A to Z of Films Meme (B)

[I may write a paragraph or two at the beginning of each post about some aspect of film-making, sharing thoughts, facts, or experiences, etc. This may or may not be related to the films I write about.

Do feel free to comment on the films, my writing, as well as recommend and discuss other films. The more you participate, the more meaningful and enjoyable this would be! Lastly, I plan to adopt the widely-accepted technique of reformatting titles beginning with ‘A’ and ‘The’.]

I always think that editors are one of the most under-appreciated folks in film-making. How far we have come from the old days when editors used to be exclusively women! Editing was considered no more than a cut and paste job, and since women sewed and tailored, editing was treated as a menial job relegated to women. Today, what would Spielberg be without Michael Kahn, or Scorcese without Thelma Schoonmaker?

Many Indian film-makers aspiring for Academy Awards need a primer on editing. A Slumdog Millionaire’s editing makes it appear as if Lagaan’s editor was stricken with diarrhea and thus was unable to work.

A Beautiful MindA Beautiful Mind

When I was young, one of my best friends became a paranoid schizophrenic. In the years since, I have seen schizophrenia up close – its impact on patient and family, its treatment, and its social stigma. Not many movies treat mental illness simply as a disease. It is usually sensationalized, or trivialized, or turned into tragedy or melodrama. A Beautiful Mind sensitively portrays John Nash Jr., a mathematical genius who fought paranoid schizophrenia, and successfully achieved global recognition. This is Ron Howard’s masterpiece after the earlier Apollo 13.

Russell Crowe is astonishing as the mild-mannered, socially handicapped genius. He metamorphoses into a Gladiator of the mind, fighting demons of insanity. The film deals with complex mathematical theories to just the right extent, keeping it understandable to laymen. It shows what true love is all about – not passion and romance, but hard work and commitment. It touched me very deeply, without insulting my intelligence, and without offending me by trying to manipulate my emotions.

Thoughts about insanity and genius lingered afterwards. In his Nobel auto-biography, Nash reveals that his recovery is not entirely a matter of joy. “One aspect of this is that rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos”, he says. I wonder if apart from his groundbreaking work in mathematics, this revelation will turn out to be his most significant lesson for mankind.

BabelRunner Up

Babel

The germ of four different interlocking stories causing chaos reminded me of the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Despite big-ticket stars like Pitt and Blanchett, they are not given any preferential treatment, as required by the plot. This integrity is rare in Hollywood. Superb cinematography, strong character development, and deeply thought-provoking. We can easily identify with all the characters, none of whom are villains, and do not intentionally act wrongly, yet the situation spirals out of control. It is also an intriguing look at how cultural barriers have unintended consequences.

Such a powerful film shot in different locations of the world with numerous actors cannot be weaved into a compelling yet easy to grasp drama without supreme editorial work. In retrospect, I was mesmerized by how the director and editor managed to weave this thrilling complex drama and piece together disparate clips into an integrated whole.

Noteworthy Mentions

Bandit Queen – a film I saw once and do not wish to see again. A film that made me feel ashamed of being an Indian, with its caste system and patriarchal society. A film with that scene of repeated sounds of a door creaking – a sound I do not wish to hear again.

And, highly recommended: Brief Encounter, The Bicycle Thief, Bridge On The River Kwai

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33 thoughts on “A to Z of Films Meme (B)

  1. Babel is a movie I watched after doing that meme and I enjoyed it.

    I was quite hassled after watching this because some self-censored DVD parts didnt let me enjoy last part of the Jap girl’s story. I dont know what she read in letter in officer, if they made love or what happened. Those scenes were spliced in the DVD I had, which was gift from LG. I even called a friend to ask what happened to her story.

    Americans come out unscathed in the end but with not-so-pleasant results for Mexicans and Moroccans.

    And I usally expect film loves to put Bicycle Thieves first. Ddn’t watch A Beautiful Mind yet, despite planning so many times.

  2. Phew! My chain of thoughts broke while I was writing this. So fragmented, incomplete thoughts. Like this one:

    Amercians come out unscathed…so was there a message director wanted to impart to the world? Definitely, loud and clear.

  3. Funny. I bought mine in India as well, and it did not have any censored cut of the nude scenes. At least that’s what I thought.

    Re: Bicycle Thief: I’ve seen it two times, once on the big screen as well. I like Italian neorealism only to a certain extent. In the many years I used to be a member of film appreciation clubs, I’ve met countless snobs pretending to like Bicycle Thief. You know, the fake intellectuals.

