Thursday, March 05, 2015

Talvivaaran miehet / Men of Talvivaara Mine

FI 2015. Documentary. PC: Zone2 Pictures Oy. P: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. D+SC: Markku Heikkinen. DP: Markku Heikkinen, Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. ED: Tuula Mehtonen. M: Joonatan Portaankorva. 73 min
Contact: Zone2 Pictures Oy / Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen,
Tampere Film Festival, Thursday, 5 March 2015

Tampere Film Festival: "It is snowing on a huge steamy field. The spotlight sees orange dots moving around. Radiophone conversations: “What’s the temperature like? The new block seems to function alright, the bacteria are working, good vibes, over 40 degrees Celsius…”"

"The Man from Talvivaara is a documentary about the meaningfulness of working for a mining company going from crisis to crisis. The film will follow four professionals from Kainuu working in a gloomy sci-fi setting, whose proportions make a human being but a small cog in a big machine."

"The state-of-the-art process of “bioheapleaching” was said to bring nickel and zinc into the world market and to give proper processing industry work for the hundreds of employees facing unemployment. What is the worth of a professional now in this mining company balancing on the brink of bankruptcy? How should he justify the meaning of his work to himself and to those close to him, if his job is constantly in the midst of a profitability and environmental crisis? How can you be the man from Talvivaara, when you cannot even send your son to day care wearing a Talvivaara cap, and when your family is concerned about your health?"

"Workers between the ages of 30 and 40 are stuck between a rock and a hard place: their houses are now built, and new babies are on the way. They would like to live in Kainuu, close to the wildlife, being able to hunt and fish – if only they could bring in their daily bread from Talvivaara."

"The film begins in the foggy production fields of Talvivaara. It is November 2013, and the financial crisis is starting to dawn on everyone in all its gruesomeness. It is now up to those who work at Talvivaara to find out if the conditions set by the investors can be met: productivity has to be improved, the machinery has to work properly, no accidents are allowed, and the water masses gathered in the area have to be drained. The fate of the company will be decided within the next couple months. Will the company be forced to declare bankruptcy or debt restructuring, or will it fall into the arms of a new owner? What will the men from Talvivaara do? Might there be other kind of work available for them?

AA: A solid, well-researched, sober piece of investigative film documentary journalism about the debacle of the Talvivaara Mining Company in Sotkamo in the Kainuu region famous for its splendid forests, lakes and rivers. It is also the home of the largest nickel deposit in Europe.

The ambitious and experimental strategies of the mining company failed spectacularly, and the company was in scandal headlines for years.

Markku Heikkinen and Heikki-Pekka Vitikainen dramatize the conflict directly via the protagonists and the participants of the tragedy. Clean nature and clear water are among the treasures of Finland, now in danger in Sotkamo.

The visual look is of excellent documentary quality. There is a dynamic contrast between heavy industry and sublime nature. The interviews and the footage of talking heads are lively and engaging. This is very much a human drama thanks to the documented urgency in the faces and the voices of the deeply concerned protagonists.



FI 2014. Documentary. PC: Gateway Films Oy. D+SC: Lasse Keso. DP: Heikki Färm, Sampsa Huttunen, Minna Laatikainen, Lasse Keso - 2K DCP (Tommi Gröhn / James Post). M producer (Gateway Films): Lasse Keso. S: Jyrki Sahla (sound design), Pekka Karjalainen (sound mixing / Meguru Film Sound). ED: Lasse Keso. Research: Deniz Bedretdin. 74 min
    2K DCP in Finnish with English subtitles by Sarka Hantula.
    Tampere Film Festival, Thursday, 5 March 2015

Gateway Films introduction: "A documentary film about music and life - about letting go and starting over In the early 70s, the Finnish guitarist Jukka Tolonen, celebrated by the international music press, chose to continue his well-begun solo career instead of joining the bands of artists such as Cat Stevens and Abba. However, things didn't go as planned. By the late 90s, Tolonen found himself living in staircases in Stockholm and ended up in Kerava Prison in 2008 for assaulting his girlfriend under the influence of amphetamine and alcohol. His life had been a mess for a long time, his marriages had broken up and he was in poor health. Doctors considered it a miracle that he was even alive. The documentary follows Tolonen from 2006 onwards, from the time just before the sad incident through druggy guitar sessions, the trial, prison time and his release. The film winds up in year 2012 - in a studio where Timo Kämäräinen, Risto Toppola and Teemu Viinikainen are recording a tribute album of Tolonen's compositions. Jukka attends the recordings and passes the baton to a new generation of master musicians. The documentary is a warm and touching story of giving up, survival and finding a new beginning. It is also a story of how Tolonen's music continues to live on in the hands of young musicians. The tribute album Kämäräinen, Toppola, Viinikainen Play Tolonen was released at the turn of 2014."

AA: A rock documentary. The rise and fall story of Jukka Tolonen made together with him and his circle. It is also a tribute to the entire span of Jukka Tolonen's musical career, including an extended contemporary tribute by the young musicians Timo Kämäräinen, Risto Toppola, and Teemu Viinikainen.

We witness the emergence of a talented young guitarist with a nice and gentle personality, a good family man. But the tour managers of the record labels maybe considered it de rigueur to provide stars with drugs and groupies. Be that as it may, Tolonen hit rock bottom, and injured, lost his ability to play. In this film he faces the facts on camera.

Tolonen belongs to the early inspired phase of progressive rock. Born in 1952, Tolonen started to play professionally in 1966, and his first appearance on a music record was in 1967 (on Finnish cover versions of "No Milk Today" and "Lady Jane"). The Jimi Hendrix Experience played in Helsinki in 1967, an important influence on Finnish progressive rock via Blues Section (1967-1968), itself an inspiration on Tolonen and his band Tasavallan Presidentti (1969-1974 with many reincarnations). Tolonen's guitar playing in its prime still sounds terrific.

But "I needed a punished severe enough to realize how I have sinned". A long sequence is dedicated to Jukka Tolonen's Eastern Orthodox Church experience. I have nothing but respect to its religious substance.

But Jukka Tolonen's gospel music is a punishment to the viewer. I am constantly amazed at the fact that the best music in the world is religious. One need only to be reminded of one name: J. S. Bach. With music like that, one could ignore everything else. I'm equally amazed at the fact that so much of the most banal music is religious. As a listener to Yle Radio Ykkönen I get to hear the morning devotion programmes with daily reminders of that.

Tolonen is a solid rockumentary, but I would prefer the gospel part shortened. The message of "I once was lost and now I am found" is clear enough anyway.


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Hulluus ja yhteiskunta / Madness and Civilization

Utøya island
FI 2015. Experimental. 55 min. D: Teemu Mäki. SC: Harri Virtanen. DP: Anton Verho. S: Ari Mursula. ED: Anton Verho. P: Teemu Mäki. Contact: AV-arkki - Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art / Hanna Joensuu, -
    In Finnish with English subtitles.
    Tampere Film Festival (National Competition 2), Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Tampere introduction: "A drama documentary about xenophobia, misogyny and the relationship between violence and pleasure. Pierre Rivière, Anders Breivik and Michel Foucault; two murderers and one philosopher are the main characters. The dialogue of the film is based on court minutes and on Foucault's writings."

AA: "I would make myself immortal by dying instead of my father". That was the intention of Pierre Rivière, but it went otherwise. An experimental film by Teemu Mäki based on the Pierre Rivière papers made famous by Michel Foucault. René Allio had already directed an important film based on them, and it, too, had been covered by a meta-documentary on the Allio experience, Retour en Normandie by Nicolas Philibert.

But in Teemu Mäki's film two multiple murders are covered, the one committed in 1835 by Pierre Rivière, and the other in 2011 by the Norwegian madman, "the Commander of the Anti-Communist Resistance Movement of Norway", both covered by documentary records and juxtaposed and dramatized in a radioplay by Harri Virtanen and Juha-Pekka Hotinen. Teemu Mäki's work is a film adaptation of the radioplay - "an audiovideo". We see the locations recorded today by a moving camera, but no action is reconstructed.

These are two kinds of madness. The first one is about a private tragedy, directed towards the family. The other one is the tragedy of a marginalized fanatic, directed towards society.

The final third highlights Michel Foucault as a bon-vivant philosopher on a ride with two friends on his Jaguar on a winter night to Stockholm. But the night club is already closed. Extended excerpts of Foucault's texts are heard.

A controlled montage of extremely disturbing material. The artists ask a lot of questions about the dark side of the human mind. Yet there are also images of positive creativity and the spontaneous joy of life, and in the end they prevail.

Hymyjen maa / The Land of Smiles

FI/TH 2014
PC: Höyry Films Oy
P: Heikki Häkkinen, Joni Luomanen
Directed by: Heikki Häkkinen
Written by: Heikki Häkkinen, Joni Luomanen
Cinematography: Joni Luomanen
Edited by: Joni Luomanen
Music: Mikko M. Koskinen
Color grading: Sampsa Lehtinen
Produced by: Heikki Häkkinen, Joni Luomanen
Dramatist: Pekko Pesonen
2nd camera: Eero Lämsä
Sound recording: Joni Luomanen
Voiceover recording: Henry Kaprali
Sound post production & mixing:
Henkka Niemistö / Chartmakers Oy
Graphic design: Teemu Koskenoja / Anthem Graphic Oy
Website: Jussi Solja
Translations: Laura Haavisto
Thai-translations: Mali Turunen, Kanyarat Mäkinen
DCP-production: Jussi Sandhu, Ville Hakonen / Wacky Tie Films Oy
PR: Manna Katajisto
SPECIAL THANKS: Tuomas Kela, Kaarina Kela, Päivi Rantanen, Raimo Tuppela, Jari Vuoristo, Essi Suomela, Noora Räisänen, Tomi Puhakka, Ulla Simonen, Ilona Tolmunen, Eveliina Maaninka
THANKS TO: A-Klinikkasäätiö, Khwanta Hansuri, Mika Lahnanperä, Jyrki Mäkinen, Restaurant Alex, Ride, Jussi Solja, Kristiina Wheeler, Timo Vuorensola, Tomi Saarinen, Marketta Häkkinen, Vesa Virtanen, Ossi Riita
PEOPLE WHO DONATED TO HELP TUOMAS: AK, apasra, Borde, Corzi, Hihhih, I ovn, J__, Jimbeam, jkfkr, Jocce, Jombie, Jone, Julle, JUPESO, Juusot, ko vis, Lappis, Läskipää, M. Vanninen, MauKhang, Natus, Nitalis, P. Peltomaa, Raid71, RAMITI, Ride, T. Mether, Tiiku-m, Wagner
    Contact: Höyry Films Oy / Joni Luomanen,
    In Finnish, English, and Thai, with English subtitles.
    Tampere Film Festival (National Competition 2), Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Official introduction: "How far would you be willing to go in order to help out a friend?"

"Tuomas, a man in his thirties, has lost everything in Thailand – his family, his possessions and the trust of his friends. Hoping to qualify for an early age pension in his native Finland, Tuomas is in such a bad shape that even his legs can’t support his skeletal body anymore."

"Will anything change when Tuomas’s friends decide to help the man with a drinking problem for one last time and set out to get him home from the streets of Thailand?

Tampere translation: "Thomas, a man in his late thirties, has lost everything to Thailand - his family, his wealth, and the trust of his friends. Dreaming of early retirement he has fallen in such a bad shape that even his feet are not able to carry his skeletal body anymore. Will anything change when the friends of the alcoholic Thomas decide to help him one last time and bring him home from the streets of Thailand?"

AA: Unflinching, personally engaged documentary film-making in extremis. The film-makers are fully involved in the horrifying rescue story. The camera is ubiquitous, recording surprising aspects of Thai life, even a visit to the hospital.  Lao Khao liquor is killing Thomas. A film about utter marginalization. A four day trip ends to an emergency room in Finland. But during the end credits we learn that after rehabilitation and having received his early retirement Thomas returned to Thailand.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mysterious Island [1961]

