Friday, May 12, 2017

Just a quick update: election, new books, coming books, a beautiful cover for one

Just announcing I'm not dead yet, though the latest blog post is from, what, two months back! Can this really be? Time flies really fast, doesn't it? 

There have been things going on around here, that's for sure. 

I ran for the city council here in Turku, Finland, in the ranks of the Left Alliance and was elected, almost to my surprise, vice member (or deputy member, I'm not really sure what the right word is). So far, I haven't done much in this official post, but we'll see. 

My publishing house, Helmivyö, has put out new books. One of them is my own "The Short Introduction to Trash/Pulpy Literature" (Roskakirjallisuuden lyhyt historia; it's a tour around the world, focusing mainly on the United States), and one of them is a volume of the the collected short fiction of Kaarlo Bergbom, Finnish writer from the 1860s. There are only four stories, one of them being a Biblical fantasy, one being an almost Westernish story of an old career criminal living as a hermit, and two being psychological short stories. You can check the books out here. (The site is understandably in Finnish.) 

My hands have been full of work, and besides all of the above I've been writing and compiling my own books. I had to postpone one that was supposed to come out next Fall, but the book about the film versions of classic and new Finnish literature is still in the works. It's a sequel to the book I wrote earlier, about film versions of known and forgotten books around the world, not only in Finland. 

And there will also be a collection of fairy tales for adults I edited. It's called "The Hundred Years of Sleep" (or "Dreams"; Sadan vuoden unet in Finnish), according to the shorty story of Johanna Venho that was simply wonderful. I wish someone possibly in the publishing business reading this blog would get excited and ask for a translation sample of some of the stories. Check out the cover above, it's by Charlie Bowater. 

I haven't been reading much hardboiled/noir/pulp/sleaze literature, as I have been deeply immersed in my work, but here's hoping I can squeeze some in during the Summer. So far, it looks bad... 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Shellarama

I stumbled on this Shell-produced documentary almost by accident: I've been preparing a book that collects the writings of the Turku-based film critic Tapani Maskula (a Finnish legend), and reading some of his reviews from the sixties I noticed that he said nice things about a short subject that was shown before a longer movie (I believe it was The Hallelujah Trail). The short film was called Shellarama, and it was supposed to be shown in 70 mm (in Cinerama, to be exact), but there haven't been any 70 mm projectors in Turku, so it must've been shown here in 35 mm.

As the title suggests, Shellarama is, to quote the film's IMDb entry, "a celebration of Shell Petroleum, tracing its manufacture from discovery in oil fields to its eventual use as fuel for modern living across the globe". The film contains lots of breath-taking aerial shots with long camera drives over deserts and jungles, and it's fascinating to watch. Here's BFI on the film, I believe they have released the film - and some other 70 mm short films - on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Shellarama is available via YouTube in its entirety, albeit not with a very good quality, but it's still worth your while. As I watched it, I got to thinking the film reminded me of a much later film, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi from the early eighties. Both films are without dialogue or voice-over narration, and both films are structured rather similarly, as both start from nature and continue on to big cities and their car jams. Both films contain similar shots of industrial enviroments and cities. Both films use people almost only as backdrops. Of course the ideology between the two films couldn't be more different: Shellarama praises Shell and oil that is used to promote modern life, while Koyaanisqatsi criticizes the modern life and the turmoil it brings to Earth. The music in the films couldn't also be more different from each other, as Koyaanisqatsi uses Philip Glass's minimalist soundtrack and Shellarama has some Latin percussion.

It's still entirely possible Godfrey Reggio was influenced by Shellarama. If he wasn't, I'm surprised!

But take a look and see for yourselves. Looks like Blogger crops the embedded clip, here's the direct link to YouTube. (More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Suburbia, by Penelope Spheeris

I don't recall anymore when or where I first heard of Penelope Spheeris's film Suburbia (1983). It must've been an old Finnish music magazine, I had a bunch of those in the late eighties and I used to peruse them. Now I had finally a chance to see the film, and I saw it on big screen, which, I'm sure you know, is the option I prefer. The film seems to be out on DVD, and it was released on VHS in Finland thirty years ago, but I've never seen it anywhere.

