LETTERS: If You Brand Too Deep, The Worms Will Get In

Inhabiting, Crossing-Over & Crossing-Out Textual Space in Crispin Glover’s/W.M. Baker’s Novel, “Oak-Mot” (1868 & 1991) ◆ by Christopher Martiniano

The 1868 American novel, Oak-Mot written by the Right Rev. William M. Baker, Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, is largely forgettable and mostly forgotten. Baker’s sentimental story sprawls, while its family ranges and ultimately settles a new home in a place called Oak-Mot. Baker’s original book, in the hands of actor, artist, filmmaker, author, songwriter, singer and provocateur, Crispin Hellion Glover, is radically transformed. Glover published his version of Oak-Mot almost 125 years later in 1991, sharing with the original novel many of the same characters, much of the same text, many of the same chapter headings as well as the same typeset, printed pages. Besides these similarities however, Glover re-inhabits and radically transgresses Baker’s traditionally bound novel and transforms it into a worm-ridden, postmodern palimpsest. Glover’s palimpsest, however, operates much differently than the traditional definition of it used by manuscript scholars and historians.

Historically, a palimpsest is a parchment or other writing surface on which the original text has been effaced or partially erased, and then overwritten by another. In Glover’s palimpsest, however, he takes over the original pages, its characters and ultimately the story with what Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) called in 1987 his “hierographics.” Without total erasure, Glover effaces the original text with thin tendrils of India ink that sprawl across the page and reframe Baker’s pages. These spindly black cross-outs and white outs cover over many of the original words and passages; scrawled, handwritten words, sketches, and scratches that couple with the ominous, re-worked photography and illustration to recolor Baker’s novel. In an act of near total, palimpsestuous (to borrow a wonderful word from literary critic Sarah Dillon) effacement, the foundation of Baker’s Oak-Mot can barely be seen beneath the rising blackness of Glover’s Oak-Mot.

Due to these hierographics, the surfaces of Baker’s original novel are nearly unrecognizable. Describing his own method in an interview with The Ryder, Glover speaks of the organic growth of a narrative, from page-to-page beginning with a scrawl and ending with a coherent story. He says,
Old books from the 1800s…have been changed in to different books. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs…. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a bookstore upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s and someone had put their artwork inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing…. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this.

By his own admission, Glover originally began drawing and scrawling within found books as a means to create and house his own pictorial art — framed “inside the binding.” Oak-Mot and 12 other Glover books as well as his sculpture were first displayed at LACE in late 1987. And on a Late Show with David Letterman episode a few weeks before this exhibition, Glover showed Letterman his book Rat Catching in its original, pre-published form. Letterman asked, “Are these actual, earlier publications?” and Glover answered — or rather, nervously stammered through the answer — “I remade them.”

According to a press release by LACE in 1987, Glover’s was a “Bookstore Exhibition” and his books were “created within an existing book altered by his writing and imagery interwoven into the original narrative, the works included found photographs, bookplates and the author’s own system of hierographics”.

Of course fiction is a form of art but but Glover’s narrative art insists on the difference between using a book as a medium to create pictorial, sequential or sculptural art and creating a palimpsestuous narrative in novel. But what is it? Oak-Mot is a book in form if not a novel but more importantly, a palimpsestuous hybrid narrative of text and graphic, found object and invention, emergence and burial. The coherence of the narrative, outside of plot derives from Glover’s hierographics that create fairly simple thematic and affective juxtapositions by blocking out or burying much of the text from the original 220-page novel.

Recently described in an interview as “whimsical vagrancy,” Glover’s re-habitation of Oak-Mot, like his other books, radically re-shapes and wanders over the original text, often supplementing it as much as he builds over and conceals it, then quickly leaving that portion of the structure to begin a new one. What makes Glover’s Oak-Mot particularly “vagrant” or homeless and ultimately unsettled is his rebuilding the novel with patches and layers of lacunae — or holes and pits in the Latin sense of the word. This is not to say that the text is constructed from negativities or absences but that each page’s surface is a ruined yet annexed landscape of pits, ditches, channels and gullies in which parts of the original text are buried or layered over by new textual/graphical formations. The first three pages of Glover’s palimpsest, for example, are pages 7, 10 and 17 of Baker’s original. This new sequence, undermined by traditional lacunae or absence, is narratively cohered by the layering of Glover’s hierographics that connect and juxtapose passages of text that shockingly shift to new episodes and/or introduce new characters and locales.

Glover’s mark-outs or burials of the original grow organically out of and in the text, the various spindly lines emanate from the amoebic, black boxes as tendrils. These many black scrawls and scratches act more like worms or better still, channels or trenches that mark the path of a worm through Baker’s original prairie. The only recurring text of Glover’s Oak-Mot that originates in Baker’s is on page 94. Glover carries the macabre, “The worms will get in. They will get in” through his version of Oak-Mot. It occurs again at the bottom of page 101, “The worms will get in” and at the bottom of page 188 in very large, horrific and elongated letters, “The worms will get in”. The first of six selections from Oak-Mot that Glover reads for his accompanying CD ends with the dramatic flourish of the music on an echoing guitar’s E minor chord and Glover’s whisper repeating, “They will get in. The Worms will get in.”

Worms are of course hermaphroditic, each individual possessing both male and female reproductive organs, thus making them perverse mirrors of themselves from one end to another. Glover’s worms too, are hermaphroditic in the metaphoric sense, being both textual and graphical. Pages 58-59, for instance, show the worms channeling across the surface of the page, over the reworked photograph and encircling the text, burrowing across the gulley separating the two pages connecting Adry, the new Uncle and Prosy, culminating in the text, “Adry is a little wrong in his mind” just below the ghost-like image above it (59). Glover worms, like real ones, devour the surface of Baker’s original novel and deposit or secrete black residue upon his pages, building up new surfaces that bury and/or annex the newly cohered text of the restructured Oak-Mot. Glover’s worms operate as palinodes, which means “recantation” or literally from the Greek, “to sing again” as Glover re-narrates Baker’s original text.

Editor’s note: Excerpted from a longer essay that was presented at Indiana University’s conference, “Collections & Collaborations: Occupied: Taking up Space and Time”, March 22, 2012.

The Ryder, February 2013

FILM: True False Festival

by Peter LoPilato

One of the best documentary film festivals in the world is just a short drive down I-70 in Columbia, Missouri. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating – it’s not that short a drive (six hours) but it is a fantastic festival. Filmmakers and occasionally the subjects of their documentaries present films, take part in Q&As and hobnob with festival-goers in hipster cafes, taverns and ice cream shops.

Think Lotus, only with movies. Film showings take place in multiple screening rooms in downtown Columbia and on the campus of the University of Missouri, all within walking distance of one another. For four days, from mid-morning until past midnight, Columbia is transformed into a film-lover’s playground. You can leapfrog from a film to a panel discussion to a performance by an indie band. And at night there are parties! Real parties — this is not one of those dreary academic affairs, with all due respect to academics. True False 2013 will feature close to forty new films and forty now bands. Most films come freshly discovered from Sundance, Toronto and other festivals; others appear mysteriously before their official premieres elsewhere.

Musicians Perform At The True False Film Festival

Some of 2012’s best documentaries were showcased last year at True False including The Ambassador, The Imposter, Queen of Versailles and Searching for Sugar Man.

This year’s festival will take place February 28th through March 3rd. As we go to press, the full slate of films has not been announced. It will include however, No, by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. No captured the Directors’ Fortnight top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Actress and fictional filmmaker Sarah Polley (some of you saw Take this Waltz last year at The Ryder) will present her documentary debut with Stories We Tell. By the time you read this, the rest True False program should be posted on the festival’s site.

The Ryder, February 2013

The Stunt On Page 3

by Danusha V. Goska

Some years back I was watching a televised discussion about the existence of God. I felt compelled to email the atheist participant. To my great surprise, he responded. Our exchange continued for a year. We debated the existence of God, and we fell in love.

Two years after our relationship ended, I wrote Save Send Delete, an account of our email debate and affair. It was an act of courage for me to argue, in the book, for my Christian faith. I am an imperfect and unorthodox Christian. I actively support gay rights. I am a feminist. I am critical of the Catholic Church that baptized and educated me and that collects my donations in its weekly baskets. I lay claim to no Christian celebrity. I possess no snapshot of myself with the pope. I don’t even have a photo of myself with my parish priest. What right do I have to argue for Christian faith?

Upon reflection, I realized that it was my very imperfections, unorthodoxy, and plebian status that might lend value to my work. Save Send Delete isn’t about the Christ, or the Christianity, of power, perfection or piety. Save Send Delete is about one flesh-and-blood seeker’s encounter with Jesus Christ.

Warning: Nudity

I sent the manuscript to secular publishers. They attacked. I received a typical rejection from the publisher of a small but trendy house, one with one of those offbeat and pretentious-in-its-lack-of-pretentiousness names, something like Used Handkerchief Publishing or Chipped Coffee Cup Press. Or maybe it was the one with the outdoorsy, New Age label – Clouds of Bodhisattva Books or Cougar’s Spit Ink.

This trendy publisher’s rejection leaked more corrosion than an abandoned car battery. This was a practically audible email, with its own volume – eleven – and its own pitch – fever. It’s a truism among writers that literary agents, editors and publishers have no time. Once they reject your work, you are not to linger in their inbox, not to send any follow-up messages, and not to expect any. I sent a follow-up message: “Having a bad day?”

He wrote back. Immediately. More outrage. It’s Christians like you, he insisted, who stone gays, and prevent evolution from being taught in schools, and burn witches.

“It is?” I responded. Just those two, two-letter words were enough to bait him into a page and a half of fresh outrage.

I wrote back. “May I help you?” You bet he wrote back. Five times.

I began sending query letters to Christian presses. I received equally impassioned but differently reasoned rejections. One publisher sent a lengthy letter praising my writing. He said that Save Send Delete “emasculates” atheist arguments. But then he brought the hammer down, in a sentence I don’t think I’ll ever forget. “You can’t use the word ‘blowjob’ in a Christian book.”

My first reaction – had I used the word “blowjob”? I checked. There it was, on the third page of the manuscript. I suddenly remembered a previous rejection. That one had said that people like me didn’t do Christianity any good, and “I recoiled from the stunt you pulled on page three.” At the time, I was blank. What “stunt” on page 3? Now I understood.

In the 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn about the lives of impoverished Irish immigrants, young Francie Nolan submits to her teacher writing assignments that describe her own, real life. “Poverty, starvation, and drunkenness are ugly,” this teacher tells little Francie. “We admit these things exist, but one doesn’t write about them…. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty, always… stop writing these sordid little stories.”

Francie must look up the word “sordid.” She discovers it means “filthy.” She is crushed.

I felt like Francie Nolan. I’m also the child of immigrants. I did not realize that snooty Christian editors, my presumed social superiors, would assess my natural speech patterns as “filthy.”

Ephesians 4:29 counsels against “foul” language, but, it continues, speak “only such as is good for needed edification.” Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” Each of these verses emphasizes that speech must be honed to fit its context. The Amplified Bible makes this most clear in its translation of Ephesians 4:29: proper speech “is fitting to the need and the occasion.”

I’m a working class girl from New Jersey. We use the conventional swearwords more than many other demographics. These are basic words that translate, variously, as “Ouch,” “I’m shocked,” “Listen,” or “Nonsense!” Used judiciously, these words are not foul, but, rather, serve excellently for needed edification. We value grace in speech, and we value the seasoning, the salt.

In 2005, Princeton University Press (in New Jersey!) published Prof. Harry Frankfurt’s book entitled On Bullshit. Frankfurt and Princeton argued that no other word could have communicated exactly what “bullshit” communicated. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug,” said Mark Twain. Words are power — power Christians are commanded by God to harness.

If Christians decide not to mention, when mention is called for, a given aspect of life, their speech is not edifying, it is not seasoned with salt. Jesus modeled this in his longest recorded conversation, the conversation with the Woman at the Well. In John 4:18, with the mercilessness of a film noir antihero, Jesus states the erotic facts of this woman’s life. It’s hard not to be shocked by his bluntness, but it is his bluntness that causes her to state, in the very next verse, “I can see that you are a prophet.”

After the rejection that accused me of pulling a “stunt,” I thought of the graphics on the webpages of Christian publishers. Puppies and kittens. Ponies and daisies. Soft focus and airbrushed. These warm and fuzzy graphics communicated Christianity-as-Barcalounger, Christianity as a soft, fat piece of furniture one could occupy when one wanted to feel sheltered and smug. I thought of the view outside my window. I see garbage, a bar, gang members. I see my neighbor, a single mother from the Dominican Republic, with determined gait, heading to her job as a nurse’s aide. I see her fatherless son, obese, leaning on a fence, far from any playing field, on his face the resignation of a caged animal, a life-form suspended by boredom and neglect till death or explosion.

I thought of the vocabulary necessary to converse with my students about their most pressing concerns. My students don’t approach me to have urgent, one-on-one conversations about puppies or kittens. These conversations never require multi-syllable, abstract, Latin nouns: sola scriptura, actus purus, transubstantiation. My students need to talk about pain, and the obscene vocabulary of abuse, betrayal, and exploitation. They need to confess to the orgy at a tacky Route 3 motel, the boyfriend who impregnated, the girlfriend who teased, and then ran. They need to talk about mom’s boyfriend who takes her daughter into the basement of the public housing complex and rapes her. They need to disgorge the words that name the unique nausea caused by the deaths of those who should not die. Nice words need not apply.

If Christians quarantine this vocabulary, they relegate these conversations to non-Christians who are all too ready to use these words. Atheists don’t have any problem with using the vocabulary needed to talk about sex or pain or bodily functions. And so my students, if turned away by me on the basis on of the inadmissibility of necessary words, would simply turn to atheists.

This relegation of discussion of the most intimate, the most intense, the most telling and testing moments of life to non-Christians is both tragic and farcical. If Jesus does not belong in that basement with that inner city girl being raped, Jesus does not belong anywhere.

Billy Graham used the word “blowjob.” Pope John Paul II used the word “blowjob.” Mother Teresa used the word “blowjob.” They’ve used the word, either out loud or internally, because it names an inescapable part of life. Since we all know that we’ve all spoken, or at least thought, the word, a public pretense that we have never used it, or that we live on the planet where this vocabulary word is not necessary, suggests that we require phoniness in order to be Christian.

Technology places office workers in Kansas into competition with office workers in Bangalore. Technology also places Christianity into instant competition with ancient traditions like Hinduism, invented ones like Neo-Paganism, as well as atheism. Only a Christianity vital in its authenticity will survive these debates. On this playing field, we can’t afford to anesthetize our language. We need to be able to address the panoply of human experience, as did Jesus himself.

The Ryder, February 2013

STAGES: February (& More)

by Ryan Dawes

◗ King Creole’s Bayou Boogie


Saturday, February 16 / Bloomington Convention Center / 6 pm / $60

This Mardi Gras-themed event will feature a performance by Curtis Jackson’s Motown Review, which will serve as soundtrack to the shell-crushing ecstasy of a massive crawfish boil.  Other Cajun, Creole, and Yankee dietary delights will be served compliments of local restaurants.  The event will benefit the Bloomington Independent Restaurant Association and the Monroe County Chapter of the American Red Cross to support their work with victims of disasters, military families, and emergency response and preparedness.  Tickets can be purchased at bctboxoffice.com or at the door.

◗ Soup Bowl Benefit


Sunday, February 17 / Monroe County Convention Center / 5 pm / $25


Benefiting the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, which collects and distributes food for local NPO’s, the Soup Bowl offers ticket holders their choice of hundreds of handmade ceramic bowls made by area artists, along with soup and bread donated by local restaurants and bakeries.  The idea for the Soup Bowl Benefit was first conceived by local artist Carrie Newcomer and music attorney Robert Meitus, who participated in a similar event while on tour.  Since then, the benefit has helped HHFB buy trucks and refrigerators and feed families across Monroe and 6 other counties.  Musical entertainment will be provided by Another Round (formerly Straight No Chaser) and the old-time folk outfit, The Monks.

◗ Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three with Al Scorch


Thursday, February 21 / The Bishop / 9 pm / $10


Lotus World Music Fest alumni Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three conjure spirits of the historic South with a glowing brand of  rag-time, western swing, and country blues. The sweaty, humid feat is achieved with Pokey’s brilliant guitar-picking and crooning voice stacked charmingly atop guitjo, double bass, kazoo, and harmonica. Chicago’s own banjo shredding Al Scorch will pre-heat the Bishop with his old-soul narratives supported by a bluegrassy, gospelish folk that is often penetrated by a youthful post-punk recklessness, lending more emotion to the work. Each act alone would be worth the same door price.

Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three

◗ The School for Scandal


Friday & Saturday, February 22 & 23; Tuesday, February 26 through Friday, March 1 / Ruth N. Halls Theatre / 7:30 pm / $10-25

Set in London in the 1770’s (when it was also written), this theatrical comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is about the repercussions of the age-old practice of gossip. We see this play out as Lady Sneerwell plots to wreak social havoc by spreading unfounded rumors of a love-affair so that she may pluck what she wants from the wreckage, that being the affection of a married man. After more lies, backstabbing, bribery, and the arrival of a rich uncle in disguise, Sneerwell’s plot unravels in a way that illustrates just how “tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.” Tickets are available at the IU Auditorium box office or at the Lee Norvelle Center box office in-person, which opens one hour before the show.

◗ Dragon Wagon


Friday, March 1 / Max’s Place / 10 pm / Free

With a fiddle player who was trained the tradition of Celtic violin and later toured with a death metal-bluegrass hybrid outfit, DW is a bluegrass folk-rock band, but obviously not without a diverse array of other influences. The band is based in Ann Arbor, MI and has been playing together since 2008.  Legend has it that percussionist Fritz McGirr was once hired by Guinness Brewing Company to rap about beer and play the Bodhrán (double-sided, hand held frame drum with goat skin). DW mandolin player Troy Stanley Radikin confirms this.  Donations for admission will be accepted.

◗ Spamalot


Wednesday, March 6 / Indiana University Auditorium / 8 pm / $38-62

“Bring out your dead!” Created by the writers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, Spamalot is the Broadway version of the former.  After entertaining more than 2 million people and grossing more than $175 million in its first year, Spamalot was awarded a Tony for Best Musical in 2005. So enthused by the first year’s success, that 1,789 Monty Python fans amassed to form the “World’s Largest Coconut Orchestra” in Shubert Alley in Manhattan. Since then, the production has toured through Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Europe, and Australia.  If you’re not dead yet, you can find tickets at the IU Auditorium Box Office, located just south of the main entrance.

◗ Unknown Mortal Orchestra with Foxygen, Wampire

Friday, March 8 / The Bluebird / 9 pm / $12


Led by Ruban Nielson formerly of New Zealand, UMO creates a guitar-driven psychedelic pop with strains of funk and garage rock influenced by solitude and liver-punishing life on the road. His high-pitched, emotionally charged vocals combined with fuzzy distortion sound like a mix of Elliott Smith, Jimi Hendrix, and a new 21st Century bleakness that didn’t exist before. Sharing similar threads of psychedelia (not to mention the local labelship of Jagjaguar), Foxygen will precede UMO on stage, sporting surprising song structure that illustrates admirable instrument and genre diversity, amounting to a very entertaining and thoughtful experimental pop.

◗ Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma


Monday, March 18 / Indiana University Auditorium / 8 pm / $38-60

As one of the most recognized cellists in the world, Yo-Yo Ma directs and performs in the Silk Road Ensemble, which is part of a broader educational initiative called the Silk Road Project and includes performers from nearly 20 countries, playing instruments unique to their countries. For example, you can hear a kamancheh (bowed instrument with silk or metal strings) from Iran, a shakuhachi (end-blown flute) from Japan, or an erhu (double stringed fiddle with a python-skinned sound box) from China, just to name a few. Altogether, the Ensemble boasts both an enormous fleet of symphonic sound as well as illuminates individual instruments solo.

The Ryder, February 2013

Smile Trek

He traveled across Southeast Asia, on footFrom The Diary of Winston Fiore

Bloomington-native Winston Fiore recently completed a 5,000-mile trek across Southeast Asia. After graduating from Bloomington North High School, Winston joined AmeriCorps, America’s voluntary national service program. In 2007, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent three weeks training in Senegal. As a middle-class American, his eyes were opened by the sight of children scavenging through garbage and women carrying water on their heads for great distances. Amid the poverty and cultural differences that surrounded his experience there, Fiore found himself inspired to make global changes — in his own way. After returning from duty in Afghanistan last year, Winston decided to form his own charity project and then embarked on his 5,000-mile walk, which he calls Smile Trek, in an effort to raise funds and awareness for facial-reconstructive surgeries in the developing world.

Winston Fiore

 

Winston’s parents own Bloomington’s legendary Le Petit Café where Winston will be hosting a benefit dinner on Thursday, March 7; all proceeds will be donated to the International Children’s Surgical Foundation. ICSF’s founder and principle surgeon, Dr. Geoff Williams, will speak. For more information about the benefit or to make a reservation contact Winston at (812) 272.2686 or at winstonfiore@gmail.com

What follow are excerpts from Winston’s blog describing some of his experiences along the road.

Locals often ask me what I’m up to. Apparently a westerner walking up to a roadside eatery donned in a bulky load-bearing vest in middle-of-nowhere rural Malaysia is not a common scene. So I tell them I’m walking across Southeast Asia. Without fail, they reply, “walking?!”, with emphasis on the second syllable, as if their incredulousness doesn’t kick in until half way through the word. “Yes, walking.”

Refined sugar fuels the Malaysian. It is a force of habit, a bien-entendu, a fact of life. Malaysians go so far as to add simple syrup to their coconut water, and their tea makes Sunny Delight taste like distilled water. “Milk” refers to a pallid, condensed corn syrup that is added to tea/coffee to make it even sweeter. I learned long ago to simply preface every beverage order with, “No sugar please,” no matter how ridiculous such a request may seem. I once came across real cow’s milk – a rare find – at an eatery and ordered a glass. “Surely,” I naively thought, “I don’t need to specify that I don’t want sweetener added to a glass of milk.” The glass arrived with a halfinch mound of sugar grains caked to the bottom. Sometimes, beverages arrive with added sugar even after my precautionary request. Most likely, this is due to force of habit, but I like to picture the shopkeep in the back, wittingly adding sugar by the spoonful, shaking his head as he chuckles to himself, “Silly American, asking for no sugar in his coffee. He has obviously lost his way, but I will show him the light.”

