The Michigan Daily
Monday, April 23, 1990
In the Musical Theatre Program's
production of The Threepenny
Opera, Jonathan Hammond's be-
spectacled, Dickeusin Mr. Peachum
greedily sneers, "Human pity is my
business, and business is terrible."
No wonder; Bertolt Brecht's London
of 1837 is crammed with conniving
vermin who survive by blackmail,
deception, thievery .and prostitution.
Peachum, the capitalist manager of
London's begging trade, stops .at
nothing to keep his daughter Polly
from marrying London's most noto-
rious criminal Macheath since it will
ruin his own business. Brecht's vi-
cious satire snips mercilessly at so-
ciety's financial and moral corrupt-
Guest Director Dona Vaughn
succeeded marvelously in inspiring
many distinctive performances from
her cast, yet avoided giving Brecht
and Kurt Weill's play much vitality
or substance. The slick Broadway-
style professionalism all but .buried
the nuances of hypocrisy. Her.pro-
logue featured a bustling Runy-
onesque glimpse of London's seedy
underside w.hich bent the satiric sting
into a frivolous romp. Subtlety was
sacrificed to fill the cavernous Power
Center stage, and the result was less
politically minded Brecht than it was
a pristine Sweeney Todd, Les
Misirables, Oliver! or Nicholas
Favoring the visual over the pro-
found, the work remained unfocused.
Perhaps the problem most clearly
rests with Vaughn's casting of
James Ludwig in the role of the anti-
hero, Macheath. Beneath a growth of
sideburns and beard, Ludwig's con-
trarily youthful appearance and man-
nerisms imbued Macheath with an
inappropriate callowness. Here is a
man whose savage deeds have
reached heroic proportions, but Lud-
wig's uncommanding voice did not
adequately portray a man capable of
rape, murder or violence.
Other actors fared excellently.
Hammond's Peachum bitterly grum-
bled snipets like "The powerful of
the earth can create poverty but they
can't bear to look at it," while in-
structing his beggars how to maxi-
mize profits. As Peachum's wife,
Alexandra Garrison stomped around
the stage like a spoiled debutante in
rags, warbling her songs like a
crusty, coarse Mme. Thenardier.
Jennifer Thompson as Macheath's
bride Polly innocently devoted her-
self to her husband's evil dealings
and sang a lovely, forlorn melody as
Mack leaves her to escape capture.
Andrea Trebnik's Jenny was a sear-
ing vamp whose corsetted figure
could lure any man to his doom.
After an irritating, untoned
"Ballad of Mack the Knife," the mu-
sical numbers soared. The brightly
lit songs also afforded the only
chances to see the actors' faces
through designer Dana White's
otherwise dim, spotty illumination.
Set designer Gary Decker's striking,
arched window made up of hundreds
of dirtied panes would have been the
perfect backdrop to Threepenny had
it not been masked by a huge brown,
popsicle-stick sculpture which direc-
tor Vaughn failed to make interest-
ing use of. Veronica Worts' dark
costumes enlivened the characters
with torn, filthy vestments and also
elegant period apparel, but the visual
splendor alone could not provide the
The finale of the Musical Theatre Program's production of The Three-
penny Opera was long on lavishness.
show's deeper implication.
What Threepenny needed and
what might have worked better on
the large stage was an actual
Sweeney Todd or Les Miserables.
The performers were obviously ca-
pable of a sung-through show, rely-
ing more on outward emotionalism
than on subtler acting and presenta-
tion. -Jay Pekala
They're no saner this time
MC 900 Ft Jesus with
Hell With the Lid Off
Crudely arcane religious imagery,
wonderfully obscure wordsmanship
and a bizarre yet musically compre-
hensive and thematic album... these
are a few of my favorite things.
Rarer than the rare groove is the
original strain of techno music, also
referred to as "truck" music, a partic-
ularly idiosyncratic form that pre-
ceded and largely inspired house mu-
sic. Before D'Mob, before ecstasy,
before ice and bullethole-ridden smi-
ley faces, there was techno.
