, Haute-Vienne (as Saulieu train station), Senlis, Oise (French town center).
    Released by Cinema Mondo on 2K DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Maaria Uusitalo / Joanna Erkkilä – "La Marseillaise" subtitled in the Finnish translation by Valter Juva.
    French premiere 7 Sep 2016, Finnish premiere 7 April 2017.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki, 8 April 2017.

Frantz is a special case in the œuvre of François Ozon known for his transgressive, twisted and flamboyant virtuoso films. Frantz is a tragic drama distinguished by deep feeling and a frank emotional current. The performances are honest and compelling, and there is a powerful dramatic arch. Ozon displays courage in rejecting irony and playing it straight.

It is interesting to learn that Ozon started to plan filming Edmond Rostand's story initially unaware of the Ernst Lubitsch adaptation The Man I Killed, released as Broken Lullaby in 1932. Also in Lubitsch's œuvre this particular case is exceptional – his only sound film that is not a comedy. The Man I Killed was released during the greatest wave of WWI films which started with The Big Parade in 1925. I have not revisited Lubitsch's film recently, but friends who have discovered it during the current centenary commemorations of WWI have been impressed.

Looking at the mirror Adrien sees Frantz. Adrien has come from France to Germany to know Frantz, the man he killed. It is spring 1919. Only months have passed since the armistice on 11 November 1918. Hate is rampant on both sides of the border. There are blood-thirsty sing-alongs of "Die Wacht am Rhein" and "La Marseillaise". Endless ruins can be seen from train windows. Everywhere there are war invalids, cripples, and men without faces. In Paris there is a mood of degeneration.

Adrien has the exceptional courage to meet Frantz's parents and his fiancée Anna but he cannot bring himself to confess until at the last moment to Anna only before his departure. L'Homme que j'ai tué / The Man I Killed / Frantz is a drama of conscience with philosophical and religious gravity. At war the government orders us to kill, but individual conscience can never be silenced.

One of the significant differences between the adaptations of Lubitsch and Ozon is in the theme of the confessional. In Lubitsch's film the Frenchman confesses to the priest that he has killed – in fact, murdered – and the priest absolves him with the words: "You were just doing your duty". In Ozon's film Anna tells the priest about Adrien's confession, and the priest urges her to "forgive him. That is what Jesus Christ would have done".

During Adrien's stay with Frantz's family and Anna it becomes little by little evident how similar the young men are. Their character is alike. Both are talented at the violin. In Lubitsch's film the current of the story is towards the direction of the Frenchman gradually becoming an adopted son to the family to replace the one who was killed.

Frantz's parents accept responsibility. Frantz was a pacifist. Fathers forced sons to enlist. "We are the responsible ones" declares father Hoffmeister to the revanchist gathering about to start a sing-along of "Die Wacht am Rhein".

There are homosexual overtones. Adrien may have begun to sense that the man he killed might have been a man he could have loved. I am struck by a curious affinity with the story of Tom of Finland, his actual biography and the recent biopic. Tom's key nightmare was about stabbing to death a Soviet paratrooper whose face transformed into a paragon of masculinity which inspired Tom's entire art.

Frantz expands the theme of war trauma. Adrien has been recovering at a mental hospital. Anna, having learned the truth, attempts suicide.

L'Homme que j'ai tué / The Man I Killed / Frantz is also a moving dramatization of the "end of art" and "silence of art" themes relevant to WWI, made explicit in the title Broken Lullaby. Adrien has been a first violinist before the war but after the war "I don't hear notes anymore". When urged by his host family to play Frantz's violin he reluctantly starts but has to interrupt and loses consciousness. The same happens to Anna at Adrien's home: she is unable to play the piano at the family concert.

Watching the film I have associations to others. Pilgrimage, John Ford's grimmest film, about lethal motherly love in WWI. Jules et Jim. And Vertigo: the presence of the dead one, visits to the cemetery and the museum, a haunting image, the power of the past.

Ozon's greatest departure from the original source is in transforming the film into Anna's story. Adrien returns to France. Having recovered from her suicide attempt Anna follows him. She is not quite sure why but she needs final clarity. In France it seems that Adrien is proceeding towards a marriage of convenience.

Among the greatest questions of the film is that of truth and lying. Adrien comes to Germany to tell the truth but succeeds only partially. For Anna the truth is too much to bear. It almost kills her. She is unable to convey it to Franck's family and gets caught up in a chain of lies herself.

