Archive for June, 2012


The Nightmare as Epic Soundstage Musical Setpiece: Yolanda and the Thief (1945) vs. Awaara (1951)

June 5, 2012

The camera pans around the room before Astaire closes his eyes; we see he’s gotten out of bed and is to go out. A familiar scene follows: he’s walking through the market again and is approached by the same smoker in the same position and is affronted by the same group of child beggars. However, the smoker has several more arms and cigarettes for Astaire to light, and the act of dropping the coins becomes a recurring motif as coins drop from above and scatter around him. Here the insidiously revealed dreamworld becomes surreal soundstage rhapsody. By contast, Kapoor’s dream is signalled clearly in the conventional language, a slow crossfade into clouds with wobbly music cue. He’s allowed passive visions of his dream domain before his avatar itself enters abruptly, in a Hell.

Both visions contain random female dancers. Astaire interacts with them, Kapoor does not. The latter’s dancers are embroidery—purveyors of form and movement, angels of Nargis’ Paradise.

Leaking funds isn’t Astaire’s only fear: the women constrict his freedom by way of the sheets washed in the river a moment ago—a symbol of homely banality. Kapoor, however, is bound by skeletal arms and tormented instead by demons and raging fire—a thief’s moral Hell he now desperately wishes to escape.

Up above in the clouds Kapoor chases after his love, is enraptured by her. Astaire is likewise drawn to his lady as she emerges mythically out of water. And yet, she is covered by yet more sheets; he sees not her beauty or even a person at first. He is made to court his wealthy Yolanda, dancing with her impassively as he thirsts instead for the contents of her jewellery box teased about him.

Kapoor’s bandit master wields an enormous knife, threatening murder as he had done in reality, but the fear is literally magnified. Intriguingly, the young thief is with Nargis; it’s their relationship, not so much his life, that he’s most concerned is in peril if he fails to rob her as he had claimed was his motive. Astaire’s threat is less grave, a selfish requirement for gambling funds. Additionally, he’s stopped short of finally attaining Yolanda’s riches by the suggestive grasps of four gaudily dressed women who promise a bachelor’s hedonistic pleasures. He is distraught when the women and the racetrack denizens exit the stage without him.

He has no choice but to marry the girl to gain control over her inheritance. Rather than a colossal knife, the shadows of wedding bells dwarf him. Nargis and Kapoor walk as one with no trace of irony or anxiety along a fluffy, swervy, blissful path into the future.

This hopeful vision is of course interrupted by the towering Jagga. Kapoor’s nightmare climaxes on the central dread of his Nargis fading from his life. Astaire attempts to make off with his newly-attained gold, but unhesitatingly jettisons it when his veil-chain to Yolanda proves a horrifying prospect. The set closes in on him as he draws nearer to his wife, tangled in and smothered by their marriage.

Each of the men launch back to reality in a cold sweat, terror-stricken. And so ends two similar approaches to two elementally oppositional cinematic nightmares. Lastly, because it’s amusing:


My May ’12 in Film

June 1, 2012

The trends this month are fairly clear; usually I jump all over the map cinematically, but lately my habits have been more termitey. If these viewings tell me anything, it’s that I’ve become more enamoured with comedy and B-movies. I began a conversation about forgotten French New Wave director Luc Moullet with a new cinephile mate, exploring his films chronologically. Said mate also provided a favourite films list that I started to pick off, accounting for 6 movies viewed, including the best. One great Hitchcock led to another; a film essay on Rock Hudson led to a Hawks starring him; Basic‘s red lighting, din of rain, and wild narrative woke me up to McTiernan, causing me to watch the classy Thomas Crown, the solid if tugid Red October, and to revisit the third Die Hard; I introduced myself to Russian silent filmmaker Yevgeni Bauer with three of his pictures; and most significantly I became further obsessed with the underrated Paul W.S. Anderson, completing his oeuvre and revisiting five others in an attempt to write a piece on his work (it remains incomplete and my commitment is waning; writing is the worst). Additionally, I saw two Israeli films—Policeman and Late Marriage, for now the finest works from the nation in my eyes. In June I can see continuing with Moullet, but also Téchiné, Bogdanovich, Hung, Borzage, and Hitchcock. There was nothing I detested enough to put under the Worst category in May, as it’s usually for first-time viewings; but going back to childhood favourite Mortal Kombat proved fatal (ha haa), and having read the excellent 1984 only made Radford’s film adaptation more impotent. Again, I’ve collected some informal thoughts I had made throughout the month. Embarrassingly, I saw 71 movies in total this month. The best:

