A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Big City (Satyajit Ray, 1963)

Anil Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee in The Big City
Arati Mazumdar: Madhabi Mukherjee
Subrata Mazumdar: Anil Chatterjee
Himangshu Mukherjee: Haradhan Bannerjee
Edith Simmons: Vicky Redwood
Priyogopal, Subrata's Father: Haren Chatterjee
Sarojini, Subrata's Mother: Sefalika Devi
Bani, Subrata's Sister: Jaya Bhaduri
Pintu: Prasenjit Sarkar

Director: Satyajit Ray
Screenplay: Satyajit Ray
Based on stories by Narendranath Mitra
Cinematography: Subrata Mitra
Art direction: Bansi Chandragupta
Film editing: Dulal Dutta
Music: Satyajit Ray

For a long time, cities got a bad rap in the movies: Think of Fritz Lang's soul-devouring futuristic city in Metropolis (1027), the hedonistic town that sends out tendrils like the sinister Woman From the City to ensnare country folk like The Man and The Wife in F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927), or the weblike New York City that blights the lives of John and Mary in The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928). But these are surviving remnants of the Romanticism that proclaimed "God made the country and man made the town." By the mid-20th century, even our poets, or at least our songwriters, had turned the great big city into a wondrous toy, just made for a girl and boy, and a place where if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere -- a heroic challenge. In The Big City, Satyajit Ray's Kolkata retains some of the old sinister qualities, but it also represents opportunity, especially for women emerging from the shadows of male domination. Ray's domestic drama doesn't set up a contrast between town and country so much as a contrast between the dark, cramped home that Subrata and Arati Mazumdar share with his mother and father and sister and their young son, and the expanse of the city, which offers up tempting alternatives to the tight nuclear household. And those alternatives are something that the older members of that household view with disgust and horror: Arati's going out to work and to supplement the small income of the traditional breadwinner, Subrata. A world opens up for Arati, though it's also a world that can easily crumble around her. Madhabi Mukherjee's wonderful performance as Arati, tremulous and naive at first but gradually gaining fire and courage, animates the film. Obstacles present themselves: Subrata loses his job as a bank clerk, and Arati eventually loses hers by standing up for the Anglo-Indian Edith. But at the end, husband and wife, who have found their marriage tested by her employment, summon up reserves of courage to face the job market. The ending has been criticized as sentimental, but Ray has so carefully shown the growth of both Arati and Subrata that I find it hopeful.

No comments: