Sunday, October 04, 2015

L'Inhumaine (2015 digital restoration by Lobster Films) with live music by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius

L'Inhumaine. Histoire féerique vue par Marcel L'Herbier / [The film was not released in Finland] / The Inhuman Woman [the English title in the subtitles on the DCP] / (The New Enchantment) (Cinégraphic – FR 1924) D+P+SC: Marcel L’Herbier; DP: Georges Specht; main title design + AN: Fernand Léger; AD: Robert Mallet-Stevens (exteriors of Claire’s villa and Einar’s house, entrance to Claire’s villa, Claire’s bedroom), Alberto Cavalcanti (Claire’s dining room, secondary rooms of Einar’s laboratory), Claude Autant-Lara (indoor garden of Claire’s villa), Fernand Léger (Einar’s laboratory); furniture: Michel Dufet, Jean Lurçat, Pierre Chareau, Martine (furniture and décor atelier of Paul Poiret); sculptures: Joseph Csáky; glass: René Lalique, Jean Luce; silver: Jean Puiforcat; cost for Georgette Leblanc: Paul Poiret; filmed: 1923-24 (Studio Levinsky, Joinville; Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris; Rouen); première: 11.1924; C: Georgette Leblanc (Claire Lescot), Jaque Catelain (Einar Norsen), Philippe Hériat (Djorah de Mopur), Léonid Walter de Malte (Wladimir Kranine), Fred Kellerman (Frank Mahler), Marcelle Pradot (l’Innocente), Jean Börlin, Les Ballets Suédois de Rolf de Maré (ballet, “La Nuit de Saint-Jean”, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées), Kiki de Montparnasse; DCP, 125', col. (tinted & toned); titles: French intertitles in the original film; English subtitles for the DCP by Lenny Borger; print source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    A Lobster Films presentation in association with Marie-Ange L’Herbier and ARTE. This restoration by Lobster Films was made possible thanks to the loan of original nitrate material by the Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy, and financing by the initiative for aid to digitization and restoration of the French film heritage. Scanned at 4K from the original camera negative. Sponsored by the CNC and Maison Hermès. Historical advisor: Mireille Beaulieu.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian, live music by: Stephen Horne (digital piano etc.; theremin?) and Frank Bockius (percussions), 4 Oct 2015

Catherine A. Surowiec (GCM catalog and website): "L’Inhumaine is the art film par excellence. Its ambitions are trumpeted by its remarkable list of creative talents, drawn from the Parisian vanguard of art, architecture, and fashion, marshalled by the visionary cinema aesthete Marcel L’Herbier (1888-1979), one of France’s most cultured and innovative directors of the time. The story concerns Claire Lescot, a heartless singer who toys with her admirers, and a romantic young inventor, Einar, who fakes suicide to challenge her love, fascinates her by demonstrating early broadcasting technology, and uses his technical wizardry to save her after she is bitten by a poisonous snake planted by a spurned maharajah. L’Herbier later freely acknowledged that his simple “histoire féerique” was only a framework for the visuals: “I used the scenario, which was admittedly poor, a little like composers would use a basse chiffrée (figured bass), to spin and layer variations and embellishments. For me the important thing was not the parade of events, but the chords, the artistic harmony.” Always striving to take cinema in new directions, L’Herbier wrote and lectured tirelessly about the art and potential of the medium, expounding his views wherever L’Inhumaine was shown on tour, adapting a 1922 lecture he had delivered at the Collège de France, “Le Cinématographe contre l’Art”."

"The extravagant production proved a financial disaster for L’Herbier’s company Cinégraphic. Audiences were polarized; arguments at early screenings reportedly escalated into fistfights, and the film can still generate lively discussion today. The title signals its major problem: a lack of heart. It’s difficult to warm to characters easily subsumed by their surroundings, particularly the “inhumaine” diva herself . Yet as an incredible exercise in visual style, the film still retains a hypnotic power; L’Herbier himself dubbed the results “visual absinthe”."

"Above all L’Inhumaine survives as a precious artistic document of its time, a synthesis of architectural geometry, cubism, and futurism, as well as a preview of the decorative modernism soon to feature in the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs and Industriels Modernes (the inspiration for the term “Art Deco”). Several of L’Herbier’s design team would contribute to the Exposition: architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, influenced by the Viennese Secession, especially the work of Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte; the artist Fernand Léger, then in his “machine” period, and soon to embark on the film Ballet mécanique; fashion designer Paul Poiret; and Pierre Chareau, later famous as co-designer of the revolutionary “Maison de Verre” (House of Glass). Futurism pokes into the film with its images of inexplicable machinery, spinning wheels, and speeding cars, as well as the unconventional wardrobe worn by leading man Jaque Catelain, L’Herbier’s eternal mascot."

"The opening shots find us speeding high above the Seine river valley, along the bluffs above Rouen. Our destination is a famous Mallet-Stevens quote, “Architecture is an art which is basically geometrical”, brought to life in an architectural fantasy magisterially created through miniatures, models, and studio sets. Alberto Cavalcanti, one of L’Herbier’s talented recruits, designed the dining room of the heartless diva. The table is set on a checkerboard island in the middle of a pool, while servants in ever-smiling masks wait on guests, and entertainment is provided by foot-jugglers, fire-eaters, and a jazz band perched on a balcony. Claude Autant-Lara designed the indoor garden in the style of a Douanier Rousseau jungle."

"The story then takes us on location to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, where Jean Börlin and Rolf de Maré’s Ballets Suédois (who would also be involved in the making of René Clair’s Entr’acte the following year) are seen performing the 1920 ballet La Nuit de Saint-Jean (frustratingly only in long shot). This is followed by a song recital by the diva, and an audience riot echoing the ruckus sparked during the premiere of Diaghilev and Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913 in the same theatre. George Antheil, dissonant “bad boy of music”, notes in his autobiography that the audience we see had actually been inflamed by one of his piano recitals; he even cites the exact date: 4 October 1923. But the film’s highlight remains the laboratory sequences, featuring a triumphant three-dimensional ballet mécanique enacted by a set personally constructed by Léger, with staccato editing and flashing lights and colours, during which the heroine is restored to life and a new humanity – a state echoed in the film’s American title, The New Enchantment."

"Whatever the contributing artist, L’Herbier exerts a firm grip on every visual aspect, with staging, camerawork, lighting, editing, set and costume design, tinting, toning, and intertitle design all meticulously planned. His personal interest in new technology is also displayed: radio and television both feature prominently in the story. The one aspect not fully under his control is his formidable leading lady. Georgette Leblanc (1869-1941) was a noted opera singer, and former mistress of Belgian symbolist writer Maurice Maeterlinck. In her 50s at the time of the film, she had recently begun a lasting relationship with the American Margaret Anderson, founder-editor of The Little Review. Leblanc no longer possessed Louis Delluc’s fabled quality of “photogénie”, but she clearly enjoyed charisma in person, and her links with wealthy backers enabled the film to be made; she put up half the money."

"The original score for L’Inhumaine by Darius Milhaud is lost, but recent research by Serge Bromberg suggests that it was mainly assembled from airs by great French composers, including Rameau, Berlioz, Bizet, Debussy, and Satie. Milhaud himself contributed two “percussion interludes”, probably for Einar’s “suicide” by automobile and the final laboratory sequence."

"After the initial screenings, L’Inhumaine went into limbo for decades, a lost avant-garde legend, overshadowed by L’Herbier’s subsequent masterpieces Feu Mathias Pascal (1925) and L’Argent (1928). It finally emerged in the archives in the 1960s. This new restoration by Lobster Films premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 30 March 2015.

Catherine A. Surowiec

A longer, more detailed version of this film note is available (in English only) on the Giornate del Cinema Muto website.

The Restoration 

Serge Bromberg (GCM catalog and website): "Since the disappearance of the last tinted nitrate print of L’Inhumaine in the late 1960s there have been two previous attempts to reconstruct it – by the CNC in 1972, under the supervision of L’Herbier himself, but without colour; and in 1986 by Jean Dréville, L’Herbier’s assistant on the film, attempting to recreate the tinting from memory, using the inadequate technical resources of the period: the image was also reduced to accommodate a soundtrack. The failure to reproduce the original colouring was a crucial loss. L’Herbier used and combined the techniques of tinting (monochrome printing on pre-tinted stock) and toning (chemically dyeing the printed image) with innovative creativity, culminating in the almost stroboscopic colour montage of the final sequence."

"To print each new copy of L’Inhumaine is thus a technical and aesthetic challenge. Lobster Films have worked from good original nitrate negatives, conserved by the CNC. These were scanned at 4K on Nitroscan by Éclair laboratories, and the subsequent digital restoration was executed at the Lobster Film laboratories in 2014. The restitution of the colours finally permits us to discover L’Inhumaine as Marcel L’Herbier imagined it."

"A major guide was provided by the practice of the time, which was to assemble the film negative according to the colours to be used. Thus all the elements to be tinted in a particular colour – blue, green, yellow, or red – were spooled separately. Further precious information, written in ink on the negative, was absent from the interpositive used for the earlier restorations. Some editing clippings dating from the period provided a further guide to authentic tinting and toning. Finally, new digital restoration technologies have enabled the most precise reproduction of the intensity of the tints, and L’Herbier’s original creative intention – a resurrection.
" – Serge Bromberg

AA: Revisited Marcel L'Herbier's unique experimental film which I last saw when we screened L'Inhumaine at Cinema Orion in 1997 in a black and white print from Archives Françaises du Film / CNC (Bois d'Arcy). My remark then: "A classic of production design, the Frenchmen’s riposte to German expressionism, and an obvious influence to Metropolis and Marienbad. Excellent montage sequences. Too bad that all the characters are indifferent."

Upon that first viewing I stumbled upon the usual reaction that the film itself is "inhuman" and could not get over it. This time I knew that no psychological realism was to be expected.

Instead I was looking for a modernist, constructivist, visionary work where the actors are little more than marionettes and the story is hardly more than pulp fiction. L'Inhumaine is a piece of modern visual art, a ballet mécanique, a kinetic work, also displaying mobiles, a futuristic piece concerned about speed and new technology challenging traditional notions of space and time. As a piece of science fiction it is fascinatingly contemporary to Aelita, both preceding Metropolis. Its images are famous in coffee table books about art direction and costume design. It is a brilliant Gesamtkunstwerk, a showcase of top talents from many fields of art collaborating: animation by Fernand Léger, choreography by Les Ballets Suédois, architecture by Robert Mallet-Stevens...

The film is divided in roughly two parts. The first part takes place in the artificial paradise of the singer star Claire Lescot, "l'inhumaine" ("the inhuman woman"). The second part is situated in the artificial paradise of the millionaire inventor Einar Norsen. His rival arranges Claire to be poisoned by a tropical snake, but Einar revives her in his lab which is a precursor to the ones of Rotwang in Metropolis and Frankenstein in Universal's production directed by James Whale.

Claire comes alive, but she has already displayed her humanity by crying having been led to believe that Einar has committed suicide because of her by driving his sport car over the cliff.

The first part of the movie is a vision of an alienated society of snobbish people who are like walking dead. They go through the motions of pretense and lack all conviction. The second part is a technological utopia about a wireless future connecting people via television (écran de télévision is a term that appears in the intertitles). All the world can hear Claire singing; she moves them; and she is moved by their reactions which she is able to witness via the two-way television. This experience already changes her profoundly.

The cinematography by Georges Specht is excellent; the composition is refined; the montages are exciting pieces of experimental cinema.

For the first time I saw L'Inhumaine in colour; and colour is essential to this piece of modern visual art. The simulations of toning and tinting are refined and successful.

This is a splendid restoration which helps make full sense of the famous film which has been available only in black and white for generations.

There is a score on the soundtrack of the DCP, but in Pordenone Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius blasted out their own energetic and inventive score using many instruments which I do not know how to name. The otherworldly science fiction sounds were just right for this film. Marcel L'Herbier and Fernand Léger would have loved this experience.

I have no complaints about the visual quality of the digital screening. There are occasional issues in the quality, doubtlessly due to the condition of the source materials.

Claire Lescot (Georgette Leblanc) has been bitten by a poisonous Brazilian snake, and Einar Norsen (Jaque Catelain) saves her in his lab.
Jaque Catelain as Einar Norsen.
Einar Norsen (Jaque Catelain) commanding his assistants at his lab.
Jaque Catelain (Einar Norsen) and Georgette Leblanc (Claire Lescot).
Photos: Courtesy of Marie-Ange L’Herbier © Lobster Films, Paris. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Film concert Maciste alpino (2014 restoration, Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino) (with Günter A. Buchwald, Frank Bockius, Phil Carli)

Coll. Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino. Click to enlarge.
Serata inaugurale / Opening Night

(Itala Film – IT 1916) D: Luigi Maggi, Luigi Romano Borgnetto; supvr. D: Piero Fosco [Giovanni Pastrone]; story, SC: Giovanni Pastrone; DP: Giovanni Tomatis, Carlo Franzoni, Augusto Battagliotti; FX: Segundo de Chomón; C: Bartolomeo Pagano (Maciste), Fido Schirru (Fritz Pluffer), Enrico Gemelli (Conte di / Count Pratolungo), Marussia Allesti (Giulietta, Contessina di / Countess Pratolungo), Sig. Riccioni (ufficiale degli alpini / Alpini officer), Riccardo Vitaliani (ufficiale austriaco / Austrian officer), Evangelina Vitaliani, Felice Minotti (maître al ristorante, ufficiale alpini  / restaurant manager, Alpini officer); censor date: 21.11.1916, 27.6.1917 (no. 12240); orig. l: 2084 m; DCP (4K, from 35 mm, 1944 m), 95' (transferred at 18 fps), col. (tinted); intertitles: IT, subtitles on the DCP: EN; source: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino. Restored 2014.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Music performed by: Günter A. Buchwald (pianoforte e violino), Frank Bockius (percussioni), Phil Carli (organo).
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, 3 Oct 2015

Claudia Gianetto, Gianna Chiapello, Stella Dagna, David Robinson (GCM catalog and website): "Great artists have used film as catharsis for the horrors of war – Chaplin in Shoulder Arms and The Great Dictator, Keaton in The General, and Lubitsch in To Be or Not to Be. In Maciste alpino, Pastrone’s committed team confront one of the most tragic and lethal confrontations of 1914-18 – the “White War”, in which Austrian-Hungarians and Italians found themselves face to face on a 250-mile front, much of it at altitudes of more than 6,000 feet. Italy already had its specialist mountain troops, the Alpini; and Austria-Hungary established their Kaiserschützen. The casualties were colossal: on a single day, at the very time of the release of Maciste alpino, 10,000 soldiers were killed in avalanches. Meanwhile, thousands of civilians died in Italian and Austrian camps."

"When war broke out in 1914, Italy was still a part of the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany, despite a century of lingering resentment over the territories handed to Austria by the 1815 Congress of Vienna. The Allies saw the virtue of wooing Italy: and, by the secret Treaty of London, on 26 April 1915 the country renounced its obligations to the Triple Alliance, and on 23 May declared war on Austria-Hungary – the opening incident of Maciste alpino. Italy hoped that surprise would bring a swift victory, but the blood-stained White War dragged on until 1918. Today the melting glaciers still yield up the preserved bodies of boy soldiers of a century ago."

"But in late 1916, with the conflict at its height, it was vital to national morale that the Italian public remained aggressive in spirit, convinced of its army’s unassailable superiority, and reassured of the well-being of their sons, brothers, husbands and boyfriends. Hence Italy mobilized to the war effort the beloved good giant of the screen. Maciste – the screen name of Bartolomeo Pagano – had so far appeared in only two films, but had already captured the heart of the nation. He made his debut and acquired his nom d’art in Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria (1914), in the character of an African slave at the time of the Punic wars. In his first film as protagonist, Maciste (1915), he changed era, profession, and skin colour, to present himself as a film actor – and star. Everything about him was now open to change, except the substance of the character – a popular hero who dedicates his phenomenal strength to the service of the weak and oppressed, resolving injustice to the sound of slaps, and with a smile on his lips – a conception which even today is hard to resist."

"Even though the war was no laughing matter, Maciste took command as only he could, kicking the enemy in the seat of their pants. In the outcome Maciste alpino is perhaps the best propaganda film produced in Italy in the course of the First World War, an achievement which is not due only to the sympathy of its leading man. From the point of view of the narrative, the skill in effectively handling in a very light tone the most dramatic and tragic themes remains astonishing: deportation of civilians, life in the trenches, violence on women. The horrors of war are shown, but always in an openly cathartic way. The message is that to ward off the worst, all that is necessary is good sense, good humour, and the strength of Maciste, who – never more than in this film – is at one and the same time superhero and representative of the common man, generous, open, and undefeatable. He transports dozens of refugee children in a basket on his back, constantly worsts the odious Austrian soldier Pluffer, makes certain of the rations (always abundant, as in all the films of the period, to reassure the soldiers’ families that their dear ones at the front did not lack the prime necessities). At the same time, he never fails to ask permission from his superior in rank. For, as a title in the film informs us, “all the sons of Italy are Macisti”."

"On the contrary, the enemy are depicted as treacherous, lazy, and decidedy less intelligent than Italians, in a comic parody of Austrian-Hungarian militarism. The guards leap mechanically to attention before a caricatural drawing of the Kaiser chalked on the wall; the commanders issue confused orders, have no concern for their men during the attack, and do not even respect the rules of chivalrous duel. The underlying message is that we are not two countries in confrontation, but rather two ways of understanding life. As is often the case in propaganda films, this confrontation is incarnated and concentrated in the personal opposition between Maciste and the odious, cowardly, and cruel Fritz Pluffer: an intense “personalization”, stepping aside from the carnage and the lethal arms to symbolize the conflict in a body-to-body “free for all”."

"The film maintains an urgent rhythm, underlined by the energetic editing, while visually it creates scenes which engrave themselves on the memory by their powerful atmosphere, as when, with the arrival of the Austrians at the Pratolungo villa, crowded with silent and terrified refugees, the light in the salon is extinguished, plunging them into darkness. The cinema as a marvel for the eyes is above all celebrated in the fourth part of the film, set on the summit of the snow-covered mountains, and probably the moment in which the supervision and conception of Giovanni Pastrone, who brought together the directors Luigi Maggi and Luigi Romano Borgnetto, is most evident. The spectacular images of the dark shapes of the backlit soldiers as they struggle through the blinding snow reveals a very special feeling for light, the ambiance and its relation with the human figure, but also an exceptional technical command, certainly supported by the team of cameramen assigned for the occasion by the Itala company, but also in particular by the mastery of the wizard of special effects Segundo de Chomón: the image of the soldiers who walk on a wire stretched across the precipice, for example, maintains its intriguing mystery even for today’s over-sophisticated eyes. A trick – or are we seeing the real thing? The white of the ice, the crimson of battle, the soft lights of the Pratolungo villa are enhanced by the beautiful colorization of the period, which the new restoration captures in all its chromatic richness."

