Friday, December 31, 2021

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2021: my favourites

Rahul Jain: Invisible Demons (FI 2021), a visionary, apocalyptic documentary essay shot in Hindi in India.

Senses of Cinema has again published its megalomaniac World Poll, and I had the honour to participate. The first list covers new releases and the second one older films rediscovered. It was the strangest year in film history. Never have I enjoyed more returning to the cinema, a symbol of which was the global, much postponed release of Daniel Craig's last James Bond film No Time To Die.

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019).
Hemingway 1–3 (Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, 2021). Screener.
Druk (Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)
Dinosaurus (The Dinosaur, Veikko Aaltonen, 2021). Tampere Film Festival online.
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)
Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020)
Ammonite (Francis Lee, 2020)
Fucking with Nobody (Hannaleena Hauru, 2020)
The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020)
Ikuiseen rauhaan (Ville Suhonen, 2021). A sober documentary portrait of the Finnish conscientious objector Arndt Pekurinen (1905–1941) who was executed on the Eastern front in WWII. The title is Finnish for Immanuel Kant’s study Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace).
Gosudarstvennye pokhorony (State Funeral, Sergei Loznitsa, 2019). Midnight Sun Film festival online.
Dorogie tovarischi (Dear Comrades!, Andrei Konchalovsky, 2020). Midnight Sun Film festival online.
Sokea mies joka ei halunnut nähdä Titanicia (The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, Teemu Nikki, 2021)
Guled & Nasra (Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, 2021)
The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, 2021)
Invisible Demons (Rahul Jain, 2021)
Spencer (Pablo Larraín, 2021)
Annette (Leos Carax, 2021)
The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw, 2020)

The Rain People (Francis Ford Coppola, 1969). Screener. A subtle and refined 2019 American Zoetrope restoration of a lasting achievement of the American New Wave.
Moonlight on the Highway (James MacTaggart, 1969, SC: Dennis Potter). YouTube. In memoriam Sir Ian Holm, a Dennis Potter revelation, predecessor of Pennies from Heaven.
Fehérlofia (Son of the White Mare, Marcell Jankovics, 1981). In memoriam Marcell Jankovics, a 2019 restoration of a Hungarian psychedelic animation drawing on ancient myths of Scythians, Huns and Avars. Midnight Sun Film Festival online.
Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959). A poetic documentary epic about people working at the salt dunes of Venezuela. A brilliant Milestone Film & Video restoration seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato.
George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (George Stevens, Jr., 1984). Seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato, one of the most deeply moving portraits of a film director, the Dachau scene its burning center.
Lumumba, la mort du prophète (Lumumba, Death of a Prophet, Raoul Peck, 1991). Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Raoul Peck’s breakthrough film radiates intelligence, complexity and energy.
Sambizanga (Sarah Maldoror, 1972). Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A luminous and refined achievement of militant cinema.
Les Oliviers de la justice (James Blue, 1961). Restoration of a multi-dimensional drama of French life during the Algerian war. Il Cinema Ritrovato.
Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow, 1949). American politics as a Faustian pact with Ray Milland’s Nick Beal as Mephisto. Essential film noir. Il Cinema Ritrovato.
Kummatty (The Boogeyman, Govindan Aravindan, 1979). Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A haunting, poetic discovery of Malayalam cinema.
Il mulino del Po (The Mill on the Po, Alberto Lattuada, 1949). Restored by Cineteca di Bologna, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A neorealist historical epic worthy of La terra trema.
Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng (A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher, Yun Dae-ryong, 1948). Digital reconstruction by Korean Film Archive of a late sonorized silent film. An anachronistic production and reconstruction, yet indispensable because of the byeonsa (voice narrator) Sin Chul, a representative of ancient oral traditions. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

I’m fed up with distant work, online meetings and virtual festivals. I was never happier than visiting the live edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, although in Pordenone I was mostly distant working at my hotel room. There has never been such turbulence in the film world, and it was so exhausting that in 2021 I missed most films I wanted to see and had little energy to write.

Antti Alanen, film programmer (KAVI / National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki)

Saturday, December 25, 2021


Paul Verhoeven: Benedetta (FR/NL 2021) starring Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini.

Benedetta / Benedetta.
    FR/NL © 2021 SBS Productions, Pathé, France 2 Cinéma, France 3 Cinéma. Co-PC: Topkapi Films ; Belga Productions. P: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt, Jérôme Seydoux.
    D: Paul Verhoeven. SC: David Birke & Paul Verhoeven – inspired by the book Immodest Acts : The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (1986) by Judith C. Brown. DP: Jeanne Lapoirie – colour – 2.39:1 – source format: ARRIRAW 3.4K – master format: digital intermediate 2K – release: D-Cinema. PD: Katia Wyszkop. Cost: Pierre-Jean Larroque. Makeup: Odile Fourquin. Hair: Virginie Duranteau. SFX: Paulo Galiano. VFX: Alain Carsoux.
    M: Anne Dudley. M selections:
– Hildegard von Bingen
– "Dies irae" (Gregorian chant probably from the 13th century, probably by Tommaso da Celano) arr. Erik Nordgren for Det sjunde inseglet (1957).
    S: Jean-Paul Mugel. Mixing: Cyril Holtz. ED: Job Ter Burg. Casting: Stéphane Batut.
    C: Virginie Efira (Benedetta Carlini), Charlotte Rampling (Sœur Felicita – Abbesse), Daphné Patakia (Bartolomea), Lambert Wilson (Le Nonce), Olivier Rabourdin (Alfonso Cecchi), Louise Chevillotte (Christina, daughter of the Abbesse), Hervé Pierre (Paolo Ricordati), Clotilde Courau (Midea Carlini), David Clavel (Giulinao Carlini), Guilaine Londez (Sœur Jacopa).
    131 min
    Filming dates: 16 July – Sep 2018.
    Loc (from IMDb): – Montepulciano (Siena, Tuscany, Italy). – City gate: Porta al Prato. – Convent church interiors: Abbaye de Silvacane (Route de La Roque d'Anthéron, La Roque d'Anthéron, Bouches-du-Rhône, France). – Convent interiors: abbaye cistercienne, Le Thoronet, Var, France. – Piazza Filippo Silvestri: convent exteriors of Bevagna (Perugia, Umbria, Italy). – As Florence, devastated by the plague: Perugia (Umbria, Italy).
    Languages: French and Latin.
    Festival premiere: 9 July 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 17 Dec 2021, released on 4K DCP by ELKE / NonStop Entertainment with Finnish subtitles by Kanerva Airaksinen.
    Corona precaution: 100% capacity with vaccine passport, hand hygiene, obligatory face masks.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 25 Dec 2021.
AA: Paul Verhoeven, like Quentin Tarantino, is a master of the lavish art exploitation cinema. They make films that satisfy genre expectations and obey genre conventions. They also transcend them.

The typical convention of nunsploitation cinema is the figure of the sex-obsessed nun. It is a woeful cliché and a flagrant affront to the noble legacy of monasteries.

But it is in the nature of the cinema to be subversive and transgressive. Cinema is the art of the dream mode, as defined by Susanne Langer. It has direct access to the unconscious. The lure of the offensive is irresistible. Taboos are to be broken.

The central emblem in Benedetta is a pocket Virgin Mary statuette doubling as a vibrator. (Based on reality, such an object is mentioned among others by Eduard Fuchs in his Illustrierte Sittengeschichte. I seem to remember that Luis Buñuel was fascinated by the phenomenon).

Staging scenes of unapologetic sexploitation, Verhoeven does not limit himself to luscious Lesbian love scenes in the interest of the male gaze. As proudly interpreted by Virginie Efira as Benedetta and Daphné Patakia as Bartolomea, his film is a celebration of female power and emancipation. Men appear as predators. Among women, love is possible.

The characters may be lacking in realism and nuance, but they are complex and haunting. The performances of Virginie Efira and Daphné Patakia are too modern to be historically convincing. They wear nuns' habits; their habitus is secular. They certainly are charismatic. The film as a whole is well cast.

Verhoeven has little patience with the sacred. Religion and the church appear as mere mystification, hoax and deceit. Even Sister Benedetta is not free from a huge, life-size lie, or perhaps she is capable of a magnificent self-deception. There is a grand paradox. Benedetta's faith is genuine, and hers is a true power of the spirit. We are left to contemplate: is her faith based on self-deception? Or does her faith have a more profound fountain, too overwhelming for available conventions and expressions to convey? For me, the answer is a bit of both, gravitating towards the second one.

The novelty of the figures of Benedetta and Bartolomea is that they are true believers who are frank about sexuality. In contrast to the rest of the world, they are not hypocrites. They succeed in integrating their faith with their sexuality. The power of the spirit and the power of sex are one.

The physical production of the film, designed by Katia Wyszkop and shot on location, is vivid and engaging but at times with a digital animation look. The film has been shot in Tuscany, in the heart of the Renaissance, where the actual events took place during the Counter-Reformation.

A hundred years have passed since Luther's theses against the hypocrisy of the Vatican, condemning indulgence payments for instance. In Verhoeven's film corruption is rampant. Salvation can be bought, and the Nuntius (Lambert Wilson) breaks his vow of celibacy, sleeping with prostitutes and impregnating his maid while condemning a genuine love between nuns.

It is an age of discrimination of women and persecution of sexual diversity. It is also an age of persecution against Jews who were cast as scapegoats for the plagues. This is reflected in the figure of the Jewish nun, Sister Jacopa (Guilaine Londez).

The cinematography by Jeanne Lapoire is eloquent. The interiors are candlelit, and the warm glow is appealing and sensual. Verhoeven studied Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Part II for double camera set-ups in tight corridors, and pays homage to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal in crowd scenes of plague, persecution and burning at the stake.

Anne Dudley's score is enchanting, with passages from Hildegard von Bingen and the Gregorian chant "Dies irae" with cinematic resonances from Lang (Metropolis), Dreyer (The Day of Wrath) and Bergman (The Seventh Seal) to Kubrick (The Shining).

The premiere of Benedetta, shot in 2018, was postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic. It is uncanny how powerfully its epic scenes of plague and lockdown resonate in this year.

NB. Paul Verhoeven has a special attraction to a brave, intelligent and highly-pheromoned blonde heroine. In the beginning there was Renée Soutendijk (Spetters, The Fourth Man). In Hollywood he cast Sharon Stone (Total Recall, Basic Instinct). In Showgirls there was Elizabeth Berkley, in Black Book, Carice van Houten and now we are stunned by Virginie Efira. (Not ignoring Verhoeven's great non-blondes such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Gershon and Isabelle Huppert).

Thursday, December 23, 2021


Anna Eriksson: W (FI 2022).

Anna Eriksson: W (FI 2022).

FI 2022. PC: Ihode Cursum Perficio Production. P+DP: Matti Pyykkö.
    D+SC+PD+AD+Set Design+Cost+Make-up+VFX+S+Sound Design+ED+Casting: Anna Eriksson. M: Anna Eriksson, Juri Seppä. S mixing: Anna Eriksson, Juri Seppä, Jaakko Heikura, Tuomas Seppänen.
    C: Anna Eriksson, Hanna Trygg, Jussi Parviainen, Parco Lee, Jooseppi Pyykkö, Iida Rauma, Ninja Sarasalo, Karina Kivilahti, Kirsi Nisonen, Marianna Uutinen, Eeva Trygg, Minttu Vesala.
    101 min
    Preview at K13, Finnish Film Foundation, Helsinki, 23 Dec 2021.
    HIFF (Helsinki International Film Festival Love & Anarchy) preview link viewed at home in Lappeenranta, 9 July 2022.

Ihode Cursum Perficio official synopsis: "Europe is a mortally sick woman who is killing time with her Chinese Man Machine. They are at their last post. Outside lies a snow covered wasteland. "
" Elsewhere, on a glacier is an institute, where a group of nurses are faithfully playing their regressive part in the execution of a new world order. Their trance is disrupted by a stranger. "
" All is lost. The final act is about to begin

AA: W is M upside down, and Anna Eriksson's new film is the antithesis of its predecessor.

A primal scream is unleashed in a mystery play that seems to happen in the waiting-room of Weltuntergang. Faces are masks, bodies are battlegrounds of surgical cruelty. Associations run from the shock value of female splatter to the flesh impact of performance art. Blood, milk, sweat, spit, sperm and urine run in liberal quantities. In M, a woman was the object of the look. In W, Eriksson returns the look and assumes a Medusa visage, turning the spectator into stone. Even mirrors reflect masks.

Desolate corridors and soundtrack references evoke the cosmology of Stanley Kubrick, but Kubrick's Lux Aeterna has disappeared. It has been replaced by darkness which tightens around us as we enter interior and exterior prison camps, guarded by severe nurses. We are living like there is no tomorrow, and on the final beach a cosmic draught is blowing. The snowdrift in the beginning of it all resembles television static.

In the heart of the nightmare are the sins of the fathers: incest, rape, and abortion, punished with castration, genital mutilation and self-cutting. The sado-masochistic martyr in W shares the fate of Lulu in Pandora's Box and Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. From the unhealed scars of sexual violence thoughts lead to the sounds of war dominating the soundtrack in the finale and to structural violence denying women's self-determination over their own bodies.

Rakkautta & Anarkiaa / Love & Anarchy: 35th Helsinki International Film Festival Catalogue, September 2022, Next Level Gala, 16 September 2021, Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Sandarmohin suru

Kanerva Cederström: Sandarmohin suru (FI 2021). Wikipedia.

Kanerva Cederström: Sandarmohin suru (FI 2021). Yle Areena.

Kino Regina, Keskustakirjasto Oodi, ma 13.11.2021 klo 17


Kaksitoista tarinaa suomalaisista, joiden sukulaisia teloitettiin Neuvosto-Karjalassa Sandarmohin metsässä 1937-1938. Stalinin vainot olivat pahimmillaan 1930-luvun lopulla, jolloin pelkästään suomalaistaustaisia teloitettiin NKVD:n toimesta tuhansittain. Läheinen ei saanut tietää, minne perheenjäsen katosi - todennäköisimmin Karhumäessä sijaitsevan metsän joukkohautoihin luoti niskassaan. Dokumentti antaa kasvot ja äänen Stalinin vainojen uhreille ja valottaa unohdettua historiaa. Ohjaaja: Kanerva Cederström. Tuotanto: Cinema Obscure.

Kuva: HD, 16:9
Ääniraidat: suomi stereo
Tekstitys: ohjelmatekstitys (suomi)
Katsottavissa vain Suomessa


“Yksi kuolema on tragedia, miljoona kuolemaa tilastotieto.”

Suomesta pakeni sisällissodan jälkimainingeissa Venäjän Karjalaan 10–13 000 ihmistä. 1930-luvun vaihteessa itärajan ylitti eri syistä 15–20 000 henkeä – kuka työn ja paremman elämän perässä, kuka äärioikeiston muiluttamana. Yhdysvalloista ja Kanadasta muutti noin 7000 työläistä sosialistista paratiisia Neuvosto-Karjalaan rakentamaan.

Stalinin vainot olivat pahimmillaan 1937–38, jolloin pelkästään suomalaistaustaisia teloitettiin NKVD:n toimesta tuhansittain. Läheinen ei saanut tietää, minne perheenjäsen katosi – todennäköisimmin Karhumäessä sijaitsevan Sandarmohin metsän joukkohautoihin luoti niskassaan.

Kanerva Cederströmin elokuva on minimalistinen. Uhrien sukulaisten haastattelujen ohella kuvamateriaali on niukkaa: valokuvia, artikkeleita, asiakirjoja. Musiikkia käytetään harkiten. Suru onnistutaan tallentamaan ilman katsojan manipulointia, esimerkiksi hiljaisella otoksella murhattujen valokuvien täyttämästä Sandarmohin metsästä, vain lintujen viserryksen soidessa taustalla.

Dokumentti luettelee historian karut tilastot: suomalaisia Karjalassa tuomituista oli 41,3 %, joista 88,3 % ammuttiin, joukossaan 17 Suomen kansanedustajaa. Myös teloitusten toimeenpanijat saavat nimensä kankaalle.

Sandarmohin kaltaisia suomalaisten työläisten ja vasemmistolaisten massamurhia ei lähihistoriassa montaa ole. Silti elokuva kertoo Suomen olevan ainoita valtioita, jolla ei ole kuolleille kansalaisilleen muistomerkkiä alueella.

Joonatan Nikkinen

Suunnittelu, käsikirjoitus ja ohjaus
Kanerva Cederström

Niko Väistö

Aku Koskinen

Äänitys ja äänisuunnittelu
Iivo Korhonen

Kalevi Aho

Agotprikatistien laulu, säv.trad., sov. Arto Rinne, sanat Frank Korpela, es.Sattuma ja Suistamon sähkö

Iivo Korhonen

Jerry Strengell

Esa Mattila

Niko Väistö

Cinema Obscure
ELO Film School

Kuvattu Helsingissä Kansallisarkistossa ja Karjalassa Sandarmohissa

Henkilöt, esiintymisjärjestyksessä
Raija-Liisa Mäkelä
Ossi Kemppinen
Paavo Keränen
Ilpo Heikkilä
Sirpa Evwaray
Pia Granroth
(Kaisa Johansson, tekstinä)
Erkki Yrjänheikki
Heikki Palaskari
Seija Jalagin
Keijo Aho
Aimo Ruusunen

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä: Valkokankaan valtakunta: elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä] ( a book)

Helsingin Kirjamessut / Helsinki Book Fair, Program Arena Esplanade, Saturday, 30 October 2021, Teos Publishing House: discussion with Kalle Kinnunen (left) and Jukka Mäkelä (center) on the book: Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä:  Valkokankaan valtakunta: Elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä], hosted by Antti Alanen (right). Photo: courtesy Tero Koistinen.

Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä: Valkokankaan valtakunta : elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä]
    Kinnunen, Kalle , author, interviewer, 1977–
    Mäkelä, Jukka , interviewee, 1952–
    317 pp + 16 pp illustrations; 22 cm
    Published: Helsinki : Kustannusosakeyhtiö Teos 2021
    Printed: Estonia : Mediazone OÜ
    Photo sources: Jukka Mäkelä archives
    ISBN 978-952-363-134-2 hardbound

The Mäkelä family has been prominent in Finnish film exhibition, distribution and production since 1920, and its saga has been covered in distinguished books: Kari Uusitalo's biography of Väinö Mäkelä, the founding father, and the memoirs of Mauno Mäkelä, the canny film producer.

Peter von Bagh directed a tv series called Fennadan tarina [The Fennada Story; Fennada was the name of the Mäkelä film production company], and Taru Mäkelä has made a documentary called Saalis : tarua ja totta Mäkelän suvusta [The Catch : Truth and Fiction about the Mäkelä Family; the title refers to the passion for hunting and shooting running in the family].

Valkokankaan valtakunta [The Empire of the Screen], the new book by Kalle Kinnunen and Jukka Mäkelä is the most devastating of them all. Its unique strength is an inside view into Jukka Mäkelä's coming of age in a film family. The towering figures of the two previous generations were highly present in Jukka's childhood and youth.

The great dramatic core of Jukka Mäkelä's story is the founding of the Finnkino company in 1986, which meant a total transformation of the Finnish film business in a series of multiple mergers and reorganizations involving 31 film companies. Finnkino still remains the central film company in Finland, but the Mäkelä family's involvement ended in 1994 when the company was bought by Rautakirja / Sanoma, further sold to Swedish, British, Chinese, and most recently to American owners. The feat of renovation and redevelopment was achieved by the Mäkeläs, the yield scored by their successors.

As a film producer Jukka Mäkelä was among the last to have worked with giants of the old guard such as Edvin Laine, Mikko Niskanen and Rauni Mollberg. He also met the young guard when they were only starting, people such as Renny Harlin and Markus Selin. I was not aware before reading this book that Jukka Mäkelä's ties were this close since the beginning with Mika and Aki Kaurismäki.

On a personal note, my experience of the Mäkeläs has always been positive. In Tampere in 1976 when we established the film society Solaris, its venues were Hällä and Häme, belonging to Kinosto, the Mäkelä family business, run there by Kirsi Mäkelä. When I started at the Finnish Film Archive in 1985, I got introduced to the old guard of the Finnish film business in the nick of time – by autumn 1986 it was already the young Finnkino team that was calling the shots, and this modern team had a positive attitude to film culture, including Midnight Sun Film Festival and Love & Anarchy the Helsinki International Film Festival. At the Finnish Film Archive we admired Finnkino's positive outlook and commitment to the Finnish cinema. Every Finnish film was guaranteed distribution in Finnkino's cinemas.

The last big Finnish film production of the 1980s was Talvisota / The Winter War. It was a huge hit domestically, but its international breakthrough failed to materialize. It premiered on the 50th anniversary day of the winter war, on 30 November 1989. World history intervened: the Fall of the Wall had just taken place on the 9th of November. At the Berlin Film Festival in next February the topic of the Finnish war film seemed marginal and obsolete.

Valkokankaan valtakunta is the self-portrait of a classical man of the cinema: born into cinema, breathing cinema, veins pulsing with cinema. The approach is subjective, Kalle Kinnunen editing copious notes of his interviews with Jukka Mäkelä. It belongs to the Herodotus school of "relata refero", "telling what I was told", λέγειν τὰ λεγόμενα ("legein ta legomena"). It is an invaluable document of the insider view of Jukka Mäkelä.

The book is also a courageous and harrowing saga of work orientation escalating into insanity. The Finnish term is "työhulluus" ("work madness"), a word stronger than mere "workaholism".

But the book is also a honest account of alcoholism proper, this national disease of ours in Finland, rampant among film people and creative folks. It is a tragic tale of loss, including loss of relationships, loss of positions and a loss of health. It is a tale of survival and overcoming alcoholism.

The traces left by Jukka Mäkelä's team in the Finnish film industry have been durable, both in the continuity of Finnkino and the legacy of Finnish film production.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo (a book)

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo : Hitchcock's Masterpiece Then and Now. Herts (UK): John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Distributed worldwide by: Indiana University Press. 2021. 241 p. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: ISBN: 0 86196 742 1 (Paperback).
    Sidney Gottlieb: Introduction
    Mark W. Padilla: Reading Hitchcock's Vertigo Through the Myth of Io and Argos
    Janet Bergstrom: Hitchcock After Murnau: The Influence of Perspectival Shooting in Vertigo
    Mark Osteen: Versions of Vertigo: They Wake Up Screaming
    Charles Barr: Hitchcock and Vertigo: French and Other Connections
    Barbara Straumann: Fatal Resemblances: Cross-Mapping Hitchcock's Vertigo with Nabokov's Lolita
    Christine Sprengler: The Sounds and Sights of Vertigo's Afterlife in Art: Chamber Made Opera's Phobia (2003) and Jean Curtan's The Vertigo Project (2018)
    Robert Belton: Incidental Meaning and "Hidden Hitchcock" in Vertigo
    Ned Schantz: The Hospitality of Scottie Ferguson
    Steven Jacobs: Hitchcock and the Tourist Gaze: Vertigo and the Monuments of San Francisco
    Sidney Gottlieb: The Variety of Gazes in Vertigo
    Laura Mulvey: The Metaphor of the Beautiful Automaton Reanimated: Artifice, Illusion, and Late Style in Vertigo

In my guest bag at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto on Saturday, 2 October, I found a copy of a book I instantly started to read: Haunted by Vertigo, edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin. I jumped to Janet Bergstrom's piece on Hitchcock after Murnau, because I had met Bergstrom the evening before having travelled on the same bus from Aeroporto Marco Polo to Pordenone, and I had shown her the travel reading I had just finished – Tony Lee Moral's wonderful book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

A lot has been written about Vertigo, and there are two books about Vertigo even in Finnish (by Peter von Bagh and Heikki Nyman). This, the newest contribution to Vertigo studies, may be a bit uneven, but at least four pieces I find outstanding.

The Murnau influence in Hitchcock's cinema is a familiar theme for everybody who has read books about the master of suspense, but Bergstrom in her chapter pursues the matter further than anybody before, based on primary sources, archival documents and rarely quoted interviews and illustrations. Bergstrom's piece is also extremely illuminating on Weimar cinema. For the first time I truly understand the revolutionary meaning of Murnau's perspectival shooting and forced perspective and the impact he made in Hollywood. Hitchcock happened to be at the Neubabelsberg studio to witness first hand Murnau creating his magic, and the experience made a lifelong impression on him. This article is a film historical detective story.

Charles Barr conducts a parallel feat with Vertigo's French influences, analyzing the whole story of the Clouzot / Hitchcock connections, also the full legacy of Boileau and Narcejac in detective fiction and the cinema. His piece goes also deep in the question of Hitchcock's reception as a major artist: belittled in his native Britain, and revered in cinephilic France. Some of the parallels are amusing: Le Corbeau by Clouzot / The Birds by Hitchcock, the humoristic warnings "soyez pas diaboliques" in Les Diaboliques, and "no one, not even the manager's brother, is allowed into the theatre after the start of each performance of Psycho". An intriguing passage is devoted to the screenwriter Alec Coppel, who in 1949 wrote a film directed by Edward Dmytryk called Obsession, which may have been an inspiration for Boileau, Narcejac, Clouzot and Hitchcock.

