January 28, 2012

Last Night at Juhu

I had a conversation with the writer and the director of the latest release ‘Agneepath’. True to my nature, I did the most of talking. Following are the excerpts:

(As I came out of Chandan Theatre, with thousands of others, the Writer spotted me. He was coming out of the next-door PVR.)

The Writer: Hey Satyanshu! How did you like the film? I really want to know your reaction.

Me: Well… I’ll get to that later. But first I’ve some questions for you.

The Writer: Go on!

Me: You took a long time to justify why a young Vijay decides to make ‘revenge’ his life’s sole ambition, the entire story until we see the first glimpse of his grown-up self is about that, and I was pretty involved during that part. So I must say the film began well for me.

The Writer: Oh, thank you!

Me: Wait… hold on… I’m not complimenting you… Anyway, let me first ask you those questions. At the interval point I realized that Vijay had spent most of our film time plotting and acting against his father-figure Rauf Lala. Why did he do that? Was eliminating Lala the only way for Vijay to reach Kancha? I don’t believe that! We were prepared to watch him avenge his father’s death and here he was, busy needlessly, with Lala. The final clash with Lala was justified as Lala was ‘selling’ Vijay’s kid sister, but Lala did that to avenge the death of his son, and I would say he was justified in doing so. Don’t you think Vijay lost his focus for the most part of the film and his incoherence confused the audience?

The Writer: No one has been complaining that!

Me: Yeah, I agree. They are too confused to pin-point this major personality flaw in Vijay, the hero who confused his vengeance. And there are more questions… See. Vijay went to fight Kancha alone, right? With neither his army of eunuchs, nor with Om Puri’s police force, nor with the goons he had stolen from Rauf Lala. He went alone, almost empty handed, right? So why did he wait all these years? And, this brings me back to my first question, why did he work tirelessly to eliminate Lala? Was it because he could not find proper means of transport to go back to his village all these years? Why did he keep waiting? We would have cheered his incredible single-handed victory over Kancha anyway, didn’t he know that? Was he waiting to build enough muscles to be able to life the giant Kancha at the most vulnerable point of the duel? Or was he waiting for the film to approach its third hour of run time?

The Writer: Have you watched the original?

Me: I’ve watched ‘Scarface’.

The Writer: I’m talking about the original ‘Agneepath’. Have you watched it?

Me: No.

The Writer: Watch it. Then we will talk.

(Interrupted by the entry of the Director)

The Director: So, you didn’t like it?

Me: Well… I think it was OK. But I really liked your work as the director. It was you who managed to create an atmosphere that kept me involved. You took a weak script and unconvincing characters and made a powerful film. I would say all merits of the film (including the performances) are yours, and all demerits (including the performances) are the writer’s.

The Director: But I’m the writer as well.


The Director: Don’t you see? You’ve been talking with me about the script for so long now!

Me: Oh, really??? Um… I don’t know… Sorry. Excuse me!

(And I quietly slip away.)

January 22, 2012

Must Watch Before You Die #24: 12 Angry Men (1957)

I must confess that I'm not very sure about every movie I recommend here as a 'must watch', because my reasons for selecting one might not be sufficient to convince others. But at times I am absolutely confident about the choice, and Sidney Lumet's '12 Angry Men' is one of those movies. I watched it last night for the second time and was blown away by it yet again. As I recommend it here, I can't imagine there can be any one who would not like this film.

'12 Angry Men' is a must-watch because:
  • It is perhaps the finest example of the triumph of the script. The film has nothing to seduce you - visually, art-wise, not even attractive women or lovable kids. It just has a clear and captivating plot with some unforgettable characters. For all students of cinema this is one example of what good writing can achieve.
  • It proves that you do not need any resources to make a good film. If you have a good script, all you need is good performers. The way Lumet has used the limitations of space and time to his advantage is amazing. 90 minutes in one small dull room, in almost real time, and it still won't let you blink. For all young filmmakers wanting to make their first film, it is a great inspiration. It was Lumet's first and then he had an illustrious career with films like 'Dog Day Afternoon' and 'Network'. Today he is considered as one of the finest American filmmakers of all time.
  • It is one of the most violent films, despite having no moment of physical violence. Not a single slap, but it is still so powerful. It is also a great psychological study of human minds, and an effortless and sharp critique of the society we live in.
  • Most importantly, and like other Lumet films, it should be watched for its performances.
I'm so inspired by this film that this morning I started a shot-by-shot study of it. Hopefully, I'll finish it in the next 10 days. I don't know whether posting it here would be helpful for the readers of this blog, but we'll see. Presently, it is giving me immense satisfaction as a student of screen grammar.

Do watch it soon!

January 09, 2012

Gurudev Uvaacha #3

Just read a fascinating Hitchcock interview conducted by Peter Bogdanovich. Following are some excerpts. Click here to read the complete interview.

You never watch your film with an audience. Don't you miss hearing them scream?
Hitchcock: No. I can hear them when I'm making the picture.

'Young and Innocent' (1937)

Hitchcock: When you are dealing with melodrama, you mustn't let the characters take themselves where they want to go. They must come where you want to go. So it's really an inverted process... You lay out your story and you put the characters in afterwards. That's why you don't get really good characterizations.

Wasn't 'Rebecca' (1940) the first film in which you experimented with a tracking camera as opposed to the use of montage?

Hitchcock: Only because we were going around a big house. I don't think it was really right, because after all, the eye must look at the character. It must not be conscious of a camera dollying unless... for a particular purpose.

How did you get the idea of the windmill sequence in 'Foreign Correspondent' (1940)??

Hitchcock: When I am given a locale... it's got to be used dramatically. We're in Holland. What have they got in Holland? Windmills? Tulips? If the picture had been in color, I would have worked in the shot I've always wanted to do and never have yet. The murder in a tulip field. Two figures. The assassin... comes up behind the girl. The shadow creeps up on her, she turns, screams. Immediately we pan down to the struggling feet, in the tulip bed. We dolly the camera in to one of the flowers, sounds of the struggle heard in the background. We go right to one petal -- it fills the screen -- and, splash! a drop of red blood comes over the petal. And that would be the end of the murder.

How did that long tracking shot for the famous balcony love scene in 'Notorious' (1946) develop?

Hitchcock: I felt that they should remain in an embrace and that we should join them... The whole idea was based on not breaking the romantic moment... The idea came to me many, many years ago when I was on a train going from Boulogne to Paris... The train goes slowly through a town called Ataples... There's a big, old, red brick factory, and to one end of the factory was this huge, high brick wall. There were two little figures at the bottom of the wall -- very small -- a boy and a girl. The boy was urinating against the wall, but the girl had a hold of his arm and she never let go. She'd look down at what he was doing, and then look around at the scenery, and down again to see how far he'd got on. And that was what gave me the idea. She couldn't let go. Romance must not be interrupted, even by urinating.

What was your main reason for making 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)?

Hitchcock: When your batteries run dry, when you are out creatively, and you have to go on... Take a comparatively successful play that requires no great creative effort on your part and make it. Keep your hand in, that's all... If you have to make a film -- as I was under contract to Warners at the time -- play safe. Go get a play and make an average movie -- photographs of people talking. It's ordinary craftsmanship.

Isn't 'Vertigo' (1958) about the conflict between illusion and reality?

Hitchcock: Oh, yes... The basic situation contained so much analogy to sex. Stewart's efforts to recreate the woman were, cinematically, exactly the same as though he were trying to undress the woman, instead of dressing her. He couldn't get the other woman out of his mind. Now, in the book, they didn't reveal that she was one and the same woman until the end of the story. I shocked Sam Taylor, who worked on it, when I said, "When Stewart comes upon this brunette girl, Sam, this is the time for us to blow the whole truth." He said, "Good God, why?" I told him, if we don't what is the rest of our story until we do reveal the truth... A man wants to make a girl over and then, at the very end, finds out it is the same woman. Maybe he kills her, or whatever. Here we are, back in our old situation: surprise or suspense. And we come to our old analogy of the bomb: you and I sit talking and there's a bomb in the room. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! the bomb goes off and they're shocked -- for fifteen seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, insert the bomb, show that the bomb is placed there, establish that it's going to go off at one o'clock -- it's now a quarter of one, ten of one--show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes very vital, by its sheer nonsense. "Look under the table! You fool!" Now they're working for ten minutes, instead of being surprised for fifteen seconds.

In 'Psycho' (1960), aren't you really directing the audience more than the actors?

Hitchcock: Yes. It's using pure cinema to cause the audience to emote. It was done by visual means designed in every possible way for an audience. That's why the murder in the bathroom is so violent, because as the film proceeds, there is less violence. But that scene was in the minds of the audience so strongly that one didn't have to do much more... Can you imagine how the people in the front office would have cast the picture? They'd say, "Well, she gets killed off in the first reel, let's put anybody in there, and give Janet Leigh the second part with the love interest." Of course, this is idiot thinking. The whole point is to kill off the star, that is what makes it so unexpected. This was the basic reason for making the audience see it from the beginning. If they came in half-way through the picture, they would say, "When's Janet Leigh coming on?" You can't have blurred thinking in suspense.

January 01, 2012

Cinema 2011: Looking Back at my Cinema Experience of the Year

It was the year when I finally watched ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Ben-Hur’, and ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ – movies that are definite milestones in the career of a movie-buff. Keeping up with 2009, and 2010, I watched close to 240 good films. But I will remember 2011 as the year that took this romance to new, complicated, levels. Studying cinema, writing screenplays, making short films, and most importantly – sharing perspectives and passion with young and fresh cinephiles, it seems to be the beginning of crazy times ahead. Also, for the first time I feel myself updated with the current happenings of International Cinema. As the critics are coming up with the lists of the bests of the year, I have heard of most and watched many.

Following are the highlights of the year:

• Finishing the filmography of Andrei Tarkovsky and the Coen Brothers, and also, barring one avoidable film each of, Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch: While Kubrick surely remains my favourite English-language filmmaker, and the Coen Brothers and David Lynch among the modern favourites, Tarkovsky has been the most difficult filmmaker to watch. It is easy to acknowledge him as a rare artist, but watching his movies is tough. I plan to study him further in 2012, and re-watch all seven of his feature films, hoping to appreciate him better.

• Scoring high with other masters: As on date I have watched 19 Hitchcock films, including all major ones. Other high scores are: Kurosawa’s 14, Bunuel’s 13, Bergman’s 12, Scorsese’s 12, Fellini’s 11, and Spielberg’s 11. Top it with Satyajit Ray’s 18. I now find myself more interested in their filmographies than individual films.

• Understanding the brilliance of Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick, Abbas Kiarostami, and Lars Von Trier: Earlier I had just watched one or two of their features. Today they are among my all-time favourites.

• New Discoveries: Most impressive have been Buster Keaton, David Cronenberg, the Dardenne Brothers, and Ang Lee. Also watched one-two films each of Fatih Akin, Mani Kaul, Werner Herzog, Jacques Tati, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Pier Paolo Passolini, Emir Kusturica, and Roberto Rossellini. Need to watch more of them.

• Continuing with exploring the films of Roman Polanski, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Huston, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Woody Allen, and Ken Loach.

• Big Screen Re-watch: ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Schindler’s List’, and ‘GoodFellas’.

• Studying ‘Citizen Kane’. Also, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Bicycle Thieves’, ‘Pather Panchali’, ‘Breathless’, and ‘Pulp Fiction’.

• The film book of the year was ‘Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics’ by Michael Rabiger.

2012 promises to be extremely hectic on the work front. I also want to devote more time to teaching. But watching and studying cinema will remain my first love. As the first day of the year storms in and the world is going mad with celebrations, I’m confused over one big problem: which movie to start the year with?