Sunday, April 28, 2019

Variety (Bette Gordon 1983)

US 1983. PC: Channel Four Films / Variety Motion Pictures / Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). P: Renée Schafransky.
    D: Bette Gordon. SC: Bette Gordon (story), Kathy Acker (script), Jerry Delamater & Peter Koper (screenplay). Cin: Tom DiCillo, John Foster – 16 mm [not 35 mm as IMDb claims] – colour. Props: Elyse Goldberg. S: Helene Kaplan – mono. ED: Ila von Hasperg. P assistant: Christine Vachon.
    M: John Lurie.
Little Anthony & The Imperials: "The Diary" (Neil Sedaka, Johnny Greenfield, 1958).
    C: Sandy McLeod (Christine), Will Patton (Mark), Richard M. Davidson (Louie), Luis Guzmán (Jose), Nan Goldin (Nan).
    Loc: New York City (Tin Pan Alley, Times Square, Manhattan).
    Festival premiere: 10 Sep 1983 Toronto International Film Festival.
    General release date: 8 March 1985.
    Not released in Finland.
    100 min
    16 mm print from Arsenal (Berlin) viewed at Fifth Viva Erotica! festival, WHS Union, Helsinki, 28 April 2019

IMDb summary: "Christine (Sandy McLeod) takes a job selling tickets at a porno theater near Times Square. Instead of distancing herself from the dark and erotic nature of this milieu, she develops an obsession that begins to consume her life. Few films deal honestly with a female sexual point-of-view, controversial and highly personal, Variety does just this." – Anonymous.

AA: In March we screened Bonnie Sherr Klein's documentary Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (1981), and it was interesting to view now Bette Gordon's Variety made two years after. Both take a close look at pornography from a feministic point of view.

Unfortunately I had misremembered the hour of the screening and missed half of the show. I only saw the last 50 minutes of Variety but was able to register a number of impressions.

There is a documentary quality in the account of the pornographic milieu of Times Square in the early 1980s. Mainly lurid, depressive and demeaning but not without some genuine erotic charge.

Mostly, however, this is a tale of urban alienation and aberrations of desire. Bette Gordon introduces a feminist twist into Godardian modernism.

Between Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise John Lurie composed for Variety an engaging score with some gripping saxophone solos.

Tom DiCillo and John Foster caught the sleazy atmosphere of the Times Square porn hub in lush and vibrant colours. The vintage Arsenal print retains the heat and intensity of the colour. Olaf Möller praised the recent 35 mm blow-up but remained open to the possibility that this 16 mm print might be superior.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Voyna i mir / War and Peace Part III: The Year 1812 (in 70 mm)

War and Peace. Vyacheslav Tikhonov as Andrei Bolkonsky.

War and Peace. Upwards tracking shots from a helicopter reveal the most magnificent battle scenes ever filmed. Photo: my screen shot from YouTube. Please click to enlarge.

Война и мир / Voina i mir / Sota ja rauha / Krig och fred.
    SU 1967. PC: Mosfilm. D: Sergei Bondarchuk. SC: Sergei Bondarchuk, Vasili Solovyov – based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy (1865–1869). DP (Sovcolor, shot simultaneously in 70 mm and 35 mm): Anatoli Petrisky – 1:2.2. AD: Mikhail Bogdanov, Gennadi Myasnikov. ED: Tatyana Lihachova. M: Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov. Opera: L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642) by Claudio Monteverdi. "Dies irae" theme in two sequences. Choreography: Vladimir Burmeyster. S: Yuri Mikhailov, Igor Urvantsev – 5+1-channel stereophonic sound. Cost: Mihail Chikovani. VFX: G. Ayzenberg. SFX: F. Krasnij, M. Semyonov. Pyrotechnics: Vladimir Likhachyov. Military advisor: General V. V. Kurasov.
    C: Lyudmila Savelyeva (Natasha Rostova), Sergei Bondarchuk (Pierre Bezuhov), Vyatsheslav Tikhonov (Andrei Bolkonsky), Viktor Stanitsyn (Ilya Andreyevich Rostov), Kira Golovko (Countess Rostova), Oleg Tabakov (Nikolai Rostov), Seryozha Yermilov (Petya Rostov), Irina Gubanova (Sonya), Anatoli Ktorov (Nikolai Andreyevitsh Bolkonsky), Antonina Shuranova (Princess Marya), Anastasia Vertinskaya (Liza Bolkonskaya), Boris Smirnov (Prince Vasili Kuragin), Irina Skobtseva (Hélène Kuragina / Bezuhova), Vasili Lanovoy (Anatole Kuragin), Boris Zakhava (Kutuzov), Gyuli Chohonelidze (Bagration), V. Murganov (Alexander I), Vladislav Strzhelchik (Napoleon Bonaparte), V. Sofronov (Emperor Franz).
    Original in Russian with passages in German and in French.
    Helsinki premiere 10.11.1967 Capitol, released by Kosmos Filmi.
    KAVI 70 mm print deposited by Kosmos Filmi.
    Screened was the 362 min Finnish cinema release version in 23 reels of ca 600 m, with electronic subtitles by Tuulia Lehtonen. Screening schedule: 14.00 Part I, 107 min, 16.15 Part II, 80 min, 18.00 Part III, 82 min, 19.45 Part IV, 94 min.
    Screened at Kino Regina (Film Heaven), 27 April 2019.
    In memoriam Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov (1936–2019).

I viewed our 70 mm print of War and Peace in extenso in our previous screening at Bio Rex seven years ago. I then found Part III (the Battle of Borodino) clearly superior to the rest. Examining information on the different versions I discovered that our Part III is the only one which has not been cut. The original version runs seven hours, and our print only six hours, but Part III is intact. This year I learned from Peter Bagrov that Anatoli Petrisky, the cinematographer, also preferred Part III when War and Peace was screened at the Belye Stolby Film Festival.

At Kino Regina the 70 mm projection is superior to Bio Rex. The proportions of our new cinema are perfect for 70 mm. The cinema does full justice to the masterful composition of this film. I focused now more on the cinematography and the mise-en-scène and was much more impressed by the visual experience.

Otherwise my observations remained the same. Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov has created an excellent, intriguing and highly moving score, different from mainstream epic film music.

A special feature is a mumbling approach to dialogue, probably as a counterweight to the inherent danger of bombasm. Thus the soundtrack (both music and dialogue) are based on understatement. There is an attempt to maintain dimension of intimacy in this history of the masses.

Part II ends with one of the finest scenes, Natasha and Pierre's encounter where they first recognize that they are special to each other. Part III has several outstanding scenes. The death of the old Count Bolkonsky (a great performance by Anatoli Ktorov). The meeting of Kutuzov and Andrei Bolkonsky (Tolstoy would have smiled approvingly to Boris Zakhava's earthy interpretation of Kutuzov). The holy procession with epic grandeur. The meeting of Pierre and Andrei on the eve of the battle. The battle of Borodino, perhaps the most formidable battle sequence ever filmed.

Andrei falls with mortal grenade wounds to his stomach. At the field hospital he is startled by cries of agony: a leg is being amputated on the adjoining bed. It is no one else but Anatoli Kuragin, his rival for Natasha's love. On the death bed values and proportions change. A quintessentially Tolstoyan moment, powerfully dramatized by Sergei Bondarchuk.

The Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812 was the biggest and most disastrous of Napoleon's battles. Napoleon won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, and from then on la Grande Armée was fatally injured. Half of the Russian army was destroyed, but Kutuzov, Field Marshal of the Russian Empire, saved its fighting spirit.

Our print is clean and intact and at Kino Regina it looks better than at Bio Rex. 2805 prints were struck of War and Peace, and due to the duplication processes there is a loss of fine detail and the image is often somewhat soft. The 70 mm experience is not perfect but this print is still worthy of screening.


See also my September 2019 note on the complete version of War and Peace (Criterion Collection, 2017 restoration 2019 blu-ray).

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

First Reformed

US 2017. PC: Killer Films, Fibonacci Films, Arclight Films, Big Indie Pictures, Omeira Studio Partners. Released by Universal. EX: Isabel Henderson, William Perkins. P: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Gary Hamilton, Victoria Hill, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray, Deepah Sikka, Christine Vachon.
    D+SC: Paul Schrader. Cin: Alexander Dynan. PD: Nadya Gurevich. Cost: Olga Mill. Make-up: Adam Bailey, Eldo Ray Estes, Jackie Fundus. M: Lustmord. S: Isaac Derfel, Jerry Stein, Michael McMenomy.ED: Benjamin Rodriguez, Jr.
    C:  Ethan Hawke (Toller), Amanda Seyfried (Mary), Cedric Antonio Kyles (Jeffries), Victoria Hill (Esther), Philip Ettinger (Michael), Michael Gaston (Balq), Bill Hoag (Elder), Kristin Villenueva (nurse), Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz  (middle-aged tourist), Ken Foreman (middle-aged man), Christopher Dylan White (college student), Frank Rodriguez (sheriff), Gary Lee Mahmoud (doctor), Sue Jean Kim (Suriya), Mia Issabella Velasquez (Rose), Tyler Bourke (Benny), Van Hansis (Roger), Ramon Nuῆes (Jason), Delmo Montgomery (Jake), Satchel Eden Bell (Cynthia).
    Not released theatrically in Finland – K12 – 113 min.
    DCP from Park Circus.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Film of the Month) with e-subtitles in Finnish by Joel Kinnunen, 24 April 2019

Paul Schrader is at his best in First Reformed, well written with a clear vision, directed with a sense of purpose, an assured mise-en-scène, and strong performances.

