Thursday, February 08, 2018

Slnko v sieti / The Sun in the Net

Aurinko verkossa
    Slovakia, Czechoslovakia 1962. Year of release: 1963. PC: Filmová tvorba a distribúcia Bratislava, Štúdio hraných filmov Bratislava – Koliba, 1. tvorivá skupina Alberta Marenčina. P: Ján Svikruha. D: Štefan Uher. Ass D: Eduard Grečner (exteriors). SC: Alfonz Bednár – based on his short stories "Fajolo’s Contribution" (Fajolov príspevok), "Pontoon Day" (Pontónový deň), and "Golden Gate" (Zlatá brána). Cin: Stanislav Szomolányi. ED: Bedřich Voděrka. AD: Juraj Červik st. M: Ilja Zeljenka. Cost: Júlia Ballagová. S: Rudolf Pavlíček
    ♪ ”Tequila” (Daniel Flores, US 1959, original performer The Champs)
    ♪ ”Alouette” (trad. children’s song, French-Canadian, first printed in Montréal, 1879)
    ♪ “Let’s Twist Again” (Kal Mann, David Appell, US 1961, original performer Chubby Checker)
    C: Marián Bielik (Fajolo), Jana Beláková (Bela), Eliska Nosálová (Stana Blazejová), Andrej Vandlík (father, Ján "Jano" Blažej), Olga Salagová (Jana), Pavol Chrobák (mechanizátor Blažej), Adam Janco (Stohár Blazer), Lubo Roman (Peto), Anton Galba (Meg), Vladimir Malina (fisherman).
    Loc: Bratislava, Nitrianska Blatnica.
    Premiere: 15 March 1963. In Slovakian. 2565 m / 91 min
    The film was not theatrically released in Finland.
    A 35 mm print with English subtitles of 93 min from Slovenský filmový ústav screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (A Tribute to the Slovakian New Wave), 8 Feb 2018

For the first time in Finland we screened Štefan Uher's The Sun in the Net, a pioneering Slovakian New Wave film. Věra Chytilová's O něčem jiném / Something Different, the first Czech New Wave film, had its premiere nine months later, on 20 December 1963.

We hereby launched our tribute to the Slovakian New Wave in collaboration with Slovenský filmový ústav (SFU), inspired by the retrospective three years ago at Midnight Sun Film Festival curated by Olaf Möller. In it we are also screening Peter Solan's Before This Night Is Over (Kým sa skoncí táto noc, 1966), Eduard Grečner's Return of the Dragon (Drak sa vracia, 1967), Dušan Hanák's Pictures of the Old World (Obrazy starého sveta, 1972), and Elo Havetta's Wild Lilies (Ľalie poľné, 1972).

Štefan Uher works here with his trusted screenwriter Alfonz Bednár, cinematographer Stanislav Szomolányi, and composer Ilja Zeljenka.

There is an awareness of contemporary international new wave approaches: a documentary impulse, an appetite for reality, a curiosity for the life lived today, a sensitivity to the immediate experience. Heavy structures are avoided.

Totalitarian political control is ignored, and an atmosphere of freedom prevails in observations. The fabric of life is honest and complex, not conforming to moral lessons or models. Sequences of the work brigade at the farm reveal a failure of the planned economy.

The film takes place in the city of Bratislava, on the banks of the Danube, and in the countryside in Meleňany.

At the center is the Blažej family drama. Via the 15-year-old daughter Bela we learn to know her blind mother Stanka and her negligent father Jan. Bela's boyfriend Fajolo travels to a farm as a member of a summer work brigade. In Fajolo's absence Bela starts to date another guy, Peto, while Fajolo is seeing Jana, the only girl in the work brigade. At the farm in Meleňany lives also Bela's grandfather, Stanka's father, who lets Fajolo into family secrets. Follows a crucial encounter in Bratislava at the family dinner table. The children take their blind mother Stanka to an outing into the woods and towards the Danube. The water level has sunk, and the pontoon they are visiting is on dry ground, but they lie to their mother about the scenery.

A key event is an eclipse, one like has not been seen in 120 years. There had actually been such an eclipse on 15 February 1961 which perhaps also inspired Michelangelo Antonioni's L'eclisse (1962). Another film which somehow come to my mind watching The Sun in the Net was Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en spegel, 1961). Glasses are being smoked. Lectures on the sun are being heard. Ancient sun myths are evoked, such as the sol invictus of Ancient Rome. The title of the film refers to an image of the fisherman's net at a moment when the sun is reflected in the Danube, "caught in the net".

The fisherman's pontoon at the Danube is a central location. The old fisherman is an invalid with a hook prosthesis in one arm, and sometimes he uses his net to cool a bottle of alcohol. He is "old in years, young for love", with a loving wife.

The farm at Meleňany is another key location. The work brigade's tasks are hampered by rusty machines beyond repair and bureaucratic restrictions about the use of the wood. Instead, Fajolo gets to date Jana, and learn to know the fascinating old-timer Blažej, a driving force at the farm regardless his age and the mindless administration of the collective system.

Štefan Uher identifies with the young, shows a lot of respect for the old generation, and reveals a suspicious attitude towards the middle-aged. All generations are displayed: the film starts with images of eggs of a waterbird by the Danube and children's play at the courtyard (rolling inside a tyre), and it ends with a child's request "bread, mother".

