Rioting because of a Movie or How the Wider Sense is Deliberately Lost

The headlines are  probably intentionally misleading. “Muslims riot because of movie”

No, they do not riot because of a movie, but because it is, once again, a final straw that broke all those collective backs. Admittedly, tempers in the Middle East flare a little more easily than their European counterparts, but one bad movie alone is certainly not enough to make a whole nation go bonkers. The riots have other reasons: gross political mismanagement, refusal from the European and American side to help create a strong Muslim government, poverty, the perceived arrogance of the West…

Which leads me to “The Innocence of Muslims” – it is a dreadful parody, lacking wit and substance and a message. The debate should not be about whether there is freedom of speech but about the lack of intelligence within that particular speech. Parody is meant to be sharp and witty, to cut and sting without gross insult. It should make people think about the subject matter or see it, for a moment, loosened from its normal place, made ridiculous in the wider sense of things or even within its very particular universe.

The media reports about the riots and the way they are presented (no background, Muslims are crude and barbarous and so on…) just further serve to cement a ridiculously prejudiced image of the Muslim world. Parody is allowed and is even necessary, but it has to have substance. Muslim verse, Sufi verse for example, is full of a very delicate parody of mankind itself. The man who is tied by chains feels them grow lighter for a moment, but he knows why he is chained and who chained him. He understands the motives of his tormentors and can make fun of them, in his own moment of power. The parody we’re seeing here has no understanding, no sense of fun and no sense of life, either. That something senseless and dumb can have that kind of traction…that is very sad and frightening.

This morning I read a heartfelt plea from a scared young actress who happened to be acting in that movie on Neil Gaiman’s blog – read it…the actors were made to believe they were acting in some kind of fantasy adventure film, which was later overdubbed to become “The Innocence of Muslims”. You can imagine how that young woman feels, I think…

 

 

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Taking a Break

A break from Asia or Travel related topics, because I’m back in the world where my fascination with photography came from: cinema.

Very rarely film becomes something more than entertainment – it becomes a carrier of a mental state or an emotional transformation, an apotheosis, for the viewer. It manages to transport you so clearly to a different world, gives you insight into a different soul or make you experience an emotional state so lucidly you think it was your own…this is what a good film means to me and does to me – it’s a little more than entertainment or diversion…or maybe a lot more.

I love films and movies. I have done so since I was a kid, dreaming to direct my own films one day. I suppose one can learn all about structure and technical aspects, but one can also just go ahead and make a film. Like many people I can view films in my head if I focus…stories and images simply appear…learning to make a film can also be about developing a clear focus for this internal cinema.

But what I want to do here is to name and number a few of the films that have touched me, left a lasting impression on me…for one thing I want to remember them…for another thing, it might be interesting to other people who don’t know what sort of gems are waiting “out there”…Enjoy.

There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie has something beyond literary about it…a feeling that no book, no play can quite capture. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is – as so many people have said – spectacular, primal, fierce and commanding…one man who swallowed all the human demons and lived.

The Assassination of Jesse James

Not so well known, but one of my absolute favorites…a film about the construction and deconstruction of a dream and a legend…this is a book come alive – I can read the characters and their nuances like I would in a novel…the cinematography is beautiful and the soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has to be one of the best pieces of music in modern film…still gives me goose-bumps.

Khadak

A Mongolian film about a young man facing his shamanic initiation in a broken world. Stunning, changing, but hard to understand unless you have a good imagination or a bit of background knowledge. Has excellent music by Altan Urag.

Princess Mononoke

I could put almost any Miyazaki film here…but Princess Mononoke is the one I saw first and it created a new world of imagination for me. Nuanced characters with understandable and relatable motives, gorgeous animations and one or two scenes that leave me stunned each time (Ashitaka rescuing San, for example).

Stalker

It needs time, patience and your imagination, but this quiet film will lead you on a journey that is far better than any opulent CGI overload. Three men, all of them want one thing – to flee their grim, industrial and hopeless city for the Zone…a Stalker can take them there.

Mulholland Dr

David Lynch…well, once more I could choose any of his films (or Twin Peaks), but this one gets the nod because of the Diner scene where a man lays out his nightmare in the clearest possible detail only to have it become real a minute later…scary and surreal as hell.

Twilight Samurai

An introspective samurai period film of the highest order and the second (and best) part of a loose trilogy…in Japanese filmmaking tradition the characters convey so much without words and quiet scenes are filled with tension. The fights, few as they are, are tense, short and impactful, but the mood is strong and the story of an aging samurai who has to leave his family to fight once more out of duty is immensely powerful.

Apocalypse Now

This is a clear and simple descent into hell, both mythic and powerful.

Tree of Life

Terrence Malick is another director whose movies I love…Tree of Life is not a film that grabs you, but it unfolds before you, allowing you to see the moments, enjoy or suffer them and take whatever you wish from them. This is what life feels like…

Apocalypto

I hope Mel Gibson manages to make his strange Viking epos one day, because Apocalypto – while having some up-the-ante scenes that I could do without – is powerfully primal and effective, transforming the world in front of you into a bloody, mythic reality.

The Color of Pomegranates

It shows how differently one can make films, far away from any sort of realism, but creating a poetic, vivid spectacle of scenes and symbols that brings to live a legend.

Walkabout

Nicolas Roeg creates a meditative, magic-realist story about just how foreign our own reality is when faced with the journey of a young Aboriginal man on walkabout.

Rescue Dawn

This one just stands for many Werner Herzog films, about insane adventures, the ability to live and to chase ridiculous dreams. Forget the American war rhetoric and the ending – the real movie is Dengler’s struggle with the jungle and the prison camp.
I could go on, but I have probably already taxed people’s patience…more to come another time. Have fun finding new movies.

The Song of Our People

U-ra-mi-li is the creative child of documentary filmmaker Anushka Meenakshi and actor Iswar Srikumar. The couple resides in Chennai and some time ago they decided to see how much money they could scrape together to fulfill a long-standing dream of theirs: to travel and explore their own country.

India is endlessly fascinating, to non-Indians and Indians alike, although the two bring with them their very own perspectives and views, dreams and joys. Anushka and Iswar were fascinated by the wealth of traditional songs that reverberate through India…work songs, death songs, birth songs, songs for joy, for sadness, songs that can shape careers or that can give shape to grievances and loves.

U-ra-mi-li – The Song of Our People – is the story of the songs and rhythms that the two found in India, the songs from the backyards of India, as the filmmakers call their collection.

The film is made up of interviews with travelling singers, actors, teachers, activists and wordless segments showing rhythm in expected and unexpected ways (the shuffling, musical movements that accompany ploughing a field in the Himalayas might be expected, but the rhythms – aural and visual – created by herds of cattle returning home along a gray mountainside might not be, but both are wonderful and eye-opening to see).

The filmmakers show their progress with everyone on their homepage www.uramili.in as well as on their facebook page. U-ra-mi-li is a crowd-funded film – that means every single person reading this can have a look at the trailers and images from the film and – if they like what they see (and there is plenty to like) – they can donate small or larger amounts to help the two complete the film. They also stage showings in the wider Madras area…for timings see their website.

U-ra-mi-li has a planned release for April 2014 – visit www.uramili.inand help the two filmmakers to achieve that release. It is a very worthwhile thing and if you don’t believe me, see for yourself…