Saturday, September 17, 2016

Emily Dickinson: "The Soul selects her own Society" (a poem)

Jenny Lind in La sonnambula. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Emily Dickinson

The Soul selects her own Society
Then – shuts the Door –
To her divine Majority –
Present no more –

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat

I've known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone –

[303] ca. 1862

Valitsee sielu seuransa
ja sulkeutuu,
sen ylhäisyyteen tunkeudu
ei enää muu,

ei liiku, vaikka vaunut ovat
ei liiku, vaikka keisari on

laajasta kansasta vain yhden
Kivenä holvit huomion jo

Finnish translation by Helvi Juvonen (1959)

A Quiet Passion

Belgium, Great Britain
Director: Terence Davies
Language: English126 min
Rating: K7
Distribution: NonStop Entertainment
Print source: NonStop Entertainment
Love & Anarchy. Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
Theme: Life in the Arts
First screened: 17.9.2016 at 18:30 Kino Sheryl

Andrew Pulver quoted in the HIFF catalog: "(I)n 2015 Terence Davies released Sunset Song, his expansive adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of Scottish hill-farm life; now, early in 2016, another film has emerged: a biopic of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886 after a lifetime of respectable frustration. On the face of it, the two couldn’t be more different: the former revels in its sweeping landscapes and full-blooded screaming matches, while the latter is a resolutely-controlled miniature, barely setting foot outside the Dickinson house in Amherst, Massachusetts."

"For all that, A Quiet Passion sees Davies returning again to some familiar themes. His Dickinson – superbly played with a sort of restless passivity by Cynthia Nixon – is, like Sunset Song’s Chris Guthrie, a figure trapped by history and circumstance, desperate to find an outlet for the overwhelming emotions (…)."

"After a long period in the wilderness, A Quiet Passion is Davies’ third feature (…). We should be relieved that there’s no diminution of powers: rather, the opposite, in that Davies appears to be getting better every time."
- Andrew Pulver, The Guardian

AA: As different as Terence Davies's two new films seem, there are similarities. Both are period films. Both feature a female protagonist, and the story is about her struggle for a life of dignity. Both take place in an atmosphere of strict Protestant faith. Both are powerfully visual and image-driven.

Sunset Song is shot by Michael McDonough, based on splendid landscape cinematography belonging to the "landscape as soulscape" tradition. A Quiet Passion, a chamber play, is based on a totally opposite approach by Davies's trusted cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister: a spare, ascetic, intensive interior cinematography with an affinity with painters such as Vilhelm Hammershøi. As for cinema, aspects of Carl Th. Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman come to mind. And "die Konstitution der Innerlichkeit" discussed by Theodor W. Adorno in his first book, Kierkegaard: Konstruktion des Ästhetischen. For authentic interiors the film crew had access to the Emily Dickinson Museum at Amherst in Massachusetts.

The transcendence of music is essential in the evolution of Emily Dickinson. In his Helsinki masterclass Terence Davies told us that his research had proved that "Come per me sereno" from Vincente Bellini's La sonnambula (which we hear in the opera house sequence of the film) belonged to Jenny Lind's legendary American tour in 1850-1852.

For me, A Quiet Passion is a film about a poet's search for a higher level, transcendence, the beyond. The first attempt is a religious one which fails because of the church's ossified and limited stance. The second pathway is art, music whose grandeur wakes up in Emily something that nothing can stop. Her love is impossible because her spirit is too great for ordinary life. But she finds a way to express that grandeur in poetry.

Cynthia Nixon may be best known as Miranda, one of the four protagonists in Sex and the City. But she is a versatile actress with a long career, and now she is fully convincing in the challenging role of Emily Dickinson. It is a story of a disappointment in life and triumph in art. Emily the woman is not always nice. Emily is like Baudelaire's albatross, clumsy at land although she flies magnificently in the air. In this role, not based on external beauty, Cynthia Nixon projects a great power of personality.

Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets in the history of literature. In translation in Finnish she is not as prominent as she would deserve, although there are great translations of her poems in Finnish, including ones by Helvi Juvonen, her Finnish soul sister.

"Time heals" is a proverb that Emily Dickinson would never accept. Her wounds never healed, but much was sublimated into great poetry. Much of which is heard in this distinguished film.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Sunset Song (2015)

    Great Britain, Luxembourg
    Director: Terence Davies
    Language: English
    135 min
    Distribution: Fortissimo Films
    Print source: Fortissimo Films
Theme: Impossible Girls
Love & Anarchy, 29th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF)
First screened 16 Sep 2016 at 20.45 Kinopalatsi 2

Mark Kermode quoted in the HIFF catalogue: "(M)many elements from Grassic Gibbon’s novel (…) resonate with the autobiographical themes explored in (…) Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. There is the abusive father, brilliantly played by Peter Mullan, who breathes both fury and pathos into the role of John Guthrie, a turn-of-the-century farming patriarch torn between the anger of devotion (he sings hymns while harvesting) and the demons of violence and lust (…). There is the yearning female voice, Agyness Deyn providing internal monologue narration for Chris, who is torn between the beauty of the ancient Scottish land on which she toils, and the “sharp, clean and true” English words of an education that may yet take her away from all this."

"Most importantly, there is song, ringing out through the natural rustle of wind and bird and harvest, threatening to transform this drama into a musical (…)."

"What sings clearest, however, is Michael McDonough’s ravishing cinematography, a blend of 65 mm celluloid stock and resiliently responsive digital that takes us from the (…) candlelit interiors through glowing fields of gold and green and up into cloudy skies (…)." - Mark Kermode, The Guardian

AA: After the personal Liverpool documentary Of Time and the City (2008) there has been a comeback for Terence Davies with The Deep Blue Sea (2011), Sunset Song (2015), and A Quiet Passion (2016). The newest two films are very different, yet they share certain features: both are coming-of-age stories of young women of an independent spirit who fight for their dignity. In both, there is a background of Protestant Puritanism.

Sunset Song is based on a novel from 1932 by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, whose books have not been translated into Finnish. Sunset Song is a coming of age story of young Chris[tine] Guthrie facing the harshness of the nature and the brutality of her father John. She gets married with a tender young farmer, Ewan, but the Great War breaks out, and Ewan returns home as a brutal monster not unlike Christine's father, and later he is later executed by firing squad as a deserter. Kevin Guthrie [it's confusing with the names of the actors and the characters, isn't it] portrays the terrible transformation of Ewan memorably.

The magnificent outdoors cinematography by Michael McDonough has been conducted on 65 mm film. The interiors have been shot in digital. The landscapes look magnificent, and it is no wonder that Sunset Song has been screened in IMAX theatres. A point of comparison might be David Lean, including Ryan's Daughter. I interviewed Terence Davies in the Helsinki International Film Festival masterclass, and Davies reported that Sunset Song was produced on a low budget. It certainly does not look like it. Sunset Song is a feast of sublime landscapes.

The performances are fine. Agyness Deyn embraces with conviction the challenge to portray Christine, the coming of age of a young girl, her growing up to a woman and a mother, protecting her child, and protecting herself against a husband turned violent. Peter Mullan is powerful as the evil father. There are predecessors to such figures in Davies's work. I was also thinking about a recent viewing of William Wyler's A House Divided with Walter Huston as a tyrant father, dangerous to everybody in his circle.

The language is sometimes hard to understand. It is essential that the characters speak Scottish, but I confess that I for one would benefit of subtitles - even in English.

In these years we remember the centenary of the First World War. The brutalization of Ewan is relevant to a contemporary understanding of the psychological impact of war trauma. We now know more than people did at the time. Also in Finland we are still coming to terms with our wars of the last century. During this festival is also screened Timo Korhonen's new documentary Sodan murtamat [Broken by the War]. Fathers came home, and how they had changed. There was sometimes a Jekyll / Hyde experience with veterans. In the court-martial and execution of Ewan I was thinking about King & Country, a favourite WWI film of mine. Ewan is not a coward. But sometimes too much is too much.

Christine looks fragile, but there is a survivor spirit in her, what we in Finland call sisu (stamina, endurance, perseverance). She is a Scottish counterpart to our Finnish Loviisa, the mistress of the Niskavuori farm, in Hella Wuolijoki's Niskavuori Saga. When men are broken they will carry on.


Friday, September 09, 2016

All I Desire

All I Desire. Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) returns home after ten years.

All I Desire. Naomi is a model for her daughter Joyce. Lori Nelson (Lily Murdoch) and Barbara Stanwyck (Naomi Murdoch).
All I Desire. Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) sees her daughter Lily performing in a high school theatre performance of Baroness Barclay's Secret.

Ainoa toive / Miksi jätit minut / Varför lämnade du mig / All min längtan. USA© 1953 Universal Pictures Co., Inc. PC: Universal International Pictures Co., Inc. P: Ross Hunter. D: Douglas Sirk. SC: James Gunn ja Robert Blees – adaptation: Gina Kaus – based on the novel Stopover (London 1951) by Carol Ryrie Brink / Carol Brink. Poem: Elisabeth Barrett Browning: ”How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” (from Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1847). DP: Carl E. Guthrie / Carl Guthrie – b&w – 1,37:1. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun. Set dec: Russell A. Gausman, Julia Heron. Cost: Rosemary Odell. Jewels: Joan Joseff. Makeup: Bud Westmore. Hair: Joan St. Oegger. M: Henry Mancini (n.c.), Herman Stein (n.c.). Stock music: Daniele Amfitheatrof, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner, David Tamkin, Edward Ward. Music quoted: in the poem recital scene: Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. Song: “All I Desire” (comp. and lyrics David Lieberman). M dir: Joseph Gershenson. CH: Kenny Williams. S: Leslie I. Carey, Robert Pritchard, James V. Swartz (n.c.) – mono (Western Electric Recording). ED: Milton Carruth. Location: Universal Studios (Universal City).
    C: Barbara Stanwyck (Naomi Murdoch), Richard Carlson (Henry Murdoch), Lyle Bettger (Dutch Heinemann), Marcia Henderson (Joyce Murdoch), Lori Nelson (Lily Murdoch), Maureen O’Sullivan (Sara Harper), Richard Long (Russ Underwood), Billy Gray (Ted Murdoch), Lotte Stein (Lena Engstrom), Dayton Lummis (Col. Underwood), Fred Nurney (Peterson).
    An uncredited recurrent music theme: a violin arrangement of "Un sospiro", the third étude from: Franz Liszt: Trois études de concert, S.144 (for solo piano).
    Helsinki premiere: 11.12.1953 Elysee, distributor: Väinän Filmi – tv: 2.2.1993 TV3 – dvd: Barbara Stanwyck – Screen Goddess Collection (Universal Pictures, 2006) – VET 39134 – S – 79 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 9 Sep 2016.

The first American family melodrama by Douglas Sirk, his last conte moral set in nostalgic turn-of-the century America, his second film produced by Ross Hunter, a turning-point on his American career and on his career as a Universal house director (comprising his last 21 films, all during the 1950s, half of them produced by Hunter).

Barbara Stanwyck is the name above the title. All I Desire is a Barbara Stanwyck vehicle, shot in black and white because of her, and with profound affinities with other contemporary Stanwyck movies such as Clash by Night. Sirk considered Stanwyck of the greatest actors in Hollywood. She has such a strong presence that a problem of balance arises. But the conflict of balance is also central to the narrative: the glamorous performer returning to the little provincial community.

Only the supposedly brilliant international career of the Shakespeare actress Naomi Murdoch is an illusion. Naomi has fallen on hard times, and by now she is reduced to vaudeville, performing with dog acts.

All I Desire starts as a first person narrative with Stanwyck as the narrator.

She has left her family and hometown ten years ago. When she returns there is a perfect silence. "What a dramatic entrance". The father is shocked, the youngest child too young to remember. Naomi is warm and kind, but the family is mostly unwelcoming. "We aren't your family. You aren't our mother". Only Lily, with whom Naomi has been in correspondence, idolizes mother.

Naomi has returned to see Lily performing in a school theater performance of Baroness Barclay's Secret. It is an amateurish high school play until Lily comes on stage. There is a very moving close-up of Naomi watching her daughter perform (see image above). There are tender moments of comedy: "just a stage kiss" is Lily's instruction to the young man playing her lover. Despite or because of the amateurishness of the play in the play the sequence is a display of Sirk's affection for the stage. Naomi is proud of Lily, and Lily is proud of Naomi.

In the party after the show there is a dance at the Murdoch home, and Naomi is invited. It soon turns out that she is the supreme dancer, even in bunny hop, and the event threatens to turn into a Naomi Murdoch show. The rest of the family is embarrassed. But Lily keeps showcasing Naomi and urges her to give a recital. Naomi selects a poem by Elisabeth Barrett Browning, "How do I love thee?". The moment is magical and complex. The tenderness between mother and daughter reaches its peak. Lily expects Naomi to take her to New York and introduce her to the theatre world.

Another daughter, Joyce (Marcia Henderson), condemns her mother, and they have a frank confrontation. Naomi urges Joyce to live a little. "A mother with no principles", Naomi says ironically. "A daughter with no guts". Joyce is offended and affected, but mother's word give her a sting to be more active.

During many years Lily's drama teacher Sara Harper (Maureen O'Sullivan) has become personally close to Henry Murdoch (Richard Carlson) but very soon she sees what is happening. "I want him to be happy. You are the woman he needs".

Soon the make-believe of Naomi's supposedly glamorous Shakespearean career becomes unbearable, and Naomi tells the truth to her daughters, crushing their illusions. There is also a frank discussion between Henry and Naomi. Naomi tells him "how unimportant success is". Lily is angry and disappointed when it turns out that Naomi is going to stay.

