Sunday, January 30, 2011

I’ll give you an abyss, she said

I’ll give you an abyss, she said,
but so subtly you will only notice it
after many years have passed
and you’re far from Mexico and from me.
You will discover it when you need it most,
and that won’t be
the happy ending,
but it will be an instant of emptiness and joy.
And maybe then you’ll remember me,
though not much.

Roberto Bolano

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Green Ray

Rohmer's Le Rayon Vert situates Delphine's desire for 'understanding' in relation with her own standing in a bourgeois world where 'vacations' set the tone for knowing a person and her situation. Since loneliness can be fought by holidays in exotic locales or even at cheaper places, Delphine must not however let the world hem her in. Instead each abortive attempt at a holiday must bring her back to the starting point of such desire. What starts as a desire to negate her isolation ends up in increasing her isolation and making it more worse. Any attempts at conversation with strangers is an attempt to try; however, the outside world seeks answers that are already decided but Delphine has her own views which are outside the legitimate. The deciding tone of her outer life is set by the interactions she has with people who see the world in a narrative sequence considered normal. Delphine strives to explain to others how she sees the world and has to explain it making those explanations credible. All explanations must be bourgeois to bourgeoisie people.

Delphine struggles to articulate herself because some things have no point in being explained about. In essence, she is in isolation and lonely, but extremely sensitive to herself. This sensitivity is generally confused with stubbornness, consider the vegetarianism dialogue in the movie where she has to defend her right to be a vegetarian even if there is a hint of being teased. In this sense, not having a lover is a disability that she chooses to live with but her search is for someone credible, someone who is not simply interested in just sleeping with her. This search, like Haydee's search in The Collector, is something which the casual observer, who is hurried, has either no desire nor inclination to follow more deeply. Delphine knows the loneliness of finding herself in after what casual sleeping with people can lead to, she wants to be granted recognition as a person who is capable of being loved as well as capable of loving.

The Green Ray is a scathing indictment of a bourgeois world that usually considers difference as 'not fitting in'. As usual in Rohmer world, the action details the happenings over a month's vacation period. The chats and conversations are carried out in 'real time'. One particular chat with two strangers and the Swedish 'free' spirit is absolutely brilliant in depicting a particular kind of holiday small talk. In those few minutes, Rohmer shows the flaws of an entire generation. Maybe the green ray that Delphine sees towards the end will bring her good luck and love, for she has her quirky superstitions.

The movie is charming, the sets are around the world of cheap holidays and show cheap bargain hotel rooms, and the transition of the holidayer from a city to a beach with credibility and without artifice. The beach scenes are extremely realistic, my favourite is the exchange between the two young strangers, both men, Delphine and a Swedish girl "who knows" English. The ennui of holidays and the state of mind that prompts such desires is shown in savage nakedness.
Love is a word much misunderstood, Delphine in her youthful enthusiasm confuses it with many other things. However, sensitive that she is, she does not confuse love with 'filling the gap', she is smarter than that. Her occasional lack of humour is not her being tedious but sensitive in trying to fathom certain things. Delphine is strong-willed like other Rohmer women, she will walk alone all day if it comes to that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

a new music

A strange music had taken hold of him of late, as if all his usual din had given way to a new desire, an illegal desire, a lust for something desirable but out of bounds, a stirring, a need for confessing, a need to be heard, to dwell on what he thought he had heard against what he thought he must hear. Walking along the usual landmarks on his usual roads, he felt as if there was a need to touch what he had formerly shunned, as if listening to what this new music meant giving in to an illegal whim, a strange but certain music inside his mind had awakened the ghosts of former lives. Had he thought what this winter spring was going to give when this cold winter had previously not whispered anything suitable for him to feel at home with? How could one convey the life sensations, the most intimate workings of one's mind when he was not even intimate with his own? It had never been a question of estrangement from himself but a question of not knowing what he was still susceptible to, for of late, this susceptibility was that of old, like when rain falls on hard earth after a dry spell, and the smell that the earth exudes is like an intoxicant, a summary judgement on love and desire. While walking thus on familiar streets that one walks on without thinking, he thought of this new music, this new feeling, like the stirring of primeval desires or the sudden acknowledgement of a dream that one has dreamed, or an intimation of a crazy desire, the thrill of desire, the smell of that desire, the thrill of that craziness.

