Rays of Light

In these days of mindless Hollywood conformity and obscene movie budgets set aside for the destruction of cars and helicopters, the career of the magisterial Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray should be a lesson to us. In 1952, when the former economist and advertising man was working on Pather Panchali, the first chapter of what was to become his Apu Trilogy, Ray ran out of money. Instead of giving up, he sold all his possessions, then his mother's jewelry, then his wife's--which enabled him to finish a silent, forty-minute rough cut of the film. A year later, a sympathetic minister in the Bengali government got Ray a subsidy--under the mysterious heading "highway improvements."

That moved Ray along the road to cinematic greatness. His timeless, visionary themes--the evolving relationships between men and women, the effect of swift societal change on individuals--grew out of the profound influence of Vittorio De Sica's neorealist masterpiece The Bicycle Thief and the "father of the documentary," Robert Flaherty, but they matured in one of the most fertile minds of the twentieth century--and one of the humblest spirits. When Ray died at seventy in 1992, a month after winning a life achievement Academy Award, Newsweek's Jack Kroll aptly wrote of him: "Ray became the ultimate auteur--operating his own camera, composing his own music. Ray himself felt he 'was the exploration of the truth of human behavior and the revelation of that truth through the medium of actors.' In our increasingly cyborgian movie culture, Ray is a welcome jolt of flesh, blood and spirit."

On Friday, the Chez Artiste, 2800 South Colorado Blvd., will open a series of nine newly restored Satyajit Ray films spanning two decades. Denver is one of just ten American cities to get the Sony Pictures Classics package, and it should be a happy antidote to the reign of Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson.

My personal favorite among these Rays of light is Jalsaghar (1959), also called The Music Room, in which a provincial landowner, having outlived the society that he and his class once ruled, escapes from contemporary life by squandering the remainder of his fortune on performances of classical music. The film encompasses all of Ray's most important concerns, and it's breathtakingly beautiful to look at.

But that is not to slight the other films--The Big City (1963), the study of a young wife's attempt to add the role of career woman; Charulata (1964), which examines a middle-class marriage in the late nineteenth century, or the Apu Trilogy, which follows the boy Apu from family hardship in a Bengali village (Pather Panchali) to a radically altered life in the big city (Aparajito) to adulthood, marriage and fatherhood (The World of Apu).

I can think of no better way to spend movie time--or hard-earned movie dollars.--Gallo

The schedule:
Pather Panchali (1955): March 15-21; Aparajito (1958), March 22-28; The World of Apu (1959), March 29-April 4; Jalsaghar (1959), April 5-11; Charulata (1964), April 12-18; Two Daughters (1961), April 19-25; Devi (1960), April 26-May 2; The Big City (1963), May 3-9; The Middleman (1975), May 10-16.


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