Tove


Art and literature collide.

(2020) Biographical Drama (Juno) Alma Pöysti, Krista Kosonen, Shanti Roney, Joanna Haartti, Kajsa Ernst, Robert Enckell, Jakob Öhrman, Eeva Putro, Wilhelm Ehckell, Liisi Tandefelt, Emma Klingenberg, Juhana Ryynänen, Henrik Wolff, Dick Idman, Simon Häger, Kira-Emmi Pohokari, Sanna Langinkoski, Saga Sarkola, Jon Henriksen, Lydia Taavitsainen. Directed by Zaida Bergroth

 

European readers are more likely to recognize the Moomins,( hippopotamus-like characters who live in a strange and magical world called Moominland and were something like the Smurfs) than American readers, although some might. Fewer Americans still would be acquainted with their author, Tove Jansson, a Swede living in Finland.

Tove was born to a Bohemian family whose patriarch, Victor (Enckell) was a well-known sculptor, his wife Signe (Ernst) a graphic artist. Tove is trained to be a painter, but she seems more comfortable following in her mother’s footsteps, despite her father’s insistence that anything other than painting would be beneath her talents. Already somewhat well-known for drawing cartoons lampooning Hitler during the era of Quisling, she has a sprightly personality that really recognizes no boundaries other than those she imposes on herself.

She initiates an affair with socialist politician Atos Wirtanen (Roney) who happens to be married. She attends parties, often taking shots at the bourgeoisie of Finnish society. She pays her rent with paintings that she promises will increase in value once she becomes famous (although her fame came in a different media than she thought she was going to be).

Then she meets Vivica Bander (Kosonen), a theatrical director who is the daughter of Helsinki’s mayor – and also married herself – who challenges her “Have you ever kissed a girl?” As it turns out, Tove hasn’t but she’s never one to turn down a challenge and before you can say “Teemu Selanne” the two are having a torrid affair. And along the way, we get to see the birth of Toe’s most famous creations, and the elements of their personalities that came straight out of Tove’s life (well, we sorta do anyway). But Vivica isn’t ready to commit to being with Tove; will she accept being a second banana in her romantic relationships forever?

This is a sumptuously filmed biopic by veteran Finnish director Bergroth, with gorgeous production design by Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth. Tove’s studio is a near-perfect reproduction of her actual studio, which can be seen online in photographs. The soundtrack largely utilizes jazz, big band and mambo/tango tunes from European bands and is absolutely delightful.

Pöysti does a credible job capturing Tove’s pixie-esque personality. As an added grace note, we see the real Tove dancing joyously on the island retreat taken in super-8 footage by her real-life partner Tuulikki Pietilä (who makes only a brief appearance near the end of the film, played by Joanna Haartti) who, although scarcely mentioned in this film, spent most of her life with the Moomin creator which I thought was a bit odd, but then, Tove did nothing conventionally. Why should her biopic?

REASONS TO SEE: Superb production design. Nifty soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Kinda slow through the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sexual content, nudity and a whole lot of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The official submission of Finland for Best International Film for the 2021 Oscars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/4/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miss Potter
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Saint Judy

Tiny Tim: King For a Day


The life of Tiny Tim wasn’t an easy one.

(2020) Music Documentary (Juno) Herbert “Tiny Tim” Khaury, Weird Al Yankovic, Justin A. Martell, Susan Khaury-Wellman, Johnny Pineapple, Richard Perry, Wavy Gravy, Bernie Stein, Eddie Rabin, Ron DeBlasio, Bobby Gonzalves, George Schlatter, Jonas Nekas, Artie Butler, Milt Friedwald, Martin Sharp, Harvey Mann, Tulip Stewart. Directed by Johan van Sydow

Tiny Tim exists, for the most part, in the national zeitgeist as an oddity of the 1960s, dismissed as a one-trick pony with his elfin smile, ukulele and falsetto vocals. He would die in 1995, mostly forgotten, playing in restaurants, circuses and middle school auditoriums, a sad figure living on the limelight that had long since faded away.

Stardom is a potent, addicting thing and Tiny Tim, bourn Herbert Butros Khaury, was a junkie. The son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father – an almost unheard-of combination back then and even so still today. His parents really didn’t know what to make of him, and were generally unsupportive of his ambitions and even when he had become a big star, were less than enthusiastic about his career choice.

This documentary, which debuted at the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival and is currently playing at the Florida Film Festival, features a good deal of archival footage of Tim’s television performances on the Tonight Show, Dick Cavett, Ed Sullivan and the like. At the height of his fame, he was a national icon who was something of a symbol of the flower power movement but a change in management put his career in the hands of those who would, in the words of his friend Johnny Pineapple, “send him out anywhere if it put a dollar in their pocket.” His career took a nosedive and as quickly as he he became a household name, he declined into obscurity.

The documentary utilizes excerpts from Tim’s diaries (read by Weird Al Yankovic, himself fairly conversant with the fickle finger of fame) which hints at a darkness in the performer’s soul. Apparently a very religious person (he lamented at one point that he felt as “a lost soul in Hell, crying out for help”) with some severe self-image issues as well as a pretty nasty case of depression, he kept his gentle smile and childlike demeanor showing even to the very end. There is also some effective black and white animated sequences.

The overall tone is bittersweet. I don’t know if you could term his life, as Todd Rundgren coined it, “the ever-popular tortured artist effect” but there’s no doubt that his life had more than his share of pain and suffering. If there’s a silver lining here, it does make you re-examine your attitude towards artists who might be outsiders, those whose music might be a bit different. Maybe their music isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s okay, but it should be remembered that every artists, regardless of who they are, put themselves out there and that is something to be respected, not ridiculed. I have to admit that my attitude towards Tiny Tim changed after watching this, and so did my attitude towards people like William Hung and others who may be chasing fame, but even if they don’t achieve it for long, should be treated with compassion rather than derision.

REASONS TO SEE: Truly affecting at times.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fairly typical music doc.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some discussions of child abuse.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tiny Tim’s wedding broadcast on The Tonight Show remains the second largest American television audience of all time as of this writing.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema (through April 18)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zappa
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street