Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Why I Don’t Participate in Cable Access Programming

Submitted by by Christina Hazelwood

Although the village of Downers Grove, where I am a resident, has a fully functioning public access television station, I have been unable to get access to it. In spite of federal and local laws that specify a resident’s right to participate, in spite of the contribution that, I, as a resident make to the village in the form of taxes and cable fees, in spite of my efforts to exercise my rights, the village refuses to provide access.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates cable companies, gives franchising authorities like the village of Downers Grove, the right to require cable companies to set aside channels for local Public, Educational, or Governmental (PEG) use, as well as services, facilities, or equipment. Although cities and villages have this right, not all of them exercise it. The franchising authority, in this case the village of Downers Grove, is not allowed to control the content of programming on PEG stations, other than enforcement of obscenity restrictions.

Governing authorities, like the village, establish franchise agreements that specify their relationship with their cable provider. Cable companies pay the local authority, a percent of fees collected, typically from 5% to 5.5% for the privilege of providing its population with service. In its franchise agreement, the village of Downers Grove requires the cable company to provide three PEG channels, but only one is active (Channel 6). Legally, anyone who lives in the village of Downers Grove is allowed to create programming and have access to the village's television station, its equipment, and the airwaves for which the residents pay through their tax dollars and cable fees.

Downers Grove village law (Resolution 96-13) establishes rules under which residents may exercise their right to participate in the PEG station for which they pay. The intent of the resolution is to provide a method through which residents may make their voices heard. But instead the village uses the provisions of the resolution to restrict access and thereby prevent any undesirable information about the village or its activities from reaching residents.

How the village gets around the law is by putting in a clause that requires residents to take classes before they are “qualified” to have access to the station. This sounds reasonable in theory, but here’s the catch. The village then does not offer any classes, assuring that the public does not get access to the equipment, station or airwaves for which it pays.

By not providing classes, no residents become “qualified” to produce programs and all dissenting voices are squashed. In this way the village is able to eliminate public discourse and crush the rights imbued upon its citizens by law. No information or issues that may reflect poorly on the village or its activities is made public. In other countries this is called censorship. The village’s strategy insures that residents are unable to share any knowledge, information, or creative endeavors they have to offer the community at large. Programming that may potentially benefit the residents and the village is thereby made mute and void.

Not only does the village not offer classes, thereby insuring that no dissenting voices are heard, it also makes sure that the taxpaying, cable fee contributing residents are unaware that these rights to express themselves exist at all. The village flaunts its own laws of public access and takes over the station and airwaves for which the residents pay, using it as a pulpit to show a continuous stream of programming about how wonderful the village of Downers Grove and its associated governments are.

If the village was truly interested in allowing residents to exercise their public access rights, lawfully given to them and for which they pay, Downers Grove would offer classes on a regular basis, and post the dates, times, and locations of the classes on their web site, in the village newsletter, in local newspapers, and on the public access television station that it has commandeered. Instead, the village colludes to prevent its residents from knowing about their rights and gaining access to them.

The village and its representatives provide lip service about what an open, wonderful community Downers Grove is and then take measures to assure that the status quo is maintained. The few programs that get aired in which residents participate (to my knowledge there are three of them) are done in the studio under the watchful eye of village employees.
Neighboring communities such as Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, who have similar local laws, manage to provide regular open classes to their residents, allowing them to be “qualified” as producers and share valuable information in the form of programming. These villages seek out the participation of their residents and actually demonstrate an interest in hearing what their taxpaying, cable fee providing residents have to say.

In Downers Grove if a resident wants to take the required classes in order become qualified, the resident is placed on a “list” and is told that the village will be in contact when it decides to have a class. I requested to be placed on this list four years ago, have made several follow up telephone calls, and have yet to be contacted about a class. And further, although I've made movies, videos, and commercials, in the eyes of the village I am not qualified to produce cable access programming. This is in spite of village law which states that persons already familiar with equipment may be waived from taking the village's nonexistent classes.

In America, as well as in the rest of the world, just because we, the people, have both inalienable and lawfully provided rights, there is no assurance that they will be honored. Bullies who trample and disregard the rights of its citizens do not only exist only in other countries, but may be right in your own backyard.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Why I Made A Film

Submitted by Christina Hazelwood

”You’re going to undergo some type of training or study,” the psychic said.

I rolled my eyes and figured the woman had a bad connection or something. Having recently graduated from college, I was happily working in my chosen profession and had no intention of going back to school. Nay, I knew I wasn't going back.

“You’re going to study...” she paused, apparently re-tuning. “...film. Film scripts. You’re going to become very interested in scripts and scriptwriting.”

This woman must be picking up vibes from the last guy that was in here, I thought. But the woman turned out to be right. It just took another ten years to happen.

At the time I was working as a reporter for a regional newspaper and had my life mapped out. Eventually I’d join the staff of the Chicago Tribune and become a salty dog, hobnobbing with police detectives and political insiders, uncovering truth, justice and fighting for the American way. But I took a series of wrong turns, uncovered numerous dead ends, and wound up, just where she said, absorbing any information I could find about scriptwriting and making films.

It’s as though the thing got under my skin, like some nasty filmmaker virus that I couldn't shake. I searched out books, magazines, seminars, every tidbit of information. I even managed to get a few non-gratis (hang-around-the-set-and-we’ll-call-you-if-we-need-you) positions on some films. But I had to face facts. I was not, and had never been, a fresh-scrubbed UCLA film school grad. So if I ever did actually manage to slog my way through the Hollywood jungle (of course I’d have to move there first) and make something of myself, success would not occur prior to the age of ninety-three. And at that point I would no longer be able to see or hear the movie I'd just made.

There was only one possible way for me to become a filmmaker - make a film. Needless to say, this was an utterly horrifying thought to my loved ones. The sheer audacity and utter folly, of believing such a thing was in the realm of the possible, was in itself a shock. Not to mention the financial burden, overwhelming responsibility, logistics, technical demands, people issues, and all else. But being the lone lemming that I am, I decided to jump off the cliff.

I looked at it this way. If I wind up flipping burgers at the local diner, looking at another twenty to thrity years before I pay off that last credit card bill, at least I could say, “I did it.” As opposed to spending the rest of my life wishing I had.

Nobody Knows Anything, The Golden Nugget of Hope

Submitted by Richard Hogg

It seems that a lot of wannabe screenwriters daydream about getting up to accept an Oscar. This is the pinnacle of all the effort and creativity they pour out onto the page. For me, the end goal is to sit down at the screening, doubters at my side, and have the 20th Century Fox fanfare blast out announcing to myself more than anyone else that I should never have doubted myself.

Looking at the endless amount of screenwriting information, articles, script services available there seemed to be a lot of information to take in order to guarantee success. A word which is rarely whispered over here in Britain.

But do we need all of this. If on average I take in less than five percent of what I read (no I’m not irretrievably stupid, this is a average for most people) then think of all that wasted time spent on act structures, plot lines, climaxes, and dialog do’s and don’ts.

One day I began reading William Goldman’s now renowned “Adventures in the Screen Trade.” And in it’s pages I found a voice that gave me more hope than any of the other books on the market. Here I wasn’t being told the rules that I could learn then break, a phrase that has proved to me to be as useful as a chocolate teapot. Here I discovered a truth I still believe in today and one which I had probably read before but had been lost with the other ninety-five percent. Goldman says “nobody knows anything” and then goes onto include himself in that phrase. HE HAS NO IDEA OF HOW HE DOES WHAT HE DOES. This from the man who gave us Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

I looked up at a shelf groaning under the weight of other how-to books and heavyweight texts like “Story” or a Syd Field volume. Now I didn’t have to struggle with the feeling that I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t fit the type. I never got so into my writing that I stayed up all night like they did. In fact, I seemed to self-destruct and in the middle of a creative burst of pure inspiration would find myself pacing the house just to get away from the keyboard. Was I afraid that I would mess it up? That I couldn’t get down on the page what was in my head?

I never used the techniques they mentioned and their logical train of thought seemed lost on me as I spent time writing.

Even writing this very short article I am struggling to think of things to say. Is my point valid? Do I have a point or am I just writing for the sake of writing? Why do I always end up raising more questions than I answer? But how can there be any answers if Goldman is right?

If you have read this little rant (it would be wrong to call this thought fart an article) then well done. Reading it again I realize that it will not solve any script problems or provide any inspiration. Perhaps the only thing to glean is that you either have it or you don’t. Or maybe that there are others who do what they do but not in the way they’re supposed to.

Do you write knowing that it’s not really up to standard but that it’s what you always wanted to do? Maybe you are talented enough but haven’t quite got to grips with business side of things. All I know is I get a sense of total satisfaction when I write something that I would pay to see. So I guess what I’m saying is JUST WRITE. Your imagination is the key, the books just help tidy things up.

War, Sex, Spiders, Singing, and the Culkin Spawn

Submitted by Melinda Murphy

Well, the annual Hollywood self-congratulation convention is over and, aside from Michael Moore’s passionate rant, the Oscars were duller than usual. No terrorist attacks on “America’s royalty.” Who cares whether Joan Rivers gets a whiff of sarin gas anyway?

A movie adaptation of a dated Broadway musical, Chicago, rolled off with most of the little gold-plated men. And a long-suspected child rapist, who made yet another movie about the Holocaust, scored brownie points with the decrepit white men who run the Biz.

This was another year when filmmakers seemed torn between playing it safe and some sense of originality. Because they are so scatter-shot across the crap-o-meter dial, I left a lot out. I haven’t seen several of the blockbusters. Here’s my take, roughly in order of quality but mostly just in order of what I had to say about them.

One-Hour Photo: Robin Williams finally let his wife stop picking his roles for him and it shows. Along with Insomnia, this was his ode to weirdos. ER Honcho, and one-time WGA president, John Wells exec-produced. Williams played a tight-lipped, terribly dysfunctional loner. Still, there’s something a bit art school about this; maybe it’s the terrifying lighting in the Wal-Martesque scenes.

Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers: Swashing, buckling, and then more swashing! Gollum is the creepiest CGI ever. Repetitious beautiful shots of New Zealand had me asking if Peter Jackson is working for the tourism commission? I think so. And then giant talking trees beat Saruman to a pulp! I’m holding out for the Treebeard coffee mugs.

Possession: A great romantic drama from the unlikeliest director, Neil LaBute. Two different couples from two different eras struggle to love one another within a sub-plot about historical letters and an attempt to steal them. Aaron Eckhart is an affable grad student, Jeremy Northam is typically intense as a fictional Victorian poet, and Jennifer Ehle is his fiery and sensuous lover. Gwyneth Paltrow is...Christ, why do people keep making movies with HER in them? How long before a London bus doing sixty miles per hour takes out this whiney anorexic?

About A Boy: Damn funny. Hugh Grant found a part to follow up his demonic turn in Bridget Jones’ Diary and he’s equally hilarious in this. Toni Collette is a screamingly funny London hippie who feeds her boy “Ancient Grains” cereal, dresses him in dorky organic wool and then tells him, “You’re not a sheep.” I laughed out loud the first time Grant’s character zeros in on the flier for SPAT, Single Parents Alone Together.

Igby Goes Down: I liked this! It’s about The Rich, but give it a chance. Get past the polo shirts and blazers and it’s Susan Sarandon being wonderfully evil. Ryan Phillippe does his best I’m-bored-now accent and that Caulkin kid does all right. I even liked Amanda Peet, another model-turned-actress, except she can actually emote, so I can’t really bag on her except to say anorexics really should keep their clothes on in movies. The ending is good! Give it a spin on the DVD player.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: He’s back and he’s driving without a learner’s permit! This one is an improvement; we aren’t dragged through the long list of who’s who. However, the elf engaging in a sadomasochism kind of freaked me out. If a CGI-generated character ever needed a Valium, it’s that one. He makes Gollum look calm. Oh, and there’s S-P-I-D-E-R-S!

The Hours: Heavy-handed chamber music, Nicole Kidman dons a fake nose, Julianne Moore smiles in a skeletal, grimacing way and Meryl Steep enters stage left. Ed Harris is a tortured writer/artist again. But what zapped me was the little kid, Jack Rovello. The boy who acts opposite Moore in the 1950’s scenes was mesmerizing. I haven’t seen a pre-teen that intent on industry recognition since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense.

Insomnia: Another gutsy, mainstream-pretending-to-be-indie flick from the man who brought us Memento. Al Pacino had me twitching in a way he hasn’t since Dog Day Afternoon. Robin William’s voice drones away on the voiceover, driving Pacino and the audience nuts.

Y tu Mama Tabien (And Your Mother Too): Funnily enough, the male critics who gushed about Mulholland Drive last year mightily dissed this Mexican art house flick. Gael Bernal and Diego Luna are flaky, rich Mexican teens who set off on a road trip to impress their companion, a stunning older woman from Spain, who’s harboring several painful secrets. Of course, the MPAA had no problem with the almost pornographic Mulholland Drive (hot lesbian action!) but they put the smack down on this (possible man-on-man action) and the version I saw was severely edited. Ironically, it just took Best Foreign Language Film at the BAFTAs.

Orange County: Sooo cute. I don’t care if this was a send up of all the “inherited” talent in Hollywood. There’s good comedic delivery and even better lines, like “Hello coyote ugly!” and “If it weren’t for your step-father, we’d be living in a condo eating processed cold cuts!”

The Salton Sea: This missed broader distribution, which is too bad given the appalling crystal-meth boom sweeping America. Val Kilmer is appealing as a broken man on a revenge crusade and his sidekick, Peter Sarsgaard, is amazing as the most naive junkie ever. ER’s Eric LaSalle produced and the movie has a wide ethnic cast, which is ironic given the long-time penchant for meth among bikers and skinheads (it was Hitler’s drug of choice). Vivid imagery and a little plot twist makes this a good video rental.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Australia does a nice send up of the true story of three girls who escape an Aboriginal boarding school in 1931 and walk 1,500 miles through the outback to find their mother. The school is run by a racist creep, Kenneth Branagh, who wants to breed the black out of the Abo kids, a la the U.S. and Canada’s domesticating of the American Indian. Just like Indian kids, they’re beaten if they speak their own language and when they’re trained, they’re farmed out to white families as domestic help. What’s more amazing is, Aborigines didn’t even have the right to vote in Australia until just a few decades ago.

Minority Report: Stephen Spielberg FINALLY gets dirty. Some scenes in this pricey, slow-to-finish-production are seedy and unsavory - and that’s good! I was beginning to think the Peter Pan of Cinema didn’t know what sex was.

The Bourne Identity: Matt Damon dices, slices, and - ouch! - stabs people with ballpoint pens. Franke Potente does well as his sort-of romantic interest but doesn’t scream enough when they’re driving the Euro-beatermobile through France on one wheel and no brakes. Plenty of white-knuckle fun.

Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys: That Caulkin kid wrestles with puberty and, in this case, a nun played by Jody Foster who he perceives as Satan. Literally. Large chunks of the film are played out Saturday cartoon style as a comic book story. It’s a little disjointed but has a nice indie feel.

Enigma: (2001 but came here in 2002) A very Brit production, complete with backing from Mick Jagger, about England’s race to crack Nazi Germany’s enigma code. Loosely based on real events. Dougray Scott decided that math geek meant he shouldn’t wash his hair and then stare slack-jawed into space a lot. Uber model Saffron Burrows does a brief turn as an amorous femme fatale and Kate Winslet (who was preggers at the time) is carefully dressed down to look ugly next to statuesque Burrows. But cool Jeremy Northam’s weasely secret agent man is the only real reason to watch this made-by-a-rock-star film.

Signs: M. Night Shyamalan follows up Unbreakable and trades in Bruce Willis for Mel Gibson as a lapsed minister who lives on a Pennsylvania farm when this War of the Worlds scenario unfolds. Gibson’s minister is the ONLY person in all of America who doesn’t own a gun! Shyamalan spends a lot of time building his characters and letting them drive the bus, which works, especially in the scene where Joaquin Pheonix is watching TV. There’s some laughs too, with the kids, including another Caulkin spawn.

Blue Crush: A girls-have-fun-too flick with a tired old plot, but the actors, the setting, and the photography almost make you forget you know exactly how it will end. Michelle Rodriguez and company make the most of bikini bathing suits, gettin’ loaded and hangin’ with the howlies. I like this because I have a thing for surfer movies. There’s something far more mystical about surfing versus mountain climbing or pogoing off a cliff on a mountain bike. Any boy can do that.

Full Frontal: Over-blown indie look-alike by Soderbergh. A vanity project where he dazzled us with namedropping. Julia Roberts acts confused, and so was I. Blair Underwood is...well, uh...he’s no Denzel. He’s certainly no Jeffrey Wright, either. He’s pretty but, well...David Hyde Pierce is a writer who’s marriage is floundering. He doesn’t pull a Whiney Niles thanks to hashish brownies. David Duchovny is ultra-sleazy as a movie exec who misses his own party for unsavory reasons. I’m wondering if Duchovny and Soderbergh didn’t create this character deliberately after the gossip about Duchovny and massage parlors while he was still in Vancouver waving flashlights around for Chris Carter?

The Pianist: I haven’t seen this and here’s why - Roman Polanski. I just don’t like him and I like his writing and filmmaking even less. Remember Johnny Depp and The Ninth Gate? How about Tess? Rosemary’s Baby? “Hail Satan! Hail Satan!” Please! I know he co-wrote Chinatown but I’m still not impressed, maybe because of what he allegedly did to a pre-teen all those years ago. Once again Hollywood has proven that it is still run by very old, white Jewish men who reward subject matter first, quality second. The Holocaust was a terrible tragedy and one of the cruelest periods in Western history. Society will never be the same, but how many times can you shove extras into bread ovens and not have it become trite?

Lovely & Amazing: Catherine Keener is a screwed-up daughter in a family of screwed-up women who are, really, like everybody else. They’re obsessed with their weight, so much so that the matriarch, British actress Brenda Blethyn, gets liposuction. She ends up in the hospital in critical condition. Dermot Mulroney is the narcissistic, befuddled Hollywood actor who beds one of the dysfunctionals. Turns out, he’s just as concerned about his physical appearance as she is. Blethyn’s matriarch has an adopted daughter. The daughter is African-American and obese. The film asks hard questions about the objectification of women, stereotypes, race, age, etc. and tries to answer some of them. Guys will hate this flick.

Unfaithful: One of my favorite actresses, Diane Lane, who has certainly aged better than me (we’re both 37), has sex with a dangerous Frenchie on the stairs, in a public toilet, on a table, under a table...let’s see...anyhow, yoga can help anyone except Richard Gere’s character. But I did like the ending.

Reign of Fire: The British Isles get eaten by dragons. Matthew McConaughey must save everyone because he’s the ‘Merikun; thereby, tougher and more macho. The lizards are great! The plot - what plot? I heard two guys wrote this as a spec script submission. Get crackin’ on those soulless, plotless action-packed stories.

The Rules of Attraction: In the beginning, Shannyn Sossamon’s character gets viciously date raped...or does she? James Van Der Beek is a misunderstood, impoverished drug dealer. Ian Somerhalder is the hot gay guy who’s moping after Van Der Beek. Kip Pardue is unconvincing as a recently-returned-from-fucking-everything-in-Europe ex-boyfriend. Why would anyone line up to fuck Pardue? He looks like he asks customers if they want fries with that order. Russell Sams is underused and a standout as Dick, Somerhalder’s occasional lover. Sams acts drunk and obnoxious better than anybody else and drunk and obnoxious is the main theme! Roger Ebert was gushing on his television show that “no college boys on Earth would ignore half-naked coeds making out in a lesbian fashion.” Obviously, this is going on Ebert’s top shelf right next to Mulholland Drive. In fact, there’s so many stark nekid girlies in this, I’m guessing Avary went to a strip club and asked everybody to come be in his movie. I have faith most real coeds aren’t this stupid despite what slimy creep Brett Easton Ellis pens.

Kissing Jessica Stein: All aboard the silly Greed Train for $elling Lesbian $tereotypes to $traight Men! Our conductor is Howard Stern.

The Ring: I don’t know what Jane Alexander or Brian Cox were doing in this - making a house payment? Naomi Watts manages to keep some of her clothes on. Renting videos can kill you and the “new” formula for horror flicks is to flash gross and unsettling images. Here’s the plot: BLOOD, SCARY FACE, BUGS!

We Were Soldiers: God help us, writer/filmmaker Randall Wallace is at it again. Mel Gibson gives one of his sloppiest performances as a stalwart commando who leads his “boys” into Vietnam. Since HBO hit the ball out of the park with Band of Brothers, these war pictures are just pathetic. And I’m a girl who likes war movies! Just buy Band of Brothers on DVD.

Black Hawk Down: Ridley Scott is Bruckheimer’s new bitch?! The man who made Alien and Thelma and Louise, spews out a celluloid mess about heat, dust, and bad lighting. See above.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Bollywood 101

Submitted by by Mark Leeper, originally written for the MT VOID

A reader wrote to me about my review of Devdas, a Hindi film. In the resulting discussion I talked a little about Hindi films in general. It occurred to me that I haven't said much about the rising popularity of so-called Bollywood films. These days fairly frequently you can see a Hindi film playing at some local theater. I am told that Hindi films are even bigger in Britain than in the United States, and that they are starting to make inroads with a non-Indian audience even here. I am a non-Indian and they are making inroads with me. Some Bollywood filmmakers are now even making films with an international audience in mind. I am not talking about art filmmakers like the late Satyajit Ray. His films were always made for international release. But the neighborhood films, which can be a lot of fun, are now also frequently made for international audiences and some get released over here. This article will probably seem naïve to Indians, but it is an American perspective on Bollywood films.

First of all what am I talking about? Does India even have a film industry? You bet they do. For those who are unaware it is the biggest film industry in the world. They output about 800 feature films a year, two films for every film released by Hollywood. And these are longer films. Most are in the 160-minute range. The center of the Hindi film industry is Bombay or “Mumbai” as insiders call it. Bombay is their equivalent to Hollywood and the “Bombay Hollywood” is called “Bollywood.” They sell tickets to 14 million movie patrons in an average day. That is considerably more people than live in Pennsylvania. That is just the Hindi film industry. There are lower-profile film industries making films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, and Bengali. But the Hindi films have the widest audience within India and so the filmmakers can afford to mount opulent productions to recover costs.

For many Indians, films are the only forms of entertainment. Movie theaters range in quality from little neighborhood ramshackle affairs to some pretty impressive movie palaces. The most fabulous movie palace I have ever seen is the exquisite Raj Mandhir in Jaipur. In my India trip log, I say “The Raj Mandir is an impressive building, with mirrored interiors, pink decor, and rounded rampways to higher floors. It might even rival Radio City Music Hall. It's a combination of art deco and Hindu statues (well, mandir does mean temple), with lots of pink glass thrown in. With a capacity of about 1300 people, and a screen about twenty-five feet high and fifty feet wide, this is the big screen experience, this is not your local movie theater the size of your living room.”

Are the Hindi movies any good? That is a very interesting question. Certainly some are. The vast majority are made purely for entertainment. They are a way for Indians to shed their troubles and have a good time. Indians love musical production numbers and just about every film regardless of subject matter will have at least three production numbers and most will have as many as six or seven. The plot stops cold and instead they have a knock-your-socks-off dance number. And these are rarely just two people standing still and singing. There will be extravagant costumes and maybe several dancers.

Nearly every film will have comic elements, though a few filmmakers will try to keep those to a minimum. The music and the comedy are elements that Indians look for and expect. Bombay is a serious film about the Bombay riots. There are some fairly harrowing violent scenes toward the end of the film. Yet it starts out as a comedy and a musical with a Hindu boy dressing up as a girl to woo a Muslim girl. The musical comedy is part of the artistic form of the Bombay film. You might as well write a four-line limerick as make a Bombay film without songs and jokes.

Another factor is differences in taste between Indians and non-Indians. What is good for an Indian audience is not necessarily what plays well with an American audience. While some Hindi films may look like they are aimed at children, Indian audiences will just eat them up. There are just differences in predisposition. On the other hand, when I saw Asoka at a film festival, I was much impressed with the expensive look of the picture and the historical adventure. Asoka was an Indian conqueror who did much to spread the faith of Buddhism in India. This was sort of a melodrama based on history. Some of the dance numbers seem a little modern for the period, but the film is glossy and a lot of fun. The film did not play nearly as well with Indian audiences, most of whom knew the history and knew this wasn't it. Incidentally, the film starred Shahrukh Khan who seems to be very popular at the moment. I suppose he looks something like Tony Curtis did in his youth. His acting is on par with Curtis but his looks do sell tickets. Khan is currently in something like five new films a year. If you go to Indian video stores it is hard to avoid his face on boxes and posters. Khan is also the star of Devdas as well has having an important role in Hey Ram.

Bollywood filmmakers tend to shun science-fiction and horror for melodramas. While Indians love science-fiction, they have to import most of the science-fiction films they get. In large part this is because Indian filmmakers cannot really match Western counterparts for providing special effects. Occasionally an enterprising filmmaker will go into those fields, but not a lot do. I have on tape The Jungle, a 1952 Hindi science fiction film that required little in the way of effects. The idea is that animal disturbances are being caused by something strange in the Indian jungle. In the final reel we discover that it is prehistoric mammoths living deep in the Indian jungle. More recently I am told that there is an Indian film patterned on The Matrix. While horror has been rare in India, an article I have just read indicates that it is in vogue right now and many Hindi supernatural horror films are being made.

That brings us to one of the negative aspects of Bollywood films. Several borrow rather shamelessly from already-popular Western films. Khal-Naaikaa, the film we saw at the Raj Mandhir is almost a scene-for-scene remake of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (with music and comedy added). As I understand it, there was no permission given to reuse the story. Other films certainly show a strong influence of Western plots. China Gate has a strong influence of The Magnificent Seven. Several other films are also strongly influenced by Westerns. Another negative aspect, by the way, is that India's organized crime syndicates do a great deal of the funding of some Hindi films.

Budgets in India are much smaller than those in the United States, but a little money goes a very long way in that country. Devdas cost about $15 million. But that makes it the most expensive Bollywood film of all time. And you see that money on the screen. Lavish does not begin to cover the sets. Much of the film takes place in extravagant mansions that are virtual palaces and more than look it. Budget money goes a very long way in India. The story, on the other hand, may be a little melodramatic for newcomers to the genre. The title character returns to India from a decade of studying in Britain. He falls in love with his neighbor, a childhood sweetheart but a woman of lesser caste played by Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World. Of course there are pressures on the couple not to be together and this leads to problems and eventually to tragedy.

Another thing about Bollywood films is their wholesomeness. Indian censors are extremely strict. Nudity is non-existent and even kissing is rare for fear of the censors’ ire. Lovers rarely get beyond the handholding stage on-screen. On the other hand, water scenes are quite popular. The female lead will remain fully clothed, but with her clothing all wet a certain amount of human anatomy is discernable.

At the moment there is a large market for Bollywood films outside of India, particularly in places like Britain. Curiously it was cricket that brought India and Britain together in 2002. They faced off in an important tournament. It happened there was a Bollywood film at the same time, Lagaan, on the subject of British facing Indians in a cricket match. Between the cricket match and the film, many Britons became interested in Indian culture and especially the strange films the Indians make. And wherever there are non-resident Indians there will be a market for films from home. Whether this current international interest is part of a longer trend or just a bubble that will soon burst nobody knows. But Bollywood films are a good deal of fun and well worth a film buff's attention.