Friday, May 26, 2017

Blood on the Moon

Blood on the Moon. Phyllis Thaxter, Barbara Bel Geddes, Charles McGraw.

Blood on the Moon. Phyllis Thaxter, Robert Mitchum

Blood on the Moon. Charles McGraw, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes.

Blood on the Moon. Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Mitchum.

Blood on the Moon. Barbara Bel Geddes, Bud Osborne, Tom Tully, Robert Mitchum.

Blood on the Moon. Phyllis Thaxter, Robert Preston. The cattle baron's daughter Carol has a love affair with her father's worst enemy, Tate Riling. But when Carol finds out that Tate is swindling everybody, including her, she lashes him on the face with her horse whip.

Verinen kuu / Blod på månen. US © 1948 RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. EX: Sid Rogell. P: Theron Warth. D: Robert Wise. SC: Lillie Hayward – adaptation: Harold Shumate, Luke Short – based on the novel Gunman’s Chance (1941) by Luke Short. CIN: Nicholas Musuraca. AD: Albert S. D’Agostino, Walter E. Keller. Set dec: James Altwies, Darrell Silvera. SFX: Russell A. Cully. Cost: Edward Stevenson. Makeup: Gordon Bau. Hair: Hazel Rogers. M: Roy Webb. S: John L. Cass, Terry Kellum. ED: Samuel E. Beetley.
    C: Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Riling), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardan), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Tom Keene (Ted Elser), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis), Zon Murray (Nels Titterton), Robert Bray (Bart Daniels), Harry Carey, Jr. (cowboy).
    Loc: Sedona (Arizona), Iverson Ranch and RKO Encino Ranch (Los Angeles), Calabasas and Monogram Ranch (California) 
    US premiere: 9.11.1948. Helsinki premiere: 16.6.1950 Astor, distributor: RKO Radio Pictures Incorporation – tv: Yle TV2 1.12.2002 etc. – VET 30553 – K12 – 86, 87, 88, 94 min
    A BFI Distribution print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Robert Mitchum Centenary), 26 May 2017

About the title. "There is something called blood on the moon" and that is when there is a large red ring around the moon giving it a red appearance. The moon will pass completely into the shadow of the Earth producing a striking total lunar eclipse. The total phase throws an eerie reddish colour across the face of the moon. The Earth's atmosphere acts like a prism, bending a little sunlight into the shadow and giving it a copper tint. In essence, what falls on the eclipsed moon is the light of all the sunsets and sunrises on Earth." It's also something that's suppose to happen before the 'end of days' in the Bible. "The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes”" Ashish Warude, Employed and Mental Maniac, but otherwise a real Catch. Updated 12 Sep 2016

What some says or thinks when they are killing mad. It means that you will spill so much of there blood and so violently that some of it will land on the moon. "Those gangbangers killed my homey. There will be blood on the moon!" by Deep blue 2012, May 11, 2010

AA: In our Robert Mitchum Centenary tribute we screened Blood on the Moon which I saw for the first time although it has been often telecast in Finland. "That is the goddamnedest realest cowboy I've ever seen!" was Walter Brennan's comment on Mitchum as Jim Garry in this film. In five years Mitchum had appeared in some 30 films, including Westerns, among them several Hopalong Cassidy adventures. And war films, such as Story of G.I. Joe. Mitchum's breakthrough came with film noir (Undercurrent, The Locket, Crossfire, Desire Me, Out of the Past).

The Western and film noir were Mitchum's strongest genres at the time. Pursued, made the year before, was a combination of the two, and so was Blood on the Moon. The story is a variation of a basic Western situation (the war between cattleowners and homesteaders), but the power of darkness is exceptionally menacing in this outdoors adventure. There is a sense of the metaphysical in it.

Written by Lillie Hayward, Blood on the Moon features prominent female roles. Barbara Bel Geddes stars as Amy Lufton, the cattle owner's daughter. When Amy meets Jim the battle of wills begins at once as they start to shoot at each other. During the course of the narrative Jim gets to save Amy's life, and later it's Amy's turn to first heal (see images above) and finally save the perilously hurt Jim. In the finale there is a sense of a real possibility of Jim and Amy meeting each other as equals.

William K. Everson praised the screenplay of Blood on the Moon and compared it with William S. Hart's Westerns. Indeed, like Hart's films this movie could also be called "a soul fight". Blood on the Moon is a twilight story, an ordeal in the dark night of the soul. From the beginning, with the lone rider seeking shelter in the rain by nightfall and being almost trampled to death by stampeding cattle, there is a fight with the elements. Later, when Jim captures the crooked Indian agent Jake Pindalest (Frank Faylen), they face a snowstorm.

The sense of menace and mortal danger is omnipresent. The cattle owner Lufton's (Tom Tully) attitude is openly hostile ("work for me or clear out"). Jim plans to work as a gunman for his friend Riling (Robert Preston) who has organized the homesteaders against Lufton, but in the end it turns out that Riling is about to swindle everybody.

Blood on the Moon is a violent film, and there is a sense of real pain and suffering in the fights. A turning-point of the film is the death of the son of Kris Barden. Walter Brennan's performance is moving as he conveys the sense of loss of Kris Barden who has recently lost his wife and now his only son. Brennan may be best known for his comical roles, but he is even better in this serious part.

Like in Out of the Past, the cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca creates a vision of "outdoors noir", as James Wong Howe, too, had done in Pursued. The clouds in the sky are ominous. The landscape is full of warning shadows.

Robert Wise had edited high profile RKO films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Citizen Kane before being promoted to directing four years ago, excelling in Val Lewton's unit. In Blood on the Moon, his first A budget film, he was in top form, working with the trusted RKO team, including the art director Albert S. D’Agostino and the composer Roy Webb. Blood on the Moon shares the distinction of the best Westerns of having a cast where even the supporting parts are intriguing. For instance it is affecting to see the character of Frank Reardan played by Tom Tyler, a Western veteran, also known as Captain Marvel ("Shazam!") and The Phantom. Having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis he had to quit superhero roles but continued in supporting roles in A-list films, including those by John Ford.

André Bazin saw in the Western our counterpart to the epic and tragic poetry of classical Greece. No year is given to the events portrayed in Blood on the Moon but presumably it is a story of the classical Wild West (which covered some three decades after the American Civil War). A period of turmoil and chaos during which concepts such as justice, society, dignity and a good life collapsed and needed to be reinvented. Blood on the Moon is an original and inventive work in such most profound aspects of the Western.

A print that is clean and complete at 88 minutes yet with a slight sense of being duplicated in a way that does not perfectly convey Musuraca's highly challenging dark imagery.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Alvar Aalto and Filmistudio Projektio

René Clair: Entr'acte: Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.

Alvar Aalto ja Filmistudio Projektio

Entr'acte. FR 1924. PC: Ballet Suédois. P: Rolf de Maré. D: René Clair. SC: Francis Picabia. CIN: Jimmy Berliet. M for a cinema orchestra: Erik Satie. Featuring: Jean Börlin (le chasseur au chapeau tyrolien / le prestidigitateur), Igne Friess (la ballerine), Francis Picabia (un homme qui charge le canon), Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray (joueurs d'échecs), Darius Milhaud, Marcel Achard, Georges Auric, Georges Charensol, Georges Lacombe, Roger Le Bon, Jean Mamy, Rolf de Maré, Erik Satie, Pierre Scize, Louis Touchages (hommes qui suivent le corbillard). VET 44518 – K16 – 325 m / 22 min

Fernand Léger: Ballet mécanique.

Ballet mécanique. FR 1924. D: Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy. SC: Fernand Léger. CIN: Dudley Murphy, Man Ray. M for a cinema orchestra: George Antheil. Featuring: Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy, Katherine Murphy, Katrin Murphy (girl with a flower), Kiki de Montparnasse (smiling girl). B&w and colour, silent, at 18 fps /15 min

László Moholy-Nagy: ein lichtspiel schwarz weiss grau

ein lichtspiel schwarz weiss grau. DE 1930. D: László Moholy-Nagy. Original format 16 mm, b&w, silent, 6 min – screened in 35 mm

Vauhtia – Tempo 1–2. A Film Rhapsody of Manufacture. FI 1934. PC: Aho & Soldan. D+CIN: Heikki Aho, Björn Soldan. VET A-264 – silent – 23 min – screened from a 4K DCP (KAVI 2017)

Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí: Un chien andalou.

