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October 28, 1981 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1981-10-28

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ARTS

4

Whe Michigan Daily

Wednesday, October 28, 1981

Page 5

'Wings' unlocks

doors

By Carol J. Poneman

Mark Lee and Mel Gibson: Running for their lives.
GOii vi l vivid

but it supercedes

ByA dam Knee
T fIE NEW Australian production
Gallipoli is a beautiful, captivating
film to look at,'yet its artistic vision is
obscured.- Director* Peter Weir's
fascinating images not only supercede
narrative, they begin to supercede
meaning as well.
Gallipuli is a locatin in Southeast
Turkey where, during World War I,
Australian soldiers under British or-
*ers charged the defending Turks and
were slaughtered. The film follows the
fictional story of how two young
Australian runners leave home and
become involved in this military blun-
der.
Weir and cinematographer Russell
Boyd manage to impart a dream-like
beauty and profundity to even the sim-
plest of scenes, largely through in-
*elligent, dynamic camera coverage
and careful manipulatin and accen-
tuation of natural lighting.
In the opening scene, fomexample, we
see Archy (Mark Lee) getting a pep
talk from his running trainer in close-
ups of the men's faces against a stun-
ning purple early-morning sky. As he
readies for a practice sprint, tension is
skillfully created through quick, close-
ups of his feet, hands, and face. When
he runs, the coverage jumps between a
shaky closeup of Archy gasping and
straining and a steady, silent long shot
the finish line.
Indeed, Gallipoli is, throughout, a
film of strong visual, tonal, and
thematic tensions. The greenery and
beauty of parts of Australia are quickly
replaced py patches of barren desert or
undermined by howling winds carrying
clouds of sand.
In Egypt, Australian soldiers un-
dergo training for warfare as the
Wyramids silently watch over them,
symbols of an ancient, perhaps more
civilized world. In one marvelously
composed shot, three formidable, rich
brown pyramids loom over a field of
pointy, palewhite soldiers' tents, which
feebly echo the shape of the monumen-
ts.
Althqugh Weir occasionally slips into
the style of the classic American macho
war film, he more often than not keeps
a sense (characteristic of his films) of a
surreal stratum just below the normal
surface of the everyday world - a
stratum which periodically breaks
through in a radical, tonal modulation.
One such modulation occurs early on,
as central characters Archy and Frank
(Mel Gibson) becomes side-tracked on t
their journey to enlist, and are stuck

trudging across an Australian desert.
We see nothing but a vast expanse of
perfectly blue sky and perfectly white
sand where two tiny figures argue the
purpose of war. In this context we can
perceive Archy and Frank as nothing
but abstract symbols; we are forced to
examine ideas separately from the
narrative.,
Weir demonstrates his tonal control
again in the firlm's final battle sequen-
ces. Rather than indulge in the often
pointless graphic gore today's war
films have a proclivity for, he creates a
horrible beauty, a surreal peace within
a violent framework. We see shells ex-
plode in brilliant yellow flashes against
the black night sky, sending billows ofw
grey smoke across the searchlight-
swept Mediterranean, while Albinoni's
peaceful "Adagio" swells on the soun-
dtrack.
The soldiers are as, strangely.
removed from the horrors of battle as
the filth itself. One soldier shakes a
lifeless hand which lies outstretched
from the rubble; another holds a can
over a wall of sandbags and giggles
hilariously when it is shot full of holes.
The soldiers are in such good humor
that they can place lets on who will be
the first to get hit by shrapnel during a
morning swim.
Such a vision of war is certainly
disturbing. Yet if Weir intended to
make a pacifist film, he has lost sight of
that intent. It is true that violence is
never looked on in a positive light; our
very fi st encounter with the military
involv an enlistment crew with a
giant hollow horse, and we cannot help
but get a sense of subversion, of the
hidden evil associated with the Battle of
Troy. Small incidents throughout the
film offer a similar view of violence: A
buddy of Frank breaks off from a.
violent struggle in a rugby game to
stare at the Sphinx in silent awe.
Nevertheless, this pacifist focus is
ultimately undermined by a strong
nationalistic sense. The pointlessness
of war waxes less significant than the
loss of Australian identity under British
rule. In the final sequences, our atten-
tion is shifted from the institution of
war to the specific abuses of Australian
soldiers by British commanders, who
force them into a deadly and futile at-
tack.
Indeed, Archy's death in the last
scene is frozen and preserved as a thing
of ibportance and beauty. The final
image of his bullet-ridden body,
bloodless and delicately arched back,
his mouth slightly open, is held for us a
few moments before it fades into the
titles. Archy has propounded a naively

mean ng
idealistic vision of Australia's glory and
responsibility in the war, and Weir does
not seem ready to contradict that vision
here.
One might assume then that Weir is
attempting to take a more Catholic
view of theissues surrounding war than
a straightfoward "war is evil" per-
spective. Perhaps (although this is far
from clear) he wants to take a step
back and look at the complicated net-
work of ideological conflicts surroun-
ding the war issue.
Yet, even if this is the case, he fails.
There is no lucid or enlightening
delineation of such conflicts. We get in-
sufficient illustration of the tension
between personal needs and national
obligation, and little interweaving of
the human drama at hand with the
broader issues implied.
National pride is seen mostly through
the example of Archy, yet he is clearly
in the dark about the facts surrounding
the war. Frank, on the other hand,
sometimes presents a pacifist view of
the issues: but his personal motives are
abstruse,, ostensibly stemming from
cowardice.
Although Gallipoli is an attractive
film to watch, Weir loses track of what
he is trying to show and say. Many
issues are insufficiently touched on,
and we are left grasping for meaning.

IMAGINE THE strangeness of a
world in which your ability to com-
municate is taken away. You respond to
the stimuli around you but no one un-
derstands the responses. And most
frightening of all, your own mind is con-
fused by them.
This is the world of an
aphasic-someone who, because of
brain damage, has lost the power to use
and understand words. Such a loss
damages the victim's comprehension of
the world. In Wings, which opens
tomorrow, night at the Lydia Men-
delssohn Theater, playwright Arthur
Kopit explores the disjointed yet often
heroic world of an aphasic.
Kopit became aware of the problems
of aphasia when his father suffered a
major stroke and lost the ability to
speak. Through Kopit's search for a
way to communicate with his father, he
became fascinated by aphasia. He.
talked with aphasics and their
therapists, witnessed their interac-
tions, and out of his observations came
Wings. ,
The play centers on the experiences
of Emily Stilson, a former aviatrix and
wing walker, after she suffers a stroke.
As the play progresses, we see Stilson
(played by Lenka Peterson), struggle
to make sense of her fragmented world
and communicate with those around
her. The audience is witness to a star-
tling gap between her perceptions and
her reality.
Although Wings was developed from
the author's experiences with aphasia
as a medical disorder, the play goes
beyond the clinical aspects of the
problem. It shows how the human spirit
can strive to overcome seemingly
hopeless odds, to once again become
whole.
In order to better understand the
phenomenon of aphasia, the Michigan
Ensemble Theatre cast went to the.
Residential Aphasia Clinic in the Com-
municative Disorders Clinic to attend
therapy sessions with aphasics and
discuss the problems of aphasia. There
they could get some clues to the strange
puzzle of an aphasic's mind.
"The toughest (part) is understan-
ding what's going on in her (Stilson's)
own mind, because aphasia victims
can't tell you," Actress Peterson said.
To understand her character's sup-
posed background, and thus some of
her thought processes, Peterson read
books on flight and wing walking.
Cast members working with the
people at the Aphasia Clinic and seeing
the quiet strength of aphasics trying to
overcome the damage they have suf-
fered has bound the cast together.
"When one observes the patients and
the staff that work in an aphasia unit,
THIS FRIDAY ONLY!
At the Michigan Theatre
FRANK ZAPPA'S
3:00, 6 00, 900,
12:00 Midnight

one is struck with the incredible
humanity," explained Walter
Eysselink, director of Wings. "It just
makes one try so hard to do justice to
the material." And, according to Ann
Crumb, who plays Stilson's therapist,
"The common experience of doing this
research has been wonderful.",
Part of the excitement of Wings is its
reliance on complicated audio/visual
devices to convey Stilson's world. "It is
a real ensemble work," Eysselink said.
"The play relies for its full impact on a
complex interaction of the scenic
dements, sound, and lighting." It will
be interesting to see how this produc-
tion conveys the myriad of Mrs.
Stilson's fragmented perceptions.
In spite of the serious subject matter,
Wings is not a sad play; it holds a per-
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Sometimes they can even laugh at their
efforts. "Although the subject is tragic,"
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we have the courage to struggle on."
The Michigan Ensemble Theater
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is 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2
p.m.

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