Friday, January 31, 2014

Ernie Gehr 2

Side/Walk/Shuttle
DocPoint Vanishing Point, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 31 Jan 2014.
Prints from Canyon Cinema and Ernie Gehr. Total duration 73 min
In the presence of Ernie Gehr, introduced by Sami van Ingen.

Sami van Ingen's programme notes: Ernie Gehr. “In representational films sometimes the image affirms its own presence as image, graphic entity, but most often it serves as vehicle to a photo-recorded event. Traditional and established avant-garde film teaches film to be an image, a representing. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind. It is not a vehicle for ideas or portrayals of emotion outside of its own existence as emoted idea. Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space." Ernie Gehr, 1971

Side/Walk/Shuttle
US 1991, colour, 16 mm, 41 min
Loc: Fairmont Hotel (San Francisco, CA).

Side/Walk/Shuttle reveals, through a camera smuggled into a view lift in San Francisco, the absurdity of architecture and questions the sense of skyscrapers while making you dizzy in the process.

“The initial inspiration for the film was an outdoor glass elevator and the visual, spatial and gravitational possibilities it presented me with. The work was also informed by an interest in panoramas, the urban landscape, as well as the topography of San Francisco. Finally, the shape and character of the work was tempered by reflections upon a lifetime of displacement, moving from place to place and haunted by recurring memories of other places I once passed through.” - Ernie Gehr

“Side/Walk/Shuttle traffics in dislocation of a different sort. Its conceit is simple and, in a sense, brilliantly obvious: twenty-five takes, each just shy of two minutes, shot at various angles out of the Fairmont Hotel’s glass elevator. More than San Francisco’s vectored topography, the film’s subject is the camera’s frame, whose orientation Gehr playfully permutes, turning it upside-down or canting it toward either side. As in Signal, Gehr is fascinated by the number of ways in which a site can present itself to his lens, its monocular view proving anything but an analog for everyday vision. Seeing, Gehr’s films reveal, is the sum of so many fragments, the camera less a nimble tool than an awkward prosthesis, everywhere announcing its presence.” - Courtney Fiske, Artforum

AA: A recreation of space, a reinvention of space. The glass elevator is a majestic camera crane. The vision of San Francisco might be compared with Vertigo (but only in the sense of studying vertigo); in one shot we get to see Coit Tower. And Fairmont Hotel, itself, is one of the locations of Vertigo. The effect is disorientation, as the camera is at times upside down, at times tilted sideways. The sky becomes the sea. The boom of the wind is awesome. A beautiful print.

Departure
US 2012, colour, HDCAM NTSC, 22 min

Departure puts the landscape, directions and perception onto new tracks.

“…it appears as though those specific concerns of duration, sync sound, and the confrontation with the common-place have remained on Gehr's mind. Departure seems to reflect an elaboration of these ideas in an even more deceptively simple direction. In fact, Departure's "direction" is about as simple as can be: right-to-left. Returning to the macro-organizational procedures of some of his best-known film works (Eureka and Side/Walk/Shuttle in particular), as well as the very birth of the film medium…The radiant blue sky is an undulating pool along the bottom of the screen, its topline wavering like a seismograph as brown colonial-style train stations and law offices jut into the foreground. In the central section, the recessed track provides a view of track and trackside gravel only, and so we understand at once that Gehr will be offering a kind of expanded colorfield work. But the sheer variety of colors and tones, the shifting sunlight and shadow, and the occasional intrusion of reflections from the train's interior, again provide far greater development over time than our prejudices ever allowed us to expect.” - Michael Sicinski

 “In Ernie Gehr’s films, light seems an absolute quality of the image. Light is in the image. This light is not merely the energy beamed from the projector, by which the film is seen; it is the energy streaming from Ernie Gehr’s lucid sensi-bility, by which virtue we see.” (Hollis Frampton)

AA: A study in perception: movement - space - time. The phantom ride was a popular genre in early cinema. Departure is a abstracted account of a train ride, arrival at a nocturnal city. I did not enjoy the digital quality of this piece, it was strenuous on the eye.

Auto-Collider XV
US 2011, colour, HDCAM NTSC, 10 min

The fifteenth work in the Auto-Collider series in which Gehr depicts traffic, movement and light as wave motion.

“The projected image resembles a Neo-Geo canvas, a high-sheen variant on old school color field work where in the stripes are pushing and pulling at the left and right of the image, often bumping one another with a white-hot glint (sunlight reflecting off fiberglass chassis). The sound is similarly collapsed, with distinct highway sounds pulsing out of the generalized roar... could Auto-Collider XV's narrowed vision be a formal correlative to the anxious passenger's nervous squint?” - Michael Sicinski

AA: A study on velocity, starkly reduced towards abstraction. There is a fierce, continuous movement like in Departure, but this time so accelerated that just the colour stripes remain visible, resembling an image of the spectrum. The yelling motors bring to mind Guantanamo torture. I seldom have headache, but from this assault on the eye I got one. I closed my eyes, but even it did not help, so I shielded my eyes with my hands. The merciless, denatured quality of the digital colour might have something to do with my stress reaction. Or maybe it was just having worked ten hours at the office without a real break.

All three films center on a moving vehicle: - an elevator (Side/Walk/Shuttle) - a train (Departure) - and a car (Auto-Collider XV).

After the screening there was a Q & A, and the first theme was film and digital (the theme opened by John Sundström and others). Ernie Gehr widened the theme not only to moving image culture (including the ancient tradition of - shadow plays - magic lanterns - and optical toys), but even wider, to his interest in creating phenomena without images. "I also do installation work".

Ernie also reminisced a Henri Langlois screening in New York of early cinema. He had brought with him a crate of hand-coloured nitrate prints, the handling and screening of which was absolutely banned. He showed them and exposed the miracle of luminous early nitrate film with a high silver content. The duplicates of the same films do not look at all the same; the luminosity is gone.

Sami van Ingen remarked on a common feature in the three films: Ernie Gehr keeps his camera stationary and lets the world do the choreography.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

VALIE EXPORT 1

VALIE EXPORT. sixpackfilm
DocPoint Vanishing Point, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 30 Jan 2014.
Prints from sixpackfilm. Total duration 79 min
In the presence of VALIE EXPORT, introduced by Mika Taanila.

In her introduction VALIE EXPORT discussed feminism, the exclusion of women from even Wiener Aktionismus, and that nothing has really changed: women earn less. "I rarely see my films on a cinema screen. Mostly they are seen in gallery exhibitions." She discussed her intellectual awakening with semantics, Lévi-Strauss, Wittgenstein. Also the Austrian guilty consciousness of the Nazi era: the Wiener Kreis heritage was not respected in the 1960s; first recently has there been true interest in it. As a performance artist she turned to video to see her own performance, for the feedback, for the Gleichzeitigkeit. She discussed expanded cinema: time and space separated but together.

Mika Taanila in the DocPoint catalogue: "In 1967 clothing designer Waltraud Lehner had seen enough of the assistant and secretarial positions that were the only things available for women in the Viennese filmmaking scene.  She began to refer to herself with the artistic concept and logo-like name VALIE EXPORT, always spelled with capital letters."

"EXPORT attacks distorted structures of the class society and the hypocrisy of the Bourgeoisie with her art. She usually plays the lead in her productions that are cinematically realized intense artistic performances. Her accomplished main works of the short form Mann & Frau & Animal (1971), …Remote…Remote… (1973), and the complex masterpiece Syntagma (1984) are examples EXPORT’s concepts of one’s body as a battlefield – a canvas onto which things can be projected."

"Facing a family (1971) was one of the first televised interventions in the history of video art. Random television viewers got so see themselves, like through a mirror, eating their dinners and watching their television. In the exhilirating Elfried Jelinek. News from Home 18.8.88 (1988) a nobel-winning author, known news-buff in his home country, sits in an armchair and comments the TV news to his friend."

"I turn over the pictures of my voice in my head (2009), a video piece, is based on an art performance made for Venice Biennale. As EXPORT recites a poem, a microscopic camera observes her vocal cords." Mika Taanila / translation by Anna Pöyhönen, Doc Point catalogue

DocPoint / Cinema Orion programme notes by Mika Taanila.

