The B Word

“Bollywood! The nickname for the largest, most spectacular film industry on earth. Every year, India produces three times as many films as Hollywood and sells move than two billion movie tickets.”

From the get go, English telly personality Anita Rani makes clear her priorities for her two-part BBC Two series Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry – rolling off (in her hyperbolic, Jeremy Clarkson-esque lilt) well-trodden fluff facts on Hindi cinema, imprisoning it as a dazzling, immense “thing” – an abstract concept to be trivialised. Not actual real films that can actually be watched, loved, hated and studied from beginning to end. Not real films, like French films are real films. Not like American films are real films, or Korean films are real films. No, this is BOLLYWOOD we’re talking about. The fact those Indians even have a movie industry is amazing, much less a really, really massive one. Let’s spend a while just getting over that first before we even contemplate actually watching this stuff they make.

Okay, yes, nine seconds onto Episode 1 and I was already judging this programme rather harshly. It got better later on. A bit.

bw1“Johnny Lever! Ermahgerd!!!”

“I’ve been fascinated by Indian cinema since I was a kid”, claims Rani, before a clip is shown of her shouting “I love you!” across the street at Johnny Lever, one of the most annoying comedy actors ever. Her questionable knowledge of Hindi cinema makes her a debatable candidate for covering its films, though admittedly the series’ meagre two-episode series length doesn’t even try to cover its history in any substantial quantity. Instead, there’s the usual gasping at cheap ticket prices, touristy journeys on Mumbai rickshaws, and shots of filthy slums aside sparkling skyscrapers. Rani’s description of India as “exotic” is the icing on this cake of limited, cliched perception. This might not only be a show for people who’ve never heard of Bollywood before, but who’ve never heard of India before.

“No Bollywood film worth its salt would be worth releasing without action!”, Rani tells us half-jokingly. I think half-jokingly. Her listing of ingredients integral to Hindi masala flicks – romance, comedy, song-and-dance – is the same generalisation of Indian cinema, even Bollywood, that has dogged its reputation abroad. With unnamed clip after clip showing the most rotten, or – at best – most average, of modern Hindi popcorn cinema, the uninitiated viewer certainly has no right to imagine Indian films are, or ever were, capable of genuine artistry or indivudualism. Rani: “These song-and-dance numbers might seem like a bit of fun, frivolous escapism”. Yes, YOUR OWN CHOICE OF CLIPS does somehow give that impression, Anita. This could have been a segue into the other side of Bollywood – a selection of moments from the songless and wordless Pushpak (1988, d. Singeetam Srinivasa Rao), the gritty crime thriller Satya (1998, d.  Ram Gopal Varma),  or the atmospheric noir Baazi (d. 1951, Guru Dutt). Instead, Rani quickly wraps up by simply explaining that Indians have always liked to dance.

On the set of the forgettable actioner Raid (2018, d. Raj Kumar Gupta), Rani gawks in gleeful wonder at the woeful fight choreography and seems especially keen to show us one remarkable technique that she’s apparently never heard of before – a stunt dude being pulled by a wire. Needless to say, the cast and crew of these shoots are entirely matter-of-fact in their interviews with Rani, who blurts patronisingly about their feats to no end. “You rebuilt a whole set?!”, she exclaims to one blase production assistant. “When you started out in the films, were there even scripts?” she asks actor Ajay Devgan, who began acting in 1991. Devgan gives a polite reply, despite me begging him to say “No, actually we didn’t even have spotlights back then. Our films all had to be shot in temples by candlelight.”

bw2“And do you have dial-up here yet?”

By extolling their filmmaking skills, particularly the most basic, Rani paradoxically makes Bollywood crews (who are actually as proficient as any in the industry) out to be stone age chumps. The more excitedly she portrays the modernity of their camera equipment or dexterity of their costume seamsters, the more unintentionally and vaguely racist the programme becomes in showing that Indians – imagine that – are very talented indeed at making films. This culminates in Rani’s following revelation on “Bollywood secrets”:

“An item song might be four minutes long, but no one ever has to perform the whole thing at once. The choreographers will break the dance down into short, manageable sequences, which they can film separately. Then it’s just the matter of nailing each individual move, one at a time. Then, some careful editing and a little post-production gloss can hide a multitude of sins. With less than an hour’s training and some Bollywood shortcuts, [I can be turned] into an item girl.”

