Awaiting Life

The Saddest Part of Life is We are Still Alive

CITIZEN KANE as a love story.

    Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE, incorporates into its narrative the love story of Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander. Though, Susan says, when she is leaving Kane, that he does not love her, and is doing all the things that he is doing for her out of a desire to make her love him, it is not true. Kane does love Susan. Welles brings out this fact in the movie, subtly.

 

    Unlike his relationship with his first wife, Kane is shown as being more caring towards Susan. Further, their marriage is not one of convenience. It is for that matter one of inconvenience as far as Kane is concerned as due to her he loses the election, thereby putting a premature end to his political aspirations. Of course, it might be argued that Kane later on tried to achieve the popularity he would have achieved through politics, through Susan’s singing capabilities. In this sense he can be seen as an extremely self-centered and ambitious person who uses all the persons he comes in contact with, however close they might be, to achieve greater success. This, though is true in the case of the first wife, is not true in the case of Susan. It cannot be presumed that Kane is such a fool as not to understand that Susan cannot sing, and is a total failure as far as ‘business’ goes. In fact, Welles takes the spectator into his confidence, and shows that Kane realizes the ‘capabilities’ of Susan too well, through two instances. Kane finishing the article started by Leyland, depicting Susan, as a poor singer is an obvious instance, though it might also be interpreted as Kane’s desire to ‘show it’ to Leyland and the others that he had not completely forgotten his ‘DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES’. More important and inconspicuous is the scene where Welles takes a close-up of Kane while Susan is giving her performance. Kane grimaces, and then as if coming to a resolution puts on a blank face with a hard look on it, and starts clapping loudly, and more importantly vigorously, implying that Kane, though he realized that Susan is no good as a singer has decided to back her all the way as he is in love with her.

    His un-business man like attitude, as can be seen in his backing her, and running the newspaper in contradiction to his ‘principles’ (though, he was never really true to them) result in his being completely separated from his male friends- i.e. Leyland and others. His interest in his business is also shown as waning, as can be seen from his not knowing of Leyland’s drinking problem -- although he is Kane’s employee. This would not have been the case in the earlier days, where Kane is shown as spending more of his time in his office than at home.

   The reason for Kane falling in love is a Freudian one – Susan reminds him of his mother. Susan, unlike Kane’s first wife, is not a rich woman, but a middle-class girl, attired in a simple dress, and with simple manners and mannerisms. She too, like Kane, has a mother, who is more ambitious than her. When she says that it was her mother’s wish that she should become an opera singer, Kane is reminded of his mother, who dreamt of a bright future for him with Thatcher, and sold him off. This leads to an empathy between them, which soon turns into love.

    Kane on the first meeting with Susan is struck by her girlish charm, and putting aside his cloak of respectability and dignity, entertains her by wiggling his ears, etc. to make her forget her toothache. His lowering himself for her sake shows his love for her, though, at this point, Kane himself hardly knows that he is in love.

  It is in this scene only; the ‘paper-weight’ is first shown. Though it is placed unobtrusively on the scene at this point of time, it acquires significance with the passing of time. In the paperweight a snowstorm is depicted, reminding Kane of his childhood; and thus, creating yet another bonding between Kane and Susan.

    Kane’s love for music, as can be seen when he bursts into song and dance along with the girls while celebrating the success of THE INQUIRER, is another reason for his love of Susan, as she is a singer, albeit a bad one. Welles depicts Kane’s love for music in another instance; this time in a much subtler way --- by making Kane name his mansion ‘XANADU’. In the poem, ‘Kubla Khan’, the poet says that Kubla Khan (here Kane) was so much moved by the singing of the damsel (here Susan) that, with that music he would build a dome. Through this literary allusion, Welles brings out the love that Kane had for Susan as well as for music.

    Kane going on a rampage when Susan leaves him shows the passion with which he loved her. But even then he takes care not to demolish the ‘paper-weight’. The next scene shows the masterful touch of Welles --- Kane walks out of the room, and is immediately lost in a series of mirrors present there, so that the spectator cannot find the real Kane.

 

In this way, Welles depicts what Kane was going through at that moment symbolically – he was feeling lost! And in mumbling ‘ROSEBUD’ as he goes out, he is shown as musing on his sledge, which he had to leave when he did not want to, due to his mother. Now, by invoking ‘ROSEBUD’, Welles seems to suggest that Susan is in a sense the ‘ROSEBUD’, if we take the ‘ROSEBUD’ to mean all that Kane did not want to let go but had to, or all that he wanted to have and could not have; thereby, bringing out the futility of the American Dream. Here, it can be taken as referring to either Susan, or her love for him, or simply ‘love’. Kane, all his life, though a successful public figure, was a lonely man, who wanted someone to love him, badly. In this sense, he is a typical ‘American’—who successfully makes it to the top, only to realize that it is a very lonely place to be in.

    Susan, too, loves Kane, as can be seen through her attempt to commit suicide, after going through ‘hell’ (boos on the stage, and insulting newspaper articles, etc.) for his sake, as she is not that interested in singing. Her drunken mourning at his death also shows this.

    The significance of the Susan-Kane love story in the movie is that, it being a ‘bio-pic’, it brings out a hitherto hidden facet of Kane, and at the same time brings out the hollowness of the American Dream. Orson Welles, probably due to his being an outsider (Englishman) could see the other side of the picture as far as the American Dream theme goes, and depicts it in all its irony.

The Use of the Basketball in the Posters of Johnny

Considering that the movie was an Indian – and a Telugu one at that – it hardly makes sense to find a basketball in the advertisements/ posters of the movie. As basketball is hardly a game that most people around here play; the use of a basketball would be a deterrent to the ‘nativity factor’ and hence, undermine the empathy that the audience would feel for the character. This in turn would work against the movie, and the all-important ‘openings’. Thus, I felt, it would make more sense showing the hero carrying around a cricket bat.   


    However, rather surprisingly (for me) it did help in the marketing of the movie; and though the movie has bombed at the box-office, this poster helped in getting the ‘openings’. (I even remember hearing one of my friends calling it ‘cool’ and ‘chic’, and I am quite sure that most of the people who saw the posters felt so too).

This is to say the least, remarkable – or is it?

Pavan Kalyan, who is the hero of the movie has got an‘image’ among his fans and viewers as being ‘cool’. His previous movie, Kushi, which was an unqualified hit, depicts him as the quintessential cool dude, winning him many admirers, (not to say anything about imitators). So, the picture of Pavan with a basketball should not be, and is not surprising for many of the viewers (not including myself). However, what is surprising is why do we consider basketball as ‘cool’? – If as I think (and rightly, I presume) that is the reason it is used on the posters. There is, I feel another reason for the use of the basketball in the posters; but more on it later.

We consider basketball as ‘cool’ because it is shown in American serials like Small Wonder and most American households supposedly have a basketball court in the backyard of their houses? Come on, this cannot be true. Unfortunately, it is! We consider the West, and mainly the Americans, as having a culture that is worth imitating, if not imbibing. I agree that they have a seemingly more tolerant culture – ‘seemingly’ as I do not believe that they have. Otherwise, how can one explain the treatment meted out to Negroes? -- to call Afro-Americans by the name that they had been called for more than a century, (and still are, where education and all that it stands for, like homogenising the public, has not made inroads into the general consciousness and hence, paved a way into treating them as American citizens, albeit ‘Afro’). This looking up to the Western culture, probably, also explains the exodus of Indians (students mainly) to these countries. I know that their answer to this is that there are better educational facilities available in the West, but that does not explain the reason for their staying on and taking up jobs there resulting in the ‘brain drain’ of their motherland, does it?

 The other reason – to which I alluded before – for the presence of the basketball on the posters, is that the American Indians (I do not refer to the ‘Red Indians’, but to the ‘migrated’ Indians) might identify with the movie and therefore flock to the theatres. This is a mirage -- considering that the movie is not even playing in any theatres (even here in A.P.) for a reasonable number of days for anyone to even seriously deliberate upon watching it. Conversely, if it is the marketing of the movie in the States that resulted in the presence of a basketball in the posters, then there is also the reason of using a basketball in the posters to market basketball as a game to the Indian audience. Further, bearing in mind that basketball is considered as ‘cool’ and Pavan Kalyan is ‘cool’, the sponsor of the movie Pepsi is also ‘cool’ or ‘chic’ (as ‘cool’ has got other connotations) by virtue of the company it is keeping, and hence, the use of the basketball goes (and probably did go) a long way in promoting the interests of Pepsi.

Weird are the ways of marketers, indeed. Some food – or drink (Pepsi) – for thought this.

The Use of the Movie-Hall in Varma Cinema

   

Movies and things pertaining to movies, like trailers, wall posters, movie halls, actors, titles of movies, dialogues from movies, movie theatres, and of course the movies themselves, are used regularly in movies. This is done to either make or reinstate a point. The point that is made can be either subtle, as is done by Robert Zemeckis in his movie, Back to the Future series, where he uses the advertisements of Jaws to convey the passing of time, or can be made overtly as in the case of…Well… I think you can think of any number of movies here – but an example that immediately strikes me is of the innumerable wannabe Shahrukhs who keep stuttering “K..Kk..Kkk..Kiran”.

Indian movies, and more blatantly Bollywood, uses cinema in a clichéd manner, that leaves hardly anything to the imagination. Considering the fact that most of these movies are unauthorised remakes does nothing to alleviate this criticism. But some directors try to use these same clichés, and use them in a slightly different manner, and impart an altogether different spin on these same clichés.

            Of these directors Ram Gopal Varma deserves special mention, as he uses Bollywood clichés again and again in his movies, to make (or break) a point. The scene in Company where a murderous attempt is made on the Ajay Devgan character when he attends the shooting of a film is a case in point. The mushy song “pyar pyaar pyaar mein” keeps playing in the background when the attempt occurs, thus showing his in-depth reading of Hindi cinema, and brings out through the stark contrast between the action and the background music, that the make-believe world of tinseldom is controlled by the underworld.
(To be Continued..)

Strangers on a Train: A Bildundgsroman.

 

Bildungsroman is a German term applied for a novel that depicts the development of the protagonist through a spiritual crisis. So, can we apply this term to a movie?

We can, if we consider the movie as a text, and in that sense similar to a novel.

However, we have another problem facing us: Who is the protagonist of Strangers on a Train? This problem arises because a protagonist can be either a good character – the hero, or an evil character --- the villain. Thus, we have characters like Macbeth, who although a villain, is the protagonist.

            In the movie, Strangers on a Train, there are two characters that are equally important – Guy and Bruno. So, we are faced with the problem of which of the two should we consider as the protagonist. While Guy is the hero, Bruno is the villain.

            First, let us consider Guy as the protagonist.

            At the beginning of the movie, Guy is shown as being helpless, and dependant; from which state he grows on to become by the end of the movie the master of his own fate. The first scene itself, where he meets Bruno, shows the helplessness of Guy. When Bruno comes up with his mad proposal, he does not have the courage to reject it outright, but just escapes from there, leaving Bruno with the erroneous belief that Guy agreed to the proposal.

This helplessness is again apparent in the way his wife plays around with him making him feel disgusted and frustrated (which is depicted in the scene where he goes to meet her to talk of the divorce and is forced to indulge in physical violence while she keeps her cool). He comes out of the shop and lets off the steam in the telephone conversation with his lover. The way in which he screams in the telephone and bangs his fist on the glass doors of the telephone booth show him as being completely overpowered by the situation in which he finds himself, and therefore emotionally vulnerable.

             This vulnerability becomes more evident after the death/ murder of his wife. Guy cannot tell the police everything he knows because he suffers from a guilty conscience; as, although he did not commit the crime he wished for it (as is brought out when he shouts that he would like to strangle his wife in the telephone conversation with the senator’s daughter – his girl friend). This guilty feeling along with Bruno’s constant pestering is the spiritual crisis that he has to undergo to ‘grow up’. However, this is not an easy development, and Hitchcock brings out the strain that Guy has to go through to mature.

           Guy tries the easy way out like pleading with Bruno to let him go, although he too knows that the latter is mad and pleading would not get him anywhere. He also depends on the drunken professor’s remembrance to get evidence that would prove his innocence. This depending on a drunkard to prove his innocence is also symbolic in the sense that this brings out the flimsy or rather tottering support that Guy is prepared to lean on to save himself, and thus showing that he is psychologically much weaker state than even the drunkard. His girlfriend’s going to Bruno’s house to plead with Bruno’s mother, is also equally hopeless as Bruno’s mother is as mad, if not more, as her son. All these show the various ways in which Guy tries to save himself, but in none of these attempts does he make a resolution or try to take things into his control.

          It is only when he decides to go to Bruno’s house to tell Bruno’s father about Bruno that he make a positive decision, but even then he is still being dependant in the sense that he wants to pass on the responsibility of saving himself to the Bruno's father. The dog not biting him in Bruno’s house is just due to a favourable providence rather than anything else, as he does not know what to do when the dog comes at him.

