Saturday, March 9, 2013

NYT Defense

We will be defending Ben Brantley's review of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. Brantley is the chief theatre critic at the New York Times. He is a well-trusted source who even has his own website to showcase his review.

We will look at his on-the-fence tone, as well as his argument comparing the classical Cinderella with his politically correct progressive version.

We will talk about how he uses the history of past productions of Cinderella as well as pop culture references to support his argument as well as advance his tone. He uses this context to capture and engage the reader.

We will analyze the structure of the review, specifically looking at how he does a good job establishing and supporting his argument, but how his ending is confusing and falls flat. His "but" statement comes early on and addresses the idea of the pretty Cinderella against a more revolutionary Cinderella.

Overall, the review is well-written, informative, and engaging; Brantley clearly has done his research and addresses many important aspects of the production.

The review can be found here:

Aliera & Nicole

9/11: A Date All Americans Instantly Recognize

" 'Offensive to all Muslims or just to those radicals whose aim is to destroy America and the West.' This is a distinction without a difference." (Comment on BreitBart).

Even today, attacks of violence, vandalism, and arson against people believed to be Muslim in the US continue. Over a decade later, 9/11 still shakes us, angers us. Some hate Islam as a whole, still striving to place the blame for the 3,000 lives lost. Others hate the bigots who blindly hate Islam because of their ignorance to the complexity of the situation.

Amy Waldman’s novel, “The Submission,” honestly portrays many sides of the issue, humanizing everyone. She gives everyone a story, the hated and the haters, revealing extreme religious intolerance in the US and honestly examining our country’s reaction—both an understandable and repulsive one—to the terrorist attack.

Waldman creates no main character in her novel. “The Submission” opens with a jury elected to choose a design for a 9/11 memorial. It begins through Claire Burwell’s eyes, widowed by the attack, but quickly cycles through various other characters. The architect of jury’s chosen design, a beautiful garden, is Mohammad Khan, a Muslim-American, sparking extreme controversy throughout the novel. Rooted in a fear of Islam from 9/11, Khan’s refusal to withdraw or change his submission, causes even more racism, hatred, and resentment.

Waldman channels the hatred and misunderstanding of Islam into her novel and dissects it, giving a voice to all sides: a white widow confused about what to think, an Islamophobic white man whose brother died, the Muslim-American architect, and a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh whose husband also died when the towers fell.

Waldman’s language reflects her journalistic background; it’s simple and direct, every word matters. Despite the swift changes between narrators and the direct language, however, each narrator has an astounding depth. Their inner-thoughts are almost a confession to the reader, each section almost journalism in their minds, which creates an ability to see and better understand each character’s perspective.

In the novel, when Burwell says the hatred and resentment “isn’t about you. It’s about the religion,” Khan’s response is:

“How would you feel if I justified what happened to your husband by saying is wasn’t about him but about his nationality—his country’s policies—damn shame he got caught up in, that’s all—but you know, he got what he deserved because he paid taxes to the American government. I get what I deserve because I happen to share a religion with a bunch of crazies?”

Burwell only hears “damn shame” and “what he deserved” and angrily concludes Kahn believes her husband was just “collateral damage…and bore responsibility and guilt simply because he was American.” But this is exactly what Kahn argues against. She simply doesn’t listen.

That is the point the novel makes. That is why it’s important to read. It makes us reflect on our reactions, misconceptions, and prejudices and realize we need to open to other people’s stories. We need to listen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Life is a prayer in the gospel of Tree Bark..."

I kept going back to this song this past month. The Gospel of Tree Bark, by singer, songwriter, and cellist, Anna Fritz (who is based in the beautiful Portland, Oregon)--what does that title and line of the song even mean? It sounds like a passionate environmentalist slogan mixed with a tacky religious greeting card. And the weirdness of the music video doesn't help. But somehow the song enchants you.

The song is strange, mystical, almost childlike. The music video includes odd masks, a forest, and a really long string of bright red yarn. When I listen to the song, however, is resonates with me. It captures a feeling of loss. The sadness, the confusion, the helplessness. The desire to just blindly walk with no idea where you are going. The sense that something is off in the world--something is out of place, upside-down, disturbing. 

The song is creepy and unsettling while also being uplifting and hopeful. With the creepiness, sad, and disturbing feeling in the song, there is also a fairy-tale quality. You become focused on the surreal women in masks. You are engrossed with the red yarn and where it is leading the woman. Where is it taking her. You witness a transformation from a woman following yarn to into a fairy-tale creature playing the cello in a forest. And then at the end she is being led again, the yarn tugging her finger, perhaps implying it is not where the yarn leads you that matters. The yarn doesn't lead anywhere. It eventually just ends. But it is about the journey of following the yarn. That's what the "gospel of Tree Bark" means. 

It is about what you do, where you go, when the yarn runs out: "Life has gone on and will go one forever, and you're just a droplet, a small bean of light... " Realize that, and still go on. Realize you are no longer lead, and lead yourself. Realize you are lost in the woods, and dance. 

"Life is a prayer in the gospel of Tree Bark," so pray, live--and see what happens. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Final Project Abstract: Really, Who is Patriotic?

I plan to look at how patriotism has evolved in the past decade through television. I want to study how television reflects the existence and perceptions of patriotism. I’ll look specifically at the late 90’s political epic The West Wing and the newly-released Netflix remake of BBC’s House of Cards, which follows a ruthless congressman connivingly struggling for power. Both shows, released a little over a decade apart, give an inside-look at the White House and the politics surrounding the White House. In one, the president is the moral leader to look to for advice. In the other, the president is the man to slyly screw over for betraying our complicated protagonist. Each show has a different style and tone and its individual perception on what it means to be patriotic.

As someone who generally isn’t very patriotic and who doesn’t tend to have faith in the power and justice of our country, it is odd to watch a show so focused on making great America greater. I must admit, however, there are beautiful moments where even I allow myself to buy into the hopeful image of the United States and American Dream The West Wing fights for. It can be inspirational. At the same time, however, it is refreshing to see the honesty of the cruel, power-hungry, ambitious, intelligent characters in House of Cards.

I’ll also look online—blogs, articles, comments—to find information about how people feel about patriotism, about the White House, about the US as a superpower. I want to look at what people think of the American Dream today. Does it still exist as the core hope or dream for future America? The terrorist attack on 9/11 occurred roughly in the middle of this time-frame, and I’m interested in what role it played in television. I will use television to study how—and perhaps why—patriotism has changed and the evolving perception of America’s future.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscars 2013: Did He Really Just Say That?

It’s bad when the host laughs at his joke before the audience does. It’s even worse when those jokes are plainly tasteless and offensive. 

Something is wrong with this year’s Oscars when they bring William Shatner in his Star Trek garb and use Captain Kirk’s moral compass to justify host Seth MacFarlane’s jokes, such as his comparison of Django Unchained with Chris Brown and Rihanna’s abusive relationship.

To complete the pattern of degrading women, Macfarlane serenaded various actresses, beginning with 2004 Life Achievement Award Winner Meryl Streep, with a song that starts with “We saw your boobs. In the movie that we saw, we saw your boobs” and proceeding to name about fifteen other well-respected women for on-screen nudity.

The editor did a splendid job capturing Nicole Kidman— jaw dropped in astonished disgust— and Charlize Theron—head in hand as she looked down in uncomfortable outrage—when they heard their names. The editor did not, however, focus on Denzel Washington’s face when Macfarlane showed his insensitive re-make of Flight using sock-puppets, followed by a joke that, as a white guy in 2013, MacFarlane can’t wear “black-hand.”

The award-winners’ honesty and eloquence during their speeches were a relief from Macfarlane’s demeaning attempts at humor.

When Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress for Les Misèrables, she accepted her award and breathlessly said to herself, “It came true” before diving into her speech.

Ang Lee began his speech upon winning the Achievement in Directing award for Life of Pi with a disbelieving, grateful bow and by thanking both the audience and the “movie god.” 

Jennifer Lawrence’s surprised and joyous expression alone when she won Best Leading Actress for Silver Linings Playbook was enough to win over the audience, not to mention her self-effacement for having tripped her way up the stairs.

When Argo won Best Picture, Ben Affleck spoke tearfully, commending the eight other spectacular nominated films, and ending his “thank you’s” with touching words to his wife, Jennifer Garner.

Daniel Day-Lewis, Leading Actor winner for Lincoln, and Michael Haneke, director of Best Foreign Language Film Amour, both gave speeches full of eloquence, humility, and humor. When Day-Lewis joked with Meryl Streep, “it’s a strange thing, because three years ago…I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher, and Meryl was Steven’s first choice for Lincoln,” it was actually funny—unlike Ted the bear’s joke about finding the Oscar orgy.

One thing MacFarlane did well was introduce the theme of this year’s Oscars: celebrating music in film. Jennifer Hudson sang a soulful “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls that brought the audience to its feet. The cast of Les Miserables performed a “One Day More” that filled the entire room and gave goose-bumps.

MacFarlane did not continue the theme well, however, with the highly-secretive, highly-anticipated song he performed at the end with Kristen Chenoweth. It was not quite as surprising and hilarious as advertised: a song dedicated to “the losers” was not rewarding after a long night of derogatory, condescending humor.

Perhaps the best part of the night was watching 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, Leading Actress nominee for Beasts of the Southern Wild, raise her arms in proud excitement, when she was announced: no façade or agenda, no harassing or forced joke, she was simply a happy little girl showing her big muscles, thrilled to be at the Oscars.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Art vs. Art

The title itself illustrates Oscar Wilde's goal in his essay, The Critic as Artist. He wants to promote the critic as an artist; he wants to show that criticism is an art. This point is valid and he argues it well. He goes further, however, than "the critic as artist": Wilde asserts that criticism is in fact the "highest art" and that, "It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it."

Wilde argues that art is more difficult to write about than to create. Writing about a painting is much more difficult than actually painting it; writing about poetry is more difficult than writing the poem; writing about music is more difficult that mastering the instrument. Wilde goes beyond criticism as an art and compares it with other art forms, asserting it is the highest art, and though he argues well with thought-out opinions and strong evidence, it is here that his argument fails.

Wilde has various sections that supports his point well. He talks about how art becomes immortal not by the talent of the artist but rather by the talent of the critic: the way the critic reacts to and writes about it. He argues that art is not beautiful because of the hand of the artist, but rather the eyes of the beholder: it is how people talk about a piece of art, how they perceive it, that makes it beautiful. And it is the critic that nudges the beholder about how to feel. The critic "treats the work of art simply as a starting-point for a new creation" and "the highest Criticism, then, is more creative than the creation..."

Wilde also argues that the symbols and meaning behind art is prescribed completely by the critic and beholder, not the artist. This argument also has merit. The deep symbolism we give the road, the changing environment, bugs, farming in Grapes of Wrath  is probably much more detailed than Steinbeck's thought-process as he was writing it. The Mona Lisa has become a symbol of eternity; she has watched history with the wise eyes of someone who never dies or is always dead, all with a small smile, as if she knows what is to come. But how likely is it that Leonardo da Vinci had all of this in mind when painting? In this way, it is the critic that gives a piece of art meaning--that makes it beautiful and and immortal--and that in itself is an art.

The assertion that criticism is the highest art, however, is flawed. Wilde's title portrays he main argument, his most important point: the Critic as Artist. He wants to show how criticism is an art, and he does so. But with that argument you cannot then argue that it is a better art, a more difficult art, a higher art. We cannot argue that one form of art is better than another. Paintings are not better than music; music is not better than poetry; poetry is not better than photography; photography is not better than criticism; criticism is not better than painting. It is impossible to place one art form above another because art is subjective.

Art is all about what each individual prefers; what speaks to each of us. Criticism is an art. So is painting and poetry and music. All art forms influence each other, make each other better, make each other grow, each from their own platform. They cannot compete with one other. Instead, they complement one another, making art better, more interesting, more controversial, more beautiful.

True, painting as art would not exist without criticism. But Mr. Wilde, criticism would not exist without painting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Like the Dancers Among Us

be ALIVE. That's Jordan Matter's tag line for his photo series called Dancers Among Us, and that's exactly what they do. They "be alive."

In this photo series, Matter photographed dancers in everyday settings: outside a coffee shop, at the beach, on the subway, in the rain, crossing the street. His photos create magical moments where the dancer is levitating horizontally over the water or vertically beside a building; the dancer is leaping over train tracks, hanging off a sky-scraper, draping herself over a tombstone. Every photo has a story we do not know, each dancer hears music that we cannot hear, and we are left to imagine that story, create that music. Matter's  photos capture an energy that make them come alive: he flies a little higher, she reaches slightly farther, their light embrace becomes more kinetic.

In his artist's statement, Matter explains his inspiration for the photo series. He talks about how the idea first came to him while watching his son, Hudson, play with his toy truck. Matter says all he saw was a yellow plastic truck, but his son experienced a fantasy only he could see. Matter marvels at how immersed Hudson was in the imaginary, how was completely present in it:

"What happens to this enthusiasm, this ability to be wholly present in the moment? Why are these pure moments of passion so often replaced with cynicism, boredom, and indifference? As I played with my son, I thought about creating photographs that would show the world as if through his eyes. The people in the images would be alive and in the moment, celebrating all aspects and emotions of everyday life."

The dancers create a character that is completely in the moment. They physically embody a specific emotion, a reaction to life that we cannot express. The peace of a sunrise, grief from a death, the dedication to succeed, frustration from daily routine, the longing for freedom, the joy of watching it snow, the desire to dream.

Each photo magnifies an emotion, a passion to encourage us to imagine it. To understand that emotion. To feel that passion. React to that specific moment. To allow ourselves to experience the dreams and the failures, the beauty and the suffering. To be ALIVE.

To find more of Jordan Matter's work, click here: