Slumdog Millionaire: All Eyes East

Slumdog Millionaire's Golden Globe win for Best Motion Picture/Drama is like a flare warning Hollywood about its future in cinema.

Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Loveleen Tandan
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Display Artist: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2009-01-09 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-11-12 (Limited release)
“Bombay is the future of urban civilization on the planet. God help us.”

-- Suketu Mehta, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

No matter what people like us say, the cinematic takeaway from 2008 is clear. The films from last year that the average person will remember in coming decades are most likely going to be Wall-E and The Dark Knight. Never mind that one could go on about all the better and more provocative films that hit theaters during the same 12 months, but were only seen by a fraction of 2008's movie goers. Those are the two films that most people are going to look back and remember as the year’s best, the ones they talk about with friends and family, saying, “You know, that was a good movie.” Maybe The Curious Case of Benjamin Button slips in the conversations of the more romantically-minded, but that’s about it.

So what was Slumdog Millionaire doing on Sunday night, winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama? Not only that, why did it just feel right? In two months of US release, playing to almost uniformly ecstatic reviews and glowing word of mouth, Slumdog Millionaire pulled in only about a fifth the money that The Dark Knight made in its opening weekend. No matter how good a film it is, at that pace it’s never going to reach even a fraction of the audience that Dark Knight and Wall-E did.

Contrary to popular opinion, Hollywood is not an industry obsessed only with chasing its own tail. Well, maybe about half the time that’s what it does. Mostly, though, its filmmakers are desperately trying to peer over the horizon, to see what’s coming next. Given how long it takes to make a film these days, to succeed one has to have radar so well attuned to the future that whatever the audience is in the mood for years down the road will mesh perfectly with what you have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours of people’s time making years prior.

In the case of Wall-E and The Dark Knight, Hollywood guessed right, but it also had the audience primed. Years of stoking a popular taste for thoughtful animated fictions and muscular comic-book fables made the guessing game a little safer. It was a little strange, then, to see the Hollywood Foreign Press Association not bestow its greatest honors on these films. (Of course, Wall-E did rightfully win best animated feature, but by its very nature, that category has a shallow pool of contenders, to say the least.)

What Hollywood did in 2008 may have worked then, both stateside and abroad, but it’s by no means guaranteed to continue working in the future. Slumdog Millionaire is a mongrel piece of work based on a novel by a globe-trotting Indian diplomat. It's structured around a frequently franchised international game show, stocked with Indian cinema heavyweights, and shot like a jittery thesis film by a dark-hearted Brit who is seemingly ill-suited to the story’s romantic light. But the film’s swirled-in cultural streams -- equal parts Dickensian grotesquery, Horatio Alger striving, '90s arthouse growl, and Bollywood flair -- just may make it the perfect kind of creation to survive in the world’s increasingly cross-pollinated cultural landscape.

So while American filmmakers contemplate the apocalypse (Wall-E) and the moral vagaries of the war on terror (The Dark Knight), Bollywood keeps reaching for the stars. There’s, of course, darkness aplenty in Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s a darkness that can be transcended. Its world is a teeming and fetid mess, garlanded with oases of beauty and brief moments of peace accessible only to those who fight for it. The workers of 18th century London and 19th century Chicago would probably have felt right at home in the film’s 21st century Mumbai. The filth and squalor is jammed right on top of the city’s air-conditioned bubbles of wealth, so that the poor know precisely what they are missing out on. That space in between -- whether envisioned by Dickens, Dreiser, or Boyle -- is only crossed by dreams, luck, and back-breaking labor.

Just as there are nations like India whose economies are primed and ready to topple America’s, so too creative factories like Bollywood are ready to battle for their share of the world’s entertainment time. The foreign pressers who gathered the glitterati of Hollywood to the Beverly Hilton on Sunday night knew this, and giving their top honor to Slumdog Millionaire was like sending up a signal flare as warning to the presumptuous Hollywood.

At the end of a long evening that had been fairly dripping with tears and Moet, Slumdog Millionaire's filmmakers and cast gleefully crowded the stage, looking for all the world like the heirs apparent. If there was indeed a hole ripped in the future of cinema -- as Christopher Nolan put it in his crisp dedication to Heath Ledger, accepting his posthumous supporting actor Golden Globe -- there is clearly no shortage of willing aspirants to mend it.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.