Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Sidney Poitier in 
In the Heat of the Night

The first thing that strikes you about Sidney Poitier, irrespective of which of his films you are watching, is his steady gaze and unblinking eye. It makes you uncomfortable even if you are nowhere in his picture. If you play who-blinks-first with one of America’s most intense-looking actors, you’ll blink first. I bet he can stare down an owl. It’s a look Poitier has patented in reel life and, I suspect, in real life too. It sits easily on his face.

It’s this unwavering eye that greets small-town police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) who hauls up Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) and pins a high-profile murder on him, which goes well with the tagline—“They got a murder on their hands. They don't know what to do with it.” If you don’t catch the culprit, within twenty-four hours of the murder, you fabricate one, like evidence.

Tibbs, a seasoned homicide detective from Philadelphia, is passing through the town when Gillespie orders patrolman Sam Wood (Warren Oates) to arrest him for the murder of a prominent businessman. The police chief is under pressure, as they usually are, to nail the killer–pronto! And so he nails Tibbs without realising who Tibbs is.

Detective Tibbs is let off the hook early on in the film, as the police chief reluctantly calls up his boss in Philadelphia and confirms that he is, indeed, whom he claims to be–a crack homicide sleuth. Gillespie then, equally reluctantly, enlists his help to solve the murder case.

In arresting the detective, Gillespie jumps the gun on two counts: one, to prove he is worthy of his badge, and two, he is prejudiced against blacks. There is an undercurrent of racial tension throughout the film.

But then, racism is a recurring theme in Poitier’s films, notably To Sir, with Love (1967) in which he disciplines an unruly class of largely white students, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) which touches upon the bold subject of interracial marriage at a time when it was outlawed in several US states. In In the Heat of the Night, for instance, Tibbs gets into a lot of trouble, often at the risk of his own life, when he suspects Eric Endicott (Larry Gates), a powerful man in the county.

Tibbs and Gillespie work together and as they make progress, they develop respect for each other, eventually resulting in friendship between the two policemen. Tibbs, of course, hunts down the real killer in the end.

For me, there are two highlights in this movie. One, when Endicott slaps Tibbs for attempting to interrogate him and Tibbs slaps him right back (that one scene sent a powerful message of racial equality during a tumultuous period in US history–the African-American civil rights movement); and two, Detective Tibbs’ unwavering courage in the face of stiff resistance and, more importantly, the manner in which he extracts respect from the very people who were going to incarcerate him.

The Academy Award winning In the Heat of the Night, directed by Norman Jewison in 1967, is based on the book by John Ball. A must-see.

For more overlooked/forgotten films and a few other reviews, visit Todd Mason's blog at http://socialistjazz.blogspot.com

Monday, November 28, 2011

Western Gunfighters: All guns blazing

© Marvel Comics

Western Gunfighters is a one-off special issue published by Marvel Comics in 1980. Presented by Stan Lee, who introduced many such unique issues to readers, WG contains ten action-packed adventures that include seven gripping and crisply written comic strips and three photo features based on western movies.

A movie index on Clint Eastwood, from 1957 to 1976; pin-ups of Eastwood and John Wayne, and a still from Cactus Jack starring Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margaret and Arnold Schwarzenegger are added bonus.

I liked everything about this comic-book magazine starting with the front cover, a previously unpublished work of western action by the legendary British comics artist Frank Bellamy. Apparently, Bellamy presented the illustration, of a cowboy with the raised gun and firing to his right, to Dez Skinn on his 21st birthday and Skinn, who edited this issue, used it without permission. It was his birthday present and I guess he was free to use it.

While reading about this special issue on the internet, I came across Skinn’s story that Bellamy, it seemed, pointed out an error in the way he had drawn the cowboy–one belt buckle drawn correctly and one wrongly! Looking at the picture you wouldn’t buckle under the error.

Many of the stories in Western Gunfighters: A Marvel Special first appeared in the namesake comic book series published by Atlas Comics (1956-1957) and Marvel Comics (1970-1975) written by Stan Lee (who requires no introduction), Jerry Siegel (who needs no introduction either but just in case you forgot, he co-created Superman), and Gary Friedrich (known for Sgt. Fury and Ghost Rider). The stories featured some of the biggest artists in the comic-book industry including Gene Colan, Reed Crandall, Joe Maneely, John Severin, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Syd Shores, and Wally Wood.

The seven unforgettable comic-book stories reproduced in the special issue of WG include offbeat western tales about cowboys who are as tough as they come. You have The Rawhide Kid (or The Misunderstood Kid if you like) in a story that gives him the famous nickname; Frontier Marshal Wyatt Earp who takes on a bunch of masked rustlers only to discover they are some of the town’s big ranchers plotting to drive out the small ranchers; the Outcast, a half-breed, who struggles to find his origins; the Black Mask, the town’s doctor by day and masked vigilante by night; and the brave Major Brett Sabre who walks into Fort Rango and sets out to tame and train his lawless troopers against Indian renegades.

The three photo-features based on western movies are Cactus Jack starring Kirk Douglas and Ann-Margaret; Tom Horn, one of the last great heroes of the American West, portrayed by David Carradine on TV and Steve McQueen in film; and Film Trends where Benny Aldrich traces the changing face of the western movie star, from the singing cowboy and the noble hero through to the scruffy anti-hero and the comedy cowboy. “A whole new generation turned away from John Wayne’s noble cowboy to a bearded, scruffy mumbler Clint Eastwood,” Aldrich notes in his essay.

Western Gunfighters, which I bought for Rs.10 (about 20 cents) from a secondhand bookstore, is a collector’s issue in more than one way–it has action, adventure and anthology as well as spectacular illustrations. The black-and-white pencil sketches, particularly the detailing, are absolutely fantastic and leave you asking for more.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jataka Tales Monkey Stories

© Amar Chitra Katha

Do you know why the monkey is laughing at the crocodile? The monkey is telling the hungry croc that he has left his heart behind, on the tree he lives in, and that if the croc wants to give it to his wife, for her midday meal, then he will have to take him back to fetch it. The dumb croc falls for the ploy, turns around, and heads for the mainland. No sooner the croc touches land, the monkey leaps out, climbs the nearest tree, and swinging around, mocks the croc: "You fool, if I had left my heart behind would I be alive and sitting on your back?" The croc, feeling like an idiot, goes back to Mrs Croc, empty handed but wiser.  

This comic strip is part of a popular story in Jataka Tales Monkey Stories published by Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories) from Bombay, India. ACK is one of the oldest comic-books on the subcontinent.
The Fisher of Men and The Rock

© Pan Books Ltd
Christmas is still a month away and I have made up my mind what books I am going to read leading up to my favourite season of the year. Obviously, the two novels I have selected reflect the spirit of Christmas—The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas (of The Robe fame) and Upon This Rock by Frank G. Slaughter (who wrote The Thorn of Arimathea).

As the titles suggest, the books tell the story of Christ’s life and teachings through Simon Peter, his foremost disciple and leader of the Apostles. He was the man to whom Christ spoke the twelve famous words that changed history—“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

The Big Fisherman, which is set before The Robe, and Upon This Rock together recreate the life and time of Simon Peter in an age that saw faith and forgiveness on one hand and tyranny and brutality on the other. 

© Pocket Books
I have read a few books by Douglas and Slaughter and each time I have been impressed by the depth, research, and scholarship that has gone into their biblical novels. I have marvelled at the imaginative and lucid prose as well as the superb plot and characterisation. The stories, as far as I can remember since I read the books a long time ago, are truly inspiring. There are few parallels in religious fiction.

Postscript: While I haven’t seen The Big Fisherman (1959) starring Howard Keel as Simon Peter, I have seen The Robe (1953) with Richard Burton as the unforgettable Marcellus Gallio and Michael Rennie (The Day The Earth Stood Still) as the Apostle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ray Bradbury to the rescue

© Bantam Books
With day turning into night and time running out, for the post of the day, my eyes fell on the three Ray Bradbury novels in my modest collection–Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and The Halloween Tree–which I purchased from a used bookstore a few months ago. They cost me Rs.20 each, just under 50 cents. The three covers that I have posted here are exactly the ones sitting on my bookshelf.

Out of the three books, The Halloween Tree has some fantastic black-and-white illustrations by the late Italian artist and illustrator, Joseph Mugnaini, who was associated with Bradbury since 1952. If the cover catches your eye, so does Bradbury’s dedication inside which says, “With love for Madame Man’ha Garreau-Dombasle met twenty-seven years ago in the graveyard at midnight on the Island of Janitzio at Lake Patzcuaro, Mexico, and remembered on each anniversary of The Day of the Dead.’ I had to read more on this.

© Corgi Books
Apparently, the well-known author met Madame Garreau-Dombasle in Mexico in 1945, during the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday celebrations in October. The war had just ended. Bradbury, who was only 25 years old at the time, established a lifelong friendship with the wife of the French Ambassador to Mexico. In 1972, he dedicated his novel to Madame Garreau-Dombasle, in memory of The Day of the Dead.

I didn’t know the story, or the history, behind this particular dedication until I read it again and looked it up on the internet.

I am also scouting cyberspace to find out who illustrated the cover of Fahrenheit 451 displayed on the right. In case you know then write to me.

It is possible to get a sense of satisfaction by merely looking at the various covers of a book even before you read it. The covers of Ray Bradbury and Agatha Christie novels evoke such a sense. (For vintage Christie covers, check out http://yvettecandraw.blogspot.com/2011/11/more-vintage-agatha-christie-covers.html where you will get your eyeballs worth of some great book jackets.)

© Bantam Books
Also, don’t forget to check out Todd Mason’s blog for the weekly dose of Tuesday's Overlooked Films written by him and other bloggers. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stamp of an Actor: James Dean

"When an actor plays a scene exactly the way a director orders, it isn't acting. It's following instructions. Anyone with the physical qualifications can do that.""Being a good actor isn't easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I'm done."

"An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so must be willing to accept all the experiences life has to offer. In fact, he must seek out more of life than life puts at his feet."

"I think there is only one form of greatness for man. If a man can bridge the gap between life and death. I mean, if he can live on after he has died, then maybe he was a great man. To me the only success, the only greatness, is immortality."

"Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated. You must say, "Wait. Let me see". And above all, you must be honest with yourself."

"Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that's all 

you have."

"Dream as if you have forever. Live as if you only have today."

"Live fast; die young; leave a good-looking corpse behind."

Take a look at some of the previous celebrity stamps:

Monday, November 21, 2011

'Keep your jacket on, your dad’s here' 

This morning I read the news of actor Gerard Butler's revelation that he cried for hours when he was reunited with his father after 14 years. Apparently, Butler's dad left his mother when he was only two years old and turned up, unannounced, when he was in his mid-teens.

"My parents split up when I was young, so my mother was left with the task of being both my mum and my dad. My mother was everything to me. I used to have these horrible nightmares about something happening to her. I didn’t even know my father for many years. He lived in Canada and I didn’t know he was alive. One day when I was 16, I came home from school and my stepfather, who at the time was just my mother’s boyfriend, said, 'Keep your jacket on, your dad’s here,'" Butler, now 42, has been quoted as saying.

Butler said he went on "great adventures" to his dad’s house in Toronto, Canada, and spent quality time with him before he passed away.

Gerard Butler's reunion with his father is perfect fodder for a movie script, a theme the Indian film industry, particularly Bollywood, has pounded into dust. Hollywood, too, has its fair share of father-son duets (which, if I'm not mistaken, surpass mother-daughter combinations). Which ones would those be? I have selected five out of a dozen father-son movies, all tearjerkers, which is not to say they are bad films; in fact, they are all standouts for me. By a sheer coincidence, three of these movies portray the wife-mother in a negative role — running out on the family.

1. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979): Work-is-worship Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) learns to love and cherish his son Billy (Justin Henry) the hard way — when his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) leaves him. Ted brings up his son and discovers his familial responsibility till, one day, Joanna returns to claim their son, a custody battle that knocks on the court's door. Ted loves his son too much to give him up. Robert Benton, who directed this movie, ensures that you blow into your hankie. 

2. The Champ (1979): Billy Flynn (modern-day villain Jon Voight), a former boxing champion and now horse trainer, is bringing up his son T.J. (Rick Schroder) with bare hands and just enough money. His wife Annie (Faye Dunaway), who had left Billy seven years earlier, returns to take their son away. The final scene between father and son is heartbreaking: as Billy lies dying after a boxing match, T.J. cries out in anguish, "Champ, wake up, Champ! Hey, don't sleep now. We got to go home. Got to go home, Champ! I want Champ!" Director Franco Zeffirelli hits you below the belt with his film.

3. Dad (1989): Working man John Tremont (Ted Danson) teaches you how to be the ideal son and friend to your aged and ailing dad. As John takes care of his father Jake Tremont (Jack Lemmon), he realises what he has been missing between him and his dad — and between him and his own son Billy (Ethan Hawke). A fine movie by Gary David Goldberg.

4. Life is Beautiful (1997): What more can anyone say about the WWII film that had the ecstatic director-actor, Roberto Benigni, walking over seats and shoulders to claim his richly deserved Oscar? The film has the most endearing relationship between a father and his son.

5. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006): Director Gabriele Muccino casts Will Smith in the role of a lifetime, possibly. This true story revolves around salesman Chris Gardner (Smith) and his desperate battle to give his son Christopher (Jaden Smith) and himself a better life, one off the streets literally, after he loses his job and his wife leaves him. Gardner comes back and how.

Which father-son movies make your list?

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Frank Sinatra in Suddenly

"Don't...please," are the last desperate words of John Baron (Frank Sinatra) as widow Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) and love-interest Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) shoot Baron to stop him from assassinating the US President who is passing by train through the small town of Suddenly in California.

Baron is a hired assassin without a political agenda of his own – he kills for pleasure and for a smart fee. As Baron tells his hostages who, apart from Ellen and the Sheriff, include her son Pidge (Kim Charney), her father-in-law Pete 'Pop' Benson (James Gleason), and TV repairman Jud (James O'Hara): "The thing about killing you or her or him is that I wouldn't be getting paid for it and I don't like giving anything away for free." Baron kills, all right.

The psychopath in assassin's disguise and his two henchmen pose as FBI agents and enter Ellen's home facing the train station, a perfect site for the ambush.

When the Sheriff warns Baron of the potential risks and consequences of assassinating the President, Baron shrugs it off saying who and why he kills are the least of his worries.

"Tonight at five o'clock I kill the President. One second after five there's a new President. What changes? Nothing!" Baron lays it out for the Sheriff.

Sheriff Tod Shaw says, "Don't play God just because you have a gun." To which, Baron replies, "You know when you have a gun you are in a way sort of a god. If you had the gun then you would be the god."

At one point when Ellen asks Baron if he didn't have any feelings, he retorts, "No, they were taken outta me by experts."

John Baron (Sinatra) and Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) in Suddenly

Baron proves that he is a psychopath when he kills Jud in cold blood and knocks out Pop Benson before Ellen and Jud shoot him as he takes aim through the sniper rifle mounted beside the window facing the train station. The President’s train passes by but does not halt, the local police having alerted the FBI and the Secret Service of the imminent ambush. Baron goes down pleading "Don't... please." He dies a coward in the end.

Directed by Lewis Allen in 1954, Suddenly is perhaps one of the earliest films with a plot to assassinate the US President. As I watched it on TCM, Sunday, November 20, I couldn’t help admire Sinatra’s ability to portray the bad guy as convincingly as he plays the good guy. However, the tagline “Sinatra…as a savage, sensation-hungry killer!” just doesn’t fit in with the singer-actor’s image as we know it. You expect him to come good even as he pulls the trigger on Jud and wallops Pop Benson on the head.

He’s trying to tell the audience, “Look, I don’t want to do this but I can’t help it.” Frank Sinatra will live to see another day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The death of the dictionary and the directory

Two mighty books you are no longer likely to find in your home, particularly if you are not a writer or educator, are the English dictionary and the telephone directory. These thousand-page reference books, when they were lying around the place, served two useful purposes: you referred to them to look up a genuine word or meaning and phone number or name or if you did not refer to them, then you used them as dumbbells to develop muscles. Really, I am serious.

While the dictionary has been replaced by the more sophisticated online version, sitting on your desktop or cellphone (I recommend the free version of WordWeb from Princeton University) and thesaurus in MS-Word, the directory has been replaced by the virtual phone book — number-names that you find everywhere — on corporate websites, personal blogs, social networking sites, contact lists in mobile phones, bottom of emails, and chat.

I remember, when I was in school, the father of a friend of mine used to throw the dictionary at his son every time he asked the meaning of a word. "Look up the word first. If you still don't get it, then ask me," his father said. The repetitive lexical act helped build my friend's vocabulary and spelling. How many fathers throw the dictionary at their children? Inversely, how many kids ask their fathers the meaning of new words? 

Today, Google a word or sentence and it will throw about 8,300,000 results in 0.20 seconds at you — something no dictionary on earth can match. While I admit to Googling words and phrases in office, I rarely do so at home where I prefer to refer to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary and A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler (Second Edition revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, 1975). I also refer to a fifty-year old pocket-sized Collins English Gem Dictionary (for sentimental reason) and a recent edition of The Economist Style Guide: The best-selling guide to English usage (for my newspaper), both very handy and useful.

So, has Google killed the dictionary? No, it hasn't, we have. Google has only made the task easier and faster and enriching. The choice of referring to the physical or virtual lexicon is still ours. It's like saying I don't meet my friends anymore because we meet on Facebook. You can still meet your friends — who’s stopping you?

Replacing the physical directory with a virtual phonebook makes more sense. Unlike the dictionary, you have nothing to lose if you refer to one or the other. You need a number and you need it fast — only Google or Gadget can give it to you in 0.80 seconds.

In the 1970s and 1980s, people in India used to wait in long queues to pick up their legitimate two-part telephone directory from state-owned telecom companies. Then, a year later, you went in for the revised edition provided you surrendered the previous year's lot. That's how it worked. The government phonebooks were replaced by the yellow pages which gave you an elaborate list of products and services as well as classified advertisements. These were handy, too, particularly if you were looking for a plumber or painter.

All this was a long time before the telecom revolution swept India and put multiple phones in the hands of every Indian.

The phonebook had other uses, though. For instance, in John Irving's The World According to Garp, the writer T.S. Garp got the names of his characters out of the phonebook. Did writers in real life do that? I am sure they did. I know parents of newborns leafed through the telephone directory looking for unusual names for their babies. No one bothered to check the numbers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Forgotten actors: Bolo

Bolo, the Girth, in Enter the Dragon
There is a class of actors, within the category of character actors, who I find particularly fascinating because no one notices them or writes about them. They are heard and seen throughout the movie and yet they remain unheard and unseen. In spite of acting in scores of films, they are neither famous nor popular and, I suspect, not very wealthy either. They rarely talk on screen. When they do communicate, it’s usually through an unspecified mix of grunts and snorts, pointing of the finger, heaving of a muscle or facial contortions. They play the hero’s butler, the major’s private, and the villain’s sidekick with equal ease. They make you laugh without being funny. When they are serious, they are dead-serious. And they are entertaining.

One such character actor caught my eye on television last weekend when I was watching a part of Enter the Dragon (1973). Now this is a film I must have seen at least fifty times yet I barely noticed the evil Hans’ man-for-all-whippings Bolo–the bare-chested martial arts hoodlum with a muscular girth that would make a bear jealous. He’s the guy who Roper (John Saxon) kills towards the end of the movie.

Bolo doesn’t just fight; he fights to kill. He kills even when a man is down. In one scene, Bolo, mad look on his face, holds a minion between his powerful biceps and folds him up like a book, breaking his spine into two, and throws him on the ground.

Frank Dux (Van Damme) and Chong Li (Bolo) in Bloodsport

Enter the Dragon is one of three films that gave Bolo (Bolo Yeung) a reputation for brutality and little else. The other two movies are Bloodsport (1988) where he is defeated in the ring by Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Double Impact (1991) opposite Van Damme in a double role. The half-crazed look and the bear-like girth greet you in both the films.

In Bloodsport, Frank Dux (Van Damme) and Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) are bitter rivals who meet in the ring for the fight of the tournament. Bolo mouths exactly two dialogues, both addressed to Dux: “You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend” and this singular gem “You are next.” You don’t need brains to say those lines, brawn is enough.

If I were Bolo’s opponent in a film, I would have melted like butter on a hot platter; watching him from the other side of the screen, I can’t help laughing at his antics. I said char-actors like him were entertaining, didn't I?

If Van Damme is known as “The Muscles from Brussels’, Bolo Yeung is nicknamed ‘The Beast from the East’. The 5' 6" Bolo was born in China. He took interest in bodybuilding and became Mr. Hong Kong bodybuilding champion at the age of 21, a title he held for ten years and earned him another nickname, ‘The Chinese Hercules’. Bolo and Bruce Lee were foes in Enter the Dragon but they were close friends in real life. In fact, Bolo trained under the legendary martial arts icon. Bolo Yeung is 65 and lives with his family in Los Angeles, California.

Character actors like Bolo are the unsung heroes of popular cinema, a fact Bolo knew only too well. He once said, “There are plenty of times people will come up to me for an autograph and tell me they
enjoyed my work on Enter the Dragon. But people just know me from the movie; they don't really know who I am.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spielberg matches Georges 'Hergé' Remi
The Adventures of Tintin

A little over twenty-four hours after The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was released in India, Friday, November 11, I stood in the queue to buy tickets for the 9 pm show. It was a weekend and the queue at the local cinema hall was long and threatened to spill from the lounge on to the street outside—there were four people between me and the ticket counter that was tantalisingly within reach. They seemed like forty! My patience on the boil, it was nearly a half-hour before I made it to the counter and walked away with four tickets from the final lot, fourth row from the screen. If you're a Tintin fan, you'll know what that's like.

"It's all right...it's in 3D so the closer you're to the screen the better," my daughter assured me. I wasn't convinced.

It didn't matter really because Steven Spielberg had me (and I suspect nearly everyone in the packed hall) eating out of his directorial hands from the word go. Everything about Spielberg's maiden animation film is a comic-book page turner—the animated graphics, the special effects, the characters, the story, and the sound. He has Tintin by the tuft of his red hair and his audience pretty awestruck behind their 3D glasses.

Spielberg has based The Adventures of Tintin on three of Hergé’s comic books—The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), where Tintin first meets a drunk and imprisoned Captain Haddock, and The Secret of the Unicorn (1943) and its sequel Red Rackham's Treasure (1944), where Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Haddock (Andy Serkis) solve the mystery of the Unicorn, the ship that his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock, was forced to blow up 300 years ago to save his treasure from the pirate Sakharine.

In sinking the ship, Sir Haddock is reckless but he is not daft. He leaves behind clues in three separate scrolls which are hidden in three models of the Unicorn, one of which Tintin happens to buy in a flea market. This is where the story begins: the pirate Sakharine's descendant, Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), is desperate to get hold of Tintin's model which contains the second of the three scrolls and even kidnaps the Belgian reporter. While Sakharine already has the first scroll, the third is hidden in a bullet-proof glass case belonging to a sheikh in Morocco.

In the end, though, Tintin and Haddock with a lot of help from Snowy foil Sakharine's evil plans and discover the treasure has been lying at Marlinspike Hall, the Haddock estate, all along.

The movie is a precise reflection of the comic books except for the part where the two descendants, Haddock and Sakharine, fight each other with giant cranes unlike their ancestors who fought with swords on a burning ship. The analogy is striking. It also has several original elements from the comic books, such as the antics of the bumbling detectives, the Thom(p)son Twins; the unsuspecting Milanese Nightingale whose soprano voice shatters the sheikh's glass case (Sakharine's idea and a Spielberg invention); the treachery of Captain Haddock's first mate, Allan, on board his dark and foreboding vessel Karaboudjan; Tintin and Haddock's escape from the ship on a lifeboat; their subsequent daredevil flight on the enemy's amphibious aircraft and trek through a scorching desert; and Nestor, Haddock's butler at Marlinspike Hall.

A few other things stand out in the film: Snowy's quick-thinking and his faithfulness towards his master, Tintin; Captain Haddock's fondness for alcohol, particularly whisky, and for cuss words, "Blistering Barnacles!" and "Thundering Typhoons!", their attires—blue-eyed Tintin in his all-too familiar white-collared blue shirt, plus fours and trench coat and craggy-faced Haddock in his equally familiar navy-blue cap, turtle-neck sweater with an anchor etched on it, jersey and slacks; the Thom(p)son Twins in black suit and walking sticks; and the appearance of Tintin creator Georges ‘Hergé’ Remi in an artistic cameo. I suspect Spielberg borrowed the idea from Stan Lee’s cameos in the Marvel films.

The final scene in the movie—where Tintin and Haddock discover Sir Francis Haddock’s hidden booty in a secret basement at Marlinspike Hall—is actually the final scene in the sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure which, as we know, takes the Belgian reporter and his newfound friend on an exciting adventure—the hunt for Sir Francis Haddock’s treasures buried at sea—with Professor Cuthbert Calculus and his pendulum in tow.

Tintin reminds Haddock about the scuttled ship and ever so subtly lets us in on what could well be Spielberg’s next Tintin adventure. Hopefully, he will stick to the comic-book script, as he did in this film. When it comes, though, I’m going to jump the queue. 
Highly recommended.

The Adventures of Tintin poster: © Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wisdom from books and comics

Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe

I now began to consider seriously my condition, and the circumstances I was reduced to; and I drew up the state of my affairs in writing, not so much to leave them to any that were to come after me - for I was likely to have but few heirs—as to deliver my thoughts from daily poring over them, and afflicting my mind; and as my reason began now to master my despondency, I began to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the good against the evil, that I might have something to distinguish my case from worse; and I stated very impartially, like debtor and creditor, the comforts I enjoyed against the miseries I suffered, thus:

Evil: I am cast upon a horrible, desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.

Good: But I am alive; and not drowned, as all my ship's company were.

Evil: I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world, to be miserable.

Good: But I am singled out, too, from all the ship's crew, to be spared from death; and He that miraculously saved me from death can deliver me from this condition.

Evil: I am divided from mankind - a solitaire; one banished from human society.

Good: But I am not starved, and perishing on a barren place, affording no sustenance.

Evil: I have no clothes to cover me.

Good: But I am in a hot climate, where, if I had clothes, I could hardly wear them.

Evil: I am without any defence, or means to resist any violence of man or beast.

Good: But I am cast on an island where I see no wild beasts to hurt me, as I saw on the coast of Africa; and what if I had been shipwrecked there?

Evil: I have no soul to speak to or relieve me.

Good: But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have got out as many necessary things as will either supply my wants or enable me to supply myself, even as long as I live.

Upon the whole, here was an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world: that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set, in the description of good and evil, on the credit side of the account.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A lot of comedy and a little fiction

Present Laughter: An Anthology of Modern Comic Fiction, edited by well-known English author Malcolm Bradbury, in 1994, is a collection of 29 of the best comic short stories written by some of the world’s finest humourists and satirists. Most of the outstanding comic fiction, written in the late 20th century, represents “the cream of humour” – so you have “farce by Beryl Bainbridge, parody by Jorge Luis Borges, folk humour by Garrison Keillor, black humour by Margaret Atwood, gentle confusion from John Updike and strange fantasy from Angela Carter.”

I have not read all 29 stories, having acquired this wonderful anthology quite recently, but my own favourite is the sf-fantasy The Kugelmass Episode by Woody Allen who wrote it for The New Yorker in 1977. Since then, The Kugelmass Episode has attained a cult status of sorts.

 About the story The New Yorker says: “Kugelmass, a humanities professor at City College, was unhappily married for the second time and up to his neck in alimony to his first wife. He wants to have a discreet affair. Persky, a magician from Brooklyn, introduces Kugelmass to his magical cabinet. All Kugel mass has to do is choose a novel, climb into the cabinet, and he will be projected into the novel. He chooses "Madame Bovary," and in no time is having an affair with Emma. He reverses the procedure and brings Emma to New York, but has trouble when he tries to return her to France. Persky fixes the cabinet and Kugelmass swears he'll never cheat on his wife again. Three weeks later, he appears at Persky's. He wants to be projected into "Portnoy's Complaint," but instead, the cabinet explodes. Persky dies of a heart attack, and Kugelmass is projected into a Spanish grammar where he is pursued by the verb "to have.”

Here’s why Woody Allen is a sparkling writer as well as an exceptional filmmaker: To quote the last paragraph of his hugely funny story, “Kugelmass, unaware of this catastrophe, had his own problems. He had not been thrust into Portnoy’s Complaint, or into any other novel, for that matter. He had been projected into an old textbook, Remedial Spanish, and was running for his life over a barren, rocky terrain as the word tener (‘to have’) – a large and hairy irregular verb – raced after him on its spindly legs.”

The 29 delectable comic short stories in this anthology are:

  1. The Tillotson Banquet by Aldous Huxley
  2. The Waltz by Dorothy Parker
  3. Excursion in Reality by Evelyn Waugh
  4. Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote by Jorge Luis Borges
  5. The Assistant Producer by Vladimir Nabokov
  6. Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
  7. The Wrong Set by Angus Wilson
  8. The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
  9. Interesting Things by Kingsley Amis
10. A Member of the Family by Muriel Spark
11. The Bulgarian Poetess by John Updike
12. My Vocation by Mary Lavin
13. To London and Rome by Donald Barthelme
14. Uncle Vlad by Clive Sinclair
15. Nobody Will Laugh by Milan Kundera
16. The Longstop by Beryl Bainbridge
17. American Dreams by Peter Carey
18. The Kitchen Child by Angela Carter
19. The Kugelmass Episode by Woody Allen
20. Lantern Lecture by Adam Mars-Jones
21. Lives of the Poets by Margaret Atwood
22. The Royal Family by Garrison Keillor
23. Modern Love by T. Coraghessan Boyle
24. The Stolen Child by Clare Boylan
25. The New Baboon by Andrew Davies
26. An Outer London Childhood by Suzannah Dunn
27. Schoom by Jonathan Wilson
28. Career Move by Martin Amis
29. A Short History of the English Novel by Will Self

“The fact remains that, both as a reader and as a writer, I have always taken comedy with a good deal of (ever delighted) seriousness. Indeed, it is hard to think about the art of fiction without thinking about the art of comedy, for the two have always gone together, hand in hand,” Bradbury says in the introduction to the anthology.

Present Laughter: An Anthology of Modern Comic Fiction delivers exactly what it claims to offer readers: “Wit, wildness and hours of escape from the solemn side of life.” 
Highly recommended.

Cover Jacket: © Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London

Friday, November 11, 2011


Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra

Was Frank Sinatra a better actor or singer? Now what kind of a trick question is that! He excelled in both. He acted in some fine movies alongside fine actors like Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, and Steve McQueen. I'll always remember one of America's most popular crooners for his performance in From Here to Eternity with Burt Lancaster and On the Town with Gene Kelly.

But this post is not about Sinatra's films; it's about his songs, in particular Strangers in the Night, the title song from his 1966 album Strangers in the Night. Since then no one has sung this song as well as Sinatra. It's a beautiful love song and it makes your day...

Strangers in the night, exchanging glances
Wond'ring in the night
What were the chances, we'd be sharing love
Before the night was through.

Something in your eyes, was so inviting
Something in your smile, was so exciting
Something in my heart
Told me I must have you.

Strangers in the night, two lonely people
We were strangers in the night
Up to the moment
When we said our first hello.
Little did we know

Love was just a glance away
A warm embracing dance away


Ever since that night we've been together
Lovers at first sight, in love forever
It turned out so right
For strangers in the night.

Love was just a glance away
A warm embracing dance away

Ever since that night we've been together
Lovers at first sight, in love forever
It turned out so right
For strangers in the night

Do dody doby do
do doo de la
da da da da ya

Thursday, November 10, 2011

#3 Ode to Life

Let me but live my life from year to year, 
With forward face and unreluctant soul;
Not hurrying to, nor turning from the goal;
Not mourning for the things that disappear
In the dim past, nor holding back in fear
From what the future veils; but with a whole
And happy heart, that pays its toll.

To Youth and Age, and travels on with cheer.
So let the way wind up the hill or down,
O'er rough or smooth, the journey will be joy:
Still seeking what I sought when but a boy,
New friendship, high adventure, and a crown,
My heart will keep the courage of the quest,
And hope the road's last turn will be the best.
— Henry van Dyke, US author, educator and clergyman

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

© Methuen
'Not racist'

With less than 72 hours to go before the worldwide release of Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin comes news that a Belgian prosecutor has recommended to the country's courts to reject an application to have Tintin in the Congo banned for racism.

According to a Reuters report, Belgian prosecutor Valery de Theux de Meylandt, whose opinion is requested and typically followed by the court, advised judges in a written statement to rule against campaigner Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo's application to have Tintin in the Congo banned for racism.

Meylandt said in the document that Tintin author Georges Remi (better known as Herge) did not intend to incite racial hatred when he depicted his cartoon hero on an adventure in the former Belgian colony in a 1931 work that was updated in 1946.

"The representations (of African people) by Herge are a reflection of his time," Meylandt wrote.

Intention is a key criteria in substantiating a charge of racism, the Reuters report said, adding, the court was expected to deliver a judgment early next year rejecting or accepting Mondondo's argument that the book's depiction of Africans was racist.

Tintin in the Congo was one of a series of comic books about the adventures of a boy journalist and his dog Snowy, which were first published in 1931. Mondondo has taken aim at the modern version of the updated 1946 book.

The application deserves to be crumpled into a ball and tossed into the trash can. Now let's sit back and enjoy the film.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

I've got mom, you see!

Deewaar (The Wall in Hindi) is the mother of all movies and has the mother of all dialogues. The Bollywood blockbuster, produced by Gulshan Rai and directed by Yash Chopra in 1975, is the tragic story of two brothers, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor), whose ideals take them in diametrically opposite directions.

The eldest, Vijay, grows up to become a boot polisher-turned-dock
worker-turned underworld kingpin while his younger brother, Ravi, becomes an honest and upright police officer who eventually kills his sibling and proves that the law is equal for everyone, bhayya (brother) or badmaash (scoundrel).

Torn between the two warring brothers is the helpless and weeping mother, Sumitra Devi (Nirupa Roy, the eternal celluloid mom), whose heart and conscience are in conflict throughout the 175-minute long movie. While she loves both her sons equally, she is forced to choose in the end, and predictably, she chooses Ravi over Vijay, virtue over vice.

Deewaar is the mother of all movies (though some might argue it's Mother India, 1957) because Sumitra Devi is a single mother who suffers immense hardship and humiliation as she raises her sons through a strict moral code. It works and doesn't work. While Bollywood films are replete with single-mother themes, nowhere is her role more intense and captivating than in Deewaar (though others might argue it's still Mother India), which celebrates Indian womanhood and motherhood on a grand scale.

Deewaar also has the mother of all dialogues because of the following conversation between the two brothers, a line that has become the tagline of the film.

Bachchan (right) and Kapoor face off in Deewaar
Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) paraphrasing: Your principles? Where have your principles got you? What have they given you? a two-bit police job? A change of uniform? A rundown police jeep? Now look at me: I have a bungalow, a car, money. What do you have?
Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) feelingly: I have mother!

What Ravi actually says, in Hindi, is: "Mere paas maa hai!" Translated literally, it means "I have got mom!" He utters just those four magical words and in one fell swoop demolishes his crooked brother's misplaced pride and his earthly possessions. Poor Vijay knows he has lost everything. But did he own anything?

Saturday, November 05, 2011


P.D. James adds dark twist to Pride and Prejudice

Best-selling British novelist P.D. James has written a new book that picks up where Pride and Prejudice left off and introduces a decidedly sinister twist to the Jane Austen classic: a deadly crime. Death Comes to Pemberley will be published by Knopf on December 6, the publishing company announced in a news release.

© Knopfdoubleday
Set in 1803 at Pemberley, the Darcy family estate, five years after Austen concluded her original story, James’ new novel finds Elizabeth and Darcy happily married, with two fine sons, and enjoying regular visits from Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband Bingley. There is talk about the prospect of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana, lingering resentment over the elopement of Elizabeth’s sister Lydia with the dishonourable Wickham, and rumours that war will soon break out between England and France.

Still, life continues at Pemberley, and preparations are being made for the annual ball. But on the evening before it is to take place, the idyll is suddenly shattered. There are gunshots and screams, a body is discovered in the woods, and all at once the story evolves into a murder mystery—one recognisable as P.D. James at her best, yet conveyed with all the charm and wit of Jane Austen.

"I have to apologise to Jane Austen," says James, "for involving her beloved Elizabeth in a murder investigation. It has been a joy to revisit Pride and Prejudice and to discover, as one always does, new delight and fresh insights. This fusion of my two enthusiasms—for the novels of Jane Austen and for writing detective novels–has given me great pleasure."

P.D. James is the author of 20 previous books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the US and other countries. She spent 30 years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain’s Home Office, and in 1991, she was named Baroness James of Holland Park.

Knopf has set a first printing of 300,000 copies for Death Comes to Pemberley. It will also be published as an e-book and available in audio from Random House.

Source: www.doubleday.knopfdoubleday.com

Friday, November 04, 2011

Philanthropy in early English literature

Philanthropy is a recurring theme in English literature of the Victorian era that spanned a large part of the 19th century and an early bit of 20th century, a period that also saw the novel establish itself with a new force.

For example, Thomas Hardy shows his charitable side in Jude the Obscure when the stonemason, Jude Fawley, struggling to overcome the difficulties in his adolescent years, dreams of making it big when he grows up. He dreams of becoming even a bishop by leading a pure life. “…and what an example he would set! If his income were £5,000 a year, he would give away £4,500 in one form and another, and live sumptuously (for him) on the remainder,” Hardy conveys through his young working-class hero.

When every aspect of early literature has been dissected and analysed by literary historians, can the noble deed of charity be left out? In his first book titled Philanthropy in British and American Fiction: Dickens, Hawthorne, Eliot and Howells, Frank Christianson, an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University, a private university in Utah, USA, examines how each of the acclaimed writers used “the figure of philanthropy both to redefine the sentiments that informed social identity and to refashion their own aesthetic practices.”

How was philanthropy practiced and represented in a period marked by self-interest and rational calculation? Christianson asks and answers in his book, which I must admit I haven’t read yet.

Charles Dickens combined his writing skill with his charitable disposition. For one who pronounced, “Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,” Dickens certainly knew his way around philanthropy. Among his many acts of charity, Dickens helped a hospital overcome its financial crisis, went to the aid of abused children, and founded a home for “fallen” women – some of the people he encountered along the way became part of his novels and stories.

Going back to Hardy, stonemason Jude Fawley yearns to get out of the southern region of Wessex and migrate to Christminster where he dreams of becoming a scholar. As a young boy in Wessex, Fawley becomes the willing recipient of his school teacher’s kindness before Mr. Phillotson leaves for Christminster to pursue a higher academic career – a move that fuels Fawley’s own dream.

In her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie brings Hercule Poirot from Belgium to Britain as a refugee during WWI and finds refuge for him and some fellow Belgians at Styles, through the generous patronage of Emily Inglethorp, the wealthy mistress of Styles Court. In one of life’s ironies, Poirot repays Emily’s kindness by bringing her murderer to justice.

While these are but a few instances of philanthropy in classic English literature, British and American fiction is replete with acts of charity and kindness that people can imbibe while they read the books.
With magic potion...

© Asterix & Obelix, Hodder Dargaud, UK

...and without!

© Jataka Tales, Amar Chitra Katha, India

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Stamp of an Actor: Groucho Marx

“I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.”

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.”

“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

“Go, and never darken my towels again.”

“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long...”

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

“Well, my mother and father talked it over and they finally moved to New York, a little house in the Bronx. And it was in that little house that Abraham Lincoln was born, much to my father's surprise. And that, boys and girls, was the beginning of the Lincoln Highway.”

“Do you mind if I don't smoke?”

“Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book — and does.”

“Now there sits a man with an open mind. You can feel the draft from here.”

“Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.”

“You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.”

“Hello, I must be going.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

#2 Ode to a Dream

© Simon & Schuster
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
A Dream Within A Dream by Edgar Allan Poe