marți, 15 martie 2011

A few thoughts about three movies

After a hiatus from watching movies on DVD, we saw three in three days: Memoirs of a Geisha, (the latest) Pride and Prejudice, and The Constant Gardener.

1. The most stunning scene for me, in Memoirs of a Geisha, showed a long strip of red cloth floating in a brown-black river. The camera moves from above along the length of the cloth, and it seems to take forever. A more dramatic scene shows the geisha standing on a cliff and throwing a handkerchief into the wind. It's shot from a helicopter, which pulls away so that first you see only geisha and handkerchief, and then a huge landscape of rocks and sea.

In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth stands on the edge of a cliff, thinking that she really ought to have accepted Darcy's proposal of marriage. The scene is shot from above, from a helicopter, so that we see her small in a big landscape.

In The Constant Gardener, Justin and the local British intelligence agent - or whatever they're called in England ('intelligence agent'? can that be right? It sounds so hifalutin', so Graham Greene) - have a scene on top of a cliff, shot from a helicopter to reveal a dry African landscape.

By this time I was thinking, What's this? Is the cliff-edge-helicopter-shot the new car chase -- i.e. a scene which must appear in almost every film? (A car chase delivered the actors to the cliff edge in The Constant Gardener.) Or these are three movies with cultural pretensions, and therefore they have put their characters on high?

2. R says that when a character in an American movie says "Would you like a cup of coffee?" in the next scene they will be having sex. That's nothing new, but in The Constant Gardener the transition from offer of coffee to sex was quicker and more seamless than ever before, and R asked, "Is western culture really like this now?" When I saw Quest for Fire (1981) I laughed: the prehistoric man sees a woman bending over, doing some work, jumps on her, she growls a little but accommodates him, and they both move on. It looked like a parody of modern Western life. But soon it may depict its reality.

The sex scene had a different look: it took place in the daytime and was full of bright, washed-out light. It was shot at such close range that the actress's skin actually had the texture of skin, it wasn't all smooth surfaces and highlights and shadows. Probably because the director was not from Hollywood, but Brazilian: Fernando Meirelles, who made the great City of God.

3. One thing that these three movies did NOT have was a toilet scene. Come to think of it, the toilet scene is the new car chase - certainly it's much cheaper to film. Years ago I saw an animation festival in Washington. In one film, a character sits on a toilet, and then one sees from below long green stalks of asparagus emerging from her backside. Soon we will be seeing the real thing. (At least one Indian film, trying to appeal to an overseas Indian audience -- Salaam Namaste -- has a toilet scene. There must be more that I haven't seen.)

Two ads for the same product are currently running on Indian TV: in one, you see a urinal flushing, with the voiceover saying that if you don't use the product you're pissing your money away. In the other a toilet is flushing, the camera looking down into the bowl, while the voiceover says, if you don't use the product you don't give a shit about your money. I feel incredulous each time I see these ads, but I realise that it's about copying western popular culture.

I've been away from America for so long that sometimes I don't get the cartoons in the New Yorker; or I gape at American movies and think "What is the world coming to?" -- maybe it's just me, moving quickly through time to obsolescence. It's comforting at such times to rest my mind on an image of red cloth weightless in brown-black smoothly flowing water.