Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Process Writing: "You May Ask Yourself, Well, How Did I Get Here?"

I’m comfortable with writing reviews for The Index, leading Naked and writing album or show reviews. I just wrote my first piece for Kalamazoo Local Music on the Fretboard Festival contestants. It felt completely natural.

Yet writing for this class has been much more strenuous than writing research papers or history essays this quarter.


Maybe it’s the over justification effect: getting a grade, an extrinsic value, removes the intrinsic value I place on writing. Writing is an conversation, just organized and it runs one-way. It keeps my brain together; I carry a journal wherever I go.

Regardless, it is all part of a larger theme of feeling uncomfortable.

For one, I never reviewed a book before. Art exhibit? I mean, those reviews for The Index may have had a “but” statement, though a lot of it was summary, description, and more of a look of how an exhibit came to be.

So what was my process when it came to reviewing something I lack sufficient knowledge and/or experience to feel comfortable and confident?

I took a lot of notes, then I threw them on my computer screen.

I did exactly what Amy Waldman’s described when she visited our campus. I dumped everything, and then I clumped quotes, themes, observations, and inferences together in order to make sense of out chaos. I filled in gaps, deleted some phrases, and tied in other clumps, and, somehow, a rough, rough draft appeared before me.

The live performance piece flowed right out of me. The first film review was not so bad--after we received feedback and I knew what to look for.

But after a bit of struggling after reviewing a journalists’ work, an art exhibit, and a book, I realized one of my problems is that I find my “but” statement too late. And it’s not a big deal to take it and place it at the top, but by then I usually ran out of my time or caffeine to sufficiently edit the other bits so my thesis would ring throughout my piece.

From jotting notes in a dark movie theater to joining a tour with elderly folks, this class has been uncomfortable. And I mean that in the best possible of ways. Challenge by choice: you have to immerse yourself in uncomfortable situations in order to grow.

I learned that opinions are expensive, and they must be bought thriftily and concisely with words. These are the days I’m cashing my checks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Divine Comedy with a Mandate of Heaven

China's favorite dissident, Ai Weiwei, is making a rock album.

Dubbed "Shen Qu," or "Divine Comedy," the album will trace back to the 81 days Ai spent in prison without a charge. When he was asked to sing by guards he realized he never sang before and that the only songs he knew were revolutionary songs.

From the New York Times blog Ai stated he's mixing pop and rock with heavy metal. I'm curious whether his characterization of "heavy metal" traces the likes of Black Sabbath, the industrial feel of Nine Inch Nails, or if its something more dissonant.

There's a good chance that any modern piece of music referencing Dante will sound echo prog rock (Radiohead's Hail to the Thief comes to mind), but Mr. Ai will be collaborating with friend and artist Zuoxiao Zuzhou, who has been called China's Leonard Cohen.

The album will be referencing issues and politics surrounding the modern Chinese republic from the blind rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng to web censorship. A few months ago Elton John dedicated his concert in Beijing to Ai Wei Wei, further infuriating the Chinese government. After Elton John's comment, China's culture ministry requires all foreign performers to have at least a university degree.

Shen Qu will be released in three weeks, according to his interview with Reuters today.

My Submission

Out of 5,000 contestants the single winner in submitting a design for the Ground Zero memorial is a Muslim architect named Mohammad Khan. A born Muslim who ate pork, dated Jews, and never prayed. In wake of 9/11, the governor’s aid said “all over the Muslim world they’ll be jumping up and down at our stupidity, our stupid tolerance.”

Or at least this is what Amy Waldman hypothesized in The Submission. As a former New York Times journalist, Waldman utilized sharp details, but as a novelist she employed themes to tell a bigger truth out of fiction. While initially confusing with the emergence of new characters, The Submission worked so well as a novel because it doesn’t feel like a work of fiction.

Weaving the mixed narratives of an architect, a widow, the chairman of the memorial project, an immigrant, and a sleazy journalist, the different perspectives become alarmingly confusing. Though the novel built compelling tension from the very instance when Khan was announced winner of the contest, she introduced jumped perspectives too often that the characters could not fall into place quickly enough.

