SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 5

December 6, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, Review, SLIFF | 2 Comments

Day 5: Tuesday 11/18

Opera Jawa and The Heartbeat Detector

Title: Opera Jawa
Director: Garin Nugroho
Country: Indonesia
Score: 6.0
This adaptation of a love triangle from the Hindu epic Ramayana has enough to intrigue almost anyone into giving it a try, but it’s a rare instance of a film almost too exotic for me to take. Siti is a gorgeous pottery maker who is loved by her modest husband and a ruthless butcher magnate. The latter’s seduction scheme leads to sorrow, battle and death. Every line of dialogue is song (a bit like an oriental “Umbrellas of Cherbourg”) and every movement is choreographed. The costumes and sets are allowed to be equally expressive.

While I really like the idea of this film in theory, the simple story adapts poorly into a two hour movie and most of the scenes are consequently irrelevant to the narrative. This isn’t a problem if the presentation sufficiently wows you, but I my ignorance of Javanese traditional music and language had me feeling like all the vocals sounded pretty much the same and the choreography looked like bad modern dance. That said, I really liked the exotic instrumentation and the decision to model the acting after animals (a particularly good example is done in shadow silhouette).

The set design is imaginative, if not as consistently impressive as Parajanov’s work. I did enjoy the use of ceramics, wicker cones and crimson wax heads as reoccurring visual motifs. There are a handful of scenes that make for unforgettable imagery, like a room full of candle skulls or the beach finale inside a sheer yellow tent.

Yet all the sound and colors didn’t seem to make for a consistent story, mood or pacing and I ended up with the dissatisfying feeling that I’d just beheld one of the world’s most visually resplendent bores. I don’t understand it. I usually love visually resplendent bores! I think “Opera Jawa” is the type of film that I’ll engage with better on DVD, where I can appreciate its charms without the bustle and exhaustion of the festival.

Title: Heartbeat Detector
Director: Nicolas Klotz
Country: France
Score: 5.0
“Heartbeat Detector” (also known by its literal translation “The Human Question,” which I prefer) had already made so many waves in Europe, that my expectations were perhaps a bit too high. I didn’t like it, yet so far it’s the festival film I’m most interested in discussing.

The first hour of the film is a corporate intrigue thriller without the intrigue or thrills as we watch a company psychologist for a large faceless organization deal with his relationships and an investigation into the sanity of his own CEO. Eventually the film stumbles its way into a series of revelations about Nazi ties amongst the executives, but it doesn’t actually get interesting until the movie turns into a polemic indictment of corporate culture in general.

The clumsy interrogation of this one idea, that fascism and capitalism can come to disturbingly similar conclusions, is just about the only redeeming debate to emerge from the film. It taps into our innate mistrust for powerful entities of any variety, and our suspicion that companies, bureaucracies and hierarchies may be intrinsically and profoundly evil. “Heartbeat Detector” never really covers enough ground or goes far enough to say anything new or provocative on these subjects, but its mixture of fear, doubt, regret and loathing is sincere and potent.

Sadly, the unremarkable story goes along way towards undermining the themes, especially by making the references to Nazism so terribly literal. In movies since the start of WII Nazi villains are dragged out for audiences to boo and jeer at so that we can feel even more self-righteous. The really scary thing is no longer onscreen Nazis caricatures, but the implication that offscreen, we may be slipping into the same “I’m just trying to get by” cog-psychology that makes inhuman totalitarianism possible.

The boilerplate bits of script are equally indigestible, featuring 2.5 hours of a blank-faced protagonist that we’re thankfully never asked to care about and a bunch of elderly executives who are cryptic and depressing. The worst are the lead’s pointless girlfriends, who stop existing for the main character (and the screenwriter) the moment they are offscreen. The cinematography is murky and underlit, probably an attempt to enforce the somber mood. The gray and black color scheme, rectilinear locales and sleepy emo soundtrack would probably have accomplished this anyway. The lack of proper lighting just makes the film feel frustrating and unprofessional. I was amused to see that the screenshots used for the poster and DVD have been digitally brightened.


SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 4

December 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, Review, SLIFF | Comments Off on SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 4

Day 4: Monday 11/17 (Note: I didn’t see any films on day 3)

All for Free and Special

Title: All for Free
Director: Antonio Nuić
Country: Croatia
Score: 7.0
After the good luck I had with last year’s “Fine Dead Girls,” I decided to try another shot-on-digital Croatian character study and once again found it to be quite satisfying. This one features Goran, a friendly slacker who spends most of his time drinking and hanging out with his tight-knit quartet of local friends. One night at their favorite hangout, one of his pals shoots the other two dead. Goran is shocked out of his complacent stasis and haplessly scrambles for some meaning in life. With nothing to keep him in town, he decides to sell his house and buy a travelling beverage stand where he’ll give out drinks “all for free.”

Goran’s mellow adventures are full of ironic character observations as the citizens of each new town turn their suspicions upon him. Each customer is sure that there’s some catch or hidden agenda. Nuic’s sense of humor is smart and deadpan, a little like Jarmusch or Kaurismaki, but more incisive. Their isn’t much expectation that anything will happen, and true to form, very little does. The story slowly evolves a romance and rivalry, but it never really abandons its core as an existential reverie.

“All for Free” is probably too slow and too comically sparse for most, but I found it pleasant and thoughtful. It never tries to be anything more than what it is and it’s just wise enough not to outstay its welcome. “All for Free” strikes me as a good example of what a tiny budget and a reflective personality can do.

Title: Special
Director: Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore
Country: USA
Score: 7.51 (to make sure it rounds up)
Les Franken isn’t exactly happy; he’s just not unhappy. He works as a meter maid, reads comics and watches TV. He has the sensation that his soul is slowly seeping from his body and decides to enroll in a clinical trial for a new antidepressant, Specioprin Hydrochloride.

The medication has unexpected results: Les develops a multitude of superpowers. But while Les acclimates himself to his newfound powers, others see nothing but a young man with a screw loose. The directors strike an inspired comical duality between the world as Les sees it and the sad reality. Thus, while Les believe that he can run through walls (and we watch him do so), we also can’t help but notice that he has a bloody nose and bruises afterwards.

This setup makes for quite a variety of great scenes, like a visit with his clinical supervisor who suggests he immediately cease taking the drug. Les suddenly develops telepathy and believes that the doctor is mentally telling him just the opposite, but to put up the pretense of quitting since an enemy is listening. This enemy turns out to be the suit-wearing financiers behind the drug, who don’t want Les to create a media embarrassment. When they try to kidnap him, Les converses with a version of himself sent back from the future, who advises not to trust them. Michael Rapaport is well-cast in the lead role and is convincingly sympathetic as a deranged nerd whose desperate need to feel special may actually make it true.

“Special” is the type of indie comedy that alternates making you laugh and feel depressed, a combination I happen to like. It deals in the type of quirky irony where dream sequences are painfully normal (like riding in an elevator), and when the protagonist suddenly wakes up, it’s in a much stranger reality. The small budget may be the film’s biggest liability, especially towards the overly-padded, uninspired ending. With a longer, loopier second half and a few more subplots, this could have been a real favorite.

SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 2

December 4, 2008 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, Review, SLIFF | 2 Comments

Day 2: Saturday 11/15

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Slumdog Millionaire and Alone

Title: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Director: Paul Schrader
Country: Japan
Score: 8.5
Despite being well-aware that “Mishima” is 23 years old and that Criterion has put the restoration on DVD, I really wanted to see this on the big screen and was not disappointed. The movie weaves together three time periods, each in its own style. Mishima’s life growing up in shown in black and white. His final day plays in color, detailing his carefully plotted attempt to rally a pro-emperor military coup and his infamous ritual suicide. Most beautiful of all are the scenes from three of his best-known works, “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” “Kyoko’s House” and “Runaway Horses.”

Schrader expertly weaves together Mishima’s biography and philosophy, creating a mesmerizing investigation of a body-building, hyper-nationalist, homosexual artist fixated on harmonizing life and art through suicidal glory. The soundtrack by Philip Glass is central to the mood, and feels perfectly at home with the themes of trance-like passion and transcendence. The theatrical staging of his novels, while confusing at first, melts into the spirit of the film and is ultimately more revealing about the author than the more strictly biographical segments. The sets for these vignettes are precisely geometric and richly color-coded islands in a sea of black.

Last year, Paul Schrader’s “The Walker” left me pretty unimpressed, so I’m glad this one restored my faith in him. I didn’t see “Adam Resurrected,” his latest film, when it played Friday night, but I’ll probably visit it on DVD. The only other directing work I’ve seen by Schrader is “Affliction” and “Light Sleeper,” neither of which stand out in my mind as great works. I suspect, therefore, that Schrader is getting this year’s SLIFF lifetime achievement award as much for his writings on and for cinema as for his directing. It’s interesting that SLIFF [almost] gave last year’s award to Peter Greenaway since the two are probably the most vocal directors when it comes to declaring the death of cinema. The film walrus does not agree.


Title: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle
Country: UK/India
Score: 8.0
Boyle continues his successful string of high-energy entertainment with this slick Indian production based around “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Ironically, contestant Jamal Malik, a poor orphan raised on the tough streets of Mumbai, is more interested in reuniting with his lost love from childhood than winning the money, but he just might get both wishes. The inspired structure has Malik narrating his life story to the police, as a way of explaining how a “slumdog” with no formal education could know each answer without cheating.

As with all of Boyle’s films (“Shallow Grave,” “28 Day Later,” “Sunshine”) the style is unabashedly populist, characterized by rapid cutting, throbbing music and aesthetic hedonism. While it isn’t surprising that this formula worked well for his films about gangsters, zombies and astronauts, I was surprised how easily it integrated with the more serious setting of India’s megaslums. It helps that the writer took care to channel the excitement, humor and optimism of youth even as he bares the pain and viciousness of poverty and crime. Even the visuals manage to strike a unique beauty, finding splashes of joy in human faces and dyed cloth against backdrops that include sprawling dumps and open sewers.

The final third of the movie becomes more subdued and saccharine, turning into a more conventional love story complete with overtures about destiny, smirking villains and tragic sacrifice. It’s likely to rub the wrong way with many who enjoyed the freshness of the rest of the film, but I suspect that it’s an intentional nod by Boyle towards the traditions of Indian cinematic romances. The ending credits are done as a Bollywood music video, making a more explicit reference to Indian pop culture.

With his kinetic storytelling, emotional range and engaging story, Boyle’s likely to have another hit on his hands. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he walked away with the SLIFF audience award. At the same time, I suspect the critical elite will turn their noses up at the flashy style, cheesy ending and occasionally hokey acting and they’d probably have a good point… but I have to say it was one of the most entertaining releases I’ve seen this year.

Title: Alone
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
Country: Thailand
Score: 7.0
The Pisanthanakun/Wongpoom team (“Shutter”) continues to make a name for themselves in the international horror scene with this creepy tale about cojoined twins and the strange separation anxiety and survivor guilt that results when only one survives into adulthood. Pim seems to be doing well with her loving husband Wee, but when her mother becomes critically ill and they return from South Korea to Thailand, painful memories of her twin sister Ploy begin to drive her towards insanity.

Though “Alone” is unmistakably genre-bound, it is far less interested in the grotesque body-horror possibilities of its premise than the intensified intimacy of its relationships (twin sisters, husband/wife) and their psychological ramifications. This is more “A Tale of Two Sisters” or “Sisters” (1973) than “Basket Case” or “Dead Ringers” (1988) (interesting to note that this split seems to run down gender lines). The directors are quite skilled, if not particularly original, at developing atmosphere, tension and curiosity around their setup.

Horror fans will be particularly pleased by the sheer quantity of scares, which are thankfully not all hoarded for the finale. These are almost all of the loud-noise/sudden-image variety that I’m not usually impressed by, but I give “Alone” credit for actually scaring me time and again. I wish the directors would have tried to sustain the terror, however, since most of the fear-climaxes lasted only a single shot (sometimes with a reaction shot) and I was too often able to assure myself that “it will be over in just a second.” Though the film tarries a little long in the one-scene, one-scare purgatory of horror set pieces, the directors get the plot out of a rut and managed to admirably surprise me (and everyone with me) with a solid final act.

SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 1

December 3, 2008 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, Review, SLIFF | 1 Comment

Day 1: Friday 11/14

Vanaja, Interkosmos, The Juche Idea and Shadowland

Title: Vanaja
Director: Rajnesh Domalpalli
Country: India
Score: 7.0
After already playing in almost every other festival in the world (it seems) and getting a DVD release, “Vanaja” finally made its way to St. Louis. It tells a the coming of age story of Vanaja in a rural Indian village, who hopes to overcome her poverty, low-caste status and poor prospects by learning traditional dance in the home of her rich landlady. While working as a servant girl, she wins the approval of the landlady and sets about becoming an accomplished dancer.

This familiar arc is soon disrupted both by her father’s increasingly lethal drunkenness and the arrival of the landlady’s attractive, politically ambitious son. Despite early flirtations, any chance of a storybook romance is foiled by age and class, resulting in a painful relationship that includes rape, a contentious pregnancy, blackmail and difficult choices about motherhood.

For some reason I felt hard to please while watching “Vanaja,” both during it predictable plucky-hero dances towards her dreams first half and it’s more complicated young-mother making tough decisions second half. Perhaps it’s because both plotlines are such perennial festival scenarios. Yet what they lack in originality they make up for in delivery. There’s a great deal of well-earned emotional moments and enough time and nuance to gather honest sympathy for Vanaja and her situation.

The acting, particularly the 15-year-old lead Mamatha Bhukya and Urmila Dammannagari’s curmudgeonly landlady, is where the film really shines. Director Domalpalli deserves credit for his unassuming sunlit photography, which captures the rustic dustiness and colorful highlights of rural India. Working on a small budget, the film nevertheless has just the right atmosphere to intensify the drama without overwhelming it.


Title: Interkosmos
Director: Jim Finn
Country: USA
Score: 4.0
Part of a double-feature by experimental director Jim Finn, “Interkosmos” is a mishmash of appropriated documentary footage transformed into a fictional history of a lost East German space program. A mixed crew from assorted communist nations attempts to establish mining and refueling stations on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but spends most of their time chatting aimless by radio. Their greatest success is in positioning orbiting libraries of communist material, which later conspiracy theories suggest was the real mission goal all along. When the budget disappears, the manned ships go silent and the government covers up the program.

Finn’s premise and his unusual style of integrating archival footage with artificially-aged fiction are certainly interesting, but this first feature by the director suffers from a fatal lack of focus. Monologues about dolphins, minimalist space exercise routines, an all-girls Marxist hockey match, a hamster in a space suit, NASA videos of Earth and a lot more are loosely fitted into place, but they amount to a fairly arbitrary collection of things that Finn found amusing more than a story or even a compelling overview of a story (which is probably closer to his intention).

Even with the short ~70 minute run-time, the film feels far too long and drawn out. It’s hurt by a lack of editing discretion and abundant repetition, revisiting low-interest imagery with minor variations of what we’ve already seen and digested. The overextended intro and end credits are perhaps the clearest examples of indulging at the audience’s expense. Even the best set designs, like a spaceship cockpit and two moving models of the moon stations, are given too much time to sink in while we listen to mildly informative monotone voice-overs. The film is at its best when it plays the narration for bone-dry humor, as in the radio transmission conversations with their blend of bored small talk and Marxist rhetoric.

Title: The Juche Idea
Director: Jim Finn
Country: USA
Score: 6.0
Much more successful than his previous film is Finn’s “The Juche Idea,” a rough retrospective of fictional propaganda films created by an enthusiastic North Korean director. The director once again appropriates a disparate assemblage of archival footage including media coverage of national celebrations, internal theatrical releases and corporate training videos.

Not only is it clear that Finn has matured as a director and polished his style since the former film, he also seems to have homed in on his strong suit: humor. Laughs are stitched from all sorts of unexpected resources, rather from juxtaposing Kim Jong-il’s ideological tenets with laughably lame film clips, mocking language-training videos with badly green-screened backgrounds and heavily-accented ludicrous conversations or just from spouting inappropriately convoluted metaphors.

One still finds too much repetition, a lack of visual stimuli and the unsatisfying feeling that no cogent movie really forms from the individual scenes, but the pacing is more stable, the rhythm tighter and the themes better realized. For those who are interested, I’d recommend sampling this film first before giving “Interkosmos” a try.


Title: Shadowland (2008)
Director: Wyatt Weed
Country: USA
Score: 1.5
“Shadowland” looks to be an early frontrunner for my least favorite film of the festival. The SLIFF website describes it as an amnesiac mystery. It leaves out any reference to vampirism, which is odd, because this is a vampire movie. I would have seen it anyway (in fact, I would have been more interested). My primary motivation for checking it out wasn’t the plot, but that it was made locally and I wanted to try and see more native St. Louis films this year.

The scraggly story involves a young woman who emerges from a hidden churchyard grave with no memories, but a desire to head towards “main street.” She meets a friendly diner waiter, a pushy hobo and a snobby retro clothing clerk along the way. A professional vampire hunter named Julian and eventually the police are on her trail. Meanwhile, she struggles to remember the circumstances that led to her “death.”

Despite a surprising amount of production polish for a local film, “Shadowland” is ultimately closer to the Sci-Fi channel’s original programming than something you might want to see even for throwaway thrills. The acting is consistently embarrassing, especially the “period” flashbacks (signaled, of course, by overused streak-blur transitions). The writing is unimaginative and devoid of personality, exacerbated by over-earnest performances.

The special effects are of the quaint TV variety. I think the film really should have gone the less-is-more route, since the conventional fake fangs and bad contact lenses were bad enough without the fast-motion running and CG wings.

Ultimately, the main pleasure came from spotting the familiar locations. I got to see my street on a sign and a scene set at a diner where I tried to eat right before the film. Sadly, this wasn’t enough to make the movie legitimately good (pay attention, New Yorkers reviewing NYC films) and I can’t recommend it to anyone.

Links With Your Coffee

November 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Chris Maue, Coffee links | 3 Comments
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For this week’s tasty snack to go with that peppermint mocha frappacino, (or peppermint schnapps and folgers, we don’t judge here)   we’ve localed it up for those of you who might not have known about, or might have forgotten, all the blogs based right here out of STL.

Riverfront Times has their A to Z music blog…

of course Euclid Records has their own, smaller scale blog

Patrick Vacek reviews all the shows (and old records) he can fit in a day

His brother Brian Vacek reviews every film ever

Dividing by Zero adds it’s own 2 cents on the music scene here

Saint Louis Magazine takes on the arts in STL

and of course Lo-Fi STL is always a great thing to watch.

and as always, hours can be spent following the links in the KDHX collective.

Of course, there’s always something wonderful on boingboing, wired, and viceland as well.

SLIFF 2008: A Tour Guide

November 20, 2008 at 4:47 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, SLIFF | 1 Comment
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The St. Louis International Film Festival is a great time to enjoy yourself and take in a new film or two. That is, if you happen to be a casual movie-goer. If you’re a fanatical cinephile, its a stressfully delightful gauntlet run through an international smorgasbord of films that consumes your every waking hour and drives your loved ones to insanity. I walk the latter path.

I’m new here at Highway 61, but I’ve been blogging for some time now over at The Film Walrus where I babble incoherently about movies when I should probably be cooking, cleaning and socially interacting. I’m going to babble about movies here, too. With good reason: there’s so many films at SLIFF that no single person could see them all.

So you’ll probably be seeing a sustained spurt of my reviews over the next few weeks as I dash between the Tivoli, Plaza Frontenac and Webster making my sleepless eyes bleed and belatedly typing up my opinions. While these will be too late to do you any immediate good, most of these films are already available on DVD or in theaters or will be soon. I encourage you to seek out any films that sound interesting and, of course, you should do your own exploring of SLIFF’s offerings while the festival rages on.

If you need a quick tour guide, though, to sift through the many, many choices, I offer some advise: be eclectic. See features, documentaries, shorts, etc. See films from countries you know nothing about. Take a chance on a new director. Take in a mix of genre fluff and art house.

And keep an eye out for me! Here’s my schedule for this year:

Fri the 14th: Vanaja, Interkosmos with The Juche Idea, Shadowland

Sat the 15th: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Slumdog Millionaire, Alone

Mon the 17th: All for Free, Special

Tues the 18th: Opera Jawa, Heartbeat Detector

Wed the 19th: The Pope’s Toilet, Stranded

Thurs the 20th: Of Parents and Children

Fri the 21st: The Custodian, Timecrimes

Sat the 22nd: The Trap, The Class, Yesterday Was A Lie

Sun the 23rd: Little Heroes, From Inside, The Wrestler

Rainbows Flying on a Chilly Afternoon

November 18, 2008 at 8:19 pm | Posted in activism, blogs, Lauren Kirkwod | 1 Comment
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The Saint Louis weather brought on one of the coldest afternoons of the season to Proposition 8 protesters at the Old Courthouse on Saturday November 15. Despite from the numbing air, the rally against the California amendment to ban gay marriage brought over 1,000  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied participants from the community.

Last May, California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage on the grounds that a ban would discriminate based on sexual orientation.  It would violate human rights. On November 4, California voted to ban gay marriage and end the near six month reign of love and equality.

Saint Louis activists brought homemade signs and waved rainbow flags in an effort to create collaboration and awareness in a peaceful stance against hate. Religious and State officials from the region took to the podium including; St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Missouri State Senator Joan Bray, St. Louis City Comptroller Darlene Greene, Rabbi James Stone Goodman and Reverend Susan Drake.  High schoolers Crosby Franklin and Alexa James spoke genuinely to the crowd about indifference, family bonds, love and the prospective future of gay marriage.

Though the protest was about focused primarily around Proposition 8, my thoughts were of Missouri. Missouri overwhelming voted against gay marriage in 2004. I echo Alexa James, “It’s 2008 people, come on.”  Where is the love in the heart of the United States?

Bloggers Night with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra

November 18, 2008 at 2:10 am | Posted in Chris Maue, comics, Concert | 10 Comments
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Last night was Blogger’s Night at Powell Hall, and I found myself among the esteemed guests. I asked my friend, and music review blogger, Patrick Vacek, to come with, which lead to interesting results. As one that doesn’t particularly frequent the symphony, I was worried that Patrick and I (emphasis on the I) would stick out like the unwashed hipster bums that we are.

So when Pat and I showed up, under dressed, and just as excited about the prospect of free drinks as seeing the performance, we hadn’t considered exactly who the regular attendees of the symphony are – old eccentrics & academic bums. One of my favorite moments was when an older woman sitting next to me turned and cheerfully asked if Pat and I were college professors, and why we were taking notes. After explaining to her that we wrote for a blog, and having her ask me “what is ablog? ” Patrick and I felt like some sort of undercover agents from the culture wars, in the den of high class, until later that night when a crazy old man jokingly berated us about how scandalous the performance that night had been. Afterward, we went out for drinks down the street with other bloggers, and it hit us that we actually had a niche, and a culture we fit into – that people on the other side of the screen actually exist, and blogging isn’t all just shouting into the aether. I’ve posted a comic about it here. All in all, it was a pretty awesome night.

— Concert review —

When I initially heard about bloggers night at Powell Hall, it was in connection with the SLSO Guitar Festival, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – unwashed nerds lining up for something like Metallica’s S&M? Well dressed journalists coming out to see an orchestra composed entirely of Fender Telecasters, Gibson hollow bodies, and Flying V’s? A pit full of violinists wailing on power chords? I mean, what is a symphony guitar festival? Dare I hope, a rock opera? It turns out the answer wasn’t anything that cool.

The first song – Mark-Anthony Turnage’s A Prayer Out of Stillness – was the guitar – related piece of the evening.

The song had four movements, and featured a cello Bass/electric bass soloist, in front of the string section – the wind instruments, and some percussion (including piano) were conspicuously absent.  The song began with the strings playing tense chords, while the soloist quietly plinked around by himself, seemingly playing a different song, unaware of the orchestra behind him, and not caring if anyone heard.  This went on for a while, until something unexpected happened.

Everything went dead quiet, and the orchestra paused while an electric bass was brought out, and exchanged for the cello Bass.

The question I kept asking myself after that point was, if every other rock band ever can handle  a roadie walking up and trading guitars with a performer, often mid-song, why does the symphony have to stop everything while someone hands them a bass?   If that wasn’t enough to take my attention out of the performance, they repeated this ritual 3 more times, between every movement – a habit which really sealed shut what was a strangely arranged, and uninteresting piece.

If the constant stop – and – switches weren’t enough, the second movement made the bass part seem even less connected to what the rest of the orchestra was playing, culminating in the third movement, where both cello bass and electric bass soloed while the rest of the orchestra just took a break.

The fourth movement tied everything back together, but not in a tension – and – relief sort of way… it seemed more like the composer hadn’t figured out what they wanted to do until the fourth movement.  Not in a coherent way, anyhow.

The second song – Steven Mackey’s Beautiful Passing –   was much more interesting, with a violin soloist front and center for the entire piece, making things very interesting.  Not only was the soloist incredibly talented, but the wild way that she jerked around, like a woman possessed, as she played, made violin seem dangerous and sexy.

The third song – Stravinsky’s The Right of Spring – was amazing.  The song was epic in a way that one expects an intense orchestral piece to be, full of polyphonic tension and resolution, highs and lows that make your mind wander so scenes of beauty and violence.  The music was accompanied occasionally by words projected behind the orchestra, describing youths frolicking in a field, until holy men come and sacrifice a young woman to the god of spring.

The thing that struck me the most about this last piece, was that my mind kept wandering to things like Loony Tunes, and Star Wars.  Maybe I’m just a pop culture junkie raised on cartoons and fantasy, but when I hear classical music, these are the things that come to mind.

All in all, the concert was pretty awesome, and although the first song left me thinking dreading the next two, and thinking that the composers had a screw loose and didn’t know what they were doing, the second two performances were awesome and well worth the price of an actual ticket.

Although according to SLSO’s resident blogger, Eddie Silva, the symphony offers 50 free tickets for every performance, all you have to do is show up early and ask for ’em.    I guess I’ll be going back sooner than later.


As noted by user bassplayerKat, John Patitucci was playing a BASS. not a CELLO.  As one with limited knowledge of orchestral instruments, I didn’t really know the difference.  Corrections have been made.

STL Old School Tattoo Expo

November 16, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Posted in Events | Comments Off on STL Old School Tattoo Expo
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tatoo expoToday marks the last day of the Saint Louis Old School Tatoo Expo, hosted at the Holiday Inn downtown.  It’s not too late to swing by, the expo stays open until 8pm tonight.  Check out their website here.

My friends and I have wanted to see the expo for the past few years, and this time we finally broke down and dropped the 15 bucks on an entry fee.  The expo was neat, and although it wasn’t quite what we expected, there were a lot of cool artists displaying impressive work there.   Having been though, I wouldn’t recommend attending unless you’re on the market for a new tattoo artist.


I stopped by yesterday after the Prop 8 protest with a few friends of mine, and we snapped a few neat pictures.

Links with Your Coffee

November 16, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Coffee links | Comments Off on Links with Your Coffee
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Sunday’s here again, so Highway 61 is here to drop some tasty links to go with that coffee, that you’re hopefully enjoying outside on this beautiful afternoon.

If you haven’t yet, bookmark, the official site for the office of the president-elect, Barack Obama.   Better than that, you can watch the first of his weekly YouTube fireside chats here. Change is a beautiful thing.

Jealous over Obama’s Pac-mac?  I know I am.

For those of you tired of politispeak, here’s a penguin, choosing science over death.

Speaking of science, Wired has a post on the Secret Service using super science weapons to protect the POTUS.

And speaking of using science for self defense, at gizmodo, there’s an article about a woman who fought back against a rapist by stabbing him in the neck with an iPod charger.

Turning away from tragedy, here’s a delightfully weird stop motion children’s story, coming to a theater near you.  While we’re at it, here’s another shocking image.

I found some great decorating ideas for my apartment, and saw an intriguing request by a woman for someone to help make her into a cyborg.

The future is terrifying place indeed.

Also,  as pretty as this looks, I’m really upset that they’re CHANGING THE ENDING to the Watchmen for the theatrical release.

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