Saturday, September 18, 2004

zwei am freitag

Robert Altman's ensemble skills couldn't replicate the goings-on we were involved in on Friday evening. Myriad conversational threads covering what was currently playing on the currently selected TV channel, the state of the recently-cleaned carpet, the lack of munchies in the kitchen, the strains of songs streaming off from a desktop nestled in an inner room, discussions about the pop careers of Shweta Shetty and Suneeta Rao, bad movie line quotes from movies like Raat ke Saudagar and Julie, a sudden decision by a sub-group to go play some cricket (darkness had already set in for the evening), a kitchen-located pow-wow on emptying overflowing trash cans, a slab of peace as people cleared out, a steady stream of new music, the return of the triumphant sweat-drenched players, another flip-athon through TV channels as one of the group embarked on a mission to cook some exquisite chicken, and finally a twin movie marathon as the chicken vanished rapidly along with the bread and some rice.
The first film of the evening was Memphis Belle, a film about the final mission of a WW II bomber and its crew. First off, I must note that the genre of war movies is something I don't really care for. Probably because of the stench of predictable clichés that inundates your senses. Fundamentally, they all fit a pattern so boring, the only thing you can really do is exercise your knowledge of the technical details (the vehicles and weapons used, what "actually" happened, technical aspects of the film itself). This film is no different. It's about a bunch of Americans, and the clichés come pouring down like the rain that hit this city the day before. Each character is a repository of a given set of finite hackneyed attributes, and the most thankful task in the film is checking off the trite plug-and-play components as you go along. The only merit in this glossy fictionalization of "real" events comes from the human element in the whole thing. For people like us used to a world of vastly improved technological sophistication and automation, this look at the good ol' fashioned way of having to do things affords a certain appreciation.

Despite my emphatic warning cries, the DVD for Robert Altman's Gosford Park (ironic choice given our vastly superior and true-to-life ensemble early on) found its way into the player. Frankly and honestly, this film works only as another example of Altman's fetish (given J P Dutta's utter helplessness at even attempting a fraction of this, I'd have to use the word "ability" for Altman) for ensemble mayhem, and as a mix of a dissection of the English class system and an Agatha Christie whodunit. The "it" happens after a long while has been spent trying to get you acquainted with the characters (you could spend your time otherwise by checking off all the famous actors you can spot). The problem is that people got this DVD for the "murder mystery" tag and not for the "by Robert Altman" tag. Having endured this film at a greater cost in the darkness of a cinema hall (which augmented my appreciation of the sunlight when I walked out after the end credits), I indulged in my own "mystery science theatrics" while also helping people get over their confusion at the flood of names and faces. The technical merits (cinematography, sound, editing, screenplay, direction) are evident, but fail when you actually rented the film with a different assumption. It's a good study in Altman, but a bad mystery movie. And somewhere in there I even got some tea going while people slumbered and cursed through the verbiage. And I wonder if it's just me, but I never heard the title spoken even once in the film.

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