Art

Godard Breathless in Paris

In the 2003 film The Dreamers, Isabelle says “I entered this world on the Champs-Elysees, 1959. La trottoir du Champs Elysees. And do you know what my very first words were? New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!”

Today I tried to reactivate my Filmstruck account only to see a message that said the service is permanently closing down at the end of November this year. I not only was disappointed but also a little enraged that such a good service is coming to an end. I do agree that it wasn’t the optimum film watching experience but the content was so rich and was something that couldn’t be found at other streaming services. I am thankful to filmstruck to introduce me to Andrei Tarkovsky and for providing essentials of Bergman to the masses. There have been countless movies that have been made by many directors but only a few of them have been able to make an impact at a larger scale; These are the ones who decided to break free from the conventional settings and didn’t think twice before trying a new concept and challenged the status quo. Those who had moon shot thinking.

Non-linear story telling(Memento), movie without a story or a plot( Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels), multiple genre( Million Dollar Baby) are few such audacious but arduous exemplary steps, not necessarily the first ones in the direction towards revolutionizing the film theory. The film director is one person who can make or break the film and it’s his discretion how to show the story, characters, plots, and twists. One man who stands out is Jean-Luc Godard who constantly experimented progressively throughout his career and kept on exploring the personal themes in his films. From his debut itself he announced himself on the larger screen; The setting was perfect for the arrival – 1960s France. He said our cinema isn’t influencing the youth, so let youths influence the cinema. His first work was Breathless, and with the use of jump cuts i.e. abrupt transitions between one scene to the other he not only showed how pragmatic he could be but also challenged the archaic notion that movie watching has to be an immersive and emotional experience. Bertolt Brecht already had coined the concept of alienation of the audience and Godard used it wherever pertinent.

Breathless was shot on a minimum budget and Godard didn’t have the permission to shoot the film (strange times). He employed whomever he knew as his film crew and the film was shot on the streets of Paris with the cinematographer sitting on a wheelchair and someone pushing him so he can have the perfect angle. It also established Jean Paul Belmondo and femme fatale Jean Seberg in the French cinema with latter as the finest actress in Europe. The story is simple but well crafted with beauty lying in the streets of Paris of 1960. Comparing contemporary Paris with what it was back then always makes me wonder what if I could somehow transport and see that square or that building at night in person akin to Midnight in Paris.

Breathless culminated into a success story which paved path to young directors who didn’t have large studios or sophisticated equipment. Tangerine, released in 2015, is one such example and the entire film was shot on an iPhone 5S camera.

Godard couldn’t stand the passivity and wanted movies to be an intellectual stimulation exercise that challenges the thought process of the audience and over years he created content that gloriously exemplify his tactics. It is true that brave film directors create what they believe in and that’s what Godard did. 


		
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The concept of light

A month ago I found myself strutting around in hot Stockholm afternoon; all the Swedes seemed to be embracing the sun while I was running amok seeking refuge from the closest star of the solar system.

I ended up in Nordisk Museet in Djurgården and it turned out to be a great learning experience. Apart from learning about the Sápmi tribe, Eva chair, August Strindberg’s life apart from Miss Julie I had elaborate and thoughtful reflections on the importance of light in human life. The gallery, Nordic lights, focused on the idea how Scandinavians have mastered the concept and art of light as they live in two extremes – in summers they are drenched with sun while in winters they have sun only as a theoretical concept. The idea is not only to see clearly but also create a cozy atmosphere around you in the room and derive pleasure out of it. How to strive for Lagom while lighting your home given too much light can cause light pollution and too less will make you grope for things. The daylight is considered the benchmark in achieving this balance and thus started the human adventure for optical quest.

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How lights have changed the world we see around us!

I was particularly interested in all the optics related ideas given I strive for minimalism and want to modulate the light around me so it doesn’t cause eye pain and provides ample amount for me to read, execute tasks, and have hygge as well.

It is interesting why Scandinavians mastered the art of lighting. Back in 1930s, Sweden and Finland were host to a few most densely populated cities in the western world which gave rise to the concept of Folkhemmet( Swedish welfare state) and small apartments. The obvious corollary was to obviate anything that is too large and awkward. The design of furniture and light has to be functional. Understand what is the need and then shape the object. Soon the artists joined the crusade so everyone can enjoy the designs at much cheaper price;  artistic expression focused on functionalism thus giving rise to modernism. The gallery focused on how we evolved from the fireplace to PH lamps. (Paul Henningsen).

