Sunday, June 28, 2015

Varieté / Variety (2015 restoration in 2K by Filmarchiv Austria)

Image: Filmportal. Quelle: DIF, SDK.Bei den Dreharbeiten: An der Mitchell-Kamera Günter Anders, Karl Freund und Robert Baberske; vorne links Emil Jannings und Warwick Ward; rechts E. A. Dupont und der hemdsärmelige Dolmetscher Joe Rive. Click to enlarge.
Varietee / Varieté. DE 1925. D: E. A. Dupont. Based on the novel Der Eid des Stephan Huller by Felix Holländer. SC: E. A. Dupont. DP: Karl Freund, Carl Hoffmann. AD: Oscar Friedrich Werndorff. M: Ernö Rapée. C: Emil Jannings (‘Boss’ Huller), Lya de Putti (Berta-Marie), Warwick Ward (Artinelli), Maly Delschaft (la moglie di Boss Huller), Kurt Gerron (lo scaricatore di porto), Georg John (il marinaio), Georg Baselt (impresario del varietà), Charles Lincoln (l’artista spagnolo), Alice Hechy (l’attrice). P: Universum-Film AG (Ufa). DCP. 95’. B&w. German intertitles with Italian subtitles. From: Murnau Stiftung
    Restored in 2014-2015 by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, in cooperation with Filmarchiv Austria in Vienna, from an abridged nitrate copy for the US market, provided by Library of Congress. The German title cards and missing scenes stem from a nitrate copy of Filmarchiv Austria. Some shots were added from a duplicate copy of the Filmmuseum Munich and a duplicate negative of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Missing title cards were reconstructed on the basis of the censorship card and the typography of the Viennese copy’s titles. The digital restoration in 2K was realized by Filmarchiv Austria.
    Original length: 2837 m /20 fps/ 123 min
    Gerhard Bienert as the card player and the tell-all caricaturist. The original music for the American version was by Ernö Rapée.
    Introduced by Ernst Szebedits (FWMS) and Fumiko Tsuneishi (Filmarchiv Austria).
    Viewed at Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) with Italian subtitles and e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti and with Antonio Coppola at the grand piano, 28 June 2015

Michael Wedel (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2015 catalogue and website): "The source material on which Variety is based – Der Eid des Stephan Huller (The Oath of Stephan Huller) – was published in 1912. The material was pure pulp fiction and a prime example of the widespread trend of emotional and sensationalist literary kitsch so predominant at the turn of the century. Two movie versions were made of it in the years after publication, but by the 1920s this kind of literature had fallen into gracious oblivion. The 1925 movie, by Ewald André Dupont, which borrows its motifs from this novel ranks among the most prominent cinematic works produced during the Weimar Republic era. "

"Variety’s international box office success was Dupont’s ticket to Hollywood. It was also due to the then still sensational appeal of a melodramatic love triangle between acrobats around which the plot revolves. "

"Yet its film-historical significance, and timeless appeal to today’s audiences, have different reasons: its directorial finesse, systematically translating the plot into the silent movie language of expressions and gestures, and virtuose camera work which conveys the emotional turmoil in the form of sensual sensations and visual vertigo. Set as the personal account of a convicted murderer, the plot is one long flashback of a jealousy-ridden conflict between trapeze artists, which reaches its thrilling climax at dizzying heights. However, the inevitable tragic turn does not occur in front of the audience beneath the starry ceiling of Berlin’s Wintergarten Theater, but in an uneven duel between the cuckolded Boss (Emil Jannings) and Artinelli (Warwick Ward) over the beautiful Berta-Marie (Lya de Putti)."

"In a movie, overflowing with intriguing visibility, which kindles the audience’s curiosity like nothing else; by a cascade of innovative camera effects, suggestive props, artistic performances and erotic eye and body contacts, the homicidal act eludes the vaudeville audience’s view and curiosity as the fighting men descend to the floor while the camera, unchained throughout the rest of the movie, rests in position undeterred. The movie audience sees but an arm suddenly going limp and dropping a knife, before the hulky figure of the victorious Boss rises above his slain opponent, rendering it a distinctive ellipse. It signalizes less an act of subjective suppression in the murderer’s memory, but rather a moment of moral reflection of the drama which has been captivating the viewer’s minds up to that point."
(Michael Wedel)

AA: A masterpiece brought back to life again thanks to a brilliant restoration.

I had never seen a good print of Varieté before; I had only seen highly duped 16 mm prints. Even so, Varieté has so deeply impressed me that it has been on the top of the list of classics I have been looking forward to see in a good restored version one day. That day arrived today.

Inspired by "the unchained camera" of The Last Laugh, Varieté belongs to the greatest achievements of pure visuality in cinema. There is an aching intensity in the shots: in the powerful compositions, in the exalted camera movement.

The film was such a success for E. A. Dupont that he tried to repeat it several times in different countries, but Varieté is on a completely different level because of its inner sense of conviction. The surface is brilliant but more profoundly, Dupont immediately taps into an irresistible current of emotion. The actors live their parts with conviction, and their interplay is fine from the start. There is an assured touch in Dupont's direction as he is following the deep current of emotion (not an external visual pattern) via the action and the eyeline matches, by fluid camera movement and well judged cuts. There is an engrossing blend of vitality, humour, passion, and derring-do in Varieté.

There are several memorable scenes and touches, such as - the blasé reactions of the Wintergarten audience to the unheard-of feat of the triple somersault - the wild party of the artists after the performance - Artinelli observing the clumsiness of Boss Huller with the key and the lock - and the montage of the myriad eyes in the final performance.

Varieté is told as a long flashback within a concise framing story at the prison.

Emil Jannings overacts again, especially in the conclusion of the flashback story, but he displays also a subtle register of fine reactions, including tenderness, sadness, disappointment, and comedy. He is at best in the beginning with a sensitive and rich register. His legendary "acting with his back" is a welcome corrective to his hamming of the climactic scenes of violence.

There was an obsession with triangle tragedy in circus world during the silent era, for example in the various film adaptations of The Four Devils in different countries. Varieté is a particularly distinguished achievement in that cycle. The plot twist is that during the final triple somersault sequence Boss Huller acts totally professionally although he is so frantic with jealousy that he is on the verge of fainting. The tragedy climaxes first after the show as the inexorable Huller confronts Artinelli in cold blood.

Watching Varieté I am thinking about possible influences to many films, including Der Blaue Engel (even casting Jannings, Gerron, and Bienert together again), Alfred Hitchcock (The Lodger; the triangle and the ring motif in The Ring), and perhaps even La strada (the triangle in circus world: the strongman kills the weaker man, the orphan woman).

Gerhard Bienert is not credited for his role in Varieté, not even in Filmportal. This is one of the first masterpieces in which he plays a small but memorable role (he had also already appeared in Die Nibelungen). His unique career lasted during the many Germanies until the late 1980s. He was like a good guardian spirit of the German cinema in a similar way as was Gaston Modot in France (film career 1909-1964). Maybe there is an essay on those two, and if there isn't, someone should write one.

The legendary cinematography of the flashback story was conducted by Karl Freund, and it still looks sensational and rich in visual wit and invention.

But my favourite has always been the haunting framework footage shot by Carl Hoffmann with a totally different visual approach: ascetic, reduced, intense. When I think of Varieté I first remember the circle of inmates at the prison yard, Huller's back with the number 28, and the final image of the opening of the prison gate and the desolate trees swinging in the wind.

Antonio Coppola played the piano with a good sense of the complex psychology at work.

Visual quality: a fine sepia toning and a rich touch unlike in the 16 mm circulating prints that have been the best available viewing materials until now. This seems to be a short version, but I do not know how much of it has to do with decisions about speed.

Insiang (2015 restoration, DCP from The Film Foundation / World Cinema Project)

Click to enlarge.
PH 1976. D: Lino Brocka. Story: Mario O’Hara. SC: Mario O’Hara, Lamberto Antonio. DP: Conrado Baltazar. ED: Augusto Salvado. M: Max Jocson. C: Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa, Ruel Vernal, Rez Cortez, Marlon Ramirez. P: Ruby Tiong Tan. DCP. 95’. Col. Tagalog version with English and French subtitles. From: The Film Foundation.
    Restored in 2015 by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory. Restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Film Development Council of the Philippines.
    4K scan. Colour grading supervised by Pierre Rissient.
    Introduced by Cecilia Cenciarelli.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) with English subtitles and e-subtitles in Italian, 28 June 2015

Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website: Lino Brocka: "Insiang is, first and foremost, a character analysis: a young woman raised in a miserable neighborhood. I need this character to recreate the ‘violence’ stemming from urban overpopulation, to show the annihilation of a human being, the loss of human dignity caused by the physical and social environment and to stress the need of changes these life conditions [...]. My characters always react through fighting. I have conceived Insiang like an immoral story: two women share the same man, the daughter avenges herself and, in the end, she reveals herself: she had conspired to kill her mother’s lover without having never loved him, so that the murder was, in fact, unnecessary. Censorship refused this ending." (Lino Brocka)

Pierre Rissient: "In 1977 I was in Sydney for the film festival. Before going home, I zigzagged my way back through Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong-Kong, Manila and Seoul, to discover a new filmmaker and an unknown film: Insiang by Lino Brocka. When Insiang was released on December 17, 1976, it did not do well, and led to the collapse of CineManila, the company founded by Brocka in 1974 after the extraordinary success of Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang. The shooting of Insiang began on December 1st and lasted 11 days. Knowing these dates is important as they reveal the extreme urgency he felt, and his unique, authentic desire to make this film."

"Insiang also presents an unusual, brilliant mise-en-scène which shows the characters being torn apart by passion, by a sort of ardent energy."

"I am very pleased that, two years after Manila in the Claws of Light, we are able to see another estoration of a Brocka film. I still remember the excitement, along rue Antibes, surrounding the
screening of Insiang at the Quinzaine de Réalisateurs, in 1978. That was a very fulfilling and emotional experience, and I’m sure the same will be true today." (Pierre Rissient) Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website

AA: A powerful naturalistic view about life in the slums of Manila, full of life and violence. In this world men have become demoralized, and women remain carriers of responsibility in Mutter Courage fashion.

A tragic story about a broken family. The father has left the family to its own devices, mother Tonya and daughter Insiang toiling all day long to make ends meet. Insiang wants to marry Bebot and is reserved about his advances, sensing that the guy will only take advantage of her and then abandon her, which is exactly what happens. Meanwhile, the red-blooded mother Tonya takes a young lover, Dado, boss of a gang of hoods, who decides to take Insiang, as well, "under his care". The story turns into a revenge tragedy as Insiang, abused by all three, wreaks horrible vengeance on them.

The performances are compelling but the most powerful asset of the movie is its atmosphere, its milieux: the traffic, the slaughterhouse, the fish market, the overcrowded apartment, the garage, the cinema (where everybody is focused on making out), the love hotel, the prison.

Insiang wants to transcend her circumstances ("I don't want to end up like my mother"), and there is even a decent guy, Nanding, who proposes to her and wants to take her out of her misery, but at that point Insiang has been brutalized to revenge mentality. What happens to her soul is the deepest tragedy.

There is a compelling drive in Lino Brocka's movie. He knows to use a moving camera. Recurrent motifs include a mosquito net and "letting water from the faucet fill the drum" for a bath (a sign for mother's love session with her boy toy).

The colour grading has been beautifully conducted to convey the sense of tropical heat and humidity. Warm colours look good in this digital restoration.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Leo McCarey: His Wooden Wedding, What Price Goofy?, Dog Shy, Wrong Again

HIS WOODEN WEDDING
US 1925. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. DP: Glen R. Carrier. C: Charley Chase (lo sposo), Katherine Grant (la sposa), Gale Henry (la donna sulla barca), Fred De Silva, John Cossar. P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. DCP. 19’. B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.
    Restored in 2015 from 35 mm blow up print from 16 mm reduction negative Blackhawk.

WHAT PRICE GOOFY?
US 1925. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. C: Charley Chase (Jamison), Katherine Grant (sua moglie), Noah Young (lo svaligiatore Omaha Oscar), Lucien Littlefield (il maggiordomo Speck), Jane Sherman (l’amica della moglie), Marjorie Whiteis (professor Brown), Fay Wray, il cane Buddy. P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. DCP. 25’. B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.
    Restored in 2015 by Lobster Films from a 35 mm camera negative

DOG SHY
US 1926. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. C: Charley Chase (Charley), Mildred June (la ragazza), Stuart Holmes (il duca), Josephine Crowell (la madre della ragazza), William Orlamond (il padre della ragazza), Fred Kelsey (poliziotto), Jerry Mandy (il complice), il cane Buddy (Duke). P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. 35 mm. L.: 552 m. 20’ at 24 fps. B&w. English intertitles. From: Library of Congress.

WRONG AGAIN
Di nuovo sbagliato. US 1929. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Leo McCarey, Lewis R. Foster. DP: George Stevens, Jack Roach. M.: Richard Currier. C: Stan Laurel (Stanlio), Oliver Hardy (Ollio), Del Henderson (il proprietario del quadro), Josephine Crowell (sua madre), Harry Bernard (il poliziotto), Charlie Hall (il vicino), William Gillespie (il proprietario del cavallo). P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios.  DCP. 20’ B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.

Viewed at Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna) with Donald Sosin at the digital piano, 27 June 2015

AA: Revisited four short comedies directed by Leo McCarey for Hal Roach. There are those among us who find that McCarey was already at his best in these late silent comedies, and certainly they are perfect in many ways: in their sense of character, rhythm, and timing. They are carefully designed yet there is a feeling of spontaneity and improvisation. Liberty is a contender for the funniest film ever made.

McCarey's mastery as a comedy director was based on his understanding of the character, the comedian. The stories, the situations, and the gags are funny, but even more prominently, McCarey's films are character-driven. He is never in a hurry to forward the plot when there are more juicy nuances to be discovered in the character's reactions.

A favourite plot of McCarey's is the fundamental misunderstanding: Charley Chase is led to believe that his fiancée has a wooden leg (His Wooden Wedding); Charley rescues a perfumed dog who refuses to leave him which leads his wife to believe that he is having an affair (What Price Goofy?), the request to "give the Duke a bath", concerning yet another dog, is taken too literally by the "butler" Charley (Dog Shy): the reward for returning a stolen painting, Gainsborough's The Blue Boy, is mistaken by Laurel and Hardy to mean an eponymous horse (Wrong Again).

The plots can be plain silly but they provide a solid springboard for a wealth of comical innovations. McCarey approaches his comedies via the comedians and helps them create a world where they can flourish. He always confessed that he had learned everything from Charley Chase, but soon he mastered comedy sovereignly with many comedians. No director has directed so many great comedians so successfully.

Charley Chase belongs to a remarkable tradition of film comedy which was started by Max Linder: the comedy about the utter embarrassment of the distinguished gentleman. Even Charles Chaplin was inspired by Linder, but he created an original tramp character. Charley Chase is in a more direct line of influence from Linder, and together with McCarey he perfected that tradition.

Prints: His Wooden Wedding is a blow-up from 16 mm. What Price Goofy? looks mighty good. Dog Shy looks very good, as well. Wrong Again looks like it has been made from a difficult source (16 mm? low contrast?).

Part Time Wife

[The film was not released in Finland]. US © 1930 Fox Film Corp. D: Leo McCarey. Story: based on The Shepper-Newfounder by Stewart Edward White. SC: Raymond L. Schrock, Leo McCarey, Howard Green. DP: George Schneiderman. ED: Jack Murray. C: Edmund Lowe (Jim Murdock), Leila Hyams (Mrs. Murdock / Betty Rogers), Tom Clifford (Tommy), Walter McGrail (Johnny Spence), Louis Payne (il maggiordomo), Sam Lufkin (il capo caddie), Bodil Rosing (la cameriera), George ‘Red’ Corcoran (l’autista). P: Fox Film Corp. 35 mm. 67’ (incompleto). B&w. English version. From: UCLA Film & Television Archive.
    Reel 1B was lost to deterioration before the title was preserved, missing approximately 300 metres.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato) with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti, 27 June 2015
    Introduced by Dave Kehr and Steve Massa.

Steve Massa (Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website): "In 1929 Leo McCarey resigned from the Hal Roach Studio. He later joked that his decision to leave came from realizing how ridiculously healthy Hal Roach appeared and that as vice-president there’d be little chance for his advancement (Roach did make it to age one hundred, outliving the younger McCarey by twenty-three years). About his time making shorts Leo said: “I owe a good part of my success to them – and nothing could have replaced that experience – all the ideas were original and new. It was because of the success of these films that I was able to make a reputation, and to direct features and, in a sense climb the ladder”. The next few years saw him moving around to various studios trying to find his way in full-length films. His first stop was Pathé for the college comedy The Sophomore and the musical Red Hot Rhythm (both 1929), and he then tried his hand in drama at Fox with Wild Company (1930)."

"He had a popular hit with the Paramount musical Let’s Go Native (1930), and returned to Fox to secure his success with Part Time Wife (1930) – a huge hit that he felt was the first really recognizable ‘Leo McCarey’ picture, which also enabled him to double his asking price. The comic incompatablity of husband and wife Edmund Lowe and Leila Hyams prefigures that of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937), and in fact McCarey reworked specific scenes from Part Time Wife in the latter film and felt that they were better executed the second time around. More involved in the writing than any of his previous features, he also introduced a bit of his soon to be signature sentiment with the comedy in the character of a worldly-wise young caddy. From here he went to United Artists for a lackluster experience helming Indiscreet (1931) with Gloria Swanson, and even spent a brief time at MGM directing Marie Dressler and Polly Moran in Prosperity (1932), but by the time it was released the directing credit went to Sam Wood."

"Following the Eddie Cantor hit The Kid from Spain (1932) McCarey finally settled in at Paramount where he would emerge with some of his early signature films." (Steve Massa)

AA: Steve Massa reports above that the director felt that Part Time Wife was the first really recognizable Leo McCarey feature film, and indeed there is already much of the dynamics of The Awful Truth on display here. The continuity to the Hal Roach shorts is also still evident in the comedy business on the golf course and in the prominent role played by the mongrel dog. There is even a Charley Chase connection in the characters of the husband (Edmund Lowe) and the rival (Walter McGrail).

I have sometimes a hard time in caring for such protagonists of comedies of remarriage because they are either so career-centered or so self-centered, or, as here, both: also Betty Murdock / Betty Rogers (Leila Hyams) has a career as a golf champion.

Here husband Jim tries to win his wife back via golf, and thus gets to know a child caddie, Tommy, an orphan boy living in a shack under a bridge, with a mongrel dog as his companion. In the climactic golf match between Jim and the rival, Johnny Spence, the dog ruins everything. Jim gives up and lets Johnny be the winner. But the chain of reactions to the boy and the dog means that Jim gets Betty back, and in a deeper way, he gets his life back; he gets his self back (or discovers it).

The darkest part in the chain of reactions is the fate of the mongrel dog in the gas chamber at the dog catcher's. But there is a last minute rescue.

Edmund Lowe and Walter McGrail are no matches for Charley Chase or Cary Grant, but Leila Hyams is a perfect Leo McCarey leading lady.

The print is based on the only surviving elements and is the best there is. There is that one reel (of ten minutes) missing, but film is watchable even so. The visual quality of the image in this UCLA print is fine.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reading more about Ingrid Bergman

Jean Renoir, Ingrid Bergman, Roberto Rossellini. Paris-Match 1955.
Donald Spoto: Notorious. The Life of Ingrid Bergman. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1997. 474 p.

Charlotte Chandler: Ingrid. Ingrid Bergmanin elämä. (Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007). Suomentanut Liisa Paakkanen. Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 349 p.

Having finished reading Ingrid Bergman's remarkable memoirs I continued with Donald Spoto's biography on her. His is a well-researched and linear story which complements the autobiography with missing pieces, affairs which now can be discussed, and of course the final years.

