New films by or featuring two Ann Arbor-ites -- and conversations with both of them -- are landing at the Michigan Theater.
Writer and filmmaker Kevin Smokler seems more comfortable in a different era; maybe one from 30 to 40 years ago. Or at least Smokler's really comfortable covering a different era -- and we liked his book Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies so much we interviewed him twice (October 2016 and June 2017).
Smokler's new film, Vinyl Nation, is about the past decade-plus revival of LPs, which no matter their cult popularity now, are still totems of the pre-CD '80s.
As an Ann Arbor native, Smokler was blessed with numerous fantastic records stores here while growing up, and he's lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years, another place where vinyl records never truly went out of style. Vinyl Nation is co-director and co-producer Smokler's love letter to the vinyl format, and the film is coming to his hometown starting Friday, August 28, at the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room.
Smokler and Vinyl Nation co-director and co-producer Christopher Boone will also do a virtual Q&A about their documentary on Wednesday, September 2, 7 pm (Facebook event link).
The Fight documents the frontline lawyers for the ACLU fighting for abortion and trans rights, as well as trying to fight for the children and families who have been locked up thanks to the current administration's draconian immigration policy. You can also rent this movie from the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room, but first you can listen to an interview with one of the stars of The Fight, Brigitte Amiri, an Ann Arbor native and deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Amiri talks to the Michigan Theater's Behind the Marquee podcast about the ins and outs and ups and downs of her profession and being the subject of a documentary.
Check out the trailers for both films:
Interesting things learned during two hours of socially-distanced outdoor conversation with acclaimed illustrator and street artist David Zinn while he created Nadine Hypnotizes a Frog on a commercial property in an undisclosed location within the city limits of Ann Arbor.
PEOPLE YELL AT DAVID ZINN
In our pre-interview text exchange, Zinn revealed that people yell at him sometimes when he’s doing his thing. I think yell might be a strong word for the reaction a security guard or stickler-for-the-rules public servant or art-loathing property owner might throw his way. What’s the word for when someone locks eyes with you after staring curiously at you doing strange stuff on a sidewalk accompanied by a mysterious wooden case full of colorful things and a long pole next to you?
“Having a name on the internet doesn’t mean anything when I’m crouching on the ground,” says Zinn, whose work has been shared throughout social media and covered by Huffington Post, Graffiti Art Magazine, Bored Panda, and more. “I’m lucky a lot of people have a blind spot for weird things happening.”
What Zinn does is technically graffiti. But when it’s done on Ann Arbor city sidewalks, it’s completely legal.
Chapter 106 of Ann Arbor’s city ordinances titled NUISANCES mentions graffiti, along with outdoor storage, trash, dangerous structures, abandoned refrigerators, and parking in a drive-thru lane without making a purchase.
But there’s a sweet, sweet caveat:
“Any mark or marks on any surface or structure made without the prior permission of the property owner and made in any manner, including but not limited to, writing, inscribing, drawing, tagging, sketching, spray-painting, painting, etching, scratching, carving, engraving, scraping, or attaching. Chalk marks on sidewalks are NOT graffiti.” (ALL CAPS mine)
Zinn says Ann Arbor’s specific absolution for chalk is pretty unique. Still, technically, graffiti—and I feel like we’re damn near outlaws.
This story originally ran September 16, 2019.
Mark Stryker will talk about his new book "Jazz From Detroit" at AADL's downtown location on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 pm. We asked him to recommend some jazz from Tree Town.
Ann Arbor makes a number of cameo appearances in my book Jazz From Detroit. Several recordings highlighted in the text were taped live in Ann Arbor, and a number of the musicians featured in the book have ties to the University of Michigan. (The book itself was published by U-M Press.) Here’s a playlist that takes its inspiration from the Detroit-Ann Arbor jazz connection.
Back in January when the inaugural Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY) was announced, the plan was to hold it at the Riverside Art Center, April 16-18.
We all know what happened next.
Between August 20-22, numerous short films curated by Juliet Hinely and Hafsah Mijinyawa will stream each evening at iffypsi.com, though the kick-off evening will be free on Facebook or your can go to the the Normal St. parking lot at Cross by the Ypsi water tower for a drive-in screening.
Here's the schedule and links to trailers for the films in IFFY 2020:
Michigan Art Gallery's virtual exhibit "Leon Makielski: Intimate Views" shows the portrait giant exploring Midwest landscapes
Leon Makielski is perhaps best known for his 1923 portrait of poet and fellow University of Michigan colleague Robert Frost. An Ann Arbor resident since 1913, Makielski was also known for the hundreds of other portraits -- from paintings to charcoals -- he did of other university bigwigs, from Michigan to Pennsylvania, as well as politicians, architects, engineers, conductors, and other members of the creative and ruling classes.
But the Michigan Art Gallery's virtual exhibition Intimate Views primarily features the kind of impressionistic landscape paintings that brought a young Makielski to study in Paris at the Academie Julian and Academie Grande Chaumiere in 1909. When Makielski died in 1974 at the age of 89, his family found 400 works in his studio, and 22 of those paintings are in Intimate Views.
While all the pieces in Intimate Views are viewable online as of 6:30 pm on August 14, you can also make appointments to see the paintings in person through September 26. While these visits might be more enticing to potential buyers of the paintings more than casual viewers, the appointments are available to all -- and it's an easy way to fill that gallery-sized whole in your art-loving heart.
Below are some of the images from Intimate Views, along with some articles from The Ann Arbor News archive on Midwest master Makielski.
"Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" documents how the Detroit-born publication rose to the top
Creem magazine was the 1970s dirty rock 'n' roll branch of The New Journalism practiced in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. The magazine's salty, raunchy prose and passion-first stance helped crack the egg of music journalism, scrambling it into a form that had as much attitude as the music Creem was covering.
Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine is a new documentary by Scott Crawford -- director of the essential Salad Days chronicling the D.C. punk scene he grew up with -- that captures the mag's spirit of chaos, tracing Creem's rise and fall with open-eyed honesty.
Started in 1969 from Detroit's Cass Corridor, Creem spent 20 of its 30 years publishing out of Michigan and helped launch the careers of influential music journos Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, documentary co-producer Jaan Uhelszki, and more. The Creem documentary treats Bangs, Marsh, and cantankerous publisher Barry Kramer as the heart of this dysfunctional band of misfits, many of whom not only covered rock 'n' roll but also lived the lifestyle. Kramer and his wife, Connie, were no exception, and the film's co-producer JJ Kramer deals with his parents' issues with grace during his on-camera interviews.
Before he became a documentary filmmaker, Crawford published numerous fanzines and magazines, including the well-known indie/roots/rock mag Harp, which was influenced by Creem and featured many of its writers. Crawford and I worked for the same company that took over publishing Harp for a few years, and I caught up with Crawford about his latest movie, which is currently available to stream at the Michigan Theater's virtual cinema. This chat was edited for length and clarity.
Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school
This article originally ran March 25, 2020.
We're rerunning the story to highlight the launch of the "Commie High" archive at aadl.org/commiehigh:
This site serves as a supplement to the independent, feature-length documentary about Community High School in Ann Arbor, MI—produced by 7 Cylinders Studio—providing extensive extra content available for public viewing and research. Additional materials and development are anticipated in future editions.
There are video extras, historical and making-of-the-film photos, a music database documenting the school's numerous bands and musicians, digitized yearbooks, and news articles.
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.
But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.
Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.
But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream.
Until now. (Kinda.)
A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.
Welcome to Commie High, a new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.
The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.
Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.
It's just a fish-lens photo inside Yost Ice Arena. There's nothing special about it per se. The Michigan Wolverines are playing what looks to be the Wisconsin Badgers; it's 50 seconds into the game, a zero-zero tie, the stands are mostly full.
But during a time when all norms have been flipped because of Covid-19, seeing this simple scene of a hockey game being played 2 miles from my locked-down house hit an emotional hotspot that I've been pretty good about suppressing: dreaming about life in the Before Times.
The photo is in Dale Fisher's new book, Washtenaw: Visions of the Eagle, which is filled with pictures that will make you wistful for a full Big House, a packed Crisler, community fairs, and other events that brought people together for shared experiences.
Like the other six books by the Ann Arbor native, Fisher's latest focuses primarily on aerial photography, capturing the natural beauty and historic small cities of our county -- as well as that giant football stadium -- from the open door of a helicopter. But there are numerous ground-level photos among Washtenaw County's 288 pages, too -- many not even taken by Fisher or his co-photographer and partner Joanne Ackerman, who shot the book's cover image. The Yost photo is by Jonathon Knight. Other photos are provided by the businesses that helped sponsor the book and as well as nonprofits whose work Fisher supports. Those images are interspersed with Fisher and Ackerman's photos, blending editorial and business shots. It's a quirky approach, but not all that different from the way Fisher funded his other collections.
The Goose Lake International Music Festival was the Woodstock of the Midwest.
Between August 7-9, more than 200,000 people traveled from around the country to Jackson County's Leoni Township and set up shop at an otherwise unremarkable lake area where the got to hear some of the biggest name in rock 'n' roll including Jethro Tull, Chicago, Mountain, James Gang, then regional fave Bob Seger, and many more. Alice Cooper, Joe Cocker, and Savoy Brown were slated to play but did not, so the fest added The MC5 and Faces, whose singer Rod Stewart was having such a good time that the band canceled its next gig at the Fillmore East in New York and stayed in Michigan to party.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Goose Lake fest. It's had a lot of coverage over the years, some of which we've collected below, including two documentaries and a Nerd Nite talk on the festival. But the recent big news about Goose Lake is that Third Man Records unearthed audio from The Stooges' August 8 performance there, which was the last show by the band's original lineup, and have released it on vinyl and CD.
On Monday, I made my first extended stroll down Main Street since the pandemic shut down Ann Arbor and the world. While taking in the sites, I was noticing which businesses were open (a lot), which ones were closed for good (RIP Prickly Pear Southwest Cafe), which ones were new (Of Rice and Men, an Asian-fusion restaurant in the former Dessous space owned by the Blue LLama Jazz Club folks), and which ones were planned to open (InfusIV Hydration, which offers vitamin-infused IV drip therapy -- which feels aligned both with Ann Arbor's woo-woo hippy past and the city's tech-money-infused present).
But it was seeing WSG Gallery's empty space and partially covered windows that reminded me that I hadn't been keeping up with the art collective's move to online exhibitions. (Here's a June 18 Pulp article about why WSG had to pull up stakes from its prime location for the past 20 years and move entirely online, at least for now.)
WSG's current exhibit is Lynda Cole's Earth and Polar Work, which runs July 7 - August 17.
John Carlos Cantú reviewed Cole's November 2015 exhibit, North, which has a similar feel to the work in Earth and Polar Work: