Have I rightly discovered a connection between Barack Obama Senior and the Sidney Poitier character in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”

Yesterday at Facebook, I posted this

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with the caption: “Guess who came to dinner? A thoughtful portrait of perhaps the most influential graduate student of the late 20th Century….”

Then today I made this more explicit posting the photograph a second time and saying

“Subroto Roy notes that when a 23 year old Barack Obama Sr came to the USA and met Ann Dunham to become the most influential graduate student of the late 20th Century, it was more than a half dozen years before the great Sidney Poitier acted in “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” — and those half dozen years were crucial in the Civil Rights Movement…”

And on the same lines I posted yet again, saying

“Subroto Roy  wonders if the meeting of Barack Obama Senior with Mr and Mrs Dunham was a bit like this portrayal in a famous film more than a half dozen years later”

attached to a photo of the Sidney Poitier character meeting with the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn characters

poitier

and finally I have posted a fourth time a short while ago saying

“Subroto Roy notes, in reference to his analogy of the 1960 meeting between Barack Obama Sr and Ann Dunham and the characters in the 1967 movie “Guess who’s coming to dinner”, that in both cases the meeting occurred in Hawaii, and the parents of the girl were on the West Coast…. Hmmm…. coincidence? Or did the writer of the movie adapt from a real tit-bit of news?”

Perhaps I have discovered something here, perhaps not.  Either way, American popular culture and American politics have had a felicitous confluence.

Subroto Roy

Postscript 1:

I forget the details of the movie but seem to recall the Sidney Poitier character had to rush off to serve a good cause in….. Africa….

Postscript 2:

There were 17 American States which forbade inter-racial marriages at the time the movie was made in 1967; in 1960 there may have been more though Hawaii,  which became a state on Aug 21 1959, to its credit was not one of them. Thus there is a third possibility beyond coincidence and the writer of the movie hearing about real news, namely, the fact that Hawaii never had “anti-miscegenation” laws, a fact that could help explain both events.

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Iran’s modern cinema — a must-see for those wishing to make war!

(Preface: This is a Note of mine at Facebook, based on my comment there on Avner Cohen’s link to a recent LA  Times article; if you would like to join me at Facebook, write to me.)

“I wonder if Iran’s modern cinema has reached American and Israeli audiences easily. I am introduced to it quite recently myself on India’s cable TV — e.g. “White Balloon”, “The Circle”, “Song of Sparrows” etc… It seems to me to be compulsory viewing for anyone wishing to make war on Iran…It is surely among the best cinema there is. Nothing like it coming out of Hollywood, Bollywood etc.

The films reflect the society. “Offside”, about the six female soccer fans not allowed to enter the stadium, is especially brilliant in its candour. Nothing like it anywhere in the world at the moment. If society is so candid about itself, the politics cannot be all bad. I fear there is a massive cultural miscommunication between Iran and the rest of the world, caused of course by rather thick diplomacy on all sides. Is there not a master diplomat in the world who can get Iran and Israel to the point of diplomatic recognition? Zubin Mehta (an Indian of Iranian origin beloved in Israel) might be my choice as the initial/symbolic leader of such a diplomatic team!”

Kolkata

*Anna Karenina* in Hindi? (Revised 15 April 2013)

From Facebook: 31 July, 2009:

Subroto Roy has told Hindi movie producers and a director too that he has for many years wished to see (indeed to write a screenplay for) an Indian version of *Anna Karenina*: Tabu as Anna, Amol Palekar as Karenin, Manoj Bajpai as Vronsky.

From Facebook: 15 April 2013
Tabu was whom I had said I would have put in the lead role of *Anna Karenina* in Hindi… But now I would have to say Shivani Tanksale.

Is “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” referring to an emasculation of (elite) American society?

In Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona the three American men, and especially the seemingly insufferable Doug, are drawn in stark contrast to the two or three Spaniards. Woody Allen often writes his movies too and has apparently written this one, so the lengthy monologues that might be emerging from a character and seem to be spoken by a Johannson or Hall here might just as easily have been spoken by Allen himself in an appearance in one of his previous movies.

But not in case of the WASP-men.  What  is Doug  made to talk about throughout?  Domestic nesting behaviour, shopping, how to please parents and society: all conventionally, stereotypically, feminine,  not masculine, subjects of conversation.  His fellow male WASPs are no better.  The most that comes out by way of masculinity is talk of a little sports or a little gadgetry.  That’s it.  On balance, the WASP-men in Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona are made to come across as effete hedonistic characters – though ones holding elite expensive jobs.

Contrast that with Juan Antonio and his father who can talk about or enact nothing but creative deeds whether painting in case of the son or poetry in case of the father or making love to women in case of both.

Of course this is fantasy and there is dramatic license being taken here because creative artists possessing the kind of masculine integrity these two men portray tend in reality to be hungry and impecunious and angry and unkempt, not living in marvelous clean mansions that attract the Marie-Elenas of the world to their beds.  If they had inherited wealth they might have tended to squander it rather than find artistic genius and good taste, not merely in one generation but over two.

Furthermore, the integrity is all a bit far-fetched – Antonio is uncouth enough to propose to Vicky she jeopardize her engagement by making love in a threesome as a last fling in a bachelor-party before getting married, yet the same character later proclaims he is not someone to come between husband and wife (having already been with the wife).  The threesome he instantly proposes to Vicky and Cristina, who are strangers to him, is entirely vacuous in comparison to the threesome he ends up being in with Cristina and Marie-Elena; in the former, he is almost a cheap tour-guide who wants to get paid in kind for an interesting day of tourism, something Vicky naturally resists.  Besides, his paintings do look unexceptional, which allows an alternative interpretation that perhaps father and son are merely two rich lonely wasteful men imagining themselves to be leading the artistic life.

The four American women also come off as pallid in comparison to the central dominating character of Marie-Elena – a point made most bluntly when Cristina fetches the aspirin for Antonio only to find Marie-Elena administering him a neck-massage instead.  Cristina has at most a talent at photography, Marie-Elena is a genius at whatever she touches.

Even the silent Spaniard kissing Judy is portrayed doing more by way of masculinity than any of the WASP-men.  Doug with his laptop and his well-gymed body in shorts epitomizes Ivy League undergraduate success while remaining clueless about  human nature or the outside  world.  He is a modern American Karenin, and the theme we are left with of Vicky being besotted with her dashing Spaniard even while starting the dullest and most tedious married life with Doug, would, as it were, become Anna Karenina except she has yet to dutifully bear Doug and his family a child.

In fact it is the absence of such a child that makes the movie possible – if Vicky had instead visited Barcelona after she and Doug were married and had a child or two with them, would she have spared a second glance at the dashing Spaniard, no matter how boring and tedious Doug turned out to be? The great lacuna in Woody Allen’s great oeuvre thus far may be his inability to depict anything but adult conversations – has he ever managed to describe families with children seriously?

FR Leavis once suggested that DH Lawrence may have failed to grasp Anna Karenina, perhaps the greatest novel ever written,  for supposing Anna and Vronsky could survive on love alone.  Woody Allen may have failed similarly in his much smaller-scale characterization of the Antonio-Vicky-Doug triangle.  Does he have the patience to read Leavis’s masterly essay,  I wonder, besides the novel itself?  A Woody Allen production of Anna Karenina – now wouldn’t that be something else?

Subroto Roy,

Kolkata, India

Is “Slumdog Millionaire” the single worst “Best Picture” ever? But then, Hollywood’s critical sensibility has been declining for years….

What I said about “Slumdog Millionaire” in what may have been the first Indian review on December 31 was this:

“How sad that “Slumdog millionaire” is SO disappointing!

Slumdog millionaire seemed an excellent idea for this holiday season given all the favourable foreign reviews and awards as well as a jazzy joyous energetic trailer. Sad to say it turns out a pathetic disappointment, just another moralizing caricature of India — at least Katherine Mayo seemed authentic, this has no authenticity anywhere besides a final Hindi song-and-dance routine which at least looks like a Hindi song-and-dance routine. The young Brit Dev Patel in the lead role might turn out to be a good actor when he grows up but seems here to have been plucked out of a school-play and asked to do his best impersonation of Ben Kingsley impersonating an Indian person. The lines given to all the actors from India are completely and consistently hopeless – imagine a Mumbai-mafia boss coming home and asking his moll to make him a sandwich! Real men in India don’t eat sandwiches at home by choice, and a real Indian gangster’s moll would have had hot pakoras or kebabs and rotis waiting for him. Somebody needed to tell this Director a million little things like that, though you realize within minutes of the start that this is not supposed to be at all the real Dickensian tale from modern Mumbai that the trailer makes it out to be. Rather it seems to be something intended to pander to silly Western stereotypes about India that come most easily to mind — poverty and bad sewage systems in the slums, Hindus assaulting Muslims, men assaulting women and children, gangsters plucking out eyes of beggar-children, tourists being robbed at the Taj Mahal, incompetent call-centre staff mishandling calls, gangsters, gangsters and more gangsters and every one of them cheap and worthless, not a Bill Sykes or Nancy or Fagin among them. Even the throwaway lines peddle Western trivia mentioning Benjamin Franklin and even the Edinburgh Festival. We can only imagine how wonderful a real movie might have been with this same story-line. It should have been done in Hindi or Mahratti throughout with subtitles, and aimed at Indian critics not Western ones. Shekhar Kapur would have done splendidly though even the average Bollywood song-and-dance man might have done well enough. Slumdog millionaire has practically no art in it because the presence of any art requires an honesty of purpose, and that means, first of all, no pandering to the audience. The slight art that exists in it comes from the street-children who at least run like the wind.”

On February 2 I added a postscript

“It is amusing to hear it said in the American and British press that there has been a “smear campaign” against this movie, and one moreover that allegedly started in India. I think my December 31 review here at this site was the very first from India, and it had absolutely nothing to do with anything other than disappointment that a nice New Year’s Eve was rather spoilt by watching a badly made movie. Far from there being some kind of mysterious “smear campaign”, there appears to have been an obvious, calculated and paid-for promotional campaign in the guise of “Entertainment News” conducted on India’s influential English-language TV channels — without a single serious contrary opinion being allowed to be expressed. If the movie receives awards, it may speak more about the quality of the awards than about the movie itself. But of course there has been a general hyperinflation in awards all over in recent decades, from Nobel Prizes downwards.”

Now that it has won Hollywood’s highest acclaim (giving it its 15 Andy Warhol minutes in the limelight), I am led to wonder if it might be the single worst “Best Picture” ever. I cannot admit to having seen all  the movies below and yes there are several real  turkeys among them, especially in recent times,  but I would have to put it right up there with “Dances with Wolves” and ahead of “Titanic”.

1951 An American in Paris
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth
1953 From Here to Eternity
1954 On the Waterfront
1955 Marty
1956 Around the World in Eighty Days
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 Gigi
1959 Ben-Hur
1960 The Apartment
1961 West Side Story
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1963 Tom Jones
1964 My Fair Lady
1965 The Sound of Music
1966 A Man for All Seasons
1967 In the Heat of the Night
1968 Oliver!
1969 Midnight Cowboy
1970 Patton
1971 The French Connection
1972 The Godfather
1973 The Sting
1974 The Godfather Part II
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976 Rocky
1977 Annie Hall
1978 The Deer Hunter
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 Ordinary People
1981 Chariots of Fire
1982 Gandhi
1983 Terms of Endearment
1984 Amadeus
1985 Out of Africa
1986 Platoon
1987 The Last Emperor
1988 Rain Man
1989 Driving Miss Daisy
1990 Dances with Wolves
1991 The Silence of the Lambs
1992 Unforgiven
1993 Schindler’s List
1994 Forrest Gump
1995 Braveheart
1996 The English Patient
1997 Titanic
1998 Shakespeare in Love
1999 American Beauty
2000 Gladiator
2001 A Beautiful Mind
2002 Chicago
2003 The Lord of the Rings
2004 Million Dollar Baby
2005 Crash
2006 The Departed
2007 No Country for Old Men
2008 Slumdog Millionaire

Hollywood needs to look at the list and then look in the mirror (which it does all the time except it probably sees nothing back).

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

American Voices: A Brief Popular History of the United States in 20 You-Tube Music Videos

Someone once wondered if you can play chess without the Queen;  I wonder,  can a poem be written without words?

Certainly no country other than the United States might have its modern history sought to be told of  in a  medley such as this.

SR