An American in Madras [2013)

Here we come again to India.

And again to Tamil Nadu.

When last we visited India in our minds, we spoke of For the Love of a Man.

Another Tamil documentary.

About the superstar of South India:  Rajinikanth.

But An American in Madras takes us back.

WAY back!

Indeed, it is the story of a man named Ellis Dungan.

And his 15 years of fame (complete with tuned klaxons) [meme mixing] was 1935-1950.

Ellis Dungan from Barton, Ohio.

Who went to Spain.

And bicycled to France.

Worked a bit in Paris.

Became interested in photography.

And somehow ended up in one of the first cinema cohorts at USC.

Met an Indian student.

Got an invite to Madras (Chennai).

And six months turned into fifteen years.

Isn’t that the way life works?

If you think I’ve spoiled too much of this story, you’re WAY wrong.

There is so much more to this fantastic documentary directed by Karan Bali.

Mr. Bali is in his prime, being just 48 years young.

But he has made a significant contribution to cinema with this picture.

Yes, this story is unique and compelling.

But again, we get a priceless view of India.

I promise we will move from Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu eventually (the only two provinces I have really covered).

But you really must see An American in Madras.

It is currently on Netflix.

And by the screenshot–the thumbnail…you might think it’s about a Jewish director.

That would be wonderful and fine.

But you would be wrong in assuming such.

Indeed, it seems that the six-pointed star on the “film poster” is not the Star of David but perhaps, rather, the Star of Goloka.

Which is to say, an Indian six-pointed star.

And though there are (and certainly were) Jews in India (though not very many…all things considered), An American in Madras is just about a bloke from Ohio who somehow ended up directing some (14) of the classic Tamil-language films.

1935-1950.

He left India at the behest of his wife.

They divorced a short time later.

Okay, ok…I will stop giving spoilers.

But suffice it to say that An American in Madras tackles a very sticky conundrum:

motivation.

For most of my life, my main motivation has been EXPRESSION…

What I’m doing right now.

Showing off my verbiage.

But hopefully adding value to the world.

[there goes my business school dissection…it’s second-nature now!]

And yet, my motivation changed.

For I was presented with a crossroads.

Not like Robert Johnson’s crossroads…

But more like Robert Frost’s crossroads.

Two paths.

God damn it!

I chose the path less-taken.

I chose love.

Not lust.

Not romance.

Just love.

And it doesn’t make me a saint.

But it is what it is.

I gave up music.

I gave up expression as my main motivation.

And I attempted to evolve.

To nudge an inch closer to nirvana.

I chose love.

As my main motivation.

It is not a rockstar path.

Mother Theresa probably had some pretty rough days…

And I ain’t no Mother Theresa.

But I’m trying.

Trying to put other people before myself.

Often failing.

But steadfast.

I am on the path.

And yes, I become wistful.

It seems like 40 years ago.

Maybe I can catch a wisp of song in my memory…a shard…a sherd…some hieroglyph of my past life.

But growing into an adult can entail smiling through the tears.

Singing a snippet, and being glad to be here now.

-PD

Žert [1969)

It would be, perhaps, best to list this as a Slovak film.

Slovakia.

We always talk about Prague.

But not enough about Bratislava.

Yet all of this would make little difference were this film not notable.

And it is quite notable.

The direction by Jaromil Jireš is admirable.

He plays with time.  A very unusual montage of flashbacks.

Haunted.  Haunting.  Hunted by communism.

This, then, would be a subversive film.

To show the corruption within Czechoslovakia.

To show the nightmare of reeducation.

The term is never named as such, but that’s what it is.

Punitive military service.

The soldiers with no weapons.

Because their country doesn’t trust them with such.

In the mines.

On the ground.

Relay.

Hup hup hup.

Power trip of professional army in service to socialism.

Trotsky is forbidden.

And so is humor.

Don’t make your jokes too pointed.

There’s no squirming out of the fact that you stand in opposition to the ethos of your government.

I.

It may not be a momentous occasion to realize that literature is being made.

For it skips under your nose as mere nonsensical rubbish.

Poppycock.  Hogwash.  Eyewash.

Tropes and memes and drupelets hanging low.  Evolving necks.  Giraffes.

I am of two Yiddish species:

schlub and schmuck.

Unattractive.  Fool.

Me and Josef Somr.  Who lives!  Age 82.

A masterful performance.  As real as my daily routine.

Shirt coming untucked.

I have kept my hair, but his combover parallels my gut (his too).  Sucked in.

Beware of jokes.

You are being watched.

Your letters are being intercepted.

And you will have to answer for your words.

Just what exactly did you mean by, “…” ???

Well, this is Milan Kundera with the story.

And I rebelled all the way.

I drew Baudelaire with lightening bolts.  And chartreuse dreams.

Kundera lives!  Age 87.

Born in Brno. (!)

But let’s back to this love-hate.

Not Mintzberg.

At the same time.

Alternating.  A constant election.

Affinities.

I will achieve 17,000-word vocabulary.  Just you watch.

I almost hate my town too.  I know.

Was I imprisoned?

No.

But I lost music.

Like Ludvík.

The name is significant.

Like lost hearing.

And so the clarinet is indispensable.

I mention Jana Dítětová because she was from Plzeň.

Pilsen.  Pillsbury.

The selfish gene.

Tricked.  Objectified.  MILF revenge reified.

Pithy memetics.

MIKE MILF.

Markéta is significant.

LazarováTwo years previous.

A permanent opium war of mankind.

Opiate of the masses.  Asses.  Snippets of military abuse.

You’ve never seen…like this.

We can still insult liberalism.  And neoliberalism.  And neoconservatism.

We can still find Starbucks artless.  And Subway.

But Wal-Mart passes over to kitsch.  Of which Kundera would understand.

Like Warhol meets Flavin.

All that fluorescence.

Non-stop.

Europe endless.

Schubert.

Dip the waves.

Coyoacán borough of Mexico City.  D.F.  Day effay.

Trotsky died the same year Conlon Nancarrow moved to Mexico.

1940.

And Nancarrow would make Mexico City his home.

Las Águilas.  With his Ampico player pianos.

Ludvík is expelled from his teaching position like Dr. James Tracy.

History is always with us.

We see the corruption of good intentions.

Communism.  Socialism.

Teachers of Marxism.

How the country had slid.

And Věra Křesadlová eats her cotton candy.  Stunning.

We wonder why the movie couldn’t have been about her.

But we needed the schlub/schmuck.

And the attempted suicide with laxatives.

Which is to say, there are far more than six stories in narrative history.

Bollocks Schenkerian analysis.

 

-PD

Vredens Dag [1943)

Quarante-et-un.  Quarante-deux.

Quarante trois.

Goddamn, life is sad.

This is not a film to be watched once.

And not a film for young minds (though the pearly Lisbeth Movin gausses gossamer every vignette).

Form ever follows function.  So sayeth Louis Sullivan.

Your gauss is as good as mien.

Meshes of the afternoon blur her tearstained smile.

Movin’ on up, now.

In evolution.  Function ever following form.

Invocation vs. induction.

Carl Friedrich’s magnetic flux density.

88 miles-per-hour for all us schmucks out there.

Who is crazier:

the witches or the witch hunt?

The conspirators or the conspiracy theorists?

Myths overlaid like handiwork upon reality.

So that all of life is misunderstood.

Religion.

Not a theory, but a story.

A hall-of-mirrors lens.

Same.

17th century.

By my watch.

What century you got?

The witch craze.

The accusation frenzy.

Hysteria.  Wisteria.  Listeria.

Meanwhile, there was a fucking war going on.

Day of Wrath.  Dies irae.  Rachmaninov obsessed with the downward spiral.

Televised executions.

The Houellebecq method of citation.

Tag and seek.

Luddites invading Fort Meade.

Digital grinders.  And grindermen.

That USJFCOM found an enemy at a propitious time.

Inviting Christensen down from Harvard Business School to disrupt.

From Häxan through the Swedish.

Most everything passes through Denmark here.

The last executioner.

The founder (with a Grinder man) of neuro-linguistic programming who was charged with murder.

Age differences in relationships.  [Aha!  A sesame seed!!]

Pagans.  Odin.  Wednesday.

Hair parted right down the middle like John Waters’ mustache migrated due north (prove that you’re not a robot).

Professional videogame player?!?  Where’s the market for that…

And, of course, The Gambia.  No industrial light nor magic there.

White white white.

White man say all good thing come from him.

White man invent every innovation.

White man naturally attracted to white woman.

A Victoria’s Secret Angel with leprosy.  Yowzah!

Norwegian jazz.  A bit like Utah jazz.

But, most of all, yodelers!

Which is how I got on this string.

The grave importance of string theory.

Because her needlepoint tells a story.

A mother walking hand-in-hand with a son.

But the mother is the younger one.

The two mothers.

One a goddess of archetype.

The other a bored housewife.

You actually have to go back to 1590 for this kind of boredom.

But it comes alive.  Kiss.

Thanks to Dreyer.  A true auteur.  A true Danish genius.

Anna Svierkier acts her flabby behind off.

Thorkild Roose looks like Hume Cronyn in Brewster’s Millions (1985).

Such sad perfection from Sigrid Neiiendam.

It is not the hero role for Preben Lerdorff Rye.

No Ordet, this.

He might be stuck in the bog.  Or he might have gone around the bog.

It’s like a bad porno.

But Movin is a star on the order of Adrianna Nicole.

The Blue Bunny.

Brown is the Warmest Color.

Somebody please cast Adrianna Suplick in something.

Suplick?  Movin.  [Golly.]

Which is to say that Lisbeth Movin fills up the screen like a supernova.

Collapsing.  Prolapsing.  Yikes…

Her husband cofounded the works at Hellerup.

Ketchup.

Godspeed you b!ack emperor tomato

Spells ALM.  And nobody thought code.

Fearsome beauty of genius.

 

-PD

 

 

Senso [1954)

How does love turn into hate?

Does it ever work the other way around?

Hate into love?

Because the natural course seems to be love into hate.

Vulnerability into hurt.

Hurt into resentment.

And somewhere along the continuum, God forbid, revenge.

Senso, despite its extravagant period costumes and generous budget, is still a product of neorealism.

Sure…it’s hard for most of us to relate to a Countess.

That’s why I can’t read Tolstoy.  I can’t read Fitzgerald.  Not even out of curiosity or hatred.

I can only read Dostoyevsky.  I have only ever related to the outlaw.

Of outlaw literature.

But cinema does a funny thing.

We may not be able to really “get into” Il Trovatore or Der Freischütz, but occasionally a talented auteur can make us appreciate the truly foreign:  a higher social class.

In this case, it is the highest.

The nobility.

In English we might (but probably won’t) know it as the Third Italian War of Independence.  How confusing.  That would seem to entail a July 4th (for us Americans) three times a year (assuming there wasn’t a fourth war).

In plain terms, it was Austria vs. Italy (rather like a soccer match).

Football.  Footie.  FTSE.  Yes…

All rather humdrum after the smoke has wafted away.

Idiots, they call us.

Those who fight.

Some join an army.  Very brave.

Others expose themselves needlessly.  What might be termed “impulsive” or again “thoughtlessness”.

What does this?

In both cases, pride (generally speaking).

Sure, a professional soldier makes a decent living (as long as he or she is living), but said soldier is a chess piece of one type or another…always manipulated from above…lacking autonomy.

And yet, perhaps, no price is too high to pay people who are willing to die to defend their country.

But we must define country.

Defending those who cannot (for one reason or another) defend themselves is indeed honorable.

Defending the abstract structures and mechanisms of a state, perhaps less so…

And yet, a pride can infuse the defense of all of this (either separately or collectively).

And then there is the rebel.

Perhaps the rebel will never again find his army in the first world.

In terms of class warfare, then, the United States is a frozen conflict zone.

Just like Abkhazia or some other little-talked-about blip on the map.

Is there a class war?

Should there be a class war?

Shouldn’t wars of all kinds have been evolved out of existence long ago?

Yes?

No…the rebel shan’t find his army in America.

The battlefield has changed.

And as bathos is my witness, “love is a battlefield”!

Discourse on Benatar.

Cannot contain the dodo on his perch.

But never does Luchino Visconti stoop to such poor taste.

No.

Fever pitch, yes.

But poor taste, never.

Because he is telling Spengler’s story.

And he is still telling WWII.

There can be no avoiding that.  Nine years later.

It must be couched in allegory.

And I, like Baudelaire, am nourished by my own misery.

All of this I owe to Walter Benjamin.

Avoid the jalapeno pronunciation.  ~ath do us part.

Alida Valli gets to show more of her breadth here than in the criminally underrated Paradine Case (no pun intended).

Pennies and “the” will be eliminated from the verbal money supply.

Farley Granger is more of a maniac than in Rope (the Hitchcock closest to my snob heart).

Most importantly, Visconti sets the mood with Bruckner’s 7th Symphony.

And now Carlo Maria Giulini’s recording for Deutsche Grammophon makes more sense.

Senso in what sense?

Direction?

Love leaves you with a worthless compass.

The sun begins to revolve around the Earth.

What a perilous pleasure.

That we hope for forever until our end of days.

No matter the hurt…always more.

For the romantic.

 

-PD