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Like hey, daddy-o that Beat Generation class just keeps on presenting
great films at the Michigan Theater. This week it's Jim Jarmusch's "Down
By Law," the namesake of a pretty hip band. Cross "Waiting for Godot,"
"Deliverance" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman," and you come close to
the cultural goulash that is this film. As a bonus, Tom Waits costars and
scores the movie. By all means, go ahead and check it out.
February S. 1995
Empty 'Mouth' feeds on style, irony
For the Daily
There is one moment toward the
finale of "In the Mouth of Madness"
when youjustknow that your brain is
in the hands of skilled professionals.
You see the movie that the film's
hero, John Trent, sees- starring John
Trent in the role of John Trent and
adapted from a novel about John Trent,
*hich John Trent did his best to pre-
vent from being written. No, I don't
exactly follow it either.
At least this is how "Madness", the
latest John Carpenter offering, wants
you to feel when you leave the theater:
dizzy and not quite sure what you just
witnessed. On apurely emotional level,
the movie overwhelms you from the
first frame. As soon as you start think-
ing about it, it falls apart.
"Madness" opens in an asylum, a
sinister structure right out of Fritz
In the Mouth of
Directed by John
Carpenter, with Sam Neill
and Julie Carmen
Lang, where Trent (Sam Neill), in a
padded cell, narrates his story to an
official-looking visitor. In the hour-
long flashback that follows, we see
Trent, a prosperous private detective,
hired by a publishing house to find
Sutter Cane, a horror writer who "out-
sells Stephen King," and whose prose
is said to have a strange impact on
sensitive readers. Cane mysteriously
disappeared just before the release of
his latest oeuvre, titled, you guessed
it, "In the Mouth of Madness". As-
sured he is about to be used in an
elaborate publicity stunt, Trent ac-
cepts the job, promptly finds secret
maps hidden in the cover art of Cane's
paperbacks (uh-huh), and ends up in
Hobbs End, a sleepy New England
town that is prominently featured in
Cane's stories but doesn't exist on
any map. There, Trent encounters
Children Of The Corn-style kiddies
and innkeepers that tend to mutate
into slimy creatures at night. Cane's
malevolent fantasies use the town as
a passage into our world.
Loose ends dangle from all sides
of the plot like the tentacles of the
rubber monsters it incorporates. Even
if Cane's writing is charged with
mysterious powers, how come the
cheesy cover artwork has the same
effect? What are Cane's motivations
(he doesn't aspire to rule the world,
he simply trashes it)? How do you
explain that the movie-within-the-
movie, filmed while Trent lay tied up
in a violent ward, stars John Trent, not
an actor playing John Trent? You
decide. "Madness" doesn't bother to
answer any of the questions it poses,
instead opting for a numbing cycle of
"and then he woke up" resolutions.
Visually, "Madness" is as stylish
as popcorn flicks get, blending tech-
niques of two genres unlikely to inter-
breed. Neill and Julie Carmen (as his
confused companion) make a nice
film noir couple - she's had some
training in "Kiss Me A Killer," he
was born to play ajaded detective. As
for the things that go bump in the
night, special effects courtesy of In-
dustrial Light and Magic are inten-
tionally old-fashioned and hokey -
so hokey that they, like the tinny
spacecraft of the "Flash Gordon" re-
from the first
framo. As soon as
you start thinkifng
about it, it falls
make, inspire pleasant nostalgia for
the days when horror was cheap, na-
ive -- and effective. The feeling is
enhanced by a clip from the infamous
B-flick with its gorilla-suited guy try-
ing to pass of as an alien.
Compared to this pure schlock,
"Madness," in its forced sophistica-
tion, serves only as a reminder of how
deep in trouble the horror genre is
these days; it is stuck in a seemingly
never-ending revisionist stage, eye-
ing itself with pointless and desperate
irony so perfectly captured in Sam
Neill's sarcastic smirk.
Not even insanity and body paint can mar the natural beauty of Sam Neil
in director John Carpenter's new psycho-horror drama extravaganza "In
the Mouth of Madness." Too bad the film doesn't make much sense.
uwe e na~fLvin. te~enicaE!i ,imuihtim
Baker drops into the Fold
'Merry' Shakespearean fun in 'Windsor'
flu E~mn McKAr . .
