The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - 5A
Finding the right
Beethoven is a popular guy.
People look to him for
certain things - beauty,
sophistication, excellence in
the Western cannon. He made a
Luckily for today's public, his
skill was imme-
nized and his
music was pre-
there are plenty
of capable musi-
and music halls
to recreate that COLODNER
music. ^- - -
This artist's contributions
became part of a lovingly main-
tained tradition. The now-classic
music is part of a larger practice
that's also been maintained and
protected by cultural heirs - by
those well-educated and well-
endowed enough to keep public
Ann Arbor and Detroit both
strive to be keepers of cultural
legacy. Detroit has some unique
problems, but even in an endeavor
where it seems like falling short
would be impossible, Detroit's
institutions and public can trip up.
In Ann Arbor, a city that pulls
in more than its share of arts pro-
fessionals through venues like the
Power Center, The Michigan The-
ater and Hill Auditorium (not to
mention the University's academic
structures), full attendance is the
norm. Unusual debuts as well as
seasonal standards are usually
attended at their expected level, if
not actually sold out.
There is a population here that
can be depended on to patronize
the arts. It recognizes that Ann
Arbor gathers good cultural prod-
uct. It has the time, the resources
and the sympathy to absorb it.
But Ann Arbor isn't even sup-
posed to be the primary basin
for this patronage. It's debatable
whether Ann Arbor is primarily a
(cosmopolitan) suburb of Detroit
or a city unto itself. It could be a
strange in-between: a self-sustain-
ing entity, which exists outside of
the outdated definition of a suburb
as a residential area that feeds off
the cultural and financial resourc-
es of a nearby city.
We all know of bruised-but-
hopeful Detroit marshallingtroops
to fight its way into a niche. The
City of Detroit's website praises
Mayor Kilpatrick's effectiveness
in putting the city "on the road
to recovery - as a major Ameri-
can metropolis, business center,
and cultural and entertainment
Mecca" in a USA Today quote cited
on the page. As the quote acknowl-
edges, the state of the public arts
in Detroit is a significant marker.
Art matters, and it can be used to
quantify success and shortcom-
But on a recent Friday night,
with a program dominated by
Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 and
billed, appealingly, as "the bright-
er side of this genius's turbulent
spirit," the Max M. Fisher Music
Center's Orchestra Hall looked to
be less than half full. There were
entire aisles of seats open on the
main floor and only scattered faces
in the upper tiers. As part of the
DSO's season subscription, many
seats at the performance should
have been filled by regulars.
Not even a classical "genius"
- and in one of his "brighter"
moods at that - could pull in a
half-full house? What should have
been a no-brainer was more like a
no-show. The attendant audience
put on a strong front with over-
emphatic enthusiasm. They stood
to applaud (drop into almost any
musical performance these days
and you're likely to find yourself
applauding the backs of your fel-
low attendees by the end) long
enough to merit three bows from
the conductor and soloist as well
as an encore.
The director of marketing and
promotion at UMS, Sara Billmann,
said that in securing good ticket
sales, they "try to make (the venue)
always feel full, because we want
people to feel like they're part of a
collective event." The strategy is to
cater the event, the venue and the
Two cities, two
audience to each other.
The intended audience for the
kind of event Detroit's most "clas-
sic" venues offers does exist - but
it's not showing up. Newer suburb
communities, less riddled with
history and painful self-aware-
ness, provide ways to spend leisure
time and money that evidently feel
equivalent to a lot of people.
For who if not Beethoven, in a
relatively modest 2,000-seat hall
(compared to Hill's ambitious
3,500-seat auditorium), in a city
ringed with suburbs populated by
upper-middle-class educated and
largely white adults, could guar-
antee a "collective event"?
Ann Arbor and Detroit are aim-
ing at basically the same demo-
graphic with the same general
interests for the same "classic"
fare. Ann Arbor is coasting, but
despite Detroit's efforts, the city
falls short of being an indispens-
able urban locus
- In Detroit or here at home,
Colodner requests your presence.
E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By SHERI JANKELOVITZ
Daily Arts Writer
The Beatles-inspired musi-
cal "Across the Universe" takes
its audience from the bubble-
gum pop of suburbia to the
of late '60s
City. Lushly' Across the
with a near- At Showcase
ly flawless Columbia
its best the movie is a sublime,
transcendent fusion of music
This is especially unlikely
given the film's subject. The
typical mention of the Beatles
and the movies in the same
sentence can bring a crowded
room to a halt. The material
has been pretty much exhaust-
ed, and the multiple attempts at
translating the band's music to
the screen - we all remember
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Band" - have inot ended
in many successful movies.
That's why "Across the Uni-
verse" is such a huge risk and
such an impressive accom-
plishment. No one will take
a musical based on 33 classic
Beatles songs and set in the late
'60s lightly, especially sincethe
band's immortality has only
increased with age. But under
the intensely visual direction
of Julie Taymor ("Frida"), the
music in "Across the Universe"
really does become new again,
and the movie dazzles its audi-
ence with the simple brilliance
of its images.
The film opens as Jude (Jim
Sturgess), a dockworker from
Liverpool, travels to America
to find his father. It's there he
meets and falls in love with
Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood,
"Thirteen"), a once-giggly
teenybopper who turns into
a free-spirited activist after
her high school sweetheart is
killed in Vietnam.
From this setup, "Across the
Universe" primarily coaxes
us into its world of love and
rebellion through stunning
sequences of music and art.
But there are moments when
the movie strains hard to be
something more than just a
trippy musical, and the con-
trivance is obvious. Taken for
what it really is - and not what
it pretends to be - "Across
the Universe" definitely suc-
It's rather hard to fail with a perfect soundtrack.
ceeds. The songs are naturally
incorporated into each scene,
and the actors, particularly
Sturgess and Wood, sing them
It's a shame the film can't
allow the audience to simply
enjoy the music withoutunnec-
essary preaching. The movie
falters here: The overarching,
redundant "war is evil" man-
tra is awkwardly dropped onto
our laps. Taymor is unable to
grasp that in an experience
as predominately visual as
this, the story and its message
shouldn't be the main focus.
The Beatles are the main act,
and the Vietnam War and the
draft are only supporting play-
ers. As much as Taymor tries,
she can't have it both ways.
Still, her vision is at times
breathtaking, at times dizzy-
ing and at times simply joyous.
There are occasional visual
missteps - saddling a singing
UncleSamposter with thesong
"I Want You" is particularly
ham-fisted, and the persistence
of the images can be too much
- but a closeted lesbian cheer-
leader singing a mournful ren-
dition of"I Want To Hold Your
Hand"? Brilliant. The film also
has clever cameos, including
Bono singing "I Am the Wal-
rus" to Salma Hayek as not one
but six nurses.
Despite its occasional
meanderings into kitschy
psychedelic fare, "Across the
Universe" inspires as much as
it entertains. As a social state-
ment it's unnecessary and
obvious, but as a pop musical
it's completely exhilarating.
Appropriate to the Beatles, the
movie's ultimate triumph is in
its uncommon ability to carry
its audience visually through
the music itself.
ARTS IN BRIEF
'Back' to basics
"Back to You"
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
Women don't watch "Frasier" to
Fox's new Wednesday-night
comedy "Back to You" seems con-
fused about this. The show fol-
lows news anchor Chuck Darling
(Kelsey Grammer, "Frasier") as
he reunites with his old station in
Pittsburgh after a to-year hiatus.
Despite having been fired from his
previous position in Los Angeles
for yelling expletives on the air,
he's as belligerent as evec.
The employees at the station
include a sports anchor (Fred Wil-
lard, "Anchorman) with a taste
for off-color humor and a weather
girl (Ayda Field, "Studio 60 on the
Sunset Strip") who assuages self-
esteem issues with tight clothing.
Then there's Darling's older co-
anchor, Kelly Carr (Patricia Hea-
ton, "Everybody Loves Raymond"),
who hates him in no uncertain
terms. The plot is basically made
up of a slew of dirty jokes that
involve Grammer having sex, be it
with a girl who played Bert in "Ses-
ame Street on Ice" or with Carr,
which is not only gross but totally
To the show's credit, Grammer
and Heaton have clear comedic
chemistry, and the pilot's clever
plot suggests some potential. But
the repartee remains mostly
sexual, and it's a shame to waste
actors with the range of Grammer
and Heaton on dick jokes. "Back
to You" seems a little better than
typicalFox claptrap - it's certainly
no "Stacked" - but it would work
much better if it didn't expect the
audience to believe people want to
see Grammer naked.
Rock funny, no
"The Game Plan"
At Quality16 and Showcase
Deep down,inthe mostshameful
parts of your very being, you kind
of like "Kindergarten Cop." Kids
do and say the craziest things, and
when big lumbering adults cross
their paths, it's funny. Dwayne
"The Rock" Johnson ("The Run-
down" forever) gets it, and that's
the sole appeal of the relentlessly
saccharine "The Game Plan."
Joe Kingman (Johnson) is
quarterback for the Boston Reb-
els, yearning for the elusive MVP
trophy. Everything looks his way
until finding out he has an 8-year
old daughter. Peyton (Madison
Pettis) is a spunky, obnoxious girl.
Peyton and Joe must bond, and
teach each other about family love
The Rock is the only reason to
watch the movie. When Joe fights
with Peyton over workout music
and screams "mine mine mine!"
over a towel, you chuckle. The
movie may be dishonest and prone
to every live-action Disney hang-
up in existence, but it's funny and
infectiously childish nonetheless.
Though that may not make it much
better as a movie, I suspect it'll
mean a lot to the parents whose
kids drag them to watch it.
Thursdays at 10 p.m.
"Men, we're the new women."
It's not often that a show explic-
itlystates the sales pitch its creators
gave the network, but that's not a
problem for "Big Shots." Four CEOs
get togetherto golf, drink and cheat
on their wives in ABC's attempt to
inject "Sex and the City" with tes-
tosterone and aim it at, well, who
exactly? That's not really clear.
The show boasts a solid cast
of TV regulars, including Dylan
McDermott ("The Practice") and
Michael Vartan ("Alias"), but it has
no idea what to do with them. The
show bizarrely splits into three
distinct entities by relegating char-
acters to strict drama, comedy or
dramedy, nobody in between.
Who wants to listen to douche-
bag CEOs discuss their sex lives?
Other than a few shiny Mercedes
and a bounty of cleavage shots,
there's little to keep anyone - male
or otherwise - entertained.
'Dirty' feels so good
"Dirty Sexy Money"
Wednesday at 10 p.m.
In "Dirty Sexy Money," we're
asked if "money is the root of all
evil." If it isn't, it's at least the root
of all entertainment.
(Peter Krause, "Six Feet Under"),
whose father (the Darling's former
lawyer) died in a plane crash. Mr.
Darling (Donald Sutherland, "Com-
mander in Chief") offers Nick $10
million to become his new attorney,
an offer Nick accepts, causing him
effectively to sign his life away.
The show engages the posi-
tive and negative effects of wealth
- being seen as a human bank
account does skew romantic and
business relationships - but the
real fun comes from the characters.
The family is full of nut jobs and
alcoholics, but they're all likeable.
They're hurtinganyone; they're just
buying each other happiness. The
Darling way of life may not seem
ethical, but it's certainly exciting.
"Dirty Sexy Money" is the perfect
show for you to live out your Rock-
Stuck in the lunar
"In the Shadow of the Moon"
At the Michigan Theater
"In the Shadow of the Moon"
feels uncomfortably like propagan-
da peddled by NASA and the gov-
ernment. For too long we sit and
listen to the self-discovery each
astronaut finds after trips to the
moon. Earth, claims one astronaut,
is the real "Garden of Eden." "Why
do people complain at all?" laments
another. Well, let's think about it.
Director David Sington (a some-
time producer of "Nova") adopts
a sci-fi perspective, switching
between astronauts reacting simi-
larly to questions like "What did
you think of those first words?" or
"Were you scared?" and montages
of rockets taking off, disassem-
bling or just floating along with
sparks in outer space. The footage
is timeless, and the astronauts are
endearing, but a critical take on
one of man's most unique feats this
century rather than a sentimental
look at a trip these guys took would
make a better fit for a movie.
In 1969 the world tuned in to
watch man land on the moon, and
the experience might have been
one of unification for a couintry
and world in turmoil. But no mat-
ter the montages and gift-wrapped
nostalgia, that historical feat alone
doesn't do it foran audience today.
By CAITLIN COWAN
Daily Arts Writer
In photographs, Devendra Ban-
hart resembles that guy in the back
of the cafe smoking cloves and
looking serene - the long-haired
one, the well-
read one, the *
one who radiates
From another Devendra
ingenue looks a Smokey Rolls
bit like Jesus. Down Thunder
And with eyes Canyon
closed and the
volume turned XL
Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Can-
yon, sounds eerily like a series of
sacred odes, chants and wails,
recorded in English and Spanish
with dashes of gorgeous Portu-
guese. He might be a mere mortal,
but Banhart may also be the savior
of a genre at once difficult, alienat-
ing and uncommonly engaging.
This album is shorter than his
last, 2005's near-epic Cripple Crow,
featuring a more manageable 16
tracks and a deft mixture of differ-
ent sensibilities and genres.
Perhaps it's too easy to charac-
terize Banhart's songs in terms
of his life, but it's hard to avoid.
Tracks like "Carmensita" and
"Samba Vexillographica" sound
like travels in Venezuela, where
he grew up. The dreamy "Freely"
and "I Remember" could be forays
into Paris, where he also lived for
a time after leaving the San Fran-
cisco Art Institute.
In any case, the diversity of
sounds and flavors Banhart creates
on the album is both remarkable
and skillfully achieved.
At times Banhart babbles like a
child, warbles like a bird or moans
like a hip ghost during the album's
72 glorious minutes. But no matter
how he sings, it's always with taste:
Though he spends most of the mel-
ancholy "Bad Girl" singing "Wah
wah wah wah / wah wah wah... "
it isn't irritating. It becomes more
comforting and beautiful as each
minute ticks by.
Take a song like "Sea Horse."
Just when it seems as if the flute-
and-piano folk tune (which could
double as background music on an
autumn day in a Peanuts cartoon)
is about to end, a bluesy break-
down takes over and skillfully ends
the song a full three minutes later.
Banhart's style morphs drastical-
ly in the space of one track - yet
somehow, deep in the core of the
song's refrain, it meditates on the
same theme as it did at the start.
Even though some of the songs
run into the murky five-to-eight
minute range, putting a time con-
straint on these sonic masterpiec-
es would be an inherent mistake.
This is art - those who seek mere
entertainment had best turn back
Smokey Rolls Down ultimately
ends up resembling a large canvas
of sound and the geography of dif-
ferent places and cultures, rather
than atight, cohesive album. While
its expansive nature could never
be a selling point (all the better
for a self-made man like Banhart),
it certainly feels right, listen after
listen. Frankly, Banhart's work
here is some of the most stunning
music this year and, with five stel-
lar albums in his past, he thank-
fully shows no signs of stopping.