Monday, September 30, 2002

Going to Poona

So today evening I got The Best of Z Z Top from the public library, to get myself an introduction to these blues-rock Texans. Thence we proceeded to Poona, a South Asian restaurant on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth. Yes, it was the name that intrigued us. Our hostess was a friendly Bengali lady who wasn't sure why they had named the restaurant Poona. Our entrees were Vegetable Korma and Chicken Chilli to go with 2 naans. The food was good, except their tendency to add chopped peppers into the Chicken Chilli to add the "spice" to it was an unwarranted Chatpatti-style act {these people add uncooked masala as toppings to dishes like paav bhaaji}. Clearly there is a prevalent warped idea of "spicy" food. The portions are below modest, especially for the price. You wouldn't notice this, however, because their spice trick just gave you a "full" feeling.

Back home, we caught the special features on the Vertigo DVD. I must say I was disappointed. Most of the commentary (if I may dare to call it that; it seemed more like outtakes of a cofee-shop scene in a forgettable B-movie) focused on the effort involved in restoring this classic, minus any interesting technical details. The documentary was moderately interesting, including the add-on subdued ending and previews for the original release and the re-release. The original preview was a good indicator of why the film didn't do well -- the studio was clearly in no position to understand the property they had and persisted on marketing it with the tags that you would associate with Hitchcock. The re-release preview was much more faithful, except for the Powerpoint-style intertitles. Wish they had the good sense to get a film scholar to talk over the film. The closest they get is Steve Smith, Bernard Herrmann's biographer. Sadly, he deviates from the score of the film itself to other works by Herrmann, and his voluble description of Herrmann's music soon overstays its welcome. So, unless you want to listen to people go on tangents for over two hours, skip the commentary.

who's the black private dick ... and a 50s TV show...and some vertigo

The weekend has been fair (barring some Oracular unpleasantries). Caught three movies in all (phew!) in addition to the inevitable Star Trek TNG Sunday marathon on TNN. VH1 was running The Godfather II {aping TNN's efforts last month}. The nice touch was the use of Guns n' Roses' début single Welcome to the Jungle in the promos. Quite apt, considering the subject matter of the film.

Shaft (2000): John Singleton's sequel to /retake on the cult Richard Roundtree vehicle has Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft Jr., the nephew of the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, doing an affectionate cameo, and making good on the opportunity to take digs at the character that made him famous) and even reuses Isaac Hayes' classic Oscar-winning theme. Although everyone does their best in the flick, the clear winner is Jeffrey Wright's Peoples Hernandez, who seems to have received the generous blessings of both screenwriter and actor. I liked the ending too, but everything else in this film reeks of glossy conventional action (having Armani do Mr. Jackson's outfits took the cake), losing out on the familiarity that the original had. The other great things in this good entertaining piece of fluff are the cameo by Gordon Parks (as Mr. P), director of the original, the Isaac Hayes video for Shaft's Theme added as a DVD bonus and Hayes talking about the theme itself (to paraphrase: "everything's a minor 7th -- starting with B-flat").

Pleasantville follows siblings sucked into a black and white 1950s TV sitcom, who proceed to add colour (no pun intended) to the routine lives of the inhabitants of the town of Pleasantville. Predictably, there's a parable about evaluating the good old days and taking a fresh look at the new world. The special effects complement the story and the slow transition of the town into full-blown colour is one the best things you can pay to watch. I couldn't help notice the uncomfortable ambiguity in the word "coloured". There are scenes in the film that indicate the resistance of the complacent townspeople to the advent of colour into their lives (and the colour obviously augments their lives and the way they think) and I cannot shake off the allegorical parable about racism. Feel-good, with a message. {read the script}

Vertigo: The restored collector's edition DVD. 'Nuff said. Slow, somnial and lyrical, Hitchcock's most personal film came out in the height of the studio system and sadly suffered from disuse. The restoration brings back the vibrant colours for both viewers and film scholars to drool over: the former over John Fergusson's increasing obsession and the latter over how the sets, colours and costumes complement one of the most disturbing spirals into mental ruin ever depicted on screen.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

the goodwill used book fair

Once again Chris triumphs in evoking memories of home: this time of those tireless visits to the book exhibitions at the Institution of Engineers, Pune. Like old-timers I have cause to whine about the declining "quality" of those exhibitions, but I remember them as a great activity I indulged in with Dad {Mom loved reading too, but you should have seen her face when she saw Dad and me walk in with another haul from yet another non-descript raddi {read: second-hand} book store in a strange pocket of town. Chris convinced me to accompany him to the famous second-hand book sale organized by the Goodwill Industries of North Georgia. As it turns out, from this year on, the annual event has become a quarterly event giving bookshelf fillers three times the joy of replenishing their stocks. Prices range from 50 cents to $4. And the proceeds go to benefit programmes for persons facing barriers to employment. I think that's a good cause in these times, and I know what such people have to go through. On with my purchase list:

* Fahrenheit 451/Ray Bradbury

* Something Wicked This Way Comes/Ray Bradbury

* Danse Macabre/Stephen King

* The Seven Per-Cent Solution/Nicholas Meyer {wherein Watson, to treat his friend's cocaine induced delusions, takes Holmes to Sigmund Freud} {also the source for the entertaining film of the same name}

* 5,000,000/Dread Zeppelin {tape}

* 461 Ocean Boulevard/Eric Clapton

* Real Love/... {a 2 song "single" tape release from The Beatles}

* Stand By Me: soundtrack {tape}

Friday, September 27, 2002

original plagiarism

Screen is out for the weekend and has its share of howlarious interviews. My favourite is the Salman Khan interview. The reason: the bare-above-the-waist hunk has signed on a Hollywood-Bollywood film Marigold. The young Khan has not been doing that well at the box office (he claims otherwise) and (surprise! surprise!) penned the story for the Diya Mirza vehicle Tumko Na Bhool Paayenge: Yes, Tumko Na Bhool Paayenge was written by me, and I have to admit that may be it was slightly ahead of its time. It was good cinema...well shot. It was well conceived but perhaps it was not projected right. People didn�t understand the meaning and rejected the film. I think we slipped because the character was shown first as a Hindu and then as a Muslim.... Actually, Mr. Khan the story was ahead of its time, made in 1996 ... as The Long Kiss Goodnight. Of course, in a gender reversal Geena Davis became Salman Khan. But that shouldn't matter, right?

Thursday, September 26, 2002

swing along

I've been working with JFC/Swing, the set of GUI class libraries for Java programmers and it's been a rather interesting experience (but don't get me started on putting buttons inside table cells...that was easier done in MFC. If you're starting out with Swing and have some issues with Java (like I do), here are a couple of references that you will like to have by your side: Java Cookbook and Graphic Java 2, Volume 2: Swing (third edition). Anything else won't help you navigate the bumps on the road.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

more library hauls

Yes, it was almost as if I had known that it was going to be such a rainy and gloomy day today... Yesterday, thanks to Chris, I made a quick trip to the Dekalb County Library to pick up some more items on hold.

* Hair/Original Broadway Cast Recording

* Superfly/Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition

* Shaft {DVD}

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

the irony continues

just a few days after I got Billy Idol's Greatest Hits, VH1 has a special on the man himself ... complete with bleeps and a timeline on Generation X. Trivia buffs will note that Billy has a cameo in The Doors, and this feature tells you how his contribution to the film dipped from a major role to a cameo thanks to an unfortunate motorcycle accident.

Monday, September 23, 2002

new Google tab

just noticed a new tab on the main Google Page that takes you to Google News, where you can search and browse several continuously updated news sources. Have to remember to try this out once I get out of this coding shtick.

: All the News Google Algorithms Say is Fit to Print {free registration required}

weekend bliss

Sunday, September 22, 2002

A woodwind ensemble at Spivey Hall. And The Jimi Hendrix Experience BBC Sessions 2-CD pack from CD Warehouse.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Lunch at Maharaja. Duck Soup.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Sleepy Hollow.

Friday, September 20, 2002

More Screen for the weekend

Sanjeev Kohli, the son of underrated composer Madan Mohan has just released a short film about his father titled "Madan Mohan Forever...". If his name sounds a bit familiar, dig out your HMV Golden Collection compilations and see the name of the person they are credited to. Yes, Sanjeev Kohli, son of Madan Mohan works for HMV. Pity he seems rather powerless to curb the grotesque atrocities that the label has exacted on listeners and fans of good rare film music lying gathering dust in their vaults.

Also is this weekend's issue, a little tribute to the late Kavi Pradeep, famous for the patriotic paean Ae mere watan ke logon.

A Little Big War...over love

Screen's cover story for the weekend explores the ek chhoti si love story controversy in detail. They also have an update on the issue.

On a lighter note, Taran Adarsh's list of newly registered movie titles continues to amuse:

Haste Khelte Ho Gaya..!


Goli The Bullet {just in case you were wondering what the last title meant}

Graduate Hall


Chicken Curry


Chicken And Rice

In recent times, there has been a growing tendency to name films with English translations tagged along as suffixes: Shakti - The Power, Goli - The Bullet, Sikkay - The Coins ... and the like. We continue, however, to endure indigestibly long titles that seem to appeal to filmmakers who wish to emulate the (questionable) success of trailblazers of the genre like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and the complete Karan Johar canon {wanna know what his next film will be titled? check this out}.

Related: previous howlers (a long time ago)

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Just for Fun

That's the title of the book Linus Torvalds (author of the Linux kernel) co-wrote with David Diamond. Well, the book he was expected to write. Don't expect the evangelical tone and content of Eric Raymond's cult work The Cathedral and the Bazaar. This book is an easy read, witty as well as engrossing. There's enough self-referential humour to assure readers that Linus is just being a simple individual who is still trying to come to terms with his evolution into an important icon in the Open Source/Free Software community, and not someone trying to sound overtly important. What was interesting was that I got to the portion of the book where he describes how he released version 1.0 of the kernel. The date was September 17, 1991. And here I was reading it 11 years later. Linux and Linus have come a long way ... of course, so have The Simpsons.

On a sad note, Priya Tendulkar who made Rajni a household name lost her fight with breast cancer at the age of 48.

{TOI} {rediff}

Amol Palekar remembers Priya Tendulkar

Subhash K. Jha remembers Priya Tendulkar

More URL shortening

Tara Calishain discovers another URL-shortening service in this week's issue of ResearchBuzz, this time with a twist. Snipurl allows you to personalize the shortened URL you get back. It also warns you if the nickname you have chosen has already been taken. Check it out.

Related: Previous post on short links

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Ira Levin double bill

It's probably a good time to note that I finished reading A Kiss Before Dying and Sliver, both by Ira Levin and marking good endpoints of his work. Both books are fast reads, but each gave me something to write about, so here goes.

A Kiss Before Dying may be familiar to triviamongers as the source for two films one made in 1956 and the other in 1991 with Matt Dillon and Sean Young. The latter adaptation with significant changes to the source novel served to inspire the Abbas-Mustan fronted gore-fest Baazigar, which established Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan's "evil hero" phase and also relaunched Anu Malik's career as a music director. The book is well-paced and has a great little twist (which may surprise even those familiar with the basic plot of Baazigar) that is unfilmable.

Sliver explores obsession and voyeurism with a technological twist and presents us with the unsettling and dangerous consequences of such compulsive behaviour. While not a literary masterpiece, the novel betrays an interesting writing style. Sentences are short and staccato. Conversations are made of such sentences with a few exceptions. It seems to be written like a little diary of notes that someone would maintain. Not too much detail, but just enough hooks to trigger the rest of a memory. Everything seems to be a play with the title itself (which refers to the high-rise buildings erected on narrow bases that resemble splinters). There's a nice little dinner conversation where Kay Norris is talking to a guest while refilling everyone's wine glasses. If you aren't paying too much attention, her words are likely to confuse you as they reflect her shifting attentions. Pity, the wrong people adapted this to film (the ultimate barbaric act being an altered ending that was as lifeless as the rest of the film).

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Monday evening library trip

This was something I forgot to write about ... Thanks to Chris I got a ride to the Embry Hills branch of the Dekalb County Library to collect some holds of mine.

* In the Houses of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the power of Rock Music/Susan Fast: A great book that studies Led Zeppelin both from a musicological perspective as well as an ethnographic one. Susan Fast tones the technical content of the book appropriately, so that feeble readers like me (who have come to detest humanities texts for their abstruse insistence of substance in nothingness) can grok. Since the book includes the sociological angle, it's not as musically enlightening or explorative as Walter Everett's twin pack The Beatles as Musicians {volume I, volume II}. It's also not the "look at the cool hedonism they indulged in" book that Stephen Davis and Richard Cole contributed to. If Walter Everett is reading/listening, please write a book on the music of this band. It's the least they deserve.

* Shaft/Isaac Hayes: Finally, I get my hands on the awesome soundtrack (desi disciples include Kalyanji-Anandji and R. D. Burman)

* Greatest Hits/Billy Idol: If only for his covers of L. A. Woman and Don't You (Forget About Me).

* Essence of Rhythm/Zakir Hussain: This one's for the interesting beat cycles he performs (including pancham sawAri which I recently read about in Raga Mala)
the casualties of war

The first casualty of war is innocence screamed the tagline for Oliver Stone's brilliant anti-war film of memories Platoon. That film opened with an ironic quote from Ecclesiastes 11:9: rejoice o young man, in thy youth. The film proceeds to depict the most vivid and basic memory of Vietnam: going there and getting killed or watching people die. Any gung-ho patriotic fervour was shredded by the harsh reality and horror of war, blood and guts. All Quiet on the Western Front {which we completed yesterday: part One} made in 1930 focuses on similar issues, but the battleground is WWI. Stone's film brutally explored the descent of soldiers into a confused maelstrom of violence unleashed at both the innocent and the ostensibly guilty. Lew Milestone (as does Remarque's source novel, I would imagine) focuses on German youth (and our protagonist Paul, in particular) who have joined the war effort with patriotic fervour, stirred up by their school teacher. Soon they (as well as we) realise that war only about death, blood, smoke, bombs, guns, bullets and hunger. In one of the great scenes in the film, the group lightly ponders the cause of the war. The humour in the scene only serves to emphasise the futility of the war (there is a more gut-wrenching horrifying moment in Coppola's almost-masterpiece Apocalypse Now when Willard asks a soldier firing away, "Who's your commanding officer?" only to get a confused reply "Ain't you?"). The battle scenes are well done as are the performances.

To truly appreciate the film, it is important to understand when the film was made. As I blogged yesterday, the film bears the unmistakable influence of silent films in its staging. The dialogue, as is typical of the films of the time, is often hurried and the scenes seem 'artificial' in their cutting, especially because of the pauses that punctuate the dialogues across shots. Once we get that 'annoyance' out of the way, what we have is a great film that thankfully wasn't remade with a modern cynicism so evident in films like The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and Platoon.

The film ends with a poignant scene, and the makers are prudent enough to spare us the trumpets and rolls for the end title, giving us, along with Paul, the peace of silence. The effect of this scene, and other great moments in the film, may be diluted by the millions of clones we have seen over the last several years. This makes it difficult at times to appreciate the film for all its merits. Yet, it still stands strong as a great film.

