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

Friday, August 17, 2007

Amores Perros - Lucha De Gigantes

I like this song a lot. If I remember correctly, one of the lines translates to "paper monster..."

(NOT safe for work)

Movie Amateur Talk #1

I have tried, but failed to understand films as just the sequence of images, carefully shot and put together, which, I understand, a film - in flesh and blood (and bone), if not in spirit - actually is. Bresson said that a pianist presses specific keys (don't confuse this pressing with the emotional/sensual button pressing that Haneke brilliantly spoofs in the family pool sequence of Code Unknown) at right moments, for right duration, very precisely, without any emotions, but the music thus created, brings forth extraordinary sensations to us (This goes with his theory that says ‘Let feelings bring about events, not the contrary’). When someone says that the beauty of this shot was its length (Look, such a long shot !), I feel rather stupid to not even notice that simple thing. At times, I try to figure out why it is elongated or truncated thematically, but not so much so philosophically (Long shots brings truth and integrity, do they ?) and technically (how many times did they rehearse it, how the camera moved, how difficult it would have been to achieve this).

I mean to say that I have lot of times felt that the camera should have stayed there for few more or few less seconds. But the decision was purely to enhance an ‘expression’ that has emerged so beautifully at the moment that any hurry or delay might crush it like a soap bubble. At times, the decision was more of the type where I wanted the director to trust me, not to show the obvious or more importantly, not to show just only the obvious. Technically, I only find myself, to certain extend, understanding only few things, like when a switch should take place between shots. I recently saw Beau Travail where I found all the switches were as if I supervised them (please don't laugh :), actually I found the film very poetic (I am planning to write about it for a month but its becoming is more and more difficult with time). The switch between scenes, as I think of it now, is also a very strong thematic element, the choice of images that you want to sit near each other, interact and talk. There is a scene in Kinsey where after the kiss between Kinsey and his male friend, scene cuts to Kinsey's weeping wife, which is surely more of a narrative decision than anything else, but there are times where the cutting is purely artistic (I cant think of a singular good example, but Color Trilogy has a lot of interesting artistic cuttings).

Other than switching/cutting, another thing I really appreciate is composition, yes, compositions like those in Ozu's films, but again too much of it is really off-putting. Ozu's Floating Weeds (in color) was too perfect in composition that it is really distracting. Ozu didn't care about the continuity when it comes to composition (things moved from left to right in consecutive shots, and than replaced duly back to their original position so that the composition is just perfect), which is just fine, but too much of it sucked life out of the backgrounds. Also, when I talk of style it is not to do entirely with inventiveness or frenetic pacing (like Snatch or Lock Stock films) laced with unsubtle glibness, often forced. But it is something on the lines of Far from Heaven, aligned to theme, like the chaotic style of Weekend married to its theme of upcoming apocalypse, like Chungking express, free and flowing. I saw Yi yi recently where apart from the glass reflection photography, I was not even interested in any other technicality or camera work, and which is not to say that it was any bad, I was more engrossed in the film and was just not interested in camera angles.

Other movie, that I recently saw, Rebel Without a Cause, is something of a surprise to me. Actually in Rebel I noticed both, the very elegant visual design, the repetition of themes and the repetition of similar shots of the three teenagers, blend together very well visually and conceptually. But eventually I was more busy drawing parallels between Jim Stark and Travis Bickle and Jon Rubin (I felt that the character played by De Niro in Hi, Mom!, is the younger version as Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver, I think of him as a budding-Travis. Jon Rubin in Hi, Mom! is still not disillusioned, but we come to understand that he soon will be. Similarly, after watching, Rebel Without a Cause, I felt that the James Dean's Jim Stark is the teenage version of Travis Bickle, and to certain extent explains his rage, his anger against order, and his repressed sexuality too. This disillusioned male, alienated and absurd, unsure of everything, ready to try everything, rising and falling without cause, is possibly the our modern day Greek hero, the most cinematic male character).

Apart from this, I never get the grammar of long shots and the short ones, what should be used when and why. I have tried to think about few scenes as to what they might look in long shot or short shots or wide or close up, but I was not able to make any considerable judgment of one better than the other. I have considered the fast-cut introduction scene of Catherine in Jules and Jim, in long shot, but it does not give me any clues, though I liked the fast-cut sequence for its obvious show-off-y-ness and a point of highlight that our femme fatale has arrived but not so much for its technical brilliance. Also, I feel 'tricked' if I notice a long shot for its longness (correct usage: length), or a close-up shot for its closeness, as if I was forcibly made to do that. As old-school as it sounds, I am more for those ancient concepts of gentleness and neatness of an artistic expression, and as hippy as it may sound, I find myself admiring slaughter of any imposed modesty, good-nature and political correctness. As much I admire Beau Travail for its poetic beauty, I admire it more for its lack of interest in showing-off its style coda. Actually, Beau Travail is so unique because it doesn't do away with narrative cinema by rebuking, disregarding or dismantling it (there is a story in place and its not any meta-story), but by soaking the film in poetry of images that the narrative, although there, takes a comfortable backseat. And when you are into style and inventive film language, and when your preoccupation is not to prove that style works or to prove that narrative cinema is dead, film expression comes out in its natural bloom, as it comes in films like Beau Travail. Also the visual mastery of Rebel is not anti-narrative, but over-and-above-narrative, so the films works both for a novice like me and a film buff, and definitely helps an interested novice to see Nicholas Ray's stylistic genius in his strong visual power that gives narrative an extra dimension. Like wise films of Wes Anderson have a great story-book look and feel which enriches the narrative tremendously.

Aleksandr Sokurov’s Mother and Son, which, according to him is his effort to dismiss the fraud of third dimension in cinema because cinema screen is essentially two dimensional, is a very interesting film. He intentionally flattened the images to look like 19th century Russian paintings. The effect is mixed, sometime extraordinary, especially in the end sequence (note the muscles and veins of son's neck stretch in pain as mother's throat dries out for eternity) and sometimes stilted as in the places where Sokurov forcefully trying to stop the moving image to fit it in his premise of two-dimensional canvass and staying in one frame till sine-die, long after we have seen and duly acknowledged its beauty or purpose. One aspect is to work within constraints and one is to put in constraints - Sokurov seemed to try the later in few scenes - to my stone-age mind, style is not putting constraints but finding a language that suits the film. A stylistic decision (or the director's own patent style) must not force an artist to shoot a film on war or sex or spirituality the exact same way (although it interests me immensely what will be the result of such efforts, but the point is that an artist must not be a slave of style, although we know several of the greats were and are)

But to me, what stayed of Mother and Son is a thematic undercurrent of love, care, past and pain between the mother and son which is so well established in the opening scene where the son describes a dream to his ailing which she also dreamt - the common dual dream, like sharing the same mental space. It is a point where magic of the uttered word and the associated emotions overpowers the flattened images and the associated style, same as the choreographed military dances of Beau Travail that subtly gleam over narrative without any hollow spectacle of avant-garde or ostensible declaration or display of cinema as visual art, but by a heart-felt and soul-filled, may be even illogical or absurd (I am tempted to refer to Bollywood musicals here, Jaan-e-mann and the likes :), celebration of that very fact.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bergman at Chicago

This weekend Chicago Cinema Forum has a two day tribute (Aug 11-12, '07) to Bergman at Chopin Theatre. First film at the tribute, Sawdust and Tinsel, will be introducted by Jonathan Rosenbaum, who only yesterday trashed Bergman's whole career in New York Times. World is full of irony. Anyway, if my fever is ok, I will be there, at least for the first day, because it shows two of Bergman films that I haven't seen yet.
And please vist Greencine Daily Bergman Link, it is a nice compilation of the recent articles and posts on Bergman.

