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October 16, 1989 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-10-16

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Page 10 -The Michigan Daily - Monday, October 16, 1989
Distant

Voices:

Different voices
Eclectic writers Ahnen and Brockman to read

still

life

on

film

J

BY NABEEL ZUBERI

r

"Nostalgia for the lost narrative
is a thing of the past," wrote Jean
Francois Lyotard in The Postmodern
Condition; so if you're expecting to
see your standard, seamless Holly-
wood narrative film, then Distant
Voices Still Lives will be a disap-
pointment. But if you're of an open
mind and willing to be involved
with a truly modern text in its
abruptness, fragmentation and com-
plexity, Distant Voices Still Lives is
a sumptuous visual feast. Winner of
the 1988 International Critics Prize
at Cannes, this is one of the finest
movies of the decade.
British filmmaker Terence
Davies' semi-autobiographical work
centers on a working class family in
Liverpool during the 1940s and '50s.
The first half of the film, Distant
Voices, unfolds while we're at the
wedding of daughter Eileen, who
says "I wish my Dad was here." The
rest of this lengthy segment is a
series of images and episodes from
the memories of Eileen and her
brother and sister, Tony and Maisie.
The father, in turn pathetic and
tyrannical, dominates the lives of his
wife and children. He beats his wife,
is unnecessarily mentally cruel to

his kids, and even when they're
grown up he insists on orchestrating
their lives. The second half of the
film, Still Lives, hinges on Tony's
wedding and various fragments of
memory that chronicle the family
history after his father's death. In the
first half of the movie the father's
presence is paramount; in the sec-
ond, he dominates by his very ab-
sence.
A series of beautifully pho-
tographed rituals - weddings, chris-
tenings, Catholic mass, pub recep-
tions - are the thread that weaves
the images together. Distant Voices
Still Lives is essentially about the
ways in which people in oppressive
situations cope. In so many ways,
this is a picture about women, fo-
cusing on a mother, her two daugh-
ters, and their girlfriends in a patriar-
chal working class culture. The
women understand the "politics" of
their situations but, given their op-
tions, are unable to escape - they're
trapped in their still lives. They do,
however, sing.
Songs are a vital ingredient of the
film, operating on many levels.
Firstly, they have the same signifi-
cance for the women as they do for
Arthur Seaton in Dennis Potter's
Pennies From Heaven; singalongs

of popular songs with mates, with
family, and in the pub serve as an
escape from the mundanities of their
stagnant lives. But singing also
brings them together - it's an act
of unstated solidarity, and it's great
to see the women singing their
hearts out in the pub, which has al-
ways been such a male domain.
Songs are also used for ironic
purposes, though the irony is always
to poignant rather than heavy-handed
effect. We hear Ella Fitzgerald sing-
ing "Taking a Chance on Love"
while Dad beats Ma in their hallway.
The most beautiful shot in the entire
movie has a bunch of umbrellas in
the rain with the theme from Love is
a Many Splendored Thing playing
on the soundtrack. The camera tilts
up a wall to reveal the movie poster
outside an Odeon. We then see
Eileen and Maisie gushing with tears
as they watch the movie.
All these moments, memories
and petrified images are pho-
tographed beautifully. So many
shots are like old photos in a family
album. And the screen time of cer-
tain images and the pace of camera
movement are very deliberately long
and leisurely. You have to say that if
the cinema ever aspired to poetry, in
See DISTANT, page 11

BY JAY PINKA
W HILE other kids were screaming in imitation of
police and fire truck sirens when skidding their bikes
along the pavement, former journalist Pearl Ahnen,
one of tonight's readers at Guild House, was helping
her brother cut down a backyard tree so she could
make her own newspaper.
Ahnen was already fulfilling her namesake at age
six. Her mother, a "frustrated writer," named her after
the well-known author Pearl S. Buck. Ahnen fore-
shadowed her later success when her "Neighborhood
Blurb" was printed, startling her parents by letting
readers in on the family secrets.
And she went on to share increasingly construc-
tive information with her fellow citizens. After writ-
ing for The Dearborn Press, she became Education
Editor for The Heritage Press, focusing on important
issues such as battered children, pregnant teenagers,
and the gifted child as "a neglected national resource."
Ahnen won the Michigan Press Association Award
as co-writer of an article on autistic children. But
along with her humanitarian activities, Ahnen har-
bored a desire to write fiction.
"I've always wanted to write a book or play,"
says Ahnen.
So eight years ago, she left the world of journal-
ism, taking her invaluable experience with her, and
began writing on her own.
"You have to do what you want," says Ahnen.
She has written a historical novel, Tula, a play enti-
tled The Weeping Icon (no religious allusion in-
tended), and is currently working on a contemporary
mainstream novel. She now spends many of her days
writing and revising, in between the responsibilities
of being president of Detroit Women Writers and
writing book reviews for the Detroit Free Press.
Having played the role of both writer and editor,
Ahnen revises her work in the "journalistic tradition"
- writing it and "letting it rest" for up to a month
or year. She finds that she does better looking at her
work "as though someone else had written it." For
those of us who lose track of an idea, Ahnen has
some essential advice: leave your writing "in mid-

sentence, mid-paragraph, so you'll always have a
place to start." But this doesn't make her work undi-
rected. In fact, Ahnen comments on the depth of
knowledge an author must have before writing:
"You have to have a blueprint of your character.
For every sentence you write, you have to know a
paragraph... for a work to ring true."
Chris Brockman, a libertarian humanist and min-
ister of the Church of Nature, will bring a new kind
of voice to the reading at Guild House tonight. He is
"not an academic poet. I write poetry as an expres-
sion of philosophy."
Brockman's degree in philosophy shows through
the bent of his work. His concern with human issues
touches readers' lives, just as Pearl Ahnen's does.
While Ahnen wrote about the lives of children at
home, Brockman worked on a poem dedicated to Vic-
tor Herman, an athlete who won the world record for
freefall parachute jumping. But that's not why
Brockman wrote about him. According to Brockman,
Herman, an American citizen in the Soviet Union,
was sent to prison in Siberia for 11 years for what
Soviet authorities admitted later to be "no reason."
The athlete, according to Brockman, survived on rats
in a subterranean prison.
In addition to writing on topics such as these,
Brockman is Assistant Editor of Nomos, a journal
published in Chicago on the "theory and practice of
freedom." The concept of freedom persists in his
work. And with the desire to communicate, Brock-
man forwarded his belief that writers should work to
become more accessible.
"Poets have to counterbalance the elegance of
their form, their language. With clarity of meaning,
they will achieve insight. But if it's at the expense
of communication, what's the point?"
His principle of maintaining openness shows as
he defines the Church of Nature as a "church without
walls." "Human nature is the salvation of hu-
mankind," says Brockman. The goal of his philoso-
phy, as can be read in the church's support magazine,
Exigesis, is to "put human beings back in nature.
We applaud that which is highest in nature."
PEARL AlINEN and CHRIS BROCKMAN will read
at Guild House tonight.

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