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January 28, 2008 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-01-28

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, January 28, 2008 - 5A

Images of change

>URTESYOF PARAMOUNT VANTAGE AND MIRAMAX

"I reckon we're aren't in Kansas anymore."

Blood,' sweat and tears

Esoteric director's latest
film is a masterpiece of
human tragedy and
razor-sharp execution
By BLAKE GOBLE
DailyArts Writer
Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be
Blood" is quite possibly the most enthrall-
ing, unique and master-
ful film of 2007. But, in
achieving this, it also hap-
pens to be one of the most There Will
pretentious, frustrating
and unusual films. This
is filmmaking at its most At the State,
relentlessly bombastic. Showcase and
Concerning itself with Quality 6
oil, big business, crackpot
religion and our national raoutn
anger, this is a big, sprawl- Miramae
ing slice of Americana.
Daniel Plainview is the
name, and drilling oil is his game. He is the
whole film. Complicated, expansive and
cerebral, yet immediate, relentless and bru-
tal, "Blood" is whatever you make of it. But
it's not without its flaws, which are all the
more apparent in an ambitious case such as
this.
Plainview (a red hot Daniel Day-Lewis,
"Gangs of New York") is an oil man. Hands
and face constantly caked in oil, Plainview
is a slick and marketable figure. He's a wan-
nabe Hearst in the making. Plainview turns
his eyes to the burgeoning market in East-
ern California because there's money to be
had and people to be "beaten and broken."
Little Boston - a Podunk town with oil
leaking up from the ground - is brought to
Plainview's attention. He wants it not for

oil prices, but cheap, dumb farmer prices.
But as the unscrupulous Plainview starts
to alter the landscape for his own desires,
struggles that are physical, logical and per-
sonal arise.
The town develops and people change.
We witness Plainview descend into mega-
lomania. Young Eli Sunday (Paul Dano,
"Little Miss Sunshine"), the preacher at the
local Church of the Third Revelation, is a
constant thorn in Plainview's side. A man
claiming to be Daniel's brother appears in
hopes of latching onto the man's ever-bur-
geoning empire. Along the way, we get bril-
liant exercises in style and performance
while being shown the moral problems of
self and society.
So what's all the hubbub about anyways?
Surely a film that nabs eight Oscar nomina-
tions must be doing something right.
Simply put, it does. Anderson, often
called unoriginal, uses his deep knowledge
of classic film to give nods to other great
filmmakers like Huston, Kubrick, Altman
and countless others, while synthesizing
his own masculine aesthetic. When looking
at the inception of one of America's biggest
businesses, it's important to see its leaders
start out insignificant and hungry. Think
"Citizen Kane."
Everything in this production is near
perfect. Robert Elswit's camera keeps
everything in focus amid all the blood, dirt
and oil. Production designer Jack Fisk's
jaunty shacks and huts allude to the simple
emotional states of its leads amid the bar-
ren landscapes. And Paul Dano is a scary
little shit of a man-boy: manipulative, wiry
and pubescent-sounding when angry, the
young actor shows great promise. It all
works together to create a blisteringly sur-
real story that never lets go.
In a beautiful yet tragic scene, Plain-
view's well has burst, sending his son H.W.
flying through the air. Meanwhile, the

well has caught fire, and Plainview must
stop the burning. We see his madness and
glee as the camera hovers closely around
his eyes, excited that he has found a great
deal of money in the ground. But we also
see how his mind is warped because of the
lack of care for his son and co-workers. It's
breathtaking and perfectly executed.
Anderson almost eliminates all his self-
serving tendencies (the esoteric "Boogie
Nights"), to create a film that may actually
be for the masses. "Blood" doesn't feel like
an NYU student bragging about his home-
work accomplishments, but a man who's
finally discovering his talents.
But that's just the problem. When a film
as ambitious as this comes around, it's only
natural that the flaws seem all the great-
er. Day-Lewis, for all his sound and fury,
becomes almost self-parodying by the end.
He's great, but like Leonidis in "300," Dan-
iel Plainview becomes more about the bark-
ing madness and hatred than the character,
which is underdeveloped to say the least.
And Jonny Greenwood's ethereal scoring is
haunting, but at times laughable. You know,
like when a single piano key is hit hard.
That happens a couple times.
Add some fairly inconsistent atmo-
sphere, a lack of female presence and an
unfortunately poor and unnecessary finale,
and you have just a few of the many prob-
lems with "Blood." But maybe that's just
what makes this film so great. You will feel
compelled to argue about it for days on end.
See it with people. Many will find this to
be a perfect examination of the harshness
of human nature. Others will see an air of
pretentiousness that never stops lingering.
Either way, this film will affect you, and
it's not like anything we've seen recently.
Between everything this film has going
for it, "There Will Be Blood" should not
be missed, whether you end up liking it or
not.

By PRIYA BALI
Daily Arts Writer
They intended to document the
aftermath of China's Cultural Revolu-
tion. Instead their records show not
only a nation in transition, but also
two people who
were transition- I
ing from daily lives Inge Morath
in America to out- and Arthur
siders in a recon-
structed China. Miller: China
This is the transfor- At UMMA .
mation photojour- Off/Site
nalist Inge Morath
and her husband, Through March23
playwright Arthur
Miller, underwent on their first trip to
China in 1978. From now until March
23, the University of Michigan Muse-
um of Art Off/Site will offer a glimpse
of their memories and experiences in
the exhibit "China."
"Here, then, is a bit of how it was
for two people, well-disposed and try-
ing to see and listen, at the particular
moment when the dust of the temple
beganto settle," University alum Mill-
er wrote in the introduction to "Chi-
nese Encounters," a book on the pair's
visit. Indeed, Morath's and Miller's
interpretations aren't records of the
conflicts themselves but, rather, an
illustration of how the invulnerability
of the human spirit allows people to
face these conflicts.
With the launch of the Cultural
Revolution in 1966, Mao Zedong.
launched a plan to erase the country's
traditional artistic influences and to
use China's youth in his Red Army.
What followed this tortuous era was a
desperate need to rebuild the country.
Two stories are simultaneously told
in the exhibit: one of China's struggle
to cope with this cultural change, and
one of Morath and Miller's attempt to
understand how deeply this change
ran in the lives of the people they met
and photographed.
Miller approached China's Cultur-
al Revolution with a curiosity about
the sociopolitical atmosphere, and
Morath, who was also a linguist, was
primarily concerned with Chinese
literature and history. Both interests
form what John Jacob, curator of
the exhibit and director of The Inge
Morath Foundation in New York, calls
in his introduction to the exhibit "two
sides of the same coin."
"All of Morath's major bodies of
work have a consistent theme, which
is examining the struggle of moderni-
ty with tradition and looking at what
people do in the face of that struggle,"
Jacob said in an interview. "There's no
conclusion, only an awareness."
Excerpts from Morath's and Mill-
er's journals complement the artwork.
The visual and textual forms function
cooperatively in that both speak for
the other when one couldn't effec-

tively convey whatthe two were expe-
riencing.
For Morath, writing became a tool
through which she expressed the
energy and momentum of China when
a camera could only capture still life.
Similarly,thecameraprovided Morath
with a language she couldn't always
speak through writing. In the midst of
learning of China's struggles, Morath
was discovering her own. The frustra-
tion of being an outsider is something
she confessed in her journal entries,
and in a sense, this is expressed in
many of her photographs - her visual
perspective is that ofthe outsider look-
ing in. Morath's photographs show
how windows and doors sometimes
inhibited her interactions with her
subjects. Alienation is also expressed
in photos where large distances stand
between her camera and her object
of interest. On the other hand, we
see Morath's attempt to become fully
immersed in her subject as a success-
ful one, sharing aview with the people
she is surrounded by.
Morath gives us intimate stories
about life within villages and cities.
We see the civilian in the village of
Meijiawu and the cities of Beijing and
Shanghai, in schools, on side streets,
in courtyards, tea houses and factories
and, sometimes, we see the absence of
people within these scenes. Perhaps
the most common images are commu-
Looking in at
China after Mao
nities and human interactions formed
by small groups. It is as if we are gain-
ing access to the lives of people who
are justnow finding shelter after being
caught in a thunderstorm that went on
for 10 years.
"Morathhad ahumanistic approach
to an encounter with the world," Jacob
said. "Her photographs aren'tso much
aboutthe Chinese as much as they are
about her encounter with them."
Morath's vivid honesty brings color
to her primarily black and white pho-
tographs. Telling a story about a post-
Mao age in China is challenging, but
sharing it through the perspective of
someone who is admittedly insecure
about being on the outside allows
the viewer to realize a commonality
between herself and the photographer
The cause and aftermath of what
Miller called "China's contradiction,"
as well as Morath's struggle to over-
come her status as an outsider, may be
unresolved in the exhibit's story. How-
ever, it's evident that a nation as well as
an individual must work courageously
in order to uplift the restraints that
isolate them from the areas outside the
places in whichthey are confined.

Indie pop you won't agree with

By DEREK BARBER
DailyArts Writer
Love it or hate it, you can't ignore
Xiu Xiu. For nearly a decade, the
Bay-area art-poppers have been cul-
tivating an origi-
nal voice among
crops of indistin-
guishable peers.
Xiu Xiu's polar- Xiu Xiu
izing effect on Women as
indie-rock audi- Lovers
ences has every-
thing to do with Kill Rock Stars
lead songwriter
Jamie Stewart's inimitable, often
jarring vocal calisthenics, as well as
his penchant for the darker of human
inclinations. Women as Lovers, the
latest album, marks the band's sixth
record. Its most self-assured, pre-
cise and mature release since 2004's
breakthrough Fabulous Muscles,
Women as Lovers also serves as a tes-
tament to a shifting musical climate.
If Women as Loners is, as many
suggest, more accessible than pre-
vious Xiu Xiu records, it has little
to do with any artistic compromise
on the band's behalf. Innovative as

ever, Stewart and company abandon cumbersome lyrics on the album.
all use of digital programming and "No Friend Oh!" is, albeit without
sequencing - a previous staple of much competitionthe catchiestpop
the band since its incarnation. As a ditty about homosexual pedophilia
result, every melted chime, R2-D2 ever written. Its magic, like on the
blurp and vocal howl sounds organ- epic pop of album closer "Gayle
ic and fresh. Lynn," is the complementary duet of
The brilliant opener "I Do What Stewart's hazy baritone and band-
I Want, When I Want," with its
eerie hook, hummable vibraphone
flourishes and acrobatic saxophone Accessibility at its
counterpoint is remarkable. Blur-
ring the line between carelessness most inaccessible
and perfectionism, Xiu Xiu exudes
a newfound confidence in its craft.
What has remained intact is
Stewart's reputation as a word- mate/cousin Caralee McElroy's
smith. Within 14 tracks, Stewart whisper-soft soprano.
spins lyrics as unsettling as "make- What Women as Lovers exempli-
up on pimples" ("White Nerd") and fies in maturity, however, it lacks
descriptions as pseudo-Shakespear- in cohesion. As a result of Xiu Xiu's
ean as "the scorpion in our chests boundless ambition for variation,
cuts the word to scar powerless- there is little conversation between
ness" ("F.T.W."). He's only expand- most tracks. While a general mood
ing on what he's already mastered:
spiraling narratives of increasing
depth and terror. ig Rou
Thankfully, Stewart doesn't shy
from his pop sensibilities offering a 1220 S. University Suite 215. 734-21
unique contrast and much needed
relief to many of the emotionally Largest Salon

may pervade the record, a few songs
feel a bit more important than oth-
ers. For example, the cover of the
Queen/David Bowie classic "Under
Pressure," featuring the sultry and
understated vocals from Angels of
Light's MichaelGira,is relatively cre-
ative and worthy of the original but it
undermines the album's originality
- it feels more like an outtake.
Still, Women as Loners seems
poised to reach an even larger audi-
ence than XiuXiu's previousoutings.
The miraculous growth of listeners
more willing to stretch their ears to
the likes of Animal Collective and
Dirty Projectors suggests this pos-
sibility more than Xiu Xiu's own
merits. But that's just silly - the best
records always find ways to argue
with a listener despite reservations.
Women as Lovers grapples in this
fashion and Xiu Xiu doesn't show
any signs ofletting go.

You could never bleach their dark souls.

I

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