Friday, May 31, 2013

Film Concert The Kid (Charles Chaplin / Frank Strobel / RSO)

Chaplinin poika / Chaplins pojke. US © 1921 Charles Chaplin Productions. Initial distributor: First National. P+D+SC: Charles Chaplin. DP: Roland H. Totheroh. AD: Charles D. Hall. C: Charles Chaplin (A Tramp), Edna Purviance (The Woman), Jackie Coogan (The Child), Carl Miller (an artist). 1500 m /21 fps/ 60 min.
    Filmphilharmonic Edition. Film by courtesy of Roy Export Company S.A.S. Music by courtesy of Bourne Music Co. M (1971): Charles Chaplin. M associate (1971): Eric James. Orchestrator (1971): Eric Rogers. Arranged for live performance by: Carl Davis.
    Conducted by Frank Strobel, played by Radion Sinfoniaorkesteri / The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at a strength of 50 players.
    Projected at 35 mm with e-subtitles in Finnish by Saara Vironmäki. Musiikkitalo, Helsinki, 31 May 2013.

There are those who consider The Kid Chaplin's best film, and certainly Sergei Eisenstein saw it as the key Chaplin film in his essay Charlie the Kid.

Made soon after WWI The Kid had a huge resonance in a world full of orphan kids. The opening is devastating in its insight about how much depends on pure chance in the beginning of a person's life. Yet we know those early years to be decisive.

There is great passion in this film whose electric charge is completely different from Chaplin's previous films based on atavistic destruction (the Keystone slapstic dimension) or on our sympathy for the tramp as a victim. Here instead the tramp becomes the saviour who finds his dignity in rescuing the helpless baby. There is actually a moment where the "Keystonian" destructive alternative is considered for a second: the thought crosses the tramp's mind that he could drop the baby into the sewer. Having overcome and transcended the destructive, egoistic impulse, he defends the baby like a lion.

I had never paid attention to the music before. There are affinities with The Countess from Hong Kong and Tchaikovsky (like in the grand waltz incorporated in The Gold Rush). The magnificent music evokes great feelings and great thoughts. At its most devastating the music is in the great climax when the authorities come to take the kid away from Charlie. The score rises to tragic intensity.

It was a grand evening in the sold-out Helsinki Music Center. The orchestra played with passion, and the audience received the music with enthusiasm. For the visual quality of a film the Helsinki Music Center is not ideal.

We had a beer with Frank Strobel and Tuula Sarotie at St. Urho's Pub after the concert. The Helsinki summer started abruptly this week, and the outdoors bar tables were crowded in the warm summer evening. Frank told that his friends in cool Berlin are envious of him, and we were worrying about friends and colleagues in flood-threatened parts of Europe such as Vienna and Prague.

Film Concert The Idle Class (Charles Chaplin / Frank Strobel / RSO)

Joutilas luokka / Fåfäng gå...US © 1921 Charles Chaplin Productions. Initial distributor: First National. P+D+SC: Charles Chaplin. DP: Roland H. Totheroh. AD: Charles D. Hall. C: Charlie Chaplin (tramp / husband), Edna Purviance (neglected wife), Mack Swain (Edna's father), Lita Grey (maid).  584 m / 21 fps / 25 min. Filmphilharmonic Edition. Film by courtesy of Roy Export Company S.A.S. Music by courtesy of Bourne Music Co.
    M (1971): Charles Chaplin. M associate (1971): Eric James. Arranged for live performance by: Carl Davis.
    Conducted by Frank Strobel, played by Radion Sinfoniaorkesteri / The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at a strength of 50 players.
    Projected at 35 mm with e-subtitles in Finnish by Saara Vironmäki. Musiikkitalo, Helsinki, 31 May 2013.

One of Chaplin's last shorts, The Idle Class was made as a part of the distribution contract with First National. It was a chore, and the result is not one of Chaplin's best, but there are things to savour. Charlie plays a double role as an idle tramp and as an idle gentleman. The tramp dreams of Edna, the gentleman is married to her but neglects her, being an alcoholic. A masked ball is the setting for the confrontation. There is a caveman, a policeman, and a Marie Antoinette (Edna), Charlie the tramp in his usual costume, and Charlie the gentleman in a suit of armour. The best scene of the movie is the moment of recognition, which resonates even with the ending of City Lights. Edna realizes that Charlie the tramp is someone who really recognizes her, although the social abyss is unbridgeable. Charlie the tramp is really a bum, a selfish and brutal figure, although he has a naïve dream vision of happiness with Edna, riding to the rescue on his donkey.

Magnificent music provides a Chaplinesque contrast to the appearance of the tramp. An inspired performance by RSO led by Frank Strobel.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tystnaden / The Silence

Hiljaisuus. SE 1963. PC: AB Svensk Filmindustri. P manager: Allan Ekelund. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist - b&w - 1,37:1 - lab: FilmTeknik AB. AD: P.A. Lundgren. Cost: Marik Vos. Make-up: Börje Lundh, Gullan Westfelt. M: Ivan Renliden. J. S. Bach: Goldberg-Variationen: Variatio 19. S mixer: Olle Jakobsson - AGA-Baltic. ED: Ulla Ryghe. Script supervisor: Katherina Faragó. C: Ingrid Thulin (Ester, translator), Gunnel Lindblom (Anna, Ester's sister), Jörgen Lindström (Johan), Birger Malmsten (waiter at the bar), Håkan Jahnborg (the floor waiter), Eduardini (The Seven Dwarfs), Eduardo Gutterrez (the dwarfs' impresario), Lissi Alandh, Leif Forstenberg (man and woman at the variety), Nils Waldt (cinema cashier), Eskil Kalling (barkeeper), K.A. Bergman (newspaper seller at the bar), Olof Widgren (the old man in the hotel corridor). A body double was used in Gunnel Lindblom's nude scenes. Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda). Helsinki premiere: 26.2.1965 Maxim, released by Filmipaja. The film got stuck at first in Finnish film censorship and was released first after cuts. Telecasts: 23.2.1973 TV1, 20.8.1976 TV1, 11.10.1989 TV1 – VET 68560 – K16 – 2585 m / 95 min. A vintage KAVA print (cuts reinstated) with Finnish subtitles (n.c.) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 30 May 2013

Visual intensity was my main impression in this viewing of The Silence. It is an extraordinary vision created by Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist in close collaboration.

The Silence is a fine example of Expressionism. It is a series of powerful shots with a strange current, but the power of that current is well controlled.

There are direct Baroque references: the Goldberg variations of J.S. Bach, the Rubens painting on the hotel wall, and the Velázquez-like costume procession of the Eduardini, one of them dressed as an incarnation of Death.

During their train journey Ester, Anna, and Anna's little son Johan stop for one day at Hotel Europa in a city called Timoka due to Ester's illness which may be mortal.

There are soldiers on the train, there are tanks on a parallel train, a rumbling tank patrols Timoka, and sounds of jets are heard from the sky. There is an atmosphere of occupation.

The country has no name, but it could be a Baltic state. The sisters don't know the language, but a few words are seen and heard. One of them is "käsi", which is Finnish or Estonian for "hand". The Hungarian word is "kéz". Timoka is Estonian, meaning "the one given to the executioner" according to Jörn Donner.

Sexuality has become unhinged. Anna is not only a nymphomaniac. She seems to be suffering from sex addiction. She needs sex all the time and has no problem with total strangers, but sexual fulfillment does not bring her happiness.

Ester is suffering from a mortal illness, she smokes and drinks, she satisfies her carnal needs with her own fingers, and she is uncomfortable with sexuality, yet she has a desire for intimacy, for touching, and for tenderness.

It is a strange relationship. "When you are ill you are in command". - Bergman speaks with Chekhov: "You always talk so much about love".

Johan finds the sisters weird and is puzzled that her mother always sneaks away as soon as she can ("smiter i väg så fort hon kan"). Johan's is the central viewpoint of the film.

The Silence has been seen as a film of despair. I see it as a vision of a) the desperate situation of the Soviet-occupied sector of Europe and b) two sisters who have failed to grow into harmonious personalities. Yet Johan is a strong presence of the future and possible hope.

Words about a film called The Silence can sound banal and inadequate. These images are deep and resonant, and they cannot be reduced into simple verbal explanations. There is a vibrant quality in the performances and the imagery that transcends simplifications.

The Silence is a stark masterpiece always worth revisiting.

We screened The Silence in our 50 Years Ago series. The Silence was shot from July until September in 1962, in the year when the Cold War was at its hottest, and the film is, among other things, a poet's vision of the world in mortal danger.

The vintage print looks like it has been struck from the negative. Seen like this The Silence is a superb work of visual art. The print has been in heavy use, and there is a lot of tell-tale "rain" in the starts and the tails. Never mind; the definition of light is breathtaking, and the film keeps surprising with its composition and its visual invention. It gets better with repeated viewings when the surprise element is no longer distracting.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Ruumiinryöstäjät / Varastetut ihmiset / Ruumiinryöstäjät tulevat. US © 1956 Allied Artists Pictures Corp. [or was it 1955 on screen? AFI Catalog copyright date: 16 Jan 1956]. PC: Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc. EX: Walter Mirisch (n.c.). D: Don Siegel. SC: Daniel Mainwaring - based on the novel The Body Snatchers (1954, Collier's Magazine) (1955) by Jack Finney. DP (b&w, SuperScope): Ellsworth Fredericks. PD: Ted Haworth. Set dec: Joseph Kish. Makeup: Emile LaVigne. Hair: Mary Westmoreland. SFX: Milt Rice. Special makeup FX (pods and other props): Don Post. M comp. + cond.: Carmen Dragon. S: Del Harris. ED: Robert S. Eisen. C: Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Miles J. Bennell), Dana Wynter (Becky Driscoll), Larry Gates (Dr. Dan "Danny" Kauffman), King Donovan (Jack Belicec), Carolyn Jones (Theodora "Teddy" Belicec), Jean Wiles (Nurse Sally Withers), Ralph Dumke (Police  Chief Nick Grivett), Virginia Christine (Wilma Lentz), Tom Fadde (Uncle Ira Lentz), Kenneth Patterson (Stanley Driscoll), Whit Bissell (Dr. Hill, psychiatrist), Sam Peckinpah (Charlie Buckholtz, gas meter reader). Loc: Chatsworth, Sierra Madre, and Woodland Hills; Hollywood Hills; Bronson Canyon; Glendale, Hollywood, Los Feliz, the San Fernando Country Club, Chatsworth railway station, Mulholland Drive at the Hollywood Freeway (California). The film was not theatrically released in Finland although Valiofilmi had it classified in 1959 (as Ruumiinryöstäjät tulevat, rated K16). Telecasts: 27.7.1974 MTV3 (Varastetut ihmiset), 28.7.2010 YLE Teema. VET 50995 – K12 – 2190 m / 80 min. A NFI print with Norwegian subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Carte blanche à Tapani Maskula), 29 May 2013

At this viewing I was more conscious than before of how strongly this movie is based on the screenplay, the narration, and the dialogue. Daniel Mainwaring has done a great job with the novel of Jack Finney which according to Stephen King "set the mold for what we now call the horror novel".

