Posted tagged ‘museum of modern art’

Beyond Bollywood: The New India at MOMA

July 1, 2009


Perceptions of India volley between the extremes of luxurious wealth portrayed in commercial Bollywood flicks and the news beat struggle the forty percent of the nation’s population living in poverty. The latter is a hairy picture for a Western public, to which the outrage over Slumdog Millionaire can attest. With every portrait of a country with enormous divides between class, caste, culture, language and religion, the question must be asked, “Is this the real India? Is this the India that Indians want the world to see?” To its credit, the Museum of Modern Art’s The New India series, sixteen films screened from June 5th through June 18th included thought-provoking documentaries about the reality of rural villages, including Megan Mylan’s film Smile Pinki, and Sourav Sarangi’s Bilal against large-scale Bollywood features like Luck by Chance by Zoya Akhtar, and subtler portrayals, like Buddhadev Dasgupta’s The Voyeurs that raise questions as much about the rise of India in the global eye and portrayals of poverty.

The line between an honest portrayal of rural life and “poverty porn” is fine and often blurry. Smile Pinki, directed by Megan Mylan stays beautifully clear of dangerous territory, recounting the story of poverty-stricken children with cleft lips and their magical transformation upon receiving free surgeries from a charity organization, The Smile Train. The film pivots around the vitality of the patients, a young girl in particular whose courage comes as a unnerving reminder of the astounding resilience of children. Sourav Sarangi’s Bilal is a far more complicated, ambivalent affair, following a young boy living in poverty with blind parents, unsure of itself as a documentary or a more stylistic narrative. Sarangi often films at Bilal’s eye-level, seeing the world from his perspective picks fights with peers and roosters outside of the 8×10 foot partitioned room he shares with his blind parents and little brother. Life is hard, as the parents are led around infamous Calcutta streets and struggle with debt, abortion, and violence portrayed matter-of-factly. Moments of hardship are obviously downplayed and others are not, muddying the line between slum exotica and a tale of real hardship and strength.

India cannot be seen without the role of fantasy and escapism provided by cinema’s ubiquitous cultural presence. Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance transitions from the aesthetic world of glossy Bollywood parties to the humble lives of struggling artists, to the sets gaudy day-time soap operas. The deliberate moves between the glamorous celebrity-studded dream and the reality of an industry run on nepotism and corruption a simultaneous self-consciousness and great love for the industry the film criticizes and participates in. While revealing an industry that thrives on its incestuous breeding of star cache, Zoya Akhtar never loses sight of the impact of this world on the quotidian reality of Indian life across social stratum.

Buddhadev Dasgupta’s The Voyeurs, zooms in a little closer, painting a poetically stylized portrait of contemporary urban Calcutta, telling the sad tale of two young men and the effect of technology and popular culture on their lives in a modern environment run on traditional values. Much of the film is delightfully acted in the saccharine style of old Bengali comedies, the dialogue sing-song theatrical. Old Indian cinema plays a significant role in the film as the two protagonists’ small, circumscribed lives are rendered less lonely by their admiration for a picture of Madhubala, a beauty from 1940s Indian cinema over whom they rhapsodize, sharing woes – another manifestation of the emotional role of Indian film in the lives of Indians across the socio-economic board.

Shaik Nasir’s short brings role of film in the Indian consciousness most emphatically to the fore in Superman of Malegaon which follows the making of Malegaon-ka Superman, a regional parody of Superman whose production is a comedy of errors, the final product is a hilarious mash up, YouTube style. The importance of such a small production in the lives of the desperately underprivileged speaks to the changing nature of film in India and the growing interest in using the medium for poetic statements about Indian life – without compromising the tremendous need for escape that Bollywood provides. In a much needed attempt to offer a deeper look, the series offers a largely textured and broad, if not complete, view of a growing, changing Indian film industry, and in the best testament to the nature of the country, leaves one with a sense of paradox and questioning of perception of the diversity and portrayal of Indian life and cinema.

-Ashna Ali

Short film: “I see,” a MoMA commission by ND/NF alum

May 12, 2009

The Museum of Modern Art has just started an interesting program of commissioning short films about the museum experience by New Directors/New Films alums. I really dug this one directed by Azazel Jacobs (Momma’s Man, ND/NF ’08). In it, a beleaguered urban dude takes a departure from reality via one of those audio tours. I found it an engaging comment on what a museum can bring to your life, that it can be more than just a static and staid interaction between a viewer and an art object.

I’d love to see more of this kind of thing. Maybe it justifies someone with a camera going down the NewYorkology cultural institution list?

Moving Pictures: computers dream in concert thanks to artist Scott Draves

December 22, 2008

It was forty years ago now when author Phillip K. Dick first posed the provocative question “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” We all know how Ridley Scott answered the question.

But it turns out the prescient master of science fiction still inspires and challenges. In 1999, Scott Draves invented a free, open-source screensaver called Electric Sheep that allows a network of users’ machines to communicate with each other via the internet to collaboratively weave together morphing abstract animations known as “sheep.”

Not satisfied with simply facilitating the dream-time communication of computers, Draves set to work on a “painting that evolves” entitled Dreams in High Fidelity. This limited edition computer installation that is self-sustaining and self-renewing based on the network of computers that feed “sheep” into the project. Dreams in High Fidelity can be seen at Google Headquarters, and it’s also cataloged as a part of MoMA’s Design and the Elastic Mind website, which in itself is a mind-blower of a site, check it out ASAP.

Draves told MoMA: “The goal of the project is to create a self-supporting, network-resident life form: to make the soul of the machine visible.” Who says computers can’t dream?

Moving Pictures is an occasional series on the far reaches of film as art:

[Moving Pictures: Attaining Underground Momentum with Bill Brand’s Masstrasiscope]
[Moving Pictures: Two recent projects grapple with the Internet’s impact on storytelling]

Film Comment Site Specifics: Dave Kehr’s online destination for cinephiles

September 8, 2008

The best blogs thrive as online meeting-places for discerning enthusiasts—a modest-sounding accomplishment that actually means a great deal. Launched in 2005, Dave Kehr’s website is a sideline to his gig reviewing DVDs at The New York Times. Yet as its tagline, “Reports from the Lost Continent of Cinephilia,” suggests, it also serves as a venue for Kehr to bring his critical intelligence and knowledge to bear on much more than the home-video landscape.

Calling himself an “increasingly alienated observer” of contemporary film culture, Kehr embraces his Times post, which directs his viewing “away from the frontlines” of reviewing new releases. The blog’s backbone is formed by entries linking to his weekly column, but the real action occurs in the comments section, where discussions are sparked by Kehr’s remarks on everything from the state of film criticism to, for example, the careers of Richard Widmark and Sydney Pollack. “I just keep the door open and see who wanders in . . . I toss out the odd conversation ball,” says Kehr.

His reflections on the site tend to circle back to the changing experience of filmgoing today. The culture of cinephilia “used to be about, for instance, hanging out in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art and starting a discussion or argument.” But now, Kehr adds, these encounters largely take place “home alone”—usually spurred by a DVD, TCM, or something online. This site, which began as a lark, has become a prime Web destination.

-Paul Fileri, from the July/August 2008 issue of Film Comment