Thursday, May 31, 2012

Samma no aji / An Autumn Afternoon

Sanma no aji / Syksyinen iltapäivä / En hösteftermiddag. JP 1962. PC: Shochiku. P: Shizou Yamanochi. D: Yasujiro Ozu. SC: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. DP: Yuharu Atsuta - Agfacolor. AD: Tatsuo Hamada. Cost: Yuuji Nagashima. M: Takanobu Saito. "Gunkan machi" ("The Battleship March", 1897): a patriotic song composed originally for primary schools. ED: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. S: Ichiro Ishii. C: Chishu Ryu (Shuhei Hirayama), Shima Iwashita (Michiko Hirayama), Keiji Sada (Koichi Hirayama), Mariko Okada (Akiko Hirayama, his wife), Nobuo Nakamura (Shuzo Kawai), Kuniko Miyake (Nobuko Kawai, his wife), Ryuji Kita (Susumu Horie), Michiyo Kan (Tamako Horie, his second wife), Eijiro Tohno (Seitaro Sakuma, "The Gourd"), Teruo Yoshida (Yutaka Miura), Noriko Maki (Fusako Taguchi), Shinichirô Mikami (Kazuo Hirayama), Michiyo Tamaki (Tamako), Haruko Sugimura (Tomoko), Daisuke Kato (Yoshitaro Sakamoto), Kyoko Kishida (Madam at Kaoru), Toyoko Takahashi (waitress at Wakamatsu). Shinobu Asaji (Youko Sasaki, Shuhei's secretary). Studio: Shochiku-Ofuna. In Finland tv: 27.7.1985 MTV2, 21.2.1999 YLE TV1, 6.11.2005 YLE Teema. 112 min. A SFI Filmarkivet print (2005) with Swedish subtitles by Wakako Hongo and Per Sundfeldt. Electronic subtitles in Finnish by Eija Niskanen. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 31 May 2012.

The Japanese title of the movie refers to the taste of the fish called Pacific saury (also known as saira, or mackerel pike; the correct translitteration of the Japanese name seems to me nowadays sanma), in a season when it is at its tastiest. Although people eat all the time in this movie, and there is a scene where eel is eaten as a special delicacy, they never eat sanma.

Yokohama, the present.

Donald Richie's synopsis: "A company auditor, widowed and getting on in years, lives with his son and daughter and has as friends a few men his own age. From one of them he hears of the marriage of yet another friend's daughter. This sets him thinking about his own daughter. He decides that she should marry, and eventually arranges it with a young man recommended by his friends. The event goes off as planned. Again he meets with his friends. They all drink together once more, and he realizes that he is getting old, and that he is alone."

Revisited Yasujiro Ozu's final film in which there is no sign of him getting tired, although the director soon died of cancer on the evening of his 60th birthday. The subject is familiar, but there is a new vitality in the young characters. The portrait of the daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) is subtle. She is a modern woman with a sharp tongue, not submissive at all, yet facing the traditional fate of the youngest daughter. There are aspects of satire in the account of the modern young couple Koichi and Akiko with their fascination in consumer goods.

There is the familiar assured, laconic simplicity of Ozu's post-WWII style. Much of the narrative is realized via conversations over dinner and drink. After the people have left we see the empty space. There are recurrent short montages of chimneys, corridors, and streets signs.

Special emphases of this movie include: - Wartime nostalgia, and an ironic distance towards it: Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) and his friends are war veterans. -  Alcoholism: the retired high-school teacher of the friends, Sakuma, now runs a noodle bar and drinks too much, supported by his long-suffering daughter who has never married. Sakuma becomes a warning example for Hirayama, because he also drinks a lot, and his daughter has not yet married, either. - Virility: a running joke is about Horie who has married a young woman about the age of his daughter and the virility medicine that he is supposed to need.

The marrying of Michiko becomes a major plot. There is such an ellipsis that we see the radiant Michiko in her lovely wedding dress but we never see the groom nor the wedding itself. When Hirayama visits his favourite bar, Torys Bar, after the wedding, dressed in his tailcoat, the bar hostess, who somehow reminds Hirayama of his wife, asks: "Are you coming from a funeral?"

There is a lounge music quality in Takanobu Saito's score. For a moment I was thinking about Marvin Hatley's Laurel and Hardy scores with their royal disregard for what is happening on screen.

The vanitatum vanitas theme in this movie is connected with consumer society.

"Finally you are alone" is the conclusion of the old teacher. In the final scene Hirayama gets to know what that means.

The print is brilliant, and it has been struck from a source with perfect colour. The visual quality is often fine, but at times I thought there was a slightly duped quality like in a good digital intermediate for a dvd master.

Forthcoming: Cinema Concert Pohjalaisia (1925)

The cinema concert Pohjalaisia (1925) takes place at Cinema Orion, Friday 8, 2012, at 19.00.

Pohjalaisia [The People from Pohjanmaa, might also be called The People from the Plains] (1925) is a silent Finnish prestige production based on the popular play by Artturi Järviluoma, directed by Jalmari Lahdensuo, who directed also the original theatre production, and shot on authentic locations on the plains of Pohjanmaa. The film has been little seen since 80 years.

The cinematography of Frans Ekebom is powerful with memorable compositions and a good sense of the unique landscape of Pohjanmaa.

The experts at National Audiovisual Archive (restoration: Anna Lehto, Päivi Hurskainen, editing: Jarmo Nyman) have produced a beautiful reconstruction and restoration of the film which will be premiered on Friday 8 June 2012 at Cinema Orion. The movie will be screened from a 2K DCP.

The Festival of the province of Etelä-Pohjanmaa (Etelä-Pohjanmaa valtaa Senaatintorin: Pikkuusen häjymmät pirot, 7-9 June, 2012) is a partner in the cinema concert in which the music is provided by two master accordionists.

Teppo Välimäki is a folk musician with a long experience who received the title of mestaripelimanni (master player) in 1993. He has given concerts in Finland, other countries of Europe, and the United States and Australia. Since the mid-1990s Välimäki is also a member of the diatonic accordion trio Tepot.

Teijo Aho received his mestaripelimanni title in 2007. The talent has been going in the family, because besides Teijo also his father and his brother have the mestaripelimanni distinction. There are pelimanni genes also on the mother's side. Aho plays mostly the diatonic accordion although he masters other accordions as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pohjalaisia / [The People from Pohjanmaa / could also be called The People from the Plains] (1925)

Österbottningarna. FI 1925. PC: Suomi-Filmi. EX: Erkki Karu. D: Jalmari Lahdensuo. Ass. D: Martti Tuukka. SC: Artturi Järviluoma - based on his play (1914). DP: Frans Ekebom; Ass: Armas Fredman, Arvo Tamminen. AD: Martti Tuukka. Local expert: Kaarlo Kultalahti. C: Simo Kaario (Erkki Harri), Oiva Soini (Jussi Harri), Kaisa Leppänen (Maija Harri), Einar Rinne (Antti Hanka), Ilmari Unho (Heikki Hanka), Aino Lohikoski (Liisa), Mimmi Lähteenoja (Kaisa), Lauri Rautala (Salttu), Otto Al'Antila (Koljola), Hemmo Airamo (clerk), Kyösti Salomaa (shoemaker), Thorild Bröderman (sheriff), Yrjö Somersalmi (Köysti of Karjanmaa), Hannes Härhi (Kaappo), William Räisänen (bridge bailiff), Martti Tuukka (priest), Iivari Tuomari (judge), Kaarlo Kultalahti, crown bailiff Hjelt, judge Alajoki (badmen), Armas Fredman (vallesmannin renki). Crowd scenes: young people from Härmä and Lapua. Loc: Alahärmä, Ylihärmä, Vaasa. Studio: Vironkatu Studio.

Reconstructed and restored by KAVA (2012). Restoration: Anna Lehto, Päivi Hurskainen. Editing: Jarmo Nyman. Technical production: Generator Post.

Dvd of the restored version viewed at home, Helsinki, 30 May 2012.

Artturi Järviluoma's play Pohjalaisia (1914) is one of the most popular Finnish plays, and it has been filmed twice. The 1936 film adaptation has been the one regularly seen since it was made. The 1925 adaptation has survived very well thanks to the farsightedness of the Suomi-Filmi company, but it has been little seen during the sound era - since 80 years, although in 1994 Suomi-Filmi released the movie as a vhs video.

The screenplay of the movie was written by the playwright, Artturi Järviluoma, himself, and the director of the movie, Jalmari Lahdensuo, was also the director of the original theatre production of the play.

The colour of the toning is beautiful, and there are visually powerful scenes in the movie, such as the silhouette-like long shot of the big fight on the bridge that we see in the beginning. Frans Ekebom has a good sense of composition in several striking shots.

The presence of the nature - the great plains and the great rivers - is essential, and it is easy to believe why the escaped convict Antti decides to return as "I cannot live elsewhere but in these plains".

There is a feeling of physical realism and authenticity in the location shooting.We see fields being ploughed, windmill blades rotating in the background, scenes in the yard, and religious meetings. The hollow alderman baton with documents inside circulates in the community. Alcohol is consumed liberally in every house, and there is an obligatory drunken scene.

The arrival of the badmen to make trouble at the dance is electrifying. Oiva Soini rises to the occasion as Jussi who leads the peaceful participants of the dance. The fight between Jussi and Köysti seems real. When Jussi wins, they shake hands, and Köysti declares that Jussi now is the king of the plains (lukko).

The story takes place in the middle of the 19th century, the age when the rampage of the badmen was at its worst in Pohjanmaa. The two extremes are the hot-tempered and violent badmen, and the pietists whose faith in God is a challenge to violence. The humiliating and misdirected discipline of the sheriff is resented. When he has the innocent Jussi arrested and humiliates him with a whip, Jussi breaks his chains with his bare hands and attacks the sheriff who shoots Jussi, but the lethally wounded Jussi manages to strike the sheriff dead with his knife. "These people will never bend to obey the whip", are Jussi's last words, and "My eyes will never be bright anymore", says his fiancée Liisa at his lifeless body.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Saikaku ichidai onna / The Life of Oharu

O’Haru – naisen tie / O’Haru – en kvinnas väg. JP 1952. PC: Shin Toho. EX: Isamu Yoshii. P: Hideo Koi. D: Kenji Mizoguchi. SC: Yoshikata Yoda, Yoshii Isamu – based on the novel Koshoku ichidai onna written in the 17th century by Saikaku Ihara (in Finnish: Kirsikkatyttö, Otava 1978, translator Martti Turunen). DP: Yoshimi Hirano. AD: Hiroshi Mizutani. M: Ichiro Saito. C: Kinuyo Tanaka (O’Haru), Toshiro Mifune (Katsunosuke), Masao Shimizu (Kikuoji), Ichiro Sugai (Shinzaemon), Tsukio Matsuura (Tomo), Kiyoko Tsuji (mistress of the inn), Toshiaki Konoe (Harutaka Matsudaira), Hisako Yamane (Matsudaira's wife), Yuriko Hamada (Otsubone Yoshioka), Kyoko Kusajima (lady-in-waiting Sodegaki), Noriko Sengoku (lady-in-waiting Sakurai), Haruyo Ichikawa (lady-in-waiting Iwabashi), Eitaro Shindo (Kabee Sasaya), Sadako Sawamura (Owasa), Hiroshi Oizumi (Bunkichi), Masao Mishima (Taisaburo Hishiya), Eijiro Yanagi (rich man from the country / counterfeiter), Jukichi Uno (Yakichi Ogiya). Loc: Shin Toho outdoor studio in Hirakata near Kyoto. Helsinki premiere: 22.11.1963 Orion, dist: Aito Mäkinen, Finnish / Swedish titles by Aito Mäkinen / Jerker Eriksson – tv: 28.11.1968 MTV1, 29.10.1989 YLE TV2 – VET 67280 – K16 – sources say 148 min – in Finland 3760 m / 136 min. A vintage KAVA print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (I Love You, I Film You), 29 May 2012.

Revisited a magnum opus which was a turning-point in Kenji Mizoguchi's career into a final and consistent greatness and maturity in every way.

The extremely versatile leading role in Saikaku ichidai onna was equally important for Mizoguchi's favourite actor, Kinuyo Tanaka. She gets to play a young woman in love, a desperate woman about to commit suicide after her beloved (the love of her life) has been executed, the long-sought ideal woman who meets the absurdly precise specifications of the Matsudaira clan, a concubine in the court of the Matsudaira palace, a young mother whose baby is taken from her and who is banished from the palace, a luxury courtesan in an expensive house of pleasure, an employee at the house of a well-to-do merchant, a wife of a poor merchant of fans, a nun apprentice, a sick and hungry beggar playing desperate songs on the shamisen, a common streetwalker humiliated by a leader of pilgrims who pays her to show her to them as a study object of what happens when a person sinks to the gutter, and finally, a mendicant nun. O'Haru is not idealized, but there is no more powerful story of a via dolorosa in the history of the cinema.

The feeling for the historical epoch is passionate both in the grand vision and the lovingly created detail.

Mizoguchi's visual style reaches its full maturity here: the long shots, the long takes, the high angles, even extreme high angles, and the majestic crane movements from the panoramic views to the telling detail and vice versa.

The unique quality of Mizoguchi is his ability to convey personal, intimate, and lyrical feelings even in majestic, epic long shots and long takes. His kind of objectivity is not distant in a cool and indifferent way. There is a lot of comedy and satire in the movie. Otherwise the seriousness of the story of injustice and lovelessness would be unbearable.

The print has been struck from a duped source with an uneven definition of light. There is enough good footage to get an idea of what the Mizoguchi look is like, but unfortunately especially in the beginning the definition of light is low. The 136 min print is shorter than the official complete 148 min version but studying an extensive synopsis afterwards I didn't notice any story element to be missing.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Books on my nightstand

Hannu Olkinuora, Marit Ingves, Lia Markelin: Journalismin kohtalo mediamurroksessa. Överlevnadsstrategier för minoritetsmedier, med fokus på public service [The Fate of Journalism in the Time of Change in the Media. Survival Strategies for Minority Media, with a Focus on Public Service]. Helsinki: Magma-studie 2, 2012. This report was published today in a distinguished event with Hannu Olkinuora and Lia Markelin as presenters and Lauri Kivinen (CEO of the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation) and Mikael Pentikäinen (editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat) as invited commentators. The fate of the traditional quality press is not as serious as we have thought, it is much more serious. - My comment: this global dilemma of the quality media must be solved, because quality press is necessary for society. Internet cannot replace the press, and new financial solutions are needed. Tabloidization is a desperate reaction which only prolongs the agony while the core audience (those for whom serious media means most) is lost. The relevance of the most serious core of the audience is more important than their number would imply because they are the most important opinion-leaders who influence others also about decisions about which media is worth following. Losing their respect and trust can be fatal.

Anton Tshehov / Anton Chekhov: Kirjeitä 1: vuosilta 1877-1890. Oppivuodet, läpimurto, Sahalin [Letters 1: from 1877-1890. Apprenticeship, Breakthrough, Sakhalin]. Introduced, edited and translated by Martti Anhava. Helsinki: Otava, 1982. I cannot imagine a better introduction to Chekhov than this. The letter of Dmitri Grigorovich to Chekhov on 24 March 1886 "struck like a lightning" according to Chekhov's confession, and having received it he focused on more substantial work. The family letters are full of affection and inside jokes. The letters from the journey to the island of Sakhalin open up new perspectives. There are very nice appendices, including a memorable and affectionate by Konstantin Korovin, "An Encounter with A. P. Chekhov", a memoir from the year 1884.

Anton Tshehov / Anton Chekhov: Suuret kertomukset I [The Great Tales I]. Translated by Ulla-Liisa Heino. Helsinki: Otava, 1961. A well edited volume which includes "The Steppe", the great turning-point in Chekhov's career, the story of the journey of a boy, a passage from the small world of the home to the big world. "Happiness" can be read as a kind of an introduction to it. And "The Fires" is in a certain (secondary) sense a continuation to some of its moods. "A Dreary Story" is a story of the self-reflection of an old professor; I think it may have inspired Ingmar Bergman in Wild Strawberries. "The Duel" at 150 pages is the longest tale in the collection; Chekhov's contribution to classic themes in Russian literature with Laevsky the passive Russian dreamer and von Koren the active Western-style man whose attitudes we would now call Fascist. "An Artist's Story (The House with the Mezzanine)" tells about the encounter of a landscape painter with two sisters, one of them socially active, the other art-oriented. These are all truly great tales, often with a certain perspective, but we cannot be sure that we are invited to identify with that perspective ("A Dreary Story"), and in "The Duel" there are several incompatible perspectives. A distinction is Chekhov's ability to identify both to the viewpoint of a child ("The Steppe") and an old man about to die ("A Dreary Story"). Reading Chekhov's tales this time I'm struck by the recurrent figure of the shallow woman ("A Dreary Story", "The Duel"). When there is an intelligent and active woman ("An Artist's Story") she is the most negative character. Chekhov always, since school days, defended Jews but in "The Steppe" the way the Jewish family is portrayed is not far from Gogol.

504. Счастье / Onni, 1887 [Happiness]
539. Степь. (История одной поездки) / Aro, 1888 [The Steppe. The Story of a Trip]
540. Огни / Tulet, 1888 [Fires]
549. Скучная история (Из записок старого человека) / Ikävä tarina, 1889 [A Dreary Story (From the Notes of an Old Man]
553. Дуэль / Kaksintaistelu, 1891 [The Duel]
586. Дом с мезонином (Рассказ художника)  / Taiteilijan tarina, 1896 [The House with a Mezzanine (An Artist's Story)]

Sunday, May 27, 2012

International cinematheque programmes

La Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg. Musée du cinéma. Mai 2012. Yasmine's. City Magazine Luxembourg. Mee 2012. Fritz Lang: Master of Noir I (guest: Noël Simsolo). Ménage à trois. My Own Private Cinema: Rétrospective Gus Van Sant 2. Afghanistan: un autre regard. Ciné-Musiques: The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace (Karl Jenkins). Ciné-Concert: Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt (Pascal Schumacher). Tous les genres du cinéma: leçon 8: Le film fantastique. Filmreakter's Cinélunatique: Exploitation Cinema at the Cinematheque. Kino mat Häerz... a mat Kaffi! Comedy Classics. Arthouse Classics. Sense and Sensibility. Ciné XXL. Université Populaire du Cinéma. Cinema Paradiso (for kids).

Filmoteca Española (Madrid): Mayo 2012. Cine Doré, Calle Santa Isabel, 3. Claire Denis. Claves para una historia del cine II. Raúl Ruiz VI. Documenta Madrid 2012: Carlos Velo y Richard Dindo. XI ImagineIndia. La mirada japonesa - El camino del artista II. Rencontres Internationales Paris / Berlin / Madrid. Cine para todos.

BFI Southbank (London): June 2012. BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, South Bank, London. Twin retrospective of Shirley MacLaine - and Warren Beatty. Anime. Two Masters of Japanese Cinema: Kozaburo Yoshimura & Kaneto Shindo I. Greek Tragedy on TV. The Genius of Hitchcock I with an outdoor gala screening of Blackmail (music by Neil Brand). Extended Run: Death Watch, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Filmmuseum (Vienna): Filmmuseum Mai / Juni 2012. Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Augustinerstrasse 1. Olivier Assayas: Das Gesamtwerk (in the presence of Olivier Assayas and Kent Jones). King Hu (with lectures by Olaf Möller, Christoph Huber). Die Provokation der Wirklichkeit: 50 Jahre Oberhausener Manifest (introduced by Ralph Eue). Zyklische Programme: Was ist Film. Die Utopie Film.

Arsenal (Berlin): Juni 2012. Arsenal, Filmhaus, Potsdamer Strasse 2. Guest: Trinh T. Minh-ha. 18. Jewish Film Festival. IntroSpective: Guests: Uzi Parnes, Ela Troyano. Magical History Tour: City Symphonies. Living Archive. Arbeitswelten im Film. Das Gesicht als Ereignis. Re-Visionen von Rumänien. Kolloquium der Deutschen Kinemathek: Avantgarde im Archiv?! Guest: Daniel Eisenberg. Guest: Xiaolu Guo. Amos Vogel in memoriam. Heinz Emigholz: the Films on Architecture. Die Basis des Make-Up.

Cinemateket (Oslo). Programkatalog nr. 90 mai/juni 2012. The Norsk Filminstitutt (NFI) screenings take place at Cinemateket, Filmens Hus, Dronningens gate 16, in three cinemas: Tancred, Lillebil, and Barnas Filmrom. Marilyn Monroe. The Taviani Brothers. Norsk ohygge (Norwegian Horror). Hasseåtage = Hans Alfredson and Tage Danielsson. Inspirert av The Artist. Mat på film (Food in the Cinema). Skeiv weekend (Queer Weekend). Månedens film: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Månedens klassiker: Jag är nyfiken - blå; Jag är nyfiken - gul; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Silent film concert: Konstgjorda Svensson (music: Kjetil Schjander-Larsen). Filmsalongen med Per Haddal. The Dream That Kicks (experimental). Ny Musikk: The Great White Silence with live soundtrack av Simon Fisher Turner. Rock Noir. Barnas Cinematek (children). Cinemateket Ung (young viewers).

Harvard Film Archive: April, May, June 2012. Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy Street. Curated by Haden Guest and David Pendleton. Ed Pincus, Lost and Found (in person). Michael Glawogger's Globalization Trilogy (in person). The Animated Films of William Kentridge (in person). Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Cinema Novo and Beyond (in person). Jean Gentil by Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán (in person). Anthony McCall's Line Describing a Cone (intro by Ernie Gehr). ¡Que Viva Eisenstein! (intro by Vlada Petric). The School of Reis: The Films and Legacy of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. The Anarchic Imagination of Alex Cox (in person). Jack Clayton, Between Innocence and Experience. History Through the Wrong End of the Telescope: The Films of Aleksei Guerman. The Pleasures of Deception: The Films of Matías Piñeiro (in person).

Anthology Film Archives (New York): April, May, June 2012. 32 Second Avenue. Essential Cinema. Premieres: My Mars Bar Movie, Jean Gentil, The Observers. AFA Preservations: Taylor Mead, Danny Lyon. Retrospectives: Carmelo Bene, Robert Nelson, Jean-André Fieschi, Jean Epstein, Tony Buba, António Reis & Margarida Cordeiro. Series-Ongoing: Show & Tell; New York Women in Film & Television. Series: Spanish Cinema in the Early Post-Franco Era; Sometimes Cities: America Beyond NYC; From the Pen Of... Special Screenings: Gregory Markopoulos; Single Frame: The Slides of Hollis Frampton; Yugoslav Experimental Cinema; ICON EYE; Amy Greenfield; Peter Sempel; Films from New York's Vault; etc.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Rakkaudesta, unelmista ja kaloista / Laxfiske i Jemen. GB ©  2011 Yemen Distributions, Inc. / BBCFilms / BFI. EX: Jamie Laurenson and Paula Jalfon (BBCFilms); Zygi Kamasa (Lionsgate UK); Guy Avshalom (Lionsgate UK). P: Paul Webster. Co-P: Nicky Kentish-Barnes. D: Lasse Hallström. SC: Simon Beaufroy - based on the novel by Paul Torday (2006). DP: Terry Stacey. PD: Michael Carlin. AD: Steve Carter. Set dec: Rebecca Alleway. Cost: Julian Day. Make-up and hair designer: Naomi Donne. VFX: Lipsync Post. M: Dario Marianelli. S: Harry Barnes. ED: Lisa Gunning. Casting: Fiona Weir. C: Ewan McGregor (Dr. Alfred Jones, a scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture), Emily Blunt (Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the Sheikh's representative), Amr Waked (Sheikh Muhammed from Yemen), Kristin Scott Thomas (Patricia Maxwell, the Prime Minister's spokesperson), Rachel Stirling (Mary Jones), Tom Mison (Robert Mayers). Loc: London; the Highlands of Scotland; Morocco around Ouarzazate (standing in for the wadis of Yemen). Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Suvi Jyrkilä / Carina Laurila-Olin. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 26 May 2012 (weekend of Finnish premiere).  

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Arricam LT, Hawk V-Lite and V-Plus Lenses, Arricam ST, Hawk V-Lite and V-Plus Lenses. - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm, D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

From the official handbook of production information: "A romantic, contemporary fable, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the tale of government employee Dr. Alfred, or Fred, Jones (Ewan McGregor), a rather introverted scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture. Trudging along in his day job, with his marriage stagnating, his world is suddenly thrown into turmoil when he’s drawn into a scheme hatched by a fly fishing-obsessed Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked) who dreams of achieving the seemingly impossible — introducing salmon to the wadis of the Yemen. When the British government, desperate for a good news story in the area, gets wind of the Sheikh’s plan, the Prime Minister's fearsome spokesperson, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), seizes on the idea — it’s a good news story that will deflect attention away from the government’s latest blunder. She appoints Fred to oversee the project, which pleases him not at all. For a logical, rather stuffy scientist like Fred, the idea of introducing salmon to the Yemen is one step short of madness. Fred, however, is eventually won over by the charismatic Sheikh and his mystical worldview, while he also begins to fall for the Sheikh’s representative, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a gentle and engaging English beauty who joins on him his journey into the Yemen. When Fred is drawn into helping Harriet try and fix the troubles in her life, he learns to cast off his deep-set cynicism. With Emily’s encouragement and support, Fred then rises to the Sheikh's eccentric challenge, and embarks upon a journey of self-discovery and late-blooming love."

A feelgood mainstream entertainment movie.

I like the personal projects of the director Lasse Hallström who has always divided his work with commercial assignments and more deeply felt productions. In Sweden he was both the official director of the ABBA videos which were professionally made but without a feeling of personal involvement; he also directed two excellent Astrid Lindgren movies (Alla vi barn i Bullerbyn, Mer om oss barn i Bullerbyn) which really caught the spirit of childhood, and this spirit he also managed to keep alive in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen feels more producer-driven, and the result is a conventional well-made movie. I haven't read the novel which is experimentally built on letters, e-mails, and memos; the screenplay is streamlined and straightforward. The satire on politics and media is very mild in this movie, far from Wag the Dog and Charlie Wilson's War territory. Even the cinematography and the music are conventional.

I would like to like this movie more because I like the salmon metaphor (going upstream). I also like the spiritual message of faith against all odds. The sheikh's scheme seems ridiculous, but it is really about making an arid landscape fertile for agriculture. It is a salmon like project. But to stretch the salmon metaphor, this is not a salmon movie at all precisely because this is a mainstream movie.

Emily Blunt is attractive as the sensitive female lead, touching in both tender and tragic moments. I admire Kristin Scott Thomas who would have deserved a better written part with more daring dialogue.

Even Ewan McGregor gets to play a more conventional character than was apparently written in the original book, but he faces the challenge very well in an effective laid-back manner. Ewan McGregor has been excellent in comedy roles before. My favourite among them is Brassed Off, and he was funny in Down with Love. McGregor is maturing very well, and his comedy sense and timing are subtle in this movie. His interplay with Emily Blunt is emotionally convincing. He contributes to the funny mood entirely without mugging.

Shot on 35 mm photochemical film in gorgeous locations in the Scottish Highlands and in the deserts of Morocco, something has happened to the movie in the digital intermediate, perhaps because of visual effects involving the artificial river and the salmon. While the close-ups, medium shots and interiors look fine, there is such a low definition in the long shots of landscapes that they fail to convey the grandeur of the nature, which should be the sublime contrast to the stuffy bureaus of London.

Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows / Dark Shadows. US © 2012 Warner Bros. P: Christi Dembrowski, Johnny Depp, David Kennedy, Graham King, Richard D. Zanuck. D: Tim Burton. SC: Seth Grahame-Smith - story: John August, Seth Grahame-Smith - based on the television series (1966-1971 and 1991) created by Dan Curtis. DP: Bruno Delbonnel. PD: Rick Heinrichs. AD: Chris Lowe (sup.), Neal Callow, Dean Clegg, Christian Huband, Jason Knox-Johnston, Phil Sims. Set dec: John Bush. Cost: Colleen Atwood. Makeup and prosthetics dept.: large. Art dept: large. SFX dept: big. VFX dept: huge (BUF, Method Studios, MPC Moving Picture Company, Senate Visual Effects). 3D Cyber & LIDAR scanning and digital modelling: 4DMax. M: Danny Elfman. S: Julian Slater. ED: Chris Lebenzon. Casting: Susie Figgis. C: Johnny Depp (Barnabas Collins), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Julia Hoffman), Eva Green (Angelique Bouchard), Jackie Earle Haley (Willie Loomis), Johnny Lee Miller (Roger Collins), Bella Heathcote (Victoria Winters / Josette DuPres), Chloë Grace Moretz (Carolyn Stoddard), Gulliver McGrath (David Collins), Ray Shirley (Mrs. Johnson), Christopher Lee (Captain Clarney), Alice Cooper (Alice Cooper). Dedicated to Dan Curtis. Loc: England, Scotland, Canada. Studio: Pinewood. Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Eija Virtanen / Marjut Hökfelt. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 2, Helsinki, 26 May 2012.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Arricam LT, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses - Laboratory: Technicolor - Film length: 3089 m - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 500T 5219) - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

Based on the daytime comedy horror tv series created by Dan Curtis this is the first vampire movie by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Produced during the current new wave of hugely popular vampire fiction, Dark Shadows has nothing to do with other contemporary teenage vampire movies and tv series (Twilight, Vampire Diaries, True Blood).

Tim Burton belongs to my favourite contemporary film directors. Dark Shadows is a positive surprise; I prefer it to Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd. Tim Burton cannot help being an image-driven film-maker, and Dark Shadows is full of astounding visions and inventions. It is very difficult to create such a mix of horror, comedy, and parody, but Burton succeeds in his pastiche of the year 1972 when the action takes place with a prologue set in 1760. Johnny Depp creates a novel gothic creature and an original vampire character. Helena Bonham Carter plays the in-house psychiatrist and doctor who tries in vain to solve dark family secrets via psychoanalysis and to save the vampire via blood transfusions. Michelle Pfeiffer, the definitive Catwoman of the cinema, returns to a Tim Burton movie in a juicy role as the family matriarch. The talented Eva Green, who has not been getting the roles she deserves, is a strong newcomer to the world of Tim Burton as the evil witch Angelique Bouchard who put the curse on Barnabus and the entire Collins family. Delicious moments include Johnny Depp as the vampire meeting Christopher Lee as a seasoned captain in the local pub. Alice Cooper gets to perform "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "Ballad Of Dwight Fry" at the happening at the Collins castle.

Tim Burton's hallmark is making evil look awesome and ridiculous at the same time. The monsters are also victims of their own evil.

Victoria Winters, the new governess, has been abandoned by her family and sent to an old-fashioned madhouse. Her story is the most touching in the movie. There is so much pomposity in the battle between Barnabus and Bouchard that it is impossible to get deeply emotionally involved in it.

Like Bela Lugosi, Johnny Depp has developed a personal pathos in his way of speaking in the role of an ancient man who emerges into the present and experiences a constant shock of the new. "I have an unfortunate excess of time". "You cannot love, Angelique: that is your curse".

The selection of vintage tracks on the soundtrack is good, from "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath to "Top Of The World" by The Carpenters.

The movie has been shot on photochemical 35 mm film, but perhaps because of the amount of visual effects and special effects involved the image has been given a slightly soft digital video look in post-production.

Worth reading: the remarks of Tim Lucas, 23 May 2012 (Pause, Rewind, Obsess). 

We Bought a Zoo

Koti eläintarhassa / We Bought a Zoo [Swedish title]. US © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox / Dune Entertainment. P: Julie Yorn. D: Cameron Crowe. SC: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe - based on the memoir (2008) by Benjamin Mee, translated into Finnish by Laura Beck / Otava (2009). DP: Rodrigo Prieto. PD: Clay A. Griffith (as Clay Griffith). AD: Peter Borck. Set dec. Wayne Shepherd. Cost: Deborah Lynn Scott (as Deborah L. Scott). M: Jon Thor Birgisson (as Jónsi). ED: Mark Livolsi. Casting: Gail Levin. C (copied from English Wikipedia): Matt Damon (Benjamin Mee, the father of Dylan and Rosie Mee and the owner of the zoo, who is trying to restart his life after his wife passes away), Scarlett Johansson (28-year old Kelly Foster, the lead zookeeper and long-time employee at Rosemoor Animal Park), Thomas Haden Church (Duncan Mee, the accountant older brother of Benjamin Mee), Colin Ford (Dylan Mee, the 14-year old son of Benjamin Mee, who is initially drawn to Lily and eventually develops feelings for her), Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Rosie Mee, the 7-year old daughter of Benjamin Mee, who is very curious about all of the animals in the zoo and thinks living at a zoo is a grand adventure), Angus MacFadyen (Peter MacCready, the carpenter of the zoo who has made many innovative enclosures for the zoo, and claims that his ideas have been "stolen" by Walter Ferris. Because of this, he has a huge and violent grudge against Walter), Elle Fanning (Lily Miska, the 13-year old home-schooled cousin of Kelly and worker at the zoo's restaurant who lives within the zoo. Although she is too young to legally work, she is paid under the table out of her cousin's salary. She likes Dylan, who is unaware, at first, but later gives up after Dylan doesn't listen to her and unintentionally hurts her feelings. After Dylan apologizes to her and tells her of his feelings for her, she forgives him and they resume their friendship), Patrick Fugit (Robin Jones), John Michael Higgins (Walter Ferris, a strict zoo inspector who earns the dislike of many people), Carla Gallo (Rhonda Blair, the secretary of the zoo), J.B. Smoove (Mr. Stevens, the Mee family's real estate agent), Stephanie Szostak (Katherine Mee, the deceased wife of Benjamin Mee), Desi Lydic (Shea Seger, a woman with an obvious crush on Benjamin who always brings him lasagna), Peter Riegert (Delbert McGinty, Benjamin's boss before he 'starts over'), Michael Panes (the principal), Kym Whitley (Home Depot clerk). Loc: California. 124 min. Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Minna Franssila / Carina Laurila-Olin. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 14, Helsinki, 26 May 2012.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Laboratory: DeLuxe, Hollywood (CA), USA (prints), EFILM Digital Laboratories, Hollywood (CA), USA (digital intermediate) - Film length: 3.384 m - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (spherical) (Fuji Eterna-CP 3523XD), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

Feelgood family entertainment.

Story: after the death of the family's mother the father, the son, and the daughter move into a dilapidated zoo. Based on a true story, the location has been moved from England to California, and other changes have been made, as well.

I have liked Cameron Crowe since his debut as a screenwriter (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and I am fond of his personal projects as a director (Almost Famous).

There are personally felt aspects in We Bought a Zoo, as well. The 14-year-old Dylan (Colin Ford) has artistic talent which he focuses on images of death and destruction. In their original hometown everything reminds Benjamin (Matt Damon) of his wife. There is a feeling of authenticity in the clumsiness of Dylan with Lily (Elle Fanning). There is a sense of honesty in the confrontation between father and son.

Catchphrases: "Sometimes you only need 20 seconds of insane courage", learned by Benjamin from his big brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church). "Why not?" learned by Benjamin from his wife.

Scarlett Johansson is utterly lovely as Kelly, the zookeeper and the new love interest, but her role may be slightly underwritten.The big scene between Benjamin and Kelly is where Benjamin confesses how everything reminds him of his wife, even the expressions on his son's face. "I can not let go". Kelly: "I can" (she has had her share of disappointments, as well).

Cameron Crowe belongs to the sympathetic group of filmmakers (Jean Renoir, Leo McCarey, Satyajit Ray, Erkki Karu...) who are also songwriters. The composer of the original music is Jónsi, and there are also lovely vintage tracks on the soundtrack, such as Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl".

It is interesting to compare We Bought a Zoo with The Descendants, another story of a newly single father with two children.

We Bought a Zoo would be an even better movie if one would cut the schmalz and the flashbacks and shorten the footage on the dying Bengal tiger. It seems to be a rule in the movies that we never see the messy side of taking care of animals.

Shot on 35 mm photochemical film, the movie has gone through the digital intermediate process, and looks fine except the nature footage (but the zoo animals look good).

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Devil Is a Woman

Paholainen on nainen / Djävulen är en kvinna. US © 1935 Paramount Productions. Presented by Adolph Zukor. EX: Emanuel Cohen. P+D: Josef von Sternberg. Adaptation: John Dos Passos - continuity: Sam Winston (as S.K. Winston) – based on the novel (1898) and the play (1910) La Femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs. DP: Josef von Sternberg, [Lucien Ballard, n.c.]. AD: Hans Dreier, Josef von Sternberg. Cost: Travis Banton. M arranger: Max Rabinowitz. M director: Andrea Setaro. Themes based on »Capriccio espagnol, op. 34» ("Каприччио на испанские темы") (1887) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Spanish folk music. Song: »Three Sweethearts Have I» (comp. Ralph Rainger, lyrics Leo Robin), perf. Marlene Dietrich. "Then It Isn't Love" (Rainger, Robin). S: Harry D. Mills. ED: Sam Winston. C: Marlene Dietrich (Concha Perez), Lionel Atwill (Capt. Don Pasqual Costelar), Cesar Romero (Antonio Galvan), Edward Everett Horton (Gov. Don Paquito), Alison Skipworth (Señora Perez). Helsinki premiere: 18.8.1935 Gloria - tv: 6.6.1977 MTV1 - classification: 19051 – K16. Print viewed 80 min. A Svenska Filminstitutet print of the UCLA restoration viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (I Love You, I Film You), 25 May 2012.

Previous remarks: The last film among the seven that Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich made together, the favourite of them both. The story of degradation through love has affinities with The Blue Angel, but there is no social dimension in The Devil Is a Woman. Instead there is a vision of a fantasy Spain, which, however, infuriated the diplomats of real Spain so much that they threatened to boycott the entire production of Paramount. It was not proper to show the career of a distinguished officer destroyed by a woman of easy virtue. The movie is a psychological, almost mythic portrait of a relationship where love leads to humiliation. The cyclical structure of the movie is based on the arousal and denial of passion. Alexander Walker has compared the way Concha humiliates Don Pasqual to the way the buttons, stripes and medals of an officer who has committed treason are ripped down on the parade ground. Visually, The Devil Is a Woman is a culmination of Sternberg's work. The movie, whose way of storytelling and thinking defied the norms of Hollywood, was a turning-point in Sternberg's life. His collaboration with Marlene Dietrich ended, his contract with Paramount was not renewed, and a curse fell on his career.

New remarks: The Devil Is a Woman is a comedy (or maybe even a farce) where The Blue Angel was a tragedy. The comedy aspect is made clear at once with the announcements of Don Paquito (Edward Everett Horton), who opens the carneval during which the story takes place. Because of this farcical atmosphere the protest of the Spanish government of the time is the biggest joke concerning the movie. But the farcical atmosphere also takes the bite away from the story of humiliation through love. The men are puppets in Concha's hands, but she is a comic creature, herself. In The Blue Angel there was one big clown; in The Devil Is a Woman all are clowns.

Of the two rivals, Don Pasqual is a degraded officer, Antonio a revolutionary Republican wanted by the police.

The Devil Is a Woman is image-driven. The Devil Is a Woman and The Saga of Anatahan are the two movies where Sternberg, himself, was also the director of photography. Visually, the movie is marvellous, a feast for the eyes, full of imagination and explorations of light and shadow, not only in the Spanish carnival, but also in the snowbound train caught in an avalanche, in the duel sequence in pouring rain, and in the hospital where the seriously injured Don Pasqual lies having refused to even point at Antonio.

The restoration is another heroic feat from UCLA, fighting against the odds after Paramount burned their nitrate originals. Brilliant work which looks much better than there is any right to expect from the sources that have been available.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Orphée / Orpheus

Orfeus / Orfeus. FR 1950. PC: Les Films du Palais-Royal. Original distributor: DisCina. EX: André Paulvé. D+SC: Jean Cocteau. DP: Nicolas Hayer. AD: Jean d’Eaubonne. Cost: Marcel Escoffier. M: Georges Auric. Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice (1762), "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" with the flute solo. S: Calvet. ED: Jacqueline Sadoul. Narrator: Jean Cocteau. C: Jean Marais (Orphée), Maria Casarès (La Princesse / La Mort), Marie Déa (Eurydice), François Périer (Heurtebise), Henri Crémieux (l'éditeur), Roger Blin (the poet), Juliette Gréco (Anglaonice), Edouard Dermithe (Cégeste), Pierre Bertin (le commissaire), Jacques Varennes (judge), Jean-Pierre Melville (hotel manager), Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (young man at Café des Poètes), Jean-Pierre Mocky (le chef de bande). Dedicated to Christian Bérard. Helsinki premiere: 16.3.1951 Gloria – VET 33349 – K16 – 95 min. A 2K DCP from Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus / Europe's Finest with Finnish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (I Love You, I Film You), 25 May 2012.

Revisited the beginning of Jean Cocteau's masterpiece which never loses its enchantment. The opening credit sequence hand-drawn by Cocteau himself, based on the theme of reflection. The brilliant, affectionate parody of the  post-WWII Existentialist café scene, Café des Poètes standing in for Café de Flore. The black Rolls-Royce taking us to the beyond, the landscape turning to a negative like in Nosferatu. The weird messages Orpheus starts to hear from the car radio: "La silence va plus vite à reculons. Trois fois." "Les miroirs feraient bien de réfléchir davantage. Une fois." "L'oiseau chante avec ses doigts". Walking through the mirror, waking up at the beach, Jean-Pierre Melville as the hotel manager, Juliette Gréco as Eurydice's best friend ("her female league has power"). The scandal press ready to report about the night escapade of Orpheus with the princess (who is Death). Orpheus stepping on the baby clothes that Eurydice has been knitting. "You cannot live in a talking car", reproaches Eurydice. "The least of these radio messages is better than my poetry" (the messages have by now been reduced to series of numbers). "We have been dead already without noticing."

I came to check the quality of the 2K DCP, and it was a pleasure to observe the fine quality of the digital transfer in the close-ups, the medium-shots, the interiors, and the café scenes (with stone, glass, and metal). First with the nature scenes there are problems, especially at night. But for the young viewer who first sees Orpheus like this it's not a bad way at all.

A Kind of Loving

Sellaista rakkautta / Att älska så. GB © 1962 Anglo-Amalgamated. PC also: Vic Films, Waterhall. P: Joseph Janni. D: John Schlesinger. SC: Willis Hall, Keith Waterhouse – based on the novel by Stan Barstow (1960). DP: Denys Coop. AD: Ray Simm. Cost: Laura Nightingale. Makeup: Robert Lawrence. M: Ron Gainer. ED: Roger Cherrill. S: Don Sharpe. Loc: Preston, Blackburn, Bolton, Salford, Manchester, Radcliffe and St Anne's-on-sea in the north-west of England. C: Alan Bates (Vic), June Ritchie (Ingrid), Thore Hird (Mrs. Rothwell), Bert Palmer (Mr. Brown), Gwen Nelson (Mrs. Brown), Malcom Patton (Jim Brown), Pat Keen (Christine), David Mahlowe (David), Jack Smethurst (Conwoy), James Bolam (Jeff), Michael Deacon (Les), John Ronane, David Cook (draughtsmen), Norman Heyes (Laisterdyke), Leonard Rossiter (Whymper), Fred Ferris (Althorpe), Patsy Rowlands (Dorothy), Annette Robertson (Pheobe), Ruth Porcher (Mrs. Parker), Harry Markham (railroad worker), Peter Madden (registrar), Katherine Staff (Mrs. Oliphant), Edna Ridgway (pub pianist), Graham Rigby (pub politician), Bud Ralston (pub comic), Bryan Mosley, Joe Gladwin (bus drivers), Jerry Desmonde (tv compère), Reginald Green (tv contestant), Douglas Livingstone (window cleaner). Helsinki premiere: 11.1.1963, distributor: Parvisfilmi Oy – VET 63745 – K16 – 3135 m / 112 min. A vintage print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (quite selective) by Liisa Ahti viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 24 May 2012.

Revisited after 41 years John Schlesinger's first feature film. It is much better than I remembered and expected. It is the oldest story in the world: girl gets pregnant, boy does the right thing and they marry although they may be too young to decide. The boy and the mother-in-law cannot stand each other, but there is a new start when the young couple makes an attempt to live on their own.

The performances by Alan Bates and June Ritchie are fine and sensitive, and the supporting cast is excellent. The film is full of life, and there is a sense of constant excitement in the exploration of everyday life in the spirit of the angry young men, although Vic is not very angry at all. Memorable sequences include: the sister's happy church wedding which opens the picture, the encounter at the crowded bus, the first date at the cinema, the observations of the Manchester factory where Vic and Ingrid work (as a draughtsman and as a typist), and scenes at the cantina, the football match, the pharmacy where Vic is too shy to buy preservatives, the dancing hall, the formal magistrate wedding of Vic and Ingrid, the brass band concert, the hospital, Vic's drunken spree at the pubs, the train station. There is a documentary pleasure and passion of observing contemporary life and society in the movie. The protagonists Vic and Ingrid emerge from their richly detailed social milieu as individuals who react to the varying circumstances in personal ways.

The cinematography by Denys Coop is wonderful and special. Based on realism, the visual texture is rich, the variety of field sizes is great from long shots to close-ups (the camerawork also expressive of the theme of the young individuals finding their place in the society), and the challenges of the ubiquitous smoke and fog are bravely met. This is an industrial world with steam trains, factories and smokestacks. From the fog and the grayness emerges a constantly interesting visual world.

The 50 year old print has been heavily used but it is quite intact and conveys impressively the original visual quality of the cinematography.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mayer Franck (1928-2012)

Mayer Franck, an Auschwitz survivor who lived in Finland since 1947, is dead. He was a living memory, a regular visitor at schools to discuss the Holocaust as a first person witness. He was our guest at Cinema Orion in our Forum Holocaust event in 2008 and commented on Wanda Jakubowska's The Last Stage (Ostatni etap, PL 1948), which he then saw for the first time.

This year, he appeared in Pia Andell's movie Matkustaja (Passenger, FI 2012) as himself, an old man who meets a 11 year old girl on a tram ride and tells her his life story: he was 11, too, when the persecution started.

After Mayer's visit at Cinema Orion I kept meeting him at the Academic Bookstore and at a bench by the entrance to the delicatessen department of the Stockmann department store. His very presence changed the circumstances wherever he was. He had seen hell and returned to bear witness. He put perspective on things. The memory of his dignity continues to do so.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vivre sa vie / My Life to Live

Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux / Elää elämäänsä / [Elä elämäsi - on screen title never used] / Leva sitt liv. FR © 1962 Les Films de la Pléïade. P: Pierre Braunberger. D+SC: Jean-Luc Godard. Sources: Où en est la prostitution? (1959) by judge Marcel Sacotte; Vingt ans après (1845) by Alexandre Dumas; and "The Oval Portrait" (1842) by Edgar Allan Poe en traduction de Charles Baudelaire (1857). DP: Raoul Coutard. Cost: Christiane Fageol. Make-up: Jackie Reynal. Hair: Simone Knapp. Title designer: Ursule Monlinaro. M: Michel Legrand. Songs: ”Ma môme (elle joue pas les starlettes)” (Jean Ferrat, Pierre Frachet) sung by Jean Ferret; ["Swing Swing Swing"] danced to by Anna Karina. S: Guy Villette. ED: Agnès Guillemot, Jean-Luc Godard. Film extract: La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, FR 1929, with Falconetti, Antonin Artaud). Loc: Paris, February-March 1962. C: Anna Karina (Nana Kleinfrankenheim), Sady Rebbot (Raoul), André S. Labarthe (Paul), Guylaine Schlumberger (Yvette), Brice Parain (le philosophe), Peter Kassovitz (the young man; his voice reading Poe /  Baudelaire: Godard), Dimitri Dineff (Dimitri), Monique Messine (Elizabeth), Gérard Hoffman (Le chef), Gilles Quéant (a customer), Paul Pavel (a photographer), Eric Schlumberger (Luigi), Marcel Charton (a policeman), Jean Ferrat (man at the jukebox playing his own song "Ma môme"). Helsinki premiere: 22.2.1963 Ritz, distributor: Suomi-Filmi – tv transmissions: 17.11.1972 ja 13.11.1991 YLE TV1 – VET 64257 – K16 – 85 min. A vintage KAVA print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Reino Marjonen / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (I Love You, I Film You) (50 Years Ago), 20 May 2012.

Revisited a cinéaste's love story in the form of a modern tragedy, also a critique of idealization and commodification. Vivre sa vie is a self-reflective metafilm with a sense of documentary immediacy.

Like A Breakfast at Tiffany's, it is a story of a young woman who abandons her husband and child and becomes a prostitute in a big city and gets fatally involved with organized crime. Visual points of reference include Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, Louise Brooks (whose haircut Nana adopts), and Elizabeth Taylor (whose picture is on the wall).

It is a story of a quest for freedom and self-awareness, and the "twelve tableaux" mentioned in the film's subtitle are stages of Nana's odyssey. Psychology is abandoned, an essayistic collage form is applied. The intellectual center of the movie is Nana's encounter with the philosopher Brice Parain at a café. He quotes Plato, Kant, and Leibniz. Truth can be approached only via trial and error. Real love requires maturity.

The experimental character of Godard's discourse remains exhilarating. The chapter titles of the "tableaux" are formulated in the style of 19th century novels (see beyond the jump break). There are passages in silent cinema style with subtitles. The first scene of gangland violence is edited via a jerky, fast jump cut montage. When Raoul becomes Nana's pimp there is a lecture on prostitution accompanied with a Bressonian montage of close-ups such as money changing hands.

Vivre sa vie is a story of the humiliation of a woman, but it is also a tale of self-destruction and a loss of perspective. The mystery remains why Nana accepts the company of such worthless men (Raoul and his kind are like rats) even after she has bought her financial independence (she was 2000 francs short, and already her first customer pays her 5000 francs). Nana's new boyfriend who reads Edgar Allan Poe may be more enthralled by her image than her real self. When Raoul finally sells Nana to another pimp, there is a gunfight over a presumably missing 1000 francs, and the cowardly gangsters think nothing of using Nana as a human shield.

Beautifully shot by Raoul Coutard, applying a novel kind of glamour photography apparently based on available light, the film is also a series of experimental studies in cinematography. The credit sequence is based on silhouette like medium shots of Anna Karina perhaps inspired by but not imitating Vertigo. The opening sequence, the lengthy final encounter of Nana with her husband Paul, shows their backs only.

Despite the collage character and the constant experimentation there is a rare fundamental sense of unity and urgency in Vivre sa vie.

The vintage print, not far removed from the original negative, does justice to the unique cinematography of Vivre sa vie. The 50-year-old print has been in heavy use but still conveys perfectly the vision of Godard and Coutard and the immortal radiation of Anna Karina.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Syvänsininen meri / The Deep Blue Sea (Swedish title). US/GB © 2011 The Deep Blue Sea Productions / UK Film Council. PC: A Camberwell / Fly Film Production. P: Sean O'Connor, Kate Ogborn. D+SC: Terence Davies - based on the play (1952) by Terence Rattigan - produced in Finland in 1954, 1955, and 1956 with the titles Syvä sininen meri and Rakastan sinua. DP: Florian Hoffmeister - digital grading by LipSync Post. PD: James Merifield. AD: David Hindle. Cost: Ruth Myers. Make-up and hair: Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou. VFX: LipSync Post. M: Samuel Barber: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 (1939), perf. Hilary Hahn & The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, cond. Hugh Wolff. S: Tim Barker. ED: David Charap. Casting: Jane Arnell. Loc: London. C: Rachel Weisz (Hester Collyer), Tom Hiddleston (Freddie Page), Simon Russell Beale (Sir William Collyer), Harry Hadden-Paton (Jackie Jackson), Ann Mitchell (Mrs. Elton), Sarah Kants (Liz Jackson), Barbara Jefford (Collyer's Mother), Jolyon Coy (Philip Welch), Karl Johnson (Mr. Miller), Mark Tandy (Edie and Ravenscroft Assistant), Stuart McLoughlin (man singing "Molly Malone" in the tube during the air raid). 98 min. Released by Atlantic Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Kajsa Wickström. 2K DCP viewed at Maxim 1, Helsinki, 19 May 2012 (Finnish premiere weekend).

Technical specs from the end credits: Filmed on 35 mm with Panavision Cameras and Lenses - Lighting Equipment supplied by Panalux - Editing Equipment Hyperactive Broadcast, Arcimboldo - Originated on Kodak Motion Picture Film - Film Processing by Deluxe Soho.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Panavision Panaflex Cameras, Panavision Primo Lenses - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 200T 5213, Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format). - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

From Artificial Eye's excellent pressbook: "Rattigan's work is a sustained assault on English middle-class values; fear of emotional commitment, terror in the face of passion, apprehension about sex. Few dramatists have written with more understanding about the human heart" (Michael Billington).

Official synopsis: "Hester Collyer (Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz) leads a privileged life in 1950s London as the beautiful wife of high court judge Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). To the shock of those around her, she walks out on her marriage to move in with young ex-RAF pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), with whom she has fallen passionately in love."

"Set in post-war Britain, this adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s classic play, The Deep Blue Sea is a study of forbidden love, suppressed desire, and the fear of loneliness – but is at heart a deeply moving love story. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, what - or whom - should Hester choose?"

"The story is told from Hester's POV, both in the present and in her memories of the past. The story takes place between 1949-1950, with one flashback to 1940."

Says producer Sean O’Connor: “This is an anti-heritage period film about what it was like to live in the 1950s. 1947 was the harshest winter on record, the country was bankrupt, we had famously won the war but lost the peace and we were living in a society of some privation and confusion and devastation – everything was dark and dirty and cold. We wanted to articulate how depressed and depressing it was in 1949 to honour the people who lived through that period.

“We were influenced by films of that period too,” concurs producer Kate Ogborn, ”but rather than Brief Encounter which has a comforting glow we looked at Alexander Mackendrick’s Mandy, which is set in a world of bomb sites, and Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sundays, about twenty-four hours in the life of a housewife played by Googie Withers, as well as the photographs by people like Bill Brandt who went into ordinary homes and documented people's lives."

“I don't think Terence does realism,” she continues. “His films are emotionally authentic to his memories, but they are more heightened than social realist films. The Deep Blue Sea looks ravishing, but it doesn't feel like we’ve ‘packaged’ the period. We're telling the story through the visuals and performances and it's very rich visually. Terence was also keen to give a softer look to the film so it's almost on the edge of focus and its look creates a tension with the raw emotional content.

“Because I grew up in the 1950s, I know what the texture felt like,” says Terence Davies. “We were bankrupt after the war and everything was drab. You very rarely saw primary colours, except in Hollywood musicals and the red lipstick that women wore. If a woman wore a dress with some colour on it, she looked like a Hollywood movie star. I recognised what Hester has given up - a quite luxurious life for one drab room in a lodging house with no toilet.

“I’m obsessed with Vermeer,” says Davies. “I love the glow you achieve when you switch on a red light in a drab room - you get a wonderful glow. In the scene we shot in Aldwych for the scene in the London underground station, we had little paraffin lamps causing little pools of like candles and very little else. It made it warm and cosy like a womb. And that warm glow makes what is an unbearable situation - waiting for the bombs to drop while you’re underground - bearable.

Terence Davies showed production designer James Merifield a photo - sepia, smudged and reminiscent of the director’s childhood - and it provided the inspiration for Merifield’s designs. “I thought there was the opportunity to do something quite stylised, quite heightened but still true to the story which is obviously very real in terms of the performances,” says the designer. “So I followed this photograph and created the whole look with sepia tones, and took all the colours and de-saturated them.

The result is an autumnal colour palette of brown, ochre, butterscotch and toffee in which splashes of colour may suddenly appear – the interior of a suitcase or a ruby red coat that Hester wears, for example. “If you put a primary colour against a saturated background, it becomes much warmer,” says Davies. “And because the main palette is saturated, you really notice the colour. I wanted to recreate something of the feeling of seeing that bright Technicolor at the movies - you’d think ‘Oh God, doesn’t that look wonderful!’ - and James and costume designer Ruth Myers knew exactly what I meant. They did a fabulous job.

I find it impossible to relate properly to the movies of Terence Davies because of his passivity. At the same time I admire and respect him for his uncompromising work in the same spirit and level of ambition as artists such as Vermeer and Samuel Barber, central to The Deep Blue Sea. There is a top cast and artistic crew in the movie. Rachel Weisz gives a great performance as Hester Collyer, a character which belongs to the tradition of Anna Karenina, but Sir Collyer is a more understanding character than Mr. Karenin. Common for both stories is that it is impossible for the lady to live a life without sexual passion. The counterpart of Vronsky is the retired RAF pilot Freddie Page, more superficial and unstable than the Russian officer. Prominently used is Samuel Barber's violin concerto, which was also played at the set when the movie was made. It speaks of a passion that is muted and repressed in post-war London. As the pressbook says, the violin concerto has a similar role in The Deep Blue Sea as had Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto in Brief Encounter. Another connection to the Noël Coward - David Lean story and Anna Karenina is the scene at the tube where Hester contemplates suicide by throwing herself in front of the train. But then she remembers how the tube was a shelter during the Battle of Britain. And Freddie, a war survivor, many of whose friends died in the war, cannot understand how someone can consider suicide.

The Deep Blue Sea is a story of three people with a fundamental problem of mutual understanding and communication. Hester Collyer is a normal woman with healthy passions. Sir Collyer is a nice man, but he is already long past the age of such passions. Freddie Page is a nice man too, but for him a sex relationship does not imply anything else, although he is not abusing Hester, either, on the contrary, he helps her wake up as a woman and he is the first to bring her sexual fulfillment.

The visual look in the movies of Terence Davies is always very carefully considered. In this 2K DCP presentation the soft focus, the darkness, and the muted colour palette did not usually look very good. Perhaps the definition was too low, perhaps the challenges for a digital post-production were overwhelming. The close-ups of Rachel Weisz were beautifully lit in a way that was effective even in this presentation.  

The full music credits are beyond the jump break:

The Hunger Games

Nälkäpeli / The Hunger Games (Swedish title). US © 2012 Lions Gate Films, Inc. PC: Lionsgate / Color Force. P: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik. D: Gary Ross. SC: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray - based on the novel (2008) by Suzanne Collins, translated into Finnish by Helene Bützow / WSOY (2010). DP: Tom Stern. PD: Philip Messina. AD: John Collins. Set dec: Larry Dias. Cost: Judianna Makovsky. Makeup: Nikoletta Skarlatos. Hair: Clare M. Corsick. SFX: Vince Acree. VFX: huge staffs at Pixomondo, Rhythm & Hues Studios, Hybride Technologies, Rising Sun Pictures, HALON, Proof, Inc., Digiscope, Clearcut FX. Muttation Character Design: Legacy Effects. PostVis Services: Proof, Inc. 3D Scanning: Gentle Giant Studios. Lidar Services: Lidar VFX. AN: Dino Athanasiou. M: James Newton-Howard. S: Lon Bender. ED: Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling, Christopher S. Capp. Casting: Debra Zane. Loc: North Carolina. C: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Donald Sutherland (President Coriolanus Snow), Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane), Toby Jones (Claudius Templesmith), Alexander Ludwig (Cato), Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove), Jacqueline Emerson (Foxface), Leven Rambin (Glimmer), Paula Malcomson (Mrs. Everdeen), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh), Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Jack Quaid (Marvel). 142 min. Released by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 11, Helsinki, 19 May 2012.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Arricam LT, Zeiss Ultra Prime, Angenieux Optimo and Canon Lenses, Arricam ST, Zeiss Ultra Prime, Angenieux Optimo and Canon Lenses, Arriflex 235, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. - Laboratory: Technicolor, Hollywood (CA), USA. - Film length: 3.900 m - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak) (Fuji Eterna Vivid 250D 8546, Eterna Vivid 500T 8547). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Fuji Eterna-CP 3514DI), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

A blockbuster movie based on a best-selling novel. There are antecedents in movies (and literature) such as La decima vittima, Blade Runner, and The Running Man, and in a broader sense, Death Watch. Death as entertainment in the reality television of the future is a subgenre of science fiction, and The Hunger Games is a strong new entry.

The Hunger Games also belongs to the dystopian Metropolis tradition of science fiction movies. There is a small ruling elite that lives in luxury, and a huge majority weakened by starvation. 

The elite disciplines the oppressed districts via a reality tv show where randomly chosen gladiators from the districts are required to fight each other in a forest arena, and the winner is allowed to survive.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) comes from the poorest district, a coal-mining one. Jennifer Lawrence, who made a strong impression in Winter's Bone, creates a new kind of action heroine with both feminine and masculine traits. She is a real hunter but equally important is her highly developed sense of compassion. She refuses to become brutalized.

The manipulation of the games is decadent. There is camera surveillance everywhere, the nature is artificial, there are genetically engineered creatures, at the control board trees and animals can be made to emerge, and the rules of the game may be changed anytime.

The Hunger Games is a black satire of reality television, of the culture of humiliation, rampant greed, and the decadence of the overpaid elite. It is a vision of an utterly cynical world, a world not worth living in.

The score by James Newton-Howard is unusual and interesting.

The visual design of the Capitol of the nation of the future called Panem (as in "panem et circenses") is original, a kind of futuristic Rococo.

Although the movie has been shot on 35 mm photochemical film, there is a heavy digital video look due to the digital post-production. There is an emphasis on close-ups, extreme close-ups, and handheld camerawork, and the nature is often in soft focus, all this maybe to conceal the low definition in the visual quality. Maybe for the same reason the cutting is often so rapid that there is no time to examine the landscape in a long shot. In the killing scenes the cutting is lightning fast, impressionistic and almost abstract, maybe to avoid gore and sustain the PG-13 rating (instead of R).

These restrictions the director Gary Ross turns into an artistic vision. Although The Hunger Games is a blockbuster movie it has also aspects of an arthouse approach.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Happy End (Björn Runge 2011)

Happy End. SE/DK © 2011 Zentropa International Sweden AB / Trollhättan Film AB. P: Martin Persson, Madeleine Ekman. D: Björn Runge. SC: Kim Fupz Aakeson. DP: Ulf Brantås - Fuji - Lab Nordisk. PD: Jette Lehmann. Makeup and hair: Camilla Karlsson. M: Ebba Forsberg. S: Hans Møller. ED: Lena Runge. C: Ann Petrén (Jonna), Malin Buska (Katrine), Gustaf Skarsgård (Peter), Johan Widerberg (Asger), Peter Andersson (Mårten), Mariah Kanninen (Hanne), David Dencik (Richard), Fredrik Gildea (Zidan), Hanna Malmberg (Nina), Anna Azcarate (psykolog), Mattias Nordkvist (psykolog), Said Legue (Jamal), Helena Gezelius (nurse), Yvette Ramirez (nurse). 97 min. Released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish subtitles by Anna-Leea Kaila. 35 mm print viewed at Kino Engel, Helsinki, 18 May 2012.

Technical specs from the end credits: Ljus: EF Rental, David Medina – Kamera: Kameraten & Red Rental - Ljudutrustning: Enric, Henric Andersson – Passutrustning: Dagsljus AB – Råfilm: Fuji - Postproduktion: Utskjutning & postfacilitet: Filmek Teknik AB, Klippegangen ApS – Lab: Nordisk Film Shortcut Stockholm.

Swedish Film Database synopsis: "Happy End is a fairytale for adults. It’s about five people with an important liaison to one another, who are all avoiding to be truthful. They are living in a world of shadows, lined by lies and falsities and are only waiting for the truth to appear so that they may be able to continue their lives in another direction. Happy End is the third part of Björn Runge’s trilogy of liberation, commenced with "Daybreak / Om jag vänder mig om" and “Mouth to Mouth / Mun mot mun” about people who are trying to liberate themselves from destructivity."

Having just seen La Délicatesse with Audrey Tautou working in a French office of a Swedish company I continued the Swedish evening with Björn Runge's Happy End.

It is a multi-character study from the shadow side of the welfare society - in this movie an ill-faring society. It's about broken lives, solitude, and false appearances. A bit like recent Finnish multi-character films (Vuosaari, Kohta 18), there shines a light in the end of the tunnel in the desperate-seeming stories.

The movie is visually interesting and original. Ulf Brantås has shot it on 35 mm photochemical film, and the digital intermediate has been performed successfully. The test is the juiciness and the refined softness in the nature footage. The light in this movie is beautiful, although the stories are ugly.

La Délicatesse / Delicacy

Nainen, jonka nimi on Nathalie / Nathalie [Swedish title]. FR © 2011 2.4.7. Films / StudioCanal / France 2 Cinéma. P: Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert. D: Stéphane Foenkinos, David Foenkinos. SC: David Foenkinos - based on his novel (2009). DP: Rémy Chevrin. PD: Maamar Ech-Cheikh. Set dec: Jimena Esteve. Makeup: Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen. Hair: Jane Milon. VFX: Cédric Fayolle. M: Émilie Simon. S: Vincent Vatoux. ED: Virginue Bruant. Loc: Paris. C: Audrey Tautou (Nathalie Kerr), François Damiens (Markus Lund), Joséphine de Meaux (Sophie, la meilleure amie de Nathalie), Bruno Todeschini (Charles Delamain, le Directeur Général), Mélanie Bernier (Chloé), Pio Marmaï (François, le mari de Nathalie), Ariane Ascaride (la mère de Nathalie), Christophe Malavoy (le père de Nathalie), Monique Chaumette (Madeleine, la grand-mère de Nathalie), Audrey Fleurot (la secrétaire de Delamain), Marc Citti (Pierre, le compagnon de Sophie), Vittoria Scognamiglio (la mère de François), Alexandre Pavloff (Benoît, un membre de l'équipe de Nathalie). In French with some Swedish. 108 min. Distributed by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila and ... Mas / Kajsa Wickström. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 18 May 2012.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Aaton Penelope, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. - Laboratory: Arane-Gulliver, Paris, France. - Film length: 2985 m. - Film negative format: 35 mm. - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm (spherical), D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

IMDb synopsis: A Frenchwoman mourning over the death of her husband three years ago is courted by a Swedish co-worker.

The directors Stéphane Foenkinos and David Foenkinos are yet another set of brothers to become film directors. There are many such brothers in the history of the cinema since Skladanowsky, Lumière, and Pathé... but no sisters!

A well made romantic comedy which has also a dimension of tragedy and aspects of satire. When it branches out to farce, fantasy, and whimsy, the touch is no longer assured.

An excellent Audrey Tautou vehicle. She gives a deeply moving performance as the mourning widow. The theme of the power of love ("thanks to her I can be the best version of myself" confesses Markus) is honestly felt. The character of Markus Lund is not a very apt portrait of a Swede, but it is an interesting invention that his clumsy sincerity appeals to Nathalie more than the slick routines of the French seducers. 

The movie has been shot on photochemical 35 mm film, and the étalonnage numérique has been successfully performed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Russian Libertine - Venäjän vapain mies

FI 2012. PC: Kinocompany Finland Oy. EX: Ari Matikainen. P: Liisa Juntunen. D: Ari Matikainen. SC: Ari Matikainen, Liisa Juntunen. DP: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen - Canon 5D - released in D-Cinema. M: Janne Haavisto. S: Mikko Mäkelä, Tuomas Klaavo / Helsingin Elokuvaäänitys. Mixing: Pekka Karjalainen / Meguru Film Sound. ED: Harri Ylönen. Loc. Moscow. A documentary film featuring: Viktor Jerofejev / Viktor Erofeyev, Andrei Jerofejev / Andrei Erofeyev, Vladimir Sorokin. 78 min. In Russian. The print viewed had Finnish credits, and subtitles in Finnish and Swedish. Liisa Viitanen (Finnish), Valeri Lieholm (English), Svetlana Melentijeva, Janne Kauppila. Released by Atlantic Film, 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 14, Helsinki, 17 May 2012 (week of premiere).

The official presentation: "Last winter Russians got tired with Putin's autocratic actions and went out into the streets to demand change. A hope for more righteous Russia has awakened, but the journey is a long one, and the weight of history exceptionally heavy. However, an idea for new Russia has been born, and continues to grow even at this very moment."

"One of the people fighting for change is a Russian author and dissident Victor Erofeyev. He loves his country and wants it to be more tolerant and open-minded. For decades now, he has been criticising the people in charge of Russia. He has also been in trouble with the state since the Soviet times, but does not let the fear hold him back. With his work he wants to encourage the Russians to take a critical look around and try to actively improve their own situation. Now this is finally happening."

"Russian Libertine brings the changes that shake the Russian society in front of our eyes and make them easier to understand. Victor's colourful story from a privileged child of a Soviet diplomat to a dissident who destroys his own family is full of surprises. It is a journey to today's Russia."

Viktor Erofeyev admits that Putin has managed to establish a social contract with a freedom in the private sphere, but Erofeyev remains a passionate critic of Russia's backwardness, corruption and inability to change. Erofeyev was born into a diplomat family and experienced France and Africa in his childhood and youth. The Soviet dream became a catastrophe, with lying, hypocrisy, cruelty and meanness rampant. The cult of Stalin was especially destructive. During the Soviet Union there were two cultures, the Soviet culture and the anti-Soviet culture, and then came a third one, Sots Art and post-modernism, and their parody and irony finally melted Soviet culture. "I killed my father", Viktor confesses: by launching the clandestine Metropol literary magazine he brought his father's illustrious diplomatic career into an abrupt finish. "My father lost everything". But even worse was the conspiracy of silence, "friends" turning into informers. Erofeyev discusses the tradition of intimidation and violence in Russian culture. But father forgave and was Viktor's decisive supporter to the end of his days. Viktor is highly reserved about Russia's possibility to change, yet "something must be done".

A documentary movie with gravity, a filmed pamphlet about questions crucial for Russia. There is a threatening sound in the music track. There is a basic record digital video look in the imagery. 8 mm home movies are the source for the inserts in the flashbacks about Viktor's childhood in the 1950s. There is a general sense of a spirit that is broken but not destroyed, never giving up the fight.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Books on my nightstand

Veikko Huovinen: Luonnonkierto. Novelleja, pakinoita, lyhyitä erikoisia 1950-2001. [Natural Circulation. Short stories, causeries, special short prose]. Helsinki: Siltala, 2012. Veikko Huovinen (1927-2009) was a treasure in Finnish literature, a master of the language, a humorist, a satirist, a pacifist, an ecologist. The great writer also enjoyed great popularity, and all his life he also wrote short prose for magazines. This collection includes only stories that have never been published in a book before. There are  also texts that are published here for the first time. Among other things, Veikko Huovinen is a master of laugh-out-loud short comic prose. When my father once returned from Tampere in 1969 he had read during the train journey the humoristic collection of short prose Mikäpä tässä [untranslatable, means something like As Good As It Gets] and told that he had attracted the attention of the whole train car by laughing out loud. Since then, the family, at least we the sons, became Huovinen aficionados. Later we lived in Tampere, and at school, the Tampereen lyseo, our legendary Finnish teacher Pentti Kalela (aka Pote) had a test for every class to read aloud Huovinen's short story "Uuteen tukikohtaan" ["A New Bastion"]. Whenever the reader broke into laughter he had to pass the book on to the next reader, and the test was if the class was able to read the story to the end in one round. It never was. There are such stories in this posthumous collection, too: "Varjopuolia ja epäkohtia Euroopassa" ["Drawbacks and Weaknesses in Europe"] and "Kovat kisat" ["Tough Games"], for instance. On the whole, Veikko Huovinen is untranslatable. His work is such word gravy that it is impossible to convey into another language. This goes also for his deeply felt stories about the nature, about the deep Kainuu forest. They also reveal something about the onomatopoietic and magical character of (the Finnish) language. There are still Huovinen stories that have so far only been published in magazines. To the end of this blog entry I copy a list of such stories by Huovinen that we have kept in our family collection and that have as far as I know not been published in books.

Anton Chekhov / Anton Tshehov: Valitut novellit II [Selected Short Stories II] [1887-1903]. Selected by V. Kiparsky, translated by Juhani Konkka. Porvoo - Helsinki: WSOY, 1959. The second part of this Anton Chekhov collection comes up to his very last stories (The Bishop and The Bride). During his first seven years as a writer Chekhov published over 500 stories; during the last 16 years, less than a hundred. There is increasing gravity in his work, and it is rewarding to read these stories in chronological order. In this selection the very greatest ones are not included, as they were published in another set of two volumes; the only longer tales included here are Ward No.6 and The Black Monk. A child's viewpoint is important in Chekhov's new stage as an artist (At Home, During the Holy Week). A critical view of society is evident (Sleepy, A Case from a Doctor's Practice). Oppression in Siberia, in military service and in exile, is among the themes (Gusev, The Deported). There are three tales with aspects of horror and affinities with Poe and Balzac (A Bet, Ward No. 6, and The Black Monk). There is a classic caricature (The Man in the Case). Recurrent themes are the woman whom love passes by (The Story of Miss NN, Ionich), the hypocritical woman (A Princess), and the superficial woman (Anna on the Neck, Darling). Might The Story of a Head Gardener, about a self-sacrificing doctor, be Chekhov's fairy-tale self-portrait? There is a powerful cinema-like dream quality in certain passages of Sleepy. Might The Bishop have been one of the sources of inspiration for Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light? I cannot relate to Chekhov's melancholia and resignation although I find these stories among the greatest ever made.

487. Дома / Kotona, 1887 [At Home]
512. Отец / Isä ja poika, 1887 [A Father]
493. На страстной неделе / Piinaviikolla, 1887 [During the Holy Week]
536. Рассказ госпожи NN / Neiti NN:n kertomus, 1887 [The Story of Miss NN]
533. Поцелуй / Suudelma, 1887 [A Kiss]
538. Спать хочется / Nukuttaa, 1888 [Sleepy]
546. Пари / Vedonlyönti, 1889 [A Bet]
547. Княгиня / Ruhtinatar, 1889 [A Princess]
551. Гусев / Sotamies Gusev, 1890 [Gusev]
550. Воры / Varkaita, 1890 [Thieves]
566. В ссылке / Karkotettuja, 1892 [The Deported]
562. После театра / Oopperasta palattua, 1892 [After the Opera]
569. Палата No 6 / Sali n:o 6, 1892 [Ward No. 6]
597. Случай из практики / Eräs tapaus lääkärin elämästä, 1898 [A Case from a Doctor's Practice]
594. Человек в футляре / Koteloitunut ihminen, 1898 [The Man in the Case]
579. Рассказ старшего садовника / Ylipuutarhurin kertomus, 1894 [The Story of a Head Gardener]
573. Черный монах / Musta munkki, 1894 [The Black Monk]
577. Учитель словесности / Kirjallisuuden lehtori, 1894 [A Teacher of Literature]
585. Анна на шее / Anna kaulassa, 1895 [Anna on the Neck]
593. Ионыч / Jonytsh, 1899 [Ionich]
599. Душечка / Kullanmuru, 1899 [Darling]
604. Архиерей / Piispa, 1902 [The Bishop]
605. Невеста / Morsian, 1903 [The Bride]

Jack Stevenson: Scandinavian Blue. The Erotic Cinema of Sweden and Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, 2010.

Jack Stevenson (ed.): Fleshpot. Cinema's Sexual Myth Makers & Taboo Breakers. Manchester: Critical Vision, 2000.

Despite their colourful titles Jack Stevenson's books are sober and balanced accounts of little-studied aspects of film history. Denmark was the first country to abolish censorship in 1969 - restrictions to pornography were removed from the criminal code, and film control was restricted to ratings to those under 16 year old only without an authority to ban. Soon the Western world followed the Danish example. During a strange transition period films such as I Am Curious - Yellow and The Language of Love become the most successful foreign films in the U.S.A.

VEIKKO HUOVINEN STORIES not published in books, in our family collection:
Piru ja Pitch-Pine (Uusi Kuvalehti 27/1953)
Vanhat herrat pulputtavat (Uusi Kuvalehti 21/1953)
Ihminen ja eläin (Uusi Kuvalehti 12-13/1959)
Sikojen fonetiikkaa (Kuva-Posti 51-52/1959)
Sinisiä ajatuksia: Elämää suomalaismetsissä (Apu 7/1974)
Sinisiä ajatuksia: Metsän peitossa (Apu, heinäkuu 1974)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

True Heart Susie

Menlösa Susie. US 1919. P: D.W. Griffith. Griffith's Short Story Series. Original distribution: Paramount-Artcraft Pictures. D: D.W. Griffith. SC: Marian [Marion?] Fremont. DP: G.W. Bitzer. ED: James Smith. C: Lillian Gish (Susie May Trueheart), Robert Harron (William Jenkins), Walter Higby [Wilbur Higby?] (William's father), Loyola O’Connor (Susie's aunt), George Fawcett (the stranger, "the four-flusher" [= poker cheater]), Clarine Seymour (Bettina), Kate Bruce (Bettina's aunt), Carol Dempster (Bettina's chum), Raymond Cannon (Sporty Malone). 6213 ft / 1894 m /18 fps/ 92 min. The Griffith Project 583. A DFI print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (I Love You, I Film You), 15 May 2012.

Revisited a marvellous D.W. Griffith movie which at first glance seems simple but is actually complex in a subtle and unobtrusive way. Top writers have commented on True Heart Susie, and in anticipation of seeing the movie I reread Tom Gunning's article in The Griffith Project Vol 10 (2006, edited by Paolo Cherchi Usai, perhaps the greatest monograph on any film director). Gunning reflects on the art of the close-up, how Lillian Gish as Susie creates "a soliloquy of facial expressions" in moments of profound disappointment. Gunning comments on the encounter of the two women, Susie and Bettina (Clarine Seymour) as being one "between a woman whose emotional repression has not yet hardened her heart and one whose thoughtless pursuit of immediate gratification still does not deserve the scorn of a joyless community". "Susie undergoes a recognition that Bettina possesses something Susie lacks - sexuality, an energy ('pep'), a connection with her physical and emotional needs that rural life has repressed in Susie". Gunning comments on the intertitle "A little unfaithful" preceding Bettina's death: "The ironic compassion of this phrase typifies the combination of distance and compassion that marks the narration of this film and which may constitute its most remarkable feature". "Throughout True Heart Susie, performance, editing, and narration create a point of view through which we profoundly share the experiences of the characters." "Nearness and intimacy mean overcoming a distance that one is fully aware of". I agree with Gunning that "Griffith's use of intertitles sets up an extremely sophisticated and complex narrative viewpoint". The last intertitle: "And we may believe they walk again as they did long years ago".

Like in Way Down East, Griffith has here the gift of portraying an old-fashioned story as a subtle metanarrative, in a perspective of tender irony. We may think the protagonists are foolish, but we are made to identify with them, and tua res agitur: the tale tells of ourselves, timeless stories of chances nearly missed, being given a decisive impact by an impostor, becoming aware of our true capabilities, not realizing who our true benefactor is, of love that is blind, that we may fail to appreciate a happiness that has grown too familiar, that love between childhood sweethearts may fade.

Aspects of the movie I had forgotten include: - William has to work his way through college and he becomes the target of school bullying by his rich schoolmates, but he stands up to his rights and fights for his honour. - "William's great, simple heart cannot see that all cannot be like himself": William is blind to the character of Bettina because he cannot realize that someone can be so superficial. - There is a comic theme about appearances. William grows a moustache "imitating his benefactor" (who we know is an impostor). Susie fights a "battle against the powder and the paint brigade" (against a much more superficial woman than herself). "Do you think you can improve on Lord's work?" asks her aunt.

The black and white print is as good as it gets. In the filmographic information of The Griffith Project Vol 10 there is a statement by Kevin Brownlow that all existing archival elements of True Heart Susie stem from the London archive's nitrate positive. The Copenhagen print (DFI) certainly does: it is a duplicate from London's National Film Library with a condescending introductory title probably added in the 1930s. Otherwise the intertitles are original. There is a good visual quality sufficiently often. There is a frameline situation with the intertitles. The source of the London print has been a print/prints with tinting/toning at least in some of the footage. The speed looks natural at 18 fps.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Animation in 2012

Until the 1980s it was normal that there was only one new animated feature film widely released per year in Finland, usually a Walt Disney production. During that, the first full decade of the home video era, there was still also one theatrically re-released Walt Disney classic during the other part of the year. But since the success and new confidence in Disney animations such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994), other producers got in the game in a big way. Until then in the Western world Walt Disney had been the only long-running producer of theatrical animated feature films. Now the Disney company got serious rivals. Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's Studio Ghibli was established, and other talents of Japanese anime found global success. In Britain, Aardman Animations was launched with short films at first. Beavis and Butt-head and The Simpsons expanded to theatrical feature films. Tim Burton and Henry Selick made their first feature-length animations. Fox Animation Studios with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman was established to compete with Disney in 1994, as was DreamWorks Animation. Blue Sky Studios (the Ice Age series) also belongs to Fox. Pixar became a partner of Disney in 1995, and it became also at once the most visionary leader in animation along with Studio Ghibli. Nordic producers got in the game, too with Astrid Lindgren animations etc., and for the first time in Finland, as well, there was a continuity in feature-length theatrical animation production. In 1998, Michel Ocelot released his first animated Kirikou feature based on African imagery. A wide range of animations for grown-ups emerged, including Paprika, A Scanner Darkly, Beowulf, Persepolis, and Waltz with Bashir. Wes Anderson, Luc Besson, and Steven Spielberg debuted in animation.

In 2012, 86 feature-length animations are due, not all theatrically.

Animation is still expensive, and there seems to be a frantic fight for survival in the theatrical market. I hope there is room for everybody and that animation producers don't panic and overcrowd their movies with more action, more loud sound effects, more garish colours, more pop hits of a generation ago, and more hysterical characters who never seem at ease with themselves. I can't help wondering whether they are self-portraits of the producers of today's overcrowded theatrical animation marketplace.

Donald "Duck" Dunn 1941-2012

Donald Dunn made a mark with his groovy bass lines as a session musician for Stax Records in the 1960s. The self-taught Dunn did not copy others and created a unique sound of his own instead. Below is just the beginning of his discography at his website Duckdunn.com. He died with his boots on in Tokyo. His bass has been heard countless times in movies, and he himself appeared in the The Blues Brothers films.

Live performance: Time Is Tight (1969). Feels like team spirit.

Otis Redding (Pain In My Heart, 1964)
Wilson Pickett (In The Midnight Hour, 1965)
Booker T & The MGs (Soul Dressing, 1965)
Otis Redding (Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, 1965)
Mar-Keys (Great Memphis Sound, 1966)
Booker T & The MGs (In The Christmas Spirit, 1966)
Otis Redding (Otis Blue, 1966)
Wilson Pickett (Exciting Wilson Pickett, 1966)
Otis Redding (Soul Album, 1966)
Booker T & The MGs (And Now... Booker T & The MGs, 1966)
Guitar Showdown at the Dusk 'Til Dawn Blues Festival, 1966)
Eddie Floyd (Knock On Wood, 1967)
Albert King (Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967)
Otis Redding (Live In Europe, 1967)
The Mar-Keys/Booker T & The MGs (Back To Back, 1967)
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas (King & Queen, 1967)
Various Artists (Monterey International Pop Festival, 1967)
Booker T & The MGs (Hip Hug-Her, 1967)...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

π / Pi

Pi (title in Finland) / Pi (title in Sweden). US 1998 © 1997 Protozoa Pictures. P: Eric Watson. D: Darren Aronofsky. SC: Darren Aronofsky - from a story by Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, and Eric Watson. DP: Matthew Libatique - black and white - 1,66:1. PD: Matthew Maraffi. AD: Eileen Butler. Makeup: Ariyela Wald-Cohain. Art department: Sean Gullette, Sasha Noe (creator: vaccination gun), Gagan K. Sarch (graphics). SFX: Ariyela Wald-Cohain. VFX: Jeremy Dawson, Dan Schrecker (computer screen graphics), Christopher Dusendschon (in-show effects compositor). AN: Dan Moss (computer animation: java sequence). Title designer: Jeremy Dawson (main title sequence & credits, Sneak Attack). M: Clint Mansell. S: Brian Emrich. ED: Oren Sarch. Casting: Denise Fitzgerald. Loc: New York. C: Sean Gullette (Maximillian Cohen), Mark Marqolis (Sol Robeson), Ben Shenkman (Lenny Meyer), Pamela Hart (Marcy Dawson), Stephen Pearlman (Rabbi Cohen), Samia Shoaib (Devi), Ajay Naidu (Farroukh), Kristyn Mae-Anne Lao (Jenna). 84 min. A dvd distributed by Pathé / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, region code 2, letterboxed at 1,66:1, with hard of hearing English subtitles (1999). Viewed at home, Helsinki, 12 May 2012.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Bolex H16. - Laboratory: Bono Film Labs, Arlington (VA), USA. - Film negative format: 16 mm (Eastman Plus-X 7276, Tri-X 7278). - Cinematographic process: Super 16. Printed film format: 35 mm (blow-up). - Aspect ratio: 1.66:1.

I saw for the first time Pi, one of the most remarkable debut feature films ever, having missed it last week in our Darren Aronofsky retrospective. It is an experimental black and white film, completely original, and only in the sense of its originality comparable with David Cronenberg (before his present stage as a mainstream director) and David Lynch. Pi is an anxiety film with some links to traditions of psychological horror (Polanski) and cyberpunk (Videodrome). The theme of the anxiety of superior performance returns in Black Swan with some of the same visual motifs (growths from the body).

Max is a mathematic genius capable of calculations of large numbers in his head, competing with the pocket calculator of his little neighbour Jenna. Motifs in the movie (elaborated on its website www.pithemovie.com/gifpage.html) include: - The golden spiral (Pythagoras), the golden rectangle, the golden ratio. - The chaos theory. - NYSE (The New York Stock Exchange): a complex, interrelated and chaotic system which is manmade but staggeringly complex. Like pi, the story of the stock market lies in a vast string of numbers. If there is an order in this chaos, it remains thus far invisible. - The Go game as an expression of a complex and chaotic universe. - The Gammantria, the number theory of the Kabbalah: The Torah (= what Christians call the Old Testament) is just a long string of numbers. Some say that it's a code sent to us from God. - Migraine hallucinations.

From the movie's website: Pi Paranoia.

"Paranoia is the belief in a hidden order behind the visible."
- Anonymous

"Pi is both the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet and the symbol which represents the world's oldest mathematical mystery: the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter."

"The earliest known written record of the ratio comes from 1650 BCE Egypt, where a scribe calculated the value to be 3.16 (a mere 1% off the true value). Although now, we have methods to calculate the digits of pi (3.1415...) its exact value remains a mystery."

"Since 1794, when it was proven that Pi was both irrational and infinite, people have been searching for a pattern in the endless string of numbers."

"As it turns out, Pi can be found everywhere, from astronomy to probability to the physics of sound and light. To date it has been calculated to over 51 billion digits, so far with no discernible pattern emerging from its numbers. In fact, the first time that the sequence 123456789 appears, it is over 500 million digits into the ratio. Calculating the digits to millions of decimal places is now used to test computers for bugs in hardware and software (which is how Intel's Pentium found a chip bug a few years ago)."

"If you prefer to calculate Pi the old fashioned way, you're not alone. Hundreds of clubs have been formed to celebrate and calculate the ratio, many of which require a good deal of sequence memorization in order to join. The current world record for pi memorization was made in 1995, when a Japanese man recited 42,000 digits from memory in just over nine hours."

The mystery horror thriller plot is about Max's supercomputer with which he is able to discover a number of 216 digits which is the key to the mystery of the universe. Soon both Wall Street agents and orthodox Kabbalists are after him, but Max's computer crashes, there is a crash at the Wall Street stock exchange, too, Max's math teacher dies of a second stroke, and Max performs lobotomy on himself with a power drill, relieving himself from his migraine and his mathematical genius, no longer being able to participate in Jenna's pocket calculator contest.

There is a Jewish relevance to the story which can be vaguely linked with Kafka.

Pi is a movie about urban alienation and malaise (Unbehagen) in a culture of success. It is also a horror movie about extremism and extreme specialization as is Black Swan.

Pi was shot on a mini budget on 16 mm reversal stock. The movie has been printed at high contrast,  emphasizing its nightmare quality.