Celebrity role playing: character vs. caricature
TH-E DAILY DISH
Everyone's a Critic
By Kristin MacDonald
Clayton Lewis, Curator of Graphics at ti
By Kate i
nternet ads for the Oscars took a blatantly
star-oriented spin this year. "Heath vs.
Philip!" blared one, flashing a photo-
shpped image of cowboy-hatted Heath Ledger
glaring down a meekly spectacled Philip Sey-
mour Hoffman. Though it perhaps makes for no
life-changing revelation that the Academy Awards
largely promote themselves with the stars they
honor, this obvious celebrity face-off marketing
angle seemed like barefaced acknowledgement
that the whole best actor/actress game tends to
award performers more than their performances.
Of course, that's cause for little complaint.
Watching the big names get dolled-up for compe-
tition is unapologetically Oscar night's big draw.
Nonetheless, the widely debated predictions
leading up to the big night do beg the question of
quality in acting, and the query remains pertinent
even as Hollywood gradually steps back from the
self-obsession of its frenzied awards season: how
much of any performance is truly acting, and
how much is a star's external persona?
The acting style lauded in bygone Hollywood
eras tipped decidedly towards persona. Cary
Grant, for instance, cited by many film buffs as
one of the greatest actors of all time, boasted irre-
sistible charm, commendable sense of timing and
an impressive list of revered movies. And yet, in
all honesty, whom did Cary Grant ever play but
Cary Grant? Whether cat burglar, newspaper
man or bewildered newlywed, Grant's roles came
fully equipped with his trademark quirky speech
pattern and suavely polished look, rendering him,
like many legends (Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy
Steward), more character-brand than actor.
That's not to imply that either Grant or his style
is any less entertaining or cinematically impor-
tant. Just the opposite - there is something whol-
ly satisfying about the dependability of a favorite
actor's persona. Why else return to our favorites
again and again? Why else stop dead in the middle
of Blockbuster and reach for a straight-to-video
B-flick of which you have never even heard just
because there's a familiar face on the box? Not
a bad policy of selection, incidentally, though a
decidedly dangerous one - witness "Blue Juice,"
the 1995 surfing classic so many misguided Cath-
erine Zeta-Jones and Ewan MacGregor fans have
been suckered into renting by their pre-fame, wet-
suited bodies on the cover.
That Grant-style personal branding, however,
has become increasingly less common, resulting
in two fairly distinct types of film stars - on
one hand, acting celebrities, famous for a certain
personality; on the other hand, celebrity actors,
respected and consistent performers for whom
fame just seems an occupational hazard.
While the distinction itself is no new trend,
the recent developments of reality TV and con-
stant entertainment-news coverage have both
contributed to a widening of the gulf. With the
tabloids devoting most of their headlines to the
abundance of 15-minute, reality-star "celebs,"
general pop culture itself forks into a dichotomy
of celebrity. It seems literally everyone wants to
be famous (E!'s "Gastineau Girls," anyone?),
and this growing breed focuses almost entirely
on persona alone. Sure, Paris Hilton and Jessica
Simpson have both utilized prefabricated imag-
es as clout for promoting new movies, but their
brief and uncelebrated cinematic forays are less
exercises in actual acting than mere extensions
of their established personal brands.
And they've effectively taken on the celebrity
burden. Their style of omnipresent checkout-aisle
fame allows other performers to sidestep the head-
line-filler celebrity duties and earn their renown on
acting instead. Once termed mere character actors,
these latter types are finding more and more rec-
ognition as top-billers in their own right. Take, for
example, a certain Philip Seymour Hoffman, this
year's freshly-minted best actor. His terrific work,
while consistently good, is all the more impressive
for its variation - his range extends from "Boo-
gie Night's" naive and timid porn-set hanger-on to
"Punch-Drunk Love's" aggressive sleazeball to
last year's polished portrayal of Truman Capote.
Hoffman belongs to a different sort of Hol-
lywood A-List, along with the likes of Steve
Buscemi, Don Cheadle and Paul Giamatti.
These are the guys whose familiar mugs invoke
nods of recognition and approval, even if many
audience members can't quite remember their
names. Granted, they probably can't sell an issue
of GQ like George Clooney. But they've earned
widespread industry respect all the same, as go-
to guys who can not only enliven the most tepid
of parts but also successfully avoid the trap of a
single typecast role.
That's not to say that much of modern cinema
doesn't still play more or less by rules of persona;
certain movie genres always call for types. After
all, when it -omes to slinging guns or out-running
bad guys, it's not some huge gulf of acting talent
which separates Will Smith from Bruce Willis
from Tom Cruise. Will simply does it with inof-
fensive wit, Willis with gotta-do-whatchu-gotta-
do masculinity, and the tragically overrated Mr.
Cruise with an arrogant, coldly inhuman glower
(I hate Tom Cruise).
But beyond those pre-set sort of roles or poor
performers merely typecast at every turn, few
current actors maintain a constant guise as con-
sistently as Cary Grant once did. Perhaps Owen
Wilson is fairly dependable as the charming
Everyman/borderline cad. Maybe Al Pacino has
cornered the market on tough, loud and slightly
scummy. And, of course, there's Paris and Jessi-
ca, making blondes everywhere groan with their
cheerful submission to the airhead stereotype.
But keep an eye out, too, for the industry's rising
Hoffmans and Cheadles. They're a safe bet for
that next bout of Blockbuster browsing, for even
if the movie turns out a dud, they can guarantee
a solid, and singular, performance.
Kristin can be reached by e-mail at
earching for a rare boc
ists for your American I
paper? How about a 16
South America? Look no f
Clements Library, located ne
ident's house on South Univ
While many students pass
each day, most don't realizet
the premier historical librarie
With an impressive set of
photographs and maps fromt
covery to the early tw
it houses such famou
the original pamphl
Columbus sent to Q
announcing the dis
For the pa
k on abolition- the library's director. I'm in charge of our
history research graphics collections, which mostly includes
th century map prints and photographs. My job involves the
further than the preservation and care of these old, fragile
ext to the pres- materials. The preservation is handled on a
versity Avenue. case-by-case basis. I have to make sure the
the Clements items are kept dark and dry so that they will
that it is one of last; sometimes, they will need a chemical
es in the nation. treatment to de-acidify. I also make these
prints, books, items accessible to researchers who come
the Age of Dis- here.
entieth century, TMD: Why are you interested in visual
us treasures as materials?
let Christopher CL: I have a graduate degree in painting
Queen Isabella, and I used to work in the commercial print-
scovery of the ing industry. With early prints, I admire the
artistry of the craft. In the 18th century, it
st five years, involved cutting grooves into metal plates,
layton Lewis so it was a very laborious process.
has served TMD: How does the library acquire these
as curator materials?
of graphics, CL: There are so many exciting and valu-
charged with able things that come here every day. We
managing have a very active acquisitions program.
the library's There are gifts and purchases from all dif-
extensive col- ferent directions. Some come from private
lection of dealers and others come from families of
visual materi- historical figures. I have some long-term
als. In a large relationships with dealers who act as scouts.
wood-pan- We usually receive hundreds of books and
eled exhibit graphics each year. It's amazing how much
hall that looks historical information is still out there, wait-
as though it ing to be discovered.
belongs in a TMD: What is the most exciting acquisi-
historical text- tion you've seen recently?
book, Lewis CL: We recently received a 100-year-
paused to dis- old book of photographs from the 1906 San
cuss his work. Francisco earthquake. We have pictures of
the ruins, as well as how people managed in
The Michi- the aftermath. This is a real human story. You
gan Daily: can see that the country was not prepared to
What is your deal with a natural disaster of this magnitude.
role at the It's quite fascinating because exactly the same
library? thing is happening now with Katrina. It makes
Clayton me think that perhaps we haven't made that
Lewis: I am much progress. The old cliche that those who
one of four don't study the mistakes of history are doomed
curators who to repeat it holds true in this case.
work under TMD: From which era do most of the
items in your department originate?
CL: We have a lot of visual materials
dating back to the Civil War, from both the
North and South. The Civil War came at
a time when photography was a relatively
new invention. We have a number of photos
by Matthew Brady, the most famous Civil
War photographer. In general, we are also
known for primary sources from the Colo-
nial and Revolutionary periods, such as
some engravings and prints by Paul Revere.
Our collection also contains satiric car-
toons from the American and British sides
during Revolutionary War.
TMD: What are some of the Library's
CL: There are some very important items
from the Age of Discovery. We have the
original pamphlet Christopher Columbus
printed when he returned from his first voy-
age to America. This is a famous document
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What happened to the Greek system?
You Know What Really Grinds My Gears? j Campus Life Column
By Mark Giannotto
I T ead over to a house on East Univer-
sity Avenue on a Saturday night.
j. You'll see a group of seniors who began
driiking kegs at 4p.m., have all of their friends
over and are generally getting wild before they
head over to Scorekeepers for the mixed-drink
These guys are the last remaining semblance
of what used to be Sigma Chi.
They were kicked off campus in October
2003 due to hazing allegations.
Now head over to one of the fraternities that
are still on campus. There are no kegs, there is a
limit to the amount of girls present and, in gen-
eral, it's pretty tame.
So why do the old Sigma Chis get to do as they
please, while frats still on campus look lame?
I'll tell you why. The new social policy.
To be blunt: it sucks.
The Sigma Chi hazing incident set about a
series of events that eventually led to the removal
of a couple fraternities, as well as a sorority. This
doesn't even include the countless fraternities put
on probation during that time. The Interfraternity.
Council and the Office of Greek Life went about
creating many new anti-hazing regulations, along
with a new social policy for Greeks to follow.
I have no qualms with the hazing stuff,
because hazing is against the law in the state of
Michigan. There were obviously some changes
that needed to be made so that hazing incidents
would become few and far between.
But I do think there was an overreaction by
the University. It felt like the school decided that
because of one incident, all fun had to decrease.
They determined the way to do this was to create
a social policy that is painful to even read.
Now that it has been in place for more than
a year, I'd like to examine how inept this social
policy truly is.
As a member of the Greek system, I can tell
you it is the most hypocritical set of regula-
tions my eyes have ever beheld. When read-
ing, you wonder whether the very students
who came up with it actually attend college.
When the IFC and Panhellenic Council first
announced this new social policy, they trum-
peted it as preventing much of the liability that a
fraternity could face if someone drank too much
at a party.
The biggest change in policy was the "bring
your own booze" concept. Beginning with the
Winter 2005 semester, fraternities could no lon-
ger provide alcohol for guests at parties. Instead,
people coming to a party could bring just 12-
packs of beer or a pint of liquor. Upon arrival,
a courteous, sober (haha) fraternity member
would check said booze and partygoers could
get their booze as they pleased.
The powers that be within the Greek system
figured this would curtail the amount of extreme-
ly drunk partygoers at the University. It was the
answer to all of the problems in the Greek world.
So by limiting the liability of the fraternities,
the leaders of the Greek system are instead ask-
ing the people they supposedly represent to go
out and get their own alcohol.
OK. That makes sense. Oh wait, there's a
problem. I'd venture to say 95 percent of people
who attend frat parties are under the age of 21.
So basically the majority of people at a party
have to be in the Greek system, and because
they are under 21 they need to use their fake IDs
at a liquor store.
Thanks IFC. I'm really going to appreciate
that MIP now that my fraternity is less liable.
And now I'm alienated from people because I
forgot to put them on my guest list and couldn't
let them in.
Another issue I have with this social policy
is some of the ridiculous little nuances in it. Did
you know that when holding a registered party
there must be non-salty food and non-alcoholic
beverages for guests to consume?
Are you serious? If you are coming to a frat
party to have some nice hors d'oeuvres and juice
you are probably insane.
Further, the policy allows individuals on the
Social Responsibility Committee the authority
to simply walk into any fraternity without cause
or concern. They aren't the cops; why should
they be allowed in?
When the average person on campus is hav-
ing a house party, the Ann Arbor Police Depart-
ment is not allowed to simply enter the house
and levy fines and probations. There has to be
cause for them to do such things.
The people running this Greek system are
slowly, but surely burying out once great com-
munity. I am from the state of Maryland and
have seen the carnage that the administration at
the University of Maryland inflicted upon their
There are no parties allowed at fraternities
there. In fact, the frats look like sorority hous-
es. The nightlife for freshmen revolves around
Now envision Welcome Week here without
fraternities. Yeah, it isn't pleasant. But that's
where we're headed. I would not be surprised
if in five years I return to the University and all
fraternities are dry.
I ask everyone in and out of the Greek system
to try and get rid of this awful policy. That way
we can go back to the way they were supposed
to be. Let's have some fun again.
I realize this is highly unlikely. The powers
that be are not going to allow things to return
to the way they were, especially with the recent
alcohol-related deaths at Colorado State and Col-
So while everyone else watches our Greek
system slowly self-destruct, I'm going to head
over to East U. I heard Sigma Chi is having one
of its infamous house parties.
Giannotto can be reached by e-mail at
EIIMA k5NOLAN'-ABRAHM lIAN~/JDaily
The Clements Library is home to many historical documents, including a pamphlet that Christopher Columbus
sent back to Europe announcing the discovery of the New World.
10B - The Michigan Daily ;Thursday, March 9, 2006