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PostPosted: Mon May 21, 2007 1:17 am 
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I'd like to add to the praise for this set. I've only watched the first two, but I'm extremely impressed so far. I hope to see many more docs from Eclipse/Criterion.


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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2007 6:42 pm 

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I'll add to the praise, this is quickly becoming one of the best dvd sets I've ever purchased.

The dancing sequences in episode 2 of Phantom India are so amazing, beyond belief...


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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2007 8:27 pm 
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If you liked the dancing (and the bizarre temple parades) in "Phantom India," you should check out Johan van der Keuken's documentary "The Eye Above the Well," which came out on DVD last year. Really dreamlike and beautiful.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 9:49 pm 
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I'm surprised no one has noted the audio on Phantom India. After 4 minutes I had to turn it off and make sure my system was ok. Everytime someone talks a loud stream of static (ok, maybe I'm exaggerating-- loud hiss) accompanies their voices, which promptly disappears as soon as they're done talking. If it didn't go on and off it might be excusable as background hiss, but it's VERY annoying as is. Has anyone else noticed this?


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 12:19 pm 

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Wow, I have to say, I didn't notice any problem w/hiss on the voice tracks on Phantom India. And this is after the dvd player went through a really cheap rca switch box to a not-too-high-end aiwa system...

I am going to try running this through my system at home, I have a pretty decent setup there(complete with compressor w/gate, so I can really get nitty gritty). I'll try to get back to ya soon on this


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 1:24 pm 
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denti alligator wrote:
I'm surprised no one has noted the audio on Phantom India. After 4 minutes I had to turn it off and make sure my system was ok. Everytime someone talks a loud stream of static (ok, maybe I'm exaggerating-- loud hiss) accompanies their voices, which promptly disappears as soon as they're done talking. If it didn't go on and off it might be excusable as background hiss, but it's VERY annoying as is. Has anyone else noticed this?

I did notice the same thing - this is what one gets with cheap noise reduction tools. They eliminate the noise in the silent parts, but don't do much when there is speech, which is pretty noisy by itself. It might well have been like that from the beginning, as a result of the recording equipment used. It is a pain to listen to with head phones and becomes more tolerable the worse the speakers are you use... The problem is that if you are sensitive to it, you will keep paying attention to it until you are insane.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 1:40 pm 
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Well, I ruled out that it was my system, so I wanted to be sure it wasn't some faulty DVD. Too bad they did this. This will be the first time I complain about sound on any DVD.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 2:20 pm 
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I only found the sound to be a problem during the first episode of Phantom India. After half an hour, it becomes much less noticeable.

What's amusing is that the first episode has that disclaimer explaining that the restorers weren't able to fix some of the problems with the original elements . . . but that disclaimer only appears AFTER the episode is over (and you've already started to wonder whether your stereo is broken, or you're losing your mind, etc.).

Don't let the hiss keep you away from the movie. The sound gets a lot better as it goes along.

By the way, some people were speculating on this site that Criterion would release Phantom India by itself, rather than as part of an Eclipse package. I'm guessing that these sound problems played a role in Criterion's decision.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 7:40 pm 

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tartarlamb wrote:
[From the 3 Films by Louis Malle thread] [Malle] was truly just interested in drawing an honest character sketch of what a Lucien Lacombe would have been like. I think he carries over that same moral obliviousness, boundless curiosity and frankness into his documentaries.

I see your point about Lacombe—and most of Malle's fiction films fit into this category—but I can't agree when you apply this to the documentaries of his that I've seen. Have you seen Phantom India or Calcutta yet? Most of Malle's narration is concerned with his moral outrage over the horrible and squalid poverty he sees. As if we needed another bourgeois Westerner to graft his values onto a culture in which they simply don't apply. He's just repeating the same old crap the British used to justify their colonization of India. Worse, he doesn't even sound like he's really made a sincere attempt to understand the culture he's showing us. He sounds like my grandmother nagging me to get a haircut—as if I hadn't meant to grow my hair long in the first place. Why not attempt to understand India the way Indians understand it? Failing that, why not be a little less pedantic and morally indignant so viewers can at least attempt to form their own opinions?

A couple examples: there's a scene where he showed a number of Hindus at worship and he said something to the effect of, “I'll leave it to you viewers to decide whether what they're doing is sublime or silly.â€


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 12:43 pm 
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Ishmael wrote:
He sounds like my grandmother nagging me to get a haircut—as if I hadn't meant to grow my hair long in the first place.

I see your point, but surely your analogy is flawed. How many Indians would choose to live in "squalid poverty" if they were offered an alternative? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for self-reflexive questioning of our own Western orientalist assumptions, but there's also a danger of using cultural relativism to maintain/justify the status quo. (To pick an obvious example, I think that providing "third world" citizens with access to contraception is a good thing, regardless of their own culture's views on the matter.)


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2007 1:43 pm 
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Having watched Calcutta and the first disc of Phantom India, I am not a fan of Malle's narration, even outside of the orientalist critique. In fact, I enjoyed Calcutta much more than Phantom India because, for the most part, he kept his mouth shut. It's like having a commentary on a film that you can't turn off. (Although I did think about just muting the tv - but then I'd miss the non-Malle Indian audio.) Again, putting aside the question of whether his remarks were possibly condescending, at a minimum I found them to be relatively shallow and thus distracting.

That said, I found the actual footage that he shot & edited together to be some pretty compelling stuff.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:47 pm 

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Maybe I'm the only one who has noticed this: Why is the first 'episode' (only) of Phantom India on disc two pictureboxed? After the first episode, its right back to normal. Heres some screen caps.

opening of disc one
Image

same frame of opening from disc two
Image


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 4:06 pm 

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I'll take a somewhat haphazard guess...

I'm guessing that Criterion had originally planned a full-blown Criterion release of Phantom India, and probably started by pictureboxing that one episode(it was probably the first episode they had access to or something). Then either Phantom India got shelved and then they decided to pick it back up when they came up with the Eclipse line, or they were in the process of touching-up Phantom India, decided to do the Eclipse line, then came up with an idea of a whole boxset of Malle documentaries, and decided not to put in the work to finish the touch-ups.

best I could come up with


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 2:29 pm 
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Senses of Cinema article


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 5:10 pm 
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Pray, in reference to that Senses of Cinema article, what exactly was Marcel Ophüls' criticism?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2008 4:40 am 
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The other day in Shanghai I saw a handsome box set of 24 Malle films, including all the Eclipse versions, all the Criterion editions (all on DVD9)and even a disc of The Silent World thrown in. A couple only were French with no English subs. It also contained a separate disc with all the Criterion extras. The price? Around US$18, in a handmade box. Openly on sale in a normal shop, too. Just FYI, really.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2008 8:40 pm 

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I loved "Place de La Reupublique"! I just took first-year sociology so Marxist theory was much on my mind when I watched it...It is amazing that Malle and crew could make such a beautiful piece of film-making by just talking to people on a street corner!

...perhaps there is some danger in this film being so inspirational...it's do-it-yourself-method may make the lay-man think they could pull off the same thing...

...perhaps an aspect of Malle's genius is that his intelligence does not seem much different from our own, yet many of his films are masterpieces, beyond what the average film-maker is capable of...


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 9:46 am 
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After loving Elevator to the Gallows and My Dinner with Andre, I have decided to delve into these.

I am leaning heavily towards starting with God's Country which sounds the most interesting to me. But, I am open to suggestion. Seems like you can't really go wrong with any of these though.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 9:49 am 
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They are all pretty good. The India films though, are quite extensive. I really enjoyed those the most. I felt like I had visited there after watching them.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:23 am 
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I would start with anything but Phantom India. If my observations here might prejudice anyone, please don't read on. But I found that while it was filled with arresting footage, its potential was often ruined by the near-incessant narration. Rather than letting the images speak for themselves for more than five seconds, Malle didactically tries to persuade the viewer of some rather simplistic and/or pigeon-holing cultural and social views of India. At times the hectoring tone (and at times even the content) of the narration reminded me of a Mondo Cane film. Some passages are fine, and again the images are amazing. Next time I watch it, I'm going to try it with the sound off.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 12:17 pm 
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I'm an enormous fan of Malle and of this set, but I still haven't gotten through Phantom India. The incessant narration does kind of muck up the majesty of the footage for sure. I suppose that's part the fun of the film, and all of these films for that matter. Malle was filled to the brim with needling sincerity and enthusiasm for his work and subject matter, and occassionally it gets painful to watch (please, Louis, stop harrassing the poor woman, who thinks you're stealing her soul, with your camera). The analysis is culturally insensitive, didactic, and simplistic, yes. But its also kind of charming if you approach it more as a film about Malle's peculiar personality and work habits than about India.

He strikes me as the kind of guy that wouldn't understand concepts like personal space and probably had an irritating habit of saying very outre things at a dinner party without batting an eyelash. That's probably why he was able to make films like Zazie (in a way, a live action cartoon about child molestation) and Murmur of the Heart.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 6:43 am 
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I'm finally getting around to watching the remainder of this set. Vive la Tour is one of my favorites of the set, possibly because it is the shortest. It's a terrific look at the tour, perhaps at a moment right before it became utterly professionalized. watching the bikers run off the track to steal food and beer was charming, especially with Malle's droll narration that they know its probably bad for them.

Humain, trop Humain is fascinated as the unnarrated film of the set, watching what often seemed like robotic misery of the repetitive soulless tasks of the people. I think its a both a shame that most of these industrial jobs (like being a person who flips car hoods) are gone and no wonder they became completely mechanized. It's also interesting that the people displaying the most life, are the ones who do several tasks and move around a bit. Like the guy checking that the door closes and repeatedly hammering and pounding the frame into place (also a bit disturbing that things are machined so poorly that they don't fit right to begin with) or the welder working on many parts of a car frame in sequence. In the middle of the film we go to the selling of the final product, and it seems that the car dealers are even sleazier than those one encounters in real life after seeing how little goes into the manufacturing of these ugly 1970s cars. the second half of the factory opens up new ideas. I found I thought much more about this documentary because it lacked Malle's narration.

Place de la Republique is one of the most entertaining and fun films of the set. Whether it's the random and crazed ramblings of a woman telling an impenetrable story about escaping East Germany or the lottery ticket seller (most feature person in the film) Malle presents a wide and interesting swath of people who all move along this street, strangers passing in the day. One of the most affecting moments is the woman who is mostly blind but still treks several blocks every sunny day (by memory) to feed her pigeons. she's like a real life Mary Poppins bird lady. :-p

Phantom India is the 360 minute goliath of the set, a seven episode miniseries on India is deeply problematic but also fascinating as a text from the period. Malle is consciously trying to make a liberal, modern and accepting movie that shows India without reducing it to the stereotyped portrayals of India like in Kipling's Gunga Din. But in avoiding this overt racism, and putting India on a sort of cultural pedestal Malle plunges the film deeply into an orientalist viewpoint. He actively shuns most english speaking Indians and their perspective and interpretation (though the final interview with an economist was one of the most insightful of the documentary because it put India's position in a realist context, as did the capitalist earlier in part seven who predicted India would be capable of passing the West--as Japan had--within twenty years) in order to portray the "real" India. What he winds up portraying is that which makes the best television, if it's exotic or mystical, it makes it in the movie. If it's an extreme condition of poverty or isolation it's in the movie. Malle never really realizes that his particular perspective of valuing the pure, and unwestern is especially colonialist, because it desires to keep the other in their "pure" state rather than elevating them to more equal terms. the colonialism displays itself in regular clashes between his rhapsodic praising of India's beautiful heritage and his castigation of their backwards political and social awareness and development. He wants to have his cake and eat it to. He wants to change their politics and society with communist revolution so they can be more equal and aware but he wants to deny India industrialization because industrialization=west=cookiecutter=bad. That said, the best episode of the film is the one devoted to the caste system. malle really unleashes in this part of the film, both in his frustration in being unable to define it and Indians reluctance to talk about it on camera. Malle rails against the system for most of the episode and it's the films most bold moment. I must give Malle props, though, for showing so much of India without commentary or explanation and often for long stretches with no narration. While I didn't go into orgasmic bliss watching the Indian dance of episode two, as Malle did, I did think it was very well portrayed with just enough narration to contextualize it. the film falters most when Malle doesn't contextualize something and instead leaves it untranslated or unexplained. At one point Malle says he doesn't translate a part because he doesn't know what the interviewee is saying/doing and doesn't really care, wanting to let the audience create their own exotic/profound explanation of what's onscreen. Overall the film is uneven but with many high points. I wouldn't recommend a marathon sitting but it does go down very easy spread out an episode every night or so.

As the final episode, bombay, was one of my favorites, I'm quite looking forward to Calcutta.

I've seen God's Country two or three times, but I think I will watch it again. It's so fascinating to me to see a documentary about the midwest in the early 80s. It's nostalgic and disturbing and wonderful and charming all at once. i suppose I also need to rewatch and the pursuit of happiness as well.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2010 4:39 pm 
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finally finished Calcutta, which means I've finally finished the set. Damn it was a slog getting through all the india stuff. Fascinating, but a damn long time. it's funny, I like Calcutta better than Phantom India because it lacked Malle's narration for the most part, but I also found it a bit duller because it lacked Malle's narration. #-o


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:31 am 

Joined: Tue Jun 10, 2008 10:02 am
Christ, what a set. I've been gradually making my way through it for a few months now, and I finally finished it tonight. I'd just like to throw my own praise onto the heap.

One of my favorite things about these documentaries is their modesty. These films aren't preoccupied with confronting "major" issues or making grand statements about some subject, like so many documentaries (which typically end up being confirmations of the directors' preconceptions rather than any genuine effort at documentation). God's Country and Place de la Republique in particular take very simple, unassuming approaches, yet they achieve charming, fascinating, and sometimes remarkable results. These films might have seemed dull when they were originally released, but as a documentation of people in a certain time and place they are invaluable now, and very interesting. It reminds me of a quote -- I forget whom by -- noting how anything that's filmed becomes precious due to the passing of time.
(Not to undermine Malle as a director, of course. The films are all crafted with great care and a humanist's eye for telling detail.)

I absolutely have to disagree with everyone regarding Phantom India, though. First off, I watched the film in one marathon sitting and loved it. It takes the same unassuming approach as the other films, but applies it to a much larger canvas, and a much less familiar one. The results are compelling, and while any six hour film will inevitably have its low points, on the whole the film is engaging and well-crafted. As someone who knows relatively little about India, it was a tremendous experience -- as others have said, it's almost like you've been there. The mix of such strong footage and pure, unrelenting length leave quite an impression.
When I say I disagree, it's about Malle's commentary. Movielocke, you say Malle wants to have his cake and eat it too, but that's precisely the point. The narration is so conflicted, so limited to his perspective (which seems to be in perpetual flux), that I find his contradictions, his own limitations and ideas about the country, totally engrossing. He is occasionally insightful. Mostly, though, I like the narration for its candor, its honesty, the moments when he second guesses himself. Like the footage, it captures a place and a time -- and a culture's attitude toward it. Some of his viewpoints are naive and reflect certain cultural biases, yes. But he is frank, and his narration reveals both the contradictions inherent in the country and the contradictions inherent in his feelings toward it, as an outsider. After all, thirty years later India faces many of the same problems, so the conflicting viewpoints which Malle's narration represents are still in struggle.

For my money, it's an argument you can't help but lose. Either you mystify a culture or foist your own standards upon it. I don't really see much of a difference between Malle's narration and some of the moral high-horsing in the responses here.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:04 pm 
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Yes, the conflict inherent in the narration, which Malle acknowledges is admirable. What is less admirable is the orientalist and colonialist perspective that seeks to keep India contextualized within the frame of Otherness. If there is something exotic or mystical it goes in the movie. Those Indians who do not display sufficient otherness because they speak in English (displaying their education), are dismissed as "not really Indian" or "not authentic" enough to go in to the movie.


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