Artists of the Year

12 Rods, Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Garrison Keillor, MF Doom, Lawrence Lessig, Randi Rhodes...

Pimsler, along with creative and life partner Suzanne Costello, centered the action on his childhood in a seemingly idyllic Long Island neighborhood, where the mores of 1950s society played out in competitive and often hilarious ways. Swimsuit-clad dancers struggled to recline on Astroturf squares and then, dressed in their finest, negotiated backbiting cocktail party politics. Pimsler recalled the influence of his father, who had a stage name even though his act was limited to the basement; and he sparred with the spirit of Aunt Gertie, who continually haunts the choreographer with doubts about his decision to abandon a legal career for the arts. Family photos embellished the storytelling, as did Costello's childhood memories of growing up Catholic in St. Paul; the couple's children and the company members' relatives appeared in small roles, reinforcing the cycle-of-life themes.

Pimsler is often compared to Woody Allen, which is fair. But the proximity of live performance renders this artist's recollections something more immediate and believable than those of his filmic counterpart. Supported by Costello and some of the best dancers in town, Pimsler proved once again with You've Got to Be Kidding! that family may provide some of the best material, but it takes a certain skill to fashion all the facts and foibles of one's own life into a work that rings true with many.

Caroline Palmer is a Minneapolis-based lawyer and writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Daniel Bergin
by Jeremy O'Kasick

Particularly when you consider that Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has an African American Historical Museum (Cedar Rapids!), the North Star State would seem to give insufficient recognition to the history of black Minnesotans. There have been some recent admirable efforts, including the well-publicized Duluth memorial for the three African American men who were apprehended by a mob and lynched there in 1920. But, surprising or not, it was left to public television to offer a new vision of how to tell the stories of black folks who broke social barriers and challenged racist institutions--this at a time when a true civil rights movement was unimaginable.

North Star: Minnesota's Black Pioneers, which premiered on Twin Cities Public Television in September (and will be rebroadcast in January), follows the likes of George Bonga, an influential black Ojibwe fur trader and liaison, and Lena O. Smith, Minnesota's first black female lawyer and a political powerhouse in her own right. In addition to honoring the lives of these and many other pioneers, Daniel Bergin's two-part documentary never fails to confront the state's racist roots or to examine historical divisions within African American communities. And it's no Ken Burns-style documentary by the numbers, either. Bergin, a longtime TPT producer, and his colleagues focus more on narrative than on chronology per se, linking modern-day struggles and figures with those of the past. The story of a turn-of-the-century black community in Fergus Falls leads to the mention of current Sudanese and Somali immigrants up in Otter Tail County. The legacy of Gordon Parks is connected to the story of an earlier St. Paul maverick, black photographer Harry Shepherd.

That Bergin's film can and should be used as an effective educational tool is just one of many reasons why it's the most important local film of the year--and it was a banner year for local film, including local African American film. If the documentary North Star encourages black history to shine on, the fictional Justice (now airing on the STARZ! network) envisions a Twin Cities in which grassroots activism has its day over a corrupt, racist criminal justice system. What a year for black film in Minnesota!

Jeremy O'Kasick is a Minneapolis-based writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Jon Stewart
by Jim Ridley

Ridicule makes a fearsome weapon, and in political theater a pie fight is as good as a firefight; witness this year's attempted Cool Whip ambush of Ann Coulter. But that's not why so many people told me the only news source they trusted anymore was Comedy Central's The Daily Show. The news itself was not the issue: Information was pimped and peddled this year on every satellite-linked street corner. No, what people craved was the sight of someone calling bullshit on flagrant lying and misrepresentation, whichever side was spouting it.

Thus a half-hour of fake news became the rallying point this year for people who watched the real news with mouths agape, their minds connected by a single thought: "Can you believe this crap?" And their hero was a fortyish ringmaster who confronted the day's affronts to truth and common sense with bad puns, open disbelief, a collegiate variation on borscht-belt shtick, and, best of all, evidence. Suddenly thrust into doing a real newsman's work (okay, maybe not when he was interviewing Billy Crudup), Jon Stewart used his bizarre position as the anchor of a fake newscast to ask questions the networks didn't dare. Pity the hapless Republican apparatchik who parroted that dubious stat about John Kerry as the Senate's most liberal voter, only to have Stewart pick the claim and its sources apart in a thrilling on-air evisceration.

Any mention of Stewart should include his brilliant second bananas Samantha Bee, Lewis Black, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, and Stephen Colbert, whose parodies of journalese doubletalk this year scaled heights worthy of Joseph Heller if not Lewis Carroll. But Stewart's greatest performance wasn't even on his own show. It came last October on the CNN gabfest Crossfire. Invited for easy laughs ("I'm not going to be your monkey," he said), a visibly aggrieved Stewart instead rebuked mouthpieces Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson for reducing serious debate to a carnival. Rent-a-pundit Carlson, plainly hurt, complained that Stewart wasn't doing any better. Stewart countered that he wasn't the one on CNN: His lead-in show featured puppets making crank calls.

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