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

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why I Lie : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Lie

I know, it is not even an original title for a post, but these are not the things one should lie about. Lying, as you will come to know in few flimsy paragraphs, is a true art form, and allows use of all the humanly possible senses and raises wide spectrum of philosophical questions involving morality (hi-brow), love (middle-brow) and friendship (low-brow), not to any depth though.

I should make this clear, before we go any further that the act of lying, which we will be discussing here, is not an act of making fraudulent lies, lying about facts, lying to back stab etc, all those big Shakespearean lies are excluded here, with due respect. The lies in question are humble, harmless, non-abrasive and innocent(?). Its a thin line, but to proceed any further, you should know the basic difference. For example, to lie to your smoke-buddy because you don't want him to accompany you to the smoking area. There can be two hidden reasons, one is - you have two cigarettes and you want to smoke both, second is you want to smoke alone today. The second one is perfectly justified, but not the first one. One more example, you don't want to discuss a new film with a friend to avoid any unnecessary tension, one reason might be that you know that s/he has very different taste, the second reason might be that you feel s/he has no taste at all. To me, both the reasons are justified. The thicker the friendship, the more they are justified, and in case of love interests, it immoral and even illegal not to lie.

I generally consider myself a truthful person, but I know I have lied more than anybody else I know, with more perfection and in the things that matter. If someone asks me, have you seen/read 'Da Vinci Code', I have developed a unique power to say yes with a blank dummy face and a confident half-smile that doesn't convey a thing but it has the capacity to stop any more discussion on 'Da Vinci Code' not only then but in future too. The complex facial expression is a victorious mixture of I-am-not-scared-a-bit, of-course-we-can-discuss, we-know-we-will-agree, I-know-what-you-know and whats-the-use-then/life-is-beautiful. The whole point is to miss the point of 'Da Vinci Code', the point that the other person wants to discuss for few more minutes. Art of lying helps us leap in time and space, it can be applied to evade, elude, to escape and jump over fences, to minimize unpleasant social times and spaces. It helps in mandatory socializing even if you have an anti-social bent of mind. Prompt lies aid to quickly 'snail in' with smile, the only refuge of confused modern man.

I vividly remember, in the late night bout of guilt reduction and being candid, I admitted to a good friend of mine about my lying powers and my liberal views about it. He felt extremely betrayed and instantaneously lost faith in me, and asked me, have I ever read 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad'. It was a horrible moment with such distrust in the room. I still lament that night. Its like even little hope has deserted me. I have heard people saying that lying is a only hope for a married man. That night, I realized that even for a lonely bachelor, its quite a thing. Also, that night I learned not to confess such things to anyone. They will not understand. Mixing two moralities always result in guilt and useless justifications.

After that night, the seed of guilt was set in my conscience. He accused me of snobbery and arrogance, which due to the condition I was in, I duly accepted. Every time my phone rang and I spoke of being busy in a meeting, my heart quivered and the clear soul of my late-night ex-friend hovered up in perfect circles. I almost lost my innocence. In an honest effort not to lie, I became silent. When you don't speak, your mind works faster and its good enough to kill a person of lower intellect like me. Those days, when asked about 'The Fountainhead', I used to wish desperately I could lie with blank face that I have read it, that could close the discussion without fuss. But not... 'Ayn Rand' yells aloud "Money is the barometer of a society's virtue" What pain and agony !

It took me months to recover from it. The breakthrough came when I decided not to lie, pick all the calls and discuss things to death. I realized that to be a truthful person in the worldly sense, one should not lie plainly but try to give reasons and argue i.e. simply talk and eventually turn more bitter. But the problem faced by people of limited intellect is quite a dilemma. They have to eventually lie. Its also less hurtful to both the parties. Also, more interestingly, lies spoken in the beginning are more terse and simple, than the meandering, complex lie that are spoken in the end, out of frustration and urgent need of self-vindication. So I understood the wisdom of one more cliché, the sooner, the better.

So, the question remains, why I lie, other than the shut-yourself-up to shut-the-world-out explanation. I know I discuss mundane things for hours but resort to lying if someone discuss their kids or car with unwarranted seriousness. I think, lying titillates. I lie because I have a thinking inertia. I don't want to think for things, I don't care, except in satirical terms. Also, lying gives rest to the lobes, especially to the frontal one, and a little quality recreation to senses too. It gives a carefree, childish pleasure which is unknown to the over-rational, civilized world. Lying gives a dual delight of a little job accomplished and a little time salvaged. Even for things I like, I hate juvenile enthusiasm (I myself show it often though). I hate if someone says 'Kurosawa-saan is sooo great'. Inattentive, inexperienced, popular fan-boyish truths are any day more dangerous than lies. I think, everyone should pass a 'Fat Girl' or 'Weekend' or 'Naked Lunch' or 'Hour of the Wolf' test first, before saying so. My better self is extremely snobbish about truths. When there are so less well-meant, non-hurting truths, one has to fall back on harmless lies to live in peace.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Openings and The Endings.

The Openings

1. Woyzeck : Nabokov said in his essay on Metamorphosis that 'beauty plus pity' is the closest we can get to a definition of art. If it is so then this is the example. Also its my favorite Herzog film, although I haven't seen many.

2. The Player : And they talk about long shots and "great" Hollywood stories.

3. Persona : This opening sequence alarms you that it is not a easy road ahead.

The Endings (Spoilers Ahead)

1. Nights of Cabiria. I think, the most humane and heart breaking theme of art is 'misfits having desires', and how they are brutally crushed by the fitter tribe. Fellini adds another dimension.

2. Blue : Is this what they mean when they say "pull all the strings together" !

3. Sunset Blvd : Another misfit having desire. Beauty plus pity !

Monday, February 12, 2007

How to watch a film !

These instructions are based on shallow (and unmarried) personal experience and not to be taken seriously. These particulars should not be generalized, identified with or anyway followed, except in some formal experimental tests, all these experiments may not be dangerous in a literal way but if taken with (or without) thought can be permanently damaging. Dont care about this self important disclaimer or the similar post that follows, it is for me.

There is a definitive art of film watching, which is different from movie watching. Movie watching is an impersonal affair (watch with friends and pop the corns, no bother). A Fight Club comes as a movie watching exercise, but a Tokyo Story is essentially film watching experience (watch alone, no bother). If you are watching a film, you need to feel completely, utterly free. Free to pause and play, to dance and think, in between the film. To achieve this freedom, some ground work needs to be done. To start with, switch off your mobile phone, for the weak-hearted, we recommend to put them in silent mode at first, and then move to complete switch off mode (It a social exercise also, which will make you realize, that there are no calls that you can't miss, or in some cases it reveals something more basic, nobody calls you). If anyone calls and you accidentally pick the phone, say you are in a meeting, people understand this reason more than anything else, and will give you Chichikovian respect too.

Once you have your mobile switched off, take (or take out) some of things that you feel distract you. Eat and piss, or take a smoke. Take pen-paper if you want to take notes. Never bother that you have to watch the full film in one go, assume you are free to push pause, assume you are free to think astray (forced concentration is obviously not the key here), assume that you are free to not understand anything, assume that electricity wont go off, and a friend wont knock your door. Be comfortable, don't care, shut the world off, in short, - I know how much I hate to say this - be bourgeois (although we all already are).

Always choose the films like a daily routine. Also, don't be afraid to see a bad film, they are much more educative. If I have Mouchette, Late Spring and Naked for a holiday, I would like to see Mouchette in morning after light breakfast, Late Spring will go after lunch, lying on the bed with few hankies handy and Naked with go with evening smoke. Any meeting with friends in between will spoil the experience, go alone to eat or better order at home or even better skip meals (take a heavy dinner to shut up the hunger, and sleep). One can fill up the time between films by reading about the films in general (not those specific films) or see bollywood songs on youtube or Zee Classic (alienation effect). One can dance also, since there is no physical exercise for the whole day. Although it doesn't look like, the idea is to have a healthy diet !

Now start the film. Don't think that you have to see the film or the special features first. Complete anything interesting/inviting/distracting and then move to the film. And in case you have some "scenes" to look in that film, look at them first, don't let them deflect you, vent them off in the beginning like Godard did in Contempt with Bardot, and more importantly don't feel guilty about such pleasures, because now your "soul" is clean. Once you are fine to proceed, switch off the lights, and restart it.

A good viewer must betray himself. He must go against his sex, sexual desires, his taste, prejudices and denounce any prejudgements. This is a way to expand and appreciate and understand more, and at times to get the subtlest of ideas. Most of the times deviance fine-tunes the existing self, makes it more tolerant and free. A Bad Education demands to appreciate and understand Gael García Bernal in all the three avatars. A Teorema calls for even more. One should be like the assaulted white actors of 'Be Black' campaign from Brian DePalma's marvelously Godardian Hi, Mom! , who say "It was a good exercise, Now we know how is it to be Black" (Although in the film, it is loaded with irony). Some may call it masochistic, but don't care much for yourself, you will survive.

Although it depends on the film, in general, watch the film for first 35 mins with total devotion and no questions (just receive the images, eat with eyes). The point is to shut the brains, delay any questions as of now. Give it some time to dress up/dress down. Give the director time and space to clean or fill your mind. And this is one reason I don't watch films with friends who invariably become uneasy when they have invested 30 mins of their ohh-so-precious time in the film, and start demanding what not. Not that a good film will give you a peak around 35 mins, but it is like the gestation period. The film might or might not work after that, but these 35 minutes of pure devotion are absolutely essential. This devotion should ideally be given to members of all class and caste, no snobbery is entertained before the flickering screen.

After you have given some time to the film, it starts to reveal itself. The experience of the movie can be equated to taste or tone of music or color. A good film pays off in humble quanta. The pay off can be like the long conversation between the country priest and countess in Diary of Country Priest, or a devastating look on the face of Vera in Vera Drake. It may be the flash of brilliance in the Brechtian end sequence of Body Double. It can be the pleasure to just watch Cabiria through her journey. The returns from a film are not calculative, they are more of intuitive. When we see one scene for the first time, our first response is based on our intuition, a little later follows the judging part, and much later the deconstruction part (thematically/ideologiocally, technically (sound, camera, action) and inference-wise), which is then re-constructed into a complex response. If the intuitive part and the last complex response are almost same, we feel the honesty of the image that we saw, we feel that we are not manipulated. Otherwise, pretension comes forth. In my self-made, self-satisfying, simplistic theory, I feel that a director starts similarly, he imagines a scene based on intuition, then deconstructs and constructs to check its integrity. The problem with this approach is that most of the times deconstruction is not always honest/correct on a viewer's part, and he ends up getting something that director never meant. This is the peril of interpretation. Is any work of art, signifies how/what we construct(or deconstruct or analyze) it, or what was its original meaning or intent, I am not sure of. But there is a level of interpretation, and cross references, and a viewer should know what and how to construe, for his own benefit, otherwise these interpretation can be merely self serving delusions. In all this, we should accept the crime and responsibility of flattening out the images to map our brain patterns as much as we accept that we are free to do that.

The first impression may not be the most thoughtful one, but the most honest one, and usually tell you something about yourself. Also, we must know that there is difference between - to appreciate a work and to love it. Don't be scared to love, even if you know you can not appreciate it or it is not appreciated by those whose opinion you deeply regard. It is one of the many pleasures of film watching. Also, try to appreciate whatever you can, as cinema is a mixed art. Don't ignore the visual design of a film that doesn't work thematically. Sometimes I feel bothered by the overuse of uncinematic tools like narration (like in Sans Soleil, a great and insightful film though but at times the otherwise evocative narration is too guiding) or the overdose of cinematic tools (like in Theo Angelopoulos' The Weeping Meadow, a potential good film but we can equate its staged, precise and self important imagery to something like fatally smug poetry). At times, I wonder why so much importance is given to the philosophical and moral implications of a film than to its visual language (visual language can in itself be manipulative thematically), much like the discrimination between cerebral and carnal desires, as if they are entirely different.

Once the film finishes, don't rush to get the conclusion and try to find what it meant (I do so shamelessly). Admit if you did not understand it. Big critics have done that. It might hit you one odd night, rest assured a good film, like a ghost, doesn't leave you that easily. As you sleep, and close the day, think about the scene that you liked, and close your eyes.

One of the properties of good film is that its not easily recommendable to everyone. One end up using disclaimers like "You may not like it", "It may be shocking", "There is no plot, if you are looking for one" etc etc. A good film can be colorless, odorless and inert for an inattentive soul. A good film should have spirit to miss the tempting opportunities and heart to hear and see (or rather show) the quotidian. A good film is willing to take risks, walk off the line like Fat Girl does. It can be accused of being a big bore, with either no end result (Chungking Express) or with a shocking ending (Audition) or being too outlandish to stomach (Naked Lunch / Crash), but it tells/reminds you something about you, or the world you live in and beyond or about its own form and flesh.

All said and done one must remember what Tarkovsky said:

It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all. We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses. Art only has the capacity, through shock and catharsis, to make the human soul receptive to good. It's ridiculous to imagine that people can be taught to be good...Art can only give food - a jolt - the occasion - for psychical experience.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

On Marriage

From The Importance of Being Earnest

Jack: How utterly unromantic you are!

Algernon: I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. Its very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one might be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact.

From Dead Souls

Happy is the traveler, who after a long and wearisome journey with its cold and slush and mud, sleepy station masters, jingling bells, repairs, altercations, drivers, blacksmith, and all sorts of villains of the road, at last beholds the familiar roof, and the lights rushing to met him, and then the familiar rooms appear before him, he hears the joyful cries of the servants running out to meet him, the noise and the pattering footsteps of the children, and soothing, gentle words interspersed with passionate kisses that have the power to blot out all the sad thoughts from his memory. Happy the family who has a home of his own, but woe to a bachelor !

From Annie Hall

[Alvy addresses a pair of strangers on the street]
Alvy Singer: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?
Female street stranger: Yeah.
Alvy Singer: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?
Female street stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas
and nothing interesting to say.
Male street stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.
Alvy Singer: I see. Wow. That's very interesting. So you've managed to work
out something?