Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let's talk about Hitchcock

This post was originally posted on Nuances.

Shall we?

Well, if I really must have a reason to talk about Hitchcock I'm going to have to rewind and fast forward quite a bit...

Too often the excuse for silly, immature, by the numbers cinema is passed on to the audience.

It shouldn't be.

See the argument goes that the audience can't, or won't be bothered, to work out "complex" ideas in a film. And someone who's new to the medium, or who hasn't checked out cinema going back a few decades or more, might be forgiven for thinking as such.

Actually, no. If you're a "movie lover" and haven't checked out at least some "old" movies/films by the likes of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Fran├žois Truffaut and other such masters, then shame on you.

Well... not really shame on you... more like your loss... your serious loss.

Trailer for Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon'

So, let's talk about Hitchcock. Still no?

I see.

I might have been a tad vague in my reasoning for talking about Hitchcock. Hmmm... how to put it?

Okay.

You hear about how everyone... well a few people... well... maybe just a few critics are deriding that little film about robots in disguise? I mean it's the most recent picture in a trilogy of sorts... You know... the one with the giant robots and huge explosions and other... you know... explosive situations? Yea. That movie.

A lot of the times that sort of thing, because of the fact that maybe it's taking in boat loads of money, is justified, with "audiences really prefer not to think through a movie" - I'm just paraphrasing here mind. And recent, slightly skewed "research" might lead one to justify that...

Hence my want to talk about Hitchcock. Errr... no? Why? Cos we can talk about all those other guys I mentioned before you say?

Trailer for Fran├žois Truffaut's 'Les Quatre cents coups' (400 Blows) 

Yea. You should really go check those guys out. Their work is beautiful, evocative and thought provoking - even when they're working with black and white and no explosions. But while they may have had mainstream appeal in their own right I wouldn't go so far as to say they had global appeal in their time... alas, they seem to have trouble with global appeal even in our time.

So.

Really.

Let's talk about Hitchcock.

Yes?

Good. Great!

He proved that you could make money with "high concept" films while not alienating the audience and still garner critical acclaim and global fame... although initially, he may have had a tough time getting some American critics to see the value in his work.

I see you pulling away now... a few more minutes? I promise I'll make it  worth your while.

Trailer for 'Psycho'

Heard of 'Psycho' (1960)? No. Not that 1998 version - which I hear was a travesty... No I really didn't watch it. There was no need to. Go see Hitchcock's original Psycho you'll see what I mean - it was shot in black and white but even with that "handicap" it does so well in eliciting a visceral reaction out of you.

If you've heard somebody describe any story as a "modern, psychological yarn" you will be surprised to see how much of that you see here in a film made in 1960 - and how much faith, unlike most modern mainstream directors, Hitchcock had in his audience.

So you think that Psycho is not that hard to follow compared to "modern" standards?

You should check out 'Vertigo' (1958).

Trailer for 'Vertigo'

Technical innovation aside, the story telling is intense, complicated and riveting. And I would argue that its complexity holds up even by modern "intellectual" standards.

That's all well and good you say? You want a pop-corn movie? One that you can sit back and enjoy? One that takes you through exciting chases, chills, thrills and a few laughs?

You don't mind all that and a little bit of intelligence and humour do you?

Try 'North by Northwest' (1959) on for size. But be warned - it's more than a bit intelligent and it has a brilliant sense of humour. You get chases, mistaken identities, spies, damsels who are decidedly not in distress (Who'd have thunk?!?! In the 50s?!?!), killer crop-duster planes... KILLER CROP-DUSTER PLANES DAMMIT!!!

Trailer for 'North by Northwest'

And those are just some of the highlights of his career.

Some of his work has inspired, and keeps inspiring, some of our greatest filmmakers today.

Take a look at Christopher Nolan's work and I can't help but see a Hitchcockian sense of humour and a sense of the same crisp, lean narrative.

Does 'Memento' (2000) not have a wicked sense of humour while making your mind do summersaults? That's kind of what Hitchcock does with North by Northwest although with a much lesser degree of a mental workout - that he leaves for Vertigo.

You know that thing that David Fincher keeps trying to do ever so often with the long, uninterrupted shots? He tried it a couple of times with 'Fight Club' (1999) and 'Panic Room'(2002)? I'd go so far as to argue that that was pure Hitchcock inspired - see 'Rope' (1948) and you'll get where I'm coming from.

Tailer for 'Rope' - like a few of Hitchcock's trailers
contains little from the actual film.

So yea.

That's why we needed to talk about Hitchcock.

Also, remember the other guys I told you about? Well... Hitchcock was my stepping stone to those guys. No. He's not less important than they are - if anything, for me, he might be slightly more important.

So what it comes down to... what I guess I am saying is...

It's okay if you make "crappy" movies - just don't justify it by saying that the audience won't get it. Yea... what I'm saying is... the audience are intelligent enough to grasp almost anything you can throw at them.

Seriously.

If they weren't David Lynch and a few other directors you might have heard of wouldn't have careers.

Edit; July 12, 2011:

I consider myself not adequately chastised for missing out on naming Ingmar Bergman in my original post - that is one name which should not have been missed. I've attempted to fix this inexcusable oversight by adding a link to the original post - I felt it might be cheating to edit the text afterwards. Thanks to shaari for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Winter is coming… brrrr

REVIEW BY HILATH

This is one time where I cannot reveal anything lest I spoil this one damned gem I recently found from among the thousands of media trash churned out by profit-oriented studios.



Suffice to say that, right when I thought that there was nothing for me here in this meaningless universe, I’ve been suddenly forced to reconsider my earlier aspirations for committing suicide because here is one universe created by George R. R. Martin which, for me, is like a wake-up call -- for a person like me who am constantly dazed and confused because I have to keep one leg in a Conservative but vocal society while keeping another leg in the Liberal but silent society, living side by side in a small island capital.

Sometimes, because it’s the Conservative society that is most visible and for which you feel pressured to belong, I get lost in the fake (Kasauti) reality they have created, seeing everything through religion-tinted spectacles. So ever since Game of Thrones began to air this year, it has served as a fan to cool down the continuous psychological assault on my Liberal values by the Conservative Maldivians.


Based on Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, it hits you like a fresh breath of air, and having watched Season 1’s 9th episode today, I thought I should share my liking for this as I await the season finale next Monday which I am sure will be as breathtaking and heartstopping as the rest of the episodes.

Not to spoil anything, I would simply and shortly say that Game of Thrones is a “realistic fantasy” in that, basically you are treated to a world where raw nature rules. Yes, it’s the jungle. The indifferent, unemotional universe. And the drama that takes there -- a clash of egos, and its interesting outcomes, when sentient beings purse their self-interest in a world where everyone, including children, know the meaning of “survival of the fittest” and perhaps also, the strongest.

And as Martin’s universe does not know yet what democracy and Liberalism are, you can expect violence and sex -- coming no less from HBO itself -- on a scale that is unprecedented and as a result has left many a Kasauti American viewer shocked and nauseous. But all the better for me! :)

The title of this blogpost I choose because, when the first season grows on you, it becomes one of the coolest catchy phrases ever heard from a media production -- and unsurprisingly it's the opening lines of the above video trailer I came across YouTube.

Perhaps I have fallen in love with this series because I'm such a pessimist and I don't see anything improving for Maldivians within the next 15 years - the time I hope it will take for all the conscience-challenged Maldivians above 35 years of age to die out so that the new generations of current young Maldivians can finally get the breathing space they need to usher in true Liberalism and Democratic Ideals to Maldives.

I have read from Winter-is-coming.net that Martin will write the rest of the books (total seven books) and that HBO will produce each book as a season, meaning that finally I will, for the next 7 years of my life, have something to look forward to.

And after that? Well, hopefully Maldives would have become Liberal to the extent that euthanasia will be legal. Cheers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tangled: Deconstructing a realistic fantasy




REVIEW BY HILATH

What is a "realistic fantasy"? My friends mean it in different ways but my general understanding is that though the setting is based in a fantasy realm, characters behave and emote in realistic ways.

And when it comes to Tangled, the modern take on the Rapunzel story, I was surprised that an animated film could capture human emotions at an existential level. And you get to say that particularly about animated films in a very few instances.

And see how long I have “reviewed” an animated film - since writing a short halfhearted “review” of The Princess and the Frog more than a year back.

But when I watched Disney’s Tangled this week, it really surprised me – to the extent that I had to divert some time to write even a short "review" of it – because I felt that this was a film worthy to be recommended to any film-lover and I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t let all my friends know that here indeed was a film (animated or not) which is not to be missed at all.

Realism, ironically, is written all over this fantasy.

If you never gave a thought to how serious the crime of baby-stealing is, something which happens in the modern world, too, Tangled will give you a full blast on the heinous nature of this crime and the psychologically devastating consequences it would have on the parents.

The film captures this realistically by showing the King and Queen, in the few instances they are shown, as utterly silent and almost motionless. You can imagine: after so many years passed with no sign of their daughter, will such grieving parents have anything more to say in words? And towards the end, when the guard opens the door to the King and Queen’s chambers to announce that their daughter has indeed been found after 17 long years, even the guard remains silent and a subtle nod of his head with a ghost of a smile, says it all.

Such scenes touched me deeply and I have to congratulate the team behind Tangled for getting almost everything right.

And in the case of Rapunzel herself, observe the sensitive way how the film deals with her first venture out into the open world after she turned 17: the camera focusing on the grass as she was about to touch her feet on the ground for the first time; and how she sticks her toes into the sand to get that first feeling of the Earth. And then, in a comedic sort of way from her rescuer the thief’s viewpoint, the mixture of conflicting emotions she gives out, feeling both giddy and excited at the same time to be out in the open world for the first time, and also guilty and regretful because she has been “disobedient” to her “mother” for the first time - by leaving the tower in search of her dream.

The film starts with the thief, Flynn Rider, narrating that, unlike other fantasies, this story was about how he died. It grabs your attention right from the start and towards the end, the viewer is rewarded by that lasting selfless act he carries out in order to save Rapunzel: Flynn knows for sure that he will not survive but he carries out the act any way to save another human being from slavery and ultimately it is this humane act – coming no less from a thief himself – which leaves you humbled.

And, well, here’s a part I would rather have avoided. But before coming to that, perhaps I should mention here that I don’t know what’s wrong with me now but over the past two years since I have been coming into close contact with the Maldives' underprivileged class, and becoming disturbed by seeing and experiencing firsthand the subhuman conditions they live in, I have been avoiding realism cinema because it somehow disturbs me now.

In fact, I have not even watched half of the 10 Oscar nominated films of last year although I have all those films on my hard disk. So, I actually diverted time to watch Tangled after seeing its somewhat playful trailer thinking that since it was an animated fantasy, there would be no disturbing aftertastes lingering on my mind for days, like how it happened when I watched Black Swan and 127 Hours after preparing myself mentally for several days! If you should know I watched Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire a year after it was released and to date I still have been keeping Anti-Christ on my hard disk, too afraid to watch it but too cowardly either to delete that Lars Von Trier classic without watching it first! Perhaps I have become a softie now but if that is the result of witnessing the sick things that goes on in this small Maldivian society, then so be it.

So as I was saying, the first shock to my system came that Tangled was really a “realistic fantasy” during the psychologically twisted “interaction” the woman who stole Rapunzel (when she was a baby) later has with her while posing as her “mother.” In my life I have seen real Maldivians who are as psychologically twisted as this fake mother. So it really disturbed me to see how she plays with Rapunzel’s emotions and feelings to make sure that Rapunzel remains her slave in the tower forever.

This scene made me sick to my stomach but now that a film which belongs to the category of “realism cinema” had “tricked” me into watching it, I kept watching the film towards its very end. So although it was disturbing, Tangled was ultimately rewarding, because it is not every day that you come across such a cinematic gem, especially in these times when Hollywood is only concerned about making money-earning, brainless visual-effects laden films for testosterone-filled adolescent male teenagers.