Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stanley Kramer, Film Maker - Donald Spoto

Stanley Kramer can easily take that tag - Film Maker. His career in Hollywood spanned five decades - he is one of the top producers and directors with over forty films of high quality made during the period. He worked with some of the biggest names and gave some big names their breaks. The names include Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Gregory Peck, Judy Garland, Sydney Poitier among others. Films include classics like "High Noon", "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Ship of Fools", "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" among others.
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 367 p, $ 6.95

What impresses one about this fine book is that Donald Spoto creates Stanley Kramer through his best films and worst films. Kramer's thoughts on each one of those, his beliefs and convictions, his ideas and weaknesses all come through. Coming from a tough neighbourhood in New York's Hell's Kitchen, Kramer worked his way up from menial jobs in the studios to actually producing them. His films had a strong social conscience, values and a willingness to take risks. One remark of his - "My grandfather once told me that friends are the most important thing in life. Nonsense. More important is believing in something and taking a stand on it.'

And stand he took by making movies about racism - he made four movies in all about black men and the prejudice they suffer including "Home of the Brave" and "Who is Coming to Dinner" when Hollywood practically banned the idea of making movies on such topics. He made movies about fixing in boxing and the downsides of it. After producing several he directed his later movies.

Donald Spoto's delightful commentary on 34 films with lots of pictures and comments by Kramer and others makes the book a lovely read. Especially after you have read some really bad biographies that are totally one-sided it comes like a breath of fresh air. I was lucky to read this rare book that Jayant gave me - You must read it, he said.

So the journey starts with "So This is New York" made in 1948. Then "Champion", "Home of the Brave", "The Men", "Cyrano de Bergerac", "Death of a Salesman", "My Six Convicts", "The Sniper", "High Noon", "The Happy Time", "The Four Poster", "Eight Iron Men", "The Member of the Wedding", "The Juggler", "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T", "The Wild One", "The Caine Mutiny", "Not a Stranger" (which he directed), "The Pride and Passion", "The Defiant Ones", "On the Beach", "Inherit the Wind", "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Pressure Point", "A Child is Waiting", "Its a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World, "Invitation to a Gunfighter", "Ship of Fools", "Guess Who is Coming to Dinner", "The Secret of Santa Vittorio", "RPM", "Bless the Beast and Children", 'The Wild Ones", "Oklahoma Crude" and "The Domino Principle". An impressive list for the sheer variety and scope. I saw five of them.

Many of his movies were made from plays and some from books. Certainly, he made movies to make a difference and the themes he chose stand proof of that. "You try to get the best collaborators but then you have to give them their own range since they are also artists in their own right. You have the annoying responsibility of curtailing their impulses and even standing against them as you try to achieve the painting you want. It never turns out the way you have foreseen. It can be better but never exactly as you visualised,"

"I am primarily concerned with the disintegration of values in our whole society."

"If a film doesn't make money there is something fundamentally wrong with the project. Either it cost too much in the first place or made at the wrong time or marketed poorly."

Lovely. I am so glad I read this book. Thanks Jayant and Suhita.

Thought for the Day - To Be Mindful, To be Present Is to be Compassionate

To be mindful of what I do every moment brings in a quality of being that is compassionate. I cannot be mindful and violent, hurried or thoughtless at the same time.

It is a good way to do good work - in all senses of the word.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thought for the Day - You Only Get What You Are Prepared For

I believe that we only experience or encounter things that we are prepared for. There is nothing that we experience or encounter that we cannot handle because I believe it just would not come into our experience if we were not ready or prepared to handle it.

Most times we look at difficulties in life and wonder -hey, I cannot handle this. But I believe now that it has come into our experience only because we can handle it and because it will move us up the learning ladder. It helps to know that we are equipped to handle it. That awareness will give us a gap, a moment of calmness to engage with it head on. Not hope that something will happen to it and it will either resolve itself or go away.

To look at the big problems and difficulties then - and know that they have come as a test to graduate you into the next class - and to deal with it as only you can, is the way forward. Deal you can. Now engage. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Into the Wild - Movie Review

Based on a book written on the true story of Chris McCandless who leaves his home and shuns all society and its trappings - car, money, credit cards, identity to experiment on a life in the wild - the movie is a story of love and loss. Chris shuns all love and goes away - and along the way he keeps finding so many people offering him love - and shuns it all to be lonely until the final realisation that happiness comes only when shared.

First by car, then hitch hiking on the road, stealing rides on railroads, kayaking down the rapids against orders and finally finding the Magic Bus - an abandoned bus in the wilds of Alaska where he sets up his home in all loneliness for the last part of his life - Chris journeys not just geography but his inner space. But by the time the young man wants to return home to friends and family he finds that he has gone too far. Chris pays the ultimate price to know the truth about love, about happiness, about relationships, and family. He meets interesting people along the way and none as interesting as Ron Franz whose words - 'When you are grateful to open yourself to love and when you love, God's light shine on you' are as true as any.

Shot with great care and patience, the movie does the person Chris was and his memory and his striving justice. Great locales and a nice subdued energy. Slow, peaceful watch. Watch it.