मंटो की कहानियाँ

इस सप्ताहांत मैं सआदत हसन मंटो की कुछ कहानिया पढ़ रह था। शिकागो library में हिंदी की किताबो का अच्छा संग्रह है। वहीँ मैंने एक किताब देखी, जिसका शीर्षक था - मंटो की यथाकथित विवादित कहानियाँ। इस संकलन में मंटो की सात कहानिया हें, जिनमें से छः पर अश्लीलता का मुकदमा चला था। मंटो सभी में बरी हो गए थे। संकलन के शुरुआत में मंटो का लिखा एक लेख है - मंटो अपनी नज़र में - जिसमे सआदत हसन, मंटो का हमजाद (जिन्न) बन कर , मंटो की पोल खोलता है, बताता है की मंटो अफ़साने कैसे लिखता था, और वोह एक नंबर का फ्रोड क्यों है, पर असल में वो कहता है की चाहे मंटो बुरा आदमी हो, उसे अव्वल दर्ज़ा उर्दू ना आती हो, पर वो अपनी कहानियो में वो ही दिखाता है जो वोह अपने आस पास देखता है।

मैं मंटो की कहानियो पर कुछ लिखने की सोच रह था पर उनपर तर्क वितर्क लिखना थोडा मुश्किल सा लगा , कहीँ सही शब्द नहीं मिले तो कही सही तरह से उन्हें बताने का कोई तरीका नहीं सुझा। मंटो की कहानियो में अश्लीलता केवल शब्दो तक है, पर उनके पीछे जो भाव छुपा है वोह बहुत संवेदनशील और इमानदार हें। मंटो की कहानियो को खुरदुरा कहा जा सकता है, उन में जिस भाषा और बोली का इस्तेमाल है, जिस तरह मानसिक और शारीरिक स्थिती के वर्णन को मिला दिया गया है, उस से एक विशेष प्रकार का अनुभव होता है, जो इन्सान के जिस्म से जुडा है और उसकी भावनाओं से भी, उसी तरह जिस तरह एक अच्छी कहानी दार्शनिक होकर भी मिटटी से जुडी रहती है। मंटो विभाजन के दुःख से कोई सस्ती सहनाभुती नहीं बटोरता , पर बड़े ही कम लफ्जो में उस क्रूरता को दर्शा देता है। बिल्कुल उसी तरह वोह किस्सी वेश्या को उसके काम से नहीं देखता, पर उसके इंसानी इच्छाओ पर चिन्तन करता है। मेरी नज़र में इस संकलन की सबसे बेहतरीन कहानी 'हतक' है, जिसमे हमारी नायिका सुगंधि एक ग्राहक के नापसंद किये जाने पर जिस पीड़ा और अपमान के गुजरती है, वो मंटो ने बहुत सही चित्रित किया है। जब सुगंधि , सेठ के जाने के बाद, अँधेरी सुनसान सड़क पर आधीरात में खडी होती है, तो मंटो ने उसके मन में आने वाले एक एक विचार को किस्सी रहस्य की तरह खोला है, जो अंत में उसकी नियति की और इशारा करता है। मंटो की एक और कहानी 'काली सलवार' में मंटो ने मन में चलने वाले विचारो और आस पास के वातावरण को यु बुन दिया है जैसे वास्तव में वो एक ही हो, और उसपर ये भी जाहिर कर दिया है की यह सब आज ऐसा इसलिये लग रह है, क्योंकि सोचने वाले के मन की स्तिथी आज ऐसी है। मैं और कुछ ज्यादा नहीं लिख पा रहा हूँ , तो अंत में मंटो की कहानी 'हतक' से यह अंश लिख रह हूँ, जो साफ साफ मंटो की छाप लिए हुये है।

वो रूपये जो उसने अपने शारीरिक परिश्रम के बदले दरोगा से वसूल किये थे, उसकी चुस्त और थूक से भारी चोली के नीचे से ऊपर उभरे हुये थे, कभी कभी सांस के उतार चढ़ाव से चादी के यह सिक्के खनकने लगते थे, तो उनकी खनखनाहट उसके दिल की बेमेल धडकानो में घुलमिल जाती , ऐसा मालूम होता की इन सिक्को की चांदी पिघल कर उसके दिल के ख़ून में टपक रही है।

मंटो की बहुचर्चित कहानी टोबा टेक सिंह आप हिंदी में यहाँ पढ़ सकते हें। यहाँ मंटो की पांच लघु कहानिया पढ़ सकते हें।

Monday, August 06, 2007

Random Respite...

