PLACE IN THE HEART: TO ALL KINDRED SOULS AND OTHERS.

I think you’d like this story: “WORDS ON THE HORIZON” by MadMenWearingFedora on Wattpad

This is my poem published on the worldwide community Wattpad on which I have been publishing my works since 2015.

It’s dedicated to my mother and celebrates her place in my life. I feel we need to let our parents know how much they mean to us. So go embrace your kindred and make them feel special. Below is the link to my poem. It’s part of my poetry collection WORDS ON THE HORIZON on Wattpad. The poem is titled TO MY MOTHER.

https://my.w.tt/DfNeqI45fQ

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BRIDGE TO SILENCE (1989) : THE VOICE OF CONSCIOUSNESS.

In the earlier post, I had written about the path of rediscovery that led me to this effectively made television film, first aired on the popular CBS channel in the USA in the year 1989. Let me reiterate that it occupies a special place in my heart as if I was destined to watch it from the days of having viewed its advertising contents on the MGM channel where it aired in prime time. Need l say further that the now defunct channel brought me some of the best underrated gems I could ever hope to be privy to. Till date, I am indebted to its unique programming and library of heartwarmingly original screenplays. So as I write this, there is the feeling of humility rather than regret that the channel no longer exists. Some things come and go but the lingering sentiment is that of gratitude ; that is exactly how I feel in this case. BRIDGE TO SILENCE exemplifies all that and more as it’s relevant to our times, in probing mechanics of the adult world where unresolved differences find a breakthrough, suggesting that building bridges is the need of the hour and it’s never too late to at least try to forgive and forget, especially when it comes to filial and conjugal bonds. That is where the title becomes all encompassing as the fraught parent- child bond is so often caught in tangled passages of silences over issues big and small and so the silence here is more about relationships, the silence of loss, of incalculable pain, going much beyond the silence of the protagonist played by Marlee Matlin who cannot hear and hence has to communicate in her own way. Interestingly, this was her first speaking role and she used both sign language and her voice to capture her unraveling.

There is the viewpoint of her mother Marge played by the iconic Lee Remick, who is so recognizable as the afflicted mother of a Satanic child in classic film THE OMEN and as one half of an alcoholic couple in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES with Jack Lemmon.

I like it that the screenplay doesn’t make bones about the fact that she is deeply flawed, cannot be read easily in terms of her motivations and as an actor she takes the risk of not earning our sympathies till the very end while performing wonderfully as a woman who wants to take the custody of her granddaughter Lisa (Allison Silva) after her own grieving daughter falls into an abyss of internalized pain following her beloved husband John’s death. We view Marge as an antithesis to her maternal core when she takes this decision but as a viewer, I could spot the simmering layers of unspoken wounds below her steely, one track mind. Trust me, there was no larger judgement on my part regarding her as I could grasp that she, as a mother and an individual per se, had her own tale to tell and chose to never showcase her reasons, preferring to present her ‘tough love’ side of things. I mean we know parents can be highly unreasonable when it comes to their actions as they are as fundamentally predisposed to certain flaws of human nature, especially if guilt is lodged deep within. So I felt that as insensitive and heartless she seems, we will find a moment of closure and acceptance on her part, which is there in the touching climax.

Yes, she finds it hard to accept Peggy perhaps with her condition but a mother’s guilt and repression doesn’t really override her love for her only child. Watch the full length and breadth of the screenplay to clear misunderstood embers of her perspectives. Two examples prove she is no ice maiden : when she visits the court and as the lawyer presents certain possibilities to her to put the case in her favour, manipulating her daughter’s image as she is ‘hearing impaired and an actress’ , ‘ angry, mentally unstable and hence irresponsible’ she walks out in horror and doesn’t pursue the custody case. Her expressions put her dilemma to the forefront. At another as Peggy chases her down, out of her home, she doesn’t retaliate as she knows her daughter is in a state of shock and anger as she has lost the love of her life in her husband John. There are multiple instances where concern is written all over her countenance and again the fraught relationship is where two individuals pitch their febrile emotional states. There are no rights or wrongs in simplistic terms here. That’s how real life is. There is this beautiful image of John’s blue shirt that Peg keeps as a souvenir and it is a physical symbol of how loss affects our souls.

*****

A lesser script would have stuck at this ugly imbroglio of family members pitted at the court of law. Thankfully, the script avoids doing that and gives everyone a chance to air their thoughts and say it as it is. So the fact that there’s no hypocrisy in them is a novelty in itself. Peggy is strong and independent and not a victim of her condition while others too embrace the truth of the matter following John’s untimely death and do not peddle merely a token brand of sympathy here.

A lifetime of tensions finds a single moment of conciliation then and as blood bonds run deep, the innate understanding of unsaid emotions makes both mother and daughter choose to heal. I know it sounds like wish fulfillment but given the limited running time of a cinematic work, we have to internalize certain points and going by the challenging and brave manner of delineating this contentious wrestling between these women, we know this breakthrough has been a long time coming. So that’s why I implore you to watch it to intricately move through the motions yourself as Karen Arthur, the director, guides it sensitively and with utmost realism. Ultimately, the complexity of human nature hasn’t been left to be portrayed through rose tinted glasses and I appreciate that.

Peggy is shown to share the passion and irrepressible joy of companionship with John, who too can’t hear and has built a successful career as an academic; this mutual sense of two people together is beautifully captured in the opening shots. Her bond with her daughter Lisa is as strong and as she cracks under the pressure of distance from her in her months of recuperation and pining for John, we look out for her and absolutely relate to her predicament. The scene where she reunites with Lisa at her maternal home and cannot control her emotions is beautifully structured, informing us that even her kindred cannot reconcile with her inner restlessness. You see, concern on all sides do not always find proper representation through how we behave and the unpredictable contours of adult humanity is traced in this one scene alone. In this scene and another brief one, veteran actor Pat Hamilton who plays Marge’s friend Betty too registers her presence.

This is a family that has riches and privilege to live in an idyllic lakeside home in Maine but just the fact that they are materially prosperous doesn’t skimp on their life scripts laden with present crises. I would say that the adorable Allison Silva as Lisa binds the family as grandma and mother both shower their unconditional love on her even as they have to knit the gulf in this innate bond of their own. The scenes where Marge swims with her in the lake and wishes her to be proficient as a swimmer and her admission of rekindling her desire for motherhood to Al, her husband and Peggy’s father, are salient sequences. If only life and the human mind had simple resolutions.

*****

The men, apart from John who despite his brief appearance becomes an omnipotent figure partly because Matlin conveys her attachment to him even in his absence so powerfully as well as in the heartbreaking silences punctuating her state of mind, are level headed liaisons who give the ladies soccour and support which makes them model citizens since very few have the patience to actually commit to such challenging circumstances. Here they do just as in the real world. There is Josef Sommer as Al, who refuses to support Marge for the brief period of custody for Lisa she demands, going against the bond of twenty five married years and still retaining the integrity to not demonize her to others , knowing her inherent frailties and giving her the space to recover from her impulses, all the while standing like a rock to Peg.

In fact, his dignified silent observations, hope and tact is instrumental in bringing both ladies to the vocal point towards the climax, which is actually the possible second beginning for them. His belief in the unity of bonds is endearing, informed by his basic nature and age appropriate experience. He is the calming effect to the volatile tempers of his kindred which someone has to be within an unit. His performance here is an extension of his voice work as the older narrating thread of the author played by Peter Macnicol in Sophie’s Choice, another high point of Hollywood’s many humanistic works of art propelled by history.

Then there’s the winsome presence of Oscar nominee Michael O’ Keefe, who espouses the same qualities as John’s best friend Dan , also a theatre director and pillar to Peggy who is responsible for bringing her out of her slump. Note the sheer trust of their friendship when Peg moves in his living space for a while as a boarder upstairs and a particular bit by the lake in Maine where both bare their hearts to each other like always.

His delicate handling of the scene where he confesses once having feelings for Peg is bookended by his priority for the sanctity of friendship and Peggy’s own little outburst. It’s handled positively and with grace. Also when he carries Peg up the flight of stairs in her home after she unleashes her fury on Marge.

These are individuals of their word. Al and Dan’s conversations together too bring the sensitive world of hearing with intricacies of the other side. Their wisdom bridges many gaps.

*****

Finally, there’s the finer point of the script in which by staging a production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, parallels are placed as regards difficult dynamics of a family, the mother- daughter bond and the inner silences through which we insulate ourselves from a demanding society. The fact that Peggy plays Laura Wingfield is an approximation of the guilt, fear and uncertainty that subsumes her. The symbol of the glass unicorn and the reconciliation to truth after it breaks has connected with three generations and here too the integrity of the play is maintained as it espouses the knots of life itself, the difficult and complex knots we are only too eager to untangle. I think everybody ought to read this play and watch one rendition of it in this lifetime. I was lucky I had the opportunity to read it in undergraduate college years and it has remained arrested as a voice of consciousness for me. Also watch the scene in which Peggy rings in her daughter’s birthday with her best friends, in her absence.

In the play within the film, Anthony Natale makes a charmed appearance as Jim O’ Connor / Gentleman Caller with whom the unusually reticent Laura shares valuable moments of camaraderie.

It’s also beautiful how the actors, staging the play within their community theatre, enunciate the words silently while communicating with gestures and expressive mobility of performance and the dialogues are vocalised by Candace Brecker as Mary and her male colleague. It is novel and magical and not just within the niche of the community but overall,individually, that is.

The reunion between Marge and Peggy, who have cleared their heads now to actually communicate, is a feat of acceptance and articulation. Marge lets us know that Peg had gone deaf due to an illness after birth and she couldn’t forgive herself as a mother for sort of betraying her responsibility when actually it was fated. This burden has been her curse and hence she has been distant, seeming cold and indifferent when in actuality she is a broken shell of a woman, unable to suppress her complexes or express the depth of her love as a mother. A lot of regrets and realities of being are addressed. So when the lights are dimmed and curtains close, we leave them with hopes of a better future as blood bonds somehow thrive even after the worst has come visiting us.

BRIDGE TO SILENCE reminded me of my favourite film, the Indian classic BLACK, in turn updating Helen Keller’s imprint for the modern age and its emphasis on family and individual enlightenment. Here Peggy has gone beyond the training and challenges and after adjusting to the rhythms of the world, awakens personally in the face of universal grief and loss. So again, BRIDGE TO SILENCE is particular and universal. The act of grieving is a private, insular one by right but some people take on the role of extended family to help us cope. The world of kindred cuts through the silences. So in the scene where Marge climbs up the staircase to Peggy’s room, we see her resting on the bed and she hears nothing until the sight of her mother and her touch registers . It made me realize how hard and many a times dangerous can this be. How the tactile world is so important. But Peggy perseveres and that’s her gift. This film never italicizes sore points of her present state in the narrative for effect.

That said, on the technical front, visual transference on an emotional level works in mysterious ways. I believe filmmaking can elicit emotional responses in a manner that every element coheres.

The way cinematographer Tom Neuwirth frames scenes is admirable. The yellow lighting reflecting outdoor sunshine and via indoor bulbs seems to confirm a comfortable cocoon in which even the latent humanity of people is unspooled; a typical congeniality of the eighties – nineties epoch.

Props also to production designer Mayling Cheng, music by Fred Karlin, costumes by Juul Haalmeyer and the editing by Laurel Ladevich, so pivotal in the sequences around the play within the film. The casting by Victoria Burrows is perfect.

In short, watch BRIDGE TO SILENCE to experience the compassion and sensitivity of people and their talents. As I titled this post, it’s the voice of consciousness.

*****

I conclude this post with pictures of Peggy and John together. This was the most beautiful pairing.

*****

CAN SOMEBODY HEAR ME? I’M HERE. ON THE MGM TELEVISION FILM BRIDGE TO SILENCE (1989)

FROM THE MGM STABLE

CAST: MARLEE MATLIN, LEE REMICK, JOSEF SOMMER, MICHAEL O’ KEEFE, ALLISON SILVA, PHYLLIS FRELICH, CANDACE BRECKER etc.

DIRECTION : KAREN ARTHUR.

*****

A network of connections has always been responsible for opening my mind to others’ creative high points . I feel on that front alone, the medium doesn’t matter and in my malleable headspace, any pivotal work that has something constructive, meaningful and life affirming to contribute to an existing discourse and espouses realism is to be paid heed to. Be it television, cinema, books or any other literary form. To say something is to not let a pall of silence settle on fundamentals of life itself, no matter how contentious and complex the issue. This is the complex plane that BRIDGE TO SILENCE, an MGM television film released in 1989, lands on. However, sensitivity and the idea of brokering a conversation about difficult times and bonds tested by them is initiated beautifully by director Karen Arthur and writers Louisa Burns and Tom Bisogno. A good twenty nine years have elapsed since it released yet the kind of simplicity and eye for compassion it retains is something to be proud of as it tackles certain grey areas of personalities, especially regarding parentage, and is food for thought for anyone struggling with the odds of survival in a world of stilted communication. An immediate sense of belongingness and identification was so easy to come back then. May be it’s just nostalgia but you know it was something about the era; it seems that humanity had a field day then in the manner of portrayals. There was optimism always waiting around the corner. It’s like a personal pulse is touched when I say that.

Now I have to talk about the matrix of connections that led me to BRIDGE TO SILENCE. The first connection being, I saw the trailer/ advertisement on the MGM channel around 2014 as it ran on the itinerary and the plot revolving around the friction between mother and child was novel as here the adult child was hearing impaired. It has been a long journey to the point of finally watching it few weeks back. Which is to say that if we keep our eyes and ears open then I believe we are led to the axis of understanding and grasping the forgotten and sometimes unattainable. I had to eventually bring myself to watch BRIDGE TO SILENCE and I did. Incidentally, this axis of understanding is what this film aims for, with a clear message for discerning audiences. So the wait was worth it as after watching it, I was enlightened and humbled. I realized that my openness to new creative outpourings found an outlet in the measured touch of the creators of this film.

Coming back to the present, a prominent talk show brought me to it actually apart from that first exposure through the advertisement of the film on the channel. Priyanka Chopra was on Jimmy Fallon to promote her betokened show Quantico’s third and final season. She slipped in the news that Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin was a series regular and there, I knew I was familiar with this individual. Yes, I was right. Of course. I have known her since I read NIKHAT KAZMI’s HOLLYWOOD MOVIE GUIDE, the text that has been a mental launchpad for me in culling out cinema in my current capacity. I have gone back to the book on numerous occasions. It’s a joyful little gift for me personally and its concise contents are tailor made for a cinephile as it is. Short and sweet, as we say. In a list of dramatic films, she had written a pithy snippet of CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986).

There you had it! I remembered her name from the cast, after all she had played the lead role. Again the mosaic of interconnectedness didn’t end there. I read a lot about her and there I discovered the title. BRIDGE TO SILENCE. Memories came flooding. To my surprise, it was available on YouTube in a clean print and while it sat in my video library further , I finally watched it one fine day . It’s such a blessing in these accessible times.

CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD was the film version of the celebrated play by Mark Medoff that has been acclaimed for its meditations on the existential dilemmas of the specially abled- precisely those who can’t hear. Marlee Matlin was very young and giving her debut performance when she won the Oscar. But what makes her stand out is that she channels her own life script here as in BRIDGE TO SILENCE. She actually lost her hearing ability a short while after being born and while it was a challenge unto itself she carved out her own path as an actor within the thriving theatre community. So both these films are at the pivot of who she is and the community she represents, in the process underlining the talents of individuals who are not prisoners of their realities but rather rise above them to confront their own worldviews within the larger world ready to accord them a special status. They accept themselves with their abilities and Matlin’s example essentially furnishes the sheer expressive quality of her own and of the larger performative field. The hard earned honorific of an actor who speaks through the eyes seems like a mythic construct and distant exception but Matlin has done that time and again; in the absence of a voice, employing sign language, the world of gestures and the lucidity of her facial frontiers to give her acting abilities the power of the said and unsaid. This, in turn, ties in to the beginnings of cinema itself. Her class act is a direct distillation of the silent film in which the face spoke a thousand words while eyes did the bidding. Real life, thus, has ways to be exhibited without vocalizations which is not only a novel art but a rather difficult one. In succeeding to do so, we only honour the expressive felicity of the felt experience, the one that is seen to be believed and communicated in a straight look, a stare, wink or a nod. Matlin has a sure footed expertise in bringing that to the world’s notice and how! No wonder, she was the first actor of her esteemed ilk to collect the golden statuette, upholding her freedom of expression and the dignity of her communicative cadences.

BRIDGE TO SILENCE is ultimately about negotiating the sharp twists and turns of life in which Matlin, playing a young widow, mother of a hearing four year old and specially abled woman rolled into one , brings her inner voice to the fore after losing her husband in an accident. Here she essays the role of a lifetime as to heal, she goes back to her first love – acting on the stage and in a rendition of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, a classic play by Tennessee Williams, is able to parse her world of silences and rhythms just like the play’s primary characters did, even though none of them suffered from a debility of the senses. Living life is a matter of being attuned to our sixth sense and her original theatre antecedents find a facsimile here coupled with all the passion and love for articulation.

Phyllis Frelich, a veteran who appears as Amanda Wingfield in the play within the narrative , mother of Laura, the part essayed by Marlee, herself cobbled together her spirits decades ago in marshaling a robust stage presence for those who had lost their hearing but not their zeal for acting and interpreting life. It’s such a full circle scenario since her legendary halo guides some of the most crucial passages of self respect for Matlin’s Peggy.

Both actors have known each other for years and this chance encounter is such a gift. Her friend Mary is played by Candace Brecker who is another leading light of the community.

Phyllis is a common link further as she originated the role on stage of CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD. So it’s a meeting of like minded individuals who know the subtleties of their intricate lives.

*****

CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, Marlee’s prized role and breakthrough, had many autobiographical strains pervading it, like when Marlee tries to make the man who loves her ( William Hurt) reconcile with her silence and signs even though he wants her to make an attempt at lip reading and speak in her natural voice. Marlee was trained on both these counts in real life and here the complex layers of one half of a bond with full hearing abilities intertwines with the other who doesn’t have them. The mother ( Piper Laurie) too comes into the picture to attest to the same just as Matlin’s memory of physical abuse in real life finds echoes in the film directed by Randa Haines.

These struggles have been recounted with depth and coherence by her in her officially published autobiography I’LL SCREAM LATER. The title itself plays with the repressed order that leads one to scream in the first place as articulating an experience in words becomes painful beyond measure.

In BRIDGE TO SILENCE, this issue of frustration pushing one to reach one’s ends is compounded by her grieving and the patience of the father ( Josef Sommer) and the restless tempers of the mother( Lee Remick) on the other hand invites a realistic dual interplay within the familial fold.

So this matrix of connections starting with a random interview led me all the way to the many milestones of Marlee Matlin and the people who have played a part in her life. They all went from one seamless point to another, knitting a veritable life script of the human spirit. The film is also a showcase for distributing more compassion in society and among guardians of the specially abled.

*** hence, this post is dedicated to the many finer connections that led me to watching it and discovering more facets. Details of the plot and technical achievements of BRIDGE TO SILENCE will be written about in the next post tomorrow.

*****

AFOOT AND AGOG IN FAMILIAR TERRAIN

FROM THE MGM STABLE

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974)

CAST: CLINT EASTWOOD, JEFF BRIDGES, GEORGE KENNEDY AND GEOFFREY LEWIS.

DIRECTION : MICHAEL CIMINO.

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 22ND MARCH, 2014 ( YOU SEE I HAD WRITTEN PROLIFICALLY DURING THE MONTH)

******

We are afoot and agog in familiar terrain where two men, orphans of the big, bad world, seem to come from nowhere and go nowhere in particular. They have no clear traces of the past or any solid inkling of the coming future but they are alive and kicking . So by hook or by crook, these two men who bear the titles of THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT want sufficient money that they will not receive from anyone around in this cold, uncaring social structure where they are mere statistics of amorality. As a viewer, we think, “how can two dashing men as these be on the very margins?” but they are. That’s the verisimilitude that cinema invites where like real life appearances bely the grave truths of underprivileged beings. So it is for these two men. They want some quick bucks and have to take certain unpredictable U turns in the course of their brief journey together but trust me, they mean no real harm to anyone around for if they self destruct, it is only a matter of their own selves. Otherwise, what a fun time we have with these two chaps. Since watching this film on the MGM channel in 2014 just once, I haven’t been able to erase the charisma of the leads and the deft handling of director Michael Cimino who we all know as the maker of another seminal classic THE DEER HUNTER. The ways of men, their interpersonal camaraderie and their uncertain place in the world owing to their blank antecedents is something he knows and brings to the fore with an appropriate understanding, maintaining a light- footed grip on the brakes that run this ’70s vehicle.

These men are in charge of their limited destiny and we go along with the flow. You see we are afoot and wander the expanse of open Montana roads and country locations, one where a streetcar named desire careens into quaint little elevations. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s bumper ride of mutual wit, back and forth is offset by their trickery directed towards making a clean sweep at a fortified safe house – a local, heavily guarded bank. Instinctively we know those operating the bank may have their chinks in the armour and no one claims to be a goody two shoes.

But we follow this little adventure that comes with no clear resolution, is fraught with danger and of course even includes the possibility of loss of life. The screenplay passes through comic peaks and valleys, akin to features headed by dynamic adventurers. Cue Jeff Bridges in drag as part of their antics, a host of rabbits appearing on the already sparse Montana highway, the only instance I know of Clint Eastwood laughing onscreen while in the company of his formidable onscreen ally and Bridges in those standout moments where he squeaks ‘I love you’ to a passing bike borne girl and revolving around his banter with senior partners played by George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis. No wonder Bridges received a richly deserved Oscar nomination for his jolly avatar. He enlivens the viewer and is a showman, going one up on and still keeping a tight balance with Eastwood’s legendary unspoken consistency . The kind of carpe diem recklessness that keeps the child alive in a personality is Lightfoot’s gift.

Of course, it goes without saying that the quantum of this road trip is handled superbly by these two premium, blue blooded acting giants who have prevailed till this date and preserved their individual brilliance. The supporting members do incredibly well on their part.

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT bears an entertainment quotient that’s worlds apart from today’s fast and furious signifiers. The lead duo travels those miles and tags us along. They are like Jai and Veeru, those legendary BFFs from SHOLAY (1975). Thunderbolt may appear gruff but he extends his innate innocence and his friendship runs thick with the impishly mischievous and unforgettable Lightfoot. They are adults who know the consequences of the trajectory they take for themselves but their hearts are open for each other. They endear and endure.

YE DOSTI HUM NAHI BHOOLENGE( this is one bond of friendship we will never forget).

*****

THE GLORY DAYS

From the MGM stable

RADIO DAYS (1987)

CAST : MIA FARROW, DIANE KEATON, DIANNE WIEST, JULIE KAVNER, SETH GREEN, JEFF DANIELS.

DIRECTION : WOODY ALLEN.

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 19TH MARCH, 2014.

****

For me, a filmmaker is also a consummate author capable of fusing his very personal vision with a new, reinvigorated language of storytelling he and his team is responsible for. She/he then becomes what we reckon an ‘auteur’ , in the sense that a blighted entity called compromise hardly drives a wedge between him and his coterie of artistic minds . Dedication and vision are then poured into creating the most honest approximation of reality and life on the big/ small screen shines with rare, hard earned honesty.

Kathryn Bigelow, for me, is an auteur for giving an internalized heft, intelligent unraveling and thrilling core to the war/ procedural genre ; her efforts become seamless in the sense that her singular vision drives the conspiracy theories and personal corridor at the heart of her narratives. Both a documentary approach and first person voice plus the POV( points of view) are distinct styles that added to the geographic/ political roil of ZERO DARK THIRTY and THE HURT LOCKER.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is an auteur too in how he brings an operatic sweep and grandeur to his frames but all that is complemented by his emotional tug and musical expertise, classical and timeless in a sense and his recent work GUZAARISH had this classic film era aesthetics which I loved owing to its innate innocence.

When a filmmaker leaves constraints of merely genre filmmaking vis a vis certain preordained conventions then an auteur spirit melds with one of individuality. A stamp of her vision is palpable which only lends itself greatly to the realistic identification with people and places being recreated.

Woody Allen is that auteur for me, owing to his observant eye, witticisms, love for New York and a respect for the little moments in life from which protrude veins of memory – making montages. It’s just that his style of expressing the fallible and endearing aspects of humanity is his very own and he brings that Midas Touch to his paean to radio days of yore in the film I talk about here. He telegraphs his own growing up years and tales of universal fellowship with the medium and kindred to curate a recreation of our bittersweet longings and ties of togetherness. I had to write about all this as I felt that the nucleus of originality here was one of an auteur as in his other works and acknowledgements had to be extended.

*****

Allen celebrates the wistfulness, idiosyncrasies, whims and loveable frisson of an euphoric event called LIFE in RADIO DAYS. Hence, the medium of the radio attests to all that is endearing in the human spirit. What I love is how incidentally , omnipresently and naturally he has placed the central conceit of ‘radio days’ without making it obvious as merely a plot point. It’s in the background , accompanying interactions and facilitating community among people while also foregrounding their ambitions and dreams. Communication in every way is the message of the medium here. So rest assured, his storytelling is filled with warmth, oddities of personalities and an immaculate, healthy comic flair that has defined his profile.

A love letter really to the glory years of radio programming set during and in the wake of horrors of the Second World War, RADIO DAYS, narrated by Allen, is almost autobiographical and gets us up, close and personal with some well rounded people (as I hate to use this term ‘character’, as if cinema presents aliens clothed in human raiments). Inside workings and contributions of people who lend their voices to the content on the radio also finds pride of place here, quite like the work I wrote about earlier, that is TUNE IN TOMORROW. A holistic thread binds them to this medium of radio.

As usual, Allen shuns the comfortable cocoon of standard tics and his assembly line of favoured stars reap rich dividends on a prosperous minefield of originality and merry ideas.

Circa 1943, the pallid cloud of war envelops a nation and society so to speak and so it’s left to some ordinary individuals passing through the motions of the day and age to find seeds of self evaluation. This extended family unit in the case of the young child ( Seth Green) is a distillation of Allen’s own younger years of wonder. His school life and circle of friends make us all go back in time to savour those truly priceless milestones in the everyday. So the ordinary pleasures of life are upheld here against this sweeping social churning of wartime scenario. Life goes on for civilians. Oodles of smiles and good cheer buck them up- a perfect alternative to complications of the country and the world at large. They are rooted in their own realities and those of the outside realm.

So there’s the young boy and his humble family occupying a cramped apartment, opening their hearts to others and setting an impressionable precedent for him, his aunt played by Dianne Wiest trying her luck in love, Mia Farrow as a fledgling young lady overcoming speech defects to turn around her fortunes and Diane Keaton making a charmed cameo as a singer and you have a collage of myriad emotions. They light up the screen.

Fear, desperation, cowering in the dark behind enclosed windows during bombings, political rhetoric and personal adjustments collide in the intervening months of 1943-’44, making way for a New Year of possibilities in the climax. Remember this is a good one year before the war reached its concluding theater of chaos and an era of reconstruction dawned so the precedent set in the script is welcome. Something like winning a lottery for young people and Jeff Daniels’ charm as part of the ensemble cast become such integral parts of this whole. Radio airwaves guide the symphony of these lives. A particular oral bit – a radio coverage about a girl trapped in an underground lair – stands out and resurrects memories of India’s very own Prince who met a similarly harrowing fate, the only difference being that the light of life blessed him at the end of his ordeal.

*****

RADIO DAYS was lauded for its original screenplay – a hallmark of Allen’s repertoire. A tad less known than his other canonical films, it’s a bittersweet treat and should not be missed. Hopefully with my writing here, someone or a lot of you will revisit this celluloid summation of the term ‘ LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL’.

*****

RETRO RADIO RHAPSODY

FROM THE MGM STABLE

You know there was a time of transistor radios and the good old memories that we spun out of the airwaves. Those idyllic voices and entertainment we lapped up by the dozen, wondering about the personality of those who minted such impressive wordplay couched in those very tones. Almost like a disembodied presence that we were content in listening to, in the process relishing the craft that went into holding our steadfast attentions.

The medium is still extant and kicking in this multimedia world and suffice to say there are still those select personas gliding by the power of their voices. So in recognition of the profound radio universality of yore, the best years in which it impacted a whole social consciousness, I am lucky to present my original views on two MGM films that faithfully capture the rhapsody of radio and its parallel with life of the common man. I discovered them randomly and their commonality and setting still occupy pride of place for me. So here we go. Adjusting frequency to An Awadh Boy’s Megahertz.

*****

TUNE IN TOMORROW (1990)

DIRECTION : JON AMIEL.

CAST: BARBARA HERSHEY, KEANU REEVES, PETER FALK, PATRICIA CLARKSON.

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 19TH MARCH, 2014.

*****

Picture this. It’s New Orleans, that famed and fabled American mecca, playing host to the radio boom of early 20th century.

In the auburn sunshade of the 1950s, young Martin ( Keanu Reeves) makes sweet surrender to love here . His object of affection is his distant and much older aunt ( not related by blood) Julia. She is played by a wonderfully natural Barbara Hershey. Both, sooner rather than later, become peas in a pod whereby their sincere mutual lilt and bohemian attributes covertly warm the cockles of the local radio scene.

All thanks to the manic genius of a radio writer ( Peter Falk). He is quite a character and plays a consistent loony tune as he specialises in pulp fiction for the radio espousing an admixture of scandalous trash, camp and high octane emotional soap operas which, if you look closely, are all the same. His output has listeners dropping their jaws and hooked to every dramatic crescendo.

In the recreation of his scripts, two veterans make their mark. They are ELIZABETH MCGOVERN, so radiantly identifiable as an aristocratic darling on this generation’s classic series DOWNTON ABBEY and featuring in the critically acclaimed Glenn Close starrer THE WIFE which released a week ago and PETER GALLAGHER, who I loved on the equally popular GRACE AND FRANKIE most recently.

The vignettes shuttle between typically melodramatic recreations of these extreme scripts and the lead pair. On the other hand, these lovebirds create a furore within their immediate circle, who look down upon this ‘incestuous’ coupling. Flouting social norms – and the script is callously replete with time bound jibes at Armenians by Falk – Jon Amiel’s execution is far from being easily digestible to some but he brings a grace, pointed humour and wonderful lightness of being to the issues writ large. The coupling of Martin and Julia is more than a storm in a teacup( I reiterate she is just an acquaintance and they are not blood relatives) but not enough of a catastrophe to mark this script down with ideological touch ups. It’s tastefully done by Amiel.

At the same time, Amiel and his team’s clear eye for detail is inescapable. Cue the music by Wynton Marsalis, editing by Peter Boyle, writing by Mario Vargas Llosa and William Boyd, production design by Jim Clay, costumes by Betsy Heimann and cinematography by Robert M. Stevens. The 50s era is lovingly created anew in the mannered touch of lighting, music of New Orleans and a classic tinge to the whole atmosphere. Then there’s Falk with his creative entreaties, his persuasive quality at inspiring one’s innate artistic temperament, his collective of stories with scandal and marking an escape from regimented social do’s and dont’s, following which is the vicarious thrill at picking up the strings of his characters’ predicaments. His presence compounds its wacky and simultaneously romantic frequency.

Above all, Reeves and Hershey’s individual performances are note perfect. While Martin’s desires of turning a writer and courting his own Parisian romance saga- ala AN AMERICAN IN PARIS – prompts him to take to uncharted waters, Julia is a picture of infinite grace and unceasing rapture.

Flimsy on many counts of pace and humour too, TUNE IN TOMORROW boasts of a novel screenplay and transports us back in time a little too realistically to the hysteria and ubiquity of radio and the central trio’s funny romps.

Also, look out for a cameo by the ever graceful Patricia Clarkson in one of her earliest performances.

TUNE IN TOMORROW is refreshing and moody. It entertains unlike other comic pieces set in a particular era rarely do. PETER FALK is pure gold here.

*****

THE NEXT POST WILL BE ABOUT ANOTHER DELIGHTFUL FEATURE RADIO DAYS(1987)

*****

IT’S BREAKING NEWS: NETWORK (1976)

FROM THE MGM STABLE

CAST: FAYE DUNAWAY, WILLIAM HOLDEN, PETER FINCH, ROBERT DUVALL.

DIRECTION : SIDNEY LUMET.

*****

A short rundown of this film was written originally by me dated 18th March, 2014. In this post, I will add aspects about it that are central to this all time classic as it presciently saw the future of our news culture in all its existential reserves of absurdity and futility of the milling media machine.

*****

This wickedly satiric Oscar – clinching classic was much ahead of its time, as regards its augury content and laser sharp meditations in an emergency, surrounding media’s ingenious ways to stay put in a dog eat dog rat race.

The newsroom histrionics and TRP fielding revelations ride piggyback on stalwart turns by William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. In all, Network has the bite, pout and tersely delights in unmasking behind the scenes factoids – far fetched as they may be- that pan the camera right at us.

Sidney Lumet’s ageless, peerless direction is a masterclass of separate immensity.

( this was my original snippet and over the years I have understood that ‘far fetched’ isn’t the tip of the iceberg in a post 2016 era so I embellish this post with more thoughts that will cohesively come to define this inside look that the film so deftly portrays, more so captures)

*****

I had come to know of this film through the same betokened HOLLYWOOD MOVIE GUIDE by NIKHAT KAZMI of which I have fondly talked about earlier as regards to discovering LEGENDS OF THE FALL. So my excitement knew no bounds when I discovered that this MGM backed film was playing on the channel ; in no time I watched it, only to re-emphasise its tenacity on popular culture, forty years after it shocked general audiences by its unabashed look at the dearly held news media and its subsidiaries and agents running this treadmill of round the clock circus; the ending still runs a chill down our spines. News broadcasting as means of information, enlightenment and entertainment was seen in a new way altogether where the premium was on legitimizing entertainment as a central buzzword. Thus sensationalism was borne. It’s staring us in the face and the contrast with the simplicity of yesteryears even in the case of a contentious interview and the jamboree of now is quite clear. To anticipate it so accurately then is something to marvel courtesy writer PADDY CHAYEFSKY who had earlier penned MARTY and THE HOSPITAL.

He used his pen as a sword to pave the way for satire to unclog pores in the social climate of his living times and addressed them in a manner that would last forever because certain constructs of our world defiantly stay the same. Of course the irony lies in the fact that the television boom that has come to calcify our tastes was the platform through which Paddy found initial success. So it seems he knew the pros and cons of his environment and chose to settle for scathing, stinging truths out of his workplace and the people in charge. His is the real tour de force triumph here. Then director SIDNEY LUMET, helmer of such classics as 12 ANGRY MEN, SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON , LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and THE OFFENCE among others, gives it his all; the angles, tilts, balances and vision to see the world for what it stands for. Distorted face of success was ably moulded by him.

Just as I raced my mind back to the viewing pleasure of the film, I was reminded of this poem by ROALD DAHL titled TELEVISION that I had read as a child. Written in bouncy rhyme and addressed to his target audience of children, it was a funny yet decidedly realistic take on the idiot box malaise that links itself so well in this case.

*****

Further, a line quoted by Paddy haunts me, “television is democracy at its ugliest.” You have to be in this very moment in time to know what he means and then when you watch NETWORK, you know the title isn’t just addressing broadcast network programming but this matrix of control and manipulation, a kind of twisted status quo endemic to our Trumpian age of FAKE NEWS and social media wildfires and to most of the fields where the lever of power is in dictatorial hands. In fact such is the demand for eye grabbing tid bits that delivering news has become a case of picking apples from oranges. The basket is chock full of absurdities and milking mileage even out of personal tragedies. NETWORK, for me, saw the jaundiced eye of the omnipotent broadcast camera much before the idea of partisan news and shout fests came into being for me. I thought news journalism was strictly a mirror of truth (and behold my naivete if I say so now ) . But wiser I am in my current being and so I think the zealous, showy theatrics invested in PETER FINCH’S Oscar winning performance as the anxious, once popular show host and now pegged by his network as a madman, bringing modern conscience to the public in his on screen avatar, is adept and strikingly relevant. He’s an onscreen pundit, philosopher, Everyman incarnate and fraud who embodies each of our own manifestations in real life as well as our reactions to the media baggage of the twenty first century. A shout, enraged, beastly snarl it is then. That his popularity is wildly revived is as much a sign of these times. Rather a necessity.

No medium can spell its negativities if we moderate our approach by choosing the pros from the cons but today that is a challenge. The medium is the message of the way network programming has overtaken our sensibilities, leaving no room for one sigh of relief. Or for that matter the network of oddities shared on social media by the minute. Television programming was once basic and bore none of today’s sophistication of technical details; perhaps down this long road many things have been lost and we all know those.

NETWORK rests its hinges on the changing fortunes of a popular broadcasting news network that is headed by one Mr. Schumacher ( William Holden) and where an ambitious young network programmer Ms. Christensen ( Faye Dunaway) is looking for a career breakout.

In their midst is the popular host HOWARD BEALE ( Peter Finch) who is ageing and owing to changing trends is fired and then the resultant transformation on screen as this fevered man he becomes keeps us on tenterhooks. We instinctively understand that his inner dejected state at being tossed aside despite years of prominence feeds into his raving and ranting. It’s the inner unraveling of his soul that only exacerbates his stinging words and on air hyperbole. So even though he is a puppet modeled by hands of his peers and superiors up for TRPs, he is very much a man on fire, battling his delicate mental condition and humiliation. The personal becoming public and political owing to his deatribes against the prevailing socioeconomic mood touches a raw nerve.

It touches a raw nerve for him and the audience which laps it up and sends the show spiraling to the top of the popularity charts. However, the consequent embers do not bode well for anyone. In this game of attracting the might of financiers and sponsors and getting to the top, personalities are put at stake and it’s to the team’s credit that this tragedy is offset by the satiric tones of the show hosted by Beale and both these currents merge seamlessly as it does in real life. The futility and absurdity of existence isn’t solely a Sysiphian concept then but applicable to everyone in their individual capacities. As it is to these people who work hard, run after prominence and are cut throat yet at their vulnerable best and worst are trapped by conventions of their own making. The issue of survival here is so paramount that it only ends up creating hassles for each and this trickle effect comes visiting upon others who cannot bear pressures heaped on them in the name of undue expectations. For me Howard Beale is that tragic figure but as I said earlier each of the main personages have their own unhappy share.

I feel everyone is attempting to make a way in – be it the TV programmer, the head of the channel, the long running show host or the other executive at the upper echelon Mr. Hackett ( ROBERT DUVALL)

The spurned middle aged wife Mrs. Schumacher ( Beatrice Straight who won an Oscar for this) and the one with race on her weighing scales and her own stake in a largely WASPish settlement Ms. Hobbs ( Marlene Warfield) also become part of the narrative and what a storm they whip within the minuscule screen time they receive. But length of a role has never been on my radar and so both of them have left lasting impressions in their few moments. If that is not the acme of talents then what is?

I omit first names of the characters here and keep the surnames only to universalise their penchants excepting Howard Beale who is a repository of all that this script addresses with such panache. I find the surnames to signify something as well. So while Christensen is a clear indication of typically Christian roots, the lady holding it knows her line of work in this media circus is far from the straight path of pure virtue, owing to its push and pull, Mr Schumacher lives life on the fast lane, as is common with the most famous man holding that surname on the racing circuit. Here Schumacher is rich and powerful and somehow gets things done his way while Mr. Hackett seems to bear a slant to a slang often used for manipulative mediapersons- ‘hack’.

NETWORK is powerful as it treads cautiously as a script around the nuts and bolts of our worldviews where the rich or resourceful somehow always manage to recover assets considerably even within floundering economies while there is clearly a flipside to success. Security is a fallacy while humbling influences are hard to come by.

It’s one of those strange but believable contingencies that we look at in hindsight and smile about as its sense of seeing the future is full of trademark truisms – more curiously relevant now than ever before. NETWORK, thus, is a product of the Golden 70s era as of the here and now. Its ending is one mind bender.

*****