Artists of the Year

The revelation came by e-mail. On September 14, a friend dispatched a message to my Outlook inbox--a passage he'd copied out of Don DeLillo's 1991 novel Mao II.

 

'For some time now I've had the feeling that novelists and terrorists are playing a zero-sum game.'

'Interesting. How so?'

'What terrorists gain, novelists lose. The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous.'

'And the more clearly we see terror, the less impact we feel from art.'

'I think the relationship is intimate and precise insofar as such things can be measured.'

'Very nice indeed.'

'You think so?'

'Completely marvelous.'

'Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative.'

'And it's difficult when they kill and maim because you see them, honestly now, as the only possible heroes for our time.'

'No,' Bill said. 'The way they live in the shadows, live willingly with death. The way they hate many of the things you hate. Their discipline and cunning. The coherence of their lives. The way they excite, theyexcite admiration. In societies reduced to blur and glut, terror is the only meaningful act. There's too much everything, more things and messages and meanings than we can use in ten thousand lifetimes. Inertia-hysteria. Is history possible? Is anyone serious? Who do we take seriously? Only the lethal believer, the person who kills and dies for faith. Everything else is absorbed. The artist is absorbed, the madman in the street is absorbed and processed and incorporated. Give him a dollar, put him in a TV commercial. Only the terrorist stands outside. The culture hasn't figured out how to assimilate him. It's confusing when they kill the innocent. But this is precisely the language of being noticed, the only language the West understands. The way they determine how we see them. The way they dominate the rush of endless streaming images....'

 

DeLillo's dialogue was eerie in its elucidation of the covert and the occult. Call it the literary equivalent of the floodlights illuminating the smoke-blurred husk of the World Trade Center--a stark insight into the locus of fear and mystery and dread. In fact, DeLillo's conversation almost seemed to devour itself in a logical loop: How could fiction this meaningful argue against the meaning of fiction?

The more clearly we see terror, the less impact we feel from art. The electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen said much the same thing in a press-conference gaffe that seems fated to become a benchmark in the annals of bad public relations. Fans of string quartets written for four airborne helicopters can debate whether the grandiose German musician really meant to call the attack on the WTC "the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos." But the comment that followed seems even more provocative. "You have people who are so concentrated on one performance, and then 5,000 people are dispatched into eternity, in a single moment. I couldn't do that. In comparison with that, we're nothing as composers."

There's a hint of yearning and envy in this quote that is deeply unsettling. But, like DeLillo's, it taps into the deepest currents of what art is and what it signifies. That question, as always, is at the heart of City Pages' tenth annual Artists of the Year issue. And though Stockhausen may have picked Osama bin Laden for his cosmic influence, the contributors to our survey have chosen to define art as a thing that doesn't exact a body count. As in past years, we've started off this issue by praising a choreographer, a poet, a cabaret band, an installation artist, a film director, and a theater producer whose influence can be felt in our own little corner of the cosmos.

When it comes to art and culture, there are two prevailing opinions about 9/11. The first is that it changed everything. The second is that it changed nothing. Both seem filled with danger and possibility. --Michael Tortorello

 

Mark Nowak
By Jon Spayde

 

A few years ago I was browsing an anthology of "innovative poetry" in search of somebody who avoided the pitfalls of postmodern poetry (flat diction, glum impersonality, and so many content shifts so fast that the poem's reason for being is lost in the swirl) while maintaining its virtues (surprise, formal risk taking, intellectual/political vigor). Not only did I find such a poet in those pages, but he was a local boy.

Mark Nowak has been teaching and writing in the Twins since 1992, and he, along with critic Maria Damon, the Rain Taxi crew, and a few others, have been doing yeoman work keeping our towns connected to the wider world of postmodern poetry through readings and publication projects. (One of those projects is Nowak's journal, XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics, to which--full disclosure time--I contributed a book review a few years ago.)

His collection, Revenants (Coffee House Press) appeared to total local critical neglect at the end of 2000. Too bad: These are startling and beautiful word-works that treat Nowak's Polish ethnic background in ways far removed from the overfamiliar self-exploratory modes of "identity" writing.

Polishness, for Nowak, becomes a mythic Slavic landscape in which cyclic time rolls on and enigmatic ritual occasions are enacted. He drops gnarled, euphonious Polish words into his poems, and although they're often abstractions, they give his lines a beautiful tincture of intimacy, as if he were whispering to a grandmother. His words are the energetic traces of rites and experiences never quite made explicit. We're expected to bring our own memories to lines like these:

Northern fields, a half-
dozen pears, one yellow jacket
caught between
the storm window and the storm.

The sunlight is over
and over again.

Nowak filters his encounters with Buffalo, New York, his home town, through a complicated, ironic set of ethnographic lenses, collaging bits of overheard talk, memory snippets, and anthropological theory into testaments to home. His voices are rooted in real places, and his rootedness is fearlessly exploratory. He's just the guy to help Minnesotan--and American--poetry find its feet in the 21st Century.

Jon Spayde is a Minneapolis writer and an editor of the book Visionaries (New Society Publishers).

 

Ananya Chatterjea
By Caroline Palmer

 

It was just four days after the terrorist attacks of September 11 and I had plans to see Ananya Chatterjea's Women in Motion perform at the University of Minnesota's Barbara Barker Center for Dance. I took my time getting to the matinee, assuming that few people would be in the mood for a show, let alone one about domestic violence. When I entered the lobby, however, I found that not only was the performance sold out, but that 50 people were on the waiting list. Clearly we all needed to be there for one reason or another.

Chatterjea, an artist and educator trained in traditional Indian dance forms such as odissi and bharatanatyam--as well as contemporary dance, street theater, martial arts, and yoga--is adept at breaking down boundaries in order to make a lasting impression. She combines a detailed sense of artistry with an equally fervent sense of justice. In A Wife's Letter she animated the piercing statements within a battered woman's suicide note using dance, text, music, and song. It was a stunning 90 minutes of performance, certainly poignant at any time, but particularly significant in the aftermath of a stunning display of hatred on a global scale.

Political theater is a tricky business: The intention may be good, but often the presentation is naive. Not so with Chatterjea. A Wife's Letter followed an arc leading from literal events to abstract presentations of how society's blindness toward abuse creates generations of restless ghosts and children doomed to repeat the cycle. Her work challenged us with its sudden disruptions and inappropriate outbursts. It explored all sides of the issue, simultaneously condemning and forgiving. Relevant works of art seek out the complexities of human nature and refuse to settle for easy answers. Chatterjea proved that she is an artist who works such terrain without fear. And sometimes we need someone like her to be brave for us.