Once past this initial confusion, Walman projected her characters with varying motives. As a result of their different backgrounds, and placed within the context of vulnerable post 9/11 America, she crafted characters with purpose. She painted the image of juror and recent widow Claire Burwell with moral authority when defending Khan’s right to win the contest.

In another instance, Burwell’s influence dissipated when a fellow jury member told her to “get over it.” At this point she began second guessing herself, as Waldman wrote “In a comic book, power would be leaking from here like a liquid.”

The theme of doubt and self-image ran throughout the novel, as evocative analogies tied themes between characters. Khan out of his self-consciousness, he shaved his thick beard when supplying his photo to the submission.

Though many of her are New York elites, from the likes of chairman Paul Rubin and Burwell, she captured the stress of an America in peril. From her different characters’ perspectives, she raise questions during America’s insecure social climate. When threading Rubin’s doubts of the memorial project as controversy of having a Muslim name goes on, he reflected on his country, “it would take more than a new memorial to unite it.”

Amy Waldman combined her skills of reportage with novelist detail in The Submission to 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Assignment Abstract: Indie is Not a Genre

This past week the New York Times and The Atlantic reported this has been the first time global music sales rose since the conception of Napster.

Therefore, with the advent of anti-piratacy legislation, improved technology (namely, smart phones), and the subscriptions to streaming sites/applications such as Spotify or Grooveshark, illegally downloading music is becoming obsolete.

Whether it is a Top 40 hit or some underground band from Austin, TX, it has never been so easy to find the music catered to a listener's taste.

This past week the band Fun. received a Grammy for Best New Artist, as the Los Angeles Times reported, the "indie trio" performed their hit "We Are Young." While Fun. releases their music through Fueled By Ramen records, which is a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, they also distribute through Atlantic Records. Both of these enterprises are major labels.

This assignment will be looking at groups dubbed "indie" while distributing music through major conglomerates such as Time Warner.

But what does "Indie" mean?

Indie is short for independent. It takes the "Do-It-Yourself" ethos in marketing and distributing one's own music, while remaining independent from the major record labels domineering an artist's direction. Yet, looking through the bands performing at the 2013 Grammys, when bands such as Fun. under Fueled By Ramen records or the Black Keys under V2 (of Universal Music Group), are dubbed indie but the word takes on a different meaning.

Thus, through the portrayal of indie music in mainstream media (Grammys, selected samples from major publications such as the LATimes) in tandem with the advent of streaming applications, smart technology, and anti-pirate legislation, the label "Indie" is has transformed from a category describing music independent from major record labels to a constructed consumerist genre in order attracts a particular market of young listeners.

This year 2013's "Indie" doesn't mean what it once meant in 2003.

Thank you for reading. And please, feedback, suggestions, and inquiries will be very much appreciated.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seth MacFarlane Hosts the Oscars with the Witlessness of a Family Guy Episode

Commenting on Daniel Day Lewis’ acting prowess in Lincoln, Oscars host Seth MacFarlane delivered with a smug smirk “the only person who got into Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” And as silence filled the room, he quipped “What? 150 years later and it’s too soon, huh?”

This year’s Oscars was controversial not because of the nominees and of its winners, but because of the television show Family Guy creator MacFarlane spewing the crude jokes of a state school fraternity frat boy. While MacFarlane often pitched the easiest of jokes, it is comforting he could be so politically incorrect on live television; not only in front of the American masses, but also the Hollywood elite.

With the Oscar nominees of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Flight, and Inocente, the year 2012 gave the impression of awareness for racial inequalities. Macfarlane’s tastelessness (“if tonight’s show isn’t gay enough yet”) at least dismissed the illusion of an egalitarian society as America continues to struggle with social distinctions, as seen through the subject matter of these aforementioned films.

The night’s winners weren’t shocking, except when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall tied for Best Editing, as a tie has only happened twice before in 1932 and 1968. Anne Hathaway’s award for Best Supporting Actress was a given, though Christopher Waltz in Django Unchained was a pleasant surprise. Daniel Day Lewis gave a very humbling speech for Best Leading Actor, with giving his final thanks to the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

And it was the humility in these select speeches that became the most refreshing moments of the night, in spite of the host’s self-indulgent humor and Quentin Tarantino’s narcissistic acceptance for Best Original Screenplay. The nominees for Best Picture were all great contenders, as director Ben Affleck of Argo sped through his speech in awe and gratitude. Likewise with Ang Lee for Best Directing in Life of Pi.

The live performances overwhelmed the awkward silences when Shirley Bassey sang “Goldfinger” for the 50th year anniversary of the James Bond franchise. Other acts included Adele bending her vocal range with “Skyfall,” and Dream Girls’ Jennifer Hudson stealing the show with “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”

During a night of indecent humor, the Best Documentary acceptance speech for Inocente best reminded what the Oscars had forgotten when Sean Fine said “We need to start supporting the arts, because they're dying in our community.”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Whether it's Dr. Seuss' anti-fascist cartoons, or '60s rock journalism, the most lively sources from the past are from the critics.

The critic's artistic medium takes form in written opinion. Given Oscar Wilde's platonic dialogue in The Critic As Artist, I thoroughly enjoyed the theory of a critic using another artist's work as raw materials in creating a new art; however, I disagree with Wilde when he claimed "It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it."

Bob Dylan expressed his feelings and thoughts on criticism in a recent Rolling Stone interview,
"I try to get past all that. I have to. When you ask me if I find criticism of my work irrelevant or silly, no, not if it's constructive. If someone could point out here or there where my work could be improved upon, I guess I'd be willing to listen. The people who are obsessed with criticism – it's not honest criticism. They are not the people who I play to anyway."
And then he continued,
"Everything people say about you or me, they are saying about themselves. They're telling about themselves. Ever notice that?"
As a history major I immerse myself within primary texts, and regardless of the time period, I enjoy reading the journalistic articles the most.

I like feeling the bite of words.

So with my breadth of popular press from an expanse of history, here's how I see it: there's an ongoing negotiation between the consumers (readers) and the producers (writers). Let's take the aforementioned Rolling Stone magazine as it emerged out of the haze that was the San Francisco countercultural movement in 1967. These writers held their fingers on the pulse of underground rock 'n' roll. Perhaps best illustrated in a scathing review a Cream concert, Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau dubbed the guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton as "a master of blues cliche." After reading the article, Clapton realized it was the end of this power trio.

Thus the critic must be a trust worthy source for opinion and coverage. If not (according to Gramsci's notion of "compromise equilibrium") the consumers reject a producer's work.

As an aspiring musician and journalist I will embrace criticism because I want to improve. I'll set aside my ego, and I'll take risks because this is the time to grow. Echoing Bob Dylan, I will take careful note of constructive criticism, but I'll be skeptical of peers projecting their anxieties. Playing guitar on a stage can be simultaneously the most liberating and most nerve-wracking experience. Try it sometime. Do at a cabaret, open-mic night. There's nothing to lose.

From my perspective in writing original music and writing criticism, creating art in the moment is much more difficult than to talk about it.

Sure, music critics might end an musician's career with a particular band or coin terms like "sheets of sound" in jazz. They may make an artist's work last longer, seen by Gilbert's example of da Vinci's work in The Critic As Artist. Readers, scholars, and fellow history nerds can look back and say "for these reasons, this is why the Velvet Underground was great."

We covered in class that art is communication. I'll take it further: it is expression when words fail. Can words really capture the sheets of sounds in John Coltrane's solos, or express how a teenager suddenly wants to learn how to play guitar after watching Jimmy Page on TV?

Maybe I, as a critic, am merely projecting. In fact, I'm certain I am. But let's see you shred the guitar, critic. I'll be listening.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presumptuous Reviewer, Noble Critic

“I was often accused of writing about everything but the movie,” film critic Pauline Kael answered in Afterglow. Although stubbornly opinionated, even presumptuous in her writing, Kael as a critic revealed greater truths of American culture through film reviews.
Popular film was her medium of criticism when she began writing for the sophisticated New Yorker in 1967. She embraced the pop appeal of movies, how energy flows out of them. She noted good directors, such as Altman with Nashville, use pop as a vehicle for art.

