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October 10, 1995 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-10-10

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8 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, October 10, 1995

'Country Life': A gripping look at humanity

A member of the University Symphony Orchesta plays. KRISTEN SCHAEFER/Daily
Fgting wor from worldly*composer

By Dean Bakopoulos
Daily Arts Writer
In Michael Blakemore's new film,
"Country Life," the opening credits re-
veal that the story is "suggested by"
Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya."
Blakemore is right to use the term "sug-
gested by." Most of the film is highly
original, and it only loosely bases itself
on Chekhov's stage play. However,
Blakemore's work does have some par-
allelsto Chekhovian drama; that is what
makes "Country Life" a first-rate film
from the Australian director.
Like Chekhov's works, "Country
Life" paints a vivid cast of characters
whose unsatisfying lives lead to both
comedic and heart-breaking conse.:
quences. The year is 1919 and the set-
ting is the Australian wild, where the
Dickens' family farm has been run by
Uncle Jack (John Hargreaves) and his
admirably strong niece Sally (Kerry
Fox). While Uncle Jack and Sally con-
tinued the family business, Sally's fa-
ther and Jack's brother-in-law,
Alexander (Michael Blakemore), was
in London, leading the leisurely life of
a drama critic and socialite.
Tensions tighten when Alexander and
his beautiful and much younger bride,
Deborah (Greta Scacchi), arrive at the
farm on a holiday. She finds the rustic
and often vulgar frontier life vastly dif-
ferent and vastly unappealing compared
to her own. The ensuing family ten-
sions even draw in an outsider, the
rugged and idealistic Dr. Max (Sam
Neill), who enters the familial conflict
after he is smitten by the cosmopolitan
beauty of the very seductive - and
very married - Deborah.
Deborah's charm and grace, a rarity

in the outback wilderness, also envel-
ops Uncle Jack, the hard-working but
hard-drinking head of the household.
His emotions begin to tear at him and he
falls into a drunken stupor, enraged by
the idea that Deborah is wasting her life
with the older and increasingly repug-
nant brother-in-law. This central web
of tension snowballs into more highly-
charged conflicts, and soon the entire
house is a veritable time bomb of mis-
communication and suppressed emo-
tions.
Blakemore's decision to use a work
by Chekhov as the inspiration for the
film is a mere act ofcommon sense. Just
like many of Chekhov's pieces, "A
Country Life" excels in presenting the
lack of communication and openness
Country fo
Drected by Michael
Blakemore; with Greta
Scacchi and Sam Neill
At the State Theater
with a certain amount of humor and
warmth.Moreover, he manages to main-
tain a crushing Chekhovian sense of
heartbreak; by the film's end, the heavi-
ness of the struggle the viewer has just
witnesses is close to immeasurable.
There is no happy resolution in most of
Chekhov, and there certainly is no happy
resolution in "A Country Life." Despite
its occasional humor, this is definitely
not a some "feel-good" flick.
A key element of the film's success,
and a crucial link to its Chekhovian
influence, is the fact that no one charac-

ter dominates the story line. Even move
importantly, no one character absorbs
all of the viewer's sympathies. All tlie
characters are flawed, all the charactets
have inner vulgarities and weaknesses.
From theopenlyunlikeableAlexandr,
to the seemingly ideal, but deeply flawed
Dr. Max, Blakemore's decision not to
idealize or favor any of the charactets
lends a pioignant sense of realism to the
movie. Just as in real life, there are no
clear cut heroes; all the characters aie
capable of being both endearing a4d
unlikeable.
Perhaps the most interesting character
of the film is John Hargreaves' Uncle
Jack. More than any other character, lie
embodies this duplicity of inner self. 4t
times he comes across as sober, industrl-
ous, responsible, andgentle; atothertimes
he becomes besotted with whiskey and
emotion, incapable ofdealing with realify
and overwhelmed by his own passions
Uncle Jack best symbolizes
Blakemore's (and Chekhov's) major
theme: A hopeless inability to act en
emotion in a rational way. Thus, the ex-
tremely intense Uncle Jack becomes ini-
tional enough to push himselfto the bri4k
of emotion and,even more frightening,
to the brink of murder.
Blakemore's film does have its flaws,
including a sometimes glaring reliance
on superfluous feelings. But in ap,
Blakemore's directorial restraint and ~f
extremely capable cast make "Country
Life" an encompassing look at the many
layers of tensions that can develop among
human beings when their emotions r@-
main stifled. It's a gripping look at tihe
human inability to overcome the limits
our emotions and our environment plaae
upon our ambitions.

By Emily Lambert
Daily Fine Arts Editor
. The sounds of Beethoven's Ninth Sym-
phony spill outofRehearsal Hall andintothe
hallways of the School of Music. Curious
students and faculty pause often at the door
tp listen to the orchestrapreparing its part of
thegreat"Choral"symphony for Tuesday's
concert.
Kenneth Kiesler, the University's new
Professor of Conducting and Director of
University Orchestras, is at the podium.
"Come on, give it energy," he implores the
orchestra. "It has slow movement-itis. One
last time at measure 90."
When class is over, the members of the
Oniversity Symphony Orchestra grab their
istnument cases and head for the practice
rooms. Their conductor gathers his belong-
ings and heads for his office on the second
floor.
"I just did the Beethoven Ninth several
times with professionalorchestras in the last
few weeks," said Kiesler, "on four rehears-
als. I can expect a greater technical profi-
ciency from a professional orchestra faster,
but I expect the same or better over the long
haul from this orchestra -this concert and
every concert in the future."
These are fighting words from one who's
conducted the USO for less than a month,
andfromamanwho'smakinghisfirstretum
to academia after years in the professional
world. That's what you can expect from
Kiesler, who will make his Ann Arbordebut
with the largest undertaking of University
ensembles since aperformance ofBenjamin
Britten's War Requiem in 1986. Following
Barber's"EssayNo.2,"tonight's Beethoven
rendition will combine the efforts of the
USO, the Chamber and University Choirs
and the Men's and Women's Glee Clubs.
"I guess people see [Beethoven's Ninth]
as ambitious. I see it as a great Beethoven
Symphony," said Kiesler. "This piece does
several things forme all at once. Itallowsme
the opportunity to work with the orchestra,
the choruses and the faculty members alto-

getherrightatthebeginning. Italsoprovides
the opportunity to work with the orchestra
on the kinds of orchestral issues that
Beethovenpresents. Plusthetextisaboutthe
reconciliation,brotherhoodandoneness... I
like the idea of starting with something that
has a message to it, and is ennobling and
enriching. It'sagreatpieceandIjustcouldn't
think of any better piece to start with."
Kiesler, successor ofthe well-respected
Gustav Meier, spent September adjusting
to his new home, positions and myriad of
responsibilities. Besides conducting the
USO, Kiesler supervises all the Univer-
sity orchestras and leads one of the most
prestigious conducting programs in the
nation.
"We're getting to know each other and
this is an opportunity formeto setthetone
KENETHIESLER
Where:H il Auditorium
When: Tonight
Tickets: Free
Show starts at 8 p.m.
of what I expect in rehearsals and in terms
ofthe orchestral discipline... It's said that
all you need to do to get to know some-
body is go on vacation with them, but I
think going through the experience like
the Ninth Symphony will bring us to-
gether very quickly."
Academia is a change for Kiesler, who is
accustomed to the world of professional
music-making, but it is a welcome change.
"Ann Arbor represents to me a big expan-
sion of my horizons," he said. "There's a
limit to how collegial one can be with or-
chestramemberswhenyou'rethehiringand
firingperson. So it's a great pleasure to have
suchwonderful colleagueswho aresupport-
ive ofthe orchestra program andwhoare all
experts themselves." For the time being, he
remains the Music Director of the Illinois
Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Advi-
sor and Conductor of New York State's

