Because of major corporate and underground film festivals opening in the second half of the month, the current issue of the L devotes but a paragraph to the Walter Reade Theater‘s major retrospective of India’s greatest filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, a series which begins today and continues through the end of the month.
Such overlooking is Ray’s fate, surprisingly often: he is, at least in my experience, more referenced than actually watched, which seems the inevitable fate of the unshowy “sensitive”, “humanist”, “lyrical” filmmaker from outside of the Western culture industry. Not that I’m trying to guilt you into seeing Satyajit Ray films because they’re Good for You. In fact, such scare-quoted oversimiplifications ("The kind of statement you come across is: Satyajit Ray is Chekhovian. Nothing more than that, there’s no actual elaborating on that statement," the late Ray said in a 1972 interview) are one subject of a great piece on Ray, in the current Film Comment, by (L contributor) Nicolas Rapold. Rather, you should see these movies not because they’re Good for You but because there’s so much more to them — as Rapold discusses, the trajectory of ideals and belief; and the development of modern India’s familial, class and cultural structure — than the endless cycle of unseen movies and best-guess reductive spinach-cinema descriptors.
The series begins today with four of Ray’s 50s films, including Pather Panchali and The Unvanquished, parts one and two of his seminal Apu Trilogy, tracing its title character’s development from Bengali boy to youthful dreamer to family man. But maybe you’d be better off catching up with Apu on DVD and taking this opportunity to see some of the many Ray joints unavailable on DVD in this country (at least where you shop).