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November 17, 1993 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1993-11-17

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ARTS

'Piano' typifies latest film style

0

By CAMILU FUNTECILLA
Ada (Holly Hunter) is sent away by her father
to the New Zealand bush, a lush jungle that grows
on a carpet of thick gray mud, to marry aman she
has never met. Thousands of miles from her Scot-
tish home, she has only her daughter Flora (Anna
The Piano
Written and directed by Jane Campion; with Holly
Hunter, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill.

Paquin) and her piano as reminders of her happy
first marriage, the tragic end of which took not
only her husband but also her ability to speak as
well.
When her husband-to-be Stewart (Sam Neill)
arrives at the beach where Ada and Flora await, he
declares that the piano cannot be carried back to
his home due to the treacherous terrain of the
bush. Baines (Harvey Keitel), a white man living
among the Maori natives, claims the piano and has
it transported to his home.
There he employs Ada as his teacher, promis-
ing to return her instrument if he gets a lesson for
every key on the piano. Ada soon discovers that
these lessons entail more than she expected, as she
finds herself caught in a dangerous triangle of
passion and deception from which there is no
certain escape.
Unlike most recent period films, Jane Cam-
pion works from her own original script. Uncon-

strained by the modesty of Victorian literature,
she lets her characters' instincts run free, creating
a profound turmoil in the structure of the rigid
British society that houses them. Campion very
deftly enhances and broadens the turmoil that
Ada's unconventionality initiates by exploring
the conflict between the laxity of the Maori people,
willing to joke about sex and the stiffness of the
'paheka' British colonizers.
Ada finds herself caught between these two
cultures, inside a void that only Baines shares with
her. He doesn't belong and neither does she. She
is untamed, stark in appearance and manner and
hardly ever smiles. An unlikely heroine, and yet
she is immensely appealing because of her status
as a stranded outsider.
She is completely devoid of falsity and seems
to have grabbed hold of the universal Truth, which
she channels obsessively through her piano.
There's a hint of Lucy Honeychurch (A Room
with a View) here.
Baines perceives the suppressed passions
within her by watching her play, and attempts to
bring them out into the physical world. He wants
both her and her voice, which speaks from the
keyboard of her piano.
Stewart is too far behind to keep up;,the only
language he knows is that of convention, making
him baffled by the moods of his wife. But Cam-
pion doesn't make him two-dimensional; he suf-
fers greatly, because all he was taught that is
proper is challenged by his marriage. He wants to

give her what she wants, but it's too late for him
to learn anew.
The environment of the bush helps to feed this
sense of imprisonment, and yet is also liberating
in its beauty. It seems impossible that in such a
fantastic setting the most romantic and wild de-
sires might not be triggered.
Holly Hunter.absorbs the character of Ada and
gives her so much life on screen that words are
virtually unnecessary. Considering the limited
forms of expression available to her, it is admi-
rable how intense her presence is. Since she hardly
ever smiles, when she chooses to do so the trans-
formation of her face and being is astounding and
doubly powerful. And Hunter's piano skills are to
say the least enrapturing. Flora (Anna Paquin),
her daughter and confidant, creates both an ap-
palling and endearing child who holds her own in
this cast of giants.
Although it is principally Ada's story, Neill's
torment as Stewart is grippingly vivid. Keitel,
meanwhile, creates for Baines a very effective
mix of primitivism and modernity that is humor-
ous, deep, rugged and noble. Along with Stuart
Dryburgh's explosive cinematography, an orgy
of light, darkness and color that never lets up, and
Campion's flawless writing, "The Piano" is con-
tinuing proof that in the'90s film is finally discov-
ering its potential as a visual vehicle that refuses
to sacrifice content.

TIHE PIANO is playing at the Michigan
Theater.

I

Give it up 'Ernest'

By SCOTT PLAGENHOEF
The recent trend of rehashing old
television programs into film in the
absence of creativity is poor enough,
~ -yet the rehashing of old television
commercials into movies?
For the fifth time, familiar adver-
tisement character Ernest P. Worrell
Ernest Rides Again
Written and directed by John Cherry;
with Jim Varney.
is the namesake of a major motion
picture. What began as an obnoxious,
bumpkin neighbor to some poor guy
named Vern, hocking everything from
milk to furnaces with his exagger-
ated, teethy grin and his asinine catch
phrase, "Know wut I mean," has es-
calated into an all-out assault on that
which is right with the world.
In the past Ernest went to camp,
' went to jail, saved Christmas and was
scared stupid. This time "Ernest Rides
Again."
The film curiously and for abso-
lutely no sane reason is preceded by
the Mr. Bill short, "Mr. Bill goes to
Washington."
As the title implies good ol' Bill is
elected President and, in a daring de-
parture from the old "Saturday Night
Live" Mr. Bill format, proceeds to be
squashed by various items for four or
five minutes. Such extraordinarily
In "Rides Again,"
Ernest continues to
play up the redneck
Gilligan routine,
clumsily causing
trouble wherever he
goes.
clever wit would be difficult for most
films to follow, but not "Ernest."
In "Rides Again," Ernest contin-
ues to play up the redneck Gilligan
routine, clumsily causing trouble
wherever he goes. Ernest continues
his delusionary fantasies, this time
acting out the part of IndianaJones, as
he and feeble history Professor Melon
(who wears glasses, abow tie, sweater
vest and twill jacket as surely as all
profs do) attempt to prove the prof's
universally discarded theory that the
actual crown jewels of England are
hidden in Virginiain a fabled Revolu-
tionary War cannon, the Goliath.
The film begins with an
unlistenable song about Ernest which
is sort of a cross between the "Bo-

