Surviving A Plague

by Brandon Walsh

There’s a moment in How To Survive a Plague, David France’s documentary account of the earliest and darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, when ten thousand men and women march on the nation’s capital, carrying the remains of their loved ones lost to the virus. Officers on horses resisting the crowd, protesters on the frontline form against the White House fence, tossing the ashes forward in unison on the front lawn. A man weeps as he repeats, “I love you Mike.”

Heartbreaking moments such as this appear throughout France’s film, comprised of mostly archival footage, news clips, and home movies. In the decade the documentary chronicles, from 1986 to 1996, the epidemic claimed over 8 million lives worldwide, and yet the film voices a story of profound optimism.

How To Survive a Plague follows the history of the New York-based advocacy group “AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power,” more commonly known as Act Up. The organization came into the national spotlight with its inventive and effective media presence, civil disobedience, and its slogan “Silence = Death.”

Realizing that changing culture was not enough to address the lack of government attention towards AIDS funding, Act Up and TAG activists became engaged participants of the FDA’s drug-approval process. As result of this self-education, Act Up’s involvement directly resulted in the emergence of antiretroviral drug treatment, which has saved nearly six million lives since, yet is still unaffordable to many today.


David France

France paces his film quickly, highlighting Act Up’s successes and failures, meanwhile foregrounding the humanity of the passionate men and women who led the movement, who recognized the historic importance of their work as well as the likelihood of their own deaths. The film highlights the effects of the deaths, shaking the internal politics of the organization itself as well as addressing the guilt felt by those who survive today.

In many ways the film acts as a convincing endorsement for grassroots efforts and physical presence as a means of producing immediate social change, specifically relevant upon its release in late 2012, surrounding the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

As the documentary advocates for organized collaborative efforts, it is of little surprise that the film’s credits recognize 30 archival cinematographers by name, several of which noted as deceased. With such in mind the film memorializes the movement as much as it does the bravery of its leaders.

Though France works foremost as a print journalist covering LGBT-related issues, his directorial debut was awarded several accolades, including best documentary at the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards and Boston Society of Film Critics, as well as a nomination for best documentary in the 2012 Academy Awards. David France was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film currently has a 100% fresh rating on the film aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

During one of the film’s protest funerals, Act Up leader Bob Rafsky says to a crowd, “When the living can no longer speak, the dead may speak for them. Mark’s voice is here with us, as is the voice of Perecles, who two millennia ago mourned the Athenian soldiers, who didn’t have to die, and in whose death he was complicit, but who had the nobility to say that their memorial was the whole Earth.” The film is dedicated to David Gould, France’s lover who in 1992 died to AIDS-related pneumonia.

How To Survive a Plague is a story of movement in the face of blockage, optimism in the wake of loss, voiced through the mouthpiece of those who led a social movement that saved millions of lives, but who are not yet finished fighting.

Director David France will be present for Indiana University’s 35mm screening of How To Survive A Plague on Wednesday, November 20 at 7:00pm in the Whittenberger Auditorium located in the Indiana Memorial Union. Following the documentary, Mr. France will discuss the film and accept questions from the audience.

The event is presented as part of the Union Board Film Series, in partnership with Sexploration Week, Indiana University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Alumni Association, and Positive Link (a program of IU Health). The free, non-ticketed event will be open to the public. For more information visit the Union Board website or Union Board Films on Facebook.

[Brandon Walsh is the director of the Union Board Film Series, an undergraduate senior studying in the Communication & Culture and Telecommunications departments.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

Bobbing For Credibility

Bobcat Goldthwait reinvents himself as a writer/director ◆ by Craig J. Clark

“If I had any goals, I really hope I can just keep making small movies. You know, I have a body of work that I’m pretty embarrassed of, so if I could just keep making small movies that appeal to a small group of people, I’d be very happy.” — Bobcat Goldthwait on the commentary for Sleeping Dogs Lie

Of all the standup comedians who entered the public eye in the mid-’80s, Bobcat Goldthwait may be the last one anyone expected to have serious filmmaking ambitions. An early fixture of the Police Academy series (in which he played street punk-turned-cop Zed), he soon graduated to the ensemble of Savage Steve Holland’s One Crazy Summer in 1986, played supporting roles in vehicles for Whoopi Goldberg (1987’s Burglar) and Bill Murray (1988’s Scrooged), and landed one of his own in the stock-picking talking horse movie Hot to Trot (also 1988). After that, the next logical step was behind the camera. The result was 1991’s Shakes the Clown.

"Shakes the Clown"


On its painted face, Shakes seems like a film that can be encapsulated and dismissed in the same breath since it’s centered on the exploits of a foul-mouthed, alcoholic party clown (who is nevertheless capable of bringing joy to children and winning over their parents with his surprising professionalism). All one has to do is sit down and watch it, though, to see that there’s a profound strangeness at this Clown’s core that isn’t even hinted at by its surface trappings or even what is arguably its most famous scene, in which Goldthwait and his fellow greasepaint enthusiasts beat up a group of mimes (their mortal enemies).

For starters, the story takes place within the city limits of Palukaville (“The Nation’s Leader in Lard Production”), which has turned clowning into a cottage industry with businesses – including a clown bar called The Twisted Balloon – that cater directly to them. Naturally, Goldthwait’s Shakes spends a lot of his downtime between birthday parties hanging out at The Balloon with his clown friends (one of whom is played by a pre-fame Adam Sandler) and hitting on his barmaid girlfriend (Julie Brown), who dreams of being a professional bowler. As for Shakes, he hopes to succeed the retiring Peppy the Clown as host of the Big Time Cartoon Circus, but that job goes instead to first-rate asshole and drug fiend Binky (Tom Kenny, later to gain fame as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants).

What little there is of the plot kicks into gear when Shakes is framed for murder by a coked-up Binky, who’s in the middle of a drug deal with a couple of rodeo clowns (yes, the film also has rodeo clowns) when his boss (Paul Dooley) walks in on them. Forced to go into hiding as a mime, Shakes attends a class taught by an abusive taskmaster (Robin Williams, who’s credited as Marty Fromage) and eventually convinces his friends to help him clear his name.

Like its unreliable protagonist, Shakes the Clown doesn’t work 100% of the time, and Goldthwait could have stood to explore Palukaville’s odder corners a little more. (A visit to a rodeo clown bar is a real wasted opportunity since we never go inside.) We don’t even find out where he met single mother Florence Henderson, who comes to in the opening scene with makeup smeared on her face after a one-night stand with Shakes. (“You’re my first clown,” she says, without much conviction.) All told, it would be another decade before he stepped behind the camera again. I guess he figured he had more to learn about his craft.

When Goldthwait decided to get back into the directing game in the early ’00s, he started small with segments of Comedy Central’s The Man Show, Crank Yankers and Chappelle’s Show. This led to him taking the reins of the 2003 TV movie Windy City Heat, which is essentially a feature-length practical joke on aspiring actor/comedian Perry Caravello, who’s impossible to feel sorry for since he’s loud, abrasive, anti-Semitic, homophobic and – worst of all – untalented. Of course, even if he did have some acting chops, it would be difficult for him to show them off with chuckleheads Don Barris and “Mole” (Tony Barbieri) tripping him up at every opportunity.

In addition to directing the film, Goldthwait also plays the director of the film-within-the-film, which is also called Windy City Heat and is about a “sports private eye” named Stone Fury, a part Caravello is right to believe was tailor-made for him. First, though, he has to ace his audition with casting agent “Roman Polanski” (Dane Cook) and beat out his main rival for the role, Carson Daly (playing himself). Once he does and the filming commences, Caravello suffers numerous indignities, as well as a series of petty pranks that Barris and Barbieri play on him, culminating in the myriad delays that make them late for the film’s only public screening.

One’s enjoyment of the final product will depend greatly on how much patience you have for the tiresome antics of Barris, Barbieri and Caravello (and the less said about Tom Kenny’s turn as a gay costume designer, the better). Goldthwait picks up the slack, though, with his directorial affectations, including his insistence on speaking through a bullhorn at all times, even when not on the set, and the boots and jodhpurs he wears as part of his ensemble. Also amusing is his absent producer’s demand that he “get cracking or you’ll be out on the street shooting Hot to Trot 2.” Considering how Windy City Heat turned out – both versions – that may have been preferable.

A solid argument for the belief that nobody can – or should – know everything about their loved ones, Goldthwait’s 2006 feature Sleeping Dogs Lie is about a grade-school teacher (Melinda Page Hamilton) who frets about whether to tell her boyfriend (Bryce Johnson) her deepest, darkest secret after he proposes marriage. And she has every reason to tread carefully since she performed fellatio on her dog when she was a bored undergrad. (This we’re told right at the top of the film, with Hamilton narrating the whole story, so it’s not like it’s a big secret to us.) Even if it was a one-time thing that she immediately regretted, she intuitively understands it’s the sort of thing that can fundamentally change the way a person thinks of you.

Hamilton is still conflicted when she and Johnson head up to her parents’ for a visit, allowing Goldthwait to switch gears and observe how being around her conservative parents (Geoff Pierson and Bonita Friedericy) and bitter brother (Jack Plotnick) throws her even further off her game. Because there wouldn’t be much of a movie if Hamilton never owned up, she eventually does, and her revelation floors Johnson and gives Plotnick ammo to use against her – and he doesn’t hesitate to. Frozen out by her family and ultimately rejected by Johnson, Hamilton gets her own place and goes on the rebound with a fellow teacher (Colby French) who’s curious about her past but doesn’t push her too hard about it. Still, every interaction with her ex or her family is fraught with tension since any one of them could drop the bomb at any moment. That’s when it becomes crystal clear why some pooches should be allowed to slumber.

As dark as Sleeping Dogs Lie sometimes gets, it was a mere warm-up for Goldthwait’s 2009 film World’s Greatest Dad, which stars Robin Williams as a frustrated novelist who ghostwrites an eloquent suicide note for his douchebag of a teenage son (a sullen Daryl Sabara) when he accidentally asphyxiates himself while masturbating. What Williams doesn’t anticipate is the way this simple act will transform his preternaturally unpopular offspring (who was considered a crude, homophobic bully) into a tragically misunderstood martyr – and alter his own life in the process.


This change is most readily reflected in Williams’s relationship with fellow teacher Alexie Gilmore, who seems to be on the verge of dumping him when things turn around for him. On top of that, his poorly attended poetry class is suddenly filled to the brim with eager students hanging on his every word, and the school’s grief counselor is hot to publish Sabara’s journal (which Williams has to forge as well). The only fly in the ointment is Sabara’s sole friend (Evan Martin), who’s well aware of Williams’s deception and could blow the whistle at any moment. That’s really a call for Williams to make, though – just not before he gets his moment in the sun on The Dr. Dana Show, where he nearly loses it on air. In all honesty, it would have saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of bother if he had.

Since Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad established him as a director to watch, Goldthwait has periodically returned to television to work on such shows as Comedy Central’s Important Things with Demetri Martin and FX’s Maron, starring Marc Maron. The project he really poured his heart and soul into, however, was the 2011 satire God Bless America, which proves that as a writer/director he has a lot to say about the culture we live in.

The action revolves around fed-up divorcé Joel Murray (who previously had a walk-on in Shakes the Clown), a man who has had his fill of his inconsiderate neighbors, the braying jackasses clogging up the airwaves, and his undiscriminating co-workers who parrot it back at him, inciting him to rail against society’s ills. He also has to contend with an ex-wife (Sleeping Dogs Lie’s Melinda Page Hamilton) who’s getting remarried and a daughter (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) who doesn’t want to visit with him. On top of all that, he suffers from severe migraines, so after he’s unjustly fired from his soul-sucking insurance job he goes to the doctor and is told that he has a brain tumor, which gives him the chance to do some Ikiru-style soul searching. Instead, he teams up with a young rebel (Tara Lynne Barr) who convinces him that he can do a lot more good by killing others who don’t deserve to live.

To Goldthwait’s credit, it’s really hard to take issue with any of the targets they choose (although the scene where they pick off the people talking and texting in a movie theater can be somewhat uncomfortable to sit through). And Murray is vigilant about drawing the line, which extends to his refusal to sexualize the underage Barr. He’s also cognizant of the need to pick the right time and place to take his final stand against the culture that got him up in arms in the first place. After all, if you have a message for the nation, you want to make sure the nation is actually listening.

That brings us to Goldthwait’s latest, Willow Creek, a found-footage horror film about a couple (played by Alexie Gilmore from World’s Greatest Dad and Bryce Johnson from Sleeping Dogs Lie) who venture into the woods in search of Bigfoot. The true nature of what happens to them is shrouded in mystery, but if his past work is anything to go by, whatever they find (and capture on their ever-present video camera) will surely be worth talking about.

[Bobcat Goldthwait introduces his films God Bless America and Willow Creek at the IU Cinema on October 31st and appears at the Comedy Attic on November 1st and 2nd.]

The Ryder ◆ November 2013




Once known for his screechy-voiced stand-up persona, over the past few years Bobcat Goldthwait has been carving himself a niche as a writer/director of darkly humorous independent films.



Bobcat Goldthwait as the title character of his misunderstood directorial debut, Shakes the Clown.



Bobcat Goldthwait, in his unbilled cameo as a limo driver, commiserates with Robin Williams in World’s Greatest Dad.



Tara Lynne Barr and Joel Murray take aim at an increasingly intolerable society in God Bless America.


Culture And The Power Of Words

An Evening with Author Nicole Mones ◆ by Carol Shapiro

Today I heard a radio announcement for story hour at 3:00 at the Mitchell County Library and was immediately transported back to my own childhood. My mother encouraged me to be an avid reader and I experienced many enthralling story hours at our local Carnegie Public Library. I can still hear Virginia Jones’s animated voice as she spun fascinating tales that kept us all listening intently.

That was my introduction to public libraries and since then libraries have been among my favorite haunts, from the library at Washington University where I majored in English literature, to my present connection with Bloomington’s own top-ten library (5th among 329 ratings in its league) where I served as a member of the Friends of the Library Board.  I am now involved in bringing a storyteller to our city—award-winning novelist Nicole Mones, whose fourth novel, drawn from her extensive experiences in China, is forthcoming.  She will give a free public talk at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Saturday, November 16, at 7:00 p.m.  Following the lecture will be a ticketed champagne and music reception at the library, which will give readers the opportunity to engage with the author in person.

Book Cover

As its many visitors and long-time residents will agree, the Monroe County Public Library is truly exceptional in its offerings.  In an era in which many libraries have had to cut back or even close, the MCPL continues to grow, receive awards, and stay on the cutting edge of library technology.  By becoming a member of the Friends of the Library I found a way to show my gratitude for all I have received, free of charge, over the years.  Amazingly, this organization is able to contribute close to $100,000 annually to the library budget.  The money, raised through membership dues, book sales, an annual Campaign for Excellence and other activities, is used throughout the library to sponsor and enhance programs, many of which benefit children and teens.  Funds are also used for purchasing patron requests, providing supplies for the VITAL adult literacy program and CATS (Community Access Television Service) and presenting adult programs including movies, professional development for library staff and much more.

Stellar among these programs is the biennial Power of Words (POW). Presented as a gift back to the community POW features a nationally recognized writer whose literary talent and universal themes provide insight into local issues and concerns.  The goals of the program are to provide an opportunity to become involved in a visible community of readers and to experience an author in the context of the many cultural traditions found within Monroe County.

In this age when the local and the global are culturally and economically intertwined, and US-Asian connections are important and intricate, the choice of author was easily made.  As a young liberal arts graduate with an adventurous turn of mind, Nicole Mones transplanted herself to China in the mid-1970s, soon after the end of that country’s Cultural Revolution, to start a textile export business that kept her criss-crossing the Pacific for nearly two decades.  In the course of these travels and business dealings, she became immersed in Chinese art, culture, language and cuisine, the latter to the extent that she became a food writer covering the Chinese restaurant scene for Gourmet magazine and several major American newspapers.  From the riches of these experiences she composed three novels that weave modern western and Chinese aesthetics and values with more traditional perspectives, each focusing on a particular cultural theme while exploring the human side of cross-national connections.

The first of the three books that I read, The Last Chinese Chef, is her most recent and also the only American finalist for the prestigious international Kiriyama Prize in 2008 and a World Gourmand Award winner in the Chinese cookbook category.  It is a novel from which I gleaned a rich knowledge pertaining to traditional Chinese cuisine in spite of the fact that the book has no recipes!  The protagonist, Maggie McEllroy, is given a writing assignment in Beijing that eventually involves sampling and assisting with the preparation of ancient traditional Chinese recipes, described in “The Last Chinese Chef” (a book within a book), which had supposedly been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  I found myself in awe of the reverent, almost spiritual nature of traditional Chinese food preparation.  An example is a seemingly simple dish made of tofu with crab sauce, which involved using thirty crabs and hours of patient tending.

Her second novel, A Cup of Light offers an education in the history and qualities of ancient Chinese porcelain while weaving in themes of romance and intrigue.  It also addresses issues of authenticity and inherent beauty as well as the dilemma of economic values versus the pricelessness of treasures from the past.  This novel has been chosen for discussion by the local Friends of Art book club, as have other of Ms. Mones’s novels by additional book discussion groups.

Mones’s first novel, Lost in Translation, recognized as a New York Times Notable Book, takes us into the world of archaeology.  What begins for translator Alice Mannegan as a trek into the remote deserts of northwest China quickly turns into a journey of the heart.  As the country itself struggles to reconcile its own past and present, Alice must come to terms with the complicated relationships in her own life.  Lost in Translation won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for best work of fiction by an American woman as well as the Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association Annual Book Award.

Visit the event website for video discussions of each of the three novels and a link to the author’s own website.  Mones’s novels have been translated into 18 languages and movie rights have been purchased for The Last Chinese Chef.  Her fourth novel will feature a historical setting in the Chinese jazz age.

To obtain either a free general admission pass or purchase a premium ticket to the author event please visit the library website or drop by the Friends of the Library Bookstore. A premium ticket costs $50 and must be purchased in advance.  It includes reserved seating at the author talk; admission to the gala reception; free reserved downtown parking during POW events on November 16; and merchant discounts during November.  Free general admission passes to the author talk also include merchant discounts.  All proceeds will be used to support Mones’s visit and other programs and materials for the library.

IU Lifelong Learning offers a total event package.  “Chinese Culture and the Works of Nicole Mones” will be taught in three evening classes, November 7, 14 and 16.  The cost for the course is $65 which includes the lectures, priority seating for the author’s talk at the Buskirk-Chumley, a ticket to the champagne reception, and parking for both events.  Guest lecturers with be Sue Tuohy from the IU Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Sara Laughlin, director of the Monroe County Public Library. For more information visit the IU Continuing Education website or call (812) 855-9335.

Other related events include a Books Plus discussion on The Last Chinese Chef led by Sarah Bowman at 2:00 p.m. on November 3 at the library.

Continuing partners for the Power of Words event include Indiana University Lifelong Learning, the IU Fall Themester Advisory Committee, local media, book discussion groups, bookstores and other businesses.  Also involved is the staff from the IU International Center and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.  Sponsors for this event include the Friends of The Library, Monroe County Public Library, the City of Bloomington, Ivy Tech Community College, IU Themester 2013, WFIU and WTIU.

The Ryder ◆ November 2013

The Not-So-Comic Art Of Chris Ware

A Master of the Graphic Novel visits Bloomington ◆ by Ivan Kreilkamp

[Graphic novelist Chris Ware gave a public lecture November 12, 2013, at the IU Cinema. His visit was co-sponsored by the College Arts and Humanities Institute, the Ruth N. Halls Fund, and IU’s Themester 2013: Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World.]

Canons are made to be argued about, but the work of Chris Ware would be included in virtually anyone’s list of the most essential modern graphic novels or long-form works of comic art. Ever since Art Spiegelman’s Maus: a Survivor’s Tale won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, graphic novels have been gradually working their way into broad recognition and respectability, increasingly accepted as potentially as aesthetically complex, emotionally resonant, and culturally significant as novels or films. But the number of true crossover texts in this genre – prize-winning, non-super-hero books of comic art that have been widely reviewed, taught, and read by followers of contemporary literature who don’t identify themselves as comics fans – remains small.  Among the most obvious candidates for such a canon would be Maus and Maus II, Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World (1997), Alan Moore’s From Hell (1999), Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003), Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home (2006)—and at least two of Chris Ware’s books, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) and last year’s Building Stories (2012).  Indeed, one could easily make the case that with the one exception of Art Spiegelman himself, who virtually invented the genre and shepherded it into existence, no contemporary comics artist or graphic novelist has achieved greater national and international acclaim than Ware.

Ware in 2009

Chris Ware

At a time when graphic novels were still often ignored by the mainstream press, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth became Maus’s first genuine successor in terms of wide acclaim and broad success. It was given “book of the year” distinctions by TIME, The Village Voice Literary Supplement, and Entertainment Weekly, and was also awarded a 2001 Guardian First Book Award and an American Book Award, “distinctions previously awarded,” as Ware puts it in a characteristically ironic author bio, “only to authors who could not draw.”  Comics critic and historian Doug Wolk has described the book as “a history of a family’s pathetic fantasies and painful realities, rendered in a style whose maniacally precise, composed, geometrical frostiness counterbalanced the story’s emotional brutality.” Jimmy Corrigan comes across as some kind of improbable cross between Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons and a work of contemporary fiction of the most austere variety: say, a Thomas Bernhard or Peter Handke novel. If one model for graphic novel cross-over success has been that of gripping memoir or personal history – Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home all fall into this category, stories of personal-cultural trauma or crisis and breakthrough – Jimmy Corrigan is a much less emotionally accessible narrative.  It tells a complexly interwoven story of two different father-son relationships, each marked by abandonment and regret: in present day Chicago, Jimmy Corrigan, a Charlie Brown (or Bartleby)-ish middle-aged office drudge, and the father he barely knows; and 80 years previously, Jimmy’s grandfather James, and his own father.  Ware describes Jimmy Corrigan in the book’s afterward as his attempt to grapple with his relationship with his own absent father.  After rereading the text for a final edit, he explains, “it occurred to me… that the four or five hours it took to read is almost exactly the total time I ever spent with my father, either in person or on the telephone.”  He also observes that the book itself turned out to be about the same size as the urn in which his father’s ashes were interred.

So Jimmy Corrigan is, in effect, a tombstone for Ware’s own father. Yet for all its bleakness, the book somehow also manages to be altogether pleasurable to read and a delight to look at, in part because Ware is such an exquisitely skillful and dedicated visual artist and craftsman whose work cites a dizzying array of 20th century graphic conventions from magazine and comic book advertisements, children’s books, and any number of additional forms of paper and print ephemera.  Following the success of Jimmy Corrigan, Ware’s work was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial of American Art, and he is deeply respected by comic geeks for his skills in the lettering, coloring, and fanatically-obsessive production of his books.

Last year Ware topped his own success with Building Stories, a still-more original creation that was named by Time, Newsday, and the New York Times as one of its ten best books of the year. Building Stories is in some ways less a book than a slightly mad assemblage that can simultaneously bring to mind artist Joseph Cornell’s famous surrealist boxes, and a container for treasures stored under the bed of a pack-rat 11-year-old boy.  Building Stories comes in (and also is) a sturdy, approximately 16” by 12” box that is itself elaborately inscribed, and which contains fourteen distinct mini-books and other items: a fold-out newspaper, a thick cardboard game board, several comic books of various sizes, a mock children’s “Little Golden Book,” several posters and broadsides, etc., each designed and constructed with unbelievable care.  These 14 items, which can be read in any order, don’t narrate a single coherent story, although they do, in aggregate, offer a multifaceted examination of the lives led by a number of inhabitants of a single apartment building in Chicago (including one lascivious bee), with a particular focus on an unnamed young female protagonist.  This woman, a former art student with a prosthetic leg whom we see pass through a lonely early adulthood and young motherhood, is this book’s version of Jimmy Corrigan, a partial proxy for the artist himself.

Building Stories has qualities that invite comparison to contemporary post-modern, hyper-textual fictions.  It is non-linear, fragmented, a collection more than a narrative.  Yet is other ways, it is thoroughly and even perversely old-fashioned and backward-looking: it weighs a ton, would almost need to be its own carry-on item for a plane trip, and is unimaginable as an e-book (or even as a paperback). It clarifies Chris Ware’s status as one of the most original and compelling contemporary artists and authors in any genre.

Ivan Kreilkamp is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Indiana University.

 The Ryder ◆ November 2013

FILM: September New Releases

◗ Blue Jasmine reviewed by Lucy Morrell

In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen departs from his usual humor and instead delivers a portrayal of a socialite whose life collapses with the fall of her scheming Wall Street husband (Alec Baldwin). Having exhausted the last of her money, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives with upper-crust sensibilities and a medley of prescription drugs in San Francisco where she must “slum it” with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The film cuts back and forth between Jasmine’s idealized past and imperfect present, in which both she and Ginger struggle with life and romance.

Cate Blanchett is phenomenal as Jasmine, an atypical Woody Allen protagonist. The comical neuroses that seem to plague most of Allen’s characters are replaced in Jasmine with severe mental illness and denial. Blanchett is convincingly afflicted, her whole being radiating a sense of instability. Blanchett’s performance leaves little room for relief, though, as Jasmine’s perspective becomes an increasingly uncomfortable headspace for the audience to inhabit. Even flashbacks to less psychologically volatile times are painful to watch, with the old, moneyed Jasmine being incapable of interacting with her sister across economic and social barriers.

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett & Woody Allen On The Set Of “Blue Jasmine”

In the few scenes when the perspective shifts away from Jasmine, the audience sees Ginger with various men, including an ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay), a hot-blooded fiancé (Bobby Cannavale), and a dodgy lover (Louis C.K.). None of these men live up to Jasmine’s warped standards of class, leading one to believe that only sleazy men and troubled women populate this film’s world. Few of the characters are likable; even Jasmine—so incredibly portrayed by Blanchett—is at best watchable.

The characters simply cannot grow in this film centered around self-destruction and resignation. Allen seems so set on making the audience realize the cyclic nature of relationships and life choices, that real development is curtailed or pointless. The film lacks humor and hope, but in the end it might be worth watching merely to see characters played by fantastic actors stumbling around and making an absolute muck of their lives.

◗ Riddick reviewed by Lucy Morrell

As the third theatrically released movie in the series, Riddick is by far the least nuanced. It exists only to perpetuate, rather than develop, its title character. The premise even seems like a poor amalgamation of the earlier films, with the monsters from Pitch Black and the bounty hunters from Chronicles of Riddick. Now stranded on a hostile planet, Riddick (Vin Diesel), an escaped convict, triggers an emergency beacon to lure bounty hunters to the surface so that he might steal their spacecraft.

Two groups of bounty hunters respond, and it becomes quite clear in the course of a few minutes of inane dialogue, that none of these characters is going to be compelling or dynamic. Santana (Jordi Molla) an incompetent loudmouth leads one, and Johns (Matt Nable), well-equipped and straitlaced, commands the other. While they are disappointingly unoriginal, the true travesty of character comes with Dahl, played by Katee Sackoff. The only female character in the film, she is reduced to her sexuality in the most stereotypical way possible. She can throw some punches and shoot big guns, so of course Dahl has to be a butch lesbian, who doesn’t sleep with men but rather slaughters them. That doesn’t stop any man, though, including Riddick, from aggressively propositioning her. Riddick through his obvious and superior display of virile ability is able to “turn” her, so that in the final scenes Dahl (backlit like a feminine angel) straddles him and promises to fulfill his masculine desires.

From "Riddick"


The characters, specifically Dahl, and the scenarios within the film seem to exist only to make Riddick into a hyper-masculine ideal. He is well nigh indestructible (e.g. he cauterizes a giant hole in his chest and climbs a rocky cliff) and has a predator intelligence that all of his pursuers lack. He can tame wild beasts, build up immunity to venom, and set his own shattered leg, all of which he can do with no more than a grimace. In previous movies, his abilities were at least tempered with vulnerabilities, like feeling guilt and responsibility for the well-being of another human. In this film, his only connection is to an alien dog.

Riddick is not clever or original even within its own series. It is reduced to the barest of stereotypical frameworks, but at the same time, there is still the occasional thrill that comes with the foreknowledge of destruction at the hands of an indomitable fighter.

American Politics and Blomkamp’s Failed Dystopia: An unfair review of Elysium by Justin Chandler

There’s this point in Elysium, after learning about main character Max DeCosta’s childhood (orphan, raised with Spanish-speaking children, by Spanish-speaking nuns, in a Spanish-speaking community) where adult Max is walking to work in apparently the same neighborhood and you wonder: Why the hell doesn’t this guy speak Spanish? Why not even an accent? He was speaking fluent Spanish like…five minutes ago. What just happened?

From "Elysium"

On Elysium In “Elysium”

If you’re like me, you probably realize the obvious answer: it’s because that’s not Max! That’s Matt Damon, playing the character of Max DeCosta in Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9. Sadly, neither this explanation nor any other you come up with is likely to overcome the disappointment and boredom you’ll feel if, like me, you sit through the whole thing, barely able to keep from wondering whether Grown Ups 2 has shown that car wash scene yet. Regardless of whether you’ve seen it or not, what follows is a brief summary, followed by a far from exhaustive list of all the dumb stuff Elysium does.

Elysium takes its name from a ring-shaped satellite that, in the future, is populated by the super-rich and orbits around a wasteland called “Earth.” The people on Elysium are greedy, mostly white, have awesome tanning-bed machines that heal them, and throw fancy parties. That’s about it. Oh, and they also hate the poor  people from Earth (all minorities) who fly spaceships into the big open area on the side of Elysium that looks either glass encased or like a vacuum deathtrap, but turns out to be an artificial atmosphere.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the poor people get harassed by robots and work various menial jobs for companies owned by people on Elysium. It’s a lot like America, actually, or the way that a myopic and liberal writer might conceive it. Max DeCosta (technically Matt Damon as Max) happens to be one of those workers. He’s a lifelong thief who, after a stint in jail, has given up his life of crime to work a really crappy factory job for no discernible reason.

That is, until Max gets totally screwed over by his boss and gets radiation poisoning. The only hope for Max comes by way of Spider, a sort of thug boss who agrees to help Max get to Elysium and use the healing bed thingy if Max helps Spider catch somebody really rich.

Long story short, Max goes through with it, a bunch of talking and strangely Call of Duty-inspired fight scenes ensue and, at the end, Max realizes that he’s going to die and that his only option is to sacrifice himself so everyone on Earth will be granted citizen status on Elysium.

It’s a really great thing for somebody to do, no doubt. But by the end of the movie, we’re bound to have more questions than answers, the biggest of which is, if it’s as easy as sending a bunch of spaceships down to Earth to help people, why didn’t the rich people do that way sooner?

Of course they couldn’t, because these rich people aren’t people at all. They aren’t even actors playing rich people! They are one thing only: “bad guys.” No one on Elysium shows the slightest hint of concern for the people on Earth, whereas the people on Earth—even thug bosses like Spider—end up turning out to be considerate (albeit sassy) human beings.

This is a problem, mainly because Blomkamp’s goal for Elysium has nothing to do with being conceptually inventive or action-packed. His real goal is to make us think. But it fails, primarily because it adopts the divisionary close-mindedness it intends  to critique. Rather than treating its enemies like valid and identifiably human humans (the way it treats the poor), it treats them like heartless Scrooges. At no point do we wonder what Max’s boss is like, his hopes and dreams, whether he’s ever lost someone he loved. The same goes for megalomaniacal Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Thoughts about who they are as people never cross our mind; they are defined and doomed by their affluence.

So what do we do? If—as Blomkamp recently claimed in an interview—greed is hardwired into our DNA, then what? Blomkamp’s explicit answer is “change the human genome.” Easy enough.

Another answer is that the rich could share the wealth. But in no way is Elysium an appeal to those it demonizes. Who, watching Elysium, is going to say, “Hey, that rich jerkwad reminds me of me!” No one will, not because we aren’t jerkwads now and then, but because the jerkwads in Elysium are nothing but.

You can’t show people (whether they are the rich or Republicans or Hipsters) anything if your starting premise is that they are ignorant, crude caricatures of real humanity. Real dialogue requires dialogue, not demonizing. Blumkamp did it in District 9, when he took a bumbling, self-centered jerkwad and put him through the ringer. By the end of the movie, Wikus is us. We’ve come to identify with him through his torturous ordeal. He’s still the same person, thinking only of himself, but he’s a jerkwad who recognizes it. Wikus’s nearly final statement, as he sacrifices himself not for all of humanity but for an alien father and son, is a sincere recognition of this inner division: “Go now, before I change my mind.” But it is the complexity of Wikus that makes it possible for us to identify and in some ways change with him.

But this isn’t Blomkamp’s plan for Elysium. The answer it offers? Human sacrifice. Matt—er, Max—sacrifices himself for the greater good. But this is equally false, not because heroes don’t exist, but because the situations that we face  are more complex than a movie like Elysium can possibly imagine. Max’s death allows a computer code to be overwritten, allowing all of humanity to be granted citizenship in Elysium. But here, in the real world, there is no computer code that can be overwritten. There is no quick fix. It takes more than one person to save us. The real answer lies in dealing with each other, with our selfishness and selflessness.

So why can’t someone on Elysium feel for someone on Earth? Or vice versa? There is no reason. The paradox of living is that we do so for ourselves and for others, and the beautiful thing about art is that when we are least selfless, it can change us, can make us feel linked with other people. One of the times when this can happen is when our art captures the complexity of the human experience. But Elysium fails to change us, to even make us think, because it embraces a separatist mindset, because it depicts the real battle as one between “us” and “them,” rather than what it actually is: a single body, confused, and fighting itself over what is wrong and how to make it right.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

MUSIC: Béla Fleck

The 13-time Grammy Award winner is coming to the IU Auditorium ◆ by Hannah Waltz

[Béla Fleck and the IU Jacobs School of Music Orchestra led by Giancarlo Guerrero will perform at the IU Auditorium on October 30.]

This October Bloomington will host one the most accomplished and versatile banjo players of our time, Béla Fleck. Renowned for adapting the banjo to virtually any musical genre, including bluegrass, rock, jazz, world beat, classical, and more, it’s no surprise that Fleck has been awarded fifteen Grammys since 1998. In fact, his thirty Grammy nomination nods in a variety of categories make him the first musician to have been nominated in so many musical categories in Grammy history.

But the gamut of his career extends beyond the Grammys. Fleck has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, often collaborating in bands, as he did with the New Grass Revival and his own band the Fleckstones. Although Fleck has performed alongside headliners like Dave Matthews and Phish, he’s no back up man. In September 2011 The Nashville Symphony Orchestra commissioned Fleck’s first stand-alone banjo concerto The Impostor, ten years after Fleck’s album Perpetual Motion, which he worked on with friend Edgar Meyer, won two Grammys.

Even with these milestones of musical grandeur under his belt, Fleck shows no sign of slowing down his creative momentum and continues to compose and tour today. Ryder asked Fleck a few questions about his life and the banjo the way he sees it.

Ryder What would you say was the most unique musical setting in which you incorporated the banjo? What other instruments were you playing with? What made it so unique?

Béla Fleck It’s hard to say… I guess at one time the Flecktones were the most unique setting, but followed by Perpetual Motion, with classical soloists, and Throw Down Your Heart, with African Musicians, duos with Chick Corea, playing with Indian and Chinese musicians on Tabula Rassa, and now with Symphony orchestra  and String Quartet – I’d say that I love to find unique settings for the banjo, and I don’t intend to stop looking for them!

Ryder You are the epitome of musical genre versatility—do you feel like you’re entering a new world when you cross genres? Or are they all more related in your mind, more so than some might think?

BF Well, I am certainly the limiting factor in each of these settings. They could do much more complex things if I weren’t playing! I can only play what I am capable of today, and keep trying to expand myself by putting myself in situations where I must learn and I must rise to the occasion. I pretty much play the same in every setting – as much like myself as I can figure out how to do. And so that relates the idioms insofar as how they relate to me, I suppose.

Ryder What would be a genre of music that the banjo lends itself to that is perhaps unexpected to untrained ears?

BF It would sound fine in most music. It can be a great rock instrument, really adding to the groove, if it’s the right beat. And in classical music it brings a timbre that no other instrument has. That is why it works so well in the orchestra, which is a group that supplies as many different distinct sounds as possible in one group.

Ryder You have been performing with the Fleckstones for 25+ years. What is it about the group makes it work so well as a unit.

BF Everyone in the Flecktones is an inventor, a leader and a composer. And we all like to confound expectations as to what is expected from our instruments. So we are like minds, and it isn’t easy to find collaborators who think as similarly as we do, especially considering how different our backgrounds are.

Ryder What part has musical collaboration played in your career? Who are your favorite musicians to play with?

BF Collaboration is one of the most exciting things to me in music. And the people that I get to play with are such phenomenons. Chick Corea, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, Marcus Roberts, Chris Thile, Victor Wooten, Howard Levy, Future Man, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Dave Mathews, Brooklyn Rider, Nashville, Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras…Holy Cow, I get to play with the best!

Ryder You’re credited with having changed the sound and performance of the banjo—(if you agree) how would you say that you have done that?

BF I don’t know that that is really true. I have played the banjo in lots of settings though, and been able to get the banjo into the public eye pretty often. I am glad that I get to play music that I am proud of, and that it reaches out to enough people that I get to keep doing it!

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

FILM: Freaky, Funny, Dirty

Nelson Lyon’s The Telephone Book comes to the IU Cinema ◆ by Russell Sheaffer

[The Underground Film Series will screen the 1972 film, The Telephone Book, at the IU Cinema on October 4 at 6:30pm.]

In 1982, John Belushi went on a drug binge that ended in his untimely death; Saturday Night Live writer Nelson Lyon was there and it destroyed his career. Lyon, who wrote for Saturday Night Live between 1981 and 1982, had a sordid relationship with the film industry after Belushi’s death. For most people, the simple connection between Belushi and Lyon made up the extent of their knowledge about the latter, he had trouble finding work, and his filmography remained thin. In fact, Lyon’s only feature-length directorial effort, a sex romp titled The Telephone Book (1972), seemed to be facing a demise similar to his own; it had been forgotten amongst the many other films and filmmakers who made work in the flourishing New York City film scene of the 1960s and 70s. With the recent restoration of The Telephone Book, however, Lyon’s little-known gem has attracted a new-found cult following, giving fans and scholars alike the chance to reevaluate Lyon’s life and work.

From "Telephone Book"

Norman Rose in “The Telephone Book”

In 2012, Nelson Lyon passed away at the age of 73 years old. He’d had a fascinating life, but his filmography was short and his once promising career as a filmmaker had proved less than glorious. Lyon had been living and working in New York City during the flourishing underground film scene of the 1970s, he’d been a part of Andy Warhol’s art studio called The Factory, but his name never found a home amongst the greats. He had a brief moment of critical success with The Telephone Book in the 1970s but, after his stint writing for SNL, he ended up making trailers for other people’s movies and nothing quite compared to his short, albeit disastrous, time in the spotlight.

When it was released in 1972, The Telephone Book screened theatrically in New York and Los Angeles and was deemed a “bleakly brilliant” film for “sophisticated adults” by the Los Angeles Times and “one of the freakiest, funny, dirty movies ever made” by its own promotional posters. Produced by Merv Bloch, the film was paid for with money Bloch had made designing promotional materials for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and, as its advertising suggests, The Telephone Book is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. On a surface level, the film is a wonderfully entertaining adventure that follows a young woman, Alice, as she searches the streets of New York City trying to find “John Smith,” a man that she’s fallen in love with over the telephone. John, her telephone-lover, spends most of his time making obscene telephone calls to housewives, grandmothers, and adolescents all over New York City and he has made quite a name for himself.

On her quest to find “John Smith,” Alice runs into an onslaught of various sex-obsessed characters from a stag filmmaker planning his comeback to a deranged housewife to two regulars of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Ultra Violet and Ondine. This array of porno character types and pop culture icons keeps the film moving along at a ludicrously quick and delightful pace, climaxing with an animated sequence that is nearly impossible to describe. Shot in high contrast black and white, The Telephone Book is in a category all its own, simultaneously a critique, a satire, and a part of the explosion of theatrical pornography that swept the country in the 1970s.

From "The Telephone Book"

Sarah Kennedy In “The Telephone Book”

In 2010, just two years before Nelson Lyon passed away, The Telephone Book was rediscovered and began a revival tour that has taken it around the country, playing to audiences who had never heard of the film, much less Nelson Lyon. In retrospect, the film has been called “a brilliant and lamentably neglected gem of early-’70s underground filmmaking” by Slant Magazine and The Chicago Reader’s Ben Sachs noted that The Telephone Book “conveys a youthful enthusiasm and a curiosity about what can be done with film comedy,” a sentiment that I agree with whole-heartedly. Thanks to the film’s newfound cult status, we’re presented with a promising, young filmmaker whose dreams were crushed too quickly and whose work was pushed aside amidst a series of phenomenally unfortunate circumstances. Retroactively, we are finally able to recognize Nelson Lyon for what he was: a talented, culturally savvy voice that was able to provide biting critique of a system while simultaneously being a part of it.

The Telephone Book is rated X and, as such, IDs will be required and no one under the age of 18 will be admitted. The screening is free, but ticketed. More ticketing information.

Other upcoming programs in the Underground Film Series include a night of shorts titled “Exploding Lineage: Queer of Color Histories in Experimental Media,” co-presented with the Black Film Center/Archive on October 11 at 6:30pm, a family-friendly program of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animated fairy tales on October 19 at 3pm, and a not-to-be-missed program of west coast underground short films from the likes of Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, James Broughton, Barbara Hammer, and James Franco on October 25 at 7pm.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013


An original rock score by the Bloomington band M enlivens F.W. Murnau’s silent vampire thriller ◆ by Stephen Simms
[Stephen Simms is a founding member of the legendary, mid-90s Bloomington band, M. In a rare comeback appearance, they will perform their original score to F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Nosferatu at the IU Cinema on Sunday, October 27th at 6:30 pm. The film and performance are a co-presentation of the Cinema and The Ryder.]

My father is a very patient man and when I was 13, he agreed to take me and some of my geeky friends to the first science fiction convention held in Indianapolis in 1981. As part of the convention, science fiction films were shown on the televisions in every room. It was around midnight, hopped up on Coca-cola that I first saw F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Even though it was on a tiny Trinatron and I was a maturing lad, it pretty well scared the hell out of me. I loved the shadows and the exaggerated facial expressions. Nosferatu was very different than the vampires I had seen on television. He wasn’t sexy and well dressed like Lugosi or Christopher Lee. He was an alternate dark portrait of uncontrolled id – base, ugly, and frightening.

While the special effects are nothing by today’s ridiculously CGI heavy standards, they still give me shivers. From a crazed coach ride to the Count’s castle to the ghostly Nosferatu materializing to a sickly sailor who later walks through a wall carrying his coffin, I was and still am mesmerized. Max Schreck played the towering, hook-nosed, vampire. It wasn’t until later I learned that the word schreck meant fright – very appropriate.

From "Nosferatu"

Fast forward to 1988. I was studying electronic composition at Roosevelt University and living in the Herman Crown Center, a downtown dormitory shared by Columbia College, Roosevelt University, and the School for the Art Institute of Chicago. The basement of the 17-story building contained a snack bar and a practice space that you could reserve for a few hours at a time. One night while out for a soda I saw a light on in the practice space (a rarity) and peering through the window I saw a young guy in a comb-over mohawk tearing into a massive set of drums with a level of energy that I had never seen. The fusion of quartz clock timing with wild polyrhythmic drum fills made my composer-self quite excited.

I stared through the window in amazement as I heard him play along with Neil Peart, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, and others. I had no idea then that we would be periodically making music together for the next 24 years. We became fast friends, eventually sharing space together in a tiny closet that the administration called a room. We challenged one another musically, often waking up in the morning to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Noonward Race” or “Crisis” by Jaco Pastorius. At this time I was a serviceable rhythm guitar player, a mediocre pianist, and a terrible trumpet player who longed to play the bass.

I had music and musical ideas in my head, but I was frustrated that I didn’t have a fluid musical voice the way that Bennett did. During the summer of 1989, I moved briefly to Bloomington to take some additional music classes and almost fail a French reading course. I met some of the members of the unique and amazing Bloomington band, The Belgian Waffles. I loved those guys right away because the musical ideas were as important if not more important than the notes (something that I had been trying to learn in Chicago). The Waffles did it all: harnessing sounds from a shortwave radio, playing plumbing diagrams, writing a song about the Star Trek episode in which Kirk fights the Gorn. They relied in many cases only on their ears and minds to spontaneously guide the size and shape of their musical improvisations.

Later I graduated from Roosevelt with a Master’s in Composition and moved to Bloomington to study music theory, hoping to better my compositions through an exploration of the ideas behind music.

I bought a bass and reconnected with the Waffles who were getting musicians of all sorts together to improvise and drink bourbon on Thursday nights in Tony Woolard’s large basement. The group ended up being known as the Torture Chamber Ensemble. It was a fitting name because the one rule these long jam sessions had was that nobody could play their primary instrument. These sessions were all about listening to one another and trying to make something musical from what you had been dealt. I played saxophone for the first time in Tony’s basement. I still have fond memories crashing and playing in the 4th of July parade, proudly sliding a trombone up Walnut street using a small cymbal as a wah-wah occasionally slapping it against the bell for emphasis.

It was during these experiences that I met a thoughtful religious studies major, with incredible ears and a masterful melodic sensibility which he executed with what seemed like ease on his Paul Reed Smith guitar. His name was Jason Bivins. Occasionally between basement sessions, Jason and I would revert back to our primary instruments and improvise. He was crazy talented and had a lot of experience playing in bands, blending hard rock and avant-jazz. I had only played the bass in public two or three times at this point and was flattered that he wanted to make music with me. Someone remarked that the melodic parts of our improvisations reminded them of Baroque music. Even now, I am not entirely sure what to make of that remark, but when Jason sent me email in the Spring of 1995, asking if I wanted to hang out and play, I was excited and keen to see where it would go. We met a couple of times playing quietly and fleshing out melodic bits we thought were interesting. It was agreed that it would be much more interesting if we could find a drummer. The quiet dynamic we had established was to change radically.

As luck would have it, Bennett was working as an X-ray tech in Colorado and having a miserable time his then-girlfriend. I told him that I was living in a 5-bedroom place with only 2 roommates and that he should come to Bloomington, move in with us, and start a band. A few days later Bennett arrived and I realized that I was going to need a more powerful amplifier.

On June 14th, 1995 Bennett, Jason, and I played together for the first time and we liked it. Sitting on the porch, we knew we had a band. I managed to convince them that we should just call the band M, a name that was innocuous and open for interpretation: the wonderful Fritz Lang film, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Mozart, Motorhead, Mental Masturbation, Mute, Music. Perhaps the tipping point was when we noted that in Star Trek all habitable planets were of class M. We decided that when people asked what the M stood for, we would give a different response each time. That sounded like fun, so everyone was on board.

With the support and assistance of the Waffles and local therapist, poet, and musician, Eric Rensberger, we had our first gig at the what is now known as the Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center and were off to the races. A young composer friend said that our music was what happens when math rock and free improvisation have a baby. We played regularly at Second Story, the Bluebird, and a wonderful record store in Louisville called Ground Zero.

Late in the Summer of 1995, I started working on a shot-by-shot examination of Nosferatu using techniques I had learned from music theorist David Neumeyer. I mostly focused on what characters were in the shot and what the action was like that connected shots together.

David had also introduced me to Erno Lendvai, a music theorist who studied Bela Bartok’s music extensively. He had some interesting ideas about the golden mean and its presence in Bartok’s music, particularly in his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. If you have an evening to waste sometime, ask me about this (a personal hobby horse of mine). Lendvai’s other contribution to Bartok scholarship was the articulation of what’s called a tonal axis system. Lendvai divides the octave in half mathematically claiming that Bartok used a tonal system based on that division. For example, Lendvai says that in the key of A, both the chord A and Eb could serve a tonic function and that a secondary tonal axis (perpendicularly crossing the line between A and Eb on a diagram of the circle of 5ths) exists connecting the keys of C and F#. Our happy-go-lucky protagonist, Hutter, got the key of A while the evil Nosferatu received the other side of the axis, Eb. The key of C is equidistant from A and Eb, a minor third apart from each, so I assigned that to Ellen, married to Hutter but seemingly drawn to the repulsive Nosferatu. So, we had keys assigned to characters, more or less, and needed melodic ideas to tie things together.

Earlier that summer, I found a Bruno Ventura guitar strung with nylon strings sitting on the curb waiting for the trash. It had a hole in it where the back had become detached and was covered in white latex paint. I was raised not to take anything from someone else’s trash bin without asking. Hilariously, the owner of the house decided that he wanted to sell the guitar. He asked for $5.00 and I wouldn’t offer more than $4.50 wanting to feel like I got a deal of sorts. Jason and I wrote the melodies for our score by passing that acoustic guitar back and forth while watching the film over and over again.

Once we had a tonal framework with melodies, Jason and I brought Bennett onboard to fill in the gaps and to give some rhythmic character to what we had done. Bennett’s bowed cymbal in conjunction with Jason’s delay pedal made for some eerie listening and was just what I had hoped for. We spent hours in my big kitchen rehearsing, our eyes transfixed to the tiny TV atop my rolling kitchen island.

We needed a film, a projector, and a venue. I rented a 16mm print of Nosferatu from a fellow in NYC and rented the Monroe County Public Library’s auditorium. All we needed to do then was to keep practicing, promote, and hope that someone showed up.

My friend Chuck offered to be our projectionist and helped us get things set up the day of the performance. Once all the gear was in place we were ready for a practice run-through. The film started to roll. We played for about a minute and realized that the print we received was running at a much higher rate of speed than the one we had been rehearsing to. We were nothing short of freaked out and were going to have to speed things up somehow. At this point we had an hour or so to play with the print and were able to make a game plan – cut impulses to repeat things and watch one another with a higher than our already high degree of attention. We made it through somehow and the audience seemed to really like what we had done. We actually made some money much to our amazement.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this again, but not have to worry about renting the film or the hall? Enter Peter LoPilato and The Ryder film series. I was an adoring fan of The Ryder even before I moved to Bloomington. While attending Wabash College in Crawfordsville, I would occasionally drive to Bloomington to check out something wonderful – Swimming to Cambodia with Spalding Gray or Home of the Brave by Laurie Anderson (neither of which are on DVD – a terrible shame). Peter offered us a chance to play several dates in late October as part of the film series… for four wonderful years. Our last show and the last time I played publically as a member of M was for The Ryder in early November of 1999.
Jason moved away to North Carolina where he has become a tenured professor of religious studies. Bennett is now a high school science teacher that drums professionally on evenings and weekends. I gave up music theory for a career in IT, working on the high performance storage system that backs the Big Red II supercomputer.

Over the years Peter would suggest that “the lads get back together.” It was a tempting idea, but reuniting would prove difficult. Years became a decade and then some. But as I’ve said, my father taught me to be patient. And then the IU Cinema opened. Jon Vickers, director of the Cinema, has done so much in his role to provide members of the Bloomington community with truly amazing cinematic experiences. I had no idea that we would have a chance to play at the IU Cinema, but I sent mail to Peter and slipped Jon a DVD document of one of our 1999 performances. I was both surprised and elated to hear that Jon and Peter were interested in scheduling us for this fall. This was an offer that our geographically challenged band could not refuse. So I hope you’ll come to see us perform our score for Nosferatu on October 27th at the IU Cinema. We’re not sexy and well-dressed like other bands but we’ve got big ears and know how to rock.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

FILM: Sirius Matters

◆ by Jeff Becker

[The Ryder Film Series will screen Sirius on October 18, 19 & 20. Jeff Becker will introduce the film and  answer questions after the screenings.]

Work on our documentary, Sirius, was well underway when an unthinkable tragedy happened: a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple killing six people. Among them was Satwant Singh Kaleka, director  Amardeep Kaleka’s father. Kaleka went to Wisconsin to be with his family and friends. He appeared on national news shows on all of the major networks. He said that the FBI told him his father attacked the shooter in the lobby, resulting in a “blood struggle.” He fought to the very end and suffered gunshot wounds while trying to take down the gunman. “It’s an amazing act of heroism, but it’s also exactly who he was,” Amardeep Kaleka told a CNN reporter. “There was no way in God’s green Earth that he would allow somebody to come in and do that without trying his best to stop it.” Work on Sirius could easily have ended with this tragedy, but after a short break to help organize relief efforts for the other temple victims, Kaleka returned to finish the film.

"Sirius" Poster

I flew out to visit my friend Marta (not her real name). A mutual friend had introduced us almosta year ago because she had questions about night vision equipment and he had seen my night vision videos. I found out that Marta was having ongoing up close and personal experiences with extraterrestrial (ET) beings. She is an artist and has drawn pictures of the various ET beings she has seen and made a sculpture of one who has visited more regularly.

Marta and I watched several of my night vision videos, then Marta left the room for a moment. When she returned, she mentioned that she had just heard on odd noise whizzing by her ear, a noise that she associated with ET communications. It wasn’t long after that we heard the “thump thump thump” of a low-flying helicopter. We rushed outside to see a dark green helicopter moving away from a position directly over her house. Marta said helicopters often showed up after her encounters, and that they weren’t supposed to be flying low over residential areas.

Since she lived next to multiple military bases, one could chalk this up to coincidence. If I hadn’t had similar experiences myself, and heard of many others, I would be skeptical. The fact is, the US military and intelligence services have a serious interest in the extraterrestrial presence, one that is thoroughly documented yet vigorously denied. This cover-up and the reasons for it are among the many subjects related to UFOs touched on in Sirius. I was in Los Angeles for the world premiere held on April 22nd.

Although I’ve been interested in space travel and the possibility of other intelligent life “out there” most of my life, it wasn’t until 2007, the year my wife and I moved to Bloomington from the Denver area, that my interest in UFOs, extraterrestrial intelligence, and all that implies, became almost an obsession.

In the fall of 2008, I decided to check out a project called CSETI (Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence), founded by Dr. Steven Greer, that claimed to teach people how to contact ETs and become “Ambassadors to the Universe.” His contact techniques work! Most of the odd and interesting images and video clips in Sirius are from CSETI expeditions.


Stephen Greer

I was so inspired by my experiences with CSETI that in the spring of 2009 I met up with some other people in Bloomington with CSETI experience and organized a contact group. The group has been meeting regularly ever since. I’ve had many mind blowing experiences that have changed the way I think about the universe. I’ve documented these experiences and the experiences of my contact group as one chapter of my book Paths to Contact: True Stories from the Contact Underground.

Amardeep Kaleka decided to make Sirius after a meeting with Dr. Greer and learning about the information he had collected over the last 30 years. There is a culture of ridicule around this subject, and being labeled a “UFO nut” is not the best way to advance one’s career. From statements he made just before the Sirius premiere, it was clear that Kaleka’s belief in the importance of this subject outweighed any such risk. As the Emmy award-winning director documented in Sirius, the science and technology behind how UFOs work have the potential to change everything, making all existing energy sources obsolete, revolutionizing transportation, and changing how we view our place in the universe. Vested interests have a lot to lose.

Because of the subject matter of the documentary, it was decided early on that conventional ways of funding and distributing Sirius would not work. A crowdfunding approach was used, and Kickstarter was used as the primary means of attracting donations. Credits in the movie were among the incentives offered for donations. I have a “Producer” credit by virtue of my financial support for the project; I was not directly involved in production of the movie. Sirius attained its goal of over $250,000 in donations, making it the top crowdfunded documentary film to date, according to Sirius producer J.D. Seraphine.

While there is some presentation of evidence that UFOs exist, that’s not really the goal of this movie so much as its starting point. As Professor Ted Loder says, it’s time for scientists to accept this reality, get over it, and start investigating the obvious questions: Given that UFOs exist and are visiting the earth, how are they getting here? What does that mean as far as our understanding of physics? How can they possibly move the way they do, intangibly. What are they using for energy sources? Why the cover up?

Some of the answers are not easy to take. This movie pulls no punches. You will hear from military men, and government officials who have seen recorded evidence of UFOs and experienced the cover up in action. You will learn about secret projects that are beyond government control, operating above the law. You will learn about people who have been “silenced” for getting too close to the truth, and about new energy technologies that have been suppressed for undermining vested interests. On the positive side, you will see inventors demonstrate a magnetic device that reduces the force of gravity, something the current laws of physics don’t predict. You will learn about the results of DNA analysis of an odd little creature that leave scientists still pondering just what it is. And lots more.

If you want to know more, watch Sirius. Then look up at the sky and ask our friends from the stars to send you a greeting. Maybe you will see something you’ve never seen before.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Swanberg Takes The Stares

A Sampling Of The Microbudget Maven’s Work ◆ by Craig J. Clark

[Joe Swanberg will introduce his new film, Drinking Buddies, on October 24 at the IU Cinema.]

No matter what anyone thinks of his work, the last thing Joe Swanberg could be accused of is laziness. The auteur behind the new comedy/drama Drinking Buddies, Swanberg has spent the past decade turning out films at a pace unheard of since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s heyday. In the past three years alone he has written and directed ten features, many of which he also photographed, edited and acted in. In between he contributed a short to the horror anthology V/H/S and has acted in at least ten other films, including Adam Wingard’s home-invasion horror film You’re Next (which, like Drinking Buddies, will be screening at the IU Cinema in October). When he was just starting out, though, Swanberg kept to the much saner schedule of one film per year, the earliest of which dates back to 2005. That was when he co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed and edited Kissing on the Mouth, in which he also played one of the four leads. That’s a lot of hats for a first-timer to wear, but if there’s any filmmaker who embodies the D.I.Y. spirit, it’s Swanberg.


Joe Swanberg

Not yet 24 at the time of his debut, Swanberg cast himself as the roommate of rudderless college graduate Kate Winterich, who drifts into a physical relationship with her photographer ex-boyfriend (Kevin Pittman) but has no plans to get back into a relationship-relationship with him. This we know because she confides in her best friend (Kris Williams, soon to become Mrs. Swanberg), who lets slip that they’ve been seeing a lot of each other. As a matter of fact, we get to see quite a lot of everybody in the cast since Swanberg has something of a no-nonsense approach when it comes to shooting sex scenes. The result is a film that feels incredibly voyeuristic and even borderline pornographic at times, but that’s one way for a low-budget independent to stand out in a crowd.

From "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson In “Drinking Buddies”

For his follow-up, Joe Swanberg co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed, edited and starred in LOL (2006), a film about the myriad ways modern technology can sabotage a relationship. Among its case studies are Kevin Bewersdorf, a musician who books a nonexistent tour of the Midwest so he can attempt to hook up with a girl he’s only talked to online, his friend Swanberg, who finds it next to impossible to end a conversation on the phone or online, and his friend C. Mason Wells, who’s visiting from out of town and fields a number of calls from his absent girlfriend. The women in their lives (who in most cases would be justified in wringing their necks) are Brigid Reagan, who is becoming disenchanted with Swanberg because he pays more attention to his computer than he does to her (he doesn’t even notice when she undresses right in front of him), Wells’s off-screen girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who is only heard over the phone and seen in grainy camera phone pictures, and Tipper Newton, a girl who meets Bewersdorf at a party and unwittingly facilitates his Internet hook-up. I expect it goes without saying that few love connections result from these interactions.

After playing a marginal role in LOL, Greta Gerwig vaulted into the lead with Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007), which the two of them co-wrote with Kent Osborne. In it, she stars as a recent college graduate and aspiring playwright who’s marking time by interning at a Chicago-based production company. At the start of the film she’s seeing an aimless slacker and frustrated musician (Mark Duplass, a director in his own right), but it isn’t long before they’re broken up and she’s on the rebound. Rather unwisely, she rebounds with one of the company’s in-house writers (Andrew Bujalski, also a director), whose potential book deal for his personal blog is distracting him from the television pilot he’s supposed to be writing with Osborne. Then the chronically dissatisfied Gerwig drops Bujalski and takes up with Osborne, which is where the film leaves her, but there’s no guarantee that their relationship is going to be any more lasting.

From "Hannah Takes the Stairs"

Greta Gerwig With Mark Duplass In “Hannah Takes The Stairs”

Next up for Swanberg and Gerwig was Nights and Weekends (2008), which is pretty much the definition of a two-hander since they not only co-wrote and directed it, but save for a handful of scenes, they’re just about the only actors who appear onscreen. To some, that might seem like the height of narcissism, but they don’t exactly show themselves off in the most flattering light. A couple in a long-distance relationship, they’re floundering because they don’t get to spend enough time together and when they are in the same time zone there’s tremendous pressure on them to make what little time they have count. Minor disagreements blow up into major arguments and moments of intimacy are reminders of how much really separates them. Anybody who’s been in that situation should be able to see the writing on the wall long before they do.

While Gerwig moved on to supporting roles in Ti West’s The House of the Devil and Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, Swanberg stayed in his groove, writing, directing, photographing and editing Alexander the Last (2009), his fifth feature in five years and one that was actually produced by Baumbach. It’s about a married actress (Teeth’s Jess Weixler) who’s cast in a provocative play opposite a hunky actor from Tennessee (Barlow Jacobs) who makes her think about straying from her musician husband (Justin Rice) while he’s away on a tour. She sets Jacobs up with her photographer sister (Amy Seimetz), possibly in the hopes that it will make him unavailable, but their director (Jane Adams) and playwright (Josh Hamilton) seem intent on making rehearsals as uncomfortable as possible for all of them.

Uncharacteristically, 2010 came and went without a new film from Swanberg, but he made up for it in a big way by releasing six in 2011 (some of which are easier to track down than others). The first one out of the gate was Uncle Kent, which he wrote and produced by Kent Osborne, who essentially stars as himself. An unattached animator (his actual credits include such shows as Adventure Time and Spongebob SquarePants) who’s just turned 40 and has trouble maintaining relationships, a typical day for Osborne is spent hanging around with his musician friend Kevin Bewersdorf, playing with his cat, smoking pot, and talking to strangers on Chatroulette. He breaks his routine, though, when he plays host to a visiting journalist half his age that he met online.

Ostensibly in town for a meeting, which she has extended to an entire weekend hanging out with Osborne, visitor Jennifer Prediger has no illusions about their chances of hitting it off as a couple since she already has a boyfriend back in New York, but that doesn’t prevent her from doing things with him that could be construed as leading him on. Starting with a kiss, which they only do for the benefit of an anonymous guy playing with himself on Chatroulette, they soon progress to comparing their masturbation techniques and responding to a Craiglist ad posted by a woman looking for a three-way (Josephine Decker). It’s when he tries to get some two-way action going that Osborne gets shut out, much to his frustration.

2011 also saw the completion of Swanberg’s long-gestating Silver Bullets, which was an unusually protracted production for him. Shooting began in late 2008, and he didn’t complete the film until just before it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. Furthermore, he essentially shot and edited two different versions of the film before settling on a story that satisfied him, a sure sign of artistic growth. Instead of being the straightforward werewolf film that its title suggests, though, it revolves around a young actress who gets cast in one.

Kate Lyn Sheil stars as the actress in question, who’s thrilled to be playing the younger version of Jane Adams, an insecure actress who shares the prologue – and her worries about putting on weight – with Larry Fessenden (who later auditions for a role in the werewolf film). For her part, Sheil’s relationship with her boyfriend (Swanberg, playing a frustrated filmmaker) deteriorates after he casts her best friend (Amy Seimetz, also the film’s producer) as his girlfriend in the low-budget drama he’s shooting concurrently with her film. Meanwhile, Sheil’s director (Ti West, essentially playing himself) clumsily puts the moves on her, which she’s slow to rebuff. Even if they go no further than a little kissing on the mouth, the damage has been done.

If Silver Bullets is relatively chaste by Swanberg’s standards, he went in the complete opposite direction with Autoerotic (2011), which may very well go down as his most sex-obsessed film yet. Co-directed with Adam Wingard, the film is broken up into four parts, which Wingard, Swanberg and their co-writer Simon Barrett populate with couples with all kinds of emotional baggage and sexual hang-ups. In the first, Lane Hughes plays a guy who’s so fixated on the size of his penis – which, for the record, is fine by girlfriend Amy Seimetz – that he sends away for enlargement pills and is so happy with the results that he abruptly breaks things off with her so he can play the field. Next up, Swanberg plays a guy who has very specific ideas about how sex with his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) should go, which may or may not have anything to do with her subsequent overwhelming urge to masturbate constantly. When she confides in a friend (Chris Hilleke), she recommends autoerotic asphyxiation, which doesn’t seem like the safest solution, but at that point Sheil is game for anything.

Being game is also at the heart of the third segment, in which a very pregnant Kris Swanberg finds she can no longer achieve orgasm, which makes her husband (Frank V. Ross) feel inadequate. When a girlfriend (Josephine Decker) offers to help out, Ross thinks he’s in for a three-way, but the girls have other plans. Then, in the final segment, Wingard plays a sleaze who masturbates furiously to the sex tapes he made with his ex-girlfriend (Rosemary Plain), who calls him up out of the blue so she can pick up the last of her stuff, but what she really wants is for him to delete “those movies” since she’s getting married. Wingard isn’t inclined to do anything so selfless, though.

The anthology format carries over to the found-footage horror fest V/H/S (2012), which exposed Swanberg to an entirely new audience (his roles in Ti West’s Cabin Fever sequel and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die notwithstanding). It helps that he contributes to two of the segments, first as an actor in West’s “Second Honeymoon,” in which he and his wife (Sophia Takal) videotape themselves on a tour of the West and have some scary nocturnal encounters with a masked stalker. He then takes the reins of “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which is presented as a series of Skype video chats between a young woman (Helen Rogers) who worries that her apartment is haunted and her boyfriend (Daniel Kaufman), who worries when she starts acting erratically and tries to keep her calm until he can come visit. Apart from its unnecessary twist ending, “The Sick Thing” is one of the best parts of V/H/S, leading one to imagine what Swanberg could produce if he tried his hand at a full-on horror feature. It’s certainly something he should ponder the next time he’s out drinking with his buddies.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

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