REVIEW: Dont Look Back

Bob Dylan is celebrated far and wide for his sense of enigma. It draws many fans to him like a magnet — the fact that he rarely, if ever, reveals details of his personal life, the impenetrable nature of his ever-changing persona. In fact, I actually went to see him in concert this October, and I was surprised by the fact that he didn’t say a single word outside of the songs that he played. This mystery is a trait that he carries even to this day, and it can be traced all the way back to the very beginnings of his fame in the 1960s.

Dont Look Back, a 1967 documentary focusing on his 1965 tour of London, England, brings its audience closer to Dylan — the “real” Dylan, if there is such a thing — than any of them are otherwise likely to get. This Dylan is striking, more than anything, because he wavers so much between different facades. At times he is visionary, playing guitar and singing straight from his heart, or talking honestly with people who see life differently from him; at other times he is downright arrogant, interrupting people often and discounting their opinions in favor of his own. Sometimes he is quiet and attentive, carefully listening while fellow musicians like Donovan and Joan Baez play music for him in hotel rooms; sometimes he is loud and angry almost to the point of not making sense, like when he demands to know who in his hotel is guilty of throwing glass into the street. He’s humble and down-to-earth, but also remarkably full of himself (“I know I’m big noise,” he taunts to a man he has accused of being guilty of the glass-throwing). Sometimes he’s very serious, and sometimes he grins and makes jokes — and what’s more, he’ll often switch between many of these attitudes within the span of a single minute.

Of course, many of these less endorsable sides of Dylan — that he is argumentative, acerbic, full of himself, etc. — are traits that a great deal of his fans will easily dismiss. They’ll say, “That’s just the way he is,” or, “That’s what makes him so great — he’s not afraid to tell people how it is!” Luckily, the film itself takes no sides; with no retrospective voiceover or imbalance regarding what footage it decides to show us, it is indiscriminate. It leaves its audience to make their own decisions.

The crowning achievement of Dont Look Back, then, is that it’s honest. It gives fans an inner look at everything they love about Dylan — the ways in which he can be at once relatable and completely, untouchably elevated — while refusing to shy away from the paradoxes of his character that at times can undercut this. I’ll admit feeling a personal pang of anger during a moment in the movie when Dylan tells a reporter something on the lines of, “I know more about you and your profession, just now from meeting you, than you will ever know about me.” But I also laughed anytime Dylan told a joke, and watched breathlessly during recordings of his live performances of songs like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Talkin’ World War III Blues”.

Dont Look Back was filmed at the height of Dylan’s fame and at the cusp of some of his most major creative breakthroughs (a.k.a., his 1967 triple-album win with Bringing it All Back HomeBlonde on Blonde, and Highway 61 Revisited). It situates us directly in Dylan’s touring life, to the point that we feel like we’re actually sitting where the camera operator is sitting, three or four feet away from him. It is arguably the closest any film has ever or can ever really come to penetrating the eternal mystery and captivating persona of Bob Dylan, for better or for worse.

REVIEW: Dessa @ The Blind Pig

Tuesday night, which happened to be before my Math 481 midterm (a fact I did not realize until I had already agreed to review this concert), Dessa and crew came to town. Though I had been looking forward to this concert for sometime, I had also been counting on Tuesday to study. I ended up choosing the concert, but I might live to regret this decision (in approximately a week, when I get the exam back).

When I got there, the first act was already well underway though the crowd was still sparse. The song I could hear James Gardin playing as I entered the venue struck me as generic and ugly, but the next few songs he played were much better. His songs are shockingly well-produced for a local rapper, featuring soothing beats and rhythmic choruses. The lyrics, much like his stage presence, feature uplifting verses and a message for unity in times of trouble. Although the audience was clearly not there for him, he succeeded in getting people interested and vibing to his music. Furthermore, his crowd interactions demonstrated excitement and compassion for his audience, which helped to start the concert off on a positive note. At one point, he asked for two volunteers to say a bit about themselves and then freestyled based on what they told him–and as someone not often impressed by freestyle, he did quite well.

The next opening act (and also Dessa’s backing band) was MONAKR. Their music served as an interlude between Gardin and Dessa’s rapping. Their lyrics were either softly sung or gently wailed, depending on the tempo of the song. At times, there were rapid and impressive drum beats dragging the songs along, but others were almost entirely electronic, built from varied sounds slowly coming to crescendo. Either way, the tone of their set was distinctly different, and chilled the audience to a certain extent. Their stage presence featured a few too many jokes about their name (for reference, it’s pronounced the same as moniker) and didn’t have a clear speaker (both the singer and the guitarist would attempt to speak at the same time) designated to talk to the audience. Still, I would definitely recommend checking out their sound.

Finally, there was Dessa. Her performance was upbeat and her songs simultaneously rocked and soothed, featuring rapping and singing and tightly produced melodies. In between songs, she was clearly a performer who loved her fans, and the words she said seemed to come from an open and honest place, as if she were writing in a journal and not speaking to a room filled with a couple hundred. Though she played old favorites, much of her set was spent testing out new material for an upcoming album (still unannounced), and as a fan, there isn’t much greater pleasure than these concert sneak peaks. Overall, Dessa navigated her performance and dialogue well, and demonstrated a love and passion for her work, one that she has for over a decade in an often unforgiving industry.

REVIEW: Shift Talent Showcase

Pendleton was completely packed with people on Thursday, November 16th at 7 PM. And more kept pouring in, so much so that chairs ran out and some people had to stand near the walls; not that they particularly minded, given the spectacular pieces of visual art that encircled the room. Shift, a showcase of immigrant and refugee narratives as well as a celebration of various cultures, expressed through various art mediums, was a resounding success.

Redefine, a student organization that aims to connect social justice work and creative expression, worked for weeks on planning this event in collaboration with Zeta Omega Eta, Refugees to College, Students Organize for Syria, Iraqi Student Association, and Call for Humanity. As a member of the club, I have watched the e-board members tirelessly work towards creating this first-ever event. Their hard work evidently payed off; the atmosphere was both lively and somber at respective points in the night, though the overall vibe was one of warm receptivity.

Mariam Reda and Komel Khan, co-president and artists chair of the club, respectively, were the MC’s of the night. Mariam outlined how the event originated out of the current tumultuous campus climate, and how it is more important than ever to listen to the narratives of others. They emphasized how this event aimed to provide an alternate means of accessing those narratives, namely through works of creative expression, including visual art, dance, spoken word, and film. A showcase of visual art, including photography and pencil drawings, was set up in the back of the room.

All of the performances and pieces were touching and powerful, two- and three-dimensional alike. A spoken word poem, performed by Maryam Younes, caused a hush to settle over the room, as her powerful performance on the immigrant experience of estrangement and assimilation captivated the audience; the exuberant Afro-Brazilian performance group ,UM Capoeira, brought smiles and laughter back into the room. Personally, there was one quote from Asrar, an immigrant from Sudan, that particularly affected me: “Christmas is special because even though they know that Santa is not real and people know it, they still pretend Santa is real. We don’t have a Christmas back home, nor snow. People know Santa is not real, but they still have hope. I think that this is really beautiful. I want people to see this photo and to keep up the pretending of Santa Claus and Christmas. This is not bad, this is beautiful.” For me, these simple words of pure joy and enthusiasm for the future brought actual tears to my eyes, ones that I quickly blinked away. This quote was excerpted from one of the pieces from the JPS Refugee Photo-voice Project, “Resettlement Through the Eyes of Refugees”, and the accompanying photos-and-quotes were just as moving. There were messages of hope, of jaded dreams, of hardships.

This night was very special, and it was awesome to be able to inhabit a shared space focused on broadening one’s perspective in a respectable way. Hopefully Redefine will bring similarly necessary and powerful events to campus in the future.

PREVIEW: Shift Talent Showcase

Art is a powerful tool for community awareness and social change, which is why Redefine, a student organization that connects social justice and the arts, has coordinated Shift, an event intended to highlight the immigrant experiences of students on campus, as well as to champion diversity within the Michigan community.

Shift will feature artists from the Middle East, India, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Brazil, as well as from many more areas. There will be narratives that center around the experiences of immigrants, refugees, and international students. The event will feature multicultural performances, a two-hour art exhibition, and FREE FOOD.

I am a member of Redefine, and I know that the e-board has been working tirelessly for the past few weeks in preparation for this upcoming event, partnered with the student organizations Zeta Omega Eta, Refugees to College, Iraqi Student Association, Students Organize for Syria, and The Call for Humanity. Please check it out! This event promises to be a spectacular night.

Event details:
When: Thursday November 16, 7-9PM
Where: The Pendleton Room at the Michigan Union
Cost: FREE!!!

REVIEW: Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers

It was a hole-in-the-wall with several …. well, holes in the wall. The Blind Pig, a music venue established in 1971, is a widely known destination of downtown Ann Arbor. Expecting nothing less than sticky floors, unidentifiable smells, and a room with wall-to-wall people, The Blind Pig did not stray far from my preconceptions. The only indicator that it wasn’t indeed the 70’s was the number of iPhones in the locus recording Snapchat videos and capturing photos of inebriated friends.


The band Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers blended right into this timeless, nonconformist setting. Before their performance began, they handed out 3 ft long fake flowers to audience members. The stage was an amalgamation of rose-tinted glasses, floral patterns, and psychedelic lighting.

When Joe Hertler sang, I was immediately drawn to his voice. It possessed a familiar-sounding quality while being entirely new to my ears. The music itself crossed the lines of a number of genres, including: funk, rock, Americana, and folk. The group was eclectic and spread their euphoric energy among the crowd. Much of the audience was dancing along to their grooves and singing the words to their songs. Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers had a faithful following.

Normally when I check out a band I have never seen, I’m not overly bothered by not knowing every lyric or not knowing at least some of the words. However, regarding Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, if you plan to attend one of their performances, I would recommend listening to their music ahead of time. From my observation and conversation with another attendee, those that were there knew Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers; they knew their lyrics, the members, their history, and upcoming performances. As a newcomer, it took a few songs to process their presence and style. Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers are an authentic and lively bunch.

REVIEW: The Florida Project

I don’t remember my childhood. I have overwritten it, systematically burying the memories underneath grammar rules, history lessons, and math formulas. Over the years, they must have been packed away and eventually, lost altogether. The last remnants of my childhood are stashed away in old photo albums, recorded on a few VHS tapes, and retold in my parent’s stories.  All of this makes what The Florida Project accomplishes even more remarkable. The Florida Project is the latest offering from writer and director Sean Baker, whose filmography includes Tangerine, the movie best known for being shot only on iPhone 5s. It was a radical new approach that seemed to prove that modern technology could enable filmmakers to succeed outside of the Hollywood system. Although his new movie may have been created with more traditional tools, Baker has remained very much an outsider by continuing his focus on the lives that are sidelined by other films.

The Florida Project is unique in that it revolves entirely around the perspective of 6-year-old Moonee as she romps around the confines of the budget hotel that is her home and the surrounding community a little bit outside of Disney World. Through her eyes, the world becomes wondrous. The shabbiness and the rampant commercialization of the area falls away to reveal something magical that has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse or fried turkey legs.  Everything around Moonee is huge and exaggerated in bright colors that one could almost believe that it is truly a land created entirely from imagination. There is a fantastic sequence that follows Moonee as she introduces her new friend Jancee to all of her favorite haunts. The children are dwarfed in every frame by larger than life buildings. One is a giant orange, another has a wizard’s head staring down from the roof, and then there is the ice cream shop, shaped, of course, like an ice cream cone. In an age of helicopter parenting, these kids are gloriously free from supervision and rules. They fill their mouths full of sweets and wander with an air of invulnerability. This is the essence of childhood, to be free of all the tiny little worries that nag at the mind of adults.

Yet, Baker never forgets the circumstances from which this freedom is borne. Moonee plays without restraint because her mother, Halley refuses to reign her in. Halley has not entirely grown up herself. She reacts to the world with the anger of a child that still expects to get whatever she wants. Halley’s immature impulsiveness often gets both her and Moonee into trouble.  Yet, we understand her too. This world of orange and purple sunsets seems full of endless possibility and no consequences. We are lured into the same mindset as Moonee and Halley. Providing the voice of reason is Bobby, the manager of the hotel. Willem Dafoe portrays a man that is equally torn between the realities of the world and the dream that is all around him. He manages his little kingdom with efficiency and empathy that indicates a man that is capable of much more. Yet, he chooses to stay, even as he is belittled by his lodgers and the privileged tourists that look down upon him. He becomes a parent, creating a true haven for child-like dreams to survive a little bit longer. There is something noble in trying to preserve something that is already lost. No one can remain a child forever, but perhaps in the syrupy Floridian air, time can be slowed down. The Florida Project proves that the mindset of a child is always accessible even long after we have forgotten the specific memories.