Salaperäinen saari / Den hemlighetsfulla ön. GB/US © 1961 Ameran Films. A Charles H. Schneer Production. Original distributor: Columbia Pictures. P: Charles H. Schneer. D: Cy Endfield. Ass D: Rene Dupont. SC: John Prebble, Daniel Ullman, Crane Wilbur – based on the novel L'île mystérieuse (Paris, 1874) by Jules Verne – suom. Salaperäinen saari, lyhennettynä 1904, 1947, 1953, 1961, 1979 Samuli S./ Otava, kuv. Poika Vesanto – suom. täydellisempänä 1927, 1969 (Haaksirikkoiset ilmapurjehtijat, Saareen heitetty, Kaksi vuotta saarella, Saaren salaisuus) Urho Kivimäki / Karisto – suom. 1935, 1936 Petroskoissa / Kirja (Haaksirikkoiset ilmapurjehtijat, Saareen heitetty, Saaren salaisuus). DP: Wilkie Cooper – Eastman Color by Pathé – SuperDynaMation – 1,85:1. Underwater cinematography: Egil Woxholt. Camera operator: Jack Mills. AD: Bill Andrews. VFX: Ray Harryhausen. Text design: Bob Gill. M composer and conductor: Bernard Herrmann – performed by: London Symphony Orchestra. S: John Cox (sound supervisor); Peter Handford, Bob Jones (sound recording) – mono (Westrex Recording System). ED: Frederick Wilson. C: Michael Craig (Captain Cyrus Harding), Joan Greenwood (Lady Mary Fairchild), Michael Callan (Herbert Brown), Gary Merrill (Gideon Spilett), Herbert Lom (Captain Nemo), Beth Rogan (Elena), Percy Herbert (Sergeant Pencroft), Dan Jackson (Neb), Nigel Green (Tom). Studio: Shepperton Studios (England). Loc: Espanja: – Benidorm, Alicante, Comunidad Valenciana – Costa Brava, Girona, Catalonia – Sa Conca Beach, S'Agaró, Castell-Paltja d'Aro, Girona, Catalonia. Helsinki premiere: 5.1.1962 Adams, distributor: Columbia Films – tv: 30.6.2007 ja 1.1.2009 Nelonen – dvd: 2003 Egmont Entertainment – VET 56169 – K8 – 2775 m  / 101 min
    SFI-FA print at 97 min with Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Cinema and Music), 20 Feb 2015
    Other film adaptations: Salaperäinen saari (The Mysterious Island, US 1929, D: Lucien Hubbard, [Benjamin Christensen, Maurice Tourneur, n.c.], C: Lionel Barrymore / Captain Nemo = Prince Dakkar), Salaperäinen saari (Tainstvennyi ostrov, SU 1941, D: B. M. Tshelintsev, Eduard Pentslin), serial Salaperäinen saari (Mysterious Island I-XV, US 1951, D: Spencer Gordon Bennet), Mysteerien saari (La isla misteriosa y el capitán Nemo, ES/FR/IT 1973, D: Juan Antonio Bardem, Henri Colpi, C: Omar Sharif / Captain Nemo), tv series Salaperäinen saari (Mysterious Island CA/NZ 1995), Mysterious Island (US 2005, D: Russell Mulcahy, C: Patrick Stewart / Captain Nemo), tv-elokuva Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (US 2012, D: Mark Sheppard), Matka 2: Salainen saari (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, US 2012, D: Brad Peyton).

AA: Jules Verne's novel The Mysterious Island has constantly inspired film-makers since the silent age. This 1961 film adaptation, which belongs to the remarkable fantasy film series created by the team of Charles H. Schneer, Ray Harryhausen and Bernard Herrmann, is a solid, well-made fantasy film. It was screened at Cinema Orion in the context of our Cinema and Music lecture series, and the lecturer, the composer Mr. Pessi Levanto, had selected it for our series as a sample of the work of Bernard Herrmann - as a less obvious showcase of Herrmann's ability to create a unique sound world for each film.

Among Herrmann's main modes were "the sound of mental disturbance" and "the sound of fantasy adventure escape", both brilliantly in evidence for instance in the overture of On Dangerous Ground. Mysterious Island is a delightful example of the latter mode, Herrmann's fantasy inspiration - there are sounds that are thrilling, suspenseful, stormy, exotic, and droll.

Ray Harryhausen's creations provide much of the fascination: - the balloon caught in the biggest storm in American history that brings our Civil War refugees to a lost island in the Pacific - the giant crab, bird, bees and octopus - the pirate ship - Nautilus - and the volcanic eruption that causes the island to perish utterly. The miniatures, the stop motion animation, and the travelling mattes are not photorealistically smooth, but there is an endearing quality in their handcrafted artistry that is charming like in the work of Georges Méliès. My favourite Harryhausen sequence here is the one with the giant honeycomb where the young lovers are trapped. (Honey trap!).