Selbstportrait mit Kopf
AT 1966/67, 4 min, b&w, silent
Cinematography: Rosemarie de Morpurgo Varzi Lehner.
dvd

"In her first film self-portrait, VALIE EXPORT wears an attention-getting curly wig and caresses a woman’s breasts in slow motion, then lasciviously closes and opens her eyes. The carefully applied makeup and wig tell of disguise and acting, and are simultaneously beautiful and terribly stony like the anonymous woman’s head. The brevity and slow speed are reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, in which every single one of the face’s movements become visible." (Brigitta Burger-Utzer)

AA: Two heads: a sculpted bust and VALIE. Beautiful black and white despite the bad dvd.

Tapp und Tastkino
AT 1968, 2 min
Betacam SP PAL, German commentary [untitled version]

"Moreover, taking this performance into the street – an open space, an area of social demonstration – was a way of bursting the protective cocoon of the darkened cinema, where the spectator can give free rein to his voyeuristic urges. In this particular case, the man’s courage is put to the test; he is invited to overcome his shyness and approach the body-object." (Juan Vicente Aliaga)

AA: A reportage of a provocative performance: instead of a peepshow this is a peep-touch-box installed on VALIE's bust. 

Die süsse Nummer. Ein Konsumerlebnis
AT 1969, 7 min
Cinematography: Hermann Hendrich.
digibeta * English subtitles

"An Experience of Consumption. The subtitle of this merry performance is An Action Text, indicating that the artist’s introduction for the vaudeville number was an inflammatory impetus. VALIE EXPORT provides precise instructions for the use of a wrapped box of chocolate-covered candy produced by the renowned Viennese company Hofbauer. However she has not made an advertisement for them and their presentation, with Vienna’s landmark, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, she extols it as a work of art instead." (Brigitta Burger-Utzer)

AA: In the Duchamp tradition, a consumer product - Bonbons aus Wien - alienated in an art context. A weak video quality with video static.

Ein Hauchtext: Liebesgedicht
AT 1970, 3 min
Betacam SP PAL

"Breath Text is a powerfully simple performance in which VALIE EXPORT creates tension by breathing compulsively". (sixpackfilm)

AA: She huffs and puffs, getting the glass all fogged up. 

Facing a Family
AT 1971, 5 min
Betacam SP PAL

"In Facing a Family, a family is observed watching television. The viewer becomes the object of the family's gaze, as much as the family is the object of the viewer's gaze. Writes Roswitha Mueller,"The electronic and the real gaz-es cross without interacting." Facing a Family was originally broadcast on Austrian Network Television, February 2, 1971". (sixpackfilm)

AA: Turning the camera to the viewers, the watching family becoming the object watched.

Interrupted Line
AT 1972, 6 min, silent
Cinematography: VALIE EXPORT.
16 mm

"The middle line marking of the road is filmed through the windscreen of a moving car simultaneously with its own reflection in the driving mirror. The repeated interruptions of the space/time line are as big as a car. The car as a connecting link in time. The cinema as interruption of normal time flow." (VALIE EXPORT)

AA: The windscreen and the driver's mirror as meta-screens. This work belongs to the continuity also explored by Kiarostami.

Body Tape
AT 1970, 5 min
Betacam SP PAL

"1: Touching
 2: Boxing
 3: Feeling
 4: Hearing
 5: Tasting
 6: Pushing
 7: Walking.
 In a series of witty, minimalist exercises that are introduced by intertitles, VALIE EXPORT explores the relationship between word and action." (sixpackfilm)
 
AA:  Her fists, her tongue, her feet against the glass: a performance video.

Hyperbulie
AT 1973, 8 min
Cinematography: Hermann Hendrich.
digibeta PAL

"Hyperbulie is a performance work that pushes the body to its physical extremes. The performance elements are first established: a framework of wires are connected to electric batteries. VALIE EXPORT appears and makes contact with live electricity as she negotiates the wire construction." (sixpackfilm)

AA: Stretching the boundaries of performance with electricity, VALIE exposes her naked body to shocks. 

Body Politics
AT 1974, 3 min
Cinematography Peter Weibel. Male performer: Hermann Hendrich.
digibeta PAL

"The nature of communication between the sexes is predetermined in our society. The politics of behavior that our society imposes upon men and woman can be demonstrated in physical form.
The escalator, consisting of stairs moving downward, demonstrates the existing communication systems in five separate phases. A man and a women are connected by a rope tied around their bodies." 
(VALIE EXPORT)

AA: A playful performance with two escalators, one going upwards, the other downwards, featuring VALIE EXPORT and Hermann Hendrich. Gegeneinander - miteinander - zueinander - füreinander - einander.

Asemie
Asemie – the Inability Expressing Oneself through Facial Expressions.
AT 1973, 10 min
Cinematography: Kurt Talos.
digibeta PAL

"This work documents a ritualistic performance concerned with "Ansemia," or the inability to either express or understand gesture. Using symbolic materials -- hot wax, a knife, a dead bird -- as well as text, Export investigates human expression, and how communication can fail." (sixpackfilm)

AA:  A performance, a naked VALIE kneeling down, tying threads, harassing a parrot. No more than in Monty Python's Dead Parrot Sketch were any live parrots harmed.

Mann & Frau & Animal
AT 1971, 9 min
Cinematography: Didi. Male voice: Herrmann Hendrich.
16 mm

"The earlier films of VALIE EXPORT, one feels, were motivated by the author's desire and needs to investigate her own subjectivity, with the audience as a necessary part of the transference and polemic. Mann & Frau & Animal ("Man & Woman & Animal") shows a woman finding pleasure in herself, the whole film a kind of assertion and affirmation of female sexuality and its independence from male values and pleasures. Thinking about my "quite erotic" tag of that film I realize that as a viewer I am experiencing a sexuality like that of childhood - one motivated by curiosity, a prosaic pleasure in looking, but free from fantasy. It is quite unlike the experience of ordinary pornography which is invested with the erotic almost exclusively through its symbolization of power." (Joanna Kiernan)

AA: Performance as transgression. In the bathroom, she showers her opened vagina, in extreme close-up, until reaching an orgasm. There is a growling vagina, a blood-spattered vagina, a pulsating vagina. The whales are singing.

...Remote...Remote...
AT 1973, 10 min
Cinematography: Didi
16 mm

"Human behaviour in contrast to machines (animals) is influenced by events in the past, as far back as these experiences may lie. Therefore there exists a psychic paratime parallel to the objective time, where the prayers of anguish and guilt, the inability to win, deformations which rip open the skin, becoming aware of oneself, have their constant effects. I demonstrate something which represents past and present." (VALIE EXPORT)

AA: Photo enlargements of children. Reflection, reflecting. Tearing her nail skin with a knife. - VALIE's personal favourite film. - I confess I blocked the views of the slashing at this first viewing of the film. And consequently I blocked the entire film.

Raumsehen und Raumhören
AT 1974, 7 min
Cinematography: Wink van Kempen, Henk Elenga, Frederic Kappelhof / Linjbaan Centrum, Rotterdam.
Betacam SP PAL

"Simple and elegant video performance in which the artist, while standing completely still in a studio, is moved about in space and real time via multiple camera techniques. Sound consists of an original electronic score composed by the artist. The piece is constructed in sections similar to those of a musical composition." (sixpackfilm)

AA: Atavistic video art, split screen, electronic sound, low definition.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ernie Gehr 1

Ernie Gehr: Essex Street Market
DocPoint Vanishing Point: Ernie Gehr, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 29 Jan 2013
In the presence of Ernie Gehr, introduced by Sami van Ingen.
Prints from Canyon Cinema and Ernie Gehr.

Catalog intro by Sami van Ingen: "Ernie Gehr’s (born in 1941) productions are mathematically precise: his works transmit their idea and context without artistic mannerisms or excess trickery. Gehr’s films survey their environment with the toolkit of documentation, and yet they manage to foreground the processes of capturing, perspective and interpretation. His interpretations of generic office halls and anonymous street corners are new ways of noticing and recording one’s surroundings. Central to the works are unusual framing, rhythms and perspectives."

"In Serene Velocity (1970) Gehr twists a mundane office hall into an ecstatically convulsing horizon by changing the focal length between different frames. The piece has been chosen to the U.S. Congress Library’s National Film Registry as a part of the most important cultural heritage of the country. In Shift (1974) traffic perceived from above transforms into a pinball game-like mania through a rhythmic montage."

Serene Velocity (US 1970, 23 min, 16 mm)
Shift (US 1974, 9 min, 16 mm)
Essex Street Market (US 2004, 29 min, DV video bw, silent)
Signal - Germany on the Air (US 1985, 35 min, 16 mm)
96 minutes in total

Four cinematic essays, all different.

Serene Velocity: Ernie Gehr's camera penetrates a generic corridor in a steady back and forth rhythm like an obstinate phallus. The experience of the space changes constantly. A surprising study in perspective and depth. Minimalistic like Wavelength, yet quite different. A space odyssey.

Shift: shifting gears in a crossing, the camera abstracting views of the street and the cars, the framing is consistently off or upside down.

Essex Street Market: shot in the 1970s, Ernie Gehr edited this film 30 years later when the market had changed from an everyman's market to an upscale one. The basis is straight documentary observation of fish, vegetable, clothes, and shoes being sold. Lively scenes, humoristic scenes, still lives. There are shots of classic black and white beauty, linking them to early cinema views of the 1800s.

Signal - Germany on the Air: street scenes from West Berlin, a study of the spirit of the city. I happened to live there at the time, no wonder it looks familiar. The soundtrack is non-diegetic, a collage of radio channel surfing with German and American speech and music. A film about duration, with Antonioniesque affinities at times.

The prints were good. The colour looked right in the three colour films. The black and white was crisp.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Love & Engineering

FI/DE/BG 2014. PC: Making Movies Oy (Kaarle Aho), Filmtank (Thomas Tielsch), Agitprop (Martichka Bozhilova). D+SC: Tonislav Hristov. DP: Peter Flinckenberg. M: Petar Dundakov. S: Nani Schumann. ED: Nikolai Hartmann. Featuring: Mikael Saarinen, among others. Loc: Finland. In English, with Finnish subtitles. 2K DCP. 81 min. DocPoint Opening Gala at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 28 Jan 2014

Presented by Ulla Simonen, Ulla Bergström, Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho, in the presence of the production team.

Rosa-Maria Sedita in the DocPoint Catalogue: "Love & Engineering, Tonislav Hristov's crossmedia production, continues with similar themes as his Sinkkuelämän säännöt / [The Rules of Single Life] seen two years ago at DocPoint. The film befits everyone who has ever been insecure, wanted to change something in his life, had a crush or been on a date."

"The documentary asks what feelings are. Every one of us has his own way to explain our feelings. Besides, we have a scientific explanation to how emotions emerge in our bodies. But what happens in the practice? What causes emotional turbulences, and can emotions be controlled? At least human brains can be hacked."

"The challenges of the dating world are approached from the viewpoint of male engineers. Social media activity does not seem to help in real life encounters. In two years some actual development can take place, and optimism is one of the strong themes of the documentary."

"Love & Engineering provides daters with self-confidence. It is the little things that count. The documentary reveals that falling in love is a process in three phases, and charming the dating companion can be a matter of good hacking skills in the first place!" (Rosa-Maria Sedita, my translation).

The film is based on a classic concept of comedy: bringing a mechanical element in matters of love.

Most of the film charts technical and scientific methods to find Finnish dates for Bulgarian engineers.

The results are awkward, but everybody is having fun all the same. The approach is human, and there is no "adult material".

Such a film-making project might be a good way of dating, in itself. Perhaps it was?

Mostly I was thinking about the new relationship to reality in contemporary documentaries. I have a hard time believing that people can be themselves in the presence of a camera in situations like this. I suspect it is a matter of semi-documentary. The people are real, the issues are real, and the locations are real, but in front of the camera they act a parallel version of their reality. They are performers in a special way.

An element of artifice is also the fact that nobody speaks in their native language. Both Finns and Bulgarians speak bad English. The tutor even stutters. Maybe the message is that despite even such massive language barriers love will find a way.

The visual quality is functional to the story, and can be appreciated on a small screen. The visual objective is basically to record the people featuring in the story and their expressions. Yet there are some expressive landscape shots, too.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Suomi-Filmin tarina 1 (1920‒1935): Ehdottomasti suomalaisia elokuvia / [The Suomi-Filmi Story 1 (1920‒1935): Absolutely Finnish Films]

Erkki Karu, pioneer of film production in independent Finland.
Series credits:
Suomi-Filmin tarina 1–5
Suomalaisen elokuvan kulta-aika. Suomi-Filmin tarina / Berättelsen om Suomi-Filmi / [The Suomi-Filmi Story]
    FI 1993. PC: Yleisradio / TV2 / Tiede ja talous. P: Risto Järvinen. D+SC: Peter von Bagh. ED: Heikki Salo. Tuotantosihteeri: Seija Saarikivi. Kuvaussihteeri: Seija Pajanne. Stills editors: Kai Vase, Pekka Riihimäki. Sound archival editor: Pekka Gronow. Archival editors: Ilkka Kippola, Vuokko Andelin. Graphic design: Seppo Selkälä. VET I-06398 ‒ S – b&w and colour, 1,37:1 ‒ 291 min
    Vhs: 1994 Yle Tallennepalvelu.

Episode credits:
Suomi-Filmin tarina 1 (1920‒1935): Ehdottomasti suomalaisia elokuvia
[The Suomi-Filmi Story 1 (1920‒1935): Absolutely Finnish Films]
    First telecast: 7.10.1993 Yle TV2 ‒ 59 min
    A tv series on the history of Suomi-Filmi, the oldest and most longevous film production company in Finland. The first part covers the 1920s dominated by Erkki Karu; that was when the rural idyll started to change into an urban Finland. In the 1930s the breakthrough of sound takes place, musicals get started, often starring Georg Malmsten. Siltalan pehtoori is the first Finnish film seen by a million viewers. The immortal romantic screen couple Tauno Palo and Ansa Ikonen appears for the first time.
    Interviewees: Kari Uusitalo, Risto Orko, Erkki Karu's daughter Sinikka Järviluoma, Erkki Karu's son Olavi Karu, Armas Vallasvuo, Eugen Malmsten, Risto Orko, Hanna Taini-Lefko ja Ville Salminen.
    Clips: Jääkärin morsian, Finlandia, Koskenlaskijan morsian, Nummisuutarit, Kun isällä on hammassärky, Sotagulashi Kaiun häiritty kesäloma, Ollin oppivuodet, Anna-Liisa, Se parhaiten nauraa, Polyteekkarifilmi, Rakkauden kaikkivalta, Runoilija muuttaa, Myrskyluodon kalastaja, Suvinen satu, Suursalon häät, Pohjalaisia, Muurmanin pakolaiset, Tukkijoella, Noidan kirot, Meidän poikamme, Korkein voitto, Kajastus, Aatamin puvussa ja vähän Eevankin, Tukkipojan morsian, Meidän poikamme merellä, Voi meitä anoppi tulee, Meidän poikamme ilmassa, Herrat täysihoidossa, Minä ja ministeri, VMV 6, Kaikki rakastavat, Vaimoke.
    Songs: "Sukellusvenevalssi", "Sinitakkien marssi", "Auringon lapset", "Vaimoke".

Erkki Karu, suomalaisen elokuvatuotannon uranuurtaja / [Erkki Karu, pioneer of Finnish film production]. Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 22 Jan 2014

The introductory lecture was given by Dr. Outi Hupaniittu, who has discussed the early decades of Finnish film business in her excellent dissertation which she defended last September.

Outi Hupaniittu made clear the high risk taken by film producers in Finland. Before Erkki Karu, film production in Finland was modest, especially in comparison with Denmark and Sweden. Cinema chain owning companies had produced movies that they exhibited themselves. Although Ollin oppivuodet, the first feature film produced by Suomi-Filmi, was incredibly more successful than any previous film, the financial loss was huge. For the first time films were produced outside cinema chains. Erkki Karu's provided a financial background for his film production by a factory producing theatrical sets and by commissioned films for commercial use. These two sidelines kept his company afloat. He knew that he should not start with too difficult projects. Gradually the production became profitable. In 1926 Suomi-Filmi bought the biggest cinema chain, Suomen Biografi. There was a determined press campaign to build a prestigious company image for Suomi-Filmi. Previous enterprises were ridiculed. In the 1920s Suomi-Filmi was pre-eminent. The only possible contender was Erkki Karu, himself, and when he was ousted from Suomi-Filmi he launched a new, even bigger company, Suomen Filmiteollisuus. He had the skill, and many friends. Already in the 1920s "suomifilmi" was a household word. Erkki Karu was the primus motor. He lived beyond his means, entertained lavishly, drove expensive cars, and wanted to build a skyscraper in the middle of the deepest depression. (My digest of Hupaniittu's intro.)

