Thursday, November 30, 2017

Oktyabr / October (2012 sonorized restoration from Filmmuseum München, Edmund Meisel score conducted by Frank Strobel)

Октябрь / Lokakuu / Oktober [Ottobre] (Sovkino – SU 1928) D, SC: Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori V. Alexandrov; DP: Eduard K. Tisse, asst. Vladimir Popov, Vladimir S. Nilsen; AD: Vasili I. Kovrigin; ass D: Maxim Strauch, Mikhail Gomorov, Ilya Trauberg; M for cinema orchestra: Edmund Meisel; C: Vasili N. Nikandrov (Lenin), Nikolai Popov (Kerensky), Boris N. Livanov (Tereshchenko, a minister in the Provisional Government), Sokolov (Vladimir A. Antonov-Ovseyenko), Nikolai I. Podvolsky (himself), Lyashchenko (Konovalov), Chibisov (Skobelev), Mikholev (Kishkin), Smelsky (Verderevsky), Ognev (himself – the sailor who fired the signal from the “Aurora”), Eduard K. Tisse (a German officer), Leningrad workers, Red Army soldiers, sailors from the Baltic Fleet of the Red Navy; filmed: 1927; first private screenings: 14 + 23.1.1928, Moscow; première: 14.3.1928; orig. l: 9317 ft. / 2800 m; 35 mm, 2882 m, 124' (20 fps);
    Sonorized 2K DCP with English subtitles from Filmmuseum München – the 2012 restoration supervised by Stefan Drössler for ARTE – the original Edmund Meisel score orchestrated by Bernd Thewes – Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester conducted by Frank Strobel – 124 min (with overture and final credits)
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema, Centenary of the Russian Revolution), 30 Nov 2017

I saw this 2012 restoration of October for the first time and also heard the Edmund Meisel score for the first time. I have had access to the dvd but I can be patient when I think that there will be a chance to see a movie on screen.

October has a powerful general drive, but it is also full of baroque digressions. The overall structure and the total impact of the movie made the best sense for me in this screening, thanks to the contribution of the music. There is a musical dynamics to the film itself: fast action sequences alternate with those of rest, relaxation, sadness, even depression. Among other things, October is an essay in the philosophy of time, and music helps make better sense of it.

I blogged about October's The Canon Revisited screening in Pordenone in 2015 when an Österreichisches Filmmuseum print was shown instead of this restoration which everybody was expecting.

Not wanting to repeat observations of 2015 I merely list scenes I was especially impressed by today:
– scenes of suffering, hunger, and winter
– the epic staging at the Finland Station
– the First Machine Gun Battalion
– Lenin's hideaway after the July Days: a straw hut by a foggy lake
– the ecstasy of the dance scenes
– the montage of world clocks

October is a grandiose film, a disturbing piece of epic poetry. It is marred by a caricature approach to the dramatis personae, weakening even Bolshevik figures (Nikandrov as Lenin). The overdone propaganda agenda diminishes the work. In classics of the antiquity, starting with the Iliad, the opponent was never ridiculed.

October is a visually magnificent work of camera art, full of challenging night sequences and montages.

This version is engrossing because of the happy marriage of image and music. It suffers slightly from a visual quality which is quite watchable but not yet the best possible.


Armomurhaaja / Euthanizer

Euthanizer (Swedish title in Finland). FI © 2017 It's Alive Films Oy. P: Teemu Nikki, Jani Pösö. D+SC: Teemu Nikki. CIN: Sari Aaltonen. AD+Cost: Sari Aaltonen, Teemu Nikki. M: Timo Kaukolampi, Tuomo Puranen. "Sua lemmin kuin järjetön mä oisin" / "(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons" (comp. William Best, lyr. William Best or Ivory Watson, 1945, Finnish lyr. Olavi Virta, 1947) perf. Olavi Virta (1947). S: Sami Kiiski. ED: Teemu Nikki.
    C: Matti Onnismaa (Veijo), Jari Virman (Petri), Hannamaija Nikander (Lotta), Heikki Nousiainen (Martti), Pihla Penttinen (Ojala), Jouko Puolanto (Vatanen), Santtu Karvonen (fisherman), Alina Tomnikov (Elisa), Ilari Johansson (Simo), Rami Rusinen (Tuomas), Olli Rahkonen (Antti), Juha Lehti (Elisa's father), Anssi Niemi (Temppu), Joel Hirvonen (Jomppe), Petri Puttonen (doctor), Petri Tiihonen (motorist), Jyry Koistinen (child 1), Erin Hedberg (child 2).
    Released by Scanbox Entertainment Finland Oy / Finnkino Oy. English subtitles: Liina Härkönen. Swedish subtitles: Ditte Kronström. DCP. Day of premiere: 24 Nov 2017. 84 min
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, 30 Nov 2017

Steve Gravestock (Toronto International Film Festival, 2017): "The carefully balanced (albeit deranged) life of a freelance, black-market pet euthanizer begins to come apart at the seams in this loopy exploitation-movie throwback from Finland, which evokes the brazen psychological insights and aesthetic brio of such grungy genre classics as Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter and Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To."

"Anyone raised on the exploitation movies of Roger Corman or Larry Cohen will respond immediately and affectionately to the polished grunge of The Euthanizer. Even the uninitiated will find themselves charmed by Teemu Nikki's disturbing and hilarious third feature."

"Veijo, played by Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa in his first starring role, runs a black-market operation euthanizing people's ailing — and sometimes just unwanted — pets. It's not a wealthy region, and the local veterinarian charges far more than most can afford. Each commission also comes with a brutal lecture, as Veijo spills over with Old Testament–style indignation about what shoddy and appalling people his patrons are."

"From the outset, it's clear that our hero has dark secrets, but it's only when he meets a young nurse (who tends to his catatonic father) and a seedy garage mechanic (who's mixed up with a vicious gang of neo-Nazis) that Veijo's carefully balanced, albeit deranged, life begins to show cracks."

"What crawls out when things really start to fall apart would, to paraphrase Bill Lee, make an ambulance attendant puke. Propelled by vibrant, B-movie enthusiasm, The Euthanizer offers the brazen psychological insights and aesthetic brio of classic exploitation movies like Cockfighter or God Told Me To.
" Steve Gravestock (Toronto International Film Festival, 2017, Scandinavian Horror, Mystery + Thriller)

"Teemu Nikki was born in Sysmä, Finland. He has directed numerous shorts, music videos, and commercials, and made his feature debut with Simo Times Three (2012), followed up by Lovemilla (2015), based on the popular Finnish TV dramedy of the same name. The Euthanizer (2017) is his latest film." (TIFF)

AA: Teemu Nikki is at his best in The Euthanizer, a genuinely original movie. The little story of a local freelancing pet euthanizer grows into many directions with many kinds of resonances.

The most important of which is: the way we treat animals is a revelation about who we are. This is actually one of the oldest insights in the history of fiction film. D. W. Griffith established a cliché by showing at the start of his films the good guy petting a dog and the villain kicking a dog. Erich von Stroheim parodied him at the start of The Merry Widow by showing the villain getting mad at pigs and the good guy being amused by them. Last Sunday we screened Teuvo Puro's Anna-Liisa where people are constantly interacting with animals like it used to be over millennia before our still very recent urbanization.

The Euthanizer is a saga of our estrangement from nature, and paradoxically, the euthanizer is the greatest animal-lover of all. He ends the suffering of the animals as quickly and painlessly as possible. Very often Veijo, as the euthanizer is called, gives a sermon or lecture to his customers before performing his service. These sermons are very tough stuff, indeed. I am not an expert and would be interested to know whether all the facts given about cats for instance are correct.

The Euthanizer is Teemu Nikki's third theatrical feature film. About 18 years ago I learned to know him as one of the most prominent music video directors of Finland. I have not yet seen Lovemilla (2015) but found Nikki's debut feature film Simo Times Three (2012) interesting. Also Nikki's short fiction such as Fantasy (2016: the story of Pizza Fantasy) has been of high quality.

Some of Nikki's familiar themes re-emerge in The Euthanizer. Petri (Jari Virman) is a thief whose web of lies at his job, at his home, and among his neo-Nazi friends grows into an impossible mess from which he cannot escape. In Simo Times Three there were two scoundrels who were finally quite exhausted by having to carry the burden of a growing thicket of lies.

In Simo Times Three the burglars had slogans similar to True Finns when they stole paintings: "only national romanticism, no postmodernism", they quipped. Now this theme has grown more sinister, and the guys are violent and racist extremists.

Teemu Nikki has a fine bite and a high intensity in his story-telling. His film is constantly surprising with fresh insights and observations. Nikki is a good action director.

My main disappointment is the conclusion. The mystery of the euthanizer is a horrible childhood trauma which he cannot overcome. In the finale there is an extreme turn to the theme of retribution. This is of course the received tradition in action movies.

I would have expected a more original conclusion to an original story. Teemu Nikki is very good in portraying a guy hopelessly entangled in lies. That angle would have provided interesting alternatives to a genuinely startling ending in this memorable tale.

Matti Onnismaa is a trusted actor in the Finnish theatre, television and cinema. The IMDb lists 151 film and television credits for him; internationally he is best known for Aki Kaurismäki roles. In his first leading role in a theatrical feature he provides great presence and rock solid authenticity. This is acting with little nuances and an absolute sense of timing. The surface is hard as a rock, but the sensitivity is always evident.

In this competently shot film the visual quality is not of the highest definition. But this is a character-driven, not a visually driven film, and the characters are compelling.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bill Krohn: Hitchcock at Work (a book)

Bill Krohn: Hitchcock at Work. London / New York: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. 288 p.
    Originally published in French: Hitchcock au travail. Paris: Les Cahiers du Cinéma, 1999.

So much has been written about Alfred Hitchcock since the 1950s, and so much of it is good, that it is amazing to discover in Bill Krohn's Hitchcock at Work a study that fundamentally reverses central established notions – notions cherished by Hitchcock himself above all.

For François Truffaut the two paradigms of the cinema were the spontaneity of Renoir and the pre-planning of Hitchcock. Hitchcock's films were reportedly so well planned that the act of filming itself was a necessary bore.

Krohn analyzes this notion:
– Hitchcock made the film on paper before the actual production.
– It's all in the script, even the camera angles.
– Everything was storyboarded.
– The picture was already edited in the camera.
– There was no room for improvisation.
– Every Hitchcock film is spun out of a single form which often appears in the title sequence.
– Hitchcock filmed everything on a sound stage for complete control.

In the book Krohn studies Hitchcock work process during his entire career, based on documents, with authorized access provided by the Hitchcock family and key archives.

Special focus is given to Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version), Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. There are shorter discussions of many other films.

When all is said, nothing remains of the famous Hitchcockian pre-planning argument. Certainly the films were very well planned, but not completely, and even when they were, Hitchcock was open to new ideas and could make major changes during the production. He loved location shooting, and shooting on location can never be completely pre-planned.

While demolishing step by step the central argument of the Hitchcock/Truffaut book Krohn builds on it and creates a powerful companion piece. There is the familiar joy of cinema here, but the solo auteurist bias of the Truffaut classic is revised. To profess that film-making is a collaborative effort takes nothing away from a director's glory. On the contrary, it is the hallmark of a master that he can create deeply personal work in a collaborative effort. In this book we can sense the passion and esprit de corps in the casts and crews of Hitchcock's films.

Finding "the God in the detail", documented in facts, Krohn paradoxically also comes closer to the magic and the mystery of Hitchcock's films. The enigma remains.

The book is extensively documented and beautifully illustrated. Next to Truffaut's opus it is the visually most gorgeous book on Hitchcock. Krohn takes a closer look at the famous storyboards, notices the differences and discovers that some were created after the filming for marketing purposes.

Krohn is sensitive to the deep inner current in Hitchcock's films, the current that grew stronger in the late films that Hitchcock himself produced. He succeeded in achieving a position of creative independence during the final years of the classical Hollywood studio system. After Marnie it became difficult even for him to continue on that unique level.

Krohn devotes his final chapter to the Mary Rose project cherished by Hitchcock ever since he saw the stage play in London in 1920, starring Robert Donat and Fay Compton. "Mary Rose would have concluded a trilogy begun by The Birds and Marnie". "It would have made a magnificent film", states Krohn. Having read his marvellous book I believe so, too.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sylvi (1913) (2016 reconstruction by Hannu Salmi) (2016 restoration, 4K DCP by KAVI) / piano concert Minna Canth

The Helsinki premiere of Sylvi (1913) took place at Cinema Lyyra. It was the headliner in a programme which also consisted of the comedy Perinpohjainen parannuskeino [A Thorough Remedy] and the newsreel Gaumontin viikkolehti N:o 9 [Gaumont Actualités, No. 9]. Yes, it was approximately week 9 of that year.

Sylvi (1913). The ball. Location: the Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki. The restaurant Kaivohuone designed by the architect Carl Ludvig Engel in 1838 still remains. This image is not included in the 2016 reconstruction.

The pianists Suvi Sistonen and Anu Rautakoski.

FI 1913. P: Frans Engström, Teuvo Puro, Teppo Raikas. D+SC: Teuvo Puro – based on the tragedy (written in 1893 in Swedish) by Minna Canth. CIN: Frans Engström. AD: Carl Fager.
    AD: Teuvo Puro, (Aksel Vahl, notary / notario), Aili Rosvall (Sylvi, Akseli's wife), Teppo Raikas (Viktor Hoving, architect), Olga Salo (Alma Hoving, Viktor's sister), Ester Forsman (Karin Löfberg), Olga Leino (Elin Grönkvist), Eero Kilpi (Harlin), Jussi Snellman (Idestam), Paavo Jännes (judge), Uuno Kantanen (role unidentified), Urho Somersalmi (role unidentified).
    Original length: 890 m /16 fps/ 49 min
    Premiere: 24 Feb 1913 Viipuri (Maat ja Kansat), Turku premiere 3 March 1913, Helsinki premiere 10 March 1913.
    2016 reconstruction and intertitles: Hannu Salmi. The intertitles are based on the 1893 tragedy by Minna Canth and the 1913 handbill of the movie. It is uncertain whether any of the footage or the intertitles were part of the original. The footage may be outtakes.
    Reconstruction premiered 7 April 2016 at Suomalaisen Elokuvan Festivaali, Turku. Digital transfer emulating the speed 16 fps: 28 min. 4K DCP.
    Screened together with Anna-Liisa (1922).
    Piano concert Minna Canth at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Finland 100 / I Was Cast in a Role I Did Not Fit In: Great Female Writers) with Suvi Sistonen and Anu Rautakoski at the piano, introducted by Minna Maijala, 26 Nov 2017

I saw for the first time this 2016 reconstruction of Sylvi curated by Hannu Salmi. Salmi himself calls his work "an interpretation".

Sylvi (1913) was believed lost until in 1933 negative footage was found in a Helsinki junk store and edited by Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan. In 1980 Aito Mäkinen and Virke Lehtinen edited a sonorized version of the same footage. The 2016 reconstruction is based on the most original source material, the Aho & Soldan duplicate nitrate negative from the 1930s.

The Hannu Salmi reconstruction does justice to the dignity of Minna Canth's tragedy which she wrote originally in Swedish for Svenska Teatern after her drama of social indignation Kovan onnen lapsia [Children of Hard Luck] had been withdrawn after the premiere from the repertory of the National Theater.

Sylvi is essential Minna Canth material. The young maid Sylvi has been wed to her custodian Akseli, double her age, while she has been too young and inexperienced, her female identity not yet fully formed. When she meets her childhood friend Viktor there is young romance. Akseli is worldly about Sylvi dancing with other men but when Sylvi wants to reconsider marriage things are different. And Viktor has a girlfriend.

Already in the first scene a bottle of strychnine is introduced (Chekhov's gun). In the finale there is a fatal impulse, and suddenly it is too late to regret. The murderer Sylvi is sentenced for life to prison. Sylvi loses Viktor, too. "We can never extend our hands over Akseli's body".

Sylvi is the only Finnish fiction film from the early cinema period of which moving images survive. Of the 49 minutes long film a 28 minutes edition has been reconstructed, many sequences covered by explanatory intertitles only. The reconstruction has been performed with taste and professionalism.

In 1913 D. W. Griffith was already a master of the cinema but Sylvi falls back to an earlier mode, familiar from the first Film d'Art movies of five years ago. Cinema developed rapidly back then, but we saw the new films in Finland soon after their national premieres.

Sylvi is canned theatre with only long takes and long shots, and no movement of the camera. Finland's most famous players act in one of the most famous plays, but we can hardly see their facial expressions. The gestures are pronounced but not wildly exaggerated. Scenes such as the blindman's bluff of Sylvi and Viktor, and the ball, are the most effective.

The nitrate dupe negative has survived through difficult times. The visual quality is watchable but not brilliant.

There is a memorable feeling of serenity in this record of the tragedy.

Suvi Sistonen and Anu Rautakoski provided a soulful interpretation to the film concert.


I revisited also Anna-Liisa (1922) which I saw last month in Pordenone. Each time I notice different things, or familiar things differently.

The dramatic arch is the wedding preparation, but in the finale the wedding is cancelled and Anna-Liisa will be sentenced to prison like Sylvi. In the finale, the wedding announcement reception, everybody is dancing and rejoicing except Anna-Liisa who enters all dressed in black. "Let God's holy spirit live in us". The wedding dress that Anna-Liisa has been preparing from the start will change to a prisoner's garb.

This is the external plot. More important is an internal story of growing up. Anna-Liisa grows up to take charge of her life, and with her, everybody must reassess their lives. The drama is about an external disaster and an inner victory.

Anna-Liisa like Sylvi has been too young to know, and as a grown-up young woman she must take responsibility for the consequences of things she has done in a stage of immaturity. And that have taken place in conditions of social injustice.

This is also Mikko's growing up story. Three years ago he would have had no chance to a fair solution, either. A farmhand could not have married the farmer's daughter. Now, a man of independent means, he is ready to take responsibility, but the damage is irrevokable. He approaches Anna-Liisa aggressively but he is also the one who stops Anna-Liisa's father from killing his daughter with an axe. Mikko is shattered by what goes on in the complex finale of the drama.

The digital colour considerably darkens the image of Anna-Liisa which has been restored from the original negative. The difference is noticeable in comparison with Sylvi which is black and white and based on inferior source materials. Yet there is a magic light in the surviving luminosity of Sylvi.


Friday, November 24, 2017

A Hundred Years of Otherness in the Finnish Cinema (a seminar)

Yli rajan / [Across the Border] (1942), a tale of Ingrians and a love affair across the border between Finland and the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The Ingrian woman (Irma Seikkula), her father (Wilho Ilmari), a WWI war invalid, and her lover from the other side (Joel Rinne). Please click to enlarge the image.

A Hundred Years of Otherness in Finnish Cinema
Finnish Society for Cinema Studies / National Audiovisual Institute / Finnish Film Foundation
A Finland 100 Seminar at the Finnish Film Foundation, 24 Nov 2017

Antti Alanen: Otherness Through the Ages

Bullet points for my presentation the approach of which was to present a catalogue of the theme, if not a "catalogue of ships".


The very term "otherness" is controversial. Our approach was positive, Husserlian, in the spirit of a fundamental calling of art, aiming at intersubjectivity, the Tolstoyan mission: to help us understand each other, in a spirit of reverence for every human being and every living being.

Not forgetting the criticism of Edward Said in Orientalism where the Western concept of Otherness is seen as an artificial and colonialistic construction. Neither forgetting Simone de Beauvoir's Le deuxième sexe where Man is the default and Woman "the Other".

In Finnish the same word "toinen" covers both "the other" and "the second". Simone de Beauvoir's book in Finnish is Toinen sukupuoli.

The European refugee crisis has made this discourse newly topical since 2015. It has also been discussed in key Finnish feature films of this year, including

Elina Hirvonen: Kiehumispiste / Boiling Point (2017) where the director confronts xenophobia, hate speech, refugee centers, the night of the homeless, the Nordic Resistance marches, Finland First events, "what's wrong with Impivaara", the Suomen Sisu, refusing to remain in the social media bubble of the like-minded, and

Jörn Donner: Perkele 2 - Images from Finland (2017). In 1971 Donner had covered the biggest move in the history of Finland when 300.000 Finns moved to Sweden to find work, and many more moved from the countryside to the cities of Finland. Today we are shaken by a thousand or so who get an asylum annually, although the dependency ratio is alarmingly imbalanced, and as Donner puts it, we don't make love enough and neither do we procreate enough.

In this centenary year we often evoke the Fennoman slogan from the 19th century by A. I. Arwidsson: "Swedes we are no longer, Russians we won't become, let us be Finns then". Yet in fact we are also Swedes, and also Russians, and that makes us stronger as Finns.

The National Revival of the 19th century, inspired by the movement of National Romanticism, was vigorously boosted by Russia to help Finns get rid of the cultural bond with Sweden. But the heroes of the Finnish national movement were Swedish speaking intellectuals such as Snellman, Edelfelt, and Sibelius. "Maamme laulu" [The Song of Our Land], the national hymn, was written by Runeberg in Swedish. "Maamme kirja" [The Book of Our Land] which became a school textbook for generations, was written by Topelius in Swedish.

In prehistory we were not Finns but consisted of Sami people, "Finns proper" (Southwestern Finns, varsinaissuomalaiset, Sums), Tavastians, Karelians, etc. In the Battle of the Neva 800 years ago Catholic Southwesterners led by the Dominican Bishop Thomas and ancient-believing Tavastians fought with Swedes against Alexander the Prince of Novgorod, but Orthodox Karelians fought with Alexander.

Finland has always been a seafaring country and a merchant country with connections around the world. The Impivaara myth of an isolated provincial community is one side of the truth, but there has always another story, that of an outgoing and well-connected Finland.

The first Finnish fiction film Salaviinanpolttajat / The Moonshiners was co-directed 110 years ago by the Swedish count Louis Sparre.
The first internationally known films with Finnish themes were directed by Mauritz Stiller in Sweden: The Song of the Scarlet Flower and Johan.
Incidentally, otherness is a key theme in both.
The Song of the Scarlet Flower introduced the figure of the lumberjack, a Nordic counterpart of the Westerner: the foreigner who comes to the village from afar.
Johan is a triangle drama in which the foreigner from the East comes to seduce the young woman and takes her with him. (In the original version he is a wandering merchant from Russian Karelia).

Of the central film-makers in studio-era Finland (Finland being the most Protestant country in the world)
Valentin Vaala was a Russian Orthodox believer and
Teuvo Tulio, a Latvian Catholic.

In studio-era Finland the characters in the films were predominantly mainstream Finns.

Russians were generally depicted in terms of russophobia (ryssäviha), with interesting exceptions such as Commissar Vengrovska (Kirsti Hurme) in the Ryhmy and Romppainen war comedies. She was like a stern mother figure to the reckless boys. Russian talent played a distinguished role, e.g. George de Godzinsky was one of the greatest film composers.

Until 1944 Jews appeared in antisemitic stereotypic roles such as treacherous spies, never played by Jews of course. Jewish talent appeared in starring roles, including Hanna Taini in the title role in Jääkärin morsian [The Jaeger's Bride].

Sami people / Laplanders and Romani people could appear as romantic leads. They were seen in terms of the exotic and romantic other, never played by Sami or Romani actors, never with authentic ethnicity. Even a Russian could appear as an exotic and romantic other (Tauno Palo as a Cossack in Kuisma ja Helinä).

Karelian evacuees were treated with great sympathy in films such as Oi kallis synnyinmaa, Evakko, and Pikku Ilona ja hänen karitsansa. As were Ingrians in Yli rajan.

The Finnish-Estonian co-production Auringon lapset [Children of the Sun] was never released in Finland. In 1962 Veikko Itkonen directed the thriller Vaarallista vapautta [Dangerous Freedom] about Estonian defectors. Estonians seldom featured in Finnish films before the contemporary Puhdistus / Purge based on the novel by Sofi Oksanen.



Art itself is about facing the other.
Facing the other is a definition of art.
Becoming the other is a definition of the actor.
Encounter is the key to all fiction. When two that are different, or opposites, or at odds, or incongruous, meet, we have drama or comedy.

The encounter may be transcendence: transcending the everyday to another reality, another dimension, which can be sacred, or just different, taking us to another time, another world, another experience - childhood, old age - or another sex.
This is about the essence of art. Even a popular song is about transcending the everyday.


France has always welcomed artists from all over the world. Paris has been the capital of art and a capital of immigrant artists. France was the first superpower of the cinema, and Paris remains the capital of film culture.

Hollywood was founded by immigrants.

In Germany in the Weimar Republic the name of the leading film studio Babelsberg tells all.

In Russia Mezhrabpom-Rus was the center of international cinema.

Danish cinema became global before WWI, and in Swedish cinema the same happened during the war.

In Finland cinema remained national in a generally provincial kind of way. Exceptions have existed but only now a general change is taking place.


The first book of the Bible is Genesis, and the second book is Exodus.
After the birth of Jesus in the manger there is soon the flight to Egypt.

Western literature, the classics of Antiquity, begin in the Trojan War. There are dozens of peoples in Homer's catalogue of ships. After the war many were homeless wanderers, or wanderers on their way back home such as Ulysses. Aeneas the Trojan landed in Italy to become the ancestor of the Roman Empire.

Exile was the human condition.

Hesiod, the other founder of Western literature, defined philoxenia (hospitality) as a cardinal virtue - especially kindness towards refugees and asylum seekers. The term comes from the saga of Philemon and Baucis. This poor old couple received two humble wanderers with hospitality. Later they learned that they were disguised gods, Zeus and Hermes.

The classics of Antiquity take place at the Mediterranean Sea, also the site of today's refugee crisis. Even some of the names of the places, such as Lesbos, remain the same as they were 3000 years ago.


In terms of facing other kinds of people Finnish cinema of the 21th century has changed radically.

This year we have seen Tom of Finland (2017), about gay pride. Before Ilppo Pohjola's Daddy and the Muscle Academy (1991) and P(l)ain Truth (1993) LGBTQ themes were rarely discussed, although there were distinguished exceptions such as Valentin Vaala's People in the Summer Night and (in a way) Sysmäläinen.

In Saattokeikka / Unexpected Journey (2017) a guy with Kenyan background becomes a driver to an old recluse whose son is celebrating his gay marriage. Black talent appears increasingly in Finnish cinema. Neil Hardwick was a pathbreaker with his musical Jos rakastat / If You Love.

Tokasikajuttu / The Punk Voyage (2017) is a rockumentary about the punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, consisting of musicians with developmental disabilities. Invalids had rarely starred in Finnish feature films, again with distinguished exceptions such as Markku Pölönen's Koirankynnen leikkaaja and Klaus Härö's A Letter to Father Jacob.

There are key directors with oeuvres focusing on otherness.

Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui have created an epic series of documentaries and fiction films about the endangered cultures of Northern peoples.

Katariina Lillqvist has directed a masterful animation series about Romani people called Mira Bala Kale Hin.

Katja Gauriloff has created essential films about Skolt Sami culture: A Cry in the Wind and Kuun metsän Kaisa.

Hamy Ramezan of Iranian background has directed Viikko ennen vappua, The Keys of Paradise, Listen, and The Unknown Refugee.

Klaus Härö's entire career is dedicated to the theme of otherness, from Elina, som om jag inte fanns / Elina, As If I Wasn't There, to The Fencer.

Aki Kaurismäki started his career in the tradition of existentialism, the arch covered by Colin Wilson in his study The Stranger, including Dostoevsky (Notes from Underground), Hesse (Steppenwolf), and Camus (L'Étranger). (And in the cinema: Bresson, Melville, and Godard). These are studies of solitude. We are strangers in our own world. We are strangers in our own lives. We are strangers to ourselves.

Le Havre was a turning-point. Now it was not about the anxiety of the protagonist, but a protagonist being anxious about the other, the refugee.

The Other Side of Hope was a next stage in Kaurismäki's refugee series, harbour series. We have a protagonist taking care of a refugee, and the refugee himself as the other active protagonist, worrying more about others than himself.

Perhaps this is becoming a series about philoxenia.

In recent years in the Finnish cinema there have emerged film artists with names which are not Finnish such as:

Hamy Ramezan, Naima Mohamud, Mohamed El Aboudi, Zagros Manuchar, Karzan Kader, Tonislav Hristov, Amir Escandari, and Hassan Blasim. Finnish cinema may look forward to growing cultural variety in the next decades.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reading classics of Antiquity XII: Virgil: Aeneid completed

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo / Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727–1804): La processione del cavallo di Troia / The Greeks Entering Troy / Kreikkalaiset tunkeutuvat Troijaan / Grekerna invaderar Troja III. 1760. Bozzetto. Oil on canvas. 41 x 55 cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Accession number: inv. no. S–1996–105. Photo: Hannu Aaltonen. Wikimedia Commons. The first two bozzettos of Tiepolo Junior's Troyan Horse series belong to the National Gallery (London). Please click to enlarge the images.

J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851): Dido Building Carthage (The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, 1815). National Gallery. Oil on canvas. Source/Photographer: The Athenaeum. Permission: "You can reuse the artwork (but not our logos or original text) in any way, as long as you credit us." Wikipedia.

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625): Aneas en de sibille in de onderwereld (Aeneas and a Sibyl in the Underworld, ca. 1600). Color on copper. 36 × 52 cm (14.2 × 20.5 in). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Accession number: GG_817. Object history: 1619 Vienna. Notes: The painting depicts Aeneas' journey in the Underworld led by the Cumaean Sibyl (Aeneid VI, 269–282). Wikipedia.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867): Tu Marcellus eris / (Virgilio lee la Eneida a Livia, Octavia y Augusto) / [Virgil Reads the Aeneid to Livia, Octavia, and Augustus]. 1811 (date de début d'exécution). Huile sur toile. 326 x 307 cm. Statut administratif: Legs de Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Numéro d'inventaire: RO 124. Photothèque Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Photo: Daniel Martin. © Musée des Augustins. L'histoire de cette œuvre est des plus complexes. Commandée par le général Miollis, gouverneur français à Rome, pour sa résidence de la villa Aldobrandini, la peinture est revendue à Francesco Borghèse avant qu'Ingres lui-même ne la rachète en 1835. En 1868, la peinture entre au musée mais singulièrement ruinée. Peu avant sa mort, Ingres entreprend en effet d'en corriger certains aspects qui ne le satisfont pas mais laisse l'ensemble inachevé. Jean Pichon, un de ses élèves, en réintègrera finalement les parties manquantes alors même que la toile se trouve déjà aux Augustins. - La scène présente Virgile, sur la gauche, tenant le manuscrit de l'Enéide déroulé. L'Empereur Auguste et sa sœur Octavie lui font face. Cette dernière s'évanouit lorsque le poète prononce les mots de « Tu Marcellus eris », rappelant son fils mort assassiné. Enfin, assise à côté d'eux, voici Livie, épouse d'Auguste et probable commanditaire du meurtre. [Octavia faints at the words "Tu Marcellus eris" {"You will be Marcellus"}, remembering her assassinated son. Livia, the wife of Augustus, is the probable contractor of the assassination.] - L'influence du néo-classicisme de David – David, dont Ingres fut l'élève après avoir fréquenté l'Académie des beaux-arts de Toulouse - est ici particulièrement remarquable. Les musées royaux des beaux-arts de Bruxelles conservent un tableau de même sujet et de composition très proche, peint par Ingres autour de 1820. © Musée des Augustins, Victor Hundsbuckler. Wikipedia.

Vergilius: Aeneis
Virgil: Aeneid. Written in Brundisium, the Roman Empire. Year of publication: Virgil left his work unfinished when he died in 19 BC. Written in dactylic hexameter in Latin, Golden Latin. Divided into 12 books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Survival status: complete. Read in Finnish:
Publius Vergilius Maro: Aeneis. Aeneaan taru
Finnish translation (in hexameter) by Päivö Oksala (I–IV: Aeneas and Dido) and Teivas Oksala (V–XII). Introduction, explanations, name glossary, maps and sources written and edited by Päivö Oksala. 451 p., Porvoo / Helsinki / Juva: WSOY, 1999.

Having first read the first four books of the Aeneid that were published in one volume in the Antiikin klassikot series translated by Päivö Oksala I then read the whole thing, brought to a finish by the son Teivas Oksala and published as a separate edition outside the series.

In Book Five we visit "the Olympiad", the funeral games in memory of Aeneas's father. In Book Six Aeneas enters the shores of Cumae, and guided by the Cumaean Sibyl descends to the underworld (katabasis), to the banks of the river Acheron. Charon the ferryman takes him to the other side, passing by Cerberus and Tartarus, until we enter the fields of Elysium where Aeneas meets his father and sees visions of the golden age of Rome.

In Book Seven Aeneas arrives in Italy. Juno provokes the peoples of Italy to war. In Book Eight the war is being prepared. In Book Nine the Troyans are surrounded and attacked. In Book Ten Gods meet and Pallas leads the Arcadeans to fight. In Book Eleven the dead are buried and the cavalries fight. Camilla fights her brave fight. In Book Twelve the war is settled via a single combat between Aeneas and Turnus.

The grandeur of the tragedy of Dido becomes fully evident in Book Six. In this official foundation myth of the Roman Empire we are already made to understand the genesis of its most formidable foe, Carthage. The antagonism is historical and psychological. Dido shatters the validity of Aeneas's calling to the core, and in the conscience of Aeneas the guilty agony for the destiny of Dido will never heal.

T. S. Eliot found the meeting of Aeneas with the shade of Dido in the underworld exemplary in What Is a Classic? Dido's dignity is like a projection of Aeneas' own conscience. "Instead of railing at him, she merely snubs him". "What matters most is that Aeneas does not forgive himself". Virgil compares Dido with the moon glimpsed through the clouds, aut videt aut vidisse putat. In this account Virgil grows into "the conscience of Rome" (Eliot).

The Finnish hexameter works very well, at best read aloud, even alone, and it could easily be composed to song. Greek and Roman epic poetry started in rhythmical, musical modes.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Reading classics of Antiquity XI: Lucretius: De rerum natura

Lucretius: De rerum natura. In Latin, Copied by Girolamo di Matteo de Tauris for Sixtus IV, Italy, 1483 - Lucretius, De rerum natura // This elegant manuscript of Lucretius's philosophical poem, copied by an Augustinian friar for a pope, is an example of the interest in ancient accounts of nature taken by the Renaissance curia. The work, written in the first century B.C., contains one of the principal accounts of ancient atomism. The poem was little known in the Middle Ages and its author dismissed as an atheist and lunatic, but after the discovery of an early manuscript in 1417 by the humanist and papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini, it circulated widely in Italy. This is one of numerous copies made at that time. The coat of arms of Sixtus IV appears on this page. Vat. lat. 1569 fol. 1 recto medbio04 NAN.13. Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

Lucretius: De rerum natura
On the Nature of Things. Written in [domicile unknown], the Roman Republic, 55 BC, in Latin, in dactylic hexameter, Golden Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in six tomes / volumines). Unfinished.
    Survival status: almost complete.
    Read in Finnish:
T. Lucretius Carus: Maailmankaikkeudesta
Finnish translation (in hexameter), introduction and glossary by Paavo Numminen. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 449 p. Porvoo / Helsinki: WSOY, 1965.

