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A Method to Madness

 | Editorial |

  BY Sudarshan Ramani

A still from Al Mummia by Shadi Abdel Salam

Projectorhead is proud to publish its 11th issue in our anniversary year. We ideally should have published this last year (our last issue was in 2014) but regular readers have noticed that we have published regularly on our online blog, so we have not taken a sabbatical so much as held back to properly arrive at a method.

Implementing a method in film criticism is the same as implementing a method in real life. It takes work, discipline and effort. It takes organization and as in method acting, it’s easier when you go around and ask your director “What’s my motivation?” and the director tells you, “Your salary”.

Shadi Abel Salem’s Al Mummia, a movie not discussed in this magazine’s issue, deals with a tribe that trades relics from Egypt’s past for profit to sustain their way of life, while the protagonist, a rebel seeks to bring archaeologists into a valley to make it the common property of cultural institutions. The irony of this film is that the grave robbing tribe is more continuous to Egypt’s history and traditions than the official custodians who seek to preserve the past. This dialectic, of dealing with the past while not losing sight of the present is a constant challenge in the 21st Century.

Sometimes staying true to one method of running a magazine, say a bunch of issues monthly, weekly, yearly doesn’t stick either because of competing demands in the personal lives of our staff and our writers. Sometimes film criticism and cinema around the world changes so rapidly that we can never quite catch up; what we gain in reflection, we lose in topicality. Sometimes, it’s a case of having a wealth of ideas, a backlog of articles waiting to be published but being too big and detailed to be published in our blog, which has generally taken the main topical function of our magazine. And sometimes, sometimes we face all of these problems at the same time.

One of the big illusions catered by publications in the 21st Century, not only film magazines but online journals, newspapers and other publications on technology, politics, entertainment, arts is confusing the latest fad with the next big thing. Three years ago digital and 3D were topical and relevant, with everyone expecting either or both to win over the world, yet all these years later the biggest selling film in the last 365 days is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was shot on film. 3D still endures but it hasn’t overtaken or changed the medium, and the kind of experiments introduced in Godard’s Adieu au langage and Scorsese’s Hugo has not created a more meaningful and forceful 3D cinema. Digital cinema has entered the period of the early 1930s when sound cinema became the “new normal” dividing itself between the experimenters (Lang, Lubitsch, Vidor) and those content to limit themselves to a small palette of the medium’s potential. In other words, there is a period of stasis in cinema at present. Leos Carax’s comments in the 2013 interview published in this issue about digital cinema not giving space and room for the human eye to exercise is not quite true, at least to the same extent as before. In the case of Indian cinema, where three years ago, there was talk of maturity, new subjects, new film-makers taking the world by storm, today we see stasis and continuity. By taking a longer view, we come to look at changes and trends in Indian cinema from a historical lens. A film by Mehboob, like Roti, as discussed by Omar Ahmed, shows that the films of the past evinced a fascination with the global zeitgeist in a manner not dissimilar to the invocations of film festival auteurs by the likes of Dibakar Banneerjee and Anurag Kashyap. Other articles by Medha Singh and Saurabh Tiwari reflect on the engagement of commercial films such as the 90s Aamir Khan film Ghulam and the recent film Queen within the realm of contemporary India and its more. We see continuity but no change.

As a film magazine dedicated to a deeper appreciation of film history, of contemporary cinema and cinephilia, stasis and continuity is not exciting. Looking at events from a ground-level perspective, as the writers of this issue has done, focusing on methods used by the film narrative, in recent films and in past films, we see that what keeps cinema alive is the process. For this issue we are doing something a little different. We will be publishing new articles in brief intervals. This issue features interviews with four directors from around the world: Lino Brocka, Pedro Costa, Amos Gitai and Leos Carax, a backlog stored and collected over the last year, all of whom are attentive and nuanced about how the film-makers approach contemporary life and their own approaches in making films. We want to pause before each entry and give readers time to acclimatize with what has come before, to give people time to think. Having time to think is getting increasingly hard in our rapidly marching 21st Century.

2016 is five years since our first issue. Reflecting back, we have not been as regular as we like, nor have we entirely matched our avant-garde hopes. But we have been proud of the approach taken in printing every new issue, and most importantly, we are still here.