22 December 2010

The Image of Gandhi in 'Gunga Din'

In a most significant display of contempt and cynicism the 1939 Hollywood film 'Gunga Din' cast the 'mad guru' in the physical mold of Mahatma Gandhi. From his slight physique to his austere sartorial look wearing just a loin cloth and a chaddar (a large cotton shawl) draped over his shoulder or head, the demented villainous guru recalled the unmistakable figure of Mahatma Gandhi. Except for the head gear (turban), this was the dress which Gandhi wore during his visit to England for attending the Round Table Conference. Adopted from 1921 onwards, this dress contributed substantially in endearing him to the peasant masses of India. It was widely familiarized to the Western public through the visual media.

15 December 2010

Television as a Selling Machine

In 1922, an American farmer and electronics tinkerer by the name of Philo T. Farnsworth invented a scanning device that would lead to the development of television. Farnsworth’s ‘image dissector’ solved many of the problems faced by European and American technicians who sought a way to electronically transmit images, and control of Farnsworth’s invention would chart the course of television development. In 1939, Farnsworth licensed his device to American media mogul David Sarnoff of RCA. At the time, TV was a novelty but by the late 1950s it had grown into a powerful form of mass communications. When later asked what he thought about how his invention had progressed, Farnsworth, who died in obscurity in 1971, said he refused to watch TV and expressed disgust at its crass commercialization and the manipulation of the medium by the advertising industry. During Farnsworth’s lifetime, creeping commercialization came to infect every aspect of TV, and consumerism had become a way of life for most Americans, and increasingly the world over.

20 November 2010

Review of 'Dance and Human History'

Alan Lomax was an American ethnomusicologist and folklorist known for collecting and bringing to public attention a wide variety of folk music from the United States, Europe and Latin America. He was an early proponent of what is today commonly referred to as 'multiculturalism.' He received numerous awards and honors, including the Library of Congress Living Legends Award in 2000, two years before his death at the age of 87. In addition to his work in music Lomax was interested in dance, for which he developed the theory and method of 'choreometrics,' which was designed to observe and interpret the relationship between dance and social structure. Although the social sciences, particularly anthropology, have moved away from what came to be known as structuralism, Lomax produced a number of enduring works as part of the choreometrics project, including the documentary film 'Dance and Human History.'

06 October 2010

An Exhibition of 1980s Latin American Video

Oliver Stone's 1986 film Salvador might remind some viewers of just how often the reading of Latin American experience in North America has to slog its way through the troubled characterizations of self and other alive in the minds of many North Americans, of whatever political stripe. Stone's leading men traverse a dark night of the soul in El Salvador, using the political circumstances of that country to determine just who they are and who they are not. However favorable or controversial the film's political take on El Salvador might be to the viewer, the film remains in its essence a feverish meditation on the state of mind among some North American white males - presumably a marketable way to introduce the consequences of U.S. interventions in the the Third World to the public at large. A pragmatic approach to U.S. media politics might suggest that those of us interested in justice in Central and Latin America should be pleased at Hollywoodish renderings of situations south of the Rio Grande that cast any favorable light on combatants swathed in the the U.S. government's red paintbrush. The other hand suggests that such renderings are a surreal usage of complex, succinct political realities - like the circumstances of the rape and murder of Jean Donovan and three other American nuns in El Salvador in 1980 or Charles Horman's demise as portrayed in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing - to heighten the horrors experienced by U.S. expatriates. The assumption is that we won't understand it or be interested unless it happens to our anti-heroes.

25 September 2010

End of an Era for Arab Music in the USA

On 26 September 2010, Rashid Sales, the premiere source for Arab music in the US, held its grand closing. Amidst Middle Eastern grocery stores, shops and restaurants, Rashid Sales had been a mainstay of the Atlantic Avenue Arabic cultural scene in Brooklyn, New York, for decades. But due to dwindling sales of CDs and other physical media, which the owners attribute to availability of music on the internet, the shop can no longer make ends meet. They will, however, migrate part of their business to the internet and offer some of their wares for sale online. It was just a few short years ago that the shop was hailed as a 'Musical Oasis' in Brooklyn, and so in honor of that legacy TV Multiversity is reprinting here a 2004 article from the pages of Aramco World magazine. We wish Rashid Sales all the best in their new endeavor and hope that they can continue to bring Arabic music to the masses.

