Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the Core of the Documentary 52: Tribal Finland - The Karelians

Dokumentin ytimessä 52: Heimojen Suomi - karjalaiset / I dokumentärens kärna 52: karelerna. Curated by Ilkka Kippola and Jari Sedergren. Presented by Ilkka Kippola. Viewed at Helsinki, Cinema Orion, 28 April 2010.

Jo Karjalan kunnailla lehtii puut... (I-II) [The Trees Are Putting Forth Leaves In Karelia I-II]. FI 1935/1940. PC: Jäger-Filmi. Commissioned by: Valtion Tiedotuslaitos. P+ED+S: Kurt Jäger. D: Kalle Kaarna. SC: Ensio Rislakki, Iivo Härkönen, A. O. Väisänen. DP: Frans Ekebom. Featuring: Alli Tallas sings folk songs, Vanja Tallas plays the kantele, Timo Lipitsä plays the kantele and recites poems together with his pupil Vuorinen, the crying woman Ahri Vornanen performs crying dirges, The Leppäniemi Sekakuoro Choir sings folk songs, also the theme tune. M arr: Martti Parantainen. 30 min. - Digital Betacam.

Suur-Suomen muisto - kun Suomi miehitti Itä-Karjalan 1941–44 [The Memory of Greater Finland - When Finland Occupied Eastern Karelia 1941-44]. FI 1991. PC: Kinotuotanto Oy. P+D+SC+Ed: Claes Olsson - based on the book Suomi miehittäjänä (1989) by Helge Seppälä. DP: Lasse Naukkarinen. M: Yari. S: Hannu Koski. 46 min. English subtitles by Ulla Shackleton and Mark Shackleton. - 16 mm.

Elämän tanssi [The Dance of Life]. FI 1975. PC: Filmisyndikaatti Ky. EX: Markku Lehmuskallio. P: Ilkka Lehtonen D+SC+DP: Markku Lehmuskallio and teem: Erkki Malin, Pekka Vainio, Pekka Martevo ja Seppo Virtanen. M: Matti Koskiala and Hannu Syrjälahti (the kantele). Choreography: Jyrki Innamaa (Ruhnu, Wedding Dance from the Karelia of Viena). ED: Markku Lehmuskallio. S: Jouko Lehmuskallio; mix: Tuomo Kattilakoski. Featuring: The Helsingin Nuorisoseuran Tanhuajat folk dance group. 14 min. - Digital Betacam (video transfer not so hot).

Värttinä: Pihi neito [Värttinä: A Stingy Maiden]. FI 1993. PC: Mipu Music Oy. EX: Sari Kaasinen. P: Sari Kaasinen and Heikki Kemppainen. D+SC: Ville Suhonen. DP: Tuomo Virtanen, ass: Rauno Ronkainen. ED: Leena Haapanen. M: Värttinä: Mari Kaasinen, Sari Kaasinen, Kirsi Kähkönen, Sirpa Reiman. 4 min. - 35 mm.

Another memorable documentary film compilation programme from the redoubtable Ilkka Kippola - Jari Sedergren team. The Kurt Jäger entry was an excerpt of a feature film the original version of which had disappeared because the producer Jäger himself chopped it for recycling in new productions. What remains is exciting sound footage of the ancient ways of Karelia. The value of this footage keeps growing. Claes Olsson's film was a reminder of Finland as an occupier and a founder of concentration camps during Operation Barbarossa. Markku Lehmuskallio's film and the Värttinä music video show the modern presence of the Karelian ways in dance and song.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kreutzerova sonáta (cinema concert with Mauri Saarikoski, Marko Puro)

The Kreutzer Sonata. CZ 1927. PC: Julius Schmitt. P: Julius Schmitt. D+SC: Gustav Machatý – based on the tale by Leo Tolstoy (Kreitzerova sonata, 1889). DP: Otto Heller. AD: Vilém Rittershain. Studios: Kavalírka (Prague) and Schönbrunn (Vienna). Starring: Jan W. Speerger (Pozdnyšev), Eva Byronová (Nataša, his wife), Miloslav Paul (Truchačevský). Print: Národni filmovy archiv (Prague) 1943 m /20 fps/ 84 min. Screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Tomas Lehecka.

Cinema concert at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Leo Tolstoy), 27 April 2010, arranged and performed by Mauri Saarikoski (violin) and Marko Puro (piano).

The violist Mauri Saarikoski and the pianist Marko Puro played with inspiration not only Beethoven but also Leoš Janáček (The 1. String Quartet inspired by Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata) – in this presentation we had not only Tolstoy meeting Beethoven but also the meeting of two leading Czech artists of the age, the director Gustav Machatý and the composer Leoš Janáček! The arrangement and the timing were excellent.

In his first feature film Machatý presents a faithful Tolstoy adaptation with slight updates such as introducing cars. In Tolstoy's tale it remains unclear if anything happens between Natasha and Truchachevsky. Machatý shows love scenes of theirs which to me meant that they were having an affair, but other viewers regarded those scenes as belonging to Pozdnyshev's imagination. Following Tolstoy, Machatý narrates the tragedy as flashbacks told by Pozdnyshev during a train journey.

Machatý has already an assured grip on the structure of the film. Recurrent images include train stations, thick clouds of smoke, and the four pendula of the clock. Machatýs grip gets stronger towards the end, after the statement "previously you liked Beethoven". We see Natasha's suicide attempt, Pozdnyshev's tenderness at her sickbed, the reconciliation, and then the Kreutzer Sonata scene ("Do you know The Kreutzer Sonata? It is terrible, it excites but does not give any satisfaction") with an excellent array of memorable reaction shots from the stupefied audience.

Machatý knows how to use pauses, even long ones, between the action scenes. The last part of the film is built like a suspense thriller. The end is devastating, and the only thing missing are Tolstoy's sermons against marriage and sex. Jan W. Speerger is good as Pozdnyshev.

