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October 16, 1977 - Image 12

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Michigan Daily, 1977-10-16
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Page 4-Sunday, October 16, 1977-The Michigan Daily

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T WILL COME AS no surprise to
readers of this trustful critic that
I am less than enamoured with the
work of Robert Altman: From my
first introduction years ago to his
puerile, pre*MASH concoction That
Cold Day in the Park through his
recent, catatonically baroque Three
Women, Altman's jaundiced, malev-
olent attitude about who and what we
are had remained as discouragingly
consistent as has his wholly unre-
markable, albeit undisciplined, cine-
matic style.
Economic pressures of the 1970s
combined forces with the 1940s
big-studio tradition of the "weil-
made film" to churn out products
limited in persona to the outlaw, the
whore, the spaceman and other
fantasy - tinged non - identification
types. But the saddest irony of this
era of the oppressed American
cinema is that the enduring cham-
pion of personalized, independent
filmmaking should himself cast such
a sniggering eye toward humanity,
and then combine his cruel vision
with a technique so sloppy and
arhythmatic that for me, at least, it
renders much of his work unwatch-
Yet Altman remains our dubiously-
shining beacon under which freedom
worshippers rally against the con-
formist corporate biggies. And his
title does merit grudging commenda-
tion in the equal opportunity sense, if
not in the artistic. He reportedly
keeps a consistently open and inter-
ested mind toward new or neglected
talent, and in the process !he has
certainly opened celluloid doors to
both aspiring and declining artists
who might otherwise have lan-
guished indefinitely in the mire of the
Hollywood rat race.
What then becomes crucial is
whether those brought to prominence
by Altman's commercial progres-
siveness have conversely had their
talents sullied by overexposure to his
artistic torpidity. The recent release
of two Altman-produced (but not
directed) films, The Late Show and
Welcome to L.A., may lend some

indication to how the Jekyll-Hyde
duality of his influence has rubbed off
on his disciples.
j T TOOK The Late Show nearly
half a year to arrive in Ann Arbor;
Welcome to L.A.has yet to make an
appearance here, save a personal
showing by director Alan Rudolph at
the Altman Festival last February.
The explanation for their absence
constitutes an exemplary case of the
economic dominating the aesthetic:
The Late Show lagged badly at the

the closet cast of Three Women or the
carnival cast of Buffalo Bill and the
Indians, just to name a couple.
The-protracted underexposure of
Welcome,to L.A. is a rather more
distressing matter, as it is not only
far superior to The Late Show but is
in fact the best American film I've
seen this year.
seen this year. Inevitable surface
comparisons have been made be-
tween Welcome to L.A. and Altman's
magnum opus, Nashville: The simi-
lar use of a large urban city as a

Alitman and hisflock.
They're all the same

box office after an initially good
showing, while Welcome to L.A. is
such an idiosyncratic studio an-
athema that its parent company,
United Artists, has been afraid to
distribute it on a mass scale. Such
timidity is unfortunate -and rather
infuriating. While both films are
periodically swathed with Altmanish
ennui, they also exhibit qualities su-
perior in both style and spirit to
those of their flawed mentor.
The Late Show was explored at
length in a recent column, and will
not be the prime subject here. Suffice
to say that the film is irritatingly
sluggish as a private eye whodunit
but engagingly warm as a night-lit,
offbeat love story. Writer-director
Robert Benton's sense of pace and
dramatics may be as abysmal as
Altman's, but at least Benton knows
how to lend charm and sagacity to
those he writes about. And the
performances by Art Carney and
Lily Tomlin make you care about
their respective characters 'more
than you do about anyone in either

structural focal point, the subplots of
a large cast of principals woven
through the film, the use of music as
a unifying cornerstone. Yet tonally
and philosophically, the two, works
differ as profoundly as night and day.
A T FIRST glance L.A. seems decep-
tively simple, minimal in plot
and linear in form. Its focal charac-
ter is young, aspiring soft-rock
composer Carroll Barber (Keith
Carradine), just returned to his
native Los Angeles following a three-
year hiatus in England. Long alien-
ated from his native environment
and the plebian opulence of his mil-
lionaire father, Carroll has been
lured home to have his songs record-
ed by a celebrated rock star (Rich-
ard Baskin, who wrote much of- the
music for Nashville]. Carroll's com-
positions ring with lyrical melan-
choly, mourning his own dissatis-
faction with the intrinsic yearnings
for superficial gratification funda-
mental to his city and people ("the
city of the one night stands").

Alcoholic, already world-weary in
his mid-twenties, Carroll prowls the
streets in his car at night, sipping
from a pint and searching for a quiet,
temporary serenity. In the course of
his wanderings, he enters into brief,
terminal affairs with the wife of his
father's business partner and with
his father's own mistress among
others, all of whom are futilely en-
gaged in their own triangular, inter-
related dalliances. At film's end he
departs, album unfinished and disen-
chantment intact, but just possibly
wiser -for the stopover. At least he is
free to move and change, while the
film's other sad participants seem
trapped within their own walls
Welcome to L.A.'s visual and
emotional contrast with Nashville is
stark and profound. Be it a stage
show, a stock car race or a political
rally, Nashville revels in the garish,
the raucous, the atonal dereliptions
of a populace dominated by venality
and heartlessness. L.A. is a shadow
film, a dream film, silently exploring
not the surface gaucheness of its
characters but instead the midnight
demons which drive them. While
Altman employs the insider's smirk,
the mocking potshot and the easy
laugh, Rudolph bestows the consol-
er's tears, the soft 'silent howl of
aching compassion.
Nashville wallows in mean-spirited
stereotypes; L.A.'s people are touch-
ingly well-intentioned, fallible hu-
man. beings beset by an ongoing
querulousness over a life style they
have been taught to worship but
which brings them ever-decreasing
satisfaction. When Carroll's father
makes a last attempt at reconcilia-
tion with his son, we see him not as a
moneyed caricature but as a simple
man who dearly loves his child; yet
the two of them remain hopelessly,
irreconciliably estranged in values
and beliefs. We are all sufferers.
Welcome to L.A. is a decidedly
interior film dominated by quiet
indoor settings, with even the few
outdoor scenes confined to the with-
See FILM, Page 12


(Continued from Page 8)
himself-in terms of what and how
much he owns.
Macon's wife is unfortunately the
thinnest major character in the novel.
She does not refer to herself as Macon's
wife, but rather maintains her maiden
name, Ruth Foster. She apparently
lives in a world apart from the lifeless,
sterile house she has inhabited for her
entire life. But the reader is never given
a peek beyond the stock role of "dad-
dy's little girl" who hasn't slept with
her husband (except for a four-day

tine and the community-is one of the
strongest elements in this second sec-
tion. Milkman has made a decision to
tear himself from the grave his father
has already dug for him. He decides,
ostensibly, to search for his "people."
His journey takes him through Pen-
nsylvania and Virginia and makes for
some of the best passages in'the book,
especially the conversational pieces
where Milkman is merely a pair of ears
for an old-timer with an interesting tale
to tell. It is through this technique of
transcribing the richness of rural black
speech that Morrison does her most

Continued from Page8 )
winces pore of the futility of religious
belief. Craftily, the long-devout fath-
er agrees - and must now resign
from church so he won't be a
hypocrite. Young Swirling is dis-
traught - he can't afford the extra

$175 per week:
So he approaches Mrs. Pesky, a
fundamentalist who lives next door,
and engages her to RE-convert his
father so the rent won't be so high.
They all go to a revival meeting -
eventually Mrs. Pesky and the elder

Macon and Pilate represent two sides of the
same persona. Toni orrison's Song of
Solomon beautifully illustrates the schizo-

Swirling are married. Later on, the
black militant Pauline, at Swirling's
insistence, contrives to divert Mrs.
Pesky's attention from the fact that
she is being "entertained" in his
apartment, and goes into an outra-
geous mugging act as a cleaning
Basically what distinguishes De-
Vries' work is that each character
has a shtik, and the characters and
their shtiks remain relatively con-
stant from book to book, changing
only names and locales. DeVries is at
his best savaging the New York chic
world; he showed that in his incredib-
ly funny I Hear America Swinging,
published just over a year ago. In
that story of how worldliness and
sophistication took over a town of
Iowa farmers, he showed an exqui-
site sensitivity to the absurd, the
pompous, and the laughable in
pretentious intellectualism.
Madder Music is much more
subdued than the zany I Hear
America. This is perhaps because the
comedy in the new work is much less
word-oriented and more situatior '
But jagged thrusts have been re-
placed by gentle pokes, all in good
fun, of course (he said through bared
teeth and a smile).
The most joyously exalting things
about the book are the phrases that
show DeVries' ear closely attuned to
the language. And his recreation of
Groucho-type routines is - terribly
authentic and very funny.

ine in
the ps
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had be
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period) for over 40 years. The only op-
portunity she is offered to step out of
that role seems totally contrived simply
because we have no inkling that this
frail, passive, possibly incestuous
woman possesses the strength to
threaten another woman's life.
OWARDS THE END of the first
Ipart of Song of Solomon, the pace
of the story is slowed and mangled at
several points by an overly omniscient
narrator. For whatever reason,
Morrison finds it necessary to interject
quite a bit of philosophy and heavy-
handed analogies. Redundancy is a
problem in this portion of the novel as
Morrison decides that she must explain
to the reader what is already crystal-
clear. This is not a glaring problem, but
it does unnecessarily. fatten a section
which could have been edited quite a
Fortunately, Part II of the novel is
significantly better. The aspect of Part
I which was most lacking-a sense of

engaging work. Most of the characters
-from the immortal Circe to the busy-
body Grace-have a depth about them
which was lacking in earlier figures.
These are people you and I have grown
up with, listened to, feared and learned
Unfortunately, Milkman's best friend
Guitar remains a hollow creation. Why
is he so close to Milkman? Because he
kept four boys from beating him? Are
lifelong friendships based on so little?
Morrison does not show how these two
extremely different men-Guitar, poor
and struggling, and Milkman,
privileged and spoiled, the son of a man
who put young Guitar and his family in
the streets-ever felt a need or desire to
develop a tight bond.
Still, the latter half of Song of
Solomon fairly vibrates with the lives of
those black folks Milkman encounters
on his quest for self-discovery. The
storyline, the language, and most of all
the dialogue make this a most valuable
and oftentimes striking work.

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