Napoleon – Kubrick’s Unfinished Masterpiece

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Since coming across the Kubrick interview that I blogged here about earlier, I did some digging around. The result was this screenplay(warning, it’s a PDF file) for Napoleon by Kubrick.

I cannot comment as to its authenticity, but there is sufficient brilliance in there to suggest it could be the work of the master himself.

The whole screenplay makes for excellent weekend reading, which is what I did last weekend by the way.

Some sections that bring out the personality of Napoleon

  • 1789 Revolution on Page 9. Napoleon’s ability to take charge of volatile situations.
  • Toulon Road – Day on Page 13. Ability to think strategically.
  • Paris Street – Day on Page 24. Willingness to use force, morality be damned.
  • Notre Dame – Day on Page 69. Self-coronation..enough said!
  • Bedroom – Day on Page 147. Last moments of the hero and his descent into clouded states of memory.
  • Production Notes on Page 149. Notes of Kubrick on the planning work done until then.

It is amazing to learn about the rigor and planning that supports a creative endeavor like movie making. Coupled with the interview I linked to in my previous blog post on Kubrick, we get a little insight into the mechanics of creativity.

Stanley Kubrick – The Mindscape of an Artist

2001 has to be the first movie I had seen that shocked me to the possibilities of narrative grammar and the means of visually articulating imaginary worlds. Until then Stanley Kubrick to me was a master director because critiques said so and not by my own direct experience.

I came across this excerpt of an interview with Kubrick, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the mindscape of this brilliant director. Below are some highlights that should be required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in creativity.

On depicting the battle scenes of Napolean

(the movie that was to be directed by Kubrick but never got done, earning it the sobriquet  “masterpiece that was never made”):

”There’s an aesthetic involved; it’s almost like a great piece of music, or the purity of a mathematical formula. It’s this quality I want to bring across, as well as the sordid reality of battle. You know, there’s a weird disparity between the sheer visual and organizational beauty of the historical battles sufficiently far in the past, and their human consequences. It’s rather like watching two golden eagles soaring through the sky from a distance; they may be tearing a dove to pieces, but if you are far enough away the scene is still beautiful.”

On the ‘purpose’ of a film

“the basic purpose of a film, which I believe is one of illumination, of showing the viewer something he can’t see any other way”

On depicting futuristic or historic themes

“it enables you to make a statement with which you’re not personally blinded; it removes the environmental blinkers, in a sense, and gives you a deeper and more objective perspective”

On whether the ambiguity in 2001 was deliberate

“..it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to "fill in" the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting..”

Read the whole interview. I gained a lot from it.

Sarah Palin and Joan of Arc- Same God Spoke to Both?

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All this talk by Sarah Palin about the “voice of god” and “his will” remind me of another historical character, Joan of Arc.

I deeply admire Joan and think its unjust to even mention her name in the same web page as Sarah Palin!

The movie by Luc Besson, is a favorite of mine. Especially for casting Milla Jovovich as Joan herself, an unusual casting but works to fantastic effect.

The scenes where Milla deals with her inner self, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, has to be a masterpiece of cinematic narration.

The initial rousing triumph of lifting an anonymous peasant to the heights of leading a nation, the blind anticipation of the will of the Unseen Divine, the irrational yielding to Infallibility masked as instinct and the eventual self doubt and soul killing questioning are the traditional marks of a life yielded to the Divine. Besson captures all these moods with as much aptness as practically possible.

Even the series of mystic visions that Joan has reveal an originality of artistic inspiration in portrayal that is rare when dealing with spiritual subjects.

Compare this to how Christ is portrayed in “The Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson. You will see the Gallic sensibility at work in Besson and the crass sensationalism of hollywood painting Christ’s story with ugly gore.

You ask, what has this got to do with the title of this post? Well, I had to absolve myself from taking the name of SP, a little soul cleansing was in order…hence the rambling on Joan of Arc and heck I even have something akin to devotion to Joan…so why not!

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Beowulf

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The age of heroes has long passed us by, what we live in is an age of wannabes. Moral dwarves scurrying to their holes of self-justification.

In a reality that disappoints  with such unfailing regularity, our only chance of coming across a hero seems to be within the intangible firmament of imagination and thought, as if heroism itself was something so transitory that it would not survive reality. But accustomed as we are to the currency of tangible reality, the world of thought is sealed but for those who would speak and decipher its language.

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Beowulf stands at the borderlands of fantastical world of thought and the hard boundaries of physical reality. Motion capture lends its animated human characters a realism that lends life like posturing and movements. That alone makes this effort a precursor of what movies can and will be.

But for all its technical achievements, seldom does the art draw your attention, except perhaps when you hold your breath on seeing things you would not expect to confront usually.

The way the characters and the environs have been envisioned is out of the world too.

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<spoiler>One striking example is how a hero is portrayed. Brash, egotistic, even vain and tons of other moral weaknesses. Just when you think that this conflicts with every mental model of a hero, the redeeming quality emerges. The scene is when the monster Grendel pays a ‘visit’ to the mead hall. When all around scurry about in mortal fear, there stands Beowulf, sans a shred of clothing since he wishes to meet the monster in similar elements, staring at this awful creature, this monstrosity, displaying only a single emotion, ‘what the heck is this!’. No fear, no flinching, just a cold instinctual assessment of the situation and jumps into the task. The physical postures, the choreography of the action sequences and the final declaration of what he is, once victory seems sure, has to be one of the finest moments in recent movie history.</spoiler>

Watch this, you will not be dissapointed.

[My other post on Beowulf is here]

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I am Lust, I am Power!

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It starts with the uncanny visual realism, yet something is not quite right – skin that looks like skin but is too perfect to be real, a face too taut and a posture straight out of the Renaissance period. The voice actors are first class – what strikes you is how self-sure the voice is. Everything about this movie seems to stand out for me – Beowulf is a retelling on the old English epic poem, with a little help from Neil Gaiman.

The trailer is amazing and am eager to see it regardless of what the critics say about it.

There is this sequence in the trailer where Beowulf shouts out “I am Lust, I am Power” and so on, expounding various facets of his personality. I feel this is perfect characterization, keeping in mind the time and culture in which this story takes place. And I found it so consistent with my understanding of those ancient times.

Often times, especially in India, where we confuse artistic merit with the personal morals of an actor to pour our fanship, it is  hard to come by a character, live or imaginary, that reflects reality. Reality not as in portrayal as is, for that is but one definition of what art can be, but even by amplification or contrast of our lowest and highest impulses and aspirations. It is almost as if the creative sap of the race has been dried out by the geniuses(Vyaasa, Valmiki, Kalidasa, Tagore etc) who have come before us. What we have now are pale imitations, counterfeits and imaginary dwarves who don’t deserve the crown of posterity. The impoverishment within reflects in the kind of characters whom we choose to create and idolize. Perhaps a more complete destruction of the national character and forms of culture is needed to bring about fresher and more puissant creation.

Ratatouille – a rodent with a heart

How do you define beauty? Or in this case how do you define taste? How do you portray something that is inherently untranslatable to a medium like a movie, that too an animation one at that! But portray it they do and boy do they do it in style!

The scene occurs during the very end of the movie. The scene is one where Anton, the critique, is seated to review the food served here and Remy, the rat, has just taken over the kitchen, along with a couple of hundred of its mates, and Linguini plays the waiter. Its a make or break scene and even reeks of an overused impossible-situation-for-protagonist-to-unravel plot. They say that anticipation of is worse than actually enduring a misfortune. And Linguine is in this rather sinew stretching situation of having to face the reaction of Anton, like having to be in the eye of the storm. The food is served and the critique takes a bite. And then a pause, the scales of fortune could tilt in any direction.

And then the magic happens. The eyes of the critique widen, as if something that was not anticipated, something from the depths of his memory was brought out without any prior notice. The scene changes- cut to a boy standing on a doorstep, many years ago, and his mother in the kitchen. A dish is served, boy takes a mouthful and then he smiles at the mother. And the scene cuts back to the present. That is all, but boy what magic…childhood, what we hold dear, what we cherish, how our values are formed…its all there in a few moments of movie magic.

I don’t know how to praise this scene enough. And the whole movie is suffused with scenes of such candor, that all the follies and redeeming qualities, light and shade, of all living things are contrasted and highlighted. And in doing so prove, that in this vale of tears, each of us can rise way beyond what fate and circumstances conspire to keep us in.

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Die Hard 4 and Beethoven

Definitely not something that should ever be in the same sentence or a paragraph. Matter of fact they are not even from the same continent!

But was just watching the trailer of Die Hard 4 and heard the bars of “Ode to Joy” on an electric guitar, or whatever instrument it is! For the love of god what a rendition, what joy! What a start to an otherwise lackluster day!

I have often wondered what is eternal, can anything be eternal, what its characteristics would be, will it give you joy or grief, will it be relevant and alive across all time, all cultures and other assorted states of being that life is subjected to! And this is proof that all that is good and beautiful can and should be eternal. In a medium that almost seems like magic, on an instrument that the original author might have shuddered to approach, almost 200 years later, from an alien culture and still how it translates…:-)

Sabdam Brahma, Sound is God, says the Veda and even with a rational mind one would have to agree. Sound indeed is God and for all that I know, I just heard him.