Meanwhile, Naomi's ex-lover Dutch Heinemann (Lyle Bettger), a gun store keeper, has been lurking around, and he alerts Naomi with his secret code signal, "two shots and then one" (which everybody in the community seems to know). Against the warning of the housekeeper Naomi goes for one last time to call it quits with Dutch. When Dutch tries to take her with force, Naomi uses the horsewhip, but Dutch's gun goes off, wounding him dangerously. (Connections with Summer Storm: the shooting party, the nostalgic river, the Chekhovian gun).

Dutch is taken to hospital. The community is alarmed, and the scandal threatens Henry's position as school principal. "I'm sorry I'm such a disappointment to everybody", comments Naomi. Especially big the disappointment has been to Ted (Billy Gray), her youngest child, the one who was too young to even remember her. Naomi cries while explaining to Ted what has happened. But facing the scandal Henry stands up to Naomi. At Dutch's hospital bed (Dutch's wound is feared to be lethal) Henry hears the full story and understands that their affair had ended. Naomi is about to leave, and Douglas Sirk shot a consistent tragic ending, following the novel on which the film is based. But Ross Hunter demanded a happy ending. "I'm asking you to stay", says Henry. "Some grow old. Some grow up".

Out of this material another director might have made a mediocre and conventional melodrama. Douglas Sirk treats it intelligently, without irony or condescension. The two worlds - the fake world of glamourous entertainment and the provincial world of the little community - reflect each other in a complex way. There is a mastery of mise-en-scène in Sirk's direction. The first thrilling instance of it is the sequence of Naomi's homecoming (see the first image above). Another great instance is the play within the play. The composition in depth and the breakdown of scenes in shots are admirably effective.

A brilliant print.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

There’s Always Tomorrow (1955)

Onni päättyy huomenna / I morgon är också en dag / Siempre hay un mañana. US © 1955 Universal Pictures Co., Inc. PC: Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc. P: Ross Hunter. D: Douglas Sirk. SC: Bernard C. Schoenfeld – based on the novel (1929) by Ursula Parrott. DP: Russell Metty – b&w – 1,85:1. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Eric Orbom. Set dec: Russell A. Gausman, Julia Heron. Cost: Jay A. Morley, Jr. Jewels: Joan Joseff. Makeup: Bud Westmore. Hair: Joan St. Oegger. M: Heinz Roemheld, Herman Stein. M director: Joseph Gershenson. Flute: Ethmer Roten. Theme song: “Blue Moon” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart). S: Leslie I. Carey, Joe Lapis – mono (Western Electric Recording). ED: William Morgan. Loc: Mojave Desert – Apple Valley (California), Universal Studios (Universal City).
    C: Barbara Stanwyck (Norma Miller Vale), Fred MacMurray (Clifford Groves), Joan Bennett (Marion Groves), William Reynolds (Vinnie Groves), Pat Crowley (Ann), Gigi Perreau (Ellen Groves), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Rogers), Race Gentry (Bob), Myrna Hansen (Ruth), Judy Nugent (Frances /Frankie/ Groves), Paul Smith (bellboy), Helen Kleeb (Miss Walker), Jane Howard (flower girl), Frances Mercer (Ruth Doran), Sheila Bromley (woman from Pasadena), Dorothy Bruce (sales manager), Hermine Sterler (tourist's wife), Fred Nurney (tourist), Hal Smith (bartender), Ross Hunter (cameo).
    Helsinki premiere: 18.5.1956 Elysee, distributor: Väinän Filmi Oy – tv: 20.9.1992 TV3, 18.6.2006 Yle TV2 – dvd: Barbara Stanwyck – Screen Goddess Collection (Universal Pictures, 2006) – VET 44423 – S – 86 min
    Previous film adaptation: Rakkauden uhri (There’s Always Tomorrow / Too Late for Love, US 1934, PC: Universal Pictures, D: Edward Sloman, C: Frank Morgan, Binnie Barnes).

Who would not be thinking about Double Indemnity when Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray are paired again, and who would not immediately forget the film noir classic while watching this drama in a completely different register, about a reunion of two ex-lovers who meet twenty years after. We started our Douglas Sirk retrospective with Summer Storm, an interesting adaptation of a minor Anton Chekhov novel, but in the approach of There's Always Tomorrow there is an affinity with some of Chekhov's great tales, such as "The Lady with the Dog", about coming to terms with the passing of time, the question of "is that all there is", of love turned into routine in a long marriage.

"Once upon a time in sunny California" is the ironic title after the opening credits, immediately followed by a signature Sirk shot of feet walking in the rain.

The toy manufacturer Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) is lonely and alienated at work and at home. His factory has grown and he cannot participate in the creative side as much as he would like. At home he is taken for granted by wife and three teen-aged children. Cliff would like to invite his wife Marion (Joan Bennett) to a night out to celebrate her birthday and to a weekend in Apple Valley, but Marion is too busy with the children for that.

Like in a dream, when Cliff is alone at home, Norma (Barbara Stanwyck) appears, a co-worker and lover from twenty years ago, now a glamorous fashion designer based in New York. They end up spending the night out and even the weekend in Apple Valley together.

The advertising angle of the film is that of a triangle drama but it really is not. Critics like Michael Stern have commented that Marion is not jealous because it would never occur to her that Cliff might have an affair but I do not believe that. Marion is happy in her marriage and accepts it as a fact of life that there is no erotic charge in the union anymore. She is aware of Cliff's anxiety and happy if something nice happens to him.

There's Always Tomorrow is fundamentally anti-melodramatic in its account of the relationships between Cliff, Norma and Marion. There is no affair on the side, and no drama of jealousy. There is certainly a desire for a newly rejuvenated passion, but Norma does not want to break Cliff's marriage because of her insight that his children will always have priority.

The melodramatic characters in the movie are the children who spy, eavesdrop and make plots around Cliff and Norma. They misunderstand what they see, but their concern for the family is genuine. Only they do not see that they have themselves contributed to Cliff's alienation which is why he is so happy for moments of joy and tenderness with Norma.

The angle of the children's intervention in their parents' relationships is prominent in Back Street (1932), perhaps the model of this tradition in melodrama? In There's Always Tomorrow the most narrow-minded character is Cliff's son Vinnie, and the most broad-minded character is Vinnie's girlfriend Ann who sees through the family situation and defends Cliff: "I wouldn't blame him if he had" (had an affair). The children go so far that they confront Norma in her hotel room, leading her to believe that Cliff is coming. Like in Back Street, there is a strong dramatic scene between the children and the adult. Norma is frank and outspoken in her defense of Cliff to his children. But when they are gone Norma bursts into tears. There is a shot of a crying Norma by a rainswept window which prefigures the famous shot in In Cold Blood.

The shot that should have been the last is of Cliff looking at the sky where the airplane carrying Norma disappears into the East. But there is also an obligatory happy end. The children and Marion are attentive to Cliff again. "You know me better than I know myself" says Cliff to Marion.

All performances are good. Barbara Stanwyck is marvellous. I have never read a biography on her. What a career, from the silent age (1927) until prominent roles in television series until 1986, an active career of 60 years. It strikes me that during the 1950s she favoured films in black and white. In this film she seems to wear heavy make-up, and she is filmed with soft lenses. She was almost 50 and maybe wanted to look younger. But the character she plays is the dynamo of this movie. And the voice of reason for everybody.

A battered 35 mm print which gives a good enough experience of the film.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Reading classics of ancient Greece and Rome III: Julius Caesar: The Gallic War

Outbreak of the Gallic War. West Point. United States Military Academy. Department of History. Atlas for Ancient Warfare. One of 13 maps of the Gallic Wars. Please click to enlarge the map.

Map of Roman Gaul detailing Gallic tribes. MacQuarie University, Sydney, Australia. Please click to enlarge the map.

Map of the Gallic Wars. Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge the map.

Lionel Royer: Vercingetorix jette ses armes aux pieds de Jules César (Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar) [52 BC]. [Percheron horses did not exist in Gaul at the time. In reality Gauls rode bareback. Shields were mostly oval]. 1899. Image and remarks from Wikipedia. Musée Crozatier du Puy-en-Velay. Please click to enlarge the image.

Julius Caesar: Commentarii de Bello Gallico
The Gallic War / Commentaries on the Gallic War / Bellum Gallicum. Written in the Roman Republic during the Gallic war campaign. Written in 51 BC. Written in classical Latin. Divided into seven books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Read in Finnish:
Gaius Julius Caesar: Gallian sota. Translated into Finnish by Hannes Korpi-Anttila. Introduction by Edwin Linkomies. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 244 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1961

The Gallic War has been required reading for students of classical Latin for millennia. I have now read it for the first time, in my native Finnish, but the great style of Julius Caesar is evident also in translation. Experts of the language value it as a model of Golden Age Latin. The writing is simple and forceful and always forward moving. There are digressions (for instance on bizarre animals skulking in the deep forest of Germania, including a species of moose without joints in its legs) but not very many.

In my project of reading classics of antiquity I have Thucydides fresh in the memory, and for me Thucydides remains the greater master of style, surpassing Caesar. Probably Thucydides had been among Caesar's models, and Xenophon, as well. All three share the feature of writing an account of their own experiences, and all three write of themselves in the third person. (A feature satirized by Goscinny and Uderzo in Asterix comics).

Thucydides wrote about the tragic Peloponnesian wars where Spartans and Atheneans slaughtered each other. It was a battle between equals.

Xenophon told about the daredevil adventures of his soldiers of fortune tangled in the power struggle for the kingship of Persia. Ten thousand fighters agains millions.

My favourite historian of antiquity is Herodotus because his is an account of the incredible victory of the little and divided Hellas for its freedom against the ten times more powerful army of Persia (in battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataea... ).

The Gallic War is Caesar's callous, imperialistic account of how he crushes brutally three million freedom-loving warriors splintered into 300 tribes. 800 cities were destroyed, one million Gauls killed, and another million enslaved. Reading this book I rooted for the Gauls. And Helvetians, Germans, and Britons.

Caesar never belittles his adversaries. On the contrary, he prizes their skill and bravado.

The Gallic wars were a historical turning-point, as a result of which Romanic languages are today spoken in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. They were a big step in the formation of Europe. Caesar's book is the sole account of the wars and the single source of many aspects of the 300 tribes involved.

Random observations. Caesar sees Gauls as born rebels (at least in the interpretation in this Finnish translation, Book Four). In Book Six there is an important account of the druids, the spiritual leaders of the Gauls. It even contains the earliest remarks on traditions made memorable to filmgoers by The Wicker Man.

An interesting remark for a cinephile: "Multum ad terrendos nostros valet clamor, qui post tergum pugnantibus exstitit, quod suum periculum in aliena vident salute constare: omnia enim plerumque quae absunt vehementius hominum mentes perturbant." ("The shouts which were raised by the combatants in their rear had a great tendency to intimidate our men, because they perceived that their danger rested on the valour of others: for generally all evils which are distant most powerfully alarm men's minds."). ("Pelottava vaikutus meikäläisiin oli myös sillä huudolla, jonka he taistellessaan kuulivat selkänsä takaa, koska he oivalsivat, että heidän oma vaaransa oli riippuvainen toisten taistelusuorituksista. Ihmisessähän tavallisesti herättääkin suurempaa levottomuutta kaikki sellainen, mikä on poissa näkyvistä."). The essence of Jacques Tourneur's l'effet-bus in Cat People.

Book Seven contains the horrendous tales of the massacres of Avaricum and Alesia. Caesar's story ends with the surrender of Vercingetorix (see image above).

I was also thinking that forty years after Caesar's death Jesus Christ was born, and his life was a rebellion against the very mentality reflected in The Gallic War.

What the druids knew they learned by heart. There was a ban of writing among them. Which is why we do not have alternative histories of the Gallic wars from their viewpoint.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Ganashatru / An Enemy of the People

Soumitra Chatterjee as Dr. Ashok Gupta, the mild-mannered doctor who is unflinching in his concern for public health.

Ganashatru. Dipankar Dey (Haridas Bagchi, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper), Monoj Mitra (the publisher of the newspaper), Dhritiman Chatterjee (Nishith Gupta, the doctor's businessman brother). Photo from The Criterion Collection site.

গণশত্রু / Ganasatru / Gonosthotru / The Public Enemy / Un ennemi de peuple / Ein Volksfeind / Nemico pubblico / Враг народа / [Kansanvihollinen] / [En folkefiende]. IN 1989. PC: National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). P: Ravi Malik. D: Satyajit Ray. SC: Satyajit Ray – research: Nirmalya Acharya – based on the play by Henrik Ibsen: En Folkefiende (1882) – translated into Finnish as Kansanvihollinen by Eino Palola and Katri Palola in: Valitut draamat 5 (Porvoo: WSOY, 1962) – Finnish premiere: 24.9.1889 Suomalainen Teaatteri, as Kansan vihaaja. DP: Barun Raha – 35 mm – colour. AD: Ashoke Bose. Cost: Bablu Das, Ratan Lal. Makeup: Ananta Das. M: Satyajit Ray. S: Sujit Sarkar (sound recordist), Hitendra Ghost (re-recording) – mono. ED: Dulal Dutta. C: Soumitra Chatterjee (Dr. Ashok Gupta), Dhritiman Chatterjee (Nishith Gupta), Dipankar Dey (Haridas Bagchi), Ruma Guha Thakurta (Maya Gupta), Mamata Shankar (Indrani Gupta), Subhendu Chatterjee (Biresh Guha). In Bengali. Not released in Finland. 99 min
    A 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Satyajit Ray), 2 September 2016

Henrik Ibsen's drama An Enemy of the People has been filmed many times, especially in Germany, even in Nazi Germany, starring Heinrich George. On the other hand, when Arthur Miller made his acclaimed adaptation he made changes to the play's anti-democratic stand. In the age of Trump and Brexit it is easy to understand Ibsen's view that "The minority is always right" and Dr. Stockmann's dictum "Fools are always in the majority". But Ibsen and Dr. Stockmann were wrong. Democracy has its weaknesses but it is still the least unsuccessful system we know.

Satyajit Ray has changed Ibsen's drama even more thoroughly than Arthur Miller. Ingeniously he has turned the drama of the polluted water of a health spa into a story of a popular Hindi temple whose water turns out to be polluted, causing a lethal jaundice epidemic.

A convalescent from a debilitating stroke, Ray was forced to change his approach as a film director in his last three films (An Enemy of the People, Branches of the Tree, The Stranger). They are mostly confined to interiors and focused on dialogue. Much of An Enemy of the People looks like television drama. But there are also expressive exterior shots from the temple.

An Enemy of the People is a well made film. It is more static than Ray's previous films, but the drama itself is electrifying. It has a sense of urgency relevant to Ray's topical engagement in politics. Ray devoted himself to a public fight against corruption and warned Indians of religious fundamentalism. Ray himself became "a public enemy" in the ironical meaning of the title of Ibsen's play. Andrew Robinson points out that the Ibsen film adaptation started "a trilogy of corruption" in Ray's oeuvre.

"The strongest one is the one who stands alone" is the subtitle of Ibsen's play. Andrew Robinson comments that Ray turned that view upside down. Ray's Dr. Ashok Gupta is a mild-mannered man, seemingly easy prey to his ruthless brother Nishith. Nishith bullies the editor of a newspaper to cancel Ashok's article about the holy water. When Ashok arranges a meeting to warn the public Nishith sabotages it and gives Ashok no chance to explain terms of immunity. Nishith even has the meeting bombed in order to interrupt it. Ashok is fired from his job, his daughter, as well, and the family gets an eviction notice. Hired hoodlums throw stones on their windows. But in the finale a crusading reporter who has also been fired takes their side. There are signals of solidarity, and from the outside they hear a rising chorus chanting "hurrah Doctor Gupta".

The plot concept is still topical in many ways, and it provides a good dramatic structure for many kinds of stories involving a conflict between quick profit and sustainable practice.

Jerker A. Eriksson, the grand old man of Finnish film criticism, has remarked that An Enemy of the People is a blueprint for entire currents in catastrophe and horror genres, including films such as Jaws. One might list The Towering Inferno, Jurassic Park...

A good and clean print with pleasant colour; only in the beginning there is for a while a duped look.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Storm

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Edward Everett Horton (Count Volsky), Linda Darnell (Olga). Please do click to enlarge the images.

En sällsam bekännelse. US © 1944 Angelus Pictures, Inc. PC also: Nero Films (n.c.). Original distr: United Artists Corp. P: Seymour Nebenzal. Assoc P: Rudolf S. Joseph / Rudolph Joseph. Ohjaus: Douglas Sirk. SC: Rowland Leigh – adaptation Douglas Sirk and Michael O’Hara [= Douglas Sirk] – add. dialogue: Robert Thoeren – based on the novel by Anton Chekhov: Drama na okhote (1885), in Finnish Kohtaus metsästysretkellä in the SaPo series of detective fiction (WSOY 1980, translation into Finnish by Valdemar Melanko, cover image from the Emil Lotianu film adaptation), Engl. The Shooting Party. DP: Archie Stout / Archie M. Stout. Second cameraman: Eugen Schüfftan (n.c.). AD: Rudi Feld. Set dec: Emile Kuri. Cost: Lon Anthony, Max Pretzfelder. M and musical D: Karl Hajos. S: Richard DeWeese / Richard de Weese (sound recording), Fred Lau (sound, n.c.). ED: Gregg G. Tallas (collaborating editor). Technical D: Eugen Schüfftan / Eugene Schufftan.
    C: George Sanders (magistrate Fyodor “Fedya” Mikhailovich Petrov), Linda Darnell (Olga Kuzminitshna Urbenina), Anna Lee (Nadena Kalenina), Edward Everett Horton (Count “Piggy” Volsky), Hugo Haas (Anton Urbenin), Laurie Lane / Lori Lahner (Klara Heller), John Philiber (Polycarp, Petrov's butler), Sig Ruman / Sig Rumann (woodcutter Kuzma), John Abbott (Lunin, public prosecutor), Mary Servoss (Mrs. Kalenina), André Charlot (Anton Kalenin), Robert Greig (Gregory, Volsky's butler), Nina Koshetz (gypsy singer), Paul Hurst (Orlov), Charles Trowbridge (doctor), Mike Mazurki (tall policeman bending over Petrov).
    Not released in Finland – 106 min
    According to Sirk the film was mostly shot by Eugen Schüfftan, not credited since he was not a member of the cinematographer's union.
    Another film adaptation: The Shooting Party / Kohtaus metsästysretkellä / Murhenäytelmä metsällä / Olet rakkaani, olet petoni (Moi laskovyy i nezhnyy zver / Мой ласковый и нежный зверь, SU 1978), D: Emil Lotianu / Emil Loteanu, C: Oleg Yankovsky (Kamyshev), Galina Belyayeva (Olga), Kirill Lavrov (the Count).
    A 16 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 31 Aug 2016

Before his evolution into a writer of great tales (The Steppe, 1888) and great plays (The Seagull, 1895; nb. The Wood Demon, a previous version of Uncle Vanya, stems already from 1889) Anton Chekhov was a prolific and versatile writer also of light entertainment fiction, such as The Shooting Party, a first person narrative in which the narrator turns out to be the killer – "Who did it?" "I did it" – a device later brought into play by Agatha Christie in his Hercule Poirot mystery The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), "in 2013, 87 years after its release the British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel ever" (Wikipedia). There is, however, no reason to think that Christie was aware of The Shooting Party.

The dilemma of Chekhov's narrator is aggravated by the fact that he is a magistrate in charge of justice. He has not lost his sense of justice, but his will-power is too weak, and so in his stead an innocent man is sent to life imprisonment in hard labour in Siberia. Finally the judge writes his account of what has happened, including his confession.

Douglas Sirk was a great man of the theatre in Germany who had gotten a solid start for his film career at Ufa in the 1930s. In Hollywood emigration he was getting restarted on his film career, and together with co-exiles such as producer Seymour Nebenzal and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan he created Summer Storm.

There is a touch of Hollywood Russia in the atmosphere, but the account of decay and corruption is faithful to Chekhov as well as the psychology of the main characters. George Sanders is excellent as judge Fyodor (Fedya) Mikhailovich Petrov, as is Edward Everett Horton as his best friend, Count Volsky. The female roles remain underwritten, but Linda Darnell is attractive as the sensual Olga Kuzminicha Urbenina, and Anna Lee conveys the role of the sensible Nadina Kalenina very well. Sig Rumann is unrecognizable behind his mighty beard as woodcutter Kuzma, Olga's vulgar father, who gets stone drunk and spoils his daughter's wedding party.

Michael Stern has noted how the very first shot of the film is already characteristically Sirkian: a close-up pan of hesitant feet.

Critics have observed ways in which Summer Storm prefigures later works of Douglas Sirk such as Written on the Wind. There is an affinity between Judge Petrov and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). The key sentence "do you remember the rainbow and lake?" reminds us of "look how far we've come from the river?".

Summer Storm is a tale of corruption, but there is an unmistakable flow of sympathy for the human potential of the characters who are drifting on a collision course in the current of life. Sirk always roots for his characters, no matter how ill advised they may be. They are depraved but full of life – and remorse. For Andrew Sarris Summer Storm was about "an ecstasy of irresolution.".

There is a dimension of the sublime here. When Olga is introduced she tells how her mother died in a thunderstorm "of heavenly electricity" and predicts that that is going to be her fate, as well. Her final words to Fedya are, indeed "heavenly electricity". And when Fedya is shot while trying to flee from the militia, he, too, utters those words.

The period of the action has been transferred from the 1880s to the 1910s, before and after the revolution. The account of the Soviet period in the framing story is neutral (the film was produced during a period when USA and USSR were allies). Might this be a reason why Summer Storm has become a difficult film to access?

There is an obsession with the theme of the cancelled wedding in the cinema. In Summer Storm the wedding of Olga and Anton is not cancelled, but to all participants it is obviously wrong, and everyone is ill at ease. Olga the bride leaves her own wedding party, and Fedya meets her for a passionate embrace in another room. Nadina sees them and abandons Fedya's tender dance card to the floor. That is the end of Nadina and Fedya's engagement. The final image of the film is of a waste paper basket with the dance card which Fedya has carried all his life, with the inscription "I love you".

Visually striking passages include the one where the maid Klara sees from a crack of a bathing hut a hand washing the bloody knife with which Olga was stabbed. Equally striking is the scene at the court where Klara realizes to whom the hand belonged.

There are passages of Tchaikovsky baked into the music score. It would be interesting to know the titles of the beautiful Russian romances sung by an old lady and George Sanders with the Romani orchestra.

A film that I was thinking about while watching Summer Storm is La Règle du jeu.

The 16 mm print is somewhat battered especially during the first minutes but it still provides a memorable experience of a rare and important Douglas Sirk film.

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Robert Greig (Gregory, Volsky's butler) Edward Everett Horton (Count Volsky).

Summer Storm. Linda Darnell (Olga).

Summer Storm. Olga's wedding. Linda Darnell (Olga), George Sanders (judge Petrov, best man at the wedding).

Summer Storm. At Olga's deathbed. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Hugo Haas (Anton Urbenin), Linda Darnell (Olga, Anton's wife). The violent and jealous Anton is about to be convicted for the murder of his wife.

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov).