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November 13, 2014 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-11-13

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, November 13 2014 - 3B

'Interstellar' falls

By JAMIE BIRCOLL
Daily Film Editor
Warning: Major spoilers for
"Inception," "Interstellar" and
"The Dark Knight Rises" and mild
spoilersfor "ThePrestige"follow.
Akshay Seth is a brilliant film
writer; he is eloquent, thoughtful
and can turn a phrase like no other
writer I have ever met. Every other
week his film column ranks among
the top five most-read articles on
The Michigan Daily's website. For
this reason, he will be referred to
as Mr. Seth for the remainder of
this article, out of my respect for
him. I've been discussing film with
Mr. Seth for nearly two years now,
and each day brings new ideas.
And after reading his most recent
column on Christopher Nolan
and "Interstellar," I have never
disagreed with him more, which
is a new phenomenon for me. He
writes of "Interstellar" as Nolan's
self-criticism, but "Interstellar" is
the exactsame shtick we've come to
expect fromthe acclaimed director,
and everyone knows it; it's why
an animated marshmallow-like
robot beathim at the box office this
weekend.
Nolan specializes in cerebral
filmmaking-the kindoffilms that
demand an active viewer. He works
with concepts that possess an
inherently complicated structure
and can only really be made sense
of after multiple viewings. These
films are often advertised as such:
"Interstellar" as tackling the very
fabric of space-time, "Inception" as
delving into the deepest recesses of
the mind in an attempt to discern
what is real and what is imagined,
etc. That's all well and good, and I,
more than most, love a challenging
viewing experience, but Nolan's
films so often get worked up in
the "what" and the "how" that the
heartofthe matterisultimatelylost.
There'sareasonwhythemassesare
discussingNolan'suse ofblackholes
as mechanisms to warp space and
time rather thanthe soulofhis film:
that love transcends dimensions.
Mr. Seth has addressed this as
Nolan's attempt at cynical self-
reference, but that's giving Nolan
too much credit.
Cynicism is not in Nolan's
nature; he is a cold, methodical,
calculating, albeit incredibly
successful director (and that term
"director" as applied to Nolan is
sometimes a stretch), but cynical he
is not. Cynicism implies skepticism
and, in a way, hopelessness; Nolan's
films, especially his more recent
endeavors, are filled with hope, or
at least theyexpect the audience to
be hopeful and naturally curious,
looking for answers, attempting
(and failing)to figure out the puzzle
that Nolanhaslaid beforethem.For
Nolan, film is a magic trick, all the
more fitting because back in 1895,
filmwasnothingmorethanamagic
trick (see "Arrival of a Train at La
Ciotat").
Nolan tackled this notion
directly in "The Prestige," a film
about two warring magicians.
Michael Caine tells us in voiceover
at both the beginning and end
of the film: "Every magic trick
consists of three parts, or acts. The
first part is called the pledge: the
magician shows you something

ordinary. The second act is called
the turn: the magician takes the
ordinarysomethingand makesinto
something extraordinary. But you
wouldn't clap yet because making
something disappear isn't enough,
you have to bringit back."
Nolan is obviously the magician;
his filmisthe trick, and everyfilmof
his follows the exact same format,
the same acts, as any good magician
should. For example, in "Inception"
the acts are as follows: the pledge
establishestherulesofCobb'sworld,
including extraction (unorthodox
rules, but rules nonetheless) and
his detachment after the death of
his wife; the turn upends the rules
by the introduction of the idea
of inception and the action that
follows; the prestige: Cobb's return
to humanity (in the dream world or
otherwise). The same logic can be
applied to every other Nolan film
startingwith"The Prestige'
Now the pledge of each of
Nolan's films tends to be the
most interesting because only
Christopher Nolan has the sort of
intellectualpowertotakeotherwise
ordinary situations and make them
extraordinary, as in "Memento": a
man musttrack downthe murderer
of his wife (ordinary, in filmterms),
except he has retrograde amnesia
and loses his memory every few
minutes (extraordinary). His
setups are always fantastic; it's the
execution of his second and third
acts that always falter.
The turn of a Nolan film tends to
involveanextendedactionsequence
or several more brief action
sequences that more often than not
are a cluttered assemblage of quick
cuts that distract from the overall
flow of the sequence and very often
don't abide by the rules of physics
or spatial relations (there's a great
study of the car chase scene in "The
DarkKnight"by JimEmmersonon
this). Nolan essentiallyuses edits to
distract from these discontinuous
flows, and the cuts are so quick
that the audience doesn't totally
realize they've witnessed an
illogical sequence, but their brains
still -register something as off.
"Memento" took this quick-utting
concept and applied it to an entire
film,resultingin a fragmentedstory
mirroring that of our fragmented
protagonist; the method can be
forgivenhere because a)it'sbrilliant
and b) the cuts occur so quickly and
in such small segments that we try
to piece the story back together
instead of tackling the glaring plot
holes. One cannot be so forgiving
with "Interstellar" and Nolan's
latter works.
There's a French filmography
term called mise-en-scene that,
while difficult to define, essentially
refers to everything before the
camera and how it is arranged
within the shot of the camera; so
a shot can really be broken down
into that which is within the
frame and that which is outside
of it. Nolan focuses on that which
is within the frame and tends to
ignore that which is outside it (thus
his incredibly limited shot palette
consistingofmainlymediumshots).
Hegetsawaywiththisbyconstantly
cutting, with shots rarely lasting
longer than four or five seconds but
usuallyno more thanthree seconds.
Nolan ultimately amounts to an
editor-writer who gets to play with

the camera rather than a director.
There's this other French term
(last one, I promise) called mise en
abyme literally "placed into abyss."
It refers to a play-within-a-play
or a dream-within-a-dream or
dimensions-within-dimensions.
It serves as a parallel to the film
itself, a doubling of images. Nolan
uses this quite often, whether in
his entire set-up or placing his fight
sequences on stage-like structures
(as in"The Dark Knight Rises").It's
anotherillusoryeffect, and it always
plays into the third act of a Nolan
film- inthe Nolan method, it'sthe
thingthat makes you questionwhat
you've seen.
The trick with the third act,
the prestige, of a Nolan film is
that twist he throws onto the
end of every film: Cobb remains
locked in a dream; Bruce Wayne
survives a nuclear explosion, etc.
In "Interstellar," Coop's activities
within the multiple dimensions of
the black hole and reunion with
his daughter serve as the prestige.
We're led to believe that after the
tesseract collapsed, Coop was left
adrift in space - and then a fade to
white, which is never a sure sign
of survival for the protagonist.
When Coop comes to, he looks out
the window where he realizes he's
on the gyroscopic space station
thing from Earth, which is itself
an allusion to "Inception," with it's
city folded on top of itself We are
left to contemplate if love or chance
or intelligent design brought Coop
back to his daughter or if the whole
sequence was merely the final
thoughts of dying man deprived of
oxygen. This is supposed to be the
prestige, the part where we start
askingthe questions, contemplating
the themes, replaying the film over
again in our heads. And for the first
time in a Nolan film, I truly didn't
care.
There's supposed to be a
payoff; instead, the only part of
"Interstellar" that truly blew me
awaywere the breathtakingshotsof
Saturn, the black holes, the massive
celestial bodies. They were more
magic tricks, distractions to the
chunky editing, minimally fleshed-
out characters, often-spotty
narrative structure,etc.
So Mr.Sethiscorrectinascribing
"Interstellar" as Nolan's once again
folding the film to his will, which
admittedly he has always done.
But he's done the same thing time
and time again. And as a result,
whether or not Mr. Seth is correct
,in establishing "Interstellar" as
self-criticism proves moot because
Nolan merely reworked his system,
doing what he always does, the
samemagictrick.Thatjustwon'tfly
anymore.
The last line of "The Prestige"
continues that aforementioned
Michael Caine voiceover, "Now
you're looking for the secret. But
you won't find it because, of course,
you're not really looking. You don't
really want to work it out ... you
want to be fooled." I do want to be
fooled, and that's why I see Nolan
films, usually more than once
- but not this time. This time, I
know his secrets, his maneuvers;
I saw the prestige before the turn
had reached halfway; I've seen
his sleight of hand, it's not fooling
anyone anymore.

DIA's Friday
Night Live! brings
interactivity to arts

By PAIGE PFLEGER
Daily Detroit Arts Columnist
Even though Friday Night
Live! happens every Friday
night at the DIA, Friday Nov.
7th was an especially special
one - Detroit's bankruptcy
plan had just been approved
by the courts, and the DIA
was a star of the proceedings.
"The DIA stands at the
center of the city as an
invaluable beacon of culture,"
Judge Steven Rhodes said
during his ruling. "To sell the
DIA art would be to forfeit
the city's future."
That declaration was
significant in many ways: it
secured the DIA's future as
well as asserted that the DIA
was a cultural epicenter for
the city, a gem that needed
to be preserved, according to
Rhodes, "for the benefit of
the people in the city and the
state."
And, after attending Friday
Night Live!, it was blaringly
obvious that Rhodes'
statement is true.
Friday Night Live! is a
program that began at the
DIA years ago as a way to
encourage more interaction
with museum-goers and
the art at the DIA. The
museum stays open late and
boasts live music, drawing
in the galleries, art-making
workshops and more.
If this Friday was any
indication, the program is
wildly popular - the DIA
was packed, with people
sipping drinks in the
renovated Kresge Court and
filling all the seats in the
Rivera courtyard to listen
to the night's musical guest,
Huun Huur Tu, a Tuvan
acoustic quartet.
Huun Huur Tu was
interesting for a myriad
of reasons - they draw
from ancient Tuvan songs
and using traditional
instrumentation, they
incorporate 20th century
inspirations to make a funky,
electronic sounding music
that's kind of reminiscent
of the Blue Man Group, in a
way.
The four men sat in front of
Diego Rivera's iconic mural
of the Detroit auto industry,
and played their traditional
Tuvan music to an eclectic
audience of Detroiters: there
were families, couples on a
date, children and elderly
people. In one corner of the
room, a baby girl swayed
back and forth to the music,
shoving raisins in her mouth
and staring up at the ceiling
covered in sheets of beaded
crystal. It was impossible to
ignore the conglomeration of
cultures that were brought
together under the DIA's
roof.
Downstairs in the
African American gallery,
the Drawing in the Gallery
workshop was taking place.
Housed in a different exhibit
each week, Drawing in the
Gallery supplies guests with
drawing materials for free,

and encourages them to take
a seat at an easel and take
more time to engage with a
piece of art.
"Want to draw?" a lady
sitting at a desk asks. "It's
free!" Her name is Catherine
Peet, and she's an artist that
runs the Drawing in the
Gallery workshop for the
DIA. She has a shock of grey
hair and a friendly smile.
"People come in and just
observe the art, and pick out
something that stimulates
them or is interesting to
them to draw, and we set
it up for them," Peet said,
gesturing around the gallery
at the people perched on
easels, sketching different
statues and pictures. "And
they just do their thing. We
just encourage people to

enjoy t
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She
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pulled
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he art objects that of drop-in drawing, Garcia
ee." said. It creates an entirely
wing in the Gallery different interaction
y brings in anywhere between museum-goers and
5 to 100 people who the art itself.
op in anytime from "People actually learn to
til nine to draw. No engage with the artwork in
us experience is a different level than just
ed to participate. going by it," he said. "When
get a variety," Peet you sit down and you look at
ned. "Like Ricky over it, you take into account how
he's been coming for much time it took to be done,
because if it takes you an
gestures at a man hour to do your drawing, you
in front of a wooden say how much time would it
ure on the other take the artist to create that
the gallery. He has piece. You start bonding with
hones in, his hair is the artist."
back into a ponytail Friday Night Live! offers
ire-framed glasses are a drop-in drawing class
d on his nose. for kids, as well as an
name is Ricardo instructional workshop
, and he's been coming taught by a variety of
drop-in drawing at different artists in different
A for more than six mediums.
now, "religiously," In his book, "My Art, My
d, "every Friday." He Life," Diego Rivera said,
d working for the DIA "As I rode back to Detroit,
:rganizers noticed a vision of Henry Ford's
edicated he was to the industrial empire kept
sm. passing before my eyes.
In my ears, I heard the
wonderful symphony which
came from his factories
It opens up where metals were shaped
into tools for men's service.
img. It shows Itwas a new music, waiting
for the composer with
'ople how to genius enough to give it
see communicable form."
se .This music that Rivera
heard inspired the mural
that is the backdrop for live
music on Friday nights, and
opens up seeing, it the creation that this music
people how to see. inspired can be seen on
basically what the the easels of artists sitting
se of the program is," in front of a Degas or a
said. "We are not Michelangelo.
o instruct or to tell you That's the beauty of the
wrong or right. We are DIA, and the beauty of these
g you see." Friday nights: it's proof that
piece Garcia is Detroit's cultural epicenter
ng on is immaculate will continue to thrive, and
using a pencil to that the spirit of Detroit is
in the contours of the very much alive.

African statue in front of
him, and every line looks
meticulously thought out.
That's part of the beauty

Pfleger is tearing it up at
Friday Night Live! To tag along,
e-mail psfleg@umich.edu.

TRAILER REVIEW

Though it starts off inno-
cently enough, "Whiplash"
's trailer quickly escalates
and mim-
ics whiplash
itself. Andrew
(Miles Teller, 'Whiplash'
"The Spectac-
ular Now") Nov.14
cuddles with Sony Pictures
his girlfriend Classic
in a diner.
The mood is
light as an
upbeat jazz piece kicks off the
start of classes at Andrew's
prestigious music school. "I
wanna be great," he tells his
girlfriend.
But then comes her fate-
ful reply: "And you're not."
Andrew's budding music
career comes to a halt just as
quickly as it was introduced.
His teacher, Fletcher (J.K.
Simmons, "Men, Women &
Children") accuses him of
rushing the beat, and the next

thing you know, he's calling
Andrew a worthless pansy ass
and physically slapping him on
the face.
It's a little dramatic. Actu-
ally, it's really dramatic, and
therein lies doubt and hope
simultaneously. Such fervent
verbal and physical abuse
seems unrealistic, and it runs
the risk of hyperbole. Regard-
less, scenes oflgut-wrenching
emotional tension glimmer
with promise. Director Damien
Chazelle (screenwriter of "The
Last Exorcism II") voiced

hopes that this would play out
like a thriller, and it certainly
seems that way. Teller's act-
ing looks incredible. His slow
drum roll is interspersed with
scenes of his sacrifice and hard
work to improve asa musi-
cian. The drums and the shots
rapidly increase pace to show
his frustration and grit, and
your heartbeat and excitement
speed up alongside it. If the
film turns out to have that the
same spasmodic energy, it'll
shine.
- VANESSA WONG

In conjunction with Dead Man Walking,
the School of Music, Theatre & Dance
welcomes author Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ,
for two events:

Sally Fleming Master Class
"Dead Man Walking, the Journey Continues"
November 13 at 3 PM - Rackham Auditorium
Free and open to the pubhlc
Post-Show Discussion following the Thursday evening
performance of Dead Man Walking
SCHOOLAOF
MUS I T H E ATRE & DANCE

t

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