Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ingmar Bergman (1918 - 2007)

‘Our friend Berman is dead!’, my cinephile colleague announced from the other end and my reaction was, ‘Oh…he must've been 90, no?. '89’, my friend corrected me.

Natural death of any great artiste doesn’t arouse sadness in me because of two reasons. Firstly, because the person’s time had come and secondly, the artiste will always be alive through his works. So, without getting sad, I said to myself, ‘This calls for a post’. But then I remembered that I’ve already written something on the moviemaker, which you can find over here. So, what else do I put up as a tribute to the great man who turned (and will continue to turn) so many moments of my life into pleasurable ones and in such intelligent ways.

Then, I bumped into this excerpt from an interview, where Mr Bergman gives his opinion on other film directors. He replies with his usual brutal honesty and I had material for my post.

On Orson Welles:
Bergman: For me he's just a hoax. It's empty. It's not interesting. It's dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of - is all the critics' darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it's a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie's got is absolutely unbelievable.

On Michelangelo Antonioni:
Bergman: He's done two masterpieces, you don't have to bother with the rest. One is Blow-Up, which I've seen many times, and the other is La Notte, also a wonderful film, although that's mostly because of the young Jeanne Moreau. In my collection I have a copy of Il Grido, and damn what a boring movie it is. So devilishly sad, I mean. You know, Antonioni never really learned the trade. He concentrated on single images, never realising that film is a rhythmic flow of images, a movement. Sure, there are brilliant moments in his films. But I don't feel anything for L'Avventura, for example. Only indifference. I never understood why Antonioni was so incredibly applauded. And I thought his muse Monica Vitti was a terrible actress.

On Federico Fellini:
Bergman: We were supposed to collaborate once, and along with Kurosawa make one love story each for a movie produced by Dino de Laurentiis. I flew down to Rome with my script and spent a lot of time with Fellini while we waited for Kurosawa, who finally couldn't leave Japan because of his health, so the project went belly-up. Fellini was about to finish Satyricon. I spent a lot of time in the studio and saw him work. I loved him both as a director and as a person, and I still watch his movies, like La Strada and that childhood rememberance - what's that called again?
The interviewer admits that he has also seen the movie several times, but just now the title slips his mind. Bergman laughs delightedly.
Bergman: Great that you're also a bit senile! That pleases me.
Later the same day, several hours after the interview, the phone rings:It's Bergman. 'AMARCORD!', he shouts.

On Francois Truffaut:
Bergman: I liked Truffaut a lot, I've felt a lot of admiration for his way to address the audience, and his storytelling. La nuit américaine is adorable, and another film I like to see is L'enfant sauvage, with its fine humanism.

On Jean-Luc Godard:
Bergman: I've never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He's made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin, féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mindnumbingly boring.

On Andrei Tarkovsky:
Late one evening in 1971, Bergman and his friend and director Kjell Grede by pure coincidence stumbled upon a copy of Andrej Rubljov in a screening room at Svensk Filmindustri. They saw it without any subtitles. He ranks it to be one of his most startling and unforgettable movie experiences ever.

On modern American cinema:
Bergman: Among today's directors I'm of course impressed by Steven Spielberg and Scorsese, and Coppola, even if he seems to have ceased making films, and Steven Soderbergh - they all have something to say, they're passionate, they have an idealistic attitude to the filmmaking process. Soderbergh's Traffic is amazing. Another couple of fine examples of the strength of American cinema are American Beauty and Magnolia.

‘Seventh Seal’, one of his masterpieces depicts Man’s battle with Death over a game of chess…a battle which Death always wins. But not in the case of an artiste like Mr Bergman...his work lives on.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Creeque Alley - The Other Song

We know them for ‘California Dreaming’ but I am going to talk about another great song by them called ‘Creeque Alley’. I am talking about one of the essential American band of the 60’s, sweetly called ‘The Mamas & the Papas’.

This song is an amusing description of how the Band was formed, with facts, names and incidents thrown in and set to a beautiful melody and cadence. Add to it the great vocals of Cass Elliot (also known as Mama Cass because of her size and association to the Band) and Dennis Doherty (Denny) with a lovely accompanying flute and you are happily in the Creeque Alley. The other members of the band were songwriter and guitarist John Phillips and Michelle Phillips (they later got married). The song was written in the year 1967, when the band was living the ‘great hippie dream’ on Virgin Islands, living off their American Express card (which gets a mention in the song) in a club located on the road named, ‘Creeque Alley’ which gives the song its name.

In my knowledge, no other band has chronicled their history and the life that they led in such a wonderful fashion. You will find a very good and complete analysis of all the lines of the track over here. The band was active between 1965 – 1968, making 5 albums and giving many hit singles. The name of the band happened from Cass’s response to a television talk show. You can use wikipedia to know the details of the story, if you are interested.

Enjoy your weekend! I am going to try and do the same in the difficult atmosphere of our country's capital.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Manhattan, Broadway and Vienna

A week ago, I added 14 new titles to my DVD collection and 3 have already been watched and loved.

Manhattan (1979, Woody Allen) :
The second edition of what is known as the 'New York Trilogy' by Woody Allen continues to explore the craziness of modern day relationships, with Manhattan skyline and Gershwin's beautiful score working as the background. The small transition that has happened from 'Annie Hall' to this one is just that the number of relationships studied has increased. Mr Allen's inimitable style remains the same and so does the humor. With precious lines like 'Gossip is the new Pornography' this classic can be taken as an academic study of the times. Also, it paved way for many modern day, popular TV sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends. The black and white photograph here, has become one of the iconic shots in the history of movies.
Did you know that our very own Zubin Mehta conducted the Gershwin scores for the movie? I didn't. Now, with first 2 editions in my collection, will be looking out for 'Stardust Memories'.

Singin' in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly):
Somehow, I missed out on this classic and when I watched it yesterday, I realised the truth behind its iconic status. Its one of the best movie from Hollywood on Hollywood, full of great songs, dance and some satire on the shallowness of showbiz.
It has a beautiful love song called 'You were meant for me' sung by Gene Kelly and later sung much more beautifully by Sting.

Amadeus (1984, Milos Forman):
I am still basking under the pleasure and impact of the movie which I finally managed to watch. My friends who have been asking me to go through the 'Amadeus' experience for a long time would be very happy. When I get out of this pleasure trip, I shall write something about it...Right now, I don't want to spoil the trip.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Forever Changes

Thats the name of a wonderful album of the 60s by a lesser known band, simply called 'Love'. I use the title to announce this change in the look of this blog. It has resulted from the feedback, I have been receiving from my readers. The last one appeared in my previous post by a 'Smiling Dolphin' and I decided that I cant go on troubling peoples eyes, specially those of a Smiling Dolphin.

Try listening to the album. If you find difficulties finding it, you can always come to me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Holiday State of Mind and Machiavelli

In the last post I mentioned about how I am not in the ‘fiction state of mind’ these days. It follows from there that I haven’t read any work of fiction in a long time and I blame it on the lack of what I call as a ‘Holiday State of Mind’. (The Last novel for me was a very mediocre and hence, totally forgettable ‘Memoirs of My Melancholy Whore’ by the great Mr. Marquez. I wonder what happened to his greatness in this last work…perhaps it’s the age). Let me spend a small paragraph on this state of mind.

Till 2 years back I was living in this ‘Holiday State of Mind’, and this state was on from as long as I can remember things. Living life in a conversation with a friend, or in the piano solo of ‘In my Life’, or in the loneliness of Zimmy’s poetry, or in the existentialist pages of ‘The Fall’, or just in the plain delirium of the moment….it was a series of living right here, right now…never a tomorrow! In the process, I absorbed some good and evil. Some of the goodness gets reflected in this space (I hope) and we shall keep the 'Evil' for some other occasion. Under the present circumstances, things have changed a bit. Now, I need a real long holiday to read a work of fiction and its been a while, since I had one.

So, continuing this streak of reading ‘non-fictions’, I picked up the famous ‘The Prince’ by Niccolo Machiavelli to revisit. In my last visit, the book and its ideas were too revolting for my socialistic mindset (you can also call it ‘youth’) and hence I rejected it. In my latest visit, I just can’t stop appreciating its cold and clinical approach towards 'seizing and holding power', which is the single point agenda of this work. Its not that my mindset has changed drastically, but age arms you with the wisdom to appreciate and see the greatness of a differing philosophy.

When, in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post of a Diplomatic Negotiator in Florence, Italy; he resolved to set down a treatise on leadership that was practical, not idealist. His ‘Prince’ would be unencumbered by ordinary ethical and moral values; his ‘Prince’ would be man and beast, fox and lion. Let me present an excerpt from this work to elucidate the cold (and intelligent) amorality of it.

“Therefore, it is to be noted that in seizing a state one ought to consider all the injuries he will be obliged to inflict and then proceed to inflict them all at once so as to avoid a frequent repetition of such acts. Anyone who acts otherwise, either through timidity or bad judgment, will always have to keep a dagger ready in his hand, nor will he ever be able to trust his subjects since, because of continually renewed injuries, they will never be able to feel safe with him. Injuries must be committed all at once so that being savored less, they will arouse less resentment. Benefits, on the other hand, should be bestowed little by little so as to be more fully savored.”

Taken from Chapter 8, ‘Concerning Those Who Become Princes By Evil Means’

This piece takes me to the last sequence of the movie 'Godfather', wherein Michael consolidates his position as the new Godfather by an orchestrated and programmed annihilation all his enemy forces…all at one go!

On another note, why isn’t this text taught in the Business Schools to teach the techniques of leadership. Maybe it is a part of some Business course curriculum and I don’t know of it or perhaps it gets rejected because of the inherent amoral principles of it. Do let me know if you know of this ‘treatise’ being in the syllabus of Business administration…just for my curiosity!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Jazz Writer

I havent read anything by the Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, though some friends keep recommending his works to me. Since I am not into a 'fiction-reading' mindset these days, I haven't even bothered to pick up anything by him. But after reading a beautifully written essay by him, I am surely going to buy one his works for the times when I am in that 'fiction-reading' mindset. In this essay, he writes about how he has learnt everything about writing from music. Despite its length (my apologies to Mouse!), I am putting it on this space...enjoy!


I never had any intention of becoming a novelist — at least not until I turned 29. This is absolutely true.
I read a lot from the time I was a little kid, and I got so deeply into the worlds of the novels I was reading that it would be a lie if I said I never felt like writing anything. But I never believed I had the talent to write fiction. In my teens I loved writers like Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Balzac, but I never imagined I could write anything that would measure up to the works they left us. And so, at an early age, I simply gave up any hope of writing fiction. I would continue to read books as a hobby, I decided, and look elsewhere for a way to make a living.
The professional area I settled on was music. I worked hard, saved my money, borrowed a lot from friends and relatives, and shortly after leaving the university I opened a little jazz club in Tokyo. We served coffee in the daytime and drinks at night. We also served a few simple dishes. We had records playing constantly, and young musicians performing live jazz on weekends. I kept this up for seven years. Why? For one simple reason: It enabled me to listen to jazz from morning to night.
I had my first encounter with jazz in 1964 when I was 15. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers performed in Kobe in January that year, and I got a ticket for a birthday present. This was the first time I really listened to jazz, and it bowled me over. I was thunderstruck. The band was just great: Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Art Blakey in the lead with his solid, imaginative drumming. I think it was one of the strongest units in jazz history. I had never heard such amazing music, and I was hooked.
A year ago in Boston I had dinner with the Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez, and when I told him this story, he pulled out his cellphone and asked me, “Would you like to talk to Wayne, Haruki?” “Of course,” I said, practically at a loss for words. He called Wayne Shorter in Florida and handed me the phone. Basically what I said to him was that I had never heard such amazing music before or since. Life is so strange, you never know what’s going to happen. Here I was, 42 years later, writing novels, living in Boston and talking to Wayne Shorter on a cellphone. I never could have imagined it.
When I turned 29, all of a sudden out of nowhere I got this feeling that I wanted to write a novel — that I could do it. I couldn’t write anything that measured up to Dostoyevsky or Balzac, of course, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to become a literary giant. Still, I had no idea how to go about writing a novel or what to write about. I had absolutely no experience, after all, and no ready-made style at my disposal. I didn’t know anyone who could teach me how to do it, or even friends I could talk with about literature. My only thought at that point was how wonderful it would be if I could write like playing an instrument.
I had practiced the piano as a kid, and I could read enough music to pick out a simple melody, but I didn’t have the kind of technique it takes to become a professional musician. Inside my head, though, I did often feel as though something like my own music was swirling around in a rich, strong surge. I wondered if it might be possible for me to transfer that music into writing. That was how my style got started.
Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.
Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist. Even now, almost 30 years later, I continue to learn a great deal about writing from good music. My style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker’s repeated freewheeling riffs, say, as by
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegantly flowing prose. And I still take the quality of continual self-renewal in Miles Davis’s music as a literary model.
One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”
I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

I am sure you would have appreciated the essay, the way i did. Mr Murakami has connected 2 of the best creations of the civilized world so beautifully.

Terrible travel schedules coming up for me, hence I will be sporadically present on this space for some time. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Beacause I've known you all my life

This post appears here because of two reasons. Firstly, it was a request from a reader and secondly, its good writing, deserving to be in this space. Written by David Abbott this is the copy of a Chivas Regal ad. Despite its sentimental overtones or the Britishness, it stands out as a great piece of advertising making the particular scotch highly desirable. Considering the times it came out, which must’ve been the early 70s, one can see how it has inspired later works in advertising.

Because I’ve known you all my life.
Because a red Rudge bicycle
(the Britishness)
once made me the happiest boy on the street.
Because you let me play cricket on the lawn.
Because you used to dance in the kitchen with a tea-towel round your waist.
Because your cheque book was always busy on my behalf.
Because our house was always full of books and laughter.
Because of countless Saturday mornings you gave up to watch a small boy play rugby.
Because you never expected too much of me or let me get away with too little.
Because of all the nights you sat working at your desk while I lay sleeping in my bed.
Because you never embarrassed me by talking about the birds and the bees.
Because I know there’s a faded newspaper clipping in your wallet abouyt my scholarship.
Because you always made me polish the heels of my shoes as brightly as the toes.
Because you’ve remembered my birthday 38 times out of 38.
Because you still hug me when we meet.
Because you still buy my mother flowers.
Because you are more than your fair share of grey hairs and I know who helped put them there.
Because you are a marvelous grandfather.
Because you made my wife feel one of the family.
Because you wanted to go to McDonalds the last time I bought you lunch.
Because you’ve always been there when I’ve needed you.
Because you let me make my own mistakes and never once said “I told you so.”
Because you still pretend you only need glasses for reading.
Because I don’t say thank you as often as I should.
Because it’s Father’s Day.
Because if you don’t deserve Chivas Regal, who does?

Mr Abbott himself had to say the following about the ad:
“This ad is about Chivas Regal but it’s also about me and my father. (I really did have a red Rudge bicycle). It’s a risky ad and, for some people, its sentimental but I know others who say that it vividly echoes there own experience. Incidentally, if you try to write a headline for this ad, you’ll discover why it doesn’t have one.”
I still remember reading the ad for the first time as a student of advertising (who was also a lover of whiskey) and thinking that this will be my brand of Scotch when I can earn enough to afford it. And then someday, perhaps gift it to my father, who is also a whiskey lover.