Charles Chaplin+ John Berger+ Sight and Sound

January 2015 issue of Sight and Sound magazine carries a piece by John Berger, called “The Lost Art of Falling.” Recalling Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s prophetic words that his friend Charles Chaplin was “undoubtedly the only one of our time who will be talked about a century from now,” Berger proceeds to diagnose the tramp’s trajectories of bodily movements and gestures, humor and laughter, to read in them a prophecy of the struggles of the underdogs, particularly children, who try to survive on the margins of affluence in modernity. The article is a glowing tribute to the lasting legacy of a legend who leaps out of the screen as if he is some kind of unnamed charged force waking you up from your stupor. For Berger, Chaplin’s tramp is an enduring force of carnate powers and ethical embodiments. Chaplin offers an axiomatic reading of social conditions that define the plight of the indigents from South London to Lampedusa to Bolivia. Each gesture of Chaplin’s is a script screaming for attention for those who toil behind the sunlight of the social. He is a cartographer of urban spaces on which he inscribes little freedoms and minor wisdoms. And, he is also a choreographer who cuts the air around him, writing on celluloid the most indelible impressions of innocence and insights. Chaplin’s tramp had to make through further dehumanization caused by the unchecked tides of speculative capital. The sheer grit of these gestures and scripts tells the story of his enduring appeal for the millions. The world in which he finds relevance is illuminated by the resilience of the tramp to begin anew and in the laughter he produced and projected. This piece is worth reading again, and again; peeling the layers of sharper insights written in lucidly beautiful and respectfully poised language.[…..]
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Slumdog Millionaire

Quite likely, Slumdog Millionaire will sweep the Golden Globes (nominated in four categories) tomorrow and even more likely, it will take a good share of accolades at the Academy Awards next month. The film is receiving consistent praise for from all quarters, and audiences are clearly enjoying it.  It has received limited release (now a proven marketing strategy) until mid December and now it ranks 7th in box office returns in the U. S.  The film promises to break ground in what it provokes and how it inspires filmmakers, as well as critics in their approach to world cinema. Let us give credit where it is due. Slumdog Millionaire is a slick film; effectively photographed, competently edited and has all the elements of a successful blockbuster film made by “foreigners” in a third world country. It deserves all the awards it gets; one hopes it does. The experience of watching the film is pleasurable not merely for aesthetic reasons but because it confirms what we expect from India and its slums, and re-confirms the state of a nation that is nothing but a service-ground for the West. From here, the entire country looks like a gigantic calling center surrounded by slums, and the film proves it. If film has become “transnational” in the age of globalization, this new category of “transnational” or “world” cannot be assigned innocence. There is always a predisposition toward another culture (culture of the ‘other’) that comes through in the film produced by crossing borders. This perspective is no more biased (if that is the term) than what could be the case in films made within the confines of “national cinema.” But we have to move away from thinking of innocence (which is the hallmark of the Golden Globes, the Academy et al) to thinking of predispositions/proclivities[…..]
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What is this euphoria about Slumdog?

David Thomson profiles Danny Boyle in The Guardian this week. Like  Frank Rich in The New York Times (and many others to echo elsewhere), Thomson calls it the film for the times of recession, a story of rags to riches. That is;  it is a “feel good” movie that is likely to lift us up in bad times.  If there is a message here, it is about how povery is “written” on the bodies of the poor. The lucky coincidence of Slumdog’s success is more about how the game shows attempt to bring out the pathologies of the masses rather than present a  feel good story for the Oscars season.  If you see only the narrative and not its movement, its steady stealing of emotions with principles of pleasure,  you miss everythiing. More on Slumdog later.

Fatih Akin at the edge of heaven!

Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven has to be one of the best films of 2008. A complex, interweaving narrative of six characters in Germany and Turkey, it has a deft structure and some of the most memorable performances.  The film is about “going home” in a world where everyone seems to be displaced, either emotionally, physically or both. Turkish immigrants  in Germany (Hambourg) are firmly anchored in both worlds, including Akin himself, born of parents with German and Mexican pedigree in Germany. The narrative shifts from Hamburg to Turkey only to find that the two worlds are so incomplete and so innately connected. Incomplete because the assurance of German identity gives away quicky to larger (European! Cosmopolitan?) perspectives and the search for Turkish identity collapses into questions about revolution, freedom and the possiblity of  “speaking to each other” in a mixed world. [youtube i8rhDyhIloM] Akin shows, perhaps unbeknownst to himself (the accompanying docu about “making the film” strips away the authorial depth), that this is how the world is shaped now. There is no returning home. It is only a question of returning to our lost ideals or finding new ones. This is encapsulated best by the character of Susanne Staub played by the ever so elegant Hanna Schygulla. As the mother of Lotte, a generous, warm hearted idealist German whose friendship with Nejat propels the narrative into multiple levels of questinos about the new generations in these countries, Hanna Schygulla’s Susanne at once shows the hard nosed tradition of the “older” (core?) Europe but at the same time holds the key to understanding the emerging worlds. She is hesitant first at her daughter’s relationship but then gives in only to realize what commensurability of souls can merge the worlds. This film is about the new “cosmopolitanism” in world[…..]
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