In 1920s Japan, people suffered life with the Great Depression, poverty, disease, and the Great Kanto Earthquake. Then, Japan plunged into war. How did Japan’s youth survive such a time? So begins one trailer to the pièce de résistance of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s career about a Japanese man with romantic dreams of building beautiful airplanes during a period rife with struggle and conflict. However, such a seemingly morose question is not answered with an equally dark response. True to Miyazaki’s masterful approach to his craft, his final film counters a historically dark time with dazzling visuals of the Japanese urban and rural landscape as well as narrations of profound relationships among people connected through a shared fight for optimism. The Wind Rises is a testament to the beauty that can be found during the bleakest of times.
After dizzily making my way around the second floor of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, a sign guided me though the rocks and minerals gift shop and finally to the newest temporary exhibit. Unintended Journeys, a collection of award-winning photographs journaling the life within environmental refugee locations, is ironically tucked away in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery. Spotlighting the rapid human displacement, environmental change and hardships resulting from climate change and natural disasters the last ten years, Unintended Journeys features photographs by Magnum Photos, a photography collaborative that strives to make the experiences of these regions reality.
I’ll be honest—I had no idea what to expect from last Friday’s performance of HABITAT at the AU Katzen Museum. Composed by Steve Antosca, performed by Ross Karre, and digitally altered by William Bent, HABITAT promised to combine sound, physical space, and live computer transformation. I had seen the event unceremoniously advertised on the Katzen website, and the short explanation described it as a “concert-length percussion solo,” which instantly conjured images of a leather-clad Christopher Walken demanding his prescription for more cowbell. While the cowbell did make an appearance, HABITAT proved itself to be a complex, multi-media performance, intertwining a collection of mediums in conversation for an immersive concert that moved from station to station through the museum.
Starting off with a sob and an uncomfortable laugh, Denmark’s “Helium” and the U.K.’s “The Voorman Problem” are the first two films in the theatrical release collection of the Oscar nominated live action shorts of 2014. They are reviewed by Nolan Miller. “Helium” introduces us to the little blonde Danish boy named Alfred who is bedridden with a crippling and life-threatening disease. Enzo, a new janitor in the hospital, becomes friends with poor Alfred who reminds him of his own brother he lost as a young boy. With each successive visit to Alfred’s room we learn piece by piece of Helium, the collection of houses suspended by balloons where sick children go when they die to “get their strength back.” As Enzo gets close to the end of his fantastic tale complete with brief scenes of Alfred’s imaginings of Helium depicted on screen, Alfred’s condition suddenly takes a turn for the worst. The short ends with Alfred, supposedly close to death, finally leaving for Helium by way of the gigantic, gold and red zeppelin called the “Helium Express.” An overly sentimental piece complete with a soundtrack oscillating back and forth between melancholy and hopeful tracks to shove its point home, “Helium” is designed to tug, no, yank violently at the heart strings of the audience.
Asterios Polyp is a man haunted by the searing embers of his past; just ask the narrator, Ignazio, his still-born twin. Introduced looking broken and disheveled, Asterios lies alone on his king sized bed meant for two. He fidgets with his zippo, sounds of feminine ecstasy emanating from a television set its picture just out of frame, when a clap of thunder sparks the plot. It also sparks a fire in his apartment building. So it goes that on his 50th birthday, Asterios watches from out in the rain as all the mementos of his past go up in flames and he flees. He takes a wad of soggy $10 bills out of his wallet and purchases a greyhound ticket asking “how far would this take me?” The answer is Apogee.
After all the snow, class cancellations and the heart filled holiday, I took it upon myself to run way off campus to a much cooler place. I escaped to Chinatown where the National Portrait Gallery is putting famous photographs of famous people on display in the American Cool exhibit.
A refreshing and eye-opening exhibit, Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art, celebrates the stories and experiences of American artists with Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican cultural roots. All text in the exhibit is written in both Spanish and English. Many of the actual pieces feature both languages and combine Latin and American cultural paradigms. The harmonious blending of cultures exemplifies the notion of shared identity claimed by both the artist and viewer.
I’ve recently made an effort to get off campus more to explore DC and discover some nice study spots that will motivate me to get things done. This past drizzly Wednesday I hopped on the Redline to head anywhere but AU to find a place where I could sit down and crank out my well-postponed philosophy paper. Enter Busboys and Poets, a renowned restaurant/coffee shop/bookstore that’s a ten-minute walk from the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop. Busboys and Poets boasts a low-key vibe and is most recognized for the variety of art related events hosted daily at its four separate locations, particularly poetry readings. Located on 5th and K, the building can’t be missed with its bright orange sign, colorfully painted crate flowerboxes, and metal yellow sculpture out front.
Xiu Xiu (the demon-baby of San Jose native Jamie Stewart) recently released their latest album Angel Guts: Red Classroom. It is a comically dark and suspenseful journey into a dank basement of Frankenstein-inspired electronic doom. The slow and simple midi rhythms drip lifelessly like water droplets and splatter into a puddle of cold, stagnant and a-tonal clambering. What Xiu Xiu does well is create a dark and enveloping mood that sounds like something very old and very cutting edge simultaneously. Their music does not follow specific and traditional song structures or have hooks or even distinguishable melodies, but rather generates an ominous vibe. They use repetition effectively and lure their victims/listeners into a cryptic trance. They then assault the unsuspecting listener with ludicrously offensive and vile lyrics that are worked in between the spaces of their electronic pings and drum kit smashes. The vocals give the otherwise soulless music a somewhat human element, so it is not accurate to describe Xiu Xiu as purely electronic. There are elements of traditional songwriting beneath the layers of synthesizer machinery. This album succeeds in being dark and creepy but is also sometimes hard to take seriously. I dig it for its dark, trance-like vibe. But I often grew tired of the over the top ghoul-like ranting.
