One of those icons is Mongolian warrior/leader Genghis Khan, about whom the museum just happens to have an exhibit. It opened a couple weekends back, and we were invited to visit. The museum hopes you’ll show up tonight for the free movie, but also that you might wanna plunk down cash to see artifacts from Khan’s time.
If you still need convincing, here are five reasons you should check out the exhibit (with help from Albert Ervin, the museum’s special exhibits coordinator).
1. The exhibit has a lot of cool stuff.
The exhibit itself is a traveling museum devoted to both Khan’s legacy and Mongolian culture. You get weaponry both real (like a Mongol cavalry saber) and replicated (like a triple-action crossbow). But the exhibit also has about 200 artifacts belonging to Mongolia, ranging from clothing to bowls to musical instruments, all encased for your viewing pleasure. Ervin says many of these artifacts come from other empires and dynasties Khan conquered.
“His empire was twice the size of the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent,” he says. “So, he accumulated cultural artifacts from the people around him. [Khan] brought people from China and Europe sort of together along the Silk Road.”
2. It gives a well-rounded view of Khan.
Sure, Khan killed a lot of people (as Marc Maximov drolly pointed out in his 8 Days a Week writeup for the Indy), and this exhibit shows the armor, weaponry and tactics he used on the battlefield.
But Ervin says that’s not the whole story.
“I think this exhibit does a good job of showing Genghis Khan as the warrior that he was, because he was that,” says Ervin. “You don’t conquer most of the known world unless you’re a warrior—at least, in his day and age.
"The other side of it is that Genghis Khan was also a statesman. And he had a lot of really—I guess we would call them progressive ideas for his day. He created what would be very similar to a democracy. People rose in the ranks of the hierarchy of his military and of his government based on merit, not based on who they were related to.”
3. The place reeks of incense.
When you first walk in, you’ll find that the exhibit has a very exotic, alluring odor. That comes from a machine, located above a small recreation of the palace Khan's grandson Kublai called home, that blows the scent of incense all over the place. Ervin says that idea came from the exhibit organizers.
“I guess they just felt that it would put people in the mood of a Chinese palace,” he says. (It put me in the mood of an Erykah Badu concert when I took a whiff. But I’m sure your mood may be much different.)
4. This exhibit features a dead person’s bones!
Unfortunately, they're not Khan’s. No one knows where he’s buried. But someone did find the tomb of an unnamed Mongolian princess (they refer to her as “Princess Mummy,” but I like to call her “Karen”), and the bones of said princess are on display at the exhibit.
Says Ervin, “Based on the things that were found in the tomb with her, we can sort of extrapolate about how Genghis Khan may have lived or how he might have been buried.”
5. YOU’LL LEARN SOMETHING!!!!
You might even find it—dare I say—fascinating. “What I think is the cool part of this exhibit is that people will learn that Genghis Khan wasn’t just this ruthless barbarian,” says Ervin.
“He had that other side of him that made a lot of progressive changes in his empire and the people that he conquered. So, his empire wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did if all he was was just going out and killing people.”
Debating the relative artistic merits of the film is as meaningless as reproaching Transformers movies for having too many robots. In spite of the guilty pleasure of the franchise, I do find the deeply conservative politics underlying the romance troubling.
Bella Swan, as embodied by the modestly talented Kristen Stewart, lives for love. She has no interests or passions besides the one she conceives for the mysterious new boy in school. He’s firmly abstinence-only, on account of his uncontrollable urges. The only solution is for her to be married at the age of 18. (If there is one character I truly feel sorry for, it’s her perennially clueless father, who is coerced into consent.)
So, there’s a wedding. Hot vampire sex finally commences—but kept within the constraints of the PG-13 rating. But, of course, the wages of sin and duty are pregnancy and, in short order, death. Bella wants to keep her baby even as it devours her from within. Ruby-eyed Bella will be reborn, subject to thousands of years of Edward’s devotion, or if you like, suffocating, controlling behavior.
Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, is a Mormon mother of three. For me, the dominant ethos of the books and movies is not romance but an agenda evoking the restrictive worldview of the LDS church. The Cullen clan is a vampire mother church that will keep Bella within its cult, smothering it with what its calls love, and what I would call hell.
The experience of attending a film screening is like going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will admit to howling in concert with the wolves under the full moon. My daughter attended a midnight screening in Manhattan, where half the audience seemed to be rich girls from the Upper East Side, and the other half African Americans from farther uptown. These seemingly disparate demographic groups met at five screens at 86th Street, in a space where teen-girl fantasy—and irony—was allowed free rein, in a community not mediated by either adults or Facebook.
The world of Harry Potter is much more appealing to me. It’s much easier to identify with the primal fight of the Boy Who Lived against the evil of He Who Must Not Be Named. Bella, the Girl Who Lived, doesn’t endure in order to save the world from evil, but, more frighteningly, to keep her unruly desires firmly within the family.
All my life, I’ve been hearing—words and music—the epic story of Siegfried, the hero of the eponymous third section of Richard Wagner’s four-part opera inspired by Norse mythology, Der Ring des Nibelungen, or the Ring Cycle. I had my mother’s childhood books on the Ring (published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild in 1939), and my father liked to tell the story to his children, because his father had told it to him. Yet in all these years, I’d never seen Siegfried, never experienced the full force of the operatic work, in which the visual component must attempt to equal the power of the aural.
Siegfried premiered in Bayreuth, Germany in 1876 during the first performance of the entire cycle, which immediately ignited the passions of operagoers. Those who love Wagnerian opera really love it; those who don’t (for reasons both aesthetic and philosophical) can be quite disdainful. But however you feel about its worldview, you cannot doubt that the Ring is the Gesamtkunstwerk—total work of art—that Wagner asserted it to be. In each section (all can stand alone), the music and lyrics (Wagner wrote both), the instruments and singing, the dramatic action, the sets, costumes and lighting all add up to a great wholeness. The four parts together create a staggering totality.
They cannot be experienced consecutively all at once: There are not enough hours in the day. In fact, unless you are able to travel to the annual festival in Bayreuth, the opportunities to see any part of the Ring live are few and far between. A new staging by any major opera company is a notable event. Not only does any staging cost as much as the vast hoard of gold in dragon Fafner’s cave, at any given time there may be only three or four singers available who are capable of fulfilling the demanding roles.
Siegfried runs well over five hours with intermissions, with the tenor Siegfried onstage and singing an incredible amount of that time. There are just not that many men young enough, heroic enough and strong enough; who know the part, are sensitive to the complex music and whose voices’ can hold up through that much singing. The dissatisfied young Siegfried has to grow up before our eyes, break away from the evil dwarf who has raised him, re-forge the great sword of his slain father, kill the dragon, take the magic ring and helmet, journey through a forest and cross a ring of fire to discover and awaken to womanhood the spellbound Valkyrie Brünnhilde—at which time he must summon his most delicate and beautiful vocalizations.
Or, his “prettiest singin’,” as The Metropolitan Opera’s surprise new Siegfried called it in an interview segment during the Met’s Live in HD presentation of the Opera’s new Siegfried on Nov. 5. Jay Hunter Morris is a strapping youngish tenor from Paris, Texas (it’s next wide spot west of Texarkana, in the Red River valley just south of the Oklahoma line—about 100 miles southwest of the birthplace of my mother’s mother, she who inculcated the love of opera in her daughter with the little illustrated books), and I am pretty sure his natural accent is one never before heard backstage at the Met. Certainly his path to stardom on that stage is unique. His scenic route to success recently included stops in New York’s Central Park, where he hawked rollerblades, and at an athletic club back home in Paris, where his jobs was handing out the towels.
Not that he was inexperienced when the Met called him in just days before the opening (tenor Gary Lehman had withdrawn due to illness). He has sung a wide repertoire, and had sung Siegfried in the San Francisco Opera’s new production earlier this year, receiving good reviews. But to be cannoned in to Robert Lepage’s high-tech production (with its sometimes-effective 45-ton machinery of moving slabs, its video projections and 3-D animated bird) with a cast of already-famous first-class singers—just in time for the dress rehearsals! What an amazing twist of fate and bucket of luck. He got to be a hero and to play the hero, while having his biggest dream come true, and the energy released by all that glowed brighter than the magic ring.
I’m not capable of judging the finer points of the singing, especially at the remove of broadcast. I thought it was wonderful. Some reviewers have noted that Morris’ voice is not that big, but that is probably why I found him pleasantly un-bellicose (except of course when he’s slaying man and beast). Dramatically, he was excellent, with natural gestures and magnetism off the chart. When Siegfried finally gets to Brünnhilde, the chemistry between Morris and voluptuous soprano Deborah Voigt pales the digital flames all around them as they sing together. Whew.
The digital revolution has made many wonderful things possible, but culturally speaking, one of the grandest is the live-in-high-definition broadcast of opera from the world’s major opera houses. The leader in bringing the enormous multi-art undertaking that is grand opera is New York’s Metropolitan Opera, with its Live in HD programming, now nearing its fifth anniversary. The most recent broadcast, on Oct. 29 (all live broadcasts to theaters occur on Saturdays), is a new staging of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The recorded show will repeat (or encore, as they say) on Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. and local opera lovers can choose between Brier Stadium 14 or North Hills Stadium 14.
And this weekend, Wagnerites will be converging on the cinemas for the live broadcast of Siegfried, the third installment in the Ring cycle. (I'll be there, readers, for all six hours of it.)
But we're here to discuss Don Giovanni—aka Don Juan—the antihero few can resist. A swaggering, lusty liar, seducer, betrayer and murderer, his only positive quality is the unmitigated zest with which he undertakes his loveless misdeeds. The Met is presenting a new staging by Michael Grandage; the music is conducted by newly-named principal conductor Fabio Luisi, who also plays the harpsichord flourishes preceding the recitatives. The music was not as sprightly as I prefer my Mozart, but it well supported the singers.
The strong cast, led by Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni, sings beautifully, although generally the singers seemed somewhat distant from the passions of the story. Kwiecien has sung the role many times on many stages, and often his delivery seemed rote. The most enjoyable aspect of his characterization were his conversations and asides with his servant, Leporello, the highly amusing and smooth-voiced Luca Pisaroni, who makes a marvelous low accomplice, festooned with the last shreds of conscience.
The sparkle so essential to Mozart is supplied here by Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina. Her character is about as moral as a kitten, but also as sweet. She goes right along with the Don when he seduces her moments before her own wedding to the hapless Masetto, but she is so bubbly and adorable, so playful in a voice so pure, that we forgive her humanity, and by extension, Don Giovanni’s, too.
Needless to say, local fanboys, like Raleigh film blogger and comics aficionado Isaac Weeks, are curious to find out what the movie will be about.
“There’s always the rumor/hope that they might do the adaptation of the ‘Demon in a Bottle’ storyline,” Weeks said, referring to the Iron Man comic’s famed subplot from the ’70s where Tony Stark became a raging alcoholic.
“He drank a little bit in [Iron Man 2]. That’s as close as they’re gonna get to it in a movie, you know. They’re not gonna base a $100 million-budgeted, Hollywood film on a superhero being a drunk.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Marvel considered filming in Los Angeles (where the first two were shot), Michigan and New Mexico. But executives were enticed by North Carolina’s 25 percent tax credit. (California offers a 25 percent tax credit, but excludes big-budget flicks like Iron Man 3.) Not to mention that EUE/Screen Gems boasts one of the largest sound stages in the world with Stage 10, a 37,500 square-foot-space with a 60-by-60-by-10.5-foot water tank.
Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office, confirms that both the incentives and the sound stages played a role in Marvel’s decision.
“It’s a large film which requires a lot of infrastructure and large sound stages,” Syrett says. “I guess all those things added up for us in the end.”
But EUE/ Screen Gems, which has had such projects ranging from Blue Velvet to Dawson’s Creek memorably shoot at its studios over the decades, has been home to several high-profile projects as of late, building its rep as a studio where bigger-scale productions are welcome. The much-anticipated screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young-adult novel The Hunger Games and the Dwayne Johnson vehicle Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth), are two projects that have filmed at the EUE/Screen Gems stages.
Wilmington-based camera operator Bo Webb feels this will bring more big-budget business to the state.
“I think it’s going to be great,” says Webb, whose credits include The Notebook, Eastbound and Down and One Tree Hill. “Right now, a lot of the shows like that end up in New Mexico, because of their soundstages there and because of their film incentive. So, I think it’ll help us be more competitive.”
Despite some rain and colder weather, the four-day event called SPARKcon, the sixth-annual celebration of Raleigh's creativity, was well-attended and included a number of great showcases for local and independent artists.
SPARKCon is organized around various “Sparks,” collaborative groupings of artists around a theme. These range from groups like danceSPARK and theaterSPARK to geekSPARK (technology) or wheelSPARK (skateboarding). One of the most fun aspects of SPARKcon is wandering into a building off of Fayetteville Street and coming across a SPARK you didn't know about while witnessing a demonstration of something new and innovative.
GeekSPARK probably tops the list in that regard. Their independent video game exhibition allowed one to play the latest apps and games from local developers on XBoxes and iPads. Many of these games were also featured at the recent Game On Raleigh. Some were silly fun, such as Ninja Hamster Attack from Nakai Entertainment, and some were really addicting puzzles like Cylinder, a 3D Tetris-like game from Mighty Rabbit Studios.
THE SERPENT'S EGG runs Fridays through Sundays through Sept. 5 at UNC's Forest Theatre, and Sept. 9-11 at the N.C. Museum of Art. A musical pre-show begins at 6:20 p.m. The performance starts at 7. Admission is a suggested donation of $12/adults and $8/children at the door, but the company stresses that no one is ever turned away for lack of funds.
But now that he’s 36 years old and three years sober, the Jackass crew’s rowdiest, most extreme daredevil has became more serene and cautious these days. (Viewers of the last, cinematic Jackass outing, Jackass 3D, may have noticed how he sat out the more dangerous stunts, but still took in gross ones like drinking a fat guy’s sweat.) But the man is still crazy enough to take on some risk-taking feats, like performing stand-up. This weekend, Steve-O will be the headliner at Goodnights Comedy Club, the latest stop on his “Entirely Too Much Information Tour.”
The Indy spoke with the self-described “distraction therapist” (and former Dancing with the Stars contestant) about his new persona as a stand-up comedian.
The last time you were on tour, nearly a decade ago with “Don’t Try This At Home: The Tour,” it was more of you just doing crazy, hazardous, usually drug and alcohol-induced things onstage. Now that you’re on the wagon, what’s different about this show?
I’ll tell you how it’s the same and how it’s different. Back then, when I was doing that old tour, I promoted each show by promising that I would be drunk and on drugs or your money back. And there was really a lot of emphasis on how wasted I could be, and I’d come out onstage with breaking beers on my head and chugging hard liquor from a bottle. And I would do a lot of drunken rambling and I would do a lot of crazy stunts as well. And, now, I’ve been clean and sober for some time. And what I’ve done with this tour is to replace the rambling with stand-up comedy, and kept the crazy stunts.
And, you know, it’s so rewarding for me. What makes me feel really good is, after my shows, generally someone comes up to me every night and says, “Hey man, your stand-up comedy is really good. You don’t have to hurt yourself anymore.” That really means a lot to hear that.
So, what do you talk about onstage?
Basically, what people are interested in is kind of the way that the notoriety of Jackass has afforded me. Like, how that’s changed my life, I think that’s what people are interested in hearing. And the fact is when you go from being unknown to being known, all of the sudden, you find that the women are a lot more attracted to you. And it’s really pretty hilarious how that’s the case. So, there’s a lot of, like, behind-the-scenes, sort of juicy stuff about my life as a jackass and my love life in particular.
And, you know, the fact is I’m a shameless son of a bitch and there’s nothing too personal to share with an audience. And that’s why it’s a really appropriate name for the tour, because I really just have some really ridiculous personal shit, you know. A lot of it revolves around, you know, the trials and tribulations of my life as a chronic premature ejaculator with a crooked dick, you know. [Laughs]
Steve-O performs tonight through Sunday at Goodnights Comedy Club, 861 W. Morgan St., in Raleigh. For info, call 828-LAFF or go online at www.goodnightscomedy.com.
The Metropolitan Opera’s HD re-broadcast of the most recent in its series of simulcasts is coming up tonight, and anyone interested in either contemporary music or global power politics may want to clear the evening’s calendar for the presentation of this wonderful new production of one of the 20th century’s great operas.
Nixon in China, with its thrilling score by John Adams (who conducts), libretto by poet Alice Goodman, choreography by Mark Morris and staging by Peter Sellars (whom many call a genius), is a rich experience.
Sellars also directed the broadcast, and his acumen and timing make the HD experience at least as satisfying as being there. The cameras allow you to see things you would not see from the best seat in the house, and under the control of the director who has brought the opera to life on many stages since its 1987 premiere (at the Houston Grand Opera), they glide and zoom and switch in flawless concord with the action and emotion.
It is hard to imagine now, but in 1987, we in the United States did not live amid a flood of items marked “Made in China.” It was still only a trickle. And in 1973, when then-President Richard M. Nixon made his state visit to Cold War enemy country, China and its products were alien and rare to us. Nixon’s visit opened the way to US-China trade, with results that no one foresaw, except perhaps Chairman Mao. The opera examines the significance of this highly theatrical political event, and questions, rather gently, whether or not it was a good thing.
Where is the drama, you may ask, how can there be enough dramatic tension to keep you riveted to your seat and make the time (nearly four hours) fly by?
First, it is in the music. Adams makes beautiful melodies and catches them in meshy layers of aural texture that shimmer with dozens of changes of tempo. The many rhythms and repetitions coil tighter and tighter on themselves, portentous of shift and change, driving the sense of historical importance, while the melodies and motifs remind us that these historical figures are humans, full of pride and hubris, fear and uncertainty, trickery and honor and hope.
The beautiful writing keeps both the frail humanity of the characters—so small on the world stage—and their historical indelibility ever before us, and the staging (and camera work) plays off individual action and massed movement in a highly dramatic manner.
Released in the summer of 1982, at the end of the first computer game boom, TRON tried to plug into the immense popularity of video arcades. The plot, such as it is, follows Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a software programmer whose game designs have been stolen by an unscrupulous tech exec. When Flynn breaks into the corporate mainframe looking for proof, the computer’s Master Control Program abducts Flynn, digitizing him and forcing him to fight in the very games he created. In order to escape, he must enlist the help of other programs—anthropomorphized software who take on the appearance of their “users”—to fight against the tyranny of the MCP.
While the dialogue is often bad, many of the central ideas of the movie are original and clever, and presaged cyberspace, computer hackers and avatars. Long before "information superhighway” became yesterday’s catchphrase, TRON showed its characters moving from computer to computer in vehicles of all sizes.
That TRON works at all is due almost entirely to Jeff Bridges, who holds the whole mess together with gleeful enthusiasm and a proto-Dude demeanor. It did not hurt that futurist Syd Mead (Blade Runner) helped design the visually sleek vehicles or that Moog maestro Wendy Carlos created a synthesized score.
The Disney production was also notable for being the first big screen film to use computer animation to generate whole scenes, and many of its special effects. Not all, however. The majority of shots that take place “inside” the computer world were filmed using tricks and techniques that went back to the early days of cinematography, and its signature “glow” was achieved by hand-tinting the film frames. This often lent the movie a silent picture feel, as if you are watching long-lost colorized footage of Metropolis, or the Soviet Constructivists.
TRON therefore is a unique cultural artifact, sitting on the divide between old and new cinema.
Alas for a disappointed Disney, TRON didn’t do well at the box office that year, especially against such sci-fi blockbusters as E.T., Poltergeist, The Road Warrior and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Even the TRON video game made more than the movie.
It may have been the video game, in fact, that helped secure the film’s long-term reputation. Driven by a booming 8-bit version of Carlos’ ear worm of a soundtrack, the arcade game was challenging and addicting and everywhere. Even today you can find functioning machines collecting quarters in bars and the rare surviving arcade. The video game wasn’t just a product tie-in, it was considered an extension of the movie and had elements that didn’t make the final film, but which were part of the official story — an early form of cross-platform pollination now known as “transmedia.”
Even as a box office failure, TRON continued to influence. The hardware and software needed to generate the SPX had been built from scratch and cost millions but the lessons the technicians took away from the experience helped shape the future of computer animation in Hollywood.
The kids who dropped all those quarters in the arcade grew up to become writers, programmers and filmmakers. TRON’s concept of a virtual reality is firmly present in the DNA of cyberpunk, the online community Second Life and The Matrix.
About the only property that didn’t benefit from TRON’s influence was TRON itself. Disney, for its part, never seemed to be aware of what they had, or how to tap into this particular fan base. Gamers, clamoring for years for a follow-up to the video game, had to wait until 2003 for Tron 2.0, a first person shooter with a TRON-esque veneer. It wasn’t enough though and some industrious fans, tired of the delay, took to designing their own homemade “light cycle” games. (By now it was possible, as processing power on personal computers were greater than the ones used to make the movie in 1982.) While the light cycle duel is only about two minutes long in the film, it has inspired over a dozens different arcade versions you can find online for free.