Suburbia tells about a bunch of homeless teenagers, who have crashed an abandoned suburban house and live there all by themselves, sometimes stealing stuff from garages, sometimes going to punk concerts. It's a touching tragedy, with genuine heart-felt empathy for the kids, even though they are also shown to be jerks, racists or homophobes. One of them is a junkie, and his stuff leads to an overdose of another teenager. The teenagers are harassed by a duo of rednecks with guns, and their action leads to a needless death of a young boy. The movie ends in pessimistic notes.

The film has some great scenes at punk gigs, with bands like DI, T.S.O.L. and The Vandals (see above) giving their frantic best. The gigs are a mess, with young punks running and jumping and crashing on each other in mid-air. Some of the gigs end up violently, with the youngsters ripping off clothes from a young woman who's clearly in a wrong place, or some rednecks crashing the party with knives. It's not a pretty sight, even though Penelope Spheeris clearly knew what she was doing, since she had already made the punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (which I haven't seen).

Suburbia has lots of poignant shots about the desolate sites of Southern California. It was already like this over thirty years ago, even though the eighties was supposed to have been the decade of fortune and fame for everyone. In the beginning, we also see shots of wild dogs running rampant in the midst of abandoned houses, and it's a captivating sight. I don't know many American films that show this kind of societal decay - well, there have been some newer ones, like Killing Them Softly or Nebraska, but they are new. And then there's of course The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford. Spheeris was onto something here.

Suburbia was produced by Roger Corman, and it shows in some scenes of mild nudity and fist fights. Some of them are longer than they'd have to be. Corman had earlier made films about teenager sub-cultures, like The Wild Angels, and I'm sure he saw something similar in Suburbia and in the punk rock scene. Yet, Suburbia is just not another schlock film, it's a serious look at how teenagers are treated in American society. It's sometimes clichéd or badly acted (all the actors are amateurs, some of them are punk rockers from different bands), but it's very sincere and shows that the writer-director knew what she was doing. It's a small miracle Spheeris has since done films like The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), which admittedly I haven't seen. Wayne's World, her famous film, shows some of the flair for the rock'n'roll scene that's evident in Suburbia, but it's only a harmless comedy compared to the earlier film.

Spheeris started out in the 1960's doing some experimental and underground films, when she was a student at UCLA. I had a chance to see some of her early films last year at the Tampere Short Film Festival here in Finland. I didn't write anything about them at the time and my memories of the films are a bit dim, but here goes nevertheless.


Synthesis, Spheeris's first film from 1968, was an ordinary experimental film, unlike any other film she's done (to my knowledge). Bath (1969) is a short film that shows a woman masturbating taking a bath. It's a sensual film, not really shocking, but still possibly one of the first films showing a woman masturbating all by herself, without a man or without the film being porn. I Don't Know (1970) is a 20-minute film about the relationship between a lesbian woman and a transsexual man, and Spheeris depicts them warmly, without any patronizing or shocking revelations. The National Rehabilitation Center (1972) is a mockumentary about concentration camps aimed for possible subversives. It really looks like a mediocre newsreel or educational film, but isn't. There were also films called Shit, Hats Off to Hollywood, and No Use Walkin' When You Can Stroll, but I don't remember much of them. Here's more on Spheeris's early films and their restorations.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog, possibly later on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The French Connection (1971)

I don't think anyone with sane mind would be able to say that William Friedkin's The French Connection is an overlooked movie. It's a classic crime film, and it's a classic in its own right. Everyone knows the hectic chase scenes, everyone knows Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, the narc cop prone to violence.

But you should see the film on big screen. I'd seen the film I think twice before yesterday, but now I had the chance to see it projected on silver screen from 35 mm print. The print was faded and scratchy, but boy, did the movie deliver! All the cinematic stuff in The French Connection was designed to work on the big screen, not on television. I remember that I had really not liked the film when I saw it earlier, but now I realized it was because of the wrong media. Friedkin uses lots of pans and zooms that don't work well in television. There are few close-ups, so we don't really get inside the characters. It's more like a documentary we are watching, even though it's a very entertaining and exciting documentary.

The soundtrack by jazz trumpetist Don Ellis is also great. I like the way Friedkin uses music and other sounds in the film, mixing them rather freely with each other.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Andy Straka: A Witness Above

I'd never heard about Andy Straka before, but I snatched his PI novel A Witness Above from the Brash Books newsletter, when it was free for a limited time. I read the book on my cell phone, which worked just fine.

A Witness Above stars Straka's private eye protagonist Frank Pavlicek, who's a former cop, fired from duty after shooting down a black kid, thinking the kid was armed. Pavlicek has retired from New York to his old haunts in Virginia. As he's training his hawk (something Straka seems himself to do), he stumbles upon a dead man, who seems to have a connection with Pavlicek's daughter. Soon Pavlicek gets a call of help from his daughter.

A Witness Above is a fluent, if not spectacularly original read. If you like hardboiled private eye novels, this should work for you. Straka's style is straight-forward and not overtly wordy, which at times suits me just fine. A Witness Above worked very well on the small screen of my phone. This is something one could read on a plane or in a train.

Monday, January 23, 2017

New collection of one-word poems out

As some of may remember, I have some interest in experimental poetry. I've done a collection of e-mail spam poetry that is still available (check it out here), and I've also done some very small booklets of other spam-related or found stuff.

Now there's a new book of experimental poetry out. It's called velernic syoke mulnec, and it's a collection of word verification words that were once used in blogs and other sites that required some sort of notification you're not a bot. So, a machine wanted to know whether we are humans. There's irony in that, to be sure.

velernic syoke mulnec is a part of the "pwoermd" movement (if there indeed is a movement), poems that include only one word. The words in velernic syoke mulnec are fictitious (unless by accident there are some bona fide words included), which also is ironic in itself. There's also a preface (two, actually), and it's in English.

These word verification words seem no longer to be in use, so the collection has already become a historical text, an archive, one might say. The bulk of it was collected by me and some other folks in the end of the first decade of the 2000's, and there was also a publisher, but for some reason or another it never came out. Now I decided to put it out as an e-book, and it will be free for some time now. So go grab it, if you're interested in this type of thing. The book is available also through Kobo. Amazon's preview option might also satisfy your interest.

The book looks like this:



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teuvo Tulio, Finland's mad genius

Here's a new article on Finnish film-maker Teuvo Tulio on the AV Club's site. Short quote: "In the pantheon of unclassifiable filmmakers, there is a special place for Teuvo Tulio, Finland’s king of shameless melodrama. A fetishist, an outsider artist of 1940s and ’50s film, he was outrageous, incapable of subtlety, rising to a higher plane of camp—beyond Ken Russell, beyond Nicolas Cage doing an accent, beyond Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls."

I've mentioned Tulio at least twice on this blog, here and here.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dan Simmons: Summer of Night

I was going to do this as a part of the Friday's Forgotten Book series, but then I realized it's not Friday, it's Tuesday, and I should be writing about an Overlooked Film! Well, here goes nevertheless.

I had bad luck selecting my readings for this past holiday season. I read three books that had nothing to do with my other work, but the first two proved to be pretty bland (won't name any names, though). Luckily the third one I picked to read proved to entertaining and exciting. I'd never read Dan Simmons earlier, but I might try another one by him, as Summer of Night was quite good.

Summer of Night is at times a nostalgic look at the small town life in Illinois in the early 1960's. The evil in the book is an old, empty school that seems to nourish a secret or a bunch of them. In the beginning we see a nosy kid getting sucked up in a tunnel in the boys' room, and everything starts to unravel as the main characters, a bunch of kids, start to search for the explanation. There are references to Aleister Crowley and other esoteric stuff, but Simmons has enough style to keep the lecturing away. The book is quite long, which I usually don't like, but this kept me turning pages.

Simmons also clearly has sympathy for the underdog: his heroes are a dyslexic boy who proves to be the cleverest of them all, a dreamy boy who fantasizes about being a writer, a misanthropic kid who hates his out-going mother (I thought the description of the mother was a bit unfair, but it remained believable throughout), and an ugly and ill-kept girl who likes to carry a shotgun around. There's warmth also in the depiction of the somewhat loserish parents. There are lots of exciting scenes, but the long climax was also very good.

Summer of Night came out in 1992 and was nominated for a British Fantasy Award the same year. There have been sequels, but I haven't read any of them. When I was still picking up books for the Arktinen Banaani's paperback line some years ago, I considered Simmons's hardboiled crime novels, Hardcase, Hard Freeze, and Hard as Nails, but I never got around to reading them. His science fiction novels have been popular in Finland, so it might've been worth the effort.

The Finnish cover depicted above is ugly as all hell, it's no wonder this didn't make much impact here. The Finnish title translates back as "The Horror of the Summer Night". I notice now that one of the sequels, namely Children of the Night, has also been translated in Finnish as well - will have to look for it.