Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Planting The Identity

The article below was a writing assignment for my cultural geography class. The course was taught by Professor Persiado and I think for once in my life I was thinking about getting a geography related degree.

In a country like Iran that contains the majority of the Shia Muslim hardliners of the Middle East, to endure as a Christian Armenian seems to be a mission impossible. It becomes even more impossible when the mission takes longer than four hundred years, although due to strong nationalism or maybe because of the “Survival of the fittest phrase”*, Armenians of Iran** among them my ancestors and family have achieved to protect their identity while many other ethnic minorities were long assimilated. By looking back at the history of Armenians of Iran, especially after the Islamic revolution in 1979 which is the year that I was born, I become certain that my identity is shaped by the ongoing opposition against the dominating culture while trying to reinforce my own no matter where I live.

We as children would learn to oppose against assimilation from elders. While many Armenians migrated to US and Armenia right after revolution in Iran, few stood and preserved the Armenian churches, social clubs and schools in which studying the Armenian language and history was banned after the fanatic Islamists gain control of the government. Arabic was replaced instead. The astonished Armenian parents soon assembled meetings and decided to schedule extra evening classes at homes. Every parent was obliged to help in the procedure. Some would drive children, some would copy books, the others would support with their homes as classrooms and the teachers would teach for free. We as children although had a hard time doing the extra homework, but still we were proud to be a part of this underground process of opposing against a strength that had aimed for our culture and Identity.
Media as one of the most effective ways to alter ones perception and identity was a great threat for us. By restricting television, a huge propaganda machine of the Islamic republic, which had plenty of programs to brain wash the children of all races and ethnic groups, our parents had to support us with other audio visual materials that would entertain us without damaging our mind and identity. My parents would ask our relatives living abroad to provide us with productions like Sesame Street, Adventures of Tintin and Disney entertainment which were illegal to own at that time in order to prevent us from watching the national TV. VHS tapes and comic books would become the interactive weapons from west that would keep us away from manipulating programs of Iranian media. During time we learned that everywhere, the media is a strong force to control a mass group of people and in order to keep out of the threat we need to find ourselves and the next generations the right kind of material.

Social and communal life within our own ethnic groups has become an important part of our identity. Families and unions would organize sport events, art gatherings and religious ceremonies to provide us a platform in which we could get in touch with our origins and routes. These social activities along with Church, School and family and our role as an Armenian child or teenage at every one of these has been helping us to preserve our identity and ethnic values for a long time. Besides having fun, making new friends and improving in a particular field of art or sport we would also practice a part of our identity and values each time. During the social gatherings we would learn more about our origins and were obliged to pass the knowledge to the next generation.

What I have become, my identity is a result of all that planting. All that struggle and persuasion that I have witnessed through my younger years has made my obligation towards my identity very clear. Now, about twenty years later and continents away, in another time and place, but still somewhere in Armenian Diaspora I am confronted with the duty of preserving values and origins and that has become the major part of my identity. Only this time there is no one forcing us to change. It is just a huge melting pot and a globalized world. Will I be able to pass the identity to next generation? How far can I go?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Lawrence Of Arabia - A Very Personal Film

For our Film history class we were spoused to pick a film that had a special effect on us, describe the effect and then write a review about it. I thought to share it in here. This article would not be interesting for those who haven't seen the Lawrence of Arabia by David Linn.

To understand why I like this movie I need to flashback to my teenager years, back in Tehran the capital of Iran, days of betamax video tapes, anti American and anti western atmosphere, when owning a video player was a crime and we were a small Armenian/Christian community that was trying to remain safe in the new post revolution order.
My father owned a video rental store before the revolution and considering the situation, he had sold all his tapes except some that either were his favorites or nobody was interested to buy. I remember “West side story”, “The Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid” and “The Lawrence of Arabia” were among them. During that time our parents would hardly allow us to watch the Iranian huge propaganda (you call it brainwashing) machine; the Islamic radio and television programs. My sister and I like many other Armenian kids had no other entertainment except to watch old tapes that were remained in the corner of the old closets of our homes. Sometimes some would start illegal video rentals in our small community, they would grow bears, dress like typical “basiji” militants only to pack about 50 to 60 betamax cassettes in a bag and go door to door into the homes, renting videos; exporting American culture into the deepest fractions of the middle eastern demographics. That was how I saw many great films. However “Lawrence of Arabia” was always there in the closet and the old SONY- T7 was like a home to that tape, every week and sometimes twice a week I’d rewind the tape, watch about four hours of this historic movie and put it back. then I’d watch it again and again and each time I’d learn a piece of the complicated story of an Englishman in a remote dessert. The charisma behind the blue eyes of Peter O’Tolle not only would attracted me to watch the film, but It would create a fake image of myself as another Lawrence leading the Muslim children of our neighborhood in fights and games against other neighborhoods. Just like Lawrence I was surrounded with Ali’s, Ghasem’s and Majid’s , and I was so different from them and we both could feel that, but still I would continue to fight with them when help was needed and act and speak like them all the time. Among those dark toned skins, Arabic names and fluent Farsi accents I could very easily been separated, but the attributes of Lawrence’s character had such a strong effect on me that for years,I’d still feel myself a superior among my friends, a unique individual who due to his race and ethnic differences was always above the rest. The effect of David Leans masterpiece was not just a character, but a whole series of connections, dialogues, scenes and actions that had shaped a new character in me. I think movies had a strong role, building racial and ethnic stereotyping even among kids who aren't aware of any racial issues.
When I watch Lawrence of Arabia for times and times again, although it is a four hour long movie but I take this time to enjoy a lot of cinematic experiences and when it’s over it feels that a lot is left for me to understand next time. It is said that O’Tolle was not a famous actor before this film. It’s very hard for me to imagine any one else in this role, even when I first saw the real Lawrence’s photo I felt like O’Tolle is much more “Lawrencer” than Lawrence himself. His voice, and face are portraying a man with war of emotions inside. Beside O’Tolle, Aleck Guinness, Anthony Queen and Omar Sharif portray memorable characters of Arab leaders. Queen and Sharif both had similar roles, but seeing Guinness as Prince Feysal is an interesting experience. The Blue sky and yellow sands of the dessert brings a very unique and special composition to the shots of this film, the sequences which took place in desserts sometimes take too long but I guess watching all these on silver screen considering a 70mm film is a huge understanding of quality in Cinema. The original score of “Lawrence of Arabia” which I was surprised to find was by Maurice Jarre is another positive point for this Sam Spiegel production. I admire the cinematography in this film a lot. There are huge fight scenes between Arabs and Turks in the dessert which are very well filmed. The rhythm of montage is not very fast during the war scenes, but still the shots are listed in a way that suspense and anxiety continues to follow the viewer throughout the whole sequences.
It feels to me there are no semi-professionals, everyone knows what to do, and everyone looks to be chosen amongst best of the industry. The filmmaking rules and formulas of the classic filmmaking are applied and every time I watch this film I feel that it’s pure cinema. I don’t feel there’s something randomly done. I feel that David Lean has followed a very well written scenario step by step and had made it clear for all his crew what his own vision of every single shot is. For me “Lawrence of Arabia” is an absolute synonym of the word Cinema.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Դալանի մյուս կողմում

Այս լուսանկարը հենց նոր գտա...այն նկարել էի 2005 թվականի դեկտեմբերին Երևանում: Մեր ինստիտուտի կողքի փողոցում կար փոքրիկ բակ որտեղ հասնելու համար պիտի անցնեիր այս դալանից: Անգամներ ուզեցա այս բակով անցնել ու քայլելով ինձ հասցնել Սարյան փողոց ու այնտեղից էլ մի կերպ տուն, ինձ հետաքրքրում էր բակում գտնվող բնակիչներն ու նրանց տները, բայց երբևե չհաջողվեց: Մի որ դաս շատ ունեի, մի օր ճաշին տուն պիտի գնաի, մի օր հավես չկար ու շուտ Ամիրյանի վրա մաշրուտնի էի նստում, մի օր էլ անցա ու տեսա...ավերելեն բակում ու բակի շուրջը գտնվող շենքերը...սարսափելի տեսարան էր: Փոփոխության սառը քամին խփեց դեմքիս ու զգացի էլ երբեք չես իմանա ինչի նման էր այս դալանի մյուս կողմը...հիմա շուտ համտես եմ անում ցանկացած ճաշարանի անծանոթ ուտելատեսակը, շուտ դիտում եմ անծանոթ ռեժիսոռի ֆիլմը, գրեթե բացի կանանց ձգտում եմ ճաշակել ամեն բան ու ամեն դալանի մյուս կողմում ինձ սպասողին, գուցե վաղը ավերվի...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Արա Ասլանյանի անսպասելի մահվան առիթով

Ինձնից շատ ավելի մոտ մարդիկ կան որ ինձնից շատ ավելի լավ են ճանաչում Արաին ու շատ ավելի երկար տարիներ ու ժամեր են անցկացրել նրա հետ, սակայն այն ինչ ինձ ստիպում է այս տողերը գրել ոչ թե միայն նրա կորուստի կսկիծն է , այլ նաև այն փաստը, որ թեկուզ երբևե առիթ չունեցա նրա հետ աշխատելու լուսանկարչական կամ թատերական ասպարեզում, սակայն անգամներ տարբեր հանդիպումների կամ կարճատև համագործակցություների ընթացքում նրանից ինձ մոտ տպավորվեց մի այնպիսի պարզ ու հանգիստ մոտեցում, որ նմանը դժվար կարելի է գտնել ցանկացած արվեստագետի հետ հարաբերություններում: Նրա հետ խոսելիս ու շփվելիս երբևե մարդ չեր կարող պատկերացնել թե ինչպիսի ցքանչելի դերասան է նա: Արան հազվադեպ դերասաներից էր որ իր իրական կյանքում դերեր չեր խաղում ու դիմակներ չուներ, նա անկեղծ էր և հիանալին այն էր որ նա բառերով չեր հիշեցնում այն: Երբևե որպես սքանչելի լուսանկարիչ չեր ձգտում նունիսկ մի երկու բառով գովելու իր լուսանկարները կամ իր տաղանդը: Նա մանրամասն կարող էր պատասխանել քո ամբողջ հարցերին իր սիրելի Նիքոն ապառատի մասին առանց թերագնահատելու մյուս ապառատներին, նա առանց մտահոգվելու, սիրով կը կիսեր քեզ հետ իր լուսանկարչական փորձառություները ու մասնագիտական գախնիքները, երբ լուսանկարիչ լինես կհասկանաս թե դա ինչքան հազվադեպ է, նա նվիրական հոգի ուներ: Նրա մոտ թերագնահատել, նախանձ և մրցակցություն չէիր տեսնի, մրցակցելու կարիքը չուներ, իր ընտրած մասնագիտություններում այնքան մեծ էր ու հզոր որ ասած Երևանցիները՝ դեմը խաղ չկար...
Երբ Սեթոն “31 և 1 լցարած ատամ “ հաղորդաշարի վերջին տեսահոլովակը պատրաստելու ժամանակ, երգի մի տողը հատկացրեց Արաին ասելով թե՝ “ Շատ կարգին մարդ մեր թատրոնում” կարելի էր ենթադրել որ Արան միակն էր այդ երգում նշված ողջ դեմքերի ցանկում, որ նույնիսկ մեկ հոգի ամբողջ իրանահայության մեջ չեր հարցադրելու նրան նշվելու պատճառը: Այդպես էր Արան, սիրված ու հարգված, բոլորի կողմից:
Ուրախ եմ որ Շխոնց Միհրանի դերի համար Սեթոն հրավիրեց Արաին: Նրան լիքը նկարեցինք, թե ֆիլմ և թե նկար, հիմա կարող ենք նրա մեծարման հանդեսներին ու հուշերեկոներին օգտվել այս ժամանակակից պատկերներից, թեչե մենք երբ ենք մեկին գնահատել կենդանի ժամանակ, երբ ենք հիշել մեր թատրոնի հսկաներին, երբ ենք մեծարել նրանց մինչև չենք կորցրել... Այս ցավը որ հիմա մեր սրտերում է մասամբ Արաի վաղաժամ հրաժեշտի համար է ու մասամբ այն պատճառով որ գիտենք նրան հազվադեպ տրամադրվեց իր կարողություների ու տաղանդների համապատասխան հնարավորություները, թե չէ նա սրանից շատ ավելին էր պատրաստ տալ իր համայնքին ու մենք հիմա ավելի քիչ ցավով հրաժեշտ կտաինք նրան:
Հիմա մեզ մնում է թաց աչքերով նայել նրանից նկարահանված վիդիոները ու երբեմն մտնել նրա ֆէյսբուքի էջը դիտել նրա սքանչելի լուսանկարները ու ափսոսել...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Four weddings and many buried ideas

The beautifully designed flowers in the church along with the smiley faces of the audience imply on a wedding celebration of a couple. The priest looks at the bride and asks; - Do you take the groom to be your lawful wedded husband? The church is silent, people are waiting, and the groom is managing a smile to welcome the yes answer and exactly on the very same moment, doors of the church blast open, overwhelmed guests turn back to see the source of the sound and the bride turns to become the only one happy to be interrupted.-Wait… her lover shouts…
How many of us have been getting used to this “surprising” ending in recent years. For us a romantic movie weather ends at the wedding scene in a church or it hasn’t yet ended. In fact to avoid losing moviegoers, Hollywood never wanted to replace happy endings with a realistic encounter of life. So in order to change the routine finales, the scriptwriters have started to pursue viewers that this time it is different and you are about to see a story detached from routine Hollywood contracts and many times to surprise their observer they would write this scene in which the girl or the boy are marrying someone else, and then they would end everything with a happy ever after.
The English movie “four wedding and a funeral” is a good example of change searching artists and money pursuing producers. While almost everyone in the cast & crew of the film has done its best to make a far different movie, still at the end we realize that producers don’t risk their money with the production of open ending movies let alone films that are letting their viewers out of the darkrooms unsatisfied and sad.
Although four wedding and a funeral is a British movie and English directors have learned a thing or two from their neighboring other European cinematically high class counterparts such as Italians and French and their realistic point of view towards life in their films, but still when it comes to selling they know that they need to follow their American counterparts techniques and styles in order to avoid future arguments and mandatorily cuts and changes in their films.
In this movie there are more than ten characters that they all love and fall for someone, they all have their unique ways of showing their feelings, and that concerns even the most uninterested viewer to see if one of them who most resembles to himself will manage to somehow succeed at love and being loved.
The roles are played very well and people who watch the movie find them in real life situations which could occur for everyone. The perfect romance is clearly being chased by the characters and each has its own ideas and philosophy of true love and happiness. This widens the circle of moviegoers. Everyone is in pursue of happiness and a happy marriage, and when the film is over you realize that people find each other and marry if they really love each other. People won’t live alone, people won’t stay lonely forever and that’s somehow a lie because in real life there is no guarantee for a happy marriage or for nothing else.
Movies and television series however have become a dependable part of our lives that we subconsciously believe lots of things would roll as easy as they happen in the movies, and that’s why when Charles the main character of the movie falls in love with Carry who is a good looking American woman portrayed by Andy Mc Dowel, we on the back of our mind know that he is going to get her one way or the other. And when at the end Charles is the groom himself we all are surprised to see another bride is getting close to the chapel to marry him, but on the other hand we know that this is a movie that won’t let us out of the theater frustrated and that’s what exactly happens to the movie, even if it costs to add a punching scene to the church and decrease the level of humor a few inches or so.
Opposite of American romantic comedies that are completely contractive and predictive “four wedding and a funeral” is stunning it’s viewer by the surprise death of one of the main characters in the middle of the story and just as its name is suggesting, it is preparing the viewer for an unpleasant happening somewhere in the film. This is a sign by which the story is not a routine American ending, but then again as time goes there is no other choice for the writer to end up things in a way to have his producer satisfied.
Charles is looking for a wife, he has a couple of options but he is too indecisive to choose or end his delusion. During the film he meets Carrie in different weddings and occasions but he never succeed to manage their relation in his favorite path. This is a story that by just replacing the names can easily become the destiny of millions of people. All of those who follow Charles are finally faced with the ideal ending. They are told that they got no other option except to receive a hard punch in the church for making their minds late or just spit out their emotions toward the one they love, but at both ways they are somehow forced to go with the idea that they will like Charles become happy ever after just by kissing the right woman under the rain, which is a glamorized version of their life. A lot of them might even manage their path somehow to adjust the kissing chapter to somehow occur in the rain, because that’s what they think makes sense more and that’s the most important part of two people trying to get along.
But the truth is Charles and Carrie become Hugh Grant and Andy Mac Dowell as soon as director Mike Newell shouts cut and dry themselves, change and forget the rain and kissing in matter of seconds while we the humble viewers with eyes full of tears and hearts full of hopes come out of the theater and go to find our better half’s somewhere in the world, while hoping that he or she will likewise is going to someday, somewhere, somehow, enjoy that wet kiss without thinking that she might have watched a movie with a long kiss in the vanishing train and could have possibly not be able to communicate with our dreams, and this is where the idealized dreams start to interfere
In a sequence of the movie, in one of those weddings, Gareth the humorous character of the story starts telling a new idea of wedding, it’s the story of two people in love, they live together and then suddenly they run out of conversation. Totally, they don’t have a single word to say to each other. That’s it…panic. But then he manages to end his story with a funny joke that effects enough soon on its viewer to make him forget the frightening image of a couple running out of conversation. Most of the time romantic movies avoid bringing any realistic logical arguments into their dialogues, but if they do they manage to somehow cut it short and concentrate on the fun part. The situation written above is so horrifying and scary that for each couple a whole Friday night movie could easily been ruined if it starts arguing over those situations over a safe time margin.