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December 05, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-12-05

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, December 5, 2006 - 5

Wake us when
He grows up
BIBLICAL DRAMA TOO MUNDANE AN EFFORT

By IMRAN SYED
Daily Arts Writer
It's quite a bold move to feature the biggest under-
statement of all millennia as a film's tagline. Posters
for "The Nativity Story" read "Her
child would change the world," ** .3s
and all of us - Catholic, atheist
or somewhere in between - can The
agree that Mary's child has done Nativity
W that and more. The film, of course, Story
isn't actually about that illustrious At the Showcase
child. "The Nativity Story" is an and Qualityl6
account of the time into which he New Line
was born and, more specifically, an
earnest, respectable and totally unoriginal portrayal
of his young mother's struggle.
The plotline of "The Nativity Story" should need
no introduction. About 2,000 years ago in a small
Judean village called Nazareth, a young girl named
Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes, "Whale Rider") is vis-
ited by an angel and told she will bear the savior of
mankind. Beneath the iron-fisted rule of King Herod
and his ruthless Roman overlords - where the poor
toil only to be plundered by the powerful - a savior
has long been foretold, and the king will stop at noth-
ing to destroy this potential threat to his rule. If the
child is to even come into the world, let alone survive
long enough to save it, his mother and her husband,
Joseph, must escape the soldiers sent to destroy it.
If she were in any other film, poor little Keisha
Castle-Hughes would never reach the Tom Cruise/
Mel Gibson category of stars whose private lives inter-
fere with the marketing of their films, but her current
pregnancy at age 16 has afforded the young Australian
actress more publicity than even her Oscar nomination
for "Whale Rider" two years ago. Despite the absurd
Internet rumors of a Catholic boycott, Castle-Hughes's
sincere, stoic performance is certainly among the few
bright spots of the film.
Though it's an honorable and, at times, beauti-
ful production, "The Nativity Story" offers only a

JESUS ON THE SILVER SCREEN
A look at some our favorite Bible interpretations:
Life of Brian (1979): Monty Python in fine form. Nothing
screams cinematic evangelism like an acting troupe of crazy
Brits on crucifixes.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988): Martin Scorsese has
a stalwart Willem Dafoe (as Jesus Himself) make holy com-
munion with one Mary Magdalene - much to the church's
(world's) displeasure.
Dogma (1999): Jay and Silent Bob bumble alongside a plot
involving archangels Ben Affleck and Matt Damon conspiring
against the Creator, played by Alannis Morisette.
The Passion of the Christ (2004): Despite the beginning of
the end for actor/director Mel Gibson's public image (including
accusations of anti-Semitism), it endured tepid critical response
to become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.
straight, undiluted account of mainstream scripture.
That may be enough for Middle America in Decem-
ber, but it leaves much to be desired nonetheless.
The film simply has nothing new to offer to a story
everyone already knows inside and out. That doesn't
mean changing the plot, but, as a century of cinema
has taught us, there area thousand ways to tell a good
story, and we're coming up with new ones all the
time. This film just picks the most routine, noncha-
lant method and does nothing to make this produc-
tion stand out.
Mel Gibson's "The Passion ofthe Christ" had a fresh,
fractured structure and dream-like aesthetics (not to
mention shocking brutality) that captured our atten-
tion as an inspired take on an old story. The difference
is a vision in filmmaking - "The Nativity Story" clings
to the straight narrative of the Bible, and no matter
how beautiful or sincere, this production ultimately
fails in distinguishing itself among its peers.

in a feomonths she'l "underistand the Virgin Motherist aittl'bit bctter.

Art and nationalism

Jn a notebook I wrote this
past Friday, I summarized
a few of today's leading dis-
putes involving the moral obliga-
tion of international museums to
return artworks to their respected
countries of origin. Exhibit A has
Greece and England pitted over
the famed Elgin Marbles. With
exhibit B we
have Italy
and several
major Ameri-
can muse-
ums going
toe-to-toe
over classical
antiquities. ANDREW
There's a
fair amount SARGUS
of legitimate KLEIN
counter-
points voiced by the countries
who possess the coveted works:
Many can, in fact, prove without
a doubt that the works in question
were acquired legally. Greece and
Italy are left with "moral obliga-
tion" as their flagship argument.
And the public has, in part,
responded. Some of the Parthe-
non's past tourists who broke off
tiny pieces as souvenirs (this, of
course, was from when you could
sit on the steps of the Athena-
devoted shrine) have since started
sending them back - a toe here,
a piece of a frieze there. Such
gestures are wonderful in their
immediacy. The image of a mag-
nificent, colossal jigsaw puzzle
slowly assembled back together is
impossible not to admire.
But as the director of the Getty
Museum in Los Angeles, which
represents the most public dis-
pute with Italy, pointed out, the
artworks in question are in fact
owned by the state of California,
since the institution receives
public funds. There is no legal
channel for returning works in
part owned by the public. The
London Museum argues the uni-
versal need of top museums keep-
ing their "one-stop culture hub"
status.
But what of "moral obligation"?
Taking the devil's advocate's side
first, it seems that returning all
artworks past and present to their
"rightful" country would be a
complete and irreconcilable mess
of red tape, legal strife and bitter-
ness. How long would the list of
disputed works run?

If Greece and Italy succeed in
reclaiming some of the scattered
pieces of their respective heritag-
es, how far would the precedent
affect the art world? Indeed,
compromises are being struck in
several cases - this isn't an "axis-
of-evil" situation. But overall, to
each his own, right? This or that
museum was in the right place at
the right time, and to the victors
go the spoils. Plus, using the Lon-
don Museum's argument, inter-
national museums need to have
as wide a collection as possible
- that's what makes them great.
Hold on a minute.
What's the sappy, idealistic tan-
trum? Oh, yeah, art should tran-
scend business and politics and
other accoutrements of the mod-
ern art world. Now I remember.
And it's true, by God. All legal
hullabaloo aside, the countries
holding tightly to their rightful
claims should be more liberal
with their lending policies. As I
said, there are compromises being
made. But the "moral obliga-
tion" touted by Greece and Italy
shouldn't stop at the national
level. There should be an interna-
tional obligation to the spreading
of cultural wealth. Read reviews
of any of the nearly innumerable
international biennials and wit-

ness second-hand how important
the convergence of cultures will
always be. Anytime a Monet or
Michelangelo or Hiroshige retro-
spective rolls through your home-
town, it's the most important arts
event in the media.
Top museums
need to look for
the common good.
We might have to resign our-
selves to the grim reality our dev-
il's advocate described: It's just
not possible to right every wrong.
Be that as it may, it might not
even matter. If the world's leading
museums raised their approach
to lending to another level, one
that realizes that everyone - not
just those in "rightful" countries
or who were lucky enough to be
born in New York, London, Paris,
etc. - is entitled to experience
the timeless fruits our world has
produced.
- Klein has yet to return his
various caryatids to Greece. E-mail
him at andresar@umich.edu.

for more information call 734/615-6449
The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science,
and the Arts presents a public lecture and reception

Myth and Memory in Classical Greece

Richard Janko
Gerald F. Else Collegiate Professor
of Classical Studies
Wednesday
December 6, 2006
LSA Rackham Amphitheater
4:10 PM

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