Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bergman & Allen

I cannot believe that Woody Allen is a fan of Ingmar Bergman or is influenced by him in any way. Whereas you hardly hear the spoken word in Bergman's movies, talking and words are all that Allen uses in his films. Its like he cannot stop talking.
Strange influence this is!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bright Young people

Just the other day in a disc, I and my friends were quite appalled to see a bunch of really young looking kids drinking, smoking and dancing away to glory way past the prescribed bed times for people their age. Their callous attitude and overt amorous behavior and our obvious disgust for it made me feel for the first time that perhaps the new generation has come in and we have moved to the next level. And I suppose like every generation, even ours has not escaped the trap of assuming that the next one is decadent and shallow. Of course the 'Bright young things' will protest - as we did when we were in their shoes.

Evelyn Waugh's novel 'Vile Bodies' is a satirical take on the lifestyle of these bright young people and is a brilliantly funny work. After a series of serious narratives, reading Waugh was like a breath of freshness, even if the humor towards the end grew dry and derived its punch exclusively from 'tragedies'. The tragedies however did not trouble the happy go lucky young things who went on with their partying even in the face of worst calamities. Their biggest fear every night was something else - something aptly described by Waugh in this line:

Soon someone would say those fatal words, 'Well I think it's time for me to go to bed. Can I give any one a lift to Knightsbridge?' and the party would be over.

So night after night, this group of people party-hopped - ranging from airship parties to masked parties to drunken brawls at the Downing street.

The book is a story of one such person who keeps running into money and subsequent losses of it, accordingly breaking and keeping his engagement to his sweetheart. It begins on a very light note and the humor arises out of truly comic situations (like a forgetful father in law), however at some point it passes into a dark tale of irony and becomes a shade depressive.

It is amusing to see that generations don't change, and even in the midst of a social party of their own, the parents worry over the mindless parties of their young, and as the two parties (that of the young and the old) are described almost in parallel, there is very little contrast you can see in the uselessness of each.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sophie's Choice

I have been stumbling upon too many Meryl Streep movies lately - it appears that she figures in many important ones. That perhaps is explained once you see her act - for she is a graceful actress - a woman with substance and it is hard to shrug her away with decoratory roles.
The latest in the list of her movies that I watched is Sophie's choice, adapted from the famous novel by William Styron. The story is set in Manhattan and centers around a struggling writer (Stingo) and his relationship with a couple - Sophie and Nathan, both of them being a little eccentric and a little esoteric.
Sophie is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and is a non-Jewish Pole, while her lover Nathan is a schizophrenic American Jew. The story moves back and forth in time, narrating Stingo's own experiences, Sophie's memories of her experience in Poland and then Auschwitz, the couples' memories of their encounter and of course the present.

Both the book and the movie are needlessly long. In the book Stingo struggles to keep the focus on himself with his sexual escapades, his fantasies, his life in Southern American and his thoughts, only relating Sophie's stories in the gaps. In the movie, the story continues to move in the present for the longest time, focusing on the strange relationship between Nathan and Sophie and Nathan's unpredictable countenance. Sophie's story begins much later and is over very soon. Her life in the concentration camp is almost glided over when compared to the book.

However in both versions, the crux of the story - that of Sophie's choice comes towards the far end and if I had felt that the book did not do enough justice to the dilemma, I think the cinematographic Sophie made up for this injustice. For even though short, the scene is impactful and splashes a small cold shiver on your spine.

Even with a strong story, I think Styron has messed up a little by trying to put too many words in the same book, but for his verbosity, I believe his book would have been higher than now on the critics list. As for the movie, I think the adaptation is wonderful, especially so because of Streep. Neither Kevin Kline as Nathan, nor Peter Mcnicol as Stingo were too impressive but Streep kept the focus away from them. Her Polish accent was so perfected that even after so many movies from her, I was convinced that she could be Polish. I am a fan.

The story of the headless chicken

Mike, the headless chicken would be very proud today - for simply the dropping of his name has tumbled a whole country into turmoil. Some name-dropping that is!
Well, I am not so much for current affairs, less so when comes to political affairs and agendas. But this one is too interesting to miss. When someone sitting in a foreign land, already having his hands full of an explosive deal, throws a 'headless chicken' remark to the media, it is bound to send ripples - even across the seven seas. But what is interesting to watch is how the remark really results into a scramble, creating its own reality, like the self-fulfilling prophecies of the yore. Hours within the comment is thrown, people begin to believe that it is thrown at them. The opposition takes offense, the left takes offense, and even the media takes offense - and all this when Mr. Sen had not pointed his finger at anyone, at best only at Rediff Media. It appears that deep down all of them suspect the worst of themselves! The current situation is remarkably like a pack of chicken, shrieking in confusion, running here and there.

Well perhaps they are not so headless, though. Opposition as well as the Left is always ambling for a cause to topple the Government - to snatch that second chance and to defile the ruling party with mis-governance. This thoughtless remark by an envoy gives them a great opportunity, especially when they have already been working hard on canceling the 123 deal. Our MPs, like everyone else, hate to go to work and keep looking for a day off. If you have ever watched the zero hour telecasts, you can simply see it in the attitude. It is like watching a pack of fighting children, hoping to finish the school hour in the ruckus and not having to sit in the class and study. A thoughtless remark make them their rainy day.

The media of course have a field day on such misgivings - they love to show themselves as the hurt party, braving all criticism in the face of bringing truth to the forefront. In saying that I am not criticizing them, well at least not too much. They do a good job of trying to highlight the irrationality and take the citizen on board. But often their highlighting crosses the bounds of responsible journalism. How much importance does one give to an irrational demand from an irrational segment of Governance? Running around about it too much, even though clearly discounting the merit of the protest is closer to exploiting the issue rather than sensible journalism. And if someone misfires a comment in an annoyed reaction to such running around, sensibility would suggest ignoring such a comment and not use it confound an already messed up situation at home. Is the media really responsible for telling the country that the country's envoy was rude to them and give a chance to the destabilizers to have their song and dance? Yes Mr. Sen goofed up and he ought to face the music for that. Such irresponsible comments cannot be excused from a representative of the country - his role is tact and he failing to keep it up in an important time is sufficient to warrant an exit. But c'mon you newspapermen - are you doing your job well by fueling an irrelevant fire?

Gospel according to Jesus Christ

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this unusual account of Jesus' life by Jose Saramago - of course a version which the saviors of the religion will never accept or include in their canon. After all it raises severe doubts about the benevolence of their God. A God who has already been suspected of 'severity' several times in the past.

The book is an account of Jesus' life as narrated by Jesus of Nazareth himself. A simple man, son of another simple man and not God. A man with human instincts, who takes refuge in the arms of a woman (Mary Magdalene of course) after being troubled with his nightmares and a disturbing encounter with God.
The brilliantly held together story then goes on to describe the miracles that begin to happen to this simple man - something he is neither able to fathom, nor able to control. Miracles that are imposed upon him by God, in an endeavor to expand his empire. For God deems that the presence of his son in the world will spread his kingdom further. Perhaps even God believes in the 'personal touch' - something that he cannot give himself and needs a medium!

Though I have not read either of the four canonical gospels, nor the denounced gospels, but I am sure this one must be more interesting. Its just right that the catholic church should have protested against this novel as blasphemous, but then no religious sect takes well to inspection and scrutiny.

Saramago, as usual is brilliant and original in this work as in all others. I thought his writing style was more expanded and verbose in this one as against the other two that I have read - The Double and The Cave, but that perhaps can be owed to different translators (That is the frustration of reading translations - you never know what got lost, or added, never know how the original author composed it). I love Saramago for his almost always unusual stories, a binding narrative, his tremendous originality, and his exploration of human thoughts under crazy circumstances.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ilham

Another visit to Prithvi - a Hindi play this time. I normally try to avoid those because most Hindi productions love to immerse themselves in cliche themes of ailing India and poverty. However, this one was both a surprise and a delight. It did not just keep away from these cliche themes, but dealt with philosophy in stead - something plays often keep away from. Perhaps because to deal with the abstract in front of audience, without the liberty of cinematography, is a very difficult task.

Directed and written by Manav Kaul, the play is the story of a middle-aged man who claims to have 'Ilham' - a term from the holy Quran, which means a private revealation. Leading a very average middle life, he one day goes to a park and begins talking to an imaginary man. Slowly he begins to show signs of 'madness' as he plays with imaginary children in the park, talks to his imaginary man (Chacha) and becomes happier, even commits the sin of being satisfied. He begins to understand the mute and the birds, but forgets the human tongue.
His family is worried, running from doctors to magic men. And while they treat him like the mad man that he becomes to the world, his happiness hangs from a thin thread. Caught between the two worlds - the one that his Ilham promises and the one which he has created and cherished till now, he becomes miserable. That is when he realises that he has to chose one world - he cannot live in the promised world while being with his family and so he gives it up.

There is a lot of thought that this simple play with its less known cast but highly competent lightings could have generated. But it gave that slightly dissatisfactory feeling. I may not be living in 1984, and I may not want to dance spontaneously in the middle of the road - but if I ever want to, I know I am not free to do so.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ingmar Bergman

I had not heard the name Bergman three months ago. And just when I did and was planning to watch one of his movies, the esteemed director passed away. It was only then that I realized the extent of devotion Bergman inspired in movie fans. He overwhelmingly featured in most blogs that I read, in television channels (even DD!) in print, in websites. And I was amazed at just how much I had missed. But then, I suppose I can blame it on my relatively fresh induction into cinema.
Anyways, I finally did watch a couple of movies by him - 'Wild Strawberries' (Smultronstället) and 'Persona' and though I liked and enjoyed the first, I am unable to fathom what is the fuss all about.
Wild Strawberries was no doubt a very interesting movie - through dreams, memories imagination and experiences, Bergman depicted the feelings of a man facing a close death - his fears, remorses, regrets. With brilliant imagery, Bergman has highlighted the personal failure of this man in the background of his professional superiority - as the nightmares and memories haunt him while on the way to recieving an award for professional achievement. Though the tussle of personal lives and careers has been depicted many times, I suppose this one was very poetic and imaginative.
However, I was quite disappointed in 'Persona' - it has been labeled as Bergman's masterpeice, even in his own admissions. Not only did the film lack in imagery (though with some good cinematography once in a while), I could not find any interesing theme in it except for the interspersion of the two characters. The movie is about an actress who is struck speechless during one of her performances and never speaks after that, and a nurse who tries to care of her. The relationship between these two is tensed and is never really clear except that one can all the time feel a character exchange coming, and when it does come, it is almost anti-climatic. While watching the movie, I was strongly reminded of Mullholland Drive, perhaps because both focus on the interaction between two women in slightly unusual circumstances.

In both the films, a common hand was quite traceable - Bergman has extensively used sharp sounds and memories in both. I can see why is he respected so much, but from the limited exposure, I thought I would have savored both themes better in a book rather than a movie. Perhaps he tries to write on screen, which is a novel concept, but the complex web of thoughts is often best depicted in words. Silence can speak but it often becomes boring.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Judgement at Nuremberg

The entire world condemned what happened during the holocaust and the atrocities Hitler and SS unleashed on humanity. The Germans themselves suffered significantly in the aftermath of the world war and were perhaps subdued for a long while under a towering guilt. The legimitation of the guilt was done by the allies, primarily US by trying the entire backbone of Nazi Germany - whether economic, administrative or political in a series of trials famously or infamously called the Nuremberg Trials.

The 1961 Stanley Kramer movie is a powerful and moving depiction of the trials. Based on the trials of judges who carried out the Nazi law, it raises some very interesting and thought-provoking questions. Though a fictional account of the trials, the movie carries remarkable pieces of the horrible reality. There did occur a Judges' trial, there was an infamous "Feldenstein case", which outraged all sense of justice and the movie shows actual videos of German ghettos/concentration camps shot by American soldiers. Though all of us have heard about and shuddered at the account of Jewish miseries, no thought could match the actual image of a thousands of barely skinned skeletons lying in heaps and paraded by bull-dozers like factory trash. Watching those images leaves a lump in your throat that is difficult to swallow.

The trial raises some uncomfortable questions - Is it a crime to look away and give tacit approval to the monstrocities, even if you are only vaguely aware of them? Is it a crime to continue with a regular life when your neighbours are vanishing into the night and the faces you have known perhaps for years are slowly disappearing from the streets? If it is, then why are the Germans the sole bearers of this crime? Did not the whole world look away even as they heard Hitler's views on ethnic cleansing? If they continued with normal lives and sometimes even lent a credibility to Hitler and his agenda, are they not equally to blame as the Germans?

The film both raised and dealt with those questions skillfully - it did not attempt to answer all of them because moral dilemmas cannot be always cleared by Q&A. However, it maintained that shifting the blame on a greater world does not absolve the active prepetrators of those crimes, even if the participation was limited to legalization of crime and not the act itself. I think the judgement of Judge Haywood was remarkably mature and a hard one.

The film had some great performances that are difficult to see in one place. Maximilian Schell as the defense lawyer was brilliant and won an Oscar for his performance. Spencer Tracy (as Judge Haywood) , Richard Widmark (prosecutor) and Burt Lancaster (defendant) suited the characters to a Tee. I tremenduously liked each of them.

A wonderful creation of cinema, the kind that makes us see the reality with greater clarity perhaps.