Posts Tagged ‘cinema’



Our generation can be truly called the film generation. Our modern world having survived quite a few cataclysms like two World Wars, the great Depression   can still be accessed. Lessons from history thanks to it are not forgotten if not really learned. I do not intend to discuss this aspect but rather film as art. For those who consider film as their bread and butter my approach may seem that of a lounge lizard. Nevertheless I am an artist. While I am an amateur in the Seventh Art my life I take in all seriousness to be lackadaisical about this medium. I have pursued it with the monomania associated with a butterfly collector who in order to add to his collection, would pursue one rare specimen to the ends of the earth. I have skipped a 1962 University exam in order to see The Streetcar Named Desire in its last run. For me exams were part of preparing for a career but a film meant much more. Like the doomed heroine Blanche I pursued the magic of art in life in whatever form I could distil, amateur or not.

Art in its essence is man’s touch with reality of his world that has more than one point of view. Palaeolithic art of a running horse discovered in Lascaux or a Bison charging (Altamira) are examples where his touch with reality forces him to fix the physical aspect of what makes up his world; in order to succeed in hunting a bison for instance, he needed an accurate knowledge of it as well as to capture its spirit by magic as it were. A filmmaker as an artist does in essentials the same as his stone-age ancestor. He works as a chronicler of his world in which his point of view may take several positions: his world vision licked into shape by life experience and also his role as a translator of the spirit of his age. Of the second let me merely say film art gets its force from that spirit of his age one of which is technology. Technology has made development of film possible but the basic principles of film, remains the same. Modern art for example did not change art but allowed the artist another vision. Cubism in the way Picasso demonstrates it, say Demoiselles d’Avignon, is about the genre of painting nudes but its meaning rather extended. His art, his experience of formal kind is clothed with elements of primitive art. A filmmaker similarly experiments in art and his technique may change with the help of technology as we see films of today. What with the electronic age is not Neo-Realism of Rossellini of Vittorio de Sica as dead as a Dodo? As Stanley Kauffman says in his essay on The Film Generation (A World on Film-the New republic) a film ‘has its roots –of content and method-in older arts. yet it is very much less entailed by the past than these arts.’

Reel Life is a movie list as a collection of 120 best films chosen from world Cinema with a preponderance for American and European films. There are a few Japanese and Russian films, which I am familiar with. There are equally significant films from many other countries but here again it is my personal preference dictated the list.


I am an old man. But don’t get me wrong; it calls for a celebration of sorts. This present book of movie list is the summing up of my lifelong fascination with films. Many passions that convulsed me from time to time, I can now recall with a smile, were over-prized and with age I have given their due place as part of learning process. It cannot be without reason the films included in this book hold an abiding interest in me. Movie list is the reel life for me. As I rerun images from films in my mind’s eye I see their significance all the more clearer. My second childhood isn’t a bad thing at all if a worldview could sort it out better.

How do I know it for sure? Of course second time around I do not swallow everything that my eyes see as I had done once. Magic of the movies tempered with life experience makes this phase something to celebrate, explore (of the art behind the medium) and to seek perhaps some aspects that sets Truth in a way I can subscribe to.

Is Truth out of place in a medium that is as contrived as cinema? ‘The Mongrel Muse’ as Raymond Durgnat would call it in his ‘films and feelings’ is a synthesis of arts. If arts do hold any connection to life, in a moral sense or aesthetically, film also must bear relation to Truth. While I watch a film I am fully engrossed and not conscious my being except as a vehicle for various emotions or thoughts, of which I can only vouch for after having experienced them. Somewhat like our dream-state. Life for me, as a moviegoer does not cease but I have absorbed from the experience, a heightened sense of Truth, despite those flickering images so contrived to pass for real.

As a child what made me lap them up and what do I now with a sure sense of purpose are altogether different. So be it.

Much of what is presented in the Reel Life is collated from existing reviews, essays and information provided by others, and I have acknowledged the source wherever I could. However each film bears my worldview and my attitude to life and art. Somewhat like a book packaged from writers whose contributions forms a part but not the whole. My choice of films itself tells its own story. My life experience and its conscious thrust over the material justify my work. In short the book is my reel life.

If the reader should find the List incomplete, I alone am to blame. Out of thousands of films I have merely picked 120 best films that for some reason or other had better claims on me. For example The Blue Angel has been remade in 1959 with Curt Jürgens and May Britt in the roles played by Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich. I have chosen the original version of 1930 for the wonderful performance of Emil Jannings. Personal tastes in this case decided what to be included or left out. I hope to follow this up with a second book.

(Selected: My Reel Life/introduction-2014)





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La Belle Époque in ultimate analysis reveals no substance or a constancy of national character but an acute elevation of senses. This would be reflected in the works of JK Huysmans(Á Rebours) and of Proust (Á la recherche du temps perdu). This upbeat mood was steadily dissipated in the light of events that convulsed entire Europe. It was a mood that a man about town would feel after a satisfying night out, before confronting dismal circumstances awaiting him at home. A brief respite it gave Parisian, a hope that emerging industrial and technological advances would lead to richer, happier life. But by the 1910s much of that promise had vanished. As poet, philosopher Paul Valery put it, our civilization had found that it was mortal. While the delicate Marcel Proust stood on the balcony of the Ritz to watch the German planes strafe Paris a young priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was serving as a stretcher bearer of the trenches. He would write home that the front was ‘the extreme boundary between what we already know and what is still taking shape.’

The north and western suburbs of Paris were the motor city of the day. There were 600 car manufactories in France and 150 different makes – not just the emerging giants of Peugeot and Renault, but long-forgotten treasures like Berliet and Delaunay-Belleville. Delaunay-Belleville, which operated from what is now the high-immigration suburb of Saint-Denis, made limousines for Tsar Nicholas of Russia. France was the world’s biggest exporter of cars, and there was pride, but no great surprise, when the racing driver Jules Goux won the 1913 Indianapolis 500 – in a Peugeot.

France led the way in the skies. Bleriot crossed the channel in 1908, and in 1913 the sportsman Roland Garros – later (after his death in combat in the last month of the war) to give his name to the tennis stadium in Paris – completed the first ever crossing of the Mediterranean. And in cinema, invented, of course, by the Lumiere brothers two decades before, France vied with the US for first place in number of films produced – more than 1,000 every year, made by names still familiar today like Gaumont and Pathe.

Modernity was the moving spirit. It was the time of the machine. The city’s last horse-drawn omnibus made its way from Saint-Sulpice to La Villette in January 1913. From the top of the Eiffel Tower, built 35 years earlier like a symbol of the coming age, a mast had recently been erected, beaming radio waves into the ether.

Advances in Science and a new understanding of the nature of time and space would enable artists and writers to break the mould and experiment as Gertrude Stein did with language. As an art movement cubism entailed a new way of looking at things. In Paris Pablo Picasso and his friend Georges Braque would take the lead. Instead of painting things as they appeared to a single pair of eyes at a single moment in time, they painted things from a variety of possible viewpoints, creating a shifting world of abstract space. In the words of the late art historian Robert Hughes, the cubism of Picasso and Braque, created in the years running up to the war, was every bit as modern – and indeed part of the same destabilising intellectual movement – as the contemporary forays of Einstein into the secrets of relativity.

The speed of change, the rise of technology over craftsmanship, the frenetic search for new modes of artistic expression, as one avant-garde was overtaken by the next (and let’s not forget that 1913 was also the year in Paris that Marcel Duchamp presented his first “readymade” – a bicycle wheel on a stool – making the point that anything is art if you say it is), all this must have worked its way into the collective subconscious, creating a feeling that matters were accelerating out of control. It was indeed so. Just as the ideals of 1789 went out of control in the Commune of 1971 while the social changes merely created new class system and inequalities the spirit of optimism of the Parisians was backward looking than in the future.


Institutions would not escape the blight that had eaten into the vitals of  the republic. The Church, the Army and Politics were at odds with one another, which would bedevil the Third Republic till the Nazi Germany marched into Paris on 14 June 1940. These six weeks it took the brown-shirts to claim control of Paris showed the lie of La Belle Époque: it had lost its will. The setting up of the Vichy government under Marshall Philippe Petain was the coup de grace given to the nation that could never come to grip with ideals for which they fought the Great Revolution.

(Ack: Hugh Scofield-BBC news Paris/magazine- 7 Jan, 2014 (2) Wikipedia

(3)Eugen Weber-Paris La Belle Epoque/ NGC-July 1989)


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I will leave but shalln’t leave as I came in:

For droll as though I had my brain addled,

Or sniffed benzine or snorted of cocaine;

While there on the giant screen ‘fore me flash’d

Some trickery wrought by light I’m loath to say

And I took them all in without batting eyelid-

I giggled,I whooped and like a puling kid

I wanted more Oh what more can I say?

The show is over, I head for the exit

My heart aches :A-tisket, A-tasket


O, for a draught of moonshine! that has been

Distill’d in some backwoods, perhaps from Lethe:

I am at peace with the world that has been

Contentious and most bizarre in its mirth.

A-tisket, A-tasket who dropped the basket?

And my mind yearns to pick up images

From some spool threaded by devil’s sprocket

No more can I free my mind from these images

 Was it a vision for which all I did was peep?

                Fled is that peace:—Do I wake or sleep?

benny 17 Dec,2014

Original version

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness,—

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

                        And purple-stained mouth;

         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

         What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

                        And leaden-eyed despairs,

         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;

                        But here there is no light,

         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

         Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;

         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;

                        And mid-May’s eldest child,

         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

         I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

         To take into the air my quiet breath;

                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

                        In such an ecstasy!

         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—

                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

         No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

         In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

                        The same that oft-times hath

         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam

                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

                        In the next valley-glades:

         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

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(To be concluded)
Film: L’Atlante
director: Jean Vigo
storyboard recreated from film

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The camera writes with light into the dark recesses of a viewer’s soul.
Think of a shot given here below. It is also taken as with other sketches from Vampyr.
To continue from where I left of, by setting the stage for the viewer to follow a predetermined path,-from A to B and beyond,the viewer gets more than what he or she bargained for.
While we followed the protagonist Allan Gray we are also shown some images he could not have possibly seen. We see a figure with a scythe slung over his shoulder heading towards the river. He rings the bell as indicated in the sketch.
The figure with his back towards us is indistinguishable. Being primed for a spooky world the first image that comes into our mind is of the grim reaper. Our sensibilities owing to the Western culture have decided that- Grim Reaper as death. It is thus we have seen it many times symbolized. Is he death or a peasant? He is in all probability ringing the bell for the boatman to ferry him across.
Be that as it may we have already become participants to do as the all-seeing eye bids us to do.

Cinema as an art is all about a ‘contrived eye’ with which the viewer is more than willing to go with what it wants to supply us. We also bring in our level of understanding and prejudices. In short by suspending our disbelief we have become more than passive accomplices in order to complete the visual experience.
In order to understand we only need to think of the film Psycho, the bathroom scene where Janet Leigh is murdered. A viewer believes she was stabbed several times but it was all in the mind. Cinematic art has conspired to give you that added proof of complicity: from what was actually presented to view you concluded the murder was indeed part of it.
You look at the images and want to believe what you ought to have seen.
In conclusion let me put it thus. We claim that we belong to a visual generation. We often look than see things. Cinema as an art has power to move us and is cathartic experience to put ourselves in someone else shoes and understand our world. Being a visual generation we have also been assailed with commercials. We may switch it off where we exercise our rational mind. What if let ourselves taken in and watch? By suspending disbelief have we not made ourselves vulnerable? In a consumer society is it art or your money that they are after? How many commercials we see? Can wee see through the jingle and understand we have been shortchanged by what images and sounds thrown at us? No wonder the deceptive art has made us buy more things than we really need.
Cinema has the power to elevate our experience as well as debase us. Vampyr is not one of the best in the body of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s works. Yet the work of genius Dreyer,Ozu,Bergman offers us many things to learn from. The Day of Wrath,the Passion of Joan of Arc, Ordet are great works of Dreyer that will stand the test of time.

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The camera for the purpose of a cinematic narrative serves as an all-seeing eye. Even the God Almighty has a script of sorts,- poetic justice it is known in common usage, and why not for cinema? It is written by camera using light as its pen. The film Vampyr is about a young man Allan Gray who descends upon a desolate village by the river. He has his fishing gear and is nattily dressed to indicate he is not one of the locals.
Here the first two sketches show him stepping onto the land and in the other he is knocking at the door of an inn. The camera follows him at eye level creating an intimacy with the viewer. It is narrating visually his movement from A to B. The title cards have already supplied some information as well as those additional details we gather as to his dress and deportment. Mr. Gray is a visitor and he is very much onto occult world. His purpose there is to find more about the supernatural world of vampires, werewolves etc., With this much the viewer is mentally prepared for what to expect. It is a spooky world all right for the impressionable young dreamer to pass through a twilight world where the real and surreal worlds are not clearly marked.

Not much has happened while following simple movement from A to B. We see in the thumbnail sketches 2 to 4 the cutout of the dark victory (the Still#1 of yesterday) and camera pans to show us the board below. It bears just one word ‘Hotel’ and is dimly seen.

The camera is all seeing eye and it has now quietly taken position to give us a glimpse of him as an outsider seeking lodging for the night. #5

The camera is still at eye level and not intrusive so we go along with him. The shot is now from the road to indicate his knocks are not answered. Suddenly we see the skylight creaking and a child asking the man to go around. See sketch #6 The sudden jerk of the camera angle to pull the viewer’s eye up gives the first jolt of the unexpected.
The camera had already hooked us with a few images along the movement and the sequences where he is told to go around establishes a continuity from the point B.
In order to achieve this the sudden unusual angle of the dark rooftop with a girl at the skylight gives the movement
an emotional ‘go, go command.’ Naturally we are also gripped with the mystery as to what is to follow. It is only possible since we have become an accomplice of the camera eye as we followed Mr. Gray from A to B
Hold of the all-seeing eye is built from sequence of images. It creates rhythm and the emotional responses created by it are like a bank that we have opened up. Suspension of disbelief to use a term coined by the poet Coleridge. It is dynamic and it is what the eye intends to exploit. The fear of the secluded inn with an uninviting door, getting no response to the knocking has been partly transferred to us. We have also become involved spectators. The ordinary intimacy of camera tracking a character and the unexpected ,where a skylight opens instead of a door which one in normal circumstances expect,are as much mysteries thrown to us.

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The other day I saw Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932). As an artist I enjoy cinema at different levels. So I need to see a film several times in order to satisfy my needs. While I sketched out the dark sign above the inn of dark victory with a palm frond it struck me that spiky leaves are echoed in the title. still-2
It may be deliberate or it may be that I am reading into it more than necessary. What I want to stress here is that cinema is a mongrel muse where the best traditions of theater,architecture,photography music,costume all find its home. Besides art it is required production values are kept at its highest standard as well as production costs are kept within the limits.
As an artist I am concerned say with a composition of particular frame as shown in the first still. In cinema or a motion picture it is unnecessary interruption. In fact it is deadly to hold up the flow of sequences in order to admire a certain camera angle and chiaroscuro from any specific point. In that fluidity of camera, emotions of a viewer are carried over and art of cinema makes certain sacrifices of several arts in order to keep the integrity of the cinema. The art of cinema is, in short, not sum of individual arts in its natural spontaneity but reined in for the overall art of cinema.
Thus the voice over is not human speech but voice suitably modulated by mechanical means to give the viewers a lucid understanding of what is going on. The sets are props which are only simulated to keep reality as much as needed for the moment. Coming back to compositions of each frame it is totally unnecessary. The still is for publicity and not for the main event. In short there is an exclusion principle where art mixed and matched have it all as a total package and for individual art it is only incidental.

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