Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Good God, Holmes...

I thought these would be the size of trade paperbacks, maybe a bit larger. These are more in the vein of doorstops.


Comparison with a normal paperback. There's a more expensive version of the books that comes with a slipcase which would have been nice but about 800rs more for a slipcase seems too much for frou-frous.


Aha here's the secret. Lots of empty space. It looks like they've left a fixed amount of space per page for the annotations and where there aren't any, I guess you get to make your own.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mummy Dearest

...in which I talk about Universal's 1932 film of The Mummy and other adaptations.

First installment...

The Mummy (1932) [dir. Karl Freund]

After the smashing success of their Dracula and Frankenstein adaptations, Universal Studios was on the lookout for more monster stories to make (ha) monster hits of. Combining bits of sensational history and pulpy fiction, they came up with the story of a revived Egyptian mummy running (ok, shambling) amok in a contemporary age. The titular mummy is played by Boris Karloff, freshly propelled to stardom with Frankenstein and proudly labeled on the poster as Karloff The Uncanny (which must have been a change from being represented by a "?" in Frankenstein's opening credits). The film was directed by Karl Freund, who performed camera duties on Universal's Dracula and had previously worked with the greats of early German cinema like FW Murnau and Fritz Lang. Having Freund in the directorial chair gives the film a dramatic and atmospheric look with elements of Expressionism - the opening scene in the crypt where the archeologists chat about their sensational new find while a bandaged Karloff ominously stands in a half-open tomb in the background has a marvelous shadowy ambiance that immediately conveys a delicious shiver to the viewer.
The 1932 film shares a kinship of plot elements with Tod Browning's version of Dracula - the title character is an undead/revived creature looking to seduce/corrupt an individual betrothed to a conventional romance, and has a nemesis sufficiently well-versed in the folklore to fight and destroy it. The fact that in both cases the same actors play the respective roles of the nemesis (Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula and Dr. Muller in The Mummy) and the romantic hero (David Manners as Jonathan Harker in Dracula and Frank Whemple in The Mummy) only adds to the similarity. The main difference is in the element of sensuality - while Dracula had Lugosi primarily in a predatory role (even the women in the film find his stilted suavity giggle-worthy), the script for The Mummy and Karloff's approach to his character Imhotep give it greater depth and sophistication. Dracula is interested in the blandly virginal Mina as only another blood bank with a pretty face, but Imhotep is stalking and seducing Helen because she is a reincarnation of his beloved Anck-es-en-Amon. Zita Johann's interpretation of Helen / Anck-es-en-Amon fully supports the ambiguity and sensuousness of the premise and her scenes with Karloff crackle with a forbidden erotic energy that never dips into cloying sappiness. In comparison, Helen's attraction to Frank Whemple comes off as trivial and disposable.
The 1932 Mummy is not a film of set-pieces and big action moments, nor of convoluted plot machinations. What it is is a deeply atmospheric experience. Karloff wears the iconic bandaged get-up (brilliantly conceived and executed by Universal's "go to" monster make-up man Jack Pierce) only in  the opening reels, but his brooding eyes (aided by some tricks of make-up and lighting) he consistently convey an existence spanning thousands of years. Hammer's film and Universal's own reboot eschew the layering and ambiguity of the title character in favor of adrenaline-pumping. But about that, later. Freund-Karloff's film remains a landmark creature feature that does full justice to its creature.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

English Vinglish [dir. Gauri Shinde]

If you're a Sridevi fan, you should of course see English Vinglish. It is for her what Baghban and Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap were for Amitabh Bachchan - a vehicle tailor-made to  her specifications and tapping her charisma and talent to full advantage.
Here Sri plays Shashi, an uber-caring housewife that also manages a small catering business, who is running low on self-worth because she is undervalued by her family. Especially she is needled by her frankly asshole-ish husband and teenage daughter for her inability to speak and read English. In urban India at least, it is a fairly common prejudice to automatically regard someone not fluent in the English language as lacking in understanding capacity. But I would question why a mother who seems otherwise so capable (and sufficiently aware about individuality to later show immediate acceptance of her English teacher's alternate sexuality) cannot teach her own daughter to understand that not everyone is oriented the same way, or at least not be stupidly rude about it.
So while on a trip alone to America to help with the wedding of her widowed sister's daughter, Shashi secretly (why she can't confide in her own sister is baffling) enrolls in an English-language class. Cue in a Mind Your Language / Zabaan Sambhal Ke type episodic setup where a bunch of (deliberately?) stereotyped immigrants (a French chef, a Mexican maid, a Chinese hairdresser, a Pakistani cabbie, a South Indian software guy) bumble their way through some very jerky grammar lessons from the aforementioned caricature homosexual English teacher. It's a little ironic given the film's theme that a fair amount of the humor in these situations arises from these stereotypes speaking halting English in various foreign accents. There are hints of a possible romantic attraction between Shashi and the handsome Frenchman, but of course nothing serious in that line is going to happen. You can pretty much predict everything that will happen from the word go, but that's really the sort of film it is, a feel-good ride, a mellow family drama where the underdog gets a chance to shine.
The film is hugely slanted towards being cute and digestible, and the extent to which it simplifies the characters and contrives the situations is patronizing. But all said, it's not offensive if you don't probe its machinations and Sridevi remains a delight to watch. The break from acting has not rusted her skills any, and her star charisma has been employed in a very measured, canny way. She shows that she can talk English and walk Vinglish with the best of them.