Sunday, July 26, 2020

Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (2016 digital restoration)

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). The long take in the beginning with Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marta), Anita Björk (Rakel), Gerd Andersson (Maj), Eva Dahlbeck (Karin) and Aino Taube (Annette).

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). Anita Björk (Rakel) in the Lady Chatterley episode.

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). Birger Malmsten (Martin Lobelius), Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marta).

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). Eva Dahlbeck (Karin), Gunnar Björnstrand (Fredrik Lobelius).

Ingmar Bergman: Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952). The opening credits.

Odottavia naisia.
    SE 1952. PC: Svensk Filmindustri (SF). P: Allan Ekelund.
    D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. [Based on the story by Gun Grut, n.c.]. DP: Gunnar Fischer – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1. PD: Nils Svenwall. Cost: Barbro Sörman. M: Erik Nordgren. "Danza degli spiriti beati" / "Dans i de saligas ängder" from Orfeo ed Euridice by C. W. Gluck, lyrics Raniero de Calzabigi (1762), Swedish lyrics by Göran Rothman (1773). "(Marta är) Ett rosende träd" comp. Erik Nordgren, lyr. Ingmar Bergman, sung by Birger Malmsten. S: Sven Hansen. ED: Oscar Rosander. Stills: Louis Huch.
    C: Anita Björk (Rakel), Eva Dahlbeck (Karin), Maj-Britt Nilsson (Marta), Birger Malmsten (Martin Lobelius), Gunnar Björnstrand (Fredrik Lobelius), Karl-Arne Holmsten (Eugen Lobelius), Jarl Kulle (Kaj), Aino Taube (Annette), Håkan Westergren (Paul Lobelius), Gerd Andersson (Maj), Björn Bjelfvenstam (Henrik Lobelius). Ingmar Bergman (man in the stairs at the gynecologist's, n.c.), Naima Wifstrand (Mrs. Lobelius, n.c.).
    Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda, Stockholms län). May 1952.
    Loc: Paris, France (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, Arc de Triomphe). Siarö (Stockholms län).
    2945 m / 107 min
    Swedish premiere: 3 Nov 1952.
    Finnish premiere: 3 April 1953 at Maxim, released by Maxim.
    2016 digital restoration.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles by Seija Kerttula.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 26 July 2020.

Fredrik Lobelius: No man is great in the presence of their wife.
Karin: No. God is probably not married.

AA: Waiting Women came about after the Swedish film crisis of 1951–1952: the film business was in doldrums after a strike had halted production. Now Ingmar Bergman was committed to make a commercial film to help save the production company Svensk Filmindustri. As a father of six children he had to save his family, as well.

His previous films had provided new openings: to the political thriller (This Can't Happen Here, a dead end, disowned by the director) and to an assured personal vision (Summer Interlude, his first mature masterpiece). Also Waiting Women was a new opening: after a decade of young rebellion, this was Bergman's first bourgeois film.

I agree with François Truffaut that there is an affinity with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives, but the affinity is not deep. Both stage a meeting of women, and their stories are seen as flashbacks, that's all. The most profound difference is that Mankiewicz was a misogynist where Bergman loves women and is likely to portray men as failures, even when they are winners. (When Fredrik catalogues his achievements, including the fact that he has no enemies, Karin quips: "No friends, either").

There are three main stories flanked by a prologue and an epilogue. The women, waiting for their men at an idyllic summer dacha, confide to each other. The stories are marital, premarital and extramarital. One is about the flesh, the second about the heart, and the third about marriage as a modus vivendi.

The prologue belongs to Annette (Aino Taube) who states that she has nothing to tell. "We're never close to each other. There's never any intimacy or contact." "I have my life. My only life. And that's my life with Paul. I'm sure we loved each other as eagerly as Maj and Henrik do now. But what have we become? Two bowing Chinese."

The first flashback belongs to Rakel (Anita Björk) whose marriage with Eugen (Karl-Arne Holmsten) is no longer physical. An old friend, Kaj (Jarl Kulle, appearing for the first time in a Bergman film), senses the opportunity and acts decisively. The feeling of the summer heat is palpable. We notice the shadow of a large pike lurking in the water. The episode is not a divertissement. It leads close to tragedy. With tact and taste Bergman touches delicate issues such as a woman's need for sexual fulfillment and orgasm. Also Anita Björk appears here for the first time in a Bergman film. The second time was in her final, unforgattable performance as Selma Lagerlöf in The Image Makers (2000).

The second flashback is a memory of Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson) about her adventures in Paris, largely seen as a flashback in a flashback. She gets pregnant by Martin (Birger Malmsten), and in a narcotic state at the maternity ward she hallucinates parts of the story, a device similar to Narkose, the first film adaptation of Letter from an Unknown Woman. The episode has a conventional framework, but with purely visual means Bergman tells a complex story about intimacy and distance, a love story full of misunderstandings. This episode is the heart of the movie. Bergman said that he had been inspired by Gustav Machaty's Ekstase and Nocturno in this episode, but I would see the Machaty inspiration also in the first episode. Ekstase and Rakel's tale are Lady Chatterley stories in the spirit of D. H. Lawrence.

The third flashback is the most famous one. The broken elevator episode about Karin (Eva Dahlbeck) and Fredrik (Gunnar Björnstrand) is Ingmar Bergman's first comedy. It is brilliantly written and even more brilliantly executed by the two stars. It is Bergman's original contribution to the Hollywoodian "comedy of remarriage", the title coined by the philosopher Stanley Cavell. The spark is reignited in Karin and Fredrik's marriage, but for how long? "For the first time I heard people laughing at something I had created", stated Bergman.

The epilogue belongs to the young ones. Annette's daughter Maj (Gerd Andersson, Bibi Andersson's big sister) elopes with Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam). Paul, her father: Let them run away. Marta: What are you saying? Paul: I'm saying let them run away. They'll be back in time. Marta: You think? Paul: The main thing is that they do something they think is forbidden. Marta: Oh, Paul. Paul: Let them have their summer. Soon enough, the hurt, the wisdom, and all that other stuff will come.

In this epilogue Bergman, the father of six children, switches for the first time to the perspective of the parents. His young rebels are now seen from the outside. But in his next film, Summer with Monika, he sided with the young rebels one last time from their perspective.

I have always admired Waiting Women, and seen in it an elegant and engaging movie. For Robin Wood it is much more, and reading the definitive edition of his Ingmar Bergman book I realized that I need to revisit the film. This summer I read for the first time Marianne Höök's book on Bergman (she and Jörn Donner wrote the first book-length studies on Bergman, both in 1962), and for her Waiting Women was a turning-point in "authentic female reality" not only in Bergman's oeuvre but in Swedish cinema in general.

Höök praises Bergman's insight in showing how different women are when they are in the companyof their own. Such accents female audiences registered immediately, as well as the absence of the belittling of women, so taken for granted in films in general.

For Höök the theme of the film is that women's need for love is overwhelming for men. In such circumstances both are resigned to compromises to make life tolerable.

For Höök, the most complex figure is Rakel: hers is the tragedy of a woman who is never given the chance to blossom into full, mature womanhood. Yet, when her husband is humiliated by her lover, Rakel defends the husband and assumes the role of his mother.

In Waiting Women Höök also sees an early crystallization of Bergman's three dominant female types: the triumphant Venus (Eva Dahlbeck), the solidary Diana (Anita Björk) and the youthful Hebe (Gerd Andersson).

It is difficult to determine in which historical period Waiting Women is supposed to take place. From a contemporary perspective, although the viewpoints are entirely feminine, it is clear that the female protagonists are all dependent from their men and defined by those relationships. Perhaps Maj will be different?


Törst / Thirst

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Eva Henning (Rut) and Birger Malmsten (Bertil). Midsummer 1946: the Swedish couple is having lunch while returning from an Italian holiday. Passing through Germania anno zero, the train is surrounded by starving children. Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From: Svensk Filmdatabas.

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Midsummer 1946: passing through Germania anno zero. The train of the affluent Swedes is surrounded by hungry people. Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From: Svensk Filmdatabas.

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Den erotiskt laddade scenen mellan Viola (Birgit Tengroth) och Valborg (Mimi Nelson). Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. "På ett fint och taktfullt sätt hjälpte hon [Birgit Tengroth] mig att for­ma den lesbiska episoden. Det här var ett för sin tid eldfängt stoff." Ingmar Bergman i Bilder. From:

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949). Den cyniske fröken Henriksson (Naima Wifstrand) med sina båda elever Rut (Eva Henning) och Valborg (Mimi Nelson). Foto: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From:

Ingmar Bergman: Törst / Thirst (1949): the final montage of superimpositions starts with Bertil (Birger Malmsten) embracing Rut (Eva Henning). The emblem of the movie, the coin of Arethusa from Syracuse, appears upon them. Night waves crash against the shore. It is Midsummer. Sunlight shines beyond the dark clouds. Fade to black. My screenshot from C More.

Jano / Three Strange Loves / La Fontaine d'Aréthuse.
    SE 1949. PC: Svensk Filmindustri. Produktionsledare: Helge Hagerman. Inspelningsledare: Hugo Bolander.
    D: Ingmar Bergman. SC: Herbert Grevenius. Based on Törst (1948), a collection of short stories by Birgit Tengroth. DP: Gunnar Fischer – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1 – AGA-Baltic. AD: Nils Svenwall.  CH: Ellen Bergman. M: Erik Nordgren. Mozart: "Non più andrai" from Le nozze di Figaro (1786), lyr. Lorenzo Da Ponte, in Swedish "Säg farväl, lilla fjäril" (Bernhard Crusell, 1821), perf. Bengt Eklund. S: Lennart Unnerstad. ED: Oscar Rosander. Stills: Louis Huch.
Eva Henning, Rut, f.d. balettdansös
Birger Malmsten, Bertil, amanuens, konsthistoriker, hennes man
Birgit Tengroth, Viola, Bertils f.d. älskarinna
Hasse Ekman, doktor Rosengren, psykiater
Mimi Nelson, Valborg, Ruts kamrat i balettskolan
Bengt Eklund, Raoul, kapten, Ruts älskare
Gaby Stenberg, Astrid, Raouls fru
Naima Wifstrand, fröken Henriksson, balettlärarinna
Sven-Eric Gamble, glasmästeriarbetaren på Rosengrens mottagning
Gunnar Nielsen, Rosengrens assistentläkare
Estrid Hesse, patient hos Rosengren
Calle Flygare, den danske prästen på tåget
Monica Weinzierl, den lilla flickan på tåget
Else-Merete Heiberg, den lilla flickans mamma, norska
Verner Arpe, den tyske konduktören
Sif Ruud, den pratsjuka änkan på kyrkogården
Gerhard Beyer, tidningsförsäljaren i Basel
Herman Greid, stadsbudet i Basel
Laila Jokimo, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Inga Norin-Welton, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Öllegård Wellton, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Ingeborg Bergius, en av Ruts balettkamrater
Peter Winner, tysk polis
Britta Brunius, sjuksköterskan efter Ruts abort
Inga-Lill Åhström, balettskolepianisten
Erik Arrhenius, en man i kupén med festande tågpassagerare
Carl Andersson, en man i kupén med festande tågpassagerare
Inga Gill, en dam på hotellet
Wiktor "Kulörten" Andersson, portvakt
Gustaf A. Herzing, tysk polis
    Studio: Filmstaden Råsunda, Stockholm.
    Loc: Stockholm, Ornö (Sweden); Basel (Switzerland).
    Censorship: bared inner thigh in the second reel and Valborg's final violent advances to Viola in the fifth reel. – Censurklipp i akt 2 utgår scenerna med lårens blottande upp till blygden och i 5: sista avsnittet av den homosexuella inviten, där Valborg handgripligen söker våldföra sig på Viola (totalt 2 meter).
    2280 m / 84 min
    Urpremiär: 17 Oct 1949 Spegeln, Stockholm.
    Finnish premiere: 21 March 1952 Adlon, released by Adams Filmi Oy.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles (n.c.).
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 26 July 2020.

AA: Ingmar Bergman used to mention Roberto Rossellini as an inspiration to Harbour City, and I sense a Rossellini context even in the Germania anno zero sequence of Thirst, also anticipating a film that the Italian had yet to make: Viaggio in Italia.

The married couple Rut (Eva Henning) and Bertil (Birger Malmsten) are returning from Sicily and Italy during Midsummer 1946, one year after the end of the Second World War. The Syracusan myth of Arethusa, immortalized in ancient Sicilian coins, becomes for them the symbol of the impossibility of love.

In a bold coup Bergman stages a Strindbergian account of a private hell on a train that is passing through the ruins of Europe, surrounded by starving children. During WWII, neutral Sweden prospered while the rest of Europe was devastated.

The marriage hell is put into perspective. Bertil has a callous and resigned attitude to the starvation, but Rut is immediately willing to donate all their food to the children. She has lost a baby in an abortion, as a side-effect of which she has become infertile. But she feels a special tenderness towards children.

In Bergman's cinema, an explicit world historical perspective is rare but not unique. The sequence has been realized with simple means, but the impact is powerful, and for me, it radiates over the director's whole oeuvre.

In the finale Bertil wakes up from a nightmare that he has slain Rut to death. In the bleak final dialogue Bertil confesses that he does not want to be alone and independent, because it would be worse.
    Rut: Worse than what?
    Bertil: Than the hell we have now. At least we have each other.

"Hell on Earth" was a theme that obsessed Bergman all his life, and the most explicit discussion of it had taken place in his previous film, Prison, where the Devil comes to rule on Earth and declares that we can go on like we do now. Apocalypse Now!

Thirst is based on a collection of short stories by Birgit Tengroth (1915–1983), who also appears in the film as Viola (see photo above). Tengroth was a multi-talented professional, a writer and an actress whose career started in the silent days in an uncredited child role in the Jerusalem series based on Selma Lagerlöf (Ingmarsarvet, 1925, directed by Gustaf Molander).

Thirst was Tengroth's penultimate film as an actress. Her last performance in a fiction film was in Flicka och hyacinter / Girl with Hyacinths (1950) directed by Hasse Ekman who plays Dr. Rosengren in Thirst. Both films are among the earliest to convey Lesbianism in Swedish cinema. "For me, men are a closed chapter. I have found the way, a woman's only way to freedom and independence", states the Lesbian Valborg (Mimi Nelson).

Tengroth could hardly endure Karin Swanström, who together with her husband had been heads of production at Svensk Filmindustri; Swanström had introduced transgressive ideas into the Swedish cinema in the comedy The Girl in Tails (Flickan i frack). Tengroth was married to the formidable critic Stig Ahlgren, and the inferno couple in Bergman's Wild Strawberries is reportedly a dead on portrait of Ahlgren and Tengroth.

Marianne Höök in her wonderful book on Ingmar Bergman (1962) credits Birgit Tengroth in waking up Ingmar Bergman to a new level of insight and subtlety in his understanding of the female psyche. "With a refined sense of tact she [Birgit Tengroth] helped me form the Lesbian episode. It was inflammatory stuff for its time", stated Bergman.

Thirst is a story of two solitudes. Rut, now languishing in marriage inferno, has been freed from a relationship with a married officer, Raoul (Bengt Eklund), who made her pregnant and required an abortion which made Rut infertile. She used to be a ballet dancer, but because of an injury she cannot dance anymore.

At the same time in Stockholm the widow Viola (Birgit Tengroth), Rut's dancer colleague, visits her husband's grave. She has even briefly been Bertil's lover, now abandoned and lonely. Suffering from "brain fever", she visits a psychiatrist (Hasse Ekman), who, however, only tries to seduce her. Depressed in Midsummer Stockholm where everybody is partying, she stumbles into yet another dancer colleague, Valborg (Mimi Nelson), and they share a bottle together in her apartment. But when even Valborg proceeds to seduce her, she becomes desolate. The film has started with an image of a dark whirlpool. Viola enters the shore. We notice a ripple. The rest is silence.

In the account of the ballet world, Bergman had home field advantage. The choreographer is his wife Ellen Bergman (née Ellen Hollender, Ellen Lundström before marriage, 1919–2007). Their children are Eva, Jan, Anna and Mats. Ellen Bergman was also a director, theatre manager, playwright and innovator in the theatre world.

The portrait of the psychiatrist is a vicious caricature. In reality, a person like him would lose his licence immediately (but there is a reference in the dialogue that he does not possess a licence in the first place). Professionals of mental health usually admire Bergman, but a psychoanalyst friend of mine cannot stand him, probably partly because of Bergman's open hostility towards the profession. Perhaps Bergman felt that psychiatrists know too much and yet not enough. They could expose his screen memories without truly understanding the delicate borderland between dream and reality.

 "You know nothing about life", Viola says to the doctor. Bergman altered this scene considerably from Tengroth's story. Both Captain Raoul and Doctor Rosengren belong to the hateful authority figures of Bergman's Forties. Rosengren is also a predecessor of the Vergérus lineage, culminating in Bishop Vergérus in Fanny and Alexander. "Your benevolence is a fraud", Viola says to Rosengren.

Bergman's visual expression keeps maturing. His portrait shots are memorable, also in bit parts, including the old woman whom we meet as a patient of Dr. Rosengren. More than before, he uses mirrors in an expressive way, for instance in the multiplied look involved in the scene in the ballet where Miss Henriksson (Naima Wifstrand) examines the two young ballerinas, Rut and Valborg (see photo above). He is a master of the moving camera and the long take but also of the montage technique including in the scene in the train corridor where both Bertil and Rut consider opening the door while the train runs at full speed. Bergman was always fascinated by trains, also in A Lesson in Love, Kvinnodröm / Dreams, and Silence. The film is based on a montage of flashbacks, memories and dreams during the train ride. There is a Buñuelian moment in Rut's summer paradise flashback when Raoul in cold blood catches a snake and drops it into an anthill.

Because Thirst in some ways anticipates Viaggio in Italia, it also anticipates Antonioni's trilogy of solitude. Thirst is an account of existential solitude, with a strong 1940s accent, and a very original feminine emphasis.

What is the thirst all about? A thirst for love, I'd propose.

Rut was disappointed in her relationship with the officer Raoul, and her husband, the humanist Bertil is emotionally challenged. Also dancing was for Rut more than a métier: "For me dancing is not a profession. It is my second home, more real than the regular home". Losing her calling was a blow, and losing her baby and her fertility an even more crushing blow. She drinks a lot, which does not make life better with Bertil. But she has a great reservoir of love and a great thirst for love.

The tiny train cabin of the unhappy Swedish couple is surrounded by the darkness of devastated Europe. Upon learning the full truth of the Holocaust many found that God was dead. There was a widespread thirst for a revival of faith, hope and a reason for living.


Hamnstad / Harbour City

Ingmar Bergman: Hamnstad / Harbour City (1948). Berta Hall as the evil mother who looks forward to Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson) committing a fatal mistake so that she can send her back to the reformatory. The word Berit has written on the mirror with lipstick: "Ensam" ("Alone"). The photo at Ingmar is a mirror image itself. Please click to enlarge and read the word with a mirror.

Satamakaupunki / Port of Call.
    SE 1948. PC: Svensk Filmindustri. P: Harald Molander.
    D+SC: Ingmar Bergman – from the story "Guldet och murarna" by Olle Länsberg. DP: Gunnar Fischer – b&w – 1,37:1. AD: Nils Svenwall. M: Erland von Koch. Songs: "La paloma" / "Den dag, då mitt hem jag bytte mot friska sjön" (1859) sung by Bengt Eklund. "Cantique de Noël" / "O, helga natt" (1847 / 1850 / 1889) sung by Sven-Olof Sandberg. S: Sven Hansen (AGA-Baltic). ED: Oscar Rosander. Unit manager: Lars-Eric Kjellgren. Stills: Louis Huch. Cast:
Nine-Christine Jönsson, Berit (Irene) Holm, fabriksarbetare
Bengt Eklund, Gösta Andersson, stuveriarbetare
Mimi Nelson, Gertrud Ljungberg, hotellstäderska
Berta Hall, Berit's mother
Birgitta Valberg, Agneta Vilander, socialassistent
Sif Ruud, Mrs. Krona, abortör
Else-Merete Heiberg, en skyddshemsflicka
Brita Billsten, en skyddshemsflicka, senare gatflicka
Harry Ahlin, Skåningen, stuvare
Nils Hallberg, Gustav, stuvare
Sven-Eric Gamble, Eken, stuvare
Yngve Nordwall, Tuppen, förman på fabriken / supervisor at the factory
Nils Dahlgren, poliskommissarien
Hans Strååt, ingenjör Vilander, Berits chef, Agneta Vilanders bror
Erik Hell, Berits far, sjöman
Torsten Lilliecrona, Tuppens ena kompis utanför biografen
Hans Sundberg, Tuppens andra kompis utanför biografen
Bengt Blomgren, Gunnar
Hanny Schedin, Gunnars mor
Helge Karlsson, Johan, Gunnars far
Stig Olin, Thomas, pojken i trappan
Erna Groth, skyddshemsflicka
Bill Houston, Joe, negern
Herman Greid, kaptenen på den holländska lastbåten
Kate Elffors, Berit Holm som barn
Estrid Hesse, frälsningssoldat
Brita Nordin, frälsningssoldat
Vanja Rodefeldt, flickan som dansar med Gösta på Wauxhall
Sture Ericson, herr Ljungberg, Gertruds far
John W. Björling, fjärde stuvaren vid kortspelet
Rune Andreasson, swingpjatten som dansar med Berit
Inga-Lill Åhström, polissystern
Siv Thulin , en flicka
Kolbjörn Knudsen, en sjöman
Gunnar Nielsen, en herre
Georg Skarstedt, en herre
Carl Deurell, prästen
Edvard Danielsson, klockaren
Nils Poppe
Åke Engfeldt
    Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda), 27 May – 17 July 1948.
    Loc: Göteborg (Gothenburg), Hindås, train Stockholm–Södertälje.
    2735 m / 99 min
    Premiere: 11 Oct 1948 Göteborg.
    Festival premiere: July 1949 Locarno Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 28 Feb 1954.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles by Seija Kerttula.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 26 July 2020.

AA: Revisited Hamnstad / Harbour City that I last saw 25 years ago in our complete Ingmar Bergman retrospective celebrating the centenary of the cinema. The print screened was probably our own vintage nitrate print. The film has not left an unforgettable impression, but I have always been fond of Ingmar Bergman's early films, even the first five that he directed before Fängelse / Prison.

Hamnstad was the last of the early five, a professional SF production, not based on Bergman's own story but one by Olle Länsberg. Hamnstad was shot on location in the harbour city Gothenburg, familiar to Bergman who had been a theatre director there for three years. Bergman was born into the upper class, but in the beginning he identified with the underdog, the outcasts, the rebels – and the workers.

Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson) is a factory worker, and Gösta a longshoreman, a docker, a stevedore. It is rare in a Bergman film to see factory scenes and stevedores unloading cargo at the dock. There is a sober documentary approach, combined with a poetic vision of the harbour city, photographed by the maestro Gunnar Fischer in his first collaboration with Bergman.

The inspiration of neorealism in general and Roberto Rossellini in particular is justifiably evoked in discussions of Hamnstad, also the affinity of film noir (a term still unknown at the time), but I believe that a further important influence was an earlier film, Marcel Carné's Quai des brumes, one of Bergman's top favourites.

The film starts in fatalistic terms, but I find it refreshing and meaningful that it does not become a tragedy and also that in the finale the doomed lovers decide against escape and instead choose to stay and face the consequences. Life is hard, but they will persist.

Clearly this is the story of Berit, the focus of our identification and Ingmar Bergman's. She's a rebel, and the world is against her. In the beginning she tries to commit suicide, but life is stronger than death, although in a key scene she writes with lipstick on a mirror the keyword: "Alone".

All authority figures are so mean and unfair that the setting is potentially melodramatic. The actors play their roles with dedication, and there are subtle nuances in the performances that prevent the drama from becoming tedious. It is possible to smile at the monster mother who so single-mindedly undermines her daughter, but the lurid quality does not weaken the impact of the psychological minefield. Hamnstad is realistic in its milieu, but a Kammerspiel in its inner concept: a soul fight of the young protagonists, struggling to define their roles at the battleground of life.

Issues such as juvenile delinquency, sexual harassment and abortion are real and urgent, and although Bergman is a stranger in the world he depicts, his love and conviction is obvious and engrossing as he defends his young protagonists' right to live and love.

We can notice passages of original mise-en-scène and a development of the Bergmanian protagonist. Bergman and Fischer take expressive close-ups Nine-Christine Jönsson, the actor, writer and screenwriter. Her interpretation belongs to the same line of characterization as Harriet Andersson's Monika. They please by refusing to please. They are predecessors of Jeanne Moreau.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen: 12 Years a Slave (2013) with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup.

Illustration from: Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave (1855 edition). Photo: Wikipedia.

12 Years a Slave [Finnish theatrical title] / 12 vuotta orjana [Finnish tv title].
    US © 2013 Regency Entertainment (USA) Inc. and Bass Flims, LLC in the US. © 2013 Bass Films, LLC and Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l. in the rest of the world. P: Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt, Bill Pohlad.
    D: Steve McQueen. SC: John Ridley. Based on the memoir Twelve Years a Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup. DP: Sean Bobbitt – negative: 35 mm – source format: Super 35 – master format: digital intermediate 2K – colour – 2,35:1 – released on 35 mm and D-Cinema. PD: Adam Stockhausen. AD: David Stein. Set dec: Alice Baker. Cost: Patricia Norris. Makeup: Ma Kalaadevi Ananda. Hair: Adruitha Lee. VFX: Wildfire Post NOLA. VFX: Crafty Apes. M: Hans Zimmer. S: Ryan Collins, Robert Jackson. ED: Joe Walker.
    C (Wikipedia): Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup / Platt
    Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
    Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey
    Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
    Paul Dano as John Tibeats
    Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
    Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
    Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
    Adepero Oduye as Eliza
    Garret Dillahunt as Armsby
    Scoot McNairy as Merrill Brown
    Taran Killam as Abram Hamilton
    Christopher Berry as James H. Burch
    Chris Chalk as Clemens Ray
    Rob Steinberg as Mr. Parker
    Paul Giamatti as Theophilus Freeman
    Michael K. Williams as Robert
    Bryan Batt as Judge Turner
    Bill Camp as Ebenezer Radburn
    Tom Proctor as Biddee
    Jay Huguley as Sheriff
    Storm Reid as Emily
    Quvenzhané Wallis as Margaret Northup
    Dwight Henry as Uncle Abram
    Loc: Louisiana*, USA, 25 June – 13 Aug 2012.
(*New Orleans, and four antebellum plantations: Felicity, Bocage, Destrehan and Magnolia).
    3684 m / 134 min
    Festival premiere: 30 Aug 2013 Telluride Film Festival.
    US general release: 8 Nov 2013
    Finnish premiere: 24 Jan 2014
    Corona lockdown viewings / Black Lives Matter.
    From the C More platform with Finnish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 25 July 2020.

AA: Only now I see Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, one of the most acclaimed films of the last decade and the most influential slave narrative of our time. It is based on the first-hand account of Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson. McQueen compares it with Anne Frank's Diary as a depiction of the Holocaust. The crimes involved are so overwhelming that they are hard to describe, but a first person singular account can help us get into the heart of the matter.

The production values are excellent in this historical epic. The story is engrossing, contrasting the way of life in free New York with slaveholding Louisiana. The approach is graphic, with justification. It is hard to forget the punishment of Solomon Northup by letting him hang on tiptoes. Or the brutal whipping of Patsey, adding insult to the injury by ordering Solomon to be the whipper (he does so, but he also helps save her life).

The account of verbal violence is also powerful. A terrifying highlight is the slaveholders' vicious anthem "Run Nigger Run".

Steve McQueen's vision is profoundly philosophical, and it is also relevant to Hegel's dialectic of the master and the slave: every sequence bears witness to the insight that where there is slavery, nobody can be free. The best must be crushed because no slave can seem better than the master. The most beautiful must be maimed. Families are destroyed to ensure sole dependence on the owner.

The most acclaimed tale of slavery until the 1920s was Uncle Tom's Cabin. One of the handful of the most powerful books in history, written by "the little lady who started the great war", as Lincoln reportedly said, it has fallen out of favour because of the stereotype of "Uncle Tomism", but I doubt that the detractors have ever read the novel. The books share much of the same ground, and it is illuminating to compare the most inflammatory scene in both. Tom refuses to whip a fellow black slave guy on the cotton field, and as a matter of restoration of discipline, Simon Legree has Tom whipped to death. In my books, Tom displays the greatest dignity and bravery. He dies, but he becomes immortal.

Steve McQueen has directed an unforgettable film. The subject-matter is harrowing, and the director displays a great sense of tact and proportion. I am currently listening to Beethoven's piano sonatas and have reached the year 1801 when the composer became a master of the pedal. Steve McQueen is also kept ultra busy with his set of pedals at his grand piano: the damper, the sostenuto and the soft pedal.

I cannot claim that he succeeds, nor that he fails. The subject-matter exceeds so many faculties of our spirit, and the magnitude of the crime committed is so manifold that the very failure has an aesthetic impact, comparable with a soul singer like James Brown who tries to convey the ultimate passion or suffering and gets out of breath but still manages to take us to the stratosphere.

The film is not full of life. It is often curiously lukewarm although the story is inflammatory. I'm happy about the full colour in the 35 mm photochemical cinematography. Typically for our times, the film is overlong, with scenes needlessly prolonged, as if an expensive prestige film must be prolonged. Most curious is the lack of fire in musical performances. The score written for the film has a regular syrupy dragging quality.

Nevertheless, this film is unforgettable.


Born In Flames

Lizzie Borden: Born In Flames (1983) starring Honey as Honey, host of the Phoenix Radio.

Lizzie Borden at Helsinki Film Festival: Love & Anarchy, 1993.

Kaisa Lassinaro : Born In Flames (2011). A book to Lizzie Borden's film. Published in UK, printed in Belgium. Cassochrome : Occasional Papers, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-9562605-9-8

Född i flammor.
    US © 1983 Lizzie Borden.
    P+D: Lizzie Borden. SC: Lizzie Borden – story and editing consultant: Ed Bowes. Cin: Ed Bowes, Al Santana – 16 mm – colour – mono – 1,33:1. Add. camera incl.: Chris Hegedus. Video of Women in Desert: Phil O'Reilly. SFX: Hisa Tayo / Hisao Taya. Graphics: Dirk Zimmer. Video graphics: Jo Bonney. M: see soundtrack listing beyond the jump break. ED: Lizzie Borden. Special thanks to: Marvin Soloway. And Chris Hegedus, D. A. Pennebaker et al. Produced with assistance from: The Jerome Foundation / C.A.P.S. / Young Filmmakers.
CAST from Wikipedia:
    Honey as Honey, host of the Phoenix Radio
    Adele Bertei [from the bands The Bloods and The Contortions] as Isabel, host of the Radio Ragazza
    Jean Satterfield as Adelaide Norris
    Florynce Kennedy [civil right lawyer and activist] (credited as "Flo Kennedy") as Zella Wylie
    Becky Johnston as Becky Dunlop, newspaper editor
    Pat Murphy as Pat Crosby, newspaper editor
    Kathryn Bigelow [the director] as Kathy Larson, newspaper editor
    Hillary Hurst as the leader of Women's Army
    Sheila McLaughlin as other leader
    Marty Pottenger as other leader/woman at site
    Lynn Jones as other leader
    Bell Chevigny as Belle Gayle, the talk show host
    Joel Kovel as the talk show guest
    Ron Vawter as FBI Agent
    John Coplans as chief
    John Rudolph as TV newscaster
    Warner Schreiner as TV newscaster
    Valerie Smaldone as TV newscaster
    Hal Miller as detective
    Bill Tatum as Mayor Zubrinsky
    Mark Boone Jr. as man in subway harassing woman
    Merían Soto as rape victim
    The first screen appearance of Eric Bogosian (as a technician at a TV station who is forced at gunpoint to run a videotape on the network feed.
    Story contributor Ed Bowes portrays the head of the socialist newspaper that ultimately fires the female journalists.
    The title of the film comes from the music record: Red Crayola: "Born In Flames" (Rough Trade, vinyl 7", GB 1980).
    The director, born Linda Elizabeth Borden, took the name Lizzie Borden from the Massachusetts suspected double murderer Lizzie Borden (1860–1927).
    Festival premiere: 20 Feb 1983 Berlin International Film Festival.
    US premiere: 9 Nov 1983.
    Festival premiere in Finland: 1993 Helsinki Film Festival, in the presence of Lizzie Borden.
    2016 restoration in 35 mm: premiere: Feb 2016 Anthology Film Archives, followed by a world tour.
    Corona lockdown viewings / Women Make Film / Black Lives Matter.
    From the Draken Film platform without subtitles.
    Viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 25 July 2020.

AA: I saw for the first time Born in Flames by Lizzie Borden. It was so much ahead of its time 37 years ago that it is still ahead of its time.

It is a militant piece of feminist futurism.

It is science fiction shot in newsreel style.

It is a key text in Lesbian cinema and Black feminism highlighting a range of issues including independent radio, police surveillance, police harassment and police brutality.

It has been created using the idioms of "the other cinema", "the third cinema" and the countercultural cinema of the era. It is an energetic collage of disparate visual discourses. It is a sum of its contradictions but never confused or chaotic.