But thanks to the utterly superla-
tive DJ Zero, techno music will live
on in tracks such as "Black Angel,"
with spastic scratching and a bass-
heavy groove (dazzlingly reminiscent
of the ominous Model 500) that is
driving, sensuous, vibrant and
charming, all at the same time. MC
900 Ft Jesus whispers over the
groove in a typically hep fashion, a
far cry from the mind-blowing
"Truth is Out Of Style," with more
of those media-sampled voices
speaking over a funky rhythm guitar
riff. For this one, the MC delivers
like the nose pickers from Revenge
of the Nerds Part Two.
The first single, ironically titled
"I'm Going Straight to Heaven," has
the nerd MC chanting unintelligible
pablum over a particularly jumpy
track of plastic percussion and brass
lines. The next track, "Spaceman,"
is uncompromisingly smooth with
its jazz stylings and MC 900 Foot
Jesus giving a spoken-word mono-
logue about his interplanetary adven-
tures. On the whole, Heaven is
easily one of the strangest pairings
I've ever heard, with marginal lyrics
by the MC in contrast to absolutely
great music by DJ Zero: "Peter
Piper" bells, agitative rhythm guitar
scenarios, an extensive reference of
samples, truly inspired scratching,
intricate chains of synthesizer activ-
ity and Jazzie B's favorite hook - a
The LP begins and ends with
snippets of religious banter that are
part creepy, part tongue-in-cheek.
The question at hand is concerning
the true identity of MC 900 Ft Jesus
and DJ Zero - my guess is that the
See RECORDS, page 9
The Gods Must Be Crazy,
dir. Jamie Uys
by Jen Bilik
In the first The Gods Must Be Crazy an African
tribe stumbles across an empty Coke bottle, fallen
from the sky. Astonished at the transluscence of the
glass, the smooth contours of the cylindrical shape and
the strange pattern on the logo, the tribe treasures it as
a mystical and miraculous object. Of course, there are
very few others like it in the arid flatlands of the Kala-
hari Desert, and for a tribe whose natural resources are
unlimited, this one-of-a-kind doohickey immediately
breeds discontent and introduces the troublesome con-
cept of ownership. Seeing his once-idyllic tribe pulled
apart by the Western emotions that produced lawyers,
N!xau (the exclamation point indicates a clucking
sound) decides that the Coke bottle is evil. Eager to
restore harmony, N!xau decides to drop the Coke bot-
tle off the end of the earth so it won't come back.
Message? Civilization breeds strife, big organizations
like Coca Cola destroy the natural (and hence better)
way of life among the "natives," and we're so caught
up in our modern conveniences we can't even see the
overly complicated world we've created for ourselves.
All this with N!xau's charming journey, a few slap-
stick antics, and a (condescending?) voice-over narra-
tion to explain the Bushpeople's every thought.
Whether or not that film is exploitative and conde-
scending, its charm and humor are engaging and the
moral convincing. Seeing our world from a different
perspective makes us question our monolithic Western
outlook on life, and the movie itself is funny in a gen-
tle sort of way. South African director Jamie Uys has
worked his successful formula again to make a sequel
that has some of the charm, little of the social state-
ment and lots of the humor of the first film.
The story picks up with N!xau's two young sons,
unbearably cute, who stumble upon a dead elephant
and a truck. They wonder what kind of creature a truck
might be, and thanks to the lilting once-upon-a-time
type storytelling of the narrator, we learn that they
wonder what kind of evil person would kill an ele-
phant and take only the tusks. The two boys climb
into the truck's trailer, and find more water than
Of course, N!xau must find his sons, so he decides
to follow the strange animal's tracks (tread marks from
the tires), and his 50-mile walk is underway. On the
caucasian front, Anne Taylor, doctor of corporate law,
prepares her presentation for the day. Her nubile body
attracts a plane-ride date from one of the bush pilots,
and when a storm breaks loose, the plane crashes.
She's stuck with a misanthropic curmudgeon of a zo-
ologist for the long haul back to civilization.
The two young boys define cute. One scene in par-
ticular, when the boys accidentally fall into the tank of
water and experience body immersion for the very first
time, is downright endearing. The brothers eventually
get separated, and when the younger boy encounters a
hyena, he remembers that his father told him a hyena
never attacks something that's taller than the hyena
himself. So the boy finds a piece of wood, and holds it
over his head. At this point, the narrator translates for
both the boy and the hyena. The hyena is confused be-
cause the little human keeps changing his height
("how does he do that?") and the boy is sweetly re-
sourceful. The narrator takes as many liberties with
the animals' thoughts as the Xhosa bushpeople, and
indeed, the blatant anthropomorphism functions to a
humorous end. Whether or not you find it offensive
that the same anthropomorphism is applied to the
human Africans is up to you.
The film narrates in parallel plot lines - the father
and his search, the boys' attempts to find their way
home and the doctor's struggles with the great out-
doors. Eventually, of course, they all meet up. The
gags involving the white people's adaptation to the
land N!xau comfortably calls home are cheap and low,
but they work. The humor is very much of the slap-
stick variety, with physical jokes including the
woman's tendency to run up trees when scared. The
jokes work, the cute scenes work, the thinly veiled so-
cial statements sort of work. Without the Coke bottle,
The Gods Must Be Crazy, Part II doesn't have quite
the innovation of the first film, but they've hit upon a
good thing and done rather well with it once again.
Let's just hope two movies are enough.
THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, PART II is playing at
dir. Giuseppe Tornatore
by Mark Binelli
"Life isn't like in the movies,':.
aging projection booth operator and:
occasional sage Alfredo warns hi'
young apprentice and fllo
cinephile Toto in Cinema Paradisoi
Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore'
look back at the movies when they
still meant something is a film ac-
claiming films and the out they of-
fered in small-town Sicily, pre-
TVCRShowplex overkill. It is also
the only major Oscar winner this
year (Best Foreign Language Filmy
that deserved exactly what it got.
"Life... is much harder," Alfredo
(the excellent French actor Philippe,
Noiret) explains. Of course he's
right, we all know, because that's
really why the movies (and all art@
forms) exist: to make life a little bit
easier to take/understand/whatever.'
To remind us of this, Tornatore has
turned the tables, showing us the
nearly religious enthrallment of a
captivated town-full of movie-goers
at a time when magical theaters like.
the fictional Paradiso were about as
close to paradise as most people'
could ever get, at least outside of*
their bedrooms. The cinemas opened
other worlds that could be observed
and not dealt with, where anything,
could happen anywhere and every-
body came to watch together, to cry
or laugh or clap or cringe. But re-
member, they were together, a
pretty rare thing if you think about
The film starts off in contempo-
rary Rome, with big-shot Tomarn
toresque filmmaker Salvatore (Jaques
Perrin) getting a call from his es,
tranged mama telling him that A
fredo has died. He soon flashes back
to the days when he used to be a lit-
tle Toto, nicknamed after Italy's
Charlie Chaplin equivalent, and he,
remembers growing up in a town to
which he hasn't returned in 30 years
He also remembers his obsession
with the local movie theater, the*
Paradiso, the town's only form of,
entertainment and escape which wa,
mobbed like the Berlin Wall every
time a new film came in. He espe"
cially remembers his friendship with
Alfredo, who not only shared his'
love of the movies with Toto, bu'"
also taught - forced - him to looks'
for real life outside the comfortable
confines of the theater and the town.'
Tornatore filmed Paradiso in
four small villages in Sicily, recruit
ing young Toto from the local
youths, and eventually choosin
eight-year-old Salvatore Cascio.
Cascio himself had never actually
been to the movies because all of the
local theaters were closed about 1
years ago when television became
popular. (During his audition, Cas-
cio believed that the projection room@
set was a factory where movies were
Every detail in the film is painted
perfectly, from John Wayne speak-
ing in dubbed Italian, to the kids
passing cigarettes as they crouch in
the front row, to the bizarre local
priest (Leopoldo Trieste) censoring
any on-screen kissing by ringing a
bell. Through these details, Tornaa*
tore succeeds in raising the Paradiso
to an almost holy level, one that we
know, as we sit watching in our six-
dollar shoebox, is destined to be des-
CINEMA PARADISO is playing a
the Ann Arbor 1 & 2, which doet-
have discounts and isn't really 4'
Save the LP!
You want it all.
We've got Hylights
food & nightilfe
Just who is that Magritte-masked man on the right? Could he be...
infamous Juan Atkins?
they've ever seen in their lives. The
return and drive the truck away with
in the back.
the boys trapped
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