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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 - 5A

Absentee
artists

When productions of
time-tested plays are
reviewed, the article
usually only lightly touches on
the merits of the play itself. For
Shakespeare's more popular
plays, for example, the worth
of the playwright's words seem
beyond debate. At least, it's
beyond scrutiny of the expos6
sort, since the author cannot be
reached for comment.
Such reviews analyze what
happens when a work's creator
and executor are not the same
person, as with Baz Luhrmann's
pointedly titled film "William
Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet."
Shakespeare,
being long --
dead, has lit-
tle say in the
revivals of his
plays. Histor-
ical paintings
can be found
in Victorian ABIGAIL B.
or Baroque COLODNER
frames
regardless of
the era or context in which they
were made. Many contemporary
artists, having deduced that they
too will inevitably die, take legal
action to secure the integrity of
their vision.
In order to include men
onstage in Eve Ensler's strictly
female "Vagina Monologues,"
a 2007 University production
claimed that the silent males
served more as props than as
actors. Swiss visual artist Chris-
toph Buchel went to federal court
with the Massachusetts Museum
of Contemporary Art in Septem-
ber when, after their working
relationship blew up, the muse-
um opened B chel's incomplete
installation to the public.
In a column I wrote in March,
I argued a way to analyze a work
of art. In the case where an indi-
vidual produces both the idea
and its execution, one must ask:
does it accomplish what it sets
out to do? Does the actual work
reflect what the creator says he
was going for?
Current legal disputes reflect
that artists who feel their work
passes this first test want to
ensure a resounding "yes" to this
question, even when the work is
out of their hands.
The late playwright Samuel
Beckett, author of the enigmatic
"Waiting for Godot," stipulated
in his estate that his works be
staged with exacting fidelity to
the written word. His scripts
even dictate how to fill the air
around his words: "(stepforward.)
You're angry? (Silence. Step for-
ward.) Forgive me. (Silence. Step
forward. Estragon lays his hand on
Vladimir's shoulder.) Come, Didi.
(Silence.) Give me your hand.
(Vladimir halfturns.)"
Beckett is notorious for the
literalness of the control he
exerts. In 2006, a court over-
ruled his estate's objection to
female actors in the main roles in
"Godot,"which calls for five male
characters. The Italian theater
company's lawyer framed it as a
victory for gender equality.
on the same principles that
Buchel fought Mass MoCA, Beck-
Sett's estate fought the attribution
of his name to a work they felt
misrepresented Beckett's work:
"That's not what I made - and
that's not what I meant."

Reading Beckett in the privacy
of your home is unlikely to attract
this kind of legal attention. Under
the principle that "everyone gets
something different out of it,"
whatever speaks to you person-
ally is yours to take away.
But in critical discussions,
some opinions are better than

others. Talking about how we
feel is one thing - talking about
what a work does is another, even
if it seems that the work is "mak-
ing" us feel that way.
A work can evoke meanings
that the creator would never
have stood for being attributed to
him. Such a success puts the work
itself between a rock and a hard
place. If the piece is legitimately
interpretable in such an alterna-
tive light, it's shown to contradict
itself, or at least to contain loop-
holes. In that sense, it is a poor
work of art.
I mean to say not that the work
is devalued - a successful revi-
sionist production would rather
articulate its value - but that the
author didn't accomplish what
he set out to do. If his work were
as fully crafted to his vision as
possible, only his interpretation
could be the most convincing
(again, distinct from the most
"felt") one.
One work I saw in New York's
Museum of Modern Art tried to
evade being analyzed this way,
copping out of responsibility for
her work in an artist's statement
next to her piece. She explained
that her work, several nearly
Art can take on
a meaning apart
from the
intended one
identical plastic vases arranged
on the floor, could be reordered
in any way the curators desired.
In this, she removed herself from
nearly the only distinguishable
creative decision in the work.
This criticism does expose a
redemptive possibility (although
the author himself, as shown by
the protectors of Beckett's estate,
may find the observation more
condescending than redemp-
tive): that the author was the car-
rier of more meaning than he was
aware.
Fiona Shaw, the Irish actress
who plays the main character
in a current production of Beck-
ett's "Happy Days," expressed
this idea to the New York Times
recently: "Today, when the shock
of the play has worn off, we can
see that it's not so abstract, that it
does have a terrifying emotional
center. It's something that when
[Beckett] wrote it, he couldn't
have known, because good writ-
ing comes from somewhere more
profound than the intellect."
A conversation with Alexan-
der Fabry, a friend of mine and an
editor for the Harvard Crimson,
prompted the train of thought
behind this column. Alexander
shared Shaw's opinion, one that is
conveniently, if not always defen-
sibly,appliedtoallartforms: "The
author creating something and
not really understanding what it
is - being a skilled wordsmith
and sort of making unconscious
connections - can't that be as
much of a skill or a talent even if
they can't understand it?".
This line of thought subjects
artworks to the shifting sympa-
thies of time. The alternative, to
consider works fully in their con-
text,would be alongthelines ofart
history analysis. Although a work

may remain popular and even rise
in popularity, overthe years,there
is a difference between visionary
creative decisions and just plain
misunderstanding - look no fur-
ther than the paramount of West-
ern aesthetics, the plain white
forms of the once multicolored
Classical statues.

The coolest
of 'The Cool'
Chicago MC's 'Cool' an
important hip-hop release
By TED CULLINANE
DailyArts Writer

COURTESY OF ATLANTK

upe Fiasco's oft-forgotten goth phase.

There is no shortage of
things to talk about when
it comes to Lupe Fiasco's
The Cool. The album's Cornel West-
influenced conceptual theme, its
comic book-esque narrative, and its
unexpected guestspots from Snoop
Dogg and UNKLE are all fascinat-
ing aspects of Lupe Fiasco's sopho-
more effort. But strip away the
construction and outside contri-
butions of The Cool, and you're left
with a lyrical opus from one of hip
hop's most brilliant mouths. Lupe's
consistent deliv-
ery of profound
and clever lyr- ****i
ics in a slick and
nimble fashion is Lupe Fiasco
what makes The Lupe Fiasco's
Cool a captivat- The Cool
ing album. A .t
Simply put, Atlantic
Lupe never lets
his form or flow compromise his
content. Consider him a bridge
between the lyrically-dense style
of Aesop Rock and the precise,
rhythmically attuned flow of Juelz
Santana. The aptly-titled album
opener "Go Go Gadget Flow" is
an instant aural pleasure, but the
wordplay is what makes it satisfy-
ing. Over a chugging percussion
track and staccato violin stabs,
Lupe delivers his rhymes at a diz-
zying speed: "They race in a circle

like they raisin' a gerbil / I race in a
circle like I'm raisin' a horse / I'm
racin' a Porsche while they racin'
in place / They race in a cage I race
on a course."
When asked to trace his predilec-
tion for innovative rhyming, Lupe
often cites a sophomore album by
another prodigious MC. Nas's It
Was Written, released in 1996, is
widely touted as the rapper's lyri-
cal peak. On the surface, the two
albums have much in common: an
intense focus on lyricism, a shift
away from the youthful exuber-
ance of their debut albums and the
creation of alternate personas. But
delve into the albums' content and
you'llfindthatTheCoolisnearlythe
inverse of It Was Written. Whereas
Nas transforms into Nas Escobar
and raps as a glorified street hus-
tler, Lupe creates the characters of
"The Cool," "The Game" and "The
Streets" to critique the very same
hustler aesthetic.
While Nas namedrops Tony
Montana and "Goodfellas" within
the first six bars of It Was Writ-
ten, Lupe takes a critical look at
the heavily influential Mafioso
images: "These fools are my fuel
so I make them cool / Baptize'em
in the water out of Scarface pool
/ And feed'em from the table that
held the Corleone's food." These
lines are rapped from the perspec-

tive of "The Game," the album's
female antagonist that personi-
fies the oft-alluded concept of the
hustle "game."
As you can expect from an art-
ist as clever as Lupe, The Cool is not
simply a blatant exercise berating
materialism or a direct statement
against the glorification of sex,
drugs and violence. Lupe instead
'The Cool'
mirrors Nas's
early work
relies on a surrealistic narrative
as a platform for his critique. The
main character, Michael (pro-
nounced "my cool") Young History
(referred to as "The Cool"), is famil-
iar to most Lupe fans. As revealed
by Lupe in pre-album interviews,
Michael is first introduced on "He
Say She Say" and "The Cool" - two
songs from Lupe's debut album
Food &Liquor. On "HelSay She Say,"
we learn of Michael's childhood as
a gifted student with an absentee
father. On "The Cool," Michael is a
ghost of a hustler that has dug his
way out of his grave and returned
to his old block.
The inter-album connection is
solidified on "The Coolest," a track
from The Cool that finds "The

Game" and "The Cool" describing
ideal candidates for a life of crime:
"Younger, outstanding achieving
up-and-comers / The ones that
had deadbeat daddies /And wellto
do mommas / But not well enough
to keep'em from us."
The last line is uttered in a men-
acing, monster-like tone - one of
the many details that emphasize
the conceptual nature of The Cool.
In his attempt at a narrative, Lupe
shies away from skits and straight-
forward narration, instead favor-
ing a subtle story line. While his
approach is refreshing, he occa-
sionally strays from the plot and
puts his characters' exploits on
hold. In addition to these periodic
lapses in continuity, the other pos-
sible flaw is a marked change in
production. The soulful bangers
ofFood &Liquor are largelytraded
for a more cinematic sound, one
that privileges scintillating piano
and string-based melodies over
hard hitting drums.
Details aside, The Cool is an
important album. Lupe's mastery
of style and substance, combined
with his incisive social commen-
tary, are exactly what is needed in
anindustrysufferingfromlowered
standards. The young MC repeat-
edly hints at his next album being
his last, a proposition that fans of
The Cool will surely protest.

ARTS IN BRIEF

Show's foray into DVD
unfortunately bare
FILM: ***i
EXTRAS: **
"The Simpsons Movie" DVD
20th Century Fox
Considering most current DVD releases are
tagged as "Special Editions," it's important to
note that the recent "Simpsons Movie" DVD is
spared that label. Because it's nothing special
- well, at least in the non-patronizing sense.
It's unfortunate too, because while last sum-
mer's animated blockbuster largely satisfied
"Simpson" junkies and casual fans alike, the
film's initial foray into DVD and Blu-ray leaves
a lot to be desired. The lone disk contains a few
deleted scenes along with the requisite com-
mentaries and promotional spots, but where
is all the content producers have been talking
about and die-hards have been oozing over
since firstseeingthe filmlast July?Behind-the-
scenes featurettes, concept art, storyboards
and additional deleted scenes are noticeably
absent from the release, yet one of the film's
two commentary tracks almost exclusively
refers to unreleased material.
There's sure to be a "Collectors Edition" soon
but geeks don't appreciate double-dip DVD
releases: Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up") knows
this - someone should tell Matt Groening.
MICHAEL PASSMAN

scene of a movie as shrill and
passive aggressive is not the best
way to make an audience fall in
love with her. The cringe-worthy
first impression
mars "P.S. I
Love You," a
movie with
an interest-
ing premise *
that unfortunately
leads to just another
mundane, Hollywood
ending. Holly's husband
Gerry (Gerard Butler,
"300") sends her letters
with assignments he
wrote out before dying.
She goes along with the
plan, and it takes her from karaoke directed film "The Great Debaters." Based on
bars to Ireland. the semi-true story of Wiley College's debate
The movie has moments of pure sweet- team in the 1930s Jim Crow South, "Debat-
ness, and the beauty and romance of Ireland ers" has a great story to tell - too bad it's so
- and its men - is in full force. Swank is too unevenly told.
accomplished and too good an actress for this Melvin Tolson (Washington, "American
drivel but her portrayal is hardly notewor- Gangster") rounds up some bright, charis-
thy. And the premise of the movie is similarly matic and argumentative students at Wiley,
problematic. Gerry wrote the letters because hoping to put together an all-African Ameri-
he wasn't ready "to let go yet." But by keeping can debate team - unheard of in the 1930s,
Holly waiting by the mailbox, she can't move especially at a Texas university. The rest of
on either. It's really a bit cruel, and while the the film is your typical sports movie stuff,
postscript of love tries to make up for it, the right down to the final debate and the inter-
damage is done. This film is for those who nal struggles to bond as a team.
want to fall in love with Ireland, not with a Though Wiley may have never debated
movie.- Harvard as depicted in the movie or had stu-

WANT TO
WORK FOR
THE DAILY?
COME TO ONE OF OUR
MASS MEETINGS
420 Maynard St., just
northwest of the Union
. Thursday, Jan. 10
. Tuesday, Jan. 15
* Thursday, Jan. 17
* Sunday, Jan. 27
7 p.m.

SARAH SCHWARTZ

'P.S.' is nothing to write True story suffers from

home about

tepid devices
"The Great Debaters"
MGM/Weinstein
At Showcase and Quality 16

dents with such painfully-Hollywood paren-
tal issues, its debate team is still important
to recognize and research. Ultimately, it
is the racial and historical context of the
team that makes "Debaters" worth watch-
ing. But "Debaters" suffers from madden-
ingly uneven melodrama. Everything else is
admirable: Washington exhibits the proper
kind of excitement and care needed for such
a project, and the opening montage of argu-
ments, religion and southern blues is bril-
liant. Unfortunately, the film never quite
lives up to its initial promise.
BLAKE GOBLE

"P.S. I Love You"
Alcon Entertainment
At Showcase and Quality 16

Perhaps introducing a 19-year-old Holly Shades of greatness abound in the dis-
(Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry") in the first honest but engaging, Denzel Washington-

11

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