It is a piece of media critique, a meta-film, a montage of surveillance tapes, enacted news bulletins, talk shows and staged vérité. A key phrase in the dialogue: "The most important thing is the media".

The soundtrack is a wonderful and passionate compilation of underground, punk, gospel, jazz, rhythm'n'blues and soul.

A Social Democratic war of liberation has taken place ten years ago. New York has a Black mayor, and the President of the US is a Socialist. But discrimination based on race, class and gender goes on.

The scenes of sexual harassment, discrimination and belittling of women and outright sexual violence have lost nothing of their topicality. Women organize self-defense patrols. When women's radio stations (Phoenix Radio and Radio Ragazza) are destroyed, the nonviolent activist groups move towards a guerrilla stance including military exercise and practice at shooting ranges.

The film ends with an explosion on the top of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center – the Women's Army has detonated the antenna of the establishment's television channel.

What I saw was presumably the renowned 2016 restoration of Born in Flames. It has been rendered with good judgement. The gritty sense of the original 16 mm cinematography is conveyed even in a digital presentation on a tv screen.

PS. 24 Oct 2020. Lizzie Borden makes film like Jimi Hendrix played the guitar.


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Mox Mäkelä: Andjust

Mox Mäkelä: Andjust (2020). Please click on the images to enlarge them.

Abraham Tervaluoto: Saloisten vaivaisukko / The Wooden Pauper of Saloinen, 1866. Saloisten kotiseutumuseo, Arkkukari, Raahe. Photo: Wikipedia.

Raahen vaivainen / The Wooden Pauper of Raahe. "Raahen vanha kirkko paloi vuonna 1908, mutta sen tapuli, jonka seinustalla ukko oli, säilyi. Tapuli purettiin uuden kirkon tieltä vuonna 1909 ja ukko vietiin varastoon. Se saatiin Raahen kaupunginmuseoon ilmeisesti vuodenvaihteessa 1911–1912. Ukolla on mustat silmät ja kulmakarvat sekä Prinssi Rohkean tapaan leikattu tukka. Ukon kiinnitysraudan ylä- ja alapuolella on jälkiä, joita voisi tulkita maalatun kirjoituksen jäänteiksi. ”Kirjoitus” vaikuttaa fraktuuralta, ja silmä on erottavinaan numerot 1691. Jos näin on, ohittaa Raahen Prinssi Rohkea iältään Hauhon Bartimeuksen ja olisi näin Suomen vanhin vaivaisukko. Pituus 81 cm, hartiat 20 cm." Photo: Mox Mäkelä. Data: Kirjastovirma.

Andjust. A long audio play movie.
    FI 2020. P+D+SC+DP+S+ED: Mox Mäkelä. Sound studio: Taajuusvarjostin. Narrator: Frank Boyle (English version), Martti Suosalo (Finnish version).
    With: Anders Anttila (Andjust), Ari Arvilommi, Terttu Erdmann, Aulis Junes, Osmie Järvinen, Katja Kiuru, Antti Mäkelä, Petri Kiviniemi, Anna Koskela, Rami Rusinen, Toivo Kamutta, Raakel Kamutta, Raija Anttila, Juha Mäntynen, Leo Martikainen, Martti Suosalo.
    104 min (Finnish version), 110 min (English version)
    English translation: Kristian London.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    A private Vimeo preview link.
    The English version (narrated by Frank Boyle) and the Finnish version (narrated by Martti Suosalo) viewed at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 16–23 July 2020.

Wikipedia: "Pauper statues (Finnish: vaivaisukko, Swedish: fattiggubbe) are alms boxes in the form of carved wooden statues on the outside walls of Lutheran churches in Finland and in Sweden. The statues represent poor and often disabled men or veterans begging for alms. The figures usually have a small metal box inside and a slot in the chest for inserting coins. They were used from the 17th to 19th century for collecting money for the poor."

AA: Two years ago Mox Mäkelä released her first feature film Vieras / Strange with the subtitle "Kuunnelmaelokuva" / "Long audio play movie". It is enjoying a distinguished international run including Tate Modern, and is currently on display in the programme of Sacramento Underground Film & Arts Festival, 23-26 July 2020 (online edition due to the corona lockdown).

Mox Mäkelä is a multi-talented Finnish conceptual artist. Since 1978 she has mounted exhibitions, collages, installations, actions and performances. She has pioneered new approaches in moving images and video projections for environment art. She also creates movies, radioplays and short stories.

Andjust is another long audio play movie, driven by a narrator's voice. In Strange, there were several voices; in this movie, only one: Frank Boyle in the English edition, and Martti Suosalo in the Finnish one. It is a stream of consciousness full of allusions, associations and references.

Again, the visual approach is the opposite of minimalism. Andjust is a work of imagist excess based on collage, bricolage and a collector mania of objets trouvés. It is a Dadaist visual poem based on superimpositions, installations, collisions, animations, reflections and negative images. From sober observations it switches to low angles and majestic landscape views. Mox Mäkelä's cinema emerges from original conceptual ideas of hers. At times I have fleeting associations to others, like Harry E. Smith's occultist Heaven and Earth Magic, but in the approach to animation only.

William K. Everson analyzed the visual approaches of two masters of the Western. In William S. Hart's movies the land is dominant and the skyline is high in the frame. In John Ford's films the skyline is low, and the wide open sky is the dominant motif. Mox Mäkelä is Fordian. The cloud motif was also prominent in Finnish mainstream cinema of the studio era, particularly cumulus clouds, also central in Andjust. A recurrent contemporary image is the wind turbine.

The wabi-sabi aesthetics is another hallmark: the attraction to objects with a patina of time. The wabi-sabi dimension is one explanation to the collector mania of objects that have lost their usefulness. In the cinema the philosopher of this aesthetics is Tarkovsky (Запечатлённое время / Versiegelte Zeit). Mox Mäkelä brings this theme to the extremes of dilapidated houses, mold-ridden conserves and lichen-covered objects.

The vision of the collector mania is seemingly the opposite of Marie Kondo's Konmari discipline, but the overflow of useless things brings us to a parallel parodical viewpoint of the consumer society.

Like in Vieras / Strange, Mox Mäkelä offers a point of observation outside everything. This time the protagonist is not a creature from outer space. Andjust is a war invalid. Like the protagonist of Dog Nail Clipper, the novel by Veikko Huovinen and the movie by Markku Pölönen, he has been hit by a bullet in the head in the war. A piece of metal has stuck in the brain, and he has become an eternal outsider. A village idiot if we want to call him so. The movie is a reflection of his delirium and a catalogue of his obsessions including paranoia and a fear of radioactivity. In him we can look at our reflection in a twisted mirror.

A recurrent parallel figure is the pauper statue, a presence in Nordic Lutheran churches from the age of Queen Christina to the 19th century. They were also often reminders of war invalids who needed our help.

The musical collage has been created with loving care. The compilation score opens new dimensions to what we see. The Narva March is Finland's revered military funeral march that refers to the Great Northern War over 300 years ago. There is a rich mix of classical music from the Baroque (Couperin, Lully) to Romanticism (Saint-Saëns) and Impressionism (Debussy). There are old hymns and popular evergreens (the serene "Sunday Morning", the risqué cuplé "The Cursed Melody"). The music's wabi-sabi flavour is also essential in Mox Mäkelä's time machine.

Andjust is a barrage of sounds and images. Caught in a time warp, the protagonist, lost in his own world, makes us see otherwise. In order to digest everything, I need to stop the overflow from time to time and see this exceptional work in periods of 20–30 minutes at a time.

Like Vieras, Andust is self-financed, made outside all support systems of the establishment, and again the result is a rich, rewarding, ambitious, assured and professional achievement of contemporary art.

