Category Archives: Capsule Reviews

A Man Called Ove: Celebrating the Use of Space in Swedish Cinema

What are we beyond our memories? It was just after having a petty argument with the florist, an ignorant teen as she was that Ove first exposes the dimensions of his existence. Grieved by the death of the only love of his life, Sonja, we see him dissipating his space by magnifying his trivialities. A man that knew no work than the one that involved car engines, we see a reflection of unfaithful involvement with life in his disturbed yet deliberate movement. Who is this man; one may ask. There are blatant contradictions in his existence. Who is this being who dejects life and then lives only to uphold every law of it? We get our answers, unwoven thread by thread, in Hannes Holme’s A Man Called Ove.

The most fascinating element of this film is the use of space. We not only see the characters associating meanings to a particular space but also get metaphorically represented by it. For instance, the movie hardly shows us panoramic view of the entire space. Mostly, we are kept in the ‘guarded’ and ‘restricted’ space of Ove’s residential colony, his home and during the latter part of the film, his car. The only instances of open space with elements of movement and divergence come in the flashback scenes from Ove’s childhood and adulthood when there were present, reasons for him to escape linearity. This contradiction in the use of space in the representation of past and present tells us about the importance of life in the eyes of this weary old man called Ove. After the death of his wife Sonja, his life has lost any motivation to move beyond the linearity and hence the only space he restricts himself to is the restricted and regimented space of his residence. Moreover, it is only during his budding friendship with Parvaneh that we see the open space of a restaurant or the city road being brought back to his life (Interestingly he relates such openness with the time he used to have with his wife).

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It is hard to deny the metaphorical use of space in the narrative of the film. The one that strikes the most is the train station. It is this space where we see intertwining of Ove’s past, present and a probable future. It is this space that stands for the very nature life; which is nothing but a mosaic of losses and love, of things being built and destroyed. So much so that the moving train almost felt like the ruthless movement of life itself. We are introduced to this space time and again to emphasise on the philosophy that life cannot be contextualised unitarily. It is the semiotic nature of everything that life offers us that makes it beyond every degree human comprehension. One baring example of this can be the scene from Ove’s mother’s funeral.

Lastly, I’ll take this discussion on memories to the use of strong representational symbols. And the one that struck me the most was the cat. Like every morning of life, this cat kept on showing up on Ove’s door, every time more undesirable than before, even after his constant shooing off. As the movie progresses, we can see the changing relationship of the cat with the protagonist that ran parallel to the change in perspective on life that he had. It is when Parvaneh tells him that it is you that have to take care of this cat that I see a bell being rang in Ove’s head telling him that his life shall be engineered by his own volition.

Even though there existed a beautiful sub-narrative that talked about inclusivity and diversity (the fact that Ove became friends with an Iranian refugee and a gay man) it is the natural display of empathy that inspired the screenplay. The very idea that we can delve into each others’ hearts while not being patronising at all speaks volumes about the most important common denominator that we share – humanity.

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The Signifiers of Monsoon in Hindi Cinema: Parallels from Brecht and Cultural Studies

The cultural industry of Hindi cinema has banked upon its geographical richness since its inception. While the inclusion of every season and the festivals therein is quite balanced, it is unequivocally the representation of monsoon that sets up aesthetic metaphorical constructions on the silver screen. Whether it is Kuleshov Effect or the use of montage, the idea of representing monsoon as an alienated concept from the central narrative or ‘life’ of the characters is a notable Brechtian characteristic in Hindi films. Such conception of monsoon is presented as an idea in itself that provides a perspective on the lives of the characters involved rather than becoming a naturalised happening of their milieu.

It is because of aforementioned reasons that I went on to call monsoon a ‘signifier’ in itself. When songs such as Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua (Love Happened) from the movie Shri 420 and Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Main (In the Rainy Nights..) showcase romance between the two protagonists, it is not the romance that is realistically evolved and subsequently expressed in common parlance. It is a romance that is showcased as romance itself. Romance which has its ideological presence separate from the presence of the lovers involved. Therefore, in both the songs mentioned above, the idea of romance does not become synonymous with Raj Kapoor and Nargis or Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman. Rather, it is the creation of the idea of romance itself through which the cinematic positioning of these characters are understood. So, this distinction between romance as an idea and the characters as mere forms of it, makes monsoon a cinematic as well as cultural signifier to represent the signified (romance).

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After understanding the alienation effect that Hindi cinema creates and has created over generations between the monsoon as a language and the characters as content, we shall now look into the various meanings that monsoon generates within the representational system of Hindi cinema.

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  1. Romantic Anticipation – The two songs mentioned above are a perfect examples of monsoon being used to describe the romantic anticipation and blossoming curiosity between the two lovers. Another addition to this can be a song that came almost three decades later – Sawan Barse Tarse Dil (Monsoon hovers as my heart craves). In Sawan Barse  there’s a shift away from the context of isolation as shown in the previous two songs. Unlike Pyaar Hua and Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Main, where lovers are shown in an isolated atmosphere under a moonlight sky, Sawan Barse uses Kuleshov Effect by using the busy streets of Bombay to show the carefree mindset of the two lovers involved. However, there is hard to trace the Screen A – Screen B direct metaphorical juxtaposition in the third song, it becomes evident in the closer analysis of the music video. Thus, I believe that completely crediting Kuleshov for this would not be a perfect idea but the commonalities are also hard to ignore. A notable example of a piece where both the isolation effect of the previous two songs and the carefree effect of the third song intersect can be Aaj Rapat Jaaye (If today I tumble down) starring Amitabh Bachchan and Smita Patil.

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2. The Longing – In the era of 90s and early 2000s, monsoon acquired a much more sexual connotation in terms of using representations of cravings and fantasies. In Tip Tip Barsa Paani (As the rain drops) and Lagi Aaj Sawan Ki (Today, the rain is falling like old days) there is intense use of emotions and clever use of editing by utilizing more space while building upon developing sexual desires. Such was the heat of these songs, that Raveena Tandon’s orange saree from Tip Tip became a major symbol of sensuality and sexual liberation in pop culture. Another notable example of this category can be Saanson Ko Saanson Se from the movie Hum Tum (You and I) where the red saree of Rani Mukherjee and the beautiful set up of two lovers rolling on the beach sand under a moonlight is a visual delight in itself.

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3. The Liberation – Out of all, this is the most celebrated representation of monsoon in the Hindi cinema. And, I would say, the most relatable. Although, the relatability of this representation comes as a rite of passage to carefree state of mind, and probably goes against the Brethian principles, it still saves the grace by not creating the empathetic relationship between the audience and the character. In Barso Re (Let it rain) and Bhaage Re Man Kahi ( My heart take the strides) it is the breaking of the monotony, the creation of the antithetical to gender roles, that comes across as the most fascinating use of monsoon as a signifier. While in Barso Re, we see Aishwarya Rai celebrating her freedom of choice to choose her own lover and the further course of life, in Bhage Re Man we see Kareena Kapoor, who plays a bar dancer, taking a time off her constructed reality to subsume herself in the bliss of falling droplets. In both of these songs, it is the momentary split between the character and the context, between the constructed reality and the unguided display of liberation that creates a beautiful trajectory for the audience to analyse monsoon as a concept alienated from the narrative of the film.

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Although Hindi cinema is decorated with blissful songs on monsoon, I had to quite painfully restrict myself to a handful. However, I feel that the songs that have been discussed above are quite deserving symbols of the spectrum. Hindi cinema has been celebrating the idea in their isolated forms in order to create a separate space to the entities that exist around us. This separation and the  further use of these ideas as an existent matter of thought in themselves have empowered the audience to think of these ideas objectively and without the distractions of the cinematic construction of the plot or the personal lives of the characters. Such thought provoking use of signifiers such as monsoon gives Hindi cinema a democratic nature that allows every viewer to think of these signifiers independently and imbue their own understanding or relation with them. For me and I hope for the supporters of Bretch and Kant, this is surely fascinating.

