Monday, March 13, 2006

The Tampere Short Film Festival

As I promised, I'd give a report on the annual Tampere Short Film Festival. Nothing much pulp-wise, but interesting films nevertheless, even though I've been largely disappointed by the lack of good, solid classics in the screenings. The festival is nowadays mostly about new films which for some reason or another leave me cold. I'd want to see them 20 years from now only to see if they still hold up or have become classics in their own right. The fuzz isn't enough to attract me.

What I saw:

Two screenings of Robert Drew's films; unluckily I couldn't get into one with two of his old documentaries. Primary from 1960 is deservedly a classic and it must've seemed very radical in its directness. There are only two scenes with a voice-over narration which had been essential to every documentary before that. John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey are both portrayed objectively and sympathetically. (For some reason, I thought Humphrey was looked at closer than JFK. Drew himself said that the pro-Humphrey folks saw it was pro-Humphrey and the pro-Kennedy people as pro-Kennedy.) Drew is now 84 years old and it's no wonder his most recent film, From Two Men and a War, about his own adventures in WWII as a pilot fighter, was tired at times. The dramatizations showed that as a young man he knew very well he shouldn't do them. They were clumsy. Yet the film packed quite a punch, and I'd raise my hat to anyone who makes a 55-minute film at 84!

The Brazilian documentary/city symphony São Paulo, Sinfonia de Metrópole from 1929, that was backed up by the Finnish funk/electro/indie band Giant Robot. The show left me cold. I like the city symphony subgenre, but I thought this was pretty unimaginative compared to Ruttmann's Berlin or Vertov's A Man and a Movie Camera (and even to the lesser known films of the same genre) and the music didn't bring enough new information to it. There were moments in which the film sprang to life, but then again some bits of abstract animation were unmotivated. It felt like they were just copying the European formula. (In fact it's an American formula. The first city symphony is thought to be the American Paul Strand's Mannahatta from 1920 or 1921 (the sources differ).

Two screenings of animations by Bill Plympton. I liked his stuff quite a lot, even though it wasn't perfect. I liked his early stuff best - it had striking violence and totally uncorrect attitudes, but I thought his latter films lacked the energy and the charming nonchalance they still had. The newer films seemed to me somewhat opportunistic, even though the violence was still there. His feature film Hair High (2004) was a tad too long, but fun nevertheless. I'd say Plympton has brought the influence of the classic American crazy animated comedy à la Tex Avery and Chuck Jones to the recent day without just making a pastiche, just like the guys like John Lasseter do. Plympton has a sense of timing (I think this is the most imporant aspect in any cinematic comedy) and he is unscrupulous. At times it was like watching Tex Avery in amphetamine. Plympton was also present at the festival, giving away sketches and autographs. He was the perfect embodiment of the American energy and openness. My jaw dropped when I saw that he's sixty this year! He looked like 45!

The Carte Blanche of the Finnish animation maker Katariina Lillqvist. The show was combined of two films, the Czech surrealist glove animation Zaniklý svet rukavic (1982; a bit strained, but funny at times and the animation of the gloves was strikingly good) and Luis Buñuel's L'Âge d'Or or The Golden Age. I've loved the film since I first saw it in 1987 or so and I've tried to see it every time possible. I watched with a grin on my face all the time. It still packs quite a punch: Gaston Modot dreaming of his mistress sitting on a toilet and then flushing, Modot kicking every animal he sees and pushing an old blind man to the ground, the cow sitting in a bed, Jesus Christ being one of the murderous sadists in a pastiche of de Sade's 120 Days in Sodoma... What a film! Gaston Modot is one of the heroes of the 20th century, hardboiled, cynical, full of hatred, and on a mysterious mission from the ministry of internal affairs (this could be the pulp stuff you're seeking here: it's clearly meant to be a nod to the early 2oth century French thrillers, à la Fantomas and Arsene Lupin). I just love the scene in which his hatred comes to the climax. It's one of the most beautiful scenes in the annals of cinema.

Who I saw:

This kind of weekend is of course a good place to meet people. I couldn't get a chance to meet all the people I wanted to, but here goes "hi!" to Sami and Markku (thanks for the bunks!), Manu (send me the cassettes, will you?), Jenni (we couldn't get in the Tullikamari after three o'clock and rushed off to Doris instead, where I drank someone else's Bloody Mary), Satu, Ovaskainen (better luck next time!), Reijo (thanks again for the positive review of White Heat!), Jari Sedergren (whom I saw only while he was leaving the restaurant and I just coming in)... I'm forgetting lots of people. Jussi Karjalainen heard me talking on the phone with my father about Buñuel and he commented: "Sounds like you have an educated dad." I didn't get a chance to see dad - he was coming to the festival, but we had different schedules and I had to come back to Turku Saturday night.

All in all, it was as fun as usual, even though the films could've been better. I miss the early nineties festivals with lots of classics, such as the short films of Georges Franju... Oh, the power of Blood of the Beasts! And Jean Painlevé's Le Vampire (1945) tucked away in the midst of some mediocre vampire animations! What a waste! Markku was dreaming about the time when he had a chance to see Yuri Norshtein's Tale of Tales twice during the same festival!

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