Category Archives: Classics

There is a reason why they are called Classics.

Sven Nykvist – the greatest cinematographer of all time?

Sven Nykvist – the greatest cinematographer of all time?

Winner of two Oscar awards, a career spanning over half a century, orchestrated over 120 films, being Ingmar Bergman‘s favorite cinematographer for more than three decades and also collaborated with other renowned film-makers including Andrei Tarkovsky, Philip Kaufman, Woody Allen, Bob RafelsonRichard Attenborough, Lasse HallströmRoman Polanski and Louis Malle – if anybody is eligible for the title of ‘Best cinematographer of all time’ then i am sure the Swedish genius Sven Vilhem Nykvist will be given the very first preference.

Sven Nykvist shot images which where simple yet profound, most natural yet meaningful and significant.

A brilliant camera operator and also the ‘master of light’ – he preferred to use more of natural light or soft bounce lighting and favored geometrically precise shot compositions. 

In his own words “When you are operating the camera, you forget all about the other people around you. You just see this little scene and you live in that and you feel it. For me, operating the camera is a sport and it helps me do better lighting. I prefer to shoot on location because in the studio you have too many possibilities, too many lights to destroy your whole picture.”

He was nominated thrice for the Oscars – in 1973 for Cries & Whispers, in 1983 for Fanny and Alexander and also in 1989 for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He won the award in the first two occasions.   

His simple imagery speaks volumes and creates such depths and intensity.

He also won a special prize ‘Best Artistic Contribution’ at the Cannes Film Festival for the film The Sacrifice (1986) which was also the last film made by the famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.

By the way Sven Nykvist also directed five feature films out of which his last film Oxen (1991) was nominated at the Oscars in the ‘Best foreign Language Film’ category from Sweden that year. 

The greatest cinematographer of all time – yes probably so but more importantly Sven Nykvist’s talent, his mastery on lights and camera, his authority on capturing beauty and his high professional ethics will always be considered as legendary.

Best of Film Noir (Black Cinema)

Best of Film Noir.

Around 1946 Nino Frank, a French film critic first coined the term ‘Film Noir’ to define the series of stylized, high contrast black and white American films of that particular era.

Dark shadows, flickering neon signs, cheap urban settings, dingy alleys and backdoors, claustrophobic interiors, cynical looking men (mostly private detectives or street smart hustlers) wearing long overcoats drinking away, treacherous foxy women (femme fatales)  wearing a mask of innocence seducing away, corruption and betrayal, guns and murders, the certainty of unhappy endings and of course lots and lots of cigarettes. 

Enter the world of Film Noir (literal meaning ‘Black Cinema‘).

And here is a list of some of the best and most popular Film Noirs Hollywood ever produced.

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phUxnXGhEiI

Maltese-Falcon-posterThis particular film directed by John Huston (his debut) is said to have started the trend and set the mood for the innumerable Film Noirs that dominated Hollywood for the next two decades.

A perfectly twisted murder mystery.

Humphrey Bogart with his crooked handsome looks and the trademark nasal tone soon became the most popular Film Noir star of that era. 

2. Double Indemnity (1944).

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3wjJcuGsVE

double-indemnity-posterDirected by one of my favorite director Billy Wilder, this film is remembered to be the ultimate Film Noir that ever existed!

Brilliant script with superbly corrupted characters full of lust and deceit. Fred MacMurrayBarbara StanwyckEdward G. Robinson at their best.

The film was nominated at the Oscars in se7en categories!

3. Laura (1944)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6f8jRplej8

laura-posterWith lots of flashbacks and surprise twists in the plot this film tells the mysterious story of a detective falling for the woman whose murder he is investigating!

Directed by Otto Preminger and superb performances by Gene TierneyClifton Webb and stunning Dana Andrews.

The film won Oscar in the best Cinematography category.

4. Mildred Pierce (1945)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjK97CqVqWA

mildred-pierce-posterGreat storytelling, brilliant acting, chilling suspense and also an unexpected twist in the end. Yes, it has all of these and much more.

Class performances by Joan CrawfordJack CarsonZachary ScottAnn Blyth.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, one of the best emotional Hollywood classics and of course a super cool Film Noir.

5. Notorious (1946).

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8f4UOtLf5Q

notorious-posterAlfred Hitchcock joins the Film Noir wagon and gives us one of the best of this genre.

