This is Aaron Rester's blog:

Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Come Find The Lost Cartographers At The Empty Bottle

The Lost Cartographers have hit the (kinda, sorta, in our minds at least) big-time. We'll be playing Chicago's legendary Empty Bottle on May 4 -- our biggest show yet, taking place on the same stage where famous acts like the Flaming Lips once played. As part of the Bottle's new "$3 Sunday" series, we'll be joined by old-school country troubadors the Long Gone Lonesome Boys and singer-songwriter Heather Perry (whose drummer happens to be an old bandmate of mine from my freshman year at Oberlin). The show starts at 9pm and the cover is, unsurprisingly, $3 (you can buy tickets in advance).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bollywood 101

As regular readers of this site know, in a former life I was something of a scholar of Bollywood cinema (I promise this will be my last Bollywood-related post for a while!). A couple of years ago a friend asked me to compile a list of my favorite films, which I recently happened upon and decided to reproduce here.

For the most part, these are the films that I would include in an introductory class on post-Independence Hindi cinema and the historical and cultural contexts that produced it. I make no claim to comprehensiveness -- this list skews heavily toward my interests in religion and nationalism in India and towards more recent films. But if you're thinking of diving into Bollywood, you could do worse than starting with these films.

1. Shree 420 (Raj Kapoor, 1955) - Kapoor, the Chaplain-esque king of early Bollywood became an international hero in the Soviet Union for this condemnation of greed and capitalist corruption.

2. Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957) - Perhaps the most well-known film in India, and an ideological endorsement of Nehru's industrial-developmental socialism over the traditionalist feudalism portrayed as pervasive in village India.

3. Mughal-e-Azam (K. Asif, 1960) - One of the finest "historicals," this period piece is best known for its lyrical Urdu dialogue and beautiful cinematography.

4. Jai Santoshi Maa (Vijay Sharma, 1975) - A throwback to the early "mythologicals" (most of the early Indian movies were stories of gods and saints), JSM basically established a nationwide cult for a previously little-known goddess; a prime example of the interaction of media and religion in Indian culture.

5. Deewaar (Yash Chopra, 1975) and
6. Sholay (G.P. Sippy, 1975) - The movies that turned Amitabh Bachchan from a star into a god; great examples of the "angry young man" genre that featured disenfranchised and dissatisfied young men as their heroes, reflecting a growing disillusionment with the ineffectiveness and corruption of the government in the 1970s.

7. Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai, 1977) - My personal favorite, for reasons ranging from the excellent music to the ridiculous costumes; also ground zero for my study of the intersection of religious and national space in Bollywood cinema.

8. Disco Dancer (Baabar Subhash, 1982) - THE Bollywood movie to watch for camp/kitsch, it is a remake of "Saturday Night Fever;" unexplainably, also one of the most popular movies in West Africa.

9. Tezaab (N. Chandra, 1988) - A terrible movie, but a perfect example of the state of Bollywood in the 80s; also helped launch the career of Madhuri Dixit with the song "Ek, Do, Tin."

10. Khal Nayak (Subhash, Ghai 1993) - A reimagining of the Ramayana as a police drama; most notable for the song "Chole Ke Piche" and the incredibly absurd outfits worn by Sanjay Dutt.

11. Hum Aapke Hain Koun (Sooraj R. Barjatya, 1994) - Not a single fight scene to be had, Bollywood begins turning away from the angry young man and back toward the love story/family drama; as economic liberalizations begin to transform India, conspicuous consumption starts becoming a family value.

12. Bombay (Mani Ratnam, 1995) - A beautifully shot and acted film about the aftermath of the 1992 Ayodhya conflict and the riots in its wake.

13. Pardes (Subhash Ghai, 1997) - Not really a good movie, but interesting in its depictions of the conflicts in Indian social life as more and more Indians go abroad.

14. Dil To Pagal Hai (Yash Chopra, 1997) - A fun, goofy, infectious movie, with Shah Rukh Khan at his best (i.e. before people started thinking he was a dramatic actor)

15. Dil Se (Mani Ratnam, 1998) - Mani Ratnam does it again -- and with maybe the best soundtrack ever by A.R. Rahman.

16. Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar, 2001) - MTV starts making its presence felt in this coming of age drama about three hip young friends.

17. Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002) - Maybe the most beautifully shot Bollywood film ever, and fantastic music; Shah Rukh really can't pull off the dramatic lead, though.

18. Main Hoon Na (Farah Khan, 2004) - post-modern, self-referential and ironic, yet loving tribute to the masala film; ridiculous plot but funny and technically perfect -- and great songs, of course.

19. Swades (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004) - Something of an answer to "Pardes," addressing the question of what happens when NRIs return to India.

20. Rang De Basanti (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2006) - A sensation in India at the time of release, it mixes together the stories of anti-British Indian revolutionaries with the political awakening of a group of young friends.

Did I leave off your favorite movie? Of course I did. Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yes We Khan.

In more Bollywood-related election news, it appears that Barack, like Shah Rukh before him, is going to give Amitabh a run for his money. Check out this video, which Gary was kind enough to send me. The funny part is that the dubbing on this is actually better than a lot of Bollywood movies.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

iPhone = design porn

Yes, I'm coming to this party rather late -- if I'm going to drop several hundred bucks on a gadget, I want to be sure that all of the bugs have been worked out before I do so. But about three weeks ago, armed with an Apple gift card that my wife gave me for my birthday, I finally took the plunge. And I have to say that -- despite all the geeky hype and the fact that I've been a Mac user for fifteen years, and thus should no longer be surprised by anything they do -- the iPhone has blown me away.

Sure, there are problems -- AT&T's Edge network really is as slow as people say, and if your fingers are larger than an eight-year-old's you will spend a lot of time backspacing over typographic errors. But overall, the device is a joy to use. When you work with computers all day every day you constantly bump up against applications and devices that were obviously designed by programmers or engineers of some sort, and that are thus designed FOR programmers or engineers. The all-important empathic act -- transporting yourself out of your own head into the head of a user with entirely different experiences and goals -- is usually the missing step that could have made these products great.

But with the iPhone, as with most of its products, Apple puts the user experience first. It takes an extraordinary problem -- how do you provide much of the functionality of a personal computer on a tiny mobile device? -- and provides simple and elegant solutions. For this reason alone, the user interface is beautiful. But the real magic, as with all good design, happens in the details. Just as one example, consider the way the screen appears to bounce a little bit if you scroll quickly to the top or the bottom of the screen. This tiny detail, which on the surface seems gratuitous, pulls you into the tactile world of the interface, giving you the impression that you are interacting with a physical object rather than pixels on a tiny screen.