Tag Archives: Film

#2 Timeless Classics – The Gold Rush by Charlie Chaplin (1925/1943)

After watching The Kid I could hardly resist watching yet another legendary film of the Tramp. I wanted to keep my journey as linear as possible but I could not find a good print of Woman of Paris (1923) or Shoulder Arms. I had to settle with this one.

Before we begin, here is some trivia about the film:

1. Chaplin himself declared several times that this was the film for which he most wanted to be remembered.

2. It is the fifth highest grossing silent film in cinema history and the highest grossing silent comedy film with $4,250,001 at the box office in 1926, now that’s a gold rush.

3. The film was re-released in 1942 with a newer music score, tighter edit and a narration by the maker himself. I watched the version with the narration. The new music score by Max Terr and the sound recording by James L. Fields were nominated for Academy Awards in 1943.

4.  The “roll dance” the tramp character performs in the film is considered one of the most memorable scenes in film history used again in many other films as a tribute or just because it’s too good.

5. For the special effects in the movie, a remarkably convincing miniature mountain range was created out of timber (a quarter of a million feet, it was reported), chicken wire, burlap, plaster, salt and flour. The spectacle of this Alaskan snowscape improbably glistening under the baking Californian summer sun drew crowds of sightseers.

I’ve begun to decode his formulae with his second film. What Chaplin does is he creates a very minute complication, something like sharing a shoe with Big Jim or surviving the blizzard and one problem leads to another where the innocence of the little tramp wins our heart.

Throughout the film I hated the character of Georgia. Even her pretty face seems ugly when she laughs with cruelty at our hero. I felt her character non gripping and uni dimensional. It was not just our hero in the Kid but also the kid and even his mother that shaped the intriguiing structure of the film. Over here, it was more or less Chaplin and to some extent Big Jim that felt lovable. Maybe the great showman wanted to portray the utter bargain based world, seeking for something in return from you.

I’ve mentioned the special effects above. For further understanding watch the video linked over here. The best part about all these effects, keeping aside there was no digital film making back then is the illusion that they create. We all know that this, what is happening in front of us is fake. We all know that Chaplin did not make the cliff fall off for his film. But the overall experience including the amount of details put into the act, the music and even the impeccable expressions of the actors make us wonder for just a second, how did they do this?

I loved the repetitive Chaplin style parts which make you laugh even though they are quite senseless. They celebrate the beauty of cinema. I wasn’t quite impressed by the story. Having watched quite a few films on the same premise could’ve hampered this statement. (I tend to dislike most of the classics in the first go due to all the hype!) And I was astonished with the awesome visual effects. In short, I can’t wait for another film by this little master.

 

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#1 Timeless Classics – Charlie Chaplin “The Kid” (1921)

I’ve taken up the task of watching as many classics as possible this season. I feel it takes some time to get used to the old way of treating films. But once you learn to assimilate them, it opens a whole new ocean of experiences.

I’ve been told that all the films by Sir Charles Spencer are fairly easy to relate to. And indeed they are. The simplicity of the narrative and the lack of dialogue remove the barriers for someone like me. Once I played the film I could not look away from the screen for even a second.

Some quick interesting facts:

1. It was the second highest grossing film of 1921

2. It is considered as one of the greatest films in cinematic history

3. Many of Chaplin’s admirers regard The Kid as his best and most personal film. Yet it seems to have been born out of a state of acute emotional turmoil in his private life.

4. The inspiration of the film’s story is a tragic real life incident in Chaplin’s life – Mildred (his wife then) became pregnant and gave birth to a malformed boy, who died after only three days. Chaplin evidently suffered acute trauma from this loss. Only ten days after his own child was buried, Chaplin was auditioning babies at his studio. He was absorbed and excited by a new plan for a story in which the Little Tramp would become surrogate father to an abandoned child. The film would be called The Waif. (I like the name The Waif better!)

5. In the end Charlie had filmed more than fifty times the length of film that appeared in the finished picture. Such a shooting ratio – it was precisely 53 to 1 – was far higher than for any other film he ever made. Working with kids was difficult for the tramp as well!

6. Jackie Coogan, at 7, became a world celebrity, honoured by princes, presidents and the Pope himself when he embarked on a European tour. He enjoyed a brief film career as a child actor, but, as Hollywood wits declared, senility hit him at 13 years old. As a young adult he found himself penniless: his mother and step-father had mismanaged his childhood earnings, and what little money was left was eaten up in legal battles. The one good outcome was that Jackie’s much publicised problems led to the introduction of a law to give financial protection to child performers: into this day it is known as The Coogan Act.

The premise forced me to look into the story of Krishna in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. For saving Krishna from his uncle Kamsa Krishna’s father Vasudeva had to leave him with Yasoda in Gokul. Yasoda brought him up as her own ward. After everything was settled, it raised a question – who is Krishna’s real mother?

Rather than falling into this debate what I take back from this is, the one-line of the story could be similar. But only the setting in which the story takes place is different. It simply changes the possibilities. The evil Kamsa is replaces by urban evils such as poverty and unemployment. Also, this story is told from Chaplin’s (Yasoda’s) perspective. It makes a whole lot of difference.

This film in particular will hold a special place in my heart because of one strange coincidence. In the afternoon I was reading about the famous story of a Muslim child raised by a Hindu father in Lucknow. And I happen to watch this film on the same night. It was a beautiful accident and I’m sure it will stay with me for a while.

The movie is available on the Internet Archive and you can watch it over here.

Ref: www.charliechaplin.com

#4 Learning from the experts – Nishtha Jain

For those of you who are not familiar with one of the prime candidates for the best documentary film makers of India, Nishtha Jain; she is a former student of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). She has directed critically acclaimed films such as At My Doorstep, Lakshmi and Me, 6 Yards to Democracy etc. Along with Smriti Nevatia, the duo runs an independent documentary film company named Raintree Films.

I had the privilege of meeting Nishtha Jain at a film screening of Gulabi Gang in Mumbai. Here are a few points I noted as she interacted with us!

Nishtha Jain with Sampat Pal (the real leader of Gulabi Gang)

1. Making a documentary is an unpredictable job. You will never get what you wished for but you will certainly be rewarded for your patience. But Nishtha Jain believes in having everything in writing. No matter what, having a blueprint of your day will help you in deciding how to lead your crew.

2. Others might think otherwise, but making a documentary rather than anything else requires time. The crew spent five months with Gulabi Gang to produce this 96 minute marvel.

3. (I strongly contradict the following point) Nishtha does not believe in giving a direction so as to conveniently reach a desired climax. She believes it is essential to be neutral and non judgmental as a documentary film maker while conceiving a documentary.

4. People in the villages were casual with the camera. Being camera conscious is more of an urban-middle-class obsession. For the villagers, it was more threatening that Sampat Pal was about to interfere in the matter. And they focused on the boom pole; stared at it aimlessly. That worked just fine for the sound.

5. Most of the flow was decided on the edit table. It will not be wrong to say that documentaries are written on the edit table. (The film is edited by Arjun Gourisaria. This amazing documentary won its well deserved recognition for Best Non-Feature Film editing at the 61st National Film Awards. Nishtha was an essential part of the actual edit team as well)

6. You need to be a rebel. Being safe all the time will not get you a good sunset shot. Having said that, nobody appreciates a dead filmmaker with a half baked documentary. So, that!

 

The screening of Gulabi Gang was followed by a screening of the film Yellow. Although I enjoy fiction more, because of the ridicule Yellow produced in me, it heightened my experience of Gulabi Gang. Overall, it was a colourful evening.

 

The film Gulabi Gang was completed (shot) in 2010, first screened in Dubai at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2012 and later in India in 2014. It is based on a women activist group in Bundelkhand, UP. It was distributed by Recyclewala Labs. The same guys who brought you Ship of Theseus which is available for a legal free download over here (at least in India).

If interested, do not miss the trailer of Gulabi Gang over here!

#3 Always a bridesmaid never a bride

Leonardo DiCaprio has been all over social media for NOT winning an Oscar, probably more that Matthew McConaughey. I am surprised how people think that Leo is the only mainstream actor who has yet to receive an Academy Award. So here we go with a few of my favourites who have not received an Oscar in the Best Actor category.

1. Gary Oldman

Known for his versatility, Gary Oldman is described as “a very strong candidate for the world’s best living actor” by Academy Award winner Colin Firth. Oldman was nominated for his performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and lost to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. And this is his only Oscar nomination in his career. You can check out this list which puts it in detail why Oldman deserves an Oscar.

2. Jim Carrey

Speaking of being nominated, Carrey has never even got that far. After being praised for going beyond his comfort zone for The Truman Show and overshadowing his co-star in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindit is extremely disappointing not to get noticed by the Academy.

3. Johnny Depp

Depp has been in the limelight for accepting challenging roles and pulling them off with ease. With the kind of performances under his belt, Johnny Depp has been nominated thrice in the Best Actor category, always leading to disappointment. However, an Oscar isn’t the only recognition one seeks is it? Depp, in 2003 and 2009. He has been listed in the 2012 Guinness World Records as the highest paid actor, with $75 million.

4. Sir Ian McKellen

He is Gandalf, he is Magneto but all those powers are not good enough to pull an Academy award towards him. Nevertheless he has received six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, two Saturn Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and two Critics’ Choice Awards.

5. Orson Welles

At the age of 23, he shook the world with the radio adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ novel The War of the Worlds. When he was 25, he made the film, which is considered as one of the best films ever made. He wrote it and acted in it. He shared an Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay with Herman J. Mankiewicz. Orson Welles gained national and international fame and recognition in mostly every possible media of that era. In 1970, Welles was given an Academy Honorary Award for “superlative and distinguished service in the making of motion pictures.”Rather than attending the ceremony he exclaimed: “I didn’t go because I feel like a damn fool at those things. I feel foolish, really foolish. … I made piece of film and said that I was in Spain, and thanked them.”

 

An Oscar is probably the most coveted method of acknowledging one’s contribution to Cinema. And in these 86 years we cannot even imagine how many legends have been deprived of it. But the most important part is, regardless of this recognition, they’ve measured success in different terms. Success and failure depends on our choice. There isn’t only one definition of success. It is highly subjective. And this is what I take back from it.

#1 Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
~ Nelson Mandela
It is all about impotency of Solomon Northup and every other slave of that time. The cruelty and hypocrisy of the system and the relief of having a few good men.
It is fascinating of how different individuals can approach the same topic of racism in completely distinctive patterns. We had Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained last year in the nominations and this year Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave is one of the favourites too. Django focused on the fact that how capable an unchained slave could be and Northup’s story has the mournful touch of reality to it. Being a slave to the existing scenario stretches all across the film till the text in the very end.
When asked about 12 Years a Slave, people often talk about the brutality in most of the scenes. What moved me the most was the sub plots. When Northup is betrayed and enslaved, his companion on the ship escapes; finding the easy way out when his master comes down to rescue him. And Northup does the same leaving Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) behind.
Both the supporting actors, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender are impeccable and steal the show. You can absolutely hate Fassbender for his cruelty and you can absolutely love Nyong’o for her innocence.
The narrative of the film is devastatingly slow which does not really appeal to my tastes. The film flaunts an astonishing cast and the performances of each and every major character manage to grip you throughout. The film adds a very high contrast to add even more to the discrimination which is fabulous.

#1 Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

We need to hold on to a few things and we need to let go of a few. But we choose the wrong way.

It starts off with the most amazing tracking shot I’ve ever seen. It raises my expectations to a whole new level and never fails to awe me in the whole 91 minute run-time.

The story is a simple survival story, just like any other except it takes place in an impossible scenario. The groundbreaking technology that was developed and perfected to execute the film blends with the story and enhances minute details of it, making the experience more and more realistic is what makes the film stand apart. I have this particular firm standpoint that incorporation of methods and technique should be subordinate than the motive of storytelling. And the film explains why.

Cuarón admits using “visual metaphors” throughout the film. You are most likely to miss them unless you’ve trained vision to detect them in their small appearances on screen. But when you watch a film again and again, over and over again you realize how much thought goes behind every one of them. I have not seen all of his films as of now, but even in Prisoner of Azkaban the use of a few was noticeable.

The CG is so good in the film that it is hard to distinguish between what’s real and what is not. The actors have skillfully adapted to the rigs created especially for shooting all the Zero G shots. One can only imagine the kind of dedicated efforts both the actors must have taken to give one single perfect shot.

The film carefully distinguishes itself from fantasy and seems like a documentation. It makes sure that appears as a continuous experience of a catastrophe in space. Every new obstacle thickens the tension of the whole situation. The few moments of interaction, of exposition garnishes the urge of coming back on Earth. And the joy of Ryan simply standing up on her feet, being in control at last; makes you rejoice. Whatever it may be, it is a hell of a ride.

Gravity is received 10 nominations at the 86th Academy AwardsBest Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Picture

#1 Spike Jonze – Her

“Love may be blind. But it can sure find its way around in the dark.”

Well, it has been a while since I’ve written anything on films. But it doesn’t even remotely mean that I haven’t been watching any. Frankly speaking through my exams I’ve watched more films than I would’ve in any ordinary week. And it has been a very good week.

I spend most of my day, sitting in front of my computer. I am either researching about something, editing or watching a film. Really, as I think about it it has been my schedule for a while now. I interact with my computer more than I interact with my family. So in a way my computer would know me better than anyone else. And I guess it does, so to speak.

What would you do if:

1. The only successful relationship you have ever had is coming to an end

2. You don’t really have anybody to talk to

3. You find someone really interesting, kind and most importantly who is there to listen to you, all the time?

I find this a perfect setting to fall in love. We need someone to share this draggy life with. The only problem in Theodore’s (Joaquin Phoenix) life is, his new friend is not a human. And this is riveting beyond measure. How do you love someone, who can be a great companion but whose sheer existence is a matter of perception?

Different characters in the film had different opinions about it. There are supportive friends who understand the complications and do not judge you and there are skeptics who only find negativity in the situation, just like a relationship with any human.

The most marvelous part of the film is even though the film qualifies as a science fiction story, the technical part of it remains on the lower side. For me it is more philosophical rather than scientific. And more romantic than depressing.

I don’t know if anyone else observed this, I love how the colours are used throughout the film. These minute details add texture to the story.

I do not wish to spoil the ending for whoever has not watch the film. Because I feel, this is one film a cinemalover must watch with an open mind. To sum it up, the film speaks about an impossible relationship between a man and its closest companion which happens to be a.i. But obviously there is more to it!

Her by Spike Jonze is nominated for 4 Academy Awards which include: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, Best Original Score and Best Picture.

Spike Jonze’s short film I’m Here (2010) had a similar theme and it is available over here.

#1 Learning from the experts – Abhinay Deo

The following are a few points that I noted during a discussion with Abhinay Deo, the Director of Game, Delhi Belly, 24 (TV Series, Indian adaptation) and many advertisements.

  • The film Delhi Belly is written by Akshat Verma. His Wikipedia page is non existent. And that explains how underrated the makers of the film are. People will love and remember his jokes, but not his name
  • It took Akshat nine years to be confident enough with his script to approach production houses
  • Abhinay, the director was introduced to the film after the 15th draft, and so was the rest of the crew
  • What was his (Abhinay’s) contribution to the film, if he was introduced after the 15th draft? – The film was completely a Hollywood film with the bad guy wearing a cowboy hat. Now if you spot someone wearing one in Delhi, he is most likely to get shot in the head (which the bad guy actually does in the film anyway). So coming to the point, the film had to be Indian-ised. Adding elements to the film which would make it more realistic. There are scenes where one of the characters has an unhygienic item off the streets which causes Delhi Belly (upset stomach)
  • All the disgusting fart sounds were made by mouth and by the director himself!
  • As the editor is introduced at a much later stage, what is his role in a film? Does he contribute to the story? – It is said that the film is first made on the writing table and on the edit table. Of course each and every individual involved in the film, contributes something, consciously or unconsciously towards the film. However, storytelling is above all
  • The editing of the film took about 1 1/2 years
  • You need to invest time in what you want to do
  • Television or Film? – Both actually because whether it is advertising, TV or films, everything comes under the bigger term filmmaking. As long as I am a filmmaker, anything would do. If I have to choose, I prefer films over television
  • We knew that 24 will not appeal to everyone. And it didn’t. Certain parts of India did not accept the modern method and different genre in television. But our objective was never to reach “everyone” but the young generation. My mother likes the saas-bahu serials and I can never tolerate them. But that is a matter of personal likes and dislikes
  • It was important to make 24, because it will only encourage others to step out of the regular mundane subjects shown on television. If we have more TV serials like 24 in the future, made by anyone, doesn’t matter, then that will be our success

#1 James Cameron – Aliens

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.

~ Jessica Lange

Let’s hope that my honesty is not confused with stupidity. I wanted to watch Ridley Scott’s Alien, which supposedly revolutionized visual effects in film. Call it my luck or misfortune that I ended up watching its sequel first. So I am laughing and crying at m situation at the same time.

The Alien film franchise started with Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), Paul Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator (2004) followed and the latest Prometheus (2012) by Ridley Scott is a prequel to the original Alien. And just the way technology advanced, content suffered.

*Talking about the film Aliens, the film is equipped with an uncomplicated three-act structure. The protagonist, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) confirms with Burke “You’re going out there to destroy them, right? All right, I’m in.” and that marks the second act. Similarly, when Ridley decides to go back and get Newt all alone, is where the climax starts shaping.

I would not talk about the visual effects, considering the film was out in 1986, much after the revolution and two years after Cameron’s The Terminator was released. I did not find them too compelling.

This film can be expressed in a flowchart format excellently. Ripley has two options, whether to accept or abort the offer by Burkes. Ripley has a premonition about the android being a traitor, either she is right or she is wrong. Burkes is going to successfully get the alien specimen through the ICC or not. Numerous conflicts form a thrilling composite.

On a negative note, the film started off with absolutely fabulous editing. The tempo of each sequence teased me with the sight of an alien and ended in an anticlimax, which indeed kept me at the edge of my seat. As soon as their mission begins, till the aliens actually show up, I felt the film was a bit draggy and monotonous.

About halfway across the film, I noticed one factor, which gives the film a great advantage over many others in the same genre. A year ago, when I was studying Cinema as a subject in college, I comprehended that any type of cinema, whether it is a neo-realistic cinema or an expressionist one, needs interesting characters. Interesting characters make cinema, an illusion seem convincing and gripping.

Aliens is equipped with extremely well orchestrated characters. We have damsel in distress, Newt; hero, Ripley; lover, corporal Hicks; Judas, Burkes; virago, Vasquez and most importantly, Ripley’s emotional aspect – Ripley as a mother!

I do not know if the makers thought of it while making it or it is a personal opinion about the film. The aliens breed by impregnating. The parasite uses a human body to produce an alien. The climax is a faceoff between the alien mother and Ripley, both trying to protect their offspring. In which Ripley succeeds.

Whether it is Titanic or the Terminator or in this case, Aliens, Cameron always reaches out to a superficial subject and weaves it excellently with human emotions.

*After watching The Terminator again, I realized that I was wrong in judging the visual effects of the film. Visual effects of Aliens are far more superior than The Terminator. Although I couldn’t help but compare the futuristic earth with the Colony in Aliens. Did you use the same set for both Mr. Cameron?