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February 22, 2010 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-02-22

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com Monday, February 22, 2010 - 5A

Compelling confession

They call him Mr. Poitier

Gil Scott Heron
returns with a short,
introspective album
For the Daily
Watching The Who perform
at the Super Bowl was a difficult
experience. It
wasn't the lights,
tight shirts or Gil Scott
overall lack of
energy. There was Heron
something slightly I'm New Here
more troubling.
Throughout the XL
show, the audience
was faced with unanswerable ques-
tions: How do classic artists main-
tain their integrity into old age?
How can they release music that is
more than just competent but rel-
evant or even exciting? How do you
stay cool forever?
Gil Scott Heron is an iconic poet,
author and musician whose spoken-
word pieces "The Bottle" and "The
Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
led to public and critical acclaim
throughout the '70s and early '80s.
His speak-sing and proto-rap vocal
styles were influential in hip hop's
genesis, and he became an icon of
the black militant movement. Some
call him the black Bob Dylan. For
roughly the past 20 years, Heron
battled drugs, alcohol and jail time,
all the while sporadically record-
ing and performing. Now, in his
first proper LP since 1994's Spirits,
Heron is paired with producer and
owner of XL Records, Richard Rus-
sell, for I'm New Here.
As a title, it makes a lot of sense
- Here is composed of elements
both new and old. Under Russell's
production, Heron, whose rich
baritone has been weathered to a
slurring rasp, is placed atop sparse
industrial backing tracks. Where
Heron's vibrant voice would have
traded space with warm hand-
claps and natural instrumentation
on his classic records, Here sur-
rounds him with muted, robotic
percussion, whirring keyboards
and a rare backing choir that sound
like the Sweet Inspirations locked
in a basement. The album begins
with "On Coming From A Bro-
ken Home," a poetic reflection on
maternal figures both aged and

ily Arts does not condone smoking, unless it makes you look at least this cool.

nostalgic, set to the orchestrated
intro loop of Kanye West's "Flash-
ing Lights". On Here, new and old
sit side-by-side.
I'm New Here is slight, by inten-
tion and accident. Essentially, there
are four actual "songs" (three of
which are covers), six recitations
and a few interludes in all, running
under a half hour. The "songs" are
the most impressive moments on
the album, though they largely feel
half baked. The first single, "Me
and the Devil," is a chugging, key-
board-based re-imagining of blues
legend Robert Johnson's classic.
But beyond its sleek and purpose-
fully spare clank, the song goes
nowhere. A faithful and appropri-
ate rendition of the album's title
track, a Smog original, sounds eeri-
ly close to lead singer Bill Callah-
an's vocal stylings, simply arranged
with a warm acoustic guitar and
Heron's voice. The grooving, unset-
tling thump of "New York is Killing
Me" is the album's highest achieve-
ment, marrying Russell's inten-
tionally sparse production with a
gradual atonal 12-bar blues stomp
and Heron's growling. Aside from
these cuts, Heron's poems are pre-
sented with subtle and evocative
instrumentals that ebb and disap-
pear beneath his words.
The lyrics are where I'm New

Here presents Heron's most sig-
nificant shift. Whereas the Heron
of 1974 penned robust social com-
mentaries, I'm New Here feels like a
reserved confessional. Unfinished
letters to an ex, dead-drunk mus-
ings and long-gone family members
cement the focus of Here; this is
the introspective Heron.-And while
this personal focus is a great con-
cept, the 30-minute sketch of an
album does little to grant it staying
I'm New Here is worth a cursory
listen, and that's its problem. The
material, while interesting and sin-
gular, never manages to achieve the
heights of Heron's previous work.
To a degree, the intent to under-
whelm is intentional on Russell and
Heron's part. The songs aren't fully
colored in on purpose. This is what
Heron has "become": fractured,
incomplete, messy. But that doesn't
prevent you from wanting more.
Classic '70s albums like There's a
Riot Goin' On and On the Beach made
the most of the mid-tempo, going
everywhere and nowhere in the con-
text of slight songs. This is a feeling
that Here teeters and retreats from.
And while Heron has no chance
in hell at a halftime performance at
the Super Bowl, he has produced a
compelling product late in his game.
Cool? Yeah. Fulfilling? Not yet.

Recently I was surfing
the Caribbean - that
is, surfing Caribbean-
affiliated websites for a class
assignment about Cuban cinema
- when I
something A
This week,
the Univer-
sity of the
Bahamas is
hosting the
five-day Sid- ANDREW
ney Poitier LAPIN
and Film Festival. It's not the
location of this conference that
I'm excited about, since Poitier
is a Bahamian-American, and if
there was going to be an elabo-
rate conference in his honor,
that's where it would be. No,
the exciting part is the fact that
a Poitier conference is taking
place at all.
How many other screen
actors can you name, living
or dead, whose careers would
necessitate such an elaborate
retrospective? I can't think of
any myself, and if any similar
conferences have taken place
to analyze someone else's life's
work, I would go so far as to
deem them superfluous. No,
only Poitier, with his cemented
position as the first bankable
black box-office star in Ameri-
can film history and his inner
turmoil over betraying his
race by allowing himself to be
typecast as the "saintly Negro,"
can fuel such debate and post-
retirement appreciation from
film scholars and audiences
If you're a fan of old Hol-
lywood films from the'50s and
'60s, and/or if you've read Mark
Harris's amazing Hollywood
history book "Pictures at a Rev-
olution," you'll know Poitier as
the star of mostly race-centered
melodramas like "Lilies of the
Field," "To Sir With Love" and
"Guess Who's Coming to Din-
ner." Throughout the majority of
his career, the actor was being
used primarily as a symbol, the
physical embodiment of white
liberal guilt.
The Hollywood idealists of
the Civil Rights era, like "Din-
ner" director Stanley Kramer,

were desperate to make mov-
ies depicting black characters
as the exact opposite of every
racial stereotype that had been
perpetuated up until that point.
So instead of poor, uneducated
and jive-talking, the characters
Poitier played tended to be far
smarter, politer and more elo-
quent than his white co-stars.
Which nevertheless represented
radical progress; after all, his'
movies still couldn't be shown in
the South.
I don't mean to besmirch
Poitier's legacy asa trailblazer
for racial equality in the cin-
ema. After all, someone had to
be Sidney Poitier atthat point
in history if the movies wanted
any hope of breaching segrega-
tion. But it's because his role in
history was so essential that I
question whether Poitier was
uniquely qualified to play it, or
if he simply became this sym-
bol by virtue of being the right
black actor at the right time.
In other words, maybe Poitier
wasn't respected as an actor for
the content of his character, but
rather for the color of his skin.
To be fair, though, our com-
mon perception of Poitier's
onscreen career is only based
off of the work he did prior
to 1967. That was the year he
starred in Norman Jewison's
"In the Heat of the Night," the
gritty police drama in which he
played a detective who has to
partner up with Rod Steiger's
bigoted cop to solve a murder
case in the Deep South. The
film was revolutionary because
it allowed Poitier to get mad,
to show signs of humanity, to
return a slap to his face from a
hateful white man with a slap
of equal magnitude. And the
fact that it won Best Picture
that year over "Coming to
Dinner," the poster child for a
sappy, "saintly Negro" Poitier
picture, made the symbolism of
its victory all the sweeter.
Last August, Poitier - who's
been retired from the screen
since 1997's "The Jackal" -
received the Presidential Medal
of Freedom. Maybe it's just my
cynicism talking, but I read his
reception of the award as less
of a genuine testament to his
career than a giant mea culpa
from America, via the federal
government: "We're sorry you

had to play sexless, emotion-
less, idealized depictions of
what we used to think black
men should be like in order to
pave the way for future actors
of color. Here's a medal to make
up for it."
Thankfully, the Bahamas
conference will serve as the
proper tribute to Poitier's leg-
acy. One glance at the speaker
schedule reveals a fascinating
array of topics to be discussed,
including an essay linking the
man's celebrity to Will Smith
and an entire day centered
around his directing career (he
helmed nine films between 1970
and 1990, no doubt bolstered
by the success of "Heat of the
Night"). And look, here's Michi-
gan's own American Culture
Ph.D. candidate, Charles Gen-
Behind the
first bankable
black actor.
try, delivering a talk entitled, "
'A Revolutionary Process': Sid-
ney Poitier and Constructions
of Blackness in Transnational
Cinema, 1957-1964." So it would
appear that Poitier the man and
Poitier the symbol are going to
be celebrated in equal measure.
And there are many signs
today that, despite his initial
role as apawn of the Hollywood
agenda, Poitier has still had a
profound impact on the ways
we view race on film. At the
very least, we can point to the
fact that "Guess Who's Coming
to Dinner" was remade in 2005,
in comedic form with the races
reversed, and Poitier's role was
played by the noticeably white
Ashton Kutcher. And America
laughed. This week, I'm hoping
Poitier can bask in the heat of
the Bahaman night and admire
how far we've all come, thanks
at least in part to him.
For once, his admirers won't
call him the representation of
black America. They'll call him
Mister Poitier.
Lapin wants to be celebrated in
the Bahamas. To give him a reality
check, e-mail alapin@umich.edu.

. Shorties playing at the Michigan

Daily Arts Writers and For the Daily
Short films tend to be an under-appreciated art
form these days, but they
always get some annual Oscar-Nominated
love from the Oscars in
the form of the Best Ani- Short Films
mated and Best Live- At the Michigan
Action Short categories. until Wednesday
The Daily's film staff is Shorts Internatisnal
here to parse through this
year's selections. All of
these nominated films are currently playing on a
single bill at the Michigan Theater.
Animated Short Films
"Wallace and Gromit:
A Matter of Loaf and Death"
A serial killer is on the loose. The target? Bak-
ers, leaving everyone's favorite Claymation duo as
the only bakers left in the town. This is great for
business, but when a heavyset bread model seduc-
es Wallace, the pair's prospects don't look too
bright. As Wallace's love literally blossoms like
bread in the oven, death looms ever closer. This is
one of the longer shorts, but it's lighthearted and
witty. The silly inventions, subtle sexual innuen-
dos and expressions of disgust on Gromit's face
all come together to form a carefully constructed
animated world.
French director Frangois Alaux delivers a
searing critique of American culture through
a Los Angeles inhabited entirely by logos. The.
Pringle face drives trucks, Apple apples grow
on trees and the Michelin man works as a cop.
But the streets are no longer safe, as the most-
wanted criinal, Ronald McDonald (who else?),
is on the loose. By this point, it's a bit too easy to
criticize America for rampant consumerism and
violence. What makes this short different is the
way the corporate symbols pop out and are given
their own personalities. The pavement cracks
into an X-Box symbol and Mr. Clean is cast as
an effeminate zookeeper. The little twists are
enough to make people rethink the way adver-
tising works.
"French Roast"
A man loses his wallet in a French bistro
while being pestered by a homeless man, a sin-
ister nun and a sleepy policeman, resulting in a
slight misunderstanding. The characters are all
a little creepy looking and don't quite fit in with
the farcical tone of the plot. The short is enter-
taining, but it gets a bit repetitive after a while.

The characters all show emotion in a predictably
cartoonish way, with buggy eyes and twitching
mustaches. The short is so bent on hammering
in a moral to the story that the end loses all sense
of charm.
"The Lady and the Reaper"
This story of an old woman who just wants to
rest peacefully explores the implications of mod-
ern medicine and morality. The woman becomes
caught in a struggle between a young whiz-kid
doctor and the Grim Reaper. The struggle evolves
into a slapstick fight over the woman's body.
Despite his reputation, it's hard not to root for the
Reaper as he develops an engaging personality
without really saying anything. His expressions
and demeanor allow him to seem funny and natu-
ral, rather than a menacing figure.
"Granny O' Grim"
This six-minute Irish film is absolutely delight-
ful. A kooky grandmother with a flair for theater
decides to tell her nervous grandson her version
of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty." She's trying to
get him to fall asleep, but because her spin on the
story is a bit horrific, her efforts prove detrimen-
tal. It's clever to see how it all plays out.
Live Action Films
"Instead of Abracadabra"
In this "Napoleon Dynamite"-meets-Todd
Solondz-meets-John-Waters amalgamation
(with a drop of Swedish drag queen), Tomas, a
clumsy, theatrical 25-year-old who still lives with
his parents, tries to make it a big as a magician.
After an embarrassing mishap at his first exhibi-
tion, Tomas tries to impress his new neighbor at
his father's 60th birthday celebration, a gig only
promised to him on the grounds that he will geta
real job. "Chimay!" the eyeliner-coated, sparkle-
faced, ruffle-wearing illusionist histrionically
shouts. "She-male?" asks the confused photogra-
pher. "No, Chimay!" he replies. "Instead of abra-
"The Door"
It's traditional for the Oscar Live Action Short
category to be dominated by "socially relevant"
films, and it's not at all unlikely that they win,
either. "The Door" revisits the well-worn story of
the Chernobyl incident of 1986, where a family is
evacuated and quarantined after the radioactive
explosion impacts their health. The father sym-
bolically attempts to steal the door off his own
apartment, a door on which he eventually lays his
own daughter out for her funeral. In an attempt
to make its lack of originality more palatable, the
film tells its events out of order, "(500) Days of

Summer" style, but this disjunction just becomes
Embracing the "Slumdog Millionaire" trend
with full force, "Kavi" is about an impoverished
Indian bricklayer boy with a love for cricket. The
young protagonist is brutally taunted by his mas-
ter when he expresses a desire to go to school. The
plot is really nothing new, but the uncomfortably
intimate close-ups map out the raw desire and
patent hunger in the boy's eyes. It's clear there's
something rotten in the state of India. But just to
make sure we really got the point, the director
tacks a PSA-style message about Indian slavery at
the end. "Kavi" is heartbreaking, to be sure, but
just a bit too overwrought to be effective.
"Miracle Fish"
It's to director Luke Doolan's credit that we
have no idea what to expect from this film as it
roams shot to shot. A young Australian boy liv-
ing on welfare is bullied mercilessly when he only
receives a red Fortune Teller Miracle Fish for his
eighth birthday. He takes anap on the nurse's sick
cot, wishing that the entire world would go away.
He awakens, stunned, to find the entire school
emptied. Had he slept for so long it is now the
weekend? How had nobody noticed he was there?
Or is something more sinister lurking at the fring-
es? "Miracle Fish" is an impressive piece of work,
just because it manages to construct genuine ten-
sion out of one isolated moment.
"The New Tenants"
This Danish short is an enjoyable black com-
edy. Two gay men move into a new apartment and
within hours discover that the recently murdered
previous tenant, Jerry, was involved in some
shady business. The new renters encounter sev-
eral people who still have some bones to pick with
him. Jerry's angry acquaintances end up taking
their frustrations out on each other, and the bod-
ies begin the pile up. The film gets more ridicu-
lous and more hilarious as the shocked couple
bears witness to the scene.
Highly Commendable Short Films
It's a bit surprising that "Partly Cloudy," the
Pixar animated short, didn't receive a nomina-
tion. The adorable film depicts the relationship
between a stork and a cloud who forms baby
animals out of cloud dust. The Canadian film
"The Runaway" was less engaging, focusing on
the journey of a train desperately trying to make
it up a hill but running into a few problems on
the way. The Polish film "The Kinematograph"
was the only animated film with a dismal tone,
telling the story of an inventor whose wife suc-
cumbs to illness and dies.

provides some
full-baked fun

ly. T
in t
the p
as h
cal, f
to I
of hi

By NICK YRIBAR unique, mind-bending romp
Daily Arts Writer that never loses its charm.
The central mechanism
ove over, Snidely Whip- behind the gameplay is the
Make room, Dick Dastard- clones. By holding down a but-
here's a new mustachioed ton, players are able to record
in the actions of Winterbottom as
own: he navigates the level, flipping
switches, eating pie and gener-
ter- The ally getting into mischief. Let
om. go of the button and a clone
he's MisadVentureS appears, performing the same
y to of PB. tasks that were just recorded.
pie Each level places a limiton how
take Winterbottomi many clones you can have, and
es. Xbox Live Arcade as the game progresses, more
t in a wrenches are thrown into the
k and 2K Play equation, requiring increas-
e ingly complex planning and a
orian landscape and pay- complete lack of respect for the
homage to the Chaplin- laws of physics and time.
e silent film era, "The Even taken purely as a puz-
idventures of P.B. Winter- zle-solving game, without any
om" gives players control consideration for the game's
the titular protagonist, personality or style, "Winter-
pastry thief of Bakersburg, bottom" is a triumph. The puz-
e sets out on his single-
led quest for pie. But not
any pie: a gigantic, mysti- .
loating pie that has some- A giant pie
caused Winterbottom to has
me unstuck in time. In dislodged
r to pass the various stages Y u r time.
take another step closer yOU .ro
his delicious antagonist, Awesome.
P.B. has to create clones
imself and manipulate the
of time to solve the puz-
standing in his way. zles are brilliantly conceived
'he Misadventures of P.B. and executed, and while chal-
terbottom" is oozing style, lenging, they remain solvable
its film-reel, black and with alittle bit of brainwork. Is
e setting and graphics to that last pie sitting up there in
rhyming narration (pro- the corner of the screen taunt-
d via placards, a la silent ing you, seemingly ungettable
ies), to its twist on the side- in spite of your best efforts?
ling platform genre. The Take a break, go do something
or is dark in an approach- else for a while, and when you
family-friendly kind of come back with a fresh per-
("The bakery is on fire!") spective the answer will arise
the end result is an utterly See WINTERBOTTOM, Page 8A

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