Most of the striking points are conveyed verbally. "There's no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling." (Wilma Lentz).  "I've been afraid a lot of times in my life, but I didn't know the real meaning of fear until... until I had kissed Becky." (Miles Bennell). The dialogue is sharp and startling, and the words carry the narrative.

The images follow. The performances are not very profound, and the boundary between normal humanity and the pod status is not as striking as might be desirable. 

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an unforgettable study in paranoia, a quintessential 1950s scifi shocker, the most unsettling of them all because the monster is somebody who is almost exactly normal. The replica knows every single detail of our emotional history; only that certain glimpse in the eye is missing.

Don Siegel directs with cool, laconic efficiency which works better here than indulging in expressionism.

A favourite scene: the blank fingerprints of the unfinished, faceless pod. Another favourite scene: the one on the early morning town square ("just like any Saturday morning"), the meeting of the pod people seen from above, from the doctor's window, in long shot. Trucks with pods appear, and they are going to spread them over the whole country. The sequence has a Langian frisson of fatality.

Follows the escape over the hills and into the mine tunnel where Wilma finally cannot resist sleep... and turning into a zombie. "You are next!" cries Miles on the highway, a raving maniac who is taken to the hospital, believed mad, but there is the relieving conclusion added by the production company that the FBI is now looking into the matter.

The print is complete and in the correct SuperScope ratio, but it has a somewhat duped, high contrast look.

Whatever Works

Whatever Works / Whatever Works. US © 2009 Gravier Productions. P: Perdido Productions. P: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum. D+SC: Woody Allen. DP: Harris Savides - camera: Arricam LT, Cooke S4 Lenses - lab: Technicolor (Hollywood), Technicolor (New York) - colour - 1,85:1. PD: Santo Loquasto. AD: Tom Warren. Set dec: Ellen Christiansen. Cost: Suzy Benzinger. Makeup: Rosemary Zurlo. Hair: Robert Fama. VFX: Big Film Design - Randall Balsmeyer. M: no score music written for the movie; soundtrack listing see beyond the jump break. S: Robert Hein. ED: Alisa Lepselter. Casting: Ali Farrell, Laura Rosenthal, Juliet Taylor. C: Larry David (Boris Yelnikoff), Evan Rachel Wood (Melody St. Ann Celestine), Patricia Clarkson (Marietta Celestine), Henry Cavill (Randy Lee James), Michael McKean (Joe), Conleth Hill (Leo Brockman), Olek Krupa (Morgenstern), Ed Begley, Jr. (John Celestine), Christopher Evan Welch (Howard Cummings / Kaminsky), Carolyn McCormick (Jessica), Jessica Hecht (Helena), Samantha Bee (Chess Mother), Adam Brooks (Boris' Friend), Lyle Kanouse (Boris' Friend). Loc: Manhattan: Chinatown, East Village, Greenwich Village (New York), Kaufman Astoria Studios (Queens). Helsinki premiere: 23.10.2009 Maxim 1, released by FS Film Oy with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anna-Leea Heinonen / Joanna Erkkilä. – VET 218010 – S – 2535 m / 93 min. The KAVA print deposited by FS Film viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woody Allen), 29 May 2013

Antoine Douaihy: the producers gratefully acknowledge and wish to thank for their assistance: "Marietta's Photographs" - Female Figures, "Untitled #1" through "Untitled #12" and Male Figures, "Untitled #13" through "Untitled #18" (as Antoine L. Douaihy)

Cristobal Gabarron: the producers gratefully acknowledge and wish to thank for their assistance: The Gabarron Foundation artwork by

The Misanthrope as Pygmalion: Larry David plays Boris, the bad-mouthed, hypochondriac New York misanthrope who meets Melody, a naïve teenage runaway from Mississippi. Evan Rachel Wood has fun creating her personal version of the dumb blonde stereotype. She is so innocent that she is immune to Boris. In the most perfect mismatch imaginable, Boris and Melody get married... for a year.

Woody Allen finds original ideas for comedy when the impressionable teenager Melody starts to copy Boris's mannerisms. Even Boris is dumbfounded.

The satire expands when Melody's reactionary parents appear in Manhattan. First the mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) really discovers herself as a photographic artist specializing in montage exhibitions about sexuality. Then the even more reactionary father John appears, and soon comes out as gay. Whatever Works, along with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, belongs to the key films of Woody Allen in themes of homosexuality. The coming out scenes are funny and liberating.

There is a lot to laugh about. - Always when Beethoven's Fifth is played, fate actually knocks on the door. - The three-shot in the taxi with Boris, Melody, and John is memorable with incredulous expressions. - John: "Job's wife is my favourite character in the Bible".

Although shot on film, there is a strange quality in the image: either it is one generation too far duped, or speedprinted, or it has been processed via a digital intermediate (not credited). The 1,85:1 ratio has to be adjusted carefully to avoid appearances of boom mikes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Dead Zone

Viimeinen yhteys [Finnish title on screen] / Viimeinen yhteys: The Dead Zone / Död zon. US © 1983 Dino De Laurentiis Corporation. PC: Dino De Laurentiis Company  / Lorimar Film Entertainment. EX: Dino De Laurentiis. P: Debra Hill. Assoc. P: Jeffrey Chernov. D: David Cronenberg. SC: Jeffrey Boam - based on the novel (1979) by Stephen King, in Finnish: Kosketus translated by Heikki Karjalainen / Tammi 1979. "The Raven" (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe. DP: Mark Irwin - Panaflex Cameras and Lenses by Panavision - lab: Medallion Film Laboratories (Toronto) - Technicolor - 1,85:1. PC: Carol Spier. AD: Barbara Dunphy. Set dec: Tom Coulter. Cost: Olga Dimitrov. Makeup: Shonagh Jabour. Hair: Jenny Arbour. SFX: Jon G. Belyeu. VFX: Michael Lennick (video electronic effects). M comp+cond: Michael Kamen - perf. The National Philharmonic Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studios. S: David Lewis Yewdall. ED: Ronald Sanders. Casting: Deirdre Bowen, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins. C: Christopher Walken (Johnny Smith), Brooke Adams (Sarah Bracknell), Tom Skerritt (Sheriff George Bannerman), Herbert Lom (Dr. Sam Weizak), Anthony Zerbe (Roger Stuart), Colleen Dewhurst (Henrietta Dodd), Martin Sheen (Greg Stillson), Nicholas Campbell (Deputy Frank Dodd), Simon Craig (Chris Stuart). Loc: Ontario (Canada): Niagara-on-the-Lake, Orono, Stouffville, Whitevale. Helsinki premiere: 16.3.1984 Savoy, released by Savoy Filmi Oy - telecasts: 24.8.1988 MTV1, 6.3.2003 MTV3 - vhs: 1985 R-Video - dvd: 2002 Finnkino - VET 91684 – K16 – 2865 m / 105 min. A vintage KAVA print deposited by Savoy Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles n.c. viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (David Cronenberg), 28 May 2013
    A new adaptation: the tv series The Dead Zone (US 2002).

David Cronenberg switched smoothly from Canadian to U.S. American production with The Dead Zone, shot in Ontario. Cronenberg's only Stephen King adaptation became one of his best films. During his early U.S. American period the cool, sometimes even glacial Cronenberg made the films with the most touching romantic dimensions, the most sympathetic characters, and the most profound sympathy for humanity (The Dead Zone and The Fly).

The Dead Zone belonged to the current Stephen King cycle of film adaptations. It had been preceded by Carrie, The Shining, Creepshow, and Cujo. Many others were forthcoming, but The Dead Zone is still one of the best Stephen King film adaptations.

The concept is that the protagonist, Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), has psychic powers. By touching a person's hand he may get a vision of a secret or a traumatic event in the person's past or future. Finally he realizes that by intervening he can change that future. He also realizes that his power, which has mostly been a curse, can become a blessing, although he himself cannot survive.

The power of the fantasy concept is that it provides Johnny (and us with him) a special outlook on life. Everything is seen in an unusual perspective.

The Dead Zone is well written (Jeffrey Boam b.o. Stephen King), well photographed (a lot of winter footage by Mark Irwin), and it has a fine score (Michael Kamen, not Howard Shore this time) and good performances. The skill of David Cronenberg is in creating a believable atmosphere in which he can develop the incredible premise.

Christophen Walken was at his best in this period, in films as different as The Deer Hunter and Pennies from Heaven. The Dead Zone belongs to his greatest films. We get to know Johnny Smith as a relaxed teacher of literature, able to keep youngsters interested in Edgar Allan Poe; we get to know him as a young man deeply in love. After five years in coma he is but a shadow of his former self, but he is determined to rehabilitation under the guidance of the kind and firm doctor Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom, 1917-2012). Smith manages to achieve a position as a private tutor who has a delicate touch with difficult children. Johnny Smith is a psychologically credible character, and the creation of that character is the main strength of the movie, thanks to Walken, Cronenberg, and King.

Martin Sheen creates a juicy caricature of a ferociously ambitious politician, Greg Stillson, stopped by Johnny Smith, who saves the world from WWIII and a nuclear holocaust by doing so. In Smith's premonition Stillson orders his general to put his hand on the launching pad: "You put your god damn hand on that scanning screen, or I'll hack it off and put it on for you!"

The Dead Zone has some relevance for the Jewish connection in David Cronenberg's oeuvre. When Johnny touches Dr. Weizak's hand the traumatic event revealed is the German occupation of Poland. Sam's mother saves her little son at the last moment. Johnny discovers that Sam's mother is still alive, and Sam calls her but remains silent, refusing to announce himself to her. 

The visual quality of the vintage print: serviceable, perhaps one generation too far removed from the ideal, but the colours are still intact.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines / The Place Beyond the Pines. US © 2012 Kimmel Distribution LLC. EX: Jim Tauber, Matt Berenson. P: Jamie Patricof, Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky, Sidney Kimmel. D: Derek Cianfrance. SC: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder - from a story by Derek Cianfrance and Ben Coccio. DP: Sean Bobbitt. PD: Inbal Weinberg. Cost: Erin Benach. VFX: Method Studios. M: Mike Patton. M excerpts include compositions by Arvo Pärt. ED: Jim Helton. C: Ryan Gosling (Luke), Bradley Cooper (Avery), Eva Mendes (Romina), Ray Liotta (Deluca), Rose Byrne (Jennifer), Mahershala Ali (Kofi), Dane DeHaan (Jason), Emory Cohen (AJ), Ben Mendelsohn (Robin). Loc: Schenectady. 140 min. Released by Scanbox Finland Oy with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Scandinavian Text Service. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, 27 May 2013

Technical specs from the IMdB: - Color - Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 - Camera: Arricam LT, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Arricam ST, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Arriflex 235, Cooke S4 Lenses - Laboratory: Company 3, New York (NY), USA (digital intermediate) - Negative Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Techniscope (source format) - Printed Film Format: 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema.

