Archive for April 19th, 2008

General George C. Marshall( 1880-1959) U.S soldier, statesman.
As a child George was so sensitive that he hated to be laughed of. Once he and his friend managed to get a flat bottomed boat which they used in the neighborhood stream. It served as a ferry and they went into business. Mostly his passengers were his school mates. One day one girl who boarded the boat refused to buy ticket and he saw he was beginning to look ridiculous. His partner who wielded the pole laughed at seeing his discomfiture. George pulled the cork and scuttled the boat than lose his face.
His joining the Army was accidental. His elder brother had taken Chemistry course at the Virginia Military Institute. He had done well. When George was ready to enrol in VMI he overheard his brother telling his brother not to let George go. Because he was afraid George would disgrace the family name. More was his determination to prove his brother wrong.


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Song of the Little Road
India. 115 min, B/W, In Bengali with subtitles.
Satyajit Ray began his career as a commercial artist for D. J. Keymer advertising agency, Calcutta, 1943; co-founder, Calcutta Film Society, 1947; met Jean Renoir while making The River, 1950; completed first film, Pather Panchali, 1955;
Ray’s work can be divided into three periods on the basis of his cinematic practice: the early period, 1955–66, from Pather Panchali through Nayak; the middle period, 1969–1977, from Googy Gyne Bagha Byne through Shatranj Ke Khilari; and the final period, from Joy Baba Felunath and through his final film Agantuk, in 1991. The early period is characterized by thoroughgoing realism: the mise-en scène are rendered in deep focus; long takes and slow camera movements prevail. The editing is subtle, following shifts of narrative interest and cutting on action in the Hollywood style. Ray’s emphasis in the early period on capturing reality is obvious in Kanchanjangha, in which 100 minutes in the lives of characters are rendered in 100 minutes of film time. The Apu Trilogy, Parash Pather, Jalsaghar, and Devi all exemplify what Ray had learned from Hollywood’s studio era, from Renoir’s mise-en-scène. Having said this by way of introduction let me give the summary.
The time is early twentieth century, a remote village in Bengal.The film deals with a Brahmin family, a priest – Harihar, his wife Sarbajaya, daughter Durga, and his aged cousin Indir Thakrun – struggling to make both ends meet.

Harihar is frequently away from home on work. The wife is raising her mischievous daughter Durga and caring for elderly cousin Indir, whose independent spirit sometimes irritates her… Apu is born. With the little boy’s arrival, happiness, play and exploration uplift the children’s daily life.

Durga and Apu share an intimate bond. They follow a candy seller whose wares they can not afford, enjoy the theatre, discover a train and witness a marriage ceremony. They even face death of their aunt – Indir Thakrun. Durga is accused of a theft. She fall ill after a joyous dance in rains of the monsoon. On a stormy day, when Harihar is away on work, Durga dies.

On Harihar’s return, the family leaves their village in search of a new life in Benaras. The film closes with an image of Harihar, wife and son – Apu, slowly moving way in an ox cart.
Pather Panchali is Ray’s debut film, and the first film of his ‘The Apu trilogy’. The remaining two films of the trilogy, Aparajito and Apur Sansar, follow Apu as the son, the man and finally the father. Pather Panchali has a universal humanist appeal. Though the film deals with the grim struggle for survival by a poor family, it has no trace melodrama. What is projected in stead is the respect for human dignity.

The most loveable character is that of Indir Thakrun, an old, cynical, loving and storytelling aunt of Apu and Durga. It was played by an 80-year-old Chunibala, a retired theatre performer who relished coming back into the limelight after 30 years of obscurity.

The sequences of Apu and elder sister Durga, exploring their little world and sharing secrets are most remarkable aspect of the film. These include the scenes of – discovery of train by Durga and Apu in field of white Kash flowers, the candy seller sequence, and Indir Thakrun’s death.

