{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Film Year !

Without doubt, this was the film-year for me, although I was not able to see as much films as I intended to. My target was an astounding 200 movies this year, but I finished somewhere around 170 movies. But, I am more than satisfied and the quality of films was nothing short than amazing. I covered more or less all the directors that I wanted to watch and I will cover others (Werner Herzog, Douglous Sirk, Roberto Rossellini, Alain Resnais, Fritz lang, Mikio Naruse) shortly. Now I want to take on a much more difficult task, to compile a list of ten best movies, I saw this year. Also I will like to thank my friend Alok for guiding me in my movie choices. This type of guidance is very essential when you are just starting out.

This list will also be the list of my all-time favorite films as I came in touch of most of the excellent cinema this year only. One more thing, these types of lists are very dynamic, films keep falling off the list and some new ones push hard to secure a place, but I feel quite sure that most of the films in this list have a very stable place and some are extremely difficult to move. Lastly, as a usual customary, I am taking only one film per director. Here the list goes.

10. In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for love is a masterpiece in several ways. First and foremost, it creates a mood which only few films can aspire for and probably a fewer can even attain. Secondly, it touches the most dear theme of Wong Kar-wai, love-longing-and-lingering pain, in a way that is visually/thematically opposite of his other fast-paced films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. While Chunking express shakes on the music of California dreamin', In the Mood for Love just amorously sighs at every passing musical note. Thirdly, In the Mood for Love is an extremely big achievement when we talk of style in movies, and this style is so unique that even Kar-wai will flinch with a thought of copying it. This is one of those films that I would like to watch on big screen and allow myself to flow into that mood all over again.

9. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

I am not putting this film here because there should be one by Fassbinder, there are other profound reasons for that. Bitter Tears breaks clichés while its characters speaks them. While the characters fake love, loyalty and friendship, each and every nobler emotion is let bare in all its harrowing nakedness and the insult inflicted to these emotions by the people who practice them and invariably use (or misuse) them. Stylistically this film is a marvel of film making, set in a claustrophobic apartment of a fashion designer, Fassbinder looks for a made-up world in every nook and corner, revealing the ugliness in all its beauty.

8. Naked Lunch

Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is a meditation on insanity we live in and live by. We need it and at the same time we abhor it. Naked Lunch struck the right note when it went over my head and started questioning my rationality. While the characters are drawn from one mystery to other, and put in 'bizarrest' of situations and commit same horrible mistakes again to get into unending cycles, at a point the film seemed to suggest that sanity is overrated, human rationality is cannot cope with its irrationality when put in such situations. In a true Cronenbergian style, without going over the top, the film invites you to a horrible world, which is probably the world we live in.

7. A Taste of Cherry

Earlier I was fan of Abbas Kiarostami's Close-up, which is an excellent movie, but after seeing A Taste of Cherry, and after contemplation of both the movies, I got hooked up to the later more. It might be the theme of the movie that drew me closer to it. A Taste of Cherry talks about life and death, but unlike a Bergman film, here all the philosophy comes out quite naturally though common man uttering the words of wisdom. As always, Kiarostami reduces all the style and acting tricks, the films focuses on a man's journey to search for a helping hand to put some soil on his grave. His interactions with people from different strata of society, although don't reveal much about the man in question but they give profound insights on how people view life and death and that's where it gets a big nod from me.

6. Winter Light

When we think of a filmmaker busy with god, arguing about his absence and the suffering of people due to that, we picture Ingmar Bergman instantly. Bergman, who had a strict religious upbringing, became more skeptical about god as he grew up. Winter Light, thus seems to be his story of struggle with god and faith. This film, perhaps the best outcome of Bergman's tussle with god, almost perfectly explores the man-god relationship. It lacks the sweet optimism of Wild Strawberries, the grand set up of The Seventh Seal, the easy solution (Love is God and God is Love) of otherwise brilliant Through a Glass Darkly or the modernism of Persona, but Winter Light stands on its own where its characters look at each other with desperation and help and Bergman scrutinizes them. According to Bergman, his best, Winter Light, is masterfully crafted film with a stark black and white set up which brings out coldness of emotional isolation and distances between his characters and god.