Toivo Särkkä: Vaivaisukon morsian / [The Bride of the Wooden Pauper] (1944) with Ansa Ikonen.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 14 "Mondscheinsonate" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)

CD cover art: Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840): Mondscheinlandschaft / Moonlit Landscape. Before 1808. Transparentgemälde. Watercolor and opaque watercolor; the moon, cut-and-pasted insert. 232 x 365 mm; secondary support: 239 x 372 mm. Thaw Collection. 1996.150. While Friedrich’s paintings often feature a moon partially veiled behind clouds, in this work he made the full moon the focal point of the drawing. To emphasize the bright moonlight, Friedrich cut a circle out of the watercolor and then pasted unpainted paper over the hole. With the drawing lit from behind by candlelight, the moon would seem to glow, lighting the pond and the white birch tree in contrast to the dark ground. Provenance: Catherina Dorothea Sponholz (1766-1808), the artist's sister; Caroline Sponholz, the artist's niece; F. Pflugradt, Zingst (a descendant of the Sponholz family; until 1941); Galerie Meissner, Zurich; Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw, New York. Inspired by his belief that "the divine is everywhere," Friedrich painted landscapes of immersion in nature as a mystical experience. His first requirement of a work of art was that it should engage the mind and put the viewer into a "soulful" mood. This is one of two surviving transparencies by Friedrich. The moon is a translucent insertion made to be lit from behind by pulsing lamplight in a dark and silenced room, perhaps accompanied by music. In an image of pantheistic communion, the illuminated moon radiates a mysterious power touching a hallowed human figure, triangulated by the spectator standing in the viewpoint of the reverent artist. Thaw Catalogue Raisonné, 2017, no. 133, repr. From: The Morgan Library & Museum. Please click to enlarge the image. In a sufficient enlargement the human figure turns out to be a statue of Jesus Christ.

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 20/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 12–15
Stephen Kovacevich, 1999 (Nos. 12–14) and 1998 (No. 15)
Opus 27 "Sonata quasi una fantasia"

Opus 27 Nr. 2: Klaviersonate Nr. 14 in cis-Moll „Mondscheinsonate“ (1801)
    SONATA quasi una FANTASIA per il Clavicembalo o Piano=forte composta e dedicata alla Damigella Contessa Giulietta Guicciardi da Luigi van Beethoven Opera 27 No. 2. In Vienna presso Gio. Cappi Sulla Piazza di St. Michele No. 5.
    Erster Satz, Adagio sostenuto, cis-Moll, alla breve, 69 Takte
    Zweiter Satz, Allegretto, Des-Dur, 3/4-Takt, 60 Takte
    Dritter Satz, Presto agitato, cis-Moll, 4/4-Takt, 200 Takte, in diesem Satz wird mehrfach ein Neapolitanischer Sextakkord eingesetzt.

AA: Beethoven called the two sonatas of his Opus 27 "Sonata quasi una fantasia". The second one was not composed with Countess Giulietta Guicciardi in mind but was dedicated to her when the sonatas were printed.

The title "Moonlight Sonata" was given posthumously. There are those who think it trivializes the piece, but I think it is a good title, because Beethoven was a very big nature lover.

Warner Classics has selected as cd cover art Caspar David Friedrich's transparency painting "Mondscheinlandschaft", painted before 1808. Friedrich was the greatest moonlight painter of all times and an inspiration for future moonlight painters. The transparency was meant to be displayed in a dark room with candlelight behind the image. Music could be played, and could there have been a better selection than Beethoven's Opus 27 Nr. 2? It was not yet called the "Moonlight Sonata", but perhaps the title emerged in occasions like this?

Of Beethoven's compositions, the Moonlight Sonata is the most popular on film soundtracks by a huge margin. It has been popular in horror fantasy and Charlie Brown cartoons. It has been the theme music for several television series.

It would not be surprising to learn that live performances of the Moonlight Sonata started as soon as cinemas started to hire pianists, and the popularity is undiminished today. As a cross-section of the Moonlight Sonata's ubiquity in the movies, a sample from the 1940s: The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson, director, Val Lewton, producer, 1943), Kolberg (Veit Harlan, 1945), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Albert Lewin, 1945), Beyond the Pecos (Lambert Hillyer, 1945), Boule de Suif (Christian-Jaque, 1945, starring Micheline Presle), The Cross of Love (Teuvo Tulio, 1945, starring Regina Linnanheimo), Music in Darkness (Ingmar Bergman, 1948, starring Mai Zetterling), So This Is New York (Richard Fleischer, 1948), Somewhere in Europe (Géza von Radványi, 1948) and Le Signal rouge (Ernst Neubach, 1949, starring Erich von Stroheim & Denise Vernac).

The Moonlight Sonata was an instant pop hit. It also became a treasure of mankind.


PS. 23 July 2020. Having written the above I listened to András Schiff's Guardian Lecture on the C sharp minor sonata. "I don't know any other work that has such a thick layer of false tradition on it", Schiff states and goes on to demolish the received approach. We learn about alla breve, the temptation to play the first movement too slowly (slowly enough to manage "lunch, breakfast and dinner"), overtones, ostinato triplets and dotted rhythms. The manuscript exists. You need to forget tradition and restore Beethoven by studying the original score.

The Allegretto movement is for Schiff like a string quartet, and he agrees with Franz Liszt that it is "like a little flower between two abysses".

In the Presto agitato we are "back in the inferno", and back in sonata form. Schiff praises Beethoven as a master of final movements, his sense of architecture and also his role as "the first great composer of the pedal". Pedal markings are essential and precise. Lecturing about the 13. sonata Schiff detected a wonderful new sonority, no doubt also enabled by the mastery of the pedal.

The "Moonlight" title is nonsense for Schiff, the invention of Ludwig Rellstab, a poet immortalized by Schubert in many Lieder in Schwanengesang, including the Serenade (Ständchen). Schiff pays attention to the funeral march rhythm of the Adagio sostenuto and agrees with Edwin Fischer who discovered Beethoven's notes from Mozart's scene where Don Giovanni murders the Commendatore. Beethoven transposed Mozart's theme to C sharp minor and created a death scene of his own.

This makes sense. Schiff also describes the first movement as "a kind of a landscape" and "a nocturnal piece" and characterizes the finale as "visionary, scary music". I don't think we are so far from moonlight any longer... Be it as it may, Schiff's description helps understand why this sonata is in favour in horror fiction. "Night time is the right time" not only for love but also for death.

For Schiff the Adagio sostenuto is "very difficult to define". It is not in sonata form but almost like a Bach prelude, he states. "Melodically almost nothing is happening" according to Schiff as the Adagio evolves in ostinato triplets. For me, Beethoven here also anticipates the cinema's master of the ostinato, Bernard Herrmann, who avoided melody, and perhaps Philip Glass and John Carpenter.

Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840): Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes / Two men contemplating the Moon. Painting. Between 1819 and 1820. Oil on canvas. 35 cm ; 44.5 cm. Galerie Neue Meister. 1830: acquired by Johan Christian Dahl. National Gallery of Norway. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden Dahl Friedrich Faltblatt. Geschenk an Johan Christian Dahl, Johan Christian Clausen Dahl - Fluss im Plauenschen Grund Gegengeschenk Dahls an Caspar David Friedrich. Source / Photographer: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Gemeinfrei. From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click to enlarge the image.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 13 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)

Franz Hegi (1774-1850): Ludwig van Beethoven in Erlengebüsch bei Wien / Beethoven in an alder thicket near Vienna. Ca. 1834. Engraving. 33 x 28.75 cm. This work is in the public domain and therefore the digital images attached to this catalog record may be used without permission. From the collections of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University. From: SJSU King Library Digital Collections.

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 20/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 12–15
Stephen Kovacevich, 1999 (Nos. 12–14) and 1998 (No. 15)
Opus 27 "Sonata quasi una fantasia"

Opus 27 Nr. 1: Klaviersonate Nr. 13 in Es-Dur (1801)
Der Fürstin Josephine von Liechtenstein gewidmet.
    Obschon die Sonate formal keine expliziten Sätze besitzt, ist es dennoch üblich sie in vier Sätze oder Abschnitte zu gliedern. Dabei ist die hier vorgenommene Beschreibung und Gliederung als Vorschlag zu verstehen. Je nach Standpunkt sind auch andere Abgrenzungen und Deutungen möglich.
    Andante, Es-Dur, Allabreve – Allegro, C-Dur, 6/8-Takt – Tempo I
    Allegro molto e vivace, c-Moll, 3/4-Takt
    Adagio con espressione, As-Dur, 3/4-Takt
    Allegro vivace, Es-Dur, 2/4-Takt – Tempo I, 3/4-Takt – Presto, 2/4-Takt
Die Aufführungsdauer der gesamten Sonate beträgt etwa 15 Minuten. (Data from Wikipedia).

AA: Klaviersonate Nr. 13 in Es-Dur, Op. 27 Nr. 1 starts with a simple phrase, hardly a melody, slowly blossoming into a wealth of nuances, harmonies and variations. The serene and lucid Andante grows into a deeply moving monologue intérieur.

Having abandoned the classical piano sonata form in the preceding "Trauermarsch" sonata, Beethoven did not look back, and here there are formally no separate movements, although on my cd the piece is divided into four tracks. They are to be played attacca, without breaks.

This sonata has remained "in the shadow of the Moonlight", Number 2 of the Opus 27, both sonatas publisheded under the joint title "Sonata quasi una fantasia". The thirteenth piano sonata has hardly ever been heard on a soundtrack of a film, but it is a haunting masterpiece.

Adagio con espressione is a piece of Beethoven at his most profound.

I listen to different interpretations. Stephen Kovacevich is sober and appealing. Daniel Barenboim displays noblesse. So does Artur Schnabel who, however, takes shortcuts in rapid and tricky moments. My favourite is Grigory Sokolov. He conveys both a tender sensitivity and an atavistic Urwald sense in a very Beethovenian combination. Listening to Sokolov I'm in a magic forest. In painting, I'm thinking about Ivan Shishkin's "Morning in a Pine Forest". Perhaps because I'm myself in a pine forest where four young bears are roaming. The dancing passages in the Andante and the Allegro vivace evoke the play of bear cubs.


Per Tengström tells about a pianist colleague who had planned to play the complete repertory of Beethoven's piano sonatas but lost his enthusiasm by Number 13 which he found boring. It is boring if you don't find the way to its stratosphere.

Likewise, Romain Rolland was disappointed with Piano Sonata Number 13. For him, it was not a reflection of Beethoven but of the dedicatee, Princess Josephine von Liechtenstein. If this was the case, what an enviable and wonderful reflection. But for Rolland, this piece was shallow and superficial. Yuri Kremlev saw in the Allegro vivace an affinity with Russian and Ukrainian folk dances.

András Schiff also quotes a disappointed expert: Hans von Bülow, the first pianist to have Beethoven's complete cycle of piano sonatas in his repertory. For him such four-square phrases were not worthy of Beethoven. Schiff himself is enthusiastic of the "sonata quasi una fantasia" innovation where "sonata" means discipline and "fantasia" spells freedom. What is new for Schiff here is the wonderful sonority, the fullness of the piano sound, the enhanced use of the two fists of the pianist. In the Allegro molto e vivace he detects anticipations of Schumann's night pieces, and in Allegro vivace an affinity with the Nietzschean concept of the Dionysian.

Ivan Shishkin (1832–1898), bears painted by Konstantin Savitsky (1844–1905): Утро в сосновом лесу / Morning in a Pine Forest. 1886. Oil on canvas. 139 cm (54.7 in); 213 cm (83.8 in). Tretyakov Gallery. "Сосновый бор" (1872)-это "портрет" досконально изученного прикамского леса, где вырос сам художник. Портрет, глубоко правдивый как в общей формуле, так и в мелких частностях, портрет торжественный по своему строю, требующий известной зрительской дистанции и в то же время откровенно личный по отношению к объекту. При характеристике произведений Шишкина выявляется их нерасторжимая художественная целостность, в них одно качество не существует без другого. Так, в его полотнах не выглядят диссонансами ни порхающие бабочки на фоне могучего корабельного леса, ни медведи, взирающие с вожделением на дерево с ульем в сосновом бору, или полевые цветы, пестрящие золотое море ржи и написанные с благоговейным вниманием. Это единый живой мир природы во всей возможной для изображения полноте его воплощений. Шишкин стремился выявить, запечатлеть устойчивые ценности пейзажа. Он создавал образы, в которых природа выражала себя почти в абсолютной степени. Величественный строй его произведений, производный прежде всего от самого объекта, во многом базируется и на постоянном соотнесении малого и огромного, эфемерного и вечного. From: Wikipedia / Tretyakov Gallery. Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 12 "Trauermarsch" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)

Karl Wilhelm Bergmüller (1864–1928): A Beethoven Sonata. Étude Magazine, 1930. Reproduction from an oil painting by C. W. Bergmüller, courtesy of Illustrirte Zeitung, Leipzig. 26 x 31.75 cm. From: SJSU King Library Digital Collections: Beethoven Collections. Please click on the image to enlarge it.

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 20/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 12–15
Stephen Kovacevich, 1999 (Nos. 12–14) and 1998 (No. 15)

Opus 26: Klaviersonate Nr. 12 in As-Dur (1801)
Dem Fürst Karl von Lichnowsky gewidmet.
    Erster Satz: Andante con variazioni, As-Dur, 3/8 Takt, 219 Takte
    Zweiter Satz: Scherzo: Allegro molto, As-Dur, 3/4 Takt, 96 Takte
    Dritter Satz: Maestoso andante (Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe), as-Moll, 4/4 Takt, 75 Takte
    Vierter Satz: Allegro, As-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 169 Takte

Wikipedia: "Aus musikalischer Sicht markiert die Sonate einen konzeptionellen Umbruch in Beethovens Klavierwerk. Standen die vorhergehenden Sonaten noch ganz im Zeichen klassischen Aufbaus, so schließen sich nun mit dieser und den zwei darauffolgenden Sonaten drei sehr experimentelle Klavierwerke an, in denen Beethoven formale Prinzipien des klassischen Sonatenaufbaus verwirft und mit noch nie Dagewesenem überrascht. "

AA: Listening to Beethoven's piano sonatas in chronological order, Klaviersonate Nr. 12 in As-Dur appears as a turning-point. The concept and the structure differ from the predecessors. This piano sonata, and particularly the funeral march, were instantly successful.

The first movement, Andante con variazioni, consists of a theme and five variations. On my CD the first movement is actually divided into six tracks. The variations are laconic, all with a markedly different character. Beethoven elicits great pleasure from the art of the variation. A simple folk melody inspires sophisticated harmonies and a rich array of moods: pastoral, jubilant, dancing, meditative, confrontational, blissful. Beethoven connoisseurs report that Mozart had invented the Variationssatz in his Klaviersonate A-Dur KV 331 (1778), but otherwise this solution was exceptional.

The second movement, Scherzo: Allegro molto, is a pungent transition from the pastoral to the heroic mode.

The third movement, Maestoso andante (Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe), expands Beethoven's register in gravity. It is deeply tragic and without sentimentalism. It has been speculated who the hero is whose death is being mourned. The period was that of the revolutionary wars, but András Schiff says that Beethoven might have been thinking about the funerals of Achilleus and Hector in the Iliad in this piece of noble grandeur that inspired Chopin to compose his own funeral march (le troisième mouvement dit « Marche funèbre » dans la Sonate pour piano no 2 en si bémol mineur, op. 35, 1837). Beethoven also created an orchestral arrangement. It was played in his own funeral.

The fourth movement, Allegro, has been controversial. Romain Rolland thought that the sonata lacked organic unity and was a display of Beethoven's devil-may-care approach. For me Beethoven's concept here evokes John Ford's epics and his way of juxtaposing the sublime with the ridiculous. The hero has been put into the grave, and the funeral band returns home, playing merry melodies. Life goes on.

Besides my "official" Stephen Kovacevich menu I enjoy Sviatoslav Richter and Alfred Brendel's interpretations, András Schiff's Guardian Lecture and Igor Levit's performance on his 2019 box set. It is fresh, original, bright and purposeful.

András Schiff's Guardian Lecture on Beethoven's 12th piano sonata.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Remontons les Champs-Élysées (a Gaumont / Éclair digital transfer)

Sacha Guitry: Remontons les Champs-Élysées (1938).

Remontons les Champs-Élysées. Fantaisie filmée conçue, dialoguée, portée à l'écran et interprétée par Sacha Guitry.
Kärsimysten katu / Lidelsernas gata.
    FR 1938. PC: SEDIF. P: Serge Sandberg.
    D+SC: Sacha Guitry. Chef opérateur: Jean Bachelet. Opérateurs: Marc Fossard et Georges Lucas. AD: René Renoux, Roger Claude et Lucien Carré, ass: Jeanne Étiévant. Cost: dessinés par G. K. Benda, exécutés par Louis Muelle et Granier. Les meubles de style sont tous venus de chez Chalom. Les perruques sont de chez Pontet.
    M: Adolphe Borchard – enregistrée par orchestre des Concerts Pasedelopu au pupitre G. Derveaux. S: J. De Bretagne. ED: Myriam.
    Songs include:
– a song by a young doe (biche) in Parc-aux-Cerfs (The Deer Park)
– the song accompanying the virgin's entry into the royal bedchamber
– a French revolutionary song chanted by the people
– Richard Wagner: Pilgerchor aus Tannhäuser (1845)
– Pierre-Jean de Béranger, a chanson by
– Olivier Métra, waltzes by
– Jacques Offenbach, waltzes by
    C: Sacha Guitry (L'instituteur / Jean-Louis / Ludovic / Louis XV / Napoléon III), Jacqueline Delubac (Flora), Jeanne Boitel (La Pompadour), Lisette Lanvin (Louisette), Pierre Mingaud (Laurent Mourguet), Lucien Baroux (Marquis de Chauvelin), Raymond Galle (Louis XIII), Germaine Dermoz (Marie de Médicis), Emile Drain (Napoléon Ier), Raymond Allain (Eugénie de Mnotijo), Mila Parely (La tricoteuse: la servante de Marat / la fille de Marat).
    Jean Périer (Choiseul), Roger Bourdin (le chanteur des "Ambassadeurs"), Robert Pizani (Richard Wagner / Jacques Offenbach / Olivier Métra), Jean Coquelin (le médecin de Chauvelin), Morton (Lebon), Jean Davy (Ludovic jeune / Jean-Louis jeune), René Fauchois (Marat), Josseline Gaël (la jeune Suédoise / Léone jeune), Jane Marken (la mère de Louisette).
    Jacques Erwin (Louis XIV jeune / le Duc de Montpensier), Maurice Schutz (Louis XIV âgé), Henry Bry (le bonimenteur), Barbara Shaw, Gay Buisson (les sœurs siamoises), Geneviève de St.Jean (la biche), Vonelly (Dubertret), Julien Rivière, Guy Sloux, Pierre Huchet (les valets), Irène Corday (une biche), Jeanne Provost (Mme du Hausset), Jane de Rosalba (une dame d'honneur), Alain Durthal (le médecin du Roi), Léon Walther, Claude Lehmann, René Maupré, Puylagarde, Roussel (les seigneurs), Jean Buquet (Ludovic enfant), Ariane Pathé (Madame du Barry), Anna Scott (la dauphine), Jean Hébey (le dauphin), Gaston Dubosc (l'abbé Maudoux), Jacques Berlioz (le Duc de Bouillon), André Laurent (Jean-Jacques Rousseau), Paul Villé (Guignol), Pierre Mingand (le montreur de marionnettes), Henry Houry (un orateur), Louis Allibert (Bonaparte), Madeleine Foujane (l'impératrice Marie-Louise), Marie-Claire Pissarro (la servante), Philippe Richard (Louis XVIII), Robert Deller (Charles X), André Marnay (le roi Louis-Philippe), Georges Grey (le Duc de Joinville), Andrée Berty (une servante), Mme de Morlaye (la reine Marie-Amélie), Dorival (l'aubergiste), Violette Fleury (la fille de l'aubergiste), Raymonde Allain (l'impératrice Eugénie), Marika (la pianiste), Pierre Juvenet (le Duc de Monty), Georges Derveaux (Olivier Métra ), Jeanne Helbling (la femme du professeur).
    Janine Darcey (une biche), Claire Gérard (une dame au café), Renée Gardès (une tricoteuse), Jean Marais (l'abbé-précepteur chargé de veiller à l'éducation du jeune Ludovic).
    Genre: Comédie.
    108 min / 2950 m [Finland 1940],100 min, 97 min
    Date de sortie: 1 Dec 1938.
    Finnish premiere: 10 Nov 1940 Rea, released by Kino Filmi O.Y.
    Telepremiere: 5 Feb 1969 Yle TV1.
    A Gaumont / Éclair digital transfer.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    Viewed from the MUBI platform, 98 minutes with English subtitles by Éclair, at a forest retreat in Punkaharju on a tv screen, 10 July 2020.


"La longue et belle histoire des Champs-Elysées est racontée par un professeur à ses écoliers, en feuilletant l'album de famille de quatre générations ayant vécu aux Champs-Elysées".

"L'ancêtre, c'est Louis XV en personne. L'une de ses maîtresses, le Bien-Aimé a un fils illégitime qui épousera plus tard la fille de Marat. Ils auront à leur tour un garçon qui épousera la fille naturelle de Napoléon Ier. Ce troisième couple aura un fils qui épousera la fille naturelle d'un grand républicain, et ceux-ci, enfin, auront un garçon qui porte en lui – par la main gauche – du sang de Louis XV, de Marat, de l'Empereur et d'un républicain."

"Cet enfant ne sait pas très bien s'il doit mettre sa main droite sur son cœur – comme Louis XVI à l'échafaud – dans l'ouverture de son gilet – comme l'Empereur à Austerlitz – ou bien s'il doit lever le poing..."

Au cours de ce film, on verra notamment:

– Une chasse à courre sous Louis XIII.
– Louis XIV remontant les Champs-Elysées.
– La mort de Louis XV.
– La foire aux montres, installée au Rond-Point.
– Les duels dans les allées obscures.
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, dans un rôle (imprévu) d'architecte.
– Richard Wagner, chef d'orchestre malchanceux.
– Le premier guignol dont le directeur est Guillotine, en 1793.
– L'armée allemande défilant en 1871.
– Les Alliés en 1918.
– Le roi d'Angleterre en 1938. (From the official program of the film).

AA: A lavish spectacle, a historical cabaret with Sacha Guitry as the master of ceremonies / schoolmaster. He is literally giving a history lesson to a class of schoolchildren, but performs his task in an irreverent manner, including subjects unsuitable for children.

It is a history of les Champs-Élysées, named after the Elysian Fields, the final resting place of dead heroes. The avenue runs from la Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. In Guitry's hands the yarn grows into a history of France as a collection of vignettes, anecdotes and curiosities.

It is also a family history (a bit like Mark Twain's parody "autobiography") in an imaginary "shadow lineage" with ancestors dating back to Louis XV, Marat and Napoléon – all culminating in the schoolmaster / puppeteer narrator played by Guitry. His parents are of course the legendary figures' illegitimate offspring, themselves unknown in history books. To demonstrate how near we are to the past we are told that the teacher's mother is still alive at the age of 116.

Ernst Lubitsch directed a cycle of historical films like Madame Dubarry and Anna Boleyn in Weimar Germany, and Alexander Korda, probably inspired by Lubitsch, launched his own cycle in England in the 1930s, starting with The Private Life of Henry VIII. For Siegfried Kracauer, Lubitsch banalized and trivialized history in films in which world-historical epochs were reduced into bedchamber anecdotes. It is not quite wrong nor quite right to think so. Lubitsch did have a sense of tragedy and a vision of absolutism in his spectacles.

Guitry obviously knew his Lubitsch and Korda when he launched his series of historical satires or cultural causeries with Les Perles de la couronne (1937). Much is original: Guitry's own boniment, his sense of the absurd and his skill in the razor-sharp cut or transition. The young Louis XV enters a carriage and leaves it instantly from the other side as an old man 50 years later. In one of the most memorable scenes the young Bonaparte meets the old Napoléon and challenges him about Republicanism.

I don't know if there is any historical accuracy in Jean-Jacques Rousseau appearing as a young architect after whose drawing the Café Les Ambassadeurs will be built, or Richard Wagner applying for a position of a conductor there and being promptly fired after the premiere of the Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhäuser.

The soundtrack is wonderful and is in itself a musical history of France. I would love to see a soundtrack listing; I tried to compile some notes in the credit listing above. This aspect of the film belongs to the same lineage as Ettore Scola's Le Bal.

The Me Too aspect of Remontons les Champs-Élysées is inflammatory, particularly in the Parc-aux-Cerfs (The Deer Park) sequence. To sum up: France before the Revolution is presented as an endless brothel, in which all women (including underage "deer") are fair game for the inextinguishable appetites of the King, and other men are free to enjoy his "leftovers". A bit like in the topical Jeffrey Epstein / Ghislaine Maxwell case, La Pompadour is seen as the senior administrator of the sex traffic.

I paused to think whether this story could be produced today. My conclusion is yes. Maybe it should be, and the screenwriter and the director should be women. The presence of the Tricoteuses de la Révolution, already conspicuous, might be expanded.

The history of France, and its bonimenteur Sacha Guitry, are seen as a sum of their paradoxes and contradictions. Guitry leads a double life as a teacher (on weekdays) and puppeteer (on Sundays) and has married a woman whom he found as a "baby abandoned, baby found" on les Champs-Élysées (abandoned, "but not by one of the Presidents of the Third Republic").

Together with his 10-year son he is not sure whether he should put his hand on his heart like Louis XVI, in his tunic like the Emperor, or in a fist like his great-grandfather Marat. But he knows one thing very well: "in any circumstances there are three words we can all agree on: Vive la France!"