In the inspired ‘candy-seller’ sequence, as Durga and Apu secretly relish tamarind paste, their mother is complaining about hardships to their father. Durga hears a faint bell. She knows it is the candy-seller. Both go out and look longingly at the the pots with sweets in them. Durga sends Apu to ask for money from their father. Mother intervenes, and Apu returns empty handed. But the site of the pot-bellied candy-seller caring two bobbing pots of sweets is too tempting to resist. Both start following him. A stray dog joins the procession as it is reflected in a shimmering pond.

The film develops its characters and the atmosphere slowly and resolutely. The narrative builds up to a powerful climax as we begin to empathise with the characters.

Some critics found the film to be too slow. Satyajit Ray wrote about the slow pace -
“The cinematic material dictated a style to me, a very slow rhythm determined by nature, the landscape, the country. The script had to retain some of the rambling quality of the novel because that in itself contained a clue to the authenticity: life in a poor Bengali village does ramble.”

Towards the end of the film, after death of Durga, we see Apu brushing his teeth, combing his hair… going about performing tasks, which would have involved his sister or mother. Sarbajaya (mother) has a lost look…

Harihar returns, unaware of Durga’s death. In a jovial mood he calls out his children. Without any reaction, Sarbajaya fetches water and a towel for him. Harihar begins to show the gifts he has brought for them. When he shows a sari that he has bought for Durga, Sarbajaya breaks down. We hear the high notes of a musical instrument “Tarshahnai” symbolising her uncontrollable weeping. Realising Durga’s loss, Harihar collapses on his wife.

We see speechless Apu, for the first time taking the centre stage in the story. Till now the story was seen through the point of view of either Sarbajaya or Durga. It is only in these final moments that we see Apu as an independent individual.

In the USA, Pather Panchali played at the 5th Avenue Playhouse for a record 36 weeks, breaking the previous record held by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
What others say…
“The first film by the masterly Satyajit Ray – possibly the most unembarrassed and natural of directors – is a quiet reverie about the life of an impoverished Brahman family in a Bengali village. Beautiful, sometimes funny, and full of love, it brought a new vision of India to the screen.”
– Pauline Kael

“A beautiful picture, completely fresh and personal. (Ray’s camera) reaches forward into life, exploring and exposing, with reverence and wonder.”
– Lindsay Anderson

“One of the most stunning first films in movie history. Ray is a welcome jolt of flesh, blood and spirit.”
– Jack Kroll, Newsweek

” As deeply beautiful and plainly poetic as any movie ever made. Rare and exquisite.”
–    Hazel-Dawn Dumpert, L.A. Weekly
Producer:     Government of West Bengal
Screenplay & Direction:     Satyajit Ray, based on the novel “Pather Panchali” by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee.
Cinematography:     Subrata Mitra
Editing:     Dulal Dutta
Art Direction:     Bansi Chandragupta
Sound:     Bhupen Ghosh
Music:     Pandit Ravi Shankar
U.S. Distributor:     Merchant-Ivory/Sony Pictures Classics

Character:     Performer
Harihar, the Father:     Kanu Banerjee
Sarbajaya, the Mother:     Karuna Banerjee
Apu:     Subir Banerjee
Durga, young girl:     Uma Das Gupta
Durga, child:     Runki Banerjee
Indir Thakrun, Old Aunt:     Chunibala Devi
Candy seller:     Haren Banerjee

* President’s Gold & Silver Medals, New Delhi, 1955
* Best Human Document, Cannes 1956
* Diploma Of Merit, Edinbugh, 1956
* Vatican Award, Rome, 1956
* Golden Carbao, Manila, 1956
* Best Film and Direction, San Francisco, 1957
* Selznik Golden Laurel, Berlin, 1957
* Best Film, Vancouver, 1958
* Critics’ Award – Best Film, Stratford, (Canada), 1958
* Best Foreign Film, New York, 1959
* Kinema Jumpo Award: Best Foreign Film, Tokyo 1966
* Bodil Award: Best Non-European Film of the Year, Denmark, 1966

Other Films of The Apu Trilogy

* Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956)
* Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959)

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: Fritz Lang’s Dark Masterpiece, Still Shocking After All These Years (also known as M – Mörder unter uns (Germany) Murderers Among Us(working title)
M is for murder. It is as the mark of Cain, a commentary etched into the dehumanised soul of our society, M in the context of the movie holds a visual clue: it is tagged by an informer who is in the guise of a blind. He also serves as the front for the underworld.
The letter M is the same in its mirror image: society as we get to see in everyday world and shown to be something decent and morally uplifting holds a mirror image, the darker face of the underworld.  In Fritz Lang’s bleak vision of humanity dog eats dog. period. Elsewhere we see superimposed shots of police and the underworld  planning a  concerted manhunt with the city map opened out in front. Each has his own self interest and imperative that doesnot necessarily mean murder most foul must be eradicated from their midst. Oh no in the hall of mirrors no one is completely untouched by evil. The police have their own interests to protect as the underworld have theirs.
Now I shall outline the plot that is simple enough.
In an unnamed city (the story was based on a case in Duesseldorf, but many critics place the setting in Berlin, where “M” was filmed), a child murderer is stalking the streets. The Police search is so intense, it is disturbing the ‘normal’ criminals, and the local hoods decide to help find the murderer as quickly as possible.

A psychotic child murderer stalks a city, and despite an exhaustive investigation fueled by public hysteria and outcry, the police have been unable to find him. But the police crackdown does have one side-affect, it makes it very inconvenient for the organized criminal underground to operate. So they decide that the only way to get the police off their backs is to catch the murderer themselves. The film is constructed as a double manhunt.
‘Peter Lorre’s sweaty, puffy, froggy-eyed portrayal of a child murderer remains one of the most frightening images in screen history. All moist flesh and grubby, fat little fingers, infantile and pathetic yet truly monstrous at once, Lorre’s character is one of the great monuments to the true squalor of evil. He is not banal in the least, but neither is he dramatic: He’s a little worm with an unspeakable obsession, insane and yet a horrible reflection of the society that created him.

In a brilliant early montage Lang shows us the young Elsie being suavely picked up by her shadowy killer, led along streets and into the woods. There’s no on-screen violence, of course, but the sense of menace is unbearably intense, particularly as Lang signifies the murderer’s dementia in musical terms, having him whistle a selection from “Peer Gynt” as the demon’s grip on his soul grows more fierce. Lang polishes off the sequence with two horrifying images: Elsie’s ball bouncing across the grass, losing energy, and reaching stasis; and Elsie’s balloon caught (as if in torment) in the suspended telephone wires.’
… The cops, under great pressure, mount a massive manhunt; they attack the only target they have, which is the underworld — these guys are so well organized, they even have a stolen-sandwich ring! — and so the crooks respond by attempting on their own to find the killer.

In allegorical terms, Lang seemed to be getting at the escalating conflict between the increasingly inept Weimar Republic and the increasingly efficient underground Nazi Party, and the underworld, being more merciless and better organized, is able to uncover the villain before police.
But even when Lang documents the final apprehension (in a brilliantly edited and timed sequence where the cops are racing to a building that the gangsters have all but commandeered as they search it), he has a surprise. That is the ironic trial of which the clammy little human mushroom, where at last he speaks for himself, declares his own insanity and the pain it’s caused him and asks them who they are to judge — interesting questions to be asked in the Germany of 1931.

But the movie is, perhaps, just as interesting as a piece of film design as it is as a piece of narrative. It was the domestic high-water mark of German expressionist filmmakers, who were about to be dispersed around the world by the rise of those same Nazis, who would gain power in 1933.

German expressionism, which may have gotten to its strangest moment in 1919’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” was essentially a visual version of a treacherous universe. It was spread by this diaspora of fleeing German genius (including Lang, who went on to have a distinguished American career) and came to light in the works of Hitchcock and Welles but perhaps most notably in that movie genre known as film noir, which dominated the American screen in the late ’40s.

(ack: Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post published: April 22, 1998)

Germany( The Nazis banned this movie in July1934-1945), Black and White, 117 min / 110 min (2004 Criterion DVD edition)
Memorable Quotes:
Hans Beckert: I can’t help what I do! I can’t help it, I can’t…
Criminal: The old story! We never can help it in court!
Hans Beckert: What do you know about it? Who are you anyway? Who are you? Criminals? Are you proud of yourselves? Proud of breaking safes or cheating at cards? Things you could just as well keep your fingers off. You wouldn’t need to do all that if you’d learn a proper trade or if you’d work. If you weren’t a bunch of lazy bastards. But I… I can’t help myself! I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the torment!
Schraenker: Do you mean to say that you have to murder?
Hans Beckert: It’s there all the time, driving me out to wander the streets, following me, silently, but I can feel it there. It’s me, pursuing myself! I want to escape, to escape from myself! But it’s impossible. I can’t escape, I have to obey it. I have to run, run… endless streets. I want to escape, to get away! And I’m pursued by ghosts. Ghosts of mothers and of those children… they never leave me. They are always there… always, always, always!, except when I do it, when I… Then I can’t remember anything. And afterwards I see those posters and read what I’ve done, and read, and read… did I do that? But I can’t remember anything about it! But who will believe me? Who knows what it’s like to be me? How I’m forced to act… how I must, must… don’t want to, must! Don’t want to, but must! And then a voice screams! I can’t bear to hear it! I can’t go on! I can’t… I can’t…

Pickpocket with 6 Watches: There are more police on the street tonight than whores.
Children: [singing] Just you wait, it won’t be long. The man in black will soon be here. With his cleaver’s blade so true. He’ll make mincemeat out of YOU!
[to union member asleep next to him]
Beggar’s Union Member: Stop snoring! You’ll wake up the lice.
Frau Beckmann: Elsie?… Elsie?… ELSIE!
Hans Beckert: That is a nice ball you have.
Franz, the burglar: [Franz is being tricked into thinking he killed the night watchman, and is going to jail for it] Please, Herr Kommissar! I’ll tell you everything; even who we were looking for in that damned building.
Inspector Groeber: Really. Who?
Franz, the burglar: The child murderer, Herr Kommissar!
Woman in Crowd: Shoot him like a mad dog!
Man in Pub: Hey, it’s fatty Lohmann!
Everyone in Pub: [Chanting] Lohmann, Lohmann, Lohmann!
Elisabeth Winkler, Beckert’s landlady: Could you speak louder please, I’m a bit hard of hearing.
Policeman: As if I couldn’t tell.
Inspector Karl Lohmann: Good God! The window sill!
Peter Lorre…     Hans Beckert
Ellen Widmann    …     Frau Beckmann
Inge Landgut    …     Elsie Beckmann
Otto Wernicke    …     Inspector Karl Lohmann
Theodor Loos    …     Inspector Groeber
Gustaf Gründgens    …     Schränker
Friedrich Gnaß    …     Franz, the burglar
Fritz Odemar    …     The cheater
Paul Kemp    …     Pickpocket with six watches
Theo Lingen    …     Bauernfänger
Rudolf Blümner    …     Beckert’s defender
Georg John    …     Blind panhandler
Franz Stein    …     Minister
Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur    …     Police chief
Gerhard Bienert    …     Criminal secretary


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117 mins, 1937, France, Black & White

One of the great achievements in world cinema, Renoir’s “The Grand Illusion” explores the seemingly arbitrary borders of class, language, and citizenship that divide us. Renoir films have a way of talking about one thing while letting us explore layers beneath the obvious. La Grande Illusion is about soldiers escaping war camps to freedom while the subterranean levels show the futility they are escaping to. War is a corrupting influence whichever side you pitch yourselves into. Renoir’s great human drama explores our predicament, on one side heroism and the other the mark of Cain that stamps us as robots perpetuating the plans of some greedy, ambitious war mongers. As true with any great cinema, the narrative while sticking to conventional cinematic idiom transcends its frames. Banned by the Nazis on the eve of WWII, “Illusion” remains a compelling hybrid of the prison-escape genre and Renoir’s own brand of warm, humanistic drama, a pacifist statement as nobly moving as All Quiet on the Western Front.
This film is an archetypal prison camp escape story also outlining a barbed social analysis, demonstrating how shared aristocratic backgrounds (and military professionalism) forge a bond of sympathy between the German commandant (von Stroheim) and the senior French officer (Fresnay); how the exigencies of a wartime situation impel Fresnay to sacrifice himself (and Stroheim to shoot him) so that two of his men may make good their escape; and how those two escapees (Gabin and Dalio), once their roles as hero-warriors are over, will return home reduced. One go back to his working class background and the other shall once again be stamped as a dirty Jew. The war was merely an experience that would barely whitwash the blot of their class or birth.
The movie seems to have influenced Billy Wilder, who directed Stalag 17 another successful escape movie. In Renoir’s classic there is a shot of train wheels moving that dissolves into a gramophone record playing in the German camp. Did this give Henri-Georges Clouzot the idea of that celebrated shot of bathroom scene in Les Diaboliques /Psycho(Hitchcock)? (The montage of shots of the eye of the victim  and the grate on the bathroom floor similarly works on the principle of similitude.)
As for the title illusions refer to the irony of war,- as a cleansing agent, to do away with the social interactions between classes (allowed to settle down and become obligations) The WWI did just that. It tolled the knell of the Hapsburgs, Hohenzollern and the Romanovs. The collapse of European monarchies showed on what illusory foundations were their rights set up.
At the end of the movie Marechal (Jean Gabin) speaks of coming back to Elsa, his newfound love interest. He is sure that before he could do that he has to ‘ finish this bloody war.’ Rosenthal’s reply is:’ That is all an illusion…’
Historically within two years Europe was in to another war more bitter than the one preceded it..
Expertly directed and wonderfully acted by Gabin, Fresnay, Von Stroheim, and Marcel Dalio as French-Jewish compatriot Rosenthal, “Illusion” is ultimately a brilliant critique of war itself. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1938.
I first saw this movie (a grainy old 16mm print) while I had enrolled with the Alliance Française in Mumbai, in the eary 70’s. It was a moving experience. Since then I have seen it number of times and it still remains a favorite in my collection.
Raffenstein as the commandment of the fortress camp with a touch of apology explains to his prisoner Boeldieu, “ …Believe me I feel nothing but distaste for my present job, as much as you do.”
Fresnay asks von Stroheim why he has shown special consideration to him and not to Marechal and Rosenthal. Fresnay adds that they are good soldiers.
B: I am afraid we can do nothing to turn back the clock.
R: I do not know who is going to win this war, but I know one thing: the end of it, whatever it may be, will be the end of the Rauffensteins and the Boeldieus.

“Most compelling of all the film’s characters is the aristocratic German officer von Rauffenstein, unforgettably incarnated by stiff-backed Erich von Stroheim; although he runs a prison camp, von Rauffenstein cannot help but strike up a friendship with de Boeldieu, a kindred spirit from the doomed nobility. La Grande Illusion is one of those movies that makes you feel good about such long-outmoded ideas as sacrifice and brotherhood. After it won a prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1937, the Nazis declared the film “Cinematographic Enemy Number One.” There can be no higher praise. “ Robert Horton

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Raise The Sky

Raise The Sky ©

Raise the sky, upwards;
My feet cannot unwind
From ground for reasons sound;
Keep raising
Till vaults of heaven be found.
Say one more child was made
Feel at home.

Soles of my feet see no reason
To be up when for down
They are made:
The first touch of nascent earth
Has convinced as much
The body with all its parts
Must make first a home:
Say one more child was made
Feel at home.


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