5. Red

The final film by the Polish master contains all the thematic and stylistic flourishes he is known for, and works wonders as a final chapter. When I talk of optimism and goodness and how they both are essential to existence, I think of Red. Red talks about optimism in a very dark way, here optimistic outcomes are just a matter of probability, a coincidence, your goodness probably don't play a role in you being happy. But it may play a role in you being content. So its not that you can expect that things will go right if you are, but if you are good, you might feel satisfied that things probably will not go wrong because of you. Actually its complex to determine the reason for we being good and helping but what Kieslowski wants to say is that this complexity of life should not deter us from being good and helping to others. This is a theme which can fall in the mushy category by even a single mistake, but Kieslowski deftly brings the point of human connectedness and life's unexpectedness so tangentially that we see a rather cliched ending with awe and wonder.

4. Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet kicked out my long-time favorite movie, American Beauty off the list. Though based on similar themes, Blue velvet explores the subject matter much more deftly and darkly where evil lurks in everything which is possibly harmless and the Lynch-patented red curtains swing sonorously to the sound of Blue velvet, creating a hysterical atmosphere where anything dark is possible. All this surrealistic set up bring out the vast realm of unknown and the hidden and break apart the mush and goodness that the films shows in its fairy tale starting and the ending. Blue Velvet creates a everyday mystery of moral rot which is as shocking as it can get.

3. Nights of Cabiria

Fellini's direction, Masina's acting and a sublime climax makes Nights of Cabiria a ultimate experience for any cinephile. It was one of the films that takes you to character and hold you here and in the end makes you smile through tears as the character do. In a way Nights of Cabiria brings together two of Felini's other masterpieces together, it looks to be set up in the world near that of La Dolce Vita's with Cabiria in foreground, who might be thought of as the lost elder sister of La Strada's Gelsomina. This films has a very special place for me for some unexplainable reasons, it has that magic that penetrates the soul.

2. Breaking the Waves

A deeply depressing fairy tale is what it is, it shakes your faith and bends your idea of love and sacrifice to the limit that even seem illogical. Although I watched Breaking the Waves long time back, I only realized how great a film it is quite later when I saw its mastery of cold dissection of idea of love, romance, sacrifice and faith that the viewer is almost baffled in the end whether Lars von Trier is for or against these concepts. The last scene of bell ringing irritated me first since it bought a element of unknown spirituality in the film, but later I released the vast idea of that scene, which can be understood the either way, to believe in cause for which Bess sacrificed her life or just a mockery of the idea of eternal romance by a mortal. Breaking the waves, by no means is an easy watch and not particularly entertaining but everything is paid off when this masterpiece provide you transcendent moments and undiluted food for thought that you can chew long after last reels have rolled off.

1. Tokyo Story

Ozu's Tokyo story is the best film I watched this year, and I am quite sure it will remain so in years to come. I have watched Tokyo story five times this year and every time I watched it I found it deeply profound with all emotions understated and always pointing to the universal truth in the simplest of ways. At times this films looks like a preservation of past moments without the overabundance of sentimentality, at times it directs to the fact that everything is bound to change and at other times it shows the vicious cycle in which we are locked in. Every time we come close to Tokyo story we see the mastery of simple compositions where even the smallest of details is exactly right, generation break down with Ozu's extreme compassion to all his characters and small thoughtful moments, all done without any pretense or preaching. At this point I would like to go to the extreme to say that if you want to watch only one film in your lifetime, let it be Tokyo Story, others will surely follow.

Low on Reading !

This is a dumb post and I already feel stupid in doing so, but I will do it for the sake of showing to myself that if there is need for any new year resolution, it has to be reading more books. Here is a list of literature, I read in 2005.

1) Metamorphosis by Kafka (Re-Read)
2) In the Penal Colony by Kafka
3) A Hunger Artist by Kafka
4) Crime and Punishment by Dostoevski (Re-Read)
5) Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche
6) The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
7) Animal Farm by George Orwell
8) Short stories by Saki

This is all I read in 365 days and I feel sorry for myself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How to write a Self-help book.

I recently read some self-help books just to find out why people everywhere are happily becoming slaves to them. Here I would like to find out how self-help gurus do the job of making people numb to facilitate injection of self-help gyan into their veins. Not that it is a difficult job to create self-help but if there exists any method of breaking the self-help code, people can just find out that it is a easy assembly of distorted common sense that they could generate by themselves. By the end of this chapter you should be able to write one for yourself :)

There are some basic pillars on which any self-help is based. One of the pillars is to attack the rationality or to attack on the ability to think, because the manipulator always knows that if there is rationality left, he can't succeed in selling the shit. For this to be more effective, we need to bring a factor of unknown, black-box-tried-and-tested experience. This is like to support your argument that god is there by saying that you have met him, although no one has seen you both together. Ok, there is nothing wrong that you believe god because you say (true or false) that you had breakfast with him the other day. The problem comes when the manipulator generalize it to say believe in god because HE has met him. There is sure a broken link but since anything said with conviction in self help books require one more thing namely faith or power (or weakness) of believing, which is invariably baseless, makes most of the self-help logic work. Here comes extrapolation of rendezvous with god. There can be two logic here. I met god so I believe in god, or I believed in God so I met him. The second one is likely to be used by a successful manipulator because it's least susceptible to any checks and here faith comes priori. The first one will be considered a skeptic's approach and the concerned person will be given doses of faith till he becomes numb to come to the second logic or he will be deemed worthy of lacking in faith or humanity or whatever. So the point here is a manipulator proves using solid assumptions, here result come first and it can be easily explained with minor manipulations.

Since we are on this my-experience you-follow thing, there are interesting bits to observe. Some of the manipulators claim things which can't be verified like living in Himalayas or going for a long spiritual journey. The key is to quote the most unverifiable and the most mysterious experiences one can possibly have or just think of. This experience domain also involves using experience of others (preferably dead or mythological characters) and interpret them with your own dead logic which is indeed based on weak astrology or Feng shui or numerology or just faith. Now when you find Aristotle or Einstein being quoted by the manipulator, take a deep breath and cling to your own faith :)

A related thing is cause and effect, which can be used very effectively by a manipulator. For this we can take a random example. "A hungry child happily ate a loaf of bread". Now coming to self help domain, we can play with cause and effect with almost infinite possibilities. This simple sentence will be twisted as follows "If you give a loaf of bread to a child who is hungry from two days, it makes him happy and that positive energy in turn makes you happy and helps you to shine in the world of stress and competition". Effectually I can fight stress by a loaf of bread. Now this can be further extrapolated with special effects of faith. This becomes "If you believe that giving a loaf of bread to a crying homeless child who is hungry for several days , makes the child happy, and that happiness in turn will radiate back to make you happy and content then this belief with lead you to bear any stress and competition in the world and will eventually make you successful". See this is even better as now we don't spare a loaf of bread, belief and faith can do wonders.

Since all this need to be dumped to people, an able manipulator will direct it to the masses. For doing so, try to find out what people want, they want instant relief from the problems they are facing or if they are not facing any tangible problem the poor souls just want to be happy or happier in any given scenario. Self help can be for two different segments, one who feel they are ill and the one who are potential patients. Lets cover only potential patient here, not only its more interesting, but its takes care of the currently ill people also. Now try to fabricate a recipe to make people happy. For this a manipulator will make a stereotype and break it by making another stereotype which he will vehemently claim, is better suited for happiness based on some statistics, or research or personal experience or just faith. First make people believe that the problem is universal so that they can take any general remedy. It is even better to let the people believe that if they don't think about the problem, it will die its natural death. By now, in 50% cases problem will not even exist, it must have taken form of some other problem or left to die in darkness, for those people who are too dumb to still look for some solution, give them a dumber solution, like think positive, inhale positive energy, keep positive attitude, choose the right person and do the right thing and while doing all this don't forget to believe in yourself and follow your dreams and be happy till the there is love and insatiable positive energy floating in this universe.

