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There are two little known movies I saw in the recent past: Baraka (1992) and what I consider it’s updated version as opposed to a sequel, Samsara (2011). I didn’t think I was skilled enough to describe the experience of Baraka and Samsara. Unable to write down any words at all, I looked up what Roger Ebert had to say about them. I was not disappointed. These are kind of movies that deserve a writer like Ebert.
In the 1970s, “Samsara” would have been known as a head trip. The critic Matt Zoller Seitz calls it “a trance movie.” For Fricke and his producer and collaborator Mark Magidson, it is a continuation of the meditative imagery they used in “Baraka” (1992), which intensely regarded the strangeness and wonder of our planet. Both films draw a sharp contract between the awe of nature and the sometimes ruthless imposition of man’s will. I learn from Wikipedia that “samsara,” literally meaning “continuous flow,” is “the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth” within such Indian religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. “Baraka” can refer to God’s blessing.
I met Fricke and Magidson when a restored version of “Baraka” was shown at Ebertfest, and had the impression that traveling the world and recording these images was sort of their calling. Some of these places, structures, peoples and practices will not endure forever, and if this planet someday becomes barren and lifeless, these films could show visitors what was here.
How many movies can you describe as meditative?
This experience deserves to be replicated every few decades. It is my sincere wish that the makers never end this journey.
The one tiny suggestion I’d make is to watch Baraka and Samsara in the highest quality that is affordable to you.
Legendary film critic Roger Ebert is dead.
“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs,” he wrote, at the end of his memoirs. “No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhapy is where all crime starts. We must try to contriube joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
Just two days ago he wrote this sad yet hopeful piece ending it with:
I’ll see you at the movies.
When I think of opening credits, I think Luck By Chance.
Here’s Zoya Akhtar with some behind-the-scenes details.
“In a way, Delhi 6 was my attempt to remake Aks,” [Rakeysh Omprakash] Mehra said during our phone chat. It was a casual remark, we had to quickly move on to other topics and he never got a chance to elaborate, but for me it tied in with some striking similarities between the two films. Both use masks and reflections as ways of concealing or revealing things about their protagonists – and by extension, about people in general. Both also contain extensive Ramayana imagery, with Rama and Ravana presented as mirror images. Aks (which means “reflection”) is very obviously a story about good and evil defining and complementing each other, but this theme recurs in Delhi 6 too. An idiot savant literally holds a mirror up to society, but everyone ignores or makes fun of him – until the end, when communal discord brings unpleasant things to the surface. An elaborate Ram Leela performance spread over days runs parallel to the film’s main narrative, a rampaging monkey man is used as a symbol for fear and paranoia in a divided community, and at the end the hero dons a monkey mask to try to make people see reason.
An aha moment. This similarity had never occurred to me.
I might be repeating myself here, but Roger Ebert and Jai Arjun Singh are the only two film writers you will ever need. Beauty, humility, simplicity; even their criticism is nice. At times I follow links and recommendations to movie reviews by film critics who are not the above two. I regret reading them within the first few sentences.
This is perhaps a matter of taste and I know everyone has their favourite film critic. But if you’re up for it, try this experiment: For a month, take a break from your usual film critics and only read Ebert and Jai Arjun Singh. Tell me if it made a difference to the way you look at movies.
A little known movie, The Fall:
Roger Ebert writes about it and I agree: You might want to see it for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it.
It is far from the best movie I have seen but it is easily the most visually stunning movie I have ever seen. The trailer should be proof enough.
Another recommendation: Inside Job. We’re all worse off today in some way because of the recession of ’08. This movie explains how it occurred. And Michael Moore didn’t make it.
Jai Arjun Singh talks about film criticism and film literature at TEDxNSIT:
Every time I read or hear him (or someone like Roger Ebert for that matter), I am reminded why I don’t read (or write, if you’re keeping count) other film reviewers anymore. Big-time film critics to small-time blogger-critics treat each movie like a one-night stand. Singh and Ebert are married happily to movies. Huge f*cking difference. Heh.
Instead of picking on someone else, I’ll refer to a review I wrote as an example of the kind of reviews one mustn’t look up to. It remains, for better or worse, my most popular post.
Just read Jai’s piece on Satyakam and you’ll get what I’m talking about.
I finally caught a movie after several months: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (this is not a review).
I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much in several months. (Despite the first sentence, what I mean to say is I really loved the movie.) The movie was almost uncomfortably identifiable — I have lived through so many similar moments it’s hard to enumerate. And if it’s identifiable to someone like myself, I reckon Zoya Akhtar has done a wonderful job.
I read this review last week. The writer has great command over language but I feel sorry he didn’t enjoy it. There are some movies where the movie brings something to the table, you bring something, and sometimes it just clicks. ZNMD is one of those (another example is Into The Wild).
Even from a critical view, I didn’t lose track of any character at any moment. That’s pretty much what anyone wants from a movie, and that’s also the least I expect that from Zoya Akhtar.
And before you bring up some of the reviews I’ve written in the past, I feel sorry for myself for not enjoying many of those movies — and being acerbic.
If I get the time, I promise to tell you about some wonderful moments from recent trips. This is one glimpse I have. I cannot put into words what you get when you add a tough multi-day hike, the Grand Canyon, a small canyon with an acoustic 4-second reverberation, and a flute.