The actors are not of the first rank, but Herbert Lom brings a quality of dignity to his performance as Captain Nemo, as does Joan Greenwood to hers as Lady Fairchild.

Cy Endfield's direction is sober and matter-of-fact which befits a fantasy adventure. We do not need visual and directorial flourishes in a story as outlandish as this. Mysterious Island is a satisfying fantasy adventure: we expect storms, giant monsters, ingenious devices, pirates, and volcanic eruptions from such a fairy-tale. Is there a sense of wonder? Yes, there is.

Mysterious Island is an original Robinsonade. The men and women work together for survival, for creating some comfort, and for building a vessel to escape. Although there is no psychological depth in the characters, there is a sense of team effort. The aspect of young love remains on the level of nice smiles and some cheesecake & beefcake.

At its most profound, Mysterious Island reminds us of Captain Nemo's pessimism about the self-destructive urge of mankind about to destroy itself via war. There is a subtext in Jules Verne's Nemo stories about the death drive. But Mysterious Island also reminds us of Captain Nemo's optimism about more effective nourishment via his incredible inventions. Better technology could be an alternative to a Neo-Darwinian battle of the survival of the strongest, and to a Hobbesian world of bellum omnium contra omnes.

Mysterious Island is both a Dystopian story about the end of the world and a Utopian story about how we can save ourselves via technology.

A worn vintage print with a duped look yet watchable and with a sense of the original colour.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s (exhibition at LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Boris Bilinsky, poster for The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse), c. 1925, directed by G. W. Pabst, La Cinémathèque française. Source: LACMA website. Click to enlarge.
Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s. LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Art of the Americas Building, Level 2. September 21, 2014–April 26, 2015. Visited on 12 Feb 2015.

Official introduction: "Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s explores masterworks of German Expressionist cinema. From the stylized fantasy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (dir. Robert Wiene, 1919) to the chilling murder mystery M (dir. Fritz Lang, 1931), cinema during the liberal Weimar era was innovative in aesthetic, psychological, and technical terms."

"Organized by La Cinémathèque française, Paris, the exhibition features over 150 drawings, as well as manuscripts, posters, and set models, the majority gathered by Lotte Eisner, German emigrée film historian and author of the pioneering 1952 text The Haunted Screen. Additional works come from the collections of LACMA’s Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies and from the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Kino Ektoplasma—a three-screen installation created for the exhibition by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson—resurrects lost films of the Expressionist era in mesmerizing film sequences. The exhibition was designed by Amy Murphy and Michael Maltzan with Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc."

"In Los Angeles, Haunted Screens is presented by LACMA in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is generously supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Riza Aziz.
" (Official introduction).

AA: On display as an art exhibition some of the most legendary images from the German cinema before 1933, inspired by Lotte Eisner's groundbreaking art historical book L'Écran démoniaque, many of the images familiar from her book itself, but also with dozens of less known ones.

I did not see the original La Cinémathèque française edition of this exhibition, and this is a revised edition anyway with many works added from LACMA's own collections. This is a tribute to the great art of Hermann Warm, Otto Hunte, and their colleagues, who here can be appreciated not only as designers of unforgettable sketches but also as masters of the charcoal, pencil, watercolour, oil, and gouache. The sensual, aching quality of their art, expressionist, Neue Sachlichkeit or otherwise, comes into its own.

This exhibition is a part of the LACMA's long-term dedicated project of Expressionism and German culture, building on the Robert Gore Rifkind collection and other sources of their own. I had also the privilege to visit the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies and see samples of their fantastic collections of German graphic art before 1933.

I seriously considered visiting also the Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center (2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd), but the LACMA exhibition was so powerful and overwhelming that I could not have managed it after that.

AFTER THE JUMP BREAK: LACMA Blog articles by Britt Salvesen and Claudine Dixon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Grove (Los Angeles) with a Chinese New Year Theme

The Grove on Valentine's Day 2015. Photo: the official Facebook page of The Grove .
The Grove and Farmers Market, 189 The Grove Drive (3rd St. at Fairfax Ave.), Los Angeles. Visited on 11 Feb 2015.

