Steeped In Tradition

Reminiscences and Reflections

Category: Art

Action packed! Thrilling! Fatiguing, Formulaic and Sloppy.

I just got back from watching Furious 7. After 140 minutes of furious driving and fast crashing, metal crashing on metal, bullets flying, I feel hungover. I feel like a 66 Shelby Cobra went right through my brain, leaving tire marks and smell of burning rubber in the head.

The camera-work on the movies today seem so amateur. A scene rarely lasts more than a few second. When the intensity increases, so will the camera shake. It is a like a cue to feel “excited”, like the “applause” sign on comedy TV shows. Although the movie signs off with a emotional scene of everyone looking at Paul Walker and a rather nice song playing in the background, I left the movie feeling nothing.

The movie directors today could learn a thing or two about making movie from the great master, Akira Kurosawa. This video draws parallel between Kurosawa’s work and reveals how bland todays films are

I still remember scenes from the movie Ran by Kurosawa, which also happens to be one of my all time favorite movies. I wonder if there is a market for movies like that? Judging by the claps and standing ovations action movies such as Fast & Furious receive, mediocre filmmaking is here to stay. The audience don’t have a taste or desire for real art. Only more and more violent action scenes can affect the already desensitized minds of movie goers today.

Trailers are half the reason I got for a movie! Before an action movie, naturally, there will be trailers for other action movies. After the great reception to the music scores of movies like Batman, Inception and Transformers, literally every trailer has the same base music score — that unmistakable drone you heard in the movie Inception. Terry Gross from NPR put this question to Mark Woollen, a celebrated name in Hollywood known for making the trailers that will compel people to goto movies. The guy pretty much shrugged saying it’s not his work. The twenty minute trailer set before the the movie start feels like a Nine Inch Nails or Depeche Mode concert.

And what can I say about the horror movies today. While action is reduced to shaky camera work, horror is conveyed through periods of silence followed by an excruciatingly loud noise and a zombie running straight at you. Sure it works. Gets my hair standing. But that like water-boarding someone just so they get feel for a tragic scene in the movie. If you are going to turn up the volume to eleven in a IMAX theatre sure I will jump in my seat. But credit does not go to your movie. Why can’t they do it like Kubrick did in The Shining:

Wendy Torrance: [Wendy has Jack locked in the storage closet] I’m gonna go now.

Jack Torrance: Uh… Wendy?

Wendy Torrance: I’m gonna try and get Danny down to Sidewinder in the Snow Cat. I’ll send back a doctor…

Jack Torrance: Wendy?

Wendy Torrance: Yes?

Jack Torrance: You got a *big* surprise coming to you. You’re not going anywhere! Go check out the Snow Cat and the radio and you’ll see what I mean. Go check it out. *Go!* Go check it out!

The Pinnacle of an Art

I saw the 4th installment of the Step-up movie a couple of weeks back. In this movie, the free-spirited dancers no longer danced for a contest. They use their art to express protest against big money corporation who were out to forcefully buy their cherished “hangout” places. I have to say I liked the dance sequences in Step-up 3 better though.

In the movie, the lead actor helps the actress rehearse a dance sequence on the beach. Things get sour between the two and she is at the audition, struggling with her dance routine and emotions. Every time she lost balance the scene would shift to when both of them danced in warm embrace at the beach in the setting sun. Her struggle to maintain form evoked a few thoughts in my mind

Art is like a language. A medium to express yourself, either to your dance partner, an audience or probably even just yourself. This is more apparent in forms of latin dance like Tango, where the exchange of emotion is very visible. An expert of an art, say in piano, should be able to express joy, sorrow or anger playing the same composition. A master should not only be able to express an even greater range of emotions, but also express it with simplicity to a degree that overwhelms even a casual observer. I think that would be the pinnacle of an art.

In any art, its perhaps easy to make the presence of something felt. Is it possible to show the absence? The actress in the movie Step-up tried, it was an Ok effort. I want to see a deeper expression of longing or loss through dance. Perhaps a similar western contemporary dance, where the female performer still in the shock of her partners absence, attempts the duet performance. She goes flying in the air and lands on the hard ground with no arms to break her fall. This sentiment would be ingrained in her routine i.e. she wouldn’t actually crash and hurt herself. The key would be to make you believe that she is counting on someone to be there until the very last moment of a step. And that she will continue to perform with the invisible person until every member of the audience gets it. If I ever meet an accomplished master of dance, I will ask that person to create such a dance sequence.

I am sure there are already attempts to express this emotion in various arts. I hope that I am able to recognize what the artist is trying to say when I see or hear their work. Just like I did when I heard this Cello composition by Joe Hisaishi in the Japanese movie Okuribito “Departures”