Hardly anything is known about Lucretius who introduced Epicurean philosophy to Rome. He is supposed to have lived in 15–55 BC in the Roman Republic where his grand philosophical poem De rerum natura was left unfinished.

The reigning philosophical currents in Rome were Epicureanism and Stoicism, seen as diametrically opposed. It is interesting to discover, reading Seneca, the first prominent representative of Roman Stoicism, that he has only praise for Epicurus and Lucretius. What was generally called Epicureanism was a vulgar form close to hedonism.

None of the works of the classics of Greek materialism survive. Leucippus, Democritus and Epicurus we only know from comments of others and a few scattered fragments. De rerum natura is priceless not only in itself but also as a condensation of this distinguished tradition of materialism. But Lucretius is not a strict materialist, having been influenced by the cosmologies of Empedocles, Xenophanes and Parmenides, although he has chapters denouncing Heraclitus, Empedocles and Anaxagoras.

Lucretius was following the model of his predecessors both in the vision of his grand cosmology and in his choice of expressing himself in hexameter: De rerum natura is epic philosophical poetry, a magnum opus that served as a model for Virgil. Philosophy and poetry form an inseparable whole. There are chains of free associations. Suspension of thought is a characteristic device. This was the age when Golden Latin was developed as a language of poetry.

De rerum natura is also a textbook and an encyclopedia. It starts with a hymn to Venus, the genesis, the mother of Aeneas. (Later there is a similar praise to the great mother Cybele). Lucretius attacks religion without being an atheist. His praise to the Gods is a poetic way of celebrating forces of life. The divine message of beauty is of the essence: the foundation is materialistic but the view of life is a celebration of the sacred.

Of the six books the books I–II are devoted to atomism and the eternity. Books III–IV focus on spirituality: animus (spirit) and anima (soul). Books V–VI discuss the university, the earth, and cosmic circumstances such as magnetism.

In Book IV Lucretius discusses the senses, the vision, based on a theory of atom-thin (143–173) and lightning-fast (143–173) membranes, simulacra that move between the objects and the eye. The membranes have also been translated using the term "fine films". There is a notion of a cinematographic stream (794–801). Dream is a limbo between being awake and death (907–961). At the end of the chapter Lucretius writes about the awesomeness of passion, the traps of Venus, and the ideal position for fertility (a tergo). In scientific terms, this chapter is a lot of nonsense, but in poetic terms, there is a dream vision of the cinema. Lucretius is also one of the pioneers of the concept of simulacrum.

In Book V Lucretius expresses thoughts that include early ideas of natural selection, archaelogical stages of human evolution, the development of society, and cosmology.

As a poet Lucretius immediately influenced Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, and as a writer also Cornelius Nepos (and even Seneca). When Lucretius was rediscovered during the Renaissance, Botticelli painted Primavera inspired by him. Ben Jonson, Thomas Jefferson, Montaigne and Goethe studied Lucretius, as did Saint-Exupéry and Santayana, and in Sweden, Levertin, and in Finland, Koskenniemi.

This book of the so-called materialist Lucretius is a wild flight of fancy with affinities with psychedelia. Lucretius was a visionary poet, and some of his visions are relevant for atom physics.

I read Lucretius in Finnish hexameter with excellent and thorough introductions to each book by the translator Paavo Numminen.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bill Krohn on Hitchcock and harassment

Sexual harassment is a big topic this autumn. Even Alfred Hitchcock's name appears among the harassers. This claim seems out of character regarding Hitchcock's often genial relationships with his leading ladies (some of whom became lifelong family friends). What's more, Hitchcock in my opinion is the greatest film artist to have dramatized sexual harassment, from Blackmail to Marnie, always with profound empathy towards the suffering of the female protagonist. Last night I wrote to Bill Krohn, a scholar known for his sober studies based on documents and other primary sources. With his kind permission I copy his remarks.

"Hitchcock never engaged in the kind of physical abuse Harvey Weinstein and others who have been named recently heaped on actresses and actors alike. Here are the facts as I know them:

1927–1950:  Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville was his closest collaborator from the early days through STAGE FRIGHT, the last credit she received on one of his films.  During the writing of STAGE FRIGHT she had an affair with Whitfield Cook (played by Danny Huston in HITCHCOCK). 

55:  Hitchcock then tried to even the score by verbally propositioning Brigitte Auber when he took her home in his limousine after a day spent working on TO CATCH A THIEF.  Auber, a sophisticated French girl who was, I believe, in love with Cary Grant, politely demurred, pretending she thought it was a joke.  By the way, Hitchcock was slimmed down thanks to one of his periodic reducing regimens, so if anything had happened they'd have been a couple like Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman.

1964:  Hitchcock was mad about 'Tippi' Hedren, a model he brought from New York and turned into a movie star.  His collaborators -- Harold Michelson, Robert Boyle and Albert Whitlock -- told me off the record when we did the BIRDS round-table for Cahiers that he ran the commercial he'd seen her in over and over in his private screening room, "quivering with lust," and the pot finally boiled over during the making of MARNIE:  He verbally propositioned her in her trailer, and she told him he was a "disgusting, fat pig" and she'd never let him touch her. 

Hedren, who has told many versions of the story, is a Southern woman, hence a flirt.  I don't think she was innocent in what happened in the trailer.  But she went to Hitchcock's best friend Lew Wasserman, then head of MCA-Universal, and begged him not to green-light MARY ROSE, which would have concluded a trilogy of films by Hitchcock starring Hedren, and Wasserman, as much out of concern for Alma as for Hedren, put it in Hitchcock's contract that he could do any film he wanted for $3 million "as long as it wasn't MARY ROSE."  That's how we got FRENZY and FAMILY PLOT.

I have read the script Hitchcock wrote himself for MARY ROSE -- Dan Auiler missed it while researching Hitchcock's Notebooks.  (I quote some of it at the end of Hitchcock at Work.)  It would have been very beautiful.  And for the record, contrary to what has been claimed, Hitchcock didn't destroy her career in revenge.  Two years later she starred opposite Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG -- directed, ironically, by a very real Humbert Humbert, Charlie Chaplin.

Reading classics of Antiquity X: Seneca

Estatua de Séneca en Córdoba, su lugar de nacimiento. Bronce de Amadeo Ruiz Olmos, 1965. Bronze de Amadeo Ruiz Olmos (1913-1993) : statue inaugurée en 1965 de Sénèque (philosophe de l'école stoïcienne, dramaturge et homme d'État romain du Ier siècle de l'ère chrétienne) dans sa ville natale, l'actuelle Cordoue en Andalousie. Wikipedia. La enciclopedia libre.

Seneca the Younger:
2. De constantia sapientis / On the Firmness of the Wise Person, 55 AD, dialogue addressed to Serenus.
De clementia / On Clemency, 56 AD, essay written to Nero on the virtue of the emperor.
7. De vita beata / On the Happy Life, 58 AD, dialogue addressed to his older brother Gallio.
9. De tranquillitate animi / On Tranquillity of Mind, 63 AD, dialogue addressed to Serenus.
12. Ad Helviam matrem, de consolatione / To Mother Helvia, On Consolation, 42 AD, letter to mother on Seneca's absence during exile.
Epistolae morales ad Lucilium / Moral Letters to Lucilius / Moral Epistles. 65 AD, 124 letters addressed to Lucilius Junior.
    Written in Rome (except Ad Helviam in exile in Corsica), the Roman Empire, in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

    Read in Finnish:
Seneca: Tutkielmia ja kirjeitä.
Five essays (Viisaan ihmisen mielenlujuudesta. Lempeydestä. Onnellisesta elämästä. Mielentyyneydestä. Lohduttautumisesta) and 32 letters (a selection from the 124 letters to Lucilius Junior). Translated into Finnish from Latin by J. A. Hollo. Introduction by Jussi Tenkku. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 341 p. Porvoo / Helsinki. WSOY, 1964.

The great Cordovan Stoic philosopher and "humanist saint" Seneca (4 BC–65 AD) lived during the reign of the first five emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

When Domitius (the later emperor Nero) was 12 years old, Seneca became his teacher and advisor, and Seneca taught him principles of good governance. According to Trajan the first five years of Nero's reign were the happiest in the history of Rome. After Burrus, Nero's other advisor, died, Nero started to receive other kinds of counsel from Tigellius, Poppea Sabina, and Agrippina, and turned into a monster. Those other advisors could not stand Stoics. When a conspiracy against Nero was exposed, Poppea and Tigellius framed Seneca. Nero, who had respected his teacher so far, condemned Seneca to death, but Seneca was allowed to select his own way of death as a special clemency.

Epicureanism and Stoicism were the reigning philosophical schools in imperial Rome. Epicureanism degraded into shallow hedonism, Stoicism became the philosophy of the most influential men, and Seneca was the first prominent representative of Roman Stoicism. The goal was ataraxia: the peace of mind, equaniminity (a term also used by Epicurus). The proper attitude to matters which are beyond our influence is indifference (adiaphora). The wise man is God-like, with the exception of immortality, and he aims at self-sufficiency (autarkeia). Human happiness needs to be dignified. Virtue (arete) is the only real human good (agathos). Happiness is the possession of goodness. The supreme and only true goal is virtuous action. A virtuous person is likely to receive more dignified pleasure in life without pursuing it than the Epicurean who pursues it as the supreme good.

Epicurus advised to withdraw from the bustle of life. Stoics aimed at an active life. The events in life are guided by an omnipresent divinity, providence. Reality with all its events is fundamentally good.

Seneca was a representative of Silver Latin. He started to use a language which could appeal to the general public.

Seneca believed in equality, insisted on lenient treatment of slaves, opposed gladiator shows, defended women's rights and preferred duty to self-indulgence.

Seneca was not a profound thinker in philosophical theory but he was a great philosopher of ethics, of the good life, and his writings are based on experience gained during the first five emperors of Rome. His teachings are so close to Christianity that there has been a tradition that he was in correspondence with St. Paul. This tradition is spurious but Seneca does, indeed, adhere to the Golden Rule (see the Letter to Lucilius on Philosophy and Friendship, p. 197 in this volume). However, this teaching is not theological, and Seneca was also admired by the Enlightenment philosophers Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau.

This volume could be perfect bedtime reading: the letters are usually only two pages long. Each letter could be a model for today's column writers or bloggers. The letters are addressed to Lucilius but perhaps were never sent; the mere idea of correspondence can give shape to thought.

Regarding the presumed antagonism between Stoicism and Epicureanism it is interesting to observe that Seneca has only good things to say about Epicurus (p. 23–24, 87 in this volume) and Lucretius (p. 118, 313 in this volume). The antagonism was obviously between Stoicism and a degraded form of "Epicureanism".

Words of wisdom abound. De tranquillitate animi seems especially topical today. Seneca discusses the zeal of travelling (p. 117–118 in this volume).

"Aliud ex alio iter suscipitur et spectacula spectaculis mutantur. Ut ait Lucretius:

    Hoc se quisque modo semper fugit.

Sed quid prodest, si non effugit ? Sequitur se ipse et urget gravissimus comes."

Travel, but you cannot escape yourself. You will remain your own heaviest yoke.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reading classics of Antiquity IX: Cicero

Cesare Maccari: (1840–1919): Cicerone denuncia Catilina, affresco di Cesare Maccari a Palazzo Madama in Roma che raffigura Cicerone mentre pronuncia una delle orazioni contro Catilina. Fresco. Palazzo Madama, Roma. Pubblico dominio. Wikipedia. Please do click to enlarge the image.

Cicero: Cato maior de senectute
Cato the Elder on Old Age. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 44 BC, in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

Cicero: Laelius de amiticia
Laelius on Friendship. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 44 BC, in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

Cicero: De officiis
On Duties / On Obligations. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 44 BC, in Latin. Published posthumously (Cicero was assassinated shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar). Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

Read in Finnish:
Cicero: Vanhuudesta / Ystävyydestä / Velvollisuuksista. Translated into Finnish from Latin and introduction written by Marja Itkonen-Kaila. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 275 p. Porvoo / Helsinki: WSOY, 1967.

I would sum up the message of Cato maior de senectute thus: old age is the best time in life. A humoristic paradox, it can be taken at face value, or as a brilliant demonstration of the ability of the master orator to defend even the most improbable case, or most philosophically, as a case of a man always completely at ease with himself – for him every age is the best time in life. We are truly alive only in the now, but the now is always the end of the past and the beginning of the future. It is great fun to read how Seneca, in the guise of Cato the Elder, refutes the four reasons to deplore old age (obstacles to action, losing the strength of youth, missing the pleasures of the senses, the vicinity of death) and turns them into advantages. One can interpret this as denial or as supreme affirmation.

 "True friendship can only exist between decent people" is the key sentence of Laelius de amiticia. What would be better than be able to talk about anything like only with yourself? Friendship brings more flair to success and less pressure on adversity. The opposite of friendship is the life of the tyrant who can never feel love and must live in constant suspicion. Nothing is more important than friends, true friends who are faithful, unwavering and with a strong character. The true friend is revealed only in danger. Pretense is the death of friendship; even enemies are more valuable than such friends, because enemies often tell the truth, but sham friends never. Virtue is the only guarantee of real friendship.

De officiis, published posthumously after Cicero's assassination, is his spiritual testament and one of the most influential books of all time, an inspiration to St. Thomas Aquinas, Petrarch, Erasmus, Melanchthon, Grotius, Locke, and Voltaire. Cicero discusses what is honorable and what is profitable and finds out that they are the same. The concrete historical context is the dictatorship of Julius Caesar against whom Cicero presents a profound criticism: the most magnanimous man can fail because of his lust for power. De officiis is a great philosophical study on the foundations of society, social life. Cicero's key concepts include εὐταξία / modestia / moderation and εὐκαιρία / occasio / occasion – the art of knowing when is the proper moment to act. In Book III, chapters 21–22 Cicero presents a compact criticism of exploitation: it makes human social interaction impossible because it inevitably cuts the bonds of human society. It is like one member of the body would try to suck the energy from other members; the whole body would suffer. "This, then, ought to be the chief end of all men, to make the interest of each individual and of the whole body politic identical. For, if the individual appropriates to selfish ends what should be devoted to the common good, all human fellowship will be destroyed." (Book III, Chapter 26). With the same argument Cicero defends philoxenia, the hospitality to strangers.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Reading classics of Antiquity VIII: Plutarch: Parallel Lives

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912): The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra in 41 BC, 1885, oil on panel, 65.5 × 92 cm (25.8 × 36.2 in), Private collection, source: All Art Painting, public domain, Wikipedia.

Plutarkhos: Bioi paralleloi
Πλούταρχος: Βίοι παράλληλοι / Plutarch: Parallel Lives / Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans / Plutarch's Lives. Written in Chaeronea / Delphi (Boeotia, Roman Empire), 115 AD, in Ancient Greek. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).
    Survival status: 48 biographies survive. The lives of Epaminondas and Scipio Africanus are considered lost; many others are truncated.
    Read in the Finnish digest:
    Plutarkhos: Kuuluisien miesten elämäkertoja. Translated from Ancient Greek by Kalle Suuronen in the 1940s. The translation supervised and the introduction and the glossary written by Edwin Linkomies. 626 p. Porvoo / Helsinki: WSOY, 1955.
    This Finnish digest is a selection. Of the 48 surviving biographies only 11 are included. The parallel structure has been dissolved, the chapters are in reversed chronological order, and the introductions save one have been omitted.

I read for the first time Plutarch whose Parallel Lives is one of the most influential works in history.

The 1565 French translation by Jacques Amyot became a classic in its own right, influencing Montaigne, Rabelais, Corneille, Racine, Rousseau, and de Maistre. Based on it Thomas North made his 1579 English translation, influencing in turn Shakespeare, Jonson, Milton, and Emerson. Frederick the Great and Napoleon were inspired by the world-historical figures depicted, and in Germany, Goethe and Schiller were under its spell, as well.

Plutarch, the philosopher and priest of Delphi preferred to stay in his home land Chaeronea in Boeotia, but he was highly educated and enjoyed the trust of the good emperors Trajan and Hadrian.

All the 11 biographies in the selection I read are amazing, in this edition they appear in reversed chronological order: Anton, Brutus, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Sulla, Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Gracchus, Demosthenes, Alexander, Alcibiades, and Pericles. One can understand how Shakespeare got a spark from here for Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Timon of Athens.

Plutarch is not one of the great historians in terms of accuracy, consistency and source criticism; he is not in the same league as Tacitus. Neither is he an entertainer in the manner of Cornelius Nepos who also created a series of parallel lives (almost all of which are consided lost). Plutarch belongs to the school of Herodotus: he is a master storyteller who follows the basic currents of historical reality but has also always an appetite for the grand tale. More than him, and uniquely, he has rare psychological insight and a profound understanding of the human nature. Plutarch is not only interested in fact but the fundamental motivations, the passions, the ambitions. He is fascinated to discover what makes these extraordinary men move.

Because of this his lives are still alive and engrossing to read.

And we need to get all of them translated into Finnish, following the original parallel structure. But the translation in our existing samples is also very good, indeed. Plutarch has not only inspired Montaigne, Shakespeare, and Goethe, but translators in many languages, as well!