13 August 2010

Toying With Science With Arvind Gupta

Arvind Gupta has a B.Tech degree from IIT Kanpur and has been working at the Children’s Science Centre of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, since October 2003. He has been UNESCO’s consultant on science teaching, has been associated with the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme and has conducted workshops for children in more than 1,500 schools throughout India. He has written several books on science for children and translated several more. But, perhaps he is best know for making simple, inexpensive and educative toys from scrap and taking science out of sanitised labs and onto the level of the underprivileged child. Yet, the weight of all the laurels and recognition he has received rests gently on Arvind Gupta’s head.

04 July 2010

'Cannibal Tours' as Filmic Anti-Journey

Dennis O'Rourke is a Sydney-based filmmaker who has made a number of documentaries about people and situations in Australia, the Pacific and Papua New Guinea. His film 'Cannibal Tours' gives us insights into the phenomenon of tourism by Europeans and Americans to coastal Papua, and offers us a series of ironic episodic encounters between tourists and locals. The film is very definitely not an observational record of a single time-bound visit to a single identifiable place. It is quite difficult to form a sense of particular places (although a small number are mentioned) and there are no clues as to time. Although the film appears to start with an arrival and ends with a departure, almost everything happens in between has an arbitrary, unlocated, unspecific character to it. The only constant is that locals comment on the visitors, alternating with visitors commenting upon the locals. And there is a sense that the visitors' perceptions are usually countered with a specific anti-perception by a local. That is clearly a very deliberate construction even if it is made to look spontaneous, and balanced in a tit-for-tat exchange process.

05 June 2010

Subtitles and Film Marketing for US Audiences

In 1985, the folks at Orion (today Sony Picture Classics) were trying to figure out how to market Akira Kurosawa's 'Ran' to US audiences. Co-founder and co-president Michael Barker remembers clearly how he and co-founder / president Tom Bernard saw the dilemma: they thought this was a film that could really appeal to young audiences yet, Barker recalls, 'at the time, young audiences wouldn't go to subtitled films.' So they did something that was so brilliantly obvious that it's hard to believe it wasn't already commonplace, something that instantly became the norm: they had a trailer made for 'Ran' that omitted the Japanese and thus rendered subtitles unnecessary. They marketed the film, in other words, with the hope that it might be mistaken for an English language picture. 'We knew that if we could just get them into the theater, then they'd love the film,' says Barker. Art house distributors had adopted the retailers' bait-and-switch tactics, and they were working.

16 May 2010

Anthropological and Ethnographic Films

Anthropology has a long checkered past. On the dark side, its associations with empire, colonialism and the missionary enterprise are well documented. As this legacy took shape, early anthropologists insisted that their scientific enterprise increased knowledge of other peoples and that their work played a role in 'salvaging' the remains of supposedly dying cultures, which were deemed valuable as vestiges of the past of the modern societies within which anthropology arose. The evidence of these salvage operations fills many museums today. It took some time for anthropologists to turn their attention away from collecting artifacts (which sometimes included human remains) to asking questions about cultural survival. Despite the persistence of its dark side through much of modern history, at its best anthropology remains one of the few academic disciplines that takes seriously the ways of living and ways of knowing of other peoples. Contemporary Anthropologists immerse themselves in cultures other than their own, learning languages and lifestyles in far more depth than tourists and adventurers, and many continue to grapple with issues of representing peoples and cultures, which has made anthropology more self reflective than most other academic disciplines, building into itself the possibility of reform.

19 April 2010

Aljazeera Documentary on Drug Addiction in Gaza

Following the December 2008 Israeli offensive, a United Nations survey of Gaza residents found increases in risk taking behaviour, including a significant rise in cases of drug addiction. One drug associated with this trend is Tramadol, first developed in Germany during the 1970s and introduced in the 1990s as a centrally acting analgesic with properties similar to codeine and morphine and which is widely prescribed as a pain killer. Although illegal without a prescription in some regions, Tramadol is relatively easy to obtain in Gaza, either with fake prescriptions from pharmacies or on the black market. News reports prior to the 2008 offensive suggested that up to 30 percent of males between the ages of 14 and 30 had already been using Tramadol on a regular basis, with some 15,000 showing signs of addiction. The escalation of this problem since then was documented by the Aljazeera English satellite television channel in its recently aired program ‘Uncomfortably Numb.’

Notes on the BBC Feature 'How Mad Are You?'

‘How Mad Are You?’ is a two part 2008 BBC Horizon/Discovery Channel Co-Production produced and directed by Rob Liddell. The program explores the relationship between character traits and mental illness and considers the social implications of inaccurate diagnosis of the latter. Ten volunteers, five of whom have been previously diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, are observed and interviewed by a panel of three mental health experts who then venture their diagnoses. The experts include a psychiatrist, a professor of clinical psychology, and a psychiatric nurse. The volunteers and experts have no prior knowledge about one another, and were brought together for this one week study.