I cannot sleep

I cannot sleep. My roommate snores really bad and it keeps me awake. I figured that if I keep myself engaged by writing some stuff or the other, my body will automatically doze off to sleep. So whatever that is written below cannot guarantee factual accuracy and I’d desperately fail if I try to do so. Now with that set in mind, let’s ramble on.

A few days ago, I came across a documentary on paintings. A special mention was made to a certain minimalist Russian painter called Kazimir Malevich, who around the 1920’s had painted a truly radical work of art. His series of paintings inspired several art movements and is considered to be the Godfather of minimalism. I was eager to know what this particular Russsian had painted and then I got to see this:



A black square.Not some divine angels,not a breathtaking landscape,not a sombre still life but a simple black square.It did put me off further when I learnt that it was purchased for around 250,000 dollars!!!Well,anybody could have painted that! I thought,ishould take up painting , though I cant draw to save my life(My tenth standard biology record books would provide sufficient proof).

But I soon did realize that Malevich was a genius,simply ahead of his time.By painting a simple black square,he had broken the idea that a painting need not be representational.It seemed that he was inviting viewers to create their own paintings (of course in the mind)by looking at the Black square.He had created an in finite reservoir of imagiantion and he may have liberated painting from the shackes of tradition.

So,can we do this to cinema?Can cinema be truly liberated from the shackles holding it?Does a cinema need a story?Is it mandatory to have some plot or the other?Does it always need to have some hidden meaning or Some metaphor or symbolism?

Not necessary,I guess!Well,I,for now haven’t shot anything  truly liberating nor will I claim to do so.Great film makers all over the world have succeeded in doing this both in the past and present.There are hundreds of films that bear testimony to this,that a film can exist and move you without the so called plot or story or the dramatic twist ending.Well,so lets all go experimental and watch alternative parallel avant garde cinema.Imagine,we all walk in to a theatre having bought the Rs.120 ticket and the “Bucket Popcorn”(As RJ Balaji would say).We wait for the movie to start but all that we get to see is nothing more than a black square and the viewers asked to interpret their own visuals.That would be totally not worth it and we  would be right in demanding our money back.Maybe we (or am) are not ready for such cinema but in the present context of liberating cinema,I really do have a small piece that I would like to share with you .The internet isn’t that expensive.My laptop is got some battery remaining,my friend is still snoring.So I figured,let me write on!!

I recently came across this film”Café Lumiere” directed by the Taiwanese auteur  Hou Hsiao-Hsien who made this film as a homage to Yasujiro Ozu,the poet of Japanese Cinema.The movie begins patiently showing a young girl talking on the phone,hanging clothes,reading books and travelling in a train.Meandering shots,the camera letting you observe the girl and her activities.Really naturalistic ,really minimal !We are down 16 minutes in to the movie.The girl travelling by train arrives at her home,chit chats with her parents and this beauty of a sequence unfolds:






These above  frames are only meant to give a glimpse of the actual shots and do not in any way demonstrate the beauty of the sequence.All that happens is the girl goes to feed her cat,lies on her back on the floor lazily and calls out to her Mother asking what’s for dinner while the cat strolls around her,climbs the table and jumps from it and that’s all.Nothing earth shattering.The camera,as you can see stays still,letting you watch from only one perspective.

Well,when I watched this sequence,I was immediately nostalgic about home where you would sometimes laze on the floor and talk to your Mother about what’s cooking.I do this at my home in Coimbatore and I realized, its no different in Japan or Taiwan.The borders have melted in a space of few seconds.You feel at home!!For me the sequence worked,though it didn’t have a plot,nor did it give me some deep character insight,no allegory or metaphor or symbolism(even if there were any,it would least bother me!)because these simple  frames have transcended all our customary expectations of Cinema.

So Is “Café Lumiere”,the “Black Square” of Cinema.No,definitely not,many would also be right in pointing out there are more innovative,avant garde films,both Indian and foreign ,that are more radical in content and form than the above sequence.Well,for me,this gave me a simple and organic approach to Cinema.I didn’t have to analyze the compositions nor try to “understand”using vague theorotical explanations  or complex allegories because when something is beautiful,logic need not even apply.All that you have to do it is give it some time,watch it and feel it!

I guess most of you would are already wondering when my rambling is going to stop.Well,for those of you who read till the end,I have some good news.I feel really sleepy,am gona crash!Thank you for your patience!




2 comments on “I cannot sleep

  1. Aah… it is interesting to come across someone who could see the genius in Malevich. Recently I was obsessed with finding different perspectives and intentions that artists at different times had for going after a empty painting. I think you might find some of this interesting because it was not just about providing an infinite reservoir of imagination.

    Malevich was one of the first artists to emphasize the power of minimalism. For him, it was just a matter of seeing THE PAINT, the material, on a canvas. Emphasis was more on the materiality of a painting and the paint. And since no one had seen such a painting before, they had nothing to analogous in their memory to compare it with. They either had to get disgusted for not seeing what they had in their frog-in-a-well-mind or liberate themselves and just get lost in the that unseen, unparalleled genius.

    In one of his letters, Escher mentions about an ancient torture technique, where they made the victim stare at an empty wall. Sooner or later, they were driven insane. An empty canvas is a singularity in the sense that it is one of the most extreme states that a painting could be in among its possible multitude of configurations. With no sense of scale or dimension, it is how sublime a painting could ever get.
    In a way such a singularity is very insular to the field of painting (directly extendable to mediums like sculpture but not so for mediums like photography.)

    Here is another famous example, Rauschenberg’s (actually De Kooning’s) erased painting – http://boingboing.net/2008/05/19/the-story-of-erased.html. Read the accompanying story. Erasing details is such a strange act which could be either so easy (like brushing aside counter argument) or could be so difficult (like erasing bitter memories.)
    This compliments Rothko who took his paintings to the other extreme just before he committed suicide. They were completely black. Two dual acts of existential recess. Then his other mature and seemingly minimal but sublime works offer an infinity of variations in hue and texture (one could easily get lost in that amount of information),

    I am always interested in finding analogous works in different fields and the extensions are generally not direct in most cases. I am glad you cited ‘Café Lumiere’ (I haven’t seen it yet) as an analogy in films, which abstractly seems to hold the similar sentiments as in paintings, rather than going for a direct example where they had shown a completely blank video for a couple of minutes.

    And oh… if you were wondering about under what-caffiene-overdosed-insomniac state I am in to make this comment, I wanted to blog about this but just didn’t find the mood. This is more of a first draft. 😉 Thank you.

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