Two weeks ago, the long-awaited Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, hit theaters like a ton of space-bricks. Hordes of people of all different ages, all kinds of backgrounds, and varying levels of nerdiness flooded theaters on December 17th to see what this latest installment had to offer. They showed up to theaters two hours before the movie. They stood in lines that stretched out the door, around the corner, and possibly into the street. They ate popcorn by the bucketful and shouted over each other to answer the theater staff’s trivia questions and win free movie tickets (most likely for return trips to see this exact same movie). And, lucky me, I was one of the many, standing in line at 9 pm with my ticket in hand, waiting for the theater doors to open. There was really only one thing separating me from the eager crowd of fans humming with excitement around me:
I had never in my life seen a Star Wars movie.
I know. Suddenly my “space-bricks” comment makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? I know exactly zero things about Star Wars, so for all I know space-bricks are totally relevant to this fandom.
I am fully aware that every person in the world has seen Star Wars. I’m pretty sure they screen it for newborn babies in the maternity wards at hospitals. It’s been around for almost 40 years, but somehow I had managed to stumble through life without ever seeing it. I never accidentally watched one while at a friend's house or in a waiting room or settled on one while flipping through channels—you know, back in 2008 when people still had cable.
So when the new movie came out, and friends invited me along, I decided, “Yeah, ok. That could work. How important is it REALLY to have seen the other movies? I mean, I know stuff about Star Wars.”
This line of thinking was pure folly. A group of Star Wars-loving co-workers showed me just how wrong I was with an informal, pre-movie interview. Here are the things I “knew” about Star Wars before seeing the movie - spoilers ahead, but only for people as Star Wars-sheltered as me:
[begin embarrassing transcript]
So, what are you pretty sure you already know about Star Wars?
Luke and Darth Vader are related.
They sometimes fly around in ships and shoot at things, like giant desert rats.
One of the planets is, like, a desert planet.
Han Solo shot first. The internet was pretty adamant about that one.
Yoda talks funny and is green and small and…him and Luke were buds?
Jar Jar Binks is a gold robot. No, wait, he's the guy with the weird face!
There's a scene where there's deserts! Or planets.
Ok, what do you know about the general plot of Star Wars? Give us a summary.
Luke Skywalker is the Chosen One of some kind. He lives on a planet that is not Earth and fights some dudes. Not really sure about his motivation. He hangs out with Yoda and Han Solo and they teach him how to use a lightsaber. He goes to fight Darth Vader because no one likes that guy. They go to the Death Star, which is round and has a dent in it. Darth Vader wants to kill him for... reasons? Then there are storm troopers and they wear white and there are other kinds of storm troopers that look similar but are different. And they fight them? And they win? And Darth Vader dies? But first he says "Luke, I am your father." And that's all I know.
Who is Jabba the Hutt?
He's a fat guy who has Leia in a gold bikini. I know that because of Friends. Wait, is that guy blue?
What do you know about Boba Fett?
I don't remember. Is he an alien? He's not a person. Not as crazy looking as Jar Jar Binks. Is he a robot?
What about Obi-Wan Kenobi?
I used to think Harrison Ford was Obi-Wan Kenobi. But actually, he's Han Solo. I just assume they are both Harrison Ford.
How do you think the ewoks enter into this?
Oh. Yeah. Is Chewbacca an ewok? They are some sort of space animal…that are either Chewbacca or…I'm imagining them smaller? Like the footstool in Beauty and the Beast. You know that little dog?
Who is Anakin Skywalker?
That one I know! That guy is Darth Vader. He was a nice guy once and then his face got jacked up. So under his mask he has a jacked up face. What's his motivation? What's that guy up to? Is he trying to take over the universe? People are always trying to do that.
Who's the Emperor?
Is that different than Darth Vader?
Who is Lando Calrissian?
He is from across the Narrow Sea and has dragons and wants the Iron Throne?
Who does Natalie Portman play?
She was Princess Leia, right?
Really!? Wow. I was like 80% sure she was Princess Leia.
What is the Force?
It's like chi? Energy. You use it for... fighting? With lightsabers? You should use it. I know you use it. And also that sometimes it is with you. Can it be good or bad? I think it's good.