Peter von Bagh's documentary on the early years of Suomi-Filmi is a moving introduction to the Erkki Karu story, with growing value. Most profoundly moving are the interviews with Erkki Karu's children Sinikka Järviluoma and Olavi Karu, made on the nick of time. "Täytyy olla konsti kourassa" was Erkki Karu's intranslatable motto, meaning that no matter how well you are funded, you still need to have the knack to do it right.

Erkki Karu had the passion to launch an entire ambitious film production programme during the silent era in a country that was poor and horribly ravaged by a civil war. He also had the enduring enthusiasm to restart production during the sound era, making the first authentic Finnish film musical, Meidän poikamme merellä / Ours Sons at Sea, starring Georg Malmstén.

Erkki Karu was himself a seafarer from a seafaring family. "Moni oli sinne jäänyt", many of his family had been lost at sea.

Erkki Karu belongs also to the sympathetic category of film-makers who have written songs. "Auringon lapset" / "Children of the Sun" became an evergreen. He was a true romantic.

When Karu was ousted from the company he had founded, he stated: "Kaikkea on viety, mutta ei konstia kourasta" / "They have taken everything but the knack how to do it".

As a film-maker Karu had a strong sense of the public taste, having toured all Finland for ten years as a travelling actor. His touch was rustic. His successors at Suomi-Filmi had a lighter, more urban touch.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Alvar Aalto at Seinäjoki: four films (Seinäjoki. [Lakeus tulvii]. [Seinäjoen kaupungintalo 1961-1962]. [Lakeuden kaupunki.])

The Seinäjoki City Hall. Alvar Aalto.
Seinäjoki / [Lakeuksien keskus] / [The Center of the Plains]. FI 1952. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. Commentary written by: Usko Kemppi. DP: Yrjö Aaltonen - black and white. Commentary read by: Reino Hirviseppä. VET A-4134. 240 m / 9 min. - Rough notes: "Southern Pohjanmaa is not a land of yesterday. Already during the age of the great migrations... " A shot from a river. Seinäjoki established at Törnävä, 1798. The Östermyra iron mill. The establishing of the gunpowder mill. Beautiful imagery. Fine aerial footage. The center of four railways. Bus traffic: more than 50 bus lines. The growth is constant. The kauppala status in 1942. The town plan. 1556: part of Ilmajoki. Jouppi, Mattila. Steady building in progress. Kansakoulu. Maanviljelysseura house. KOP bank house. Oppikoulu schools. Työväentalo. Lakeuden Auto. Car dealers. Hotel, restaurants, four banks, theater, hospital. Kauppalan talo is the heart of the community. Aerial shots. Trucks, truck factories. Butchery. New factories. Textile mills. Choirs. Gymnastics. Sports. Jouppila. Horse races. A new sports field being built. The center is young. A montage of smokestacks. --- The cinematography by Yrjö Aaltonen is professional, dynamic, and exciting. The general sense is modern and forward looking.

[Lakeus tulvii] / [Flood on the Plains]. FI 1961. 4 min. Colour footage of floods, no sound, five boys by the river, venturing to have a dip in the water. Flooded fields, roads. Epic pans on the endless plains under the flood. There is a fine sense of composition and light in several shots.Among the associa tions: Une histoire d'eau.

[Seinäjoen kaupungintalo 1961-1962] / [The Seinäjoki City Hall 1961-1962]. FI 1962. Kaupungintalo (the title on the film). DP: Ossi Pollari. No sound. 14 min. - Rough notes: Alvar Aalto and others around a table with a miniature of the plan of Seinäjoki. The characteristic gesticulation of Alvar Aalto. Intertitle: The work was started on 13.2.1961. A handheld plan. 28.2. Trucks, foundations, a crane, a sledge hammer. 20.3. Work in progress. A record on the work stages. 26.4. A general view and detailed shots. Lakeuden risti in the background. 24.5. Concrete. Peruskivi / The foundation stone 22.6.1961. The ceremony, speeches, Alvar Aalto, the message laid in the foundation stone. 3.8. General views, concrete mill, lifts, bricklaying, cleaning, piping, the Cross on the Plains in the background. 16.8. Harjannostajaiset / roofing celebration 9.9.1961. The feast for all. Speeches. Aerial views. Epic pans. Seinälaattojen tekoa / laying the wall tiles 2.11.1961. 7.11. 12.5.1962. Finishing. Vihkiäiset / The Inauguration 14.10.1962. A concert. Speeches. Alvar Aalto, also speaking. --- A fascinating professional record of the work in progress.

[Lakeuden kaupunki] / [The City on the Plains]. FI 1966. No sound. 20 min. - Rough notes: - A compilation of rough footage in colour. - Aerial shot. Shaky camera. Jump cuts. Seinäjoki views. A basic colour record of the city, its buildings, its surrounding nature. Forest. Seinäjoki 1570. Jouppi, Martola, Jouppila, Uppa. The river, the sky.  Clearing a bog. Kaski. Digging a ditch. Beautiful views. Traditional punamulta red painted houses. 1787. Peasant culture. Traditional country homes. Horses. Details from old buildings. Waterfalls. Bridge. Insignia. Miniatures. Östermyra Bruk. Expressive historical details. Ruutimakasiini 1827-1864. Drawings. Many individual shots are fine. The graveyard, the war heroes' graves. Old grave monuments. Construction at the railroad. Laying asphalt. Road construction. Cranes. Construction sites. Pans. Children at play. Seinäjoki as a junction. An electric engine arrives at Seinäjoki. The railway station. Montages of various trains, including the Lättähattu. An old steam engine. Bus station. General views. Itikka. Tiklas. Kesko. A & O. Harvest time in the field, the traditional way of haystacks. A harvester. Monuments. Water. An art exhibition. Like Nelimarkka. A summer festival. Library. An orchestra. Speeches. Bicycles. Schoolchildren as traffic cops. Hairdressing. Factories. Drawing architects' plans. An industrial kitchen. Dressmaking. Coats of arms. Speeches. Kekkonen. A male choir in Pohjanmaa dresses. Pelimannit. Sampo. Maakuntaravintola. Maakuntaliitto. Nuorisoseura. SPR = The Finnish Red Cross. Maanviljelysseura. Seutukaavaliitto. Aerial shots. Children. Old people. Boy scouts. Girls' gymnastics. Football. Horse races. Javelin throwing. Pole jumping. Running. Young people. Children in a little carousel. Swings. Slides. A flood sequence. The borough council. The city library. The Lakeuden Risti. The Alvar Aalto center. Jump cut montage. The exteriors, the interiors. The city hall. Gardening. Water fountains. Coats of arms. Zoom to Seinäjoki's coat of arms. --- This silent roughly compiled footage seems like an illustration for a live lecture presentation on Seinäjoki.

The original films are at the Seinäjoki City Archive. Viewed from a memory stick at home, 26 Jan 2014.

Kirkonrakentajat. Lakeuden Ristin rakennustyö 1957-1960 / [The Church Builders. The Construction of the Cross of the Plains]

FI. Shot: 1957-1960. Compiled: [2013]. Dvd produced by: Siltaloppi Productions Oy. PC: Seinäjoen seurakunta / The Seinäjoki Congregation. Edited by: Aarno Mäkitalo, Leena Hautala. SC+narrator: Leena Hautala. DP: Veli Kaakinen (footage shot 1957-1960), on 8 mm. New video footage: Juha Rajamäki, Aarno Mäkiaho, Esa Siltaloppi. M: Pekka Reku (the Lakeuden risti organ heard in the film). No direct sound. Feat: Alvar Aalto, E. O. Ojala, Governor Ahlbäck, Eero Lehtinen, Erkki Kuparinen, Seppo Aalto, Lauri Knuutila, Tauno Äikää (organist, no sound heard). 23 min. Viewed on dvd at home, 26 Jan 2014

Veli Kaakinen covered the entire building process of the Lakeuden risti church, planned by Alvar Aalto and his firm, in Seinäjoki documenting the stages of the construction and often venturing to the top of the tower to document views of a now vanished landscape. The Seinäjoki Congragation has edited the footage and provided it with an informative commentary. Many notable personalities are here on record. Most of the footage has home movie quality, but as a historical record this is priceless. They erected the highest cross. "In these plains thou shalt not scorn God." "Follow me".

