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Tom of Finland on the Big Screen

23.1.2017

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.

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