Tag Archives: Movies

#1 Billy Wilder – Fedora (1978)

Glorify who you are today, do not condemn who you were yesterday.

 

I saw my very first Billy Wilder film today and I can’t wait to watch more of his work. In his career spanning five decades as a film maker, he has accomplished to make sixty film, many of them still considered as classics. I feel dreadful to say that I haven’t been fortunate enough to watch more of his films. I look forward to it.

 

(Spoilers ahead)

 

First things first, I feel the poster gives away the story completely. If you can join the dots, it should not be difficult for you to determine the great secret behind Fedora. As for myself, I knew it all along. I’ve known this story for a long time and it makes me wonder what kept me from watching it so long. And yet, I was hooked. I think there are very few films who possess you so deeply that even if you know what is there to unfold you just wait to appreciate how it unfolds.

 

And this is what the film is all about, unfolding a story. Fedora, to those who don’t know it yet is this. Essentially a hat which leaves a shadow on your face when you walk in the Sun; covering most of it. The brilliance of the story begins with the title. The title tells us the story in a word. And that’s it.

 

We have so many films which end with every character in the film getting what he/she wanted. A crescendo, a happy ending. Surprisingly enough, though this is not the only film that has done this but it must be among the very first to end a film with none of the characters getting what they wished for. I feel it is just another suggestion towards the real world of celebrities which is different from their profile they project in public. It is about the tragedy of those who seem to have it all, but in reality are more hurt, more lonely than anyone else.

 

If we speak about the pattern, we have seen this same one in Citizen Kane. Charles Foster Kane dies right in the start and we explore his story through some unreliable sources with prejudices and biases. Although this structure is much simpler. It consists of two distinct flash backs according to me. One right after our point of view character,  Barry “Dutch” Detweiler played by William Holden stares at the mortal remains of the Legend, Fedora. And the other after the secret is just revealed in the second half.

 

We know all along that the film is not going to end on a high. We have no moments in the film when we can rejoice for long. Just the haunting past which keeps pricking us right where it hurts and reminds us of the unfortunate future of everyone. And that’s what makes the film so special for me.

Advertisements

#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.

 

#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 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.

#3 James Cameron – Terminator 2: Judgement Day

If we were to lose the ability to be emotional, if we were to lose the ability to be angry, to be outraged, we would be robots. And I refuse that.
~ Arundhati Roy

I was reading about how Kubrik, Lucas, Spielberg and Cameron pioneered the cinematic techniques that we now take for granted. And it was motivating beyond an extent. It is so fascinating to know how once what seemed impossible to achieve was made possible, not in theory but in reality. These cinematic geniuses, throughout their career have ventured into some unexplored vistas and built a special place for themselves in the industry.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day(1991) is a sequel to The Terminator (1984), which introduces us to the young John Connor, yet unsure of his destiny. Sarah Connor, after attempting to bomb the early phases of Skynet gets arrested and held in a mental asylum. John was brought up believing in a future where humans have to fight the machines they once created. In the current scenario, John is confused and chooses to believe the easier way out that his mother is a mentally unstable and his childhood was based on a lie. John lives with his foster parents, but fails to have an emotional connection with anyone.

John Connor of the future reprograms T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger)  and sends it back in time to protect his younger self from T-1000, an advanced poly-alloy cyborg. Now the most interesting fact about the film is that Schwarzenegger plays the protector over here and not the antagonist. People loved Schwarzenegger in The Terminator as a villain. And this bad guy to good guy change was publicized with great efforts. The trailer emphasized this sole point.

The film includes multifarious dimensions to action scenes, including a chase, one-man-army sequences, an against all odds sequence in the end, survival, comeback, melee combat, all in one bundle. There is a giant leap in terms of the use of prosthetics, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and natural human motion. If you compare the iconic mechanical face and red eye scene in the first part and this one, you will realize why exactly this film was a breathtaking escalation in visual effects. Needless to say, the film received 6 Academy Awards including Visual Effects, Make-up, Cinematography and Editing.

Another interesting aspects about movies in the science fiction era such as Alien (1979), Back to the Future Trilogy (1985 – 1991) and the Terminator series, is Cinematic liberty. These films pioneered visual effects, but unavailability of certain phenomenons did not restrict them from achieving cinematic brilliance. Alien has very few glimpses of the alien, the alien planet and outer space itself. The first Terminator has the Terminator wearing Sunglasses after exposing his cybernetic body underneath his organic cloak. The whole Terminator series assumed and emphasized that no machines can travel through time unless covered with organic material. It is interesting to see how budget changes the plot and makes it what we see on screen.

As I said in my post about Cameron’s Aliens, Cameron brings out the human emotional aspect in each and every film he makes. The very few scenes of interaction between T-800 and the young John leave a deep impact on you. John, teaches the Terminator to be a little more human to have conscience above objectives. And the machine protects John like a father that he never had. Their relationship develops so eloquently that in the end when T-800 states that he must be destroyed to prevent the war, and slowly starts descending towards his termination, I was touched. I was wretched that John is going to lose his father figure yet again. I kept watching the last scene again and again like a kid, like John wanting to see T-800 again…

T-800: I know now why you cry. But that’s something I can never do.

#1 My Creation – Argument (December 2011) – Backstory

A Shot From The Film Argument

Before this film, I helped a friend of mine in the edit, sound design and visual effects for his short film ‘Pause’ in which I acted as well. And the film had a very warm response from the audience. We decided to make one more short film, which failed miserably. I had a really clear idea about the story of the film and the dialogues as well. But for some reason I couldn’t convey it very well. My friend slept the entire afternoon and I was demoralised.

I realized the importance of having the script in writing. Even when you are writing, directing, shooting and editing the film on your own, you are not the only mind working on it. When you direct your actors, they give their suggestions. They may be brilliant but not in sync with the demand of the script. When you have your script in your hand you can simply ask your actors to stick to the plan when it is necessary. It is very important for the director, the captain of the ship to have a command over his vessel. A hard copy of the script in your hand is your map, your compass and your wheel.

I also had a very simple shot division plan and a storyboard this time. I borrowed a camera, a Canon 550 from a friend of mine, a 50mm 1.8 lens from another friend in a different part of the city, I asked my dad and a friend of his to act and was all set to shoot.

The shoot was in the afternoon at Juhu beach and I was running around everywhere since morning. When we reached at the location it struck me that I forgot my script at home! I hadn’t explained the script to the actors by then. But we were losing light. We had to start. So again, even this time I was without a script even after writing it so precisely.

I struggled while directing but everything was alright. I had to come back on the next day to take a few inserts. The treatment changed drastically on the edit table. But I am glad we could finish this. The film was screened at Usha Pravin Gandhi College during Aahan International Short Film Festival in January and that was my first screening. The film got the second best film award and thus it all started.

The film was screened at a few more festivals in 2012. I tried sending the film to Berlin Short Film Festival but it couldn’t work out. Quite recently, all of my films were screened back to back at My Mumbai Film Festival. I couldn’t go for the screening but my mother and my younger brother did. My brother said that out of all the films, Argument received the best response. By many aspects, my work after this film was more substantial for me in terms of quality and reach as well. But I think the first step, the first boost was essential.

As I look back, when I made the film I did not know whether I was shooting at 24 fps or 25 fps. I spent at least 15 minutes in changing the lens, which doesn’t take more than 5 seconds. I almost lost my friend’s SD Card. I was turning the focus ring when it was on auto and I thought I broke it. There were so many retakes just because I kept my tripod in the frame. And many more mistakes, which taught me more than any institute would have.