The imagery is assured and poetic with recurrent motifs such as:
– a forest of antennae on Bratislava rooftops
– acts and processes of photography
– photographs as freeze frames syncopating the flow of the movie
– the hand as Fajolo's favourite subject as a photographer
– the eye
– the sun
– light
– the sky
– jet trails in the sky
– reflections in the water

The music is based on a spare avantgardistic concept by Ilja Zeljenka. Ocarina solos are a specialty. A major role is played by a ubiquitous stream of what is known in Finland as rautalanka [literally: "iron wire"], a reduced early 1960s instrumental style rock such as in "Apache" by The Shadows. Transistor radios are everywhere, and they are playing a banal variant of this music. For Fajolo it is a revelation to travel into the countryside to experience silence. There grandfather Blažej even teaches him how to silence a public loudspeaker. Also Stanka tells how she loves silence, "as if I had been preparing myself to this silence forever".

There is a poetic structure in the imagery and the soundscape. The film is rich in density, but not without a few longueurs. At times exquisite compositions seem to cover missing depth. But as a whole The Sun in the Net is a very engaging achievement, and it is likely to gain from revisiting.

A very good visual quality in the SFU print, a couple of minutes longer than the official duration.


Sunday, February 04, 2018

1918 - huutoja ja kaikuja II / 1918 - Cries and Echoes II (a seminar on the Finnish Civil War)

Punaorvot valkoisessa Suomessa / [Red Orphans in White Finland].

A seminar on the movies of the 1918 civil war in Finland • organized by DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival / Risto Jarva Society / KAVI.
    Moderators: Ville Suhonen, Jouko Aaltonen
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Year of Remembrance 1918), 4 Feb 2018

Part II: Sunday 4.2.2018

10.00 Seppo Rustanius: Punaorvot valkoisessa Suomessa [Red Orphans in White Finland] (FI 1999). PC: Illume. 16 mm, magnetic sound. Screened on Betacam SP. 55 min
    Among the witnesses: Ilmi Elo, Eva Erkko.
    Score by Heikki Valpola.
    Reader: Pertti Sveholm.
   "The tale of the 20 000 red orphans who survived the bloody civil war. An attempt was made to relocate and integrate the voluminous bunch of red orphans into white Finland. Children were moved to the province of Ostrobothnia for re-education. Orphanages for red children were established. Some remained with their mother or relatives surviving on subsistence level. In this film the red orphans forgotten by official history can finally be heard."
    Remarks by Associate Professor Ulla-Maija Peltonen.
    AA: A precious record of living memory of red orphan children experiencing gross injustice at foster homes, schools, and the military. A heritage of harassment and slight.

11.15  Seppo Rustanius: Punaiset esiliinat / [Red Aprons] (FI 1997). PC: Illume. 16 mm, magnetic sound. Screened on Betacam SP. 65 min
    Score by Heikki Valpola.
    Readers: Eriikka Magnusson, Matti Paloheimo.
    Among the witnesses: Aili Eskola, Elli Forsström, Aira Hämäläinen, Eeva Mäkinen, Meeri Lindström, Elli Nurminen (archival tape), Paula Suotaala, Meeri Pitkänen, Hilkka Vuori, Marja Torikka, daughter of Ingrid Kuhlman, Ellen Harmovaara (archival tape), Martta Koivisto (archival tape), and Ilmi Elo.
    "A film about women in the Red Guards of Finland in 1918. The first documentary film on the subject".
    Remarks by writer Anneli Kanto.
    AA: Remarkable first generation records of the female red guard soldiers who not only participated in military action but were usually the most valiant elements in the civil war. After the war they became the victims of the most atrocious retribution. The surviving witnesses who were young girls at the time comment that they chose not to reminiscence about those times. "Only now I have started to think about them". "Those matters were never discussed". "Nobody asked". Not even their husbands and children necessarily knew.    

12.45 Seppo Rustanius: Uhrit 1918 [The Victims 1918] (FI 2008). PC: Illume. Screened on Digital Betacam. 52 min
    The two protagonists: Erik Grotenfelt and Matti Olmanketo.
   "A film about the victims of the 1918 civil war – the winners and the losers. During the 1918 civil war and especially afterwards thousands of Finns were executed. Mainly responsible for the executions were the winners. The film is an account of this time of dread and terror via two protagonists. One was an executioner, another was executed. Both were victims of the war."
    Remarks by PhD Aapo Roselius.
    AA: Numbers can be numbing. This movie brings us closer to the actuality of the war via two protagonists. Matti Olmanketo and Erik Grotenfelt were both artistically sensitive family fathers. Olmanketo, who belonged to the Reds, was executed. Grotenfelt became an executioner, but in 1919 he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

1918 – huutoja ja kaikuja I / 1918 – Cries and Echoes I (a seminar on the Finnish Civil War)

The takeover of Helsinki in 1918 CC BY 4.0 N10045. The Parade of the White Army on North Esplanade on 16 May 1918. In front of the headquarters. Source: reproduction negative from glass negative. Photographer: Gunnar Lönnqvist 16.5.1918. 9 x 12. Photo: Helsinki City Museum. Please do click to enlarge the photograph.

A seminar on the movies of the 1918 civil war in Finland • organized by DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival / Risto Jarva Society / KAVI.
    Moderators: Ville Suhonen, Jouko Aaltonen
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Year of Remembrance 1918), 3 Feb 2018

Part I: Saturday 3.2.2018

10.00 Lecture: Authentic documentary film material of the civil war: truth and framing. Senior researcher Jari Sedergren
10.15 Photographs and photographers of the civil war. Senior researcher Jukka Kukkonen
    AA: Two lessons in source criticism. Most of the films and photographs of the events of 1918 are biased. Images of "documentary war footage" are usually reconstructions. They can be rewarding but only if examined critically. When one publishes photographs of the events sources should be carefully identified.

10.45 Reino Palmroth: Sama kaiku on askelten [The Echo Remains the Same] (FI 1968). PC: Opus Film. KAVI 35 mm. 23 min
    "An unofficial 50th jubileum film of the Jäger movement and the civil war."
    AA: A patriotic celebration of the Jäger movement which was trained in imperial Germany during WWI to help fight for Finnish independence. When Finland became independent without a fight, the movement played a key role in the civil war on the White side. A film full of rousing marches, official Jäger film footage, and a commentary read by the legendary Reino Palmroth himself. A brilliant print.

11.15 Sini Järnström: Hilja, punaisen tyttö [Hilja, Daughter of the Reds] (FI 2006). PC: TAMK Taide ja Viestintä. 2K DCP transfer from Digital Betacam. 11 min
    "The 101 year old Hilja Virtanen tells about the events of 1918. War memories and the silence surrounding it affected her whole life."
    AA: A moving and harrowing account of the Battle of Tampere, the bloodiest battle in the history of the Nordic countries, as remembered by Hilja Virtanen, 13 at the time. She also remembers the bloody retribution and a harassment that lasted for decades.

COFFEE BREAK. A pop up café (by Itä-Uudenmaan Palloseura) and an exhibition of photographs of the year 1918.

12.00 Kaisa Salmi: Fellmanin pelto [The Fellman Field] (FI 2013). Kaisa Salmi, triptych copy, Quicktime ProRes422HQ. English subtitles. 23 min
    Five stories: Jussi Niinistö, Anna Kontula, Pekka Tero..., Timo Hurme, Aki-Mauri Huhtinen.
    "La Marseillaise", lyr. Edla Saarto ("Ken oikeutta puolustaapi") sung by Kaisa Korhonen, lyr. Heikki Salo.
    "The artist Kaisa Salmi directed in the Fellman Park in the city of Lahti in April 2013 the performance The Fellman Field - a living monument of 22 000 people. 10 000 people from all over Finland participated. The performance was based on the events of the biggest prison camp of the civil war of 1918 in Lahti. The documentary brings together the biggest ever performance in Finland, the stories of five protagonists and a poetic recitative read by dozens of volunteers for the camera."
    AA: A documentary record of a magnificent performance which inspired and activated a flood of repressed memories. An event of monumental catharsis.

12.25 Kaisa Salmi: Veripelto [Field of Blood] (FI 2018). Kaisa Salmi, Quicktime ProRes422HQ. 8 min
    "A prison guard atones for a family trauma by digging a grave in the Field of Blood performance in the Jättömaa of the city of Kouvola, at the same place where in 1918 first Whites and then Reds were executed. The first public screening of the movie."
    AA: "Granpa carried this burden inside for seventy years". Digging a grave as a way of dealing with the burden of guilt. A performance as a therapeutic act. Another collective performance, recorded also with aerial cameras.

12.45 Seppo Rustanius: Sotapapit [Priests of War] (1981). PC: Yleisradio TV2 Dokumenttiohjelmat. 2K DCP from Yleisradio videotape. 37 min
    "A controversial (and in the original telecast partly censored) television documentary on the theme of the church of Finland, the clergy and the war in independent Finland from the 1918 civil war until the end of the second world war".
    AA: The story of the union of the clergy and the military during the first decades of independent Finland. With interviews with Arvi Järventaus, Antti Rentola, Jyrki Järnefelt, Armas Salmenkivi, Jorma Juutilainen, Heikki Holkeri, etc. The message of the film is the same as Bob Dylan's in "With God On Our Side".

A discussion on the censoring of the film and its political significance. Priest Heikki Palmu
    AA: Heikki Palmu criticized the film for one-sidedness. It only shows one side of the clergy while in reality there were many. Truth was more complex than this.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Scener ur ett äktenskap 1–6 / Scenes from a Marriage 1–6 (2002 digital restoration by Svensk Filmindustri)

Scener ur ett äktenskap Del 5: Analfabeterna. Liv Ullmann (Marianne) and Erland Josephson (Johan). Enligt Bergman var Ullmann och Josephssons insats "ovärderlig eftersom de aldrig lämnade ut Marianne och Johan, utan försvarade dem. På så sätt fick i många fall Livs och Erlands önskemål om replikernas och scenariets utformning avgörande betydelse för det slutliga resultatet." According to Bergman the contribution of Ullmann and Josephson was "invaluable since they never abandoned Marianne and Johan, instead defending them. Thus in many cases Liv and Erland's wishes about the formulation of the dialogue and the screenplay proved decisive for the final result." Foto: Lars Karlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption from the Bergman 100 website.

Kohtauksia eräästä avioliitosta
Oskuld och panik / Innocence and Panic / Viattomuutta ja pakokauhua
Konsten att sopa under mattan / The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug / Kuinka roskat lakaistaan maton alle
Paula / Paula / Paula
Tåredalen / The Vale of Tears / Kyynelten laakso
Analfabeterna / The Illiterates / Analfabeetit
Mitt i natten i ett mörkt hus någonstans i världen / In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World / Keskellä yötä pimeässä talossa jossakin maailmassa
    SE 1973. PC: Cinematograph Ab. P supervisor: Lars-Owe Carlberg. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist – 16 mm – Eastman Color – 25 fps. PD: Björn Thulin. Cost: Inger Pehrsson. ED: Siv Lundgren. Sound re-recording mixer – Owe Svensson – optical mono.
    No music score. During the credits is heard a short excerpt from the start of Tomaso Albinoni: Op. 10: 12 Concerti a cinque No. 1 (Concerto for violin, strings & continuo) in si bemolle maggiore: Allegro (1735).
    "Hej tomtegubbar" / "Hei tonttu-ukot hyppikää", a Swedish traditional Christmas song ("en svensk folkvisa", n.c.), first known printing 1815, with lyrics 1833, whistled by Johan in the final episode.
    C: Liv Ullmann (Marianne, divorce attorney), Erland Josephson (Johan, associate professor), Bibi Andersson (Katarina), Jan Malmsjö (Peter), Gunnel Lindblom (Eva), Anita Wall (Ms. Palm, journalist), Barbro Hiort af Ornäs (Mrs. Jacobi), Lena Bergman (Karin, Marianne and Johan's daughter), Wenche Foss (Marianne's mother), Rossana Mariano (Eva, Marianne and Johan's daughter at 12), Bertil Norström (Arne, Johan's colleague), Ingmar Bergman (voice of the magazine photographer).
    First telecast (simultaneously in Sweden, Finland, and other Nordic countries):
    Part 1 on 11 April, 1973
    Part 2 on 18 April, 1973
    Part 3 on 25 April, 1973
    Part 4 on 2 May, 1973
    Part 5 on 9 May, 1973
    Part 6 on 16 May, 1973
    Episode length: ca 49 min.
    Duration of the complete version: 281 min
    Helsinki premiere of the theatrical version: 11.9.1981 Nordia, distributor: Diana-Filmi Oy – VET 89239 – K12 – 4675 m / 171 min
    The film was produced by Bergman's Cinematograph company. Its rights and this copy now belong to SF Studios (formerly Svensk Filmindustri).
    Svenska Filminstitutet: Bergman 100: digital transfer in 2K DCP of the complete version with English subtitles (n.c.), the 2002 digital restoration by Svensk Filmindustri.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Bergman 100), 27 Jan 2018

1  "Innocence and Panic"
    An affluent couple, Marianne and Johan, are interviewed for a magazine series on love after having renewed their marriage contract after their 10th anniversary. In the interview, they come across as an ideal couple. Afterward, they entertain the couple Peter and Katarina, who have a miserable relationship. Marianne reveals to Johan she is pregnant, and she winds up having an abortion.
2  "The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug"
    Marianne wakes up one morning determined to not visit her parents for dinner, as the family usually does each week, and is forced to back down. At the university where Johan works, he shares poetry that he has not let Marianne see with a female colleague, who tells him it is mediocre. Later, Marianne and Johan debate the lack of joy they take in their sex life.
3  "Paula"
    Johan reveals to Marianne that he is having an affair with a younger woman named Paula, an unseen character, and wants a separation. He intends to leave home for months, and shares his frustrations about their marriage and longtime desire to leave. Upon phoning a friend for help, Marianne learns many of her friends knew about the affair before she did.
4  "The Vale of Tears"
    Johan visits Marianne, disclosing he intends to take a position at Cleveland University. Marianne then suggests they should finalize a divorce, hinting she is interested in remarrying. She shares what she has learned about herself in therapy.
5  "The Illiterates"
    Marianne and Johan meet to finalize their divorce, leading to more arguments over the division of their property, the upbringing of their daughters and Marianne's new enjoyment of sex with her current partner. After the arguments escalate into physical violence, Johan sadly signs the papers.
6  "In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World"
    Despite having both been remarried to other people, Marianne and Johan meet for an affair. Marianne reveals she had an affair in 1955, very shortly after they were married. It has been 20 years since they were married. Going to a friend's country house, Marianne has a nightmare, and wakes up fretting she has never loved or been loved. Johan comforts her that they share an imperfect love.

AA: The Ingmar Bergman Centenary is being celebrated in Finland in collaboration between Hanaholmen Kulturcentrum för Sverige och Finland, KAVI, Sveriges ambassad, Svenska Filminstitutet: Bergman 100, Walhalla, and other partners.

For someone seeing Bergman's films for the first time my three recommendations for starters would be:
Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries, his richest.
Persona, his most reduced film so far, with an experimental twist.
Scenes from a Marriage, an even more simple and reduced work, but with an extraordinary emotional charge. It is essential to see the original complete six part version.

Ingmar Bergman like every film director faced a deep crisis in the 1960s as the studio system of the film production collapsed during the breakthrough of television. Bergman made his last traditional studio system production for Svensk Filmindustri, En passion, in 1969.

Bergman "faced the enemy" and turned to television. He had directed teleplays since 1957 but now he started to make some of his most original and deeply felt work for television. He had established a company of his own, Cinematograph, in 1967, and starting with Cries and Whispers he made his films as an independent producer.

Scenes from a Marriage was Bergman's first major work for television. The work is minimalistic. For the first time Bergman based his film largely on close-ups, also frequently using  extreme close-ups. Although the series is almost five hours long there are only two main characters (Johan and Marianne) and only few supporting characters. We never see Johan and Marianne's children or their new partners, although they are constantly discussed. There is no music score.

Also the production budget was minimal, and the cast and crew got to choose: salary or percentage. Those who chose percentage became millionaires. Liv Ullmann chose salary, and her co-workers in Scenes from a Marriage established a habit of consoling her with a lunch invitation on payday.

Instantly Scenes from a Marriage got special treatment. The telepremiere took place in Nordic countries simultaneously. Bergman's The Magic Flute was telepremiered the same way in the following year. I watched Scenes from a Marriage at home in Pirkkala, Finland, at the same time as the Swedes saw it in Sweden.

We are now living in a new golden age of tv series. Prominent directors make some of their finest work for long form television. Binge watching is a watchword.