Caroline Palmer is a lawyer for the Minnesota AIDS Project and is the dance critic for City Pages.

 

Michelle Hensley
By Max Sparber

 

If Ten Thousand Things were simply a theater company that toured prisons and homeless shelters, there would be no story--such well-meaning acts of liberal fussbudgetry are as common as e-mail petitions, and considerably less interesting. Every year there are hundreds of exsanguine productions of stagecraft presented to the disadvantaged in the dubious belief that a few snippets of iambic pentameter will vastly enrich their lives.

Ten Thousand Things director Michelle Hensley, by comparison, regularly offers something far more adventurous--good theater--without frills and without condescension, which is why she has caught the attention of theatergoers outside the world of the disempowered, and why she is the subject of our current attention. She mounts her plays with necessary homeliness, as her budgets are low and her sets must be simple and easily portable. But Hensley has followed a longstanding artistic tradition of turning a limitation into an aesthetic: Her productions are marked by uncluttered, elegant staging and simple, evocative gestures. In June's The Most Happy Fella, for example, she represented an entire vineyard with just a few posts of wood hung with artificial flowers and vines. As time passed in the musical, performers would raise the wooden posts and spread out the ersatz flora. Voilà: the bloom of spring!

Hensley also has a knack for casting. Years from now, if somebody wishes to compile a list of the Twin Cities' finest actors, they'll need do no more than take a look at Hensley's programs of the past few years. Consider the recent production of The Furies: This is a play that is nothing more than a niggling work of Greek rhetoric, in which minuscule issues of morality are debated by the Gods. But with Luvurne Seifert and Jennifer Blagen as foppish gods and Greta Oglesby as the wailing, vindictive ghost of Clytemnestra, this hoary Greek work proved to have life in it yet. Such theater is worth celebrating, no matter who's sitting in the audience.

Max Sparber is the theater critic for City Pages.

 

Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears
By Sarah Price

 

This year was an odd one in terms of artists who inspired me: Hollywood, Indiewood, Documentarywood, and mainstream and indie music simply failed to deliver the goods. Everything seemed too overproduced and bottom-line-motivated for my taste. And yet there are still unique artists afloat in this sea of Wal-Mart culture, creating the bake-sale-on-the-porch kind of work that makes you aware of contributing to the world, not just of absorbing its product.

When I first saw Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears at the Turf Club, they sent me straight into the sweet abyss with their melancholic cabaret stylings. Telling tales of love, lost love, and the state of being just plain horny in the modern world, the duo of Steph Dickson and Tom Siler captures a moment in time when live rock shows were more about connecting with an audience in an intimate space than about making prepubescent guitar noise in order to land a record deal. At the risk of sounding corny: Picture Paris in the late Forties--a smoky, dimly lit nightclub oozing its atmosphere while a languid chanteuse sullenly cuts through the spotlight with her supple frame. Now add a few decorative corduroy squirrels (Steph makes them), and a sonic backbone of piano and guitar (that's Tom), and you've got the basic idea.

Following in the footsteps of early cabaret pioneers, Tulip Sweet wants you to feel the painful journey of a broken heart--but also to remember that the here-and-now is what matters most. At one point in the set, Steph stomps her foot, bangs a drum with a tambourine, and sings over and over, "I live for the you that lives in my mind!" The musicianship of both Steph and Tom has become truly awe-inspiring, their Beangirl sound pared down to its most sparse and clairvoyant. Alas, with the release of their second album, Cry, the two have moved out of the Twin Cities. But this is a good thing: From the heart of New York, they'll spread Tulip love throughout the world.

Sarah Price is a Milwaukee-based filmmaker whose credits include Caesar's Park and American Movie. She also plays drums in Competitorr.

 

Charles Matson Lume
By Michael Fallon

 

Humans perceive the world primarily through their eyes. This may explain why it is a cliché to describe any artist whose work seems fresh and new as possessing "a new way of looking at things." Never mind that artists are primarily "makers," and not lookers: It is neatly appealing to imagine that such individuals are possessed of extraordinary points of view, and that such points of view are the sole source for their art.

In the case of Charles Matson Lume, whose work stood out in two group shows this year ("Nothing and Everything" at the now-defunct Waiting Room and "Art Inside/Outside Space XIV" at Intermedia Arts), the old saw may once again apply--though, to be sure, Lume is still an assiduous artmaker of a fairly unusual kind. That is, Lume is a true installation artist who labors to create pieces out of an interaction between quirky elements in a room. In practice, Lume transforms entire spaces into objects of beauty by gluing plastic magnifying glasses, round mirrors, clear filament, twist-ties, and the like onto floor and walls and ceiling. The interplay of the small items with available ambient light and strategically placed light fixtures creates swirling patterns of shadows and luminous droplets. Lume's skill in managing the optical effects of mundane and unnoteworthy plastic toss-offs is what's revolutionary.

The only shame is that with the relative lack of exhibition opportunities locally, Lume's works have had to share space with other displays; and so they've been relegated to only a small corner or wall of a gallery. Word on the street is that he was only a finalist this fall--and not a winner--of a 2002 Jerome Fellowship (what were the panelists thinking?). It's too bad: He could have done wonders with the vaulted caverns of the MCAD gallery in the annual exhibition granted to the fellowship winners. Oh well, perhaps next year--keep your eyes peeled.

Michael Fallon is a St. Paul writer and the art critic for City Pages.

 

Jon Springer
By Jeremy Swanson

 

Ten years ago Jon Springer began his filmmaking career with a bloodbath. His debut short "Dead Looters" featured a babyfaced teenager roaming a postapocalyptic St. Paul and nonchalantly gunning down the undead. Since then, the Inver Grove Heights native has injected his filmmaking with a more significant amount of thematic and visual substance. But in some ways, his style, which includes a mix of extremely graphic imagery and morbid humor, hasn't changed.

Earlier this year, besides screening the director's cut of "Dead Looters" at Bryant-Lake Bowl, Springer also unveiled "Heaven 17," a comic sci-fi short with a Catholic antiabortion twist. Set in a familiar dystopian world defined by a hyper-hedonistic society and a totalitarian government, the film follows a 17-year-old girl after she conceives a child in her virgin womb and is then commanded by the state's abortion doctor to terminate the pregnancy. You can glean Springer's religious-right politics from his description of the antagonist: "The doctor is a vampire. He feeds off blood, amniotic fluid, and the act itself. Could you have a more truthful metaphor for an abortionist?"

Regardless of whether you share Springer's eccentric beliefs, you'd be hard-pressed to find another local filmmaker with as much frame-by-frame flair. And, overzealous as it may sound, this deeply religious auteur occasionally suggests a kind of holy cross between Flannery O'Connor and David Cronenberg. Word has it that Springer is halfway through production of "Heterosapien," yet another politically charged sci-fi comedy. In this one, however, the ever-oppressive state needn't worry so much about female impregnation, as heterosexuals are the outcasts, and homosexuals rule the day. Perhaps we can expect next year's body count, outrage, and laughter to rise again.

Jeremy Swanson is a writer and editor at The African in Tanzania.

 

The White Stripes
By Kate Sullivan

 

I was packing a suitcase last month when I heard some music that cracked my heart. It came on a white CD with no name or date on it, left over after a party. I put it on, and I hear this loose, dirty, bluesy garage rock, played by a clearly crazed young man apparently hitting a Stratocaster with one hand and a drum kit with the other. He stretches his voice into baffling shapes, so high that it breaks. He sorta growls, turning red-faced and breathless, frustrated with a mouthful of hot words and impossible feelings spilling everywhere. So many impossible feelings.

Obviously, this boy knows erotic love--of records, I'd guess. You can hear it in his voice: years of music consumed, stacks of black vinyl cherished, chewed up, smashed to bits, swallowed, and turned into fuel. It hurts him. It hurts to love records that much, to eat them. Your loins burn and your heart pops. Witness the sound of a boy exploding.

This is music from a time when musicians absorbed influences through their bodies, not their brains. It's not even remotely postmodern: It's just music. It sounds like a crazy-sensitive, crazy-deep person who has decided that if he's losing his mind, he may as well set it on fire and invite the neighborhood kids to come and watch.

Anyway, this anonymous miracle kicked my ass: I couldn't hear it for days, feeling nervous even to turn it on. Then I found out that the record is White Blood Cells by the White Stripes, those Detroit kids who wear only red and white. They recorded it in, like, three days. (I heard they turned down a Gap ad, too. Heroes.)

So thank you, you gorgeous monsters. And hail, hail, rock 'n' roll! I didn't think I'd ever feel this way again. I'm finding it hard to say that I need you 20 times a day.

Kate Sullivan is a Los Angeles-based writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

The Moldy Peaches
By Robert Christgau

 

The Moldy Peaches is the most quotable album since 69 Love Songs (including Love and Theft), but that doesn't mean I think anyone will believe that the song of the year begins, "My name is Jorge Regula/I'm walkin' down the street/I love you/Let's go to the beach/Let's go sailing/Let's get a bite to eat/Let's talk about movies/Let's go to sleep." It does, though. Guitar and tuba intro, quiet piano and drums for a while. Adam Green talk-sings each line and then Kimya Dawson repeats it. You can hear her smiling. On the end lines they sing in unison. On the last verse they whisper. Does he love you/her(/him?) or is he just making time? Either way there's an innocence about it with no parallel I know of.

Right after, whap, comes something loud, a negligible ditty lasting a lovable 1:34--a take me to your leader with grunts, yowls, inarticulate guitar. Regrettably, space forbids my continuing the blow-by-blow. But I must cite a few titles: "Who's Got the Crack," "Downloading Porn With Davo," "NYC's Like a Graveyard." And a few lines: "We sure are cute for two ugly people"; "I wanna be a hippie but I forgot how to love"; "My girl's got a dick hanging out of her shorts"; "I'm gonna give you three chances/And then I'm gonna turn you into a goon." I must also mention that in the middle of the saddest song, a cellular rings.

Like the best finger painters, the Moldy Peaches understand the pleasures of pattern and the pleasures of making a mess. At first they seem engaging but a little cheap: Folk-punk minimalism is so easy to execute. But as you relisten, you remember that it's also almost impossible to bring off. And you might also realize that in a music whose great subject is growing up, by which I mean rock proper, no one has achieved such intimacy with the roller-coaster polarities of adolescence, or radiated so much hope about the end of its pain.

Robert Christgau is a senior editor at the Village Voice, and the author of Grown Up All Wrong (Harvard University Press).

 

The Langley Schools Music Project
By Jim Ridley

 

The year's unlikeliest rock 'n' roll heroes are 60 schoolchildren from the public-education system of Langley, British Columbia, recorded 25 years ago on a two-track tape recorder in a high school gym. Those ingredients may sound like a recipe for disaster, or at least for a good bout of contemptuous yuks--especially when the songs come from such dubious sources as the Bay City Rollers and Barry Manilow. But at a time when the national appetite for irony has scarcely been lower, the recordings preserved on Innocence and Despair are doubly piercing for their ghostly, unaffected sweetness.

The Langley Schools Music Project originated with Hans Fenger, a 29-year-old grade school instructor whose unorthodox methods involved using then-current AOR hits to teach music to his largely rural student body. Backed by Orff xylophones, a single-string electric bass, Fenger's own guitar, and a kid with amusingly itchy trigger fingers on the cymbals, his nine-year-old students lift their voices on classic-rock-weekend standards ranging from "Space Oddity" to "Band on the Run." Sure, the disjunction between the songs' stadium-scale aspirations and the pint-size singers produces some laughs--as on "Space Oddity," where the overeager cymbal player becomes an outright loose cannon. Listen more closely, however, and you hear a direct (albeit unintended) critique of rock 'n' roll as a never-never land that fetishizes youth.

I suppose you could argue that adopting rock into one of the stodgiest of all institutions, the education system, only parallels the music's corporate neutering. But what I hear is the power of the music rescued from empty rebellion, and the truth that at some point every nine-year-old is Brian Wilson singing "In My Room" (and vice versa). I also hear a reminder that album-rock faves never sounded as sweet as they did coming from my kid brother's garage band.

Listening to these recordings after 25 years, with the singers frozen in the innocent joy and melancholy of their youth, brings back with a rush how it feels to bob your head to the radio on the school bus. This unique record shows, after all this time, that rock 'n' roll can still stir our protective impulses.

Jim Ridley is a staff writer at the Nashville Scene.

 

Thora Birch
By Leslie Dunlap

 

Thora Birch is real--or at least she's our current best hope in a world where retrofitted chain stores pose as genuine "neighborhood" institutions while wiping out every trace of the local, the ethnic, and the eccentric. As Ghost World's Enid Coleslaw, Birch stalks her way through a maze of ersatz diners, sports-bar-style blues clubs, and Western-themed convenience stores--and finds something authentic in the artificial.

The young actor has negotiated this terrain before, as the disenchanted cheerleader daughter in American Beauty. But in 2001, Birch reconstituted the teen heroine as a geek-girl who proudly skewers preppy high school drama queens, bohemian impostors, multiplex managers, and creepy comic-book collectors alike. Trying on identities like outfits, this pomo poster child fashions herself out of kitschy collectibles retrieved at garage sales and adult bookstores. Yet Birch's natural curiosity tempers her character's cynicism: The looks she delivers are as wide-eyed as they are withering. Her Enid treasures odd girlhood relics (including stuffed animals and the dress she wore when deflowered), and claims losers and weirdoes as her own.

At the same time, Enid embodies the countercultural cravings of her creators: underground cartoonist Daniel Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb). If Ghost World is this pair's screed against the decline of modern culture, Birch's character is their adolescent antidote to consumer anomie. Improbably, Birch transforms an oldfangled male fantasy into a fresh portrait of the spiritual and sexual kinship of teenage girls and menopausal men: Between eye-rolls and harrumphs, bitchy banter and dyspeptic disapproval, Birch endows her heroine with a wisdom beyond her years--as well as the crotchety demeanor of an old codger swinging his cane at passersby.

Of course, even as we speak, strip-mall chain stores are busy selling copies of Clowes's cult graphic novel and the unlikely teen-beat soundtrack of Zwigoff-approved blues: Call it the hegemony of homogeneity. Yet, via Enid, Birch suggests a route out of the corporate cul-de-sac.

Leslie Dunlap teaches history at Willamette University and is a contributor to City Pages.

 

System of a Down
By Jesse Berrett

 

In the aftermath of September 11, I got an assignment to write an article that involved calling up a bunch of music-industry celebs and academics to discover what they thought would happen next in the world, or at least in the world of music. Surprisingly, Sheryl Crow, David Crosby, and Ahmet Ertegun didn't possess crystal balls any clearer than mine. (Though I'm pleased to report that Sheryl was nice to me over the phone--apologized for the mouthful of chips she had to finish munching.) The journalistic returns weren't promising: I found myself slouching that Saturday night in front of MTV, watching an endless parade of sad-sack metallists whining lamely about lost love, as if self-pity both collective and individual were the only appropriate response to what had occurred.

But one discovery endowed me with some small faith. Assigned to interview demi-celeb Serj Tankian, lead singer of alt-metal band System of a Down, I listened to his band's strange new album and liked it a whole lot more than I expected to--clearly the best politicized Armenian-American hard-music collection ever, I'd say. I hadn't paid much attention to metal since my two-month flirtation with badassitude as a college freshman, but the unapologetically quirky weirdness of System's skittery snarl gave me hope that some useful American art could come of all this. This is music to mosh to, think about, and even dream with, sliding from blustery roar to folky acoustic guitar. It deals out unapologetic hippie shit ("peaceful loving youth against the brutality," goes the song about anti-globalization protesters); angry lefty agitprop ("drugs are now your global policy," goes the anti-prison song); unclassifiable psychedelic earth-mothering ("her discourse is the source of all creation"); and that great, weird mystico-religious-thrashy kebab that is "Chop Suey!!" ("I don't think you trust. In. My. Self-righteous suicide").

All of which seemed to mean, well, something in the immediate aftermath of the WTC. It's strange and idiosyncratic and personal, made by a band of immigrants and first-generation natives who take "freedom of speech" at face value. As John Cougar Mellencamp once asked, Ain't that America?

Jesse Berrett lives in San Francisco and is the TV critic for City Pages.

 

Todd Field
By Rob Nelson

 

Let's imagine "the unimaginable." Suppose you lost the person you love most in this world--to illness, to opportunity, to bad timing, to what one leading authority defined as "senseless acts of violence." How will you deal with it? Will you move away? Rush back to normal? Keep the loved one alive in your memory? Destroy all familiar traces of him or her (or yourself)? Dull your pain through work or alcohol or television? Find those responsible and bring them to justice?

Addressing the terrible inadequacy of all such choices in the face of grief, In the Bedroom is a film that shattered those who saw it at Sundance in January, but which has accumulated even more power in light of what has happened since. After all, grief may be universal, but when you're the one dealing with grief, it's all about the circumstances. The movie is about a middle-aged, middle-class couple in small-town Maine whose college-bound son has fallen madly, deeply in love with a young, working-class woman, newly separated from her violent husband. Adapting the film from an Andre Dubus short story called "Killings" (a simple title whose plurality makes it profound), director Todd Field initially concerns himself with how these particulars conspire to cause tragedy. Then he turns to how the additional details that the couple have repressed during their marriage determine their very different responses.

Contrary to that leading authority, there's no such thing as a senseless act. Contrary to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, there's no guarantee that one's grief will be resolved in five stages. And contrary to the three-act structure of conventional drama, there's no catharsis in Field's film; there's just more ache. Among the first-time director's many remarkable achievements--right up there with eliciting appropriately raw performances from Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson--is having somehow convinced Miramax's Harvey Scissorhands that a movie about the interminable nature of grief deserves to take its time. In other words, Field managed--perhaps only through luck--to succeed where so many of us this year failed: He kept his loved one safe from harm.

Rob Nelson is the film editor at City Pages.

 

Naomi Watts
By Greil Marcus

 

"The people must be put in terror of themselves in order to give them courage," Karl Marx wrote in 1843-44: "Of themselves" is the crucial phrase, and it falls to artists to hold up the mirror, to make it give up sounds, images, hints, and curses that politics conspires to hide. Who are we? What do we want? What do we fear? How far will we go to get what we want, or escape what we fear?

In the past year the artist who truly held up the terrorizing mirror was, in her work, the most terrorized: Naomi Watts as the cute blonde arriving in Hollywood to make it in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. One shock after another strips her identity from her, or, in the scene in the Club Silencio--where every speaker or singer is lip-synching, where the real is only an illusion of the false--shakes it out of her. As an actor, Watts rises to the challenge of extremist art: Moment to moment, again and again, you understand that only she can go further than she has already gone. Further than the heart-stopping sexual tease she essays in the course of an audition played with a bored, middle-aged actor. Further than the masturbation scene where her face becomes a landscape of pain and self-hatred so harsh it's almost unbearable to look at. Further than the moment when she steps out of LAX and into the sun, her eyes so full of anticipation they're like stars exploding. Further than the Hollywood coffee shop where after weeks or months her skin, like her jeans and t-shirt, seems already covered by a film of junkie dirt.

No pretty woman in her early 30s could look more ordinary, less movie-star blessed than Watts at her best. And without her ordinariness Watts could never put those who watch her in terror of themselves. We are, we can, we must, we will, we are told again and again, day by day--and maybe it will turn out that way. But those who speak that language will never put those who listen in terror of themselves, and what if there is no other way to find the courage to do what you think is right? How dangerous that is, how sometimes there is no turning back, is what Naomi Watts's performance is about.

Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces. The theatrical adaptation, by the Rude Mechs of Austin, Texas, will be at the Southern Theater January 17-19.

 

Heddy Honigmann
By Michael Tortorello

 

One day Klazien Van Brandwijk goes for a walk along the Mekong in Cambodia. She's a big woman wearing camo, a Dutch humanitarian worker in a peacekeeping operation, and she's frequently surrounded by kids. Sometimes, people try to prostitute these children to foreigners. "You could buy a child for $5," Van Brandwijk recalls. It's years later when the peacekeeper is telling this story. She sits in a cushioned chair wearing a short-sleeved floral-print shirt--a civilian again, in the sanctuary of her home. Once, she says, a young boy brought his infant sibling to her. The baby was too young to walk--a year or 18 months old. But the baby was making this obscene gesture with its mouth. A lewd, sucking motion. The baby was for sale. Van Brandwijk retreated to her hotel, where she would listen to Pergolesi's liturgical song "Stabat Mater." The music swells in the background as she recounts her story, back at home. She says that she couldn't view Cambodian children again after that episode. They didn't look the same. The voices on the recording tremble. Her hands cover her face. "No," she whispers. "No."

If smell, as Dali once said, is intimately connected to memory, music holds the key to unlocking emotion. That's the premise of Heddy Honigmann's wrenching wartime documentary Crazy--it screened in April's Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival--which pairs Dutch peacekeepers with the music they listened to while stationed in war zones.

Cpl. First Class Peter Veeke, who was posted in Bosnia, recalls listening to Guns N' Roses' "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." "Each time we drove down Bomb Alley we had to play that song," he says. "We turned up the music and the fear was gone." After returning from the operation, Veeke set fire to his house, then climbed the stairs and went to sleep. He served nine months in military prison before being diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Throughout his recollections, Veeke rubs his hands, kneading the sweat that flows endlessly from his palms. "That will always happen," he says.

Pvt. Peter Van Dullaert also served in Bosnia. He downs four beers during the course of his account, one of which he opens with his teeth. "You could say that throughout the war...I've been through a mincing machine," he says, "and another person has emerged."

No. No.

Michael Tortorello is the arts editor at City Pages.

 

Al Jazeera
By Peter S. Scholtes

 

"The Arab CNN" keeps to a C-Span pace. Interview subjects speak at length. Irate-sounding callers go on and on. And on. You don't have to know Arabic (I can't speak a word) to notice that the anchors and talk-show hosts of Al Jazeera are in no hurry to cut anyone off. The slogan of the Arab world's first uncensored 24-hour satellite news network is "the view and the other point of view." And whether or not this spells "balance," the debates undeniably release genuine heat; they flow more freely amid the notable scarcity of commercial interruptions (I counted four ads in 90 minutes, three of them for Chevrolet). Saudi Arabia, you see, has led an advertiser blacklist against the five-year-old, Qatar-based outlet, which features female anchors (sans hajib) and interviews with Arab dissidents, Israeli officials, and other absentee figures in the Arab media. Tunisia and Libya have recalled ambassadors over Al Jazeera's content. Kuwait banned the station for a month after an Iraqi caller insulted the country's emir. Iraq protested the coverage of Saddam Hussein's extravagant birthday celebrations. Touring the tiny studios one day, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak quipped, "All this trouble, from this matchbox?"

Now the matchbox stands accused of fanning "the flames of Muslim outrage" (according to the New York Times). The network makes cause with the Palestinians ("martyrs" when killed by Israelis). It exclusively reported from Taliban-controlled territory during the war, but received no management directives to back off reports on civilian casualties, as CNN staff did. Al Jazeera had extensively covered the attacks on America. But it never accepted the phrase "war on terrorism," and aired bin Laden's tapes over U.S. objections. Hence, when the channel's Kabul office building was bombed by the U.S.--hours before the Northern Alliance took over--I was skeptical of official claims that no one knew the station was there. Someone tell our leaders that Qatar's flawed but revolutionary experiment in open media isn't our enemy. If a clash is at hand, it will be one within civilizations, not between them--and you can bet Al Jazeera will air every contentious minute.

Peter S. Scholtes is a staff writer at City Pages.

 

Tina Fey
By Ernesto Quinonez

 

Dorothy Parker clearly didn't have Tina Fey in mind when she wrote, "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." Tina not only makes glasses look good; she also revived Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, which had been about as exciting as playing bilingual Scrabble with my parents.

SNL's first female head writer officially put an end to the show's boys-club mentality. She took Michael O'Donohue's observation that "when writing comedy, it helps to have meat between your legs" and did laundry with it. Her jokes aren't just funny, they're shrewd, precise, letter-perfect. Tina's surgical delivery is laden with Armageddon wit. In a show whose tradition is to be coked up during endless Thursday rewrites, sketch-by-sketch Friday rehearsals, and Saturday last-minute polishing sessions, Tina Fey makes it look effortless. She has SNL in her DNA. She ends each anchor segment with Jane Curtin's "Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow." She brought back the land shark. It wouldn't surprise me if one day she erupted, "Jimmy, you ignorant slut!"

Yet her jokes are original and up-to-date: "What's happened to affirmative action in this country? Hugh Hefner is dating seven blondes...when are we going to have a Hefner harem that looks like America?" she jabbed on one episode. Her shtick on Britney Spears's ass should be immortalized and engraved on every future teen pop star's dressing-room mirror: "Britney, in about five years that area is going to blow. So enjoy it now. Have it photographed as much as possible."

When the show is about to end and that sad piano begins to play that piece that makes me think of SNLs past, when the host thanks everyone and the cast waves goodbye, I look to see where Tina Fey is and whom she's hugging. She's always laughing, looking intelligent, and making glasses sexier and hipper than ever.

Ernesto Quinonez is the author of the novel Bodega Dreams (Knopf); he lives in New York.

 

The Onion
By Dennis Lim

 

So much of what was published in the wake of September 11 could be reduced to a single, self-defeating refrain: There are no words... but here are some more anyway. Countless memoirist pieces left an aftertaste of morbid narcissism. (Least favorite literary subgenre of 2001: first-person accounts of devastation in downtown Manhattan, as witnessed from Brooklyn Heights roofs or in Upper West Side living rooms.) Reviewers projected spurious resonances at will (e.g., This movie seems, well,different now). Commentators lunged at big-picture prognostications, undaunted even after irony's miraculous rebirth: Is metaphor down but not out? What if nothing is ever funny again?

On September 26 the Onion published its first post-WTC issue. The effect was like a strobe light slicing through a fog of inchoate, incoherent despair. Just a few months later, "Holy Fucking Shit: Attack on America" already has the spooky gravitas of a time capsule--unmistakably both a document and a product of the aftermath. The main story systematically dismantled the escalating rhetoric into its component irrationalities ("U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With"). No think piece on the so-called new patriotism pinpointed the underlying sheepish puzzlement as evocatively as the Onion did in one matter-of-fact headline: "Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake." It also desentimentalized the rising tide of prelapsarian nostalgia: "A Shattered Nation Longs to Care About Stupid Bullshit Again."

Even the items that threatened to go too far turned their suspect premises inside out. Though the banner "Talking to Your Child About the WTC Attack" sent up a massive red flag, it was followed not by mocking platitudes, but by a straight-faced, densely factual history of Islamic fundamentalism. The unhinged hijackers-in-hell scenario is trumped by the issue's fearless pièce de résistance: the "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule" press conference. Far more than tactful parody at a time when current events seemed singularly unlampoonable, this was satire at its most purposeful and nakedly emotional, fueled by the inherent absurdity of trying to make sense of the senseless.

Dennis Lim is the film editor at the Village Voice.

 

Wool Freaks
By Drew Daniel

 

Let me start off by saying that I don't much approve of "Artists of the Year" as a concept. Personally, I've always preferred the idea of the "shordupersav," or short-duration personal savior, a notion proposed by art pranksters the Church of the SubGenius. Instead of committing your life to Jesus, you can commit your afternoon to the worship of your bus driver, an obscure rhythm guitarist, or someone in a newspaper photograph. So, instead of an artist of the year, I have chosen an "artist of the day," someone I just learned about this morning who has really made my day worthwhile--and someone that you can all check out with a minimum of effort and without buying anything.

I guess my pocket definition of good art is that it draws unexpected connections across our received map of the world around us, helps us to look at everyday experience through a new lens, sidesteps clichés, and does so with humor, directness, and passion. In keeping with that definition, I offer up the anonymous creator of a German Web site for people who fetishize wool. The site can be found at www.woolfreaks.de, and if you push further to the section labeled "sweater fetish pics" you will find a truly amazing sequence of photographs of a man encased in enormous wool sweaters, scarves, and balaclavas. These images cross the sculptural impulses of recent Belgian avant-garde fashion with the purely personal exigencies of homemade fetish equipment. And it's all executed in the least sexy--in fact, downright mundane and cutesy--fabric: wool. Exhibiting both narcissistic bravery and formal beauty, the dynamic of self-presentation and concealment achieved in this series of pictures is touching, creative, and deeply funny. In other words, it's good art.

Drew Daniel plays in the San Francisco-based electronica duo Matmos; their latest album is A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (Matador). For a new shordupersav each day, e-mail Matmos at mcess@prodigy.net.

 

Sharks
By Lisa Carver

 

Missy Elliot took her head off in a 2001 video with the help of a special-effects team. A shark will take your head off for REAL. Who needs special effects when you possess--in addition to the regular five senses--vibration and electromagnetic perception? Those two best sellers about great-white attacks came out in 2001 (Richard Fernicola's Twelve Days of Terror and Michael Capuzzo's Close to Shore), and all those surfers got bitten--12 in one weekend, I believe. Matt Lauer called it "the year of the shark." Until September 11 came and swallowed news stations and the national consciousness whole, sharks were really the thriller superstars of the year.

With their "dead" eyes and perpetual frown, sharks are not your average heartthrobs. But neither were Brontë's Heathcliff or Buffy's Angel. Humor and frivolity are not always the qualities sought in quivering girls' dreams. Sharks can hear and feel all over their body. They pick up on a single drop of blood from miles away. In South Africa you can dive with great whites and go down in a cage (www.sharkdive.co.za). You have to sign a waiver that says if you get eaten it's not the guide's fault, but supposedly no tourist has been eaten this way. Two people can fit in the cage together, and it lasts a half-hour. You could have sex down there! Or get married, if a priest and a witness had their own cage next to the happy couple's and everyone used sign language.

When sharks have sex, they rip each other to shreds. They writhe against one another, wrapped tight in a blood blanket that slowly drifts away on a current when the act is done. Sometimes you want more than a handsome face and smooth moves. Music and movies have been pretty blah this year, while nature is always vicious and terrible and glamorous.

Lisa Carver is a columnist for Nerve (soon to be an HBO series) and the author of Dancing Queen and Rollerderby.

 

Patterson Hood
By Laura Sinagra

 

"And I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I sure saw Molly Hatchet," drawls Patterson Hood, kicking off "Act II" of the Drive-By Truckers' fourth album, the double-disc Southern Rock Opera. And if that lyric makes you laugh, then slide the metal end into the buckle and pull the strap, 'cause the rest is gonna make you cry.

Hood, Gen X Alabaman son of a Muscle Shoals bass-man, has gotten a rep for his compelling onstage banter as much as for his band's country-punk squall; his extended spoken intros and song lyrics wrassle with boredom, the bottle, and other more insidious Southern discomforts. Pizza Deliverance and the live Alabama Ass Whuppin' packed tunes about roommates with loaded guns, old swingers with blue intentions, macho-movie badass Steve McQueen, and the death from AIDS of a rocker friend. We learn that "18 Wheels of Love" was a wedding gift to his mom and an unlikely love-tamed trucker. On Opera, Hood's instinct to use the Skynyrd narrative as a map to revisit and reclaim his own private South evolves from crossroads exorcism into catharsis of empathy.

Backed by his longtime bandmate, picker-punk Mike Cooley, and by riff-twisting noise poet Rob Malone, Hood uses "Act I" to exhume pesky demons such as George Wallace, and "Act II" to conjure kindred spirits--boys who used music to transcend their backwater birthright. His doomed fantasy is a flash meeting of cultures, when Skynyrd "had New York critics and redneckers...eatin' out their hand." Songs such as "Life in the Factory" and "Shut Up and Get On the Plane" burst with the thrill of escape "from the swamps of northern Florida," and foretells the anguish that awaits in "the swamps just north of Baton Rouge." When Hood reaches Skynyrd's 1977 plane crash, there's no fire-and-rain self-pity, only fear and light--resulting in a shockingly lovely imagining of death. "And I'm scared shitless/Of what's coming next/It's angels I see in the trees/Waiting for me." And, of course, for you.

Laura Sinagra is a New York-based writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Missy Elliott
By Melissa "Missy" Maerz

 

Think some skinny-ass hoochie gonna get ur freak on? Fat chance. Over the past 12 months, Gwynnie proved to be shallower than Hal, Mariah blamed her eating disorder on Joan Rivers, and indie rock's Mama Cass--Beth of the Gossip--pulled her shirt off during a concert in England and proudly shook her belly in defiance of the music weekly NME, who had recently ridiculed Missy Elliott for being overweight.

People, are we living in Renaissance times--believing that perfect bodies are signifiers of perfect souls? Why can't we understand that when it comes to breakin' down the beat, ain't nobody gonna slap! slap! slap! if baby don't got back? Thank goodness for the bump'n'grind-yer-behind of Miss E...So Addictive, which has a thick clubber thump that's even more bootylicious than Beyoncé. "Freak that! Come here baby, grab me from the back," Ms. Supa Dupa Fly sings on the breathy bouncer, "4 My People." After the kung fu of "Get Ur Freak On," the stank funk of "Lick Shots," and the diva believah that is "Minute Man," you're so worked up and ready to go that you'll grab anything that's not jiggling too fast.

Maybe what the riot grrrl movement always needed was Miss Demeanor to step in and say "C'mon, get crunk with me." So Addictive is about the same things Bikini Kill championed a decade ago: independent women and their unabashed pleasure (see also: Miss E's not-so-subtle Ecstasy references.) If pop is meant to be a pure indulgence, there's no use in MTV starlets starving themselves on a flavored breath-spray diet just to secure a spot on TRL. ("She hungry, I'll feed her fries," Redman raps on Elliott's "Dog in Heat.")

And to all you Timbaland fans out there: Elliott made her own damn fame. I never heard anyone insisting that Easy Mo Bee made Notorious B.I.G. into the heavyweight MC that he was. And if you wanna know exactly how the self-confident Elliott stands so proudly on her own, I'm sure she'd be happy to give you the skinny.

Melissa "Missy" Maerz is the music editor at City Pages.

 

Mary J. Blige
By Britt Robson

 

It's not enough to call Mary J. Blige "the Queen of hip-hop soul." No less than Kurt Cobain did with grunge rock, Blige has intuitively laid bare her internal conflicts with an honesty so riveting and immediate that she's catalyzed and defined a new genre of music, transforming new jack swing into hip-hop soul.

Blige's trademark use of melisma and minor-key modulations has made her the most imitated vocalist of the past decade, but it was her street-diva attitude and visceral connection to strife and scorn that gave her the credibility to reach across the soul/hip-hop divide. Overcoming the demons from her rough childhood in the projects and rebutting her well-deserved reputation for being abrasive posed a professional risk as well as a personal challenge. Despite occasional rumors and PR proclamations of a kinder, gentler Mary in the late Nineties, it was increasingly apparent that Blige either wouldn't or couldn't change.

Until this year. While the aptly titled No More Drama isn't the most musically accomplished collection of Blige's ten-year career, it's the sort of brave, emotionally transformative work that ultimately distinguishes art from craft. And because no female vocalist since Aretha Franklin is a more empathetic force of nature than Blige, we feel her joy as thoroughly as we have felt her pain. At least a dozen times this year, I've blasted Blige's "Family Affair" as a means of temporarily escaping the listlessness that 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan have wrought. "C'mon everybody, get on up," she commands. "We're celebratin' no more drama in our lives."

Move on to Blige as a cautionary elder invoking her life story on "Where I've Been." Listen to how she elevates sappy love songs like "Beautiful Day," "Flying Away," and "Never Been" into honey on the tea leaves of your life. Pay attention to the erudition of her poem "Forever No More," and the powerful modesty of the gospel coda "Testimony."

Mary J. Blige turned 30 this year. Long may she smile.

Britt Robson is a staff writer at City Pages and writes regularly about music for the Washington Post.

 

Jonathan Franzen
By Will Hermes

 

Twenty-five million words. That's a rough estimate of my intake of news on the new world order after September 11. Each day I bought my papers from Raash, the kindly and nervous Pakistani dude who owns the Mobil station near my house (and who sadly seemed to grow more nervous whenever I tried to make small talk to allay his nervousness). Each day I probed Web sites, swapped e-mails. Each day I wallowed in cable news. All in hope of gleaning some fuller understanding of human motivation that could help me accept what was coming to pass.

But more than all those words, it was the 568 pages of Jonathan Franzen's National Book Award-winning novel, The Corrections (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), that cast the brightest light on that point. It didn't deal with international terrorism--although the portrayal of a Lithuanian warlord-wannabe (who asks "What do I do...when the invader is a system and a culture, not an army?") resonated enough to get Franzen talking-head time on news shows in the wake of 9/11. What The Corrections does is map the psychological topography of an American family at the end of an amoral, free-trading, drug-gulping 20th Century. And it does so with such harsh, unsentimental precision that Franzen's empathy feels hard-won and revelatory. It's Don DeLillo's Underworld strapped on the therapist's couch. It's that culturally marginal yet still-essential thing, a Great Novel, and not incidentally American.

Strangely, Franzen became notorious this year less for the book itself than because he dared to admit his reservations about being marketed via the Oprah Book Club. The result was a brouhaha in which the pop-culture demigod canceled his scheduled appearance on her show while the literary world tut-tuttingly defended their powerful patron. "She's picked some good books, but she's picked enough schmaltzy, one-dimensional ones that I cringe myself, even though I think she's really smart and she's fighting the good fight," Franzen had confessed at Powell's Books in Oregon.

Give me a break--what casually discerning book fan could deny the truth in that? The author even got denounced by the Lithuanian government for what they felt was a disrespectful portrait of their country. No fatwa from anyone yet. But it's reassuring to know literature can still raise a fuss. Will Hermes is a senior editor at Spin.

 

Alan Sparhawk
By Matthew Wilder

 

I have been advised by my editors to state up-front: We've printed far too many articles about this guy's band, and there are lots of worthy locals who haven't gotten enough ink. So blame me, not them. I'm not an indie-rock guy; I don't read the indie-rock press, and I couldn't tell Girlfrendo from Goldfrapp from Mandy Moore. Those in the know need read no further: All I know is that this actor friend of mine gave me a CD that--can we still use this corny phrase in the post-Almost Famous era?--changed my life.

Alan Sparhawk, the apparent creative center of the Duluth-based Low, has single-handedly restored a spiritual dimension to the thoroughly debased landscape of pop music. As you may know, Low's basic technique consists of: unsuppressed, unironic, unashamed emotivity; sugary harmonies; a throbbing bass sound that evokes the feeling of a passing oil tanker; and, most important, a tempo so slow that one might think it unable to sustain life. The rigor of Low's extension of individual notes--seemingly ignorant of "correct" time signatures--is what seems an eccentricity of form, but which paradoxically produces its opposite: the physical, real-time verification of the existence of human souls.

I direct plays, and I have put Low songs in everything I've done since first I heard the band. This is not white-hipster stuff: This is the 21st-century equivalent of Bach's O Endless and Eternal Night. These musicians--and especially Sparhawk--are major, major artists. Seeing Sparhawk run to the back of L.A.'s El Rey theater to sell his own T-shirts at the end of a recent show was like seeing Degas walk from table to table selling napkin drawings at McDonald's.

Matthew Wilder is a visiting professor of acting at Cal Arts in Los Angeles. This spring he will direct Don DeLillo's Valparaiso at Sledgehammer Theatre in San Diego.

 

The Coen Brothers
By Godfrey Cheshire

 

Every screenwriting class contains an unbreakable commandment: Avoid the passive hero. By that measure, the central conceit of The Man Who Wasn't There--the main character is a blank or zero, a kind of human Zen koan--represents a nervy defiance of convention. Yet the reason the Coen Brothers' dare turns out to be so disarming has less to do with their foresight or skill than with the latest twist of the Zeitgeist. Making their chilly, poetic, late-Forties-set blend of classic noir and pulp fiction last year, the Coens had no way of knowing that America in the autumn of 2001 would be haunted by an emptiness in its civic heart, a bereft space formerly pulsing with human life. What perhaps began as a technical challenge became, on September 11, a dizzying metaphor.

Oddly, the Coens almost seem to have anticipated the change. The film's first line of dialogue, spoken by the protagonist's barber boss as he scans a newspaper, is, "Says here the Russians exploded an A-bomb and there's not a damn thing we can do about it." In looking back at these first moments of the Cold War from the onset of another era, with its new forms of dread, we can't help but feel that we're peering into a distant mirror (to borrow historian Barbara Tuchman's phrase)--and seeing a reflection of our own unease.

"I thought about what an undertaker had told me once," says the film's head-clipping criminal cypher (Billy Bob Thornton), "that your hair keeps growing, for a while anyway, after you die. And then it stops. I thought, 'What keeps it growing? Is it like a plant in soil? What goes out of the soil? The soul?'" Focused as it is on the hole in the American doughnut, The Man Who Wasn't There ultimately invites us to contemplate this mysterious growth: the intangible in any human life, no matter how delimited by banality or doomed by history. There are few things more worth pondering in this death-haunted season.

Godfrey Cheshire is a New York-based writer whose film criticism appears in the Independent Weekly. He is currently writing a book about the New Iranian Cinema for Faber & Faber.

 

Josie and the Pussycats
By Keith Harris

 

Forget Gorillaz. The cartoon band of the year wasn't some high-concept, high-minded sideline amalgam of artsy innovators. No, the soundtrack to the worst retro-kiddie 'toon cash-in since The Jetsons was the ultimate testament to the unexpected wonders of corporate groupthink. Credited to this nonexistent kittie-chick band are ten knockout examples of the well-crafted power pop we were led to believe would succeed grunge, before Fred Durst decided otherwise. Ladies and gentlemen...the best pop rock album of 1996!

Small wonder it sounds that way--the song credits read like a veritable Who's Who Cares of semi-retired Nineties ministars. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows! Jason Falkner of Jellyfish! Biff Naked! True, worthies like Matthew Sweet and the fabulous Anna Waronker (of the late, lamented That Dog) lend some gravitas (or its pop equivalent), and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) knows his way around a chord progression. But no one named in the liner notes (including "Executive Music Producer" Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds) has ever made an album this consistent. Or fun.

So figure that these artists thrive behind the mask of anonymity. Freed from their own egos and personae, they can unleash a hooky wallop and make dumb jokes and, you know, rock! without compunction. "Come On," for instance, lists ten writers--though I do have trouble picturing Babyface, Jane Wiedlin, and eight other accomplices huddled around a piano. So who deserves the big back pat? Well, in typical corporate fashion, everyone. Which means, no one. Not Schlesinger or Sweet or Edmonds, nor "Soundtrack Executive Producers" Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, nor even Kay "Josie" Hanley herself.

Ah yes, you might remember Hanley from her stint imitating a stillborn Blake Baby on the mic of Boston never-was-es Letters to Cleo. But here she growls like Joan Jett's bratty kid sis, a suburban chick who thinks donning kitty ears and telling mean boys to buzz off makes her "a punk-rock prom queen," as one lyric has it. If Hanley can make this big a noise by betraying her muse, just think what honorable craftsfolk might benefit from participating on the soundtrack for an imagined straight-to-video flop Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. Evan Dando? Lisa Loeb? Dan Wilson?

Keith Harris is a Minneapolis-based writer who has contributed to Spin, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice. He's a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Manoel de Oliveira
By Mark Peranson

 

A year of doubles, befores, and afters, 2001 found prolific provocateurs striving to be the next Soderbergh. Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl/Brief Crossing), the Farrelly Brothers (Osmosis Jones/Shallow Hal), Richard Linklater (Waking Life/Tape), and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive/Evird Dnallohlum) each devised daring pairs of works that, when taken in tandem, reverberate rather than synthesize. But the sublime double bill of Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira, who dashed off the refined feature I'm Going Home and its cousin, Oporto of My Childhood, is something else. Call it, if you wish, artistry. In these two seemingly effortless films, not a single shot is wasted: Both find the 93-year-old looking back at his life not in anger, but with curious resolution. While I certainly don't mean to give Oliveira a lifetime achievement award here, I can't imagine being more agitated than I was when a fellow Canadian critic remarked, after seeing I'm Going Home at Cannes, "He should die already."

Oliveira has directed about 40 films, and I haven't seen most of them; hell, I even walked

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