December 2007, Mannheim.
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December 2007, Mannheim.
(Press F11 to view the photo properly)
A Merry Christmas to all!
How much of history do we remember? As a philosopher once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. But we keep forgetting and thereby keep repeating the same mistakes. Our collective history is littered with examples of the vilest of deeds that have repeated themselves through the ages. From Germany to Gujarat and from Rwanda to Cambodia millions have been murdered and massacred just because they were the ‘other’. A group of ‘others’ who could conveniently be blamed for whatever imaginary wrongs those in power could propagate about them. And people would believe them for it is easier to blame someone else rather than confront a problem.
Therefore, it is important to create symbols and to build special places where memories of the past are kept alive and remembered. For it is necessary to remember even if memories seem futile. For in remembering we make a promise even if we do not always keep it. A promise to do whatever it takes to prevent what we are seeing of the past from repeating itself in the present or in the future.
One such place is the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Among the museums I’ve seen it alone makes brilliant use of light and space to evoke a feeling of great loss and sadness. Each facet of the architecture and arrangement is meant to mean something and that meaning is conveyed using the simplest of means: stark unadorned walls, huge empty rooms, select photos and belongings, uneven ground, all meant to reproduce at least in part the unbelievable horrors experienced by the victims of the holocaust.
The above photo is from an art installation called ‘Fallen Leaves’ inside the haunting Memory Void section of the museum by an Israeli artist. The artist actually requests visitors to walk on the faces made of metal. But somehow it was very very tough for me to do that. It felt as if I was walking on real people, as if I was stepping on the faces of actual people lying dead. And perhaps that was the artist’s intention all along.
The museum is a great example for the strong impact minimalism makes. Unlike other museums it does not overwhelm you or crowd your thoughts out with an excess of display. On the contrary, it gives you time to formulate your thoughts, feel and experience a bit of the pain and horror. I was especially moved by the Holocaust Tower (photo above) which is a tall stark tower that is completely dark except for a thin streak of light that is allowed in from the top. You are enclosed in darkness with only a bright shaft of light streaming in from the top. The darkness is a space for solitude and reflection while the light above is perhaps the proverbial hope at the end of the tunnel. The Garden of Exile and Emigration (photo below) is another place that affects you through the ingenious use of uneven ground and inclination to disturb you and create a sense of imbalance. An imbalance that is upsetting and disorientating and meant to evoke what it feels to be in exile.
Architecturally, the museum is one of my favorite buildings and the genius of Daniel Libeskind, the architect, must be appreciated. The building is a work of art in itself. If you do get to go to the museum (if you are in Berlin do not miss going there) go there alone if you can for this is something that needs to be taken in on your own. What you feel and experience there will stay with you for a lifetime.
November 2007, Cologne.
Fuji Neopan 400
Humans are by their very nature afraid of the other. Evolution has given us instincts that make us fear people different from us. So we build invisible walls, draw arbitrary lines that separate us into homogeneous groups based on color, caste, race and creed. We fence ourselves inside these artificial barriers. When placed outside our comfort zones we instantly gravitate towards the familiar, someone who speaks the same language or is from the same country or city. This is because there is safety in numbers, there is safety in the familiar. This must have helped us in our evolutionary struggles when the world was a fearful place where dangerous predators and unforgiving nature picked off the weaker ones or sometimes even the ones who did not conform.
But what if evolution sprang a surprise on us by throwing an unexpected curve ball? What if the next stage of evolution makes us look obsolete? What if, say through genetic engineering or purely evolutionary means, a new breed of humanity is born, equipped with powers we can only dream of or perhaps read only in comic books? How would we deal with that reality? Would we learn to exist in the midst of such ‘different’ people or would we give in to our instincts and try to destroy the emerging threat? Would it be our turn to become extinct?
It is in such a world Heroes is set in. A world where anything is possible. A world where being special takes on an entirely different meaning. A world on the cusp of immense change.
(To know more about the series go here).
November 2007, Cologne (Fuji Neopan 400)
At the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.
Fuji Sensia 100
Here is another round of word cinema goodness:
12 Monkeys: Terry Gilliam has always been very good when it comes to dealing with dystopian futures (Brazil anyone?). And this film is another prime example. A mind bending exercise in alternate pasts and grim reality. This is what happens when a present collides with a meddlesome future. Brad Pitt needs to be singled out for his delightful but edgy performance.
2001: A Space Odyssey : A stoner paradise for many but behind that spacey, chilled out vibe is the quietly effective brilliance of Kubrick. From the scientifically accurate special effects, minimalist set design and vague dialog to the brilliant marriage of music and motion Kubrick shows why he is one of the best directors of all time. This is how science fiction should be. And that sequence of docking spaceships set to Strauss’s Blue Danube? So delicate, so graceful and oh so beautiful. Go watch it please.
21 Grams: Stark, hard hitting and sad. Inarritu’s use of non linear narrative continues with this film from where he left off in Amores Perros. Naomi Watts is the pick of a talented ensemble cast.
Almost Famous: An ode to all that was good about rock music before it got lost in self-indulgence and soulless stadium rock. This film is about the fallibility of rock musicians seen through the eyes of a wide eyed rock fan. Based on Crowe’s own experiences as a writer for Rolling Stone and touring with rock bands. Essential viewing for anyone with a passing interest in rock music.
American Psycho: Less disturbing than the book but still quite effective as a window into the vacuous greed of the yuppie culture in the late 80s and early 90s. Christian Bale gets into the skin of the character and behind his glassy persona you glimpse the other side of the American dream and it is scary for the depth of its emptiness.
Battle Royale: Fukasaku offers this inventive but violent vision of the future. What if troublesome and rebellious school kids were packed off to an island and given lethal weapons with license to kill? Would that solve society’s problems and the travails of parents? See the film to know the answer.
Battleship Potemkin: A masterpiece in every sense of the word. I’d see this film again and again just for that famous Odessa steps sequence. Makes it hard to believe that the film was made way back in 1925.
Zodiac: Fincher’s return to form. A dark and edgy thriller dealing with a true story about a serial killer who was never caught. Fincher’s films always have this distinctive look and this is no different. The muted, slightly desaturated cinematography is highly effective in creating a confined world where danger seems to lurk around the corner. Jake Gyllenhaal is surprisingly effective as the reporter who is not willing to give up.
Training Day: Mainly known as the film that finally netted Denzel Washington his best actor Oscar. But beyond that the film is a disturbing exploration of the corruption that power unleashes. Apart from Washington’s bravura (but slightly over the top) performance watch out for Ethan Hawke’s sensitive portrayal of a rookie cop.
Y Tu Mama Tambien: Sexy and funny. This film about the road trip of two hormonal young men and a woman seeking to escape her troubled marriage explores in seemingly casual fashion deeper topics such as relationships, jealousy and the meaning of friendship. This is a road film with a difference.
Dalkomhan Insaeng (A Bittersweet Life): Kim Ji-Woon’s moody and stylistic meditation on loyalty and love. Gorgeously shot night sequences mingle uneasily with graphic violence but it all serves to bring to the fore the distance to which a man will go to keep true love.
Mala Educasion (Bad Education): Almodovar’s partly autobiographical look at the diverging lives of two school friends and their shared past. Garcia Bernal is as always brilliant in his multi-faceted role. Memory, friendship and cinema come under the scanner in Almodovar’s noirish universe.
Short Cuts: In many ways the film that jump started the trend for multi-character narrative dramas like Magnolia, Crash etc. Based on Raymond Carver’s minimalist short stories, Altman gives us unique fly on the wall views into an assorted bunch of Californian characters whose lives are interwoven in more ways than one. When so many characters are handled with such ease without letting the film run aground you know that this could only have been made by a master film maker.
Tron: A dated but still amusing film about out of control video games. That unique 80s feel clearly comes across in the special effects and music but the film is worth a watch for the weird video world it takes us into.
The Cell: A flawed but intensely surreal film. This is a journey into the twisted universe of a psychotic mind. Every step in that world is an exploration of the surreal with out of the world stunning visuals. Tarsem Singh’s experience in making music videos shows in his sleek cinematography and vivid colors. Some scenes are like paintings out of Dali’s universe. And for once Jennifer Lopez is bearable.
November 2007, Cologne (Fuji Sensia 100)