No one has done more for the art of cinema. Scorsese is America’s greatest living director, if not the greatest of all time.
…because Indian cinema isn’t all singing and dancing. Going against the emerging Bollywood industry, Ray used film to tell stories that captured the everyday experience of people in India. Inspired by European realism as well as American masters like John Ford and Orson Welles, his work has influenced every generation of filmmakers since. Often shooting with minimal budgets, Ray performed multiple jobs on his film, taking classic auteur theory to the level of today’s guerrilla filmmaking and DIY productions.
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By the late 1940’s, the Indian film industry had already started to develop into Bollywood, with its signature musical melodramas that run the gamut of emotions. Now it’s definitely impressive that India basically stands alone in having a popular national film identity not dominated by American movie culture, but it’s also safe to say that the products are, well, a little niche for most fans of world cinema. When Ray launched his Apu trilogy with "Pather Panchali" in 1955, it was a huge departure from the Bollywood style, telling the story of a family’s struggles in a rural village without the aid of over-the-top song and dance numbers. Throughout his career, Ray would continue to make films that presented a more realistic account of life in India, from life in the remote regions to the upheavals of the increasingly urban population. He presented his characters as complex human beings whose main obstacles arise from their own shortcomings and the circumstances of their everyday existence. As the global film culture pushes for everything to be bigger, louder and sometimes literally in-your-face, Ray’s work provides a lesson in how to quietly move an audience.
When Ray set out to make films, he was inspired primarily by European realists. Ray had actually worked as the French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s assistant on "The River," which Renoir set in India. In his own films, Ray combined the qualities of Renoir’s poetic realism with the more incisive social views of Italian neo-realists like Vittorio de Sica. He also was influenced by prominent American directors like John Ford and Orson Welles who represented a type of cinematic humanism in their works. While some have unfairly criticized Ray’s prominent role in world cinema as exploitative of India’s poverty, the filmmakers who have incorporated his work into their own is impressive to say the least. Among his contemporaries, both Akira Kurosawa and Francois Truffaut cited Ray’s films as influences in their own filmmaking. Even more contemporary American directors like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg have acknowledged their creative debt to Ray’s films. In fact, there seems to be a legitimate claim that a good deal of Spielberg’s "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" was inspired (at least, in the generous interpretation of these claims) by one of Ray’s unproduced screenplays called "The Alien."
By choosing to work outside of Bollywood, Ray often had to work with limited budgets – there is actually a famous story that he was forced to sell his wife’s jewelry to help finance "Pather Panchali." As a result, Ray had to rely on himself to do many of the jobs on his productions. A lover of music, Ray composed many of the scores for his films. He edited, scouted locations and even designed costumes for some of his films. After 1962, he served as cinematographer on every one of his productions, viewing this as a more efficient way of making films that avoided needless takes. While much of this arose out of necessity, by the later stages of his career this seems to have been as much a creative decision on his part to control multiple aspects of his films. A famous photograph even shows Ray applying an actor’s makeup on the set of his film "The Home and the World." Because of this meticulous process, Ray’s films often demonstrate a level of detail that surpasses their modest financing.
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