Saturday, September 19, 2015

Amsterdam: Aldo Van Eyck's Orphanage

I am still surprised the overtly design conscious dutch allowed this masterpiece to fall into disrepair. when karla and i were there the building was subdivided into parts- one part an artists studio. most of the building was shut down and empty. a gentle scale in spite of the sprawling campus- a modular metabolism that allows it to flow across the lawn, and the idiosyncrasies that make every corner unique.

Lamayuru and Landscapes on NH1

Lamayuru monastery with it's landscape of golden 'moonscape' mountains, clusters of houses; and on the way the Indus snakes alongside with green fields in the valleys and the mountains turning purple, gold, pink and every colour and form imaginable at every turn. 

the 400 blows . max mon amour . joint security area

male teenage angst shapes this film- some lovely scenes- the famous truancy in paris with the well of death; or that beautiful end on the beach with the startled look to the camera at the end. still i felt that the sexism that underpinned it all was rather annoying. the father is allowed to be cold towards his son because he is after all a step son- but the mother is given no excuse for being the bitch she is treated as. as for other women? they don't really exist. 

savagery is unleashed in the prim domesticity of the british diplomat's home as it prepares for the queen's visit when the chimpanzee might be giving better sex to his wife. he is confused, jealous, curious- while the wife stays silent as an enigma. played as natural the film is funny, easy and most importantly tender- in spite of its preposterous plot. 

blood brothers make friends across the border between north and south korea. you know this can't last right from the first scene. the rashomon like pov shifts try to confuse the matter - not very successfully. but skilled at story telling- this is. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

warrior . nayakan

testosterone packed melodrama this good is rare. bro tears, dad love/hate and some sibling rivalry. the men get to express themselves only in fistfights or sulk and scowl at each other. ‘brothers’ twisted the backstory around- gave us some mom issues and some kareena kapoor but kept the rest the same. the tear jerking didn't need amping up. tom hardy’s bruised swollen lips make him look like a sullen schoolboy. 

more daddy issues with kamalhasan as a pasty faced cupcake in the early half just seems silly- especially when he wears neatly ironed matching matching clothes through the murders and the beatings. later on, he improves. all evil people have sex with prostitutes while the other women are the conscience of the film- the daughter and the mother. more male machismo bonding dictates the rest of the plots- with no self-reflexivity (same to same as ‘warrior’) the bombay recreations in out of focus (at least in the print i saw) blue grey wet muddy are fine enough- but for the hero’s shiny greased face are fine as long it is the slum or the stock shots of marine drive/ gateway / vt. the rest of the film- the funeral sequences, the courtroom stuff are so not mumbai that the spatial illusion falls flat- letting the film go too. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

melodrama . upkar . anniyan/aparichit

who needs reality from cinema? we don’t ask if we need everyday conversation from music? or three dimensional accuracy in painting. the artifice of the medium as message is where we find our pleasure. then why do we demand ‘realism’ from the screen. cinema has to be a heightened world in which we immerse ourselves in spectacle and magic. 3d is merely another deceit that has to be enjoyed because of its difference from and not because of its similarity to the world.

‘upkar’ flattens the tropes of patriotic filmmaking into predictable cliches. the burnished earth, the iconic pose against the sky. but if there is a theme that lies underneath it all- is it the partition? half men, cripples everywhere and a land divided between brothers. the hallucinogenic night sequence that again cuts a cabaret with horror makes easy targets of the rich- take that! and can i have another drink after the premier?

‘anniyan’ or ‘aparichit’ in which shankar gets vikram to stand in for all of the heroes we want on screen- the sweet good shy wimp, the angry young man and the romantic hero. the schizophrenia is not only his on screen but also ours- a portrait of us. the jingoistic middle class anti corruption tirade and revenge drama is so overplayed it becomes comic- becomes scary. in fact the same happens with all the three personas that vikram inhabits and takes to extremes. the romantic hero obsesses suicidally, the wimp whimpers and gets beaten up while the action hero kills mercilessly. each in extreme reveals the ludicrousy of it all. and images? the pop folk art on the ambassadors and buses in the village song, or the super crazy action sequences with fast motion, slow motion, stop. a skeleton in the arm is seen in x-ray when it is broken. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Purab aur Paschim