The image of the film had low contrast in our presentation. There was like a slight reflection over the whole image not caused by the musicians' lights or the subtitling projection.

K13 513. Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines (Trailer) / [The Adventures of a Ten Mark Note, Trailer]

DE 1926. PC: Deutsche Vereins-Film AG (Defa) / Fox Europa Film Produktion (Berlin). P: Karl Freund. D: Berthold Viertel. SC: Béla Balázs - inspired by the tale The False Note by Leo Tolstoy. Trailer 3 min without text, Filmarchiv Austria (Vienna), viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Leo Tolstoy), 27 April 2010.

From the trailer one can get just an impression of the imagery of this lost film: it starts with a close-up of the bank note, then we see shots from a sewing room, from a bank, newspaper headlines, city streets, dog eating the note.

Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines started the Querschnittfilm (the cross-section film) phenomenon and was an important film in the development of die Neue Sachlichkeit. Its inspiration is still valid in contemporary cinema via the 1930s (films like Un carnet de bal, train films, stories with objects from pearls to cars to boots changing owners) to Preminger, Altman, John Paul Anderson... not forgetting the films by Robert Bresson and Aku Louhimies inspired by the same Tolstoy tale. None of the films inspired by that tale, however, has Tolstoy's original double plot: first the curse of money, then the power of redemption.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen Finnland

Auf Wiedersehen Finnland. FI (c) 2010 For Real / ARTE. P: Cilla Werning. D+SC: Virpi Suutari. DP: Heikki Färm. Mostly newly shot with 1944-1945 newsreel footage from Finland and Germany. M: Johanna Juhola, Pekka Kuusisto. S: Olli Huhtanen. ED: Jukka Nykänen. Featuring: Elma, Frans, Roosa, Tertta, Kaisu. 79 min. Released by Kinotar. D-Cinema projection with no subtitles at Tennispalatsi 12, Helsinki, 23 April 2010.

A strong documentary film revealing a secret aspect of the Second World War.

Finns fought with Germany in Operation Barbarossa in 1941-1944 and against Germany in the Lapland War in 1944-1945. There were 200.000 German troops in Lapland, and hundreds of Finnish women followed them. This documentary is their story. For this film, Virpi Suutari has won the confidence of four of the women and one son of a Finnish woman and a German soldier. With great sensitivity and in the nick of time she reveals a secret dimension of history. We follow the whole story from Finnish Lapland to Norwegian Lapland, by the sea to Germany, the devastation of Germany, and the road back to Finland, where the women were very roughly treated. Although this is a documentary film we witness very private, intimate, sensitive, even traumatic scenes.

The films opens new perspectives to familiar topics. There is a Holocaust sequence in this film, powerful via indirection. The women report on their shock at visiting concentration camps. The women also participated in the Allied's screenings of Holocaust documentaries. It was the condition of receiving food stamps. It was not allowed to leave the cinema, turn one's head or close one's eyes. The audiences were shocked, many cried, and some may have lost consciousness. Virpi Suutari incorporates newsreel footage of devastated audiences leaving the cinema.

The quality of the D-Cinema presentation was mainly good, and it was interesting to notice some excellent nature footage, as nature has so far been hard to portray in D-Cinema. The archival footage may have been mastered at a low resolution as it looked needlessly weak especially in slow motion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lauri Lehtinen: Eurotica: Middle European Erotic Cinema (a lecture)

A lecture in the series Cinema and Sexuality organized by the Film Society of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 23 April 2010.

Following the sexual liberation of the 1960s there was a boom of popular sex films in Middle Europe.

In Germany, sex education films such as Helga films and Oswald Kolle films became popular. Schulmädchen-Report: Was Eltern nicht für möglich halten (1970) was the first in a series of 12 schoolgirl report films. Report was the keyword in various series about housewives, workplaces, and dancing lessons. The films were traditional folk comedies with sex added. They were usually not story-driven or character-driven but episodic in format. Holidays were a favourite framework: in the Alps, in Bavaria, in Hamburg, in Munich. Typical Sigi Rothemund titles were Drei Schwedinnen in Oberbayern (Tukholman tuliset tytöt Tirolissa) and Die schönen Wilden von Ibiza. Franz Marischka made five Tickle Me (Lass jucken, Kumpel) films. Eberhard Schröder directed six Hausfrauen Report movies. There were six-seven films in the Josephine Mutzenbacher series, where the milieu is a brothel. Nobody was offended, sex was happy, folksy comedy conventions were followed. Sylvia im Reich der Wollust / Freude am Fliegen, inspired by Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, was based on the tension between dream and reality: the dream comes true. German light sex entertainment flourished until 1977. Then hard core became dominant.

In Switzerland, Erwin C. Dietrich was a prolific producer-director-writer of sex films. Jesus Franco directed some of his most prominent sex films there.

In Italy, art directors such as Bertolucci, Pasolini, Ferreri, Wertmüller, Cavani, and Antonioni were quick to take advantage of the new freedom. In popular cinema, there was copycat mentality. There was a cycle of Canterbury films and films about ancient Romans. Following The Night Porter there was a cycle of concentration camp erotica. Films called "Sexy" were popular pseudo-documentaries. Mondo films were more cruel and sarcastic. Some films delved into Krafft-Ebing and a Peeping Tom approach. Rino di Silvestro dabbled in squalor. There was more quality in the films of Salvatore Samperi and Tinto Brass (Salon Kitty, Paprika, Miranda, La chiave).

