The Apu Trilogy comprises Piri' Miri Muli's best ever adapted screenplay,* best film about being a writer,** and perhaps the best romance (for the last episode). I have vhs copies of it somewhere but it hasn't been on dvd for a while. This predicament has come to a happy end, as the Criterion restoration made from four different sources and a negative that was burned in the 1990s is out, and I got to Film Forum this week to see Aparajito (The Unvanquished). My favorite has always been no. 3, The World of Apu, but watching Subrata Mitra's tracking shots of Varanasi projected helped me get into the sad beauty of no. 2. They had a little bit of a budget after making the first on a shoestring and put it on to the screen. There are crowd scenes of the ghats but no crowd scenes in Calcutta - the Calcutta sequences happen in studios, with two scenes on architecturally interesting street corners and one scene loafing on a big lawn in front of what appears to be Victoria Memorial.
Of the novels, the childhood memoir Pather Panchali was the biggest hit in Bengal, and Ray filmed it with borrowed money on Sundays between his advertising gig not knowing he would make a sequel. Translator T.W. Clark doesn't believe an English word exists for panchali: "These poems (panchali) were transmitted from generation to generation by strangers who chanted them with musical accompaniment at the appropriate ceremonies, which often lasted for ten days or more, or by actors who produced them in popular form on the stage of the indigenous theatre. The heroes, and the episodes in which they figure, were part and parcel of the Bengali cultural inheritance, and still are." Apu's initiation in the Trilogy follows novelist Bebhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's own life very closely, a sort of diary imagined as an oral epic eventually to become the main inspriration for Akira Kurasawa's reflection "Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or moon."
They'll be showing in rotation there for the rest of the month and are to make their way to Philly soon and then to dvd land.
* The four films on my top 15 list that would be considered for this would be Stalker, Apu, and A Passage to India. I vouch for the last as an adaptation but Lean probably wouldn't even compare it to Apu. Stalker, like Solaris, was Tarkovsky's literary reworking of a sci fi concept;
** Followed closely by La Notte by Antonioni who said "My admiration for Ray is total" with Ray's 1964 The Lonely Wife, one of many of his films in need of restoration, not far behind.
Update 5-31: Film forum is holding over the Trilogy til June 16 and they are in rotation in Philly's Ritz at the Bourse now.