Monday, September 16, 2002

A Stick for Piracy

Epic Records just came up with a real brainwave to tackle music sharing (which they describe, in a really broad sense, as "piracy"). The goal is to prevent online trading of prerelease music. The test samples are Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk and Pearl Jam's Riot Act. The solution: provide reviewers with the CD glued shut inside a Sony Walkman with headphones glued on to it. Lovely. Mercifully (and quite expectedly) a reviewer figured out a way to get the CD out -- in order to be able to do justice to the music on a good music system -- his own! {NYTimes}
Sunday, September 15, 2002

return to where no one has gone before ... again and again

We finished watching Gandhi today afternoon. I spent the evening emulating a couch potato as I ingested one Star Trek:TNG rerun after another. Quite a good bunch of episodes, including one dealing with my favourite topic: time. We've also started watching another AFI Top 100 movie, All Quiet on the Western Front (#54). It's long, but interesting, especially in the use of visuals. It seems more like a silent film with dialogue added.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Italian horror ... in style

A slice of a legend ... again
We started watching Gandhi. The DVD does wonders to the epic. Every time I saw it was in the horrible dubbed version (thanks to the Indian film board). The film has all the trappings of a great epic. I seem to have reached a point where I recognise the devices employed by a film to evoke reactions to its epic elements, but am unaffected by them. This may be detrimental to a complete moviewatching experience, but I don't let it affect my judgement. It's a great film that only fails in the superficial approach it must adopt in telling the tale of man whose life was full of filmable experiences.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Smoke on the weirdo/Charred finger

With a friend from out of town visiting and it being my turn in the kitchen, I dished up a mongrel of chicken biryani and khichdi as well as some daal from blackeyed peas. We watched the rest of MST3K/Manos. Outrageously funny. And highly recommended. My heart bleeds for the people who made Manos.

Friday, September 13, 2002

The first smiley

Just followed a post on slashdot to Mike Jones' account of his efforts to track down the first smiley.

Related: The Dead Media Project

A Gem of a dinner and the serendipitous event of the week

A tradition that Chris keeps alive is a dinner every Thursday. We (including a bunch of friends) try out or revisit an Indian restaurant (or sometimes one of the numerous great eating places in Atlanta) and have a good time. Yesterday, we took our friends to Heera of India (which we visited on Sunday last). We placed our orders in a fashion reminiscent of the group dinners back home: each one orders an entrée along with grain at the side (a roti or a nan). Everyone digs in to the common pool and splits the tab. This makes the activity more fun (since you get to sample more dishes) and also cost-effective. The latter was also something reflected in the menu at the restaurant. The food was great and the service friendly and polite. The only downside would have been my grazing the glass of water that created hydrogenic design patterns on the glass top of the table. Thankfully, the table was adequately horizontal, so the patterns never made it off the table into our laps.

As we had pulled in to park, we noticed an Indian walk out of a store called Universal Groceries Ltd.. As it turns out, it was an Indian grocery store (in retrospect, the name is rather misleading), run by Malayalees (or Keralites) and housing an interesting collection of movies (VHS/DVD) and music (tape/CD) from hindi and malayalam films (as far as I could see), the latter being also nicely priced. Needless to say, I grabbed a few:

* Ratnadeep/Kitaab/Angoor (CDF 120353) {a compilation I have been scouring stores for a while to obtain}

* Many Moods: Yesudas (CDF 132155) {couldn't resist}

* Aap Ki Kasam/Raja Rani (CDF 120060) {featuring R. D. Burman's take on Aquarius from the cult Broadway musical Hair}

* Ek Mahal Ho Sapnon Ka / Naya Din Nayee Raat / Shankar Hussain / Ek Hans Ka Joda / Kadambari (CDNF 120400)

Serendipity: The last item in that list above contains the song that had me scouring the net over the phone on Sunday. There are songs/albums that you have never heard of and suddenly once you find out about them, you are keen on procuring them, and lo and behold, life just tosses them at you. This happened when I found out about Forbidden Kiss (where Najma Akhtar pays tribute to the Burmans by covering some of their songs, with newer arrangements and interpretations. A day after I had heard about it, I found it on eBay. Likewise for a squeezed compilation alike the last item in the list above (a distinctive HMV characteristic) of five Rajesh Khanna starrers (incidentally, I just saw this compilation staring back at me on a shelf, at a lower price, at the store yesterday. Does wonders for your choices of purchase, in retrospect).

To follow up on the great proceedings for the evening, we drove to Movies Worth Seeing to turn in Zelig and got ourselves a DVD treat for the weekend: The MST3K episode featuring Manos: The Hands of Fate (and a short film called Hired: Part II) and Dario Argento's classic Suspiria. Chris tells me the former has been reputed to be the best MST3K episode ever. We caught the first half an hour of it, and I must agree. The film they spoof is really really terrible. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, for the first few minutes nothing happened; then after a few minutes, nothing continued to happen. The film also had a scene dissolve into itself! Nothing can beat that.

To round the night off (and to mess up my sleep) I tuned in to a rerun of the TNG episode "Brothers"

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Star Trek: Going where they've gone before...again

Just found a post on slashdot pointing to a NYTimes article that uses the latest entry (Star Trek: Nemesis) as another example of the franchise recycling itself... ad nauseum?

While watching Zelig again yesterday, I noticed a similarity between this genre of 'fake documentaries' and hip-hop. The latter relies on sampled bits from previously recorded music (or sound) to create a new work that (hopefully) has an identity of its own. Fake documentaries (or mockumentaries as they are correctly referred to) like Zelig and Sweet and Lowdown) position their fictional protagonists in spatio-temporal proximity of real-life events and people. In doing so, they 'reuse' not only these events and people but also our awareness and understanding of them and what they stand for. The thesis seems far-fetched, and I'd have to work out my thoughts more carefully to make a stronger claim, but this is just to get the idea out, before I forget about it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

A Short Film About Love

Manisha's ruckus over Ek Chhotisi Love Story (K. Shashilal Nair's desi take on Kieslowski's A Short Film About Love {the film version of his Decalogue episode on the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery}. Ms. Koirala also allegedly gave the word for the ever-ready-for-needless-vandalism Shiv Sainiks to attack theatres that had dared to screen the film. To cut a long diatribe short, the censor board is dead, anarchy rules in Bollywood. The quality of sources that our directors convolute into formulaic entertainment is quite impressive, but clearly the wrong guys are taking the wrong hints from the right movies.


James Berardinelli's reviews of Decalogue and A Short Film About Love

Subhash K. Jha's positive review of the film

Deepa Gahlot takes the film (and especially Manisha) to task ... and gets rebuttals that resemble spam for the most part.

Needless to say the Shiv Sena and their aging toothless tiger Bal Thackeray have decided to take a sniff at this hot pie... .Thackeray is all set to watch the film, while Aditya Sheel, the child protagonist of the film, has given it a thumbs up

And just to add some credibility to information about the source of the film... {TOI}

Jessica Choksi is to Manisha Koirala what Shelley Michelle was to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman

Down memory lane

Taking a cue from this controversy, Subhash K. Jha looks back at 10 famous "controversial" films. Some of these are quite tame compared to the family fare dished out today.

On a brighter note, Bollywood music director Vishal Bhardwaj has been working on his directorial début Makdee (Spider's Web) starring Shabana Azmi. The film has been selected for a special 'Spotlight on India' at Cannes later this year. Great going. Hope it dilutes the opulent saccharine pudding that was called Devdas.

On an even brighter note, 3-time National Award winner and B-movie baadshah Mithun Chakraborty is set to appear as a desi Robin Hood in a film called Qatl-e-Aam. {source: TOI}

Forrest Gump 11 years ago

The movie for the night (marking also my first visit to the nice little rental store Movies Worth Seeing) was Woody Allen's Zelig, a fake documentary about a human chameleon called Leonard Zelig who becomes a celebrity in the 1920s. Smart editing puts him alongside famous people in famous locations. The film is funny in the Allen way and, like his best work, reflects his penchant for jokes about sex, being oppressed and being Jewish.
September 11 with Breakfast Beatles

The media blitz over the first anniversary of the shocking events of Sep 11, 2001 had gotten to me as I sat at the breakfast table tuned in to the Breakfast Beatles on Z93. Dave Marino lined up the same three songs he had played on this day last year in response to the news of the tragedy. The first two songs, Revolution and In My Life, were very appropriate and poignant, but the third Live and Let Die, was a tad too harsh (even Dave was inclined to agree). Technically, of course, that isn't even a Beatles, but the title track for the Bond film, performed by Paul McCartney and the annoying Wings.

Google remembers the day in their own (understated) way.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002


The South Asian Writers Group met for the fifth time yesterday at Chris' place {ref: the last time I mentioned this}.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Asha Bhosle is now 70

As of September 08, 2002 Asha Bhosle is 70 and sounds better than her elder sister Lata. Wish she hadn't jumped onto the gravy train of her late husband.

yippee! YIMGoogle lists my post about it on its main page.

A marlowe marathon, another indian restaurant and some terrible DVD commentary

I dedicated Saturday night to indulge in the pleasurable pastime of watching old flicks on the boob tube. TCM was running a weekend special on Philip Marlowe movies and I caught three of them at a stretch on Saturday.

* I started off with Murder, My Sweet, the adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely. Dick Powell played Philip Marlowe, with a vulnerability that Bogart's popular interpretation lacked, but with a lot less cynicism and a tad more humanity. Dick Powell was famous as a star of the musicals (he starred in 42nd Street, which I caught last month. He was working on a change of image, and believed that the original title would give the audience the incorrect impression that this was another Dick Powell musical. The film was renamed only his insistence. That apart, the film is entertaining, noirish and adequately tongue-in-cheek.

* Next up was Lady in the Lake, starring Robert Montgomery who also directed it. This would be my favourite for the evening. In addition to presenting the dark cynicism of the genre the film also provides us with an interesting perspective on the events: that of Marlowe himself. Just like the popular games like Doom and Quake, we share Marlowe's point of view for a majority of the film. Fans of Duke Nukem 3D will relish the nice moments when we see ourselves/Marlowe every time he looks at a mirror. The film is narrated in flashback, and the narrative is broken only when Marlowe steps back to talk to the audience.

* Last in line we have the 1945 pre-release version (as opposed to the official radically changed 1946 release) of The Big Sleep followed by a documentary tracking the differences between the two versions. Bogart rocks as Marlowe.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

The hosts of Music from India on WRFG 89.3 FM tossed a challenge to the listeners. A guest in the studio had a few fragments from a Lata song of yore that she wanted information about. Being the Hindi film geek that I am, I called up my friend who lives most of his life connected to the Internet via DSL and coordinated a search on Google. Needless to say, we found the song. The lyrics may be found (in Devnagri) here. Strike one for Google. {more on me and WRFG}

The Indian restaurant du jour was Heera of India. The only thing that hampered an otherwise decent lunch buffet was a power failure. This is the first time I have seen this in the United States, and boy did it bring back memories:). Needless to say, Chris was rather ticked off. It would have been interesting to see the consequences of a long power failure on commerce, but the power came back on as soon as we were done with our buffet (a coincidence?).

