Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Cinema of India at Hibbleton Gallery

For over a year now, my friend Steve Elkins and I have been hosting weekly film screenings at Hibbleton Gallery.  We've explored a huge variety of cultures, countries, directors, and ideas, all expressed through the media of film, and we've no plans of stopping.  For the next two months, Steve and I will be presenting "An Introduction to the Cinema of India." For the first month, we will be showing films by outsiders about India.  For the second month, we'll be showing films made by Indians, with the focus being non-Bollywood cinema from the 19th century to present day.  All screenings happen at 7:30pm on Wednesday evenings, and are FREE.  Here's what we have coming up...

On Wednesday, October 22, we'll be watching SHIPBREAKERS (2004), a documentary about Alang, India, where the world's largest ships are run into the shore and torn apart by 35,000 men with little more than their bare hands. Where at least one worker (or sometimes hundreds at a time) dies a day from explosions, falling steel, asbestos, malaria, or plummeting into the ocean. Where even the Red Cross (which set up a clinic here) cannot find doctors or nurses willing to go. Where most of the US Navy's ships are sent to die, to deliberately avoid the laws of the Environmental Protection Agency at home which "provides an opportunity for the Department of Defense to maximize the return to the U.S. Treasury" (according to a written statement by the Navy).

We will also watch part of Louis Malle's documentary PHANTOM INDIA, "ON THE FRINGES OF INDIAN SOCIETY," in which director Louis Malle tracks down the closest living examples of ancient humanity left on the planet (including the Bondo tribe of Orissa and the Toda in the mountains of Tamil Nadu) whose languages have nothing to do with other Indian languages, who have never waged war or made laws, living instead in an egalitarian society without leaders that is vegetarian despite never taking up agriculture. Malle also examines why Christianity never made much progress in India, despite the fact the Church dates its history in India back to the visit of the apostle Thomas in 52 AD, and why India is the only country in the world that has never persecuted its Jewish population.

On Wednesday, October 29, we'll watch two films by Werner Herzog about India.  First,  "JAG MANDIR" (1991), a "documentary" about the Maharaja of Udaipur whose palace is sinking into the river, spurring him to gather thousands of local artists, magicians, snake charmers, craftsmen, and contortionists to present their work in a giant procession before their culture dies out.  

Then we'll watch the astonishing "WHEEL OF TIME" (2003), which documents the life threatening pilgrimage Buddhist monks have been making for thousands of years, bowing their way across 3,000 miles of the Himalayas on their stomachs to the tree where the buddha was enlightened in Bodhgaya, India, to better understand the nature of the human mind. The pilgrimage culminates in the creation of an enormous mandala out of colored sand which is promptly destroyed upon completion to reflect the impermanence of all things and the importance of non-attachment to even our most profound accomplishments. Completely transcending the boundaries of Buddhist beliefs, this film is one the most moving depictions of the power of selfless human devotion ever made.

On Wednesday, November 5th, we'll watch "GANDHI" (1982), Richard Attenborough's dramatization of the life of Mohandas Gandhi, who overthrew the world's largest empire through the practice of non-violence. Starring Ben Kingsley.

On Wednesday, November 12, Steve Elkins will give a presentation on the birth of Indian cinema which started with the first timelapse film ever made, the silent films of the D. G. PHALKE (known as the father of Indian Cinema), early adaptations of Hindu classics such as the RAMAYANA and MAHABHARATA, Vishnupant Govind Damle's 1936 Marathi classic "SANT TUKARAM" (about Bhakti Hinduism), Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram's "PADOSI" (1941), about Hindu-Muslim relations in pre-independence India), Mahboob Khan's "HUMAYUN" (1945), and Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's documentary "CELLULOID MAN" (2012) which explores the life and work of the one man who single-handedly preserved India's cinema heritage, archivist P. K. Nair, founder of the National Film Archive of India and guardian of Indian cinema.  

D. G. PHALKE (the father of Indian Cinema)
On Wednesday, November 19, we'll explore THE FILMS OF SATYAJIT RAY.  The great auteur of Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray, changed the course of Indian cinema and brought it to the world stage. A proponent of Jawaharlal Nehru's modernization of India, who also fought to preserve the rich heritage of India's countless traditional micro-cultures, Ray's work poetically captures the dual impetus to cling to the past and hurtle into an unknown future while struggling to understand what it meant to be a new entity called "India" after independence in 1947. After presenting excerpts from Ray's films "PATHER PANCHALI" (1955), "DEVI" (1960, about a man who believes his daughter-in-law is an incarnation of the goddess Durga), the psychedelic fairy tale "GOOPY GYNE BAGHA BYNE" (1969), and "THE CHESS PLAYERS" (1977), we will watch a full screening of "THE MUSIC ROOM" (1958), about an aging zamindar who gathers the last great artists of traditional Indian music into his crumbling Bengal palace across the river from the newly designated East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to embrace of a way of life about to disappear forever. Truly one of the great masterpieces of world cinema, and an excellent introduction to the artforms of Lucknow thumri, Muslim khyal, and kathak dance.

The great auteur of Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray, changed the course of Indian cinema and brought it to the world stage.

On Wednesday, November 26, we'll explore FILMMAKERS OF POST-INDEPENDENCE INDIA, focusing on Ritwik Ghatak's "THE CLOUD-CAPPED STAR" (1960) and "A RIVER CALLED TITAS" (1973), Mrinal Sen's "BHUVAN SHOME" (1969), Mani Kaul's "OUR DAILY BREAD" (1970), Girish Kasaravalli's "THE RITUAL" (1977), and Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "RAT TRAP" (1981).

"The Cloud-Capped Star" (1960)

On Monday, December 1, we'll explore IMPORTANT WOMEN OF INDIAN CINEMA.  We will watch excerpts from APARNA SEN's 1989 film "SATI" (about a mute girl in an Indian village who marries a tree to avoid having to commit sati, the tradition of burning widows alive on their husband's funeral pyre), and an overview of films by MIRA NAIR (SALAAM BOMBAY, KAMA SUTRA, MONSOON WEDDING).

On Wednesday, December 3, we'll finish the series by exploring THE FILMS OF ANAND PATWARDHAN: "RAM KE NAAM" (IN THE NAME OF GOD, 1991), a documentary about the deadly riots that erupted across India after thousands of Hindu fundamentalists made the 1990 "rath yatra" (chariot journey) from Somnath in Gujarat to destroy the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, which is believed to be built over the sacred birthplace of the Hindu God Lord Ram. The film is the second part of a trilogy of documentaries by India's most notorious social justice documentarian, Anand Patwardhan, examining the integration of Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim fundamentalism into India's political parties. In addition to an overview of Patwardhan's films documenting political upheaval in India from the 1970s to the present, curator Steve Elkins will give a presentation on the work of ARUNDHATI ROY, who is effectively the Noam Chomsky of India, including a screening of her legendary "Come September" speech and readings from her book "THE ALGEBRA OF INFINITE JUSTICE" (2001).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fathers and Sons

When I tell people, “My dad was a pastor,” I get a variety of responses.  But let me tell you the kind of pastor my dad was.  He seldom preached.  That wasn’t his deal.  He did things like visit sick people in the hospital.  He listened to people’s problems.  He took shit from mean people.  Sometimes he taught a group of adults, but his teaching mostly consisted of interactive discussions.

He wrote.  A lot.  He still does.  And my mom, the pastor’s wife, would cook meals for families that needed help—a sick parent, people who were grieving.  My dad was a guy who most people in our very large church actually knew, and felt comfortable talking with.

My dad was not the kind of pastor that liberals (like me) make fun of or hate.  He was the kind of pastor that liberals don’t know what to make of: compassionate, humble, intelligent, honest about his flaws, creative.  He didn’t fit any stereotype.  He still doesn’t.  That’s the kind of pastor my dad was, and the kind of person he still is.

For the past several years, whenever I log onto my computer, before doing all my creative shenanigans, before writing every blog post, I type this password: chaimpotok.  Chaim Potok was a Jewish novelist who wrote, mostly, about fathers and sons and religion.  His novel, The Chosen, is one that both my dad and I have read, and like.  The Promise is good too.  My Name is Asher Lev made me want to be an artist.

These are books about deeply religious fathers and sons who have profound disagreements about religion and its role in modern life.  For a long time, I thought I chose “chaimpotok” as a password because no one would guess it.  But now, after typing it literally thousands of times, day after day, I think I also chose it because he is an author whose books capture something of the way I feel about my father—love, respect, and occasional profound disagreement.

But like Reuven and his father the Zionist (from The Chosen), Danny and his father the Hasidic orthodox rabbi (from The Promise), Asher and his father (from My Name is Asher Lev), like all Chaim Potok’s fathers and sons, I am deeply connected to my father, and though we travel our different paths in life, we are much more alike than we often admit.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Haggai: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary. I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Many of the final books of the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament), the so-called “minor prophets,” are very short, and Haggai is no exception.  It’s only two chapters long.  Unlike most of the prophets, Haggai is written in prose, instead of poetry.  Also, Haggai is very specific about dates.  His prophecy begins “In the second year of Darius (of Persia), in the sixth month, on the fist day of the month.”  By our calendar, that is August 29, 520 B.C.E.

Under King Darius of Persia, some Jews had been allowed to return to Israel and begin rebuilding their lives and community there, under a Persian-appointed governor named Zerubbabel, and a high priest named Joshua.  In the early years of the returned community, life was hard.  Jerusalem, including the temple, had been pretty much destroyed.

During this time of struggle, a lot of people were looking to their own self-interest, rebuilding their own houses and individual lives.  They were struggling with a nation in ruins, and not faring well as individuals.  Haggai acknowledges this: “Consider how you have fared.  You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.”  In other words, life was hard.

Haggai’s solution is to bring the people together as a community, and the most powerful symbol of community in ancient Israel was the temple.  So, Haggai encourages the people to re-build the temple.  Unlike with other prophets, the people actually listen to the prophet, and commence building the temple.

This re-building of the temple gives the people hope for the future, and God promises blessing.  I find the book of Haggai to contain a profound truth about human survival in times of struggle: as individuals, we can’t make it.  We need community.  We need other people.  If our philosophy is “every man for himself,” the situation seems bleak, lonely, and hopeless.  But if people work together, even struggle together, there are relationships formed, and shared purpose, and hope for not just survival, but flourishing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Anti-Club Playlist 10/10/14

On Fridays, I DJ at Mulberry St. Ristorante (aka The Anti-Club) with my friend Phil, and sometimes other friends.  Here's what we played last Friday, with album art.  Click the song title to listen to it...

“Schluesselkind” by Dominique

“Bother” by PM to You

“Espionage” by The Shitty Limits

“Ocean Death” by Baths

See you next week at The Anti-Club!