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Perhaps that is why movies of Chaplin are ageless. You laugh and cry with him as a child and as a ‘grown up’, but as the latter, you realize the true genius of the man.
Art without commentary on things around it is worse than useless, a mere trinket, soon forgotten. This movie proves that the medium can provide entertainment and make a profound political statement as well, while never becoming preachy or descending into propaganda.
And the best way to make a statement, especially a political one, is to make it through a satire. And this is what this movie does brilliantly…
The very first scene gives a clear indication of what is to follow – a herd of sheep morphs into people coming out of a factory while the voice over narrates the joy of pursuit of happiness via modern capitalism.
Chaplin is a worker in a factory, a place where literally everything is controlled and the worker is no better than another cog. The boss is a like Big Brother, appearing on TV screens (even in the bathroom) and commanding the work to be speeded up (all the while himself doing nothing except work on jigsaw puzzles). There are many memorable scenes in the factory sequences – that of Chaplin trying to keep up with his work of screwing nuts, being force-fed by a feeding machine which is supposed to increase productivity (by cutting down on lunchtimes) and of course of Chaplin having a nervous breakdown.
This was made at the time of the Great Depression and Chaplin proves his genius by weaving into the story all the tensions, the helplessness, the dehumanisations that the common man went through in trying to maintain his dignity. Right from trade-unions to robbers trying not to starve, to street-smart yet vulnerable gamins trying to get by, Chaplin brings in every aspect of society at that time – all the while, never losing his comic touch. He pairs up with an doughty orphaned gamine girl (Paulette Goddard) – making a team of two, a team that is determined to survive at all costs.
Amidst all the gloom of the times, the two are refreshing in their innocence and their unwillingness to let go of their small dreams. The scene where the two dream of a home together is hilarious as it is touching.
The film ends with them walking towards the horizon, not giving in to failure. The last lines of the movie pretty much sums it all up –
Gamine: What's the use of trying?
Chaplin: Buck up – never say die. We'll get along.
As simple as that…
When it ends, you realize that you have laughed with abandon at the all of the crazy scenes (the waiter scene, Chaplin’s nonsense song, the roller skating scene among many many others) and have also been touched profoundly.
It is a movie that makes as much sense today as it did seventy years ago. Except the superficial looks, nothing much has changed really…
A movie not to be missed. Chaplin and film-making at its absolute best…
The controversy that this movie has generated is a testimony to how important this movie and what it says, is. The movie is about people about whom the world chooses to sympathize from a distance and claims to understand using a remote. The movie brings a human face to the people under one of the longest running and brutal occupation in modern history, an occupation that hasnt stopped being schizophrenic, ever since the start.
This movie is ultimately about the choices that people make, under a situation where there seems no way out, except one. It is a world where death and martyrdom is taken as a way of life, as a given, as the only dignified answer to a life of humiliation, the only defiant answer to a war machine that kills without mercy . It is a world where you go to dinner with your family at night and prepare to blow yourself next morning and you would have a complete justification, without self pity as to why you must do it.
The story is about two friends, Said and Khaled, who are selected for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The story is about how they go about preparing – as a soldier of the cause and as a human being. The story is also about Suha, the daughter of a famous martyr, who believes in an alternate way to fight the Zionist enemy. The movie is ultimately about the choices each one makes, while giving us a glimpse into how they think, how they view the world and the enemy, and also why they think and act the way they do.
The movie is short and extremely powerful with some searing poignant scenes (Like Said’s last visit). It does not glorify or take sides, something that would have been all too easy, unconsciously if not consciously. There are no heroes, neither are there villains. The ‘enemy’ – is that the child who got up on the bus at the bus-stand? Is it heroic to take lives? It does not attempt an answer but leaves the door wide open for thought.
It takes an almost dispassionate view of the human cost of a situation that the world is weary of. And it makes you look deep into the faces of the people who have been sidelined to a few paragraphs in the daily newspapers, the people who have nothing left except their bodies to fight tanks and jets.
It is an important movie. For all of us…
As is clear from the title, Tariq Ali positions this book in defiance of the term ‘Axis of evil’ given by Bush Jr. And its a defiant book to the last page. And its a book that is both a manifesto of hope and a reminder of events which the mainstream media wants us to forget or worse, remain ignorant of.
The book is mainly about a new way of life that is being developed in Venezuela and Bolivia which takes Cuba’s legacy as its inspiration. The book traces the history of the region and talks about the various ups and downs that have taken place in the region’s (Latin America) struggle for self determination. He also makes a report card of how the progress has been.
What makes this book delightful, when the subject matter is such that it could have easily become a boring tome of facts and sloganeering, is the way in which Tariq Ali approaches the subject. In his inimitable style he takes on a host of varied subjects and ties it up together in one theme.
He starts off with a scathing attack on the turncoat socialists who abandoned their beliefs when the ‘end of history’ happened after collapse of Soviet Union. After this, he positions this book as an account of those who resisted and have been able to give us a different way of looking at social, economic and political problems of our time.
Tariq Ali dons the role of a pirate and revels in it. He discusses politics of the region and the fallouts especially Venezuala and its most famous leader till date – Hugo Chavez. The book discusses his rise and his consolidation and his socio-economic policies and why what he is doing is a lesson to everyone. Ali discusses Cuba and Bolivia as well, Cuba as the inspiration for Chavez and Bolivia and Morales as the inheritor of Chavez of both. He also discusses the history of the region with a whole chapter on Simon Bolivar, the inspiration for whole generations of Latin American revolutionaries. Its not only a discussion of events but is an analysis of whys and hows and which way in the future. Its the latter part that makes it so important.
The book never lets up and is a refreshing call to arms for people who are aware of the developments and a starting point for those unaware.
These discussions attain an important significance today with the collapse of neo-liberal policies, policies which were considered infallible till a few months ago and which have been proved to be hollow and worse, highly dangerous. This book, then, is a book of hope and of rebellion against ‘conventional wisdom’.
This book’s greatness lies not because of any complexity but because of its seeming utter simplicity, which when taken in context of the subject matter leaves the reader with a sense of horror.
The crime of Soviet Russia under Stalin against its own people is today a well documented fact and it is Solzhenitsyn, a victim himself, who was one of the first to start the movement. Even though the facts are well known, they in no way prepare you for a personal journey through the mind and eyes of someone who has been directly a part of it.
The book is a chronicle of one day of a prisoner called Ivan Denisovich, a carpenter, who is numbered S-854, in an unnamed Siberian camp. What makes this book so believable in the first place is that Ivan Denisovich (or Sukhov as he is called in the book usually) is an absolutely ordinary person who would normally be living a quiet unobtrusive life somewhere. He does not have an ‘education’ and has lived the life of a craftsman – a carpenter. For this reason, he does not have an ideological or political underpinning to his condition and this is what make the book and its account an account of the ordinary men and women. Because the book then becomes one of survival – while trying best to maintain a modicum of dignity and self respect. It also becomes an account of compromise, in many strange ways.
Sukhov makes the reader go through his day with its difficulties and small joys and peppers it with his observation. Any person who has read prison accounts would know that prison changes priority of things and small things become things of great importance. We understand that in theory. What Sukhov does is that he makes the importance of those small things so obvious that you would find yourself believing in it and agreeing even before you know it – like the spoon that has been with him for eight years or a piece of steel that he risked punishment to smuggle in to the camp. He makes these things seem so much like everyday life and of so high importance that you are forced to jolt yourself out of the book at times to realize that what is being described is a part of history that is shameful, a part in which the prisoners were treated as mere commodity and worse and that this was a life that was utterly brutal and inhuman. Then you realize that the perspectives are different – you would be looking at the experience from a distance in time and would be taking a mere historical overview. Sukhov, on the other hand is trying to get by each day and things that would not strike us as essential to us becomes a matter of life and death in the camp – something that an old hand like Sukhov understood implicitly without dwelling too much on them.
For example, the need to keeping some bread on the side (hidden, sewn away in his mattress)for emergency or the cunning needed to get a second helping of a bowl of mess food which was more water than food is given the importance that it had in their lives. The importance of the work gang in their lives and the small things necessary to keep their body warm while working in freezing cold on things which seem unnecessary is shown starkly.
The slow and unconscious dehumanization or should we call it de-civilization is shown brilliantly . He lives only in the present out of sheer necessity and out of habit. At one time he dwells on the fact that he does not have any responsibility except for himself – the higher ups make all the decisions for him and it suited him just fine. He makes references to the casual and often unnecessary brutality of the guards but not out of any real anger – they are just doing what they are supposed to do and you did your best to do things without getting caught. His personal references are scant – we are told he has a family in his village. He had told his wife not to write letters anymore since there was nothing that he could write and he could not relate anymore to the ‘outside’ world. We are left to judge for ourselves whether this is escapism or realism or both working in tandem. His family is his work gang and his father is the gang boss who takes care and looks out for them. He wonders whether he actually wants to go back to his village if the authorities ever let him go. He realizes he does not know whether he can fit back. The things which we hold to be so self-evidently important and feel so emotional about have become a world which exist only in the abstract for him.
It is a Kafkaesque world which is a truth in itself. There are higher-ups who are mysterious and the only point of contact for the prisoners to this mystery are the wardens and guards – victims of different sorts themselves.
There are two parts of the book that I found particularly terrifying. The first one is that when the prisoners are hurrying to get back to their own camp from the work camp before its gets cold and before the other work gangs come and fill up the places they want to go – mess, barber etc. We understand that this is one time of the day that they get for themselves and they want to get there as soon as they can. When one of the members is missing because he had fallen asleep, the prisoners howl at him like animals and are literally ready to kill him with their bare hands because by being late, he had ended up making everyone lose time. Even a normally sane Sukhov is ready to tear out the late prisoner’s limbs. The guards count again and again and then they set off. On the way they see that another work gang was coming late. On seeing this, Sukhov’s gang start running inspite of exhaustion just so that they get ahead of this gang and save some time. The race is shown as vitally important to their survival. This almost necessary anger born out of lack of anything else to direct it to is one of the chilling passages.
By far the most terrifying part comes at the end when Ivan Denisovich looks back at his day and feels that it has been a ‘great day’ – he could preserve the extra bread he had saved, he was able to get two extra helping of the food, he managed to smuggle a piece of steel that he could use for making a knife, he had felt good making a wall as prison work, he had bought off some tobacco and he had not been put in the cooler (punishment cell). He felt good and he felt at home…