Small Town Punk Band Aims To Revive The Scene

by ● Sophie Harris 

Is punk dead? Some might say yes, but Jello Biafra, former member of the Dead Kennedys, thinks there’s hope for the future of Punk in America. With bands like Stabscotch forming in college towns across the US, he may be right.

James Vavrek, Tyler Blensdorf, and Zack Hubbard met as students at Crown Point High School and formed Stabscotch when they migrated to Indiana University.

[Image at the top: The Faces Of Zack Hubbard, James Vavrek, and Tyler Blendsdorf Are Hidden In The Rungs]

Their name refers to the knife in the fingers game — where one person places their hand face down on a flat surface, fingers spread apart, and a second player with a sharp knife stabs the space in between the fingers. (I like to be the person with the knife.) In the past semester, the Stabscotch released a 10-song album that was released in May on Bandcamp. The album was named Eldritch, and the members pride themselves on the variety displayed throughout the tracks.

“We work on music between classes, during the evening, whenever our schedules will allow it,” says Vavrek. “It’s important to us.”

The band members know that the scene in Bloomington doesn’t promote a lot of punk, and they face challenges finding a fan base and forming a solid following.  However, due to the music scene in Bloomington, the band members have searched for other forms of music support. Instead of focusing all their efforts on local endeavors, the band members say they use the Internet to find other punk lovers out there.

“We’ve connected with people all over the world through our music,” says Vavrek, who uses social media and the Bandcamp site to promote their original material.

House shows are a popular form of demonstration for local bands to showcase material and meet people, and Stabscotch takes advantage of these opportunities whenever they can.

“House shows are great because there are tons of random people there, and sometimes you’ll make new fans if they like what you’ve been playing,” says Vavrek. He mentions that the shows have a tendency to get rowdy, but that that works well with their sometimes-aggressive style of music. The band members mention that sometimes they have to adjust to the vibe of the crowd, depending on the show or audience.

“One of the best things about punk music in general is that it’s a great way to channel your energy, aggressive or otherwise,” says Vavrek.

For Blensdorf, his main interest resides in the creative elements of the band.

“Tyler has the biggest motivation to write and create,” says Vavrek, “And we all really pull weight in different arenas of the band.”

Although the band members agree that they love punk music, they’re open to adapting to what they’ve got to work with.

“We know there’s not much of a punk scene here, and we want to make our fans happy,” says Vavrek. “We don’t want to box ourselves in to something concrete if it will limit us performance-wise. Music is adaptable and always changing, and so should we.”

The Ryder ● December 2014

Last Minute Christmas Shopping

by Colleen Wells

It’s Christmas Eve and a light rain falls from a dreary sky. I’m in a foul mood because I’ve got last minute shopping to do for Christmas and our family has just been to see Dr. Foley, a holistic health practitioner who has urged us to clean up our diets. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means I need to be extra thoughtful in my grocery shopping.

I already ordered some under $20 items from LL Bean, including gummy worms lying in small, plastic tackle boxes, solar powered flashlights, and foot warmers that can be placed in the toes of shoes, but it is not enough loot to fill the stockings. I must get that done, too. I ask Rick and our two sons to wait in the car, knowing I’ll be buying surprises for them.

While approaching the grocery carts, I notice there are only a handful of them available, never a good sign. The handle of my cart is wet from rain. I take a deep breath and wheel it through the door. The overhead florescent lights are shockingly bright. While I’ve been sensitive to this on occasion, today’s blaring intensity throws me further off kilter. The upbeat, piped in music seems louder than normal, too. With the assault to my senses and an acute awareness of people in various states of pre-Christmas nirvana, I feel like I’ve  just been launched into a giant pinball machine.

I remind myself to stay away from the canned and boxed foods as much as possible. I also recently read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. The author explains that healthier fare is found in the perimeter of the store.

Slowing down by the hummus on my way to the lettuce, I see the case is surrounded by people, and skip it. I always thought that I fed our sons pretty well and prided myself on the fact that unlike many children, they enjoy things like hummus, sushi, and salad.

I navigate toward the veggies, to stock up for our new approach to health. After picking up spinach for salad, I head toward the other vegetables along the wall which is lined with shoppers. A woman is examining a long, white vegetable while the produce clerk explains its bitter taste. Dr. Foley told us that Yakob’s craving for peanut butter was indicative of his nutritional deficiencies which could be counterbalanced by eating a wide assortment of bitter-tasting veggies. I consider the item, but it resembles a small limb from a Birch tree and decide that even if I could figure out how to cook it, there is no way I’m going to get the kids to eat it. I bypass the man and woman still discussing the vegetable’s finer points. While reaching for some squash and zucchini, I’m thinking it must be nice to have time for such banter. Next I select broccoli and carrots before heading toward the bananas and apples.

I circle back to the organic dry goods, recalling that Dr. Foley recommends spinach pasta. When we presented him our food diary, he pointed out that most of the items we’d charted turn to sugar in the body, including the pastas; and suggested we try spinach noodles.

Locating the spaghetti I’m amazed at how dark it is and wonder how it will taste. I grab some kettle-cooked potato chips. The chips are not on my list, but then again, I don’t have the list. It’s at home hanging on the fridge. Upon making my way past the pharmacy, I dodge a swarm of people gathering near the check-out lines by taking a hard right down an aisle. Finding myself in paper goods, I remember that we need toilet paper, recalling Rick’s dissatisfaction with the new, eco-friendly brand I bought last time.

He had said that we owed his daughters, who visited over Thanksgiving, letters of apology because it was so abrasive. They will be back a few days after Christmas and I search for the softer kind that is still environmentally friendly, but can’t find it. While I’m reaching for the Charmin, a woman is talking on her cell phone across the aisle and I overhear her say, “Well the parking lot was packed, but people are in good spirits, so it’s not too bad.” Her hair is fashioned in a French twist and she’s wearing a tailored coat. Holding the phone to her ear with manicured fingers, she seems to not only be able to multi-task, but is also in control of her purchases, and probably never buys the wrong kind of toilet paper.

There’s nothing in this aisle suitable for stocking stuffers, but I’m delighted when I stumble upon nightlights that double as small clocks in the next row. Remembering that I want to get Christmas treats for our animals, too, I head toward the pet section and pick up some cat nip and a felt glove with long pieces of string attached to the fingertips. The packaging guarantees hours of fun. After selecting some balls and rawhide chews for the dogs I spy a table of stuffed animals nearby.

Feeling a painful tug at my heart, I reminisce about how I used to love to get our sons new Teddy Bears for Valentine’s Day. The softer and more plush the bear, the better. But the boys are no longer interested in them, so I grab some York Peppermint Patties from a nearby display. They are Rick’s favorite candy and his stocking needs filling, too. Scanning the table for more stocking stuffers, I’m disappointed that the remaining offerings include only gift wrapping paraphernalia. I back up my cart to turn around toward the magazine aisle in search of a particular one the boys like, and nearly side-swipe a shopper. I look up to apologize and it’s the woman with the French twist who is still on her cell phone. She casts me a look of disgust.

I’m thinking about how rude it is to talk on the cell phone and shop–indeed the near collision wasn’t completely my fault– and inadvertently pass the magazines. I then miss part of an announcement that comes over the intercom, something about thanking faithful shoppers and singing Christmas songs for a prize.

Seconds later a patron is crooning “Away in a Manger” over the intercom system. Her voice is gratingly off-key and heart-felt, an awful combination on both my ears and psyche. I’m feeling the added pressure of knowing Rick is probably growing impatient in the car. That’s when I go into a zone and start grabbing random things: ranch dressing seasoning mix, a variety of flossing implements for Rick’s stocking and plastic dinnerware with Miley Cyrus smiling up from the plate and bowl. The boys claim to hate her, but they often watch her show and I feel deliciously wicked as I place their gag gifts in my cart.

Sometimes there is no room to move my cart around the other patrons, so I abandon it and walk past them to reach my items. Every time, I think about how I’ve left my purse in the cart, how it isn’t wise, but I don’t have the energy to bring it along. It’s a hulking Vera Bradley book tote that I’ve been meaning to downsize.

Someone is dramatically singing “Santa Baby” now and I notice a couple shaking their heads. They are dressed in jeans and both have unkempt hair. The man is sporting wire-rimmed glasses and a wide belt embossed with a Western design. The karaoke is getting to me, too, so I make a beeline for the register, passing by Mrs. Goodwin, the boys’ principal on the way. We exchange hello, but don’t stop to talk as we normally would. I gather from her contemplative expression that she’s on her own last minute mission and grant her the space to get it done in peace.

Falling in line at a register, I realize I’m still short on stocking stuffers and snag some sugarless gum. Glancing at the ingredients, I wonder what kind of chemicals makes it both good for your teeth and raspberry-flavored. There are too many to read in one sitting. Michael Pollan says anything over five is a bad sign. Normally there are all sorts of goodies at the check-out, but everything is picked over and the boys don’t need film.

While I’m loading my purchases onto the counter in defeat, I take care to stockpile the meager assortment of stocking stuffers, making a mental note to ask for a separate bag. When I look up from the task, Yakob is standing there watching me, and I lose it.

“What are you doing?” I yell. “You’re supposed to be in the car!”

His large, brown eyes widen with a look of hurt. He hands me an umbrella saying, “Pop wanted you to have this.”

Before I can explain my reaction, he turns away, head lowered.

The denim-clad couple who shook their heads over the goofy music is behind me, staring in shock.

“I just didn’t want him to see his stocking stuffers,” I say.

The man pushes his glasses back further on his nose.

“I understand,” the woman says. “This is the first year our son didn’t want a stocking. He asked me to give one to his girlfriend instead.”

“I guess that’s what I have to look forward to,” I say, suddenly overwhelmed by sadness.

The man’s face softens with a sympathetic smile.

The cashier is someone who is normally cheerful but isn’t today. Through previous conversations, I’ve learned that she’s the mother of four children, and my heart goes out to her having to work so hard on Christmas Eve, dealing with frantic shoppers. As she finishes with the previous customer, I realize things could be worse. She begins solemnly ringing up my purchases and I tell her about the separate bag loudly enough so she can hear me over the baritone voice belting out “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” She alerts the approaching bagger of my request. He’s just come back in and is soaking wet, and now I understand Rick’s sense of urgency about the umbrella.

The singer’s efforts garner him a round of applause from the crowd gathered at the nearby pharmacy awaiting their turn for a chance at the prize. The irony is not lost on me that the pharmacy, which regularly doles out twenty-first century medications for depression, behavioral issues and diabetes is now pulsing with holiday cheer.

At the end of my transaction I thank the cashier, and wish her and the bagger happy holidays, then glance back at the couple and say good-bye.

As I’m heading toward the door, someone starts to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I push my cart faster until I’m outside in the pouring rain and search for our car. Several seconds pass before I see it in the distance. While fishing for the umbrella in my purse, a woman runs toward me with a newspaper pressed to her head. She is wide-eyed and muttering, “This is madness.”

I pause and try to think of some encouraging words to say.

All I can offer her is “Good luck” and a weak smile. I raise the umbrella, and move forward with my cart of random crap, focusing on the silhouettes of my family, waiting for me in the car, blurry through the raindrops.

The Ryder ● December 2014

1994

The Year Indie Broke ● by Craig J. Clark

Much like punk rock had been around in some form for years before it came to a head – as documented in 1991: The Year Punk Broke, filmed while Nirvana was on tour in support of Sonic Youth just before the release of Nevermind – the independent film scene had been percolating for a few decades when it experienced a similar breakthrough in 1994. From the pioneering work of John Cassavetes, who burst onto the scene with 1959’s Shadows and continued forging his own path throughout the ’60s and ’70s, to ’80s success stories like John Sayles, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and Hal Hartley, independent film was a haven for those interested in telling the kinds of personal, idiosyncratic stories that studios had largely given up on. It took Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1989, though, to bring about a sea change that would come to fruition just five years later.
With Sex, Lies, and Videotape, fledgling distributor Miramax Films had its first bona-fide hit, and it was soon followed by such award-winning auteur-driven fare as Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, Jane Campion’s The Piano, and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. The two writer/directors that Miramax heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein forged the closest ties with, though, were Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. Before he hooked up with the Weinsteins, Tarantino notched one art-house hit with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, but Smith only had an undistributed student short to his name when he arrived at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1994 with his raunchy debut feature Clerks tucked under his arm.

 

From "Clerks"

Kevin Smith & Jason Mewes In “Clerks”

It’s a familiar story, but one that bears repeating. On black-and-white stock bought with a few maxed-out credit cards, Smith spent his nights filming with a crew made up of his friends and a cast of unknowns in the same convenience store where he toiled during the day. When the end result got accepted to Sundance, it was in competition with the likes of Lodge Kerrigan’s Clean, Shaven, Rose Troche’s Go Fish, David O. Russell’s Spanking the Monkey, and Tom Noonan’s What Happened Was…, the eventual winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award that year. Smith didn’t go home empty-handed, though, since Clerks shared the Filmmakers Trophy with Boaz Yakin’s Fresh and got some much-needed momentum that took it all the way to Cannes, where it played in the International Critics Week section and received the Award of the Youth and the Mercedes-Benz Award.
Of course, the big success story at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994 was Quentin Tarantino’s Miramax-backed Pulp Fiction, which won the Palme d’Or, beating out strong competition from the likes of Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun (later to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film), Atom Egoyan’s Exotica, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Red, Abbas Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees, and Yimou Zhang’s To Live. That paved the way for it to become a crossover hit when it went into general release, which also benefited Clerks since Miramax sent out its trailer with Pulp Fiction that fall. I suppose that makes Smith the Nirvana to Tarantino’s Sonic Youth, but there’s no question about which one went on to made a bigger impact on the culture at large.
The kind of left-field success story that could make just about anybody say, “Hey, if he could do that, I can do that,” Clerks depicts a disastrous day in the life of perpetually put-upon 22-year-old convenience store counter jockey Dante (Brian O’Halloran), who frequently laments that he isn’t even supposed to be there. Between his relationship woes – caught between his thoughtful girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) and Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer), the cheating ex he’s still holding a torch for – and his interactions with surly video store clerk Randal (Jeff Anderson, who has the most facility with Smith’s wordy dialogue), Dante has plenty on his mind even before he decides to close the store to play hockey on the roof or attend the wake of a former classmate.
And then there are Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Smith himself. Strange that they wound up being the film’s breakout characters, but that’s largely because Smith continued to write them into his scripts, giving them more to do each time out (save for Chasing Amy, when they’re relegated to a brief but memorable cameo). When Dante and Randal lament that there are a “bunch of savages in this town,” they could very easily be referring to the miscreants dealing drugs right in front of the stores, regardless of how wise one of them turns out to be. The main takeaway from Clerks, though, is the way it perfectly captures the dead-end feeling of working a menial job with absolutely no prospects.

 

[Featured image: Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Harvey Keitel & Quentin Tarantino On The Set Of “Pulp Fiction”]

Just a few years earlier, Quentin Tarantino was in a similar position, logging time behind the counter of a video store and dreaming of hitting it big. His dreams were more genre-inflected, though, as the criminal-minded Reservoir Dogs showed, and he was ambitious and focused enough to parlay its success into a far more accomplished film (something Smith failed to do with his Clerks follow-up Mallrats, which he made for Gramercy Pictures). Pulp Fiction was also highly influential, inspiring a horde of pop culture-referencing crooks and a mini-boom of films with achronological structures. What Tarantino’s imitators failed to take into account, though, was that there was more to his scripts than the snappy dialogue and callbacks to ’70s cop shows.
With its multiple, overlapping storylines, Pulp Fiction gave Tarantino the freedom to be more creative than he had with Reservoir Dogs, which had a more typical flashback structure. Bookended by scenes showing the preamble to and follow-through of an impromptu diner robbery, the main body of the film drops in on characters operating at different levels of Los Angeles’s criminal underworld. There’s hit men Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (John Travolta making his big comeback and Samuel L. Jackson in his breakthrough role), who retrieve something belonging to their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), after which Vincent pays a visit to his friendly neighborhood heroin dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) and takes Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman) out on a not-date. Then there’s the story of past-his-prime palooka Butch (Bruce Willis), whose attempt to make a killing in the ring and get out of town clean hits a snag when he has to retrieve a watch left behind by his French girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros). Finally, Tarantino jumps back in time to show what happened to Vincent and Jules between when they picked up Marsellus’s briefcase and when we saw them deliver it.
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. I’ve barely even hinted at the flavor of the film’s crackling dialogue or the multiplicity of indelible supporting characters Tarantino created with Roger Avary, who shared the Best Original Screenplay award with him come Oscar time. Who could possibly forget Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer), the monologue delivered by Christopher Walken’s Captain Koons, or Butch and Marsellus’s run-in with Zed, Maynard and the Gimp? And then there’s Harvey Keitel’s memorable turn as The Wolf, who comes to Vincent and Jules’s aid in their hour of need. If he had wanted to, Tarantino could have followed up Pulp Fiction with a series of spin-offs recounting the solo adventures of Butch or Jules or The Wolf (or just about anybody in the film, really). Instead, he’s spent the two decades since diversifying his interests, shifting gears with each new film he writes and directs while remaining true to his independent roots. And he’s even picked up a few more Academy Award nominations along the way (for writing and directing 2010’s Inglourious Basterds) and won his second Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 2013’s Django Unchained. That says a lot about his ability to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry.

 

The Ryder ● December 2014

Poles Apart: Ida

Poles Apart: Framing Polish History in Ida

By Tom Prasch

Notice how often, in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, the unusual square frame of the film barely contains the main figures. They come into the frame at the corners, as if the camera weren’t quite aimed at them. Or again, notice how often, as the camera holds stationary, characters move through an image, the camera refusing to chase after them in a pan. Two obvious such moments: when Ida, finding sanctuary in a church on her journey, sits down on the cot she has been provided, and in the process almost vanishes from the frame; and when we last see Wanda, crossing across the interior view the camera holds and out of the frame. Although many frames of this film show but a single figure, there are strikingly few close-ups.
Ida is set in Poland in 1962, and its images—somethingabout that squared frame, and the black-and-white film stock, with its rich range of grays—have the feel of old snapshots, a fitting framing for a historical subject. And, incidentally, this is likely the most strikingly composed film you have seen in ages, each frame carefully balanced and thought through, shot by shot a film of exquisite visual beauty despite (or is it because of?) the relentless bleakness of its landscapes, the spare starkness of its interiors. But that tendency of the camera to focus past its central figures, to hold them to the edges, not to be about them, suggests something else about that moment in time as well: that this was not a time of heroic, bigger-than-life personalities; indeed, perhaps that this was a time when individuals scarcely mattered, against the grinding indifference of broader historical processes.
For all that, Ida is nevertheless a deeply personal story, anchored to two women’s life trajectories (the handful of other characters who wander into the film’s frame scarcely matter), those two lives brought rather surprisingly together to shape one odd road trip. The set-up is easy: Ida, a war orphan raised by church, now a young novitiate, is preparing for a life in the nunnery when she is told by her priest that she has one living family member who she must visit before taking her vows (the number of survivors in her family constitutes her/our first clue). The relative is her aunt Wanda, aka “Red Wanda,” a moniker earned for her ferocious pursuit of ideological purity during the just-passed Stalinist era (Khruschev’s “secret speech” about the excesses and errors of Stalinism in 1956 had ushered in a thaw, and a change in government in Poland in 1961 provided its provincial echo; in the film’s timeframe, this is reflected in Wanda’s exile from the centers of power, although her Party status still comes with privileges, like a roomy apartment and a steady supply of spirits). Wanda, in turn, provides Ida with a revelation (and provides it with wry, sarcastic glee): that the girl who is about to become a nun is Jewish.
In most respects, Ida and Wanda seem poles (so to speak) apart: one inexperienced, chaste, modest, nearly silent as she explores an unfamiliar world, and deeply Catholic; the other rough and rowdy, hard-drinking and heavy-smoking and drawn to joyless one-night stands, and firmly Communist. Yet at another level they are the same: both living embodiments of the destruction of and silence about Polish Jewry. Each exemplifies a familiar sort of story about that abandoned heritage, orphan Ida’s Catholic upbringing the compromise over faith that ensured her survival, Wanda’s siding with the Communist partisans against the Nazi occupiers a deliberate choice of ideology over faith or family. The journey the two take to learn (both of them) the buried secrets of the shared family history reveal another all-too-familiar story about Polish Judaism, and about Polish complicity in the Holocaust, although the specific dynamics of that tale refuse to follow the predictable black/white dichotomies we expect of our Holocaust tales. There are Polish peasants who sheltered Jews, Polish peasants who turned Jews over to the Gestapo, and Polish peasants who killed Jews themselves while claiming their goods and land; sometimes, Polish peasants made more than one of these choices.
In its excavation of this war-era past, Ida follows familiar precedents. A vast range of postwar Polish historical cinema, after all, has engaged this Holocaust-haunted terrain: think Andrzej Wajda, whether at the start of his career or near the end of it; Agnieszka Holland, in the trilogy that launched her career or her most recent work; Roman Polanski, when being true to his Polish roots. But Ida’s real uniqueness lies elsewhere, in its limning of the mid-Communist era, roughly halfway between war’s end and the emergence of Solidarity. To put it another way: Ida and Wanda’s road trip may take them to a familiar destination, the Holocaust in their own family, but the territory it goes through on the way, the “present” of Poland in 1962, is far less familiar in historical film. For Pawlikowski, born in 1957, the work amounts to a recollection of childhood through the distancing lens of exile (the director having lived outside of Poland since the age of thirteen).
Two adjectives summarize Ida’s vision of mid-Communist Poland: bleak and compromised. The bleakness shows in, well, everything, for this is a Poland still war-ravaged, unthriving under Communist rule, deeply agrarian and thus impoverished in its roots: its barren rooms, its material paucity, its range of grays; its austere churches, its impoverished peasants, its shabby hotel rooms, its sad jazz bands playing in near-empty halls in provincial hotels, everything about it dated and ragged and spartan. The compromises figure throughout as well: in the carefully constructed complicity between Catholic church and Communist state, so unlike either the ferocious opiate-of-the-people official atheism of other Communist states or the firm established-church foundations of Catholicism in pre-war Poland; in the choices made, and then unmade, by Polish peasants, living once upon a time side by side with Jews, seeking survival under successive waves of Soviet, then Nazi, then Soviet occupation; in Wanda’s own life choices (which were, after all, unlike Ida’s, actual choices) to give up faith and family (and how much family we learn through the course of the film), but to get in return a place in the postwar hierarchy; in Wanda’s post-power position, her role in the show trials and repression of the just-ended era neither quite valorized nor condemned, her privileges preserved but her place shifted silently toward the margins; in that jazz band, their music on the one hand a modernizing/westernizing vibe, Coltrane tunes and beatnik vibe and just a hint of the rock ‘n roll that had not quite come that far east yet, but on the other hand, in those empty halls, with their modest means, lacking lyrics with which to stir dissent, finally utterly unthreatening, an avant-gardism the state can live with.
Ida and Wanda’s road trip in Ida ends with its own discoveries and revelations; those, in turn, lead the two protagonists toward actions that re-accommodate the terms of their lives (and their compromises) with the new knowledge they have acquired. But I can’t talk about any of the details of that until after you have seen the film; come back next month and we can discuss it. Meanwhile, however, in a fascinating interview with film blogger Sydney Levine, Pawlikowski laid out three paradoxical aims for his film: “I wanted to make a film about history that wouldn’t feel like a historical film—a film that is moral, but has no lessons to offer…. Most of all, I wanted to steer clear of the usual rhetoric of the Polish cinema.” In all three aims, Pawlikowski masterfully finds a cinematic language to embody his paradoxical intent. The result is a visually stunning masterpiece.

Krampus!

The Yuletide Beasts That Inspire Good Behavior ● by Elizabeth Ross

Naughty children, run! Mean children, hide! On the evening of Saturday, December 6, the Krampus will come to Bloomington. Who knows about all of the little tricks that were pulled and tantrums that were thrown by Bloomington children in 2014? The Krampus know.

We all know the story of Santa Claus leaving lumps of coal for naughty children to find in their stockings on Christmas morning. However, jolly Santa hardly ever brings children coal these days. Our modern-day Santa turns a blind eye to bad behavior, but in the Germanic tradition, St. Nicholas does not. St. Nicholas rewards nice children for their good behavior but also brings his beastly counterparts, the Krampus, to punish naughty children for bad behavior. Some historians believe that the story of Santa Claus leaving children lumps of coal originated with the Krampus. By reminding us that bad behavior has consequences, the Krampus teach us accountability and inspire good behavior.

[Photo: Aaron Lingenfelter]

The Krampus are large, hairy, wild beasts that have large horns. They’re grunting, grumpy creatures that bare their fangs and sharp claws at children who make mischief. They lumber and leer, but they are surprisingly quick when they chase the children who taunt them. According to legend, when the Krampus  use a sack or a basket to capture wicked children and whisk them away. When the Krampus encounter ill-behaved children, they’ll frighten them by growling, chasing them, shaking bells, clattering chains, and swatting with “routen” (switches that are made of birch branches). When they touch your face, they leave an ashen smudge that brings bad dreams. Krampus delight in frightening the wicked and take a mischievous approach when they mete out justice.

The legend of the Krampus predates Christianity; its roots are in the European mummery tradition of people dressing as animals and mythic creatures during the winter season, much like our Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating. In the eleventh century, German communities began to celebrate the Krampus tradition more frequently, and by the seventeenth century, the Christian Church paired the Krampus with St. Nicholas. The Catholic Church and the fascists of World War II tried to ban Krampus celebrations, but the tradition endured. Legend has it that the Krampus come on Krampusnacht, the night before St. Nicholas Day, the day when children look in their shoes to see if St. Nicholas left them in a treat as a reward for being good all year. Attending Krampus celebrations and sending Krampus-themed holiday greeting cards called Krampuskarten are traditions that continue today. The Krampus have many names throughout Alpine Europe: Knecht Ruprecht, Perchten, and Pelznickle are a few. And the name “Krampus” comes from “krampen,” the German word for claw.

The Krampus came all the way from Alpine Europe to Bloomington three years ago, and they started a tradition of terrorizing the town every early December. They parade through downtown (down Madison Street, starting at 4th Street) as St. Nicholas directs them and their handlers reign them in. Last year they tromped through the snow as nice people watched them and naughty people feared them.

At the beginning of the parade, angels dressed in white hand out stickers labeled “naughty” and “nice” for children and adults. You decide which sticker to wear. (We have many naughty adults in Bloomington, and the Krampus know who you are!) Children can choose their sticker, or their parents can choose for them. Parents, you know your children best. If your child is frightened by picture day at the mall with Santa Claus, she probably isn’t ready for Krampus night. But if your child loves to taunt you and play “catch me if you can,” Bloomington Krampus Night might be the perfect time for him to wag his tongue and run while the Krampus chase after him. Wear a “nice” sticker, and St. Nicholas or an angel may give you candy for being good. The Krampus may look at you, puzzled, but they won’t torment you. Wear a “naughty” sticker and beware the Krampus that are coming for you!

This year you can visit the new Krampus bazaar in Shower’s Commons, where you can enjoy a festive winter celebration. Visit the bazaar before the parade if you want to play games, win prizes, and take pictures with photo backdrops. You can warm up by a fire pit with some food and drink. (Remember to bundle up!) After the parade, if you get to the bazaar quickly enough, you might be able to take a picture with a Krampus, if a handler can manage to get one of them to hold still for you.

Also beware the late-night fright of the Krampus. After the parade, during which they are under the tight control of St. Nicholas, the Krampus have been known to escape and run rampant around downtown Bloomington. You never know where they might go. You might turn around and jump when you find a Krampus lurking silently behind you as have a drink at a local pub.

Bloomington Krampus Night is brought to you by a crew of volunteers – local artists and friends in the Krampus Legend and Arts Workshop (KLAW) – and is primarily supported by your donations and in part by the City of Bloomington Arts Commission and the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association. This year the Krampus crew returned to Alpine Europe to capture more wild Krampus for the 2014 Bloomington event. To learn more and participate in a contest to name one of our new Krampus, get social media updates from the crew on Facebook (search “Bloomington Krampus”), Twitter (@btown_krampus), and Instagram (search “Bloomington Krampus”). Parents on Twitter, brag about your child’s good behavior if he is #stnickssaint, or call out your child’s bad behavior if she is #krampusbait. You can also enter your Krampus Night photos in our Instagram photo contest. For more information about the event, visit Krampus Night.

The Ryder ● December 2014

Indiana University Basketball

A Guide To Your 2014-2015 Indiana Hoosiers ● by Michael Roberts

It is autumn now, or as it is better known in Bloomington, basketball season. If you aren’t yet familiar with this year’s version of the Indiana University men’s basketball team, count on two things to fall this November: the leaves, and their jump shot. This team gets buckets. The Hoosiers got a head-start on their season by traveling to Canada in early August for NCAA-sanctioned preseason exhibitions against Laval, Ottawa, Carleton, and McGill universities, and the University of Quebec at Montreal. With four wins and one loss (to Ottawa), they came back confirming what we thought we knew about them — most notably, they can shoot. Shooting ability was the theme of this year’s recruiting class, and that’s what they will undoubtedly deliver. With a somewhat motley group in the frontcourt (forwards and centers) precariously supported by last-minute freshmen recruits, the team will lean heavily on the elite shooting and athletic ability of its guards. Eleven of the team’s fifteen players are freshmen or sophomores; “playing young” is an obstacle they will have to overcome. It also means introductions may be necessary. Let’s meet the new additions to our 2014-2015 Indiana Hoosiers.

Jeremiah April Center

Jeremiah April’s commitment to IU came as a surprise last spring; the Hoosiers needed help in the frontcourt after Noah Vonleh’s decision to enter the 2014 NBA draft, as well as the midseason departure of Luke Fischer, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s inconsistent play and availability. April was totally off the radar and his commitment seemed to come before the general public even knew he had an offer from IU. It was late in the recruiting process for 2014-15, but there was still opportunity for under-recruited players to receive offers from schools who found themselves in need of extra help. At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, the Joliet, Illinois native averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds during his last season at Westwind Prep in Phoenix, Arizona. He is raw; his skills need to be polished and his strength increased. He missed all of the action on the team’s trip to Canada with an ankle injury, and has been seen wearing a boot since then, so he’s been in a state of arrested development. When he does eventually make it onto the court, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it took him a while to shake off the rust and get accustomed to the higher level of play. Earning minutes off of expected starters Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea will be a tricky job. Until we see him get healthy and play some actual basketball, it’s hard to imagine that happening to any meaningful extent this year.

Tim Priller Forward

Tim Priller was another late, surprise commitment seemingly out of nowhere for IU back in April. Most people responded, “Who?” and rightly so. Before IU came along, Priller only had offers from Albany, Drexel, Illinois-Chicago, and Lamar. IU head coach Tom Crean and his staff watched Priller in practice a couple of times in the spring before extending him an offer; what they saw from him was a unique skill set for a 6-foot-9 forward highlighted by his excellent shooting ability. In his senior season in high school in Texas, Priller shot 51 percent from three-point range, 48 percent overall, and 78 percent from the free-throw line. Speaking in June, Crean said of Priller, “I loved what I saw on film and it wasn’t just the ability to make shots, it was how he impacted games when he wasn’t shooting the ball. It’s drawing a charge at 6-foot-9 at the end of a game to win a game. It’s grabbing a big rebound. He’s got to get stronger.” Priller appeared visibly bigger by the team’s Canada trip in August, where he logged 44 minutes of action through the five games. He made three of his five three-point shot attempts. Another “raw” freshman, his role is likely to be just situational initially, but could grow as he adapts to the physical demands of college ball; his unique combination of size and shooting ability will help him get into games.

Emmitt Holt Forward

Emmitt Holt! Remember that name, because it may end up being a big one for IU this season. Holt is yet another unusually late commitment for IU; his commitment came in late August of 2014, so he missed the Canada trip. Holt was originally a member of the 2014 class, but decided to reclassify as a member of the 2015 class in order to grow his recruiting options; however, knowing IU’s desperate need for assistance in the frontcourt, new IU assistant coach Chuck Martin spoke with Holt about the possibility of visiting IU and again reclassifying to the 2014 class. He did so, and committed during his visit. Holt is more likely to be able to contribute immediately than April or Priller, though, because unlike those two, Holt has shown well at the highest level of AAU basketball. At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds with senior-season averages of 19.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and 5.0 blocks making him a finalist for Mr. Basketball in New York, and AAU averages of 11.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, Holt represents a physical, athletic, and, especially, defensive presence that IU greatly needs in its frontcourt. If Holt pans out and gives the team the extra rebounding and rim protection it needs, IU may be off the hook in regards to its frontcourt problem, and acquiring him a year early will prove a shrewd move. Speaking after Holt’s commitment, Tom Crean said, “We are excited to bring Emmitt to Indiana at such a late date…. He is coming off a very impressive high school season and also an outstanding spring and summer with the Albany City Rocks. He would have been a high level recruit this coming year and we are happy to have him now.” Chuck Martin deserves a big hand for Holt’s recruitment, and Crean agrees.

Max Hoetzel Forward

Max Hoetzel is a 6-foot-8 forward from Calabasas, California. He became a recruiting target for the Hoosiers only after he transferred to Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts in order to gain more exposure. The Hoosiers visited WMA, but to see teammate Goodluck Okonoboh; WMA coach Chris Sparks recommended Hoetzel to them for his three-point shooting ability, which was something the Hoosiers needed. It never worked out for Okonoboh, who committed to UNLV, but for the next few weeks IU would continue recruiting Hoetzel, and two days after taking an official visit to Indiana, he committed. Hoetzel is a versatile forward who can do a little bit of everything. “He’s a lot like a Chandler Parsons type,” WMA coach Sparks said. “I’d compare him to Kyle Korver too, but that’d be selling him short on his athletic ability.” He needs to improve his stamina and strength, which are issues probably resulting from his ACL tear as a high school sophomore and later injuring his meniscus. In a July press conference, Tom Crean said of Hoetzel, “…strength is a big thing for him right now. He’s not coming in with the base that some of the others are, the physicality that he needs to have.” Assuming his strength imroves, another good NBA comparable is Tobias Harris, who has a similar height/weight profile, is a do-it-all small forward and can play power forward too. In Canada, Hoetzel averaged 5.6 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes per game. As the Derby Festival Classic three-point shootout champion, Indiana will rely on him to be a shot maker, and may utilize him as the trailing shooter on the fast break.

Hoetzel

Hoetzel

Nick Zeisloft Guard

Nick Zeisloft is a transfer from Illinois State University, and a redshirt junior. Having graduated from ISU in just three years, he has two years of eligibility remaining and can play immediately. In a press release announcing the addition of Zeisloft, Tom Crean said, “The addition of Nick allows us to spread and space the floor even more and play with more pace. More importantly, we are adding a young man that has been raised well and has been well coached throughout his career. He brings a physical and mental toughness that has allowed him to play at a strong level and brings leadership and maturity to our program.” Zeisloft shot 37.3 percent from three-point range in his career at ISU, and he is likely to be used as a transition shooter and a shooter coming off of screens, which are his strong points. He could find himself open in such situations as teams try to defend guys like Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. There will be a lot of competition at the guard positions this season, but as an experienced player, he may be able to earn extra time in situations where level-headedness and good decision making are particularly needed.

Robert Johnson Guard

Robert Johnson was a really important signing for IU. He was a consensus four-star, top-100 recruit by all the different rating systems, and his commitment, the first for IU’s 2014 class after James Blackmon Jr. had decommitted temporarily, created a solid platform on which to build the rest of the recruiting class. He addresses a lot of needs at once: being able to play point guard and shooting guard, and being a great shooter. Shooting ability was the major focus of this recruiting class from the guards to the forwards, and if Tom Crean could have found a true center who was a knock-down three-point shooter, he probably would have tried to recruit him too. Paul Biancardi of ESPN.com had this to say of Johnson after his commitment: “Johnson is one of the most complete guards in the country… he can play point guard or the role of a shooter/scorer in a pinch. The strength of his game lies in scoring, with three-point range and a pull-up jumper along with the ability to attack, drive and finish at the rim….” Johnson averaged 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.6 turnovers in 24 minutes per game on the Canada trip, which is a productive stat line. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Johnson is physically ready to contribute immediately. He will be a featured element of what the team does this season.

James Blackmon Jr. Guard

James Blackmon Jr. would tell you otherwise, but there is no doubt he is the centerpiece of this recruiting class. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard was a 4 or 5-star, top-40 recruit according to the various rating systems. He caused Indiana staff and fans a lot of joy, a lot of worry, and then a lot of joy again by committing to the program, decommitting to explore his options (and indeed it looked like they’d lost him), and then committing again. That was the moment Indiana fans knew things were going to be all right with this recruiting class. Blackmon is an elite scorer and shooter and will be a starter from day one. Yogi Ferrell led the team in scoring last season, but that is most likely to change with Blackmon around; Yogi’s assist numbers should go up, but Blackmon can pass the ball well, too. Opposing defenders will be making a huge mistake by leaving either one of them open on the perimeter. Blackmon led the team in scoring on the Canada trip, posting an average of 18.8 points, scoring nine three-pointers along the way, and shooting almost 87% from the free throw line. After a down season last year, some people may not be expecting much this year either, but I suspect IU will surprise people and Blackmon will be a huge reason for any success, and there will definitely be some hop-ons to Indiana’s bandwagon. “Beyond the scoring, Blackmon Jr. is an unselfish player, a good teammate and has already made significant gains in strength and conditioning since his arrival on campus,” said Alex Bozich, of InsideTheHall.com. If he can improve his defense, James “Jimmy Buckets” Blackmon Jr. should have a monster season.

Blackmon

Blackmon, Jr. Practices His Jumper At Assembly Hall

The Rest

We already know the rest of the cast. Yogi Ferrell will be the starting point guard and the team’s leader; Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea will split duties at power forward and center (though neither one has the size necessary to truly play the center position) and be relied on to rebound and protect the rim. Troy Williams continues to garner comparisons to Victor Oladipo, and can do a lot of the same things athletically. He will probably start at small forward (though his skilset is more guard-like), and rotate out for Hoetzel and others. Stanford Robinson will rotate in at the guard positions, and might also get extra minutes in three-guard sets. He will be relied on to provide a spark off the bench, and be aggressive in attacking the rim and getting to the foul line.

[Image at the Top: Yogi Ferrell scores in a game during IU’s pre-season trip to Canada.]

The major difference between this team and last year’s team will be having a plethora of players who can shoot really well. A more subtle difference that people are observing is that they have better chemistry, and play more team-oriented ball. The players believe it, too. “We’re more together off the court than we are on the court now,” Williams said. “Last year’s team, we weren’t as together…. Now everybody’s on one page and you can tell that’s how it is on the court. We’re not afraid to share anything with each other and we take accountability for what we do.” Robert Johnson feels it, too, adding, “Since day one, whenever we went out or whenever we went somewhere, we did that as a team. I know last year, they said it wasn’t like that.” After last year’s disappointment, we can think of this season as a new start. The shooters they lacked last year have arrived in spades, and the frontcourt strength they had has gone. This team, I suspect, will be better at overcoming its weaknesses Take a good look this season, Hoosier fans, because it might be the last time we see one or two of these players in IU uniforms before the NBA takes them away.

Davis

Devin Davis (#15)

The Ryder ● November 2014

Tim Bagwell’s Love Poem

● by Chris Lynch

I want to write love poems from the autopsy reports 

of the in-bound Dover dead, to use cold hard aluminum words 

and scar into the stupored minds of the living 

the vomitus stink and sludge of war-broken bodies.

Tim Bagwell, “I want to write love poems”

Tim Bagwell, a local veteran of the Vietnam War, will combine his own poetry with iconic war photographs and recordings of anti-war songs in a 90-minute presentation at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on November 10. According to Bagwell, he chose that date “so that as people either participate in Veteran’s Day or are aware of it, this presentation will balance out their feelings.” The program, which Bagwell warns “may not be the place for families to bring their elementary and junior high school kids,” is designed to be provocative.

While Bagwell’s poetry is shaped by his personal experiences as a Marine and veteran, the photographs and music will extend the evening’s focus beyond the Vietnam War. According to Bagwell, “The photographs are iconic war photos from the Civil War through the Iraq Wars. There are relatively few of Vietnam.” While there will be a couple of musical selections from the Vietnam era, a range of songs will be heard, including more contemporary numbers by groups like the Black Eyed Peas and A Perfect Circle. “I really tried not to focus on the ’60s because this is not a reminiscence. This is not entertainment. This is designed to get people’s attention in a very serious way. It’s going to make them feel uncomfortable.”

This design extends from the fact that Bagwell, now 64 years old, has struggled ever since the war to be comfortable in his own skin. Even his earliest experiences in the military, which he captures in his poem “Desensitization,” still haunt him. The poem depicts the process through which the military, as Bagwell says, “manipulates minds to be able to kill people.” To Bagwell, “The purpose of the military, the bottom line, is to kill. It’s to kill on demand, not ask questions, and not be overly critical. The first step of being brainwashed into doing that is boot camp.” In “Desensitization,” the drill sergeant’s insult-laden refrain gradually gives way to a single verb:

“Asshole-kill, dick-face-kill, fuck me-kill, fuck you-kill, fuck us-kill: thrill-kill.”

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

“This is one poem that I’ll be putting on the screen and I’ll be instructing people that they will have to read on their own,” Bagwell says. “It’s one that, quite frankly, I hate to read. It just brings back way too many feelings that I’ve struggled all my life to get away from.”

When Bagwell was in Vietnam he wrote regularly to his fiancé back in the states. Although they did not stay together, she kept all of his letters, and about 10 years ago let Bagwell borrow and photocopy them. “I’ve read them from front to back in chronological order,” he says, “and I can just see my gradual mental diminishment.” His unit was pulled out of Vietnam in July of 1969 in the first phase of President Nixon’s de-escalation, cutting Bagwell’s tour short by 6 months. “I’m fairly convinced, although I’ll never know, that had I had to stay the entire 13 months I would have become so exhausted I would have done something stupid and died. So I do think getting out of country early went a long way toward saving my life.”

The psychological impact of the war, however, made life at home difficult. “I’ve been married three times. Prior to coming to Bloomington and going to work for Indiana University in 1999, I had never worked for a company longer than 4 years because I just couldn’t stand the internal politics or I would get mad. Somebody would do something I didn’t like and I would walk off the job. I had zero patience, I hated authority, and I still do. I was just really, really unhappy with myself.”

Bagwell recalls asking himself, “Now that I’ve gotten fucked up, how do I get out of it?” Now retired, with the assistance of therapy and medication Bagwell has been able to achieve stability by exercising, writing poetry, and working as an anti-war advocate. Though his work is unpublished, he has been seriously writing poetry for about ten years, reading it at Boxcar Books and at Carmel High School, which invites Vietnam War veterans to speak to its history students every spring.

The program on November 10 has grown out of his Carmel presentations, but it will now be aimed at a more general audience, a demographic that Bagwell believes needs to pay closer attention to the impact of war. “The middle class has been so totally blinded by going to an all-volunteer army,” says Bagwell. “War doesn’t cost them anything but their tax dollars. It doesn’t cost them their kids, it doesn’t cost them their neighbors, it doesn’t cost them their grandchildren. And they can literally not pay attention to it. I fought post traumatic stress disorder my entire adult life and that’s just not acceptable.”

Bagwell’s goal, therefore, is to provoke those whom he believes have been pampered into indolence. “We — the middle class — have just been bought off with the quality of our life. I mean, our lives are so pampered. There are only 14 years in this country’s history that we have not sent troops somewhere to kill somebody. But we don’t know that. We don’t know our own history. Because I think we don’t want to. It’s too painful. It requires us to turn off the television and do something about people that we’ve never met. And that’s very, very difficult.”

The presentation will be held Monday, November 10 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Doors open at 7:30. Program begins at 8 with a question-and-answer session to follow. Admission is free.

[Photograph by Jeffrey A. Wolin, Courtesy Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago.]

The Ryder ● November 2014

Working The System Backward

How To Build A Metal Band With Careers And Families In Tow ● by Sophie Harris

Most young musicians put music at the forefront of their lives, and travelling the country on tour is the ultimate goal. But how can a band achieve success when family and full-time jobs are keeping them in one place? DIESEL Rocks is currently exploring this challenge.

DIESEL Rocks is a rock-metal band that originated in Bloomington about 4 years ago. The band is comprised of members from a variety of other bands, but there’s something setting them apart from other up-and-coming bands in the area: they aren’t in their early twenties.

“You know, we’re not 18, 19, 20…I’ve been playing live music since I was 23 years old,” says Drew Hall, who plays bass and contributes to the vocals. “I’m in my thirties, and our guitar player has been in bands for over 23 years now.”

[Image at the top: DIESEL Rocks — (from left) Brandon Brown, Brandon Wiggington, Drew Hall, and Bill Greely.]

Hall knows that the music scene has changed over the last few decades. “There are so many young bands in the scene now, and they’re willing to play for the experience for next to nothing,” says Hall, “And that really changes the money-making aspect of it. But still, every opportunity is a good one.”

The band members have children and full-time jobs, two aspects that tie them to Bloomington more so than younger musicians who might be unattached. Aside from a difference in lifestyle, Hall feels that being older sets his band apart for another reason. Hall mentions that being older means he’s been around longer, and he grew up on different music. “After years and years of playing, you develop your own style and tastes,” says Hall. “Music becomes more complex with experience.”

DIESEL Rocks has four members and a variety of original songs, but they also play covers. You won’t ever hear them playing the usual cover songs you might expect at a bar. Hall says that they choose bands to cover that they really like, such as Three Days Grace and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and hope audience members appreciate the rendition. The band is currently in contact with producer Rob Hill who is helping them remaster and edit some of their material. Hill has worked with bands like Korn and recorded with Eminem.

Because the band can’t tour to promote themselves in person due to obligations in Bloomington, they work a lot with radio and online marketing to create buzz on the Internet. They’re endorsed by Dirtbag Clothing, and their songs are played on radio stations around the country. Many online rock and metal stations are fans of the band’s sound, so their music currently has a very wide reach. Locally, they like playing at The Bluebird and formerly Jake’s, and they’re on B-97. One of their songs, “To The Sun,” is currently on a compilation CD that’s being distributed at rock festivals like Mayhem.

Hall is optimistic that the band will eventually leave Bloomington and tour, but he knows that family and work provide challenges for the band to work around. “It’s definitely multi-dimensional,” says Hall, “It feels like we’re working the system backwards.”

The Ryder ● November 2014

Deer Gone Wild

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land ● by Colleen Wells

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

— Mahatma Gandhi

A doe stands by the edge of a neighborhood street in a wooded area east of Clarizz off 3rd street. She casts her gaze at my car as I slowly drive by. Then behind her two fawns rush to her side. One of them is gnawing on leafy green vegetation which hangs from its mouth. This is a common scene around Bloomington, where I’ve even witnessed a doe nurse her fawns in the middle of Maxwell Lane.

While deer are a species native to Indiana, there was a period of time from 1893-1934 when deer were absent from the landscape due to hunting and habitat loss. Introduced back into the environment in the mid-1930s, the population is growing despite further loss of habitat and hunting. To help keep the balance in check, controlled hunts have been held in some Indiana state parks as early as 1993.

Deer seem to contain an ancient wisdom reflected in their eyes and can adapt to an ever-changing environment. Some think they have adapted too well and that they are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Others feel strongly that there must be a non-violent solution for human-deer coexistence.

Deer/Backyard

And yet the debate points to issues even greater than the deer. It calls for a closer look at what is happening with the environment as a whole. And in a town progressive in its environmental stewardship, many are wondering about the decisions that have been made.

In September 2010, the DTF (Deer Task Force), comprised of eleven members with diverse expertise, began meeting monthly. It was appointed by city officials to explore options and make recommendations to local officials and Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The Executive Summary of their final report describes concerns for residential neighborhoods as well as the approximately 1,200 acre Griffy Lake Nature Preserve: “When it comes to deer at Griffy Woods, clear evidence points to ecosystem damage by deer – native tree seedlings are not regenerating; herbaceous plant species are severely compromised and possibly going locally extinct; invasive species are taking over some areas; the forest understory is unnaturally open; and the understory-reliant birds and other animals are losing habitat.”

The Summary also addresses our role in the problem: “The increased presence of deer in the woods and in residential areas is the direct result of human action. We have fragmented wildlife habitat, sprawled ourselves across the landscape, provided deer with ideal ‘edge’ environment and eliminated virtually all deer predators. As a result, deer are abundant. In some areas, and to some residents, deer are overabundant. Deer are not to blame for this situation—we are.”

Task Force recommendations call for a deer cull at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve using hired sharpshooters and additional lethal methods of handling the in-town deer including a “trap and kill management” during which deer are lured into a cage with bait to reduce stress then shot. The cull at Griffy Lake may begin as early as November 15, 2014.

Bob Foyut, a wildlife rehabilitator and a member of the Deer Task Force, stressed the complexity of the matter. He says that while “for the public it’s a very emotional issue,” the task force worked well together to develop solutions. The decision to kill the animals is not something Bloomington officials or residents take lightly.

Lethal methods for eliminating deer are considered and employed in many areas of the United States. For example, in a report in Newsday, Stephanie Boyles Griffin, the senior director of innovative wildlife management program for the Humane Society of the United States, who discussed the Bloomington issue with former Deputy Mayor, Maria Heslin, wrote that in Hastings-on-Hudson, “gardening enthusiasts arrived at a village meeting to hire someone to cull a local herd of deer.” In this case, when backlash from residents ensued, non-lethal options were instilled. PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida), a contraceptive vaccine delivered through a dart, was proven effective in closed areas including Fripp Island, S.C. Hastings-on-Hudson is the first open community to try this.

The article also states, “A second non-lethal technique ready for widespread adoption is being tried in suburban Baltimore and Washington, D. C. and in communities in California. Does are being sterilized, their ovaries removed in a 30-minute procedure perfected by veterinarian Steve Timm of Wisconsin, working with wildlife biologist Anthony DeNicola of Connecticut, a sharpshooter who owns a business that until recently specialized in culling deer.” DeNicola is the founder/president of White Buffalo Inc., the company who will conduct Bloomington’s cull.

Heslin said of Boyles Griffin, “In 2012, I was hearing rumblings that lethal options might be on the table, so I tried to find a national expert who could help the DTF fully explore non-lethal means. Through a connection I made with the president of the group Farm Sanctuary, I had the opportunity to meet HSUS wildlife expert Stephanie Boyles Griffin. She and I had several conversations about how other communities handled the challenges of deer management, and she talked a lot about how the issue, if not handled incredibly thoughtfully, can tear communities apart. She offered to come to town to give a public presentation or speak with Council and do a site assessment, but she needed to be invited by the decision-making body — in this case, City Council. … Just a couple of days after that phone call, the DTF issued its final report.”

Non-lethal methods were explored by the Deer Task Force including “Fencing,” “Deterrents and Repellants,” “Reintroduction of Predators,” “Trap and Translocate,” “Contraception,” and “Sterilization.” Details in a Taskforce powerpoint, available online,  relating impracticalities of non-lethal methods are included and clearly expressed. For example, one of the concerns about contraception is that it “addresses population growth over time, but not immediate concerns with human-deer conflicts.”

Costs of both lethal and non-lethal methods are also listed. Sterilization costs “$800-$1,000/doe plus ongoing maintenance.” Costs for Trap and Euthanize are “$300/deer plus ongoing maintenance” and Sharpshooting ranges from $200-$350 per deer plus continued maintenance.

Rebecca Warren, Executive Director of the Monroe County Humane Society, addressed the challenge of the human-wildlife balance. “Bloomington is rich with parks and preserves, laying the ground work for an abundance of wildlife taking up home here. There has to be a healthy balance of accepting that we choose to live in an area that’s also attractive to animals and wildlife. I can accept that animals might eat my Hosta plants and moles are going to leave holes in my yard, but I also don’t want to see wildlife beginning to pose safety risks to themselves or the community.”

Deer/Trees

She also explained how educational efforts about animals are beneficial to wildlife such as deer. “Humane Education is absolutely one of the largest pillars in our organization. Teaching both youth and adults how to live humanely with animals, both at home and in the wild, animal safety and teaching kindness are core to Monroe County continuing to be a safe place for animals, wild and domestic. I think there’s always room for our programs to learn and grow as a community’s needs grow.”

Use of non-lethal methods is still the hope of some residents of Bloomington including members of BANIDS (Bloomington Advocates for Nonviolent Innovative Deer Stewardship). The organization recently called for legislation to ban bow-hunting which is legal in city limits. BANIDS is pushing for a waiting period of two years before lethal methods are taken. During this time an accurate census of the deer at Griffy Lake could be taken and innovative solutions explored.

Heslin cites this as one of the reasons the debate is so polarizing, “National experts and common sense dictate that you need to count deer before any type of management plan is put in place so you know the scope of the issue, yet the City refuses to do so having too few deer actually causes ecological harm so not knowing the baseline yet killing up to 100 is irresponsible.”

A Strange Stew

A quest into understanding more about Bloomington’s deer community begins at the farmer’s market. Amongst the autumnal offerings is a table helmed by Alyce Miller displaying information about the impending deer cull at Griffy Lake. Indiana University Miller is Professor of English and Creative Writing at IU; she is a passionate advocate and writer who has practiced law in the area of animal welfare.

“At first I was actually incredulous,” Miller says. “I sort of thought it was a bunch of… to be honest a kind of wacky minority of people who had never dealt with animals. I wasn’t very charitable in my thoughts, but I didn’t think it was going to become what it became… it never occurred to me that [the Task Force] would recommend a lethal method.”

She adds, “I had no idea of how powerful they were in terms of grabbing the attention of their council members.”

Having studied the situation for several years while being active in council meetings, Miller, who also teaches an animals and ethics course and wishes she had a penny for every time she’s been called a Bambi lover, attributes misinformation and fear of wildlife as part of the issue.

She moved here from San Francisco, the first city in the U.S. to mandate composting. When asked if environmental initiatives related to the environment occur there that perhaps we should model, she says, “The deer issue is tied into environmental issues for me. We need to stop using herbicides. The city uses herbicides, and people are constantly spraying Round-up in their yards here. I’ve never lived in a place that’s so suburban. The deer issue is tied into environmental issues for me. In Berkley they’ve outlawed all gas-powered trimmers, edgers, blowers, and mowers, and they’ve outlawed using herbicides … so it is possible.”

Miller points to the irony that “lawns attract deer because they are edged species like we are and they like open savannahs like we do and though people don’t realize … they have provided inadvertently the perfect habitat or attractant for deer.”

Miller explains how a misconception over who “owns” wildlife originated.

“The public trust doctrine came out of Roman law through British Common Law and is a concept in the U. S. We the people own all the resources. We own the waterways. Basically wildlife belonged to no one and everyone. People think the DNR own the deer. No they don’t.”

What Happens When You Remove Jenga Blocks from the Tower of Biodiversity

Jim Poyser, Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, which, in his words, is “a state-wide non-profit organization that works on issues of political transparency, waged equality, social and peace justice issues, and all that within the ecological footprint of our earth.”

It’s a complicated issue,” Poyser says. My perspective on it is the World Wildlife Fund issued a report yesterday that is devastating when it comes to the state of animals globally. The numbers are more shocking than we’ve ever seen before, and I think they even surprised the World Wildlife Fund people.”

Poyser continues, “One of the conclusions of the statistics is that while animals have diminished world-wide at an alarming rate, human population over the last 40 years on the planet has gone from around 4 to over 7 billion. We are a species run amok. If part of the perspective of this deer imbroglio in Bloomington is that the deer are running amok, I would say there’s an interesting analogy for you. People are running amok and … when it comes to a more macro issue where you’ve got habitat for animals, you have humans through development encroaching on it. Then obviously the most important thing is once you have removed the predator, a keystone species from an ecosystem, you’re going to have proliferation. Deer are extremely destructive to a forest system. You can’t blame them, they’re just animals. And they’re animals reproducing, just like we’re animals reproducing. You can’t blame us. It’s the fundamental right to reproduce, but the Tragedy of the Commons here is that every single deer is God’s creature depending on how you interpret God.”

He adds, “If you remove these Jenga blocks from the tower of the ecosystem, you need biodiversity and anything that encourages biodiversity should be embraced. We need more green spaces. We need corridors and easements, and that’s the key with the predator.

On the Other Side of the Fence

Keith Clay is a Distinguished Professor of Biology at IU. His specialty is community ecology, which he describes as “how organisms interact in ecological communities.” Clay was also a member of the Deer Task Force. He has been the Director of the IU Research and Teaching Preserve since the day it was established in 2001, and he has tried to engage in research projects that take advantage of the natural areas of the preserve that are also addressing locally relevant issues. “I’ve been doing research as part of my position in the Griffy Lake area for 25 years at least or more. And a lot of it is focused on plants, their growth, reproduction, establishment, but also how they’re interacting with diseases, herbivores, animals that are eating plants. I’ve been aware that there’s been a gradual attrition of plant diversity at Griffy for quite a while. For example, a PHD student in the late 90s, worked on a group of plants that you can hardly find any more. In the late 90s, they were common. Now they’re not common. You can hardly find them pretty much. And at the same time we’re seeing these ever-increasing populations of deer.”

Clay explains, “Whether deer were causing these losses of plants we established I think it was like in 2005, a couple of exclosures, where we just built fences to keep deer and other large animals out to see what would happen and quite quickly stuff started growing, bigger, better, faster, inside the exclosure indicating that things outside were getting eaten big time.”

Clay addresses what some see as a problem with the experiment. “The opponents are disseminating what I would consider misinformation or disinformation and one of the common things… that these studies were done at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve not in the Griffy Nature Preserve, and it’s technically true, but it’s all part of the same system. It’s one big patch of woods. The deer just go back and forth. They share a long border and it’s all part of the same ecosystem.

Clay concludes, “The cull will preserve not just the vegetation, but the entire diverse ecosystem. The decision to have a cull was the result of two years of study by a large panel of people with outside expertise. I guess my point is there is a small group of animal rights activists that want to stop this any way they can. It needs to be viewed in that light that society in general does not agree with their position. If you look at the policies around the state, in Indianapolis, what Bloomington is planning on doing is no different than many, many other places. Basically, nothing controls the deer except human hunting and car accidents.

Guns & Griffy

The plan as of this writing is for sharpshooters hired from White Buffalo, Inc., who according to their website, offers a “strong approach to urban deer management” to euthanize 100 deer over a 9 day period at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve.

I spoke with Tim McColligan, a deer hunter who participated in a managed deer kill near his home in Dallas, Georgia.

“We had a controlled hunt at Red Top Mountain State Park. You could look at the deer and tell they were emaciated. They were running out of food. They had shooters qualify a weekend before, and took the top 10 hunters. They didn’t want deer running around with arrows hanging out of them. The meat was donated to homeless shelters.”

“What’s the most humane place to shoot a deer?” I ask.

“We hunt right behind the front leg where the vital organs are with bow-hunting.”

“Sharp shooters will be used at Griffy Lake. What’s the most humane way to take a shot that way?”

“A bullet to the head is the quickest way. But you can have a lower percentage [of accuracy] due to its [the head’s] size.”

Tim is curious about the weaponry that will be used. He owns a rifle that a bullet can travel 6 miles from.”

White Buffalo addresses bullet safety on their website which states, “We have thoroughly tested and selected bullets, in addition to having developed specialized bullets.  As a result of our extensive testing, we have found that no bullet fragments with significant size or inertia exit the target animal, therefore ensuring public safety.  We have extensive experience in both lethally removing and capturing deer in a variety of human occupied environments without incident.  We have used our discretion in the selection of shooting sites with satisfaction of both local/state officials and property owners.

I explain to Tim that the issue is very polarized in Bloomington. “Can’t they load em’ up and have them taken somewhere that’s wide open?” he asks.

“From what I’ve learned, that puts too much stress on the deer.”

“So’s a head shot.”

Mary Harris is an animal communicator and consultant in Fountaintown, Indiana. “When people ask me how animals feel about being hunted my answer is pretty blunt…they don’t want to be hunted any more than you and I do.  That said, every animal I’ve talked to about this subject has said that, given a choice, they would much rather be hunted and killed quickly by a single, lethal shot than to go through the horrors of slaughter. For them, that is far preferable than being crammed onto a livestock trailer and hauled who-knows how far, before being herded into a terrifying kill factory.”

INTO THE WILD

On a lighter note Susan Davis has been a wildlife rehabilitator for 14 years. She lives in Bloomington and specializes in raccoons, recounts stories of when she gets calls about animals.

On a call about an opossum in someone’s yard, Davis advised the caller to, “Enjoy your opossum wildlife moment. It’s the only marsupial in all of North America.” Davis, who started her work caring for opossums, says, “They are the only mammal that will go after a mole.”

Davis says of wildlife rehabilitators, “Most of us welcome the calls we get to help resolve conflicts.  Because we understand the species involved.  People who take the time to find us online and call always have a special place in my heart.  They see a problem and want to find a peaceful resolution.”

She cites an example: “So it was with the woman who called upset because her family dog had killed a nursing mother raccoon foraging during late afternoon.  Female raccoons will forage during daylight when they have a litter of cubs so they will be able to protect them from night predators and also keep them warm.  Cubs cannot thermal regulate until their eyes open at about four weeks old.  They are born with eyes and ears closed. It was June so I knew the cubs would be forced to come down from their nest in a large tree to find food and both of us knew the dog would have the advantage.  Because this caller seemed so wildlife friendly I was encouraged to suggest she build a shelf and feed them until late August.  She was thrilled.”

Davis loves observing the deer she feeds on her property during the colder months. She and her husband made a pact that because trees were felled in building their retirement home, taking away food for wildlife as a result, they would supplement food for the deer. “So we put out stumps in back and from November 1 to April 1 we put out deer chow and shelled corn topped off with apple pieces and peanuts. Our herd of does and their yearlings come all year for the salt block, but they also know when the stumps will be filled.”

Davis describes the hierarchy of the herd. “Since 1999 we have had a steady number of 6-8 in the A team that appear healthy and strong. If the winter is especially difficult the B team may try to join them, but the alpha female keeps order and they will only be allowed a few mouthfuls.  They do not appear to be starving either. We try to plant bushes they do not prefer such as boxwood and holly and so far none have been disturbed.  They do not let us grow hostas, however. Too tempting. But that’s our social contract. Their needs now trump our needs and it’s up to us to live in harmony.”

[Author’s Note: I would like to give thanks to everyone who gave freely of their time to weigh in on this issue. I recognize this is a sensitive topic for many.and this piece only scratches the surface of the complexity of the matter.]

Bloomington Deer Timeline:

  • September 2010 The Deer Task Force, established by the City of Bloomington and the Monroe County Commissioners to address residential concerns surrounding the increasing deer population, begins meeting monthly. The eleven members of the Task Force are charged with educating themselves on all aspects of deer life as it relates to the urban/suburban environment in order to provide the community with options on how to best mitigate the negative impacts of deer proliferation.
  • October 2012 The City of Bloomington-Monroe County Deer Task Force releases its recommendations for deer population control at Griffy Lake Nature Preserve in its report entitled Common Ground: Toward balance and stewardship. The Task Force concludes that “sharpshooting is the most efficient way to cull the greatest number of deer in the most humane way possible.”
  • December 6, 2012 The Bloomington City Council accepts the recommendations of the Deer Task Force in their Final Report, Resolution 12-13, with a unanimous vote.
  • April 9, 2014 Ordinance 14-04 which allows sharpshooters to kill deer at Griffy as recommended by the Deer Task Force to cull the population, is approved by the Bloomington City Council.
  • April 11, 2014 The Mayor of Bloomington, Mark Kruzan, vetoes Ordinance 14-04 saying, “As a matter of conscience, I cannot support the killing of deer in the community. Legalizing deer hunting in Bloomington will irreversibly change the nature of the community.”
  • April 24, 2014 The Bloomington City Council overturns Mayor Kruzan’s veto of the kill ordinance with a 2/3 majority vote.
  • November 15, 2014 Sharpshooters provided by White Buffalo, Inc., a leading expert in urban deer population control, are authorized by the Special Purpose Deer Control Permit, issued by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, to begin taking out 100 deer in the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve. The kill, estimated to take place from November 15, 2014 to February 28, 2015, is expected to yield an estimated 5,000 pounds of venison which will be donated to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

Links

The Ryder ● November 2014

François Truffaut

The Man Who Loved Cinema ● by Craig J. Clark

One of the leading lights of the Nouvelle Vague or French New Wave, François Truffaut died 30 years ago this month at the age of 52, having written and directed 21 features over the course of a career that spanned three decades. Before he had his breakthrough with 1959’s The 400 Blows, the first in a series of films detailing the adventures of Antoine Doinel (played by his onscreen alter ego, Jean-Pierre Léaud), Truffaut worked as a critic for the influential film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. Afterward, he made such seminal New Wave films as 1960’s Shoot the Piano Player and 1962’s Jules and Jim, and wrote the original treatment for 1960’s Breathless, the debut feature of his Cahiers cohort Jean-Luc Godard.

[Image at the top: Truffaut with actress Julie Christie.]

In the years that followed, Truffaut had big successes with the likes of 1973’s Day for Night, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and 1980’s The Last Metro, which won ten César Awards. What I’d like to highlight, though, are some of the lesser-known entries in his filmography, whose subjects run the gamut from marital infidelity to science fiction to Hitchcockian suspense to doomed romance. The one thing that binds them all together is Truffaut’s clear affection for his characters, however flawed they may be.

This was especially the case with Truffaut’s follow-up to Jules and Jim, 1964’s The Soft Skin, which wasn’t nearly as successful, but is a fascinating film in its own right. Based on a true story, it stars Jean Desailly as a respected author and editor of an academic journal who becomes infatuated with a much younger flight attendant and upends his life to be with her. Considering the flight attendant is played by Françoise Dorléac, it’s easy to understand why he’s so taken with her and fails to consider how their affair will affect his wife and their young daughter. As in the real-life case that inspired it, this leads to a tragic end for all concerned.

"The Soft Skin"

On The Set Of “The Soft Skin” With Françoise Dorléac

For a change of pace, Truffaut turned to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the first (and only) film he ever shot in English. Working with a large crew for the first time, Truffaut was able to fully realize Bradbury’s futuristic totalitarian state where reading books is illegal and firemen are employed to burn them when they are found. It’s a beautiful film to look at thanks to Nicolas Roeg’s sharp photography (which accentuates the reds that dominate the color scheme) and Bernard Herrmann provides a stirring score, but one gets the feeling Truffaut is constantly straining — and failing — to overcome the language barrier.

Of course, if Truffaut was uncomfortable writing and directing in a foreign tongue, that’s nothing compared to poor Oskar Werner, who previously starred in Jules and Jim and plays the film’s hero, Montag, in a halting German accent. He’s ably supported, though, by a cast of native-born English speakers like Julie Christie (who plays a double role as Montag’s vacuous wife and a teacher who lives nearby) and Cyril Cusack (as Montag’s captain). And even if it was done in the service of a story about the dangers of censorship, it’s still painful to watch the scenes of books (many of them masterpieces) being doused with kerosene and set ablaze.

