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February 04, 1993 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1993-02-04

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Page 4- The Michigan Daily --Weekend etc.-February 4, 1993

On the road to Agee's Knoxville

by Michelle Weger
"I just want to go somewhere I don't
have to wear a coat and gloves every
time I go outside," I whined long-dis-
tance, "My goal is 50*"
This amused my mother to no end.
"So much for, 'Oh, the cold doesn't
really bother me,"' she said, forcing me
to feast on words I had uttered just
weeks before. But I did get her to agree
that the best birthday present she could
send me would be a little extra cash -
enough to get me to Knoxville, anyway.
Why did I want to go to Knoxville,
Tennessee, for spring break? I have no
family there, no close friends there. It's
true that one of my favorite authors,
James Agee, was born there, and wrote
about the city in the amazing novel "A

Death in the Family." What I really
wanted was to get toas mild a climate as
I could as cheaply and quickly as I
could. Since a flight home to Southern
California violated the first of those
conditions, and driving there ruled out
both, I decided to plan a road trip that
would take me as far south as I could get
in aday's drive. Knoxville lay just about
due south of Ann Arbor, and I could get
there in about nine hours.
So, early on a Sunday morning, I
cleaned out my car -no small feat,just
ask anyone who'sridden in it-pumped
in some unleaded-plus and pointed
myself south. With Springsteen blaring
on the stereo, I was hell on wheels, a
chick on a mission.,
While the sun didn't magically ap-
pear as I crossed that north-south divid-
ing line known as the Ohio-Kentucky
border, I found that a certain stereotypi-
cal, Ilefflin-esque "charm" did. When I
stopped for gas just outside Cinci, the
bearded flannel shirt behind the glass
looked atmy California driver's license
and lilted, "You sure are a long way
from home, young lady!" I think I man-
aged a girlish blush and giggle as he
gave me a patronizing wink on my way
out the door.
Although I had envisioned this trip
as a born-to-be-wild lark, I had, of
course, paid the obligatory visit to the
AAA travel office for those all-impor-
tant "Southern Region" maps and
Travelbooks. I took the news that they
didn't have an area map for Knoxville
as adare. I mean, did I really need a map
for a dinky burg like Knoxville?
Couldn't some helpful soul on the street
point me to the Campus Inn (where I'd
already made reservations) next to U-
T? As it turned out, Knoxville is not so
dinky, and the desk clerk at the Campus

Inn had a rough time trying to give me
directions from a gas station on the
outskirts of the city.
"Now, where are you again?" he
tried helpfully, "And could you speak
Where I was, was at an outdoor pay
phone, trying to shout down a very
noisy downpour. "Uh ... I'm across
from the big Methodist church with the
HUGE lighted cross on top of it."
By the time he was able to tell me
which expressway to get back onto and
which exit to take, I was soaked to the
skin; but, dammit, it was at least 650.
Ten minutes later, I trailed into the mo-
tel lobby, wringing out my t-shirt.
My only real goal in Knoxville was
to find Agee's birthplace. Although the
autobiographical "A Death in the Fam-
ily" didn't name his street, Agee did
describe in some detail the route from
Market Square to his home. My ama-
teur detective skills were not needed,
though. Strolling down Cumberland
next to U-T, a memorial sign told me all
I needed to know: "Knoxville's fore-
most author, James Agee, born at 1505
highland Ave ..."
When I found it, my stomach
churned; an apartment complex had
taken over not only the former Agee
property, but the house next door as
well. Still, I sat on the curb for a few
minutes, sadly savoring his words,
"People go by, things go by, a horse
drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow
iron music on the asphalt. A loud auto,
a quiet auto ... The image upon them of
lovers and horsemen; squared with
clowns in hueless amber..."
Late that afternoon, I headed south
out of Knoxville, and into the Great
Smoky Mountains. Because the good
weather seemed to be holding up, as I
drove through, I made a mental note of
the hiking areas that I wanted to check
out the next day. This turned out to be
quite a waste of cerebral storage space,
because I awoke to a light but persistent
rain showering the entire Tennessee
Only slightly daunted, I decided to
start the trip north a day early, taking
back-roads and scenic routes. After
breakfast in a diner which housed more
bagged-and-stuffed fauna than I had
seen in my entire life, I motored con-
tentedly along highway 127, figuring
that sometime around darkfall, I'd find

someplace to stay for the night. But at
some point, passing a slow-trolling
Dodge, both the brake light and the oil
light came on simultaneously.
Next stop, I checked my oil level,
which was fine, and Iobviously couldn't
have been doing 65 with my emergency
brake on. So, I did the only devil-may-
care thing I could think of. I ignored it,
and happily so, until it started to get
dark. Was it my imagination, or had my
headlights gotten dimmer? Was my ra-
dio reception bad because I was in the
middle of nowhere, or because there
wasn't enough electricity to power it?
Yes, you know what I was thinking as
the sun sank below that Kentucky blue
grass horizon. Oh, Shit.
And sure enough, just as I came to
the cross-roads, my trusty Toyota bit the
dust, or rather, the mud. Luckily, across
the highway was a friendly glowing
light coming from the Kountry Kitchen
diner, where the incredibly astute pro-
prietor had been watching my predica-
ment. "Have some car trouble didja?"
he asked.
With as much dignity as I could, I
asked to use the phone to call AAA. The
only tow-truck in town belonged to the
local Ford dealer, who tried in vain to
jump-start the car. But his shop was just
up the road, so he decided to "bump" me
over there, where he could charge the
battery enough to get me to the next
town, which had two important things
that this one didn't: a motel, and some-
one who knew something about Japa-
nese cars.
Bud, the man who charged my bat-
tery, was interested in the fact that I was
from Southern California. He had al-
ways wanted to go there, he said, and
was extremely envious of the fact that
his cousin lived just a few minutes away
from the Crystal Cathedral, TV-preacher
Robert Schuller's obscene monument
to the "glory" of God. "The wife and I
never miss old Schuller," he beamed.
And that's when the humility set in.
I made it safely to Danville, where
I spent six hours of the next day in a
CitGo station while my alternator was
repaired. By the time I left Kentucky, a
late winter storm was bringing blustery
winds and rain to the South, so in a
strange way, I was already acclimated
to Michigan weather when I returned. I
spent the rest of spring break in Ann
Arbor, wondering if I would ever see
the sun again.

Off 'Player'
In the world of film criticism there is
a unique phenomenon known as critical
bandwagon. This situation occurs when
several critics around the country, usu-
ally following the lead of some influen-
tial critic from New York or Los Ange-
les, decide collectively to confer the
mantle of greatness on a decent, but not
great film, usually directed by some
auteur like Martin Scorsese.
The bandwagon effect was most re-
cently on view in the New York Film

II. Altman's Technical Devices
Most of the critical lauding of the
film has centered around two main de-
A) Altman's extended tracking shot
at the beginning of the film.
though the shot is a fine technical
achievement, it really doesn't work in*
the context of the film. The shot is
meant to be a comic, fast-paced intro-
duction to the hectic world of Holly-
wood. But for all of the effort Altman
exerts, the scene has a sluggish pace that
elicits as many laughs as a visit to the
morgue. Howard Hawks, in "His Girl
Friday," managed to capture the simi-
larly cut-throat, manic world ofjournal-
ism atagrease-lightning pace thatserves*
to heighten the genuinely funny screw-
ball comedy.
B) Altman's use of star cameos.
The barrage of stars that attend the
film never actually weave themselves
into the fabric of the film, but stand out
like sore thumbs to be identified and
pointed out. Some may argue, that's the
point, to make fun of the way we gawk
at celebrities, but if this is indeed
Altman's intention, it seems like he
sacrifices continuity and viewer inter-
est for very little in profundity. Also, the
fact that appearing in this film became
such a status symbol in Hollywood,
invalidates the use of cameos as a cri-
tique of Hollywood status symbols.
III. The Film Overall
In terns of performances, if there
was one star turn more wooden than
Michael Keaton's in "Batman Returns'
(which was supposed to be wooden, by
the way), it had to be Tim Robbins in
this film. It's okay for him to convey the
blandness of his character, but it seems
there ought to be some sort of charisma
about the man that a) has allowed him to
climb the corporate ladder b) that, in
terns of the film, can hold the darn thing
together. The audience ought to feel that.
something is at stake here when Robbin*
gets into trouble. Furthermore, when
Robbins is supposed to show genuine
terror, he frowns or throws a little snit,
similar to Andie MadIowall's perfor-
mance in "Green Card."
Otherquibbles: GretaScacchi'schar-
acter is pure weirdness, without I pur-
pose. The plot of the film, which sup-
posedly puts current hit thrillers to
shame, is unimaginative and drags on.
for light years. Finally, Altman hasmade
a cold film, lacking in genuine emotion
that is meant to appeal to the head,
rather than the heart. Too bad it is so
deeply lacking in intelligence.

Critics' Circle Awards, in which the
clear winner was Robert Altman for
"The Player," which was lucky enough
to find itself the object of critical lioniz-
ing. Folks, it's time for a wake-up call.
Let's dissect the criticism, and the
film, piece by piece.
I. Theme
Critics who like this garbage gener-
ally agree that "The Player" is a "biting
satire" on the superficiality of the film
industry and the callousness with which
Hollywood treats originality and true
talent, in favor of big bucks.
"The Player" fails to live up to such
overblown praise. As a piece of satire, it
fails, since "The Player" brings upnoth-
ing about Hollywood that hasn't al-
ready been said before. Yes, we know
the studio heads are a bunch of greedy
bastards. Big deal, we've seen this kind
of whining before, from "The Bad and
the Beautiful" and "The Barefoot
Contessa" back in the fifties, to the
recent, and oddly enough, similarly
empty, "Barton Fink."

Travel in
on yourw

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My memories from spring breaks past

by Liz Shaw
Can you believe that Spring Break is
here again? It seems like just last week
that I was dreading the last one and here
it is, time for another. My excitement
bubbles over. I don't mean to be a cynic,
but ... yes, I do. I can't help it, just the
term "Spring Break"bringsbackmemo-
ries of years past, and believe me when
I say they aren't good memories. I have
yet to go on a Spring Break that I found
enjoyable. (Ok, so I'm exaggerating but
I've never been more than mildly
Let me settle back on the couch and
tell you all about it. It all started my
junior year of high school, my first
vacation without my parents that was to

last for more than two days. A friend of
mine and I were going to Toronto for
five day adventure. We were going by
train and staying at a youth hostel. We
were going to relax in the lap of luxury
and shop 'till we dropped. Have you
guessed yet that it didn't turn out that
Now if you're thinking of going to
Toronto on a limited budget and you're
not planning on spending much time at
your place of lodging, a youth hostel is
a good idea. It was about $6 a night to
stay there. Granted you're living dorm
style in a room with eight other people
(same sex, of course) and 2-stall show-
ers. It's an experience you won't soon
forget. Believe me. (Travel tip: if you


plan on staying at a hostel, you have to
become a member of the organization.
It's not expensive so you will still keep
your budget down.)
Now, one thing you must consider is
that Toronto is further north - so if you
think Ann Arbor is hell in February,
Toronto is not the place for you, as it was
not for me. We came home two days
Surprisingly enough, we returned to
Toronto for Spring Break senior year.
This time, however, we stayed in a
friend's posh, high-rise apartment. It
was much closer to the experience I
wanted to have. We shopped a lot -
Eaton Center was just a ways down the
street. We did a lot of walking. Got a lot
of blisters. You see, this was high school
where the most walking you did was
from your car in the parking lot to your
locker on the first floor - we didn't
know what walking was then. Still,
even the cold didn't seem as bad, so I
decided that perhaps it took two tries to
get Toronto right. My vacations weren't
doomed after all.
Then I got to college. "Let's go to
New Orleans," my roommates-to-be
said. "Mardi Gras will be great," they all
said. "Louisiana will be warm," said
someone who obviously really knew
me. I was sold.
We looked forward to New Orleans
for weeks. My dad even got us reason-
ably priced tickets and offered to drive
us to the airport (think he was trying to

get rid of me?).
Sure, Alison got sick on the plane
ride down and it was pouring rain when
we landed in Baton Rouge, but we were
going to have fun, dammit. It was prob-
ably right about then that my mood
I will never budge from my stand
that it was not my fault. One cannot be
held accountable for where or when*
depression strikes. Still, I suppose that
week I wasn't exactly the most pleasant
person to be spending time with. My
friends referred to me as "the bitch" that
week and for many weeks afterward (I
think Bethany still does, though she
tries to pass it off as a term of endear-
ment). It was this trip that made us
decide not to live together. The curse
lived on.
We're going back this year.
Are you slapping your forehead and
asking if I'm crazy? I'm not. I figure so
far the second trip to the same place has
been pretty good. Besides, this year
we're taking the guys with us; I figure
they're pretty good to blame stuff on
(it's always worked before). We're also
driving instead of flying, which I'm
sure makes Alison happy, and we've
already decided that we're not living
together next year (which I'm sure
makes all of us happy). I'm not worried
about it at all, there's no way it could be
worse than last year, right? There aren't
really vampires in New Orleans, are


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