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Archive for the ‘author Shubhajit Lahiri’ Category

by Shubhajit Lahiri

One of the most fascinating aspects in the world of arts or music or literature or cinema, is how two artists sometimes end up becoming conjoined, pop-culturally as well as in more serious and self-conscious discourses, for reasons that may range from complex friendships to bitter rivalries (or a curios combination of both). Or perhaps, in the way they inspired one another to newer realms while pursuing distinctively different routes and choices to artistic expression. Or, for that matter, in the way they simultaneously converged and diverged.

Picasso-Matisse, Van Gogh-Gauguin, Camus-Sartre, Hemingway-Fitzgerald, Márquez-Llosa, Lennon-Dylan, Klimt-Schiele, etc. are all enduring examples. Godard-Truffaut, Ozu-Imamura, Fellini-Antonioni, Chaplin-Keaton, etc. were similarly memorable elucidations specific to world cinema. And then, a pair like Buñuel-Dali even took that beyond the confines of their respective mediums.

Those who’re well acquainted to these two contemporaries of Bengali cinema, would agree that Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, too, unequivocally belonged to this interesting club.

I’d become aware of Ray much earlier in my life – his popularity went significantly beyond just “serious” cinephiles because of his diverse filmography, his many artistic involvements beyond cinema, and his easy accessibility. Ghatak entered much later in my life, and that’s perhaps understandable since he’s not as universally known, albeit immensely admired by a small group of intense aficionados.

Ghatak was a rebel, a radical and a recluse. He was never easy to endear personally – he was embittered, alienating, abrasive, unpredictable, innately non-conformist, oftentimes contrarian, and yes, a self-destructive alcoholic too. As an auteur, as well, he’s an acquired taste (though one, once acquired, is difficult to let go) – he made just eight films in his life (except for a dazzling burst of 5 films, viz. Ajantrik (The Unmechanical / Pathetic Fallacy), Bari Theke Paliye (Running Away from Home) and the ‘Partition Trilogy’, made between 1958-’62, he was never a very prolific filmmaker); his films were seeped in a milieu and style and context that were singularly his own and hence often tad difficult or uncomfortable for those who’re not well accustomed to them; and, most importantly, his cinema was inextricably linked to a complex combination of his resolutely formal vision and avowedly leftist politics. (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Manhattan came possibly as a conclusion to the most remarkable purple patch in Woody Allen’s prolific and brilliant career as a filmmaker. The phenomenal streak began with Love and Death, his first masterpiece in my reckoning and the film that, despite its farcical nature, marked his transition to serio-comic cinema. He followed that up with Annie Hall, one of the great works of American cinema and the beginning of his love affair with urban neurotic relationships and New York. Next came Interiors, a stark chamber drama that stunned the audience with its deathly serious tone and made his fascination with Bergman clear. Manhattan, which ranks amongst many as Woody’s greatest work, marked the culmination of all his great hallmarks and signatures. Though he continued to make stellar works in the years to come (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Husbands and Wives are the ones that place highest in my opinion), the above streak ensured that cinephiles and film students start considering Woody as a serious and accomplished auteur, and hence, in turn, his elevation to the pantheon of great filmmakers, artistes and social commentators.

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Woman of the Lake, directed by Yoshishige Yoshida, aka Kiju Yoshida, one of the most influential members and great intellectuals of the Japanese New Wave movement, was a lyrical, disquieting and beautifully shot meditation on urban alienation, existential crisis, marital fidelity, and the complex dynamics of love and lust. This was the 2nd film in the director’s thematically & stylistically connected series of 6 films, made right after his parting ways with Shochiku Studio, which has been loosely qualified as “Anti-Melodramas”. All were shot in B/W (except for one), starred his glorious wife-cum-muse Okada, and fabulously deconstructed the melodrama form of filmmaking by imbuing them with a dark, edgy, layered, psychologically dense, thematically rich and stylistically dazzling signature.

It was preceded by A Story Written with Water(a troubling account of mother-son relationship with all its repressed desires and associated guilt), and was followed by The Affair/Joen(a bravura and powerful examination of a mother’s memory on her daughter and how it shapes her relationship with men – possibly the best film of the lot along with the one under focus), Flame & Women(an incisive probe into psychological questions and moral dilemmas through the topic of artificial insemination), Affair in the Snow (portrayal of the dichotomy and irony of choosing between sexual prowess and emotional connect, and a complementary and companion piece to Woman of the Lake) and Farewell to Summer Light (a lilting take on questions of memory and ephemerality of relationships that is sure to remind one of Linklater’s “Before Trilogy”, and the only one shot in colour). (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

John Ford reveled in the making of Westerns, for what is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence if not an expression of his love affair with the genre? With its overarching themes of nostalgia and melancholia concerning the slow but sure demise of the iconic landscape, the movie remains a heartfelt and elegiac tone-poem to it. A number of films have in fact eulogized about the death of the West – the slow but inevitable disappearance of an era and a way of life. A key motif for most such films has been the juxtaposition between the Old West and the advent of law and civilization – and the two were seemingly irreconcilable and diametrically divergent. Ford’s 134th film (he would make just 6 more over the next decade) might just be the finest from that point of view. (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence might not be as iconic or popular as his Django, but it is considered by many, including Spaghetti Western aficionados, as his best work. This harsh, bleak and disturbing film with strong socio-political undercurrents remains a rarity for having brought two of the most legendary European actors together – Jean-Luis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski. Corbiccu perfectly played on the screen personalities of the two thespians – the serene calm of Frenchman Trintignant and the gleeful unpredictability of German actor Kinski, to create a tale filled with both psychological and political tension. (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Westerns, film noirs and gangster films were three of the most iconic contributions of American cinema. On initial glance the three might not seem reconcilable, but, in essence a few chords do relate them. Machismo and masculinity, for instance, can be found in all the three, as do growing nihilism and cynicism, trenchant socio-political contextualization (intended or otherwise) and how it shapes its protagonists and antagonists, the concepts of ‘lone wolf’ and underhanded heroism, and so forth. Consequently, it deserves attention when a filmmaker manages to reconcile the three without any palpable display of forcefulness or discomfort. What might surprise one, though, is that André De Toth, despite not being someone who comes to mind immediately when one thinks of all the famous and/or iconic American filmmakers, managed to achieve that so seamlessly and memorably.

Day of the Outlaw, De Toth’s astounding last Western, was one of the finest fusions of the genre’s setting and themes with noirish sensibilities and tone, and gangster elements – most notably the invariable comeuppance, that I’ve seen. On one hand it placed a lone wolf at odds with the changing times and evolving civilization around him, while on the other it showed how fragile any society, at the end of the day, essentially is at the face of primal forces. It also made terrific use of harsh Wyoming winter to complement its relentlessly bleak tone and ambivalent characters. (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Though not as universally popular as Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, master French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s creation Monsieur Hulot too remains an unforgettable character where slapstick comedy goes. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday introduced cinephiles to the friendly and polite, albeit bumbling, socially awkward and accident-prone everyman and the eponymous character of the film.

When Mr. Hulot visits a pleasant French countryside retreat for vacation, it is inevitable that mishaps will occur, and they form the basis for the immense enjoyment that the movie provides. Never one to indulge in over-dramatisation or racous fun, Tati filled the film with hilarious gags that make you laugh through their brilliant ideation, wit, subtle gestures and unadulterated humour – the brilliance of imagination and execution certainly ensured that the viewers would roll on the floor with laughter.

The sequence which introduced us, and the unfortunate hotel guests, to Hulot, and the one where he decides to display his tennis skills, are acts of pure genius and parts of cinematic folklore. In fact, the movie is filled with a multitude of moments that would stay with the viewers, including even something as mundane as the opening and closing of a door! (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

If film noirs are known for their cynicism, nihilism, and stylized photography and chiaroscuro, Italian Neorealism for disarming simplicity, stark realism and lyrical storytelling, and French Nouvelle Vague for avant-garde style, cheeky reversal of genre conventions and formalist approach to cinema, Czech New Wave shall always be remembered for the array of searing political satires (oftentimes in the garb of absurdism) it engendered. Despite probably not being as influential and seminal as the other three movements, it was every bit as audacious and fascinating. And Milos Forman, along with his legendary peers like Jiri Menzel, Jan Nemec, Jaromil Jires, Vera Chytilova et al, was one of the most towering figures in the political and artistic time capsule that this essential period of film history represents.

The Firemen’s Ball, released in 1967, was quite an event in the career of Forman, who had become a darling of the Czech New Wave with the delectable comedies Black Peter and Loves of a Blonde, and who would later become a darling of Hollywood what with his One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. It was his first film made in colour; but more importantly, it was his last movie in his native Czechoslovakia before he headed for America just in time before the Prague Spring invasion. The movie, like so many other works belonging to that movement, got banned in the country for its “seditious” and “anti-nationalistic” content, and nearly represented a catastrophe for the director when its initial producer Carlo Ponti withdrew his patronage. (more…)

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