Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Ray of Light. Satyajit Ray: The Great Directors Retrospective



Few things from my childhood I can recall emotionally, but one that I can is watching the Academy Awards.  The year: 1992.  I had no real interest in who won or lost; truth be told I didn't have a clear idea of what these awards meant, only that it was something on television.

Audrey Hepburn comes to present a special award.  I didn't know who she was, but I thought even at her age, she was particularly beautiful.   She was going to give an Honorary Oscar to Satyajit Ray.  I loved the way she said that name.  After a few remarks, we got to see a short film about his films.

Perhaps it is blasphemy to say this, but it was to my mind a bit like how Paul had the scales fall from his eyes at the end of the sequence.  I can say that I had never seen anything like that footage before in my life.  As a Hispanic kid from Texas, I obviously wasn't watching Indian films.  However, by the end of that sequence, I sat with my mouth opened, stunned at the sheer genius that I had just been shown. 

In short, I was simply amazed by the visual majesty and power of Satyajit Ray's films.  I will never forget the final clip: the King of Ghosts tells two men their dreams will come true.  The camera pulls back to reveal this demon-like creature sitting before a star that lit up in sequence while he chanted in a strange voice and moved his neck left right left right.  I later learned this was from the film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (translated extremely loosely as The Adventures of Goopy & Bagha).  I later saw more of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, and what I saw amazed me: the Ghost Dance--a daring montage of various dances in all styles that is visually stunning.

I can't say to be an expert on Ray or know many of his films, but I do know that visually, he melded the uniqueness of the Indian culture with the sensibilities of the Western film.  Ray did bring a humanity to his stories, touching on the shared connection between those of varied cultures to where the stories be the comic or tragic were things a person outside the subcontinent could relate to.

As I study more of Ray's films, from Charulata to The Apu Trilogy, I see the craftsmanship in his work.  I look forward to exploring this fascinating filmography.

This sadly is how I remember Ray: an old man, clutching his Oscar, on his literal deathbed.  Better late than never I suppose.  Even from what little I know of Satyajit Ray, I think him among the best filmmakers we've had.

Continue exploring The Great Directors with me as I continue to expand on those filmmakers who have shaped cinema in the United States and around the world.

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