Monday, October 24, 2011

The First Half of a Song-Performance

From Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966) / Shaheed Latif:

At the moment of the beginning of the song's performance, both the sisters are in love with the same man (he plays the piano like someone kneads the dough). In a manner that belongs very much to Bergman, both of them project their feeling of entitlement to such a luxury ( being the object of love of a man) very aggressively onto the whole situation. Neither is willing to concede any ground in this ménage à trois (more sexual than it is spiritual) - both demand their own respective close-ups, their private eyeline-matches with the actor and their very own, astutely choreographed, set of gestures (the first flutters an eyebrow, the second twitches a lip; the first betrays a cutesy grin, the second blushes a black-and-white blush etc.) 

What is interesting too, ofcourse, is how the scene is directed to play a willing audience to their wholly presumptuous universes of a privately blooming love (entirely hypothetical at this point too - what if he doesn't love either?) - the camera lingers on the first, and then on the second, with the meticulously created impartiality of a newly elected leader who wants to be 'there for everyone'. Both are permitted an audience, as also equally divided immutable time-slots reserved exclusively for an individual performance.

As it stands, the picturisation itself becomes almost entirely about the act of 'looking' - as such, the scene becomes an assortment of fleeting glances, moony-eyed glazes, and rather intrusively-affixed stares. The song itself becomes the permeating fiber that is the basic material for this network of 'looking' - as the actor begins to sing, the camera dollies out, his voice being projected into meaningless vacuum, until the members of his audience are revealed through a cut : the sister-duo, at which point the camera dollies-in; thereby forming a system of projection-absorption of the actor's song.

Ofcourse, it is also at another level about the confusion inherent in an eyeline-match : if used well, such as in this case, you may not know exactly what the actor is looking at - the sisters are confused themselves (or are, unarguably clear who the song is being sung for) and their confusion transmits to the audience as well (if you do not know any better). In that, the editing becomes particularly essential too - because the shot of the actor looking in the sisters' direction is never followed directly with the close-up of one of the sisters, since such a schema will annihilate the ambiguity and reveal to us the object of his affection; instead, the reverse-shot of the shot of him looking is always a long-shot of both of them, which may then dolly-in to one of them, depending on who summons the camera first.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Posture

Drive (2011) / Nicolas Winding Refn

Like a lot of Gosling performances, the one in Drive is essentially a catalogue of various human postures. Much like Warren Oates, a similarly brave actor, who acted with the length of his beard (dense growth: disgruntled, maniac, psychotic; stubble: violent but tragic, clean-shaven: in love, optimistic but a tad cynical), Gosling acts with the angle at which he reclines his back. Therefore Half-Nelson is a perpetual slouch while Lars and the Real Girl is an overtly-perpendicular spine. Ofcourse, Drive is wholly about a character placed against/as an inextricable part of a milieu/setting (no film in recent times, not even quirky indies, have such elaborate wallpapering: the home has redder-warmer tones, the motel has greener, unwelcoming tones) – therefore, Gosling’s driver-character is often placed against a stark background – his silhouette is pasted upon wallpapered-backgrounds, his profile is often used against a flurry of Los Angeles-at-night lights while he drives the car. The much-discussed credit sequence plays like a clothing ad – Gosling does a lot of things but accomplishes very little – he sits in his car with a leg stretched out, walks with a jacket hung over one shoulder, walks even more – but he never really is getting anywhere in the fade-in, fade-out montage. It is because the credit sequence, emblematically of the whole film, is a simple-minded ode to posture (much like any advertisement for cosmetics or clothes). 

As a result, the film, much like any Melville, reveals its lead protagonist’s mental state through an external quality – when Gosling’s character is falling in love with a residential neighbour and reasonably satisfied with the quality of his life, he stands/walks/sits with an upright, perfectly vertical back with not a hint of a slouch – but when he goes about extracting revenge in the final half-an-hour of the film, his body contorts into weird awkward shapes. When the final mutual kniving-session does take place, director Refn decides to film the dueling parties in shadows, therefore, in strictly pictorial terms, Gosling’s body turns into a shape – one which struggles uncomfortably atop the boot of the car. When order is restored in the final shot (or is it?), Gosling’s profile, straight-as-an-arrow and immovable, once again fills the frame from its head to toe, while Los Angeles lights pass by in the background.

Sunday, October 2, 2011