Friday, May 16, 2008

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Gautam Valluri

At Broken Projector, Gautam Valluri recounts his advent into world cinema as a weekly affair at a New Delhi film club, which required a two hour bus ride. From those long Sundays, Gautam has developed a wide range of film interests and expertise, which he regularly shares at Broken Projector. In October, Gautam hosted the smash hit Double Bill Blog-a-thon, which elicited plenty of entertaining pairings. If you missed it, don't fear -- a repeat staging is on tap for this year. In addition to posts about the likes of British New Wave (four part series), film techniques and various world cinema, Gautam also gives us a variety of interviews with filmmakers. His Q&A with auteur Ashvin Kumar is an interesting look at one of India's most influential artists.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'My earliest memory and perhaps the first movie experience was going to the Indian black comedy/ silent film Pushpak in the year 1988-89. I must've been aged 3 or 4 and I don't think I remember too much from that outing, but I've watched this great film many times later on in my life on television and I have come to like it very much. The first english film that I've watched has to be The Sound of Music on a VHS cassette (that was borrowed from our cousins) after we had bought our first (and only) VCR in the early 1990s.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'I had bought a rather cheap version of Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman which was priced at half the rate of regular DVDs here. It turned out to be a bad choice as the print was a Pan-and-Scan full screen version with no extra material and an epilogue of un-skippable "coming soon on DVD" advertisements. I like the movie very much and I plan to buy the Artificial Eye DVD release of it sometime in the future and probably rid myself of this one.'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'I always had a special place in my heart for the great independent films of the 1960s. It's really interesting to see that there were some independent films released in the years 1959-1960 in France, Britain and America that provided the spark to start the New Wave fires in their respective countries. Amazingly enough, all these "firestarter" films had the same things happening in them: on-location shooting, unorthodox cinematography, improvisational acting, questionable editing and shoe-string budgets. So if I was at Turner Classic Movies, I would programme a hat-trick dosage of The Great Firestarters and the schedule will probably look something like this:

7:00 pm: Shadows (1959/ USA/ 87 min)
Director: John Cassavetes
I consider this the first real independent film of America. Through the course of the film, you can watch it constantly breaking away from the then established Hollywood rules about how a film should be made and that must've been shocking to a lot of people back in 1959. I've read somewhere that somebody once went to Cassavetes after watching this film and praised him on his usage of the hand-held camera in this film to which Cassavetes replied "you stupid bastard, thats because I couldn't afford a tripod!".

9:00 pm: Breathless (1960/ France/ 87 min)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
This is the quintessential film of the French New Wave, famously known for its notorious usage of the jump-cut. Jean-Paul Belmondo is terrific in the lead role, taking improvisation to a new level altogether. Godard on the other hand plays dangerously with the various "rules" of filmmaking and ends up asking a lot of questions. Watching this film will convince a lot of people that films can be made by anyone who has the heart and will to make films.

11:00 pm: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960/ UK/ 89 min)
Director: Karel Reisz
Albert Finney is dashing in this film as the lead character Arthur Seaton as Britain got its first taste of hardcore realism. Widely regarded as the first film to be shot on location and the fore-runner of the British New Wave, this film bravely depicts in stark accuracy everything from extra-marital affairs to working-class violence to unplanned pregnancy to vandalism. I personally rate Albert Finney's performance as one of the all-time greatest in cinema and surely his personal best.

FAVORITE ENDING: 'The final scene of Abbas Kiarostami's magnificient film Taste of Cherry (1997) has disturbed me very much. This great Iranian film is about a man who has dug his own grave and is looking to hire someone to bury him after he commits suicide by consuming sleeping pills. Towards the end of the film we watch the man drive up in the darkness of the night, in midst of heavy rain to the spot where he has dug his grave. He lies down in it and has his eyes wide open in a terrific close up shot of his face. This shot remains for a few minutes before it blacks out but we hear the rain for another few minutes. The film then ends with video footage of the actor, the director and the rest of the cast and crew as they are shooting one of the scenes from the film. I have never fully understood the real meaning behind this unsual ending but I have come to respect it as one of the rare moments when cinema transcended its boundaries and leaked itself into the real world, or something like that.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT IS YOUR EXCUSE: 'This might shock a lot of people but I still haven't seen any of the films from The Godfather trilogy!! The trilogy's reputation is such that I already know what happens in it but I have not watched any of the films so far! I had a lot of chances to watch one of the movies of the trilogy but I held myself back because I plan to watch all 3 of them in an un-interrupted marathon someday. Until that day I'm that rare (and probably the only) film lover who hasn't watched The Godfather!

PICK ONE OF THE FOLLOWING FOUR MOVIES AND WRITE TWO SENTENCES ABOUT IT:
The Devils
Devil in a Blue Dress
The Devil's Own -- 'Brad Pitt fakes a very convincing Irish accent. Harrison Ford on the other hand, looks extremely clueless.'
Devil's Advocate

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS TO: 'I would award an Honorary Best Actor Oscar to the late Heath Ledger for his work on Brokeback Mountain. I feel it is one of the most moving performances of our times.'

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'There are hardly any drive-ins in India, I think there used to be a few in Mumbai but we definitely didn't have any in Hyderabad. There is an open-air theatre in one of the privately owned clubs here which is somewhat like a drive-in. The last time I was there I watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It was a rather unusual experience because we had all these planes flying over us heading towards the airport runway close by and at other times the sound system wasn't that great either.'

FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH:
'I have a wide range of films that I love and as I had already mentioned earlier, I have a great love for the independent films of the 1960s and the 1970s. But then again I love a lot of films outside this particular era. I never really believe in going by genres because they are not that reliable most of the time. I think its safe to just say that I'm obsessed with films.'

FILM CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'Roger Ebert. I read very little from critics because I try not to sound like one in my writing but he's probably the only critic that I've read from on several occassions. I like his principle of "relative criticism" and I think I usually end up liking the films that he likes, especially the new ones.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'It is "My First Movie", a book written by 20 established filmmakers about how they made their first film. I found this in my local bookstore and it was expensive so I've been reading it one chapter at a time over several visits. I've recently finished Ang Lee's section of the book where he explains in detail about the hardhips he had to put up with after film school and before his first feature-film project (which took him nearly 6 years!) and how he finally got to a place where he wanted to be. It was very enlightening to read. My other favorite segment of the book is the one by Kevin Smith- it's hilarious!'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'Over a normal week, I will watch anywhere from 5 to 7 films on cable and about 1 to 3 "good" films on DVD sourced from libraries, friends or bought.'

THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES:
1. Cinema will save us.
2. If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed. (Stanley Kubrick)
3. Bruce Lee can kick anybody's ass.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

2 comments:

Gautam said...

Adam- thank you so much for this experience! It was a lot of fun. We must do more of such interactive exchanges between blogs, it only uncovers the immense potential of this format.

Cheers!

Ralf said...

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