tiistai 29. marraskuuta 2011

Sensation: The Statue of Liberty Can Gibberish!

Cabinets of curiosities - they came into my mind while I read about restored version of Ski Patrol (1940) in Suomen Kuvalehti 47/2011. The connection between these two subjects is perhaps an odd one, so let me explain it a bit.

A cabinet of curiosity was a place where - if anywhere - people could see for example a stuffed corpse of a two headed cow, or even a stuffed unicorn. Yes, some of these curiosities were so exotic that they had never really existed. That's probably why cabinets of curiosities became rare curiosities themselves: people just didn't want to be fooled with fake sensations anymore.

Some films could be seen as curiosity items. While film makers are creating artificial representations of real cultures, races and places, some of their ideas turn into preserved fantasy specimens in "liquid". I must admit I haven't (yet) had a chance to see Ski Patrol but according to movie journalist Lauri Lehtinen's introduction in Suomen Kuvalehti - it seems just like a perfect example of curiosity item. Ski Patrol is an American movie (made by Universal Studios). It tells about war between Finland and Russia in the winter 1939. So, is it a historical movie? Not quite, as you can find out from Lehtinen's transcription:

"[Ski Patrol is] a melodramatic adventure made right after the winter war. Instead of historical facts it offers us substitute Finland which is created in terms of Hollywood. There's some links to the reality. Finnish flags and heroine Julia Engel's (Luli Deste) Lotta Svärd symbol looks like real.
But perhaps you shouldn't be seeking anything else authentic in this movie, where Finns live in small towns which looks like villages on the Alps. Also men's pointy hats and long pipes are like from some country in the Alps."

According to Lehtinen, Universal was trying to save in costs and used materials from their earlier movie, The Doomed Battalion (1932). This movie took place on the border of Austria and Italy during the WWI. Okay, Austria, Italy, Finland, world wars - who cares about details, at least the film shows some war in Europe... ;)

Far outside
Whether there has to be budget cuts in a film production or not, there doesn't seem to be a need for a respected auteur with an extraordinary vision to make the film strange. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood would be a cabinet of curiosities: Its big production companies follow always the same good old pattern, where they stitch together impossible dreams. There Alexandre Astruc's caméra-stylo is almost like a curse word. If the movie takes place outside of USA, it typically has

A) foreigner characters speaking only gibberish or broken English (the Siamese king of King and I, 1956)
B) famous landmark(s) "stalking" the characters in pretty much every scene (a classic: Eiffel Tower is everywhere in Paris)
C) stereotypes of foreigners (Arabs in Sex and the City 2, 2010)
D) foreign names pronounced/ spelled wrong (Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973)

An American in Abu Dabi (Sex and the City 2, Warner Bros. 2010)

But let's not blame only Hollywood, since the same ugly mistakes are made (copied from Hollywood?) all around the world. Many times the results are just as bad as in those infamous Hollywood movies. It's not too hard to find examples. Astérix et Obelix contre César (1999) is a French-German-Italian production but just as in the Astérix comic books, even the Italian characters speak only French. In a beautiful and beloved Studio Ghibli animation Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004) different European landscapes are mixed so well that it reveals nothing from the story's origin. The animation is Japanese but writer Diana Wynne Jones was English.

Watch if you dare: Finnish made Brazilian heat from Rion yö
What becomes to stereotypical foreigners, there are everywhere. If you can't speak Finnish or haven't ever seen Rion yö (1951), don't worry. From its Carmen Conchita to Don José every character is a comic book version of people in Brazil. Of course they also speak perfect Finnish for some reason, just like the characters of Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959) can perfect German, although they're Indian. Somehow you can almost believe that the German main character can always find an Indian, who has studied German. However, it's very hard to believe there would be Finnish speaking people all around in Brazil.

Case Wallander

I'm a Swedish detective, because I'm in Sweden! (BBC)

The abuse of foreign names is terrible in BBC movie series of Swedish detective Kurt Wallander (2008). The poor man can't even say his own name right. That gives an odd feeling to everyone, who can speak Swedish. This oddity can be so disturbing that you'll forget everything else in these movies and can't even follow the plot line. That happened to me; I forced myself to watch 2.5 of these Wallander movies before I just had to give up.

It's curious why British wanted to shoot Wallander stories in English with English actors in Sweden. The language is a huge part of the culture, which you can hear from idioms and phrases. You can call red juice as tiger blood and bottle it in tiger-shaped flasks but that won't turn it to be real tiger blood. Nope, more likely it's going to look like something quite kitsch and silly. Just like all fake things from dragon teeth to Pegasus feathers. Of course there are people who enjoy oddities and wish to find those. But if you aimed to gain other kind of success, can you really enjoy the moment when you'll realize that your sensational masterpiece is not a griffin but an artificial combination of domestic cat and chicken?

True griffin

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