Monday, February 26, 2007

The Academy will rest in peace

What a day! Scorsese gets a nod from the academy at last! I was reading my earlier post about The Departed and was in half a mind to take it off my blog. Not because the film won best picture along with Scorsese's long overdue accolade, but because having returned to the film after a good long break I realised some things. (Of course my all time favourites of the Italian-american's ouvre still remain Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. )This is for all those who may have some or the other misconception regarding my views on Martin Scorsese after reading the earlier post.

The Departed was perhaps the only film by the director to have garnered as much commercial success as crticial acclaim. And that for Scorsese, I believe would be a first. Scorsese said on being informed about his Oscar nomination for the 7th time, that although the recognition would be appreciated, one could never make films solely to win an Oscar. So much for my fear that he had sold out! What has impressed me most about Scorsese is his immense tenacity and creative stamina as an artist. The thirst for creative excellence and an uncompromising will towards nuanced storytelling has been his hallmark. 30 odd years since he made his feature film debut, the man is still going full throttle! With each project he seems to be aiming bigger and better.

Perhaps what chnaged my views to a certain degree was also that I got the chance to watch The Age of Innocence recently. What is essentially a story of unrequited love , in the hands of Scorsese became an elegy of a society stifled by its own hypocrisy and vanity. The astounding detail is made visible by the camera-eye - an eye that is discriminating but not disparaging. That is the genius of Martin Scorsese. A ceaseless exploration of subject matter through immaculate contsruction of the script and the mis-en-scene.

The range itself of his cinema is mind-boggling. Compare the ruthless and dark Taxi Driver to the eloquent Goodfellas. Or the opulent and decadent Casino to the brilliant insanity that was Aviator. Or the velvet veneer of The Age of Innocence to the enigma and pulse of The Departed. And you will know what I mean.

I mentioned the Movie Brats in my previous post. Imagine my surprise and bewilderment when three of them turned up on stage to present the award to their long-time friend, collaborator and colleague - Martin Scorsese. A fitting end I think. Marty said he was moved. I was in tears.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ways of seeing

A dear friend after reading my blog asked a pertinent question - is it so necessary to have an opinion on everything? I couldnt answer the question but it set me thinking. This urge to write down my thoughts or voice my opinion - is it merely cathartic and therefore selfish or does it have roots in something larger of which I am still unaware? Do writers ask themselves this question before they set out to coin a phrase or frame a sentence? Are opinions damaging or constructive or both? Is criticism in fact easier than going that extra mile to do that certain something which we feel so compelled to comment on but would not touch with a bargepole given the opportunity?

"In life one must do." I cant recall who said it, but it definitely sums up the basic thumb rule that until its been tried it hasnt been tested. I think it was Milton Glaser who said that we must diminish the difference between work and art. And to that end "work is art and art is work."

Isnt it enough to simply experience a great film, book, piece of music or a work of art? Is it the politics of our time that breeds such creative contempt or is it the system of knowledge we belong to? More importantly, are we, while stating with such confidence our carefully thought out opinions, as tolerant to more diverse points of view? Is qualification the only license to an opinion?

I write because I feel most confident expressing myself in this form. Words provide a platform from where images take off. Writing is for me, as of this moment a tool at best. Not as eloquent or free from prejudice as the instinctive brush of the seasoned artist, but more like the strange and daunting piece of charcoal in the clumsy hands of one who is learning to draw and thus learning to see. I too am learning to see - and my image is made or letters and words and phrases and inflexions. It is an untrained eye that knows not many ways of seeing - yet.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hundred Years of Solitude....and then some more.

The last book I read was none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magnum opus - One Hundred Years of Solitude. A book of epic proportions, it tested my imagination in unimaginable ways. In fact I had returned to the book a second time with gritty resolve since the unrelenting repetition of names like Jose Arcadio, Aureliano, Amaranta and Ursula had left me groping in the dark halfway through the book the first time I attempted to read it. But this time I kept pace with offspring after offspring, amazed at the uncanny fecundity of the fictitious Buendia clan. Time ran in loops and doubled up on itself as the miseries and fortunes of the various characters played out page after page with unceremonious candour. Each character lost love, found memory and eventually succumbed to a solitude that had an irrevocable finality.

The book is an ode to memory. Collective memory that in tireless remembrance of things past and a glorious time lost, erases its sinous connect with reality untill it is the stuff of legend. Truth obliterated by memory. Lives lived so much in retrospect that the present is forgotten and constantly committed to the past. No one in Macondo remembered the Banana Plantation massacre because the process of forgetting had begun even before the event had occurred.

One need not speak of Marquez's phenomenal prose for that would be nothing short of stating the obvious. But what must be mentioned is the sheer scale of imagination that the author has brought to the novel. The leaps in time, the collision of characters with history and the cyclical narrative is a feat never before achieved in the written form. This is one book I wish never to be made into a film, for as much as I believe in the possibility and potency of cinema, it is finite in a way that can never do justice to the images inspired by Marquez's infinite prose.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Marty Goes Undercover"

When I heard that Martin Scorsese had won the Directors' Guild of America Award for filmmaker of the year(post-super successful film "The Departed"), the inevitable smile crept up and was glued there for about the whole day. The talk of the town is that Marty is now more than ever in the running for the Best Director accolade doled out by none other than the Academy. This is more fact than fiction at the moment given that in the parallel history of the Guild and the Academy very rarely has the winner of the Guild Award lost out on the Oscar for the same picture in the same year. The precise number would be 6. Sceptics may refer to Wikipedia.

Martin Scorsese may have waited far too long for this one but the naked truth is that he should have won it aeons ago. Having lost out on films like Raging Bull and The Goodfellas, winning while riding on the commercial success of The Departed won't be winning after all.

After watching The Departed, exhilarated as I was, I couldnt help feeling a little cheated. Seems to me that Scorsese had lowered his guard a bit too much to deliver a star-studded big banner production that fell far below the bar he had previously set for himself with films like Taxi Driver, Raging bull, Goodfellas and the heavily underrated Casino. Of course The Departed is not comparable in genre or style to Taxi Driver. I'm not suggesting that. But what I am suggesting is that Scorsese was next to invisible in the film that is being touted by some as his magnum opus. Save for some recognizable tropes like use of voiceover and familiar gangster territory, the watermark blazed into each work with astonishing cinematography and a powerful screenplay was nowhere to be seen. A critic put it eloquently when she wrote, "Marty went undercover on this one."

But to give due credit to the director and the film, the soundtrack was vivid and the editing impeccable as always (thanks to long time collaborator thelma Schoonmaker). Sound performances by both Leo Dicaprio and Mark Whalberg. Frank Costello's transformation from the smooth overlord to an absentminded close-to-senile overlord is remarkable. But cinephiles ask yourself this - does Costello surpass in character the likes of Jake La Motta, Nicky Santuro, Ace Rothstein and Tommy DeVito?

So if Marty does win, I'll be cheering myself hoarse but it'll be for a victory won long before when the Movie Brats were still bratty enough to believe in a producers' nightmare like Travis Bickle!

P.S. - The Movie Brats were Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Brian de Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and John Milius.