Thursday, June 9, 1977 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five
Swastikas and selindugence
By OWEN GLEIBERMAN
Cross of Iron, Sam Peckinpah's latest
venture into an obsessive world of explicit
violence, is a grimly-wrought tale concern-
ing the retreat of a German platoon dur-
ing World War II. A war film in the most
traditional sense, crammed with action se-
quences and amoral soldiers, Cross of Iron
provides an absolute showcase for Peckin-
pah's directorial talents.
The plot centers around the platoon sear-
gent (James Coburn) and his personal con-
frontations with a 'captain (Maximillian
Schell) whose sole desire is to win the Iron
Coburn despises war and all officers, but
is, despite his contempt, a good and trust-
worthy soldier. Schell is simply a bastard
through-and-through, totally selfish, apd. in-
credibly exploitive by virtue of his high
Essentially the film unfolds on two levels.
It is undeniably a first-class action picture,
and despite Peckinpah's claims that his vio-
lence is not gratuitous, the bloody action is
going to be one of this film's major selling
points. However Peckinpah, who has pro-
duced films of such compelling complexity
as Straw Dogs, attempts something much
greater that the normal war movie, and
this is where Cross of Iron falls far short
PECKINPAH ATTEMPTS to show us the
senselessness of war by displaying the in-
ner turmoil of the soldiers - the multitude
of ambivilancies they feel towards the war.
Although he deals with these issues at great
length, ultimately, he is unable to forge a
coherent statement. The way the film is
set up, the script laden with heavy dialogue
and constant moralizing, we want it all to
somehow tie together, and it never does.
Peckinpah's talent lies in where he can,
in a single moment, depict the uncompro-
misingly horrible realities of war. In one
instance, a high-ranking officer offers to
shake hands with a wounded soldier, only
to have the soldier reveal from beneath his
blanket two stumps of arms, and then con-
temntuonsly offer his foot to the officer.
In moments such as this, it is obvious
that Peckinpah is systematically setting up
a gut reaction of revulsion for the audience,
yet there is no feeling that anything is be-
ing forced upon it. There's a conviction be-
hind the subtlety and underhandedness with
which Peckinpah executes many of these
scenes, and he has an ability to cultivate
intense reactions by merely using a single,
But, unfortunately, too much of Cross of
Iron is tied down in the heavy-handed script
(which Peckinpah didn't write), and the
film often chokes in it.
WE CAN UNDERSTAND Coburn's hatred
of the war and the army, but when the
colonel (James Mason) asks what they'll
do when the war is over and the answer
comes grimly "Prepare for the next one,"
the comment doesn't fit into any overall
scheme; it is simply one more in a series
of statements that express hopelessness, but
refuse to tie together.
Attempts in the early part of the film
to treat the subject of homosexuality are
interesting and even well-handled, but as
the movie progresses, these -deas are lost
in the jumble. Cross of Iron keeps making
you ask for something more, and then, it
However, the action sequences, Peckin-
pah's forte, are nothing short of superb.
With his slow motion deaths, a technique
that has been so effective since The Wild
Bunch, Peckinpah creates the reality of
death in battle as no other director ever
has. The editing in the battle scenes is con-
stant; Peckinpah throws you off by never
focusing on a particular foxhole or person,
and the effect is a collage of battle, mak-
ing us feel as if we were there.
PECKINPAH GIVES YOU no sense of
panorama, but on the contrary, puts you off
balance by vividly creating the disorder of
battle. The sensation is dizzying, and even
the longest fighting sequences are never
Only in a few instances does Peckinpah
go. overboard with violence, the most glar-
ing of which is a rape-and-castration scene.
In this particular scene, we lose the con-
nection between the violent act itself and
the war that is its root, and the result
is simply shocking and repulsive.
The film concludes on a very interest-
ing note. Coburn's entire platoon has been
killed, and only he and Schell are left. As
Schell tries to fire and finds his gun emp-
ty, we hear Coburn laughing over a series
of stills from as diverse sources as South
Africa and Vietnam. Coburn's voice col-
lapses into the film's final utterance, "Oh,
shit!", and both men are presumably killed.
But once again, Peckinpah's attempt to
go "universal" by including these stills is
hampered by the vagueness of his message.
There is no doubt that Sam Peckinpah
is one of the most gifted of current Ameri-
can artists. However the limits of his per-
ception are extremely evident in Cross of
Iron. Becouse of the script's jumbled qual-
ity, Peckinpah's idea that the violence he
portrays so vividly is the potential of ev-
ery man becomes increasingly obscured.
Volga dancers dazzle
By LISA FISHER my three favorites anyway.
The other two standouts are
Never having been a fan of "Chicago" on side one and
Kiki Dee, I should say up front "Keep Right On," a side 2 of-
that I was not prepared to rave fering. On "Chicago" the music
over anything she was connect- will grab you. Regardless to
ed with, including her latest re- whether or not you pay atten-
lease, Kiki Dee on Rocket, pro- tion to Ms. Dee, listen for the
duced by Elton John. guys in. the back. Arranged and
Well, I'm still not going to conducted by Gene Page, the
rave. song is highly listenable.
Don't get me wrong, there's "Keep Right On" is worth it,
a good chance that this album if only for the scorching sax
will turn up frequently on my solo by David Sanborn. This is
turnable, and with good reason. also one of the few songs on
Unfortunately, the reason in not which Riki makes some effort
- as it should be - because at standing in front. The rest?
I like to hear Ms. Dee. It is, Ah, they're nice in a vague sort
instead, because I happen to of way. ,..
like good music, and this al- Providing Kiki's music are an
bum is chock full of it. In fact, assortment of people, most be-
that's its saving grace. ing refugees from the Elton John
Kiki Dee is certainly no worse bands, past and present. On key-
a singer than anyone else in boards is James Newton-How-
the pop vocal field, but the ma- ard, Davey Johnstone on guitars,
jor flaw of this disc is that it Dee Murrey on bass and on
never offers the chance to hepr, "Bad Day Child," percussionist
as final proof, whether that Rap Cooper makes an appear-
contention is true or not. What ance.
you do get, for at least six of As I've said the music is good,
the eleven numbers, is some but, surprisingly from what we
pretty good music overpower- are able to hear of Kiki, she
ing the star. ain't bad either. Most of the
For example, in "How Much stuff is pleasant but what counts
Fun," Kiki can hardly be heard. from an artistic point of view
This is due, in part, to the way is that Ms. Dee seems to be
she sings the song, but even making her first concentrated
so, one would think that the mu- effort. Perhaps she is striving
sic could be restrained. This one for something with this album
sent mse scurrying for the lyric (could it be success?). Who
sheet - there isn't one, but the knows? One of these tunes just
song turned out to be one of might do it for her.
By DAVID GOODMAN
UP ON THE STAGE, four men in colorful
peasant costumes squat, kick and twirl their
way through the steps of the Russian folk dance
"Over the Lakes." Meanwhile, on the empty
main floor of Dearborn's Ukrainian-American
Peoples Hall, 12 women in billowing blouses
and long skirts rehearse some intricate foot-
This is a regular Thursday gathering of the
Detroit Volga Dance Ensemble, a twenty-mem-
ber troupe dedicated to the preservation and
performance - and enjoyment - of traditional
Slavic folk dances.
THE VOLGA DANCERS perform anywhere
from four to ten times a year, mostly before
small and medium-sized audiences. Their repe-
toire includes Ukrainian, Russian, Moldavian,
Azerbaijani and Tatarian dances, both tradition-
al and modern folk.
"We make all our own costumes, too," said
Martha Allan, a Wayne State University student
and founder of the group.
The troupe began four years ago when Allan
returned from a trip to the Soviet Union with
a large number of folk dances in her head but
no one to do them with.
"I discussed the idea of starting a dance
group with some friends of mine. There were
four people at our first rehersal," she said.
"There's been a pretty steady core group all
along," Allan added.
She described the group as "a family type
of thing. We don't have room for prima donnas
and superstars. It requires a lot of commitment,"
she added. "If you are going to be good, you
have to come every week."
ALLAN CAUTIONED against discounting the
challenge of the steps the women are called on
to perform. "Both are equally difficult," she ex-
plained. "The women's dances are more com-
plicated - the foot work is more complex. The
men require more stamina."
One difficulty the group had to overcome was
that few of its members had previous experience'
with Slavic dancing when they joined. Other than
Martha herself, most of the rest had "never even
seen a step," she stated.
Surprisingly, only a few of the participants
are of East European ancestry, either. "I like
the exercise and I like any kind of dancing,"
said Ramona Dixon, in explanation of her in-
Ramona, her sister Zoe and her brother Evan
are one of several families that joined the group
together. Dan Smith's wife April is one of three
sisters in the troupe, while her mother, Hope
Dewey, provides the piano accompaniment.
The next few months are a hectic period for
the troupe. "We're working pretty hard - try-
ing to learn four new dances for a performance
in June. It's usually tough enough learning one
at a time, Allan commented. June 11th is the
ensemble's annual benefit concert at the Ukran-
ian-American People Hall at 5221 Oakman in
THE GOAL IS TO raise enough nioney over
the next year to send eight or ten members of
the troupe to the Soviet Union during the sum-
mer. of 1978 for a dance seminar and tour. The
Soviet government operates a cultural exchange
program which will pay for the group's expenses
while there, but participants must pick up their
own plane fare.
Marty Goldman, a Southfield High School
senior, was one of four ensemble members who
attended a similar program three summers ago
in the Ukrainian city of Kiev. "It kind of runs
in the family," he said, explaining that all four
of his grandparents emigrated from a small vil-
lage near Kiev.
One of the biggest problems the Volga Dance
Ensemble faces is recruiting interested males.
"You can always use more men in a dance
group," stated Hope Dewey, adding that the
troupe's best male dancer recently quit.
Still, the ensemble manages to put on a wide
range of men's, couple and mixed dances with
its limited number of male participants. And,
despite its amateur status, the group enables
its audiences to share in the diverse cultures
of societies half a world away.