MUSIC: Bach’s Mass In B Minor

◆ by Jeffrey Huntsman

Unbridled expression is the commonest way great emotional intensity is realized. Ecstatic spiritual rites, dancing to exhaustion, talking in tongues, even a heavy-metal rock concert are highly individualistic manifestations of passion. Nonetheless, as spontaneous as they may seem, they are all best understood through lenses that reveal intentions, structures, and cultural meaning. In time such practices may become formalized into styles, movements, or even genres — think Romanticism in art, literature, and music. In these examples there is a kind of symmetry between the forms of expression and its intended content, so a wildness of expression serves a wildness in meaning.

But there is a contrary impulse as well, which works through a dynamic tension between a passionate intensity and a highly formal structure. The power of Kwakiutl carvings, early Celtic knotwork, and Islamic calligraphy all depends precisely on the spring-wound energy of the internal forms straining against the outer boundaries. Dylan Thomas’ most personal and wrenching poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” pushes his anguish about his dying father against the formal strictures of his sestina version, with a single pair of rhyming words throughout. The emotional storm is harnessed — barely — by the straited structure.


In Western music, there is no better example of emotional intensity manifested through highly formal structure than Johann Sebastian Bach. His compositions — even the cantatas he turned out at a rate of one or more per week of his later professional life — are each models of precise musical genius. It is possible in many cases to demonstrate with mathematical exactitude the balance of musical motifs, textual meanings, and spiritual revelation — although just as surely Bach himself would never have overtly modeled his work mathematically. Writing one such masterpiece of controlled focus would be a wonder for most of us; the hope of “tossing off” hundreds is virtually unimaginable.

Out of a lifetime compendium of Bach’s treasures it is daunting to choose a single exemplar of supreme excellence, but if pressed to choose one, Bach’s Mass in B minor would be it for many. A product of his late life, the Mass in B minor (1749) is unusual for one composed by a Lutheran, because it sets the whole Latin text of the Roman tradition. Several parts were actually composed earlier: a segment of the Crucifixus dating from a cantata of 1714, the Sanctus from 1724, and the Kyrie and Gloria from 1733. Revisiting, reusing, and revising earlier material is something most musicians do, of course, and Bach’s companions here include among many others Handel, Janáček, and Lauridsen. But there is nothing stale in this reimagined masterpiece. The Mass was Bach’s last major composition, completed after he had gone blind and when he surely was most mindful of his impending mortality.

Although it apparently languished unperformed over two centuries until 1859 — Bach himself does not seem to have heard it in its finished form — it has since become recognized as an epitome of his writing for voice, with a compendious variety of musical styles, a breadth of textures and sonorities, and his characteristic richness of technical complexity and finesse. So towering is its stature that no one since, not even Beethoven (who tried twice to get a copy of the ms.), has written another mass in that key. That player’s number has been permanently retired.

The Chamber Singers, under the baton of Music Director D. Gerald Sousa, is returning to the Mass after a decade and a half of consistent growth in its size and musicality. For this performance, the BCS is partnering with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra (Artistic Director Barthold Kuijken), a group also with many past and current connections with IU’s Jacobs School of Music. It will be an especially rare treat to hear the Mass played on period-correct instruments, like Bach himself could have used, and the splendid venue at St John the Apostle Catholic Church, on the northwest edge of Bloomington near Ellettsville, is a virtually third acoustic partner.

[The Bloomington Chamber Singers, with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, will perform J. S. Bach’s Mass in B minor on Saturday, April 13 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, April 14 (at 3:00 pm at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Bloomington.

The Ryder, March 2013

FILM: People Will Say We’re In Amour

The Heart-Stopping Cinema of Michael Haneke ◆ by Craig J. Clark

This has been a long time coming, but it appears uncompromising Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is finally starting to gain some mainstream acceptance in the United States — that is, if the multiple Academy Awards nominations for his last two films are anything to go by. Between them, 2009’s The White Ribbon and last year’s Amour were nominated for seven Oscars, with two nods for Best Foreign Film (which Amour won), Best Cinematography, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. That’s not bad for a period piece about the nature of evil and a heavy drama about a couple facing their mortality with grim determination. Hardly what one would consider feel-good films, but Haneke has never been interested in coddling audiences or providing them with easy answers to life’s problems.

That hard-line stance goes all the way to his first feature, The Seventh Continent, which was released in 1989 and is one of his most quietly devastating efforts. It also illustrates his early propensity for formal experimentation, breaking the action down into three distinct parts. The first takes place in 1987 and observes engineer Dieter Berner, optician Birgit Doll and their young daughter Leni Tanzer as they go about their daily routines. Nothing that unusual happens; we just watch them (usually from a distance or framed in such a way that their faces aren’t visible) as they do all the mundane things one has to do to get through the day. Part two, which takes place a year later, is structured the same way, and features repetitions of some of the same shots and actions. There are enough subtle differences, though, that an observant viewer will begin to wonder just what Haneke is getting at. Well, what Haneke is getting at is what happens in the third part, which takes place in 1989.

The first clue that something is amiss doesn’t come until nearly an hour in, when Berner casually mentions to Doll that they “have to cancel the newspaper subscription.” It’s at that moment, when the characters reveal that they have crossed some kind of threshold without telling us, that the dread starts to mount. There’s one mention that they’re immigrating to Australia (the seventh continent of the title), but it soon becomes clear that they have an entirely different destination in mind. What that is I leave the reader to discover for themselves if they so choose.

For his second feature, 1992’s Benny’s Video, Haneke ventured into Atom Egoyan territory with his story of a teenage boy (Arno Frisch) who is obsessed with capturing images on videotape and then playing them back repeatedly. A child of affluent parents, Frisch is also in the habit of renting violent movies and listening to loud rock music while he’s holed up in his room, a practice disapproved of by his father (Ulrich Mühe), but his mother (Angela Winkler) doesn’t find it too troubling. Maybe if she had a look at some of the videos he’s taken and edited together, she would.

“Benny’s Video”

Provocatively, the film opens with footage of a real pig being killed with a captive bolt pistol (similar to the one favored by Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men). And if that’s not disturbing enough, the video is rewound and played back in slow motion, and then a third time when Frisch shows his set-up to a girl that he meets outside the video store he frequents. Conveniently, his parents are away for the weekend when he brings her home, so when he kills her with the same weapon that was used on the pig, he has time to coolly clean everything up. The only thing he doesn’t do is dispose of the body, as his parents discover to their horror when they get home. From the way they go about dealing with the problem, though, it becomes pretty clear how Frisch became so dispassionate that he could take a human life without batting an eye.

The final part of Haneke’s “glaciation trilogy” was 1994’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, which tells the backstory of a young gunman’s rampage at an Austrian bank by breaking it down into bite-sized narrative chunks spread out over the two months leading up to it. Rather than explain how the event comes to pass or why each of his eventual victims was there when it happened, though, Haneke teases out just enough information with each fragment to give the audience the chance to figure out how they all connect (or not, as the case may be). As such, there is no one central character to latch onto (not even the murderer), but we do come back to a few of them enough times to get a feel for how they pass their days in the shadow of looming tragedy.

Meanwhile, Haneke starts each day (there are five depicted in the film) with news reports on unrest and violence in places like Somalia, Haiti, Northern Ireland, Turkey, Lebanon and Bosnia, as well as an in-depth look at the Michael Jackson child abuse scandal that was consuming a lot of media attention at the time. I’m sure Haneke is making some kind of point about how easy it is for people to lose perspective (the Jackson case is given as much weight as all of the other stories, if not more), but the main thing one takes away from the film is that there are no easy answers. And apart from the gunman, whose death by his own hand is revealed in a title card at the top of the film, we never find out the fate of any of the other characters. That may be frustrating to some, but anybody who appreciates not being spoon-fed will have much to chew on after all 71 fragments have been slotted into place.

Next up for Haneke was his adaptation of Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle, which had previously inspired some aspects of Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka. Made in 1997 for Austrian television, its story concerns a land surveyor (Ulrich Mühe, the father from Benny’s Video) who arrives in a snowbound village, having been summoned by the Castle, only to find that his services are no longer required — nor were they ever, apparently. Mühe attempts to gain entrance to the Castle, but is frustrated at every turn, and it doesn’t help that he’s been assigned a pair of interchangeable assistants (Frank Giering and Felix Eitner) who make quite a nuisance of themselves. He also takes up with barmaid Susanne Lothar when he finds out she’s the mistress of a high-ranking official, but how he expects to get anywhere that way is frankly beyond me.

Things get more complicated from there — much, much more complicated — as Mühe peels away the layers of bureaucracy and obfuscation only to find more where they came from. His relationship with Lothar also becomes a major distraction, and like everything else he tries it gets him no closer to gaining entrance to the Castle, but by the end there are people trying to get to close to him because of his perceived connections there. At least Mühe remains sane enough to appreciate the irony of that.

Haneke’s next theatrical feature, made the same year as The Castle, was Funny Games, which is one of his more notorious films (made even more so by the fact that he remade it shot for shot a decade later). Briefly, it’s about two unfailingly polite young men who show up at the vacation home of a nice, upper middle class family and proceed to terrorize the hell out of them. It’s difficult to say any more about the plot without giving the “game” away, but the whole thing starts with a simple request for eggs and, before it’s over, they’re not the only things that end up getting broken.

It’s instructive to watch Funny Games in tandem with The Castle since Ulrich Mühe plays the hapless father and Susanne Lothar is his wife. Haneke even recasts one of Mühe’s unhelpful assistants (Frank Giering) as one of their tormentors, and the other (Arno Frisch) had played the title character in Benny’s Video, so he was well-versed in the art of inflicting randomly cruel violence on others. Of course, Haneke chooses to only show us its after-effects, scrupulously keeping the actual acts of violence (with one notable exception) offscreen. This is much appreciated considering some of the worst offenses are committed against the couple’s child, making this a film that disturbs as much as it enrages.

For an encore, Haneke puzzled out 2000’s Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys, which is a companion piece of sorts to 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance since it presents a series of interlocking stories about people whose lives intersect in ways both ordinary and unexpected. The main focal point is Juliette Binoche, who plays an actress working on a thriller that we get to see in various stages of rehearsal and shooting, but we also spend time with her photojournalist boyfriend (who seems most at home in the middle of war zones), his younger brother (who yearns to escape from the family farm), a young African (who takes offense to the brother’s treatment of a beggar), his father (who drives a cab to support his family), and a Romanian immigrant (who winds up getting deported since she was in the country illegally). As with 71 Fragments, Haneke leaves it up to the viewer to figure out how their stories fit together.

While Funny Games and Code Unknown were both in competition at Cannes, and Code Unknown received a special Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Haneke moved one step closer to the coveted Palme d’Or with 2001’s The Piano Teacher, which was awarded the Grand Prix (the second-highest prize at the festival), plus Best Actor and Actress. As anyone who’s seen the film can attest, Isabelle Huppert definitely deserved the latter for diving headfirst into the role of a deranged music professor who enters into a sado-masochistic relationship with a student (Best Actor winner Benoît Magimel) whose aggressive nature both attracts and repels her. Then again, it doesn’t help that she has the worst stage mother this side of Barbara Hershey in Black Swan, which is all the more pathetic when one considers that Huppert is clearly in her 40s and therefore has little chance of being “discovered.” Not only does she still live at home, but her overbearing mother is constantly checking up on her, which probably accounts for why she has so many sexual and emotional hang-ups.

“The Piano Teacher”

As is frequently the case in Haneke’s films, it takes some time for Huppert to reveal the depths of her psychosis. The camera dispassionately observes her in uncomfortably long takes while she engages in erratic behavior which becomes increasingly dangerous, both to herself and others. Her passive-aggressiveness even compels her to destroy a student’s chances of playing professionally just before an important recital. Little wonder, then, that Magimel tells her, “It’s totally sick what you’re doing here.” That’s as may be, but it doesn’t prevent him from coming back for more.

Huppert returned for 2003’s Time of the Wolf, an apocalyptic tale that shows how the world ends, neither with a bang nor a whimper, but rather with uncertainty, misery, and the high probability of death by exposure and/or starvation. Set during an unnamed calamity that spurs city dwellers Huppert and Daniel Duval to stock up on some essentials and flee to the country with their children, the film immediately puts them at a disadvantage since another family has beaten them to their cabin and the father has a gun. This means the supposed safe haven where they were planning on waiting out the catastrophe instead puts them face to face (for the first of many times) with desperate people who will do whatever is necessary to hold onto what little they’ve got. After Duval is taken out of the picture, Huppert tries her best to provide for herself and her children, finding food and shelter where neither is easy to come by.

Much like the similarly themed Children of Men and The Road, Time of the Wolf is bleak pretty much from the word go, and it only gets bleaker as it goes on. Even so, there are some starkly beautiful images on display, with Haneke going the Stanley Kubrick route by shooting all of the night scenes by firelight. (One such tracking shot features Huppert and her children walking past a row of farm animals that have been killed and set ablaze — an image both poetic and horrifying at the same time.) It may not be a comforting vision, but few people go into a Michael Haneke film expecting to be reassured about their place in the world.

Another winner at Cannes (earning him Best Director and two other awards), 2005’s Caché found Haneke on the threshold of a crossover success that seemed unlikely just a few years earlier. A tense drama about a man unwilling to face up to his past mistakes, it stars Daniel Auteuil as the host of a popular public television program who starts receiving creepy videotapes showing the exterior of the house he shares with book editor Juliette Binoche and their preteen son. The premise is similar to the opening scenes of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, but whereas Lynch quickly branches off into other, stranger avenues, Haneke stays firmly rooted in reality as the tapes (and the gruesome drawings and postcards that begin arriving with them) chip away at Auteuil’s long-dormant conscience. But what does he have to feel guilty about and why does he feel compelled to keep secrets from his wife and son?


Without giving too much away, Auteuil eventually receives a tape that leads him to the apartment of a mysterious Algerian man (Maurice Bénichou) who’s cagey about the connection between them when a clearly agitated Auteuil shows up at his door. He also has a memorable confrontation with the man’s son (Walid Afkir), but that only comes after an event that I wouldn’t dream in a million years of spoiling. Haneke’s films may be deliberately paced, but that only serves to make the shocks more effective when they do come.

For his first (and, so far, only) English-language film, Haneke followed in the footsteps of The Vanishing‘s George Sluizer and Nightwatch‘s Ole Bornedal by remaking one of his own films. In his case he chose Funny Games, casting Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the affluent couple whose home is invaded and Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as the ones doing the invading. Both films are equally effective (it all depends on whether you prefer to read subtitles or not), but Pitt and Corbet make for very ingratiating home invaders and the games they come up with are designed for maximum discomfort, both for the “players” and for the audience.

Before Amour, Haneke’s biggest success, both domestically and internationally, was The White Ribbon, which stands apart from the rest of his filmography thanks to its period setting and Christian Berger’s stark black-and-white cinematography, which perfectly evokes the place and time (a small German village in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War I). The imagery also captures the outlook of the villagers, many of whom see everything as strictly black or white. As Haneke deftly illustrates, that sort of environment is a veritable breeding ground for intolerance and corruption.

“White Ribbon”

If anyone could be said to be at the center of everything, it would be the village schoolteacher (Christian Friedel), who narrates the film from the vantage point of some unspecified time in the future. His main concern, both in the past and the present, is his tentative courtship with the local baron and baroness’s nanny (Leonie Benesch), a girl of 17 who is unjustly dismissed after an incident that doesn’t even involve a child under her care. The incident is far from the first, or the last, though, and most seem to somehow involve the older children of the local pastor (Burghart Klaussner), whose ideas about punishment always seem to outstrip the misbehavior involved. Then there is the doctor (Rainer Bock), who’s carrying on an affair with the town midwife (Susanne Lothar, returning from The Castle and the original Funny Games), which turns out to be the least of his transgressions. With role models like these, it’s no wonder the children lack a proper moral compass.

Firmly back in the present, Haneke’s second Palme d’Or winner in a row was Amour, which is that rare thing: a tearjerker that conjures up profound emotions without having to ladle on the sappy strings or Nicholas Sparks sunsets. Rather, it uses the most straightforward method of telling the story of a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who watches helplessly while his wife (Emmanuelle Riva) incrementally slips away from him. After all, who needs cheap melodramatics when you’ve got two actors with more than a century of film-acting experience between them?

The film opens with the story’s end, as the fire department breaks into Trintignant and Riva’s apartment and finds her dead with flower petals strewn about her room. It then flashes back to the night of another break-in, which the couple missed because they were attending a piano recital given by one of her former students. Apart from that all seems well, but the following morning Riva zones out for a few minutes during breakfast, which raises a red flag for Trintignant. “We can’t pretend nothing happened,” he says, and next thing we know Riva has had an operation, but it apparently did more harm than good because when she comes home she’s in a wheelchair and has lost the use of the right side of her body. It’s quite understandable, then, that she makes him promise never to take her back to the hospital, even if it will cause him great distress to keep it.

For the most part, Trintignant and Riva exist in isolation, save for the occasional visits from helpful neighbors and their daughter (Isabelle Huppert), who fills them in on her problems (a philandering husband, a directionless son) and grows increasingly concerned about Riva’s condition, which deteriorates rapidly. In a matter of weeks she goes from zipping around in her motorized wheelchair (the introduction of which provides a rare moment of levity) to being confined to her bed and barely capable of speech. Given the range of emotion she has to express, I’m not surprised she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but Trintignant is equally deserving of recognition for his work here. I’m sure it will be a long time before I see another pair of lived-in performances such as these.

[Editor’s note: The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, Caché, Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon can all be viewed on Netflix.]

The Ryder, March 2013

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 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

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

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