MUSIC: Breaking Beats

Music is more than a hobby for one Bloomington DIY artist ◆ by Amanda Jacobson

Sitting in his second-story room on the north side of Bloomington, music producer Austin White plays back one of his tracks on his Apple laptop – his device of choice for mixing his own music.

The song is off his first album, titled Constellations. It’s a compilation of his earliest original beats created using the computer program FruityLoops, which he downloaded when he was 15 to start his DIY music career.

“Really anyone with a few dollars and the Internet can start making beats,” White says. “Music is so accessible now because of that. It’s not about having a big fancy studio anymore or being rich enough to have your music heard. It really levels the playing field for anyone who wants to be a musician.”

White

He says the variety of music he listened to when he was a young boy led him to appreciate and respond to music in a way most other kids didn’t. It’s no wonder music production was the career path he ultimately chose.

White grew up in a household filled with varied musical influences. He remembers his mother listening to strictly popular music of the ‘80s by Donna Summer, Anita Baker and Madonna, while his father snuck Tupac Shakur tapes into the car as a musical backdrop to road trips without Mom.

“My mom refused to let me listen to rap music,” he says. “And my dad was a street punk in Chicago. He wasn’t terrible, but he was a guy growing up in inner city Chicago. So I was listening to all this Madonna, Donna Summer and Tears for Fears, all of that. Anything that was on the radio, Mom loved it. And my dad would always listen to Tupac. Not all the time, but enough that he had to sneak it. And he would listen to it on his own and not realize I was in the car just absorbing all of this. I’d be listening to the lyrics and not know what any of it meant, like this one 2Pac song Tradin War Stories, – it was on a cassette. We would drive to Mississippi all the time and my dad has this thing – and I have it too – where if you like a song or artist or album, you listen to it for months. So all the way to Mississippi, a 14-hour drive, I heard the double All Eyez on Me, front side, back side, and over again, and the whole time not really listening to the lyrics. The lyrics were just an extra instrument. I’m like that now. It’s just another sound until I interpret it. I feel like anytime I make something now, I go ‘This is correct,’ or ‘It’s not correct,’ based on the whole database of music that I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Because that’s what your own originality is. It’s just everything that’s ever compiled you, anything you’ve ever seen, tasted … I mean sometimes your tastebuds can come into music somehow. Everything you have is just one big interpretation of everything you’ve ever known.”

White says this musical exposure when he was little led him to curiosity about the rap industry and the instrumental nuances of the mixes on each track. It wasn’t until he was in grade school that White moved to Chicago to live with his grandmother on the south side of the city. White said the outcome of his adult life was almost predicted for him by the societal expectations of that neighborhood, before he could decide his fate for himself.

“I was going to school at a public school in Chicago for a little bit and music is like playing basketball there. It’s not like people grow up to try to play basketball there, it’s like you grow up and either get a job or you play basketball or you rap. It’s seriously that mentality and that is all you know. Ghettos are seriously built to trap you. But I was going to school and we’re sitting at the lunch table and this song Grindin’ came out when I was in the fourth grade and that’s when rap hit my radar.”

At the lunch table, White and his group of friends would play “musician.” White would tap out rhythms and beats on the plastic tabletop while others of his friends sang, added melodies or rapped on top of the claps and drums from his hands. It began as a way to dream in an environment where most kids wanted to get out of the inner city but didn’t have the means to, or didn’t know how.

When he was old enough to enter high school, White started buying his own recording equipment. That was the turning point. It was then White says he became obsessed with the idea of making his own music and one day becoming as famous as Kanye West and other big name artists. He bought an M-Audio keyboard for $200 and a USB microphone and stand for $200 before the age of 19.

Instead of letting his naiveté get the best of him, White got smart. He created a MySpace page dedicated to his creation of original music. He began working on tracks using FruityLoops, and decided to buy his first keyboard with money from (get this info from the interview tapes). From there, he says he still had much to learn in the way of approaching other artists to work with him on songs, but for the most part he found a way to make his work heard, albeit sneakily. He would reinvent his MySpace page, naming it after the artist or song he remixed. When people searched for that particular artist or song, they would come to White’s page instead. Even though it wasn’t initially what they wanted to hear, White says, he knew the visitor at least stayed a while to listen to his version of the song and may have then listened to other songs he produced. The exposure he gained from each of his songs earned his page more and more views, but it always made him work harder, he says.

After he figured out how to market himself and once his music was being heard, he realized he needed to improve even further. He began reaching out to other regional artists that had thousands-or-more song plays, a thing he coveted and desired for his own tracks.

White began networking. He wrote email after email to each of his desired collaborators. His early emails were a little less confident, he says. He would approach other artists as if he felt he wasn’t worthy, but wanted to be. At first, he would hear back with either a rejection or not hear back at all. But he didn’t let it discourage him – it made him work harder. He sent samples of his beats to more and more rappers in the upper Midwest area and beyond, hoping to find someone who would collaborate with him.

Finally, he felt his efforts paid off when a rap artist named The Werd, whose voice is heard on the track Careless from White’s second self-released album The Pink Tamago, collaborated with White.

“At the time I saw this guy’s page and he had a ton of plays and I was like, “How’d you do that? Yes, I will work with you!’ And at the time I didn’t realize that it was just a MySpace play generator that you could just pop all the songs you wanted into, but it fooled me. And on the side of the page it would say ‘Record Label (whatever you decide to put) and ‘Management, This Guy,’ and I’m like ‘Shit, a record label, a manager?’ What I didn’t realize is the record label was his own making, you know. But I was in total infant stage. Anything new that comes up to me, I’m just like, ‘What’s that? I’m interested!’, ‘Manager? I don’t have one of those!’.”

The Werd’s manager was Matt Murdoch. The Werd introduced White to Murdoch as a potential business partner. White was over the moon.

“So I’m like, ‘Why do I need a manager … well I’ll call him anyway’, so I talk to him and he’s like ‘Austin, good to hear from you, I’ve been hearing a lot from you from this guy, you know, The Werd?’ and he’s telling me, ‘so basically I’m looking for artists to produce hot tracks and The Werd sent me some of your stuff and it sounds hot Austin, we’re gonna do things, it’s gonna be awesome and we’ll talk later’ and as I hung up, I’m just cheesing from ear to ear, like ‘I’m gonna be BIG!’”

After his telephone meet-and-greet with Murdoch, White said he kept making beats for The Werd to use as a backdrop for his rap music, but all he kept hearing back from Murdoch was that the artist needed more beats. After a while, the communication on Murdoch’s end stopped. White felt he was being used, and decided to break ties with The Werd and Murdoch.

White says he learned a lot from that experience and grew from it. Rather than collaborating with anyone that was interested, White started researching artists in more depth. He chose to pursue working relationships with musicians who had experience and the credentials to back up their success. He slowly continued reaching out to rap artists, until he ultimately came across the up-and-coming rappers Theo Martins and Mike Posner a few years ago. White and Posner talked on the phone and from those conversations, White ended up headlining at a small venue in Michigan, which he says he wasn’t really prepared for at the time, but the show ended on a high note for him. White says he doesn’t regularly perform in front of crowds–that he’d rather be behind the scenes– but the show was a good way for him to branch out to a new segment of music listeners in Michigan, an area with which he was less than familiar at the time.

Mike Posner later reached stardom with his songs Please Don’t Go and Cooler Than Me, but White still has the artist’s phone number and says they occasionally keep in touch via email.

“With Mike I was going out on a limb. My mindset was ‘hey man, let’s work together.’ But I had to keep up my end of the bargain, too. And when he replied I was just felt like I was one step closer to working with Kanye,” he says, laughing. “Where I am now, I want to do producing and I want to make other people sound pretty. Of course, I want to rap and sing on my own, but I want to do it when I have the time and money to do it the way I want to. With me growing up not knowing anything about rap, now I’m in a position where when I make something, I’m not worried about what it’s going to sound like compared to what’s already out. I just make what I make without even worrying about what’s already out there. Because I feel like you’re not an artist until you stop totally caring about what’s already out there. And I never feel intimidated that I have to do something to gain exposure. I basically do what I do and feel that eventually it will come through.”

Now, at 23, White sees a small amount of royalties from past collaborative work with regional rappers and musicians from the Midwest, including Theo Martins, whose latest album Wonderland features White’s work on the track Killer. Currently, he posts his most recent beats and instrumental pieces to his Soundcloud page. The Soundcloud site is more than just a place to showcase his work; it allows listeners to comment on specific pieces of a song, providing direct feedback to him. The site also allows for a broad network of contacts within the music world, where White can find collaborators and share his talents with a wide variety of audiences. Even though he uses a fairly inexpensive approach to making his music these days, White says he still maintains a full-time day job at Mardon Salon. He ultimately wants to improve upon his past work as much as he can, with the time that he has. And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“It’s more than a hobby,” White says. “I’ll be working on this and trying to place beats forever. As long as I have a job that keeps the electricity going to propel my music, I’m happy.”

The Ryder ◆ August 2013

Afghanistan

The Juice Ain’t Worth the Squeeze ◆ by Douglas A. Wissing

Douglas Wissing is a Bloomington-based independent journalist who has contributed to the New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, GlobalPost, CNN, and BBC. His most recent book, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, was published by Prometheus Books.  This essay is adapted from his remarks at a Washington, DC press conference with representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) on May 15th, 2013. More info at his website.

The New York Times recently reported the CIA hauled tens of millions of dollars in cash to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s office in suitcases, backpacks and shopping bags. “Ghost money,” they call it. But instead of buying influence, the CIA money fueled corruption and funded double-dealing warlords, kleptocrats—and the Taliban.

When I was in Kabul, my taxi drivers liked to point out a marble-clad four-story mansion owned by Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum—a mansion that he reportedly paid for with his $100,000/month CIA payoff. It’s a nice place.

I recently returned from my third set of embeds with US troops in Afghanistan, and I saw firsthand the toxic system that connects ambitious American careerists, for-profit US corporations, corrupt Afghan insiders and the Taliban. The deeply flawed system continues to waste billions of American taxpayer dollars, without accomplishing our military or diplomatic goals–“phantom aid,” development critics call it.

US funds paid for teacher-less schools that were turned into houses and even brothels, falling-down clinics and hospitals, wells that disastrously lowered water tables, vastly expensive generators that have never been installed, fuel for nonexistent Afghan army vehicles. US funds paid for military logistics and development contracts that funnel enormous sums to Taliban fighters—to provide security against themselves.

A recent United Nations Security Council report estimates about 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan contracts funded by the US and other international donors end up in Taliban pockets.

Wissing

Doug Wissing In Afghanistan

USAID’s five-year, $150 million counter-narcotics program called IDEA-NEW was supposed to help Afghan farmers develop new crops so they wouldn’t grow illegal opium poppy. But instead of weaning Afghan farmers from poppy production, Afghanistan’s opium crop surged 61 percent during the IDEA-NEW program, including opium production in two provinces that were poppy-free when the program began. The UN reports that today Afghanistan still produces about 90 percent of the world’s opium.

The story doesn’t get any better as the projects get smaller. One US military development team told me about a useless animal slaughterhouse in Zabul Province. USAID and the military contracted out the project to an American for-profit development company. The expensive facility was built in the wrong place, which was just as well, because it had  floor tiles with a raised pattern that held blood. “Wall of flies,” the military veterinarian told me with a grimace. The worst part of the story is that this was the second failed slaughterhouse that US officials paid to have built in Qalat City. No one remembered the first one until after the second one had problems. I knew about failed US-financed slaughterhouses, because I’d seen one in Ghazni Province that now serves as the local dog-fighting ring.

Afghanistan is a great gig for the military-industrial and development-industrial complex. Even as the US troop levels are declining, the numbers of private contractors are rising. I’ve embedded three times at one large frontline base, FOB Salerno, in eastern Afghanistan. When I was there this winter, I started laughing when I saw all the civilian contractors. I asked the officer with me where the soldiers had gone. The officer just shrugged.

The enormous US embassy in Kabul is a forest of construction cranes as a gargantuan expansion is running at full steam. Private contractors are building an embassy complex for 2,000 people at a time when drawdowns will probably put embassy staffing levels at 600. One low-level State Department staffer laughingly told me that he was going to stay in Kabul—because he figured he could get a penthouse for his accommodations.

Tens of thousands of American and Afghan lives have been destroyed by this war. The death last month of Anne Smedinghoff, the 25-year-old diplomat killed in Zabul Province by a suicide bomber, particularly touched me. A few months before her death, she facilitated a meeting for me in the US embassy in Kabul with an Afghan Threat Finance Cell official, who railed about Afghan government corruption. Anne Smedinghoff was smart, informed, ambitious and witty.

She wanted to get out in the field, as US officials in the fortress-like embassy are seldom allowed out in Kabul. One of last things she said to me was that on a good day the embassy was like living in a small liberal arts college but on a bad day, it was like being in a maximum-security prison.

Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans were killed and many others wounded while reportedly “lost and walking around” in a wholly insecure environment. American commanders had told me major parts of Zabul were Taliban controlled.

I was on an earlier mission to the same base where Anne Smedinghoff was killed. To negotiate the two miles from another US base, my unit had to travel in a convoy of five armored gun trucks, accompanied by a heavily armed security platoon. I cannot fathom why a group of Americans was out walking in this dangerous situation. Anne Smedinghoff’s death was senseless and unnecessary. It was a stunning breakdown of operational security. With the details of Benghazi still being unveiled, it is important for Americans to learn the whole story about how Anne Smedinghoff came to be in harm’s way.

Secretary of State John Kerry also worked with Anne Smedinghoff at the US embassy in Kabul. Secretary Kerry was also touched by her death.  He spoke about what he called the “extraordinary harsh contradiction” of a bright young woman, who believed in diplomacy and western-style education, being killed while carrying books to a school. Anne Smedinghoff was on what the military calls a WHAM—a winning-hearts-and-minds mission. Kerry called it “a confrontation with modernity,” and a “huge challenge,” and said Anne Smedinghoff embodied “everything that our country stands for.”

When I first embedded in Afghanistan, I didn’t have a preconceived notion of the ground reality—“the ground truth,” as the soldiers call it. If anything, I thought that things couldn’t be as bad as they are. Today I can plainly say that many disillusioned American soldiers and civilians tell me we need to stop this waste of American taxpayer dollars on a war that’s unwinnable. Soldiers told me, “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

Picture 1

Wissing Interviews An Agriculture Consultant

After 12 years of an American intervention that economists say will cost over a trillion dollars, Afghanistan’s government is ranked as the most corrupt on the planet and sixth on the Failed States list. It is near the bottom of the World Bank’s Human Development Index infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita income, literacy, and electricity usage lists.

Twelve years in, with $100 billion in US development aid, and the country is still a disaster zone. The US is still spending $1.5 billion a week in Afghanistan.

Soldiers tell me, “We’re funding both sides this war.” They talk about “fighting the MAN”—the military acronym for Malign Actors Network. The insurgency continues to grow each year. Attacks are jumping to record levels. Every day American soldiers and civilians face injury and death at the hands of Afghan insurgents, who use mismanaged US logistics and development funds to help fight their war.

