“If I had to pick one film as the best film ever made, I would pick Pather Panchali,” Salman Rushdie said during his recent conversation with Robert Milazzo, the founder of The Modern School of Film, at the SVA Theatre. During “Salman Rushdie In:Pictures,” which was organized by the College and The Modern School of Film, Rushdie, the author of 12 novels including Midnight’s Children, which won the Booker of Bookers Prize (the Booker Prize’s highest honor), spoke about three films that have deeply influenced him.
Pather Panchali (1955, Bengali; watch a trailer below) was the first film directed by Satyajit Ray. “It is about growing up, love and its failures, and the cruelty of village life,” Rushdie said. “It’s a deeply humanistic film.” He attributed his intense engagement with cinema as a byproduct of growing up in Bombay, the center of India’s film industry and which he defined as “LA and NYC pushed into forming one city.” When asked about his opinion on Ray, an urban elite, making a film on rural poverty, Rushdie replied that nobody has the right to any project and at the end of the day it’s about making a good film. “Write what you know, if what you know is interesting. If not, find something else,” was the author’s practical advice.
The other two films that Rushdie picked for the evening were Star Wars (1977) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Wes Anderson, the director of The Grand Budapest Hotel, sent in a video clip (watch it here) asking Rushdie to describe his experience seeing Star Wars for the first time. “It was at the Odeon in London on the biggest screen in the country. When I saw that spaceship almost going over my head, I knew cinema had changed forever,” Rushdie replied. “Science fiction has always been idea-driven. Star Wars brought elements of an adventure, pirate and a cowboy movie into sci-fi. It gave us a new sense of amazement.” He also said that the original trilogy, now known as episodes 4, 5, and 6, was the most satisfying since it was about Darth Vader’s “Oprah-like fall and redemption. Fall and redemption is the theme of all Oprah Winfrey programs and this is Oprah in space, space Oprah.”
Rushdie chose The Grand Budapest Hotel as a recent film that has inspired him and said that 2014 was a great year for cinema with Boyhood (directed by Richard Linklater) and Birdman (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu) also being contenders. “Wes’ films are high style: intrusive and obvious. You either hate them or love them,” Said Rushdie. He called Anderson’s emphasis on storytelling and its elaborate tropes as his most important contribution. “Hollywood is an entertainment-producing factory. But films like Bonnie and Clyde and Nashville used to happen more often. Now it’s a few filmmakers like Wes, who are not part of the factory, that are making inspiring films.”
Rushdie and Milazzo also discussed other cult films such as Last Year at Marienbad (1961), The Birds (1963), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Raiders of the Lost Art (1981) and the legacies of Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick.
For more information about The Modern School of Film, click here.