Friday, May 29, 2009

Opeth and the Dionysian Principle

It's a disgusting day outside. Dis-gust-ing.

Late Old French desgouster, to lose one's appetite : des-, dis- + gouster, to eat, taste (from Latin gustre; see geus- in Indo-European roots) [1]

It has been grey for three days, with that miasma of sky-piss and blanketed grey that serves to beat any latent depression into blazing life. So much for the first week of my summer break.

This is the perfect weather for listening to Opeth, though. Even better weather for putting on 'Deliverance' and 'Watershed', and reliving the show at the HOB in Boston on May 2nd.

Access the show's set-list here.

I had meant to review the show here post-haste, but that's the thing with an Opeth show: you're stuck in a sound reverie for about five days after it, every word you write to attempt describing it pales in comparison to the actual experience. It doesn't help that the sound system at the HOB owns. Screw stadium shows: there's nothing like catching a club tour if you are lucky enough to do so. I was standing with my back against the metal chain-links that protected the sound pit from the milling mob. One of the sound techs had on a well-worn crew shirt from a Queen tour-- you just *knew* that this guy was passionate about all the knobs, dials and buttons he was playing with, and had honed his skills to a fine point. The bass and treble played out beautifully, and all that the row of us acting as the sound pit's front guard could do was lean against the metal meshing and give in to the gorgeous onslaught of sonic power.

I personally consider myself lucky enough to have caught Enslaved live, as they opened for Opeth. Not going to go into an in-depth take on their music, when it is obvious this guy already has, and with great authenticity of feeling. Enslaved put on a great live act (the HOB has a no-click rule, but thankfully Jason Sheesley posted gorgeous pics from this tour here). They are not interested in the performance, they are there to play their face-melting Viking metal, with enough power to shake every Scandinavian squirrel out of the ash Yggdrasil. Hadn't heard them before. Have decided though, they sound better live than on myspace, and only dip into the prog metal work that Opeth likes to dive deep in.

Vertebrae is probably a good gateway album for folks like me who haven't heard the older, meaner Enslaved. One track (can't find the set-list anywhere, but will edit this post once I check the album over twice) in particular made me reminisce about the troll that the lads from Metalocalypse invoke: one of my top five favourite dethklok moments. Ever.

Some folks got into it, but you could tell most everyone was there for Åkerfeldt & Co.

N.B.-- Opeth is not limited by the death metal tag. Being at an Opeth show is like listening to King Crimson, Black Sabbath, King Diamond, and Floyd all at once. Being at an Opeth show is to require no other stimulant apart from the music itself. It is to merely stand there and let your body and mind be taken over by the sound. Nothing else matters, truly: Opeth isn't a band of personalities and stage antics. It's a band of ten-minute operatic masterpieces and beautiful, long Swedish man-hair.

There is no single demographic that listens to Opeth, either. There were grubby school boys, older biker chicks, retired insurance agents, genuine metal heads, a group of Assamese gents n' ladies and the few mandatory emo children present, all of 'em adorned in black, for the most part. There were the Opeth forum folk, who knew every lyric and referred to key Opeth tracks by their recognized acronym (TNATSW, for instance). Lots of women, some who began dancing mid-mosh, which was great. Nothing like a metal chick dancing to Opeth. Something about the band's music, or perhaps popped X adds grace to human bodies like nothing else. Opeth was the pied piper, and each one of us moved the way their playing told us to. It helped that Mike Åkerfeldt has a ridiculously good sense of humor. He might just end up being the godfather of heavy metal stand-up, one day.

And the moshing. By all that is powerful in heaven and hell, what moshing. Esp. during Lotus Eater.

Some enterprising dick actually recorded some of it, which is awesome.

Mashallah-- I'm not the first one to comment on the correlation between the Dionysian and Heavy Metal. Weinstein (2000) said it best:

Dionysian experience . . . is embodied in the unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The Dionysian is juxtaposed to a strong emotional involvement in all that challenges the order and hegemony of everyday life: monsters, the underworld and hell, the grotesque and horrifying, disasters, mayhem, carnage, injustice, death and rebellion. Both Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) and Chaos (the most ancient god, who precedes from itself) are empowered by the sonic values of the music to fight a never-ending battle for the soul of the genre and to join together in combat against the smug security and safety of respectable society (35).
[get your hands on Weinstein's 'Heavy metal: the music and its culture' if you can. All the ladies downing vodka bulls will think you infinitely more awesome than you really are, of course. *coughs* ]

Opeth is technically not what you would call a mosher band. But something special happened that night, as people collectively moved into a frenzied zone of interaction which was war/rite of passage/youth/magic/delirium all meshed into one. We could've raised the dead that night, or at least a troll or two. We could've slapped the world into a wide-awakening, without knowing we had done so, not caring that we had, so caught up were we in the beauty and olden-type ritual magic that pervaded the general admission area at the HOB.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ru-Ba-Ru: a Review

Disclaimer #1: I'm more of an independent movie fan, so if you're looking for in-depth pop references to older films, Hindi or otherwise, or cutesy tid-bits about the costume designer or choice of filming locations, you're at the wrong blog.

Disclaimer #2: I'm not a B-wood fangirl. I have watched exactly seven bollywood films in my 24 years of existence, the choice of which never depended on a particular artist's ability, but more on whose birthday treat was paying for what ticket. Of that list, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, is still my favourite.

Disclaimer #3: I know the director. As a writer and a friend, I count him among the select few who have a standing invitation to my funeral. However, this fact did not compel me to feverishly seek a torrent of his movie Ru-Ba-Ru when he told me about its release in September 2008. Nor did I ask mum to FedEx a copy over, or find a kind soul who would zip a .rar version and upload it on some massive oasis of server space at his/her disposal. In fact, it took me eight months and the collapse of a precariously balanced stack of discounted DVDs-- the one next to the discounted Parle-G biscuit stack-- at a local Indian grocery store to notice that a copy of Ru-Ba-Ru could be mine for what is essentially the cost of a large green tea and a sesame bagel at the Au Bon Pain in downtown Boston.

Things I love about this film?

  1. It's run time. I know many folk who share at least 50% of my ethnicity enjoy the three hour song, dance and tears experience, but I for one would prefer to have my left eyeball dug out with a very blunt spoon (HT to Men in Tights) and eaten by a petulant Moroccan-trying-to-pass-for-French female shop assistant at the pastry wing of Harrods at Knightsbridge who was just told by her vicious little Japanese co-worker that Indian eyeballs were a great cure for the clap. In case you missed my point-- The movie held my attention right till the end.
  2. A lack of item numbers. And item PYTs.
  3. A fresh soundtrack. The track 'a beautiful day' needs special mention. Won't say more-- go read this guy's take for further details. He sounds like he gets paid for doing what he does.
  4. The ballsiness with which it gives the finger to certain ingrained Bollywood tropes: the traditionalist parent is missing, as is the overly sympathetic one. Gone is the angry patriarch, the greater cast/community/family/clan/village to whose whims the lead actors usually give in or die in their attempt to protest. There is no cloyingly cute kid brother, no amusing side-kick, no the group identity portrayed through song, dance and bad costuming.
  5. Corollary to # 4: fresh supporting characters. The mother and step-father of Nikhil are apologetic, understanding; they reach out to their prodigal son despite the distance he has maintained for so many years, and tell his girlfriend to forget about touching their feet-- a glorious eff-off to one of the most sacred cliches of family scenes in Bollywood. Tara's mother echoes the female Indian parent stereotype, but the fact that Tara controls their flow of communication (the mother is never seen, only heard as distant bleating over long distance phone calls) gives a realistic, modern slant to their dynamic.
  6. No extended choreographed song/dance scenes. Though I will say, I don't believe the movie needed Tara's post-play "impromptu" performance-- Her ease with figuring out the intro chords/timing, and the spontaneous entry of costumed dancers (yet another revered trope) was a bit too.. err, promptu, for that particular scene. I would assume that someone integral to the film project must have declared that the life-affirming moment for the female lead had to come through a big finale in front of a 100% appreciative audience. Not sure, but hey, I've sat through worse. Really. I have.
The movie is very, very well made. The segues, the lighting (except for that final red filter in the cab), the establishing shots in the opening sequence... a lot about the camera work made me invest mentally and emotionally in this movie.

There were some things that threw me off-- like the camera treatment of the saxophone scene, and Tara's dialogues in the first half of the movie. Then again, the day I hear realistic female dialogue in a Hindi film of non-gritty subject matter, i.e. where the woman isn't fighting the ills of poverty, drug addiction, prostitution or an unmotivated husband given to arrack-guzzling, I shall spontaneously turn hermaphrodite and take Prince on in a UFC cage match.

I'm also not quite sure about Tara's motivation: until we are told that it's opening night, the character comes across as a poor little rich girl with one and a half daddy issues, striving to please her man. Her clumsy moments don't create comedy, but unease. They evoked in me painful memories of improv moments during Adzap on various inter-college cultural stages; perhaps if Tara's character was given a little more authenticity and grounding, I would have been able to relate to her in a happier light.

The radio bit in the opening scene didn't push my happy button, nor did the camera distance during the stage bits. But these are itty-bitty details, the stuff you come up with when you run a mind-comb through the things you like, such as best friends, favourite lovers and omelets ordered the same way at the same restaurant you've been going to for the past ten years, just because feeling that intimate with a person or thing, relating that closely tricks you into believing you have the delusionary right to do so.

I don't think Nikhil needed as many flash-back moments: those felt laboured, as did some of the foreshadowing bits. We all have a list of favourite movie scenes that have deja vu script treatments. My list for instance, includes (but is not limited to) memento, stranger than fiction, sliding doors, deja vu and of course, the black cat bit from The Matrix. Moments in the second half of Ru-Ba-Ru did stand out and create suspense, but I feel the scripting could have been more graceful here, & thusly could have added to the audience's building anxiety and Nikhil's desperation without necessarily turning it into a faux-action flick.

Googling to see what has been said about the film, I couldn't help but notice the repeatedly parroted statement that Ru-Ba-Ru is lifted from the Love-Hewitt flick, 'If Only'.

Um. So?

I'm sure some die-hard B-wood fan somewhere has blogged a list of Hindi movies that are "adaptations" or "homages" of existing movies, American and otherwise. Ladies n' gentlemen-- that list is long, and still growing. And it's not just scripts alone-- I've seen clips from Hindi films that pull from soundtracks, pop songs, mannerisms of various yank heroes and famous movie moments: the kaante/reservoir dogs walk scene, anyone?

The day I encounter a wholly original, non-derived Hindi movie... well, refer aforementioned statement regarding hermaphrodites and UFC cage matches. Like Jarmusch said, it's not about whether you derive or not-- It's how well you do it.

Additional Dialogue Quibble: The taxi driver's lines were predictable at times ("you already paid me yesterday" [paraphrase], for instance). Part of me did mourn Nikhil's final mini monologue but only because there is such anguish when you put yourself as a writer or person in that moment:

what can you tell the person you love most in the world about death, either yours or theirs? What can you tell them about dealing with a final absence, about all the time you are forced to give up spending with them, about the role of fate/god/chaos theory/luck? Perhaps the best thing to do is shuffle off one's mortal coil in silence-- think of that superb moment with Irfan Khan on the phone, towards the end of Nair's 'Namesake'.

I'm not sure.

What I do know is, the movie made me ask this question. It stirred emotions, and it made me impatient: I now want movies directed by Indians in India that are free of standard devices, every last frikkin bell & whistle of 'em. I want films that can be independently directed, free of any and all market forces. I want films that bitch-slap their marketing agents into telling the truth about a movie, for once, instead of pegging it to appeal to some established demographic. I want human stories: let them be melodramatic, colourful and accompanied by music for we are Indian after all, and some traits should never be changed, but in the name of all that has ever moved you, Ever, let these stories and their characters be real.

Go watch Ru-Ba-Ru. Fuck what the papers have told you, fuck what you heard, fuck your dependency on formulas and you just might allow yourself to be surprised by the degree of honesty in this film. It isn't perfect: it holds all the promise of what can be, instead.