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October 12, 2004 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-10-12

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Tuesday
October 12, 2004
arts.michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

ARTS

9

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ZAC

PESKOWITZ

Politiking Hollywood

This year has seen a much-com-
mented-upon glut of political
documentaries. The John Kerry
biopic "Going Upriver," a denun-
ciation of FOX News in the form of
director Robert Greenwald's "Out-
foxed" and the conservative Liberty
Film Festival which took place in Hol-
lywood at the beginning of October
were just some of the more prominent
offerings from the last few months.
Of course, the granddaddy of them all
was Michael Moore's polemical take
on the Bush administration, "Fahr-
enheit 9/11." Moore's blockbuster has
even promoted cinematic responses
in the form of the conservative "Cel-
sius 41.11: The Truth Behind the Lies
of Fahrenheit 9/11," the title snappily
refers to the "temperature at which the
brain begins to die."
For the most part these produc-
tions are feeble attempts to influence
electoral outcomes by showcasing the
typically tortured political logic of
the documentarian. Their tendentious
tones are a poor substitute for serious
political theorizing and tend to miss
the most intriguing questions of poli-
tics: Who wins and why?
In their 1993 classic "The War
Room," D.A. Pennebaker and Chris
Hegedus begin to answer these ques-
tions. D.A. Pennebaker, the legendary
documentarian renowned for his films
on musical legends like Bob Dylan,
Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie, and
his longtime collaborator Chris Hege-
dus teamed up to capture the evolution
of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's 1992
campaign for the presidency. From
the opening scene in the snows of the
New Hampshire primary campaign
to the victorious celebration in Little
lRock, the filmmakers meticulously
reveal the arc of the presidential cam-
paign from a perspective that focuses
on strategies. "The War Room" is an
ode to realism - the realism of both
cinema verite and politics. While
Moore constructs grandiose theories
and scans the world for footage and
facts that appear to support his ideas,

Pennebaker and Hegedus merely let
the tactics and personalities speak for
themselves. While Moore inserts him-
self into the narrative with his pomp-
ous philosophizing and wild hijinks,
Pennebaker and Hegedus take the fly
on the wall approach instead.
This signature style allows the film
to inspect the process behind political
victory. Much of the campaign staff's
time is spent on the inanities and inef-
ficiencies of a campaign. One of the
most enjoyable moments of the film
shows senior aides squabbling over
whether there should be hand-drawn
signs or printed signs during Clinton's
acceptance speech to the Democratic
National Convention. As this argument
is taking place, approximately 40 cam-
paign staffers are forced to twiddle their
thumbs. The film takes place during
the ascendancy of cable news's impor-
tance in political campaigns and much
of "The War Room" is spent watching
the Clinton campaign's attempts to
harness this new form of media to its
advantage. Deputy Campaign Manager
George Stephanopoulos spins televi-
sion reporters with devastating skill and
campaign staffers delve into opposition
research with merciless glee. This was
the first presidential campaign to be
fought in a rapid-response style with
the intention of controlling the news
cycle, and Clinton's staff spends much
of its time devising creative means to
get its candidate the best coverage and
make both President George H.W. Bush
and Reform Party nominee Ross Perot
look like fools.
To all those who hope to generate
political change through their art:
Give up now. You'll miss out on the
better story and probably become a
cheap hack in the process. Instead,
embrace the simple pleasures of polit-
ical combat and leave the conspiracy
theories behind.
- Zac's secretly planning his own
political documentary. Give him a hand
by e-mailing him at zpeskowi@umich.
edu.

lw W.J L
CHICAGO'S WILCO TEAR DOWN HILL AUDITORIUM

ABOVE: Wilco frontman Jeff
Tweedy sings during "I'm a
Wheel;" LEFT: From left, Nels
Cline, Jeff Tweedy and Jahn
Stirrat; BELOW: John Stirrat.

By Andrew M. Gaerig
Daily Music Editor

CONCE RT RE.V i EW
Wilco's meteoric rise from alt-country also-rans to noise-
mongering poster child of underground rock has been well-
documented on record: Sunnerteeth, Ycnkee Hotel Foxtrot

and this year's A Ghost Is Born all
mixed fruitful Americana with malig-
nant electronics and eerie white noise.
Live, however, the band has failed to
make such large strides: The ham-fist-
ed, "rock'n'roll" attitude that pervaded
the band's early material often rears itsl

Wilco
Sunday, Oct. 10
Hill Auditorium
head in front of an

audience. The band always performs marvelously, but the
audience is left with an awkward mix of art-school histrionics
and rock-show bombast.
For the recording A Ghost is Born and the accompanying
tour, Wilco fleshed out its lineup, adding guitarist Nels Cline
and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, which effectively
allows the band to employ at least one electric guitarist the
entire show. It seems like a marginal difference on paper, but
its impact on the show is tremendous, fleshing out the band's
sound and taking the burden of filling space off frontman Jeff
Tweedy's voice.
These factors - as well as Tweedy's newfound sobriety
- contributed to a rejuvenated band Sunday night at Hill
Auditorium. The change was notable in longtime bassist John
Stirrat, who hopped around the stage and attacked the micro-

phone with a unique charm and energy. For his part, Tweedy
brought his warm, tobacco-stained voice and several distor-
tion-fueled guitar solos. Cline, however, proved the catalyst.
His furious leads and knob-twiddling improvisations bridged
the gap between Witco's underground ambition and their
classic-rock mentality.
The setlist choices were typically excellent, with the Ghost
material taking on a life that it mostly lacks on record. "Spiders
(Kidsmoke)" was transformed into the classic-rock centerpiece
it was meant to be, while the guitar solos on "At Least That's
What You Said" burned and twisted around the room. "Hell
Is Chrome" benefited greatly from Stirrat's excellent harmony
vocals, which are far more noticeable in the live setting.
The band also dipped into its back catalog, "A Shot in
the Arm" was far more aggressive, and "Via Chicago," long
absent from the band's live repetoire, was rejuvenated by
Cline's piercing guitar and drummer Glenn Kotche's simple,
inventive rhythms. The band did fall into the "classic rock"
mode during the first encore with the laughable "Kingpin,"
but mostly just turned up and rocked out. Closing with a cover
of little-known folk artist Bill Fay's "Be Not So Fearful" was
a savvy move coming from a band that heretofore had trouble
identifying its own best material.
Wilco's transition as a studio band has outpaced their live
show - until now. The audience Sunday night was treated to
a feverish show put on by a veteran band finding its second
wind.,Wilco's new lineup isn't a dramatic transformation so
much as an essential tune-up. Watching them pull from their
increasingly impressive catalog and translate it into a gor-
geous, invigorating whole is nothing less than thrilling.

Kerry documentary
attempts to repair
trodden war image

New baseball drama
strikes out for CBS

By K. K. Schmier
For the Daily

After veterans testified to John
Kerry's heroism and leadership at the
Democratic National Convention in
August, one would hardly think it nec-
essary to make a
movie chronicling
the presidential Going
candidate's role Upriver: The
during the Viet- Long War of
nam War. So why John Kerry
did George Butler, At Showcase
a long-time friend THINKFilm
of Kerry's, create THNKim_
"Going Upriver:
The Long War of John Kerry," a film
that tells viewers information they
already know?
The answer is John O'Neill's group,
Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, which
contests Kerry's Vietnam stance. In
"Going Upriver." Butler addresses
these attacks against Kerry and clears
his friend's name. Butler first depicts
the young Kerry as an unabashed
American patriot, who volunteered to
fight in Vietnam after his graduation
from Yale.
Next, he recounts Kerry's experi-

ence on the Swift boats, the metal
crew boats that served as counter
insurgency crafts in Vietnam. Butler
does an excellent job of transport-
ing his viewers to the scene with
panoramic shots of Vietnam's mean-
dering rivers and luscious greenery.
Interspersed with these scenes of nat-
ural beauty are images of destruction.
At a particularly powerful moment
in the film, Butler captures a distant
bombing; he then inches his camera
closer and closer to the explosion until
viewers feel as though a thick cloud of
black smoke has enveloped them. His
portrayal of Vietnam as a kind of for-
bidden paradise is reinforced by the
words of Vietnam veteran and for-
mer Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who
remarked, "Vietnam was both dan-
gerous and beautiful."
Butler then effectively documents
Kerry's transition from a Vietnam
supporter to anti-war advocate. After
witnessing the atrocities committed
in Vietnam, Kerry returns to America
feeling a duty to speak out against the
war. However, Butler portrays Kerry's
participation in Vietnam protests as
an extension of his patriotism. The
high point of the film is Kerry's emo-
tionally charged 1971 speech before
the Senate Foreign Relations Com-

By Abby Stotz .
Daily Arts Writer
SIVA
"Clubhouse," CBS's latest com-
ing-of-age tale, timidly steps into the
uncharted territory of sports-drama
series. But instead
of doing the expect-
ed and focusing on Clubhouse
the brawny team Tonight at 9 p.m.
players and bois- CBS
terous managers,
"Clubhouse" puts
a squeaky-voiced 16-year-old boy at
the center of the action. This mistake
proves fatal for the series, which winds
up being unbelievably boring for any-
one not obsessed with baseball.
The squeaky voice in question
belongs to wide-eyed Pete Young (Jer-
emy Sumpter, "Peter Pan"), a baseball
fanatic who landed the after-school job
of batboy for the fictional New York
Empires. He's a good kid - too good
to be believable as a modern-day teen
- and even does his history home-
work in the dugout. His mother (Mare
Winningham, "Tru Confessions") is
a real estate agent who seems mostly
concerned with keeping his smartass
older sister Betsy (Kirsten Storms,
"Days of Our Lives") from getting
kicked out of school. In the baseball
world, Pete idolizes Conrad "Dean
of the Diamond" Dean (Dean Cain,

"Lois and Clark") and has a grand-
father figure inathe form of eccentric
equipment manager Lou (Christopher
Lloyd, "Back to the Future"). Every
episode focuses on some sort of mess
that Pete finds himself in either at
school or on the diamond.
Pete just is not unbelievable as a
teenager, and that sinks the show into
failure. It's like Beaver Cleaver got into
a time machine and found himself in
the midst of a badly-written hour-long
drama without a clue of what to do. He
seems emotionally juvenile, especially
with his childlike devotion to the game
of baseball. The other teens are far
more realistic.
Betsy is ballsy and rebellious, steal-
ing her parochial school's statue of
the Blessed Mary of Egypt and giv-
ing it a glam makeover in the series
premiere. Also effective is Pete's best
friend Mike (Dan Byrd, "A Cinderella
Story"), who buys term papers off of
the Internet and speaks eerily like
James Spader in the 1980s.
"Clubhouse" features a strong sup-
porting cast including the off-the-wall
antics of Lloyd. The writing is spotty
with out-of-left-field lines like "danc-
ing like Paris Hilton at a Greek wed-
ding." Plus, the show's main action
usually happens on the baseball field, a
huge turnoff for anyone not rabid about
the sport. Without a believable pro-
tagonist or better writing, "Clubhouse"
will never be a home run.

Read my lips ... I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

mittee, in which he says, "We could
come back to this country; we could
be quiet; we could hold our silence;
we could not tell what went on in
Vietnam, but we feel because of what
threatens this country, the fact that
the crimes threaten it, not reds, and
not redcoats but the crimes which we
are committing that threaten it, that
we have to speak out."
Here we see a young, energetic
John Kerry that seems so far removed
from the aloof Massachusetts sena-
tor, that it is difficult to imagine that
they are the same man. Although

Butler could have edited this foot-
age more carefully so that viewers
would not be found glancing at their
watches after five minutes, one would
be hard-pressed not to find Kerry's
words moving.
Butler's film will not change any
votes, because most of his viewers
will likely be Kerry supporters. To
those few for whom Butler is not
"preaching to the choir," the shots of
the presidential candidate in a heli-
copter, pensively surveying the riv-
ers of Vietnam, may seem like Kerry
propaganda.

"w'.mnvpp- I I-

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