Thursday, December 31, 2020

Senses of Cinema: World Poll 2020: My Favourites

Hiroshi Inagaki: Muhomatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (JP 1943), world premiere in Bologna of the 2020 restoration by Kadokawa Corporation and The Film Foundation / Venice Classics at Il Cinema Ritrovato

Silmästä silmään (Eye to Eye, John Webster, 2020)
Andjust (Mox Mäkelä, 2020)
Eden (Ulla Heikkilä, 2020)
Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020)
Aalto (Virpi Suutari, 2020)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, 2020)
On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola, 2020)
Mank (David Fincher, 2020)

A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)
Bombshell (Jay Roach, 2019)
Dylda (Beanpole, Kantemir Balagov, 2019)
Women Make Film (Mark Cousins, 2019)
Filmfarsi (Ehsan Khoshbakht, 2019)
Peterloo (Mike Leigh, 2018)
L’extraordinaire voyage de Marona (Marona’s Fantastic Tale, Anca Damian, 2019)
Sorkhpoost (The Warden, Nima Javidi, 2019)
Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog & André Singer, 2018)
Family Romance, LLC (Werner Herzog, 2019)
J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy, Roman Polanski, 2019)
Jenseits des Sichtbaren – Hilma af Klint (Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint, Halina Dyrschka, 2019)
Om det oändliga (About Endlessness, Roy Andersson, 2019)
Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2019)

Whistle and I’ll Come To You (Jonathan Miller, 1968) Jonathan Miller 1934–2019
Alice in Wonderland (Jonathan Miller, 1966) Jonathan Miller 1934–2019
Le Tableau (The Painting, Jean-François Laguionie, 2011) Jennifer Barker / Midnight Sun Film Festival
Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, Henrik Galeen, 1926) 2020 restoration Filmmuseum München
Kvinnors väntan (Waiting Women, Ingmar Bergman, 1952) Ingmar Bergman Centenary restoration
This Gun For Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942) NBC Universal DCP at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, Paul Leni, 1924) a much anticipated 2020 restoration by Deutsche Kinemathek
Shatranj-e baad (Chess of the Wind, Mohammad Reza Aslani, 1976) a true resurrection of a major film believed lost, by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, 2020
Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned, Pietro Germi, 1964) 2020 restoration by Cineteca di Bologna and Cristaldifilm, Venice Classics at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Storm Warning (Stuart Heisler, 1951) 35 mm print from Warner Bros. at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Sylvester (New Year’s Eve, Lupu Pick, 1924) world premiere of a 2020 restoration by Deutsche Kinemathek with the original score by Klaus Pringsheim played by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore
Gaumont Chrono de Poche (Giancarlo Stucky, 1900) home movies restored in 2020 by Cineteca di Bologna
Muhomatsu no issho (The Rickshaw Man, Hiroshi Inagaki, 1943) world premiere of the 2020 restoration by Kadokawa Corporation and The Film Foundation / Venice Classics at Il Cinema Ritrovato
Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden, 1983) 2016 restoration by Anthology Film Archives

My first and only online festival was the Midnight Sun Film Festival 2020. It was very well organized, and I'm glad that I participated. But I don't think the concept of an online festival is exciting in the long run.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Madeo / Mother (2019 digital restoration)

Bong Joon-ho: 마더 / Madeo / Mother (KR 2009) starring Kim Hye-ja (Mother).

마더 / Mother / Mother.
    KR 2009. PC: CJ Entertainment / Barunson. P: Choi Jae-won, Seo Woo-sik.
    D: Bong Joon-ho. SC: Park Eun-kyo, Bong Joon-ho – based on a story by Bong Joon-ho. Cin: Hong Kyung-pyo – negative: 35 mm – colour – 2,35:1. PD: Ryu Seong-hie. Cost: Choi Se-yeon. Makeup and hair: Hwang Hyun-kyu. Special makeup effects: Lee Hee Eun. VFX: Lee Jeon-hyeong. M: Lee Byung-woo. S: Choi Tae-young. ED: Moon Sae-kyung.
    CAST as edited in Wikipedia:
    Kim Hye-ja as Mother, an unnamed widow who is extremely protective of her son and attempts to free him from a murder charge.
    Won Bin as Yoon Do-joon, the teenage son of Mother, who has an intellectual disability and is accused of the murder of a local girl.
    Jin Goo as Jin-tae, a local ne'er do well and one of Do-joon's friends. He bosses Do-joon around but agrees to help Mother free her son.
    Moon Hee-ra as Moon Ah-jung, a young girl who is murdered, leading the police to arrest Do-joon.
    Yoon Je-moon as Je-moon, the detective in charge of Ah-jung's murder case.
    Jeon Mi-seon as Mi-seon, a photo worker who met with Ah-jung before she died.
    Song Sae-byeok as Detective
    Chun Woo-hee as Mi-na, Jin-tae's girlfriend and Do-joon's best friend.
    Kwak Do-won as Charcoal fire man
    Kim Jin-goo as Ah-jung's grandma
    Lee Young-suk as Elder at junk shop
Loc: Busan, Jeolla Province.
    128 min
    Festival premiere: 16 May 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
    Korean premiere: 28 May 2009.
    Finnish festival premiere: 18 Sep 2010 Helsinki International Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 5 Feb 2021 – released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Heli Kristiina Kasem / Janne Kauppila.
    Finnish preview start: 18 Dec 2020.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Lappeenranta, 27 Dec 2020.

IMDb synopsis: "A mother desperately searches for the killer who framed her son for a girl's horrific murder."

AA: Bong Joon-ho's fifth feature film, Mother, screened in Finland previously only at festivals, has its Finnish theatrical premiere in the wake of the international breakthrough of Parasite. On display is a new digital restoration.

In terms of suspense, storytelling and mise-en-scène, Mother is worthy of Hitchcock, also in terms of focusing on the meaningful detail. It is possible to imagine that Mother might have been inspired by Psycho, one of Bong's favourite films.

"A boy's best friend is his mother" is a comment by Norman Bates that comes to mind from the relationship between Do-joon and his mother. They sleep together, but in the way a baby sleeps with his mother. Do-joon is mentally handicapped, always protected by tiger mama. "You and I are one", says mother.

But then Ah-jung, a schoolgirl, is killed at night, and a golf ball signed with Do-joon's name is found at the scene of the crime. Everybody accuses Do-joon who is convicted into a prison sentence.

Only mother knows that Do-joon is incapable of murder. She is absolutely fearless defending her son against a furious mob. When she goes to Ah-jung's funeral, she is brutally evicted. The mother then becomes a detective, and the sujet is the story of her investigation. The fabula, the mystery of the crime, involves devastating surprises.

At the bottom of the revelations is Do-joon's repressed childhood memory. When he was five years old, his mother, in circumstances of extreme deprivation, tried to poison him with pesticide in an attempt of extended suicide. We don't know if Do-joon's retardation was a cause or a consequence.

Bong's movie earns a place among cinema's unforgettable accounts of dysfunctional motherhood, next to White Heat, Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate, Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks and John Ford's Pilgrimage.

I'm still on my way to come to terms with what Bong's cinema is about. While I find much of it admirable, I struggle to make sense of the fascination with the sordid. In circumstances of extreme deprivation, we simultaneously abhor and empathise. But what is the point exactly.

The digital restoration conveys the subtle visual quality of Hong Kyung-pyo's cinematography with flair.


Palm Springs (2020)

Max Barbakow: Palm Springs (US 2020), starring Cristin Milioti (Sarah) and Andy Samberg (Nyles).

Palm Springs / Palm Springs.
    US 2020 © PS Film Production. Hulu presents a Hulu original. PC: Limelight Productions and Sun Entertainment present – A Party Over Here production – a Limelight Production. P: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Becky Sloviter, Jorma Taccone. P: Dylan Sellers, Chris Parker. EX: Alex Dong, Gabriel Revilla Lugo.
    D: Max Barbakow. SC: Andy Siara. DP: Quyen "Q" Tran – camera: Arri Alexa Mini – source format: CFast 2.0 ProRes 4:4:4 (3.2K) – colour – 2.39:1 – release format: D-Cinema. PD: Jason Kisvarday. AD: Tim Ford. Set dec: Kelsi Ephraim. Cost: Colin Wilkes. Makeup: Galaxy San Juan. Hair: Kimberly Spiteri. SFX: Tom Ceglia. VFX: Crafty Apes. M: Matthew Compton. Music supervisor: Robin Urdang. Soundtrack listing: see beyond the jump break. S: Jon Wakeham, Sean McCormack. ED: Matthew Friedman, Andrew Dickler. Casting: Allison Jones.
    C: Andy Samberg (Nyles), Cristin Milioti (Sarah), J. K. Simmons (Roy), Peter Gallagher (Howard), Meredith Hagner (Misty), Camila Mendes (Tala), Tyler Hoechlin (Abe), Chris Pang (Trevor), Jacqueline Obradors (Pia), Tongayi Chirisa (Jerry), Dale Dickey (Darla), Conner O'Malley (Randy), Jena Friedman (Daisy the Bartender).
    Loc: California (Santa Clarita, Palmdale).
    87 min
    Festival premiere: 26 Jan 2020 Sundance Film Festival
    Hulu online premiere: 10 July 2020
    Finnish premiere: 27 Nov 2020 – released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Iira Tuominen / Sophia Beckman.
    NB. After the premiere weekend, Helsinki cinemas closed on 30 Nov due to the corona emergency, but screenings continued in selected cities.
    Corona emergency security: max 20 capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Lappeenranta, 27 Dec 2020.

