Walter Murch
Set this giant dream machine in motion! Wrestle with the angel of
light, the angel of machines, the angels of space and time!
—Jean Cocteau, director, on the first day of production of Beauty
and the Beast (1946)
Cocteau’s invocation hints not only at the multifaceted
nature of cinema, but also at the mysterious forces that
seem to govern it. I am sure that the Tamil filmmakers
we meet in Anand Pandian’s book Reel World would im-
mediately approve of Cocteau’s prayer, so similar to
some of their own, recognizing Cocteau as a brother
filmmaker despite his distance from them in time,
space, and culture. In fact, his angels of Space, Light,
and Time lend their names to three of Reel World’s
chapter headings.
This mutual recognition between filmmakers seems
universal: whenever I have traveled for work or teach-
ing—in Europe, South America, India, Africa, South-
east Asia—I have experienced an immediate familial
bond with the local filmmakers, an understanding that
we belong to the same tribe, so to speak, and that this
tribal alliance trumps the cultural or linguistic differ-
ences that would nominally separate us. I certainly
found the same thing in the pages of this marvelous
book, which brings fourteen Tamil films under the
anthropological magnifying glass, placing them in a
deep cultural context (and Tamil culture is one of the
world’s deepest), while also dissecting each of seven-
teen cinematic arts and crafts, as well as painting vivid
portraits of the practitioners.
What emerges repeatedly over the course of the book
are different versions of the phrase—spoken in wonder,
exhaustion, contemplation—“Just go with it, try any-
thing”: an acceptance of the circumstances of the mo-
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