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January 29, 2001 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-01-29

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Put on your dancing shoes...
Leck out the classic MGM musical
aster Parade" staring Fred Astaire
and Judy Garland, playing at The
Michigan Theater. 7 p.m.

ARTS

MONDAY
JANUARY 29, 2001

A

michigandaily.com /arts

JEFF DANIELS DOUBLE FEATURE

Daniels dishes on
Hollywood, 'Escanaba'

Purple Rose production
features 'Yooper' humor

By Christopher Cousino
.I Daily Arts Writer

By Lyle Henretty
ly Film Editor
Jeff Daniels minces no words when it
comes to naming his inspiration for writ-
ing, directing and starring in his latest
film, "Escanaba in da Moonlight." "I've
wanted to do all three ever since working
with Woody Allen on the 'Purple Rose
of Cairo' in 1985." The Michigan native
and star of such eclectic films as "Dumb
Dumber," "Terms of Endearment,"
"101 Dalmatians" discussed his new
film with The Michigan Daily.
Daniels enjoys the power of having
creative control over every aspect of his
film, including producing. This is the
first film financed by his Purple Rose
Films. "As an actor, you're kind of a
hired gun. Instead of being overwhelmed
by [being a director, actor, and writer] all
three of those people, who all happened
to be me, ended up trying to make the
same movie. That doesn't always hap-
As producer, Daniels hired most of his
own cast from the Purple Rose Theater's
stage production of "Escanaba,"
Michigan's longest running play. "These
guys had literally played these roles five
hundred times, so any nerves they had
about working on their first big film set
disappeared."
Daniels, as Rueben Soady, a Michigan
n who is a disgrace to his hunting
tamily because he, at 43 years of age, has
never bagged a buck, anchors the cast.
Character actor Harve Presnell, best
know for his role as the tough-as-nails
Wade Gustafson in "Fargo" plays the
patriarch of the Soady family. Daniels
has nothing but praise for Presnell, a vet-
eran of both stage and screen. "He
couldn't have been more professional,
which was a great example to the 'Purple
Rose' guys, who are all pros, but here's
' a real pro acts on a movie set."
The movie was filmed on location in
Escanaba, Michigan, a small upper-
peninsula town that wasn't used to the
Hollywood treatment. "They were

thrilled that we were there. Whatever we
needed, we had three of them in half an
hour. It was constantly like that."
When asked about the "Yoopers"
notorious dislike for tourists that come
across the Mackinaw Bridge, Daniels
had to admit that not everyone was
thrilled to see them. "There were a few
guys with the pick-up trucks and the gun
racks that said 'Go back to Hollywood.'
There were those that felt we were just
making fun of them, but these were peo-
ple that had not read the script, didn't
know the story, and were just judging,
preconceived notions." '
The film version of ."Escanaba"
opened this past weekend in Michigan,
and is currently,seeking a studio for
wide distribution. Daniels continues to
split his career from big budget
Hollywood blockbusters ("Speed"),
and running the Purple Rose Theater
in Chelsea, Michigan. The actor feels
that the mid-
west's talent pool
has not been
fully exploited.
Despite the
growing national -
popularity of the
theater, Daniels,
promises to
maintain the dis-
tinct Michigan'
flavor of his pro-
ductions.
"It's what got
us here. We will
always hold true{
because it's
important to me,
to the mission, to
workshop and produce mid-westefn
writers and actors."
He admits that the Theater Company
still receives many bad plays, and that
they cannot teach talent. "The trick is
finding a writer that has a voice ... If
you can find somebody who can think
funny and write funny, the structure
and the story work, we can teach them

So Jeff Daniels decides to make a
movie about Michigan (the fair city of
Escanaba in the U. P. to be exact). Yes,
the first Purple Rose Films produc-
tion, "Escanaba in Da Moonlight," a

film written and
Escanaba in
Da Moonlight
Grade: B-
At Showcase
and Quality 16

Courtesy of Jeff Daniels
Above: Jeff Daniels on the set of "Escanaba in Da Moonlight."
Below: Reuben Soady (Jeff Daniels) gets ready to face Maximus in the Yooper Dome.-

irected by Daniels
and based off his
play of the same
name. With its
localized
Michigan speci-
ficity, it's chock
full of jokes
about "The
B r i d g e,"
Mackinaw
"fudge suckers,"
sap laden
whiskey and a
good 'ol game of
euchre to boot.
Through the
eyes of pop
Soady (Harve
Presnell), we go
back to the start
of deer season at
the Soady deer
camp in 1989.
43-year-old
Reuben Soady
(Daniels) heads
out for another
year of supposed
cursed luck: This
poor sap has
never shot a deer
in his life.
When he
arrives to camp
"Is this the Soady

taking a meaty crap).
When younger brother Remnar
(Joey Albright) pulls up with a free
case of Lienankugel (which he wins
through a rather hilarious trashy bar
contest), hunting season has begun -
and hijinks sure are afoot. After Albert
discovers the Soady whisky all turned
to sap, the crazy local former UFO
abductee Jimmer (David Albright)
shows up with wild stories that his
"Chevy shook a shit," and ignited on
fire.
Though the group doesn't get too
riled about this rather random occur-
rence, when Reuben's 'euchre hand
turns to twos and threes when "there
aint twos and threes for miles." the
curse upon poor Reuben seems to
some to light - in more ways than
one.
Daniels' rather sweet, romantic
world of the Soady deer camp is most-
ly about fun, family, flatulence and
face (saving Reuben's, that is, for
being the oldest Soady not to bag a'
buck). This film, though, packed with
regional Michigan humor (it's- only
being released so far in select
Michigan theaters), works on the larg-
er level of continuing a family legacy
and living up to what your family
establishes as a standard.
Daniels and his supporting cast of
local unknowns (wonderfully matched
by the spastic, ridiculous glory of
Albright's Jimmer from Menominee)
pull this film along some of its rather
shoddy, too out-of-this-script-world
extraterrestrial parts. While
"Escanaba" loses its focus at times,
foraying off into a lame explanation
about God and the DNR, the main
crux of the film (the Soady family)
stays true to its yooperness.
It's not the funniest film and
Daniels' blocking at times feels a little
too stagey; but damn, it captures the
fine spirit of Michigan at the start of
deer season. As Remnar gleefully pro-
claims, "It's like Christmas with
guns.

to do that, but you can't teach someone
to have a voice, and you can't teach
them to be funny.
Daniels has just finished the fourth
draft of the second film he hopes to
produce with Purple Rose Films. It is a
comedy about a door-to-door vacuum
cleaner salesman and Daniels plans to
film it somewhere in southeastern

Michigan. That is, assuming that
"Escanaba in da Moonlight" is suc-
cessful. Even for a big Hollywood
actor, the success of his labor of love is
important. "We're hoping the movie
does well enough to keep going."
And if that means more films for
and by Michigan natives, then we're
right with you, Mr. Daniels.

with the traditional

Deer Camp?" shout to his father
Albert (Presnell), we know the route
this film is goirg to take - a more
goofy, romanticized vision of what
deer hunting is all about (yes, the only
time Bambi actually bites the big one
occurs when imbecile cousin Walter
shoots one from the outhouse while

Praise for Dave (not Matthews); Douglas ignites Kerrytown

By John Uhl
ly Arts Writer

By the time the first fully articulated
tone sprang from his trumpet, Dave
Douglas had already played something
unspeakably sublime.
As the band began "Charms of the

Night Sky," the title
album, the audience
I ~
* Dave
Douglas
Kerrytown
Concert House
Jan. 26, 2001
tones and Douglas

e track from its first
e was already antici-
pating the sweep-
ing trumpet andN
violin melody that
would follow Greg
Cohen and Guy
K I uc ev sek 's
twelve-bar blss
and accordion
preface. Cohen's
bass played a sim-
ple half-syncopat-
ed.rhythm in medi--
um tempo that
Klucevsek embell-
ished with pairs of
long, apprehensive
hovered around his

Concert House, Doglas shrugged off the
boisterous crowd's salute with, "I'm just a
guy trying to play some music." He jest-
fully strutted back on stage for his encore,
striking muscle-flexing Superman poses
and exaggerated an enthusiastic thank
you to his record company for making the
performance possible.
Douglas' four-record deal with
RCA/Victor is .one of the most hopeful
recent signs to suggest that other trends in
experimental improvised niusic' could
find a broader audience. The contract's
first product, last year's Soul on Soul, was
an award-winner. But the album's fairly
traditional-sounding sextet tribute to the
legendary pianist Mary Lou Williams was
doubtlessly less shocking to mainstream
jazz audiences than the quirky trumpet,
violin, accordion and bass instrumenta-
tion on A Thousand Eveniings and the
quartet'stendency to delve into tango,
klezmer, Balkan folk and classical music.
Douglas agrees that "some people
come into it thinking 'oh, this is going to
be some kind of avant-gardeprvject,"'but
doesn't feel that his music is inaccessible.
"I don't think the music itself is
extremely far out. I'm just interested in
having it sound fresh and new."
Listeners who pay attention to the
music of the quartet will find that, while
drawing on the phrasings, harmonies,
inflections and forms of a multitude of

musical forms, the band often Tfunctions
in precisely the same manner as any jazz
combo. On A Thousand Evenings, the
Nat Adderly tune "The Little Boy with
the Sad Eyes" swings, from the three-hit
call and response of melody and accom-
paniment to Mark Feldman's motively-
structured, Newk-like violin solo.
"I try to make everything I do not fit
into any smooth category. As a matter of
fact, that's what I'm fighting against."
Purists often consider, such genre bend-
ing within the jazz idiom as blasphemous
and, though all of Douglas' solos are
laden with variations, distortions and
clever juxtapositions of bebop phrases,
some may have trouble seeing past the
band's seemingly unorthodox instrumen-
tal composition. Which is silly, since the
trumpet, violin and bass have all been a
part of jazz for the better part of its histo-
ry and Klucevsek frequently makes his
accordion sound just like an organ (an
instrument that is anything but foreign to
jazz).
Moreover, this quartet is a band, a
well-rehearsed group of musicians who
are extremely experienced and comfort-
able performing together. And that's a
quality that has been lacking in main-
stream jazz for a number of years.
It's hardly even appropriate to call Guy
Klucevsek, Mark Feldman and Greg
Cohen sidemen since each is such a fresh

and resourceful master of his own instru-
ment. In fact, the individual presence of
each quartet member is so strong that the
band often only employs the playing of all
four musicians at the same time for
instances of extreme climax.
On Friday, the players rotated roles,
Cohen walking under a Douglas solo,
Douglas egging on the dueling of
Feldman and Klucevsek, constantly alter-
ing the texture of both the music's impro-
vised and composed passages so as to
make each piece a kaleidoscopic portrait
of itself. Suddenly, as on Charms of the
Night Sky's "Dance in Thy Soul," every-
one was playing and the music became so
strikingly large that it seemed the quartet
might crowd itself off the stage by means
of its own webbing emotional intensity.
Still, this is Dave Douglas' band.
Although ample space is given to feature
every member of the ensemble, the quar-
tet's construction of melody and improvi-
sation generally hinges upon Douglas'
trumpet.
The whimsical waltz "Bal Masque"
unravelled around lengthy improvised
trumpet passages. Opening the piece with
an extended unaccompanied solo,
Douglas worked into the melody, bend-
ing it into almost a blues. He later sailed
back into a solo with a fluttering series of
soaring upper register tones as rhythmi-
cally sure as the bravado of Louis

Armstrong. Mugging Satchmo while
tossing . out New Orleans blues-based
smears and hints of "Down By the
Riverside" like beads at a Big Easy street
parade, Douglas ironically transformed a
song that, on record, sounds like the
European-derrived soundtrack to a
Scicilian mafia wedding.
Such humor was prevalent throughout
the quartet's performance. In the middle
of one solo, the husky, silverhaired and
balding Klucevsek gave out a "hrhm"
groan like Peter Boyle's Frankenstein.
"Born to be wild," he said gruffly.
Douglas himself draws on so many
different squeals, smears, sputters,
whines and whinnies that it seems he
and his trumpet are joking with each
other in half a dozen different, inter-
changable voices. And it's funny. It's
funny that Douglas has created a trum-
pet style that can encompass Armstrong,
Lester Bowie, Clifford Brown, Don
Cherry, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie
Hubbard and Gustav Mahler without
sounding like anyone other than Dave
Douglas.
My favorite Douglas technique is his

. 'y
:aa
,,

' Y
"p
4
t4
x4
t4
r4
,:.a

Courtesy o avedouglas.com
Dave Douglas plays a ditty.
tendency to smudge the most climactic
note in a phrase. Building his way into
the upper register, he'll botch the key
note or hit it head on and fall off messi-
ly. Of course he could play the note per-
fectly, but flubbing the note imparts the
idea that Douglas is really struggling to
express himself. That his solo comes
from somewhere deep in his soul and is
unearthed in a painfully stirring manner.
Furthermore, it's a gesture of fallibility,
something that is refreshingly human to
hear from the modern trumpet hero.

music stand, pacing in small anxious
steps. A measure before the melody, he
pursed his lips and blew. Two sounds
emerged simultaneously Warm air mov-
ing through his horn and a soft, quivering
whistle. At such a bodeful moment in the
music, this ethereal inflection was ghost-
ly enough to be called unearthly. Yet it
was the sound of leaves rutling and
f ze passing through a chance hole in a
ti ed acorn cap: The most profoundly
earthly thing one could imagine.
Before I get any more caught up in my
own idolatry, I should say that Douglas
himself would likely frown upon such- a
sentiment. Before his second perfor-
mance on Friday night at Kerrytown
Corection
*an article printed In
the Wednesday, Jan 7
Arts seCtiio- of The
Michigan Daily
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