DIVERSE VOICES, COMPELLING STORIES.

As the title makes it clear, here are some honest artistic statements on the state of adult lives that realistically adhere to its full trajectories, be it in Frontier America( True Grit) or the monochromatic ebbulience and tensions tossed into the always unpredictable terrain of New York( The 40 Year Old Version) or even a morally complex landscape merging past and present, to exercise a civilizational tale of connectedness and humanity reaching out for a blemish-free community( as created notably in The Village).

So here they are, for viewers, cinephiles, for a more holistic understanding of human endeavours at their complex best.

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45 YEARS

This film not only introduced me to the smouldering intensity of THE PLATTERS’ evergreen song SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES but kept me invested in its tell-tale signs of a rocky unraveling of a marriage of four decades and more. This was just by the reaction to its trailer alone five years ago.

When I finally watched it few weeks ago, I was devastated emotionally by how realistic and even-tempered it was; in its diagnosis of lifelong relationships that sustain their longevity even without a sign of endurance or guarantee of whole-hearted integration, it very clearly shows us the passage of time and the bitter fact that compatibility among strangers who do not share a prior bond and then decide to settle down to create that all-encompassing marital status over years comes with some dense realizations.

45 YEARS is one that beautifully illustrates its protagonists’ dotage and settled rhythm of everyday routines within a week before they ring in their anniversary. But the past comes by to sweep away all this accumulated sense of normalcy and mutual love and takes it to a place where both man and wife find themselves lonely and resentful of communication gaps that mostly social norms impose upon us. The man’s honesty about a previous lover prior to his marriage with his life partner opens up a portal of unrequited grief within him when a startling discovery about the same woman ,whom he lost almost fifty years ago, gnaws at his stricken consciousness. We see how youth and its mysteries never truly leave us nor does the agency of our first love. Tom Courtney accesses that uneasy truism and its overwrought burden with such poignant melancholy.

It’s Charlotte Rampling, however, who is the anchor not only to this marriage like thousands of women, but whose unraveling is more reserved but truly heartbreaking. At the end of the rope, she finds the knots have all opened up for her deception, as if these years were all a big fraud and she was merely filling in a model for a deceased beloved, for the man she chose to spend her life with. Her eyes become, truly, windows to her soul and in a memorably affecting scene where she accesses photographs from her husband’s trove of memories, she exhibits her understated brilliance at reaching at many fundamental truths about her bond with her better half. As also the reasons behind some of its glaring missteps, like their childlessness, his temperament and the way he always posits ‘he’s tired’ when the pressure-point comes in between conversations.

The ending stays true to that fabric of betrayal and keeping up appearances that define social compulsions, the biggest of which sums up marriage. But something snaps in the lady of the home and amidst the revelry of an anniversary party, unseen by anybody else, she stiffens up and refuses to play bait to her husband, taking it to a devastating finale. It is true to the way most marriages reach a point of reckoning. That brutal honesty is the hallmark of 45 YEARS in all respects. Ms. Rampling gives us a performance and a portrait so haunting that we will begrudgingly accept all faults within our own bonds when we watch her but ultimately reconcile that her face is a mirror reflecting all we know about the state of interpersonal relationships. Her eyes communicate every emotion. The silence within this screenplay attests to that. THE SMOKE GETS IN OUR EYES AND ENGULFS US FULLY THEN.

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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS

‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ is a statement that comes with its plethora of emotions in this eye- opening documentary, about three adopted boys,who at 19, discover each other through the intervention of fate and turn out to be identical triplets separated at birth.

From that heady rush of joy and years of togetherness, even celebrity, their collective tale plummets to depths of melancholy and a haunting sense of loss orchestrated by the foster system, the moneyed class, larger ethical issues pertaining to a horrifying experiment concerning twins in post war America and conflicts between dual entities of ‘nature and nurture’

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS opens us to the very real presence of human corruption robbing youth and society, in general, of its innocence. It reminded me of the sibling dynamics of TELL ME WHO I AM, as chilling and sans resolution.