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The Avant-Garde, Zeenat Aman

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The cinema of the 70s is often termed as an era that marveled the art of pop culture reorientation. A decade that immersed itself in the chaos of coming of age screenplay and ever inspired music ensemble, the flights of imagination was anything but predictable. It was during this period that Hindi cinema saw the rise of its one of the most ground-breaking actress, a gifted performer and a formidable fashion icon – Zeenat Aman. The characters that she adorned were unafraid of juxtapositions and oozed liberation that was rarely seen in the public eye. From being an adultress in Dhund (Obsession) to a cheerful prostitute in Manoranjan (Entertainment), Zeenat Aman redefined narratives of gender roles in not only Hindi cinema but also in the entire urban Indian society. A former Miss Asia Pacific (1970), she was the first South Asian woman to win this coveted title. Even though her acting skills were second to none, Zeenat Aman had sealed her name in the history of Indian cinema for her unparalleled contribution in revolutionizing the use of fashion in Hindi movies.

The looks adorned by the lady swing across the spectrum of avant-garde fashion. She had never ceased to reinvent herself and often pushed the boundaries of artistic expression by her V-neck hem slit evening gowns or her infamous Boho looks. This post is a tribute to some of the most foresighted, coming of age and classical fashion statements of the woman that charmed the 70s and cemented her position in the pop culture.

  1. The Boho Chick

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Dubbed as her first block-burster hit, Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) paved the way for Zeenat’s towering success. What began as a role received by fluke, later unraveled into a timeless performance that got her the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress, and most importantly, her perennial place in the pop culture.

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Playing the role of a girl separated from her family who subsequently slips into drug addiction, the character of Janice was unconventional for her period but beheld potential for a memorable performance. And for the visionary as she was, she delivered, and delivered with utmost excellence.

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2. The Girl with a Guitar 

When Zeenat Aman held a guitar to belt out a soothing lullaby for her lover in Yaadon Ki Baraat (The caravan of memories), she gave us a melody of a generation. The climatic progression of the music with the innocent smile decorating her face, Chura Liya Hai (Now that you’ve stolen my heart) is the musical beauty of the highest order. Apart form its melodious supremacy, it was this long white gown that etched Zeenat Aman in every man’s heart for years to come. Complementing that look with a choker necklace, she added one more feather to her overtly decorated hat of fashion laurels.

3. The Femme Fatale 

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Although, every song of Zeenat Aman has been a masterpiece in its own right, there is one song that not only concreted her as a superstar but also reflected her ideas of empowerment through sexual liberation. In Laila Main Laila (Laila, I’m Laila), a song that has been subsequently covered by a dozen singers and actresses, Zeenat Aman unleashes her femme fatale and explodes into the space where she adheres to no boundaries, rising above the artificial constructions of gender roles.

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In Aap Jaisa Koi (Someone Like You) and Don, she takes her seduction to next level and amalgamates it with her impeccable acting skills to deliver the critically acclaimed performances as a cabaret dancer and a villain respectively.

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Zeenat Aman had metamorphosed into a multi faceted performer who freed herself from the fear of being judged for her decisions. She pushed the limits of visual representation in Hindi cinema and became an icon for all the actresses that followed. Apart from her mounting commercial successes, she was critically well received for her depiction of a rape victim in Insaaf Ka Taraazu (The Scales of Justice). She was translated as a visionary, an artistic maverick, and a farsighted actress for her coming of age role of a cheerful hooker in Manoranjan (Entertainment). With more than half a ton movies on her name, Zeenat Aman was and will always be the first and the most beloved diva  of Hindi cinema.

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From Renee Smith to Sita Devi: Retrieving the Forgotten Enchantress of Silent Era

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Indian cinema had birthed a fair share of visionaries even before the beginning of what later came to be termed as the Golden era. Under the reigns of the British Raj, certain Indian artists thrived upon the offerings that colonial engagements with art had to offer and used the political situation of the period to engage cinema in a dialogue of cultures. The dialogical development of cinema, with silent movies relying heavily on scenic photography and camera angles, what unraveled on the big screen involved not only the oppressed lot making a statement but also the privileged lot participating in the process. The emancipating nature of art drew many budding filmmakers to garner the global recognition of not only Indian art but also Indian culture in general by using films as language. In this democratising activity of filmmaking, one of the most celebrated manufacturers was Himanshu Rai who dared to look beyond the logistical restrictions of his space to harness a global outlook. However, this post is not about him but about an unsung actor, who despite not being biologically involved in the cultural milieu of the subject matter of her work, adorned many characters in a number of such experimental films. Though, she was born as Renee Smith in an Anglo-Indian family, the cinematic history would remember her as Sita Devi.

The silent movie era of Indian cinema had a brief but eventful affair with German collaboration. Though much has not been written about her, Sita Devi’s momentary presence in Indian films can be seen in these very collaborative projects. When Himanshu Rai joined hands with a Bavarian film company Emelka, a film named Prem Sanyas (The Light of Asia) was released in 1925 which was generously budgeted and was directed and produced by Himanshu Rai himself who also appeared as one of the actors. This very film had the young Renee Smith (Sita Devi) playing the character of Princess Gopa, who is decorated quite intricately with the cultural symbols of Buddhist ritualism. This was her debut film, and thanks to her blossoming presence on screen, she became an overnight star. She later went on to work under the banner of Madan productions but could never repeat the success she garnered in her very first film.

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Renee went on to do two other films with this Indo-German collaborative project, which seemed more like a trinity now, that were also classified as period dramas showcasing the grandeur of Indian culture. Interestingly, these three films spanned three different religions (Buddhism, Islam and Christianity) rightly spanning the diverse cultural fabric of the country.

The artistic outlook of Renee Smith and her respect for the art of cinema can be traced from the diversity of roles she played in this trinity and also the distinct nature of each of those characters. Despite sprouting as a star in her very first film, she did not hesitate to play the ‘other woman’ in Shiraz (1928) and a villain in Prapancha Pash (Throw of Dice, 1929). Despite the social perception of that period for such roles and the impact it had on the careers of the actors who played them, Renee chose to explore the shades of her artistic capabilities rather than fearing social stigmatization.

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The short filmography of this illustrious actor involves many socially unconventional roles in movies such as Bharat Ramani (Enchantress of India, 1929), Bhrantri (Mistake, 1928) and Kal Parinaya (Fatal Marriage, 1930). Despite not being culturally relatable to the majority of the population, the success of Renee Smith established itself upon her ability to immerse herself in the complexities of her character, reaching the finest degrees of method acting. She came across as an exotic representation to many of her contemporary directors, but that only worked towards constructing a strong narrative around the creative credentials of this effervescent actress.

With her films being showcased in German and English to the elite cinematic audience of Europe, including the royal family, a couple of Renee’s films were also immortalized for global audiences with German translations (Das Grabmal einer großen Liebe and Die Leuchte Asiens). It is hard not to mention the famous rumour of the period which said that Renee’s sister Patty was often used as her double in some of the sequences. Renee Smith has been unfortunately forgotten by the repositories of Indian cinema. In her short yet colossal montage of work, Renee aka Sita Devi has displayed the full dimension of her artistic prowess and the lengths of her creativity. I hope the reading of this post will only generate more discussion on this wonderful actor, getting her the rightful place in pop culture, something she so unequivocally deserves.

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Picture Credits: British Film Institute

Day Breaks: Understanding Life’s Journey through Full Circle

Norah Jones has witnessed a magnitude of success that was quite overwhelming for her own devices. What could’ve been just another experimentation of a pseudo jazz artist, developed into this whole new genre of contemporary music that had overlapping tones of pop and blues. Come Away With Me as a record librated Norah from a sculpting phase of an artist where one simply tries to shape oneself to fit the voids carved out by the industry.

The resounding success of her debut studio album led to a series of transcending musical adventures where genres such as country and indie pop were also explored. In a span of four studio albums we saw Norah grow musically with her commercial prowess unable to keep up with such diversification.

It was in 2012, that Norah Jones deviated the most from her self produced ‘style’ and released Little Broken Hearts that brought electronic undertones to both her music and vocals. The mixed reviews from the critics and lukewarm reception from the audience kind of faded Norah’s presence from the music scene for at least four years. She did have a couple of collaborative albums being released with The Little Willies and Billie Joe but both the works were merely covers of classical hits.

So after this history of rise and apogee of Norah Jones’s musical trajectory, how do we perceive her new album. Well, the answer comes from the singer herself.

Day Breaks has been translated as an album that shows the completion of Norah’s full circle. This term is quite intriguing for it not only represents a journey but also the various threads of realisation that a person has imbued while embarking upon it. Like a circle is made up of many points that lead to the meeting of the starting point with the end, a full circle journey is one’s professional or personal travel that crosses various moments with each having its own space and value in the whole.

In the lead single Carry On, Norah goes back to perch behind her piano and belt out a soothing melody about the most ordinary yet unfelt moments of romance. Though the lyrical context has matured, the glimpse of that innocent smile breaking between piano solos is still the same. Day Breaks have given a rebirth to Come Away With Me with a refined flavour of instrumental profoundness. There are welcoming features of organ, double bass and saxophone. This is not just Norah going back to her debut era but it’s also a celebration of what she has become today.

So, how does this full circle album treats us? The very idea of going back to your roots, embracing your beginnings, is potentially very impacting in one’s quest for answers about self. We often tread upon various versions of ourselves and get thrown into this twisted maze of complexities about our own identity. It is during this mayhem, that going full circle becomes an answer to that much needed calmness.

Reiterating it yet again, going full circle doesn’t reflect loss or giving up. Neither does it stand for denying what the present shows itself to be. One should not confuse this idea with lack of prospective thinking or death of creativity. This is because you can never make a circle until you merge all the points. Or you ignore to tap upon them. When you go full circle you not only begin to understand your own evolution as a person but also find yourself at a position where you can objectively differentiate between substance and superficial. You get the power to describe your own history and take pride in what you’ve done. Such constructive approach towards past can build strong foundations for future realisation of one’s potential. Therefore, instead of crumbling walls of pride, going full circle makes you preserve the ones that matter.

One should hardly pay attention to the commercial success of Day Breaks because that’s not what Norah seems to prioritise with this album. This album is a realisation, a celebration that has made us realise what Norah Jones was, is and can potentially blossom into.

 

Picture Credits – Rolling Stones

Family and Freedom in Drutse’s Shorts

Ion Drutse reflects his deconstruction of modern Moldovan family and all its collateral affairs in ‘Let’s Talk About Weather”. Set in the humbled hamlet of Soviet era, the narrative boasts of this naive conception of expectations within the schemes of familial love.

An old man who once toiled at quarrying fields, finds himself living amidst a set of grown up children famous across the village for their gross under achievements. What irks his already worn out soul is the return of his youngest daughter who was destined to break away from this family failure and make a career for herself in medicine. However, despite being welcomed with funny jokes and warm hugs every time she came back home, this homecoming of the youngest daughter in the house was treated with intentional apathy.

What intrigues me the most is the simplicity Drutse manages to create while dealing with such volatile psychological situations. The calmness that he builds around the father of the house is a characteristic of his belief in the persuasion power of emotional estrangement. Inferences of patriarchy can be traced by the puny description of the aunt and the cautious verbal manufacturing by the mother. The evolution of mother’s character is in consonance with her own realization of problems that are beyond the repair as we desire. However, it would still reinforce the idea of ethics that prevailed in the context of early Soviet societies.

Nothing ceases to take attention away from misplaced protagonists of this plot. One would want to believe that this is the story about a quintessential middle class father in Soviet Moldova, however, the quick and not so swift twists in plot are hard to reckon with. The vivid description of the distinctive loss that each member of the family carry with themselves is probably the only characteristic that reflects their commonality.

It’s hard to trace humor in what literally might appear to be humorous. This is a signature move of Drutse to keep his readers in this self indulging pity by blurring the lines between humor and awkwardness. One would be forced to look into themselves and their social capital while trying to make sense of this peculiar family. Peculiar? Well, if we call it so, it would be reflective of the pretense that we have gone on to normalize by taking ourselves too far from the soil. The dramatics of Drutse’s plot formation is the honest reflection of not so latent realities of many societies. That is precisely the reason that makes this story a must read in post colonial nations. Drutse’s narrative would pierce through our frame of unconsciously acquired identities like the strands of sunlight invading a dark room through a small round opening. It is pathetically original and would push us to feel uncomfortably exposed.

Well, in this galaxy of familial bodies of all shapes and sizes revolving around this inescapable force of destiny, Drutse flirts with the idea of freedom. The prodigious youngest daughter of the family becomes the operative matter of freedom in all its degrees. She is freedom, and freedom is her presence. But is she actually free or just a study for explaining what freedom ought to be? Well, that’s for the readers to decipher, so much so, that even Drutse pulls his hands off the strings on this matter. Personally, the presence of the youngest daughter seems like a journey of freedom itself. In my opinion, she represents what freedom might have been if it wouldn’t have been this. This unsettling account of freedom takes me back to Drutse’s catalyst style of writing where he becomes this invisible force that literally collides his readers with reality with no pretense or warning. And if you feel unsettled, it’s time for you to introspect your own affair with reality.

Despite being a brief read, Let’s Talk About Weather comes as a pill to grasp the familial maladies of the Soviet Moldovan society. It is an intelligent display of loss and sacrifice presented in a manner that knows no intelligence but knowledge. After all, it’s Drutse we’re talking about.

Picture Credits – Worldly Rise

Reading Lugard and Adam Smith

Lugard’s The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa was published in 1922. It discusses indirect rule in colonial Africa. In this work, Lugard outlined the reasons and methods that he recommended for the colonisation of Africa by Britain. Some of his justifications included spreading Christianity and ending ‘barbarism’ (such as human sacrifice). He also saw state-sponsored colonisation as a way to protect missionaries, local chiefs, and local people from each other as well as from foreign powers.

Also, for Lugard, it was vital that Britain gain control of unclaimed areas before Germany, Portugal, or France claimed the land and its resources for themselves. He realised that there were vast profits to be made through the exporting of resources like rubber and through taxation of native populations, as well as importers and exporters (the British taxpayers actually always made a loss from the colonies in this period). In addition, these resources and inexpensive native labour (slavery having been outlawed by Britain in 1834) would provide vital fuel for the industrial revolution in resource-depleted Britain as well as monies for public works projects. Finally, Lugard reasoned that colonisation had become a fad and that in order to remain a super power, Britain would need to hold colonies in order to avoid appearing weak.

Wikipedia – The Dual Mandate

Lord Lugard of England was a “colonial administrator” for the British Empire tasked with establishing and maintaining control of African and Asian colonies. While direct military occupation of foreign territory was successfully employed by the Empire, it had found that indirect rule through corrupt local officials and clandestine intelligence activity and by establishing international businesses like the infamous East India Company let it obtain foreign resources and cheap labor without having to bear the costs of suppressing the revolutions that direct military occupation were known to incite.

Fredrick Lugard discussed in his handbook the Dual Mandate the methods of indirect occupation of territory, the strategic and business reasons and moral justifications for the activity. Of England’s occupation of Africa – which the region still has not recovered from today – Lugard argued that “England is in Africa for the mutual benefit of her own industrial class and of the native races in their progress to a higher plane.” Ultimately the conquer of Africa was justified by the argument that, since Africa was not as able to mobilize its raw resources as the more highly industrialized superpowers, these resources were wasted on the natives and justifiably owned by the British. The British, in turn for taking the resources, would presumably give some wealth back to Africa as a sort of reparation. Thus the “Dual Mandate”: to do good to Britain and good to the colony.

This analysis was not unique to Lugard or to the British. Every European colonial power justified their colonial ambitions to secure foreign resources and cheap labor with facades of ‘mutual benefit’. In Franch, the term was “Mission Civilisatrice.” In Spain it was called the Spanish Requirement. In reality colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas were plundered and subject to systemic abuse including genocide, their women subject to rape, and their cultures subject to eradication.


According to Wikipedia, global society has moved on from colonialization. Though colonies existed in their old forms until the late 1900’s, common wisdom is that they have been eradicated – replaced with the nobler and kinder gift of free market liberalization espoused by economic thinkers like Adam Smith, who gets credit in the United States for “being against colonialization, broadly”.

However, reading of The Wealth Of Nations is necessary to understand exactly what this means. In Book IV, Chapter VII Smith argues that colonialization is a wonderful idea but that the way it was practised in the 1700’s required too much regulation and taxation; and that the forms of control used by mother countries to get monopoly access to colony output all together dragged these new economies down. Adam Smith argues that the reason colonies generate so much wealth is because:

The colony of a civilised nation which takes possession either of a waste country, or of one so thinly inhabited that the natives easily give place to the new settlers, advances more rapidly to wealth and greatness than any other human society.

The colonists carry out with them a knowledge of agriculture and of other useful arts superior to what can grow up of its own accord in the course of many centuries among savage and barbarous nations.

Every colonist gets more land than he can possibly cultivate. He has no rent, and scarce any taxes to pay. No landlord shares with him in its produce, and the share of the sovereign is commonly but a trifle. He has every motive to render as great as possible a produce, which is thus to be almost entirely his own. But his land is commonly so extensive that, with all his own industry, and with all the industry of other people whom he can get to employ, he can seldom make it produce the tenth part of what it is capable of producing. He is eager, therefore, to collect labourers from all quarters, and to reward them with the most liberal wages. But those liberal wages, joined to the plenty and cheapness of land, soon make those labourers leave him, in order to become landlords themselves, and to reward, with equal liberality, other labourers, who soon leave them for the same reason that they left their first master. The liberal reward of labour encourages marriage. The children, during the tender years of infancy, are well fed and properly taken care of, and when they are grown up, the value of their labour greatly overpays their maintenance. When arrived at maturity, the high price of labour, and the low price of land, enable them to establish themselves in the same manner as their fathers did before them.

In other countries, rent and profit eat up wages, and the two superior orders of people oppress the inferior one. [But in new colonies]… waste lands of the greatest natural fertility are to be had for a trifle. The increase of revenue which the proprietor, who is always the undertaker, expects from their improvement, constitutes his profit which in these circumstances is commonly very great. But this great profit cannot be made without employing the labour of other people in clearing and cultivating the land; and the disproportion between the great extent of the land and the small number of the people, which commonly takes place in new colonies, makes it difficult for him to get this labour. He does not, therefore, dispute about wages, but is willing to employ labour at any price. The high wages of labour encourage population. The cheapness and plenty of good land encourage improvement, and enable the proprietor to pay those high wages. In those wages consists almost the whole price of the land; and though they are high considered as the wages of labour, they are low considered as the price of what is so very valuable. What encourages the progress of population and improvement encourages that of real wealth and greatness.

Adam Smith arrives at a theory where a colonizing mother country should not tax, impose rent or take profit from developing lands – preferring instead to allow the land to develop as quickly as possible and benefit only from the trade generated by the quickly advancing land.

This “free market system” of freeing colonies of the burden of externally imposed rents, debts, taxes, and profit-seeking is what gets associated with post-colonial international development.

However, it wasn’t long before Smith’s message – even though he hadn’t even opposed colonization itself – was subverted and so-called “free markets” in the so-called post-colonial age became bereft again with the same problems of the old system. The rent of land mother countries used to extract was replaced with rent-seeking privatization of mother country institutions, expats and patriots. Developed country corporations sought the profits that ate the wages necessary for the developing countries to grow in a manner Smith had hoped. Development loans were issued to countries at rates that prevented them from maturing beyond the cheap resource and labor economies beneficial to developed nation needs and Structural Adjustment Programs replace local government public works with ones whose tax goes to the developed world.

The combination of debts, rents, and profit have eaten up wages and opportunities to flourish in developing countries. The most valuable natural resources and infrastructure have become owned by foreign rent collectors. The promises from Adam Smith that quickly industrializing and developing foreign nations should be free from foreign rent were never taken very seriously, even by those who claimed to espouse it.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

This is a deeply flawed film, but unlike many deeply flawed films it has some merits. These merits stem entirely from the rightfully acclaimed performances of the two leads, Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue-both are outstanding, and Cage is in the best form I’ve seen him in in any role. His mannerisms and speech are perfect as the alcoholic protagonist; his alcoholic is neither the ‘cool’ outcast as in something like Barfly, nor is he the histrionic caricature like the alcoholic in The Lost Weekend. His portrayal is disturbingly understated, and he’s neither especially witty or idealized to any extent(at least by Cage.) For the second half of the film his pale complexion gives the impression one is looking at a zombie. Shue does her best in a fairly implausible role; she somehow manages to insert some nuance into her portrayal despite annoying scripted interludes in the film where she ostensibly narrates the film from a psychiatrist’s couch and sentimental implausible actions forced on her by the script. The script is poorly organized and the brilliance of the performances only help to underline where it caves in to convention.

Figgis also drops the ball entirely besides giving his actors free reign. He scored the film, and his light muzak jazz along with fake sounding Vegas lounge renditions of “Lonely Teardrops” blast over the film, distracting from the images and adding to the feeling of falseness. He also uses slow motion and various other visual tricks that aren’t half as clever as the film thinks they are, and yet again distract from the characters. On top of all this, occasional scenes devolve into a slow motion soft focus lightly scored purely aesthetic wallowing in the image that resembles softcore pornography. These disrupt the momentum of the film and the performances and if Figgis thought they’d help the emotional arc of film, then I fear he’s been hitting the sauce as much as his fictional protagonist.

Unfortunately Cage’s performance can’t be carved out of the muddled mess that is this movie, so whether I’d recommend this or not depends on how interested you are in film acting.

River’s Edge (1986)

Tim Hunter’s film has the supreme misfortune of containing multiple elements which David Lynch did close to the same time and much better. The theme of suburban malfeasance and the Dennis Hopper crazy person performance both were executed far better in the same year’s Blue Velvet. The teenage melodrama and female corpse near a body of water aspects were both done with far more style, wit, and competence on Lynch’s television project Twin Peaks. This film is an unfortunately dated relic; references in the dialogue to the Cold War and the two-dimensional hippie teacher character firmly place this in the mid-1980s.

However that isn’t meant as an indication this is just a movie that aged poorly. There are fundamental flaws and the whole thing is severely underdeveloped. The back of the DVD case of my copy claims it was directed from the script’s first draft as though this were some sort of grand achievement as opposed to a sign of laziness. The fact it was a first draft shows. The major narrative hook of the children’s lack of emotional response to their friend’s murder is repeatedly pointed out in the dialogue by characters the film seems to introduce solely so that they can point this out. A neon sign repeatedly flashing “The youth in this film are alarmingly apathetic” might’ve gotten the point home with a bit more subtlety. All the characters besides Crispin Glover’s Layne and Dennis Hopper’s Feck are extremely underdeveloped and rather boring to watch. Though the actors do their best, a weak script is a weak script. Glover nearly saves the whole thing through the sheer force of his bizarre and daring performance but in the end one man’s acting isn’t enough.

Hunter is also very awkward with his cutting and use of sound. Music is employed to heighten tension but almost always pushes the scenes into absurdity. His use of fades make the film seem like after school alarmist TV specials of the time. And the use of 50s rock n’ roll in attempts to draw parallels between this and 1950s portrayals of troubled youth like Rebel Without a Cause seem too much like self-conscious posturing and further damages the credibility of the film. That Hunter ended up leaving features soon after this for TV directing is highly appropriate.

The performances are good and for Glover fans this is a must, but don’t expect anything that deep or insightful from this alarmist time capsule.