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March 31, 2011 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2011-03-31

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 3B

The unity of style

They wore patterned
sweatshirts or blocks
of bright color. Boys
grew their hair out to the level
of unkempt crew cut. Girls
where nec-
essary and
dabbed their
eyes with
enough mas-
cara to beau-
tify a small
village. Both SHARON
genders were JACOBS
prone to long,
side bangs and multiple pierc-
ings. They called themselves
Pokemones, and in the town
where I was volunteering - a
tourist hub in the region of Pata-
gonia, in southern Chile - they
donned the label with pride.
My fellow volunteers and I
were rather confused by the
craze for Pokemdn, an exuber-
ant blend of emo and Japanese
kawaii, or "cute" styles. But it
was clearly a widespread phe-
nomenon in that part of Chile.
Seven of us were teaching Eng-
lish in various schools around
town, and we'd all had excited
students in Converse and neon
jeans announce to us, "Soy Poke-
mdn" - "I'm a Pokemon."
Was it a joke, or some hor-
rible mistranslation? We'd each
been the subject of at least one
language blunder - my friend
Kendal, asking the members of
her host family if they'd seen the
movie "Catch Me If You Can,"
chose to apply the word "coger."
In the Castillian variety of Span-
ish she'd studied, "coger" can
translate to "catch," but Latin
American Spanish has its own,
slang definition of the word,
and Kendal, through no fault of
her own, forlornly suffered the
humiliation of realizing she'd
named a film "Fuck Me If You
Can." I repeatedly used the word

Californiano to refer to myself,
as in "I'm Californiana" or "This
is how we Californianos do it." It
was only during the last week of
my stay that a giggling student
finally told me that in Chile,
Californiano means "horny."
But Pokemon was no such
linguistic mistake. It was a
legitimate fashion trend - nay,
way of life - for the teenagers
we taught. Once, on a weekend
trip to Argentina with the other
volunteers, I took a picture of
myself wearing a blue sweatshirt
ornamented with silk-screened
metallic stars. I pushed my hair
in front of my face and widened
my eyes. When I managed to get
the photo up on Facebook a few
weeks later, numerous students
let me know how hilarious I
looked - an American Pokemdn.
But my friends and I laughed
just as hard at their instant rec-
ognizing of the picture as mock
Pokemdn. The fact that we could
so successfully make fun of it
meant that, as funny as it was,
Pokemon was real.
A few months after returning
from Chile, I began my fresh-
man year at the University of
Michigan, where the boys wore
douchey shades and Rainbow-
brand flip-flops and the girls
sported Uggs and straightened
their hair to death. My first style
conclusion was that the good
people of the University were
complete fashion slobs. I had
arrived decked out in souvenirs
of my year abroad - a stiff dou-
ble-breasted jacket with a Bel-
gian label, crinkled grey jeans
from an upper-crust boutique
in Patagonia and a periwinkle
beret from France. Pretentious?
You betcha. But my wardrobe
was howI saw myself at that
time. Fast forward a semester
or so, and I had bought my first
poofy, knee-length North Face
and learned that leggings were
the best kind of pants. Without

any conscious effort, I'd adopted
a style that was never my own.
We're taught to see style as
a pure mode of physical self-
expression, the outside showing
what the inside knows and all
that crap. But my first year of
college taught me it's not always
so. For me, style was more of a
process of cultural evolution, of
changing and adapting to new
surroundings - in my case, the
urban San Francisco Bay Area
fashion trends gradually giving
way to those of a small-town
Michigan college student.
In a world full
of trends, you
gotta catch
'em all.
Style as a symbol of the col-
lective rather than the indi-
vidual identity, style as a marker
of belonging - all concepts on
which I could wax eloquent if I
were an anthropologist or psy-
chologist. But I'm not. So what
really gets me about this new
definition of style is just one
thought: If I had grown up in
Chile, would I have caught on?
For all that we make fun of silly
trends in other countries, there's
an idea that stops me in my asso-
holic culture-teasing tracks. If
trends are product of the people
rather than any one person, it
seems logical that - and the
thought stops my laughter in its
tracks - if I were a teenager in
Chilean Patagonia, chances are I
myself would be a neon, pierced,
made-up Pokemon.
Jacobs wants ponchos to be
the newest 'U' trend. To dissuade
her, e-mail shacobs@umich.edu.

Note the composition and even shadowing of this shot from the "Cheer Sex" scene: Classic Film 101 material.
Bringing it on and on

Senior Arts Editor
According to the personal
canon I made during my quasi-
productive, mostly dreary week
of "spring" break, "Bring It On"
ranks as the 36th greatest film I
have ever seen, wedged squarely
between the more acceptable
heavyweights "Unforgiven" (a
melancholy Western master-'
piece) and "Gilda" (Rita Hay-
worth, mee-yow!). And yes, I
am referring to the cheerleading
"Bring It On" has become a
regular fixture on cable televi-
sion, often blared noisily on the
likes of TBS or ABC Family on a
lazy Saturday night. So it's not,
strictly speaking, a "neglected
jewel" of yesteryear. Yet, while
so much has already been said
about the film - Ian Roberts's
marvelous, manic spirit fingers,
Eliza Dushku's smokin' ass, bub-
bly Kirsten Dunst back when she
was still relevant - so little about
it is given credit.
The modern teen comedy,
which debatably originated in
early John Hughes filmography,
is its own beast. There are the
tropes we've come to expect -
the inappropriately timed gay
jokes, the obligatory pan across
a notebook-sketched map of caf-
eteria cliques, the cheating loser
boyfriend - and the movies that
adhere faithfully to them. Unre-
markable on their own, these
films have managed to craft their
own discourse over the years.
But then there's the trifecta, the
films called favorites by even
those for whom pubescence is a
faraway memory. These movies
bring something special to the
table, whether brutally display-

join.arts@umich.edu for
information on applying.

