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September 27, 1999 - Image 9

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-27

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ihe Invisible World
U David Gates reads at Shaman Drum. Gates, the author of
"Preston Falls" and "Jernigan," will read from "Wonders of the
Invisible World," his new collection of short stories. 8 p.m.

Za irfit igan Daig

Tomorrow in Daily Arts:
* Read Daily Arts for a review of the new film, "The
Adventures of Sebastian Cole."
Monday
September 27, 1999

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Jakob' defies solemnitywilies
By Christopher Tkaczyk
Daily Arts Writer
If a comedy isn't funny, is it still a comedy?
Maybe the answer to the question is as subjec-
tive as its own interest, depending upon what one
finds humorous. Or maybe said comedy isn't real-
ly a comedy at all, but is posing as one to attract a
wider audience. Throw in a million dollar uberstar
comedian, weak script and a shoddy editing job,
and you have "Jakob the Liar," the film Columbia
Pictures has been claiming to be Robin William's
next Oscar victory. Surely, they're lying.
Williams stars as Jak,,b Heym, a Jewish latka
vendor living in a Nazi-controlled ghetto "some-
where in Poland" during
World War I. Because of the
war and the non-existent
economy, Heym has been
Jakob the forced to close his cafe and
Liar spend his days at the work
camp where he and the other
Jewish men tote bags of
At Showcase cement.
The beginning of the film
finds Heym, starved for news
from outside of the ghetto,
chasing a page of newspaper
being tossed about by the
wind. Later that day, in the
darkness of late evening,

i

Courtesy of Fiydaddy Records
eading the Welsh music invasion, here come the Super Furry Animals.
Furry Anmals
pive super show
Iv St~ Get ,_...-

aily Arts Writer
True originality in rock music is a
carce commodity these days. As hip-
op, techno and other digitally con-
*ed music has drawn the multitudes
way from the land of the electric guitar,
ck musicians seem to have been chas-
g their own tails in failed attempts to
atch up with their electronic brethren.
Enter the Super Furry Animals, a
and that has reversed the process. Since
ceir incarnation in the early '90s. SFA
ave transformed from a straight ahead
chno outfit to a rock band that uses
vnthesizers - or are they a techno out-
it hatuses guitars? Either way, they
a-omehow pulled off the rare feat of
amlessly meshing Beatles-rooted pop
d upbeat rock tempos with outer-
ace knob twisting and clever sam-
ling.
Having roots in techno has given the
arnd the expertise to do their own pro-
uction and studio engineering, allowing
them to construct
their records with
the layered effect
that is inherent
Uper Furry within electronic
Animals music. "Like we
Magic Stick were doing when
1999 we made techno,"
Sept. 25, guitarist Huw
"Bunf" Bunford
explains, "we
might place more
importance on the
mixing than the
recording. We do
all the producing
krselves ... even down to the editing
hen we cut the record."
Hailing from Wales, the band went
noticed for the better half of the
cade. And they are not alone. Quite to
e contrary, the unlikely location of
ales has proved recently to be a potent
servoir of young musical talent, the
es of which also include Gorky's
v ic Mynci, Catatonia and
tereophonics. "It's not really a scene,"
mments Bunford", it's just a coinci-
nce that [the UK music press] started
riting about the bands that were there.
e've all been in bands for about 12
ars. We know everyone else in
atatonia and we're friends with them,
t we don't have much in common with
em musically. We have more in com-
on with Gorky's because we use the
m producer and studio, so we get a
tr sound."
The more melodic elements of SFA's
usic, as well as their British existence,
ye led to their being lumped into the
ritpop category - you know, Suede,
asis, blah blah - by the notoriously
ekle UK music press, a label that SFA
pise. "It's a lot of shit really," asserts
gnford. "We hate Britpop and [the UK
ress) tries to market us as a Britpop
a from Wales. They're just selling
:e~.".SFA share a similar contempt
Sthe retroactive tendencies of the
ritpop camp. "It's ironic because all of
i bands that they're trying to emulate
ere ahead of their time ... so they're all
bunch of throwbacks really."

Whatever pigeonholings the British
press tries to bestow upon SFA should be
eradicated by the group's latest effort
"Guerrilla," an album that frantically
straddles as many musical styles as there
are songs on the album. From zany
calypso to scathing Stooges-style garage
punk, the album is a brilliant and
smoothly crafted exercise in variation.
As fiercely creative as SFA is in the
studio, making the transition to the stage
has also given them ample opportunity
to experiment with their music. In the
UK, SEA have gone out of their way to
make their shows memorable experi-
ences. Recently, they have been includ-
ing large horn sections to complement
their songs. More profoundly, they have
tinkered with an idea called
"quadrophenic sound" at some of their
British shows. "We were using a joystick
to rotate the sound around four speakers,
each placed in a corner of the venue,"
explains Bunford", it's white noise -
just freaking the audience out really."
Unfortunately, as their resources have
been a bit more limited, SFA have not
been able to be as adventurous with their
live sound while touring North America.
Consequently, at Detroit's the Magic
Stick - a venue not noted for its expan-
sive size -they decided to put on what
Bunford regarded as a "punk rock
show."
And that was fine by the audience.
While SFA may have focused more on
their guitar-driven songs than their more
layered ones, the band did not fail to
deliver a compelling set.
Kicking the evening off, the bizarre
new single "Wherever I Lay My Phone"
blazed through a rollercoaster of hyper-
speed "drum and bass" that eventually
segued into an uproarious freakout of
pummeling rhythm and Gruff Rhys'
heavenly falsetto singing.
Having accomplished that, the band
go down to the "punk rock." SFA added
extra speed and intensity to upbeat rock
numbers like "Bad Behavior" and "God!
Show Me Magic. " A couple of dreamy
space ballads later- "Demons" and the
delightfully Beach Boys-esque "She's
Got Spies - they unleashed the relent-
less sonic fury of "Nightvision."
A track from "Guerrilla,"
"Nightvision" bulldozed the audience in
the form of an armored tank built of
heavy metal and manned by Iggy and the
Stooges. By the song's end, Rhys was
lying flailing on the stage and screaming
like a wounded animal into a voice har-
monizer. Intense, you bet.
The brilliantly extended funkathon of
"The Man Don't Give a Fuck" proved to
be a worthy successor to "Nightvision"'s
reign of terror and thus concluded SA's
90-minute set.
Is the world ready for the Super Furry
Animals? Probably not, at least not the
brainwashed masses in America who eat
up radio fodder and think that Limp
Bizkit is cutting edge. But, while world
domination may be a little beyond their
sights, SEA have given those who are
fortunate enough to pay attention a fan-
tastic little corner of the musical uni-
verse. Superfurrydom -- and what a
wonderful place it is.

Heym is still chasing same scrap of paper, now
past parietal curfew and in the dangerous territory
of Nazi no-nos.
In the highly controlled ghetto, news of the out-
side world is forbidden, as are the possession of
newspapers or radios.
He is sent to the offices outside of the ghetto to
see a Nazi officer for punishment and, by accident,
hears via radio broadcast that the Russian army is
400 kilometers away and that Nazi forces are
unable to hold the lines.
After being sent back to the ghetto by the offi-
cer sans punishment, Heym bumps into 10 year-
old runaway Jewish girl, Lina, who broke free
from a concentration camp-bound train and, like
Heym, is trying to sneak back into the ghetto after
the gates have been locked. During a tender
moment of duty, widowed Heym realizes that his
function is to hide the girl in his attic. If this movie
had been set in the lower country, this review
would read a bit differently. Heym keeps the pres-
ence of the girl a secret from his friends for fear
that her discovery would lead to the most dire of
punishments.
The next day, Heym tells a friend, Mischa, about
the closeness of the Russians and the nearness of
freedom. Excited, Mischa demands to know the
source of the news. For reasons unexplained,
though probably for fear of life, Heym doesn't dis-
close his listening to the radio in the Nazi office,
and uses the packaged "I just know and, you have
to believe me" line.
Even though Heym denies any secrecy of a
radio, Mischa rationalizes that if Heym had a radio
he would hope to keep it secret by denying any
possession of it. Of course, all gossip travels fast
and soon the whole ghetto knows of Jakob Heym
and his radio.
The only lie Heym actually tells to his fellow
men is that he has the radio. An exaggeration of
American involvement is explained at one point,
and a speech by Winston Churchill is concocted to
quench the men's thirst for news about the war.
The moral of "Jakob the Liar" arrives in a par-
ticularly moving scene when Heym and Kowalsky
(played effectively by Bob Balaban) realize that
the lies deliver a sense of hope that, in more ways
than one, is keeping the Polish Jews of the ghetto
alive. The suicide rate is down and there is a newly
determined strength in seeing the war to its end.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Robin Williams brings hope to his fellow ghetto inhabitants In "Jakob the Liar."

WARNING, DON'T READ IF YOU DON'T
WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING ... EVEN
THOUGH YOU CAN PROBABLY GUESS
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN ...
But the audience is left questioning the affabili-
tv of a such a moral, especially when the outcome
of the war and the imprisoned Jews are unaffected
by Heym's lies. In the end, after Heym is tortured
by the Nazis to reveal the location of his purport-
ed "radio," he is given the chance to reveal to the
ghetto villagers that the radio was a lie.
The maddening gallows scene could possibly
have worked if Williams had shouted "Freedom!"
before an untimely death.
He remains silent, however, and the brilliant
hope within the people lives on while he is shot
down to reality. His death is turned down a notch,
and, although still effective, draws more tears
from shock than for glory. Jakob Heym is no mar-
tyr because his cause and the hope are extin-
guished by his gruesome death, regardless if such
a radio had actually existed. The once-hushed
onlookers break into screams of terror and run for
it. Where to is unknown.
OKAY, YOU CAN READ AGAIN ...
For as potentially strong as "Jakob the Liar"
could be, it is a disappointment that director and
Holocaust survivor Peter Kassovitz didn't do more
with the story.
The scenes between Heym and Lina are tender
and redeem the film from its senseless supposed
dialogue and slow plot development. The editors
also should've screened the film a bit more close-
ly, as the overhead boom microphone can be spot-

ted in more than one scene, making the audience
realize that, yes, it's only a movie.
Jakob Heym is-a liar based on a few fibs that
got the proverbial ball rolling, and the citizens oL
the unnamed Polish ghetto are the main contribu-
tors to the fornicative tragedy, which, of course,
by the Hollywood Bible, must result in the unfor-
tunate death of a simple do-gooder with the tell-
tale heart.
A liar is a liar by any standards. It only takes
one killing to make a Nazi a murderer and Jakob
Heym only needs to spread one fib to be con-
demned.
But he really isn't the liar, the film proclaims
him to be. The true moral of "Jakob the Liar"
should've been: Yes, it's a sin to tell a lie, but
redemption is assured if the lie is bound to some
higher cause, such as the sustaining of hope.
The dramatic performances in "Jakob the Liar"
are good. Alan Arkin does a fine job as an out-of-
work actor/father and Hannah Taylor-Gordon as
Lina brings a serious interest to Jakob Heym's
story. Their foster parent-child relationship is what
gives Heym a pulse and reminds the audience that
he isn't just a liar.
There's nothing funny about "Jakob the Liar."
As seems to be the formula for all of Williams'
films, a silly improvisational scene featuring his
famous knack for entertainment is included.
Throwing a comedian into the drama is like throw-
ing a wrench into the iron works or dropping an
atomic bomb to end a war. Sure, you're going to
please a few people, but the sensibly informed will
be sickened.

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