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November 23, 1992 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1992-11-23

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ARTS
Monday, November 23, 1992

The Michigan Daily

Page 5

t

Denzel Washington practicing for his Oscar acceptance speech - this ought to make up for his money-grubbing appearance in "Heart Condition." Still, "Malcolm X" isn't quite as good as "Howards End." Though, what is?
How I learned to stop worrying and love Spike Lee

by Aaron Hamburger
There is a lot of pressure on critics to like
this film. Several reviews which I read be-
fore writing this article were favorable, but
with strong reservations, as if the authors
were trying to recommend the film in spite
of themselves. Indeed, the challenge of re-
viewing a movie like this one, which has so
much advance hype and has elicited so many
strong opinions both pro and con, is to praise
or criticize the film according to its merits,
like any other, without regard to the racial
issues involved or any white liberal guilt.
Having said that, not only is "Malcolm
X" a film worth seeing, but a very great
film. "Malcolm X" is one of those rare
packages of fine acting, direction, writing,
and cinematography that harmoniously com-
bine to give a sharp, relatively objective
(until the very end of the film), fascinating
portrait of one of the most controversial
American figures of this century.
Lee documents the life of Malcolm X,
charismatically played by Denzel Washing-
ton, from his beginnings as a zoot-suited,

strung-out, violent thief to an impassioned
speaker for the Nation of Islam and its
founder Elijah Muhammad to his expulsion
from the Nation of Islam and his epiphany-
laden trip to Mecca. During it all, Lee
(Oliver Stone could use a few lessons from
Malcolm X
Directed by Spike Lee; written by Arnold Perl
and Spike Lee; with Denzel Washington,
Angela Bassett, Al Freeman Jr., and Spike Lee.
Lee in objectivity) presents Malcolm, warts
and all, as he really was, a man who advo-
cated Black separatism and supremacy, a
male chauvinist, as well as an anti-Semite,
who called whites "devils."
Even though Lee's presentation of Mal-
colm X is objective, it's hard not to feel
more than a little sympathy for Washington,
one of the screen's most winning presences.
He plays the leader as a fallible but likable,
deeply committed man who is ultimately

undone because he is so serious-minded and
idealistic that he cannot believe that those
around him do not feel the same way he
does.
Before he is gunned down, Washington
smiles, as if Malcolm is relieved that all the
pressure on him from both Blacks and
whites has been lifted. It's a nice idea, but it
comes across as a little showy in an other-
wise moving and impressive performance.
The real find of this movie, however, is
Ang'ela Bassett, who plays Betty Shabazz,
Malcolm's wife. Bassett manages to convey
a mix of warmth and intelligence in every
scene she's in, even when she has no lines.
Al Freeman Jr. (who won an Emmy for
playing Malcolm X in the miniseries
"Roots") plays Elijah Muhammad as a vain,
cryptic figure. Also notable is Albert Hall, in
a smaller role, as Baines, the man who intro-
duces Malcolm to the Nation of Islam. Hall
imbues his character with a strong, stirring
force, comparable to James Earl Jones.
Spike Lee's daring and visually dazzling
technique complements the actors' strong

performances. Any doubts of Lee's cine-
matic talent should be allayed by the way his
camera darts around the room in one of the
opening scenes in a dance hall in Boston, or
the way he shoots the banana yellow Cadil-
lac of Malcolm X's white lover. Equally im-
pressive is the way he handles the final
scene of chaos when Malcolm X is assassi-
nated. Lee manages to convey a sense of the
violent disorder while clearly tracing the as-
sassins' attempted escape from the hall.
Lee also makes several references to
classics like "Raging Bull," "Lawrence of
Arabia," as well as current films like "Cape
Fear" (instead of Scorsese's 180 degree
camera turn, Lee makes a full 360), "JFK"
(with his combination of dramatized and
faux-documentary footage) and "The Silence
of the Lambs (!)."
Despite his strengths, occasionally Lee
goes out on a limb, and falls. One scene,
where Malcolm is reading an inspirational
letter from Elijah Muhammad, and suddenly

the leader actually appears before him in
ghostly form, is just corny and way too lit-
eral. The chronology of events at the begin-
ning of the film is not always clear, although
it is cleared up eventually.
Lee's worst misstep is his final sequence,
which shows Black schoolchildren from
around the world, both male and female,
jumping up from their seats to shout "I am
Malcolm X!" and Nelson Mandela himself
appears to bless the film. Up to this point,
Lee had allowed the viewer to make up his
or her own mind about Malcolm X. With
this ending, however, Lee makes his own
position all too cle.ar and elevates the man to
sainthood.
Still, the weaknesses are few and do not
detract from the film's fascinating and thor-
ough encapsulation of the life of the com-
plex figure of Malcolm X. The film hurtles
along through its three-hour-and-twenty-
minute running time. You won't want it to
end.
MALCOLM X is playing at Showcase.

Strauss
fluff flies
with wide
appeal
by Kirk Wetters
Although the music of Johann
Strauss is fun to perform and a guar-
anteed crowd-pleaser, it is hellishly
difficult to interpret. The best
Strauss orchestras mix relaxed
charm with effortlessly precise exe-
cution. Great Strauss singers must
have the vocal beauty and flexibility
of an expert Mozart interpreter com-
bined with the dramatic zest and
flamboyance of a stage actor.
The singer in the Friday cast of
Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" who
most exemplified these qualities was
OPERA REVIEW

Curtis Peters and Michael Sheardon in Strauss' "Die Fledermaus."

Malcolm X
Music From The Motion
Picture Soundtrack
Qwest/Reprise
Yo money, it's gotta be the
shoes. Not only has Spike Lee pro-
duced the movie of the year, he's
also (along with Quincy Jones)
compiled a flawless soundtrack to
accompany it.
The music of "Malcolm X" is
comprised of classic Black music
from the 1930s to the 1990s, all of
which perfectly defines the times
they represent.
There's the big band juke joint
jive of Joe Turner's "Roll 'Em
Pete," and Lionel Hampton's
"Flying Home." These two barn-
burning party songs are so live you
can hear the "Go cat go" in the fray.
Louis Jordan's gleefully slap happy
"Beans And Cornbread" is another
toe-tapping ode to the years of the
Harlem Renaissance.
The ladies are also dutifully rep-
resented here. There's Billie Holli-
day's unparalleled jazzy blues, ("Big
Stuff"), Ella Fitzgerald's sultry
croon, ("Azure") and Aretha
Franklin's glorious gospel flavor
("Someday We'll All Be Free").
A particularly telling track is the
Inkspots' "My Prayer." In an era
when African-American music
(which at the time was known as
"race" music) was looked down
upon, many artists attempted to
adopt a "White" sound to sell more
records to a wider audience. It's
hard to miss the parallels in the film

notes, may we all look forward to
the day when Black Radio is as di-
verse as the music on this record.
-Scott Sterling
Beme Seed
Purify
No. 6
It's hard to tell what's closer to
Beme Seed's heart: freak-out or
heavy metal. On some tracks, the
band manages to create a wild atmo-
sphere, with massively distorted gui-
tars screaming and wailing over a
pounding beat. Some songs, how-
ever, are little more than heavy
metal rock exercises, with lots of
fast screeching and fancy fretwork,
but no real emotion.
But the heavy music doesn't drag
down this album - the lyrics do. On
first listen, one might think the
nearly incomprehensible vocals
were nihilistic screams or chants
bemoaning the dark and satanic na-
ture of man. However, after reading
the liner notes, one finds words like,
"Sing and dance y'all and plant the
seeds y'all and love the people on
organic earth." Set to such pummel-
ing bass and guitars, this phrase
from "Y'all" might have been a
clever satire on foolish optimism,
the violent music betraying the true
nature of the world.
But every song has these kind of
sappy lyrics. The horrid juxtaposi-
tion of lyrics and music on "Purify"
can only be called new-age gothic.
Even worse, lyricist Kathleen Lynch
(her previous claim to fame: topless
dancing for Butthole Surfer tours)

thought that most of Mike Patton,
Perry Farrell's nose, and a different
but randomly chosen appendage be-
longing to Axl Rose got accidentally
sliced into large chunks and mixed
together by a Cuisinart, producing
the lead vocal of Darren McNamee
in Xtra large. After revolting at the
thought, I then properly decided that
McNamee is his own unique voice
in an unusually eclectic rock band.
In fact, every band member is
credited with vocals on this album
so it's hard to tell just who's singing
what most of the time. What is
created on their new work,.
"NOWiEATthem," is a bunch of
tunes that fit together by not fitting
together, really.
Why this is a funzo, non-ennui-
inducing album:
A) The tracks have great titles
"Eggsbunk", "Hooker", and "Sleep's
my Only Friend" are a few.
B) The tracks on this album have.
lyrics ranging from the blunt to the
bizarre. Like "I used to love animals
/ now I eat them / Never again will I
see your face / Legs apart so im-
mune to me."
C) The tracks on this album rock,
made my housemate do funky
dances on our washing machine, and
additionally made our microwave
thrash around when the tune "Cater-
pillar" came on, disintegrating all
the Rice-a-Roni in the kitchen.
- Jeff Rosenberg
The Movement
The Movement
Arista Records

Die Fledermaus
Power Center
November 19, 1992

Jonie Marie Crotty as the servant
Adele. Her vibrant characterization,
charm-ing voice and varied facial
expressions quickly endeared her to
the audience.
The female singers in the cast
were generally more musically and
I dramatically exciting than the male
singers. Jane Schoonmaker Rodgers

Strauss' libretto often caused diffi-
culties for the talented cast. For ex-
ample, during the party in act two,
Rosalinda sings, "... I will make you
toe the line." Not only is the mean-
ing of this line ambiguous, it is a
clear example of a translator
thoughtlessly dashing down any
words that can fit the music. Such an
odd and modern clich6 also clashes
with the Viennese atmosphere of the
operetta. The music would have
been more successful in German,
without the awkward translations
which were often completely unmu-
sical when set to Strauss' notes. The
use of English did have the advan-
tage of making the performance
more comprehensible and enjoyable

cure and occasionally overbearing.
Jean-Ronald LaFond was an ex-
cellent comic actor as Frank, the
prison warden, although he was mu-
sically rather unengaging. The most
disappointing performance was
Michael Sheardon's portrayal of Dr.
Falke. A stiff actor with little sense
of comic timing, Sheardon's voice
was often grating and unappealing.
The third act antics of Donald
McManus as the jailer, Frosch, were
the comic high point of the show.
Robert Mirshak, in the small but
significant role of Alfred the
amorous Italian tenor, was excellent
in all respects. His smooth, suave
voice was ideally suited to the part
and was reminiscent of ereat lvric

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