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September 28, 2004 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-09-28

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 9

Indie favorites Interpol stay true to form
By Andrew M. Gaerig -
Daily Music Editor
MEEN

"Stop staring at my eyes."
'Dirty' jokes unable to
salvage flawed film

By Zac Peskowitz
Daily Film Editor
Writer and director John Waters
("Hairspray"), the master of the gross-
out comedy, is back with a new entry in
the genre, "A Dirty Shame." Waters's
usually adroit ability to push the bounds
of humor within the confines of a tightly
crafted plot is nowhere to be found in
this deeply flawed
film.
"A Dirty Shame" A Dirty
has all the ribald Shame
puns and disgust- At State Theater
ing sight gags that and Showcase
are the hallmarks New Line
of a Waters film,
but they continu-
ously fall flat. The film will probably
make the audience queasy at times, but
there isn't enough humor to counteract
the nausea.
Sylvia Stickles (Tracy Ullman, TV's
"The Tracy Ullman Show") is a Bal-
timore woman with a typical litany of
suburban complaints - dreary house-
work, a self-absorbed husband, prying
neighbors - and one rather atypical
problem. Stickles's daughter is a sex-
crazed stripper who goes by the nom
de guerre Ursula Udders (Selma Blair,
"Legally Blonde"). Sylvia is trans-
formed after a chance meeting with
Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville, "Jackass:
The Movie"), a full-service repairman
who gives her a libidinous lease on life.
Sylvia proceeds to cavort with her las-
civious neighbors, and Harford Road is
mutated into a pleasure dome of carnal
carnivals. Stickles's mother forms a
rival faction known as the Neuters and
they quickly launch a movement to stop

the outbreak of anomie.
The film depends on tortured plot
techniques to advance the action. The
characters shift between bouts of lust-
fulness and chastity when they suffer
head injuries. This would be a forgivable
omission if "A Dirty Shame" featured
the rapid-fire witticisms that Waters usu-
ally dollops throughout his screenplays.
Waters is content to substitute lifeless
lines like Ray Ray's favorite imperative,
"Let's go sexing," for droll quips. After
watching men straddling jack hammers
and trash cans, few laughs can be found
when Waters depicts a man straddling a
- get this! - wheel chair. The cast of
"A Dirty Shame" delivers its material
without zest and fails to liven up the film.
While Waters can usually be counted
on to deliver outrageous and visually
stimulating sets and costumes, "A Dirty
Shame" even disappoints on this front.
Perhaps the most troubled aspect of the
film is the inability of Waters to generate
much interest in his characters. The Neu-
ters and their sex-crazed rivals are more
annoying than intriguing. Both factions
are close-minded and attempt to push
their ideals on others. The Neuters parade
through the streets of Baltimore with
signs proclaiming "Down with Diversity"
and "No More Tolerance." Ray Ray and
Sylvia's band of libertines perform their
most provocative deeds in the lawns of
their neighbors and turn life on Harford
Road into a Roman holiday. Beneath the
sex jokes, the characters are a collection
of brutal, bullying figures. Unlike "Hair-
spray," which forced the viewer to pick
sides and become emotionally invested
in a zany struggle against prejudice, "A
Dirty Shame" leaves the audience hoping
that the squabbling will come to an end
and the adventures on Harford Road will
mercifully disappear from the screen.

The notion of "instant history" is a popular
topic of discussion among sports analysts. For
years, it was considered sacrilege to suggest
that a current player - Peyton Manning, Barry
Bonds, etc. - is as talented a "legend." That
refusal to anoint likely has two motives. The first
is the analysts' tendency to wait until a player
has stepped down before carving a niche in his-
tory. The second, more subjective reason is sen-
timentality: Everyone knows Albert Pujols is an
outstanding young ballplayer, but few are willing
to admit he's eclipsing Joltin'
Joe DiMaggio.
Music critics would ben- Interpol
efit greatly from the same Antics
"instant history" discussion Matador
that has finally shed light on________
the amazing feats of active
athletes. Critics are notoriously reticent to place
modern-day albums on the same pedestal as the
"classics." For all the praise heaped upon Radio-
head, few are willing to place it next to the best of
The Smiths. This reluctance undercuts the impor-
tance of modern artists: Sure, the current state of
music doesn't hold a candle to the glory days of
the mid-'60s, but surely a handful of today's best
are approaching those heights.
History plays an especially important role for
a young band like Interpol. They aspire to great
heights: 2002's Turn On the Bright Lights was
a haunting, majestic record that immediately
launched them into the upper echelon of rock
bands. The constant comparisons the band drew
to post-punk legends Joy Division and Echo and
the Bunnymen dogged the band's reputation and
gave naysayers plenty of ammo: Interpol were
too derivative, too indebted and too unoriginal
to be great.
The professional sports parallels are intrigu-
ing: Bands often suffer the same sophomore
drop-off that acclaimed rookies do, their second
outings boiling over with pressure and expecta-
tions. Antics is a record that many would happily
see fall on its face. Interpol was clearly toying
with the gods on their last album, dipping their
toes into water too fine for their bloodline.
It's odd, then, that Antics sounds more like
a refining process than a stab at the heavens.
There's no grandiose production, no 15-minute
suites, no arching theme that connects Antics to
the romantic city streets that the band is constant-
ly cast against. It's not the "statement" album that
could've catapulted Interpol onto the same can-
vass as My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division.
As it turns out, this is a blessing. Antics doesn't
vault Interpol to legendary status, but it doesn't
shove them off a cliff, either. The revisions they've
made to their sound are tasteful, calculated and
impressive. Vocalist/guitarist Paul Banks sings
with a tunefulness that he didn't even approach
on Bright Lights. The lyrical miscues that occa-
sionally doused that album are mostly gone, and
the band has trimmed down the song lengths. The

Don't hate hipsters.

production is scaled back, leaving room for the
guitars to breathe in brilliant, rhythmic glory.
In fact, the most immediate, gripping aspect of
Antics is how much the band does with so little.
The dark, swirling tunes on Bright Lights were
often obscured by the dense ambience that sur-
rounds them. Here, songs like "Slow Hands" and
"Next Exit" exhale beautifully, their clean chords
and frosty vocals cutting sharp lines. Minimal-
ism is one of the band's strengths. Their instantly
recognizable sound is, for the most part, created
solely by two guitars, a bass and a drum kit.
Of course, Banks' voice is the most familiar
element. His arresting tenor bathes the songs with
obtuse lyrics. Banks's verse is strange ("Time is
like a broken watch / I make money like Fred
Astaire"), but it's strangely humanizing and fan-
tastically erotic. His detached, art-house musings
may be the essence of cool, but it's his shit-eating
grin that's truly endearing.
When the band does dream big, it pays off.
"Take You on a Cruise" is blithely sexual, a
come-on laced in the escapism and grandeur of a
ship. On "Next Exit," Banks sings over a melting

organ, "We ain't going to town / We're going to
the city," and he sounds like the most a convinc-
ing street-dreamer junkie in New York. "Public
Pervert" is a slow, knee-scraping crawl until the
chorus bubbles up: "Swoon baby / Starry night /
May our bodies remain." Even the chiming closer,
"A Time to Be So Small" is grandiosely weary.
Antics isn't perfect: There are a handful
of songs ("Narc," "Length of Love") that are
simultaneously clever, well-written rock tunes
and the most boring music the band has ever laid
down. Nevertheless, Antics gets by because it is,
of all things, refreshingly restrained. Turn On
the Bright Lights was a surprisingly polarizing
record - the band was too young, too arrogant,
and too beholden to be as good as they clearly
were. Antics doesn't prove Interpol the preor-
dained legends that the indie prophets predict-
ed, but it does make them immeasurably more
likable. That they've taken a step back, refined
their approach and still come out on top proves
that while they're not on the plane of their influ-
ences just yet, they ,aveeyery right to hbeaiming
that high.

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