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December 05, 1995 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-12-05

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Kick out the Poetry Slam
Satirical poet Jeffrey McDaniel is featured at tonight's Poetry Slam at the
Heidleberg. An insightful and clever performer, he and the other poets start
slamming at 8 p.m. Admission is $3; call 426-3451 for details.

Page

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December 5, 199
Sean Penn's 'Guard' finds him standing at the crossroads

By Alexandra Twin
Daily Arts Editor
When famed and infamous '80s ac-
tor Sean Penn announced one day in
7 late 1989 that he was going to give up
Cacting forever to be a filmmaker,
people groaned.
When his debut movie, "The Indian
Runner," which he both wrote and
directed, arrived in the fall of 1991 to
mediocre reviews and a box-office
stay shorter than Danny DeVito,
people snickered. However, they also
realized that Penn, never one to mince
words, meant exactly what he had
said: He was going to. direct, and
people had better deal with it.
While Penn, of course, did not ac-
tually give up acting, and has subse-
quently lended his trademark, eye-
poppingly intense presence to two
films - 1993's "Carlito's Way" and
the upcoming "Dead Man Walking"
(created by fellow actor turned auteur
- - -------. s .MiN. ~.

RVIEW
The Crossing
Guard
Written and directed by
Sean Penn;
with Jack Nicholson and
David Morse
At Briarwood and Showcase

Tim Robbins)-he has also managed
to firmly imbed himself within the
spokes of Hollywood's ever-turning
wheels. Despite the fact that "Indian
Runner" was a flop and he's therefore
failed to prove himself, people, par-
ticularly Hollywood executives and
big-league actors, seem ready and
eager to give him the benefit of the
doubt.
With his sophomore directing ef-
fort, "The Crossing Guard," a starkly
impressive if frequently misguided
tale of a family's desperation after the
death of their daughter, Penn may not
quite be moving into Tarantino-coun-
try, popularity-wise, but he's bound
to turn a number of his dissenters flat
on their ears.
Freddy (Jack Nicholson) is a down-
town jeweler, divorced from Mary
(Anjelica Huston) after the death of
their young daughter, Emily. Shell-
shocked from the unexpected death
- she was hit by a drunk driver's car
on the way home from school - he
medicates himself with booze, women
and nudie clubs, cavorting around the
town with nameless whores who
squealingly beg for Freddy and his
boundless cash.

Meanwhile, Mary has remarried,
lives in their old house with their
remaining two boys and is seeking
to go on with her life through
therapy and a strong will. Freddy,
eaten away with guilt and regret,
marks off the days on a calendar
when John Booth (David Morse),
the drunk-driver that killed Emily,
will be released from prison. He
calmly plans to shoot him in the
head.
An intriguing enough premise,
and certainly well-executed. While
Penn's ex (and mother of his two
children) Robin Wright (Jenny from
"Forrest Gump"), is criminally un-
der-used as Booth's post-lock-up
girlfriend, stage-actor and non-
household name David Morse is sin-
cere and complicated in his por-
With "The Crossing
Guard," Penn May
not be moving into
Tarantino-type
popularity, but
he's bound to turn
dissenters flat on
their ears.
trayal of Booth, the drunk-driver.
Nicholson and Huston's tumultu-
ous past (they were once longtime
lovers) lends an intangible spark to
their on-screen battles, particularly

a late-in-the-film scene where they
reminisce about their former rela-
tionship. The only weak link is
musician Robbie Robertson as
Mary's new husband, but he ap-
pears so rarely as to render his inef-
fectiveness harmless.
Granted, when coming from the
mouths of tried and true heavy-
weights like Nicholson and Huston,
there are few lines of dialogue that
any writer could scribble that
wouldn't seem relevant. Yet, it's
the writing of the film that lacks the
most coherence.
Penn has clearly learned a lot from
his dozen or so years as an actor; he
proves himself to be an impressive
and promising director who can as-
semble a challenging story in an in-
triguing way. Yet, as a writer, while
his subject matter is certainly succu-
lent, his execution of scenes and par-
ticularly dialogue is patchy, stuttered,
uncomfortable and frequently melo-
dramatic. He's got the right impulses
but not yet quite the discipline or
technique to deliver. What results is a
film that is painful to watch, because
of its content and because of its short-
comings. Yet, disturbing though it is,
it's definitely worth a once-over, if
only to see an artist in the making.
Realistically, Penn will probably
never do for directing what he did for
acting, which is shake it up a little
with his cryptic, impulsively arro-
gant, American, male bravado. But
what he may ultimately be able to do
is to open the screen up a little more to
the great power of the "tragedy of
immobility," a blight which all of his
important characters suffer from.