nanza" theme, "Marine's Hymn" and
that "to friends he's known as Charlie,
but to you he's Mr. Kane" song-and-
dance number from "Citizen Kane,"
which forced three old ladies to a very
early exit.
Comparisons of Charles Foster
Kane and Ernest P. Worrell aside, the
film was absolute garbage. On the
hunt for the jewels, the obligatory
cast of characters were in tow: the
well-respected, but evil professor, the
British government, Prof. Melon's
greedy wife and a pair of traveling
salesmen who had the side-splitting
habit of finishing each other's sen-
tences. Hilarious. Let the slapstick
commence.
Ernest proceeds to eat steel wool
and acid, get nails shot into his head,
have a saw taken to his face and get
run over by a car twice, all with less
pain than Wile E. Coyote and less wit
than Ray Stevens.
The filmmakers even degenerate
to point of the requisite pie-in-the-
face gag. At least they resisted the
temptation to resort to the ol' "Police
Academy," gee-isn't-it-funny-when-
someone-gets-hit-it-in-the-testicles
routine. If they would have resorted
to that, then a good drawing and quar-
tering of both writer-director John
Cherry and Jim Varney may have
been in order.
Multiple poor vocal inflections by
Ernest, an Elvis impersonation by
Prof. Melon and countless trips and
falls later, the torture is over. With all
of the quality films available in the
area - "The Piano," "The Age of
Innocence," "Short Cuts," "Remains
of the Day," - to drop $4-$6on this
piece of trash is a fairly decent sign of
an absolute lack of taste and intelli-
gence. Besides you'llprobablybe able
to catch it on video around the middle
of next week.
Oops, almost ended the article
without the good news: "Ernest Goes
to School" opens next August at a
theater near you.
ERNEST RIDES AGAIN is playing
at Showcase.

'Waltz'
does not
dance past
issues
By KAREN LEE
After 20 years of writing plays,
Paula Vogel finally got her due in
1990 with "The Baltimore Waltz,"
which she wrote in memory of her
brother, who had died of AIDS two
years before. It has now become a
favorite with regional theater compa-
nies.
"The Baltimore Waltz," one half
detective story and one half fantastic
journey, is about an unusually close
brother and sister, one of whom comes
down with a fatal disease called ATD
(Acquired Toilet Disease). This leads
to a weird sort of trip that they take
through Europe, where they meet all
kinds of equally weird characters, all
of whom are played by the same ac-
tor, Network veteran Malcolm Tulip.
Jonathan Smeenge, a Network regu-
lar himself, and University student
Joanna Hershon will be playing the
brother and sister.
Director Philip Kerr, a University
theater professor and a well-known
stage actor who has appeared in a
number of Broadway and off-Broad-
way shows, calls "The Baltimore
Waltz" part of a"third generation" of
what are known as AIDS plays.
"A whole generation of play-
wrights were using the infected indi-
vidual as a metaphor for an infected
society," Kerr said. "'Baltimore
Waltz' uses what the theater does best
- it engages the audience in the im-
mediacy of the experience, but it is
magic."
"Magic" and "imagination " are
the key words used in Kerr's descrip-

"The Baltimore Waltz" will begin its performance at the Performance Network this Thursday.

tion of the play. "It demands that the
audience use their imagination, and it
engages them in an imaginative flight
of fantasy,"he said. "By engaging the
audience in this journey, you take
them along with you, and it instills
compassion in them for the collective
flight."
"It's been great fun to rehearse,"
he went on. "It's been pretty much a
continuous process of creation be-
cause this is a weird play. Everybody
has had input. You know, the more
we worked on it, the more we discov-
ered what an interesting fabric this is.
It's almost cinematic, yet it's still a
play. There are three wonderful act-
ing roles, and the play is very much
the actors and the humanity they bring
to it."
Although "The Baltimore Waltz"
is described as whimsical, a word
normally associated with frivolous
bits of fluff, appearances can be de-
ceiving.

"This is an important play to do
and to be seen," Kerr said. "It is about
a sense of loss, the event of it, but
also, in a wider sense, how that loss
affects our society. It might possibly
stand for an infected society, but it
doesn't preach. It engages an audi-
ence, yet it keeps them off balance.
'The Baltimore Waltz' is gentle, but it
makes its points."

Hwillbe-
at Performance Network November
18-21, 26-28 and December 2-5.
There will be no show on
Thanksgiving Day. Show times are
Thursday through Saturday at 8
p.m., Sunday at 7p.m. Tickets are
$10 general admission, $7 for
students and seniors, with Pay-
What-You-Can Thursdays.

M

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