Un chien andalou / Andalusialainen koira / Den andalusiska hunden. FR 1928. P: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali. D+ED: Luis Buñuel. SC: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali. CIN: Albert Duverger. AD: Pierre Schilznech. Music of the sonorized edition edited by Luis Buñuel in 1960 (frame cropped for sound): Richard Wagner: excerpts from Tristan und Isolde, perf. the orchestra of the Frankfurt Opera conducted by Karl Bamberger; Ludwig van Beethoven; "Tango Argentinien" (a French 1950's pastice of the Argentinian tango). C: Pierre Batcheff (man), Simone Mareuil (woman), Luis Buñuel (man on the balcony), Jaime Mirevilles, Salvador Dali (priest). Helsinki premiere: 5.10.1962 Orion, distributor: Aito Mäkinen – VET 62490 – 1956: KK, 1962: K16
    2003 restoration: Filmoteca Española / Ferran Alberich, silent with music on CD (1) Classica: corresponding to Buñuel's concept of 1960 – restored from negatives and other best sources  – silent frame – /18 fps/ 22 min

    Introduced by Ville Suhonen and Antti Alanen
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alvar Aalto and Filmistudio Projektio), with Ilari Hannula at the piano, 21 May 2017

In the context of the Alvar Aalto and the Modern Form exhibition at Ateneum Art Museum we screened a tribute to the Filmistudio Projektio, Finland's first film society, the chairman of which was Aalto in 1934–1936. In fact, there was an earlier film society of the film industry with weekly screenings of new films, but Projektio was the first film society dedicated to film art, even with an emphasis on art film – and what we call today artists' film. Thus Alvar Aalto became the founder of the organized Finnish film culture.

In this screening we reconstructed Projektio's inaugural screening (René Clair: Entr'acte, Fernand Léger: Ballet mécanique, and László Moholy-Nagy: ein lichtspiel schwarz weiss grau). Léger and Moholy-Nagy were Aalto's personal friends who stayed in Finland (László even giving his daughter the Finnish name Hattula) and whose work was exhibited and distributed by the Gallery Artek.

We added an experimental industrial short, Tempo, by Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan, the sons of Juhani Aho who became the founders of documentary film as an art form in Finland, influenced by modernism and Russian montage.

And Un chien andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí as an example of the key works of the cinema that were first screened in Finland by Projektio and could have at the time been seen nowhere else in our country.

Alvar Aalto and his friends had been impressed by Studio 28 and other art cinemas in Paris, the Film Society in London, the Filmliga in Amsterdam, the film culture of Switzerland, and closer to home, the already impressive chain of film societies in Sweden. In Sweden film societies were called filmstudios which explains the name of the bilingual Finnish film society, Filmistudio Projektio. Gösta Werner, the mastermind of the Swedish film studios, was instrumental also for Projektio with print circulation etc.

At Projektio a Finnish special audience (including the generation of new and ambitious film-makers such as Vaala, Tulio, Blomberg, Tapiovaara, Aho, and Soldan) could for the first time see films by Buñuel, Eisenstein, and Cocteau, and abstract films, Dadaism, surrealism, Russian montage, and expressions of queer sensibility on screen.

There were winds of nationalism in Finland in the 1930s but also equally strong winds of internationalism, to which Aalto and Projektio contributed. Artists such as Aalto and Tapiovaara were both deeply national and international, with a self-evident sense that one cannot fully exist without the other.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hannu Karpon Suomi 1 – Tositarinoita havumetsien maasta / [Hannu Karpo's Finland 1 – True Stories from the Land of the Taiga]

Hannu Karpo with his trusted cameraman Kari Sorsa.

FI 1963–2011.
    Based on the television programs: Tunnetko, muistatko? (TV1, 27.6.1963), Varhaisuutiset (TV1, 24.12.1963), Myöhäisuutiset (TV1, 23.7.1966), Perjantaita (TV1, 10.2.1978), Karpolla on asiaa (MTV, 1983–2007), Liikennekarpo (MTV, 1984), Karporaattori (MTV, 1985), Karpolla ei ole asiaa (MTV, 1989), Karpon parhaat (MTV3, 2009–2011).
    PC: Pallosalama Karpo Oy ja Yleisradio. P+D+SC: Hannu Karpo. CIN: Jocke Aarroskari, Kari Elovuori, Berislav Jurisic, Mikko Kainiemi, Mara Kakko, Hannu Karpo, Sampo Karpo, Juhani Simonen, Russell Smith, Kari Sorsa, Jorma Tervonen, Rauno Westerlund. ED: Hannu Karpo, Pirjo Airaksinen, Sari Antikainen, Kari Elovuori, Kimmo Pulli, Juhani Simonen. S: Pirjo Airaksinen, Kari Elovuori, Berislav Jurisic, Mikko Kainiemi, Hannu Karpo, Sampo Karpo, Kimmo Pulli, Juhani Simonen. M: Sampo Karpo. Graphic design: Matti Lyytinen, Ella Tontti.
    Featuring: Hannu Karpo, Ensio Itkonen, Tauno Kuosmanen, Niilo Yli-Vainio, Taisto Heikkinen, Jouko Elevaara, Seppo Fagerström, Irwin Goodman, Irma Hiltunen, Pentti Juola, Markku Leiviskä, Matti Lyytinen, Veikko Määttä, Pauli Paavilainen, Martta Parviainen, Teuvo Soininen, Tauno Suhonen, Arvo Tolonen, Martti Uutela, Jari Vuori, etc. 87 min.
    2K DCP compilation by Sami Hantula and Timo Kinnunen (RTVA / KAVI 2017).
    In the presence of Hannu Karpo, introduced by Ilkka Kippola.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Finland 100), 16 May 2017

Oikeudessa tavataan / [See You in Court] (1987) 0,5 min
Pohjoiskarjalaiset avaruusturismista [North Karelians on Space Tourism] (1963) 3 min
Rettelöintiä suojatiellä Hervannassa / [Big Trouble at the Zebra Crossing] (1985) 2 min
Juvalainen dieselajoneuvo / [A Diesel Vehicle at Juva] (1984) 3 min
Kädetön sotainvalidi ja pysäköintimittari / [An Armless War Invalid and a Parking Meter] (1986) 2 min
Liikennekarpo Alavudella [The Traffic Karpo at Alavus] (1984) 2 min
Risteyskolarin käytäntö ja teoria [A Crash at a Crossing: Theory and Practice] (1983) 3 min
Toiminta liikenneonnettomuuspaikalla / [Reactions At the Site of a Traffic Accident] (1983) 3 min
Rattijuoppo tuhosi talon Askolassa [A Drunken Driver Destroyed a House at Askola] (1987) 3 min
100-kertainen rattijuoppo / [A Hundred-Fold Drunken Driver] (1987) 2 min
Nilsiän öljysheikki / [The Oil Sheik of Nilsiä] (1988) 5 min
Kuopion käärmekuusi / [The Snake Spruce {Picea abies f. virgata} of Kuopio] (1988) 3 min
En vastaa teoistani / [I Am Not Responsible for My Deeds] (1988) 2 min
Kaksi amputointia / [Twice Amputated] (1988) 3 min
Myöhäisuutiset: Lehmät lypsivät piimää mätäkuussa / [Late News: Cows Milking Sour Milk in Hottest August] (1966) 3 min
Luvaton oja / [An Illicit Ditch] (1989) 1 min
Aluepoliisi Soinisen hälytysajoneuvo / [The Alarm Vehicle of Soininen the Local Policeeman] (1990) 3 min
Martta Parviaisen häätö / [The Eviction of Martta Parviainen] (1992) 6 min
Sammakkoprofessorin sääennustus / [The Weather Forecast of a Frog Professor] (1995) 3 min
Merikievarin jatkuvalämmitteinen savusauna [A Continuously Heated Smoke Sauna at Merikievari] (1994) 4 min
Ihmisiä ulkoilmapakastimessa / [People at the Outdoors Freeze] (1999) 7 min
Kaikki on kaupan / [Everything for Sale] (1996) 1 min   
Niilo Ylivainion herätyskokous Lapualla / [Niilo Ylivainio's Revival Meeting at Lapua] (1978) 4 min
Kirkkoherran kiirastuli / [A Vicar's Purgatory] (1999) 8 min
Hyvän sadun loppu (tölkinvetimien kerääjät) / [The End of a Good Fairy-Tale (People who collect tin can tabs)] (2006) 6 min
Varhaisuutiset: Joulun työläisiä / [Early News: Workers at Christmas] (1963) 2 min
Käsi kuntoon / [Getting the Arm in Shape] (2000) 1 min
Karpo kiittää / [Karpo Thanks] (2011) 0,5 min
Karpolla ei ole asiaa: Irwin Goodman / [Karpo Has Nothing to Say: Irwin Goodman] (1989) 1 min

AA: Sami Hantula has curated a brilliant compilation from the the master of the crusading Finnish television feature programme, Hannu Karpo, covering Finnish life in five decades often in a unique fashion, finding people and topics that no one else would have approached, from a harassed vicar to homeless people in the heart of Helsinki.

Karpo's traffic safety programs were important and contributed to the radical improvement that has taken place during the last half century.

The portraits of people have permanent value, also documenting a way of life that no longer exists. To know where we have come from is to understand deeper where we are now.

Karpo's blunt and direct approach in the most improbable situations is combined with a fundamental respect for human dignity. Karpo does not remain on the surface level of sensation. There is a broader understanding of life, and a generous sense of humour, a readiness to embrace life in its surprising variety.

Karpo is always a crusader against bureaucracy. Some of his vignettes are Gogolian in their sense of the absurd.

A compilation produced with wit and a good sense of contrast.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Festival (1967)

Festival. Folk Music at Newport 1963–1966.
    US © 1966 Patchke Productions. Year of release: 1967. Original distributor: Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises.
    P+D: Murray Lerner. CIN: Francis Grumman, Murray Lerner, Stanley Meredith, George Pickow – 35 mm – 1,37:1 – b&w. Print by Movielab. S: Arthur Bloom, John Gibbs, Jack C. Jacobson, Mike Scott, Ben Sobin. ED: Howard Alk – associate editors: Alan Heim, Michael Marantz, Gordon Quinn. Production assistants: Jones Alk, John Craddock, Harvey Kopel, Judith Lerner, Barbara Scott.
    Loc: Newport (Rhode Island), 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966.
    New York premiere: 23.10.1967. Telecast in Finland: 1973 [tbc] – versions: 98, 85 min – DFI 90 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 11 May 2017

The following track listing from the BFI Database is remarkably accurate (I have added some formal titles next to informal ones). Tracks not on the print viewed are in [square brackets]. Additions of mine are in {braces}.

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band: “Hannah”
Peter, Paul and Mary: ”Come and Go With Me (Great Day in the Morning)”
Peter, Paul and Mary: ”If I Had a Hammer”
The Sacred Harp Singers: ”Rocky Road”
The Georgia Sea Island Singers: Traditional spiritual
Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers: Clog dance
[Tex Logan & the Lilly Brothers: ”Black Mountain Rag”]
Pete Seeger: ”Green Corn”
Buffy St. Marie: ”Codeine, and It’s Real”
Spider John Koerner: Traditional blues
Pete Seeger: ”Deep Blue Sea”
Odetta: ”Lordy Lordy”
Joan Baez & Peter Yarrow: ”Go Tell Aunt Rhody”
Joan Baez: ”Mary Hamilton”
Bob Dylan: ”Mr. Tambourine Man”
Bob Dylan: ”All I Really Want to Do”
{Joan Baez: humming ”From Me to You”}
Joan Baez: ”All My Trials”
[Peter, Paul and Mary: ”Blowin’ in the Wind”]
Donovan: ”The War Drags On”
Judy Collins: ”Turn, Turn, Turn”
Donovan: ”Ballad of a Crystal Man (Vietnam, Your Latest Game)”
Odetta: ”Just Can’t Keep from Crying”
Peter, Paul and Mary: ”Times They Are A’Changing”
Joan Baez & Donovan: ”Colours”
Fred McDowell: ”Highway 61”
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: ”Key to the Highway”
Mississippi John Hurt: ”Candy Man”
Old Lady & Old Man: A cappella traditional folk songs {two separate tracks}
Bob Dylan with the Butterfield Blues Band: ”Maggie's Farm”
Ed Young Fife & Drums Corps: Instrumental
Swan Silvertones: ”Feed Me Jesus”
The Staple Singers: ”Help Me Jesus”
The Freedom Singers: Traditional spiritual
The Freedom Singers: ”Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn me Round”
Fannie Lou Hamer: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”
The Freedom Singers: Traditional spiritual
Freedom Group Finale: ”We Shall Overcome”
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: ”Born in Chicago”
Son House: ”Son House Blues” {I believe there are two different blues tracks in the Son House section}
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Instrumental
Howlin’ Wolf: ”Howlin' for My Darling”
Mimi & Richard Fariña: {probably not from “Pack Up Your Sorrows”}
Mimi & Richard Fariña: “Pack Up Your Sorrows”
Spokes Mashiyane: Flute instrumental
Cousin Emmy: Cheek slapping {”Turkey in the Straw”}
Theodore Bikel: Russian folk song
Judy Collins: ”Anathea”
Johnny Cash: ”I Walk the Line”
Osborne Brothers: ”Ruby”
Joan Baez: ”Farewell Angelina”
Bob Dylan: ”Mr. Tambourine Man”
Group Finale: ”Down by the Riverside”

Also featuring (BFI Database): Horton Barker, Fiddler Beers, Mike Bloomfield, Richard Farina, Ronnie Gilbert, Ollie Gilbert, The Lilly Brothers, Mel Lyman, Pappy Clayton McMichen, Moving Star Hall Singers, Joe Patterson, Almeda Riddle, Eck Robertson, Mike Seeger, General Watson, Reverend Wilkins.

Wikipedia: "The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman."

AA: I saw for the first time Murray Lerner's Festival (1967), one of the greatest documentary films on popular music, the first great counter-cultural music festival film, a predecessor and model for Monterey Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970).

Festival itself had distinguished predecessors. The first great rock and R&B concert film was T.A.M.I. Show (1964), shot in Santa Monica. I have never seen an integral version of that fantastic movie, only torsos and fragments of it. And of course Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), the classic documentary of the Newport Jazz Festival, shot in colour by Bert Stern.

Festival is in black and white. It starts in medias res with Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band at "Hannah" before the opening credits. An atmosphere of spontaneity is introduced at once. Improvisation and ad lib remarks are welcome. There are many interviews and comments in this film. Although this is a music festival, verbal discourse is equally important. Newport has a special audience who listens to the song lyrics attentively. Murray Lerner incorporates memorable long takes of the arrival of the festival audience, and faces of people listening to the artists. There is a sense of a real communication here.

There are more than 50 music tracks in the movie.

It is a delight to hear Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Buffy St. Marie, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Donovan at their best here. We witness a progress from folk music to protest song in Donovan's "Vietnam, Your Latest Game", which "BBC said I could not sing".

Bob Dylan is prominent not only in his own performances but also in the interpretations of others: Peter, Paul and Mary offer their interpretation of "Times They Are A'Changing". Joan Baez sings "Farewell Angelina". Murray Lerner documents Dylan's transition to the electric guitar in "Maggie's Farm" with the Butterfield Blues Band. In this film the reaction to the legendary performance is underplayed. There is a little booing, but mostly the response is enthusiastic.

The blues section is electrifying with Fred McDowell, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Mississippi John Hurt. There is a dialogue between Son House and Paul Butterfield who confesses that he has no background to be a blues singer, yet he, too, feels the blues inside. The authority figure in the blues department is none other than Howling Wolf, in a stunning performance with his band and guitarist who sounds like Hubert Sumlin. There is a torrent of rain after his performance. "Lord have mercy".

The spiritual section is engrossing, in perfect contrast to the blues element. The Freedom Singers from Georgia bring a lot of passion to the film, and standards such as "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "We Shall Overcome" carry a lot of weight in these performances from the 1960s.

Many currents of the concerts come together in the grand finale group performance of "Down by the Riverside".

I love the combination of passion, intellect, and freedom in these concerts and this film. Like in Jazz on a Summer's Day the summer wind is an essential element in the atmosphere.

The flawless 35 mm film print does justice to the excellent documentary cinematography. There are moments with a slightly low contrast look which make me think that this may originally have been a television print but those moments do not hamper a beautiful film experience.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form (an exhibition)

Fernand Léger: Musical Instruments, 1926. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen. The colours of this reproduction are a bit off. Please do click on the images to enlarge them.

Tapio Tapiovaara: Fernand Léger Lecturing in Helsinki, 1937. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

László Moholy-Nagy: Kestnermappe, no. 6, 1923. Private collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/ Jenni Nurminen

László Moholy-Nagy, photographed by Aino Aalto, 1931

Alvar Aalto: Finnish pavilion, World’s Fair, New York, 1939. © Esto Photographics. Photo: Ezra Stoller / Esto Photographics Inc.

Alvar Aalto in his boat, Nemo Propheta in Patria, 1960s. © Christine and Göran Schildt Foundation. Photo: Göran Schildt

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form / Alvar Aalto – taide ja moderni muoto / Alvar Aalto – konsten och den moderna formen / Алвар Аалто – искусство и современная форма
    Ateneum Art Museum, 11 May–24 Sept 2017
    The exhibition has been produced by Vitra Design Museum in collaboration with Alvar Aalto Museum and Ateneum Art Museum.
    Chief curator: Jochen Eisenbrand.
    Based on a touring exhibition shown previously at Vitra Design Museum, Madrid, Barcelona, and Aalborg.
    Viewed at the press conference, 10 May 2017.

The book to the touring exhibition:
    Alvar Aalto Second Nature. Ed. Mateo Kries, Jochen Eisenbrand. Hardcover. Two editions: German and English. Hardcover. 688 p. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2014.

The book to the Ateneum exhibition:
    Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form. Ed. Sointu Fritze. Three editions: Finnish, Swedish, and English. Paperback. 105 p. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2017.

The Ateneum press release: "Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is the most internationally famous Finnish architect and designer. Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form will open up new perspectives into Aalto's life and work. The comprehensive exhibition will illustrate how Aalto's thinking and design idiom developed in interaction with contemporary visual artists. In addition to presenting Aalto's extensive oeuvre, works will also be featured from his close friends and modernist masters, such as the American Alexander Calder and the Frenchman Fernand Léger. The exhibition also highlights the role of the Artek furniture and design company, established in 1935, as a contributor to the Finnish art scene. The exhibition is produced by the Vitra Design Museum, in cooperation with the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Ateneum Art Museum.

Alvar Aalto was one of the most influential figures in international modernism.

"Alvar Aalto's work showed a broad understanding of the arts. His circle of acquaintances included a large number of people who were agents of change in their time and who sought new forms of expression. We want to highlight these connections. The Ateneum is a house for all artistic disciplines: the facade of the museum building features caryatides, carved in 1887, symbolising architecture, geometry, painting and sculpture", says the museum director, Susanna Pettersson.

Aalto was a fully-fledged cosmopolitan with a global network of contacts: he and his wife, the architect Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949), were internationally active, starting in the 1920s. The idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, was important to Aalto: he worked across multiple disciplines, including architecture, urban planning, design, and art.

Assembled by the chief curator of the Vitra Design Museum, Jochen Eisenbrand, the retrospective exhibition will present Aalto's life and work from the 1920s to the 1970s. The exhibition will feature a wealth of iconic objects and pieces of furniture, as well as architectural drawings and scale models. Interdisciplinarity in art, and Aalto's multi-disciplinarity, will be highlighted through archive materials, works of art, photographs and short films. The exhibition will also feature new photographs of Aalto's architecture, taken by the German photographic artist Armin Linke. Before arriving in Helsinki, the exhibition was shown at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany; in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; and in Aalborg in Denmark.

The Ateneum exhibition features four halls of visual art by Aalto's artist friends.

The Ateneum brings another perspective to the exhibition with the inclusion of works by artists closest to Aalto, including the German-French Hans Arp (1886–1966), the American Alexander Calder (1898–1976), the Frenchman Fernand Léger (1881–1955), and the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). The exhibition features a large number of works from Villa Mairea, a private residence in Noormarkku that Aalto designed for Maire Gullichsen and her husband. Most of the works to be shown at the exhibition were originally introduced to Finland through art exhibitions organised by Artek, and through people in Aalto's inner circle. Artek's exhibitions left a permanent imprint on the Finnish art world and on the Ateneum Art Museum's collection.

Produced by the Ateneum, the publication Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form discusses Artek's exhibition activities and highlights the life's work of Aino Marsio-Aalto in the arenas of art, design and architecture. Edited by the chief curator, Sointu Fritze, the publication will feature articles by Jochen Eisenbrand, Susanna Pettersson, and Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. The publication will be available in Finnish, Swedish and English.
" The Ateneum press release

AA: Alvar Aalto's timeless architecture and design has been showcased in prominent exhibitions and catalogues over the decades.

A new twist in the Ateneum exhibition is a focus on the Aalto couple's artistic network in modernism with special departments dedicated to four artists: Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, and László Moholy-Nagy. The works displayed are mainly from Finnish collections, a legacy of the long term work of the Artek Gallery in exhibiting and dealing art. Artek-based samples of Gauguin, Picasso, Degas, etc. are also on display.

Alvar Aalto himself always emphasized his partnership with his architect wife, Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949), but in the tradition of solo male artist worship many tributes have neglected her. In this exhibition Aino Aalto's contribution is more prominent than traditionally, starting from a brilliant photo montage slideshow with superimpositions. Aino Aalto was, among many other things, a distinguished photographer inspired by László Moholy-Nagy.

Jochen Eisenbrand writes that Alvar Aalto was inspired by Goethe's humanistic calling based on a knowledge of languages which enabled him constantly to "go beyond himself" and establish an international "family" from the solid ground of his homeland.

Alvar Aalto experienced the ordeals of WWI (in the bloody civil war aftermath in which he participated), the great depression, fascism, WWII, and the Cold War. His version of modernism was a counter-image to these terrors. Based on human values, the Aaltos' calling was to bring technology back to the people, with a sense of the natural form. There is a sense of the organic in their work. And a touch of sensuality in the signature curvilinear forms.

Proudly Finnish, the Aaltos relished the friendship of their large international network. There is a feeling of a love affair in the oeuvre. And a feelgood atmosphere in the jigsaw puzzle of the exhibition. For Aalto architecture was the trunk from which other visual arts branched out, and in this exhibition this concept is realized beautifully.

One of a handful of the internationally best known Finns, Alvar Aalto has always been much more highly valued abroad than in his home country. Acknowledging this he called his boat Nemo Propheta in Patria – "No prophet in his hometown".

Having seen the show I immediately started to read the weighty international catalogue of the touring exhibition and was especially impressed with the insight in the philosophy of history in Eeva-Maija Pelkonen's essay "Symbolic Imageries: Alvar Aalto's Encounters with Modern Art", making sense of Aalto's development from symbolism to abstraction.

In the Finnish catalogue special delights include Susanna Pettersson's exploration of the impact of the Artek Gallery in the Finnish art world and Sointu Fritze's portraits of Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, and László Moholy-Nagy, with rare illustrations.

We participate at Cinema Orion with a film series dedicated to Filmistudio Projektio. Alvar Aalto was the chairman and dynamo of the first Finnish film society in 1934–1936 and thus the grandfather of the Finnish film societies and festivals and the Finnish Film Archive. I have posted a blog entry on Projektio three years ago.

Hans Arp: Torso (Feuille / Leaf), 1959 (based on a collage from 1941). Portfolio of silk-screen prints 75/75, Éditions Denise René, Paris. Mairea Foundation. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Watching nitrate in Rochester: The Nitrate Picture Show (2017)

After the FIAF Congress in Los Angeles I returned to Helsinki via Rochester to participate for two days in the already legendary The Nitrate Picture Show, now in its third edition at the George Eastman Museum. The organization runs smoothly, the staff creates an atmosphere of professionalism and hospitality, and the knowledgeable audience comes from all over the United States, Canada* and the world to see nitrate. (*We are not far from the border located as we are by Lake Ontario, near the Niagara Falls).

I have seen and/or programmed more than a thousand nitrate screenings myself, but that does not make me blasé about a festival like this. Rather it enhances my appreciation and admiration to see things this well done. The dynamics and the balance of the programme is electrifying: from velvety black and white to glorious Technicolor, from the unworldly escapism of a Hollywood musical to classic documentaries of concentration camps and slaughterhouses. I regret having to leave early and missing the last day of the festival to face an ultra busy week at the office in Helsinki.

Some titles are well-known such as Early Summer or Anchors Aweigh. In the age of perfect digital home formats and brilliant DCP's such titles are easily available. But increasingly even digital natives, young cinephiles, notice the difference between film and digital.

The digital experience is impeccable, but somehow the visual impact remains more on a surface level. Visually, the film experience remains definitive perhaps since the cinema has much to do with the unconscious, and in a way that many cinephiles recognize but find hard to explain a film viewing is more profoundly engrossing, more gripping, more unsettling, and more subtle. My theory is that it has something to do with the organic quality of the film material.

For me the main distinction is not nitrate itself but seeing a vintage print, to see how the film was originally meant to look. In the nitrate era most prints were struck directly from the negative, without internegatives. That was at least the case in Nordic countries. It is breathtaking to watch the naked original image without the veil and distance that inevitably emerges with internegatives and duplication. Also a digital file we now can produce directly from the original negative, but the image is computerized into ones and zeros and transformed into something different, certainly in many ways better ‒ sharper, brighter ‒ yet no longer giving us the original, but a reinterpretation.

We must be increasingly grateful for opportunities such as The Nitrate Picture Show showing us the original vision. The refined soft watercolour imagery in Early Summer. The boldly fantastic warm Technicolor of Anchors Aweigh. The primal experience in Le Sang des bêtes.

Le Sang des bêtes / Blood of the Beasts (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Georges Franju, France 1949
Print source: La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Running time: 22 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print: Donated to La Cinémathèque française by André Joseph, editor and first assistant of Georges Franju, cofounder of the Cinémathèque, the print is in great shape, with very few scratches or splices. Shrinkage: 0.6%

About the film: A haunting documentary classic that details the daily operations of Paris slaughterhouses.

AA: Introduced by Jurij Meden, screened with e-subtitles in English, a personal print of the director Georges Franju from the year 1949.

My first interview with a film director was with Franju in February 1976. He was then visiting Finland with his latest film, Nuits rouges / L'Homme sans visage. Franju even visited Tampere where I was studying journalism and mass communications as a main subject at the Tampere University. I conducted the interview in French with our television unit in the context of our tv practicum. One of the questions that intrigued me was why this gentle and kind soul had made splatter films such as Le Sang des bêtes and Les Yeux sans visage. He told us that he actually had a fobia of blood and made those films in order to overcome it.

Revisited a surrealist masterpiece of the documentary, Franju's first solo film. Everything in the film has been filmed with a documentary approach. The surrealism emerges from the context, from the montage of juxtapositions and collisions.

Shot by Marcel Fradetal, to become Franju's trusted cinematographer during four decades, Le Sang des bêtes is visually poetic, in contrast to Luis Buñuel's matter-of-fact, newsreel-like approach. It contains haunting and striking images that could be hanging on the wall.

The framing story is about the wasteland, terrain vague, in the outskirts, aux portes de Paris. Children are at play, young lovers meet, laundry is drying on the clothes-line, trains keep a-rolling.

We inevitably approach the slaughterhouse. What happens there is shown unflinchingly, without looking the other way. Bulls, horses, and lambs are slaughtered professionally and efficiently. It happens amazingly fast.

Many viewers are horrified by this, and because of this audience reaction Le Sang des bêtes belongs to the context of the horror film. Together with my brother Asko Alanen I wrote a history of the horror film in the 1980s, and one of the issues that intrigued us was that as a rule horror films were banned in Finland until the 1960s. My theory about this is that horror is an urban genre. Finland until the 1960s was an agrarian land where hunting, fishing, slaughtering animals and other stark facts of life and death were an everyday reality for most. Horror and especially bloody horror was incomprehensible to many still in the 1980s when we got Europe's most prohibitive video legislation. In urban life the graphic realities of birth, life and death are generally hidden from us, yet there is a perennial interest in them. (It is perhaps also significant that horror film aficionados are predominantly male).

Le Sang des bêtes is a great work of poetry because it faces the issue of death with an approach that brings a haunting intensity and sensitivity to each image. Substantial contributions are provided by the composer, none other than Joseph Kosma, and the writer of the commentary, Jean Painlevé, himself a surrealist master of the documentary genre.

To see Georges Franju's personal print of his first masterpiece was one of the great privileges of The Nitrate Picture Show.

Aleksandr Nevski / Alexander Nevsky (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Sergei Eisenstein: Александр Невский / Alexander Nevsky (SU 1938) starring Nikolai Cherkasov.

Sergei Eisenstein: Александр Невский / Alexander Nevsky (SU 1938) starring Nikolai Cherkasov.

Sergei Eisenstein: Александр Невский / Alexander Nevsky (SU 1938) starring Nikolai Cherkasov.

Sergei Eisenstein: Александр Невский / Alexander Nevsky (SU 1938) starring Nikolai Cherkasov. Together with Sergei Prokofiev, Eisenstein created a composition of sound and image, a montage of aural and visual overtones. Please click to enlarge the image.

Александр Невский / Aleksanteri Nevski / Storm över Ryssland
Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dmitriy Vasilev, Soviet Union 1938
Print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna
Running time: 108 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print:
At some point in the 1960s, this became the 324th print to enter the collection of the Austrian Film Museum, likely a donation of the Soviet embassy in Vienna. The print is in excellent condition. Shrinkage: 0.8–1%

About the film:
“In Nevsky, the white robes of the Teuton Ritter were associated with the themes of cruelty, oppression and death, while the color of black, attached to the Russian warriors, conveyed the positive themes of heroism and patriotism. This deviation from the generally accepted image for these colors would have been less surprising to the critics and press abroad (whose objections were very interesting in themselves) if they had recalled an astonishing and powerful passage of literature which I have since found for myself—the chapter called ‘The Whiteness of the Whale,’ in Melville’s Moby Dick.”
– Sergei Eisenstein, The Film Sense, 1942

“It is necessary to show historical figures correctly and strongly. You directed Alexander Nevskij. It came out very well. The most important thing is to maintain the style of the historical period.”
– Joseph Stalin in conversation with Sergei Eisenstein, Moscow, February 1947

AA: Introduced by Paolo Cherchi Usai and Alexander Horwath, screened with e-subtitles in English.

Revisited Alexander Nevsky, a film that takes place in a period where history still blends with myth. The 13th century was a turbulent period around the Baltic sea. States and nations of today did not yet exist. Everything was in turmoil. An ancient pagan culture still survived in Finland, surrounded by Catholics in the West and Orthodox believers in the East.

Immediately in the lyrics of the opening song of the film we learn that "there was a battle on the Neva" where "a cruel adversary, a Swedish host" was beaten. Neva is a river that flows from Lake Ladoga to the Gulf of Finland in Karelia, through what is now St. Petersburg, giving the name to its main street Nevsky Prospekt. Karelia is divided between Russia and Finland today, as often before. "The Swedish host" consisted of Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns (including pagan Tavastians), but Karelians fought with Russians.

The Battle of the Neva has just taken place when the film starts, and the victorious warlord will be called Alexander Nevsky. He is the Prince of Novgorod (Novgorod was both a state and the capital of the state, a huge area of what is now Northern Russia). Immediately in the beginning we witness Alexander's diplomacy with the Golden Horde. Alexander has beaten the Swedes. Next come the Germans, only then the Mongols.

During the making of the film Sergei Eisenstein was under the permanent control of two of Stalin's henchmen, the co-director Dmitri Vasilev and the co-screenwriter Pyotr Pavlenko, whose mission was to curb Eisenstein's "formalism". The result was a film closer to the mainstream than anything Eisenstein ever did. For example, for the first time he employed professional actors.

But the portrait of Alexander Nevsky as a man of the people was also deeply personal for Eisenstein whose favourite film was John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln made the next year. We first encounter Alexander as a fisherman, which may also be an allusion to "the big fishermen" in the Bible, although the official church here is painted in mostly sinister colours. Which is perhaps not far from the truth. The Finnish tradition about our Bishop Thomas of the 13th century (a Dominican, a Black Friar, a participant in the Battle of Neva) is not incompatible with the scary figures hovering over the Teutons here.

In the same popular vein are portrayed the gallant rivals Vasili Buslaev and Gavrilo Oleksich, both in love with the warrior maid Olga Danilovna, all great fighters from Novgorod. There are also traitors among Russians, ready to trade Russia for its goods.

The film is balanced between two impressive setpieces, one about life, the other about death. The great market of Novgorod is a showcase of the vitality of the people (and the merchants!). The Battle on the Ice of the Lake Peipus (Lake Chudskoe) takes place against the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights. It is one of the most legendary battle sequences in the history of the cinema.

Although there was an attempt to create popular cinema there is a strange jarring quality in the film. The ice battle filmed in summer heat is simultaneously impressive and unconvincing. The urge of the ostraneniya ("making strange") of the Formalists never left Eisenstein despite Vasilev and Petrenko's best efforts.

The great new element in Alexander Nevsky for Eisenstein was of course sound. Alexander Nevsky was Eisenstein's first sound film, and together with the composer Sergei Prokofiev he took the challenge of music so seriously that the result became one of the all time best film scores. Eisenstein treated Prokoviev as an equal and often let the film become music-driven.

The result was so powerful that immediately the music gained a life of its own as the Alexander Nevsky Cantata. Listening to this unforgettable music today on this print I also understood why there are now so many live film concerts of Alexander Nevsky. The performance of the score and the sound technology employed on the film itself are primitive and inadequate. They do not do justice to Prokofiev.

In fact, there is a film concert of Alexander Nevsky in Helsinki this year, 13 October 2017 at The Helsinki Music Center, Frank Strobel conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra and Nils Schweckendieck conducting the Great Choir of the Music Center.

Fine visual quality on the nitrate print, doing justice to Eduard Tissé's stark and eloquent images.

P.S. My blog note of the 13 October 2017 Film concert Alexander Nevsky, conducted by Frank Strobel.


Phantom of the Opera (1943) (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Arthur Lubin, US 1943
Print source: David W. Packard
Running time: 92 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print:
Occasional curling and brittleness throughout the print. Despite the overall stiffness of the base, the copy has an excellent look on the screen, with saturated colors and minimal scratches. Shrinkage: 0.65–0.75%

About the film:
“Phantom of the Opera is far more of a musical than a chiller, though this element is not to be altogether discounted, and holds novelty appeal. Story is about the mad musician who haunts the opera house and kills off all those who are in his protege’s way towards becoming the headliner. Tuneful operatic numbers and the splendor of the scenic settings in these sequences, combined with excellent group and solo vocalists, count heavily. Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster and Jane Farrar (niece of operatic star Geraldine Farrar) score individually in singing roles and provide marquee dressing. Third act from [Friedrich von Flotow’s opera] Martha and two original opera sketches based on themes from Chopin and Tchaikovsky have been skillfully interwoven. Outstanding performance is turned in by Claude Rains as the musician who, from a fixation seeking to establish the heroine as a leading opera star, grows into a homicidal maniac. Eddy, Foster, and Edgar Barrier, as the Parisian detective, are awkward in movement and speech, though much like opera performers restricted by their medium.”
– Variety, December 31, 1942

AA: Revisited a film that I previously knew from home viewing formats only. Universal's remake of one of its greatest films is affected in many ways by the fact that it was made during the war. Internationally the horror film genre had an ebb during WWII. Horror film production was reduced, and the films that got made were of a gentler variety, including spoofs and ghost stories. Wartime remakes were milder than the originals. Great work was still possible under the circumstances (Dead of Night, Val Lewton).

I find it rewarding to think of Universal's original The Phantom of the Opera (1925) in terms of Anton Kaes's "shell shock cinema", and it is fascinating to learn that Universal in the 1930s considered a remake where the Phantom would have been a WWI veteran. But in the 1943 remake the screenwriters returned to the original historical context, although otherwise the story has been completely revised.

Among other fundamental changes are that this film is all colour and of course a sound film, and this 1943 film adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1909-1910 serial is the one that is most pronouncedly a music film, an opera film. A peculiarity of the wartime chaos was that copyright issues were insurmountable for selections such as Charles Gounod's Faust. The very opera at the heart of the original story had to be abandoned.

The film starts with an engrossing interpretation of Friedrich von Flotow's Martha sung by Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster, and Jane Farrar dubbed by Sally Sweetland. The other music selections of the film are not from actual opera repertory but Edward Ward's arrangements from public domain material from Chopin and Tchaikovsky. And there is the Phantom and Christine's theme song, "The Lullaby of the Bells" composed by Ward for this film.

The original film adaptation was a Lon Chaney vehicle, and no attempt is made to reach the macabre fury of his immortal performance in this version. In the original screenplay of the 1943 remake Claude Rains was revealed to be Christine's father which also would have made deeper sense of the theme song being a lullaby. Rains portrays Erique Claudin, a self-effacing violinist who lives for his art until he suffers three profound insults: against Christine, and twice against himself: he is fired from the Opera, and his life's work is being stolen by the Pleyel & Desjardin music publishing agency.

Erique becomes mad, a homicidal lunatic, and when acid from the printing press of the publishing agency is thrown on his face he gets horribly disfigured, descends into the sewers, steals the Opera's master keys and transforms into the Phantom.

There is a "love versus duty" and "love versus art" theme in this film, and there are emphases and passages of dialogue that seem to point directly to the "art worth dying for" philosophy of The Red Shoes.

Although Claude Rains's Phantom is mild in comparison with Lon Chaney, Christine's rivals are even less charismatic. Nelson Eddy is the main rival as the baritone, and Edgar Barrier competes for Christine's attentions as the inspector of the Surêté. They become a comedy duo in the film. After the Phantom's demise Christine is left pondering the mystery of the lullaby: "he called it his song". "I always felt drawn to him". The bumbling duo of rivals, the baritone and the detective, join each other for dinner in the finale without Christine.

Less a horror film than the Lon Chaney version, this adaptation is a brilliant and colourful spectacle.

The print is in glorious Technicolor with some minor patina of time testifying that it has not been sitting idly on a shelf. A very gratifying film experience.

Rouen, martyre d'une cité (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Louis Cuny, France 1945
Running time: 15 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

Print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna
About the prints: The print of Rouen was donated to the Austrian Film Museum by the Institut français d’Autriche in Vienna on June 1, 1976, as an example of work deemed important by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development in Paris, and thus exported abroad. The print of Die Todesmühlen was acquired from a private collector who most likely found it at a flea market. Both nitrate prints show extensive wear and tear throughout the footage. Shrinkage: 1.2%, in both prints
About the films: Both films address the destructive consequences of World War II. Rouen is about the “martyrdom of a city”; Todesmühlen is the most important postwar re-education film made by the Allied Forces, showing to the German and Austrian population the horrors of concentration camps.

AA: Shown as the second film in the context of Alexander Horwath's James Card Lecture, a vintage "ruin film", equally devastating as the unforgettable documentaries of Berlin, Warsaw, etc. (Their ruins documented even in contemporary fiction such as Germania anno zero and Miasto nieujarzmione / Robinson Warszawski based on Wladyslaw Szpilman's Smierc miasta).

There is a deep historical dimension as we observe the ruins of the city of Jeanne d'Arc and Corneille, with its all-important harbour and Gothic cathedral.

The print has been heavily used and is slightly in low contrast. In a screening like this the wear and tear become a part of the impact. Time has put its seal on the matter.

Die Todesmühlen / Death Mills (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Die Todesmühlen. Germans face the consequences of their actions in Buchenwald.

Hans Burger, US 1945
Running time: 22 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

Print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna
About the prints: The print of Rouen was donated to the Austrian Film Museum by the Institut français d’Autriche in Vienna on June 1, 1976, as an example of work deemed important by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development in Paris, and thus exported abroad. The print of Die Todesmühlen was acquired from a private collector who most likely found it at a flea market. Both nitrate prints show extensive wear and tear throughout the footage. Shrinkage: 1.2%, in both prints
About the films: Both films address the destructive consequences of World War II. Rouen is about the “martyrdom of a city”; Todesmühlen is the most important postwar re-education film made by the Allied Forces, showing to the German and Austrian population the horrors of concentration camps.

AA: Shown as a part of Alexander Horwath's James Card Lecture, one of the most important films in history, a film that was required viewing for Germans after the end of the Second World War.

The film registers the original shock of the concentration camps. We witness the living skeletons, the mountains of corpses, the monumental evidence of industrial murder. The children of Auschwitz who have forgotten their names, now identified but via numbers tattooed on their arms.

Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Maidanek, Mauthausen, Ohrdruf, Lambach, Landsberg, Dachau, Ebensee, Belsen, Leipzig, Schlossendorf...

From each German city there was but a short distance to a concentration camp.

German leaders are ordered to examine the consequences of their crimes. The inhabitants of Weimar get to see what they have done. Many had been informed on by neighbours. Many had looked the other way.

The words Holocaust and Shoah are not in use yet. Among the victims of terror several groups are named, the last among them, Jews. This is not a film about the genocide of the Jews. In Alain Resnais's Nuit et brouillard ten years later even the word "Jew" was still not mentioned.

There was a unique frisson in watching a vintage print, likely to have been seen by thousands of Germans 72 years ago.

After the screening the silence was palpable.

Siréna / The Siren / The Strike (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Karel Steklý, Czechoslovakia 1947
Print source: Národní filmový archiv (National Film Archive), Prague
Running time: 77 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print

The print is in very good condition. It was deposited with the National Film Archive at some point before 1952, and is probably the print of Siréna that was screened in 1947 at the 8th Venice International Film Festival where the film won the Grand International Award. Shrinkage: 0.8–0.95%

About the film

“We greatly admired this picture, which resembles Carol Reed’s film about the lives of Welsh miners, The Stars Look Down. This is that film’s Czech counterpart, so to speak—a dignified and an even more brilliant counterpart, with its proletarian story about the working-class Hudcový family. It is an intense, extensively detailed, and often riveting picture about the bitter cycle of existence for the poor, a picture of misery and grief, warmed only by the rays of human love and hardened by the hate that compels one to clench their fists and come to blows—perhaps even wrongly.”
– Jan Žalman, Kino, May 9, 1947

AA: Introduced by Michal Bregant and screened with English subtitles by Roberta Finlayson-Saymour on the vintage print. The Strike is the on-screen title. Siréna is a dramatic condensation of a central narrative thread in Marie Majerová's epic 1935 novel. The screenplay was written by the author herself. Based on reality, the growth of the Kladno industrial center in 1835–1894, Siréna is a story of the half-feudal reign of the tycoon Bohumír Bacher and the organization of the miners to fight for their rights, their dignity, and their self-respect.

Besides The Stars Look Down, Siréna brings to mind classics such as Germinal, How Green Was My Valley, and Die Weber. And the current of socialist realism that started with Maxim Gorky's The Mother.

A central thread is a fight against apathy and degeneration among the downtrodden miners. The young daughter of the family is a ray of hope. The miners try to impose discipline. They are wary of sabotage. They avoid being provoked ("that's the sort of excuse they want"). But an outburst of anarchic violence does take place (things are demolished, not people) which then does give Bacher's people the excuse to unleash bloodhounds. The cavalry is summoned, and it opens fire against the workers. Even the little agitator daughter is mortally hit.

The central consciousness belongs to the mother in the finale. We identify with her suffering. When the siren rings once more she declares that we will never be silenced again.

The brilliant print does justice to the sometimes dark and challenging imagery.

Žhavý jícen / Hot Throat / Hot Gorge / The Fiery Gorge (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Jiří Lehovec, Czechoslovakia 1939
Print source: Národní filmový archiv (National Film Archive), Prague
Running time: 12 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print: The National Film Archive received this nitrate print from the estate of the film’s director in March 2004. The print is in excellent condition. Shrinkage: 1.3%

About the film: An industrial short produced by Pražská železářská společnost (Prague Ironworks Company) in 1939, the film contains footage from the shorts Výroba oceli (Steel Production, 1939)—today presumed lost—and Poklady země (Treasures of the Earth, 1939), both directed by Karel Kohout.

AA: An industrial documentary film introduced by Michal Bregant and screened without translation, but we received a sheet with the complete commentary translated into English. We learn about limestone, iron ore, and anthracite found in the mines in the Beroun area, and the functioning of the huge industrial center Kladno in which Martin steel is produced. We witness how rail for Prague trams is being produced, and steel wire automatically rolled into reels. Ironworks products are transported to construction sites around the world "to spread the good reputation of Czech workers and Czech craft".

Jiří Lehovec (1909‒1995) is a name to reckon with, a visual talent, in this film at the top of his game, to be compared with the British, German, and Russian documentary schools, and for a Finn, our greatest contemporaries, Aho & Soldan.

A perfect definition of light in an excellent print.

Anchors Aweigh (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Anchors Aweigh starring Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, and Gene Kelly.

George Sidney, US 1945
Print source: British Film Institute, London
Running time: 143 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print
Generally in good condition, the print has a few visible light to medium scratches (both emulsion and base) and slight nicks at the edges. Heavy edge wave throughout the print; perforations, however, are undamaged.
Shrinkage: 0.35–0.55%

About the film
“Anchors Aweigh mixes music, uniforms and Hollywood cut-ups in such a show as only Hollywood could concoct. Gene Kelly is in there dancing superbly in more than one sequence. Frank Sinatra tags along with his largo vocalizing; Jose Iturbi knocks out some fancy boogie-woogie on the piano and Kathryn Grayson alternates between singing mock operatic arias and being cute. Since Isobel Lenart has written some amusing lines for the continuity and Joe Pasternak has produced the show with Technicolor extravagance, the film is satisfactory summer fare.”
– Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune, July 20, 1945

“Anchors Aweigh goes all the way as a musical. Or is that too punnish a start in appraising a picture that the public needs no apprising of as a moviedom event, to carry the play on words a bit farther? People turned out in lines and droves to see this Joe Pasternak opus yesterday at the Los Angeles, Grauman’s Egyptian and Fox Ritz theaters. What they got for their money was a load of entertainment in the form of songs, dancing and comedy, a thinly plotted story, much glamorous Technicolor, and first-class personnel to convey everything good and interesting about the show.”
– Edwin Schallert, Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1945

AA: Introduced by Jared Case. Revisited a MGM musical from the golden age, Anchors Aweigh, which I knew previously only from home formats and compilations such as That's Entertainment I–III (its production numbers scattered in all three).

My impression of Anchors Aweigh had been of a brilliant but shallow entertainment, and while the film was certainly produced for purposes of light escapism, the director George Sidney manages to introduce deeper currents. Sidney was one of the best directors of Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson (together also in Thousands Cheer, Kelly also in The Three Musketeers, Grayson also in Kiss Me Kate), and during the production of Anchors Aweigh Sidney launched a long term partnership with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, to become a central preoccupation of his since 1957. Sidney was interested in strong women (Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun), and discriminated women (Ava Gardner in Show Boat). He had a special talent in action adventure (Scaramouche) and a privileged access into the dream mode (The Eddy Duchin Story, Jeanne Eagels).

A weakness of George Sidney's was making overlong films, but at 143 minutes Anchors Aweigh does not feel boring. Instead it created a success formula to be repeated in Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town, both co-starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Let's register the bright and brash surface of Anchors Aweigh and be prepared for surprises. The first surprise might be Frank Sinatra playing a boy from Brooklyn who has never dated a girl and needs elementary guidance from the Gene Kelly character. ("Even in Brooklyn things can go wrong"). There is even a scene where Kelly plays a girl to teach Sinatra how to pick "her" up. The situation is inevitably misunderstood by a passing policeman.

Failing to grasp Kelly's advice Sinatra stays in his own shy character and sings a moving interpretation of Brahms's lullaby to an orphan boy who is in Aunt Susie's custody and whom the sailors have rescued from the streets of Hollywood. "I don't have a mother or a father anymore", confesses the little boy Donald (Dean Stockwell) who wants to become a marine.

"Act like a wolf, not a mouse" is Kelly's lesson to Sinatra. Oddly, while Kelly seems to be constantly on the phone with his insatiable girlfriend Lola Laverne, he never meets her during the four days of the Hollywood holiday.

Instead, there is immediate attraction between Sinatra and Aunt Susie = Kathryn Grayson. Funnily, while we would expect the sailors to waste no time during their holiday, they hasten to leave Susie's house, although Susie probably would like them to stay.

The story gets more complicated. At a Mexican café Sinatra meets a waitress from Brooklyn (Pamela Britton in her debut role) with whom there is an instant rapport. And Kelly, the master of make-believe and fairytale (and a pathological liar?), gets deeply stuck in his fabrications, yet cannot resist the attraction of Susie, although the two seem incompatible at first.

While Kelly is at his best in the sequence where his fairytale talent emerges most blatantly – the fantasy ballet with the animated Hanna & Barbera character Jerry Mouse as the sad king – this anthology piece of Anchors Aweigh is not representative of it as a whole.

Like all great musicals Anchors Aweigh is "associated with joy, energy, and abundance, but is equally adept in conveying sadness, disappointment and desperation", quoting words I used in my remarks on La La Land with which Anchors Aweigh shares some characteristics such as having Los Angeles as its location and dealing with issues of loss, failure, and frustration. Donald has lost his parents. Susan is a talented singer but only at the last moment does she finally get a chance to give a successful audition. Kelly and Sinatra mostly fail in their attempts to get a date. But of course there is a happy end.

There is a Spanish-Mexican-Latin dimension in the film thanks to the central presence of the conductor José Iturbi and some passionate tango numbers including "La cumparsita" and "Jalousie" (actually of Danish origin). Thus this screening felt like an aftermath to our FIAF Congress in Los Angeles with a Spanish-Latin American emphasis; classic tangos were played there to launch each congress day.

George Sidney handles the comedy of embarrassment well, most poignantly in the scene where Kathryn Grayson finally meets José Iturbi who has heard nothing of the audition which the sailors have promised her. Sidney proves to be a master of tact and tenderness in directing a powerful emotional current through difficult straits.

The meta-film aspect in Kathryn Grayson's audition scene at MGM Studios is beautiful. We get privileged access to the heart of the dream factory.

As for the singing we have Frank Sinatra at his smoothest and Gene Kelly at his brightest. Yet the true singer is Kathryn Grayson, a stunning coloratura and an excellent opera singer.

The last surprise is Kathryn Grayson giving the wolf growl in the finale.

There is a warm glow in this vintage Technicolor print. Tender colours and burning reds appear on the palette.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Bakushu / Early Summer (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Yasujiro Ozu: 麥 秋 / Bakushu / Early Summer (JP 1951), the middle part of the Noriko trilogy with Setsuko Hara as Noriko.

麥 秋
Yasujirō Ozu, Japan 1951
Print source: National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Running time: 124 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 5 May 2017

The Nitrate Picture Show introduction:

About the print
One of the best nitrate prints held by the National Film Center, the central Japanese film archival institution, this copy is made from at least two different sources, with some visible scratches. Also visible is some very slight and very occasional nitrate decomposition. Shrinkage: 0.5–1%

About the film
“I was interested in getting much deeper than just the story itself; I wanted to depict the cycles of life, the transience of life. . . . Consequently, I didn’t force the action, but tried to leave some spaces unfilled . . . leave viewers with a pleasant aftertaste. For this reason, Early Summer was one of the most demanding work[s] I’ve done in years. There was criticism about the children being unruly. In my view, children and adults have different ‘rules.’ When they grow up, they too will change. As for acting, it’s best to leave things unexpressed, something to ponder or savor. Those who appreciate this have themselves reached a transcendent state. Hara Setsuko is a fine person. If only there were four or five more such persons.”
– Yasujirō Ozu

“This is a work of art in which casual dialogue and nuanced gestures are charged with profound meaning, and it will be hard to comprehend if you arrive at the theater after it begins. You need to be settled in and ready to watch this film before it starts. Ozu’s films, deeply probing the meaning of everything Japanese in the style of a haiku, are well-recognized as gems of Japanese cinema. . . . But today to what extent do such Japanese qualities remain? The director himself seems conflicted, ultimately depicting the family as breaking apart.”
– Asahi Shimbun, October 2, 1951

This screening is co-organized by the George Eastman Museum and the National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, with the generous support of Kinoshita Group

AA: There were electronic subtitles in English in the screening which was introduced by Hisashi Okajima.

I saw Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece Early Summer / Bakushu / [Barley Harvest Time] for the first time. To my knowledge it has not been screened or telecast in Finland. Watching it still felt like a tribute to Setsuko Hara (1920‒2015) who left us not long ago. Bakushu has been called the middle part of "the Noriko trilogy" directed by Ozu and starring Hara. That trilogy includes Early Spring and Tokyo Story which are legendary classics, but Bakushu is on the same level of excellence.

Among the topics discussed in the film is the woman's role in society after the Second World War. Society changed during the war when women became firmly involved in positions of responsibility, independently of men. "We have taken our natural place", state the newly independent women in Bakushu. "Then you can't get married", is the reaction of the tradition-adhering men. "Won't. Not can't".

The topic of marriage was almost an obsession in Ozu's films since Early Spring. (We remember that Ozu and Hara themselves never married although they were no hermits either.) In no other Ozu film is the marriage obsession more insistently hammered home than in Bakushu. "Some women don't want to get married", Noriko says in the beginning. "You are not one of those?" ask the old men of the family. It even feels that on some level Noriko finally agrees to marry just because she has had enough of the endless marriage discourse.

Bakushu is the only Ozu film where I remember having registered a dialogue such as this:

‒ Noriko ‒ is she interested in men?
The ladies have observed pictures of Katharine Hepburn on Noriko's wall.
‒ Is she queer?
‒ No way.

Marriage in this movie means a union partly in deference to tradition and family. At the same time it means, perhaps even more devastatingly, a separation. Kenkichi Yabe's mother Tami (Haruko Sugimura) is endlessly disturbed when she learns that her doctor son will be posted to Akita in the far north of the main island of Japan, far away from his mother. (The shock is enormous, and its impact is felt even more powerfully due to Ozu's extreme restraint in only showing us Tami's back). A similar shock reverberates in the Mamiya family when they learn that Noriko is marrying Kenkichi and following him to Akita.

The world is changing for all generations. As usual in Ozu's films, children are omnipresent. There is nothing ingratiating in the way they are shown. They are nice to grandpa just to get sweets. "I hate you" they say as soon as they have received what they want.

In the changing world tradition remains. There is an impressive and enigmatic Kabuki sequence conveyed entirely via ellipsis, reaction shots. Even more inscrutable is an immense Buddha statue around which the family gathers, with the children playing.

David Bordwell has analyzed Bakushu and indeed Ozu's entire postwar oeuvre as multi-character studies and counted that in Bakushu there are 19 significant characters who are present plus one who is absent.

Technically Bakushu represents the late mature Ozu style with some special twists such as the only crane shot in a late Ozu film. Donald Richie chided Ozu with the observation that Ozu had a tin ear for music. Here the theme tune is "Home! Sweet Home! (comp. Henry Bishop, lyr. John Howard Payne, 1823) which sounds slightly corny but at the same time appropriate for this movie.

Bakushu, an account of the bustle of life in a large family, is profoundly affecting thanks to its inner core, the power of its simplicity, the tranquillity of its sense of being, and the delicate sense of its humour. I watched the movie next to Japanese ladies who had come all the way from Japan and seen Bakushu several times. They were crying, as were we all.

The vintage nitrate print is brilliant and luminous. There are blemishes, but they do not disturb the general impact. For the first time I sense a special quality in Yuharu Atsuta's cinematography of this period: a refined black and white watercolour quality, a special softness in the backgrounds which is intentional, not due to a print being duped in several generations. I remember seeing something similar in very good prints of Kenji Mizoguchi from this period such as Musashino fujin from the same year. This visual quality is different from the starkly reduced impact conveyed by many stills from late Ozu films.