REVIEW: The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

The University of Michigan Museum of Art’s new exhibition Art in the Age of the Anthropocene is a powerful collection that forces museum-goers to grapple with the harsh realities of human impact on the environment, climate change, and our future. Here is a sampling of what I found to be the most impactful pieces:

 

Chris Jordan: CF000313, unaltered stomach contents of juvenile Laysan albatross (2009) & CF000668, unaltered stomach contents of juvenile Laysan albatross:

These photographs show the half-decomposed carcasses of albatross, the former location of their stomach filled with brightly-colored plastic detritus. According to the placard accompanying the work, their parents would have mistaken the plastic for food and fed it to their young (as well as eating it themselves). As a result, albatross of all ages suffocate and die. The photographs cannot avoid being interpreted through the lens of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: “the death of the albatrosses heralds humanity’s impending destruction.” However, I believe that one of the purposes of this exhibition is to work toward a world where the impending destruction doesn’t come to pass. All hope is not lost, if only we would wake up to the reality of what is happening to our world.

 

Nicole Six & Paul Petritsch: Special Intervention 1 (2002):

You will hear this work long before you see it. A video in a dark room off the main gallery, it shows Petritsch in the middle of an expansive frozen landscape, repeatedly chipping away a circle around himself with a pickaxe. “Regardless of impending disaster, he persists in this futile and ultimately deadly activity” … clearly a commentary on our own inaction regarding climate change. The sound of this pickaxe echoes across the entirety of the exhibition, and it continued to echo in my mind once I left the museum. It drills into your skull, incessant and without letting up, and even now I can hear it in my mind’s ear.

 

Kimiyo Mishima: Akikan [Empty Can] (2012):

From far away, these appear to be actual crumpled soda and beer cans, but close inspection reveals that they are impeccable ceramic replicas. Sitting in a glass case in a museum, it is impossible not to wonder if this is what the future will see us as. Is the legacy we are leaving behind on the planet one of disposable materialism resulting in environmental destruction? Is this what the archaeologists of the future will find we left behind?

REVIEW: Amazing Grace

“She can sing anything … ANYTHING.”

Amazing Grace will transport you in an instant to New Temple Missionary Baptist Church on two very special evenings in 1972: when the legendary Aretha Franklin recorded live her album of the same title, which would go on to be certified double platinum. The film of this event, recorded by Warner Brothers, has never been released before due to technical difficulties associated with it, and it is a rare window into a monumental performance to be able to view it.

The film quality, which is grainy and blurry, is terrible by today’s standards, but it doesn’t matter. Similarly, the camera work is quite bad: the camera shakes, moves around too quickly, and looks like a home video during some parts. But again, it couldn’t matter less. What viewers see is the awed faces of the audience, the sweat beading on the brow of Ms. Franklin as she sings, and the shining vests of the Southern California Community Choir, the group that provided background vocals. We see the face of Jesus on the wall behind the performers, and we watch when, in the middle of the evening, an audience member breaks out into tap dance. We witness the Reverend James Cleveland, his head in his hands and tears in his eyes during the performance of “Amazing Grace.” We view Ms. Franklin’s entrance on the first night, the camera angle giving her an almost regal appearance as she passes down the church’s aisle. What is most important, though is what we hear: one of the greatest voices of modern American music, unfiltered and in her fullest glory.

I don’t think that I can put into words the energy and electricity that is tangible in the moment, and it is a privilege to be allowed in to see it. It’s pretty much impossible to watch this documentary without feeling the insuppressible urge to clap, sing, stand up, and dance, and it did not bother me in the least when I could hear other audience members doing so. It is an emotional rollercoaster ride that is a miracle to be able to ride, and you will likely laugh, cry, and sway with the music.

In my opinion, it is not possible to give this film a high enough rating – eleven out of ten stars would not even begin to describe it. Experience it for yourself while it is still in theaters!

REVIEW: The Chaperone

The Chaperone, directed by Michael Engler, was a movie, though flawed in some areas, that was full of delightful details. It tells the story of sixteen-year-old Louise Brooks (played by Haley Lu Richardson, the future film star of the 1920s), and how she travelled from Wichita, Kansas to New York City to study dance at the Denishawn School. There was just one problem: Louise’s father would not allow her to go unless she was accompanied by a chaperone. Luckily for her, Norma Carlisle (played by Elizabeth McGovern) volunteers herself on a whim after seeing Louise, and the two head off to the big city – a stark contrast from small-town Wichita.

Though Louise Brooks is the “star” of the movie in that she is the larger-than-life character, Norma Carlisle is really the person that comes to be the main character. Layer by layer, we learn more about Norma’s past, and the movie deals with difficult themes of identity. Adopted from a New York orphanage by a farming couple in Kansas, Norma married her husband at age sixteen. As the audience, we can sense that Norma isn’t fully happy in her marriage, and Louise sees right through this as well, despite Norma’s insistence that she is perfectly happy. As it turns out, in a flashback scene, we learn that Norma’s husband is in a relationship with a man named Raymond. This is very complicated for the two of them, because they can’t separate under these circumstances, and so they remain together. However, in New York, Norma meets a man named Joseph, and the two of them connect in a way that she has never felt with Mr. Carlisle.

I will say that I found the character development between Norma and Joseph to be somewhat inconsistent. I was never entirely sure whether we were supposed to be seeing a newer, different side of Norma, or if her actions simply did not add up with her character. Particularly when they first met, Norma and Joseph’s interactions felt extremely awkward to me. They stood uncomfortably close to each other for people that were just meeting, and it did not seem like the Norma we knew from the other scenes. With Louise, she espoused moral and proper, lady-like behavior, and frowned upon flirting with boys (particularly a Columbia law student named Floyd), but her own actions with Joseph did not match this.

However, we did see Norma’s character arc develop throughout the movie, largely in part to Louise’s influences. She gains self-confidence, takes risks, and loses her corset. On a side note, having seen Elizabeth McGovern in the TV show Downton Abbey, it was interesting to see her play Norma, who had an entirely different affect.

The Chaperone was an enjoyable movie, but it won’t be added to my list of favorites.

 

 

 

PREVIEW: The Chaperone

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone is a film that tells the story of teenage Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson), “the 1920s silver screen sensation who never met a rule she didn’t break,” and who “epitomized the restless, reckless spirit of the Jazz Age.” When the opportunity arises for Louise to study dance in New York City, her mother insists that she be accompanied by a chaperone, and Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) volunteers herself for the job.

Presented by Masterpiece Films, The Chaperone was directed by Michael Engler and written by Julian Fellowes, both of the PBS series Downton Abbey.

The Chaperone is currently showing at the Michigan Theater. Visit their website for more information and for showtimes.

 

PREVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

Marvel fans, the time is finally upon us. A year after Infinity War, its follow-up, Endgame, is projected to mark the end of a very long Marvel era and the dawn of a new one. The transition has been going on for a few years now, with newer installments like Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Black Panther beginning to take over the stage from the original core band of heroes. Captain Marvel made history only last month as Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero film, and the first female-led superhero film ever to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson (Unicorn Store), is expected to play a vital role in Endgame as the remaining heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rally in a last-ditch effort to defeat intergalactic villain Thanos once and for all.

Endgame was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who were also at the helm of Infinity War, and features an all-star ensemble cast. It comes out this Thursday, April 25th, and will be playing at the State Theatre, the Quality 16, the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX, and Emagine Saline.

PREVIEW: Amazing Grace

Forty-seven years after the release of Aretha Franklin’s album Amazing Grace, which went on to become certified double platinum, the best-selling disk of her entire career, and the highest selling live gospel album of all time, viewers are offered a window into its recording.

Recorded in January 1972 in Los Angeles at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, the footage in this documentary has never before been released. That said, it has been received with critical acclaim, a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the Best Documentary (film) award at the 50th NAACP Image Awards, among other award nominations. According to Rolling Stones, “It’s the closest thing to witnessing a miracle — just some cameras, a crowd and a voice touched by God.”

Amazing Grace opened Friday, April 19 at the Michigan Theater. Don’t miss your chance to witness the Queen of Soul in this monumental documentary.