Bergman belonged to the pioneers of this trend, followed by R. W. Fassbinder (Berlin Alexanderplatz) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks). In Finland he had been preceded by Mikko Niskanen the year before. (Many find Niskanen's teleseries Eight Deadly Shots the best Finnish film of all times; on my list it is in top three.)

The impact of Scenes from a Marriage in world cinema and television was huge and continues to be so. Andrey Zvyagintsev confesses a debt to the Scenes in his latest movie The Loveless (Nelyuboi). It has also been observed that soap operas such as The Bold and the Beautiful were influenced by Scenes from a Marriage. (The omnivorous Bergman was also a habitual viewer of soap operas).

Bergman chuckled that divorce rates jumped wherever Scenes from a Marriage played. This is probably true, but the main cause was in the changing mores of the times of which Scenes from a Marriage was itself an expression.

Bergman's quip sounds cynical, but he was not a cynic, least of all just then. He was in the happiest period in his life, having married two years before Ingrid (Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid von Rosen in her previous marriage). They lived together forever until death did them part.

Scenes from a Marriage lives in many incarnations. Bergman published the teleplay as a book, and even the book became a bestseller. It was even published as a Månpocket paperback edition which meant that with this work Bergman was embraced by popular culture. Scenes from a Marriage was also the first Bergman book to be translated into Finnish. It was a turning-point in Bergman's career as a writer, and the book has independent literary value. I have read it many times, and it keeps growing with time, as does the movie. This month Jan Holmberg has published a book, Författaren Ingmar Bergman [The Writer Ingmar Bergman] (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018), covering a previously under-explored side of Bergman. I have only started to read it, but I believe Scenes from a Marriage was a turning-point at least in the sense that with it for the first time Bergman received a wide audience as a writer.

The original television version was also edited to an abridged theatrical version with a flashback structure. I see no point in the theatrical version. The long televersion is constantly of high intensity with never a superfluous moment. The utter simplicity, including the uncluttered solution of the chronological structure, is the best way to experience the complex and multi-layered emotional evolution of Johan and Marianne.

I just met this afternoon on our way to the Yrjönkatu Bath Erik Söderblom, director of the Espoo City Theatre. He directed the first Finnish theatrical adaptation of Scenes from a Marriage. He reminisced visiting in Munich Ingmar Bergman's original theatrical adaptation in the early 1980s. It was performed as a part of a trilogy of plays together with Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House and August Strindberg's Miss Julie.

That context is illuminating, since with this play Bergman connects with Ibsen and Strindberg's plays about marriage. Another Ibsen play, The Wild Duck, might be also relevant. The concept of livsløgnen [untranslatable outside Nordic countries: "the life lie", meaning that one's whole life is based on a fundamental lie] is always relevant in Bergman, and it is a basic theme for Johan and Marianne both as individuals and for their marriage. The introduction, the presentation of the marriage as an idyll for a ladies' journal, is an excellent illustration of Ibsen's term.

Johan is played by Erland Josephson, who was Bergman's best friend to the end. They met in the early 1940s when Josephson was a schoolboy and Bergman directed him in a schoolplay production of The Merchant of Venice. Josephson played Antonio, the merchant. Bergman opened Erland's eyes for a theatrical career. Bergman was a family friend of the Josephsons, an illustrious Jewish cultural family of poets, painters, musicians, booksellers and Strindberg experts. Erland became a writer, director and theatre director himself. In Scenes from a Marriage he got his first starring role in a Bergman film.

Marianne is played by Liv Ullmann, Bergman's muse, "my Stradivarius" since Persona and until the end. Liv Ullmann's performance as Marianne belongs to the most extraordinary in the history of the cinema.

As his last work as a director of moving images Bergman directed Saraband, a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage, starring Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann. The title Saraband is a reference to Johann Sebastian Bach's cello suites.

Albert Schweitzer stated that Bach played four hands with God. Henning Mankell, Bergman's son-in-law, commented that Bergman played four hands with Bach.

(Based on my introduction to the screening).


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

K.S.E. / Komsomol – Leader of Electrification

К.Ш.Э. Куда ни пойдешь / везде молодежь – "Wherever you go, there's youth".

К.Ш.Э. Комсомол – шеф электрификации / K. Sh. E. Komsomol shef elektrifikatsii / Komsomol – sähköistämisen johtaja
    PC: Rosfilm / Soyuzkino (Moscow). D+SC+ED+Sound Editing: Esfir Shub. Assistant D: L. Felonov. Cinematography: V. Solodovnikov. Assistant: Nato Vachnadze. Sound assistant: M. Nikolayevskaja. M: Gavriil Popov. Sound recording: S. Klyuchevsky, D. Zaitsev, A. Karasev. The sound has been recorded with the A. Shorin system.
    Theremin player: K. Kovalsky.
    Songs: "Kominternlied" (comp. Hanns Eisler, 1929, lyr. Franz Jahnke 1926 / Maxim Vallentin), Russian lyrics by Ilya Frenckel.
    "L'Internationale" (comp. Pierre De Geyter, 1888, lyr. Eugène Pottier, 1871), sung in Russian.
    Featuring: Komsomol members from factories and building sites, Marietta Shaginyan (author of the novel Gidrotsentral), Baltic Red Star sailors, comrade Savelyev, comrade Klimov, comrade Zapredelov, comrade Manyukov, comrade Vinter, comrade Dmitrusenko, comrade Dudnik, colonel Gubor, Academician A. A. Chernychev.
    Loc: A Moscow sound studio, Dzorages waterworks, Elektrosila factory, Dneprostroi waterworks.
    A Gosfilmofond print screened with e-subtitles by Mia Öhman (Finnish "Kominternlied" lyrics, trad., n.c., taken from the Arja Saijonmaa record 1970) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Mothers of the Montage Film: Esfir Shub and Nicole Vedrès), 23 Jan 2018

Esfir Shub was the pioneer of the montage film. She established the compilation film as an art form as we can learn from Jay Leyda's Films Beget Films. She taught montage to Eisenstein.