Schrader pays hommages to Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest, Bergman's Winter Light and Scorsese's Taxi Driver (which of course had been written by Schrader).

But all this prepares the ground to something new and different.

First Reformed is not a film about the loss of faith or even about churches getting empty. Churches are getting full in our age of the prosperity gospel, incarnated by the figure of the financial tycoon Balq (Michael Gaston), although the old and small First Reformed Church is becoming obsolete in the care of the priest Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke).

"Will God forgive us for what we are doing?" is Toller's big question to Balq, meaning the destruction of the Earth during our lifetime. To Michael (Philip Ettinger) the issue is so overwhelming that he would even like to interrupt the pregnancy of his wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried). Instead, Michael draws the same conclusion as Jonas (Max von Sydow) in Winter Light, depressed by the perspective of the end of the world.

Even Ernst is thrown violently off balance. He has been shattered since he had urged his son to enlist in the war and lost him in Iraq, which led also to the end of his marriage. Ernst rejects brutally the tender contact attempts of Esther (Victoria Hill), like Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand) did to Märta (Ingrid Thulin) in Winter Light, but Ernst is attracted by the widow Mary whom he wants to protect even from himself.

The conclusion remains open until the very end, dramatizing the choice between life and death in the extreme.

First Reformed is a masterpiece of contemporary cinema.


They Shall Not Grow Old

NZ/GB © 2018 Imperial War Museum. PC: WingNut Films. Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Imperial War Museum in association with the BBC. Executive Produced by House Productions. Distr: Warner Bros. Pictures. P: Clare Olssen, Peter Jackson.
    D: Peter Jackson. M: Plan 9. ED: Jabez Olssen.
    A montage film based on WWI footage at the Imperial War Museum and oral history recordings at the BBC.
    Music selections include vintage songs popular during the era such as:
– "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (Jack Judge, Harry Williams, 1912)
– "Oh! It's a Lovely War" (J. P. Long, Maurice Scott, 1917)
– "Mademoiselle from Armentières" (Harry Carlton, Joseph Tunbridge, originally from the 1830s, WWI lyrics probably 1915, first recording 1915)
    Filmed on location in World War I.
    Dedicated: For My Grandfather Sgt. William Jackson
    Released in 2D and 3D.
    Release dates: 16 October 2018 (London Film Festival), 9 November 2018 (United Kingdom), 17 December 2018 (United States).
    99 min
    DCP viewed at a Espoo Ciné press screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 24 April 2019.

Official introduction: "On the centenary of the end of First World War, Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) presents the World Premiere of an extraordinary new work showing the Great War as you have never seen it."

"This unique film brings into high definition the human face of the First World War as part of a special London Film Festival presentation alongside a live Q&A with director Peter Jackson hosted by Mark Kermode."

"Using state of the art technology to restore original archival footage which is more than a 100-years old, Jackson brings to life the people who can best tell this story: the men who were there. Driven by a personal interest in the First World War, Jackson set out to bring to life the day-to-day experience of its soldiers. After months immersed in the BBC and Imperial War Museums’ archives, narratives and strategies on how to tell this story began to emerge for Jackson. Using the voices of the men involved, the film explores the reality of war on the front line; their attitudes to the conflict; how they ate; slept and formed friendships, as well what their lives were like away from the trenches during their periods of downtime."

"Jackson and his team have used cutting edge techniques to make the images of a hundred years ago appear as if they were shot yesterday. The transformation from black and white footage to colourised footage can be seen throughout the film revealing never before seen details. Reaching into the mists of time, Jackson aims to give these men voices, investigate the hopes and fears of the veterans, the humility and humanity that represented a generation changed forever by a global war."
(Official introduction)

AA: Peter Jackson brings an experimental approach to the hundred-year-old subgenre of the WWI compilation feature film. Jay Leyda discusses this subgenre in Films Beget Films (1964) as the starting point of the very phenomenon of the montage film – films based solely on pre-existing footage.

Now with digital transfers, computer colorization, and cropping from 1,33 to 1,85 the imagery certainly looks different. Jackson's film has also been made available in 3D, but I saw the 2D version.

This project has been hugely beneficial in professional archival terms: 100 hours of WWI footage has been digitized in high resolution during the project.

They Shall Not Grow Old became a big phenomenon in 2018, the centenary of the WWI armistice,  in honour of the memory of those who gave their lives and suffered during WWI.


I belong to a special audience category because I have followed WWI centenary film series for five years, starting from pacifist pre-war visions such as Ned med Vaabnene! / Lay Down Your Arms! / Waffen nieder! (1914) based on the novel by Bertha von Suttner via a screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer.

I have also studied the European Film Gateway portal EFG 1914 with a massive collection of contemporary footage from the WWI period.

Five years ago I tended to support the view of the historian Marc Ferro who stated that no non-fiction films could compete with the best fictional accounts of the Great War. The non-fiction records were usually made for military or government propaganda purposes. They showed parades of our victorious troops marching into the ruins of occupied cities.

But accounts of other aspects of the war have emerged, including documentaries of the rehabilitation of war invalids, legless, armless, blind, faceless... And accounts of millions of war orphans. Yet the unheard-of massacre in industrial scale characteristic of WWI has been best conveyed in fictional masterpieces such as Les Croix de bois. An account of the callous Machiavellism of the military command was certainly absent from official newsreels, and was portrayed only in exposés such as Paths of Glory.

Speaking of glory, the lesson of WWI was indeed that there was no glory in war.


Peter Jackson is not shy in portraying violence on the screen. He debuted in the cinema as a maestro of gore and splatter with Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead. He would be the perfect choice to make a fictional movie about WWI, the home of gore and splatter. Horror film as a genre truly blossomed in the wake of WWI, and horror cinema was one of the key reflections of WWI both in Weimar Germany and in the phenomenon known as Universal Horror.

Jackson does portray the slaughter of the war but remains dependent on the official propaganda character of much of his source material. We learn in the conclusion that the war was of a magnitude beyond comprehension and that there was a wall of silence because people never talked about the war. But the film does not convey this with full dramatical, physical and visceral impact.


An artist is free to experiment with found footage, and Jackson has used his freedom. In the beginning and the end we see footage reduced to small size, presented in accelerated speed which makes movement look ridiculous, and played with a whirring sound evoking a film projector.

At about 9 minutes of screen time the speed returns to natural while the image grows to full screen size, but that size is 1,85:1 (reduced from the original 1,33:1) which means that the footage is cropped from the top and the bottom. The footage has also been computer-colorized in a procedure that was fashionable in the 1980s. Technically today's computer colorization is superior but the aesthetical concerns remain.

I am not a purist. All these changes have been conducted with supreme skill and taste. But personally I would prefer a straight version in glorious black and white, all natural speed, all in the original aspect ratio.


The soundtrack consists of a symposium of voices from BBC's oral history archive. The storytellers are not identified during the course of the movie, but they are named in the end credits.

They Shall Not Grow Old is an impressionistic film. The film focuses on the eye level experience. We are often lost in chaos, lost in combat. We do not get a general view of WWI nor a vision of the course of the war. This is a film about the minutiae, not the big picture. But certainly this is a distinguished film and an inspiration to learn more.


P.S. 17 May 2019. I visited The Nitrate Picture Show in Rochester two weeks ago and listened to the amazing introductory lecture by David Walsh, a veteran of The Imperial War Museum and one of the most distinguished representatives of the international film archive community. His presentation was for me the highlight of the festival. One of Walsh's topics was They Shall Not Grow Old. It turns out that the digital manipulation of the image is more thorough than might be imagined. When skies were cleared, birds disappeared. Elements of the image were digitally removed, buildings were replaced, and compositions were altered, even when there was no particular reason. The movie is a digital reconstruction to such an extent that its documentary credentials are questionable.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Io sono una forza del passato (a poem)

La ricotta. Orson Welles reads Pasolini's poem during the lunch break while filming a Biblical epic. Dubbed by Giorgio Bassani.

Io sono una forza del Passato.
Solo nella tradizione è il mio amore.
Vengo dai ruderi, dalle chiese,
dalle pale d'altare, dai borghi
abbandonati sugli Appennini o le Prealpi,
dove sono vissuti i fratelli.
Giro per la Tuscolana come un pazzo,
per l'Appia come un cane senza padrone.
O guardo i crepuscoli, le mattine
su Roma, sulla Ciociaria, sul mondo,
come i primi atti della Dopostoria,
cui io assisto, per privilegio d'anagrafe,
dall'orlo estremo di qualche età
sepolta. Mostruoso è chi è nato
dalle viscere di una donna morta.
E io, feto adulto, mi aggiro
più moderno di ogni moderno
a cercare fratelli che non sono più

(Da Poesia in forma di rosa)

Essere una forza del Passato significa percepire la parte più vitale della nostra Memoria, sede dei nostri Ricordi e dei nostri Conflitti. Non aver capito il proprio Passato significa riviverlo, ma vivere il Passato in forma lapidea significa togliere ad esso la parte vitale. La parola Forza esprime un concetto presente di dinamismo non necessariamente legato al movimento, quindi io non mi identifico nel Passato e non provengo dal passato, piuttosto vivo al presente sollecitato da forze multiformi. Io non mi identifico nel Passato, ma rivedo i suoi riti e i suoi cicli umani, gesti ripetuti nelle epoche che raccolgono i sentimenti di generazioni, e sento che il mio amore di oggi ha radici profonde in quel Passato.

Vengo direttamente dai ruderi dei casolari abbandonati o distrutti dalle bombe, dalle chiese che costellano ogni nostra regione, dalle pale d'altare che pure ho studiato, analizzato, ammirato, dai borghi degli Appennini o dalle Prealpi, in cui la vita muore lasciandovi niente altro che pochi abitanti che si aggirano come fantasmi. Là sono vissuti i nostri fratelli, quelli che coltivavano il grano e aravano i campi secondo le fasi della luna, tra una carestia, una guerra o un padrone prepotente. Quello è il nostro Passato.

E mi ritrovo oggi, sulla via Tuscolana, quell'antica via che da Porta San Giovanni portava a Tusculum, la moderna Frascati. Ma in quale punto della Tuscolana giro come un pazzo? Che paesaggio è quello che ho attorno? Vedo case moderne, palazzoni fitti come alveari, tutti uguali ed io che giro con un cane randagio per l'Appia. Perchè devi sapere che la via Tuscolana per un certo tratto corre quasi parallela alla via Appia Nuova, sono strade vicine che comunicano. Io ora vivo qui, questi sono i nuovi paesaggi della nuova era, mi guardo intorno smarrito, sempre stupito e con in gola un nodo che non si scioglie.

Eppure guardo i tramonti e le mattine su Roma, perché chi non ha mai osservato un crepuscolo o un'alba romana almeno una volta, provato sulla pelle il calore di quei raggi solari così luminosi e potenti, è ben difficile che riesca a capire ciò di cui sto parlando. Assisto alle albe e ai tramonti da Roma, dalla Ciociaria e poi sul resto del mondo, al margine di una civiltà sepolta il primo agitarsi di una nuova era primitiva. Il tutto per il solo privilegio anagrafico di esservi piovuto, niente di speciale.

All'improvviso realizzo che io sono frutto di questo Passato ormai morto e mi percepisco come un essere mostruoso, al pari di chi è nato dal cadavere di una donna morta. Sono piovuto su questa terra senza possibilità di governare il mio destino, inconsapevole e fragile come un feto, ma vecchio di mille e mille secoli, mi aggiro saldato alla nostra epoca, inesorabilmente legato al nostro tempo, a cercare i fratelli che non sono più. Il perché di questa ricerca è motivato dall'esigenza di non perdere le nostre radici, per far sì che questo Dopostoria perda la sua anonimità, il solo modo per trovare nuovi linguaggi e nuove identità.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Nell'interpretazione di Orson Welles, La ricotta

Copied in gratitude and respect from: Squi[libri] with
Domenica, 01 Novembre 2015

La Terra vista dalla Luna / The Earth Seen from the Moon

La Terra vista dalla Luna. Silvana Mangano as Assurdina Caì.

Maa Kuusta nähtynä / Jorden sedd från Månen.
    IT / FR 1966. PC: Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica, Les Productions Artistes Associés. P: Dino De Laurentiis.
    D+SC: Pier Paolo Pasolini. DP (colour, 1,85): Giuseppe Rotunno. M: Piero Piccioni. AD: Mario Garbuglia, Piero Poletto. Cost: Piero Tosi. Sculptures: Pino Zac.
    C: Totò (Cianciato Miao), Ninetto Davoli (Basciù Miao), Silvano Mangano (Assurdina Caì), Mario Cipriani (priest), Luigi Leoni (tourist), Laura Betti (tourist).
    Loc: Rome (Coliseum), Fiumicino.
    Premiere: Berlin Film Festival, 1967.
    858 m / 31 min
    Episode from Le streghe / Nykypäivän noitia / The Witches /  Häxorna. Other episodes: Francesco Rosi's La siciliana, Mauro Bolognini's Senso civico, Luchino Visconti's La strega bruciata viva, and Vittorio De Sica's Una serata come le altre.
    A 35 mm print from Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.
    Screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Pier Paolo Pasolini), 23 April 2019.

For Silvana Mangano Le streghe was more than a vanity project dedicated to her by her husband, the producer genius Dino De Laurentiis. It was among other things the start of two major collaborations with directors who ranked among the best in Italy and the world. With Luchino Visconti Mangano would make Death in Venice, Ludwig, and Gruppo di famiglia in un interno / Conversation Piece. Before that she was Pier Paolo Pasolini's star in Edipo re (as Giocasta / Iocaste) and Teorema (as Lucia, the lady of the bourgeois Milanese home intruded by The Stranger [Terence Stamp]).

I have never seen in its entirety Le streghe, all five episodes of which star Silvana Mangano, but I have been impressed by Luchino Visconti's La strega bruciata viva / The Witch Burned Alive, in which both Visconti and Mangano are at their best. It is a prime film about the "film star as a de luxe commodity" theme.

La Terra vista dalla Luna has three stars. Totò and Ninetto Davoli are clowns, highly stylized, relentlessly insincere and inauthentic. They play father and son who have just lost the lady of the house. As soon as she is buried they get busy acquiring a new one, and at the graveyard they meet a deaf woman, Assurdina. Their shack is the worst dump, but Assurdina magically transforms it into a colourfully recycled home. In order to buy a much better place to live they plan a scam in which Assurdina threatens to commit suicide by jumping from the Coliseum if they cannot collect enough money to save her. But she then slips into a banana peel.

I was thinking about Madeleine in Vertigo while watching Silvana Mangano's haunting, otherworldly performance. There are gray and green hues like a ghostly halo around her hair and head.

Following Robin Wood's interpretation, Madeleine is an incarnation of the death drive, a personification of death like the ghost woman in Ugetsu monogatari, or a loved one from beyond like Eurydice. To this tradition Mangano's performance brings a distinguished and original contribution.

A beautiful 35 mm Cineteca Bologna print of a memorably stylized and experimental colour film with bold designs by Mario Garbuglia and Piero Tosi and cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. An enchanting, Morriconesque score by Piero Piccioni.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hard Luck (2015 Lobster Films reconstruction with a Stephen Horne score)

Hard Luck. Buster Keaton as Unlucky Man and Virginia Fox as a fox hunter, clowning for a publicity photo in a scene not included in the film. Photo: IMDb.

Hard Luck. Collage from The International Buster Keaton Society website.

Kovanonnen poika / Kovanonnenpoika / Nonsens / La Guigne de Malec.
    US 1921. PC: Joseph M. Schenck Productions / Buster Keaton Productions. Original distributor: Metro Pictures Corporation. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D+SC: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton. Cin: Elgin Lessley. Technical D: Fred Gabourie.
    C: Buster Keaton (unlucky man), Virginia Fox (fox hunter), Joe Roberts (Lizard Lip Luke), Bull Montana (Virginia's husband).
    Loc: MacArthur Park (the General Harrison Gray Otis statue).
    US premiere: 14 March 1921.
    Finnish premiere: 14 Dec 1923 Apollo, released by Adams Filmi, film control 12383, at 512 m.
    The film was long believed lost, the only major lost Keaton film.
    First reconstructed in 1987 by Kevin Brownlow & David Gill.
    The missing ending was recovered around 2008.
    Lobster Films restoration (2015) with a Stephen Horne score at 23 min.
    2K DCP screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Buster Keaton), 20 April 2019.

AA: Hard Luck, Buster Keaton's sixth released independent production, is a contender for his darkest film. It is even darker than the brutal Convict 13.

Hard Luck was Keaton's personal favourite film, apparently thanks to the closing gag which received the biggest laughter of his career. Reportedly audiences were laughing halfway through the next picture which happened to be Paul Wegener's Der Golem.

Nobody agrees with Keaton's ranking of Hard Luck. It is rather rated as possibly the weakest effort among Keaton's independent productions. But I keep being surprised at the audacity of these special Keaton films, including College.

Hard Luck is indeed weak in narrative and structure. The first chapter is based on the "loser who fails even in suicide" formula, also adopted by Aki Kaurismäki in I Hired a Contract Killer. The second chapter focuses on hunting. In the third chapter Buster saves Virginia from a gang of robbers.

Keaton's down and out character in Hard Luck has an affinity with Charles Chaplin's Tramp. Buster has lost his job and his girl, he is alone, has no money, and nothing to eat. The despair is actually even deeper than in Chaplin. The suicide drive is persuasive.

Buster tries to land under a tram, be crushed by a safe box, hang himself, throw himself under a car, and poison himself.

Finally he lands a job at the zoo, hunting armadilloes. Here the plot loses any consistency and becomes a string of random gags. Yet it is royal fun watching Keaton clowning with a horse: in reverse position, standing, rowing, paddling, steering with elastic bands, hunting with minuscule dogs, hunted by a fox. After the horse has eloped, Buster uses his lasso and catches a bear. In a funny moment the frustrated Buster crosses his leg, and the horse imitates him.

In the action-packed last chapter Buster saves Virginia from a gang of brutal bandits. She is in clear and present danger of becoming violated by Lizard Lip Luke. Having thwarted the robbery and saved Virginia Buster proposes to her, only to learn that Virginia is married already.

Buster gives to his rival his four-leaf clover which he does not need anymore. As his "final souvenir" he is ready to "take the high dive". Instead of the pool he hits the tiles of the country club patio. The spectators look aghast at the bottomless crater. It seems that Buster has finally succeeded in his suicide attempt.

Now comes the long lost final gag. "Years later" Buster emerges from the crater with a Chinese wife and three kids.

I remember seeing this gag in 2008 at the FIAF Paris Congress, recently recovered and introduced by Serge Bromberg. Yes, it is untypical of the most organic Keaton tradition, but it has affinities with other great traditions, those of Méliès, Chomón and the first golden age of movie comedy in Belle Époque Europe, clowns such as Cretinetti (André Deed).

The gag did work very well in 2008 and keeps doing so.

Reconstructed with tender care from battered sources, this copy is presumably as good as it gets. With a lively orchestral Stephen Horne soundtrack.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Letter from an Unknown Woman

Letter from an Unknown Woman. World tour at the Prater panorama train. Louis Jourdan (Stefan Brand) and Joan Fontaine (Lisa Berndle). Photo from IMDb. Please click to enlarge the image!

Kirje tuntemattomalta naiselta / Brevet från en okänd kvinna / Brief einer Unbekannten / Lettre d'une inconnue / Lettera da una sconosciuta / Письмо незнакомки.
    US © 1948 Rampart Productions, Inc. Original distr: Universal. EX: William Dozier. P: John Houseman. D: Max Ophuls (as Max Opuls). SC: Howard Koch – based on the short story "Der Brief einer Unbekannten" (1922) by Stefan Zweig. DP: Frank Planer – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1. AD: Alexander Golitzen. Set dec: Russell A. Gausman, Ruby R. Levitt. Cost: Travis Banton. Makeup: Bud Westmore. Hair: Carmen Dirigo. ED: Ted J. Kent. S: Leslie E. Carey, Glenn E. Anderson – mono (Western Electric Recording).
    M: Daniele Amfitheatrof.
Franz Liszt: Un sospiro (Étude No. 3, en ré bémol majeur, from: Trois études de concert, S. 144) (1845–1849). Played on the piano by Stefan, dubbed by Jakob Gimpel, theme music of the film: love theme, Stefan's theme.
W. A. Mozart: 39 Sinfonie Es-Dur (1788) KV 543.
Richard Wagner: "O du, mein holder Abendstern", Wolfram's aria in the third act of Tannhäuser (1845). (Brass band. Proposal on the Linz town square).
Johann Strauss (Vater): "Radetzky-Marsch" (1848), Op. 228. (Brass band. Proposal called off).
W. A. Mozart: "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen", Papageno's aria from Die Zauberflöte (1791) KV 620, Act 2, Scene 5. Sung in Italian. Melody: the German folk song "Üb' immer Treu und Redlichkeit".
Johann Strauss (Sohn): "Wiener Blut" (1873), Op. 354.
    C: Joan Fontaine (Lisa Berndle), Louis Jourdan (Stefan Brand), Mady Christians (mother Berndle), Marcel Journet (Johann Stauffer), Art Smith (John, the mute butler), Carol Yorke (Marie), Howard Freeman (Mr. Kastner), John Good (Ltn Leopold von Kaltnegger), Leo B. Pessin (Stefan, Jr.), Erskine Sanford (porter), Otto Waldis (concierge), Sonja Bryden (Ms. Spitzer).
    Studios: Universal Studios, Republic Studios.
    Filming dates: Aug-Oct 1947.
    New York premiere: 28 April 1948.
    Helsinki premiere: 14 Oct 1949 Elysee, distributed by Oy Filmiseppo. Re-release: 5 Feb 1960 Corona, distributed by Valio-Filmi Oy. First telecast: 30 Sep 1962 Yle TV1. VET 30408. 87 min
    Other adaptations: Narkose (DE 1927, D: Alfred Abel), Only Yesterday (US 1933, D: John M. Stahl), Valkoiset ruusut (FI 1943, D: Hannu Leminen), Letter from an Unknown Woman (tvm, US 1952, D: Franklin J. Schaffner), Etsi esvyse i zoi mou (GR 1952, D: Christos Spentzos), Feliz año, amor mío (MX 1957, D: Tulio Demicheli), Ressalah min emraa maghoula (EG 1963, D: Salah Abouseif), Moleuneun yeoinui pyeonji (KR 1969, D: Kim Eung-cheon), Yi feng mo sheng nü zi de lai xin (TW 1974/1976, starring Joan Lin / Lin Feng-jiao), Douce est la nuit (c.m., IDHEC, FR 1982, D: Hervé Morzadec), Lettre d'une inconnue (tvm, FR 2002, D: Jacques Deray), Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin (CN 2004, D: Xu Jinglei).
    Other adaptations: Claude Beylie in his Max Ophuls book (Éditions des Quatre-Vents, 1984) mentions an adaptation "directed and interpreted by the quite talented amateur Paul Cleva during the early sound period" (footnote 38 to Letter from an Unknown Woman).
    Dvd projection at Kumpula Film Society, Physicum lecture hall, Helsinki, 18 April 2019.

I had the pleasure to introduce Letter from an Unknown Woman at a film society screening, followed by a long and lively discussion at the Oljenkorsi pub.

Directed by Max Ophuls, based on the story by Stefan Zweig, Letter from an Unknown Woman was a Joan Fontaine vehicle.

It's one of the most known, most widely seen films, thanks to the fact that in the 1950s it fell into public domain and was constantly in teleplay, also in our country.

Well-known though the film may be, it remains mysterious in many ways, hiding in plain sight. I always try to read its capsule introductions for telecasts, dvd releases and cinematheque screenings and am repeatedly amazed to register that the writer has probably not seen the film / has forgotten it / or misunderstood it. We seem to turn into a Stefan Brand, blind or amnesiac or both, regarding the Lisa Berndle story.

Is the film romantic or anti-romantic? A love story or not a love story? Is Lisa a heroine or an anti-heroine? Is this a story of a woman looking for romance and a man looking for sex? A tragic Magic Flute in which Pamina falls for Papageno?

We are introduced to Lisa Berndle as an awkward schoolgirl who falls in love with the piano maestro Stefan Brand even before she has met him. Hers is a grand illusion, and it takes her over 15 years to wake up. Lisa blossoms into a radiant, mature woman and mother, while Stefan is reduced to a shadow of his former self, he who used to be compared with the young Mozart.

Letter from an Unknown Woman is the story of a one-sided love affair. Nevertheless the presence of Stefan inspires Lisa to grow, widen her perspectives, study music and dance and learn manners of the high society. This is not superficial. From her little world Lisa reaches into the big world, externally but also internally. Love makes this happen, although her love object does not even seem to recognize her.

While Lisa grows, Stefan's development is arrested. Success has come early for him, and he has become a victim of his success. The great promise has not been fulfilled. He is a woman's man who conducts his affairs with a worldly routine without commitment, and also his human potential has stagnated.

It is in the definition of tragedy that greatness is within the reach of the protagonist, but s/he fails to realize it due to a fatal flaw in his/her character. During their only night of love Stefan realizes that Lisa has understood something crucial and vulnerable inside him just by listening to him rehearse "Un sospiro".

Stefan applies to Lisa his routines for his ladies of the night, but immediately there is also a difference, symbolized by his selecting for her a single white rose. Reading Lisa's letter in the framing story Stefan understands that there had always been for him an unknown alternative, complete with family and child, with the only woman who had the potential to understand him.

The film is elevated to grandeur by the dignity of its tragic vision.

It is directed with a superb sense of tact and style by Ophuls; the style is of the essence. The story of unrequited story is told as a "double narrative" to follow the term of Robin Wood whose two very different interpretations of the film are for me the most rewarding among many distinguished ones. Wood himself acknowledged the inspiration of V. F. Perkins who opened the film for him.

The film is told as a first person narrative in the voice of Lisa Berndle. We identify with her. But simultaneously we are distanced from her by the mise-en-scène and other means. Ophuls was a Brechtian director, and he uses distanciation effects even in portraying Lisa and Stefan's night of love.

Stefan puts to use his mechanism of seduction, and in the Prater scenes his love-making is interrupted by views in which the machinery of illusion is exposed – in the panorama train of the "world tour", and in the dance hall where bored female players drink beer and eat sausages.

Also the wonderful music score provides an often ironic commentary to the narrative. A distinction of Ophuls is that the romantic and ironic dimensions are not incompatible. The identification and distanciation structures evolve with great complexity. Illusion is exposed, but illusion can help approach the greatest things in life. The illusion disappears but the grandeur remains.

Loving is a means of deeply knowing, and even unfulfilled love can yield profound insight. Letter from an Unknown Woman is about la promesse de bonheur. Lisa and Stefan experience bitter disillusionment, but not without having tasted paradise.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Ani ohev otach Rosa / I Love You Rosa (in memoriam Moshé Mizrahi 1930–2018)

Ani ohev otach Rosa / I Love You Rosa. Gabi Otterman (Nissim as a child), Michal Bat-Adam (Rosa).

אני אוהב אותך רוזה
Rose – jeg elsker dig / Rosa, je t'aime.
    IL 1972. PC: Leisure Media, Noah Films. EX: Yoram Globus. P: Menahem Golan. Assoc P: Itzik Kol. D+SC: Moshé Mizrahi. Cin: Adam Greenberg – 35 mm – Eastmancolor – 1,85:1. AD: Kuli Sander. M: Dov Seltzer. S: Roger LeClair – mono. ED: Dov Hoenig.
    C: Michal Bat-Adam (Rosa), Gabi Otterman (Nissim / Nessim at 11), Moshe Tal (Nissim at 20), Joseph Shiloach (Eli, wool carder), Levana Finkelstein (Jamila, Rosa's friend), Avner Hizkiyahu (rabbi), Zivi Avramson (Esther), Naomi Bachar (Luna), Yehuda Efroni (Don Yitzhak Peres), Esther Grotes (Alegra), Gunther Hirschberg (narrator), Elisheva Michaeli (Regina, Nissim's mother), Aliza Rosen (Rabbi's wife), Sarit Yishai-Levi / Sharit Yishai (Fortuna).
    In Hebrew.
    Loc: Jerusalem.
    (IMDb 77 min), 92 min.
    Israel release date: 12 Feb 1972.
    Denmark release date: 22 Feb 1973.
    Not released in Finland.
    Vintage 35 mm print of 92 minutes with Danish subtitles by Erik Horskson. E-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (History of the Cinema: Israel), 15 April 2019.

The framing story takes place in contemporary Jerusalem. The drama proper takes place in 1887–1896 when Jerusalem belonged to the Ottoman Empire.

Biblical reference: Deut 25, 5–10 (5 Mos 25, 5–10).

In memory of Moshé Mizrahi, born in cosmopolitan Alexandria in 1930, a great humanist of the Middle East who dedicated his life to the brotherhood of Jews and Arabs.

Mizrahi was a director distinguished in complex and unusual portraits of women. I Love You Rosa, inspired by the life of the director's great-grandmother, stars Michal Bat-Adam in a moving debut leading role. After the film, Mizrahi and Bat-Adam got married, and Bat-Adam became a screenwriter, director and teacher in her own right, the first Israeli woman to direct a film. Her debut film Moments (1979) dealt with a lesbian / bisexual friendship before such themes entered the mainstream.

Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, I Love You Rosa is a display of their commitment to artistic cinema in their native Israel before their expansion into international production and Hollywood.

Mizrahi and his cinematographer Adam Greenberg catch the warmth of the Israeli sunlight memorably. There is also a winter sequence with snow during the most arduous period of Rosa and Nissim's separation. The mise-en-scène is assured and the visual composition constantly engaging whether in wide landscape panoramas or revealing close-ups.

Dov Seltzer has composed a subtle and evocative score.

Above all I Love You Rosa is a character-driven film. The approach is controversial and rebellious in many ways. The opening setup is about the 20-year old widow Rosa's quandary: her husband has just died, and since they had no children, she is expected to marry a brother-in-law, but the only available one, Nissim, is just 11 years old. Instead of marrying, Rosa starts to take care of Nissim like a mother, causing a scandal in Jerusalem. When Nissim grows up and starts to earn money, he proposes to Rosa, instantly assuming macho stances, and Rosa throws him away. Five years later Nissim returns, now a grown-up man who has learned manners at the cultured house of Don Isaac Peres in Thessaloniki.

A true love story can start. Every love story is unique and different, a journey into the unknown in a constantly changing hall of mirrors. This complexity is captured by Moshé Mizrahi and his cast with psychological sensitivity, tenderness, and a sense of tragedy and humour. Rosa belongs to a generation of pioneering women defying reactionary gender roles. Nissim needs to fight both external and internal prejudices. His love is a matter of life and death. Without her he loses his appetite and will to live. He cannot live without her.

The film is both a drama of Rosa's ordeal and Nissim's Bildungsroman in a transitional period from ancient ceremonies towards modernity.

The film has special religious value in recording ancient customs of the Chalitza ceremony in which a widow must formally reject the expected suitor. Rosa's quandary stems from an obedience of decrees of the Deuteronomy.

In the synagogue we witness her having to remain hidden in the balcony. On the other hand, the life-affirming rabbi states that God is everywhere and loves people. A fundamentally positive attitude to sexuality prevails. Nissim quotes the Song of Solomon: "love is as strong as death".

The film also records old customs of wool carding with a string instrument, similar to ones known in ancient India. The instrument is the symbol of Rosa's deceased husband Rafael. Also Eli, who would like to propose to Rosa, is a wool carder. He also teaches the craft to Nissim who soon becomes dexterous in the job. Eli coughs constantly, probably due to an occupational disease. The viewer may suspect that pneumoconiosis has brought Rafael to a premature grave.

There is an authentic feeling of a traditional way of life next to the nature and countryside, with sheep farming as a major occupation.

Print quality: a watchable vintage Eastmancolor print with the expected colour fading, duration 90 min.

Dhunuri cotton carder from India. A similar string instrument appears in Ani ohev otach Rosa. A "Cotton carder". An old engraving copied from artist Pierre Sonnerat's 1782 illustration Engraver: Poisson, Painter: Sonnerat, Pierre, 1748-1814, uploader Dr.saptarshi. Credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library Image. "A man carding raw cotton". (Carding is using a card or comb to clean or disentangle the fibres prior to weaving. Carding is an approximate description for this. The actual word for this profession, according to the author who is uploading it, is Dhunuri in eastern India). Illustration from Sonnerat's 'Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine, fait par ordre du roi, depuis 1774 jusqu'en 1781' ('Voyage to the East Indies and China, made by order of the king, from 1774 to 1781'), published in 1782. Image and caption from Wikipedia.


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

La rabbia di Pasolini (2008 hypothetical reconstruction by Istituto Luce / Minerva / Cineteca di Bologna)

La rabbia (1963). The finale of the section on Marilyn: footage from a detonation of a nuclear bomb. Photo: my snapshot from YouTube.

La rabbia / The Rage / The Anger [the latter translation is used in the 2008 reconstruction].
La rabbia. IT 1963. PC: Opus Film. P: Gastone Ferranti. Organizzazione generale: Antonio Morelli (A.D.C.).
    Soggetto, montaggio, commento: Pier Paolo Pasolini.
    D: Pier Paolo Pasolini. Ass D: Carlo Di Carlo. SC: Pier Paolo Pasolini, including original poetry: Pier Paolo Pasolini. Voices of the readers: Giorgio Bassani (poetry), Renato Guttuso (prose). Paintings: Ben Shahn, Jean Fautrier, George Grosz, Renato Guttuso. ED: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Nino Baragli, Mario Serandrei. Ass ED: Sergio Montanari. Mv, 1,66.
    M: main theme: ”Adagio per flauto: Archi e organo” (attributed to Albinoni, actually comp. Remo Giazotto, 1958). – Cuban revolutionary songs, Los Barbudos; Algerian revolutionary songs; Russian folk songs; "Lo shimmy" (A. F. Lavagnino); "I sogni muoiono all'alba" "Concerto disperato" (Simoni, Rosso); "Tiger Twist" and "Suoni in coreografia" (A. Sciascia).
    Featuring: Gandhi, Nehru, Sukarno, Nasser, Tunisian leaders, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, Queen Elizabeth II, Archbishop of Canterbury, Ike Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Patricia Nixon, Pope John XXIII, Maxim Strauch as Lenin in Rasskazy o Lenine by Yutkevich, Marilyn Monroe, Nikita Khrushchev, Yuri Gagarin.
    Premiere: Genova: Cinema Lux, 13.4.1963. 1449 m / 53 min.
    The first release of the film was in a two part whole in 104 minutes (53 min + 51 min) in which the second part was by Giovannino Guareschi.

La rabbia di Pasolini (2008). IT 2008. PC: Istituto Luce / Minerva / Cineteca di Bologna. P: Giuseppe Bertolucci. Commentator: Vittorio Magrelli. Featuring Tatti Sanguineti. Final Pasolini interview by Jean-André Fieschi in Cinéastes de notre temps: Pier Paolo Pasolini (1966) by André S. Labarthe. Colour correction in 2K by L'Immagine Ritrovata. Premiere: Venice Film Festival 2008. 83 min. Includes the 53 min Pasolini original plus introductions and bonus materials. Black and white with colour inserts of paintings.
    35 mm print at 80 min with English subtitles by Title House Issaverdent (Roma) from Cinecittà Luce. Courtesy of Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Helsinki).
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Pier Paolo Pasolini), 9 April 2019.

Revisited La rabbia by Pier Paolo Pasolini, his vision of a poet's anger facing the human condition anno 1963. It starts with the detonation of a nuclear bomb and offers a devastating montage of world events since 1945: the liberation of Europe from Fascism, and the reaction of the world to the atrocities of Stalin in East Germany, Hungary, Rome and Paris. There is a quick montage about the liberation of the world from colonialism in India, Indonesia, Egypt, Tunisia and Cuba. We meet world leaders from the USA, England and Russia, and religious leaders from Rome and London. Not forgetting love goddesses from Italy and the United States, and the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin.

The footage is ordinary newsreel stuff, but Pasolini's montage and commentary elevates it to poetry. La rabbia is a magisterial exercise in the art of the montage film, following models by Shub, Vertov, Vedrès, Resnais, and Marker.

Pasolini's favourite sequence was the one devoted to Marilyn Monroe. Giorgio Bassani recites Pasolini's poem written for this film. We see a montage of familiar MM photographs, but in this context they are elevated to something unique and special. In the Pasolini context Marilyn is the muse of modernity, the tragic Aphrodite – Venus of the atom age. Associations flash to the figures of antiquity in Pasolini's oeuvre including Medea, Iocaste (in Oedipus Rex), Athene and Elektra (in his plan for the Oresteia africana). The Marilyn montage ends with a shot of a nuclear detonation.

The spellbinding poetic quality of the 53 minutes section directed by Pasolini is accentuated by the additional material included in the 2008 edition of 80 minutes called La rabbia di Pasolini because the contrast is so striking. Pasolinian poetry is utterly missing from the rest of the 2008 edition.

The main music theme is "Adagio per flauto: Archi e organo" attributed to Tomaso Albinoni, actually composed by Remo Giazotto in 1958. It had been discovered for the cinema by Orson Welles in The Trial and Serge Bourguignon in Les Dimanches de Ville d'Avray (Sundays and Cybèle) the year before. Intriguingly, both Welles and Pasolini combine the adagio with the mushroom cloud of a bomb.

Connections emerge between movies seen one after the other: we had just screened the Norwegian classic The Fight for the Atom Bomb.

The last name quoted by Pasolini in the bonus materials is Socrates. For me, the message of Socrates is wisdom as love and love as wisdom, as in Symposium. For Pasolini, it is la rabbia, anger at the human condition.

The visual quality of the restoration is excellent.


Pier Paolo Pasolini: Marilyn (a poem from La rabbia, 1963)

Marilyn Monroe in Korea, 1954.

    Del mondo antico e del mondo futuro
    era rimasta solo la bellezza, e tu,
    povera sorellina minore,
    quella che corre dietro i fratelli più grandi,
    e ride e piange con loro per imitarli,

    tu sorellina più piccola,
    quella bellezza l’avevi addosso umilmente,
    e la tua anima di figlia di piccola gente,
    non ha mai saputo di averla,
    perché altrimenti non sarebbe stata bellezza.

    Il mondo te l’ha insegnata,
    così la tua bellezza divenne sua.

    Del pauroso mondo antico e del pauroso mondo futuro
    era rimasta sola la bellezza, e tu
    te la sei portata dietro come un sorriso obbediente.
    L’obbedienza richiede troppe lacrime inghiottite,
    il darsi agli altri troppi allegri sguardi
    che chiedono la loro pietà! Così
    ti sei portata via la tua bellezza.
    Sparì come un pulviscolo d’oro.

    Dello stupido mondo antico e del feroce mondo futuro
    era rimasta una bellezza che non si vergognava
    di alludere ai piccoli seni di sorellina,
    al piccolo ventre così facilmente nudo.

    E per questo era bellezza,
    la stessa che hanno le dolci ragazze del tuo mondo…
    le figlie dei commercianti
    vincitrici ai concorsi a Miami o a Londra.
    Sparì come una colombella d’oro.

    Il mondo te l’ha insegnata,
    e così la tua bellezza non fu più bellezza.

    Ma tu continuavi a essere bambina,
    sciocca come l’antichità, crudele come il futuro,
    e fra te e la tua bellezza posseduta dal Potere
    si mise tutta la stupidità e la crudeltà del presente.
    La portavi sempre dietro come un sorriso tra le lacrime,
    impudica per passività, indecente per obbedienza.
    Sparì come una bianca colomba d’oro.

    La tua bellezza sopravvissuta dal mondo antico,
    richiesta dal mondo futuro,
    posseduta dal mondo presente,
    divenne un male mortale.

    Ora i fratelli maggiori, finalmente, si voltano,
    smettono per un momento i loro maledetti giochi,
    escono dalla loro inesorabile distrazione,
    e si chiedono: “È possibile che Marilyn,
    la piccola Marilyn, ci abbia indicato la strada?”

    Ora sei tu, quella che non conta nulla, poverina, col suo sorriso,
    sei tu la prima oltre le porte del mondo
    abbandonato al suo destino di morte.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Recited by Giorgio Bassani in La rabbia (1963). The poem had been performed by Laura Betti in 1962.

Kampen om Tungtvannet / The Fight for the Atom Bomb

Taistelu atomipommista / Kampen om atombomben / The Fight for the Atom Bomb / Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water / La Bataille de l’eau lourde.
    NO / FR 1948. PC: Hero Film (Oslo) i samarbeid med Le Trident (Paris). P: Nino Constantini.
    D: Titus Vibe-Müller, Jean Dréville. [Credits on the print viewed: Supervisor Jean Dréville / Director Titus Vibe-Müller]. [In the Norwegian version only Titus Vibe Müller is credited.] Ass D: John Willem Gran.
    SC: Jean Marin, Arild Feldborg, Diana Robertsen, Knut Haukelid. [Credited in the Norwegian version as: Etter manuskript av Jean Marin – Bearbeidet for filmen av Arild Feldborg, Diana Robertsen, Knut Haukelid]. [In the Norwegian version: Kommentarer: Haakon Bugge Mahrt. Lest av Hartvig Kiran.]
    DP (Sjef-fotografer): Hilding Bladh, Marcel Weiss. M: Gunnar Sønstevold – innspilt av Paris-Konservatoriets Orkester – dirigent: Georges Van Parys. ED: Jean Feyte.
    C (in the Norwegian version):
    Franske politikere og videnskapsmenn
Rustningsminister / Raoul Dautry
Professor / Joliot-Curie
Laboratoriesjef / Lew Kowarski
Professor / H. H. Halban
Sprengstoff-offiser / Jacques A...
    Britiske offiserer
Oberst Wilson / Major Holme
Liaisonoffiser / Major Lourdier
R. A. F. - offiser / Major Stibbard
    Norske offiserer og mannskaper
Major Professor Leif Tronstad / Øyvind Øyen
Fenrik Jens-Anton Poulsson
Fenrik Knut Haugland / Johannes Eckhoff
Sersjant Arne Kjelstrup
Sersjant Claus Helberg
Sersjant Einar Skinnarland / Henki Kolstad
Fenrik Joachim Rønneberg / Claus Wiese
Fenrik Knut Haukelid
Fenrik Kasper Idland / Andreas Aabel
Sersjant Hans Storhaug
Sersjant Fredrik Kayser
Sersjant Birger Strømsheim / Odd Rohde
    Fra hjemmestyrkene
Ingenier Rolf Sørlie
Damvokter Torstein Skinnarland
Knut Lier-Hansen
    Norske sivile
Generaldirektør Axel Aubert / David Knudsen
Ingeniør Jomar Brun / Thorleif Reiss
En vaktmann / Finn Bernhoft
En maskinist / Einar Vaage
En gammel mann / Halvor Haugen
Sjåffør Ola Hansen
    Tyske militære og sivile
Generaloberst von Falkenhorst / Harald Schwenzen
En utsending / Alf Nølke
En militæringeniør / Stevelin Urdahl
En teknisk rådgiver / Folkman Schaanning
    Loc: Telemark.
    Premiere: Norway 5.2.1948, France 13.2.1948.
    Helsinki premiere: 18.3.1949 Aloha, Astor, distributor: Filmituonti Oy – telecast: 11.1.1962 Yle TV1 – VET 29571 – K16 – durations: 80, 98, 107 min
    There were three language editions: Norwegian, French, and English. Later film dramatizations of the subject: Telemarkin sankarit (The Heroes of Telemark, GB 1965) and tv series Kampen om tungtvannet (NO 2015).
    A 35 mm print from Nasjonalbiblioteket of the English dubbed version The Fight for the Atom Bomb at 82 min.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), 9 April 2019.

"En beretning om begivenheter som virkelig fant sted under den siste verdenskrigen.
    De menn som medvirker i filmen er, på få unntagelser nær, de samme som deltok i denne kampen."

Kampen on tungtvannet, the first film dramatization of the story also known as The Heroes of Telemark, was a film of special interest for Peter von Bagh. He picked it as one the one hundred fiction films illuminating the world history of the film age in his book The Almanac of Cinema published posthumously last year. He also programmed it in Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato where the French language parallel version directed by Jean Dréville was seen. We screened the English dubbed version The Fight for the Atom Bomb because a Norwegian language print was not available.

Dramatized are Second World War operations for the prevention of Germany having access to the atom bomb. Operation Grouse a.k.a. Swallow in October 1942 joined forces with Operation Gunnerside in February 1943. The special troops sabotaged a heavy water plant at Vemork in Telemark. In a commando strike in February 1944 the ship SF Hydro about to transport heavy water to Germany was exploded via a time bomb.

Titus Vibe Müller is the only credited director in the version we screened. Jean Dréville was evidently in charge of the French edition of the Norwegian-French coproduction. There is a sober and matter-of-fact approach to the saga whose events are no less thrilling than in an Alistair MacLean novel. Thanks to this approach the film rises above the level of a conventional action movie.

Kampen om tungtvannet is an exceptionally good action movie because it does not try to be one. We just see teams of dedicated men committed to an extremely difficult mission. The survival in German occupied Norway in a particularly desolate winter on the mountains borders on the impossible. The special commando men need to be champion league skiers to evade Nazi Alpenjäger troops. Kampen om tungtvannet has a distinguished status as a resistance movie, a partisan movie, a mountain movie and a skiing movie.

The winter cinematography and the nocturnal cinematography is outstanding. Hilding Bladh would later shoot Ingmar Bergman's Gycklarnas afton and Arne Mattsson's colour cycle of thrillers preceding inventions credited to Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Marcel Weiss seems to have debuted in his career as a cinematographer in this movie.

The music score by Gunnar Sønstevold is often laid back but suitably atmospheric.

The most distinctive feature of the film is of course that the drama is performed by the heroes themselves who had conducted the actual commando missions 4–6 years earlier. We can feel the truth of the spirit, the gestures, the conditions of survival, and the incredible mountaineering and skiing skills. This film is not a documentary but it comes as close to authenticity as fiction can be.

The print viewed at 82 minutes was visually impressive, doing justice to the achievement of the breathtaking nocturnal winter vision.

From left, Joachim Rønneberg, Jens-Anton Poulsson and Kasper Idland receive King Haakon VII of Norway at the premiere of Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water (1948). Photo and caption from Wikipedia.


Sunday, April 07, 2019


Medeia / Medea.
    IT / FR / DE 1969. PC: San Marco S.p.A. (Rome) / Les Films Number One (Paris) / Janus Film und Fernsehen (Frankfurt). P: Franco Rossellini. Ass P: Klaus Hellwig, Pierre Kalfon.
    D: Pier Paolo Pasolini. SC: Pier Paolo Pasolini – based on the tragedy (431 BC) by Euripides. DP (Eastmancolor, 1,85): Ennio Guarnieri. AD: Dante Ferretti, Nicola Tamburro. Cost: Piero Tosi. Make-up: Romolo Sensoli. Hair: Maria Teresa Corridoni (il truco della Sig.ra Callas e le pettinature da), Marcella De Marzi (hair stylist), Goffredo Rocchetti (il truco della Sig.ra Callas e' stato curato da). Jewels: Nino Lembo. S: Carlo Tarchi – mono. ED: Nino Baragli.
    Compilation score, musical supervisor: Elsa Morante. Musiche sacre giapponesi, edizioni Bixio Sam, Milano. Canti d'amore iraniani, edizioni Bixio Sam, Milano. Musiche tibetane: campanelli buddisti, Khyabjug Chenden, Musica del Ricevimento (tratta dall'LP Tibet III, A Musical Anthology of the Orient, U.N.E.S.C.O.).
   C: Maria Callas (Medea / voice dubbing: Rita Savagnone), Giuseppe Gentile (Jason / voice dubbing: Pino Colizzi), Massimo Girotti (Creon), Laurent Terzieff (Chiron the centaur / voice dubbing: Enrico Maria Salerno), Margareth Clémenti (Glauce), Annamaria Chio (wet-nurse), Paul Jabara (Pelias), Luigi Barbini (an argonaut), Gérard Weiss (second centaur), Giorgio Trombetti, Franco Jacobbi (an argonaut), Gian Paolo Durgar, Sergio Tramonti (Apsirto, Medea's brother).
    Production dates: May 1969 – August 1969.
    Loc: Grado lagoon (Gorizia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Campo dei Miracoli (Pisa, Tuscany), Anatolia, Cappadocia (Turkey), Göreme Open Air Museum (Göreme, Nevsehir, Turkey), Aleppo (Syria).
    Premiere: Milano 28.12.1969.
    Helsinki premiere: 11.2.1972 Aula, distributor: Kino Filmi o.y. – VET 78979 – K12 – 3060 m / 112 min.
    35 mm Cinecittà Luce print with English subtitles by Title House Issaverdent. Courtesy Minerva Pictures. Courtesy Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Helsinki).
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Pier Paolo Pasolini), 7 April 2019.

Revisited Pier Paolo Pasolini's Medea which I had seen only once before: in October 1970 during the Italian Cultural Week in Helsinki. I seem to remember that there were no subtitles in that screening. I had planned to revisit Medea in our Pasolini tribute in May 1995, but print access had been cancelled.

Pier Paolo Pasolini gives an original interpretation to the tragedy of classical antiquity. The film feels both personal and genuinely strange. Medea and Jason are not persons we could relate to if we would bump into them on the street.

The film is a journey into mythical consciousness, into an animistic world in which sacrifices have a real meaning. Medea is a revered sorceress, although she herself feels helpless before the elements.

Sun, blood, fire, horses, and the wind are felt in their elementary powers. Medea consults the sun and is in dialogue with him.

There is an archaic and atavistic approach to ritual. Aesthetically there is an affinity with the contemporary works of Sergei Paradzhanov. But Medea is a part of Pasolini's lifelong quest into the holiness of the reality. "Tutto e santo" is being repeated.

To Euripides's tragedy of Medea Pasolini adds the pre-history of Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. The first part (Jason) is about a successful male conquest, the second part (Medea) about a woman's revenge.

Maria Callas in her only film role gives a sculptural performance of the tragedy, suffering, betrayal and bitterness of Medea. She has sacrificed everything, including literally her brother, for Jason. From a sorceress she evolves into one of the Furies. There is a cold determination in her revenge which brings disaster to everybody, herself included. It is a kind of a collective suicide. But the worst fate is reserved for Jason who as the only survivor will have to live with the infinite loss for the rest of his life.

Medea is an amazingly original Gesamtkunstwerk. The locations are real, but there is a constant feeling of an alien landscape, from the ancient Göreme temples to the Aleppo Citadel (recently battered in Syrian Civil War).

Again, Pasolini offers an intriguing compilation soundtrack: "commento musicale: Elsa Morante" state the opening credits. We hear sacred Tibetan bells and throat singing, Iranian love themes and holy Japanese music.

The costume design by Luchino Visconti's regular collaborator Piero Tosi is wonderful and imaginative, as are all other elements of design.

Ennio Guarnieri's painterly colour cinematography is magisterial. All colours have a full and solid character, and there is a particular glow and intensity in the palette. The warm colours are juicy and lively. The cold and dark colours are severe and foreboding.

A special narrative twist is that we see two alternative versions about Medea's curse inflicted on Glauce and Creon. My wife Laila observed that in the first version we see the curse as Medea's dream. In the second version the dream comes true, but differently.

The gorgeous Cinecittà Luce print does justice to the visual quality of the film. The screening ran 109 minutes.


The Haunted House (2015 Lobster Films restoration with a Neil Brand score)

Noiduttu talo / Kummitustalo.
    US 1921. PC: Joseph M. Schenck Productions / Buster Keaton Productions. Original distributor: Metro Pictures Corporation. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D+SC: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton. Cin: Elgin Lessley. Technical director: Fred Gabourie. ED: Buster Keaton.
    C: Buster Keaton (bank clerk), Virginia Fox (bank president's daughter), Joe Roberts (bank cashier), Dorothy Cassil (flirty bank customer), Mark Hamilton (tallest ghost), Natalie Talmadge (fainting female bank customer).
    Loc: Bonebrake Mansion, Los Angeles (haunted house).
    Premiere: 21 Feb, 1921.
    Helsinki premiere: Apollo 19.11.1923, distributed by Adams Filmi Oy – telecast 13 Jan 1989, 6 March 1990 Yle TV1 – film control 12381 – S – 494 m.
    Lobster Films restoration (2015) with a simulation of toning and a Neil Brand piano score at 24 min.
    2K DCP screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Buster Keaton), 10 March 2019.

Wikipedia plot synopsis:

"Keaton plays a teller at a successful bank. Unbeknownst to him, the manager at the bank and his gang are planning on pulling off a robbery and hiding in an old house which they have rigged up with booby traps and effects to make it appear to be haunted."

"After a mishap that afternoon with Keaton getting glue all over the money and himself, he almost thwarts the gang's robbery but when the owner of the bank walks in and sees Keaton armed with a gun he assumes it was he who tried to rob it."

"Keaton flees and takes refuge in the old house; however, a troupe of actors from a theatre production are also in the house and are clad in their scary costumes (ghosts, skeletons etc) leading Keaton and the gang of robbers to believe the house actually is haunted."

"After Keaton has many encounters with the "ghosts" and the house's booby traps, he discovers the scam and the manager is revealed as being behind the robbery. As the manager is about to be taken away, he hits Keaton over the head and knocks him out before escaping."

"Next we see Keaton being awoken by two angels at the foot of a large stairway which he ascends all the way to Heaven. He asks Saint Peter to be let in but is denied and is sent all the way down to Hell. However, this is all revealed to be a dream sequence as Keaton regains consciousness in the house seconds later.

AA: The Haunted House, Buster Keaton's fifth released independent production, might not be one of his greatest, but who's complaining? In his independent productions he maintained a constantly high level of inspiration. Also The Haunted House is full of jaw-dropping incidents and inventions, sometimes flashing past in split seconds. The story takes place on three locations.

The first location is a bank where Buster the teller botches a burglary by spilling glue on bank notes. There is an escalating process of catastrophe comedy as everything gets stuck, including hair and trousers. On the other hand Buster is a wizard who can tell the correct amount of money just by ear while riffling through a wad of notes. In the middle of the mayhem the bank owner and the police mistake Buster for the robber, and he must escape.

"That night the Daredevil Opera Company was executing Faust – and he deserved it". Irate patrons repay an incompetent production of Faust by throwing vegetables on the actors who take flight before the fury of the audience.

The bank robbers' lair is "a haunted house" rigged to fool the police. For instance a staircase can turn into a slide. Buster the fugitive falls into all the traps before he realizes how the place works. Also the artists on the run from the Daredevil Opera Company find their refuge there, and Faust, Marguerite, and Mephisto emerge amongst the great race between robbers, police, and Buster.

An example of the split-second gags is a fainted Marguerite waking up between two robbers in skeleton costumes and instantly knocking them out. (This "young maiden" soprano belongs to the venerable operatic stout madam category).

A fine restoration with an appealing colour toning simulation and a reliably brisk Neil Brand piano score. The score is heard already before the image during the footage in which the opening credits are missing.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Lebedinoe ozero / Swan Lake (1968)

Swan Lake (1968). Yelena Yevteyeva as Odette.

Swan Lake (1968), the finale. The final union of Siegfried (John Markovsky) and Odette (Yelena Yevteyeva). Cropped Academy frame. Photo: my snapshot from YouTube.

Лебединое озеро / Lebedinoje ozero / Joutsenlampi / Svansjön.
П. И. Чайковский  Лебединое озеро  [on screen title].
    SU 1968. PC: Lenfilm. P: Pyotr Sviridov.
    A film ballet of Lebedinoye ozero / Swan Lake (1876) composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
    Based on the staging and choreography of the 1895 revival by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
    Arranged by Konstantin Sergeyev.
    Featuring ballet dancers of Leningradskogo teatra opery i baleta imeni S M. Kirova and students of Leningradskogo khoreograficheskogo uchilishcha imeni A. Ya. Vaganova.
    Orchestra: Orkestr Leningradskogo Gosudarstvennogo Akademicheskogo teatra opery i baleta imeni S. M. Kirova. Conductor: Viktor Fedotov.
    D (mise-en-scène / postanovka): Apollinari Dudko, Konstantin Sergeyev. SC: Isaak Glikman, Apollinari Dudko, Konstantin Sergejev. DP: Anatoli Nazarov – Orwocolor – 70 mm 1:2,20 – also released in cropped 35 mm at 1,37:1 (to be avoided). AD: Viktor Volin, Boris Bykov. Cost: Marina Azizyan. Makeup: R. Kravtshenko, B. Solovjov. Trick photography: Aleksandr Zavyalov, Georgi Senotov (operatory), Boris Mikhailov (hudozhnik). S: Vladimir Yakovlev – sound mix: 70 mm 6-track. ED: Izolda Golovko (montage), Vsevolod Schwartz (redaktor).
    C: Yelena Yevteyeva (Odette / Odile), John Markovsky (Siegfried), Mahmud Esambayev (Rothbart), Valeri Panov (jester), Angelina Kabarova (Siegfried's mother), Viktor Ryazanov (tutor).
    There is no dialogue.
    Helsinki premiere: 24.1.1969 Capitol, distributed by Kosmos-Filmi – VET 77278 – S – 80 min
    Introduced by Olaf Möller (Colour).
    KAVI 35 mm print screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Film Heaven / Colour), 6 April 2019.

This film adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is a feast of classical ballet and music. The distinction of the film is that it is traditional, a contribution to an unbroken chain dating back to the 1895 revival of Swan Lake staged by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov for the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre.

In charge of the choreography is Konstantin Sergeyev (1910–1992), head choreographer and artistic director of the Kirov Theatre, founded as the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in 1860 and known as State Academic Mariinsky Theatre since 1992.

The mise-en-scène has been carried out strictly on the terms of the ballet. Dance numbers are recorded with cameras moving on tracks and cranes. From long shots we move to close-ups at standstill moments. Camera angles vary from regular eye level viewpoints to revealing high angles. Dissolves and superimpositions are frequently in use. Apparitions disappear from view, and images of the same character are doubled.

Swan Lake is a fairy-tale about transfiguration. In the prologue added to the film Rothbart turns Odette into a white swan. Sources tell that a changed, optimistic Soviet ending was typical to the Kirov Theatre period. Odette is saved back to life after the Liebestod of Odette as Siegfried breaks Rothbart's spell. But this film interpretation remains ambiguous. Certainly, Siegfried defeats Rothbart. Odette has died, but for me the film ending is about the union of Odette and Siegfried in death.

This is one of the interpretations in which the double role of Odette and Odile is played by the same artist. The primaballerina Yelena Yevteyeva rises to the challenge of the double role's tragic grandeur in a breathtaking performance. She makes the incredibly difficult task seem effortlessly elegant.

The music and the dancing are so spellbinding and ecstatic that no special cinematic means are needed. Every time it is amazing to observe how many fantastic melodies Tchaikovsky composed for a single work; at least 30 memorable ones.

Film references include the key theme ("the flight of the swans") first introduced in Act I:9: Finale (andante) and Act I:10: Scène (moderato), repeated in Act II:14: Scène (moderato) and climaxing in Act IV:29: Finale. In the 1930s this theme was adapted as the theme of Universal horror (Dracula, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mummy). More obscurely, "the dance of the cygnets" (Act IV:27) reminds me of Bezhin lug in the Yutkevich-Kleiman reconstruction.

A special joy melodically and visually is Act III in which princesses from all over Europe woo Siegfried by csárdás, Russian, bolero, Neapolitan, and mazurka dancing. But waltz time is always Tchaikovsky's priority among traditional dances.

The music and the dancing are sharp and precise. The sets and the visuals are soft and blurred. The Orwocolor belongs to the Agfacolor – Ansco Color lineage, ideally suited for dream spaces, transcendence, the beyond, and death. We can think about the unreality of Immensee or Brigadoon. Transparent veils and curtains further blur our view.

We were not able to project our 70 mm print due to our second projector's magnetic sound playback trouble. Seen instead was a 35 mm print in which the pastel hues seem authentic to the period.

However, in the 35 mm print at 1,37:1 the image is cropped from widescreen to Academy. It fails to convey the authentic impact of the choreography and the mise-en-scène. We look forward to screening Swan Lake in glorious 70 mm and 6-track magnetic sound soon.