My favourite chapter in Bergman's memoirs is that on Autumn Sonata, and Spoto manages to convey important new insight even into that conflicted production. In Spoto's account Ingrid finally saw herself in Charlotte. (To some extent. But really Ingrid Bergman's family situation was completely different. For example, Ingrid interrupted her career for one and a half years to take care of Isabella when she had a serious health condition.)

There is a blind spot in Spoto's story: Rossellini.

Spoto is blind to Rossellini's achievement in film history. This invalidates his book twice. Firstly, it remains incomprehensible to him why seeing Rossellini's films totally shattered Bergman. Secondly, Spoto is incapable of seeing the value of the six films that Rossellini and Bergman made together.

Roberto Rossellini was a key artist in two of the greatest turning-points in film history.

First, of course, in Neorealism, together with Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica.

Secondly, as a godfather of the New Wave of the late 1950s and the early 1960s in France and Italy (with reverberations around the world).

Rossellini was already a professional in conventional studio production before he switched into a new way to make films, first making a virtue out of necessity, and then preferring it as a way to explore a rapidly changing reality.

Rossellini and Bergman realized that their ways were incompatible. It was a story of "opposites attract". Ironically, the artists themselves did not seem to understand the grandeur of their collaboration, either.

Their films were a kind of action painting, a journey of spiritual exploration, a key corpus in the study of modern post-WWII alienation, disillusion, loneliness, and disintegration of the family, still firmly rooted in concrete historical reality - Stromboli starts with post-war refugee anxiety.

The Rossellini-Bergman cycle was the first in a series of cycles such as Antonioni-Vitti, and Godard-Karina. Resnais (Hiroshima, mon amour) owed to them. Even Ingmar Bergman's studies of solitude in relationships are relevant here.

I have not read Charlotte Chandler's personal biographies before. (She has written on Groucho Marx, Tennessee Williams, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, and Marlene Dietrich). Her book on Ingrid Bergman is so agreeable that I look forward to reading the rest, as well.

Charlotte Chandler knew Ingrid Bergman and many of the key people around her, and she draws from first-hand observations. A lot is fresh and new. Even better than Spoto's weighty tome, Charlotte Chandler's book is a complement to Ingrid Bergman's memoirs, sharing her sense of humour and values, and covering the final years in the spirit of Bergman herself. In a compassionate way it conveys something of Bergman's healthy, humoristic sexuality that has not been covered before and that was clearly a key to her creativity.

Chandler, too contributes something new to the Autumn Sonata story. Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann had their reservations about the dialogue, and together they deliberately undermined the director's concept by making Ingrid more sober and generous and Liv more narrow-minded.

Chandler has something new to contribute to Ingrid Bergman's final film, too: in it, she played Golda Meir. It was important for her because her family was German from her mother's side, and Bergman was deeply shocked by the Nazi rule. But what had not been known before Chandler's book was that at age 11 Ingrid, who spent her childhood's summer holidays in Germany, heard from her "Tante Mutti" a family secret of top importance. Tante Mutti required that Ingrid would never tell anybody about it. Her father had known about it since before her marriage to Frieda Adler that there may be some Jewish blood in the family. Ingrid forgot all about it, but after the war, during her love affair with Robert Capa, she sensed a special affinity because of this. During her post-war visits to Germany Ingrid Bergman refused to visit a concentration camp because she felt that she would not have been able to act anymore having witnessed that.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Reading about Ingrid Bergman

Filming Notorious. Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock became friends for life. Click to enlarge!
Ingrid Bergman och Alan Burgess: Mitt liv. (My Story. New York: Delacorte Press, 1980). Översättning av Ann Henning. Första svenska upplaga: Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, 1980. MånPocket, tryckt i Ungarn 1984. 542 p.
    Ingrid Bergman personally supervised the Swedish translation and "approved every word of it" (Donald Spoto).

Many cinematheques and festivals are celebrating the centenary of Ingrid Bergman this year, and so will we.

I started an Ingrid Bergman reading project by revisiting some of the greatest pieces written about performance, stardom, and identity. Andrew Britton has written with original insight about Ingrid Bergman's distinction as an actress for instance in his programme notes for National Film Theatre in January 1986. His film-by-film remarks are worth revisiting.

Inspired by Britton, Robin Wood wrote a special chapter on Ingrid Bergman for Hitchcock's Films Revisited (1989) and a further star-centered chapter on Bergman in Gaslight for Sexual Politics and Narrative Film (1998). Those chapters are among the finest written by the film critic I rank the greatest besides André Bazin.

A motto for both Britton and Wood stems from a remark by Jean Renoir who directed Bergman in Élena et les hommes: Renoir wanted to restore Ingmar Bergman's smile after her recent chilling studies of alienation such as Angst. Britton and Wood highlight films such as Gaslight, Spellbound, Notorious, and Under Capricorn. Bergman's distinction was her radiant natural Nordic health, spiritual and physical. Her character was being undermined, drugged, poisoned, addicted, tortured and burnt at the stake (Joan of Arc), and the ultimate suspense was about the mortal danger to her spirit. The immortal expression of that spirit was the Ingrid Bergman smile.

I am very grateful for Ingrid Bergman's memoirs "as told to" Alan Burgess, the author of the book on which The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was based. Years in the making, through a turbulent and confused process, the finished book is composed in an unusual way as a symposium and a montage where we have passages of Ingrid Bergman's first person account followed by third person passages with many other protagonists also getting the floor in extended first person passages of their own. Entire letters and documents are included. Still it is a good read.

At first reading I especially loved Chapter 29 on Ingmar Bergman and Autumn Sonata. It is an anthology piece, an account of the clash of two great artists, illuminating strengths and weaknesses of both in a direct and honest fashion. Beside Ingrid Bergman's we get also the viewpoints of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Reading it, I laughed and cried.

Both Ingrid and Liv reproached Ingmar stating that no mother would abandon her child for seven years. Maybe it did not occur to them that Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman's character) was on a profound personal level a self-portrait of the director himself.

The greatest drama in Ingrid Bergman's life circled around the Roberto Rossellini relationship. Reading these memoirs I first realized the enormity of the catastrophe it created in Ingrid Bergman's private and professional life and also the profound meaning of the atonement in Hollywood and the national apology to Ingrid Bergman by Senator Charles Percy included in the Congressional Record in 1972. The Ingrid Bergman witch-hunt had nothing to do with the simultaneous political witch-hunts in Hollywood, but there is an odd affinity in the lynch mob mentality when some of the most beloved artists of all time, such as Charles Chaplin and Ingrid Bergman, were ostracized in Hollywood.

Ingrid Bergman belongs to the rare film stars who have succeeded in many completely different film production circumstances - Svensk Filmindustri in the 1930s, Hollywood in the 1940s, Roberto Rossellini in the 1950s, and an international career in many countries afterwards. She made films in Swedish, German, English, and French. (Ingmar Bergman has interesting remarks about actors and their mother tongue in Chapter 29 of My Story / Mitt liv).

Britton and Wood make a convincing case of "actor as auteur" about Ingrid Bergman, yet key producers and directors were of the essence: Gustaf Molander, David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Jean Renoir, and Ingmar Bergman. Molander and Selznick realized her star quality. Fleming revealed both her sexuality (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and her spirituality (Joan of Arc was her dream role since childhood). Cukor, McCarey, and Hitchcock were her best directors, allowing her complete range. Rossellini and Bergman changed film history with the six films they made together, studies in alienation and a modern soulscape before Antonioni and Vitti. (But I agree with Jon Wengström that Bergman does not seem to have realized what they achieved). Afterwards it took Renoir to "restore the smile" that had vanished in Rossellini's films with Bergman. But Autumn Sonata is most doggedly and almost perversely about destroying that smile.

Many of Ingrid Bergman's best films (such as Europa 51) were hardly distributed at all at the time. After Rossellini and Renoir she made mostly safe and familiar quality entertainment. There were no more masterpieces, but she was enormously popular and successful to the end, also on television and at the stage in many countries. She never lost her talent but she never had a profoundly sympathetic director of the calibre of Cukor, McCarey, Hitchcock, or Renoir anymore.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Salto / Somersault – Tadeusz Konwicki remembered

Poster design: Leszek Holdanowicz
Hyppy tuntemattomaan. PL 1965. PC: Studio Filmowe Kadr. P: Jan Włodarczyk. EX: Jerzy Kawalerowicz. P manager: Ludwik Hager. D+SC: Tadeusz Konwicki. Excerpt from the poem "Spadanie" by Tadeusz Różewicz. DP: Kurt Weber – b&w – 1,37:1. Camera operator: Zbigniew Hartwig. AD: Jarosław Świtoniak. Cost: Alicja Ptaszyńska. Makeup: Halina Sieńska. M: Wojciech Kilar. Lyrics: Wlodzimierz Borunski. CH: Witold Gruca. ED: Irena Choryńska. S: Aleksander Gołębiowski. C: Zbigniew Cybulski (Kowalski-Malinowski), Jerzy Block (old man), Włodzimierz Boruński (Blumenfeld), Gustaw Holoubek (host), Irena Laskowska (Cecylia), Marta Lipińska (Helena), Andrzej Łapicki (Pietuch the drunkard), Wojciech Siemon (artist), Iga Cembrzyńska (Kowalski's wife). Helsinki premiere: 17.10.1969 Astra, released by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles [n.c.] – telecast: 11.6.1973 MTV1 – VET 75677 – K16 – 2945 m / [108 min], 104 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 26 May 2015

Tadeusz Konwicki's Salto is a dream play, a mystery play, a ritual, a seance. A stranger returns to a little town which may be a dream. He is an outsider looking in, but he fascinates everyone and becomes the center of the annual celebration which culminates in an ecstatic salto dance.

Zbigniew Cybulski is the stranger who may be a pilgrim, a prophet, and a miracle healer, or a mythomaniac, a compulsive liar, and a fake. In the conclusion his wife and kids appear revealing that there is broken plumbing and a sick child at home which the incorrigible husband has escaped.

The citizens stone the stranger who escapes, and the finale is a mirror of the opening: he wades across the river, witnesses nude bathing girls, and jumps into a moving train. The last vision is of a scarecrow on the field seen from the moving train.

Salto is a film of the absurd; it is enigmatic and existentialist. It is a film of poetry, conveying messages from another reality. It borders at times on the mannered and the pretentious.

The strange town may be like Skull Island in King Kong: it may be a nightmare. Anyway there is a curse. They tell the town has been removed from maps. There is a mystery here. Germans may have hidden their treasure into the tunnels below the city. There is uranium in the ground and a huge factory nearby.

Salto has been compared with Konwicki's novel A Dreambook for Our Time, but Salto is much more abstract and enigmatic, and as a film it is unfortunately far less compelling than Zaduszki. What these works (all I know from Konwicki) is that they share a sense of a fundamental torment. Many years have passed since the war, but traumatic images re-emerge as memory flashes: silent images of approaching partisan-executioners, flattened anamorphic visions of forward-marching murderous German soldiers. There are wartime explosives in the ground. Mysterious motorcyclists are an added threatening element. We are trying to climb a ladder without steps. Also in Salto there is a Holocaust dimension: one of the characters is the great Jewish actor Blumenfeld who has lost his memory.

The performances are again vibrant in Konwicki's direction. He knows that eyes are the mirror to the soul.

Wojciech Kilar's music is impressive and essential, from the haunting piano theme during the opening credits to the dance themes in the climactic celebration. The solo dances gradually escalate into a communal ring dance, and a full fledged musical production number.

Kurt Weber photographed both Zaduszki and Salto for Konwicki. The images are pregnant with high intensity.

The perfect print looks like it has hardly ever been screened before and like it has been struck directly from the camera negative. Here one can observe the fine soft detail, the peach fuzz of reality. The film has been shot in Academy, but the subtitles on this print have been positioned on the widescreen level, sometimes obscuring the mouth in close-ups.

The film is officially online (Salto na kanale Studia Filmowego Kadr w serwisie YouTube),

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY PETTERI KALLIOMÄKI

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gloria (1980, John Cassavetes)

Gloria – gangsteriheila / Gloria. US © 1980 Columbia Pictures Industries. P: Sam Shaw. D+SC: John Cassavetes. DP: Fred Schuler - Panaflex Camera and Lenses by Panavision - processing: Technicolor, USA - prints: MGM Laboratories, Inc. - color - 1,85:1. AD: Rene D'Auriac, John Godfrey. Paintings: Romare Bearden. M: Bill Conti. ED: George C. Villasenor. ED: Gena Rowlands (Gloria Swenson), John Adames (Phil Dawn), Buck Henry (Jack Dawn), Julie Carmen (Jeri Dawn), Lupe Garnica (Margarita Vargas), Jessica Castillo (Joan Dawn), Tony Knesich, Tom Noona, Ronald Maccone (gangsters), Gary Klar (Irish cop), Michael Proscia (uncle Joe), Ross Charap (Ron), Marilyn Putnam (waitress), John Finnegan (Frank), Bill Wiley (Bellman), Val Avery (Sill), Ferruccio Hrvatin (Aldo), Edward Wilson (Guillermo D. Antonio), Basilio Franchina (Tony Tanzini), Carl Levy (Milt Cohen), Warren Selvagg (Pat Donovan), Nathan Seril (Baron), Vladimir Drazwnovic (Tonti), Lawrence Tierney (bartender). Loc: New York City, The Bronx, Newark Penn Station. Helsinki premiere: 21.11.1980 Charlie 1, released by: Warner Bros. / Columbia Pictures with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (n.c.) – VHS: 1991 Europa-Vision – telecast: 13.1.1990 TV3, 31.08.2009, 31.12.2009 YLE Teema – VET 88450 – K16 – 3345 m / 123 min
    A vintage 35 mm KAVI print deposited by Warner-Columbia viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Cassavetes / Rowlands), 27 May 2015

IMDb synopsis: "When a young boy's family is killed by the mob, their tough neighbor Gloria becomes his reluctant guardian. In possession of a book that the gangsters want, the pair go on the run in New York."

Gloria is one of the anomalies in John Cassavetes's career as a film director: a mainstream crime film obeying expected narrative conventions. There are even classic Griffithian parallel montage suspense sequences. Cassavetes wrote the screenplay without planning to direct but when Gena Rowlands was cast in the title role, it was natural for him to helm as well. The result was so successful that it has inspired further movies and even a high profile remake by Sidney Lumet starring Sharon Stone.

It has been commented that the story has an interesting affinity with Charles Chaplin's The Kid. Here the female tramp states bluntly in the start: "I hate kids, especially yours". Her maternal instinct emerges reluctantly but when the kid's life is threatened Gloria finally turns to a tigress protecting the offspring even though it isn't hers.

From his start as a director in the 1950s Cassavetes went against the grain disregarding commercial expectations but earned a good living as an actor in mainstream productions. It is good to see him here for a change as a director playing by the book with integrity like the classical Hollywood directors of the studio era.

The account of the gangland feels assured. There is a matter-of-fact quality in the way the gangsters act in the contract killing in the beginning of the movie and after. Gloria, the ex-moll of the biggest boss, is deeply involved but when she turns against the mob she gets to observe their ubiquitous presence. In this movie terror is not enhanced with expressionistic cinematic means. An everyday, matter-of-fact approach to the gangster story makes it thrilling in a realistic way.

