Thursday, March 24, 2011

...but we didn't

Lee to Yuvraj Singh, FOUR, a poetic moment for the Indian fans. Australia's reign has ended. The crowd has lost it. Yuvraj is on the turf, mid-pitch, arms aloft, looking up at the sky and then waving his bat away in a frenzy of emotions. And just as well. We will have new World Champions, for the first time since 1999. Length ball on off stump, Yuvraj wanted to do it at one go, he backed away marginally and caned it through the covers. Everything is a blur. Australia are out. India will play Pakistan in Mohali.

Genesis abridged

Just throwing it all away
throwing it all away
and there's nothing that I can say

We're throwing it all away
Yes, we're throwing it all away

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Guitar Canon

We’ll start with the riffmeisters because rock ‘n’ roll is, when you get down to it, a guitar riff. Chuck Berry is king of this castle. Keith Richards is his queen (queen bitch?). Courtiers include Angus Young, Johnny Ramone. Jack White guards the gates.

The romantic poets. Mark Knopfler. Jorma Kaukonen. Eric Clapton sometimes. Peter Green.

The street poets. Jimi Hendrix. Duanne Allman. Johnny Winter. Mick Taylor. Mike McCready.

The innovators. Bo Diddley. Link Wray, for “Rumble”. Lou Reed. Tom Morello. Hendrix could just as easily be here, but then there’s hardly any category he that wouldn’t fit into.

The nihilists. Neil Young, when backed by Crazy Horse. Early Pete Townshend. Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith. Steve Jones.

Servants of the song. First and foremost, George Harrison, whose contributions, whether spectacular or not, were always apt. Roger Squire. Mick Jones of The Clash. Lindsey Buckingham. The Edge.

Picker-strumers. Tumbling melody lines, cleanly-picked, alternated with acousto-electric strumming. Roger McGuinn. Johnny Marr. And Peter Buck, whose style is reminiscent of both.

The minimalists. Curtis Mayfield. Robbie Robertson. Luther Perkins.

The savage. Bruce Springsteen. Paul McCartney, which can only come as a surprise to those who haven’t cottoned on to the fact that every jagged, bordering-on-losing-control Beatles solo (“Taxman”, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Good Morning Good Morning”) is his. Dave Davies, because no single till this day has sounded as savage as “You Really Got Me”.

Dream weavers. Kevin Shields’ guitar symphonies. The shattered tapestries of Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore. Nick McCabe and Simon Tong, especially on Urban Hymns. And, when he’s in the mood, Jimmy Page.

The younger brothers.
The unappreciated ones, playing vital roles in the shadow of their more illustrious axemates. Sterling Morrison. David Crosby. Stone Gossard. Malcolm Young, who’s actually the elder brother.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brief Encounter

It’s one of the simplest, most effective opening scenes in film history. As a policeman flirts with the owner of a railway platform cafĂ©, the camera moves past them to show a couple quietly sitting at one of the tables, refusing to look each other in the eye. They’re joined by a garrulous lady, and their discomfort at this intrusion is visible. Soon it’s time for his train. He gets up, pauses, puts a hand on her shoulder, and leaves. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, nothing much happens, but everything is revealed: they’re having an affair and are worried she’ll find out. There’s a secret hidden within this scene as well, but to speak of that is to deny the viewer the opportunity to experience firsthand the sweet ache of David Lean’s Brief Encounter.

The plot, an adaptation of Noel Coward’s play Still Life, concerns a bored housewife and a doctor teetering on the brink of an illicit affair. Trevor Howard as the male lead was inspired casting – he’d only begun his acting career a year back in 1944, and was not what you might call movie star handsome. Neither was Celia Johnson, who despite being everyone’s first choice for the role, almost turned it down. The makers must have seen something in their pairing that felt right – maybe the way their silences were so evocative. The supporting players too are flawless, especially Stanley Holloway (Eliza’s dad in My Fair Lady) and Joyce Carey as another, less cautious adulterous couple. Lean’s direction is intimate and measured, a world removed from Lawrence of Arabia, the film he’s most famous for. Robert Krasker’s camera, anticipating his singular work on Carol Reed’s The Third Man, is at its best when confronted with rain, or tunnels, or the night. Brief Encounter has a restraint and formality to it that is extremely British, yet at no point does it feel false or forced. To be seen with Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love in the ultimate unrequited love double-bill.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Italian Jobs: DVD Review

The 1969 Italian Job was a caper in both senses of the word – a crime film and a playful skip. The latter aspect is overdone, and for the most part the movie is fey, feckless and aggressively British. Directed by Peter Collison, it centres around one Charlie Croker (Michael Caine), a master thief recently released from prison, and his attempt to relive the Turin authorities of four million dollars via a daring heist. Unless you’re a diehard Caine fan, or thrill to the sight of Noel Coward (miscast as criminal mastermind John Bridger), there’s nothing in the first hour to quicken the blood. However, just as you’re prepared to give up, the characters stop yacking and start driving. The next thirty minutes, in which three Mini Coopers carrying the loot go down staircases, up buildings and through tunnels, are riveting – though an ambiguous ending messes things up again.

As the director, producer and writers of the 2003 Italian Job attest in the making-of featurette, their version was more of an inspired retelling than a remake. Some aspects of the original are retained – there’s still a Charlie Croker, a John Bridger, a heist, and the getaway cars are still Mini Coopers. What’s new is that the characters are now American, and the heist they’re pulling is against a former associate Steve (Edward Norton), who double-crossed them and killed Bridger. The original version had way too many thieves sharing screen time. This time they’re just five – Mark Wahlberg as Croker, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Seth Green, and Charlize Theron as Bridger’s daughter.

The build-up’s more fun this time around – especially when Steve becomes wise to their plans – but it wouldn’t be a Hollywood action remake unless the main aim was to better every stunt that was there in the original. In this, the movie is successful, even if certain complexities of plot and character seem to have been sacrificed along the way. Final verdict: good, speedy fun, but no Ocean’s Eleven. Both DVDs come with extras detailing how the films were made (Caine’s absence gives the 2003 interviews the edge in terms of star power). The original version does have a commentary track though, in which producer Michael Deeley clears the air regarding Croker’s unexplained “great idea".

A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi.