Monday, October 22, 2007

Citizen Kane

In the midst of a completely technical education, there is very little 'Humanity' that I studied. That, only because my college made it compulsary to take 4 courses in the stream. I simply glided through those courses as a mandatory duty - like a dutiful engineer who hates everything but engineering. I even cheated a little by sneaking in Economics amongst those 4 courses. In other words, I , like most of my batchmates, thwarted all attempts by the college to give me a 'complete & well-rounded' education. Years down that road, I do regret not taking up a greater interest.

I saw Citizen Kane for the first time in one of such courses (called Art & Technology). The movie was screened after class hours - which meant an evening away from the usual campus life - something that we resented awfully. And as the screening started, a black & white image appeared, accompanied with a loud, sharp voice that is typical of the movies from that era. In other words, all elements that had the potential to heighten a disinterest already present. The only thing that I remembered from that movie was the breakfast scene between Kane and his first wife Emily. In a run of 4-5 consecutive breakfast scenes, Orson masterfully depicted the changing relation between the spouses. Even with my disinterest, I was able to appreciate the subtlety. But that was about all.

Thankfully, my second experience of Citizen Kane was a more rewarding one. The movie is about the life of a newspaper tycoon, who begins his career on grounds of idealism but eventually gets enamored with the smell of success, and leads his newspaper into a very yellow and very popular journalism. His single-minded and overbearing pursuit of money, fame and power leads to his eventual alienation with his friends, lovers and principles. The movie begins with his death and traces his life through interviews with people he interacted with.
Its true that the plot of the movie is not terribly path-breaking. There are a lot of movies which are loosely based on the lonely man at the top. However, Orson's rendition of the theme is nothing short of perfection. He has turned the biography in a mystery, as a newspaper reporter attempts to understand the meaning of Kane's dying word - 'Rosebud', which leads him to reconstruct the tycoon's life.
Then there are several subtle depictions like the breakfast scene. For instance the focus on 'No trespassing' sign both in the beginning and the end of the movie and the picturization of the palace life with jigsaw puzzles, countless statues and endless mirrors. I particularly loved the shot where Kane is shown in the many mirrors of his palace - nothing could have shaped his isolation and loneliness better.

The movie of course courted many good reviews, and the critics applauded it for its innovation. For the first time a movie used a combination of elements such as newspaper reports, narratives, diary entries and memories to tell its story.
Jorge Luis Borges summarized the movie very succinctly when he called it a

...metaphysical detective story, its subject (both psychological and
allegorical) is the investigation of a mans inner self, through the works he has
wrought, the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined.

However, at the time the movie was released, it was largely affected by the negative publicity efforts of the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst who went all out to keep the movie away from public, as it was said to be (rather very closely as many believe) based on his life. He was enraged with the 'negative' and lonely portrayal he recieved.
But despite all the controversy and the battles over the movie, it made its due mark and is regarded as one of the greatest American movie ever made. That may be a little bit of an overreach, but certainly not way off the top mark.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The mega project

I have finally undertaken that mammoth project - of reading Ulysses! I think I must have promised myself this read years ago when I saw this book top the Modern library critics list of 100 best novels - but something (or someone) always prevented me from doing the same. I think it was partly laziness, and largely apprehension. Now that I am on to the project I can figure that the apprehension was not misplaced. In the last ten days, I have progressed to only 100 pages and there are 700 more to go. I have read and re-read pages and lines and get rapidly lost if the internet is not at close disposal for reference. Wikipedia has been a terrific help, with its entry on the novel and additional terms that keep cropping up during the reading.

To be frank, I have not been able to appreciate the book too much yet - it is slow and it is complicated. It keeps getting into the labyrinths of the minds of the characters - and honestly, the labyrinths are messy and unclear (well at least to my eye). The similitude with Odyssey (which I have not read but am familiar with on a summary level) is remarkable and the symbolism is interesting. Hopefully I will soon turn the last page on the book and not give up on it midway.

Booker goes to 'The Gathering'

Seems like it is the Europeans' year - After British Doris Lessing won the Nobel for literature, the Booker goes to Ireland for Anne Enright's The Gathering. According to the bets running prior to the announcement, Ms. Enright was far behind the two major contenders - Jones and Mcewan. But I suppose the Booker is following the dark horse tradition for a couple of years. Sometimes I wonder if Booker has become a way of promoting new and lesser known authors rather than rewarding a well-recieved book.
But of course, to make such statements without reading either name on the shortlist is downright bias.
A review of the novel by The Guardian can be found here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The night

I hate the kind of work life that leaves little space for much else. Unfortunately for the past month, I have pretty much been in that sort of work life and missed out on watching enough movies or reading enough books. And of course writing down about whatever I did watch or read.
To be fair, though, I partially made up for the lack of movie watching in a single weekend by going for a marathon of seven movies over two days. Most of them were the kind of movies that I enjoyed - two of them particularly so: La Notte and The Brave One. Also watched both parts of the Japanese Ringu - much better and far scarier than the English versions that followed as ‘The Ring’ series. I think remakes are a bad idea in general – statistically speaking. Though of course The Ring did make its share of box office money.

I had been meaning to watch Anotnio’s 'La Notte' for a long time. (Of course, it is impossible to find sufficient time to do all the things that you would rather do – ironically you spent most of your life doing stuff that you would rather not). La Notte is the story of a night in a couple’s relationship - Giovanni & Lydia – It is a night both in the physical and metaphorical sense of the word. A culmination of what perhaps was a shining relationship, into the dusk of coldness and indifference – leading to the dark hour of perhaps eventual separation. Antonioni, in his typical style which says more through gestures than words, has taken the viewer though this painful sequence of distancing. It makes you wonder why two attractive people who have each other would seek the company and affections of others. In the beginning, this ‘other’-ly interest is subtle. Giovanni’s interest in a nymphomaniac, Lydia’s glances towards streetwalkers. That they are no longer ‘together’ is highlighted by Lydia’s otherworldliness in the presence of her husband. The estrangement is mutual – and it is because they both seemed to have married a concept rather than each other – Giovanni a rich attractive girl desired by many, Lydia a talented writer adored by lot. They try to love the concepts, and are therefore disappointed, annoyed and jealous in the real persons that lives behind those ideas.

The movie has a terrific ending - if novelists don't know how to wind up their writing, I suppose they can pick up a cue from Antonioni. He knows how to do it in perfection.

Antonioni has done a remarkable work with this movie. It seems very real and un-dramatic. (Except for the scene with the nymphomaniac, which seemed a little out of place). I have really begun to like him quite a lot, though I think he can be (and IS) excruciatingly slow. thought I would hammer Jack Nicholson in ‘The passenger’ to make him move a little faster!
La Notte is supposed to be the second in a trilogy made in combination with L’Avventura and L’eclisse – either of which I have not seen, but will get on to soon. Even though it looks a little unlikely right at this moment.