Each step he took was as unknown to him as the beating of his heart for while one can perceive a heart beat, one cannot actually see it beat, and hence all such steps were as unknown to him as the perception of this new music or this new feeling. And yet each thought and each step towards the unknowing of his own mind had been fraught with uncertainties, but the uncertainties were more charming than any concrete reality in his life. Walking like this, and thinking about such vague things like feelings and desire, he wanted each step to take him further away from his imminent destination, for he wanted to walk endlessly, and smell not only the trembling of his heart but also the mystery that he was to himself, and that his feelings were to him. At no point did he feel that he could understand the suffusion of his new emotions or the underlying nature of his own reactions to them; at no point however was he concerned about explaining himself to himself. For the first time after many moons had he realised the craving for new desires or felt the stirrings of pain as like under a young moon, like the blue black sky at night which one suddenly notices after many cloudy skies, and after which one wants to die. As he kept on walking, he realized that even his most stolid reserve had given in to the most effusive of feelings, he suddenly remembered the worst and the craziest songs, and almost felt an urge to hum some words out loud. It was in the clear crystal of those moments that he felt he had lapsed beyond mere confession and that this new music was the sweetest medicine, the most beautiful of heartaches and the richest numbness yet. And such were his thoughts as he neared the world of his destination, which even that world could not stop.

Friday, January 14, 2011


come like a dream
on tiptoes
come like a sudden shower on a summer afternoon
come at dusk when the sun has to set
come as some faraway bells sound sadly sometimes
outside my window
like the roar of a train at dawn come
like the wind at night
come with the incessant tread of hooves
like the violence of violets
come without smile or promises
come with your long hair undone
with bare feet with one anklet only
surprise yourself
come once

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

as the wind beats

Tonight the wind beats relentlessly against the roofs
and on the streets plastic bottles and paper fly aimlessly
as some insomniacs make their way to a bar,
trying in vain to light a cigarette in such wind.
There is no promise or fruit in such pursuit
and the night will turn out to be bare and lonely,
but can it stop those who dislike the loneliness of the midnight hour?
Some of them will want to listen to duets in incomprehensible tongues,
while others will only want to drum their fingers on the bar tables
dispersing in vain the melancholy in their fingers
and some will test the water of promises made.
Altogether it is a bloody business
and bloodier than murder.
The night is silent other than the wind
and winds are seldom silent.
Some walk slowly shielding their cigarettes in their palms
as their shadows flee like frightened ghosts
on the pavements lit by the odd street lamp.
Later, one of them will finally sit at the bar
but still look expectantly at the door,
though convinced that the person with long brown hair will not come.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chloe in the Afternoon

Chloe, of Rohmer's Love in the Afternoon, is the most frank and openly speaking woman of the six moral tales. Sitting in an office will kill me she says to her lover Frederic, it is so bourgeois. Chloe wants to have what she wants to have, on her terms, in her way. Any other way would mean demeaning the whole thing. It is possible that Rohmer paints a bohemian picture of Chloe, a kind of free-spirited image of Chloe but even if that is true, she still attracts not because she shocks but because she speaks the truth to Frederic. If truth is shocking then so be it. Love or Chloe in the Afternoon is the last of the six moral tales that I have watched recently and I must admit that as a cinematic experience, it has not only been rewarding but a sexy tease too.

Frederic is visited by Chloe suddenly one afternoon in his office. Frederic is married and his wife is expecting their second child. Chloe is not an old flame but the ex-girl friend of an old friend. Chloe has returned from overseas. Chloe is looking for a job. You are not my friend says Chloe to Frederic but I like you. They start meeting each other regularly in the afternoons when Frederic, a lawyer, is free. Frederic is the quintessential narrator of Rohmer's, he likes reading novels when he goes to and from Paris to suburbia. Frederic is in a stable marriage but nonetheless he is looking for something. He imagines and daydreams once that he is wearing a magic amulet that can weaken the will power of beautiful women he sees walking around on busy Paris streets every day. They are all extensions of my wife, he thinks.

