Wednesday, February 18, 2015

With nothing to return to but the demons in their caves.

Ohhhh… to be Prince Caspian, afloat upon the waves.
Oh, to be Prince Caspian, with nothing to return to but the demons in their caves.

I'm not a Phish fan at all but I liked Billy Breathes well enough when it came out. I haven't listened to it recently to see if it holds up. All that said, I've had "Prince Caspian" stuck in my head for days now. Why? Well, I'll tell you, dear friends. I've actually been quite ill with the flu since last week! I'm feeling much better now but for a few days all I could bear to do was listen to the audio book versions of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. (In the real order, with Lion as No.1, of course. I was ill, not an idiot!)

Then on Monday evening, as a giant snow storm blew through Washington, DC, I re-watched the 2005 movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

It was an interesting, having just listened to the audio version with all the fussy language brought to life, to then see a modern movie adaptation. I liked some of the changes very much, especially the humanizing of Susan and Peter. Susan, in the books, is a vapid, vain killjoy and Peter is painfully dutiful and good. Movie Susan is wonderful. She was given a nice dose of Hermione Granger and instead of being vapid and vain, her killjoy-ism is tied to book smarts and a literal view of the world. Movie Peter is still dutiful but it weighs heavily on him and causes him to act out from time to time. The narrative is unfortunately hammered into a McKee-approved structure, which… well, what can we do about that. But there is still a lot to enjoy between Susan kicking ass and Tilda Swinton swanning all around the landscape like the magnificent creature she is.

There were only two real sour notes for me. One was relatively minor. I didn't like that the way the kids were "forced" into the wardrobe was because they needed a place to hide from the housekeeper because they broke a window. In the book, they are "forced" into the wardrobe looking for a place to hide from the housekeeper because she's leading a tour of the historic rooms and the kids aren't supposed to get in her way. The idea that PETER of all people would run and hide instead of taking responsibility goes against everything his character is supposed to stand for. Even at the beginning of the story, there is NO WAY Peter would not dutifully confess. That niggled. The other sour note was how Aslan was handled. Yes, yes, I recognize that Aslan, the Christian Allegory, needs to be in the story but somehow the movie Aslan was less appealing than the book creature, for being made flesh. It made all the allegories too literal and plodding somehow. Plus, having him "real" makes Aslan's dickishness that much more apparent. (Reminding me of the Superman is a Dick trope quite strongly, actually.)

ANYWAYS, blah, blah. I still love the Narnia stories and probably always will. But they are best kept in (audio) book form.

While I was listening to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader--long my favorite of the series--I was struck by something else in all of C.S. Lewis's gleeful descriptions of how awful cousin Eustace was. Eustace's family are pacifists, atheists, vegetarian, don't believe in novels, don't believe in corporal punishment, and... LIVE IN CAMBRIDGE! *gasp* It was the Cambridge zing that really cracked me up because, as we all know, C.S. Lewis was an Oxford man. As an adult, I found Lewis's descriptions of Eustace hilarious. He's the Fox News viewer's idea of the result of liberal parenting, a soft, never-been-whipped, uses-large-words-he-doesn't-understand, Cambridge-raised brat. But does Eustace make any sense outside that context? I don't know.

But I started thinking about context and how important it is. What would I make of a character like Eustace if I didn't know what I know about C.S. Lewis and his era? Maybe it's this fusty, England-of-a-certain-age-specificness to the Chronicles that kept the movies from the same blockbuster status as the Harry Potter movies (the story is of OUR era) or the Lord of the Rings movies (the original story itself was nostalgic). How does this stuff translate?

Context was also on my mind because I got into a bit of a spat--I'm blaming the onset of flu--over some really boneheaded articles on Japan circulating around the major newspapers. I was disappointed to see even the Guardian reprinting this tripe. I thought at least the Guardian was still a decent paper but, alas, after this, I don't think there remains a SINGLE newspaper I trust. The short story is that I realized major English language newspapers were picking up gossipy stories from gaming and anime-focused blogs and "reporting" them as if it was original, serious reporting. I mean... I knew Bollywood "news" sites did this all the time, stealing from each other, but it was really disappointing to see these dumb stories reprinted in the Washington Post and Guardian--with no context.

CONTEXT. That's when it struck me that my frustration with the reporting on Japan being overly reliant on English sources, which tend to be completely biased towards an Western viewpoint, as the "truth" may just as well apply to my frustration with English-language reviews and news about Indian movies. I mean, no, duh, Filmi Girl, right? WHY DID THIS TAKE ME SO LONG?! I can only blame the same complacency that presumably fuels the "reporters" who re-write stories from English language anime sites and insist it's representative of Japan. The information is there... I can access it, so it forms my world view.

I'm sure, dear friends, you all have noticed that I haven't been writing as much. And the reason is that I think this blog was always an outlet for me to work things out for myself. Writing as exploration. And now that I've reached a more-or-less stable state of understanding of "Bollywood", there's not as much for me to write out for myself. And being as uninterested in "Hindie" films as I am in American "indie" films, the English-language film discussion has rather left me behind. With all due respect to Anurag Kashyap, you would have to strap me to a chair A Clockwork Orange-style to watch the dire looking NH10. (Badlapur, on the other hand, I'm all in! Cannot. Wait.)

So, maybe the answer is... I need to re-start my Hindi studies. Or at the least find a blog that translates non-English reviews and criticism of films into English. Context. CONTEXT. Unlike when I first started blogging, I now have plenty of options if I want to know what douchey American bro-critics think of a Hindi film or what Bollywood media insiders think of a film or what some random white women like myself think of a film. Maybe I really need to think about expanding my options.

And that's my rambling over and done. I apologize if nothing made any sense. Maybe my brain is still hazy...


Moimeme said...

Hi FG, hope you get completely well soon.

The problem with looking for Hindi (or Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, etc.) sources for film critiques is that this kind of "critique" is itself a very "western" concept. As far as I can tell, most of the film "reviews" consist of giving the reader the cast and crew information, plus a short summary of the plot, and some kind of box office prediction. Even in private conversation with people, I've never got any more detailed response than "I liked/didn't like the movie." To the question "why/why not?" all I've ever gotten has been, "I don't know, it was just nice," or, "I don't know, I just didn't like it." And once people decide that they like or don't like a particular film, then the lead actor automatically becomes a great actor, while if they didn't like it, it must mean that the person can't act.

Most people in India watch films for entertainment or just "time pass." They think it's not worth their time to worry about the whys and wherefores of a film after they've finished watching it. So maybe that's the real takeaway for you -- just don't obsess over the silly things. Of course, that would rather invalidate the reason for your blog, wouldn't it? :)

So here's a suggestion for you. This is something I've been thinking about for a long time. You've now seen enough movies from different Indian languages to have a fair idea of the different filmi ethos in each of those industries. So how about comparing and contrasting the different approaches to film making in each industry? How about taking the same film made in different languages and see how the different versions compare?

BTW, back to film discussion, I think the only people who do get into deep intellectual discussions about films are Bengalis. So it might make more sense for you to learn Bengali than Hindi. I know Satyajit Ray used to edit some kind of film magazine (like Cahiers du Cinema), and I think there are still similar mags now.

Moimeme said...

Oh, here's another suggestion: How about applying the "auteur" theory to Indian films, where so often it's not the director who drives the film, but the star.

Divya said...

@FG Hope you feel better soon. I missed your writing.
@Moimeme, I am not sure what you are basing your information on, if its just anecdotal evidence then I think you are oversimplifying. I don't know if "critique" itself is a western concept but there are plenty of vernacular reviews that go way beyond listing the plot summary and box office predictions. Anandha Vikatan and Kumudham are two popular tamil weeklies that have some insightful and occasionally hilarious reviews. Madhan, Yugi Sethu, Bosskey even Jagan are all Tamil reviewers who offer in-depth analysis of movies in Tamil. Even the great Tamil novelist "Kalki" Krishnamurthy got started writing movie reviews(really good ones) in magazines. And this was in the 50's.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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