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May 17, 2018 - Image 7

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7

Thursday, May 17, 2018
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com ARTS

The watch list for any academic
film course almost always rounds
out to something like: a Chaplain
comedy, some Technicolor musical,
four impenetrable foreign films,
two other silent-era juggernauts
and Citizen Kane. Which is fine
— in order to begin to form an
understanding of how cinema has
developed and grown and evolved
in the past hundred years, it’s
absolutely necessary to revisit the
timeless classics time and time
again.
Now, without disputing the
all too well-deserved status of
something like “Le Voyage dans la
Lune” or “City of Lights,” there’s a
simple question to be asked: How
beneficial is it to force yourself to
enjoy something just because of
the cultural weight it holds? It’s
essentially an a question of pleasure
versus purpose; when I sit down to
read a book, do I try to wade my way
through Tolstoy, or do I reread “The
Lightning Thief”? How great can
something truly be if the process of
experiencing it isn’t?
In my own personal experience,
I’ve found plenty of both. I’ve
sat down to watch classic films
that I end up loving as truly great
entertainment, and I’ve stood up
from watching certain undisputed
classics to find that the only thing I
watched in the previous two hours
was the same two gifs on the front
page of Reddit. It’s difficult because
as someone who likes to believe
they are fan of cinema, to walk away
from something like “Tokyo Story”
feeling like I could have dozed off is
disappointing — more for me than
for the movie itself.
Which brings us to the French
New Wave.

I wanted personally to challenge
myself with learning more about
cinema’s past, and everywhere
I looked pointed to this seven to
eight year period beginning in the
late 1950s. It’s probably the most
paradigm shifting movement in
cinema in the past seventy years.
It’s probably an era that would
be mentioned by any accolade-
encumbered director were they
to be asked about influence and
produced a great swath of truly
entertaining pieces of work that
will burn the whole point of writing
this column to the ground.
Along with my decades-late
judgment for a slate of undisputed
classics, I hope to provide enough
historical context for the films so
that I can fully understand the
implications of the movement.
While the main point of this series
is to look back on these films with
a modern eye, learning about their
place in the history of the art form
is just as important. It’ll be my first
time viewing most of these films
as well. Putting it all together, my
goal by the end is to have created
something that is as readable as it is
informative. A lot of the resources
related to the topic already written
online read like textbooks, so let’s
hope this never reaches that.
In order to best understand the
impetus for such a significant shift
in the world of cinema, I found a
good starting point in Alexandre
Astruc’s 1948 essay “The Birth of
a New Avante-Garde: La Camera-
Stylo,” an almost prophetic essay
published ten years before the
New Wave exploded onto the
international stage. In his essay,
Astruc writes about the “tired
and conventional everyday films”
which “put our sensibilities in
danger of being blunted,” a rather
irate comment on the rote and

predictable nature of early post-war
cinema. Largely, this comes from, as
Francois Truffaut would later write,
cinema’s plague of underestimate;
the majority of studio productions
going to market at that time were
reproductions or recreations of
stories already told in some other
medium, mainly literature and
theater. It wasn’t until the New
Wave that cinema began to develop
its own language as an art form,
Astruc even writing in his essay
that “from this day onward it will
be possible for cinema to produce
works which are equivalent in
their profundity to the works of
Faulkner and Malraux.” It was the
New Wave that first transformed
cinema from “nothing more than
a show” (Astruc) that sold tickets
and filled auditoriums to an artistic
medium capable of competing with
the best. Astruc called this new
era of cinema the age of “Camera-
Stylo” (or Camera-Pen) in reference
to the authorship filmmakers were
beginning to take over their pieces
of work. Film would no longer be a
second thought.
It’s difficult to point exactly to
the first film of the movement, as the
“French New Wave” designation
was created retrospectively. After
a bit of research, I found that
a good place to start is Claude
Chabrol’s 1958 film “Le Beau
Serge” (“Handsome Serge”), as it
is the first of the major films by the
New Wave’s six major directors.
“Serge” is the story of a successful
Frenchman, Francois, returning to
the town of his youth and reuniting
with his childhood best friend
Serge, a burned-out drunk who
never left.

Riding the New Wave: film
hunks, cameras and pens

FILM COLUMN
MUSIC REVIEW

LAURA DZUBAY
Daily Arts Writer

STEPHEN SATARINO
Daily Arts Writer

“Tranquility
Base Hotel &
Casino”

Arctic Monkeys

Domino

Read more at
MichiganDaily.com

Tranquility
Base
Hotel
&
Casino is nothing like anything
Arctic Monkeys has done before.
It is, however, like things other
bands have done. It’s particularly
impossible not to be reminded of
David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust in
the face of this concept album, full of
science fiction, rockstars and droopy,
whispering vocals. Early in a first
listen, it’s easy to wonder whether
Arctic Monkeys are trying to pick up
a mantle that most modern musical
culture has already abandoned.
Luckily, the album proves to be
a feat of its own, coming into itself
with an array of darkly whimsical
space rock. “Golden Trunks” is
pleasantly choral, and the layered
but catchy pop of “Four Out Of Five”
is only bolstered by
creative images like
“special effects of
my mind’s eye.” The
lyrics
album-wide,
while
generally
strong, aren’t quite as
consistently airtight
as they have been
on some of Alex Turner’s previous
work, but they do play a crucial role
both in creating some of the album’s
central confusions and in helping to
untangle that web later on.
The
pesky
question
of
genuineness also bubbles up a few
more times throughout the album’s
11-track span: After all, the band isn’t
quite old enough yet to be washed-
out and mopey, but in many of the
songs here, they are anyway. But
one has to give the layers of the
music due credit, and between the
sweeping, hypnotic backgrounds
and loungey vocals, there is a
genuine message here that promises
that Arctic Monkeys is nowhere near
done being edgy, creative and above
all — exploratory.
One of the things that Tranquility
Base does right is that it grounds
itself as a concept album and as a
work of science fiction, it completely
hits the mark. The album is colored
with the aloof skepticism that,
beneath the surface, characterizes
science fiction as a genre. It’s a lush
dive into imagination coupled with
an on-guard wariness of the future.
The album also makes good
use of its chosen vantage point: A

hotel and casino on the moon. The
setting of outer space invites a range
of perspectives, from the inward
to the literally astronomical, and
in the midst of a dreamy, druggy
environment — a fitting canvas
for space — Arctic Monkeys make
an effort to explore them all.
Sometimes this is to a fault — songs
like the dread-infused “She Looks
Like Fun” teeter on the verge of
being muddled and directionless,
and “One Point Perspective” is so
incomprehensible that even the
narrator himself admits, “Bear
with me, man, I’ve lost my train
of thought,” by the end. However,
this same lyric also confirms the
album’s self-awareness: For the most
part, the sprawling confusion feels
intentional, ultimately leading up to
a jointed and unified end.
The meaning of the album can
perhaps
best
be
accessed
through
its
final
track,
“The Ultracheese.”
The
preceding
tracks
are
often
showy or occupied
with
themes
of
entertainment,
from music to cinema, but this
is where the trajectory finally
becomes clear and the work climbs
to a genuine end. Revelations like,
“I’ve still got pictures of friends
on the wall / I might look as if I’m
deep in thought / But the truth is
I’m probably not,” expose the gaps
in the narrator’s own dramatic,
attractive façades of fame. This final
narrator questions the authenticity
of past friendships and laments the
doomed simplicity of “Just trying
to orbit the sun / ... Just trying to
be kind to someone,” allowing the
album to stretch back toward a kind
of societal truth linked with humble
self-acknowledgment.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
may be bereft of a lot of the
unapologetic verve that made earlier
records like AM so electrifying and
fresh, but it replaces this sentiment
with a new (and more helpful) axis
from which to understand the band.
Although the album does sometimes
veer into the sort of nettling
pretension that makes fellow artists
like Father John Misty stand out in a
bad way, it is held together by a well
crafted and ultimately clever story of
fame, alienation and spectacle.

Arctic Monkeys
journey to space

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