In France, Max Pécas specialized for a while in soft core erotica. Walerian Borowczyk also profiled himself in erotica. There were sometimes difficulties with the generous politics of French film subsidy. Sex films obey the conventions of film narrative with difficulty. The budget of Emmanuelle was half a million, the revenue was a hundred million. Based on the 1959 novel by Emmanuelle Arsan (Marayat Andriane) it became a cultural phenomenon of the Me Generation. The director, the photographer Just Jaeckin, created a special visual look, a cross of Rembrandt and Playboy, and Pierre Bachelet composed a fine theme song. The imagery was warm and soft. Emmanuelle elevated the quality of popular erotic cinema with its excellent cinematography and melodic music. The films of another photographer turned director, David Hamilton (Bilitis, Tendres cousines), tended to be static. In the second Emmanuelle film (Emmanuelle: l'antivierge) only the producer family Siritzky and the star Sylvia Kristel remained. The fluency and tension of the first Emmanuelle film were missing. Just Jaeckin continued with other films (Histoire d'O). In the tantra massage sequence of Emmanuelle: l'antivierge Sylvia Kristel met Laura Gemser, the intelligent Indonesian actress who actually resembles the real Emmanuelle Arsan. The Italians launched a Black Emanuelle series with Laura Gemser and with Joe D'Amato as director. In these films, Emanuelle is an independent photo journalist who as a double agent has access to dangerous milieux around the world. Peeping Tom mentality reigns. Joe D'Amato is a compulsive entertainer, almost oppressively so, managing to find an entertaining approach even to torture scenes. Even in such circumstances Laura Gemser emerges as a true movie star with dignity and mystery. Laura Gemser is Indonesian, but besides, there was also a real black Emanuelle. As well as a yellow Emanuelle, Emanuelle in Tokyo, in England... In the third entry of the Siritzky Emmanuelle cycle, traditional sex morality was reinstated. In the fourth entry, Emmanuelle was incarnated by the Swede Mia Nygren. Further there were virtual reality and science fiction approaches. There were seven cinema Emmanuelle films in the Siritzky series, and television movies later. Black Emanuelle was actually the more consistent of the series. Emmanuelle radiated the eternal light of the sun, she was immortal, and in this escapistic entertainment there was no growing old.

Sex entertainment that is not the hardest available does not sell. The age of an abundance of free content began. Yet mechanical satisfaction of desire can be boring.

Clips included: Alpenglühn im Dirndlrock (Tango nahkahousuissa, Sigi Rothemund, DE 1975). - Sylvia im Reich der Wollust / Freude am Fliegen (Tuo mainio pukki lentävässä koneessaan, Franz Josef Gottlieb, DE 1977). - Das Frauenhaus / Blue Rita (Jesus Franco, CH 1977). - La chiave (Erotiikan avain, Tinto Brass, IT 1983). - Je suis une nymphomane (Erään nymfomaanin päiväkirja, Max Pécas, FR 1971). - Je suis frigide... pourquoi? (Miten himo tulee nuoriin naisiin, Max Pécas, FR 1973). - La Bête (Peto, Walerian Borowczyk, FR 1975). - Emmanuelle (Emmanuelle, Just Jaeckin, FR 1974). - Emmanuelle: l'antivierge (Emmanuelle 2, Francis Giacobetti, FR 1975).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed

Prinssi Ahmedin seikkailut / Prins Ahmeds äventyr. DE 1926. PC: Comenius Film. P: Louis Hagen. D+SC+Storyboards+AN: Lotte Reiniger. DP: Carl Koch. Bauten (sonstiges): Walther Ruttmann (moving backgrounds), Berthold Bartosch, Alexander Karadan, Walter Türk, Lore Leudesdorff. Original M for live cinema orchestra: Wolfgang Zeller. Silhouette characters: The Caliph, Dinarsade the caliph's daughter, Ahmed the caliph's son, The beautiful Pari Banu, Aladdin, The African Sorcerer, The Witch, Giant snakes, Demons. 1811 m / 65 min. A Deutsches Filminstitut print of the Lotte Reiniger Centenary Restoration in colour (1999). Wolfgang Zeller's original music played back from dvd (courtesy ARTE), electronic subtitles in Finnish by Kirsi Turunen. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (A Thousand and One Nights), 22 April 2010.

The colour in this Jubileum Restoration is beautiful and the interpretation of Wolfgang Zeller's music is captivating. There are affinities in Zeller's music with Bernard Herrmann's Sinbad scores.

A wonderful Oriental fantasy animation. Lotte Reiniger's silhouettes carry the action, Walther Ruttmann and others have created an almost psychedelic atmosphere with impressions of clouds, liquids, smoke, fire, and opening circles - a feeling of the elements. The Oriental graphic design of the intertitles is elegant. Lotte Reiniger is in full command of the artistic whole. The film was cut according to Zeller's score, and the sound and the image blend seamlessly.

Prince Ahmed tries to fly on the tricky magic horse of the African sorcerer and lands in the Wak-Wak island where he sees the beautiful fairy Pari Banu taking a bath. Princess Dinarsade is saved from the sorcerer who had wanted to trade the horse with her. Aladdin with his magic lamp helps Ahmed free Pari Banu.

One of the early feature-length animations is an assured and unique piece of art.

http://www.filmportal.de/df/2d/Uebersicht,,,,,,,,2D3E507B1F7C45C191AFEA55317FC76B,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.html

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Covek nije tica / A Man Is Not a Bird

Covek nije tica. Ljubavni film

Ihminen ei ole lintu / Människan är ingen fågel. YU 1965. PC: Avala Film. D+SC: Dusan Makavejev. DP: Aleksandar Petkovic. AD: Draguljob Ivkov; Milenko Jeremic. Make-up: Branko Catovic. M: Petar Bergamo. ED: Ljubica Nesic. Loc: Bor. Cast: Milena Dravic (Rajka), Janez Vrhovec (Jan Rudinski), Eva Ras (Barbool's wife), Stole Arandjelovic (Barbulovic, "Barbool"), Boris Dvornik (Vozac Kamiona). 81 min, print viewed 78 min. A Jugoslovenska Kinoteka print (ok) with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Dusan Makavejev), 20 April 2010

Dusan Makavejev's debut feature film is an assured and original piece of cinema.

Top engineer Jan comes to the copper mining town of Bor to modernize its production methods. He stays at a family and has an affair with the beautiful blonde daughter Rajka, who is a hairdresser. Rajka is the active partner in the affair.

There is parallel story about the model worker Barbool who is an alcoholic wife-beater and adulterer off duty.

Rajka is also courted by the young, womanizing truck driver Boris.

The film is bookended between two concerts. In the beginning there is the buxom bar singer Fatima killed by a drunken customer's knife. Towards the end there is a symphony orchestra playing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But after the symphony orchestra we see a travelling circus with acrobats, snake-eaters, knife throwers and trapeze artists.

The film starts with footage about hypnosis and towards the end we are told the word hypnosis comes from the Greek word hipnos meaning dream. Seduction, propaganda, music... all related to hypnosis.

The title of the film comes from the hypnotist's performance where he can make people believe they are birds although they cannot fly. But everybody dreams of flying.

In this film Makavejev has a firm grip on social reality (there is even a documentary aspect to the film) while paying attention to dreams.

Makavejev lets his actors create sympathetic and authentic characters. The film seems loose, relaxed and disconnected but gradually the various strands start to make sense as parts of an engaging whole.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reindeerspotting - pako Joulumaasta

Reindeerspotting - flykten från Jullandet / Reindeerspotting - Escape from the Santa Land. FI (c) 2010 Bronson Club. P: Jesse Fryckman, Oskari Huttu. D: Joonas Neuvonen. SC: Joonas Neuvonen, Sadri Cetinkaya. DP: Joonas Neuvonen - colour - mini dv - blow-up to 35 mm. S: Joonas Jyrälä, Panu Riikonen. ED: Sadri Cetinkaya. LOC: Rovaniemi, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Christiania, Paris, Cefalu, Sicily, Rome, Spain, Africa. Featuring: Jani. 84 min. In Finnish. Released by Nordisk Film with Swedish subtitles. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 17 April 2010.

A documentary film on young drug addicts in Rovaniemi, one of the most Northern cities in the world.

There is a compelling drive in this film. It is a first-person narrative of the 19-year-old Jani. He is addicted to Subutex and tries to escape the vicious circle by robbing a supermarket. With a travel budget of 5000 Euro he leaves Rovaniemi for the first time. His odyssey takes him to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Christiania, Paris, Cefalu, Sicily, Rome, Spain, and Africa, all the time in the company of Joonas Neuvonen with his mini dv camera. Back home he faces a prison sentence of two years.

There has been a debate of the film's rating (18) in Finland. The film shows in detail how to access and use Subutex, heroin, marijuana, etc. It shows a model of life based on despair and self-destruction. It also shows the pleasure and euphoria of drug use. This is a strong and honest film but the film-makers play with fire. With certain audiences in a certain young age despair and self-destruction can be lucrative. Jani's story is terrible, yet he can be seen as a role model as we know from the reception of Christiane F.

There is an ethical dilemma in this film. As a rule it's unethical to have a defenseless person (mentally imbalanced, addicted, etc.) appear in a documentary film, but this film is obviously based on mutual commitment. We trust that Jani is not being exploited, abused, and harmed by the film-making.

Some of the strongest films of the last decade were about drugs: Traffic, Blow, and Requiem for a Dream. These accounts of drug use and drug traffic emerged as visions of instant gratification, the short attention span, and the irresponsibility of big business.

There is the same sense of profoundness and of "drug as metaphor" in Reindeerspotting. Themes beneath the surface include displacement, alienation, social erosion, rootlessness, and modern solitude.

Jani is lost. How can we help him?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Marjo Pipinen: Homosexuality and Queer in the Movies (a lecture)

A lecture in the series Cinema and Sexuality organized by the Film Society of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 16 April 2010.

Instead of an historical introduction Marjo Pipinen presented a thematic overview into the queer gaze, on seeing otherwise in the Western cinema. The approaches include: - representations - audiences and reception - historical contexts - gender research - psychoanalytical film research. And also - feministic research - race and ethnicity - study of queer artists.

How to recognize homosexuality in a film? A possible concept is "should-not-be-looked-at-ness" derived by Ellis Hanson as a response to Laura Mulvey's "to-be-looked-at-ness". Instead of rigid categories there is in reality a fluid movement from the homosexual to the homoerotic to the homosocial. An example of homosexual references in mainstream entertainment is Top Gun.

Stereotypes of homosexuality have been dominant in the history of the cinema. They include - explanations of childhood traumata - abnormality - lacking contact with the opposite sex - homosexuality as an illness to be healed - suicidality - unmanliness - confusion about the purpose of life which is heterosexual love.

There have been also stereotypes of positive representation. But as Richard Dyer has pointed out, stereotypes can also be complex, varied, intense, and contradictory in projecting an image of otherness. We need rigorous questioning of the very correctness, identity, stereotyping, visiblity and authenticity of the images. Cliches about bad homosexuals should not turn into cliches about good homosexuals.

New Queer Cinema started in the late 1980s. Many of the films had historical subjects. The artists were archaeologists of queer history: the purpose was to create a homosexual history, a history of the senses.

Book recommendations included: - Richard Dyer: The Culture of Queers (2002). - Jackie Stacey and Sarah Street (ed.): Queer Screen (2007). - Teresa De Lauretis: The Practice of Love (2007). - Ellis Hanson, Michèle AinaBarale, Jonathan Goldberg, and Steven Cohan: Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film (1999). - Janet Staiger: Perverse Spectators (2000). - Linda Williams: Screening Sex (2008).

Clips: - Mad Men (tv series, series creator: Matthew Weiner, US 2007). - Top Gun Recut on YouTube, a gay trailer based on Top Gun (Tony Scott, US 1986). - Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US 2006). - Rakas lurjus [Dear Scoundrel] (T.J. Särkkä, FI 1955). - The Hours and Times (Christoph Munch, US 1991). - Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, US 2006).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In the Core of the Documentary Film 51: Artists and Authors

Dokumentin ytimessä 51: Kirjailijat ja taiteilijat / I dokumentärens kärna 51: Konstnärer och författare. Curated by Ilkka Kippola and Jari Sedergren. Presented by Ilkka Kippola. A digibeta compilation viewed at Helsinki, Cinema Orion, 14 April 2010.

Kuvanveistäjä Ville Vallgren [The Sculptor Ville Vallgren]. FI 1930. DP: Eino Kari, Kurt Jäger. Silent. 6 min
Otto Manninen ja Anni Swan. FI 1933. PC: Kulttuurifilmi O.Y. Kurki. For WSOY. DP: Oscar Lindelöf. Silent, 4 min.
Kirjoja ja kirjailijoita [Books and Authors]. FI 1938. PC: Filmistudio Oy. For Gummerus. Concept: Matti Kurjensaari. Commentary: Kaarlo Marjanen. 11 min - featuring Esko Aaltonen, Matti Kurjensaari, Tatu Vaaskivi, Olavi Paavolainen, Kurt Wallenius, Jaakko Haavio, Helvi Hämäläinen, Yrjö Kivimies, Onni Oja
Savi elää [The Clay Lives]. FI 1943. PC: Oy Suomen Filmiteollisuus. For: Arabia. D: Topo Leistelä. DP: Felix Forsman. 11 min.- With Birger Kaipainen, Rut Bryk, etc.
Suomalaisen taiteen mestareita I: Wäinö Aaltonen [Masters of Finnish Art I: Wäinö Aaltonen]. FI 1947. PC: Hyperborea Filmi Oy. D: Sakari Kulhia. 10 min
Kalevala - kansallinen - yleismaailmallinen [Kalevala - National - International]. FI 1949. PC: Adams Filmi Oy.P : Hannu Leminen. For: Suomen Kulttuurirahasto. D: L.A.Puntila. SC: Martti Haavio. DP: Yrjö Aaltonen. Commentary written by: L.A.Puntila. Reader: Carl-Erik Creutz. 9 min
Suomalaisia kirjailijoita I-II [Finnish Authors I-II]. FI 1958, 1959. PC: Kalevi Lavola Oy. For: Otava. Concept, commentary: Jyri Schreck. DP: Kalevi Lavola. 13 min - with Matti Hälli, Jussi Talvi, Paavo Rintala - Viljo Kajava - Marja-Liisa Vartio, Paavo Haavikko - Veijo Meri - Juha Mannerkorpi - Lassi Nummi - Iris Kähäri.
Runoilija L. Onerva [The Poet L. Onerva]. FI 1952. PC: Kalevi Lavola Oy. For: Suomen Martat. Concept: Lea Pohjanpalo. DP: Kalevi Lavola. Commentary: Kerttu Krohn. 6 min
Kirjailijoitamme [Authors of Ours]. FI 1943. PC: Suomi-Filmi. For: WSOY. D: Vappu Roos. Commentary: Kaarlo Marjanen. DP: Yrjö Aaltonen. 13 min- Toivo Pekkanen - Helvi Hämäläinen - Lauri Viljanen - Mika Waltari - Olavi Paavolainen - Kaarlo Sarkia

Another great compilation programme from Ilkka Kippola and Jari Sedergren. Rare documentary discoveries about Finnish artists and authors, some of them made for specialized commissioned use only, but on a high professional level.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Jouni Hokkanen: Pink Daydreams - Japanese Pinku Eiga (a lecture)

A lecture in the series Cinema and Sexuality organized by the Film Society of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 9 April 2010.

Pinku eiga is a Japanese soft core pornographic genre. Four criteria of the pinku eiga include: 1) there must be at least four sex scenes, 2) the duration is 60 min, 3) the film must be shot professionally on 16 mm or 35 mm film, 4) the film is destined to be exhibited in cinemas. The budget is remarkably small but there is considerable freedom for the film-maker as long as he follows the four criteria. There is no counterpart to the pinku eiga in the Western world. The special nature of the Japanese censorship must be observed. The display of primary sex organs and pubic hair is banned. The primary sex organs can be hidden with lamps, candles, and bottles. Censorship makes it necessary to use imagination.

In the history of the Japanese cinema the kabuki and the noh traditions were followed in the beginning. Until 1921 no women appeared on screen, and men played women's roles.The first screen kiss in Japanese cinema took place in 1946, and even then behind a paraply. Critics started to talk about kisu-eiga. Nudity and sex had not allowed on screen, except in health and hygiene films. In 1947 strip tease was launched in Tokyo, and the first strip tease films were made. Shintoho produced in the 1950s and the 1960s a cycle of documentary films on female pearl-divers. The first pinku eiga was Nikutai no ichiba (Flesh Market, Satoru Kobayashi, JP 1962).

The first wave of pinku eiga took place in 1964-1972. The popularity grew rapidly. Tetsuji Takechi's Hakujitsumu (Daydream, JP 1964) was important. The studios were small. In the cinemas, three pinku eigas were combined in one show. An important film was Nikutai no mon (Gate of Flesh, Seijun Suzuki, JP 1964).

Koji Wakamatsu started at Nikkatsu and launched his own Wakamatsu Studio. He became "the godfather of pinku". Black and white films were produced on a budget of under 4000 E. Wakamatsu was a co-producer of Nagisa Oshima's Ai no corrida. Wakamatsu is still going strong, and his new film Kyatapira (Caterpillar, JP 2010) was screened at Berlin Film Festival this year. Masao Adachi was an important screenwriter for Nagisa Oshima and Koji Wakamatsu.

