Fallen Curtain

A peek into Experimenta 2006

It was such a pleasant evening, away from my textbooks, at the cultural centre of a former super power, watching experimental movies. The USSR to most of my generation is ancient history and why not ? The Soviet Union ceased to exist in ’91. At the time I was merely 6-therefore my knowledge of the former Soviet Union and the cold war has been defined by news articles, films and people around me. I remember a grainy picture of ‘Gorbachev’ on the front page of the daily newspaper- the bold headline announced the dissolution of USSR. I remember it not because I found it important but because people around me did. It was the end of an era of madness. An era in which a divide in ideology almost drove the world into chaos. Sadly we find ourselves today in another era and a different form of madness; even worse is the overlooked fact that one of the players in this new game of madness is the same.

Why am I launching into rant about the iron curtain you ask ?

Well, it was part of the selection of films I was lucky enough to view at friday’s showing of Experimenta 2006, as part of the short film program curated by Marcel Schwierin titled the “The Fallen Curtain.”
‘The Fallen Curtain" did have a sense of irony in the context of the venue of Experimenta. Short films looking at the Soviet Union being viewed at the building that once was the centre for its culture [in the city] but has now been reduced with a change in name and flag to something else.

The first presentation ‘Cosmic Science’ was a look into some of the scientific contours of the Cold War. The films did deviate from the topic in the end adding some positive breadth to the showing.

“Space the final frontier”

India is a strange country. The number of people I know who want be Aeronautical engineers or Astrophysicists is just crazy. You say the word space and their eyes light up and they would start dreaming about NASA or ISRO or digital telescopes or Boeing….
Their heroes are astronauts, physicists and engineers not cricketers. Most of the names they spelt out to me over and over again were either Russian or American. They could spill out trivia, simple stuff - the first satellite in space or the man in space, to the slightly more complex - what does Soyuz mean, number of American missions to the moon and locations of observatories etc.

In a sense the passion these young Indians have for all things connected with space is an example of the kind of scientific fervour the space race instilled in young Americans and Russians in the 1950s and 1960s. Also in a sense their definition of a future then, of our present now, was a future yet to be seen.

Paint your Silence.

A list of films I saw:

Cosmic Science

Tele news ‘Trailblazer in Space’ USA 1961 35mm (or DVD/NTSC) sound b/w 9min
This newsreel records in detail the saga of Ham, a little chimp’s 18-minute ride through the heavens as part of the Mercury-Redstone 2 mission of 31 January 1961.

Pavel Kogan ‘Gordoe Smirenije’ (Proud Humility) USSR 1965 35mm sound b/w 18min original language
This film is a popular presentation of the histories of the Pulkovsky Observatory, the Kislovodsky astronomical station, and radio astronomy in general. The film’s commentary is provided by the famous science-fiction author Boris Strugatsky, who worked at this observatory.

Ford ‘A Wonderful New World of Fords’ USA 1960 35mm (DVD/NTSC) sound b/w 3min
This is a Ford commercial linking new compact cars (e.g. ‘Ford Galaxy’) to futurism and the space frontier.

Charles and Ray Eames ‘Powers of Ten’ USA 1977 35mm (DVD/NTSC) sound colour 9min
Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in man’s hand.

Phil Donahue Vladimir Pozner ‘A Citizens Summit – Trailer’ USA/USSR 1985 DV sound colour 2min
Phil Donahue Vladimir Pozner ‘A Citizens Summit' – Excerpt’ USA / USSR 1985 DV sound colour 12mins
These ‘space bridges’ involved a satellite link between Seattle and Leningrad, and were broadcast nationwide in the US and USSR. Groups of Americans conversed with groups of Soviet citizens. The project was supported by Gorbachev. A Citizens Summit II – Women to Women (1986) was female only.

Howard Greenhalgh ‘Go West’ (Pet Shop Boys)', UK 1993 DVD sound colour 4min
Go West is a cover version of the Village People song of this name from 1979. Reinterpreted to reflect the decline of the Soviet Union, the aesthetics of totalitarian march-pasts are revived in lavish computer graphics, and the destination of the journey is now the Promised Land of pop capitalism.

Christoph Girardet & Matthias Muller ‘Manual’, Germany 2002 colour 10min
Combines close-ups of redundant technology gleaned from 60s US sci-fi television series with a female voice from a 40s Hollywood melodrama. Manual makes absolute detachment clash with magnified emotion…

The 4th Annual festival of experimental cinema in India is here, better known as Experimenta 2006. As usual it will be a treat to all the ├╝ber -film buffs (or film goers in general) in the city as they all descend on it like vultures on carrion. The showing includes vintage silent Indian cineam from 1910s in a showing titled FILM ARTIST PHALKE, films from the former USSR (FALLEN CURTAIN) and not to mention the India premiere of Ashim Ahluwalia’s ‘John & Jane’ - a documentary about six call agents who answer American 1-800 numbers in a Mumbai call center.

The festival starts tomorrow (15th February) and runs until the 19th. Yes I'm little late with this bit of infomation but you still could catch the last day today. For more information refer to the schedule.

Next stop Bassein.

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Nick said...

Textbooks? Kya textbooks?

Nick said...

These shorts you described sound great, by the way. My buddy Zach showed me 'The Powers of 10' a few years ago and I loved it.

Akshay said...

nick - yes text books. For the distance course I'm taking.The Power of 10 was amazing ...just amazing - a humbling experience. A journey through 40 powers of 10. I wonder if a copy of it is available online. What I forgot to mention is that many of the movies I saw here are available online.

Anand K said...

Hi Akshay....
I happened to bump into your page while I was surfing the desi blogspheres.... freshie blogger and a shutterbug here, you see. Good points on the Indian passion for space and that observation on the parallels to the (Russian and American) space mania of the 50s and 60s. My 2nd blogpost begins with a reference to "October Sky", that chaming biopic of the Rocket Boys-the four coal miners' kids of Sputnik-scared America who chase a life they "can't even dream of" .......and making it! It starred Jake Gyllenhaal of Donnie Darko, Jarhead and Brokeback Mountain fame. Seen it?
I see you have made a post on Donnie Darko way back in Oct 2004. Cool! It's my FAAAAVORITE movie and my recent blog post was a 2000 word ode to that unforgettable experience. I'm glad atleast someone else from India has seen this cult classic!

Keep up the good work. Cheers!

Peter (AsianWildRose) said...

It's cool that Indians are interested in space because it's a healthy interest for individuals. You cannot compare it to the USSR where space was just used as a political pawn to show how powerful their regime was. It's good that you're learning about the USSR at this stage since you were so young. The more young people learn it, the less chance that evil will ever be repeated again.

Akshay said...

anandk - The October Sky is indeed an good example of american space mania. The side story of the small town boy trying to break out made the move even more interesting.
Yes I'm a Donnie Darko fan too, Incidently I'm listing to Gary Jule's Mad World as I write this comment. I'll give your post a look.

peter - My intention was to not emulate the ideals of the USSR. Nor emulate any cold war nostalgia. Though I would like to point out in a sense America was equally to blame in the proceedings. Peter communisim in sense is not dead it has just taken a new shape - China.