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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Salam Eid ul-Fitr II

Pagi 30 Ramadhan 1427H.

KL dah lengang

Monday, October 23, 2006


Salam Eid ul-Fitr

Selamat menyambut kedatangan 1 Syawal.
Selamat Hari Raya.
Maaf Zahir dan Batin.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Yasmin Ahmad and 'mise en scene'

Yasmin Ahmad's column in the NST today interests me, mainly because of one word; 'mise en scene'. My former Media Production lecturer, Mr Mustafa's name would always pop up to mind each time we came upon the word. He was the first to introduce us to the word 'mise en scene' and taught us the theoritical meaning of it and always speak highly of the need to have mise en scene in video production. The basic meaning of it that i've been told is that it's the 'continuity' or the 'flow' in film scenes. These are one of the most important aspect in film. But I like what Yasmin wrote in her column;
In an American interview, an academician who described a battle scene in Ran as perfect in a film aesthetic sense, complimented the late Akira Kurosawa. He asked Kurosawa how he achieved such a perfect shot. Kurosawa replied that he had no choice; if he had turned the camera a little to the left, you would have seen a supermarket, and if he had shifted it to the right, you would have seen a parking lot.

Only theorists and academicians ever write about such things at great length. Pick up any book by film masters who have actually made good films (Sidney Lumet, Alfred Hitchcock, David Mamet, John Cassavettes, Francois Truffaut, Satyajit Ray, Lars von Trier, et al), and you’ll find they mostly talk about their feelings about humanity anyway.

I, for one, know I’m so dense that I don’t usually bother to interpret anything in a film. I just look for aspects of humanity that may mirror me in some way.
In short, I just sit back and try to watch a film like a child would. I don’t care how many subtexts or semiotics or foreshadowing the film-maker pumped into his shot.
I guesss it's the same thing with politics. You can say that you're more open, democratic, autocratic, political reform, or what sort of political or philosophy terms or styles that you follow but at the end of the day, the output, the progress that you've shown or the results of your leadership is what matters most to the rakyat.
Anyway terms are just that, descriptive terms, nothing much. On a different note, I don't give a damn whether a movie is defined as 'popular', 'indie', 'artsy' or whatever, as long as the movie is good, then I'll watch it. To me, there's only two way distinction of it; good and bad film, regardless of what genre the movie is. I don't mind watching a popular or mainstream film, as long as the film is good. Look at 'Ada Apa Dengan Cinta'. I like it not just because it was a popular movie or it was a teenage romance film (though i can't deny the Dian Sastro factor) but because the storyline is good and it was simply a good film. Well, if it's not that good, I wouldn't have watch it more than ten times. ha ha. Look at the impact that AADC has created in Indonesia. Dozens of sinetron remaja keeps on being produced year in year out because of the wave of AADC. And because of that, more Indonesian films are being shown in our cinemas. Compare that to our local film industry. We are still struggling even to find our own national identity of whether to call it a Malaysian film or Malay film. Is it so important to us whether it's a Malaysian or Malay film?
On another note, right now there's only two local films that I'm waiting for before year end; Red Kebaya and Cicakman. These two people are basically the only reason I want to watch these movies. Vanida Imran (Red Kebaya actress) and Yusry (Cicakman director). I have high respect for Yusry as a director, having seen much of KRU's music videos directed by him, i can say he's one of the talented that we have in our industry. I used to think of him as a better director than an actor. As for Vanida, she's just one of my favorite local actress. :)
Anyway, back to mise-en-scene. Here's an interesting comment on the meaning of 'mise en scene' which i found on the net.

The only guy I ever knew who understood what mise-en-scene meant also used to use the word "albeit" in casual conversation. Talk about your alien beings. Originally a theatrical term meaning a stage setting (literally, "putting-in-scene"), mise-en-scene is often loosely translated as "direction," which unfortunately tends to convey the purely mechanical notion of blocking out the actors' movements so they don't get in each other's way.

In its most significant sense, mise-en-scene refers to everything under the control of the director, that is, the aggregate effect created by art direction, placement and movement of camera and actors, lighting, and other visual elements in a given scene. In other words, mise-en-scene is what the director does. By extension, but somewhat more vaguely, mise-en-scene can refer to the dominant visual features of a film or film genre, e.g., the typically cramped, somber mise-en-scene of the film noir.

Mise-en-scene, according to some theorists, is the principle vehicle by which a film's "meaning," such as it is, is conveyed, and as such is supposedly imposed on the film by its director, who may also call him/herself a metteur-en-scene, "putter-in-scene." (Which is why this is a favorite term of adherents of the "auteur" school of film criticism, who emphasizes the director's importance.)

One may refer to a director's mise-en-scene in the sense of his/her characteristic visual style, such as Fritz Lang's use of harsh lighting and sharp angles. Or Walt Disney's use of primary colors and four-fingered rodents. Such are the trademarks of genius. -

Yasmin's Saturday Column;
KUALA LUMPUR is full of film experts. About four years ago, while shooting my first film Rabun, the phrase mise en scène, uttered by a young member of the crew, whizzed past my head and landed in a bowl of mee sup at the next table.

Lucky for me, the ever-informed Ho Yuhang was at hand. One quizzical look from me and he jumped to my rescue. "Haiyya," he began in true Yuhang form, "it literally means ‘putting into the scene’ or ‘setting the scene’ lah. When applied to film-making, it refers to everything that you put in front of the camera and its arrangement — sets, props, actors, costumes, lighting." "Why such a fancy name for such a basic thing?" I asked. "Faster to say mise en scène than the description I just gave you, mah?" he replied. "Besides, it gives the academics a reason to earn their salary lah."

Two years later, I was sitting on a discussion panel at Finas. They had just finished playing Rabun, and some film academics were there to dissect my film like a frog. A lecturer from a local university (apparently someone high up in the screenwriters’ association) leaned back when it was his turn to speak, and bellowed: "Maybe it’s because Yasmin has never been formally trained in script-writing that she has made a film which deviates from the formal structures of cinema 1, cinema 2, and cinema 3." I remember thinking, "Yeah, I know cinemas 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. They’re at Mid-Valley."But I kept my lips well sealed.

"Yasmin has written one funny scene after another in this film," he continued, looking rather pleased with himself, "and in the end, it all led to nothing. I came here expecting a tsunami of a film, but found a mere ripple." He had barely finished making this statement when a film student from the floor leapt anxiously to his feet and spoke.

"Puan Yasmin," stammered the student nervously, "my father has just had a stroke. Paralysed on one side of his body, he can no longer bathe himself. My mother has to do it for him. Every day, behind his back, she expresses her disgust at having to do it, because prior to the stroke, they had never bathed together in all their married life. "Puan Yasmin, the old couple in your film bathed together and they looked very happy. After watching Rabun, I made a pledge that when I’m married, I shall make sure my wife and I bathe together every day.

"So that when one of us falls ill, the other person will not be disgusted to bathe the spouse."
Bingo, I thought. That’ll do me just fine. A 21-year-old showing up a middle-aged academic, by demonstrating that film is not about rules and structures, but the human condition. I guess Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami was right. Watching a film is like going to a supermarket. The bigger your shopping basket, the more you’ll be able to take home.A year down the line, the academics were at it again. This time for Sepet and Gubra.

An angry man who claimed to have studied film at Columbia University (I’m told he failed and never finished the course) was waving his fist at me during a forum. "To make a film, you have to understand philosophy and psychology," he hissed, "otherwise you’ll make stupid films like Sepet that show a grown man’s sarung falling off!"

"Funny he should say that," I muttered to a friend. "He’s just a film grad and I’m the psychology grad with a philosophy minor, but hey, let’s hear him out, anyway."
By the time his tirade was over, it became clear to everyone there that as far as this angry man was concerned, Children of Heaven was about shoes, and The White Balloon was about balloons. Small wonder then that he thought Sepet was about falling sarung.
Not only did he not have a basket at a supermarket, the frustrated old geezer had brought a shopping cart to the dentist!

These forums are just two examples of what a new film-maker has to go through in this industry. If some big-time producer is not paying off some people to discredit every film you make (this is a fact, by the way), some angry academicians (read: failed film-makers) will hurl phrases at you to discourage you. Phrases like mise en scène, sub-plots, subtexts, semiotics, signs, signifiers, structures, estetika makna, etc.
And if you’re not old and stubborn like me, it can get pretty daunting and disheartening sometimes.

My advice is, don’t pay them any heed. If those old fogies really knew anything about film-making, they would have made at least one good film by now.
Besides, as Yuhang said, mise en scène is nothing more than what you place before the camera, to tell the story you want to tell, and to bring out the feeling that you desire.
And as for the rest of those phrases, I’ve been lucky enough to have academic friends like Hassan Mutalib who are genuinely educated in film, not merely well read.
They tell me not to worry about those fancy phrases, they’re just stuff you put in your film and how you play around with them, to achieve nothing other than to impart a feeling or an opinion you have about your life.

Although some academics will tell you that you must constantly think about the subtexts of every scene you stage, the truth is you just have to follow your instinct and not think so much.
The most beautiful subtexts give you a glimpse into the secret corners of a film-maker’s conscience. Places so secret that even the film-makers themselves were not aware of them, until they appear, mysteriously, in the work.

If you force these things while shooting, the outcome will be fake, contrived, and insincere.
Zhang Yimou said, "The most essential element in all movies is true sentiments. Be it for blockbusters or low-budget productions, the movie must convey real sentiments."
All that obsession with film theories can also get really ridiculous sometimes. The human intellect is so limited that it can only go so far, and then it runs around in circles, gets dizzy, and suddenly black is white and white is black.

Film students in Europe and America indulged in these academic navel-gazings from the 1960s to the 70s (a mindset some of our angry old academicians can never seem to shake off) but they snapped out of that solemn foolery, when it became more and more obvious that the real geniuses to come out of that generation were not academics, but regular folks with a talent for observing humanity and recording their feelings down on film with great style and sensitivity.
In other words, you’re better off spending your time enriching your life by falling in love, getting hurt, observing people, reading poetry, watching films, painting, photographing, travelling, and just living life, rather than burying yourself too much in books on film theories and script writing.

For example, here is a list of some of the greatest filmmakers in history and how they began:
• D.W. Griffith — failed journalist• Charlie Chaplin — stage burlesque comedian• Yasujiro Ozu — village school teacher• Billy Wilder — university dropout, journalist• Alfred Hitchcock — title designer• Akira Kurosawa — unsuccessful painter• Satyajit Ray — book cover designer• Ermanno Olmi — company clerk• Ken Loach — lawyer• Abbas Kiarostami — graphic artist designing children’s books• Pedro Almodovar — jewellery maker, clerk • Woody Allen — university dropout, philosophy major• Takeshi Kitano — thrown out of engineering college, worked as a lift boy at a nightclub, comedian• Zhang Yimou — farm hand turned photographer• Quentin Tarantino — high school dropout, video store clerk• Clint Eastwood — lumberjack and soldier

Finally, and most interesting for me, was this interview Peter Bogdanovich conducted with the late great John Ford. Bogdanovich noted to Ford that his earlier films were about the great Western frontier. That the heroes were clean-cut and invincible. Then he suggested that it all took a gradual turn towards darker themes in Ford’s later films. The lines of morality became more blurred than before, the heroes were visibly dirtier, and the work increasingly leaned towards film noir.
"Was this a conscious decision?" asked Bogdanovich. To which Ford replied, "What the hell is film noir?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Was Islam Spread by the Sword? by Idris Tawfiq

Here's another excellent mind opening article, a reply by Idris Tawfiq (a British writer who became Muslim a few years ago. Previously, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom. Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest) from a question at web forum; 'Was Islam Spread by the Sword?'
"Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about Islam is that it was spread by the sword. However, this idea is now so widespread that people accept it as a fact. Even the Pope, whether he intended to or not, caused great offense to Muslims throughout the world by referring to this myth of Islam being spread by the sword. It is not the place here to discuss the Pope's ill-timed and ill-conceived remarks, but we can address your central question about whether or not Islam was spread by the sword. It is, in fact, a pleasure to do so, since Islam has nothing to be ashamed of.
Indonesia has around 450 million Muslims, which is more than the population of all the Arab countries put together. In fact, Arabs count for only around 18 percent of all Muslims. By far the greatest concentration of the world's 1.1 billion Muslims lives in Southeast Asia. Islam has been deeply rooted there for centuries. Those who beat the drum of Islam being spread by the sword fail to mention Southeast Asia, since it does not fit into their agenda. No Muslim armies ever went there. In fact, the story of Islam being brought there is quite marvelous and well worth telling. It was brought not by soldiers, but by merchants.
Soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the death of Abu Bakr, the first caliph, the Muslim faithful were led by Caliph `Umar, one of the
Prophet's Companions. When `Umar entered Jerusalem at the head of a Muslim army in 638 CE, just six years after the Prophet's death, he entered the city on foot, as a gesture of humility in a city sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. There was no bloodshed. There were no massacres or forced conversions.

On the contrary, those who wanted to leave were allowed to do so with all their possessions. Those who wanted to stay were granted protection for their lives, their property, and their places of worship. `Umar very famously declined to pray one of the five daily prayers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, lest in years to come Muslims might try to turn it into a mosque in his memory. Instead, `Umar cleansed the so-called Temple Mount with rose water and built a small mosque there, where the Dome of the Rock now stands.
All of this is in marked contrast to what happened when the Crusader armies later took Jerusalem. Seventy thousand men, women and children were slaughtered. Any remaining Muslims and Jews were driven out. When the city was recaptured by Salah Ad-Din (Saladin), the Christian inhabitants were granted protection and were escorted to safety by the Muslim army. But those who have a different aim would have us believe that it is Islam that is cruel.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) finally entered Makkah at the head of a Muslim army in AH 8, he did so not to force the Makkans to convert, but because they had violated their peace treaty with the Muslims. The Prophet entered with great humility, ordering that there should be no fighting or bloodshed. Instead, he forgave all those who had opposed him and the growth of Islam for so many years. Those who wanted to leave were allowed to do so. The whole city, so impressed by the men they had fought against for so long, converted to Islam.

We might ask if Islam was taken to America by the sword, or taken to Denmark or Ireland or Poland by the sword. It wasn't. And yet Islam is now the world's fastest growing religion, according to some people.

Islam is a religion of peace. It is the natural religion of mankind and has existed since the beginning of time. In some countries today we see violence on a massive scale. We see tragedy in Afghanistan and Iraq as the people respond to the invasion of their countries by foreign armies. We see violence in Palestine as the Palestinians respond to oppression and injustice.

Let it be clear that Islam does not condone violence against innocent people. Perhaps those driven to violence are being mistaken for Islam itself. If individual Muslims present a distorted image of Islam, all Muslims in the world must not be labeled as violent. When IRA violence was at its height in Northern Ireland and Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, no one spoke of Christian terrorists. The ETA bombing campaign in northern Spain is not labeled Catholic. So why are all Muslims linked with violence?"

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Muhammad's Sword & Uri Avnery

As a respond to the Pope Benedict XVI's recent controversial remark, this is by far one of the most interesting article that i've come across in recent times (note that the writer is an Israeli peace activist and also a former Israeli MP). Avnery pointed out clearly and condemn the 'evil legend' that of Islam was spread by the sword by narrating historical facts on relationship between the Jews under Muslim and Christian rule, the Golden Age of Islam in Muslim Spain, Christian subjects under Ottoman rule and etc.
Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306 - exactly 1700 years ago - encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism" , in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations" .

IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations".

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had - or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) - with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

These words give rise to three questions:
(a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On May 29, 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

IS THERE any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith - and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish" Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service - a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

THE STORY about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" - when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?


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