Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's Only Money

It's Only Money. Jerry Lewis as television repairman Lester March harassed by a seagull.

It's Only Money. Lester (Jerry Lewis) smuggles the private detective Pete Flint (Jesse White) to the Albright estate in his van.

It's Only Money. Parallel parking the Jerry Lewis way. In Finland we call this "pocket parking".

It's Only Money. Hiding under the bed of Wanda Paxton (Joan O'Brien) Lester (Jerry Lewis) snores so loudly that he wakes up the millionaire heiress, and Wanda has to pretend that she is the one who is doing the snoring.

Rahaa kuin roskaa / Alla tiders lustigkurre
    US © 1962 York Pictures Corp. PC: Jerry Lewis Productions / York Pictures Corp. Distr: Para-mount Pictures. P: Paul Jones. D: Frank Tashlin. SC: John Fenton Murray. DP: W. Wallace Kelley – b&w – 1,85:1. AD: Tambi Larsen, Hal Pereira. Set dec: Sam Comer, James W. Payne. Process photography: Farciot Edouart. Special photographic effects: John P. Fulton. Cost: Edith Head. Makeup: Wally Westmore. Hair: Nellie Manley. M: Walter Scharf. Song: ”Isn’t It Romantic” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) sung by Mae Questel. Choreography: Bobby Van. S: Charles Grenzbach, Gene Merritt – mono (Westrex Recording System). ED: Arthur P. Schmidt.
    C: Jerry Lewis (Lester March), Joan O’Brien (Wanda Paxton), Zachary Scott (Gregory DeWitt), Jack Weston (Leopold), Jesse White (Pete Flint), Mae Questel (Cecilia Albright), Pat Dahl (sexy girl), Barbara Pepper (fisherwoman), Francine York (sexy girl), Milton Frome (cop at pier), Del Moore (patrolman), Ted de Corsia (patrolman), Francesca Bellini (model on beach), Gary Lewis (Lester as a boy).
    Loc: Paramount Studios (5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood), Gulls Way Estate (26800 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu). Premiere: 21.11.1962.
    Helsinki premiere: 15.2.1963 Aloha, distr: Paramount Pictures – tv: 9.7.1998 MTV3 – VET 64434 – K8 – 2305 m / 84 min
    A vintage print with Swedish subtitles by Tore Metzer screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jerry Lewis in memoriam), 17 April 2018

Frank Tashlin at his grimmest. It's Only Money is a thriller spoof about a crooked lawyer, Gregory DeWitt (Zachary Scott in his last film role) who has targeted a heiress, Cecilia Albright (Mae Questel*) whom he is about to marry. She is the daughter of an eccentric millionaire and television inventor whose giant bearded portrait dominates the hall of the family mansion. Gregory DeWitt and his accomplice, the butler Leopold (Jack Weston) are spinning their web for Cecilia.

But there is a case of a missing son, and when a television repairman, the orphan Lester March (Jerry Lewis), turns up, his voice and looks are instantly recognized. With the exception of the magnificent beard Lester is, in fact, a dead ringer for the deceased patriach.

Lester is both a walking disaster and an instinctive genius in electronics, and It's Only Money delivers generous helpings of sight gags and loony expressions.

There are also more serious sequences such as the one where the plump Cecilia is busy doing yoga exercises on her square-paneled marble floor in order to fit her bridal gown while her cold-blooded fiancé is examining her from above, preparing to murder her after the wedding.

Most of the comic thrills are about the two crooks' outlandish attempts to dispose of Lester. There is a time bomb hidden inside a television set in a yacht. The crooks even turn remote controlled lawn mowers into murder weapons.

W. Wallace Kelley, who shot most of Jerry Lewis's films in the 1960s, adopts here a thriller mood in the visuals, shooting in black and white.

An equally important regular collaborator for Lewis during the same period was the composer Walter Scharf whose work for Harold Lloyd's re-releases Lewis had admired. Scharf excelled in composing dramatic music with comic touches. In It's Only Money Scharf creates an effective thriller score.

The theme of the satire is announced in the title. We laugh at a life where money has turned from servant to master. It's Only Money is an original contribution to a great tradition dating back to Herodotus's account of Croesus, King of Lydia.

A used print with signs of wear in the heads and tails of the reels. Beneath the patina the fundamental visual quality is good.

* The casts of Jerry Lewis's movies are an impressive display of American show business heritage. Mae Questel debuted in the 1930s as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, and she went on until Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Patsy (1964)

The Patsy (1964). Singing lesson: Jerry Lewis (Stanley Belt) and Hans Conried (Prof. Mulerr). The ultrasonic yell of the Professor whose fingers have been stuck under the lid of the piano. From Ways of Seeing.

Jerry neropattina / Sprattelgubben
    US © 1964 Patti Enterprises. Distr: Paramount Pictures. P: Ernest D. Glucksman. D: Jerry Lewis. SC: Jerry Lewis, Bill Richmond. DP: W. Wallace Kelley – Technicolor – 1,85:1. AD: Cary Odell, Hal Pereira. Set dec: Sam Comer, Ray Moyer. Process photography: Farciot Edouart. Special photographic effects: Paul K. Lerpae. Cost: Edith Head. Makeup: Wally Westmore. Hair: Nellie Manley. M: David Raksin. Jack Brooks. Song: "I Lost My Heart in a Drive-In Movie" (David Raksin, Jack Brooks). S: Charles Grenzbach, Hugo Grenzbach – mono (Westrex Recording System). ED: John Woodcock. Casting: Edward R. Morse.
    C: Jerry Lewis (Stanley Belt), Ina Balin (Ellen Betz), Everett Sloane (Caryl Fergusson), Phil Harris (Chic Wymore), Keenan Wynn (Harry Silver), Peter Lorre (Morgan Heywood), John Carradine (Bruce Alden), Hans Conried (Prof. Mulerr).
    Cameos: George Raft, Hedda Hopper, Ed Sullivan, Ed Wynn, Mel Tormé, Rhonda Fleming, Scatman Crothers, Phil Foster, Billy Beck, Hans Conried, Richard Deacon, Del Moore, Neil Hamilton, Buddy Lester, Nancy Kulp, Norman Alden, Jack Albertson, Richard Bakalyan, Jerry Dunphy, Kathleen Freeman, Norman Leavitt, Eddie Ryder, Lloyd Thaxton, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, Fritz Feld.
    Shooting: 6.1.–28.2.1964 Paramount Studios (5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood). Premiere: 8.6.1964 (Los Angeles), 12.8.1964 (New York City).
    Helsinki premiere: 2.10.1964 Aloha, distr: Paramount Pictures – tv: 27.11.1971 MTV1, 29.11.1983 MTV2, 6.8.2006 and 24.12.2006 Yle Teema – dvd: 2005 Finnkino – VET 70052 – S – 2800 m / 101 min
    A vintage print with Swedish subtitles screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jerry Lewis in memoriam), 12 April 2018

The Patsy, one of Jerry Lewis's greatest films, was his penultimate production for Paramount Pictures and already a kind of a farewell to the studio.

Martin and Lewis had started at Paramount in 1949 with My Friend Irma, and when Lewis debuted as a director in 1960 he became the last new genius director of the Hollywood studio system. Lewis's films were pronouncedly Paramount creations: artificial paradises, fantasies with affinities with the musical comedy idiom.

They were spectacular, glamorous, in Technicolor, and based on Paramount studio expertise in all departments: costumes, sets, visual effects, cinematography. Lewis respected studio veterans and was happy to engage Hollywood old-timers to the max in the cast. The Lewis paradox is that his films are late blossoms of the studio system yet modernist in ways comparable with Godard and Tati.

Many of Lewis's films, such as The Ladies' Man, are gag-driven, but The Patsy is plot-driven. A big star dies in a plane crash, and his brain trust decides to make a new star of a nobody – Jerry Lewis as bellboy Stanley.

The plot is about the manufacturing of a star, a variation and a parody of the Pygmalion narrative with Jerry as Galatea and American show business as Pygmalion. Tailoring, coiffure, singing lessons, step dance exercises, and classical dancing are among the episodes, all ripe with gag possibilities. With his brain trust, Stanley tries hard to learn jokes and comic routines. At each stage it becomes clearer that he is devoid of talent.

No better are his appearances at cocktail parties and public relations events. When he is told to be humble he crawls like a slave and licks a hand like a dog. When he is asked to relax he becomes totally limp. Unsure of what is wanted of him he becomes totally cramped. His awkward presence turns these events into such parodies of their inherent phoniness that they become entertaining to veterans such as Hedda Hopper.

When Stanley who is tone deaf, without musical talent and a singing voice is asked to lip-synch a rock'n'roll hit song written for him ("I Lost My Heart in a Drive-In Movie") he botches even that. As a performer Stanley is a walking disaster.

During these soulless proceedings only one person is interested in Stanley as a human being: Ellen Betz (Ina Balin), the secretary of the brain trust. In the middle of the noisy and trivial pop world there is a silent (dialogueless) flashback to Stanley's teenage days, his humiliating memories from a school dance when he first met Ellen. Ellen is given the most profound words of the film: "The sweet things and the good things aren't always the things that make us better people. I think the heartaches and unpleasant things, even the heavy burdens we've had placed upon us, make us stronger in the long run." The performances in this scene make it a privileged moment, a center of gravity.

The jokes written for Stanley play with the theme of identity ("I'd like to introduce myself... but I don't know me either"). The pathos, the fear of failure, and the nightmare of losing identity are treated in ways that border on horror and with an acute sense of the uncanny. There is an affinity with the world of Andy Kaufman as interpreted by Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon, directed by Milos Forman (who died 13 April 2018).

The narrative is obviously taking us towards a final catastrophe but the film-makers lack the courage of their convictions, and instead there is a fairy-tale happy ending (Stanley turns out to be an exceptionally talented star in the Ed Sullivan Show) and a meta-filmic "it's only a movie" ending (everything has happened on a studio stage). These endings water the film down.

The film is well cast. Jill St. John (Who's Minding the Store?) and Ina Balin belong to Jerry Lewis's most attractive female leads. It's not only that they are lovely to look at. They seem to be able to truly respond to Jerry and see through his clown masquerade. They are like Edna Purviance, Charles Chaplin's most durable partner in many of his best films: a center of sanity and a gifted comedienne radiating a more subtle sense of humour than Mr. Clown himself.

Jerry Lewis never imitated his models but there are affinities and connections to his favourite ones. The name Stanley is yet another hommage to Lewis's friend and mentor Stan Laurel. The awkward sequences with clothes (the tailor sequence, the school dance, and the tuxedo sketch) have echoes of Harold Lloyd's Fall Frolic sequence in The Freshman. And there is the fundamental affinity with Charles Chaplin, the cosmic solitude, the sense of rejection, and the sense of being an alien trying to accommodate into a strange world. (The ultimate Pygmalion narrative. And the story of every human being, born into this strange world as a baby.)

Bright Technicolor in a very good print in which only the beginning seems slightly duped and fading.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Noch pered Rozhdestvom / The Night Before Christmas (1913)

Noch pered Rozhdestvom / The Night Before Christmas (1913). Lidiya Tridenskaya as the witch Solokha and Ivan Mozzhukhin as the Devil.

Ночь перед Рождеством / Notsh pered Rozhdestvom / [Jouluaatto] / [Jouluyö {the name of Gogol's story in Finnish}] / Christmas Eve / Noc' pered Rozdestvom / [La veglia di Natale]
    RU 1913. PC: Aleksandr Hanzhonkov / Khanzhonkov & Co. D+SC+CIN+AN+AD: Wladyslaw Starewicz.
    Based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol in the collection Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka / Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки (1829–1832) / Dikankan iltoja [in Finnish by Irma Grönroos, Maija Pellikka, Margit Salmenoja / Ex Libris, 1972].
    C: Lidija Tridenskaja / Lidiya Tridenskaya (the witch Soloha / Solokha), Ivan Mozzhuhin / Ivan Mozzhukhin (Devil), Pjotr Lopuhin / Petr Lopukhin (the blacksmith Vakula), Olga Obolenskaja / Olga Obolenskaya (Oksana), Aleksandr Kherumimov (Golova), Pavel Knorr (Chub). 1115 m /16 fps/ 61 min
    Premiere: 26 Dec 1913.
    A Gosfilmofond restoration of 1989 with reconstructed intertitles by Natalia Nusinova and Yuri Tsivian.
    A Gosfilmofond print with e-subtitling by Mia Öhman and live pianism by Ilari Hannula screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nikolai Gogol), 10 April 2018

The Night Before Christmas is the earliest surviving feature film by Wladyslaw Starewicz. The artist and entomologist had for a few years ago emerged as a prolific and versatile film-maker at the Khanzhonkov studios – as animator, art director, cinematographer, screenwriter and director. All those skills are on display in The Night Before Christmas, a weird adaptation of a work of youth, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, by Nikolai Gogol, based on Ukrainian folklore, fairytales and horror stories. Even Starewicz's first live action film, Strachnaya mest / A Terrible Vengeance, made the year before, had been based on the Dikanka tales.

The star of both A Terrible Vengeance and The Night Before Christmas is none other than Ivan Mozzhukhin, the greatest Russian star of the 1910s and the 1920s. He incarnated memorably  characters of Russian classics (Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky) and was able to cover decadence and lyricism, comedy and tragedy.

Mozzhukhin is unrecognizable as Starewicz's Devil. He never made a crazier interpretation than as the Devil who makes uninhibited love to the village witch Solokha (see image above) and steals the Moon from the sky. The performance was probably influenced by Georges Méliès, and I suspect that Benjamin Christensen, who played the Devil in Häxan, must have seen Mozzhukhin's performance because of striking similarities in details.

Mozzhukhin's is not the best performance in this film, and he fails to convey the Devil with the same panache as Méliès. There is a genuine ensemble spirit in the village fantasy with colourful and humoristic characters.

More uncanny than Mozzhukhin's Devil is the Zaporochian Cossack Patsyuk who is believed to be in league with the Devil.

The blacksmith Vakula is a funny premier. He is rejected by Oksana who insists in being presented the Czarina's cherevichki slippers as a condition for accepting his proposal. With the help of the Devil even this preposterous demand can be fulfilled. But by then Oksana is already prepared to accept Vakula unconditionally.

The women are sensual and original, starting with Lidiya Tridenskaya as Solokha (see image above) whom no man can resist and who has to hide a growing queue of male visitors in flour sacks. Olga Obolenskaya is attractive as Oksana, a young woman of independent spirit.

There are living portrait credit titles. Masks and vignettes are in use. Interestingly for an animation wizard the flight sequences are clumsily performed, more clumsily than earlier efforts by Méliès and R. W. Paul. The films starts unpromisingly but soon a good fantastic-humoristic flow emerges. There are two pioneering scenes of animation combined with live action. In one varenyky dumplings are galloping into mouths (in a scene with affinities with Aleksander Medvedkin's Happiness). In another one, at Empress Catherine's court, the Devil shrinks to pocket size.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve, but there is no religious content. I believe this secularity stems from Gogol's original but even if it wouldn't there was a ban on the representation of the Church in the cinema of the Russian empire. The first men of the church in Russian cinema appeared only after the fall of the Romanov empire, in films such as Yakov Protazanov's Father Sergius (produced in 1917, released in 1918). There was also a ban on the representation of the Romanov family which is why Catherine the Great is omitted and we see Prince Potemkin presenting Vakula the Empress's cherevichki.

Mostly the visual quality is good, including in interesting sequences of depth staging. The beginning has been copied from battered material. The movement is smooth and natural at 16 fps.


Thursday, April 05, 2018

Who’s Minding the Store?

Who's Minding the Store? The finale of the vacuum cleaner sequence. John McGiver (John P. Tuttle), Agnes Moorehead (Phoebe Tuttle), Jill St. John (Barbara Tuttle), Jerry Lewis (Norman Phiffier).

Who's Minding the Store? Jerry Lewis's pantomime to Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter".

Jerry – myyntipäällikön kauhu / Nu är det kul igen.
    US © 1963 York Pictures / Jerry Lewis Pictures. Distr: Paramount Pictures. P: Paul Jones. D: Frank Tashlin. SC: Frank Tashlin, Harry Tugend – based on a story by Harry Tugend. DP: W. Wallace Kelley – Technicolor – 1,85:1. AD: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira. Set dec: Sam Comer, James W. Payne. VFX: Farciot Edouart, Paul K. Lerpae. Cost: Edith Head. Makeup: Wally Westmore. Hair: Nellie Manley. M: Joseph J. Lilley. Soundtrack: “The Typewriter” (Leroy Anderson, 1953). S: Lyle Figland, Charles Grenzbach – mono (Westrex Recording System). ED: John Woodcock.
    C: Jerry Lewis (Norman Phiffier), Jill St. John (Barbara Tuttle), Ray Walston (Quimby), John McGiver (John P. Tuttle), Agnes Moorehead (Phoebe Tuttle), Francesca Bellini (Shirley Lott), Peggy Mondo (female wrestler), Nancy Kulp (Emily Rothgraber), John Abbott (Orlandos), Kathleen Freeman (Mrs. Glucksman), Fritz Feld (Irving Cahastrophe, the Gourmet Manager), Milton Frome (Francois, chauffeur), Mary Treen (mattress customer), Dick Wessel (traffic cop), Jerry Hausner (Smith), Richard Deakon (tie salesman).
    Loc: Paramount Studios – 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood.
    Premiere: 27.11.1963.
    Helsinki premiere: 28.2.1964 Aloha, distr: Paramount Pictures – tv: 13.7.1988 MTV3, 30.7.2006 Yle Teema – VET 68325 – S – 2475 m / 90 min
    A 35 mm print with Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jerry Lewis in memoriam), 5 April 2018.

Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis are at their best in this penultimate collaboration of theirs (they made eight films together). Who's Minding the Store? is one of the great department store comedies, to be compared with The Floorwalker by Charles Chaplin, Safety Last! by Harold Lloyd and The Big Store by the Marx Brothers. With carefree abandon Tashlin shapes a satire of the consumer society of the 1960s. The points remain topical although the department store phenomenon is in decline in the age of online shopping.

The film is gag-driven, but the plot is more than nominal now. The heiress of the department store dynasty, Barbara Tuttle (Jill St. John), wants nothing to do with her mother Phoebe (Agnes Moorehead), who runs the family empire with an iron hand. Barbara wants to marry a man who loves her for herself, not for her money, and she has found him in Norman Phiffier (Jerry Lewis). Phoebe engages detectives who discover in Norman a man who cannot hold a job (the highest achievements on his CV have been as a dog walker and animal sitter). Hidden camera footage reveals a man whose table manners remain on the infant level.

Because Barbara is working incognito at the department store as an elevator assistant, Phoebe decides to engage Norman there, as well: "give him every dumb job you have". The intention is to have Norman irreversibly humiliated in front of Barbara's eyes.

Norman starts in the mailroom and proceeds to paint flagpoles. Gag opportunities appear at the ladies' shoe department (with a lady wrestler as a customer), at the timecard machine, and with ingeniously masked shoplifters. At the gourmet department Jerry gets acquainted with delicacies such as roasted grasshoppers and toasted black ants, and at a clothes sale he faces a stampede of customers who rip him of his clothes. He has to perform a tie-in of selling both a mattress and a huge tv receiver to be installed in the ceiling. Of topical relevance in today's debates is the gun department sequence where Jerry serves a big game hunter, Emily Rothgraber (Nancy Kulp) who is looking for an elephant gun. Jerry accidentally fires the elephant gun, and by force of its recoil careens through the building with catastrophic results. Another catastrophe sequence is the mirror episode: when Jerry carries a giant mirror into a van its reflections cause a multiple traffic collision. The earliest catastrophe has taken place at the golf department where Jerry demonstrates the Futurascope Fairway golf simulation device.

The catastrophe scenario is a link to the earliest stage of screen comedy around 1900 when Méliès, Cretinetti, R. W. Paul, and others established the trend, later followed by Mack Sennett and other founders of American film comedy. In Tashlin's film the store building remains intact, but entire departments are demolished, and traffic pile-ups become endemic as soon as Jerry is let loose.

An early gag sequence, "The Typewriter" (see image above), is a music-driven pantomime to Leroy Anderson's popular tune. The setpiece can be compared with Charles Chaplin's barbershop performance to Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 5 in The Great Dictator. Funny in itself, "The Typewriter" can also be seen as a satire on simulating work. Apparently Lewis himself could be a pedantic boss who fired Mel Brooks from the production of The Ladies' Man when Lewis did not hear Brooks's typewriter humming from 9 to 5.

The following sequence, "The Flagpole", can be compared with Harold Lloyd's Safety Last. The comedy is built on the fear of heights, acrophobia, and vertigo, and there is a natural metaphorical dimension. Both Harold and Jerry start from the bottom and are on their way to the top. We are made to laugh at the idea of climbing and the nightmare of falling.

The climax is the vacuum cleaner sequence. (The device is called Waste King Universal Disposal). Jerry rewires the criss-crossed lines of a customer's vacuum cleaner with the result that it becomes supercharged. Jewels, toasts, ties, mugs, floor tiles, shoes, and corsets fly into its mouth, as well as the customer's poodle. The bag inflates into a giant balloon which rises to the ceiling. Jerry climbs onto the top of a ladder to cut it and release the poodle. The balloon explodes, and the debris fills the department.

Again, the sequence harks back to the earliest film comedies where the world was expected to perish utterly. But the catastrophe and traffic jam themes also anticipate Godard and Tati, as well as the finale of Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. Like Donald Duck, Jerry Lewis has the strange distinction of being either a walking catastrophe or a virtuoso of some special skill, and sometimes both, as when he is displaying his golf bravado at the Futurascope Fairway.

In Who's Minding the Store? Jerry Lewis is in top form in physical comedy. As soon as he has been promised the opportunity of "room at the top, and lots of raises" he gives a hilarious parody of "a brisk walk". One of his ordeals is to perform for the sports department at the show window. When he performs a marathon, running around the block, his slowed down jog and stagger are brilliant comic studies of the essence of those actions.

In The Ladies' Man Lewis adopted qualities of the monkey. In Who's Minding the Store? the key animal is the dog. Lewis is not only a dog walker but also a perfect dog sitter who identifies with pets. He even knows how to deal with bobtailers. At the finale of his marathon ordeal he almost becomes a dog himself, lapping water like one. Lewis's transformations are smooth and seamless. His presence is like quicksilver.

To everyone's surprise Norman shows character in his ordeals. He is never discouraged but willing to learn. He becomes the best friend of John P. Tuttle (John McGiver), Barbara's father, without knowing who he is. He is even let in the family secret: it is a matriarchy run by the ladies of the house. "All the Tuttle women have married boobs" who change their names into Tuttle at marriage. John is a man constantly excusing his existence ("our house has never been a home"), and his only activity is golf at the office room. When Barbara announces her wedding plans to her mother she wishes for only one wedding present: "disinherit me". At the vacuum cleaner catastrophe climax (see image above) the identities are revealed, and Jerry quits the Tuttles at once since he does not want to marry money. But that is the final proof of character. In the finale all four are seen walking dogs, and around the corner there is the biggest crash of a multiple collision. Everybody is hugging.

It would be interesting to read a feminist study on Who's Minding the Store? There is a chauvinist "boss chasing a secretary" and "secretary chasing a boss" agenda, similar to Mad Men narratives. Beyond the teasing surface there is a matriarchal foundation: the universe is in reality ruled by the formidable mother. (I am even thinking about The Manchurian Candidate, released the year before). And the film is peopled with funny ladies who are often stronger than men such as the lady wrestler and the female big game hunter.

Who's Minding the Store? is a Jerry Lewis comedy but Frank Tashlin directs a strong cast (see again the image above). John McGiver was a fine actor whom we remember for instance as the debonair Tiffany salesman in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Agnes Moorehead had been introduced to the cinema by Orson Welles; here she displays talent in hilarious comedy. Jill St. John is still active, and she has made films in eight decades. Portrayed by her, Barbara is not just a pretty girl but a woman of character whom we can believe to become the next CEO of the department store empire.

Jerry Lewis gives a brilliant performance, and Frank Tashlin is to be credited with the fine ensemble work and the satirical bite. As well as the abandon in the hyperbole which often takes us to the impossible like Tashlin's animations and cartoons.

I like the sense of humour in this film. We are not laughing at these people; we are laughing with them and at ourselves. We are all victims of our urges and circumstances. The satire of conspicuous consumption is no less urgent today when we are aware of climate change, the ecocatastrophe, and our drowning into our own garbage, not least in the plastic cesspools of the ocean. Waste King Universal Disposal, yes. Who's minding the store, indeed.

The more I think about Jerry Lewis the more I'm impressed by the metaphysical and eternal in his performances. In my remarks on The Ladies' Man I claimed that with Jerry we laugh at the human condition (walking, talking, looking, thinking, expressing), at mimesis, even at being itself. Like Charles Chaplin, Jerry Lewis emerges like a creature from outer space who tries to give impressions and imitations of humanity (and even of life and of being in general). In Who's Minding the Store? targets would also include family, work, service, money, commerce, exchange... and society, and the world order?

Of great comedians such as Charles Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe it has been said that they always preserve their dignity no matter how ridiculous their predicaments. Of Jerry Lewis I'm not sure if the word "dignity" is apt. I sense something more atavistic. There is a current of energy, a life-force, an irrepressible joy of life, an innate sense of fun. In that dimension he can connect directly with a juvenile, a baby, a wild being, an animal. Yes, even a dog in the best sense of a dog being an incarnation of joy and friendliness.

The quality of the colour on the print is fair at first, good for the rest. The print is peculiar, like a carefully cropped, Academy-formatted television print which somehow went into theatrical distribution. Quite watchable but does not do full justice to the mise-en-scène.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Ladies' Man

The Ladies' Man: the doll house set. The biggest set and the biggest camera crane in Hollywood. Please do click to enlarge the image.

The Ladies' Man: where the shadows run from themselves. In the forbidden room, the White Room, Jerry Lewis meets Miss Cartilage (Sylvia Lewis, no relation). There is an Irma Vep affinity in the Musidora-like performance. She is introduced as a Batwoman hanging from the ceiling upside down. One of the last film roles of the classically trained virtuoso dancer.

The Ladies Man / Jerry naisten miehenä / Jerry naistenmiehenä / Jerry Lewis naisten miehenä / Huller om buller
    US © 1961 Jerry Lewis Productions. PC: Jerry Lewis Productions / York Pictures Corporation. Distributor: Paramount Pictures. P: Jerry Lewis. D: Jerry Lewis. SC: Jerry Lewis, Bill Richmond. DP: W. Wallace Kelley – Technicolor – 1,85:1. Crane operator: Carl Manoogian. AD: Ross Bellah, Hal Pereira. Set dec: Sam Comer, James W. Payne. VFX: John P. Fulton. Cost: Edith Head. Wardrobe for Jerry Lewis: Sy Devore, Nat Wise. Makeup: Wally Westmore. Hair: Nellie Manley. M: Walter Scharf. Songs: “Don’t Go To Paris” and “Ladies’ Man” lyr. Jack Brooks, comp. Harry Warren. “Bang Tail” (Harry James). Choreography: Bobby Van. S: Bill Wistrom – mono (Westrex Recording System). ED: Stanley E. Johnson.
    C: Jerry Lewis (Herbert H. Heebert / Mama Heebert), Helen Traubel (Helen N. Welenmelon), Pat Stanley (Fay), Kathleen Freeman (Katie), George Raft (himself), Harry James and His Orchestra, Marty Ingels (himself), Buddy Lester (Willard C. Gainsborough), Gloria Jean (Gloria), Hope Holiday (Miss Anxious), Jack Kruschen (Graduation Emcee Professor), Lillian Briggs (Lillian), Doodles Weaver (soundman), Sylvia Lewis (Miss Cartilage), Dee Arlen (Miss Liar), Francesca Bellini (dancer), Vicki Benet (Frenchie), Mary LaRoche (Miss Society), Ann McCrea (Miss Sexy Pot), Madlyn Rhue (Miss Intellect), Caroline Richter (Miss Southern Accent), Lynn Ross (Miss Vitality), Beverly Wills (Miss Hypochondriac), Westbrook Van Voorhis (himself, Person to Person).
    Studio: Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood.
    Premiere: 28.6.1961.
    Helsinki premiere: 30.3.1962 Aloha, distributor: Oy Cinema International Corporation Ab – tv: 19.10.1971 Yle TV1, 1.11.1983 MTV2, 15.8.1988 TV3, 8.7.1998 MTV3, 2.7.2006 ja 3.1.2008 Yle Teema – dvd: 2006 Paramount Home Entertainment Finland – VET 60114 – S – 2650 m / 97 min (VET, IMDb), 106 min (AFI, Wikipedia).
    A vintage Technicolor print with Swedish subtitles screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jerry Lewis in memoriam), 31 March 2018

Jerry Lewis is at his best in The Ladies' Man, his second film as a director, famous for its dollhouse set, the biggest in Hollywood, and the use of the world's biggest camera crane to catch the complex choreography of movement from room to room and floor to floor in smooth long takes (see the image above).

There is an affinity with the Greenwich Village set of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, also produced at Paramount Studios. Victoria Duckett reminded me of early cinema affinities going back to Georges Méliès (films such as Les Affiches en goguette, 1906).

The Bellboy, Lewis's debut film as a director, had been dedicated to his friend and advisor Stan Laurel. Also in The Ladies' Man the bond with classic silent comedy pantomime is evident.

But The Ladies' Man is also a work of modernism, modernist comedy, with an affinity with Jacques Tati's Playtime which had its premiere five years later.  Conscious homage to The Ladies' Man was paid by Jean-Luc Godard in Tout va bien (1972). Federico Fellini's La città delle donne comes to mind, too. Even Francis Ford Coppola was influenced by Lewis in One from the Heart (1982).

The total stylization, the assured choreography, and the "artificial paradise" approach to scenography are reminiscent of the musical genre. Jerry Lewis creates a magical, oneiric, and hallucinatory vision with surreal touches (butterflies coming alive, bleeding lipstick on the portrait towering over the hall, the mysterious White Room).

It is a character comedy, full of women, but entirely dominated by the Jerry Lewis character Herbert H. Heebert. The comic character is beyond realistic psychology, an abstracted and stylized clown like Lewis's models including Harpo Marx, Stan Laurel, and early Charles Chaplin.

His is a bold and startling comic persona, neurotic and hysterical, even stark raving mad. He is literally infantile, jumping into Kathleen Freeman's lap as he enters the dollhouse, spoon-fed in a baby chair during his first breakfast there.

At the same time he is juvenile and adolescent, exaggerating the clumsiness and bad coordination of a young person growing up too fast.

In his agility and extraordinary skill in running, jumping and hanging from the ceiling he is like a monkey.

Herbert is retarded, narcissist, and solipsist, but he is not a tyrant running rampant in his harem. Instead he is a panicked and humble servant to the girls mothered by Katie (Kathleen Freeman) and Mrs. Welenmelon (Helen Traubel). No equal and mature relationship with a female of his own age is thinkable, but there are moments of tenderness and friendship with the inhabitants of the dormitory of aspiring young female actresses and artists.

In many ways I am reminded of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) released the year before, most importantly by the mother fixation. In moments of crisis Herbert keeps crying "Maaa!".

In my Jerry Lewis obituary I called him the comedian of the age of extremes. His debut as a child entertainer started with a performance of "Brother, Can You Spare Me a Dime" during the Great Depression. He embodied the existential horror of the nuclear age, Holocaust, and the Cold War. He was also the comedian of the Age of Affluence, the economic miracle, the consumer society, and the youth culture.

At his best, in films such as The Ladies' Man, Lewis also tapped into something timeless, going back to the genesis of drama and comedy, something that the classics of antiquity would have recognized and appreciated.

From the opening stills in the Look parody credit title sequence Lewis caricatures not only the self in the modern world but the human condition itself. We laugh at the very acts of walking, talking, looking, and making faces.

The plot is the flimsiest of token narratives, a hanger for a string of gags. Some of the most memorable ones are almost abstract, detached views such as a scene near the beginning where Herbert concentrates to think whether he'll stay. It's a funny parody on the act of thought.

Lewis is also one of the masters of the slow burn and the double take. Perhaps he had learned a thing or two from his friend Stan Laurel. There is a magisterial delayed reaction study in the sound check sequence where Lewis registers to the overwhelming volume in his headset.

Aristotle remarked that the human is the most mimetic animal, and Jerry Lewis makes comedy about mimesis itself. Which all children are able to do. A talent which great artists know how to preserve.

There is even a level of existential comedy. A metaphysical laughter at being itself.

Bright and authentic Technicolor in the vintage print with signs of wear in the heads and tails of reels. Some sources (AFI, Wikipedia) give the duration as 106 minutes. This print ran 95 minutes, and the continuity was smooth with minor joins, so perhaps there are two different edits of this gag-driven movie.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo

Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo. The naivist comic strip by Rune Lindström provides a beautiful résumé of the movie. Please do click to enlarge!

Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo. Hanna (Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz) is welcomed by Gustaf (Max von Sydow) to his little parish.

