Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 05, 2010
ocean heaven . qiu xi. fame . waqt . the clash of the titans . wind blast. guzaarish . break ke baad
jet li plays against type in ocean heaven- a father of a duslexic child, who himself is dying is trying to find another life for his son. a weepy that had me sobbing set in the strange aqueous interiors of a oceanarium. beautifully shot sequences by christopher doyle.
qiu xi was a period drama set in guangzhou in the time the communists were about to take over the city. qui xe is the dainty maid of our hero- who is double crossing his superior officer. shot in cinema city in kaiping- more interesting for that, than the plot.
'fame' introduces multiple characters all out to make it big. a gay man, a wispy shy girl, a hispanic macho man, and of course the all american boy. the join the course, they dance and the film is over. fun enough.
cant really remember much of waqt. it was late at night. all i remember is the seperated in childhood story and the grand reunion at the end. in the middle of that is much melodrama and some great songs.
'the clash of titans' replays schindlers list's liam neeson against ralph fiennes. and in spite of the cast (the lead stone face notwithstanding) the film is a bore. stone faced son out to save the earth from the gods.
'wind blast' was a completely crazy ride. a non stop action film that went on through the whole film. the landscape of deserts and abandoned towns is the perfect setting for a mindless pointless action fest. after all the build up the sudden death of the villains was too weird.
the only thing that redeems and at the same time destroys sanjay leela bhansali's guzaarish is his conceit as an auteur. while this allows for some incredibly over the top, and often original moments, i also weighs down guzaarish with self indulgent romantic blather. the story is trite and serves merely as a device for bhansali to give us his two bits of rather nonsensical musings on euthanasia and loving life. the courtroom sequences in particular are cringe inducing with their simplistic arguments and grandstanding. that being said, hritik was better than i thought he'd be and so was aishwarya - poor thing. some of the song picturizations were gorgeous and the music was so uniformly pretty and maudlin, that i was waiting for someone to scratch nails down a blackboard.
generally i dont really mind airheaded romantic comedies, but this new age shift to characters who constantly speak in cool and dress in cool and travel in cool is annoying. i could have slapped the lead actors including deepika padukone (in spite of me being quite a fan) not because of anything but the screenplay that made her so 'happening'- smoking and wearing short short shorts; and imran khan so forgettably sweet, long suffering and perpetually dull. and then they have to end up in australia on a beach doing even more cool things. and speaking more cool. yawn. it says something about my level of tolerance that even after this, if you ask me how the film was, i will say 'all right'. and they say i am judgemental!
Sunday, November 28, 2010
by far the most difficult second year study trip that i have been on. a long long journey to the other end of the country- three trains, two buses and a ferry ride across the muddy brahmaputra on the largest river island in the world- a constantly shifting flat landscape of white silt, sand and water bodies. every year the contours of island shift making new boundaries.
here, far away from the blackberry network that so many of the kids craved for, are vaishnavite monasteries established in the 1600s amidst a tribal population that still lives on the margins of these large complexes. the monasteries are called 'sattras' and are as impermanent as the land that they perch upon. constantly being moved and rebuilt their real structure is the administrative and the cultural. because here far away from contemporary civilization is culture. sattriya singing and dancing. beautiful in praise of krishna. the individual families arranged in perfect lines around the namghar at the centre, where all the rituals take place, are self sustaining and self sufficient. they make their own food, stitch their own clothes.
as institutions they exert tremendous influence over the island. the villages and the tribals on the outside have to subscribe in some way or the other. culture from within the sattra overflows into the streets as boys danced the 'dashavatar' for us in the backyard of his house.
while we were in majuli the raas leela preparations were on. on the island temporary theatres sprang up overnight. in the sattras sets and costumes were being prepared, gopis and krishans were rehearsing in the namghar and the rang manch. in between these rituals were performed in cycles to krishna like they do every single day.
the mishing tribe is the main tribe on the island. the boys paint their nails to preen and work the bamboo into mats, hats, roofs, buildings with ease. the clusters of houses perch on the edge of the road raised above the uncertain ground. below the stilts is work- weaving looms, cow sheds. and above is everyday life. a water pump is extended to the platform above. inside the curtain covered rooms the floor i permeable to the ground below and the waste is thrown directly below for the pigs to eat.
