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by Cynthia Fuchs

14 Feb 2012

“I love baseball. You know, it doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s just very beautiful to watch.” Thus Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) indicates his peculiarly American identity. And just so, Allen’s weirdly elegant 1983 mock documentary, Zelig, goes on to trace his peculiarly American story. The fiction of Zelig concerns his capacity to transform physically to match whoever stands near him. The condition, he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher (Mia Farrow), is a function of his desire to fit in, to feel safe, and it makes him a sensation during the 1920s—just when movie images were also transforming, into a means of mass communication, a means to shape community experience, and to grant consumers visions of how they might best conform.

Screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 14 February (and followed by a Q&A with short film director Dana O’Keefe), Allen’s movie shows this “chameleon disorder” in clever dissolves, as Zelig turns “Chinese,” obese, or Native American, or looks and like a doctor in a three-piece suit or a Hassidic Jew (narrator Patrick Horgan asserts, “The Ku Klux Klan, who saw Zelig as a Jew that could turn himself into a Negro and an Indian, saw him as a triple threat”). As the transforming imagery runs its course, the movie lingers in your memory, as a study of how identity emerges out of need (perceived or actual), and further, how need emerges out of experience (perceived or actual). And so it’s not just a story about Zelig or even “society,” but of the making of that story, the ways that documentary shapes its subjects and vice versa.

by PopMatters Staff

14 Feb 2012

Photo: Bryan Sheffield

Wade Ryff was disillusioned with music, holed up in his parent’s house, writing tunes in the bathroom. This economy has been tough on 20somethings and Ryff’s malaise seems part of a larger cultural phenomenon. Indeed, he wound up teaming with a group of fellow 20somethings who felt much in the same boat—Breanna Wood, Garth Herberg, Lucas Ventura, Devon Lee and Oliver Hild—to form RACES. Together they recorded the upcoming album Year of the Witch, which felt like a catharsis, bringing new found optimism to the musicians.

The name RACES is emblematic of the members’ overall mindset as well. As Ryff explains, “I relate to the name in the sense that it seems like there is always something to be up against, and strong desire to overcome whatever it is.” The band’s psych-influenced indie pop will be on full display when Year of the Witch releases on 27 March. In the meantime, check out today’s premiere of a new remix for album track “Living Cruel & Rude”. Fellow Californian DJ Vyxor brings a slick, electro sheen to the folk-poppy “Living Cruel & Rude”, bathing the tune in gentle blips and warm waves of synths, while managing to bring out more of the pure pop aesthetic of the song.

by Cynthia Fuchs

14 Feb 2012


The nominees for the 2012 Live Action Short Oscar alternate between expected and slightly less, all having something to do with time, its elusiveness and its ineluctable demands. “Pentecost,” directed by Peter McDonald, follows the travails of 11-year-old Damian Lynch (Scott Graham), whose father (Michael McElhatton) restricts his access to football (no playing, no watching, no listening), unless he completes his duties as an altar boy. The boy can’t help but reveal his devotion to his primary religion, football. A second Irish entry, “The Shore,” Terry George’s drama about a man (Ciarán Hinds) returning to Ireland after 25 years in America, traces the reconciliation of two friends (the other is Paddy, played by Conleth Hill) after decades of guilt and lies. Max Zähle’s “Raju” considers the problems posed by time in an adoption process: as a well-to-do German couple travels to India, where they’re at once appalled by the poverty and pleased to be helping the child—until they find something about his past that directly affects their present.

Andrew Bowler’s “Time Freak” stars Michael Nathanson as a young inventor who’s found a way to go back in time, only to use it live out his own geeky obsession. As his tries to explain it buddy (John Conor Brooke), the film turns part Groundhog Day and part The Big Bang Theory. And in the category’s least predictable film, Linn-Jeanethe Kyed’s “Tuba Atlantic,” Oskar (Edvard Hægstad) learns he has six days to live. He makes some quick decisions, trying to reconcile with his brother (in Ireland) and hiring a “death angel” (Ingrid Viken). It’s both weird and weirdly funny, and set on an icy tundra to boot.

by Comfort Clinton

14 Feb 2012

Shannon Stephens began her musical career at a Christian art school called Hope College, where she comprised one-fourth of indie, folk-rockers Marzuki. It was there, while playing guitar and lending her vocals, that Stephens met bandmate Sufjan Stevens. After the dissolution of Marzuki, Stephens released her first solo album in 1999, before putting her pursuit of fame on pause, opting instead for a quiet life in Seattle with her husband. After nine years out of the business, Stephens resurfaced with 2009’s The Breadwinner, produced by Sufjan Stevens’ label, Asthmatic Kitty.

Now returning with her third album, backed again by Asthmatic Kitty, and produced by Grammy-winner Kory Kruckenberg, Stephens brings us Pull It Together, out May 22nd of this year. In this upcoming album fans will detect a new confidence in both Stephens’ lyrics and her vocals, the sign of an artist truly coming into her own. The buoyant single “What Love Looks Like”, debuting here on PopMatters, is clearly the product of a life-learned maturity. Fittingly making its premiere on Valentine’s Day, the song is a portrait of modern-day love, set to an upbeat and melodious tune. Much like all the songs on this album, “What Love Looks Like” allow Stephens to share her opinions as a lover, an artist, a mother, and a citizen of the world, balancing cynicism, optimism, and ear-catching vocals along the way.

by Jessy Krupa

13 Feb 2012

Photo: Jennifer Hudson performs a Whitney Houston tribute during the 54th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 12, 2012. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Performances at this year’s Grammy awards weren’t about gimmicks, special effects, or surprise appearances. Instead, the show became a celebration of the music and musicians that unite seemingly different people. Fittingly, in a year where so many important musicians passed away, the night was also about people using their talents to bid a fond farewell to those whom we will all miss. It was a night where legends were honored, rock stars danced to country music, and an auditorium full of stars bowed their heads in prayer.


1. Jennifer Hudson - “I Will Always Love You”

The world only learned of the sad death of Whitney Houston the night before, leaving organizers less than 24 hours to put together a meaningful tribute. Despite this, I can’t imagine a better way to pay respect to someone than what was planned. There are far too few female singers of today who are capable of singing Whitney’s greatest hit with similar vocal ability, but Jennifer Hudson is one of those singers. Her heartfelt rendition also served as a befitting ending to a video “in memoriam” tribute to all the talented people who left us last year.

//Mixed media

Tibet House's 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert Celebrated Philip Glass' 80th

// Notes from the Road

"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.

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