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March 12, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-03-12

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 5

' Live s'
within
lives
OSCAR'S BEST FOREIGN
FILM WINNER LISTENS IN
TO EAST BERLIN
By KRISTIN MACDONALD
Associate Arts Editor
Sitting with folded hands behind the plainest
of brown desks, Gerd Wiesler is your prototypi-
cal worker drone, a secure lit-
tle cog in East Berlin's secret
police. Compact, patient and * **
almost robotically attentive,
Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) makes The Lives
for a coldly efficient expert
interrogator, capable of grind-
ing confessions out of sus- At the
pected citizen defectors with Michigan
self-assured patience. When
he spouts the party's loyalist Theater
rhetoric to a classroom of gov- Sony Pictures
ernment trainees, it's because Classics
he believes it.
Welcome to "The Lives
of Others" and its pre-unification East Berlin,
where a possibly subversive classroom ques-
tion can raise suspicion and an overheard
lunchroom joke can merit a demotion. The
Stasi secret police maintain constant public
patriotism with a relentless task force of social
regulation, boasting more than 200,000 citizen
"informants" as well as countless more opera-
tives like the ever-dutiful Wiesler. And with
his meager personal life given purpose by his
detail-oriented job, Wiesler is truly as mechan-
ical ass his government machine. Even when
Dn O-T V

The new dream

Sometimes a spy stumbles upon a glimpse of humanity.
this guy takes his binoculars to the theater, he's
looking at the audience.
Once presented with an opportunity for
intense single-subject surveillance, however,
Wiesler's capacity for emotional distance begins
to waver. As targets go, writer Georg Dreyman
(Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend
Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) cer-
tainly seem pleasant enough. As two handsome
adults with a strong relationship and success-
ful artistic careers, they're the very picture of
middle-class respectability, and they are totally
unaware that their shabby-chic apartment has
been thoroughly bugged.
They should know better. Art to this govern-
ment is only as valuable as it is patriotic, which
means that East Berlin's artistic community is
effectively under siege. In hitting back at the
self-righteousness of government censorship,
"Lives" minces no words, scowling as officials
pick their targets merely by the "arrogance" of
their self-expression.
Ultimately, however, it's not art that gets to
Wiesler, but basic human relations. It's after
simply listening round-the-clock to the couple's
everyday routine that Wiesler finds himself
increasingly reluctant to take those headphones
off - after all, when he trudges home at night,
it's to a sterile and very empty apartment.
Intricately layered by writer-director Flo-
rian Henckel von Donnersmarck, "The Lives
of Others" is a careful exploration of secrets,

art and loyalty which also strives to remain
relevant in our own recent era of wire-tapping.
Compared by some critics to Francis Ford Cop-
pola's surveillance drama "The Conversation"
(1974), "Lives" gains an emotional edge by more
equally parceling out its narrative to all parties
involved - even Wiesler's ambitious boss, Lt.
Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), gets a chance to slowly
grow into his position of authority. Donners-
marck's characters remain social representa-
tives without losing their humanity, much as
their precisely streamlined stories remain
within the bounds of believability without get-
ting dull.
Encouraged by a fellow writer, Dreyman
eventually begins to wet his feet in the risky
business of smuggling anti-party literature out
to West Germany's sympathetic press. Huddled
in his wiretapped study, Dreyman's smallgroup
of agitators painstakingly crafts their investi-
gative pieces, employing their art in the name
of their beliefs.
Meanwhile, back at the Stasi bureau, Lt.
Grubitz listens to a typewriter expert explain
the difficulties of tracking the typeface on a
draft of Dreyman's illegal article. In one of
Donnersmarck's many pointed subtleties, the
government expert has his presentation laid
out on a painter's easel. It's a meaningful touch
- as far as this government's concerned, it's
surveillance and its many details that have
become art.

When you think back to
grade-school history
lessons, it's hard to
forgetthat beautiful notion of the
American dream as it was stamped
onto our impressionable young
minds. Freedom of speech, free-
dom from persecution and a host
of other virtuous max-
ims were paired with
heroic tales of humble
countrymen achieving
fame and glory through
their accomplishments.
Jump to the early 20th
century, when the rags-
to-riches tale inspired
native-born hopefuls CAROL
and optimistic immi- HART
grants alike. The '60s
left us with an entirely
different vision, encour-
aging a battle againstcthe Man to
improve society.
Today, people are attempting to
reinvent their own hybrid of the
American dream by playingthat
system to their advantage via the
entertainment industry, spawning
an era of reality television.
With major corporations kick-
ing mom-and-pop shops off street
corners, a new kind of trailblazer
was bound to surface. The last
decade has seen an obsession with
reality television that has two
major precursors in television
history - the jackpot game show
and, of course, MTV's "The Real
World."
"The Price Is Right" is the most
obvious example, where alucky
seat number could score you a
trip to Egypt or a sparkling new
dining set. Despite its reputation
for matching inherently com-
batant personalities, "The Real
World" retains its 15-year legacy
as one of the first reality shows
to reach a wide audience. But its
brief moments of fame hardly
garnered respect; each show was
an entertaining spectacle, quickly
forgotten.
It's tempting to dissect the
notoriously shameful reality
shows of our time - i.e. "The
Swan," "Fear Factor," "The Girls
Next Door," etc. - but let's skip
ahead to the mostcrecent batch of
contest-drivenshows: "Project
Runway," "America's Next Top
Model," "Top Design" and "Top
Chef" Sensing a pattern? We're
always searching for the cream
of the crop, and for TV produc-
ers, sky-high ratings built around
potentially gifted contestants is a
win-win situation.
Assuming you can accept the
winners as credible recipients of
life-altering prizes, the problem
remains one of sustainability. Can
you recall the name of a single
designer to win "Project Run-
way"? Adrianne Curry has proven
to be "ANTM's" biggest success,
but is itbecause of her unequalled
modeling abilities or a puzzling
relationship with Christopher
Knight? Or the nude spread in
Playboy? "Top Design" winners
will never reach the ranks of Tom
Ford - let alone create a name
that Target is willing to com-
mission, which has apparently

become the latest benchmark for
stylish design.
Then there's "American Idol,"
the No.1 show in the country, a
modern "American-Bandstand"
that's produced genuine stars
and increased our tolerance for
brutally honest criticism. Though
"Idol" falls neatly into
the aforementioned
category, it's worth not-
ing italso hails as one
of the few exceptions.
It's become avenue
where creative talent (or
lack thereof) can reach
a level of fame faster
INE than any record label.
MANN It would be wrong to
ignore the blossoming
careers of Carrie Under-
wood, Jennifer Hudson
and, of course, Kelly Clarkson.
But the measure of these shows
can't be based on star power alone.
While the everyday aspirant
trudges through the frustrations
of "making it big," reality-show
participants are instantly trans-
ported to the peak of an otherwise
uphill climb. Even if we believe
in the demonstrated talent of a
winner, are we willingto grant
them more praise for enduring a
rigorous auditioning process and
unforgiving video surveillance?
The American
Dream: now a
reality series.
The artificial world created by a
TV show isn't a fair substitute for
what's waiting beyond the cred-
its. Not only are they unprepared
to tread the waters in the "real
world," but earnings are often less
than expected; Curry admits that
the guaranteed Revlon contract
turned out to be an unpaid sales
convention appearance.
Though each modified version
of the same formulated contest
claims to choose the most eligible
candidates,the pool of people
participating in a TV show doesn't
compare to the population at
large. Many of the ruthless forces
acting against the majority are
instantly eliminated on set.
The American dream has given
this country a vain sense of hope.
These shows aren't just offering
a stable income andrecognition
within a field - they're promising
full-blown stardom. But instead
of creating household names,
they're creating an entirely new
set of criteria to judge America's
talent. As long as we can keep the
cruel judging panels at bay, and we
acknowledge reality-showwin-
ners separately from those who
maneuvertheir way up through
the woodwork, we can expect this
new genre of fame to exist only so
far as our TV sets allow.
- Hartmann can be reached
at carolinh@umich.edu.

In 'Eatonville,' a history
told through photography

By MICHELE YANKSON
For the Daily
Quentin Rozier, a high school
student from
Eatonville; Fla.,
stares into the Embracing
eyes of museum
gazers from a E OnViIle
typical high Through
school desk with March18
an assured asser-
tion: "We might At the UMMA
not be rich, but Off/Site
we're not poor Free
either."
Rozier is fea-
tured in one of the images in
photographer Dawoud Bey's con-
tribution to "Embracing Eaton-
ville," a photographic homage to
Eatonville, the nation's first black
self-governing town. Assembled in
2003, it features the collections of
four contemporary photographers
and their rendering of the legend-
ary town.
The exhibit, running now
through March 18 at the Univer-
sity of Michigan Museum of Art
Off/Site, also serves as a tribute
to revered writer Zora Neale Hur-
ston, who lived in the town during
much of her adult life.
Bey's photographs, all in pig-
mented inkjet print, are of various
high school students, each por-
trait displayed with a correspond-

ing plaque that bears a paragraph
they wrote themselves about their
personalities, families and aspira-
tions.
"I am intelligent and pretty," one
photo reads. "I am a born leader,"
reads another.
Like Bey, Deborah Willis used
her collection to present the com-
munity of Eatonville, although
Willis's images, also in vivid color,
portray an older generation of
inhabitants. "Owners of Charlie
Jeans" depicts the husband and
wife owners of Charlie Jeans and
Chicken Wings restaurant, both
wearing bold red T-shirts bear-
ing their enterprises' name. Their
hands are clasped, their eyes a bit
wary, but their demeanors convey-
ing undeniable poise.
In accordance with the words of
Eatonville's adolescent population
in Bey's contribution, Willis's pho-
tos seem to speak for a humble yet
confident existence.
While Bey and Willis focused
on the Eatonville residents, Lon-
nie Graham tempered her photos
of the annual Eatonville Festival
with several shots of the southern
town's gentle landscape.
Her "Best Friends," an image of
two girls, one black, one white, is
perhaps the most resonant of the
group. The girls stand in a field of
grass side by side, both dressed
simply in denim jeans and pale-

colored tank tops, without any
discernible facial expressions but
with a marked self-assurance. The
photo succeeds with Graham's sig-
nature subdued sentimentality.
The final collection in "Eaton-
ville" is by Carrie Mae Weems, a
writer as well as a photographer.
The exhibit includes passages
from folklores in complement to
Weems's sepia-toned photos.
Weems placed herself in many
of the photos, an aspect of the col-
lection that's engaging but a bit
bizarre. Maria Cotera, a professor
of American culture, Latino stud-
ies and women studies, describes it
as Weems's attempt to "photograph
herself as Zora's restless ghost
wandering the back roads and hid-
den places of Eatonville."
There are two photos in which
Weems is sitting next to a piano
with only her profile shown. In
one photo, her face is overcome by
exuberant laughter; in the other,
she glares fiercely, but with a hint
of mourning. Placed alongside one
another, the images suggest a rep-
resentation of Hurston's spirit, and
that of Eatonville as whole: stun-
ning persistence after a history of
hardship.
"If you swept dust out of the
house at sunset you might just
sweep away the -spirit ... " reads
one of the plaques towards the end
of Weems's collection, an excerpt

Embracing Eatonville is running through
March 18 at UMMA's Off/Site gallery.
from a Chinese superstition. The
"Eatonville" photographs are, in
essence, an evocative capturing of
this spirit. The photographs reso-
nate because of their understated
qualities; their presence isn't only
in the physical beings they depict,
but also in the sentiments behind
them.
"Embracing Eatonville" is the
dust that has remained throughout
the years. Weems, Willis, Graham
and Bey succeed in conveying the
life of Eatonville, a town that has
made history and that, with its
resilient community intact, contin-
ues to shape it.

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