"Hi. My name's Jack. This is what I looked like in the ill-fated 'Man Trouble."'

Penn's no angel, but he Is a promising
director. as "Crossing Guard" shows.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra promotes new composers

By Craig Stuntz
Daily Arts Writer
"Diversity" was far more than just a
politically correct euphemism at this
past weekend's Detroit Symphony Or-
chestraperformance. The wildly varied
program included a virtuoso violin con-
certo, a pops piece and works by two
contemporary composers, one estab-
lished and one still in school.
During the 1995-96 season, the DSO
is hosting two resident composers, as
part of the Unisys African American
Composers Residency & National Sym-
posium. Flint native Jonathan Holland,
a 21-year-old Composition student at
the Curtis Institute of Music in Phila-
delphia, has already had compositions
performed by the Atlanta, Baltimore
and Cleveland symphony orchestras.
Anthony Davis, a New York resident, is
best known for his Grammy-nominated
opera "X: the Life and Times of
Malcolm X."
Neeme Jirvi and the DSO are to be
congratulated not only for performing
the work of contemporary composers,
butforputtingtheirmusicon abill with
two other pieces which are sure to draw
a sell-out crowd, thus ensuring that as
many people as possible will hear the
work of these two talented new voices.
Once again, their time-tested commit-
ment to finding new or less-played
works paid off for the audience with an
exciting, two-and-a-halfhour long pro-
gram which left few musical stones
unturned.
The evening began with the world

. Detroit Sym-
phony Orchestra
Orchestra Hall
Saturday December 2, 1995
premiere of Jonathan Holland's "Fan-
fares and Flourishes on an Ostinato,"
commissioned by the DSO. Introduced
by the composer as "a little less conven-
tional approach to writing music," the
piece takes a simple, two-note theme,
introduced at the start by the clarinets,
and develops into two different figures.
The "flourishes," played by the strings
and winds, are a swirling, occasionally
dissonant, foundation for the piece,
while the "fanfares," playedby the brass
and percussion, are a series of sharp
musical punctuation. The short but dra-
matic piece slides smoothly but quickly
through a series of orchestral textures
and feelings.
"Notes from the Underground," as
the title implies, is based on literature,
although it is dedicated to, and written
around the works of, Ralph Ellison, not
Dostoyevsky. The work is divided into
two movements, "Shadow" and "Act."
Anthony Davis, the composer, intro-
duced the piece, noting that "Act," the
second movement, was actually written
first, and that "Shadow" was a series of
reflections on it. The technique works
quite well, as themes and ideas which
are hinted at and toyed with in the first

movement suddenly spring to full real-
ization in the second. The texture of the
piece is a series of slow brass and wind
atmospheres with a staccato, somewhat
creepy melody on pizzicato strings and
xylophone, propelled along by a run-
ning jazz percussion beat. The music
has the feel of a soundtrack to an Alfred
Hitchcock film.
Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Con-
certo No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99, was
written during a turbulent time in So-
viet musical politics. The Central
Committee's 1948 'historic' decree
(against formalism in music), which
resulted in Shostakovich's music be-
ing more or less completely banned
from public performance, was pub-
lished during the middle of its com-
position. Although Mikhail
Meyerovich, another Soviet com-
poser, recalled asking Shostakovich
exactly where he was in the composi-
tion when the decree was published,
and noted that there was no change in
the music, the work was held back by
the great violinist David Oistrakh, for
whom the piece was composed, and
not performed publicly until 1955,
the year after Stalin died.
20-year-old violin prodigy Maxim
Vengerov, who performed the solo, is
unquestionably a remarkable player.
Although he is technically superb, his
real achievement lies in his complete
emotional involvement with the mu-
sic. He plays with his ear pressed
against his violin, swaying freely with
the music. "It's the brain that's the

main instrument you work with," he
explains; "everything comes from
that." Vengerov's also very famous,
which is not always the same thing as
talent, although the two often coin-
cide - as in Vengerov's case.
Part of Vengerov's fame stems from
an incident at one of his European
performances, after which two women
were observed on the stage fighting
over horsehair which had fallen from
Vengerov's bow. Knowing of this in-
cident, I felt slightly sickened when
he, after a magnificent performance
of the violin concerto, with its spec-
tacular - and spectacularly difficult
- solo cadenza, returned to the stage
for his second encore bow carrying
his bow by a couple of loose hairs,
then very conspicuously tore them
from the bow and threw them down
on the stage. Thankfully, the Detroit
audience was somewhat more re-
strained than the Europeans.
The program concluded with musi-
cal selections from Edvard Grieg's
almost sinfully delightful "Peer
Gynt." For this final work, the or-
chestra was joined by the Wayne State
University Concert Chorale and so-
prano Jayne West. The orchestra,
which, despite the length of the pro-
gram, remained in superior from the
entire evening, outshined the vocal
performers, but I was happy to see a
college chorale have the chance to
participate in the performance. Jirvi
led them in an a capella rendition of
the Whitsun Hymn as an encore.

Does this justify the uncondi-
tional faith of would-be followers
in his alleged "great potential?"
Maybe, maybe not. But at the
very least you've got to admire the
guts of someone who's sitting at
least somewhere near the top of his
Kevin Canty
A Stranger in This World
Vintage Contemporaries
In the music world there are con-
cept albums; Kevin Canty's "A
Stranger in This World" (Vintage,
$10) might be called a concept short-
story collection. Each of the 10 sto-
ries focuses on characters on the point
of a decision, at a place where they
could take two extremely different
paths.
The stories present a variety of
situations, but certain patterns repeat
throughout. Each has a protagonist
who is somehow isolated from his
environment. One of the better sto-
ries, "Blue Boy," describes a teenage
lifeguard at a country club he couldn't
afford to join: "These girls were
Kenny's age but that was as far as it
went. They saw right through him
when they bothered to look at all.
Lack of money made him invisible."
Once the main character is es-
tablished, an unexpected situation
arises. This can be as simple as
another dog being brought to the
animal shelter ("Dogs") or as com-
plicated as an ex-wife returning to
town ("Junk").
Then the real action of the story
begins, as Canty sets up intriguing
dilemmas for his characters, giv-
ing them a choice between what
they should do and what they want
to do. Each story contains - as the
title story says - "a moment when
the whole thing hung in the bal-
ance."
This theme is probably best ex-
pressed in one standout story,
"Dogs." An unnamed animal-shel-
ter employee considers his options:
"You have the keys to every lock,
the means to open the cages, open
the doors and send them racing.
You'll be a hero, king of the dogs.
Strangers will know your name in
the world of dogs. But in the world
of men, the dogs will continue to
be killed. You can be replaced,
easily. You can be replaced."

profession and is willing to almos
chuck it all in the hopes of findinl
even more. Like his films so far, th
choice is ambitious and cocky a:
hell, but also terribly daring am
impressive. Kudos for effort, now
if only he could deliver.

After reading several stories, th
theme becomes apparent, and read
ers are able to predict the setup o
the next. However, the situations an
characters present an entire spec
trum of possibilities, and the stone
don't become repetitious. Each look
at the dilemma in a new way: Som
stories end with a decision, and oth
ers explore its aftermath.
This variety is a definite strength o
the book, and so is Canty's prose styl
The stories are all told from one poin
of view, and Canty realistically de
scribes his characters' states of min
For example, in the title story, a woma
named Candy meets her boyfriend'
brother, who resembles her dead hus
band: "She went to the window an
looked out to where the brothers wer
still draped around the picnic tabl
Then stopped herself, closed the cir
tains, went back to her lonely bed an
her mystery. This is not appropriat
she thought. This is not wholesom
But the words on the page all turned t
bugs and refused to be read. There wa
this thing called love and it would nc
leave her alone."
In addition, these short stories ar
excellent examples of the genre. The
are written concisely, and their plot
are highly original and well-structure
Each event leads to another, in, a
inevitable series ofconsequences: Pe
haps the most striking fact is, th
Canty's theme can be expressed in
short story format: He succeeds in se
ting up two completely opposit
courses of action, in a limited amour
of space.
It's almost nerve-racking to rea
with the way the characters in"'
Stranger in This World" make the
decisions. Each one is a close ca
that could have so easily gone on
way or the other, leading to actu
relief or regret as good or bad cons
quences result. Nonetheless, th
book's memorable variations on
theme make highly worthwhile rea
ing.
- Elizabeth Luc
See BOOKS. Page

0 1 B I I.~ .&.7

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