Monday, September 24, 2012

Peak Performances Update :)

The Department of Theatre and Dance 2012-2013 season lineup is now hanging in Life Hall!

Hey, look! There's Equus again!

The  pamphlet for the students productions are also available in the Alexander Kasser Theater. They are now stored in the newly added shelves instead of the table they used to be stored on near the Box Office. I believe you can also get them in other locations on campus or even in the mail.

For tickets to these shows and more, click here. This is another place where you can find the lineups of shows.

Throughout campus the shows are advertised with posters like these and more.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"The Red Balloon": A Retelling of the Crucifixion

I've made some pretty strong claims on this blog in the past. I mean, I once even had the nerve to say that the movie John Tucker Must Die is better and more feminist friendly than Mean Girls. *Gasp* However, I believe that the claim of this post surpasses even that one.

On the first day of my "Intro to Screenwriting" class, our professor screened the film "Le Ballon Rouge" ("The Red Balloon"), which is a French short film from 1956. I invented my own conspiracy theory about this film based on a comment my professor made when we discussed the film afterwards. You might want to watch the film now so you will be able to understand the rest of this piece and not be spoiled, so I will conveniently place it here for you:

When we discussed the ending in particular, my professor said that the balloons all carried the little boy because they knew he was good in his ways of nurturing The Red Balloon, so carrying him around is how they show their gratitude. As soon as he said "nurturing" I thought about Jesus Christ because Jesus is both a nurturing human being and deity in many ways and believed that the little boy represented Jesus and that the crowd of balloons were representations of angels carrying his soul to Heaven, like the Ascension. But that was where the similarities pretty much rested. This was definitely taking the film to a whole different level entirely and my theories were forming in my mind vaguely, but I still knew that I wanted to think about it further and write about it. However, as I began to think about it more and more throughout this whole week, especially one night when all of these ideas rushed into my mind at once, somewhat keeping me up, I realized that there is even more to the film in regards to Jesus Christ and His death. In fact, it appears to match up very well, and the film is not just about the idea of friendship that we agreed on in class.

The Fact That the Balloon is "Red"
This balloon could have been any color, but for some reason, red was chosen. Throughout the film there are other balloons with minds of their own showcasing all different colors, but the main balloon is red. Why is this? Was it just a random color chosen by the director, or something more?

Well, there could be a Catholic connection to this. Red represents a lot of things that Jesus also represents. Blood is red and Jesus shed a lot of blood when he was crucified. Jesus's sacrifice for us shows us how much he loves us, and love is also often symbolized by red and shades of it. Then there's the idea of royalty. The color red also symbolizes royalty and Jesus just so happens to be often referred to as the "King of Kings".

Acceptance and Rejection
Throughout the film we see various reactions towards The Red Balloon, some positive, some negative. These kind of varied reactions also prove true when people react to Jesus Christ. There are those that regard a balloon following around a little boy a normal occurrence, but yet there are those who react to the balloon with such distaste that they kick it out of the quarters or refuse it entry to begin with, symbolizing how there are people who reject the teaches of Jesus Christ and the good news of God that He tries to spread. There are times when the little boy gets in trouble because of The Red Balloon's presence, so this represents how people who believe in God, and Jesus, who claims to be God, are sometimes cast out and persecuted for their beliefs. Regardless, Jesus never gives up his preaching or who He is and continues to show up, much like what The Red Balloon does throughout the movie, though of course The Red Balloon never exactly "preaches." There is even a time when The Red Balloon rescues the little boy by following the principal of his school to release him from the locked room where he is being punished for The Red Balloon.

The little boy is a loner that travels a lot on foot. This could also resemble Jesus, but Jesus never really was alone much and the kid does use the trolley once. The beginning and middle of the movie consists of The Red Balloon's adventures, which represent Jesus's life and His many experiences and miracles. There also seems to be a high demand for this balloon, for every time someone sees it, he or she tries to grab its string for whatever reason, whether it's because the person wants the balloon or the person wants to get rid of it. This could illustrate how people react to Jesus in two different ways. Some could be reaching for Jesus to feel His warmth while others are reaching for Him to challenge Him and shun Him from the world, finding Him a threat in some way that might overthrow the working system of things, which He does. The people in the movie never seem to want The Red Balloon around as well, which is odd because it is just a balloon and a peaceful character for the most part, much like how Jesus is peaceful, but just like Jesus was and is considered a threat for some, maybe they find The Red Balloon a threat just as well.

Another thing is that the little boy runs into a little girl with her own lifelike balloon. The balloons take to each other, but the little boy wants nothing to do with the little girl and goes on his merry way to do what he has to do. This can somewhat be a connection to Jesus too. From the Catholic understanding (other scholars may tell you differently), Jesus never had a romantic relationship with a woman, but rather just focused on His teachings and healing others. This may or may not explain why the little boy does not place more of a focus on the little girl, for at first you believe that this is where the movie will end, the balloons and the kids coupled off in an adorable little double date set up. 

Then again, this scene could simply just show that the little boy is too young to be interested in girls and prefers his balloon and agendas, but it is an interesting theory.

The Setting
In addition to the somewhat morbid characters we have a very dreary setting and The Red Balloon stands out a lot with its rich color next to the bland grayish town, which is another thing that was brought up in class discussion. If The Red Balloon does indeed represent Jesus Christ, this symbolizes how life on Earth is rather dark, dull, and depressing without Him in it.

The Little Boys
After random moments portraying the relationship between the boy and his balloon, we reach our climatic moment. The little boy goes to an all-boys school and throughout the film these other kids are always fighting each other to get to The Red Balloon. Towards the end there is this extended high-speed chase sequence (believe it or not) where the boys are relentless and will not stop until they finally capture The Red Balloon and destroy it, which is their intention. At first I thought they just wanted it for themselves to play with it, but the story proves that these kids just want to be cruel with unnecessary violence.

There's something that must be said about these pursuers being all boys. There was no such thing as female Roman soldiers in Biblical times, the male ones being the guys that tortured and killed Jesus, so perhaps the choice was made to have the protagonist attend an all-boys school for this reason. The young lads follow suit to this, especially with the unnecessary violence. When they eventually capture the balloon, they don't just pull it down to pop it and be done with it. They make sure they torture it beforehand, throwing rocks and sticks at it as it floats in the air bound to them, for they had tied it down with an additional string. This very much resembles the scourging of the Lord before he is taken to Calvary, when the Roman soldiers tied Jesus up and flogged him, also placing a Crown of Thorns on His head. After much humiliation, much like what Jesus endured before His death, they take The Red Balloon up to a hill, much like Calvary/Golgotha, the hill where Jesus was crucified. As all of this happens, and throughout the movie, it is heartbreaking because the little boy who is trying to retrieve his Red Balloon and protect it from the dangers of his world finds himself alone and outnumbered by the rest of the kids and people in the town, much like how Jesus and His followers felt alone and outnumbered by the Jews, high priests, and Roman soldiers at the time of His death.

The Red Balloon is finally deflated by the kids, probably from a sharp object. Sharp objects, nails, are also used to nail Jesus to the Cross. This is the one scene in the film that has complete silence, with no background noise or music, except for a dog barking in a distance. As the balloon deflates, the camera's focus is only on The Red Balloon getting smaller. Sometimes the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is portrayed in this same solemn way, giving us a chance to mourn and really reflect. Suddenly, the angelic balloons all react and all travel to the area when The Red Balloon gives its final exaggerated puff, just like the people at Jesus's death react mournfully to knowing then that He was truly the Son of God after He forces out His final words "It is finished." and breathes His last breath. It is when both The Red Balloon and Jesus Christ die that their followers and non-followers believe in them more and more and come to them.

The Ending
When I saw the final scene, I thought the little boy died and that the crowd of balloons were bringing him to Heaven before I even connected him to Jesus, but my professor's "nurture" comment is what then made me compare him to Jesus during the class discussion. But, it was technically the balloon that "died" so this doesn't really make any sense. But it does. I was thinking that perhaps the deflation of the balloon and the carrying off of the little boy served to connect both characters, saying that they are the same being and when one dies, so does the other. The balloon died and gave the little boy a paradise life in Heaven because of his good deeds. The Red Balloon's deflation is the little boy's actual passing OR the little boy was simply The Red Balloon's soul or human form the entire time.

Then after awhile I began to think about the connection this makes to Catholicism and trying to figure out which of the two characters actually represents Jesus Christ, and began to think that this portion of my theory, though at first seeming a little bit far-fetched even for me because I couldn't really find a way to prove it and I thought I was making it up out of nowhere, makes a lot of sense. This is what I finally came up with: Even the Catholic religion teaches that God isn't just one Being. There are three persons in one God, known as The Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this film is trying to prove this same thing. The balloon and the little boy are the same "person" in a religious sort of way. The little boy is the Father in one aspect because he's the one who trains the the balloon, which is Jesus, the Son, because it undergoes the most humanlike suffering and death and is trained by the "Father," often making mistakes and protecting itself from the dangers of the town because those are human qualities. The Red Balloon is also always by the little boy's side, much like Jesus is always by God's side, never denying his identity as the "Son of God" and preaching His word. Finally, it circles back to the little boy being the Holy Spirit because he is the soul of The Red Balloon that is whisked away to Heaven by the "angels." We could also look back to the first scene of the movie when the little boy "rescues" The Red Balloon, which is tied to the streetlight, depicting how God is always there for Jesus Christ and to rescue us when we are stuck. 

I realized that throughout this piece I kept calling the protagonist "the little boy," not really bothering to get his real name because it doesn't seem that important to the plot to have it matter to mention and I wasn't even sure if he even has one, but I decided to look it up anyway. I just discovered this now, but according to IMDb, the little boy's name is "Pascal," which is actually another word for "Easter" and often associated with it, such as referring to Jesus as the "Pascal Lamb" or "Lamb of God" and Easter as "Pascal Sunday". The lamb is a symbol of Passover, which is what Jesus celebrated with his twelve apostles on Holy Thursday before He gave Himself up for death. Easter is the celebration of when Jesus resurrected from the dead on the third day and is always celebrated on a Sunday, which is today. The little boy, whose name in real life is Pascal Lamorisse, appears to be the son of the director and writer, Albert Lamorisse. Perhaps Lamorisse is a Catholic director that wanted to tell the story of the Crucifixion in this way, maybe using his son as the main protagonist to teach him about it. Perhaps he is so much enthralled by the Crucifixion and Easter that he decided to name his son Pascal in the first place.

I could be wrong about all of this, but the stories are just too similar to ignore. I actually looked for some clues in regards to the resurrecting in three days concept, which is pretty much the most important detail of the Crucifixion, like maybe The Red Balloon's deflation scene and little boy's lift in the sky by the balloons scene is three minutes apart, but I couldn't really find it and don't think that is the case. Then again, Jesus lived on Earth for forty days after His Resurrection before He actually ascended into Heaven, so maybe it is forty seconds apart...

Okay, so maybe not every little detail matches up, but it is very close to it. Hopefully this entire post can help prove my theory. It could just be a cute movie about the values of friendship and hope in a dreary society, but perhaps this film is a commentary about religious intolerance and an allegory about the greatest moment in Christian history, which takes the original idea to a whole other deeper level.

I think I am one of two English majors in my class (I know, right?) and I am definitely in English major mode. 

(I wrote most of this last night and decided to post it today because it is Sunday, for religious reasons lol.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Department of Theatre and Dance Student Productions at MSU 2012-2013 Season Lineup

The Department of Theatre and Dance this season at MSU is a bit behind in advertising the student productions of this season, so I took it upon myself to personally get permission to help out and advertise the shows on this here blog. :)

The following is the lineup I was given by request. :)

Hey, look! There's Equus!

There you have it! Now you're informed! Enjoy the shows if you are able to see them! Also, look forward to some reviews of these shows written by me! :)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Stef's "So Good You Can't Put It Down" Book Reviews: End of Summer 2012 Reading Challenge Book List and Comments

You'll be happy to know that my Summer 2012 Reading Challenge was not a failure. I did sample a nice handful of books this summer. Those are the following:

Equus-Peter Shaffer (Finished in two days)

Northanger Abbey-Jane Austen

The Abstinence Teacher-Tom Perrotta

Summer-Edith Wharton

The Grapes of Wrath (Play Version)-Frank Galati (Somewhat read)

Seminar-Theresa Rebeck (Finished in two days)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-Edward Albee (Finished)

Steel Magnolias-Robert Harling (Finished)

Dirty Blonde-Lisa Scottoline

A lot of these I bought from the Annual Lacordaire Academy Book Sale and are listed above by order of which I began and/or continued reading them. This is the basic order I remember. I would alternate between books throughout my reading experience. I already wrote pieces about Equus and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so I will just give a few words about the rest of the books I read. What all of these books have in common is that the all have a strong female lead character, which is probably why I like them and what drew me to them in the first place. What's interesting too is that the female characters are each an evolved form of another or previous female character, each woman representing a different form of feminism, so that is how I am going to list them in my reviews below while also incorporating the order in which I read them.

AND you don't have to worry about spoilers from me, because I don't know the endings of most of these works either! :P

Northanger Abbey
This is the main novel I attempted when I said I wanted to tackle more classics. I had been familiar with this novel since I was a kid and saw the "Wishbone" episode in which it was featured, so I had been interested in the back of my mind in reading it ever since.

I always appreciate a story with a lead heroine, only in this book Austen makes it a point to say that her lead female Catherine Morland is not yet a heroine and is pretty much not heroine material. She is described as goofy and not very attractive. She is pretty much what you would expect from a quirky female character whom is still discovering her world and is not ready yet to be taken seriously because of her youth and innocence. It is because of her that the book is cutesy and light-hearted, understanding the romanticism of younger women, which is nice because not every book should be heavy and it's nice to relax and read a cute novel, but on the other hand...

The thing about this book is that it is extremely slow moving and the characters portray themselves as very snooty and Catherine is just trying to fit in this snooty, wealthy society. It is very repetitive and does not seem to go anywhere, the characters complaining and making comments about the same things more than once. It is just her vacationing at Bath with these people, but there does not seem to be a specific plot yet and so far I am at least a quarter or a third in the novel. I like that the story plays around with gender stereotypes, which is refreshing because it is set in a time period where gender roles were set in stone and Austen is writing in this time period and scoffing at it. I was told and read that this book is supposed to be a parody of gothic novels (but to me it is also a parody of this time period and society), so this makes sense.

I didn't read a lot of this one to really comment about it much, but it does have a quirky yet strong female lead and she stands up for herself more than Catherine would or maybe even needs to. This plot appears to be slow moving as well, but it seems to be one of those books that you take in stride as leisure reading. Like Northanger Abbey, it is a seemingly calm, not-so-heavy book. The book is described as depicting a young woman's sexual awakening, so that's why it grabbed my attention. Even so, the book hasn't really grabbed me in yet fully. It does look like it has the potential to build into something bigger though. I actually really like this one.

The Abstinence Teacher
As soon as I began reading this one awhile ago I liked it because it is very modern in the writing style and takes place in New Jersey, so I can relate. It is up there as one of my favorite books because of the style, familiarity, and subject matter. What the book does is argue Christianity and the controversy that surrounds it, such as abstinence-only education. The lead female character, Ruth Ramsey, is an abstinence teacher, but she also believes in forms of contraception and not keeping the kids in the dark about these alternatives. However, the institution at which she teaches and resides pulls the reigns on her and prevents her from doing so, for she gets into trouble because of it. Homosexuality, sexuality, priesthood, church, parish picnics, infidelity, conversion, misconstrued beliefs, beliefs, etc., are other themes that the novel discusses and believers versus non-believers is a huge part of the conflict in the story. This type of stuff interests me enough in everyday life, which is how the book initially got my attention in the first place and why I liked the book since the beginning, but yet because these are things I often see in my own life, I don't necessarily want to read about it in fiction and get further irritated about it because these topics also have a tendency to stress me out a bit. I am halfway through it, but there are times I do have to take long breaks from it because it can be a little bit too much.

Steel Magnolias
Because my reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was such a success, I decided to look in the library for another play to read this summer. This one jumped out at me on the library book shelf in the drama section, partially because I remember that it was performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse. This play isn't as gut-wrenching as the others with deep meaning as it is plain entertainment, with witty one-liners and some sad discussion points. The cast is all female and movies have been based on it, so it is always great to see a written work dominated by interesting women (even though it was written by a man, which is something I didn't quite understand or appreciate until later). It's just a bunch of women having conversations in a hair salon with one central character. After I completed the play I read in the book jacket that this was Harling's tribute to his mother and sister (for a mother/sister duo are the main characters of this play) and after I read this the play made more sense to me. It is considered a gift to these two family members of his and reads that way. It isn't meant for anything else to be explored.

Dirty Blonde
The title itself of this book spoke to me, because I myself have dirty blonde hair, and the description on the back of the book jacket further clenched my interest. A blonde woman, Cate Fante, becomes a judge and is not taken seriously by some because of the way she carries herself. After she makes a judgement on a case, the aftermath of her judgement spirals out of control and soon her own personal life gets involved in the works and hangs in the balance.

This actually might be my favorite one out of this list, because I literally got halfway through the book with flying colors, feeling myself apart of the action, but like with The Abstinence Teacher, I kind of had to take a break from reading this one too. The story takes a turn for the more annoying much like that one, basically making a big deal about a woman and her sexual exploits and her whole world toppling down because of it. An argument that is made in the book is whether or not any of this would be a big deal if she were a man. As I was reading it I saw that the book provides you with book club discussions in the back, so I think that is interesting and take them into account as I read.

However, I still have a lot of positive things to say about the book regardless. What I do like is that Scottoline always ends her chapters with a cliffhanger. I always loved this about fiction books as a child so I am glad to see this style of writing again. These kinds of chapters keep you reading, wanting to learn what happens next, so you know that this is a skillful author who knows how to captivate her readers. Even when I was really tired and did not want to continue reading because of my heavy eyes, it made me briefly read ahead anyway and skip ahead sometimes just to ease my wonder a bit. It is suspenseful, a favorite genre of mine, and somewhat mysterious, which can send chills down one's spine. 

And so my Summer 2012 Reading Challenge comes to a close. I'm not saying that any of these books are bad. These are just the impressions they give me and I am still willing and determined to complete them at some point. I am even considering to read them leisurely during my school and work life. This might also be my last blog post for a little while so I can focus on school and other things, so I think I can safely say that I accomplished the summer blog posts I had planned. Thank you so much for reading!

Oh, and Happy Labor Day! This day can be considered the final day of summer, so coincidentally I am posting this today. Haha.