The magazine’s editor, William Shawn, noticed the average age of readers significantly lowering after Kael joined. It was her receptiveness that lead to her popularity her as a critic. Kael enjoyed big box office hits such as Jawsthe Matrix, and E.T, yet she dubbed The Sound of Music as “The Sound of Money.”

She criticized Hiroshima Mon Amour, and its reception, that the intellectual audience found “wish fulfillment in the form of cheap and easy congratulation on their sensitivities and their liberalism.” Juxtaposed to E.T.,she described the viewing experience with a “lightness of soul.”

Yet her writings has not been met without criticisms. Renata Adler in House Critic denounced Kael’s writing as overbearing, and her mannerisms as overused. Despite attacking Kael for losing vitality after the ‘60s, even Adler emphasized “Whatever else you may think about her work, [...] she certainly does know about movies.”

Kael aimed to write film reviews as accessible and reliable. Kael consciously tried to write the way people talked about a movie when leaving the theater. Ken Tucker’s article on Salon.com cited Kael saying “the reader is in on my thought processes.”

She did not automatically praise art films because of its moral appeal, and she did not immediately oppose Hollywood films as a commercial product. Likewise, she wrote “I didn’t want to write academic English in an attempt to elevate movies, because I think that actually lowers them.”

Ken Tucker noted Kael asserted her opinion in spite of her editors, “the sort of critical independence Kael maintains is increasingly rare.” Kael wrote acerbic lines of talented actors, such as Paul Schrader in Taxi Driver  liking “the idea of prostituting himself better than he likes making movies.”

It was Kael’s receptiveness paired with her stubbornness that led to her everlasting influence. When a critic takes his or her medium seriously is when the critic is taken seriously.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New York Times Defense: Afghani Ensemble Visits "Bolero"

On Wednesday Mara and Colin will be covering Anthony Tommasini’s review of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music rendition“Bolero” by Maurice Ravel.
Tommasini is the chief music critic at the New York Times as of 2000, first joining the staff in 1996.
This music critic actually began as a professor at Emerson College in Boston, but after being denied of tenure he pursued music criticism.
We’re going to analyze how Tommasini targets his audience, and how he introduces new vocabulary of traditional Afghani music and its instruments without alienating his readers.
One of the reasons why we’re defending this piece is because of the word choice used to describe the feelings evoked from the foreign instrumentation.
Tommasini describes the unfamiliar sounds of these instruments with familiar comparisons (“Or the sarod, another plucked Afghan instrument [...] could bend the blue-notes of the melody with the yearning of a Billie Holiday”).
We’re also going to explore the use of diction, assonance and consonance, as well as meter (“plucked like a lute to produce a sound both tender and tart”).
Lastly, we’re going to appraise the cultural context Tommasini adds to the review; he draws awareness to social climate of Afghanistan with quotes from Mohammad Asif Nang.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Lambeth Walk: First Video of "Trolling."

While reviewing my notes for my history midterm I distracted myself by glancing over The Atlantic, NYtimes, and Slate. Besides for catching live footage of the State of the Union address, I also checked out the arts section of each publication. Coincidentally a post off of Slate's history blog highlighted the Universal Newsreel edits of Triumph of the Will I was reviewing for my mid-term.

In 1941 this team of British film editors spliced Triumph of the Wil to sync Hitler, his legions of Nazis, and his mass of supporters with the Lambeth Walk. The song featured in the edited clip is from the musical Me and My Girl, and the dance originated from the Cockney subculture.

The Lambeth Walk adapted the American dances such as the foxtrot and the charleston after the popularization of the music genres ragtime, dixie, and then swing. With its "high kicks and broad gestures," as Slate Writer Rebecca Onion wrote, the Lambeth Walk became so widely accepted over other dances in Britain due to its domestic origins.

The greater historical significance of the dance demonstrated that people of all backgrounds and of all regions in England performed the dance, in spite of sectional and class differences. While the Walk originated from working class Londoners, the popularization of it was exemplified when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth performing the dance.

which spoke volumes after the Nazi party denounced the dance in 1939.

The Lambeth Walk was in direct contrast to the Nazi, highly regimented and unified marches, thus the dance is seen by historian Allison Abra as a democratic dance. Unlike the fascist march, no one was forced to dance, yet the Walk became so widespread through England.

Above all, the Universal Newsreel's splicing portrayed the Germans as not an unstoppable force, but a very laughable bunch during the height of the London bombings.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Valuable Insights in a Free Tour: KIA Places New Pieces in an Old Gallery

Colin Smith

Valuable Insights in a Free Tour

After sporting a sticker that read “I’m Stoked,” the tour began with a large lump of clay that resembled the kiln that furnaced it. Featuring works from Goya to Warhol, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) recently updated their downstairs gallery with new pieces. Despite lacking breadth with only covering four pieces the tour made up in depth.

A placard asked “masterpiece or lump of clay?” next to the earthy structure by Peter Voulkos. This artist decided to leave the piece unnamed, but the previous art gallery decided to call it “Yellow Stone Saga.” Echoing abstract expressionism, guide Mike Keenan reminded art can be as much of the process as the product.

The product can also be two blue colored men, looking stiff from rigor mortis, lying down on a heap of gravel. Richard Wilt, a former professor University of Michigan, painted “Sleeping Man & Excavation” in 1950. The characters looked like they were digging their own grave. The work felt three dimensional despite its restrictive medium as Wilt played upon perspective. The left side of the brick floor looked like a wall, and the men didn’t appear to be sleeping. The tour did not explain the piece, only speculated. "It's weird as hell," Keenan heaved.

A black and white photo with marks and numbers of a canvas fence resembled a blue print more than an art piece. Above the pictured hung a topical map outlining where a 24.5 mile long, 18-feet high fence stretched just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The KIA’s relic of Christo’s “Running Fence” did not do justice to portray the size and scope of this project; however, the guide did take the time to amplify the costs and organization of this feat.

The fabric fence held together by steel posts and cables lead from the Pacific ocean across the private property of valley cattle ranchers. This great wall stayed up for 14 days until they took it down without visible trace, assembled and disassembled by volunteers.

While only covering four works, the tour was flexible, informative, and entertaining. A wooden horse constructed out of drift juniper branches shyly looked at the ground as if about to gnaw on grass. No, "that isn’t wood," guide said, and the placard read bronze. Cold metal would be felt if one could touch Deborah Butterfield’s “Hoku.”

When asked if the kiln-shaped sculptor was a masterpiece, Keenan concluded “it’s weird as hell.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big Trouble in Little Bohemia

Amateur theater productions are best for amateur theater goers.

And I don't mean that pejoratively.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Kalamazoo Civic Theater's adaptation of Sherlock Holmes last Wednesday. Whenever I leave the "K Bubble" I almost always see a band, rarely a film, but never a play.

Thus, if I were to review the Civic's Sherlock Holmes, I would have to do my research. Besides reading up on Sherlock Holmes, as it is one of the missing pieces of my knowledge in Imperial Britain's culture, I would have to read more than just McLeese (including, but not limited to, the NYTimes A&E reviews). As I am an amateur theater goer, if you can even call me that, I would not compare this adaption to other adaptions of Sherlock. I would have to familiarize myself with the Civic Theater--and mention that the productions are primarily powered by volunteers.

I would have to review a theater review differently from a film review, though, as I learned from McLeese, I would still go with my gut.

Yet, despite my lacking theater background I would be extremely perceptive in my analysis of the set design, costumes, dialogue, and acting. As the emphasis in theater is placed on the actor, rather than director, I would pay more attention to whether or not the actors felt convincing.

For one, the off-stage sound should have been much louder. The lighting, on the other hand, mesmerized me, especially in the instances where Sherlock and Dr. Watson would be in the foreground and another character up the stairs, placed in the background. The light was on cue with the dialogue, such as in a scene involving smoke (no spoilers here).

The blocking of Irene was fantastic--and I'm not just trying to get an "A." Her motions were as bold as the character's personality. The actor playing Dr. Watson, Craig Sloan, felt natural. Though his narrative and delivery was slow at times, he linked the audience with the plot while the stage crew adapted the scene. The costumes were convincing, though the accents were not. With that said, I found the actor portraying the henchman with the Cockney accent to be one of the most convincing actors in the production.

Keep in mind: these actors are volunteers, and it's amazing they're putting themselves up on stage just because they want to. Avid fan of Sherlock or a ripe theater goer, the Kalamazoo Civic produced a very entertaining performance.

If I were really reviewing a play I would make sure I've done research, I become familiar with theater vocabulary, I would read more (and pay more attention to) theater reviews in the Times, and I would have expectations.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Letting Out Those Bad Spirits with the 7th Son Blues Band

A large bearded, jovial man picks up a silver cornet and says “so you guys can swing” as he lets out a hefty laugh. The blues band just finished a few numbers, and a guitarist joins the stage with his blonde Stratocaster. Kalamazoo’s oldest blues band, 7th Son, kept Old Dog Tavern’s stage open this past Sunday night to let out any worries or woes. While 7th Son lacked variety, they played the blues with such precision that they sounded fresh with each song.
All six musicians knew the venue and the audience so well that the show felt like a conversation between the performers and the patrons. The singer wore a harmonica-holding belt, and when he wasn’t wailing out solos on the jaw harp he sang from the country-blues image of Willie Nelson. He sustains high note singing “I’m somebody else,” for eight bars.
The guitarist comped by picking close to the neck of his crimson semi-hollow Gibson. One moment he played choppy, Keith Richards chord-riffs, then as he transitioned into a different key he played a visceral solo that echoed the works of Clapton in Derek & the Dominoes. The guitarist and tenor saxophonist drove the band forward, but the bass and keys held them together.
An blue clad man sporting a pork pie hat holds a trumpet from 1905, he says his name is Jiovanni Di Vitto and he wants more jazz. He leaned out letting out a few deliberately timed toots, then he moseyed over beside the upright piano. When the singer hands him the next solo during Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Di Vitto wails out a string of notes like Dizzy Gillespie.
7th Son only played the blues, but they played it with the provocative, soulful delivery of Ray Charles. Their keyboardist and guitarist executed each note with precision. The rhythm section regularly looked at each other, listening to each others’ solos to feel out when the band goes back to the head. While lacking variety, stand-in musicians coming and going between jams made the set more dynamic.
Trumpeter Di Vito talked to the crowed while he cleaned his horn, he said playing music “channels out the bad spirits.” Indeed, the individual musicians played with conviction without compromising common cause of the band. Whether they were playing Ray Charles, a reggae beat, or a funky, rhythmic “Hey, Bo Diddley,” 7th Son kept the blues far from being boring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Inside Ilewyn Davis

What's cooler than a new Coen Brothers' film? A new Coen Brothers' film set in Greenwich Village in 1961.

Loosely based off of Dave Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the Coen Brothers' intend on capturing the place and the time of the folk hub that was Greenwich Village, New York.

The film will be interesting not because of the Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell references, but of the context  of the folk music scene that formed in the coffee houses, cabarets, and bars of Greenwich. While there are numerous films on, or dedicated to, Bob Dylan (No Direction Home, Don't Look Back, I'm Not There), a film on the culture and characters that shaped the '60s folk movement will be refreshing.

The Coen Brothers will have to capture a lively time, the year before Dylan released his first record, Bob Dylan, and where he primarily performed covers of Woody Guthrie, or his contemporaries like Dave Van Ronk. Bob Dylan, according to an article in Monday's New York Times, "kind of, sort of" shows up in the film.

It's funny how the article mentions a venue called Gerde's Folk City, because Dylan first gained publicity through an article written by a Robert Shelton from the Times after a performance in September of 1961.

Clearly, evident of the trailer, the film will be full of rich history.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stuffed Pomeranians: Even the Lavish 1% Can Spend Excessively

The pink tank top clad wife of timeshare king David Siegel walks through the skeletal foyer of a 90,000 square feet replica of Versailles. That room-sized space is Jackie Siegel’s closet. The camera pans across a basement full of crates, “that’s what five million dollars of marble looks like,” Jackie says with a gleaming smile.

Despite internal feelings of disgust, envy, or even nausea towards the decadent family of 10, Lauren Greenfield examines the Siegels as an allegory for excess in The Queen of Versailles. The Queen walks through a hall of mirrors and reveals the tragedy of excess in the values and history that resulted in the 2008 financial crisis.

David Siegel is the founder and CEO of the largest timeshare company in the world, Westgate Resorts. Jackie Siegel, 30 years younger at 43, is a former Miss Florida and a mother of eight. In 2004 the family started constructing the largest house in the United States.

“Everyone wants to be rich, if they can’t be rich the next best thing is to feel rich,” Greenfield cuts from the bright lights of Westgate Resorts’ sign to a growling Siegel in his grandiose throne, “if they don’t want to feel rich they’re probably dead.”

The Queen effectively weaves the lives of the Siegels during their financial height, as well as when the economy collapsed in order to capture the moral of this story.

Greenfield did not completely portray the Siegels with malice; in fact, she reveals Jackie’s complexity as she slowly becomes the heart of the story. The film untangles her humble origins. After earning an engineering degree, Jackie worked at IBM until she was inspired to live her life as a model.

While she was physically abused in her first marriage, Greenfield juxtaposes her interview with a scene where David locking himself in a room upon a pile of papers threatening to cancel the electricity, and refusing to accept Jackie’s kiss.

“The American dream is raising way above what you’re starting with,” said the mother of Jackie’s childhood friend as the Siegels moved into a substantially smaller house, “and that’s what she has done.”

Though Louis XIV who had Versailles built for him, the Siegels bear more resemblance to Napoleons spreading a financial empire too thin. Instead of exile, however, they too get a taste of financial struggle in a culture of acting upon excess want.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lupe Fiasco Creates a Fiasco

Yesterday was Inauguration Day.

On a stage at the Hamilton in D.C. Wasulu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, performed more than 30 minutes on a single song at the inaugural music celebration set up by the concert Startup Rockon. After announcing he didn't vote for Obama, he began criticizing the President's foreign policy for the entirety of his set. That is, until security pulled him off stage.

Some lines included "Gaza Strip was getting bombed // Obama didn't say shit."

Though, his last words until being escorted off the stage, "I'm part of the problem, my problem is I'm peaceful."

The moment he criticized himself for being peaceful dissent got him kicked off stage. He gave a message to his fans and audience to act unlawfully in order to create change. His free speech wasn't violated, the moment he hinted at violent civil disobedience he was taken off (Brandenburg v. Ohio). The 30 plus minutes before that the guards let him rant.

On CBS in 2011, Lupe Fiasco reported calling Obama "the biggest terrorist," along with the military-industrial complex, and our nation's foreign policy. He also arrived on the O'Reilly Factor, and this is a bit surprising, O'reilly defends Obama (yes, you read that correctly) and Chicago-born, African American Lupe criticized Obama.

Whether or not you agree with Mr. Fiasco, I'm glad he wasn't taken off stage during his first 30 minutes until he said his problem is being peaceful.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Django Unchained and Unfettered (Revised)

       Two black slaves fight to the death in the bar room of a filthy rich plantation, like gladiators before their emperor, in this cruel game called Mandingo fighting. Pops are heard as bones break and joints dislocate. The victor picks up a stone to smite the ill-fated loser. Set on the brink of the American Civil War, the all-star cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained wrestle in a game of power.
Starring Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave who is freed upon the appearance of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), the two journey into the pastoral South of antebellum America.
       Django immediately grasps attention with its cast, unique setting, and Tarantino’s trademark grindhouse elements. The entire film tugs like the Mandingo match as Tarantino directs a black protagonist to kill white people. He explores the themes of power interplay between the owner with the owned, and the black with the white.
       The script engages, and unnerves, as the dialogue escalates. In the same bar room Leonardo DiCaprio asks Foxx, “You got me curious,” and Foxx quips, “I’m curious what makes you so curious.” Silence fills the scene until Waltz interrupts.

"I'm curious what makes you so curious"
       While the script is full of clever word play, Tarantino creates a formula within his films that result in predictability. Ala Inglorious Basterds, a long exchange of insults are heard, until, suddenly, many people are killed. Though entertaining, the climax takes too long to reach in this three hour long film.
       The usual grindhouse elements appear in Django, but the film also revealed influences of spaghetti western and ‘70s blaxploitation films. The camera expresses the push and pull sensation, as in one moment the camera narrowly focuses on Waltz and Foxx, then cuts to a panoramic of their foes. These exchanges feel like a classic western showdown through Tarantino’s lenses.
       Our country carries a terrible burden of the past, and Django’s story makes it all the more bearable. Tarantino succeeds in portraying racism as ridiculous through his portrayal of the immature KKK, or in the caricaturization of black stereotypes, like Samuel L. Jackson’s deliberate performance of an Uncle Tom.
       Like a modern day gladiator match, much of Django is entertaining showmanship, the action exchanges back and forth until an eruption of tension, yet after viewing Tarantino’s other films the victors and losers are revealed long before the end. Despite its length and Tarantino’s familiar structure, Django will try to entertain like a southern gentleman.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Django Still Chained

          His fate casted to the Gods, like the Herculean gladiator, little did he know he is but a pawn in the game of vengeance. If he was not owned by a white man, surely he was owned by the instinct of revenge. Retribution finds itself nearly through every scene of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, and viewers will move in their seats from the build up to the action.
          Starring Jamie Foxx as Django, an slave who is freed upon the appearance of a bounty hunter (played by Christoph Waltz), the two journey into the pastoral South of antebellum America.
          Complete with an all-star cast, a unique setting, and Tarantino’s filmmaking ingenuity, Django immediately grasps attention. The entire film tugs like a gladiator match; it was a long-winded confrontation between two entities about who held the upper hand. If the setting and dialogue don’t grab you first, the characters will.
          The usual grindhouse elements appear, but the film also revealed interesting influences of spaghetti western ‘70s blaxploitation films. Yet, at the same time, it becomes difficult to view this violent film outside the context of the awful recent shootings. Full of shocks, Django offers little surprises other than the lurid action scenes.
          While the unconventional structure and build up of tension during the dialogue of Tarantino’s latest film, Django doesn’t feel evolved from his other work. Tension crescendos simultaneously with the dialogue, until a lot of people die. Despite its unconventional structure, Django becomes predictable within the patterns of Tarantino’s past films (Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds).
          By the end of the play the acts don’t add up to a single theme other than revenge. Between the acts the characters’ motives become transparent, their personalities develop through actions (or inaction), and while the conflicts seem unreal, it gets easy to become tied to the characters.
          Our country carries a terrible burden of the past, and Tarantino acknowledges this. He succeeds in portraying racism, along with its bastard cousin of phrenology, as ridiculous. He allows us not to forget about the past.
          Django is entertaining, it is sensational, the production is impressive, yet when fitting the scenes together and thinking about the possible themes, one may leave with a punch-drunk smile.
          Like a modern day gladiator match, a lot of Django was entertaining showmanship, the action would finally erupt after tensional build up, yet after viewing Tarantino’s other films the theme of revenge will leave you hungry for something more substantial.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Music & Identity Blog: The Class, The Blog, The Tunes

I set this blog up for my Music & Identity class. If you like music history you should check it out for updates.

Or just check it for some classic tunes. Your ears will thank you.


The New York Times Launches "Snowfall," a Multimedia Masterpiece

The New York Times started a new project,"Snowfall," on last February's Tunnel Creek snow avalanche. Launched last month, featuring multiple chapters and integrated multimedia, the feature feels more like an experience than an article.


While the clips and moving maps might be unpredictable, the project works because the transitions are smooth.

The reader is not only pulled in, but invited in. The top of the article shows a video loop of snow falling off of a mountain cap, along with its title "Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek." Scroll down, and it reads like a conventional article, including a video interview with Elyse Saugstad, a survivor of the avalanche, on the right side. Farther along the article a birds' eye view tour of Washington's Cascades is given through a mp4 video file. The article resumes, a skier skids down a hill and the snow hits the camera lens.

All six of the chapters follow a similar format. After a scenic title, a few short paragraphs, and an image becomes a clip interspersed within a body of text. The project combines static words with the movement of both two and three dimensional maps and diagrams.

Still, writers wonder, is this the future of journalism?

It's an experiment. The New York Times demonstrates with "Snow Fall" how old, established publications can integrate new technology for the future of journalism.