Part Two: The Importance Of Seeing Earnest

Pushy as ever, the city wakes him, obtrusively spilling into his dreams. It’s a hot, stifling night and he’s wearing a vest as he wakes up, and rubs his clean-shaven face. The city sounds like it does: nonstop, rat-a-tat, a backstage whirr from the sprockets that keep it chugging. He walks to a mirror and looks into it with sleepy, nightmare-nudged intensity, as if to reassure himself he hasn’t woken up a flea. Walking wearily back to bed, he collapses towards the pillow.

And that would be all, except said collapse is abruptly in slow-motion, and as head makes contact with cotton, Be My Baby by The Ronettes takes over the audio. It’s a moment of joyous cinematic exuberance and a vital reminder: God may script a solid scene every once in a while, but Scorsese does a better soundtrack.

And so much of life is about the music. Jazz plays in our heads as we stroll down a breezy beach, punk rock underscores moments involving enormous crowds, heavy metal comes in handy in peak traffic, ballads play when eyes meet prettier ones, and it is officially impossible to try on cowboy boots without a theme tune to aid the swagger. Inversely, songs are snapshots. You remember where you were, who you were with, who played you the song, what you were celebrating, who sang it to you. Pop polaroids. You remember joint discovery—when you tripped together over words about squirrel-bitten peas—and joint disappointment—when four Irish lads turned lousy almost overnight. Music makes memories and vice versa. And where’d we be without something to hum to?

While on memory, I’ve always been bothered by flashbacks in the movies. Since I was a child. No, the non-linearity’s fine; it just bugs me when a character recounts something and we see them in the scene too, instead of the camera exclusively being their eyes. As if the act of narration itself automatically provides an out-of-body perspective on the event. And yet now, conditioned by many a jump-cut over many a year, I often look back with a multiple-camera setup, my voiceover steadily reassured by omniscient awareness. Is it accurate? Heavens, no. It gets even better when surrounded by old school friends, lager-affectionate and nostalgic for days that weren’t as golden as they now seem: here the burst of memory leaves mere flashback behind and turns to montage. Mostly, in my case, cut to either Bon Jovi or that song from Satte Pe Satta.

Naturally, editing makes all the difference in the world. Like George Costanza said, life doesn’t look so bad when compressed into a week’s worth of achievements. And so from our lives we omit the less-relevant, the less-flattering, the less-thrilling and the less-than-vital. We guillotine it out of the narrative because we must—because there is only that much space for our own story—and while we’ve lived what is left on the cutting-room floor, we choose to let it go. And, in its stead, take the time four of us walked to a car wearing black suits, and accord it slow-motion importance. With Little Green Bag playing in the background.

We’re all protagonists, we are. We’re the biggest face on our poster, we’re the character Johnny Depp would play. But what movie is it? Once we know that—the genre, the director, the style—we’re bloody sorted. We never quite do, of course. It’s hard enough figuring out what kind of film we’ve been cast in—a bleak dramedy, a gothic nightmare, a coming-of-age story, a cheery romance, a cheesy actioneer—before getting to the specifics. Because Wong Kar-Wai and Yash Chopra would each direct a climax very differently, and it’d help to know what to expect. Yet, as Catherine showed Jim and Jules, it is all about taking the plunge into the unknown.

It is about choice, and like Rent-Boy, “I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else.” And who indeed needs reasons when you’ve got the movies?

 (In the gallery: A graphic take on the letter of love by Sunaina Coelho and Fahad Faizal, Mumbai based designers who work mostly in the area of animation. Their work includes short comic pieces, creating characters, concept art, internet virals, TV promos and anything else which involves drawing– which is their common love. Another common love is a cat named Elizabeth who will make her cinematic debut on YouTube.)

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2 comments
nehakirpalani
nehakirpalani

Absolutely loved this piece, and I totally understand what you meant by "Cinema gets the timing right for us."

 

I've always believed that "cinema is all about believing", it always is about putting your faith in the unseen; we choose to believe in larger-than-life cinema because of our need for "something bigger than us".

 

I'd love if I got your opinion on my Bollywood piece, would love to hear what you think of my writing. http://theinvisibleassassin.blogspot.in/2011/10/bolly-wooed.html

 

Thanks, and Kudos!

ShirinJohari
ShirinJohari

love it, brilliant :) specially, 't’s all about wielding the seconds-hand of the watch like a samurai sword and striking just right.' 

What I Speak of When I Speak of Cinema

Article
September 2012
By Raja Sen

Raja Sen is one of India's leading film critics. He also contributes profiles, interviews, culture critique and book reviews to various publications. In his own words he is a W.R.I.T.E.R. Foremost and at all times.