The performances are terrific. Especially that of Gena Rowlands as Gloria the ageing moll who cannot get help from the law and whose life is in danger after she turns against her own people. In the breakfast vignette we realize that she cannot even cook an omelette. "You know what desperate is?" she comments right after the turning-point where she has shot at her gangster friends for the first time.

The chase plot is also a clothes hanger for a number of social observations. The power of the press and media. New York traffic and taxis. Banks. Slums. Graveyards. Anonymous visiting rooms, probably for prostitution. Latent racism in hotels (Phil is Puerto Rican). The brothel pandering in child prostitution.

I like the ironic account of the gangster headquarters in the final showdown sequence. It is luxurious and simultaneously slightly ridiculous. A life of plenty that does not feel enviable.

There is a rich and wonderful Bill Conti score, also surprising for a John Cassavetes movie, and perfect for this film. The dynamic structure of alternating full orchestra crescendoes and significant silences is effective.

This was Fred Schuler's first film as a director of photography. The cinematography gives us an inspired realistic vision of New York City right from the exciting establishing helicopter views leading us to The Bronx. Schuler had previous experience as an assistant in Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall... Soon Schuler was working as DP for Toback, Scorsese, and Fleischer.

The print has been in heavy use and looks like it has been originally struck from an internegative at a few generations of distance from the camera negative. There is the regular somewhat duped overall look and the changeovers are riddled with jump cuts but in a movie like this the occasionally somewhat battered quality is not fatal. The colour looks juicy and intact.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE EDITED BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Zaduszki / All Souls' Day – Tadeusz Konwicki remembered

Taru rakkaudesta / Sägnen om kärleken. PL 1961. PC: Studio Filmowe Kadr. P: Jerzy Rutowicz. D+SC: Tadeusz Konwicki. DP: Kurt Weber – b&w – 1,37:1. Camera operator: Antoni Nurzyński. AD: Jarosław Świtoniak. Cost: Marian Kołodziej. Makeup: Halina Sieńska. ED: Wiesława Otocka. S: Stanisław Piotrowski. C: Ewa Krzyżewska (Wala), Edmund Fetting (Michał), Elżbieta Czyżewska (Ltn. Listek), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Katarzyna), Andrzej May (Satyr), Jadwiga Chojnacka (hotel proprietor), Włodzimierz Boruński (Goldapfel), Gustaw Lutkiewicz (Kozak), Kazimierz Opaliński (Skotnicki), Aleksander Sewruk (Szary), Mieczysław Voit (Derkacz), Halina Buyno (Skotnicka), Emilia Ziółkowska (Wali's mother). Helsinki premiere: 16.8.1963 Ritz, distributor: Suomi-Filmi, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marjatta Kaija / Helle Laakso – telecast: 5.5.1970 TV1 – VET 65743 – K16 – 2705 m / 99 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 26 May 2015

A stark Tadeusz Konwicki movie. A woman and a man, Wala and Michał, have a clandestine meeting in a little room in a little hotel in a little town during All Souls' Day holiday. Overwhelming memories from wartime love affairs, seen in long flashbacks, haunt them.

I was too young to understand Zaduszki when I saw it on television 45 years ago but it still managed to impress me even then. The film has stood the test of time well.

Konwicki (1926-2015) was a distinguished modern writer but he was equally accomplished as a film-maker. He puts to use a rich array of cinematic means in Zaduszki (interesting angles, field sizes, montages, inserts, handheld shots, a swirling 360° carousel shot, subjective shots and majestic olympic extreme long shots).

But most relevantly, Konwicki knows the power of the close-up of the human face; even the image during the opening credits is a close-up. I was especially impressed by the soulful performances Konwicki receives from Ewa Krzyżewska in the female lead and Michał's two previous significant women, Elżbieta Czyżewska (as the partisan lieutenant) and Beata Tyszkiewicz (code name "Katarzyna"). It is mostly for them that I look forward to revisiting Zaduszki again.

The affinity to Hiroshima, mon amour is clear, but not in imitation. Rather Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras may have inspired Konwicki to be daring, combining the historical and the intimate in this way. These men and women live history in their soul and in their flesh.

Politically, Zaduszki is surprising in its wide understanding of the political contradictions in Poland during WWII and the following civil wars. Konwicki plays by the rules of the current establishment to a certain degree but refuses to simplify things. He feels for all of them.

Zaduszki is a poetic vision of a deep unrest. It is a psychological post-war film. There is also a Holocaust element in the story of Mr. Goldapfel whose family was murdered and home destroyed during the war.

The soundtrack is an interesting compilation with many songs (including "Warszawianka" and "Dzis do ciebie przyjac nie moge"), organ music, marches, and sound effects treated musically.

The cinematography is based on grayness, apathy, and rain. Yet there is a special intensity and sensuality in the imagery, and the lyrical montages often involving flying birds are eloquent.

The used print is still quite watchable. In some shots the visual quality is perfect, but usually the look is slightly duped in a regular kind of way.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY PETTERI KALLIOMÄKI