We devoted our evening to the commentary on The 400 Blows by Brian Stonehill. In one word, terrible. He clearly had nothing much to say and failed to address the basic question of why the film was so influential. All he kept saying was that it turned the world of filmmaking upside down (which as you may gather is not a very profound statement). All we gathered was that this film (along with Godard's Breathless) marked the advent of the French New Wave in cinema. He also kept repeating facts about Truffaut's age when he made this film, how Truffaut died at an unfortunately young age, how old Antoine is in the film ad nauseum. When he found nothing to say about what was happening on screen, he resorted to bios of the different players in the film. It is rather unfortunate that the only good DVD commentary I have heard this year was Roger Ebert's commentary accompanying Citizen Kane.

Saturday, September 07, 2002

More on Jyoti

So, the whole Lata Hurts incident had me curious, especially since the different aspects and implications of plagiarism have been of interest to me. I started browsing some newsgroups and Googling away to finally chance upon a page hosted by Yash Raj Films dedicated to the film. I scrolled down to the synopsis till my eyes stopped at the following:

...second wife Sunanda (Shashikala), who, to insure the position of her son as the only heir to Raja Saheb's huge fortunes, has reduced her stepson Govind (Jeetendra) to an illiterate opium addict.

That brought back a fragment of memory as I realised I had actually seen this movie!!! On the Sunday evening movie slot (courtesy good old Doordarshan) in the days when the evil Hydra-headed phenomenon of cable hadn't made its presence felt in India. I guess the next course of action is to get a copy of this film and complete the fragment of memory. Strange are the events of life that trigger memories you never remembered (yeah, I know that sounds corny. It must be the heat getting to me).

Library Hauls

To add to my growing pile of books, I picked up Richard Schickel's biography of Clint Eastwood as well as The Killing Man, a 1986 Mike Hammer book.

and now ladies and gentlemen, Bappi Lahiri ...

The last we heard, Ms. Mangeshkar was suing Truth Hurts {refresh your memory}. And now, another contributor to the resurrected song that was sampled in Addictive surfaces with a 2-cent opinion. The voluble self-mocking (albeit unintentionally) over-the-top talented-but-shortchanging composer Bappi Lahiri. His interview with Screen is laced with classic Bappi-isms. What is ironic in his plan to take legal action is his status as the King of Copycats. Back in his days of glory, Bappi-da (cheaply) recycled tunes from the West into low-budget hits: Video Killed the Radio Star became Auva Auva, Beat It became Jee Lé. He even quoted In a Gadda Da Vida. May this ironic battle continue.

Friday, September 06, 2002

A cognitive take on innovation in music (esp. jazz) (potential candidate for a rewrite)

Just got back from a Cognitive Science Colloquium featuring Phil Johnson-Laird's talk "Improvisation and Innovation in Music: The Case of Jazz". The talk was a blend of ideas from cognitive science and computational theory with a smattering of music theory. Prof. Laird is from England, so I had the pleasure of listening to an interesting talk in British English and peppered with the classic clipped British wit. Although the experiments he had conducted and the results achieved were not ground-breaking or definitive, he provided interesting ways of looking at the rather abstract notion of 'creativity' from a computational perspective (I should perhaps say cognitive modelling). The case study was, of course, the improvisations of the great masters in Jazz. A jazz pianist himself, Prof. Laird also demonstrated some of the musical ideas that the talk included. His experiments proceeded from the assumption that creativity was computable to some degree. Based on this assumption, we can have three models for the process of creation: a neo-darwinian model, a neo-lamarckian model and a multi-merge model (which combines features of the first two).

The neo-darwinian model comprises two phases: the generate phase involves random variations (after all, randomness is the basic example of creativity). The outputs of this phase are subjected to an evaluate phase, which includes constraints that act as filters. Why constraints? Well, because not every random variation is interesting or innovative (in fact, a lot of them are potentially junk). What constraints are these? In the context of music, they could be accepted principles of music: metre, scales, pitch, harmony. The output is then fed back to the generative phase, as a step to potential refinement.

In the neo-lamarckian model, constraints are moved to the first (generate) phase while the second (select) phase involves a random selection from among the generated variations, thus providing the non-determinism. There is no feedback.

A multi-merge model distributes the constraints across the generate and evaluate phases, representing a blend of the previous two models.

The next section of the talk was a refresher course in tonal music and the traditional 12-bar blues structure as a foundation for jazz improvisation. Prof. Laird then introduced a multi-stage machine for the generation of these improvisations. A context-free grammar is responsible for generating the basic underlying sequences (in this case, the measures of the 12-bar blues). Context-sensitive grammars are used for insertions and substitutions over these sequences. The shift from a context-free grammar to a context-sensitive one indicates that the process of creation demands a lot from the creator, in terms of memory (of previous motifs, patterns or riffs, if you may).

My favourite aspect of the talk comprised three questions, which he attempted to answer by the end of the talk: why does most creation depend on revisions? why is it easier to criticise than to create? how do we learn to create? To answer the last question first, you learn to create by creating. A rather circular answer that, but it is perhaps better understood as the need to and importance of practice. Creative constraints are thus acquired only by practice (and lots of it too). Since critical constraints can be acquired merely by description, it is easier to criticise than to create. Since not all the creative constraints shift to the generative phase, the creator revisits the original creation to refine it, and thus most creation depends on revisions.

There were ironic moments during the talk. He mentioned parsing of parenthesized arithmetic expressions. Now this is something we had done last as part of our undergraduate programming assignments. However, as it turns out, I had just written one again, just to keep my brain cells churning. Another echo of life came when he talked about Archimedes and his famous quote (which forms an interesting portion of The 400 Blows, which we had finished watching yesterday.

So what did I get out of this talk? A better understanding of creativity. As Ulrich wrote in 1977, creativity can be regarded as the process of modifying old motifs to fit new harmonic situations (the problem of course being that someone would still have to come up with the motifs to begin with). Now, if you read that closely, it would fit what we broadly refer to as a 'cover', a 'ripoff' or a 'remix'. Take your pick. Surely, there is an element of creativity in each of these. But how do we choose the ones we censure and the ones we condemn? Is that purely a subjective decision? A matter more of personal opinions about music and ethics?

Ghazals from Films

Following a thread on RMIM I found the Ghazal Archive, which is devoted to ghazals from films. The repeated image of the treble clef is bad design (especially since you have to click to find out where each image will take you -- OR -- if you are a net geek, you can let the mouse pointer hover over each image and sneak a look at the status bar of your browser, read the URL displayed there and infer the contents of the page based on that). Most of the links were dead when I checked it out. The site is clearly a work-in-progress.
Blog responses

Just received an email from Carl Andersen. He found an old post of mine while searching the Internet for references to his movies. I've updated the post with a link to his website, as he requested.
The rest of the blows

We finished watching The 400 Blows yesterday {phase One}. The trivia first: Truffaut makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the film. Watch out for a cigarette-smoking man walk across the screen as Antoine leaves the centrifuge at the fair. The last shot of the film is reputedly one of the most memorable shots in cinema, but I guess I've seen enough clones to have missed its originality.

On with my two cents. It's a slow lyrical film. I didn't notice too many conventional film-school devices employed to supplement the "coming-of-age" (yes, yes, it's a clichéd phrase) story of Antoine Doinel. It's slow, so be warned against watching it if you're feeling even remotely sleepy. The kids are great in the film as is the supporting cast. The film has made an impact on critics all over the world, and garnered a reputation for Truffaut. I haven't read any articles or essays about the film or even subjective takes on it (unlike Hitchcock). All I know is that this film deals with one of Truffaut's favourite themes: childhood. He also explores faithfulness, but only with faint strokes. I'd recommend this film simply as a breath of fresh air as we are surrounded by visceral comedy flicks loaded with scatalogical shticks, or weakly-scripted trite dramaturgical superfluity in the cinema halls. Skip the previews though: they're outrageously long, unintentionally hilarious and are perhaps doing more against the films than for them.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Rated V for violins: Quadrigenarious French déja vu

We started watching Truffaut's classic The 400 Blows yesterday. The music (violins of course) that opens this 1959 film about childhood was strikingly 'Bollywoodian'. This triggered off a memory of It's a Man's World by James Brown, which opens with a flourish that seems almost sampled from a Hindi film. Guess we are not alone. Incidentally, The 400 Blows was the first French film to be shot in widescreen (2.35:1).

And yes, watching the rerun of The Wrath of Khan was quite entertaining (the "Khan!" moment must go down as Shatner's campiest).

Library hauls

This preceded the activity above. I picked up another handful of books at the Atlanta Fulton Public Library:

* Sliver/Ira Levin

* A Kiss Before Dying/Ira Levin

* Raga Mala: The autobiography of Ravi Shankar

* Prize Stories 2001: The O. Henry Awards

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Bollywood: No Sax Please, Only Violins

For several years now, Hindi film music has had two defining characteristics. Well, 'defining' is too strong. Let's make that 'distinctive'. One of the features is the rather high pitch and shrill timbre of the singers, especially the female singers. Leading the pack is the strong leader for several years the undying Ms Lata Mangeshkar, the raashtriya kokila. This can often cause unwary listeners (even those used to operas in foreign languages that chiefly comprise people competing to shatter the glass over the heads of the audience) some grief. The second feature is the rather opulent use of violins (contributing the unison melodies, basic background harmonies in a second voice). In fact the violin seems to have served two purposes:

1. Act as the default instrument of choice when arranging a newly composed (or appropriated) melody.

2. Take the place of the main singer, giving him/her time to regain their breath and posture before plunging into another attack on the vitrics.

Most composers would often assign banks of violins to run chorus lines or provide mandatory interludes. Some begged to differ. One replacement for the bank-of-violins chorus was a bevy of usually unsynchronized inharmonious gaggle of out-of-work chorus girls. They would all, of course, consciously attempt to abide by rule I above and contribute to the main singer's efforts to shatter glass. Clearly, violins are more capable in this regard. Some composers often attempt to supplant violins completely, offering us some relief. In fact, modern-day composers have taken a leaf out of the 80s and have embraced technology to give us crisp, glossy, well-rounded, mathematically correct, musically overprecise, uniform, pre-sampled, digitized music enriched by strings retrieved from a talented tone bank. Composers of the past years did not have the luxury of hard disks and Cakewalk. I'm not sure when the propensity for violins gained momentum, but it definitely affects music of the 60s, 70s and 80s and so on.

I'm a melomaniac, and things like this can be very upsetting. However, there is still hopein this ocean of Indian Tchaikovskies and Brahmses. Just replayed a song from my RD Burman collection (yes, unfortunately, he too was swimming in the same waters) that had NO violins. Remarkable. The pitfall in the song is Annette, a chorus girl (remember the female voice in Dilbar mere from Satte Pe Satta?) elevated to the role of main singer, whose enunciation is atrocious at times. The song: chhodo sanam. The instruments: percussion, flute, electric guitar.

I encountered another song today evening that is devoid of violins: it's perhaps the first Hindi film song to employ the flanger. The only other things in the song are a train whistle and percussion...and of course R. D. Burman's growling voice: Dhanno ki Aankhon Mein from Kitaab.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Howl! She's oops again (NOTE: some readers may be offended)

Via random browsing I chanced upon an article in the Sunday Times, the best-selling newspaper in South Africa. The article does wonders for the squeaky-clean image of recuperating/exhausted (also read: failing, waning, lacklustre, vapid) teen bubblegum-pop star Britney Spears. What's the article about? Two words for the wise: Jenna Jameson.
more lyrical irony

It's happened again. Breaking Point off Eric Clapton's Journeyman starts off echoing feelings I experience at a fairly higher regularity these days:

Well I just don't get it

Can't make the pieces fit

I might just as well forget it

But my heart won't let me quit

The hurting Truth: a painfully howlarious irony

Remember how Truth Hurts sampled a Lata Mangeshkar song for Addictive? {refresh your memory}. Well, turns out Ms Mangeshkar has decided to sue, for copyright infringement at that. What makes this funny is that we seem to be playing America for something that it seems to overdo rather well: enforce copyrights and trademarks and the like. The icing on this funny cake is that we have been one of the highest ranking violators of these laws and regulations, thanks to our talented composers, past and present. Something in the legal machinery prevents the US of A from taking drastic action and effectively reducing our "talent" to pebbles and dust. But clearly there are cogs that we can employ to bite the hand that feeds us, and even claim damages. Punitively, it all stinks. Ms. Mangeshkar just added another feather to her well-plumed cap of sin: first she refuses to stop singing like a harsh crow on a miserly pension (and people still call her the nightingale...jeez!) and now this. The Mangeshkar monopoly still exists in some sense, since even with her glass-shattering vocal excursions, she is clearly more talented than the current crop, who lack the range and dedication to music, enunciation and quality. 'Nuff said.

RemixeD Burman

If it isn't obvious already, the late R. D. Burman has been the gravy train for the remix brigade. Be it self-proclaimed fans like Instant Karma (and the overlapping composer clique of Shankar, Ehsan and Loy) or D. J. Aqeel and his questionable taste in videos (Personal note: I have actually found people who liked his phone sex/bondage-laced video for yeh vaada raha cool. I won't even begin to consider the musical damage that he wrought on the song); everyone's cashing in. This is musical necrophilia at its best and most ferocious. Not that the late Pancham (an appellation that has moved from a circle of friends to anyone who has heard of him to anyone who wants to invest in a piece of dead estate) is the only target for these club freaks, but the numbers put him as a clear leader. There were two schools of thought when RDB was among the living. One maintained that he was lucky, plagiarised abundantly, was a pale shadow of his father, the great S. D. Burman, was a terrible singer, lost it in the 80s (which is ironically when he started winning awards) and more bile. The other camp decided to shower adulation and praise on music that was obviously rich in merit and ingenuity, but reserved "his music was ahead of his time", a rather polite comment, for the music that they found difficult to like (as if they were compelled to like everything he churned out!). Based on the argument that his music was ahead of his time, we can clearly conclude that this is a situation much alike a cryogenic deep freeze {ref: The Star Trek TNG episode The Neutral Zone, the vapid Mel Brooks vehicle Forever Young, and Demolition Man}, except that it's the music that's frozen and not the musician (regrets galore).

Music has long fled the scene. What remains is a pure unadulterated desire to rake in the greens. All you need is passable capabilities at only one of the following: singing (you really don't need to have any background or training in art music or Indian classical music), a keen follower of the Late Linda McCartney single-finger keyboard technique, the ability to impose a few guitar chords on any song (be it in a minor key or a major key, you can be the missing link that will unite all music) and yes, not to forget, you need to have good looks and the will to shed all inhibitions and garments for the moolah. Call me nostalgic, call me old-fashioned (research probably provides a dozen reasons for the desire to cling to the past), but I can't stand most of the music dished out right now. The remixes are on top of my list. Sorry, can't subscribe to them. Give me the oldies with all their faults any day, thank you. Money mattered even then, but music still got made.

Related: Cashing in on the R D magic

Labour Day sales

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Where no one has gone before ... again ... and again

what else ... a Star Trek TNG Sunday marathon.
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