I cannot help but recall the remarks that John Kerry made on Capitol Hill in April 1971, when he was a young, anti-war Vietnam vet. Back then, 27-year-old poignantly asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

FILM: Four Summer Movies

From "The Great Gatsby"

Superman, Star Trek, Gatsby, & Other Magic ◆ by Lucy Morrell

● Man of Steel

Man of Steel is the newest reboot of the Superman franchise and it attempts to split from the other cinematic incarnations of the iconic superhero. Directed by Zach Synder (300) and co-scripted by Christopher Nolan (Memento, the Dark Knight Trilogy), Man of Steel begins with the military coup and destruction of the planet Krypton, necessitating the flight of newborn Kal-El to Earth, where adoptive parents raise him as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Flashbacks of childhood experiences punctuate Clark’s adult life, as the film attempts to establish the new Superman as a complex, brooding character, much like the most recent imagining of Batman. In taking this serious approach to Superman’s development, the film weaves between the two sets of parents, each sharing wisdom and advice, and although their speeches never quite turn into morality sermons, they do not lack inspirational fodder.

From "Man of Steel"

“Man Of Steel”

These familial relationships, specifically those with the father figures played by Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner, are weighted with questions of life and death, responsibility and acceptance, and lend the film a solemn air. The movie clings to this gravitas, quite understandably, as it tries to give the story its own credence and importance in order to stand apart from the other Superman films. The visuals, too, contribute to the sense of grandeur and seriousness, with beautiful shots of moments on Earth and the well-rendered demise of Krypton. In maintaining the tone, though, the film sacrifices humor and lightheartedness. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her interactions with Superman provide most of the (sadly few) comedic moments, and the audience seems to laugh as much out of relief as out of genuine humor. There is a desire, conscious or unconscious, for anything to break through the severity of the film.

When General Zod (Michael Shannon), one of sole remaining Kryptonians, comes to Earth looking for him, Clark has to make choices that determine the fate of both humans and Kryptonians, Thus the endless battling of the second half of the film begins. The damage is wrought in incredibly realistic detail, and whole city blocks and skyscrapers collapse into rubble. Yet for all the destruction and fleeing crowds, the fighting seems to have no meaning because it requires no sacrifice and offers no change. Superman and the other Kryptonians are basically indestructible, so their fighting is impersonal, despite occasional verbal bouts, and has little emotional weight. When a weakness does present itself, there is a hasty retreat back to the ships, and the fighting resumes again as though nothing has happened. Only the surroundings are permanently affected. The fighting’s significance, then, lies in what happens to the humans, but they, too, are treated impersonally. They die off in droves, not from the fighting itself, but rather indirectly from the resulting destruction. Superman never even thinks to draw the fighting out of Metropolis. Only when he is finally confronted with the death of a few (the deaths of a thousand unseen not having influenced his actions) does the status quo change.

So even though the film is visually dramatic (with plenty of explosions) and brings up interesting issues related to morality and the determining one’s fate, it is neither light-hearted enough nor clever enough to be truly pleasurable to watch. It is not a fun superhero film like The Avengers, nor is it as darkly intimate as the Dark Knight Trilogy. It seems to operate detached and distant on a scale of its own.

● Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams, the mind behind this Star Trek revamp and the soon-to-be director of new Star Wars installments, gives us Star Trek Into Darkness, a film more comfortable than challengingly new. In it Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are ordered into a potential war-zone on a manhunt for a terrorist later discovered to be Khan, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. There are a few twists, but the whole plot just seems to be an excuse for Captain Kirk and Spock to explore their feelings for one another. Depending on how one measures weepiness, Kirk cries about three times, and Spock about one and a half. But then again, Spock is only half human. Near constant fighting and explosions (which somehow make noise in empty space), however, work to offset any offense of overt sentimentality.

From "Star Trek Into Darkness"

“Star Trek Into Darkness”

The crew is a family now, no longer in the getting-to-know-you phase of the last movie, and with the actors interacting as such, the film comes across as easy and heart felt, if not particularly deep. All of the main characters from the series command the screen for at least a few minutes of dedicated airtime. Scotty complains, McCoy says snarly one-liners (replete with country metaphors), Spock is logical, and Kirk is bullheaded. While Ahura demonstrates her linguistic intelligence, she seems little more than her romantic role with Spock, providing a few heterosexual sparks in a movie filled with male romance.

In one of the few moments of depth, Kirk struggles with an ethical dilemma concerning his orders and their source. Butting against the always rational Spock and even the manipulative terrorist, Kirk has to determine where his loyalty lies and whether or not to compromise his principles for an order. For Kirk, who is always breaking the rules, such a conflict was bound to arise, yet this comes down to conflicting sources of authority. Unfortunately, a twist at the end sharpens rather than blurs the line between right and wrong, putting Kirk and Star Fleet firmly on the right side. What could have been an interesting dilemma, bound forever to a gray area in our minds, is resolved by having a traditional bad guy pop up in the last half hour. In the end, we do not have to fear for Kirk’s conscience, any more than we have to stress about the inevitability of a happy ending.

While the movie may not have made the audience think beyond its two-hour duration, it had a lovely and familiar display of characters that kept me engaged and smiling throughout. If the crew is a family, then it is the sort of family that I wouldn’t mind being a part of.

● The Great Gatsby

The latest re-imaging of The Great Gatsby comes with the typical visual extravagance of Baz Luhrmann. It is a spectacle of bright colors and glitz befitting the casual wealth, sex, and booze of New York City in the roaring twenties. The movie stays true to most of the original novel as Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) relates the tale of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Nick’s married cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). The novel itself is a voyeuristic first person narrative, but now in the transition to the screen, in order to justify a single man’s lengthy retelling of past events, the film conjures up a new framing device: an older Nick struggles to write about his experiences from within a sanitarium. His psychiatrist’s file neatly lists his reasons for being there, providing convenient and instant characterization, albeit heavy handed. This framework keeps emerging at every pause in the main storyline with the flashing to a feverish Nick surrounded by pages as he inner voice reads what he’s already written. While the Nick in the book is almost forgettable, a watcher of the protagonist Gatsby rather than the protagonist himself, the movie’s ever-present voice-over and frame device prevent him from ever fading into the background. Toward the end, the voice-over is even further emphasized with the addition of text, which dominates the screen and distracts from the story. Some of the beauty of the language is lost with the accompanying text because there is so much pressure on the words to stand apart from their written context and compete with the moving images. The text seems to exist only to prove the filmmakers capable of quoting from a book.

From "The Great Gatsby"

“The Great Gatsby”

That being said, the acting is well done, even if it takes a moment for the actors to disappear into their roles. DiCaprio is such a recognizable figure and Gatsby such an indeterminate character that at least initially it is hard to separate the two. The emotional intensity is there, but much of the subtlety of the novel is lost in the visuals, or marred by unnecessary flashbacks—flashbacks that revel in the beauty of the shot with little concern for an audience discovering truths on its own. Emerging from troubled clouds and star-studded skies, the flashbacks border on the ridiculous. At one point, Gatsby even marks the passage of his life with a grand gesture only to have a shooting star trace the path of his finger a second later.

Overall, the spectacle, while exciting to watch, seemed almost too obvious for a story about half-truths, rumor, hidden desire, and underlying social problems.

● Now You See Me

From director Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me is a movie about four street magicians gathered together by a mysterious organization to perform illusions, which involve real heists like robbing banks. The story is told mostly from the perspective of FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Dray (Mélanie Laurent) as they search for the truth behind the illusions. The law enforcement officers are, however, sadly formulaic. Rhodes is the experienced cynic, out of his depth and in a state of continual disgruntlement and aggression, while Dray, being a stereotypical rookie and woman, is more in touch with her emotions and talks about having faith. In a few instances, professional magician debunker, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) suggests the possibility of Dray double-crossing Rhodes, but rather than having their whole relationship evolve into a delicate power-play, it ends up turning into blunt confrontation again and again, with the oft-repeated conversation of “How can I trust you?” and “You must! Just have faith!” Rhodes and Dray’s relationship goes nowhere new in these exchanges, and the filmmakers seem to have confused dull antagonism with romantic chemistry, leaving the two to “naturally” pair up like soul mates in the end.

From "Now You See Me"

“Now You See Me”

As for the other characters, the movie relies heavily on letting the established personas of the actors stand in for much of the characters’ development. Jesse Eisenberg plays the same slightly neurotic fast-talker that he always does, and Woody Harrelson hangs out on screen as his typical affable wise-cracker. Within a few minutes of meeting each, we know exactly who they are, and nothing ever challenges our pre-conceived notions of them. Who really suffers from this sort of fallback characterization are the characters of the less-established actors like Dave Franco and Isla Fischer, whose only noticeable traits (at least to the other characters) are her beauty and her weight. The motivation of the four magicians is vague, as we spend almost no time with them, but it seems to be encompassed in the mysterious secret society known only as the Eye, which ostensibly protects magic and goes back to the days of the ancient Egyptians.

Despite all of its problems with characters, though, the film is entertaining and contains many of the staples of a fun summer action flick, namely heists, secret societies, and chase scenes. The magic tricks are actually explained as the film progresses, although it never goes seriously in-depth into their set-up. There is even a twist at the end, which is definitely unexpected, but may or may not be altogether believable. Overall, the film delivers what one might expect from a summer blockbuster: an action-filled plot with big-name actors in unremarkable roles.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

ARTS: From Knob Creek To The Big Screen

The Story Of A Homegrown Filmmaker ◆ by Malia Bruker

In the 10 years that I have been making films, my childhood spent at Knob Creek Road in Lawrence County, Indiana has always been a strong influence. I realized early on that my Mom and Dad were very different from my friends’ parents. My mom wore Birkenstocks with socks, didn’t shave her armpits, and didn’t eat meat (no, not even chicken). My dad played bass in jazz bands, had a big beard in a time and place of bare faces, and had no patience for conservative or religious bigotry. We stood out in Bedford, the traditional farming town where I went to school, but fit perfectly at Knob Creek, our little hippie community at the end of a gravel, dead-end road 20 miles from Bloomington.

It wasn’t until I left Indiana and saw a bit more of the world that I began to understand how others might describe Knob Creek: it was not a commune, but perhaps an intentional community. My parents and their friends were back-to-the-landers, fed up with consumerism and environmental degradation.

When I began studying media production at Florida State University, I once again felt out of place. I was not obsessed with any particular film director like my fellow students, and I had never heard of the French New Wave. I hadn’t even seen Star Wars. But despite the geographic isolation, the lack of exposure to media, and the relaxed, earthy lifestyle of my youth, I actually think that Knob Creek provided me a great background for being a filmmaker.

There were 10 children living at Knob Creek at its height, and all but two were girls. Although my brother found this situation something resembling hell, for me it was perfect. Most of our parents were not big on TV. We only got a few channels anyway, so we were often left to our own imaginations out in the wilderness. We played in the creek, grinded “make-up” out of the bedrock stones, pretended we were explorers, and spooked ourselves by imagining ghosts and witches in the woods. I’m convinced that if screenwriters had access to the mind of a bored child they  would have a lot better stories to tell.

Bruker

Malia Bruker At Knob Creek

Without the constant entertainment of TV or those nice, paved suburban roads to bike on, I read. A lot. I remember going to the Monroe and Lawrence County Libraries and piling up more books than my spindly legs could carry. (We did borrow the odd movie here or there as well—Spaceballs was a family favorite.) Although I didn’t realize it at the time, by reading so voraciously I was learning how to tell a story, how to build characters, and how to draw in an audience so well that you could even forget you’re in the middle of nowhere in Indiana in the midst of a hot, humid summer and your brother doesn’t want to play with you.

Because we were in such a remote area, our schools were quite small, and our classrooms were sparsely populated. In my 6th and final year at Heltonville Elementary, we only had 12 kids in the entire grade. That kind of attention from teachers, many very good ones, made my elementary and middle school education as solid as any private one. I kept reading and I even wrote my first book, Cloudy with a Chance of Furries, as an extra credit assignment (I’m still waiting for it to be picked up by Harper-Collins). I have never had much trouble putting pen to paper, which has made the first steps of creating a film much easier.

Knob Creek was also full of creative people—actors, photographers, painters, quilters and a lot of musicians. Bonfire sing-a-longs were regular occurrences, among other communal performances. What began as charades on New Year’s Eve turned into an all-out yearly performance of prepared skits and scenes. I have not one single memory of fireworks at midnight, but the images of the grown-ups, red in the face and dressed in costume, are still clear in my mind. One of the moms even wrote plays for us kids to perform, which were thrilling despite the fact that the stage was a creek bank and the audience sat in chairs in a field. There is still nothing I like better than participating in an act of creativity, and I learned early on that it is best when collaborative—essential qualities for a filmmaker.

When my family left Knob Creek and moved to Miami, Florida my junior year of high school, my entire life changed drastically. That is probably very obvious and also an understatement. I was quite different from my peers, a fact only exacerbated by my history teacher, who told all of his classes about “the Indiana kid who lived where there are farms!” Despite my attempts to fit in, I was “the Indiana kid,” or just “Indiana” according to my basketball coach, or even “Wyoming” to our senile athletic director.  Instead of isolating myself, I opened up in Miami, and found that as boring as my life might have been, it was interesting to those kids because they had never heard anything like it. If there is one thing I could say about my favorite film directors, it would be that they have unique perspectives. I hope they could say the same about me.

My family has been quite mobile since our time at Knob Creek. My parents moved from Miami, back to Bloomington, then to California. I moved from Florida to Colorado to Philadelphia, where I now live. My documentary, Heirloom, is the closest I’ve come to capturing what Knob Creek has meant to me throughout all of these changes, although most of the film was shot elsewhere. Heirloom is set on a 4-month long road trip I took with my parents as they returned from their home in California to Bloomington, where they will retire. Throughout the film, as my parents get closer and closer to their home, I realize that I really cannot go back to Knob Creek, not the Knob Creek of my childhood. It is a tough realization, the stiff awakening from the nostalgia of youth, but in the process I learned that Knob Creek has carried me this far and will be with me the rest of my filmmaking days.

Bruker

Coming Home?

[Editor’s note: Heirloom will have its premiere screening in Bloomington at Bear’s Place on August 17th at 5:30pm. Malia Bruker’s recent film Chase, which takes a humorous look at the banking industry, will screen prior to Heirloom, and she will be in attendance to discuss both films.]

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

 

 

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BOOKS: Exit Roth

Notes on the Occasion of Philip Roth’s Retirement ◆ by Kevin Howley

Last October, a few months shy of his 80th birthday, Philip Roth, America’s most celebrated living novelist, quietly announced his retirement. Roth made the disclosure in an interview with Les Inrockuptibles, a French cultural magazine. Weeks later, Salon confirmed Roth’s retirement with his publicist at Houghton Mifflin and the Paris Review translated Nelly Kaprielian’s complete interview with Roth. Assessing his handiwork – some thirty books over the course of more than half a century – Roth invoked not a man of letters, but a sports legend from his youth: “At the end of his life,” Roth recalled, “the boxer Joe Louis said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.” Roth’s “best” is a poignant, incisive, inventive, raucously humorous, sometimes controversial body of work. Any appreciation of Roth’s legacy, however modest, would do well to take Roth’s own assessment as a starting point. What was it, then, that Roth had to work with?

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1933, Philip Roth was raised in a working class, secular Jewish household: a milieu Roth plumbed for his antic comedy, most notoriously, Portnoy’s Complaint, as well as his darkest imaginings, The Plot Against America. The Newark of Roth’s youth – a vibrant urban space with decent schools, ethnic neighborhoods, and a bustling downtown figures prominently his work. As does Newark after de-industrialization, white flight, and the racial tensions of the 1960s that decimated a quintessentially American city. Roth’s evocations of Newark are rarely romanticized; instead, Newark serves to ground his characters, and their stories, in a discrete and discernible time and place.

Roth

Of his forsaken city, Roth writes in the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral, “It was Newark that was entombed there, a city that was not going to stir again. The pyramids of Newark: as huge and dark and hideously impermeable as a great dynasty’s burial edifice has every historical right to be.” The calamity that befalls Newark provides the backdrop to the familiar catastrophe that wrenches the novel’s protagonist, Seymour “Swede” Levov, from his “longed for American pastoral … into the indigenous American berserk.” Levov’s harrowing tale, as recounted by Roth’s most enduring character, the writer Nathan Zuckerman, is part of a trilogy that includes I Married a Communist – a period piece set in the McCarthy era – and The Human Stain. Arguably one of Roth’s most vivid, sympathetic, and penetrating portraits, The Human Stain tells the story of Coleman Silk, a respected professor of classics at a small liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts, and his great undoing on the alter of political correctness at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

The gravity of Roth’s work finds its antithesis in the comic absurdity of some of his most memorable and imaginative fiction: The Breast, wherein the protagonist, Professor David Kepesh, another of Roth’s recurring characters, undergoes a Kafkaesque metamorphosis into an enormous mammary gland; Our Gang, an uproariously indignant response to the excesses of the Nixon White House; and, most famously, the aforementioned Portnoy’s Complaint – the book that made Roth rich and reviled. At once a product and send-up of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Portnoy’s Complaint signaled Roth’s arrival as one of America’s preeminent satirists.

Alexander Portnoy’s psychoanalytic confession of sexual defilement and insatiable appetite to the silent therapist, Dr. Spielvogel, is an extended Jewish joke. Of course, not everyone got the joke. Despite its rebellious, ribald, and unprecedented assault on sexual taboos, feminists decried Portnoy’s Complaint, chiefly, but not exclusively, for its caricature of Mary Jane Reed (aka The Monkey). Others lambasted Roth for exploiting, reinforcing, and legitimating stereotypes of Jews and Jewish life. This was not the first, nor would it be the last time, Roth provoked the ire of Jewish readers. His first published short story, “Defender of the Faith,” created an uproar among those who took the tale to be the work of a “self-hating Jew” whose comedy did nothing to dissuade the goyim from their distaste and distrust of the chosen people.

Roth’s work provokes and explores a central question: What does it mean to be a Jew living in postwar America? This thematic concern – some, including Roth in the guise of any number of his protagonists, might call it an obsession – is a particularly rich vein for his fiction. Indeed, Roth’s autobiographical dexterity – as much a reaction to his perceived self-hatred as it is a declaration of his Jewishness – proved an excellent vehicle to interrogate the relationship between fact and fiction, lived experience and imagination, authors and their creations. Most evident in the Zuckerman trilogy – The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson – this theme permeates other work as well. Consider, for example, Operation Shylock, wherein the writer Philip Roth confronts his double, or Roth’s nonfiction, including the deeply moving account of his father’s prolonged illness, Patrimony, and The Facts, Roth’s autobiography, in which Nathan Zuckerman writes an afterword that puts the book’s veracity into question.

And yet to define Roth exclusively or even primarily as a Jewish writer limits our understanding, and appreciation, for his art and craft. One needn’t have grown up a Jew to know the shame and guilt that adolescent boys, fond of whacking off, know all too well. One only needs a prick to register a familiar laugh, as when Alex Portnoy, fearing the worst – that his self-abuse has given him cancer – just can’t leave it alone.  Inevitably, inextricably, Portnoy’s paranoia yields to his desire: “If only I could cut down to one hand-job a day, or hold the line at two, or even three! But with the prospect of oblivion before me, I actually began to set new records for myself. Before meals. After meals. During meals.”

Then there is Roth’s love for that other national pastime: baseball. Consider the audaciously titled The Great American Novel, which tells the story of the ill-fated Port Ruppert Mundys: a team so bad it has no home field. A team so inept that the franchise has been stricken from all of baseball’s recorded history. When the Mundys actually win a game – albeit an exhibition game against the inmates of a local insane asylum – the players recount their exploits with the same gusto and gravitas you are likely to hear when Bloomington’s boys of summer enjoy a bit of tailgating down at Twin Lakes softball field. “‘Yep,’ said Kid Heket, who was still turning the events of the morning over in his head, ‘no doubt about it, them fellers just was not usin’ their heads.’”

Roth’s gift for farce is matched by his single-minded devotion to the novel. From the writerly introspection of his most radical work of fiction, The Counterlife, and his editorial stewardship of the Penguin series, Writers From the Other Europe, to his collection of literary interviews and criticism, Shop Talk, this much is clear: Roth is a writer’s writer. In his exit interview, Roth said, “I’ve given my life to the novel. I’ve studied it, I’ve taught it, I’ve written it, and I’ve read it. To the exclusion of practically everything else. It’s enough! I don’t feel that fanaticism about writing that I felt all my life. The idea of trying to write one more time is impossible to me!”

If Roth, trickster that he is, is to be believed and he really is retired, his final series of short novels, culminating with Nemesis, a study in “the tyranny of contingency,” caps a luminous and prolific literary career.

[Kevin Howley is professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is indebted to Professor Parke Burgess, his undergraduate advisor in the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences at Queens College, for introducing him to the work of Philip Roth.]

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

MUSIC: The Thrill Of Victory

The USA International Harp Competition ◆ by Megan Landfair

This time last summer people around the world were waiting with bated breath for the start of the 2012 London Olympic Games. The excitement of seeing the world’s top athletes strive to perform at their highest level had audiences from all walks of life glued to their TVs and computers for two weeks. This summer, you’ll be happy to know that you can witness the competitive spirit again right in Bloomington! On July 10-20, the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is hosting the 9th USA International Harp Competition.

Fifty of the best harpists from around the world, ages 16-32, representing twenty countries will travel to Bloomington in hopes of winning the gold medal. One of the first traditions they will take part in is the Opening Ceremony scheduled to take place in Auer Hall on July 10th at 4:00 p.m. Contestants will be greeted by Indiana’s political elite and be assigned their performance order.

Throughout the ten days competitors strive to achieve their peak performance in order to win the coveted $55,000 Lyon & Healy Gold Concert Grand Harp. To win the gold harp, they must pass through four stages in which they will be judged by seven world-renowned musicians. Like many Olympic events, the competition jury members will utilize a point system for each harpist but instead of being judged on their athletic prowess the points are based on musicianship, technique and artistic presentation.

The first stage will last for three intense days, after which the jury will identify only half of the harpists for the next round. From the field of 25 in Stage II, only eight will move on to Stage III.

At this point the harpists will have to show mastery of the instrument by demonstrating their ability to perform both traditional repertoire and a brand new piece, written specifically for the competition by French composer Benjamin Attahir. At the end of Stage III the jury will decide which three harpists continue to the final stage.

Following nine days of intense competition, diverse musical interpretations, and world-class performances, the excitement will culminate at the Musical Arts Center on Saturday July 20 where the finalists each perform with the Indiana University Summer Festival Orchestra. Shortly following their performances, the Closing Ceremony will commence with the presentation of the medals and the gold harp.

So why does the Jacobs School of Music host this prestigious event? The school has the largest harp department in the world. It also has Distinguished Professor of Harp Susann McDonald who founded the competition in 1989. Just like the USA Gymnastics team, the IU harp department has had a long-standing tradition of distinction and excellence. This year six participants from the Jacobs School will represent this country.

2010 Harp Competition Winners

2010 Winners (l-r) Vasilisa Lushchevskaya, Russia; Agnes Clement, France; Rino Kageyama, Japan. Photo: Alain Barker

While it is exciting to watch the competition unfold and see a winner announced, the ultimate goal of the USA International Harp Competition is to foster friendships, bring together musicians from around the world, and introduce the harp repertoire to a broader public. Just as with watching an Olympic sporting event, the recognition of the competitor’s hard work is celebrated throughout the ten days.

This summer, be sure to come out and be part of the excitement. The competition is in your own back yard and all events, including the finals at the MAC, are free and open to the public. For more information a complete schedule of events visit USA International Harp Competition.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

MUSIC: From Heroic Complexity to Beautiful Simplicity

Britten

The IU Festival Orchestra Performs Works by Richard Strauss and Benjamin Britten ◆ by Kristen Strandberg

The Indiana University Festival Orchestra will perform an exciting variety of works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as part of the annual Summer Music Festival. The orchestra, under the direction of David Effron, will appear with internationally renowned soprano and IU alum Heidi Grant Murphy as guest soloist on July 12. The program features several short pieces for soprano and orchestra, along with two orchestral works, ranging from Richard Strauss’s somewhat complex pieces, to Benjamin Britten’s beautiful arrangements of folk songs.

The orchestra will perform several songs and an orchestral work by Richard Strauss, whose music is sometimes dark and chromatic, while also at times triumphant and heroic.  The composer wrote Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) for orchestra in 1898—the same year he wrote his best-known orchestral work, Also Sprach Zarathustra, which film director Stanley Kubric famously used in his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ein Heldenleben, in which each movement serves as a vignette representing one facet of the hero’s life (loosely based on the composer’s own life), presents some similarities to the now-ubiquitous Also Sprach Zarathustra. Both works demand a variety of techniques from the orchestra, often contrasting powerful bursts of sound with smooth, lyrical melodies. Strauss also uses recurring melodies that represent specific people, objects, or ideas, known as leitmotifs. Strauss borrowed the concept of the leitmotif from composer Richard Wagner, and modern film composers commonly use leitmotifs to represent characters or situations. Ein Heldenleben’s opening melody in the cellos and horns, for example, represents the hero himself. The work premiered in Frankfurt in 1899, conducted by Strauss himself, and its American premiere took place in Chicago in 1900.  It remains an audience favorite and is still frequently performed.

R. Strauss

The Young Richard Strauss

The orchestra will perform three other works by Strauss, alongside soprano Heidi Grant Murphy. Along with his tone poems and operas, Strauss is well known for his over 200 songs for solo voice accompanied by either piano or orchestra.  The three Strauss songs on the Festival Orchestra’s program offer some variety to listeners. The music in Ständchen, for instance, clearly depicts the images of nature in the text, such as a babbling brook, and noticeably shifts when the text describes images of darkness.  In Meinem Kinde, written about ten years later in 1897, the orchestra and voice sound like two separate entities, only briefly coming together about halfway through the piece. The soprano melodies in Säusle, liebe Myrte! are perhaps the most operatic of the three Strauss works on the program, with soft, subtle sections, balanced with soaring high notes.

In contrast to the variety and complexity of Strauss’s songs, Benjamin Britten’s folk song arrangements for solo voice and orchestra evoke a familiar simplicity. Britten, a twentieth-century British composer, firmly believed that music should be available to everyone. He wrote some of his music for amateurs and, unlike many of his contemporaries, was concerned with accessibility and popular taste. His folk song arrangements follow this philosophy, with their popular origins and simple melodies.  The Salley Gardens, for instance, features a smooth, murmuring orchestra in the background, accompanying a beautiful soprano melody without big melodic leaps or impressive operatic techniques.

Britten

Benjamin Britten

The Festival Orchestra’s concert also features two other folk song arrangements by Benjamin Britten and arrangements of two traditional songs with Murphy, along with one other orchestral work, Barber’s 1931 Overture to ‘School for Scandal.’  The concert takes place on Friday, July 12 at 8pm at the IU Musical Arts Center.  Tickets may be purchased at the MAC Box Office (855-7433), or online.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

ARTS: The Petit Paris And Me

Correcting Life’s Little Mistakes ◆ by Tom Roznowski

Childhood is about entering life through doors left unlocked. I was taught from an early age that America has more doors with light shining under them than anywhere else in the world. Growing up here, you sense it must be coming from the sun shining on a distant horizon: the satisfaction of a good day past or the anticipation of the new day ahead.

A few years ago, there was a historic analysis done of the so-called happiness index. It indicated that collectively Americans felt the greatest sense of optimism and security in their lives during the year 1957. Statistical guru Jeff Sagarin tells me it’s even more definitive than that. He focuses on the resonance of one single day: October 4, 1957. That Friday saw the launch of the Sputnik satellite into space, the television debut of Leave It To Beaver, and a travel day for the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Yankees as they battled in an epic seven game World Series. (I should mention here that the previous week, “That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets was the hottest selling single in America).

Curiously, that year has also been cited by long-time New York City residents as the finest the city ever felt during the 20th Century. Urban environments are by their very nature dynamic and complex, so calculating the high point of their evolution is at best a doubtful exercise. That said, in 1957 New York City Miles Davis was recording Miles Ahead, Madison Avenue had real Mad Men, and My Fair Lady was playing on Broadway. Oh yea, and Mickey Mantle was 25 years old as he trotted out to play center field for the home team. I consider this some fairly persuasive evidence.

My own childhood was spent in the post-war suburbs of Albany, New York, which in 1957 was the capital of the most populous state in America. New York would be eclipsed by California in that regard while I was still in grade school, but culturally and commercially the Empire State remained the nation’s epicenter for a while after that. This was another random stroke of good fortune for me. California would come to reflect America in the last quarter of the 20th Century, when we were obviously not at our best.

Friday, October 4, 1957, would have found me walking home from school along another Madison Avenue, the main commercial district for my neighborhood. Albany was about 135 miles from New York City, a far greater distance back then. I don’t think I’d insult my hometown by remembering it as comparatively provincial. Still, Albany was close enough to absorb occasional cultural resonance from the great city to the south.  If one could have ever devised an antenna expressly for that purpose, I believe it might have been planted on the roof of 1060 Madison Avenue.

I always had a fascination with the building as I passed by it back then. But as a small child, my curiosity would have only been met by a locked door. So now it’s left up to me, over 50 years and 700 miles distant, to uncover the secrets of what lay hidden on the other side. That light beneath the door is dim and smoky. Press an ear close to hear the music and chatter, occasionally punctuated by a loud laugh and the clink of plates and glasses. Inhale the aroma of strange cooking and imagine some big fun for adults inside.

1060 Madison Avenue in Albany, New York was the address of the Petit Paris. I remember it as an undistinguished stucco building with weeping ivy and a plain wooden sign. Modest elegance, you might say. Tiny windows were set to either side of an arched oak door; an indication that daylight held little sway with the business going on within.

Petit Paris

The Petit Paris, Albany, New York

A restaurant—that was about all it revealed to me. The dinner menu for was framed in a showcase above the mail slot. It featured Flaming Sword Coq-au-vin, Escargot, and Crepe Suzette: generic French cuisine for post-war America. I would guess that more than a few of the customers had served in France during the war. Having experienced the country at its worst, perhaps some veterans were eager for a chance to change their impressions. A skilled chef and a full bar might help there.

So would the movie Gigi, which would soon premiere to rave reviews, eventually winning the Best Picture Oscar. Set in the vibrant Paris of the 1890s, Gigi was originally intended by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner to be follow-up to their tremendously successful run of My Fair Lady on Broadway.

Turned out they took a detour on the way to the stage. Hollywood producer Arthur Freed essentially made the pair an offer they would not refuse, yet one more victory for California over New York. Already in 1958, New York City and Brooklyn had lost major league teams to the West Coast. To some, Gigi justified the means by grossing over four times the film’s bloated budget.

This was essentially the same method of persuasion used to dispatch the Petit Paris. One afternoon as he was wiping down the bar, owner Mike Flanagan received an early visitor. He inquired whether the place might be for sale. Mike named an unreasonably high price, figuring it would discourage a merely curious buyer. One month later, the visitor returned and they shook hands on the deal. On July 3, 1973, the Petit Paris closed. Within two months, it was bulldozed to make way for a supermarket. I was working a summer job in the Catskills and heard the news in a phone call home.
So I never did walk through that big oak door and I guess I must have regretted it ever since. On a whim recently, I entered “Petit Paris Albany” into the Ebay search engine. Lo and behold, there it was. An old unused postcard revealed what was waiting on the other side in that smoky light.

The photograph shows white linen tablecloths with napkin tents and champagne buckets. A huge painted mural on one wall depicts something regal and historic. Soft blue colors dominate the club. I imagine Maurice Chevalier’s top hat in Gigi was a similar shade.

And then, an unexpected surprise; the kind previously locked doors can reveal when you get past childhood. An elevated stage for live performance complete with velvet curtains, a baby grand, and huge potted palms to either side. Wonder of wonders, it turns out the Petit Paris was actually a swanky nightclub.

Looks like there would have been just enough room on stage for a five piece combo. Why, after few phone calls a long weekend of dates featuring Miles Davis and his road band might be arranged. Maybe the core group he’d use for the Kind of Blue sessions. Do you think Coltrane would make the trip? Friday night.  I’d order an appetizer, their best vintage, the Chateaubriand, saving just enough folding money to bribe the band into playing “My Funny Valentine.” And the waiter would keep filling my glass.

After the last set, I’d step out into the brisk October night and hail a cab. Union Station, I tell the driver. I check my wristwatch. Last train to Grand Central. Game Three of the World Series is tomorrow afternoon in Yankee Stadium. I have box seats along the third base line.

Sure, I already know the outcome. That’s why I’ve set my dream date for New York City one year later: October 4, 1958. Game Three on that Saturday will still feature the Yankees and the Braves with Mantle in center. Only this time, the Yankees win in seven.
A short stretch of perfection; just enough to make me believe that there are no locked doors; that every knob I reach for will turn gently in my hand.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

FILM: Summer’s Here And The Time Is Right…

From "Summer Rental"

…For Watching Films Indoors ◆ by Craig J. Clark

According to Hollywood, the summer movie season has been in full swing since the beginning of May, but by the time July and August roll around, temperatures are sweltering enough that it just doesn’t pay to go outside, even if your destination is an air-conditioned screening room. That’s why, instead of putting yourself at the risk of sunstroke, it’s much better to stay put and watch one (or more) of these summery cinematic treats.

The mid-80s had no shortage of movies about how people chose to spend their summer vacation – or their lack of one as in Carl Reiner’s Summer School. In it, high school gym teacher Mark Harmon’s planned getaway to Hawaii is scuttled when he’s tapped to shepherd a class of misfits through a remedial English class. Helped along by fellow teacher Kirstie Alley (his requisite love interest), Harmon tries his best to engage his inattentive charges, which leads to much high-jinks, including a classroom screening of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Nothing spells “summer” like watching a movie where other people watch a movie.

From "Summer Rental"

“Summer Rental”

Carl Reiner was also responsible for Summer Rental, in which frazzled air-traffic controller John Candy is given some much-needed time off and uses it to take his family to Florida, where a cascading series of mishaps prevents him from getting much rest and relaxation. His plight does give rise to one of the mainstays of ’80s comedies, though: the montage sequence where everybody pitches in to fix something up. In this case, it’s a boat that Candy needs to get shipshape so he can win a regatta, a plot point that also figures into the Nantucket-set One Crazy Summer. Written and directed by Savage Steve Holland, the auteur behind the ’80s classic Better Off Dead, it’s about a singular season of screwiness during which hapless cartoonist John Cusack and his pals (whose ranks include Bobcat Goldthwait, Curtis Armstrong, and Joel – brother of Bill – Murray) band together to save Demi Moore’s grandfather’s house from being razed by some shady developers. (That’s another trope of ’80s movies that could inspire an article all its own.)

From "One Crazy Summer"

“One Crazy Summer”

If you don’t mind getting a little arty, boating is also central to Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika, which was his first film to make a splash on these shores, largely because its American distributor capitalized on the title character’s fleeting nudity by releasing it under the lurid title Monika, the Story of Bad Girl. Said bad girl is played by Bergman’s muse, Harriet Andersson, who convinces her boyfriend to steal his father’s boat so they can get away from Stockholm for a few months. Andersson returns in Smiles on a Summer Night, which was made two years later and deals with the romantic entanglements of several couples. A classic of world cinema (one of many Bergman would turn out over the course of his career), Smiles later inspired the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music and Woody Allen’s pastoral A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, which isn’t quite on the same level, but it’s still plenty funny.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been brought to the screen on a number of occasions – most notably in a 1935 adaptation with the once-in-a-lifetime cast of James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney (as Puck) and one from 1999 that features Kevin Kline, Christian Bale, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sam Rockwell, among others – but if William Shakespeare seems too daunting, you can always give Tennessee Williams a try. First staged in 1958, Suddenly, Last Summer was adapted by Williams and Gore Vidal the following year for Joseph L. Mankiewicz to direct. In the process they had to skirt around some of the issues that the play addressed more directly, but Elizabeth Taylor remains a force of nature as a patient in a mental hospital whose vindictive aunt (Katharine Hepburn, who was nominated alongside Taylor for Best Actress) wants kindly lobotomist Montgomery Clift to go to work on her. Before he can do so, though, he has to get to the bottom of what happened the previous summer, suddenly.

From "Suddenly, Last Summer"

Elizabeth Taylor In “Suddenly, Last Summer”

Williams’s flair for the psychosexual reared its head again in 1961’s Summer and Smoke, based on his 1948 play. Directed by Peter Glenville, it’s about a wastrel of a bacteriologist (Laurence Harvey) and a repressed preacher’s daughter (Geraldine Page, earning her first of many Best Actress nominations) who live next door to each other in a small Southern town and are about the most incompatible would-be lovers as you could ever imagine. That doesn’t prevent Harvey from trying his best to drag Page down to his level over the course of a particularly sultry summer.

Those who wish to go abroad without actually leaving home would be advised to look up David Lean’s Summertime, which got the director hooked on location shooting. Set in Venice and filmed in glorious Technicolor, it stars Katharine Hepburn as a spinster fulfilling her lifelong dream of visiting that most photogenic of Italian cities. What she doesn’t anticipate is that she’ll fall in love with a handsome Italian in the process.

From "Early Summer"

“Early Summer”

If the Far East is more to your liking, you can visit Tokyo in Yasujiro Ozu’s Early Summer and The End of Summer. In the first, Ozu regular Setsuko Hara plays a young woman who wants a say when her family decides it’s time for her to get married, and in the second, released a decade later, she’s one of the daughters of a widower who takes up with his old mistress. As is Ozu’s practice, both films are punctuated by shots of the Japanese countryside and downtown Tokyo, making them a miniature travelogue.

Doubling back to Europe, why not spend a couple of Summer Hours in the French countryside? In the 2008 film, which comes complete with the Criterion seal of approval, a family that is widely dispersed has to figure out what to do with their estate when matriarch Edith Scob dies. All three of her adult children have their own ideas about what to do with it, but as writer/director Olivier Assayas observes, it is the next generation that will be most keenly affected by their decision.

If beating the heat isn’t high on your agenda, then turn off the air conditioning to get the full effect of the sweltering Summer of Sam. Directed by Spike Lee, whose Do the Right Thing proves that he knows how to evoke a hot summer’s day, the film is set in New York City in the summer of 1977 when the Son of Sam was on the loose and tempers flared across the boards. Of course, if you’d rather not be reminded of real-life horrors, there’s always Red Hook Summer, in which Lee reprised his role from Do the Right Thing. Like Summer of Sam, that one had a hard time finding an audience and divided critics, but perhaps it plays better when people can watch it in the comfort of their own homes.

Oddly enough, Red Hook Summer could have easily been an alternate title for I Know What You Did Last Summer, which is about what happens when a quartet of fresh-scrubbed television stars is stalked by the Gorton’s Fisherman. Photogenic young people are frequently the focus of contemporary horror movies, especially those that take place at summer camps, but it took the makers of I Know What You Did Last Summer and its follow-ups – I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer – to put the word right in their titles. I cannot in good conscience recommend that you watch any of them, though (unless you’re nostalgic for the days when Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze, Jr. were considered bankable stars). Instead, why not cool off with an affectionate send-up of summer-camp movies?

From "Wet Hot American Summer"

“Wet Hot American Summer”

Set on the last day of summer camp in the Catskills, way back in the mists of time (also known as 1981, making it the spiritual successor of the Bill Murray vehicle Meatballs), Wet Hot American Summer was the debut feature of David Wain, who co-wrote it with fellow State alum Michael Showalter and stacked the cast with troupe members Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino and Joe Lo Truglio, plus such ringers as Janeane Garfalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler and H. Jon Benjamin. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that if you’ve watched any American comedy film or television series in the past decade, you could have seen (or, in the case of Benjamin, heard) half its cast here first. Few did, though, because Wain’s film received a critical drubbing and at best a token theatrical release in the doldrums of 2001, but in the years since it’s attracted a sizable cult audience. If you’re not yet a part of it, now’s your chance to hop aboard.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

113 Days of Art

IU is hosting dozens of performances and exhibits throughout the summer ◆ by Hannah Waltz

This summer, the Indiana University Art Museum will host dozens of exhibits from artists all over the world as part of Bloomington’s 113 Days of Art. Among the not-to-be-missed events is a Midsummer Night on June 21st, an evening of art and live music to welcome in the official beginning of summer. From 7-9:30 p.m. guests can stroll through the three permanent collection galleries and gawk at night-themed art, including works by Picasso. Inspired by the wonders of the night, guests are encouraged to enjoy a drink on the Sculpture Terrace and listen to live music beneath the stars by The Dynamics, performing r&b, funk, and blues classics by artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Parliament Funkadelic.

An evening of jazz is scheduled for July 26th, during which the museum will host the Urban Jazz Coalition, which will spotlight Diane Pelrine’s gallery talk about the important relationship between African textiles and American jazz, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. in the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery of the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas.

The Kinsey Institute’s Annual Juried Art Show is one of the most anticipated exhibitions of Bloomington’s 113 Days of Art. The eighth annual show will be held in the Grunwald Gallery and runs through July 13th. The exhibit will show pieces of various mediums that investigate issues like sexuality, the politics of sex and gender, and romantic relationships among many more.

For Betsy Stirratt, the Grunwald Gallery director, the Kinsey Institute’s exhibition is at the top of her recommendation list. “The Kinsey Institute Juried Exhibit is always an interesting show,” Stirratt said. “It allows us to show a lot of great artists from all over the world and quality pieces.”
This show is a thought-provoking break from the societal norm. “It portrays sexuality in a way people don’t normally think about,” Stirratt said. “People tend to think of it as a certain type of show, like an erotic art show, but it really isn’t that. It’s not a typical perspective, and that’s really important.”

On July 19th the Grunwald Gallery will hold the opening reception for the Bloomington Photography Club Juried Exhibition from 6-8 p.m., which can be viewed through the 27th of July. “It’s our community show,” Stirratt said. “It’s an important contribution to the Bloomington community.”

The Lilly Library will also serve as a venue for this year’s 113 Days of Art, as it shows off its exhibition entitled “The Grolier Hundred,” which showcases one hundred of the most famous works of English literature. “It’s some of the most valuable books that we have in our collections,” said Rebecca Baumann, the reference associate at the Lilly. “There are lots of titles and authors that people will recognize as some of the high points of English literature.”

The exhibition was first opened over one hundred years ago in 1903 in New York City as one of the most significant rare book collections of the century. The Lilly Library in Bloomington became home to ninety-nine of the Grolier Hundred works in the mid 1950’s when J.K. Lilly, Jr. began gathering as many pieces from the collection as he could. The writings represent a wide range of literary genres, including history, law, science, fiction, poetry and drama.

One of the most prized pieces of the collection, Shakespeare’s First Folio, also known as Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, which was published in 1603, will also be on display. “If festival-goers are interested in great literature, this is a must-see,” Baumann said.

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures will host several exhibitions that will stimulate any viewer’s creative juices. Keeping those Indiana roots alive, the exhibit titled “The Day in Its Color: A Hoosier Photographer’s Journey Through Midcentury America” will showcase through June 23rd some of Indiana-native Charles Cushman’s 14,500 photographs. Other anticipated exhibits include “In the Kitchen Around the World,” which will display food-processing objects from different countries, “Time As We Keep It,” which explores the phenomenon that we call time, and “Footsteps of a Stranger: Shoes from cultures around the world,” among others.

Additionally, Folklorist and Director of Traditional Arts Indiana John Kay will give a lecture on “Southern Indiana Gravestones and Their Makers” on June 14th at noon in which Kay will speak about his research and Hoosier gravestones.

Music

Don’t forget about the audible arts this summer at the Indiana University Musical Arts Center (MAC). Packed with performances by world-renown musicians, this season will offer an abundance of opportunities to bring music to your ears. Although nearly every week in June and July is full of concerts, a few notable performances should be noted. On Monday, July 8th at 7 p.m. William Harvey will deliver a lecture called “Teaching Music in Afghanistan.” Harvey is the Orchestra Director at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) where he also teaches violin and viola. After attaining degrees from both Julliard and Indiana University, Harvey founded the Afghan Youth Orchestra as well as Cultures in Harmony. The latter is a non-profit that advocates for cultural understanding through music. Harvey will speak in Sweeney Hall.
On Wednesday July 10th, the opening ceremony for the USA International Harp Competition will be held in Auer Hall, beginning at 4 p.m. Founded in 1989, the competition is held every three years in Bloomington. The finals will be held July 20th at 7 p.m. on the MAC Stage.

Film & Theater

Film and theatrical arts in Bloomington are not hard to come by, especially during summer’s 113 Days of Art. The IU Cinema and the Indiana Festival Theatre will be hosting various films and live performances respectively from different genres and time periods. This year for the first time the Cinema will host the Slapsticon Film Festival from June 27-30th, a national comedy film festival that spotlights silent and early sound films with Chaplin, Keaton, and more. Other summer film showings include the 2013 film The Reluctant Fundamentalist about a Pakistani man and his post-9/11 struggles, screening May 24-26th, and Bayou Blue, a film that explores the “decay of a community” in Louisiana that screens with live music on May 30th at 7 p.m.

The Ryder

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