Reading classics of Antiquity VII: Tacitus: Annales

Title page "C. Cornelii Taciti Opera quæ exstant Ex recensione Jacobi Gronovii". 1721
Center: Female figures hold a laurel crown and fasces with axe above a bust, text "JVL. Agricolae". Medallion shield picturing emperor Tiberius "TI. DIVI ... F. AUG. IMP."
To the right: A vase with satyrs and a medallion of Roma Victrix on a pedestal. Below a putto holding a rectangular image of four German warriors (one leader) with winged helmet, arrows, swords and shield. Below two putti, one with a book, seated in front of a portrait medallion shield showing emperor Claudius emperor of Germania "TI.CLAUD.CAES.AUG.GERM." Both are sitting on and pointing to a map with inscription "Sol Rhenus ... Oriental...? Rheni". Above them a portrait shield of emperor Nero "IMP.NERO.CLAUD.CAES.AUG.GERM.".
To the left: A queen with scepter and a winged angel with a writing stylus in hand. At her feet the Roman wolf with Romulus and Remus and two manuscript rolls. Above them Roman soldiers with eagle standard, insignia??, and a horn.
Source Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55–116/120); Jacobus Gronovius (1645–1716); Beatus Rhenanus (1485–1547): C. Cornelii Taciti Opera quæ exstant, Integris Beati Rhenani, Fulvii Ursini, M. Antonii Mureti, Josiæ Merceri, Justi Lipsii, Valentis Acidalii, Curtii Pichenæ, Jani Gruteri, Hugonis Grotii, Joannis Freinshemii, Joannis Frederici Gronovii, et selectis aliorum commentariis illustrata. / Ex recensione et cum notis Jacobi Gronovii
Opera quæ exstant. Publisher: Trajecti Batavorvm : Apud Jacobum à Poolsum, et Johannem Visch. Printer: Poolsum, Jacob van, Utrecht, 1701–1761. Visch, Johan, Utrecht, 1702–1740.
Series: C. Cornelii Taciti, Opera quae extant : ex recensione et cum notis Jac. Gronovii ; 1 By Creator: Jan Goeree - Peace Palace Library, Public Domain,

Tacitus: Annales
Annals / Ab excessu divi Augusti historiarum libri [Books of History after the Death of Holy Augustus]. Written in Rome, Roman Empire. The last work of Tacitus who died ca. 120 AD. Written in Latin. Covers the history of Rome from the death of Augustus (14 AD) until the death of Nero (68 AD). Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines) in 16 (or 18) books. Long believed lost, most of the Annals were discovered during the Renaissance. Annals 1–6 survived at Corvey Abbey in Germany and Annals 11–16 at Monte Cassino. The rest is missing, only a few pages of Book 5 survive, Book 16 ends in the middle of a sentence, and the single manuscripts on which all translations are based are riddled with errors. The biggest gap is in the missing Books 6–10 (Caligula and the ascent of Claudius). Read in Finnish:
Tacitus: Keisarillisen Rooman historia. Annaalit. Translated and edited into Finnish by Iiro Kajanto. Also the introduction, glossary, pedigrees and maps are provided by Iiro Kajanto. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 516 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1969.

Tacitus and Suetonius wrote their histories of the Roman emperors simultaneously. Suetonius covers the first twelve holy emperors from Julius Caesar until Domitian, Annales focuses on the four tyrants only, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero (the holy emperors # 3–6), but from the surviving manuscripts Caligula is missing and from Claudius the account of his ascent to power has not survived. The remaining Annales essentially deal with Tiberius and Nero only.

Tacitus's Histories covers the year of the four emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian), the also short-lived Vitellius, as well as the rise of the Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian), thus covering the holy emperors # 7–12, which means that Tacitus in these two books covers most of the same ground as Suetonius.

This is grim reading. Tacitus is considered the greatest master of Roman historical writing. As a senator he had access to the primary documents, including the Acta Senatus. There is a much more sober approach in his account than in Suetonius's work which has sometimes a lurid tabloid perspective. But the focus on the main facts only makes Tacitus's story of the excesses of Tiberius and Nero even more devastating.

Even reading this in translation it is possible to appreciate Tacitus's witty, laconic, elliptic and aphoristic style. Although based on documents, Tacitus's history has been written with real literary flair. He is a true storyteller who expresses himself in concise, precise sentences in a style called parataxis.

There is timeless wisdom in Tacitus's matter-of-fact observations of the decadence that seems inevitable during a social order based on absolute, unchecked power. And the degradation, servility and adulation of the people around the despot. Germanicus is one of the rare positive characters in the Annales. Women are not better than men: the portraits of Livia, Messalina, and Agrippina are ruthless.

There is also a callous touch in Tacitus's Annales. He has nothing but hate and contempt towards Jews and Christians in Book 15, chapter 44, one of the documents of the existence of the historical Jesus ("auctor nominis eius Christus Tibero imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat"). "Tacitus was a member of the Quindecimviri sacris faciundis, a council of priests whose duty it was to supervise foreign religious cults in Rome, which as Van Voorst points out, makes it reasonable to suppose that he would have acquired knowledge of Christian origins through his work with that body." (Wikipedia, referring to: Van Voorst, Robert E. (2011). Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus. Brill Academic Pub. p. 2159. ISBN 978-9004163720).

Reading classics of Antiquity VI: Cornelius Nepos: Lives

Creator: William Rainey (1852-1936).: Epaminondas Defending Pelopidas. Description: Illustration for Plutarch's Lives retold by W H Weston (Jack, 1910). Location: Private Collection. Medium: colour lithograph. © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images.

Cornelius Nepos: De viris illustribus: Excellentium imperatorum vitae / De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium / Vitae excellentium imperatorum
Cornelius Nepos: [Illustrious Men] / Lives of the Eminent Commanders. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 35 BC. Written in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).
Survival status: only 24 of the 350-400 biographies in the Lives series survive: the cycle of Greek warlords, and the biographies of Hamilkar, Hannibal, Cato the Elder, and Atticus.
Read in Finnish:
Cornelius Nepos: Kuuluisia miehiä
Translated into Finnish by Marja Itkonen. The introduction written by Jaakko Suolahti. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 170 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1963

Most is lost of the literary oeuvre of Cornelius Nepos, including his History of the World, the first of its kind written by an Italian. Nepos is not considered a great writer or historian, but he writes in a simple and clear language, perfect for Latin studies, which is why he has always been on the school curriculum. Nepos loved anecdotes and strange phenomena, and his Exempla was his most popular work, now lost. It was a favourite source for speech-writers for juicy and amusing asides.

Even of his 400 biographies of Illustrious Men only 24 survive. Originally it consisted of 16 books with parallel biographies of Greek and Roman men. Only the volume of famous Greek warlords survives. These biographies are entertaining to read, and they contain interesting remarks such as the account of the law of amnesty and the statement "small gifts are durable, excessive ones transient" in the chapter on Thrasybylos, and the principle "only the character forms the destiny for each" in the chapter on Atticus.

But having read Herodotus it is illuminating to read Nepos's version of Miltiades with his different account of the battle of Marathon. Nepos's biography of Themistocles can be compared with Herodotus and Thucydides. Other leaders of the Peloponnesoan War covered by Nepos include Pausanias, Alcibiades, Thrasybulos, and Konon. The biography of Dion is as amazing as that of Alcibiades. Timotheos for Nepos is the last great warlord. Datames, Hamilkar and Hannibal, the Barbarian warlords, are treated by Nepos with awe. The highest praise Nepos reserves for Epaminondas, the self-effacing leader who earned the admiration of everybody with dignity.

Reading classics of Antiquity V: Sallust

Alcide Segoni (1847–1894): Il ritrovamento del corpo di Catilina / The Discovery of the Body of Catiline after the Battle of Pistoia, 1871. Public domain. Source: Galleria dell'Arte, Firenze. Photo: Wikipedia.

Numidia 112–105 B.C. and battles of the Jugurthine war. Vectorized from the original work in the U.S. Military Academy. By Frank Martini. Cartographer, Department of History, United States Military Academy - The Department of History, United States Military Academy. Public Domain. Wikipedia.

Sallustius: De coniuratione Catilinae / Bellum Catilinae
Sallust: The Conspiracy of Catiline. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 43 BC. Survival status: complete. Written in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).
Sallustius:  De bello Iugurthino / Bellum Jugurthinum
Sallust: The Jugurthine War. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 41 BC. Survival status: complete. Written in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).
Read in Finnish
Sallustius: Catilinan salaliitto * Jugurthan sota
Translated into Finnish by Marja Itkonen. The introduction written by Jaakko Suolahti. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 172 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1963.

Sallust is the earliest Roman historian whose books are still with us, and his two historical monographs survive in a complete form. As a historian of the last decades of the Roman Republic Sallust's model was Thucydides. Like Thucydides, Sallust was partial and biased, yet aimed at rising above his prejudices and being fair and generous towards the opponent. He, in turn, became a model for Tacitus.

Sallust's portrait of Catiline and his conspiracy anno 63 BC may have been inspired by Thucydides's account of Alcibiades. They are complex and contradictory figures: amazing intriguers and fearless fighters. Sallust's account is based on official documents, the Acta Senatus, but he uses them selectively and minimizes the role of Cicero, the main conqueror of the conspiracy, and emphasizes the role of Julius Caesar.

The war of the Roman Republic against king Jugurtha of Numidia (= Algeria and Tunisia) took place in 112–105 BC, the Roman warlords being Marius and Sulla. The portrait of Jugurtha is the most impressive feature of the book, and there is again something of the amazing quality of Alcibiades in Sallust's account. The book has interesting excursions into the history of Africa. Marius was the general who transformed the Roman army, and Sulla became a Dictator of the Roman Republic, paving the way to Julius Caesar's dictatorship.

Sallust came from the provinces and was appalled at the degeneration and corruption of Rome, yet participated in it as he confesses in the first pages of The Conspiracy of Catiline. Rome had achieved grandeur during the Punic Wars against Carthage but corruption started after the victory.

Sallust:  The Jugurthine War, Chapter 41:

"For, before the destruction of Carthage, the senate and people managed the affairs of the republic with mutual moderation and forbearance; there were no contests among the citizens for honor or ascendency; but the dread of an enemy kept the state in order. When that fear, however, was removed from their minds, licentiousness and pride, evils which prosperity loves to foster, immediately began to prevail; and thus peace, which they had so eagerly desired in adversity, proved, when they had obtained it, more grievous and fatal than adversity itself. The patricians carried their authority, and the people their liberty, to excess; every man took, snatched, and seized1 what he could. There was a complete division into two factions, and the republic was torn in pieces between them. Yet the nobility still maintained an ascendency by conspiring together; for the strength of the people, being disunited and dispersed among a multitude, was less able to exert itself. Things were accordingly directed, both at home and in the field, by the will of a small number of men, at whose disposal were the treasury, the provinces, offices, honors, and triumphs; while the people were oppressed with military service and with poverty, and the generals divided the spoils of war with a few of their friends. The parents and children of the soldiers, meantime, if they chanced to dwell near a powerful neighbor, were driven from their homes. Thus avarice, leagued with power, disturbed, violated, and wasted every thing, without moderation or restraint; disregarding alike reason and religion, and rushing headlong, as it were, to its own destruction. For whenever any arose among the nobility, who preferred true glory to unjust power, the state was immediately in a tumult, and civil discord spread with as much disturbance as attends a convulsion of the earth." – Sallust, The Jugurthine War, John Selby Watson, Rev. John Selby Watson, M.A., Ed., 1899 – The Perseus Project online. – Boldfaced by me.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Masters of Finnish Cinematography (seminar)

Juha (1937). Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan, the sons of the author Juhani Aho, produced and photographed the film adaptation directed by Nyrki Tapiovaara. With Irma Seikkula (Marja) and Walle Saikko (Shemeikka). Photo: KAVI. Please click to enlarge the images.

SUOMALAISET MESTARIKUVAAJAT -seminaari elokuvateatteri Orionissa 4.11. klo 10–16.00
    In the presence of Jouko Aaltonen, Pekka Aine, Pia Andell, Erkka Blomberg, Tahvo Hirvonen, Jorma Höri, Lasse Naukkarinen, Erkki Peltomaa, Hannu Peltomaa, Seppo Rustanius, Pauli Sipiläinen, Kari Sohlberg, Ville Suhonen, and Juha-Veli Äkräs.
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 4 Nov 2017.

Klo 10.00 – 12.00     
1930-luvun modernistit

Erik Blombergin, Olavi Gunnarin, Eino Mäkisen, Heikki Ahon ja Björn Soldanin uraa esittelevät Jouko Aaltonen, Erkka Blomberg ja Ville Suhonen.

This photo is not from Kamerat pyörivät / [Roll the Cameras] (1935) but from the production of a film discussed in it: Kaikki rakastavat / [could be translated as: Love Is All Around]. The crew in Hanko. From the left the camera assistant Sulo Tammilehto, the director Valentin Vaala, the cinematographer Theodor Luts and the camera crew member Eino Heino. Luts's Askania silent camera has been equipped with a sound blimp. Photo: KAVI.

Kamerat pyörivät (1935)

Eino Mäkinen (1908–1987) was a master photographer and cinematographer who shot some 40 ethnographical documentaries with a Flahertyan approach. This photograph is Lehmisavua / Cow Smoke. Cows smoked themselves to repel gadflies.

On location for VMV 6 (1936) at the Pirttisaari island. The cinematographer Erik Blomberg stands to the right. The producer-director Risto Orko is checking the camera angle. Photo: KAVI

Erik Blomberg – elämä ja kamera (1982)

katkelmia dokumentista sekä runsaasti näytteitä kuvaajien töistä.

Tauko. Aulassa kahvila ja valokuvanäyttely suomalaisten kuvaajien työstä.

Klo 12.30 – 14.30
Studiokauden kuvaajat

Felix Forsman was the cinematographer of Valkoiset ruusut / White Roses (1943), Hannu Leminen's adaptation of Stefan Zweig's Letter from an Unknown Woman that preceded Max Ophuls by five years. With Helena Kara as the unknown woman and Tauno Palo as the internationally renowned artist who always forgets her. Photo: KAVI.

Pia Andell kertoo Felix Forsmanista
katkelmia Forsmanin haastatteluista ja kuvaamista elokuvista.

Mitä on Suomi-filmi? / [What Is Suomi-Filmi?] (1938), a 20th anniversary introduction to the Suomi-Filmi company, very well photographed by Felix Forsman, screened in a beautiful digital transfer.

Felix Forsman shot the Finnish Defense Forces' newsreels #49 and #52 covering Adolf Hitler's visit to Finland to celebrate Marshal Mannerheim's 75th birthday on 4 June 1942 and Mannerheim's return call on 27 June 1942. Hitler's only visit abroad (outside territory occupied by Germany) during his reign. The photo is not from the newsreels. Mannerheim was not happy that the visits were filmed and photographed and demanded the release of the newsreels to be restricted to the minimum.

Felix (1988), on Felix Forsman, by Juho Gartz and Lauri Tykkyläinen. Starring Salla Huovinen. Narrator: Asko Sarkola.

katkelmia Uno Pihlströmin kotielokuvista, mm. Herra ja ylhäisyys -elokuvan kuvauksista.

Shot by Esko Nevalainen: Elokuu / Harvest Month (1956), directed by Matti Kassila, with Toivo Mäkelä, Emma Väänänen, and Severi Seppänen.

Esko Nevalaisen haastattelusta ja  Nevalaisen elokuvista.
Reino Tenkasen haastattelusta.

Studiokauden murrosvaiheesta esittää puheenvuoron mm. Kari Sohlberg.

The editor Armas Vallasvuo and the cinematographer Osmo Harkimo editing Tuntematon sotilas / The Unknown Soldier (1955).

Klo 14.30–16.00
Tuntemattoman sotilaan kuvaajat

Tahvo Hirvonen kertoo Osmo Harkimosta ja Olavi Tuomesta näytteiden kera.
Katkelmia Edvin Laineen versiosta ja Harkimon haastattelusta.

Yhteistyössä: Risto Jarva -seura ja Suomen Elokuvaajien Yhdistys F.S.C.

AA: Finnish cinematography had a high standard from its beginning around the year 1905:  from the start the composition and the definition of light were beautiful for instance in views photographed by Oscar Lindelöf for Atelier Apollo.

This seminar organized by the Finnish Society of Cinematographers (F.S.C.) focused on influential masters from the 1920s to the 1960s. Cinematographers still active or alive today were intentionally omitted.

The first section was devoted to the modernists Heikki Aho, Björn Soldan, Olavi Gunnari, Eino Mäkinen, and Erik Blomberg.

The second section focused on masters of the studio system such as Felix Forsman, Uno Pihlström, and Esko Nevalainen.

The third section had been reserved for three film adaptations of The Unknown Soldier (1955, 1985, and 2017), but as their invited cinematographers were unable to attend there was a general discussion instead. Kari Sohlberg, Tahvo Hirvonen, and Pekka Aine shared their comments on Osmo Harkimo and Olavi Tuomi.

We watched a sequence from the black and white 1955 film adaptation, shot by Pentti Unho, Osmo Harkimo, Olavi Tuomi, and Antero Ruuhonen, newly restored by KAVI. We saw the sequence of the night patrol where Lehto (Åke Lindman) and Riitaoja (Olavi Ahonen) meet their maker. Brilliantly shot with the smooth and assured studio age approach, and realistic enough with artificial light.

The 1985 film adaptation was shot in colour with handheld camera and available light by Esa Vuorinen. The look is very different. Much remains in the darkness.

The 2017 adaptation has been shot digitally by Mika Orasmaa. The handheld impact is less obtrusive, and there is more detail in the darkness than in the 1985 version.

This sequence is a study on ways of facing death. The Edvin Laine version is already excellent in this.

"In the face of death a man does not act". These men do act but they do it so well that they make us forget it. The sense of the presence of death is real.