During the Me Too revolution and the rebirth of the "male gaze" discourse of the 1970s, also Vertigo has been subjected to reassessments. Sidney Gottlieb, one of this book's editors, focuses on this in his article on the variety of gazes in Vertigo. The result is unexpected and hardly supportive of a simplified "male gaze" discourse. Gottlieb finds in the diegesis of Vertigo at least ten kinds of gazes, such as: an interrogative look, the look of recognition, an observed look, looking beyond the physical world of the present, the look elsewhere, a tranced or traumatized gaze, downward looks, an averted look, and a reciprocated or mutually engaged look. Might I add the most important one: the look of the camera / the director / the spectator.

To top it all, there is a new essay by Laura Mulvey, the author of "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (in Screen magazine in 1973), probably the most quoted work of film scholarship in the world. Mulvey distanced herself from simplified interpretations long ago, but sometimes a polemically one-sided text can be more fruitful than a carefully balanced one, and the Mulvey thesis continues to be extremely rewarding. For instance Sidney Gottlieb would not have written his piece without the Mulvey provocation. Mulvey herself has recently revisited the theme in Afterimages: On Cinema, Women and Changing Times (2019), and her essay in this Vertigo book is a version of a chapter in that one.

The most moving passage in the Vertigo book is by Mulvey. "Eve (Eve Marie Saint) and both Tippi Hedren's characters, in Marnie and The Birds (1963), are designed, as it were, to attract the male gaze, both erotic and investigative, that I analyzed in 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'. I only now realize, in retrospect, that Vertigo's particular significance for the essay was probably due to the film's self-reflexivity. I now see the film as an actual reflection on the very Freudian concepts of voyeurism and fetishism that I was attempting to analyze. Hitchcock had already, that is, visualized my argument: voyeurism, a key structure, according to Freud, of human sexual pleasure, had been unprecedentedly harnessed by the cinema's luminous screen, and projected onto a particular and spectacularly luminous figuration of femininity" (pp. 221–222).


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 40th Anniversary Edition, 2021 Pordenone

Poster of the 40th Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) with Vilma Bánky and Max Linder. Photo 12/7 e Art/Vita-Film. Graphic design by Calderini – Marchese.

The 40th Anniversary Edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto took place in turbulent times. The world is in a precarious state due to the topical energy crisis, the multi-year corona pandemic and, most fatally, the chronic climate crisis. The world of the cinema has never experienced such a devastation as the pandemic, but in October 2021 there are signs of a return to the normal in our profession.

I am an Pordenone regular since 1988, but never have I felt such a warm atmosphere of friendship and happiness as now. This is what we have been missing for two years. This feeling I had not only at Teatro Verdi and the Bar alla Posta, but also at the hotel, at the bars, cafés and restaurants and at my morning lifeline, L'Edicola del Corso di Biscontin Omar supplying daily editions of The New York Times, Financial Times and Le Monde.

I recently finished reading a marvellous book, Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sacks. From this book I learned a word, neurogamy, which means "the union of nervous systems", or, literally: "the marriage of nervous systems". To me the word is new, but it is very old, it comes from Classical Greece, and it refers to the power of music to create a community in concerts, festivals, ceremonies, sacred events, olympics, military bands, weddings, funerals, dances, and so on.

This power goes deeper than consciousness, deeper than the unconscious even. It reaches the most atavistic core of our being, something that exists before birth and arguably even after death (for a while). Music listened alone is great, but a community experience is of a different order.

This year I have learned more powerfully than ever how much neurogamy is true also in the cinema. Fed up with online viewing I have enjoyed first restricted cinema screenings, even press screenings that I usually stay away from, and then live festival experiences of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and now Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. The warmth, the commitment and the immediate experience of the audience both in the screenings and in the dialogues surrounding them are of the essence. The films come fully alive only thanks to us.

Viva Le Giornate!

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Film concert Casanova (1927) (2016 super HD restoration La Cinémathèque française) composed and conducted by Günter A. Buchwald, performed by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone (GCM 2021)

Alexandre Volkoff: Casanova (FR 1927) starring Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari) and Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine the Great). Photo: IMDb.


(Casanova; US: The Loves of Casanova; GB: Prince of Adventurers), FI: Casanovan lemmenseikkailut
regia/dir: Alexandre Volkoff.
scen: Norbert Falk, Alexandre Volkoff, Ivan Mosjoukine. photog: Nicolas Toporkoff, Fedote Bourgassoff, Léonce-Henri Burel.
asst photog: Sammy Brill.
asst dir: Georges Lampin, Anatole Litvak.
scg/des: Alexandre Lochakoff, Edouard Gosch, Vladimir Meingart.
art dir: Noë Bloch.
cost: Boris Bilinsky, made by maisons Léon Granier, Karinsky et Cie.
consulente storico/history advisor: Constant Mic [Constantin Micklachewsky].
prod. mgr: Simon Barstoff, Léonide Komerovsky, Constantin Geftman, Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Grégoire Metchikoff, Ivan Pavloff.
cast: Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari), Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine II), Jenny Jugo (Thérèse), Rudolph Kleine-Rogge (Pierre III), Rina de Liguoro (Corticelli), Nina Kochitz (Comtesse Vorontzoff), Olga Day (Lady Stanhope), Paul Guidé (Prince Orloff), Albert Decœur (Duc de Bayreuth), Carlo Tedeschi (Menucci), Raymond Bouamerane (Djimi), Dimitri Dimitrieff (Lord Stanhope), Devar (Comte Mari), Boris Orlitsky, Aslanoff (amici di/friends of Casanova), Michel Simon, Paul Franceschi (sbirri/henchmen), Madame Sapiani (Barola, la domestica/Casanova’s maid), Laura Savitch, Nadia Veldi (le figlie di Barola/Barola’s daughters), Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Alexis Bondireff, Pachoutine (ufficiali nemici/enemy officers), Isaure Douvan (Doge), Constantin Mic, Maryanne (donne nell’osteria austriaca/women in the Austrian inn), Sammy Brill (carceriere/jailer), Castelucci (pescatrice veneziana/Venetian fisherwoman), Wrangel (dama di corte/lady-in-waiting).
supv: Louis Nalpas.
prod: Ciné-Alliance, Société des Cinéromans-Films de France.
dist: Pathé Consortium Cinéma.
uscita/rel: 22.6.1927 (Empire, Paris); 13.9.1927 (Cinéma Marivaux, Paris).
Finnish premiere: 8.1.1928 (Arkadia, Edison, Bio-Bio, released by Adams-Filmi)
copia/copy: DCP, 159 min (4K, da/from 35 mm, 3600 m, 158 min, 20 fps, col. [imbibito/tinted, pochoir/stencil-colouring]); did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Cinémathèque française, Paris.
    Score by: Günter A. Buchwald
performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone
Conductor: Günter A. Buchwald
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Restauro in super HD effettuato nel 2016 a partire da un interpositivo ininfiammabile ricavato da un negativo nitrato originale. La scena colorata “au pochoir” è stata restaurata in 8K presso i laboratori Eclair utilizzando un copia diacetato d’epoca.
    The super HD restoration was carried out in 2016 from a positive safety intermediate, based on the original nitrate negative. The stencilled scene was restored from a diacetate print of the era (8K, performed at Eclair Laboratories).  

Marita Gubareva (GCM 2021): "Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova is a prime example of the large-scale spectacular European co-productions that began to appear in the second half of the 1920s to counter American competition. The film involved French, German, and Italian talent, led by Russian émigrés from the Montreuil colony near Paris, notably director Alexandre Volkoff, actor Ivan Mosjoukine, costume designer Boris Bilinsky, and set designer Alexandre Lochakoff."

"Much of this lavish costume film was shot on location, in Venice during the Carnival, and between Strasbourg and Grenoble (for the scenes set in Austria and Russia). Its sumptuous décor left no one unimpressed, and while some contemporary viewers lamented the filmmakers’ excessive attention to “material detail”, others, such as Jean Arroy, praised them for their “laudable effort at historical exactitude” and willingness to “reconstruct every splendour of the period”. It was only decades later, towards the end of the 20th century, that the film was fully appreciated for what it is: a “brilliant pastiche” (Walter Goodman), a playful and stylish variation on the myths and stereotypes of the period."

"First of all, Casanova plays with three mythical perceptions of 18th-century Venice: as the “capital of pleasure” and “city of decadence”; the “mysterious republic”, with the secret procedures of its legendary Council of Ten; and, of course, “the city of Carnival” – a world of theatre, masks, and make-believe. To these three sources of spectacular and somewhat predictable images (all present in Philippe Monnier’s influential book Venice in the Eighteenth Century, first published in 1908), the film adds a touch of orientalism, a tribute to the trend of decorative exoticism created earlier by Diaghilev and perpetuated by Russian filmmakers well into the 1920s. The result is an enchanting fairytale world, with its “serenades, casinos, gondolas for singing, and convents for loving” (Maurice Rostand, La Vie amoureuse de Casanova, 1924)."

"The film treats the famous Venetian, Giacomo Casanova (1725‒1798) in a similar manner. Loosely based on his memoirs, it adapts the story to genre requirements, while playing with the various myths around Casanova. Working on the script, Volkoff and Mosjoukine could have used the first unabridged French edition of Casanova’s memoirs (its first volumes had just been published) and the Russian edition of selected chapters, printed in Berlin in 1923. In fact, some of the film’s intertitles and images reproduce almost literally passages from critic and writer Marc Slonim’s foreword to the Russian edition. The scriptwriters used the memoirs as a source of situations and characters, to be freely reinterpreted in the spirit of an adventure film. Casanova’s long-prepared and laborious escape from the Piombi prisons was reduced to a spectacular leap. His encounter with Catherine II, only briefly mentioned in the memoirs, was romanticized and transformed into a comic episode, ending with an elopement. While the historical Casanova preferred travelling in comfortable carriages and fought his duel with Count Branicki with pistols, the film Casanova is galloping and fencing."

"Casanova had already been transformed into a swashbuckler by the Romantics in the 19th century (Alfred de Musset imagined him “rhyming for a marquise, fighting for a dancer; a terrific swordsman, and on top of it all, an honest, noble, and generous character”), but the film’s treatment is more tongue-in-cheek, somewhat in the spirit of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “comic parody” Casanova (1918). Casanova’s “noble” Romantic qualities are counterbalanced here by those of a picaro. He is both a noble hero and an unscrupulous rogue; a chivalrous protector of the helpless, like Zorro (a character much admired by Mosjoukine, who claimed to have seen Douglas Fairbanks in the role “at least 10 times”), and Harlequin the trickster, who charms, entertains, and fools his audience. The ambiguity is maintained in the level of Mosjoukine’s acting: contemporary reviewers noted that he played his part with a mixture of pathos and irony, and with “just the right amount of laughter underlying the seriousness”."

"As a result, in spite of the apparent simplification called for by the genre, Casanova’s character in this film is anything but banal. Ivan Mosjoukine, then at the height of his film career, was certainly perfect casting for Casanova. A cutting from a German newspaper, preserved in Volkoff’s archive at the Cinémathèque française, shows the actor’s profile placed against that of an old Giacomo Casanova. The similarity is striking. Both were tall, had an aquiline nose, and were attributed by their contemporaries with an expressive (“ardent”) glance. Mosjoukine was also known as a generous person who loved partying, and, according to Jean Mitry, unlike Rudolph Valentino he was perceived as a successful seducer in life, not only on the screen. In his biography of Mosjoukine, published the same year as the film’s release, Jean Arroy claims that he “must have particularly loved Casanova, this genius who squanders his marvellous talents and thinks of nothing but love”."

"Casanova was first screened in Paris in 1927 and was a great success with the public. Critics worldwide acclaimed it as one of the most spectacular productions of the time, “magnificently mounted, splendidly directed, finely acted and beautifully photographed” (The Bioscope, 14.7.1927). Forgotten after the arrival of the talkies, the film was rediscovered in the 1980s, when Renée Lichtig restored it from three badly damaged and incomplete versions from different archives.
" – Marita Gubareva (GCM 2021)

The music 

Günter A. Buchwald (GCM 2021): "The restored version of Casanova is now 159 minutes. While watching the film in its entirety, some challenging questions arose for the scoring: How can I musically entertain a public for such a long time? How can I compose a score for a movie which is overwhelmingly visual in its acting, decor, costumes, tragedy and comedy, and locations, not to mention the rapid editing and quick-changing moods?"

"Should the music follow all this breathtaking suite of scenes? And, last but not least: what are the implications of Casanova in this “Me Too” moment? How do I see this person myself? Casanova the 1927 film is a wonderful movie, a fireworks display of the joy of life, while Casanova the person is, in comparison with all other men, the most sensitive towards women. Menucci, a slimy coward; Peter, the czar, a brute; the Duc of Bayreuth, a rapist; etc. But all in all: Casanova is a comedy!"

"Musically, almost everything is exposed like the pearls of a necklace in the first 4 minutes of the Overture. There are 5 themes: 1st Movement, action, speed, Italy; 2nd, Casanova, almost a comedian, always dancing on the edge of a sword; 3rd, a Hollywoodian love theme; 4th, the timpani in ¾ bar, the turmoil, Italiana mixed with the Neapolitan Canzone, known as “Carnevale di Venezia”; and 5th, Peter, the czar, as an example of all kind of craziness and aggression."

"These 5 themes appear throughout the whole movie, not as a one-to-one Leitmotiv but as musical material for eternal variations. That’s why I call my opus “Symphonic Variations”. I am thankful to many composers: Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, André Campra, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Johann Strauss Jr., Sergei Prokofiev, whose influence you may discover with little hints. My single secret: I once again learned that “less is more”, that reduction is an essential creative means, and the single challenge was how to stretch it to 159 minutes. The overture was composed within a day; the remaining 155 minutes needed 2 years.
" – Günter A. Buchwald (GCM 2021)

AA: I did not visit the closing gala of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, out of respect for the restoration and Günter A. Buchwald's score. I was exhausted after high pressure at a distant work week at the KAVI office during the Festival. I was also aware of an early wake-up call, a morning flight and all day travel which would take me home 24 hours later.

Instead, I read Marita Gubareva and Günter A. Buchwald's program notes and reminisced upon the previous (1988) glorious La Cinémathèque française restoration which we were quick to screen in the 1980s at Cinema Orion. Later I was happy to meet the restorer, Renée Lichtig (1921–2007), Jean Renoir's editor during his late period before handling the great Cinémathèque restorations, also a regular at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

I appreciated the final gala choice of Le Giornate of the famous Venetian Giacomo Casanova, donning masks in the Carnevale di Venezia sequence, like we did at the Teatro Verdi auditorium.

As Buchwald comments, Casanova needs to be reassessed from a Me Too perspective. Casanova is a libertine, a Rococo figure and an Enlightenment figure. Harassment would be out of character, on the contrary, Casanova loves women and protects them from danger, but he leaves behind a trail of children out of wedlock.

Casanova is sometimes juxtaposed with Don Giovanni, but there are essential differences. Casanova only has affairs with women he loves. He is a picaro, a wanderer, and affairs happen, but he does not collect them. Casanova is gentle with women, and women desire him as much as he does them. There could be no "catalogue aria" for Casanova. Don Giovanni, instead, is a pathological case, a sex addict, a narcissist, indifferent to the identity of the woman he beds.

I claim this although I know that Mozart and Da Ponte met the historical Casanova and took him as the model for their opera Don Giovanni. Casanova himself may have been present at the premiere. But the historical Casanova was much more selective and considerate than Don Giovanni.

A Casanova lifestyle has become widespread for both men and women since the sexual liberation of the 1960s. In today's precarious conditions young people, without safety to settle into marriage, try to live a life of "eternal youth" as long as they can.

Casanova has been a favourite character in the cinema, but I believe that there is only one film masterpiece about him: Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976). Among Alexandre Volkoff and Ivan Mosjoukine's achievements two were truly extraordinary: La Maison du mystère and Der weisse Teufel, and also Kean is a great film.

But their Casanova is for me a piece of light entertainment, splendid but superficial, without the wit and depth of Mozart, Da Ponte or Fellini.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Max, der Zirkuskönig / Le Roi du Cirque / King of the Circus (premiere of 2021 Lobster Films restoration)

Édouard-Émile Violet: Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) starring Max Linder as Count Max de Pompadour. Photo: IMDb.

Édouard-Émile Violet: Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) starring Max Linder as Count Max de Pompadour. Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

Vilma Bánky. Photo: Paul (Pal Funk) Angelo. From: La Petite Mélancolie.

Édouard-Émile Violet: Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) starring Max Linder as Count Max de Pompadour. Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

Sirkuskreivi [The Circus Count] / Der Zirkuskönig / Clown aus Liebe
Le Roi du Cirque [the title on the 2021 restoration]
Il domatore dell’amore; US: King of the Circus; GB: Circusmania)
regia/dir: Édouard-Émile Violet, assisted by Max Linder.
scen: Max Linder. photog: Eduard Hösch, Jószef [Joseph/Josef] Bésci.
scg/des: Alexander Ferenczy, Franz Meschkan.
cast: Max Linder (Count Max de Pompadour), Vilma Bánky (Ketty), Eugen Burg (lo zio di Max/Max’s uncle, the Marquis de Pompadour), Viktor Franz (l’inquilino del piano di sotto che cerca di dormire/Max’s downstairs neighbor trying to get some sleep), Eugen Günther (Max’s valet John), Julius von Szöreghy (il direttore del circo, padre di Ketty/Ketty’s father, the circus director), Fred Boston (Ketty’s partner Emilio), Walter Corty (The clown), Kurt Labatt, Hans Lackner, Ilona Karolewna, H. Eckbauer (trapezista/trapeze artist), Maria West (donna al/woman at the Palais Montmartre).
prod: Vita-Film AG.
v.c./censor date: 3.9.1924 (DE).
uscita/rel: 12.9.1924 (Rotterdam: Cinema Royal, Cinema Thalia), 19.9.1924 (Berlin: Deulig-Palast Alhambra), 26.9.1924 (Austria), 19.2.1925 (Paris: Aubert-Palace).
Helsinki premiere: 12 Jan 1925, at Astoria and Civis, distributed by Ab Maxim Oy.
dist: Quittner, Zuckerberg & Co. (AT), Etablissements Louis Aubert (FR).
copia/copy: DCP, 64 min (da/from ??, orig. 1613 m / 1700 m, ?? fps), b&w, alcune scene imbibite/some tinted scenes; did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Musical interpretation: Neil Brand at the grand piano and Frank Bockius alla batteria.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 9 Oct 2021.

Lisa Stein Haven (GCM 2021): "Variety appears to have been the first to announce, in June 1923, that René Hervil and Max Linder had been signed by Ernst Szücs of the Vita-Film studios in Vienna to make a circus film titled Clown aus Liebe. Linder’s film would effectively open the studio at Rosenhügel, which hosted its inauguration on 1 December, the day after Linder’s delayed arrival. Szücs and company were delighted to have signed Linder, and expected great things for Austrian films due to the attention from around the world that Linder would bring them, yet the star’s tardy appearance in Vienna proved to be a bad omen, and journalists soon divided themselves between detractors and sycophants. Felix Fischer, a detractor, wrote in Neues Wiener Journal that by 19 January 1924 not a metre of film had been shot: “Once, a scene was almost shot,” reported Fischer. “In it, his partner [Vilma Banky] has to stretch out her hands against him. She did it for four hours, but when he was finally satisfied with her pose, she developed a cramp in her arms, and the filming had to stop again.” In the same journal a few days later (24.1.1924), Fischer amended some of what he had written, admitting, for one thing, that progress was indeed being made on the film, with 10,000 metres having been shot to date. Fischer also reported that Édouard-Émile Violet had arrived about 14 January to replace Hervil, who had a heart attack that demanded his return to Paris. Whether or not Linder was the cause was not specified; it’s also unknown whether any of the material Hervil shot was retained in the final film."

"Other writers (the sycophants) came out in strong support of Linder and against Fischer. A writer at Der Filmbote [Film Messenger] (26.1.1924) argued that Linder had been too long in the film business to postpone filming by “chicanery.” Das Kino-Journal (26.01.1924) seconded this writer’s assertions, noting that “the hysteria described in the article [Fischer’s] is not to be found in Max Linder, but in the author, who was in the unusual position of writing an original report for his readers, which made him nervous as a result of the rarity of such an activity for him.”"

"The press went quiet on the subject of Linder and his Vita-Film adventures until 23 February, when Linder and his wife Ninette were reported to have attempted suicide the night before by taking too many Veronal pills. Once recovered, and to counteract whatever bad press this incident might evoke, on 21 March (and in the following days) Linder called in both the public and the press to kibitz on his lion-taming scene in the film. The fact that several long articles on the spectacle hit the press that week suggests that Linder was successful in diverting attention away from his own personal problems and back to the film in progress."

"In many ways, Max, der Zirkuskönig (as it was released in Austria) harks back to a formula Linder used in many of his shorts for Pathé: the ne’er-do-well son of a prominent aristocratic family is given an ultimatum, in this case to marry or be disowned. He finds a girl, but not the right one, and must impress her father with some talent he doesn’t have by either learning it or pretending to have done so – convincingly. Besides Linder, the film featured Hungarian actress Vilma Banky, just one year away from bigger stardom in America. Circus animals, props, and performers (Fred Boston and Walter Corty) were provided by the Hagenbeck circus."

"With the film completed about 10 April, it was soon screened for the press in three different locations:  in Vienna at the Haydn Kino on 23 May, in London at the Scala on 12 June, and in Paris at the Empire on 9 July. Its official premiere took place the night of 12 September at the Cinema Royal in Rotterdam. Film-Kurier (17.09.1924) provided a fair and unvarnished account of the film and its star: “This Max Linder, who can almost be considered a historical phenomenon today, is still amusing. … What captivates about Linder time and again is the virtuosity with which he can turn his body into an instrument of comical effects. … His art of performance is not rooted like that of a Chaplin in a deep human pity for the pariahs of this earth, nor in a hatred against the figure to be embodied, … but he has fun with the ridiculousness of the figure, which is at most sometimes elevated to a mild irony.” As is often the case with one’s native country, the French were less kind, with one critic remarking that “Max Linder appears to us as brilliant as he has always been, but this very invention is sometimes exercised to the detriment of the subject. There are too many scenes that have nothing to do with the action. … Max Linder is always above his films.” (L’Intransigeant, 28.2.1925)"

"There would be no second Linder film at Rosenhügel. It had become clear by the end of the shoot that the experience had not been a good one for Szücs or his studio. In fact, Variety announced (23.9.1924) that Vita-Film was bankrupt, only a year after opening its doors with the most advanced and modern equipment in the film business. This would be Max Linder’s final film. Despite his attempt to fulfill a long-held dream of marriage, children, and a happy home, he took the life of his young wife and then his own just a short time later, on 31 October 1925.
" – Lisa Stein Haven

The restoration  

Serge Bromberg (GCM 2021): "For decades Max, der Zirkuskönig has been one of those legendary films thought lost forever, alongside The Patriot (Lubitsch), The Four Devils (Murnau), The Way of All Flesh (Fleming), Humor Risk (the Marx Brothers), Her Friend the Bandit (Chaplin), Hats Off (Laurel and Hardy), and the full version of Greed (Stroheim)."

"In 1993, the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique undertook a first attempt at reconstruction using elements known at the time. But digital technologies were still a long way off, and the very incomplete result was so difficult to watch that the film only gained the reputation of a minor and still unprojectable work."

"25 years later, the new reconstruction initiated and carried out by Lobster Films – for which the identification and collection of the elements will have taken almost 10 years – is a major event. It brings together 11 different sources, from Great Britain, The Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Argentina, etc., many of which were unknown a quarter of a century ago, in order to give back to the film a sense of continuity and completeness. The CNC played a large part in supporting this project."

"Some shots come from first-generation prints, and now look almost perfect. Others are true survivors after dozens of generations, sometimes in 16 mm. They are like ghosts, spooky visions of their original appearance. But at least they are here, and the technologies and patience of the restorers have returned them to life."

"Of course, some shots are from the A negative (domestic) and others from the B negative (export). We have had no choice. We are aware of the questions raised by this reconstruction, but if our aim is to get as close to a complete film as possible, then this is the situation at hand, until perhaps a complete copy is found somewhere. When a boat sinks, you don’t choose the color of your life jacket!"

"No original titles have survived in French or German, so we also had to select and translate the intertitles as closely as possible from various languages, where local humor was often added."

"One of the most complex and acrobatic restoration projects is now completed. This film, lost for nearly a century, will re-premiere in Pordenone in 2021. Max Linder, the “King of the Circus”, is finally back, in his circus act. A cheerful, magnificent film, long awaited…"

"Most of all, many thanks to all of our predecessors in this endeavour, and to all the archives around the world who have helped us locate or access surviving material.
" – Serge Bromberg

AA: Watching Max Linder's last movie I was reflecting on the career of the comedy king. It started in 1905, and Linder soon became one of the screen's international superstars. Max became a model for none other than Charles Chaplin, and also, in his own country, for Maurice Chevalier, René Clair and Pierre Étaix.

Linder used to find good female leads, and Vilma Bánky in Max, der Zirkuskönig is a case in point. She has an intelligent and mature presence in this European star film made before her Hollywood breakthrough in The Eagle (with Valentino, directed by Clarence Brown) and The Winning of Barbara Worth (with Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper, directed by Henry King).

Max Linder represented the opposite of the predominant trends of early film comedy: the catastrophe approach of the wild and crazy André Deed (appearing as Boireau, Cretinetti and Gribouille) and the director Jean Durand. Max Linder's comedy was based on the contrast of the dignity of his character and the embarrassing situations in which he lands. His success with this concept was his major inspiration to Chaplin.

I have seen the 1993 restoration of Max, der Zirkuskönig, and I am happy that Linder's final film now makes complete sense (or nonsense). Technically, it is a patchwork of highly disparate materials, sometimes brilliant, sometimes bordering on the unwatchable, but what matters most is that there is a compelling inner drive. The restorers succeed in conveying the flow, the surge, the inner music of Max's comedy.

The storyline: from aristocrat to alcoholic, and from alcoholism to acrobatics.

The greatest sequences include the home lessons at acrobatics, the flea circus and the lion taming climax. Max is in great physical shape in this final film.

Max Linder would deserve a major reappraisal, and the restoration of Max, der Zirkuskönig provides a cornerstone to such a project.

Neil Brand and Frank Bockius provided a virile and rousing score that tapped into the inner dynamics of Max Linder's psyche.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Han seongsimui him / The Power of Sincerity

한 성심의 힘 / Han seongsimui him / The Power of Sincerity (KR 1935). The bridge has been built thanks to common dedication. Photo from: dcinside com

한 성심의 힘 / Han seongsimui him / The Power of Sincerity (KR 1935). The boy dies in the arms of his father and his best friend after a sacrifice to the common good. Photo from: dcinside com

Korea Prog. 3 Silent Films in the Age of Sound Films
한 성심의 힘 / HAN SEONGSIMUI HIM (KR 1935)
[Il potere della sincerità/The Power of Sincerity]
regia/dir: ?.
cast: Sim Yeong, Kim Yeon-sil.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 2081 ft, 23 min (24 fps); did./titles: KOR/JPN.
fonte/source: Korean Film Archive, Seoul.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Daan van den Hurk at the grand piano.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Sungji Oh, Jay Weissberg (GCM 2021): "This silent short film was produced by the motion picture department of the Japanese Government-General of Korea for the purpose of encouraging tax payment. At the start, an idealistic young man (played by Sim Yeong) preaches to a group of industrious villagers on the benefits of paying taxes. Doing so, he tells them, means a bridge can be built over the river. Local bigwig Mr. Kwon (wearing the traditional Tanggeon headgear) doesn’t want to part with his money and is especially put out when the idealist donates his land for the common good. Kwon’s workers leave him to cultivate fields that will put money directly into their pockets, and even the miser’s son, Hak-ryul, is ashamed of his father’s avoidance of paying taxes. When the boy breaks open his own ceramic bank to bring coins to pay his family’s obligations, Kwon chases after him, and his son falls to his death. In recompense, his grieving father pays for the construction of the bridge."

"Sim Yeong had a successful theatre career prior to appearing in the film Soo-il and Soon-ae (1931). Kim Yeon-sil, who had debuted in 1927 and played various lead characters, including Gye-soon in Crossroads of Youth (1934), later defected to North Korea and continued acting there. The Power of Sincerity was acquired twice from Gosfilmofond of Russia, first in 1998 and then in 2006.
" – Sungji Oh, Jay Weissberg

AA: A public information film advocating the cause of paying taxes! And successfully. Nobody who sees this movie can fail to become a happy taxpayer and an opponent of tax havens and paradises.

The film achieves its goal by way of inspiration, commitment and enthusiasm. The wide, mighty river is dangerous to cross. It is necessary to build a powerful bridge. It is not possible without a demanding communal effort.

From a simple case study and rallying cry this movie grows into a vision of society itself. Again, this film is naive without being naivist.

I detect echoes here to the Nordic talkoo tradition. This film reminds me of a Finnish home movie about The Akkaansilta Bridge, an engrossing tribute to the esprit de corps.

Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng / A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher

Yun Dae-ryong: 검사와 여선생 / Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng / A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher (KR 1948) starring Kim Dong-min (Prosecutor) and Lee Yeong-ae (Teacher). Poster photo from: Danielle Crepaldi Carvalho (São Paulo, Brazil): Filmes, filmes, filmes! (e outras cositas mais)  Impressões sobre filmes, óperas, espetáculos teatrais e afins.

Yun Dae-ryong: 검사와 여선생 / Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng / A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher (KR 1948) starring Lee Yeong-ae (Teacher). Photo: Korean Film Archive, Seoul.

Lydia Jakobs: Pictures of Poverty : The Works of George R. Sims and Their Screen Adaptations. John Libbey Publishing, October 2021.

KOREA Prog. 3 Silent Films in the Age of Sound Films
[Il pubblico ministero e l’insegnante/A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher]
regia/dir: Yun Dae-ryong.
adapt: Yun Dae-ryong, dal romanzo di/based on the novel by Kim Choon-gwang.
photog: Park Hu-yeong.
cast: Lee Yeong-ae (insegnante/Teacher), Kim Dong-min (pubblico ministero/Prosecutor), Lee Up-dong (detenuto in fuga/Escaped Convict).
copia/copy: DCP, 62 min, sd; did./titles: KOR, narr. Sin Chul (byeonsa).
fonte/source: Korean Film Archive, Seoul.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Sungji Oh (GCM 2021): "First released on 5 June 1948, the silent film A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher reflects the reality faced by Korean filmmakers at that time. After liberation in 1945, the Korean film world was left in a state of disarray. The only equipment and facilities available were those left behind by Japanese filmmakers, and it was impossible to obtain raw film stock. In addition, the dominance of the Central Motion Picture Exchange (CMPE), a direct distributor in Korea of U.S. films, made the position of Korean cinema even more precarious. From liberation to August of 1948, around 15-16 feature films, 3-4 cultural films, and 5-6 documentaries and news films were produced in South Korea; silent films accounted for more than half of these, and many were shot on 16mm. One of the reasons that silent films were still produced was the shortage of sound-equipped film projectors in most Korean cities. According to one critical newspaper article (published in the Kyunghyang Shinmun [Kyunghyang Daily News], 1 January 1948), “This is nothing more than a series of mediocre 16 mm or 35 mm sound or silent films. In addition, the haphazard range of themes and contents leaves no room for any artistic system or trend.”"

"In 2000, the Korean Film Archive digitally restored the 16 mm original print of A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher donated by the Korean Film Council – featuring the voice of Sin Chul, the country’s famous last byeonsa."

"The plot is simple, but moving: A young teacher (played by Lee Yeong-ae) befriends a poor schoolboy, then leaves to get married. Years later, she gives shelter to an escaped convict, but her husband misconstrues her intentions. He threatens her with a knife, and accidentally stabs himself to death. Fortunately, the prosecutor on the case turns out to be her former student, who has never forgotten her kindness to him. With his help, she is found not guilty. He takes her to his home and shows her a book she gave him, which he has kept all these years."

"Despite the film’s technical flaws and incompleteness, it was designated a national cultural treasure in September 2007 for its historical and social value – a 16 mm silent film accompanied by a byeonsa, showing the reality of the Korean film world after liberation. However, given that A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher was produced in the era of sound films, it is ironic that the film was recognized partly for its anachronistic production and screening methods. It was remade as a sound film in 1958 by the same director, Yun Dae-ryong.
" Sungji Oh

AA: Paradoxically, for me, the most memorable movie of the 40th Anniversary Edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto was a Korean silent film called A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher, made as late as 1948 on 16 mm, immortalizing the voice of the last byeonsa Sin Chul on the soundtrack in this edition made later.

The voice of Sin Chui, the crying byeonsa, made all the difference. It was a voice from beyond, echoing primordial, universal oral traditions of poetry and storytelling. A testimony of sorrow and pain, but also of an innate spirit of goodness and love, in the wavelength of Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

In the last pre-pandemic edition of Le Giornate two years ago I visited what I found the best ever live benshi performance, Ichiro Kataoka's interpretation of Chushingura (1910). This Sin Chui experience is the second time that makes me fully realize the power of the benshi.

It makes me think of the current renaissance of the spoken word, such as Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem "The Hill We Climb" at the swearing-in of U.S. President Joe Biden in January 2021.

The byeonsa performance belongs to the most ancient traditions. The dirges from the depths of history, the lament of Sumer and Ur, the oral genesis of Homer and Aesop, in Finland the Karelian itkuvirsi tradition of wailing women and the entire Kalevala and Kanteletar legacy. A wealth of connections is evoked. Charles Dickens (a legend also for his readings) and Victorian England about which I'm currently perusing Pictures of Poverty (2021) by Lydia Jakobs, having received a copy in my festival guest bag. Leo Tolstoy. The Biograph shorts of D. W. Griffith, distinguished by Sunday school storylines and a sophistication and sincerity of expression.

In Finland I am reminded of the fondest childhood memories of the Nobel laureate F. E. Sillanpää (1888–1964) who told about the great narrators of the 1890s, first in magic lantern shows, soon blending into early cinema. The beloved narrators were what one came for, regardless of what was playing, even regardless, or because of, a prominent lisp, for instance when the explicador felt it necessary to comment an incident like "nyt ne pussaa" – "now they kiss". The impressions of these performances lasted a lifetime.

In this category is also the Sin Chui experience in A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher. It is naive but not naivist. It has pathos, but it is not pathetic. These are tales of extreme injustice, and a grandeur of spirit to match.

The source print of the DCP is awful and wobbly, but the flow of the film experience is more compelling.

Phil-for-Short (GCM 2021, Nasty Women Prog. 2: Genders of Farce)

Oscar Apfel: Phil-for-Short (US 1919) with Evelyn Greeley (Damophilia Illington) and Charles Walcott (Professor Illington). Photo: Library of Congress / Kino Lorber.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    John Sweeney at the grand piano, Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Nasty Women: Prog. 2: Genders of Farce

regia/dir: ?. cast: Dranem (il marito/the husband). prod: Pathé Frères. uscita/rel: 3-9.1.1913 (Omnia Pathé, Paris). copia/copy: DCP (orig. 215 m), 11’31”; senza did./no titles. fonte/source: Gaumont-Pathé Archives, Saint-Ouen, Paris.

regia/dir: Oscar Apfel. scen: Clara Beranger, Forrest Halsey. photog: Max Schneider, asst. Nelson H. Minnerly. cast: Evelyn Greeley (Damophilia Illington), Charles Walcott (Professor Illington), James Furey (Pat Mehan), Jack Drumier (Donald MacWrath), Ann Egelston (Eliza MacWrath), Hugh Thompson (John Alden), Henrietta Simpson (Mrs. Alden), Charles Duncan (Mr. Alden), Ethel Grey Terry (Angelica Wentworth), Edward Arnold (Tom Wentworth). prod: Oscar Apfel, World Film Corporation. dist: World Film Corporation. uscita/rel: 2.6.1919. copia/copy: DCP (orig. 5742 ft), 81’50”; did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, Packard Campus, Culpeper, VA.

“All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice,” declared Karl Marx, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” When power loses all semblance of legitimacy but remains as entrenched as ever, it cannot fail to become farcical. The historical rule of farcical repetition goes double for gender. Rigid norms and damaging stereotypes appear wildly ridiculous when they lose their unquestioned, hegemonic authority. Silent film comedies cashed in on the zany unraveling of traditional gender roles, with mixed results. Examples range from Alice Guy’s Les Résultats du féminisme (Gaumont, 1906) and The Suffragette’s Dream (Pathé, 1909) – in which men nurse babies and “crochet for dear life” – to Her First Flame (Bull’s Eye, 1920) and What’s the World Coming To? (Hal Roach Studios, 1926). In these films, gender anarchy is both outrageously extreme and inescapably temporary. Their conservative endings cannot contain their carnivalesque midsections.“

““The second time as farce” could be the tagline for Le Ménage Dranem (Pathé, 1912), a comedy about the topsy-turvy consequences of feminism. On the one hand, the film reads as the pathetic revenge fantasy of a henpecked husband whose browbeating wife condemns him to the thankless labor of “dry nurse” (no match for the bovine nursemaids in La Grève des nourrices). Monsieur Dranem cooks, cleans, and sews “like an elephant threading a needle,” while his militant wife gambols around in pantaloons, smokes pipes, drinks pints, plays cards in the park, and assaults her cowed spouse. As summarized by Ciné-Journal, Madame “emprunte au sexe fort tous ses défauts, sans ses qualités” (“borrows from the stronger sex all its faults without any of its qualities”). On the other hand, once the genie is out of the bottle (so to speak), the binds of assigned gender roles will never look or feel the same again, which should be apparent by the absurd return to normalcy pictured at the end of the film.“

“Farce saturates every frame of Oscar Apfel’s Phil-for-Short (1919), a rollicking burlesque about improbable romance between a cross-dressing spitfire and an avowed “woman-hater,” who are both Greek professors at a co-ed college in New Jersey. Many American silent films envisioned queer romances between a woman-hater and a disguised girl or tomboy: The Snowbird (Metro, 1916), The Tomboy (Fox, 1921), The Wild Party (Paramount, 1929), and Apfel’s own follow-up, The Trail of the Law (Producers Security Corp., 1923), starring Norma Shearer. But Phil-for-Short was censored (of all things) for being “too nice”! Variety condemned it as a “a sissy play, too nice for our boys; we want them to be manly,” they quoted, after a local screening attended by a Boy Scout troop in Wilmette, Illinois. There are several effeminate male characters in the film, including notorious “woman-hater” John Alden (Hugh Thompson). But perhaps they should have been more worried about Damophilia (Evelyn Greeley), the title character, who is also a Sapphic dancer, temporary cross-dresser, ancient Greek polyglot, daytime farm laborer, and mischievous trickster. She goes by the nickname Phil (for short), because “Wouldn’t you rather be called phil than damn?” Her full name, Damophilia, comes from a poem by Sappho, ancient Greek lyrist from the Isle of Lesbos, whose homeland is, of course, also the etymology of “lesbian,” and who has symbolized female homoeroticism since the Hellenistic period.“

“References to Sap(p)ho were ubiquitous in silent cinema: there were no less than 20 film adaptations of Alphonse Daudet’s novel Sapho produced between 1896 and 1920, according to queer film historian Kiki Loveday. Film and dance scholar Mary Simonson argues that ancient Greece functioned as “an imagined space through which early twentieth-century Americans, especially white middle- and upper-class American women, could access particular experiences and claim particular rights – the right to education, to bodily liberation, to full political engagement.” These dual implications of Sapphism – same-sex eroticism and classist gatekeeping – encircle Phil-for-Short’s libidinal tensions. Exchange economies of the sexual and marital marketplace make room for play and delimit what’s socially possible within this wily narrative, where Sappho and misogyny freefall toward the altar together.“

“Co-written by the prolific silent film scriptwriter Clara Beranger (see also Miss Lulu Bett in the “American Women Screenwriters” series), Phil’s dialogue is frothy, cutting, and hilarious: “I knew I could make you love me if I could get you mad enough.” And: “Oh, my husband’s all right – but he’s not vital.” The film’s farcical plot revolves around cheeky innuendo and situational disguise, both of which frequently thematize sexual misunderstanding and gender misrecognition. For example, a motif of blurry point-of-view shots captures Alden’s confused perspective after Phil steals or hides his glasses. But even when he can see what’s right under his nose, he repeatedly fails to detect its meaning: from Phil’s gender identity to the shape-shifting exuberance of female desire. As supposedly translated from ancient Greek, “The man who takes an eel by the tail or a woman at her word soon finds that he holds nothing.” Or, more to the point, “every woman will make a fool of some man at least once.” We quite agree.
“ – Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak

AA: I did not visit this screening but I copy here Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak's program notes of Phil-for-Short, a film that I liked very much when it was previously shown at Le Giornate (in 2004 in Sacile). A comedy ahead of its time, anticipating Katharine Hepburn in her 1930s films with George Cukor, George Stevens and Howard Hawks, and going further than Bringing Up Baby or any other film of theirs.