Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Intuition, Integrity, Character, Light

Christopher Doyle has been called the greatest cinematographer working in the movies today and also the most idiosyncratic, and is known for his perfectionism and eccentricity. I first came under the hypnotic spell of his lens when I realized that my love for Wong Kar-wai's movies had almost as much to do with Doyle's involvement with them than anything else (indeed, some wonder if Doyle hasn't been more integral to the success of Wong's films than Wong himself). Credited with essentially inventing the dominant vernacular of pan-Asian pop with Wong Kar-wai, and responsible for some of the most stunning images in modern cinema - blurry, frenetic street scenes, retro-styled couples in delirious clinches, grand historical vistas set off by swathes of saturated color - Doyle has developed a certain signature that is unique. He has the uncanny and apparently effortless talent to easily bathe his images in lush, almost supernaturally beautiful, colors and lights, but is also equally adept at catching the harsh and jarring fluorescence of a neon-drenched and essentially lonely and isolated urban existence, often in the same frame. Known for using extreme angles and vanguard color grading, his camera can be both an impassive observer of great and scattered urban and natural landscapes, and also a gentle voyeur probing into the deepest privacies of his subjects resulting in iconic portraits of sorrow and solitude.

Doyle's own life is as exciting as any epic blockbuster; brought up in suburban Sydney, he left Australia at the age of 18 to join the merchant navy. After three years traveling the world on a Norwegian ship, he came ashore again, and lived in India (working as an oil driller), Israel (cow herder) and Thailand (doctor of Chinese medicine) before gravitating to Taiwan, where he shot his first 35mm film, Edward Yang's That Day on the Beach, for which he won the Best Cinematography Award in the 1983 Asia-Pacific Film Festival. He now lives in Hong Kong, and considers himself to be an honorary Asian.

Here is the voice of the master himself, culled from various interviews over the years.

"Anybody who works with me knows what shit they're in for. They know he's had a beer for breakfast. They know he doesn't give a shit about certain technical aspects. They know he's a little bit out of synch, and he'll probably throw a spanner in the works. Or why would you bother calling me?"

"That (realizing that he was a professional cinematographer) scared the shit out of me. We were just playing around before. So I ran away to France to try and learn competence, and I realised it was all bullshit. You only need a little bit of technical knowledge. Most people can get it in a couple of months. The training of the eye is the real job, and that takes forever."

"I think if you get one image per film that actually works, it's better than average. Who's going to forget Maggie Cheung walking up those stairs (in In the Mood for Love)? Everything else is working towards that; it is a consolidation of ideas into an image."

"You make more mistakes. That's the point. You engage with your mistakes. You have to learn faster, quicker and more often and you'll never learn enough and you never get self-complacent. You know that learning is a never-ending process and you know that you never know enough. You trust things like intuition, or integrity, or character or light."

"Hollywood reminds me why I want to do Asian cinema. I think love is a cultural event. Language is a cultural experience. The films we make come from the culture we feel comfortable engaging with."

"I started making films in Asia, in Taiwan. I started making Chinese-language films so, yeah, I regard myself as a Chinese filmmaker, but I just happen to be white, or pink, actually. It's kind of like a delayed adolescence. I feel I grew up there. I was in my thirties by the time I was growing up. I still haven't grown up. It's just more familiar."

“I usually say that the three of us — that means the art director, William Chang, Wong Kar-Wai, and myself — are a menage-a-trois. It’s a very comfortable and incestuous relationship. Over the years, there’s developed a great deal of complicity and trust. We’re stuck with each other basically. Our visual taste is so similar now.”

"I’m a great fan of jazz music, and as you can see Wong Kar-Wai is obviously quite interested in different kinds of music. I think, at last, we get into—well, what I’ve always dreamed of doing is making films, like jazz music, just jamming. That’s very much how we work. It’s really like a jam session."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pure and Simple

An Oscar Wilde action figure - that is just so four-letter-word-ing amazingly awesome supercool kickass! And it even comes with a little bio-line and a list of quotations on the box. What will they think of next, really? Seriously, though, what cracks me up more than anything else is the 'choking hazard' warning, especially given the fact that the doll comes with bendable knees.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Bad Taste

John Waters has come a long way from his days as the high priest of trashy bad taste and has almost crossed over to the respectable mainstream - after all, none other than John Travolta reprises Divine's role in the Hollywood remake of the Tony-award winning Broadway musical adaptation of Waters' 1988 film Hairspray. However, fans of the "Pope of Trash" and "Prince of Puke" need not panic just yet. Though he now describes himself as a filthy elder, he is still very much the quintessential enfant terrible, maybe not quite enfant any more, but certainly still very terrible, refusing to grow up and always willing to shock and provoke outrage.

A Date with John Waters is his Valentine's Day treat for all his fans, and has been described as 'a chance to curl up on the director's couch and let him touch you a little inappropriately'. While one could complain that the eclectic and bizarre collection actually reveals impeccably good taste, much like his previous compilation A John Waters Christmas, I would say that the cover photograph alone (reclining with a very come hither look and a dirty collar - the shirt came from a thrift shop - shot by Marsha Resnick at the Dovil film festival in France, circa 1976) makes this album a must-have. And the fact that he has promised to bring us Breaking Up with John Waters if this collection sells well.

For those of you hungry for a bigger piece of him than this meager blog post has to offer, here is Waters on Fresh Air, All Songs Considered, YouTube (reading from the record's liner notes), and a song from the album, Josie Cotton's "Johnny Are You Queer". Which, incidentally, would be a rather sensible question to ask one's valentine before things could get inordinately painful and somewhat messy beyond control.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Look, Ma, no Menus

Or, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The new version of Microsoft Office has done away with menus in an effort to upgrade and overhaul the now ubiquitous interface that involves clicking, pointing, dragging, and dropping. David Pogue, who double clicks through technology for The New York Times, discusses the changes with Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition.

SI: Where are they heading with this?
DP: There have been some interesting efforts. One clue is the rise of these instant search commands in both the Macintosh, and now in Windows Vista, where you type a few letters of what you are looking for, and up pops the thing, whatever folder it's buried in. And, if you think about it, that means that we needed a cry for help here because the folder thing was getting too unwieldy.

SI: Before mouses and icons and that sort of thing, people just typed a command into a computer. Might we eventually head back toward that system now?
DP: Well, that's what's cracking me up. That's what everyone pooh-poohs as the old stone age way of using a computer by memorizing and typing commands. But this is one of the most touted and beloved features of both the latest Mac OS and the latest Windows Vista, is you can start to do things by typing out little commands again. And the old timers are saying, 'Dude, didn't we do this twenty years ago?'

And what cracks me up is how The Next Big Thing is, more often than not, the same old wine in, if one is lucky, a slightly different looking bottle; little more than a forgotten and discarded leftover from the past, albeit reheated and touched up. Hooray for the shortness of public memory!

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Greatest Century

1. This is just part deux of my original Blogger's 100 posting. When I started the first one, I was initially apprehensive that I would never complete it; but I did, and the moment I did, I could already think of a couple more entries that didn't go in it. Thus the sequel.

2. At some deep dark basic level, I am quite convinced that I am totally incapable of being truly loved.

3. At the movies, I always want to stay till the final completion of the end credits. However, I almost never can, since most of my friends don't seem to share in that desire.

4. I find lonely people dining alone in restaurants almost heartbreakingly sad.

5. I am often vaguely intimidated by servers in upscale eateries or salespeople in fancy stores.

6. I don't think I have one favorite color. It usually changes with my mood.

7. Rosemary's Baby is my favorite horror film.

8. I will often do this kind of stay-in-one-place-spot-jump routine when I am really happy.

9. I will sometimes put off doing an unpleasant task till absolutely the very last moment.

10. The following is my most favorite knock knock joke of all time. (My friend Nina told it to me, and it is her mother's favorite joke too.)

"Knock, Knock..."

"Who's there?"

"Interrupting cow."

"Interrupting c..."


11. I don't really like Italian or Mexican food all that much.

12. I would love to visit South America and Australia some day.

13. Stanley Kubrick is the only English language director that I completely admire. (Of all his films, only Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut don't leave me gushing one way or another.)

14. One of my professors in college used to say that we could think of groups as Algebraic animals.

15. I have an undergraduate and a graduate degree in Statistics, and a post graduate degree in Quality, Reliability, and Operations Research. However, I don't use almost anything from any of these fields in the kind of work I do right now.

16. I had to move four times during my first six months in California. During this whole time, I stayed in the same zip code, and just moved around a couple blocks each time.

17. I left my parents' home for the first time after I graduated high school, and have never really gone back to live there for more than at most a couple months since.

18. I don't consider Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese to be great directors; I believe they are very competent craftsmen and storytellers, but not great artists.

19. I believe that well designed movie posters and book jackets can be great art.

20. I cannot, for the life of me, parallel park my car. (In my defense, I live in suburban parking heaven, so I have never needed to learn how.)

21. When discussing movies, I want to use terms like mise en scene and auteur or even didactic, but I am never quite sure exactly how to say them.

22. I used to go to high school riding on my bicycle. I had almost exclusively used only public transport till I learned to drive after moving to California.

23. I pooped my pants one time in elementary school; I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, and wasn't found out till my mother came to pick me up after school.

24. I have felt deeply humiliated too many times in my life to even keep count.

25. I would much rather volunteer my time than pay money to a charity.

26. While telling a joke, I occasionally tend to completely murder the punchline.

27. I abhor almost all kinds of jewelery and make-up. However, I find some piercings and tattoos to be secretly compelling and attractive.

28. While I don't much care for the music, there is something that draws me to punk.

29. Your Catfish Friend by Richard Brautigan is one of my favorite poems. So is He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by William Butler Yeats.

30. I can sometimes be obsessively compulsive.

31. Sometimes, when I have too much to do, I will feel somewhat overwhelmed and will do absolutely nothing.

32. I have been told, "Why the fuck don't you belt up?" at least once in my life.

33. When I was traveling in New Zealand our car was broken into and every single scrap of identification I had ever possessed was stolen. (We later learned that most of the other cars in that parking lot were broken into that evening as well.) The police eventually recovered my backpack and the only thing missing was $400 in cash.

34. Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! and This American Life are two of my favorite radio shows.

35. I have often submitted unsuccessful entries to the New Yorker cartoon caption contest.

36. The Betrayal (#164) is one of my most favorite Seinfeld episodes. All scenes in this episode were played in reverse order with a caption indicating the time frame of the scene in relation to the previous scene.

37. I am a pug lover; I find pugs to be absolutely and completely adorable.

38. Once, in Tokyo, I tried to speak in Japanese with a post office clerk. However, I literally turned around and fled once the conversation turned into something far more involved than what I was equipped to handle with my very limited collection of tourist book phrases.

39. I have recently discovered that I really enjoy going to waterparks.

40. I recently took the SAT and scored 800 on the Math, 750 on the Critical Reading, and 740 on the Writing sections. However, my essay score was only 9 (out of a possible maximum of 12).

41. My friend Claudio used to say that the one characteristic he would look for in a lover was enthusiasm; a deep and varied range of interests and the urge to pursue them eagerly and joyfully, and an openness to always try out new things. I don't think I could agree more.

42. I think falindromes are wicked cool. (For all those of you who cannot be bothered to click on the link, falindromes are fake palindromes: although they cannot be read the same forwards and backwards, their peculiar structure make it appear as if they can.)

43. I have watched a complete full-length feature film on youtube.

44. My coworkers and I sometimes play with a 40-foot long rubber band in our office parking lot.

45. I can think of a few words in my native language that don't have proper English synonyms. (Linguist Christopher J. Moore has published a collection of such words and phrases from around the world in his book In Other Words.)

46. I used to be able to recognize Orion's belt in the night sky.

47. I am not a purist when it comes to cooking; I will happily use substitutes and time and effort saving shortcuts whenever I need to.

48. The fact that I've lost much of the full head of luxuriant hair I used to have upsets me occasionally, but not to the point where I obsess or agonize over it.

49. I think I can be really patient when I have to.

50. I have trekked in the Himalayan ranges while I was still in high school.

51. When my coworker Ryan drew superhero versions of everyone in the office, I was Flash.

52. My favorite vegetable is probably green beans. While I will happily eat almost any vegetable now, there were a couple like pumpkin or bottle gourd that I wasn't too fond of growing up.

53. I often go to the most ridiculous extreme to recycle even the smallest scrap of paper or plastic even though I realize that it is probably not worth the energy and effort.

54. When I was younger I could turn on the charm at will fairly easily and make myself desirable to people if I really tried, getting them to like me and making them want to be my friend, but I strongly doubt if I can do it any more.

55. Pornography doesn't really do much for me. I am usually bored out of my wits after the first couple minutes, and would truly read Playboy for the interviews.

56. Of all movie directors who are actively working right now, Wong Kar-wai is probably my favorite. I also greatly admire Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou of China, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu of Mexico, and Pedro Almodovar of Spain. I consider all of them to be great auteurs, with consistent bodies of work and distinctive styles that deeply resonate within me.

57. KQED is the local public radio station that I subscribe to, but I will also occasionally listen to KALW.

58. I find it very difficult to say no to people. I also often try to please everybody and, as a direct result of that, get into the most convulsively complicated situations ever.

59. Once, when I was stranded on a particularly rainy night in Tokyo, a homeless man gave me his umbrella.

60. I have figured out the infamous "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." sentence, which is a grammatically correct example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated constructs, attributed to linguist William J. Rapaport. (The Tokyo dogs analogy does help.)

61. For the longest time I was absolutely convinced that 3D stereograms were an elaborate hoax, till the first one popped out at me rather unexpectedly a couple years ago. Since then, I have made it one of my life's mission to convert other non-believers.

62. Salil Chowdhury is my absolute all-time favorite Indian popular and film music composer, and Rahul Dev Burman is a close second.

63. Every time I write the word receive, I am afraid that I have mis-spelled it.

64. The first time I went to a KFC or a McDonald's or a Wendy's was in Tokyo.

65. I don't do well in large groups at all, preferring smaller and more intimate gatherings with close friends instead. At big parties I am usually found sulking in a corner, and this almost certainly comes off as being unsocial and conceited.

66. I find self flushing toilets very unpredictable and somewhat intimidating.

67. I had great fun pissing my friend Sid off by exclaiming "Whoopsie Daisy", an expression I picked up from the owner of a small breakfast place somewhere on the way to Wellington from Auckland, rather dramatically at any and every opportunity while we were traveling in New Zealand. (I tried to do the same with "Sweet, mate!", but that didn't quite stick.)

68. The first music CD I bought in the US was a Joan Baez compilation.

69. I have vertigo. That may be one reason why I have never been good at climbing trees.

71. I believe that the public library system in the US is one of the greatest triumphs of the free world.

72. I have always wanted to write a spoof version of the Beatles song "Hey Jude" that would begin "Hey dude".

73. According to me, "All mimsy were the borogoves" (from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky) is one of the finest and most perfectly amazing sentence fragments ever written in the English language.

74. If I had to restrict my fiction reading to just one genre, it would have to be science fiction. (Two intriguing authors I would encourage you to explore would be Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany. The former brings to the field her unique feminist perspective and voice, and the latter his "outsider" status as a gay African-American man.)

75. I had an almost life-size poster of Madonna (Louise Ciccone, not the virgin) on my college dorm room wall.

76. The literal meaning of my name is 'son of the earth'.

78. Growing up in India we measured temperature in Centigrade, so now I am constantly confused about how hot or cold it really is.

79. I have never had the confidence to approach people I really like, so all my life I have only gone on dates when I have been asked out. A couple times I have actually found out later that someone I had a secret crush on was also very interested in me, but we never connected because neither of us took the first step.

80. I was once told that I have the skin of a twenty year old. (I was way older than 20 at the time this happened.)

81. Life is undoubtedly often extremely unfair; however, I strongly believe that we can choose to be - in fact, almost have an obligation to be - happy nevertheless.

82. I avoid eating fast food as much as humanly and realistically possible. However, I do get the occasional craving for an In-N-Out burger, or a Lee's sandwich, or Popeye's fried catfish.

83. I used to think that Brie was a type of deli meat (probably because it reminded of the word brisket), and I was once quite upset and confused when the Brie sandwich I ordered came only with veggies and cheese.

84. I think I have discovered the perfect no-fuss snack: a generous hunk of Brie on a Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos chip. The contrast of the textures and flavors is quite amazing, even though my friend Sid says that just the culture clash alone would be enough to give him indigestion.

85. The thought that I may become too stiff to cut my own toenails when I am very old really frightens me a lot.

86. I don't know the names of any of my ancestors beyond my grandparents; in fact, to be very honest, I have even forgotten my mother's father's name.

87. Once someone asked me for the phone number to my college's admissions office, and I gave them my aunt's number by mistake. My poor aunt still occasionally gets phone calls asking the odd admissions related question.

88. I can never accept praise or compliments graciously; I start feeling extremely uncomfortable, and never know how to respond in an appropriate manner.

89. In January 1990, during the 13th International Film Festival of India in Calcutta, I watched five full-length feature films back to back in one day. I started with the first show in the morning, and attended various screenings at different theaters all day, finishing off with the last one at night.

90. While I am not even remotely religious, I generally have no problem accepting and respecting other peoples' personal faith; however, very overt expressions of religious beliefs, either individual or communal, do put me off quite a bit.

91. 'Teh' instead of 'the' is the most common typo that I almost certainly make multiple times daily. In my defence, I never really formally learned to type, and as a result, I have to constantly look at the keyboard instead of the terminal and mostly just use one or at most two fingers while I am typing.

92. I very strongly feel that monogamy, just by itself, should not be considered a virtue.

93. My friend Ryan says that fornication and food are my only two vices, but I don't agree with him. I don't think that either should be considered a vice.

94. I have been called both totally cool and totally bizarre. By the same person at the same time.

95. For a little while, my nickname in college was machine gun, but it didn't stick.

96. No one taught me how to masturbate. I figured it out myself, way before I reached puberty.

97. I have seven different e-mail addresses, five of which I regularly use.

98. Even though I know this to be untrue, I still believe that how hard or how many times you press the push button at an intersection determines how soon the walk signal turns on.

99. When speaking to myself, I never actually use my name, but often opt for the second person pronoun.

100. It only took me 73 days to come up with this list. That's 53 days less than what it took me the first time around. I must be getting better!