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February 03, 1985 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1985-02-03

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Sunday, February 3, 1985

Page 5

'Passage' lacks

scale for epic treatment

By Joshua Bilmes
PASSAGE To India makes me feel
Alike a Supreme Court justice on the
wrong end of an 8-1 decision. Most
every critic known to man seems to
think the picture is the year's best, and
I disagree. In fact, the movie is not even
on my ten best list. It is a good movie, to
be sure, but it is not great.
One reason for the praise being ac-
corded the film is the mystique surroun-
ding it. It is based on a novel of the
same name by E. M. Forster, which is
said to appeal to both the intellectual
and the everyday reader. The writer
and director of the film is David Lean.
He has also directed The Bridge Over
the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, and
Lawrence of Arabia. His films have
won a total of 24 Academy Awards. His
last film, Ryan's Daughter, was panned
fifteen years ago. He is now in his
seventies, and he works slowly. I can-
not help but think that some of the
praise is either borrowed from earlier
films or is a way of making up for the
pans given in 1970. I find it hard to
believe all the praise is on the film's
merits alone.
One of the flaws is the story itself. It
sounds too familiar. I was sure I had
seen it someplace before. It is set in
1928 in India, and it deals with the
relation between the British colnizers
and the Indians. Contained within is a
trial in which one of the parties is ob-
viously in the right. It is a powerful
story in many respects, but it seems a
bit too much like The Verdict Goes
Gandhi (another film which I felt to be
less wonderful than everyone else).
It is also a very intimate story that
has more to do with individuals than
groups. Lean gives it epic trappings,
and they just do not match. The crowd
scenes do not belong. The shots of a
train far off in the distance slowly
chugging across a majestic landscape
are not appropriate for what is essen-
tially the story of five people, far more
than an epic story of Indians battling
RecordS
It's Raining-Radioland
(Certain Records,
EP)
Yeah! It's nere! At last, a really
swell record from somebody local that
has good songs AND decent production
AND singing that doesn't sound like
slightly-above-average shower-stall
talent AND that could (at last!, again)
finally bring some serious record-
company attention to our burg (just like
the B-52's did for Atlanta ! yes!)
Actually, this is a pretty standard
overreaction. The usual dumb "Gee,
can it be that this is really not bad?'
reverse nepotism one levies against
homegrown bands. There are plenty of
promising bands in the Ann Arbor and
Detroit area, and a fair number of them
have put together recordings of at least
near-professional quality.
Still, It's Raining's four-song
Radioland EP is pretty exciting. It has
a confidence and fully-realized quality
that's rare enough among bands in
general, let alone among debut efforts.
Most aspiring groups seem to feel most
comfortable fitting themselves snugly
into one genre or attitude, which admit-
tedly makes it easier for them to get at-
tention initially.
One thing that's particularly im-
pressive about Radioland, and It's
Raining's music in general, is it doesn't
lend itself to any easy categorization -
a fact which may make this article a bit
slim on the consumer-guiding detail,
but which neatly elevates this outfit
from most of the competition. The four
songs here are just modern music, dan-
ceable but not falling within the narrow

confines of what's usually called 'dance
music' now (i.e. they use real drums
sometimes), neither overtly jokey or
pretentiously serious, intelligently to-
the-point as rock but not consciously
back-to-basics or garage-y. The one
thing you can say about the songs is

British tyranny.
The foremost of the five people is Dr.
Aziz. Played by Victor Banarjee, he
represents the cream of Indian society
in Chandrapore, a fictional town in In-
dia. Banarjee plays Aziz brilliantly.
Aziz is a man cognizant of his status,
above many of his friends, but
hopelessly beneath the British. When he
finds some British who could almost be
called his friends, his exhileration is
catching. And when the British set-
tlement unites against him, his fright
and outrage is also catching.
The British unite against him after he
is accused by Adela Quested of attem-
pting to rape her. Quested (Judy Davis)
comes to India with Mrs. Moore (Peggy
Ashcroft) to marry Moore's son Ronny
Heaslop (Nigel Havers). Moore and
Quested are interested in getting to
know the real India. It is in the reaction
to their desire that we see the state of
relations between the British and the
Indians. They are greeted with
discouragement by almost all concer-
ned, and mixed in with that is a certain
inquisitiveness as to just why anyone
would want to get to know the natives.
They persevere and win some bat-
tles. A "bridge" party is held, the idea
of it being to bridge the gap between
the two cultures.
The party is quite a failure. The bulk
of the British have no desire to even be
civil to the guests, let alone social. An
Indian band plays "Tea for Two" while
we see a party where the tea is ob-
viously only intended for one. A more
successful mixer is held at the house of
Fielding (James Fox), the head of the
local school. It is there that Moore and.
Quested meet Dr. Aziz (though Moore
and Aziz had met briefly in a mosque a
while earlier) and Godbole, an Indian
mystic played by Alec Guiness, a
veteran of many Lean films.
Aziz is so excited at meeting the two
ladies who are truly interested in India
that he invited them on an expedition to
the nearby Marabar caves, a series of
almost mystical echo chambers. The
expedition is quite an. undertaking for

Aziz. All of his friends chip in and come
along, giving Lean an excuse for
crowd scenes. Fielding gets there a little
late because Godbole's prayers caused
them to miss the train.
It is at the caves that the film suffers
its biggest flaw. The course of events at
Marabar is never explained clearly in
the book, and the aftermath has a cer-
tain tension. Lean intended to keep the
situation cloudy, but he fails. It is all
too clear what happened at the caves.
It is obvious that Aziz did not try to rape
Quested, as she later accuses him of
doing. A major element of the film is
missing, and the lack is all too
noticeable.
There is more to the film that just the
incident in the caves, but it is not
enough. There are Adele's vacillations
as to if she will actually marry Ronny
or not. After seeing Ronny sentence an
Indian too harshly (or so it seems; I get
the impression that a crucial scene was
left on the cutting room floor so we are
never really sure if the sentence is too
harsh, though a few shots, such as the
reaction of the criminal's mother,
would seem to indicate that it is) Adele
decides not to marry Ronny, and tells
him so. She changes her mind, and then
changes it again. Judy Davis' perfor-
mance is a bit lacking. Her motivations
are never quite clear. Nigel Havers is
much better as a British magistrate
oblivious to his callousness. He is indoc-
trinated against the Indians, and it's
obvious that his personality consists of
little else.
There is the relationship between
Fielding and Aziz. Fielding treats Aziz
as an equal, and Aziz would do anyhting
for Fielding. After his trial, which
features Adele dumping Ronny and
retracting her accusation against Aziz
in front of a packed house, Aziz rebels
against the British, Fielding included.
A reconciliation does take place, but it
takes ages to come about, and the film
would have been much stronger if the
reconciliation had been left on the cut-
ting room floor. His relation with Mrs.
Moore, played brilliantly by Ashcroft,

Victor Banarjee turns in an Oscar worthy performance in the solid, yet somewhat over-rated motion picture 'Passage
to India.'

is also of importance.
And then there is Alec Guiness. He
has been criticized. The only non-Indian
to play an Indian role, he is said to stick
out. Here, too, I beg to differ. Guiness is
the only comic relief in a film that is
deathly serious throughout. He does it
well, and his role is one of the most
crucial. A Passage to India would be a
bit too much without it.
A Passage to India is an apple with a
beautiful peel and a core than has a
worm. There is a wonderul cast. I do

hope Victor Banarjee wins an Academy
Award, and the film is worth seeing for
his performance alone. The film has the
look of an epic with crowd scenes and
pomp and the train moving slowly in
the distance and the huge river gliding
by at night. It is a genuine feast for the
eyes.
If only the story was an epic, and not
the story of Mrs. Moore, Adele Quested,
Fielding, and Dr. Aziz. If only there
was a little mystery about what hap-
pened in the caves to make the trial
something more than it is. If only the

film did not go on and on and on after
the trial, in search of a happy ending.
(Being faithful to the source material
does not always make for good film). ,
We might then have the epic that the
film wants to be, and we might be
talking about Best Picture of 1984
(perhaps we are anyway, but I wash
my hands of the affair right now), not a
film that is good, but missing,
something. Do see it. But take a look at
the whole apple before saying how
wonderful it is. Perhaps you will come
to join me in my lonely dissent.

good on it with some reworking.
But then things really get wonderful.
Everything sounds right (except
maybe that synth on the chorus) on
"Different Light," which has the
emotional urgency and punch just
a few current bands, like Wire
Train, have. Wire Train has a more
ambiguous viewpoint and in some ways
a more sharply staked-out 'sound' than
It's Raining, but they make about as
good a point of comparison as any
band. Both have a muscularity of
sound and lack of allegiance to any par-
ticualr trend, past or present; they just
produce solid, smart, clean American
rock that resists easy dumping in the
dubious category 'new wave' and
doesn't have much to do with what
usually gets thought of as 'rock' (over-
weight riffs, longhairs playing their
guitars like big penises) either.
The hits keep coming with the second
side's "Go Along With You," with its
slightly Rain Paradish psychedelic
feel. The EP closes with the one song
by keyboardist Stephen Vernier (the
others are all by Smith), "Looking
Glass." Vernier has a reedier, not very
powerful but pleasing voice that has the
right plaintive quality for this song,
which manages the not unimpressive
feat of being an uptempo ballad. The
production (by the band and Rodger
Welsch) sounds a little thin again, and
some of the burden that's carried by the
synth would sound better if it was
played on acoustic guitar. (It is at the
beginning, and it sounds great - come
to think of it, these days practically
everything sounds better with an
acoustic guitar thrown in.) But this is
really a remarkably beautiful tune.
Somebody told me they thought it soun-
ded rather like Al Stewart, and what's
wrong with that?
Radioland is more than just a
'promising' record; it does bode well
NEW MUSIC
FOR THE
NEW YEAR

for future efforts from the band, but the
important thing is that it's a worthwhile
addition to the stack in your orange
crate right now. Nice packaging, too.
Hopefully the band will cut out their
recent tendency of not playing around
much, now that they have some product
to promote. .
- Dennis Harvey
USE DAILY CLASSIFIEDS

POETRY READING
with
SANDRA STEINGIABER
and
ALLISON HAGY
READING FROM THEIR WORKS
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4
Guild House
802 Monroe

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that they sound expansive. Much as I
enjoy the current pop-revival
revolution, it's good to hear tunes that
have a little more complexity, that
don't drop their catchiness in your
waiting lap on the first listening and
then fail to reveal anything further
later on.
There are a few minor problems, but
nothing that some time (after all, the
mean age of the band is just 19) and
more money to blow in the studio
couldn't cure. Most of these modest
flaws are concentrated in the opening
title cut, which wants to be one of those
big anthemic numbers and almost but
doesn't quite make it. The mix brings

guitarist Mathew Smith's vocal up
front at the expense of nearly
everything else that's going on - piano
and bass too often seem to be skulking
Muddily in the background, and the per-
succion sounds very thin, a problem
that crops up occasionally throughout
the record - and that's unfortunate as
well, because Smith's voice, generally
excellent elsewhere, seems here to be
straining too hard for the big emotion.
The attempted mood is of the as-our-
story-opens-the-ca mera-sweeps-down-
from-high-above-the-city-to-set-the-epic
-scene ilk (there goes my credibility as
an English major). The track has a lot
of potential, and could probably make

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