The film ends with the enigmatic presence of Edourd Manet's painting Le Suicidé seen at Le Louvre. Anna claims that it gives her an appetite for life. The presence of the image seems to mean that it is time to accept the fact that the past is dead and it is time to move on. But an ambiguity remains.

Visually the screening is clear, sharp and impeccable. Although the film has been shot on 35 mm a slightly airless quality has emerged in the digital intermediate.

There is a very nice summary of Broken Lullaby at the Just Me... Just Sayin' site.

Edouard Manet: Le Suicidé. Oil on canvas. 38×46 cm. Created: between 1877 and 1881. Location: Foundation E. G. Bührle, Zürich, Switzerland. Édouard Manet – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. Public domain. Wikipédia.


Paul Verlaine: "Chanson d'automne" (a poem)

Portrait de Verlaine par Frédéric Bazille, 1867. Une fausse signature Gustave Courbet recouvrait la véritable Frédéric Bazille. Domaine public. Wikipédia.

    Les sanglots longs
    Des violons
        De l’automne

    Blessent mon cœur
    D’une langueur

    Tout suffocant
    Et blême, quand
        Sonne l'heure,

    Je me souviens
    Des jours anciens
        Et je pleure ;

    Et je m'en vais
    Au vent mauvais
        Qui m'emporte

    Deçà, delà,
    Pareil à la
        Feuille morte.

Paul Verlaine: Poèmes saturniens. Paris: Alphones Lemerre, 1866.


                               Catulle Mendèsille


Niin nyyhkien
    soi ääni,
se haavoittaa,
vain pitkittää

Jo kalveten
päiviä hetki toi,
en estää voi

Syystuuli vie
jo minut, tie
    minne ehti? –
vie pyörteihin
kuin olisin
    kuollut lehti.

Suomentanut Yrjö Kaijärvi (Paul Verlainen runoja, Helsinki: Otava, 1965. Kuvittanut Anitra Lucander).

Neljä elementtiä / Life in Four Elements

Neljä elementtiä / Life in Four Elements. Please do click on the images to enlarge them.

Neljä elementtiä / De fyra elementen [The on-screen titles] / Neljä elementtiä: Maa, vesi, ilma, tuli [title on the poster and in advertising] / Life in Four Elements. FI © 2017 MRP Matila Röhr Productions Oy. Co-production with Creative Movies. P: Marko Röhr. Line P: Hanna Järvinen. Co-P: Natalie Halla. D+SC: Natalie Halla. DP: Teemu Liakka ‒ cameras: Phantom Flex 4K, Red Epic, Sony Cinealta F5, Sony FS700 (Odyssey 7Q raw recorder). M: Michael Haeringer. Additional M: Panu Aaltio. S: Juha Hakanen, Benjamin Mercer. ED: Benjamin Mercer. Narrator: Turkka Mastomäki. 73 min
Philipp Halla, base jumper, Austria
Johanna Nordblad, free-diver, Finland
Pako Rivas, fireman in catastrophe regions, Spain
Georg Zagler, cave researcher, Austria
    In German, Finnish, and Spanish.
    DCP released by MRP Matila Röhr Productions with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Saliven Gustavson.
    Premiere: 17.3.2017
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 8 April 2017

The motto of the film: “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.
‒ F. M. Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

A magnificent film focusing on four exceptional people who dedicate their lives to the elements to the extent that they identify with them and become part of them. Some of them never return, and devotees to the relevant extreme sports tend to perish at a young age.

Philipp Halla is an Austrian base jumper and paraglider, a birdman. The higher he ascends the safer he feels, but he has ceased to do base jumping after the birth of his daughter.

Johanna Nordblad is a Finnish free-diver who holds the world record in free-diving beneath the ice. We witness her long free-dives beneath the ice but also regular summer diving in the "underwater garden" together with schools of perches and stalking pikes. We follow her on canoe trips to islands where she can confront storms which she loves. She respects the sea (the ocean). "I am part of it".

Georg Zagler is an Austrian "caveman", a "mountain man" who feels more at home inside the legendary Untersberg than anywhere else. He is close to identifying with Charlemagne, "the king in the mountain". We follow Zagler in incredibly narrow tunnels and splendid hall-like caves. He has no trouble sleeping inside the mountain or having his lunch there. Inside the mountain time vanishes; the experience is shared by Johanna Nordblad while diving. Untersberg is the mountain also known from The Sound of Music.

Pako Rivas is a Spanish fireman who confesses that there is a dimension of a pyromaniac in every fireman. We get into the fire, we become part of the fire, we get into a sea of fire. Most fundamentally Rivas is a fighter to protect life from catastrophes. We humans are busy destroying something that has taken an eternity to develop. In the Pako Rivas story we also witness rubber boats overcrowded with refugees and the desolate faces of children at Lesbos.

Base jumps and free dives share some aspects of a common philosophy. So do the exceptional states in cave and underwater explorations. The affinities are compelling but the intercutting between the "fantastic four" feels needlessly restless. The visual quality is understandably variable from superb definition to footage from mini cameras attached to paragliders.

As a whole this film is a book of revelations about the elements and inside the elements. Modern camera technology can catch everything from aerial views to underwater visions in a way that is superior to anything that has been seen before. Documentary footage is complemented by 3D digital animation about the cave structure of Untersberg.

Aesthetically this film belongs to the realm of the sublime, to be compared with the underwater miracles covered by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the ravishing mountain visions of Arnold Fanck, and the romantic tradition of Caspar David Friedrich.

Although the four magnificent protagonists are exceptional, we can all identify with something in them. Personally, I am a sea creature and can understand Johanna Nordblad and identify with her in my own quite regular way.


Friday, April 07, 2017

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday: immediately Walter Burns starts to undermine the relationship between Hildy Johnson and Bruce Baldwin. Ralph Bellamy (Bruce), Cary Grant (Walter), Rosalind Russell (Hildy). Please click to enlarge the image.

Meidän vastaeronneiden kesken / Meidän vastaeronneitten kesken / Oss nysskilda emellan (Swedish title in Finland) / Det ligger i blodet / La Dame du vendredi / La signora del venerdi. US © 1939 Columbia Pictures Corporation. Year of release: 1940. P+D: Howard Hawks. SC: Charles Lederer – from the play The Front Page (1928) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur – [Ben Hecht, n.c.] – [additional dialogue: Morrie Ryskind, n.c.]. DP: Joseph Walker. AD: Lionel Banks. Cost: Robert Kalloch. M: Morris W. Stoloff. S: Lodge Cunningham – Western Electric Mirrorphonic Recording. ED: Gene Havlick.
    C: Cary Grant (Walter Burns), Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson), Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin), Gene Lockhart (Sheriff Peter B. "Pinky" Hartwell), Porter Hall (Murphy), Ernest Truex (Roy Bensinger of the Morning Tribune), Cliff Edwards (Endicott), Clarence Kolb (Mayor), Roscoe Karns (McCue), Frank Jenks (Wilson), Regis Toomey (Sanders), Abner Biberman (Louis "Diamond Louie" Peluso), Frank Orth (managing city editor Duffy), John Qualen (Earl Williams), Helen Mack (Mollie Malloy), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Baldwin), Billy Gilbert (Joe Pettibone), Pat West (Warden Cooley), Edwin Maxwell (Dr. Egelhoffer, the alienist from New York), Marion Martin (Vangie / Evangeline, Diamond Louie's blonde moll).
    92 min
    On the sound technology to the overlapping lighting fast dialogue: "To get the effect he wanted, as multi-track sound recording was not yet available at the time, Hawks had the sound mixer on the set turn the various overhead microphones on and off as required for the scene, as many as 35 times" (Wikipedia).
    The title of the film stems from Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe (1719): the native man rescued by the hero on a Friday becomes his "Man Friday". In 1912 there is the first record in the magazine Industrial World of the version "Girl Friday" which Howard Hawks's film may have popularized.
    Premiere 18.1.1940 – Helsinki premiere 30.11.1941 Adlon, distributed by Adlon – telecast 3.7.1963 (TV 1), 11.3.1969 (TV 1), 17.7.1977 (TV 1), 2.11.1987 (MTV 1), 15.4.1989 (HTV)
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Howard Hawks), 7 April 2017

Revisited His Girl Friday based on The Front Page, "a hit Broadway comedy about tabloid newspaper reporters on the police beat, written by former Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur" as summed up in Wikipedia.

It had been a while since I last saw this film, and in my memory it was predominantly a screwball comedy about relationships in The Awful Truth fashion. I had also been influenced by the interpretation of Robin Wood which I still find relevant. But this time I was surprised to discover how much more multi-layered this film is beyond its overlapping machine gun dialogue and shouting match mentality.

The obvious satirical layer is about tabloid journalists hawking for material at the press room of Chicago's Criminal Courts building. From an opened window they hear the sound of the gallows being tested for imminent use. This is literally gallows humour.

A human interest story that can be printed on the front page has always priority to Walter Burns. "Never mind the European war. Jump the Polish corridor. Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page. Never mind the Chinese earthquake. I don't care if there's a million dead".

But more gravity than that is discovered in the functioning of the press. The current mayor and sheriff need the publicity of an execution to win the election although they know that the man on death row has been pardoned. The liberal minded The Morning Post is about to expose them – and the "city that's been graft-ridden for 40 years under the same gang".

The identification strategy of the film tends to have us identify with Walter Burns (Cary Grant) who is ostensibly the coolest guy in the film, but from the start he is shown to be rude, fraudulent and ruthless. He is no gentleman. He lies. He steals. He uses counterfeit money. His milieu is a snake pit, a shark bay. You cannot trust him for a moment. He is as callous and hardboiled as the corrupt leaders at the town hall. His elbows are sharp, and he has on his payroll criminals such as Diamond Louie (Abner Biberman) and his moll Evangeline (Marion Martin).

Hildy (Rosalind Russell) is his opposite. She sees through him. She keeps exposing him bluntly and ironically. She keeps protecting and rescuing Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) from Walter's traps. But although she declares "Scram, Svengali!" she keeps returning to her role as Walter's star reporter. Why, is a mystery, but a psychologically plausible one. Walter and Hildy complement each other, and Hildy has to confess to Bruce that "I'm no suburban bridge player". Hawks's genius was in transferring the Hildy character to a woman and making the crazy Walter-Hildy relationship compelling.

While Hildy provides the sober core to the movie, the most shattering character is Mollie Malloy (Helen Mack), even more so than the confused and marginalized Earl Williams (John Qualen) who has been reduced to a pawn in the power games of the city and the press. Mollie the streetwalker is the only decent person, the only human being in the film. She has helped the unemployed Earl by giving him shelter (and nothing more) and now her reputation has been destroyed by the sensation press. Mollie jumps out of the window after declaring "I'll give you a wonderful story – only this time it'll be true". For once the press is struck dumb.

There is a token happy ending, but everything will go on as before in this black and hard-boiled comedy.

A brilliant and complete print. Since there are no subtitles it is necessary for the non-native English speaker to focus more than usually on the marvellous, mercurial, lightning fast repartee that no subtitling can possibly cover.

P.S. 20 April 2017. Re-reading Todd McCarthy's brilliant Howard Hawks biography:
    1. His Girl Friday is "one of the greatest American screen comedies, an arguable improvement on its brilliant source material, a high point in Hawks's own career, and a culmination of the 1930s screwball genre from a man who was there at the start of it all some six years before".
    2. Charles Lederer took Hawks's basic notion of turning Hildy into a woman the crucial extra step to make her the ex-wife of Walter Burns. Hawks credited Lederer's idea with making "all the scenes much better and the characters more definite."
    3. Changing Hildebrand into Hildegard enriched the dynamic of the story in obvious ways, enabling it to become "a very curious and complex romantic comedy in which love is expressed through work and work is expressed as love".
    4. Hawks made sure to include a scene not present in the play – Hildy's prison inteview – that showed this celebrated pro in action, proving how good she really is and thereby how worthy of Walter's esteem.
    5. The scene of Hildy's arriving in the newsroom includes one of the rare extended moving-camera shots in Hawks's work.
    6. Hawks devised a way to set a new speed record on His Girl Friday by having the actors overlap each other's dialogue.
    7. Hawks felt that audiences had had a problem with Bringing Up Baby because he had made "all the characters crazy". This time, he was determined to play the supporting characters straight to offset the antic behavior of his leads.
    8. "Very uncharacteristically for the time, but consistent with his first speed comedy, Twentieth Century, Hawks used no music in the film except to build to the final fadeout".
    9. "On the surface [...] Hildy comes off as exceedingly modern, a sharp-dressed feminist before her time who can out-think, out-write, and out-talk any of her male colleagues, an unusual woman in Hawks's world in that she long ago proved herself worthy of inclusion in the otherwise all-male group".


Saturday, April 01, 2017

Sielunmetsä / Into the Forest I Go

FI 2017. Year of production: 2016. PC: Filmimaa. P: Markku Tuurna. D+SC: Anu Kuivalainen. CIN: Jarkko T. Laine. M: Sanna Salmenkallio. S: Janne Laine. ED: Tuula Mehtonen.
    A documentary film featuring:
Riikka Palonen, Köyliö, karjakko / milkmaid
Markku Laakso, Turku, taiteilija / artist
Tuomo Pirttimaa, Kuusamo, metsästäjä / hunter
Juha Hurme, Helsinki, käsikirjoittaja – ohjaaja – kirjailija - opettaja / playwright, director, writer, teacher
Pentti Linkola, Sääksmäki, metsien suojelija / conservationist
Virpi Eronen, Viinijärvi, maaseudulla asuva – ohjaajan lapsuuden ystävä / the director's childhood friend on the countryside
Leena Juurikkala-Ketola and Jyrki Ketola, Helsinki, metsänomistajapariskunta / forest owners
Margarita Warona, Helsinki, ex armeijan erikoisjoukot Venäjällä / former captain of the special forces of the Russian army
Niina Meskus, Varkaus, uusi metsänomistaja / a young forest owner
Anu Kuivalainen, Helsinki, dokumentaristi ja mökkiläinen / a documentary film maker and summer cottage dweller
    91 min
    Distributed by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus on DCP.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, Helsinki, 1 April 2017.

From the Elonet database synopsis: "Ten stories of the forest as a Finnish soulscape. A quest into the changing relationships of Finns to the forest. On display are the viewpoints of trekkers and wanderers, forest owners, conservationists, summer house dwellers, hunters, pickers of berries and mushrooms, artists, and people seeking for solace and a peace of mind ‒ as well as the viewpoint of forestry: timber harvesting and forest management."

AA: With a harvester the childhood forest is destroyed in a flash. The director Anu Kuivalainen happens to be present when the cut-to-teeth logging operation takes place. She records the action with her camera and cries for days afterwards. The harvester is ultra modern and yet there is a feeling of witnessing a prehistorical monster on rampage in a King Kong film.

This shock experience sets Sielunmetsä [Soul Forest] in motion. We meet forest lovers, some of them city-dwellers with an emotional and poetic approach. We also meet people who actually live in the countryside and take care of forests. They have a pragmatic approach to the eternal seasons and life cycles.

Various viewpoints to forestry are on display. We visit a site of clearcutting that has taken place 40 years ago, and the vista is still deserted. The film offers outlines of the forest industry which in Finland is still only 150 years old, a fleeting period in the cycles of nature.

We meet forest hikers at camp fires. We meet a hunter disemboweling an elk (a moose). We visit a bear observation station where a boy child watches a bear moving in the distance. We follow blueberry and chanterelle pickers. We live in a world of urbanization, but time in the urban sense ceases to exist in the forest. "Hurry is a thrombus".

The forest is a milieu for a profound identity trip in the tradition of Thoreau's Walden. Among the protagonists is Pentti Linkola, a philosopher, environmentalist and practitioner of deep ecology. At age 84 he is seen measuring / hugging trees and enjoying the presence of the forest.

We also meet Juha Hurme, a playwright and man of the theatre who confesses that after a period of treatment in a mental hospital he has travelled to the forest to recharge his batteries, picking cloudberries, trekking and camping in his tent. "There are no square angles in the forest" (Hurme).

We also follow Margarita Warona, a transgender person, a former captain of Russian special forces, amazingly agile in forbidding conditions on swamps. She confesses that she transforms into a different being in the forest. "I am a bear".

Margarita Warona is like a dancer in the forest and the swamps, but we also meet regular dancers, performance artists (see the poster above) and painters inspired by the forest. The tradition of holy seers and visionaries is still alive. For Anu Kuivalainen the forest is "wild and tolerant". Swimming is a natural form of communion with the nature, and for once a film director herself performs the "swimming job", a tradition in Finnish / Nordic cinema.

Visually Sielunmetsä is a work of pantheism. The four seasons are prominent. The fog over the lake. The golden leaves of the birch trees in the autumn. The thunder and the lightning. A distinctive kelo (snag). The distant sound of the primordial kuikka (black-throated loon). There are interesting visual inventions such as attaching a tiny camera on a running hound dog. The footage on the snow-covered forest in the winter is breathtaking.

There are also wonderful clips of archival footage juxtaposing forestry of the 1950s with the present. However, the clips are of low tech video quality of footage where brilliant 35 mm camera negatives are likely to exist.

Nature films are popular in Finland, and last year The Saga of the Lake broke national records of documentary film attendance. Anu Kuivalainen's film is a personal project outside such trends. Interestingly, there are in Finnish cinemas presently three new nature documentaries (besides this also Matka merelle [A Journey to the Sea] and Neljä elementtiä [Four Elements]). But the subject is so rich that out of the ten stories in Anu Kuivalainen's film ten feature films could be hatched.