Friday, September 24, 2010

Goodness gracious! A lion in my lap, no less.

If memory serves, I saw Bwana Devil (1952) at the Strand Cinema in Colaba, wearing the special polarized specs, in either 1953 or 1954. The tagline in its publicity material, I distinctly recall, was: A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms. This Natural Vision movie kick-stared the 1952-54 3-D craze in the US as a kneejerk reaction to the TV threat to cinema, the others being CinemaScope and the 3-projector Cinerama. But the makers of Bwana Devil were so hell-bent on proving its three dimensional credentials that the ingredients which make a movie (plot development, acting and the rest) were ignored with disastrous results. Most critics in the West mauled it mercilessly. Even I who used to be quite naïve about English movies then found it intolerable. A better-made 3-D movie, I’m told, was Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) using the process to bring out the depth of field instead of wasting it on gimmicks such as stuffs being hurled at you. It was released in India in the 2-D format as also was the horror flick House of Wax (1953) made in the alternative StereoVision 3-D process with its paddleball man and cancan girls showing off the 3-D edge. For that matter, even The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) came to India minus the 3-D. All this chitchat reminds me of a character in the sci-fi comedy Back To The Future (1985) set in the mid-fifties who wears the red/blue 3-D glasses to remind us from which era he hails. He is called 3-D. Coming back to 3-D and me, though, I later realised that, in the West, from the 1860s to the 1920s, almost every middle-class home owned a Holmes stereoscope and stereo cards. 5bckrx. In the 1920s, it seems a couple of movie halls in New York City had mounted on the seat in front a pair of gooseneck rotary-shutter viewers somewhat like the present liquid crystal shutterglasses. 5bckry. Again, I read about the 70s sexploitation 3-D movie, The Stewardesses (1969) and the critically acclaimed Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973) purely by chance. There was apparently a brief revival of the 3-D fad in the 1980s with Jaws 3-D (1983) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (also 1983). Finally came the 3-D revival in the new millennium spearheaded by the 2009 magnum opus Avatar. Alfred Hitchcock briefly toyed with 3-D (Dial M for Murder) but did not persist with it. He went nowhere close to CinemaScope with its aspect ratio of 2.35:1. He did experiment with VistaVision in To Catch A Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) before returning to the good old aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the standard (Academy) format for the black and white cult classic, Psycho (1960). Makes sense and works for me too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Life across the board. Mine, to wit.

Truth to tell, I haven’t been much of a game player most of my life. Neither the board nor the outdoor variety. Among the earliest board games I played were Snakes and Ladders and Ludo, both among the more popular children’s board games. As a child, I used to persuade my mother or father to buy me a combo set of Snakes and Ladder-Ludo-Chinese Checkers-Draughts every year we visited the Navi Wadi jatra (fair) or went Christmas shopping. One of the reasons for doing this was that, after a few days of use of the new purchase, most of the play counters used to go missing and we had to make do with unsatisfactory substitutes like buttons. All this had become a sort of ritual, almost. And, being the pampered son that I happened to be, my wish was my parents’ command and mostly granted. I must have graduated to Monopoly when I was about ten. Scrabble too must have come into my life around the same time. Draughts (Checkers) had been a part of my early board gaming. I distinctly recall a Mankar family heirloom predating my birth: an exquisitely crafted black wooden box with large red and black Draftsmen stored inside. You opened the box, turned it on its innards and it became a Draughts or Chess board. I stumbled upon Chess much later in life. In 1972, if memory serves, when the Fischer-Spassky world championship made Chess the flavour of the month. Since then, I’ve spent many pleasant moments playing it. For instance: In fact, I became quite a Chess aficionado acquiring quite a few fancy Chess sets including one, purchased in Nepal, with the Chess pieces resembling warriors, elephants, camels, horses and so forth as well as the board wrought in brass. Also, a large number of (mostly unread) trade paperbacks on play analysis. One book on the game I enjoyed most, though, was the story of the Fischer-Spassky world championship I bought from my friend Shoiab. My board game playing in the 21st century has been mostly confined to playing with Armaan and Anika Both of them don’t like to lose and, until recently, used to get terribly upset if I burst out laughing at the turn of events. Armaan has his own innovative approach to board gaming. He makes his own rules as the game proceeds.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lust is in the eye of the voyeur.

Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) of the puppy-dog eyes and halting speech, a resident of the Sicilian small town of Castelcuto as yet wearing a humiliating pair of shorts, is about to come of age. He becomes the proud owner of a bicycle on 10 June 1940 − the day Il Duce declares war on the Allies. On the same day, he joins the gang of bicycle-owning oglers of the daily spectacle of a stroll through the village square by the callipygian Maddalena Scordia (Monica Bellucci), aka Malèna, a recently widowed school teacher who is the daughter-in-law of their Latin professor. So infatuated is he by the unwitting siren that he begins to stalk her. In the process he becomes a voyeuristic witness of her secret life and a raconteur of her tragic tale. Her widowhood makes her an “available” target for all the lustful men and an object of hate for all the women in Castelcuto. Imaginations run riot. Tongues wag. Gossip gets spun. Malèna’s name is mud especially after she sells herself to the German Army officers out of desperate destitution because the town has ostracized her. Once the war ends, the women of Castelcuto turn vengefully on this sinner among them and, after a merciless beating despite Renato’s valiant attempt to shield her, virtually force her to leave town. When her husband, wrongly presumed to be dead at the start of the war, returns looking for her, Renato writes him a quasi-anonymous note assuring him that, no matter what happened, Malèna had always loved him faithfully. He points him to her probable destination. A year later, the Scordias return to Castelcuto. They stroll through leisurely across the town square, she a little plumper now, demurely handing on his arm. The townsfolk seem to be in reconciliatory, let-the-bygones-be bygones mood. They gradually accept Malèna whom Renato wishes the best of luck after he lends her a final helping hand to pick up the oranges she has spilled from her overstuffed shopping bag. This in a nutshell is the moving narrative of Malèna (2000) written and directed by Giuseppe “Cinema Paradiso” Tomatore I happened to chance upon the other morning on Star Movies. Lucky me! I even found the exceedingly apt adjective “callipygian” in the Online Dictionary by sheer accident.