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TRUE GRIT

This 2010 version of an original Western classic starring the legendary John Wayne is given the usual Midas touch by Coen Brothers who clearly specialize in period pieces. The authenticity and eye for detail here is strikingly their own hallmark.

Hailee Steinfeld in her breakout as Mattie Ross, Jeff Bridges as Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as ranger Labeouf are personalities that I had known through the years via perusal of reviews, writings and popular culture but watching them create a tale of settling scores with a blackguard (Josh Brolin) entails a ride one is willing to take with them.

The Coens’ dialogic dynamism, naturalistic progression of events without reliance on big set-pieces successively revives the hard edges of Americana. Like all their works, it ends with a more nuanced take on humanity. That is the real triumph.

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THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION

Radha Blank is a fresh new voice who juggles writing, directing and performing duties to curate a bittersweet autobiographical portrait of an artist, in an era that will only act as a welcome gateway for such multifaceted and original mavericks.

Shot in evocative black and white, it’s a familiar tale of artistic pursuits and moving ahead in the world, all the while negotiating a family legacy of personal integrity and racial stereotypes. What injects it with life is its lack of bitterness or overt cynicism, strokes of natural humour, musicality in the written word and the fact that it realistically hones in on the flowering of one’s true talents when at the periphery of middle age. Its characterisation of Blank playing herself, her students, her kindred artistic soul D and best friend Archie are all memorably etched. They stayed with me after I watched it on the third day of its release on Netflix. That’s a feat in itself.

THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION is one of the least showy and positive tokens of original content to embrace 2020. Thank you for the smiles, Ms. Radha and for showing the true indomitable Spirit of artists that refuses to buckle under sundry pressures. It’s instantly relatable.

****

THE VILLAGE(2004)

This is one of those intellectually stimulating motion pictures that deconstruct the way civilization has tried to hoodwink human capacity for monstrous deeds and rationalize a core of purity for self-preservation. Like all Manoj Night Shyamalan features, its ambition is to strip the foundations of horror but its final destination and biggest concern is with generating empathy.

THE VILLAGE cues a love story and a man’s path to recovery parallel with a visually impaired young woman’s quest for individuality given the dangers galore in venturing beyond the forests, to prevent the wrath of those ‘who shall not be named’

The treatment is fascinating, emotionally resonant and the performances by the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Judy Greer, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and others inspire us to look beyond the obvious. On the other side is Adrien Brody’s arc as a mentally challenged young man whose condition becomes a point of reckoning for the way similar individuals are equated with a kind of monstrosity, that the community here utilizes to achieve its poignant but tragic outcomes. Harking back to an elemental time in terms of practices, customs, dressing sense and lack of technology, it is very reminiscent of the Amish community. The ending particularly comes as a knockout when the supposed period setting and almost mythical conflict comes in contact with the contemporary, ‘outside’ world.

As complex and unbelievable as it sounds in its premise, THE VILLAGE is a powerful allegory of the way we construct mores and worlds to advance betterment of society. Its final use of the word ‘kindness’ by Bryce for a security official she encounters unexpectedly captures this work’s tryst with empathy. Roger Deakins’ photography further adds to the mystique, complexity and ideal of purity it aims for.

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THE HALL OF FAMER OF 2020

FATHER OF THE BRIDE – PART 3(ISH)

Amidst the worst phase of our modern lives, we are blessed to beckon the easygoing charm of this surprise reunion that pays tribute, in its loveable and innocent way, to communicating over Skype and Zoom chats. Socially distanced conversations never seemed so sweet or pure in its familiarity on screen than this, the third in the pantheon of FATHER OF THE BRIDE films from the 1990s that I personally loved watching back in the mid 2000s.

As an unique wedding gets solemnized over computers, old reigning guards of the franchise like STEVE MARTIN, DIANE KEATON, KIERAN CULKIN, MARTIN SHORT and the original bride KIMBERLY WILLIAMS PAISLEY return to spread cheer while newcomers include blazing current stars FLORENCE PUGH, ALEXANDRA SHIPP , BEN PLATT and the ‘father of them all’ ROBERT DE NIRO joins festivities.

With so many marriages and life-decisions finding a foothold through digital networks, this nearly 30 minute capsule is pithy and maintains the compactness of relationships and a yearning for joy. I loved it. In this festive season, FATHER OF THE BRIDE -PART 3(ISH) is like a magical interlude. Thank you Netflix!

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REASSESSING NARRATIVES AROUND VIOLENCE IN POPULAR CULTURE- PART 2

In a previous essay, I had made an effort to personally point out how depictions of mindless violence and glorifying anti-social elements in popular culture were factors that needed to change and undergo an evaluation, going beyond the ‘cash grab’ mentality of financiers backing such projects. These times of pandemic have pushed back production but important conversations need to be sustained. I personally write this from the prism of my own thoughts and I am sure it will be shared by others.

In this second part, I look at examples of how violence becomes part of the narrative in various forms and types, leading us to understand its predominance in terms of imagery. The expression ‘violence of the mind’ is embedded in our cultural lexicon and inummerable social evils on the part of the perpetrator and the victim suggests multiple ways in which it is more pronounced than peacekeeping efforts. Blame it on the petty nature of human actions and rivalries. Or on human nature per se. Hence depictions of the same find their way in cinematic form, through the penetrating eyes of the camera. Showing truth is one thing. But holding its gaze on unsavoury aspects of human nature for far too long and without layering it with a counterpoint, leonizing warlords and criminals just to catch undue attention is a charge the industry needs to rectify in coming years. We, as viewers, additionally need to readjust our own prisms where we openly denounce violent acts in public and yet consume the same gratituous brand of storytelling on our screens.

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In fact, this essay stems from the recent release of RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE which traces the trajectory of a comic book writer( the iconic Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) who receives critique and self- evaluative pointers vis a vis his own predilection for portraying graphic scenes of violence in his body of work. While it references horror tropes, it also kind of deals with a male-centric culture that perpetuates it and even reveres it as far as the ‘fans’ are concerned. Now as I read about it and watched its trailer, which in a way is designed keeping in mind the ridiculousness of its thematic matter via horror/ slasher genre aesthetically, I thought it fit completely with what I was addressing in my own words.

Talking about graphic novels and comic books, it’s clear to see how the idea of violence holds centrestage in almost all of them. Darkness wrought by a subliminal attraction to anarchy and anti- heroes is dissected in them. Violent imagery gets pronounced to much propulsive effect in video games that peddle aggressive tempers, toxic machismo, misogyny and sexism to disturbing results, owing to the hyperrealistic form of the subjects. Their popularity spawns a greater urgency for the same bathos to find consumers by the handful. I mean to keep it impersonal here but I have grown up around acquaintances who always indulged in the vicarious worlds of such games and there was a direct correlation between their inherent teenage aggressions and what they found represented on screen, which they chose for themselves as perhaps an extension of their own personalities. It was pretty casually overlooked as a pastime by guardians. Better sense has prevailed today and greater psychological probings have shown how this idealized toxic masculinity takes root through acquired behaviours based on the environments around us and video game companies have commercially captured that sense of things for their own footprint. The thrill at its projection especially by young, impressionable males makes for a disturbing sight indeed.

Cue the fear around cinema halls at the time of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES’ release in 2012 in which the apprehension of some twisted minds appropriating the antics of its central antagonist BANE was so possible and real. It had its roots in an instance of a shooting in a cinema hall playing the movie in the American state of Colorado, as far as I remember. This is not to say that the film decreed such behaviour by its imagery because it didn’t as its narrative was anti-crime and on marshalling forces of resistance against the pestilence of evil within society. Hence the collective pleas for gun control. Violence has been ingrained in the minds of individuals who pose such a threat and their actions directly reference the events portrayed on screen. This is the uncomfortable corollary that we can’t escape. Multiple counts of shootings attest to that volley of facts.

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Joker/ Arthur Fleck’s trajectory in JOKER (2019) comes to the same point where using a gun punctuates the disturbing cumulation of his adult life. Now this film, in particular, is redolent of 1970s when the idea of violence and masculinity found complex vessels in filmmaking exemplars given that the Vietnam War era’s residue was at the cultural forefront. In India, sociological churning within a disillusioned post- independent context birthed The Angry Young Man trope perfected by superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Class, religion, capitalism and personal entanglements all took their swipes along with depictions of violent tempers. JOKER is revelatory as it finds systemic apathy towards the underclass to which Arthur belongs to mix seamlessly with capitalist machinery and a lobby that fails to understand the complexities of mental health. His own mother’s mental history and complicity in his childhood abuse( whether just physical or sexual is never explained) at the hands of another man builds up layers upon layers of a rootlessness that ultimately leads to his implosion at a television telecast, very much like the explosive center of the news-making excesses in NETWORK (1976) where the host’s on-air death haunts cinematic annals of recreated history. Arthur is given a gun by a manipulative man and multiple betrayals and rejections lead him to finally use it in just the way a destructive society has moulded him to be. This is one example where the history of a future menace to society is traced but with compassion towards his mental unraveling and deeper understanding, we trace the origins of an embattled man being led to his monstrous volte face by a society which is as savage and brutal as he eventually becomes.

That definitely doesn’t condone him for his violent means at the end of the day. It’s just that the writing is not depicting gratituous violence for the heck of it but is diving deep into the collective whole impacting the individual self. He just doesn’t stand a chance to be anything else and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance peels away those layers with exactitude where we feel for him, pity him and are horrified by what he becomes by the end. It is like a mini cautionary tale that indicts instruments of society who glorify violence and blatantly celebrate it to further twisted agendas.

That is why Ultraviolence- a portmanteau first used in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the novel- is such a potent provocation to genteel, hypocritical society that always denies any untoward tendencies when in reality they brew in our very own backyards. In the year of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s 70 plus years and constant reminders of World Wars and other pogroms, we know how violence has always been a constant, building empires and dominating civilizations for millennia. It doesn’t change the narrative in 2020 either.

Be it blood-shedding in 80s slasher genre or B movies incorporating horror elements, that strain is ever prominent, buzzing like a fly in our ears.

Violence breeds racism, lynchings being a product of our sub- human resources while hunting for sport is of the same makeup. A recently released film ‘ The 24th’ deals with the historical perspective on racism and violence with great agency. DJANGO UNCHAINED, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, 12 YEARS A SLAVE attest to that distressful history.

There is another aspect of violence that war films address, portraying the fury and the epiphany of its absolute senselessness in view of millions perishing and works as PLATOON, THE THIN RED LINE, THE DEER HUNTER, FORREST GUMP and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN put that clearly in perspective. Or take the melancholic, internal look at it in DUNKIRK.

Vigilante narratives hungering for justice too find righteous anger and treading beyond lines of convention when violence against the victims lends them steely resolves as they’re wronged by the system. In THE BRAVE ONE, a woman and her non- Caucasian partner are violently attacked and the policing apparatus turns a blind eye to their concerns beyond an initial probe even as it involves common thugs and no string pulling players, making them statistical figures in a cityscape already inundated with crime. Jodie Foster’s internalization and verbal articulation as a narrator of her radio show captures that grippingly. The underlying idea is to see that violence of the mind is born first as shown in 70s classics like TAXI DRIVER and STRAW DOGS and is always motivated by the larger workings and systemic corruption. Depicting that uncomfortable transition is one thing, making mindless violence committed by felons the norm or vainglorious in any way is criminally sacrosanct in popular culture. Giving it a male-centric excuse is deplorable.

In the end, we need to know where we stand on the issue at large.

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WHY WE NEED TO REASSESS NARRATIVES AROUND CRIME IN POPULAR CULTURE.

In 2020, a lot has transpired for collective humanity and while cooped up in our own private nests, we have undergone internal transformations. The time at hand has given passage for some of our irreconcilable differences of opinion to be mused about and clarified. Deep thinking always does exactly that so we are able to separate the majoritarian consensus from our own personal train of thought. What I am telling you here is very simple. As an admirer of the creative medium, I always looked to it as validating the best, worst and broader aspects of our lives with an unmatched accuracy.

However, I tend to think that the way it sometimes puts narratives of crime and underworld activities is not always in the best interests of the larger social discourse. Most of these enterprises are intermediaries negotiating between the realism of the medium and money- making shares. The profits coming from a juicy story and society’s hypocritical, contradictory and unhealthy ( also male-centric) obsession with the exploits of charismatically presented men who have their own rules and regulations to run a lop-sided world, participating in violent and amoral/immoral means to settle scores and whipping up a body count, is so far away from the commonalities of the everyday that it becomes mythic and peddles an anti-hero honorific to them. There’s nothing wrong in being captivated by a well-told story and those that go into the dark alleys of human behaviour or the antipathic subcultures operating within genteel society ultimately mirror the subliminal truth. Evil operates in ways we don’t always notice. Power gets equated sometimes with such brazen means and ends that it produces more anti- social elements than law and order agencies can handle; and mind you, it is a male-dominated, dog eat dog tussle for power that makes criminals elevated to party leaders, politicians and several key players constituting votebanks. That truth is very much a reality in our current climate, whether it is the nexus governing our own national politics or the nebulous ‘leaders’ running the most powerful country in the world ( cue the stars and stripes)

I am noticing that several productions seem to glorify the overblown antics of such figures, giving their acidic, volcanic temperaments a glamorous avatar, atleast to grab initial eyeballs and casting actors who can bring their best in terms of performative ability. But by cuing slow motion cuts, wind-blown treatments and rock- tinged musical cues to people who are malevolent and a clear menace to society, aren’t we cheering them on, in the most twisted, human way possible? As I see it, when we watch an image on screen, we don’t just cheer the brilliance of the performer but the real-life or fictionalized figure he portrays is inextricably linked to our understanding. So when Zac Effron portrays a serial killer complete with his good looks and charming presence, it is adjunct with the way the real-life man he plays used his prowess of physicality to entrap victims. Now here, there’s nothing about the performer. He is just delving into a malevolent personality and adhering to his craft that cannot only be relegated to a high-school heartthrob( in Efron’s case); or take the case of the squeaky clean, titular teenage star of Disney show AUSTIN AND ALLY wearing the robes of a spiteful, monstrous young man in MY FRIEND DAHMER. Even the way we hold THE JOKER (as in THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008) in high regard leans towards those impulses. I am not here to fault the stories, the actors or directors. But whenever we end up saying a line like,’ God, isn’t he just too good looking to be a murderer’ (as in the case of Ted Bundy) or ‘just a hippie prototype trapped in the image of a cult’ ( as in the Manson family’s mastermind) or obsess over these violent images and the perpetrators’ so-called ‘enigma’, we end up creating an admiration for the wrong kind of toxic culture to promote some kind of validation for a misdirected youth.

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It’s actually very simple to grasp as a cultural point of reference: when we defend a misogynistic protagonist, the one who stalks a girl, doesn’t take no for an answer, chainsmokes and drinks away to glory and still hoot and clap at the ‘suaveness’ of the characterisation, we know there’s something fundamentally wrong with where we are headed in terms of mindsets. Male behaviour in its permutations of sexism, criminal undercurrents and conformities of hot-headedness, finding representation through the prism of able-bodied, Adonis like male actors, just cannot be the norm anymore.

The same keenness to glamourise mobsters and their molls needs to retire from the silver screens. Facts can always be presented, the aesthetics of that kind of world be integrated to storytelling that duplicates the grit, grime and unpredictability of being enmeshed within such a set-up, with the ultimate consequences of such choices also getting highlighted with the validation being destruction, death; life imprisonment and death sentences, in the service of justice for the wronged and unnecessarily marginalized lawful agents of society. But by showing the ones toying with justice getting free, riding into the sunset and appending these scripts with mindless blood and gore, sexual dissipation, language verging on the psychotic and of course the use of female actors as objects for titillation and manipulation, or as mere props and secondary fixtures, makers give the wrong signals. By consuming these gratituous works for the sick thrill of it all, we end up creating an unhealthy business model for producers to back one rehash of the same story after another.