Uddarbon pappi
    SE 1957. PC: Svenska AB Nordisk Tonefilm. P manager: Gösta Hammarbäck (produktionsledare). D: Kenne Fant. SC: Rune Lindström, Kenne Fant – based on the novel (1953) by Axel Hambræus  – translated into Finnish (Margareta Lehtonen / WSOY, 1955) as Uddarbon pappi: laulu ystävästä. DP: Max Wilén. AD: Bibi Lindström. Makeup: Eric Whiten. M: Ingvar Wieslander, Sven Sköld. Songs: ”Shall We Gather At The River” (Robert Lowry 1864). ”Välsignat är det hem förvisst” (Christoph Carl Ludwig von Pfeil 1746). S: Nils Skeppstedt. ED: Carl-Olov Skeppstedt. [Advisor: Ingmar Bergman, n.c.].
    C: Max von Sydow (Gustaf Ömark), Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz (Hanna, Teodor's niece), Anders Henrikson (Teodor, vicar of Allerö), Holger Löwenadler (director Alsing), Georg Rydeberg (docent Naaman), Erik Strandmark (Ris Erik Eriksson, chairman of the school council and the municipal government), Tord Stål (bishop of Västerås), Olof Thunberg (sexton Per Halvarsson), Maud Elfsiö (Inger), Björn Berglund (chairman of the free church district), Georg Adelly (shop clerk), Gudrun Brost (Albertina, known as Gäs-Fröken).
    Loc: Bäsna-Sifferbo ferry port (Gagnef), Stockholm archipelago, Uppsala, Västerås Cathedral.
    Helsinki premiere: 24.4.1959 Adlon, distributor: Allotria Filmi Oy – telecast in Finland: 9.2.1970 Yle TV2 – VET 50158 – S – 2515 m / 92 min
    A vintage KAVI print deposited by Allotria Filmi with Finnish subtitles by Eila Seppänen screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ingmar Bergman 100), (Films for Easter), Ascension Day, Thursday 28 March 2018

The Minister of Uddarbo, the novel written by the Swedish priest Axel Hambræus, has been compared with both Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo and Georges Bernanos's Journal d'un curé de campagne, all portraits of country priests, all memorably filmed.

I read the novel while I was in the army in 1973 and had long been looking forward to see this film. Watching it I was also thinking about the account of Vincent van Gogh's early years as a preacher in Vincente Minnelli's film adaptation of Lust for Life (1956) made the year before. The passion of his calling, his unconditional identification with the poor and downtrodded and the abyss separating him from pharisean directors and doctors are identical.

The Minister of Uddarbo also belongs to a major Swedish tradition of rural films which had been launched on a high artistic level by Victor Sjöström and his colleagues in the 1910s. In the 1950s it was still possible to catch an authentic feeling of the traditional flow of life on the countryside. Last month we screened Ivar Johansson's engrossing Livet i Finnskogarna / Life in the Finn Woods (1947) starring none other than Kenne Fant, the director of The Minister of Uddarbo. Some of the rural films of the 1950s were already slipping into pastiche but The Minister of Uddarbo is full of conviction and vitality.

We included the film in our Ingmar Bergman centenary tribute because Bergman served as an advisor and because the leading role was played by Max von Sydow in 1957, a golden year for both Bergman and von Sydow. The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries had their premieres, as well as the most magnificent theatre production in Swedish theatrical history, Peer Gynt at Malmö City Theatre, directed by Bergman and starring von Sydow. It is a beautiful aspect in Bergman's life that he was always happy to advise and support others generously, even during this, his busiest year.

As Gustaf Ömark, the minister of Uddarbo, von Sydow gives a sterling performance, no less powerful than his roles for Bergman. We meet him as an awkward stranger, a tongue-tied man in love, a passionate and charismatic (but not fanatical) preacher, a dock worker, a teacher with a way with children, a loving husband, and a good shepherd of his congregation. We also see him disappointed, tormented by agony and experiencing a loss of faith. We see him lose his mental balance and ending up in a mental hospital. We see him face death and birth. We see him coming to terms with his own mortal illness. There is an aura of holy madness in him, and at the same time he is an ordinary guy with no time for empty rhetoric. His faith in the gospel is genuine and internal. He believes in the miracle of faith: a person can be transformed by opening up to the spiritual sources inside.

He has an original approach to the Scripture. His first sermon is about the five loaves and the two fish. For him what is meant is spiritual nourishment: when that is achieved there will be enough for everybody.

In his school class he takes children to plant flowers and trees in the school garden. Then he proceeds to the Parable of the Sower. Some seed falls on rocky ground, but when it falls on good soil it yields a hundredfold. [Let's also remember The Sower by Vincent van Gogh].

He makes the Word come alive. Max von Sydow's is a major performance among depictions of Christ's followers in the cinema.

By the example of his conviction Gustaf engages the inhabitants of the poor village into communal work [bee / talkoot / talko / talgud / tолока / tłoka: there is a distinctive tradition in Nordic and Baltic countries, and Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus. Together it is possible to achieve miracles]. First they build a bridge over a mighty river. Then they build a church in the village which is missing in many necessities. It is an act of faith.

Bengt Idestam-Almqvist, a major Swedish film critic and historian, was positively surprised by the achievement of The Minister of Uddarbo: the warmth, the sense of humour, the devotion of Max von Sydow, and the achievement of the director Kenne Fant without a false note. Idestam-Almqvist found the film both serious and humoristic, big fun and deeply gripping. He found the entire ensemble fully committed to this engaging picture.

I agree. I also like Max Wilén's cinematography, his beautiful composition in depth. (He had shot Strindberg's Hemsöborna, among others, and he would shoot Brink of Life for Bergman. And The Language of Love later, in hard, clinical light, like Brink of Life. But his pastoral sense here is engaging.) And the score by Ingvar Wieslander and Sven Sköld. In the ensemble also the children are genuine, as is the orphan teenage girl (played by Maud Elfsiö) whom Gustaf rescues from becoming a plaything for lumberjacks. Gustaf's love affair and marriage with Hanna (Ann-Marie Gyllenspetz) is conveyed with beautiful conviction.

The scale of grandeur is not the same, but there is an affinity with Andrei Rublev in the final section of the film about building the church and installing a church bell. In his last moments Gustaf hears the sound of the bell. "Hör du?" – "Can you hear?" are his last words.

The Minister of Uddarbo was a traditional film in a period when major masterpieces dealed with modern secularization and the loss of faith. Luis Buñuel's Nazarín was released in 1959. Soon after Bergman would make Winter Light / Nattvardsgästerna which we are also screening this week. The Minister of Uddarbo shows the building of a rural church. Winter Light shows the church becoming empty. Max von Sydow appears in both: in Winter Light he plays the role of the fisherman Jonas agonized by the horror of nuclear holocaust and committing suicide in a world abandoned by God.

If I had to illustrate Nordic Protestantism to a foreigner, The Minister of Uddarbo would be a good alternative: plain and uncluttered, focusing on the force of the spirit, and a sense of love, caring, and community. It is about the roots of the Nordic welfare society in which nobody is abandoned. It is about the secret why Nordic countries tend to rate well in polls of happiness.

The vintage print still radiates with magic and robust health, having been struck directly from the original negative. No matter that there are joins and scratches at the heads and tails of reels.


Friday, March 09, 2018

Tampere Film Festival: National Competition 9

Ulla Heikkilä: #sovitus / #barewithme.

Eng/Fin | 88 min
In the presence of Anna Brotkin, Marja Helander, Erika Weiste, and Perttu Saksa.
Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 9, Plevna 2, Friday 9 March 2018

Ulla Heikkilä | Finland 2017 | Fiction | 10 min
SC: Anna Brotkin.
C: Ella Lahdenmäki, Karoliina Niskanen, Sonja Kuittinen, Niina Koponen
    TFF: "#barewithme is a comedy about female empowerment and friendships that stay with you forever. MADDE, 30, is out shopping with her best friends AURA and JULIA, when she suddenly sees a dark figure from the past: her ex-bff ELSI. Traumatized and panicked, Madde tries to hide. However, her friends won’t let her, and she is forced to make peace with her past. It’s Elsi’s turn to listen."
    "#sovitus on komedia naisten voimaantumisesta ja ystävyydestä, joka säilyy läpi elämän. 30-vuotias Madde on ostoksilla parhaiden ystäviensä Auran ja Julian kanssa, kun hän yhtäkkiä näkee tumman hahmon menneisyydestään: entisen parhaan ystävänsä Elsin. Traumatisoituneena ja paniikissa Madde yrittää piiloutua. Hänen ystävänsä kuitenkin estävät sen, ja Madden on pakko kohdata menneisyytensä. On Elsin vuoro kuunnella."

AA: A humoristic account of a belated coming to terms with an ex "best friend forever" who abandoned the protagonist (now 30-something) and left an eternal trauma. There was even a bff tattoo with two cherries which only Madde managed to acquire. Witty dialogue and a good sense of comic timing in the direction and the performances. The soundtrack selections include: Death Team: "Fucking Bitches in the Hood".

Jouni West: Guolli.

Jouni West | Finland 2017 | Animation | 5 min
    TFF: "Brothers are fishing for the first grayling of their lives at Deatnu-river. Little brother is puzzled what to do with the fish and tries to kill the fish by imitating his father."
    "Veljekset kalastavat elämänsä ensimmäistä harjusta Tenojoesta. Pikkuveli ei tiedä, mitä kalan kanssa pitäisi tehdä, ja yrittää tappaa sen matkimalla isäänsä."

AA: Animation performed in a reduced, stylized way, bringing to mind associations of croquis drawings, Japanese watercolours, and cave paintings. An associative vision of learning to catch fish and protecting the catch from hungry seagulls.

Marja Helander: Eatnanvulos lottit – maan sisällä linnut.

Marja Helander | Finland, Norway 2018 | Experimental, fiction | 11 min
    TFF: "Sami dance students Birit and Katja Haarla dance through the villages and lost woods of Sápmi all the way to where the important decisions are made. The polarity of Nature and the Western way of life is filtered through sharp humour."
    "Saamelaiset tanssinopiskelijat Birit ja Katja Haarla tanssivat halki Saamenmaan kylien ja menetettyjen metsien aina sinne, missä suuret päätökset tehdään. Luonnon ja länsimaisen elämäntavan vastakohtaisuus suodattuu kirpeän huumorin läpi."

AA: A shaman dance to protect the indigenous Sami people. Marja Helander told us that the genesis of the film was the dance of the dying swan on the steps of the Finnish House of Parliament. The film was a year in the making, and it is a statement on the Teno agreement fatal for the Sami people. Two Sami students of the Finnish Ballet School dance, alternating Sami gear and classic ballet wear in the snow and in the sun, from the marshes of Lapland to the concrete jungle of Helsinki.

Jonna Kina: Arr. for a Scene.

Jonna Kina | Finland, France 2017 | Experimental, Documentary | 6 min
    TFF: "Arr. for a Scene is a documentary of two foley artists while they are producing sounds for one of the most famous film scene in the film history (the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, 1960). This performance is documented on 35 mm film. The original film scene will remain invisible while the viewer sees only the foley artists creating sound effects for the scene, such as footsteps, shower and door closing. During the performance, the foley artists are looking straight at the camera. The film inverts the position of the screen and the gaze of the viewer. The viewer becomes part of the scene. The film examines the way sounds are constructed for the use of cinema and what happens when the structures of a film are dismantled into parts."
    "Kohtauksen järjestelyt on dokumentti kahdesta äänitaiteilijasta, jotka tuottavat ääniä yhteen kuuluisimmista elokuvakatkelmista – suihkukohtaukseen Alfred Hitchcockin Psykossa (1960). Toiminta on tallennettu 35-milliselle filmille. Alkuperäinen kohtaus pysyy piilossa, ja katsoja näkee vain äänitaiteilijat luomassa kohtauksen äänitehosteita, kuten askelia, suihkun kohinaa ja sulkeutuvan oven. Esityksen aikana taiteilijat katsovat suoraan kameraan. Elokuva kääntää valkokankaan ja katsojan katseen nurinperin, ja katsojasta tulee osa kohtausta. Dokumentti tarkastelee sitä, miten elokuvan tarpeisiin luodaan ääniä ja mitä tapahtuu, kun elokuva puretaan osiinsa."

AA: The action consists solely of an American shot of two foley masters (see image above) whom we soon enough realize are performing the foley in real time for the shower scene of Psycho. A fascinating perspective on one of the most famous sequences in film history.

Reetta Neittaanmäki, Erika Weiste: Muistikuvia / Reminiscences.

Reetta Neittaanmäki, Erika Weiste | Finland 2017 | Animation, Documentary | 13 min
    TFF: "The animation documentary examines memory processes via the recollections of four interviewees. What are the memories that linger and what kinds of memories are revived, when a person is requested to tell their life story freely, without being directed towards any subjects or themes?"
    "Animaatiodokumentti tarkastelee muistiprosesseja neljän haastateltavan muistojen avulla. Mitkä muistot jäävät mieleen ja mitkä heräävät henkiin, kun henkilöä pyydetään kertomaan omin sanoin elämäntarinansa, ilman että kukaan johdattelee häntä kohti jotain tiettyä aihetta tai teemaa?"

AA: This film started as a memory project in a rest home with four residents with memory illnesses. Concrete objects bring memories back to life. Old books, herbaria, braids, et cetera are examined via object animation and mixed animation methods. Life stories emerge including a lifetime of work as a restaurant waiter. We are made to empathize with ways and circumstances of life that now seem alien to us.

Juho Kuosmanen: Salaviinanpolttajat / The Moonshiners (2017). Juha Hurme and Jaana Paananen.

Juho Kuosmanen | Finland 2017 | Fiction | 15 min
M: Ykspihlajan Kino-Orkesteri.
C: Jaana Paananen, Juha Hurme, Tomi Alatalo, Jarkko Lahti, Aku-Petteri Pahkamäki.
    TFF: "A remake of the first Finnish film ever, in which siblings inherit all the essentials for a good life: moonshine equipment and a pig."
    "Kuvitelma Suomen ensimmäisestä fiktioelokuvasta. Elokuvassa kaksipontikankeittäjää saavat isältään perinnöksi hyvän elämän eväät: pontikkakärryt ja sian."

AA: Based on the synopsis of the first Finnish fiction film, Salaviinanpolttajat / The Moonshiners (1907, lost), Juho Kuosmanen has made a film in his own style, an affable farce with a lively score by Ykspihlajan Kino-Orkesteri. The film is fun to watch in its own right.
    Several The Moonshiners adaptations have been over the decades in the context of anniversaries of Finnish fiction film history.
    I hope there will be others, and one of them could be for a change an attempt to do it the way they did it at the time. We have a lot of material to work upon. We know the original artists, and it is easy to picture how it could have looked.
    Pathé Frères was the big company back then, and Pathé had a block booking agreement in Finland. We saw their productions in extenso virtually in real time. We could have a look at the most popular contemporary comedy series from Max Linder to André Deed and see how they did it. We could check the work of Teuvo Puro, Frans Engström, Oscar Lindelöf, and Karl Fager in the theatre and at the cinema. This was the period of early cinema with long shots, long takes, and deep focus. No close-ups, no camera movement, and minimal montage. Prints were struck from the negative and would have looked brilliant since Frans Engström and Oscar Lindelöf were the cinematographers. We know their contemporary non-fiction films, and they look great. The performances may have been exaggerated but they may also have been in eloquent theatrical pantomime in regular farce style. There is a sense of fun in the original accounts of the film. That should be conveyed as Juho Kuosmanen does.

Perttu Saksa: Eläimen kuva / Animal Image.

Perttu Saksa | Finland 2018 | Experimental, Documentary | 30 minInspired by the b&w nature photographs by Heikki Willamo.
M: improvised by Verneri Pohjola (trumpet) and Mika Kallio (drums)
    TFF: "Animal Image is a poetic documentary about the infinite relationship between man and animal. In the film, animals are portrayed independent from man made narratives, exposed to life and the presence of time without anthropomorphic view."
    "Eläimen kuva on poeettinen dokumentti ihmisen ja eläimen välisestä rajattomasta yhteydestä. Elokuvassa eläimiä ei käsitellä ihmisen muokkaamien kertomusten kautta eikä niiden elämää ja olevaisuutta ajassa tarkastella ihmisen näkökulmasta."

AA: The debut film of photographer Perttu Saksa, inspired by the books and photographs by Heikki Willamo. Impressive shots of seagulls flying against the wind, a family of foxes, a bear emerging silently like a ghost from the forest, a wolverine, and owls. The film grows into an essay on our relationship with nature. We examine ancient rock paintings, meditate them as a way to communicate with the spirits. They are two-way mirrors to the beyond and to ourselves. Perttu Saksa conveys a powerful and original nature experience.


Tampere Film Festival: National Competition 10

Timo Wright: Ex Nihilo.

Eng/Fin | 88 min
In the presence of Katri Onnela, Christina Lassheikki, Sami van Ingen, Mika Taanila, Khadar Ahmed, Leena Jääskeläinen, and Hannu-Pekka Peltomaa.
Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition 10, Plevna 2, Friday 9 March 2018

Timo Wright | Finland, South Korea 2018 | Experimental, Documentary | 9 min
    TFF: "Ex Nihilo is an experimental short documentary about life, death and our attempts to control them. It tells the stories of an advanced humanoid robot, a cryonics facility, where the brains of deceased people are held and of a international seed vault, where crop seed from around the world are held frozen."
    "Ex Nihilo on kokeellinen dokumenttielokuva elämästä, kuolemasta ja tavoitteistamme kontrolloida niitä. Elokuva kertoo erittäin kehittyneestä robotista, kryoniikkalaitoksesta, jossa kuolleiden aivoja säilytetään jäädytettyinä, sekä siemenpankista, jonne on säilötty ruokakasvien siemeniä ympäri maailmaa."

AA: A chilling black and white futuristic documentary vision intercutting three storylines: the amazing HUBO robot, the Oregon Cryonics preserving human brains (see image above), and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The brave new world does not look inviting. Katri Onnela's portentous score brings it into an amusingly satirical perspective.

Riku Savikko, Pauliina Parjanen, Jade Woods, Vilma Väisänen, Jenni Nylander, Christina Lassheikki: Bring Your Child to Work.

Riku Savikko, Pauliina Parjanen, Jade Woods, Vilma Väisänen, Jenni Nylander, Christina Lassheikki | Finland 2017 | Animation | 8 min
    TFF: "A child comes home from school with a message to their parents about the Bring Your Child to Work -day. After a long wait with their dog, the parent finally arrives home – and takes the child to a rather different workplace."
    "Lapsi tulee koulusta kotiin mukanaan viesti vanhemmille, jossa kehotetaan ottamaan lapsi mukaan töihin. Lapsi odottaa koiran kanssa, kunnes hänen vanhempansa vihdoin saapuu ja vie hänet tutustumaan jokseenkin erilaiseen työpaikkaan."

AA: A rich array of animation techniques is in use in this dark fairy-tale which starts as a photorealistic puppet animation and proceeds as a journey towads the river of death. From daytime reality there is a passage into another world. The hall of light is awesome.

Sami van Ingen: Polte. Damaged frame from Teuvo Tulio's Nuorena nukkunut (1937) starring Regina Linnanheimo as Silja.

Sami van Ingen | Finland 2018 | Experimental, Fiction | 15 min
    TFF: "A fractured melodrama, based on damaged frames from the lost feature film Silja – Fallen Asleep When Young (1937) directed by Teuvo Tulio."
    "Sirpaleinen melodraama, joka pohjautuu vaurioituneeseen filmimateriaaliin Teuvo Tulion ohjaamasta elokuvasta Nuorena nukkunut (1937)."

AA: Sami van Ingen revealed that he did not do much anything to the image of the badly decayed surviving footage of Teuvo Tulio's Nuorena nukkunut / Silja (1937), a legendary lost film, fragments of which were repatriated in 2015 to KAVI by La Cinémathèque française. Van Ingen just slowed the images down 10-15 times until the tempo seemed just right. The ravages of time, the fragility of existence, the fading beauty, and the conflagration of cultural heritage become themes in van Ingen's film. The flame in Regina Linnanheimo's eyes ("silmissä noissa synti on syvä" / "in the eyes of hers / the sin is deep") is no less burning in this battleground of a lost film. Associations runs from Lascaux cave paintings to cosmic visions of the night sky. The cinematography of Erik Blomberg can still be appreciated in these ruins.

Petra Koponen: Apila.

Petra Koponen | Finland 2017 | Documentary | 11 min
    TFF: "After a childhood spent tightly together with a twin sister, Apila began to question their gender identity. The strong feminine example set by the twins’ older sister conflicted with Apila’s experience of gender. Today the 25 year old identifies as gender queer and addresses transgender people’s rights through her comic art. Creating art is also a way for Apila to explore their gender identity. At times Apila has experienced strong body dysphoria but has learned to love their body and to accept that one might never achieve their ideals."
    "Kaksoissiskon kanssa tiiviisti yhdessä vietetyn lapsuuden jälkeen Apila alkoi kyseenalaistamaan sukupuoli-identiteettiään. Kaksosten vanhemmalta siskolta tullut vahva feminiininen esikuva oli ristiriidassa oman sukupuolikokemuksen kanssa. Nykyään muunsukupuoliseksi identifioituva 25-vuotias Apila ottaa kantaa trans-ihmisten oikeuksiin sarjakuvataiteensa kautta. Taide on hänelle myös tapa purkaa ja käsitellä sukupuoli-identiteettiään. Voimakastakin kehodysforiaa kokenut Apila on oppinut rakastamaan omaa kehoaan, sekä hyväksymään sen, että omaa ideaalia ei ehkä koskaan pysty saavuttamaan."

AA: The twins no longer can tell each other apart in childhood photographs. Apila since then has questioned her gender identity, and we learn about gender dysphoria. (Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria). Drawing body contures on a computer screen is a recurrent visual motif, as well as Apila creating her comic strip Moss Dass. The body is a project.

Mika Taanila | Finland 2017 | Experimental, Documentary | 7 min
    TFF: "The Man Who Fell to Earth (dir. Nicolas Roeg 1976) evacuated and flipped. In abandoned landscapes, animals, furniture and empty vehicles are left awaiting for disaster. ”We must have died alone, a long long time ago.” (D.B.)"
    "Mies toisesta maailmasta (ohj. Nicolas Roeg, 1976) evakuoituna ja ylösalaisin. Autioissa maisemissa eläimet, huonekalut ja tyhjät kulkuneuvot odottavat tuhoa. ”Me varmaan kuolimme yksin kauan, kauan sitten.” (D.B.)"

AA: An eulogy for David Bowie. Non-human imagery from The Man Who Fell to Earth flipped over and rearranged. A cosmic rumble is evoked, atavistic forces are at play. Nature footage approaches the status of painting. Experience estranged, senses of perception rebooted. A film of disorientation. We become the man who fell to earth, the alien.

Khadar Ahmed: Yövaras / The Night Thief.

Khadar Ahmed | Finland 2017 | Fiction | 15 min
    TFF: "The Night Thief is a warmhearted drama set in the suburbs of Helsinki, Finland. It tells the story of a Somali man, Farah, whose car starts to disappear mysteriously at night. Although the car always shows up in the morning, Farah starts to run late from work, and fears that he could lose his job. Farah’s wife is moving to Finland from Somalia and if Farah were to get fired, his wife’s residency permit would be in danger. Due to the circumstances, Farah decides to do whatever it takes to catch the thief. In the end, things take an unexpected turn when Farah finally faces the person who has been stealing his car."
    "Yövaras on Helsingin lähiöihin sijoittuva lämminhenkinen draama. Se on tarina somalimiehestä Farahista, jonka auto alkaa oudosti katoilla öisin. Vaikka auto aina aamuksi palaakin, myöhästyy Farah silti usein töistä ja alkaa pelätä saavansa potkut. Farahin vaimo on muuttamassa Somaliasta Suomeen, ja jos Farah menettää työnsä, vaimon oleskelulupa vaarantuu. Olosuhteista johtuen Farah päättää tehdä kaikkensa napatakseen varkaan. Lopussa seuraa yllättävä käänne, kun Farah viimein kohtaa henkilön, joka on varastellut hänen autoaan."

AA: Directed by Khadar Ahmed who scripted the interesting Saattokeikka (2017) last year. Based on a true story, the humoristic The Night Thief tells of a mysterious nocturnal car thief due to whom the protagonist almost loses his job because he is always late for work. In the surprise finale something bigger happens than getting to work on time.

Leena Jääskeläinen: Contact!

Leena Jääskeläinen | Finland 2017 | Experimental, Animation | 3 min
    TFF: "An experimental short film about movement and meeting. Contact! explores differences and similarities between dancing and martial arts aikido and judo. Technique is hand painted digital animation. Contact! was originally a projected animation installation without any sound. Both the director and musical composer of the film version of Contact! hold a black belt in aikido."
    "Kokeellinen lyhytelokuva liikkeestä ja kohtaamisesta. Osuma! tutkii eroja ja yhtäläisyyksiä tanssin sekä aikidon ja judon välillä käsinmaalatun digitaalisen animaation keinoin. Elokuva oli alun perin mykkäanimaatio. Sekä elokuvaversion ohjaajalla että säveltäjällä on musta vyö aikidossa."

AA: A hand-painted animation bringing together dance, aikido and judo, originally an installation, originally vertical. Leena Jääskeläinen believes in the future of the vertical movie. Engaging visually and musically. The attractive score is by Nikolai Kleiman, called "Dance of the Colour Characters".

Hannu-Pekka Peltomaa: Ruusukoto / Rose Garden.

Hannu-Pekka Peltomaa | Finland 2017 | Fiction | 22 min
C: Göran Schauman (Oskar), Leena Uotila (Sylvi), Arja Pekurinen (Hertta).
    TFF: "“We need to get out of here”. Rose Garden is an absurd story about institutionalized elderly care and lust for life."
    "“Meidän on päästävä pois täältä.” Ruusukoto on absurdi kertomus vanhusten laitoshoidosta ja elämänhalusta."

AA: A black comedy about a rest home where the conditions are so dismal that the residents plan to commit murder in order to be convicted to a prison sentence. Fully aware that the conditions are superior there. "We Gotta Get out of This Place" (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, 1965, first recorded by The Animals), a big hit in the Vietnam War, could sum this up.


Tampere Film Festival: National Competition 8

Pasi Sleeping Myllymäki: The Sleeping Interview.

Eng/Fin | 93 min
In the presence of Pasi Sleeping Myllymäki, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Marjo Viitala, Henna Välkky, Eesu Lehtola, Malakias, and Sanni Priha.
Tampere Film Festival (TFF), Plevna 2, Friday 9 March 2018

Pasi Sleeping Myllymäki | Finland 2017 | Experimental, Animation | 5 min
    TFF: "Sleeping Myllymäki: “Movie art is free visual art and free audial art together. And the script of my movie is more important than my face and more important than my studio.”"
    "Sleeping Myllymäki: “Elokuvataide on vapaa visuaalinen ja auditiivinen taidemuoto, ja elokuvani käsikirjoitus on tärkeämpi kuin omat kasvoni tai studioni.”"

AA: Pasi "Sleeping" Myllymäki's self-portrait for the Venice Biennale 2017: an interview as a self-interview as an anti-interview. Conducted in English with excerpts from three vintage movies made by Myllymäki together with Risto "Legend" Laakkonen they introduce his "glorious studio" (a humble barn), a pole dance, and a ride under ten tractors. Modest in means, rich in wit.

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen: Song for Billy.

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen | United Kingdom 2017 | Documentary | 19 min
    TFF: "Haunting images from England’s northern coastline coalesce into the tableaux-like meditation on a lost era. The mesmerising power of the sea contrasts with the vivid re-enacting of the tragic death of a coal miner. The sublime post-industrial landscape gleams in the photographs of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, accompanied by a New York based percussion group."
    "Englannin pohjoisrannikon jylhät maisemat sulautuvat kuvaelman kaltaiseen pohdintaan kadonneesta ajasta. Meren lumoava voima luo jyrkän kontrastin todentuntuisesti kerratulle tarinalle kaivostyöläisen traagisesta kuolemasta. Upea jälkiteollinen maisema heijastuu Sirkka-Liisa Konttisen valokuvissa, joiden taustalla kuullaan newyorkilaisen lyömäsoitinryhmän musiikkia."

AA: Based on Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen's The Coal Coast photographs and the stories of the ex-miner Freddie Welsh, set to sound by So Percussion. An elegy of an industrial way of life, destroyed by Margaret Thatcher. Meditative and poetic, with a sense of the surge of the sea and the patina of time.

Marjo Viitala: Valehtelija / The Liar.

Marjo Viitala | Finland 2018 | Fiction | 15 min
    TFF: "Liina lives together with her mother. Her mother is often working night shifts so Liina needs to get by herself. In the same staircase, where Liina and mother live, is an apartment where a man died some time ago. One morning Liina hears a dog barking from the apartment. Liina starts making up a story of the dog and tells it to everyone during the day. A nightly rendezvous in the dead man’s apartment makes Liina’s stories become the truth."
    "Liina asuu äitinsä kanssa. Äiti on usein yövuorossa, joten Liinan on pärjättävä yksin. Samassa rapussa on asunto, jossa eräs mies jokin aika sitten kuoli. Eräänä aamuna Liina kuulee koiran haukuntaa tuosta asunnosta. Hän alkaa sepittää tarinaa koirasta ja kertoo sitä päivän aikana kaikille. Yöllinen kohtaaminen kuolleen miehen asunnossa muuttaa Liinan tarinat todeksi."

AA: The story of Liina, a schoolgirl and daughter of a single mother. Liina is a compulsive liar who is getting more and more hopelessly tangled in the web of her fabrications. The barking of a dog behind a door of a dead tenant and the discovery in the washroom that laundry has been stolen lead her to meet a boy without means and addicted to drugs. Fiction turns to reality, and reality turns out to be more complex than could have been anticipated. Well made and intriguing.

Henna Välkky, Eesu Lehtola: Me olemme unessa / We Are in a Dream.

Henna Välkky, Eesu Lehtola | Finland 2017 | Animation, Documentary, Experimental | 7 min
    TFF: "There is a line of men chasing us through a city where we can’t run. The escape is gruelling, our feet are wet and we drown deeper. We are not afraid, we have seen this before. This film is based on personal recordings of people narrating their recurring dreams."
    "Joukko miehiä ajaa meitä takaa halki kaupungin, emmekä voi juosta. Pako on uuvuttavaa, jalkamme ovat märät ja vajoamme syvemmälle. Emme pelkää, olemme nähneet tämän aiemminkin. Elokuva perustuu ihmisten kertomuksiin toistuvista unistaan."

AA: Over two years in the making, created and layered using many animation techniques, based on people's accounts of their recurrent dreams, a fascinating montage in the cyberworld, with a feeling of movement in depth, apparitions emerging and re-emerging, "and then I wake up".

Teppo Airaksinen: Katto / The Ceiling.

Teppo Airaksinen | Finland 2017 | Fiction | 15 min
    TFF: "On the brink of divorce a middle aged man, Olavi, retreats to his cabin by the lake. After a few days he finds that the ceiling has come down making him unable to stand up straight. His friend Tuomas arrives and insists that something has to be done whereas Olavi is content with the limited space. The two men start lifting the ceiling – but which of the men is really in need of help?"
    "Avioeron partaalla oleva keski-ikäinen Olavi vetäytyy rantamökilleen. Muutaman päivän kuluttua hän huomaa, että katto on romahtanut eikä hän mahdu enää seisomaan suorassa. Olavin ystävä Tuomas saapuu paikalle ja vaatii, että jotain on tehtävä. Olaville rajallinen tila kuitenkin riittää. Miehet alkavat nostaa kattoa paikoilleen, mutta kumpi onkaan enemmän avun tarpeessa?"

AA: In a way The Ceiling is the opposite to Quadraturin screened yesterday. In it the tenant's tiny room kept expanding. In The Ceiling the retreat cabin's ceiling keeps sinking. Perhaps the phenomenon is a signal alerting Olavi that life is not in control. An intriguing tale of depression.

Malakias: Eläintarha / The Zoo.

Malakias | Finland 2017 | Animation | 4 min
    “No More Presidents” -White Lion, When The Children Cry

AA: A fascinating animation based on many multi-layered techniques (cut-out, computer, etc.). A satire on the world today: world politics as a human zoo. Drolatic, rich, and eccentric like all the films of Malakias such as Forbidden Games (2015), Flower-Grave (2015), Fist of Fire (2013), Save the Rhinoceros (2010), and Bloody Hands (2009).

Sanni Priha: Puoli yhdeksän raivo / Prime Time Rage.

Sanni Priha | Finland 2017 | Documentary | 30 min
    TFF: "For every generation there is a war story to be told. The story is told in the evenings.It is like a movie about the good and the bad, us and them, profits and losses.Some images are so impressive that they are turned into symbols and monuments;beginnings, turning points and endings. This is a film about the story of warwhich the evening news told to us, growing up in the 1990s.The story was told with images of burning oil fields. It was reported that on its withdrawal the defeated side ignited the oil wells in fire, causing major financial losses.There were no images of human casualties. The story began when we we kids and it still goes on."
    "Jokaisella sukupolvella on sotatarina kerrottavanaan. Se kerrotaan iltaisin, ja se on kuin elokuva hyvästä ja pahasta, meistä ja niistä, voitoista ja tappioista. Jotkin kuvat ovat niin vaikuttavia, että niistä tehdään symboleita ja muistomerkkejä – alkuja, käännekohtia ja loppuja. Tämä on elokuva sotatarinasta, joka kerrottiin meille 1990-luvulla kasvaneille iltauutisissa. Tarinan kuvituksena olivat palavat öljykentät, jotka hävinnyt puoli tarinan mukaan sytytti vetäytyessään ja aiheutti näin mittavat taloudelliset tappiot. Ihmisuhreista ei näytetty kuvia. Tarina alkoi, kun olimme lapsia, ja se jatkuu edelleen."

AA: A meta-documentary on television's evening news bulletins. A focus is on the events 25-30 years ago: the end of the cold war, the fall of the wall, the liberation of Mandela. Another focus is on the US wars in the Middle East. A further one is on Finland's years of depression in the early 1990s when many people lost their financial security after a crash of the banking system based on a reckless credit practice. Finland's contribution to the international arms trade is another theme. The film is about the experience of war, violence becoming mundane and a sense of fear becoming permanent through television news bulletins. An interesting film which gives a lot to think about. The burning oil wells in the deserts of the Gulf War looked devastating on the big screen of the Plevna 2 cinema.