           It is only in the tennis-match scene that Guy decides to take things into control and hence, ‘grows up’. The tennis match symbolically shows that now the ball is in Guy’s court. Considering the fact that it would have been easier for him to wilfully lose the match (or 'throw' the match), as that would leave him less tired and it is comparatively easier to ‘fix’ a game so that you lose it than when you have to win it, it is interesting that Guy decides to win the game. Actually, even the thought of ‘throwing’ the match never occurs to Guy. This is in keeping with the American Dream, which keeps on surfacing in various forms in most if not all movies, where one has to win and that too by ethical means the glory that one desires. This sort of winning not only makes Guy the hero of the film but also makes the audience, who till then are very much under the spell of Bruno with his witty dialogues and seemingly loveable ‘eccentricities’, admire and hence, accept him as they feel that he is in keeping with the best tradition of the American citizen.

          This is similar to the case of Roger Thornhill (or R.O.T., as more suitably, he calls himself) in North by Northwest, who has to get rid of his complacency and dependence, and get down to helping himself and in that way the society as a whole. Of course, the problem of Roger Thornhill is also Freudian as he has to get out of the over powering influence of his mother. That he does get out of it at the end of the movie is to his credit.

         This is where a character like Norman Bates (Psycho) suffers. He is unable to come out of his mother’s ‘shadow’ and hence, cannot come to terms with reality. Bates and Bruno are quite similar, and in fact are something like cinematic siblings.

        By the way, if you were wondering about the question regarding the other protagonist of the movie in question -- Bruno, and why he is not being discussed. The answer is pretty simple: Bruno does not develop over the course of the movie; thereby, making it impossible to consider him as a Bildungsroman protagonist.

        Strangers on a Train by depicting how a helpless character can come to terms with the situation he is in and take effective decisions which change the course of his life, at the same time without compromising on ethical values shows how the American Dream theme can be used to great effect even in a thriller, and hence, in a manner of speaking, 'path breaking'.     

 

 

 

City Lights: A Chaplinesque ‘Comedy’

It came as a surprise to me to hear people talking of the movie, City Lights (from now onwards CL) as a comedy. After all, it is not a comedy, is it? I mean a comedy is one that deals with pleasant situations, and has a happy ending, which leads one to forget his sufferings and leave the theatre with a light heart thinking that the world is not a bad place to live in. But this is not the case with CL. Unless, the meaning of comedy has changed drastically, which might very well be the case where a play like Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard is called a comedy, and terms like ‘black comedy’ (I cannot understand how a comedy can be ‘black’ or ‘bitter’; can you?), CL cannot be a comedy!

           I will try to elucidate my argument by taking three instances from the movie. I say, “try” because I am pretty sure that those who insist it is a comedy will not change their minds just because of these arguments. This is, of course not due to the arguments not holding water (or whatever the expression is), and even if the arguments do not hold water, I would be the last person to say so, but because of the basic differences of opinion regarding what goes into the making of a comedy.

           First of all, if we take the case of the drunken millionaire, we can clearly see that he is good when he is drunk, but a perfect fiend in human shape when he is sober. This shows Chaplin’s attitude towards the society he was living in and the people that go into making it. It is pretty cynical; don’t you think so? I mean if a person depicts people as being alright in the semi-conscious state, but horrible when they wake up, it leads one to suppose that he feels that people are better off drunk than otherwise. If that is not cynical, I’d like to know what is. The behaviour of the millionaire shows that the world is not really a happy place to live in, and this goes against our basic presumptions of what comprises a comedy. The scene where the tramp stops the millionaire from committing suicide by telling him that the world is a idyllic place to live in is not just ironical (which it is, considering the fact there are no longer any birds or stars to look at in an urban night sky, where you have nothing but ‘city lights’ to look at) but also tragic, as it brings out the fact that the millionaire is also finding life difficult to lead. Of course, it might just be that he is a fool and a defeatist, but there is no escaping the fact that the tramp endangers his life trying to save the millionaire’s life for which he is repaid by being sent to the prison when the latter becomes sober.

           The next scene that I’d like to look at is the boxing scene; which rather heartlessly everyone seems to enjoy (I’m sorry that I have to confess that I too did). It brings out the goriness of our lives and more importantly the goddamned competitive spirit that goes along with it. When the tramp loses the match no one spares a thought for him and he is left alone. The same thing happens earlier with the African-American boxer, thereby proving that the tramp’s is not an isolated case. The tragedy of this is that we – the audience, myself included, enjoy the whole sequence. What can be more tragic than a civilised society having roughly the same sort of enjoyment as the old Romans with all their gladiators?

           More important than either of these two is the one at the last where the tramp is made the butt of ridicule and cruelty by the two boys with the pea-shooters. Even if we consider them to be too young and say with a shrug of the shoulders (rather stupidly, I should say) that “BOYS WILL BE BOYS”, we cannot get past the fact that even the heroine is also extremely entertained by this (and so are we). The scene brings out clearly that danger is lurking everywhere and is just waiting round the corner to attack us. This shows that the world is not at all a good place to live in, and hence CL cannot be a comedy.

          Then why do most think that it is a comedy? I think I understand why. It is probably due to the expressions Chaplin puts on and the horseplay that he indulges in, not to say anything of the slapstick comedy (which, by the way is a pretty horrid term when we come to think of it). Structurally, therefore, the movie is a comedy while thematically it is a tragedy.

           Well, what do you say?


Sue? – An Emancipated woman?


        Jude is consistently proclaimed by critics to be a feminist novel/movie, as it apparently depicts an emancipated female in Sue Brideshead. Sue? – An Emancipated woman? How can an immature woman with an adolescent (and she isn’t an adolescent, to top it all) desire to take on the world without understanding what she is letting herself (and Jude) into, and further, without a concern for the man who loves her deeply, be considered as an emancipated woman? For (correct me if I am wrong) but isn’t ‘emancipated’ used to show our approval of someone, if not as a praise? If it is so, then I repeat my earlier question: how can anyone think of praising Sue for what she does? Sue, and by extension Hardy (who created this character), deserve to be condemned and not commended, as this character is one of the most hollow and immature characters that have ever walked on either the screen or in the minds of novelders (or as we normally call them 'readers of novels').
       
        Well, before venturing further, probably it would be better if I try to explain why I feel so strongly that Sue is an immature adolescent. Towards the end of the movie/novel Sue denigrates Jude by saying that she cannot live with him any longer as his child had killed her child; when factually he, too, had lost his children, (and one more than she had). So any normal person (be it a man or woman) would have tried to make him forget his sorrows or at least share his sorrows, and not like Sue blame him for something that he had no control on (and thereby, add to his already overfilled cup of sorrows). Earlier in the novel, too, Sue is the one who is against marrying or at least even lying to the town folk that they are married, and hence, is the reason for most of the problems that Jude has. It doesn’t help matters to realise that she too suffered along with him, as it only brings out the fact that she is a masochist as well a sadist. If she is neither, and as most critics maintain, an emancipated woman, then the word emancipation by definition should be used as a condemnatory term and not, as it is being used, as a commendatory term. 

Actually, both the female protagonists – Sue and Arabella -- in the movie/novel are depicted in a manner that isn’t complimentary. Arabella, the other heroine, quite early in the novel/movie throws the penis of a castrated pig at Jude, and by that flings an insult at him which could be read as ‘Is yours also of as much use as the penis of this castrated pig?' Arabella seduces Jude (this is brought out more clearly in the novel) by false pretences as can be seen in the scene where he realises that the hair that she has got on is in fact a wig. That Jude realises that Arabella’s hair is only a wig after the marriage can further be seen symbolically, as that the illusions that shroud her are only revealed to him after marriage. Arabella is also the one who leaves Jude high and dry by running away (eloping?) to Australia, and thus, is indirectly the reason for Jude getting into a live-in relationship with Sue. And when she does return, she asks him to look after Father Time (their child) and then blames him for the death of the child saying that she herself should have looked after the kid and not trusted him with the job.

Compare the throwing of the pig’s penis to Sue’s sending the letter to Jude after her marriage, and we can see that Sue, too is, ala Arabella, weaning Jude away from his first love/desire -- to get into the University. Both the women, never even try to understand what he is passing through or have a notion/care of what he wants, but are so self centered that they end up breaking Jude psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and physically (though, not necessarily in that order).  The sadism that is depicted through these two characters is astonishing to say the least. Even a character like Phillotson, who is traditionally considered by critics to be a male chauvinistic sadist (surprising, isn’t it?), when compared to these two women,  comes out as a humanitarian. Otherwise, how can one explain his apparent willingness to marry off Sue to the person she loves, though she does take her own sweet time about deciding whom she actually wants. 

 So, are we justified in calling Hardy a feminist and Sue an emancipated woman? Please, I am sorry, but I am choking .... Can’t help laughing. Ha..ha..ha…!!!!!!


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