Sunday, April 22, 2018

Licht / Mademoiselle Paradis



Mademoiselle Paradis / Mademoiselle Paradis.
    AT/DE © 2017 NGF Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion GmbH / LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH. P: Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Michael Kitzberger. D: Barbara Albert. SC: Kathrin Resetarits – based on the novel Am Anfang war die Nacht Musik (2010) by Alissa Walser. CIN: Christine A. Maier – source format: Apple ProRes 4444 XQ – colour – 2,39:1 – release format: DCP. PD: Katharina Wöppermann. Cost: Veronika Albert. M: Lorenz Dangel. ED: Niki Mossböck.
    Soundtrack: played by Sonja Leipold: selections from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Baldassare Galuppi, Johann Baptist Vanhal, Joseph Haydn, Lorenz Dangel, J. S. Bach, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Maria Theresia von Paradis (Fantasie in G Major).
    C: Maria Dragus (Maria Theresia von Paradis, "Resi"), Devid Striesow (Franz Anton Mesmer), Lukas Miko (Joseph Anton Paradis, Resi's father), Katja Kolm (Maria Rosalia Paradis, Resi's mother), Maresi Riegner (maid Agnes, "Agi"), Stefanie Reinsperger (Johanna the cook), Susanne Wuest (Jungfer Ossine), Christoph Luser (Count Pellegrini), Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg (Maria Anna von Posch, Mesmer's wife), Lukas Watzl (Seelenmann), Martina Spitzer (Miazl), Margarethe Tiesel (Marquise).
    Kinostart Austria: 10 Nov 2017, Germany: 1 Feb 2018.
    Finnish premiere: 13 April 2018, DCP released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Maria Uusitalo / Frej Grönholm.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 6, Helsinki, 22 April 2018.
97 min

Based on the novel by Alissa Walser, Barbara Albert's Licht / Mademoiselle Paradis is a historical drama, a biopic about the Austrian composer, virtuoso pianist and musical Wunderkind Maria Theresia von Paradis, a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart. In early childhood she lost her eyesight.

We meet her at age 18 when she is brought for treatment to Franz Anton Mesmer, the physician after whom the word "mesmerizing" was coined. Mesmer believed in animal magnetism, a natural energetic transference between objects. Widely dismissed as a charlatan, Mesmer was parodied in Mozart's Così fan tutte. Yet Mesmer's practices were an inspiration for the development of hypnosis, studies of somnambulism, and the birth of psychoanalysis. An affinity has been observed with Chinese medicine based on the principle of the vital energy called qi.

Licht / Mademoiselle Paradis is a drama about the meeting of two exceptional minds, Paradis and Mesmer. The viewpoint of Walser and Albert is not satirical or parodical. Mesmer is not a charlatan but a kind and patient healer. In fact, he manages to help Paradis regain her eyesight. But at the same time she starts to lose her genius in music. When her father takes her home again she loses her eyesight again but regains her piano virtuosity.

The irony of the film is in the fact that there is not much worth seeing for Paradis. Having regained her eyesight she is disappointed at how people look. The period look of the Rococo film is strong. Instead of targeting Mesmer, Walser and Albert satirize the world he lives in, a world of artifice, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and big wigs. It is also a world of patriarchy. There is little love lost between Maria Theresa von Paradis and her father.

Licht / Mademoiselle Paradis is an intriguing film about a woman's struggle against patriarchy and a doctor's fight against prejudice.

It also raises philosophical questions about seeing and hearing. And light itself.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: DATA FROM THE PRESSBOOK:

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Post



The Post / The Post.
    US 2017. PC: 20th Century Fox / DreamWorks Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Participant Media / Pascal Pictures / Star Thrower Entertainment.
    P: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger / Amy Pascal. D: Steven Spielberg. SC: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer. DP: Janusz Kaminski – colour – 1,85:1 – negative: 35 mm – source: Super 35 – master: digital intermediate 4K – release formats: 35 mm, D-Cinema. PD: Rick Carter. AD: Kim Jennings, Deborah Jensen. Set dec: Rena DeAngelo. Cost: Ann Roth. Makeup: Judy Chin. Hair: Christine Fennell, Kay Georgiou. VFX: Lola VFX. M: John Williams. Soundtrack: "Green River" (John Fogerty) perf. Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc. S: Brian Chumney, Richard Hymns. ED: Michael Kahn, Sarah Broshar. Casting: Ellen Lewis.
    C: Meryl Streep (Katharine Graham), Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), Sarah Paulson (Antoinette "Tony" Pinchot Bradlee), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Tracy Letts (Fritz Beebe), Bradley Whitford (Arthur Parsons), Bruce Greenwood (Robert McNamara), Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (Lally Graham), Carrie Coon (Meg Greenfield), Jesse Plemons (Roger Clark), David Cross (Howard Simons), Michael Stuhlbarg (A. M. Rosenthal), Zach Woods (Anthony Essaye).
    Dedicated to Nora Ephron.
    Release date: 22 Dec 2017 (limited), 12 Jan 2018 (wide).
    Finnish premiere: 2 Feb 2018, released by Nordisk Film in D-Cinema with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Ditte Kronström.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 14, 21 April 2018.
    113 min

A major historical drama, a key story about the freedom of the press, one of the finest newspaper movies, a great tale about America, an essential feminist film.

Written by Liz Hannah who was inspired by the memoirs of Katharine Graham (Personal History, 1997). Her collaborator was a more experienced screenwriter, Josh Singer, the scenarist of The Fifth Estate (2013, on WikiLeaks) and Spotlight (2014, on the Boston Globe's exposure of the Boston Catholic priests' pedophilia tragedy). The powerful screenplay is strong on suspense based purely on the facts of the matter. We learn private aspects of the protagonists, but the tensions rise solely from the Pentagon Papers case.

Steven Spielberg has for a long time alternated between serious historical subjects and spectacles of popular entertainment. In The Post he is at his best. In some of his serious works there has been a slight tendency to prolong discourse, but The Post is taut and brisk,executed with a perfect sense of rhythm.

Among the films with which The Post is compared is naturally Alan Pakula's All the President's Men (1974) with which it shares a protagonist, Ben Bradlee, played in Pakula's film by Jason Robards.

The Post is very different from Pakula's noirish classic of Nixon-era paranoia. The Post is more sunny, more family-centered. There is a family atmosphere even in the Washington Post newsroom. The family focus provides a major point of conflict, too. Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee have become family friends of presidents, and Robert McNamara is Katharine Graham's mentor. Now it turns out that he has been lying blatantly to everybody about America's involvement in Vietnam. The conflict is the greatest possible for the newspaperwoman.

This is very strong stuff, and Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks rise to the occasion magnificently, both doing some of their best work.

The Post resonates powerfully in the age of Donald Trump, President of the United States since 2017. Freedom and authority can never be taken for granted.

A very special and highly moving accent in the movie is the feminist angle. Katharine Graham was the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. In this film we observe her being systematically underrated and disparaged. But against the judgement of all the other members of her (otherwise all male) board she makes the decision to run the story of the Pentagon papers.

In the court battle of the press versus the White House the Supreme Court rules in the newspapers' favour. When Graham emerges from the court, she is surrounded by women who look at her in silent admiration. There was a special charged intensity in the atmosphere of the cinema, too, during this sequence.

The cinematography of Janusz Kaminski is very different from Gordon Willis in All the President's Men. The feeling of warmth is palpable. There is also a slight feeling of digital airbrushing in the photography of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, a sense of them being between real people and animated characters. I guess I would prefer gritty 1970s aesthetics.

The score of John Williams is the work of a master. Maybe a little less would be more. Dramatic highlights may be more effective played without background music.

The film starts in medias res with a scene in Vietnam, with Daniel Ellsberg on a Pentagon mission for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. There is no credit sequence in the beginning. The sound starts immediately with "Green River" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, my favourite CCR track and a favourite song of mine of all times; for me, the track was so strong that it threw the movie off balance at first. The obvious choice would have been "Fortunate Son", or perhaps "Run Through the Jungle" (which, however, is not a Vietnam song: "200 million guns are loaded" refers to the weapons that the homes of America possess). But "Green River" is there for contrast: the bucolic ideal of American youth instead of the meaningless hell of Vietnam.

Significantly, the narrative of The Post is a corrective to "Fortunate Son" ("some folks are born silver spoon in hand"). Even Katharine Graham's son Donald served in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers' revelation that we knew that the war would be lost was very personal history for Katharine Graham.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: PLOT FROM WIKIPEDIA:

A ciascuno il suo / We Still Kill the Old Way / To Each His Own


Elio Petri: A ciascuno il suo. The main credit title. Source: Italian Wikipedia.

Leonardo Sciascia: A ciascuno il suo. The cover of the first edition (1966). Source: English Wikipedia.

Mafian merkitsemä / Jagad av maffian.
    IT 1967. PC: Cemo Film. P: Giuseppe Zaccariello. D: Elio Petri. SC: Elio Petri and Ugo Pirro – based on the novel (1966) by Leonardo Sciascia. DP: Luigi Kuveiller – Technicolor – 1,85:1. PD: Sergio Canevari. Set dec: Giuliana Serano. Cost: Luciana Marinucci. Makeup: Pieroantonia Mecacci. M: Luis Bacalov. Song: ”Rêvé pour l’hiver”, comp. Luis Bacalov, to the poem (1870) by Arthur Rimbaud. S: Mario Bramonti, Mario Morigi. ED: Ruggero Mastroianni.
    C: Gian Maria Volontè (Paolo Laurana, high school teacher), Irene Papas (Luisa Roscio), Gabriele Ferzetti (avvocato Rosello), Laura Nucci (Roscio's mother), Mario Scaccia (priest, curato di Sant'Amo, subscriber to L'Osservatore Romano), Luigi Pistilli (Dr. Arturo Manno, pharmacist), Leopoldo Trieste (Communist deputy), Giovanni Pallavicino (Raganà, mafioso), Luciana Scalise (Rosina), Orio Cannarozzo (ispettore di polizia La Marca), Ana Rivero (Mrs. Manno), Salvo Randone (Roscio, teacher), Carmelo Oliviero (arciprete, uncle of Luisa and Rosello, who raised them as children, subscriber to L'Osservatore Romano), Aldo Cascino (police commissioner).
    Loc: Cefalù and Palermo (Sicily, province of Palermo).
    Helsinki premiere: 16.8.1968 Ritz, distributor: UA United Artists Pictures Inc. – VET 75695 – K16 – sources give 2555 m, 99 min, 93 min – Finnish classification 2580 m / 94 min
    A vintage print with Swedish subtitles by Liliane Lincoln and Finnish e-subtitles by Lena Talvio screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Elio Petri), 21 April 2018

I saw for the first time A ciascuno il suo, a major film by Elio Petri, the great Italian political film-maker.

It was the first film based on a novel by Leonardo Sciascia, novelist and politician, who was among other things a Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy. Later Sciascia film adaptations include Il giorno della civetta (1968), Cadaveri eccellenti (1976), Todo modo (1976), Porte aperte (1990), and Una storia semplice (1991).

It was also Petri's first collaboration with the great screenwriter Ugo Pirro who would also write for him Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (1970), La classe operaia va in paradiso (1972), and La proprietà non è più un furto (1973).

Also Petri's collaboration with Gian Maria Volontè started with this film, followed by Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (1970), La classe operaia va in paradiso (1971), and Todo modo (1976).

A ciascuno il suo is one of the best films of the Sicilian mafia, a theme that features prominently in today's news. ("A court in Italy convicted a mob boss, three police investigators and a close associate of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi in a case showing collusion between the Sicilian Mafia and state institutions after a deadly wave of mafia bombings during the early 1990s." The Associated Press, 20 April 2018, as published in The New York Times).

This is the story of a devious conspiracy in Palermo which a well-meaning teacher (Volontè) tries to expose. Nothing is what it seems, not even the budding romantic interest of the beautiful widow Luisa Roscio (Irene Papas).

Beyond political immediacy there is a Kafkaesque existential dimension in Petri's oeuvre. A nightmare lurks beyond the sunny facade of this film which ends with a splendid wedding ceremony of Luisa and the attorney Rosello (Gabriele Ferzetti), the very person who had ordered the hit in which Luisa's husband was assassinated.

A ciascuno il suo was also the breakthrough film for the great cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller who had been an operator for Aldo Scavarda in L'avventura (1960) and who would become the DP of Profondo rosso, among many other films. Here Kuveiller captures impressively the pervasive sense of menace under the glowing sun of Sicily.

The composer Luis Bacalov (1933–2017) creates a stirring and original score in idioms familiar from contemporary Italian thrillers and Westerns. The score has been published and re-released as a soundtrack album: A ciascuno il suo (Colonna sonora originale, un film di Elio Petri, 1968, 2011), best known by the song "Rêvé pour l'hiver" to the poem by Arthur Rimbaud (see beyond the jump break).

I am slightly disappointed with what I perceive as a spirit of defeatism in this film.

The original Technicolor is lush and authentic in the vintage print. There are joins and scratches in the heads and tails of the reels, but otherwise the visual quality is great. This print runs 93 min.

PLOT SUMMARY OF THE LEONARDO SCIASCIA NOVEL FROM ENGLISH WIKIPEDIA AND DATA ABOUT THE MOVIE FROM ITALIAN WIKIPEDIA:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's Only Money


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

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. It is one of the blackest comedies by Tashlin and Lewis.

A used print with signs of wear in the heads and tails of the reels. Beneath the patina the fundamental visual health 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?

OUR PROGRAM NOTE FROM ANTERO HELASVUO:

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.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE FROM MARKKU TUULI:

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 actor 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.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY MIA ÖHMAN AND THE RUSSIAN WIKIPEDIA ENTRY:

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.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE REFERRING TO ETHAN DE SEIFE:

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.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON JACQUES LOURCELLES: