(Ronnie Cooke Newhouse - Stephen Wolstenholme / Collier Schorr)
* Although it represents only a fraction of all the published material, I'm pretty sure this is now the most comprehensive CdG ads archive on all the internets (no brag). Edited by sipang - 2/20/12 at 12:15pm
Shatranj ke Khilari (1977)
Film: Ray Satirizes Indian Nobility:Civilized Impotency
IT IS 1856 in the beautiful city of Lucknow, the capital of Oudh, one of the last independent states in the north of India. "The King," the narrator tells us, "didn't much like to rule but he was proud of his crown," an elaborate, jewel-encrusted headdress that had been publicly exhibited in London. Instead of ruling, the King prefers to compose poems and songs and to while away his time with his wives.
The British East India Company is preparing to gobble up Oudh, but to do this legally, it must persuade the King to sign a new treaty of what's euphe-mistically called friendship.
While all this is going on, two friends, wealthy Lucknow noblemen named Mirza and Mir, carry on a non-stop chess tournament. There are no stakes other than their egos. The two men are obsessed with the game to such an extent that one of them has no time for his lovely young wife (Shabana Azmi), while the other is the last person in Lucknow to know that his wife has made him a cuckold.
"The Chess Players," Satyajt Ray's new film that opens today at the Little Carnegie, is social satire of a sort that is so graceful, so polite, so balanced and in such good taste, that it virtually amounts to a shrug: This is the way it was, Mr. Ray seems to be saying. So be it.
Though it is often witty, "The Chess Players" lacks the passion that guides the intelligence and can make urgent the most remote of problems. More than anything else, I suppose, it is stately. Watching it is like being witness to a formal ceremony. One admires the costumes, the perfectly picked-up cues, the elegance of the principals, the complicated footwork, the manner in which an entire civilization has been encapsulated in a few particular gestures. Yet one is always a little ahead of the film. It's unable to surprise us.
Some of this must be the intention of Mr. Ray. He's not trying to keep us on the edge of our seats but to make us contemplate a bit of history, not because of any special parallels to our own times but because it has to do with the birth-life-death rhythm of all civilizations. He's not outraged. Sometimes he's amused; most often he's meditative, and unless you respond to this mood, the movie is so overly polite you may want to shout a rude word.
"The Chess Players" becomes epigrammatic in form as it cuts among its three arenas of action, which are the equivalent to plot lines. There is the nonstop chess game and the minor irritations that must be faced by the two friends played by Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey—who was so good as the sly Indian guide in "The Man Who Would Be King."
Then there are the scenes in the British resident's office in which Richard Attenborough, as the resident, talks, very intelligently, about British policy in India, and the scenes in the palace where we watch the King at play and, finally, as he comes to the realization that he's been checkmated and that the best he can do is to retire with honor.
The film is not without feelings, but they are muted, reined-in. There's resignation everywhere, even in the line, "The Indians invented the game but the British changed the rules," and especially at the end when the two chess players, having escaped from Lucknow for a day of uninterrupted chess-playing in the country, wonder whether they should return to the city, now occupied by British troops, "If we can't cope with our wives," one of the chess players says to the other, "how can we cope with the British Army?"
Actually it's a funny line, and it's meant to be, but it also reflects the civilian impotency that is the film's subtext.
THE CHESS PLAYERS, directed by Satyajit Ray; screenplay (in English and Hindi with English subtitles by Mr. Ray; produced by Siresh Jindal; director of photography, Soumendu Roy; music, Mr. Ray; editor, Dulal Dutta; a Devki Chitra production, distributed by Creative Films International. Running time: 135 minutes. At the Little Carnegie, 57th Street, east of 7th Avenue. This film was not been rates.
General Outram . . . . . Richard Attenborough
Mirza Sailad Ali . . . . . Sanjeev Kumar
Mir Roshan Ali . . . . . Saeed Jaffrey
Mirza's Wife . . . . . Shabana Azmi
Mawah Wajid Ali Shah . . . . . Amzad Khan
Adviser . . . . . Tom Alter
Granted, Daniel Clowes is super-all-right, but who remembers OK SODA, featuring a very pre- Black Hole CHARLES BURNS?
I remember there was this whole 1-800 line and everything, complete with some tired thirty-something voice actor trying his best to approximate the then-new voice of teen-angst-seattle-ennui being approximated by mall teens...everywhere. Life is boring. Enjoy this soda. It's pretty OK...I guess.
One of the first attempts by corporate America to co-opt the new slacker zeitgeist, IIRC. I think the vending machines were placed exclusively on college campuses and dorms.
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.