Mehandi

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Doodles I make

I doodle and more often than I like people relate them to mehandi.

This tells me that appreciation of abstract art at least abstract forms is present (esp. when it’s rhythmic) in my society, among the people I meet and work with. Art appreciation is mildly contagious, so I infer, by extension, that a wider demographic in my country appreciates abstract art – at least when its rhythmic and dense and looks like mehandi that is drawn on hands and feet on weddings, festivals and other special occasions.

Art is best appreciated by a society when it’s successfully baked into the culture, and forms a symbiotic relationship – feeding the culture and feeding off of the culture. This is where the Afghani gabbeh succeed, where the french band ‘A Filetta’ singing Corsican polyphony succeed and our current cultural attempts fail.

No one listens to our classical music anymore because it’s not baked into any cultural aspect.  All cinema is forgettable because it has no aspirations of becoming a part of our culture (like the marvel movies that try real hard to be a culture in themselves – an empty culture but a qualified culture nonetheless) – it assumes that the outcome of a publicity blitz will be an automatic assimilation into the nation’s culture – this is just grandstanding at best and illusory at worst.

The art forms of music and now even film are baked into our culture, but one must pay some attention to how a piece of music or film or any art can feed off of the culture and how, if done sincerely, it can feed the culture.

Now, if we could only define “culture” accurately.

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Conversations with dad, who died many years ago

When I go to the potty, I take my phone with me. On it, I either scroll mindlessly through facebook and instagram or read a book I’ve been trying to read for like two years. This is not a fact that you need to know but it might be important later, if you stick around reading this.

Neutral Milk Hotel is playing in the house. I am alone, so it echoes.

Two headed boy. You should listen to that song. It’s nice.

I was watching the Godfather this morning. It’s the first thing I did this morning when I woke at 4:30 AM. Then I watched The Godfather Part II. Only my dad would’ve understood such an act of absolute anarchy. I remember watching films with him at absolutely any time of the day. He liked The Godfather a lot! And Brooke Shields was his favorite actress (because my grandfather liked The Blue Lagoon a lot, thinking that it was a soft porn film. I guess my father, like all other fathers before him, couldn’t help but be influenced by his father, even if their fathers made everything beautiful into something cheap. I really should rewrite this last sentence.) Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about.

Brooke Shields had nothing to do with The Godfather, at least nothing that I know of. It’s just a fact that I remember about my dad and my dad’s dad.

I couldn’t help but think of my father while watching The Godfather. He would make sounds of approval on great dialogue (“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse”), he would point out when he thought a scene was rather well shot, he would recount life-lessons that he’d thought the film related (this is my father I am talking about here, The Godfather couldn’t’ve pointed out scenes in The Godfather). He (again, my dad) really thought of himself as a hybrid of Vito and Michael Corleone. Sometimes he would look at me as if I was turning into Fredo – this is a reference that only the ones who remember the film would get. And having looked at me, he’d shake his head. I remember his constant disapproval and his constant pride in my existence. I hadn’t done anything to earn either, I had just existed.

I was in sixth grade when I saw the boobies of the heroine in The Godfather. It’s the sex scene when Michael gets married in Sicily. I am told that a George Clooney picture called The American shows the boobies of the daughter of the girl whose boobies we see in The Godfather. My father could not see The American, he wasn’t around. It would’ve been a very weird, very pervy, full circle otherwise. I have.

While watching The Godfather this morning, I was struck by several nuances that Francis Coppola thought of while making the film. The minutiae, like hundreds of extras at a party, so the party feels real, or the man who jumps thrice in the streets as they mock celebrate Cuba’s revolution or Kay’s fight for her freedom and everyone’s disgusting disregard for all the women in the films, or all the scenes where Michael talks to his mother.

When I notice these things, I feel like I want to talk to someone about them. Who better than a die hard fan of the film? Who better than my father?

But he is dead. It’s been six years. He and I used to fight a lot. I was always right, like Kay. He was always wrong, like, I don’t know, Fredo? or like the guy who thought that The Godfather video game was a good idea. Point is I don’t have a good candidate to talk to and point out all the things I found worth pointing out today. And just for this reason, I miss him. He was such an asshole to me and I honestly miss him.

So now I go for a walk in the evening, thinking I have wasted the entire day watching films that I first saw when I was reading Asterix and watching He-Man cartoons. Afterwards, my tummy decides, as it happens with all men who have walked for an hour having eaten a big lunch and have also seen The Godfather, that I must take a shit.

