The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, December 2, 1993 - 3
A kinder, gentler war pic
By JOHANNA FLIES
There have been plenty of movies
made about World War H. Jimmy
Stewart skied down mountains,
whisking beautiful maidens to safety
in "The Mountain Road." Melanie
Griffith and Michael Douglas dodged
Nazis in Berlin in "Shining Through."
There was once even a production
about some general named Patton.
'lind Melon may have been dubbed alternative by MTV, but Bumble Bee girls do not alternative music make.
No alternative indeed
Music television has manipulated the sound scene
By MATT CARLSON
Let's get one thing straight before you read this article
- Pearl Jam is not an "alternative" band. At least they
*houldn't be. Yet, they have been dubbed as such by
record companies, radio stations, magazines and espe-
cially MTV. This is not to detract from their music - they
are a great rock band. But what makes their music any
more alternative than, say, Aerosmith? Certainly, Pearl
Jam has a more interesting lead singer and more intelli-
gent lyrics. The music, however, has the same song
structure as any other rock band that got together before
1991, so what gives?
Nirvana gave. Propelled by MTV, Nirvana changed
the face of rock music, a genre that had stagnated in the
sate'80s so much that every time you would turn on MTV,
all you could see were Bon Jovi's, Warrant's and Poison's
poodle haircuts. Then Nirvana released "Smells Like
Teen Spirit." MTV recognized a good tune when they
heard one, played the video thousands of times, and
quicker than you could say "Kurt Cobain shoots junk,"
every kid in the country knew every note of the song - all
What did this mean for the major record companies
and their promoter MTV? They had to scurry to create a
new label for bands like Nirvana that differed somewhat
from the mainstream and succeeded popularly anyway.
Hence, alternative was born. Actually, the term "alterna-
tive" was around before Nirvana's explosion, but the label
wasn't in what you would call the public eye.
For the most part, pre-Nirvana alternative was what
you couldn't see on MTV or hear on the radio, whether it
was the Brit-pop of the Smiths, the industrial metal of
Ministry or the deranged rock of the Pixies. Post-Nirvana
alternative is what you can see on MTV or hear on the
This drastic change in defining "alternative" has cre-
ated a dilemma. Any band with guitars and/or long hair
has to be marketed as alternative to become popular. How
else do you explain the sudden rise of horrible hippie-rock
bands like the Spin Doctors and Blind Melon? They both
played on the last two "alternative" MTV tours, yet they
are about as alternative as Bon Jovi.
And speaking of Bon Jovi, didn't their "big come-
back" last all of about two seconds? This is most likely
explained by the fact that Bon Jovi didn't have the capa-
Oility to be marketed as alternative or the large fan-base
that bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC have. It also ex-
plains the demise of Warrant, Poison, Motley Crue and
other hair bands.
Thus, alternative is now a label used for marketing
purposes only. Any rock band that came into the spotlight
after 1991 had to be marketed as alternative in order to
survive. This is why we saw Pearl Jam and see White
Zombie (a kick-ass metal band) in MTV's Buzz Clips.
Everybody's looking for the next big thing.
Yet, the term alternative is misleading. Check any
dictionary and you'll see a definition of alternative like
this one that appears in the American Heritage Dictionary:
"Existing outside traditional or conventional institutions
or systems." But, in the last few years alternative music
has become the mainstream and, therefore, cannot realis-
tically be called an alternative.
Personally, I gag when someone says they're into
"alternative music." Do they mean the fucked-up stylings
of Mr. Bungle? Or perhaps Helios Creed or the Cows?
These bands are so inaccessible that they will never be
played on MTV and will always be an alternative to the
mainstream. Most likely those into "alternative" mean the
boring college rock of the Lemonheads (Evan Dando has
smoked so much dope, he now sees himself as some
"deep" messenger of a sexual renaissance - what a load
of dung) or grunge retreads Stone Temple Pilots (lead
singer Weiland, noting Eddie Vedder's recent brush with
the law, is now looking for a bar where he can get into a
brawl - man, does he deserve a pie in the face).
This music is completely watered-down in order to be
disseminated to all the MTV junkies in the form of Buzz
Clips or Alternative Nation videos. This spineless music
that takes no risks shoots right up the charts while artists
with real soul like The Cynics, The Humpers and Billy
Childish play small clubs and make independent record-
Most likely, they are happy there where they don't
have to deal with the fickle mass audiences. However, the
fact that they don't get the recognition they deserve while
U2 makes more musical masturbation like "Lemon" or
"Numb" is enough to make this critic want to drop a bomb
on the next Zoo TV concert site.
In the end, I can only say that there are two types of
rock music - good and bad. It's up to individuals to make
their own decisions about their tastes. Just don't let MTV
make up your mind about what's "cool" or "alternative"
by labeling these artists and playing their videos millions
of times a day. Look around yourself. Write independent
record companies or listen to independent radio stations.
Find the real shit.
All of these movies are chock-full of
big bombs, good Americans fighting
evil Germans and heroes escaping
Armageddon to live happily ever af-
ter. This may be entertainment, but
this is not war.
"A Midnight Clear," based on
William Wharton's novel, is a much
quieter and much more engrossing
drama than most Hollywood V-Day
productions. In the winter of 1944, an
American intelligence division is sent
to an abandoned chateau in France to
set up a scout post. While there, this
group of six young men encounters
exhausted German soldiers eager to
surrender. With some haphazard trans-
lation and a lot of emphatic gesturing,
a truce is established and a plan for a
peaceful surrender is put under way.
The plot is fairly simple, and it is
because of this simplicity that the
characters and the images of the film
achieve such great significance.
Ethan Hawke is Will Knott, the
squad's leader. Knott fully under-
stands the military's hypocrisy and
the consequences of the mindless
deaths of so many young soldiers.
Hawke's narration throughout the film
creates an intimacy with his character
and the rest of the squad, while at the
same time revealing his pain. His in-
telligence and emotion vitalize his
character, making him a sympathetic
and compassionate leader for the
The rest of the cast turn in equally
admirable performances. Gary Sinise
is Mother, the weary, unstable sage of
the group. Frank Whaley is Father, a
would-be priest who is the most opti-
mistic and elated at the Germans'
friendly overtures. Kevin Dillon's
Avakian is the real soldier of the
bunch, numbed by all the horrors he
has seen, but still silently hoping for a
reprieve from his hell. John C.
McGinley is chilling as the former
mortician Major Griffen who is more
concerned about his razor than his
In the chateau, away from the front
lines, the soldiers attempt to rejoin
humanity. But the war, just when they
are almost beyond its reach, refuses to
Gary Sinise plays Mother Wilkins, the wise, unstable soldier of the division.
spare them. Its dehumanization and
destructiveness are impossible to es-
cape and, as the film's final scene
suggests, are pervasive and long last-
ing. The war is not about glory and
honor; it is about the death which
strikes unjustly and uncontrollably, it
is about boys forced to act as men, and
it is about losing innocence and hope.
Writer-director Keith Gordon
must be praised not only for com-
manding such persuasive perfor-
mances but also for creating such a
striking, honest depiction of the sol-
diers' experiences. The bleakness of
the snow and mud compliment the
bleakness of the situation. Haunting
music emphasizes tragedy and
Gordon's technique of fading scenes
to black and then cutting to explosive
action produces not only a sense of
urgency and danger, but also creates a
documentary feel. The sarcastic hu-
mor and sometimes silly, juvenile
behavior of the squad not only save
the picture from being too heavy, but
also remind the audience that the sol-
diers are, after all, just boys.
This film is not a sugarcoated pro-
paganda reel about the rewards of
patriotism. It is instead a beautiful
and potent tale of relationships forged
and tainted by war. The message is
clear. The emotions are strong. The
ideas are honest. One of the most
overlooked films of the past few years;
"A Midnight Clear" shines brightly
with good reason.
A MIDNIGHT CLEAR is available
at most video stores.
* 13" OR 19" Screens
" Color and Cable Ready
F ree Delivery
Rent now until April 20 for:
CALL: 763-1661 or 624-2282
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UMGASS presents Gilbert and Sullivan's most aesthetic farce -
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