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Tom of Finland — the movie reviewed

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Having now seen Dome Karukoski’s new movie about the iconic gay artist, Tom of Finland, I can share my thoughts about it.

In general, Tom of Finland is a very sympathetic biography, and Pekka Strang does a good job in the main role. The story proceeds from World War II in Finland to the 1980s in Los Angeles. As it is customary in nowadays biographical movies, the storyline isn’t linear but there are flashbacks and jumps from one era to another. In this respect, I think Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is one of the most perfect examples of masterful non-linear editing and it does excel Tom of Finland. In the latter film, one doesn’t always know right away which time period Tom is in.

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Certain details made me feel critical about the movie. First of all, the story of how Tom met his mate Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) differs essentially from how it actually happened, as explained, e.g., recently in Helsingin Sanomat monthly supplement (read article in Finnish). Another dramaturgical change is how Tom encountered certain oppression (police raids etc.) against practicing homosexuals. He is rather used as a token of the general vicissitudes that gay men were subjected to, but it remains unclear if he himself experienced that all or in that particular form. Also the artistic antagonism between Tom and his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), feels unfounded. In some scenes, old Tom’s leather jacket seems not to sit properly on him.

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In some respects Tom of Finland is therefore a reversed counterpart to another Finnish movie, Avskedet (1982). It proposes to tell a general story about a bisexual woman, but in reality it uses (is based upon) the life on Vivica Bandler, who loved Tove Jansson, among others. Tom of Finland, on the other hand, proposes to tell a specific story of a certain homosexual man, but in reality uses aspects from Tom’s life to tell a general story about homosexual men in 1940s to 1980s.

One weak point is the dialogue — in the Finnish portion, it doesn’t always sound natural and spot-on. Also English and German are spoken in this movie.

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Usually in Finland movies are subtitled in both Finnish and Swedish, but, possibly for the first time in history, showings in some Helsinki cinemas present this Finnish movie with subtitles in English. Apparently Helsinki has now become an international metropole. (I saw the movie in the traditional way, with Finnish and Swedish subtitles.)

As in many Karukoski’s other films, there is a feel of keeping it safe which leads to certain blandness. In Finland, the movie is rated “12” and there aren’t any explicit sex scenes and even Tom’s drawings are shown cautiously. In my opinion, the movie could have been a bit longer and sharper — it’s not epic yet.

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However, despite my reservations I can still recommend the movie. It is aimed at the general audience, it recounts some episodes in the history of gay liberation and the overall atmosphere of the movie is that of empowerment. Sets, locations and crowd scenes look great, even if the movie doesn’t strike one as especially imaginative. — If you want to see a really impressive movie about Tom of Finland, try Ilppo Pohjola’s documentary Daddy and the Muscle Academy (1991). The DVD releases include Tom’s unedited interview rushes, almost 100 minutes of them. It would be enticing to see that documentary and a mouthful of bonus materials released on Blu-ray with a better transfer. Criterion, do you read us…?

One curious detail: some scenes included in the theatrical trailer are not present in the movie proper. One of them is Tom’s acknowledging of his war-time affair with a fighter pilot to his sister, another Tom’s quitting his job at the advertising agency. As it is customary with this director, we will probably have a selection of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, with director’s commentary.

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I would give this movie 6 stars out of 10.

Tom of Finland has already precipitated Dome Karukoski’s career upwards: he is negotiating with Keanu Reeves about filming The Starling in the United States. Karukoski is now in the same position as Renny Harlin was in 1986.

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Note: All the screenshots come from the theatrical trailer and they do not represent the image quality of the digital cinema pack.

Penda’s Fen — Quest for Identity

kansiAlan Clarke’s television movie Penda’s Fen (1974) is a uniquely rich, dense, symbolic and engaging drama, like a multi-layered and multi-faceted gem. Written by David Rudkin, the movie follows a few weeks in the life of the 17–18-year old Stephen Franklin (Spencer Banks) who lives in the heart of England, in Pinvin, Worcestershire. The movie was produced for BBC’s Birmingham unit by the legendary David Rose (1924–2017).

From the very beginning it is evident that the protagonist, Stephen, is not an average adolescent. In stead of cadet excercises, he adores classical music, especially Sir Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. In a way, he is a classic outsider, despised by his classmates. On the top of this, he seems to have an innocent crush on the handsome young milkman, noticed by his parents before he himself does in a series of erotic dreams. It is almost surreal how he himself in the beginning of the movie esteems the nuclear family and abhors “unnaturals.” This is actual today as well because many people still yearn for “pure” identities and even wish to keep their country “clean.”

Penda’s Fen contains so much material that one might fear it bursting from the huge network of meanings and references. But everything seems to find its correct place, everything feels relevant and apt. The movie is a beautiful example of contemporary Baroque filmmaking — like a temperate representative of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s style, without the flamboyance of Ken Russell.

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What have we here not? A political debate on the English miners’ strike of 1972; discussions of the true revolutionary personality of Jesus Christ by Stephen’s father (played by John C. Atkinson), a rector who secretly seems to have lost his faith; a search for the ancient rulers of England, especially Penda (606–655), the last pagan king of England; the sexual confusion when a young man is faced with his desire for other males which he cannot help; and Stephen’s search for a true English identity, after he is told on his 18th birthday that he was adopted and is of foreign origin — like the English language.

As the story proceeds, Stephen seems to find his way. His father explains almost in a Freudian vein that we can learn things from our dreams. “Your dream tells you a truth about yourself. A truth you hide from when you’re awake.” There are several dream sequences in Penda’s Fen which are not explained but still have their rightful place in the narration: people have their hands chopped off, angels and demons manifest themselves, and Stephen has a lengthy conversation with the late Sir Edward Elgar.

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The theme of the film seems to be self-knowledge and the search for a true identity. In the beginning, we are encouraged to discover ourselves by a Greek inscription. So we embark upon a quest to find the deep true roots of the quintessential Englishness, below the layers of Christianity, before all the later façades. Also Stephen wishes to find out his real, pure self. However, he is forced to realize, “I am nothing pure! My race is mixed! My sex is mixed! I am woman and man, light with darkness, nothing pure! I am mud and flame!” Such seems to be the essence of any indentity, both personal and national, and that’s what life will learn us if we will lend it our ears.

It is almost uncanny how Stephen’s convictions are disturbed one by one, and simultaneously beautiful how he gains new understanding and solace, for instance when discussing adoption with Mrs. Arne.

Without understanding all or even feeling an urge to understand the movie completely, I was deeply moved by it. With a powerful honesty it poses impressive, surprising images and beautifully recited English dialogue, surrounded with the noble music of Elgar.

Penda’s Fen is not a gay movie; instead, homosexuality is merely one of the several aspects in Stephen’s personality, noted without making any ado about it, as if a person’s sexual preference were a fully neutral thing, like left- or right-handedness. This was modern in 1974 because homosexuality was illegal in some parts of the United Kingdom till 1982, and an equal age of consent was brought into force only in 2001.

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Penda’s Fen was first broadcast in the U.K. on 21 March 1974 in the series Play for Today, BBC 1, and repeated only in 1990. The movie has been unaccessible for a long period of time. Therefore it is a much-awaited occasion that the British Film Institute has finally in 2016 remastered and released the movie on DVD and Blu-ray.

BFI has done a great job with this masterpiece. The film has been restored from the 16 mm camera negatives, and the monaural audio track from original tapes. The single-layered Blu-ray also includes a 16-minute featurette “The Landscape of Feelings: The Road to Penda’s Fen,” containing interviews with Rudkin, Rose, and others. A 16-page bookled is included, with an essay by Sukhdev Sandhu.

On the top of the single-disc release, Penda’s Fen is also available in the 13-disc collection Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969–1989) with a load of movies and different selection of bonus materials.

 

Penda’s Fen
Directed by Alan Clarke
© 1974 BBC
Blu-ray Region B
Video: 1.33:1 High Definition (MPEG-4 1080i50)
Audio: English PCM 2.0 mono (2304 kbps)
Subtitles: English HoH
Runtime: 88:32 (25 fps)
British Film Institute BFIB1222
EAN 5035673012222

 

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Tom of Finland on the Big Screen

kansiThe new biographical movie about the Finnish gay artist Tom of Finland (1920–1991) will have its world première next Friday, 27 January, at Gothenburg Film Festival 2017. This is a unique tribute for a Finnish movie — our film industry rarely has enjoyed considerable success abroad since The White Reindeer (1952).

On February 24, Tom of Finland will open in Finnish cinemas.

Back in 1991, when Tom’s work was first introduced to the general public in Finland, it was impossible to imagine that 25 years later his images would be accepted into postage stamps, coffee packages and towels and a main­stream film would depict his life as a war hero and an internationally renowned artist. It was only in 1981 when homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental illnesses in Finland; and although homosexuality had not been illegal per se since 1971, the “promotion” thereof was decriminalized only in 1999.

Before 1990, Tom of Finland was hardly known in Finland outside of gay circles. His first exhibition in Helsinki was held in 1990, the same year he received Puupäähattu prize, and a major one at Amos Anderson Art Museum in 1991. Later that year, around the time of his death, Ilppo Pohjola’s documentary film Daddy and the Muscle Academy was already a well-publicized event. Still his real name, Touko Laaksonen, was a secret for a long time — I presume it was only published in his orbituary in Helsingin Sanomat, but I cannot remember this for sure.

The forthcoming movie represents mainstream. None of the essential makers have been associated with homosexuality before. For instance, Dome Karukoski — whom one might characterize as “Finland’s Ron Howard” — has directed popular films for general audience, like Beauty and the Bastard (2005), Lapland Odyssey (2010), Heart of a Lion (2013) and The Grump (2014). These are available on DVD or Blu-ray with English subtitles. Tom of Finland (2017) will make an interesting addition to his filmography, and probably will earn several nominations.

The screenwriter Aleksi Bardy has worked with Karukoski before as a writer and producer and has written several successful features, beginning with The Tough Ones (1999) which basically started the new revival of the Finnish cinema, still going on.

So, although it will be a film about homosexuality made by straight people for the general public, I’m looking forward to seeing Tom of Finland next month. Tom’s life provides a good story in the vein of per aspera ad astra which should work well in a movie.

PS. You might also wish to check out the TV series London Spy. Two young men (played by Ben Whishaw and Edward Holcroft) meet and fall in love. One of them is a spy, and suddenly he disappears.

Kuivakkaasti sateessa

kansiJariv Mozerin ohjaama draamaelokuva Šablulim BaGešem (2013) kertoo nuoresta kielitieteilijästä Boazista (Joav Reuveni), joka opiskelee Tel Avivin yliopistossa 1980-luvulla. Lähes päivittäin nuori ja komea Boaz saa postilokero-osoitteeseensa nimettömiä kirjeitä, joissa tuntematon mies kertoo, kuinka ihastunut hän on Boaziin. Boaz kuitenkin asuu tyttöystävänsä Noan (Moran Rosenblatt) kanssa, ja he haaveilevat muutosta Jerusalemiin.

Nimettömät kirjeet vaikuttavat Boaziin voimakkaasti. Hän ei selvästikään voi olla lukematta kirjeitä ja epäilee kirjoittajaksi milloin ketäkin. Nuorimies kerää huomiota niin naisilta kuin miehiltäkin, mutta nyt tämä johtaa vainoharhaiseen tunnelmaan.

Vaikka Boaz elää näennäisen onnellisesti Noan kanssa, armeijamuistot vaivaavat häntä. Asepalveluksessa hänellä oli jonkinasteisia seksikokemuksia miesten kanssa. Hän haluaa kuitenkin elää heteroseksuaalina.

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Tyttöystävä arvaa nopeasti, että kirjeiden takana on Boazin opettaja professori Richlin (Jariv Mozer). Tämän rakkaus on kuitenkin tuhoon tuomittu. Boaz häilyy tuskallisesti kahden vaiheilla mutta päätyy lopulta ilmaisemaan, ettei halua enää lisää ”ihailija­kirjeitä”, ja hankkii lapsia Noan kanssa.

Elokuva perustuu novelliin, jonka on kirjoittanut Jossi Avni-Levi. Elokuvan ongelmana on sen kuivakkuus: ei tapahdu paljonkaan eikä näytetä paljonkaan. Brittiläisen DVD-julkaisun ikäraja ”18 — Contains strong sex” vaikuttaa läpeensä liioitellulta. Lisäksi DVD:n ulkoasu vihjaa perusteettomasti, että elokuva keskittyisi miesten keskinäisiin suhteisiin. Kuitenkin heteroseksuaalisuus on elokuvassa etualalla. — Brittiläisessä DVD:ssä on lisämateriaalina ainoastaan tämän elokuvan traileri (1:46) ja muiden elokuvien mainoksia.

Myös elokuvan nimi (englanniksi Snails in the Rain) jää epäselväksi. Jos sateen kastelemilla etanoilla on jotakin erityistä symbolimerkitystä, se ei katsojalle avaudu lainkaan.

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שבלולים בגשם (Snails in the Rain)
Ohjaus Jariv Mozer
© 2014 TLA Releasing
Iso-Britannia (DVD-levyn aluekoodi R2)
Ääni: heprea stereo 2.0
Tekstitys: englanti
Kesto: 81:42 (25 fps)
Kuvasuhde: 1.78:1 (anamorfinen PAL)
EAN 807839007251

 

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Yariv Mozer’s Snails in the Rain is a dry drama about an Israeli student, Boaz, who receives anonymous love letters from another man. The letters confuse Boaz considerably and seem to question his sexual identity. Although he lives happily with his girlfriend, Noa, he has had some vague homosexual contacts in the army. So many things are left open or invisible in this movie that it begins to feel a bit pretentious.

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Luurangot tuuletukseen — The Skeleton Twins

kansiAmerikkalainen pienen budjetin draama The Skeleton Twins (2014) osoittautui todella myönteiseksi yllätykseksi. Elokuvan ovat käsi­kirjoittaneet Craig Johnson ja Mark Heyman ja ohjannut Johnson, ja käsi­kirjoitus palkittiin Sundance-festivaalilla. Tuottajana on ollut muiden muassa Mark Duplass, joka nähtiin näyttelijänä oma­laatuisessa draamassa Safety Not Guaranteed (2012).

The Skeleton Twins kertoo kaksos­sisaruksista, joita esittävät Bill Hader (Milo) ja Kristen Wiig (Maggie) — molemmat tuttuja viihde­ohjelmasta Saturday Night Live. Milo ja Maggie eivät ole olleet puhe­väleissä kymmeneen vuoteen, mutta kun Milo yrittää itsemurhaa Los Angelesissa, Maggie hakee hänet vähäksi aikaa luokseen New Yorkin osavaltioon, josta he ovat lähtöisin. Käy ilmi, että sisarusten tausta on traumaattinen: perheen isä oli tehnyt itsemurhan.

Milo oli muuttanut Los Angelesiin päästäkseen näyttelijäksi, mutta hän joutui tarjoilemaan ravintolassa, koska muuta työtä ei ole löytynyt.

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Vasta vähitellen katsojalle selviää, että Milo on homoseksuaali, eikä tästä tehdä kovinkaan kummoista numeroa. Bill Hader esittää hahmoaan erinomaisesti: maneerit ovat hienovaraisia ja uskottavia.

Tähän liittyy myös sisarusten välirikon syy. Milo oli 15-vuotiaana koulupoikana ryhtynyt suhteeseen äidinkielenopettajansa Richin (Ty Burrell) kanssa. Maggie oli puuttunut tilanteeseen, ja Richin opettajanura oli päättynyt siihen. Kun Milo vuosien jälkeen palaa Nyackiin, Rich työskentelee kirjakaupan myyjänä ja hänellä on vaimo ja ottopoika. Milo menee tapaamaan entistä kumppaniaan ja suhde viriää uudestaan, joskin kangerrellen.

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Myöskään Maggien elämä ei ole täysin tyydyttävää. Hänellä on lauhkea ja lempeä aviomies Lance (Luke Wilson), joka koettaa parhaansa mukaan rakastaa vaimoaan mutta joka on melkeinpä liikuttavan sokea tämän tuntemuksille. He koettavat hankkia lasta, mutta Maggie popsii e-pillereitä miehensä selän takana ja makaa vieraiden miesten kanssa, joista lähemmin nähdään sukelluksenopettaja Billy (Boyd Holbrook).

Tällaisen valheellisen liiton keskelle saapuu itsemurhasta toipuva lanko, joka näkee asetelman lävitse — kaikilla on luurankoja kaapissa. Hienovaraisen julmasti hän puhkaisee kuplan. Maggien ja Lancen avioliitto hajoaa, mutta Maggie pääsee sopuun veljensä kanssa.

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The Skeleton Twins on katkeransuloinen ja erinomaisesti näytelty draama, jonka hahmot tuntuvat eläviltä ja aidoilta; tragediaa ja komediaa yhdistetään keveällä ja varmalla kädellä. Vielä 1980-luvulla ei olisi voitu tehdä tällaista draamaa, jossa homoseksuaalisuus on vain aihe muiden joukossa.

Pohjoismaisessa blu-rayssa on kiitettävästi lisämateriaaleja:

  • Craig Johnsonin, Bill Haderin ja Kristen Wiigin kommenttiraita
  • Craig Johnsonin, Mark Heymanin ja Jennifer Leen kommenttiraita
  • dokumentti ”To Whom It May Concern: Making The Skeleton Twins” (15:19)
  • ”Sweet Moves” — katkelmia (1:35)
  • Gag Reel — katkelmia (3:36)
  • Epäonnistuneita ottoja (4:57)
  • 13 poistettua kohtausta — ohjaajan kommenttiraita valittavissa (16:07)

 

Elokuvan teatteritraileri.

 

The Skeleton Twins
Ohjaus Craig Johnson
© 2014 Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Suomi (Blu-rayn aluekoodi ABC)
Ääni: englanti DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, espanja DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, italia DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Tekstitys: suomi, ruotsi, norja, tanska, englanti, englanti kuulorajoitteisille, espanja, italia
Kuvasuhde: 2,40 : 1 (MPEG-4 1080p24)
Kesto: 92:57
EAN 5051162338673

 

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The Skeleton Twins by Craig Johnson is a wonderfully complex drama about a sibling relationship. A gay brother (played by Bill Hader) and his married sister (Kristen Wiig) meet after ten years of estrangement and reconcile. Tragedy and comedy are mixed with perfection when the protagonists have to deal with their past and revaluate their present. The chacters and acting are very believable and full of life.

 

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