we lived in a not yet completed resort and the kids were shell shocked for the first few days. i hope things got better later. with us were students and faculty from the guwahati school of architecture. lovely energetic kids.
auniati . the sattra where george, ginella and me spent the most of our time- the one assigned to us. a newly rebuilt (1957) sattra- and the perfect diagram of one. perfect square inscribed upon the land and lifted off from the surrounding, the whole sattra lies on a bund. four roads lead from the middle of each segment ot the central namgarh and the home of the sattradhikari- the central authority of the sattra. on the first days while we were there the most important ritual of the sattra was on- pal naam. krishna's name constantly sung in different forms throughout the day. throngs of people in the verandahs come from distances to live with the men that they forsook to the sattra. on the main road leading to the sattra from the village and across the wooden bridge was a village fair of artifacts and plastic toys. in the next few days this crowd gradually dispersed but the naamgarh stayed constantly alive with the sound of drums, kirtans, dancing and cymbals. rehearsals were on for the raas. one of the main dancers was prasanna kumar buhyan who invited us over to his house and showed us the invites and the certificated from delhi. he was a terrific dancer and we were very flattered when the next day, while dancing for the australian tourists he seemed to be nodding at us sitting st the corner. when prof dengle arrived we walked over to another family's house who created for us a museum of the everyday objects that they make and use. meanwhile one of them made for us a miniature bamboo ladder and a miniature version of the way that they make vines grow around a tree.
nutan kamlabari. shirish, minal and paul were working on this sattra. unlike auniati this sattra was enmeshed into the surrounding landscape. while at auniati domesticity was relegated to the rear yards of the houses, here it overflowed into the front yards. kids were sleeping, flowering plants bloomed, and clothes lines hung on the main streets. the precise rectangle of auniati was distorted here. public private were not quite so distinct. the naam garh was older that auniati and was built in beautiful timber detailing. even the doors of each of the houses did not have any of the spartan minimalism of auniati, but were instead decorated with a profusion of motifs. vikram said it had something to do with the difference of administrative structure between the two sattras.
dokinpath. the oldest of the three sattras. almost an hour away by bus on a bumpy road, in dokinpath the landscape of majuli entered the space of the sattra. an unfinished edge opened out to the low lying water and the fields of the island. a horizon could be seen from the inside. the first night we were there the sattra was bathed in moonlight with only two lamps lighint the naam garh. on the last day, preparations for the raas were on and the inhabitants were lined up for the darshan of the sattradhikari.
of other spaces. uttar kamlabari was a cleaner, more ordered replica of nutan kamlabari. a mask maker showed us his masks and an old man in the veranda methodically stitched feathers on the swan. the river to the north was narrower by leagues than the brahmaputra. the only concrete bridge on majuli lead us to it. i heard that environmentalists protested connecting the island to the mainland. so now the only connection is a decrepit ferry terminal which shifts every year, and which carries everything from jcbs to paneer from the mainland to the island. and the only performance of the raas that we saw. in kamlabari, in a temporary theatre on a field. krishna's life story as a tv soap.
on the road that leads from jorhat to guwahati we stopped off for two nights at kaziranga. an evening walk in the neighbourhood of our hotel took us towards the hills in to the south where in a soil conservation department complex atrocious replicas of tribal people and their huts were built in concrete. it would be funny, if it wasnt so terrifying. the next day an elephant ride to the western point in the early morning. pink misty morning and rhinocerous and cranes. wild elephants and buffalo. like a dream. especially when the rhino and her baby came charging head on at lucky our elephant. a stick form our mahout stopped them in their tracks. lucky went and picked the stick up for us. after raging wildly at the kids for an irresponsible night binge we left for the eastern point in a jeep. low lying and watery, the light fell beautifully on the birds and boars. prof dengle and shirish read out descri[ptions from a birds of india book. and we spotted cranes, adjutants, egrets, eagles. the next morning was central point with pelicans and the chances of a tiger in the tall grass.
we lived in a hotel ramshackle and dusty naear the railway station. kamakheya temple is on a hill overlooking the city bathed in the blood of lambs and pigeons. the bamboo institute where inventive bamboo techniques are being developed and promoted. bipul sir's workshop where he experiments with form and furniture and his site where everything is built with bamboo.
and that one night in kolkata.
after that wild ride on super crowded streets in yellow ambassador cars and dumping our bags at the yatri niwas at howrah. the beautiful bridge, park street dinner at mocambo and the victoria memorial in moonlight. the horses were grazing on the maidan.
Friday, November 12, 2010
guangzhou / shanghai / beijing
an exchange programme with me and ten students to guangzhou for 20 days (or so). in pictures and captions... long and self indulgent. so be warned. photographs on facebook. :)
day 1 - thursday
night flight to hong kong and a coach across to the mainland. hong kong felt right. dark green hills dipped in the sea connected by bridges crisscrossing over ferries and those skyscraper apartments glittering in the morning light. spectacular skyline. wish i had more time there- but maybe next time. into mainland china- another passport check and a highway zooms over worker housing and factories and farmlands all mixed into one surreal landscape. boundaries blur. high rises in the middle of old docks and duck farms.
at guangzhou we meet the chinese kids who had come to india and they take us to the hostel where the students are living- overlooking the pearl river. balconies. back to guangzhou academy of fine arts (gaga) for me where i meet yang and wang ge- whose house i live in.
the first big dinner of hunan food- duck. frog. stomach of pig. fish. and a lot of other things i can't remember.
day 2 - friday
wang ge's house is on the 15th floor close to gafa. a bachelor pad where i have a room. the other is shared by wang ge and xiao gu- his animator friend from beijing. introduction to the workshop at 10. urban video with 5 groups- tea ceremonies / flyovers / a heritage area - dong shan / the guangdong markets/ the dream of the city.
i took a ride to the dong shan area with the group and began my first walk. sweet red buildings encircled by high rises and hotels. a church. a market. a house in floor plan tiling as a reminder of what once was. the walk back across the river and the riverfront preparing for its celebration- the opening of the asian games on the 11th of november.
day 3 - saturday
after my chinese breakfast of some kind of rice cakes with meat inside, i met sagar and ambre's group at gafa and took the metro to the old town. the main pedestrian street with shops on both sides and then a plaza of high rises with enormous digital screens. i left the group and walked on alone- through markets of wholesale cloth in narrow streets until arriving and megastructure for clothes. people spilling out of the building into the streets. the cultural park close by had inflatable asian games mascots and tai chi old people. some musicians.
then i moved north off the main streets into the inner lanes that you enter through these gateways. fruit markets, vegetables, old men playing mah jong on the streets and right next to it unashamed high rise apartment buildings with clothes drying and grillwork. a maze. and through the walk you walk across one more main road clean and ordered and then you plunge into the maze again. north and west and southwards through a chor bazaar everything discarded is resold, and the chen clan academy; and another little temple to the plaza again.
after a lunch of fermented eggs near gafa saw 'qui xi'. more on the film later. dinner was at wang ge where his friend cooked australian fish and rice with chicken soup.
day 4 - sunday
this time a trip north south from wang ge's house. the road went past the 2nd workers cultural palace where construction work was booming and past shops selling wedding clothes in western and chinese styles across the bridge blown up in qui xi when the communists took over the city into haizhu square. that day was religious tourism as i walked into and past the church and into the neighbourhood surrounding it past residential neighbourhoods to the old mosque with only one minaret existing and the chinese temples- buddhist and taoist. prayer towers and incense. lotus ponds with fish. heading back down south through 'peoples park' at the heart of the city. tai chi and waltzing old people. beijing lu is a pedestrian shopping high end madness with an ancient road made into a glass encased exhibit in the middle. later i spent an hour on the waterfront watching the asian games floats go by. taj mahal in pink for india.
day 5 - monday
met kang and bi wei who was to be my caretaker for the week. turned out that he was busy for most of it- but i did manage to see two places with him. they took me for lunch at a spectacular seafood place with all kinds of specialities to choose from. i threw up my hands and kang ordered for sting rays, shrimp, octopus. bi wei and me to shamian island where the europeans had moved to after a fire in the 'thirteen factories'- the only place in china that they were allowed to be live in to trade in cotton and opium. until the opium wars. wide avenues, mansions and a church. today the home in guangzhou for the european community. then the fish wholesalers nearby. later bi wei showed me photographs of his parents and friends on his blog in his dorm room.
day 6 - tuesday
bi wei took me to sun yat sen university where red brick buildings march down a lawn to the river. two of his friends joined us and kept wanting a photograph with me to show that they touched brown skin. felt like a white skin in rajasthan. they left at the waterfront though and i walked all along the river looking across at the museum and theatre on the other side and walked across the river through the new zaha hadid opera house. folded concrete frog. the beginning of the new ceremonial axis along with the guangzhong museum. the southern tip is the canton tower- twisted and turning 'like a damsel'. the axis shoots up past newly completed glass towers and lawns through a residential area prettified by plastic flowers in the windows to a stadium and enormous digital displays. took a metro finally and went back to gafa where kang was waiting. he drove me through some factories and farms to the new city made for the university to the south east. u-town. a mall greets you first and oversized avenues empty of people connect gigantic campuses. a cricket stadium is being built next to the red brick high rise of gafa and the village nearby has been provided with red roofs free of cost by the government to make it look pretty for the asian games. china face-ism. :) at gafa the facilities are incredible. and the lecture went well enough with the help of a translator. dinner was at a small village dhaba. rice in a bamboo shoot and duck.
day 7 - wednesday
relatively lazy day. peasants movement institute with state propaganda and patriotic sloganeering in chinese. the relics of revolution in glass cases. nearby martyrs park. socialist realism meets boulee monumentality. an axis meets hands reaching out to the sky. another climbs a hill and in the middle a mound of lawn makes a stupa. at the two pavilions dedicated to soviet and korean friendship a group of old people rehearse a patriotic song. another group sing cantonese opera and still others play instruments. i listen.
day 8 - thursday
curious about the north i head to the baiyun area. where a huge monumental exhibition and conference centre stands at the base of the hill and across the road past empty land is a housing colony. the guangzhou version o f an sra. tall buildings with less than one meter in between and no light or ventilation and a market street. southwards the road led past the clubs at the base of the hill. the next segments took me past the monumental red facade of the building for the tombs of some emperors and then to yuexiu park. lazy afternoon sun and views to the city. more cantonese opera. the large sun yat sen memorial hall on the main road. red and a lawn and plaza in front. xiao gu and me had dinner in a chinese restaurant and communicated in hieroglyphics.
day 9 - friday
final presentation day. the workshop is over. some communication issues but otherwise very lovely as an experience. for some reason the group working in dongshan gave it up and made a generic lights of the city film. the exquisite corpse was a good idea that needed to evolve more. after the presentations the students and me were invited for karaoke to 'neways' by some of the chinese students. on the third floor of a building an entire floor of tiny rooms connected by corridors in which chinese sings are interspersed with pop hits. we hired us one room and sang.
day 10 - saturday
a day trip to kaiping- an hour and half south west of guangzhou where chinese american millionaires have made themselves farmhouses. idyllic with bridges over canals and three to four stories of hybrid ornament. liyuan gardens. a trellised pavilion and lawns. close by is 'cinema city'. where period dramas are shot. here history is allowed its patina. the buildings overlook a river and are allowed to crumble- unlike the villages in cities. the road to kaiping has these enormous factories where almost all the tiles in the world are made. at night a foot massage with xiao gu, wang ge and miss lu after a hot pot dinner.
day 11 - sunday
kang and wang ge drive me to huang pu- the old port of canton. old family temples on water bodies and a market selling fish. meanwhile some streets and buildings have been isolated for 'upgradation' which means more chinese face-ism. a thin stone veneer is applied too everything. anything in the way is summarily demolished and green plastic roofs mimic roof tiles. the gallery of the project managers displayed huge posters promoting the same. wang ge and kang shrugged their shoulders in protest. i was then dropped off at the 'creative district- where an old socialist factory now serves as a designer outlet. later i learnt that the basic set of moves for all the three cities to upgrade them into international status are the same. spectacle, some arts districts, some historic cores converted into n heritage districts. anyway here artist and architecture studios were allotted space and an exhibition was one of some art school. from there the canton tower was close enough to walk. and i did. and went to the top and looked across at the spectacle of the new axis and the array of buildings along it. the new stadium for the games was being readied. i was to meet the kids in the front of the museum. and they were late so i walked lazily to the museum and waited until they came. inside a big black atrium with confused galleries on all sides confuse the relics with the replica with abandon. entertainment is the primary goal. everything is recreated - or at least seem like they are until it does not matter which is which. the sunset on the steps of the zaha opera house. and then the light and sounds of the axis in the evening. like a bride waiting to be married. floor is lit. disney plays on the giant screen in front of the children's museum. rehearsed singing and dancing. and lazers everywhere. up the axis and to gafa again where wang ge met me and we went to kangs new office where i made a presentation of krvia work, while feng feng showed his design for the tomb made of trees. poetic.
day 12 - monday
the last day in guangzhou i spent lazily sleeping until wing invited me to her grandmother's house. ambre and me played mahjong with her and wings uncle and spoke through wing about her new house on the 21st floor away from the older neighbourhood where she lived. she loves the new house despite our romanticization of the older traditional house. vies across to the river and the new towers. moon cake and tea. at night xiao gu and wang ge sang songs from his rock back 'full metal jacket' on his guitar.
day 13 - tuesday
early morning to the airport by coach. confused airport misery at shanghai until we caught the bus and were dropped off close to the hostel. pretty hostel in an upgraded historic area. cobbled streets and similar unified facadism. one step away from the main street and we are in a real city. the mumbai connection is unmistakable. it is in the air. the energy and the people. the night walk was through street markets and busy main streets. i walked aimlessly- got lost - and found my way back in the dark through instinct. always taking the darkened road over the new one.
day 14 - wednesday
with the students we decide to walk to the main city. slowly. across the bridge over the suzhou river and into the british concession with its colonial buildings like ballard estate. a museum on the way had multimedia exhibits. lots of video. and the bund was art deco all along the river. a monument stood at the northern tip where the suzhou met the huangpu. there is no way for a pedestrian to go across from shanghai to pudong across the river. there is a metro, there are ferries and there is a ridiculous silly ride underwater in a capsule with juvenile special effects. that's the one we took. on the other side the real city is made into something from a jacques tati film. landscape is manicured and the streets are sanitised. one high rise after another. the disneylike orientalist fantasy of the tv tower, the empire state made glass and frizzy- jinmao, and the gucci handbag made gigantic. which is the tallest. nearby construction is on for the shanghai tower- taller than all. the view was all right though the kids were excited. to have an observatory without 360 degree views made no sense. the glass floor was a little scary. in the building an exhibition on tokyo was fun. mamuro oshii had a frightening tokyo scanner film on where parts of the city are mapped like they are under surveillance- in anime. took the ferry back after walking past the privatised waterfront in pudong. clubs and restaurants. the ferry dropped us off at the bund and then nanjing road's neon lights and evening buzz. the little touristy tram. ended up in a film later on - 'wind blast'- more on that later.
day 15 - thursday
the kids went elsewhere and i walked alone and encircled the whole city. first headed east through the neighbourhood where a memorial to communist writers and the places that they met were marked in statues and plaques. the area is now upgraded to new oldness and is popular as backdrop for photo shoots for fashion and wedding albums, heading east through what was the american concession and near the railway station where old shanghai neighbourhoods survive- but barely. narrow lanes and decrepit buildings are being reconstructed to make way for enormous malls. the wholesale market is now in a big building. there are no apologies anywhere on the horizon. the newspapers claim that the existing establishments are being 'encouraged' to look for areas with lower rent. along the suzhou river a cleansing project makes pretty a river that once was infamously polluted. across the bridge on to the british concession the art deco and colonial buildings and the touristy 'peoples park' around which all the museums are. the museum of contemporary art showed chinese installations and multimedia work. was met by a chinese girl and her friend on the streets afterwards. she was an english teacher in a school on the russia border and they invited me for a traditional tea ceremony. in a shop in a mall. a girl in a red chinese dress gave us lots of different kinds of tea and played up the rituals and their symbolism. the streets behind the bund were more art deco offices. and the temple in the northern part of the old city was overwhelmed by cleansed cute chinese replicas of itself. a bridge went criss cross over a water body. all the new stuff looked exactly like the old. but while the old was a temple the new was mcdonalds and kfc. you couldn't make out the difference. walking westwards into the french concession, past the lake and the location of the first congress of the chinese in july 1921 to the cleansed shikumen or traditional houses now turned into book shop cafe boutique globalised nowhereness. more foreigners around than chinese. this urban design banality run all over the neighbourhood to tianzifang where a neighbourhood has been converted into touristy arty land. galleries and boutiques. 'edgier' if you please than xintiandi. moving north again through the gentrified french concession and into the high rise glass towers to the north and the jingan temple. the walk to the railway station was through the eastern end of nanjing road and then beijing road upwards over the bridge to deserted lands darkened. the road back to the hostel was long and i was exhausted.