Brothels were banned in Japan in 1957. In one pinku film a prostitute tries to break a record of how many men she can receive during the final day. The second wave of pinku eiga was the Nikkatsu roman porno era 1971–1982. This wave lasted until the breakthrough of the home video.

The AV (Adult Video), cheap video pornography, hit pinku eiga hard. New independent companies entered the market. The revenue of pinku eiga plummeted. The Roman X series provided more nudity but no more sex. Nikkatsu ceased to produce pinku eiga in 1988.

In the 1990s four pinku directors debuted, Kazuhiro Sano, Toshiki Satō, Takahisa Zeze, and Hisayasu Satō. They worked in a spirit of desperation aware that their each film could be the last. They ignored the audience and made experimental, difficult and sombre films. They were dubbed the "four heavenly kings of pinku". In Hisayasu Sato's films, there are displays of nihilistic, brutal fantasy, rape scenes that can be seen as accounts of extreme alienation.

In 2003, 287 Japanese films were released in Japan, 89 of which were pinku eiga. Besides, 60 older pinku eiga films were exhibited. The pinku eiga budget is 3,5 million yen, or, ca 27.000 E. The pinku eiga budget has remained the same since the 1960s. The pinku eiga movie is shot in 3-4 days. For instance, a movie like The Molester Train is shot from a fixed camera position, the takes are long, 6 reels of film are available, no retakes are possible.

Pinku eiga is screened in specialized cinemas. Films like Hatsukoi: Jigoku-hen (Nanami), Onibaba, or Suna no onna (Woman of the Dunes) are not screened in pinku eiga cinemas, which is why they are not pinku eiga.

In Gekko kamen, the nude action heroine appears in a parody of a manga about a boarding school where a pupil who has committed an error becomes the target of the teachers' sexual harassment.

The censorship issue is complicated. Presentation of full nudity is forbidden; upper body and the backside may be displayed. The foundation is the paragraph on hygiene in the penal code: it is forbidden to disseminate indecency. There is the question of the Japanese etiquette. Social nudity has been natural in bath-houses and in the self-humiliation programmes of television. Nikutai no ichiba (Flesh Market, Satoru Kobayashi, JP 1962) brought topless nudity to the screen. It was seen as a display of bad taste. Foreign film gave inspiration, such as Blowup with pubic hair. Visual censorship was born: with blurring, digital obscuring, black bars, and white spheres. Objects such as candles and vases could be used. In Nikkatsu, flesh-coloured tape was introduced to cover the pubic area. - In AV (Adult Video) sex organs are pixelized. In Japan this method is called "mosaic".

The restrictions work in several stages. 1) There are the police and the prosecutors. 2) There are the customs and the export administration. 3) There is the Eirin, the Japanese film rating board, the self-control organization of the film industry which is the most strict of them all. It is a club of the six biggest companies. - International co-productions have been launched in order to prevent the film to be wrecked by the Eirin. - Masudo Ikeda's Dedicato al mare Egeo (IT/JP 1979) was, however, caught by the customs and subjected to 52 censorship cuts. - Gradual relaxation of the restrictions: "If pubic hair is presented in its natural surroundings, it is permissible to put it on display". - More restrictions on teenage references, licking, posters. - In the 1990s the legislation was relaxing, inspired by foreign films such as La belle noiseuse and Orlando, both depicting pubic hair.

Sex cinemas have vanished elsewhere, but in Japan they still exist. There are still some 130 sex cinemas in Japan.

Clips: - Hatsujô kateikyôshi: sensei no aijiru (The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Lanai, Mitsuru Meike, JP 2003). - Hana to hebi (Flower and Snake, Takashi Ishii, JP 2004). - Taiji ga mitsuryô suru toki (The Embryo Hunts in Secret, Koji Wakamatsu, JP 1966). - Tenshi no kôkotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels, Koji Wakamatsu, JP 1972). - Hitozuma korekutâ (Wife Collector, Hisayasu Sato, JP 1985). - Gekko kamen (Moon Mask Rider, Yukihiro Sawada, JP 1981). - Kinbaku (Kinbaku - sielun solmuja, Jouni Hokkanen, FI 2010).

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cinema Mondo 20th Anniversary

A party at Corona-Baari and Dubrovnik, 8 April 2010.

The Finnish film distribution company Cinema Mondo was founded in 1990 by Pekka Lanerva, Matti Paunio, and Mika Siltala. The lineup now is Mika Siltala (ceo), Susanna Peevo, Antti Suonio, and Ville Purjo. For 20 years now Cinema Mondo has been at the vanguard of modern art cinema distribution in Finland, distributing works by artists such as Roy Andersson, Gregg Araki, Catherine Breillat, Tsui Hark, Peter Jackson, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Wong Kar-Wai, Kim Ki-Duk, Hanif Kureishi, Julio Medem, Hayao Miyazaki, Errol Morris, Gaspar Noé, Kevin Smith, Todd Solondz, John Woo, and Edward Yang, and classic films from directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Nagisa Oshima.

A great party with a who's who of the Finnish film scene, and an Asian menu named by the titles of Wong Kar-Wai films.

Der weisse Teufel

Valkoinen paholainen / Den vita djävulen. DE 1930. Production year 1929. PC: Ufa. EX: Noé Bloch. P: Gregor Rabinowitsch. D: Alexander Wolkoff. Ass D: Anatole Litvak. SC: Alexander Wolkoff, Michael Linsky – based on the tale Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy (published posthumously 1912). DP: Curt Courant, Nikolai Toporkoff. AD: Vladimir Meingard; Alexandere Loschakoff; Wladimir von Meinhardt. Cost: Boris Bilinsky. M: Michel Michelet, Willy Schmidt-Gentner, Marc Roland, Michael Lewin, Michael Glinka. M excerpts: The Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky), "Valse triste" (Sibelius), Rimsky-Korsakov. S: Dr. Fritz Seidel, Walter Rühland. Loc: The Alps in South France, Grenoble, Switzerland, Nizza, Leningrad (opera, castle, easter parade). Cast: Ivan Mosjoukine (Hadji Murat), Lil Dagover (Nelidova), Betty Amann (Saira), Fritz Alberti (Czar Nicholas I), Acha Chakatouny (Shamil), George Seroff (Ryabov), Alexander Murski (General Vorontsov), Kenneth Rive (Hadji Murat's son Jusuf), Bobby Burns (child), Serge Jaroff and His Don Cossack Choir. 103 min. A fine print from Filmmuseum Berlin / Deutsche Kinemathek, electronic subtitles in Finnish by AA, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Leo Tolstoy), 8 April 2010.

Revisited one of Ivan Mosjoukine's most magnificent films and one of the best Leo Tolstoy film adaptations. Mosjoukine is charismatic and fearsome as a mounted Caucasian warlord and he projects also an appealing tenderness and compassion. This unique scope of Hadji Murat's character is true to Tolstoy.

Remarks:
1. Leo Tolstoy's taut story has been transformed into romantic mainstream entertainment. The film follows the conventions of the swashbuckler genre.
2. The film is based on the same tragic conflict as Tolstoy's story. Hadji Murat is persecuted by Imam Shamil but he cannot join the Russians. He is caught in an impossible situation between the enemies.
3. The hero is a Chechen warlord who wages a holy war against the Christian world.
4. In Tolstoy's story, Hadji Murat has many wives. In the film, he is a widower who wants to find a new mother to his beloved son Jusuf. The character of the dancing Chechen maid Saida (Betty Amann) is an invention of the film-makers. Towards the end, Murat and Saida are wed. Finding the new mother is a major plot.
5. In Tolstoy's story, Hadji Murat stays in Chechenia and Dagestan. In the film he is taken to the capital, St. Petersburg.
6. As in Tolstoy's story, Czar Nicholas I appears as a slightly ridiculous character, and his affairs with young girls are highlighted. In Tolstoy's story, the young lady surrenders willingly and is amply rewarded. In the film, the ballerina is Saida, and Hadji Murat saves her from the arms of the Czar at the hunting lodge in Petergof.
7. In Tolstoy's story, the Russian military escort to Hadji Murat is a highly intelligent man who writes down Murat's autobiography. In the film he's an idiot.
8. As in Tolstoy's story, montage technique is used to portray Hadji Murat's final moments, but Tolstoy's story is more cinematic than the film itself.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The full live transmission of the Oscar gala on Sunday, 7 March 2010 transmitted in Finland by Nelonen (Channel Four of Finland), recorded on our digital tv box late at night / early in the morning in the Finnish timezone. Because the live transmission ran late of schedule, the transmitter cut it before the closing credits. We watched it at home in Helsinki on Easter Sunday, 4 April 2010.

As an aficionado of the musical genre I love the Oscar gala shows. I failed to see last year's show because of a malfunction in my digital box. Now I was able to see the show but was a bit disappointed with the changes which may have taken place already earlier but which I first now became aware of. There seemed to be fewer lavish musical production numbers and less montage sequences. There seemed to be less emphasis on the technical achievements.

From the Academy's website I learn that there was a special Sci-Tech Awards (Scientific & Technical Awards Winners) reception on 20 February 2010: http://www.oscars.org/awards/scitech/winners.html

The lifetime awards are now called the Governor's Awards, and there were four of them: to Lauren Bacall, John Calley, Roger Corman, and Gordon Willis. The reception took place on 14 November 2009: http://www.oscars.org/awards/governors/index.html

Memorable in this year's show:
1. Steven Martin and Alec Baldwin, the lovers of Meryl Streep in the movie It's Complicated, were great as the hosts.
2. There were now ten candidates for the best picture, and among the presentations there was a choreographical performance of all of them.
3. John Hughes in memoriam with Matthew Broderick, Jon Cryer, Macaulay Culkin, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy together on the stage.
4. The candidates for the best actresses and the best actors were presented by memorable co-stars of theirs (Jeff Bridges by Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Mirren by Michael Sheen...).

Leo Tolstoy: The Cossacks (povest / a tale)

Казаки / Kasakat. RU 1863. Finnish translation by Kaj Kauhanen. Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä 1960.

Inspired by our tribute to Leo Tolstoy I re-read this povest (tale) which Í knew previously in a translation by Jalo Kalima. After a long gestation Tolstoy published this at a turning-point of his life having just gotten married and before writing War and Peace. I had previously read this tale in a volume which includes Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, and it is a continuation to them, a fictional, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale of a young aristocrat who leaves Moscow to join the war at the Caucasus, in Chechenia. The protagonist is called Dmitri Andreyevich Olenin. In this story he witnesses skirmishes between the Chechens and the Cossacks, an episode in the Holy War Imam Shamil has declared on Russia, treated epically in Tolstoy's tale Hadji Murat. Although also inspired by Homer, The Cossacks is not an epic tale. It is a tale of a young man's first encounter with an alien culture. Although this is a war story, there is no racism, no condescension. On the contrary, the fierce love of freedom of the Caucasian peoples is celebrated. Olenin falls in love with the Cossack way of life and with the proud young Cossack maid Maryanka but he realizes that he is a stranger among the Cossacks. The Cossacks is a foreigner's declaration of love to the peoples of the Caucasus. In the city Olenin has experienced confusion, self-doubt and a loss of direction. On a hunting trip Olenin experiences an epiphany. He realizes who he is, what life is, and what happiness is. The solution to the crisis of identity is to stop looking at oneself and to start to live for others.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Daniel Mendelssohn on Avatar (a review)

Daniel Mendelssohn: "The Wizard". The New York Review of Books, 25 March - 7 April, 2010, Vol. LVII, Number 5.

