Meeting 4 Masters: Satyajit Ray-Elia Kazan-Michaelangelo Antonioni & Akira Kurosawa
– By Opender Chanana(C)
Kurosawa was a Japanese filmmaker. Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 films[note 2] in a career spanning 57 years.Kurosawa entered the Japanese film industry in 1936, following a brief stint as a painter. After years of working on numerous films as an assistant director and scriptwriter, he made his debut as a director in 1943, during World War II, with the popular action filmSanshiroSugata (a.k.a. Judo Saga). After the war, the critically acclaimed Drunken Angel (1948), in which Kurosawa cast then-unknown actor Toshiro Mifune in a starring role, cemented the director’s reputation as one of the most important young filmmakers in Japan. The two men would go on to collaborate on another 15 films. His wife YōkoYaguchi was also an actress in one of his films. Rashomon, which premiered in Tokyo in August 1950, and which also starred Mifune, became, on September 10, 1951, the surprise winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was subsequently released in Europe and North America.
The commercial and critical success of this film opened up Western film markets for the first time to the products of the Japanese film industry, which in turn led to international recognition for other Japanese filmmakers. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Kurosawa directed approximately a film a year, including a number of highly regarded films such as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961). After the mid-1960s, he became much less prolific, but his later work—including his final two epics, Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985)—continued to win awards, including the Palme d’Or for Kagemusha, though more often abroad than in Japan.
Elia Kazan, known for his creative stage direction, was born “Elia Kazanjoglous” in Istanbul in 1909 to Greek parents. He directed such Broadway plays as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. He directed the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and also films written for the screen. He was a proponent of the “method approach” to acting, developed by Konstantin Stanislavski. Kazan received two Academy Awards for Best Director — for the films Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954). Kazan also wrote the scripts for films about Greek immigrants to the United States, such as America America (1963). These films were based on his novels. Kazan’s autobiography, published in 1988, is “Elie Kazan: A Life”.
Antonioni, was an Italianfilm director, screenwriter, editor, and short story writer. Best known for his “trilogy on modernity and its discontents”—L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962)—Antonioni “redefined the concept of narrative cinema” and challenged traditional approaches to storytelling, realism, drama, and the world at large. He produced “enigmatic and intricate mood pieces” and rejected action in favor of contemplation, focusing on image and design over character and story. His films defined a “cinema of possibilities”.Antonioni received numerous awards and nominations throughout his career, including the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize (1960, 1962), Palme d’Or (1966), and 35th Anniversary Prize (1982); the Venice Film Festival Silver Lion (1955), Golden Lion (1964), FIPRESCI Prize (1964, 1995), and Pietro Bianchi Award (1998); the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon eight times; and an honorary Academy Award in 1995.
Ray was born in the city of Calcutta into a Bengali family prominent in the world of arts and literature. Starting his career as a commercial artist, Ray was drawn into independent filmmaking after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir and viewing Vittorio De Sica‘sItalian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves (1948) during a visit to London.Ray directed 36 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts. He was also a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, calligrapher, music composer, graphic designer and film critic. He authored several short stories and novels, primarily aimed at children and adolescents. Feluda, the sleuth, and Professor Shonku, the scientist in his science fiction stories, are popular fictional characters created by him. He was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University.
Ray’s first film, PatherPanchali (1955), won eleven international prizes, including the Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. This film, along with Aparajito (1956), and ApurSansar (1959) form The Apu Trilogy. Ray did the scripting, casting, scoring, and editing, and designed his own credit titles and publicity material. Ray received many major awards in his career, including 32 Indian National Film Awards, a number of awards at international film festivals and award ceremonies, and an Academy Honorary Award in 1992. The Government of India honoured him with the Bharat Ratna in 1992.
The emergency had been lifted and there was a sigh of relief all over. For film makers, historians and students of cinema there was one remarkable and rare event that will go down in the history of all International festivals held in India…….The coming together of these four giants of cinema on one platform. It was the VI International Film Festival being held in New Delhi and I was summoned by Shri K.A. Abbas who happened to pen editorial for The Filmmaker of which I was the Asst. Editor. Published by IFDA its issues had gained wider acceptance for taking up specific themes and subjects for each issue. “Pack your bags and get going, let’s bring out a special issue on INTERNATIONAL CINEMA. You know what?You will get to meet and interact with four maestros of cinema in person”, I recall what Abbas Saheb told me. Those days there were no sophisticated tape recorders. I borrowed one from a friend and arranged for sufficient cassettes to record each word spoken by the maestros and other film makers who were all going to make the event a rare one.
On way to Delhi I befriended few cine artists and together we put up in quarters behind Vigyan Bhavan. My first ever exposure to great works of cinema art were at screenings of Film Forum of which I went on to become Secretary in subsequent years. Roshomon, On the Waterfront, Pather Panchali, and The Passenger had all left a deep impression on my mind and here I was blessed with an opportunity to meet these famed maestros in person. I came to know that ever affable Amita Malik and Dileep Padgaonkar were going to interview all of them together and I grabbed the opportunity to jot down notes on this unique interaction. I reproduce what I heard, penned and imbibed more than three decades ago. I cherish those moments and they form an integral part of my evolving as a critic, author and film maker.
HUMANISM-SHARING IN COMMON
RAY: The term has been applied in relation to my work. This label stuck because I based my first film the Trilogy, on the work, on the novel, by a very famous writer who was himself called humanist. I have grown more anxious to the human beings, human behavior, human patterns, human relationships…I don’t know whether the word humanist applies to me because I am interested in various periods of history, various genres of film making. I am interest in landscapes, in moods and in architecture, in settings, and milieus.
KAZAN: I aspire to. I suppose and-I think-the word is a compliment, I think one thing is that we, well, let’s say you three whose work I admire so much try to present human beings, in all their complexities , rather than simplifying them for reasons of love. In other words the love does not carry the human, the human makes the love. In other words the love does not carry the human. The human makes the love. And also with that the sense of compassion for them so that there are neither villains to say something very simply but human beings in dilemmas, in problems, in situations and I feel that about your work and the work of the other two men here very strongly. The three of you have actually been a great thing in my life. And these have meant, a great deal to me, and I think it does fit your work certainly.
HUMAN BEINGS SAME EVERYWHERE
RAY: Would Mr. Kurosawa wish to make a comment on this?
KUROSAWA: (comments in Japanese) I think the word humanism can be interpreted in different ways. And I feel though there may be different cultures, different habits, different situations, but still the human mind is the same basically. And therefore, I feel that the medium when I make a film that I keep the medium as an expression of human feelings which I feel is common to all cultures, all nations with different practices, customs etc.
DILEEP PADGAONKAR:Mr. Antonioni, would you make a remark on the definition of humanism? I am sure, you are not very happy with the word, too.
ANTIONIONI: I feel that this term has a different meaning for us. To say it has a cultural and a historical meaning. But I have a feeling is problem….
DON’T THINK WHILE WORKING
DILEEP PADGAONKAR:Right! How do you feel in your own work and the kind of interest that you have shown in human beings? Does it stem from any philosophical attitude at all or is it merely instinctive?
ANTONIONI: It is instinctive. I don’t think in terms of philosophy while I’m working, I just don’t think.
DILEEP PADGAONKAR:I don’t think you should say merely instinctive. I think it is a key word. You see the truest thing what comes out instinctively.
RAY: Yes, well, I entirely agree with Kazan. Because I have same feeling about working. I can’tanalyze the way I make my films or I present my characters. Of course some of them are based on other people’s conception but then they acquire a slightly different color when I adapt certain other writers work for the cinema. And some of myself goes in that conception. Therefore, it’s a creation which is partly the author’s when its story is based on somebody else’s work. I have also done original stories. At other times, it’s the author.
You begin with a sense of sympathy for what the writer has written. And you begin to have feelings for the characters that he has created, and that doesn’t debar the works from being faithful to the original, the faithful in my way-in my personal way.
ANTONIONI ON KAZAN’S MIND
KAZAN: I will say one other thing. I think speaking of the other three gentlemen here, I think one thing that I like about their work Is that they deal with difficult characters, characters that aren’t easily digestible or put into a certain frame, they are complex, and, finally , the effect is of wonder when the film is all over you think about it further.. You continue to think about the person and you wonder about it, you wonder if you, what it was he really like, what the director really means t. I know when I first saw Mr. Antonioni’s film, the first film he made, I thought about it for a week afterwards. It was on in my mind and I kept wondering about it. Many questions came up and I still don’t know and I think not knowing sometimes in art is better than knowing than being told and the worst thing is simplification, when something is made too clear.
DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Bu t you’ve been talking about the other three directors’. What about your own work and your own attitude?
KAZAN: Well, I leave that to the critics.
DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Good!
AMITA MALIK: Well, Yes, we have been talking about different cultures and each one of you has ventured out of your territory to make films in other countries. Now, Mr. Kazan was an emigrant, you went from what was probably traditional society in Asia and into o the brave new world. M. Antonioni has shot films in America, in the United Kingdom, China and Africa. Satyajit Ray, after all these years of Bengali films, is now venturing into the world of Hindi films. He is making a film in Hindi outside his native Bengal. Mr. Kurosawa has made a film in Russia and Mr. Antonioni is going to make two more films in Russia. Now, how do you feel operating out of your sown territory?
KUROSAWA: (in Japanese) I don’t feel that I try totake the Soviet view point when I try to make a film in Soviet Union. In fact, I felt I liked the story. I liked the characters and I tried to make a film in the Soviet Union but I do not think I do not feel I have gone out of my territory in making a film like that and since I liked the story I felt some sympathy with the characters and I wanted to make it as a film, that’s why I made it. I do not feel I have gone away from my territory by making films in the Soviet Union.
DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Right, but when you made your film in the United States at that time did you have to face any particular problems of adaptation to the new environment in which you were working?
ANTONIONI: No, since one year in the United States I love the country and I felt myself ready to shoo t there..
DILEEP PADGAONKAR: Which you felt at the end of one year, youhad enough of a feel of American life to make a film?
ANTONIONI: I don’t think of all this way because if you think that you are not yet ready, it means that you are not ready. I just did the film.
KAZAN: Now, I think I can’t trust as a value in saying here is a man from another culture, looking at America for the first time and I think if you think of the film that way you say, “Well that’s interesting in itself”.
Mr. Chanana is an alumnus of Satish Chander Dhawan Government College,Ludhiana-India.This premier institution completes t’s 100th year of establishment.
He has been associated with Drama- and Cinema right since college days and was also awarded college colour then.
Mr. Chanana makes Film Documentaries in Mumbai and his documentary, LIVING ON THE EDGE-
DEGLAMOURIZING BOLLYWOOD depicting poor plight of cine workers has been rewarded globally with 337 awards till date ,thus recognising issues raised by him. Kudos to Opender Chanana for his relentless efforts for a cause so dear to him.
( Administrator: Brij Bhushan Goyal with Team : https://theglobaltalk.com/ is thankful to Opender for writing on Mohan Segal also an illustrious alumnus of Govt. College, Ludhiana )
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