Saint Cecilia Orchestm. Yet Kiesler is not
prepared to lower his professional-level
musical expectations.
"Though there are some differences, I
expect from the USO what I expect from
any orchestra," he said. "I expect people
to realize that they're at the service of a
great art... I expect involvement, aware-
ness, skillful technical playing as well as
an understanding ofthe piece and a com-
mitted approach to excellence."
The well decorated walls of Kiesler's
officereflecthisdistinguishedcareer. There's
an "Illinois Orchestra of the Year" award,
and a program from Kiesler's first appear-
ance with the Chicago Symphony. Two
posters from memorable Jerusalem con-
certs are hanging, as is a photograph of
Kieslerand Leonard Bernstein atthe latter's
70th birthdayparty. A medal fromKiesler's
first marathon also has a place ofhonor, and
a severed arm hanging out of the piano
provides even more variety. ("People are so
serious when they come in here. They need
to lighten up.")
Kiesler is eager to influence the next
generation of musicians. Above all, he un-
derstands the goals and future duties of his
pre-professional pupils. "Coming from the
world where I was hiring people who go to
schools like this one," he said, "I know what
they're looking for. Iknow what I'm looking
for. So I have apretty clear sense of what I'd
like people to know when they leave.
"I would like to have some effect on the
young people who come to play in the
orchestra at the University of Michigan.
And that effect would be to say that playing
in anorchestraisneverajob, it's aprivilege.
Being paid is no definition of professional.
The definition ofprofessional is committing
your life to the cause of the art; to under-
standingit,tocontinuingtoprobeevenwhen
you don't understand it, to communicating
with the audience, to carrying on the tradi-
tion ofthe great musicians who camebefore
us andpassingit onto others at the end of our
musical lives."

.4-

He y, Jude
Singer/songwriter Jude Cole will be
performing his up close and personal
rock at 7th House In Detroit tonight.
After several years of Inactivity, Cole h4s
emerged with a new release "l Don't '
K~now Why IlAct This Way." You might ;
remember Cole's late '80s Top Forty hit
"Baby, ft's Tonight," but since then, Cole
has grown emotionally and musically.
"Artists Ike Paul Simon and Randy
Newman have one thing in common for:
me," Cole said. "When you put their
records on, even after 20 years, it's
ahnost like they're sIttIng In your living
room. I wanted to capture that Intimacy
so 1 tried to keep the singer/songwriter
focus on the whole record." Tickets are.
$10 for Cole's show tonight, and doors;
open at 8 p.m. at 7th House in Pontiac,:

.JI

Kepone
Skin
Quarterstick
This second album from Kepone, a
band fronted by Gwar's former bass-
ist Michael Bishop, is a definite evo-
lution from their first album. While
acceptable, the first album was a bit
pedestrian. "Skin," on the other hand,
moves along at a much improved pace.
The songs seem tighter and more pal-
atable.
Depending on the song, Kepone is
reminiscent of everyone from
Megadeth to Alice in Chains. Bishop's
slit-chord vocals have more of that
Dave Mustaine feel than is probably
good for them, but so it goes. Musi-
cally, Kepone finds their niche in that
dangerous area between speed metal
and indie rock. "Blue Devil" has cer-

tao timing elements that resemble a
Queensryche ballad, but at the same
time-has discordant guitars and nearly
monotone vocals which keep the band
from actually sounding as if they be-
longed to any given genre. And songs
like the instrumentals "Ed's Sad
Party," a drum heavy (almost march-
ing band so) journey into sound, and
"Idiot Ball Drop," a piano instigated
mood piece, prove the band's ability
to go their own way.
But Gwar fans should take note that
this is not the Beefcake the Mighty
you may remember. Gwar's singular
energy and humor aren't really found
here. While still quite adept at their
craft, Kepone bears little relation to
their Gwar roots. It's different from
that, but it's still pretty good.
- Ted Watts

Yornv parents wer e rigtlk
Yurr IB.A. is good for
se1ling hamburgers
LEO BURNETT COMPANY, INC.
Imagine the look of delight on Dad's face when you tell him you're working for McDonald's
- at Leo Burnett, Chicago's largest ad agency. Of course, you might work for Oldsmobile.
Or Kellogg. Or Reebok. All of our accounts demand intelligence, the ability to communicate,
and a curiosity about, well, almost everything. Just the qualities you'd expect a talented BA
to have. So come and learn about a career in Client Service. And tell your parents it'll be okay.

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