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September 06, 2006 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-09-06

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Wednesday
September 6, 2006
arts.michigandaily.com
artspage@michigandaily.com

e irbichi

9

----

Palm trees and blunts. That's It.
Kast chemistry
vanishes on film

By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Film Editor
If anyone. could pump some
spark into a movie musical, you'd
think it would be OutKast. The
music and
videos of the
popular rap Idlewild
duo boast At the Showcase
enough dra- and Quality 16
matic flair to Universal
make a film
project total-
ly credible. Though Big Boi and
Andre 3000 (here going modestly
by Andre Benjamin) have spun
together their version of an old-
school musical extravaganza, all
that glitters is definitely not gold.
The raw material for a compel-
ling situation is certainly here. Set
in the Prohibition-era small town
of Idlewild, Georgia, the film
opens with the childhood bonding
of unlikely best friends Percival
(Andre), obedient son of a stern
widower, and Rooster (Big Boi),
the fastest talking ladies' man
you've ever seen at the age of five.
Cut to the boys all grown up,
and little has changed: Rooster
routinely raises hell at the favorite
dance hall of some local gangsters,
while Percival quietly follows in
the footsteps of his father's funer-
al home profession. The sanity of
both hangs upon the nighttime
escape to the crowded nightclub,
where Percival can avoid his
father with some freetime piano-
playing and Rooster can avoid his
wife and five kids with a bevy of
chorus girls.
Throw in some menacing gang-
sters (Ving Rhames, Terrence
Howard and Faizon Love), a sul-
try lounge singer (Paula Patton,
"Hitch"), a full dance floor of
whizzing choreography, plenty of
booze and a whole lot of boas and
you've got the makings for a "Chi-
cago"-style good time. Right?
Not so much. The whole show
smacks of amateurs playing dress-
up. It's as if the gang just got

tgether for an amusing R. Kelly-
stle indulgence in soap opera -
oy, just like R. Kelly, they take
it rriously.
'ou've never seen catfights
bithier, downtrodden heroes
mce trampled, chauvinist pigs
mon obviously disgusting. The
cas struts about in snappy '20s
attit, hits its staging mark and
condently spouts whatever text-
booltrite dialogue the current
meldirama requires, aping a cani-
catur instead of acting a role.
It'spainful at times to root so
much'or the fun-loving good in
a mo-de and get stopped dead
cold b)all the blaring bad. Or the
blaringstrange. Percival's father
keeps sne photo of his dead
wife, ind it's of her in the casket.
Rooster cheats prodigiously on
his lotg-suffering wife, and her
scene (shotgun defense is taken
as conic. The lounfe singer
can't mch sing. The "nenacing"
gangster proves his mettle by
making an of a guy with a stut-
ter (and Iso keeps agang of lit-
eral yes Mn - it toot me a while
to realize he bass gumblings in
the soundtack bactground were
actually thernurmsring assents of
the big guy aehin' him). And all
the while, por 'ercival droops
around in an enless fit of epic
depression. I hik Andre gets a
smile in once.
Written and rected by music
video veteran lyan Barber (the
helmer behind ,ndre's magnetic
"Hey Ya!" clip "Idlewild" sim-
ply substitutes fsh for any sort of
dramatic consisncy.
Though seepg with potential,
though swirlin off into myriad
plot directionsthe script actu-
ally ends up liking the serious
weight it couldeserve - when
everything is tated as a theatri-
cal watershedothing can effec-
tively stand o as one. A few
spectacular she nod to Barber's
music video rctas; a music num-
ber or two geteour feet tapping.
But then the gig-ho cast returns,
and their colleive stab at drama
is sadly literal

KIMBER5LY
CHOU,
SCHOTTEN-
FELS/Daily
TOP: Ham-
tramck Dis-
neyland.
BOTTOM
LEFT: The
view from
a Detroit
highway.
BOTTOM
RIGHT:
Industrial-
Ization on
the river-
front.

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER
DETROIT DUALLY PRAISED AND FETISHIZED IN SHOOT

By Kimberly Chou
Associate Arts Editor
Eyes asquint, lips parted, thighs locked in
a cocaine-and-catwalk honed vise around an
18-year-old boxer named J'Leon, arched over
a bed of fake sheepskinP
and early Motown LPs: POP NOTEBOOK
Maybe this staged tryst
is what fashion magazine W means by its head-
line "Motown Hit: Kate Moss & Bruce Weber
Do Detroit."
It's not just Detroitresidents wagging tongues
since celebrated photographer Weber and super-
model Moss - her status wavering day to day
between famous and infamous - descended
on the city early this summer for a photo shoot
among its notable neighborhoods. Of course,
the Detroit Free Press duly noted the high-fash-
ion sphinx's sudden presence. Fashion circles
had been buzzing for months in anticipation of
the Motown-Weber-Moss collaboration. Great-
er Detroit romantics have been waiting decades
for outsiders to see the city again as an infinitely
rich ore, pregnant with culture and promise.
The feature spans 50-some pages. Weber
stages a lazy afternoon picnic on Belle Isle, a
late night in a downtown bar and a basketball
game between an awkward Moss and Detroit
Piston Lindsay Hunter's kids. He shoots the
controversial Heidelberg Project and Wood-
lawn Cemetery, the final resting place for both
Rosa Parks and rapper Proof.
Moss is far from the lone star of this produc-
tion. Weber photographs the city's embodiments
(Aretha Franklin, Tiger Stadium), enlisting
Detroit natives like University sophomore Cha-
nel Hamilton as models. Moss often looks out

of place and haggard, but 17-year-old poet Aun-
gelique Patton-James shines. Her ode to Moss
("Miss Perfection") runs full-page opposite a
black-and-white photo of the poet and the model
sleeping entwined on a couch, clad in Hugo
Boss and Chanel.
It would make sense to confuse the W photo
story as championing Detroit's singularity.
Weber takes great pains to find the beauty in
Detroit's granite tombstones and rust-coated
Hoffa campaign signs. Carnival colors jut
from stark blacks and whites. A drag queen's
red-and-blue platform Nikes brighten a gray-
ing street corner. A hand-crafted helicopter
and garish painted carousel horses overwhelm
Moss as she dangles from a doorframe at
"Hamtramck Disneyland," a massive yard-art
installation by Dmitro Szylak in the mostly
Polish-Ukranian neighborhood of Ham-
tramck. The obvious danger of trying to cap-
ture "everyday Detroit" - rather, everyday
Detroit plus an out-of-place supermodel - is
the potential for coming off as exploitative
the city and its denizens. Detroit's self-image
is fragile enough as it is. Weber knew it was
going to be hard to pull off this project, and he
just misses it.
With its charming mix of urban blight and
Beaux-arts architecture, Detroit is newly cool.
It's hip, it's fashionable, it's a shuddering mass
of synonyms for "trendy" that should never be
applied to the Motor City.
In French, de mode or a la mode literally
translates to "in style" or "in the fashion."
Fashion is ephemeral; the city should be time-
less. Weber presents the city as a brand, not
unlike the uninitiated's view of New York as
a jumble of taxicabs, high-rise buildings and

power suits. Certainly it's impossible to cap-
ture all facets of Detroit, massive page space in
a fashion journal notwithstanding. The Weber
shoot is ambitious, and the story works best
when it's about a Detroit institution like the
Kronk Gym rather than a pretty Gucci-wear-
ing blonde trying to look comfortable on a cor-
ner of Jefferson Avenue. Some of Weber's best
shots are completely devoid of his star subject.
The piece succeeds when it delves into the
city's character and its characters.
Ultimately, you can look at this production
as a fashion photographer and model using the
whole of a city as a stage to hawk Miu Miu
and Burberry clothes that most of its residents
could never afford. But you can also recognize
Weber's ability to capture powerful human
stories with his lens, like Detroit poet laureate
Naomi Long Madgett. Or WWII pilot-turned-
professor Richard Macon, his eyes the same
color in his portrait as his royal blue Tuskegee
Airmen veteran's jacket. Or boxing champion
and tragic suicide victim Rickey Womack. The
rest of W's "Welcome to the Motor City" tour
is beautifully scripted, but it's not real.
"Detroit is coming back to life," declares
the photo feature's introduction, "reborn as one
of the most vibrant cities in the world." Thus,
Weber and Moss found it necessary to sample
a little Motown magic. According to W, the duo
got quite a lot. Photographs speak volumes -
and Weber's certainly do, although sometimes
misleadingly - but living, breathing Detroit
city is almost impossible to capture in print. See
it yourself: Picnic on Belle Isle, sneak into the
abandoned Michigan Central Station, recreate
Moss's pose at Hamtramck Disneyland. Take
your own photos.

I

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