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Ultimately, entertainment is a commercial marketplace and more vices get into its fold of stories than those of simple, constructive individuals. ‘To spice up the proceedings’ is unfortunately the mantra that financiers swear by. Even when we know that some sections emulate heist tricks from films/ series, we tend to look the other way when celebrating reckless narratives becomes the ‘it’ thing. Clearly, it has nothing to do with false modesty or moralistic posturing but I feel that in this advanced age, we need to have a penchant for stories of industrious individuals who make a difference rather than lionize underworld figures and gangsters because we know how they have complicitly destroyed lives ( whether in the Bombay blasts or terrorist activities, with no particular religious affiliation occupying this strand of thinking)

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You know what, I have felt all of these long-abiding issues bubble to the surface after going through one of my earlier writings of THE GODFATHER (1972), the first in the trilogy, written five years ago. As I see wheels turn and previous structures of convention demolished and razed to the ground, I felt that now is the time to revisit some narratives and assess them accordingly. I am still awed by the brilliance of the trilogy vis a vis its cast and crew and overall slow-burning unravelling as well as moral wrestling with hard truths and by its scales being tipped towards one of damnation and no return for the protagonists battling complexities galore, especially the third part. But for now, I will not share that original appraisal of the film with my readers. Not in an environment where violence has become an ironic buzzword and men of ill-repute occupy corridors of ‘power’ while corruption rules the roost even amidst a global pandemic.

The only concession I can give in this regard is to THE IRISHMAN(2019) in the way it weaves in the alienation, social ostracization and hatred from one’s family that ensues for an ageing man(Robert De Niro) involved directly and indirectly with the mob in New York of yore. As are the brutal deaths for several key facilitators, justifying the lifetime of crime they signed up for. It’s an important meditation on the price one pays and is ready for once the stakes pass on to the hands of devil. Its pacing too greatly underlined that slow, rotting passage of time for an individual who can never make amends and has perpetually been locked out of heaven’s gate within his lifetime, awaiting a death that can come anytime in an isolated old age home’s room. That is a work that truly shows the after-effects of one’s bad choices. Or take the case of Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) which in its comic, mocking, irreverent style shows the Manson family cohorts for the delusional, idiotic savages they are, positing the sheer brutality and absurdity of their post-modern legacy through their actions (and the ends they meet). The two best friends at the story’s core ( Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio) and the large-hearted filmstar ( Margot Robbie) ultimately get saved from the carnage and reunite. It’s a work that justifies the consequences for all, on polarized sides of behavioural patterns.

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So for now my assessment of THE GODFATHER will not be limited to its realism, iconic status or its original prose material’s coherence by Mario Puzo. It will remain shut out of my writing’s dominant centre.

So have I ever watched a work with an anti-hero or negative personage and enjoyed it, you may ask? The answer is a resounding no. As I appreciate constructive real-life dramas based on the arcs of people who have something positive to provide us, I can never program my mind towards that direction. But that’s arising out of my preference and not some moral high ground. Horror narratives are ultimately analogies, animation works are approximations of truths that we choose to ignore or sidestep in our everyday wanderings but crime sagas are in your face and enlarging their footprint of blood, gore and ultraviolence in the name of commerce is a disservice to the world and we as audiences need to refrain from such examples. That is why I can never look at A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and not tremble uncomfortably at its content. Take due note of that, now more than ever.

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Making a Case for ‘The Artist’, the Oscar Darling No One Talks About

In Michel Hazanavicius’ ambitiously realised feature The Artist, silence indeed is golden. In fact, I bet that those who are uninitiated to movie lore in general will mistake it to be a re-released black-and-white silent classic. The screenplay honours the time-tested innocence and innate simplicity of the monochrome era and faithfully transported it to modern […]

Making a Case for ‘The Artist’, the Oscar Darling No One Talks About


My feature article on celebrated Oscar winner THE ARTIST has been published by SCREEN QUEENS, my fourth for the publication since May, 2020 and it makes me happy to have it included since it talks about silent cinema and its enduring power of imagery in a world of  audio bombast.

Read it and share your thoughts.

THANK YOU .

THE MGM CATALOGUE

I am happy to come to this juncture where one of my long overdue articles on some pivotal films from the MGM stable is finally coming to fruition. Most of them I watched on the MGM channel on television almost five years back, some others on streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix then and now. But ultimately what matters as an underlining fact is that from the first roar of the iconic MGM lion, I knew I will be watching qualitative works cut out for remembrance down the years.

So I once again share the bounty of films coming from the fabled studio’s catalogues, as I have done since the beginning of this blog, and each one is special to me. After reading, make sure to watch them( if you haven’t watched GONE WITH THE WIND yet, now is the time) and dig deep into the many facts and figures behind these essentially grounded works.

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AT CLOSE RANGE(1986)

DIRECTED BY JAMES FOLEY

The poster of AT CLOSE RANGE is apt to encapsulate its uniquely damaged familial ethos. It’s a film that is untouched by the subverted grandiosity or long- windedness of stories with crime as their beating heart, a charge that is hardly lost on pioneers of cinema. Director James Foley designs potently realistic stakes to foreground a father-son relationship, based on a contemporaneous real-life crime family’s exploits from around the same timeline as its settings.

I will always look at this one with appreciation as it is restrained in its depictions of a violence that takes root in the mind and like a river running through an inhospitable environment gets flowing with blood ties. The way this lower class milieu is depicted is something I will never forget. Nor will I forget the purity of the bond shared between two lovers scarcely rescued from the clutches of this small town world and as played by Sean Penn and Mary Stuart Masterson. Or the sheer menace and glower present in Christopher Walken’s tight coil of toxic masculinity and patriarchal ethics.

As the cast also comprises of Penn’s mother and brother ( Eileen Ryan and Chris Penn) as well as a young Kiefer Sutherland ( another descendant of a famous lineage owing to his father Donald), it establishes this familial dynamic very well. AT CLOSE RANGE peddles nothing fake or gratituous in terms of its storytelling. In the performances, the starkness of lives imprisoned by limited resources get conveyed with integrity. The love at the heart of the tale, shared between two youngsters, is the one to remember as it posits a tragedy of its own; even then it endures.

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MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988), DIRECTED BY ALAN PARKER.

A DRY WHITE SEASON(1989), DIRECTED BY EUZHAN PALCY.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death instigated by racial precedents, we must not flinch when witnessing the horrors of its burning past from two late 1980s films, an era in which ‘non- whites’ had just begun to be integrated into the social fabric, especially within nations notorious for a skewed consciousness.

In MISSISSIPPI BURNING, that seething sense of injustice is seen through the imagery of hate and bigotry( burning crosses, Klan members on horseback, lynchings and bodies hanging from trees) as also in the sullen faces of African- Americans battling for dear life in the South of a civil rights era dominated by coercion and fear. It’s no different in the timelessly timely A DRY WHITE SEASON. From its title itself , it seems to paint a picture of the supposed supremacy of social and political power in apartheid-era South Africa. One one end is the truthful and justified anger of Zakes Mokae who has seen the original citizens of his nation crushed through eras by the colonialists and on the other are crusaders of justice like Donald Sutherland, Susan Sarandon and Marlon Brando who refuse to be defined by their skin colour and battle corruption and ingrained biases to correct the course of things in their own unflinching ways. For me, the greatest political and social revolution that this film brings to the table is its direction by EUZHAN PALCY, a rare South African female filmmaker then who utilised her creative powers to spotlight society as it is.

From the solemnity of hymns sung by ostracised residents of Mississippi in the former to the character of Donald Sutherland’s wife, played by Janet Suzman, justifying the white man’s complex in words that reek of internalized supremacy inherited through years in A DRY WHITE SEASON, both bring history of the developed world closer to the present reckoning. What’s most unfortunate is that in the fight for justice, like the films’ narratives themselves, the ‘white’ participants canvassing for civil rights have to be at the forefronts. That is a reality which still singes our soul, inspired as these works are by pure facts.

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BUTTERFIELD 8(1960), DIRECTED BY DANIEL MANN.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF(1958), DIRECTED BY RICHARD BROOKS.

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS(1954), DIRECTED BY RICHARD BROOKS.

These three films toplining one of the greatest superstars of all time ELIZABETH TAYLOR hail from an era where social truths were unveiled with a dose of classic era’s penchant for sentimentality. But it was done with heart and Ms. Taylor was the perfect choice to infuse them with her blessed reserves of screen presence and sensuality that actually allowed for bolder examinations of a moral culture with damning judgements and no easy resolves as on BUTTERFIELD 8, where the enigmatic title and her protagonist invite the same kind of personal ambiguity as Holly Golightly retiring to the ‘powder room’ in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. It was also her first Oscar winning role.

On the engrossing CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, based on the classic Tennessee Williams play, she joins a gifted ensemble comprising the likes of PAUL NEWMAN, BURL IVES and JUDITH ANDERSON to look at entrails of childlessness, tussle for money, sexual inhibitions and denial as also the ‘smell of mendacity’ governing all relationships, in a family drama that burns with acerbic words and repressed desires. I still recall how impressed my mother and I were when we watched it on the TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES (TCM) channel few years ago.

The final in the series is THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS, based on a cautionary short story BABYLON REVISITED by F. SCOTT FITZGERALD. Set in the heyday of the post war expatriate experience, it brings the luminous talents of Liz Taylor along with screen partner Van Johnson, in a screenplay that integrates the heady charms and poignancy brought by romance and riches with a classic yarn. I watched this one after reading the short story and suffice to say, it warmed my heart owing to its simplicity and innocence, a kind of wistfulness which this era of smartphones can often brush off as too melodramatic. Also watch out for a young and dashing Roger Moore ( now immortal as one of the best James Bond avatars) here.

In all of these, Elizabeth Taylor shines as a common link. It is the right kind of introduction for her fans and cinephiles.

***

GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), DIRECTED BY VICTOR FLEMING.

There came a point in my young adult life when everybody, including all my friends and relatives, save I, had watched this all-time classic . But it’s never too late to visit milestones and in 2017, it happened when the ever expansive library of Netflix fulfilled my life-long dream.

GONE WITH THE WIND is a proper classic in every sense of the way, from its production, sweeping visual panorama, faultless performances, screenplay bursting with impassioned dialogues and scenes galore to its singular agency of hope and courage evinced by SCARLET O’ HARA /VIVIEN LEIGH.

In 2020, the film has come under renewed scrutiny for its depictions of antebellum American South. In my opinion, it was never meant to be a corrective on America’s racial history. It ,to me, depicts the very real picture of the world as it was in its attitudes and mannerisms but nevertheless never stooped to the vehement propaganda that films of its timeline could offer. In the process, it gave us the inestimable Oscar winning breakthrough by HATTIE MCDANIEL as Mammy, a cinematic staple even though we are informed constantly at how that didn’t help her stereotypical career trajectory or her treatment at the 1940 ceremony where she received her honour.

The thing with GONE WITH THE WIND is that it continues to echo the good and the bad of human endeavours without losing its overall impact. For me, Ms.Hattie is as unforgettable a fixture as Ms. Leigh and together, they are firebrands who define this canonical MGM work that still retains its power to impress. Their collective contributions to cinematic history find its apex here.

**

STELLA(1990), DIRECTED BY JOHN ERMAN.

STELLA is an ode to motherhood incorporating its sentiments and bravery like the true old-fashioned tale it is, charming, funny, emotionally accessible and held together by the complex and loveable bond shared by BETTE MIDLER and TRINI ALVARADO as mother and daughter.

Look out for a young BEN STILLER here as well as STEPHEN COLLINS, MARSHA MASON and of course JOHN GOODMAN as a friend for life. What STELLA beautifully gets right is the confusion for Stella’s daughter brought on by opposing sides of class differences to which her parents belong, her father being an affluent man while her mother is a working class woman who gives it her all to make ends meet. That teeming point of intersection makes STELLA opt for a great sacrifice, a pathway not lost on us and on single mothers of the world. For her daughter’s good, she opts to let the other side on her father’s part take precedence for her kid’s bright future. I am certain by the time end credits roll, this film will win you over and leave you moist- eyed.

**