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October 20, 2004 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-10-20

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10A - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Singer's death overshadows 'Basement'

Tale of two friends
hi hlights 'Diaries'

By Marshall W. Lee
Daily Arts Writer

Fifteen years before his execution by
a Bolivian firing squad in 1967, Argen-
tina's Che Guevara was not an icon of
guerrilla warfare and socialist ideal-
ism. He was not yet a radical mercenary
or a repressive ruler, celebrating hatred
as the key to the revolution. Put simply,
in the spring of 1952 Che was not yet
Ch6; he was merely Ernesto Guevara, a
naive, asthmatic medical student on the
verge of discover-
ing his insurgent
spirit. The
Energetic and Motorcycle
mesmerizing,"The Diaries
Motorcycle Dia- At the
ries" recounts with Michigan Theater
glee and vigor the Focus Features
nine-month cross-
continental trek
of 23 year-old Ernesto (Gael Garcia
Bernal, "Y Tu Mama Tambien") and
his biochemist pal Alberto Granado
(Rodrigo de la Serna) aboard a junked
out 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle ironi-
cally dubbed "La Ponderosa" (The
Mighty One). Jose Rivera's screenplay
is based on the diaries both men kept
during their 8,000 mile march ttp the
spine of South America (from the snow
capped Chilean Andes to the Peruvian
Amazon), a journey of self-discov-
ery that would serve as the impetus
to young Ernesto's nascent social and
political enlightenment. The challenge
for director Walter Salles ("Central
Station"), then, is twofold: to keep the
jaunt interesting for audiences who
don't know or don't care that Guevara
would later become one of the 20th
century's most recognizable rebels,
and to refrain from exploiting the sym-
pathies of liberals who have the icon's
grizzled mug plastered across their

vintage T-shirts.
Fortunately, Salles is an extraordi-
nary and intelligent director who is more
interested in who the two boys are than
in what they will inevitably become,
and "The Motorcycle Diaries," for all its
humor and pathos, is essentially a gor-
geous, dreamy travelogue. In terms of
dramatic build, the movie is sometimes
lacking. The knowledge that the events
depicted onscreen are grounded in real-
ity doesn't prevent them from tending
towards the disconnected and the anti-
climactic. Still, much of the film's power
is in its slowing arc, in Salles explora-
tion of one man's subtle but significant
transformation over the course of a long
and fantastic journey. Much credit goes
to the charismatic Bernal, who refuses
to overplay the role. After discovering
the sorry state of indigenous Chilean
mine workers, he reacts with a con-
flicted outrage and fury entirely devoid
of ostentation, and in this moment the
audience can see fully all that Ernesto is
and all that Ch6 will become.
Shot in both 16 and 35 mm film in 30
locations along the actual route of Gue-
vara and Granado's travels, the film uses
local actors from each region to create a
road-map of weary faces, images peri-
odically captured in black-and-white
stills which suggest the sensation of a
painful and haunting memory. French
cinematographer Eric Gautier's camera
has a frenetic, wild energy that occa-
sionally catches and lingers on small
but significant human moments framed
by the expansive, conflicted beauty of
South America. The continent, like the
two young men bounding through it in
a reckless, romantic search for adven-
ture, has the repressed and wild energy
of a gathering storm. The film ends
on the anxious and uncertain verge of
this climax, with a silent and somber
Ernesto staring down from the sky at
the country which has changed him
and which he is determined to change.

By Alex Woisky
Daily Arts Editor
Throughout his 10-year career, Elliott Smith walked
a fine line between his public and private self. From his
early recordings on Kill Rock Stars - which displayed
a quiet, somber Smith, composing almost all of his songs
with just a guitar - to his most public moment - a gut-
wrenching live performance of his Oscar-nominatedsong
"Miss Misery" at the 1997 Academy Awards - Smith
always preferred solitude.
Yesterday, one year after his apparent suicide, his
fatmily has released his unfin-
ished sixth album, From a Base-
ment on tite Hill. Appropriately, Elliott Smith
the album reads like a suicide From a Basement
note. Much like many other sui- on the Hill
cide victims in rock's canon, such Anti
as Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain,
Smith's brutally honest lyrics
touch an open nerve for many, inviting memories of
his untimely death, and ultimately overshadowing any
growth Smith had hoped to achieve.
His fear of public exposure, seen throughout every-
thing he did, comes through in full frame throughout
Basement. The to-fi recording techniques and intimacy
of every song show how comfortable Smith was record-
ing by himself. "Memory Lane" paints Smith as a cau-
tious observer, singing, "If its your decision to be open
about yourself!/ Be careful or else."
Smith sang and played nearly every instrument on
Basement himself, from the swirling guitars on the
opener "Coast to Coast" to the multi-layered vocals
on the album's standout track, the stunning closer "A
Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to be Free." The
instruments throughout the album don't have the bright,
full-bodied feeling of his past two efforts Figure 8 and
XO; instead, there's an erratic feeling to Basement -
full-bodied guitars with warm tones, fall into swilling,
tinny guitars in a heartbeat.
Basement again solidifies Smith's nearly obsessive
attitude toward musical icons and his idol the Beatles,
their methods and arrangements. His melodies rise and
fall over smooth chord changes, shifting from major to


Elliott Smith's "From a Basement on the Hill" follows a trend of posthumous releases.

minor to major progressions without missing a beat. The
arrangements mirror some of Lennon/McCartney's most
experimental song structures and echo their most distinc-
tive studio methods - simplistic drumming, overarching
vocal harmonies, abruptstyle changes, tape manipulations,
decoy introductions and expansive codas.
Similarly, Smith admired The Beatles' way of paint-
ing depressing lyrics and overtones on top of bright,
optimistic music. On "Strung Out Again," Smith plain-
tively deals with suicide, singing "I know my place /
Hate my face / I know how I began / and how I'll end."
Throughout Basement, he makes constant references to
his past drug abuses and severe depression. He notes
on "A Fond Farewell," "Veins full of disappearing ink /
Vomiting in the kitchen sink / This is not my life."

Although he's always said that his music wasn't autobio-
graphical, it's impossible to hear Basement without think-
ing of his death and, in effect, this acts as a disservice to an
album attempting to make musical strides. Had he lived,
the songs would've stood fine on their own like his previ-
ous albums that all focused on the same subject matter as
Basement. However, in his wake, it's seen as a death letter
and it becomes easy to ignore the many facets of Smith's
songs. His attempt to get away from the clean studio pro-
duction values of his two DreamWorks releases becomes
tampered by Basement's unevenness and intense focus on
Smith's words. And, although the songs don't have to be
about Smith, they demonstrate how well he understood
depression and longing for oblivion, and how he could turn
his own personal torment into grace.

New MTV reality program all washed up


By Brandon Harig
Daily Arts Writer
TV RE-vir-W i
Orange County is the new New
York City. Television lately has creat-
ed some special mystery and excite-
ment about this rich West Coast area
that has spurred numerous dramas
including, of course, FOX's "The
O.C." MTV has jumped on the pop-
ularity of this blip on the map and
released "Laguna Beach."
Heralded as "The Real Orange
County," "Laguna Beach" is a reality
show that tells the story of eight teen-
agers' summers. The cast, Stephen,
LC, Kristin, Christina, Trey, Mor-

gan, Lo and Talan, are all considered
to be in the same clique composed
of high school juniors and seniors.
Established as a "Real World" for
high schoolers, the cameras capture
select moments of their lives in eerily
clear and nearly cinematic qual-
ity shots. MTV heralds the show for
its drama, hoping new viewers will
catch an episode
and be hooked by
the fact that there Laguna
are no scripts. Beach
The show is, Tuesdays at
quite simply, a 10:30 p.m.
rehash of MTV's MTV
previous show
"Rich Girls" with
three more girls and three more
guys. The cast comes from such a
privileged background that their
problems seem very insignificant.
While shows like "Real World" can
handle difficult problems of racism
or cast naiveti, not to mention nudity
and drunken debauchery, "Laguna
Beach" only captures behind-the-
back squabbling and beach fun.
Enjoyment may only come from

Life's a beach and then you die.
watching the two main girls, L.C.
and Kristin, bicker and fight over the
"hunk" Stephen. The series' climax
will assuredly be his choice between
the two, but the question is if anyone
will care by that point, given how the
girls behave and fight.
On the upside, for those who enjoy
nuggets of wisdom from the likes
of Jessica Simpson or Anna Nicole
Smith, each show has its own "what
did she just say?" moment. Regular
viewers will hear such one-liners as
"You and Stephen's babies would
look so cute. He's so ... tan." It's kind

of entertaining when it comes from a
celebrity but in the case of this show,
it gets tiresome quickly.
Stephen describes the series best
on the show's website when he states,
in regards to misconceptions of kids
from Laguna Beach, "I for one am
not rich, however, I may be a bitch."
Assuredly pushed to take advantage
of the now-waning reality trend,
"Laguna Beach" is merely a reminder
to any post-adolescent how glad they
are to be out of high school, regard-
less how much sun and surf the coast
has to offer.


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