  1. The Victim (Hung Kam-Bo, 1980)
  2. The Neon Bible (Davies, 1995)
  3. Mods (Bozon, 2002)
  4. The Ascent (Shepitko, 1977)
  5. Stage Fright (Hitchcock, 1950)
    Under Capricorn
    (Hitchcock, 1949)
  6. That Uncertain Feeling (Lubitsch, 1941)
  7. Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (Rappaport, 1992)
  8. Light Sleeper (Schrader, 1992)
  9. Basic (McTiernan, 2003)
    The Thomas Crown Affair
    (McTiernan, 1999)
  10. Little Odessa (Gray, 1994)
  11. The Private Eyes (Hui, 1976)
  12. The Horse Soldiers (Ford, 1959)
  13. Policeman (Lapid, 2011)
  14. My Favorite Season (Téchiné, 1993)
  15. Brigitte et Brigitte (Moullet, 1966)
    The Smugglers
    (Moullet, 1968)

    Une Aventure de Billy le Kid
    (Moullet, 1971)
  16. It’$ Only Money (Tashlin, 1962)
  17. After Death (Bauer, 1915)
  18. Man’s Favorite Sport? (Hawks, 1964)
  19. They All Laughed (Bogdanovich, 1981)
  20. 7th Heaven (Borzage, 1927)
    (Borzage, 1925)

The Neon Bible. Wading in memories which disolve and fold into each other through slow camera moves, sound bites and period music. This is pure Davies and pure cinema.

Nadav Lapid’s Policeman is very interesting. There’s something to those early observations of the officer’s narcissism, physique, and insidious friendly gestures. It’s obviously no mistake the film ends when his wife is about to give birth, a future symbol of course, but tied to his new moral questioning. The bad guy is not an Arab, but a Jew, and a girl. This is a fissure in his blind patriotism. What an intelligent use of cinema, holding onto these faces telling nothing, making viewers fill it in. Another of 2011’s superb sociopolitical dialectics along with A Separation and Play.

Ma saison préférée, the French Make Way for Tomorrow/Tokyo Story, but with focus on the children. A great straight drama about siblings.

It’$ Only Money might contain Jerry Lewis’ best performance. Top tier Tashlin too.

Man’s Favorite Sport? works as a celebrity coming out allegory quite flawlessly, often astonishingly so with choice lines and moments. Of course it’s in the fish-hating aspect, but it even extends to his character being sexless when it comes to actual women, up until the inevitable romantic conjoining (though that seems rather unwillingly thrust upon him).

Compelled to mention:

  • One Way Boogie Woogie (Benning, 1977)
  • Funeral in Berlin (Hamilton, 1966)
  • Soldier (Anderson, 1998)
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Bay, 2009)
  • Troma’s War (Herz & Kaufman, 1988)
  • No Room for the Groom (Sirk, 1952)

Best rewatches:

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher, 2011)
  • Haywire (Soderbergh, 2011)
  • The Three Musketeers (Anderson, 2011)
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife (Anderson, 2011)

Had fun with Seeking Justice; hideously murky digital aesthetic and half-zooms aside.

The Moon is Blue is risqué, typical of Preminger. It gets bogged down several times, unfortunately.

Yolanda and the Thief was a bit of a mixed bag. I loved the dream/nightmare concept as psychologising, and the later dance sequence that’s there for no reason and yet the only reason it should be, but it has some of the most garish design choices of Minnelli’s career: clashing bold colours together and with earthier tones, and bizarre costumes, sets and props (that floor!). I also thought Lucille Bremer was unappealing and I’ve never thought much of Fred Astaire.