Saturday, February 28, 2009

Smart guy, Dave Gibbons

"The real art of comics is the relationship of the images, one to another."


Friday, February 27, 2009

Tulkinghorn finds the last word on "Slumdog"

Salman Rushdie explains. (Actually, I've read this over more closely and it seems to me to be fatuous and basically unsophisticated. The PLOT is unrealistic? This from the writer of Midnight's Children?? Rushdie needs to spend more time at his desk.)

What can one say about Slumdog Millionaire, adapted from the novel Q&A by the Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup and directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, which won eight Oscars, including best picture? A feelgood movie about the dreadful Bombay slums, an opulently photographed movie about extreme poverty, a romantic, Bollywoodised look at the harsh, unromantic underbelly of India - well - it feels good, right? And, just to clinch it, there's a nifty Bollywood dance sequence at the end. (Actually, it's an amazingly second-rate dance sequence even by Bollywood's standards, but never mind.) It's probably pointless to go up against such a popular film, but let me try.

The problems begin with the work being adapted. Swarup's novel is a corny potboiler, with a plot that defies belief: a boy from the slums somehow manages to get on to the hit Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and answers all his questions correctly because the random accidents of his life have, in a series of outrageous coincidences, given him the information he needs, and are conveniently asked in the order that allows his flashbacks to occur in chronological sequence. This is a patently ridiculous conceit, the kind of fantasy writing that gives fantasy writing a bad name. It is a plot device faithfully preserved by the film-makers, and lies at the heart of the weirdly renamed Slumdog Millionaire. As a result the film, too, beggars belief.

It used to be the case that western movies about India were about blonde women arriving there to find, almost at once, a maharajah to fall in love with, the supply of such maharajahs being apparently endless and specially provided for English or American blondes; or they were about European women accusing non-maharajah Indians of rape, perhaps because they were so indignant at having being approached by a non-maharajah; or they were about dashing white men galloping about the colonies firing pistols and unsheathing sabres, to varying effect. Now that sort of exoticism has lost its appeal; people want, instead, enough grit and violence to convince themselves that what they are seeing is authentic; but it's still tourism. If the earlier films were raj tourism, maharajah-tourism, then we, today, have slum tourism instead. In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.


Tulkinghorn on a strange tribute to an odd writer

The Guardian eulogizes Philip Jose Farmer on its book blog, with an essay that reads like a discarded forward to Dangerous Visions or New Worlds: a sixties-style paean to SF as a low rent vehicle for radicalizing the young. Farmer was central in the creation of an alternate culture out of the scraps of Edwardian and Depression-era boys' fiction: leading, it could be argued, to Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and thus almost the entire male half of today's non-alternate pop culture..... Seems more important to me than a couple of dated short stories about alien sex.

But, as is often asked, what do I know?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tulkinghorn's Omnium Gatherum

A couple of things of interest that I'm too preoccupied to write about at length:

BBC Radio is beginning a science fiction festival (or 'season' in English) across the three channels that broadcast radio drama. All will be available using the 'Listen Again' facility for about a week after initial broadcast. Much of interest, but I'm particularly intrigued by the dramatization of Iain M. Banks's 'State of the Art' on March 5, and a probably disappointing laff riot called 'Bring Me the Head of Philip K. Dick', on March 8 ("The android head of Philip K. Dick is on the loose and wreaking havoc.")

In a follow-up to his Serie Noir post the blogger who writes Caustic Cover Critic looks up English language editions of some of the books featured and has a shock (although Marek Krajewski looks interesting):
... the last of Roman Slocom's books I could find is a collection of photos of badly injured Japanese women taken in trauma centres and hospitals, with suggestions that they suffered these injuries during violent sexual encounters. If that doesn't give you the raging heebie-jeebies, well, I guess we'll just have to go our separate ways.


Monday, February 23, 2009

"Happiness is falling from the sky..."

Slumdog celebrations in Mumbai.

Shock of the Oscars for me: I've been mis-pronouncing A.R. Rahman's name for years. First Van Gogh, now this. Is there no end to our ineptitude? (Don't answer that!)


Tulkinghorn upstages the founder

Way cool.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tulkinghorn reads the paper: David Peace

David Peace is, as this article from this morning's Guardian points out, an odd combination of James Ellroy and Alan Sillitoe. (I'd add Kenji Fukasaku of "Battles without Honor and Humanity" -- but I couldn't take more than about five minutes of it...)

He's a Yorkshireman who's lived in Tokyo for fifteen years writing historical noir novels about both England in the 70s and immediately post-war Japan. I've read "Tokyo Year Zero": not easy but worth it. A sequel is immanent, also a television production of his Yorkshire Ripper novels. Cool quote:

His novels are always claustrophobic places; they put you in the heads of characters - whether detectives, journalists or football managers - visited by nightmares, undone by doubt and despair. He works by repetition and obsession, hammering home fears. Tokyo Occupied City, told in 12 overlapping voices, begins, pointedly, in the head of a writer.

"In the Occupied City," it starts, "you are a writer and you are running. In the wintertime, papers in your arms, through this January night, down these Tokyo streets, you are running from the scene of the crime; from the snow and from the mud, from the bank and from the bodies; running from the scene of the crime and from the words of the book; words that first enticed and entranced you, then deceived and defeated you, and now have left you in-snared and in-prisoned."

Laff riot.


Flashback: Tyler Perry

Violating somewhat the high-minded principles enunciated below, I take note of the $40 million opening weekend gross posted by Tyler Perry's latest, Madea Goes to Jail. I could point out that I was there relatively early, but of course millions of rock ribbed Perry fans were there much, much earlier, way below the pop culture radar.

I would continue to recommend a look at Perry's stage work to those who want at least a glimmer of insight into the tone and conventions of his movies, not to mention the tumultuous audence response, before writing them off as low brow religious hokum.

And I would suggest gently to the NY Time' fastidious Mr. Scott that if he finds the "transitions from raw emotion to silly humor" in Perry's movie "jarring," he should try Bollywood.

Reviewer`s Notes
posted Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Read this and see if you can figure out what sort of production is being described:

THE STORYLINE IS AN intense marital melodrama in which a verbally and physically abusive husband rejects his childless wife in order to take up with her fertile best friend. Punishment is swift: he is struck down and confined to a wheelchair, in a semi-comatose state---only to rise and walk again when his wife and her devoutly religious mother kneel down center stage and pray for him during an appartent thunder storm (though these may merely be some overly enthusiastic off-stage lighting effects). The context of the central storyline is the wife's huge extended family, whose members live under the same roof and whose shared religion serves as a frame of reference for every important decision. Would it help to know that all of the story's big soliloquies (the husband's rejection of his wife, the wife's declaration of vengeance) are sung rather than spoken? Or that at regular intervals a group of raucously comic supporting characters (eccentric uncle; even more eccentric hot-headed grandma [Madea, of course]) take over the stage for minutes at a stretch to enact almost completely gratuitous comic set-pieces?

My daughter got it in one: "It's like a Bollywood movie. One of the older ones, with Johnny Lever." What I had been watching, in fact, was the DVD video recording of a performance of the original stage version of Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman. I had rented it by mistake, meaning to take a look instead at the toned down and classed up movie remake that was one of last year's biggest "surprise hits" -- which is what critics always call it when they have missed the boat by more than the usual few miles. This was a lucky mistake for me, because, as it turned out, the theatrical version was exactly the sort of no-stone-left-unturned entertainment I have learned to love when the dialog is in Hindi. (It's intresting that the music is the one element of Perry's stage style that is eliminated completely from the movie version; the play was performed by a cast of gospel singers doubling as actors.)

THE UNIFORMLY NEGATIVE REVIEWS Perry's films have recieved from mainstream (read "white") critics were certainly discouraging. The one most often quoted was Roger Ebert's:
"Diary of a Mad Black Woman" begins as the drama of a wife of 18 years, dumped by her cruel husband and forced to begin a new life. Then this touching story is invaded by the Grandma from Hell, who takes a chainsaw to the plot, the mood, everything. A real chainsaw, not a metaphorical one. The Grandma is not merely wrong for the movie, but fatal to it -- a writing and casting disaster. And since the screenplay is by the man who plays Grandma in drag, all blame returns to Tyler Perry. What was he thinking? ... I've been reviewing movies for a long time, and I can't think of one that more dramatically shoots itself in the foot.
Ebert seems to have had no clue that the film was adapted from a play, much less a hugely successful example of a flourishing school of musical melodrama whose conventions are still at work, to some extent, in the more naturalistic movie versions. Instead the style was described as if all of its salient characteristics were the result of bizarre miscalculation or incompetence. Exactly the kind of put down routinely visited upon Bollywood.

MY INTEREST in Perry was sparked by a radio report about his struggles to get his plays produced on the so-called "Chitlin' Circuit," and about their strong Christian themes. It was also a point of interest that Perry had helped the Reverend T.D. Jakes adapt the play that later became the powerful Christian film Woman Thou Art Loosed, which I had reviewed favorably for the LA Weekly. And if middle-class white movie critics have a hard time with demotic Black cultural forms it's fair to say that they are completely tone deaf when it comes to religion. (One of my favorite examples is an item that ran last year in EW, to the effect that that the upcoming film version of The Da Vinci Code could be sold to the same audience that had supported The Passion of the Christ.) It is axiomatic that if a film has a religious angle, and gets bad reviews, the MSM's allergy to religion must have been at least partially responsible.

ROGER EBERT DISMISSES the movie's "Christian agenda," too, but without ever quite realizing what it is. Perhaps it is simply beyond the ken of a person who is not religious to realize that the most serious danger possed by the death of a spouse would be its effect in udermining the survivor's faith. "Don't let this turn you away from God," the abandomned wife is warned by her mother, though at that point it's already much too late. And when the wayward husband recovers and staggers upright and falls to his knee to repent, he expresses his change of heart in orthodox Christian language: "You are a gift to me from God. When I mistreated you it was a slap in His face."

A handsome and sensitive suitor for the wife's hand turns up in both the stage and the screen version and in human terms it may seem bizarre to reject this unambiguously good man in order to re-embrace the abusive Prodigal Husband. But in Christian terms this is what it all comes down to; Tyler is trying to show us how lives can be reshaped when they are touched by a Power that is more than human.

THE CRITICS HAD A particularly hard time with the raucous, truth-yelling Uncle Joe and Medea characters (both played by Perry, in alternate scenes in the stage versions and with split screen effects and better wigs in the film), who are recurring supporting characters in all of Perry's theater work, always entering to loud woops of approval from the fans. These are the characters that sell tickets, the ones his fans come back to see again and again, that induce them to sit still for the heartfelt moralizing. They are profane commentators whose comments satirize the melodramatic goings on eddying around them, without apprently rendering the high emotional moments any less effective.

In the special features interview on the DVD of DMBW/The Play, Perry explains that his project as a writer-director is to help Black theater grow by slowly introducing more serious themes into the Chitlin' Circuit format---but not so fast that the core audience is left behind. In terms of its origins, in other words, it is the heartfelt dramatic elements and not the comic characters that are extraneous.

CRITIC ARMOND WHITE noted in the New York Press that
"Critics hail [David] LaChappelle for discovering a little-known subculture [in Rize], but these are the same clueless trend spotters who disdained the film version of Tyler Perry's vaudeville-drama Diary of a Mad Black Woman. They prefer Rize because it doesn't require sympathy with middle-class black gospel or an appreciation of black showbiz tradition. The wildly gesticulating dancers in Rize reinforce apprehensiveness about urban youth being out of control."
I'M NOT SURE HOW a Cultural Studies professor would account for the resemblance between Perry's films and the products of Bollywood, though to me it's unmistakable. On one level it makes perfect sense that two forms of entertainment so completely in tune with their audience and so unselfconsciously devoted to showing the folks (or The Folk) a good time (Bollywood's "affirmative attitude to entertainment") should adopt similar styles and devices.

I know a bit about the history of Bollywood's conventions, which did indeed grow out of popular theater forms, urban melodramas based on 19th century British melodramas, and village religious pagents. (If you can wade through the academic undergrowth there's some good historical information here.) People who worked in those stage traditions became India's first filmmakers in the silent era. Like most whites I know much less about the development of Black theater in America, which is why I had to be led to an appreciation of Perry's films via the sub-continent. But on the DVD of the MBW play it is evident that the audience is very directly and vocally involved in everything that's happening on stage; that they are locked in every step of the way. Perry in his Special Features interview describes touring the country with his plays and using audience reactions as a guide when revising them. one gets a sense that the plays are produced partly in collaboration with the audience, as the Marx Brothers touring vaudeville productions famously were.

ALTHOUGH MOST OF THE SONGS are used as background or source music in the movie version of DMBW,, there is one amazing moment of full-throated musical melodrama toward the end, a moment that any Bollywood heart-tugger would be proud of. A reminder of the power of music to express dramatic emotions that may have been abadoned in the West (and often even in Bollywood of late) because it's too potent to allow a fastidious, controlled response; you either allow yourself to be overwhelmed or you feel nothing.

I would respectfully submit that it Roger Ebert did indeed manage to sit through the whole film, and saw this and was not so moved, it might finally be time for him to consider another line of work.

NB: Tyler Perry's latest, Madea's Family Reunion made over $30 million this past weekend.


Just as this was (as we say) going to press, my friend Joey O'Bryan passed along the following exchange:
Re: the similarities between Bollywood conventions and MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION.

Re: Will it be odd if a white family goes to see this?
by - manjitsinghpabla (Sun Feb 19 2006 12:04:41 )
Im Indian and my whole family loved DMBW, i think general themes in that movie like family, revenge, betrayal are all major themes you find in both indian movies and in DMBW.

Madea' the Bollywood flick?
by - ajy1 4 hours ago (Mon Feb 27 2006 07:08:39 )
I'm Chinese American and my girlfriend is white and we both went to see "Madea" on opening night. We both really enjoyed it and would agree with the poster who said that this plays a lot like a Bollywood film (we see a lot of those). This film is thematically a lot like one. It's got the family dynamics (matriarch in conflict with her daughters, 2 differing stories about relationships incl. one that could've been a Shahrukh/Kajol one), sermonizing (much like Amitabh would do at the end of a movie), melodrama and "intense" acting, upper class struggles (like any Yash Raj film, complete with overly "glamorized" sets), musical numbers (1 line dance sequence and 1 song serenade, with songs throughout), and comic relief. (Medea and Uncle Joe could've easily been played by someone like Johnny Lever). I didn't know what to expect after the last flick, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which was notable more for how bad it was. It seems that Tyler Perry has really nailed the formula (since this is essentially the same film as "Diary" but perfected). Quite entertaining through and through, this should crossover with a bigger audience. Anyone notice those similarities as well?

Re: 'Madea' the Bollywood flick?
by - toxic_staple 2 hours ago (Mon Feb 27 2006 09:22:28 )
what bollywood movies would you recommend to those of us who liked this movie?

Re: 'Madea' the Bollywood flick?
by - ajy1 1 hour ago (Mon Feb 27 2006 10:18:09 )
I'd say that "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Guam" may definitely be a good choice. That flick has a lot of the elements that were displayed in this film and is a good representation of the family drama/comedy staple.

This one is a personal fave: "Na Tum Jaano Na Hum".

And for sermonizing, you can't wrong with Amitabh Bachchan in "Baghban".

Here's an interesting article on the theme of women taking revenge on their tormentors in Bwood.
I'm told this exchange was copied from the IMDB Meassge Board for Madea's Family Reunion, though I haven't had time yet to scroll down through all the messaages to confirm this.

posted Wed, 01 Mar 2006 16:50:21 -0800

Tyler Perry inteviewed by Elvis Mitchell on NPR's "The Treatment." The name Madea is an affectionate contraction of "Mother Dear," a common Southern nickname: "It has nothing to do with Euripedes."

Mitchell mentioned an article [Gates, Henry Louis. 1997. "The Chitlin Circuit." The New Yorker. February 3], reprinted here, that I have not yet been able to find on line. But this one offers a vivid glimpse.

Predictably, other studios are now looking to find their own Tyler Perrys on the black theater circuit.

Newsweek says a "flood of mail" forced Ebert to recant his DMBW review---and it mentions Bollywood. Who's crazy now?

Interesting Owen Gleiberman review in EW, on line here (scroll down).
Let's not sell Tyler Perry short. As the vinegar-witted Madea, he's a drag performer of testy charm, but in his overlit patchwork way he's also making the most primal women's pictures since Joan Crawford flexed her shoulder pads. "Madea's Family Reunion" plays Lisa's horrific engagement off the romantic awakening of her sister (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), but Perry's women aren't just looking for love; they're snapping psychological chains of poverty and abuse and upwardly mobile hunger. No wonder the audience finds them liberating.
The irony is that if Owen is hinting what I think he's hinting, Perry could one of these days suddenly become intensely intersting to many of the people who are now dissing him..

Perry is launching a syndicated sit com with an innovative distribution plan, and his first novel will be available in April.

Official website.

Madea 2
posted Tue, 07 Mar 2006 17:59:12 -0800

This review of Madea's Family Reunion, by Matt Zoller Seitz in the NY Press, strikes a good balance:
Any critic who condescends to Tyler Perry hasn't seen his films with a paying audience. Madea's Family Reunion, Perry's follow-up to his smash hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman is the sort of film that invites murmurs of delight or disapproval, gales of laughter and the occasional half-embarrassed sob. This is the kind of movie where the villains behave so atrociously that half the audience bands together to rebuke them. To watch Madea's'with a paying crowd is to understand that popular movie storytelling is alive. Not necessarily alive and well, mind you, but alive.


At this early stage, Perry's films are more curious than impressive, but they still deserve respect as genre-fusing entertainment, as records of a particular time and place in black America, and as reminders of an era when even the klutziest films connected with life.
The finale of (to give it its full official title) Tyler Perry's Madea''s Family Reunion: The Stage Play has the second most impressive single piece of music-theatrical melodrama I've seen in his work to date (the first most impressive being the surprise-entrance-in-song at the end of the film version of Diary of a Mad Black Woman). This one is a full cast ensemble gospel chorus about turning your life over to Jesus. Wouldn't be surprised to learn there were actual in-theater conversions at some stops on the play's 2001 US tour.

WSJ goes Madea
posted Sat, 27 May 2006 07:54:57 -0700

They do make it hard to plug their stuff. This excellent essay by John McWhorter on Tyler Perry's Madea persona will be available on line for only seven days:
Madea knows that the black community cannot wait for the Establishment to save it: "There come a time and place when you'll have a say and you can change things." Make no mistake -- Madea shares the black community's skepticism of President Bush. But if Mr. Perry worked for a think tank and wrote op-eds, he would be considered the latest black conservative. When filtered through Madea such supposedly "right wing" thinking on race becomes mere common sense.

To be sure, some of Mr. Perry's assumptions may not translate perfectly to white readers. What whites often think of as obese Madea thinks of as sensual. She tells us to eat what we want and let the pounds pile up. Her advice on child-rearing includes spanking (more precisely, "Whup that ass!") -- hardly a common way of thinking even among feminism-skeptics like Caitlin Flanagan and her admirers. But then my mother's grounding in that tradition persuaded me to stop talking back to my teachers. Overall, [Perry's bestselling book "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earings"] is best read with the Madea character's voice and physicality in mind. Those who haven't caught the live shows or DVDs may wonder what the fuss is about.

The fuss is genuine -- and significant. Mr. Perry's popularity may represent a tipping point in the race debate. Mr. Cosby is too grouchy to reach the unconverted, and perhaps the message is more effective coming from a woman (or "woman"); the warmly maternal is preferable to the sternly paternal.
C.I.: Tulkinghorn.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best American movie since "The Godfather"?

My feeling from this is that if FP doesn't finally make Mrs. Apatow a star, there is no justice.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Christian von Cinerati on the disconnect in responses to "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom"

Cinerati's Christian Lindke ably tackles the vexing puzzle posed by one of our favorite recent Bollywood movies:

"...we are given two distinct representations regarding JBJ's entertainment value. American critics giving one opinion and the domestic Indian reaction providing evidence of a disconnect between the American critical reception and popular opinion. What's going on here?"
Here's mine again, for the umpteenth time:
JHOOM BARABAR JHOOM Now this is more like it: Flirtatious repartee between glamorous stars in travel-poster international locations, a gratifyingly simple plot with puzzles and slight of hand surprises, and at regular intervals outbursts of gaudy, energetic dancing infectiously explode. After a dispiriting series of summer films that aimed at nothing more than fun and failed to deliver even that, Shaad Ali’s glossy and sexy and inventive Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is light entertainment so gratifyingly well-crafted that it’s uplifting. The good feelings don’t evaporate. The central romantic situation couldn’t be simpler: Preity Zinta and Abishek Bachchan are strangers meet at a café in London’s Waterloo Station while waiting for their respective fiancées. Or so they claim. Right from the start the movie seems to be playing complicated “unreliable narrator” games. Because JBJ distinctly resembles two other recent hits, Bunty aur Babli (which was made by the same producer-director team) and Rohan Sippy’s Bluffmaster, in both of which the dashing young Bachchan played high-stepping con artists, we can’t help squinting at the flashbacks looking for evidence of some elaborate hustle. (When the underlying agendas are revealed they may seem to be a cheat in genre terms but they reward our affection for the characters, and this is a higher code than the rules of any genre.) The entire last half hour or so is one long blow out of a production number, at a dance contest in Southall at which all the relationships are sorted out. Dancing, in fact, is the movie’s governing metaphor: the title translates as “Sway Baby Sway,” and it clearly refers not just to a dance step but to an attitude toward life. The dancer who expresses this best, with little more to work with than a running cameo as a Greek-chorus-like street performer, is the star’s masterful father, veteran superstar Amitabh Bachchan, adorned with hippy hair and a Technicolor dreamcoat, who effortlessly invests a minimalist-macho strut ‘n’ shrug two step in a London train station with the poise and attitude of a lifetime. (Naz 8; Fallbrook 7.) (David Chute)


Flashback: Two ways to miss the point

Posted Wed, 19 Jun 2002 14:33:00 -0700

Of all the various ways of writing about movies, two approaches are uncannily alike: bottom-line oriented "entertainment journalism," and academic work in film studies and cultural studies. In both cases the films themselves, as works of art or entertainment created by incommensurable human beings, are the last things the writers are really interested in.

In Hollywood the bottom-line-feeders blend right in, and to the person who loves movies living here can be a bit like being the last human being in Roswell after the pods have taken over. Their eyes glaze over when the subject shifts from the weekend grosses to whether or not the movie is any good. In an almost parasitical way the data about a film's box office performance seeps into the afflicted brain, displacing any other type of thought or response, until the film itself has been successfully digested and in effect ceases to exist. What a blessed relief it must be to be able to crap out a hard pellet of statistics and achieve closure!

The academic film scholars practice a form of pseudo science -- using turf language borrowed from the mother of them all, sociology -- which achieves its apotheosis when the movies themselves can safely be set aside altogether. It is a dead giveaway that entire essays are written in these fields in which the names of the writers, directors, and actors, the human agents who shape the films as vehicles of communication, are never mentioned even in footnotes. There is probably an extensive body of "reception theory" that can be used to justify this approach.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tulkinghorn reads about liturgical music

Although David thinks that I , as a non-believer, could not fully have appreciated the occasion, I would have liked to have been in the room when the Pope visited Sydney. Peter Phillips is the director of the Tallis Scholars (any one of whose records is more beautiful than anything else you'll hear all year) and a columnist for The Spectator, where he wrote:

The music list for the Pope’s visit to Sydney was an eye-opener. Apparently the local clergy had proposed the usual dog’s dinner of ecumenically safe big-hearted tunes, sung by one community choir after another, until the Vatican intervened. When the Pope’s choice was known, one commentator (Noel Debien of St Francis, Paddington) wrote, ‘There were gasps of horrified surprise from 1970s Catholic liturgy-lovers (who prefer “Kumbayah, My Lord” and “Leaving On A Jet Plane”),' as Victoria’s Missa Vidi speciosam and Palestrina’s motet Tu es Petrus (‘a look of bliss’ escaped the pontiff as it began) were sung liturgically. Also performed by papal command were the Gregorian Propers for the day, including ‘Introibo ad altar Dei’ as the procession reached the sanctuary. The motet at the procession of gifts (sung by a massed youth choir) was Mendelssohn’s ‘Sehet, welch eine Liebe’, sung in German, a fact which further inconvenienced the Seventies radicals. There are those who pray that Obama will not be shot; and there are those who pray that the Pope will not die of old age any time soon."


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Billu" for "LA Weekly"

Right at the top.

And this, offered as the final, computer-locked answer to the lingering question, "Who is America's top reviewer of Bollywood movies?" (Her review of Billu can be found here, under the movie's working title.)

Meanwhile, the distinguished director of Billu declares Slumdog Millionaire "mediocre and trashy."

"I saw the film with a mixed audience at the Toronto Film festival. The Westerners loved it. All the Indians hated it. The West loves to see us as a wasteland, filled with horror stories of exploitation and degradation. But is that all there's to our beautiful city of Mumbai?"


Tulkinghorn on Crime, Adventure, and Trainspotting

"Collect them all."

That's me sitting by the tracks, keeping a notebook with all the engine numbers of the trains passing by: I buy books in sets. And recently, British shelves have been filled with limited edition sets of public domain titles with great design

Thank God for the collapse of the pound....

Penguin Classic Boys Adventures: Tarzan, She, The Lost World, The 39 Steps, The Prisoner of Zenda.

Penguin Gothic Classics : Lair of the White Worm, House on the Borderland, Dunwich Horror, M.R. James, Vernon Lee.

But wait... There's more:

The Caustic Cover Critic tells us of yet another series of "Classic Crime" books combining great design and public domain fiction this one from an English publisher unfamiliar to me called Atlantic Books. How many copies of "Riddle of the Sands" or "Raffles" or "Bulldog Drummond" can you own? All of them.

And if you're more interested in (ahem) more adult matters, there's always Bookkake (if you don't know, don't ask) : classic erotica, for God's sake, in the public domain with great design:
Fanny Hill, Venus in Furs, and Liber Amoris by William Hazlitt (!). Covers not acceptable in a family blog, but tasteful.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Neither Aristotle nor Hume

Updating the Mystery Quotation Contest. The Angelic Doctor rules.

“It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his relations with others … on the other hand the other virtues perfect man only in those matters which befit him in relation to himself.” This text from the Summa Theologica [II, 57, 1] has the very same meaning as the textbook adage “lustitia est ad alterum:” Justice is directed toward the other man. The difference, the separateness of the other party is intended more precisely and literally than may appear at first glance.

What distinguishes justice from love is just this: in the relationship of justice, men confront each other as separate “others,” almost as strangers. “Justice properly speaking demands a distinction of parties.” Because father and child are not entirely separate individuals, because the child, instead, belongs to the father, and the father feels toward the child almost as he feels toward himself, “so between them there is not a simpliciter iustum, the just, simply,” not justice in the strict sense. Because the loved one is not properly “someone else,” there is no formal justice between those who love each other. To be just means to recognize the other as other. It means to give acknowledgment even where one cannot love. –- Pieper, Josef. 1954. The Four Cardinal Virtues. New York: Harcourt Brace: 54.


54th Filmfare Award nominations

Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na
Jodhaa Akbar
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
Rock On!!
A.R. Murugadoss Ghajini
Abhishek Kapoor Rock On!!
Aditya Chopra Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
Ashutosh Gowariker Jodhaa Akbar
Madhur Bhandarkar Fashion
Neeraj Pandey A Wednesday
Aamir Khan Ghajini
Abhishek Bachchan Dostana
Akshay Kumar Singh Is Kinng
Hrithik Roshan Jodhaa Akbar
Shah Rukh Khan Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
Naseeruddin Shah A Wednesday
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan Jodhaa Akbar
Anushka Sharma Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
Asin Thottumkal Ghajini
Kajol U Me Aur Hum
Priyanka Chopra Fashion
Abhishek Bachchan Sarkar Raj
Arjun Rampal Rock On!!
Pratik Babbar Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na
Sonu Sood Jodha Akbar
Tushar Kapoor Golmaal Returns
Vinay Pathak Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
Bipasha Basu Bachna Ae Haseeno
Kangna Ranaut Fashion
Kirron Kher Dostana
Ratna Pathak Shah Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na
Shahana Goswami Rock On!!
A R Rahman Ghajini
A R Rahman Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na
A R Rahman Jodhaa Akbar
Pritam Chakraborty Race
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy Rock On!!
Vishal-Shekhar Dostana
Abbas Tyrewala "Kabhi kabhi Aditi" (Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na)
Gulzar "Tu meri dost hai" (Yuvvraaj)
Jaideep Sahni "Haul -haule" (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi)
Javed Akhtar "Jashn-e-bahara" (Jodhaa Akbar)
Javed Akhtar "Socha hai" (Rock On!!)
Prasoon Joshi "Guzarish" (Ghajini)
Farhan Akhtar "Socha hai" (Rock On!!)
KK "Khuda jaane" (Bachna Ae Haseeno)
KK "Zara si dil mein" (Jannat)
Rashid Ali "Kabhi kabhi Aditi" (Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na)
Sonu Nigam "Inn lamhon ke daaman" (Jodhaa Akbar)
Sukhwinder Singh "Haule haule" (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi)
Alka Yagnik "Tu muskura" (Yuvvraaj)
Neha Bhasin "Kuch khaas hai" (Fashion)
Shilpa Rao "Khuda jaane" (Bachna Ae Haseeno)
Shreya Ghoshal "Teri ore" (Singh is Kinng)
Shruti Pathak "Marjaawa" (Fashion)
Sunidhi Chauhan "Dance pe chance" (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi)


Flashback: Lon & Tod

Posted Wed, 15 Feb 2006

The work of Lon Chaney and Tod Browning belongs on the same high shelf as that of Poe, Lovecraft, P.K. Dick, Cornell Woolrich, and David Lynch: homegrown explorers of the squirmy stuff lurking just beneath the sunny surfaces of American life. Each of these achievements has a different flavor. The series of silent melodramas showcased in the UCLA series I've written about for the Weekly, were positively Victorian (or should that be continental decadent/romantic?) in their insistence that the mutilation of a body invariably produces a deformed soul. The Penalty, which is set in Africa, is politically incorrect in several other ways, as well.

LON CHANEY/TOD BROWNING: THE UNHOLY TWO Between them, Lon Chaney and Tod Browning made nearly 300 movies, almost all of them in the silent era. And in the eight thrillers they made together, the shape-shifting star of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and the director of Freaks (1932) created a uniquely twisted form of masochistic romantic melodrama. These movies about twisted bodies and twisted souls — in classic melodrama, the two almost always go together — which will be showcased beginning this weekend at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, were not ghettoized as horror movies or produced on the cheap; they were expensive mainstream star vehicles released by Universal and MGM. Chaney had become a star in silent movies by making his own body an element of visual spectacle, startling audiences with his often grotesque and painful deformations. That process even becomes part of the story in Browning’s The Blackbird (1926), where Chaney plays a dual role as both a brawny, arrogant London criminal mastermind and his crippled “twin brother,” distorting his features and twisting his limbs and all but popping his joints into position in an effort to evade the police. Chaney often devised his own torturous “appliances,” crushing his limbs into a corset to portray an armless knife-thrower in The Unknown (1927), or tying back his legs with leather straps as a double amputee in The Penalty (1920). In his roles for Browning, the suffering the actor endured resonated with the often agonizing psychosexual torments the director seemed to relish inflicting on his characters, who typically were mutilated “beasts” debasing themselves before beauties who could barely conceal their revulsion. In West of Zanzibar (1928), Chaney’s Phroso the Magician is first taunted and then pitched off a balcony by his wife’s lover (Lionel Barrymore), and then, as the paraplegic “Dead Legs,” literally drags his body to Africa and devotes the rest of his life to engineering a revenge that includes selling the lover’s golden-haired daughter into prostitution. Surprisingly often when watching these films, we find ourselves rooting for the “monster,” which in the end is the classic American underdog, bent and twisted into disturbing new shapes. (UCLA Film and Television Archive; Feb. 18-March 12.)
Back around the late '80s, when I was making a fore-doomed attempt to become a screenwriter, one of the things I wrote was a long treatment for an updated remake of Browning’s underrated The Devil Doll (1936), which I had come across late one night between the Hal Worthington ads on local TV. Critics have said that Browning lacked the wit and self-awareness of James Whale, but he had them in this film, which is almost giddy. The all-star team of screenwriters included Browning, Guy Endore (Werewolf of Paris), and Erich Von Stroheim, working from the A. Merritt novel Burn Witch Burn.

Lionel Barrymore wears old-lady drag throughout as a vengeful ex-con who has befriended an Ernst Thesiger clone mad scientist in the can, acquiring in the process the power to shrink people down into lethal five-inch slaves who can creep into the private spaces of his targets---in one memorable scene slithering between the bars of a crib toward a sleeping baby. Creepy, campy, and in Maureen O’Sullivan’s scenes insinuatingly sexy, the film seemed obscure enough to be safe to mess around with.

My version was to be relocated to San Francisco in the swinging ‘60s and decorated in pop art colors; the director in the back of my mind was Joe Dante. Having asked myself a question about the dolls that also occurred to a recent poster on“But why do their clothes shrink, too?”---I described them stepping out of their now circus-tent-sized duds and walking around naked. One of the naked female dolls stabbed a man in the neck with a hair pin and showered in the arterial spew. No-one else seemed to share my enthusiasm for this idea.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Toldja! Here's director Anurag Kashyap on the debt owed by "Slumdog Millionaire" to his "Black Friday"

Previously on Hungry Ghost…

…these reflections on some of the possible Indian influences on the shooting style of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, including a suggestion that some scenes in Anurag Kashyap’s procedural docudrama Black Friday bear an uncanny resemblance.

Now here’s Kashyap himself, in the February 13 issue of the North American edition of The Indian Express (interview not available online):

IE: You’ve credited Danny Boyle with helping you shoot the drug scenes [in Kashyap’s new film Dev D].

AK: We did not want to show Dev actually tripping on drugs but only create the feeling of it. So, I asked Danny if the camera could trip, if the visual on screen could go crazy without spending a lot on SFX. He told me about a still camera he used for the riot scene in Slumdog Millionaire or in the end, when Salim throws money at the camera. We used that camera and hence, I thank him in Dev D’s opening credits.

IE: The chase through Dharavi in Slumdog is based on a police chase in [your film] Black Friday. Do we see a meeting of creative minds here?

AK: Danny is now a friend. After he saw Black Friday, he wanted to meet me to talk about how I shot in these locations. He met the crew of the film and ended up using a lot of them. His idea behind shooting the chase was the same as mine – exploring the geography of the area and exposing a way of life. We have discussed many ideas to work on together but so far it has been random, as I was busy making Gulaal and Dev D and he with Slumdog… I hope it turns out to be meeting of minds as he’s my favorite director and his movies have inspired my first film Paanch. Most of the time I’m either tongue-tied in front of him or excited like a child.
"A man's gotta know his limitations" -- Dirty Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Ted Post's Magnum Force (1973)

UPDATE: Journalist Aseem Chhabra sent a message to point out gently that this is hardly a scoop: he had the same information from Boyle months ago, during an interview at Telluride:
I talked to Boyle in Telluride, standing in queue to see an early morning screening of Nandita Das’ haunting directorial debut Firaaq. He said he knew Bollywood cinema well, having watched everything from Subhash Ghai’s Taal, to his favourites — Black Friday, Satya and Company, long before he committed to making Slumdog Millionaire.

“We have spent decades in the UK, isolating ourselves from this kind of horror, madness and insanity that you get in Mumbai every day. So it was a great place to make the film,” He said.


In making the film, Boyle became friends with Anurag Kashyap. “I rate him very highly,” Boyle said. “He’s a lovely man and he was a big help in making this film.” And he also depended a lot on the guidance of his casting director, Loveleen Tandon. “As we were auditioning, I thought that I would have to have her at the film throughout the shoot,” he added. “So we have given her the credit as a co-director.”
So this is not exactly a scoop, especially for people more familiar than I with Indian press coverage of the film.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Flashback: Thai movies

Los Angeles Times, Jun 3, 2004


Thai cinema times it right

By David Chute

Perhaps it is nothing more than a convenient coincidence that both Los Angeles and Bangkok are referred to by their inhabitants as the City of Angels. But this curious fact makes a nice hook for a film series, and the crafty programmers of the UCLA Film & Television Archive are making good use of it, tying an odd assortment of good-to-terrific movies into an appealing "thematic" package.

The archive's current program, "Bangkok: Cinema City," (Sunday through Wednesday), would be fully justified in terms of timeliness alone. Thailand, which had one of six Asian films in competition at the recent Cannes Film Festival, is the scene of the latest national renaissance in Asian cinema, inheriting the buzz that recently accrued to South Korea.

The rebirth of the film industry in Bangkok is even more dramatic. After flourishing until well into the 1970s on a steady diet of sub-Bollywood musicals (three-hour epic soaps shot in 16 millimeter and shown mostly in drive-ins), Thai cinema had declined almost to nonexistence by the early '90s.

The "City of Angels" references add an extra level of insight. For one thing, they allow Bangkok: Cinema City to be positioned as a follow-up to the archive's recently completed program, "Los Angeles: Site Unseen," a loosely knit group of pictures united only by the fact that they all offer illuminating sidelong glimpses of the city in which they were created. The French thriller "The Outside Man" (1973), for example, which was filmed on and around the Sunset Strip by a wide-eyed foreign crew, is an inadvertent time capsule of a tumultuous period in the city's past, which forms the backdrop of the movie's conventional Mafia hit man plot.

We don't often get the chance to see our own environment through the eyes of strangers, as we do in a movie like "The Outside Man." But our initial experience of any foreign cinema is always partly that of a tourist. It turns out that many of Thailand's neophyte moviemakers have studied filmmaking overseas or have jump-started their careers working on commercials. And now that they're attempting to jump-start a national cinema, they are getting some mileage out of the fact that their country has never before been presented to the world in "real movies," films with this kind of glossy, "global" fit and finish. What's surprising is how fresh and how local many of the pictures feel, despite the imported slickness.

"My Girl" ("Fan Chan," 2003), the series' opening-night attraction, is a lovely small-town coming-of-age story saturated with the artifacts of pop culture, from sugary Thai love songs to highflying Chinese martial-arts serials. The movie feels like a relaxed first-person narrative even though it was made, with impressive technical flair, by a team of six directors who were film school classmates.

One of the movie's producers, Prasert Wiwattananonpong, will appear at the screening; perhaps he can explain this prodigy of seamless collaboration. The familiarity of the narrative format of "My Girl" presents a priceless opportunity to experience a foreign pop culture on the ground and in action, playing a formative role in the lives of its consumers, who in this case are a pack of droll, imaginative, naughty kids -- universally recognizable bike-riding, puppy-loving troublemakers.

It may seem at times that too much of the energy in the new Thai cinema has been devoted to reinventing familiar commercial genre forms. But in the best of these movies the predictability of the genre story seems to liberate the filmmakers to relax and observe, to flood the screen with color, texture and vividly home-grown behavioral quirks. Pen-ek Ratanaruang's "6ixtynin9" (1999), one of the earliest of Thai films to attract attention at international festivals, is a loose-limbed, sardonic crime thriller that takes off from one of the oldest pulp fiction plots: A desperate schmo (Lalita Panyopas) finds on her doorstep, and decides to keep, a box full of mob money.

Although the rapidly unfolding plot of "6ixtynin9" is just about as inventive as it needs to be to hold our interest, it soon becomes obvious that what matters most to writer-director Ratanaruang is the stuff around the edges, his observations of lowlife in the big city, the knucklehead street culture of Bangkok petty criminals. The movie is a dry, Elmore Leonard-style crime comedy of escalating chaos and accumulating corpses, and its incidental pleasures are its raison d'etre. "6ixtynin9" is much more nuanced than the superficially similar "Bangkok Dangerous" ("Krung Thep Antharai," 2000), a post- Tarantino hipster thriller about a soulful deaf-mute hit man, co- directed by the identical twin Pang brothers ("The Eye"), which is long on edgy attitude and neon illumination and noticeably short on substance.

One film in the series pursues its corner-of-the-eye strategy and exploration of genre more self-consciously: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's hothouse art object "Mysterious Object at Noon" ("Dogfahr Nai Meu Man," 2000) could be described as a "staged documentary" about storytelling. The director travels from Bangkok to the countryside, inviting the ordinary citizens he encounters to improvise a new chapter of a folktale-like story that from relatively mundane beginnings quickly becomes too complex to follow. On this level the film resembles a rough and ready version of "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," a conceptual comedy about a metastasizing narrative.

But we also get a sense of seeing more deeply into the lives of the movie's subjects than we ever would in a conventional documentary. The sense of Thailand that emerges from these encounters is extraordinarily intimate, although that too may be partly an optical illusion, a flickering afterimage.


Credit: Special to The Times

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.


Mystery quotation contest...

UPDATE: Mystery solved, contest closed.

First Prize: a pat on the back and a hearty, "Gee, thanks!"

The quarry is a quotation I seem to remember from my college days, I think from Aristotle and I think almost word for word:

"Justice regulates our dealings with other people. Because people who love are not strictly 'other' to each other, there can be no [question of] justice between those who love."
Probably not exact but I think pretty close.

Online sources (C.I.: Tulk) suggest the Nichomachean Ethics as ground zero, and I just happen to own a copy.

From Book VIII, Chapter 1:
"...when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality. But it is not only necessary but also noble; for we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends." (Ross translation)

"...when people are friends there is no need of justice, but when they are just there is stiil need of friendship, and among things that are just, what inclines toward friendship seems to be the most just of all. And friendship is not only necessary but also beautiful; for we praise those who love their friends, and an abundance of friends seems to be one of the beautiful things." (Sachs translation)
Close but no cigar.

Perhaps the version I remember was from a commentary, or from a classroom discussion at my alma mater.


Cinerati defines "Gothtentious"

...gothtentious would be when someone is "attempting to impress" by affecting a demeanor which disdains all that is not suspenseful and macabre. Especially, the gothtentious person reserves particular disdain for lighthearted and bourgeois entertainments. The individual will also praise material that is otherwise lacking in merit for the mere fact that it contains an appropriate amount of macabre or suspenseful content."

The gothtentious person would often be willing to take a position of disdain for a particular entertainment vehicle merely to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Such opinions may be driven by a narcissistic desire for attention, even negative attention, from others, or from an underlying sense that one is held in similar disdain by society at large. In these cases, the gothtentious person is acting out against society either for attention or as revenge. -- Christian Lindke
posted Mon, 24 Jun 2002 14:49:41 -0700:
One obvious root assumption of a lot of modern writing about the arts (and in the arts) is that pessimism is inherently more profound than optimism. That it gets at more of the grim truth about life. There is certainly such a thing as cheap optimism. One of the common words for it is "sentimentality." What we see a lot more frequently now is a form of cheap pessimism (heavily inflected with adolescent self-pity) for which there is, alas, no handy dismissive term.
And now there is, for at least one strain of this nihilistic twitch of temperment.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Flashback: Benny Mathews

Originally posted Sept 30, 2006

Where’s the Party, Yaar? was by far the best of the wave of “NRI indies” that crested a few years ago. The most widely distributed were American Desi, American Chai and ABCD, and the lack of novelty in these films, in the treatment of what should have been a fresh subject, was what was most disheartening. American Chai was The Jazz Singer with a bhangra beat: the oldest of American immigrant film fables minimally re-imagined. (Party is available here under its somewhat misleading U.S. title.)

Party director Benny Mathews came to indie moviemaling as an estblished pro rather than as a hopeful amateur with family issues, and that seems to have made all the difference. A music video veteran (Geto Boys, Scarface, Bone Thugs, Bun B, Pimo C, Slim Thug, Baby Bash---"more like a rap sheet than a resume," he admits), Mathews had a genuinely interesting subject in a dance club scene in Houston self-generated by go-getting young NRIs, and the practiced filmmaking skill to make his case without special pleading:

Last week I finally caught up with Mathews’ second feature, Santeria, an almost ethnographic “horror film,” for want of a more precise term, set among lower-middle-class Mexicans in Texas. The movie is devoted, as much as anything, to documenting the intensity of the characters' grass roots, kitchen-table brand of Catholicism, as a child’s backyard visions of the Virgin Mary split his family down the middle. One faction, led by the boy’s father and older sister, takes the divinity of the visions at face value. Another contingent, which includes a schizophrenic girl who may have fallen off her meds and a chain-smoking young street preacher (Kevin Rankin in the film’s best performance) begins to suspect that these visions are actually tricks of the devil.

Shot in a sprawling urban residential neighborhood of flimsy-looking one-story houses, the movie never feels compromised by a lack of resources. Its ambitions and shooting style are perfectly adapted to its circumstances. Mathews technical chops are if anything even more polished here, and he directs a large ensemble of mostly non-actors with seamless skill.

Only occasional movies manage to get away with taking genre material seriously, and Santeria seems to have fallen between two stool commercially. Its original title was Revelation, but like Where’s the Party? it was "re-positioned" by its helpful distributor, a move that may have done it more harm than good. Although it has the fluidity and emotional authenticity of a standout Sundance movie, its amped-up ad campaign (documented in the DVD Special Features) was bound to repulse the indie crowd. The movie's Netflix customer reviews confirm that fans who were attracted by the promise of grisly shocks were bitterly disappointed. Sometimes in the movie jungle you can’t win for losing.

I had the good fortune to meet Benny. Mathews when we particpated in a panal discussion together at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, back when Party was edging toward its original theatrical release. So when I got interested in Santeria, for both its cinematic accomplshments and its unsual subject matter, I took the liberty of firing off an e-mail with a couple of nagging questions. Which Matthews was polite enough to actually answer.

Did you think of this project as an attempt to make something more commercial after Where's the Party?, a horror genre film that might get wider distribution?

I never thought of it as a horror movie. In fact I purposely avoided all the horror movie moments. I took out a lot of gore that I was just not comfortable with. It was boring to me, and there's plenty of that out there if you want it. There is also an alternative ending where roses fall from the sky and a dead kid comes back to life.

I assume that Santeria was quite a leap for you, after making a film like Where's the Party, which seems to have been based very closely on your own experience.

Obviously Where’s the Party is every Indian kid’s life to some extent, trying to fit in and have fun. But I can’t say that I was a heavy club/party person. That was more the producers, who were organizers of dance events and concerts in the Houston area. The basic story about the "desi party" was brought to me to flesh out into a script. It was very hard, making that film, keeping it fresh.

In fact it was Santeria that was more like my own personal In Search Of… episode, because for a long time I was on the same journey as these characters. I did quire a bit of research but, honestly, a lot of it came from my own sub-conscious. As I wrote I had a rush of memories from my own Christian past. I did it all: Catholic School, Baptist Sunday School, Evangelical Prayer Meetings, the works. I saw Christianity through many of its fringe incarnations.

As a kid I also saw many religious films in school and church. The one that stuck with me was this film about Our Lady of Fatima. It was a black and white film that was spooky and well crafted, and because some of the real people had been cast in it it seemed like a shared dream. After Fatima, two of the three children did die shortly after their Visitation. In Bosnia, a woman still talks to the Virgin and people have video footage of roses falling from the sky. That movie’s been in the back of my head for a long time.

Maybe one advantage of making something that feels like a genre film is that you can present people’s beliefs from the inside. You don’t have to take sides as to whether they’re crazy or not.

Making this film I still ran up against a lot of "that would never happen" stumbling blocks, skeptical reactions. There was not a lot I could do about that because it was important to me not answer any questions directly. Because I could not answer them myself. I mean who can? The film deals with some heavy issues. Any real answer would have been unsatisfying.

Is Santeria based on real events?

There was no one real incident. The murder described at the beginning was not something I found in the newspaper. That said, many of the elements of the story---the sightings, the deaths, the clues---happen on a daily basis in Texas. While we were making the film, there were several sightings of the Virgin in the very hood we were working in. Not a month goes by without an image in a reflection or a face in a lump of chocolate. There has to be some spiritual baggage left over from the Aztec and Mayan rituals here in the Deep South. There has to be something left over from all the ritual blood that was shed. Connecting my own issues with that Mexican-American folklore only seemed natural, since I’m based in Texas.

How the spiritual signals get mixed up in the real world is what I was trying to uncover. I mean the Pope to this day professes without a doubt that the bread and wine offered at Church is transformed into the actual blood and body of Jesus Christ. We are asked to believe it’s a miracle that happens every Sunday and is not a symbolic event. That means churchgoers may be really eating blood and flesh at church! [The dicussion of the Real Presence will adjourn to the comments section.--Ed.]

I was very impressed with your direction of these inexperienced actors. The movie really flows beautifully.

I had to focus on making it all sound as real as possible. I felt like a broken record all day everday, asking people “Not to Act.” Acting natural is the hardest thing; to forget that the camera is present, because the actor has to forget but not forget, or their performance may get obscured. When you meet an actor who “gets it”, it is such a relief. It really is a gift. I think that’s why so many directors re-use the same cast in film after film, because once you break an actor down and get him or her to do it your way, you want this person to be with you forever

Kevin Rankin, who plays Neil, has some fairly impressive professional credits. That’s a crucial role, too, because if we didn’t believe that Neil means every word he’s saying, the movie wouldn’t work at all.

Originally he was the star of the film and Neil was the central character. But the producers thought he was too "unconventional" looking to be the leading man, so I had to quickly make a shift and thrust the supporting character Tony into the forefront. There were plenty of scenes that hit the ground after that. I'll sacrifice a scene if the acting’s bad even if I need it for the story.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ross Macdonald

Dalling was frank almost to the point of fruitiness. Starting from the assumption that no man could like him in any case, he said, he figured he might as well be himself. He had nothing to lose." -- The Way Some People Die (1951)
Resonates with a quotation I've always liked but have never been able to place: "He doesn't have to act cool. He is cool."
"Some of my colleagues think that The Way Some People Die is the best of my twenty books." -- Ross Macdonald.
UPDATE: One reason this one is refreshing is its comparatively gritty tone. The settings are worlds away from the invariable milieu of brittle Santa Barbara brahmins, people who have combed everything unruly out of their existence, which can be a tad monotonous even in Macdonald's most admired novels. In THWSPD Archer spends a fair amount of time digging through skid row looking for a runaway, recording the details of the lives of drug addicts and "dipsos." These chapters have the local color, time capsule interest of some crime films shot in LA in the same period, such as Kiss Me Deadly.
Inside [the arena], a match was under way. A thousand or more people were watching the weekly battle between right and wrong. Right was represented by a pigeon-chested young Mediterranean type, covered back and front with a heavy coat of black hair. Wrong was an elderly Slav with a round bald spot like a tonsure and a bushy read beard by way of compensation. His belly was large and pendulous, shaped like a tear about to fall. The belly and the beard made him a villain.
Reading this one for the first time, rather than re-reading The Chill (as great as it is) for the third or fourth, could be the pulp fiction equivilent of getting out more.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pritam: "Teri Ore"

Lovers give thanks to God. Or is it the other way around? A tradition of ambiguity dating back to the Songs of Solomon. This one would work equally well if you were falling in love or on your death bed.

(One possible response: "You're reading too way much into this trivial number. It's in a known genre of Indian popular music that is based on religious song forms but that very few people take that way anymore. It's just a love song--and a sentimental and stupid one at that." Sound about right?)

Minus the visuals, which are lame. Scroll down for translated lyrics.

It might be worth adding that while Pritam doesn't seem to get much respect, he's an ace at injecting irresitable pop hooks into Hindi film songs. Just for "Dhoom Again" he deserves a gold star next to his name.

Next up for PC: "Billu Barber," opening February 13.

Singh is Kinng
"Teri Ore"
Music By Pritam Chakraborty
Lyrics By Mayur Puri
Performed By Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shreya Ghoshal

Dil Kho Gaya, Ho Gaya… Kisika…
(I Lost My Heart, It Became… Someone Else’s…)
Ab Raasta, Mil Gaya…. Khushi Ka…
(a Way To The Heart, I Found… Of Happiness…)
Aankhon Mein Hai, Khwaab Sa… Kisika…
(in My Eyes, Is A Dream… Of Someone…)
Ab Raasta, Mil Gaya… Khushi Ka…
(a Way To The Heart, I Found… Of Happiness…)

Rishta Nayaa, Rabba… Dil Chhu Raha Hai…
(a New Relation, God… The Heart Has Begun Touching Now…)
Kheenche Mujhe Koi Dorr, Teri Ore… ( Teri Ore)
(and A String Pulls Me Towards You… -towards You- )

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

Khulti Fizayein…
(opening Breezes…)
Ghulti Ghataayein…
(and Soul-stirring Scapes…)
Sir Pe Naya Hai Aasmaan….
(seems Like A New Sky Above Us…)

Chaaro Dishayein…
(all The Four Directions…)
Hass Ke Bulayein…
(call For Us, With Laughter…)
Yun Sab Hue Hain Meherbaan…
(this Is How Everyone Is Being Generous…)

Haan… Humein To Yahi Rabba…
(yeah… All This, My God…)
Kasam Se Pata Hai…
(I Swear Is All I Know…)
Dil Pe Nahi, Koi Zorr… Koi Zorr..
(that There’s No Forcing The Heart… No Forcing…)

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

[Himachali passage not translated;
Inna Sinde Desre,
Paani Dariya De Kande…
Inna Sinde Desre,
Paani Dariya De Kande…
Dooja Maari Aaiya Nai…
Inna Sinde Desre…
Dooja Maari Aaiya Nai…
Inna Sinde Desre…]

Ik Heer Thi Aur… Tha Ek Ranjha…
(once There Was A Heer… And A Ranjha…)
Kehte Hain Mere Gaon Mein…
(so Say The Fables, In My Village…)

Sachhaa Ho Dil To… Sau Mushkilein Hon…
(if The Heart Is True… No Matter A Hundred Troubles…)
Jhukta Naseeba Paon Mein…
(destiny Bows Down At Your Feet…)

Haan… Aanchal Tera Rabba… Falak Ban Gaya Hai…
(yeah… My Embrace, Oh God!… Has Come To Be Your Shade…)
Ab Iska Nahi Koi Ore… Koi Chhorr..
(now It Won’t Embrace Anyone Else… No Matter What!…)

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

Dil Kho Gaya, Ho Gaya… Kisika…
(I Lost My Heart, It Became… Someone Else’s…)
Ab Raasta, Mil Gaya…. Khushi Ka…
(a Way To The Heart, I Found… Of Happiness…)
Aankhon Mein Hai, Khwaab Sa… Kisika…
(in My Eyes, Is A Dream… Of Someone…)
Ab Raasta, Mil Gaya… Khushi Ka…
(a Way To The Heart, I Found… Of Happiness…)

Rishta Nayaa, Rabba… Dil Chhu Raha Hai…
(a New Relation, God… The Heart Has Begun Touching Now…)
Kheenche Mujhe Koi Dorr, Teri Ore… ( Teri Ore)
(and A String Pulls Me Towards You… -towards You- )

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Hai Rabba…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You… O God!)
Teri Ore… Teri Ore… Teri Ore…
(towards You… Towards You… Towards You…)

[Inna Sinde Desre,
Paani Dariya De Kande…
Inna Sinde Desre,
Paani Dariya De Kande…
Inna Sinde Desre,
Paani Dariya De Kande…
Dooja Maari Aaiya Nai…
Inna Sinde Desre…]


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Luck By Chance" review for LA Weekly

No scrolling required.

The insider-hood of the Ahktar siblings has effects on the movie both good and bad. The famous actors playing themselves in cameos (Aamir, SRK, about a dozen others in a party sequence) are a distraction. The good actors who were prevailed upon to play significant supporting roles are a definite plus -- notably Juhi Chawla as a woman named Minty, my favorite fake cutesy Punjabi nickname 'til date. The terminal hazard is that putting real movie stars next to them will expose the simulacra as the cardboard cutouts they are. This is what happens every time Hrithek Roshan, as the star who backs out of the film within the film to take a job with Karan Johar, switches on his kleig light charisma. Farhan? Farhan who?


Flashback: "Sarang"

Every so often I dig up an old review I actually still like.

posted Thu, 18 Oct 2007 07:43:12 -0700

SARANG A soulful romantic melodrama embedded in a bare-knuckled gangster saga, the expert Korean entertainment Sarang ("A Love") is the kind of flagrantly unrealistic movie that makes us enjoy having our buttons pushed. Written and directed by veteran hit maker Kwak Kyung-Taek (Friend, Typhoon), it chronicles the ironic destiny of Chae In-Ho (Ju Jin-Mo), who begins as a teenage brawler on the mean streets of Pusan, morphs into a sleek mob lieutenant in slim-line dark suits and aviator shades, and from there into a windswept tragic hero: a stoic Heathcliff in an armor-plated Mercedes. But In-Ho’s rise to power is haunted by the memory of the love of his life, the impossibly dewy and beautiful Jang Mi-Ju (Park Si-Hyeon), who has a face like a flower. Tough guy In-Ho melts from the inside out and swears to devote his life to protecting Mi-Ju, and who could blame him? It could be argued that neither of the lovers ever seems jaded or damaged enough, but the fact that they drift through a series of often sordid and violent events without getting deeply scarred is what makes Sarang such an effective moony fantasy — a gorgeously packaged, artfully tousled soap with an extra measure of operatic glamour. (MPark 4) (David Chute)


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bordwell on "Slumdog"


Over the last twenty years Indian cinema has cultivated its own fairly flashy action cinema, usually in crime films. Boyle has spoken of being influenced by two Ram Gopal Varma films, Satya (1998) and Company (2002). Company’s thrusting wide angles, overhead shots, and pugilistic jump cuts would be right at home in Slumdog.


A great deal of what seems striking in Slumdog has already been broached in Indian cinema. Take the matter of police brutality. The torture scene at the start might seem a piece of exhibitionism, with an outsider (Boyle? Beaufoy?) twisting local culture to western ideas of uncivilized behavior. But look again at the gangster films I’ve mentioned: they contain brutal scenes of police torture, like this from Company.


Paradoxically, then, perhaps local complaints against Slumdog arise because the film took up a subject that hasn’t recently appeared on screens very prominently. The same point seems to be made by Indian commentators and by Indian filmmakers who deplore the fact that none of their number had the courage to make such a movie. The subject demands more probing, but perhaps the outsider Boyle has helped revive interest in an important strain of the native tradition!


Sunday morning

Sunday morning I slept late. I had been given three chores for that day, and the first one on the list probably wouldn't be practical at any early hour, so twice when I woke up to glance at the clock I burrowed in again. I finally tumbled out around nine-thirty and got the body rinsed off and the face scraped. When I found myself whistling as I buttoned my shirt I stopped to seek the source of all the gaiety..." -- Rex Stout, The League of Frightened Men (1935)


Danny McBride

Coming a little late to the party I have so far found Danny McBride's breakout star vehicle The Foot Fist Way impossible to watch all the way through. McBride is an improv character comedian whose specialty is a form of deadpan redneck aggression that pours out of him so fluently you can’t help wondering where it comes from. You laugh at how far he’s willing to go and then wince because there's no way it could be entirely a put on. I suspect it's the discomfort, the Andy Kaufman factor, that makes him a hipster favorite.

McBride has been very funny, however, in blowhard supporting roles in "Tropic Thunder" and "Pineapple Express," and he re-teams with "Express" director David Gordon Green for a FFW sound-alike of an HBO series, Eastbound and Down, about a washed-up reprobate major leaguer who returns to his home town to teach middle school PE. A measured weekly dose of McBride may be just the thing.

Here he is doing his bone-head self-delusion number as a sexy homeless man in "Drillbit Taylor:"