day 16 - friday
the last day in shanghai. i walked east towards what was the jewish ghetto but then decided to spend some time in the museums instead so took a metro to nanjing road. the development museum on 'peoples park' was fun. huge model of the city showing the neighbourhoods, multimedia displays for promoting the airport, the metro, the sustainable sewage systems. shanghai bids for global city status. a 3d movie takes over and through the main landmarks of the city. reminded me of tokyo scanner. surveillance from the sky. or maybe that's just me.
across the road and through the underground 'street from the 1930s' is the shanghai museum. around a central atrium chinese calligraphy, paintings, jade, coins... walked down to xintiandi again and took a metro to nampu bridge. there i looked across the river at barges that were dismantling the expo. the walk through the south of the inner city was great. narrow street, markets. looking for tianzifang again i got lost in the french concession- and finally when i did find it didn't feel like buying anything. that night some of the kids and i went to a club in the 'art district' of the city. in a warehouse a chinese rock band sang 80s era derived rock pop funk punk. the audience was mostly foreigners. later we went to a jazz club- the cotton club where a white woman sang sam and dave. very international. we could have been in berlin.
day 17 - saturday
early morning flight to beijing. and arriving there are stranded after a bus ride in a landscape of cold high rises on enormous avenues shrouded in mist. reminds me of delhi- except for the gigantic socialist housing. the scale is all overwhelming. so unlike the density of shanghai. i don't know why this does not surprises me. no taxi wants to take us to the hotel. claire, a helpful bystander, misreads the directions and we instead troop with all our baggage into the madness of the beijing subway. then the long walk on the pedestrian street with screens and malls to the hostel. this time in a hutong- a traditional beijing neighbourhood- all spick and span and 15 minutes from the forbidden city.
day 18 - sunday
the forbidden city is close and we walk along the moat with the wind blowing cold and wait for it to open at 8.30 am. when it does, crowds of tourists along the axis. courtyard after impressive courtyard along the ceremonial central. and off from it to the west a series of smaller courtyards - systems of privacy choreographed and every courtyard just this slightly different from the previous. museum rooms and relic until at the end the imperial garden- rockwork and a vista back to the pavilion on top of the hill. the way back went through a strange burned out colonial pavilion. out of the main gate on to tiananmen square. red flags flutter above mao's face. and along the axis his tomb. a student asks me who mao was. my jaw drops and i ask around to the rest of the group. one knows. i shudder. nearby is the national theatre- the silver egg glistening in the morning light, dipped in water. a walk further south took us to two parallel streets one cleaned for the tourists and running parallel to it a local market still selling fermented eggs and pork. not too difficult to imagine which i preferred and which the students did. at the southern end we took cycle rickshaws beijing style to the temple of heaven. circle symbolises heaven, the square - the earth. ritual sacrificial platforms and abstinence pavilions. tier upon tier of geometries down axii- north south east west. again at the southern end a taxi past sino soviet monumental ugliness and glass clad monstrosities to the north western corner of the city where a wind was blowing wild over the water in the summer palace. the evening light hit the palace front head on. along the water through the endless corridor with paintings in every bay and climb to the top with views across the city. further down a marble boat and bridges. a metro took us to the silk market which turned out to be a shopping mall. the kids decide to shop and i decide to go see the koolhaas cctv nearby. shrouded in darkness with the plaza closed off from the street. the twisted section not so impressive anymore. the steven holl linked hybrid that we saw on the way from the airport- much more exciting. the night walk took me through the embassy area with guards standing like statues ; and then within the 2nd ring road through old hutongs given pretty skins. to walk within them is much nicer.
day 19 - monday
the great wall with a bunch of iranian men in the car who know india through shah rukh khan and raj kapoor. sholay. one of them sings for me. the ride to the great wall to the north and then the long climb up a portion teeming with tourists. my knee starts acting up on the way down. posing for photographs. the way back through a jade museum and a silk museum in the city- jack- our guide annoys. we leave the group at the birds nest olympic stadium and the water cube. spectacular scale, spectacular skin. light in the evening on the plaza.
day 20 - tuesday
morning back to hong kong at the foster terminal 3. red roof. and then bombay- about time. movies- 'ocean heaven'. 'fame' . 'waqt'
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
an all woman cast in new york high society calls for a bunch of stars playing type with glee. suffering divorcee, strong independent woman and husband stealing bitch by joan crawford. and the thing that they all discuss the most is men- how to please them, how to keep them, how to ditch them.
the pitfall in the insurance man’s suburban boredom with wife and child happens when in search for adventure he has a one night stand with the girlfriend of convict. turns out that the real bad man here is the ex-cop who now scans potential insurance beneficiaries who also lusts after the same woman. ‘stay in the suburbs!’ the film screams out- american men don’t have the intelligence to understand the complexities of the city.
then there was howards hawks fantastic version of the raymond chandler 'the big sleep'. lauren bacall plays the sexy seductress to humphrey bogart's philp marlowe. she is smarter one of the two daughters of a rich biollionaire being blackmailed. The twists go on forever and so do the one-liners.
another noir, but recent, takes off from a self conscious noir graphic novel- whose central character is a snarling detective with dead wife looking for revenge. a banned drug makes victims see black bird fly through the sky before they tear your body to pieces. this one is very forgettable.
jia zhang ke’s documentary ‘dong’ made parallel with the gorgeous ‘still life’ pales in comparison. the staged long pans over the ruins of cities in the three gorges valley are intercut with a narrative of a neorealist painter trying to paint laborers in the landscape. this is the first half which ends with a cringe inducing sequence when the painter goes with photographs and toys for the wife and children of the laborers he has painted in the their distant home town. the second half follows the painter as he goes up and down bangkok’s various transportation systems and tries to paint an array of women who are probably sex workers.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
laura .. a single man . an education . paranoid park . the day the earth stood still .10 things i hate about you .
on the noir trip that i am on, otto premingers ‘laura’. a mysterious murder of a top advertising executive leads to suspicions flying all round, including her fiance and her much older mentor. most of the action takes place in the apartment of the dead woman and the central character is a snarling detective complete with crush on said victim. really not that mysterious but fun to watch.
it is apparent that a fashion designer was behind the very stylish visuals of the gorgeously shot ‘a single man’. carefully recreating the chirstopher isherwood novel the film follows a day in the life of an english professor in los angeles as he reminisces about the lover he lost a few years back. as he contemplates suicide the world reaches out to him to love and cherish in precise detail, colour and texture.
a romance with an older man offers a bored exceptionally bright girl in britain a chance to really experience life- as defined by restaurants, concerts and a trip to paris. too bad that it turns out that he is married. a straightforward coming of age period drama. straightforwardly and smartly made.
but ‘paranoid park’ is something else. below a bridge young men ride skateboards rolling, swaying, swinging- freedom on the edge. they all seem to be escaping from something. our hero- young wide eyed innocent – from a family that is breaking up and a girlfriend he does not care for, and his own shyness. an accident where he kills a security guard forms the basic plotline of the film- but really that does not matter too much. the long slow motion skateboarding scenes, the muddled complex soundscape, and the gentle boys who are playing at being men, all reminded me so much of gus van sants earlier american suburbs and violence epic- ‘elephant’. loved that too.
i am supposed ot like ‘the day the earth stood still’ a sci fi special effects extravaganza where aliens invade the earth yet again- and destroy it- yet again- all because the human race is incapable to keeping the greenhouse gases under control. so keanu reeves arrives with a single expression on his face accompanied by a gigantic cyclops like figure in the middle of central park (where else?) the films tries to get all profound and philosophical and fails spectacularly. if only they had embraced more wholeheartedly the silly hollywood fluff it could have been.
a run of the mill prom king / queen high school comedy in ’10 things i hate about you’. the only real highlight is heath ledger and julia stiles as the guy and girl that everyone is afraid of in the school. the rest is bubblegum.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
vixen . cradle 2 the grave . how to murder your wife . suspicion . fury . gilda . the conformist . the name of a river
tongue in cheek almost porn from russ meyer. vixen, the big busted heroine sleeps with absolutely everyone on screen- and that is the story- until a ridiculously silly discussion regarding racism and marx on a flight kidnapped to cuba from canada.
i feel sorry for jet li in every american film. the man is so out of sorts. he scowls one dimensionally and kicks butt like a robot. surrounding him in this flat crime drama are generic black types involved in some caper involving black diamonds.
jack lemmons apartment in 'how to murder your wife' is transformed from designer bachelor pad to girly kitsch when he marries a hot italian woman who jumps out of a cake. his misogynistic butler threatens to leave him over the woman and guess whose side lemmon takes. very sexist, fairly funny.
the hitchcock mystery 'suspicion' wasnt very suspenseful. a wife suspects her dandy of a husband of a possible murder- and that is the only thing that is scary. cary grant is smooth as the husband though.
'fury' was fritz langs noir. for a change the city was the place of civilization and sanity. spencer tracy plays a good guy suspected of being a kidnapper by a bunch of idiot villagers looking for a fight. when, in a mindless rage the burn down the jail they think tracy is dead- but tracy is still alive and looking for revenge. good film, i thought.
in 'gilda' rita hayworth is all glam in the lead role. her big boned all american-ness is foil for the complicated seductress she plays. she is in a complex love-hate relationship with her husbands right hand man - set in argentina. both the men in her life work in a casino that's a front for smuggling tungsten. (?)
in 'the conformist' bertolucci's film on italian fascism and its politics (and aesthetics) of order and fear, the reason for the lead characters self-effacement and lack of courage seems to be placed on an incident that occurred when the man was merely a child. a chauffeur almost seduces the boy and is believed to be killed by him. is this the scar that leaves him with a perpetual fear making him conform to all the unreasonable violence of the party. he follows his orders even when he is asked to betray his teacher and the woman he probably loves. but really, the film is really about the way it is staged. elaborate and cold styling in italy- the offices of the bureaucracy, or the streets of paris- all blue and cold with only the light from the shops selling the latest fashion giving warmth or the brilliant assassination sequence in the forest.
and last night we saw 'the name of a river' a tribute to ghatak that name-checked so many films and incidents in his life. the images were stunning- calcutta from the river and the sky, rivers and boats, the airfield from suvarnarekha; and osme of the music. but finally at the end of it the relentless inside references, the perpetual, very bengali, angst was a little too much to take.
Thursday, October 07, 2010
the film is beyond brilliant. expecting a rollercoaster star vehicle like sivaji, i was taken in by the first half's mad over the top jokiness. so you can imagine how stunned i was by the dark oedipal drama of the second half.
rajni the scientist ignores his lover in the quest for making a machine in his image- his child, born from him, and carrying in his metallic body all of whom rajni wants to be. except that 'one thing'- 'feelings' is what we are told but really we all know it is the phallus. this inability for a robot to reproduce is mirrored in a sequence when danny's rival robot humps the ground in a useless gesture of failure and ends up shooting the groin of an outline of a man used as a target.
the girlfriend of the scientist adores this harmless de-masculinised version of her lover who follows her every wish and saves her from being raped. these infantile antics are mistaken for much more by the robot when he develops human emotions as love. the father and the son fall for the same woman. a competiton between them leads ot the father destroying the son in an act of spectacular violence.
all this while we believe that the film is, like so many other science fiction films, a love hate relationship with technology and its possibilities and dangers- the danger of super rationality and the irrationality of our desires. and this is a theme through the film- in many a dialogue and scene. man against machine. the power of man's mind and the fear of uncontrollable technology.
in the second half the robot reappears in a violent form- corrupted by danny's jealousy. danny is now a foster father. faced with his own extinction the robot begins to reproduce. multiple versions of himself form an army of him- without that one missing part- feelings / phallus. the girl is kidnapped and kept in a sexless imprisonment until she agrees to make robosapiens with the villain- more sexless reproduction. the only difference between machine and man is sexuality.
in a superb climactic fight, the multiple robots come together, merge all their identities to become one overpowering machine.. they form and reform into spheres and walls, snakes and screws, joined together by one brain in multiple centers- a rhizome that can only be destroyed through a virus that penetrates through all defences. it is only apt that this sequence is filmed in the disconnected half built mind-spaces of chennai and mumbai. here glass clad building overlook these mad machines escaped from the call cnters on desolate streets with half built infrastructure everywhere, buildings under construction and flyovers leading into the sky. the internal sequences are in lab like antiseptic chrome and glass.
so well done- and so much darker than i had thought it would be. even the music seems to come out of some strange fusion of machine and man. the song sequences and dances are cyborg dreams. there is no real happy ending here. even at the end when the son dismantles himself to save his father, he is still in love with his mother.