Wednesday, June 24, 2009

All's Well That Ends Well

Slumdog Millionare(2008)
directed by Dany Boyle

Solid, fun, exuberant, vibrant, and over-rated.
Good times, but I'm conflicted about this.
Unique setting for a well worn subject, rags to riches, star crossed lovers, betrayal, destiny, etc. Pop culture inspired, music and TV shows which cross cultural boundaries.
Novel narrative structure, and use of flashbacks, harking to it's literary origins in Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup's "Q & A".
Its fun, and not every movie is.It's engrossing and over all enjoyable, it will please most, and I was smiling at the end.
It's a good pop corn, movie fun, light, you could pop it in on a bad day, and be whisked off.
I don't think its fair to say don't nitpick this cus its nice, it is, but its not perfect, and its being hailed as the best thing since sliced bread. It's a decent romance though, and as an exercise in genre, it works well.The torture sequences really weren't as brutal or prolonged as they were being made out to be(not that any torture would be easy).
The signature scene is the boy dipped in shit, to get his heroes autographs (it's referenced at the end too), sometimes you have to suffer, wade through crap, to get what you really want.
But the "it is written" ending was a cop out, a pleasant one, but it is what it is.At the end the tea server, is rich and gets a hot girlfriend, bad guys kill each other, just like "True Romance". This is less a colonial film, of Indian stereotype as it is a traditional "rags to bitches" Hollywood fantasy dressed in Indian garb.
It does reflect a sea-change in the way globalized films will be made, neo-realist use of non actors is no longer an issue of trying to make a film as natural and down to earth as possible, but to signal "this is authentic film making", even as the plot stays headily on it's typical star crossed lover's course.
Filmmakers and financiers, need no longer rely on bringing the exotic into the mainstream, by importing foreign films of this nature, and I believe will instead just re-create mainstream formula and tropes themselves in other English speaking parts of the world.
Not to suggest the film is a complete cop-out, it is notable, that a film about a non-American, on another continent with characters speaking other languages should win an award for best picture in America, but not to be too crude, I think this film could also have got "the Barack Obama" award, for bringing ethnic distinction and naive "hope", to an Academy which tends to award and privilege one sort of racial portrayal over "the other".
A kind of affirmative action, to make up for the Academy's decades of marginalizing, all things "other". It's not a bad film, but it was not the best film of the year, and the stink of liberal guilt was one(but not the only) aroma which brought about it's being crowned as "the future of filmmaking". An acussation, which must be taken deadly serious, and also with a grain of salt.
I do not however, agree with some who assert that simply because Danny Boyle is English and the film Indian, that this is unmitigated colonialism. The fact of globalization, is one which all corners of the world are affected by.
Consider M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes"(played in the film), a song by a Sri Lankan native, British citizen , and young women, which takes it's chorus from American new jack swing hip hop group,Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rump Shaker", while sampling it's loop from the Clash's "Straight To Hell", a song about immigrants rights in England, and Vietnamese children fathered and abandoned by American Soldiers, "Lemme tell ya 'bout your blood bamboo kid. It ain't Coca-Cola it's rice.".
In one song, several cultures and cultural attitudes are sublimainaly brought together, not because M.I.A, I imagine, is attempting to make some kind of post-modern statement, but simply because this is the music she likes. I like it too. Since one good turn deserves another a few months later, "Paper Planes" was sampled by Jay-Z.
The Globalized world is a many layered onion, and "Slumdog Millionaire" is less cross-cultural high-art, as it is a sugary and catchy globalized pop song in film form.
Pop music is not always a bad thing though. Simple repetitive melodies and light motifs, have a definite place in modern culture. Complexity and density don't necessarily make for good dance music, although The Clash's "Rock The Casbash" might beg to differ.
Even the best pop song, can get stale after played day in and day out in host's of commercials, as is "Paper Planes". When all's said and done though, "Slumdog Millionaire" is romantic and boisterous as a Bollywood song, and depending on your mood, just as cheesy or as colorful.

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