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January 13, 1989 - Image 8

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-01-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

'a

ARTS

The Michigan Daily
BY BRENT EDWARDS
' In June of 1964, three civil
rights workers disappeared in Missis-
sippi after they had been arrested and
held for speding. FBI agents
swarmed over the area for weeks
afterwards looking for and eventually
finding the bodies. The incident be-
came a rallying point for the Civil
Rights movement and a horrible
showcase of the kind of bigotry and
hatred that existed in the South at
that time. 25 years later, Alan Park-
er's Mississippi Burning gives a
fictionalized account of these events,
and what he shows is searing.
Parker (Birdy, Angel Heart ) is a
very stylish director who gives his
audiences unforgettable images that
are vividly recalled whenever one
thinks of his movies. Mississippi
Burning is filled with such images:
images one is pained to see, one
doesn't want to remember, but one
can't forget. From the simple shot
of segregated water fountains to a
violent hanging in front of a burning
farm, Parker's camera transfers the
images that burned in his mind to
ouirs with a fierce intensity.
Parker is helped with his task by
an exceptional cast. Gene Hackman
and Willem Dafoe are two FBI
agents who eventually lead more
than 100 other agents in the search
for the bodies and the killers. Dafoe
plays with restraint a Northerner
who -tries to conduct the inves-
tigation by the book, while Hack-
man is superb as a good-ol' boy
from Mississippi who knows that
there's a down-home way of doing
things. For example, Hackman
k"ows Dafoe is making a mistake
when he enters a diner and asks a
Bakk teenager questions, -and he is
ptoven right when the teenager is
later caged, beaten up, and thrown
out of a car for talking to Dafoe.
Dfoe's controlled, single-minded
character perfectly contrasts Hack-
man's role as a blunt but effective
mprntor. Hackman skillfully balances
the life of someone who despises
what he sees but understands it and
realizes what actions can and can't be
taken in Mississippi.
The sole sympathetic white local
is given warmth and intelligence by
Frances McDormand. It is McDor-
mand who provides some of the
insight to the psyche of racist people
bath then and now: "...At seven
years of age, if you're told it enough
times, you believe it. You believe
th'e hatred. You live it. You breathe
it You marry it." Hackman shines
a4 he falls for her even as he uses her
to. obtain possible information on
Reach 4

Friday, January 13, 1989

Page 8

'U' to
MLK

host

4

concert

Fight ingfire
In Mississippi Burning, Gene Hackman
and Willem Dafoe (above left to right)

Visiting prof.'s tribute
to King to be featured
BY SATIK ANDRIASSIAN
THE University School of Music celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin'
Luther King Sunday night with a concert showcasing the works of two im-
portant Black contemporary composers - Cantata Scenes from the Life of a
Martyr by Undine Smith Moore, written in memory of King, and Out of
the Depths by Adolphus Hailstork.
Moore is a King/Chavez/Parks visiting scholar in residence at the Uni-
versity School of Music. Her extensive musical training began when she
was still a child; when she was only eight she began appearing with various'
high school choirs as their accompanist. Her musical talent extended to
composition and earned her a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Cantata, a piece
which calls for narrator, soprano, alto and tenor soloists, chorus and orches-
tra.
Besides her work as a composer, Moore's busy schedule includes teach-
ing as a visiting professor at Charleton College, St. Benedict College, and
Virginia Union University, and touring as a lecturer and coordinator of col-
lege workshops and seminars.
As a co-founder and co-director with Alons Trent Johns of the Black Mu-
sic Center at Virginia State (1969-72), she is responsible for much of the
progress in the field of fine arts of Black culture. Her program brought the
leading Black composers, performers, musical groups, dancers, and lecturers;'
in contact with students.
Adolphus Hailstork, a University visiting scholar in 1987, is one of the
leading Black American composers of the 20th century as well as the recipi-
ent of many distinguished fellowships and awards. Hailstork is presently
professor of composition at Virginia State University where he remains an
active teacher and composer. His composition, Out of the Depths, was
written in 1974 for band and choir and is considered one of his most
successful works.
These two works will be peformed by the Brazeal Dennard Chorale of
Detroit, Ann Arbor's Our Own Thing Chorale, School of Music students,,
and other performers from Detroit and Ann Arbor.
The Our Own Thing Chorale, organized in 1980, consists of adults and'
young people from the Black communities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
This ensemble was organized with the fundamental intent of preserving the
performance and exposure of chorale compositions by Black American com-
posers, with emphasis on the Negro spiritual.
H. Robert Reynolds, University music professor and director of the Uni-
versity band, will conduct the program. Reynolds has conducted numerous
premiere performances and has won the praise of distinguished composers
such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Aaron Copland, Darius Milhaud, Gunther
Schuller, Leslie Bassett, and Karel Husa for his interpretive conducting of
their compositions.
The concert will take place at 8 p.m. Sunday at Hill Auditorium. Admission
is free and the concert is open to the public.

investigate

a 1964 crime that

raises

issues

still alive today.
M~ss 4. **.*.*.23223.***.:*.2* *.* 52*.::..:...::.:...-. *:-.... :. *:..:..: ...-::.-

the killings.
Hackman's approach to dealing
with the beast they are chasing is to
grab the bull by the balls and
squeeze as hard as possible. Audien-
ces will undoubtedly laugh and cheer
during vengeful scenes similar to
Dirty Harry or Rambo "blow away
the bad guy" spots. It is puzzling
why the writers chose to have the
FBI reduce themselves to the level of
the villains at the end since, as the
saying goes, this makes one no
better than the other. Perhaps Parker
wanted the audience to question the
ethics of such tactics, which would
explain the choice to have the FBI
agents solve the case in a more
violent manner than by paying an
informer - the way the FBI received
their information in the actual case.
This last point is one of the
reasons Mississippi Burning is the
second most controversial movie of
the year (next to The Last Temp-

tation of Christ, which also happens
to star Dafoe). The deviation of the
movie from the actual facts is one of
the major contentions of its critics.
Even more so are the facts that the
movie stars two white people, that
Blacks in the movie are passive
martyrs, and that the Civil Rights
movement is ignored except to set
up the reason for the investigation.
In Parker's defense, he has
written, "Our film cannot be the de-
finitive film of the Black Civil
Rights struggle. Our heroes are still
white. And in truth, the film would
probably never have been made if
they weren't." It may be true that
Hollywood would have rejected the
film had the heroes not been white,
and it is probably also true that the
writers could have included more
active Blacks in a movie that is such
a painful part of their history.
What is definitely true, however,
is that the film effectively conveys

the horror of what happened to an
audience 25 years later, some of
whom weren't even alive during the
event, and it does so artistically and
compassionately. It deals with a
subject that Hollywood has been
wary to touch, as Platoon did with
Vietnam, and hopefully will lead the
way for other films on this subject,
some of which might focus on the
Civil Rights movement and some of
which might star Blacks.
With Martin Luther King's birth-
day on Sunday and the corresponding
national holiday on Monday, the
release of Mississippi Burning is
well timed. It could certainly en-
lighten many of us on some of the
attitudes that King had to face, and it
will definitely induce much thought
and discussion for those who see it.
With last year's racist incidents on
campus still fresh in most people's
minds, much of what is said still
seems relevant today.
In the pre-edited version of
Dafoe's last speech in the film, he
says, "Anyone's guilty who watches
this happen and pretends it's not...
Every college kid who ever laughed
at a racist joke. Everyone who ever
chewed their tongue when they
should have spoken up... Maybe we
all are." Whether you agree or not,
Mississippi Burning will keep you
thinking long after the film has
ended. Among all of its strengths
perhaps this is the greatest.
MISSISSIPPI BURNING opens
today at Showcase Cinema and
Briarwood.

C

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