Satyajit Ray on Cinema

Satyajit Ray on Cinema

Satyajit Ray
Edited by Sandip Ray
Dhritiman Chaterji
Arup K. De
Deepak Mukerjee
Debasis Mukhopadhyay
Foreword by Shyam Benegal
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/ray-16494
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  • Book Info
    Satyajit Ray on Cinema
    Book Description:

    Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest auteurs of twentieth century cinema, was a Bengali motion-picture director, writer, and illustrator who set a new standard for Indian cinema with his Apu Trilogy:Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) (1955),Aparajito (The Unvanquished) (1956), andApur Sansar (The World of Apu) (1959). His work was admired for its humanism, versatility, attention to detail, and skilled use of music. He was also widely praised for his critical and intellectual writings, which mirror his filmmaking in their precision and wide-ranging grasp of history, culture, and aesthetics.

    Spanning forty years of Ray's career, these essays, for the first time collected in one volume, present the filmmaker's reflections on the art and craft of the cinematic medium and include his thoughts on sentimentalism, mass culture, silent films, the influence of the French New Wave, and the experience of being a successful director. Ray speaks on the difficulty of adapting literary works to screen, the nature of the modern film festival, and the phenomenal contributions of Jean-Luc Godard and the Indian actor, director, producer, and singer Uttam Kumar. The collection also features an excerpt from Ray's diaries and reproduces his sketches of famous film personalities, such as Sergei Eisenstein, Charlie Chaplin, and Akira Kurosawa, in addition to film posters, photographs by and of the artist, film stills, and a filmography. Altogether, the volume relays the full extent of Ray's engagement with film and offers extensive access to the thought of one of the twentieth-century's leading Indian intellectuals.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53547-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE:
    (pp. vii-viii)
    SANDIP RAY
  4. FOREWORD:
    (pp. ix-xii)
    SHYAM BENEGAL

    I WAS PROBABLY a trifle more passionate about going to the movies than my siblings or my peers at school. Before long, cinema became an extension not only of the world I occupied (from which it was altogether different) but also extended my imagination to an extraordinary degree to the vast expanse of the many universes of geography, history, mythology and fantasy, otherwise locked up between the covers of books.

    Making up my mind that all I wanted to do when I grew up was to make my own films gave me a licence to indulge my filmwatching fancy much...

  5. PART ONE: THE FILM-MAKER’S CRAFT
    • 1 NATIONAL STYLES IN CINEMA
      (pp. 3-8)

      ‘LOOK AT THE flowers,’ said Jean Renoir one day while on a search for suitable locales in a suburb of Calcutta for his filmThe River. ‘Look at the flowers,’ he said. ‘They are very beautiful. But you get flowers in America too. Poinsettias? They grow wild in California, in my own garden. But look at the clump of bananas, and the green pond at its foot. You don’t get that in California. That is Bengal, and that is [here Renoir used the one word that in his vocabulary meant wholehearted approval] fantastic.’

      Among other things which Renoir thought fantastic...

    • 2 NOTES ON FILMING BIBHUTI BHUSAN
      (pp. 9-12)

      WHAT INSPIRED YOU to makePather Panchali?

      This is a question I have often been asked. The simplest and truest answer would of course be that it is one of the most filmable of all Bengali novels. But this would not satisfy those who hold that the stuff of Bibhuti Bhusan Banerjee is not the stuff of cinema. They would admit, even acclaim, the greatness of the literary original, but would say at the same time that it is not natural film material.

      This betrays an ignorance of things filmic. One can be entirely true to the spirit of Bibhuti...

    • 3 SHOULD A FILM-MAKER BE ORIGINAL?
      (pp. 13-18)

      ALL GREAT FILM-MAKERS have fashioned classics out of other people’s stories.

      Apur Sansarthus grew out of situations conceived by the author himself. I, as the interpreter through the film medium, exercised my right to select, modify and arrange. This is a right which every filmmaker, who aspires to more than doing a commercial chore – to artistic endeavour, in fact – possesses.

      He may borrow his material, but he must colour it with his own experience of the medium. Then, and only then will the completed film be his own, as unmistakably as Kalidasa’sShakuntalais Kalidasa’s and not Vyas’s.

      It...

    • 4 THIS WORD ‘TECHNIQUE’
      (pp. 19-26)

      TECHNIQUE: A MEANS to an end. The technique of warfare, of poetry, of automation. The technique of making love, of making soufflés . . . of making films.

      At the turn of the century, Thomas Alva Edison invented an optical toy. In 1915, D.W. Griffith madeThe Birth of a Nation. Robert Flaherty took a primitive camera, explored the Arctic, braved its blizzards and came up withNanook. This was in 1921.The Gold Rushcame three years later andPotemkin, four.

      If I were asked to name the six most important events of the twentieth century, the birth and...

    • 5 ALL THESE DEVICES
      (pp. 27-31)

      THERE IS SCEPTICISM among a certain class of film critics about the technical innovations that have been introduced into film-making over the last ten years or so. These critics’ argument runs somewhat along these lines: ‘All these new-fangled devices cannot replace true inspiration. After all, there were masterpieces made even fifty years ago. To make a Chaplin film you need a Chaplin and not a contraption . . .’

      I have no intention of dismissing such notions in toto, inasmuch as I myself have scarcely been as moved by a modern film as by, say,City LightsorStrikeor...

    • 6 THE CHANGING FACE OF FILMS
      (pp. 32-34)

      CINEMA HAS UNDERGONE revolutionary changes in the last ten years or so. Unfortunately, the new kind of films rarely reaches the commercial screens of our country. Film societies have a nodding acquaintance with them, but my knowledge of them has been mainly acquired at film festivals.

      Some of these changes are on the surface, and are directly related to such things as camerawork and cutting. It is doubtful whether such changes would have taken place but for the introduction of new equipment, which have come into use in the last ten years. Cameras are handier than ever before, which means...

    • 7 THE QUESTION OF REALITY
      (pp. 35-38)

      JOHN GRIERSON ONCE defined the documentary as ‘the creative interpretation of reality’. I have often wondered if this was not a little misleading, because the question that immediately arises from the definition is:What is reality? Surely it is not only what constitutes the tangible aspects of everyday existence. Subtle and complex human relationships, which many of the best fiction films deal with, are also as much a part of reality as those other aspects generally probed by documentary makers. Even fables and myths and fairy tales have their roots in reality. Krishna, Ravana, Alladin, Cinderella, Jack the Giant Killer...

    • 8 THE CONFRONTING QUESTION
      (pp. 39-42)

      THE CINEMA OF the West today is a depressing vista on the whole. It is a cinema mainly of the youth turned cynical, heretical. Nothing is sacred any more. Conventions are there to be scoffed at, flouted. The attitude to life finds a perfect reflection in the attitude to art. In cinema, the plot and grammar and logic are thrown out of the window, and out with them go coherence, comprehensibility and conviction.

      But does this not have dire consequences on film-makers? Do they promptly go out of business? Oh no, because – and this is another gift of the troubled...

    • 9 A FILM MUST ACHIEVE ITS OBJECTIVE
      (pp. 43-49)

      THERE IS SOMETHING incongruous about my addressing film students about to receive their diplomas. Not only did I never receive the kind of education that you have but I, for long years, looked upon film schools with scepticism. The scepticism was there even before I came into films. It was strengthened through my experience of working with people who, like myself, had never been to a film school.

      When my friend Girish Karnad asked me to come and talk to the students at the convocation, I agreed mainly out of a sense of guilt. I had refused in the past,...

    • 10 THOUGHTS ON THE CAMERA
      (pp. 51-52)

      OF ALL THE arts, cinema is one which has been consistently and directly affected by advances of technology. This has naturally been most noticeable in the tools – particularly in the camera and its accessories. Think of the camera in the silent days and in the early years of sound – the huge, cumbersome, handcranked contraption – and compare it with the cameras of today, with their versatility and portability. Also, think of the improvements in its accessories – in lenses and filters. Add to these the improvements in film stock and it will be clear why a wider range of visual styles is...

    • 11 ‘I WISH I COULD HAVE SHOWN THEM TO YOU’
      (pp. 53-57)

      ONE OF MY very few recollections of the Indian silent cinema consists of a brief moment from a Bengali film calledKaal Parinaya(The Doomed Marriage). The hero and the heroine – or was it the vamp? – newly married, were in bed, and a close-up showed the woman’s leg rubbing against the man’s. I was nine then, but old enough to realize that I had strayed into forbidden territory. The visit, need I say, to this early example of Indian soft porn was accidental. An uncle of mine had taken me to the Globe to see the first Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan...

    • 12 THE NEW CINEMA AND I
      (pp. 58-67)

      WITH THE EMERGENCE of a crop of gifted film-makers in the country in the last eight years, it is certainly legitimate now to talk of a new Indian cinema. What sets these film-makers apart from the commercial ‘All India’ ones is a preoccupation with serious, rooted subjects which are put across with an imaginative use of modest resources.

      Many of these film haven’t come my way yet, but of the ones that I have seen, those from the south –Samskara, Kaadu, Nirmalayam, Chomana Dudi, Ghatashraddha, Kodiyettom, Thampu– all deal with rural themes. This distinguishes them from the new cinema of...

    • 13 UNDER WESTERN EYES
      (pp. 68-91)

      WHEN I WAS halfway through the shooting ofPather Panchali, Monroe Wheeler of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, came to Calcutta to collect material for an exhibition of Indian art. Our shooting was held up for lack of funds – not for the first time – and I was back at my advertising job. I had an arrangement with my firm whereby I could take time off for shooting when we had money, and be back at my desk when the money ran out. Wheeler came to our office. He had heard I was at work on a film, and...

    • 14 THE ART OF SILENCE
      (pp. 92-96)

      A MAN CALLED Edwin S. Porter discovered one fine morning that you could tell stories with moving pictures just as you could tell them with words, and he proceeded thereupon to make a motion picture calledThe Great Train Robbery. The year was 1903, and the place was America, and this was obviously a case of great things having a small beginning. For although a clever man, Porter could hardly have guessed that in making this fourteen-minute film, he was laying the foundation of the powerful art form of the twentieth century – the only art form, in fact, whose birth...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  6. PART TWO: PEN PORTRAITS
    • 15 A WORD ABOUT GODARD
      (pp. 99-101)

      ‘I DON’T LIKE Godard’ is a statement one frequently hears at Film festivals.

      Now, I don’t like Godard too. But then, ‘like’ is a word I seldom use to describe my feeling about truly modern artists. Do we really like Pablo Picasso, or Claude-Michel Schönberg, or Eugène Ionesco, or Alain Robbe-Grillet? We are variously provoked and stimulated by them, and our appreciation of them is wholly on an intellectual level. Liking suggests an easy involvement of the senses, a spontaneous ‘ taking to’, which I doubt if the modern artist even claims from his public.

      Godard has been both dismissed...

    • 16 THE NEW ANTONIONI
      (pp. 102-106)

      THERE IS A key scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s new film,Blow-Up, where the photographer-hero Thomas (played by David Hemmings) contemplates some enlargements of photographs he had taken in a London park while looking for ‘something lyrical’ to go in an album of his work. A stroke of luck had provided a distant view of an embracing couple – youngish woman (Vanessa Redgrave) and a middle-aged man – to add human interest to the wind-blown trees and the wide expanse of grass. The girl had actually caught him snapping and kicked up quite a row, demanding that he stop shooting and give up...

    • 17 THE NAYAK
      (pp. 107-111)

      I WAS NOT a film-maker yet when I first saw Uttam on the screen. I had heard of the emergence of the new hero and was curious to see what he was like. The heroes that one saw on the Bengali screen those days – Durgadas Banerjee, Pramathes Barua, K.L. Saigal, Dhiraj Bhattacharya – were hardly in the same league with the Hollywood heroes one admired.

      I saw three of Uttam’s films in a row, all made by one of our ablest directors, Nirmal Dey.

      First impressions were certainly good. Uttam had good looks, a certain presence, an ease of manner, and...

    • 18 ‘NEVER USE ANIMALS’
      (pp. 112-113)

      I MET INGMAR Bergman for the first time in the flickering half light of the auditorium of the Swedish Film Institute where he was watching Jack Smith’sFlaming Creatures. I was introduced, sat down beside him and watched it too. We laughed a great deal. Later, we had tea and toast in the canteen of the Institute and talked about films. He described some of his shooting experiences, particularly one with a cat which gave him a lot of trouble. ‘Never use animals,’ was his advice.

      On my first visit to Stockholm, I was particularly keen to meet Bergman as...

    • 19 THE IMMORTAL TRAMP
      (pp. 115-116)

      IF THERE IS any name which can be said to symbolize cinema – it is Charlie Chaplin.

      Chaplin revealed his genius in the early decades of the twentieth century by creating the character of the Tramp – an archetype which endeared him to the whole world. As a master of mime, Chaplin was as adept at making people laugh as making them cry. When the talkies came, Chaplin at first resisted them, and madeModern Timesas a silent film seven years after the coming of sound. Later, he went on to make a number of sound films where he abandoned the...

  7. PART THREE: CELEBRATING CINEMA
    • 20 ARRIVAL IN MOSCOW
      (pp. 119-125)

      WE CAUGHT THE Ilyushin for Moscow at Copenhagen. It was 4.30 in the afternoon, and the flight was to take two hours.

      We had first-class tickets, but we couldn’t spot a single vacant seat. This was odd. We stood perplexed and ill-at-ease for a minute or so when the hostess camp up, took one look at the tickets, and directed us to the tourist section. She was followed by a stout man in uniform who said in a tone of apology that there was probably some mistake: probably SAS had sold more tickets than there were seats.

      We settled in...

    • 21 FILM FESTIVALS
      (pp. 126-129)

      MY FIRST FILM,Pather Panchali, found its way to the Cannes Film Festival through the efforts of some sympathetic friends. I had no means of going, so I stayed back and held my breath. As I learnt later, the official screening of the film took place around midnight. The jury had already, on the same day, sat through four long features and decided to skip the Indian entry. Among the handful who attended were some critics, apparently with insatiable appetites, who sat through the film and liked it enough to insist on a second screening for the jurors. This was...

    • 22 OUR FESTIVALS, THEIR FESTIVALS
      (pp. 130-137)

      IF THE QUALITY of films were the sole criterion, surely one of the best film festivals ever held anywhere was the first international film festival in India in 1952. This took place just two months after I had started shootingPather Panchali. I was still in advertising and also very much involved in the running of the Calcutta Film Society, then five years old. As soon as we learnt that the government was planning a film festival, we published in our bulletin a long list of foreign films which we felt should be included in the festival.

      We sent a...

  8. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 138-161)
  9. SATYAJIT RAY’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO FILMS OTHER THAN HIS OWN
    (pp. 162-163)
  10. AWARDS WON BY SATYAJIT RAY
    (pp. 164-165)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 166-169)
  12. PRESERVING A LEGACY
    (pp. 170-171)