AA: With Tenet, Palm Springs belongs to the high profile "time plays" of the year 2020. The film-makers, director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara, are aware of their concept's affinity with Groundhog Day, but distance from it in significant ways.

"Live Like There's No Tomorrow" is the advertizing tagline, and it sums up saga's duality. The eternal wedding in Palm Springs is a vision of paradise, marred by endless repetition and ever-changing deceptions and disappointments during the celebration weekend.

Unlike Groundhog Day, this is not a tale of a comeuppance of a cynical and obnoxious protagonist. It's about being stuck into an endless present from which even death offers no escape. It may evoke reflections about an age where the ideal is to live an eternal youth, and where mankind is, indeed, living like there is no tomorrow.

Palm Springs has been studied as belonging to the category of time loop movies, but it resonates also with philosophical or surrealist tales of "no escape". In Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis clos (No Exit) the place in which we find ourselves is not Paradise but Hell. In Luis Buñuel's El ángel exterminador there is no end to a lavish dinner party.

Cinema itself is an art of the time play, where a real-time event can be endlessly repeated, where different time periods can be mixed in parallel montage, and where time can be manipulated via slow motion, time lapse, or blitz cutting.

The evolution of the cinema coincided with the revelations of the theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics. In art, writers like Marcel Proust (In Search of Lost Time) and James Joyce displayed parallel insight. Affinities were obvious to Henri Bergson's concepts of durée and the clock time, Bergson himself reacting to Zeno, and inspiring Deleuze.

Einstein also inspired J. W. Dunne's influential work An Experiment with Time, a work more valid as poetry than science. Dunne in turn inspired J. B. Priestley's time plays, but also H. G. Wells, Jorge Luis Borges, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and James Hilton, whose Random Harvest is also relevant to the WWI shell shock experience. "The end of an era" experience was a key reason to the newly topical Shakespearean feeling of "a time out of joint" (Hamlet's original utterance can be understood as a definition of Renaissance).

The time loop theme also connects to the ancient tradition of the eternal return, the cyclical vision of existence, familiar from Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Pythagoreanism, Stoicism and the philosophy of Nietzsche. The infinite loop, the wheel of time, the endless knot and the mandala are expressions of this. Of 20th century writers, Hesse and Camus (The Myth of Sisyphus) were fascinated by the theme.

I seem to have evaded discussing Max Barbakow and Andy Siara's movie, but perhaps it has succeeded in tempting me to an infinite loop in a wheel of time, discussing an eternal return. The protagonists are unusual. As interpreted by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, they are irritating and hard to relate to. Perhaps this is an act of Entfremdung. We are not meant to identify with them, but we are welcomed to witty dialogue and chains of associations that are both topical and eternal.


Tunturin tarina / Tale of a Sleeping Giant

Marko Röhr: Tunturin tarina / Tale of a Sleeping Giant (FI 2021).

The cinemas were closed in Helsinki almost four weeks ago, on Monday 30 November, because of the corona restrictions, but in Lappeenranta they remain open to a capacity of max 20 viewers. At Finnkino Strand several films are playing that have not been screened in Helsinki yet.

Sagan om fjället.
    FI 2021 © 2020. PC: MRP Matila Röhr Productions Oy. P: Hanna Kauppi, Marko Röhr.
    D: Marko Röhr. SC: Antti Tuuri, Marko Röhr. Narration written by: Antti Tuuri. Cin: Teemu Liakka. M: Panu Aaltio. S: Juha Hakanen. ED: Ben Mercer.
    Narrator: Peter Franzén.
    Starring: the snowy owl, the reindeer, the willow ptarmigan, the least weasel, the lemming, the elk, the wolverine, the humpback whale, the muskox, the raven, the fox, the eagle, the salmon, the capercaillie, the Atlantic puffin, the mosquitoes, the bear, the white wagtail, the woodpecker, the Siberian jay, the crane, the ants, the great gray owl.
    77 min
    Premiere: 19 Feb 2021, distributed by Nordisk Film, English subtitles by Saga Vera, Swedish subtitles by Sophia Beckman De La Riva. The original 2020 general premiere date was postponed due to the corona lockdown. Preview screenings in selected cities. The first movie in Finnish cinemas with a Northern Sami subtitling option.
    Corona emergency security: max 20 capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 1, Lappeenranta (preview screenings), 27 Dec 2020.

AA: Tunturin tarina [The Tale of the Fell] is the third film in the wonderful trilogy of nature films produced by Marko Röhr, following The Tale of the Forest (2012) and The Tale of the Lake (2016). Boasting magnificent cinematography, often of the "mission impossible" kind, they have become box office hits, the most popular non-fiction films of all times in our land.

During the recent decades, we have experienced a golden age of nature films and television series, thanks to masters such as David Attenborough. He has not exhausted the interest, on the contrary, his inspiration may have contributed also to the popularity of our domestic film-makers.

Lapland is a beloved tourist destination, but on display in this film is "the secret life" of Lapland's nature that even experts and specialists seldom get to see. An owl hunting for prey. An elk giving birth to a fawn. Capercaillies fighting at mating time. An eagle feeding its chicks with lemmings. Salmons swimming upstream in a waterfall. Salmons spawning.

But the film is more than a string of attractions. There is a sense of the sublime in its coverage of the four seasons and the elements, including visions of Northern Lights. Drone cinematography has enabled rare coverage of epic reindeer migrations and the life of an elk family in the forest. Underwater cinematography, a specialty of Marko Röhr's, is fascinating in recording the life of salmons.

It is eerie to watch this film during the corona pandemic, when travel bans are hurting Lapland tourism like never before. Even the premiere of this film has been postponed, and it can only be screened in selected cities.

Tunturin tarina is a celebration of the wonders of nature. There are few remarks about the endangered status of some of the species on display, nor on the dangers to the ecosystem. Maybe it is being assumed that we know this already, and watching this film is an alert about what we may soon be missing.

Antti Tuuri is one of my favourite Finnish writers thanks to his historical novels such as Ikitie with a sense of the epic and an affinity with the great tradition of Thucydides and Icelandic Sagas: conveying formidable experiences via a laconic and matter-of-fact approach. But in this movie's narration Tuuri's text is too florid to my taste. The images are majestic enough. There is no need for narrative embellishment.

The film-makers have taken advantage of the possibilities of digital cinematography in many ways, and to watch Tunturin tarina on a big cinema screen is a breathtaking experience.


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Heiskuja – Outi Heiskanen Lallukan taiteilijakodissa

Georg Grotenfelt: Heiskuja – Outi Heiskanen Lallukan taiteilijakodissa (2021).

Georg Grotenfelt: Heiskuja – Outi Heiskanen Lallukan taiteilijakodissa (2021).

Georg Grotenfelt: Heiskuja – Outi Heiskanen Lallukan taiteilijakodissa (2021).

Heiskuja – Outi Heiskanen Lallukan taiteilijakodissa
    FI 2021 © 2020 Nostalgia Film Ky. P: Georg Grotenfelt.
    D+SC: Georg Grotenfelt. Cin: Jani Ahlstedt, Georg Grotenfelt. S recording: Georg Grotenfelt, Jani Ahlstedt. S design: Sergei Moshlov. ED ass: Jani Ahlstedt. P consultant: Mina Laamo.
    Shot at the artist's residence of Outi Heiskanen at Lallukan taiteilijakoti, Helsinki, 2012–2015.
    Art by Outi Heiskanen, sources:
– Oheistaidekoti / photography: Metti Nordin
– Rauno Träskelin archive / photography: Rauno Träskelin
– EMMA – Espoon modernin taiteen museo / Saastamoisen säätiö / photography: Matti Ruotsalainen, Ari Karttunen / EMMA
– Kansallisgalleria / Nykytaiteen museo Kiasma / SKOP:n taidekokoelma / photography: Pirjo Mykkänen, Petri Virtanen, Jouko Könönen
– Kansallisgalleria / Arkistokokoelmat / Bellinin Akatemian tutkimusretki Par-Kisin ja Par-Iskmenyyn hikoiluluolille (1974)
– HAM – Helsingin taidemuseo / Raimo ja Maarit Huttusen taidekokoelma / photography: Anna Taival, Maija Toivonen, Taru Tuulia Tittonen
    44 min
    Vimeo preview screener viewed on a 4K tv set at home, Lappeenranta, 26 Dec 2020.