By Matt Benz
Daily Arts Writer
Nicholson Baker's literary forays
Inge from the sublime to the ridicu-
lous -from his article of last year in
"The New Yorker" concerning the
slow death of the card catalog system
within America's libraries to his criti-
cally acclaimed 1992 novel, "Vox,"
which has to do with phone sex.
The latter, as Mr. Baker himself
described it, is "a conversation between
two people" which he felt would be
Officultto bring across in live readings,
such as those that he is currently giving
to promote his latest novel.
"I would have to cart around two
toy telephones and be the man and be
the woman," he said. "Of course I
could have traveled around with my
wife, but no one wants to hear phone
sex between married people."
Perhaps people will instead like to
bar about the life of a man who, in
Tourth grade, discovered his ability to
as he did with "Vox." Still, the best
part for him will remain the question
and answer session that follows.
"I find out what people actually
think of me," he said. "I learn, to a
degree, whether my thoughts are
shared or not shared, where I'm nor-
mal and where I'm idiosyncratic."
One of the more entertaining as-
pects of "The Fermata" is the idiosyn-
cratic nature of Arno. He is a man who
revels in the little things of his everyday
life as a temporary office worker. He
appreciates a female co-worker, who
has just given him a business-related
memo, "for not writing 'Thanks' on her
note and not using an exclamation
point." ForBaker, now 38, much of this
He made a short-lived career out
of oil analysis ("I thought it would be
cool to have a non-writer kind of job,"
he admitted), following his gradua-
tion from Haverford as an English
major. Thereafter, he worked at some
30 different companies as a temp
where he "learned a great deal not just
about office supplies and staples but
about what can go wrong in offices
and different characters. I've got thou-
sands of pages of notes, conversa-
tions and things."
There was for him, just as there is
for Arno, acertain allure to transcribing
microcassettes. "I had alotoffun decid-
ing whether a given clause merited a
full semicolon or a dash or whether it
was really two sentences. I could bring
that to quite a scholarly decision."
Baker tried his hand briefly at tech-
nical writing, but returned to fiction
rather quickly with no small amount of
'joy and euphoria."Still, he cautioned,
"It's not an easy way to make a living.
You're just a slave to the next piece;
you finish one, and then the next month
or next week you write another."
Of his essays that have appeared in
"The New Yorker" and "Atlantic
Monthly," a notably popular one has to
do with the increased computerization
of library card catalogs across the na-
tion. In it, he argues not for their practi-
cality but for their value as bearers of
anecdotal history. Each catalog is "a
asWetelthe studentsneeded totackle
"The Fermata" - the lost Police
part of the history of that library. There
are a lot of people working in libraries
now who really havenohistorical sense.
Fortunately, a couple of places, as a
result of the article or as a result ofsome
of the shier, historically-minded librar-
ians, have successfully saved all orsome
catalogs." To this he added with a short
laugh, that there are "all sorts of satis-
factions for the industrious writer."
Presently though, it is fiction that
holds his sway. "I like writing each
book, and I get a little rest period," he
said. "I seem to write best in the fall, and
then I spend spring doing all the things
I guiltily put off in the fall."
In creating Arno and the world of
"The Fermata," Mr. Baker enlisted the
help of Suzanne Vega, playing hermusic
"very loud" as he wrote. "I wanted to
change the tone of my narrator slightly;
make him a person who wasn't exactly
me-farther away from me than some
of my earlier characters."
He also has evolved a system, of
sorts, to keep track of the little details
in life that are scattered throughout
"The Fermata" and similar such liter-
ary bric-a-brac that he hope to include
in future books. "Ihave alotofmanila
folders, hundreds of them now, and
the trick is to relate one folder to
another," he explained. "It's very
hard to take a whole heap of notes and
then somehow to put them on single
thread, but that's the fun part, too."
"Our inner lives are interesting,"
he continued. "So Ijust try to, maybe,
find the places that are interesting."
One always thinks of Shakespeare's
plays as challenging, whether for their
iambic pentameter, multiple characters
of similar names, or complex mirroring
of contemporary society. However,
when being brought to the stage, even
more complications arise. The plays
were intended for performance, but
when seen in play form rather than read
as a text, elements are very much left in
the hands of the creative forces behind
This is definitely true in the case
of the University Players' latest of-
fering, "The Merry Wives of
Windsor," running this Thursday
through Sunday at the Lydia
One of the more challenging ob-
stacles that confronted dramaturg Bert
Cardullo and director John Neville-
Andrews was how to make the play
fresh. "As in any production of
Shakespeare these days, you want to
bring something to it that others have
not," explained Cardullo, a professor in
the Department of Theatre and Drama.
"What was most important to us
was to try to do a more or less faithful
production, but we agreed that most
productions of 'Merry Wives' that ei-
ther of us had been in or seen had
slighted the realistic element in the play.
That is to say, the realistic depiction of
contemporary economic and social re-
lations between people."
The comedy revolves around Sir
John Falstaff, a former knight who has
fallen on hard times. He seeks out the
company of two married women -the
merry wives themselves - Mistress
Ford andMistress Page. The two women
play along with him, infuriating Master
Ford, who is ofajealous nature to begin
with, and who doesn't know that the
wives are just pretending in order to
make a fool of Falstaff.
Meanwhile, Master and Mistress
Page are bargaining to sell their daugh-
ter Ann in order to marry her to money,
and MasterFord, suspicious of his wife
from the outset, pays Falstaff to pursue
her amorously in order to test her loy-
alty to him.
Shakespeare, and secondly, we needed
a funny, pleasant, joyful Shakespeare
for this particular slot in the season,"
said Neville-Andrews. "We felt that
after Christmas, the weather can be
extremely awful, and people tend to get
depressed and develop cabin fever, so
we thought a Shakespeare comedy
would be good.
Cardullo cited the fact that "Merry
Wives" is seldom performed, and
though it is aplay sometimes trashed by
critics as Shakespeare's worst, he finds
Where: Lydia Mendelssohn
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
2 P~m. Sunday
Tickets: $16, $12
it endearing and appealing.
"It's the only play of his that uses a
contemporary English setting, sq it's
closer to our idea of realism," he said.
"It's set in (Shakespeare's) contempo-
rary Windsor, and it contains numerous
references - for example, the Garter
Inn - to places that you can still visit."
Another obstacle Cardullo and
Neville-Andrews confronted was the
presentation of money as motivation
for the characters. "Falstaff and Fenton
are the only aristocratic characters in
the play and both of them are invading
this community because they want to
get some of this bourgeois money,"
"This aspect of the play in every
production I've seen or read about is
lost. That's partly Shakespeare's fault.
The thematic through-line is not present
all the time, and the play becomes a
kind of bedroom farce," Cardullo said.
"It's far more than that, so we decided
to emphasize (the monetary) parts of
The money issue also involves the
play's treatment of women: the Pages
want to marry Ann off to someone rich.
Master Ford views his wife's supposed
infidelity as a violation of his posses-
"What this play shows," Cardullo
noted, "is that these middle-class women
were, in essence, a kind of property.
The female characters in this play, al-
though very strong, are still confined by
bourgeois marriage and are more or less
bartered in the play."
T'hough a comedy, "Merry Wives"
promises to be complex as well as amus-
ing. "You can take the comedy and the
farce of this play and just present that,
and that works quite well - people
enjoy that, and they don't need to think
any deeper," concluded Neville-
"We decided this time that we
would look deeper into the play and
see what else was there."
drop into the Fold. As the character
Arno Strine describes it himself, "A
Fold-drop is a period of time of vari-
able length during which I am alive
and ambulatory and thinking and look-
ing, while the rest of the world is
stopped, or paused." Being the in-
quisitive heterosexual that he is, Arno
takes these opportunities to undress
men, look at them and then replace
tneir clothes just as they were before
starting time back up again.
With a title drawn from the musi-
cal term for a pause, "The Fermata" is
abook of which Baker is "perversely
proud. It is a book that I took respon-
sibility for." And so, while on tour to
promote it, he will readpassages from
the book, rather than from a prepared
,ay on the subject of reading aloud,
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