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October 07, 1983 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1983-10-07
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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Starring: David Bowie, Tom Conti,
Jack Thompson
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Playing at the State Thedter
By Chris Lauer
Lawrence might well have been a
subtle psychological masterpiece, but
instead it reeks of absolute nothingness
and could best be described as several
hundred yards of worthless celluloid.
Disregarding its embarassing attem-
pts at meaningfulness, this movie about
a prisoner of war camp is simply about
people hitting and kicking each other.
But not even the violence is well done -
the Three Stooges did the same stuff
with more realism, and Saturday after-
noon wrestlers do it more dramatically.
Of course, many people will go jut to
see David Bowie (Let's go see the
Bowie moie - he's bizzare"), but even
Bowie's acting abilities do nothing to
salvage the movie. He plays Jack
Celliers, a belligerent prisoner in a
World War II Japanese concentration
camp. There is no question that Bowie
is good. His motions are natural and
graceful, his facial expressions com-
bine the right amounts of subtlety and
over-reaction, and he delivers even
some of the most atrocious lines with
brilliant style.
Sometimes however, Bowie's work,
including his entire range of pop art en-
deavors, shows no sense of quality con-
trol. He is creative but in a superficial
way, such that he is "bizzare" one day
and uninteresting the next. He is not an
actor in the classical sense - he's a pop

actor, and a very good one, who in this
case let his pop art get out of control. If
he wants to act, he should turn himself
over to some good filmmakers and quit
worrying about being bizzare.
In fact, all the actors in Mr. Lawren-
ce appear to possess some talent. Tom
Conti, who plays Mr. Lawrence, a
liason between the British prisoners
and the Japanese, is a respected
Broadway actor. Jack Thompson, a
superstar actor in Australia, plays the
British ranking officer.

Two Cities - A Far Far Better Thing.
Ryuichi Sakamoto makes his acting
debut as the Japanese commandant,
and also wrote and performed the
soundtrack. This he might have left to
Bowie. Man parts sound similar to
Dark Side of the Moon backwards, but a
few of the melodies are interesting. His
Japanese-style synthesized pop is
available on his three solo albums, or
on six others with his band, Yellow
Magic Orchestra. (ELO influenced or

the script,-Oshima is also responsible
for the awkwardness of the script.
The camera technique is very con-
,sistent. The camera is pointed
toward whoever is talking, and if no
one is speaking, then it is pointed at
a random character for a long dramatic
pause, that is usually too long and too
undramatic. If a character moves, the
camera follows. There are three
deviations from this pattern where.
Oshima tries to be more artistic, but
these are easily identified as .points
where Oshima tries to be more artistic.
Now comes the astounding part.
Oshima is hailed as "one of the most in-
fluential Japanese filmmakers working
today." Mr. Lawrence was the twenty-
second feature film for Oshima, curren-
tly president of the Directors Guild of
Japan. His most critically successful
film, Empire of Passion, brought him
the prize as Best Director of the Cannes
Film Festival in 1978. So how could a
guy like this make such a dog? Possibly
the editing, which is among the 10 all-
time worst editing efforts. Also, while
Oshima is an experienced filmmaker,
his award-winning work is in the
documentary field, and in movies
dealing graphically and vividly with
sex. Though there is nothing graphic
about Mr. Lawrence, it does have
elements of the documentary style.
Maybe an epic war movie is just not
Oshima's calling.
Everything in Merry Christmas, Mr.
Lawrence is pretentiously artistic -
from the scribbled dot above the "i" in
the movie logo to the bewildering ap-
pearance of flashbacks to Jack Celliers'
childhood near the end. The actors are
able to come up with a few good
dramatic eruptions, but as a whole Mr.
Lawrence is senseless. Bowie's ap-
pearance in the movie is inexcusable. A
guy whose first American tour in five
years was treated like the Second
Coming by teenagers, doesn't have to
act in any movie he doesn't want to.
Though Bowie could be great with a
good script, no one deserves praise for
this artistic and entertainment

By Larry Dean
G ETTING RIGHT to the heart of the
matter: this is probably the last
XTC album. Drummer Terry Cham-
bers has already bid a fond farewell to
the group, only contributing to the fir-
st two tracks on Mummer; he's not
even pictured on the inner sleeve.
Plus, there is an overall bitterness to
Mummer which may be in part at-
tributable to Chambers' departure, but
which is also directly aimed at the
music industry. If this is not the band's
swan song, then it is, at the very least, a
strong reaction to the world from XTC
circa 1983.
With their last album, English Set-
tlement, XTC's - or in particular,
songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin
Moulding's - vision of contemporary
society had become bleaker than the
somewhat tongue-in-cheeck commen-
tary XTC afficianados had been ex-
posed to on previous vinyl outings.
WHITE MUSIC and GO 2, their first
two albums, were extremely quirky
exercises in redefined pop magnetism,
but with the departure of keyboardist
Barry Andrews (now in Skriekback),
and the addition of Dave Gregory
(guitar), they started working on their
attitudes as well as the music. The ap-
tly-titled Drums and Wires came next,
with more detail applied to the inter-
play between Gregory and Partridge's
guitars to make up for the absence of
fulltime keyboards.
Drums and Wires and Black Sea
mark a high point in XTC's develop-
ment. Producer Stever Lillywhite
helmed both efforts, and a thick, woven
guitar sound became trademark. Songs
like "Making Plans for Negel," "That
Is The Way," "Paper and Iron," and
the ever-popular "Generals and
Majors" pointed up the fact that XTC
were more'n a tad disgruntled with the
world and its merry ways; Black Sea's
title is supposedly an overall descrip-
tion of their feelings at the time it was
recorded, and it shows.

In the role of Sergeant Hara, a
Japanese guard who befriends the
prisoners, is Takeshi, a very well
known actor in Japan, who curently is
starring in seven weekly television
series. Takeshi is honored with
delivering the title line, "Merry
Christmas, Mr. Lawrence." The title
was grafted from the last line of the
movie and would be the artistic
equivalent of Dickens naming A Tale of

The most astounding thing about Mr.
Lawrence is the terrible directing effort
by Nagisa Oshima. The actors are fine
- it's the poor stage directions and
sophomoric camera technique that is to
blame for the movie's many awkward
moments. The actors moving around on
the set look like actors moving around
on a set. It is as if Mr. Oshima is trying
to pass off a Polaroid shot of his
backyard as real art. As co-writer of

XTC: Too much pleasure?
So now we have Mummer, and it
might just be the end of XTC. As a
document, it brings us up to the
moment with the band's progression,
and follows quite nicely in the steps of
English Settlement without aping too
much from that very fine LP. Produc-
tion is by XTC and Steve Nye, a gent
who has worked in the past with Bryan
Ferry, Marquis de Sade (the group),
the Cure, and Martha Ladly. The mix is
full and bright and bubblier than
Lillywhite's; for the previous single
release, "Great Fire," Bob Sergeant,
who has produced the English Beat and
Haircut 100, sits in. It, too, works
well with the rest of Mummer. In all,
the production values here are very
good, as one would expect.
Mummer's theme- ifa theme can be
pried up from between the grooves-is
effort in the face of impossibility. Pr-
tridge has always been obsessed with
the problems of language and com-
munication, and still is.
"Beating of Hearts" is about the sim-
plicity and power of our own inner
rhythms, but the lyrics point out that
not everyone is aware of that strength:

And did you know you had this
power?/Drumming on it always
stays/Never try to use it
badly/Tunes of good are all it plays.
"Love On A Framboy's Wages"
speaks about the great wishes that
people have which never come to
fruition because of economic
depression or social position; even
though it is set as it is-in a rural
background-the message is strong and
applicable to our own recessed society.
Moulding's "Deliver Us from the
Elements," one of Mummer's best
songs, is a drastic prayer to the om-
nipotent to save us from the wrath of
natur-Oh Lord deliver us from the
elements/We've no defense we are
impotent-it chugs along on a syn-
thesized bassline and finally reaches a
cocophonous climax.
Another nice tune from Moulding is
"In Loving Memory of A Name," sort
of a sequel to "Generals and Majors,"
in which the narrator bemoans the af-
ter-effects of war while at a church
sermon for dead soldiers.
"Wonderland," the only other tune by
Moulding on Mummer, is a slow syn-
thesizer ballad whose sluggish music
suffers in the face of good lyrics.
As mentioned earlier, there is a bitter
tinge to Mummer's songs; even the
sprightly "ladybird" has some
threateningly dark imagery. But that
bitterness doesn't come to the fold until
the final two songs. "Me and the

Wind," abo
freedom fr
musically o
we are left
gained thro
complete, a
of the nextc
That indi
finale, "Fu
barred dial
heart of th
roll the
business i.
pegs in yo
listen to
poisoned 4
a roll beat
rocks out, I
bye!" andi
But what
the title: a
who sings
mastime. I
the risk c
expert sing
subtle shou
fed up wit
Or maybe
have spent
and I hope
Mummer C
loss to suff
that doesn't

You're Needed All Over
the World.
Ask Peace Corps volunteers why they are using their Science major,
minor, or aptitude in health clinics and classrooms in Malaysia. Why do
they use them in fish pond culture projects and experimental farms in
Western Samoa? They'll tell you their ingenuity and flexibility are as
important as their degrees. Ask them why Peace Corps is the toughest
job you'll ever love.

f 761-1977 co
gm m m m m m------m-mm -mm -mm--m...... ..-

4 Weekend/October 7, 19839'

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