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November 01, 1991 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-11-01

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*1

ARTS
The Michigan Daily Friday, November 1, 1991 Page 8
'Billy continues movies' r 'y
marriage to the mob

Billy Bathgate
dir. Robert Benton
by Aaron Hamburger
Billy Bathgate is a beautiful, well-
crafted movie with fine per-
formances, lyrical cinematography
and believable dialogue. It's a shame
that the film has absolutely no rea-
son to exist.
Based on the book by E.L.
Doctorow, Billy Bathgate follows
the adventures of the title character
(Loren Dean), an Irish kid from the
Bronx. In the film, Billy works his
way up the ranks of the local mob,
run by the violent, desperate Dutch
Schultz (Dustin Hoffman). Along

the way, Bathgate falls in love with
Schultz's sultry paramour, Mrs.
Preston (Nicole Kidman, with a
convincing American accent), a
woman Billy has sworn to protect.
Director Robert Benton (Kramer
vs. Kramer, Places in the heart)
has carefully constructed the movie,
which never missteps from begin-
ning to end. Each individual scene is
well-shot, believably acted and
well-written. The fluid plot is ex-
citing and easy to follow. So why
complain, you ask?
Because at the end of the movie,
you're left with nothing. What ex-
actly is the theme of Billy Bathgate,
anyway? The only consistent ideas
advanced by the narrative are that
it's good to be lucky and that being

in the Mafia can be dangerous. So
what? I've seen The Godfather. I've
seen Goodfellas.
Credit screenwriter Tom Stop-
pard for the failure of this movie.
Stoppard's script for The Russia
House, another bestselling novel
that should have made a good film,
had similar problems. Although
Stoppard does a better job elucidat-
ing the plot and creating believable
characters with Bathgate, he fails to
give Bathgate's script a central
theme.
Dean does as well as he possibly
can with a depression-era version of
the Ray Liotta role from
Goodfellas - the insider who sees
all, but is just far enough removed
from the action to be an observer.
The critical difference between
Bathgate and Goodfellas is that'in
the latter film, the audience got to
see the observer's reactions through
Liotta's voice-overs. Here, all we
get is Dean's blank, unexpressive
face, which isn't enough to give this
picture the central focus it so des-
perately needs.
In the role of Dutch Schultz,
Hoffman hardly raises his voice, yet
manages to show the dangerous, un-
controllable side of his character
through sudden flare-ups. Hoff-
man's face doesn't move a muscle
when, without warning, he shoots a
man in the face during an argument.
His Schultz believes that he can
control any situation, which is
ironic, since Schultz's lack of con-
trol over his own temper causes his
downfall.
A lot of talent and dedication
went in to the making of Billy
See BILLY, Page 9

:'

James Spader and Kenny G reminisce about kumquats and the time they were locked in a closet together, as
Karen Peris suddenly realizes husband Don is wearing her spiked heels.
The Innocence Mission takes
post-Godspellsuccess day by...

Dustin Hoffman brutally tortures Bruce Willis in the only redeeming
scene in the film adaption of E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate.

These guys have got some pluck

by Jeff Rosenberg
She speaks softly: "I don't know
why we thought of that name. We
liked the idea that it was a name that
might give people a picture, a name
that people could see and have their
own impression of. It doesn't have a
definition. I always have a picture of
a grade school or an old house - an
old family house. I like to think
that it's that kind of place."
Karen Peris' warm, fuzzy non-
definition of her band's nom de
plume, the Innocence Mission, may
help distinguish the band's sound
from contemporaries like 10,000
Maniacs - which the Innocence
Mission certainly is not.
Most of the Mission's member
met in a high school production of
Godspell, and they've stuck to-
gether for a total of nine and a half
years of jamming. "We feel really
grateful to have each other, and...
there's so many shared experiences
with high school, and our families
and so many things, that we feel
that we understand each other,"
Peris says.
The band's second album, Um-
brella, is quite different from its
self-titled debut. But the lyrics on

Umbrella float along just as well
as on Innocence Mission, as seen in
"You Chase the Light" - "You
get out of my head/ You and your
colors/ You and your painting/ I can
forget you/ Probably." The album
also has Cocteau-Twins-like guitars
which lurk dreamily in many of the
spaces that were filled by piano and
synths on the first album. "The
'i always have a
picture of a grade
school or an old
family house. I like to
think that it's that
kind of place'
-Karen Pens,
on the 'Innocence
Mission'
keyboards are much more subtle on
this album," Peris notes.
Harmonies and acoustic-guitar
work stand out in "Revolving
Man." And the niftiest track may be
the last - "My Waltzing Days are
Over," which sounds just like you

think it would.
Why "Umbrella", a less promi-
nently guitar-based tune, as the title
track? "That song connects with
some of the other songs on the al-
bum, and (perhaps) what it stands
for, what I see as my weaknesses,
and frailty," Peris says quietly.
So after all the murmuring and
soft speaking Peris does, can she
sing, you ask? Oh yes. She waile
briefly and deeply on the heavy-
beated "And Hiding Away," and-
stretches her voice endlessly long,
on "Joan."
Recently, Peris and her husband
Don, the band's guitarist, teamed up-
with Peter Himmelman to do a
tune, and Ms. Peris also sang on re-
cent works by John Hiatt and Joni
Mitchell. She considers it an honor
to have worked with each of these
artists.
Is there some message the Inno-,
cence Mission would like to give to
the masses? "People should get a
picture, maybe of things they
thought to themselves, but haven't
spoken out loud," Peris whispers.
THE INNOCENCE MISSION plaj
tonight at the Blind Pig. Tickets are
$7.50.

