Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Magnificently Cool Seven

We spend most of our lives trying to be cool. To that end we buy sunglasses, learn French, make insanely dull jokes with deadpan face to total strangers in elevators, and lean against walls with an I-don't-give-a-damn look. The "look" bit there at the end is significant because it raises an important point, i.e., coolness is an attitude. Not that it stops anyone from trying to buy coolness, of course. Would you buy an uncool laundry hamper? No way! That wouldn't be... cool.

What I'm trying to get at is, much like Christmas, Valentine's Day and Modern Sport, coolness has gone all commercial. Which is the mother of all ironies because coolness is inherently anti-establishment, anti-popular, anti-anyone-else, even. Coolness is self absorption, doing your own thing to the exclusion of everyone else - the sort of thing that makes people unpopular. Which is why Jesus (beard apart) is not really cool. Nor Mother Teresa. But Che Guevara is - he had a cool beard, and he espoused Marxism while living in a palace in Cuba he'd seized from someone else, and he looks good on a t-shirt, which you can buy... See what happened there? I subconsciously identified coolness with commercialism in a post where I'm trying to make the exact opposite point. That's how far the cancer has spread.

As for reel life, think of the cool movie characters. Alain Delon in Le Samourai is cool. So is Ryan Gosling in Drive. And the Dude in The Big Lebowski. What is common to all three? No parent, apart from the cool ones*, would ever encourage their child to be anything like them. And I'm not talking of the fact that one is a hired assassin, the other a getaway-car driver, and the last a pot-smoking hippie on social security - which, granted, are factors given that most parents do seem to want their children to "succeed." Even Bob Dylan, with his smirk and his nasal, insouciant voice, has been found wanting, wishing for his baby girl "to build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung."

Success is essentially a jostle to the centre of humanity, to the limelight. Coolness is the very antithesis. A trip to the periphery, to those wishing themselves even further outside, with not a glance nor a care for the rest of us. And that's the real reason why no parent would ever want their child to be like those three: true coolness makes the social animals that are most of humanity uncomfortable. Because the cool are too cynically intelligent to be part of the herd. (A big part of their coolness.) If this planet were someday to be populated only by the cool, that would be the last generation on our pale blue dot, which sort of goes against our biological instincts.

Even they - the Samurai, the Driver and the Dude - are no more than pop-culture approximations of the cool; and successful ones only because they're played by extremely gifted actors under the direction of extremely gifted filmmakers. The real-life equivalents of those, now, those are people who probably wouldn't even have so much as a grave in their memory. There are no financial rewards to coolness, nor is there any fame to be had. Coolness is an end in itself. It's not something that anyone can aspire to, because the truly cool never aspire to anything - they just are.

But what of Kimi Raikkonen, you ask? Kimi's success isn't because of his coolness - his is inspite of it. This is someone who a few have called the most gifted man to have ever sat behind the wheel of a racing car. But has he ever shown the single-minded determination to etch his name into the annals of the sport? Of course not. That would be way uncool. Kimi will be part of the folklore of the sport, unquestionably, for being so different to his peers, and for his moments of magic; but in the history books, so often dominated by the winners, he will lag way behind the Schumachers and the Alonsos. He is a man who always does things his way, often the hard way, and in the commercialism of top-flight sport, such stubbornness comes at a price.

Coolness is aloofness. Coolness is silence. Coolness is non-communicable. Coolness, while likable, will never, ever be box-office. Because the box office plays to the gallery, where the cool are very often not even nice. The cool have no fire burning within them, no desire, no ambition... They certainly don't blog, or keep diaries, or spend long hours on the phone talking about their feelings. Coolness doesn't sell. Of course, there's something magnetic about coolness that makes you wish to be cool when in the presence of the cool, but it wears off quickly enough, to be replaced by a resigned acceptance of the cool substitute that money can buy.

Brother Lustig is an iconically** cool character from the Brothers Grimm, laid-back, clever and brave. Always doing the right thing for the given circumstances, unencumbered by morality or niceness, and with the least amount of effort possible to get it done (economy of movement has always been a big part of coolness). But I bet his name drew a blank? Now, if I mentioned Rumpelstiltskin, on the other hand - he of the quick rage and the grandiose stealing-the-queen's-first-born plans?

Which is why the truly cool filmmakers have never been the most successful or even the most feted. Because the cool wouldn't make a "passionate saga set against the backdrop of a World Gone Mad (and a thousand elephants)." Or tearjerkers involving the Nazis. Take the three films above. Le Samourai is a classic, mostly because Melville is a legend, but how many people have heard of it in comparison to, say, Gone With the Wind? How many will remember Drive more than Avatar in 30 years' time? And can you imagine two sequels (plus another few semi-porno ones) to The Big Lebowski, a-la American Pie?

The blockbusters are rarely the cool flicks; they, instead, go kiss kiss bang bang.... or sob sob speech speech. This is, more or less, true for the acclaimed ones, too. Which is why this line resonates even after all these years: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Movies are about bigness. But the cool are never big. They are exactly the right size. Kurosawa, Herzog, Kubrick, Welles, Fellini... Great filmmakers? Of course. But cool filmmakers? Nah. Too big, too ambitious, too many notes.

And so, this blog turns purveyor of cool and hands you the seven coolest filmmakers of all time; or perhaps more factually, the seven coolest filmmakers this blogger has seen - though, of course, the hair splitting is probably unnecessary as the former equals the latter as much for me as it does for you. Watch this space.

*Bit of an oxymoron because cool people don't tend to go much for the parenting business. What's the other thing common to those three? That's right, you can't imagine any of them being in a relationship for long, much less raise a child. The Dude does knock up Julianne Moore in the film, but he makes it amply clear that she's on her own as far as child rearing is concerned.

**If coolness lent itself to iconism, that is. Which it doesn't.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On miracles

I was first in line at a traffic signal on the way back from work. Because I spied a BMTC bus on the road perpendicular, I ignored the impatient honking that started from behind me as soon as the light turned green. I've never seen those things stop at bus stops, much less a red light, and me claiming right of way would normally result in a loud crash, broken glass, general death and destruction all around, and a very small dent on the bus. But this guy jumped on the brakes and brought the bus, rubber burning, screeching to a halt just before the white line. There was astonishment all around - and not just from the vehicles right behind him.


Last week, I saw a David Lynch movie, Inland Empire, which bored me so absolutely that, by the end of it, I'd caught up on all the correspondence that had been piling up for two weeks. I also started a Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures, that I've not quite warmed to. It's funny and everything, but while I enjoy his humourous cynicism when he delves into topics like religion, I find it hard to take when he points it at something I love. How can anyone be irreverent and anything less than passionate about the movies?

A Lynch and a Pratchett that didn't work for me. Two miracles!


At the next intersection (no lights), I had to take a right. A guy coming up opposite, who had up till then been plodding along, suddenly came to life, blinked his lights and sped up to make sure I wouldn't take the turn. As soon as he passed by me, he slowed down again.

Not a miracle. Normal service has resumed.

Oh well...

Sunday, April 8, 2012