How can a film so bad be so good? Moralistic, judgmental, manipulative, jingoistic, sexist, voyeuristic, xenophobic, and more than anything- fascist in it’s disgust at miscegenation. A real hatred of those of us who straddle the space in-between poles. Like all Hindi films, you may say -yet, what complete flair for high-pitched melodrama in image, sound and sudden shifts of tone. If the film is about anything then it must be shame- the shame of the humiliation of colonialism, of our desperation to be something other than ourselves- of our need to reinvent ourselves. And i have a feeling he understands the role that cinema and image making play in helping us do that. In that sense it is also the shame of the pleasure of cinema itself. The camera’s gaze is often fractured in mirrors, lenses- action takes place in distant shadows, in blurred edges, behind smoke screens- often blown out of the red lips of our main heroine obscuring our vision. The shame of seeing and being seen pervades every scene.

Yet there is a perverse pleasure in seeing what is not you are supposed to see or what is forbidden to you. The white woman’s body becomes the object that can be fetishised. He covers his face when faced with embarrassment at the Indian man who denies his Indian family and lusts after the blonde, but the camera’s eye has no such qualms when it looks straight down the white woman’s cleavage or up the mongrel heroine’s skirt.

There is a self-conscious way in which the human body in placed in every frame- especially in the ones where they all come together to form a tableau. Each body is frozen in a gesture like it would in a narrative painting and as the scene progresses the bodies turn towards each other, then away from the gaze of the camera- looking away, looking towards. As the camera swirls around revealing hands raised in gestures of refusal or of welcome.

Hindu myths are overlaid on the story with no qualms. The black and white rain drenched sequence involving a basket and a flood where characters stand in thigh deep water before the great tragedy that shapes the film takes place- the betrayal of Om by Harnam, references the birth of Krishna. And just in case you didn't get it- a portrait of Vasudev saving Krishna floats down the alley at the end of the scene.

After color arrives with independence our hero enters symmetrically placed in a temple singing a bhajan and is introduced as Bharat “Purab”. “Paschim” Preeti enters much later when Bharat goes for his further studies to London when at the airport she enters turned to the camera and in a sudden turn of smoke and close-up.

More fantastically overplayed scenes: the revelation to the blonde bikini clad girl that her lover is a married man- seen through a flurry of glass panes and lenses- the window of her room and even the spectacles of another man looking at her; the red umbrella behind which she hides the wife and child of her lover before she reveals them to him; or for that matter the conversation that the jilted father in law has with our hero played out on the night street with male mannequins on a shop front surrounding him. In another scene his turban lies unraveled on the street his son-in-law wades through it before a white man restores it.

The action scene in the middle of the film- when goons are hired to kill Bharat in a nightclub is mind-boggling. Manoj Kumar juxtaposes the rhythm of the music with movements of the scantily clad dancers, with the scenes of torture in the inside room; he juxtaposes pornographic drawings of women’s bodies on the dancers. The sequence ends with over the top symbolism when a broken bottle of alcohol is used to stab Bharat’s white Christian friend. His crucifix pendant is caught inside the bottle and is seen distorted through the glass as it pierces his body and is covered with blood. The sequence ends with Dreyer like faces backlit in mourning. In another scene Londoners are enraptured by Hindu bhajans in an Eisensteinian montage of faces.

There is so much more- the melodrama does not stop- the thick spectacles of the father that does not allow him to see his daughter- the ‘truth’ that is cleared up on the altar of her wedding; 

the scene in which the cigarette is hidden from the traditional mother in law by the bride to be; the last scene where Paschim files her nails as she is split between- literally and visually between her husband and India, and her mother and the foreign land; 

the scene in the beginning of the film when a misunderstanding about love is played out in a spray of water fountains and sprinklers in the Delhi zoo that obscures faces and leaves water droplets on the camera lens;

or in the scene that follows the grand betrayal in the beginning- the widow refuses to wipe out her sindoor, while the wife of the betrayer wipes it off as kali looks on and her the shadow of her husbands finger points towards it. 

The song sequences - silhouettes, shadows, mirrors- even the silly twinkle twinkle little star where Purab and Paschim are played out as puppets- allowing them to say things that otherwise they would not be able to. Mirroring in image making that allows them (and us) to become what we can’t allow ourselves in everyday life. Our pleasure in that- and our embarrassment.

Very erotic.