Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Week Nine: Mira Nair's Work as a Director

I chose to watch the works of Mira Nair, an accomplished director born in India in the late 1950s.  Many of her films’ main characters are Indian, and the themes of such are based on cultural situations and values.  My evaluation of her works as a whole may be distorted, as I watched some of her more “English” films, such as Vanity Fair, which takes place in London, and New York I Love You, which as the title suggests, is set in the United States.  While many of her films could be defined by her role as an “auteur”, I believe the defining characteristic is the constant incorporation of her heritage.

That being said, several of her films seem to illustrate the “strong, independent woman”, or at least focus on the role of women in society.  Vanity Fair follows the progression of Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) as she overcomes poverty and enters a high-class society full of financial and romantic drama.  Monsoon Wedding explores the experience of an Indian daughter’s arranged-marriage.  Even Amelia, which is based on real-events and thus leaves little room for the director’s personal preference plot-wise, tells the story of the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic.   Although not always the case, it seems that female directors often take the opportunity to illuminate the power of the woman and create from the female perspective.  Browsing Nair’s filmography, however, one will also find The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a thriller featuring a Pakistani man and his search for the American Dream. 

So what is the defining characteristic of Mira Nair’s collection?  For any director, there will usually be exceptions when it comes to their entire filmography.  In Nair’s films, though, her culture constantly shows through.  It’s her rich background that influences her audio and visual artwork.  Though she was born in India, she now resides in New York City where she teaches in Columbia University’s film department.  She also spent time in Africa and is married to Mahmood Mamdani from Uganda.  Whether the film features an Indian or African cast, or themes from either culture, she skillfully integrates her personal background throughout her work.  New York, I Love You is a very peculiar film, as it is rather story-less.  It’s simply a series of short segments that introduce brief relationships, conflicts, or quirky stories.  The bright colors and music used especially in the opening segment are very powerful and reflect Indian culture.  Such a distinct portrayal of culture provides an interesting take on any film, for it puts a spin on the typical feel of a movie set.  Adding a “Bollywood” feel to a New York scene or an English cast generates an unfamiliar experience for the viewer and breaks from some of the stereotypes we typically see in genre. 

When a director is so connected to such a strong cultural background and is able to incorporate it into their works without deviating from the script, it creates a fresh experience for the audience.  Her influence on the actors themselves is interesting as well; before filming sessions, she has cast members engage in yoga, as she is also a dedicated yoga practitioner.  Mira Nair’s filmography has some diversity, but I believe her strong focus on women and Indian culture is the core of her success.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Week Seven: The Medium is the Massage Bonus Page

Week Six: Howl and the Characteristics of Our Generation

Our generation is in a constant state of advancement.  I believe a defining characteristic is the need for newness and change.  As our attention spans grow shorter and shorter, we crave fresh experiences and the latest technology.  We revolve our lives around the newest iPhone update, the newest edition of a video game in which you can have green hair instead of brown, the newest clothing store in town even though we’ve spent the last ten years perfectly satisfied with our current purchases.  In fact, society puts a lot of trust in the success of new enterprises.  Even with no guarantees of quality, efficiency, safety, and the like, we still pace impatiently up and down the sidewalk until the delivery of uncertain outcomes.   

I think perhaps this reflects how far our world has already come.  As technology and invention become more common, the demand grows exponentially.  Humans instinctively assume that manufacturing cannot cease, that companies will always take their products one step further.  That being said, as expectation increases, ability remains constant, which lends itself to fear of slowing down.  With where we stand in a modern sense, inventing something “new” becomes more challenging every day.  As the public racks its brains to create something with no promise of effectiveness, it lessens the importance of the past, of the comfort that has been there all along.

One film that speaks to our generation is Toy Story.  From the first to the third, Andy aged along with us.  We watched him pack for college as we simultaneously filled our rooms with cardboard boxes for the same adventure.  This is a more obvious connection between the film and our generation.  In addition, though, Andy also demonstrates the desire to “move on”.  His toys are devastated when he so willingly regards them as “no longer important”.  Although this may be more of a loss of childhood, it still shows how we have separated ourselves from the mind and imagination and have entered an electronic world.

Another film that demonstrates this idea of advancement is Click.  An adult experiences the conflict in this film, but the themes are still relevant to our generation.   Michael literally fast-forwards through his life with a remote that appears to make everything easy.   His dependence on this remote gets so out-of-hand that it spirals out of control.  This is a prime example of putting trust into something new and never-before experienced.  Our generation is a pool of bored consumers and optimistic risk-takers.