James Cameron's Avatar (US 2009), the all-time highest grossing film, has received largely disparaging reviews. Daniel Mendelssohn quotes amusing parodies circulating in the Internet where the Pocahontas trailer commentary has been switched with Avatar and vice versa. Mendelssohn, himself, takes a more complex stand. Summing up some of his points:

1. Behind Avatar is Cameron's favourite film, The Wizard of Oz (1939).
2. Ever since The Terminator, Cameron has been fascinated by the cyborg and biomechanical bodysuits. Performances in his films tend to be wooden, but machines are fascinating.
3. Like in The Wizard of Oz, there is in Avatar a visual contrast between the drab monotonous world of normality and the staggering colour and the ravishing light from beyond. Mendelssohn names Cameron's visual look, already familiar from The Abyss, "bioluminescence". Mendelssohn finds visual ravishment the principal experience of the movie, enhanced by the "surprisingly subtle use of 3-D technology".
4. Conversely to what many critics have claimed, "the others", the Na'vi people, are in fact technologically sophisticated. "By means of a pistil-tipped appendage" "they can commune not only with other creatures but with what constitutes a planet-wide" network. They "can upload and download memories" and information and "even communicate with the dead". "However 'primitive' they have seemed to some critics, the Na'vi - with their uniformly superb, sleekly blue-gleaming physiques, their weirdly infallible surefootedness, their organic connector cables, their ability to upload and download consciousness itself - are the ultimate expression of Cameron's career-long striving to make flesh mechanical."
5. The problem is "the movie's intellectually incoherent portrayal of its fictional heroes as both admirably precivilized and admirably hypercivilized, as atechnological and highly technologized." This "suggests something deeply unself-aware and disturbingly unresolved within Cameron himself."
6. Cameron has described Jake's awakening as an unconscious rewriting of The Wizard of Oz. But Dorothy finally wakes up in Kansas and realizes that "there's no place like home". By contrast, Avatar's "triumphant conclusion" "takes the form of a permanent abandonment" of our gray world. The virtual world is superior, reality is dispensable, you don't have to wake up, and there's no need to return home.

My remarks: I think Mendelssohn has caught some of Avatar's special qualities very well. Many critics have unjustly emphasized its stereotypical qualities only. I would add to Mendelssohn's assessment the central role of the strong woman - the amazon - a permanent feature in Cameron's films and certainly an essential factor to their extraordinary popularity. Women can identify with the fantasy as well as men, which is exceptional in today's blockbuster cinema.  I disagree with Mendelssohn about the visual achievement of Avatar. I find the 3-D very successful, too, but I was disappointed with the colour gamut: the Tree of Souls and other visions of Nature lack warmth. "The other world" has also the prevalent impression of a computer game, artificial reality, of something dead already, another Hades.

Leo Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilyich (povest / a tale)

Смерть Ивана Ильича / Ivan Iljitshin kuolema. RU 1886. Translated into Finnish by Eero Balk. Helsinki: Basam Books 2001.

Inspired by our Leo Tolstoy retrospective I read for the first time this povest (tale). It is generally considered to be one of Tolstoy's masterpieces, but unfortunately I must disagree. There is exceptional honesty in the way Tolstoy faces the truth of the mortal disease and the agony of the death itself. The satire of the judge Ivan Ilyich and his family and milieu is relentless, and it is too easy to agree with everything in this grotesque caricature without a single redeeming feature. Missing is the sense of the complexity of life. Tolstoy's unique vitality and passion for life only appears in the negative, in the furious battle with death during the three final days of Ivan Ilyich's life.

Cinematic in this tale as also in Hadji Murat and in Anna Karenina is the stream of the consciousness of the protagonist as he/she is coming near to the end of his/her life.

Basam Books has made a great job with this edition. There is Eero Balk's fine compilation of Tolstoy's thoughts about death and Torsti Lehtinen's illuminating essay "The Secret of the Green Stick: Leo Tolstoy's Conception of Death". Tolstoy was less than two years old when he lost his mother, and only seven years old when his father died. Many of Tolstoy's 13 children died in his lifetime, and death was always his great obsession. "Our waking up in the morning is a kind of birth, the course of the day from morning till night is like life in miniature, and sleep resembles death". "Our life is not a wave but the eternal movement which only appears as the wave of our life".

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Leo Tolstoy: Hadji Murat (povest / a tale)

Хаджи-Мурат. RU 1912. Read in the Finnish translation by Eero Balk. Helsinki: Basam Books 2001.

Re-read in anticipation of the Alexandre Volkoff / Ivan Mosjoukine film adaptation Leo Tolstoy's posthumous tale, the most profoundly personal of his late works, which I knew previously from the original 1912 Finnish translation by Arvid Järnefelt. Harold Bloom has named this "my personal touchstone for the sublime of prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best that I have ever read" (The Western Canon). The povest (tale) format fitted Tolstoy very well. There is a vigour and relish in the storytelling, and a mobility of viewpoints. Hadzhi Murat is the protagonist, and he is viewed first via a symbol (the irrepressible thistle), then as a memory, in direct action, and as seen by several Russians, including the Czar. Even Hadzhi Murat's own autobiographical remarks are included. His last stand is described in direct action before we return to the symbol. The multiple perspectives lead us to the way of understanding something overwhelming. Harold Bloom notes that Tolstoy's approach here resembles the Bible, Homer, and Shakespeare. The simple grandeur is moving. The tale is based on historical record and Tolstoy's own experiences as an officer during the Caucasian wars.

Amazingly, the ardent Christian Leo Tolstoy and the Western Canon's philosopher Harold Bloom give a special status to a tale of a Chechen warlord dedicated to a Holy War against the Christian (and today also the Judaic) world. The tale is more topical than ever now during the current "clash of the civilizations". There is a direct link from Hadzhi Murat to the explosion of the Twin Towers on the 11 of September in 2001, and Tolstoy helps us understand.