Alvar Aalto / Alvar Aalto. A Finnish Architect

Aalto Experimental House in Muuratsalo.
FI 1972. Commissioned by: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. P+D+DP: Eino Ruutsalo - colour. SC: Tatu Tuohikorpi, Juha Tanttu, Eino Ruutsalo. [Credited in Elonet: The commentary written by: Pekka Suhonen. There is no commentary in the film viewed. Might there be several versions?] M: Erik Bergman: "Aubade", "Energien", "Exultate". Architect Elissa Aalto has worked with Alvar Aalto since 1952. Art Museum Aalborg in co-operation with Jean-Jacques Baruel. In co-operation with The Museum of Finnish Architecture. Feat: Alvar Aalto, Elissa Aalto, Maire Gullichsen. Shot in the summer 1972 at the Aalto Experimental House in Muuratsalo. VET A-21601 - 534 m / 19 min. Viewed on dvd at home, 26 Jan 2014

A portrait and a vision of Alvar Aalto by the experimental artist Eino Ruutsalo, without commentary, without captions. We do not always know in which building we are wandering. The film is a general view of the concept of space in the world of Alvar Aalto.

The synopsis at Elonet refers to Alvar Aalto speaking and a commentary written by Pekka Suhonen. But in this version the soundtrack consists of the music by Erik Bergman only, with no commentary or spoken remarks at all.

The cinematography by Eino Ruutsalo is inspired with backward dolly shots, expressive close-ups, and some interesting shots with a handheld camera.

The film starts with stills montages of Aalto sketches - designs - and photographs. Then it turns into the moving camera mode, and ends with a sequence dedicated to the Finlandia Hall.

Suomen Akatemian jäsenet. Alvar Aalto / [The Members of the Finnish Academy. Alvar Aalto]

Alvar and Elissa Aalto in the 1950s.
FI 1962. PC: Veikko Laihanen Oy. Säästöpankit esittää. Financed by: Säästöpankit. P: Lauri Siltala. D: Veikko Laihanen. DP: Reijo Hassinen - colour - Academy. Feat: Alvar Aalto. VET A-13199. 285 m / 11 min. Viewed at home on dvd, 26 Jan 2014

A good matter-of-fact general film survey in colour on the entire career of Alvar Aalto until 1962.  See the roughest notes below.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

M (1951)

M. US © 1951 Superior Pictures. PC: Superior Pictures, Inc. Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp. P: Seymour Nebenzal; Assoc P: Harold Nebenzal. D: Joseph Losey; [Ass D: Robert Aldrich]; SC:  Norman Reilly Raine; Leo Katcher; Addl Dialogue: Waldo Salt - [n.c.: based on the screenplay by Thea von Harbou for M, DE 1931, directed by Fritz Lang]. DP: Ernest Laszlo; AD: Martin Obzina; ED: Edward Mann; Set Dec: Ray Robinson; M: Michel Michelet; Conductor: Bert Shefter; S: Leon Becker; S re-recording: Mac Dalgleish; Makeup Ted Larsen; Production Supervisor: Ben Hersh; Production layout: John Hubley; SC Supervisor  Don Weis. C: David Wayne [(Martin W. Harrow, also known as "M")], Howard Da Silva [(inspector Carney)], Luther Adler [(Daniel Langley)], Martin Gabel [(crime boss Charlie Marshall)], Steve Brodie [(Lt. Becker)], Raymond Burr [(Pottsy)], Glenn Anders [(Riggert)], Karen Morley [(Mrs. Coster)], Norman Lloyd [(Sutro)], John Miljan (blind balloon vendor), Walter Burke [(McMahan)], Roy Engel (police chief Regan), Benny Burt (Jansen, drunk thug outside Bradbury Bldg.), Lennie Bremen / Leonard Bremen (thug left behind in Bradbury Bldg.), Jim Backus, Janine Perreau [(the final little girl)], Frances Karath, Robin Fletcher, Bernard Szold (Bradbury Bldg. watchman), Jorja Curtright [(Mother)]. Produced: 5 Jun--7 Jul 1950 at Motion Picture Center. Copyright Information: 07 Mar 1951; LP885. PCA Certificate Number: 14732. Sound: RCA Sound System; Black & white. 87-88 or 90 min. The film was banned in Finland in 1951 (classification number 34282) and has been seen previously here only at the Finnish Film Archive, Cinema Joukola, 28 Sep 1983. A BFINA print of 89 min viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Remakes), 19 Jan 2014
    The credits are based on the AFI Catalog.
    Matti Salo: Waldo Salt wrote most of the screenplay but in the shadow of the black list had to fight to get even a modest credit. Also Horace McCoy participated in the screenplay as Joseph Losey's partner. (Matti Salo: Joseph Losey - vainottu muukalainen [Joseph Losey - A Stranger on the Prowl]. Helsinki: Like, 1989). Matti Salo's book, with a lot of original research, belongs to the best written on Joseph Losey.

Filming locations according to the IMDb: Los Angeles, California: - Alta Vista Apartments, 255 S. Bunker Hill Avenue, Bunker Hill, Downtown - Bradbury Building, 304 S. Broadway, Downtown - Bunker Hill, Downtown.

The uniqueness of Fritz Lang's M has perhaps been grasped with the most profound insight by Noël Burch. Fritz Lang's M is a thriller without an identification structure or even a central character. It is on a different level of existence than Lang's other films, and it is based on a unique mode of narration without a predecessor.

It was a challenge for Joseph Losey to remake the film he greatly admired and whose Brechtian affinities he was privileged to recognize.

Joseph Losey's M is also a unique and distinguished film but traditional in its approach.

The most important difference: there is a central figure in Losey's version, although he is no identification figure. In Lang's film the killer is mostly invisible and unknown until towards the end. In Losey's film the murderer is the main character from the beginning to the end, and from the very start we realize that he is both a criminal and a victim of destructive urges of his mind.

Fritz Lang's M is a visually unforgettable and striking film, but so is Joseph Losey's, although his interpretation is completely different. Losey makes as good a use of Downtown L.A. as Lang did of Berlin.

Losey's talent in creating a dynamic space is on display both in exteriors and interiors. The Bradbury Building sequence is a showcase of his mastery, again quite different from Lang's corresponding sequence.

The "Elsie" sequence in Losey's adaptation is a letdown. Shot by shot I was comparing it with Lang, recognizing Lang's superiority. The mother's agony. The empty dinner table. The staircase. The ball. The balloon. It must have been frustrating for Losey.

Yet there are but a few other scenes where Losey duplicates Lang's visual concepts. The cheap café where we see the killer through the grating. The scene where the "M" chalk figure is branded on the killer's shoulder. The montage of close-ups in the kangaroo court sequence is impressive both in Lang's and Losey's films.

Losey's M has a music score; Lang's M had none: only the whistling of "In the Hall of the Mountain King". In Losey's film the killer is a Pied Piper with a little tune which he whistles and plays on his little flute.

There is a topical charge in the mass hysteria moments when innocent friendly people are harassed, suspected of being the child killer. Berlin before Hitler. Los Angeles during the witch hunts.

David Wayne's performance as the killer is superb and original, with no connection with the legendary Peter Lorre performance. Although there are good and well-known actors in the cast, the actors both in the police corps and in the crime organization remain less distinctive than in Lang's film. Lang's parallel montages of the police detection work and the criminals' methods of investigation are humoristic and electrifying; Losey's less so.

Besides such a distinguished film as Losey's M the superiority of Lang's M is evident. The miracle of Lang's M is based on a combination of Verfremdung and pathos. The story is about criminal pathology, and yet it is above all a portrait of a society: how one sick criminal shatters everybody's lives. This epic width and fullness is not as well accomplished in Losey's version as in Lang's.

The print was good and complete.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Vecchia guardia / The Old Guard

The hero carrying the flag, his buddy carrying the first martyr
[Vanha kaarti] / [Det gamla gardet]. IT 1934. PC: Fauno Film S. A. D: Alessandro Blasetti. SC: Alessandro Blasetti, Giuseppe Zucca - based on a story by Giuseppe Zucca ja Livio Apolloni. DP: Otello Martelli. AD: Leo Bomba. M: Umberto Mancini. ED: Alessandro Blasetti, Ignazio Ferronetti. S: Giuseppe Caracciolo, Giovanni Paris. C: Giancarlo Giachetti (dott. Claudio Gardini), Mino Doro (Roberto), Franco Bramilla (Mario), Maria Puccini (Lina), Barbara Monis (Maria), Graziella Antonelli (Lucietta), Ugo Cesari (Marcone), Umberto Scaripante (Tralicò), Graziella Betti (a girl from the convent), Gino Viotti (mayor), Cesare Zopetti, Aristide Garbini, Idolo Tancredi, Ugo Gracci, Giovanni Grasso, Dina Romano (Carolina), Aldo Frosi (Ronchetti), Amina Pirani Maggi, Walter Lazzaro (Giuseppe Bonamici), Andrea Checci (Pompeo). 85 min. The film was not theatrically released in Finland. There is a German spoken speech in the beginning of this version. A Betacam SP from Cineteca Nazionale (Roma) with e-subtitles by Lena Talvio viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The History of Cinema), 13 Jan 2013

Alessandro Blasetti was a director with remarkable scope. He covered a lot of ground from 1920s experimental realism to 1950s rosy comedies starring Sophia Loren, Vittorio De Sica, and Marcello Mastroianni.

Blasetti was also a Fascist of primo giorno, one of the original Fascists, and when he made a Fascist propaganda film, it was not sur commande but heartfelt, made with conviction.

Vecchia guardia is one of the few true Italian Fascist propaganda films, and its screen life was short. As a rule, explicit political propaganda films are not popular, and they do not serve their cause. Perhaps on the contrary. I have often thought that one of the reasons why Nazi propaganda films were not released in 1930s Finland was that they functioned rather as counter-propaganda. Finns find images and sounds of yelling and croaking dictators and slavishly adoring masses repellent.

Vecchia guardia is quite similar to the contemporary Nazi propaganda films such as Hitlerjunge Quex. It is well made, it has a lot of realistic aspects, it is not impossibly idealized and one-sided, and the director is top-ranking.

One of the hallmarks of Vecchia guardia is its often stark realism. Another one is the staccato rhythm, the blunt editing with royal disregard for smooth transitions in image or sound. In this sense Vecchia guardia resembles avantgarde cinema and may be felt profoundly alienating in a Brechtian sense. There are, indeed, affinities with Kuhle Wampe. There are also affinities with direct cinema and nouvelle vague.

After the Great War the atrocities of the Socialists are getting intolerable, not only their outright violence towards innocent citizens but also their incessant strikes which are turning society into chaos. The most blatant case is their strike at the mental hospital: the madmen turn loose. Decent citizens have no other alternative than to defend themselves militantly. There is tremendous enthusiasm in the conclusion: "a Roma! a Roma! a Roma!". The joyous crowd reaches the Eternal City in the finale, singing a rousing anthem about the call of Mussolini.

Four men of different ages personify Italy's way to Fascism. There is the hero, the dashing activist of the squadra. There is his buddy, a buffoonish strongman with echoes of Maciste. There is his little brother, a teenager who is a technical wizard, also a humoristic character with touches of Gyro Gearloose (Pelle Peloton / Oppfinnar-Jocke / Archimede Pitagorico) in Walt Disney comics. In the final battle against the socialists the young boy is instantly shot, the first martyr of the Fascists, a bit like Horst Wessel. Having witnessed all this, the father, the old, wise professor, finally must face the truth, and he, too joins the Fascists in their triumphant march to Rome.

Blasetti brings a lot of realistic density and humoristic detail into his yarn. Children are important. The wine harvesting scene is delicious. But even though Vecchia guardia is heartfelt, one never forgets that this is un film à thèse, and it lacks the irrestistible drive of great art.

In these remarks I draw from Peter von Bagh, whose writing we published as our programme note.

It seems that the film or much of it has been shot with direct sound.

The undisputed strength of Vecchia guardia is the brilliant cinematography by Otello Martelli. The sense of immediacy is astonishing. Martelli had started with Roberto Roberti, and he went on with Mario Camerini and became a key cinematographer of Neorealism (Paisà, Caccia tragica, Riso amaro, Stromboli, Luci del varietà, Francesco, giullare di Dio, Roma ore 11, I vitelloni, La strada, L'oro di Napoli, Il bidone, Le notti di Cabiria, La ragazza in vetrina). He also shot Sopralluoghi in Palestina for Pasolini. In short, he became one of the most distinguished and original cinematographers in the history of the cinema. But that distinction is already displayed in Vecchia guardia.

A few weeks before our screening it was found out that the film print is in weak condition, and we had to screen a Betacam SP. It is complete and so well made that even on video it is possible to appreciate the high quality of the cinematography, also in ambitious and challenging night scenes.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anna-Liisa (1922)

Anna-Liisa (1922), the tragic finale: Anna-Liisa confesses that she has killed her illegitimate baby five years ago. The wedding will be cancelled, and Anna-Liisa faces prison. Hemmo Kallio, Axel Ahlberg, Helmi Lindelöf, Emil Autere.
Anna-Liisa / Anna-Lisa. FI 1922. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. EX: Erkki Karu. D: Teuvo Puro, Jussi Snellman. SC: Jussi Snellman – based on the play (1895) by Minna Canth. DP: Kurt Jäger (interiors), A. J. Tenhovaara (exteriors); assistent: Armas Fredman. AD: Carl Fager. ED: Teuvo Puro, Kurt Jäger. Stills: Kalle Havas. C: Hemmo Kallio (the master of Kortesuo), Meri Roini (the mistress of Kortesuo), Helmi Lindelöf (Anna-Liisa, the daughter at Kortesuo), Greta Waahtera (Pirkko, her little sister), Emil Autere (Johannes Kivimaa, Anna-Liisa's fiancé), Mimmi Lähteenoja (Husso), Einari Rinne (Mikko, Husso's son, now a lumber boss), Axel Ahlberg (rovasti / provost). Loc: Tuusula. Studio: Vironkatu studio. Shooting schedule: summer 1921 - winter 1922.
    Helsinki premiere: 20.3.1922, released by Suomi-Filmi.
    Original length: 1800 m (probably a rough estimate).
    Surviving prints: 1581 m /20 fps/ 69 min
    There was a Suomi-Filmi vhs release (1991) at 49 min, probably at 25 fps.
    A previous restoration, toned: Suomen elokuva-arkisto 1991.
    New digital restoration (KAVA 2013) based on a duplicate positive. Scanned previously at 2K at Generator Post. Because of frameline issues the image had to be scanned twice, and scene by scene the best alternative was selected. The frameline issues date from the first generation material.
    The entire film was processed digitally frame by frame. Besides dirt removal almost all scenes have been stabilized, and flicker has been removed. Also scratches have been removed when possible. From some of the scenes more dirt, scratches, tear, blotches, joins and all manner of patina has been removed manually.
    The restoration was conducted with Davinci Revival and  PFClean programmes. The definition of light has been remade, and the colour has been added according to original models resorting to the Davinci Resolve programme.
    The DCP has throughout a colour solution similar to tinting.
    The DCP has a music score recorded in 2013 at Forssa Silent Film Festival, by Mikko-Ville Luolajan-Mikkola (violin), Eero Ojanen (piano), and Teemu Hauta-aho (bass).
    DCP (with Finnish / Swedish intertitles) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Erkki Karu), 12 Jan 2014.
    In the presence of Mikko-Ville Luolajan-Mikkola and Teemu Hauta-aho.
    Other film adaptations: Anna-Liisa (Teppo Raikas, FI 1911 – never released), Anna-Liisa (Orvo Saarikivi, FI 1945).

After seeing the new restoration I also read the original tragedy:
Minna Canth: Anna-Liisa, a play in three acts. 1895. In: Minna Canth: Valitut teokset. Porvoo-Helsinki: WSOY, 1954. Introduction by Toini Havu.

Revisited Anna-Liisa (1922), one of the earliest surviving Finnish feature films, and the first one that was distributed abroad, including in the United States. In Portland the police interrupted a screening because of a sauna scene (chaste male towel-protected semi-nudity in a long shot). Anna-Liisa was the first Finnish film that was restricted for children.

Based on the last play by the formidable Minna Canth (1844-1897), Anna-Liisa is a tragedy about a young woman of 20 who on the day when her wedding has been announced confesses that five years ago she has suffocated her illegitimate baby.

The social circumstances have changed, perhaps also due to activists like Minna Canth.

In the background is a tale of impossible, forbidden love. Anna-Liisa has been dating the farmhand Mikko, whom her parents would never have accepted for her husband (and the inheritor of their prosperous farm). Keeping the baby would have been out of the question, too. Anna-Liisa has been blocked into a tragic impasse without a happy alternative.

We have been screening Anna-Liisa regularly, and twenty years ago I noticed how deeply it impressed young viewers. There are enduring themes such as the generation gap, the burden of a secret and the agony of forbidden love. Every young generation can relate to them.

Suomi-Filmi was determined to create a high profile Finnish film culture. The artists at Suomi-Filmi admired Swedish masterpieces but they based their films on Finnish classics such as Minna Canth's plays, and made a point of shooting on location and being inspired by nature.