"Fahrenheit 451"

Oskar Werner & Julie Christie

At Cahiers du Cinéma, Truffaut was a big proponent of the auteur theory, especially as it applied to Hollywood filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock. After conducting a series of interviews with the Master of Suspense that resulted in the seminal book Hitchcock/Truffaut, he was inspired to take a couple stabs at the genre himself, first with 1968’s The Bride Wore Black and then with 1969’s Mississippi Mermaid, both based on novels by Cornell Woolrich. The more successful of the two, both critically and commercially, The Bride Wore Black stars Jeanne Moreau (late of Jules and Jim) as a woman distraught over the murder of her childhood sweetheart on their wedding day who decides to track down the men responsible. As she eliminates them one by one, we learn a little bit more about her motivation until we find out exactly what happened on that fateful day. Then it’s a matter of whether she’ll be able to carry out the rest of her plans before her conscience or the police catch up with her first.

For Mississippi Mermaid, Truffaut had a bigger budget to work with, but the film saw diminishing returns despite extensive location shooting and the presence of stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. (Even Deneuve’s fleeting topless scenes failed to bring in the crowds.) Belmondo plays a plantation owner based on a small island off the coast of Madagascar who sets his heart on marrying Deneuve after only corresponding with her. Once she arrives, it turns out neither of them was entirely honest with the other – he downplayed his wealth and position and she sent him a bogus picture – but they go ahead with the marriage anyway. Then one day an alarming letter arrives and Deneuve flies the coop with most of Belmondo’s money. His pride wounded, he hires a private detective to find his runaway bride, but then decides to track her down himself.

There are numerous allusions to Hitchcock’s oeuvre throughout the film, with the most obvious antecedent being the similarly flawed Marnie, which also deals with a woman who meets rich men under false pretenses and takes them for everything she can. Curiously enough, the ending of the film echoes one of the rejected endings of Hitchcock’s Suspicion, which Truffaut must have known about. One has to wonder, if it didn’t pass muster for the Master of Suspense, why did he think it would work for him?

Switching gears, Truffaut entered the ’70s with The Wild Child, the first time he gave himself a starring role in one of his films. It tells the true story of a boy who was found running naked in the woods in the south of France in 1798 and how he reacted when he was introduced to civilization. I strongly suspect Truffaut assumed the role of Dr. Jean Itard, a specialist in deaf-mutes who took a personal interest in the case, because he knew he was going to be working closely with the young actor playing the title character (a remarkably feral Jean-Pierre Cargol). Incidentally, by the end of the film the “wild child” has grown considerably more tame, but it’ll still be a while before he reaches Kaspar Hauser levels of social integration.

"The Wild Child"

Jean-Pierre Cargol & Truffaut

One decade after reaching the heights of romance with Jules and Jim, Truffaut made Two English Girls, based on another novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. Released in 1971, it stars Jean-Pierre Léaud as a young Frenchman and aspiring writer who travels to Wales to visit with a pair of sisters (Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter) because their mother is friends with his mother. Of the two of them, older sister Markham is more approachable, but Tendeter is the one who initially captures his fancy, which is only inflamed by her reclusiveness. Even if the given reason for this is perfectly reasonable — she suffers from eye strain and has to rest them for fear of going blind — it still gives her an air of unavailability. Things don’t really get complicated, though, until Léaud gets involved with Markham when she moves to Paris to become a sculptress. Their situation even inspires him to write a book very much like Jules and Jim, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

By the time Day for Night picked up Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, Truffaut was on the radar of Roger Corman, whose New World Pictures picked up numerous foreign films for distribution in the ’70s. The first of two Truffaut films New World released — 1975’s The Story of Adele H. – even managed to garner an Oscar nomination for its lead actress, Isabelle Adjani, which was something that rarely happened with the company’s home-grown product. Adjani plays the daughter of Victor Hugo (who is called “the most famous man in the world” at one point, which explains why she travels under an assumed name), who travels to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in pursuit of a British officer (future Withnail and I writer/director Bruce Robinson) with whom she is madly in love. Sadly for Adjani, the feeling is not mutual and in her delusion she becomes something of a stalker. It’s a heartbreaking performance that becomes progressively more difficult to watch as she divorces herself further and further from reality. No wonder the Academy was impressed.

No acting nominations resulted from Truffaut’s next film, 1976’s Small Change, but it proved he hadn’t lost his flair for directing children. An episodic slice of life set in the last few weeks of school before the start of summer vacation, it recounts the misadventures of a classroom full of children, focusing on a handful of them as they get in and out of various scrapes. It’s hard to say which scene is more memorable, the one where a precocious toddler falls out a seven-story window and bounces right back as if he had merely tumbled off the couch or the one where a girl gets on a bullhorn to announce to an entire high rise that her parents have locked her in while they go out to eat and she’s hungry. In either scenario, it’s incredible that the parents didn’t have to answer to charges of child neglect.

"Small Change"

Scene From “Small Change”

The following year, Truffaut went from a film that demonstrated how much he loved children to making The Man Who Loved Women, which begins and ends at the funeral of the title character — whose passing, his editor (Brigitte Fossey) notes, is being mourned exclusively by women — but within that frame it’s bookended by a pair of car accidents that illustrate how little control he has over how he’s affected by the fairer sex. A devout and unapologetic leg man, Charles Denner is introduced faking a hit-and-run just so he can locate a leggy driver whose license plate he managed to scribble down as she drove off. And at the end he’s so distracted by a skirt he’s chasing that he walks right out into traffic and gets hit by a car. Such is the lot of a man called “the wolf with a wearied look” by one of his countless conquests.

As the film progresses, we meet a number of Denner’s beauties after the rejection of one, a middle-aged boutique owner who is only attracted to younger men, sends him to the typewriter to peck out a book all about the women in his life (starting with his mother, who’s briefly glimpsed in black-and-white flashbacks). By far, the one he devotes the most space to is a mercurial married woman (Nelly Borgeaud) who enjoys having sex in public places, which makes their months-long affair a nerve-wracking one. It’s only after he’s completed his manuscript and it’s ready to go to press, though, that he has a chance run-in with a bitter ex (Leslie Caron) that he somehow left out of the book. Fossey won’t hear of him making any last-minute changes and suggests he save her for the follow-up, but his sudden urge to play in traffic prevents him from writing that.

When Truffaut made The Story of Adele H., he eliminated all of the master shots, which allowed him to stretch his budget further and make a smaller film look larger. Three years later, he applied the same principle to 1978’s The Green Room, based on a story by Henry James, which takes place in a small French town in the late ’20s. It’s a little over a decade after the Great War, which Truffaut’s character fought in, and nearly the same amount of time since the death of his young bride, who waited patiently for him all throughout the fighting and then died right after their wedding. Since then, Truffaut has been consumed by her memory and even has a room in his house dedicated to her, but he soon resolves to refurbish an abandoned chapel to make a more permanent memorial to all the people he’s known who have died.

"The Story of Adele H."

Isabelle Adjani With Truffaut In “The Story Of Adele H.”

With its morbid subject matter and emotionally closed-off main character, The Green Room failed to catch on with audiences, but Truffaut turned things around with the following year’s Love on the Run, the capstone of the Antoine Doinel saga. (It’s possible it could have continued if Truffaut hadn’t died so young, but we’ll never know what he had in mind.) Then, after The Last Metro and its story of the German occupation of France during World War II, Truffaut left the past behind for two contemporary films that turned out to be his last.

When romance flames out in a spectacular fashion, are both parties irrevocably burned by the experience or are they capable of rekindling their passion years later? That’s the central question posed by 1981’s The Woman Next Door, in which Gérard Depardieu’s quiet life in a tiny French village is disturbed when ex-lover Fanny Ardant (Truffaut’s partner until his death) moves into the house across the street with her new husband. Depardieu, too, has settled down with a wife (Michèle Baumgartner) and small boy, but neither of their domestic arrangements can erase the undeniable attraction they still feel for each other.

In his defense, Depardieu does try to head things off at the pass by pretending to work late when Baumgartner invites their new neighbors over for dinner, and he steers clear of Ardant as much as he can without raising suspicion, but all it takes is one stolen kiss in a parking garage and it’s only a matter of time before they start meeting in hotels and so forth. From that point on, all of their public interactions are marked by the increasing strain of keeping their affair secret, although local tennis club owner Véronique Silver is wise to it pretty much from the start. That makes sense since she’s the character Truffaut and his co-writers chose to narrate the film. Based on her own experiences, she’s well-versed in the fallout that doomed love affairs are prone to.

Made in 1983 as a lighthearted variation on the Hitchcock-inspired thrillers he turned out in the late ’60s, Truffaut’s swan song Confidentially Yours is about a real-estate agent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who finds himself in a real pickle when his wife and her lover both turn up dead and the police think he’s their man. Lucky for him, his headstrong secretary (Fanny Ardant again) is ready and willing to do the legwork and try to find out who wanted them dead because the police sure aren’t interested and his lawyer believes he should turn himself in and claim it was a crime of passion.

"Confidentially Yours"

Fanny Ardant In “Confidentially Yours”

Ardant’s investigation takes her to Nice, where she looks into the wife’s past, and gives Truffaut the perfect opportunity to recreate the famous shot from Psycho of Janet Leigh driving in the rain. (This moment alone justifies his decision to shoot the film in black and white.) Hitchcock isn’t the only director on his mind, though, since another plot point revolves around a cinema that’s showing Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. And the voyeur angle is provided by Ardant’s ex-husband (Xavier Saint-Macary), a photographer who always seems to be lurking around. Exasperated as he gets with Ardant, though, Trintignant is fortunate to have somebody who’s so thoroughly on his side — save for those fleeting moments when it crosses her mind that he may be guilty after all.

As breezily entertaining as it is, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that Confidentially Yours is somewhat inconsequential. That wouldn’t be so bad, but around the time of its release Truffaut suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He eventually died on October 21, 1984, leaving a number of unfinished projects in the planning stages. I’m sure he would have liked his final film to be a bit weightier, but the body of work he left behind is substantial enough to keep film lovers occupied for a long time to come.

The Ryder ● November 2014

1 4 5 6 7 8 20