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March 18, 1993 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-03-18

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Page 4-The Michigan Daily-Weekend etc. -March 18,1993
It's always a great night
for a 'Day' at the rock
by Jon Altshul
Ted Turner crieated TNT for no other reason than "ABad Day At Black Rock."
Itis the epitome oflate-night cinema. Tough, rugged, and dangerously cool, it did
for vigilantes what "Boys Town" did for the United Way.
In fact, you've probably seen it already. Quarter past midnightthe Trailblazers
have just beaten the Knicks in overtime, and you're not tired. Bon Jovi's on MTV,
"Weird Science" is on HBO, and Leno's interviewing some Croatian supermodel
whodoesn'tspeak adamn wordofEnglish besides, "(giggle) Thank you, Batman,
(giggle)." Yawn.
Meanwhile, Spencer Tracy's kicking the shit out Ernest Borgnine with his left
hand buried in his pocket on channel 43. Yeah, you remember now.
"A Bad Day At Black Rock" is the reason you never finished that U.S. history
paper on time. It's what late-night movies are all about.
Chronologically nestled half-way between "Boys Town" and "Guess Who's
Coming To Dinner," the 1954 film is often omitted from Spencer Tracy
retrospectives because it was released
.during an otherwise dormant stagemi
." '' "!" ' " '" his fine career. Too old. to be a leading
,rte>:. ! }:: *manyet too young to play the senile in-
"°lawTracy turns in one of the truly great
bad-assperformances in motion picture
history. If only Victor Mature was this
good, we'd never get to bed.
Predicated on the grim reality of
post-WWII xenophobia and the reclu-
sive, unassuming characterization of John J. MacReedy (Tracy), the film cyni-
cally asks questions about a de-romanticized American frontier that traditional
westerns would never touch. We are presented with a bitter portrait of rural
California, where machismo undermines common sense, and hatred threatens
communal unity.
Black Rock is a depressed, forgotten community, degenerating in self-
isolation,though hauntingly less removed from any other American town than the
film projects it to be. It is a place steeped in pastoral beauty, though tormented by
a nihilistic sense of civil disobedience.
"A Bad Day At Black Rock" is the reason you
never finished that U.S. history paper on time. It's
what late-night movies are all about.
The film begins with a crippled Tracy stepping off a train in Black Rock. He
immediately becomes a town novelty - the taciturn outsider, the first sojourner
in four years. Eyebrows are raised, muscles are flexed, there's going to be a war.
.And no one really knows why.
The audience is left in suspense until the film's stunning climax - we never
know why such a palpable level of tension crowds the screen. Instead, we are only
allowed to decipher good from bad. The rest is a mystery. And Tracy, for his part,
never lets on what all the fuss is about.
The Black Rock posse is headed by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) and made up
'of Borgnine and a young Lee Marvin. They are a tyrannical, angry crowd, forever
tied to their arid town, and bitter at being left out of the American Dream. Venting
their sick frustrations against all foreigners - both in Black Rock and America
- they rule their frightened town with gritty sound bites and tough-ass swaggers.
They ostensibly serve as fascist representations, with the film acting as an
domestic allegory for W WII.
But Tracy is not the decrepit pacifist he presents himself as. Masking his
sobering past behind a naive demeanor, he establishes himself as the idealized
vigilante, reforming a once-lost town into a revitalized American outpost.
"A Bad Day At Black Rock" is so disturbingly true-to-life that it might
traumatize the most innocent of nocturnal boob-tubers. Don't let that deter you
however, it's too good-and too frequently shown on TNT- tomiss. See it again,
for the second time.

0

The University's "Esther Before Ahasuerus" not only carefully depicts the Biblical story but also satisfies aesthetic concerns.
Gueremo s Esther lends itself to special focus

by Charlotte Garry
The "In Focus: Guercino's Esther"
exhibit at the University Museum of
Art provides not just a viewing experi-
ence for the art patron.hut an education

In Focus:
Guercino's Esther
Museum of Art

in history, religion and art also. The
show, which is the first in a series of
exhibitions to highlight works from the
University's permanent collection,
brings together five of Guercino's pre-
paratory sketches with the Museum's
painting of "Esther before Ahasuerus."
According to Nan Plummer, curator
of the exhibition, it is no mistake that
"Esther before Ahasuerus" was chosen
as the inaugural piece for the "In Fo-
cus"series.'" Esther before Ahasuerus'
isoneofourmajorpaintings," Plummer
explained, "It is big and beautiful, and
it is by one of the best-known Baroque

