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Thursday, Apr 19, 2007

As the civil war rages on in Iraq, Congress and the Executive Branch seem unable to come to a consensus on the issue. The President has threatened to veto the recent supplemental spending bill, initiating a near stalemate in Washington. Meanwhile the ’08 presidential hopefuls are attempting to mold their own viable strategy for ending the conflict. Unfortunately, their rhetoric does not seem likely the shed any new light on this dire situation.

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Thursday, Apr 19, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Patrick Wolf
The Magic Position (promo mix) [MP3]

Arctic Monkeys

Jay-Z + Biggie
Allure (Ratatat remix) [MP3]

Black Moth Super Rainbow
Sun Lips [MP3]

Drippy Eye (Octopus Project remix) [MP3]

The Boggs
Arm in Arm [MP3]

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Wednesday, Apr 18, 2007

No other medium is more suited for magnifying physical beauty than the cinema. Women in particular are the darlings of this particular art form. Beautiful actresses are synonymous with the movies.  The majority of the industry’s glamour is linked to starlets, so much so that the entire Academy Awards Ceremony is more of a showcase for their poise and resplendent gowns than it is for the outstanding films and performances of that year. The enchantment of the medium is the enduring memory of images, and many are of beautiful faces: Audrey Hepburn’s pixie grin as she tilts her sunglasses in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Greta Garbo’s stony, enigmatic face in the closing shot of Queen Christina, Grace Kelly smiling surreptitiously behind the steering wheel in To Catch a Thief

Indian cinema’s leading ladies are a bevy of Old World beauties. India’s rich, varied history - Dravidian, Persian, Vedic, Mughal - are all etched on their faces and bearing. While the Bollywood Sex Goddesses, voluptuous curves and saucer-shaped eyes, look like they’ve stepped out of an ancient temple carving, the Bollywood Beauties look like they’ve climbed out of a Rajput miniature painting: delicate, dewy-eyed, and demure.
They each impart a graceful forbearance to their acting, allowing the audience to linger on faces with admiration and to be awed by their talent.

Nargis is the grand dame of this lot, her entire presence and persona setting the precedence for all the other stars who followed her. Emerging as the leading actress of the ‘40s, just as Indian cinema was in its early stages, steadily growing into a commercial powerhouse, Nargis stood out like a pillar of loveliness against her formidable leading man, Raj Kapoor. She would star opposite other popular stars like Dilip Kumar and Sunil Dutt, but it was Kapoor with whom she would make the most movies and form the most lasting relationship. Their real-life story in some ways resembles the romance of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey, a prodigious, absorbing working relationship that resulted in their best performances, but was restrained by the confines of society (Kapoor was married, and divorce in the ‘40s would have ruined him as a star).

Still, Nargis’s elegance and statuesque beauty made her an icon for hundreds of women. But in the late ‘50s, Nargis made a dramatic change in her screen persona by taking on the role of the beleagured village matriarch Durga in Mehboob Khan’s salt-of-the-earth epic, Mother India. Many critics questioned the casting: could Nargis, famous for playing sophisticated socialites, take on such an unsparing role? Nargis knew it was the role of a lifetime: part Scarlett O’Hara, part Stella Dallas, it was one of those fabled, charismatic strong women parts (like resilient frontier wife, or the chipper, but hardscrabble Homefront widow) coveted by actresses at that time. And she played Durga with such quivering intensity and passion that it elevated the movie to mythic status, with Nargis as the body and soul of a country coming into its own power after Independence.

Meena Kumari and Madhubala were both masterful in period roles. Their inwardness and tempered sensuality was a throwback to the vision of Mughal princesses, adorned in jewels, shrouded in veils. Kumari shone in tragic, suffering wife or mistress roles; she was one of the few Indian actresses who could register despair without making it look contrived or artificial. Her most memorable role, Pakeezah (“The Pure One”) has her playing, like Garbo in Camille, the misunderstood courtesan, striving for the love of a nobleman who is forbidden to marry her. Shortly after Pakeezah was completed, Kumari died due to a lifelong heart condition. In her most emotionally wrenching scenes, one can’t help but marvel at her acting, and feel a tinge of sadness at the pain, both mental and physical, she must have been experiencing throughout.

Madhubala graced the screen in a number of hit films in the ‘50s, but it was her role as the willful slave girl torn between the Indian Emperor, Akbar, and his son, heir to the throne, Salim, in K. Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam that made her a part of movie legend. No one song has been sung or copied as often as Madhubala’s rendition of “Pyaar Kiya To Darnaa Kya?” (“If you’ve fallen in love, what is there to fear?”), sung in defiance to the Emperor who challenged her love for his son. It was a bold, memorable part and all of India loved her for it.

Waheeda Rahman was the cerebral darling of the ‘60s. There was a fierce intelligence to her performances that echoes some of Jodie Foster’s brittle assertiveness and some of Nicole Kidman’s wary grace in her latter day performances (The Hours, The Human Stain). She is effective in Guru Dutt masterpieces, Kaagaz ke Phool and Chaudvin ka Chand as the love-interest aware of the dangers of self-indulgence and defying societal norms, and she dazzles more recently in Rang de Basanti (2006), as the mother seeking justice for her murdered son.

Sharmila Tagore is remembered now for being a ‘60s fashion plate, the Audrey Hepburn of Indian cinema. Indeed, Sharmila seemed to take many of her visual cues from Hepburn’s late ‘50s/early ‘60s roles, playing the demure pixie who entranced the graceful leading men of the era, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, and Shashi Kapoor. But Sharmila’s career is full of work in masterful art films from directors like Satyajit Ray and Mira Nair. From her first role at the age of 14, as the young bride in Ray’s The World of Apu to one of her most memorable recent roles, as the matriarch expelled from Uganda, who learns to accept her daughter’s independence and inter-racial romance in Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala.

Preity Zinta - the bubbly actress who according to popular myth was discovered by director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, The Golden Age) when she was coming to pick up a friend who auditioned for one his movies. Now one of Bollywood’s biggest movie stars, she incites bouts of mass hysteria among Punjabis whenever she passes through Heathrow Airport. There’s a Sandra Dee quality to her sprightliness and a bit of Bette Davis in her imperious beauty. For all her onscreen energy, few directors have been able to harness it toward a captivating performance. Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chata Hai (“The Heart Wants…”) and his marvelous, underrated, Lakshya (“The Calling”), and Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Naa Ho (“Tomorrow May Never Come”) show Preity at her best, nonconformist, feisty, smart, witty and at the same time feminine: the modern Indian woman. More recently, Yash Chopra’s lavish Veer-Zaara shows acting Preity in Meena Kumari-mode, Old-World and elusive.

Who would have guessed what an international sensation Aishwarya Rai would be? The star of Gurinder Chada’s screwball Jane Austen spin-off, Bride and Prejudice, a member of the Grand Jury of the Cannes Film Festival, and a multi-million dollar contract with L’Oreal comestics? She is the awe and envy of her peers, living proof that India has truly gone global. Starting off in pretty girlfriend parts in a string of forgettable films, Aishwarya’s raw talent, her brilliant dancing - fluid and expressive - her spirit, and her staggering good looks attracted directors who saw in her the embodiment of Old World India eroded by modernity.  Sanjay Leela Bhansali cast her in her most beloved parts in both Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam (“Darling, You Stolen My Heart”) and Devdas. Playing traditional Indian women, clad in beautiful saris and jewels, who conceal the anguish and resentment at their confined roles, Aishwarya showed Indian audiences an aspect of women they had often overlooked. Her finest role, in Rituparno Ghose’s Choker Bali (“Sand in the Eye”) was a revelation; she gave us a portrait of a young widow in 1890s Calcutta damaged not by grief but by society’s prejudice, and how that prejudice transmogrifies her into a creature hell-bent on revenge and gratification. Only in her 30s, Aishwariya has many more chapters in her career ahead of her.

But remember, the stars in this segment are not here only because they’re beautiful. They’ve all risen above being judged by their appearance to be taken seriously as actresses. It would be clichéd to say their inner loveliness is what matters the most, but it is what makes these particular performers last in our memory. Long after their makeup and clothes have lost their trendiness, the quality of their performances will linger for us to enjoy and marvel.

Nargis, early ‘50s

Meena Kumari, Sahib bibi aur Ghulam, early ‘60s

Madhubala, Mughal-E-Azam, early ‘60s

Waheeda Rahman, Chaudvin ka Chand, ‘60s

Sharmila Tagore, An Evening in Paris, ‘60s

Preity Zinta, c. 2005

Aishwariya Rai, Choker Bali, c. 2003

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Wednesday, Apr 18, 2007
by Kim Peterson [The Seattle Times (MCT)]

SEATTLE—The newspaper is not an endangered species, but sometimes it seems that way.

The industry’s overall profit margins are still in double digits. Newspapers have loyal readers and deep ties to communities, and their Web sites are getting more viewers every year.

But many key segments of the business are spiraling down, with little relief in sight. Circulation declines are so bad that a newspaper with flat-line growth is considered healthy. Sales of classified advertising have tanked. Some newspapers are in the red, and others no longer see the revenue and profits they once did.

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Wednesday, Apr 18, 2007

The cliche about New Yorkers is that they are rude and impatient. Some mistakenly believe that impatience is in fact a form of rudeness rather than an efficient system of communication among strangers pursuing a vast array of ends in a congested, shared space. Of course, I’m biased, but it seems most New Yorkers—the ones working, the ones with places to be and things to do—are generally aware of the people around them and together they all make a collective effort to keep things moving. Sometimes the awareness takes the form of attempts to outmaneuver one another, and efficiency in public space is achieved via the invisible hand of unrepentant individual selfishness and putting oneself ahead of those who aren’t paying as much attention to their surroundings. At the risk of venturing a Ayn Randian species of counterintuitive thinking (selfishness isn’t just not wrong, it’s the only virtue!), I want to suggest that aggressive behavior in public (what is dubbed rational behavior in market contexts) creates a grid of expectations that allows everyone to pass through public space more purposefully.

On the road, this principle is illustrated when there are lane closures—New York drivers tend not to respect any notion of civilized queueing, preferring instead a mad free-for-all of people cutting off other people. This seems theoretically “unfair” but it tends to keep traffic as a whole moving faster. (This is why in more quaint places in America, drivers are encouraged not to form one lane too early, expanding the areas affected by congestion.) True, too much lane changing in open road situations ultimately affects all riders negatively, contributing to volume-related slowdowns, but complacency and an abstract concern for respecting the rules of politeness only expedites road rage.

But the question of how aggressive one should be in trying to get where one is going is more pressing for New York pedestrians. The more aggressive one is in walking the streets, generally the more aware one becomes of the environment: if you are going to stand halfway in the street waiting to cross an intersection, you need to know what’s coming. If you are going to jaywalk, you need to make sure you can get away with it—as Dylan’s dictum goes,  “To live outside the law you must be honest.” The troublemakers on New York streets are not the hyperaggressive racewalkers and Knievelesque bike messengers (whose moves are always predicable based on the presumption of their heedless selfishness and can thus be countered) but tentative tourists, who are apt to make unpredictable moves in full obliviousness of those around them. They likely feel this is their right as tourists, as flight from responsibility to others is probably considered part of their vacation in general. But maybe as a culture we should stop creating the mistaken illusion that it is possible to take a vacation from responsibility to others, that this could be bought and sold as an experiential good. linked to this complaint about tourists who persist in being unaware of their surroundings. The author, Brooks of Sheffield, laments the “death of peripheral vision” and offers this interpretation of the essence of civic duty:

I was brought up to be constantly aware of others around me, to keep a sharp eye out to see if I was blocking someone’s way, holding someone up. For the simplest way a civilized human being can show their respect for a fellow person is to register and acknowledge their presence, and recognize they have as much right to the surrounding air and ground as you do.

In New York, it’s impossible to stay out of people’s way entirely; but the edge of intrusions into personal space are made much more tolerable and forgivable when it is made clear they they are either undertaken reluctantly or with the intent to move things in general along—when you know that its nothing personal and it was the result of calculation. What is intolerable is the species of selfishness that masquerades as mellowness and has no specific intent behind it and winds up communicating that the blissfully unaware person considers you so insignificant that they won’t even deign to recognize your existence enough to be rude to you on purpose. Instead of being situational rudeness (that which is practiced by most New Yorkers), tourists practice a categorical rudeness, a self-satisfied indifference they have toward everyone else, who, as Brooks puts it, become “merely extras in the home movie starring themselves.” And it seems to violate the categorical imperative, which is at the crux of the exchange below, from the comments on Brooks’ post.

Laura Moncur said…
Sorry, but it’s not my job to accomodate you. I watch out for other people, but that is strictly for my benefit, not yours. Assuming that the world should get out of your way isn’t the answer.
Plus, those tourists bring a lot of money to your town. Be a little more respectful of them.

4/09/2007 10:02 AM
Brooks of Sheffield said…
Actually, Laura, it is your job to accomodate other people. It’s everybody’s job. That’s part of what being a human being means. Civilization is nothing more than a thousand daily, silently-agreed-upon accomodations toward your fellow beings. And has it occurred to you that your attitude of looking out for other people only when it benefits you only works if there are other people in the world willing to look out for not just themselves, but others—like you.

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