October 11, 2013

Columbia Calling

It has been close to five years since I started this blog. And yesterday, for the first time, I enjoyed a somewhat "tangible" benefit out of all these years of sincere blogging. Before I write about that, let us go back 95 years, the year 1918...

Columbia Pictures - most of us recognize it by its logo of a woman holding a torch - one of the major film studios of all time, was founded in 1918. It was not before 1930 that it emerged as a prolific studio. But soon, with its association with director Frank Capra - 'It Happened One Night' (1934) and 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939), among others - it rose to the stature of the "Little Three", behind only the "Big Five", thus being one of the top eight studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It also distributed major films like 'His Girl Firday' (1940), and the Orson Welles-directed 'The Lady from Shanghai' (1948). In the late 1940s, when new laws in the US forced the major studios to end "Vertical Integration", Columbia's status rose, as it did not own any theatres, and it soon replaced RKO as one of the major players. During the 50s, Columbia was producing around 40 films every year, and the list included three Best Picture Oscar winners - 'From Here to Enternity' (1953), 'On the Waterfront' (1954), and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957), apart from Lang's 'The Big Heat' (1953). The US distribution right of Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' (1954) was also acquired by this studio - a film that went on to influence American and world cinema like none other.

In the decades that followed, the studio was behind remarkable films from all genres, like 'A Man for All Seasons' (1966), 'Oliver!' (1968), 'Easy Rider' (1969), 'The Last Picture Show' (1971), 'Taxi Driver' (1976), 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), 'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979), 'Gandhi' (1982), 'The Big Chill' (1983), and 'Ghostbusters' (1984).

In the year 1989, the Japanese electronics giant Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Today, if you look at the Columbia logo, you will find the mention of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) at the bottom of it. With successful franchises like the James Bond and Spider Man movies, Columbia Pictures remains a vital and important part of our cinema consciousness. The first few years of the new millennium have been especially profitable for the studio. In 2007, 'Saawariya' became the first Hindi film to be backed by the studio. The commercial failure of the film, obviously, was a blow to all possibilities that had arose after this first collaboration. Today, Columbia Pictures is one of the six biggest studios in the world of cinema, along with Warner Bros., Fox, Disney, Paramount, and Universal.

But what has this got to do with my benefit as a blogger? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by the marketing team of Sony Pictures India and I was excited to know that they wished to include me in their list of Press and Bloggers for whom they conduct preview screenings to spread word about the upcoming releases. Yesterday, I got to watch the latest Tom Hanks starrer, 'Captain Philips' (2013). Directed by Paul Greengrass ('Bourne Supremacy', 'Bourne Ultimatum', 'United 93'), this superbly involving marine thriller releasing worldwide today is your absolute weekend entertainer. Watch it for the engaging and clever writing by Billy Ray (of the 'The Hunger Games' fame). And once the film is about to end and you feel it was worth all the money, keep watching for the touching finale where Tom Hanks reaffirms why he is what he is known for. Scenes like these are generally the difference between a regular thriller, and those that stay with you for a longer time.