"Before going on to its great popular success, Maciste alpino had to confront some troubles with the censor, displeased with Maciste’s somewhat cavalier treatment of the Austrians, made to serve as human sleighs or, in Fritz Pluffer’s case, force-fed with macaroni, and dragged by his hair. For the neutral countries, Itala itself however prepared a version in which the Austrians and Italians were not identified by nationality, but only generically as two opposed fronts."

"The new restoration, thanks to the reintegration of such important scenes as a brief glimpse of King Vittorio Emanuele III, the reconstruction of the original intertitles, and the great effort to restore the original quality of the image and the colour, brings back to modern audiences one of the best films of Italian silent cinema and of Maciste, the giant friend of the people, who even triumphs over the horrors of war.

The Restoration

"The first photo-chemical restoration of Maciste alpino by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in 2000, from a single nitrate positive held by the museum, could at that time only be regarded as a work-in-progress. The present restoration, a collaboration of the Biennale di Venezia and the Museo Nazionale del Cinema of Turin, with the laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata, was able to call upon the rich documentation of the Itala Film archives preserved in the Museo, which provided valuable information about the original montage, intertitles, and colouring, as well as the latest advances in digital restoration of early film. The principal filmic materials used included some 800 metres of fragments from the original camera negative and a coloured positive print of 1900 metres, both from the Pastrone archive acquired for the Museo by Maria Adriana Prolo; an incomplete nitrate positive with original intertitles from the Fondazione Cineteca Italiana di Milano, and a nitrate fragment of some 200 metres from the British Film Institute. All the nitrate elements were scanned at 4k resolution. Most importantly, the new restoration reintegrates sequences showing the soldiers on the march, the alpine guide who accompanied the Itala film unit on the mountain heights, and a long hitherto-unknown scene in which Maciste, having captured Pluffer, takes him back to the Alpini camp and halts to salute the sovereign, visiting his troops. (No title identifies the King, but the resemblance to his figure is undeniable.) Other scenes involving the rescue of the old Count Pratolungo, captured by the Austrians after aiding the escape of the Italian prisoners, have been replaced in their correct positions, to bring the film virtually to its original length."

Claudia Gianetto, Gianna Chiapello, Stella Dagna, David Robinson

AA: An amazing comic war action adventure film made during WWI, a hundred years ago.

The horrible White War (Guerra Bianca / Gebirgskrieg) between Italy and Austria took place on the Dolomites (the Alps on the border of Italy and Austria), the mountains we see when we look to the north from Pordenone. As the snow is melting because of global warming 100-year old corpses of Italians and Austrians now emerge from the no longer so eternal ice.

Maciste alpino utterly fails to convey the horror of the unheard-of massacre in WWI. It is a nationalistic war propaganda film where our sons are the heroes, and the enemy (the Austrians) are treacherous cowards. Because of that Maciste alpino fails to reach the status of a great work of art.

That said, it still has a lot to offer.

Although three are three directors (Luigi Maggi, Luigi Romano Borgnetto, Giovanni Pastrone) there is a consistent and impeccable visual style in the movie. The composition, the mise-en-scène, the visual wit and the sharp editing make it a pleasure to watch.

There is a profound comic sensibility in the movie. The laconic approach to the outlandish action sequences has an affinity with Buster Keaton (with the major difference that Bartholomeo Pagano is no Buster Keaton).

The film is full of gags. Maciste opens a food can with his bare hands. He catches an Austrian spy by felling the tree where he is hiding into a river, again with his bare hands. He fells enemies with snowballs. He carries a cannon to the mountain single-handedly. He captures three prisoners and carries them on his shoulder.

Eugene Sandow was the screen's first muscleman, and Maciste was the first fictional muscleman hero. There is a direct line of continuation to the 1980s musclemen of the cinema (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Van Damme, Norris), and especially Rambo II is a relevant point of comparison to Maciste alpino. There are also affinities with Tarzan, but Johnny Weissmuller and other Tarzan performers belong rather to the classical Greek Olympic ideal of the physical harmony of the athlete; they do not flaunt outsized muscles. In the Tarzan tradition there is even some affinity with the Greek ideal of the kalokagathia (καλοκαγαθία): the jungleman as nobleman. But in Maciste there is something of the Barbarian. Like Zorro, Maciste strikes horror in the enemy by the mere appearance of his name: when the Austrians wake up in the morning they discover the signature "Maciste" written in the snow. But I dislike the approach of making the enemy completely ridiculous or despicable.

Maciste is not a romantic hero. Instead, he helps bring together the romantic couple, saving both the girl (a contessa) and the boy (an officer) from the clutches of the Austrians (carrying them both on his shoulder of course).

There are stunning scenes of spectacle in Maciste alpino, especially during the final, Alpine parts of the adventure. Maciste alpino is an important mountain film (Bergfilm) four years before Arnold Fanck. It has a sense of the sublime of the nature. The Alpine cinematography is inventive and inspired. The epic long distance views are breathtaking.

Segundo de Chomón's special effects are again brilliant. The legendary sequence of the cable railway above the abyss (see image below) is unforgettable.

Maciste alpino is the earliest film where I have seen the term "concentration camp" (campo di concentramento).

The music by Günter A. Buchwald, Frank Bockius, Phil Carli was very appealing and energetic, beautifully perfecting the screening experience.

Screened from a DCP, the movie has been restored with tasteful toning and tinting and is a great pleasure to watch. I have no complaints about the digital quality.
Maciste alpino. Coll. Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino. Click to enlarge.
Maciste alpino. Coll. Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino. Click to enlarge.

Film concert Romeo und Julia im Schnee (2015 restoration Filmarchiv Austria, Bundesarchiv) (Antonio Coppola and Octuor de France)

Paul Passarge (Tübalder), Jacob Tiedtke (Capulethofer), Marga Köhler (his wife), Lotte Neumann (Julia), Gustav von Wangenheim (Romeo)
Serata inaugurale / Opening Night

[The film was not released in Finland]. Maxim-Film Ges. Ebner & Co., Berlin / Ufa – DE 1920. D: Ernst Lubitsch;  SC: Hanns  Kräly, Ernst Lubitsch; DP: Theodor Sparkuhl; AD: Kurt Richter; P: Maxim Galitzenstein, Paul Ebner; C: Jacob Tiedtke (Capulethofer), Marga Köhler (sua moglie/his wife), Lotte Neumann (Julia, loro figlia/their daughter), Ernst Rückert (Montekugerl), Josefine Dora (sua moglie/his wife), Gustav von Wangenheim (Romeo, loro figlio/their son), Julius Falkenstein (Paris, il fidanzato non voluto/Julia’s undesired fiancé), Paul Biensfeldt (giudice/village magistrate), Hermann Picha (scrivano/clerk), Paul Passarge (nipote/nephew Tübalder); riprese/filmed: Studio Maxim-Film, Berlin, locs: Schwarzwald (Foresta Nera/Black Forest); rel: 3.1920, Berlin (Mozartsaal; U.T. Kurfürstendamm); orig. l: 947 m (3 rl.); 35 mm, 948 m, 41' (20 fps), (imbibito/tinted); titles: GER; print source: Filmarchiv Austria, Wien.
    Restored 2015, Filmarchiv Austria, Wien; Bundesarchiv, Berlin.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Music composed and conducted by Antonio Coppola.
    Performed by Octuor de France at a strength of twelve.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian and English, 3 Oct 2015

David Robinson (GCM catalog and website): "Romeo und Julia im Schnee has been chosen for the opening show of this year’s Giornate because this restoration by the Austrian Film Archive enables us to see Lubitsch’s brilliant jeu d’esprit exactly as it appeared to its fortunate first audiences 95 years ago. The film has been printed from the original negative, and chemically dye-tinted according to the technique of the period."

"This was the last of the score of short comedies which Lubitsch directed for Maxim-Film GmbH, for release by Union (later Union-UFA), between 1915 and 1920, when he moved on definitively to world fame with his succession of “Kolossal” costume productions. The comedies had little foreign distribution until The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Lubitsch’s own Madame Dubarry began to break down post-war embargoes on German exports, official and unofficial; and are still not adequately appreciated abroad: in 1993 Lubitsch’s American biographer could still write off Romeo und Julia im Schnee as having the feeling of “a throwaway, something Lubitsch was not fully engaged by”. Today we appreciate better how it glitters with Lubitsch’s pleasure in his total mastery of visual and character comedy."

"It was released almost simultaneously with Lubitch’s previous film, another Shakespearean jest: Kohlhiesel’s Töchter, an updating of The Taming of the Shrew, relocated in rural Bavaria. Henny Porten, in a dual role, brilliantly characterizes the two sisters, while Emil Jannings reveals an unexpected comic talent, teamed with the puckish Gustav von Wangenheim. Hanns Kräly’s script was to have a long life: Henny Porten went on to star in a sound version in 1930, and there were further remakes in 1943 and 1962."

"Romeo und Julia im Schnee is a worthy companion piece. As a Reinhardt actor, Lubitsch was all too familiar with Romeo and Juliet, a perennial favourite in the company repertoire. In Romeo und Julia im Schnee, he cheerfully updates the story to the 20th century and a snow-bound village in the Black Forest – and gives it a happy end (the would-be suicides should be a little more suspicious when the apothecary tells them they can pay him later). He also provides a “vorspiel” in which we are shown the origins of the feud between the Montekugerls and the Capulethofers in a hearing before the local magistrate, who weighs the sausages submitted as bribes by the opposed parties in the scales of justice which stand symbolically in his seedy office."

"Nothing was casual about Lubitsch’s casting: he had his favourites, but he did not rely on a repertory company. Acting was only one aspect of the career of Lotte Neumann (1896-1977), the spirited Julia, who was already established as a producer also, and was to become a prolific writer in the sound period (1935-1958). Gustav von Wangenheim (1895-1975), as in Kohlhiesel’s Töchter, reveals a charm and deft comedic skills that would not be guessed at in his better-remembered performance as Hutter in Nosferatu. His acting career ended abruptly in 1933 when his idealistic Communist faith forced him to leave Germany for the USSR, where he directed only one film, though he was to resume direction in post-war East Germany. The epicene Paris, in his hilariously unbecoming angel costume, is played by Julius Falkenstein (1879-1933), who remained one of Germany’s favourite comic actors from 1914 until his early death. All of course are working under the direction of one of the greatest comedians, who, like Chaplin, famously wanted his actors to shape their performances on his own fully realized concept of each role. Reinhardt had been a good school."

"Mise-en-scène means also mise-en-shot; and Lubitsch’s staging, choice of angle, and choice of distance in search of the perfect comic effect (whether for a costume ball or a parenthetical series of tumbles on a slippery spot in the snow) is invariably right. It is this that makes these films ageless, unblemished by time."
– David Robinson

AA: Revisited the delighful comedy by Ernst Lubitsch. We screened a tinted and toned print of Romeo und Julia im Schnee from Filmarchiv Austria in our Ernst Lubitsch retrospective in 2008. Their brilliant colour print was a revelation then, and it was delicious to see a new version of it now.

The music by Antonio Coppola played by Octuor de France is perfect for the film, adding colour, warmth, tenderness, charm, and a sense of play to the experience. Ernst Lubitsch was always music-minded, also in his silent films with many scenes of dancing and playing. Lubitsch was soon to become the first master director of the film musical with his cycle of five musicals starting with The Love Parade and culminating with his version of the operetta The Merry Widow. Antonio Coppola is well tuned to Lubitsch, and his original composition is a worthy contribution to the Lubitsch musical corpus.

William Shakespeare was dear to Lubitsch, and he adapted him often, turning tragedies to comedies (Romeo und Julia) and to the stuff of tragicomedies (To Be Or Not To Be), and once even making a comedy from a comedy (Kohlhiesels Töchter / The Taming of the Shrew).

Romeo und Julia is not shallow. It is also about the madness of a family feud which may lead the young generation to a disaster. The serious intention of Romeo and Julia is to commit suicide, but the wise pharmacist gives them sweet water instead of poison. They fake suicide all the same, and the despair of the parents is genuine.

I kept thinking about Lubitsch after the screening. Major film sages such as André Bazin and Robin Wood do not seem to count him among the greatest. The surface of Lubitsch's films has a light touch, but there is something deeper and, indeed, infinite in most of them. There is the awareness of death and the fleeting character of the happiness in life. Why those films are so alive is because in each person, also in small parts (and there are no small parts in his films) Lubitsch discovers the special joy of life of that person.

The witty intertitles were well translated.

A brilliant print.

Nelzia li bez menia? / [Can't You Just Leave Me Out?]

Lastochkin's daydream of the canteen. Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow. Click to enlarge
Нельзя ли без меня? / Nelzja li bez menja? / Vkusnoty / [Faranno a meno di me? / Piatti deliziosi / Delicious Meals] (Soyuzkino, Moscow – SU 1932) D+SC: Viktor Shestakov; DP: Aleksei Solodkov; AD: Iakov Feldman; ass. D: Yuri Gromov; Zoia Romanovskaya; ass. ph: Arkadi Levitan; scen. rewrite, retakes, re-editing: Nikolai Tarkhahov; C: Sergei Poliakov (Lastochkin), Varvara Sevostianova (sua moglie/his wife), Aleksandr Antonov (cuoco/chef), Yelena Maksimova (Malakhova, lavapiatti  / dishwasher), m Skavronskaya, m Shlenskaya (due vicine/two neighbours), Lyubov Nenasheva, Sofia Levitina (donne in fila alla mensa/women in canteen queue); censor date: 9.4.1932; première: 13.10.1932; rel:?; orig. l: 1450 m; 35 mm, 1225 m, 48' (22 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian and English, grand piano: John Sweeney , 3 Oct 2015

Natalia Noussinova (GCM catalog and website): "At the start of the 1930s, the idea of collectivism became increasingly popular. Homo sovieticus must sacrifice his private life to society, which will become his family, and in return it will take better care of him than his biological family. If the social family demands that a woman abandon her fiancé and leave Leningrad to go north to a forsaken village in the Altai, this is so that it will in turn save the devoted teacher by sending a helicopter to ensure her medical treatment (Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg’s Alone [Odna], 1931). If the social family forbids a woman to have an abortion, it is because her baby can be raised in state crèches (I Don’t Want a Child [Ne hochu rebionka], director Mark Gal, 1930). And of course, like any family, the great Soviet family feeds its members."

"The organization of a chain of canteens to replace the family meal at home was declared a major factor of Industrialization in the Soviet Union’s First Five-Year Plan (1928-1932). Can’t You Just Leave Me Out? (Nezlia li bez menia?) is a thesis film, aimed to publicize this state programme. However, the first version of the film presented to the censors (Glavrepertkom) on 22 February 1932 was rejected, since the canteen was depicted in too unappealing a way: the diner Lastochkin was disgusted by it until the end of the film, when he rather abruptly changed his mind about the quality of the collective nutrition. And about the film’s key title question, “Can’t You Just Leave Me Out?” – i.e., of this change in everyday life. The film was rapidly re-edited, however, and in a month and a half was not only accepted by the very same commission, but even recommended as suitable for every kind of urban and rural audience."

"The film represents a very special genre – a mixture of agitka (agitational film) and comedy. The development of the story is driven by the Soviet press – newspaper articles propel the action forward. The husband, weary of the difficult daily routine of Soviet life, reads in the newspaper the sensational news of the opening of canteens in Moscow, and goes there, curious to try them –but pursued by the ironic laughter of his wife and above all his neighbour. Joining the enormous queue at the door of the canteen, he discovers no culinary paradise – alas, the canteen is dirty and the food disgusting. A second newspaper article launches an appeal: “The quality of service in the canteens must be improved!” But the reality ridicules that idea: we see the dishwasher who fancies the chef, and he, distracted by passion, throwing the potato peelings into the soup, which he then tastes and spits out with a grimace of disgust, provoking crazy laughter from the amorous dishwasher."

"As in fairy tales, it is the third attempt that counts. Finally, it is the wife of the hero who reads yet another newspaper, this time publicizing the now-improved canteens. She is the one who now takes her family for a gigantic meal. All happy, full, and reconciled, the couple decide to go there every day. Not only have they eaten well: the important thing is that they don’t quarrel anymore!"

"The canteen creates a family idyll. However, the film’s comedy is stronger than its ideological moral. Some scenes are worthy of Lubitsch (the diners who don’t have the right to choose their dishes walk around the canteen with signs bearing slogans like “I will swap my soup for borscht”). They all have problems with the implements handed to them – forks to eat the soup, spoons to cut the meat, and so on. The witty intertitles parody “Soviet language” in the style of Zoshchenko’s stories. We have the impression that the version rejected by the censors still lurks behind the veil of the imposed re-editing."

"The director Viktor Shestakov (1898-1957) was the former president of the Constructivist group and a member of LEF, who had also worked as a theatre director. But above all he had made his name as a designer with Meyerhold, working from 1922 to 1927 at the Theatre of the Revolution and from 1927 to 1929 at the Meyerhold Theatre. He began in cinema as a set designer and assistant director on Mikhail Doronin’s The Wife  (Zhena, 1927), then became a director in his own right, with Be Like That (Bud’te takimi, 1930) and Metal-Turner Alekseev (Tokar’ Alekseev, 1931)."

"Can’t You Just Leave Me Out? was his third and last film. All Shestakov’s films were “engaged”, but his culture and his formation as an avant-garde artist kept him from being slavish. Moreover, it is quite likely that Can’t You Just Leave Me Out? was withdrawn and then re-worked by Nikolai Tarkhahov, a little-known director, then very young, who went on to work at the Siberian popular-science studio Sibtekhfilm. This would explain the double message of the film, which nevertheless retains a duality of language and hidden and quite sophisticated gags."

"Might the appearance of Aleksandr Antonov in the brief role of the chef who spits in his own soup be an ironic allusion to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), in which Antonov played the sailor Vakulinchuk, killed because of the protest at the rotten meat used in the borscht? It is particularly likely, since the role of the dishwasher is played by Yelena Maksimova, who had just appeared in Dovzhenko’s Earth (Zemlya, 1930) as Natalia, the fiancée-widow, whose nude scene had scandalized the public. This comic duo, of Vakulinchuk and Natalia – now chef and dishwasher in Can’t You Just Leave Me Out? – remains like a final salute to the era of Soviet avant-garde cinema, which already belonged to the past." – Natalia Noussinova

AA: An amazing and incredible discovery from the period when Stalinism already had an iron grip on Soviet culture under the code name "Socialist realism".

The first part of this stunning satire shows with a comical approach much of the truth of the "real existing socialism" as it really was until the end of the experiment in 1989-1991. I have never seen anti-Communist or anti-Soviet fiction with more bite than this movie. The final part shows how things are changed when the Communist Party intervenes and steers things on the right course. But the audience would have known how it was. And the "party ex machina" device may itself be seen as a part of the satire.

I have little to add to Natalia Noussinova's excellent program note copied above.

Viktor Shestakov navigates skillfully in an approach combining sharp wit with an account of honest squalor. There is a genuine affection to the characters and their joy of life despite such circumstances.

This movie belongs to a great tradition of Russian satire. The name of Gogol is mentioned in the film, and this film is a worthy contribution to the Gogolian heritage of merciless satire.

The characters are so extremely anti-glamorous and sometimes vulgar that it may be at times hard to relate to them.

The intertitles are witty, and they were well translated in this screening.

The visual quality is ok.


(? - NO?, c. 1910). D: ?; DCP, 4'57", col. (pochoir/stencil-colouring); no titles.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi (restored early colour films from Norway), grand piano: John Sweeney, 3 Oct 2015

Tina Anckarman (GCM catalog and website): "Six segments of a “big cat” taming act, performed in a large cage outdoors. At the end of each segment of his act, the tamer lifts his hat and bows to an unseen audience off-camera. Heinrich Lühr Heinrichsen, whom originally came from the Danish part of Schleswig-Holstein, was a Norwegian animal tamer known professionally as Tiger Henriksen. He was born in in 1880 and started pursuing a career as an animal tamer as a 12-year-old. His aim was always to become an experienced wild-animal tamer; he started by training white mice and rats to do tricks. As a young adult he travelled in Europe and Russia, with ponies, dogs, and polar bears. He tried to mix different wild animals, but finding it impossible to get them to perform together, he ended up specializing in training tigers. In literature about circus history one can read about his most famous tiger, Caesar, an enormous beast who killed several male tigers and scared many tamers before the fearless Henriksen was asked to train him. But Henriksen was never fully in charge: every performance was a hard fight for power, and on several occasions Henriksen had to get medical treatment after a show. There are many stories about Henriksen’s escapades. According to one from Marseille, he is supposed to have helped the police to kill a ferocious tiger on the loose who had killed a couple of citizens. For this Henriksen was rewarded by the President of France and given the French gallantry medal."

"Henriksen has been compared to world-famous animal tamers like Clyde Beatty, Richard Sawade, and Alfred Court. In the 1920s he married a Norwegian woman, became a Norwegian citizen, and lived a quiet family life just outside Oslo, until his death in 1953. It is said that after his retirement his death was reported many times, and that he would not object, wanting to live a peaceful life." (Tina Anckarman)

AA: A wonderful straight record of the feats of the wild animal tamer. It is all photographed from an unchanging camera position in a long shot covering the entire large cage with Tiger Henriksen facing some ten tigers and lions. The movie is based on long takes but there are cuts between the six different numbers. Alone against the beasts Henriksen manages to uphold discipline with great effort. There are show numbers on a swinging board and jumping through a round rack. Henriksen uses whips and spears to keep the beasts at bay.

The original pochoir colour has been preserved (the pink shirt and the green pants of Henriksen).

Weltstadt in Flegeljahren. Ein Bericht über Chicago / [A World City in Its Teens. A Report on Chicago]

Collection EYE Filmmuseum. Click to enlarge.
Altre sinfonie della città / Other City Symphonies, Prog. 1: Aspetti poco noti della metropoli / Unfamiliar Byways of the Metropolis

[Una metropoli in evoluzione: rapporto su Chicago] (Heinrich Hauser; dist: Naturfilm Hubert Schonger – DE 1931) D: Heinrich Hauser; 35 mm, 1687 m, 74' (20 fps) [maybe my mistake but I counted 67']; titles: DUT; print source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian and English, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 3 Oct 2015

Eva Hielscher (GCM catalog and website): "In the spring and summer of 1931, German writer, traveller, photographer, and filmmaker Heinrich Hauser made a trip by car through the eastern United States, with Chicago as his main destination. These travels resulted in a book, Feldwege nach Chicago (Dirt Tracks to Chicago), and a silent “city film”, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren. Whereas the book covers his entire journey, Hauser’s film concentrates on Chicago, with its architectural impressions, skyline, skyscrapers, motorized traffic, local industries, labour, mechanized production, and leisure time at the Riverview amusement park and on the shores of Lake Michigan."

"The film begins on the Mississippi River, before entering the cityscape, taking both a spatial and temporal approach to Chicago in an almost ritual way. As the film proceeds, the landscape becomes more and more urbanized, with traditional forms of work and life replaced by modernized industries and contemporary urban life. Without literally following the cross-section concept typical of city symphonies, Hauser constructs a certain cross-section of and through Chicago using an additive montage style, and by observing, recording, and showing the numerous facets and details he encounters there."

"This comprises not only geographic-architectural aspects specific to Chicago, but also concerns different social and ethnic groups – in fact, the film presents a cross-section of Chicago’s city dwellers, including the contrast between rich and poor."

"Hauser is clearly fascinated by Chicago, which in his book he describes as “the most beautiful city in the world”. But despite this unquestionable fascination, Hauser’s city symphony also contains a critique and reservation concerning modern urban life, combined with a critical reflection on modernity, the American city, and the United States in general, extending far beyond the city of Chicago itself."

"Particularly in the film’s fourth section, Hauser shows the negative sides of the metropolis and the effects of mechanized production and rationalized labour: unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and crime. His Chicago city symphony alternates between fascination and fear, curiosity and critique, enthusiasm and reservation."

"Weltstadt in Flegeljahren received very positive reviews at the time of its release in 1931, and was valued for its documentary quality, social responsibility, and sharp and honest showing of real-life images. Hauser was celebrated as an outsider of the film industry, an amateur who surpassed the professionals with this silent film."

"Nevertheless, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren was not accepted as an educational film; it was argued that it was confusing and chaotic – a statement that Rudolf Arnheim strongly criticized."

"Weltstadt in Flegeljahren was considered lost in Germany until the 1980s, when it entered the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in Koblenz as part of the collection of the Hubert Schonger distribution company. This German distribution version was restored in 1993. The restored German version was shown in Chicago with voiceover English narration in 2003, with the title Chicago. A World City Stretches Its Wings. Hauser’s Chicago film has also survived in an original Dutch nitrate print, conserved at the Nederlands Filmmuseum (now the EYE Filmmuseum) since the 1940s; this was restored in the 1990s. Despite these restorations, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren remains largely unknown today."
– Eva Hielscher

AA: Shown together in the same programme with László Moholy-Nagy's Grossstadt-Zigeuner, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren is more essentially in the constructivist-modernist-futuristic mode than Moholy-Nagy's film which shows the antimodern, the eternal, the timeless, the wandering life of an ancient tribe.

There is an extended establishing sequence about approaching Chicago via its mighty waterways, the Chicago Portage by the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes watersheds. This may have been inspired by Walther Ruttmann's Berlin symphony which approached the great city via rails.

There is from the start an epic sense of location, nature, and work. The viewpoint is that of the huge steamboat. We see lumber camps, harvesting, and cattle breeding on our way to Chicago. There we see incredibly huge cargoes being moved on the water, magnificent construction sites, and the railway station. We switch for a while into Ruttmann territory as the city is explored via rails. There are giant clouds of steam, elevated rails, and heavy traffic. We enter "the Loop", "the heart of Chicago". There is a grandeur in the vision of urbanity. The traffic cop scene can also be compared with Ruttmann: this is quite different from the "policeman bringing order to the chaos" sense that Kracauer analyzed in Weimar cinema (in the recurrent motif of the policeman escorting a little child through the traffic jungle).

The images of a slow, endless traffic jam on a multi-lane motorway with hundreds of cars are among the earliest I have seen of the phenomenon. In the "labyrinth of glass and bricks" we observe work on the conveyor belt, efficiently managed, with typewritten messages sent in pneumatic speed tubes. We visit the factory where McCormick-Deering tractors are produced, "the monsters of modern times". Immense mining machines "destroy all fields and landscapes". We follow large scale construction sites as the "city mushrooms". We see huge turning carriages (kääntölavetti in Finnish). We observe the meat industry. Cattle is led towards the slaughterhouse. "40 minutes later" tin cans emerge from the conveyor belt. The effect is similar as in Georges Franju's Le Sang des bêtes, without the slaughter.

"Behind the skyscrapers": 40.000 homeless men on one street. Labour agencies. Salvation Army missions. "The wrecks of society". The marginalized, the old ones, the invalids, the sick. The slums with black kids playing in the mud. People living in the junkyard. The underworld: scary criminal figures. "The market of thieves". But also second-hand markets, rag markets, art photographs, animals for sale. Jews, Indians, fakirs, snake charmers.

There is recreation: large parks, sport (baseball), horse fields, political speakers with a policemen listening, funhouses, roller-coasters. And beaches: there are more people there than is comfortable, and the people are covered in sand; there are drab aspects in the leisure time. Children's pranks, sports, playing with a boxer's ball on the back of the head. Happy faces. This sequence could be compared with Menschen am Sonntag; there are differences and similarities.

The film is ethnically diverse and honest and gives a more balanced view of the American people than contemporary American films themselves. Many black people appear in this movie.

