The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Friday, March 19, 2010 - 7
Political intrigue in
Polanski's 'Ghost Writer'
This production of 'Man at La Mancha' aims to overcome the cheesiness otten associated with the mosical.
Getting Quixotic with
By JENNIFER XU
Daily Arts Writer
Cinematically, the month of March is
akin to the morning after a wild, debaucher-
ous party. The slightly deflated balloons no
longer possess their shiny
buoyancy, leftover pizza ****
stains smear the walls
and the guests are passed The Ghost
out beneath the stairways. Writer
Hollywood acts in much
of the same fashion: the At the State
energy surrounding the Summit
Oscars has rapidly dis-
sipated, as filmmakers
recovering from months of campaigning
take a few weeks of rest. Yet the hype for
summer blockbusters hasn't picked up
enough momentum to properly take off.
The garbage that typically remains is
pedestrian beyond justification and gim-
micky to boot.
Roman Polanski ("The Pianist"), with
his latest political espionage film, provides
a refreshing departure from the usual
March dreck. If "The Ghost Writer" were
a month, it would be September - perhaps
not substantial enough to merit an Oscar
nomination (though with "The Blind Side"
having been recently inducted into the
Academy's pantheon of nominees; who can
really know for sure anymore?), but never-
theless a solid, witty and infinitely enter-
for a March release.
taining popcorn flick.
Played by Ewan McGregor ("Amelia"), an
actor better known for showing his penis in
artistic ways rather than acting in artistic
ways, the titular "ghost writer" is a name-
less scribe saddled with the job of dictating
the political memoirs of former Prime Min-
ister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland, Adam Lang (Pierce
Brosnan, "Mamma Mia!"). Things become
more convoluted as the prime minister is
discovered to have been involved in the ille-
gal seizure and torture of suspected terror-
ists during his time in office. As the "ghost"
- as he likes to call himself - descends into
this world of political intrigue and scandal,
he finds himself gradually being sucked
into the mystery and hypocrisy of the Brit-
ish and American political administrations.
It's been noted that parallels to former
Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife
Cherie Booth are not coincidental - author
Robert Harris had long been investigating
the Blair situation as a reporter for BBC
News and dropped all his political work to
pen his novel "The Ghost," on which the
film was based. Had Harris not been such
an established reporter, he could have easi-
ly been sued for libel. Also perhaps not acci-
dental is the film's decidedly anti-American
tone - Polanski has not set foot on Ameri-
can soil since serving time for unlawful
intercourse with a minor in 1977, failing
even to accept his Academy Award for Best
Director in 2002.
Polanski has long maintained a fetish
for brooding obsessions that push the lines
of sexual perversion, yet it is this film's
deft construction of atmosphere and ten-
sion where he truly succeeds. The perva-
sive gloom that taints the air is reminiscent
of Hitchcock's classic thrillers, replete with
Tim Burton-esque moments and the omi-
nous sounds of a distant foghorn. The disil-
lusioned, boozy "ghost" could have come
straight out of the '50s film noir reels of Billy
Wilder or Orson Welles, a hardboiled writer
who purposefully shuts out the drama ensu-
ing behind him. In true fashion, Olivia Wil-
liams ("An Education") plays Lang's wife
Ruth, the mysterious victim/femme fatale
whose intentions are not quite certain.
Indeed, "The Ghost Writer" is much more
plot-based than it is character-based, a move
that keeps the audience constantly anticipat-
ing each word, twisting with surprises up
until the very last frame. At the same time,
the film crackles with mordant wit in the
most unexpected areas, relieving the audi-
ence's buildup of tension for a slight second.
Although this is a rather minor point,
"The Ghost Writer" is one of the few films
that manages to pull off the challenge of
showing our increasing dependence on
technology in a cinematic setting. Many
films have attempted to show their char-
acters engaged in texting, Facebooking or
webcamming, with varying degrees of fail-
ure. It is to Polanski's credit that when the
"ghost" performs a Google search on the
prime minister's background, it doesn't seem
contrived or overtly stupid, and actually fur-
thers the plot along.
Wtih his lithe construction of tension and
grippingtalesofintrigue, romance and obses-
sion, Polanski masterfully transforms what
quickly could've escalated into a pedestrian
chase-and-evade flick into an effective politi-
cal espionage thriller for those who can't
stand the genre. Because the film doesn't
claim to be anything more than entertain-
ment, it manages to succeed beyond its wild-
est expectations. "Ghost Writer" should be
the touchstone against which all post-Oscar,
pre-blockbuster films should be measured,
a film that embraces the advent of modern
technology while paying homage to one of
the greatest filmmakers of all time.
'Man of La Mancha'
presents an idealistic
play within a play
Daily FineArts Editor
The story of "Man of La Mancha"
that of the world's first novel - Migu
de Cervantes's 17th-century class
"The Ingenious Hidal-
go Don Quixote of La Man of La
from this masterpiece, Mancha
"Man of La Mancha" Tonight and
follows the fictional tomorrow at
story of Cervantes,
who is thrown into p.m.
prison during the at 2p.m.
Spanish Inquisition. The Power Cent
SpanishTickets fnom $1
In conjunction with
the University Activi-
ties Center, MUSKET, a student-r
theater program, will be performi
"Man of La Mancha" for its spring sho
under the direction of Rebecca Spoon
a junior in the School of Music, Theat
After the first time she saw a produ
tion of the show, Spooner fell in lo-
with the story of Cervantes and h
creation, Don Quixote. She has alwa
wanted to bring a production of it to t
"I thought it would be a fun, differe
show fur college students and thatA
could do it well," Spooner said.
In the show, Cervantes, a Spani
nobleman, must use his imagination a:
poetic gift to win over his fellow lowe
class inmates, as they wish to burn h
precious manuscript that will one d
become the famous story of Don Qui
ote. In this sense, a play within a pl
evolves: The story of Quixote is to
within the story of Cervantes's time
"In my mind, it was important th
we stayed within the prison the enti
time," she said. "Except for the trunk
props and costumes that he has, ever
thing had to be created from the priso
So, for rehearsal, we had a lot of fun.
There was a day we basically turned into
eight-year-olds and made forts out of a
bunch of props. I would say, 'Here is a
bowl, a spoon, a blanket and this - make
According to Music Director and
Conductor Danny Abosch, a junior in
the School of Music, Theatre & Dance,
is the play within a play concept directly
el affects the show's score.
ic, "All the music in the show takes place
in the play within a play, soit's really the
music that is coming out of Miguel de
Cervantes's mind," Abosch said.
Abosch goes on to lament at the fact
that many theater-goers only know the
8 show's most famous song, "The Impos-
"The rest of the music is overlooked,
and sadly so, because there are a lot of
er gems in the show besides 'The Impos-
sible Dream,'" he said.
In addition to being famous for its
un show-stopping number, "Man of La
ng Mancha" also has a stigma attached -
w the "stuffy, old-timer's musical." Just
er, as the score has more to offer than "The
re Impossible Dream," the show itself,
according to Spooner, does not deserve
c- this notoriety.
ye "The show has a stigma of a very clas-
is sical 'your parents' musical,' but there's
ys so much about this show that is perti-
he nent and relevant to us today," she said.
"(It's) fun and raunchy and sexy. This is
nt not the upper-class musical world."
ye According to Music, Theatre & Dance
sophomore Reed Campbell, the charac-
sh ters of Don Quixote and Cervantes, both
nd of whom he plays, are extremely rel-
r- evant to contemporary audiences.
is "The dignity and the courage and
ay the passion that Cervantes's character
x- (exhibits) is the epitome of what we all
ay want to be," he said. t
'd Like Spooner and Abosch, Campbell
as is also interested in the play-within-a-
at "It's cool because it gives me the
re chance to play two different charac-
of ters," Campbell said.
y- "It gives me a world to play in. There's
in. the stage world, and then the stage-
within-a-stage world that can be even
more heightened and even more truth-
ful," he added.
Campbell believes that "Don Quix-
ote is the inner workings of Cervantes's
mind," which creates a challenging act-
"It was challenging differentiating
Cervantes and Quixote ... and it was
challenging (to make) Quixote simple
and noble instead of cheesy and igno-
rant," he said.
Spooner also reflected on the duplic-
ity of Cervantes and Quixote.
"(Cervantes) has seen the world for
the terrible place that it is, and his ideal-
ist, dreamer of a knight sees the world as
it should be. He's sees the good in every-
thing," she said.
With the complexity of the title
character, the immense talent neces-
sary to fill the traditionally difficult
roles and the potentially cheesy themes
of "dreaming the impossible dream,"
Spooner was conscientious of making
the show simple and honest instead of a
series of cliches.
"It's very easy to do this show badly.
It's easy to take the things that could be
cheesy and make them cheesy," she said.
But Spooner believes that, with this
cast and crew, "the cheese works." When
Quixote speaks of idealism and chivalry,
"it's not an eye-rolling moment, it's an
This sense of mystical idealism has
even serendipitously manifested itself
in the show's production process.
"We rented our costumes from Good-
speed Opera House, which is actually
... the location of the very first produc-
tion of 'Man of La Mancha' back in'64,"
Spooner said. "These are the costumes
from that production."
But according to Abosch, students
shouldn't see "Man of La Mancha" just
for the original costumes, the impres-
sive score or the famous story line.
"It's a way to come see your class-
mates in a role that you don't normally
see them," he said. "The themes in the
show are so relevant and the idea of
'dreaming the impossible dream' ... (is)
a really powerful sentiment."
Pretty great Lakes
By JOE DIMUZIO
For the Daily
Symphonic sounds from San Francisco
By BRAD SANDERS
Daily Arts Writer
Michael Tilson Thomas, music direc-
tor of the San Francisco Symphony and
recent recipient of
the National Medal .
of Arts, is bringing San FrancsCo
the Grammy award- Symphony
to Ann Arbor this Tonight and
The performance at 8 p.m.
will span two days, Hill Auditorium
and will include a solo Tickets from $10
by internationally rec-
ognized violinist Christian Tetzlaff on
Friday and a gala dinner and champagne
gathering in the Michigan League on Sat-
urday. The University Musical Society
will also present the symphony and Til-
son Thomas with UMS's Distinguished
Artist Award on Saturday. Additionally,
a screening of the symphony's PBS docu-
mentary "Keeping Score" will be shown
in the Walgreen Drama Center on Satur-
day at 4 p.m.
Included in the ensemble is princi-
pal clarinetist and 'U' alum Carey Bell.
Along with many other members of the
ensemble, he will be giving a class called
"Engaging Young Audiences in Classi-
cal Music," which will focus on clarinet
"In my previous classes, I've had a
couple people play for me in front of the
group who have prepared a solo or orches-
tral excerpts that the students have to
learn for auditions," said Bell. "It might
be free form where everyone is prepared
for something and I just call out whoever
The process of becoming a principal
chair is a strenuous one; however, Bell
became a member of the orchestra after
already having earned this position and
now, three years later, he is tenured.
"I joined the Symphony in 2007 as a
principal clarinetist. Whenever there's
an opening, there's an audition process
where they let everyone know of it, rdsu-
ms are looked through and about 150
people are picked to play in a three or four
dayperiod," explained Bell. "Then there is
a tenure process where everyone is evalu-
ating you at every moment."
Returning to the institution where Bell
was given the instruction to become an
established musician has proved senti-
mental for him.
"I went to the University from'93 to'97
as anundergrad, and I came back with the
symphony last year or the year before,"
said Bell. "I did a master class and taught
students, and it was an incredible experi-
ence to come back as a professional and to
some of the same classrooms. It brought
back great memories, as I've learned so
much about how to be a musician and how
to play clarinet (at the University)."
The first day's performance will include
an overture, a concerto (with Tetzlaff)
and then music showcasing the sounds of
the orchestra in the second half. The sec-
ond day will be a little less traditional. The
ensemble will play a symphony by Gustav
Mahler, which will last about 80 minutes
with no intermission.
"Our director has been very instru-
mental in getting Mahler to be part of our
repertoire," said Bell. "I think Mahler is
one of those composers who conducts bet-
ter than most, so we do a lot of his music.
The piece has some off-stage brass cho-
rales that Mahler wanted placed around
in different places backstage, so you'll
'U' alum Carey Bell
returns to perform
hear different moments where there's
far-off music. It produces a sort of magi-
Thomas will be giving explanations
before many of his pieces, especially for
those that would be less familiar to the
"Tilson Thomas is a very dynamic guy;
he's one of those people that seems to
know everybody and has worked with
so many great musicians throughout
his life," said Bell. "It's very valuable to
have somebody with that much experi-
ence who will spend as much time with
us as needed. It has really changed the
"Albatross," the first single off The Bes-
nard Lakes's third album
The Besnard Lakes Are the
Roaring Night, is a mixed
proposition. On one hand, The Besnard
it capitalizes on the band's lakes
strengths - subtly beau-
tiful harmonies, guitar The Besnard
fireworks and a muscular Lakes Are the
rhythm. On the other, it's Roaring Night
derivative, lyrically forget- agjaguwar
table and content to coast in
one ear and out the other.
Regrettably, Roaring Night is filled with
these frustrating highs and lows.
The Bsnard Lakes is yet another Cana-
dian band with a "big" sound. With a work-
manlike sense of shoegaze, Lakes's songs
mix reverb, pounding drums and guitars
and pile them so thick you forget it's the
work of four musicians. Husband and wife
Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas sing and write
all of the songs, which occasionally take
advantage of their respective powerful fal-
settos and characteristic phrasings. Vocal-
ly, instrumentally and production-wise it's
Then why is Roaring Night such a drag?
The band's sophomore effort,2007's TheBes-
nard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, seemed like
a mission statement as much as an album.
Against monstrous groups like Arcade Fire
and Broken Social Scene, the band was a
dark-horse success. Without the bombast of
the former and the spontaneity of the latter,
Besnard Lakes's Dark Horse was filled with
anthemic, explosive rock, giving all the right
space to their understated talents. "And You
Lied to Me" pauses midsong for an excruci-
ating few seconds of Lasek's howl, followed
by a pummeling guitar in the style of My
Bloody Valentine's Loveless. "Devastation"
felt like the everyman's written response
to the Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" - huge and
personal without the drama.
But in the case of Roaring Night the Bes-
nards could benefit from a little drama.
Two-part opener "Like the Ocean, Like the
Innocent" spills out over a bed of crash-
ing cymbals and noise, dropping thick,
crunching lead guitar over a narcotized
call-and-response from Lasek and Goreas.
But the clutter amounts to little: Gone are
the powerful contrasts of Dark Horse as
quiet moments and peaks are glossed over,
obscuring the band's strengths. For the
most part, all the songs chug on a one- or
two-chord pattern, matched with lyrics
that could best be described as an emotion-
al grab bag - you'll consider the occasional
discernable phrase and enjoy it, or com-
pletely ignore it amid the racket.
Not as powerful as
This is not to say Roaring Night is with-
out its great moments. Aside from the clear
highlight of the My Bloody Valentine-styled
"Albatross," "And This Is What We Call
Progress" provides an up-tempo stomp-
ing ground for Lasek's soaring vocals and
some virtuosic axe play. Closer "The Lonely
Moan" is an unsettlingly gauzy, creeping
dirge. The record is sequenced and well
performed with a great sense of pace, but it
remains curiously ineffectual throughout.
In "Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent
Pt. 2: The Innocent," Lasek and Goreas
harmonize pensively: "Ooh you're like the
ocean ... what's in your empty eyes?" The
Besnard Lakes Are th4 Roaring Night is just
that: a massive, occasionally beautiful piece
of work with a lot of dead space and sprawl.
Without a sense of their strengths, Roaring
Night is an enjoyable effort, but a sidestep for
But behind that wall of sound, one has to
wonder what The Besnard Lakes could be
capable of in the future. What lies beyond
those empty eyes?