This is where I was for the last 20 minutes. I did not take my phone with me this time. For the first three-ish minutes, my fat ass deplorably trumpeted my lack of dignity, but after that my brain took over.

I have realized, as an outcome of the last approximately sixteen and a half minutes of closed room introspection, that The Godfather is a great film, Part II as well, and that I have not addressed my father’s death, I have denied myself proper grief, mourning, and have brain-blocked all versions of sorrow that such facts ensue. Sometime, I really should deal with it – the dad bit, not The Godfather.

Lost in my thought I forgot to skip Oh Comely, which is such lazy songwriting and I really despise it. Ghost is just done and Untitled is going to start in a second. Untitled is my favorite track in Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Despite Oh Comely, it’s a great album. You should listen to it, sometime.

The lost bicycle and the sea shanty

I imagine myself as a man who has lived life with no ego and with a lot of dignity.
It may turn out in the end that I was one with a lot of ego and no dignity. The symptoms certainly are all there.

Ego, dignity, is it not the same coin?

Bicycle Thieves, a film about a man who starts at the top, ego and dignity. Then like the times and the nation he is in, loses it all. Towards the middle, he goes to the same lady soothsayer that he had pooh-poohed his wife for visiting. Ego gone, trying to keep his dignity (or vice versa?) he tells the sage about the bicycle. “You’ll find it straight away, or not at all…” she tells him back.

Was she talking about the bicycle or his self-respect?

The film ends with the protagonist losing all dignity, becoming a thief (hence the plural in the title, I guess) akin to the one who stole his life in the beginning of the film.

Aristotelian tragedy. Achilles’ heel. The fall of an infallible hero who has a fatal flaw.

Was the fatal flaw of the hero in Bicycle Thieves his dignity? Or was it his ego? Or was it the fact that he could not distinguish between the two?

If that is the case, my fate is sealed too.

Unless, I can leave the shackles of self-respect behind and become the true beggar, the thief, the pirate that I may really be.

The genuine article. Truthful, if ugly. The urchin. And may be then, when I can show my true colours, I might even hoist them all and croak my sea shanty.

“Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colours high
Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die”

Right now, I search for ego in the losing of all ego. Stuck in a loop that spirals down.

Note to self: try harder, don’t be a lost cause, like that bicycle. That was a film, this is not.

Magic spells and wizardry: Cinema Hues from the ’30s till date

Every second of a film, compressed into a line 1 pixel high.
All such seconds fused, into a single image.
The colours of the film, laid bare.

All the 30 films, together

The three building blocks of cinema have been the light, the sound and most importantly, time. It is the relationship that time has with light that this experiment is all about.

When colour first came to mainstream cinema, it brought with it, a quality of realism and reverence. Try to place yourselves in the shoes of those first cinephiles. It would have been mesmerizing to see the first moving colour images on the big screen. What feats of thaumaturgy could conjure visions of such beauty and charm?

The present experiment started with me trying to better understand how cinematography works in telling a good story. A little more study and I wanted to investigate how colour and cinema have changed each other over time. How the cinematography has affected the narrative and contrariwise. The phantasy and the phantasma. The light fantastic.

I came across several fascinating artifacts. One of them were the movie-barcodes. The ones I found available were not fit for study, detail wise and quality wise. There were a few films, for which the barcodes did not exist at all.

So I decided to make my own.

First, I carefully selected the films that I thought were really good examples of cinematography colluding with the narrative. Instances where the camera worked for the story and where the story was better because the cinematography was such. I deliberately avoided ‘pretty’ pictures – where the camera work was extraordinary, but, the film left a lot to be desired (Recent examples: Memoirs of a Geisha, Avatar etc.)

To keep the study within my limits of comprehension, I divided the films into two buckets, those before and the ones after “The Wizard of Oz (1939)” – the first mainstream, widely released, Technicolor event. Historically, there were a few colour films before TWOZ, like The Garden of Allah (1936) which I did analyze, but eventually decided to leave them out, because they seemed like regular films, only shot in colour. TWOZ seemed like the first film that truly justified the use of colour. There’s always something I don’t know, so correct me, if you see a flaw.

I eventually selected the films that represented the cusp of each decade. For 1940, the films were selected from 1939-1941, for 1950: ’49-51, and so on.
From all the possibilities, the choice boiled down to about 30 films.

For each of the 30 films, I then wrote a program, that would extract 3 frames per second, compress each to an image 2 pixels high and then join all these images together. The resulting mosaic was the shape of a tall pillar that looked like the spectal analysis of the entire movie. To view it better, I rotated it by 90 degrees. I finally resized all the film mosaics to the same size – 3ft by 1 ft, 300 DPI. When viewed from a distance these images give a charming insight into the minds that made the movie.

Observed closely, you can almost demarcate different scenes, see how the pace of the film varied. Towards the very right, you can even see how long the end credits were, in comparison to the rest of the film. Endlessly fascinating details come to light each time you see these images.

The first images in this album carry a mosaic of 3 films each, for every decade studied.

To me, they are a new kind of photo. An entire movie sans the fourth dimension.

A photograph of time, frozen in time.

The photographs from the experiment are available on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151266425282880.469852.686507879&type=1&l=fa73ee7b03

The Aaron Sorkin Interview from ILM/LucasFilm Speaker Series

The Social Network, again. I continue to be fascinated by how they did it.

I swing between regarding Sorkin as a genius and someone with no respect for the medium of film. Film should be a healthy marriage of show and tell, visuals and talk – his writing is almost the exact opposite, the extreme end of too much talk. But, the words work so well together that  you can close your eyes and just listen to the dialog. So, either Sorkin just wrote the way he did, without any respect for the grammar of cinema (which is what most hacks do) or he understood it so well, saw it so clearly that he could play with it the way he wanted to (it almost always takes a genius to do that). Whichever way you look at it, it is very clear that directing material like Sorkin’s is a very very tough job. His material has led to invention of film-devices like the “walk & talk“! (BTW: would you call it a “trope”? It’s more like a narrative device, but, for film…ah! forget it) Here is a great sampler from 30 Rock where they do the walk & talk with Aaron Sorkin himself in the cameo – “We don’t need two metaphors, that’s bad writing, not that it matters…” – comedy gold!

I had seen Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War and that made me think “How could Sorkin write something so big, so grand in scope and still be meticulous enough about the small moments?” However, all in all that film did not have as big an impact as The Social Network did. Maybe it was some nuance in the writing or maybe it was the director. I’ll go with the director there. (please don’t misunderstand me, I think Nichols is a great director in his own right, Closer is proof and so is The Graduate, Catch 22 etc.)

So, Sorkin material is tricky. Which is why I feel that Sorkin should only work with people like David Fincher, who can carve a fiercely visual experience out of his words. Somehow I think Fincher is a lot more fierce, emotional and personal about making his films. He tries harder, fights harder, goes nastier and so on. And I feel that it shows.

I keep going back to Zodiac for David Fincher with the same kind of awe that I felt for CWW and Sorkin. How did he do it? How could he be so grand in scope, yet so mindful of the smallest details? Also, I keep watching The West Wing, Studio 60, Sports Night for Aaron Sorkin’s writing, trying to make sense of it all.

Then I see The Social Network.

We can all get into arguments about the events around Facebook were not as big a deal as the events around Afghanistan and that that would in turn affect the film that got made, but, it would be a moot discussion. The point is that regardless of the subject, Fincher and Sorkin have always been able to treat it (the subject matter) well, break new ground and deliver gold. And to do that well you need to know you stuff really-really well.

And that, is genius.

So, when in this interview I heard Sorkin talk about the mechanics of doing it, how he came to write The Social Network, how Mike Nichols and David Fincher treat his work (and what they bring to the table) and how they worked with the actors on the material, I was, as I said before, fascinated.

At the time of this post, embedding is disabled on these videos, therefore I’ll directly link to the videos (that’ll open in a new tab/window). Here we go:

  1. Part 1 of the interview,
  2. Part 2 of the interview,
  3. Part 3
  4. and Part 4.

Fascinating! 🙂

S.

David Fincher – The 10 Part “Director’s Dialogue” Interview

Original Artwork by Charis Tsevis, used under the Creative Commons license.

David Fincher Mosaic by Charis Tsevis

I loved David Fincher’s “Director’s Dialogue” interview. I saw it on Trailer Addict some time before “The Social Network” was to be released in India.

Then I saw it again and thought “I really like this interview, let me put it up as a post so I can watch it again when I want to…” It was posted in 10 parts of about 5 minutes each, a little cumbersome to watch.

What I wanted to do here is link all the 10 parts in this post, so it’s a little easier viewing the next time I want to watch it.

I really liked Mr. Fincher’s easy humour and the way he can be lucid without saying much (“perfume commercial, perfume commercial, perfume commercia… condom comercial, perfume commercial…” etc.)

There’s other things I liked about it, but first, here are the 10 parts:

[Update: Fuck!Fuck!Fuck!Fuck-ity!Fuck! Stupid WordPress does not allow embedding of videos from Trailer Addict – I keep regretting moving to this platform from Blogger…the move back may be tedious, or maybe not…aw! FUCK! For now, all this post has is a link that opens the relevant Trailer Addict page in a new tab/window. Sheesh! Grow the fuck up WordPress!]

  1. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 1
  2. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 2
  3. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 3
  4. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 4
  5. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 5
  6. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 6
  7. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 7
  8. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 8
  9. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 9
  10. David Fincher, Director’s Dialogue Interview, part 10

🙂

The irony of cinema or How I was saved from Happy Feet that couldn’t dance

Okay. This could be risky, tricky. Confessions always are.

I have never told anyone that I do not like Happy Feet.

I have never told anyone that I actually hate Happy Feet.

It’s like the Harry Potter films, looks good but is fundamentally cheap, a yawn is more interesting than it. I mean the documentary – The march of the penguins, from which Happy feet was “inspired” – was far more engaging. A documentary is more engaging than an animation. Not only its a compliment to the documentary, it’s a tight slap on the perfect pathetica that the animation was. It won a political oscar, but, honestly each of its competitors were far more eligible. To its credit (just like the HP filmografia), the CGI was great. Still, Happy Feet was lame. It could not dance.

Enough Happy Feet bashing. This post is a confession, not a complaint.

I got chatty with Ms G at the office yesterday evening. We ended up talking about movies (as I invariably end up doing when talking to any one for any length of time). Harry Potter and the curse of the boring flick came up. From there we moved on to other films that we found boring…and I confessed about ‘it’.

It was supposed to be a Lord Of the Rings night, a great-ey late-ey date-ey night. A gaggle of good men held cold beers and conversation, waiting for other geese to join in. Others came and flew out too fast. A few kids were left behind, bouncing around, playing with toys. I was one of them. Somehow a Happy Feet dvd replaced the LOTR extra giant DVD collective. A few girls chuckled how they really liked Happy Feet (they might as well’ve liked Harry Potter movies, I think some of them do. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry).

To my embarassment, I joined in. I said, not only loudly, but clearly too, that Happy Feet was nice, in fact I really liked it (In reality, I had never been able to finish the whole movie). G giggled. Some of them chimed the dialogue as it got said on screen. All this while I was thinking about the long night ahead. I was already sleepy with boredom and did not want to embarass myself by falling asleep watching a movie that I had so vocally advocated a few minutes ago. Dunno why I said I liked it. Was I trying to be nice? polite? non-comittal? testing the waters? being an ass? (probably all of them?) – can’t say. Everyone there was older, wiser and nicer that me. All I remember is that I was feeling intimidated – with partial loss of judgement and total loss of intestinal fortitude.

So anyway, Happy feet on screen, me feeling sleepy, Ms G giggling. The night was almost going to be a disaster when something-serendipity happened. An idea exchange took place. A conversation started. Mr A switched off the flick, sipped on cold gold, sat on a chair and started saving me – one idea at a time.

I have never thought of conversations or exchange of ideas with the same aesthetic as I have thought of flims, stories, plays and music. It was the second time in as many weeks that I realized, I should’ve thought of conversations as I think of films, stories, plays and music. Eyes wide open, we gibbered, gabbered, gamed, word volleys, idea knock outs, penalty stroke repartee – drinks got sipped and the night was saved. I was saved and happily so.

I learnt two things that night:

1. Conversations are art too. Not all, but some. When they are, it totally awesome.

2. Penguins do it with beaks in Happy Feet (it’s crazy, you should see it – Mr Dancing Penguin finally getting some action out of Ms Singing Penguin – all beaks and bad breath)

Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for lying. I was not being disrespectful or cheeky or pretentious or phony. I was scared and overwhelmed by the presence of a few good men (of both the sexes).

In our chatty last evening, Ms G pointed out that probably, “that” night was not the right gathering for a film like LOTR. My opinions of LOTR not withstanding, what struck me was the irony.

G reminded me of the irony of cinema – there is no “right” gathering for a film, even with dancy penguins in it. It is all in something-serendipity. It happens over the worst films and doesn’t happen with the best ones.

Watching a film is a very personal experience. Alone, in the dark, mesmerized by the moving images. I’ve never had the happy-happenstance of having had someone who could see it happening alongside me. Its rare to find one who actually feels a film the same way as you, rarer to have a gathering collect, gawk at it, then talk of it. And still, the elusive-search continues…

Unlike cinema, it’s irony is real.

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P.S: This post is not there to offend, but to amend-emend. I am sorry if you feel hurt, you can probably hurt me back by bothering me in the middle of a nice film. I promise I will endure the torture.