Monday, January 30, 2006

Movies Seen Recently, Music I'm Listening To

We did go out and see Capote and Brokeback Mountain over the past few weeks, and while I wasn't enthralled by either film, I prefer Capote over Brokeback. I enjoyed Ang Lee's film -- I thought it was elegant and spare -- but also on the verge of sweepy and hollow. Maybe I remained generally unmoved by the film because it is an image of an era ('the closet') that has passed? Or perhaps because it's simply a romance that never quite gets to full boil. Whatever the case, I thought Brokeback Mountain managed to be impressive without being particularly moving or inspiring.

(The one image that has stayed in my mind is the brief moment of violence that appears at the end of the film, involving Jake Gyllenhal's character... you know the scene I'm thinking of... terrifying)

Capote at least gets into the murky waters of the writer's (inevitable?) exploitation of his subject. I tend to side against Truman Capote: I would rather be a bad writer and a good person, than a good writer who denatures (or destroys) his subject to get the Story. There is a lot to debate here: was Capote really all that great? And: can't he be accused of helping to start the era of the mass-media's sensationalizing of violent crime? Or maybe: he was a great writer and a terrible human being? Or: aren't all great writers pretty much that way?

* * *

And here are some older films I've been watching over the past few weeks:

Side Streets (1998; IMDB). Shashi Kapoor plays a really strange role in this small art movie about working-class ethnic New York. Kapoor plays a huge (in more than one sense) movie star whose brother is an NYC taxi driver married to Shabana Azmi. That alone seems rather unrealistic -- one finds it hard to accept that a huge Bollywood star might have a siblings who drive taxis in New York -- but the rest of the film is gritty and believable. There are also parallel plots involving Russian drug dealers, abject fashion designers, and an Afro-Caribbean couple who bicker at length about permission to drive a car. But the real reason to see the film is the scene at the end, where Shashi Kapoor goes nuts and pulls a Charles Bukowski in a posh hotel room.

Ash Wednesday (2002; IMDB). Another New York indie film, this one directed by Edward "cheekbones" Burns of The Brothers McMullen. Ed Burns is a little like John Cassavetes back in the day -- a commercial actor who makes low-budget independent films with the cash he gets from the forgettable films he does in Hollywood. And while Burns's films lack the searing emotional upheaval of Cassavetes flicks like Opening Night or Faces, there is something interesting going on here. The plot of Ash Wednesday is pretty gripping, though the acting by the Irish gangsters of Hell's Kitchen is at times quite weak. The Catholic themes of sacrifice, rebirth, and redemption are strangely appropriate for a gangster film, and are all at play in the film's climactic scenes.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939; IMDB). There is nothing to criticize in this film: snappy 1930s dialogue, great plot, and total relevance to politics today (you can substitute Jack Abramoff for the bad guy in the film without any difficulty whatsoever). It also has the distinction of being the only world-class film I've ever seen that portrays a Senate filibuster as a scene of climactic, world-changing action.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971; IMDB). Yeah, I know it's a banal Broadway myth of the Russian Jewish shtetl, but the songs in this movie are just too much fun. And Topol's big lines have great camp value; I'm especially keen on the moments where he shouts "Tradition!" in an accusing way at God, only to wave off after a moment (eh, ok, so much for tradition). I only hope I'm half this entertaining and melodramatic when I'm fifty. Watching this again also reignited my interest in the Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem, whose works I'm somewhat curious to read.

The First Time (1969; IMDB). This movie was made in 1969, but it feels like 1954. Wow, is it dated -- it has a script that seems to have been written by a rather sleazy fifteen year old boy. Just truly awful dialogue; I don't know how I watched it all the way through. Maybe it had something to do with Jacqueline Bisset? That would probably be a good guess.

Home Delivery (2005). We watched about half of this recent Bollywood film before falling asleep. It felt like a collage of bits from a TV sitcom crudely stitched together to try and form a film. Yawn -- and that, needless to say, pretty much sums up my attitude to most Bollywood flicks that have been coming out lately (except perhaps Bluffmaster and 15 Park Avenue, both of which I want to see).

* * * * *

I've been listening to Matisyahu's Live at Stubb's, The Decemberists' Castaways and Cutouts and Picareseque, and the Bluffmaster CD soundtrack. Both the Decemberists and Bluffmaster rock, though in very different ways.

I'm still trying to decide about Matisyahu, who takes an Orthodox/Hasidic messianic vision and channels it into the lyrical and melodic conventions of roots rock reggae and dub. At times it feels a little like a gimmick, but some of the songs really do click quite nicely. There is some real poetry here, though there is also, on some of the longer "jams," a little smelly Phish. We'll see what they do with the studio album...

The Decemberists have been doing their thing for a few years, but I only just got their new CD a month ago. These are, I think, the best-written lyrics I've come across in recent years. Magnificent -- deserving of a separate post (coming soon, hopefully).

And on the lighter side of things, Bluffmaster is the ultimate Bollywood/Hip Hop fusion, complete with spadefuls of swagger. And with cool baritone vocals on some of the best tracks, Abhishek Bachchan is coming to fill in his father's shoes more and more... I don't know if "Sabse Bada Rupaiyya" is going to be as immortal as "Rang Barse," but at least it's got a nice beat and you can dance to it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write...."an image of an era ('the closet') that has passed?"

Do you really believe that everything is fine NOW? When, right as I speak, distributors have pulled the film in Utah. When
str8 guys in urban America STILL leave a seat between themselves at the movies so that everyone knows they are not that type of friends.


3:48 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...


No, by no means do I mean that everything is fine now. When I refer to the closet, I'm talking about a very specific aspect of modern life: gay men posing as heterosexuals in order to protect their livelihoods from scandals.

While homosexuality is stigmatized by the American right, the idea of the closet is not as strong as it once was. For most people, it is not a scandal the way it was 30+ years ago.

In some rural parts of the country (and perhaps in Utah) the closet is still as big a phenomenon as it was earlier, but most gay people in the U.S. do not have to stay absolutely secret about who they are and how they lead their lives anymore.

That is not to say that things are hunky-dory, of course.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Deep,

one more hindi movie you may want to catch is "rang de basanti" ...


7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


How do you define most people?

Interestingly, why do you think the gay populace has taken to the internet so quckly? You could look up the personals on and will definitely notice how many MWM have personals.

I think we see and hear the gay people that are out. But we will never gauge the number that are in the closet.

Even here in L.A., around West Hollywood, no men hold hands outside the bounds of the few blocks that is the gay strip.

As an exercise, I did a informal survey about Brokeback mountain at a New Yr party - majority desis ,all long term US residents. Only one guy out of twenty people said he knew about the movie. This was in L.A. Everyone's kids had gone to see Narnia, though. Its a quasi Christian film. Less to do with Indians than I would guess.

I find that as long as you talk of writers, movie buffs, and suchlike it is a very tolerant sampling.But stray outside those bounds and not much has changed.

Ask any gay couple about their expereinces of checking into a hotel anywhere outside entertainment Meccas. It is dangerous to assume a favorable response from the person behind the counter.

My fear is that there is a creeping complancency in the fight for equality.


7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A second plug for Rang De Basanti -- what a rich, fun, and thought-provoking film....

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

with all due respect, your views on gay america are from a heterosexual viewpoint, and miss a lot.

i agree with neale, what you see above the surface is no reflection of what is underneath. although it is in some ways easier to be out of the closet today, the era of the closet is very much alive - even on the liberal east coast. there's a preponderence of gay personal ads where married men are looking for sex.

regarding the movie, i have read annie proux's short story, and largely liked the movie but was not bowled over. adding things in the movie not in the book made it unnecessarily long and slow in the middle.

"Or perhaps because it's simply a romance that never quite gets to full boil" is the central crux of the movie. the average heterosexual can probably never identify with the idea of forbidden love. a gay man needs to come to himself before he comes out to society. the former is infinitely harder than the latter, and the environment required to be able to do that easily has not largely changed over the decades.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Capote is my favorite film of the year. Btw, I thought you were *meant* to side againt Capote. When I first read some of his short stories, I remember thinking to myself what a nice person he must be. Now I know. I guess it's finally sunk in. People who write wonderful poetry and beautiful books full of sublime vision can nevertheless be selfish, manipulative, and low enough to play life and death games.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Manish said...

Capote was so slow-paced I nearly fell asleep. Mummification, absolutely.

Bluff Master was cool until you realized it was a rip of The Game. And Abhishek rapping is just cheesy.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous mg said...

Capote was a lousy film. Philip Seymour Hoffman is getting all these accolades, when it's just a mannered, unsubtle performance that doesn't capture all the facets of who Capote was. He sounds exactly like him, I'll give him that. But he either misses or completely disregards Capote's charm and charisma. You know, there was a reason why Capote was the darling of the media, why he had so many friends, why people in the Heartland opened up to him. But you'd never know it from this splenetic boor.

As for the film itself, there are some interesting ideas about the relationship between artist and muse, which reminded me a little of Igmar Bergman's Persona. But the film doesn't deal with these issues with any deep insight, and the relationship between Capote and Perry Smith is flat and uninteresting, as the basic dynamic is just repeated and repeated. (By the way, "flat" and "uninteresting" are also good words to describe the film's visual style.)

And are we to believe that Catherine Keener's final put-down was supposed to be powerful and surprising? Sheesh! What an obnoxious movie.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Vikash Singh said...

This post has been removed by the author.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a gay man needs to come to himself before he comes out to society. the former is infinitely harder than the latter, and the environment required to be able to do that easily has not largely changed over the decades

YES. This anonymous poster said what I was going to say. The closet manifests itself differently over time. People still carry it within themselves (and not only over gay identity) It's a matter of shame, which public exploitation of that identity through entertainment (the L word etc) has not completely washed away. -rl

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talking of Brokeback mountain, i am reminded of Abraham Verghese's fine exploration of homosexuality (as an AIDS doctor) in My Own Country, in the very same Appalachian setting. What a fine movie that would make...i think Mira Nair (?) made a forgetable made-for-TV version of My Own Country.


2:55 AM  
Anonymous Subhash said...

The soundtrack of Bluffmaster is def among the coolest in recent times. Vishal-Shekar seem to have captured the pulse of young India. Def one of the few albums you will keep playing for a while.

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Subi said...

Nice post! You have said it very well. Keep going.

2:37 AM  
Anonymous Outsourced Product Development said...

New movie coming up is "Rock on" of farhan aktar which is definitely going to be movie for younger generation...full mixture of western & Indian culture..

1:44 AM  

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