    I do like it, hence have mentioned it, but it doesn’t have a great impact on me.

  4. This thought about the outcome for Americans vs others didn’t even occur to me. Inarritu is a highly respected Mexican director said to be spearheading a new wave of brilliant Mexican cinema. I am extremely skeptical there’s any kind of message he wants to send regarding American’s escaping unscathed.

    Somehow, Poonam, I think this is exactly the kind of misinterpretation and misunderstanding that cultural differences and prejudices often create and that is exactly what the film is about. Don’t you think you are becoming a victim of the same kind as the characters in the movie?

  5. Both very gripping films and so totally different. Was completely mesmerized with Crowe’s performance in the beautiful mind. The subject was handled with such compassion, I thought.

    I think Babel is one of THE best films I have ever seen. I fall for intersecting narratives and timlines that jump forward and backward. The story that Japanese deaf-mute girl simply tugged at one’s heart strings.

  6. “Beautiful Mind, A” is one of my favourites too. I usually do not get emotionally involved in movies, but I did have a lump in my throat when Nash’s colleagues present their pens to him.
    (If you have not studied Game Theory and Nash’s contributions to it, I very highly recommend it!)

    Havent watched Babel, but its on my list. I suppose I will wait for you to finish A-Z before reordering my to watch list!

  7. Babel was brilliant and so were beautiful mind. The Japanese chapeter in Babel was extremely mind blowing and also very loosely connected to the main plot, which perhaps was one of the main reasons, apart from it’s subtle anti-American tone, which cost Babel it’s slip at Oscars despite being nominated in all major categories.
    Man, you are on a roll!!

  8. A Beautiful Mind – the movie by itself was really nice and I enjoyed watching it. What turned me off however is that the movie was advertised to be a ‘true story’ and parts of it were far from it.

    Just like Gauri (she commented in the (A) post), I was trying to guess which movie you would list. I thought that you would mention ‘The Birds’ somewhere.

  9. Darn, I guessed wrong. I was quite sure you’d mention A Beautiful Mind anyway, but that was outside the one I intended to guess. (I mean good & popular Vs. good & not-so-popular). I had The Battle of Algiers in mind. Seen it? You must if you haven’t already.

    Babel, someone did mention it a couple times, but I didn’t take it quite seriously – maybe because of the Brad Pitt factor (sorry!). I will put it on the list now 🙂

    You know I’m enjoying this meme of yours. It’s a win-win; you either write about movies I really cherish, or you give me something to look forward to 🙂 I’m sure a bunch of people here feel the same. Looking forward to the rest!

    g

  10. Hey! I didn’t place any blame on the Americans for them getting away unscathed.

    But yes, an innocent gun-slinging is misconstrued. And America suspects foul, plays the victim, even before investigation ensues. That was not something director left open to ambiguous interpretation. It was loud and clear.

    And movies/stories/books ARE interpreted differently by different people, based on their own perceptions and exposure (cultural differences if you want to call it). We all construe world in our way, we call it this phenomenon as ‘constructivism’ in my field of instruction design.

    Anyway, I have no anti-American sentiments in case THAT is mis-construed. And I am aware of Alejandro, I dug up a lot about him after I watched the movie. He has already been part of a movie about affects of 9/11 on the ‘other parts of world’. 🙂

    And my DVD was not bought by me, it was from LG as a gift pack for buying one of their products.

    P.S: Bicycle Thieves had no major impact on me either, I dug it out out of curiosity. Remember the Satyajit Ray book review I wrote, he speaks a lot about Bicycle Thieves in the same book.

  11. When I started writing this meme, I didn’t think many people would agree with my choice of films or like them as much as I did. Boy, was I wrong!

  12. Somehow, I knew you were going to push me into learning more of Game Theory! 🙂 No, I’m not much of a mathematics guy. Even GEB got too heavy in its mathematics for me.

  13. Thank you, Dev! I hope you’re enjoying reading my posts, and am really thankful to you for giving me this opportunity. 🙂

  14. It’s called ‘dramatic licence’ and ‘marketing’ 🙂

    Now, with The Birds, you caught me! Wow, how could I’ve missed that? I think if I had remembered, it might well have been the runner up in place of Babel. I owe you one!

  15. Gauri, congratulations and thank you! I have the first recommendation on this meme that I have not seen! 🙂

    No, I haven’t seen The Battle of Algiers, and did not know about it either. Thank you.

    I often become a victim of assuming that something involving highly popular celebrities is not going to be great. I later learned that I wasn’t being open-minded in that case.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying my posts. What I really hope for, is that even when I write about a film someone has seen, if I highlight some aspect of it they missed, I would be very happy. Win-win – a very nice way to describe it! Thanks for your kind words.

  16. Yes, I started this meme by describing how cinema is a very subjective experience! I hope I didn’t offend you in any way, sincere apologies if I did. I myself did not know much about the director as much as you seem to have dug up. And maybe yes, I missed what you caught on to. In another viewing, I suppose.

    Ray was very much influenced by Italian neo-realism. No surprises there. He was turned off by the usual fare dished out by Indian cinema.

  17. i enjoyed both. love Crowe’s performance as Nash.

    there is another B i enjoyed

    Bridge on the River Kwai – Alec Guiness at his best ! Pig headed British honour and pride at the building of a Bridge – and its repercussions. fabulous film.

  18. This comment had gone to spam! Just found out.

    Thanks for all the great links. These kinds of articles will definitely help, appreciate your taking the time!

  19. You know, this “good & popular” vs. “good & not-so-popular” distinction is quite interesting. I’ve found that sometimes, in the “good & popular” category, most people who make it “popular” can’t spot the “great” in it. And there are the intellectuals, who are always pursuing the “great and not-popular”, who as a result, dismiss the “great & popular”. I was one of them. It took me years to realize that “popular” doesn’t necessarily mean “not-great”, even though most of the popular folks don’t understand what makes it great.

    Real life examples: Mozart. Groundhog Day. Beethoven (well, we can think of him as the popular classical composer). Disney. Chaplin. Carl Sagan. Well, you get the point.

  20. Yeah remembered this when I mentioned a Shyam Benegal film in S (Suraj ka 7va Ghoda). Another Shyam Benegal – Bhumika. Just watch it. Smita Patil (there, I think I convinced you already! 🙂 ), Anant Nag, Amrish Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Amol Palekar….

    And Smita Patil is mindblowing. Yes, outdoes herself. If you haven’t seen it already, I think you’ll like it in spite of my hype 🙂

  21. Ok, Felony. You own Bhumika and I’m seeing Brad Pitt’s face here! ‘Nuff said indeed. What were you saying about a spoonful of water some posts ago? :O

  22. Oye, I do own books I haven’t read, but I’ve seen every film I own! So no spoonful of water for me.

    I wish I could see your face when I share the list of the movies I own! 😉 Just kidding. Would’ve loved to share and exchange with you…

  23. I think I have a fair idea of what you might own – and I hope to add some of those to my list/collection sometime 🙂

    Chullubhar was for Brad Pitt getting a mention over Smita Patil – not for you (not) having watched it. So please do the needful 😛

    😀

  24. Another recommendation for you:

    Before the Rains. Of course, B is a big letter, and there will be many more. But this is a masterpiece. Strangely, this was released the same year as Pulp Fiction, and uses (almost) the same narrative techniques, but the central conflict is so engrossing, that the whole narrative structure takes (a rightful) backseat.

    Amazing movie. Here is my brief review: http://asuph.wordpress.com/2007/04/19/before-the-rain/

    Do check it out.

    As for Beautiful Mind, I loved the movie, then I read the book, and then I realized the power of Hollywood studios to distort reality 😉 (in this case biographical book it was based on).

    [Sheepish note: Babel is on my list too].

    regards,
    asuph

  25. Re Beautiful Mind: as I said in some other comment thread, this is not supposed to be a documentary film! 😉

    Re Before the Rain: Need to be careful here. ‘Before the Rains’ is a Santosh Sivan – Rahul Bose – Nandita Das feature. You’re referring to ‘Before the Rain’, which I (again) hadn’t heard of, and am very grateful to you for introducing. Sounds like a fantastic film. The circle of violence. Three inter-locking storylines. Wow. Added!

  26. err. yeah. i realized that. i quoted the title from memory and later when i search i found two similar names. before the rain, indeed.

  27. Passable if you like watching old men leering at teenage breasts. Amazing to watch how Michael Caine tries to make the best of it.

  28. 🙂 ur reviews a bit too pointed
    i did like that movie especially for its beautiful presentation of rio…
    I still love michael caine 🙂

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