The Free Book Stall - A New Initiative

Inspired by the VNR VJIET TEDx Event where they had a stall with a bunch of new books - all book suggestions by various people - to give away for free. People could go, pick up a book they liked, read it and pass it on. I found it incredible that someone would do stuff like this  and remember I actually asked the boys 'For free?' How difficult is it for us to accept the good that comes to us. But I can expect nothing less from the lads and lasses especially under the stewardship of Abhinay who comes up with some wonderful ideas and pulls them off. The boy at the counter suggested I read "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne and I was glad I picked it up.
This is a bunch of books that Sagar gifted to me - what goes around comes around
I suggested the idea to our colony committee members - that I would like to give some books away for free for anyone to take away and read if they gave me some space in the committee hall. They took a lot of time to understand the idea.
'You will sell second hand books?'
'No, I will give them away for free.'
'You want to give books for the library?'
'No I want to give books away for free.'
'You want people to read and return to you?'
'No I want to give books away for free. Anyone who likes any book can take it away - no questions asked - and read it and pass it on. No obligation to return.'

That is when one of the gentlemen seemed to get the idea.
'Wonderful,' he said. 'I will give you space next function.'

So I was glad when I bumped into him recently and he said there was a function coming up on Sunday and he would give me a table. I said that's wonderful and we picked up some 25-30 books to give away. 'My Experiments with Truth' by M.K. Gandhi, 'Siddhartha' by Herman Hesse, a couple of Enid Blytons, Fit for life, A book on Yoga, 'Don't lose your mind, lose your weight' by Rijuta Diwekar, some National Geographics and several other books for all ages. Contributions came from my shelf, Shobha's and Anjali's.

Anjali then made a small poster that went like 'Books for Free' - Take any books you like, Read it and Pass it on. There was a trademark smiley at the end. We stuck it up on a pole near the table and spread all the books out.

A small boy came immediately and picked up the Enid Blyton. His mother came and told him to put it down. He put it back. I stepped in and told the mother that the idea is to take the books away for free and read and share. He could take ti if he liked it. She looked a bit stunned and surely was wondering what the catch was. The boy got his hands on the book and I hoped he would take it home.

Anjali and I got back home and went back to the function after an hour. Most books were still there. People were still wary if there was a catch. They would see the books and put them back on the table. I let them figure it out - I could see some young kids reading the poster and pick up books. But they put them back.

But suddenly one old lady went and picked up a couple and then someone else did and within a few minutes most books got taken. I was surprised that Gandhi's autobiography and Siddhartha were not taken. I suggested them to the young lady who stays in the flats opposite my house - it would have been appropriate because she was Abhinay's junior and is from VNR VJIET where I first saw this experiment.

Hopefully she picked them up. I told the committee members they could give the books away or put them in the library or do whatever they want to do with them. Nice!  

The Invisible Guest - Movie Review

Spanish. A successful, rich, young businessman is caught by the police on charges of murdering his young mistress. His legal team hires a well known lawyer to fight his case. She meets him ahead of time, citing the introduction of a new witness that could change the line the defence would take.

The man tells her how he met his mistress on the sly on the way back from a business meeting. As they drive back they hit a car and find that the driver, a young banker is dead. He goes to dispose of the car and the driver while the girl stays with their own car which does not start. She is helped by a man and that reveals another horrid story.

All clues point to the fact that someone came in to the hotel room and set up the young man. But is that really the case? And if it is not, then how does one get him to confess?

Edge of the seat stuff.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

This book features in all the lists that children should read but having said that, it is not necessarily for children. It's like 'Alice in Wonderland' a lot but with a lot more punnery and meaning and a map for life. Anjali got this as a gift for her birthday and insisted that I read it too. I am glad I did.

So we have a desultory and disinterested young boy Milo who feels like everything, especially school, is a waste of time. One fine day he gets a surprise present and finds instructions to build the Phantom Tollbooth. He builds it, gets on to his toy car and starts off with a map that is provided to him. It appears that he has to reach the Kingdom of Wisdom which has been split up due to the differences between the two brothers Azaz, King of letters and words and of the city of Dictionopolis, and Mathemagician, King of numbers and of the city of Digitopolis. Due to their quarrels the two princesses Rhyme and Reason have  been banished and the Kingdom is now occupied by the demons of the Mountains of Ignorance. Unless Rhyme and Reason return, the Kingdom of Wisdom is doomed.

Milo starts off by going past a place called Beyond Expectations, reaches a place called Doldrums and then to the Foothills of Confusion. He enters the city of Dictionopolis and meets many strange people there including King Azaz and his cabinet, a spelling bee, the watchdog Tock and a bug called Humbug. Tock and Humbug join him in his quest for Rhyme and Reason. Off they go into the Forest of Sight, meeting Chrome and her musical mornings, past a place called Point of View and another called Illusions and Reality before they jump into a place called Conclusions. Back from the Conclusions they movie into the Valley of Sound and of Silence and finally enter Digitopolis after going past the Numbers Mine where they have to dig for numbers. Finally the heroic trio rescue Rhyme and Reason and the Kingdom of Wisdom is freed from darkness and the demons who inhabit the Mountains of Ignorance.

It's so intelligently crafted and full of wit and good humour and good sense that it needs more than one read (and very carefully). Full of puns and wickedly twisted phrases and situations and people and a whole lot of meaning and good sense. Lovely read. Thanks Anjali and Miskil.