This film is a classic tale of love and betrayal – of trust and deceit; a dangerous spy game with the risk of frightening consequences if ever get caught.

Starring Cary Grant and beautiful Ingrid Bergman, very romantic and probably the best spy film ever.

6. The Big Sleep (1946)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjJlBnfyiI4

big-sleep-posterOne of Humphrey Bogart‘s most famous performance and also a most prominent example of Film Noir.

Directed by the master director Howard Hawks this film plunges us into a whirlpool of darkness where blackmail and murder goes hand in hand. 

Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers all at their best in this gripping thriller.

7. The Third Man (1949)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjMDg1Z9_gA

The-Third-Man-posterWhen Joseph Cotten learns of his friend’s mysterious death he suspects foul play and is in search of the mysterious third man who might be present at the time of death.

One of the most popular member of this genre, the film is a perfect thriller with Orson Welles in one of his notorious performances.

Directed by Carol Reed the film is a classic by it’s own right.

8. The Big Heat (1953)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3XA5FEKIx4

big-heat-poster

With vengeance in his mind a cop goes after the city’s most dangerous crime syndicate.

A dirty game of politics and power  challenged by one man’s passion and a thirst for revenge; a film as brutal and vicious as it gets.

Directed by Fritz Lang (who specialized in such dark stories), with Glenn FordGloria Grahame and Jocelyn Brando playing their parts. 

9. The Night Of the Hunter (1955)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8dX6ZKJe2o

night-of-the-hunter-posterRobert Mitchum is determined to get his hands on some hidden money but the children won’t share their secret.

Directed by Charles Laughton this dark film has chilling moments of suspense.

Playing with shadows and silhouettes (the chiaroscuro
lighting technique) has always been an integral part of Film Noir but this one takes it to a different level.

10. The Killing (1956)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAe1CJWH_B8

killing-posterOne of Stanley Kubrick‘s earlier films and a perfect example of Film Noir.

Sterling HaydenColeen GrayVince Edwards playing their parts.

Classic drama full of tension and thrill, edited in a non-linear fashion.

This film is considered to be a huge influence on future non-linear films – the likes of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994).

11. Touch of Evil (1958)

Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-Oqn2hMp1M

touch-of-evil-posterPerformances by Charlton HestonJanet Leigh and Orson Welles – a thriller that is said to be the last of Hollywood’s favorite genre.

Directed by Orson Welles himself, it has kidnapping, corruption, murder and revenge. As the poster says – it is the story of the strangest vengeance that was ever planned!

A true classic to end the golden era of Film Noirs.

Even in the recent past a few films successfully managed to capture the nostalgia of the classic Film Noirs.

A few examples of such Neo-Noirs are The French Connection (1971), Chinatown (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), Blood Simple (1984), L.A.Confidential (1997), Blade Runner (1982), Memento (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001), A History of Violence (2005), Sin City (2005).

Jalsaghar aka The music room (1958)

The Music Room review.

My Ratings: 4.9/5.

The original negative of the 1958 classic film Jalsaghar (The Music Room) was destroyed in a fire. Coincidentally the film was also about destruction!

Universally acclaimed director Satyajit Ray‘s forth feature, based on a popular short story by famous writer Tarashankar Bandopadhyay.

jalshaghar-poster1A tragic drama, Jalsaghar is a brutal tale of a man’s struggle against time; his desperate attempt to cease the inevitable degradation, a futile battle against the humiliation of an inescapable extinction.

Huzur Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas).

A feudal landlord with a remarkably fine taste in classical music and an illusion of misguided grandeur.

Set in the pre-independence era, Huzur Biswambhar Roy is the perfect portrait of an affluent egoistic zaminder from Bengal who is too shortsighted to see the decline of his own zamindari.

Huge family portraits hung from the walls of his palatial ancestral home. Accompanied by his loving wife Mahamaya (Padmadevi) and his adorable young son Bireswar aka Khoka (Pinaki Sengupta), served by the manager of the estate (Tulsi Lahiri) and his loyal servant (Kali Sarkar) among many others and entertained by the performances of the best classical musicians of that time in his own music room (jalsaghar) – Huzur Biswambhar Roy was habituated to such blissful life of royal luxury. 

He even owned a horse named ‘Tufan’ and an elephant named ‘Moti’!

The-Music-Room-posterA pompous man too engrossed in his passion/addiction for music, too drunk in his own pride to notice that his so-called aristocracy and traditional authority is crumbing down to pieces.