This process – insultingly named “Bollywood shortcuts” – of: breaking a scene up into shots, shooting them one by one, editing them together and finally colour grading…

…IS THE ENTIRE PROCESS OF ALL FILMMAKING EVERYWHERE.

To suggest these are cheap tricks that allow Bollywood performers to dance without looking like unskilled morons is disparaging to just about everyone who makes films. Focusing on the truly admirable talents that make Indian dance scenes so uniquely riveting would have been lovely – the unmatched energy of Laxmi Chhaya’s whiplash movements in “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” (Gumnaam, 1965), the almost inhuman bendiness of Prabhu Deva’s limbs in “Mastana” (Raasaiyya, 1995), the outstanding symbiosis of beat-driven editing/tilted camera positioning and swaying choreography in Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai’s “Dola Re Dola” (Devdas, 2002). But, alas, none of these examples or their like are cited.

Things slowly improve somewhat in Episode 2 as Rani ceases her phoney fawning to call Bollywood out on some of its own bullshit: Western female dancers roped in to perform some of the sleazier dance moves, the obsession with skin-whitening products, the still-present casting couch (Weinstein is mentioned in connection too, pleasingly). But misinformation, half-truths and lazy journalism still abound elsewhere.

“We have just managed to get on the set of Padmaavat. It’s being directed by one of the greatest living Indian film directors.”

The director in question is Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is so great that Rani doesn’t tell us his name or cite any examples of why he has supposedly attained this reputation. Denying us this information again strips him and his films of an actual existence. He is just a name, like Bollywood – an abstract concept. Where are the clips that show us his authorship, his penchant for melodrama, his lush, extravagant sets, his occasionally problematic portrayal of women as sacrificial lambs? This show is about as deep as a Death Valley lake.

“When I was a kid, Bollywood was famously prudish. There was no kissing on screen and the raciest it got was a woman in a wet sari.”

While rare, kissing has been glimpsed in Indian cinema since the 1930s. When Rani was 18, the 1996 film Raja Hindustani – the third-highest grossing Indian film of the decade – boasted a fifty-second long smooch. As for wet saris being as racy as it got, Rani must not be familiar with Zeenat Aman’s work in the 70s.

All India Bakchod is a YouTube channel of comedians and they’re doing something that’s really radical for India. It’s never been done before. They’re taking a look at the film industry in a sarcastic, irreverent and frankly very rude fashion.”

I was delighted to see All India Bakchod‘s hilarious “‘Cos I Have Vagina” sketch featured in this programme, but Rani again misses out on years of satirical films Indian cinema has poked fun at itself with throughout the decades. Miss Malini (1947, d. Kothamangalam Subbu) ridiculed social climbers in the theatre, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983, d. Kundan Shah) sent up India’s news media along with bureaucracy and Luck By Chance (2009, d. Zoya Akhtar) viciously satirised Bollywood superstar ego and nepotism. Omitting all this rich history only serves to, again, portray India and its film industry as only having just escaped prehistoric times.

The final episode thankfully improves significantly in the latter half hour when Rani meets director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who discusses the genuinely interesting story of the making of his forthcoming drama Mere Pyaare Prime Minister. Lamenting the lack of toilet facilities in Mumbai’s poorest areas, Mehra recruited a cast and crew of genuine slum dwellers (many of whom possess charisma not far off that of Bollywood’s studio stars) to shoot his story on the subject in and around their homes. Mehra’s quiet sincerity seems genuine and silences Rani’s loud, excessive enthusiasm for the first time. Says Mehra: “There are 1.3 billion people in India. There are 1.3 billion stories to be told.” Mehra seems far more aware that these millions are not a concept, but real individuals. A pity that Anita Rani mostly failed to convey this in her documentary.

 

Advertisements

Holy crap

holym1“Plastic Bertrand? Never fookin’ ‘eard of him.”

Noel Gallagher, almost a decade after quitting Oasis, still insists on having a music career with his make-believe High Flying Birds act. Diehard fans of his old band have thus-far humoured him by buying enough copies of his prior two solo efforts to justify Album #3, an achievement his brother’s ill-fated band Beady Eye didn’t attain. After their dreary BE sat on store shelves untouched, Liam – fresh from personal life woes involving affairs, divorce and child support – phoned up bandmates Andy Bell and Gem Archer in 2014 to call it quits. Bell rejoined shoegaze kings Ride before Gallagher had hung up, while Archer texted smileys to Noel for the next three years as he pinned needles into voodoo dolls of High Flying Birds guitarist Tim Smith. Archer replaced Smith in 2017.

Today, Liam is also now a one man band, and as his debut long player As You Were hits the shops, Noel’s new single – in an exceptional coincidence – premieres the same week. Noel’s Birds records have ranged from bland to mediocre, still plundering the same 60s mid-tempo dad rock he’s always favoured (with the occasional Gerry Rafferty-esque saxophone deviation) and descending ever more into Dire Straits levels of banality. Gallagher recently continued his musical vanilla ventures by curtain-jerking for U2.

New track Holy Mountain is Noel’s biggest departure from the Morning Glory days. With producer David Holmes at the helm, there’s fuzzier sonics and vague psychedelia at play. But – DEAR GOD – if the lyrics he has penned here are the best he can dream up these days, he should never be permitted to exercise his ambidextrous writing paws again. I didn’t imagine it possible to write an entire song made up of cliches, but ’17 NG proved me wrong…

Dance dance, if you do that dance
I’m gonna let you join my one man band
Be my doll, by my baby doll
Come get to know me like the back of your hand

I like the name hangin’ on that chain
I like the way you do the push and the shove
You can blow my mind if you’re that way inclined
All I know is that you fell from above

She fell, she fell, right under my spell
Oh now pretty baby, come on
She danced, she danced, right into my hands
Oh now pretty baby, come on

Be my butterfly, you and I will shake it
We can roll in at the top of the morn
And if you feel the need, I’ll send you godspeed
To meet your maker at the break of the dawn

Get out of the doldrums baby now
You liar, I’ll set ya on fire
Get out of the doldrums baby now

Musically, it’s a mildly fun, horn-infused ELO-style stomper. Certainly a ways from Don’t Look Back in Anger. But there ain’t a shred of originality on offer, being as it is a rip-off of Plastic Bertrand’s Ca Plane Pour Moi with (as nearly all of Twitter has pointed out) more than a hint of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. Plagiarism is something Gallagher still hasn’t departed from. The catchy flute loop is also sampled from The Chewin’ Gum Kid, a forgotten 60s bubblegum pop 7″ by Ice Cream – though this has been credited, likely at zero royalties cost. Even the title is stolen goods; much like Wonderwall, Gallagher appropriates the name of another film with George Harrison connections – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Nothing with Beatles fingerprints is safe from Noel’s thieving music hoover.

Can David Holmes, a talented composer, possibly be proud of this collaboration? Maybe he is – he’s no stranger to borrowing from the greats himself, having knocked off Ennio Morricone’s Svolta Definitiva (an NG favourite) for his Ocean’s Twelve soundtrack cut What R We Stealing

With its retro animation and primary-coloured 60s/70s optical SFX, Holy Mountain‘s video apes every Go! Team (or Whyte Horses, whom Gallagher has also favoured recently) music vid you’ve ever seen. Except those didn’t feature a wrinkly bloke embracing his newfound love of the dancefloor spotlight by shaking his boney hips. Ultracringe. Really, if you deleted Noel and added any one of Ian Parton’s or Don Thomas’s favourite girlband singers with less vomit-worthy lyrics, this could actually be agreeable enough pop. As it is, Noel might best be served saving his midlife crisis for wedding receptions.

Liam must be laughing it up. Except his new record is rotten too.

Let’s end a hateful post with something loving. I’m currently editing a wonderful documentary called To Be A Torero for Spanish filmmaker Inma de Reyes, who has just jet off to Prague to experience Noel and David’s hero Morricone in concert. I’m unfathomably jealous. Here’s one of my favourites from the master…

Bringing Up Bobbie

bobbie_1.1.1

Stumbled upon this incredible photograph today of 69-year-young Bobbie Gentry from 2014 – seemingly her only public photo taken since 1985. The pic arrives from this dull article at Boyd Gaming, a naff Casino company, promoting the latest signee to its “Corporate E-Commerce team” Robert Streeter (pictured right), Gentry’s band guitarist and production manager in the 70s. She receives a fleeting mention in the article with the photo tacked on insignificantly at the bottom – perhaps the boys at Boyd weren’t aware that even a mere glimpse of her these days for music fans is akin to witnessing Elvis rise from the grave.

Unlike her contemporaries Gale Garnett and Margo Guryan (whose ‘Sunday Morning’ track Gentry covered with Glen Campbell), who similarly canned their music careers but continue to give interviews and connect with their fanbases, Gentry has been unrelenting in her reclusiveness since the 80s, refusing interviews, appearances and even denying her own existance. Did Boyd upload the photo without realising the significance? Did Streeter provide it to them by some mistake? Who knows, but it’s heartening to see her alive and well.

Gentry is most known for her ’67 bluesy folk hit ‘Ode to Billie Joe’, but I prefer her 1971 swansong LP ‘Patchwork’ – a blissful hodgepodge of brassy Bacharach, clip-clop country and soaring soft rock ballads.

Can we fix it? Je suis Cannes

Cannes_70th_Anniversary
As the cut ‘n’ paste line-up hints at, diversity isn’t exactly an abstraction running rampant at Festival de Cannes – cinema’s most revered and elitist film gathering.

Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges… Oh wait, we do.

A non-public festival, Cannes is an invite-only affair, catering to A-list actors, the press, media distributors, networkers and – the lowest scum of all – filmmakers. Mere fans of movies are left to humiliatingly beg for any tickets going spare outside the various theatres by holding up placards with film titles scrawled in felt tip (this year providing several amusing instances of glum young blokes holding signs reading “How To Talk To Girls At Parties“).

Not too far from the bottom of this Cannes totem pole, my free badge was acquired having secured a place for my film The Lick in the Short Film Corner – a not-so-exclusive club of 1,800 other student/indie efforts available for perusal on library Macs. It seems that as long as one can cobble together something that isn’t upside down or otherwise repugnant to the senses (and slap down an an 85-Euro submission fee – so yeah, free badge not so fee), Cannes are just about willing to grant you generous entry to its forbidden fortress of red carpets, secret parties and – if you don’t mind queuing for two hours each time – maybe a few movies.

I was joined by friends, colleagues and fellow Cannes virgins Mia Maxwell, Fraser Stephen and Lynsay Holmes – my Lick script supervisor, DOP and actor respectively. Mia literally broke bones (her own) for me on my shoot, having taken a nasty tumble on rain-soaked muddy grass, and is a supremely talented filmmaker – check out her stuff after you finish reading this (or before – hers is far more worthy of your net browsing). We all got an immense kick out of being there – the vigorous crowds, the incendiary sun, the unexpected sight of Agnès Varda casually strolling right passed us. And, despite relegating ourselves to cheap burger hangout Steak & Shake out of budget necessity (7 Euros for a bottle of water in Français Tinseltown), we soaked up all the atmosphere we could. Seeing cinetrash king Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma troupe stirring up a refreshing ruckus seemingly everywhere was a particularly surreal delight.

Mia caught the networking bug much more readily than moi and amassed a sizeable collection of business cards by the week’s end. Being the awkward lurker sort, I pretended to look comfortable at the various happy hour chinwags in the Short Film Corner in-between darting to the bar to grab handfuls of free Nestle Minis. By the second or third day, I was definitely ready to cease wandering all over the joint and start seeing some actual films.

And pretty great films they were too. A new 4K restoration of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (enthusiatically as ever introduced via video by funder Martin Scorsese) was a stunner. Short films impressed too – especially Salvatore Lista’s strange and sad Le Visagewhere video game violence comes under interesting scrutiny in the midst of a language barrier romance. “Sad” could crop up more than once or a dozen times in the land of Cannes, as could other “s” adjectives like “sophisticated”, “slow” or “subdued”. After a few screenings, one can’t be oblivious to this festival’s singular taste in style and philosophy. Happy endings and crazy exuberance aren’t en vogue around here. When a burst of cinematic madness erupts, it’s a delightful shock – as was the case with Matthew Rankin’s frantically-edited Tesla: Lumière Mondialea gloriously bonkers tribute to inventor Nikola Tesla that recalls Švankmajer’s animations and the silent film allusions from Esteban Sapir’s La Antena.

Shorts brought the fun elsewhere with Straight 8, an amateur competition selection of unedited rolls of Super 8mm. With Chewin’ The Fat-esque slapstick, cardboard ‘n’ sellotape sets and naff attempts at arthouse (think Roberta Allsworth’s Mirror Father Mirror film from Ghost World), this was college-level nonsense. But after the sameyness of the “proper” film selections at the fest, seeing profoundly varied kinds of shite was weirdly refreshing (the shots of free whisky we were handed while queuing to thank us for waiting might’ve helped too). The shorts may have even overshadowed the features, after Yorgos Lanthimos’ Killing of a Sacred Deer disappointed me with its uninspired aping of Kubrick music design and jettisoning of Lanthimos’ dark surrealism in favour of a rather more ordinary (and overly nasty) slasher horror.

My fellow Short Film Corner comrades had plenty of good stuff on offer in our Mac library too. If I was ever at a loose end for an hour or two, the selection always provided a fun way to spend the time. One highlight I happened upon was Lithuanian drama 8 Minutes. A tired woman’s escape from a rainy drive to a soothing sunbed is magically transformed into a wondrous dream by director Dovilė Šarutytė. With a saturated rainbow colour scheme straight out of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas or Carine Adler’s Under The Skin, the film hypnotises in its vibrancy and calm simplicity.

16640947_1917316855168629_6585794535603784261_n
Dovilė Šarutytė’s gorgeous Lithuanian short 8 Minutes.

And then… there was Episodes 1 and 2 of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks resurrection. This series has given me so much to think, feel and talk about (and as I type, we’re still only half-way through at Episode 9), but I’ll hold off until Showtime airs the final part before I altogether let loose my fangirling. I can say for now that witnessing the premiere on a giant screen with booming sound in the beautiful Soixantième Theatre was a mind-fuck to die for.

Our SFC passes only allowed access to the festival’s second week (the less exciting one after the curtain has closed on most of the premieres), however we crashed a day early without any raised eyebrows from the legion of security guards. Yes, as one might expect, the first Cannes since 2016’s Bastille Day attacks was awash with newly erected vehicle barriers and machine gun-wielding troops. The current terror climate never strayed far from thought and clouded the days following the Ariana Grande bombing back home, a mere two days after we landed. Even our flight back to Edinburgh looked dicey for a time as our plane delayed taking off for over an hour after we boarded when a pudgy bloke with non-white skin was reported to the cabin crew by overly sweaty passengers alarmed by his creepy habit of taking covert photos of nearby females – as well as his admittedly ill-conceived choice of t-shirt which read “BOMB THE WORLD”. Extremist he wasn’t, dickhead he was.

An affair to remember! Would I go back? Aside from the Star Trek fan gags in The Big Bang Theory, elitism has rarely been my cuppa and so the very exclusivity that awards Cannes its fame and allure also kind of rubs my school uniform-hating skin the wrong way. Should the fest change its ways and open its doors to the public? I don’t know. Maybe one uber-fancypants party a year doesn’t hurt the film world. And maybe one day I’ll return – if my films ever make it out of the Short Film Corner and my many showbiz servants can get me all 7 Euro bottles of water I desire.

Ivan Booze

drunken-master-2-1024x566

When I first watched Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1978 kung fu slapsticker Drunken Master in 2000 (back then referred to as “the year 2000” to avoid confusion with the B-boy dance move), it was in a language it wasn’t spoken in (Mandarin), in an aspect ratio it wasn’t shot in (16:9) and on a DVD that British distributor Hong Kong Legends assured fans could never be bettered due to non-existent source materials. A couple of years later, it would announce a “platinum edition” in the original Cantonese and 2.35:1 ratio. It never materialised before the company went bust.

Slow-forward 17 years and the much better label Masters of Cinema have this week granted Jackie Chan fans (“Chans”?) the film in all its boozy glory on blu-ray. It’s still a treat in HD – a reminder of how artistically-minded Chan was even in his filmy infancy, choreographing his balletic batterings with an editor’s mindset – no coverage, no reverse angles, just the pieces needed. Hitchcock would storyboard his visions months ahead for pinpoint accuracy, but Chan’s fights – while no less specific in his much-concussed noggin – were dreamt up primarily on set upon eyeing up what props had bothered to chuck around or through late night chats in the bar with Woo-Ping. Yet all would still have been meticulously worked out before the cameras rolled – no shit-covered walls here.

In the blu-ray extras, 60+ Chan laments his “irresponsibility” at promoting alcoholism in the film as well as lauds his resolution to make “healthy action” cinema, as opposed to the “pornography, war films and violence” of other filmmakers. Nice Guy Jackie certainly has been frequently revealed as morally-conscious – notably in 2014 when he publicly shamed his own son for smoking weed. Chan’s black and white ethics fittingly seem to belong to the departed era when Chinese action films reigned at the worldwide box office. We really couldn’t get enough of this good guy vs bad guy stuff in the 90s, culminating in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon‘s reign at the 2001 Oscars – six months before events in New York changed things somewhat. Good and evil have been portrayed ever more ambiguously in film since then – leaving Jackie and friends to mostly just reminisce of “healthier” times.