Pleasures of Viewing and Listening in 2009
by Sue Lange
Pleasures of Viewing: Slum Dog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire might not be a great movie. It has a
Slumdog reminds me of another movie I watched in 2009--the 1948 version of Oliver Twist. Both stories depict the lives of motherless children in a world that has no place for such beings. I imagine when Dickens first published Oliver Twist, he gave London's smart set a glimpse into what it is like to be a lost child, one whose only crime was being born. He showed them how cruel and unfair life for the poor can be. With a setting in Mumbai, Slumdog shows how cruel and unfair life amongst India's lost children can be. Like Dickens instructing the 1800s middle class, the directors of Slumdog, Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, show us--the comfortable modern middle class--something we do not know.
In both movies, the main character is an innocent clearly out of place in the streets. Even being ignorant of the streets ourselves, we know this child can not last long without the help of others more clever and more ruthless than himself. In the end, both children escape their fate in silly, improbable ways. Oliver Twist because he is secretly related to a wealthy man who has a big, non-judgmental heart. Jamal in Slumdog knows all the answers on a gameshow despite the fact that he has no education and in all probability can't even read. His limited life experiences somehow correspond exactly to the questions on the show, however, and he wins big time. Both movies have happy endings proving that everything will work out for those who maintain a good attitude.
There's a big difference between Oliver Twist and Slumdog, though, and it lies in our reaction to the circumstances. Dickens' story took place in the 1800s. We watch it and say, wow, the industrial revolution sure did a job on the populace; thank god we're well beyond those evil times! Now we have a minimum wage, and benefits, and laws against child labor, and limits on the working day, and serious universal healthcare--Well, maybe we don't have that, but you see the point.
Slumdog does not let us get away with that. This is a current story. It's still going on. Somewhere at this very moment, the mother of a little Jamal is being murdered in a religious war, leaving behind two orphans who must seek shelter under a canvas blanket in the middle of a garbage dump. Fagin will be along in a minute to take the children under his wing. He'll be plucking their eyes out, of course, but they'll be taken care of. You cannot feel comfortable and watch this movie. You wonder who is to blame. Is the Dickens' industrial revolution just now making it to Mumbai and soon they too will gain enlightenment and the Factory Act? Is this a world of their own making because of an overly religious culture? Well then, they're good with it. Next problem! Or, perhaps it's just the after-effects of English colonialism; it'll all work out in the end if we just maintain our good attitude.
If you think about it too long, though, you may find yourself recalling things you've seen in your own life. Maybe you needed gas at one point and took a wrong turn off the expressway. Maybe you got lost in Baltimore or LA and caught a glimpse of children hanging on the overpass. What was going on there? You begin to think that it may never be possible to save the children. Perhaps there can be no comfortable middle class without a slave class, or Fagin plucking out the eyes of the unwanted.
These are the things that Slumdog leaves you with. Perhaps, despite its pat Disney ending, it is a great movie after all. It is certainly sticking with me.
Pleasures of Listening in 2009: Yumeji's Theme (composed, arranged, and produced by Shigeru Umebayashi)
If anyone hears Yumeji's Theme and doesn't agree that it might be the most beautiful music ever written, they're dead from the neck up.
I think I discovered Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love in 2008, but it took me until 2009 to get hold of the soundtrack. Amazon.com said they had it, but they lied. They didn't have it and they didn't want to tell me they didn't have it. When they finally copped to the fact that didn't have it, they tried to save face by assuring me they'd be getting a shipment in any day now. They can't fool me. I know they don't have any warehouses and so they don't have shipments. I pressed them for an ETA. They did not respond after that so I struck out on my own. CDChild.com had never heard of Wong Kar-wai, In the Mood for Love, it's sequel 2046, the more famous Chungking Express, or even Hong Kong for that matter. I truly was on my own. I searched the backwaters of the Internet for off-the-wall suppliers of music and finally found satisfaction at www.illegalimportsandblackmarketdrygoods.com. They carried a double CD set of the soundtracks of both In the Mood for Love and 2046. The price: about twice what Amazon.com said they would charge if they were in a position to charge. I paid, and gladly, despite the fact that I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that the site might be a front for identity thieves. I took that chance because I love Yemeji's Theme.
As I write this I am listening to the album, so it all worked out in the end (I maintained my good attitude and that's probably what did it). There's lots of inconsequential music on the CD, but some great Nat King Cole as well. And something called "Blue" that I can only describe as a weird version of St. James Infirmary. And then there's Yumeji's Theme and Yumeji's Theme Redux. When it's done, I'll pop in 2046. I just watched the movie last night. It has more wonderful Shigeru Umebayashi music, a Dean Martin song, a haunting "Siboney" by Xavier Cugat and Connie Frances that makes me very happy, and "Perfidia." Perfect for an escape from the images of lost children huddling under a canvas tarp or hanging about on bridges in the new world.
Sue's serialized novel, The Textile Planet, is available free o’ charge at Book View Cafe. Aqueduct published her novella, We Robots, in 2007.