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Scenes from the life of flowers - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:52 am
Scenes from the life of flowers

I've been watching romantic Hindi musicals, retro ones from the 60s and 70s. I've been watching them for their breathtaking floral references -- sometimes it seems like flowers are the main characters -- but also listening to their arrangements, which I find admirable, and would like to learn from.



It's a style given to unison, solos, and turn-taking. Only one thing is foregrounded at any one time, but over the course of the song many elements come to the fore one by one, each with its own texture. A man's voice, a woman's voice, a sitar, a cimbalon, a flute, a string section, a rhythm, a synth. Here's a scene from "Ghar" (1978):



When you listen to that (it sounds a bit like Ariel Pink, the way some things jump out of the mix "too loud"), you almost feel like you're recording the parts one by one. They aren't mixed down into sludge yet. Everything is distinct and fresh.

Of course, the actors aren't the ones singing. A playback singer -- in this case, Lata Mangeshkar (the female voice) and Kishore Kumar (the male) -- has laid down the song, and the actor only lipsyncs, pirhouetting in a landscape of flowers. I like the deep focus on male-and-female in these clips. Somehow, we never take male-and-female seriously enough in the West. We're embarrassed by it. We skirt around it, trouser it. We'd like everything to be male-and-male. Maybe it's because we trace our culture back to Christianity and ancient Greece. We think we've advanced "past" male-and-female, but it may well be that it's something we've really yet to discover, something still ahead of us.

Even the bit where Vinod Mehra blows cigarette smoke in Rekha's face is sort of cute. She doesn't seem to mind. And the dresses... Anyway, here's another one, it's from "Saathi", a melodrama made in 1968. Here a blind man falls in love with his guide. But the main characters in this clip are flowers, representing sexuality but also the beauty of the world the blind man can't see:



I love the sinuous hummed melody (so catchy, despite the weird key change!), the rich colours, the surprisingly funky rhythm fills. Here's another, from an unidentified film featuring heaving branches of blossom and ethereal mountain views:



The actress is dressed, herself, like a white flower. The strings cascade as her lover climbs the slopes to be with her. Later, they're on a boat and there's a moment similar to the cigarette-smoke moment we saw earlier: the man splashes water in her face, and instead of reacting in fury the woman smears it suggestively across her mouth. The play of capitulation and resistance is super-stylized.

Here's a clip set in an orchard heaving with apples:



The point that human fertility is part of the natural cycle is screamingly obvious, but it's rare to see Western films in which people are treated like fruits and flowers. For some reason, this seems to be a thought more entertainingly entertained in India and Asia. It appears least of all in American and British films, and is particularly absent in our cinema since the 70s. We have become unfertile, or uninterested in fertility, it seems.

Here's a scene from "The Jewel Thief" (1967):



This is from "Shagird" (1967):



That's a bit more earthy and comic. There's a parallel made between the girl and a monkey in a tree. The actors hardly even bother to lipsync properly. The emphasis is on the over-emphatic dance moves -- and the flowers, of course.

Let's end with a song in English. This is from "Julia" (1975):



"My heart is beating, keeps on repeating", sings Laxmi. "My love encloses a flood of roses... Spring is the season that drops the reason of love in our dreams."

42CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:40 am (UTC)

Somehow, we never take male-and-female seriously enough in the West. We're embarrassed by it.

I can see how this line fits into the Momus mythic reading of the West, but where's the evidence for it? Are Western pop songs any less about the male-and-female? Are Western movies any less relentlessly heterosexual? You may have a point about there being less emphasis on fertility. But even there I'm not so sure. There's a whole swathe of celebrity culture that is precisely about that - about marriages, proudly displayed celebrity baby bumps, celebrities shown with their babies and children, celebrities vilified for not being a good mother, etc.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:10 am (UTC)

Do you really not get a sense, watching these clips, that Indian culture celebrates hetero-sensuality more successfully, more emphatically than we do? That there's no connection between the emphasis on fertility you note here and the difference between our birth rates (declining, on the whole) and theirs? Just what would they have to do to make the message clearer?

My feeling is that it's surprising a civilisation based on Plato and St Paul isn't even more anti-flesh and anti-hetero-fertility than it turned out to be. And I'd say that, as a rule of thumb, the more ancient the religion, the more attuned it is to agrarian rhythms -- the lives of plants and flowers, the festivals of sowing and reaping, and the proximity of these things to human fertility cycles.

Indian religions are much more ancient, and therefore much more attuned to these things.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:50 am (UTC)

Speaking of fertility, are you and Hisae planning on having any children yourselves?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)

No, we have rabbits instead.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:52 am (UTC)

'retro ones, from the 60s and 70s'

hello, nathan


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)

Nathan Barley? A fine fellow, picked on in the British TV series for not sufficiently sublimating his sexuality.

Take his name, for example. Barley, as in "Barleycorn". An attack on him is an attack on pagan fertility symbols going thousands of years back into British mythology. Morbid, puritan Christian moralism cannot abide "Barleycorn" or the pulsing primitive fertility he represents.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)

But people aren't like flowers and fruits at all.

Unless they made a film where all the humans grow genitals all over their bodies and some species of human are hermaphrodites and bees toss us off while wearing sperm on their bodies.

And then we grew babies inside a tasy film outside our bodies and other animals had to eat the baby-fruits and poop out the babies somewhere else so a human could grow out of it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:23 pm (UTC)

I think you just invented Matthew Barney!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)

how come indian chicks can be so pretty from the age of 15-25, but then you never see one that's even remotely attractive over 30?


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)

Jhumpa Lahiri is 39 and renders that hypothesis oh so wrong.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:21 pm (UTC)

It's nice to see you expressing enthusiasm for filmi, and especially for the pictures from which they derive! I get the impression that when alot of academic types take an interest in this fantastic music, they'd like to forget about the films with which they are integrated.

It's also nice to see you avoiding the slight perjorative "bollywood".
good on you!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)

I hope one of those academic types has written a thesis about the use of zooms in these films! I like how there's suddenly a pull zoom onto the flowers, or the mountains! It's as if the zoom lens is a direct correlative of spiritual longing or -- more formalistically -- a sort of thematic italicization.


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ximster
ximster
Hilding
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:44 pm (UTC)

Thanks from not so much of an Indian music lover for so much pure bliss delivered in one post.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
antical foliage

Found a great bog this spring up in Ravenshoe. Those little amphibians are deafening.
Is the chorus dialogue device, of everyone thinking aloud found in any Bollywood creations as well.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:11 pm (UTC)


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baronessvontito
baronessvontito
Ani
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)

yo check the link. o saathi re, got to be my favorite bollywood track of all time from my favorite bollywood movie (muqaddar ka sikandar). nice post.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=nK95xpLAAGQ


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
(muqaddar ka sikandar).

Musicals are popular but they have the odd gem regular narrative. Cheeni Kum
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqBjoZD58Ls
Unfortunately the editing is unsophisticated.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)

The films probably use worn-out nature metaphors for sex because the repressive moral norms of the country (which also inhibit the use of birth control) prevent any actual sex from occurring. In these films, during RD Burman's great musical reign, there wasn't so much as a french kiss. That doesn't exactly seem like an exaltation of the male-female to me.


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desant012
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Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)



The positive emphasis on the male-female in Indian cinema is represented in this clip from "Indian Superman II". Notice who Superman has chosen to fight crime with: Spidergirl (apparently invented just for this movie). In the Anglosphere, male-male relationships are emphasised, inherited from the Judeo-Christian/Platonic tradition: see, the buddy cop genre. It would be nice to see one day the West overcoming their masculine/machine bias and embracing the natural rhythms of Gaia.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Wed, Apr. 23rd, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
rhythms of Gaia

What is the life span of a choreographer in Bollywood?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 23rd, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)

The mostly shot on location mid 60s Hindi musical "Love In Tokyo" ought to keep you busy theorizing -n.d.kent


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tupacashakur
tupacashakur
bum
Wed, Apr. 23rd, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)



i'm sure you've seen this routine...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Apr. 23rd, 2008 06:26 am (UTC)

Hmm, there are clips one might once have enjoyed which now have Quentin Tarantino's fingerprints all over them.


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