Ghost Films

The years I spent as a student at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune were my salad days as far as watching films are concerned. Coming from Kolkata and already an avid cineaste, I did have an exposure to a various kinds of cinema, but at the FTII it was a veritable feast. Day after day, morning to evening and on some occasions at night, one was bombarded by a bewildering variety of images and sounds. Some I considered sublime while some others in my ‘stupid arrogance’ I dismissed as trash. Bunuel, Bresson, Guru Dutt, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Wajda, Wim Wenders, John Ford, Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais, Szabo, Menzel, Jansco, Ghatak, Adoor… … Cinema was truly the king then and I feasted on the sumptuous platter like there was no tomorrow.

In the years, after my passing out of my alma mater, professional demands, personal commitments, lack of opportunities, sometimes sheer ennui and laziness have taken its toll on my cinema viewing habits. Before the VCD/DVD/Internet explosion, it was extremely difficult and almost impossible to see some of the masterpieces of cinema one had seen over and over again at FTII. Once in a while, one had the opportunity to revisit some of these. As with all great works of art, re-viewing these classics after a period of time I have discovered newer beauties and truths. Today, thanks to the electronic media, a lot of these films are available for viewing. Admittedly many lose their grandeur on the TV screen yet they create a sense of joy and wonder and re-establish my faith in my beloved medium/arts.

There remains another set of films, films that had moved me deeply with their vision and technique but I have never had the opportunity to see them once again after my days at FTII. Over the years I’ve forgotten many of these films in their totality. A few sequences and in some cases a vague synopsis of the story-line are all that I have stored in my memory. I suspect their ‘veracity’, after all nostalgia plays strange tricks but at the heart of my hearts I know these films are real gems of cinema. Mundane incidents or oblique references churn out names of films that I had loved and admired. Fragments of images and sounds haunt me like ‘spirits in a material world’ and I am filled with a passionate yearning to see these films in their entirety one more time…

My ‘ghost’ films:

·    Pirosmani: Director: Giorgy Shengalaya  (Georgia/USSR)
·    Blue Mountains : Director : Nikita Mikhalkov (USSR)
·    You & I Love Budapest: Director: Istvan Szabo (Hungary)
·    Kanal: Director: Andrej Wajda (Poland)
·    Walkover: Director: Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland)
·    The Saragossa Manuscript: Dir : Wojciech J Has (Poland)
·    Days of Matthew: Dir: Witold Leszczynski (Poland)
·    Intimate Lighting: Director: Ivan Passer (Czechoslovakia)
·    India ’67: Director: Sukhdev (India)
·    27 Down: Director: Avtar Kaul (India)
·    Louisiana Story: Director: Robert Flaherty (USA)
·    Meshes in the Afternoon: Director:  Maya Deren (USA)
·    Jazz on a Hot Summer’s Day: Directors: Aram Avakian, Bert Stern (USA)

PS:  So many of the ‘ghosts’ are from Eastern Europe! Isn’t that a tragedy?

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  1. What I miss most post FTII are the wonderful short films we were so fortunate to see and haven’t been able to see again – Zoo, Glass, 23 Skidoo, Solo, Big City Blues, The Wedding, Why Man Creates, Red Balloon, Incident at Owl’s Creek, Les Miston, Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Hand, Hunger…and many more…

  2. Third Man : Spot on! Those shorts were really great … lucky that I’ve been able to see most of them except the Szabo’s I’ve mentioned post FTII. There’s another Szabo short I missed … ‘Dream Of a House’….

  3. Pirosmani and Meshes… for me… a large chunk of what one watched does remain as an amalgamated memory, one that awakens / stirs once in a while.

  4. yes, there indeed were some wonderful films at the institute that were not part of the “mainstream”. it warms my heart to remember them. apart from some from your list- blue mountains, days of mathew- i will put rondo, signs of life, fata morgana, and hugo and josephine in my list of “ghost films”. not to speak of a few i havent seen fully or whose names i dont remember anymore. some from the german experimental stuff we were subjected to from time to time will belong in this category.

  5. Bookback, I identify with your admission – ‘Over the years I’ve forgotten many of these films in their totality’. Ditto here… then you start feeling ‘How could have I…?”
    But as you have rightly put it, with the video / digital / internet explosion we should hope to catch up with at least some of these films, that too in our own drawing rooms….

  6. Aww! you are going to make us all miss FTII all over again. As if we don’t do enough of that. I miss the MT, and the hush while watching a film, and putting up our feet on the chairs. And feeling so pleased that we needn’t do anything else except watch films.

  7. and the funny thing, as i never ceased to marvel at the fact at the institute, was that we were “studying” something that was “forbidden fruit” all along one was growing up. i have some pretty stories of my transgressions, not small in number. sometimes, that is most of the time- i seldom disliked a film as a child- the taste of the fruit made me happy that I had transgressed, and sometimes the punishment afterwards made me forget the joy and vow never to give in to temptation again. but not for long; soon I was ready for new transgression. the prospect of a new joy made me forget any punishment, past or possible. but i should say that it wasnt always like this. sometimes the elders at home sinned themselves, and then it was almost a holy act in which i was bound to participate. not that i had any objection.

  8. Irene : ‘amalgamated memory’ … loved the expression.. so true…
    Ram: Yes… the digital explosion is really amazing… long live piracy for ‘democratizing’ the availability of films!
    Batul: Yes … ‘putting up our feet on the chairs’ and having a smoke/chai while watching a film .. I guess MT is/was the only cinema hall that allowed one to indulge in one’s addictions while watching films!!
    Chandi : Are you talking about Rondo by Max Ophuls – the one with magnificent circular tracking shots and long tracks or the very different but equally interesting Yugoslav film by Alexander Petkovic (?). Funny you mention the ‘original sin’ of watching films… I used to suffer huge pangs of guilt when I bunked school to watch Bond, Bacchan and Clint Eastwood films but the enjoyment and thrill of movies washed away all sense of remorse very quickly..

  9. i was referring to the yugoslav rondo, though until now i thought it was a czec film. and of course i picked up the conversation, so to speak, from where batul left it in the preceding comment.
    i remember two other yugoslav films now- innocence unprotected by dusan makavejev, and i met even happy gypsies.

  10. Pjit: Dhanyabad! Fillim dekho, mast raho 🙂
    Chandi: Rondo could be Czech too… the two films you’ve mentioned are also great . I recall two other excellent films by Dusan Makajev – A Man is Not a Bird and of course The Tragedy of a Switchboard Operator … I’m fortunate that I could see these films at least once post FTII…

  11. Not being part of your gang I can’t say I have much to say, more so when I haven’t watched any of your ‘ghost’ films. But I feel what you say here, how some of tehse vignettes stay with us, growing within…
    But why do you say its a tragedy?

  12. Bishnu: Thanks for reading! By ‘tragedy’ I was hinting at the collapse of film-making in countries of East Europe (especially Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia ) and USSR and the consequent loss of opportunities of viewing those films after the fall of the Communism.

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