Boomers Manifesto

Killing Floor

● by Ray Zdonek

I’m a baby boomer and I’m proud of it. For years I’ve been waiting to have someone write something positive about us, actually, ever since Tom Brokaw immortalized our predecessors in his best-selling The Greatest Generation, a book about that generation that grew up during the Great Depression and fought World War II. Yes, I’m on Medicare now and was quite surprised to find out that the Greatest Generation built a health plan for elders with gaps in it, such that I have to pay considerably more for a “gap” policy and a prescription plan than I do for Medicare itself. Worse, I have to buy these policies from private, profit-seeking insurance corporations. Why nobody is interested in correcting Medicare and removing the gap is totally beyond me. To get a halfway decent rate I had to join AARP, and so I receive that organization’s magazine every month, which often has helpful and informative articles; so when I saw an article advertised on the cover of the December 2013 issue called How the Boomers Changed America, I thought perhaps I had found a kindred spirit in the author, political writer and humorist P.J. O’Rourke. But, all he gave us credit for was being great consumers and in making our wars a little shorter in length. Well, Mr. O’Rourke, I beg to differ.

While the baby boomers may not be “great,” I maintain that we have been good for America, and in fact essential, if we are to save the planet from ecological disaster and/or socio-political totalitarianism. But wait…, I have proof! In fact, let me count the ways.

We could start anywhere, but let’s start with the basics — that is, health. In the 1950’s healthy, natural food and fitness were the purview of California health gurus like Jack LaLanne and some select athletes. Remember, baseball stars were doing ads for Lucky Strikes in Life magazine during this period. Knowledge of herbals existed only in certain Native American cultures and in America’s big-city Chinatowns. We discovered them, including the most notorious herb of all — marijuana, the scourge of a liquor industry that fought it tooth and nail. Now, with our encouragement, the society-at-large is starting to learn the herb’s medicinal qualities and put them to good use. If recreational consumption makes a person a little less competitive, combative, selfish, and stressed from overwork, I say that’s a good thing. Mindfulness meditation presents us with the same goals. Be here now — less is more. As for fitness, like a lot of my generation including Forrest Gump, I started running; for me it was in 1981 at the height of the jogging craze, and I continued on for thirty-plus years. That running explosion was us, too. And the mountain bikes, of course. We practically invented marathons and iron man competitions.

Take social interaction. We were the Jimi Hendrix generation, and racism was totally uncool with us. We white kids weren’t threatened by the blacks anymore, at least not without having a good reason. No, we began to see, especially working-class boomers like myself, how much we had in common with black Americans. This racial tableau played out against the backdrop of the carnage of the Vietnam War, which caused most of us to look left, rather than right, in the political arena. What else for a generation of idealists? I’m sure there were many among the World War II generation’s power elite that bitterly regretted educating so many of us, but the damage had indeed been done. We were living together out of wedlock and experimenting in communal living situations, black and white, rich and poor. By the time of the Kennedy assassination in 1963, the cat was already out of the bag. Egged on by Beat Generation pioneers like Allen Ginsberg, whom I started reading in junior high, we blasted the rigid conformity of the 1950’s: the dress codes and hypocritical churchgoing, the red-baiting and wife-beating, the segregation and disdain for minorities of all sorts. Primarily, we questioned authority, and many of us protested the war machine in Washington as well, saying we were not okay with the conformity, violence, complacency, and hypocrisy of Western Civilization in the  1950’s — we wanted to make the world a better place. And we knew it was possible. Nixon’s tapes reveal that the young protestors demonstrating outside the White House did, in fact, have an impact on the President. Who knows how many lives were saved, both American and Vietnamese, by those kids in the street? No, the World War II generation said that we spit on the soldiers coming back from the War, as they got off the plane. Except, that never happened — not once has it ever been documented.

It was probably inevitable that we boomers would explore spiritual dimensions, as well as political and social ones, especially after the introduction of psychotropic drugs like pot and LSD. What the World War II generation saw as hedonism and escapism was really more seeking than anything else, seeking to discover the essence of ourselves and our place in the universe. Yeah, and maybe even learning something about the meaning of life. We embraced the natural world, and enjoyed echoing earlier, simpler times with our grooming and dress. Some traditions, especially exotic ones, interested us, like Native American belief systems and Hinduism. Others directed those same energies into atheistic political groups instead, but always with the goals of peace and economic justice. Maybe they used the words “mind” or “heart”, instead of “soul”, but who’s to say they’re not the same thing.

The reconnection with nature is the crucial thing. Whether it’s mountain-biking for fun or getting arrested on a Greenpeace ship, the baby-boomers got it when it came to the natural world. The first Earth Day was in 1970, after all. We may be too far down the climate change road by now to prevent massive disruption to food supplies, water, and other resources, but if we survive, if we prevail, it will be in no small part the result of the boomers’ basic love of the earth, how we blew the whistle on the polluters and the exploiters, and how we taught our children to follow in our footsteps. Without us, all power today would likely be produced by coal and atomic fuel.

I’m not saying some of my generation didn’t sell out and go in with the World War II camp. Money talks — bullshit walks. Weekend hippies! I say. My friends haven’t changed too much, except for the wrinkles. They’re kind of on the left — by that, I mean they’d rather go to prison than vote for a Republican; they’re for things like Medicare for All, voting rights, a woman’s right to choose, living wage legislation — stuff like that. I think I have a lot of friends.

All in all, it’s been a grand ride so far. I wouldn’t choose any other time to live my life, even if I could. To those generations that have followed ours, I say sorry you missed it, for it was a special time of hope and courage, struggling for light, as we were, under the shadow of the Bomb. But it’s not too late for you to start your own fire, your own revolution; the challenges are great, and you are sorely needed. Just take a long look over that wall of mediocrity and despair, and boldly choose your path. Make history, sure — how could you not? But make it with intelligence and always with compassion.

[Ray Zdonek is a Bloomington poet and novelist. His most recent publication is The Killing Floor, from Amazon Kindle Books.]

The Ryder ● February 2014

Michael Swidler

Gabby Douglas

The IU grad produced The Gabby Douglas Story ● by James Stout

She was the young girl who kept our eyes glued to the screen during the 2012 Summer Olympics.  This month her life story premiered on the Lifetime channel. The Gabby Douglas Story depicts the experiences that led her to become the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions. Sydney Mikayla portrays Gabby as a child and Imani Hakim from Everybody Hates Chris portrays her as an Olympic athlete.

Michael Swidler is an IU grad and a co-producer on the film. While in Bloomington he organized film festivals and directed and worked on many short films as well as radio and web-formatted television. After graduation he moved to LA, interned a few different places before taking a spot at Braun Entertainment Group as a development executive and assistant. James Stout spoke with him for The Ryder.

[Image atop this post: The real Gabby Douglas.]

James Stout: Was The Gabby Douglas story always intended as a made-for-television film?

Michael Swidler: The made-for-television film medium is getting a resurgence; it might be the best medium for this story. Although when I watch it now and see how good it is, I think “Man, if only we had made this a feature you know? But I think as far as getting a movie made and getting a movie made fast — we wanted this to be made relatively quickly — it takes on the average about eight years to get a feature film made. This film was a pretty quick turnover, a little over a year.

Stout: What are you working on now?

Swidler: We’ve got some great projects lined up for both the small screen and the big screen. I’ve been with the company for three years and this is the first project we’ve gotten going although we’ve had a couple of close calls, but it’s kind of how the business goes. We have projects that have been in development for seven years. We have projects that we have the rights to, like remake rights to a horror classic which we’ve been trying to make for over 30 years.

Stout: How has your experience at IU helped in your professional career?

Swidler: I think for me at Indiana, we didn’t have a film major which was okay. You know it allowed me to have four years to discover what it is I wanted to do, and it forced me to be patient and go through all the trial and errors of trying to be a business student and then being in Telecom, and then going from there as far as what aspect of telecommunications and the media I wanted to work in. It taught me that in four years you can truly figure out if you focus hard and you work hard towards it and you experience things, internships, jobs and all that stuff that goes into a four year period you can accomplish, and that is figuring out what the heck you want to do with your life. I’ve been out here in LA just over four years and, I am very thankful that I got the job that I got and that I’ve been able to experience what I’ve been able to experience.

Stout: What was it that made you want to work in the film industry?

Swidler: You know I’ve always been kind of a salesman — it’s always been my strength is being able to sell someone a scoop of ice-cream or a Cajun Étouffée over a bed of rice or a burger and fries. I’ve always been into movies.  It’s always been my escape. Some people read books. Some people start families. For me film represents a great temporary escape from reality at a not very expensive price. It’s story time. I like to sell people on stories.

The Ryder ● February 2014

RetroRyder: Bloomington Katmandu

Bloomington Katmandu

Home Is Where the Art Is ◆ by Filiz Cicek

[A blast from the past from the pages of The Ryder.]

Some of us never leave the place we are born. Some of us are forced to leave; some of us leave by choice for a place far away; and some of us are permanent, post-modern cultural nomads.

Local, international, exiled and nomadic artists were asked to choose or create art representing what they call “home“ for BloomingtonKatmandu, which will take place on May 28th at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. The show is meant to reflect the impermanency and the mobility of the 21st century’s ever-changing geographical, emotional, and physical borders that we humans cross daily.

The Dalai Lama smiles at oppression with compassion; being exiled from Tibet by China in 1959 freed him to claim the world as his home.. The self-proclaimed “simple Buddhist monk” goes home daily when he says his mantras. He acts as a politician, cultural warrior, and ambassador of peace. He even champions women’s rights in a Tibetan Buddhist way. And he is terribly worried that Tibetan culture might disappear. For when in exile, Tibetan culture is his home. At a meeting in May 2010, he said he wants to turn the TMBCC (founded by his late brother, Thubten Norbu) into a university where Tibetan history and language can be kept alive, along with other cultures and languages.

Art is my home, and like many transnational artists, I consider myself a post-modern nomad. I don’t have an art factory like Andy Warhol; wherever I go, there I am, artist within.

Like countless others before me, I’ve chosen to journey away from my native land of the Caucuses Mountains to make a new home in what I lovingly refer to as “the cornfields.” As a feminist artist who is no fan of organized religion—and has in fact been critical of its treatment of women in my artistic and scholarly work—I set out to take secular art to the temple with intentions of paying homage and subverting and transforming.  I have been living at the TMBCC the past eight months, researching and preparing. Combining the nomadic Buddhist monk’s mobile thangka tradition together with Bulgarian artist Christo’s temporary large-scale environmental works, an exhibition of prints, paintings and photographs will be displayed on long cloths hanging from the library ceiling as temporary walls and borders. Different aesthetic traditions from distant lands will be hence fused.

It was an artist from the rice fields who help inspire the exhibit’s theme. Prianka Rayamajhi’’s journey to home photos of Katmandu-Nepal express how it feels to be neither here nor there, a familiar theme for immigrants and their children. Another migrant artist, Svetlana Rakic from Serbian Bosnia, has tackled this very topic in her recent exhibit in Berlin, Here and There. Here is both Bosnia and Bloomington, where she now lives. There is former Yugoslavia. Like her passport, the country where she grew up has expired, so to speak, with the political winds of change, deconstructed and destroyed by war. It only exists in Rakic’s memory, but it flows through her art.

She now lives in bosoms of nature and paints houses and trees, branches and roots. Long, thick, strong red roots, which are determined to reach across the ocean for the nourishment from her native land. And big yellow branches, joyful with sunshine. Rakic says, “Trees can grow anywhere….Home is not a geographical location, but rather a place that could be anywhere, a place in which we feel at home.” Her work reflects “the flow of life from here to there” and the symbolic merging of unity of the two.

As the proverb goes, when two hearts fuse as one, a barn will be their love palace. Prince Siddharta left his palace and made himself at home under the Boddhi tree. For Virgina Woolf as well, nature was a temple. Dale Enochs will erect a lovers’ statue mimicking one of the stupas. Prayer wheels will host number 5 and 7. Vinicius Bertons Brazilian street signs will be spread throughout the grounds. Una Winterman’s photograph of her old Kentucky home is both haunting and grounding. For her traveling family, it is a place of reference, she explains, even if it no longer exists. Weather permitting, Sarah Flint will sing by the creek, with Russell Rabwork’s eco-art as her background. Salaam will take stage under the big oak tree. In the library, Japan-born James Nakagawa will superimpose archetypal architecture from different continents. Jeffrey Wolin then will showcase a collaborative piece with his son, re-visiting all the places he has lived, with the use of Google map and narrative. We humans cross continents daily, through the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. We topple real-life dictatorships and create cyber-communities.

Then there are those artists who never left home: David Ebbinghouse will create a temporary yurt from fallen branches, paying homage to nomads from Nanook of the North to the Mongolians. Those who came from other states to call Bloomington home—Amy Brier, Diane Knoll, Hannah Shuler and Shu Mei Chen—will dwell outside by the pond and the temple with their sand in time and porcelains by the pond.

Paintings, sculptures, installation and music will come to a close with poetry and dance.

Whether in one‘s native land, chosen home, or one of exile, home is increasingly more of a state of mind in the 21st century. We create and escape into multiple identities on any given day. A human identity, spiritual identity, professional identity, gender identity, paternal and maternal identity and so on.  It is through these identities that we exercise compassion and fascism. Home is then where we feel safe. We store those moments in our memory; they change color and texture in time.

Home is then where we feel safe. It is the dandelion wine made with friends, the smell of lover’s shirt, a mother’s lap to a child. Home is in the soap bottle from a night in hotel room. Home is a wedding ring on a soldier in Afghanistan. It is a favorite song to a Moroccan living in French Banlio. A kimono to a Japanese American.   It is a headstone among Cypress trees for Nazim Hikmet, a poet in exile in a small Anatolian village. A grave for Sarah Baartman at the foot of a South African hill, where the air is cool and the sun doesn’t burn. It is a valley full of flowers to a bee. The snow capped mountains for the pumas and the lions.  Home is where our heart beats, free. We all are born with that feeling. Home is within.

[Filiz Cicek is a Turkish-Georgian-born American artist and organizer of Women Exposed. Her work has been exhibited in major galleries and museums in Istanbul, New York, California, Chicago, and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She also teaches a Gender, Sexuality, and Popular Culture class at IU. After meeting the Dalai Lama in May 2010, Cicek created BloomingtonKatmandu.]

The Ryder ◆ April 2013

The Dark Genius Of William S. Burroughs


◆ by Laura Ivins-Hulley

[The Burroughs Century, a five-day festival at Indiana University and in local venues, will take place February 5-9, celebrating what would have been Burroughs 100th birthday and featuring  events devoted to the author’s written and visual artworks, his life, and his legacy. There will be a film series, art and literature exhibits as well as a display of Burroughs’ shotgun paintings, speakers and panels, musical performances, and more.] Though slight of build, William S. Burroughs was no gentle soul. His life and writings are marked by a certain violence. Not the violence of those literary adventurers — though Burroughs certainly had adventures — who went to war and ran with bulls and reveled in masculinity, but a violence nonetheless. Fascinated with guns and possessing a morbid streak from an early age, Burroughs’ life had many close calls and a few formative tragedies, something reflected in the form and content of his novels.

A member of the Beat generation of writers, Burroughs’ impact on 20th century art and literature is far reaching. He helped inspire cyberpunk literature, and such musicians as Roger Waters and Kurt Cobain have cited him as a primary influence. In 1992, while in his late-70s, Burroughs collaborated with Kurt Cobain to create an album called The ‘Priest,’ They Called Him, a mixture of Burroughs spoken-word art and Cobain’s music. In 1989, he appeared an aging addict in Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and in 1991, David Cronenberg adapted Burroughs most well-known novel, Naked Lunch, for the big screen.

Notwithstanding his longstanding influence as a counterculture figure, William Burroughs was born to rather innocuous circumstances, on February 9, 1914. His grandfather invented an adding machine for banking, and a century ago, one would associate the Burroughs name with the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, which remained a key computing company well into the 20th century. His parents were well-to-do inhabitants of St. Louis, and the young Burroughs grew up with a maid and a nanny.


Burroughs never quite fit into the respectable life of the bourgeoisie, which many of his classmates and neighbors inevitably noticed. He looked, they thought, “like a sheep-killing dog” or “a walking corpse” and one of his schoolmates considered him “a character” of “the wrong kind.” Fooling around with a chemistry set at the age of 14, the young Burroughs nearly blew off his hand. He received morphine for the surgery and spent six weeks in the hospital, but luckily did not lose the limb. This would be his first close call, and the trauma coincided with his first experience with morphine, a drug that would come to dominate his life three decades later.

Around this same time, Burroughs discovered a memoir, You Can’t Win, by a cultural outsider with the pen name Jack Black. Black was a high school dropout, an addict, and a crook; he was just the sort of hero Burroughs didn’t know he was looking for. The book contained colorful characters like “Salt Chunk Mary,” who dealt in stolen goods, and detailed a world of criminality that was foreign to the adolescent Burroughs. You Can’t Win remained a touchstone for the author into adulthood, and after several years of living his own outsider lifestyle, Burroughs modeled his confessional first-published novel, Junkie, after Black’s memoir.

Despite this early inspiration and a few interesting pieces written in his youth, Burroughs did not become a “writer” until almost 40. And moreover, he was older than his Beat generation comrades, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. By the time the trio met, Burroughs had traveled through Europe, explored a never-realized career in psychoanalysis, and plunged himself into an ill-fated affair with a hustler named Jack Anderson, a relationship that ended with Burroughs cutting off the tip of his finger in a bitter, Van Gogh-ian gesture. When he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in 1944, he was 29, Kerouac nearly 22, and Ginsberg 17. Well-educated and with a self-possessed demeanor, Burroughs quickly became a mentor to these two young writers, though it had been several years since Burroughs had written anything himself.

Later that year, though, Burroughs did pick up the pen again, but the circumstance that led to him writing represents one of the formative tragedies in his life. In August 1944, two good friends of his got into a drunken argument by the Hudson River, and one (a man by the name of Lucien Carr) stabbed the other to death. Carr immediately sought out Burroughs, who told him, “Get a good lawyer,” and “make a case for self-defense.” Carr then went to see Kerouac, who helped him get rid of the dead man’s glasses and the murder weapon. After Carr turned himself in, the police arrested Burroughs and Kerouac, though both were promptly bailed out, Burroughs by his parents and Kerouac by his girlfriend. The murder shook up the three friends, and they each attempted to write about the event, with Burroughs and Kerouac collaborating on a novel they never managed to publish in their lifetimes.

Burroughs, Carr, & Ginsberg

Burroughs (l), Lucien Carr (c) & Allen Ginsberg

Still, though Burroughs was doing some writing, he was not yet “a writer.” He had to undergo more hard living and an almost overwhelming tragedy before he would earnestly begin his writing career.

Enter Joan Vollmer.

Like Burroughs, Vollmer hailed from a well-to-do family, but rejected following her parents into a bourgeois life. She was intelligent, attractive, and sexually free, and although Burroughs had long expressed a sexual preference for men, the pair developed a personal intimacy that led them to become common-law spouses. Their relationship continued between poles of intimacy and frustration. A friend once commented on their telepathic connection, and their devotion to each other — as they traveled from New York to Texas to Mexico, on some scheme or escaping failed schemes — was clear. Still, Burroughs maintained more sexual interest in men than in his wife, and both were addicts. Burroughs alternated between opiates and alcohol, while Vollmer preferred Benzedrine and later turned to tequila while in Mexico. Vollmer was often left frustrated, but the pair did manage to conceive a child, William S. Burroughs III.

While living in Mexico, Vollmer’s health deteriorated, and their relationship grew volatile. However, no one could guess how things would actually end. During a night of heavy drinking with some friends, Burroughs joked, “I guess it’s about time for our William Tell act.” Unbelievably to the others in the group, Vollmer put a glass on her head, laughing somewhat as she did it, and then Burroughs took aim at the glass and shot. The glass fell, unharmed. The shot through Vollmer’s head was fatal.

Through some shady legal wrangling, Vollmer’s death was ruled an accident, and Burroughs ultimately spent only 13 days in jail. The event, however, haunted him throughout his life, forcing him to write as a means to chase sanity. “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death,” he once claimed. “So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have no choice except to write my way out.” Burroughs son and Vollmer’s daughter from a previous relationship went to live with grandparents, and Burroughs began a series of adventures in South America, hunting for a drug called yage which had purported mystical properties.

Burroughs Burro

In 1953, a dime-back press published Burroughs novel, Junkie, the cover marketing it as a pulp confessional. The book proved a relative success — selling over 100,000 copies — but Burroughs was still in South America looking for yage and seemed not to care. Like his childhood inspiration, You Can’t Win, Junkie plunges into an underworld of drugs and criminality and was culled from many of Burroughs’ own life experiences. Written in a matter-of-fact style, the novel contains explicit descriptions of drug use and the culture of addiction, but moments of philosophical candor pervade the text. It is not simply a dime-back confessional, but a vivid meditation on the meanings of addiction.

Returning to New York from South America, Burroughs attempted to kindle a relationship with Ginsberg, but his friend rebuffed his advances. So, rejected and tormented, Burroughs path eventually led him to Tangier, Morocco, where he continued his junk habit and wrote the bulk of his most famous novel, Naked Lunch.

The years spent in northern Morocco proved a dark, lonely period in Burroughs’ life. He had difficulty in getting over his affection for Ginsberg, his addiction intensified, and his physical appearance assumed a ghostly character. He wrote compulsively, but could not manage to organize his many pages of script, and though his friend had rejected him, letters to Ginsberg served as a lifeline during this period.

In 1955, at the age of 41, Burroughs had hit an emotional wall. Alienated from his friends both geographically and emotionally, he lived a hollow cycle of need sated briefly by needles. Later, he would remark, “I suddenly realized I was not doing anything. I was dying.” At this point he made a decision. He was determined to quit junk.

Of course, Burroughs had made this decision before, quite unsuccessfully. Somehow, though, now it worked. With renewed vigor, Burroughs returned to his writing, experiencing a level of productivity that was completely new to him. Soon, Kerouac, Ginsberg and Ginsberg’s boyfriend, Peter Orlovsky, traveled to Tangier to visit Burroughs, marking an end to that tormented chapter of Burroughs’ life. Ginsberg and another mutual friend spent a few months helping Burroughs edit Naked Lunch, and the novel was published in 1959.

Violent, relentless, and lacking any coherent linearity, Naked Lunch was a revelation. As with Junkie, the author drew from his own life while writing, but it cannot be characterized as autobiographical. The story moves promiscuously through different times and settings, with mysterious agents and explicit sex and, of course, frank descriptions of drug use. The purposefully obscene content prompted multiple bannings of the book, as well as an obscenity trial in Boston. Considering Naked Lunch a great literary accomplishment, Norman Mailer testified in Boston on the novel’s behalf. At one point he told the court, “There is a sense in Naked Lunch of the destruction of soul, which is more intense than any I have encountered in any other modern novel.” Mailer’s observation assumes an additional air of truth when we think about Burroughs tormented existence through much of Naked Lunch’s writing.

In Naked Lunch, we can see Burroughs marrying violence of content to violence of form, but it was not until he discovered the “cut-up” method that this impulse was fully realized. A form of verbal collage, the cut-up method involves literally slicing up pages of text with a pair of scissors, and rearranging those pieces to create unexpected juxtapositions. Not everyone in the literary community appreciated such a method (Samuel Beckett once referred to it as “plumbing”), but through it Burroughs produced a fascinating set of novels called The Nova Trilogy.

The three editions of The Nova Trilogy — The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express — contain pieces drawn from multiple sources. Readers familiar with Naked Lunch will recognize its presence in the trilogy, and it also contains scraps from Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The novels possess a similarly explicit content as Burroughs’ previous works, but the cut-up method leads to text that is more fragmented and yet more rhythmic than Naked Lunch. Phrases recur like a refrain in poetry, but it is not always clear how they relate to the scenes surrounding them. Partially inspired by surrealist methods for creating art, the novels lead readers to explore their own associations, making it impossible to pin down definitive meanings for the disjointed imagery.


Though Burroughs’ career as a writer began later than his peers, his influence is wide-reaching. Ultimately, despite being several years older than both Kerouac and Ginsberg, he outlived them both, dying at the age of 83 four months after Ginsberg. Now, in the 21st century, Burroughs continues to be a touchstone for a new generation of writers and artists who seek to push the limits of language and adventurous living.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

Wiiliam S. Burroughs At The Bluebird

Dancing Cigarettes

◆ by C.K.


[On March 19, 1981 William S. Burroughs gave a reading at the Bluebird, accompanied musically by Bloomington’s legendary Dancing Cigarettes. The following is an excerpt from C.K.’s journal.]


Thursday saw my last day of class, and the long-awaited William Burroughs/John Giorno gig at the Bluebird. I could scarcely wait. Michael C. declined to go at the last moment, so I went with Melanie and my brother Jim, who was recording the show for posterity by agreement with the Cigs.

John Giorno of “Dial-A-Poet” came on first and read (or shouted) four or five poems which were very aggressive and anti-woman, yet amusing. (“Making love to you is like making love to someone on the subway!”) After a long and dramatic pause, Burroughs came forward led by a young preppie-looking asshole said by the Cigs to be his secretary. Burroughs was shorter than I had expected, and skeletal, and frail, yet he read his selections with a vengeance which everyone loved. He sneered and snarled and hung over each word like a hooded viper in a way wonderful to behold. I was sitting with Melanie and Bill Weaver and the Cigs and a few other artsy friends right before the stage by the steps, and had a view of him which could not be equaled anywhere else in the house.

Burroughs finished all too soon, and accepted the crowd’s roars of applause, deigned to give a short encore of a piece about the origin of the universe (our universe is a drop of grease which a giant billions of years ago shook from his fingers, the grease not having quite hit the floor yet) and departed amidst tumultuous acclaim. There came an intermission while Burroughs sat down and signed autographs on copies of Armies of the Red Night and the Cigarettes set up their equipment. I talked to Jim, who had been recording in the same corner with Burroughs and Giorno all night. He was not much impressed with either of the two poets’ readings as such, but was impressed with their repute. He said with evident pride that he had shared a joint with Burroughs, and Giorno had had a pleasant conversation with him and tried to pick him up. I was amused to see that Jimmy was having such fun.

The Cigs began and I danced. I lasted through two sets, yet I had little encouragement from any of the Cig devotees except Bill Weaver. Melanie split early, Laurie didn’t have the money to attend tonight, and Margot went home feeling ill after Burroughs ended. It was discouraging. My screams and shouts lacked enthusiasm or wit. I danced almost all the songs but did not cross over the border. Bill praised my efforts and made it all worthwhile.

[Feature image: The Dancing Cigarettes.]


The Ryder ◆ January 2014

Ed Bernstein’s Avenging Angels


◆ by Sarah Burns


[Editor’s Note: Almost Illuminated: Edward Bernstein is a retrospective exhibition of work created during Professor Bernstein’s tenure at Indiana University from 1991—2013. The exhibition will be on display in the IU Grunwald Gallery from January 17 through February 14. On January 17, The Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts will host a Gallery Talk at 5:30; reception follows.]


Ed Bernstein’s visual universe is not for the faint of heart. It is a place of barely contained elemental energy, where flames consume, waters engulf, earthquakes shatter, and avenging angels hover in the air. In this world, frail boats drift through dark seas, fragile chandeliers shed feeble light into the shadows that deepen around them, and buildings await imminent destruction by fire or flood. This is a universe where forces both natural and supernatural make mockery of whatever humans have wrought in the name of power, culture, civilization, religion, beauty.

Yet however grave the danger and however imminent the disaster, Bernstein never relinquishes the hope of some ultimate redemption: for every raging fire or wrathful tempest, there is also light struggling through the darkness. To express such large themes— both timeless and deeply romantic—Bernstein uses and re-uses an array of seemingly simple yet richly connotative visual metaphors closely bound up in our own domestic and imaginative lives: the burning house, the storm-tossed boat, the beacon of hope, the guardian angel.


Guardian Angel, 2008

Ed Bernstein is a native New Yorker who has hardly lived in New York. He was born in NYC and grew up in Long Island until he left for college first in Ohio where he got a degree in Political Science from Miami University and then to Rhode Island School of Design for a BFA in painting.

He left Rhode Island in late 1967 for Rome and then Paris to work with SW Hayter at Atelier 17 and where he met Wendy, his wife now of 44 years. He returned briefly to New York in late ’68 to teach art in the South Bronx ghetto as alternative service to Vietnam and then back to Rhode Island 1969 to do the same in inner city Providence.

Ed and Wendy arrived in Bloomington first in 1970; Ed studied with Rudy Pozzatti and Marvin Lowe for his MFA in Printmaking. In 1973 Ed got his first teaching job at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where their daughter Sacha was born but soon left for Oxford, England where Ed became Head of Printmaking at the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford.

From 1978 when they returned to the US, the Bernsteins moved many times across the US including Berkeley as well as back to Oxford for his many temporary and various gigs until finally returning to Bloomington in 1991 as Associate Professor in printmaking in the Hope School of Art. Bernstein just retired in August as Professor of Art and Head of Printmaking.

Over the course of his career, Bernstein has cycled through successive themes and variations on those potent—and often portentous— symbols. In the 1991 Escape Hatch and Stormy Voyage and other works of that time, we see an iconic house form, of the sort that very young children so often draw, the peaked roof and centered door promising security, warmth, family, refuge from the world outside. But Bernstein’s houses promise no such thing. They are skeletons, stripped to studs and joists. Dense plumes of smoke and licks of fire stream upward through the bare rafters. Standing precariously on circular mirrored platforms atop teetering conical towers, these houses remind us of spinning tops, cyclones, or whirlpools. At their bases and all around seethe restless waters, surging, heaving, undulating, powerful enough to suck the whole jerry-rigged structure down beneath the waves. If this happens, the flames will be doused. But the house is doomed to destruction either way.


Escape Hatch, 1991

It is not symbolism alone that conveys the drama and emotion we feel in these images. Those properties also are communicated through chiaroscuro effects and violent gestural animation. In Stormy Voyage, for example, everything is intensely dark save the flames, which, by contrast, deliver the blinding visual shock of a lightning flash. In the flames and—even more—in the roiling waves, our eyes “feel” the artist’s hand, activating the surface with a riot of marks that coil, surge, dash, flare, and bristle. Light, shade, and drawing combine to create effects of sheer chaotic, boundless motion. It is almost as if we are given a glimpse of untamable forces lurking beneath the ordered and ostensibly well-regulated façade that civilization has built to contain them. Indeed, the rectilinear geometry of the house and the perfect symmetry of its conical base stand as emblems of human-engineered order and measure. But in the Voyage series, geometrical order seems powerless to withstand the primal energy of nature and entropy: the epic of making and unmaking unfolds before our eyes. Permanence is only a dream, turmoil the reality.

Some prints, though, revel in the sheer joy of light. Constellation VII (2004) is another close-up view, a dazzling tangle of looped bead chains, dangling prisms, swooping arms, and crystalline candle cups, every element sparkling in tints of icy blue. In Mutations (2006), the peachy tones and extreme close-up accomplish what the title suggests: the chandelier has morphed into an alien life form—part plant, part animal—with bulbous growths on its legs and a glowing, translucent heart. In Illuminata (2012), we zoom out a vast distance to see an infinity of chandeliers and candle flames. Duplicated many times over, they become a spangled galaxy of stars shimmering against a velvety dark ground—or, perhaps, fireflies dancing in the dark on a summer night.

Light and the metaphors it generates are intrinsic to our existence. Light gives life. When we learn the truth, we say we have seen the light; we are enlightened. To be enchanted is to be bedazzled. That special person lights up our life. We hold candlelight vigils in memory of those who have died. Our ancestors relied on the light of their campfires to keep the wild beasts at bay. And almost without exception, our religions use light as a metaphor for the unknowable. Rich in connotation, these images invite us to reflect, ruminate, and remember.

Bernstein’s chandeliers dangle in space; his angels swoop through it. The artist first conceived of moving his printmaking into three dimensions in conjunction with a group show at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, where some sixty-five artists were invited to design a three-dimensional paper airplane on the theme of “No Danger.” What better than an angel to symbolize the transcendence (rather than the inconvenience, fear, and discomfort) of flying? Printed on fabric, Bernstein’s Guardian Angel (2008) joined the many other flying objects—identified and otherwise—watching over passengers coming and going. But this was no sentimentalized, smiling angel with white wings, a long robe, and a halo, but, rather, one straight out of the biblical imagination, a six-winged seraph, wondrous and (despite the theme of the show) more than a little terrifying. With its vividly colored wings inset with eyes, its projectile body and baleful stare, it is a genuinely supernatural being, celestial, inhuman, a hybrid of bird, butterfly, and spirit, a creature from a vision or a dream. Its siblings—Nemesis (2010) and the Avenging Angel (2008)—are equally formidable and even forbidding, one in somber shades of purple and violet, the other azure blue, trailing a long stinger. One can easily imagine vengeance and doom riding on those wings.

The three-dimensional figure of Icarus (2009) is structurally similar to the angels but of a different stripe. More like a giant moth than a seraph, Icarus is a creature of the earth whose dream of flying symbolizes his hubris and spells his downfall. The paired prints, Icarus Ascending (2010) and Icarus Ascended (2011) elaborate on what the three-dimensional Icarus more subtly suggests. To symbolize Icarus and his doomed attempt to soar, Bernstein marries a pair of bird wings with one of Leonardo’s impossible flying machines. In the first scene, Icarus has flapped his way out of a hellish pit (courtesy of Breughel the Elder) where the fallen rebel angels, hideous monsters, battle their heavenly adversaries. But in Icarus Ascended, the wings now bear the imprint of Breughel’s hell and the figure of the Archangel Michael beating down the monsters with his sword. Rather than rise into the firmament, Icarus seems to have plunged into an infernal night to become one with the demons he (like so many of us) tried so hard to escape. But at least for a few inspired moments, he tasted freedom. Was it worth the price? It is up to us to decide.

Bernstein’s latest work is decidedly more down to earth. These recent prints and constructions came out of the artist’s two extended visits to the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. These pieces graphically symbolize the extreme divisions of class and power endemic to modern Brazil. Inhotim (2011) represents a lush grove of palm trees in the eponymous park outside Belo Horizonte and mostly frequented by the middle and upper classes. The mesh of red chain link fence that screens the entire surface conveys meaning in an elegant visual shorthand that needs no further translation. Chain link is also the armature for the far more intricate 2013 Tapecaria (Tapestry). Resembling a quilt at a distance, close up it resolves into an interwoven grid of diamonds, some printed with smiling faces and ramshackle dwellings from the slums, the rest with images of Inhotim’s inaccessible palms. This dizzying visual kaleidoscope is at once a heartbreaking landscape of inequality, an acerbic commentary on social justice, and a tribute to the citizens of the favelas, who despite hardship and discrimination have created a vibrant culture.

As these latest works show, Ed Bernstein continues to invent, evolve, and engage with enduring social, ethical, and political issues, as he has throughout a long and productive career. He continues to experiment, too: for all his meticulous craftsmanship and command of traditional printmaking techniques, he strives to push beyond those boundaries, incorporating novel technologies with the old to produce ever new expressive forms. Like the best artists, he embraces change. The great Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai styled himself “The Old Man Mad about Art” and dreamed of the work he would create at age eighty, ninety, one hundred, one hundred and thirty, forty, and beyond. Ed Bernstein is an artist in that identical mold. Like Hokusai, he will keep going, always looking ahead, following his star.

[Sarah Burns is the Ruth N. Halls Professor Emerita in the Department of the History of Art at IU. The featured image is Imminent Departure, 1995.]

The Ryder ● January 2014

Bloomington: One Puzzle Piece At A Time

Tschida Jigsaw

Marc Tschida creates handcrafted jigsaw puzzles ◆ by Hannah Waltz

Bloomington’s Marc Tschida hesitates to call himself an artist, but his handcrafted jigsaw puzzles have caught the attention of the local arts scene. His puzzles feature images of downtown Bloomington and the Indiana University campus, drawing heavily from the work of local artists. “As a point of pride I’m just working locally right now,” said Tschida. “Mainly Bloomington-themed items. That’s what I’ve been specializing in.”

When he enrolled at IU at 19, the eclectic Bloomington arts scene exposed Tschida to a vibrant world he had never had access to growing up in Gary.

After two years of college, Tschida traveled to Alaska and worked on a fishing boat, spending thirty to forty days at sea at a time. The crew worked 18-hour shifts, seven days a week, to which Tschida attributes the growth of his patience and discipline. “The majority of time I stood in one place, at a conveyor belt sorting the catch. This extended period of time standing in one place concentrating on one thing, really has helped prepare me for what I do with the puzzles, standing at a saw for hours at a time manipulating the wood around a saw blade.”


Marc Tschida At The Jigsaw

After Alaska, Tschida moved in and out of Bloomington through his mid-twenties, eventually calling it home “when I realized it was a sense of community drawing me back,” said Tschida. “By the time I was 26 I was helping define some of the cultural activities. I just feel blessed.”

Growing up, jigsaw-puzzling was a popular holiday pastime for Tschida’s family, so his affinity for puzzles is deep-rooted and linked to childhood memories. But it wasn’t until his adult life that he returned to the hobby. “I used to work in the music industry, so when I transitioned out of that line of work, my biological clock kept me up really late into the night,” said Tschida. “I did jigsaw puzzles to stay out of trouble.”

Tschida managed Second Story and Bullwinkles until both closed in 2006. “What started me on the arts was when I became a music photographer and my photos were used by Wilco’s Steve Harris.” Tschida crossed paths with the band when he roomed with the brother-in-law of Max Johnston, one of the band members. Oftentimes Johnston would crash at Tschida’s place when Wilco wasn’t on tour.

But his involvement in the local arts doesn’t stop in the music industry: Tschida also served as the performance and technical director for the Waldron Arts Center as well as general manager of the Cardinal Stage Company–both positions that he held for three years–and continues to volunteer at WFHB. “One of the advantages I’ve had is experiencing about every perspective you can imagine in the music field and entertainment field,” said Tschida. “I got to a point where I was talking to people as a human as opposed to a fan.”

Tschida first conceived of creating his own jigsaw puzzles in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2012, a wait “due to time and confidence,” that he was able to begin learning more about the craft when he recognized a potential market for Bloomington-inspired souvenirs. Tschida’s incentive for the project came from a holiday exhibit at the Waldron Arts Center that called out for local artists. “I felt that there was room for a high quality Bloomington memento craft item, and it was a couple years later that I combined that idea with my enjoyment of jigsaw puzzles.”

As a kind of jigsaw puzzle town troubadour, Tschida uses his puzzles to express his admiration for the  Bloomington arts scene. “When I say these are Bloomington themed, I mean performance arts groups, Bloomington visual arts work, iconic Bloomington images.”

Tschida has been collaborating with local artists, using their pieces of art as images for his puzzles; he describes himself a “manipulator of the image. . . .It’s so important to work with the artists, but the puzzle itself isn’t valuable. It’s the image that’s valuable.”

Tschida’s relationships with other artists and art organizations have granted him access to many of the images he uses in his puzzles, such as local graffiti and band flyers, including the flyer for Andrew Bird’s first show in town. As former manager of the Cardinal Stage Company, Tschida’s materials come from the theatre company’s recycled lumber. “Since I’ve worked in the arts in many capacities in Bloomington in the past fifteen years, it’s been simple to contact people in the community. I’ve generally worked with the artist Joel Washington’s art. I think [the pieces] would lend themselves very well to a super limited edition of puzzles.”

Collaborating artists sometimes share in Tschida’s profits, but he works on a case-by-case basis. But since he’s just getting the ball rolling, many artists are happy to let him just “run with it.”  Alas, it seems his time supporting and working for the arts has roped him into the world of creation. “It’s a blast, I’ve always been a facilitator of the arts, so this is my first foray into being on the other side.”

Whether he considers himself one or not, the grueling process of crafting jigsaw puzzles requires the skill and patience of an artist. The “grizzly process,” as Tschida calls it, entails multiple steps for each puzzle. The first step involves securing the rights to an image (to avoid copyright infringement), and then printing that image on glossy paper that will be adhered to the wood. Once the image is sealed, Tschida uses a scroll saw to make the cuts in the wood, yielding the individual pieces of the puzzle. And here comes the tedium — he then finely saws the ends of every piece for an easy fit.

Having honed his skill at the scroll saw, Tschida is now producing unique puzzles with irregularly shaped pieces. For example, a puzzle depicting the Buskirk-Chumley features a center piece that looks like a dog bone to mimic the Indiana sign in front of the theatre. “I use a scroll saw with a hair thin blade that just goes up and down, so I maneuver the wood around the blade of the saw, allowing me to cut any shape I want.”

Tschida has cut about fifty different puzzles, each with a unique image. His largest puzzle has 280 pieces that fit together to display a local roller derby girl. Although a few are based on original art, most of the puzzles feature landmarks such as the Monroe County Courthouse, the Buskirk-Chumley, and views from the B-Line Trail. Tschida chooses images based on their aesthetic appeal and a high level of contrast. He plans to continue learning more about photography so he can work with self-shot photos of Indiana University such as the Jordan River.

The real sacrifice a handmade puzzle crafter like Tschida must make is one of time. Tschida admits it’s hard to put a price on his puzzles for all the energy poured into their construction, though he sells them for modest prices of about $20 to $30 per puzzle. “People are used to going to Walmart and buying a puzzle for $7.99, so they aren’t used to wood, handmade puzzles and their prices.”

The origins of jigsaw puzzle crafting dates back to the Great Depression when they were called “dissected maps,” and provided hours of entertainment at a cheap price. Conventionally, puzzle makers did not include a picture of the puzzle’s image, but Tschida likes the frame of reference, because, to him, it’s about the image as opposed to the puzzle itself. “Tradition states that you’re not supposed to know what the image is, that’s part of the joy, but I think that’s kind of bullshit.”

For Tschida, the image sells the puzzles, which he says are almost worthless without the image. He sees the human contact with the artist as invaluable. “There’s a buy-in with the image, which is why I’m focusing on Bloomington,” said Tschida. “You’re buying it for its connection to the town, it’s like a bottle of Oliver wine. I’m very much into the local shopping and economy. That’s what everything I’m doing revolves around.”

Recognizing a potentially collaborative opportunity to encourage “puzzle awareness,” Tschida hopes to reach out to IU’s Lilly Library, which currently hosts one of the largest collections of mechanical puzzles in the country.

Although their entertainment value may have lessened since the Great Depression, the market is still alive. For example, in 1974 family-run company Stave Puzzles was founded and still exists today, selling some of their puzzles for up to twenty-six thousand dollars. The national market for hand-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles sells individual pieces from one dollar to thirteen dollars.

Tschida plans to host a jigsaw tournament next spring, using the event to launch a new line of puzzles featuring the artwork of local artists, most likely Joel Washington’s art, his new focus for upcoming puzzles. For now Tschida is taking his business, officially named Press Puzzles, one step at a time. But his love affair with theatre has him figuring out how to marry his two interests.

“It’s the sheer amount of community involvement in theatre,” said Tschida. “I’m one man in my garage making puzzles, but the performance events bring the best of community out.”  Eventually he hopes to break into the national theatre scene, designing puzzles customized to particular productions. “That is part of where I’m heading towards, but I don’t have the capacity yet,” said Tschida.  “The next step is raising puzzle awareness.”

Tschida was able to place puzzles based on the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County into the hands of both Stephen King, a jigsaw fanatic, and John Mellencamp, as well as a puzzle to the Chief of Staff of the National Endowment of the Arts, Jamie Bennett.  “I’m beginning to get a lot of commissions too. For example, I’m making a puzzle with arrowhead-shaped pieces for a ninety-year-old as a birthday gift.”

But Tschida is still uncertain, perhaps you could say “puzzled,” about what the future might bring. “Whether or not this will ever become a career, I don’t know if that will ever happen, but time will tell,” said Tschida. “But my next weird career transition will be marine oriented. My next bucket list goal is to cage dive with sharks.”

[Marc Tschida’s Jigsaw Puzzles will be on display November 30th at the City of Bloomington Holiday Market; December 21st at the west side Half Price Books
on W. Susan Drive from Noon-5pm; and during a puzzle-making demonstration at WonderLab, January 3rd, 2014. His puzzles are on sale at The Venue Fine Art & Gifts and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The image at the top of this post is Tschida’s Buskirk-Chumley Theater puzzle.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

Film: The Winter Of Our Discontent

Scene from "Winter's Bone"

◆ by Craig J. Clark

When the temperatures start to drop, there’s no better time to make a mug of hot cocoa, curl up in a warm blanket, and bask in the glow of your television set (or computer monitor). While you’re doing so, here’s a selection of wintry movies to help you pass the time and make you glad you’re not outside.

Scene from "The Lion in Winter"

Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion In Winter”

The perfect film for anybody who’s obsessed with the doings of the royal family or can’t stand to be around their own is 1968’s The Lion in Winter. Set in the year 1183 and written by James Goldman, based on his own play, it stars Peter O’Toole as the title character, the roaring King Henry II of England, who decides to spend his Christmas holiday picking which of his sons will succeed him. The candidates are Richard (Anthony Hopkins, making his feature film debut), Geoffrey (John Castle, a stage actor who had previously appeared in Antonioni’s Blow-Up), and John [Nigel Terry], also making his film debut), all of whom are jockeying for position. Also present for the festivities: Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Best Actress-winner Katharine Hepburn), who’s receiving a brief reprieve after being imprisoned for ten years; his mistress, Alais (Jane Merrow), who was once promised to Richard; and King Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton, also making his film debut), Alais’s half-brother, who plans to put the screws to Henry one way or the other. Spend two hours with this dysfunctional family and your own relations won’t seem nearly so bad.

Familial dysfunction can also be found at the center of 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which heralded the arrival of an exciting young talent. A devastatingly bleak film, its stars Jennifer Lawrence as a 17-year-old high school dropout in rural Missouri who’s raising her younger siblings because her mother is pretty much a basket case and her absent father is a wanted meth cooker. Director Debra Granik (making an assured second feature) and her co-writer Anne Rosellini establish their desperate situation in the space of a handful of scenes (the one where Lawrence has to give up her horse because they can’t afford to feed it anymore speaks volumes about her character) before making it even more desperate. Seems her father has put up their house and property as collateral on a bail bond, and if he fails to show up for court they’ll lose everything.

Scene from "Winter's Bone"

Jennifer Lawrence as Ree in “Winter’s Bone”

Thus begins Lawrence’s quest to find her father or, failing that, prove to the authorities that he can’t be found because he’s dead. It’s not always a pleasant journey – the threat of violence is ever-present and when it rears its head it’s profoundly disturbing – and Lawrence doesn’t get much help, even from people she’s related to by blood. (Calling them “family” would be something of a stretch.) Her steely eyed determination does win her some converts, though, including a former classmate (Shelley Waggener) who dropped out to get married and have a baby, and her quietly menacing uncle who goes by the unlikely name of Teardrop (John Hawkes) and backs her up at a critical juncture. Suffice it to say, everything that Lawrence does in the name of keeping her family together has weighty consequences, and no one knows that better than she does. It’s easy to come away with the impression that this is far from the first crisis she’s faced — and it won’t the last.

Another film that puts the ties that bind people together at the forefront is 1997’s The Winter Guest, which stars real-life mother-and-daughter Phyllida Law and Emma Thompson. The directorial debut of Alan Rickman, who co-scripted with playwright Sharman MacDonald based on MacDonald’s play, The Winter Guest is comprised of four interlocking stories, each of which follows a different pair around a small coastal town in Scotland. In addition to Law and Thompson, who talk around Thompson’s desire to move away after she’s widowed, the film follows two schoolboys who play hooky from school, two teenagers (one of them Thompson’s son) who embark on a tentative relationship, and two old ladies who are in the habit of attending funerals of people they don’t know. Considering how dead the town is at that time of year, there doesn’t appear to be much else for them to do.

Scene from "The Winter Guest"

Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law In “The Winter Guest”

In a way, a theatrical troupe can be like a family – at least as long as the show is still running. This is illustrated by Kenneth Branagh’s 1995 film A Midwinter’s Tale, which was originally called In the Bleak Midwinter before the American distributor decided a black-and-white comedy-drama about a group of struggling English actors trying to mount an underfunded production of Hamlet was a hard enough sell without the word “bleak” in the title. Something of a serio-comic warm-up for Branagh’s own star-studded adaptation of the play, which came along the following year, A Midwinter’s Tale stars Michael Maloney as a frustrated actor who tries to lift himself out of his creative torpor by directing and starring in what turns out to be a rather ramshackle version of Shakespeare’s most famous play.

A knowing look at the clash of egos that goes into any creative endeavor, A Midwinter’s Tale is also notable for featuring some actors that went on to appear in Branagh’s Hamlet in different roles, starting with Maloney, who was demoted from the title character to playing the role of Laertes. He’s joined by Nicholas Farrell, who made a lateral move from Laertes to Horatio, and Richard Briers, who went from playing King Claudius (opposite John Sessions in drag as Queen Gertrude) to Polonius. Newcomers to the fold include Celia Imrie (as frazzled production designer Fadge), Absolutely Fabulous alums Julia Sawalha (as Maloney’s myopic Ophelia) and Jennifer Saunders, and Joan Collins (as his straight-shooting agent). All involved bring their own baggage, both personal and professional, to bear, but to a man (or woman — or man playing a woman) they live up to the old adage that the show must goes on.

Scene from "A Midwinter's Tale"

Jennifer Saunders and Joan Collins In “A Midwinter’s Tale”

Even with its less portentous title, A Midwinter’s Tale underperformed at the box office, but one film that actually benefited from a title change was the one-time cult favorite Chilly Scenes of Winter. A winning story about a hapless romantic that didn’t do so hot when it was initially released in 1979 under the title Head Over Heels, it made out much better a few years later when it was re-released with the original title and downbeat ending of the Ann Beattie novel on which it was based.

Written for the screen and directed by Joan Micklin Silver, Chilly Scenes of Winter has an Annie Hall-like quality, which isn’t too surprising since both films are about a doomed romance that is being remembered by one of the participants after the fact. The one doing the remembering is civil servant John Heard, who is still pining for former co-worker Mary Beth Hurt one year after she left him to return to her husband. Heard’s inability to move on leads to some stalkerish behavior, but he only acts that way because he believes he’d be better for her than a husband who loves her too little. What ultimately drives her away, ironically, is the fact that Heard loves her too much. Now, is that really such a crime?

The forging of tenuous connections comes into play in a big way in Tom Tykwer’s Winter Sleepers, which was made in 1997 but not released in the U.S. until 2000 (after the runaway success of Run Lola Run). Based on a novel by Anne-Francoise Pyszora, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tykwer, the film follows a quartet of 20somethings whose lives intersect in unexpected ways over the winter holidays. Nurse/aspiring actress Marie-Lou Sellem and translator Floriane Daniel live together in Sellem’s villa, Daniel is seeing self-centered ski instructor Heino Ferch, and Sellem takes up with cinema projectionist Ulrich Matthes, who suffers from short-term memory loss thanks to a head injury and has to take pictures and record conversations on tape to maintain some semblance of a life. This comes into play when Matthes is involved in a freak car accident with farmer Josef Bierbichler, whose daughter is critically injured in the crash, and neither of them is able to clearly remember what happened – or who was at fault.

If that plot strand sounds vaguely reminiscent of Memento, keep in mind this film was made three years before Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough. And instead of jumbling the chronology, Tykwer emphasizes the interconnectedness of his characters by cutting between them at crucial moments, as if they had a weird kind of low-level psychic bond. He also relies on the propulsive score (which he composed with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek) to move the action along and pieces by minimalist composer Arvo Pärt to get at the sadness and melancholy of the story. It’s a combination that makes for an extremely compelling film about the ways coincidence shapes life, a theme to which Tykwer would return with a vengeance the following year.

Anyone who wishes we could skip winter altogether might do well to check out 2006’s The Last Winter. Directed and edited by Larry Fessenden, who also co-wrote the film with Robert Leaver, it’s a chilling environmentalist fable about what happens when an American oil company gets permission to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The short version: it ain’t pretty.

The long version: Ron Perlman is flown in to find out what the holdup on the project is and why James Le Gros, the expert hired to do the environmental impact reports, won’t sign off on it. Seems there’s some concern about the melting permafrost, making the creation of ice roads impossible, but Perlman is less troubled by this than the fact that Le Gros has taken up with fellow outpost employee Connie Britton. Then things start happening that he can’t ignore, like crew member Zach Gilford going missing for several hours; he returns, only to take off his clothes and walk out into the night. Then mechanic Kevin Corrigan also starts acting weird, at which point it’s decided to get everybody out of Dodge, but Perlman and Le Gros continue to butt heads until the bitter end. (And considering how cold it is, that end is quite bitter, indeed.)

So, if The Last Winter is anything to go by, maybe a little cold weather isn’t such a bad thing after all. Plus, once spring arrives it’ll be time to get a jump on the summer movie season. And what is one of the first tentpoles being erected? Why, it’s Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier! How about that?

The Ryder ● December 2013

Theater: The High Cost Of Freedom

Cloud Nine at IU Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud Nine” comes to IU ◆ by Colin Bridges

Indiana University Theatre, fresh off a successful production of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, turns its attention to the work of a more contemporary European playwright – the female British playwright Caryl Churchill and her celebrated Cloud Nine, which received its world premiere in London in 1979.

The first act of the play is set in Colonial Africa during the Victorian era, and examines racial, sexual, and gender politics through the lens of a large British family, and their circle of friends and servants. The second act, set in 1980s London, ages the same characters only 25 years. This theatrical feat of time-travel allows us to compare our modern day mores with those of the past, as we question how our society has changed – or not changed – over the last tumultuous century.

Churchill subverts all audience expectations by casting women as men, men as women, a white man as an African servant, old men as young children, and even portraying the youngest child as a mere rag doll. In doing so, she crafts a dizzying, darkly humorous satire on the nature of sex and power, and the way these tidal forces can bring people together or tear relationships apart.

We spoke with second year MFA Directing student Rob Heller, who helmed this newest production of the gender-bending play that leaps across centuries and continents. After growing up in Philly and spending eight years in New York City developing new musicals, he was recruited to join the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance at Indiana University. We spoke with Rob about bringing this challenging play to life with his group of talented IU students and designers.

Ryder: What is this play about? Can you give us an elevator pitch for it?

Rob Heller: This play is about how we contend with issues of family, gender and sexuality throughout all of time…How do we know how to function? What are our roles and how can we come out of it somehow loving each other and having community?


Rob Heller

Ryder: Why did you choose this play?

Heller: Caryl Churchill’s a playwright that I’ve been wanting to contend with. It’s lovely because she’s a female playwright and she also deals with a lot of issues that seem important to the world at large so it seemed like a good time, particularly now, to contend with this play in the midst of a lot of political issues about sexuality and gender and gender roles coming to the forefront at the moment.

Ryder: What’s your directorial take on this particular production that makes it different than others that have happened in the past?

Heller: [The original 1979 production] was created by the Joint Stock Company collaboratively. It was a collaborative workshop with a particular group of people with Caryl Churchill at the time, dealing with issues of the time and out of that came this play so I think the challenge each time is to create a group of people that will be unique in their approach to this play – that’s about them as much as it is about the play. So I think what’s unique about this production is that these particular actors bring just something different to the table.

Ryder: One of things that people always latch onto is the gender switching and the very obvious sort of theatrical devices. Could you talk about how that’s going to challenge the audience and how you worked with it?

Heller: Our first choice… was to put it in the round because there’s no tricks. We got no tricks for you. We’re showing you all our strings. It is a theatrical event.
It’s a great gift to an actor to have to play something that’s far from themselves. We talk so much about type (in America especially): What is your type? Who are you going to play? So it’s great fun to see sort of a light in an actor, just as a human, and say, “You’re going to play these two drastically different things.”

What we’ve discovered from going to the Kinsey Institute and from talking amongst ourselves is that these lines between male and female are so fuzzy; it’s not one or the other. Everyone is sort of in the middle somewhere.

Ryder: Does the gender switching play into a sense of comedy?

Heller: The humor comes from the moments. We are playing up some of the – “grotesque” is not the right word because we have connotations with that but – the clear differences in character vs. actor. And I think you’ll find that it gives the audience permission to look at the play in a different way: “Okay, It’s not realism . . . it’s realistic, but there’s clear things that are a little bit off …” I think in seeing the gender switch is it gives the audience a little bit more permission to laugh.

Ryder: In the first act we meet Clive, who the audience might see as the most emblematic of imperialism and male dominance. Do you make those sorts of judgments about the characters when you’re coming into it? Do you see Clive as a symbol or a character?

Heller: You know off the page early on that’s the investigation we have to do – myself and the creative team, the designers. Of course we look at those implications but once you get in there with an actor all you think about is: What does he want? What is he afraid of? Why is he putting on this mask? Who’s telling him this is what he’s supposed to be and when does that break? Because all these characters break relatively quickly from what we think they are into what maybe they really are.

Ryder: Without revealing any of the plot points, I think we can say that there is a very complicated set of romantic relationships between all of the characters, including some relationships we might consider unconventional or illegal. How did you approach that?

Heller: We have so many stigmas about nontraditional sexual relationships in our society, especially in America. The actors ask the question: What is it to have an intense love for someone? And what are the lines between love for an uncle, or a father, and a lover, and when you’re nine, how do you know the difference? It’s a bunch of very difficult questions.

Is sex only about lust? I don’t know. It might be about many things: about power, about status, about acceptance as much as anything else. (laughing) So, I only have more questions. We are exploring answers.

But you know, I think more powerful than the sort of large questions being asked here are the more personal: How do you create a family in the face of something different? Parenting by committee is a big theme throughout Churchill’s plays – this idea of having seven parents all sort of doing it together and some sleep with each other and some don’t and some do this and some do that. We have these very firm boxes that we try to put everybody into and maybe that doesn’t quite suit everybody.

Ryder: This is Indiana and, not to paint too broad a brush of Indiana, but I would say this play would clash a little bit with the conservative, Midwestern, almost bible-belt mentality. Can you talk about what you’re expecting from the audience?

Heller: I have never been a person that’s trying to goad you and to get you to be angry and to get you to leave here frustrated or angry. I want to question what we believe to be true. I think, like science, we keep coming up with hypotheses and proving them wrong…I would love for people to at least question what they believe to be true, and if they return to their previous beliefs – fine, that’s great and I hope it serves them, but if not – at least taking one evening’s coffee after this play to talk about why do we have these sort of roles that we’re meant to fill: Duty – they must say duty 70 times in the first act. “It’s my duty to do this its my duty to do that.” Well, is it?

Ryder: Martin at one point toward the end says, “There’s no point being so liberated that you make yourself cry all the time.” Do they lose anything by throwing away these established social structures?

Heller: Yeah, That’s what’s lovely about Churchill and I think about playwrights in general is that they’re not offering an answer.

The first act is very rigid. [Churchill] talks about it being almost “corseted” and Act Two is very wide open. The first people you see are the lesbians and the gays. All of this freedom and we can talk about it and we can say all these things out loud….

Yeah, It’s a double-edged sword. Is the freedom just as bad as the sort of corset?
And where’s the middle ground that we need to find?

Ryder: You don’t have access to Caryl Churchill except through her play. As someone who has worked primarily with new works, what is it like not having access to the playwright?

Heller: You know it was interesting coming here because in New York, my niche has been developing new musicals – it’s all I do. My whole resume is new work, which is exciting and cool and different but I came here to contend with a playwright who – the piece is written and I have to deal with it. So it was exciting for me…You have to unlock the answers for yourself; and Churchill’s a smart lady. She didn’t leave anything vague accidentally; so it’s for us to fill it and that’s a gift to an actor.

Ryder: There are a lot of different types of parenting going on in this show. Did you find yourself judging character’s parenting styles? Playing “good parent/bad parent?”

Heller: My parents divorced when I was in first grade… so right off the bat with divorce there was some sort of failure there. So I don’t think about good/bad; I think we have this assumption that suddenly you get married and have kids and you know how to parent. Its really hard, it’s really hard. We all fail at times and succeed at others.

There’s lovely moments: In Act Two, if you watch Cathy — who’s the young girl — if you follow her perception it’s really satisfying in that her mother will do something very awful to her – shocking to us probably – and 30 seconds later she hugs her mother. There’s forgiveness. I think that’s a big thing: to forgive others, to forgive yourself and to move forward, as opposed to sort of getting stuck in the past.

[Image at top of this post: Evelyn Gaynor (the boy) and Nathan Robbins (his mother) rehearse. “Cloud Nine” was presented at the Wells-Metz Theatre, December 6th & 7th. Colin Bridges is a filmmaker and visual artist. He holds an MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College and currently works as the Video Coordinator for the Indiana University Office of Admissions. You can find more of his work here and here.]

The Ryder ● December 2013

The Rise Of E-sports


The Decline of Deodorant ◆ by Benjamin Atkinson

Ten competitors took the stage. They didn’t look like athletes. They were mostly small, scrawny, and gave no indication of recent exposure to sunlight. A single look on at their faces, however, belied an intensity, dedication, and focus that Peyton Manning or Lionel Messi would instantly recognize. After all, there was a $1 million prize riding on their performance that night.The stage was inside the Staples Center and the e-sport was League of Legends. “Sport” usually conveys images of sweaty bodies being tamed and shaped by endless hours of exertion, locked in a very physical contest. There is often an almost savage aspect reflecting a life-and-death struggle that was all too literal for many cultures throughout history. E-sports does not disparage participants in the classical sports, but seeks to take aspects from sport such as tenacity, focus, determination, ingenuity, teamwork, and a host of others that play out in a formal competition. Competition allows each player to take stock of his or her abilities and chart improvements from match to match in a public forum.

E-sports have been around for decades, maturing mostly in Korea where they have become a national pastime. Starcraft is practically the godfather of e-sports, but many other games receive the attention of millions of fans from across the globe. Street Fighter is a classic of the fighting genre, while Counter Strike is a leader among first person shooters. League of Legends is the top among the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games, and its producer Riot Games has invested heavily in marketing e-Sports in general and its own game in particular.

Riot even arranged for a professional athlete visa to be granted by the U.S. government to Canadian Danny “Shiphtur” Le. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined that the League Championship Series met the stringent requirements of a professional sports league and issued Le a very selective P-1A visa, reserved for professional athletes who want to work in the US in order that they might “enrich the nation’s cultural landscape.” As far as the U.S. Government is concerned, e-sport competitors command the same status as Olympic athletes.

Attending an e-sport event is similar to attending any sporting events — thousands of fans, many rabidly exhibiting exuberance for their favorite team in the form of swag and signs. Thunderous applause for impressive plays. The competition among the fans is intense for a chance at an autograph or photo opportunity from the professionals. Viewers who stream games on their home computer can follow the play by play provided by professional “shout-casters” who offer color commentary and increase accessibility for those who don’t closely follow the professional scene or are new the game.

Video game enthusiast and former Minnesota Viking punter Chris Kluwe was featured in a Riot-produced video during the League of Legends World Championship match (it can now be found on YouTube). He notes many of the positive attributes shared between participants in classical sports such as football and those in e-sports, as well as the potential ahead for e-sports with its own unique advantages. The physical threshold for participating in classic sports is rather high, especially if one hopes to achieve any measure of success. The only threshold to cross in e-sports is access to a computer and time to dedicate.

NFL players enjoy the largest sports fan-base in America today, and e-sport gamers aren’t going to replace them anytime soon. But if this is the first you are hearing about it, you’re guaranteed to hear more soon. Viewer numbers for the championship match are not available yet but over 18 million world-wide tuned in for the All-Star game back in May. Kluwe notes that while there is indeed important physical aspects such as reaction time (watch any clip of professional gaming and it the movements seem prescient), e-sports focuses on mental challenges. Sport grew out of the vital need for teamwork and physical aptitude that have helped communities across the ages thrive and prosper in the face of harsh competition with nature and other cultures. But success in the modern economy depends upon intelligence, creativity, and other aspects of mental agility that are hallmarks of successful e-sport gamers. It seems fitting that as humanity dives into the computer age, sport does as well.

It was in this spirit of sport that Riot assembled 14 teams to compete for the title of best League of Legends team in the world. Representatives had been narrowed down in the professional leagues of China, Southeast Asia, Korea, North America, and Europe. A special International Wildcard tournament allowed the winner from other regions without their own burgeoning professional e-sports organization an opportunity for the title. But the lack of professional experience showed and the wildcard team was quickly eliminated. North America and SE Asia’s representatives fared no better, with all of their teams ousted at the earliest opportunity. Two of Europe’s teams managed to claw their way into the later stages, but the tournament was mostly a showcase for the prowess of the Chinese and Korean teams, who took three of the four spots in the semifinals.

Sports come and go. Baseball was “America’s Game” for a long time, but many fans have fled the ballpark for the football stadium. Boxing and wrestling are alive and well but neither command the public’s attention in the way they had throughout the centuries. Video games tend to have a short half-life as technology improvements pull players towards newer games. League of Legends may soon fade into the background but e-sports are just getting started.

The Ryder ● December 2013

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