K.S.E. is not a compilation film. It is based on original footage only, shot for this film. K.S.E. is one of the heroic Soviet 1930s tales of industrialization, comparable with Vertov's Enthusiasm and Dovjenko's Ivan.

K.S.E. is still a proudly avantgardistic film. Visually there is no weakening of touch in comparison with the glorious 1920s. New is the expansion of the avantgarde approach to sound montage.

Sound in K.S.E. is a theme in its own right. Like in many later experimental films, there is a meta element: the screen is sometimes filled with the jagged image of the soundtrack itself.

The film starts in a sound studio. We visit a telephone exchange. We observe the technology of the radio. An orchestra performance is being recorded. The bells of the Kremlin are ringing. During a break workers entertain themselves with popular music played on the accordeon. There is a workers' brass band with special multi-horn instruments. An engrossing performance of the "Kominternlied" by a male singer and a pianist is heard. It is a slower and more profound interpretation than the original Ernst Busch recording. Dance records are played at the beach. Many languages are spoken: Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, English, French, and German. In the finale there is a beautiful arrangement of "L'Internationale".

Strikingly, the main instrument in the prologue is the theremin, an electric music instrument. K.S.E. was the second film to display the theremin, later famous for films such as Spellbound (Miklos Rosza), The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann), and Ed Wood (Howard Shore). The first film composer to use the theremin had been Dmitri Shostakovich in Alone, directed by Kozintsev and Trauberg. The music of the future is being heard on the theremin.

K.S.E. is a poem of the future, industrialization, modernization, and electrification. A film of enthusiasm, inspiration, and passion. It is a futuristic work of machine poetry. In its grand vision, work is joy, play, a celebration. There are lyrical passages, industrial montages, time lapse images of smoking factory chimneys, phantom ride sequences, and scenes with civilizations clashing as electric power dams emerge in traditional Armenia and Georgia, including the hugest of all: the Dneprostroi. Shub juxtaposes ruins of a sublime ancient tradition and the building of the future.

What K.S.E. does not tell is that this was also a period of Stalin's repression, terror, tyranny, and massacres. In K.S.E. we see only the part of the reality that corresponds to the ideal. Which makes this a disturbing and ambivalent viewing experience.

This fascinating film would deserve to be much more widely known. The print has been struck from partly difficult sources.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Christmas holiday reading 3

17. Markku Eskelinen: Raukoilla rajoilla. Suomenkielisen proosakirjallisuuden historia. [Wretched Corners. A History of Finnish Prose Literature] 599 p. Helsinki: Siltala, 2016. – A magnificent provocation. Markku Eskelinen is a one man wrecking crew challenging established notions of the Finnish literary canon. Much is brilliant and original, but there is a mean streak that will date this work.

18. Tuomas Marjamäki: Spede, nimittäin. [Spede, You See.] 421 p. Jyväskylä: Docendo, 2017. – There have been distinguished books before on Pertti (Spede) Pasanen, the king of Finnish radio, television, and film comedy. Marjamäki has a great many new sources and he writes in an engaging way.

19. Jörn Donner: Suomi Finland. 120 p. Finland 100. Helsingfors: Förlaget, 2017. – It has been said that whatever the topic, the focus of Jörn Donner is himself. The same goes also for his centenary of Finnish independence essay book. His observations are interesting, he keeps renewing himself, and there is a lot in common in this book with his latest film, Perkele 2 – Images from Finland.

20. Jarkko Vesikansa: Salainen sisällissota. Työnantajien ja porvarien taistelu kommunismia vastaan kylmän sodan Suomessa. [A Secret Civil War. The Battle of the Management and the Bourgeoisie Against Communism in Finland During the Cold War]. 368 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2004. – An amazing and baffling book on a Quixotic secret war against leftist windmills in Cold War Finland. A rich collection of revelations in Maxwell Smart territory. Big money was involved. Could provide excellent film material.

21. Minna Eväsoja: Melkein geisha. Hurmaava ja hullu Japani. [Almost a Geisha. The Enchanting and Bewildering Japan]. 239 p. Helsinki: Gummerus, 2016. – Minna Eväsoja has spent long years in Japan seriously orientating herself in the culture and traditions. Essays full of insight, wit, and humour.

22. Mitä Missä Milloin 2018. Vuosikirja syyskuu 2016 – elokuu 2017. [MMM Yearbook 2018 {The What Where and When Yearbook}]. 68. vuosikirja. Editor: Ulla Paavilainen. 422 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2017. – I am a faithful reader and collector of the MMM Yearbooks, and I consult them regularly. I deplore the current populistic touch; the latest editions will date fast. But there are still several high quality contributions. And a favourite feature of mine, "words of the year", the funniest of which are untranslatable.


Rosa Liksom: Everstinna [Mrs. Colonel]
Kjell Westö: Rikinkeltainen taivas [A Sulphur Yellow Sky]
Juha Siltala: Keskiluokan nousu, lasku ja pelot [The Rise, Fall and Fears of the Middle Class]
Markku Kuisma: Venäjä ja Suomen talous [Russia and the Economy of Finland]
Suvi Ahola (ed.): Kirjava käsikirja kestävään kehitykseen [A Checkered Handbook of Sustainable Development]
Svetlana Alexievich: Sodalla ei ole naisen kasvoja [War's Unwomanly Face]

Christmas holiday reading 2

9. Harry Salmenniemi: Uraanilamppu ja muita novelleja [Uranium Lamp and Other Short Stories]. 183 p. Helsinki: Siltala, 2017. – Harry Salmenniemi, one of the brightest contemporary Finnish poets,  publishes his first prose work. Meanwhile he has also expanded his scope as the screenwriter of Mika Taanila's inspired Lettrist movie Tectonic Plate. Uranium Lamp is something new. There is the power of condensation characteristic of poetry. There is also a special sense of humour. I was even thinking about the unique genre of short fiction typical of Veikko Huovinen, "lyhyet erikoiset" ["weird short stories"].

10. Marina Tsvetaeva / Marina Tsvetajeva: Ylistys, hiljaa! Valitut runot 1912–1939 [Quiet, Praise! Selected Poems 1912–1939]. Edited and translated by Marja-Leena Mikkola, with a long introductory essay by Mikkola. 228 p. Helsinki: Siltala, 2017. – The third major translation of Tsvetaeva into Finnish. Tsvetaeva has been prominent here also thanks to Riikka Pelo's award-winning novel Jokapäiväinen elämämme [Our Quotidian Life] (2013). Poetry at its greatest. Edited with a backstory illuminating a devastating fate after the Russian revolution.

11. Arja Tiainen: Tää tojota ei lähe liikkelle. Ajopäiväkirja [This Toyota Doesn't Get Started. A Driver's Log]. 75 p. Helsinki: WSOY, 2006.
12. Arja Tiainen: Lapsilta kielletty! [X-Rated!]. 89 p. Helsinki: WSOY, 2012.
    Arja Tiainen is a favourite poet of mine. In preparation of her fresh collection I read two previous ones. "This Toyota" is a hilarious "driver's log". "X-Rated" is an irreverent account of relationships. Tiainen's way of perception is unique.

13. Kristina Carlson: Hämärän valo [The Light of Dusk]. Poems. 106 p. Helsinki: Otava,1986.
14. Kristina Carlson: Maan ääreen [Till the End of Earth]. A novel. 192 p. Helsinki: Otava, 1999.
15. Kristina Carlson: Herra Darwinin puutarhuri [Mr. Darwin's Gardener]. A novel. 176 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2009.
16. Kristina Carlson: William N. päiväkirja [William N. Diary]. A novel. 159 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2011.
    There is lucid wisdom in Kristina Carlson's lyrical poems and prose poems. Her novels are stories of exploration based on concrete historical backgrounds in the 19th century in the Amur (Maan ääreen), Kent (Herra Darwinin puutarhuri), and Paris (William N. päiväkirja). Compact, intelligent, reflective.

Christmas holiday reading 1

We were surrounded with books during the Christmas holiday. These are some of the books we read and keep reading after Epiphany.

1. Staffan Bruun: Så formades Finland. 50 avsnitt om Finlands ödesstunder. [How Finland Was Formed. 50 Passages from Finland's Fatal Hours]. Finland 100. 210 p. Helsingfors: KSF Media, 2017. – My favourite Centenary of Finnish Independence reading was Staffan Bruun's Sunday series in the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, published as a book after the Finnish Independence Day on 6 December. 50 familiar themes seen from unusual and thought-provoking viewpoints.

2. David Bordwell: Reinventing Hollywood. How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling. 572 p. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. – David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are the authors of the globally most highly regarded textbooks on film art, storytelling and history. In this new magisterial book Bordwell is at his best and offers a rich and thorough account of a particularly exciting period, Hollywood in the 1940s, its golden age of innovative storytelling. A labour of love. – I am thinking about a dear colleague and friend, Mr. Matti Salo (1933–2017) who shared the special passion for 1940s American cinema and discussed it in all his books (on film noir, blacklisted screenwriters, Joseph Losey, Abraham Polonsky, and political thrillers).

3. Georg Büchmann (original editor): Geflügelte Worte [Winged Words]. Der klassische Zitatenschatz. Gesammelt und erläutert von Georg Büchmann. Fortgesetzt von Walter Robert-tornow, Konrad Weidling, Eduard Ippel, Bogdan Krieger, Günther Haupt, Werner Rust, Alfred Grunow. Unveränderte Taschenbuchausgabe der 43. neu bearbeiteten und aktualisierten Ausgabe von Winfried Hofmann. Einzige von der Erstausgabe 1864 unmittelbar fortgeführte Originalausgabe. 650 p. München: Ullstein, 2007. – I have a weakness for collections of "winged words" (a winged expression in itself, dating back to Homer). The Büchmann, originally published in 1864, is the father of these collections. In Finland there are also several, and a favourite of mine is Oiva Talvitie's Lentäviä lauseita (1957). The best of these books have commentaries putting famous sayings in context. Büchmann is excellent in philology, Talvitie in wit. One can read these books as appetizers inspiring us to find the original works.

4. Sinikka Vuola (ed.): Olet täyttänyt ruumiini tulella. Eroottisen runouden antologia [You Have Filled My Body with Fire. An Anthology of Erotic Poetry]. 365 p. Helsinki: WSOY, 2017. – It would not be sensational to bring out a collection of 240 erotic poems, but this book consists only of Finnish poems published in 2000–2017! A surprise bestseller of the year 2017 was the beautiful Centenary of Finnish Independence poetry collection Katso pohjoista taivasta [Look at the Northern Sky] edited by Jenni Haukio. My favourite of the all-encompassing ones on Finnish poetry is the 2014 edition of Tämän runon haluaisin kuulla [This Poem I'd Love to Hear] edited by Satu Koskimies. An excellent and surprising collection was Vastakaanon [Anti-Canon: Finnish Experimental Poetry 2000-2010] edited by Juri Joensuu, Marko Niemi, and Harry Salmenniemi in 2011. It revealed the contemporary golden age of Finnish poetry. Sinikka Vuola's anthology is the most surprising of all, bringing together all currently active generations and orientations, old favourites and new revelations. On a never-ending theme.

5. Sekstetti: Finland 100. 78 p. Mediapinta, 2017. – Annele Aarni-Wiklund, Anne Laine-Joensuu, Mervi Karoniemi, Tuula Pöllänen, and Francesca Vallin are the five poets who form "the sextet", more than a sum of their parts. A delightful anthology "from beyond nirvana".

6. Juha Hurme: Niemi [The Peninsula]. Finland 100. 448 p. Helsinki: Teos, 2017. – Juha Hurmi is a shaman, seer, pantheist, man of letters and man of the theatre, a reincarnation of ancient Finnish poets. This award-winning magnum opus is a flight of fancy, a crazy history of the universe, an anti-nationalistic treatise of cultural heritage, always seeing the big context in the evolution of our little land. A book of inspiration with fascinating quotes of poetry. A journey of discovery. I wish Mr. Hurme could slightly tone down a populistic urge.

7. Esko Valtaoja: Kohti ikuisuutta [Towards Eternity]. 303 p. Helsinki: Tähtitieteellinen yhdistys Ursa, 2017.
8. Esko Valtaoja: Kaiken käsikirja [A Manual of Everything]. 222 p. Helsinki: Tähtitieteellinen yhdistys Ursa, 2012. – Esko Valtaoja is a professor of astronomy and a popular columnist and speaker, with a talent of illuminating discoveries of science to a wide audience. Towards Eternity is a futuristic essay with a vision of a hopeful and benevolent future. The perspective here is not in the next decade or even century but in millennia, dozens of millennia and more. Valtaoja is thinking about completely different forms of existence. Like Juha Hurme, Valtaoja is a charismatic speaker, and also in his book there is a temptation for populism which may date his compelling work.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

L’assedio dell’Alcazar / Sin novedad en el Alcázar / The Siege of the Alcazar

Alcazar / Alcazar – fästet som aldrig föll.
IT/ES 1940. PC: Film Bassoli / Ulargui Films. P: Carlo Bassoli, Jr., Renato Bassoli. D: Augusto Genina. SC: Augusto Genina, Alessandro De Stefani – based on a story by Augusto Genina, Alessandro De Stefani ja Pietro Caporilli. Cin: Jan Stallich, Francesco Izzarelli, Vincenzo Seratrice. AD: Gastone Medin. M: Antonio Veretti. ED: Fernando Tropea. Military advisors: lieutenant colonel José Carvajal Arrieta, lieutenant colonel Ricardo Vilalba Rubio.
    C: Rafael Calvo (Colonel Moscardò), Carlos Muñoz (Moscardò's son), Mireille Balin (Carmen Herrera), María Denis (Conchita Alvarez), Fosco Giachetti (Captain Vela), Andrea Checchi (Pedro), Aldo Fiorelli (Francisco), Silvio Bagolini (Paolo Montez), Carlo Tamberlani (Captain Vincenzo Alba), Guido Notari (Major Villanova).
    Italian premiere: 20.8.1940. Spanish premiere: 28.10.1940.
    Loc: the ruins of Alcázar de Toledo.
    Helsinki premiere: 30.8.1942 Capitol, imported by: Kosmos-Filmi Oy – film control 23966 – S – Finnish film control length: 3050 m / 111 min – versions: 99 min (Italian re-release), 104 min (Spanish re-release), 105 min (Germany), 112 min (Italian original release), 119 min (Spanish original release).
    A digibeta from Filmoteca Española screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), version española, a version of 115 min, with e-subtitles in English operated by Lena Talvio, 16 Jan 2018

An Anticomintern film promoting the brotherhood in arms of the governments of Italy and Spain. The narrative is based on the Iliad format, the tale of a siege. Here the viewpoint is that of the valiant defenders. The fortress of the Alcázar of Toledo is surrounded by an overwhelming enemy.

The siege of the Alcázar was a symbolic moment in the Spanish civil war, itself an important prelude to the Second World War. Against the legal Republican government General Francisco Franco launched a military rebellion with the Spanish Army of Africa. His troops finally broke the government siege.

The Alcázar is presented as a holy site of the Spanish national spirit. Religion is paramount. The spiritual current is strong and sincere. "Only God can save". Although the film ends in victory the message would be unchanged if the defenders would perish. Their spirit would have emerged victorious.

Watching this film I was reminded of La Bandera, a film also about the Army of Africa, also dedicated to General Francisco Franco, a year before the Spanish Civil War. The major difference is the deeply desperate spirit of La Bandera. Both are tales of a massacre. La Bandera is a tale of desolation. L'assedio dell'Alcazar is Fascist propaganda.

It is interesting to observe the Hitlergruss in the finale (and before). The music score is engrossing. The cinematography is first-rate. Augusto Genina was a master of the moving camera and the mise-en-scène. He was also an excellent director of actors, particularly women. Mireille Balin and Conchita Alvarez interpret the coming-of-age of two young women who grow to extraordinary valour. Mireille Balin had become a world star in Pépé le Moko, also an African connection.

A digital Betacam tape of a reconstruction of a long version of the film. The image is often good, but sometimes this version betrays its origins in battered sources.