October 30, 2011
October 23, 2011
The good thing, however, is that I am not saturated with movies unlike my first MAMI. And I can start my one movie a day routine soon. Also, I have started working immediately, and it feels as if a new professional year has started.
This time there were so many people I knew at MAMI. The number will only increase every subsequent year. So basically, when MAMI ends, you don’t only miss that madness and the movies, you also miss the company of those people, who for that one week share the biggest passion of your life. And hence the hormonal system of the body makes you feel low. The next day after the last most of us were feeling really bad. We needed something to cheer us up. And then some of my students started thinking of organizing a mini-fest at their place. I won’t be able to join them for that, but have selected the movies and prepared a schedule for them, including the ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ films. I hope they remain inspired and get caught in this vicious cycle of the craving for good cinema. The fest should continue, with or without the hormonal surges.
‘Tomboy’ generated a huge applause from the audience. This is the kind of movie you instantly fall in love with. I also appreciated how an intense and difficult topic like this was treated so interestingly. This film festival was full of films featuring children, and ‘Tomboy’ featured some of the best.
My closing film was ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’. I found it difficult, but it was obviously good. I mean, I could understand that it has something, but couldn’t determine that something. This and ‘Sleeping Sickness’ will be two movies I would like to watch again and read about in order to appreciate better.
My final score was 28 in seven days. I’m not at all satisfied with myself. And now I can only hope of bettering it the next year.
October 19, 2011
October 18, 2011
October 17, 2011
October 14, 2011
October 13, 2011
October 10, 2011
“Waqt rehta nahin kahin tik kar, iski aadat bhi aadmi-si hai, Aaj phir aapki kami-si hai…”
These lines in your voice have suddenly acquired an altogether new meaning. Perhaps the news was so unexpected that I couldn’t handle it. Or may be I had taken you for granted – that you are always going to be with us. This happens with family, right?
You know you had something that made me feel I’m related to you – as if you were a dear Uncle I had never met, but always shared great love with. Perhaps it was the kindness in your voice, perhaps it was the gentle demeanour of your face. And I’m sure you made everyone feel the same. You belonged to everyone. And it was never difficult to fall in love with you.
And falling in love with you meant falling in love with your music. You have to take credit for initiating in us a love for Ghazals when we were just kids. You made it accessible for us during an age when we were not capable enough to appreciate the likes of Ghulam Ali Sa’ab and others. You took the Ghazal form to the common man, you made popular its use in cinema. You gave us that push at the right time to develop a liking for something that was apparently not ‘easy to appreciate’.
So this naturally led to more exploration of this genre from our end. Once we ‘learnt’ some more and discovered the very classical form of Ghazals there was a time when we formed a strong opinion about your music. Let me confess this, there were times when I remarked that your music is repetitive and it does not have range. Too blinded by my ‘sense’ of music, I was beginning to forget my ‘Uncle’ who had initiated me into it. Again, this happens with family. I was taking you for granted.
The 23rd of last month, on my way from Pune to Mumbai, I got a chance to listen to ‘Teri khushboo mein base khat’. It was not for the first time that I was hearing that song, but suddenly my perception of you changed. I realized what your music was about. Your music was not about the melody or the voice, but about the words. No other composer-singer has achieved this – to underplay the composition in order to render the poetry in the best possible way. You sang as if you were talking to us – sharing those words of wisdom, making, among others, Gulzar sa’ab’s thoughts reach us unadulterated. You were the dear teacher-friend who shared great poems with us and made us understand what they meant only by reciting patiently, correctly, aptly. Despite possessing one of the best voices that we ever heard, you never tried to overpower the words, to overwhelm us with your singing. And yet, you managed to develop a style of your own, inimitable, pure, genuine.
During the last few days my brother and I talked a lot about you. A couple of days ago the two of us were singing your ‘Kya khoya kya paaya jag mein’ on the footbridge over Goregaon station. Not once we thought that you’ll be gone so soon. Today I feel like a son who never paid enough attention to you, never thought of paying back, mainly because somehow this thought never came to me – that one day even you’ll be gone.
Just talked to Mom over phone, about you, about your music. And then played your music. Was feeling really bad until these lines left me thinking, as your songs have always done…
“Shehad jeene ka mila karta hai thoda-thoda, Jaane walon ke liye dil nahin thoda karte; Haath chhooten bhi toh rishte nahin chhoda karte….”
If life is an opportunity to defy death, you have surely succeeded.
October 08, 2011
What makes someone or something great? Incredible talent, brilliant performance, innovations, influence, test of time – all of these contribute, but there is one more thing essential for that final stamp of ‘greatness’. It is the legend associated, the folklore, the paradoxes, the enigma. Whether it is the symbolism of Muhammad Ali’s fight against racial discrimination, or the tragedy of Guru Dutt – these socio-political, poetic-philosophical elements always contribute to the unanimous acceptance of something as ‘great’, and often these have nothing to do with the actual performance of the act.
So here is a story, true, unbelievable…
At the time when the Hollywood Studio System was at its powerful best, when studio executives held more power than the stars or the directors, a unique contract suddenly became the talk of the town. RKO, one of the major studios, had just offered someone to produce, direct, write, and act in two feature films, without any interference and with the privilege of the final cut – something even the most established directors could not dream of. This offer was made to a 25-year old young man and this led to phenomenal jealousy in the Hollywood community against him, whom the world later identified as Orson Welles.
Welles decided to base the first movie on the life of a newspaper tycoon – William R. Hearst, playing the lead role himself. The name of the character in the movie was Charles Foster Kane, but the Hearst connection could not be retained as a secret. Fearing a negative portrayal of himself, William Hearst attempted to buy and destroy all negatives of the film but couldn’t. He then attacked the movie through his newspaper, and threatened to retaliate against theatres that showed it. The industry was terrified. A group of studio bosses offered RKO money to burn the negative. But the studio refused.
‘Citizen Kane’ opened to extraordinary critical acclaim. And my last three posts on it, which are only a glimpse into its brilliance, should at least justify that. I still feel that the unprecedented praise by the American media had definitely something to do with the controversy surrounding its production and release.
However, the movie failed to recover its costs at the box-office. Despite several nominations, it could not win more than one Academy Award in a ceremony where it was booed and insulted. Eleven years later, in 1952, Sight and Sound magazine voted it as the 11th greatest movie of all time. A group of French critics, who were soon to kick-start the most influential film movement in world cinema, the New Wave, were praising the movie highly during the 50s, and it was revived in America in 1956. When Sight and Sound released their next list in 1962, ‘Citizen Kane’ was voted as the greatest film ever made. Since then it has retained that spot for each subsequent decade, and today it occupies the top position in almost all great movies list. The story, though, does not end here.
The film did an everlasting damage to the career of Welles. The industry had realized that this man will always place his artistic aspirations over the finances. RKO violated the same contract by taking his next film away from him and changing the ending. Welles went into a self-imposed exile in Europe for much of the rest of his career where he found a more sympathetic audience. He acted in others’ movies to raise funds for his own. Two years before he died, he accepted that he “made essentially a mistake in staying in movies”. In the end, his first movie also became a prophecy for his own life which ended lonely and unfortunately like that of his character – Charles F. Kane.
‘Citizen Kane’ in my opinion, is definitely one of the greatest American movies. It is a wonderful film text, rich, influential, enigmatic, and also, once you start understanding it, entertaining. It is a brilliant expression of an auteur, a purely original work, an aesthetic and technical watershed in cinema history. But is it greater than ‘The Godfather’, ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘8 ½’, ‘Bicycle Thieves’? I don’t know. I’m not qualified enough to comment. However, when filmmakers and scholars and critics all over the world vote it as the greatest, I better listen to them. They know the medium better than me, and they have no reason to lie! "Everyone will always owe him everything" – believes Godard about Orson Welles. And just for this reason, I also recommend this film as a must watch (#21). You can not die without watching ‘the greatest movie ever made’.
October 07, 2011
Before making his first film, Orson Welles was already a name in theatre and radio, and was thus aware of the power of sound. While working on ‘Citizen Kane’ he employed all his experience to create the ‘right’ sound for the film. “If it sounds right, it’s gotta look right” – he believed. And the sound of this movie turned out to be a great achievement on its own. Here are a few examples of his innovations and imagination.
To complement his Deep Focus photography, he created ‘deep focus sound’ by carefully regulating his sound levels so that voices in the depth of the image sound farther away than voices in the foreground of the image. ‘Hear’ carefully the Colorado scene to appreciate that. Also note that in the shot that ends this scene, Kane’s sled becomes increasingly covered with snow, and the whistle of a train can be heard from a distance. It is so subtle you might miss it the first time around. But once you discover that, the image of the snow-covered sled becomes even more poignant.
Welles made his characters interrupt each other’s lines resulting in the overlapping of dialogue. He considered it more realistic than the tradition of characters not stepping on each other's sentences. Then there are scenes, like one between Kane and Susan in a tent, where apart from the characters talking, we can also hear the voices of characters around them who are not really seen (people outside the tent in this case). Welles also pioneered the J-cut, the technique of putting the audio ahead of the visual in scene transitions.
The efficient use of texture of voices is another remarkable achievement of this film. Susan’s voice is soft and warm when she first meets Kane, only to turn into high-pitched screams later. The palace of Xanadu appears even more alienating because of the reverberating echoes whenever Kane and Susan shout at each other from across the room. Also compare the might expressed through Kane’s voice during the political rally speech with the sterile flatness when he threatens Gettys.
Another brilliant innovation by Welles was the ‘Lightening Mix’. One sentence started by a person at the end of a scene is completed in the next and this new scene is at least a few years ahead in time. So, by using sound bridges, Welles devised an interesting way to signify passing of time. The best example is the Breakfast Montage where Kane and his first wife talk over the dining table and more than a decade of story time is compressed in two minutes of screen time. This scene amazes you every time you watch it.
The musical score of the film by Bernard Herrmann was also a landmark. Instead of the traditional practice of using non-stop music, Herrmann used musical cues lasting between five and fifteen seconds to bridge the action or suggest a different emotional response. This is superbly done in the Breakfast Montage. Also notice the score simulating the ticking of a clock during the bored life Susan and Kane are leading at Xanadu. Herrmann went on to become one of the prominent musicians for Hollywood, working in films like 'Vertigo', 'Psycho', and 'Taxi Driver'. But even he believes that he was at his best when he worked on this movie. If ‘Citizen Kane’ was a technical watershed, and it definitely was, its sound had as much to contribute as its cinematography.
October 04, 2011
Observe this snapshot from the scene at the Colorado home. It might be difficult to appreciate it here, but in this shot all characters are in focus – including the kid Kane playing outside (he may appear out of focus, but it’s actually snow). This kind of photography is called Deep Focus, where the depth of field is enhanced and a lot of things appear to be in focus together. How is this achieved technically – I don’t know. Some of my photographer friends can help me understand. But Deep Focus photography in cinema has now become synonymous with ‘Citizen Kane’. We read this technique as being ‘realist’ – since everything is in focus the audience can choose what to focus on without the director ‘directing’ their attention to something in particular.
And then we move to the most expressionistic camerawork that this movie employs. This extreme low-angle shot is so different from our perception of reality. More such bizarre angles and lenses were used at various points in the movie. Here the director is producing his own version of reality. Welles had to create ceilings over the sets and dig the floors to create trenches that could accommodate the camera. In those days, all of this was unheard of. Why does he do that? May be it was a stylistic choice, but here is how the famous French critic Bazin reads this shot: “the gaze upward seems to come out of the earth, while the ceilings, forbidding any escape within the décor, complete the fatality of this curse. Kane’s lust for power crushes us, but is itself crushed by the décor. Through the camera, we are capable in a way of perceiving Kane’s failure at the same time we experience his power.”
This is only a glimpse into the bag of tricks that this movie is. You can watch the film again and again just for its cinematography, the importance of which can be assessed by the way Welles credited his cinematographer. There is no separate title card for Welles as the director. He shares it with the cinematographer! I have never seen something like this elsewhere.
Alternative Horror is fast becoming one of my favourite sub-genres. I don’t know whether a term like this exists, but I kind of like it. I would define Alternative Horror as the sub-genre which horrifies us without confining to the conventions of the Horror genre. So the documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ on the issue of global warming is Alternative Horror for me, as are cult-classics ‘Angel Heart’ and ‘Eraserhead’. Perhaps the reason behind my fascination for this sub-genre is my love for one film-maker who has managed to horrify us without ever resorting to the classical horror elements. Whether it is his psychological thriller ‘Repulsion’, the surreal masterpieces like ‘The Tenant’ or ‘The Ninth Gate’, the unforgettable ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, or even the War Drama ‘The Pianist’ – there is always a foreboding of something terrible in the movies of Roman Polanski. With bated breaths we watch the protagonists’ struggle to survive against a supremely powerful and often invisible antagonist. These movies affect human psyche in more ways than a classical horror movie would, movies that rely on ghosts (wandering ex-human spirits) haunting someone or something and their exorcism being the only satisfying resolution. Not to forget that Alternative Horror also works better when you revisit the movie, and are already aware of the thrills and surprises.
I just watched another movie that can be classified in this sub-genre. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic ‘Alien’ managed to involve me in a way many movies can not. Despite a long and tiring day, and it was late in the night that I started watching it, the movie did not allow me to blink. In fact during the final act, I was sitting up, leaning on my laptop screening, as if nothing else mattered to me but the survival of the female protagonist.
I always thought sci-fi is not my genre. And here I am, recommending this movie as a must-watch-before-you-die. But I realize that it is not its sci-fi elements that have impacted me, it is its inherent horror, and most interestingly its smart variation on the classic horror tale of a group of adventurers trapped in a haunted house awaiting their death or a miraculous escape. And yes, there is a cat too! Watch it NOW!
P.S. I have not spoiled your fun by sharing details from the movie. I promise you that.
October 01, 2011
Statutory Warning: I am assuming that you have watched the movie before reading this. Please don't read further if you plan to and haven't.