White noise is a random signal (or process) with a flat power spectral density. In other words, the signal's power spectral density has equal power in any band, at any center frequency, having a given bandwidth. White noise is considered analogous to white light which contains all frequencies.

Who am I?

Neo-hippie cinephile. Follower of the great Jim Morrison who once said "If the doors of perception are cleansed, everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Almost Always Wright

It is interesting that India is still viewed as a land of great religion and mystic charm, while she has produced a generation of Godless beings such as myself, and yet, we aren't running amok tearing our hair out, because we have something equally mystifying - cricket. The game may have started on the cold English green lawns, meant to be enjoyed amidst polite cups of tea, but it has certainly evolved into a passion of the pajama, as can be read on the sleeves of a billion people. An important figure in this evolution, at least, from an Indian perspective, along with Sourav Ganguly, is the quiet, resilient Kiwi opening batsmen of yesteryear - John Wright. Over the years, we have always heard media speculation about him, with almost no returns form the man. Professional to the core, he chose to do it in his book, after retiring. Written with the help of Sharda Ugra and Paul Thomas, his autobiography "John Wright's Indian Summers" is mostly excerpts from John's diary and is a very straightforward and realistic account what actually happened in the golden years of Indian cricket and the profile of a much loved lonely man.

The book begins with the end of John's cricketing career and talks about his body telling him to stop, but his mind not agreeing, leading him to his coaching career. He started off with the English county team Kent and produced results. After failing to land the job as the Kiwi coach, John landed arguably the second hottest seat in world cricket. The Kent job couldn't have been more different from the India one.

From the outset, the decision to hire a foreign coach was met with a lot of resistance, especially from ex-players, who thought they could do a better job. However, John did make friends as well, in Raj Singh Dungarpur, and was also, in Jagmohan Dalmiya's good books. He doesn't talk about Ganguly all that much, treating the relationship as more professional than personal. Kaif seems to be a favorite of his, along with Javagal Srinath, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. According to the book, he was very drawn to players who weren't from the big cities.

I think the most important reason that his tenure as coach worked was that he recognized the fact that cricket was a religion in India, and identified answering the hungry public with results, as one of his action items. There are passages in the book that talk about people lining up for hours in small towns to wave at the tinted windows of the passing bus with their heroes in it, and rendezvous' with the cab driver, or an enthusiastic teenager, who had grave justification for shuffling the batting order.

He also recognized that each player needed different one on one coaching, such as Tendulkar needed more direction, while some of the younger players needed more technical tips. He was the first coach to push for and succeed in getting the Indian team a trainer and a physio. One of his regrets is not being able to manage a bowling coach. I am sure he is glad that since his departure, that has been taken care of.

The Pakistan tour receives more attention than others in the book, not just because of the Indian team's astounding success there, but mainly because of the off-field activities, like the warm hospitality or the affinity in culture that John observed. What makes this book appealing to even non-cricket enthusiasts, I would imagine, is the lack of cricket data and an emphasis on the emotions and the little humorous anecdotes of the players while on tour. The great Aussie series at home is mentioned, but again, Harbhajan's state of mind is discussed more than how many wickets he took. Ganguly waving his shirt at the English is discussed but not how much he scored. John doesn't talk about the statistics from the disastrous Kiwi tour, but instead chooses to talk about his chagrin at having to play on crazy pitches and defend his team in front of his friends. The ambition of the man comes to the fore as he calls the World Cup campaign mostly a failure by citing the crushing defeat to the Aussies in the final.

The media often showed John to be a meek man. This is far from the truth and nothing but a revelation of the myopia of the media in failing to recognize professionalism. John says he tried to maintain his grim face during games, and after a while stopped caring about the media reports calling him cold. He accepts mistakes like loosing his temper with players initially, with the maturity reflected by gray locks.

The depressing parts of the book deal with internal politics in Indian cricket, mostly in selection committee meetings, about how, real talent is getting overlooked at the grass root level. He was also very lonely during the weekends in India, when all the players went home, but he couldn't. He spent a couple of Christmases alone - a quiet meal, a lonely beer, the same hotel room, and also lost his father during his tenure as coach. The loneliness ultimately got to him and he quit after transforming the team in six years.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Flying Feather

I want Forrest Gump's feather to flow and glide and go where my GPS tells it to go. Forget gravity for a while, and stop telling me that it can't move like that when there is no f@#kin' wind, that it's a feather, that due to its weight and the atmospheric conditions of the place at that time of the year, it is bound to fall limp to the ground. And stop introducing mechanical fans that would cause the feather to fly like I want it to. If feathers really did that, why would I put them on celluloid?

I am not painting the feather with a million colors and making it chase other garish ones around trees, nor is it dodging bullets. You want the feather to tickle you, or to soak up your tears, or live its predictable life of failing twice to make the Queen's bathrobe, but finally succeeding. The feather has to be cut to the size of your liking, and has to make decisions about whether to join a boa or be a bookmark. If the feather goes crazy and decides to turn itself into a tortoise shell, you decide it is way too out there to alter, but you cannot stand a free floating non-existential feather.

It doesn't matter that the feather is politely suggesting that you leave your shell and let yourself float like itself, that you are a feather, that we all are, and more like you are making us believe that we are just tortoise shells, not feathers, by introducing unromantic things like gravity and fans. The feather's not forcing you, because celluloid is made from freedom, is it not? Or am I completely naive to dream about free-spirited feathers blowing in the wind of magic realism?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Married Life" from "The World of Apu"

This Indian Bengali film was directed by Satyajit Ray in 1959. It is the final part of a trilogy. Ray was ahead of his time. While most of his peers were still making escapist cinema, he, influenced by Jean Renoir and others of the New French Wave cinema, concentrated on realistic films. I picked this scene because in my opinion, it is the best scene in Indian cinema that depicts love in its true subtle form in Indian society of the time.

The scene starts off with a shot of a curtain blowing in the window, and dollies back to reveal our characters in bed. This separates them in their own little world, from the outside world and the gentle breeze suggests happy times. The sound of an alarm clock shatters the peace, which is a recurring cathartic theme in the trilogy.

Aparna gets up from the bed to turn the alarm off, but her saree is tied to Apu's quilt. She unties the knot and slaps him on his back in mock anger. Apu wakes up slowly and pulls out one of Aparna's hairpins from underneath her pillow and gives it a longing look, as if he is already missing her. All these elements – the tied saree, showing their connection, the little gesture (slap) and longing look show the subtle love on screen, at a time when censorship was very big in Indian cinema. The camera lingers on Apu a tad longer than usual, transporting us, the audience to our mental state when we wake up in the morning.

Aparna is framed up in a wide shot through the doorway, making her appear very small in the frame, alluding to her having to cope with worldly matters such as married life at such a young age. A train can be heard approaching. Trains are also a recurring theme in the trilogy and Apu has a very bittersweet relationship with trains, since he lost his elder sister at a young age, with whom he would run after trains. The note in the cigarette pack is also another plant to show subtle love.

While Aparna deals with the cockroach, Apu is playing a flute in the background. This outlines the differences in their characters. Apu is the dreamer, while Aparna, probably forced by circumstances, is more worldly. The train's whistle is unpleasantly loud for Aparna, and she moves away from the terrace. A melancholic Sitar tune strikes up as Apu feels guilty for subjecting Aparna to hardships. There are black crows flying – another sign of negativity.

Apu is engulfed in smoke as he steps on to the terrace – from the trains and from the clay oven, reflecting his clouded and anxious state of mind. The blocking here is key. Soumitra Chatterjee, the actor playing Apu is staged so that it appears the trains' smoke is coming out of his head. There are a series of lamp-posts in the background, signifying the road Apu and Aparna have to travel together in life.

When he comes back into the room, she is framed extreme right while he is more centered, but still to the left. He is unclear about exactly how she is feeling. There is a little doll in the background, which signifies that mentally Aparna is still a little girl. There is an inverted triangle shape behind Aparna, which traditionally signifies the divine feminine. When Apu leaves the room, we see a topor, a Bengali traditional wedding hat on the wall, which provides a stark contrast to the doll.

When Apu comes back to the room, he asks Aparna to step aside, exactly the same way she asked asked him a few minutes earlier, again showing their bond. Aparna walks up to Apu and places her chin on his shoulder reassuringly. Not only is this one of the most aesthetically pleasing shots of Bengali cinema, it suggests her support for her husband, and is a silent promise to be at his side when the going gets tough. Here we notice that the vermillion on Aparna's forehead is slightly smeared, thus showing a coming of age maturity, previously unseen in her by the audience. Sharmila Tagore, the actress playing Aparna, looks like the Goddess Durga here with the vermillion and her luxuriant dark hair open, who traditionally protects her followers. It may not be a happy accident that she has a slightly protruding chin, making her face almost an inverted triangle. As opposed to taking up another tutoring job, she asks him to quit his current tutoring job so that she wouldn't have anything to repine about, thus answering his question, and also creating another pointer to subtle love.

In the international film circuit, the film was nominated for a BAFTA in '62 and won the Sutherland Trophy in '59 and the NBR Award in '60. Satyajit Ray received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscar's in '92 on his death-bead after Kurosawa pushed for him and Scorcese threatened to boycott the Oscars if Ray was denied the award.

Note: I couldn't find the entire scene on Youtube, but this is the very end of the scene and a little bit after.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Rules

Fight Club is one of my favorite movies. I own the DVD and have watched it on multiple occasions, notably when I have been down and wanted to reach out to anger and violence to justify my rehabilitation. Before you lean back in your chairs to ready yourself for a movie review, let me go ahead and disappoint by saying this post isn't about the movie, or the brilliantly written book. It's about cinematography, and no, not cinematography of the movie.

Last week we learned to use the 35mm camera and our guest teacher had this attitude of a rocket scientist, thus holding my attention. He had this enviable arrogance about his job as a DP, about the sacredness for the camera. It was almost as if he removed his shoes mentally before he touched the camera, and took his time - something that only a perfectionist can appreciate. And then, as he was telling us how to load the 35mm film on to the camera in the dark changing bag (so as not to expose the film), he said "Loaders are clean people. They cut their nails regularly ...", but by then I was somewhere else, mentally.

It was like Fight Club man. "Cinematography was a reason to cut your nails, have showers, manage your facial hair." Discussions during the break with fellow classmates, who were also Fight Club nerds, revealed that haircuts could also be thrown in, but the hippie in me revolted. Maybe, hair-nets, like the people who work in the grocery store. And lots of alcohol - to keep the fingernails clean, of course.

However, unlike Fight Club, the first two rules are to recruit more people. If you get stuck, you can't stop. You can't leave unless you finish it. Only one person in the bag. One role of film at a time. No watches that glow in the dark. Loading will take place as long as it has to. If you are a student and you haven't loaded, you gotta do it once.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Silver Sliver of Emulsion

Since time immemorial, I have always been a fan of History. The only instances of our armed conflict were the eve of my History exams, back in school, but academic interest aside, we have always been more than friends. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that I fell in love with "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" since it combines her and the pretty object of my current passion - Film. This biography of Hollywood of the late 60's - early 80's by Peter Biskind talks about the birth of what we can look back today and call "independent cinema".

The book starts off chronologically with "Bonnie and Clyde" and how along with other films like "The Graduate", it ushered in a decade and a half of measured studio independence, thus producing some classics, that literally, as the full title of the book suggests, "saved Hollywood" . It transitions into an introduction of the cinematic enigma - Warren Beatty and sets the tone of the book - an ensemble cast of the up and coming directors at the time, much like a film. Peter Fonda's life before "Easy Rider" is also chronicled. Biskind talks about Pauline Kael, a hippie movie reviewer, who had a huge hand in the revolution, encouraging these new age films.

Biskind establishes the bravado of my all time favorite American director - Francis Ford Coppola early. He was a born leader and a role model for other directors like George Lucas and Spielberg. He had already directed a feature by the time he was in his late 20's (as he had vowed to do before he hit 30) and was no less than a demi-God for the fresh crop of film school graduates. Coppola wanted to move away from the studios to San Francisco and empower his later to be made Zoetrope Studio as the alternate umbrella for the artists (filmmakers) everywhere. His laissez-faire attitude is evident in films that he later produced for his friends, like Lucas' "American Graffiti".

Before Biskind talks about Easy Rider, he introduces BBS - a brainchild of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, a bunch of rich hippies, which was born within Warner Brothers and allowed to operate autocratically, as long as the movies it was producing cost less than a million. Dennis Hopper is also talked about, as a sort of long flash in the pan. The colorful anecdotes in the book involving Hopper paint a very eccentric genius, who was ahead of his time, and horrible to work with.

Robert Altman is profiled, as a man who did TV for ten years and then translated that into film, successfully initially. Peter Bogdanovich's film nerdy character, that someone like me would identify with, is exposed through his wide eyes as he arrives in Hollywood and meets his boyhood heroes like Howard Hawkes and Orson Welles. It is interesting to note how accessible Hollywood was back then. I cannot even imagine getting probably close to Coppola's outer entourage today.

Coppola's struggles with the studios is mentioned as he made "The Godfather", while Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne worked on "Chinatown" at around the same time. Not many people know this, but Nicholson initially came to Hollywood to make it as a writer, but not seeing much success, he switched over to acting. The "character" with whom I identify the most in this book is Hal Ashby - a benign, passive aggressive, workaholic hippie editor, who started directing and won some actors and actresses their Oscars with his direction, and more significantly, crisp editing. His personal life, like that of most of his peers, was in shambles and unfortunately, he died by the late 80's.

Billy Friedkin and Gene Hackman are introduced - the former, sadly staying a two-hit wonder and the latter, one of the most underrated actors of all time, who got into it late. Friedkin was from Chicago and shared Bogdanovich's Hollywood awe, but as his films show, his dark side refused to acknowledge it. Collaboration was very prevalent with filmmakers roping in their peers who were friends, on a project and awarding them small percentages of the amount the film eventually made. "The Director's Company" was founded on the same principle by Coppola, Bogdanovich and Friedkin, but failed to stand the test of its founders' individual successes.

The book then glides into its next segment. It is the mid-70's. The hippie movement is dying out. The Vietnam War is long over. Some people are tired of intellectual cinema and want to see something entertaining again. This segment is dominated by the talented circle of friends - Spielberg, Scorcese, De Palma, Lucas and Coppola. Coppola was the daredevil leader, De Palma the intellectual, Lucas the nerd. Scorcese was the dark paranoid and Spielberg was the entertainer. Each one was different. Each one was successful, and yet, each other had personal demons. Coppola wanted to be an auteur like some of the European directors, and wondered if he would have had success had he not agreed to do Mario Puzo's celebrated novel. De Palma made the thinking man's movies, but most of them weren't commercial successes. Spielberg was the blue eyed boy of the studios and the exact opposite of De Palma. Lucas was similar to Spielberg, but hated working with actors. Also, his life was modeled on Coppola, the father figure he badly needed. Scorcese missed home in NYC initially and as a result, was too caught up in drugs to enjoy most of his early success.

Scorcese met a writer - Paul Schrader, an even more dark individual with a violent upbringing, and the results were the DeNiro starrers "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull". Almost an entire chapter is dedicated to my all-time favorite movie "Apocalypse Now" and the trials of the shoot and how Coppola, Brando and Martin Sheen came back as different men from the Philippines. This really kicked off the end of the era, coupled with the box office bombing of "Raging Bull" and increasing drugs in Hollywood.

The last chapter is aptly titled "We Blew It" - uttered by Captain America (Peter Fonda) to Billy (Dennis Hopper) towards the end of "Easy Rider". The sequel to Chinatown (without Polanski from the outset) was shelved after crew and cast showed up on set on the first day of shooting. Spielberg and Lucas initially wanted to make blockbusters so that they could nurture and produce the independent work of their more intellectual peers, but the inertia of success is a terrible thing. The book ends on a whimpering note - the death of Hal Ashby. At the end of the day, it was too much sex, too much drugs and too much arrogance, coupled with some commercial failures and ensuing insecurities.

An interesting parallel that I took from the book is how similar the late 60's in Hollywood are to today's Indian cinema. I think it will take ten more years for the talent to be fully realized, for more sensible producers to sit up and take note. I believe we are at the cusp of Indian cinematic history. The ball has been set in motion by some directors. I just hope, like Hollywood, we don't blow it.
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