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The Music Room – The Criterion Collection #573 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 8, 2011 by  



Poetic, visually artistic and a bold non-traditional Indian film for its time, Satyajit Ray’s “The Music Room” is a true classic!  Bundled with this classic is the 2 hr. documentary dedicated to Satyajit Ray’s work and there is no doubt in my mind that Ray fans will enjoy this Blu-ray release courtesy of the Criterion Collection!  Absolutely wonderful and a definite 5-star release!

Image courtesy of © Comite Cocteau 1946. SNC (Groupe M6) 2002. © 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Music Room – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #573

YEAR OF FILM: 1958

DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Black and White, Monaural, Bengali with English Subtitles, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2011

Based on the novel by Tarashankar Banerjee

Written and directed by Satyajit Ray

Produced by Satyajit Ray

Music by Ustad Vilayat Khan, Asis Kumar, Robin Majumder, Dakhin Mohan Takhur

Cinematography by Subrata Mitra

Edited by Dulal Dutta

Production Design by Bansi Chandragupta

Starring:

Chhabi Biswas as Huzur Biswambhar Roy

Padmadevi as Mahamaya, Roy’s wife

Pinaki Sengupta as Khoka, Roy’s Son

Gangapada Basu as Mahim Ganguly

Tulsi Lahiri as Manager of Roy’s Estate

Kali Sarkar as Roy’s Servant

Waheed Khan as Ustad Ujir Khan

Roshan Kumari as Krishna Bai, Dancer

With The Music Room (Jalsaghar), Satyajit Ray brilliantly evokes the crumbling opulence of the world of a fallen aristocrat (the beloved actor Chhabi Biswas) desperately clinging to a fading way of life. His greatest joy is the music room in which he has hosted lavish concerts over the years—now a shadow of its former vivid self. An incandescent depiction of the clash between tradition and modernity, and a showcase for some of India’s most popular musicians of the day, The Music Room is a defining work by the great Bengali filmmaker.

Poetic, visually mesmerizing and I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest auteurs of all time.

Satyajit Ray.  The Indian Bengali filmmaker was known for his non-traditional Indian films.  Having directed 37 films in his lifetime, many which won multiple awards internationally and his contribution to cinema has earned him an Academy Honorary Award in 1991, his films are beloved by many and many have hoped to see his films receive the Blu-ray treatment in the U.S.

And who best than the Criterion Collection who will be releasing Ray’s fourth feature film titled “Jalsaghar” (The Music Room) on Blu-ray and DVD.

“The Music room” is a film adaptation of Tarashankar Banerjee’s short story but instead of creating an exact adaptation, Satyajit Ray would give his own spin to the film, making several changes but also creating a non-traditional film that would have music like most Indian films, but rather the music being an intermission, the music would be integrated as part of the original screenplay and featuring popular Indian music talent of the time: Begum Akhtar, Roshan Kumari, Ustad Waheed Khan and Bismillah Khan.

The film would focus on Biswambhar Roy (played by Chhabi Biswas), the landlord of the land (zamnidar).  Older and resting alone with his hookah above his palace.  But then he hears music playing.

When he asks his manager of the estate (played by Tulsi Lahari) and his servant Ananta (played by Kali Sarkar) who is playing music, they respond that it is his neighbor, the wealthy Mahim Ganguly (played by Gangapada Bose) who is having a celebration for his son.

The film then goes to a flashback as we see how Biswambhar was a very wealthy landlord from a powerful landowning family.  But over the years, he becomes more focus on the music room, where he hosts lavish parties, pays classic music performers/dancers quite nicely than take care of the land.

In fact, his land is slowly being taken over by the great rivers of the Bengal and for Biswambhar, he is more conscious about his glory and the traditions of his family.  If anything, he looks at his neighbor Ganguli quite low.  Sure, Ganguli is a wealthy businessman, may be more modern by choosing to use electric lights in his home (instead of candles), cars (instead of elephants or horses) but for Biswambhar, he enjoys making Ganguli know who is the aristocracy in the area, that he is the man that calls the shots.  He sees Ganguli as a rival and for Biswambhar, he is always in the mood to upstage him.

But because of Biswambhar’s shallowness, he is more concerned about his music room and parties that he begins losing land, not taking care of the problems and thus earning less money.  To the point where he ends up selling his wife’s jewelery and belongings.

But for this man who is full of pride, what will happen to him when he loses everything…his family and his money.  Can he still be a man of pride like his father, grandfather and men in the family before them?  Or will his pride destroy him?

VIDEO:

“The Music Room” is presented in 1080p High Definition black and white.  For a film that could have been lost (the original negative was destroyed in a fire) forever, fortunately, through the collaboration of various companies, “The Music Room” was among Satyajit Ray’s films that were restored and given an HD transfer on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

There is no better surviving element of the negative than what we see with this film on Blu-ray and I have to say that the film looks great on Blu-ray.  With Satyajit Ray’s films, there is a focus on aesthetics, the environment around them.  And its no surprise as Ray was a big fan of filmmaker Jean Renoir and Vittorio De Sica’s work.  His attention to detail for his film definitely lends to a more artistic and visually pleasing look as there is a style to his film that one can truly appreciate.  Frm the efficacy of Ray capturing the details of webs on a chandelier, a bug on a painting, to see his estate change through time and more. Possibly one of my favorite shot in this film was how we see a bit of the old, with the elephant grazing in the back, which is then disturbed by Ganguly’s motor car that throws dirt all around.  A visual of traditional India and modern India at the time.

The contrast was also well-done and while, I’m not going to say that the “The Music Room” is absolutely pristine, I will say that for a film that is over 50-years-old and the challenges it has faced in order to be restored, I have no doubt in my mind that the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is the best version…the definitive version of “The Music Room” thus far!  Blacks are nice and deep, really good contrast for the white and grays.

Because a lot of Ray’s films were shot on triacetate, the film was in danger of deteriorating in warm temperatures.  After Satyajit Ray received his Academy Honorary Award in 1992, the Academy was dismayed that there were few prints and masters of Ray’s films in the US and many were now incomplete or in bad condition.  So, the Academy decided to create a catalog of the surviving elements of Ray’s films in the US and to assess what was in good condition or what films would be lost.

The Academy found that the majority of Ray’s films were in jeopardy and so, together with the Satyajit Ray Society, the National Archive of India and the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the collaboration would ensure that every element that existed in the world could be accessed to make the best restoration possible.  “The Music room” was one of the very first films preserved by the project.

According to the Criterion Collection, the laboratory in London suffered a fire and several of Ray’s elements and the original camera negative of “The Music Room” were destroyed.  But a second generation fine-grain master positive taken from the original camera negative existed in India.  The film would eventually receive restoration and was supervised by Academy director Michael Friend and completed in 1995.

The Criterion Collection used a new high-definition digital transfer which was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from an original 35mm fine-grain master positive.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean ssytem while Digital Vision’s system was used for small dirt, grain, noise, reduction and scratches.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the audio, the audio is presented in Bengali and in monaural.  The audio dialogue is clear as is the classical music of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The Music Room” was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Music Room – The Criterion Collection #573” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • For the Love of Music – (17:36) Satyajit Ray biographer Andrew Robinson talks about Ray’s love for music and Satyajit Ray’s idea and working on the film adaptation of “The Music Room” and the differences between Ray’s version from the book.
  • Mira Nair – (15:44) Filmmaker Mira Nair talks about Satyajit Ray’s work, “The Music Room” and what she enjoyed about the film.
  • French Roundtable – (10:36) An excerpt from a 1981 French roundtable discussion with Ray, film critic Michel Ciment, and director Claude Sautet
  • Satyajit Ray(2:11:05) A feature documentary from 1984 by Shyam Benegal that chronicles Ray’s career through interviews with the filmmaker, family photographs, and extensive clips from his films

EXTRAS:

“The Music Room – The Criterion Collection #573” comes with a 38-page booklet which includes the following essays “Distant Music” by Philip Kemp, “Winding Route to a Music Room” by Satyajit Ray, “On the Music of the Music Room: An Interview with Satyajit Ray by Andrew Robinson and information on the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project and restoration of “The Music Room”.

Satyajit Ray may be known for the “Apu Trilogy”, “The Chess Players”, “The Visitor” to name a few but similar to many auteurs, to study and watch a filmmaker’s oeuvre, you notice a change in style overtime.

With Ray, what was intriguing about this filmmaker is his goal to outdo himself from the previous films, to not have his films fit in a traditional sense of filmmaking but with hopes that his countrymen would enjoy the film, as well as people abroad.  But for Ray, films that he expected to do well in his country would be popular internationally, while films he thought would do well internationally would be popular more in his country.

Suffice to say, his films often achieved the opposite of what he was expecting but nevertheless, nearly two decades after his passing, many are discovering Satyajit Ray’s films and many are hoping companies would bring them to the US.

The Criterion Collection has stepped in by releasing “The Music Room” on Blu-ray and DVD but to also show tribute to the filmmaker with the inclusion of the 1984 feature documentary “Satyajit Ray” which focuses on the filmmaker’s career.

“The Music Room” to me, if I had to describe the film, it was more poetic in the sense that elements of what was shot, had meaning.  Satyajit Ray has talked about how Jean Renoir influenced him and Renoir was important to the precursor of Nouvelle Vague but his efficacy in using the elements in a room or outdoors to enhance the visual structure of the film.  There is meaning behind the environment of “The Music Room” as it shows us the past and present of a zamnidar who has had a strong sense of pride but also a man who is incapable of leaving that pride, despite losing nearly everything in his life.

I have heard that “The Music Room” is different from the original short story that the film was adapted from but Satyajit Ray was able to accomplish a lot with this loose adaptation.  For one, utilizing the character and showing us how he reacts to loss, sadness and rivalry.  But also, possibly an audacious move on the filmmaker’s part to include classical Indian music but incorporate it as part of the storyline.

In India, the film did well for seven weeks but because it was non-traditional and much different than what Indians were used to in cinema, “The Music Room” was no popular in Ray’s country but found a big following internationally.  Needless to say, the film was ahead of its time.

And as the storyline captures your attention as you see the character of Biswambhlar Roy get lost in his own pride, we see how music plays an important part in the film.  Classical Indian music playing while we watch the characters are they react to the performances.  And the performance is actually breathtaking, especially the final dance as we see the woman dancing and seeing how the men react to the dancing, it was a wonderful scene.  But as mentioned, it was the scenes that featured traditional India and modern India that I found quite interesting.

In one shot, we see Roy’s wife and son riding by horse and a carriage held by servants, in a later shot, we see Roy’s elephant grazing but then seeing that natural setting disrupted by Ganguli’s car as it drives through the pathway kicking up dirt all around.

But then there are shots where we know that darker things will be coming.  From the dead insect swirling in Roy’s drink, to the black spider crawling around his own painting.  Once again, beautiful shots and a film that is well-composed, brilliantly acted by Chhabi Biswas.

As for this Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, it’s a fantastic release.  It’s one thing to get the film, but to get the 1984 feature documentary plus other special features included, it’s really enough for me to say that this is one of my favorite Criterion Collection releases on Blu-ray.  An outstanding tribute to one of the finest filmmakers in the world!

I may seem biased as an ardent fan of Satyajit Ray’s films but “The Music Room” is a wonderful, early Satyajit Ray film and as I’m confident we will be seeing Ray’s masterpiece, the Apu Trilogy, sooner than later (knock on wood) and more Satyajit Ray films on Blu-ray, this is an excellent release to learn about Ray’s work.

The 1984 feature documentary by Shyam Benegal is a wonderful tribute to the filmmaker and at over 2 hours, it’s an excellent special feature to accompany this release. In the past, I would have bought this documentary alone just to learn more about Ray and his passion for cinema but also to see him work behind-the-scenes.  But the fact that it’s included with “The Music Room”, for me, that is wonderful!

It’s important to remind everyone when watching “The Music Room” is that Satyajit Ray didn’t have a lot of money to make this film.  But he made the film with what he had.  Some may have comparisons to King Lear but while the film is indeed a study of pride and carried to the most extreme, the film is extraordinary.

And already, I know I have overused the word “wonderful” to describe “The Music Room – The Criterion Collection #573” but it’s definitely one of the best Blu-ray’s to come from the Criterion Collection thus far.  Granted it may not be too accessible for those not appreciative of cinema or Indian culture but if you are open and want to experience a film from one of the world’s finest director’s, then “The Music Room” is a must-buy for any cineaste!

Highly recommended!






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