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January 08, 1982 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1982-01-08

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ARTS

&The Michigan Daily

Friday, January 8, 1982

Page 5

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Four Tops travel back

By Mitch Cantor
IF YOU'RE EVER considering a trip
down a musical memory highway,
take The Four Tops exit-you might
never want to come back.
The Tops, together now for an un-
believable 27 years, turned in a stellar
performance at Second Chance Wed-
nesday night, effectively recreating
that famous Motown sound and spirit
from the mid-sixties. The packed crowd
certainly seemed convinced by the 75
minute set from the Tops, who were
backed by a ten-piece band.
The sixties were present in almost
every form: the same snazzy Tops out-
fits, a well-mixed recreation of the
Detroit R&B sound, the famous hippie
slang, and, of course, a string of the hits
that made the quartet famous ("I Can't
Help Myself," "Standing in the
Shadows of Love," "Bernadette," etc.).
For those who have seen the modern-
day Dylan or Stones and wonder exac-
tly how funny the Tops looked-they
didn't. While they were obviously older,
the physical changes didn't seem to
make much difference when they
delivered their goods with the same
zest and pizzazz as in their earlier
years. Well, maybe a little less piz-
zazz; the dancing wasn't quite up to
snuff.
What really made the Four Tops
ageless was the pleasant surprise that
this concert wasn't just another "K-tel
presents the greatest hits of the Four
Tops" deal. It was a well-performed,
mesmerizing set of great songs from a
foursome whose only goal now is ap-
parently the same as it was a quarter of
a century ago-to give the audience the
best show possible.
And equipped with the fun Motown
choreography and vocalist Levi Stubbs
(certainly one of the best R&B singers
of all time), all the Four Tops had to do
was to be themselves. And they did it
very well.

The early moments of the evening
warned of possible disappointment as
an overcrowded and anxious audience
waited impatiently for the band to ap-
pear. Many seemed imposed upon by a
film crew that was recording the con-

cert.
When the musicians finally did ap.
pear, they introduced the Four Tops
with a seven-minute instrumental. But
when the singers came out-well, not
much else mattered.

Standard graph by Martin

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Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters make change in 'Pennies from Heaven.'
Pennites cashes I on fantasy

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By Adam Knee
p ENNIES FROM. HEAVEN is a
unique, fascinating, and intelligent
musical drama, one of the best com-
mercial entertainments from
Hollywood in some time.
It is a portrait of life in depression-
era America, starring Steve Martin as
Arthur, a sheet-music salesman down
on his luck, beset by financial woes and
a frigid wife. He manages to find some
joy and meaning in life through his love
for Eileen, played by Bernadette
Peters, a schoolteacher who becomes
pregnant by him and is forced to leave
her job. Arthur deserts her, compelled
by pressures beyond his control, and
she ends up making her way as a
prostitute. The lovers are eventually
reunited, only to have their fortunes
wane further.
During this unhappy tale, Arthur and
1ileen manage to keep hope through
their dreams, which are brought to life
for us in some of the most lavish dance
numbers filmed in decades. The music
used is all authentic recordings of hit
songs from the thirties, which the per-
former lip-synch with impressive
*precision.
At the start of one such number, Ar-
thur futilely attempts to obtain a bank
loan to aid his dying music business.
Rejected, he insults the loan officer, but
suddenly the two kiss; the film has shif-
ted to the world of Arthur's happy fan-
tasy. They proceed to sing "Yes, Yes,
My Baby Said Yes!" and are joined by
the rest of the bank staff. Leggy tellers
,lod Arthur up with more money than
can hold, and he leads them in a
marvelous tap dance sequence on an
enormous art deco set, complete with
Busby Berkley-type bird's-eye shots
and monolithic props.
Comedian Steve Martin may seem an
unlikely successor to Fred Astaire. In-
deed, Pennies From Heaven is Martin's
fist professional dance appearance,
and he clearly lacks Astaire's effortless
-grace. He appears highly conscious of

his movement, distracted from the
emotion he should be conveying. Never-
theless, Martin has a kind of crazed en-'
thusiasm that helps bring us into Ar-
thur's fantasy world-a distinctive
wild-eyed, wildly grinning look that
proves irresistable and helps pull the
routines off.
Martin's performance is more
lacking when it comes to the serious
drama. He is convincingly naive and
sincere, yet he tramples through the
subtle graduations of behavior the
script, offers him, playing up Arthur's
pleasant and not-so-pleasant qualities
to their grotesque extremes.
The film's impressive performances
come from Bernadette Peters and
Jessica Harper (Arthur's wife). Peters
convincingly manages to be at once in-
nocent and devastatingly sensual, Har-
per at one shrewish and pitifully
vulnerable. Both performers bring out
all the subtleties of their characters'
emotions, never missing a dramatic
beat.
Such ambivalence of character is not
gratuitous in the world scriptwriter,
Dennis Potter creates for us. All sup-
posedly good characters prove capable
of performing the lowliest deeds, while
ostensibly bad characters reveal a
glimmer of true goodness. In Potter's
view, decisions and actions are deter-
mined by something without, rather
th:i within; every character is a vic-
tim a circumstance, of a malevolently
arranged external order. As one of Ar-
thur's songsheets tells us, "It's not
chance, it's fate." The same people and
places come into the lives of Arthur and
Eileen again and again, reaffirming a
structure to their existences. -
Just' as Potter's dramatic world is
structured and stylized, so is
cinematographer Gordon . Willis's
visual world. Key settings are captured
in carefully lit and composed shots
which give them as much visual impor-
tance as thematic importance; some
shots are even exact replications of the
realist painting of Edward Hopper. Un-
forgettable is the bleak image of a

highway underpass where many events
that determine the course of Arthur's
life occur-a place he calls "nowhere."
What would in any other film be
dreamily romantic scenes are here un-
dermined by harsh overlighting or lac-
k of almost any lighting; fate can never
be fully escaped, even in fantasy.
Herbert Ross's direction of all this
talent is, like Martin's performance, a
bit heavy handed. Horrific elements of
his reality are sometimes so em-
phasized that they inappropriately spill
over into fantasy. Nevertheless, he
shows a consistency and control
necessary for a film with so many
shadings of character and reality. The
film is believable and hard-hitting,
despite its excursions into fantasy.
Indeed, it is in such fantasy that
meaning, in the film's world, ultimately
lies. Arthur and Eileen can only tran-
scend their unfortunate reality through
love, a kind of mutual fantasy which
cannot be fully communicated in the
everyday language they continually
stumble over. Love and escape come
about only when the two pass into the
realm of song; it is the fantasy of song
that allows meaning in their lives.

Open 7days a week. Michigan Union.
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