Sunday, November 11, 2018

Panu Rajala: Suomussalmen sulttaani – Ilmari Kiannon elämä (a book)



Poster for Matti Kassila's film adaptation of Punainen viiva / The Red Line (1959).

Panu Rajala: Suomussalmen sulttaani. Ilmari Kiannon elämä / [The Sultan of Suomussalmi. The Life of Ilmari Kianto]. ISBN 978-952-222-698-3. 525 p. Helsinki / Riika: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2018

Ilmari Kianto (1874–1970) belongs to a small nucleus of key Finnish authors. He was incredibly prolific, lived to be almost a hundred years, and continued writing almost to the end, but his fame now rests on two novels, The Red Line (1909), and Ryysyrannan Jooseppi [title untranslatable, meaning something like "Joseph from the Rag Shack"] and several songs that were composed to his poems, including ones credited to his original name Ilmari Calamnius, such as Jean Sibelius's "Lastu lainehilla" ("Driftwood"). But the number of distinguished works in his oeuvre is bigger, and Kianto often had a magical touch with the language even in minor publications.

Kianto also belonged to the generation of the first anti-heroic authors in Finland, infamous for their irresponsible ways with family and fortune. Today they would be dragged through the mud by the tabloid media. It is a sordid story, and the chore must have been at times tedious for Panu Rajala to go through the enormous archives documenting decades of misery.

To sum it up: Ilmari Kianto had internalized an extremely severe religious discipline at his home boasting a long clerical lineage. Until 30 he lived in abstinence. After that, "it was an eternal wedding night".

We all know about the crisis of the book, but Panu Rajala seems to have ignored the news. In little more than ten years he has published an entire library about prominent Finnish authors, including Ilmari Kianto (2018), Eino Leino (2017), F. E. Sillanpää (2015), Olavi Paavolainen (2014), Veikko Huovinen (2012), Juhani Aho (2011), Aila Meriluoto (2010), Yrjö Jylhä (2009, with Vesa Karonen), Mika Waltari (2008), and J. H. Erkko (2006). All weighty tomes, usually boasting major new sources of information.

And Rajala seems not about to become crushed under the weight of documentation, rather the opposite: he revels in it. In his new Kianto biography he benefits enormously from first-hand sources studied for his Leino and Sillanpää books, for instance. Because of Kianto's exceptionally long life he was the contemporary of all of Rajala's previous subjects.

In our Year of Remembrance 1918 Kianto is an infamous figure because of his dehumanizing and brutalizing words about those who thought differently, especially female fighters. But Kianto was nothing if not a contradictory figure. His honesty as a writer was too much for the victorious White Guards to bear, and Kianto had to postpone his account of the Civil War for ten years, when it was still found uncomfortable and inflammatory. Kianto was also a militant champion of the "Greater Finland" idea: "Suomi suureksi, Viena vapaaksi" ["Make Finland Great, Free the White Sea"] was a slogan coined by him.

But there was also always a Don Quijote quality in Kianto's political aspirations. He was not a harmless figure, but an aspect of the clown was always there, probably consciously and intentionally. He landed into disgrace for his behaviour in the Winter War, but he was rehabilitated as an elder statesman of Finnish culture.

Kianto's most famous novel The Red Line is a memorial to the first democratic parliament election in Finland in 1907. Finland was the first county in the world where also women has full political rights, including the right to be elected. The first female members of the parliament were Finnish. The title "the red line" refers to the voting procedure. There is also an allusion to the red colour of the Social Democratic Party. And the blood red wound from the paw of the bear who strikes the protagonist in the finale.

In his books Panu Rajala has not generally been bashful about the sexual side of his protagonists. Now for once he seems to be happy to tone down the account of his sultan's excesses.

For the film-interested Rajala's books are rewarding because of his inside view in film and television adaptations of many of his subjects' works. In the case of Kianto Rajala was a screenwriter for Mikko Niskanen's Kianto biopic Omat koirat purivat ([Bitten by His Own Dogs], 1974).

I like the subtly distanced stance of Rajala confronting his material. It's not his task to judge his character. The reader is allowed to draw his own conclusions.

This book is engagingly written like a novel. The story would be incredible if were presented as fiction.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: INFORMATION FROM THE PUBLISHING HOUSE:

Mikael Enckell: Öppna meningar (a book of essays)


Photo of Vesta Enckell by Jan Elfgren. The author's grandmother at 75.

Mikael Enckell. Photo by Cata Portin for Schildts & Söderströms.

Mikael Enckell: Öppna meningar. Essäer [The title is a wordplay, translatable as "Open Meanings" or "Open Sentences"]. ISBN 978-951-52-4408-6. 149 p. Helsinki / Latvia: Schildts & Söderströms, 2018.

The psychoanalyst Mikael Enckell (born in 1932) is one of the finest essayists in Finland. I quote from his introduction on the homepage of his publisher, Schildts & Söderströms:

Prefers to write: essays.
Prefers to read: Proust: In Search of Lost Time, since 1951.
Highest wish: to receive surprising thoughts and whims.

In his books Enckell circles almost obsessively around favourite themes such as Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Gershom Scholem, Friedrich Hölderlin (about whom he has written a monograph), and the Swedish-Finnish poets J. J. Wecksell, Gunnar Björling, and Rabbe Enckell (his father of whom he has written a biography in three volumes).

But each time there is something new to discover. This volume starts with an essay on Risto Fried (1930–2004), a professor of psychology and psychoanalyst whose mother, the Viennese Jewess Anne Fried, survived Hitler in the United States. Enckell focuses on Risto Fried's magnum opus Freud on the Acropolis. A Detective Story (2004), discussing the unsettling implications of the confrontation of the Jewish and Greek heritages when Sigmund at last visited the Acropolis.

The further we proceed into the future the deeper we delve into the past. Mikael Enckell at 86 years of age still processes his childhood tragedy, the divorce of his parents in the year 1941. And in this quandary he discovers the profound link between his friend Risto Fried.

Much of this book is related to the cultural family of Enckell. Robert Enckell the man of theatre. Martin Enckell the writer.

Three essays are devoted to significant places in Mikael Enckell's life. Pitkäniemi, the mental hospital in Nokia where Mikael's stepfather Oscar Parland worked as a doctor. There in 1944 Mikael, not yet 12 years of age, helped as a postman, in uniform. He met at close range victims of post traumatic stress disorder from the Karelian Isthmus where the Red Army concentrated its forces to a massive attack.

The Lapinlahti mental hospital where Mikael as a young deputy trainee had his first encounters of paranoid patients, extremely intelligent, their delusions not immediately apparent. Also here the impact of our wars (both 1918 and 1941) was evident, as well as the question of repressed homosexuality as a root of paranoia. Since Mikael was 12 he had been determined to a psychoanalytic orientation.

The third location is Ericastiftelsen in Stockholm in the 1960s where Enckell worked as an assistant doctor with Gösta Harding as the senior physician, "the best job I have had in my entire life". This contact also helps Enckell understand a painful experience of his own a few years earlier with his stepmother Aina, another paranoiac. A rich and rewarding interaction came to an end.

The most painful and the most rewarding experience is discussed in the last essay, "Divorce". But now it is not principally about the divorce of Mikael's parents, Rabbe Enckell and Heidi (née Heidi Runeberg; Heidi Parland after divorce). It is about Mikael's parental grandmother Vesta Enckell (née Edgren; her maternal father Herman Gisiko was Jewish), the "rare, unelectric one" and because of that she was the calming influence during the inflammatory period of the divorce. Rabbe Enckell stated late in life: "My poetry has my mother as the ideal". But her four sons' attitude was a mix of adoration and a certain superiority.

Vesta Enckell was the carrier of the Jewish heritage in secular and unobtrusive ways. At age 10–12 Mikael had a chance to take notes from his grandfather's archives in Vättilä and their family background during the reign of Gustav III of Sweden (1746–1792) when Jews in the circle of Aron Isak were allowed to move to Sweden. Books Vesta loved included those of Marcus Ehrenpreis (Landet mellan öster och väster, Österlandets själ), Aben Kandel (När stenarna dansa / The Stones Begin to Dance) and especially Jascha Golowanjuk (Min gyllne väg från Samarkand, Paraplymakarens barn, Farmor är galen)

Kafka and Proust keep returning until the last essay. Enckell wonders why there are hardly any little children in their works. "Is it because they hardly write about anything else? Unconsciously, from the inside, via constantly repeated processed, all their lives".

But also new books make appearances. Ulf Peter Hallberg's Europeiskt skräp [European Trash], Tom Sandqvist's Ahasuerus at the Easel, Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens.

Mikael Enckell is also one of the most prominent film essayists in Finland, and the one with the longest career after Jerker A. Eriksson and Jörn Donner. He published his first film essay, "The Interpretative Eye" in 1957, discussing Un chien andalou, La red, and La muerte de un ciclista, citing "Das Unheimliche" by Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalytical Explorations in Art by Ernst Kris – and In Search of Lost Time by Proust, speaking in the voice of the painter Elstir:

“When the mind has a tendency to dream, it is a mistake to keep dreams away from it, to ration its dreams. So long as you distract your mind from its dreams, it will not know them for what they are; you will always be taken in by the appearance of things, because you will not have grasped their true nature. If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.” (In Search of Lost Time: Within a Budding Grove / À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, 1919)

60 years later in his most recent film essay Enckell discusses Roman Polanski, his violent past, and his most sober film, related to his most painful childhood memories, The Pianist. It is not irrelevant that Enckell and Polanski (born 1933) share almost the same age, having lived in countries not far away, on both sides of the Baltic Sea.

The essays all add up, although it is left to the reader to connect all the dots. Mikael Enckell's oeuvre (see bibliography beyond the jump break) has for a long time been growing into his personal In Search of Lost Time.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: DATA FROM SCHILDTS & SÖDERSTRÖMS:

Saturday, November 10, 2018

La Bataille de San Sebastian (70 mm) Ennio Morricone 90th Anniversary



Guns for San Sebastian / Los cañones de San Sebastián / I cannoni di San Sebastian / San Sebastianin tykit / Kanonerna på San Sebastian / Kanonerna vid San Sebastian
    FR/MX/IT/US 1968. PC: Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques (CIPRA), Producciones Enríquez, Filmes Cinematografica, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). P: Jacques Bar, Ernesto Enríquez. D: Henri Verneuil. SC: Serge Ganz, Miguel Morayta, Ennio De Concini, Elinor Karpf [nc] – English screenplay: James R. Webb – based on the novel A Wall for San Sebastian (1962) by Barby = William Barnaby Faherty. DP: Armand Thirard – Metrocolor – Franscope 2,35:1 – released on 35 mm and in a 70 mm blow-up. AD: Robert Clavel, Roberto Silva. ED: Françoise Bonnot. SFX: Lee Zavitz. VFX: J. McMillan Johnson. Cost: Yvonne Wood. Makeup: Alex Archambault, Monique Archambault. M: Ennio Morricone. S: William R. Sivel – magnetic sound on 70 mm print. Ass D: Juan Luis Buñuel, Gilberto Martinez Solares, Claude Pinoteau.
    C: Anthony Quinn (León Alastray), Anjanette Comer (Quinita), Charles Bronson (Teclo), Sam Jaffe (el padre José) Silvia Pinal (Felicia), Jorge Martínez de Hoyos (Felipe Cayetano), Jaime Fernández (Lanza Dorada), Rosa Furman (Águeda), Leon Askin (el vicario general), José Chávez (Antoñito), Ivan Desny (el coronel Calleja), Fernand Gravey (el gobernador), Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. (el padre Lucas), Jorge Russek (Pedro), Aurora Clavel (Magdalena), Julio Aldama (Diego), Emilio Fernández.
    Loc: Sierra de Órganos National Park (Sombretete). Also El Saltito (Durango) and San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato). Locations shot entirely in Mexico.
    Original in English.
    [The Finnish and Swedish titles of the film are misleading since there is only one cannon at San Sebastian (but very many muskets)].
    Helsinki premiere: 19.7.1968 Bristol (70 mm) – distributor: Filmipaja – vhs: in the 1980s Esselte Video – VET 76684 – K16 – 3065 m / 112 min
    Curated by Lauri Lehtinen and Antti Suonio. Introduced by Lauri Lehtinen.
    A print with Swedish subtitles by Gunnar Tannefors screened in 70 mm at Bio Rex, Helsinki (Ennio Morricone 90 / The Incredible Italy / 70 mm / The Crazy Year 1968), 10 Nov 2018

A full-blooded Ennio Morricone soundtrack with epic grandeur and wordless songs delivered by soprano Edda Dell'Orso filled the magnificent Bio Rex in our tribute to the incredibly productive and still active composer.

La Bataille de San Sebastian is a special case in the context of the European Western. It was shot on location in Mexico. It takes place as early as 1743, during the rule of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

But relevant to the Western is the antagonism between the Christian European settlers and the indigenous people, here the Yaqui. We are first led to see the Yaqui as mere marauders against the settlers. Then we learn that the colonialists have massacred the Yaqui in a genocidal purge before settlement. According to the Yaqui, first comes the missionary and then the military to crush indigenous people.

La Bataille de San Sebastian is as anti-clerical as any work of Luis Buñuel, and Father José (Sam Jaffe) is a follower of the Christ to be compared with Nazarín. (Further Buñuel connections are the presence of Silvia Pinal in the cast and the contribution of Juan Luis Buñuel as assistant director).

But the wily anti-hero Léon Alastray (Anthony Quinn) belongs rather to the tradition of Charles Chaplin as The Pilgrim (set next to the border of Mexico) or Humphrey Bogart as The Left Hand of God. Léon's desperate masquerade as a priest is taken seriously by the villagers, and he is himself moved by their faith.

The quandary of the villagers moves Léon profoundly, and he uses his wiles and his friendship with Felicia, the wife of the governor, to have Spanish guns transported to the God-forsaken village of San Sebastian.

The villagers have been harassed by the Yaqui, but the Yaqui have been provoked by Teclo (Charles Bronson), leader of a band of rogue vaqueros. In the climactic battle the villagers beat the Yaqui and the vaqueros, using their guns and their cunning.

The building of a dam has been crucial for the well-being of the village. Its demolition brings an end to the marauders.

A typical dark European 1960s edge to the story is in the realization that both the villagers and the Yaqui are victims of colonialism. When the battle has been fought, the Spanish administration reigns victorious. But a new father comes into the village, and he seems not to be of the conformist kind.

There is a complexity in the movie's religious stance. The last lines of dialogue:

Quinita: Where will you go?
Léon: This time only God knows.

Henri Verneuil keeps the big production powerfully moving. The mise-en-scène is to its advantage on the 70 mm screen. The handling of the deep focus epic scenes and massive battles is exciting.

The direction of the actors leaves a lot to be desired. Anthony Quinn and Charles Bronson are not compelling in their performances, and neither is lovely Anjanette Comer in the female lead. Silvia Pinal is good in her supporting role as the governor's wife. Sam Jaffe at 77 (but still about to continue for 16 years in films) is memorable as the genuinely Christian Father José.

The 70 mm image looks so good that it is hard to believe that it is a blow-up. There is a lot of fine detail visible in the epic long shots. It is truly rewarding to see this film on a big screen. The colour of the vintage print has survived remarkably well.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY LAURI LEHTINEN:

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Risttuules / In the Crosswind


Risttuules / In the Crosswind. In the front: Tarmo Song (Heldur Tamm). Behind him: Laura Peterson (Erna Tamm)

Ristituulessa.
    EE 2014. PC: Allfilm. P: Piret Tibbo-Hudgins, Pille Rünk. D+SC: Martti Helde. CIN: Erik Põllumaa. Lighting: Taivo Tenso. S: Janne Laine. AD+Cost: Reet Brandt ja Anna-Liisa Liiver. Makeup: Liisi Roht. ED: Liis Nimik. M: Pärt Uusberg.
    C: Laura Peterson (Erna Tamm), Tarmo Song (Heldur Tamm), Mirt Preegel (Eliide), Ingrid Isotamm (Hermiine), Einar Hillep (chairman of the kolkhoz).
    Tallinn premiere: 26.3.2014. B&w, 87 min
    DCP from Allfilm / Eesti Filmi Instituut with English subtitles. In Estonian, title cards only in English in this presentation.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 1 Nov 2018

"Dedicated to the victims of the Soviet Holocaust".

590 000 Estonians perished in Soviet deportations and purges. This film is their requiem.

The overwhelming experience has been conveyed with a unique approach.

The camera is mobile, and the world has been photographed realistically. For instance, we are constantly aware of the wind, the element highlighted in the title of the film.

But people are often frozen like in tableaux vivants. The camera is not stopped, but the performers stop moving, and the mobile camera catches them as living statues in three dimensions. These are frozen moments of shock. Stillbilder: the time stands still. I am thinking about bullet time sequences in Matrix, time dilatation sequences in Jakob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, and Carlo Rovelli's book L'ordine del tempo (2017) which I'm presently reading.

Risttuules is an experimental film. The experiment is eloquent. The message is clear.

Martti Helde and his cast and team convey the dignity of the people made to suffer in conditions below dignity.

Based on a true story, Erna Tamm's diary and letters, the film focuses on the tragedy of one Estonian family in 1941–1954. We witness the past happiness in bright, strong images. The deportation and the Gulag terror are conveyed in powerful views, including hard labour, torture chambers and execution sites. Meanwhile, not all people are bad, moments of happiness are possible even in these circumstances. The railway station sequences are epic.

The title of the film is a reference to the hopes of the young couple: Erna would be the west wind, and Heldur the east wind. Together they would create the crosswind. There is also an association to the braid of Erna's hair, the final image of the movie. Only the hope and the memory remain.

Listening to Pärt Uusberg's score I was reminded of a film I saw yesterday, Mia madre, whose soundtrack is largely based on Arvo Pärt, and I am beginning to understand that these sounds are (among other things) laments of the Estonian catastrophe.

A recurrent melody is also the tango "To ostatnia niedziela" ["This Is the Last Sunday"] by Jerzy Petersburski (1935), known in Russian as "Utomlyonnoe solntse", giving also the title to Nikita Mikhalkov's film Burnt by the Sun. All associations are relevant.

The digital cinematography sometimes borders on the abstract: dazzling, blinding lights, reduced compositions, silhouettes, close to low definition. Visually, Risttuules takes us beyond an ordinary experience of reality, while the spoken discourse remains warmly human, thanks to the tender, often half-whispered narration of Laura Peterson.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JAAK LÕHMUS:

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mia madre / My Mother


Mia madre starring Nanni Moretti and Margherita Buy as brother and sister.

IT/FR/DE 2015. PC: Sacher Film, Arte France Cinéma, Fandango, Ifitalia, Le Pacte, Rai Cinema. P: Nanni Moretti, Domenico Procacci. D: Nanni Moretti. SC: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Valia Santella – story: Gaia Manzini, Nanni Moretti, Valia Santella, Chiara Valerio. CIN: Arnaldo Catinari. ED: Clelio Benevento. AD: Mina Petrara. PD: Paola Bizzarri. S: Alessandro Zanon. M: Giovanni Guardi. Cost: Valentina Taviani. Makeup: Enrico Iacoponi, Sharim Sabatini.
    C: Margherita Buy (Margherita), John Turtorro (Barry Huggins), Giulia Lazzarini (Ada), Nanni Moretti (Giovanni), Beatrice Mancini (Livia), Stefano Abbati (Federico), Enrico Ianniello (Vittorio), Anna Bellato (actress), Toni Laudadio (producer).
    K12 – 103 min
    A DCP from Playtime with English subtitles by Charlotte Lantery.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nanni Moretti), 31 Oct 2018.

Mia madre is Nanni Moretti's most recent film. It is an account of a profound crisis of a film director – played by Margerita Buy. Moretti himself plays one of the leading roles as her brother.

Based on a screen story by the director and three women – Gaia Manzini, Valia Santella, Chiara Valerio – it was conceived as a woman's story. At the same time it is deeply personal for the director, incorporating Moretti's characteristic remarks ("I want to see the actor next to the character") and feelings he had experienced during the death of his own mother. Moretti's mother and father were professors of classical languages, as is Ada (Giulia Lazzarini) in this film.

The main theme is die Trauerarbeit of the children at their mother's deathbed. We witness the final hospital care in some documentary detail, but the focus is always psychological and emotional. The denial, and the slow acceptance. The difficulty to find a proper attitude to the mother who is now the one to be cared for.

The film is seen through Margherita's consciousness. We are with her at the shooting location of a film on workers' struggles at a factory. We follow her to her mother's deathbed. We witness her crisis in a relationship. We meet her unruly daughter and her ex-husband. We share her dreams and memories.

Dream and reality: some of the real experiences are more oneiric than dreams. Margherita's apartment floor filled with leaking water. The endless queue in front of the Capranichetta cinema, screening Der Himmel über Berlin. Ada's car being intentionally crashed by the children so that she cannot drive any longer.

Mia madre is a film of melancholia and quietude.

Melancholia seeps even into Margherita's attitude as a director in a project in which she needs to create situations of militant conflict and face an assertive American actor. John Turturro plays his role with a stylized satirical approach.

The young generation is present in the character of Livia (Beatrice Mancini), Margherita's daughter and Ada's granddaughter. She is lazy, but there is hope, even in her learning classical languages.

The most interesting final twist is the revelation that some of Ada's former students always kept in touch with her. Ada taught them more than languages. "Ada taught us life". This revelation is also personal for Moretti. He confesses that it is painful and disturbing for him to realize that his mother's former students may have known her on an important level of which he was unaware.

Films resonate with each other. This year we are celebrating the centenary of Estonian independence. Arvo Pärt's music is prominent in Mia madre. Only now it occurred to me that his music is also eine Trauerarbeit, in Pärt's case of course for the suffering of the Estonians under the aegis of Soviet imperialism.

Good visual quality in the digital presentation.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JARI SEDERGREN:

Caro diario / Dear Diary



Caro diario. Chinese medicine. Starring Nanni Moretti. Doctors: Yu Ming Lun, Tou Yui Chang Pio.

Journal intime / Liebes Tagebuch...
    IT/FR 1993. PC: Sacher Film, Banfilm & La Sept Cinéma. P: Nella Banfi, Angelo Barbagallo & Nanni Moretti. D: Nanni Moretti. SC: Nanni Moretti. CIN: Giuseppe Lanci - 1,66:1 - Technicolor. AD: Marta Maffucci. Cost: Maria Rita Barbera. M: Nicola Piovani. ED: Mirco Garrone. S: Franco Borni. C:  Nanni Moretti, Renato Carpentieri (Gerardo), Giulio Base (kuski), Jennifer Beals, Alexandre Rockwell. 100 min.
    Capitolo I: In vespa / On My Vespa
    Capitolo II: Isole / Islands
    Capitolo III: Medici / Doctors
    Loc: Rome: Garbatella, Spinaceto, Ostia.
    Loc: Aeolian islands: Lipari, Salina, Stromboli, Panarea, Alicudi.
    Film clip: Anna (Alberto Lattuada, IT 1951) starring Silvana Mangano, the theme baião by Armando Trovajoli "El negro zumbón" ("Anna"), voc Flo Sandon, lip-synched by Mangano.
    Not released in Finland.
    35 mm print with English subtitles from Istituto Luce Cinecittà, courtesy of Sacher Film.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nanni Moretti), 30 Oct 2018

Caro diario is a free form half-parodical contemporary odyssey of Nanni Moretti, in his semi-fictional character resembling Woody Allen in Annie Hall, although in this story there is no love interest except in movie fantasies.

Caro diario looks loose and rambling but is actually assured and carefully composed.

The first chapter of the odyssey takes us on a vespa sightseeing ride of urban Roman architecture. In the second chapter in the Aeolian islands Homer and Joyce are evoked, only to highlight the banality of contemporary life. Tourists have occupied eternal sites such as Stromboli, and light entertainment has occupied our imagination. The third chapter takes us to a wild tour among doctors who try to find a cure to Moretti's itch. Finally Moretti himself guesses that the itch is a symptom of something serious and dangerous: a tumour - a malignant but treatable case of cancer.

Moretti delibarately cultivates the image of the village idiot, the outsider who has a comment to everything, constantly provoked and irritated by what he observes. He is an incarnation of skepsis, and in the final chapter that quality proves life-saving.

Moretti is both social and anti-social. His biggest dream is to learn to dance well, and he tries to mix in a dance event, even joining the band for refrains. His idol is Jennifer Beals whom he stops in the street in the company of Alexandre Rockwell. But a fabulous dance scene is seen on television starring the incredibly beautiful Silvana Mangano doing the rhumba to "El negro zumbón", and Moretti participating as a solo watcher in the bar.

A constant in this diary is the impotence and melancholy of the Italian intelligentsia. In a half-empty summertime cinema Moretti protests aloud while watching a film with depressing discussions among the intelligentsia lamenting their situation. I do not recognize the film screened but it feels like a mild parody of Ettore Scola's films such as La terrazza. Moretti satirizes this and also the anti-television stance of Italian intellectuals, but that thread seems to lead nowhere.

Without being explicitly political, in his account of the banality of television and the depression of the intellectuals Moretti anticipates the path to Berlusconi, Putin, Trump and Brexit.

This quest will never end.

A beautiful print from Istituto Luce Cinecittà.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JOEL AALTONEN:

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Eeva Lennon, Lontoo (a memoir)



Cover photograph by Inge Morath, courtesy of Magnum.

Eeva Lennon: Eeva Lennon, Lontoo. Hämeenlinna / Tallinna: Karisto, 2018, 399 p.

Peter Lennon: Foreign Correspondent. Paris in the Sixties. London: Picador, 1994. 220 p.

It is not surprising that memoirs of journalists are page-turners and easy to like. But it is rewarding to discover journalistic memoirs that grab something of the essence of great turning-points of history and convey key experiences in vivid detail.

We are celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of "the crazy year 1968", and I have been watching remarkable cinematic overviews such as L'Île de mai (Michel Andrieu, Jacques Kébadian, 2018) and Le Fond de l'air est rouge (Chris Marker, 1977). However, Frenchmen are so deep in the middle of their reality that there is sometimes a case of "not seeing the forest from the trees".

Foreign correspondents can be helpful. In Finland, Eeva Lennon has been active as a professional since the 1960s, "a perfect stranger" first in France, and, since the 1970s, in London. Married to an Irishman, the Dubliner Peter Lennon, who was a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, among others, they were at once insiders and outsiders, deep in the cultures they were covering, raising their children both in France and London, yet always foreigners in the best sense: curious, willing to understand and translate events to their respective audiences.

Eeva Lennon's French background extends to the time before her birth. Her mother worked at the Finnish Embassy during the legendary 1920s in Paris. There she met her future husband who studied at the military schools of France. From Eeva Lennon's memoirs I keep discovering important facts and details that are not generally mentioned in French sources. Such as that during the sexual revolution of the 1960s France was reactionary, sexual segregation was severe, and males and females were strictly separated in universities. During the "summer of love" of 1967 France was left behind. Sexual frustration was a driving force in the 1968 revolution in France.

The 1960s in France were a decade of wars and revolutionary situations, and Eeva Lennon's and Peter Lennon's memoirs give an engrossing overview. We tend to forget how inflammatory and turbulent the Algerian War was with its dangerous aftermath. The Algerian War was the birthplace of modern terrorism, still undiminished. The Lennons have not forgotten the police brutality, either, which they witnessed at close range.

In England Eeva Lennon has followed the development from Harold Wilson to Theresa May. Also here she gives insights which I don't remember having registered in British sources. Eeva Lennon states that in the early 1970s trade unions of England were weak, much weaker than for instance in Germany and in the Nordic countries, and their weakness was the reason for their sometimes wild and reckless actions. The already weak trade unions were brutally crushed by Margaret Thatcher who ended the period of Keynesian capitalism and led England back to a much more unbridled Liberalism, with results we all know.

Eeva Lennon remembers with affection how different Englishmen were before Thatcherism. Chapter 17, "We move to London", should be published in English.

Eeva Lennon's book is also a personal history of professional journalism. She has experienced the periods of the greatest turbulences in the media, active in the press, the radio, and television, now working in the digital age. Her comments on the characteristics of the different media are illuminating. As a woman she has always been what we have later started to call a feminist, a fighter for equal rights, in the generation of champions who paved the way.

Having lived abroad almost all her adult life Eeva Lennon has insights about Finland, too, things to which we ourselves are deaf and blind. She states that Finnish literary language is difficult to speak fluently without a written manuscript. Finnish is too pithy, not flexible enough. It is harder to think in Finnish while you are speaking literary language.

The Lennons have been a cultural family, and among their closest friends was Samuel Beckett. Eeva Lennon reports that Beckett made a point of not writing in his native language, because for Irishmen verbal fluency can become a trap. Beckett wanted to make writing more difficult in order to get to the point. He was a minimalist, and writing was about getting to the essence (p. 159-160).

An ideal reading companion is of course Peter Lennon's Foreign Correspondent. It is a startling testimony about the turbulences of France in the 1960s. It is also a cultural treasure trove with encounters with Richard Wright, Sylvia Beach, Nathalie Sarraute, Salvador Dalí, Eugene Ionesco, Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, Jeanne Moreau, Buster Keaton, Raoul Coutard, Jean-Luc Godard, and Jean Renoir. Of course we get also the inside story of Peter's own movie Rocky Road to Dublin (1968), photographed by Coutard.

At Eeva's request she was almost completely left out from Peter's memoirs. Now finally we have her story, too, giving us a much fuller picture. A twin story of two foreign correspondents who inspired and complemented each other.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: DATA FROM KARISTO, THE PUBLISHER:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Noored kotkad / The Young Eagles (2018 digital restoration Rahvusarhiivi Filmiarhiiv)



Nuoret kotkat / Die drei jungen Adler.
    EE 1927. PC: Siirius-Film. P: Theodor Luts. D: Theodor Luts. SC: Theodor Luts, Aksella Luts, Oskar Luts. CIN: Theodor Luts. AD+Cost: Voldemar Haas, Heino Lehepuu. Makeup: Aksella Luts. ED: Theodor Luts.
    C: Arnold Vaino (student Tammekänd), Johannes Nõmmik (blacksmith Laansoo), Rudolf Klein (farmhand Lepik).
    Supporting C: Aksella Luts (forester's daughter), Amalie Konsa (mother of the blacksmith and Hilja), Elli Põder-Roht (the blacksmith's sister Hilja), Rudolf Ratassepp and Olev Reintalu (red commissars), Vambola Kurg (first Estonian warlord), Johannes Schütz (second Estonian warlord), August Sunne (doctor), Leopold Hansen, Osvald Lipp jt, Aksella Lutsin koira Kiki.
    Tartu premiere: 19. 11. 1927, Cinema Apollo.
    Tallinn premiere: 14.12.1927, Cinema Gloria-Palace.
    35 mm, b&w, 1: 1,33.
    Restored by Rahvusarhiivi Filmiarhiiv (2018).
    DCP (2018) from Rahvusarhiivi Filmiarhiiv. Sonorized with music by Estonian composers. English subtitles. 83 min
    Introduced by Jaak Lõhmus.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 25 Oct 2018.

Premiere of a new restoration of the first Estonian feature film.

Noored kotkad is an epic war film on the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920), shot on location in Tartu, Mustvee, Värska, and Petserinmaa.

The perspective is that of the "three young eagles": the student Tammekänd (Arnold Vaino), the blacksmith Laansoo (Johannes Nõmmik) and the farmhand Lepik (Rudolf Klein) with their families and dear ones, including the forester's daughter (Aksella Luts) and Hilja Laansoo  (Elli Põder-Roht).

We see the good old times before the war through vignettes. Then there is fervour and anger everywhere. Bolsheviks plunder border villages. Women are harassed. Estonian volunteers are soon on the march, wearing white armbands.

The direction of the war sequences is assured and I would guess better than any war scenes in Finnish cinema for decades. Theodor Luts himself was a veteran of the War of Independence. Although the budget was small, Luts was well connected with influential backers and the military itself so he had substantial resources and personnel for impressive war scenes.

Unforgettable are the extreme long shots of battles staged on the Värska military exercise fields. They evoke the Olympian visions of Griffith in The Birth of a Nation and America.

Also the air force and an armoured train are engaged in the war sequences. Awesome bird's eye views, effective close-ups and rapid montages are in use in the battle scenes. The film is not only about military bravado. Scenes of genuine agony and suffering are incorporated. One of our three eagles lands into a soldier's grave.

There is a sense of true danger in the war scenes. The film is leavened with the humanity of the protagonists, and a sense of humour in their interactions.

The film ends with a Biblical quote: "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

The restoration is engagingly sonorized with a fine music selection from the Estonian composers Heino Eller, Artur Kapp, Villem Kapp, Raimond Kull, and Villem Reimann, performed by Pärnu Linnaorkester conducted by Jüri Alperten.

An impressive work of restoration and reconstruction. I like the refined colour solutions. The speed may be slightly on the fast side, but that is a matter of taste.

Theodor Luts (14.8.1896 Palamuse – 24.9.1980 São Paulo) was a pioneer of Estonian feature film production. He also directed the first Estonian sound feature, Children of the Sun (1931) which we screened in the spring. From 1933 until the end of the Second World War Luts made an important contribution to the Finnish film industry as a cinematographer, director, and producer.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JAAK LÕHMUS BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2018: afterthoughts


"Madamina, il catalago è questo... " Photo: Memory Lane by John M. Stahl starring Eleanor Boardman.

Festival: 37. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto / Pordenone Silent Film Festival, 6–13 ottobre 2018. Associazione Culturale "Le Giornate del Cinema Muto". Direttore: Jay Weissberg. Locations: Teatro Verdi and Cinemazero, Pordenone.

Catalog: 37. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2018: Catalogo / Catalogue: Pordenone: 6–13 ottobre 2018. Bilingual: Italian and English. Edited by Catherine A. Surowiec. Pordenone: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2018. 275 p.

The visual presentation of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto has never been more stylish and elegant than this year. There was a "de luxe" touch down to the smallest detail. This event elevates everything on the agenda.

As for the substance, there is a unique sense of continuity in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto since 37 years. The event is a special form of presentation of film history, the 37 volumes making sense as a whole. With a sense of more than film history: art history, world history, philosophy of history.

The journey of discovery continues. Many times Le Giornate has changed our view of film history in a major way. This time maybe not in a major way, but instead in several minor ways.

Of the world historical connections the centenary of the First World War was commemorated for the last time. In Friuli these memories are particularly painful, and there was an atmosphere of tragic dignity in the Note dal fronte memorial programme. Shell shock resonances were present in the John M. Stahl retrospective (in The Child Thou Gavest Me, In Old Kentucky, and even in The Lincoln Cycle 1918 rerelease version). Also in the combat scenes of Captain Blood there was a sense of urgency which surpassed mere entertainment expectations.

An important change in print access seems to be taking place. New copies of important films seem to be premiered in this festival with such a critical mass that they can enable a reassessment of an artist. Pordenone prestige is being used to the benefit of all for producing many important new copies.

Also the Kevin Brownlow anniversary tribute was based on newly made or restored copies. The tribute was profoundly moving. We are all children of Kevin Brownlow. The Parade's Gone By was now being celebrated, the 50th anniversary of his book published in 1968. For me, the Kevin Brownlow revelation came later. His Napoleon revival and the Hollywood: The Pioneers series were my eye-openers to the full grandeur of silent cinema.

It was a thrill to see in Kevin's Pordenone selection rare copies of The Covered Wagon, Captain Blood (1924), and The Enemy. The surprise selection was King Baggot's The Home Maker, fascinating in the John M. Stahl context. I skipped this time Smouldering Fires, although a new special Robert Gitt restoration was on display. And The Mating Call I need to catch another time.

The silent John M. Stahl retrospective was an opportunity of rediscovering a major period of the neglected master. These films have not been available for retrospectives before. Even the writers of the magisterial new John M. Stahl monograph had never seen a comprehensive display before. We started to make sense of Stahl's development from the sober The Lincoln Cycle to the wildly incredible early melodramas to the sophisticated comedies of the 1920s. My favourites included The Lincoln Cycle, Husbands and Lovers, and Memory Lane. Bruce Babington and Charles Barr had edited a book, published at the festival, The Call of the Heart, with a roster of fourteen authors who also contributed the illuminating program notes.

In the Nordic series curated by Magnus Rosborn and Casper Tybjerg I was happy to see at last deservedly famous films such as Dunungen and Ett farligt frieri. I passed this time Prästänkan (reportedly screened in a new fantastic print) and will have to find a way to see Troll-elgen another time. Outside this series, in the Riscoperte e restauri cycle, there was also a deeply moving Victor Sjöström discovery, Judaspengar, a film that had been believed lost.

My four favourite titles of the festival were The Lincoln Cycle, Das alte Gesetz (a candidate for the most important restoration of 2018), Judaspengar, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi's delicious Neighbours compilation.

Post festum I finally got to read the catalogue. If possible, the quality of the writing keeps getting better because the collective wisdom about the cinema's silent period keeps growing. I was thrilled to read Jay Weissberg on Honoré de Balzac movies, Marcello Seregni on Mario Bonnard, and Dave Kehr and Jay Weissberg on John H. Collins at Edison. I'm looking forward to seeing also the films as soon as possible – I promessi sposi and other important restorations and discoveries that I missed. The catalog is excellent reading with a high value in its own right.

Paolo Cherchi Usai's "The Canon Revisited" continues as a philosophically important project of reassessment of films we believe we know. This year's opportunity to revisit Assunta Spina, L'Atlantide (launching a new brilliant restoration), Körkarlen, The Last of the Mohicans, and Neobychainye priklyucheniya Mistera Westa v strane bolshevikov I passed, knowing that these films we also keep screening or (Feyder, Tourneur) should be screening.

Of films I love I skipped this time Le Joueur d'échecs; I love the Henri Rabaud score which was played by a full orchestra. Neither did I see now Forbidden Paradise, although it was presented in a new MoMA restoration. Der Hund von Baskerville (1929) I need to catch another time.

Some of the traditional fortes of Le Giornate were absent this year, but I hope the festival will keep committed to:
– early Westerns
– comedy series
– more well-curated early cinema compilations such as Neighbours.

Always worth mentioning: the high quality of the musical interpretations and translations help make the best sense of films, whether in brilliant prints or fragmentary reconstructions.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fanny och Alexander 1–5 (the long version, the director's cut) (2009 digital restoration) / Fanny and Alexander (DCP)


Fanny och Alexander. Helena Ekdahl (Gunn Wållgren): "See, now I'm crying. It's over with the old, fine life, and the terrible, shitty life is falling over us. That's how it is". / "Ser du, nu gråter jag. Det glada, fina livet är slut, det hemska, skitiga livet kastar sig över oss. Så är det." With her best friend Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny och Alexander. Ismael Retzinsky (Stina Ekblad): "Perhaps we are the same person, perhaps we have no borders, perhaps we move into one another, flow through each other, magnificently without limits. You carry dreadful thoughts, it almost hurts to be near you, but it is tempting at the same time. Do you know why?" / "Kanske är vi samma person, kanske har vi inga gränser, kanske flyter vi in i varandra, strömmar genom varandra, obegränsat och storartat. Du bär på förfärliga tankar, det är nästan plågsamt att vara i din närhet, samtidigt är det lockande. Vet du varför?" Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve). Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny och Alexander. The children see in the housemaid Justina their only ally in the bishop's house. Bergman would direct Andersson one more time in The Blessed Ones four years later. / Barnen ser till en början pigan Justina (Harriet Andersson) som sin enda bundsförvant på biskopsgården. Bergman skulle regissera Andersson ytterligare en gång fyra år senare i De två saliga. Fanny Ekdahl (Pernilla Allwin), Justina (Harriet Andersson), Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve). Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny och Alexander. Gunnar Björnstrand (Filip Landhal) who had a small role was diagnosed during the filming with emerging dementia. Fanny and Alexander turned out to be his last film role. / som hade en minimal roll, var under inspelningen sjuklig med en begynnande demens. Fanny och Alexander skulle bli hans sista filmroll. Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny ja Alexander
    SE/FR/DE © 1982 Svenska Filminstitutet. PC: Cinematograph / Svenska Filminstitutet / Sveriges Radio TV 1 / Gaumont /  Personafilm / Tobis Filmkunst. P: Jörn Donner, Daniel Toscan du Plantier. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist – 1,66:1 – Eastman Color. PD: Anna Asp, Susanne Lingheim. Cost: Mari Vos-Lundh. Makeup: Anna-Lena Melin. Cecilia Drott ja Kjell Gustvasson (wigs). M arrangements: Daniel Bell. ED: Sylvia Ingemarsson. S: Björn Gunnarsson, Lars Liljeholm, Bo Persson. Production manager: Katinka Faragó.
    SOUNDTRACK LISTING: Main theme:
– Robert Schumann: Quintett Es-Dur, op. 44, 2. Satz: In modo d'una Marcia (1842). – Perf: Marianne Jacobs (piano), Freskkvartetten.
– Robert Schumann: "Du Ring an meinem Finger", lyr. Adalbert von Chamisso, perf: Christina Schollin (vocals), [Käbi Laretei as Aunt Anna (piano) tbc].
– Benjamin Britten: Suite No 2 for Cello Solo, perf. Frans Helmerson (cello).
– Benjamin Britten: Suite No 3 for Cello Solo, perf. Frans Helmerson (cello).
– Frédéric Chopin: "Marche funèbre", op. 35, perf.: Stockholms Regionmusikkår, cond. Per Lyng.
– "Finska rytteriets marsch" [The March of the Finnish Cavalry in the Thirty Years' War] (1618–1648), trad. arr. Daniel Bell, perf. Käbi Laretei (piano).
– "A Hebrew Song from the 17th Century", perf. Stina Ekblad (vocals).
– Etc. See complete listing beyond the jump break.
    C: THE EKDAHL HOUSE.  Gunn Wållgren (Helena Ekdahl, grandmother, née Mandelbaum), Jarl Kulle (Gustav Adolf Ekdahl), Mona Malm (Alma Ekdahl, Gustav's wife), Angelica Wallgren (Eva Ekdahl, Gustav and Alma's daughter), Maria Granlund (Petra, Gustav and Alma's daughter), Emelie Werkö (Jenny, Gustav and Alma's daughter), Kristian Almgren (Putte, Gustav and Alma's son), Allan Edwall (Oscar Ekdahl), Ewa Fröling (Emelie Ekdahl, Oscar's wife), Bertil Guve (Alexander, Oscar and Emelie's son), Pernilla Allwin (Fanny, Oscar and Emelie's daughter), Börje Ahlstedt (Carl Ekdahl), Christina Schollin (Lydia Ekdahl, Carl's wife), Sonya Hedenbratt (Aunt Emma),  Käbi Laretei (Aunt Anna), Majlis Granlund (Miss Vega), Svea Holst (Miss Ester), Kristina Adolphson (Siri), Siv Ericks (Alida), Inga Ålenius (Lisen), Eva von Hanno (Berta), Pernilla August (Maj), Lena Olin (Rosa), Patricia Gélin (statue), Gösta Prüzelius (Dr. Fürstenberg), Hans Strååt (priest), Carl Billquist (Jespersson, policeman).
    THE BISHOP'S HOUSE. Jan Malmsjö (Bishop Edvard Vergérus), Kerstin Tidelius (Henrietta Vergérus), Hans Henrik Lerfeldt (Elsa Bergius), Marianne Aminoff (Blenda Vergérus), Harriet Andersson (Justina), Mona Andersson (Karna), Marianne Nielsen (Selma), Marrit Ohlsson (Tander), Linda Krüger (Pauline), Pernilla Wahlgren (Esmeralda), Peter Stormare (young man who helps Isak with the casket), Krister Hell (young man who helps Isak with the casket). 
    JACOBI'S HOUSE.  Erland Josephson (Isak Jacobi), Stina Ekblad (Ismael Retzinsky), Mats Bergman (Aron Retzinsky), Viola Aberlé (Japanese woman),  Gerd Andersson (Japanese woman).
    THE THEATRE.  Gunnar Björnstrand (Filip Landahl), Heinz Hopf (Tomas Graal), Sune Mangs (Mr. Salenius), Nils Brandt (Mr. Morsing), Per Mattsson (Mikael Bergman), Anna Bergman (Hanna Schwartz), Lickå Sjöman (Grete Holm), Ernst Günther (Rector Magnificus), Hugo Hasslo (singer).
    Swedish premiere of the theatrical version: 17 Dec 1982.
    Swedish telepremiere of the long version: 17 Dec 1983 SVT1.
    Helsinki premiere of the theatrical version: 21.1.1983 Adlon, Gloria, released by Adams Filmi – vhs of the long version: 1992 Suomen Kunnallispalvelu Oy – VET 90644 – K16
    The theatrical version 5215 m / 191 min
    The long version according to sources: 312 min, 326 min – actual duration of the copy screened 322 min (the durations of the acts below are of the ones screened):
    2009 digital restoration / Svenska Filminstitutet.
    The long version on 2K DCP from Svenska Filminstitutet / Bergman 100 with English subtitles.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Bergman 100), 20 Oct 2018
    15.30 Fanny ja Alexander 1. Prolog / Prologue / Prologi + Första akten: Familjen Ekdahl firar jul / The First Act: The Ekdahl Family Celebrates Christmas / Ensimmäinen näytös: Ekdahlin perhe viettää joulua / 96 min + intermission 20 min
    17.30 Fanny ja Alexander 2. Andra akten: Vålnaden / The Second Akt: The Wraith / Toinen näytös: Haamu + Tredje akten: Uppbrottet / The Thid Act: The Breakup / Kolmas näytös: Hajoaminen 79 min + intermission 30 min
    19.15 Fanny ja Alexander 3. Fjärde akten: Sommarens händelser / The Fourth Act: The Summer's Events / Neljäs näytös: Kesän tapahtumat 60 min + intermission 15 min
    20.30 Fanny ja Alexander 4. Femte akten: Demonerna / Fifth Act: Demons / Viides näytös: Demonit + Epilog / Epilogue / Epilogi 87 min

"Tid och rum existerar icke; på en obetydlig verklighetsbakgrund spinner inbillningen ut och väver nya mönster." (August Strindberg: Ett drömspel, 1902)

"Time and space do not exist; on an insignificant basis of reality, the imagination spins and weaves new patterns." (August Strindberg: A Dream Play, 1902)

To my knowledge the long version of Fanny and Alexander has been screened theatrically in Finland only once before, in our first complete Ingmar Bergman retrospective at Cinema Orion in 1986. There has never been a print of the complete version in Finland, and the only theatrically projectable format in Sweden in 1986 was 16 mm.

We ended our Bergman Centenary retrospective with Fanny and Alexander, his farewell film. After it, Bergman continued his creative work for over 20 years in theatre, in television, and, most prominently, as a writer. Fanny and Alexander opened for Bergman a fountain of memories and ideas from which he continued to draw until the end of his life. His achievement as a writer was so outstanding that he is presently considered one of Sweden's greatest authors.

The happiest highlights in our Bergman Centenary tribute were his three longform works produced as television series. However, all are at their most rewarding as cinema marathons. All remain thrilling and original, all look better than ever: Scenes from a Marriage, Face to Face, and Fanny and Alexander. All are disappointing in their truncated "cinema versions".

I lived in Stockholm when Fanny and Alexander had its premiere both in its theatrical release in December 1982 and its telepremiere exactly one year later in December 1983. I remember the disappointment in 1982 of the theatrical version which, however, received rave reviews. The characters were not up to Bergman standards, there were one-note figures, complexity was missing. Performances failed to grow to a familiar Bergman level, with the fascinating exception of the marvellous veteran Gunn Wållgren in her first role in a film directed by Bergman. Fanny and Alexander are title characters, but we learn nothing about Fanny and also Alexander remains passive. The hissable villain of the piece, Bishop Vergérus, seemed like a tired cliché compared with Bergman's previous tormented priests and crusaders.

In 1983, watching the director's cut as a television series, I had to revise my opinion. Fanny and Alexander was something different, something that Bergman had not essayed in the cinema before, with the exception of The Magic Flute. (In the theatre he had done similar things since his early days in the children's theatre). Fanny and Alexander is a mystery play, a dream play, a fairy-tale, a Gothic tale, and a variation of 19th century melodrama. It has affinities with the grand romances of Selma Lagerlöf such as Gösta Berling's Saga, splendidly filmed by Mauritz Stiller (the great fire sequence is a direct connection between Stiller and Bergman). It has also affinities with Charles Dickens's serial novels. Bishop Vergérus is the Devil incarnate in a cloak of religious authority, pretending to teach the language of love.

The lavishness of the spectacle is in itself of the essence, as are the visions, demons, ghosts, and elements of magic and illusion. Maybe I should have perceived this also in the short version. But, as often, the short version fails to maintain the voltage, the rhythm and the fine web of continuities of characters, motifs and movements. The short version is often boring one while the long version is thrilling. Yes, Fanny and Alexander belongs to Bergman's entertainment films, but in the best sense: he is bringing the best of certain dimensions of the talents of the cast and crew to the widest possible audience.

Seeing films next to one another connections emerge. Two days ago we screened Estonia's most beloved film, Spring (1969), whose events also take place among children of the Belle Époque. Both are about the beauty of life just before start of the Age of Extremes, yet neither is naive about the violent undercurrents of life.

The revelation of the movie and its essence as the last will of Ingmar Bergman as a film director is in the last act, Demons. It ends with the grandmother reading aloud August Strindberg's foreword to The Dream Play where the writer states that time and space do no not exist. According to Strindberg, characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, dissolve and merge, and one consciousness rules: the dreamer's.

The Jewish tradition had fascinated Bergman for a long time, and in the last act we see Erland Josephson's finest performance in a Bergman film when he as Isak Jacobi reads to the children a tale from an old Jewish book, translating from Hebrew to Swedish. It is a tale of a young man on an endless highway, searching for the destination, the meaning of life. But he only discovers a mountain covered by a vast cloud, formed of the fears, hopes and dreams of people. And that cloud transforms into streams down the mountain forming springs and rivers. Although presented as a Hebrew tale I believe it was written by Bergman. (P.S. 1 Nov 2018: yes, it was. Thanks for confirmation: Jan Holmberg. See previous post.).

I had forgotten than in this act there is also Bergman's most powerful account of anti-semitism when Bishop Vergérus attacks Isak Jacobi with the most despicable insults. Erland Josephson had reservations about the stereotyped character of Isak Jacobi, but within Fanny and Alexander's fairy-tale world the character makes sense.

I do not know whether anyone has commented on the potentially Jewish backstory of Fanny and Alexander. Their grandmother Helena Ekdahl's birth name is Mandelbaum. Not in the film but in the published screenplay there is, however, a strong hint that Oscar Ekdahl is not the biological father of Fanny and Alexander.

In the final episode we are introduced to the character of Ismael the androgyne. Bergman was ahead of his time in featuring a character whom we would now call genderqueer / non-binary / transgender. Getting acquainted with the mysteries of life, Alexander, at 10, in a latent phase of development, gets an insight that sex and gender are more complex than they may seem. "Perhaps we are the same person".

In his essay "Call Me Ishmael" (Canadian Forum 41, November 1983, reprinted in the book Ingmar Bergman: New Edition, 2013) Robin Wood sees in the Ismael sequence the final key moment in Bergman's oeuvre. "The brief scene in which Ishmael and Alexander join forces is given powerful erotic overtones: Ishmael encloses the boy in his / her arms, and together they will the death of the stepfather, the overthrow of patriarchal oppression (the enactment of Alexander's secret, unspeakable wish) that makes possible not only Alexander's freedom but Emilie's – her independence, her acceptance of the theater management. When Ishmael invites Alexander to write his own name, the name he finds he has written is Ishmael's. The pre-pubescent male child becomes identified with the symbolic figure of androgyny; the woman becomes active and autonomous; Bergman identifies himself with all three. At last a Bergman film has achieved a triumphant happy ending – a triumph qualified but not disqualified by the brief intrusion of the stepfather's ghost" (p. 250–251).

The final act closes the circle also because of the affinity with Prison (1949), Bergman's first truly original film: the assured approach to a space full of mystery, the successful transformation of le théâtre intime to a cinematic space, die Konstitution der Innerlichkeit, introduced to Nordic culture by Kierkegaard, evolving into a recognizably and uniquely Bergmanian universe. Indeed, we are literally in a prison again. In the film-in-the-film of Prison the Devil comes to rule on Earth and orders that everything shall go on as before. Such is also the condition we meet at the Bishop's house, but for once there is a salvation in the finale.

Sven Nykvist's colour cinematography is at his most exquisite in Fanny and Alexander. The 2009 digital restoration has been conducted with great taste and elegance. The warm colours are glowing but never glaring. All four seasons are conveyed in vibrant colours. It is a feast for the eyes. The screening was in all ways a fitting end to an Ingmar Bergman retrospective.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE EDITED BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN FROM LASSE TERONEN AND YWE JALANDER:

Isak Jacobi's tale in Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)


Fanny and Alexander: Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson) tells the tale from an old Hebrew book.

Fanny och Alexander: Ingmar Bergman directs Erland Josephson.

You are journeying along an endless highway together with many other people.

Wagons drawn by big horses rattle past, forcing the wanderers and the herds of cattle to the sides of the road or down into the deep ditches.

The road leads across a stony plain where nothing grows. The fiery sun burns from morning to evening, and nowhere can you find any coolness or shade. A scorching wind is blowing; together with all the people, the carts, and the cattle, it stirs up huge clouds of dust, which chokes your mouth and blinds your eyes. You are driven forward by a strange anxiety and you are tormented by a raging thirst.

Sometimes you ask yourself or one of your fellow travelers about the goal for your pilgrimage, but the answer is uncertain and hesitant.

Suddenly you are standing in a wood. Night is falling and all is quiet; perhaps you hear the sleepy cheeping of a bird, perhaps you bear the sighing of the sunset wind in the tall trees.

You stand in astonishment, full of your anxiety and your distrust. You are alone. You are alone and you hear nothing because your ears are stopped up by the dust of the road. You see nothing because your eyes are inflamed by the merciless glare of the sunlight. Your mouth and throat are parched by the long journey and your cracked lips are tightly pressed around curses and harsh words.

So you do not hear the ripple of flowing water; you do not see the flashing stream in the dusk. Blinded, you stand beside it and do not know it is there. Like a sleepwalker you make your way along between the pools. Your unseeing skill is remarkable and soon you are back on the noisy highway in the burning shadowless light among the bellowing cattle, the furiously driven wagons, and the embittered people.

With a look of surprise you say to yourself: Here on the highway I feel safe. In the wood I was all by myself; in the wood it was lonely and horrible.

But the evening reflects its clear eye in the dusk of the wood. The water ripples tirelessly as it flows through the woods, becoming brooks, rivers, and deep lakes.

"Where does all this water come from?" the youth asked.

"It comes from a high mountain," replied the old man. "It comes from a mountain whose peak is covered by a mighty cloud."

"What kind of cloud?" the youth asked.

The old man replied: "Every man bears within him hopes, fears, longings. Every man cries his despair aloud. Some pray to a particular god, others utter their shouts into the void. This despair, this hope, this dream of deliverance, all these cries accumulate during thousands and thousands of years; all these sacrifices, all these longings collect and condense into a vast cloud round a high mountain."

"Out of the cloud rain streams down over the mountain, forming the brooks, the streams and the rivers, forming the deep springs where you can slake your thirst, where you can bathe your face, where you can cool your blistered feet."

"Everyone has at some time heard of the springs and the mountain and the cloud, but most people remain on the dusty highway for fear of not reaching some unknown destination before evening."

Fanny and Alexander, 5. Act: The Demons (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

This "old Jewish tale" was written by Ingmar Bergman. Thanks for information: Jan Holmberg (Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman), see also: Jan Holmberg: Författaren Ingmar Bergman (2018), p. 134–135. – – – Mr. Ya'akov Yosef Halachmi 2 Nov 2018: "The book is too small – it looks like a book of prayers [Sidur] or Psalms – books of tales assemblies were usually printed in much bigger format."

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Kevade / Spring (2006 digital restoration) – in the presence of Riina Hein


Kevade / Spring, starring  Riina Hein (Teele) and Arno Liiver (Arno).

Kevät / Vesna / Våren
    SU–EE 1969. PC: Tallinnfilm. P: Kullo Must. D: Arvo Kruusement. SC: Kaljo Kiisk, Voldemar Panso – based on the novel (1912) by Oskar Luts. CIN: Harry Rehe – b&w – scope. S: Harald Läänemets. AD: Linda Vernik. Cost: Krista Kajandu. Makeup: Rostislav Nikitin. M: Veljo Tormis. ED: Ludmilla Rozenthal.
    C: Arno Liiver (Arno), Riina Hein (Teele), Aare Laanemets (Toots), Margus Lepa (Kiir), Ain Lutsepp (Tõnisson), Leonhard Merzin (teacher Laur), Endel Ani (sacristan Julk-Jüri), Kaljo Kiisk (bellringer Lible), Rein Aedma (Imelik). Osissa: Kalle Eomois (Kuslap), Raul Haaristo (Vipper), Heiki Koort (Peterson), Heido Selmet (Visak), Tõnu Alveus (Lesta), Silvia Laidla, Ervin Abel, Evald Tordik jt.
    Tallinna premiere: 5.1.1970. Restored 2006.
    Telecast in Finland: 10.10.1972, 27.3.1979 TV1.
    2K DCP from Eesti Filmi Instituut with English subtitles.
    In the presence of Riina Hein.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 18 Oct 2018

Revisited Kevade which I first saw five years ago in our Centenary of the Estonian Cinema series, also curated by Jaak Lõhmus. There is little to add about this cult movie, the most beloved Estonian film. It is a journey back in time to the Belle Époque, the period before the Age of Extremes, of which Estonians have suffered more than most. It is an account of young people on the verge of adulthood. Their characters are being formed, their future unknown.

The special distinction of this screening was the presence of the very star of the film, Riina Hein. Riina Hein and Arno Liiver were voted as the most beloved film couple of the century in the Centenary Gala of the Estonian Cinema in 2012.

Besides acting in the Oskar Luts / Arvo Kruusement trilogy Spring (1969), Summer (1976), and Autumn (1990) Riina Hein has been active as a film producer, director, screenwriter and editor, with 46 films, the best-known of which is the documentary My Estonia (2005).

It was wonderful to have Riina Hein introducing the beloved film. She was radiant, and it was incredible that it was 49 years since she starred in Kevade. She charmed us unconditionally.

The digital restoration (2006) was the same as five years ago, only then we showed it on 35 mm, now on a DCP with English subtitles.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JAAK LÕHMUS BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama (ed. Bruce Babington and Charles Barr) (a book)


Cover image: John M. Stahl directs Claudette Colbert in Magnificent Obsession.

The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama. Edited by Bruce Babington and Charles Barr. East Barnet: John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Distributed worldwide by: Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2018. 276 p.

John Libbey introduction: "The profusion of research on film history means that there are now few Hollywood filmmakers in the category of Neglected Master; John M Stahl (1886–1950) has been stuck in it for far too long. His strong association with melodrama and the womans film is a key to this neglect; those mainstays of popular cinema are no longer the object of critical scorn or indifference, but Stahl has until now hardly benefited from this welcome change in attitude."

"His remarkable silent melodramas were either lost, or buried in archives, while his major sound films such as Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession, equally successful in their time, have been overshadowed by the glamour of the 1950s remakes by Douglas Sirk. Sirk is a far from neglected figure; Stahl's much longer Hollywood career deserves attention and celebration in its own right, as this book definitively shows."

"Drawing on a wide range of film and document archives, scholars from three continents come together to cover Stahls work, as director and also producer, from its beginnings during World War I to his death, as a still active filmmaker, in 1950. Between them they make a strong case for Stahl as an important figure in cinema history, and as author of many films that still have the power to move their audiences."


"The book assembles comprehensive data on Stahl's career, and on the forty feature films he directed, half of them silent; of these silents, half have been found to survive, already inspiring film festival screenings and alerting scholars afresh to Stahl's historical importance. The editors supply a wealth of introductory and linking material, providing a context for essays on each of the surviving films by an international range of writers: Jeremy Arnold (US), Tim Cawkwell (UK), Ed Gallafent (UK), Adrian Garvey (UK), Pamela Hutchinson (UK), Lea Jacobs (US), Richard Koszarski (US), Lawrence Napper (UK), Tom Ryan (Australia), Neil Sinyard (UK), Imogen Sara Smith (US), Tony Tracy (Ireland), Michael Walker (UK) and Melanie Williams (UK)."

"Bruce Babington is Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University, and has published widely on Hollywood, British and New Zealand cinema."

"Charles Barr has taught in England, the U.S. and Ireland; his main publications are on Britisch cinema and on Alfred Hitchcock." (John Libbey introduction)

AA: This year a revival of John M. Stahl has taken place in the double retrospectives of Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato (the sound films) and Pordenone's Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (the silent films).

The new John M. Stahl monograph, published last week in Pordenone and edited by Bruce Babington and Charles Barr, makes sense of the career of the director-producer-screenwriter as a whole, including valuably about his films believed lost. The book is of such a consistently outstanding quality that it's worth reading from cover to cover, not just picking essays on well-known titles.

In a discussion of a little known film such as A Lady Surrenders (1930, the director's first film for Universal) one can discover a statement which amounts to a definition of the artist:

"Stahl's greatest gifts as a director were the restraint and unforced sympathy he brought to melodramas, the tact and sincerity that allow nuance to emerge from formulaic or contrived plot twists. You can start to see this at work at moments in A Lady Surrenders, especially in the ending, with the germ of rueful self-knowledge Isabel shows in her exit, leaving her husband with the recovered Mary. There are also glimpses of the subtle beauty that marks his films, which eschew showy camera movements but contain moments of stirring loveliness. Here, there are effects of morning sunlight or heavy rain done with a naturalism and delicacy that freshen the settings, and long close-ups that are powerful precisely because they seem disinterested and manipulative. There is something in Stahl's straightforwardness that deepens even flimsy characters and plots, an eye always patiently on the lookout for what is real". (Imogen Sara Smith, p. 149).

Before this year I had seen only five John M. Stahl films, and only after seeing his Back Street two years ago I started to realize that he is a master. Indeed, Stahl had seemed pale in comparison with Douglas Sirk. I initially saw Stahl's Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life in 16 mm prints, which may have contributed.

Now in some essays of the book I find statements about Sirk which I find simplifying. Two years ago I revisited several Sirk films for the third time, and had to confess that each time his work seems different than I remembered. Sirk's films are mysterious onions with multiple layers. Perhaps after this year's John M. Stahl revival a fair comparison between Stahl and Sirk might be essayed.

From the sober The Lincoln Cycle to the wild early melodramas to the sophisticated comedies of the 1920s, from the consistent Universal cycle of the 1930s to the diversity of the 20th Century-Fox productions of the 1940s, all Stahl's films are covered in chapters of their own, with well-researched introductions to the main periods of his career.

Many new prints of the silent films were produced, and restoration and reconstruction was performed for the Pordenone tribute. The essays are based on pre-restoration versions of films. For instance Lea Jacobs in her superb essay on Memory Lane refers to missing intertitles in the ending. In the print we saw in Pordenone those intertitles had been reinstated.

About the preceding surviving Stahl film, Husbands and Lovers, Imogen Sara Smith has reservations. She sees the account of male insensitivity "mostly played for laughs, and brushed away with an unconvincing happy ending". For me this film was one of the most rewarding of the silent Stahls. I see in it a film in which the wife Grace (Florence Vidor) is always portrayed with dignity, but both her husband (Lewis Stone) and her lover (Lew Cody) make fools of themselves. Her lover, a playboy, must transform into marriage material. The self-revelation of the husband is more painful and profound. He has to endure multiple humiliations before he can propose to Grace again. The emotion in the film for me is honest and deeply felt.

One of the longest essays is by Michael Walker on Leave Her to Heaven, Stahl's best-known film, yet in many ways untypical for him. In his illuminating study Walker discovers a hidden affinity with Douglas Sirk's Written in the Wind which has hardly ever been mentioned in the context of Stahl before.

Bruce Babington and Charles Barr have edited this book from the contributions of fourteen authors. The book is a page-turner, a smoothly moving anthology, a difficult feat, but evidently this John M. Stahl team was animated by a common spirit.

Barr himself discusses Only Yesterday, the film whose ending was for him the moment of a Stahl revelation. Myself, I was not so impressed when I saw the film ten years ago, but now I realize I need to revisit it. This book makes me want to see all Stahl's films.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Desmet Collection 2018: Neighbours (curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi)


When Mary Grew Up (US 1913) di James Young. Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM)
Language: English
Grand piano, ukulele, song: Nick Sosin
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2018

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi: Neighbours

"Some themes are truly timeless and universally recognizable. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the aphorism “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” In his poem “Mending Wall”, published in 1914, Robert Frost writes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (Franklin meant it in a joking way, while Frost was being bitingly ironic.) A good number of films in this selection take these words very literally."

"Almost all of them (with the exception of Park Your Car, featuring neighbours getting along so well that they decide to invest together in a shared car) are about the well-known neighbourly irritations: the noise, the messiness, or simply the unpleasant characters of those living next door. Of course the classic topic of “falling in love with the boy or girl next door” is not forgotten either."

"What is noticeable in this year’s selection is that almost all the films end up being comedies, albeit of different sorts. Also, music seems to form an undercurrent; three films are directly about overhearing the neighbours playing a musical instrument, allowing a nice insight into the firm and functional presence of (loud) music within early silent cinema."

"Visually speaking, it is interesting to note that the theme of neighbours seem to inspire a universally acknowledged cinematography: many of these films either have the camera pan up and down, or left and right, or the frame is split vertically (and sometimes horizontally) in order to show the neighbours simultaneously on both sides of a garden fence, balcony, apartments, or even different floors of a building."

"A number of other films that would fit the topic were not used this year because they were already screened in earlier editions; such as Le acque miracolose (1914), where Gigetta Morano gets pregnant with the special “help” of her upstairs neighbour, who also happens to be her doctor, and Cunégonde trop curieuse (1912), where her constant spying on her neighbours in the apartment building drives  everyone mad."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (GCM)

Max Linder in Mes voisins font danser (Repos Impossible) (Noisy Neighbors / My
Neighbors Are Giving a Dance) (FR 1908) di Max Linder?, Louis Gasnier?. Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

MES VOISINS FONT DANSER (28 mm Pathé-Kok: Repos Impossible) (US: Noisy Neighbors; GB: My Neighbours Are Giving a Dance) (FR 1908)
regia/dir: Max Linder? Louis Gasnier? cast: Max Linder. prod, dist: Pathé Frères. uscita/rel: 6/1908. copia/copy: 35 mm, 61.60 m (orig. 70 m), 3’04” (18 fps); senza didascalie/no intertitles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione effettuata nel 2000 dall’Immagine Ritrovata a partire da un Pathé-Kok 28 mm gonfiato a 35. / Preserved in 2000 at the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory from a 28 mm positive Pathé-Kok film print, blown up to 35 mm.

"Max has a splitting headache and tries to take a rest. However, his upstairs neighbours are having a crowded party, complete with loud music and singing. Max is desperate and bangs on the ceiling for them to stop, but instead they all start stamping on the floor, bringing the ceiling crashing down in Max’s apartment."

"The print is a blow-up from the 28 mm Pathé-Kok release, and as such carries the re-release title Repos impossible. Like many upstairs-downstairs neighbour films, this comic short contains a pan movement to reveal the neighbours upstairs, who at the end of the film spectacularly tumble down into Max’s bedroom. According to Raymond Chirat and Éric Le Roy, the film is directed either by Louis Gasnier or Max Linder himself."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Inspired mayhem in a catastrophe comedy based on the hyperbole principle. Max Linder at his wildest. The visual quality: what can be expected from a heavily used blow-up from 28 mm.

THE LITTLE BOYS NEXT DOOR (Twee kleine nietsnutters) (GB 1911)
regia/dir: Percy Stow. prod: Clarendon Film Co. copia/copy: 35 mm, 341 ft, 5′ (18 fps); senza didascalie/no intertitles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).

"This British film, held in the Desmet Collection, has always been known as Two Naughty Boys, by James Williamson. There were many comedies made around this time featuring naughty children in a variety of simple scenarios, generally misbehaving in the way that children do, with an anarchic glee. It was a popular genre in the 1900s and just into the 1910s, and could trace its origins back to the Lumières’ L’Arroseur arrosé (1895), in which a boy plays a trick on a gardener by standing on a hose-pipe to cut off the water, releasing it when the gardener squints down the tube to detect the blockage."

"In this film, two quite young boys race around a parlour, diving under furniture and carpets to evade an irate grown-up before the scene shifts to the garden, where the boys’ attempt to retrieve a lost shuttlecock somehow leads to an epic hose-pipe fight. Comparing the age of the boys to those in Williamson’s earlier film, Our Errand Boy (1905), starring his sons Tom and Stuart Williamson, leads me to think this is actually a Clarendon film of 1911, The Little Boys Next Door. The boys are much smaller and younger-looking, it fits Percy Stow’s anarchic style, and the storyline from the contemporary synopsis fits well."
Bryony Dixon

AA: Also this film escalates into an all-out battle mode from its Lumièresque premises. An appetite for wholesale destruction is evident in early cinema.

LES BOTTINES DU COLONEL (FR 1910)
regia/dir: ? scen: M. Lamsoon [Eugène Salomon]. cast: M. Grégoire (Colonel Ronchon), M. Tramont (Paul), Mlle. [Hélène] Maïa (Jeanne), M. [René] Bussy (orderly). prod: Éclair A.C.A.D. copia/copy: 35 mm, 182.70 m (orig. 205 m), 8’58” (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: FRA; titolo di testa mancante/main title missing. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection). Preserved in 1991 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Paul is in love with his next-door neighbor Jeanne, the daughter of Colonel Ronchon. They communicate through the adjoining balcony, but one day Paul accidentally drops a note in the Colonel’s boots, left outside to air. As he warns Jeanne, they both go out of their way to remove the Colonel’s boots to retrieve the note before he notices."

"The print credits the actors only by their surnames, together with the theatre troupes they belonged to at the time. Two of the performers appear to have been killed at the front during WWI: M. Grégoire of the Théâtre Cluny, who plays Colonel Ronchon, and Tramont (apparently not the actor Émile Tramont but a performer who only went by the one name), whose death on the battlefield in 1916 is confirmed by a belated obituary published in 1918 in Les Annales du théâtre et de la musique."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: The Colonel's Boots. A chase comedy about tricking the Colonel to remove his boot to retrieve a hidden love letter. Visual quality: obscured by heavy tinting.

Julia Swayne Gordon, Flora Finch, Clara Kimball Young
When Mary Grew Up (US 1913) di James Young
Photo: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

WHEN MARY GREW UP (Een meisje dat een jongen had moeten zijn) (US 1913)
regia/dir: James Young. cast: Clara Kimball Young (Mary [Dutch print: Marie]), E.K. Lincoln (John Benson [Dutch print: Johan Hammond]), Flora Finch (la domestica/the maid), Julia Swayne Gordon (la zia/Mary’s aunt), Wally Van (il ragazzo del droghiere/grocer’s boy), Max Koster? (poliziotto/policeman), James Young? (autista adirato/irate driver?). prod, dist: Vitagraph. uscita/rel: 28.1.1913. copia/copy: 35 mm, 958 ft (292 m; orig. 1000 ft), 14′ (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection). Preservazione effettuata nel 1992 presso Haghefilm da un internegativo. / Preserved in 1992 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Mary is an irrepressible teenager whose rambunctiousness drives her guardian aunt to distraction. When the family maid locks her in her room, she dons boy’s clothes and climbs out the window, getting into trouble when she’s caught by neighbour John Benson, stealing his apples. Attitudes change though when he discovers the pretty girl hidden underneath the mannish attire, and Mary seconds the flirtation, but clearly on her own terms."

"“If all comedies could be as captivating as When Mary Grew Up, reviewing would be a joy indeed,” crowed the critic for the New York Dramatic Mirror (5 February 1913), and few would gainsay his remarks, for the film is an absolute delight (it hasn’t been screened at the Giornate since 1987). It could just as easily have fit into last year’s “Nasty Women” programme, as Clara Kimball Young’s Mary is the sort of delicious spitfire whose headstrong pursuit of instant gratification knows few limits. When Mary Grew Up is yet further proof of the 23-year-old Kimball Young’s superb comic timing, and while she became a noted dramatic actress under Lewis J. Selznick’s guidance, one can’t help but feel a sense of loss that she, like Norma Talmadge, was pushed to jettison laughter in favor of d-r-a-m-a. As Moving Picture World (8 February 1913) wrote, “There is not a dull moment in this fine comedy.”"

"Be sure to notice the school pennants decorating Mary’s room, all of which attest to her strong-minded sense of female solidarity. There’s one for Belmont College for Young Women in Nashville, Tennessee (which merged the same year with a nearby school to become Ward-Belmont College); Western High School, founded in 1844 and the oldest public all-girls high school remaining in the U.S.; and Agnes Scott College, an all-women’s institute of higher learning founded in 1889 in Decatur, Georgia."
Jay Weissberg

AA: "Nasty woman" indeed, and also with an affinity with Ossi Oswalda in Ernst Lubitsch's Ich möchte kein Mann sein. Clara Kimball Young is a fireball in this Vitagraph comedy. Visual quality ranges from a duped look to beautiful.

Gontran et la voisine inconnue (FR 1913)
Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam


GONTRAN ET LA VOISINE INCONNUE (Gontran en zijn onbekende buurvrouw) (FR 1913)
regia/dir: ?. cast: René Gréhan. prod, dist: Éclair. copia/copy: 35 mm, 167 m (orig. 202 m), 8’22” (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).  Preservazione effettuata nel 1990 presso Haghefilm da un internegativo. / Preserved in 1990 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Gontran (René Gréhan) is so obsessed with playing the piano that he completely neglects his wife Arlette (or Alida as she is called in the Dutch intertitles). She moves to a house within hearing distance and begins to take piano lessons. Gontran is entranced by the music and starts courting this mysterious and talented neighbour from behind the garden fence, much to her satisfaction.
Gréhan (dates unknown) seems to have been a very prolific stage actor in the early 1900s at various theatres, including the Grand Guignol,“where five or six times an evening he switches between both tragic and comic roles with equal ease” (according to Film-Revue no. 13, 1913). Employed by Pathé as early as 1906, he moved to Éclair and was featured as the comic character Gontran between 1910 and 1913, when he was compared to Max Linder: “As played by Gréhan, (…) Gontran is an anxious, overconfident bourgeois type not unlike Max — and his polished style of performance and facial appearance (large eyes, hair parted in the middle, and thin moustache) do remind one of Linder.” (Richard Abel, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914). In the United States, the series was first released using the Gontran name, but was changed to “Nutty” between 1913-14."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Gontran and the Mysterious Neighbour. Gontran starts to romance a mysterious neighbour on the other side of the fence who turns out to be nobody else than his own wife. A comedy of remarriage: music first separates, then unites them. Funny and Linderesque as Elif states.

Totò senz'acqua (1911) with Totò (Émile Vardannes).

TOTÒ SENZ’ACQUA (Toto sans eau / US: Toto Without Water) (IT 1911)regia/dir, scen: Emilio Vardannes. cast: Emilio Vardannes. prod: Itala Film. uscita/rel: 9.8.1911. copia/copy: 35 mm, 140.70 m (orig. 151 m), 5’08” (24 fps); did./titles: FRA. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione/Preserved: 1991, Haghefilm.

"The water is cut off in Totò’s apartment building, so he volunteers to go to the water company and demand an explanation. However, by the time he gets there his house starts flooding, since he’s forgotten to close the tap and the pipe has been repaired in the meantime. Luckily his neighbours manage to reach him by phone and make him come home as quickly as possible."

"Émile (or Emilio) Vardannes (born Antonin Bénevént, 1868? – 1951) was a French actor who entered films in Italy in 1909. In 1911, Turin-based Itala Film cast him in the Totò series, for which he’s often credited as director, scenarist, and main actor. His international popularity was swift, with Moving Picture World (11.08.1911) commenting on Toto Without Water: “Toto is something of a favorite and his antics in this picture will not reduce his popularity in any degree.” In 1912 Vardannes switched to Milano-Films, where he was featured in the “Bonifacio” comedy series into 1913, and then continued a rich career in both dramatic (Hannibal, in Cabiria) and comic roles into the sound era. The film was first released in France as Toto sans eau in 1911, but was reissued in 1914 when, according to Aldo Bernardini and Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano. 1911), it was re-edited."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Another comedy of hyperbole. First the comic possibilities of water shortage and then those of a mighty flood are milked to the utmost. So many early comedies appealed to our "Nero complex" to quote André Bazin's expression about the catastrophe genre. The satisfaction of total destruction. From a duped source full of scratches.

La Vengeance du sergent de ville (FR 1913) di Louis Feuillade
Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam


LA VENGEANCE DU SERGENT DE VILLE (De Wraak van den politie-agent) (FR 1913)
regia/dir: Louis Feuillade. cast: Paul Manson (Monsieur Brême [Dutch print: Brasem], il proprietario/apartment owner), André Luguet (suo figlio/his son), Yvette Andreyor (sua nuora/his daughter-in-law Marcelle), Louis Leubas (poliziotto/the policeman), Renée Carl. prod, dist: Gaumont. uscita/rel: 31.1.1913. copia/copy: 35 mm, 255 m (orig. 265 m), 13’33” (16 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione effettuata nel 1991 presso Haghefilm. / Preserved in 1991 at Haghefilm.

"Newlyweds move next door to a policeman (Louis Leubas) who delights in playing the horn whenever he pleases. This gets on everyone’s nerves, especially the young bride (Yvette Andreyor), who soon becomes hysterical from the noise. The doctor prescribes a peculiar cure; she must be provided with a substitute policeman she can torture as she wishes, for up to 8 days. The family brings in a life-size doll, the spitting image of the neighbour. The cure proves to be very efficient, and Mrs. Brasem’s health improves. Curious to know why she’s no longer complaining, the policeman drills a hole in the wall, and on seeing the doll, decides to take his place. Although the very last metres appear to be missing, this film is a must-see as one of the more bizarre examples within the “neighbours” theme. Some sources indicate Suzanne Grandais as among the cast, but it is hard to establish the source of this information, and she is nowhere to be seen." Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: A Policeman's Revenge. A funny farce directed by Louis Feuillade about a music-loving policeman. His instrument is a natural horn with which he dominates / terrorizes the surroundings. The house is shaking when he blows his horn. The neighbours' outlandish survival strategy is to acquire a life-size voodoo doll of the melomaniac. An ok print.

Park Your Car (1920) starring Snub Pollard.

PARK YOUR CAR (Auto-manieakken) (US 1920)
regia/dir: Alf Goulding. scen: Hal Roach. cast: Harry [“Snub”] Pollard, Marie Mosquini, Hughey Mack, Sunshine Sammy Morrison, Ernie Morrison Sr., Sammy Brooks, Earl Mohan, Vera White. prod: Hal Roach, Rolin Film Co. dist: Pathé Exchange. uscita/rel: 19.12.1920. copia/copy: 35 mm, 853 ft (260 m; orig. 1 rl.), 8’57” (24 fps); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Zaalberg Collection). Preservazione: 2008, presso Haghefilm./Preserved in 2008 at Haghefilm.

"Sometimes neighbours get along just fine, as in Park Your Car. Here the problem comes when Snub Pollard and Hughey Mack think they can save money by buying a car together – only the vehicle they get isn’t quite what they bargained for."

"Snub Pollard (1889-1962) is still one of the most recognizable faces of silent comedy. His screen character was that of a goofy goon with a long, droopy Fu Manchu moustache. But not in Park Your Car. This short is a rare example from a brief period in 1920 when producer Hal Roach decided to change Snub’s look. Having had great success moving Harold Lloyd from the grotesque Lonesome Luke to a young everyman with glasses, Roach thought he’d try the same thing with Pollard. The problem was the Pollard films were anything- for-a-laugh gag fests in the Mack Sennett tradition, and without the upper lip hair Snub got lost in the shuffle. So after being clean-shaven in a few entries like Cash Customers and The Morning After (both 1920) the moustache returned."

"Pollard was a graduate of the Australian children’s troupe Pollard’s Lilliputians, and began his film career in 1913 working for Universal and then Essanay, where he connected with Hal Roach. When Roach set up his own production company, Snub was hired to be second banana for his star comic Harold Lloyd. In 1919 he was given his own one-reel series, and he spent the 1920s as a star for Roach and Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures."

"Snub always got a lot of help from his friends in his comedies, and on hand in Park Your Car is his usual leading lady Marie Mosquini. His large buddy is Hughey Mack, former stalwart from the Vitagraph Company, who would move into support in features, and become a favorite of director Erich von Stroheim for pictures such as Greed (1923), The Merry Widow (1925), and The Wedding March (1927)."
Steve Massa

AA: Without realizing that this is a Hal Roach production I noticed the motif of a car coming apart, familiar from Max Davidson and Laurel & Hardy comedies, among others. Nobody could milk as much fun from the theme of a disintegrating car as Hal Roach. In this Snub Pollard comedy the motif is still primitive but already very funny. Also the gag of the hen picking the seeds from the garden is familiar from Roach's later Pass the Gravy. Alf Goulding has a touch for action comedy. The characters are elementary, without strong individuality, but they are full of life, and their happy ensemble acting provides plenty of laughs. Visual quality: from duped to fair.

Desmet programs curated by Elif Rongen belong to my top favourites in Pordenone, and my only complaint is that there are not more of them. With Max Linder, Clara Kimball Young, Gontran, Totò, and Snub Pollard this selection is also a very nice cross-section of silent comedians.