"A place beyond the pines" is the English translation of the Iroquois word Schenectady.

Official synopsis: "An epic crime drama exploring the unbreakable bond between fathers to sons, The Place Beyond the Pines follows four men – two generations – as they fight to overcome a legacy of blood."

"A mysterious and mythical motorcycle racer, Luke, (Ryan Gosling) drives out of a traveling carnival “globe of death” and whizzes through the backstreets of Schenectady, New York — desperately trying to connect with a former lover, Romina, (Eva Mendes) who recently and secretly gave birth to the stunt rider’s son. In an attempt to provide for his new family, Luke quits the carnival life and commits a series of bank robberies aided by his superior riding ability. The stakes rise as Luke is put on a collision course with an ambitious police officer, Avery Cross, (Bradley Cooper) looking to quickly move up the ranks in a police department riddled with corruption. The sweeping drama unfolds over fifteen years as the sins of the past haunt the present days lives of two high school boys
wrestling with the legacy they’ve inherited. The only refuge is found in the place beyond the pines."

In the pressbook Derek Cianfrance tells that he admires Psycho for switching the protagonist in the middle. He also tells that since seeing Abel Gance's Napoléon at film school he has been obsessed with the idea of a triptych film. Stan Brakhage and Phil Solomon were among Cianfrance's teachers. Cianfrance also tells about his own fatherhood and reading Jack London and discovering his "ideas of legacy and the calling back of ancestors".

I have not seen Derek Cianfrance's previous film Blue Valentine which went straight to dvd in Finland. Now I'll make a note to see it.

The Place Beyond the Pines belongs to the current novelistic trend in American cinema. It's a story of two generations: it starts as the fathers' story and ends as the sons' story. It's a story of social classes: the illuminating moment is that of the class justice when the sons face trial for felony drug possession.

More precisely, the movie starts as Luke's story. The turning-point in his "ride of death" is when he realizes he has a baby, Jason, by his last-year fling Romina. Desperate to break out from his vicious circle he becomes a bank robber. When his luck turns he is caught by a cop and dies. The second act (at 45 minutes) is the cop's story. Avery Cross has committed a grave error by shooting Luke first, and his life is changed by his guilt and his determination to make it up. He becomes successful in a dangerous fight against police corruption and in the conclusion he is being nominated Attorney General. The third act (at 90 minutes) starts "15 years later": the drama is about the encounter of the sons, Jason and AJ.

The film is well cast and the performances by Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen are great.

The biggest surprise is provided by Eva Mendes in her heartbreaking role as Romina, the mother of Jason. I have always liked Eva Mendes and thought she would deserve to get better roles. Now she is getting them. Romina is a brave and difficult role, especially memorable in this tale of fathers and sons.

While I like this film very much I am not convinced by its ancestry theme in which Derek Cianfrance tells he was influenced by Jack London. The theme even brings to mind the hereditary obsessions of Émile Zola. But one does not have to believe in such stuff in order to appreciate the movie. It is entirely possible to interpret the "curse" as social.

The visual concept is effective. The basic concept is based on realism bordering on the documentary. There are also impressionistic moments such as the handheld footage of Luke's ride in the forest. The shots of the dying Luke are based on subjective camera. There is effective subjective camera footage also of Jason and AJ's getting high on drugs at AJ's party.

Shot on 35 mm photochemical film, The Place Beyond the Pines has gone through the digital intermediate process, and otherwise it looks fine, but the challenge of the nature footage (important as can be guessed by the title of the movie) has not been resolved very well. I kept thinking why the nature footage fails to impress. Also in traditional film nature can look soft, but here nature looks simultaneously soft and sharp in a slightly disorientating way.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Deanna Durbin and Georges Moustaki

When I returned home from my movie afternoon last night the "Lauantain toivotut levyt" ("Saturday's Record Wishes") programme was on the radio, and we listened to it during dinner. Besides Wagner (Kirsten Flagstad sang Liebestod), Sibelius (Janne Mertanen played "Kuusi" = The Fir), and Carole King (interpreting her soulful "You've Got A Friend") there was a movie continuum.

Deanna Durbin (1921-2013) sang "Danny Boy". She was a teenage idol, a musical star and the best-paid female star in Hollywood who, however, turned her back to Hollywood in the 1940s, disappointed with the quality of the scripts she was offered, and settled in France. She was a great soprano who mastered the classical opera repertoire with a personal and lyrical touch. Deanna Durbin made interesting films like Christmas Holiday, directed by Robert Siodmak, but her song recordings may remain her most enduring legacy.

Georges Moustaki's (1934-2013) "Ma solitude" was sung by Serge Reggiani. It's about his lifelong friend, faithful like a shadow, who will be with him till the very last day. His solitude. Moustaki's parents were Sephardim from Corfu who became keepers of a bookstore in Alexandria. The multi-lingual Moustaki moved to Paris in 1951 and became a legend of the chanson, writing for Édith Piaf, Serge Reggiani, Yves Montand, Dalida, and Barbara, and developing into a major star, himself. His cinema career includes roles such as Abbé Faria in The Count of Monte-Cristo (the 1998 version starring Depardieu) and scores such as the one for La Fiancée du pirate (1969) by Nelly Kaplan.

A further cinema-related treat was Tauno Palo singing "Toukokuu" ["The Month of May"] from Laulava sydän ([The Singing Heart], 1948). It's a strange post-war movie: a light entertainment concoction, bordering on the musical, yet dealing with grave issues such as morphine addiction - even the little daughter of the protagonist being exposed to morphine. The power of the song becomes a symbol of vitality - strong medicine in the post-war period of turbulence and despair. Tauno Palo delivers all this seemingly with little effort.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Jagten / The Hunt

Jahti / Jakten. DK © 2012 Zentropa Entertainments / Zentropa International. P: Sisse Graum Jørgensen / Morten Kaufmann / Thomas Vinterberg. D: Thomas Vinterberg. SC: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg. DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen - Camera: Arri Alexa Plus, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses - negative format: SxS Pro - master format: digital intermediate 2K - source format: ProRes 4:4:4 (1080p/24) - release format: DCP - 2,35:1. PD: Torben Stig Nielsen. Set dec: Rasmus Balslev-Olesen. Cost: Manon Rasmussen. Makeup: Bjørg Serup. Hair: Bettina Lervig. SFX: Hummer Høimark. VFX: Martin Madsen. M: Nikolaj Egelund. S: Kristian Eidnes Andersen. ED: Janus Billeskov Jansen, Anne Østerud. C: Mads Mikkelsen (Lucas), Thomas Bo Larsen (Theo), Annika Wedderkopp (Klara), Lasse Fogelstrøm (Marcus), Susse Wold (Grethe), Anne Louise Hassing (Agnes), Lars Ranthe (Bruun), Alexandra Rapaport (Nadja), Ole Dupont (Godsejer / Advokat). 115 min. Released by Atlantic Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 5, Helsinki, 25 May 2013

Official synopsis: "Following a tough divorce, 40-year-old Lucas has a new girlfriend, a new job and is in the process of reestablishing his relationship with his teenage son, Marcus. But things go awry. Just a story - a random lie. And as the snow falls and the Christmas lights are lit, the lie spreads like a virus. The shock and mistrust get out of hand, and the small community suddenly finds itself in a collective state of hysteria, while Lucas fights a lonely fight for his life and dignity."

Director's statement: "On a dark winter’s night in 1999, there was a knock on my door. A renowned Danish child-psychologist stood outside in the snow with some documents raving about children and their fantasies. He spoke about concepts such as “repressed memory”, and even more disturbing, about his theory that “thought is a virus”. I didn’t let him in. Didn’t read the documents. Went to bed."

"Ten years later I needed a psychologist. I called him, and as a belated form of politeness, I read the documents. And was shocked. Spellbound. And I felt that here was a story that needed to be told. A story of a modern-day witch-hunt. THE HUNT is the result of this reading."

From the pressbook: Excerpts from an interview originally written by Mike Goodridge for the Danish Film Institute and published in the May 2012 issue of FILM: "Thomas Vinterberg has always sought new ways to push his artistic limits. Now, the Danish director is bringing a powerful drama to the world’s most prestigious film festival. The Hunt, about a man wrongly accused who is exposed to the hatred of everyone in his small town, marks a return to the purity of vision he had at the beginning of his career, the director tells Mike Goodridge."

"In the frenzy of excitement that greeted Thomas Vinterberg’s international smash FESTEN (The Celebration) in 1998, he received numerous entreaties from all manner of people. One was a Danish psychiatrist who handed him a file of cases and said he had a responsibility to explore the other side of the abuse issues in the film. Overwhelmed with travel, development and new projects, he shelved it. Eight years later, Vinterberg was cleaning up his desk and came across the doctor’s file. “I read it and was totally stunned by it,” he explains. “I felt like I had to do this movie.”"

"The film that evolved from that chance discovery is The Hunt, the director’s seventh feature, and one which is bound to generate the international acclaim and controversy that he aroused with FESTEN 14 years ago. The subject this time is a false accusation against a mildmannered kindergarten teacher called Lucas (played by Mads Mikkelsen). In the panic and hysteria that follows the accusation Lucas’s life comes crashing down."

"No instance of abuse wrongdoing takes place in The Hunt. It is a more classic story of an unjustly accused man. Lucas – who, Vinterberg says, is unquestionably innocent – becomes the target of hatred by all in the small rural town where the film is set. He is initially presented as a kind and beloved man but is vilified overnight, abandoned by his lifelong friends and physically assaulted."

"Vinterberg, 43, also found himself probing wider contemporary issues like the viral nature of thought and identity. “It’s uncontrollable,” he says. “Especially in the world today where communication is so easy, people are being judged morally in all sorts of different media. You can tell stories about another person that very quickly become the identity of that person. The people in this town give Lucas a mark and create an identity around him that he will never escape. I find that really interesting and frightening.”"

"Central to the success of The Hunt is a powerful performance by Denmark’s biggest star Mikkelsen who subverts his hyper-masculine persona to play the hapless Lucas. It is the first time Vinterberg and Mikkelsen have collaborated and Vinterberg describes the process as “absolutely wonderful.”"

"“This character is in a way a portrait of a modern Scandinavian man,” says Vinterberg. “He is warm, friendly, helpful and humble. He does everything people ask him to, he is being run over by his ex-wife. He is castrated in a way. And the journey we made with Mads was to develop him from this person into the conflict of being a man. How does he keep his dignity without being violent? How does he manage this cold and brutal reality without taking a step from his Scandinavian character?”"

