In my last years of school a friend of the family, a young man called Carl Kantari, would take me to foreign films. He was a warm, enthusiastic man with jet black hair, maybe a beard, and he seemed full of life. As we drove on Sunday afternoons or Tuesday nights to the Astor in St Kilda, or the Valhalla in Richmond or the Melbourne University cinema, Carl would talk about why the film we were about to see – Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, something Italian, or five whole hours of the life of Maxim Gorky — was so great. I would share his excitement but in the films I often fell asleep, which, wanting to please him, I hoped he wouldn’t notice. So I remember only images – the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune’s eyes burning and topknot flying as he whips out his curved sword, a woman in a kimono picking petals from a stream, unfathomable cold and shouting inside a grim wooden house in Tsarist Russia. Yet these images stayed with me, evidence of lives that were larger, more brutal but also more brilliant, than the life I knew in late ‘70s Melbourne, lives that in my adolescent imagining were not lost forever in time but existed still, beyond these shores, waiting for me, when my school days ended and my own life began. I also remember Carl’s sense of these films as art, monuments of our culture no less than the Dutch Masters or Bach or James Joyce, and his generous desire to impart this sense to me.
Cinema isn’t like this now. People still make good films but in the time of TV and YouTube and all the other competitors to cinema the idea of the director as a great artist, shaping the world, has passed. Maybe I’ll regain a feeling for that time if, through Amazon or another online provider, I get to watch the movies of Satyajit Ray.
V.S. Naipul’s book on India, A Million Mutinies Now, mentions the Bengali film maker Satyajit Ray, and made me want to see his films. I imagined I could buy them on Amazon and get to know this director from the great age of cinema. His films will be in black and white, and express not only in their landscapes, clothes, food and stories but in their very rhythm and speed, some intangible sense of an alien culture.