What's a Jedi?
Oh, a Jedi is like an auror in Harry Potter. They fight crime and stuff and they wear brown robes. Also like Harry Potter! Wait, lightsaber color is important. I don't know why I know that. Do they have different powers? Do people have powers in this movie? Um, I know Jedis can return. They went somewhere and came back. Is Jedi plural? I think it's a job.
[end embarrassing transcript]
Yup. So, clearly I was starting on a solid foundation of very correct facts. I’m pretty sure by the end of the conversation, I was just directly quoting from movie titles. I am still not totally sure how wrong my information was, but I could kind of gauge it by how horrified my co-workers looked after each answer.
And so, armed with all of this very factual knowledge, I went to see the seventh Star Wars movie. I waited in line for two hours with a horde of die-hard Star Wars fans wearing quippy t-shirts. Some were dressed up as That One Character Who Wears Gray, or That Person With the Brown Clothes, or Princess Leia (nailed it). And lots of them were toting around what I thought at the time was some kind of zany orange and white space-hat (but was apparently a robot called BB-8). I watched my Star Wars-obsessed friends answer trivia questions and yell at a guy who dared to wear a shirt with a Star Trek font. I ate two pretzels.
And then it was finally time for the movie. We flooded into the theater, the lights went out, and the magic began.
Considering that I barely knew who anyone was or what was going on, the movie kept me completely hooked from beginning to end--aside from a very brief couple of seconds when I fell asleep because, well, it was almost midnight and I was basically full of pretzel cheese.
I thought the movie was funny, exciting, and incredibly realistic for a space opera. Spaceship chases? Yes, please! Lightsaber fights? Bring 'em on! But there were also real feelings, real relationships, and real stakes in this movie. Who'd have thought?
The main characters were just impossible not to root for. Finn, the stormtrooper who's been trained to kill for the dark side, but decides run off and fight for the Resistance; Rey, the clever, solitary junkyard girl who accidentally gets swept into this epic battle between good and evil; and BB-8, the world's most adorable space-hat, who is being hunted by the Republic.
Now, I'm not sure if a stormtrooper turning his back on the dark side and running away to fight for good is something that has ever happened in the Star Wars universe. If I'm honest, before Finn pulled off his helmet in the movie I didn't even realize stormtroopers were people. If I'm really, really honest, I didn't even know stormtrooper was one word. But the revelation that stormtroopers could have feelings and weren't all just soulless killing robots felt like a pretty new and exciting leap in character development to me--and a pretty cool introduction to the universe. All my preconceived notions, few though they were, were just blown to bits and suddenly it felt like anything could happen. If stormtroopers could be good maybe C-3PO would pull off his face to reveal that he's the Emperor. The possibilities were endless!
Rey was a joy to watch as she went from impoverished junkyard scavenger to lightsaber-wielding, butt-kicking fighter for the Resistance, and her chemistry and banter with Han Solo was so much fun. Kylo Ren, with his motivations and backstory left intentionally foggy, managed to seem well-rounded, and the relationships that were hinted at gave his character some great depth. As far as I can tell, Star Wars isn't known for making two-dimensional villains, and they certainly haven't started with Kylo Ren.
These allusions to histories and relationships between the movie's characters felt like completely new revelations, not old references that I just wasn't getting. But it was interesting how easy it was to pick up on the things that were old inside jokes. I didn't get any of them, of course, but I could tell when some classic Star Wars thing had happened because suddenly the camera would pan around to a nondescript, decrepit spaceship and everyone would start screaming and cheering. Or Han Solo would stop and say something completely unremarkable and the entire theater would explode into laughter and applause.
The combination of old references and new information made something incredibly clear, though. While I could probably say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a good movie--I enjoyed seeing it and only fell asleep the one time--it would be impossible for me to say just how good it was without having seen the other beloved (and less-beloved) films in the series. Are these ideas, these characters, these plot lines original and revolutionary and surprising, or are they overdone tropes? Are they carefully planned and well-thought-out tie-ins to plot lines from the previous movies or have they kicked the old plot lines to the curb? Is this the continuation of one great big, epic story or an entirely new story with some familiar faces tacked on?
On a great big list of "Things I Don't Know About Star Wars," these questions have all risen to the top. Right below the biggest question of all: Was Star Wars: The Force Awakens really a good movie?
I think so. But I can't know for sure until I've seen the rest. And so, with the next movie in the franchise looming on the horizon, it might be time to give in to the gravitational pull of the Star Wars universe and just…watch the movies already.
Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and if she had to rename The Force Awakens, she would call it Star Wars: Stormtroopers Have Feelings Too. Or maybe, Star Wars: Everyone In Space Has Daddy Issues.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters everywhere, all the time.
The holiday season means different things to different people. To my sister and I growing up, it meant it was time to pull out the Christmas special VHS, which contained A Chipmunk Christmas, The Smurfs' Christmas Special, and, my personal favorite, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special. We didn't love them for their holiday messages, because frankly, they all fail to have a cohesive or believable plot. I think we loved them just because they were part of the season and also because my mom forgot to pause recording on the commercials, which meant re-watching holiday ads that got weirder and more dated with each viewing. Anybody else remember ice-skating Ronald McDonald? It just goes to show that movies made for Christmas can sometimes, you know, suck.
As more and more people each year identify Die Hard as their favorite holiday movie, I asked my fellow co-workers and Pulp contributors to share their favorite non-holiday holiday movies. Please enjoy this list of movies in which Christmas happens but isn't why the film exists in the first place.
Evelyn recommends Nick Offerman's Yule Log, the lowest-key of seasonal viewing experiences, featuring no action, no dialogue, and just the crackle of a fire and the enjoyment of a fine Scotch to admire.
Sara suggests The Thin Man - come for the martinis and mystery, stay for Nick shooting balloons off the Christmas tree with his new airgun and Nora's Christmas threat:
Amy, our classic film buff, suggests The Apartment, Meet Me in St. Louis, and The Lemon Drop Kid, in which a small time crook played by Bob Hope attempts to pay off an angry mobster with a bell-ringing Santa donation racket. This film also featured the debut of the holiday standard "Silver Bells."
Anne has some recommendations that celebrate the 80s and early 90s at their cinematic best. First up is Gremlins, which you should definitely watch if you are tired of Christmas carols:
And then there's Batman Returns, featuring this moment, which has Christmas lights, Santa references, and gifts being hurled through the air. Tim Burton must have had a thing for incorporating Christmas settings (Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas) into his movies.
Oh wait, I almost forgot about this guy:
But my favorite of her suggestions has to be Trading Places, complete with Dan Ackroyd's filthy Santa suit.
Andrew's picks included L.A. Confidential, because what says "holiday spirit" better than a prison beatdown scene, and Holiday Inn, because Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby singing and dancing to Christmas tunes to impress a girl really does say "holiday spirit".
So from all of us on the Pulp team here at AADL, we wish you very happy movie-watching, from our couches to yours!
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and would like to note that Auntie Mame also features a very sweet and touching Christmas scene amid the zaniness and camp that makes up the rest of the film.
December is upon us and, like the giant rolling boulder in that one Indiana Jones movie, the holidays are rumbling ever closer.
If you need some tips to help you celebrate the season, here's a handy list of festive holiday things going on in the area:
Dickens: An A Capella Carol
Friday, November 27th - Sunday, December 20th
Performance Network Theater - Ann Arbor, MI
National Theatre of Scotland: A Christmas Carol
Thursday, December 17th - Sunday, January 3rd
Power Center for Performing Arts - Ann Arbor, MI
Ypsilanti Community Choir's Annual Holiday Concert
Thursday, December 17th
Washtenaw Community College - Ann Arbor, MI
Gifts of Art presents Holiday Harmonies with Counterpoint
Thursday, December 17th
University Hospitals - Ann Arbor, MI
Home for the Holidays! with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Friday, December 18th - Sunday, December 20th
Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Detroit, MI
The Corner Christmas! (Not Your Family's Christmas Party) at the Corner Brewery
Saturday, December 19th
Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery - Ypsilanti, MI
Krampus Costume Ball
Saturday, December 19th
The Dreamland Theater - Ypsilanti, MI
Scones and Shopping at the Eyrie
Saturday, December 19th
The Eyrie - Ypsilanti, MI
X'mas Explosion 4 feat. Archimime, Meridians, Scapegoat and The Path Of Exile
Saturday, December 19th
The Maidstone Theater - Ypsilanti, MI
Museum of Natural History Planetarium: Season of Light
December 19th-20th, 27-30th
University of Michigan Museum of Natural History - Ann Arbor, MI
Winter Solstice Celebration
Tuesday, December 22nd
Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse - Ypsilanti, MI
Gifts of Art presents Sweet Sounds of the Season with Wanda Degen
Thursday, December 24th
University Hospitals - Ann Arbor, MI
Black Christmas Feat. The Suicide Machines, The Black Dahlia Murder, BIGWIG, Mustard Plug, Koffin Kats
Saturday, December 26th
The Majestic - Detroit, MI
Tuesday, December 29th - Saturday, January 2nd
Bona Sera Cafe - Ypsilanti, MI
Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and she's been listening to Christmas music since July.
If you’re growing weary of all the holly jolly happenings that this time of year has to offer, then it might be time to take a break to contemplate mortality. I mean really take some time, like four hours worth, and spend it observing a classically trained vocalist perform operatic death after operatic death.
In Let Me Die, Joseph Keckler ties together and performs hundreds of deaths from the history of tragic opera. The project also involves a series of videos, incorporating operatic fragments into stories and images of contemporary life, realized in conjunction with Holly Hughes' Interarts class. Performance and video will be shown, surrounded by an environmental installation that sparsely combines operatic set elements. Audience members are welcome to come and go as they please during the four hour performance. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. MOCAD galleries and Cafe 78 will be open during the performance.
Joseph Keckler has spent the last few months as Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan working with students to create music videos and to delve deeply into the world of the tragic. He has spent endless hours researching operatic deaths and has expertly categorized them under such headings as “the Stabbies,” "the Sickies,” and “the Poison People.” You can read more about his process in this great interview by M. Starkey.
Still not convinced? Then watch this video as a preview of the greatness that you will witness. Keckler sings Schubert to a cat. Need I say more?
Death is, quite simply, what gives meaning to life. Shakespeare understood this well as he wrote in King Richard II,
“O, but they say the tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony.” Go to MOCAD this Saturday and face your mortal anxieties straight on.
Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and is mortal.
Joseph Keckler performs Let Me Die Saturday, December 12, from 1 – 5 pm at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201. In partnership with the Penny Stamps Speaker Series , the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), and the Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence Program. This event is free of charge and open to the public.
If you're not familiar with one of my favorite movies, that's ok--I'll tell you all the best things about it:
- The oddball phrases that Bing Crosby used in real life were added into the script, which is how his character comes to call a holiday celebration a "yuletide clambake" and refer to Danny Kaye's character as a "weirdsmobile."
- Vera Ellen's character only wears turtlenecks. Whether she's clad in an evening gown, a bathrobe, or anything in between, it's a turtleneck. She has about 30 costume changes. All turtlenecks.
- That indoor fireplace at the Columbia Inn
- Danny Kaye
- There's no bad guy. The film's primary antagonist is the lack of snow in Vermont.
The sing-along is a happy, silly, and friendly event, where people in the next row up offer to take a photo of you and your friends before the show starts. The jolly atmosphere is fueled in part by singing along with a selection of Christmas carols accompanied by the theater's prized Barton organ, and in part by the goodie bag given to each attendee, which includes an extremely stylish Santa hat that almost every audience member wears throughout the whole movie.
The emcee of the event wears a Mrs. Claus dress that looks like an update of the Haynes sisters' dresses from the Christmas tree finale scene. She sings along with the carols and the movie, and this year, conducted impromptu "fabulous holiday sweater" and "White Christmas costume" parades. After spotting many festively-dressed folks in the crowd, she invited holiday sweater-wearers up to the stage to show off their fashionable knitwear. But the crowd was most appreciative of the dozen or so White Christmas cosplayers. There was a gentleman wearing Danny Kaye's costume from the "Choreography" number, two very clever costumers dressed as the butcher and the cobbler from the civilian clothes finale of "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army," and a couple who dressed in approximations of the "Sisters" wardrobe, one in the Haynes sisters style and the other inspired by Bob and Phil's famous lip-sync reprise.
