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September 25, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-09-25

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Monday
September 25, 2006
arts.michigandaily.com
artspage@michigandaily.com

ARTS

SA

Courtesy of Drag City

You should see him in a bad mood.

Oldham a 'Go'

By Matt Kivel
Daily Arts Writer
Will Oldham's twisted take on
American roots music has never
wavered in
its. consistent N
examina-
tion of death,
sex and I
the human
underbelly.
He writes -
songs filled ****
with haunt-
ing imagery Bonnie
and language "Prince"
more often Billy
found in poet- The Letting Go
ic verse than Drag City
popular song:
"The men are
wailing toothless / The ladies ghostly
pout / And they shout / Our shoes are
wet" But on his latest release, The
Letting Go, Oldham gets a bit soft
on us: he blends his doom-riddled
motif with a few indulgent helpings
of strings and syrupy ballads.
From the opening swells of "Love
Comes to Me," it's clear that we're
dealing with Greatest Palace-era
Oldham complete with crisp, clutter-
free production and crooning vocals
- a sound that contrasts with his
more overtly ramshackle recordings
like Viva Last Blues or 1999's mor-
bid masterpiece, I See A Darkness.
A lush string arrangement compli-
ments both Oldham's voice and that
of accompanist Dawn McCarthy,
whose presence on this record is a
warm and spiritual addition to the
Bonnie "Prince" Billy sound.
"Wai" feels as if it could have been
a b-side from ISee a Darkness, open-
ing with lyrics as chilling as Oldham
can muster: "The lameness of an
unborn child / The tidiness of cry
/ The only way I'm leaving here / Is
curling up and die." The song plays
out like an emotionally disturbed lul-

laby, ornamented with rumbling floor
toms and the occasional chime of a
glockenspiel. Its fatalistic tone reso-
nates throughout the album, but The
Letting Go is also defined by a num-
ber of eloquently melodic folk songs.
The sound of "Cold and Wet" is
muffled and nostalgic, as the vocals
and guitars had been channeled from
a cracked 1930s radio recording. The
mood is playful, but the lyrics con-
tinue to bite: "Introduce to every soul
a drink made of tears / Hear them
bicker / Watch them die impaled on
balsa spears." Oldham's singing is at
its best ontracks like these; he pushes
his limited range to its limits and lets
his voice crack carelessly.
"Big Friday" is an easygoing
folksong playing to the strengths of
producer Valgeir Sigurdsson, who
employs a beautiful mix of vocal
harmonies, droning electronics, glass
percussion and a majestic electric-
keyboard. Like many of the other
standout tracks, it conjures the feel-
ing that this is what Greatest Palace
Music should have sounded like: It
compliments challenging songs with
hi-fi studio production.
TheLetting Gofalls flaton its more
pedestrian rockers. "Cursed Sleep"
and "The Seedling" are bloated and,
lyrics aside, somewhat generic. For
other artists, this type of Grammy-
lite folk rock is forgivable, but not
for Oldham. He's the crowned prince
of indie folk, a man who once wrote
about fucking a mountain. There is no
need for him to entertain thoughts of
a small gold-plated statue and sipping
champagne coolies with Celine Dion.
The Letting Go has a number of
standout moments, but it's marred in
its consistency by a few gaudy tracks.
He's an artist who's made his name
by crafting a stellar catalogue of dif-
ficult and insightful folk songs, but
Will Oldham continues to frustrate
in his tendency to make mistakes in
the realm of album sequencing and
consistency.

If your film career doesn't succeed, try TV again!

STUDIO INSIDER
SORKIN'S NEW DRAMA GOES BEHIND THE NETWORK SCENES

By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
"There's always been a struggle
between art and commerce and now
I'm telling you, art
is getting its ass
kicked."6
There's nothing
spectacular about
that statement: Self-
excluding fine arts
connoisseurs and Studio
stretched-for-con- 60 on the
tent columnists have Sunset Strip
been periodically
declaring the death Mondays at
of the arts for the
better part of the NBC
last century. But it's
noteworthy when
such a sentiment comes from a TV show,
the likes of which generally bear the
brunt of the responsibility for commerce
trumping art.
Favoring such brash social commentary
over subtlety, NBC's new drama "Stu-
dio 60 on the Sunset Strip" immediately
stands apart from most other TV dramas.
With writer Aaron Sorkin's ("The West
Wing") indelible musings giving it persis-
tent bite, the show promises to be a bru-
tally honest inspection of the pop-culture
industry while managing (at least for now)

to remain accessible enough for audiences
brainwashed by the industry.
After network executives decide to cut an
apparently witty skit called "Crazy Chris-
tians;' a righteous producer goes on a rant ina
live airing of "Studio 60" (the late-night com-
edy sketch show within the show), espousing
the aforementioned quote among other pon-
tifical rants about pop culture's demise. He's
immediately fired, of course, but in the face
of a public-relations nightmare, newly-hired
network president Jordan McDeere (Aman-
da Peet, "Syriana") admits the banality of
"Studio 60" and promises an improvement.
On that note she hires the respected, if a bit
eccentric, writer/director team of Matt Albie
(Matthew Perry, "Friends") and Danny Tripp
(Bradley Whitford, "The West Wing") to save
the show by embracing edgy, challenging
material rather than avoiding it.
Matt and Danny, though they only
show up about halfway through the pilot,
are the show's key to the success. "Stu-
dio 60" as a whole has made an overly
hostile stance, taking jabs at networks,
stars, producers and audiences alike
- it is up to these two to bring everyone
back down to earth. They are geniuses
of their art and poignant introspection
is their preferred medium, but in a show
that turns its nose up at the very people
watching it, we have to count on them to
be the ones who keep sight of the big pic-
ture: This is a comedy show. It's about

making people laugh. Political and social
commentary fails if it's not funny.
That said, Perry and Whitford are spec-
tacular. Their remarkable chemistry and
rapport, both with each other and their roles,
makes a show that could have ended up a
little too full of itself much more digestible.
Sorkin is said to have written the lead role
exclusively for Perry (hence the character's
name is also Matt) and it's easy to see why.
He's perhaps the only TV star in recent mem-
ory who can downplay his character enough
to make us interested in the very basics of
what he stands for. That quality made him
the foremost comedian on "Friends" and it
makes him an engaging study on 'Studio
60." We get very little of what was going
on within him in the pilot; there's no doubt
much more of that to come, and it will con-
stitute the connection between the audience
and Sorkin's high-handed writing.
Subplots involving the born-again Chris-
tian star of the fictional show and McDeere's
wide-eyed optimism at everything from
FCC crackdowns to Tripp's cocaine prob-
lems are amusing but cannot possibly remain
so. We cannot be expected to take another
episode, much less a whole season, of a net-
work executive in the lovable loser mold of a
Joey Harrington. Perhaps to balance the dire
darkness of Sorkin suppositions, we have the
forever-smiling McDeere, but the longer the
spotlight is off Matt and Danny, the drier the
show will become.

Another Gay' slice of raunchy teen pie

By Hyatt Michaels
Daily Arts Writer
Damn those pesky Farrelly broth-
ers. They opened the door for over-
the-top gross-out humor in the '90s
with "Dumb
and Dumber"
and "There's
Something
About Mary,'
andsincethen
our multiplex-
es have been
bombarded
by too many
"American
Pies," "Scary
Movies" and
other sub- ANOTHER
par gross-
out films. GAY MOVIE
"Another Gay At the State
Movie," fails Theater
to do much TLA
with the
decline of the
sub-genre. The latest in a long-tire-
some trend, it feels and even looks
like a carbon copy of the films that
preceded it.
Taking a cue - and most of its
plot - from "American Pie;' "Gay
Movie" follows a group of four
friends trying to get laid after their
high school graduation. Except this
time, everyone's gay! Get it? Instead
of Stifler, you get Muffler (who's a
lesbian). Instead of a MILF, you get
Richard Hatch, the openly gay win-
ner of TV's first "Survivor." Can't
you just see this film being pitched?
It'd be inaccurate to dismiss
"Another Gay Movie" as simply in
poor taste, since one of its primary
goals is to be campy. But though you
might think the movie's obvious
editing errors, nude Richard Hatch
scenes and ridiculous plot would send
it well on its way to cinemaic camp a
la the cult classic "Die Mommy Die"
(1998), it soon becomes clear that

"Another Gay Movie" borrows too
much from "American Pie" and adds
too little flair of its own.
Someone should've reminded
the producers that "American Pie"
is seven years old and lacks potent
enough material to be properly
spoofed, let alone used as source
material for anything other than a
passing gag. I mean, how many times
can you see the penis-in-the pie bit
and still laugh, even if they do substi-
tute the pie for a "Queer Eye"-ready
quiche. It was barely funny when
Jason Biggs did it. And already tired
when "Another Teen Movie" copied
it in 2000.
Still,the actors are in tip-top shape
throughout most of the movie. The
group of mostly unknowns makes
the most of the movie's late-night
Cinemax cinematography and inane
dialogue. Token queen Nico (Jonah
Bleechman) steals the show as a
hilarious hybrid of Joan Crawford
and "Will and Grace's" Jack. The
other three actors are equally strong
until they're all forced into awkward
and bizarre sex scenes that cross all
lines of taste.
Perhaps the movie's biggest flaw
is its effort to out-gross the straight
teen flicks. In addition to its excess
of "American Pie" allusions, there's
a repulsive homage to the prom
scene in "Carrie" (replacing blood
with another bodily fluid) and even
a stab towards the whitebread drama
of "Coyote Ugly" (bar-dancing
abounds).
"Another Gay Movie" strives for
an out-and-proud message by tak-
ing on these movies, but its efforts
are lost to a sea of body-fluid jokes
that come off more gag-worthy than
funny. Which is too bad, because the
movie could've easily worked as a
new spin on meathead-dick humor.
Instead it loses any possible credibili-
ty, rehashing old semen gags without
any special nod to their commeri-
caly fresher gay context.

Important information: Auditions
are Oct. 2 through Oct. 4 from 10
The Royal Shakespeare Com- a.m.tof6p.m.atthePerformanceNet-
pany's forthcoming performances work.Your piece mustbe at most five
couldn't come a day too soon. minutes in length and center around
There is, though, a bit of legiti- anundeniably oralcomponent - i.e.
mately creative distraction avail- do not get your ridiculous friends in
able. The RSC, in conjunction with the music school to just vamp on
the University Musical Society and some Fela Kuti tune (although that
Arts at Michigan, is hosting a Son- would be awesome). The competi-
net Slam. The Petrarchan sonnet tion itself will take place in Rackham
meets rappers, rhymers, beat-box- Auditorium on Nov. 5 - the winner
ers, spoken-word artists, musicians, will take home $1,000. Learn more
DJs, dancers, theater students and at www.art.umich.edu.
whoever else has the nerve to tack-
le such a wonderful challenge. - Andrew Sargus Klein

I .

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