Starting to write is the hardest, the actual part of sitting and writing the story. The idea has been brewing in me for years now and I have mapped all the finer details, the whole film plays in my head like I was presenting it to a festival audience. But the actual words on paper are closer to 0. I look for inspiration, I read Aristotle and a whole lot of other books ranging from atomic explosions to living with narcissists.
What nobody tells you is that giving shape to abstract thought is hard, it takes commitment, humility and whole lot of willingness to pain. Sometimes I want to give up before I even start writing, I think the festival audience are booing me and that I will be a one-hit wonder. Or maybe I will not have any hits, I will be relegated to the role of a flop writer, someone who has to fill his last days judging reality TV shows with obnoxious laughter tracks. Writing to fill pages to fill pockets.
I believe that no vantage to reality is wrong, each one presents in itself an aspect of truth that's incorrigible to violate. So the movie in my head has a right to exist, the characters fighting to populate this world. My responsibility is to be their conduit and help lubricate their delivery into being. I am a silent matron to my ideas, in their birth is my continuity.
To try describe the work of Adam Curtis is to look at cryptographic code. Behind the garble of alphabets and numbers lie secrets and plain truth waiting to be cracked, waiting to be devoured. As with any code it takes patience and skill to understand what lies behind. His narratives jump timelines and geographic locations, his thesis is a constant stab in rules of Aristotelian dramatics. At times a little more context is needed to decode the events Curtis jumps through, some of them are too outlandish for the generations that come after them.
Without the BBC's emblem radiating on the top of left, it is hard to believe that it is not the work of a master conspiracy theorist, his ideas when at their mildest taunt our own ignorance. But Adam Curtis is a gentle historian, he knows that we don't know and he makes a compelling case for us to revisit our ignorance and find a voice for all the horrors we experience but cannot explain. He guides us with our hands softly enmeshed in his, while his calm voice guides us through our own journey of life. He gives meaning in a system where we have long forgotten that one exists (that is except money) and Can't get you out of my head is a spiritual canon that reminds us where we are and how we got there.
Adam Curtis occupies the diametrically opposite side of the film universe Frederick Wiseman operates in. But like Wiseman, his films are a meticulous collection of arcane film clips stitched together in tedium that both tell a story and don't at the same time. Curtis' use of music is another major tour de force, joining forces with David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky in creating the perfect marriage between image and music. One can be sure that a mixtape with the music from any recent Adam Curtis film will be stuck on loop. This electric pairing also serves in increasing the shelf life of his documentary material. One can watch an episode of Can't get you out of my head twice in a loop with getting bored and then repurpose it as a podcast substitute.
Can't get you out of my head is one of the best films I have come across in the recent past, one that induced a long hangover meaning that it would be impossible to enjoy other films without Curtis' vision projecting on the back of my head. I cannot recommend enough for everyone to get drunk on his wisdom.
The German New Year's Eve ritual involves good food, lot of alcohol and a mandatory viewing of the TV obscuritas Dinner for One. A two person drama about over the celebratory dinner on the 90th birthday of Miss Sophie and her butler James who also stands-in for her non-existent guests. Over the course of the night James gets smashed while Miss Sophie maintains the pretense of her guests and tradition.
What made it a ritualistic viewing is anyone's guess but in the distanced, sanitized New Year's Eve 2021, here's a toast for all the imaginary friends and anticipated realities we have missed this year.
The image of Bill Murray eternalized by Lost in Translation is on weak ground in director Sofia Coppola's uninspired New York version of her first movie. The dramatic structure remains the same – a lonely woman in a marriage, a charming older father figure and a husband that seems to have an affair. While Lost in Translation offered an image of loneliness immersed in the distance of Tokyo, On the Rocks happens in the characters privileged fugue of New York.
The plot of On the Rocks is illusionary. There is no tension of wanting to know what happens next. From the first moment you know that Laura, played by a trudging Rashida Jones, does not really care if her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair. She cannot focus on her book which we know nothing about and she feels unsexy thanks to the strain of motherhood. Dean comes and goes, and the tiny amount of lingering suspicion is poofed out with Laura's father, Felix's (Bill Murray) entry.
On the Rocks treats Bill Murray with reverence, at certain moments with too much reverence. His cauliflowered face gets a lot of dull dialogue that almost seems like it's pieced through the trivia section of a newspaper. At one point Bill Murray is singing a song on a Mexican beach which is when I started to wonder, what's the point of the whole thing? On the Rocks is the film equivalent of lounge music, it looks good, doesn't require too much attention and nothing happens in the end while still retaining essential qualities of a film. It's the kind of movie that you can half-watch while you're scrolling through an endless feed or even take a nap and see that you missed nothing.
The only merit of this movie that it has a singing and talking Bill Murray, everything else is glass and ice to his Suntory time.
The past decade of Hindi film has seen the resurgence of stories set in small towns of India capturing demographics that seemed distant from the Bollywood grandeur expected in the 90s. Stories started having ordinary characters with a strong dose of realism that otherwise dreamy film industry has long forgotten. Masaan, Mukti Bhavan, Titli and even to an extent Gangs of Wasseypur stand as shining examples for this new epoch that bring Hindi cinema inline with global consumptory preferences while still being deeply rooted in local cultural milieu.
This could be that the economic demographics of a filmgoer have changed drastically in past 30 years, as the average Indian in a city gets more prosperous, stories of smaller towns have more appeal. With the proliferation of internet and Over The Top (OTT) platforms the film going demographic that earlier was categorized in to A, B and C centers  has been now atomized. Film has become democratic in its reach and a consumer in South Delhi has the same content choices as someone in Tirunelveli. This makes the larger than life Bollywood masala films archaic especially when they are competing for eyeballs alongside Narcos and Stranger Things.
The Telugu film industry has been largely absent from this movement. Considering that only a few film families control the production, distribution and exhibition of films, stories became stagnant as the producers turned risk averse. The actors who come from the same families have macho/saint images carefully curated from years of making the mass masala movies. The script of a Telugu film hasn't changed since the mid-90s and it reflects in the reviews of popular film websites, the rating for most movies hovers around 2.5 to 3.5 on a 5 point scale. This stagnation has been changing in the past five years where college educated engineers started making stories that shared their ethos combined with the deep pockets of tech capital. 
With the OTT platforms making firm inroads into the production and distribution market there is an appetite for bringing newer cultural elements before the cinematic lens. Middle Class Melodies adds to the growing roster of indie Telugu films that hint at a changing industry practises and a shift from focus from the metropol to the smaller cities and towns of the Andhra/Telangana region.
Middle Class Melodies does not have much of a plot so to speak, the story meanders around a lot of characters before it reaches its conclusion but it's not an anthology either. At different points it is different things, once it is about Bombay chutney and at another a romance between side characters that goes nowhere. Not that this meandering is unwatchable, the freshness of the movie comes from this zigzagging through different characters. It feels like the director Vinod Ananthoju approached Amazon Prime for a webseries and got the budget for a full length film instead. His characters populate the tribulations faced by the Indian middle class (poor/lower middle class from the Western standpoint) which he uses to evoke a nostalgic emotion. The lost Teluguland of Guntur is both real and dreamy at the same time.
The only grouse I have with the film comes in the form of the lead actor, Anand Devarakonda whose only merit of being an actor is being the brother of Vijay Devarakonda whose back-to-back hits of Pellichupulu and Arjun Reddy propelled him to stardom. Anand Devarakonda has neither the nuance nor the charisma of Vijay and is in the film solely for being a cheaper semblance of his brother. Perhaps this level of nepotism is required to attract people to the screens in a culture that's still into hero worship and it is saddening to see that even OTT platforms have to resort to this desperation. In a way, Anand's non-charisma aids his character's loserdom. Most people without the means remain as pale imitations of their aspirations and Middle Class Melodies gets that right.
 – A,B and C centers represent the class of people watching the movie. “A” center refers to the educated or class audience in big cities, “B” center is the audience from smaller towns or from stand alone theaters and “C” center audience are the mass audience or in popular parlance the kind “that leave their brains behind at home”. This segregation is arbitrary and overlaps the caste divide often.
 – Aided with the rise of Youtube and Facebook. Social media opened the world wide open and for the first time showed that people can aspire for the world while still staying in India. Early Silicon Valley kitsch of “believing in oneself”/“passion” became buzzwords that still dominate the current young Telugu filmmaking generation.
Anurag Basu's latest Netflix release Ludo is a case of Bollywood romanticism done right. It is a reflection of what it means to be Indian, from the narrative of the ideal husband drilled into women to the spiritual lens through which the country comforts itself. A game of ludo that the characters populate, color coded and navigating through the game with pure chance.
If you have seen Anurag Basu's Barfi! you know what you're in for. Basu's uses his directorial powers with a lot of responsibility, there is never a moment where your brain is not figuring out the permutations that the scene has to offer. The kitsch involved involving the child actress is forgiven by the meta-narrative which further liberates the movie from any narrative misgivings. Discussing the meta-narrative would mean divulging spoilers but it relies on classical Indian philosophical inquiry to push the story forward.
Take the case of Ugly, another film that runs on the plot line of interwoven stories revolving around a missing child, the police and opportunistic people that try to profit from the proceedings. The film by Anurag Kashyap has irredeemable characters populating a story with no hope. The discretion of the meta-narrative is dependent on the viewer. The judgement of the characters is upon the viewer's discretion. Ludo's meta-narrative solves this problem making the story palatable and approachable for subsequent viewings.
Throughout Ludo I was wondering how much of a delight it would've been to watch it in the kinos, it's the kind of of film that warrants buying popcorn and dream about movies in themselves. It is sad that the colloquial paisa vasool (“bang for the buck”) has to happen over a Netflix subscription over the box office. Talking about meta-narratives and then Covid.. the picture goes on.
I was under the impression that Blue Valentine was a musical after confusing it with La La Land. For the first 20 minutes I was waiting for Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) to break into song and dance. But Dean and Cindy are in no mood to dance. Their marriage is melting, Cindy is passive and Dean does not understand why. How did this couple even get together?
The interludes from six years prior paints a different picture – Cindy goes through an unplanned pregnancy with an abusive boyfriend and Dean is smitten by Cindy in their first meeting. Cindy ignores Dean initially, but a chance meeting on a bus brings them on their course to destiny.
Blue Valentine works on contrasts. It is the earlier iteration of the Marriage Story , where the juxtaposition of the past over the present gives us the colour book and the colours. Blue Valentine gives the viewer a voyeuristic insight into noticing the “red flags” in the romance that preclude the downfall. For a film that tries to explore the depth of a relationship as time passes by, the breakdown of the marriage works if there is a believable element of love that preceded the union.
The tap dance scene outside the bridal store serves this purpose. Dean and Cindy cannot see the end yet, they have to still fall in love but for the audience the dramatic hinge rests upon this act of falling in love. The scene is combustible, it has these two raw, imperfect strangers who need each other. Dean because he is smitten and Cindy because she's pregnant with someone she doesn't trust. It lets them be without the pressing problems that wait in their adult lives. The tap dance scene can also be termed childlike in the context of their relationship because what follows after is the stuff of Agony Aunt columns. The child in a relationship grows up, the problems that force Cindy to fall in love are far removed.
This effervescent two minute scene gives meaning to the tragedy that follows. We are propelled to fill in the blanks and involve our judgement to the failing marriage. The film offers no overt narrative support but it pulls us into it through the imperfections the characters create, giving us a chance to self-reflect about our own personal tragedies. I was a bit sullen that it wasn't a musical but it is whatever it takes to make you feel.
I recently watched a two hour movie over a period of a week, decimating it to the point of watching single frames at any given moment. It didn't help that the movie was not interesting, but still I took it upon myself as a challenge. Such a viewing misery would have been unfathomable a few years ago, when I trained myself to watch four movies a day without losing steam. I find this similar to my book reading habit that fell off the cliff with the advent of the internet and I do not find these behaviours to be an anomaly but a sign of things to come.
We have forgotten how to watch movies. We have forgotten the very act of seeing. It has been normalized now that we always have a screen where we can see something, all the time. This continual engagement demands that we are not bored at any given instant. Along with this came the idea of constant choice where we can customise what we want to watch and when. Scroll through a video to get where we want – the action bits, the money shots and the tugs of aggression and emotion. Social media became more interactive, delivering dramatic sequences that have been keeping us engaged for more than a decade now.
Watching a movie now is a matter of singular occupation for two hours. We are not watching one movie, our choice always has another on backup. The economic cost of streaming the next movie on Netflix, YouTube or your favourite pirate viewing site is next to nothing – unlike watching a movie in a kino, where there's a high entry cost and we are left with only one perspective of choice made by faceless humans. This leaves us with the question, is a trip to the kino worth the 8 euros I am paying for a movie?
With endless choice also comes the problem of endless selection. Gone are the days of a singular recommendation or a collective euphoria over a show. Content has become disposable and goes stale faster than your average news cycle. Netflix's early proposition of endless choice came with its own pitfall – the moment it stops offering its consumers the choice, they will leave the platform. This spin of choice has to be constant or even overwhelming to lull a customer into a state of constant monthly spending. This is in contrast with earlier iterations of film viewing where one had to go to the kino or buy physical copies of films or even pirate them online, which gave access to content one piece at a time. This attached more value for a movie, which results in a more concentrated approached to the act of viewing.
”(1925?) The TALKIE opens its doors to theatre which occupies the place and surrounds it with barbed wire.” – Robert Bresson
I am not complaining that cinema is in some kind of post-capitalistic fugue, it has always been the balm of the industrial masses and it is here to stay. This does not mean that the current form it assumes is immune to criticism, it serves the same function as stress shopping or yoga does after a long day's work. It makes one forget about the immediate reality and gives the right amount of dopamine ping to work for another day and then another. In this respect cinema loses its status as an art-form and becomes a crutch to escape from everyday reality. This crutch is formless and shapeless, except that it has to have a moving image that ticks the right boxes. An extreme form of this manifestation can be seen the status end-titles are given on Netflix: they are an afterthought in the production mill of content. The hundreds of faceless people are stripped off responsibility for the convenience of speed. The byproduct is that most movies on streaming platforms come and go without having any effect on us whatsoever. The yesteryear cinematic spectacle is now transformed into an endless looped GIF to be shared on a social media site of your preference.
This is not saying that cinema is in danger. It is – the pandemic disrupted our very act of collective gathering before an image on the screen. Content is now hyper-individualized, once we get a taste of this it is hard to go back. But I see hopeful signs as kinos around the world open up and new releases slowly make inroads into our colloquial language. The days of the art-house cinephile might be coming to an end as the theatres can only host big-budgeted Hollywood crowd pullers to sustain their revenues. Though I hope a self correcting mechanism will rise organically which helps bring the art of watching back into vogue. Distanced from capital, cinema is one of the truly collective meditative experiences that creates a sense of community without demanding anything in return. Or maybe dream will never manifest and Tik-Tok becomes the fractured reality model we want to consume. Cinema becomes the bastion of a few, sinking in a sea of choice.
Pay for the flat two months in advance, cash. File all notebooks and books, seal and pack them. Put them in the street corner where the free clothes and old books overflow from an ageing hippie's window. Be unseen, make no friends. Have a tape for company, singing John Yager's “Benson, Arizona”.
Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair
My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there
Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky
But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I
Remember the idea you once heard on the U-bahn? The idea that the easiest way to die is to drink two bottles of high grain Finnish vodka and sleep naked on a cold street? The alcohol will easen the hypothermia and one dies in the hotness of the cold. Have no papers what so ever, they are shattered and scattered all across small rest stops in Sweden and Norway. Cancel all accounts, stuff all your pockets with small change and feel rich. So much paper, maybe give some homeless guy a 100€ and a bottle of champagne. Talk to him (or her), ask how he moves. Friends receive post-dated letters, cryptic enough to validate a disappearance but not distant to accommodate the fear of death. Burn all certificates, flush them down the toilet. They are a chain – a tether to concepts sold to you, and us. Ridding of all official documentation is the destruction of the social self, home is nothing but an illusion. There never was a home outside of us, just a constant search for one. The tape recorder creaks the same song on loop.
Buy tickets with your spare cash. Be kind to the clerk, be kind to anyone you meet. Give them a genuine human interaction, that is to say don't be an ant. No fake hellos and goodbyes. Drink with merry in bars with bad music and worse patrons, let the beer overflow in preparation for the vodka singes. Bathe in cold water, soak but don't dry. Every experience is in preparation for the final one – know that you are time and time projects the whole universe in you, 13.6 billion years if the current view is to believed. A name is the first employ of funneling personality. Name yourself anything else, Fish is a good suggestion. Dry on the Nordic shores, salted through frozen waves. There's the mermaid Ice Queen sitting somewhere in a costume. Go out to find her, in places where the language is the final diffusion of silence into emotion. A long dinner table covered in red tablecloth, plastic flowers wilting. Cook your chicken in the embers of your accumulated love. One final dusk, reds, dark violets and pluming clouds. Fall in love at every opportune moment. The cadaver if eaten by a wolf will bear the little symbolism of your existence. If there is luck the body will not be incinerated in some drab Norwegian morgue. Make paperwork easy, talk to the Syrian refugees. Dip yours fingers in sulfuric acid just when the drowsiness from the vodka is electrifying your nerves. You will pass out in the cold, dark night of the winter.
Why are you on this journey? Physical desires can be within reach but what about when searching for something that is not there? Where to reach out to if there is only stale air from previous attempts? Questions ask questions in infinity. There is peace in the silence of the mind. A nameless alcoholic that has be duly disposed off. This is the end of an animate story. Do not be afraid, shut your door behind you with no afterthought. Remember, there is no light in the polar shadows.
The tape recorder creaks with the stuck cassette:
Now the seasons flick on by
like seconds on this ship.
An' I take another pull
from the flask that's at my hip.
The mighta-beens and the never-weres
can drive a man insane.
So-I think I'll stay out in the Void
'cause Benson's not the same.
Music is essential from scene setting, it enhances and adds a solid landscape for mundane things like a person walking to the profound matters of the heart. Great music when merged with a good visual story can alter the non-film reality because music is more subconscious than the way we perceive narrated information.
Living through the day is a narrative experience, one that involves conversations, transience and the Hero journey. We walk into stories and continue existing ones. It is in this perspective that music comes in, it creates a richer alternation to the one that already is. It changes the view without changing the context, so that the execution of the story is not botched.
It is in this indelible context that music can change how we look at life itself. Having periods of time attributable to a certain shape and form of music. It needn't come from speakers alone, the birds, the sound of tires, rustling wind and jackhammers all lend the same aesthetic quality as well tuned studio production.
Music, when viewed through film also juxtaposes multiple asymmetric visions into one – it's almost invariable to not imagine the opening scene of Apocalypse Now when I see a ceiling fan while while lazing on a hot Indian summer afternoon, the images of cinematic violence flash along with Francis Ford Coppola's visions of Vietnam – a feat unified by the dreamy mix of The End by the Doors. I also associated this montage with my dreams of Varanasi, where I sat by the Ganges and saw the sunrise after wandering in the nights with the outcasts and the holy drunks. It was the same intro piece of music that I first heard in a friend's apartment in Bangalore, while going through a rather hard breakup. The song now has travelled with me for years, along the way accumulating film and real history. In my mind's eye it has its own progression – a movie of its own. When I watched Apocalypse Now in a Parisian kino last year, the opening had the same profound effect as the first time I watched on my computer a decade ago.
In this sense, music helps build a dense world of references where the images inspire further moments but are still connected by the same, unchanged beat. The experience of seeing the opening of Apocalypse Now has my own progression as a person etched onto it, effecting the rest of the film and what happens when I come out from the kino. A world where city scapes are painted by Vangelis' score from the Bladerunner and the Metro tunnels are haunted by Thomas Bangalter's Irreversible urban techno trauma.
Music in film helps forming a complex image through an additional layer of stimulus that also works the other way – images have their own musical composition hidden in the folds of their action. This meshing between both the senses bridges the border less world between film and reality, making the world an extension of one's mind's eye. As long as there is music and there is a will to dream, we are all making movies beat by beat and frame by frame.