G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Romancing Railways. Buster Keaton style.

Today October 4 2011 is 116th birth anniversary of Buster Keaton.

Paul Theroux:

"Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it."

(The Great Railway Bazaar, 1975)

The New York Times, Sept. 30 2011:

Neuroscience suggests that Apple's smartphone activates the part of the brain associated with feelings of love and compassion.

Joseph Heller:

"if you are sane enough to ask to be declared unfit to fly on dangerous missions, then you are fit to fly".

DAVID BROOKS, The NYT, Oct 6 2011:

we travel at the same speeds as we did a half-century ago, whether on the ground or in the air. We rely on the same basic energy sources. Warren Buffett made a $44 billion investment in 2009. It was in a railroad that carries coal.

One of the greatest film scenes is surely from Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” (1955): children coming face to face with a train.

But is there a film as good, even better, as Pather Panchali where trains and railways have a major role to play, where they are there almost all the time on the screen?

There is. And I was lucky to see it on Sept 29 2011 on UTV World Movies.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

It's a silent film: The General, 1926. It's available on YouTube here.

Great Orson Welles has said:

"'The General' is the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."

I agree with Mr. Welles completely. In a way, 'The General' anticipates everything funny that has been created for screen since then.

My 17-year old son watched it for a while and was stunned by the stunts performed by the hero: Buster Keaton playing the character of Johnnie Gray.

I was intrigued by the way Johnnie works so smoothly around his beloved train steam-engine "General", the way a mahout works with his beloved but huge tusker.

The film is not just about steam-engines and wagons but also about tracks, communication cables, water refills, fuel etc.

Johnnie is upset not just because his fiancee Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack) has been kidnapped, albeit inadvertently, by the North but that they have also taken his "General".

[I too once loved steam-engines that frequented Miraj station. They certainly activated the part of my brain associated with feelings of love and compassion. One of them quite aptly called 'Genda' (गेंडा) (Rhinoceros).]

I also liked the way film makes subtle fun of the American civil war or any war in general. Its inherent contradictions.

For instance, as Johnnie enters "Southern" territory riding General and escorting Annabelle and waves at a soldier, he is fired at because he is still wearing Union uniform. So only the colour of clothing decides foe or friend!

Or Johnnie wants to enlist only to win over his girl.

Walter Kirn argues:

"...Joseph Heller's Catch-22 appeared, abruptly downgrading war's special status as an existential crucible and also, unwittingly, beginning the process of rendering four-star male novelists irrelevant. The book treats war on a par with business or politics (to Heller they were very much the same), portraying it as a system for alienating people from their own interests and estranging them from their instincts. Protocol replaces principle, figures plucked from thin air supplant hard facts, and reason becomes rigamarole." (Slate, August 2 2011)

Watching 'The General', I feel the downgrading process started in 1926.

Was this film released in India in 1920's? Did any of my grand-parents see it?

Did Shripad Krushna Kolhatkar (श्रीपाद कृष्ण कोल्हटकर), C V Joshi (चिं वि जोशी) and R K Narayan see it? If yes, did it influence their art in any manner?


The civil war is forcing Johnnie to separate from his beloved General. At the end of the film, as Johnnie and Annabelle say final goodbye to us, we see they both are seating on one of General's many body-parts, kissing passionately, but Lieutenant Johnnie is being forced to return the salutes of passing soldiers with his right arm!

(In the picture above, Johnnie is sitting to the left of Annabelle. But then it becomes difficult to kiss and return the saulte. He then comes to her right...)



Comedians at Lunch: W C Fields, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Groucho Marx

Artist: Albert "Al" Hirschfeld (1903-2003), Published: May 1 2000

This must be one hell of a lunch!

Courtesy: Al Hirschfeld Foundation. Please visit http://www.alhirschfeldfoundation.org/splash/

CATE LINEBERRY, The New York Times October 4 2011:

"Men weren't the only ones being killed on Civil War battlefields - thousands of boys fought and died alongside them."


Boys, like Griffith Thomas who joined the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery as a musician at 16, enlisted with dreams of adventure, but soon realized the severity of camp life — and the terrors of the battlefield. Young drummers were especially targeted by the enemy because their drumbeats communicated orders on the chaotic battlefield.

Credit: Wisconsin Veterans Museum

p.s. After I wrote the above I read this in Feb 2012:

Satyajit Ray:

"Buster Keaton in his film The General performs the most incredible antics in the driver's seat of a runaway train, while a full scale battle rages in the background. To say that the scene is funny in not nearly enough; it is one of the most elating aesthetic experiences in cinema."