Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Don’t cry for me, Finland

Few movies seem to divide people in passionate disagreement more than Alan Parker’s 1996 adaption of the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Evita. People who don’t like this movie don’t simply dislike it. They detest it with all their heart. I’m not really sure why. It’s just something that I have observed. Personally, my only viewing of it was when it was first released 12 years ago, so my memory isn’t crystal clear, but I know that I enjoyed it. But then I had enjoyed the stage version and the various soundtrack versions and was also fascinated by the true story it was based on.

While not obsessed with this movie, I do notice that every so often a detail about it will come to my attention and surprise me. For instance, at some point I noticed that Juan Perón’s mistress in the movie was played by Andrea Corr. Back in 1996 I would have barely been aware of who Andrea Corr was, but in Ireland she is well known as a member of the eponymous musical group the Corrs. Although mainly known as a singer, she has actually also had acting roles in more than a couple of movies. Five years before Evita, she played Colm Meaney’s daughter in The Commitments, the beloved Irish movie that also featured the onscreen debut of Glen Hansard (of the Frames), who went on to star in the Oscar-winning Once.

More recently, it came to my attention that Juan Perón’s defense minister in the movie was played by a man named Gary Brooker. Mr. Brooker was not somebody of whom I was aware, at least by name, and in hindsight that seems strange. After all, four decades ago his distinctive voice was pretty much inescapable, and it has come and gone out of my earshot ever since. But lately he has come to seem like an old friend, thanks to a book I recently finished.

The story of how the book came to my attention begins typically enough—at least for me. That is, it began with a somewhat irate email. It was from a Danish fellow named Claes Johansen. He was prompted to communicate with me after coming across a movie review I had written. Completist readers of this web site will be aware that I hear from Danes periodically and it is usually to chastise me. Usually, it is to berate me for insulting the entire Danish nation for dismissing the Dogma 95 movement. But Claes was writing to protest my review of a Finnish movie. That review of mine has inspired protests before, but usually from Finns. The irony for me was that the review in question, which Claes read at the beginning of 2008, was written by me way back in 1987. Yes, this website is so old that I was actually generating content for it years before there was actually a World Wide Web.

The movie in question was a three-hour-plus war epic directed by Rauni Mollberg and called Tuntematon sotilas. The English title was The Unknown Soldier. It followed the experiences of a group of young soldiers during World War II. I saw it at the 1987 Seattle International Film Festival, and two decades later my man recollection of the screening was that it began with the projectionist loading a print with French subtitles, prompting howls and protests for the audience. Personally, I was okay with this because I could actually read French. But the screening was stopped, and a programmer came out to explain that they did have another print with English subtitles, but that it was shorter and less complete than the French version. And, the non-francophone majority in the audience won out and the English version was the one we watched.

The movie was impressive, and I bestowed the film with a high ranking of three out of four stars. But no one has ever written me to say, hey, good job for giving a high rating to that great Finnish movie. That is because my written comments were rather flip. The fact is that I was not prescient enough to anticipate the World Wide Web, and so I naively assumed that what I was writing would be purely for the amusement of my co-workers and not necessarily be read by people around the world for decades to come. As with all my comments on the films I saw at that film festival, I was going for an amusing style somewhere between columnist Dave Barry and Joe Bob Briggs, a pseudonym for a popular reviewer of drive-in movies at the time. The last thing in my head was that people in Finland would be reading it.

In his email, Claes accurately pointed out how devastating World War II was for Finland and how small nations like Finland were essentially hapless victims of the power drives of more powerful countries. His message culminated with this: “There is an arrogance in your review which is typical of the view people in big countries often have of smaller nations. It may be funny to you but in fact it is a form of school yard bullying taken to a higher level.” After that, what could I do but plead that the offending piece had been written two decades earlier was essentially a youthful indiscretion? (Works for heterosexual politicians.)

Claes and I continued corresponding, and a slight irony emerged. I assumed that he was writing me from Denmark, and I expect that he thought he was writing me in America. But it turns out that he and I have both been living in Ireland for years. I also learned that Claes’s literary talents are not limited to berating arrogant American web critics. He is an accomplished author, having written a couple dozen books, mainly novels and mainly in Danish. But he is also a musician who has written a couple of books in English about seminal English rock groups. I’ve acquired both of them and even managed to finish reading one of them. It is called Procol Harum: Beyond the Pale. And that is how I came to realize that lead singer and main composer (collaborating with lyricist Keith Reid) of that group was the same man who played the defense minister in Evita. If you are any kind of serious fan of Procol Harum, then you probably already know this book, as it seems to be as complete as any book could possibly be about the era, context, history and players of the Procol Harum story. For one with only a casual interest in the topic, it might seem way too detailed, but I found it a compelling read that provided a pleasant memory trip back to that strange era that was the 1960s and the early 1970s.

For some reason, I long had a blind spot about the musical movement that was English rhythm and blues. Like everyone at the time, I was certainly aware of mega-groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and was very aware of where they came from. But when it came to more hard-core rhythm and blues groups, in my mind they existed in a nebulous world that was not pinned down geographically. To the extent that I thought about where groups like Procol Harum came from (and here I am being an arrogant American again), I think I just assumed that they were from the U.S. In fact, I distinctly recall thinking that the voice I heard on “A Whiter Shade of Pale” must be African-American. I suppose in some way this is a tribute to the group, which consciously drew its inspiration from indigenous American artists.

Evita is the only movie to date in which Gary Brooker has appeared. But his voice and/or melody has graced numerous movies, as “A Whiter Shade of Pale” has been used on the soundtracks of films for years, in everything from The Big Chill to Withnail & I to Little Voice. Years ago I bought a “best of” compilation of Procol Harum tracks, but still I did not realize the depth and variety of the group’s catalog. Correspondingly, I have been augmenting my CD collection. And my book collection. I have already begun reading Claes’s book about the Zombies.

-S.L., 15 May 2008

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive