Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tapani Maskula: Intohimosta elokuvaan / [A Passion for the Cinema] (a book)

Tapani Maskula: Intohimosta elokuvaan. Valitut elokuvakritiikit 1960-2010-luvuilta / [A Passion for the Cinema. Selected Film Reviews from the 1960s to the 2010s]. Ed. Juri Nummelin. Turku: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Sammakko, 2018. 383 p.

Tapani Maskula (born in 1941) is one of the greatest Finnish film critics. Based in the city of Turku, he started in the 1950s and is still going strong, today with an active online presence. He writes film reviews on his own Facebook page and contributes to an online journal carrying the humoristic title Elitisti,

Finnish film criticism has a distinguished tradition dating back to our very first film screening (and first press screening!) by the Lumière company in 1896. The current high profile continuity of modern film criticism dates back to 1951 when Jerker A. Eriksson became a model for everyone.

Tapani Maskula is a prominent representative of the golden age of film criticism, from the 1960s till the 1980s. I have just read the magnificent Cineaste anthology on film criticism and was impressed to discover how much of the international development is relevant to Finland. Maskula started as a contemporary to Peter von Bagh (1943–2014) who appears in this book's introduction as a referee.

Let's state the main thing first: Tapani Maskula has always had a voice of his own. These texts emerge from a compelling mission: Maskula has something to say. That is the secret of the unity and continuity in these writings. The reviews are all contributions to a bigger personally felt saga of the cinema and the world which they have reflected and influenced.

Maskula is a professional critic but he has never been financially dependent on criticism. He is immune to temptations to be understanding to the sacrifices made by the artists or the investments of the producers or distributors. He is untouchable and merciless. He discusses the films solely on their merits. He is subjective and partial and expects the same from others. When he participated on critics' panels where contributors gave star ratings he became famous / infamous as "the one star Maskula".

Professionals were shocked by his lambasting of a high profile patriotic effort such as The Winter War. But today I hear from the inner circle then involved in its marketing that Maskula was the only one who said it like it was.

In this excellent anthology edited by Juri Nummelin there is room for the classics starting from Murnau and Chaplin, produced before Maskula's start as a critic. It is exciting to read how Maskula discovers modernist films such as L'Année dernière à Marienbad, L'Arme à gauche, and films by Bresson, Jarman, Cavalier, Angelopoulos, and Carax on their first release. His curiosity has never stopped, and he finds illuminating things to say about Gaspar Noé, Bruno Dumont, the Dardenne brothers, Lars von Trier, Iñarritu, and Mungiu.

Maskula's interest in Finnish cinema is broad. It is relevant to mention that Maskula also belongs to the best connoisseurs of Finnish popular music, including the period before rock and roll. Maskula has real insight in Teuvo Tulio and Aki Kaurismäki, among others. The anthology also contains its share of scathing reviews, including the infamous piece on The Winter War.

Maskula's greatest love belongs to American cinema. He discusses the great masters from Ford to Welles. But his special passion belongs to directors such as Irving Lerner, Roger Corman, Samuel Fuller, John Cassavetes, Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Barbet Schroeder (Barfly), and the Coen brothers.

Maskula is a connoisseur of film noir and American crime film with insightful pieces on Robert Wise's Born to Kill, Roy Rowland's The Rogue Cop, André de Toth's Crime Wave, Philip Leacock's Let No Man Write My Epitaph (Maskula's first review published in a newspaper, in 1961), Roger Corman's St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, and Abel Ferrara's The Funeral. His range of interests includes forgotten talents such as Arnold Laven and Harry Horner.

In the genre of the Western Maskula's taste expands from the expected names to Budd Boetticher, Jack Arnold (No Name on the Bullet), and Monte Hellman. Maskula also belongs to the most insightful critics on horror films. Writing on Dan Curtis's Burnt Offerings he discusses horror film as pure cinema and finds in horror the only genre with an original trust in the magic of the moving images. Maskula discovered the unique power of Herk Harvey's The Carnival of Souls, one of his favourite films, during its original run.

With Maskula nothing can be taken for granted. Each text is a discovery. The reviews are well written with deliciously literate and unusual formulations. There is a subtle sense of humour in Maskula's writings. He takes seriously the works and the issues they discuss, but he does not take himself seriously.


Tapani Maskula on elokuvakritiikin legenda, jonka ura alkoi jo 1950-luvulla elokuvakerhomonisteisiin kirjoitetuista arvosteluista. Maskula on sittemmin arvostellut elokuvia Uuteen Päivään, Turun Ylioppilaslehteen, Annaan, Turun Sanomiin, Helsingin Sanomiin ja Elitistiin. Lisäksi hän on ollut perustamassa Lähikuva-lehteä.

Yhden tähden Maskulana tunnettu kriitikko on aina suhtautunut elokuvaan intohimoisesti ja vaatinut siltä laatua ja näkemystä. Erityisesti hän on rakastanut amerikkalaisia rikoselokuvia, Don Siegelin ja Samuel Fullerin kaltaisia kovaotteisia, mutta näkemyksellisiä ohjaajia.

Juri Nummelinin toimittama kirja sisältää Tapani Maskulan kritiikkien parhaimmistoa. Elokuvat on jaoteltu Nummelinin toimesta lajityyppeihin, ja tutuksi tulevat niin eurooppalaisen taide-elokuvan klassikot kuin amerikkalaiset rikosfilmitkin. Omassa osiossaan saadaan lukea Maskulan pisteliäitä arvioita erityisen huonoista elokuvista.

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