Now we know how problems are fabricated and all-purpose answers are assigned to them. Here comes the part which is automatic, implementation of the solution. The best solution in self help is one which need not be implemented, just reading it should do. Lets see some classic implemented solutions. You must have seen people uttering such lines on the back pages of the best selling self-help books. "After reading this book, I felt that there is so much happiness in this world, we just have to reach out for it" or "This inspirational tour-de-force brilliantly manages to capture the truth of life and the basics of happiness" or "I found real spiritual pleasure in reading this enlightened discourse which is recommended to every one who want to know the little secrets of success" or 'Upon Reading this book I realized all the hidden potential within me and a deep feeling that refuse to be a victim". I can go on and on. The crux here to make the recipes feel-good two-minute cheesy tricks and their implementation just another way of restating the problem itself, which the crazy-to-be-happy-people will happily play on themselves.

You must have got it by now, self help starts with a premise that every problem has a solution. Then they go to the extreme to say that there are some generic solutions. But the worst part of all this crap is it stops us from thinking for ourselves and acting according to it. We start to work on some shitty so-called tried and tested formulae, and stop our top floor processing just for day-dreams of happiness and comfort. A manipulator is a guy who can make fortune out of mediocrity and we let him do that, trying to climb ladders of success by feeling good, trying to work out a relationship with fitting in the self help guru proclaimed stereotypes or by using Feng Shui scented paper roses, or trying to fight world hunger by having a balanced diet. The next time you catch hold of a self-help book, tear every even numbered page, it will make the same stupid sense as it made before. You can use these torn pages to clean racks to stack some real books.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

While my TV gently weeps...

I haven't posted for quite some time mainly because I have nothing to post, although I may give many tangible reasons such as I was on leave and went to my hometown or I was not feeling well. Anyway, in this duration I watched lots of television, and I must say that the idiot box has came a long long way. Earlier TV was just a bitter-sweet tiny bitch but now, in its new incarnation, is a compelling whore, who is master of all those tricks for which she is eternally known for. TV now can get on your nerves, more often than before, and is trying 'real' hard to capture 'real' people in 'reality' shows and every news channels have their 'self generated' news, trying to find so-called truth. Gone are the days when news was about happenings and events, now its about anything that you can fabricate. News and entertainment are so mixed together that sometimes I am baffled whether to believe or just get amused. The systematic injection of self-help is also put into TV veins where all the winner invariably proclaim that they believed in themselves and preach the same too. They also give wet-eye-oscar-speeches thanking their whole family tree, one of them has gone far enough to thank her unborn child, now that's pretty far-sighted.

Now there is a new category of people in TV, they are the reality show judges and game show hosts. They may not be perfect but they all thrive for perfection and scold and shout at each other and the poor participants and that's where my sadistic instincts kicks in and I get hooked to their gross exchanges. The time is near when we will have awards for 'Most Fierce Judge' and 'Most Emotional Host'. The other day I was seeing some of the judges sobbing when some participants where thrown out of the show, that reminded me of the fact that unless until every one in the show and those who are watching the show have not dropped a tear or two, the purpose is not fulfilled. These funny weeping shots are now part and parcel of any TV channel, turn on the TV and it will start weeping in all its capacity. Either the participants who lost will cry or those who win will and there are some special purpose people on the show who will weep every time someone else in the world will laugh, just to keep the emotional balance intact. They are usually kept as a contingency plan, but they seem to work full-time. If these tears are not able to satiate the producers and viewers some of the game show hosts will try their best to tickle the tear glands and the directors will simultaneously pass orders to play the saddest of the music of the world to indicate the participants that time has come to show their emotional talent. Tears are the ultimate criteria of the reality we witness in our bedrooms. Sometimes I see the full show without a tear and I notice a fall in the TRP ratings the next day. Gone are the days of Saas and Bahu, they look pretty harmless and meek now. Shortly those serials will be named classics, I already feel so.

As the tears go by, we see how easily we are manipulated whenever possible by any Tom Dick and Harry and how happily (of course with tears) we do so. To do so, now every show has the 'junta' deciding who will be the winner apart from the sore judges. We the people, at last, have the right to vote and decide. One of my relatives has a huge SMS bill and she believes that she has played a major part in the crowning the Indian Idol, now she is busy buying CDs of the same, I think she was relatively harmless in the past when she used to record her favorite serials to watch them till eternity. I don't know where all this will end, if at all. Last week I found a dubbed Japanese show on Pogo, called Takeshi's Castle where people are hit hard but they never weep or cry, I think I will stick to it. You know now what I meant when I said I have nothing to post.