"“This very manly man, Mads, came into the film with all his beauty and muscles and we decided to flip the character and make him a humble schoolteacher. We worked constantly at not trying to create a myth out of this person but to stay in real life, and Mads is an expert at that. He is constantly demanding answers. Why am I doing that? Could I do this? Could I wear these? He would call me at any time asking different questions about the scenes and coming up with new lines. And when an actor gets the feeling that he knows the character through conversation and improvisation, then all the small details come. He feels calm enough to disappear into the unknown.”"

"Vinterberg recalls a pivotal scene in the film when, on Christmas Eve, Lucas goes to the local church service and faces a congregation of people who hate him. “Mads wept all day in every take in exactly the same way,” says the director. “I’ve never seen anything so professional. The scene was all mapped out very precisely but we shot it from many different angles and he has to go through several stages – determination, collapse, anger, relief. He wept for eight hours and there are very few actors that can do that.”"

The Hunt is one of the most distinguished and highly acclaimed films in the regular cinema repertory of Helsinki. I had postponed viewing it since I have found Thomas Vinterberg's films after his breakthrough somehow affected, without a sense of urgency, and even his great breakthrough movie, the succès du scandale Festen / The Celebration I found a clever provocation rather than a deeply felt achievement.

The Hunt is something different. It is a sincere movie, psychologically strong and subtle.

I have happened to hear of stories like this where a child's careless words are over-interpreted with tragic results leading to the destruction of lives and entire families. The Hunt is actually a happier story than some of the cases that take place in real life.

I appreciate the psychological nuances in the relationships of the teacher Lucas, his son Marcus, his girlfriend Nadja, his neighbour Theo, Theo's five-year-old daughter Klara, and the kindergarten director Grethe.

The witch-hunt and the violence of the majority of the village against Lucas I find less credible. I would not believe in such a story set in Finland, and even less in jovial Denmark. Also the final bullet I find implausible.

Klara soon regrets her stupid words and changes her mind, but people around her refuse to believe her consistent version and instead stick on the impulsive statement she happened to make once.

Even when the "thought virus" of "the secret cellar" of Lucas is exposed as a fabrication - Lucas has no cellar of any kind - the stigma remains.

I like the Lucas character (Mads Mikkelsen at his best) who can endure extreme pressure and vilification. There are loyal friends who don't fail him. Most importantly, his son Marcus defends him, and the ordeal becomes a part of Marcus's growing into manhood. Lucas stays and defends himself and becomes a part of the community again.

The Hunt is a compelling film about the power of fabrications.

The digital cinematography is fine for close-ups and interiors but fails in the important aspect of nature footage in the deer hunts. The nature looks unnatural and underwhelming.

21 tapaa pilata avioliitto / 21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage

21 tapaa pilata avioliitto [Swedish title in Hufvudstadsbladet and in the Swedish-language section of Kino City]. FI. Dionysos Films 2013. P: Riina Hyytiä. D+SC: Johanna Vuoksenmaa. DP: Jan Nyman - 2,35:1 - post-production and DCP: Post Control, P: Petri Riikonen, definition of colour: Marko Terävä. AD: Christer Andersson. Cost: Tiina Kaukanen. Make-up and hair: Hannele Herttua. M: Kerkko Koskinen. S: Tuomas Klaavo, Mikko Mäkelä. ED: Antti Reikko. Opening credit animation D: Kalle Kotila. C: Armi Toivanen (Sanna), Essi Hellén (Aino), Aku Hirviniemi (Jouni), Riku Nieminen (Aleksi), Pamela Tola (Elli), Hannele Lauri (Eila), Vesa Vierikko (Eero), Niina Lahtinen (Johanna), Aarre Karén (a hard-of-hearing husband), Eila Roine (a hard-of-seeing wife), Miia Nuutila (Tiina), Jarkko Niemi (Lauri), Krisse Salminen (Henna), Eero Ritala (a round-headed man), Mari Perankoski (the assistent on the telephone), Frans Isotalo (Antti), Meiju Lampinen (Maija). 92 min. Released by Nordisk Film med svenska texter av Hannele Vahtera. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 7, Helsinki, 25 May 2013

From the pressbook: "One person does not want to fall in love. Another wants nothing but. The third one is married to the wrong woman, and the fourth one is no longer. Married, that is. Soon no one will, if the 21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage are put into practice."

Official synopsis: "Sanna (Armi Toivanen) is a divorce researcher who does not believe in marriage. Her friend Aino (Essi Hellén) does, and she believes in many other things, too, such as premonitions on the radio. Sanna's father Eero (Vesa Vierikko) believes that his wife Eila (Hannele Lauri) will come back to him, yet Eila intends to marry - another man."

"Sanna's assistent Jouni (Aku Hirviniemi) no longer believes in anything because his spouse Elli (Pamela Tola) makes life intolerable. Aleksi (Riku Nieminen) does not know what to believe because his entirely happy marriage has ended abruptly with his wife's sudden 'blossoming' outside marriage."

"When these unstable characters are unleashed anything is possible."

"21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage is a spirited comedy about the many manifestations of love."

A word from the director:

"Divorce is a direct consequence of falling in love."

"21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage is a romantic comedy about the attempts of an unromantic woman to rationalize her feelings and to scientify her dread of commitment."

"21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage is a light, generous, comical and surprising web of observations about different meanings of love, relationships and marriage to various people, but also a comforting peer support journey to those who have divorced once or more often."

"21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage is a mix of plot-driven comedy and sketchy, partly improvised snapshots from the lives of different couples. The parallel collage of narratives which comment the main story interestingly is based on the video interviews conducted by the protagonist in her profession. My aim is that each viewer could find him/herself or at least a bunch of his/her acquaintances from the ample gallery of characters of the movie (...)."

"The rhythm of the narration is on the fast side and the atmosphere is light - even or perhaps particularly when more serious topics are faced. The period is the summer, the season of the light, when, even when the people may be occasionally imperfect, the world is at its best and the light of the summer evenings and nights is at its most beautiful. The general outlook of the film is colourful, generous and fresh. There is a lot of people, life, and movement in the images as well as on the soundtrack. Against this background certain quiet moments cry out their silence, and the attempt here is to get the full emotional impact out of this contrast."

"The gallery of characters is abundant and caricatured, but with each character I try to take care that the caricature would not become unrecognizable or distorted into a clownish mask." (Johanna Vuoksenmaa at Tampere, 23 January 2012). (My translation).

This bright comedy has an extremely anti-romantic starting point. Sanna Manner (Armi Toivanen) is conducting an academic study, her dissertation, based on the hypothesis that a long marriage is an unnatural state for the modern man and woman. Sanna interviews couples on their wedding days and conducts follow-up studies on their wedding anniversaries. Her research material fully supports the hypothesis.

Sanna has also established that marriages based on convention are more durable than romantic marriages.

Sanna's life as a single woman is consistent with her convictions. She is a staunch unbeliever in marriage, in relationships, or even dating a man a second time. She wakes up in unknown men's beds and vanishes as soon as possible without even staying for morning coffee. Sex is "for one date only" with the men she meets.

21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage is the most popular Finnish film this year and has roles for many of the most popular Finnish actors, including favourites of the tv comedy favourite Putous [The Fall].    

The concept is a variation of an idea popular in contemporary (anti-)romantic comedy. This time the protagonist's conviction is backed up by formidable scientific evidence.

And when Sanna inevitably falls in love in the conclusion, the man she has found is the only exception to the rule backed by the enormous material. He is a divorcé, too, because his wife has "found herself" with another man.

The film is much better than the preview. Thanks to it I postponed the viewing of the film itself as much as I could.

The title and the structure parody the formulae of popular ladies magazines (Cosmopolitan, etc.).

Despite the brightness of Johanna Vuoksenmaa's approach and the funny and original interpretation of Armi Toivanen in the leading role I had difficulties in relating to the characters with the exception of the protagonist.

Despite the happy ending there seems to be a fundamental distrust in love in this movie. Marriages seem to be based on illusions, traditions, misunderstandings, duties, conventions, shame, pregnancy, parents' expectations, expectations of getting pregnant, and so on. Not love.

The harridan question has puzzled me in contemporary Finnish cinema. Here I would rather speak about the question of the overbearing woman. Men seem to be lost in the jungle of relationships, and this leads to a vicious circle. Men are less men, and women get even more overbearing.

I may be the only one who has recognized this structure in contemporary Finnish cinema. In my opinion this structure does not reflect Finnish life as I observe it among people I know. Might it reflect a hidden, latent structure in relationships?

The visual quality: low definition, not far from contemporary television quality. The "video inserts" have consequently a definition one step lower. Not a problem in close-ups, medium shots and interiors.

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers / Spring Breakers. US © 2012 Spring Breakers, LLC. General release: 2013. PC: Annapurna Pictures, Muse Productions, Division Films. P: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Jordan Gertner, Chris Hanley, David Zander. D+SC: Harmony Korine. DP: Benoît Debie. M: Cliff Martinez, Skrillex, Gucci Mane. PD: Elliott Hostetter. AD: Almitra Corey. Set dec: Adam Willis. Cost: Heidi Bivens. Dental prosthetics: Gary Archer. Makeup: Lee Grimes. Hair: Adruitha Lee. SFX: George Hirst. VFX: Pixomondo. M supervisor: Randall Poster. "Everytime" (Britney Spears, Annette Stamatelatos) perf. James Franco. "Baby One More Time" (Max Martin) perf. Gomez, Hudgens, Benson, Korine. "Moment 4 Life" (Nicki Minaj, Aubrey Graham). More tracks beyond the jump break. S: Aaron Glascock. ED: Douglas Crise. Casting: Laray Mayfield. C: Selena Gomez (Faith), Vanessa Hudgens (Candy), Ashley Benson (Brit), Rachel Korine (Alien), Gucci Mane (Archie), Heather Morris (Bess), Ash Lendzion (Forest), Emma Holzer (Heather), Lee Irby (History Professor), Jeff Jarrett (Youth Pastor). Loc: Florida: Gulfport, Redington Shores, Pinellas County, St. Pete Beach, Sunshine Skyway Bridge (Tampa), Treasure Island, Ringling College of Art and Design (Sarasota), Sarasota. 94 min. Released by SF Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jarno Mononen / Joanna Erkkilä. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 25 May 2013

Technical specs from the IMdB: - Camera: Aaton Penelope, Cooke 5/i and Zeiss Master Prime Lenses, Arricam LT, Lomo Lenses - Laboratory: Cineworks Digital Studios, Miami (FL), USA - Company 3, Los Angeles (CA), USA (digital intermediate) - Negative Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format) - Lomoscope (anamorphic) (source format) (some scenes) - Techniscope (source format) - Printed Film Format: 35 mm, D-Cinema

Spring Break has been a feature of MTV since 1986, based on Daytona Beach (Florida).

Official synopsis: "Four sexy college girls plan to fund their spring break getaway by burglarizing a fast food shack. But that’s only the beginning… During a night of partying, the girls hit a roadblock when they are arrested on drug charges. Hungover and clad only in bikinis, the girls appear before a judge but are bailed out unexpectedly by Alien, an infamous local thug who takes them under his wing and leads them on the wildest Spring Break trip in history. Rough on the outside but with a soft spot inside, Alien wins over the hearts of the young Spring Breakers, and leads them on a Spring Break they never could have imagined."

I used to watch MTV Europe in the 1980s but got bored during the switch from visual invention into an endless beach party zone. Sharp rap and dance clips changed into displays of hedonism, usually expressed via oversaturated colours. The worship of the golden calf, the glorification of crime, and the abundance of female flesh I first tried to interpret as parody.

These days I get exposed to music videos rarely (when they appear on the monitor of my gym I try to look the other way) and while I don't know the current trends I have a sense that the late 1980s hedonistic style is still one of them.

Be it as it may, my first impression from Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is that its imagery is a variant of MTV hedonism (here often topless, sometimes also bottomless). But hedonism is not the the point here. Spring Breakers is the story of four college girls who are on a quest of self-discovery, "to find ourselves", "who we are".

They are bailed out from jail by an actual gangster, an incarnation of gangsta rap. "I'm fucking made of money". "I should be called money". "I just wanted to be bad". "I like doing the wrong thing". "I like making money". "This is the American dream". "I have Scarface on replay".

They walk into the wild side. Faith, the religious girl, steps out early. Another girl leaves having been hit by a bullet in her arm. Two remain, don pink Pussy Riot masks and become worse than the two gangster rivals, Alien and Archie, whom they survive.

During the rampage they watch My Little Pony and call their mothers: "I wanna be a good girl".

The performances are compelling.

The college history class and the religious ceremony in the beginning look like show business.

During the robbery of the Chicken Shack the girls imagine it's a video game.

My first impression was that Spring Breakers is an excuse for the 40-year-old male director to gaze at almost naked teenage flesh, but Jutta Sarhimaa offers a feministic interpretation.

The mode of expression is poetic and dream-like. Phrases are repeated hypnotically: "spring break", "spring break forever". Spring Breakers is like a pop video musical in which the imagery is pushed beyond the conventional limits (with more nudity and violence). The New York Times commented that Harmony Korine is having it both ways (or many ways).

The soundtrack is exciting.

The visual style is ambitious and elaborate. It can even be seen as an attempt at a redemption of MTV hedonism. The general concept is hallucination. The visual world is anti-realistic to start with, with variations such as soft focus, colour manipulation, extreme low definition (like mobile phone footage), colour beyond garish, and pink glow. In the most extreme moments of drug hallucination the world seems to evaporate.

Spring Breakers has been shot on 35 mm photochemical film, and it has been profoundly manipulated in the digital intermediate with heavy visual effects and special effects

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pour la suite du monde / For Those Who Will Follow

Of Whales, the Moon and Men / The Moontrap / For the Ones to Come. CA 1963 © 1962 Office National du Film (Canada). PC: National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Office National du Film du Canada (ONF). La Société Radio-Canada et L'Office National du Film du Canada présentent. P: Jacques Bobet. Directeur de la production: Fernand Dansereau. [Opening credits:] film de Pierre Perrault et de Michel Brault. [End credits:] Pierre Perrault, Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière ont fait ce film. SC: Pierre Perrault, Michel Brault - excerpts from Jacques Cartier: Relations (1545). DP: Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière, Pierre Perrault – assistant à la caméra: Bernard Gosselin - negative: 16 mm – release prints blown up to 35 mm – 1,37:1. M: Jean Cousineau (guitare), Jean Meunier (flûte). S: Pierre Lemelin, Ron Alexander, Roger Lamoureux (à la sonorisation et au mixage). Enregistrement des voix de Belugas (marsouins) ou Delphinapterus leucas: William E. Schevill (Institut oceanographique, Woods Hole, Mass. USA). ED: Werner Nold. Loc: Île-aux-Coudres (Québec, Canada). Commentary reader: Stanley Jackson. Featuring: Léopold Tremblay (marchand et président de la Nouvelle société de la pêche aux marsouins / merchant and president of the new beluga fishing company), Alexis Tremblay (cultivateur and politicien / farmer and politician), Abel Harvey (capitaine et maître de pêche / captain and whaling master), Louis Harvey (cultivateur et chantre d'église / farmer and church cantor), Joachim Harve (capitaine du Nord de l'Île / captain of the Nord de l'Île). Les gens de l'Île aux Coudres ont vécu et joué les événements de ce film en 1962. In French. Not released in Finland – [short American version 84 min], 106 min. A SFI Filmarkivet print of the 106 min version with electronic subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 23 May 2013

On-screen introduction: "Jusqu'en 1924, les habitants de l'Île aux Coudres tendaient une pêche aux marsouins sur le fleuve St-Laurent. À l'instigation des cinéastes, les gens de l'île ont "relevé la pêche" en 1962 pour en perpétuer la mémoire."

I saw this masterpiece of etnofiction for the first time. Pierre Perrault, Michel Brault, and Marcel Carrière joined the community of Île aux Coudres in order to make a movie of the ancient tradition of beluga fishing by some 130 stakes erected on a shallow bay. It is a communal effort (we in Finland would call such an endeavour talkoot), the tradition goes back to the earliest days of the French inhabitation in 1535 and quite possibly to the ways of the original native inhabitants of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

This is a movie about the community, the old and the young, the men and the women, the work and the leisure, the nature and the agriculture. Music is important, as is religion. The original Jacques Cartier reports from the New World in 1535-1545 have a prominent role, read aloud, the old French words visible on screen.

This non-fiction movie is an accurate record of many stages of traditional whaling, but most profoundly it is about the spirit of the community. It is about the joy of life the way they have discovered it.

The beautiful score is based on French-Canadian folk music with Jean Cousineau (guitar), Jean Meunier (flute), a female accordionist, a whistler, and impressive church chant by Abel Harvey.

Towards the conclusion we get to hear beluga sounds at the oceanographic institute. 

The beluga is not hunted for catch but for scientific study in whale conservation.

The language of the film might sometimes be difficult to understand even for a native French speaker. We were grateful for the fine electronic subtitles by Lena Talvio.

After the screening there was a memorable meeting at Corona Bar with Kira Jääskeläinen who has recently completed a whaling film of her own, Tagikaks (2012), Elizabeth Marschan, and Rauno Lauhakangas, a physicist, rock art specialist and international whale expert who has also participated in films such as Beluga Speaking Across Time (2002).

The visual quality: the movie has been shot on 16 mm and blown up to 35 mm. The print is clean and complete.

Legally online with excellent English subtitles: www.nfb.ca/film/pour_la_suite_du_monde_en/

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Kaikki rakastavat / [Everybody's in Love] (KAVA 4K DCP 2013)

Alla älskar. FI 1935. PC: Suomi-Filmi. P: Risto Orko. D: Valentin Vaala. SC: Valentin Vaala, Topo Leistelä – based on a screen story by Jussi Routa. DP: Theodor Luts. AD: Ossi Elstelä. M: Into Aapa (= Pekka Akimov). ED: Valentin Vaala. S: Pertti Kuusela. C: Ansa Ikonen (Sirkka Mares), Tauno Palo (Arvo Lähde), Birgit Nuotio (Kirsti Kallio), Jalmari Rinne (Karma, an engineer), Uuno Laakso (Sydänmurto, an artist), Martta Suonio (Josefine, mistress of a boarding house), Elna Hellman (Kaisu, housemaid of the boarding house), Matti Lehtelä (Hiski, a hired hand at the boarding house), Eine Laine (Mrs. Mares), Yrjö Tuominen (Judge Mares), Kirsti Suonio (Mrs. Lähde), Aino Lohikoski (a housemaid at Mares), Kaarlo Wilska. Helsinki premiere: 24.11.1935 – telecasts: 18.5.1970 MTV1, 6.9.1980 MTV2, 26.1.1983 TV1, 19.8.1994 TV2, 30.9.1998 TV1 – classification: A-551 – 2200 m / 80 min.  KAVA 4K DCP (digitally restored in 2013) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Digital Restorations), 22 May 2013

KAVA digital restoration facts (2013): - A full 4K restoration. - A 4K DCP screening file. - Scanned at DFT Scanity at a resolution of 4152 x 3164, the native resolution of the cell. The precision of the raw scan is significantly higher than the 2160 vertical pixels of the 4K DCP. A resolution as high as this gives good flexibility for restoration.

The starting point was the original Kodak nitrate negative. Although a first generation source, it was in remarkably weak condition due to the high volume of copies printed from it.

Frame by frame dirt and scratches were removed. In difficult cases, in which there is a lot of movement, a part of the dirt was left in the image since the corrected result looked worse than the original scratch. Besides dirt and annoying scratches various sorts of damage on the film had to be corrected. A lot of effort was put to fix joins. Distortion caused by a thick tape join affected in the worst cases several frames in both directions from the point of the join. Scene by scene the image was stabilized and flicker was corrected. DaVinci Revival was utilized in the restoration.

When the original negative is the starting point in the scanning the image has to be entirely re-timed. The definition of light to the restored image was performed on DaVinci Resolve. The tonal range of an original print was used as reference.

The sound source was a magnetic sound tape, a so-called archival cord produced from the original sound negative. The sound negative itself was unavailable due to damage. Although the magnetic sound is a second generation source it is as a rule easier to access as a source than optical film sound. The original mono sound of the film is unfortunately of weak quality, and at times the balance of dialogue and noise is weighing heavier on the noise. The objective was to produce the most pleasant-sounding print possible in the circumstances. While it was not possible entirely to remove the background noise, the attempt was to muffle it sufficiently. Excessive processing tends to render the sound artificial. Besides the noise, distracting snaps and hisses were removed, and, whenever possible, distortion was corrected. (My translation)

The romantic musical comedy Kaikki rakastavat is a key work in Finnish film history since it was the first feature film of Valentin Vaala as the house director of Suomi-Filmi and the film which launched the most beloved screen couple of Finland, Tauno Palo and Ansa Ikonen. Some of the best-known Finnish film stills stem from Kaikki rakastavat.

That said, Kaikki rakastavat is not one of Vaala's best films. He had done inspired work with Teuvo Tulio, and he had founded Finnish urban comedy in his subsequent work. While there are nice moments in Kaikki rakastavat, mostly it's dreary and unfunny.

Redeeming features: - The score by Into Aapa = Pekka Akimov is inspired and sounds good in this restoration. - In the beginning Kaikki rakastavat is flying like a musical; subsequently it gets more pedestrian with some weak farce efforts by some of the cast. - The sense of fun, the sense of joy is the Vaala touch in this movie, despite all the dreary farce elements.

Fun fact: Jalmari Rinne, playing the rival very well here, became the husband of Ansa Ikonen four years later.

Visual quality and sound quality: - One can appreciate the visual style of Valentin Vaala and his cinematographer Theodor Luts in this digital version. There are brief moments where one can see the damage of the source material. - The sound has been restored with loving care, but some distortion remains due to the condition of the source. - Summa summarum: this is a very good presentation of Kaikki rakastavat regarding the condition of the source materials.

Herrain herkku jokamiehen ruuaksi / [A Gourmet Item for Everybody's Dinner Table] 2K DCP (KAVA 2013)

Från festmat till husmanskost. FI 1936. PC: Suomi-Filmi. D: Valentin Vaala. DP: Theodor Luts, Arvo Tamminen. C: Ansa Ikonen, Tauno Majuri, Topo Leistelä (maître d'), Kaija Suonio. Perf: Uula Miilus. 10 min. KAVA 2K DCP (2013) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Digital Restorations), 22 May 2013

Elonet: "The 1930s were the pioneer decade of Finnish commercials. This short directed by Valentin Vaala was produced to promote reindeer meat and granted a tax reduction status even though it was a commercial. Incorporated is excellent footage from a previous anthropological documentary about Lapland. A young couple in Helsinki gets a taste for reindeer meat which is clean and healthy and tastier than grouse breast." (My translation).

The best part of this picture is the anthropological footage from Lapland. Nature footage is difficult for digital, but here I found myself admiring the fine detail in the footage of the reindeer herds, the smoke, the forest, the fountain, the snowploughing, the log fire, the lassoing, and the corralling. The presentation of the preparation of a delicious reindeer steak is graphic and appetizing. A fun commercial. Visual quality: the fine detail is impressive; there is a slightly low contrast look, but this is not a criticism, just a statement: it has clearly been the goal to expose maximum detail.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Jadeskorpionin kirous / Jadeskorpionens förbannelse. US/DE © 2001 Gravier Productions / VDL Communications GmbH. PC: Gravier Productions / Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions / Perido Productions / VDL Communications GmbH. EX: Stephen Tenenbaum. Co-EX: Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins, Datty Ruth. P: Letty Aronson. D+SC: Woody Allen. DP: Zhao Fei. PD: Santo Loquasto. AD: Tom Warren. Set dec: Jessica Lanier. Cost: Suzanne McCabe. Makeup: Eva Polywka, Rosemary Zurlo. Songs: "Sophisticated Lady" (Ellington, Parish, Mills) perf. Duke Ellington; "Two Sleepy People" (Loesser, Carmichael) perf. Earl "Fatha" Hines; "Tuxedo Junction" (Feyne, Johnson, Dash, Hawkins), "How High The Moon" (Hamilton, Lewis) perf. Dick Hyman & The Rainbow Room All Stars; "In A Persian Market" (Ketelbey) perf. Wilbur de Paris; "Flatbush Flanagan" (James) perf. Harry James; "Sunrise Serenade" (Carle, Lawrence) perf. Glenn Miller. ED: Alisa Lepselter. S: Robert Hein. C: Woody Allen (C.W. Briggs), Helen Hunt (Betty Ann Fitzgerald), Charlize Theron (Laura Kensington), Dan Aykroyd (Chris Magruder), Brian Markinson (Al), Wallace Shawn (George Bond), David Ogden Stiers (Voltan Polgar), Elizabeth Berkley (Jill), Peter Gerety (Ned), John Schuck (Mize), John Tormey (Sam), Kaili Vernoff (Rosie). Helsinki premiere: 16.8. 2002 Forum 1, distributed by: Finnkino – dvd: 2003 Scanbox – telecast: 20.1.2006 YLE TV1 – VET 103747 – S – 2795 m / 103 min. A KAVA print deposited by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woody Allen), 21 May 2013

A good Woody Allen film in which he presents a new version of his comic persona. C.W. Briggs (Allen) is an insurance investigator who finds himself being investigated by the police for two grand jewel robberies. The footprints are his, the fingerprints are his, the jewels are found in his apartment, and he has actually taken them... yet he never loses his self-assurance about being innocent, and he finally gets to prove it.

Helen Hunt (Betty Ann Fitzgerald) is the efficiency expert whose position in the story is that he is about to sweep out C.W. from the company, and the grand robberies would be the last straw, yet she never really believes that C.W. did it.

In his interview with Stig Björkman (I can access it only in Swedish and Finnish) Allen confesses that although he has never liked screwball comedies he loves their dialogue in which each line between the man and the woman is an insult - yet the film is always a love story. In this movie the turning-point takes place during the very last minute and is based on the enormous chutzpah of C.W. who stops Betty Ann who is just about to start her honeymoon with her boss Chris Magruder (Dan Aykroyd).

In the same interview Allen claims that he does not find most films noirs very good, either, but that Double Indemnity is a masterpiece. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is in my opinion not a pastiche nor a melange (of screwball and film noir) but an original comedy which reflects on those traditions.

Woody Allen is one of the best directors of actors of all times, and also in this movie the members of the great cast are evidently enjoying themselves, and so are we. An interesting concept is the great esprit de corps that reigns in the insurance company. Everybody is genuinely baffled by the situation in which C.W. seems to have succumbed to crime. And everybody is really happy when truth is out.

The visual quality of the print: it is clean and without blemishes but with a soft warm look which may be intentional, and if it is not (the print perhaps being one generation too far removed from the original) it is not detrimental. The film has been shot in full frame but boom mikes appear if the print is not screened in 1,85:1 widescreen.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013) 3D

The Great Gatsby - Kultahattu / Den store Gatsby. AU/US © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty. P: Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Douglas Wick. D: Baz Luhrmann. SC: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce - based on the novel (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. DP: Simon Duggan - shot on RED - 3D: 3ality. DI: Cutting Edge. Stereographer: PD: Catherine Martin. AD: Ian Gracie - with Damien Drew, Michael Turner. Set dec: Beverley Dunn. Cost: Catherine Martin. Makeup: Lesley Vanderwalt. Hair: Kerry Warn. VFX: Tony Cole, Animal Logic - Prime Focus - Rising Sun - Iloura - Industrial Light and Magic - Method Studios. VFX data wrangler. R&D. M: Craig Armstrong. Bryan Ferry Orchestra. S: Wayne Pashley. ED: Jason Ballantine, Jonathan Redmond, Matt Villa. Casting: Nikki Barret, Ronna Kress. C: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby), Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway), Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan), Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan), Adelaide Clemens (Catherine), Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson), Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker), Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfshiem), Jack Thompson (Dr. Walter Perkins). Speakeasy dancers. Loc: Australia. 143 min. Released by SF Film Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Katja Juutistenaho / [Marjut Höö... ?]. 2K DCP in Dolby 3D with red-green glasses viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 18 May 2013 (week of European premiere).

I had read some reviews and heard some comments in advance, which is why it was a positive surprise to actually see this adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

The first surprise was how faithful the screenplay is to the novel. It is a pretty straightforward adaptation scriptwise. A major addition is the framework in which Nick Carraway is a nervous wreck who writes his novel on doctor's orders in order to restore his mental health. There is no Dr. Walter Perkins in Fitzgerald's novel.

Omissions are mostly in the conclusion. In the novel Nick finally gets to meet Wolfshiem who refuses to attend Gatsby's funeral. Instead the funeral is attended by Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, who does not appear in the film at all. A minor omission is Nick's Finnish housekeeper.

But mostly it's faithful, and we get to hear much of Fitzgerald's prose in the narration. The text is even foregrounded by graphic means - in 3D. The dialogue, too, is to a large degree taken directly from the novel.

The casting and the performances are good. There is true chemistry between Leonado DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan as the lovers Gatsby and Daisy. Tobey Maguire is fine as the narrator-witness, Joel Edgerton is credible as the powerful and vulgar Tom, and Elizabeth Debicki convinces as the worldly golf champion Jordan Baker.

In the beginning the characters look like caricatures, but they become more well-rounded during the movie.

The 3D concept makes sense as a vision of rootlessness, disorientation, and intoxication. Also the central motif of the green light makes sense in 3D.

Remains the question of Baz Luhrmann's visual style, or the absence of it.

Yesterday I happened to see Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, a representative of the cinema of austerity to borrow a term from today's newspapers.

Baz Luhrmann represents the cinema of excess. Experts I respect were positively impressed by Strictly Ballroom (1992) which I failed to like. Romeo + Juliet (1996) I admire, also thanks to the duo Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, convincing in their tragic roles. Moulin Rouge! (2001)... oh dear. Australia (2008) I have yet to see.

The Great Gatsby seems to me like a companion piece to Romeo + Juliet: faithful in the letter, unfaithful in the visual concept. (If I have understood correctly Romeo and Juliet was originally played with no sets, with minimal costume design, and men playing female roles, but the period and location indications are clear if one wants a production with sets and in costumes.)

Visually Luhrmann's Gatsby is excessive, garish, anti-realistic, and with anachronisms. It's a circus. I looks like a parody.

The problem with excess is that nothing gets as boring as quickly as excess.

Racism is a feature in The Great Gatsby: Tom Buchanan is a racial supremacist. He also calls Wolfshiem "a kike" (in the movie only). Bizarrely, in the novel (not in the movie), Wolfshiem's front company is The Swastika Holding Company.

The film most impressively influenced by The Great Gatsby is Citizen Kane, because of the Trimalchio theme (The Great Gatsby's working title was Trimalchio), and the central role in the stories of Gatsby's mansion and Xanadu respectively. Both are about dreams that the protagonists think money can buy.

The 2K 3D presentation of The Great Gatsby with Dolby 3D red-green glasses in Tennispalatsi 1 was dreary. The colour was denatured and affected. There was a strange low definition look. The story about luxury looked cheap. But the problem may have been with the presentation, not the movie.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (a novel)

David Silvette: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1936) - in an American private collection - reproduction in Billeskov Jansen - Stangerup - Traustedt: Verdens litteraturhistorie 11
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. First published 1925. The 1974 Paramount movie cover edition: Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974.

Thanks to the new movie adaptation I finally got to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's magisterial novel although I bought my copy forty years ago... and although there is also a Finnish translation on my bookshelf (1959, translators not credited, but according to sources they are Osmo Mäkeläinen and Marja Niiniluoto. This 1959 Finnish translation I would not recommend.).

T.S. Eliot saw in The Great Gatsby the first step ahead in the American novel since Henry James, and one can see why. The point-of-view technique is sophisticated. Nick is the first person narrator who is also deeply complicit, and we the readers have to remain vigilant at all times.

The Great Gatsby is also profoundly original about the American dream of success. It is an engrossing saga about the power and the pleasure of money. It is about the hidden estate structure beneath the explicit class society while the official ideal is about equal opportunity. We are made to identify with the wealthy and the beautiful and made to see the abyss from the inside. It's about the surface, the appearances, but in order to understand the emptiness more fully.

Was it The Great Gatsby where the motif of "the death car" was invented, also used by Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and repeated in last year's movie Arbitrage?

Lionel Trilling compared the story of Gatsby with Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir and Balzac's Les Illusions perdus, but B.J. Billeskov Jansen states that Gatsby's way is the opposite to them: Gatsby is moving from perdition towards an ideal, although he ultimately fails.

The novel is also about an éducation sentimentale, a coming-of-age story of the narrator, Nick Carraway. It's about the loss of an illusion, yet Nick remains the only one who never ceases to admire Gatsby's idealism.

I tried to read a little about Fitzgerald and noticed that much of what's written remains on the surface, on the sensational details of the life of Scott and Zelda, the writer of the lost generation and the jazz age. What counts for me is that Fitzgerald was a brilliant writer, one of the rare "writer's writers", a great professional, who kept a high standard to the end, although he died in loneliness and poverty at the age of 44.

The Great Gatsby is an eminently readable piece of literature, and its vision remains compelling in our present age of financial turmoil.

Friday, May 17, 2013

După dealuri / Beyond the Hills

Yli vuorten / Bortom bergen. RO/FR/BE © 2012 Mobra Films [... ?]. P+D+SC: Cristian Mungiu - inspired by non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran. DP: Oleg Mutu - negative: 35 mm - Kodak Vision3 200/ 5213, Vision3 500T 5219 - lab: Kodak Cinelabs (Bucharest) - digital intermediate - release: D-Cinema - 2,35:1. PC: Calin Papura, Mihaela Poenaru. Cost: Dana Paparuz. Makeup and hair: Clara Tudose. No score music track. Theme song sung by Alina, also during the end credits: "Wiegenlied" ("Schlafe, mein Prinzchen, schlaf ein") by Bernhard Flies or Johann Friedrich Anton Fleischmann (previously attributed to W.A. Mozart). S: Dana Bunescu, Marius Leftarache, Mircea Olteanu, Cristian Tarnovetchi. ED: Mircea Olteanu. Casting: Catalin Dordea. C: Cosmina Stratan (Voichița), Cristina Flutur (Alina), Valeriu Andriuță (starețul mănăstirii / Monastery Elder), Dana Tapalagă (Maica superioară / Mother Superior), Cătălina Harabagiu (Antonia), Gina Țandură (Maica Iustina / Mother Iustina), Vica Agache (Maica Elisabeta / Mother Elisabeta), Nora Covali (Maica Pahomia / Mother Pahomia), Dionisie Vitcu (Dl. Valerică / Mr. Valerica). 152 min. Released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Rabbe Sandelin. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 17 May 2013

The title of the movie may refer to the monastery, to Germany, to Alina's alienation, to God...

From the official website:

"After his Palme d'Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the Romanian director Cristian Mungiu returns to Cannes for Beyond the Hills. Selected In Competition, its main themes are religion, superstition and love. The film crew answered questions from journalists."

Cristian Mungiu on his view of cinema: "I try to make a different kind of cinema, a different type of film. I do not want the director to be very visible. The music and editing are external elements and I did not want to over-use them. I don't think we need to tell the audience when they should feel moved or not. I am also sure that interpretations will be different in France and in Romania."

Official synopsis

"Alina gets back from Germany to bring Voichita - the only person she loves and was loved by in this world – back to her. But Voichita found God – and God is the most difficult lover one can be jealous of."

Director’s note:

"Beyond the Hills is for me primarily a film about love and free will: mostly about how love can turn the concepts of good and evil into very relative ones. Most of the greatest mistakes of this world have been made in the name of faith, and with the absolute conviction they were done for a good cause."

"Beyond the Hills also speaks about a certain way of experiencing religion. It has always concerned me how much attention believers place on respecting religious habits and rules and how little on applying the essence and wisdom of Christianity to their day-to-day life, for example."

"Preparing for the film I read carefully the list of sins compiled by the Orthodox Church. There are quite a lot (434) and reading them, you cannot but ask yourself all kind of questions. Still, there is a sin that is not listed and which is amongst the most important things about which the film wishes to speak: the sin of indifference. Or maybe it is not a sin, since it’s not listed. But then what is it? Is it dangerous or not? The film also speaks about the various ways in which Evil can manipulate people, and the subtle ways in which it can manifest itself. I wonder whether indifference is not one of them."

"Deep down, I hope, Beyond the Hills speaks about options and choices in life deriving from education or from the lack of education, and about how many things in life derive from things that you cannot influence, or of which you are not guilty: where you were brought into the world, by whom, and in the middle of which community."

"The film also speaks about a region of the world - like many others - where long time exposure to an endless succession of misfortunes and atrocities of all kinds has led to a breed of inert people who have lost their normal reactions in front of normal stimuli. This is not necessarily their fault - it is just a natural survival mechanism, but one which is experienced as an extra burden for those still alive amongst them."

Cristian Mungiu, 2012

There is not a more distinguished film in the first-run film repertory of Helsinki than Beyond the Hills.

The story of two young women, Voichița and Alina, close friends since the orphanage, is so extremely dramatic that it could have been a fitting subject for Jésus Franco or some other representative of the cinema of excess and sensationalism.

But Cristian Mungiu presents the story in an ascetic register. The narrative is downplayed, and the focus is on character and observation of the everyday detail. There is an emphasis on long takes and long shots on the one hand and handheld subjective shots on the other. Dramatic editing is avoided, and there is no score music. The film is very carefully planned, and the mise-en-scène of the scope frames is dynamic and often surprising. The colour is desaturated. The performances are vivid and compelling.

The story is intensive and complicated. There is no simple truth about anybody, and the more we learn about the characters the more complex they turn out to be.

The elder and the mothers and the sisters of the monastery finally face a sentence for the murder of Alina, whom they have killed while trying to exorcize her from the possession of the Devil.

But although they are guilty, so are we all. From the start, Alina and Voichița have been abandoned, and they have passed through a trajectory of institutions, including the orphanage, a foster home, Gastarbeit in Germany (and perhaps something worse), a hospital, and the monastery. But they have never had a home. They have only had the friendship and the love of one another. And now Voichița has found a home with God.

Beyond the Hills is about homelessness, loneliness, rejection and marginalization in today's world.

In its stylistic approach Beyond the Hills belongs to the cinema of asceticism and also to the cinema of duration. I have currently a personal difficulty in trying to relate to the contemporary cinema of duration. Having started to see films in the sixties I was soon acquainted with the then topical cinema of duration by Pintilie (Reconstituirea was commercially released in Finland, and I watched it several times), Jancsó, Sautet, Melville, Tarkovsky, Warhol, Snow, Akerman, Angelopoulos, and others. The subjects of Mungiu have an affinity with the 1960s films by Bresson such as Mouchette and Balthazar, but although ascetic and reduced, Bresson's films were not based on duration to such an exaggerated extent, even if Bresson, too, knew how to extend a take beyond the conventional duration. Thus, although Beyond the Hills is a sincere and moving film, it is also a film of unnecessary tedium, an ordeal for me as a viewer.

Memorable aspects: - The list of the 464 sins. The devil can make you forget. If you conceal some sins, you are not forgiven anything. - "Money is the Devil's eye". - Monastery life is only for those who have chosen it. - The already famous final image in which the windshield is spattered with mud by a passing bus.

Visual quality of the digital screening: the movie has been shot on 35 mm photochemical film, but the colour has been desaturated in the digital intermediate.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Private Hell 36

Rikollisen tuho / Dollarit ovat kuolemaksi / Poliisin helvetti / Heta pengar. US © 1954 Filmakers Productions, Inc. [not Filmmakers]. Original distributor: Filmakers Releasing Organization, Inc. P: Collier Young – associate producer: Robert Eggenweiler. D: Don Siegel. Ass. D: James Anderson, Leonard Kunody. Dialogue D: David Peckinpah [= Sam Peckinpah]. SC: Collier Young, Ida Lupino. DP: Burnett Guffey – b&w – 1,85:1. AD: Walter Keller – set dec: Edward Boyle. Makeup: David Newell. M: Leith Stevens – orchestra: Arthur Morton, Shorty Rogers. Song: "Didn't You Know?", comp. and lyrics: John Franco. S: Thomas Carmen, Howard Wilson – RCA Sound Recording. ED: Stanford Tischler – ass. ED: Noel Coppleman. Technical advisor: Thad H. Brown. C: Ida Lupino [(Lilli Marlowe)], Steve Cochran [(Calhoun Bruner)], Howard Duff [(Jack Farnham)], Dean Jagger [(Captain Michaels)], Dorothy Malone [(Francey Farnham)], [Richard Deacon (druggist)], [Dabbs Greer (bartender)], [King Donovan (burglar at drugstore)], [Kenneth Patterson (police lieutenant], [Chris O'Brien (Coroner)], [Jerry Hausner (nightclub boss)], [George Dockstader (man on the run)], [Jimmy Hawkins (errand boy)], [Bridget Duff (Farnham's baby)]. Production started in early June 1954, Republic Studios. Loc: Los Angeles, including Bronson Canyon (Griffith Park) and the Hollywood Park racetrack. Helsinki premiere: 8.7.1955 Edison, distributed by: California Films Oy Ab – PCA 17084 – VET 42492 – K16 – 81 min. A vintage KAVA print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Carte blanche à Tapani Maskula), 16 May 2013

An offbeat crime movie produced and written by Ida Lupino and Collier Young's Filmakers Productions. Shot on a low budget, on too rushed a schedule and with three main actors often drunk (according to the director Don Siegel) it's not a fully realized accomplishment.

Howard Duff and Steve Cochran play the unglamorous L.A. cop duo, risking their lives for little pay. During a desperate chase they stumble upon a large stash of stolen, marked cash... After what happens then the burden of the crime gets even heavier than the burden of poverty.

The women's roles are interesting. Dorothy Malone plays the married cop's wife Francey. Every night she is in fear: will her husband Jack return home tonight? Ida Lupino is the night club singer Lilli Marlowe (if not Lili Marlene), worldly and realistic, amused at Cal's attentions but not taking him too seriously.

Dean Jagger plays Jack and Cal's boss. His antennae alert him that there is something wrong, and he sets a trap to them. He belongs to the Porfiri tradition of detectives: willing to trust to the end, always on the alert.

There arte some fine action scenes, most prominently in the beginning and in the conclusion. In the intimate scenes between Francey and Jack there is a feeling of emotional reality. Lilli and Cal seem to have fun, for instance when Lilli lets Cal rub her feet. The most impressive sequence is the one where the policemen try to catch the stolen dollar notes flying in the canyon. Their looks are telling.

Private Hell 36 is more character-driven than action-driven. The burden of guilt is the main theme. The dialogue is well written.

There is a good jazz score by Leith Stevens.

Burnett Guffey does a great job with his downbeat cinematography. He has a gift of producing suspense and menace in gray daylight.

Shot in full frame and meant to be screened in 1,85:1 widescreen, we showed the print in full frame because of the oversized double subtitles.

The vintage print has been in heavy use, and the starts and the tails of the reels are rather thrillingly battered (and one minute's worth has melted away by vinegar syndrome due to too tight winding by the distributor), but never mind: there is true bite and a strong sense of the original visual concept in the print, which mostly looks very good.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Scanners

Scanners - tappava ajatus / Scanners - dödande tanke. CA © 1980, premiere 1981. [A very long copyright information notice: Unit-holders...]. PC: Filmplan International, The Canadian Film Development Corporation. EX: Pierre David, Victor Solnicki. P: Claude Héroux. D+SC: David Cronenberg. DP: Mark Irwin - Panaflex Cameras and Lenses by Panavision - lab: Bellevue Pathé Québec Inc. - Eastmancolor - 1,85:1. AD: Carol Spier. Cost: Delphine White. SFX: Gary Zeller. Micro effects: Dennis Pike. Special makeup effects consultant (prosthetics for the exploding heads): Dick Smith. Special makeup: Stephan Dupuis, Tom Schwartz, Chris Walas. Makeup: Brigitte McCaughry. Hair: Constant Natale. Sculptors: Peter Borowski, Tom Coulter, Peter Dowker. M: Howard Shore. S: Peter Burgess. ED: Ronald Sanders. C: Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Adam Ludwig (Arno Crostic), Robert Silverman (Benjamin Pierce), Mavor Moore (Trevellyan). Loc: Montréal (Québec, Canada). Helsinki premiere: 7.8.1981 Savoy, released by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by T.M. Hagström - vhs: 1984 Mistar, Nordic Video, Finn Innovation - dvd: 2003 Future Film - telecasts: 6.5.2004 Subtv, 26.8.2008  MTV3 – VET 89284 – K18 - 2825 m / 103 min. A vintage KAVA print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (David Cronenberg), 15 May 2013

I had never seen Scanners before, although I'm familiar with most of David Cronenberg's films, and I found it fascinating in many ways.

First of all, it is the earliest cyberpunk movie I have seen. I had thought that cyberpunk cinema starts with Blade Runner (1982) and Videodrome (1983), but Scanners has already one of the most spectacular and definitive cyberpunk sequences of all times: the turning-point where Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) scans into the ConSec computer network via telephone and causes the entire computer center to explode. Also the telephone wires explode, and the receiver melts in Cameron's hand.

Another intriguing aspect is the morbid art gallery and the visit to Benjamin Pierce (Robert A. Silverman), a morbid sculptor, constantly rehabilitating himself through art. "You are one of me?" "It's the voices driving me crazy." "My art keeps me sane." The melancholy sequence is the most profound in the movie, which is to a large degree an action movie with gunfights, car chases and explosions.

Scanners is known as a futuristic thriller and a science fiction movie slightly untypical for Cronenberg for example because there is no sex in it. It is also a good horror movie. In the conclusion, before their final  showdown, it turns out that the two main scanners, Cameron Vale and Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) are, in fact, brothers. Their mother had taken in 1946 before their birth a medicine called Ephemerol which had the side-effect of giving the sons a devastating, even lethal and destructive, power of telepathy ("scanning") and telekinesis. In the gruesome finale Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill) discovers the burned remains of one of them... and a new creature, an amalgam of them both.

I like Cronenberg's approach to horror here: the direct, straight approach to action, with an impulse to burst into laughter just beneath, never obviously, yet with a profound sadness about the basic theme of manipulation of all kinds: medical, genetical, and computer-driven.

The film is well-made but not slick, and a certain raw, unpolished, even cheesy quality does not harm it or is perhaps a part of its charm.

The heavily used print has retained its colour (for instance the autumn colours towards the ending look wonderful), and although there is at times a slightly soft and duped feeling mostly it's good enough and at times even very good. Not bad.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kerron sinulle kaiken / Open Up to Me

Låt mig berätta. FI © 2013 Edith Film. P: Liisa Penttilä. D+SC: Simo Halinen. DP: Hena Blomberg. Digital post-production: James Post Oy (Sami Haartemo, image processing. - Pasi Mäkelä, colour grading. - Tommi Gröhn, DCP mastering. - Petteri Linnus, post producer). AD: Sanna-Mari Pirkola. Cost: Riitta-Maria Vehman. Makeup: Kati Koskela. M: Jarmo Saari. Song: "Hyvännäköinen" perf. Markku Aro. S: Janne Laine. ED: Jussi Rautaniemi. C: Leea Klemola (Maarit), Peter Franzén (Sami), Ria Kataja (Julia), Emmi Nivala (Pinja), Alex Anton (Teo), Maria Heiskanen (Silva), Laura Malmivaara (turvakodin johtaja / director at the women's shelter), Juhani Laitala (Haapoja), Marika Parkkomäki (Pirjo), Seppo Halttunen (the Toyota man), Olavi Uusivirta (Hatakka), Pirkko Hämäläinen (Koistinen), Sari Viitasalo-Flander (siivouspäällikkö / forewoman at the cleaning company), Celso de la Molina (Jaime), Rasoul Dehgan (Atilla), Julia Suikki (bartender), Johannes Anttila (Matias). Released by Future Film with Swedish subtitles by Heidi Nyblom-Kuorikoski. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 11 May 2013.

Official synopsis: "Kerron sinulle kaiken is a tale of Maarit (Leea Klemola) going through an abrupt period of transition in her life. Maarit has recently experienced a sex change into a woman. Finally she starts to feel like living a life of her own. Yet Maarit still needs to open knots in her past in order to be able to go on in her life. She wants to reconstruct her relationship with her teenage daughter and be able to help other people again. Further Maarits wants to have someone on her side with whom to experience moments of happiness, go jogging, and share her bed. When fate throws Sami (Peter Franzén) on her way anything seems possible. Kerron sinulle kaiken is a tale about courage. Courage to be oneself even when the whole world seems against it. Courage to make choices which are truly and honestly one's own - and sometimes, when the heart tells so, to cross one's own boundaries." (Official synopsis, my translation).

A well-made drama with a transgendered person, Maarit, in the center. Born as a boy she has always felt she's a girl, and after ten years of marriage she has now experienced a sex change. The lives of everybody in touch with her are bouleversés. Her ex-wife and daughter get to suffer scorn, discrimination, and bullying, and no man is interested in the ex-wife anymore. But Sami, experiencing a crisis of marriage and virility, is helped by Maarit. His marriage is subsequently broken, but it seems it was a matter of time anyway.

The fate is harshest for Maarit who loses her family and meets the overwhelming challenge of finding a new partner. She has an academic degree and has worked as a school curator but now cannot find a job that would meet her qualifications. Instead, she works as a cleaning-woman. In that role she makes a fatal mistake that sets the plot in motion.

Leea Klemola's powerful performance makes the movie work. She had already impressed in one of the pioneering transgender roles of Finnish cinema, Ilppo Pohjola's furious P(l)ain Truth (1993). Maarit survives the almost impossible ordeal via her exceptional strength of character. Maarit's monologue, her confession, is at the core of the movie.

The narrative belongs to the wild, impossible, and transgressive tradition of the cinema. What is forbidden we see actually happening on screen like in a nightmare. Professional confidence is routinely breached, a cleaning-lady poses as a psychotherapist, a "psychotherapist" jumps to bed with a "patient", and a teacher jumps to bed with a lukio = lyceum ~ high school student.

There is a fundamental dimension of pretense in the characters. Sami and Julia are pretending to be happily married. Maarit pretends to be a psychologist. Nobody is at ease with him/herself.

The grown-up protagonists are struggling to survive. They are so highly strung, lost, and desperate that it is a bit hard to relate to them.

The young generation seems more sober. Teo is the only one who recognizes Maarit's identity immediately. Pinja withstands school bullying and clears Maarit's reputation.

The lesson of the story: honesty can be almost impossible, yet truth must prevail.

A new strong theatrical feature film from Simo Halinen who has been active mostly on television. His first theatrical feature film Cyclomania (2001) was memorable thanks to good performances and excellent location shooting in Helsinki, constantly discovering new and surprising views of the much-filmed city.

The digital screening looks ok.

Friday, May 10, 2013

May reading: bank history, Donner continued, Matti Ijäs

Markku Kuisma, Teemu Keskisarja: Erehtymättömät. Tarina suuresta pankkisodasta ja liikepankeista Suomen kohtaloissa 1862-2012 [The Infallibles. The Tale of the Great Bank War and Commercial Banks in the Destinies of Finland 1862-2012]. Helsinki, WSOY 2012. The ironic title of the book refers to bank managers. This engrossing book is the history of the commercial banks of Finland, made with access to the bank archives with a lot of previously unknown information. It is also the history of Finland from the great famine of the 1860s to the EU present. It's full of surprising revelations, such as the role of the banks during the civil war of 1918. The basic drama is the war of the two major commercial banks KOP and SYP which ended in their merger in 1995, and which continued in a Finnish-Swedish-Norwegian-Danish merger which led to the formation of the Nordea bank. There is true insight into the dynamics of a commercial bank: you need to be careful yet you must take risks in order to survive. Finland is seen as a part of the world economy; in the 1860s we were saved from an even more terrible famine by personal credit from Carl von Rothschild in Frankfurt. In the 1990s international financial speculators were watching Finland at the bottom of a depression. Written in cooperation with Nordea, this is a critical, thought-provoking study. And a page-turner.

Continued: Jörn Donner: Mammuten eller Jörn Donners efterlämnade handlingar. Om illamåendets historia i Finland. Första delen [The Mammoth, or Jörn Donner's Posthumous Papers. About the History of Ill-Being in Finland. First Volume]. Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. - I have now read 650 pages of the 1100-page Mammoth. It's an incredible journey full of meetings with people like Pablo Neruda, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Nazim Hikmet, Ilya Ehrenburg, V.S. Naipaul, Joseph Brodsky, Bertolt Brecht, René Clair, and Luchino Visconti. There is the entire Swedish-Finnish literary intelligentsia (Hagar Olsson, Elmer Diktonius, etc.). Because there is no index, it is necessary to create one of one's own. Film archive notables include Henri Langlois, Mary Meerson, and Lotte H. Eisner. Especially interesting are the pages on the great Swedes of the cultural scene such as Olof Lagercrantz, Åke Runnquist, Harry Schein, and Albert Bonnier, Jr. - I'm still at it.

Lauri Timonen: Matti Ijäksen elokuvat [The Films of Matti Ijäs]. Helsinki: Like, 2013. - Matti Ijäs, one of the best Finnish film-makers, has a strong presence on two fronts: television and cinema. He started in the 1970s, and with his personal and consistent approach he has created a real popular following without having to compromise his art. This is a comprehensive, well-written and well-documented opus, good to read and highly useful for consultation.