Built in 2002, The Grove is now a quintessential Los Angeles phenomenon, an artificial paradise and a shopping center that has been compared with Rodeo Drive, the Universal CityWalk and Disneyland.

The last time I visited, the most famous Farmers Market of Los Angeles was still intact (there are some 50 Farmers Markets in L.A., but this is the best-known) and it still seems to thrive, incorporated now into the extravagant shopping theme park.

The Grove is an entertainment tour dedicated to consumption, today with a beautifully designed Chinese New Year theme. The bright red illumation of the stylish dragon and sheep ornaments dazzle as darkness falls.

When I lived in L.A. the Universal CityWalk had recently opened, and it was amusing to realize that in this city you need a specially constructed space to actually to enjoy a walk on a city street. The same applies to The Grove.

Bookstores thrived in Los Angeles twenty years ago. One could spend a day in them on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or in the Media City Center in Burbank. Now they are in death throes thanks to the black plague of culture called Amazon. I ask friends for advice on bookstores in L.A. now and get three:

1. Barnes & Noble - The Grove. For books in general. A fine grand full service bookstore, also with music and dvd / blu-ray departments. Three floors.

2. The Iliad Bookshop. 5400 Cahuenga Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601 (Corner of Cahuenga and Chandler Blvds.). Good for film books and out of print books.

3. Larry Edmunds Bookshop, 6644 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, 90028. In business over 70 years, (one of) the most legendary film bookshop(s) is still with us.

I was determined to visit all three, but distances are overwhelming. I need to return soon again.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Imitation Game

Photo credit: Jack English. Copyright: © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved. Click to enlarge.
The Imitation Game / The Imitation Game. GB/US © 2014 BBP Imitation LLC. P: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman. D: Morten Tyldum. SC: Graham Moore - based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma (1983) by Andrew Hodges. DP: Óscar Faura - shot on 35 mm film (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219) - Super 35 - cameras: Arricam LT and Arricam ST, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses - 2K digital intermediate: Company 3 - processing: i-Dailies (London) - colour - 2,35:1 - Dolby Digital - released on: DCP. PD: Maria Djurkovic. Cost: Sammy Sheldon Differ. Make-up and hair designer: Ivana Primorac. M: Alexandre Desplat. ED: Willam Goldenberg. D: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear (Det. Robert Nock), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton) with Charles Dance (Commander Denniston) and Mark Strong (Stewart Menzies). 114 min
    DCP viewed at The Samuel Goldwyn Theater (Motion Picture Academy screening), Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, 9 Feb 2014.
    Academy Award nominations: - Best Motion Picture of the Year: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman - Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Benedict Cumberbatch - Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Keira Knightley - Best Achievement in Directing: Morten Tyldum.

Official synopsis: "During the winter of 1952, British authorities entered the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to investigate a reported burglary. They instead ended up arresting Turing himself on charges of ‘gross indecency’, an accusation that would lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality – little did officials know, they were actually incriminating the pioneer of modern-day computing. Famously leading a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, he was credited with cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma machine. An intense and haunting portrayal of a brilliant, complicated man, The Imitation Game follows a genius who under nail-biting pressure helped to shorten the war and, in turn, save thousands of lives. Directed by Morten Tyldum with a screenplay by Graham Moore, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance and Mark Strong." (Official synopsis from the Production Notes).

AA: A well-made mainstream biopic with special insight in WWII, foreign intelligence, and the birth of the computer. A character-driven story firmly grounded in history and the evolution of information technology. The subject, Alan Turing, is considered the "Father of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence" (Wikipedia).

Compared with The Imitation Game, the simultaneous British success film of a troubled genius, The Theory of Everything is feelgood entertainment. The Imitation Game is a tragedy. The British government, having benefitted immensely from Alan Turing's insight during the war, poisons him with hormons to "cure" him of his homosexuality.

The screenplay is intelligent, discussing ever-relevant themes about human and artificial intelligence.

The Imitation Game is also a different kind of a war film. We are in one of the centers where the outcome of the war was settled. Although we are far from the front, we often sense the immediacy of the war. There are telling details such as a brief shot of a legless war invalid, which convey the general horror quite powerfully.

A puzzling aspect is the ethical dilemma of war. Not all discoveries could be put to use, because that would have exposed to the Nazis the fact that the Enigma had been cracked.

The codebreaking philosophy has wide-ranging implications. "How's that different from normal people talking. They never say what they mean". As an outsider, Alan Turing has been able to make observations like that.

The Imitation Game will be remembered as the film about the first computer. The film creation, here called Christopher, is bigger and more exciting than the real thing, almost a character in its own right.

The characters are contradictory in a way that feels true to life, but there is a mainstream polish in the production. For instance the talented and incredibly prolific Alexandre Desplat has here composed a conventional score that I feel simplifies the emotional flow.

As a Finn I start to think that an interesting film could be made of WWII Finnish codebreakers, too. And also of the Stella Polaris operation of rescuing intelligence abroad when the war was about to end.


The Packard Humanities Institute: The Film and Preservation Center (Santa Clarita)

The Film Archive and Preservation Center. Photo: BAR Architects. Click to enlarge
The BAR Architects presentation: "Located on a 64.5 acre site in Santa Clarita, The Film Archive and Preservation Center provides the highest standards of preservation and storage for one of the most significant collections of film and television moving images in the world. The buildings are designed to preserve the park-like setting of the oak tree savanna hillsides and maximize views to create a quality workplace. The project includes a film preservation laboratory, digital moving image and audio preservation laboratory, film video and paper storage archive, central plant and staff offices adjoining the existing underground nitrate film storage vaults."

"Client: Packard Humanities Institute
Architect: BAR Architects
Total Site Area: 64.5 Acres
Total Planned Area: 226,400 gsf
Project Components:
Two 20-Seat Screening Rooms
Digital, Moving Image and Audio Preservation
Film, Video and Digital Archives Storage
Nitrate Film Vaults
Central Plant
Gallery Exhibit Space
Research and Study Center
- BAR Architects

"The new building will be comprised of two distinct parts, the Collection Storage and the Stoa. The Collection Storage portion is a large, unobtrusive, functional structure—primarily underground—housing temperature and humidity controlled collection storage vaults, collection services, loading dock, film lab facilities and a central plant for the entire project. The Stoa, inspired by ancient Greek Stoas with two story colonnades, is an L-shaped structure housing the preservation labs, work rooms, preservationists’ offices and administrative functions. The interior architecture recalls motifs from the Florentine monastery of San Marco and is designed to inspire the preservationist’s work. The palette of materials is Mediterranean with terracotta roof tiles, light-colored precast columns and walls, terracotta floors, plaster walls with parking located beneath an olive orchard." (Architecture MMXII)

AA: An amazing place: state-of-the-art film archiving in an architectural setting that is faithful to the Classical vision, even utilizing Italian marble. A tribute to the craft and profession of film archiving. The buildings are there, and the installation of the equipment is going on. The premises will house the giant collections of the UCLA Film and Television Archive; many of their treasures are already here. Perfection in every detail: high quality premises can inspire high quality work. While marvelling at the view we notice condors patrolling the sky.*

* Evidence of the success of the California Condor Recovery Plan. Some 30 years ago there were no wild condors left in California; all survivors lived in captivity.

Hollywood Costume (exhibition at the Academy Museum)

Hollywood Costume. The Hollywood edition of the exhibition inaugurated in Victoria & Albert Museum in 2012, curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis. At Academy Museum, 8949 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, 2 Oct 2014 until 2 March, 2015. Viewed on 9 Feb 2015.

The exhibition catalogue: Deborah Nadoolman Landis: Hollywood Costume. First published by V&A Publishing, London, 2012. Published in America by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills. 320 large pages, high quality illustrations.

The official intro: "The Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences present the final showing of the groundbreaking multimedia exhibition Hollywood Costume in the historic Wilshire May Company Building, the future location of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, this ticketed exhibition explores the central role of costume design–from the glamorous to the very subtle–as an essential tool of cinematic storytelling. On view October 2, 2014 through March 2, 2015 the exhibition brings together the world's most iconic costumes from the Golden Age of cinema to the present."

"The Academy is enhancing the V&A's exhibition and includes more than 150 costumes. The Academy's presentation added more than 40 costumes to this landmark show, including Jared Leto's costume from Dallas Buyers Club (Kurt and Bart, 2013) – a recent acquisition from the Academy's Collection – as well as costumes from such recent releases including The Hunger Games (Judianna Makovsky, 2012), Django Unchained  (Sharen Davis, 2012), Lee Daniels' The Butler  (Ruth E. Carter, 2013), The Wolf of Wall Street  (Sandy Powell, 2013), American Hustle  (Michael Wilkinson, 2013), and The Great Gatsby  (Catherine Martin, 2013)."

"In addition, Hollywood Costume showcases the Academy's pair of the most famous shoes in the world – the original ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (Adrian, 1939) shown with Dorothy's blue and white gingham pinafore dress."

"Hollywood Costume is curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Academy Award®–nominated costume designer and founding director of UCLA’s David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design, whose credits include National Lampoon’s Animal House  (1978), Raiders of the Lost Ark  (1981), Coming to America   (1988) and the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”  (1983); with Sir Christopher Frayling (Professor Emeritus of Cultural History, Royal College of Art), and set and costume designer and V&A Assistant Curator Keith Lodwick."

"Swarovski is the presenting sponsor of Hollywood Costume.
Additional support is provided by Pirelli and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
In-kind support provided by Barco, ARRI, JBL and Samsung.

AA: Many of the obvious choices are here, as they should be, and it is hard to imagine the amount of work needed in putting all these precious and legendary pieces together.

I admire Deborah Nadoolman Landis's artistic concept and the execution of the huge show. The word that comes to mind is eloquent. This is a history of the American cinema seen through the costume design. Costume drama can be heavy, but the vision here is guided by wit. Martin Scorsese sums it up: "Costume is character". It is all about costume, and it is all about character.

There is a dramaturgy in this exhibition, most excitingly in a series of dialogues orchestrated between the director and the costume designer, seen on vertical screens facing each other: - Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock - Sandy Powell and Martin Scorsese - Ann Roth and Mike Nichols - and Colleen Atwood and Tim Burton.

Of the obvious exhibits, Charles Chaplin's tramp costume is for me especially poignant in this context, among all this splendour. Last year in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto the mayor of Pordenone commented that it is a sad fact that the Tramp is a more topical figure today than a generation ago.

Two costumes from Alfred Hitchcock's movies linger in my mind. The vibrant, rich, full green of the costume of Judy Barton (Kim Novak) in Vertigo, and the eau de Nil green of Melanie Daniels's (Tippi Hedren) costume in The Birds. Green is my favourite colour, but it almost always fails in clothes although it never fails in nature. My interpretation of the secret of the green is that in nature it is not a single colour at all but a combination of dozens of shades that are permanently changing. Yet green can in exceptional cases succeed in costumes, and those two Edith Head-Alfred Hitchcock creations are among them.

The new Academy Museum scheduled to open in 2017

The design for the new Academy Museum scheduled to open in 2017
"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is building the world's leading movie museum in the heart of Los Angeles. Located in the historic Wilshire May Company building on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the six stories Academy Museum was greenlighted by the Academy's Board of Governors in October 2012." (From the official Academy site).

They are all set to build a new magnificent movie museum for the Motion Picture Academy on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. It can definitely become the international landmark.

Meanwhile, there is still a chance to visit the superb Hollywood Costume exhibition in the current museum space here, curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Back in Hollywood

Image: Backyard Buzz: How to Attract Hummingbirds
I have not been in Los Angeles in 19 years. My first impression: it is still the same, only more so.

My friends tell me the traffic is still getting heavier all the time, and Los Angeles keeps spreading out. But now we have GPS navigators. They are amazingly helpful. I plan my way with a combination of an internet route map and a GPS navigator, and they do make life simpler.

At breakfast I buy the morning papers, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, still classical quality papers, but now slimmer, thinner, and narrower. I remember how startled I was when I saw for the first time a Sunday edition of an American quality newspaper, the size of a telephone directory. That is long gone.

Everything they say about Hollywood is true. But the glamour is but the surface, never to be trusted.

What I'm interested in is in line with John Ford's concept when he planned a film about Hollywood, never realized. He wanted to make a movie about the Hollywood professional. Here are many of the finest professionals and craftsmen of the cinema and the media world.

In the garden of a little old quiet restaurant bungalow in the heart of Hollywood, not far from the thunder of the freeways, I look at the tree top and see hummingbirds.