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Review: Lola (1961)

Life consists of equal parts of choice and equal parts of chance. This is what those who subscribe to indeterminism, which argues against the notion that causation is invariably explainable by reason, would have us believe. Aristotle was one of the early thinkers to ponder on the wonders of what would be known as aetiology, the establishment of causes and origin for an event, and concluded that there were accidents in life that could be attributed to no other cause than chance, which stands outside the disciplines of activities developed out of necessity. But it is also this inexorableness of chance that subjects every rigorous system of thought to the threat of precariousness – every journey is liable to be suddenly swerved from its determined path, just as every traveller is warned never to take his arrival for granted. 
In theory, the elusive presence of chance defies the interference of man, or anything that is man-made. In other words, the attempt to manifest the notion in words, …

Review: Band of Outsiders (1964)

Whim and caprice dominated the ‘60s. It was a period of slow convalescence from the aftermath of the two World Wars, the Holocaust, and the Great Depression; a period of unrest and revolt, resulted from a protracted hopelessness the people had felt towards the grim prospect of the immediate future, and a just indignation of their unrelieved squalor. It was also a period that saw a light to the problem of an identity crisis that seized the lost and the dispossessed, as the collective repugnance for tyranny and enforced servility necessitated a call for self-liberation. The naiveté of going against the conventional, as this self-liberation invariably took form, culminated in a radical iconoclasm that favoured a constitution of individuality that obstinately resisted any outward influence. The Theatre of the Absurd was, in a sense, a riposte to this pervasive “counterculture” that sought to disentangle from the past through an arbitrary myth-making. Often in a mock-parodic manner the mov…

Review: Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

Every adversity in life is a test of one's fortitude, the occasion of which, as proved invariably in the past, man is capable of defying destiny, of reversing the inexorable course to which life is doomed to tend. Too often we sympathise with the travails of the dogged, indefatigable fighter, whose hard-on victory we shed tears of relief and admiration, and whose stories and examples we evoke when in need of a boost of morale or motivation, that our notion of heroism has come to be hallowed with a glow of divinity peculiar to those who triumph in their fights. Those who fail – the martyrs who labour for nothing, who die without fulfilling what they die for – they are regarded with no less sympathy, but to recount their stories we averse, refusing to be reminded of what ultimately makes us humans – our inherent and infinite capacity to fail.
To face up to one’s failures, especially with the forlorn hope that such failures can ever be remedied, requires a special kind of courage. Wil…

Review: Gaslight (1944)

Despite its varied forms or narratives, all Gothic fictions revolve on a fundamental contrast: that between the tenuous comfort of an isolated self and the dangerous fascination of an intrusive otherness. The Victorian is an age characterised by its obsession with the supernatural – poised on the verge of modernity, with scientific advancements like Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species inspired missions to unlock the myths of the natural world, people began to take notice of what lay outside their limited knowledge of things, of anything that is external to the closed domain of humanity. This curiosity for the unknown provoked an appraisal for the known – the immutable social system was revealed as hostile to the cultivation of individual minds, and time-honoured ethics such as that dictating a woman’s role in a traditional domesticity a menace to the preservation of personal integrity.
The negotiation between the old and the new, the internal and the external, is the dominant theme of V…

Review: A Taste of Honey (1961)

Life is a mixture of comedy and tragedy- tragicomic if both aspects are given equal measure of awareness; melodramatic when the two extremes are ratcheted up to a boiling point. For most people, it is only natural that they take the good with the bad. An ingrained fatalism dictates their attitudes towards the vagaries of human fate; therefore in joy they wait agonisingly for the day their good fortune is suddenly wrested from them, and in sadness for the glimpse of light that signals a gradual upturn of the dire condition. “Nothing lasts forever”- this well-worn adage becomes almost the guideline of their survival, and a perpetual reminder that life is ever mobile and unpredictable.

Every current of life, regardless of the varying destination it tends to, returns and oscillates invariably between two points: suffering and the struggle to survive. They are as much the fundamentals of human condition as the impetus for the cultivating of human resourcefulness: it is the battle of will be…

Review: Hobson's Choice (1954)

In comedy a happy ending does not always resolve all. The case in point is Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, whose hilarity so overtly predicates on the wretchedness of the victim that, when one laughs there follows inevitably a conscience tug that one is gloating over someone’s misfortune.
My disquietude may seem misplaced here, for the importance of the play is really on its revolutionary illustration of an upending of the age-old hierarchy in traditional domesticity. Henry Hobson is the imperious, blustering, perennially sottish shoeseller bestriding his three unmarried daughters, who skivvy away at the shop and the household without pay. The story is set in late 19th century Salford, just a few miles from where the first suffrage movement germinated. The play presents a hallmark in heralding the birth of female empowerment: Maggie, the eldest daughter who is deemed too old to be marriageable at 30, is impelled to prove her father wrong by marrying William Mossop, the most skilled…

Review: A Delicate Balance (1973)

There is a notion that life is a futile pursuit of the ever-unattainable balance. Men are creatures of contrariety, incessantly flitting from one extreme state of mind to another; rarely predictable and always volatile. Human caprice has a way of conciliating the opposing sensations, of confounding their differing values and gradually assimilating them into one. That explains why we sometimes find ourselves irresistibly drawn to the things we fear, or react with sudden repugnance someone to whom we’ve harboured a long-standing affection. Balance has no part in this ceaseless tumult of the warring forces- and yet all our life we strive for it, even if the vision of it is a glimmering star that winks at us fools who try unavailingly capture it.
Less about the ongoing, workaday struggle to find balance in life, Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance is more concerned with the corrosive effect of keeping up a semblance of balance amidst the mounting chaos. At first glance the story seems to car…

Review: Design for Living (1933)

“Less is more” is a difficult balance to negotiate when dealing with proscribed subjects. There is always the concern that the illicit will no longer be as such if subjected to too much attenuation; or if the expression is couched in too abstract a language. Coarseness is at the nucleus of matters like sex and violence- attempt at over-refinement would be as ineffectual and absurd as giving a solemn speech to a table of revellers. In this case, less is definitely advisable, but only under the condition that it contains promises of the more.
As with Noel Coward’s Design for Living, there is barely any need for overexplicitness. The play centers on a ménage à trois in Paris 1932, during the period of Les années folles, or the “Crazy Years,” which saw the city’s artistic culture reaching an insuperable peak. Characters were drawn from real life: Coward indebted the play to his actor friends, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, whose long marriage was bedevilled by infidelities on both sides. T…

Review: Rope (1948)

Colour, as Alfred Hitchcock told François Truffautin a 1962 interview, is nonexistent. Every image or vision can be reduced to the stark elements of light and shade. Lines and colours are the spectral creations that materialise momentarily when exposed to lights. In film there are more instances of metaphorical darkness (known in literature as "lacunae") than those of actual, plunging darkness- the fact that every story is in a sense only a fraction of reality conditions the extent of the reader’s knowledge: like peeping into the lives of others one does more divining than actual registering of information. Nonetheless we are intrigued, of what could possibly happen in the intervals of the course of events, the parts that the author decides to omit, or to deliberately keep in secret so the reader is unprepared for the surprise to come.
Every time I saw Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt I found myself wondering incessantly how Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie manage to conceal from…