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The design principle ( a visit to Nordic museum in Seattle)

One important  principle to remember while choosing the light is the temperature that it works on. Warm light – temperature 2700 to 3500 Kelvin (yellow in color) and cold light – 3500 to 5000 Kelvin (Blue white/white in color), candlelight 1850 Kelvin. Most hygge temp e.g. sunset, candle light, and campfires is ~ 1800 Kelvin. (Kelvin is the standard unit to measure temperature and 273.15 Kelvin = 0 Celsius)

The question that we should ask while thinking about the functional lighting is what happens in the space? Is it for reading and writing or to accentuate focus on something. That’s how the functional lighting works.

Too much light and one would start feeling being interrogated in the room thus staying away from ceiling light that creates an industrial ambience is a good idea; unless it comes with a dimmer so you can modulate the brightness. Too much light can kill the hygge of the room.

One interesting concept is the use of several light sources and the localized lighting( concentrate on lighting areas of the room than entire room).

I have experienced that too much light cause discomfort in the room and even a small light source works if the room isn’t used for working. For general lighting we can use large arched lamps, small chandeliers, or overhead lights to create localized and focused lighting. Hanging central lights provide focused and softer light. There are many lamps that diffuse light through origami structure to create multiple focal points and many geometric lamps that help develop patterned light across the room.

For those who read and write, having arched floor lamps with cool white light is apt while to highlight certain spaces one should think of accentuating using low level table lamps.

Apart from focusing on the concept of light one should focus on the color palette of the room as well. Low key color palette with use of white and grey on the walls helps light to bounce.

These are the basic principles that one should start playing around with while thinking of light around them, there isn’t any one stop solution as the light is a subjective concept. Thankfully we live in an industrial world with enough options to cater to our needs.

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Nordisk Museet – How functionalism dominates the design process; PH lamp on display.

 

 

 

 

 

The next renaissance

The movie fight club has a few thought provoking quotes – “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place, no great wars, no great depression”. I don’t second the thought completely, our generation might also have a purpose may be a latent one, may be the purpose is hidden in layers like a pomegranate hides the berries in layers. Taking the middle path is the norm, the path that is safe, one that might bear the fruits of success – a success that is moderate but not the one that will make you immortal. Fight club comes to rescue one more time by stating “It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything”.

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The cities that have marked themselves in golden letters in pages of history were unforgiving to the people who called them home. There wasn’t a plan B, if you succeed then you will share the glory and your place in pages of history with the greats from all walks of life but if you fail then you might starve to death and you subject your upcoming generations, if any, to similar fate. But that didn’t deter them to take risks. They always shot for something that can be considered the ultimate manifestation of human spirit.

What is it that we will risk everything for? Pope Julius II gave the commission to Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. But the philosophy to take risk on the unlikely heroes was not uncommon. Identify a talented person and bestow responsibility of a herculean task; sit back and look at the results.

But what we do nowadays is quite tangential to that approach. We enlist the people for jobs once we determine that they are the perfect fit and then we assign the tasks to those who demonstrated the ability to execute those tasks in the past. Entirely risk averse. No risk or reduced risk is what the aim is. The space and time required for the ideas to flourish are not provided and then we wonder why aren’t we living in another renaissance?

Colors – The Paragone within

Voice by KHMRS is being played in the background while I write this. When I was a kid and before I had any comprehension of Physics and optics, I always wondered that if light can divide itself into rainbow colors then if I will mix the VIBGYOR then may be I will get white or something made of light but every single time I got some blackish muddled color like my thoughts and also warnings from my mother on wasting colors. After many years, in one of the books I borrowed from Dr. B C Roy’s children’s library in New Delhi I read about the additive and subtractive mixing of colors giving rise to white light and the blackish color of my mix. In short, when you mix RGB lights in 1:1:1 then you get white light. While when we mix the colors the concept that is used is called the subtractive mixing e.g. a shirt appears blue when white light shines on it because it absorbs all colors but reflects only blue back. The same shirt might appear of different color when looked in different light. The color of an object does not reside in the object itself. The color is in the light that shines upon the object and that ultimately is reflected or transmitted to our eyes. 

Mixing of colors wasn’t a welcome activity before renaissance, many purists didn’t like the idea of mixing color and their argument that there is nothing a color can add to the black and white world. If a painting is great then it is great, an addition of color can’t have an effect on it’s intrinsic value. White and black were considered the natural colors and rest were just derivations.

The competition, rivalry, tussles were the hallmarks of the renaissance period and one of the fiercest debate or paragone as it was called during that time between colore(color) and designo(design and drawings). Design was with Florence and Color with Venice and Venetian colore has always been characterized as sensual e.g. Titian’s Venus and the Lute player – the painting that hangs in the MET. While the guiding principle of disegno is manifested in lines, contours, and forms. While disegno was considered more intellectual and rational form of art, colore was seemed as vulgar but with the advent of renaissance, both the ideas got an uplift and world became vivid with colors.

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Venus and the Lute Player

An ode to café

What better way to write an ode to coffeehouses than being in one and drinking the most popular drug of all the times.

How coffee works?

Our brain has adenosine and adenosine receptors, when both of them come in contact then drowsiness or sleep is induced. Caffeine when taken in binds itself to the adenosine receptors and thus blocking opportunity for adenosine to bind. The nerve cells speed up in this process and pituitary gland thinks of it as an emergency and thus releases loads of adrenaline hormone which is the fight or flight hormone.

 

Other things about Coffee and coffeehouses!

Cities such as Seattle, Vienna, Reykjavik, London rank consistently higher in number of coffeehouses that call home to these cities. In 2011, UNESCO put cafes in Vienna as part of the intangible heritage of the city and it is true indeed. But the first cafe in the world, Kiva Han, was opened in Constantinople(modern day Istanbul) in the year 1475 and soon they mushroomed all over the world and are thronged by all. There are the famous ones such as café central in Vienna that served as the incubator for the likes of Freud, Trotsky, and Lenin.

 

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Café Jax – Upper East Side Manhattan

I am one of the loyal ones with an allegiance to this dark drink but more than that I prefer to sit, read, and observe in these establishments. I have had moments of flow there that is curated by the moderate level of noise that can send one in the mode of diffused focus, one of the state that helps in creative thinking and launches one in the space where inner and outer imagination meet and create something that can’t have taken flight on terra firma.

Alfred Polgar in 1927 in his essay “Theory of café central“said that the place is for those people whose hatred of their fellow human beings is as fierce as their longing for people, who want to be alone but need companionship for it. This is the exact feeling I get in New York City, you can be alone but can be with millions of people. The coffee houses are like the archipelago of people who are alone yet close, may be that’s the reason I do like the archipelago cities – NYC and Stockholm as examples.

These sanctified places provide refuge to the ideas, the lonely ones and to the gregarious alike. Here you can concoct an ephemeral world within the tangents of humdrum and mundane world.

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Café Central – Vienna

 

Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.

The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.

It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.

 

Color me saffron

A few days ago when I was sitting in Scheltema in Amsterdam, I found a book named The Secret Lives of Color on the shelf. It was an interesting find. I quickly read the quoted stories on few of my favorite colors and was delighted to see the aspect of history associated with them. While I was about to return the book, I thought of another color – Saffron that forms a part of the tricolor flag of India.

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and at one time saffron color was one of the most expensive ones. In 1444 a man was burnt alive in Nuremberg for he used to adulterate saffron with marigold and used to stretch profit margins. The spice is so fragrant that Cleopatra used to bathe in milk and saffron.

In Indian context, the color represents strength and courage in the nation and in terms of Hinduism it represents the holiest color among all colors. It is the color of burning flame that can purify, it represents the sacrifice. The priests, the monks, the learned ones wear the color indicating renunciation of worldly wealth. S Radhakrishnan said the color in the flag should symbolize renunciation and disinterestedness. Indifference to the material gain should be the fundamental rule followed by leaders but we have seen umpteen times how the country has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Scheltema – The Secret Lives of Color

Scheltema – a book store on Rokin st. near Dam Square in Amsterdam is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the oldest in Netherlands serving the bibliophiles since 1853.IMG_20180311_122700

When I walked in, some children’s activity was going on and a few volunteers were arranging things. I was scouring for the Tulipmania by Mike Dash for I was interested in how tulips came to a level at one time that single bulb of tulip costed more than cost of a house. It mirrors today’s economy when we think of bitcoin’s surge in past few months.

I finally found it on 4th floor of the store in the history section and sat down on a cosy chair to flip through the pages. There was a lot of moving space around and the place carries the attitude of a young and confident speaker, telling stories coherently in a cogent fashion but I won’t compare it with the capitalism that Barnes and Noble brought to the world.

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Apart from the American Book Center on Spui 12, Scheltema is another place where one can find quality English literature in Amsterdam area.

It’s here I realized how wonderful oil pastel art can be and thus I picked a random book from the shelf named The Secret Lives of Colors. It is so interesting to see the possibility of a book on colors. Soren Kierkegaard said “Is anything more sparkling, more dizzying than the possible?”  The book provided history on many colors, how they were found, what’s the significance, which artists use them, how do they align with the values of various countries, what is/was the economic significance of certain colors. It would lead you to the paths of history where you can find yourself in the multitude of kaleidoscope of  hues and pigments. It is a compendium of answers that will establish the connections such as bard, green, and envy. I wonder what Moilere might be thinking here?

The Shakespeare of Vienna

It is humanly impossible to have all the experiences of the world (at least that’s my belief at this point of time) but the paper friends come in handy there. Books are the portals to  unknown adventures, we can live a thousand lives and experience myriad emotions at the same time. In the era of kindles and nooks there is something about the independent bookstores that allures a tumbleweed. The unkempt bookshelves with piles of books packed tightly in close quarters such that various characters and the plots can talk to each other from various stories.  Akin to vast empty space where you can drift forever or stumble upon something which will be your moment of truth, they epitomize the brain of a someone who wants to know it all but is busy scouring the pieces that are yet to be uncovered.

A week ago during a cold and wet winter evening in Vienna, I stumbled upon this bookstore – Shakespeare and Company booksellers, and was I delighted. I was roaming around the old part of the city and it started raining heavily, I took refuge under a window sill to open my bag and get umbrella out and that’s when I saw this bookstore from a distance and I knew immediately that I have to go in.

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The charm of old bookstores is never fading, there is a sense of comfort in the ramshackle appearance and the disorganization. They are like human beings growing old over a period of time and accepting one’s flaws and being humble about it but not apologetic.

The bookstore is located on Stergasse and near Rupert’s church and Stephansplatz. The readers and writers have to go in for a time travel while walking in the labyrinth of this place on creaking wooden floors to get their dose of stimulant.

Stalker

 

Sifting through a myriad number of films that have been produced till now can be a herculean task and if I were to leave it on chance to find films that I would enjoy then I would be getting to see the gems once in blue moon only. Today only I was discussing this with a friend of mine that there are millions of things that have to be done, millions of books to be read, places to be visited, songs to listen to, movies to watch, emotions to express and experience, will one lifetime be enough for that?

I knew about Filmstruck for a long time and decided to have the trial version of the same for the 14 days before I would start my work-related travel again. I watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s  Trois Couleurs Bleu, A French classic – Une affaire de femmes, a couple of Swedish ones namely Together and the famous – I am curious Yellow. I had kept Stalker – the 1979 soviet sci-fi in my watch list and was I delighted to watch it?

When I started writing this post I thought I would write a review for this masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky but in between I have changed my mind and my propensity is towards the instruments and film theory Tarkovsky resorted to while he directed this one. There is not an iota of question that the film is a strange one, not easily digestible, set in a post-apocalyptic world, talks in ciphers and cryptic language. The medium is terse and esoteric, talks philosophy, and focuses on single frames for a long time, at times as long as 4 to 5 minutes. Such lengths make people uncomfortable. Why? May be it makes them bored. Boredom is quite magical, it makes you do things that you wouldn’t have done otherwise even if it means jumping from one task to the other aimlessly. But the question is – Is this movie meant for everyone? May be not. Soviet state committee pointed out that the film isn’t immersive but alienating the audience and is slow. Tarkovsky replied it is the way it should be.

The arrogance and obstinacy is what is attractive here. Tarkovsky was assiduous, arduous, and audacious in one of his final attempt. So was Bertolt Brecht, the man who coined the concept of Verfremdungseffekt, popularly known as alienating the audience. Most of the movies that we see these days rely on CGI for the grandeur or the emotional manipulation of the audience. In layman terms, you identify with the main character of the film and go on an emotional roller coaster with that character. You laugh and cry in unison, one such example is Roman Holiday in which people can start relating themselves to princess Audrey Hepburn and l’ordinaire journalist Gregory Peck. To Brecht, emotional manipulation meant vile and scrupulous like a lie that steals your right of knowing the truth. This concept cuts chords with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

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At this point, Brecht decided to alienate audience than immersing them in the film watching experience. They would be looking at the characters, film, the plot, the props as an outsider. The audience won’t become part of the emotional experience but will be a self appointed critique. The end goal was to distance the viewers so they can take a rational decision on the plot, events, and the actions of the characters. Tarkovsky used this method well to create a radical, surprising, and a critical product – Stalker. The art practice no longer remains a bourgeois and lofty one but can assimilate with the audience without manipulating them emotionally. Another film that follows the similar path is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. I was thoroughly bored when I watched it for the first time and anticipated ‘something’ will happen but after 3 hours 45 minutes, the film just ended and I felt deceived. I was naive. After watching Stalker that belongs to the similar genre, I felt challenged. The film challenged me to remain bored, to maintain the static nature and then observe my surroundings. It challenges us to try and take a step away from the buffet of dissipation and profligacy and visit the mysteries of the zone. It is inline with Brecht statement that sometimes it is important to be human than to have good taste.

PS: Today I had a mathematical model’s delivery at work and while wrapping up the presentation I asked my clients to be devil’s advocate while checking the model or if we talk in film theory, I would like to alienate my audience so they can take a rational decision on the final product. We all had a hearty laugh.