1' Liz Patton
The string quartet is an esoteric
genre, whether you're talking about
he classics of Mozart or modern
standards like Bartok and Hin-
demith. But, insists Eugene Drucker,
one of the two "first violinists" in
the Emerson String Quartet, "The
string quartet is alive and well.
Most composers who are really
serious about their craft try to
write string quartets. This has been
the case since the eighteenth century,
and it doesn't seem to be
diminishing."
Celebrating 50 years of chamber
music at Rackham Auditorium, the
Emerson String Quartet comes to
Ann Arbor for their second appear-
ance. They will play a new work,
Richard Wernick's Quartet No. 4
(1990), as well as two more tradi-
tion al works, Mendelssohn's
Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 No.
3, and Beethoven's Quartet in A mi-
nor Op. 132.
The Quartet actively commis-
sions and performs modern music.
Richard Wernick's quartet was
commissioned by Emerson and pre-
miered in April of this year.

Performing a new work is not at all
like dusting off a score of Mozart
or Haydn - living composers can be
very critical of a rendition of their
work. But Wernick has been very
supportive and positive about
Emerson's work with this piece,
says Drucker.
"Composers can be really spe-
cific about balance of chords and in-
tonation, something that we might
not hear right away, because the
chords are very dissonant," he ex-
plains. "More often, what com-
posers are looking for is the flow,
the shape of the thing." Composers
might explain the artistic reason for
cadences at a certain point, or sug-
gest how tension should be main-
tained through dramatic pauses,
Drucker says.
"These are things that can't re-
ally be spelled out in manuscripts,"
he continues. The composer may not
even think about such things until
hearing the piece played for the first
time, he says, because the experience
of hearing it in "real time," rather
than "mental time," is different
from the act of conceiving music.
What does the group look for in
commissioning a new work? "Well,

we never know quite what we're go-
ing to get," says Drucker. "We can't
know whether a brand-new piece is
going to last in historical terms.
"We just want something that
will be convincing on its own
terms. And we hope that the lan-
guage will not be so backward-look-
ing that we're playing a re-hash of
something from the nineteenth cen-
tury, because there's plenty of great
music from the nineteenth century.
On the other hand, we don't like
things that seem totally abstract in
their musical language. We want
something with an emotional, vis-
ceral impact."
In addition to challenging them-
selves with new music, each member
of the quartet continues with solo
work and teaching. "We try to keep
ourselves fresh in that way," says
Drucker. "We keep our contribution
to the quartet fresh by finding ex-
posure in other ways. It strengthens
our individual identities. That's part
of what our quartet is based on: hav-
ing four strong individuals who
come together in a dynamic way."
On top of a busy touring sched-
ule, the Emerson Quartet issues a
steady stream of recordings for
Deutsche Grammophon. In 1990, the
group became the first chamber en-
semble ever to win the Grammy
award for Best Classical Album,
with a recording of the complete
Bartok string quartets. Capitalizing
on its recent fame with this set, the
quartet will hold a reception and
record-signing at SKR Classical on
East Liberty right after the concert.
Pleased with their success, the
members are willing to share their
See EMERSON, Page 9

Stranger Than Paradise
dir. Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch's first movie, Stranger Than Par-
adise, is a comedy about being bored and lonely in
America. As an immigrant from Eastern Europe, Jar-
musch (Down By Law, Mystery Train) has an off-beat
view of American life that is simultaneously hysteri-
cal and depressing. Peppering his debut with his own
curious foreign perceptions, he has made Stranger Than
Paradise extremely strange.
The film's central character, Willie (John Lurie),
was born in Hungary, but has been living a seedy life in
New York for over 10 years. Willie is so intent on
blending into urban under-culture that he wants noth-
ing to do with his native language, his native land and
his Hungarian relatives. When his cousin Eva arrives
from Budapest, Willie at first resents her for her old
world ways: he seethes whenever she asks him to ex-
plain TV dinners and football. Soon, however, he
grows to like her in a sardonically understated way.
After Eva moves on to Cleveland, Willie realizes just
how alone he is, and he and his endearingly goofy friend
Eddie (Richard Edson) drive off to find her.
The humor in Stranger Than Paradise is incredibly
subtle. The script and the actors are so deadpan that, if
you want to laugh, you have to think hard about how

preposterous their situations are. Most of the jokes in
the film come when characters say and do embarrass-
ingly inappropriate things, such as when Eva is escorted:
on a date and Eddie sits between her and her beau, reach-',
ing uninvited into their popcorn. The movie itself
seems inappropriate at times, too. Scenes go on well af-
ter most movies would have ended them; some of them
last so long after the characters have run out of things
to say that their awkwardness becomes a joke in and of
itself.
Stranger Than Paradise is as visually quirky as its
humor. Almost every camera angle is eccentric and
oblique. In every shot, Jarmusch fixes the camera on a
tripod and doesn't move it again. Since there are no cuts
in the middle of scenes, you end up being stuck with the
first view the director gives you - you're trapped
watching people who are themselves trapped with
nothing to do. That kind of clever device recurs
throughout the movie, and the intelligence that in.
spired the effects is what makes Stranger Than Par-V
adise so strange; you have to feel a little weird enjoy-
ing the ingenuity and humor behind a movie about
someone else's existential emptiness.
Stranger Than Paradise is playing tomorrow night
at 7 p.m., 8:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. in Angell Hall Aud
A.
-Gabriel Feldberg '

*1

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