Friday, November 27, 2015

Setsuko Hara remembered

Setsuko Hara in Kurosawa's The Idiot (Hakuchi), based on Dostoevsky, in a role based on Nastassya Filippovna.
Setsuko Hara, the great star of the Japanese screen, died in early September, but I first read about it in Variety two days ago when her death was first announced. The film world does not seem to have noticed her passing yet.

Like Olivia de Havilland and Deanna Durbin in Hollywood and Regina Linnanheimo in Finland Setsuko Hara disappeared totally from public life after the end of her career.

She was born on 17 June, 1920, and died on 5 September, 2015. She started her film career as a teenager during Japan's imperialist era in the 1930s and had her breakthrough in the famous Anticomintern film co-directed by Arnold Fanck (the master of German mountain films) and Mansaku Itami called The Daughter of the Samurai (1937). It ends in a celebration of the life on the "New Earth" of Manchuria (Northeast China) which Japan attacked and occupied in the first prelude to WWII.

After the war Setsuko Hara became a soulful star for Akira Kurosawa, most memorably in The Idiot where she interpreted Dostoevsky's Nastassya Filippovna who perishes tragically in the violent rivalry of Kinji Kameda and Denkichi Akama (Myshkin and Rogozhin).

That was a Shochiku production, and her most immortal roles Setsuko Hara's created for Shochiku's master directors Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse. When Yasujiro Ozu crystallized his film style to his final, mature, reduced form, it started in a film starring Setsuko Hara, Late Spring. With her Ozu created his "Noriko trilogy" (Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story). Noriko is a modern, intelligent, independent woman who is spiritually capable of transcending the ballast of tradition but remains deferential to tradition and family ties.

Like Ozu himself and like many characters she played Setsuko Hara stayed single and had no children. She was family-oriented and devoted to her friends.

Although Hideko Takamine was the main actress for Mikio Naruse, Setsuko Hara performed memorably for him, too. In Meshi (Repast, 1951) she played an estranged wife. Yama no oto (Sound of the Mountain, 1954) was a distinguished adaptation of a novel by Yasunari Kawabata. Naruse and Hara collaborated also in Shuu (Sudden Rain, 1956), and Musume tsuma haha (Daughters, Wives, and a Mother, 1960).

In her last Ozu roles Hara played a separated wife (Tokyo Twilight, 1957), a widowed mother (Late Autumn, 1960), and a widowed daughter-in-law (The End of Summer / "Autumn for the Kohayagawa Family", 1961). After Ozu's death in 1963 Setsuko Hara retired from public life.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My jazz record of the week project

At Digelius: a record launching concert by Hans Olding-Jaska Lukkarinen Quartet. Hans Olding (gtr), Karl-Martin Almqvist (tenor sax), Mattias Wellin (bs), Jaska Lukkarinen (dr). Please do click to enlarge!
Digelius Music. Laivurinrinne 2, 00120 Helsinki, +358 9 666375, - A world class jazz record store since 1971. CEO: Ilkka "Emu" Lehtinen. Wikipedia article on Digelius in English. The store is at the Viiskulma (the Five Corners) where five streets meet, easily accessible by foot, tram, or bus. There is even a taxi station right by the store.

Last year instead of buying a Friday wine bottle from Alko I decided to switch into getting a Friday jazz record from Digelius.

I am a jazz ignoramus with no knowledge of jazz, and happy to take advantage of the situation. I now get to hear the all-time great jazz records for the first time selected by Emu himself.

There is no system in the selection. There are classics (Miles Davis: Kind of Blue), spiritual discoveries (John Coltrane: Crescent), inspired tributes (Amarcord Nino Rota produced by Hal Willner), and Nordic gems (Jan Johansson: Jazz på svenska, Juhani Aaltonen & Henrik Otto Donner: Strings). A record that I would never have found otherwise is Duke Ellington 1940 the double lp. They say Ellington's instrument was his orchestra, in which each player was an individual. In 1940 his orchestra was perfect.

The realm of jazz is vaster than I knew, and there is no end in sight in this project.

22.8. Charlie Parker: Great Quartets & Quintets
29.8. Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle (5 cd)
5.9. Eddie Condon: Jam Session Coast-to-Coast (Eddie Condon and His All Stars / Rampart Street Paraders)
12.9. Bill Evans Trio: The Village Vanguard Sessions
19.9. Charlie Haden: The Ballad of the Fallen
26.9. Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives and Sevens (4 cd)
3.10. Billie Holiday: Lady Day - The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944 (10 cd)
10.10. -
17.10. -
24.10. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
31.10. The Gil Evans Orchestra: Out of the Cool
7.11. The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django
14.11. -
21.11. Charles Mingus: Mingus Plays Piano
28.11. Miles Davis: Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', Steamin' (4 separate cd's)
5.12. -
12.12. Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
19.12. Duke Ellington: Original Album Classics: - Such Sweet Thunder - Far East Suite - "And His Mother Called Him Bill" (3 cd)
26.12. -

2.1. The Best of Chet Baker Sings
9.1. Yusef Lateef: The Blue Yusef Lateef
16.1. John Coltrane: Blue Train
23.1. Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown
30.1. Juhani Aaltonen & Otto Donner: Strings
6.2. The Young Tuxedo Brass Band [Jazz Begins, funeral and parade music]
13.2. -
20.2. The Ben Webster Quintet: Soulville
27.2. Jazz in Polish Cinema (4 cd)
6.3. John Coltrane: Africa / Brass
13.3. -
20.3. -
27.3. Duke Ellington 1940 (2 lp)
+ The Very Best of Duke Ellington (cd)
3.4. Clifford Brown & Max Roach
10.4. Duke Ellington: The Complete Orchestral Suites [Creole Rhapsody / Black, Brown and Beige / Nutcracker Suite, etc.] (5 cd)
17.4. M. A. Numminen: Swingin kutsu
24.4. Lester Young: Jammin' the Blues
30.4. John Coltrane: Crescent
8.5. -
15.5. Keith Jarrett: Fort Yawuh / Death and the Flower (2 cd)
22.5. B. B. King: From the Beginning (2 lp)
29.5. Dexter Gordon: Gettin' Around
5.6. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Moanin'
12.6. -
19.6. Charles Mingus: Black Saint and the Sinner Lady / Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
26.6. Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come / Change of the Century / This Is Our Music / Free Jazz / Ornette! (5 cd)
14.8. Jan Johansson: Jazz på svenska
21.8. Various artists: Amarcord Nino Rota (lp, prod. Hal Willner)
29.8. Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence
4.9. Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron
11.9. Art Tatum - Ben Webster The Album (1956)
18.9. Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant
25.9. Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch
2.10. -
9.10. -
16.10. Anita O'Day: Trav'lin' Light / Waiter, Make Mine Blues
23.10. Wynton Kelly Trio & Wes Montgomery: Complete Live at the Half Note (2 cd)
30.10. Herbie Hancock: Takin' Off
6.11. Charlie Haden: Études / Old and New Dreams / A Tribute to Blackwell / Silence / First Song (5 cd)
13.11. Art Pepper: The Art of the Ballad
20.11. Sonny Rollins: The Bridge
27.11. The Oscar Peterson Trio: We Get Requests

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Opium (1919)

Opium poster painted by Theo Matejko. Please click to enlarge.
DE 1919. PC: Monumental Filmwerke GmbH (München). P+D+SC: Robert Reinert. DP: Helmar Lerski. M for a cinema orchestra: I. Poltschuk. C: Eduard von Winterstein (Prof. Gesellius), Hanna Ralph (Maria Gesellius), Werner Krauss (Nung Tshang / Nung-Tschang / Nung Chiang), Conrad Veidt (Dr. Richard Armstrong), Sybil Morel (Sin / Magdalena), Friedrich Kühne (Dr. Armstrong, Sr., the father), Alexander Delbosq (Ali), Sigrid Höhenfels (the opium girl), Loni Nest (girl). Pressevorführung: 29.1.1919 Düsseldorf, Uraufführung 2.1919 Berlin. Not released in Finland. 1982 m /16 fps/ 108 min (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto). 2486 m /16 fps/ 135 min (Filmportal)
    Print: Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet – black and white – 1876 m /16 fps/ 102 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion (Helsinki) (History of the Cinema), Ilari Hannula at the piano, e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio, 19 Nov 2015.

Revisited a film I had not seen since the Babelsberg 80th anniversary retrospective at Berlin Film Festival in 1992 (the exteriors of Opium were shot in and around Berlin). There is a set of 12 photographs of Opium at the Filmportal site and two more photographs in Chris Horak's essay in Griffithiana.

I missed the very late night screening in Pordenone of Opium in 1997. The GCM program note: "A Chinese opium dealer seeks revenge on Westerners who have corrupted his wife. Opium is both an exploitation film (released in that brief period when there was no censorship in Germany) and a meditation on the modern condition. The film is seemingly archaic, but its metaphorical content is in keeping with its style. Struck from the original nitrate negative. Of particular interest the hand-painted intertitles, which visually paraphrase Chinese and Indian characters." (Jan-Christopher Horak, GCM 1997).

Chris Horak wrote in 1997 a solid introduction to the director for Griffithiana 60/61, "Robert Reinert: Film as Metaphor", outlining a remarkable and ambitious career. Reinert had a penchant for big themes and metaphorical content. In the beginning he was highly productive, often working with Conrad Veidt and Helmar Lerski. In July 1918 he slowed down and started to produce select "monumental films" for his own company. The first of these was Opium. Horak pays attention to the mastery of Reinert and Lerski in deep focus composition. Horak states that Reinert was a conservative avantgardist and cultural philosopher comparable to Spengler. "Reinert's style of cinema was archaic before its time. A traditional moralist and symbolist Reinert (and Lerski) adhered to 19th century pictorial conventions of spectacle which went out of fashion with the rise of American style classical narrative. While German cinema in the 1920s embraced modernism, Reinert held on to traditional concepts of morality and a symbolic language that deconstructed any attempts at fast paced action" (Horak).

David Bordwell has kept championing the Robert Reinert films Opium and Nerven, most prominently in his book Poetics of Cinema (New York / Oxon: Routledge, 2008 - Chap. 9: "Taking Things to Extremes. Hallucinations Courtesy of Robert Reinert"). According to Bordwell, following Horak, during WWI European filmmakers persisted with a more archaic practice of film aesthetics than Americans, including long takes and staging in depth, often with great sophistication. Yet Reinert "found a weirder way to tell his stories visually". He was capable of staging extended scenes at a middle distance. He pushed the norms to violent limits in order to intensify his manic plots and performances. He subjected his figures to harsh contrasts of scale and position. "Like Hofer and af Klercker, he favors sets that create a dense array of masses through which characters pass". In Opium and Nerven "Reinert sets his characters closer to the viewer more consistently than any other 1910s depth-oriented director I know". He is even "willing to sacrifice sharp focus, in one plane or another, for the sake of aggressive foregrounds". "How, then can you place two or three characters in semi-close-ups and still preserve depth? Reinert finds one answer in limiting the rear playing space to small slots". "His typical depth shot is neither a tableau composition (...) nor a part of an American-style editing pattern (...). "A Reinert 'full shot' may present a relatively small patch of the scene's space, and we may never be properly introduced to the overall arena of action". In this Bordwell sees Reinert coming up with a fragmentary scenography that looks ahead to the strategically incomplete establishing shots of Bresson, Straub & Huillet, and Hartley.

AA: Opium the film is itself like a fever dream. There is an inspired, charged, foolhardy, devil-may-care attitude in the film, yet at the core it is deadly serious. It is about the lure of an escape to a world of drug addiction when the reality of the world is overwhelmingly hard to face.

Nobody is safe from madness. All the three doctors with a mission to save the world succumb themselves to opium addiction, and all their lives are ruined.

Robert Reinert relishes in dramatic excess. During the period of no censorship he indulges in reckless abandon. Opium may be at the surface a sensation film but Reinert, Helmar Lerski, and their team are at home in the realm of dreams and nightmares. There is a genuine oneiric quality in the delirium that is Opium. Especially dream-like are the appearances of Nung Chiang.

The plot is outlandish, and the Chinese and Indian episodes belong to the realm of exoticism if not xenophobia or even racism. There is an aspect of Fu Manchu in Nung Chiang.

As Horak and Bordwell have observed Reinert is a distinguished special case in the development of film aesthetics. In no way does he hide his background in the histrionic legacy of the overdone pantomime of the early cinema, including Film d'Art. He flaunts it and seems to take infinite pleasure in it. Especially Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt make a virtue out of the old-fashioned burden of over-acting. It is a pleasure to watch them together here in a film made before Caligari.

And as Horak and Bordwell state, the early cinema's plan-séquence, deep focus, long shot, long take aesthetics is exceptional in Opium. Reinert and Lerski are masters of the mise-en-scène. One can learn even today from the way they stage and light a scene. They create a dynamic, exciting space from their archaic-looking starting-point.

Opium is not just a case of art for art's sake (or sensation for sensation's sake). There is a sense of striking a nerve in the scenes of drug addiction. It was an acute problem during and after the war when heavy drugs were needed to palliate indescribable pain. And the tragic story of the illicit love between the young Dr. Armstrong (Conrad Veidt) and his mentor's wife, Maria (Hanna Ralph): "six years I was alone" must have been an often-heard remark at the time. "6 Jahre lang allein". "Dem Glück der Welt galt Deine Arbeit": "Your work was about the happiness of the world. What about our happiness?" There is a spirit of understanding that is similar to G. W. Pabst's Westfront 1918. Even one year alone is a long time in a young woman's life.

Not far beyond the chinoiserie and incredible plotting there is a genuine feeling of agony. Especially Krauss and Veidt are magical and charismatic in tapping into that feeling. They may grimace and gesticulate as much as they will but there is always an inner center of gravity in their performances.

The film has art intertitles in styles of Chinoiserie, Indianesque and English sobriety. The wording is impressive both in lengthy descriptions and blunt statements such as "KEIN AUSGANG" (no exit) and "SCHICKSAL" (destiny).

Helmar Lerski's cinematography is first-rate, the sense of lighting, composition and movement impeccable.

In this print one can appreciate the quality of the image which is often good enough. This may be a print from a reconstruction made at the Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR. There is often a slight flicker on the left side of the image. In 1994 the original nitrate negative was discovered and a new print was made at Münchner Filmmuseum. Next time we need to screen that print.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jerker A. Eriksson: Flammande vildmark (a book of essays on film)

A book of essays on film:
Jerker A. Eriksson: Flammande vildmark. Essäer om film. 185 p. Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2015.
    [The title is the Swedish title of Drums Along the Mohawk (John Ford, 1939). Literally translated back to English: The Flaming Desert.]

Jerker A. Eriksson (born 22 October 1931), the grand old man of Finnish film criticism, has published a book of film essays, many of which are previously unpublished. Eriksson is at his best in this book. The analyses are sober, the issues are big, and there is a subtle current of humour running through the book.

The first essay is a cinephilic confession, an affectionate reminiscence of the cinemas in the writer's life in Helsinki, most of them long gone but still alive in his memory. Eriksson's cinema memories start in the 1930s with images from the Spanish civil war in a newsreel at Bio-Bio. Bio-Bio remained for decades a famous non stop cinema where one could "enter and exit at will". Non stop cinemas were rare in Finland. First recently have I learned that they were the norm in the United States which is why Alfred Hitchcock had to issue a special ban not to enter the cinema after the beginning of Psycho.

In 1943 Eriksson started to take systematic notes of films. Among the early ones: La Bataille silencieuse, Woman of the Year, The Man Who Came to Dinner... Cinemas were "the universities of my youth" for Eriksson. Air raid alarms were defied. Finland was still a co-fighter with Germany when Sergeant York was nevertheless released here, and in February 1944 Eriksson went to see it. The screening was interrupted by alarms so many times that the film came to an end first at 5 o'clock in the morning.

Eriksson has fond memories of dozens of cinemas. Athena (now our Cinema Orion) was the cinema where he saw Adam Had Four Sons and Reap the Wild Wind, for Eriksson the best thing Cecil B. DeMille ever did.

Cinema was not a highly regarded art during Eriksson's school days. While his schoolmates enthused over Pär Lagerkvist, Sartre, and Svenska Teatern, Eriksson was interested in Humphrey Bogart, John Ford, and Barbro Kollberg in Kungsgatan. When the discussion drifted to the fyrtiotalisterna (the generation of the 1940's, a parallel to existentialism in Sweden) and their world of anxiety Eriksson was thinking about Michel Simon in Julien Duvivier's Panique. But most he loved American cinema.

Eriksson hated the idea of spending a summer holiday in the countryside. His most favourite summer memory is of a Sunday in July 1944 when he saw four films starting with South of Suez. The last film for him had to end by ten PM because there was curfew for the underaged at night.

Eriksson praises a book by the Dane Jörgen Stegelman called Mine Biografer [My Cinemas] which inspired him for these reminiscences.

In 1951 Eriksson started his professional career as a film critic which continued until he was appointed director of the Finnish Board of Film Classification in 1963 where he launched an enlightened era. He has also had a distinguished academic career as a historian, specializing in American history.

A film that came to mean much for Eriksson was A Place in the Sun about which he wrote a famous essay for Jörn Donner's Arena magazine in 1952. Having seen the film 15 times he wrote a treatise balancing a view of society, a comparison between Theodore Dreiser's novel and George Stevens's film written by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, and an account of the director's cinematic insight. Eriksson's essay became a model for a generation of cinephiles which re-launched a film society movement on a never before seen scale in our land and also founded the Finnish Film Archive in 1957. Many trends of film criticism have come and gone since. Eriksson has been following his own path. He has hardly been even provoked by excesses of passing trends.

Eriksson's 1952 essay on A Place in the Sun is still a world-class contribution to understanding a powerful classic. In the new book Eriksson writes with fresh insight about George Stevens's "American trilogy": A Place in the Sun, Shane, and Giant, in direct continuation to his writings of the 1950s but with new thoughts and references.

American cinema from the early days of Hollywood until today is the common theme of the essays. There is a fascinating essay on the premieres of Charles Chaplin's early films in Finland (since 22 March 1915, with instant success). John Ford is Eriksson's favourite director; the essay here focuses on Drums Along the Mohawk. From William Wyler Eriksson discusses The Little Foxes. Eriksson finishes his book with an exciting essay on the career of Robert Rossen until the black list, focusing on All the King's Men.

The first essay after the cinephilic introduction is an interesting study on Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg and its American spirit; Eriksson compares it with István Szabó's Taking Sides. It is followed by an analysis of the theme of paranoia in American cinema from the 1930s until today, from Gabriel Over the White House to Edge of Darkness. This chapter is interesting to compare with Matti Salo's recent excellent book on political cinema, Viitta ja tikari [Cloak and Dagger, 2015].

The generation of Finnish cinephiles who started in the late 1940s and the early 1950s is still going strong. They are 80-something and busy publishing works that belong to their best. Besides Jerker A. Eriksson and Matti Salo there is the psychoanalyst Mikael Enckell whose new book Okändhetens följeslagare: Med frågan som drivkraft och mysteriet som färdmål [Companions of the Unknown: The Question as the Driving Force and Mystery as the Destination, 2015] includes an essay on Limelight. And there is the miracle man Jörn Donner who has this year published two books, not film-related; instead he has directed a new film himself, Armi Lives, on Armi Ratia, the founder of the fashion company Marimekko, and has been amazingly busy with many other things.

Special characteristics of Eriksson's film essays include a profound knowledge of American history and literature. He has also the genial, jovial and social attitude typical to the Swedish community of Finland (as have Enckell and Donner, which does not prevent them from being polemical). Common to all is also the unperturbed atmosphere of a generation that has experienced war. Both Eriksson and Donner belonged to the early champions of The Unknown Soldier.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lumikuningatar / The Snow Queen

Snödrottningen. FI 1986. PC: Neofilmi Oy. P+D+SC: Päivi Hartzell – based on the fairy-tale ”Snedronningen” (1845) by Hans Christian Andersen. Dialogue: Päivi Hartzell, Jukka Kemppinen, Juha Siltanen. DP: Henrik Paersch - Panaflex Camera and Lenses by Panavision - color - 1,85:1. AD: Reija Hirvikoski. Tricks: Jukka Ruohomäki, Antti Kari, Lauri Pitkänen. Make-up: Helena Lindgren. M: Jukka Linkola. ED: Anne Lakanen, Olli Soinio. S: Paul Jyrälä. C: Satu Silvo (Lumikuningatar / The Snow Queen), Outi Vainionkulma (Kerttu / Gerda), Sebastian Kaatrasalo (Kai / Kai), Tuula Nyman (noita / the witch), Esko Hukkanen (narri / the court jester), Pirjo Bergström (mielitietty / the court jester's girlfriend), Juulia Ukkonen (prinsessa / the Princess), Paavo Westerberg (prinssi / the Prince), Saara Pakkasvirta (rosvoakka / the Old Robber Woman), Ismo Alanko, Markku Huhtamo, Antti Litja, Esko Varonen (rosvoveljet / the robber brothers), Marja Pyykkö (rosvotyttö / the Little Robber Girl), Elina Salo (pohjoisen velho / trollkvinnan från Norr / the Wizard of the North / The Finnish Woman), Reijo Tuomi (jääkarhupäinen mies / the man with the ice bear head). Helsinki premiere: 19.12.1986 Bristol 1, Nordia 1, released by Finnkino – vhs: 1988 Fazer Musiikki, 1992 Finnkino Video – VET A-25783 – S – 2535 m / 92 min
    Filming locations:  Iceland (volcano, glacier), Spain: Gran Canaria: Playa del Ingles (the sand dunes), Austria (the castle in long shots), Finland: Naantali, Espoo, Helsinki, Sipoo, Inkoo, Dragsfjärd, Uusikaupunki.
    A vintage 35 mm KAVI print with Swedish subtitles by Anna-Lisa Holmqvist deposited by Finnkino viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Once Upon a Time), 15 Nov 2015

Päivi Hartzell's The Snow Queen is a top Finnish family fairy-tale film, a perennial favourite at our Cinema Orion's family screenings.

Based on the fairy-tale by H. C. Andersen it tells the story of the Snow Queen of the Far North who needs to access a special emerald frozen inside the ice to rule the universe with the Crown of Darkness. But she cannot access the precious stone with her own icy hands; she needs a gallant boy with warm hands to commit the deed with a Black Sword. For this purpose she abducts Kai. The film is the story of Gerda's quest of Kai whom she finally discovers in the Far North in a last minute rescue which saves the universe.

The production is handsome, the landscapes are magnificent, and the cast and the crew consist of top talent. Special distinctions of the film are a cosmic feeling and a sense of wonder. The sense of wonder is the true hallmark of cinefantastique, and here it is not based on production values but an authentic enchantment which make even the forest treks seem magical.

The cast is a fascinating mix of veterans such as Elina Salo, Esko Hukkanen and Saara Pakkasvirta together with newcomers like Marja Pyykkö and Paavo Westerberg at the beginning of their careers. The true leading role of Gerda is played by the ten-year-old Outi Vainionkulma with an appealing sensitivity. Satu Silvo is cast against her hot-blooded type as the ice queen with masks that bring to mind the Japanese Noh play.

The film is not over-produced, and there is room for a sense of play and for the bizarre detail. There are impressive camera movements by Henrik Paersch. Jukka Linkola's original score has a consistent sense of enchantment. The lavish costumes and make-ups are essential to the grandeur of the tale. Although there are juicy passages of dialogue, this film is to a high degree purely visual. A recurrent motif is the wind. The four seasons play an important part.

The Snow Queen is a coming of age tale. In the end of Andersen's tale the world has remained the same but the boy and the girl have changed. The Snow Queen can be also seen as an ecological parable, but instead of global warming we have here final freezing. Anyway this is a tale with an apocalyptic dimension.

The vintage print screened has good basic health but due to heavy use there is "rain" in the changeovers. The print seems to do justice to the wonderful original colour concept.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Amos Forever. 50 Years of Exhibitions Through Posters (an exhibition)

Sähköshokki-ilta / Electric Shock Evening at Amos Anderson Art Museum, 1968, with Henrik Otto Donner
Amos Forever. 50 Years of Exhibitions Through Posters | Amos Anderson Art Museum, 13.11.2015–8.2.2016. Curator: Itha O'Neill.

The anniversary book:
Kaj Martin (ed.): Amos 50. Minnesbilder från Georgsgatan. Amos Andersons konstmuseums publikationer, nya serien nr 100. 254 p. Helsinki: Amos Andersons konstmuseum / Lönnberg Painot, 2015
    There is both a Swedish and a Finnish edition of the book.
    Contributors: Roger Broo, Kaj Martin, Kai Kartio, Bengt von Bonsdorff, Erik Kruskopf, Barbara Cederqvist, Marjatta Levanto, Timo Valjakka, Markku Valkonen, Annmari Arhippainen, Theo van Assendelft, Marja-Terttu Kivirinta, Liisa Kasvio, Raimo Reinikainen, Rax Rinnekangas, Erkki Pirtola, Jaakko Frösén, Paul Osipow, Harri Larjosto, Kirsti Karvonen, Susanne Gottberg & Markus Kåhre, Senja Vellonen, Katja Tukiainen, Icelandic Love Corporation.

The official introduction:

"Amos Anderson Art Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In honour of the jubilee, the museum is publishing its history in a volume entitled AMOS 50. The work is a tribute to the museum and its beloved building, which has served as the venue for hundreds of exhibitions. The exhibition to be opened with the publication of the book will look back at the museum’s past with the help of more than 300 posters. Each decade will be laid open to visitors through text and pictures."

"Browsing through the history of exhibitions at Amos Anderson Art Museum is like looking at a patchwork quilt. There are hundreds of different coloured and different sized pieces. This sumptuous quilt has, however, its own hidden logic and composition. After staring at it for a while, recurring themes, rhythms and colours begin to stand out from the jumble of hues and shapes. The cavalcade of posters spread over the walls reveals the museum’s great versatility; sometimes it has heralded modern and contemporary art, other times it has delved into the past. It has often ventured onto side paths, into the realms of design and cultural history. It has presented a great deal of Finnish art, but internationalism, especially the Nordic orientation, has always been close to its heart."

"In 2018 the museum’s exhibition activities will move from Yrjönkatu to the new Amos museum in Helsinki’s “Glass Palace.” The Yrjönkatu building will, however, remain the Amos Anderson home museum. Visitors are invited to share their own memories of Yrjönkatu, when visiting the exhibition and through social media (#amos4ever)."

"The museum will simultaneously open an exhibition entitled The Founder’s Gems to provide new insight into Amos Anderson’s own collection of old art."

AA: There are in fact three jubileum exhibitions at Amos Anderson Art Museum. Besides the two official ones opened today there is the colour-driven Sigurd Frosterus collection, a foundation to the museum's collections. The Founder's Gems consists of curiosities reflecting the personality of Amos Anderson and illuminating major art trends through minor works.

The poster exhibition downstairs is a journey through a memory lane of art during the last fifty years. In 1965 when Amos Anderson Art Museum was opened it became an exciting showplace for modern art, including kinetic art, performances, happenings, concerts, and films. Eino Ruutsalo, the avantgardist number one of the Finnish cinema, was celebrated here. Amos has always been a good place for abstract art.

The poster display and the book form a retrospective of the museum's exhibition with many fond flashbacks as the museum is heading towards the future in new facilities at the Glass Palace in 2019. The construction work is already going on.

Amos was launched at a time when there were not many museums and galleries in Finland, and it soon won a popularity comparable to the current international museum boom. It has never been just passively displaying art. It has been a Finnish pioneer in the concept of "a living museum" with all kinds of activities to inspire a rich variety of reactions and approaches to the art displayed. One of the most interesting chapters of the jubileum book is written by Marjatta Levanto, the first museum lecturer and a pioneer of museum pedagogy in Finland.

From the Lives of Girls, Light and Movement, The Electric Shock Evening, Kimmo Kaivanto's Fingers at Play, Surrealism in Turku, The Maire Gullichsen Collection, Nordic Art in the 1880s, Raimo Reinikainen, Marjatta Tapiola's Portrait of Bengt von Bonsdorff, Rax Rinnekangas: Spiritus Europaeus, The Rules of the Game, Splätsh! The Explosions of the Water Colour, Letters from the Antiquity, Petra the Lost City of the Antiquity, Paul Osipow's Paintings, Harri Larjosto: Memory Tracks, Ars Fennica winners, Senja Vellonen's watercolours of apples, and Icelandic Love Corporation are among the fondly remembered exhibitions highlighted.

The richly illustrated catalogue is itself a work of art history - from the viewpoint of exhibitions.

The Donor’s Works. Old Masters at Amos Anderson Art Museum (an exhibition)

Sigrid Schauman: Porträtt av Amos Anderson, 1958, oil. (Not in the exhibition)
The Donor’s Works. Old Masters at Amos Anderson Art Museum | 13.11.2015–23.6.2017. Curated by Synnöve Malmström.

The book to the exhibition:
Synnöve Malmström (ed).: The Donor's Works. Old Art in the Collections of the Amos Anderson Art Museum. Kirjokansi: Amos Anderson Art Museum Publications no. 101. Printed by: Livonia Print / Riga, Latvia. 187 p. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2015.
    The book is available only in an English edition.

The official introduction:

"The Amos Anderson Art Museum is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary by showing its founding donor’s favourites – Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Flemish art from the Renaissance up to the 19th century. The collection reflects Amos Anderson’s interest in religious art, and many of the works once graced the walls of his home on Yrjönkatu Street in the heart of Helsinki. Four years after Anderson’s death in 1965, a museum bearing its donor’s name was inaugurated in his former residence and office building."

"The Donor’s Works exhibition is showing forty paintings and sculptures by old masters on the Museum’s fifth floor and in the chapel. Some of the works on display have recently undergone art-historical and technical analysis. The research came up with some new dates and new artist attributions, and also some surprizing revelations when the works were X-rayed and the images studied with conservators. Old artworks are often difficult to study, since they may have deteriorated over the centuries or damaged sections may have been repainted. The results of the research will be published in English to accompany the exhibition. The exhibition’s curator and the editor of the publication is Amos Anderson Art Museum Curator Synnöve Malmström."

"Amos Anderson (1878-1961) made his fortune in the newspaper and publishing business. He was a warm and attentive socializer and a lover of art and culture. He was particularly interested in the art, music and rituals of the Middle Ages, and also contributed to the restoration of numerous medieval churches. In 1927, he had a private chapel, with an organ, built in his home. His intensely religious worldview and his fascination with Catholic traditions were reflected in his interest in Italy. It is thanks to him that the Finnish Institute in Rome was founded.

AA: There are now three important Finnish art collectors' collections from roughly the same period on display in Helsinki - the collections of Sigurd Frosterus, Leonard Bäcksbacka, and Amos Anderson. The two first ones are closely related and complement each other, sharing an interest in many of the same artists.

Amos Anderson the businessman was a true patron of the arts, and his foundation Konstsamfundet and his legacy have a lasting fruitful value in many ways. His personal collection of old European art now on display, though, is not that of a refined connoisseur. It does reflect his personal interests: he was deeply religious and especially attracted to the Madonna and Child theme. He was also in love with Italy and collected Italian landscapes.

This collection is not of first rate interest; it tends to be rather marginal. But from this less than exciting starting-point the museum has performed a high quality job of research, restoration, exhibition, and publication. It pays to read the well edited catalogue to the exhibition which provides a rich background to the works.

The chapters of the catalogue are case studies to the diffent forms, genres and types on display, written by experts: the glass painting, the Stabat Mater, the Crucifixion, Madonna and Child, Ecce Homo, Caritas, The Adoration of the Shepherds, Saint Anthony's Vision, animal studies, Italian landscapes, veduta paintings, Noli me tangere, and the Black Madonna of Montserrat.

There is also a complete catalogue of the acquisitions of non-Finnish art by Amos Anderson ca 1920-1950 and posthumous acquisitions 1963-1967.

The exhibition is on the fifth floor, and it is essential to climb a bit higher to the Amos Anderson private chapel and organ room with more key religious paintings, a glass painting, and a huge old choral book.

The aesthetically most satisfying entity is in the living-room on the fifth floor. There is a selection covering a century of Finnish art: Sulho Sipilä, Santeri Salokivi, Walter Runeberg, Oscar Kleineh, Hélène Schjerfbeck (Christ Figure in gouache, Göta in oil), Victor Westerholm, Albert Edelfelt, Eero Järnefelt, and Magnus von Wright, (and the Italian-Austrian A. L. Terni).

There are also Finnish sculptures by Viktor Jansson (Aallotar / The Mermaid, the model for the sculpture at Kappeliesplanadi) (in the organ room), Gunnar Finne (A Woman Washing Her Hair), and Johannes Haapasalo (Standing Girl), all expressing a delight in the nude beauty of the female form.

The last wall after rooms full of religious paintings and Italian landscapes is dedicated to galant French Rococo prints of humoristic erotic encounters which seem to form a continuity although they stem from various artists.

On the grand piano of the living room there is a series of signed photographs of actors and singers: Birgit Kronström, Nicken Rönngren, Tollie Zellman, Arna Högdahl, Mona Mårtenson, Lea Piltti, Tore Segeleck, Sylvelin Långholm, Anders De Wahl, Mia Backström, Inga Tidblad, Pauline Brunius, and Yrsa Cannelin. Amos Anderson was an avid theatre-goer and a patron of Svenska Teatern, and he also supported performers with grants. We recognize famous film stars among them.

A combination of spirituality and sensuality seems to be characteristic of the collector's interests. Even in the Madonna images selected there is a strong current of sensuality.

The body is the temple of the soul in these images.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

In the Stream of Life - Alvar and Ragni Cawén (an exhibition)

Alvar Cawén: Taiteilijan vaimo [The Artist's Wife], 1925. Yksityiskokoelma. Kuva: Jari Kuusenaho / Tampereen taidemuseo. Do click to enlarge the images.
Ragni Cawén: Pihanäkymä [A View on a Courtyard], 1960-luku. Yksityiskokoelma. Kuva: Jari Kuusenaho / Tampereen taidemuseo
Tampereen taidemuseo / Tampere Art Museum. Puutarhakatu 34, 33230 Tampere
12th September 2015 - 10th January 2016
In the Stream of Life - Alvar and Ragni Cawén
Over 230 works of art (paintings, prints, sculptures) and furniture, painting equipment, sketchbooks, photographs, letters, and documents.
Curator: Riitta Konttinen.

The book to the exhibition:
Riitta Konttinen: Elämänvirrassa - Alvar ja Ragni Cawén [In the Stream of Life - Alvar and Ragni Cawén]. Edited by Liisa Steffa. Graphic design: Heikki Kalliomaa. 312 pages. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Siltala, 2015.

The official introduction:

An artist couple

"Towards the end of her life, Ragni Cawén (1891—1981) observed: “We loved each other boundlessly. There was nothing that we wouldn’t have done for each other.” By that time, she had been a widow for decades. Her husband Alvar Cawén (1886—1935) died only eleven years after they were married, as their life together had come under way."

"Both Alvar and Ragni (née Holmberg) grew up in families involved in the arts, and painting was natural career choice for both of them. When they were married in 1924, both had studied art in Helsinki and Paris. Alvar had become known for his radical colourism and paintings influenced by Cubism and he had held several solo exhibitions. Ragni proceeded at a slower pace, not sure whether to choose a career in the applied arts or the fine arts. She, too, held a solo exhibition before marrying, but that was the end of painting for her for the time being. Although Alvar would have wanted her to continue, she felt that there wasn’t room for two artists in the same family."

"The Cawéns’ studio and residence in Fabianinkatu street in Helsinki was known for its comfort and ingenious solutions. Since they did not have too much money, they sought to make as many things as they could with their own hands. Both husband and wife were also interested in old objects that were still regarded as junk in the interwar years. The comfortable home and its hospitable residents attracted friends, the closest being the artist couples Eva Törnwall-Collin and Marcus Collin and Signe Hammarsten-Jansson and Viktor (Faffan) Jansson. Tove Jansson has described their parties in her autobiographical book Bildhuggarens dotter (The Sculptor’s Daughter)."

"After the death of Alvar, Ragni began to paint again and she managed to create an extensive oeuvre. Her paintings are spontaneous and direct and she described herself as a “natural” talent as a painter. She regarded Alvar’s contribution to art, however, to be far more significant, for it required greater effort. Alvar Cawén was one of the leading representatives of early Modernism in Finland.

The stream of life in art

"In the Stream of Life – Alvar and Ragni Cawén is an exhibition presenting an extensive selection of works by these two different artists, who nonetheless complemented each other. The title of the exhibition comes from Alvar’s notebook in which he describes his experiences in the stream of life in Paris, the same stream of life that he also found in the art that he saw. It also constituted the core of his own work: the stream carries along with it people whose joys and sorrows he depicts in a painful yet subtle manner. Music is also important, and the “musical colours” of his works are often mentioned. Alvar Cawén was a refined and restrained colourist, while Ragni Cawén was unbridled in her celebration of colour, finding her main subject matter on her trips to Southern Europe."

AA: Alvar and Ragni Cawén are among the most highly regarded artists in Finland. My true initiation to Alvar Cawén took place in the big 1978 Ateneum exhibition (216 works), which made a deep impression. I did not see the first double retrospective of Alvar and Ragni Cawén in 2009 at Didrichsen, curated by Riikka Laczak and linked to the first book where the couple was discussed together as artists; there was a simultaneous exhibition of Kim Simonsson which leads me to believe that that retrospective may not have been extensive.

Be that as it may, Tampere Art Museum gives a lot of space to the intensive and productive career of Alvar Cawén who died too young and the long career of Ragni Cawén who got really started first after the death of her beloved husband.

Riitta Konttinen, the curator and the author of the highly readable and splendidly illustrated new book to the exhibition, is an expert on Finnish artist couples. She has written, among other things, the books Taiteilijapareja [Artist Couples, 1991], Alvar & Ragni Cawén (Didrichsen, 2009), and Modernistipareja [Modernist Couples, 2011]. She curated the big and inspired Artist Couples exhibition at Retretti in 2011. As I have not read Konttinen's previous Cawén book I cannot compare it with the new one.

This exhibition is a very gratifying art experience with a strong sense of the main theme which is colour for both Alvar and Ragni Cawén. The dramatic turning-point in Alvar Cawén's life was his bicycle accident in 1903 where his optic nerve was damaged, a result of which was a revelation of colour and, after recovery, a determination to become a painter. Colour is the main drive in Cawén's art, and this exhibition is interesting to see in the context of a simultaneous tribute to the art critic and collector Sigurd Frosterus at Amos Anderson Art Museum. The architect Frosterus even wrote his dissertation on the problem of colour in painting. Frosterus was an admirer of Cawén's and a speaker at Alvar Cawén's funeral.

We get to follow Alvar Cawén's development from a skilled young realist of often huge and dramatic canvases to the full revelation of pure colour during his first Paris stays in 1907-1909 and to the impact of cubism (Cézanne, Picasso) during his next stays in Paris in 1912-1914, his loose connections to the Septem and November groups of Finnish modernists, the long honeymoon in Italy in 1924 where Alvar was most impressed by the spirituality of the late medieval and early Renaissance painters such as Giotto and Fra Angelico, and the tendency to matte surfaces. Since 1924 Cawén paints many of his most profound masterpieces. There is a unique spirituality in his late landscapes, three of the very best of which have been collected in the final room where also his work for altarpieces is on display. Otherwise many of his greatest paintings have been hung in the biggest hall around the stairway. Sigrid Schauman summed up that the theme of Alvar Cawén's art was the struggle of the spirit towards freedom.

There is a partly chronologic dimension in the exhibition; and partly it is thematical. We get a good idea of themes such as the nude, the children, the musical, the religious, and hunting in Alvar Cawén's art. He was also a soulful portrait painter. His favourite subject: his beloved wife, Ragni Cawén.

Studying my copy of the 1978 Alvar Cawén programme guide where the illustrations are in black and white is a dramatic confirmation of the essential role of colour in Cawen's art. For instance the painting The Violinist (1922) is almost unrecognizable in black and white.

Ragni Cawén was Alvar's student and at first in his spell, but after his death she found her personal style. She was also a colourist, but completely different. She had an increasing interest in glowing, vibrant colours. She was inspired by the Finnish summer but also by trips to Italy (including Sicily), France, and Holland. Late in life she discovered Lapland, also its gorgeous autumn colours which she caught in flaming reds. She never switched to abstraction but was always bent to the pure painterliness of colour, uninhibitedly exposing the texture of the oil paint.