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September 10, 1997 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1997-09-10

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10 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 10, 1997

Snobby 'Mourner' is desi1

By Michael Zilberman
Daily Arts Writer
"The Designated Mourner" is one of
those minuscule, deliberately anti-cine-
matic movies that Wallace Shawn, Tom
Noonan and the rest of the NYC theatri-
cal elite periodically bother to produce;
these films serve primarily as acting
showcases for their cast and attention-
span exercises for the
rest of us.
"Mourner," a R
British-based pro- Th
duction of. Wallace
Shawn's eponymous
play, is comprised of
passively filmed
soliloquies delivered
by Mike Nichols (the famous director in
his first onscreen appearance) and
Miranda Richardson. The focus is kept
on Nichols, a husband who couldn't
stand the ultra-intellectual ways of his
spouse's poet dad and split - good tim-
ing, too, as the government of their
unnamed country starts methodically
wiping out the literary elite.
The premise is that our hero is left as
a lone - and increasingly reluctant -
remnant of high culture in a post-cultur-


al world, consciously resigned to
pornography and celebrity blather: the
designated mourner of the title. All of
this allows for ample doses of tedium
and snobbery, and the film ladles on
both with great enthusiasm.
Much has been made of the style
Shawn's characters explicate themselves
in - a slightly off-putting mixture of
poetry and colloqui-
alisms, which I pre-
V I E W sume sounds
Designated intriguing on stage.
Mourner On film, however, it
mostly underscores
the complete and
At Michigan utter unreality of the
proceedings. Some
of it is saved, oddly enough, by Mike
Nichols' spontaneous reading: lines like
"The past and the future don't exist. i
mean, where are they?" are made more
than tolerable by our growing suspicion
that he is making them up on the spot
(which is not true).
To his credit, Shawn manages to eat
his cake and rub it into our faces, too, as
his characters' Bergmanesque bull ends
up commenting on itself better than any
critic would. "You ask me to understand

gnated borg
our relation to each other. I can't even
understand my relation to my own ass! 1
mean, I saw it in the mirror the other dace
and thought - what the hell is thi?
What's it got to do with me?" Fracntri ng
of self made visual, so to speak.
Stiff and glassy-eyed, Miranda
Richardson comes off much worse than,
newcomer Nichols. Assigning her had-
ly any memorable lines (with one f
disturbing exception), the director can't
resist the temptation to use her as ian-
nequin for numerous lighting iri'cks-
arbitrary ones to boot. And that' in short,"
is the problem with this film and its.iu;
their authors seem positively at a logs s
to what to do with the art form at h4n.-
With their action confined tQ onejet-
ting and their emphasis on talking heI,
"Mourner," Tom Noonan's "Th WWif"
and others look less like movies 'tt
substitutes of a theatrical experience
folks who can't have the real off-
Broadway. And this just doesn't ,6rk:
the medium viciously resists the materi-
al. "The Designated Mourner" ieqdires '
theater-size effort yet can't offer the' tr-
style rewards. In its present state, the
product needs a specially designated

A stiff and glassy-eyed Miranda Richardson acts opposite famed director and acting newcomer Mike Nichols in Wallace
Shawn's anti-cinematic "The Designated Mourner."


'Little Heart' weaves big, compelling story

Evenings at the Rackham presents
"The Search for American Identity"
A lecture by Professor Lawrence W. Levine
Thursday, September 11
7:30 p.m.
University of Michigan Rackham Auditorium
(main floor)
Lawrence Levine, MacArthur Prize recipient and widely respected scholar of
American cultural history, will deliver a lecture based on his most recent
book, The Opening of the American Mind. This lecture is a must for anyone
who cares about higher education and contemporary culture.
The Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies
915 East Washington Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
(313) 764-4400

Crooked Little Heart
By Anne Lamott
Pantheon Books
Growing up, almost every kid has
heard their parents say to them, "Just
wait until you have children of your
own." In Anne Lamott's touching novel
"Crooked Little Heart", readers get a
sense of both a mother's point of view
and a budding teenager's point of view
for a tale to which almost anyone can
relate to.
Rosie Ferguson is a 13-year-old girl
who is entering the awkward time peri-
od between childhood and adult. She is
a star on the teen tennis circuit in
California who is obsessed with win-
ning, and even gets guiltily driven to
Whenever she plays, she is often
being watched by a mysterious shad-
owy man named Luther. Always lacon-
ic and sinister-looking, Luther appears
to nurse an obsession of his own with
Meanwhile, Rosie's mother Elizabeth
is a former alcoholic and a widow who,
now remarried to a writer named James,
has to fight her own demons. As Rosie
struggles with fitting in with the crowd,
winning tennis matches and dealing
with frustrations with boys, Elizabeth
must battle depression and her own

"Crooked Little Heart" is a novel that
is written with an abundance of charm
and candor. Lamott's skill at exposition
forms a lush and complex setting to
backdrop the deep characters with
whom readers can empathize.
Lamott allows readers to feel
Elizabeth's pain when she sees that her
daughter silently suffers because boys
overlook Rosie for her beautiful and
voluptuous doubles partner, Simone -
though she can do nothing about it.
Lamott also creates touch-
ing moments when
Rosie looks at the
world with
wonder as she
prepares to
make her
painful transi-
tion into a -
Rosie's fears of losing
her mother, of never developing
into a woman, of never fitting in are all
insecurities that teenagers have felt at
some point, and Lamott tells it in the
most compelling fashion.
As Elizabeth and Rosie both go
through life fighting battles of their
own and lending support to each other,
their journeys are aided by events and
people who change their lives. For
Rosie, when 14-year-old Simone gets
pregnant by an older boy, she has to
deal with issues that she had never
encountered before. Simone has to face
the reality of having a baby at such a
young age and the responsibilities that
come with it, while Rosie sticks by her
and also learns the bitter lessons. For

Elizabeth, she must come to terms with
the death of Rosie's father and her
doubts about James' fidelity.
Lamott weaves a story in a manner
that shows how all her characters are
dependent upon each other, though
occasionally also exhibiting sadistic or
masochistic behavior in their relation-
Lamott uses her characters to ask
questions such as what makes a family
stick together and what small heart-
breaks can tear the fabric
of our lives in a man-
ner that is inter-
esting, empa-
thetic and
" Crooked
Little Heart"
unfolds at a steady
pace that may or may
not appeal to a reader. While it is
compelling, and a great deal of atten-
tion is paid to the development of the
characters, nothing spectacular moves
the plot. '
The novel moves like calm waves
lapping up against a dock; the relaxing
pace that Lamott chooses to set is com-
forting but can make a few parts of the
book hard to get through.
"Crooked Little Heart" looks into the
heart of so many things that make up
our lives: friendship, relationships,
death, loss, happiness - all are dealt
with in this heartfelt novel. If nothing
else, "Crooked Little Heart" will make
you reminisce about life as an awkward
teenager and learn to approach parent-

hood with both apprehension and
-Julia uShi
. u

M 8



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Seven Tattoos: A
Memoir in the Flesh
By Peter Trachtenberg
Most teenagers have dreamed of $
ting a tattoo at some point during their
periods of rebellion. No matter what the
design or what body part to endbe11ish, a
tattoo is a sign of individuality, and
something to be looked at with admira.
tion and wonder.
But to Peter Trachtenberg, D4 seven
tattoos that mark his body re resent
much more. In his novel 'Seven
Tattoos: A Memoir in th F l eh,"
Trachtenberg delves into life in allt.
trivialities and glory through ea~
unique tattoo on his body.
The novel claims to be much more
than a collection of memories from the
author. It promises wild anthropology,
literary observations and an exploration
of the uses of body modification and
The tattoos written abou r' in
chronological order of when'h"ot
them, and each is associated w th a
ferent theme: death, sacrilege, primi-
tivism, rebellion, atonement, sado-'
masochism and downfall. Trachtenberg
brings life to his tattoos through his sto-
ries, with the stories being engraved
into his heart because of the perma-
nence of the tattoos.
Through his tattoos, Traeb~nber
tells about how he cleaned h$S'
after 13 years of heroin a s
addiction, alcohol depende n
casual sex. He speaks about thecae
both his parents from cancerZd
they affected his life and ides
even reveals his own masoche :
dencies through details about ati
doomed love affairs. As Traehte
reminisces, readers are drawn in by is
uniquely humorous and heartbreaking
Religion is a huge subject for
Trachtenberg, whose Jewish ba
ground caused him much grief, confW
sion and comfort throughout his life.
The writer discusses at length, his expe-
riences in sacrilege, which includes get-
ting a tattoo that is a facsimile of one of
Jesus's wounds. In fact, he cites that
Leviticus 19 actually forbids Hebrews
to make any markings on their flesh.
But this fact just fuels Trachtenberg into
further discussions on the basis of reli-
gion and culture, all spoken through his
touchingand often hilarious perso*@
Sadism and masochism is also thor-
oughly dealt with by Trachtenberg,
whose forever guilt is a recurring motif
in "Seven Tattoos." The most incredible
part of this memoir is how the author
creates a fictional film noir storyline as
he discusses his masochistic relation-
ships with women.
The movie involves a sailor whc
disfigurement during the war prevet
his now-married lover from recognizing
him. As Trachtenberg describes his
relationship's downfall, his imagined
movie's characters also experience a
downfall as the girl betrays the man
who dying, finally reveals himself to be
her once true love.


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