This film adaptation is ambitious. The approach is not completely assured, but the adaptation is  interesting and successful. The play takes place entirely on the same set, inside the Kortesuo house; it obeys the classical unities of tragedy. The film has been opened up to exteriors, it makes use of parallel editing, it has flashbacks, and there is a dream sequence.

Unlike in the play, the film has lumbercamp scenes. Mikko is a negative character in the story, but in the film we also realize that he has grown as a man. Alas, when he returns to claim Anna-Liisa, he does so in an aggressive and destructive way. Any which way, it would have been too late. He had seduced Anna-Liisa. He had abandoned her, not because he wanted to, but there was no way he could have married her at the time of their passionate affair of youth.

The power of nature is an effective original compensation of the silent film to the power of dialogue in the original tragedy.

The violent climaxes are effective.

Anna-Liisa's nightmare sequence (with no equivalent in the play) is memorable, and well made with superimpositions.

The finale of the tragedy is complex and shocking. Anna-Liisa has stayed awake all night at the beach, losing her mind, starting to wade into the lake to fetch her crying baby, until rescued by Johannes.

The wedding announcing party has not been cancelled, although there will be no wedding. Finally Anna-Liisa appears - dressed in black. "Long live God's holy spirit in all of us". "I am nobody's bride". Anna-Liisa confesses everything, knowing that she will now be convicted to a prison sentence. "I have never felt so happy in my life". Johannes, the fiancé who had disowned her, now declares: "You are the one I thought you were after all". The provost praises Anna-Liisa: "She is wandering on the road to eternal happiness."

Although the directors' approach has not been entirely assured before this, they direct the tragic finale with stunning force, without watering down its complexity. On a personal level it's devastating, on a spiritual level it is dignified, on a social level it exposes an awful injustice.

I have been interested in the theme of the cancelled wedding in the cinema. Anna-Liisa is yet another case, as is Nummisuutarit, directed by Erkki Karu in the next year.

At 20 fps, Anna-Liisa may still be too fast at times as certain scenes seem shot at 18 fps or less. The restoration has been conducted with great skill and taste.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Odd Man Out presented by Matti Salo

Neljän tuulen talo / De fyra vindarnas hus / En natt att leva [SE]. GB 1947. PC: Two Cities Films. [Presented by J. Arthur Rank n.c.]. [EX: Herbert Smith.] Assoc. P: Phil C. Samuel. P+D: Carol Reed. SC: R. C. Sherriff, F. L. Green - based on the novel (1945) by F. L. Green. DP: Robert Krasker. AD: Ralph W. Brinton. Makeup: Tony Sforzini. SFX: Stanley Grant, Bill Warrington. M: William Alwyn. Conductor: Muir Mathieson. The London Symphony Orchestra, leader: George Stratton. S: Harry Miller. ED: Fergus McDonell. Casting: Irene Howard. C: James Mason (Johnny McQueen), Kathleen Ryan (Kathleen Sullivan), Robert Newton (Lukey), Cyril Cusack (Pat), Shell (F. J. McCormick), Fencie (William Hartnell), Fay Compton (Rosie), Denis O'Dea (inspector), W. G. Fay (Father Tom), Maureen Delaney (Theresa O'Brien), Elwyn Brook-Jones (Tober), Robert Beatty (Dennis), Dan O'Herlihy (Nolan). The supporting cast was largely drawn from Dublin's Abbey Theatre. Loc: Belfast (Northern Ireland). Studio: D&P Studios (Denham Studios). 116 min. Released in Finland, 12 Sep 1947 by Parvisfilmi, re-released 12 June 1959 by Parvisfilmi. A KAVI print, the 1959 re-release print deposited by Parvisfilmi, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Crime Films / Hommage à Matti Salo), 7 Jan 2013.

Revisited Odd Man Out, a film which grows at each viewing, for reasons well explained by Matti Salo in his introduction to his personal favourite film, also the favourite film of Roman Polanski and James Mason.

Matti Salo explained the solid poetic concept of the movie, major motifs of which are instantly introduced in the beginning. The precise location is not named in the film, but it has been shot in Belfast, and the novel, as well, is set in Belfast. The period: contemporary, as can be seen from the bomb shelters and ruins. The cinematography by Robert Krasker is first rate, influenced by German Expressionism and French poetic realism, yet brilliantly original. The symphonic score by William Alwyn is based on the leitmotif principle. Carol Reed was an experienced artist who with this film rose to his highest level of achievement (his next films were The Fallen Idol and The Third Man). Matti Salo remarked that it is interesting to compare Reed with Hitchcock. As Reed was growing into his full stature, Hitchcock was experiencing an uncertain period in his career. One of Reed's strengths is his direction of actors. They are all good, and especially great is James Mason's performance as the protagonist, the leader of the organization, who has begun to doubt the way of violence, but who, however, insists in participating in the fatal robbery. One may have questions about the religious component of the story. Everybody fails to fulfill his/her promise except Kathleen. It took many viewings for Matti Salo to detect the meaning of the Finnish title, "The House of Four Winds": it is the tavern which serves as one of Johnny's refuges. (My reinterpretation of Matti Salo's introduction of which I did not take notes.)

AA: An interesting Irish resistance trio by great film-makers: - Juno and the Paycock (Alfred Hitchcock) - The Informer (John Ford) - and Odd Man Out (Carol Reed). All displaying their Expressionist affinities.

Odd Man Out has a noble heritage. It can be compared with You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang) and Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier). James Mason has the same level of inspiration as Henry Fonda and Jean Gabin in those films.

Film-makers with affinities with and perhaps influenced by Carol Reed include Ingmar Bergman (his existentialist fyrtiotalismen period) and Orson Welles (Mr. Arkadin).

In her debut starring role Kathleen Ryan creates a soulful and understated performance. Odd Man Out is also a story of l'amour fou. Perhaps the political story is also one of un amour fou.

The protagonist's war fatigue and disillusionment with violence may have struck topical chords after WWII.

I saw Odd Man Out for the first time in 1969 at 14 in a film society in the company of my father. His ironic remarks about its young rebel martyrology turned me against the film, and first Matti Salo's persistent commitment to Odd Man Out as his personal favourite film has turned me to really to discover it. Now Odd Man Out is for me a story about "all who take the sword will perish by the sword". Yet its deepest sympathy is with those who have failed for a noble cause.

The 1959 print has been in heavy use, but there are enough passages that display the brilliance of the cinematography to make this a worthy cinema experience.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra: Epiphany Concert: Music from the Historical Silver Screen, creator: Peter von Bagh, conductor: József Hárs


Ivan the Terrible
Helsingin kaupunginorkesterin (HKO) loppiaiskonsertti: "Historiallinen valkokangas soi". Helsinki Music Center, Epiphany, the first concert at 15.00, 6 Jan 2014.

The duration of the concert was two hours, including an intermission of 25 minutes.

József Hárs, conductor
Peter von Bagh, creator
Petteri Evilampi, visuals
Riikka Holopainen, presenter
Gita Kadambi, general manager

Nino Rota: War and Peace (King Vidor)
Elmer Bernstein: The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille)
Dmitri Shostakovich: The Fall of Berlin (Mikhail Chiaureli)
Sergei Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible (Sergei Eisenstein)
-- intermission --
Miklós Rózsa: Ben-Hur (William Wyler)
Arthur Honegger: Napoléon (Abel Gance)
Georges Auric: Lola Montès (Max Ophuls)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Sea Hawk (Michael Curtiz)

Peter von Bagh: "The Epiphany concerts of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra - we have managed about a dozen so far - have been dedicated to film-producing countries, sometimes to wide-ranging themes, and occasionally to great composers. This time the topic is one of the greatest - history, or even more generally: time. The arch of our eight films spans millennia."

"The films originate from just four countries, but the background of the composers is wider: the Russians Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, the Italian Nino Rota, the Hungarian Miklós Rózsa, the Austrian Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the Frenchmen Arthur Honegger and Georges Auric, and the U.S. American Elmer Bernstein. We are dealing with a film genre which has always inspired a strong presence of a great orchestra." (Peter von Bagh, translated by AA)

Since 1976 Peter von Bagh has been organizing unique, huge concert events with different concepts and varying organizations in the greatest concert venues of Finland. For the 13th time an Epiphany film concert took place with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

Historical cinema is a gratifying subject for a symphony orchestra. The two concerts in the 1700-seating music center were sold out.

Some of the scores were familiar, others unknown. Even the most familiar ones sounded more magnificent in the music hall.

The arrangements were successful. Nino Rota's War and Peace, Dmitri Shostakovich's The Fall of Berlin, and Miklós Rózsa's Ben-Hur were arranged in three-part suites with a sonata structure. Sergei Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible, Arthur Honegger's Napoléon, and Georges Auric's Lola Montès had a two-part structure. Elmer Bernstein's The Ten Commandments and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Sea Hawk were played in a single-part suite, a bit like an overture to an opera.

All eight selections were great. The most bizarre case was Dmitri Shostakovich's The Fall of Berlin, with its inseparable linking to the macabre Stalin personality cult. Immediately afterwards was played the music with the strongest independent value as pure music: Sergei Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible. It was the climax of the concert right before the intermission.

For the first time I heard Arthur Honegger's Napoléon, arranged from fragmentary remains. I need to hear it more. The most hummable music was, of course, Nino Rota's "Rosa di Novgorod". It was a popular tune in its own right in Finland, too, as a hit song recorded by many great singers.

A strong start to the concert was provided by the overwhelming emotion of Nino Rota's War and Peace. When the "Rosa di Novgorod" tune was playing there were tears in Natasha Rostova's (Audrey Hepburn) eyes. Also in ours.

An undaunted fighting spirit was on display in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Sea Hawk. A rousing way to end the afternoon.

Hit by the flu, the maestro Peter von Bagh, himself, could not come, but his notes were read by Riikka Holopainen, with their irreverent remarks such as comparing Cecil B. DeMille's burning bush with an electric fireplace popular in the U.S. in the 1950s.

The Helsinki Music Center has not yet solved the problem of visuals. The slides were screened in triple projections (the same image visible from three angles), and while they were valuable illustrations, they did not do justice to the grandeur of the image.

As a celebration and a revelation of some of the greatest film music the concert was first-rate. The touch of the conductor József Hárs and the orchestra was inspired.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Le Louvre: ancient Orient and Egypt

Code de Hammurabi. Musée du Louvre.
Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris - France. + 33 (0)1 40 20 53 17. http://www.louvre.fr/ Horaires: Ouvert tous les jours de 9h à 18h sauf le mardi. Nocturnes jusqu’à 21h45 le mercredi et le vendredi. Visited on 2 Jan 2014

On this first visit of mine I embarked on a chronological journey, starting with ancient Egypt and Orient (Mesopotamia, Iran, Levant), 9000 years ago. Today I reached the last pharaon of Egypt, Cleopatra, a few decades before Christ, plus the extension to Coptic Egypt.

7000 years of history and pre-history in a day-long superficial overview (I skipped the most recent 2000 years in my visit of today). Bérénice Geoffroy-Schneiter writes in A Guide to the Louvre (2005) that the history of the Louvre's Department of Oriental Antiquities is "inseparable from that of French archaeological discoveries in the Near and Middle East".

The reconstruction of Le Cour Khorsabad, discovered by Paul-Emile Botta, is a monumental display of the power of the kingdom of Sargon II, king of Assyria.

But I am more impressed by the "birth of writing" exhibition (rez-de-chaussée: antiquités orientales, room 1), focusing on Sumerians around the year 2130 BC, and the Code of Hammurabi (room 3, 1800 BC), "the birth of the law" in its brutal variant of the lex talionis.

Many great archaeologists and diplomats have contributed to the building of the huge collections. They still do. From Meskene (Emar) excavations, in agreement with Jordan, came to be displayed in 1997 a remarkable statue of Ain Ghazal, from 7000  BC, the oldest major work at Le Louvre (Room D in this section).

The ancient Egyptian department was founded by Jean-François Champollion, the scholar who cracked the code of the Rosetta Stone. The stone itself, discovered by Frenchmen, was confiscated by the British during Napoleon's wars and is in the British Museum ever since.

The ancient Egyptian collection is currently displayed in two exhibitions. There is a thematic circuit (rez-de-chaussée, Égypte pharaonique, rooms 1-19). There are rooms devoted to maps, writing, arts and crafts, home, jewels, leisure, temples, Osiris, sarchophagi, mummies, tombs, the Book of the Dead, and gods and magic. The sphinxes and the temple sculptures are displays of majestic power. The obsession with afterlife is uncanny; as if the life on this side were but a prelude to the eternal afterlife.

In the next floor there is a chronological circuit (1er étage, Égypte pharaonique, rooms 20-30), starting with pre Pharaonic art (room 20 from 4500-3800 and room 21 from 3800-2700), and proceeding to Ancien Empire (2700-2200), Moyen Empire (2033-1710), Le Nouvel Empire (2033-1710), Akhenaton and Nefertiti (1353-1337), Tutankhamon and Horemheb (1337-1296), Ramses (1295-1000), the Persian rule (1000- ), the last Pharaohs, Cleopatra [VII], and the Roman rule. In the entresol there are also rooms about the Coptic Egypt.

The time leap of the ancient Egyptian collections is staggering. It is also staggering how rigid and formal Egyptian art was for thousands of years, but not always. There are periods of realism in the beginning and towards the end, and there is the most fascinating period of Akhenaton, breaking with traditional formalism, and venturing both into realism and grotesque exaggeration.

Having visited le Musée de l'érotisme a week ago I discover now the earliest male figurines sporting mighty erections, and the earliest female figurines showcasing their bare breasts with their hands. They are fertility cult figures from an age before the concept of art, and also from an age when the corporeal and the spiritual were undivided. Sexuality was natural and sacred.

Among my favourite discoveries: The Book of the Dead (rez-de-chaussée, Égypte pharaonique, room 17, papyrus roll opened in a vitrine in a very long corridor).

Le Louvre: to photograph or to see

Selfie with Shakira by Gerald Piqué at Facebook, 29 Dec 2013. "En el Louvre con mi Gioconda! — with Shakira". From the Facebook page of Musée du Louvre.
Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris - France. + 33 (0)1 40 20 53 17. http://www.louvre.fr/ Horaires: Ouvert tous les jours de 9h à 18h sauf le mardi. Nocturnes jusqu’à 21h45 le mercredi et le vendredi. Visited on 2 Jan 2014

There is more and more photographing. Everybody today is carrying a camera or several. I was observing the photographers in front of every artwork. Perhaps the original sense of this is: "I love it, I photograph it". But there may be more senses. "I photograph it, I see it". Perhaps even: "I photograph it, it exists". Often, I'm afraid: "I photograph it, I don't look at it." And sometimes: "I photograph it, I prevent others from looking at it".

There are world-class photographs of the artworks readily available in books, catalogues, and on the internet, including on Le Louvre's own brilliant website.

I have been examining beautiful photographs of many of these works since 50 years, and now I have the unique chance to see the real thing. It is likewise with the photographers. But in many cases the photographers do not stop to examine the artwork at all, but instead start to photograph it. As if the camera lens were superior to one's own eyes.

It is a bit funny and paradoxical. But the main thing is that these huge crowds keep coming and spread enthusiasm for Le Louvre along with their selfies and Twitter feeds. Even on Le Louvre's own Facebook site there is a Shakira selfie in front of Mona Lisa, the tiny lady trapped in her huge bulletproof glass booth like Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem or Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs.

Le Louvre

The Great Sphinx of Tanis © Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris - France. + 33 (0)1 40 20 53 17. http://www.louvre.fr/ Horaires: Ouvert tous les jours de 9h à 18h sauf le mardi. Nocturnes jusqu’à 21h45 le mercredi et le vendredi. Visited on 2 Jan 2014

Musée du Louvre is one of the world's largest museums, and, with over eight million visitors a year, the world's most visited museum.

I spent a day at Le Louvre which I have never visited before.

This is my first visit to Paris as a tourist, and I had always realized a visit to Le Louvre would be too time-consuming for trips on business or research.

One needs perhaps five days to get an overview of Le Louvre. It is a good idea to wear light indoor shoes and no jacket. You get very warm even so, walking all day.

As a sociologist I'm amazed at the crowd. We were on time at the Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre subway station, half an hour before the opening, but on our way towards the entrance we realized we were already in a very long queue. In the first queue to get tickets. It would make sense to get tickets in advance online or otherwise. The second queue was outdoors, at Le Pyramide, to get inside.

All the world is here.

Le Louvre is a legendary place, perhaps a mythical place. From my childhood I remember the popular tv series Belphégor ou le fantôme du Louvre (1965), located in the Egyptian department of the museum.