Chloe and Frederic start meeting every day nearly, going shopping or having coffee. Frederic likes talking to Chloe and Chloe is quite amused by this all. Once she disappears unannounced for a week which annoys Frederic. Later Frederic helps find her a job. Frederic insists he only loves his wife but prefers to be in Chlo's company. Frederic thinks to indulge in polygamy is barbaric but adds that he will obey the rules of society. Chloe thinks that polygamy is all right if women are also allowed the same freedom. Chloe flirts with him and he flirts with her. They kiss sometimes but he always insists that he belongs to his wife. However, later, in her tiny flat, she steps out of the shower and she asks him to dry her. He does and starts undressing himself, while she waits naked for him on her single bed but he suddenly remembers his family while taking his clothes off, an old image comes into his mind and he departs very quickly. He goes home to his wife.

Chloe wants a child with Frederic but Frederic thinks that is crazy to which she responds hence:

"It is enough to know I love you and tell you so. You know, I have a vivid imagination. I can imagine it is you when I am making love to some one else." 'You are crazy' "Crazy is pretending you love some one you live with."

Frederic dreams of falling in love with other women. At one point he asks Chloe: Can one be in love with two women at once? ( I remembered it is the same question that a dear friend asked me a long time ago) Chloe tests him initially but it is hard to say whether she loves him. She is clearly very free spirited and has bold ideas but is she really that free? Chloe sees beyond the well trodden path, she wants a meaning entirely within herself, to herself. She will not perhaps find any stability within the bounds of marriage but then as a character she is a template of a certain free spirit, perhaps of the times. She wants to become a mother, outside the marital axis. Chloe is unconventional in comparison to the conventionality of other thoughts, in comparison to how others think.

Frederic is carried away by passion but it is also fair to say that he likes being in the company of Chloe, for after all, she is good company. The question is: Can a man and woman be friends outside a sexual binding? The scene that shakes him is the scene that reminds him of his family life. That convulsion is the same as other convulsions that Rohmer males make. That they shake themselves from the point or the brim of passion and return to more 'moral' choices is a Rohmerian imperative. In that sense, Rohmer is a conservative moralist but if one is a moralist, surely one is not always conservative? The idea of ethics and faithfulness must enter into consideration in any relationship, however trivial. That such choices are made by his males does in no way make them radical departures from the other male types that were portrayed by Rohmer's contemporaries.

Perhaps the magnitude of thinking of an artist, if worth judging at all, must be done after a few decades of his work. In that sense, Rohmer's world assumes more importance now in the present European climate. However, these works must not be seen as just outside the political framework but as part of a wholesome commentary on moral and ethical considerations. In a way, the choices that are made individually have a combined effect as well. However, it is also important to realize and understand how a particular thought is approached. And which steps in a thinking process are neglected. From that point of view, these tales are very important.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Case of Professor Moriarity

It is perhaps time that certain facts be put straight in front of those members of the public who have followed the accounts written by Dr Watson about his long association with Sherlock Holmes, some facts that may cause certain new tremors in the public mind, as certain events did when Sherlock Holmes made a return, albeit in a manner that Dr Watson presented to the public after Holmes made his sensational return. The aim of this revelation here is not to cause any controversy but to alert the public to those issues that have vexed certain discerning minds now as they did then. I refer to the important matter concerning the events that Dr Watson described in The Final Problem and in The Adventure of the Empty House. However, I also want in particular to clear certain other issues related to those matters almost taken for granted by the reading public as also by Dr Watson himself, especially pertaining to the affair of Professor Moriarity, who I will show, never existed.

In the preface to The Sign of Four, the great writer P.G Wodehouse presented a hypothesis that it was Sherlock Holmes himself who was Professor Moriarity and that the latter was invented by Holmes to cover certain "crimes" committed, using Watson's memoirs as an alibi. Wodehouse demonstrated that Holmes was never in need of money, never demanded fees from clients, mighty or small, and never even remotely spoke about fees, though the only notable exception was when he actually demanded five thousand pounds from the Duke of Holdernesse Hall in The Priory School affair.

If Holmes never demanded fees for services rendered, pray, how come he afforded the life style he had? This needs further investigation, which I will attempt here. It goes without saying that the rooms at Baker Street did not come cheap, and even though Watson contributed half of the rent, it was certainly done in discreet ways unknown to Watson. Secondly, Holmes always sported clean and fashionable clothes, he would often dine at good restaurants, and was well disposed to regular dining out and attending concerts. Holmes would never travel second class and as far as I remember, always paid for travel and lodgings for both himself and the good doctor, staying at the best hotels. Holmes would only rarely ask for expenses to be repaired to him and yet, what was his source of income? The good doctor never seems to reflect but then he was quite discreet and loyal to Holmes.

I think it was not a matter of chance that Holmes met Watson before the affair of A Study in Scarlet. My hypothesis, after having gone over all the facts is this: Holmes was able to ascertain through his brother Mycroft Holmes the names of all the returning reliable people from the Afghan campaign and knowing Mycroft's considerable position in the Government ( Holmes calls Mycroft the British Goverment at one point ) Holmes was able to "find" Watson, knowing his poor health, quiet disposition and unsullied character. Since certain influential quarters in the Government were getting hot on the tracks of Holmes, who was an important member of the European underworld mafia, he wanted to settle down, invent a new alibi, and instead of committing crimes, at Mycroft's suggestion, solve them.

Using his good offices and his money, finding rooms at Baker Street was easy. The rooms at Baker Street were far more dearer than Watson ever knew, and Holmes paid the rent himself, with Watson paying the half but token amount. The furnishings were done tastefully by Holmes and paid for by him but Watson always thought the lodgings were pre-furnished. Holmes had a considerable amount of money acquired through nefarious activities like extortion, blackmailing and other illegal activities which he relocated to his Swiss accounts, dissolved his connections with the underworld, albeit superficially and severed temporarily his contact with Mycroft, and settled to a life of cocaine and boredom with his good friend Watson. It is quite factual that Holmes never truly envisaged the fame he would get by the accounts that Watson published, making him almost a household name across Britain and also famous in three continents.

During their time together, from around 1880 to 1888, Holmes solved many cases, including the strange Problem of the Sholto's, from which Dr Watson got a wife. It was around this time that Watson moved out of Baker Street as any family man would, and set up his lodgings and medical practice in Kensington. He continued to remain in contact with Holmes, though it was not regular. During Watson's married years, the cases that were solved where chronicled under the general rubric of The Adventures and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes respectively.

After the good doctor settled to the routine of his practice and married life, Holmes started to renew his contact with the underworld fraternity that he had apparently shunned. Scotland Yard, which had always had doubts about Holmes, had by now closed the Holmes file, not only under the pressure of the Government but also to stop looking silly in front of the public, in whose eyes Holmes was the best policeman ever. Besides, Mycroft had been urging Holmes to reconsider his position as certain elements within the underworld were unhappy with Holmes' good reputation and were considering coming out clean. Not only were there political issues involved here but if left unresolved, it could possibly drag Europe into war. With all these considerations, a strange series of events were witnessed by Dr Watson, which the reader will understand now if I am allowed, considering that I don't want to test the readers patience more.

It is clear to all that Dr Watson was at home one night, busy in the affairs of conjugal life when Holmes literally burst upon him and asked for the blinds to be lowered. His demeanour as Watson noted was unlike his usual calm self and when Watson asks him what he was afraid of, Holmes replied "air guns". Later, Holmes mentions the name of Professor Moriarity to Watson for the first time and details the criminal exploits of Moriarity , calling him the Napoleon of crime. He then persuades Watson to accompany him to Riechenbach Falls in Switzerland, where he was to have a final discussion with Moriarity. As we know, Watson neglected his marital duties quite frequently, to our gain, and instantly agreed. The events that followed at the falls are too well known for me to recount here in detail. Suffice it for the purpose that I require here that a note was left for Watson, a struggle between Holmes and Moriarity was arranged, traces that lead to both of them having fallen into their watery deaths, a confirmation from the Swiss police who were too obliging to do so, and Watson returning back to his lodgings, disconsolate and in despair.

Watson was later told that financial and other affairs had already been taken care of by brother Mycroft. Watson then published a long and slightly sentimental account of Holmes and Moriarity, the underworld considered it as a good solution, Scotland Yard as the ideal, the money laundered previously was distributed between foreign and domestic crime syndicates, the possibility of war was averted and Holmes got rid of Moriarity, who never existed, and himself, in one masterly stroke. The plan was hatched by Mycroft at the Diogenes Club and certain quarters in the Government approved. Watson continued to miss Holmes and the public found succour in the case accounts that he had published.

It is indeed my point that in 1894, three years after his death, Holmes, who had never indeed died but lived under an assumed identity in Sussex, was told by certain quarters in the British Government to return, at the time of the death of Ronald Adair, which was described by Dr Watson in The Empty House. It had indeed been a plan for Holmes to make a return by now, and what better opportunity than when "all London was interested in and the fashionable world dismayed by the death of the Honorable Ronald Adair under tragic and inexplicable circumstances". In his "meeting" with Watson again, Holmes was not only able to get the most solid public alibi, he was able to get Watson's account to the public, which was basically his. We must remember that the man incriminated in the Adair affair was none other than Colonel Sebestian Moran, whom Holmes described as the second most dangerous man in London. Not only was the Adair affair staged, in my opinion, it allowed Holmes to hand over Moran to Scotland Yard as Moran had started making uncomfortable noises in certain quarters. That his subsequent silence later on was rewarded and that it was never mentioned by Dr Watson goes to demonstrate my case further.

Holmes and Watson returned back to Baker Street, the rooms almost as they used to be, everybody was happy, including Mrs Hudson, and the good doctor resolved to carry on though the first Mrs Watson had died, we learnt subsequently. Watson's practice was bought very quickly by somebody who Holmes found and who later turned out to be a relative of Holmes's and the two settled down once again to batchelor-hood and solving crimes.
Instead of testing the resolve of my patient readers any further, I would like to emphasise the vast deception that Watson and the public were subjected to, and the elaborate plans hatched by Mycroft and Holmes to fool the public and other discerning agencies. Watson's practice was bought by none other than one of Holmes's cronies, and the money that had been laundered to Swiss banks was legally relocated to Britain, one of the missions of the Reichenbach Falls adventure.

How is it possible, dear reader, that Holmes was able to retire to the Sussex Downs with bees and a house keeper when he never had a regular income? How is it possible for him to pay the rent for the Baker Street rooms when, he could actually have bought those rooms for all the rent he paid proving that he never actually wanted to buy the property? How is it possible, we may ask, for Holmes to always travel first class? Why did Holmes always ride a hansom from Oxford Street and walk to Oxford Street from Baker Street when even a person with the most cursory knowledge of London will reveal that that is strange and bizarre! Why should one walk from Baker to Oxford Street and then take a train when Baker Street has its own station? Where indeed was Mycroft before The Greek Interpreter's affair? Why did Holmes not mention him to Watson before that? And indeed, what can be more surprising than the fact that Watson never saw Moriarity!

The above questions point to only one conclusion and that is that Sherlock Holmes orchestrated the police and the public through the memoirs that Watson published and hence used Watson to not only keep his reputation intact, but also enhance it. Holmes was the mastermind behind the London underground mafia and had operations in three continents. He used Mycroft to get intelligence about Scotland Yard tailing him. We know that his mind was first rate and analytical and certain circumstances which had pushed him to use his brain for criminal activities later pushed him to use it for the public good. He often used to rant against inactivity and boredom and on one occasion clearly marked by Watson, he speaks lightly about being a criminal. That he kept his financial affairs away from Watson and that Holmes was never openly suspected is a tribute to his genius as a mastermind and as a great actor, both talents he used to dodge the police and criminals with. I must remind the reader that Colonel Moran used to work with Holmes in the mafia and the Adair affair was staged to essentially neutralise Moran. It is also my contention that Colonel Moran knew about the non-existence of Moriarity and was planning to use it as a lever to gain amnesty from the Government.

I have based my deductions on data and facts, and have not committed the capital mistake of theorising before one has data and have not twisted facts to suit theories. I also hope that the reader will appreciate the intentions behind this piece, which is to restore the reputation of Dr Watson, which has come under vicious and unseemly attacks recently after sensational publications have started to besmirch the clean character of the good doctor, which pointed wrongly that he knew about the Moriarity issue. It is not my intention to belittle the contributions of Sherlock Holmes towards developing the detective profession into an art, for none can deny that he was indeed an artist. However the innocence and gullibilty of Dr Watson in this regard must not be questioned. I hope that Dr Watson's innocence in the whole saga needs no further defense.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Since Cassavetes is generally regarded as outside the American mainstream, his gangster movie Chinese Bookie does really stand outside the Hollywood gangster flick . After a while, all Hollywood gangsterism becomes repulsive because these movies and the characters they show are so self immersed, as if their world is besides them. Translating that into cinematic reality makes these criminals very odd as their personalities are melo-dramatized, and all kinds of psychological baggage's are given. To that extent, Cassavetes's Vitelli too is a typical Hollywood crook who entertains, for not only does he run a striptease, his main performer there, Mr Sophistication is a talking philosophising entertainer while Vitelli himself, subdued and broken, in his monologue towards the end, talks about creating a persona, a deception that consists of watching oneself perform.

Vitelli, performed with charming finesse and restraint by Gazzara, aims to make himself comfortable with himself. He too performs what eventually Cassavetes mocks, that artificial unreality which consumes lives lived in achieving little when the means to do so have left a person. In the end his person is ambiguous and so too his fate, and perhaps that is the masterstroke of this movie. Altogether, Cassavetes achieves with method and poetry what Hollywood would not have. There is the clear influence of genre crooks and criminals, parking lots, shadows and jazz. But in narrating this story, there are realistic elements that lend credibility to the imagery, which though persistently American, has the touch of a film maker whose voice is clearly distinct, American but un-American too.

Friday, January 07, 2011

when we met once

We met by the water line
it was summer, you remember it was warm
a surreal morning, we were surrounded by the noise
of tables and chairs and spoons and cups
and what the hell I thought, reserve isn't everything.
You sat and you had the glint and stone in your eyes
and then the sun fell on your long brown hair
and restored to stone what the rose hides.
You didn't speak and I didn't say a thing
and the coffee got cold and I forgot to light my cigarette.
How are you I asked tamely as you turned to look
at an urchin making a pass at a girl,
just loving isn't enough you said,
one must live and die together, I think now
I should have died then.
You kept playing with a spoon and put it on the table
as our eyes met but what could I say?
That hour fled like a thief into the night
I remember I forgot all I had to say.
The sun shone on the water as we decided to
leave, my feet were heavy as we walked
and I remembered my unlit cigarette.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

While Waiting

While waiting, I become obsessed with observing
the many possibilities: maybe she forgot her small
suitcase on the train, and my address got lost
and her mobile phone got lost, so she lost her appetite
and said: No share of the light drizzle for him/
Or maybe she got busy with an urgent matter or a journey
to the south to visit the sun, and called
but didn't find me in the morning, because
I had gone to buy some gardenia for our evening
and two bottles of wine/
Or maybe she was in dispute with her ex-husband
over matters of memory, and she swore not to see
another man who might threaten her with making memories/
Or maybe she crashed into a taxi on the way
to see me, which extinguished some planets in her galaxy.
And she is still being treated with tranquilizers and sleep/
Or maybe she looked in the mirror before going out
of herself, felt two large pears
making waves on her silk, then sighed and hesitated:
Does anyone else other than myself deserve my womanhood/
Or maybe she ran, by coincidence, into an old
love she hadn't healed from, and joined him for dinner/
Or maybe she died,
because death loves suddenly, like me,
and death, like me, doesn't love waiting

Mahmoud Darwish, Translated by Fady Joudah

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Pornographers: Introduction to Anthropology

Ogata's boat has found it's way from the backwaters of Osaka to the seas, Ogata is inside his boat, looking and marvelling at the perfect woman he has crafted, stitching each hair separately on her, each painful step a further step towards realizing his perfect woman, with whom he can sleep at will and look without fear. This is an image that persists after The Pornographers comes to an end but: before this we have been through a maelstrom of other emotions too, and Ogata whilst occasionally philosophising , didn't struck me as a poetic type. In Ogata, Imamura has created a character who alternately hovers between the caring and the unscrupulous, between the lecher and the artist that he eventually becomes. Imamura calls his movie an "introduction to anthropology" and the world he shows is messy but not one bit artificial. It is messy because it's roots are deep inside the soil of furtive and restless minds. Even to Ogata's sidekicks, the human imagination is something one can only be afraid of.

Ogata is essentially a bum, he is a man who makes 8mm pornographic movies and sells them to clients of all sorts. Ogata is also a pimp and distributor of cheap literature and as a tenant supports his landlady and her son and young daughter with whom he is clearly obsessed. The duality of his nature is a tightrope that we must walk on, Ogata is without any scruples entirely and hence full of surprises. His landlady Haru sleeps with him at will and she keeps a Carp behind her bed in a tank, the carp is the reincarnation of her dead husband. Every time she does something bad, she says, the carp jumps, which is practically throughout the movie. In Haru, Imamura shows the social dynamic of a kept woman, it is usually the man who keeps the woman, he pays for her bum son and her daughter's studies.

The social realities which force such power changes are very obvious. Ogata and his cohorts are caught between the mafia and the law and hence his procrastination is quite complete throughout. It is not the lack of a reaction to such realities but a lack of self reflection that Imamura shows throughout his movies and here. Ogata has one eye on Haru and another on her daughter Keiko, he wants a child with Haru and marriage to Keiko, Ogata sees the inversion of all rules within a social reality that is seemingly out of bounds from the bigger niceties of life. Ogata philosophizes when he relaxes with his other colleagues, there Ogata desrcibes the realities of his situation carefully, he is also very aware of the human condition too.

Haru is later a victim of her own denials, screaming inside a cage, a woman hysterical and paranoid while Keiko is a willing victim of her own anger, systematically killing herself. Ogata throws the carp into a river after Haru dies, and retreats into his boat to perfect his perfect woman. Ogata has realized the 'pathos of being a man', as he sees it.

The Pornographers is a movie that fascinated me and like all of Imamura's movies, the social milieu that he has sketched is something that while seemingly reflective of a Japanese "underbelly", symbolises at least for me the invisible tentacles of our own minds. I am not willing to see the movie only as a critique of political and social realities or of a particular society nor do I think of it as a shocking indictment that shows incest and the indignities of lust; I think of these characters as inhabiting those terrains of the mind that are let loose when economic and cultural realities and the people who control and sanction them have lost the moral force to speak. Within the arc of such desires and the darkness of such minds arises the craving to create a perfect woman, an object, a commodity, a fetishism that absolves, apparently, the moral agent of any blame whatsoever.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Imamura Shohei's "Messy Cinema"

"I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure... I ask myself what differentiates humans from other animals. What is a human being? I look for the answer by continuing to make films." Imamura

One of the dangers after watching a few of Shohei Imamura's movies is that one can lose the taste for all other kinds of cinema altogether, and let oneself be seduced by a cinema that has reached fruition and is complete. While Imamura described his cinema as messy, it would be fair to describe it as dangerous. By messy, Imamura might have meant subversive and sarcastic or he might have meant that his movies would not follow genre conventions or the rules of Japanese aesthetics or that he would make movies about messy characters. I would say that his cinema is complete and within one movie, he shows us all the emotions that a person is capable of, including disgust, greed, lust, affection and tenderness. I will aim here to briefly discuss some aspects of his movie called Vengeance is Mine while also observing some general features.

Vengeance is Mine is based on true events that lead to the arrest of a serial murderer and is played by the marvellous Ken Ogata. Ogata plays a disturbed and disturbing factory worker called Iwao who kills two of his colleagues in cold blood and in a gruesome, pitiless manner. There is seemingly no obvious motive for his crimes. But in classic Imamura fashion, we see his previous criminal history as a confidence trickster, a con man and a swindler and earlier still as a disaffected and rebellious young man, witness to his father's humiliation by the armed forces. Iwao is from a catholic background and the reference points to Catholicism loom large throughout the movie. Later, he lodges at an inn of low repute and befriends the lady owner of the inn. He begins a stormy but almost predictable affair with her.