artists. The fame of the artistthe fame of
the work of art, and the amount we know
about the work made it a natural first
choice."
Plummer conveys her understand-
ing of the work to viewers through es-
says and explanations that accompany
the exhibit, not to mention the 16-page
booklet written by Plummer which gives
background on Guercino and the story
of Esther and Ahasuerus.
The Esther story, which is steeped in
both Jewish and Christian tradition, is
the narrative which Cardinal Lorenzo
Magalotti commissioned Giovanni
Francesco Barbieri, known as I1
Guercino ("the squinter") to paint in
1639. The story begins whenAhasuerus,
King of Persia, disposes of his queen
because she refused to "display her
beauty." Searching for someone to re-
place his queen, Ahasuerus chooses
Esther, not knowing she is a Jew and a
ward of Mordecai, a member of his
court.
Haman, Ahasuerus' prime minister
who desires to destroy Mordecai and all

his people, complicates things when he
tries to convince Ahasuerus to extermi-
nate the Jews. Upon discovering
Haman's plot, Mordecai appeals to
Esther to plead with her husband on
behalf of her people. Although Esther
could be killed for even entering the
king's presence unbidden, she agrees.
The University's "Esther before
Ahasuerus" depicts the moment Esther
enters the king's chambers. Esther, how-
ever, does not bring forth her pleaat this
moment, but at a subsequent banquet
where she reveals Haman's treachery.
In the end, Haman is sentenced to hang,
and the Jews are allowed a day of re-
venge. The story is important in the
Jewish community for its celebration of
deliverance and salvation, and is re-
membered on the holiday of Purim..
The story is given a twist, however,
in Guercino's final depiction. Guercino
chose for his portrait a scene from the
Esther story found in theCatholic Bible
which says: "The queen faltered and
tumed pale and faint, and collapsed
upon the head of the maid who went
before her. But God changed the spirit
of the king to gentleness." His portrait
illustrates a fainting, agonized, pale
Esther, and a majestic, powerful, yet
compassionate king.
It is widely hinted that this scene
was chosen to comply with Cardinal
Magalotti's intentions for the work.
Specifically, with the Counter Refor-
mation infiltrating 17th-century Catholi-
cism, the painting could have been
employed to promise acceptance or
"gentleness" to Jews who renounced
their faith and converted to Catholi-
cism. Therefore, a story which at first
preached deliverance for Jews is ma-
nipulated to preach suppression.
Speculation that Guercino's patron

influenced decisions about the scene of
the story to be depicted is heightened in
one of the preparatory sketches from
the Curtis O. Baer Collection. This
sketch shows an assertive, confronta-
tional Esther overpowering a recoiling
Ahasuerus. In commenting on this par-
ticular sketch, Nan Plummer claimed
that it shows that "the artist is thinking
about the whole story, even though the
patron has a particular idea." Plummer
is of the opinion that maybe Guercino
"would have liked to have painted a
different painting."
Although the Museum provides a
great deal of background and perspec-
tive with the preparatory sketches and
literature of the exhibition, the final
portrait of "Esther before Ahasuerus"
can stand on its own. The magnitude of
the piece, in culmination with the ex-
plicit drama, intricate costuming, deep
colors, full figures and softhighlighting
speak independently of the sketches
and typify the strength of the Baroque
period. Yet one can also see the diverse
power of classicism within the dimen-
sions and spacing of the work. The
complexity, style and medium of the
final painting alone could be the subject
of an exhibition.
The expanse of "In Focus:
Guercino's Esther" cannot be com-
pletely understood without the experi-
ence of viewing the display. Nor can
"Esther before Ahasuerus" be limited to
one concise description. Social, histori-
cal, political, religious and artistic con-
textsinfiltrate the painting deeply, beg-
ging the potential viewer for examina-
tion - an examination which is not
only educational, but inspirational.
IN FOCUS: GUERCINO'S ESTHER
will be on display at the University
Museum ofArt through May 16.

A BAD DAYATBLACK ROCK is ava lable at Liberty SCree Video.

r°° °--t

DEPARTMENT OF
RECREATIONA L
SPORTS

INTRA MURAL SPORTS PROGRAM
RELAYS MEET
(Team)
Entry Deadline: Tuesday 3/23
4:30 p.rm.
IMSB Main Office
Meet Date: Thursday 3/25
For Additional Information Contact IMSB 763-3562-

1i i I
Spend three weeks as a student volunteer
working and living at army base.
Two month open return ticket!
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INCLUDhS POUNDTi21P AlPFAtiT. 1OXM.
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Contact: VOLUNTEERS FOR ISRAEL
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1122 S. University e 313-665-9009
LIVE ENTERTAINMENT!
Kick back at O'Sullivan's on Thursday, Fridaa
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I1 FRIDAY ¢- JERRY SPRAGUE'S lively rend.

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of classic rock favorites
SATURDAY > MIKE RIDLEY'S unique blend of
comedy and rack 9roll
* All entertainment begins at 9:3U pm*

The University of Michigan
CENTER FOR CHINESE STUDIES
presents the twelfth annual
ALEXANDER ECKSTEIN MEMORIAL LECTURE
"China's Industrial Reforms
and the
Economics of Socialist Transition"
by
THOMAS G. RA WSKI

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