The rainy season has finally arrived, and with it, Murphy’s Law. Thick black clouds may billow across every square inch of sky, but taking preemptive cover only postpones the downpour. Water doesn’t fall until the instant I decide to begin walking again. A particularly memorable instance occurred a couple weeks ago. The sky betokened a thunderstorm, as usual, and a long bridge lay ahead of me. I decided to press on, fingers crossed that I’d come across shelter on the other side in case of rain. Naturally, the sky fell the minute I reached the top, and the landscape before me was roofless as far as the eye could see. I walked for miles, sandwiched between never-ending oil palm plantations. It was approaching nightfall, I was drenched, and any promise of dinner seemed long gone. As I began accepting the fact that I’d be camping on yet another plantation, which I hate doing because they are teeming with mosquitos, a nondescript road-sign appeared out of nowhere. On it were the words “Teluk Intan Golf & Country Club” with an arrow pointing down an intersecting backroad. Through some twisted sense of humor, the gods, having just made my last two hours a living misery, were now dangling a carrot. With nothing to lose, I took the hint.

A secret garden unfolded before me: mowed grass, manmade lakes, a swimming pool, sports cars. I entered the massive building that stood at the head of the country club. Not only was the house restaurant open for business, but the owner bought me dinner, let me use the showers, and allowed me to set up camp in the lobby! I took advantage of the powerful ceiling fans, and my boots, socks, and clothes were bone dry by the time I hit the road the following morning. It’s a funny thing when such poor fortune is so quickly reversed by good luck.

I spent one night in a Muslim graveyard. I hadn’t intended to, but every once in a while, you get caught in an urban area when the sun goes down. In towns, where prospective campsites are few and far between, cemeteries are a godsend. They’re quiet (dead quiet), secluded, dimly lit, and generally unpopular at night. Plus, what better way to fall asleep than to be surrounded by people who have been sleeping for a very long time? I was out of there by sunrise.

Entering Laos from northern Thailand was quite the snafu. I navigate with Google walking directions, which had been reliable to a T up to that point. How Google went from infallible accuracy to epic failure in one fell swoop is beyond me, but that’s exactly what happened. Somehow Google Maps displayed, not one, but five imaginary bridges linking Vientiane to Thailand! One of these was incorporated in their walking directions from Bangkok to Laos’s capital, so when I got to the river dividing the two countries and could not find the bridge that was supposed to lead me across, I went through all five stages of grief before finally hitchhiking to the nearest real bridge (20 miles in the opposite direction)

It’s funny because a half-hour before this discovery, two women in a pickup truck pulled over to ask me where I was headed. “Laos!” I exclaimed. “You’re going the wrong way,” they insisted. “No,” I assured them, “there’s a bridge right up ahead.” After some time trying to convince me of the opposite, they finally drove off in disbelief. “Wow,” I thought to myself in amazement, “it’s incredible that natives of this very area aren’t even aware of the transnational bridges in their own backyard!”

I stepped on a snake in northern Thailand. I was walking at night and noticed what I thought was a bamboo stalk on the road shoulder (this is quite common). The object was similar in width, straight in structure, and completely motionless. I ended up stepping on it, and it quickly sprung out from under me. It was the most terrifying part of the trek so far. What made it terrifying wasn’t the fact that I stepped on a snake, but the fact that I stepped on a snake that I thought was a stalk of bamboo. Having one’s perceived reality so abruptly betrayed by one’s physical reality is absolutely petrifying. Can you imagine sitting on a fur couch that ends up being a live grizzly? Or stepping out onto a field of grass that is actually a pond covered in duckweed? This experience instilled in me a deep respect for Jumanji players.

I saw a Buddhist monk smoking a cigarette the other day, which was odd because I don’t usually think of Buddhist monks as smokers. If I were a tobacco lobbyist, I would exploit this image for all its worth. I thought of other monks out there who don’t cross my mind. Are there Buddhist monks in prison? If so, what do these incarcerated monks look like? Hulking muscles and Nirvana tattoos clad in an orange toga and flip-flops would seem contradictory, but who knows…

I’m beginning to scare the children. Around the time school lets out, it’s not uncommon for me to share the roadside with clusters of kids headed back home after class. Over the course of a half hour, the mass of schoolchildren will diffuse and I will end up gaining on a small group of three or four kids, one of which will turn around and notice me in the distance. Curiosity ensues, and everyone in the ensemble will begin turning around sporadically to behold their new pursuer. Once I get into the 30-yard range, they begin running away from me, stopping once they feel like I’m far enough behind them, and resuming once I approach again. This pattern usually continues until they turn off the main road to where their homes presumably are. But on one occasion, a group of kids stopped walking entirely and waited anxiously on the side of the road for me to pass them. I could detect the air of panic that had overtaken their conversation, “Look he’s obviously not going to stop following us, and every time we run away he just keeps catching up, so let’s just park ourselves right here and stare him down as he walks by.” I haven’t had children run away from me since that day my mom packed squid as my school lunch.

The Chinese know how to build cities. This was my first observation after a month in Vietnam, where the infrastructure was… dated, to put it charitably. The amount of construction happening in China right now is unreal; the country is one big public works project. Not only that, but the Chinese appear to be future-proofing their cities, building enormous avenues that, while underutilized today, will undoubtedly fill up as cars continue to become more affordable to China’s growing middle class. Many of these gargantuan avenues are built on the outskirts of large cities in anticipation of the development to follow. It is comical to be trekking down a deserted Champs Elysees biding its time until Paris is built.

Just as in previous countries I had walked through, the nicer restaurants in China boasted food photography in their menus. Because I don’t read Chinese, I would depend on these photos to know what I was ordering, which was problematic because 90% of the time, the dishes that were brought to me looked nothing like the photo. The most extreme case was a time I ordered a banana split at a UBC Coffee, a prevalent restaurant chain throughout China. The picture was magical: a festive bowl bursting at the seams from the generous vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry scoops that filled it, drowned in rich chocolate sauce and buried under a heap of whipped cream, pierced with chocolate-filled wafer sticks and flanked by two hearty banana halves. My mouth watered as I waited with impatience for this bowl of sin to appear before me. The waiter returned promptly, tray in hand, but what he produced was of a more modest nature: three quarter-inch, perpendicularly sliced, morsels of banana topping two barren scoops of freezer-burned vanilla ice cream. Nothing more. I pointed out the disparity between the photograph and this naked dessert to my server, who spoke passable English. “It require some… imagination,” he told me!

An insightful window into Chinese culture was opened at another UCB Coffee in Fuzhou. This was my final destination in China, so I was well versed in menus’ unrealistic food portraits by this point. But my low expectations didn’t make me crave ice cream any less, and I found myself in a conundrum. One dessert option boasted whipped cream, but the ice cream flavors did not tempt me. Another option had the scoops I desired but whipped cream was not in its description. Luckily, my server was majoring in English at a local university, so communicating my request that whipped cream be added to the latter option went smoothly. “I’ll pay extra,” I assured him, to which he replied that he would need to consult his manager. When he returned a few minutes later, the twinkle in his eye had evaporated, “Sir, I’m sorry; we don’t have that computer button in our system.” I stared at him blankly and listened for the hum of a cooling fan from within his chest cavity. I inspected his waiter uniform for any protruding hydraulic wires. He seemed human enough. “Well, this is going to sound crazy, but I’m willing to bet that if you walk through those kitchen doors and talk to the cooks in person, they’ll be able to throw some whipped cream on there.” His countenance showed little promise when he returned from the kitchen moments later, “Sir, I’m afraid the kitchen manager is gone for the day, but even if he were here, he would have to call the owner of this branch for approval.” Everything I knew about the world crumbled. The decision to add whipped cream to a dessert would have to go through the restaurant owner because they didn’t have a button in the computer. My server was very nice, and very eager to converse with a native English-speaker, so he proceeded to explain how this highly centralized approach to decision-making was quite common in China. Those with power flaunt it and feel the need to remind subordinates of their status on a regular basis. Even the trivial decision to add whipped cream, if made by a waiter or cook autonomously, could cause an insecure boss to feel threatened. “Here, someone could get fired over this, maybe just to make an example of them,” my waiter explained. I nursed my Tsing Tsao, grateful to be from a land where initiative was generally rewarded with a promotion.

I don’t generally sightsee on days I walk, as making use of my day to cover ground is a priority, but a massive Buddhist temple snuck up on me one afternoon a few weeks into crossing China. Its size alone sparked my curiosity, and the serenity it exuded made it too intriguing to resist. An imposing staircase linked the temple’s distant threshold to the ground before me, and as I ascended the deserted steps, I felt like Bruce Wayne in the opening scene of Batman Begins, in which he pilgrimages to a remote ninja temple in the mountains to seek training. What this movie scene doesn’t reveal, however, are the brand new SUVs parked at the entrance, the free buffet, and sneaker-clad monks texting on their mobile phones, all of which awaited me at the summit. Any hopes I had of being greeted with an anachronistic martial arts montage after the climb were nipped in the bud. The temple was gorgeous, though, and the buffet’s spread was handsome. After leaving a donation, I made my way back down the stairs to resume trekking. When I later told my father the bit about the monks texting on their phones, he bellowed, “They’re texting Buddha!”

Hong Kong was a breath of fresh air: uncensored internet, chocolate, coffee, clean streets, bars that knew how to prepare cocktails, people who spoke English. Still, I couldn’t see myself living there. I’m a pedestrian at heart, and Hong Kong is the least pedestrian-friendly city I’ve ever stepped foot in. It’s like walking through an M.C. Escher painting. Sidewalks outright end. This is not an exaggeration. Literally, you’ll be walking along a sidewalk, and it will end without warning. You’ll see where you want to go from where you’re standing, but you’ll have no idea how to go about getting there, like Jennifer Connelly’s character in Labyrinth, who can clearly see the Goblin King’s castle in the beginning but has to navigate a maze to reach it. Your only hope is to retrace your steps in search of some tunnel or underpass or overpass or talking door knockers that might get you one step closer to your destination. Even in those rare instances when you can discern a path to your endpoint, there will be obstacles. You’ll have to hurdle sidewalk rails, benches, and landscaping, all while keeping a watchful eye for police officers all-too-eager to ticket jaywalkers.

I’ve never met a breed of city dwellers as obedient to pedestrian protocol as Hong Kongers. Masses of cutthroat businessmen, veteran financiers, movers and shakers, kings of the hill, merciless men who clawed their way to the top, tooth and nail, and who answer to no one, men with booming voices who slap backs, who eat market share for breakfast and close mergers on their lunch breaks, who don’t get pushed around by anyone and who don’t take “no” for an answer; these men, when confronted by the little red man in the pedestrian traffic light, become sheep. The fact that there isn’t an automobile in sight matters not; they kneel before this little red man and adhere to his every command. For 70 seconds, their undivided attention, their world, their lives, are his.

I had my share of preconceived notions before coming to ‘Nam, mostly derived from war movies: conical hats, rice paddies, and hot humid weather. It is true that the stereotypical hats are worn by most in the countryside, and that the countryside is composed almost entirely of rice paddies, but what the war movies don’t tell you is that it gets cold in Vietnam! I actually had to spring for a fleece, and even with a fleece and my warm-weather sleeping bag, it was too cold to camp. Luckily, guesthouses, or “Nha Nghi”, averaged no more than $10/night.

Pale lager is the only kind of beer I enjoy, and in Vietnam, I discovered the best pale lager I have ever encountered anywhere in the world in my entire life: Bia Hoi, or “fresh beer.” Sold on street corners across the country, this stuff is distributed to vendors daily and directly from the brewery. It is hands-down the freshest beer I have ever tasted, and the price is almost negligible. Vendors purchase 5-gallon kegs for the equivalent of $7! In NYC, it’s not uncommon for a pint to cost $7…

I am not a fan of Vietnamese coffee. A dysfunctional marriage between a failed French press and a broken coffee seep, the brewing contraption is a terrific flop in human ingenuity. A nine-year-old chimpanzee with a learning disability could not invent a less efficient apparatus. Grounds are placed inside a metal filter that is affixed atop each individual cup, an ounce or so of hot water is poured in, and the brewed coffee drips into the cup… one… drop… at… a… time. Not only does it take twenty minutes to brew an ounce of coffee, but the beverage is stone cold by the time it has seeped through the filter.

To make matters worse, coffee is not generally offered in eateries and food is not generally offered at cafes. So instead of being able to allow the coffee to brew at the table while I ate breakfast, I would have to eat breakfast at one place and relocate to a cafe afterwards only to stare for twenty minutes at my cup as the coffee brewed one… drop… at… a… time…

The Ryder, February 2013

Marketing the MAC

A Young Arts Marketers’ Journey ◆ By Brooke Feldman

This past summer, I had just started my first real-life job working as a marketing assistant for the IU Jacobs School of Music. As the youngest in the family, this moment was my right of passage from student to professional. My previous experience with marketing was as a media relation’s specialist for a student-run production company in college. When my current position opened, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about marketing the arts, and to help come up with innovative ways to attract audience members of all ages. When I started this job, I knew I wanted to work in the arts and market them to the public but I was naïve in thinking that everyone thought like I did.

I had been an intern with the IU Opera & Ballet Theater, developing its Twitter account and introducing the department to hashtags of the operas as well as ways to engage an audience through interactive videos. I even dressed up in a tutu promoting The Sleeping Beauty, hoping some audience member would hold their laughter and talk to me during an intermission. The Facebook accounts were popular, but Twitter was providing snapshots of people’s lives and a more personal way to network with people about music just like a conversation through text messages. Introducing Twitter as another marketing platform for the Jacobs School of Music provided a plethora of ideas to connect with a digital audience.

Brooke Feldman

Now, as a somewhat seasoned marketer, I have to open up my mind to not just digital marketing, but all kinds of marketing from face to face interaction, to distribution of promotional material. I became aware of the balancing act one faces as a marketer to please long-time patrons, while still connecting with students on campus who have never set foot inside the Musical Arts Center.

Baby Boomers and the Millenials retrieve information about cultural events differently. Baby Boomers, who make up a majority of our loyal patrons, rely on print advertisements, or physical promotional material. We offer a free monthly event newsletter, Prelude, to households in Bloomington and surrounding cities. Anyone can subscribe; there is also the option to just look on our online calendar. I receive a lot of phone calls from subscribers who do not look at our online calendar asking if I can verify information on the Preludes. I also listen to their suggestions on patron relations or stories about their past experiences with Jacobs, and I do it all with a smile. These supporters have shown me the importance of the long-term relationships I can create for Jacobs by doing a little bit more than what my job description might say on paper.

Then there are the Millenials, inhabiting Bloomington for only a brief window of time. Most Millenials do not read a newspaper. Millenials look for events online through organization websites or Twitter feeds. They might be the toughest group to reach.

Do you remember sitting in the back row of a classroom, waving your hand furiously, hoping the teacher picks on you to answer the question? Marketing to non-opera goers is like that. It also sometimes feels like a big convincing game. That time you found the best band in the world, and had to have your friends listen to them, but they will not? Yeah, that’s how I sometimes feel. I try my best to explain the bursts of emotions that comes over me when sit in an opera house, but there are no words to describe the feeling.

I have been in strategy sessions and learned some clever marketing techniques. For example, to promote the opening of The Merry Widow, we created a campaign for a date night special, in which patrons can buy 2 tickets for just $20. We also created an IU Opera Club for Kids, where parents and their children can experience opera and ballet together, and receive a backstage tour. Both of these initiatives had one goal in mind: invite a round of non-goers that will hopefully become frequent audience members.

Other arts organizations are faced with the similar marketing challenges. Take the Metropolitan Opera House. In December I took a trip back home to New York City, and made plans with two friends (an opera singer and a novice opera goer) to attend a production of The Barber of Seville. To my surprise, the production was shortened and sung in English rather than Italian. I read in the program that this was a special holiday presentation for audiences of all ages. As a fan of the piece, it was a bit hard to sit through, but the Metropolitan Opera created a new way to engage new opera goers.

I work with my co-workers to help figure out new ways to entice someone to step into the MAC. Our efforts are always hit or miss; we might be able to spark a little opera and ballet light in someone who sees an advertisement, reads a review, or walks past the MAC, and we could also be perceived as just another performing arts center in Bloomington. We just hope you give the arts a chance.

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“Doing a little bit more than what my job description might say on paper….”

The Ryder, February 2013

OPERA: Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten”

A Modern American Opera With An Ancient, Exotic Feel ◆ by Kristen Strandberg

Philip Glass’s music often conveys a sense of mesmerizing calmness, yet can just as easily–and sometimes simultaneously–provoke a sense of unease. Such is the case with his 1984 opera, Akhnaten, which the IU Opera Theater will perform on February 22 and 23, and March 1 and 2.  While the IU Opera often performs one or two contemporary works each season, this marks their first performance of a Glass opera.  Akhnaten may be slightly more challenging for listeners than this season’s Mozart or Verdi operas, yet Glass’s music is still accessible and somewhat familiar.  Much of the opera’s music contains the unmistakable sounds of Glass’s minimalist style, in which short musical fragments are repeated over long periods of time with slow-changing harmonies.  Yet, Akhnaten’s dissonant sounds set it apart from Glass’s well-known piano music and earlier opera Einstein on the Beach, giving it a foreign, ancient feel.

“Anhkaten” At The IU MAC

The mesmerizing and reflective quality of Glass’s music has a powerful effect when paired with visual images or a narrative.  He has written music for several films, such as Candyman (1992), The Truman Show (1998), and The Hours (2002), which received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Original Score.  In film, the synergy between Glass’s score and the on-screen images offers depth and insight into the narrative: during Virginia Wolf’s suicide scene in The Hours, the mesmerizing calmness of Glass’s score offers psychological insight into the character, giving the viewer a sense of peace and finality in spite of the urgency and distress of the visual images.  The 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi offers a similar alliance between image and Glass’s music.  The film consists entirely of landscapes and city scenes without dialogue or narrative, and while the landscape scenes are often beautiful, Glass’s repetitive minimalist music can be deeply unsettling, giving the viewer the sense that something is very wrong; later scenes showing the effects of pollution confirm this sense.

Glass’s operatic music similarly complements images on stage.  Written in 1984, Akhnaten is Glass’s third opera, telling the story of an ancient Egyptian king who is overthrown after his attempts to impose religious reform on his kingdom. The music complements the ancient Egyptian setting, altering our sense of time and place because of its unfamiliar and somewhat unsettling nature.

Throughout the opera, the instruments and voices create layers of sounds; the strings, brass, percussion, and voices each repeat their own musical ideas without interacting with each other, producing a sense of organized chaos.  The Act 1 love duet between Akhnaten and Nefertiti demonstrates this effect while also speaking to Akhnaten’s desire to abolish polygamy in his kingdom. The duet features Glass’s signature repetition in the orchestra, while the two voices interject in their own style, perhaps symbolizing the characters’ unity in conflict with the desires of the polygamous kingdom.  Other elements, such as dissonance and a lack of sustained notes and vocal beauty, remind the listener that this is not a nineteenth-century operatic love story, but a much more distant, unfamiliar one.

Akhnaten is performed by twelve solo voices, a chorus, and a narrator, with a mixture of sung and spoken text.  Glass and his collaborators drew upon various sources for the text, including the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Bible, and several letters and poems.  Each segment is performed in the source’s original language- English, Hebrew, or Egyptian.

The IU Opera Theater will perform Akhnaten at 8 pm on February 22 and 23, and March 1 and 2 at the Musical Arts Center.  Additionally, they will join the Indianapolis opera for two performances on March 8 and 9 at Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University.

The Ryder, February 2013

FILM: And The Winners Could Be…

Oscar Predictions From Somebody Who Has No Business Making Them ■ by Craig J. Clark

There’s a very good reason why I’m not in the Oscar prognostication business. In my Top Ten Films of 2012 article I singled out two performances which I believed merited some measure of recognition from the Academy and, true to form, when the nominations were announced last month, Denis Lavant failed to score one for his sterling work in Holy Motors and Rachel Weisz’s revelatory turn in The Deep Blue Sea was similarly passed over. I also find it hard to fathom that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master didn’t get nominated for Best Picture, Best Director or Best Original Screenplay, but at least at least it can crow about its three acting nods. Whether any of them will translate to actual wins is anyone’s guess. And when you get right down to it, guesswork is all it really is.

Ever since the nominations were announced, a lot of ink (both digital and actual) has been spilled by people in the industry and those standing outside it, all sharing their thoughts about who was snubbed and who’s likely to go home empty-handed come February 24. Some of these people may have even seen all or most of the films that are nominated, but in the field of entertainment journalism that’s hardly a prerequisite. With that in mind, here is my idiosyncratic take on who’s likely to win in the major categories, and who actually should win.

◗ Best Picture
It’s a nine-horse race this year, and at present I only really have five horses in it: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook. Of the four that remain, I strongly suspect I will have seen Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty by the time this issue goes to press, which just leaves Argo (which I had ample opportunities to see when it was released last fall) and Les Misérables (which holds no interest for me whatsoever). And since the Academy declined to nominate Ben Affleck or Tom Hooper for Best Director (or Quentin Tarantino or Kathryn Bigelow, for that matter), their films don’t have much of a chance of taking the top award anyway. In many ways, Best Picture appears to be Lincoln‘s to lose, but if by some miracle that comes to pass, I’d like to see it be lost to Amour just because. Even sight unseen (since it won’t be coming to the IU Cinema until the week after the Oscars are given out), Amour is my pick.

◗ Best Director
And Michael Haneke is my pick for Best Director, even though chances are great that the Academy will give it to Steven Spielberg, whose last nomination was for Munich. Of the other nominees, Life of Pi is well-regarded enough that Ang Lee could be a spoiler (especially considering his last time up to bat was with Brokeback Mountain), and David O. Russell is something of a wild card thanks to the heat behind Silver Linings Playbook‘s clean sweep of the acting categories (the first time that’s happened since Reds pulled off the same feat 32 years ago). As for Benh Zeitlin, since he’s in such august company with his first feature, he should consider that it’s an honor just to be nominated and leave his acceptance speech at home.

◗ Best Actor
Of the five nominees, I’ve only seen two of their performances, but that hardly matters since everybody and their brother knows Daniel Day-Lewis has a lock on this. That’s really too bad for Bradley Cooper, who proved he was more than just a pretty face with Silver Linings Playbook (no matter how problematic its depiction of mental illness may be), Hugh Jackman (who used his natural singing ability to his advantage in Les Misérables), and Denzel Washington (who, like Day-Lewis, already has two Oscars in his trophy case). If it were up to me, though, the little gold statuette would go to Joaquin Phoenix for his incredibly brave performance as a troubled World War II veteran searching for a purpose in The Master.

Best Actress
This is one of the more difficult categories to handicap since its nominees are all over the map in terms of age and experience. At 9 years old, Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest performer ever to be nominated for Best Actress, and at 85, Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest. And the only other nominee I’ve seen is Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, which seems like a real long shot to me. I expect this is the one category where the Academy and I will align, though, with the award going to Riva for what I can only presume is a harrowing — and touching — performance.

◗ Best Supporting Actor
It’s been noted that all of the nominees for Best Supporting Actor this year have already won an Oscar, so there’s no chance of the Academy going, “Hey, we kind of owe Alan Arkin, don’t we? Let’s go ahead and give it to him.” For my money, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the heavyweight in this category since his part in The Master is really a leading role, but I believe the Academy will give it to Robert De Niro in recognition of the fact that his performance in Silver Linings Playbook represents one of the increasingly rare occasions where he actually appears to give a crap instead of just appearing in it. (Can you believe the last time he was nominated was for Cape Fear? Talk about a dry spell.)

◗ Best Supporting Actress
This one’s always a toss-up. As much as I enjoyed Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook, I don’t see her swaying the voters, and I predict that Amy Adams will wind up being the third nominee from The Master to go home empty-handed. That leaves the three performances I haven’t seen, so I’m going with my gut and saying Sally Field will take home her third Oscar (giving her a perfect record) for playing Mary Todd Lincoln.

◗ Best Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay
The screenplay awards tend to be where the Academy makes up for some oversight in the bigger categories. (Think Pulp Fiction netting Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay when many thought it should have bested Forrest Gump in the Best Picture race.) Accordingly, I fully expect screenwriter Mark Boal to spin Best Original Screenplay gold out of Zero Dark Thirty‘s failure to take home the top prize. If I had my druthers, though, I would much rather see it go to Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for their sweetly perceptive coming-of-age tale Moonrise Kingdom (which received no other nominations). And while Tony Kushner is a sure bet to win Best Adapted Screenplay for Lincoln, I believe Benh Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar’s beguiling script for Beasts of the Southern Wild is the one more worthy of recognition.

◗ Best Animated Feature
Since I haven’t seen any of the nominees for Best Documentary or Best Foreign Film (which is far from unusual considering the limited distribution those receive), the final category I’ll be weighing in on is Best Animated Feature, which I feel uniquely qualified for since I managed to see four of the five nominees. (I chalk this up to the fact that the Academy didn’t go for anything off the beaten path, like last year’s Chico & Rita or A Cat in Paris, or 2011’s surprise nomination for The Secret of Kells.) With ParaNorman being the odd one out for me, that leaves Pixar’s Brave, Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Disney’s Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph. All solid films (although some are solid-er than others), but my pick for the best of the lot is the endlessly inventive (and lovingly nostalgic) Wreck-It Ralph. I’m pretty sure there are few gamers in the Academy, though, so they’ll probably give it to Brave instead, and I won’t kick up a fuss if they do. After all, I’m used to being wrong about these things.

The Ryder, February 2013

TV: Tilting At Windmills

Aaron Sorkin Speaks Truth To Stupid ■ by Ben Atkinson

There are plenty of news shows out there and even plenty of entertainment shows that cover news. The Newsroom is a drama about journalists reporting news, but the novelty is that it uses actual news stories from the recent past. The show, which first aired summer of 2012, begins its own timeline in April of 2010.

The Newsroom might just as well be the lovechild of Sorkin’s earlier shows The West Wing and Sports Night. The characters are inspiring but imperfect, with a constant battle between their demons and better angels, with the latter prevailing.

Writer and creator Aaron Sorkin believes there are viewers who are disappointed with the current state of journalism and with news shows geared more towards entertaining than informing. The Newroom revolves around the battle between the journalists and ratings-obsessed network executives. Sorkin fans will find the struggle of creative professionals to excel under management constraints familiar (see Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). His own struggles with ABC over the use of laugh tracks and live studio audiences may have influenced his writing. The Newsroom seems to have found a more willing party with HBO which has renewed the show for a second season set to air in June.

The Newsroom

Jeff Daniels brilliantly portrays lead anchor Will McAvoy. Daniels comes a long way from his famous role in Dumb and Dumber, and is more than convincing as one of those hyper-intelligent Sorkin characters who always has the appropriate facts, statistics, and trivia on hand for any situation. McAvoy is another in Sorkin’s line of great men who shape history. Of course he’s a man; while the women on the show wear powerful shoes and are far from the kitchen, their primary role is to inspire and prop up their male counterparts.

Despite the indignant speeches that inspire the left and infuriate the right (hardly rarities in a Sorkin script), McAvoy is a conservative, in the classical sense of the word. Registered Democrats and West Wing fans shouldn’t find this too off-putting, as it rarely explicitly surfaces. McAvoy’s acknowledged quixotic vision of himself as a knight defending truth, justice, and the American way while on a mission to civilize the savages rings rather false to a Leftist view of history. His constant forays against the Tea Party are less an attack on conservative philosophy than an attempt to rescue his party from its fringe elements, something Indiana Republicans might cherish after last year’s Senate race.

Emily Mortimer’s Mackenzie McHale is the show’s heart. Her passion drives everyone and her pure commitment to her profession counters the cynicism that threatens to conquer her colleagues. She is the better angel sitting on the proverbial shoulder.

Together their mission statement is “speak truth to stupid.” Journalism is idealized as a quest for truth, not as a “balance” with equal coverage between two ideological camps. McAvoy isn’t afraid to pursue a line of questioning beyond the prepared talking points and won’t let his interview subjects evade the issues with non-answers and deflections.

Yes, it is easier to look back on a two-year old story with hindsight and imagine how one would like it to have been reported. Sorkin isn’t bashing journalists, but is extolling what they could be as he reminds viewers of the importance of the Fourth Estate.

Reliving actual events makes watching The Newsroom a unique experience. Remembering where one was and how one viewed the events as they happened has a certain element of nostalgia. Many stories are not so pleasant, especially those all too similar to recent events. The first episode deals with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and brings to mind the recent grounding of the Shell drill barge off Alaska. The episode chronicling the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords can’t help but recall recent images from Sandy Hook. Nevertheless, the show manages to maintain an optimistic tone. Rather than compromise journalistic integrity and make deals with the devils, the journalists in The Newsroom rise to the challenge. Season 1 opens with allusions to Man of La Mancha, and it isn’t clear if we are witnessing a fool tilting at windmills or a brave knight stepping forth to do battle with giants. It ends, however referencing a different musical and the enduring embers of hope that can be seen even in the ashes of defeat. Camelot may have been but “for one brief shining moment,” but that doesn’t make a fool of King Arthur. Not everything about The Newsroom is perfect, but it does remind us that when we look over the “great blue motion of the sunlit sea,” some of the drops sparkle.

The Ryder, February 2013

The Subversive Cinema Of Crispin Glover

Look Who’s Talking ■ by Peter LoPilato

Crispin Glover is well known as an off-kilter character actor; who can forget the dippy dad, George McFly, in Back to the Future?

Glover is also a filmmaker, author and performance artist. And he’ll be combining all three when he arrives to the IU Cinema with his interactive, book tour/road show. The performances on February 15 and 16 are co-sponsored by The Ryder and will include screenings of Glover’s independently produced and self-distributed films (a different film each night) along with a slide show comprised of images from his extensively illustrated books — Glover’s books are visual works as much as they are texts. His dramatic narration will accompany the slide show. An audience Q&A and a let’s-get-acquainted book signing follow.

Glover’s films are provocative. In fact, that is an understatement and he believes that they are best experienced when he is present — screenings, consequently, are rare. It is Fine! Everything Is Fine will be screened on February 15. Produced and funded by Glover from a screenplay by the film’s star, Steven C. Stewart, It is Fine! dramatizes the psycho-sexual fantasies of a man with severe cerebral palsy. Combining elements of horror and  exploitation, this fantastical and often humorous tale is told completely from Stewart’s point of view – that of a man who has lived for years watching people do things he will never be able to do.

Glover will present What Is It? on February 16. Described as “the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe,” the film’s ensemble cast includes porn stars and actors with Down Syndrome. In addition to writing and directing What Is It? Glover also appears in the film as an actor in the role of a “dueling Demi-God Auteur and the young man’s inner psyche.” Actress Fairuza Balk voices one of the snails.
It is safe to say that even adventurous filmgoers will be venturing into unchartered cinematic territory when Crispin Glover comes to town. Glover discussed his films, books and his on-again-off-again relationship with Hollywood in an interview, conducted by email, with The Ryder.

Ryder Your films bring imagery to screen that audiences are not often (if ever) exposed to.  Many of these images are considered taboo, at least in mainstream media.  How are you trying to affect your audiences with these images?

Crispin Glover I am very careful to make it quite clear that What is it? is not a film about Down Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in filmmaking. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks “Is this right, what I am watching? Is this wrong, what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?” -and that is the title of the film.

What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in its media? So What is it? Is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

Ryder You’ve been quoted as saying, “I admire films and desire to make films that go beyond the realm of that which is considered good and evil.”  How would you define “good” and “evil” in filmmaking?

Crispin Glover Films that are currently financed and distributed by the film corporations and distribution corporations must sit within the boundary of that which is considered good and evil. What this means is if there is a so called “bad thing/evil thing” that sits within a corporately financed and distributed film it must necessarily be pointed at by the filmmaker; the audience is dictated to think about that so called “evil thing” in that one way. Any other way of thinking about that so called “evil thing” would be considered wrong and the film must be made in such a way that the audience understands that the filmmakers feel that this “evil thing” is only that and no other way of thinking about that “evil thing” could or should be possible. A film that goes beyond the realm of good and evil may have this same so-called “evil thing” but the filmmaker may not necessarily point at that so-called “evil thing.” The audience can think for itself as to what this so called “evil thing” really is to them. I would say that description applies to both What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Ryder You’ve worked within and outside of the Hollywood studio system. I would assume that both have advantages and disadvantages. Can you talk a bit about those?

Crispin Glover I see myself as someone who has been raised with the understanding of how corporately funded and distributed film business works. I have had a certain amount of acceptance within that business.

While I am grateful to that system to have made a living in it for about 35 years I have also had questions about how to make the corporately funded and distributed film business more truly educational. Within the corporately funded and distributed film world I see myself as an actor for hire and am grateful to that system to have made a living in it.

In the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized that the money I made from that film could be put straight into What is it? after Charlie’s Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with me in their film. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.

Ryder The very personal, self-distribution of your films is admirable, and pays tribute to early film exhibition, when live performance and music were very much part of the program. Was this the inspiration for you, or are you recalling something different?

Crispin Glover Thank you! The live aspects of the shows are not to be underestimated.

When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the books are so heavily illustrated and the way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I now call Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show Part 1. I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. The content of that show has not changed since I first started performing it. But the performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based the audience’s energy and my energy.

People sometimes get confused as to what Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show is, so now I always let it be known that it is a one hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable.

Volcanic Eruptions was a business I started in Los Angeles in 1988 as Crispin Hellion Glover doing business as Volcanic Eruptions. It was a name to use for my book publishing company.  About a year later I had a record/CD come out with a corporation called Restless Records. When I had sold the same amount of books as CD/records, it became clear to me that, because I had published my own books, I had a far greater profit margin. It made me very suspicious of working with corporations as a business model.

It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to be under-estimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. The number of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense.

The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.

Ryder Your books Rat Catching and Oak-Mot are altered versions of works that were in the public domain – could a similar approach work in filmmaking?

Crispin Glover I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800’s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about twenty of them.

When I was editing my first feature film What is it? There was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

There are definitely filmmakers that have taken existing film works and reworked them for a different interpretation of the original footage. Sometimes it is very effective. I saw the 1936 film Rose Hobart by the American Artist Joseph Cornel projected at UCLA in the 1980’s. He had taken portions of a film titled East of Borneo and edited it with footage from at least one other film. I quite liked that film when I saw it. I am sure there are a lot of other good examples of this being done.

Ryder Many of your works, film and print, independent and commercial, focus on what some would consider “uncouth” objects, i.e. snails (What is It?), worms (Oak-Mot), rats (Rat Catching and Willard), cockroaches (Wild at Heart). Similarly, many of the women in What is It? are shown wearing various animal masks (monkeys, elephants, etc.). What do you find attractive or interesting about insects and animals generally? What do you think these things can tell your audience about themselves, if anything?

Crispin Glover I am careful not to publicly over-analyze the imagery in my own films. Wild at Heart is of course a David Lynch film. The nature of What is it? lets people’s thoughts come in to play. If I let people know what my thoughts are on the imagery in the film it can make people feel they are wrong in interpreting it differently. It is important for people to interpret the imagery in the way that make sense to them. I will say that I knew the macro shots of the snails in What is it? would help to personalize them in a way that would not happen if shot with a non-macro lens.

Ryder You recorded the pop classic These Boots Art Made for Walkin’ and put your own personal stamp on it. Is there a classic Hollywood film that you would like to do the same with?

Crispin Glover It was produced on the record The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be by Barnes and Barnes. They had asked me to record a top-40 song. I was a bit reluctant to do this, but ended up choosing that song.  I don’t have any film in my mind that would necessarily be good to remake, but I would never say never.

Ryder Who are a few of your favorite filmmakers? Is there anyone you would especially like to work with if you were given the opportunity?

Crispin Glover Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Luis Buñuel, Stanley Kubrick, Todd Browning, FW Murnau, Fritz Lang, Akira Kurosawa, Milos Foreman, Roman Polanski, David Lynch, John Waters, Russ Meyer, Karel Zeman, Abbas Kiarostami, Wong Kar-wai, Ken Russell, Gaspar Noe, Orson Wells, John Cassavetes, Dennis Hopper….

There are many more. My favorite film lists go into the hundreds and there are a lot of my very favorite films that are just one-offs where the director only made one film. Many of the above directors have made multiple films that I admire.

The Ryder, February 2013