Marvel is commonly considered as lighter, more fantastical, and at times even sillier than the only other comic book publisher that rivals its titanic size, namely DC. However, the company’s relatively new (2012) NOW! imprint (Superior Spider-Man, All New X-Men, Hawkeye) possesses both a darker tone and an exceptionally sophisticated writing style unheard of for Marvel since the beginning of the “adults only” MAX imprint back in 2001. The blonde-mained, Norse god of thunder Thor of recent movie fame was one of the first characters to get his Marvel NOW! reboot with the start of Thor: God of Thunder on November 14, 2012. The New York Times best-selling series is now on its twenty-first issue, published this past Wednesday. This review, however, will focus only on the first five issues, which were collected in the paperback graphic novel released earlier this month titled Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1: The God Butcher.
Revered by The New York Times and The Washington Post, D.C.’s own humble food magazine has been making the rounds around the country and rapidly increasing in popularity. The collage-crazy Runcible Spoon is completely handmade, with letters cut out to make headlines, news columns individually pasted in, and pages layered with scrap photos that have been harvest over time. To give you an idea, in its latest issue called The Cheap Issue a haphazardly cut photo of a surprised Nicki Minaj is displayed on the same page as a satirical article, “Always Thank the Chef,” and a vintage stock photo of a boy in a lobster costume. I recently met up with Malaka Gharib, the ‘zine’s creator and driving force, to talk about her beloved Runcible Spoon.
Film and cinema provide modes of explanation in the most varied domains, because they are often for us the site of profound change and reflection, crucial for self-development and experiencing what we call “the self.” Perhaps a film occurs in a manner similar to that of an “event.” For each of us it is easy enough to show that the concept of who we are and the question of how we became “ourselves” is as old as the history of the Western tradition itself. Nevertheless, the experience of molding the self is often shared — up to this point, I have sought to stake out it, marking and drawing us together into a certain nexus of experience. The function of this shared or lived experience is not to disorient us, but rather, to orient us together, balancing and organizing our horizons of meaning toward a common meridian. If each film we watch may be explained as a certain puncturing or rupturing of our distinct horizons, let us endeavor to conceive of this “event” as a profound return or remembrance of our commonality.
What we encounter in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964) is the most paradoxical reading of modernity offered yet, which presents us with a final conclusion to his previous trilogy of films (L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse) . Antonioni assures our most basic relationships with an industrialized and modern conception of Western Civilization; we are swept across the rise of heavy industry, observe an increase in existential alienation in social relations, and experience the development of ecological problems.
Last weekend I had the chance to escape from my essays and find a bit of peace at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Currently on view is an exhibition called Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950. If I’m being honest, I am not normally drawn to exhibits that are largely centered on film, television and sculpture, but I was left completely captivated by many of the chilling pieces at this exhibition. On view through late May, Damage Control works to explore the themes of destruction in art and the context in which these pieces were created. Stemming from the “escalation of the arms race and the prospect of nuclear annihilation” in the early 1950s, the exhibition uses different art mediums to convey the significance of media coverage of these disasters, both large and small.
Meet Mikala Rempe – my partner in crime.The empty voids in both of our lives were filled the day we were brought together as assistant poetry editors for AmLit. If you’re wondering what that position even is, it basically just means that we get to geek out about poems while excessively using the words “dude” and “literally,” along with a somewhat shameful list of colorful expletives.
You love AmLit. I love AmLit. We all love AmLit, but for those of us who need some sort of creative stimuli as we await the next release of our beloved semiannual student publication, Issuu.com is a great gift. On our college budgets, dismal and meager, pretty interest magazines published on premium card stock with minimal advertisements are usually out of our financial reach. Issuu.com, an online hub of self-produced publications, is here to help you bide your time before AmLit’s December release. Here are a few free magazines featured on the website that’ll quench the literary thirst of the curious.
“Esteemed city institution” and “DuPont’s replacement ritual for church” are among the words of praise for the long-running bookstore and café, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a D.C. must-see nestled comfortably on the cosmopolitan Connecticut Avenue. A well-oiled machine, the establishment first opened in 1976 and has since been coined as the first bookstore in the country to feature a full bar and an adjacent restaurant.
American University’s chapter of React to Film is a documentary film club geared towards raising awareness about important social issues through organizing free documentary screenings on campus twice a semester. How to Make Money Selling Drugs was shown this past Tuesday (11/5) for the club’s last film of the semester. Even after cramming in a few more additional rows of chairs and having standing room in the back, there was still barely enough room to fit everyone. Apparently students at American University are looking at every avenue possible for ways to cut down on their ever increasing tuition fees. The film itself describes how to “level up” through the ranks of the illegal drug trade, from recreational user all the way to cartel lord.