AA: Outi Heiskanen (born in 1937), is one of Finland's most highly regarded artists. Her focus is on graphics as a fine art: printmaking, aquatint, etching and drypoint. Her works often convey a mystic atmosphere of a fairy-tale world, frequently presenting animals or animal-human hybrids. Her father was a veterinarian, and childhood memories of domestic animals became an inspiration in her art. She may use a combination technique in which an etching is augmented by aquatint or drypoint. Her exhibitions include collages, installations, sculptures and puppets. She has also created films, photographs, performances and environment art. She is a member of the artist groups Bellini Academy and Record Singers. Heiskanen has created mythologies and legends of her own. She is also an illustrator and has been active as a professor and rector of Uniarts Helsinki's Academy of Fine Arts. She is an Arts Academician since 2004.

Georg Grotenfelt documents four years of Outi Heiskanen's creativity at her residence at the Lallukka Artists's House, with flashbacks to her earlier explorations, starting with a shamanistic movie of the forays of the Bellini Academy artist group in 1974. Heiskanen herself narrates the journey into her artistic world, while creating new works and selling them from home. Her associations run from the Russian yurodivy ("Fool for Christ") to ancient rhymes learn from her itinerant vetarinarian father, still inspiring her works. Horses, cows, dogs, bears and foxes are recurrent figures. An auxiliary army of a thousand spirits can be summoned at will. Heiskanen spices her narrative with Sami joiku (yoik), jokes and wordplay, introduces a nude model and games of patience, cards and chess. We experience the bustle at a vernissage, and the emptiness approaching when the time is up to move out of Lallukka. Grotenfelt ends his movie in visions of eternity, the birth of the stars, gas clouds, a long tunnel, a little baby and the atavistic sound of the black-throated loon.

A candid and memorable portrait documentary.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Donner – privat / Donner in Private

Jörn Donner's last interview in December 2019. Photo: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen © Bufo. Publicity photo for: John Webster: Donner – privat (2021).

Harriet Andersson and Ingmar Bergman visited Helsinki in 1954 to promote Summer with Monika. Jörn Donner (in the middle, at the age of 21) interviewed them. From: John Webster: Donner – privat (2021) with commentary by Harriet Andersson ("Ingmar Bergman was very jealous"). My screenshot.
Donner the fisherman with a good catch. Jörn Donner home movies. From: John Webster: Donner – privat (2021) with commentary by his son Rafael Donner. My screenshot.

FI 2021. P: Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff, Ari Tolppanen.
    D: John Webster. Cin: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. Lighting: Jani Lehtinen. AD: Otso Linnalaakso. VFX: Eki Haikka. M: Pedro Hietanen. S design: Karri Niinivaara. S recording: Karri Niinivaara - Jan Alvermark (Stockholm / Johan Donner) - Tuomas Kantelinen (Helsinki / Harriet Andersson). ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. Colour definition: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen.
    Based on Jörn Donner's last interview in December 2019.
    Based on Jörn Donner's private archive of home movies and 30.000 photos.
    Manuscript and plan for Jörn Donner's last inteview: Pirjo Honkasalo.
    Featuring: Anders Carpelan, Rafael Donner, Johan Donner, Harriet Andersson, Tuula Söderberg, Bitte Westerlund.
    Language: Swedish.
    80 min
    Festival premiere: 29 Jan 2021 DocPoint online.
    Telepremiere: 6 Feb 2021 Yle Teema Fem.
    Vimeo preview copy with English subtitles viewed on a 4K tv screen at home in Lappeenranta, 25 Dec 2020.

AA: Jörn Donner was a public figure whose field of activities in culture, media and politics was so vast that writing his biography would be a daunting project.

John Webster's focus, as stated in the title of his film, is on the private Jörn Donner. His public life is presented only as a framework.

This is an authorized project – authorized by Jörn Donner himself during the last months of his life to a make it "warts and all".

Webster was given access to the private family archives, including home movies and a vast collection of photographs covering Donner's entire life: 30.000 photos mostly taken by Donner himself, "a treasure chest" introduced by Jörn's trusted book designer Anders Carpelan. Most of the photos have never been seen in public before. The discovery of the photos was a surprise even to Jörn's own family.

We hear the remarks of his oldest son Johan Donner, condemning Jörn as a bad father, always neglecting his children. We also hear the testimony of his youngest son Rafael Donner, telling that Jörn was a good father, taking good care of his children.

We meet the "arrogant, self-centered motherfucker" (Johan Donner) and the young explorer avid to explore the post-war world on extended travels, visiting Cinecittà and the Cannes Film Festival for the first time at age 21, learning to know Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni in Rome, and photographing Vittorio De Sica, Olivia De Havilland, Kirk Douglas, Walt Disney, Jean Cocteau and Howard Hawks in Cannes. In the following year in Helsinki he meets Ingmar Bergman and Harriet Andersson for the first time.

Speaking about his world view Donner quotes Bertolt Brecht's poem "An die Nachgeborenen" (1939). The dark times of the Nazi expansion, during which Brecht wrote his poem, are over, and new challenges are faced in the age of post-war liberation, reconstruction and the Cold War. Donner spends time in the divided Berlin before the building of the wall and embarks on one of his careers as a journalist with a wide international perspective.

"Chasing after the wind" is Donner's resume of his public career, quoting the Bible.*

For his mass media presence Donner became a "media whore" who created an outlandish public persona that had little in common with his private behaviour. Outside the spotlight of media attention Donner was in a more felicitious way a zoon politikon, a social animal, good company, with an appealing presence.

A big part of Donner's publications fell in the domain of autofiction, and he was famous as an author who started everything with the word "I". But that "I" was also to a great extent fictional.

There was a more secret Jörn Donner of which this film gives some clues. I would guess that there were three key secrets.

The first one was the family romance of his childhood. Jörn never got to know his father Kai Donner (1888–1935) who died when Jörn was two years old. But also his mother, Baroness Margareta von Bonsdorff (1890–1955), remained distant. Jörn was warmly taken care of as a child, but not by his parents.

The second one was political. In contrast to his father Kai Donner, who was an activist of the extreme Right, Jörn as a teenager became a Marxist, to the left from Social Democrats, but he hated dogmatism and condemned Soviet imperialism. He was active in politics, switching membership between the Swedish People's Party and the Social Democratic Party in the later decades, but essentially he was a free thinker. To the end he shared the motto of Karl Marx: "Doubt everything".

The third one was sexual. We live in an age when we are learning better than ever that differences in sexuality between people are enormous, and this can cause huge misunderstandings. Jörn Donner's sexuality was exceptionally high. He did not repress it, but he was able to channel it into his creativity. There is an interesting remark by Donner about Urho Kekkonen in Esa Saarinen's book (and also in Donner's novels Father and Son and The President) that I think is a confession.

Jörn's final words in the movie are about the private self beyond the private self.

"Nu skall man komma ihåg, att det finns ett privat jag, som är bortom det privata jaget. Det är så att säga onämnbart. Det är inte mitt äktenskap, mina barn, min familj, min släkt, det är inte Europa, det är inte världen, det är inte Finland. Det är något privat som jag behåller för mig själv. Med vad som är innerst inne, det kommer ingen utomstående åt någonsin. Det här behåller jag för mig själv."

"We must now remember that there is a private self beyond the private self. It is in a way inexpressible. It's not my marriage, my children, my family, it's not Europe, it's not the world, it's not Finland. It is something private that I keep for myself. What is innermost, no outsider can ever reach. I keep it for myself."

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (The Bible : Ecclesiastes : 2)

Jörn Donner in memoriam (obituary in Journal of Film Preservation by FIAF / Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film)

Jörn Donner (1933–2020). Photo from: Elonet / National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI).

Harriet Andersson and Jörn Donner in Stockholm, 1964. Photo: Gösta Glase.

De omnibus dubitandum est (Doubt everything)
– the motto of Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, and Jörn Donner*

Jörn Donner (1933–2020) was a Swedish-speaking Finnish author, director, producer, journalist, critic, politician, and diplomat, a man of the world, a man of letters, and a man of the cinema. He was a co-founder of the Finnish Film Archive, and, at various times, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, chairman of the board of the Finnish Film Foundation, a Member of Parliament, a Member of the European Parliament, chairman of the culture committee of Helsinki, and Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles. Donner was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and co-founder of the European Film Academy. He served as a jury member and chairman at several film festivals, wrote more than 60 books and 4,000 articles, financed or produced over 60 films, and directed 35 films, television series, and documentaries.

With Aito Mäkinen, Donner founded the Finnish Film Archive in 1957 and brought it into the FIAF community. He became a friend of Henri Langlois and his team; Langlois mounted the first Donner retrospective at the Cinémathèque française. He was close to Marion Michelle, the FIAF secretary, in part through their mutual friend Joris Ivens. He knew FIAF president Jerzy Toeplitz well: in Warsaw on All Souls’ Day 1957 they jointly lit a candle in memory of the dead, and Donner also contributed to Toeplitz’s journal Kwartalnik Filmowy.

At the 1958 FIAF Congress in Prague, Donner not only applied for membership for the Helsinki archive, but became popular as the owner of the sole international plug at the Hotel Alcron where wall sockets dated from the Habsburg era. Donner represented Finland at the meeting of the Nordic film archives in Oslo in May 1959, and during that year’s FIAF crisis involving Langlois and Michelle, Finland’s role was conciliatory.

Donner returned to the FIAF community as the head of the cultural sector at the Swedish Film Institute from 1972 to 1974. It was a ghostly experience for him at the Ottawa Congress to see mostly faces familiar from Prague. When the status of  the Swedish archive changed in 1964 (the collections held by the Filmhistoriska samlingarna – the Film Historic Collections – were handed over to the newly-established Svenska Filminstitutet), Donner renegotiated its FIAF membership; he did not interfere with Anna-Lena Wibom’s visionary work at the cinémathèque, instead focusing on cultural exchange.

Donner also launched the exemplary Swedish national filmography, Svensk filmografi, later repeating the trick in his homeland with Suomen kansallisfilmografia, the Finnish filmography, both of which are now incorporated into their digital descendants, Svensk filmdatabas and Elonet. Between 1978 and 1982 Donner was the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute and the producer of Ingmar Bergman’s farewell film Fanny and Alexander (1982). He admitted in an article he wrote for Svenska Dagbladet that he had “obviously exceeded [his] authority as CEO of the Swedish Film Institute”  in financing the most expensive Swedish film ever, but the risk paid off.  Of its four Academy Awards, Donner, as producer, received the one for Best Foreign Film.

The Donner family, originating from Lübeck, has been prominent in Finnish business and culture for over 250 years. Like a Thomas Mann hero, the young Jörn Donner went against the grain, active in circles of radical authors and modernist poets, including his 1949 schoolmates in Stockholm, Sven Lindqvist and Tomas Tranströmer. At the age of 18, he published his first work of fiction (in Swedish) Välsignade liv (Blessed Lives, a collection of short stories) and founded the cultural magazine Arena.

By 1951, he was on his way into the inner circle of Swedish culture, befriending Olof Lagercrantz, future editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter (DN), and Åke Runnquist, editor of Bonniers litterära magasin (BLM) and future Bonnier manager. Later Donner became the main film critic for both BLM and DN; it was his colleague critic and close friend Harry Schein who founded the Swedish Film Institute in 1963.
Seeing Ingmar Bergman’s Prison in Stockholm in 1949, was, for Donner, the revelation of cinema as modern art.  In 1953, he met both Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, his two greatest cinematic inspirations, in 1962 writing the first book-length study of Bergman’s films, Djävulens ansikte – Ingmar Bergmans filmer, translated as The Personal Vision of Ingmar Bergman. Donner’s five documentaries on the Swedish director (1975–2018) offer privileged insights into the great spirit of Nordic culture.

Donner directed his first (short) films in 1954, and soon became a key figure in Finnish film modernism and new waves as producer, financer, or advisor to Mikko Niskanen, Rauni Mollberg, Peter von Bagh, and the Kaurismäki brothers. He was also an early champion of women directors such as Pirjo Honkasalo.

Known as “the Antonioni of the North” for his cycle of five films starring Harriet Andersson, Donner won the Opera Prima prize for best directorial debut at the Venice Film Festival with the first of these, A Sunday in September (1963). Antonioni and Bergman told him that his films needed work, but Donner ignored their advice and changed tack instead. Starting with Black on White (1967), he broke the sex wall in four loose and irreverent films. A nonchalant satire of an alienated way of life secured them a cult status.

Back on a serious note, Men Can’t Be Raped (1978), based on the novel by feminist author Märta Tikkanen, was ahead of its time. In Donner's late period, two powerful historical dramas, both starring Minna Haapkylä, stand out: The Border 1918 (2007), produced by Donner and detailing some of his father’s post-war experiences, and The Interrogation (2009). Donner also directed the Brechtian biopic Armi Lives! (2015) about his good friend Armi Ratia, the formidable co-founder of the Marimekko textile company, again starring Haapkylä.

Donner was also an award-winning documentary filmmaker. With his two Perkele!** films he captured Finland in periods of crisis: Perkele! Images from Finland (1971) on the so-called “big move” of migration from the countryside to the cities, and Perkele! 2 Images from Finland (2017), about the European refugee crisis, while Nine Ways to Approach Helsinki (1982) is one of the finest filmed accounts of Finland’s capital.

As a man of letters, “it always pays to read” and “nulla dies sine linea” (“not a day without a line”) were among Donner’s mottos. He wrote a series of 14 novels on a Swedish-Finnish industrialist family (1955–2001), and started a distinguished line of reportage books with Report from Berlin (1958) (English translation 1961) and Report from the Danube (1962), his sources including Bertolt Brecht, Willy Brandt, Georg Lukács, and Marlene Dietrich.

Donner was a public intellectual who thrived on debate. Besides, around 1968 he launched a shocking public persona in talk shows and tabloids. Though in private he was polite, even shy, he deliberately constructed a Mr Hyde side as a “media whore” to garner publicity for non-commercial projects such as the 1100-page Dadaist anti-memoir Mammoth (2013), a display of his late style.

Donner made public his struggle with cancer, and had his cardiac surgery filmed for Perkele! II. At the 2019 Helsinki Book Fair, there was standing room only when the wheelchair-bound Donner met his audience in a mood of cheerful irony.  He took a line from poet Edith Södergran, “Here is the coast of eternity”, as the motto of his last film The Memory of Ingmar Bergman (2018).

Like Langlois and Toeplitz, Donner believed that cinema is an essential part of history, society and culture, and without film archives it is impossible to make full sense of them. He accumulated one of the most remarkable private libraries in Finland, the bulk of which has been divided between four institutions. His voluminous correspondence is archived at Åbo Akademi.

Antti Alanen
Journal of Film Preservation 103 (October 2020)
Published by the kind permission of FIAF (Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film)

* All inspired, of course, by the doctrine of methodical doubt by René Descartes.
** "Perkele" is a powerful Finnish curse. It is the name of an ancient thunder god. "Donner" means "thunder" in German.

Bertolt Brecht: "An die Nachgeborenen" / "To Those Born After" (poem, 1939)

Bertolt Brecht (L) and Walter Benjamin (R) play chess in 1934 in Denmark. (Photo: PD). Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv, Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Jörn Donner in memoriam: a favourite poem of his, quoted in John Webster's film Donner – privat (2021). This poem is the only work by Bertolt Brecht of which a recording by the poet himself exists.

Bertolt Brecht
An die Nachgeborenen


Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten!

Das arglose Wort ist töricht. Eine glatte Stirn
Deutet auf Unempfindlichkeit hin. Der Lachende
Hat die furchtbare Nachricht
Nur noch nicht empfangen.

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!
Der dort ruhig über die Straße geht
Ist wohl nicht mehr erreichbar für seine Freunde
Die in Not sind?

Es ist wahr: ich verdiene noch meinen Unterhalt
Aber glaubt mir: das ist nur ein Zufall. Nichts
Von dem, was ich tue, berechtigt mich dazu, mich satt zu essen.
Zufällig bin ich verschont. (Wenn mein Glück aussetzt
Bin ich verloren.)

Man sagt mir: iß und trink du! Sei froh, daß du hast!
Aber wie kann ich essen und trinken, wenn
Ich es dem Hungernden entreiße, was ich esse, und
Mein Glas Wasser einem Verdurstenden fehlt?
Und doch esse und trinke ich.

Ich wäre gerne auch weise
In den alten Büchern steht, was weise ist:
Sich aus dem Streit der Welt halten und die kurze Zeit
Ohne Furcht verbringen
Auch ohne Gewalt auskommen
Böses mit Gutem vergelten
Seine Wünsche nicht erfüllen, sondern vergessen
Gilt für weise.
Alles das kann ich nicht:
Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten!


In die Städte kam ich zu der Zeit der Unordnung
Als da Hunger herrschte.
Unter die Menschen kam ich zu der Zeit des Aufruhrs
Und ich empörte mich mit ihnen.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.

Mein Essen aß ich zwischen den Schlachten
Schlafen legt ich mich unter die Mörder
Der Liebe pflegte ich achtlos
Und die Natur sah ich ohne Geduld.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.

Die Straßen führten in den Sumpf zu meiner Zeit
Die Sprache verriet mich dem Schlächter
Ich vermochte nur wenig. Aber die Herrschenden
Saßen ohne mich sicherer, das hoffte ich.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.

Die Kräfte waren gering. Das Ziel
Lag in großer Ferne
Es war deutlich sichtbar, wenn auch für mich
Kaum zu erreichen.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.


Ihr, die ihr auftauchen werdet aus der Flut
In der wir untergegangen sind
Wenn ihr von unseren Schwächen sprecht
Auch der finsteren Zeit
Der ihr entronnen seid.

Gingen wir doch, öfter als die Schuhe die Länder wechselnd
Durch die Kriege der Klassen, verzweifelt
Wenn da nur Unrecht war und keine Empörung.

Dabei wissen wir ja:
Auch der Haß gegen die Niedrigkeit
Verzerrt die Züge.
Auch der Zorn über das Unrecht
Macht die Stimme heiser. Ach, wir
Die wir den Boden bereiten wollten für Freundlichkeit
Konnten selber nicht freundlich sein.

Ihr aber, wenn es soweit sein wird
Daß der Mensch dem Menschen ein Helfer ist
Gedenkt unsrer
Mit Nachsicht.

Bertolt Brecht (Svendborger Gedichte, 1939).


Bertolt Brecht
To Those Born Later

Truly I live in dark times!
Frank speech is naïve. A smooth forehead
Suggests insensitivity.  The man who laughs
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.

What kind of times are these, when
To talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
When the man over there calmly crossing the street
Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends
Who are in need?

It’s true that I still earn my daily bread
But, believe me, that’s only an accident.  Nothing
I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
By chance I've been spared.  (If my luck breaks, I'm lost.)

They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat
From the starving
And my glass of water belongs to someone dying of thirst?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would also like to be wise.
In the old books it says what wisdom is:
To shun the strife of the world and to live out
Your brief time without fear
Also to get along without violence
To return good for evil
Not to fulfill your desires but to forget them
Is accounted wise.
All this I cannot do.
Truly, I live in dark times.

I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger reigned.
I came among men in a time of revolt
And I rebelled with them.
So passed my time
Given me to on earth.

I ate my food between battles
I lay down to sleep among murderers
I practiced love carelessly
And I had little patience for nature’s beauty.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.

All roads led into the mire in my time.
My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.
There was little I could do.  But those is power
Sat safer without me: that was my hope.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.

Our forces were slight.  Our goal
Lay far in the distance
Clearly visible, though I myself
Was unlikely to reach it.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.

You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
Bring to mind
When you speak of our failings
Bring to mind also the dark times
That you have escaped.

Changing countries more often than our shoes,
We went through the class wars, despairing
When there was only injustice, no outrage.

And yet we realized:
Hatred, even of meanness
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. O,
We who wanted to prepare the ground for friendship
Could not ourselves be friendly.

But you, when the time comes at last
When man is helper to man
Think of us
With forbearance.


Bertolt Brecht
Niille, jotka tulevat meidän jälkeemme

Totisesti minä elän synkkää aikaa.
Avomielinen puhe on hulluutta,
sileä otsa osoittaa tunteettomuutta.
Se, joka nauraa, ei vain vielä ole kuullut hirvittävää uutista.

Mikä aika on tämä, jolloin puhe puista on melkein rikos,
koska siinä vaietaan niin monista rikoksista?
Se, joka levollisena ylittää kadun, tuskin enää tuntee ystäviään,
jotka ovat hädässä.

On totta, minä ansaitsen vielä leipäni,
mutta, uskokaa minua, se on vain sattuma,
ei mikään siitä, mitä teen, oikeuta minua syömään itseäni kylläiseksi,
olen säästynyt sattumalta. Kun onni pettää, minä olen hukassa.

Minulle sanotaan: "Syö ja juo, ole iloinen, että sinulla on!"
Mutta kuinka minä voin syödä ja juoda, kun riistän ruokani nälkäiseltä?
Ja janoinen on vailla vettä, jonka minä juon,
ja kuitenkin minä syön ja juon.

Minä olisin kernaasti viisas. Vanhoissa kirjoissa kerrotaan, mitä on viisaus:
"Vetäydy maailman taisteluista, ja vietä lyhyt aikasi vailla pelkoa,
tule toimeen ilman väkivaltaa, maksa paha hyvällä,
luovu toiveistasi, unohda ne."

Tätä sanotaan viisaudeksi.
Tätä kaikkea minä en osaa.
Totisesti minä elän synkkää aikaa.

Finnish translation : Brita Polttila in : Bertolt Brecht : Runoja 1914–1956 (Helsinki: Tammi, 1964).

Part I of Bertolt Brecht's poem was composed by Kaj Chydenius in 1969 for the play Saaren vangit (directed by Kalle Holmberg). It was sung as "Minä elän synkkää aikaa" by Kristiina Halkola on her album Täytyy uskaltaa (Love Records, 1969)

For Kalevi Haikara this poem is "one of the most magnificent of all times" and "Brecht's last will". He calls it "Tuleville sukupolville" in the IV chapter of his Brecht biography (pp. 181–253).
    Kalevi Haikara : Bertolt Brechtin aika, elämä ja tuotanto. Helsinki : Art House, 1992. ISBN 9518840636. 625 sivua, [6] kuvasivua : kuvitettu ; 24 cm.

Friday, November 20, 2020



David Fincher: Mank (US 2020).

Mank / Mank.
    US © 2020 Netflix. PC: Netflix International Pictures. P: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski.
    D: David Fincher. SC: Jack Fincher. Cin: Erik Messerschmidt – b&w – 2.20:1 – source format: Redcode RAW 8K – digital intermediate 6K – release format: D-Cinema. PD: Donald Graham Burt. AD: Dan Webster. Set dec: Jan Pascale. Cost: Trish Summerville. Makeup: Gigi Williams. Hair: Kimberley Spiteri. SFX: John C. Carlucci. VFX: Territory Studio, Artemple Hollywood, ILM, Ollin VFX. M: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross [Wikipedia lists 52 titles in the original score track listing]. S: Jeremy Molod. ED: Kirk Baxter. Casting: Laray Mayfield.
    CAST as edited in Wikipedia:
    Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz
    Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies
    Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, Herman's secretary, from whom Susan Alexander Kane gets her name.
    Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
    Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz
    Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst
    Sam Troughton as John Houseman
    Ferdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg
    Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman's wife
    Tom Burke as Orson Welles
    Joseph Cross as Charles Lederer
    Jamie McShane as Shelly Metcalf, test shot director and Herman’s friend. Although Metcalf is fictional, Felix E. Feist was the test shot director at MGM, who shot the propaganda films against Upton Sinclair that Metcalf shoots in Mank.
    Toby Leonard Moore as David O. Selznick
    Monika Gossmann as Fräulein Frieda, Herman's housekeeper
    Leven Rambin as Eve, Metcalf's wife
    Bill Nye as Upton Sinclair
    Jeff Harms as Ben Hecht
"Many other Hollywood icons are portrayed, including George S. Kaufman, Greta Garbo, Josef von Sternberg, Norma Shearer, Eleanor Boardman, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Billie Dove, Rexford Tugwell, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Charles MacArthur, Darryl F. Zanuck, S. J. Perelman, Carole Lombard, and Eddie Cantor." (End of cast listing from Wikipedia).
    Loc: Victorville, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Center Studios, 1 Nov 2019 – 1 Feb 2020.
    In memory of Jack Fincher.
    131 min
    US premiere (limited): 13 Nov 2020
    Netflix release: 4 Dec 2020
    Finnish premiere (limited): 20 Nov 2020 – released by Cinemanse with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Annemarie Oksanen / Anne Norman.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 20 Nov 2020.

IMDb synopsis: "1930's Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941)."

AA: Mank is the best movie of the year 2020.

How can I say this although Mank does gross injustice to Orson Welles?

For three reasons. Because of all the films I saw in 2020, this is the one in which I most repeatedly had the feeling that I need to see it again as soon as possible. Because of all the films discussing the boy wonder this is the one with the panache to match. And because, despite the character assassination approach, the film nevertheless conveys the singularity of Orson Welles's achievement better than any other fiction.

I had had a similar experience before. When I wrote my first piece on Citizen Kane, a program note for the film society Monroe in Tampere 45 years ago, my main sources were The Citizen Kane Book containing an ignorant essay by a critic colleague, and Charles Higham's The Films of Orson Welles. I had blithely dived into a pool of sharks, but the power of Citizen Kane and the pleasure of reading its screenplay were so overwhelming that they transcended the attempts of the feeble sharks. (I still possess my 45-year-old paperback copy of The Citizen Kane Book, invaluable because of the manuscript, reduced long ago into a loose-leaf wad held together by rubber band).

Every time Citizen Kane is different, and every time it is about the pleasure of the cinema. Herman J. Mankiewicz's credit is undeniable. But so is the fact that Orson Welles electrified his colleagues to an achievement unique for all.

The real conditions of making Citizen Kane have been documented by Andrew Sarris, Joseph McBride, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Robert Carringer, Harlan Lebo – and Peter Bogdanovich fronting for Orson Welles, himself. There are fact-checking reviews of Mank the movie online by Joseph McBride, David Walsh, and others.

The entire movie plays fast and loose with facts. Dozens of references are half-accurate at best. David Fincher creates a parallel Hollywoodian universe with familiar characters, but everything has been altered. In a way Mank resembles Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.

Of Fincher's own movies, Mank is closest to The Social Network, also set in a real institution (Facebook) and with a real celebrity as protagonist (Mark Zuckerberg), but it did not do justice to either. It was also a brilliant satire set in a plausible parallel universe.

Mank is a reflection of Citizen Kane in many ways. In Citizen Kane, reporter Thompson embarks on a quest to divulge the secret of Rosebud (sujet) and the reminiscences of his interviewees are seen in flashbacks (fabula). In Mank, Herman J. Mankiewicz writes the screenplay of Citizen Kane (sujet) and reverts to his memories of Hollywood and San Simeon, seen in flashbacks (fabula).

In the center is a great performance by Gary Oldman as the alcoholic screenwriter who is given a golden chance to immortality by Orson Welles. Mank is both a brilliant wit and a mess as a human being. He is capable of generosity (helping persecuted Jews in Germany as a premature anti-fascist) and betrayal (his Susan Alexander caricature based on his good friend Marion Davies is unjust, mean and cruel).

The protagonist is a screenwriter, and the movie does honour his art and craft by breathtakingly witty dialogue. Like The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin, Mank is dialogue-driven. Like in The Social Network, women are belittled and marginalized, and it is difficult to say if this is a feature of David Fincher's cinema or the Hollywood of the 1930s.

Mank is also a political drama, featuring a mighty capitalist, William Randolph Hearst, and an idealistic socialist writer, Upton Sinclair. Like in Citizen Kane, freedom of the press and the power of money are at stake. Money talks, and with money it is possible to produce phony newsreels to discredit a rival candidate. The issues are based on reality, but details are again far from accurate. Mank is drama, not historiography.

Why was Orson Welles so hated by some?

There is a Finnish poem by Eino Leino called "Laulu onnesta" ["The Song of Happiness"] that starts with with the line "Kell' onni on, se onnen kätkeköön" ["If you find bliss, you must hide it"]. Poetry is what gets lost in translation, as Robert Frost said, but you get the idea.

Orson Welles was in trouble almost all his life, but he found bliss in his talent, creativity, friends and loves, a bliss he did not hide.

He must have been hurt by The Citizen Kane Book, and he would have been offended by Mank, but he would have soon overcome them, putting things into perspective as a modern Renaissance man, at home in the wavelengths of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Faust and Don Giovanni.



James Erskine: Billie (2019), a documentary portrait of Billie Holiday, based on the research by Linda Lipnack Kuehl.

Billie / Billie.
    GB 2019. An Altitude and MPC presentation of a New Black Films and Reliance Entertainment Productions Documentary in association with Concord Music, BBC, Belga Films, Multiprises LLC and UMG. P: Victoria Gregory, Barry Clark Ewers, James Erskine, Laure Vaysse. Co-P: Shianne Brown. EX: Michelle Smith, Alex Holmes, Sophia Dilley, Emma Cahusac, Will Clarke, Andy Mason, Mike Runagall, Deepak Nayar, Emil Elmer. Co-EX: David Blackman, David Inkeles. Consultant P: Toby Byron.
    D+SC: James Erskine [based on the interviews made by and manuscripts written by Linda Lipnack Kuehl]. DP: Tim Cragg. S: Tom Wollaert (sound supervisor, audio restoration engineer), Patrick Hubart (re-recording mixer, sound editor, sound mixer). ED: Avdhesh Mohla.
    [A documentary portrait about jazz singer Billie Holiday (1915–1959), born Eleanora Fagan, and Linda Lipnack Kuehl's (1940–1978) quest to write her definitive biography.]
    Featuring: Credited: Billie Holiday, Linda Lipnack Kuehl, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, narcotics agent Jimmy Fletcher, Bobby Tucker, Jimmy Rowles, Sylvia Syms, etc. – Not listed in the end credits: Michele Smith, Louis Armstrong, Skinny Davenport (pimp), Jonathan "Jo" Jones, John Simmons, Melba Liston, Barney Josephson, John Hammond, Memry Midgett, Pigmeat Markham, Detroit Red, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Artie Shaw, Sid Weiss, Mae Weiss, etc.
    [M: not credited: Billie Holiday as composer, writer of lyrics and / or singer.] ["Billie Holiday's estate, acquired in 2012 by music company Concord, came on board as producers." The Guardian, 6 Nov 2020.]
    [Soundtrack album, Verve Records 2020:]
1. Now Or Never (feat. Sy Oliver & His Orchestra) – Billie Holiday (3:18)
2. God Bless The Child – Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra (3:10)
3. Hoppin’ Around – The Sonhouse All Stars (2:37)
4. The Blues Are Brewin’ (feat. John Simmons & His Orchestra) – Billie Holiday (3:04)
5. Funeral In New Orleans – The Sonhouse All Stars (2:11)
6. Fine And Mellow – Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra (3:17)
7. Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra (3:12)
8. Just One More Chance – Billie Holiday & Ray Ellis and His Orchestra (3:46)
9. My Man – Billie Holiday (2:58)
10. I Only Have Eyes For You – Billie Holiday (2:54)
11. I’ll Never Smile Again – Billie Holiday & Ray Ellis and His Orchestra (3:27)
12. Don’t Explain (Live At Carnegie Hall / 1956) – Billie Holiday (2:28)
13. Porgy – Billie Holiday (2:54)
    [Also in the film: "Saddest Tale"].
    Colourized. Colourist: Marian Amaral.
    98 min
    Festival premiere: 5 Sep 2019 Telluride Film Festival.
    French premiere: 30 Sep 2020.
    British premiere: 13 Nov 2020.
    US premiere: 4 Dec 2020.
    Finnish premiere: 20 Nov 2020, released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish intertitles and subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Joanna Erkkilä. Intertitles in Finnish and Swedish only.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 20 Nov 2020.


"Crafted from extraordinary unheard interviews, and restoring key performances into color for the first time, BILLIE is the story of the singer who changed the face of American music, and the journalist who died trying to tell it."


"Billie - BILLIE HOLIDAY, one of the greatest voices of all time, a woman of breath-taking talent and global popularity, was throughout her short life a figure of controversy - a black woman in a white man’s world, a victim and a rebel whose infamous Strange Fruit, the first protest song, earned her powerful enemies. She was also an enigma, her telling of her own life story a mix of half truths and free-form improvisations."

"Then in the late 1960’s journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl set out to write the definitive biography of Billie. Over the next decade, she tracked down and tape-recorded interviews with the extraordinary characters that populated the iconic singer’s short, tumultuous life."

"Raw, emotional and brutally honest, these incredible testimonies ranged from musical greats like Charles Mingus, Tony Bennett, Sylvia Syms and Count Basie to her cousin, school friends, lovers, lawyers, pimps and even the FBI agents who arrested her. But Linda’s book was never finished and the tapes unplayed – until now."

"With unprecedented and exclusive access to Linda's astonishing 200 hours of never-before-heard interviews, BILLIE showcases an American legend, capturing her depths and complexity through the voices of those who knew her best. Painstakingly restored with footage and stills colorized by one of the leading color artists, it is an arresting and powerful tale of one of the greatest singers who ever lived, and of Linda Lipnack Kuehl, the woman who would sacrifice her life in trying to tell it.

TELLURIDE 2019 PROGRAM NOTE (Fiona Armour): "By the late 70s, journalist and Billie Holiday superfan Linda Lipnack Kuehl had amassed hundreds of hours of recorded interviews in an effort to finish a book on the mysterious and tragic jazz icon. These tapes—with Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Sylvia Sims, Sid Weiss and others—remained unreleased following Kuehl’s sudden death. Forty years later, director James Erskine weaves Kuehl’s recordings into a powerful portrait of a thoroughly modern woman, as complicated and layered as her music. BILLIE reveals the singer’s magnetism, her darkness, her struggles against discrimination and segregation, and with addiction, tales of the men who couldn’t control her ... a hero who was victimized but never a victim. And Kuehl never shied away from the tough questions—this is a ruthlessly honest story of one woman told by another, the two united in their quests for authenticity." – Fiona Armour

AA: I don't know if it's a commonplace to make a comparison between two great performers who were born in the same year, became victims of untold suffering in childhood, changed their names, transcended their circumstances, created vast legacies of timeless interpretations as singers and songwriters, both globally known for their instantly recognizable voices, and died before they reached the age of 50: "La Môme" Édith Piaf (1915–1963) and "Lady Day" Billie Holiday (1915–1959).

Watching James Erskine's richly rewarding portrait documentary made me think about Olivier Dahan's Édith Piaf biopic La Môme (2007) in which Marion Cotillard gave a legendary performance in the leading role. Piaf and Holiday experienced things far beyond what anybody should endure, and agony was palpable in their performances until the end.

Already as a child, Holiday became a victim of rape, abuse and prostitution, and all her life she had to endure brutal racist persecution, sexual violence, duplicity, fraud and theft from the men and the managers in her life. The injustice she was made to suffer was extraordinary, but even more extraordinary was that she refused to assume the role of a victim.

Instead, Holiday became a fighter who lived her life to the extreme, becoming rich and famous despite racist discrimination, singing defiantly "Strange Fruit" every night although it meant losing her most lucrative gigs, burning her candle from both ends as an alcoholic, drug addict and "sex machine", and giving great performances as a singer to the end.

James Erskine bases his movie on the fabula and sujet narrative structure: the fabula is the mystery of Billie Holiday's life, and the sujet is Linda Lipnack Kuehl's eight-year quest to interview everybody who knew her. We keep meeting and hearing key colleagues and witnesses from John Hammond to Lester Young, from Sylvia Syms to Michele Smith. But incredibly, we also get to hear the cynical confessions of her abusers, starting from the pimp of her childhood.

In the age of Me Too and Black Lives Matter, this movie is burningly topical.

But Billie Holiday's artistic legacy is ageless. "I heard a singer who was like an improvising horn player", said John Hammond. "There was a truth in every note" says Sylvia Syms who also quotes Billie Holiday's own definitions of her interpretations: you have to sing like you almost cry to make the audience cry. You have to sing like you almost laugh to make the audience laugh.

For me, Billie Holiday has always been an impressive presence, but I'm not a Billie Holiday person. I acknowledge the power of her personality, the originality of her interpretation and the subtlety of her sensuality, but I sense something unsettling in the melancholy that I cannot relate to.

Jazz is terra incognita for me, which is why I five years ago embarked on a project to start from scratch and asked Emu Lehtinen of Digelius Music to select for me a "jazz record of the week". Billie Holiday was Emu's greatest favourite, and unsurprisingly, one of his first selections was the ten disc box set Lady Day – The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 19331944 (including Columbia's Brunswick, Vocalion and OKeh labels). So I was on my way, and I even liked the five disc box set of her late albums, including All Or Nothing At All, one of her very last ones. Although Billie Holiday had become physically ravaged, I sensed her spirit growing stronger.

James Erskine's film increases my admiration for Billie Holiday, most impressively because of her commitment to "Strange Fruit". It was a favourite for Peter von Bagh who discussed it in his radio programmes and concert specials since the early 1970s. It would have been rewarding to hear Emu Lehtinen and Peter von Bagh discussing this impressive film.

It must have been a daunting project to restore and make fully audible the hundreds of interviews and to collect the mosaic of film snippets and rare photographs. The movie has been made to look and sound as smooth as possible.

Too smooth and Photoshopped to my taste. The colourized images and passages are marvels of modern digital technology, but I prefer to remain a partisan of rough authenticity.


Naurun varjolla / Laughing Matters

Reetta Aalto: Naurun varjolla / Laughing Matters (FI 2020) starring Joonas Saartamo (Tommi) and Elena Leeve (Maria).

Reetta Aalto: Naurun varjolla / Laughing Matters (FI 2020) starring Aino Sirje as Kira.

På skämt.
    FI 2020. PC: Zodiak Finland Oy. P: Sari Lempiäinen.
    D: Reetta Aalto. SC: Anna Ruohonen. Cin: Jarkko M. Virtanen. AD: Sasu Joutsi. Cost: Ninni Lahtinen. Makeup: Hanna Ilkko. M: Artturi Taira, Samuli Kukkola. S: Pinja Mustajoki. ED: Hanna Kuirinlahti.
    C: Elena Leeve (Maria), Joonas Saartamo (Tommi), Aino Sirje (Kira), Ernest Lawson (Karri), Minna Kivelä (Riitta), Heikki Silvennoinen (Kale), Satu Tuuli Karhu (Laura), Miika Laakso.
    Loc: Tampere, Hämeenlinna, Turku, Forssa.
    88 min
    Premiere: 20 Nov 2020 – released by Oy Nordisk Film Ab.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 20 Nov 2020.

AA: Laughing Matters is the debut feature film of Reetta Aalto, who has attracted attention with a string of short films such as Marja-Sisko (a documentary about a priest who came out as transgender) and Bittersweet (a sensitive drama about the friendship of two teenage girls). Pussy for Beginners, a funny animated "instruction manual" about the atavistic topic, won the Domestic Award at the Animatricks Festival. Boudoir / The Bedroom was a drama about "when no means no" in the feminist portmanteau project One-Off Incident / A Force of Habit.

Stand-up comedy, called by that English term, started to gain popularity in Finland in the 1990s, but there had been an indigenous tradition since forever, popular in soirées (iltamat), during wartime, and also in the early cinema period when short films alternated with programme numbers, including comedy skits. Among film culture personalities, Peter von Bagh as an emcee had a talent for stand-up, but laughter for him was not an end in itself.

Stand up has emerged into the forefront of attention in recent high profile films such as Joker last year, and in Laughing Matters it becomes a subject for a multi-layered reflection. There is a stand up class, and a rookie stand-up tour is mounted to test new talent.

The tension is enormous. No form of performance is as merciless as comedy. If you fail, you are likely to fail utterly. We learn that main driving forces of stand-up comedy include humiliation and self-revelation. It's a contradictory and paradoxical art.

The four members of the stand-up tour each offer caricatures of identity politics. There is a Black comedian (Ernest Lawson as Karri), a non-binary performer (Aino Sirje as Kira), a male chauvinist (Joonas Saartamo as Tommi) and a feminist intellectual (Elena Leeve as Maria).

The main conflict is between Tommi and Maria. Tommi's routine is a jaw-droppingly reactionary misogynist rant where the punchlines are true knock-outs against wives and mothers-in-law.

Tommi elicits laughter, disturbingly not because of fun but because of hate. This is something so existential that I am reminded of Jules Feiffer's remarks around Carnal Knowledge, for him "a picture of men's hatred of women", expressing his view that "all heterosexual men hate women", or at least that this was the case during the sexual revolution.

Maria is so stunned and stupefied by Tommi's poisonous and bilious rant that she feels physically ill. Gandhi's motto "be the change that you wish to see in the world" is evoked in the movie, but Maria turns into Gandhi II, no more Ms. Passive Resistance, not winning Tommi with love but demolishing him with his own weapons, and, using feminine wile, stinging him to the quick.

The stand-up contest turns into a battle of the sexes, and although there is an attempt to transform the narrative into a romantic comedy, instead it proceeds from misogyny and misandry into misanthropy, as far as Tommi and Maria are concerned.

Karri and Kira appear as centers of sanity. I don't immediately recall another so memorable a non-binary character in Finnish cinema as Aino Sirje's interpretation as Kira. Although Kira's role is underwritten, there is a quiet and compelling presence that elevates the whole movie and becomes a promise of exciting things to come.

PS. Reportedly there is an impressive non-binary character also in Hannaleena Hauru's Fucking With Nobody, seen at Venice Film Festival, but its Finnish premiere has been postponed into 2021.

PS 2. Thinking about Finnish talent in bringing non-binary characters to the screen we may also remember Susanna Salonen's Patong Girl (2014) and Stina Ekblad's interpretation of Ismael in Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982) in a sequence that was for Robin Wood the final key moment in Bergman's oeuvre.

PS 3. I confess that I am out of my depth in discussing gender diversity and intersex, and my command of the vocabulary leaves a lot to be desired. There is a Finnish online vocabulary updated 22 December 2020 on the SETA website.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 27 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1992)

Antoni Lange (1779–1844): Frühlingslandschaft mit Teich / Spring Landscape with Lake / Wooded Landscape. 1839. Oil on canvas. 85 cm x 113 cm. Sold at Sotheby's, London, 1 December 2005, lot 3. Sold at Galerie Koller, Zürich, 18 September 2007, lot 3196. Signature and date bottom right. Wikimedia Commons. Gemeinfrei. Please click to enlarge onto a big screen.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 23/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 26, 27, 28, 29
Stephen Kovacevich, 2002 (No. 26), 1992 (Nos. 27, 28) and 1994 (No. 30)

Opus 90: Klaviersonate Nr. 27 in e-Moll (1814)
Dem Grafen von Lichnowsky gewidmet. [Moritz von Lichnowsky].   
    Erster Satz: Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck, 5'22"
    Zweiter Satz: Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen, 7'10"
Stephen Kovacevich (1992): 13 min

AA: The first of Beethoven's late piano sonatas. For Wilhelm von Lenz, who first divided Beethoven's output into three periods, it was the last of the middle period. Passions are no longer raging, but there is an extraordinary fullness and depth of feeling.

It starts with striking, dynamic, vigorous questions and proceeds with tender, gentle and undulating answers. A spirit of nobility and generosity prevails. The emotions are direct and gentle. It has been said that for Beethoven, the first movement was about the struggle between head and heart, and the second movement about a dialogue between lovers. Indeed, András Schiff registers the second movement as a duet between a soprano and a tenor.

The sonata is simultaneously extroverted and introverted. Commentators have found in the first movement contractions, expansions, inhibitions, accelerations, connections and disconnections. Intonations in calm, gentle voices, and memories: Romain Rolland states that memories are always in high register.

In the second movement we meet Beethoven the melody maker. The movement is "very singing", as Beethoven himself instructs. The melody is sober, fresh and cheerful. A misleading simplicity contains unfathomable depths.

During the Congress of Vienna, 1814–1815, Beethoven was at the top of his fame, but that was due to hack work such as Wellington's Victory. In the same year he finished his opera Fidelio. By this time, Beethoven himself was no longer able to play his compositions the way he wanted.

András Schiff's Guardian Lecture on piano sonata No. 27 is again a deeply moving work of art in its own right, a companion piece full of reminiscences of predecessors (Bach, Mozart, Haydn) and connections with followers, most prominently Schubert.

I'm beginning to realize that besides Schiff an exceptional commentator of Beethoven's piano sonatas is Anton Kuerti who writes about the ending: "The bitter taste and the unrest that is evoked and left behind by these passages forms a contrast to the songful health of the main theme, and this contrast is dissolved wonderfully in the coda, when the theme swells on majestically in order to present its hidden passions." See more beyond the jump break.


Friday, November 13, 2020

Nabarvené ptáče / The Painted Bird

Václav Marhoul: Nabarvené ptáče / The Painted Bird (CZ/UA/SK/PL 2019) starring Petr Kotlár as Joska.

The Finnish edition of Jerzy Kosiński's The Painted Bird (Kirjamaailma, Rauma, 1967, translated by Asko Salokorpi).

Kirjava lintu / Kirjava lintu – The Painted Bird / Den målade fågeln.
    CZ/UA/SK/PL © 2019 [10 companies]. PC: Silver Screen / Ceská Televize / PubRes / RTVS / Directory Films. Supported by: Ukrainian State Film Agency / Státní fond kinematografie / Audiovizuálny fond. P: Aleksandr Kushaev, Václav Marhoul.
    D+SC: Václav Marhoul – based on the novel (1965, original in English) by Jerzy Kosiński – Finnish translation by Asko Salokorpi (Kirjamaailma, 1967). Cin: Vladimír Smutný – negative: 35 mm – b&w – 2.39:1 – release: D-Cinema. PD: Jan Vlasák. Cost: Helena Rovna. Makeup: Ivo Strangmüller. Prosthetics designer & special makeup effects artist: Rene Stejskal. SFX: Martin Kulhanek. VFX: David Vána. AN: Jaroslav Polensky. M: no original score composition – soundtrack listing: see after the jump break. S: Pavel Rejholec – 12-Track Digital Sound. ED: Ludek Hudec.
    CAST from Wikipedia:
    Petr Kotlár as Joska
    Nina Šunevič as Marta
    Ala Sakalova as Olga
    Udo Kier as Miller
    Michaela Doležalová as Miller's Wife
    Stellan Skarsgård as Hans
    Harvey Keitel as Priest
    Julian Sands as Garbos
    Júlia Vidrnáková as Labina
    Lech Dyblik as Lekh
    Aleksei Kravchenko as Gavrila
    Barry Pepper as Mitka
    Petr Vaněk as Nikodém
    Radim Fiala as Cossack
    Jitka Čvančarová as Ludmila
    Alexander Leopold Schank as SS Officer
    Alexander Minaev as Red Army officer
    Pavel Kříž as Avid man
    Zdeněk Pecha as worker
    Milan Šimáček as Horse owner
    Martin Nahálka as Red partisan
    Dominik Weber as Captain
    Andrej Polák as Doctor in orphanage
    Filip Kaňkovský as Merchant
    Lukáš Hložek
Loc: Poland (Dolnoslaskie), Ukraine, Czech Republic (Brno), Slovakia.
Wikipedia: "It is the first film to feature the Interslavic language; Marhoul stated that he decided to use Interslavic so that no Slavic nation would nationally identify with the story."
169 min
Festival premiere: 3 Sep 2019 Venice Film Festival.
Finnish festival premiere: 21 Nov 2019 Night Visions International Film Festival.
Czech premiere: 12 Sep 2019.
Finnish premiere: 6 Nov 2020 – released by Night Visions Distribution with Finnish / Swedish subtitles n.c.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 13 Nov 2020.

AA: Václav Marhoul's The Painted Bird is a brilliant, impeccable and constantly disturbing account of a little Jewish boy's ordeals in Eastern Europe during the Nazi Feldzug im Osten (the Eastern Campaign), also known as Operation Barbarossa.

It is based on Jerzy Kosiński's acclaimed novel that was believed to be autobiographical until it turned out that Kosiński's family had been rescued by a courageous Polish Catholic family that risked their lives by helping them.

Yet Kosiński's novel is based on personal experience in a wider sense. The atmosphere of unimaginable cruelty and terror is something that he had observed first hand and gave expression to. Perhaps the connection between truth and imagination in this Bildungsroman of childhood is not so different from Dickens's David Copperfield or Tolstoy's Childhood.

The title of the novel and the film refer to a bird painted by children. When it rejoins its flock, other birds peck it to death.

Marhoul's film belongs to a distinguished cycle of Eastern European Holocaust films of the 21th century. Roman Polanski's The Pianist was the true story of the persecuted Wladyslaw Szpilman, supplied with the director's personal memories. Lajos Koltai's Fateless, based on the novel of the Nobel laureate Imre Kertész, boasted perhaps the strongest performance of all in the leading role, that by Marcell Nagy, and went further than any other in the sense that the most disturbing part of the story starts only after the liberation of the concentration camps.

I have not seen Saul fia / Son of Saul by László Nemes, because something in the universally laudatory reviews seemed to betray that this is not a film that I need to see. The same warning feeling I felt also with The Painted Bird.

I admire the impeccable period reconstruction and the astounding cinematography. But I cannot relate to the way in which the depressing cavalcade of sadism is being displayed. I do not understand the approach, the selection of the observation point or the inner core of the director Václav Marhoul in all this.

A controversial book by Norman Finkelstein is called The Holocaust Industry : Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2000). I distance myself from Finkelstein, and his book has nothing to do with novels and their film adaptations.

But "a Holocaust industry" and "an exploitation of Jewish suffering" are also phenomena in culture in a wider sense. There is something unsavoury in the flood of publications about Nazi atrocities. They don't increase our understanding, but they often sell well and win prizes and awards.

These things are complicated. I'm grateful for The Painted Bird the movie for making me think about the mysterious lives of Jerzy Kosiński and Norman Finkelstein, the former a Holocaust survivor and the latter a son of ones. Their works are complex houses of mirrors like the life of The Man in the Glass Booth.

The movie was brilliantly shot on 35 mm black and white stock. In the digital transfer the ultra-sharpness makes nature seem denatured, which may be intentional.