Friday, August 16, 2002

Homeward bound. Kochi on Sunday.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

And, oh yes, Vande Mataram!

The Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut (1950-53) at Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier, selected by Time magazine as the finest work of 20th century architecture.

George Santayana:
‘I sought on earth a garden of delight,
Or island altar to the Sea and Air,
Where gentle music were accounted prayer,
And reason, veiled, performed the happy rite.
My sad youth worshipped at the piteous height
Where God vouchsafed the death of man to share;
His love made mortal sorrow light to bear,
But his deep wounds put joy to shamèd flight.
And though his arms, outstretched upon the tree,
Were beautiful, and pleaded my embrace,
My sins were loth to look upon his face.
So came I down from Golgotha to thee,
Eternal Mother; let the sun and sea
Heal me, and keep me in thy dwelling-place.’

Today is the Feast of the Assumption.

'The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.'
- Dogma proclaimed by the Catholic Church in 1950

Mary always brings to mind George Santayana. In the book Ameican Philosophy, Timothy Sprigge writes of this Spanish-born American philosopher: ‘In his [Santayana's] eventual philosophy, religion, at its deepest, was described as a system of symbols which enriched and deepened the experience of living, and which had a certain aptness as a way of adjusting to the world in its true character, but which entirely lacked literal truth. In the light of this Catholicism could be regarded as better than Protestantism, since its symbols were richer and more flexible, and more in tune with nature than Protestantism which, in an attempt to find literal truth, simply impoverished the symbols of Christianity without discarding its falsehoods. Thus Santayana thought that Catholicism provided a better way of life, more spiritually fulfilling for the saintly, and more enriching of natural life for the majority, than Protestantism and since to do this, and not to be true, is the function which reason ascribes to religion, it is to be judged the better type of Christianity. It was this attitude which evoked Bertrand Russell's quip that Santayana believes there is no God, and that Mary is his mother.’

- El Greco, The Assumption of the Virgin (1577)

And again: ‘[Santayana] developed one of the most perfectly worked out complex philosophical systems there is, and is a mine of subtle reasoning and distinctions and of insight into the major problems of philosophy. […] Upon the whole I would say that it is the most convincing, carefully worked out and comprehensive version of materialism or naturalism that there has been. At a time when so many philosophers are materialists, it is a pity that they do not attend to the one version of materialism which has really found a satisfactory way of dealing with spiritual values and with ethics, and of accounting for mind in a non-reductive way.’

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Get to know Jean-Paul Sartre.

E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, directed by Steven Spielberg

It has been 20 years since Steven Spielberg made film-history with the release of ET. I had not seen it until now, when a special re-issue version has been released in theatres.

ET is a classic. It is artful; it has things to say – about childhood, about innocence, about home, about love. The technical wizardry involved in making a believable character of the alien creature is impressive. More so is the remarkable performance of young Henry Thomas in the role of Elliot, the boy who befriends the lost creature. The film is interspersed with moments of wonder and magic. And there are scenes which remain indelible on the collective memory of movie-goers around the world.

ET is the film that proved that Spielberg had a special touch, an unprecedented ability to use the medium of popular cinema to reach out to the audience on a mass scale. Though Spielberg made excellent films right from the start, it was not until Schindler’s List that he was to be recognized by the mainstream critical community as an ‘artistic’ filmmaker. Was it because his films made lots of money? That may be true, but only partly. There is another important factor. Cyril Connolly once wrote:

‘It is closing time in the gardens of the West, and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair.’

Spielberg’s most commercially successful films, the ones that came to be identified as typically ‘Spielbergian’, were never tinged with despair. Spielberg always served up a brand of optimism – some would say naïve optimism. Thus, ET is light-years away from the brooding world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or the cerebral one of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Which brings us to the last Spielberg film I saw: A.I. Artificial Intelligence – a disturbing, truly thought-provoking science-fiction epic. It cannot be called a masterpiece, because, as a film, it fails. But the result is a magnificent ruin. Its ambition is huge and perhaps could have been realized only by the man who originally conceived the project – Stanley Kubrick. If Kubrick had made this film, I would have thought it a safe bet that it would have been one of the greatest pieces of cinematic art, one to stand alongside his 2001. But Kubrick did not make it. It was left to Spielberg. And his effort is praiseworthy. His script is brilliant, if only for the sheer weight of the ideas he plays with. However, he fails to make one unified whole of it all.

As with Henry Thomas in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (There is similarity in more than just the title), Spielberg draws an impressive performance from a child actor – in this case, the remarkable Haley Joel Osment. Osment here plays a robot, designed and programmed to emulate a human child, right down to his emotional attachments. From his predicament, and that of the people who interact with him, Spielberg gets a chance to explore what it means to be human. What results is very interesting indeed, and it goes off in totally unexpected directions.

But different parts of the film feel like they do not belong together. The last third is worlds away from the first, and it feels like a totally different film. However, though AI is at times maddening, it is also mesmerizing.slfr

SPIDERMAN, directed by Sam Raimi

Some weeks back I had put a link on Salon to a review in The Washington Post, where their critic had praised this latest comic-book adaptation. Such positive critical buzz had instilled high expectations in me. But Spiderman was another disappointment.

The film has its moments though. When our hero tries out his newly acquired super-powers and takes off on his first gravity-defying web-swinging journey amidst the skyscrapers, it is an exhilarating moment. But the silliness of the villain, the ‘Green Goblin’, stands out unpleasantly. Though the casting of the main role is inspired and Raimi shows flashes of the talent that he is, overall, the film lacked inspiration.

For a successful tribute to comic-books and their heroes and villains, see Manoj Night Shyamalan’s effective Unbreakable, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, which I felt was a better film than his over-rated The Sixth Sense.slfr

DANGER, directed by Govind Menon

Danger is a Hindi film directed by Govind Menon. As you would have guessed from his name, the chap is a Malayali, and, as some research on the web revealed, he graduated from some film school in the US. You also might have seen him, because his claim to fame is to have featured in the ‘first cannibal scene in Indian cinema’ – in Priyadarshan’s underwhelming Kalapani. The film evoked my interest because of its rather off-beat posters, the fact that it had no songs, that the music was by an Indian rock-band, and that it had Ashutosh Rana (who I have heard has played some original roles in Hindi films). The posters hinted at possibilities for the film – it would definitely be pulp, but articles on the film on the web used terms like ‘film noir’.

In the event, it turned out to be one of the silliest films I have seen in the last few years. Really. If you ever find out whichever film school Mr Menon attended, note it down, because you sure don’t want to enrol there.

The film aims to be realistic, actually it aims to be hyper-real, a la Tarantino. Yes, it wants to be Pulp Fiction. It wants the quirky characters, the ‘real crime’ scenario, the wit, the brilliance, the guts and the gumption of that Palme d’Or winner. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high. But try not to fail as miserably as they do here. I would have laughed throughout the length of the film, if not for the simultaneous feeling of sadness I felt. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.slfr

The latest film from Roy Andersson, who, according to Ingmar Bergman, made the best television commercials in the world.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Day before yesterday i bought an anthology of postmodern poetry named 'The Brink'. It is edited by a young American poet Noah Hoffenberg. It is published by Yeti, a kozhikode based new company.I will write about the poems in few days time.