WHO PLUCKED YOUR RAINBOWS?

CRISS CROSS(1992)

My exposure to the storied, legendary bibliotheque of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (M.G.M), the production and distribution giant for a century now, has been instrumental in changing my life, acquainting and later affixing me with some truly underrated works of great compassion that missed the radar in an industry of million opportunities and multiple launches . But these are true benedictions of the creative field as they seeped in, planted seeds of everlasting memories, still giving me the privilege of going back and forth to them for their vitality, and proved beyond doubt that sincerity of purpose and anything invested with our heart gets its due. The MGM channel ( now defunct in India) was a true flag bearer of quality and has led by example in terms of molding my cinematic vocabulary. I believe it has always looked forward by instilling path breaking content in down to earth screenplays.

I stand here today, wiser in my head and heart as life’s veritable strands all came knocking with a gentle nudge and tugged at my heartstrings. The following work had the support of MGM and has endured as document of the human spirit. I hence acknowledge with great humility its contributions towards my better estimation of the world. It beautified the multiple voices of restraint and sober stances of filmmaking that end up dignifying our greatest ebbs and lows. CRISS CROSS hence lives up to the motto of The MGM house, ” Ars Gratia Artis”, that is Art for Art’s Sake. Actually, it conjoins best attributes of art and life, one indispensable without the other. A complimentary axis is thus evoked.

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I am as far removed from the affrontery and ‘commentatorship’ of social media as can be said about any millennial which explains why I am not on any of them. However, at least three years back I was quite affected by one of my acquaintances’ post on one of them which I was told about. She had basically questioned our obsession with dressing our flaws, facial and physical, with filters, colour coordination and the likes to augment our natural selves and present a better, more perfect image. Her insistence on sharing and in a way baring our true faces/ appearances sans any irony, being as it is, was quite refreshing but definitely not the first radical challenge to our modern propensity for some heightened ideal in which only the best features were highlighted. Actually I think it was an indictment of our shallow urban retreat from the simplicity of yesteryears when minimal meant elegance. Even a decade or so ago, things hadn’t become as volubly ostentatious as they are now as I notice so I could relate with it. Again, it’s the issues and deep values we probe too which has allowed the media in many forms to stay afloat and this was one such instance. How about showing ourselves with chapped lips, corns in our hands, clouds under our eyes once in a while( or at least once) , she had suggested. We all look less than flattering without some proper care or professional aid at so many points and also because it is reliant on the environment and other individual factors as our natural climes but should that take away from us looking good or have us passing off as lesser? It was an interesting way to overturn status quo and frankly I think there is no dearth of people embracing the exactitude of realism in our media savvy culture amidst an obvious spurt of ego boosting cosmetic singularity. What lies underneath those filters and pancakes is our ultimate reality when we rest our heads on our pillows and good or bad, it is the ultimate testimonial.

On my part, the extension of this is as resonant in the broader and seamlessly complex area of our emotions, or the emotional life we encounter. The answer to the above dilemma at baring the ‘deglamourised’ ( as in modern parlance) self to the public is found in the movies I talk about. They are the best kind of vicarious exercises, mirror images of our everydays and in these the shameless excuse of doling out entertainment in terms of the movie making packaged tour of emotions is given away for finding the phenomenal in the elemental : the zest to survive under ordinary circumstances and not giving up is the best kind of consolation as it doesn’t strike out hope and instead pushes for more possibilities. Patents of a less than successful livelihood coupled with an inadequate society is what constitutes majority of public representation everywhere and when that gets acknowledged, there is closure that opens up a leeway for possible, probable change. Existence is the victory song of the masses and survival the soundtrack of the soul.

So as I write about the films Crisscross and Little Man Tate, the issue based rainbows of protagonists appear and with labor, industry, spiritedness and thrift, they have to assess the value of every colour on them . It’s how I view life as it comes : when we wake up, we should know that every speck of sunlight carries multitudes. With our efforts, we can create miracles of true reckoning and uphold the brightest spots for ourselves. Then the micro fits in snugly with the macro and mass appeal is sought. These works of unparalleled artistry uphold the spirit of the common man. They live to tell the tale. With some revisions, I present to you my original appraisals of them dated 13th and 14th April, 2015.
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CRISSCROSS(1992)

Cast: Goldie Hawn, David Arnott etc

Direction: Chris Menges.

CrissCross is the kind of film that humbles us into submission, it’s so uncompromising in its appropriation of real life as it is. Those who think patronizing statements make up a large bulk of film studies will feel there is nothing to exaggerate here. Cragged, crooked, zigzagging and appearing to be straightforward when it’s not, that’s life and that is how it is under Menges’ direction. Its simplicity is its pride, its strength. Invisible subtexts are bred by the strongest scripts as they hardly cheat our intelligence and this one has layers which point to the rich backstories of characters even if nothing is spoonfed to us. Is it profound then owing to its realism? Of course, part of the reason why I will always remember it with such animation as I’ve done even before writing about it. So far, so good.

Based on a novel of the same name by Scott Summer, who also automatically shares screenplay credits, CrissCross flirts with the injured beauty of its people. I don’t mean it as some grand point of emphasis just for the heck of it. Truly, there is a poetry of loss and an integrity in defeat that defines its stark landscape. It is also equally definitive of red neck America of 1969 that it portrays, universal in its particularity. This could be anywhere and dimensions may change but the spirit of struggle remains. In essence, the time line isn’t important.
What’s of value is that it moves with the undertow of universal despair. The central protagonists interestingly occupy rhythms of a transitional era when hippie culture made inroads, humankind planted feats of impossible transcendence vis a vis Moon landing while the anachronism of a nostalgic cultural past was being uprooted from idealistic Edens of yore. The institution of family thorough the prism of marital breakdown was an inevitable reality rather than a chance encounter to scrape through. As seen here, social truths made it impossible to justify this breakdown. Inner turmoils simmered until there was no alternative for backing off.

In such a scenario, the script does a sincere service of providing us an account of a mother- son duo, survivors of their fate who barely manage to keep themselves from drowning in the pileup of missed chances and limited scope. However, they leave nothing to chance and use their resources to see through another day. That’s the least and perhaps the most they can afford. The poster says it all…. both mother and son are in the stage of reconstruction and age is no bar for their experiences. It is also about the irony wrought in such a relationship by nature where they cannot live with each other and yet can’t do without. You know the kind of irrational hostility and inexplicable affection that often characterize filial bonds. Here, Tracy Cross( Goldie Hawn) is a have not abandoned by her husband. He, Josh Cross( Keith Carradine) is a Vietnam War veteran lost and haunted. He is now ensconced within a monastery as its gardener, hoping to alleviate his benumbing pain and post war trauma. His role as a taciturn gardener is a nice appropriation of his real role as father, as parents symbolize real world gardeners nurturing their nursery via their familial bonds. In India, they are termed ‘ Baghban’. Who knows, psychologically, he seeks to fill his lacuna by tending to nature here? Their teenage son Chris ( David Arnott) naturally has been handled the sentence of outgrowing childish precociousness and assuming( better still amassing) age-defying intensity. Both sustain each other. However, the pull of the patriarch is evident on Chris as he yearns to meet an absentee father who has lost his bearings to communicate. It is striking to note that the mother’s sacrifice is always questionable and the father figure always sought after. His arguments with Tracy attest to that complex dynamic.

The film’s setting is particularly intelligible. Key West, Miami has the open expanse of sun, sand and surf intended to invert inert melancholy of personalities. Tracy and Chris try to make hay while the sun shines for them. The seamier side of things amplify when waitress Tracy enrolls as a stripper to earn extra bucks and Chris resorts to peddling drugs to fulfill basic call of livelihood. Menges builds an authentic sense of tension from the reaction of a young boy watching his parent skimpily dressed and commodifying herself to the male gaze. A mother has always been a fountainhead of virtue, a straight figure for any child and to see her sexualise herself in public can sum up the worst emotional nadir to him. That is the conflict point for him and the differing perspectives of two generations come up. There is also bemusement designed from the discovery of some mysterious element found in captured fishes from the sea for Chris and his best friend until he sees a way for financial sustenance through it. It’s done so well and so tastefully, even unspoken words and gestures not acted suggest a world of difference. Suggestion is a strong suit and yet it is simply conveyed. As we can see, both traverse the length and breadth of a boulevard of broken dreams. As Joe (Arliss Howard) occupies centrestage as Tracy’s love interest, loss of innocence for Chris waits right round the corner simultaneously.

A commonplace solidarity transpires and Menges refuses to make concessions for cheap tragic tics or predictability. Hawn and Arnott maintain a detachment from worldly pleasures befitting their station and the supporting cast members spur them on with their life like portrayals of underprivileged slackers and strugglers per se. They are like disks struck across a vast carromboard, only never hitting their spots.

CrissCross is intimate to a fault and imitates life in a way that is uncomfortably acknowledged in larger than life corridors of cinema sometimes , especially by the audiences. It works at its own pace, its own languid civility amid all that chaos of humanity. In the end, blood relations retain their thick edge as both Tracy and Chris join their hands for an open ended journey ahead. You have to see it to appreciate its tone. It is absolutely believable and honors real life as only good cinema or literature does capably. I had given my written article about this movie the title of BROKEN SUNSHINE originally and I think it fits the idea about most of our days.

Also, a recently acclaimed movie The Florida Project (2017) touches upon childhood and muddled adult relationships set in the same state and also about contentious ways of an amoral world within which a young single mother struggles to provide for her high spirited daughter. Who knows somewhere its makers had seen this film and admired it for its merits.
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** this essay, in this original form, appeared first on my essay collection A LETTERED SOUL on Wattpad under my username MadMenWearingFedora /Prithvijeet.

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