Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Film Makers in a Box

Sunday afternoons are the worst. Saturday nights being Saturday nights, I usually end up sleeping at something like 3 or 4 in the morning, and waking up around noon on Sunday. This throws everything off. I feel listless getting out of bed. Getting ready for the day is a pain. And then there is the question of lunch. In Pune, if you don't have your lunch by 3, you have to stick to burgers or pizza. Or skip lunch altogether. You could, of course, cook something, but that has never been my forte. The trouble is, when you have breakfast at 12, it's difficult to work up a good appetite before 3. Tired and grumpy, I feel all alone in the world. I usually have a bite of breakfast and go right back to bed, knowing full well that this means the night's sleep is going to be pretty much screwed, and that the following day at work will be about as productive as a session with an out-of-form Rahul Dravid at the crease. (But then again, on Mondays, there are lots of out-of-form Dravids in office.)

But not last Sunday. No sir. Up till the "feeling all alone in the world" bit, it was business as usual. And that is the perfect mood in which to watch Wim Wenders' "The End of Violence", which was shown on Zee MGM at 3, as the inaugural film of their "Sultans of Cinema" series. Well, maybe not quite the perfect mood. It's the sort of film where being a little drunk also helps. The title is about this system that is supposed to bring about an end of violence by video surveillance of all public places. But to achieve this end of violence, They have to go about killing whoever asks questions about the potential abuse of such a system. Some kind of irony, I suppose. (Don't think "Enemy of the State". These 2 films are about as alike as are, say, "Star Wars" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". ) At least, I think the plot was something along those lines. (There was a brief power cut, I was a little drowsy, and I switched back too late after ads on occasions. I really can't stand ads in the middle of a movie. Wasn't it Herzog who said that future generations will wonder how we could ever allow something as precious as the telling of a story to be smashed into smithereens by advertisements?) Anyway, it's not important. The film's more about these alienated souls who wander a gorgeous Los Angeles landscape.

And that got me thinking. This is the kind of movie that, with its pacing, allows - no, encourages - you to think random thoughts. How about putting directors in a box? Mind you, I'm not talking of stuff like "Generally, he..." No, it has to be, "In ALL his movies..." Of course, it helps if you've seen very few films of a director. The more movies you watch, the larger is the box - less things to pin on him. For instance, for many years, my box for David Lean was, "Likes to shoot an Arab-robe clad Peter O Toole in the desert." Not quite accurate. But, what the hell. We're all frogs in wells. At least, I am. Therefore, so are you all.

"Paris, Texas" had even more alienated souls wandering an even more gorgeous Texas landscape. "Wings of Desire" was about... well, maybe not alienated... but definitely lonely angels who've just about had enough of immortality (see post script), and also of people walking through them, sitting on them, not acknowledging their presence and what not. The humans in the film - definitely alienated. The mostly black-and-white Berlin of the film is a little bleak, but it's still exceptionally well shot. I've seen only these 3 films by him. So off goes Wim Wenders in the "alienated people in breathtaking landscapes; has a way with photographing beautiful man-made structures; minimal plots; characters (at least some of them) reconnect with the rest of humanity by the end of the film" box.

I think I'll put Antonioni in the same box - except that I'll remove that last "reconnecting at the end" bit, and put in a "can bore you to tears sometimes". (I'm thinking 'Red Desert'. And I know I'm violating the ALL films rule here.)

Who else? Werner Herzog. Well, I've seen 7 films by him. 6 films from the Herzog-Kinski box set + "Grizzly Man", which they showed on Discovery Channel last week. "Bleak world view; certified lunatics as lead actors; awe-inspiring photography of nature at its wildest; lead characters a combination of bravery, incredible ambition, equally incredible stupidity, massive egos; Nature hands Man's head on plate." This is harder than I thought. I had to develop selective amnesia to get in some of those points for the Herzog box.

Hitchcock. "Wizardry with the camera; people die; morbid humour."

John Ford. "Fantastic photography of John Wayne striking macho poses in vast open spaces; maudlin; specialises in moralizing that is as subtle as a sledgehammer; makes you want to throw a shoe at the screen whenever characters so much as open their mouths." I suspect, no matter how many films I see of him, this box is unlikely to change. "The Searchers", for instance, was one of my all-time favourite films when I saw it the first time. Each subsequent viewing makes me like it a little less, as I see past the stunning cinematography, and start listening to the characters. I still like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". But then again, I've only watched it once. I have a special grudge against this bloke. Such is his reputation that I thought nothing of splurging on an 8-movie box set of his. That was about 2 years back. So far, I've managed to watch about 3 movies, and the set is now stuffed somewhere at the back of a shelf - where I have to see as little of it as possible.

Brian De Palma. "Nudity, sex, violence; uses the camera like V.V.S. Laxman uses his bat - a wand."

I think I'll stop now. There are other directors I'd like to try this exercise on, but it's getting more and more difficult to put them in a box - I've watched more than a handful of movies from them. For instance, the "nudity and sex" bit as a box for ALL Brian De Palma films is a flat-out lie. I just didn't want a box with only one point.

By the way, in case you were wondering how my Sunday went, it went very well. Right after "The End of Violence", I got to watch the Bahrain GP, that saw Raikkonen driving to the lead of the championship. The highlights of the race, though, were the snippets of an-obviously-under-strict-instructions-to-hype-Force-India-whenever-possible Steve Slater talk of the "tremendous acceleration of the Force India cars from corners", while the other commentator was trying to point out that that was more a reflection of the problems of the McLaren behind, which, in any case, managed to get by after 3 laps. That, though, was nothing compared to this. There is exactly one line about the winner of the race (at the end of the article). The rest is breathless excitement for a team that finished 12th and 19th (out of 22 cars, minus retirements). Anyway, where was I? Yes, a film that makes alienation look so beautiful, and a good day for a superstar who drives things around in circles at great speed, who has nothing whatsoever to do with my life, and who is one of the richest people on earth, made me feel all happily connected with the rest of humanity. :)

P.S. - About the boredom of angels in "Wings of Desire". You see, these angels are not like the angels of popular imagination. We romanticize them too much. Wim Wenders' angels are nothing but celestial bloggers. They just sit around, observing the things around them, and noting them all down in a white notebook. And they have all been assigned locations. For instance, the angels in the movie are posted in Berlin. But you see, they were not posted there after the city came into existence. They were there on that piece of land even before life formed on earth. Luckily for Damiel and Cassiel, a city grew up around them. Now, spare a thought for the ones posted on the Poles, or maybe the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A few billion years of sitting around twiddling thumbs. And then civilization rises. Their colleagues get to watch laughter, tears, joy, wars, pain, death, sex, Bunuel, etc. And here they are studying patterns of currents, or watching glaciers melt. Wonder what the suicide statistics for angels are...


phoenikhs said...

Loved the last para.

Rohan said...

Thank you. Have you seen the film? It's co-written by a poet. So a fellow poet like you should love it!