ing the teenage condition ("The
Breakfast Club"), cheekily evok-
ing Victorian literature ("Clue-
less") or satirizing teen cliques
and queen bees ("Mean Girls").
What separates "Bring It On"
from the likes of these classics
is that it's actually really stupid.
It's about a group of cheerlead-
ers that rips off a neighboring
school's routine and then get
second place at a national compe-
tition. It's about a goofy, hyper-
kinetic girl who breaks up with
her lame boyfriend and instantly
lands herself a cute one who
plays air guitar in his bedroom.
In short: stupid.
But it works, maybe because its
expectations fall nothing short
of conveying the honest, true-
to-life adolescent experience.
In place of self-aware satire,
"Bring It On" goes for the belly
laughs - football players fum-
bling over the pigskin, a montage
of "American Idol"-style cheer
tryouts. Teenagers aren't por-
trayed as modern prophets or
Holden Caulfield-esque saviors
- they're genuinely confused,
sometimes cruel, human beings.
This authenticity intertwines
rather potently with the film's
depiction of young love: The
tooth-brushing scene (you know
which one I mean) is one of the
sweetest I've seen in contempo-
rary cinema, admittedly in part
due to the crooked smile of one
Jesse Bradford. And, it boasts a
career-best performance from
Kirsten Dunst, emotions shown
blankly on her face as she dances
like a maniac to a mixtape that
serenades her "pom poms" and
vows to feed her "bon bons."
And yet, there are the stylis-
tic things that infuse "Bring It
On" with its own all-American

aesthetic. Decked out in full
'90s fashion with belly shirts
and crimped hair, the charac-
ters develop their own brand of
teen jargon: "She puts the 'itch'
in 'bitch' " and "Follow me or
perish, sweater monkeys" most
notably spring to mind. There's
camerawork comparable to the
heavyweight caliber of Roger
Deakins (of Coen Brothers fame),
in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind
of way. Check the whooshing
camera tracking from foot to face
when introducing, center screen,
the head cheerleader of the rival
school, Jesus light glimmering in
the background.
A surprisingly
teen movie.
"Bring It On" gets better and
better with every viewing, and
there's not many movies you
can say that about. I think it's
because there's something dis-
creetly original about it. While
you can lump the film into a host
of categories - whether a mod-
ern screwball made up of bobble-
headed ditzes or a postmodern
parable on ownership and origi-
nality - "Bring It On" is most
accurately a film of its own cali-
ber, completely comfortable in its
own unremarkable skin.
Toward the end of the film,
Torrance says to another char-
acter: "I am only cheerleading."
That is, both sheepishly and
exquisitely, an encapsulation of
the entire existence of "Bring It
On" - for better or worse.

"Coffee? Yeah, I could use some of that."
War and coffee brew in
Denis's'White Material'

Film succeeds
despite lack of
take-home message
DailyArts Writer
Coffee - it's delicious, it's
something to be enjoyed and, for
some of us, it's an insatiable crav-
ing. Sometimes
we don't think ** ,-
about what
coffee must White
go through M erial
before we
can take that At the Michigan
first exquisite
sip, but we do IFC
know that a
lot of work goes into it. A film
offering a different perspective
on the production of coffee is
"White Material."
That's actually not quite true.
The film is about a struggling
coffee plantation called Vial
Cafe and its owner, a French-
woman named Marie (Isabelle
Huppert, "I Heart Huckabees"),
who is caught in the midst of
her adoptive African nation's
civil war. All she wants to do is
harvest a last precious crop of
beans, but her workers have run

out on her. They fear for their
lives, as they should - the fight-
ing is brutal and is escalating all
around them. On one side are the
rebels, led by an idealized fighter
named "The Boxer," who is slow-
ly dying throughout the film. On
the other side lies the oppres-
sive former regime, grappling
for power with the rebels. What
results is a chaotic, screaming
film fraught with bloodshed,
child soldiers and idealism in the
face of oppression - not exactly
a fun look at our favorite morn-
ing beverage.
It's difficult to find a true mes-
sage to take away from this film.
The message could lie in Marie's
steadfast desire to remain on the
plantation, regardless of the fact
that the French military is leav-
ing before advising her to do the
same - maybe we are supposed
to feel empowered by her iron
grip on what she holds dear. But
then again, nothing good comes
out of her remaining on the plan-
tation, since her family is scat-
tered and torn apart by the rebel
army. Maybe the message is that
people will not be silenced and
will do anything to throw off the
cloak of an oppressive regime or
an unfair government. But that
doesn't really resonate through-
out the film either - in the end,

it's the regime that maintains
the power. So what's the point?
Maybe it's OK for a film like
this not to have a "point." From
the get-go, audiences will feel
an all-encompassing absorption
by the script, becoming emo-
tionally tied to Marie's fruitless
attempts to keep the plantation.
Filmgoers will pity her son, who
is slowly losing his grip on sanity
in the face of the civil war. They
will detest the actions of the
rebel army, yet pity their fail-
ing cause. They will ultimately
abhor the oppressive regime
that triumphs. The camerawork
is gritty and gorgeous, the ten-
sion is palpable and the charac-
ters are so convincing that it's
like audiences are looking in on
a documentary.
It's one of those films that
keep hearts and minds racing
throughout. It's one of those
films that, when the lights come
on at the end, a collective exhale
by the audience can be heard
amidst expressions of "That's
the ending? I can't believe it."
One that can be appreciated for
being great without pandering
to a traditional cut-and-dry sto-
ryline. If audiences seek a film
that will stay with them for once,
they need look no further than
"White Material."

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