Thursday, August 23, 2012

Odd Obsession

Branded to Kill (1967) / Seijun Suzuki
Everything in Branded to Kill is fetishised to the point of odd whimsicality – characters obsess over the smell of boiled rice, assassin-ranking systems, butterflies, dead birds, sniper-scopes, gun-barrels, naked female bodies and the director himself creates one super-collage of dedicated fetish-imagery by shooting everything either in long telephoto lenses or front-on – thereby either creating ‘pretty pictures’ out of every goddamn object or reducing it to its most fundamental, as-it-is form. There is nothing that exists if not to serve purely surface-level pleasure; there are no great ideas about imperialism as in Gate of Flesh or genre-reflection like Tokyo Drifter, but as pop-objects go, it is one helluva film.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Image Deluge

Deccani Souls (2012) / Kaz Rahman
The first ten minutes of Kaz Rahman's 2012 film, Deccani Souls, have a distinct feeling of impending disintegration that pervades through them - it is as if the image is constantly coming apart at its seams, a faucet about to burst because of the contents that occupy it. As a result, Rahman must act as the editor-gatekeeper, allowing at a maximum only two or perhaps three disjointed images into the frame, but not more. Finally, as all of them jostle for space with each other, they seem to arrive at a reasonable reconciliation, an uncomfortable compromise: the superimposition. The superimposition is a often enough a cutesy pictorial tool - wu-xia epics would use it to establish looming presences and to indicate the oncoming of a major event - Rahman's film tells us that the superimposition is also the tool to depict a midwinter fever-dream or memories - because as memories go, when they rain, it's a downpour.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Seven Times Over

As we recover from the Lang post, allow me to present to you the seventh issue of the online film journal I run with Sudarshan Ramani/Suraj Prasad (both of 'em being unclickable). It is called Projectorhead and the seventh issue carries as its center-piece a roundtable on Martin Scorsese's Hugo and how it belongs to the larger, four-decade long Scorsese filmography. I participated in that and wrote an essay on the films of the Indian mainstream director, Dibakar Banerjee.

Here is the link to the issue: (check also: past issues,

Below, an excerpt from the piece I wrote:

'A good detail (of the production design, or a character tic or the way a line is spoken) does not have an existence of and by itself – left alone, devoid of a larger universe of which it is merely a byproduct of, the detail is merely an annoyance – a contrived vehicle for the director to show-off his ‘eye’. In that, it is perhaps slightly tragic that people do detail-spotting with Banerjee’s films – because if anything, a detail exists only as an engine to propel larger ideas that permeate through the film, like the walls in Fuller’s Shock Corridor or the gun barrels in Aldrich’s World for Ransom. A detail for detail’s sake is never the marquee event in a film. If the discussion of a film, any film, remains restricted only to its most visible and exterior surface, i.e., the details or performances - as opposed to the embedded theme or a subdued subtext or centrally, softly-stated truths that dwell at a micro-level within the film – it is either the failure of the film or of the discussion.'

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

In an interview to William Friedkin in 1976(this), Lang admitted to the interviewer that films like Dr.Mabuse: The Gambler, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis and Spione had tired him out by the end of the ‘20s and that what he really wanted to do was a ‘personal film about one or two characters.’ Of course, he tried it with M, but M is nothing if not about the problematic notion of a mob-mentality and the very idea of a shared belief. Perhaps, Lang got the sort of independence (a filmmaker euphemism for ‘just let me be, sucker!’) he sought when he finally got around to making films for/in Hollywood – even if a lot of his 30s English features are marked for their admonishment of the mob and of a resolute belief that a person can only ever take right decisions in private, and never while influenced by a collective(this idea is manifest in Fury but also in You Live Only Once; mob-paranoia is also something that can be thought of as a direct yield of Lang’s political preference). As such, crowds/mobs in Lang are always looked with a distinct suspicion – they are capable, as is shown in a number of films, of incidents of great violence, absolute thoughtlessness and misguided sentiment. As a precursor to these, they are also easily misled (the ‘Sandor Weltemann’ sequence in Dr. Mabuse Part II – Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age, where Mabuse en-disguise hypnotises a whole auditorium of people that outside of the film screen, includes us) and influenced (bad-girl Maria in Metropolis) or just plain irrational (M). For all his distrust, therefore, of the mob, however, Lang could shoot crowds bloody well – better perhaps than most, notable contenders include Lean, Niblo, Gance, Monty Python, K.Asif. He knew a thing or two about how to let massive hordes of people populate his geometrical compositions/austere frames, but his real skill lay in actually providing them with a real personality as opposed to just impressive, but shallow presence. This, I believe, was an ability that rose out of a genuine intrigue for human sentiment/impulse as opposed to an ultimately empty fascination for scale/magnitude. As such, Lang could insert close-ups, long-lens shots and ‘faces’ where others would satisfy themselves with wide-shots filled pictorically with dots of varying intent and sizes. 

Below, some Lang crowds: