Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Let’s get to the dance already!

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Celestino Deleyto

Never did the slums look so pretty, as if already perceived through the eyes of the protagonist after winning millions (of rupees) at the fictional TV quiz programme. Not only are all the children and teenagers gorgeous looking but the constantly imaginative camera work never allows us to think about the real living conditions of the Mumbai underworld, purportedly what the story is about. This is the quintessential feel-good movie: in one of the best touches, a couple of larger-than-life U.S. tourists give the protagonist a 100$ tip after their car has been wrecked by the boy’s friends. It is also a gorgeous-looking one: almost every shot is “spectacular”, employing expressive cinematography, from extreme close-ups of pretty faces to constant high- and low-angle shots, including frequent overhead shots, more canted shots than The Third Man, rhythmic editing, stop motion, graphic matches, wide angles, shallow focus close-ups with artistically fuzzy backgrounds and all the tricks of the visual trade, not to mention the lively “authentic” soundtrack. Even Jamal and Salim’s mother looks stunning in her green sari when she is clubbed to death by wild demonstrators at the beginning of the story, and nobody is very bothered when Jamal approaches the Bollywood star for an autograph covered in shit. It’s all fun, fun, fun. We get frequent glimpses of the dire living conditions of the children and those around them but we are never allowed to feel queasy about them, nor do we bother much about Jamal being tortured at the police station for no very clear reason. Having said this, Danny Boyle’s breathless storytelling, dazzling cinematography and careful narrative construction, based as it is on a very gimmicky flashback structure – each successive question Jamal gets at the quiz show takes him and us back to an important episode in his life (such luck at a quiz program was never seen before) –, make for a very uplifting movie with a very timely message in times of crisis: resilience, love and spiritual strength will eventually win the day. However, the most important message of Slumdog Millionaire is in the medium. On the surface comparable to the visual virtuosity of contemporary filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai, Alejandro González Iñárritu or Pedro Almodóvar, Boyle’s film mesmerizes us with its spectacular images but hides nothing underneath them, no secret meanings, no interpretation, please. For this reason the absolute best and most representative scene of the movie is the final credit sequence with the Bollywood-like dance at the railway station, where everybody joins in the celebration of the never-doubted and not particularly exciting final reunion of the young lovers. Here the film is probably being totally honest for the first time, assuaging our fears that there might have been some degree of social concern behind its stylistic pyrotechnics, and showing itself for what it is: a celebration of the affirmative potential of popular art and of the visual sophistication of contemporary cinema.

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

His vision, our culture

Fans of William Holman Hunt are gearing up for the most high profile exhibition of his work in Canada to date.

The new show, Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision, is currently showing at the newly reopened Art Gallery of Ontario until until May 10th. And it's already creating quite a buzz in art circles across the pond, as an article published this morning in the leading newspaper in Canada suggests.

A detailed account of William Holman Hunt's work can be found in Carol Jacboi's William Holman Hunt, Painter, Painting, Paint.

"A fascinating appraisal of Hunt's work which superbly describes the artist's work in its historical and biographical context. Jacobi's analysis casts a great deal of light on the prejudices of earlier critics, she also usefully, assesses the artist's originality in the light of recent scholarship on the cultural pillars of the nineteenth century The paintings reproduced here, in all their vivid frightfulness, suddenly seem all the more fascinating as a result of this captivating book."
Timothy Brittain-Catlin, The Tablet