Thursday, December 27, 2007
There was an DVD/CD sale recently at shankara hall and guess what I got? "The African Queen" (1951,directed by John Huston).Being a Humphrey Bogart fan and knowing that he had won an oscar for his performance in it I've wanted to get hold of it for long.
The African Queen is the name of a small supply boat whose scraggy captain is Charlie Allnut(Humphrey Bogart) who plies the boat through the waters of German-occupied East Africa during the 2nd world war.
Rose(Katherine Hepburn) is a christian missionary who with her brother has setup a school for the natives.
Allnut brings them the mail and delights the natives by allowing them to sample his gin and cigars.
The German army shows up one day and burns the natives huts and enlists them in the army and Rose's brother whilst crying out against the atrocity is assaulted by a soldier and shortly afterward, dies in a state of delirium.
Charlie shows up after the dust has settled and offers to take Rose to safety and thus begins a journey of a most unlikely couple.
Charlie breathes some fresh air into Rose's closeted missionary life and she finds great joy in navigating the boat and gleefully riding down the white water rapids experiencing highs she's never felt before in her life.
On the other hand, Rose instils order, discipline and a sense of purpose in Charlie.
And their various exchanges are quite delightful to watch.
Charlie is at first the gent but only until he hits his bottles of gin.His drunk persona is a different man altogether-sarcastic and uncouth.In his drunken stupor he calls Rose a skinny maid and in retaliation she dumps the entire crate of gin bottles into the river when Charlie is asleep.
A sober Charlie soon reforms back into the polite gent and even starts shaving to get into Rose's good books.
Rose then comes up with an idea to torpedo the German gunboat that patrols the waters(which the British forces havent been able to breach) and Charlie has no choice but to go along with her crazy but ambitious scheme.
They go about making torpedoes using the plasticine and gas cylinders on board and arm the front end of the boat with the makeshift torpedoes and set forth in search of their target.
The rest of the movie is about the obstacles they face: a broken rudder,violent rapids,crocodiles,rainstorms and a heavily patrolled German fort which they have to get past without beink sunk.
They face and fight all these and gradually realise that they have fallen in love with each other thereby only strengthening their resolve to succeed in their quest.
As the gunboat looms on the horizon,Charlie suddenly insists that Rose get off the boat as it could prove to be fatal but Rose insists that she'd rather die with Charlie than live without him.The film unfolds into a rather amusing climax and the tension that was built up vaporises to quite a weak happy-ending.I dont know how true they have been to the book(by C.S. Forester) but it was worth the watch.
African queen is as old-style hollywood-adventure as can be,but what I liked about it was Huston's decisions at the helm.
He could have easily recreated Africa in a studio backlot and wanted us to overlook the artifice but Huston,reputed to hate shooting in studios, preferred the wild outdoors and almost all the scenes in African Queen(except those involving the rapids) were shot in Africa and you can feel that.
You feel the tropical heat and sweat on your skin,you feel the mosquito bite,you feel the sting of the leeches that cling to Charlie,you shiver when it rains endlessly at night and you feel utterly drained and exhausted just as Charlie and Rose are after they try to navigate their way out after getting caught in some murky waters following which Charlie hops out and drags the boat out.
What I also liked were the little quirks thrown in. Charlie kicking the steamboat motor to unclog it rather than remove the object that is causing it to clog,(because it cracks him up),Charlie mimicking the prim and proper Rose to annoy her,Rose wanting to ride the rapids again to experience the high at which point Charlie believes she's gone nuts,the sarcastic wit that Charlie displays when the German captain interrogates him and other delightful one-liners that Bogie makes the most of.
I had read a biography of Bogart last year and came to know that during the shoot in Africa all the members of the cast and crew fell sick at some point of time whereas Bogie was the only man who stayed fully fit as he drank only scotch and never touched the water,unlike the others.
Bogart is usually associated with the slick,suave,debonair ice-man who deals with mobsters,femme-fatales,cops and generally,trouble, with consummate ease.He was the original tough guy who defined 'cool' and though all those roles ,especially in movies with a noir-ambience(like Casablanca,Maltese Falcon,The Big Sleep) made him popular, he garnered more acclaim when he ventured out of that image in diverse movies like The Caine mutiny,Sabrina,Desperate Hours and ofcourse The African Queen for which he won his only Oscar.
For Bogart fans this is a movie to watch the other side of Bogie..for non-Bogart fans,do watch it but not before you've seen the quintessential Bogart movies. Tweet
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Westerns and me never used to get along, be it books or movies.My dad being a huge Louis L'Amour freak and a John Wayne fan was one of the main causes. Ego, you see, cant like the same things dad likes.Or so I thought.(and of late I see that I am turning into him and making similar choices on certain fronts).
About a year back I finally gave in at least on the movie front and started watching the classic westerns.....Names such as John Ford,Howard Hawks,John Huston were strangers no more and the 'Duke', as John Wayne was known became regulars in the household.John Wayne was to westerns probably what our own superstars today are to the masala blockbusters that hit the screens.A huge star trapped in his own larger than life image,someone who guaranteed a sure-fire box office success and someone who is still considered the quintessential good-guy hero that can never die.I admit his movies were fun and so were most other westerns I have seen,but almost all of them are very predictable.
You knew the usual suspects and you knew the drill : The tough as nails,no-nonsense Sheriff with a rapid draw,someone without any show of emotions,the comic sidekick who would sacrifice his life to save the big guy,the old and harmless assistant jailer,the blond who loves the sheriff and eventually rides off into the sunset with him,the ex-deputy who is a drunkard and reforms just in time,the Mexican whore,the local waterhole and its cynical bartender and of course the baddies with one big bad boss who all come to wreak havoc on the town that is usually stuck in the middle of nowhere and the sheriff finally saves the day and all becomes quiet on the western front.
Then there was this phase of spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood,that Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone made famous. No wonder it is these same caricatures that are spoofed in today's pop-culture nods.
Of course the imagery isn't complete without the backdrops... The saloon serving as the watering hole for all the men in town,the watch tower,the train station,the hardware store,the stables,the sheriff's office and the church. I guess it was easy to reuse and I guess most of the movies were shot in the studio back lot which had all these in place.
But despite all that or should I say in spite of all that westerns thrill audiences all over the world and there aren't too many things to beat getting transported into that old land for ninety minutes and that was exactly what I intended to do when I loaded in 'High Noon' and pushed play.One of the factors that also helped in making the decision was that Grace Kelly was in it,in one of her 1st major movie roles and Grace , ah the name says it all.
'High Noon' (1952) is set in a town, Hadleyville,where the impending arrival of the revenge-seeking , killer outlaw Frank Miller, sends the town into a state of disarray. Miller, who after evading a sentence in the courts is all set to return to the town where he was taken down by the Marshall, Will Kane(Gary Cooper).Kane has just married Amy(Grace Kelly) and is all set to turn in his tin-star badge in retirement and leave town with his new bride. News arrives that Miller is on his way to the town on the noon train and his cronies lie in wait at the station.(See if you can spot Lee Van Cleef as one of them). Kane the husband knows it is best to leave town with his new bride and Amy is within her rights to convince Kane to do the same.But after riding out for awhile Kane changes his mind and returns to town,despite Amy threatening to leave town on the same train that Miller is arriving in as she doesn't want to wait to find out if she will still remain a wife or become a widow. For Kane the choice is easy...save the town from the same baddie who had transformed it into a cesspool before being put away.
This time though he is short-handed.None of his earlier star-deputies have stayed back and no new volunteers are willing to put their lives on the line.The collective cowardice of the town's entire menfolk disgusts Kane and he has to fight it out alone.
What ensues is a riveting climax ending with a thrilling showdown.
Now how different is 'High Noon' from the standard western?It certainly had most of the usual suspects listed above.
But still, it was unlike any other western I'd seen before.
Perhaps it was the way the characters were sketched.
Will Kane isn't the loud-mouthed , larger than life ,brash sheriff we are used to.He is quiet and almost unrecognizable in a sense.It took me some time to realise Cooper was who he was and I guess Cooper's own appearance contributed to that.He could easily be the everyman.No cocky swagger or brash confidence, like say John Wayne's sheriffs.No fancy gun-work..he doesn't even draw a gun till the showdown at the end.No yelling to the town folk to get in line and fight.No intentional bravado.The scene where he buries his head in despair,alone in his office when he realises that the town has no real men willing to help is a poignant scene and it is rare to see that in a western. Will Kane could probably be the most un-western lawman you ever get to see.
Amy is unlike all other western-blonds.She doesn't swoon in the arms of her man.She doesn't weep and plead to get her way.She initially doesn't stand by her man in his hour of need.And even when in distress she isn't the usual damsel screaming her head off.Another un-western character.
Harvey Paul,Kane's deputy(played by Lloyd Bridges-father of actors Jeff and Beau Bridges) is not the normal right-hand who stands by his Marshall.This deputy quits when his boss needs him and he turns to the bottle instead of the gun and never does a volte-face after that.In one hilarious scene he even tries to knock-out Kane to help him avoid the impending showdown.
It helps that he has just married Helen Ramirez(Katy Jurado),the mexican woman who is one of the owners of the town saloon and a business women who doesn't allow emotional baggage to dictate terms to her.For a mexican woman to be cast in such a strong and non-stereotypical role was quite a surprise and I was surprised to learn that she was oscar nominated and won a golden globe for her role.That was a rarity back then.
There is some unmentioned old business between Kane and Helen and Harvey is convinced that Kane not leaving town(and thereby denying his own rise to new town Marshall) is because of her and he abandons Kane and is in turn abandoned by Helen who has to flee town as she has some old baggage with Miller too. Amy meets Helen to ask about her past with Kane and in return she is scorned for leaving her man in his hour of need and after some heated exchanges after which Helen reveals that her father and brother were victims of shoot-outs,Helen understands and the 2 women choose to leave the town by the same train.
Frank Miller,the dreaded outlaw who is apparently a psychopath too is the one who keeps us all waiting.And well,his character too defies all western norms.He never makes an appearance until the final 10 minutes and is never shown to be menacing.Nor does he trash talk and go about heckling the town-folk.We don't get any menacing close-ups or cigar smoking shots.His initial appearances are all shown from behind or long shots and he is basically a faceless representation of a collective evil of bad guys. This is a man on a focused revenge mission and he features only in the final showdown. Apart from the characters what is interesting about High Noon is that the story unfolds in real-time.The tone is set after Kane's wedding at 10:30 and after that it is a 90 minute wait to,well, high noon and what follows.
Now one thing that has always fascinated me about westerns,especially the black and white ones are the visual imagery that leaves me gushing. Everything is so crystal-clearly defined in black,white and grey and the long-shots at the dusty horizon,the infinite rail-road,the town center and the close-ups and high-contrast shots that are sumptuous to watch are all there in place in High Noon too(brilliant cinematography by Floyd Crosby)
The metaphoric scene where the camera pans away to a birds eye view and shows Kane alone in the center of the town,deserted and helpless was quite a take. Another scene I loved was when Helen and Amy ride past Kane on their horse-wagon to the station.Amy pretends not to notice Kane where Helen gazes at Kane for probably her last time and the camera is then placed on the wagon and we ride away from him till he's out of focus.
A minute before noon we get a riveting build up backed by a dramatic musical score and the camera cuts one by one to all the players who have abandoned Kane,the deputy,the church-folk,the 2 women,the bar-folk,Kane's old mentor and then as the music arises to a crescendo the train whistle comes in full blast and sets the tone for the pulsating, if short ,final showdown.
The final showdown isn't one where you get a usual walk-ten-paces and fastest-draw wins shootout.This is a showdown more of wits and brains rather than physical bravado and Amy has a part in it too.Kane uses indirect techniques to outwit the baddies and eventually emerges the lone survivor.But then he also decides that he has had enough and the undeserving town folk lose their best Marshall as Kane throws his beloved tin-star to the dirt and rides away.
If at all there was one thing that irked me about the movie , it was the theme song which got on my nerves and played awkwardly at some of the key moments.But otherwise Dmitri Tolkin the composer serves up some pulsating music keeping in sync with the pace of the movie.
High Noon was quite a departure from all other westerns I have seen and it quite easily rode up to the top of my favorite westerns. And to think I would have probably returned it next week without seeing it at all.
I happened to play the 50th anniv. tribute for the movie on the specials section of the DVD and it was hosted by Cooper's daughter and features sons of the director,producer and also the son of Grace Kelly and prince Albert.They all talked about the allegorical nature of the movie as it was made during the time of the McCarthy era in the '50s and Hollywood blacklisted many talented actors,writers and directors after they were branded as communists.
The writer Carl Foreman was one of the victims and it was suggested that High Noon itself was a direct take on the situation and Will Kane's character served to represent those who were ostracized and abandoned by the others.
'High Noon' was directed by Fred Zinnemann,who was originally an Austrian and perhaps that explains his different approach to the western genre.He also directed one of my favorite movies "From Here to Eternity".
'High Noon' won Oscars for best actor(Cooper getting his second nod),editing,and music.
Grab it next time you see it in your DVD library. Tweet
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
For various reason the charm of long hair wore off and I finally decided to chop it off.You could say I went from the look of Kamal Haasan in 'Hey Ram' to his look in 'Panchathantram'. Hair yesterday, gone today , to twist that saying.
But most people here who have grown accustomed to my long haired look for the past 20 months or so were quite shocked or atleast pleasantly surprised.And I knew the questions would start to flow the second I walked into office.
"Hey where's your hair gone?"
"Hey didja cut your hair"
"Did your girlfriend advice you to cut it?"
"What's with the new hairdo?"
"Decided to have a more professional look eh?"
"Why have you cut your hair?"
"All gone eh?"
"Was it by accident?"
"Did you doze off in the barber's chair?"
Ofcourse I got the odd comments like "Hey you look much smarter now" , "You look like a totally different person now"..
and ahem some girls in the office did a double take too…not bad eh?:p
But the usual silly question is "Did you cut your hair?"
D-uh ! ofcourse I did ! Cant ya see??!
But ,well I was well prepared with an arsenal of equally silly and sarcastic answers…..read on..
answer 1: "err no..it mysteriously disappeared last night…lemme know if it turns up in lost and found"
answer 2: "No..I have lent it to some aliens from planet baldarus …they wanted to conduct some experiments on my hair"
answer 3: "I visited my friends place and his place has a very low ceiling and the vile ceiling fan was the culprit"
answer 4: "I sold my hair to a wigmaker..I made a small fortune"
answer 5: "I used this shrink ray gun I invented on my hair and voila"
answer 6: "I used the mini vaccuum cleaner mistaking it for my sleek hair dryer..I wasn't wearing my specs you see"
answer 7: "No I haven't cut my hair..are you hallucinating? are you on dope?Does your mother know about this?"
answer 8 :"An ad agency picked me to act in a "before-after" hair-growth-oil commercial.Thing is the 'After' part was fine..the 'Before' part needed me to cut it off.We call it reverse engineering"
answer 9 :"I have decided to get them straightened but the dreaded hair iron was scary so I told them "iron it separately and transplant it back afterwards" "
answer 10: "I have cryogenically frozen it…I will reclaim it when the hippies take over the world again..peace maan "
answer 11: "My barber insisted on using the new cutting-edge-technology laser scissors…he overshot..bah darn gizmos they come up with"
answer 12: "Who? Arun ? me? Oh I get it..you must be talking about my twin…he's the evil one…the long haired ones are always eeevil"
answer 13: "You must be mistaken.I am Arun's stunt double.Thing is today is a dangerous code review audit and he sent me
to take the blows, if you know what I mean"
answer 14: "Ah it worked ! I am practicing live mass-illusions.Some illusionists make statues and buildings disappear.I made my hair disappear.I'm a regular David Copperfield aren't I?"
Not that I used any of the above answers,but I sure was tempted to !
Truth be told, the charm of long hair wore off..I know I cant ever look like Johnny Depp or Bret Hart or Antonio Bandera or Jim Morrison.Besides it started getting in the way a lot during eating,my guitar-practice and while drawing and heck even during java coding.I calculated that I wasted a lot of time brushing back the hair and paying more visits to the men's room to tie it back(only for it to come loose again shortly).My mop is a very unruly one and no shampoo, conditioner ,oil ,cream ,spray or gel has ever managed to tame it.And the white little pricks ,yes the D word started making an appearance too and do I even need to talk about the dust bowl that is OMR? So,after almost 2 years of heavy beating my locks have had enough and it was time for snippety-snip !
But some dreams recur dont they? I am sure that some time down the line I will be back to my hippie look !
Till then, take keratin ! Got the pun? Tweet
Sunday, December 16, 2007
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern." - William Blake
Perception ! You might imagine that with time you would be able to see things clearly, better, with more depth and clarity and perhaps with more maturity and reasoning.
And you might most certainly want to believe that when you chug toward a quarter of a century of existence, you would have probably seen enough to understand how things used to be,how you want them to be and how they actually are.
Of late I have started to realise that true perception is symbiotic with non-conformance.The more you try to conform you lose track of reality,you lose track of the ability to see, understand and accept things as they truly are and as any normal human being you do what is only natural.You panic.You force yourself to delude yourself into believing something that's not there and you push and prod things around you to make them fit into various theories, explanations, order and what not.So much so that to drive a square peg into a round hole you wouldn't mind breaking the square peg into little pieces to make it fit.
And in doing so you destroy the very essence of what the real deal is.You end up mutating or rather mutilating it so much that after a point of time it becomes unrecognizable and your initial perception of what it was ends up being what you think you want it to be or rather what you think would make it "acceptable" and ready for validation, and you never get around to seeing it the way it actually is.
And if it is not ridiculous enough manipulating your own perception you also try and manipulate how you are perceived by others.
Now is that a good thing to do? Is that a sane thing to do? Or rather is that the safe thing to do?
"Playing it safe." That vile flag carrier of the misguided forces that manipulate perception;the very cause of degradation and degeneration;the lock on the doors that confine you to your comfort zone and hold you back from venturing into uncharted territory and perhaps, glory.
To unlock the door you need to have a no-holds-barred hard-talk with the real You and come up with answers that hold the key you want,if you want it.
What defines you?What makes you and what breaks you?
Is it the way you talk,the way you walk or the way you think and react?How much is inherent how much is acquired?
Is it your parents and siblings or the real relationship that you share with them after you've removed the labels?
Is it the friends you've found and the ones you've lost or the ones you wish you'd found and the ones you wish you'd kept?
Is it the idols that you watch and listen to or the heights that they accomplished that bewitches and inspires you?
Is it the books you read and the movies you watch or is it what you learn from them and subsequently share and spread?
is it the music you listen to or the emotions it invokes when it finds its way to your heart?
Is it the small talk you indulge in for sake of maintaining invisible bonds that you hope will help when the time comes?
Is it the food that you consume or the taste buds merely play tricks on you?
Is it the religion and customs that you've been brought up on and your cafeteria-mentality to pick and choose what you will and wont do?
Is it ethics and morals,(flexible as they are) or is it your uncorrupted honesty that hibernates deep inside?
Is it dreams and aspirations that challenge you and or mere fantasies that haunt you after you've missed the bus?
Is it the lover that you chase after and hope that your pretence will not show or is it love itself that you try and fool by trying to be something you are not?
Is it your job and the temptation of equating a job with a career because of the paycheck?
Is happiness manufactured or hand made?
Tough questions? Easy? Do you even know the answers ?
Do you realise that there are no keys? Do you realise that the Door was never locked ? That it was all make believe and you could have walked out any time you chose ?
When you are on the verge of turning 25 you ask yourself whether you haven't already wasted precious time by being a silent onlooker as you've let your manipulated perception guide you into still waters with the promise that you wont ever sink as long as you don't rock the boat.Aren't you guilty of treason? Don't you want to say "to heck with the boat" and dive into the waters and swim to freedom? Don't you want to try and open the Doors that lie between what is known and what is unknown? And when you do get to the doors will you waste further time by fumbling on the lock or will you break the doors open with all your strength, never mind the splinters that threaten to draw blood.It will be worth it, I believe, I hope.And when you have made that decision to dive from the boat, it will be foolish to look for life jackets and buoys.
When are your doors of perception going to be cleansed?
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first. You can take away a man's political freedom and you won't hurt him - unless you take away his freedom to feel. That can destroy him. That kind of freedom can't be granted. Nobody can win it for you.” - Jim Morrison Tweet