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November 01, 1990 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-11-01

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Page 5

Fhe Michigan Daily

Thursday, November 1, 1990

Sex, booze and hamburgers

White Palace
dir. Luis Mandoki
By Gregg Flaxman
M ax Baron (James Spader) leads a
teflon-coated life. A diligent advertis-
ing executive and aspiring anal-reten-
tive, Max has meticulously fostered
his distance. He reluctantly social-
izes, rarely drinks and prefers self-
pity to sex. It's been two years since
his young wife's death and Max re-
mains frozen in a tense, half-mourn-
ing posture. He is, like almost every
ether character in White Palace, a
composite, essentially a collection
of stereotypes.
By all rights, Max's silent pain
and hermetically-sealed world should
have come off as cinematic patch-
work. And by all rights, Max's sen-
suous affair with older waitress Nora
Baker (Susan Sarandon) should have
been equally unrealistic. White
.Palace should have been a feeble
structure of convention. But Spader
and Sarandon are so overwhelmingly
appealing - if not convincing -- as
the mismatched couple that they rise
above the film's manipulative tech-
nique and thin script. In the mo-
ments when the filmmakers are least
paying attention, White Palace

crackles with something less than
spontaneity but something worth-
while nonetheless.
After Max discovers he's been
short-changed six burgers (at 49-
cents a shot) by the White Palace
hamburger joint, he returns to de-
mand his money back from sweat-
glazed overworked cashier Nora, who
taunts dapper Max by referring to
him as "Astaire" before foisting his
money over. Sarandon's fiesty, se-
ductive Nora knows that she's less
than gorgeous; her face is attractive
but worn. Yet in her compulsive
consumption of cigarettes and gin-
and-tonics, she's undaunted and
somehow less vulnerable. Like Max,
she's suffered life-losses, but her ap-
proach has been aggressive rather
than constipated.
That same night, the two meet
by chance at a sleazy bar where Max
has decided to hole himself up and
drown his problems in scotch. Sex
between the two is inevitable, but
both Spader and Sarandon take time
and pleasure in getting there. Unfor-
tunately, the consummation proves
to be the climax of the film, among
other things. The rest of the rela-
tionship is based on prolonged and
steamy sex that leads to more pro-
longed and steamy sex. Everything
is foreplay. The dialogue between

Max and Nora is watered down or
non-existent; the grounds for their
relationship are never defined. What
do these two talk about? Good chi-
ropractors? Fast food? Basically,
they just drink a lot.
White Palace's greatest failure
is that it never truly deals with its
own premise. This should have been
a film about the social stigma of a
cross-class relationship, a film about
slipping through social barbed wire.
But the appearance of Nora's sister
Judy (Eileen Brennan), an eccentric
seer who understands Max's dilemma
and knows the couple's future, un-
dermines the realistic and relevant
aspects of such an unlikely relation-
ship. Director Luis Mandoki would
have been well-advised to leave the
mysticism to Doug Henning and fo-
cus on the intriguing union of finan-
cial and social opposites.
Inevitably, Max is thrust into the
agonizing position of introducing
Nora to his friends and family, at a
Thanksgiving dinner no less. But
Mandoki leaves the scene limp
where it should have been acidic.
Spader's nuanced performance milks
the situation for all its awkward un-
dertones, and Sarandon conveys an
acute discomfort. But the scene goes
awry when a family friend starts to
pontificate at the dinner table about

Max (James Spader) and Nora (Susan Sarandon) engage in yet another steamy moment in White Palace, the
best movie to focus on a burger joint since Better Off Dead.

"the working class;" Nora's reply is
incoherent, if not absurd. Nora is in-
telligent enough to engage in more
than vapid dribble; the scene comes
off as ambivalent and pointless.
Mandoki washes over every orig-
inality in White Palace. In the

midst of such non-confrontational
filmaking, a scene in which a restau-
rant crowd applauds as Max and Nora
embrace can be nothing less than
expected, whereas normally it might
have been insulting. Nevertheless,
Spader and Sarandon bring what vi-

tality and complexity they can to the
film, and Spader in particular proves
enormously compelling.


playing at

.Simpson's photos let viewer conclude

by Ingrid Truemper
The young Black woman lies with
her back to the viewer on what
appears to be a medical examination
table, dressed only in a white cotton
gown. Text surrounding the life-size
photo proclaims "You're Fine;
You're Hired," along with a medical
*checklist and lastly, the casual
title,"Secretarial Position."
This same young woman
reappears throughout this disquieting
sequence of photographs and text
fragments; yet her entire face is
hever shown, contributing to the

detachment that pervades these
photos, which only serves to make
them all the more compelling.
Viewers of the sequence seem almost
magnetically attracted by the
beautiful images, and almost equally
repelled by the seemingly
nonsensical text fragments which
accompany each photo.
Lorna Simpson's collection of
photographs at the Museum of Art
demands the mental participation of
the viewer, who must personally
interpret the images; not an easy
task, especially since the responses
called forth are unsettling. Through

this sequence, Simpson manages, in
a few seemingly disjointed
photographs and words, to make
strong statements on rape, abortion
and the status of African Americans
in society. For example, much of
the accompanying text refers to
interrogation after a crime, with
phrases such as "Lie Detector,""True
or False,""Prints, Signs of Entry,
Marks" and "Her Story: Each time
they looked for proof."
In another disturbing sequence,
the face of the woman is four times
reproduced in the shape of
alphabetized filing cabinets. The

work is subject to a variety of
interpretations: is this a commentary
on the cold, impersonal efficiency of
American bureaucracy? Has the
woman been raped? Is the crime
being discounted, her story
disbelieved, because of her race? It
seems that the artist wants each
viewer to draw her or his own
conclusion, leaving the exhibit with
previous beliefs and assumptions
about American society perhaps not
quite as intact as before.
will be on display at the University
Museum of Art through Dec.2.

Tiny Lights
Prayer for the Halcyon Fear
Absolute a Go Go
In 1986, a friend of mine was
kind enough to give me a copy of
Prayer for the Halcyon Fear by a
then-unknown band called Tiny
Lights. Listening to the album was
an ethereal experience as well as an
enjoyable one.
The band has since gone on to re-
lease two other masterpieces and tour
extensively - violin, cello, energy
and all. Because of their unique ap-
proach to rock (How many bands do
you know that use violin and cello
as an advantage, not a hindrance?
And yes, anything by E.L.O. consti-
tutes a hindrance, if not an atrocity.),

Tiny Lights has garnered critical ac-
claim. In other words, people are fi-
nally figuring out who they are. Not
a lot of people, but more than in
1985, when the album was origi-
nally released. So their label got
smart and re-released their first al-
bum with two additional tracks to
start it off.
The entire album is stirring. The
lead track, "Flowers in the Air" is
mellow but infectious. Jane Scarpan-
toni's cello-playing is mesmerizing
to lay listeners and those in the biz
as well. (Scarpantoni is also the per-
son behind the mournful string
sounds onBob Mould's Workbook.)
Donna Croughn's vocals come
See RECORDS, Page 7

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