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October 24, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-10-24

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 5

Midwest verses

Let's pretend for a moment
that you are a moving to
the East Coast (a place
you have never been) and that
you are a lover of poetry. Know-
ing that poetry can identify and
define the indelible characteristics
of a region, you look around for
big East Coast poets. Among a
countless selection, you latch onto
Frank O'Hara, Langs-
ton Hughes and Robert
Frost. From this trium-
virate of disparate inter-
ests and aims you begin
to see the East Coast
unfold: the sprawling
modern city going hand
in hand with race issues ANDI
surrounding the Harlem SARG
Renaissance (or, as it KLEII
was initially thought of,
the New Negro Movement) and
right next to that we have a New
England countryside as an idiom
for aesthetics, philosophy and
It would be foolish to think
only these three men and their
poetry could adequately give you,
an East Coast virgin, the whole
picture. There are entirely too
many relevant poets to mention.
But let's turn around and get
ourselves to our present situation:
the Midwest.
The Midwest is sometimes
overlooked as a simple vast space
between the respective coasts.
You probably don't need to be told
of the obvious shortsightedness of
such a stance, since there are just
as many artists and musicians of
our past and present who lay/have
laid it down for the Midwest as
any coast.
And, coincidentally, I love poet-
ry, and there are a few Midwest
poets who helped give this East
Coast native a fresh perspective
on the Midwest.
Originally from Texas, B. H.
Fairchild, a contemporary poet,
captures his Midwestern Okla-
homa and Kansas experience and
culture in a staggeringly simple,
beautiful approach. One of his sev-
eral award-winning books, "Local
Knowledge," won the National
Book Critics Circle Award in
Poetry, and is a good starting point
to understand the import of his
expression of the Midwest.
Poems such as "The Machinist,
Teaching His Daughter to Play
the Piano" ("The brown wrist and
hand with its raw knuckles and
blue nails / packed with dirt and
oil, pause in midair, / the fingers
arched delicately") and "Toban's
Precision Machine Shop" ("It is a
shop / so old the lathes are driven
by leather belts / descending from
some spiritual darkness ... Such
emptiness. Such a large and pal-
pable / sculpture of disuse") are
a mingling of Fairchild's personal
experience and a cultural insight.
The emotional title poem wres-
tles with the notion of leavinga
hometown for a better future. A
son writes to his father: "As you
can see I have / come pretty far
North with this bunch / almost
to Amarillo in a stretch of wheat
field flat and blowed out as any /
to be seen in West Texas ... and I
do not know where / I am going
in this world but am looking / as

always for a fat paycheck." His
father responds: "The other night
I was alone / with just the moon
and stars / and the locusts buzz-
ing away / and could look down
the hole / into the nothing of the
earth / and above into the nothing
of the sky."
Images of family, obligation
and wrenched realities hold
-Fairchild's poetry togeth-
er. Without pretension or
assumption, the autobio-
graphical elements of his
poetry open a window for
the reader to peer into the
vast Midwest.
The same sentiment
EW repeats in "Potato Eat-
US ers" (from his book "Early
Occult Memory Systems of
the Lower Midwest" and a


nod to van Gogh's painting of the
same name). Fairchild describes
the "welder, machinist, the fore-
man ... with their homemade
dinners / in brown sacks ... They
unwrap the potatoes from the alu-
minum foil,/ with an odd delicacy,
and I notice their still blackened
hands / halve and butter them."
Perhaps an odd juxtaposition
to Fairchild, Detroit-published
poet Nikki Giovanni also evokes
the atmosphere of the Midwest
through racially charged work.
"Poem for Aretha," from her 1970
Midwest poets
as a cultural
publication "Re: Creation," views
the iconic vocalist in a human-
izing light, opening the reader's
eyes to "the way we are killing
her / we eat up artists like there's
going to be a famine at the end
/ of those three minutes." Soul,
R&B and the blues float through
Giovanni's poetry as necessary
cultural references, and she opens
up the world behind our favorite
jukebox artists.
Blending the musical culture
around her with the ever-present
racism of the day, the final stanza
of "Toy Poem" blisters with social
critique, ending with a Sly & the
Family Stone reference: "if they
took our insides out would we
be still / Black people or would
we become play toys / for master
players / there's a reason we lose
a lot it's not our game / and we
don't know how to score / listen
here / I wanna take you higher."
I don't have enough space to
explain fully why these poems
mean so much to me and how
my Midwestern experience and
background (my mom hails from
St. Clairesville, Ohio) have been
affected by these two poets. I can
only stress the limitless impact
poetry can have inunderstand-
ing the environment around you.
Poets have always provided a
crucial lens for understanding our
developing culture. The best ones
help you find your place in it.
- E-mail Klein at

Forest Whitaker confronts a fresh-faced Scot in "The Last King of Scotland," an emotionally brutal experience,

Heart of darkness

DailyArts Writer
Set in1970s Uganda and forgoing all the typical
Hollywood fodder such a setting might dictate,
"The Last King of Scotland"
considers the true story of *
dictator Idi Amin (Forest
Whitaker, "Ghost Dog") The Last
and his regime, fictional- King of
ized through the lens of Scot land
his personal physician, a
Scotsman named Nicholas At the
.Garrigan(James McAvoy, Michigan
"The Chronicles of Nar- T er
nia"). The film opens in Fox Searchlight
Garrigan's native country
just after his graduation from med school, where
the young doctor agonizes over the prospect of
a stifling future partnered in country medicine
with his father. He sits in the bedroom of his
parents' house, chain smoking and spinning his
grade-school globe, preparing to move to the first
nation on which his index finger lands.
Cut to a crowded bus in a Ugandan village.
Garrigan begins his work in a small town caring
for the young and elderly, working with another
British doctor and chatting up his colleague's
wife on days off. Just a few days into this posi-
tion, Garrigan has a chance encounter with the
country's new president, who's been injured on
the campaign trail. The doctor makes an imme-
diate impression on President Amin - a man
with a particular affinity for the Scottish.
The next morning, the presidential car rolls up
to Garrigan's lodgings, requesting the doctor's
presence for a medical consult in the capital city.
Upon discovering the true motive behind Amin's
call, and with very little hesitation because of his
previous obligations, Garrigan accepts Amin's

application and becomes (just one week after his
arrival in the country) the personal physician to
the president and his family.
"The Last King of Scotland" is perfectly paced,
well written and cast, but most importantly, it
features an honest portrayal of the relationship
between Garrigan and Amin. The narrative ren-
ders the evolution of each character in brilliant
equal-and-opposite fashion. While the truth of
Amin's military conquests begins to seep into
Garrigan's consciousness, the doctor gets greedy,
clutching to the limelight and prestige, however
impossible it becomes to deny the harm he is
causing himself and the nation.
Garrigan's character unfolds beautifully, and
McAvoy delivers a stunning performance in a
role loosely based on the dictator's actual physi-
cian and close friend. The doctor is not merely
a layered projection of truth, but the man in his
entirety - in all his bravery, insecurity, foolish-
ness, charm and, by the end, wretchedness.
Symbols of the character's evolution follow
him through the piece. The film's first shot
stages Garrigan and his classmates running
down a dock and jumping into the North Sea in
loose white-cotton underwear and graduation
caps. An hour later, deeply and inextricably
woven into the core of Amin's administration,
Garrigan attends a posh pool party in tight
black briefs. The first scene is filmed against
the setting sun, with the lush braes of the high-
lands rising the background, while the second
takes place at a private swimming area made
all of concrete, the scene faded out in a bland
wash of stony color.
These figurative constructions of Garrigan's
character remain consistent with his dress, the
musical progression of the film's soundtrack and
its cinematography. But where President Amin
is concerned, we rarely see him out of military

Hollywood has had a recentfetish for Africa as an
exotic locale to house the exploits of white actors, a
trend somewhat reversed in "The Last King of Scot-
land" but ready to take hold again with the Leonardo
DiCaprio-led "The Blood Diamond" Dec.15. Other
recent highlights, redeemable and not:
"The Constant Gardener"(2005) - One of last year's
quiet masterpieces, Ralph Fiennes stars as a man investi-
gating the murderof his young wife (Rachel Weisz) who
questioned Western drugcompaniesin Africa.
"Beyond Borders"(2003)- Angelina Jolieand Clive
Owen in a movie about African exploitation and, more
prominently,the romance of a pairof star-crossed activists.
"Tears of the Sun" (2003)- Fear not, poor Nigerian
refugees displaced byviolent rebels: Special-Ops com-
mander Bruce Willis willsave you.
uniform. His is a slow transformation, not of the
character evolving through experiences, but of
the slow revelation of his true nature. Whitaker
takes an iconic madman - a cultural portrait
of "evil incarnate," as the actor said in a recent
interview - and gives him a human depth a nar-
rower portrait could not afford.
The film is so effective because the point is
not the historical message or a political state-
ment, but the honest, well-explored story of the
two men. You would not expect a movie like "The
Last King of Scotland" to be such an intensely
emotional ordeal, but it will turn you on, make
you laugh, frighten you. There are few features
with the power to shake an audience so unspar-
ingly, and this movie is the real deal.

Dark adolescence confronted in'12 and Holding'

Treading uncomfortably
between frank depiction of youth
and outward
exploitation FILM:
of it, Michael ***I
Cuesta's "12 SPECIAL
and Holding" FEATURES:
places itself
in the middle 12 and
of other cau- Holding
tionary com-
dramas. The
low-budget feature, never quite as
shocking as it thinks it is, arrives
in the shadow of recent genre
fare - "Thirteen" and especially
"Mean Creek" are obvious precur-
sors - and continues the trend of
spooking the parents of adoles-
cent children rather than assault-
ing them with the sledge-hammer
realism of movies like "Kids."
Cuesta, who first stammered into
the public eye with his NC-17-
rated molestation thriller "L.IE.,"
is much more tame here, and con-
structs a traditionalstory detailing
the way three middle-middle class
teens deal with a friend's killing.
Opening with the requisite
setup of bully and victim, "12 and
Holding" gets right to its sharper

edge. Two twin brothers (both ries is one of several glitches the
played by Connor Donovon), one film can't quite work out. Jacob
is frightened by his parents' emo-
tional breakdown and travels by
The wounds of taxi to the hall where his brother's
killers are held, at first threatening
teenage angst? Yes, to kill them and later planning to
run away with one of them after he
and a little more. is released. Malee falls in love with
one of her mother's 30-something
patients, who has his own demons,
with a red birth mark across one and Leonard refuses to eat any-
side of his face, the other identi- thing but apples to the often cruel
cal without it, play a prank on two chagrin of his parents.
punks a few grades up. When the Each story comes to an indi-
other boys threaten to burn down vidual climax and converges with
the twins' tree house in retalia- the others where needed (the
tion, the brothers think they can transfer of a gun between charac-
stop them by sleeping out in it. ters is a particularly bad sign), but
After a fight, only one goes. The together they seem more part of
other boys don't know he's there, a an anthology than a complete nar-
fire is set and the boy is killed. rative feature. While at the very
That the surviving brother is least they preserve their indepen-
Jacob, who has the birthmark, dence (the typical interconnected
should be obvious if only because schlock takes a welcome holiday
it gives the film an artificial rea- here), each individualclimax goes
son to suggest the boys' parents to an extreme unnecessary in a
favored one over the other. Also movie characterized by its under-
left behind are Malee (Zoe Wei- statement and loneliness. What
zenbaum), the post-mod tomboy works is the universal quality of
and daughter to a divorced thera- the kids going their separate ways
pist mother, and Leonard (Jesse and trying to figure things out for
Camacho), the overweight side- themselves, and the midsection is
kick who is also injured in the fire. strong enough to provide the film
All three have their own way with a provocative vision of youth
of mourning the accident, and the that sustains it through the high-
tonal inconsistency of their sto- handed closing moments.

The disc, on which most Ameri-
can audiences outside the festival
circuit will get their first chance
to see the film, touts the custom-
ary director's commentary (more
detailed on this particular feature
than most) and deleted scenes,
which include a sort-of alternate
ending that means " little to the
film's thematic core. It may not
have much on its contemporaries,
but Cuesta's emotionally honest
depiction of the trauma is effective
in offsetting his film's narrative
lapses, and the DVD release will
hopefully provide the film with
an audience outside the concerned
soccer moms the marketing cam-
paign so shamelessly targeted.

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