Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hollywood Babylon - Kenneth Anger

'Drama - a city-full,
Tragic and pitiful...
Bunk, junk and genius
Amazingly blended...'
- Don Blanding

'My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives a lovely light!'
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

For someone (like me) who had knew nothing about early Hollywood (or Hollywoodland as it was called then) this book was a certain eye-opener. Anger's book is complete with scandal and graphic in-your-face pictures of nudity and death of movie stars people loved and dreamed to emulate. He traces Hollywood from the very beginning in 1915 with Grifith's Babylon - whom he calls the 'God of Hollywood' to the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and eventually the tearing down of the LAND in the iconic structure of HOLLYWOODLAND into simply HOLLYWOOD as it still stands today.

The book starts of with a mention of Babylon and then goes on to mention the birth of the 'fatal chimera – STAR'. He describes the natives as 'the cinema crowd of cocaine-crazed, sexual lunatics' (this he says was in the teens). But it was a sign of things to come. He gives Theda Bara the title of the 'first sex queen' and gives the reader the first shock to hit 'the Golden Age' of Hollywood with Olive Thomas' death from poison. A chapter devoted to Olive Thomas - the 'ideal American girl' who turned out to be a 'dope fiend'. Then theres the mention of the story of Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle – the 'prince of whales' and his mauling of Virginia Rappe. William Taylor's murder and the resulting expose of his multiple affairs. Will Hays was then appointed to 'clean up' Hollywood who came out with his 'Doom Book'. The story of Wally Reid – 'the King of Paramount' follows. The titles of his chapters are in themselves epitomes of scandal. Names like 'Champagne Baths' and 'Heroin Heroines'. The latter about Barbara La Marr and Alma Rubens. Even Charlie Chaplin gets his but is latter upholded as a survivor as a mark of his genius. The murder of Tom Ince by Hearst and the coverup. The scandal and death of the popular 'Pink Powder Puffs' - Rudy Valentino. Stronheim's outrageous boldness and imagination.The 'Clara Bow' and 'Daisy DeVoe' courtwar. Then he describes the stock market crash and how the depression resulted in multiple suicides and some heroes like Joan Crawford who quoted “I, Joan Crawford, I believe in the Dollar. Everything I earn, I spend!”. Peg Entwistle meanwhile committed suicide by jumping of the 13 letter and the second D of HOLLYWOODLAND. Mae West is brilliantly covered by Anger; so is Mary Astor and her graphic and no-holds-barred diary. Thelma Todd's murder remained unsolved. Errol Flynn's rescue by smart lawyer Jerry Geisler. Frances Farmer losing her wits. The suicide of Lupe Velez. The entry of Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel an the making of Las Vegas as we know it and his death and a funeral that no one attended. The anti-communist campaign and the rise of Confidential. The obsession of the beautiful Lana Turner and finally the death of Marilyn Monroe and other tragedies.

Phew! The book ends in a dialogue between a wannabe star and Dick Powell who tells the girl that 'hollywood is a boulevard of broken dreams' and asks her to go back to the boy who loves her on the town 'little rock' and then he breaks into a sad song...

Monday, January 26, 2009


Jan 10, 2009

Total Charges:
Rs 150 for the transportation + Rs 160 total ticket costs + Rs 10 for their guidance and commentary

8:30 to 10:30 - pickup

1st stop -
Gateway of India
Taj Hotel (old and new)
Leopold Cafe

on the drive :
Bombay Stock Exchange Building
Trident / Oberoi / Hilton / Marine Plaza 5-star Hotels
Air-India Building

2nd stop -
Taraporvala Aquarium
Marine Drive

on the drive :
Girgaum Chowpatty
Jain Temple

3rd stop -
Hanging Garden
Nehru Park

on the drive :
Haji Ali
Mahalaxmi Racecourse

4th stop -
Nehru Science Centre

5th stop -
Ataria Mall (ORAMA 4D movie)

6th stop -
Mahalaxmi Temple

on the drive :
actors' bunglows in Juhu

7th stop -
Juhu Beach

Shall we tell the president? - Jeffery Archer

The story can be considered to be the 3rd part of the trilogy concerning the Kanes'; first being 'Kane and Abel' and second 'The Prodigal Daughter'; both absolutely brilliant books and my favourites of all the Archer novels. So I went into this novel with high expectations. As with any other Archer novel no background read is necessary however the ones who have read the other two books might identify with two, three characters in this book.

The Prodigal Daughter ended with Florentyna Kane being declared as the President of the United States of America mid-way through the tenure of the previous under whom she had served as the vice-president; after his unfortunate death. The book starts off two years hence after Kane has been re-elected as President and has taken the Presidents' oath. [The book provides a very good insight into the Presidents' inauguration procedure.] And very early on, the author displays that the book will revolve around the Gun Control bill that Kane wants passed forbidding anyone to possess a gun without a valid license.

After this prologue, the plot involves the FBI Washington Office. Calvert and Andrews are asked to investigate the story of a Greek who has been shot in the leg and is now admitted in the Woodrow Wilson Hospital. This Greek claims that he overheard a Senator plotting the Presidents' assassination on the day and just before the the Gun Control bill will be voted for by the Senate. [The book provides a very good insight into the working of the FBI.] Then Calvert and the 2 agents' boss Nick Stames get run off the road resulting in their death and the Greek is found dead on his hospital bed resulting in Mark Andrews being the only person to know about the Greek's revelation. Being a new recruit Mark is quite at loss at what he should do so he calls the Director of FBI and confides in him. All this happens on the 3rd March and the scheduled date for the supposed assassination is the 10th March. Besides this Mark falls in love with a doctor he meets during his investigation named Elizabeth who just happens to be Senator Dexter's daughter. [The book has some really smart metaphors and personifications involving Shakespeare's Julius Caesar that displays Archer's wit and presence of mind. Real smart and it makes a great read.]

The Director asks Mark to take a leave from the FBI so that he can work on the case when he is actually not supposed to be work; not exactly undercover but to same effect. Then he sets him to some research work gradually narrowing down the list of senators that could be involved in the murder. Mark works in the morning, spends time with Elizabeth in the evening and puts forth a report on the Directors desk the following early morning and the cycle repeats. Meanwhile the Director keeps a close eye on Mark's activities along with the narrowed down list of senators' activities. With some lucky breaks and some smooth talk Mark narrows the list to 2 senators that could be involved one of whom is Dexter. Now besides the Mark story Archer also presents the story from the assassinators point of view, of their meetings, planning and doubts.

On the 10th March, Mark informs the director that Dexter cannot be involved and the Director who has the entire area near the Capitol covered with agents ready for any action takes some smart last minute decisions resulting in the President alive, Mark injured but safe, the senator dead, three arrests and one escaped conspirator. Mark gets the girl in the end and a congratulations and thankyou from the President herself. As for the bill, the voting date is postponed but the odds of it being passed is almost certain.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Brisingr - Christopher Paolini

I finally managed to get my hands on the latest of the Inheritance series ( or cycle; as the Mr. Paolini prefers to call it ) of books and as with his previous efforts, the book impresses and so does Paolini.

A brief summary of the previous books in the cycle namely 'Eragon' followed by 'Eldest' is provided but it is by no means means that anyone will follow the book without reading the above two. 'Brisingr' is very much a continuation and reading 'Eragon' and 'Eldest' is a must.

'Brisingr' starts of exactly (or maybe a few days after) where 'Eldest' was left of. Eragon and his cousin Roran are at Helgrind out to rescue Roran's love Katrina who was captured by the Razac. An inevitable encounter follows with Eragon and Roran fight the Razac after Saphira had somehow found a way to enter the fortress. Eragon along with Saphira manage to defeat one Razac and injure the other as Roran rescues Katrina. Eragon later finds Sloan alive but refrains from telling that to the couple. He convinces Saphira to fly Roran and Saphira back to the Varden while he himself had to stay back to finish some unfinished buisness. (This is a very very crude version of what happens...plz read the book). Eragon defeats the other Razac and punishes the blind Sloan instead of killing him and forces him to travel to Du Waldervarden (the land of the elves) by himself. The concept of 'you cannot break the oath you took in the ancient language' is really appealing. If only something like it really existed.

Once that was out of the way, Eragon accompanied by Arya (who was sent by Nasauda to look for him) reached Surda. There is a nice little scene where Eragon and Arya spend the night just talking when they are visited by the travelling spirits. However there really seems to be developing something between them and it should be interesting to see what develops there in the fourth book. Back at Surda meanwhile Nasauda has to prove herself as the undoubted leader of her own tribe at the Trial of the Long Knives where she defeates Fadawar. Islanzadi the queen and leader of the elves is fighting at Ceunon.

Once back Eragon spends sometime bonding with Saphira, explaining himself to Nasauda and Orin, clearing up some old debts, getting hold of a falchion as his temp sword and continuing his quest to know more about his and Brom's past chatting with Jeod. There is also the case of Elva whom Eragon tries to 'cure' or correct the mistake he had made by 'blessing' her, but to no avail. His counter-spell has little or no effect. But Elva seems pleased by the fact has she can actually ignore some of the minor pains. Eragon also now has 12 elves as bodyguards.

The chapter 'Fire in the Sky' at halfway point in the book gives us the mouthwatering action we had been waiting for. Thorn and Murtagh show at the Varden camp along with Urgals that simply feel no pain. No matter how much they are chopped they simply dust themselves off and get back to the fight. The Varden warriors obviously unaware of their 'quality' are slaughter however they overcome them in the end, but many men are lost. Meanwhile Murtagh and Thorn seem as strong as ever. This time however Eragon and Saphira defeat them with the help of the elves but Murtagh and Thorn manage to escape. Eragon marries Roran and Katrina the same day.

Next up, Eragon is sent on a mission by Nasauda to oversee the Dwarves voting of their new king at Farthen Dur and hopefully get someone in favour of the Varden to the throne. Accompaning for the forward journey is a kull, Garzhvog. Once there, Eragon is under Orik's company where he see's the forest of stone. The quabbling for the votes frustrates Eragon and he decides to venture out. It is then that Eragon is attacked from who are seemingly people of one of Oriks opponents. Eragon has a tough time defeated them since theyare faster and more skilled then most dwarves. Orik is incenssed and gets to the bottom of the attack. He very smoothly declares the event in the hall and gets his opponent and his clan bannished from among the dwarves. Next comes the voting and Orik wins. Next comes the ceremony which even Saphira is called to attend and Orik is sworn as king of the dwarves. Saphira also 'repairs' the Isidar Mithrim - the pride of the dwarves.

Meanwhile Roran is reproving himself as 'Stronghammer'. He seems unbeatable as he outrageously flirts with danger but manages to overcome his enemies. In one fight he kills over 200 soldiers single-handed. But he 'rightly' disobeys the orders given to him by his commander and hence when he returns he is punished by Nasauda with 50 lashes by the whip. You might think that that would tame him. You would think wrong. He is off again the day after this time as commander of and army of 50% humans and 50% urgals. An inevitable disturbance follows. One of the urgals challenges Rorans leadership. They duel and guess what Roran prevails. One has to say that Roran is either incredibly lucky or he is Paolini's favourite character in the book.

Eragon and Saphira then travels to Du Waldervarden to complete his training with Oromis and Glaedr. Thats just an excuse though. He ends up as one would have guessed finding about his past and ofcourse getting his own riders sword. What does he name it you ask. He calls it Brisingr and spicing it up when he utters the name Brisingr the sword bursts into flames. Hmm. Anyway, Eragon seems shocked to find out that Brom was actually his father and that Saphira actually knew that. He also finds out about dragons heart of hearts - the Eldunari and how Galbatorix uses them to become as powerful as he is. Morover Glaedr gives Eragon his Eldunari and Oromis and his dragon decide to goto war.

The climax of the book is at the battle of Feinster. This battle is completely reminiscent of the Two Towers of the Lord of the Rings with some Paolini tweaks. Eragon, Arya and Saphira slay 3 spellcasters who still manage to conjure a Shade stronger than Durza. Eragon and Saphira are simulataneously haunted by what Oromis and Glaedr are upto and they happen to be fighting Thorn and Murtagh at Gilead. Galbatorix finally shows up through Murtagh resulting in the death of both the rider and later his dragon. Eragon and Saphira are devastated. However gathers himself toghethr and manges to fight the Shade - mind-fighting that is. Arya recovers after nearly being choked to death and slays the Shade. Thus comes forth Arya Shadeslayer. Yes now theres two of them.

Thus the Varden captures Feinster and then Eragon tells Arya and Nasauda what happened at Ellesmera with Rhunon, Oromis and Glaedr. Thus the book ends...but not the cycle.

I cannot wait for the next and what looks like the final installment of the Inheritance cycle.

Take a bow Christopher Paolini.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Navoi Bolshoi Ballet - Gala Medley Ballet Performance

Date : 01/08/2009 (mm/dd/yyyy)
Venue : Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA - Mumbai

The Novoi Bolshoi Ballet accompanied by the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra from Uzbekistan performed for the first time in Mumbai and i was lucky enough to catch them for a ticket price of just Rs 400/-. I would describe it as one the most beautiful performances ive ever seen ; a treat both for the eyes and the ears. The mind was quietly resting...

It was the first ballet performance that ive attended in my life so i was understandably a little at loss at what was going on. On top of that it was a medly of stories, half of which i hadnt even heard of. Anyway, the performance started with 'Laila and Manju' so an obvious Indian connection was put forth there. It was followed by 'Swan's Lake' with the unmistakable and utterly beautiful Tchaikovsky composition. The meaning of the phrase 'no words to describe' was quite clear after the performance. Next came an excerpt from 'Spartacus' when Spartacus was just leaving for battle and wishing his lover to send him away with her most beautiful and best wishes.

On this note we went into a small break.

Not surprisingly they had saved their best for after the break. The first performance was 'Raymonda' followed by an excerpt from 'Romeo and Juliet' and lastly 'The Nutcracker'. Now when they changed stories was really hard to tell. In 'The Nutcracker ', the woman who played the Sugar Plum Fairy (i think) completely stole the show. Hers was the performance of the evening and she was given a thunderous ovation after the performance and was congratulated by the organisers; or what i think were the organisers. These two gentlemen were then presented with bouquets and niceties were exchanged. Thus the show came to an end.

It was an amazing experience for me even though i was seated on the very last row almost on the left corner. I would'nt think twice before visiting another ballet (if the ticket costs Rs 400 or lower). It was a dance ideal for the music both simply graceful.

There were however two lessons i learnt from this:

1) Avoid medley ballets. In order to truly enjoy a ballet and watch the performers recreate a story in the artistic way that they do, watch a performance portraying just one play/story. Ofcourse a medley has its own beauty, but it dosnt do justice to any of the stories.

2) Do a background read of the performance so that you have some idea of what exactly is going on and thus you will enjoy the performance even more.