More films and experiences will be shared in this final part as regards the treasure trove from my FILMS AND LITERATURE CLASS of 2014-2015.
The quality of these timeless classics is faultless and you can imagine how overjoyed I was to watch works I had read or known so much about from annals of popular culture.
So without further ado, I share the next batch of titles with you.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
The day I saw this one classic title has been etched in my mind. A previous class which had been opted by another one of my fast friends and I only dragged on, surpassing its time slot. I was dutifully sitting there and knew I had missed the first few minutes of the film. But thankfully not all was lost as ten minutes later, I was in the library hall and for the next two hours or so was entranced by the visionary barrage of futuristic images that flooded the screen.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was everything I had heard about it as a standalone piece. It had the foresight to anticipate space travel, artificial intelligence not only a year before the actual moon landing in 1969 but from the prism of a whole generation away in case of the latter. No wonder myths still circulate about Mr. Kubrick being roped in to stage the Moon Landing on a soundstage, given his uncompromising stance. The giant leap for the space age had indeed by accomplished by the filmmaker.
To me, this adaptation of an Arthur C. Clarke science fiction screenplay was the original pre-HD picture, shot with such realism, in the style that would eventually define 21st century’s obsession with a world beyond our earthly realm. That is the eye for detail regarding lighting and other technicalities that allowed Stanley Kubrick to excel.
‘Timeless’ and ‘way, way ahead of its time’ fit its oeuvre perfectly then. As for that climactic inter -galactic odyssey through time and space for the protagonist ( Keir Dullea), well, all I can say is that it is the stuff that cosmic dreams are made of. From the solitary horror of the black monoliths to HAL 9000’s beam like presence and vocal frigidity to the fluid and balletic shots inside the spaceship and out of its confines, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is hypnotic and realistically mounted at every turn, eschewing the lure of easy fantasy for factual representation.
There would be no GRAVITY, AD ASTRA or THE MARTIAN and INTERSTELLAR today without its original benchmark. It probed the very origins of mankind along with its larger scheme of things for the future more convincingly than any scholastic tome ever could.
Another all time classic that we watched in two sittings, over two days, was this unbridled dissection of classicisms from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST director Milos Forman.
Based on Peter Shaffer’s sensational play, this life script of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was interested in the God gifted genius’ quirks, idiosyncrasies and youthful indulgences that rescued it from being another reverent 20th Century post-script. His all-too human qualities apart from the obvious genius and prolific output are pitched against the stern discipline of the talented and zealously dedicated Antonio Salieri. Both are frenemies and Antonio’s jealousy of the prodigy turned national titan traces the poignancy of his own derailed career and lifelong regrets as also the self-destruction that entails. At best, AMADEUS can be termed as a post-modern fictional biography.
The sets and period feel, especially the lighting, brings out an Austria of yore to life. To top it all, the performances from TOM HULCE, F. MURRAY ABRAHAM, even an early part enacted by Sex and the City veteran CYNTHIA NIXON, are pitch perfect. It is Mr. Forman’s vision that makes it a cautionary tale about hubris and obsession with perfecting one’s art that often result in extricating us from greater reason.
ANGELS IN AMERICA(2003)
Talking about unbridled vision, Mike Nichols lives up to its minute contours by adapting Tony Kushner’s Reagan era play to a six hour miniseries format for HBO in 2003. We watched all six hours from mid morning to evening, with a half hour break in between. It was a rewarding experience because ANGELS IN AMERICA, which I was privileged to read and simultaneously watch as part of my M.Phil course a year after my Masters got over, is truly a pathbreaker. So it is very much a composite of the FILMS AND LITERATURE canon.
Just like Kushner’s expansive, epic vision of LGBTQ lives caught in the crosshairs of the 1980s AIDS crisis cut down stereotypes boldly, Nichol’s series gave credence to the format years before prestige miniseries and the likes became commonplace on our screens.
He managed to gather an incredible cast for the purpose. From Meryl Streep playing Rabbi Isidor, a Mormon mother, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg to Al Pacino playing the conniving and closeted real life law racketeer Roy Cohn to Emma Thompson enacting the titular mythic angel to a homeless woman; Conjuring series star Patrick Wilson and Jeffrey Wright add to the dynamic roster of characterisations, staying true to the play’s amorphous dramatis personae. Gender neutrality was the idea, as I see it and was fluidly captured in the screenplay. It was true to the original text with no alterations.
ANGELS IN AMERICA is about battling prejudices, the urgent struggle of owning a true identity. The worlds of reality and magic realism collide here to bring its power to fruition. After watching it, I am more than eager to experience the propensity of Central Park’s iconic Bethesda Fountain as the gateway to heaven. Hence, I deem that one day and the marathon run of episodes as unforgettable for this cinephile.
I never imagined myself watching this heart-wrenching portrayal of communal persecution on screen. Including this screen adaptation of the Thomas Keneally book( I am yet to finish it) was pivotal in hindsight. If Steven Spielberg could make it to look back at his own community’s burden of history then so could we as students expanding our mental horizons about the injustices that have, unseemingly, become building blocks of the modern world.
SCHINDLER’S LIST, shot in stark, evocative black and white, lets the past make its serpentine way to the present, with history balancing the tips in favour of mankind’s burden of morality and the lack of it. What is most striking is how it places children in the midst of history’s worst pogrom, positing a legacy that haunts us. Cue the only colour scheme employed here to the girl in the red jacket. Moments later, the body has gone and only the jacket is visible as a symbol of all that, unfortunately, defines our world. In our modern reckoning with children of war in such corners of the world as Syria, Palestine, Myanmar, compounded by the loss of families due to the pandemic globally, this work hits us in the gut. That loss of innocence is what I take away from it above all.
As also the manner in which Schindler Jews carry with them the arc of redemption occasioned by the extraordinary moral awakening of an individual (Liam Neeson); Sir Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes present two disparate sides of humanity here, first of a man from the persecuted community finding a way to survival and the latter being an instrument of racial purging and venal indignities.
The moral complexity at the heart of UNFORGIVEN is one of muted agitations, amid a way of life where no law is above one’s own volition or natural bent of mind. As a fan of Clint Eastwood, the original cowboy, and with particular predilection for the Western genre, passed on to me from my father, this was solid gold.
To watch it as part of the FILMS AND LITERATURE CLASS was like a reckoning with both the above facts, as a cinephile, as I had forgotten about much of the film I had watched years ago.
I believe westerns are a gateway to understand the foundations of America, it’s frontier life and the negotiations with forces of good and evil that reflexively allowed one to tweak one’s moral compass because there was no other way. THE HOMESMAN, SILVERADO, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, NEWS OF THE WORLD, miniseries GODLESS, GERONIMO, HANG ‘EM HIGH; DJANGO UNCHAINED, HELL OR HIGH WATER, TRUE GRIT, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN(2016) and WELCOME TO HARD TIMES are some of the many I have watched over the years. Just in 2020 alone, my father too was spared valuable time to watch a host of these titles owing to his admiration for their raw ethos and moral grounding in historical truth .
UNFORGIVEN wrestles with those truths with an ensemble headed by titanic talents as Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. It arrived at a time when the genre was on the brink of riding into the sunset. Thank God for him, it continued to flourish. That is why it is such a benchmark apart from its skilled execution and technical fluidity.
The final film of global filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s ELEMENTS trilogy, WATER is thought provoking without giving its subject any unrealistic dimension.
It’s spiritually affirmative of the sacred innocence of child widow Chuhiya(Sarala) and those defending her in a world where Gandhian reformation is afoot but sacrosanct traditions circumventing women’s choices overrule. The tragedy of tradition clashing with modern ideals is writ large in a tale where custodians of purity and faith are exposed as scamsters.
Still waters run deep in a screen treatment so quietly devastating that the final escape for the little girl is triumphant in the most transcendental manner. The lives of others around her extend from that initial point of tragedy, central here to its unraveling.
In a day and age where Asian-Americans are facing hate crimes, a revolutionary work like SAYONARA must be upheld for being far ahead of its era. In its confrontation with racism in post World War society, especially given the tensions between United States and Japan, it took a bold gamble with its thrust on intercontinental marriages, a reality that was an open secret for those serving in the far East.
With effective storytelling, SAYONARA benefited from a lead performance by Marlon Brando, a titanic screen personality who never minced his own words regarding socio-political issues. From returning his second Oscar in support of indigenous populace of America inclusive of their sub-human treatment on screen and beyond and getting actively involved in the Civil Rights movement, he is justified in taking up this part where his complexities of the mind prove feeble when faced with the natural rhythms of love. That tussle between reason and convention give it a heartfelt arc.
I’ll be honest, this was not a part of the FILMS AND LITERATURE paper but I watched this classic title by myself on YouTube, buoyed by the exposure to so many versatile stories. Here, Miiko Taka plays his lady love, James Garner is a fellow soldier, Red Buttons an American living a happy life in Japan while the standout is Miyoshi Umeki as his wife. In an era of PARASITE and MINARI rewriting cultural rules, I am happy to inform all that she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress way back then.
Stirring storytelling, beautiful cinematography interspersed with the cultural thrust on Japan and its people make SAYONARA a must watch. I fondly hold it as one of my favourites.
1957 was a strong year for stories rooted in the ethics and aftermath of war such as BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, PATHS OF GLORY, even a THRONE OF BLOOD by Kurosawa was about the politics of imperialism while on the other spectrum were unforgettable legal dramas as rich as 12 ANGRY MEN and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. So SAYONARA was winning hearts in a particularly strong showing, next to movies inspired by social realities writ large in that given era.