Archive for January, 2014

The Moomins and the Great Flood of Moomin Mugs

Investopedia defines “speculative bubble” as “usually caused by exaggerated expectations of future growth, price appreciation, or other events that could cause an increase in asset values” and notes that this “drives trading volumes higher, and as more investors rally around the heightened expectation, buyers outnumber sellers, pushing prices beyond what an objective analysis of intrinsic value would suggest.”

Moomintroll mug.

Moomin mug. The author of this blog emphatically denies having modeled for the illustration.

Helsingin Sanomat has recently decided to blow up one special asset bubble, namely that of Moomin mugs. In case you’re not familiar with this particular investment vehicle, Moomin mugs are coffee mugs adorned with pictures of Moomins. You’ll find one or two (dozen) in almost every Finnish home, right next to the Mariskooli bowls and Savoy (aka Aalto) vases.

On 20 January, Helsingin Sanomat featured an article titled “The Moomin Mug Is Now An Investment Asset – Prices Have Risen By Several Factors Of Ten” in which the author says that “many consider Moomin mugs investment assets that can be bought with small change and sold later at a higher price.” Since HS is not Wikipedia, “many” is not adorned with a “[weasel word]” tag. The article then goes on to cherry pick a few prices from (see below) as indicative of Moomin mug valuations.

For some reason, Helsingin Sanomat hasn’t seen fit to mention that, the Finnish equivalent of eBay and the home of the Moomintroll mug trading frenzy, is part of the same group of companies as HS.

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to state that I do not personally own any Moomin mugs, even though I sip coffee out of one most mornings. If I were sitting on a huge collection, however, right about now would be the time when I would consider shifting the majority of my position to a different asset class.

How a Finnish Movie Begat an English Pop Song

Back in 1984, Music Box would from time to time play decent music in between Wham’s Last Christmas and King’s Love and Pride. I’d never heard of a band called XTC until one night, when they showed the video for Making Plans for Nigel. I was hooked, there was no going back. XTC remains one of my favourite groups ever.

On the same album (Drums and Wires, one of if not the band’s greatest) as Nigel, there’s a paean to all things motorized titled Roads Girdle the Globe. Here’s Andy Partridge’s recollection of how the song came to be:

I was staying up late one night, and I saw a foreign film on television, which was the main spark to writing “Roads Girdle the Globe.” (…) It’s a Finnish film from 1970, by a filmmaker who also wrote it. His name is Risto Jarva, and the Finnish title of the movie is “Bensaa Suonissa.” The English title was “Gas in the Veins.”

Pertti Melasniemi is already wearing the cheese helmet.

I can remember very little about the film, other than it’s about a car-crazy couple, I think. I think it’s a bit of a proto-“Crash” (…) So it was this early car-crazy couple film — car equals sex, you know. Watching this Finnish film, something clicked in my head: Wouldn’t it be greatly cynical to write a hymn to the motorcar? Because a lot of people treat cars like a religion. They have to have the correct car, all they talk about is their car, they watch car programs, they get car magazines…

Andy’s summary of Bensaa suonissa is quite accurate. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Risto Jarva died in a car crash getting back from the premiere of his last and most famous movie, Jäniksen vuosi (The Year of the Hare). Roads Girdle the Globe was later covered by the wonderful(ly) British duo Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin on their Up From the Dark album.

Not Coming to a Multiplex Near You

Jimmy Stewart trying out for the role of Holly in Red Dwarf.

Citizen Kane, long hailed as the Bestest Movie Ever in various polls, was finally beaten by Vertigo in BFI’s 2012 survey. Yes, I know I’m a bit late to the party–as usual; coming up next: The Wheel Poised to Bring On a New Era of Transportation. Anyway, I saw CK for the first time ever just a few months ago and you know what? It is pretty good. As is Vertigo. Not everyone agrees–Orson Welles said Vertigo indicates Hitchcock “was senile a long time before he died.” Quite the case of remarkably prescient sour grapes.

The fact that a 1941 movie is duking it out with a 1958 movie in a 2012 survey is part of the magic of cinema. In 1989 or so, I saw a production of David Pownall‘s play Master Class. Pentti Siimes as Stalin, Leif Wager as Shostakovich… those were the days. There is no way of revisiting the magic of that production; it’s gone. Movies, on the other hand, can be revisited time and time again, and most importantly, can be discovered by audiences born way after the movie.

Sometimes a belated viewing works against the movie. Friday the 13th is full of tired horror movie clichés, so much so that there’s very little else in between. Thing is, though, many of the clichés originated in this 1980 movie. A contemporary viewer cannot avoid recalling all the movies made since that have borrowed heavily from this admittedly badly dated, yet seminal horror flick. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth a viewing mainly from a historical viewpoint, but also because it’s pretty funny in places (I hope I won’t spoil too much by saying Kevin Bacon spearheads one of these scenes).

My New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to finally watch some of the movies I’ve wanted to see for a long time, but never got around to seeing so far. Some of these movies include Night and Fog (1955), Teorema (1968), The Seventh Seal (1957), Seven Samurai (1954)… and countless others. These won’t be showing at a multiplex near you or me–their business model caters to a different audience. As it rightfully should. For the moment, though, I’m perfectly happy hopelessly trying to catch up with the backlog of movies I know I’m likely to enjoy, knowing I won’t live long enough to clear up the backlog completely. The experience of seeing Avatar (see my earlier diatribe) did kind of put me off modern blockbusters, perhaps for life, but hope springs eternal, and I am earnestly looking forward to watching a decent recent movie as well one of these days. See you at the movies.