When we have nothing much to write, we usually tend towards two basic things, one is nature and the second one is childhood. Both, in their unique way provide momentary respite from our self-induced ennui and boredom. To write about nature requires exceptional skills and a good knowledge. So the lesser mortals turn towards their childhoods, in a attempt to relive it as we did it then, and sip some more nectar, attach some more nostalgia with self serving imagination of the good old past. I, as a child, had always met with the feeling of other worldliness and wonder, when I used to see the pictures of the loved ones taken before my birth. Whatever we may call it, it was a feeling that it all existed when you didn't. Although a Hindu upbringing try to put things in perspective with you being somewhere else in your earlier birth, but those photographs were a proof that you are just new entry to the whole system. In my stupid imagination routine, I have wondered what it would be like when we die, will we hover over the skies and try to find out what every body felt about the loss (?), or just die out and be as non-existent as we were before our birth. I know that memories will last in the minds of certain people but it cant help but wonder at the exactitude of the childhood feeling of you being not there at some point in time, and the world was, as you saw in those picture, same and as good.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of a wedding in Moradabad, and I remember very vividly that it was all crowded and my mother was always leaving me with some old lady. When I ask about that wedding now, I am told that I was just over one at that time, but it is one of most clear of the childhood memories, the next clear one is not till I turn three, and then comes the school and a whole new world into picture. I wonder how some authors remember things with such exactness, with names and colors and flavors. I only remember the collections of memory, like a bunch with all the morning walks to company garden and a bunch with all the mosquito-filled nights. I have never thought what time and stuff means to me, but I know, although it feel like free flowing ,its like an arrest in a big prison. Except for some exceptional times, you never cross the same thing in the prison park, the same way the second time, but you can, with time, relate to the vicinities and identify them with smell, color and touch. Any attempt to trace back to the same old happy point, results in chaos and the knowledge that its not possible.

The first dream, or the most recurrent dream of childhood is quite vague and as I try to recall now, it happens to be a cold foggy early morning and our village house is attacked by some weird ghostlike people. I get out of my bed and go to the first floor and stand near the point where I can (over)see them but they cant see me. They roam and from my strategic position, I try to call my parents and grandmother to be alert, but no one listens to me. The monsters, after the inspection, go away. The later dreams involve face to face encounter and the sudden break of sleep and finding by mother nearby, and the versions where monster took faces of some of the deadly teachers and some of beautiful ones standing by me. Later in life, I have stopped dreaming, the sleep looks like a blink with the waking point mixed with the tension to go to work, and actually I have even tried to redream (my mother told me as a child that what you think just before your sleep come to you in your dream) the monster dream, but without success. Now dreams are an occasional affair and they are more convoluted, they don't follow a pattern and I am not a hero fighting monsters in house with beautiful teachers backing me.

Friday, August 03, 2007

We are Morons - Lovers of Death and Depression !

And here are reasons why Bergman and the likes never mattered to some.

An apt reply here, where he coins a term called Derrièrism defined as following:

Derrièrists are tired of liberal elites telling us what is good for us. They are tired of movies that are depressing and pretentious and difficult. They don't see the need for new narrative structures when the old ones work just fine. They believe that films should be as literal and clear as the Bible. They are tired of movies that always focus on the bad news the way the media always focuses on the bad news from Iraq. And they prefer clearly resolved, preferably happy, endings.

(Links via)

I didn't find on youtube but there is an excellent scene in The Seventh Seal where the knight sits with a family and have milk and strawberries and says "I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency". Mr Podhoret should see that scene because he claims that the entire oeuvre of Bergman does not have even a single happy moment. I know it wont help, his "happy" ass still might not fit the seat.