The story is told in numerous flashbacks and shows how his wife and father were also erotically drawn to each other. In many ways, the general baggage of Catholicism sweeps over the movie almost completely. However, it in no way explains the senseless murders that Iwao commits. There seems to be an unpredictable edge to his behaviour, for he is extremely explosive though he is capable of occasional kindness.

I will be loath to accept any psychological explanation for Iwao's behaviour other than a deeply unsettling fascination with murder. It is more acceptable to consider the almost repulsive murders and absolutely unremorseless behaviour as just that, basically senseless. In an inversion of the title, 'vengeance is mine' would mean vengeance after life provided there is one such. However, it would be futile to consider that Imamura is telling us a tale about a serial killer. As Imamura said himself, he wants to make films that show a connection between the lower part of the body and the lower strata of society. From such a perspective, the most striking aspect is a rough rawness to his movies, depicting a world of the lower classes that is crassly and almost resolutely sexual. The numerous sex scenes that pervade his movies seem to have absolutely to do nothing with sex, for in almost all cases, there is violence associated with these acts and women are beaten into having sex. Or generally speaking, I should say that sex cannot exist other than a kind of violence that people do to each other, and this has nothing to do with class or this movie.

In the world that Iwao moves in and the people he befriends, violence is inbred within their lives as is any lack of sensitivity or decorum. It is as if decorum is the forte entirely of the middle classes. Iwao sleeps with Haru whose husband sleeps with prostitutes; Iwao's wife has incestuous moments with her father-in-law and thus the cycle seems endemic. In Imamura world, the hypocrisies and sufferings of certain weak people is a given fact, any resistance is considered as heretical. However, in what is clearly a swipe at bourgeoisie morality, the violence that is rampant is shown pitilessly. It will be total ignorance to see this without the ramifications of what the aftermath of the second war has meant for Japanese life. Imamura's cinema thus depicts a reality that is so estranged from what Ozu shows us about Japan. Ozu's 'family movies' are not unreal to say the least; it is his studied restraint that is so different from Imamura's.

"The Japanese did not change as a result of the Pacific War—they haven’t changed in thousands of years!", said Imamura in an interview. The Japanese life that we see so often in the classic cinema of Ozu or sometimes in Mizoguchi depicts a consciousness that actually is different from the one portrayed here for here it is so unaesthetic to say the last. Imamura strikes me as anti-intellectual in his approach to films and the way his characters don't look for rationalizations to define their world. Just getting on with life is entirely what the game is all about instead of ruminating on half empty streets against beautiful backdrops with melancholic beauties pondering their way carefully through snow or rain. Consider Sadako, the portly, plump woman who makes her way home after seeing her tormentor die in a train tunnel in Intentions of Murder, the movie that is seldom calm.

In my facile way, I consider that all art must not only show political realities, at home or on the street, it should not flinch in going all the way in showing the skin under the clothes, here be it a beautiful kimono. By baring monster desires for her father-in-law, monster so long as society considers it so, Kazuko, in a scene of unbearable erotic fever, brings out all the pent up emotions of the human psyche in that hot spring where vapour and night have clothed both naked bodies. In that sense, Iwao is a true revolutionary, for his killing and his questions are truly anarchic and hence senseless. How can one justify a logical killing from an illogical killing, for after all, a murder is just that? In using the lower classes to show his vast understanding of human nature, Imamura has brought out all the anxieties of the thinking classes of not only his but the entire generations of people who have fought against outside oppression in the entire world.

A 'kept' woman like Haru or a 'common' law wife like Sadako are just waiting for another oppressor to seduce and kill them; Iwao is the simmering symptom of unknown illnesses. The beautiful flower arrangements or the mono no aware must not seduce the viewer into lulling herself or himself into thinking that there is no discontent here; the world of prostitutes and pimps and murderers is existing alongside the world of those who structure that world. That Haru asks for no explanations from Iwao and that none are forthcoming from him adds to the intrigue and the drama. Haru professes a desire to have his child and eventually he kills her like he has done before, with no apparent motive at all. Ultimately, everything is senseless, including his crimes.