Saturday, December 31, 2011

My top films of 2011

Studying the 2011 top ten lists of the major international film magazines I realize again that most of the best quality films no longer get cinema distribution in Finland. From 1896 until the 1980s Helsinki was an excellent cinema city, but now the first-run cinema supply has hit an all-time historical low. I have to find a solution to this dilemma since I often suffer in screenings of difficult films in a festival atmosphere (because they would need more space), and watching a dvd can only be a substitute for the real thing. Our programming team at Cinema Orion seems to agree that it will become our task to screen more modern quality cinema than before. Cinema Orion is ideal for the reflection and contemplation required by difficult films. I plan to see later all the movies top-listed in Cahiers du Cinéma, Sight & Sound, and Film Comment. Here are some favourites of mine of the year's crop.

NEW RELEASES: FEATURE FILMS

NUMBER ONE:
Nader and Simin: A Separation, D: Asghar Farhadi.

I ALSO LIKED:
The King's Speech, D: Tom Hooper.
Des hommes et des dieux, D: Xavier Beauvois.
Another Year, D: Mike Leigh.
Miral, D: Julian Schnabel.

MY FINNISH FAVOURITES:
Le Havre, D: Aki Kaurismäki.
Pussikaljaelokuva [Bag Beer Movie], D: Ville Jankeri.
Varasto [The Storeroom], D: Taru Mäkelä.
Ella & Aleksi - yllätyssynttärit [Ella & Aleksi - a Surprise Birthday Party], D: Juuso Syrjä.
Matka Edeniin [Journey to Eden], D: Rax Rinnekangas.

FINNISH SHORTS:
Ilmianto [The Informers], D: Milla Pelkonen.
Miten marjoja poimitaan [How to Pick Berries], D: Elina Talvensaari.
Erään hyönteisen tuho [The Death of an Insect], D: Hannes Vartiainen, Pekka Veikkolainen.

I UNDERSTAND WHY THESE ARE HIGHLY REGARDED:
The Tree of Life, D: Terrence Malick (my favourite Malick, I got the Stan Brakhage connection, although this is slick and polished movie in comparison).
Melancholia, D: Lars von Trier (although he always reminds me of Andersen's tale of the emperor's new clothes).
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, D: Nuri Bilge Ceylan (but this form of slow cinema I feel I have already experienced once too often).
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, D: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (I get the point but I need to see more of his work).
Drive, D: Nicolas Winding Refn (very well made, but perhaps I'm overfamiliar with the tradition behind this).

VERY REWARDING BUT NO MASTERPIECES:
The Skin I Live In, D: Pedro Almodóvar.
Midnight in Paris, D: Woody Allen.

A CONTENDER FOR THE MOST SCARY HORROR MOVIE OF ALL TIME:
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, directed by Bill Condon with a chilly assurance. (The more you think what it means the scarier it grows. There are many strange parallels with the two-part movie finale of the Harry Potter saga. The protagonists in the most popular contemporary fiction are strangers in their own lives, or worse. Or maybe I have misunderstood utterly.)

THE GREATEST DISCOVERIES AT CINEMA ORION:
The Ukrainian retrospective curated by the Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska with three films we'd never screened before: A Spring for the Thirsty / Krinitsja dlja spraglih (1965), D: Yuri Ilyenko. - The Stone Cross / Kaminni hrest (1968), D: Leonid Osyka. - Famine-33 / Holod-33 (1991), D: Oles Jantchuk.
...
The Ilyich Gate / Zastava Ilyicha (1962), D: Marlen Khutsiev, the 197 min 1988-1990 reconstruction from Gosfilmofond.

Abbas Kiarostami's intriguing Copie conforme I had seen the year before. I started to see movies by Jia Zhang-ke and need to go deeper into them. Clint Eastwood gave yet another surprise with J. Edgar.

Three books of the year

These books have impressed me:

1. Nicholas Carr: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Internet is good for surfing, but print media is necessary for profound thought.

2. Antti Tuuri: Ikitie [The Eternal Road]. The epic tragedy of the 1930s: the right-wing white terror this side of the border; Stalin's Great Terror with its genocidal purges of Finns in Eastern Karelia on the other side. Tuuri has found a sober, original Homeric epic style for almost overwhelming experiences. A modern masterpiece in the classical novel form, worthy of translation.

3. Juri Joensuu, Marko Niemi, Harry Salmenniemi (ed.): Vastakaanon: suomalainen kokeellinen runous 2000-2010 [Anti-Canon: Finnish Experimental Poetry 2000-2010]. A thick, exhilarating tome full of new poetry against the grain, also in new media, exploding boundaries, from a decade when more new Finnish poetry was written than ever.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Watching movies at home and in the cinema

I haven't visited the cinema in a month recovering from my terrible traffic accident, but as soon as my bruised hip has healed enough to enable me to sit through more than a stretch of one hour or so I'll be able to watch movies comfortably at home again. There is a blessing in this curse. It's good to have a break from the onslaught of moving images. I have had plenty of time to study the history of visual arts, to read many kinds of books, and to listen to music.

Since childhood I have watched a lot of movies on tv, and later on vhs, dvd, and blu-ray, but cinema screening has always been for me the primary experience. Home formats are great for revisiting favourite movies or seeing movies that would be impossible to see otherwise.

Some movies don't suffer at all from the reduction to home viewing circumstances. My favourite example is Rio Bravo. I was staying at the small Shangri La Motel, Spokane, about to go to bed, when I switched the tv on. The signal was bad and the image was terrible, but instantly I recognized the opening sequence of Rio Bravo. Needless to say, I couldn't take my eyes off the tv set until the movie was over. Robin Wood once said that there is not a single beautiful image in Rio Bravo. Its beauty is totally based on the character-driven dynamics of the story. Rio Bravo is visually based on television aesthetics, and it works fine both on tv and in the cinema.

For some strange reason Fritz Lang's movies don't work at all on the small screen. I once watched Scarlet Street on vhs and decided that the movie has lost its charm. Then I saw it on the cinema screen, and it was great again. There is something in the visual electricity of Fritz Lang's mise-en-scène that demands a sense of space, a sense of volume, a sense of real architecture.

As a rule the sublime of the film art is based on the cinema viewing experience.

The screen is bigger than us. The film-makers try their best to overwhelm us. But we, the viewers, fight against this overwhelming attempt, rise up to the challenge, and experience an uplift while doing so.

This is also a secret of the excitement of horror, thriller, fantasy, science fiction, violence, war, catastrophe, etc. on screen. It is strangely exhilarating to overcome the challenges the filmmakers give us. At the same time the collective anxiety of the audience in the cinema is palpable. Maybe there are girls actually screaming, maybe the one next to you needs protection.

In contrast, hard core pornography works ideally in privacy and has found its true distribution channel and form of existence via the home formats, especially the internet. A parallel phenomenon is that exhibitions of the graphic art of Japanese shunga are not successful in art galleries because audiences get embarrassed by the presence of others and they'd rather study a book of the same images at home.

The dynamics of comedy and humour is completely different. Everybody knows that a comedy seen alone is less than half as funny as seen with a receptive audience. Yesterday on the radio there was a funny talk programme amongst the foreign correspondents of YLE the Finnish broadcasting corporation. The YLE Paris correspondent reported having visited the Paris premiere of Aki Kaurismäki's A Man without a Past and observed that Frenchmen laughed at different things than he (alone) did.

André Bazin once made a remark about the different waves of laughter in a Charles Chaplin screening. There is the immediate gratification of the obvious funny farce aspects such as pratfalls for the children (in all of us). But there are also the more subtle satirical points that require a moment of reflection.

Max Davidson's Pass the Gravy is a comedy masterpiece viewed on the brilliant Edition Filmmuseum dvd at home, but I'll never forget the escalating thunderstorm of laughter in Pordenone's Forgotten Laugher retrospective where William K. Everson's personal 16 mm print was unveiled. It was elected the funniest comedy of the retrospective.

I'm grateful that I was first exposed to the comedies of Buster Keaton in the cinema screenings of the Finnish Film Archive when Raymond Rohauer visited Finland hosted by Peter von Bagh (the films were transmitted on Finnish television, too, soon afterwards). I had never experienced such a thunder of laughter. I literally fell on the floor while seeing Sherlock, Jr. for the first time (or was it Steamboat Bill, Jr., the hat fitting scene, or both?). In Finland there is a saying that "laughter prolongs your life". After the Buster Keaton experience I have known what James Agee meant about the profound belly laughter in his classic essay on comedy's golden age. But that you can hardly achieve in a home viewing.

I was grateful for the huge quasi-complete Kinowelt-Studiocanal-Universal Laurel and Hardy dvd box sets which were released in Finland complete with their superior silent shorts. They (especially the silents) would be the movies I would take to the desert island (where I would immediately realize that they are not that funny on a desert island, without the audience!). I agree with Peter von Bagh that the Laurel and Hardy silents should be ideally screened without music because their orchestration of laughter is so brilliant that it alone creates the perfect "soundtrack" when they are screened in a cinema. Our experiences at Cinema Orion of Laurel and Hardy silents with full houses of mostly children (initially suspicious: black and white? silent??) have kept beating laughter records.

When the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice were abolishing film censorship in Finland, I had the privilege to participate in 1997-1998. A representative of the Ministry of Justice was keen on the idea of "media neutrality", meaning that for instance cinema screenings and television transmissions should be treated equally. Partly this is correct.

But every student of communication studies knows that "the medium is the message", that the medium changes the message.

Nowhere is this difference more blatant than in moving images.

My favourite example then used to be Titanic. In a cinema palace we get drowned with the huge ocean liner. At home, in our living room, we drown the tiny boat on the monitor with our remote control.

In the cinema, there is darkness. At home, the living room is usually well lit.

In the cinema, there is silence. At home, noise, discussion, and distraction.

In the cinema we hardly leave our seat. At home we do that repeatedly.

In the cinema we see the movie without interruption. At home, we can use the pause button at will, for example if someone calls on the telephone.

In the cinema we are among strangers. In the living room we are in the safe atmosphere of the home.

Out now: the DocPoint 2012 newspaper

DocPoint the Helsinki Documentary Film Festival, the biggest documentary film festival in the Nordic countries, takes place for the 11th time on 24-29 January, 2012. The DocPoint newspaper was published a week ago, and the festival programme will be online on 5 January. The programming is strong, and the newspaper (in Finnish) offers great reading even for the one who cannot attend the festival. The artistic director is Erja Dammert, the executive director is Leena Närekangas, and the editor of the newspaper is Tii Starck.

In 2012 the features include:
* the Apollo award to the visionary producer Iikka Vehkalahti
* live cinema event: Rien que les heures with Maud Nelissen's trio playing the original score
* opening movie: Jälki elämässä - 4 tarinaa kidutuksesta [A Trace in Life - 4 stories about torture] by Mervi Junkkonen
* Dokkino for children
* Finnsurf: surfing in cold water
* Five Star Existence: Sonja Lindén's movie about the transformation of life through technology
* Yhden miehen rauha [One Man's Peace] by Kati Juurus on Abdullahi Farah, peace negotiator in Somalia
* Säilöttyjä unelmia [Canned Dreams] by Katja Gauriloff on the the way of canned food to the consumer
* a retrospective of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a photographer and film-maker based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a founder of the Amber collective
* Lastuja [Splinters] by Peter von Bagh on Juhani Aho's family of artists
* Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog
* A Wall Is a Screen movie happening, starting on the Helsinki Senate Square
* A Boatload of Wild Irishmen by Brian Winston on Robert J. Flaherty
* Ballroom Dancer by Christian Holten Bonke and Andreas Koefoed on the last challenge of a world class dancer, a dance of death
* Senna by Asif Kapadian on Ayrton Senna the F1 driver
* Planet of Snail by Seung-Jun Yin on a love story among the disabled
* Kumaré by Vikram Gandhi on a fake guru
* Catfish by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost on a special relationship that starts in the social media

THE ARAB SPRING AND THE MIDDLE EAST
* The Arab spring: Tahrir - Liberation Square (Stefano Savona), Forbidden (Ammal Ramsis), Grandma, a Thousand Times (Mahmoud Kaabouri), At Night, They Dance (Isabelle Lavigne, Stéphane Thibault), A
* Road to Mecca - The Journey of Muhammad Asad, the story of the Pale of Settlement Jew turned an Arab statesman
* 5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat
* Waiting for Abu Zayd by Mohammad Ali Atassi
* special guest: Eyal Sivan, with his films Jaffa, the Orange's Clockwork, and Route 181, Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel

EUROPEAN TURBULENCE
* Palazzo delle Aquile on homelessness in Palermo
* Foreign and Imagining Emanuel, on the African emigration to Europe
* Italy - Love It Or Leave It by Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer
* He Thinks He's the Best by Maria Kuhlberg on a family feud among Italian Gastarbeiter
* All for the Good of the World and Nosovice by Vit Klusac on the Korean Hyundai company starting a giant car factory in the middle of Czech cabbage fields

POWER TO THE PEOPLE, THE ECOCATASTROPHE
* You've Been Trumped by Anthony Baxter on Donald Trump's building project in Scotland
* If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front by Marshall Curry
* Leader-Sheep and Big Boys Gone Bananas! on civil activism
* There Once Was an Island by Briar March on the Takuu atoll about to be covered by the ocean
* Made in China by Jian Dou on workers' conditions in China
* Empire of Dust by Loa Yen and Eddy on Chinese-Kongolese economic collaboration

DESIGN / GARBAGE
* Water Land by Vik Muniz on the world's biggest dump in Rio de Janeiro
* Your Garbage Is Their Gold: the story of the Palermo junk dealers
* Field of Magic: the story of the homeless that have lived next to a dump in Lithuania for 20 years
* How Are You by Jannik Splidsboel on the Danish artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset
* Water Children by Aliona van der Horst on art on the carnal dimension of womanhood

THICKER THAN WATER: FAMILY MOVIES
* How Are You Doing, Rudolf Ming? on a Latvian boy's self-made moving images
* Life in Stills by Tamar Tali on the 96-year old Israeli photographer Miriam
* Phnom Penh Lullaby (Cambodia) and Position among the Stars (Indonesia)
* Marathon Boy on a 3 year old marathon runner boy
* Planet Kirsan by Magdalena Pieta on Kazakh children as chess champions
* My Reincarnation by Jennifer Fox on a Tibetan Buddhist family drama

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC
* George Harrison: Living in the Material World by Martin Scorsese
* From the Sky Down by David Guggenheim on U2
* Inni by Sigur Rós
* God Bless Ozzy Osbourne by Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli

AFTER THE WAR
* Hell and Back Again by Danfung Dennis on the war in Afghanistan
* Enemies of the People by Thet Sambath on the Khmer Rouge genocide
* Specialist: Portrait of a Modern Criminal by Eyal Sivan on Adolf Eichmann
* The Tiniest Place by Tatiana Huezo on El Salvador

Thursday, December 29, 2011

60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero: I wish I'd been there in Tallinn

Mika Taanila just sent me these links about the unique "60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero" film happening that took place in Tallinn on 22 December, 2011. I wish I had been there.

Edmund Yeo at YouTube:
"On the 22nd of December, 2011, at Tallinn Port, the one and only screening of 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO was held. It was an ambitious omnibus film featuring almost 60 different directors from around the world. Like Park Chan-Wook, Naomi Kawase, Tom Tywker, Kim Jee-Woon, Amir Naderi, Brillante Mendoza etc etc. The Malaysian directors involved in this were, well, me. And Woo Ming Jin. This video of mine will show the 1-minute segments that he and I did, along with Filipino director Auraeus Solito's. (... you didn't expect me to film the ENTIRE omnibus, right?) List of directors involved in the omnibus:" http://60sec.ee/directors
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PgH7jc6Wxw

Edmund Yeo at his homepage:
http://www.edmundyeo.com/2011/12/60-seconds-of-solitude-at-year-zero.html

Kalle Kinnunen in Finnish:
http://suomenkuvalehti.fi/blogit/kuvien-takaa/60-seconds-of-solitude-elokuva-on-ainutkertaista

P.S. 6 Jan 2012 Maggie Lee in Hollywood Reporter:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/60-seconds-solitude-year-zero-277143

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

National Film Registry of the Library of Congress: the selections of 2011

Since 1989 in the U.S., following the National Film Preservation Act to ensure the survival of works considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant", 25 films have been chosen for preservation every year because of their "enduring significance to American culture," in the formulation of the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

I like the mix of the mainstream and the oddball, fiction and documentary, animation and experimental, early cinema and modern blockbusters. There is an affinity with the great tradition of cinematheque programming, the spirit that "all movies were born free and equal" shared by Henri Langlois and André Bazin.

I also like the emphasis on social consciousness and race issues in this selection.

Allures (1961)
Bambi (1942)
The Big Heat (1953)
A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)
The Cry of the Children (1912)
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
El Mariachi (1992)
Faces (1968)
Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Growing Up Female (1971)
Hester Street (1975)
I, an Actress (1977)
The Iron Horse (1924)
The Kid (1921)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Negro Soldier (1944)
Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s)
Norma Rae (1979)
Porgy and Bess (1959)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Stand and Deliver (1988)
Twentieth Century (1934)
War of the Worlds (1953)

The complete list of titles 1989- is at the National Film Registry homepage.

The 2011 presentations in extenso beyond the jump break - great reading obviously ghost-written by top talent:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lastuja - taiteilijasuvun vuosisata / [Splinters - A Century in a Family of Artists]

FI 2011. PC: Illume Oy. P: Jouko Aaltonen. D+SC: Peter von Bagh. Music and sound editing: Martti Turunen. ED: Petteri Evilampi (Tuuba Oy). Archival editor: Anna Korhonen. Special expert: Jussi Brofeldt. Researchers: Erja Manto, Eero Saarinen, Peter von Bagh. Commentary recorded by: Timo Hintikka (YLE). Assistant producer: Venla Hellstedt (Illume Oy). Assistants: Ella Ruohonen, Marianne Mäkelä (Illume Oy). Commentary read by: Eero Saarinen, Erja Manto, Peter von Bagh. Dedicated to Sven Hirn. The films excerpted are not listed in the end credits. 74 min. First transmitted on tv on YLE Teema on 10 Sep 2011. Viewed from my DVR at home, Helsinki, 25 Dec 2011.

The official presentation on the YLE website: "Lastuja - taiteilijasuvun tarina is Peter von Bagh's new documentary essay about the writer Juhani Aho, his oeuvre, the family that grew around it, and the spiritual tensions and the electric power field of ideas and works in tune to which modern Finland emerged. The edges of many generations were enriched side by side with Juhani Aho and after him by the painter Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, the film-makers Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan and the photographer Claire Aho. The film moves between different periods of time: things are repeated, they develop and are transformed. The focus in on a half a century of Finland's many-sided history".

"Juhani Aho boiled down the most memorable and the most startling images on how a traditional community starts to transform into 'modern Finland'. In his oeuvre the old and the new clash, what has great emotional value and remarkable cultural heritage yields, and the modern steps into its place", stated Peter von Bagh while planning the documentary. "The common denominator in the material that penetrates decades is in a way genetic: Juhani Aho's heirs are as fond as he was in the aesthetic principle of the lastu [splinter] and the hajamiete [random thought]." (The official presentation, translation mine.)

Lastu is the splinter of wood that flies away while chopping wood with an axe. Juhani Aho published seven volumes of short stories with the title Lastuja [Splinters]. Hajamietteitä kapinaviikoilta [Random Thoughts on the Mutiny Weeks] was his sober three-volume account of our terrible Civil War in 1918.

Juhani Aho (1861-1921) (born Johannes Brofeldt, the Swedish family name meaning "a meadow field", the Fennified name Aho meaning "a meadow"; the family name Brofeldt is also still in use) was un homme de lettres, a man of the world, and a leading cultural figure during the golden age of Finnish art and the struggle for democracy and independence. He was a part of the inner circle of leading artists, composers, and writers, and one of the original forces involved in the most important newspaper Päivälehti / Helsingin Sanomat. He was also influential as a man of the theatre, as a member of the Bible translation committee, and as a translator of contemporary international literature. He was the first Finnish professional writer and the first with a typewriter. His wife Venny Soldan-Brofeldt (1863-1945) was a talented painter, designer and illustrator. They had two sons, Heikki Aho (1895-1961), and Antti Aho (1900-1960). Juhani Aho had also a son by Venny's sister Tilly Soldan: Björn Soldan (1902-1953). Antti Aho wrote a remarkable biography of his father in two volumes. Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan were the Robert Flaherty of Finland: they established the artistically ambitious tradition of documentary film in their productions in the years 1924-1961. Heikki Aho's daughter Claire Aho (born 1925) joined the Aho & Soldan company but most importantly established an independent career as a top colour photographer.

Lastuja is a remarkable contribution to two grand projects of Peter von Bagh: the cultural history of Finland, as reflected in his great tv series Oi kallis Suomenmaa 1-8 and Sininen laulu 1-12.  It is also an addition into his project of covering the history of Finnish cinema in ambitious television series such as SF:n tarina 1-6, Suomi-Filmin tarina 1-5, Fennadan tarina 1-3, Tähtien tarina 1-6, and Ohjaaja matkalla ihmiseksi: Mikko Niskasen tarina 1-3.

The approach is at once distilled and rhapsodic. This À la recherche du temps perdu moves simultaneously in different periods of time, from the 1870s to the 1960s.

Peter von Bagh is a master of the compilation film, and Lastuja is distinguished by the emphasis on the visual quality of the excerpts. In Lastuja, Bagh is constantly seeking correspondences between Juhani Aho's literary insights and his sons' cinematic visions. This is the original and appealing central feature of Lastuja.

The invaluable film legacy of the Aho & Soldan company has mostly been lost thanks to gross neglicence of the brothers themselves in preserving their heritage. After the Aho & Soldan company dissolved the Finnish Film Archive experts, most prominently Lauri Tykkyläinen, managed to retrieve from several different sources important missing films. I have had the pleasure to study this legacy most remarkably in the Tampere Film Festival's Aho & Soldan retrospective in 1992, curated by Lauri Tykkyläinen, with many vintage nitrate prints, and in a smaller selection during the DocPoint festival in 2010 where no nitrate prints were screened.

From a thankless starting point (with most of the Aho & Soldan film material lost) Bagh has created a beautiful compilation. Many images strike me like I've never seen them before (and probably haven't). Lastuja is both an homage to a great family of artists and an artwork of independent value.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Snowman

Lumiukko / Snögubben. GB © 1982 Snowman Enterprises Limited. PC: A Snowman Enterprises production for Channel 4. Made at the studios of TVC London. D: Dianne Jackson. EX: Iain Harvy. Supervising D: Jimmy T. Murakami. P: John Coates. SC: based on the wordless children's comic book by Raymond Briggs (1978). Published as Lumiukko in Finnish in 1979 (Jyväskylä: Gummerus), and in 2006 (Helsinki: Satusiivet, Lasten parhaat kirjat). A hand-made animation with pastel and crayon. 1,33:1. Colour by Rank Film Laboratories. Storyboard by: Dianne Jackson, Hilary Audus, Joanna Harrison (Joanna Fryer). AN: Hilary Audus, Alan Ball, Arthur Butten, Tony Guy, Joanna Harrison, Dianne Jackson, Dave Livesey, Roger Mainwood, John Offord, Eddie Radage, Joanna Fryer. Flying sequences: Stephen White, Glenn Whiting. Backgrounds by: Michael Gabriel, Tancy Barron, Paul Shardlow, Joanna Fryer. Design supervisor: Jill Brooks. Special FX supervisor. Mario Cassar. M+conductor: Howard Blake. Orchestra: Sinfonia of London. "Walking In The Air" (music and lyrics by Howard Blake) sung by Peter Auty (a St. Paul's Cathedral choirboy). ED: John Cary. Voice talent: Raymond Briggs (Older James / Narrator). 26 min. The 2004 Finnish (Nordic) dvd release (with Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian language options) by FS Film viewed at home in the Finnish version in Helsinki on Christmas Eve, 24 Dec, 2011

2002: 20th anniversary opening sequence D+AN: Roger Mainwood with the voice of Mel Smith as Father Christmas.

"Walking In The Air" is in the original English in the Finnish voice version. There is no dialogue in the story proper. There are only the brief introduction and the song lyrics. The film can be enjoyed without understanding the language; it is in effect a silent movie.

Dvd features: - The original English language version. - Alternatively: with the David Bowie introduction with a Finnish voiceover recorded on top of the David Bowie voice (irritatingly). - A storyboard montage version. - A sketch montage version.

This classic television animation short is the first movie I have seen in almost a month. On 29 November I got into a dangerous traffic accident and spent almost three weeks in hospitals (in an emergency room, in a casualty ward, and in the rehabilitation department of a trauma center). Since 19 December I'm at home; our Christmas started already then, and now I felt like watching a movie again. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying lots of reading, music, and books on visual arts.

Because I don't watch tv I have never seen this beloved animation before, but I know and love the theme song "Walking In The Air", which belongs to the golden greats of movie theme tunes. Besides the wonderful original recording there are high quality Finnish interpretations called "Avaruus" [The Space], with a beautiful translation by Tarleena Sammalkorpi, interpreted eloquently by the sopranos Sini Hyytiäinen and Mari Palo among others; the interpretations of those two I have heard during this December at YLE Radio 1. "Walking In The Air" is sung during the wonderful climax of the film: the dream sequence in which the boy dreams that the snowman takes him to a flight to Far North, to the land of Father Christmas.

The visual approach is familiar to me from the nuclear holocaust animation When the Wind Blows, also based on a book by Raymond Briggs, and directed by Jimmy T. Murakami.

A perfect way to return to movie watching on Christmas Eve. Last year in Helsinki we had white Christmas. This year, Christmas is black. It's been raining today, but the sun is shining in our hearts.

P.S. The "Walking In The Air" sequence is one of the great dream sequences in the history of the cinema. I like also the maturity of the story. In the morning the boy gets to face loss and disappointment as the snowman has melted.

"Walking In The Air" lyrics beyond the jump break:

The silent film revival reflected in Finland: the Kari Glödstaf phenomenon

The current silent film revival started with the FIAF 1978 Congress in Brighton, and this year it seems to have climaxed with high profile releases such as The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius, an Academy Award contender, and Hugo by Martin Scorsese, with Ben Kingsley playing Georges Méliès on the 150th anniversary of the first artist of the cinema. There have been several notable articles and essays on the silent film phenomenon in the world's media, including Financial Times, the weekend issue of which I always try to read in these times of financial turbulence. Last week there was a full page on the silents in it.

Also in Finland there is a specialized festival, The Forssa Silent Film Festival, since 2001. I have always wanted to visit it, but the timing, early September, is for me the worst possible, since it coincides with the launching of our autumn season (and actually with the launching of our whole programming year, which follows the school terms), the Helsinki Festival, and is too close to the Espoo Ciné festival. But the Forssa festival is successful, so no harm is done.

There is also a specialized Finnish silent film blog, Mykkäelokuvasivusto [Silent Movie Blog] hosted by Mr. Kari Glödstaf, since 2005. It is remarkable since Mr. Glödstaf lives in the city of Lappeenranta in South Karelia, where there are only two cinemas, Kino-Aula and Nuijamies, which probably focus on new releases solely. Kari Glödstaf is a Forssa Silent Film Festival regular, and he follows closely our programming at Cinema Orion in Helsinki. But most importantly he is well informed of the global silent film releases in home viewing formats: vhs, dvd, blu-ray, and the legally free online supply. This autumn, Mr. Glödstaf has also published a book:

Kari Glödstaf: Kirjoituksia mykkäelokuvasta [Writings on Silent Movies]. Lappeenranta: Kari Glödstaf (Lappeenrannan Kirjapaino), 2011.

There are twenty extended articles on the following movies: Terje Vigen, Tarzan of the Apes (1918), True Heart Susie, The Kid, Anna-Liisa, Robin Hood (1922), Tess of the Storm Country (1922), Gösta Berlings saga, The Iron Horse, Der letzte Mann, Greed, Du skal ære din Hustru, Mat (1926), The Kid Brother, The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Unknown, La petite marchande d'allumettes, Arsenal, and Lucky Star.

The criteria for the selection include the artistic quality of the movie, that it has something to say, and that it is available for the general viewer either in a home format or legally free online. There is a special section on each movie's availability for the general reader.

I read the book with great interest and learned something new about every film. (And there is a film there that I have not yet seen: the Elmo Lincoln version of Tarzan of the Apes). There is a consistent structure for each film, which would mean that this book is not far from qualifying as a textbook for teaching. The book has been written for the general audience, but it is also interesting for a specialized reader. Mr. Glödstaf has done his homework with the previous reseach but always adds insights and angles of his own. I'm looking forward for more from Kari Glödstaf.

P.S. Two of the movies discussed in Kari Glödstaf's book, The Kid and The Iron Horse, were added to the National Film Registry on 28 December, 2011.

Out now: Movie online Issue 3

The legendary British film journal Movie has been resurrected in cyberspace. Movie Issue 3, published on 23 December, 2011, is now available free online!

Movie, Issue 3
The Fritz Lang Dossier, Part 2:
Rush to Judgement: Imperfect Justice in Fury (1936) / Stella Bruzzi
You Only Live Once (1937) / V. F. Perkins
Going Straight: The Past and the Future in The Return of Frank James (1940) / Edward Gallafent
The Woman in the Window (1944) / Mark Rappaport
Guess-Work: Scarlet Street (1945) / Adrian Martin
The Big Heat: Acts of Violence (1953) / Peter William Evans
Human Desire (1954) / Deborah Thomas
Lang With Lacan: The Power of the Gaze in Moonfleet (1955) / Peter Benson
Plus:
Bonjour Tristesse and the Expressive Potential of Découpage / Christian Keathley
The Texture of Performance in Psycho and its Remake / Alex Clayton
The Cry of the Owl: Investigating Decision-Making in a Contemporary Feature Film / John Gibbs

This issue edited by Douglas Pye and Michael Walker. Designed by Lucy Fife Donaldson, John Gibbs, and James MacDowell.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cahiers du Cinéma: Le Top Ten 2011

Cahiers du Cinéma, décembre 2011
1. Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope), Nanni Moretti
2. L’Etrange affaire Angélica (The Strange Case of Angelica), Manoel de Oliveira
* The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick
4. Hors Satan (Outside Satan), Bruno Dumont
* Essential Killing, Jerzy Skolimowski
6. Melancholia, Lars von Trier
* Un été brûlant (A Burning Hot Summer), Philippe Garrel
8. Super 8, JJ Abrams
* L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) (House of Tolerance), Bertrand Bonello
* Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bo Carpelan on Little Nemo

"Do you still remember what you dreamt about last night? Your bed turned into a boat and floated into a wonderland where houses grew like mushrooms. You landed into an endless hall of mirrors, which turned slowly on its side. There a little strange man lifted his trumpet. You cried No! But nobody listened to you, and all your images were shattered. You woke up and remembered nothing except the fear, and the anxiety, and the dizzying perspectives. You had visited the land of Little Nemo. I have visited it often, myself, since 1976."

"The father of Little Nemo, Winsor McCay (1867-1934) is a great pioneer and master of the graphic art of the comic strip, and Little Nemo is his best-known creation. This little boy - who lives in all of us - was born in October 1905 on the pages of Sunday Herald in New York and lives on in the minds of everyone who have met him and his wild dreams. The reality of his world is ever-changing, curiosity and horror walk hand in hand, and in the world of transformations you meet suddenly yourself. Beware! Reality is fragile! Welcome to the beautiful, strange, and fascinating world of Little Nemo."

- The sleeve notes to the Finnish edition of Little Nemo II (1991) published by Otava, written by the poet Bo Carpelan (1926-2011). The translation is mine. - By permission from Anders Carpelan, who adds that "Little Nemo was one of dad's favourite books".

Film Comment: the top 50 of 2011

Film Comment’s Best Released Films of 2011
The Top 10
1. The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick, U.S.
2. Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directedy by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/U.K./France/Germany
3. Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany
4. A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi, Iran
5. A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany
6. Mysteries of Lisbon, directed by Raúl Ruiz, France/Portugal
7. Certified Copy, directed by Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Belgium
8. Meek's Cutoff, directed by Kelly Reichardt, U.S.
9. Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, U.S.
10. Poetry, directed by Lee Chang-dong, South Korea

The Next 20
11. Film Socialisme, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland
12. Le Havre, directed by Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/France
13. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, directed by Andrei Ujica, Romania
14. Le quattro volte, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland
15. The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne, U.S.
16. Nostalgia for the Light, directed by Patricio Guzmán, Chile/France/Germany
17. A Brighter Summer Day, directed by Edward Yang, Taiwan/Japan
18. Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen, Spain/U.S.
19. Take Shelter, directed by Jeff Nichols, U.S.
20. Margaret, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, U.S.
21. Shame, directed by Steve McQueen, U.K.
22. Drive, directed by 
Nicolas Winding Refn, U.S.
23. Cave of Forgotten Dreams, directed by Werner Herzog, U.S.
24. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, directed by Tomas Alfredson, U.K./France/Germany
25. To Die Like a Man, directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal/France
26. The Interrupters, directed by Steve James, U.S.
27. The Artist
, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, France
28. Tuesday, After Christmas, directed by Radu Muntean, Romania
29. Aurora, directed by Cristi Puiu, Romania
30. Weekend, directed by Andrew Haigh, U.K.

The Rest
31. The Skin I Live In, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Spain
32. City of Life and Death
, directed by Lu Chuan, China/Hong Kong
33. Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh, U.S.
34. Of Gods and Men
, directed by Xavier Beauvois, France
35. Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin, U.S.
36. Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig, U.S.
37. The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom, U.K.
38. Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, U.S.
39. The Arbor, directed by Clio Barnard, U.K.
40. The Future
, directed by Miranda July, U.S,/Germany
41. Incendies
, directed by Denis Villeneuve, Canada/France
42. Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams, U.S.
43. United Red Army, directed by Koji Wakamatsu, Japan
44. Road to Nowhere, directed by Monte Hellman, U.S.
45. Tabloid, directed by Errol Morris, U.S.
46. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt, U.S.
47. Terri
, directed by Azazel Jacobs, U.S.
48. J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood, U.S.
49. Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, U.K.
50. Pina
, directed by Wim Wenders, Germany/France

Worth reading, as well:
Film Comment’s Best Unreleased Movies of 2011

I agree about the trends in 2011:
Smith + Foundas: Discussing The Best of 2011

The best review of the best-ranking film of the year:
Light Years: Kent Jones on The Tree of Life

Out now: Cinema Orion's new programme (January-April 2012)

Cinema Orion's new programme booklet (January-April 2012) is fresh from the printers, and the programme is also online. Luckily we were all set up when I got into my traffic accident 20 days ago. Themes in our spring season include, in a roughly chronological order:

RENÉ CLAIR: twelve selected French films by the "Immortal", from Paris qui dort till La Porte des Lilas.

CARTE BLANCHE À MATTI KASSILA: the beloved veteran director Matti Kassila (born 1924) who debuted in the studio era in the 1940s has made a strong selection including Kind Hearts and Coronets, A Matter of Life and Death, Gycklarnas afton (Sawdust and Tinsel), and Vertigo.

DAVID LYNCH: all the feature films of the master of modern Surrealism.

NUORTEN SÄVELLAHJA (the title is untranslatable, but it refers to a popular radio program where grown-ups of today can request favourite hit songs from the 1970s and the 1980s): Messrs. Lauri Lehtinen and Antti Suonio are our guest master chefs in our continuous explorations of counter-histories of the cinema. Rock 'n' Roll High School, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, Urgh! A Music War, and the Finnish Laulu [The Song] about the Sielun Veljet phenomenon are among the weekly treats.

DESIGN HELSINKI: ENEMMÄN FUNKISTA, REINO! (another untranslatable title, referring to a line of movie dialogue where more functionalism is required). The top production designer Minna Santakari has mounted an exhibition with the same name at the Helsinki City Museum, Sofiankatu. The weekly film series about architecture and design in films about Helsinki starts with 1930s functionalism and proceeds until 1960s modernism. A World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 project.

CINEMA AND ARCHITECTURE. The Film Society of the Helsinki University Students' Association and Academy of Finland collaborate with us on a World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 project. There is free entry to the lecture series on Friday afternoons at 14.30 at Cinema Orion, and among the films are Thom Andersen's essay Los Angeles Plays Itself and Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry.

FAMILY SCREENINGS: the first screening every Sunday is family programming, from Laurel and Hardy shorts till Whale Rider, not forgetting musicals such as The Wizard of Oz. A special theme is dedicated to "A Child's Look" together with The Finnish Association for Child and Family Guidance with movies such as My Neighbour Totoro. Besides the regular screenings there is also a media education programme for school classes of all levels.

THE HISTORY OF THE CINEMA PART II: a regular feature of our programme, together with the Helsinki University, in this season from the Second World War (Luciano Serra pilota) until the present age (Huang tu di / Yellow Earth).

DOCPOINT 2012: we are happy to continue our collaboration with the inspired documentary film festival on 24-29 January. The hot topics include the Arab Spring and the European conundrum.

LIVE CINEMA HIGHLIGHTS:
- At the DocPoint festival at Bio Rex 27 January Maud Nelissen with her trio (Lucio Degani, Francesco Ferrarini) play Yves de la Casinière's original score in the Cinema concert Rien que les heures, to the Ur-city symphony by Cavalcanti.
- The young Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska has reversed the usual process and commissioned the young film-makers Elina Oikari and Lauri Danska to make a new silent film to the beautiful stage music composition by Jean Sibelius (to Maurice Maeterlinck's play which is rarely performed today), performed at Cinema Orion on 12 February by a 25 piece orchestra in Cinema concert Pelléas et Mélisande, together with Regen by Joris Ivens and Mannus Franken, seen both silent and with the “12 manières de décrire la pluie” score by Hanns Eisler.
- Frank Strobel comes to the already legendary Music Center of Helsinki to conduct the RSO to the original score in the already legendary 2010 restoration in the Cinema concert Metropolis on 16 March.
- The Ma-a Trio presents the Cinema concert Happiness to Alexander Medvedkin's satirical masterpiece on 21 and 22 April.

TERRENCE MALICK - l'œuvre intégrale.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH we celebrate with the U.S. Embassy with Martin Scorsese's The Blues 1: Feel Like Going Home, on delta blues: Son House, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker...

EVIL NORTH: Nordic crime and horror is examined in a seminar on 3 March, and a highlight of the season is Lars von Trier's Riget (The Kingdom) I-II, screened on glorious 35 mm on two evenings, 27-28 April.

AKI KAURISMÄKI'S FRENCH MENU: A propos de Nice, Zéro de conduite, Le Quai des brumes, La Bête humaine, Le Silence de la mer, Le Quai des Orfèvres, Casque d'or, Du rififi chez les hommes, Bande à part, Au hasard Balthazar, and Autour de minuit.

CINEMA AND PSYCHE, SEVENTH EDITION: THE TREE OF LIFE. Since 1990 we have co-arranged symposia on Cinema and Psyche with organizations of Finnish psychoanalysts. The symposia have nothing to do with the infamous Lacanian interventions into film studies in the 1970s. Rather they emerge from the urgent needs of mental health professionals to discuss matters familiar with everybody who has to deal with issues of the troubled mind. The films discussed this time range from Ugetsu monogatari till The Tree of Life. Registration by paying 150 E (including the hard-cover book Elokuva ja psyyke 3) or 185 E (also including a solid buffet dinner in the nearby Dubrovnik on 17 March) on the account FI0821232000047286 / Johanna Eväsoja. There is an overlap with the dinner with Cinema concert Metropolis. Enquiries: helsingin_psykoterapiaseura(at)hotmail.fi

IN THE CORE OF THE DOCUMENTARY, 62-64. In their ongoing epic survey into the history of the Finnish documentary film, Ilkka Kippola and Jari Sedergren have compiled this time a canon of the Finnish documentary and short film.

ROBERT SIODMAK'S FILM NOIR CYCLE: his five anni mirabili (1944-1949) from Phantom Lady till The File on Thelma Jordon, most of the 13 films he made then, usually for Universal Pictures.

WAR AND PEACE 70 MM (Война и мир, 1967). On Easter Sunday, 8 April, at Bio Rex we screen the six hour version of Sergei Bondarchuk's gigantic interpretation of Leo Tolstoy's epic novel with a cast including 120.000 soldiers. It is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Borodino and the fire of Moscow, both shatteringly reconstructed in the movie, with the camera descending from above the clouds to catch Napoleon's Grande armée get a brutal beating and a taste of the scorched earth treatment in Mother Russia. All in glorious photochemical, analogue 70 mm, albeit in a vintage print which may not have its colour intact.

THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO: Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation is one of the books that have changed the world. A new edition in Finnish will be published by Sofi Oksanen's Silberfeldt publishing house. We screen Marina Goldovskaya's magisterial documentary film Vlast Solovetskaya on the first Soviet prison camp.

3D THE THIRD DIMENSION: our first 3D retrospective with films from Dial M for Murder till Cave of Forgotten Dreams. On 24 March we get Stefan Drössler to present his legendary 3D lecture show with samples from the Lumière Brothers to the present day in 2K DCP 3D (XpanD). Stefan has toured the world with it, and now we are happy to welcome him in Helsinki.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Books on my night table this week

My night table at the rehabilitation section of the trauma department at Laakso Hospital, Helsinki, has been filled with good reading matter.

1. Sidney Lumet: Elokuvan tekemisestä (Making Movies, 1995). Translated into Finnish by Petri Stenman. Helsinki: Like, 2004. As we are launching our memorial tribute to Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) at Cinema Orion I am recovering from my traffic accident two weeks ago at the rehabilitation department of Laakso Hospital with a scenic view over Southern Helsinki. There's plenty to read, and via my laptop I can access the YLE 1 and YLE Classic channels with top music programming. Music can be good medicine. I have never read a better hands-on book on film-making than Sidney Lumet's Making Movies. It is a sober account of the utterly demanding art and craft of directing movies, a collaborative art where success is dependent on good rapport with the fellow artists in all departments. Chapters are devoted to direction, screenwriting, style, actors, cinematography, art direction and costume design, principal photography, screening rushes, editing, music and sound design, mixing, check prints, and the studios. In the Finnish edition the special advantage is a "Sidney Lumet's three careers" supplement edited by Matti Salo with unique and detailed information on Lumet's incredible career in the theatre (from the 1920s: he started as a child actor), television (1950- ), and the cinema (1938- ). I used this book as the basis for our program note on Long Day's Journey into Night, Lumet's favourite film, which he discusses memorably in the most important chapters.

2. Frank R. Cunningham: Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1991. A fine scholarly study on Sidney Lumet as a director of film adaptations, many of which were based on distinguished literary sources, including the major modern American playwrights Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. I used Cunningham's book as the basis for our program note on Vu du pont / A View from the Bridge.

3. Winsor McCay: Pikku Nemo Höyhensaarilla II osa: 1907-1908 (The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland [Vol. II]). Helsinki: Otava, 1991. Translated by Juhani Tolvanen, lettering by Jukka Heiskanen, introduction by Richard Marschall translated by Jukka Kemppinen, sleeve notes by Bo Carpelan. Timeless dream imagery by the great visionary. Winsor McCay's The Sinking of The Lusitania (1918) is the greatest silent animation in my opinion. It started to haunt me, so I started to read this miraculous comic strip.

4. Nicholas Carr: Pinnalliset: mitä internet tekee aivoillemme (The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, 2010). Translated by Antti Pietiläinen. Helsinki: Terra Cognita, 2010. A key book of our time. Printed media focuses our attention and endorses profound and creative thought. Internet encourages quick, distracted browsing. I agree. I have experienced this thrice this autumn. 1) reading David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's printed blog book Minding Movies I realized their insights more profoundly than in reading their original blog entries. 2) Reading Pordenone's printed Le Giornate del Cinema Muto catalogue I had a more intensive engagement in the excellent program notes than in studying the pdf file of exactly the same publication online. 3) Here at Laakso hospital in the early hours I sometimes read the digital Helsingin Sanomat online, but first when I read the printed broadsheet newspaper version I really get the full sense of what is being written in these times of European and global financial turbulence.

5. Charles Baudelaire: Pahan kukat / Les Fleurs du mal (1861). Suomeksi tulkinnut / interpreted into Finnish by Antti Nylén. Turku: Sammakko 2011. Bilingual, dual page edition in French and Finnish. My French is not so very good, and I have studied Baudelaire with frequent help from the dictionary. Now for the first time the complete Les Fleurs du mal appears in Finnish. Antti Nylén has abandoned the metre, so the primary text in this edition remains the original French, which Nylén's interpretation helps to make sense of. For instance certain famous Baudelaire poems such as L'Albatros and L'Invitation au voyage convey the rhythm of the sea, but in the interpretation it is not even attempted. Thus, a remarkable edition, yet not the final word in Finnish.

6. Juri Joensuu, Marko Niemi, Harry Salmenniemi: Vastakaanon: suomalainen kokeellinen runous 2000-2010 [Anti-Canon: Finnish Experimental Poetry 2000-2010]. Helsinki: Osuuskunta Poesia, 2011. An impressive and explosive volume of 490 pages of radical questioning of poetry. If there is a tradition involved, it's Dada. In some poems words and even letters become incomprehensible, bordering on abstract visual art. The new approach has to do with the cyberworld: many poems have appeared first in the internet, in the blogosphere, for instance. Also the new world of desktop publishing and book-on-demand has made possible any approach without the filtering system of the established publishing houses. Browsing through the volume I have to laugh. I feel the energy but cannot always relate to the poems. The five introductions are eminently readable. The writers have royal fun with the incomprehension of the established, horribly withered "cultural sections" of today's print media and the dreary attempts at "bunch reviews" of new poems. On a more serious note the editors state that never in the history of Finland has so much new poetry been published as during 2000-2010. This delightful volume seems like a good introduction, although some of my favourites are missing, such as Miikka Mutanen (Mäkärä, särmä, Hindustani; Esikko, klassikko; her bold and promising project to translate Finnegans Wake into Finnish online).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero: a manifesto

From the official press release:

60 SEKUNDIT ÜKSINDUST AASTAL NULL
Where: Port of Tallinn, cruise ship area
When: 22.12.2011
Duration: 7:30 - 8:30 pm
Ticket: 0
Entrance: at the carfax of Rumbi and Logi Street
Open doors: 7 pm
Choose your clothing according to the weather.
Warm drinks on us.
http://www.youtube.com

The single 35 mm film print of a movie created by an international collective of directors will be screened for the audience this once. During the screening the frames will catch fire, after which the giant screen will be burned by flamethrowers.

The open air screening in the Port of Tallinn is the climax of Tallinn European Capital of Culture 2011 year.

The presentation is composed of dozens of short films made by for example Naomi Kawase and Shinji Aoyama (Japan), Tom Tykwer (Germany), Brillante Mendoza (The Philippines), Park Chan-wook (South Korea), Gustav Deutsch (Austria), Malcolm Le Grice (Great Britain), Ken Jacobs and Brian Yuzna (The United States), and Aku Louhimies, Ilppo Pohjola and Mika Taanila (Finland). Numerous directors will be present.

The film is predominantly silent. Live music will be played by Ülo Krigul with his band.

60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero has been planned by the Estonian director Veiko Õunpuu anda actor Taavi Eelmaa. A manifesto (below) is a part of the project.

www.60sec.ee

60”
In the first decade of the 21st century entirely new aspects of human behaviour have emerged.
59”
Readiness and opportunity to be voluntarily spat on by a bunch of idiots 24/7, readiness and opportunity to aim your own gob 24/7 at a by-passer’s asshole, indiscriminate global forum and freedom...
58”
…to listen at any given moment the Microsoft audio logo or the judgement of the public passing on whatever kind of intimate aspect of human existence, humorous mobile ring tone as a soundtrack. It is more disgusting than cheese and other dairy products to a cow.
57”
The practical mind has caused a tragic flattening of life. I have no will, nor voice to speak in someone else’s name, nor to raise my fist towards the cold gaze of the stars when standing in a crowd.
56”
I go to the cinema, to be able to look into a mirror, albeit for a moment, that does not lie and deride.
55”
Not to enjoy emotions, but to pray for myself and my delusive love. Amidst people, without producing one single moan and completely alone.
54”
I do not find it necessary to quote Plato’s definition of democracy here. I am not bothered by lame theatre of politics. I am bothered by the entire world. The reason and consequence of the world. Lies and darkness.
53”
I want light. I want for that light to flicker on my face in the darkness of the screening room, giving me on average an hour and a half of faith into the possibility of life. Possibility of love. And faith that goodness does not have to be justified in any way.
52”
I am bothered by commercial pragmatism, the idea that people’s pure and spontaneous creativity is subordinated to business, rapacity, practical thinking, narrow-mindedness and cowardice.
51”
Accepting such subordinance to me seems like voluntary self-castration, as a result of which none of the participants end up with a higher voice, never mind feeling human.
50”
Devaluing intimacy to blunt orders of advertising and pornography makes me hide as a child under the bed that, for which I could cry.
49”
But I am no longer a child and I can no longer cry. There is an inseparable part of consciousness, which, when verbalised for a public discussion is a crime to the possibility of a soul existing.
48”
I want to draw a screen in front of the world and onto that your name in blazing shadows. You, from whose tears we have dripped to this planet. Accidentally. Without permission to stay out for longer than a second. Without a map that would show the way out.
47”
I don’t want to read the word ”love” only from the mail-order catalogue slogans.
46”
I will not let the public define, pack nor sell the ridiculousness of my human existence, the sad bragging of a lost monkey. Trade will not expand to the soul’s territory; I would rather burn it out than have garden gnomes, Sunday trousers or piggybanks shaped from it. This is war and the question is about survival.
45”
The ideology ruling the world is despicable as it tries to forcibly base the life of man and man and man and nature on the most primitive instincts.
44”
I would very much like to hear what do the Sunday trousers and piggybanks have to say about the cosmos, but the trouble is that trousers tend to speak about what they know best – arse, shitting and fucking. And as for the piggybanks, they don’t speak at all, they are mute and silent, some are full to the brim, others only half filled with pennies.
43”
They say that when a man dies, his soul falls into a sea of darkness. Eyes are the last tunnels through which the light shines, thus the dying man ought to gather his remaining shreds of strength and crawl to where the light or lantern shines. You could also place a candle, lighter, burning cigarette or a luminous widescreen in front of the dying man’s eyes.
42”
A flame or a ray of light is the door, a point on the map, a mark of the exit line from this world, which is controlled by the blind greed of a lousy Demiurg.
41”
Fire is the boundary, where physical matter becomes etherised matter. A matter that makes up my thoughts, imagination and soul. My projector and my camera.
40”
Soul is not merely a heartbeat or a thousand-year-old equestrian statue on the central plaza of Old Europe’s capital.
39”
It is the mewling of sad and vicious cats rutting on the steps of the statue.
38”
Soul is not the rusty car bonnets of New Europe where the same cats bask in a sun dappled, begging for affection from every hand, promising unconditional love to every ear that hears the meowing.
37”
It is the readiness of those cats to sink their teeth into every generously softened stroke. Fangs rasping through gravel, dirt, taxpayers’ expectations, social status, foie gras and excrement. All the way to the roots.
36”
Imagination is soul and it can be written, filmed and sung. It can be watched, read and listened to. It can be acquainted with.
35”
Man has a sacred, helpless and indivisible area, the boundaries of which become visible to the eye only in the cinema. Where sad lie speaks as mightily as happy truth, giving even the tiniest detail the right to live.
34”
Frame by frame, sliver by sliver, drop by drop until charring. And even the last particle of the ash has the right to BE.
33”
Screen is the iconostasis, from where the mystery of unconditional love can be sensed. Permissibility of possibility.
32”
I take a million euros to the desert and there it is merely paper with numbers.
31”
Only irrationality and a selfless act give the soul back its territory. Drags it back from the jaws of Molok so it wouldn’t disappear into its gut and dissolve into shit.
30”
The rule is a question of culture, the exception a question of art. Everyone speaks the rule: cigarettes, computers, t-shirts, tourism, war. No-one speaks the exception. It cannot be spoken. It can be written: Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. It can be composed: Gershwin, Mozart. It can be painted: Cezanne, Vermeer. It can be filmed: Antonioni, Vigo. Or it can be lived, and is thus called the art of living: Srebrenica, Mostar, Sarajevo. It is part of the rules to want the death of the exception. It is the rule of European culture to organise the death of the art of living. Jean - Luc Godard 1994.
29”
Is culture something that is more like art or something that is more like the grimace of civilisation? Is art the same as culture? Is goodness an exception or rule? I do not know.
28”
In my world goodness does not need a single lawyer.
27”
...I run to your feet, to you who are not waiting for me, like many others. I do not know what your face is like. I have never been able to imagine anything. I only see the world before me and a little bit on the sides, my own wide open eyes running in front of me, blood on the lashes, I see a birch leaf falling on a stranger’s warm cheek, a cold water bullet shooting into a puddle reflecting sand and the heart whisper of a stranger, a foot that squashes a butterfly on Rosa Luksemburg Strasse...
26”
The most sublime moments, my ecstasy and the depth of my sadness I owe to cinema. To those men and women who have managed to shoot their longing from any corner of the world through any walls erected from plastic, concrete, gold or shit directly into my primate brain, turning me into something more than just a chunk of fucking and devouring meat.
25”
No blade cuts too deep, no lie is too callous. No frame is superfluous. No film lasts too long. My clock goes backwards. Until the opening credits.
24”
Creativity with clean conscious does not fear anything – it is all-victorious and allencompassing, it is unstoppable. There is not enough military force, power or money.
23”
Its aim is to create works of art that would be self-destructive, would not enter the stream of exchanged values and become a commodity.
22”
My soul enters the projector as a film, sparks as lightning, blows a kiss over the jungle of heads into the back rows, where dusk strangles those who have lost hope, so they could believe in the possibility of a miracle. Not in the pyramidbased hierarchical model of the world.
21”
To then plunge into flames, without leaving a single euro or dollar or anyone’s pleased mug looking at the bank account. Leaving just the eternal repositioning of atoms and a postcard from my lover, which has been burned on the spume of my heart’s blood.
20”
Everything is repeating. A new one comes, loses hope, touches happiness´despite that and rouses in the arms of a miracle. This is not simply consolation – it creates the feeling of lightness and happiness.
19”
Pure spending is of ennoble impact. A person thinking only in practical categories does not understand that art could be interested in big losses and catastrophes. That a trauma could become an open door of a prison cell, which is burnt on the iris with a camera-stylus.
18”
Pragmatism that spreads everywhere has created a breach between the rules of life and human needs. Non-productive spending is a passion for cleansing. Rationality – owning, maintaining and consuming is nothing but fear. Claustrophobic static. To be freed from fear is to spend without the slightest desire to increase your capital – art, play, mourn, ritual... Fear is not a force of nature, it is a mood disorder. It can be cured by giving away with no regret not the superfluous, but the dearest. Gold is the most beautiful melting, a man while walking backwards smiling to oneself, love while burning to ash in the heat of the bodies.
17”
The increase of sensibility and any kind of awareness of the mechanics of one’s functioning has paved the way to mannerism, ennui and incredulity to all that is alive.
16”
I am a butterfly larva, laid under the skin of greed-based happiness myth. Into the fat tissue of a petit bourgeois buttock. My job is to eat. I eat efficiently and happily, without ever concealing my motivation, autonomously and not bearing the interest of ”climbing higher based on ever-improving results”. Why? Where? From large intestine to stomach? Or closer to sexual organs? I know nothing about Maslow’s hierarchy. I only know that tomorrow I will spread my wings for a couple of seconds and fly into the closest light bulb. Knowing that I am an inside enemy – a beautiful useless butterfly, whose wings are just for flying into a candle flame, helps me to forgive even the most repulsive criminals of my time.
15”
Purgatory is inevitable, but the dignity of the entering stride and the greeting words to the scorching comrades is for us to choose.
14”
Therefore I dare to face the end with a flower in my buttonhole, film posters on my walls like a little boy and a flamethrower in my hand. Light all the candles in the dark cathedral.
13”
Let the soul burn. It is made of fire. Only the important remains.
12”
Raising like smoke from everyone’s private quotidian convent walls.
11”
Proving the irrefutable truth of an individual’s indivisible experience amidst public hegemony.
10”
I can only be measured in Fahrenheit and frames per second.
9”
Each frame is burnt to the end and nothing can be rewound.
8”
It means that we are in a hurry. To be born while still alive.
7”
Ready!
6”
Aim!
5”
Fire!
4”
Water!
3”
Earth!
2”
Wind!
1”
Spirit!
0”
The world can be shaped by people. “60” of Solitude in Year Zero” shows with a myth-like simplicity an end, a clearing out and then a seed for the next one to come into existence. It is a great event which takes place in Tallinn bay, a unique cinematic installation, during which a film program composed of up to 120 60-second films will be watched while being burned.
Taavi Eelmaa
Veiko Õunpuu

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sight & Sound: the best of 2011

1 The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick, USA
2 A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran
3 The Kid with a Bike, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy
4 Melancholia, Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy
5 The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, France
=6 Once upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina
=6 The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr, Hungary, Switzerland/Germany/France/USA
8 We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA
9 Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland
=10 This Is Not a Film, Jafar Panahi, Iran
=10 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

Great reading online at the Sight & Sound website: the full poll remarks of the best of the year 2011 of over 100 of top critics and curators.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Books on my nightstand this week

1. Mirkka Rekola: Runot 1954-1978 [Poems 1954-1978] (1978) including Vedessä palaa [Burning in the Water] (1954), Tunnit [The Hours] (1957), Syksy muuttaa linnut [The Autumn Migrates the Birds] (1961), Ilo ja epäsymmetria [Joy and Asymmetry] (1965), Anna päivän olla kaikki [Let the Day Be Everything] (1968), Muistikirja [Notebook] (1969), Minä rakastan sinua, minä sanon sen kaikille [I Love You, I Tell It to Everybody] (1972), Tuulen viime vuosi [Last Year of the Wind] (1974), Kohtaamispaikka vuosi [Meeting Place the Year] (1977), Maailmat lumen vesistöissä [Worlds in the Water System of the Snow] (1978). - Juha Siltanen recommended me to read poems at the hospital. So I started with Mirkka Rekola, prominent right now with a new collection of poems, but this is a collection of her earlier work. Among the recurrent themes is the light, in the spirit of "let there be light".

2. Parnasso 7/2011: the literary magazine is hugely readable right now as edited by Jarmo Papinniemi. Highlights: Anne-Maria Latikka: Alaviitteitä elämään [Footnotes to Life], the Parnasso essay contest winner, inspired by a visit to James Joyce's grave in Zürich. Katja Seutu on Auli Viikari the great inspirer, Karri Kokko on the indefatigable Juri Nummelin ("Duracell Juri") - 39 years old, he already has published 52 books, including several on the cinema. Harri Veivo on Vastakaanon. Suomalainen kokeellinen runous 2000-2010 [Anti-Canon. Finnish Experimental Poetry 2000-2010]: poetry in the cyber-age.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The 150th anniversary of Georges Méliès

Today is the 150th anniversary of Georges Méliès, the cinema's first artist. Great posts by some of my favourite bloggers:

Kristin Thompson on Martin Scorsese's Hugo.

Luke McKernan on the current Méliès revival, with many further great links.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thoughts on Mannerheim on Independence Day

Inspired by the Mannerheim conversation in the blog of the incredible Jukka Kemppinen I have now read the two Mannerheim books by Sakari Virkkunen:

Mannerheim. Marsalkka ja presidentti [Mannerheim. Marshal and President], 1989.
Mannerheimin kääntöpuoli [The Other Side of Mannerheim], 1992.

If there would be a movie on Mannerheim, my idea of it would be a blend of Stroheim and Visconti. For the role of the young brave Mannerheim: John Gilbert (The Merry Widow), and for the old tiger Mannerheim: Burt Lancaster (Il gattopardo).

Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1951) was a nobleman who served 30 years (1887-1917) in the Imperial Russian Army and belonged to the close circle of the Emperor as a member of the Chevalier Guard in St. Petersburg. In the context of the Great Game about the control of Inner Asia Mannerheim served as an intelligence officer while making an exploration from Turkestan to Beijing; the exploration was not a mere cover but had scientific value in its own right. After the Bolshevik revolution Mannerheim returned to his native Finland. His native language was Swedish, besides which he was fluent in French, German, and Russian, learned Finnish first later, and knew also Latin, English, Polish, Portuguese and Chinese.

Mannerheim became the commander-of chief in all the wars fought by independent Finland: the Civil War, the Winter War, the Finnish stretch of the Operation Barbarossa, and the Lapland War, each of them fundamentally different. Mannerheim was created Marshal of Finland, and his horseman statue commands the center of Helsinki.

I would start my movie with the Bronze Horseman of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg and end it with the Mannerheim Statue in Helsinki.

Mannerheim's mission after the end of the Russian Empire was to destroy Bolshevism, and he saw himself as the leader of that battle on Russia's northwestern frontier.

The great paradox in Mannerheim's life is how he twice was about to seal the fate of St. Petersburg / Leningrad.

In 1918, he was prepared to lead an attack against St. Petersburg to crush Bolshevism, but he got no support from Finland.

In 1941, he refused to attack Leningrad, although both Hitler and the strong extreme right wing (including the Brotherhood of Hate) among his officers put pressure on him to do so.

With his firm refusal he may have saved Leningrad, and Stalin knew it. That may have saved Finland in 1944, when Finnish statesmen had to face Stalin's monsters such as Molotov and Zhdanov. They may have wanted much more horrible retributions, but Stalin said no.

In Operation Barbarossa Finland was Hitler's ally but not his underling. This is proven by three hard facts: Mannerheim's refusal to attack Leningrad, his refusal to destroy the Murmansk railway (the life-line of the Allies to Russia), and the fact that no Finnish Jew was harassed during the Holocaust (we had our share of Fascists, but they were kept at bay). At first Mannerheim admired Hitler because of their shared mission to destroy Communists but came to realize Hitler was mad. The two military newsreels on Hitler visiting Mannerheim and Mannerheim visiting Hitler are revealing. Mannerheim was not pleased of their existence and restricted their availability. From Sakari Virkkunen's book I learn that Hitler wanted Mannerheim to command also the German army on the Finnish front, but Mannerheim refused to even discuss the option. Because that would have meant that Hitler would have become his boss.

Mannerheim was a man of the world with a disdain for chauvinism and provincialism. His closest affinities after the end of the Russian Empire lay with England and France. Between the wars he travelled widely in Asia and participated in tiger hunt with the King of Nepal. He took regular health treatments at Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) and Baden Baden. The tiger hunts, African safaris, and health spa visits were also important for confidential networking. His ties with the Nordic monarchies of Sweden and Denmark were warm, and he was disgusted with our anti-Swedish "language fight" of the 1930s. He was well-connected, well-informed, and able to forecast the future: in 1944, and probably even before, he predicted the Cold War.

An old school nobleman to the end, a bon vivant, yet a hard-working man who needed only six hours of sleep. His style had a Spartan military simplicity, yet he was a smart dresser in the best sense: he dressed well because he was a symbol and a representative for his soldiers and his people. He paid attention to the common soldier, to the war invalid and those blinded by war, he respected women and was chivalrous with them, he took care of children (via the remarkably progressive Mannerheim League for Child Welfare). Visits were not formalities for him. During the war he lived a large part of his time in his own special train, and was constantly on the move. At 75, he rode an hour on horseback every morning and took a ten minute swim in the lake or the sea.

His authority was based on respect. When I cleared up the house of my dear deceased aunt in 2003, together with my brother Asko we also cleared up the cellar bunker war room of her husband (a WWII veteran, including Stella Polaris) who had died a little earlier. Self-evidently a portrait of Mannerheim was on the wall.

I'm writing this at Töölö Hospital in Helsinki, where I have landed after a traffic accident. There are six gravely ill people in the room (I am the most harmless case, with speedy and full recovery). This is the most memorable Independence Day of my life. I am not watching television but I cannot help overhearing it. First, there were the official church services (a Swedish-speaking female minister: Tarja Halonen's choice on her last Independence Day as President was delightful). Then, The Unknown Soldier (1955), which I have seen many times, but when my eyes dart to the monitor, I often see scenes I had forgotten. I seldom cry, but the pre-credit sequence had me in tears already. The all-time best war film in the long version, needing excellent translation for the foreigner. It may prove impossible to translate with its multitude of language worlds; a Finn can immediately identify the province and the social background of the soldier by the way he speaks. For Peter von Bagh Paisà is the best war film, and I agree it's the contender.

The Töölö Hospital was founded by Mannerheim in 1932 as the Finnish Red Cross Hospital. It was also his own regular hospital when he needed care.

Mannerheim was a reactionary and a visionary. Un gattopardo.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Internet Archive: legally free

From the mail of the European Commission's Audiovisual and Media Policy Unit:

The Internet Archive
The Internet Archive works to bring together anything and everything that resides in the public domain, including movies:
http://www.archive.org/details/movies
For instance, they have gathered together 40 best movies that can be downloaded legally and for free:
http://blog.archive.org/2010/08/12/top-40-best-free-legal-movies-you-can-download-right-now/
The Internet Archive has a collections of some 150 billion web pages, 900,000 audio recordings, almost three million books and more than half a million moving image items.

In the ‘moving images’ list of ‘most downloaded’, cinema content is second only to games with an interesting mix of fiction and documentaries. Some examples include :

- 765,503 downloads for Night of the Living Dead (1968), the first ‘zombie classic’
- 516,196 for Duck and Cover, a 1952 cartoon teaching kids how to protect themselves from a nuclear attack.
- 363,556 for a montage of US Department of Defense footage on Nazi concentration camps
- 279,487 - The Fighting Lady, a 1944 war documentary by William Wyler
- Various Charlie Chaplin’s shorts from the late 1910s regularly score between 250,000 and 280,000 downloads
- 265,636 for D.W. Griffith’s 1930 Abraham Lincoln biography

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Books on my nightstand this week

1. Jukka Kemppinen: Informaatio-oikeuden alkeet [A legal handbook of the information age.  There is no English counterpart for the keyword "informaatio-oikeus" in the book's title] (2011). A comprehensive introduction to many of the most difficult legal problems of the information society written in an understandable language, yet without simplifying genuinely complex cases where there is often a right against another right, an aspect of justice against another aspect of justice.

2. Peter Englund: Menneisyyden maisema (Förflutenhetens landskap. Historiska essäer, 1991) [The Landscape of Times Past] (in Finnish, 2011). Historical essays in which for instance the myth of the military leader is debunked. From a historical perspective things at the battlefield start to seem much clearer than in the chaotic actuality itself. Military leaders often had to make their decisions in situations in which there was even literally hardly any visibility.

3. Jean Lassus: Varhaiskristillinen ja Bysantin taide (Landmarks of the World's Art: The Early Christian and Byzantine World, 1967) (in Finnish, 1968). The thousand years in the history of art after the Classical Age and before the Renaissance. What a downturn. There were even over a hundred years of iconoclasm during which art heritage was systematically destroyed.

4. Arsenal (Berlin), programme booklet, Dezember 2011 with an Andrzej Wajda retrospective (which includes a favourite of mine, the rarely seen Invitation to the Inside, 1978); Magical History Tour: Filmmusik und Musikfilm; Living Archive introducing Mary Ellen Bute; Ulrike Ottinger.

5. Cahiers du Cinéma, Novembre 2011. The cover title is "Adieu 35, la révolution numérique est terminée". Too bad that an intellectual journal adopts the marketing jargon of information technology. Yet information technology engineers are the first to warn that although digital can be great for distribution, the digital world is in constant turbulence. 35 mm film is robust for preservation even for a thousand years. Fortunately the articles in the digital dossier offer more profound reflections of the digital transition.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Risto

FI © 2011 Yellow Film & TV. P: Olli Haikka, Samuli Norhomaa. D: Tuomas Summanen. SC: Mikko Reitala. DP: Arno Launos. Definition of colour and digital intermediate: Post Control. AD: Kaisa Mäkinen. Cost: Minni Härkönen. Makeup: Laura-Melanie Hecht. M: DJ Slow. S: Erno Kumpulainen. ED: Jyrki Levä. MAIN ROLES: Risto Kaskilahti (Risto "Ripa" Kaskilahti), Aku Hirviniemi (Pasi Happonen), Krista Kosonen (Anna), Elena Leeve (Inka), Jarkko Niemi (Akseli), Jaakko Saariluoma (Erik). SUPPORTING ROLES: Stan Saanila (editor), Mika Nuojua (Tuukka), Mika Räinä (policeman), Elina Knihtilä, Jussi Vatanen (manager), Petteri Summanen (lawyer), Riku Nieminen, Joanna Haartti (teacher), Ville Myllyrinne (producer), Kari Ketonen (assistant director). 98 min. Released by Scanbox with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 26 Nov 2011 (premiere weekend).

From the official synopsis: "The beloved actor Risto (Risto Kaskilahti) gets paralyzed - quadriplegiac - in a studio accident. The accident brings him massive financial compensation and a flood of sympathy. Suddenly there is money for everything that Risto's young and beautiful wife (Krista Kosonen) has always wanted. She gives up her boring job and becomes an artist."

"The brew is mixed by Risto's obsessed little cousin (Aku Hirviniemi) who wants to become an actor and tries to take advantage of Risto by all means. Confusion get even worse by Risto's twenty-something son (Jarkko Niemi) who falls in love with his mother-in-law. And this is just the beginning. There is a surprise twist."

"What happens when Risto experiences a surprising recovery? The beloved star gets well but cannot tell it to the world. Must the popular actor pretend to be paralyzed for the rest of his life? Has Risto found the role of his life which he'll never get rid of?" (my translation).

Black comedy is a difficult genre. The risk is to get so cynical that there is nothing left to relate to.

Risto has been made by television entertainment professionals, and I realize I miss most points because I don't watch tv. My notes written during the screening include words like: "mean-spirited, love is missing, fraud, demoralization, erosion of trust". There is little complexity in the characters.

There are good performers, though, such as Krista Kosonen and Elena Leeve, both among my favourite actors in contemporary Finnish cinema. Elena Leeve plays a religious fanatic, and Krista Kosonen is the young wife of the veteran actor Risto. The most recurrent female figure in contemporary Finnish cinema is the harridan, and now it's Krista Kosonen's turn to play it. Yawn. Why don't their men just say "get out!"

The atmosphere of sleaze is pervasive, most memorably incarnated by Jaakko Saariluoma as the scandal reporter Erik in a performance that can be compared with [Kirk Douglas - Siru, thanks] in The Big Carnival and Burt Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success. The absence of conscience is terrifying. The malaise of the yellow press, such as in the contemporary Rupert Murdoch case but also in the Finnish tabloids and the even worse weekly gossip trash, is crystallized in Erik. This kind of comedy is not even funny anymore, and the approach can be compared with the commedia all'italiana of the 1950s and the 1960s, sometimes more grim and severe than so-called serious drama. Speaking of The Big Carnival, Risto brings to mind also another black Billy Wilder satire, The Fortune Cookie, because of its theme (Risto Kaskilahti gets to play the Jack Lemmon role).

There is a flat digital video look in the movie, appropriate to the theme of the degradation of spirit.

Maaginen kristalli / The Magic Crystal [3D]

Den magiska kristallen. FI / BG © 2011 Epidem ZOT / Skyline Animation / Aranéo. P: Mikael Wahlforss, Mark Mertens. D: Antti Haikala. SC: Thomas Wipf, Bob Swain, Dan Wicksman, Nuria Wicksman, Alessandro Liggieri, Kurt Weldon, Antti Haikala, Aki Martikainen - from an idea by Mikael Wahlforss. AN: Anima Vitae - Luca Bruno - Aki Martikainen, Meruan Salim, Antti Ripatti, Teemu Auersalo, Peke Huuhtanen. AD: Antti Haikala. M: Menno van Riet. S: Quentin Collette. ED: Antti Haikala. FINNISH VOICE VERSION: translation: Mari Virtanen; directed by: Antti Haikala; studio: Uptempo; VOICE TALENT: Jukka Nylund (Yotan), Veeti Kallio (Basil), Kiti Kokkonen (Jiffy), Santtu Karvonen (Reindeer), Paula Vesala (Jaga), Henni-Liisa Stam (Didi), Aapo Haikala (Alpo), Jon-Jon Geitel (Smoo), Veikko Honkanen (Santa Claus), Antti Jaakola (Lätty). 76 min. Distributed by Future Film with Swedish subtitles by Janne Staffans. 2D 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 26 Nov 2011.

I saw this 3D movie in 2D.

From the official synopsis: "A new family adventure animation from the makers of Niko, lentäjän poika (The Flight before Christmas)".

"It's almost Christmas, and the magic crystal of Santa Claus has been stolen! With the help of the crystal Santa Claus delivers the presents to children. The crystal needs to be returned to Santa's headquarters at the Korvatunturi fjell, or there will be no Christmas."

"The crystal has been seized by Basil, the evil twin of Santa Claus, who wants to conquer children's minds and spread evil in the world. A special patrol is sent to redeem the crystal. The human boy Yotan joins the Korvatunturi elves in it."

"During the quest Yotan with his friends experiences exciting adventures, solves difficult problems and gets to test his forces with Basil and his henchmen. Yotan also needs to overcome his own fears and weaknesses" (from the official synopsis, the translation is mine).

There are similarities with The Nightmare before Christmas, but the concept of The Magic Crystal is original. There is an anti-Christmas dimension in the story. "The evil Santa" gets more screen space than the good one. The good Santa and his wife are jovial characters, and the bad Santa is a bit like yet another version of a James Bond villain in a children's animation. "Who would be crazy enough to build an ice castle on top of a volcano?" "I am!" One can already guess what will happen later. The explosive climax is my favourite sequence in this movie. There is a question of rhythm and dynamics here: I would expect a Christmas movie to have some relaxed and peaceful sequences besides the anti-Christmas action setpieces. The Finnish voice approach is based on the Särkkä school of dialogue. The colour palette is artificial and antirealistic.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Apflickorna / She Monkeys

Apinatytöt. SE © 2011 Atmo Produktion AB. P: Helene Lindholm. D: Lisa Aschan. SC: Josefine Adolfsson, Lisa Aschan. DP: Linda Wassberg. PD: Kia Nordqvist. Cost: Kia Nordqvist. Make-up, hair: Sandra Wolterdorf. M: Sami Sänpäkkilä. S: Andreas Franck. ED: Kristofer Nordin. Casting: David Färdmar. Loc: Göteborg (Gothenburg). CAST: Mathilda Paradeiser (Emma), Linda Molin (Cassandra), Isabella Lindqvist (Sara), Sergej Merkusjev (Ivan), Adam Lundgren (Jens), Sigmund Hovind (Tobias), Kevin Caicedo Vega (Sebastian), Nasrin Pakkho (simfröken), Maria Hedborg (voltigetränare), Inger Lindberg (linförare), Elin Söderquist (badvakt), Malin Müller (expedit). 90 min. Released in Finland by KinoScreen Illusion Ltd. with Finnish subtitles by Emmi Juutilainen. Viewed at Kino Engel, Helsinki, 25 Nov 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Aaton Penelope - Laboratory: Nordisk Film Post Production, Sweden - Film negative format: 35 mm (Fuji) - Cinematographic process: Techniscope - Printed film format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383, Vision Premier 2393) - Aspect ratio: 2.39:1. --- According to the end credits the digitital intermediate is in 2K.

Svensk Filmdatabas: "She Monkeys is about the art of survival. We follow 15 year old Emma, her seven year old little sister Sara, and Emma’s newfound friend, Cassandra. Emma and Cassandra meet at the vaulting club and soon develop a symbiotic friendship."

"When Emma meets Cassandra a relationship full of brutal physical and psychical challenges starts. Emma does everything to master the rules of the game. Boundaries are transgressed, and the stakes grow higher and higher. Nevertheless Emma cannot resist the intoxicating sense of total control."

A coming-of-age story of two teenage girls, and the seven-year old sister Sara. A tale of the turbulence, disorientation and chaos of youth. These are wild girls like those in Vera Chytilova's Sedmikrasky (Daisies) or Marja Pyykkö's Sisko tahtoisin jäädä (Run Sister Run). Lisa Aschan and Josefine Adolfsson touch especially sensitive ground in the account of the little Sara who is forced to wear a bikini and gets to witness a stallion mounting a mare. I don't know what this modern account of (mostly sexual) awakening is finally all about.

But there is no doubt that Lisa Aschan knows how to tell it. The movie is original and interesting in its mise-en-scène, imagery, rhythm, and visual storytelling. The movie is both exciting and relaxed. The performances seem natural and spontaneous. Probably only women filmmakers could have made such a confidential and intimate film about girls.

The visual quality looks all-photochemical, but according to the end credits there was a 2K scanning. If it is so, congratulations for the soft, natural feeling of sensuality which is still rare in digital intermediates.

J. Edgar

J. Edgar / J. Edgar. US © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. P: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz. D: Clint Eastwood. SC: Dustin Lance Black. DP: Tom Stern. PD: James J. Murakami. AD: Greg Berry, Patrick M. Sullivan, Jr. Set dec: Gary Fettis. Art dept.: big. Cost: Deborah Hopper. Prosthetic makeup artist (Leonardo DiCaprio): Sian Griff. Makeup dept.: big. S: Bub Asman, Alan Robert Murray. Special FX: Steve Riley. Visual FX: Ollie Rankin, Edison Williams, dept. huge. ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach. Casting: Fiona Weir. LEADING ROLES: Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar Hoover), Armie Hammer (Clyde Tolson), Naomi Watts (Helen Gandy). SUPPORTING ROLES: Damon Herriman (Bruno Hauptmann), Jeffrey Donovan (Robert F. Kennedy), Judi Dench (Anna Marie, Hoover's mother), Ed Westwick (Agent Smith, Hoover's biographer), Josh Lucas (Charles Lindbergh), Ken Howard (U.S. Attorney General Harlan F. Stone), Stephen Root (Arthur Koehler), Denis O'Hare (Albert S. Osborn), Geoff Pierson (Alexander Mitchell Palmer), Lea Thompson (Lela Rogers), Gunner Wright (Dwight D. Eisenhower), David A. Cooper (Franklin Roosevelt), Jessica Hecht (Emma Goldman), Dermot Mulroney (Col. Schwarzkopf). 137 min. Released in Finland by FS Film. Unsubtitled 2K DCP viewed in an internal screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 27 Nov 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision C-Series Lenses, Panavision Panaflex Platinum, Panavision C-Series Lenses. - Laboratory: Technicolor, Hollywood. - Film negative format: 35 mm (Fuji Eterna Vivid 160T 8543, Eterna Vivid 500T 8547). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

The official synopsis: "During his lifetime, J. Edgar Hoover would rise to be the most powerful man in America. As head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years, he would stop at nothing to protect his country. Through eight presidents and three wars, Hoover waged battle against threats both real and perceived, often bending the rules to keep his countrymen safe. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted, if ever elusive, prize."

"Hoover was a man who placed great value on secrets–particularly those of others–and was not afraid to use that information to exert authority over the leading figures in the nation. Understanding that knowledge is power and fear poses opportunity, he used both to gain unprecedented influence and to build a reputation that was both formidable and untouchable."

"He was as guarded in his private life as he was in his public one, allowing only a small and protective inner circle into his confidence. His closest colleague, Clyde Tolson, was also his constant companion. His secretary, Helen Gandy, who was perhaps most privy to Hoover's designs, remained loyal to the end... and beyond. Only Hoover's mother, who served as his inspiration and his conscience, would leave him, her passing truly crushing to the son who forever sought her love and approval."

"As seen through the eyes of Hoover himself, "J. Edgar" explores the personal and public life and relationships of a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it during a life devoted to his own idea of justice, often swayed by the darker side of power." (From the official website.)

Clint Eastwood keeps surprising. J. Edgar is a more irreverent biopic than the production company's official synopsis gives away. All the tabloid ingredients are here, but the treatment of the potentially scandalous subject-matter is sober. The director's touch is solid, maybe even a bit stolid. Eastwood has avoided flamboyance in a story like this.

Dustin Shane Black has written a daring screenplay that covers the entire grown-up life of the protagonist via a mosaic flashback structure. The scope is epic but there is a chamber-play core with the trio of J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson, and Helen Gandy.

At the first glimpse of Leonardo DiCaprio as the aged J. Edgar Hoover I had to laugh, and in retrospect I think I did not laugh at him but with him. There is somehow the familiar boyish trademark wink in DiCaprio's performance behind the forbidding prosthenic bulldog mask. This is an interesting and memorable performance, much better than DiCaprio's previous efforts as violent and troubled men with wrinkled eyebrows because here DiCaprio has found space for his unique sense of humour. Naomi Watts gives a first-rate performance as Helen Gandy.

The account of J. Edgar Hoover's subdued homosexual love story with Clyde Tolson rings believable. This interpretation is compatible with the classical psychoanalytical view of repressed homosexuality as a possible source of paranoia.

Among the interesting themes of J. Edgar is the power of the media. We see Hoover witness the audience applauding James Cagney as the Public Enemy. Hoover then gets media-conscious and starts a FBI collaboration with Warner Bros. and comic books publishers. In the satirical view of the movie, Hoover, who was a pioneer in serious crime investigation and criminology, got lost in public image fabrications, disinformation, secret files for blackmail, and finally blatant lies.

I have seen The FBI Story which belongs to the FBI's promotion projects with Warner Bros. J. Edgar could not be further from it. Instead, it could form a double feature with the Stasi exposé The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen).

Clint Eastwood's photochemical films always boasted refined dark cinematography. The digitally processed 2K visual quality of J. Edgar is icy, stony, and slightly stuffy.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Twilight - Aamunkoi, osa 1 / Så länge vi båda andas. US © 2011 Summit Entertainment. P: Wyck Godfrey, Stephenie Meyer, Karen Rosenfelt. D: Bill Condon. SC: Melissa Rosenberg - based on the novel Breaking Dawn (2008) by Stephenie Meyer. (In Finland the Twilight book series is called Houkutus, and the title of this novel is Aamunkoi. The first two novels are translated by Tiina Ohinmaa, and the second two by Pirkko Biström.) DP: Guillermo Navarro. PD: Richard Sherman. AD: Troy Sizemore, Lorin Flemming. Set dec: David Schlesinger. Art dept.: big. Special effects: Alex Burdett, David A. Poole. Visual effects dept.: huge. Animation dept:: Tom Gibbons. Cost: Michael Wilkinson. Animatronics and special makeup dept.: big. M: Carter Burwell. Sound dept.: 18. ED: Virginia Katz. Casting: Debra Zane. Stunt team: big. MAIN CAST: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black). SUPPORTING CHARACTERS (as edited in the English Wikipedia): Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale, a member of the Cullen family who helps Bella through her pregnancy), Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen, a compassionate doctor who acts as a father figure to the Cullen coven), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen, the most loving member who acts as the mother of the Cullen family), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen, a member of the Cullen family who can see "subjective" visions of the future and who is close friends with Bella), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen, the strongest member of the Cullen family, and provides the comic relief), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale, a member of the Cullen coven can feel/control/manipulate emotions), Julia Jones (Leah Clearwater, a member of Jacob's pack who is constantly bitter and pained), Booboo Stewart (Seth Clearwater, a carefree member of Jacob's pack), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan, Bella's father and Forks' Chief of Police), Sarah Clarke (Renée Dwyer, Bella's mother who lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Phil), MyAnna Buring (Tanya, the leader of the Denali coven), Maggie Grace (Irina, a member of the Denali coven whose lover, Laurent, was killed by the werewolves), Casey LaBow (Kate, a member of the Denali coven who has the ability to run an electric current on her skin), Michael Sheen (Aro, the leader of the Volturi), Jamie Campbell Bower (Caius, one of the three founders of the Volturi), Christopher Heyerdahl (Marcus, one of the three founders of the Volturi), Chaske Spencer (Sam Uley, the Alpha of the werewolves pack), Christian Camargo (Eleazar, a member of the Denali coven), Mia Maestro (Carmen, a member of the Denali coven). 119 min. Released in Finland by Nordisk with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Hannele Vahtera. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 25 Nov 2011.

Technical specs (IMDb): Camera: Arricam ST, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Arriflex 435, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Moviecam Compact, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. - Laboratory: EFILM Digital Laboratories, Hollywood, (digital intermediate). - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (master format), Super 35 (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

One of the most scary horror films of all times. The English Wikipedia calls it a "romantic fantasy film". Bella the human gets married to Edward the vampire, gives birth to a monster baby, dies at childbirth, and is resurrected as a vampire by Edward's vampire venom.

This viewing is my first acquaintance with the Twilight phenomenon. The book series (2005-2008) is one of the biggest bestsellers in history. The film series (2008-2012) belongs to the biggest box office phenomena of the period.

The author Stephenie Meyer belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Twilight was her debut novel, the inspiration to which she received in a dream.

The twist of contemporary vampire fiction is that vampires have become love objects and identification objects. This is the most astounding volte-face in the history of horror fiction.

The vampire is traditionally an incarnation of the Devil in the same meaning as Jesus was an incarnation of God.

Bill Condon directs this movie with a sense of solemn gravity. Breaking Dawn is like a requiem. There is an affinity with Lars von Trier's Melancholia and with the final episodes of the Harry Potter saga. The visionary horror montage sequences belong to the tradition of experimental film.

I have been fascinated with the cinema's obsession with an interrupted wedding or betrothal. Breaking Dawn is the story of a successful wedding, honeymoon, childbirth and the mother's rebirth... from a vampiric point of view. "Let's start with forever" says Edward in his wedding speech. From a human point of view the story is utter horror almost without redemption, almost without counterforce. The monsters have taken over, and there is hardly anything else.

Except details such as Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue which welcomes the newlyweds to their Brazilian honeymoon. It is an alienated image such as the one in the beginning of La dolce vita.

The horror pregnancy, childbirth and resurrection are the movie's original horror elements. Breaking Dawn goes beyond the Rosemary's Baby, the It's Alive, and The Brood traditions, although it avoids gore and splatter. The ultrasonic test gives no response. No future is visible. The fetus is kept alive by pints of blood.

In the Harry Potter saga I was amazed by the absence of a sense that the protagonists would see themselves as "heroes of their own lives". There was an overwhelming sense of lethargy. In the Twilight saga the lethargy has developed into a logical endpoint, death.

Even visually, there is a death breath in the movie. The denaturation of nature is appropriate to the subject.