The watching of the movie is punctuated with enthusiastic singing from the audience, with help from the lyrics captioning each musical number, and also with props from the goodie bags. They contained the following items:
-The aforementioned Santa hat - for establishing that this event is as cheerful as it is positively goofy
-A candy cane - for eating
-A snowflake sticker - for wearing
-Bubbles - to blow during the "Snow" song and at the finale
-Plastic horse - to trot out each time Betty mentions her knight-on-a-white-horse expectations of romance
-Blue feather - to garnish your personal rendition of "Sisters," which is played no fewer than three times
-Hand clappers - this plastic toy came in super-handy to chime in whenever there is on-screen audience applause, or an energetic bout of tap-dancing.
-Glow sticks - these red or green glow sticks were for swaying along with the ballads, most notably "White Christmas" but also "Count Your Blessings" and "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me"
-Popper - these tiny firecrackers accompany General Waverly in blowing out the candles on the cake celebrating the reunion of his admiring Army division
-A tissue - to pull out and emote along with Emma the busybody housekeeper. Pro tip: keep this tissue handy for whenever the General tells his men how much they mean to him
This is the kind of event best enjoyed with a group of friends, or your mom, or a group of friends and your mom, and what the hell, a group of your mom's friends too. It's a great time with a great crowd, and a great way to appreciate a classic holiday movie.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and she likes the song/dance number "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army" best.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Dust In the Wind opens with the puzzling image of a tiny rectangular shape, its top rounded, hovering against a black background. It appears at first to be an animated image, crudely rendered given the film’s 1986 release date. But it quickly becomes clear that we are swiftly traveling towards the image, rather than it floating towards us, and that it’s not a man-made drawing but a depiction of natural splendor. The shape is the light at the end of a pitch-black train tunnel, and the camera swiftly explodes out of the passage to reveal the stunning greens of the lush forest beyond.
This striking opening shot may be the most obvious way Taiwanese director Hou leads us to find beauty in seemingly mundane moments in Dust In the Wind, but it’s certainly not the last. The film screened Monday at the Michigan Theater to kick off “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a series of free screenings running through Nov. 11. The plot of Dust In the Wind is simple, almost pedestrian: a young couple, Ah-yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah-yun (Xin Shufen), seek to escape their impoverished life in a Taiwanese mining town. Mining life has already left Ah-Yuan’s father injured and at the mercy of greedy pharmaceutical providers. Ah-yuan and Ah-yun travel to Taipei, where they take tedious jobs–he as a print shop assistant, she as a seamstress–to send money home and to fund their own night school and eventual wedding. They make a few friends and go out to drink and socialize when they can. Hardly leading a robust life to begin with, Ah-yuan and Ah-yun face their greatest challenge yet when the draft board calls Ah-yuan up for a lengthy tour of military service.
Hou is noted as a major voice in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the ‘80s, which emphasized realistic stories of everyday life in Taiwan. As such, having noted the rather bleak circumstances of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun’s lives and their tenuous young love, it’s not too difficult to predict the fate that will befall their relationship when Ah-yuan departs for the military. But Hou finds many a moment of warmth, beauty and wisdom in what could be a much more harrowing tale. He repeatedly frames the exterior of Ah-yuan’s family home in an extreme wide shot, encouraging us to appreciate not only the colorful hustle and bustle on the steps of the home but also the action that takes place in the courtyard beyond. There’s even gentle humor in the tale, as when Ah-yuan’s father accidentally lights a firecracker rather than a candle in the dark. (Ah-yuan’s grandfather, beautifully played by Li Tian-lu, is a repeated source of both sly humor and somewhat dark wisdom.) Hou repeatedly directs us toward the kindness and love in this dark story, from family members comfortably sharing food and drink to Ah-yun quietly nursing Ah-yuan back to health during a bout of bronchitis.
As the title of the film would suggest, the characters seem battered by life’s trials, cast adrift in an uncaring world they have little ability to fully comprehend, let alone control. But in the many warmer moments Hou creates here, he also seems to suggest that the characters are equally ignorant of some of the gifts that are present in their lives. It seems no mistake that Hou follows his spectacular opening POV shot from the train with a shot of Ah-yun and Ah-yuan onboard the vehicle, complacently reading, paying no attention to the spectacular scenery we’ve just been treated to. In a simple but metaphor-laden exchange between Ah-yuan and his grandfather at the film’s end, it’s difficult to tell just how much our characters’ eyes have really been opened. But Hou has certainly opened our eyes to some of the beauty in these difficult lives, and perhaps encouraged us to think differently about our own lives as well.
The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater:
- Flowers of Shanghai screens Nov. 10 at 6 pm. Multiple prominent film critics have named this elegant, slow-paced 1998 film following the courtesans and patrons in four different brothels as one of the best movies of the ‘90s. The film stars Tony Leung, well-known for his appearances in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
- Good Men, Good Women screens Nov. 11 at 5 pm. This 1995 release concludes a trilogy of historical films by Hou, preceded by 1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster. The story of a Taiwanese couple who journey to the Chinese mainland to fight the Japanese during the 1940s is told as a film within a film about an actress who is preparing to play the role of one of the main characters.
- Millennium Mambo screens Nov. 11 at 7 pm. The 2001 film follows a young woman’s work life and romantic entanglements at the beginning of the new millennium. Although Hou uses vibrant cinematography and techno music in his storytelling, his portrait of recent youth culture is dark and somewhat despairing.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.
The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater: Flowers of Shanghai on Nov. 10 at 6 pm; Good Men, Good Women on Nov. 11 at 5 pm; and Millennium Mambo on Nov. 11 at 7 pm. More information can be found on the University of Michigan Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies page.
There's so much going on in town every weekend, it's easy to overlook the multiple waves of consistently astounding student recitals coming out of the UM Music School. But to do so risks missing some extremely rare opportunities to hear top-notch musicians tackle enormously exciting and engaging work, such as last weekend's simply jaw-dropping Celluloid Tubas performance, put on by the University of Michigan's Euphonium and Tuba Ensemble (UMETE), led by visiting conductor and arranger E. Todd Fiegel.
Fiegel and UM Tuba & Euphonium Professor Fritz Kaenzig met as students and have remained friends ever since; Fiegel arrangements and appearances have been periodic features of Octubafest concerts over the years. Fiegel is a lifelong fan of film and film scores, and has brought his challenging and faithful arrangements of famous film themes to brass ensembles across the country through his Celluloid Tubas and Celluloid Brass series. The program for last Sunday's recital at the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus featured eight of Fiegel's arrangements of famous film themes for Professor Kaenzig's ridiculously talented Tuba & Euphonium students, accompanied by a team of five percussionists, each set of pieces played in sync with video.
It's not unheard of for a live ensemble to play along with a video; in fact there are several touring arrangements of video game or film music, such as the Legend of Zelda tour (that comes as close as that town to the south in 2016), and most of these shows use a digital click track in earphones, or a special video feed for the conductor, to show exactly when each beat must happen for the music to stay in sync with the video. The Celluloid Tubas Show utilized no sync tools at all; Feigel simply watched the video on the screen along with the audience, and conducted the ensemble to keep the music matched up with the action. This was an extremely impressive feat, demonstrating Feigel's deep knowledge of the scenes and the scores, and while not every beat was precisely perfect, the musicianship on display by the conductor and the ensemble was simply staggering.
Starting off with a suite of themes from Bruce Boughton's score for Silverado (1985), the richness and warmth of a Tuba & Euphonium ensemble was immediately on display, very well suited to the panorama-evoking score from the film and the Coplandesque open harmonies that are shorthand for cowboy movies. Beef, it's what's for dinner. Feigel carefully set the stage for each section, explaining what was going on with the plot and how the score amplified and reflected the emotions, while lovingly protecting the audience from spoilers, such as that Kevin Kline would not die in the climactic gunfight against Brian Dennehy.
The next piece was a very famous sequence from 1955's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: the epic Skeleton Fight, scored by Bernard Herrmann, who went on to score most of Hitchcock's best films, including, as Feigel noted, the music-less score of The Birds. The ensemble did an amazing job with a very difficult piece, and my post-millennial 13 year-old son was also astounded by the quality of Ray Harryhausen's entirely hand-animated special effects. Even all these years later, that post-production Skeleton is convincing in a way of which Jar Jar Binks can only dream.
The first half of the concert featured what Feigel described as "Two vocal soloists at the top of their game," in an arrangement he calls It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Instrument Plays. My son and I had this one pegged for What's Opera, Doc? from the moment we got the program in hand, and we were delighted to be right, with the original vocal performances carefully separated from the original music and accompanied by the power of an ensemble of which Wagner could barely have imagined. Also, it was only 5 minutes long, which Wagner certainly could not have imagined.
The second half began with one of the most famous fusions of animation and music ever produced, Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Arranging this woodwind-heavy piece for a low brass ensemble truly showed off Feigel's chops as an arranger, as well as the ranges of the performers, but the truly impressive feat was the timing of the very specific, spread out beats at moments in the short, such as when the splintered broomsticks come back to life, or the final potch Mickey receives at the end of the short. Every single pulse of the music is evident in Disney's animation, and the ensemble nailed them all.
Of course, you can't do a program of Movie Music without something by John Williams, and Fiegel brought three outstanding picks from Williams' catalog. Send in the Clones is the score of the final scene of the otherwise execrable Attack of the Clones, where the famous Imperial March is heard for the first time, a piece extremely well suited to the naturally sinister Euphonium. Then, after a beautiful but undeniably maudlin excerpt from Saving Private Ryan, the ensemble launched into Fiegel's vrOOM vrOOM Scherzo, an arrangement of William's Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra that scores Henry Jones Jr. and Senior's escape from the Nazis. One of the best bits of Indiana Jones music, this piece catches every bump and jostle of the scene with the Last Crusade's Nazi Theme underscoring throughout.
But the most impressive achievement of the evening, and the closing number, was Eine Kleine Tubamusik für Roadrunner und Coyote, a very faithful conversion of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn's score for the Roadrunner Cartoon Zoom and Bored. The scoring of a Roadrunner cartoon is so distinctive, from the alternating fury and depression of Wile E. Coyote's efforts, to the signature xylophone blinks of confusion, that despite the unusual instrumentation, the score fit right in, from the Beyooooop to the That's All Folks. But you don't have to take my word for it, here's a video of a performance of the arrangement from a previous Celluloid Tubas show at Umich in 2005:
It was a delightful evening of film, commentary, rich tones, and lots of spit. UMETE is one of the most impressive ensembles on campus, and with arrangers like Todd Feigel pushing their boundaries, it's worth taking the time to see what Tubas and Euphoniums can do, without a full band holding them back.
Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library and was one of the worst Sousaphone players in the Michigan Marching Band.
You can stay on top of what the University of Michigan Tuba & Euphonium Studio is up to on their facebook page .
In the summer of 1975, a number of patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor suffered sudden respiratory failure. Several patients died as a result. The FBI investigated and two Filipina nurses, Leonora Perez and Filipina Narcisco, were eventually convicted of injecting patients with a drug intended to incapacitate and kill them. This little-known story is the focus of That Strange Summer, a documentary by journalist and associate professor Geri Alumit Zeldes.
In interviews in the film, co-workers express doubt about the pair’s guilt, and question why another co-worker, who was obviously unstable, was not considered as more of a suspect. A victim’s family recounts the shock of these attacks, and the struggle to understand what had happened. An investigator shares the circumstantial evidence used to justify official suspicions. Throughout, the nurses stand by one another despite their shock at the accusations and the gravity of the situation. Their conviction met with protests, and on appeal, their conviction was overturned and the nurses were freed.
Filmmaker Zeldes unfolds this complicated story through archival news stories, FBI documents, and eye-opening interviews with investigators and former VA employees. The film examines stereotypes and perceptions that may have influenced the outcome of the investigation and trial. People in the film keep coming back in amazement that such a thing took place in Ann Arbor -- underlining that distrust of foreigners can exist anywhere, and the story of Narcisco and Perez shows just how far that distrust can go.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
When Piper Kerman, New York Times bestselling author of Orange is the New Black, gave the biennial Vivian R. Shaw Lecture last week at the University of Michigan, she drew a crowd which filled Rackham Auditorium and required live-stream video and overflow seating. Kerman’s memoir of her experience serving time in a women’s prison was adapted into a wildly popular, award-winning Netflix series by executive producer Jenji Kohan in 2013.
Kerman’s presence throughout the lecture was relaxed, yet pointed and, at times, refreshingly irreverent. She opened the lecture by describing life prior to her 13-month incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, CT. As she chronicled her time behind bars, the themes of her lecture were clear: sisterhood and empathy, gender, power, and racial inequality. Her presentation raised awareness about some damaging stereotypes and stigmas of incarcerated women, as well as challenges that occur upon re-entry to society. Kerman encouraged the audience to use the show as a lens into the greater institutional and systematic oppressions of mass incarceration and how they impact women prisoners – specifically women of color. The Q&A session that followed touched on a variety of topics including popular culture and identity, the importance of arts within prisons, and how to donate books to incarcerated women.
While Kerman currently serves as a consultant for the show, she’s also adamant about supporting nonprofits and other organizations working to advocate for female prisoners, their families, and overall prison reform. Additionally, she teaches creative writing courses to female inmates and serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association. She has been called as a witness by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights to testify on solitary confinement and women prisoners. She has spoken at the White House on re-entry and employment to help honor Champions of Change in the field. In 2014, Kerman was awarded the Justice Trailblazer Award from John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime & Justice and the Constitutional Commentary Award from The Constitution Project.
In this talk, Kerman offered incredible insight and compassion as she both humanized female prisoners and advocated for thoughtful, intentional, and long-term policy changes.
The 2015 Vivian R. Shaw lecture was co-sponsored by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Women Studies Department, Michigan Law School, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the School of Social Work, the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures, the Department of Sociology, and the Screen Arts and Cultures Screenwriting Program.
Community contributor CristiEllen Heos Zarvas is the Meetings and Special Events Assistant for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.
There are very few films that can leave a person full-on ugly-crying in their seat and contemplating gun violence, poverty, creativity, and Shakespeare simultaneously, but Jason Zeldes’ 2015 documentary Romeo is Bleeding manages it.
The film follows Donté Clark, a young poet and emcee from Richmond, California as he struggles to rise above the violence of his hometown and the endless turf war between North and Central Richmond, two cities with bad blood to spare.
The film can claim a whole host of achievements, but above all, it succeeds in truly masterful storytelling. The story of Donté Clark’s journey from aimless youth to poet and activist and the story of the decades-old turf war inherited by the inhabitants of Central Richmond and North Richmond are seamlessly interwoven. The entire film is given perspective and focus by following the timeline of a third story: the efforts of a group of Richmond’s teen poets, including Donté, as they create and perform a production of Romeo and Juliet—with a twist, of course, because if there’s one thing this film doesn’t offer, it’s predictability. The well-known rivalry of the Montagues and Capulets is replaced with the completely different, but eerily parallel, rivalry of North and Central Richmond.
That’s right. Plot twist.
It’s amazing how well these two ideas come together, as the timeless verse of Shakespeare translates so perfectly to the gritty, almost slam-style poetry that the kids of Richmond perform when they take the stage.
And while the film may take place hundreds of miles from Ann Arbor, there’s a lot of local interest, not only through the film’s homegrown director Zeldes, but through one of the documentary’s main characters: Donté’s teacher and mentor, Molly Raynor, an Ann Arbor local who learned her love of writing and passion for poetry at Ann Arbor’s very own Neutral Zone.
The film is currently on the film festival circuit and recently won its 10th award.
Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and her cry-face is hideous.