With his insatiable urge of parading his supremacy over the new-age wealthy men like Mahim Ganguly (Gangapada Basu) Biswambhar Roy started draining all his family-wealth to arrange unique musical performances and extravagant family functions.

And then with the sudden tragic loss of his family Huzur is left alone – a grief-stricken aging man whose royalty seems to be fading away along with his wealth.

But does that mean he has also lost his zeal for music? His drive to show off his peerage by arranging yet another musical event in his favorite jalsaghar – may be for one last time!

‘To you my noble ancestors – to you!’ and Huzur Biswambhar Roy raises his wine glass as a toast to the portraits of his ancestors.

the-music-room-jalsagar

Chhabi Biswas brilliantly portrays the degradation of Huzur Biswambhar Roy’s character. He manages to capture the insanity that lurks in the shadowy corners of that once opulent ancestral house, the character’s frantic struggle to resist the changes of time, his disturbing denial of accepting the reality.

Huzur’s pet elephant ‘Moti’ (the ancient way of transport) is cleverly compared to Mahim Ganguly’s loud-honking car in one single shot; even the glowing candles at the Zaminder’s palace become a direct contrast to the monotonous sound of the electric generator from neighbour Mahim Ganguly’s place – Satyajit Ray perfectly establishes these conflicts between the old and the new without the need of many dialogues!

With the slow yet engaging narration Ray masterfully captures the mood of that period. He manages to control his audience in a subconscious level; it feels like the film seeps in and creates it’s own hypnotic spell. (More like the mild flavor of ‘muchkundo phul-er papdi’ in Huzur’s favorite sherbet).

The shooting was done at Nimtita Raajbari, in Nimtita village, 10 kms from Murshidabad.

jalsaghar-poster3In Jalsaghar the isolated palace becomes a symbol of Huzur’s loneliness.

The huge mirrors, the life size human paintings, the swinging chandeliers, the trapped insect in the wine glass, the crawling spider on Huzur’s portrait – master director Satyajit Ray with these amazing visuals managed to evoke a certain sense of danger and uneasiness throughout the film.

Special credit goes to Bansi Chandragupta for his brilliant art direction and production designing in the film.

Subrata Mitra’s smooth camera movements and Dulal Dutta‘s editing give Jalsaghar the tranquility it deserves.

Among many famous shots in the film – the one with the reflection of the bright chandelier on Biswambhar Roy’s wine glass can be also interpreted as the fading reflection (remembrance) of his good times, his lost days of happiness, glory and wealth.

Music for Jalsaghar is given by Ustad Vilayat Khan and Robin Majumdar.

jalshaghar-posterThe film has some of the best Hindustani classical musicians performing. On-screen performances by legends like Begum Akhtar, a duet by Roshan Kumari (dancing) and Ustad Waheed Khan (singing) and famous Tansen’s ‘Miya ki malhar’ performed by  Salamat Ali Khan.

Satyajit Ray’s style of introducing Indian classical music to such an extent challenged the general norm of songs and dance sequences in Indian films of that time.

For me Jalsaghar is primarily a psychological drama where Huzur Biswambhar Roy actually fights a battle with himself (his Ego to be more specific); he refuses to open his eyes to the evolving world around him.

Jalsaghar when released though didn’t work at the Indian box-office but received both critical and financial success in Europe and US and helped Ray earn huge international reputation. According to many Critics Jalsaghar is his best film.

Watch it in a relaxed mind (if you already haven’t) … such films are rare to find.

Additional read: The Music Room: Distant Music by Philip Kemp.

When Blue Jasmine rides A streetcar named Desire!

When Blue Jasmine rides A streetcar named Desire!

written by: Souranath Banerjee.

As I was watching the 1951 classic A Streetcar Named Desire (again), this time I couldn’t help but pause over this particular dialogue.

“Why, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume”

Vivien Leigh in a state of nervous humor voiced the above quoted line to define Marlon Brando’s character in the film.

In 2013 (after more than 60 years) the name ‘Jasmine’ used by Woody Allen for the lead character in his latest film Blue Jasmine doesn’t seem all like a coincidence after all – huh?

A-Streetcar-Named-Desire-poster5In 1951 little did Vivien Leigh knew that Miss Blanche du Bois (the name of her character in A Streetcar Named Desire) would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of it’s past Oscar glory (Vivien Leigh won the Oscar in the best actress category that year) and soar high to the same heights (since Cate Blanchett also won the Oscar in the best actress category) – only this time her name would be Jasmine.

Yes, in 2013 Woody Allen directed Blue Jasmine which in many ways is a modern and superficial comic version of the age-old classic A streetcar named desire directed by Elia Kazan. And Cate Blanchett masterfully plays the delusional sister (Jasmine) who has lost everything in life and yet awaits to loose a lot more. 

Basic story structure. (This fits perfectly for both the films)

Blue-Jasmine-poster-touch-upsIt is the story of a middle-aged woman who is robbed from her wealth, relations and social status; she comes to stay with her sister (her only family) in a desperate effort to live a better life.

She is too classy and refined for her new environment and thus has difficulty to cope up with her sister’s middle-class husbands/boyfriends. In her desperate attempt to survive she tries her best to fall in love. But unfortunately her scandalous past creeps up and crushes her sugary dreams of a satisfying future.

In the end she is more damaged than ever; delusional, helpless and alone in this unsympathetic world. A slow and brutal tale of human degradation, of failure and disappointment marvelously captured by both Elia Kazan and Woody Allen through their individualistic cinematic approach.

Personally I am so disturbed by the tragic ending(s). In a way it’s so real and possible – that’s why all the more scary.

 Jasmine Vs Blanche.

The basic contrast between Jasmine (in Blue Jasmine) and Blanche (in A streetcar named desire) lies in the core reason of their complexity.

streetcar-named-desire-poster1For instance Jasmine’s primary problem is the forced degradation of her social status/class. She declares herself broke but couldn’t get rid of her past expensive habits of flying first-class, tipping her taxi driver extra-good, carrying expensive fashionable bags; and she has also lost touch of actually working for a living.

On the other hand Blanche’s principal complication is related to her own fading looks (the negative effects of aging) which according to her leads to lack of companionship. She needs make-up and hot baths in regular intervals; extremely conscious about her looks, she craves compliments for her face, figure, hair, clothes, jewelries …

They were both happy in their own worlds but alas! – they are bankrupt and they both carry the burden of the tainted hidden secrets from their pasts. Their back-stories are pretty different but equally disturbing and they often intend to survive their past memories by having a drink or two.

“Who do you have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?” – Jasmine.

Blue-Jasmine-posterAt the very beginning Jasmine flies from New York to San Francisco to her sister’s place blabbering all about her broken life story, then she takes the regular taxi to arrive at her destination. Whereas Blanche takes the train from Auriol to New Orleans and then takes the dramatically named streetcar called Desire to reach her destination.

Blanche gets to arrive in a much more dramatic way (even her first appearance is very noticeable as she mysteriously appears from behind the smokes and the crowd).

I feel that the amount of emotional drama is much more heightened as Elia Kazan (very much intentionally) compels us to take a roller-coaster ride through a series of extreme melodramatic highs and lows of emotions in his film A street car named desire. On contrary in Blue Jasmine (I am sure it’s again a deliberate decision) Woody Allen keeps all of it a tad subtle and wickedly comic, but mind you the overall emotional effect the film delivers is not played softly at all.

street-car-named-desire-posterThough Jasmine doesn’t have to face any physical violence (rape) as compared to unfortunate Blanche, but the rejection from their respective lovers, the dismissal from their sisters as well as the rest of the society is enough for them to loose their mind completely.

In Blue Jasmine the informative flashbacks are cleverly used in regular intervals to break the linear pattern of storytelling. Whereas in A streetcar named desire the vocal echo of certain words and memories (and also the sound of a shot fired) are beautifully layered as a continuous remembrance of the past and a constant proof of Blanche’s unstable mind.

And lastly the brilliant use of music – Blue Moon and the polka tune of Varsouviana.

Blue-jasmine-poster1Blanche (Vivien Leigh) often in a melancholy way felt nostalgic recalling the music to which she danced the Varsouviana; sometimes she would even imagine the same polka-tune playing in her head, the one they were playing in the Moon Lake Casino that tragic night when soon after her young lover Allan committed suicide.

On the other hand a unique way of portraying Jasmine’s blue world, Woody Allen used the song ‘Blue Moon’ not only as a music piece but a simple link to Jasmine’s once happy past; the song which was playing when she first met her husband Hal at a party. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) repeats this romantic ‘Blue Moon’ story five times throughout the film to anyone who would care (or dare) to listen, and each time you cannot help but smile at her – a sad smile perhaps.