Straight out of Nashville, The Film Talk‘s Jett Loe files this reaction to the films of Satyajit Ray.
There was a strange mental disconnect involving the escalators at the Regal Cinemas Green Hills during the Nashville Film Festival last week.
The Festival screenings all took place on the lower level of the building. If you had to go up a level, say to get to your parked car, you ascended the escalator – and in doing so you left behind intrusive, investigative cinema that tried to apprehend the world and entered…what?
The world of ‘17 Again’.
This contrast between cinema that actually tries to do something, (convey the human experience perhaps?), and cinema that exists seemingly only as a joyless works program, is so great that I don’t think these different types of films are actually the same medium.
Pics like ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘State of Play’ aren’t films in the way we are used to thinking of them – they’re animated Power Point Profit Projections – they’re advertisements for themselves.
Which brings me to Satyajit Ray and Pather Panchali: Ray’s Panchali is the antidote to today’s crass commercial cinema.
Now, until today I had never a Satyajit Ray film.
How can this be?
I’m a cinephile – I love movies – my church, my Cinematic Shrine growing up was the U.C. Theatre in Berkeley. Long since closed due to technological advances in film distribution, the U.C. showed everything. Day after day there’d be two different Hitchcock’s, two different Truffaut’s, two different Ozu’s – I saw it all.
But I stayed away from Ray. I don’t know why, (my earliest memories are of being in India so that may have something to do with it – but I’ll save theories on Ray avoidance for another post!); the point is I never saw a Satyajit pic until until an hour ago.
Now, astoundingly, my podcast co-host and fellow cinephile Gareth Higgins has never seen a Ray picture either, (!), so we are compelled to record a show dedicated to Pather – online tomorrow, April 28. In the meantime I’ll make some observations, not about the themes of the film, which we’ll discuss on the podcast, but on technique.
In Yojimbo director Akira Kurosawa used a simple trick that I wish modern film makers would make more use of. He established a world that existed independent of the protagonist – so we see Yojimbo walking into a new town then cut to the inside of a bar: we see the bar owners for a minute – a couple squabbling, and then Yojimbo enters. They, and by extension the world, existed independent of the hero. This is contrary to most modern commercial films that posit a universe that revolves around the main characters.
Ray used this technique in Pather – taking it to an extreme by opening the story before Pather’s hero, Apu, is even born.
So in Pather we feel we’re seeing something real – a real, lived in world; artificiality, the artificiality of Hollywood cinema, has been stripped away.
Ray carries off another trick – in Pather compelling performances make you empathise with the people on screen – so traditional narrative structure is not required. What Ray does do is show you events. This also creates a sense of the real world – we move beyond structure and are immersed in the real – the power of the story is increased immensely as a result.
I could go on for thousands of words here – but will save it for tomorrow’s podcast – I hope it will make you go out and see as many Ray pics as you can.
Our Satyajit Ray series continues through this Wednesday.