The Long Goodbye

Film screenings of the National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI) came to a closure at the end of last year at Eerikinkatu’s art deco cinema Orion in Helsinki. The long goodbye took the whole autumn. Maybe the most special event was the Grande finale, the screening of four Italian films that took all night in mid-December.

9.42 PM I leave my friends’ party annoyingly early to be in time at the Orion theatre. I have bought my ticket beforehand to make sure I have time to go to toilet and to be one of the first ones getting into the auditorium. If I’m going to sit in Orion all night long, I won’t make it anywhere else than on my regular seat. Unfortunately, I take the wrong bus and end up at Siilitie metro station instead of Sörnäinen. Due to that, I miss at least one train.

10.20 PM In any case, I arrive early enough at Orion. Next to the outdoor stands a billboard with miserable words: “ORION KAVI CINEMA FINAL COUNTDOWN 16 DAYS”. There are only a few people with me in the lobby. A fellow film fan sitting on a bench nearest to the auditorium’s door makes space for me.

11.10 PM The show begins. Curators of the night’s screening, Lauri Lehtinen and Antti Suonio, give the opening speech. Lehtinen asks us not to direct our anger at them about KAVI’s activity ending in Orion. They are as sad about the downfall of the cinema as the film fans in the auditorium, almost a full house of people. “Orion as a venue has made it possible to show quite bizarre copies. That’s impossible anywhere else, no matter how good technical quality they can provide.” I can’t disagree, the new Kino Regina screens films according to the opening hours of the main library Oodi. One cannot any longer go to the late-night screenings on Tuesdays after a yoga class. Also, the Oodi library seems to be designed only for children, so it is hard to imagine Kino Regina as a place to see films like tonight’s screening.

Fellow film fans sit back. The guy next to me opens his small blueberry vodka bottle and takes a swig. Hissing sounds of opening beer cans can be heard when the lights turn off.

11.35 PM As the first film we see The Night of the Devils (1972). According to the excited curators, we might be the first audience that sees the film on the screen. Most likely for a horror film, this one is not short of symbolism. At first, the camera zooms into the main character’s eyes and simultaneously the scene switches from a mental hospital to a sunny autumn day. A man is driving through a forest until the car falls into a ditch. After straying in the forest, he finds a house. Of course, he has to stay for an undetermined time, just to follow a strange family fighting. The family is cursed by a witch. Our protagonist falls in love with one of the daughters of the family. He would like to save her, but then the whole cottage collapses into a scene of a brutal witch-hunt.

00.48 AM The first film ends. Groups of chatty people trickle out for a smoke on Eerikinkatu street. A grocery behind the corner is open until five in the morning, but it has already run out of coffee. I’m not sure whether anyone has told them that there is a bacchanal going on for way longer than they are open. Back in Orion, the toilet queue reaches almost to the entrance. I finally return to my seat with a cup of coffee. In the front row, I notice someone’s Airam vacuum bottle. That’s really admirable! I also remember noticing someone having a can of tomato juice in his plastic bag in the lobby. That being said, there are not so many people any more on the balcony. Spending the whole night watching films might sound cozier than it is. Reality is more or less dozing off, sleeping over the films one wanted to see, stuffy air and the exhausted reality of the next day.

There is no more air to breathe on the balcony. Noticing that takes me back to last July’s heat wave. I sat on exactly the same seat in Orion, watching Inland Empire by David Lynch. The appeal of the film must have something to do with its length. During the three hours Lynch tires the viewer out by way of an endless flood of meta levels, triviality, and changing tensions – then suddenly, he throws at the viewer’s eyes something that not only represents some frightening imagery but is more like a look into the void of evil. In the bottom of the void hide violence and evil.

In comparison to Inland Empire by Lynch, The Night of the Devils is enjoyable. Film blood is red and thick like acrylic paint. Everything, even if it were unexplained, is thoroughly clear. The next film is called Eye in the Labyrinth (1972). The giallo thriller turns out to be a lazy LSD trip with twists inspired by psychoanalysis. What is characteristic of the giallo genre, plot twists are hard to follow, the murderer stays unknown almost until the end, and the main character does need to face her trauma to reach the final solution. Eye in the Labyrinth provides seventies aesthetics and experimental spirit.

I guess that many people around me in the auditorium have a longer relationship with Orion than I do. The first time I visited here was in the spring of 2013. I remember it was a seminar with a screening. I truly found Orion when following film festivals. During the last year I chose as my regular favorite seat the one on the balcony, row 2, seat 1. Its true advantage was the dim hallway light that made possible to take notes even during the darkest scenes on the screen. The view down to the auditorium is the best on the balcony: the wide ceiling lamp reflects the screen. And I can’t forget mentioning the pillars on the balcony – they support not only roof but the whole world. At least that’s how I feel when I see them from the corner of my eye. Even the squeaking seats don’t really disturb you. Problems only begin if someone goes and gets a seat booster, since it leads other people to go and get one, too. It doesn’t even matter whether they see the screen or not – if someone else has a booster, you have to follow. After all, the people in the front row are now sitting upper and you need to get a booster yourself to see the screen properly.

I had my warmest relationship with Orion during the Lynch series. Every time when I left the cinema, I was excited in a strange way. However, the light summer nights calmed me down. Every single time it was hard to readjust to the city, the crowd, and the lost feeling of peace. On the other hand, Eerikinkatu has always offered me shelter by its quietness. Even if there are always people sitting on the Corona bar’s terrace. They are still more like a part of the Orion experience. It hurts me deeply to know that Corona will close its doors this spring. In terms of many iconic closed bars, demolished buildings and places that exist only in memories, it is easy to console myself with the fact that those places had already gone years before I got to know them. In terms of KAVI’s screenings in Orion or Eerikinkatu’s bars that will soon close down, everything is different: what is lost was part of myself, part of us. I don’t want to think that someone has never visited in Orion, or that there may be someone who doesn’t even miss the nights spent on the balcony or can’t understand my sorrow.

02.59 AM Someone has added a speech bubble onto the poster of Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977): “Hold on for a second… I’m coming…” I would have thought that rigid men in the Western film would make me snooze. I was surprisingly gripped by the earlier Italian films. Even the Western The Ruthless Four (1968) doesn’t spend too much time on showing gold washing and crawling in a mine. Even if sometimes the main character’s monomaniac desire to return to his lost gold loot seems to be frustrating. That doesn’t matter since the plot is full of action, everyone is so suspicious, and one could easily drown into Klaus Kinski’s eyes of a bad boy.

05.20 AM The film comes to its end at almost five o’clock. I’m happy I decided to spend the previous break by going to get a water bottle from the shop nearby. It would be too late now. Fresh air is enjoyable while I go to the toilet queue through Eerikinkatu. Someone nails it: “Services in the area are closed now.” That’s true, even the late-night restaurant next door, Eerikin Pippuri, is closed. Still there are newcomers arriving to the cinema. A guy stands behind me in the toilet queue. I know him from somewhere. He tells his friend how he has been in Corona for a couple of beers during the previous film. He seems to be happy with his decision. I guess that he might think that the rest of us are suffering from numb buttocks and snoozing off. Back in the auditorium, people are anything but tired. There can be heard a lively hum of conversation. It doesn’t even feel like being so late awake.

Even if I have tried hard, I haven’t made my way to Midnight Film Festival in Sodankylä. That festival and this night in Orion somehow share a similar idea. In Sodankylä, people are watching films at the time of the year when the sun doesn’t set at all: people are just watching films without caring if is it day or night, they drink beer, probably blueberry vodka as well. During this bacchanal in Orion the night is at its longest. For these brave people it doesn’t matter.

Lauri Lehtinen and Antti Suonio come back to the front to say a couple of words about the last film, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. As Lehtinen explains, before its first screening in Finland, censors cut twelve minutes out of film, but for this time, even those scenes have been put back to their right places. Back in the day, this film was the only cannibal film that was allowed to be distributed in cinemas in Finland. The viewers needed to pay a separate punishment tax in addition to ticket price, though, if they wanted to see that sort of obscenities.

The film is very straightforward. “Let’s make love later, now I have something more important to do”, Emanuelle says to the professor she meets at the beginning of the film – and a few moments later she has a spontaneous outdoor intercourse with his boyfriend. Due to a cranky storyline, Emanuelle and the professor head for the Amazon to find a cannibal tribe. Of course, there is a nun with the travelling group.

06.44 AM I am overcome with tiredness. I close my eyes for a second. The first images offered by the subconscious mix with the tedious and gloomy film. I try to sit more straight but can’t find an uncomfortable enough position in the soft bench to stay awake. I open my eyes wider. Finally, I have to put a beer can to the floor. Moments later I doze off. The next time I wake up, the film has proceeded to the final battle. In comparison with all the superficialities in the film, violence is unexpectedly dark and heavy. It reminds me of some old Bond movies: the final battle takes way too long compared to how little any character in the film means to me.

This night has still been a meaningful one. As I have experienced the same many times in film festivals, tonight too, the four films start to mix with each other. They have surprisingly lot in common. For example, they all use dazzling by a mirror (or in the Western one, by a sheriff’s star). I recall the detail when watching an Italian film called Cinema Paradiso (1989) on a New Year’s Eve. In the film, they project a film by a mirror on the wall of a building by a market square, so that everyone in the village has a chance to enjoy the film. Cinema Paradiso catches fire on the very same night. I’m feeling sad for Orion, even if it will be only renovated.

07.20 AM The final credits begin to roll. We are rather awake and sound. The crowd trickles into the stairway that has become so familiar during the night and in the course of several years. Outside the building, the streets have been covered by frost. One has to walk carefully not to fall down. I stop by in the food market serving all day long and continue to Kamppi bus station. I was only pleased with the delay in the night’s timetable, since there are not too many places to spend hours between six and eight on a Sunday morning even in Helsinki city center. Now I can just walk straight to the right bus. Other passengers seem embarrassingly fresh looking. First I wake up in Hämeenlinna. The second time I wake up when the bus driver announces: “And now: Tampere bus station.”

Ville Hämäläinen