Heinrich Hauser has a good sense of mise-en-scène, composition, and editing rhythm. There are strong montage sequences.

The cinematography is inspired. This is a machine-driven movie, and the camera is often identifying with the machine: the steamboat, the train, and of course the roller-coaster.

It is possible to appreciate the original cinematography in this valuable reconstructed print the visual quality of which is often good.

Großstadt–Zigeuner / [Gypsies of the Metropolis]

Click to enlarge.
Altre sinfonie della città / Other City Symphonies, Prog. 1: Aspetti poco noti della metropoli / Unfamiliar Byways of the Metropolis

[Zingari della metropoli] (László Moholy-Nagy – DE 1932) D: László Moholy-Nagy; 35 mm, 328 m, 12' (24 fps); no intertitles; print source: Deutsches Filminstitut (DIF), Frankfurt.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in Italian and English, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 3 Oct 2015

Steven Jacobs (GCM catalog and website): "Berlin was a popular site for city symphonies. Apart from being the subject of Ruttmann’s landmark 1927 Berlin - Symphony of a Great City, it also featured in such films as Berlin von Unten (Alex Strasser, 1928), Menschen am Sonntag (Robert Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer, 1930), and Wochenmarkt am Wittenbergplatz (Wilfried Basse, 1929), among others."

"The famous Constructivist artist and photographer László Moholy-Nagy also directed a film camera at the German capital. After his screenplay Dynamik der Gross-Stadt (Dynamic of the Metropolis, 1922), which can be seen as a “city symphony on paper” or a kind of model for many of the cinematic city poems shot a few years later, Moholy-Nagy made Impressionen vom alten Marseiller Hafen (Vieux Port) (1929) in Marseille, as well as two films focusing on Berlin and its inhabitants. Berliner Stilleben (shot in 1926 or 1931, according to different sources) shows the city and its vibrant life in a socio-photographic realist spirit, without the lighting effects or inventive tricks for which Moholy-Nagy is known."

"Großstadt-Zigeuner (1932) is also marked by this humanist documentary mode, and focuses on gypsies living in the Berlin districts of Wedding and Marzahn. In contrast with the fascination for the hectic density of the city center in most other city symphonies, the characters of Großstadt-Zigeuner are situated in the nondescript peripheral zones where city and country interact. Only in a few of the film’s moments do we see city streets filled with pedestrians and traffic."

"In line with an age-old picturesque tradition that favours colourful outcasts and the urban poor, Moholy-Nagy depicts the gypsies, their carts, their ever-present horses, and the activities that have become an inherent part of their stereotypical representation: street vending, playing cards and dice, fights, dance, and music. However, in many instances these clichés are transcended by the filmmaker’s honest and committed interest in people. Moholy’s camera lingers on children (a recurring trope in humanist photography) and on the faces of individuals, many of them looking directly atthe camera. At several moments in the film, Moholy’s hand-held camera evokes the highly physical presence of the filmmaker among his subjects." – Steven Jacobs

AA: László Moholy-Nagy is known as a constructivist, a co-founder of the bauhaus, and in the cinema, the maker of an influential abstract film, ein lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau. In Finland we know him as a friend of Alvar Aalto; ein lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau was a part of the opening program of the first Finnish film society called Filmistudio Projektio, the guiding spirit of which was Aalto.

Großstadt-Zigeuner was made in the same year as ein lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau, and it could not be more different. I had seen it previously last year in Paris in the new permanent exhibition of Centre Pompidou, as a part of their intriguing non-stop film screening selection.

Großstadt-Zigeuner is a straight documentary film, a record of the life of Romani people in Berlin. The homes are mobile. There are big horse fairs. The Romani families take walks in the city. They tell fortunes by reading palms. They play cards and throw dice. They quarrel with each other. They play the guitar, there are solo dances, male couple dances and male-female couple dances. There is an accelerating tempo in the movie culminating in the final extasy of a music and dance montage.

Shown together in the same programme with Heinrich Hauser's Weltstadt in Flegeljahren which is more essentially in the constructivist-modernist-futuristic mode than this film by Moholy-Nagy which shows on the contrary the antimodern, the eternal, the timeless, the wandering life of an ancient tribe.

The cinematography is rich and inventive: the camera follows the action in dolly shots from the mobile horse-driven homes. There is a full range of tempi in the edit from the measured to the ecstatic. There are passages of handheld camerawork. There is a sense of constant motion, fitting to the nomadic nature of the subject.

The visual quality is ok with occasional deviations into low or high contrast, probably due to the source material.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The telegram in Ernst Lubitsch's The Merry Widow

The millionaire Sonia (Jeanette MacDonald), the Ambassador of Marshovia (Edward Everett Horton), and Count Danilo (Maurice Chevalier) in Paris in The Merry Widow (1934).
The funniest telegram in the history of the cinema is in Ernst Lubitsch's version of The Merry Widow (1934). It is in code. The mission: to save Marshovia's finances in Paris where the millionaire widow Sonia is in danger of getting married with a foreigner.

Edward Everett Horton's expression is worth seeing when he hears the code word "darling", meaning: "I consider you the greatest idiot in the diplomatic service". The code reader is the embassy official Zizipoff (Herman Bing) who seems especially to relish the word "greatest". The Ambassador looks even more alarmed when he hears the next code expression: "lilac time"... The urgent message is finally unencrypted:

Act quickly.
Be brilliant.
Meet crisis.
Kill rumours.
Admit nothing.
Deny everything.
Evade issues.
Face facts.
Stand pat.
Something must be done.
Do it.
Do it now.
What are you waiting for?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tunteiden temppelit / Temples of Dreams

[Direct translation of the Finnish title: Temples of Emotions]. FI © 2015 Illume Oy. P+D: Jouko Aaltonen. Ass. P: Marianne Mäkelä. Ass. D: Toni Puurtinen, Henri Waltter Rehnström. DP: Timo Peltonen. Add. cinematography: Pekka Uotila, Jouko Aaltonen. M: Markku Kopisto, Robi de Godzinsky. Musicians: Mikko Virto, Aale Lindgren, Marko Portin, Johanna Almark-Mannila, Robi de Godzinsky. M recording and mixing: Robi de Godzinsky / Soundteam Godzinsky Oy Ltd. S design: Martti Turunen. Kenttä-äänitys: Martti Turunen, Juho Tanskanen. Miksauksen tarkistus ja siirrot: Peter Nordström / Meguru Film Sound Oy. ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. Materiaalisiirrot ja leikkausassistentit: Antti Tuomikoski, Saara Murto, Jenny Timonen, Pia Kautto, Juho Tanskanen. Colour definition and mastering: Antti Hirsiaho. P assistants: Maarit Mononen, Jenny Timonen. Tuotantopäälliköt: Toni Puurtinen, Henri Waltter Rehnström, Venla Hellstedt.
    Stills: Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti KAVI, Helsingin kaupunginmuseon kuva-arkisto, Vapriikin kuva-arkisto, kuvaajat: Arto Tamminen, Arthur Laurent; Kuopion kulttuurihistoriallinen museo / Pekka Kankkunen.
    Archival footage: KAVI / Tommi Partanen; Yle Arkisto / Eva Lintunen; Juha Korhonen.
    Distribution: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus (PEK). Graphic design: PEK / Juha Lassila.
    In collaboration with: Yle / Iikka Vehkalahti, Erkko Lyytinen, Erkki Astala.
    Production support: Suomen Elokuvasäätiö / Elina Kivihalme; AVEK / Outi Rousu; Konstsamfundet / Kaj-Gustaf Bergh.
    83 min
    Premiere scheduled on 4 Dec 2015.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    A special event of Love & Anarchy, Ilmarinen, and Kämp Group, celebrating the future of Cinema Maxim. Introduced by Pekka Lanerva, the Ilmarinen representative, Ari Tolppanen, Juha Elomäki, and Jouko Aaltonen.
    2K DCP with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Maxim, Helsinki (HIFF), 24 Sep 2015

Featuring interviewees: Reino Vahteri, Satu Koskimies, Kauko Puustinen, Matti Kassila, Marjut Kekoni, Aki Kaurismäki, Liisa Pajukaarre, Matti Asikainen, Ann Philp, Outi Vuorikari, Ville Koivisto, Leo Nordberg, Keijo Karhunen, Ahti Pitkänen, Merja Luotola-Maarnela, Raija Luotola, Linda Maarnela, Henry Maarnela, Jaakko Maarnela, Lasse Lind, Anssi Luoma, Toivo Reijonen, Peter von Bagh, Maija Kormano, Jari Mäkilä, Jukka Mäkilä, Jesse Mäkilä, Tapio Koski, Juha Lindroos, Juha Korhonen, Sari Korhonen, Matti Kakki, Juhani Suokas, Ari Saarinen, Pekka Laukkanen, Veikko Viitanen, Marko Hartama, Ville Walo, and Mikko Jokipii. [My notes scribbled in the dark].

Featuring cinemas: Domino (Turku), Tennispalatsi (Helsinki), Kuva-Tähti (Vehmaa), the Gloria chain (Pohjanmaa), Forssan Elävienkuvien Teatteri (Forssa), Lapinsuu (Sodankylä), Adlon (Helsinki), Aloha (Helsinki), Arita (Helsinki), Kino-Palatsi (Helsinki, the one abolished in 1965), Maxim (Helsinki), Sininen Kuu (Helsinki), Kino Nuijamies (Lappeenranta), Bio Rex (Hamina), Matin-Tupa (Ylistaro, Seinäjoki), Tivoli (Helsinki), Navettakino (Pyhälahti, Konnevesi), Kino Aula (Helsinki), Kuvakukko (Kuopio), Kino-Sampo (Valkeakoski), Kino Tuomarila (Tuomarila), Kuvahovi (Hämeenlinna), Kino-Kouvo (Kouvola), WHS Teatteri Union (Helsinki), Kino Jalasjärvi (Jalasjärvi), Orion (Helsinki). [My notes scribbled in the dark].

AA: The first documentary on the history of Finnish cinema theatres deserves attention internationally. The affectionate and humoristic account might strike familiar chords among professionals and aficionados everywhere.

Over a period of more than three years Jouko Aaltonen and his team have conducted a remarkable oral history project on cinema-going and cinema managing in Finland. The result is a work of cultural history.

There is a dramatic arch in this documentary. A similar dramatic structure would emerge in histories of cinemas in other countries, but there are differences. The crisis of the nitrate fires: after the tragic fire of Cinema Imatra in Tampere in 1927 there was a strict law on cinema safety and professional licensing of projectionists. WWII: cinema was more popular and important than ever, but there were also devastating air raids (Leo Nordberg reminiscing how he survived the bombing of Cinema Tivoli where 27 died, mostly children). The 1950s were the most golden decade in the popularity of the cinema, abruptly ending in the breakthrough of television (because of the geographical structure of the population the blow of television was particularly harsh in Finland, more severe than in other Nordic countries). The next huge blow was the breakthrough of the home video around 1984. The death of the cinema has been predicted in each turning-point, but the latest one - digitalization - has rescued cinemas because now everywhere it is possible to access the current blockbuster on the day of global premiere.

An example on the power of the cinema is the first run of The Unknown Soldier (1955), the all-time most popular Finnish film by a far distance, an extremely important work in the psychological healing of the nation after devastating wars. In the city of Lappeenranta its audience was bigger than the population since people from the neighbouring countryside booked buses to come and see the film. Nobody talked after the screening (usually there was lively talk). Many, especially war veterans, were crying. Women mourned the loss of young lives. Projectionists learned by heart the dialogue around the changeovers.

Among the memorable sequences: a documentation on the abolishing of the big, legendary Finnkino central film vault, the last major commercial film vault in our country. The film titles were deposited with us, but parallel prints were shipped to be massively destroyed.

Tunteiden temppeli laments the passing of many fine cinemas, now refunctioned as gyms, bowling alleys, restaurants, places of worship, or Freemasons' lodges. But the film also celebrates the birth of new cinemas, regular ones and bizarre ones, including a cinema where the owners' bedroom is located between the projection booth and the auditorium. And a cinema called Navettakino (Cow Stable Cinema). There is also a sequence on touring cinemas; at best there were 120 such tours in Finland, able to function everywhere, also in spaces without electricity. All valuing a community of experience.

I was happy to see many familiar faces among the interviewees, and happier to learn even more that was new. There are successful cinema chains in Finland, and on the other hand there are strong traditional family-owned cinemas around the country, now saved by digitization. To run the family cinemas is a passion, a labour of love. Jouko Aaltonen's film is a tribute to all of them - to all of us.

The visual quality: compilation quality.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Äidin toive / Mother's Wish

Mother's Wish [the on-screen title]. South Africa, Great Britain, Canada, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Russia, United States 2015. PC: Oktober Oy. P: Satu Majava. D: Joonas Berghäll. DP: Heikki Färm, Tuomo Hutri, Henrik Ipsen. DI: Huefilm. 85 min
    Languages: Finnish, English, Spanish, Nepali, Portuguese, French, Russian, Xhosa.
    Distributor: Nordisk Film.
    2K DCP with English subtitles
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    HIFF Finnish Gala introduced by Pekka Lanerva, Joonas Berghäll and Satu Majava, Bio Rex, Helsinki, 22 Sep 2015

Production notes: "Mother’s Wish is a documentary film that gathers together stories from women in different parts of the world. The narrators of the stories form an unbroken chain around the globe. The stories are connected by the theme of motherhood: the presence or absence of a mother has been a decisive factor in the fates of our main characters."

"Told together, the women’s narratives form a poetic and intense film of motherhood and love: of the moment after first childbirth, of a mother’s pride on her daughter’s first school day, but also of the effects of tragic events, such as the emotional scars left by sexual abuse, or breaking free from forced marriage – but above all the stories speak of survival: The women have struggled through life against incredible odds. They give the viewer hope of a better tomorrow."

"The central themes of the films are motherhood and love. The mothers’ wishes are universal ideals of a better world, one that we would want to leave for our own children. Women around the world were interviewed for the film’s script, which has shaped the fifteen scenes on mothers’ universal wishes and fears. The film deals with these ideas through personal stories, transforming the personal into political, socially critical debate.
" (Production notes)

AA: Like Canned Dreams (2012, directed by Katja Gauriloff), also produced by Oktober Films, Mother's Wish is a global film, a vision of our world today seen from a special angle.

The director's own mother (Finland). Karen (Kazakstan). Lilitha (South Africa). Sushmita (Nepal). Nallely (Tijuana). Terri (Fairface, Virginia). Carla (Santo Tirso, Portugal). Rachel (Great Dunmoin, GB). Maria (Moscow). Riikka (Tampere). These are among the protagonists of this survey of mother's love today.

There is a literally cosmic perspective as one of the mothers, Karen, is an astronaut who communicates with her child from space. If Mother's Wish were fiction we'd call it a multi-character study. The genre might be melodrama, more specifically the weepie. There is a high charge of emotion. Tears are flowing.

The intimacy in the documentaries of the recent decades is astonishing. There is a new stage in the representation of self, the concept of privacy, the expression of subjectivity, performed reality.

We visit a childbirth, we meet a mother who has lost her child in a car accident (she was herself to blame), a mother whose son is in prison, a mother whose baby is being saved via a liver transplant. We meet a victim of incest whose biggest fear is that they might tell her mother. We get to know a mother who works night shifts as a pole dancer.

The cosmic perspective is not only achieved in the space footage. There is a powerful dynamics in the excellent cinematography from the extreme intimacy of the mother-child union to the majestic global perspective. In the ten stories we see epic long-distance views, establishing shots, of ravishing landscapes from all around the world. Big cities, slum communities, the Himalaya, a cliff by the Atlantic Ocean, all in gorgeous widescreen. There is an excitement of the place.

A sense of the sublime is a keyword.

Another relevant expression is a sense of wonder, usually the keyword to a completely different genre, cinéfantastique.

The digital presentation of the magnificent cinematography was quite successful.


Listen Up Philip

Hei kuule Philip [Yle Teema 23 Sep 2015]. US © 2014 Listen Up Philip, LLC. PC: Sailor Bear / Washington Square Films / Faliro House Productions. P: Joshua Blum, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Katie Stern. D+SC: Alex Ross Perry. DP: Sean Price Williams - negative: 16 mm - Super 16. PD: Scott Kuzio. AD: Fletcher Chancey. Set dec: Nora Mendis. Cost: Amanda Ford. Makeup: Amy L. Forsythe. M: Keegan DeWitt. Diana Ross & The Supremes: "I Hear A Symphony". S: Ryan M. Price. ED: Robert Greene. Casting: Lois J. Drabkin, Susan Shopmaker. C: Jason Schwartzman (Philip Lewis Friedman), Elisabeth Moss (Ashley Kane), Krysten Ritter (Melanie Zimmerman), Joséphine de La Baume (Yvette Dussart), Jonathan Pryce (Ike Zimmerman), Jess Weixler (Holly Kane), Dree Hemingway (Emily). Narrator: Eric Bogosian. 108 min
    Distributor: The Match Factory
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 22 Sep 2015

HIFF catalog and website:

"Alex Ross Perry continues his cinematic quest to test the limits of just how far you can take the obnoxious misanthropy of your leading characters in Listen Up Philip. Explicitly set in the literary world for which the writer-director has indirectly evinced a great affinity in his previous, ultra-low-budget features, Impolex and The Color Wheel, this more ambitious venture focuses on the wilfully self-destructive impulses of a talented young novelist who simultaneously sabotages the potential success of his new novel and his love life, partly through his admiring relationship with a venerable older writer whose antisocial behavior is far more evolved than his own. (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter)

By any measure, the pic formally announces Perry as one of the most promising young talents on the indie scene. (Scott Foundas, Variety)

Director Alex Ross Perry will attend all the screenings of Listen Up Philip (21st – 23rd of September)." (HIFF catalog)

AA: In this my first encounter with Alex Ross Perry I very much agree with the review of Scott Foundas in Variety (copied beyond the jump break) to which I have little to add.

Openly influenced by Philip Roth, even in homage to him, Listen Up Philip is an account of writers who are constitutionally incapable of empathy like blind bats fumbling in daylight. "You just don't see anything clearly."

Jason Schwartzman and Jonathan Pryce bring a raw honesty to their performances as writers who do not know how to live. There is the young promise and the established master. Ike Zimmerman refuses to be a mentor, Philip Lewis Friedman to be a protégé. Ike is both a model and an anti-model. Anyway Ike helps Philip by letting him work at his country place and helping him to get a job as a teacher. But his cynical and callous advice to Philip is more poisonous than fruitful. At the college Philip is alone, avoiding meaningful contact with anyone.

Called a comedy, Listen Up Philip amazes us constantly in scenes where famous writers fail utterly in basic human contacts.

There are moments of illumination. At the college, the fellow teacher Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume) is first Philip's nemesis, then his girlfriend. To her Philip reveals his unhealed wound: "my uncle raised me, as both my parents were killed in a car accident. Mom was pregnant, seven months". Philip has lost his compass and never found a sure footing since, which is perhaps the source of his sense of urgency in writing.

Ike has found fame and fortune but he is never happy, suffering from chronic narcissism and egocentrism. He writes for the world but offends everybody in his private life, most hurtingly his daughter. There is a moment of self-revelation when his daughter leaves.

These are difficult roles to play, and all the actors rise to the occasion. Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, and Elisabeth Moss have been deservedly praised, but I found also Joséphine de La Baume impressive as Yvette, as well as Krysten Ritter as the daughter of the great old writer.

Jason Schwartzman plays the anti-hero who has a hard time making sense of life. He has two girlfriends, Ashley and Yvette, and he loses both. There is a feeling of constant unease and intolerable arrogance in him, yet also a stamina and a persistence (sisu in Finnish). We know he'll never give up even if he is facing "a lifetime of enemies and scorched earth".

Listen Up Philip is a paradoxical tribute to literature. We feel for the poor professionals at the publishing house who have to face the toxic presence of Philip. There are connections to James Salter and William Gaddis in the movie. The end credits are a montage of stylish hard cover book designs made for the movie. The literary quality is emphasized by the omniscient narrator ("nothing lasts forever").

The music is very enjoyable, and it adds a liberating, relaxed and humoristic dimension to the movie.

There is a warm glow in the hues due to the Super 16 mm cinematography. The autumn leaves shine bright. A lot of the cinematography in this chamber piece is handheld, a lot in medium, close-up, and extreme close up, with a sense of immediacy.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Queen of Earth

US © 2015 Her Majesty September LLC. PC: Washington Square Films. P: Elisabeth Moss, Alex Ross Perry, Adam Piotrowicz, Joe Swanberg. D+SC: Alex Ross Perry. DP: Sean Price Williams - negative: 16 mm. PD: Anna Bak-Kvapil. Cost: Amanda Ford. Makeup: Amy L. Forsythe. M: Keegan DeWitt. S: Ryan M. Price. ED: Robert Greene. C: Elisabeth Moss (Catherine), Katherine Waterston (Virginia), Patrick Fugit (Rich), Kentucker Audley (James), Keith Poulson (Keith), Kate Lyn Shell (Michelle), Craig Butta (Groundskeeper), Daniel April (Warlock). 90 min
    Distributor: The Match Factory.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 21 Sep 2015

Two women who grew up together discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together. (IMdB)

HIFF Catalog and Website:

"Hell is other people – especially the ones who know you best (…)."

"Catherine (…) comes to spend a week of self-imposed “exile” at the lake house of her best friend, Virginia, following the death of her father and a bad breakup from her longtime boyfriend. We are somewhere in the tranquil Hudson River Valley, and the silence is deafening."

"Catherine arrives seeming almost shell-shocked, sleeping most of the day away (…). Against this, Perry shows us what life at the lake house was like a year earlier, when Catherine previously paid a visit – earlier times, and happier ones, too, for some characters if not for others. The Catherine we see there is in the full bloom of her romance with James (…) whose influence over his girlfriend is a source of pronounced irritation for the dyspeptic Virginia."

“We should trade roles and see how we feel then,” she says to Catherine, intoning the shape of things to come. Back in the present, the tables have indeed turned, with Virginia now under the sway of the literal boy next door (…)."

"The wonderfully eerie tone (…) keeps you on a razor’s edge of uncertainty as to whether a murder or a reconciliation – or both – lurks just around the bend." (Scott Foundas, Variety)

Director Alex Ross Perry will attend all screenings of Queen of Earth (21st – 23rd of September). (HIFF Catalog)

AA: Alex Ross Perry's previous film Listen Up Philip was about male unrest. Queen of Earth is about female anxiety. The scale is more compact in Queen of Earth.

Again there is a country home for solace and refuge. The retreat in the countryside is a place of getting in touch with oneself more deeply.

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is recovering from deep shocks: the death of her father, and a break-up with her boyfriend. Her friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) has already recovered from her disturbances the year before.

The intimate story has affinities with Persona (Bergman), Three Women (Altman), and Interiors (Allen). It is a tale of fragile psychological conditions. There are long monologues. The film is a tale of friendship and a study on the microphysics of power.

The nightmare about metal disintegration evokes Polanski's Repulsion. There is a hallucinatory dimension in the film and also a touch of a Henry James ghost story in the undercurrent. The film is a mystery tour into the psyche, enigmatic, contradictory, ambiguous. [In Jutta Sarhimaa's interview with Alex Ross Perry in Helsingin Sanomat today the director himself also mentions affinities with Altman's Images, Harvey's Carnival of Souls and Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death.]

The music of Queen of Earth is different from Listen Up Philip, a part of a rich and evocative soundscape including ghostly electronic sounds.

As a non-native English speaker I found the mumbling and whispered dialogue at times hard to follow and longed after subtitles. (They call this trend mumblecore).

Even more than in Listen Up Philip there is in Queen of Earth a predilection for extreme close-ups. There are scenes in long takes in close-up. There are hallucinatory superimpositions and bitter memory flashes. There are also interesting compositions where we follow the two women in different rooms and floors like on a split screen but without optical tricks. The colour world of Listen Up Philip was warm; Queen of Earth is cooler.

A film of unique sustained psychological tension.


Sunday, September 20, 2015


US © 2015 Papate, LLC. PC: An 1821 Media Prod. presentation of a Depth of Field production. (International sales: WME, Beverly Hills.) P: Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas. EX: Stephanie Meurer, Dan Balgoyen, Danielle Renfrew Behrens. Co-P Brenda Vogel. D+SC: Paul Weitz. DP (color, Arri Alexa HD), Tobias Datum. PD: Cindy Chao, Michele Yu. Set dec: Brittany Ruiz. Cost: Molly Grundman-Gerbosi.VFX: Patrick Longstreth, Sarah Sang.M: Joel P. West. S: Vincent Jay Schelly; supervising sound editor: Christopher Sheldon; re-recording mixer: Yagmur Kaplan. ED: Jonathan Corn. Assoc P: Lauren Tuck. Ass D: Cory Johnson. Casting, Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein, Deborah Maxwell Dion. C: Lily Tomlin (Ellie Reid), Julia Garner (Sage), Marcia Gay Harden (Judy), Judy Greer (Olivia), Laverne Cox (Deathy), Nat Wolff (Cam), John Cho (Chau), Sam Elliott (Karl), Mo Aboul-Zelof (Ian), Missy Doty (Mom), Sarah Burns. 78 min
    Ellie's car: Dodge Royal (1955).
    Distributor: Sony Pictures Finland.
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 20 Sep 2015

HIFF Catalog and Website:

"Playing an ill-tempered lesbian on an all-day odyssey to raise the money her granddaughter needs for an abortion, [Lily] Tomlin is in her glorious element. It doesn’t hurt that there are numerous other expertly gauged performances to savor, plus a bundle of heart, in this small-scale but consistently funny and poignant comedy-drama."

"While it’s very much Tomlin’s show, the movie is actually about three generations of women – the forces that shape and scar them, the thorny histories and divergent life choices that distance them, the lessons they absorb or ignore and the ties among them that weaken but seldom break."

"And though the termination of a pregnancy is what drives the plot, that sorrowful step is treated with the gravity it warrants in a story that’s also about the many imperfect paths of motherhood. Grandma is not as self-congratulatory and in-your-face as the recent Obvious Child (…). But there’s admirable frankness, intelligence and sensitivity here. Additionally, the film is a thoughtful, funny reflection on the gains and losses of growing old."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter (HIFF Catalog)

AA: Paul Weitz is one of my favourite contemporary film directors, and in Grandma he is in great form.
    Grandma seems to have been inspired by a colleague, Alexander Payne, especially by Citizen Ruth (the topic of abortion) and Nebraska (the old-timer on the road connecting with the younger generation). Both contribute to the brilliant tradition of satire of Lubitsch, Sturges, and Wilder. All dare attack topics that are deadly earnest.
    Grandma is irreverent, shocking, and audacious. At the bottom there is gravity. (And gravidity).
    Grandma belongs also to the tradition of Une vieille dame indigne / The Shameless Old Lady (René Allio directed the film inspired by a short story by Bertolt Brecht).
    Grandma starts with the rampage of the septuagenarian butch Ellie Reid (Lily Tomlin) who meets the dude who has made her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) pregnant and evades responsibility. Ellie hits his balls with his own ice hockey club. Sage reveals that her mother calls Ellie misanthropic. "That's an understatement". The first acts of the story are an escalation of disasters aggravated by Ellie's existential lack of diplomacy.
    The turning-point is the key scene with Karl (Sam Elliott), Ellie's ex-husband before she came out. The wounds have not healed in fifty years. The switch from farce to profound emotion deserves comparison with Leo McCarey.
    But then we meet Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), Ellie's daughter, Sage's mother, in full speed at her treadmill desk, one of the most formidable harridans in film history, almost as awesome as the ones that have been rampant in Finnish cinema during the last decades.
    The film is funny and unpredictable. There is a core of genuine emotion, a concern for loneliness and neglect, and a celebration of the life force in unexpected places.
    The dialogue is witty, the comic timing of the actors perfect. This is Lily Tomlin's show. Sam Elliott brings a strong counterweight to a key sequence. All are good.