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HEY! The Art Theater’s screening Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece, The Room on the weekend of September 2, 3, 4, and Thursday the 8th! Even if you’ve seen the movie on DVD, you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO SEE IT LIVE! Closest perhaps to midnight screenings of Rocky Horror, The Room‘s has weird rituals and antics all its own. Plus, the Art’s screening it for only $5! Bring your spoons!

A Room? No, The Room!

If you’ve never heard of The Room, start here. The Room stands a good chance at being the worst movie ever made. Its plot is nonsense, the acting is terrible, the script, direction, scenery a total mess–everything about the movie screams, “The person who made this must be a total idiot.”

Tommy Wiseau is that idiot. The film’s director, writer, producer, executive producer, and protagonist wears many hats–all of them are big, floppy hats that make him look very silly. The Room cost 6 million dollars (every cent seems wasted) earned from suspicious leather jacket exporting; Wiseau filmed in high-definition and standard def. because Wiseau wasn’t clear on the difference between the two (costing millions extra and completely unusable footage); actors left production on the movie before it finished, then capriciously recast; just a few months ago, years after The Room‘s release, Wiseau’s director-credit was challenged by numerous members of the film’s script producer claiming that Wiseau had no idea what he was doing. The whole thing seemed a gigantic cluster-fuck until something peculiar happened: despite the movie being advertised as a drama, premier audiences laughed from start to finish. Behold the glory of subjective interpretation! Now, The Room is a legitimate cult classic success! Midnight screenings are held across the country, and, because of his introductions and appearances at those screenings, Tommy Wiseau is an internet celebrity. O, the crazy, 21st century world in which we live!

Since movies are expensive, Hollywood does its best not to release expensive, amateur films that have no way of making back their money. Thankfully, we live in an age of handi-cams and Twitter: anybody can make a shitty movie and everybody else can find out how shitty it is. Some folks (including Wiseau himself) call The Room a “Citizen Kane of bad movies”. I agree. The Room champions its auteur a relentless, directorial vision–a vision from the weird, droopy eyes of a man who’s never seen a movie in his entire life. Kane is remembered for its rich narrative, its attention to detail, and its articulation of cinematic language. The Room does none of those things; it does the opposite of all those things. The Room‘s narrative is so banal, so trite; however, the collection of unresolved plot threads give it the illusion of complexity. Every aspect of The Room looks haphazardly compiled, like everything was bought at Home Goods the day before. As for cinematic aesthetic, The Room is a cross between Cinemax skin-flick and corporate training video.  I feel a tension I doubt will ever be resolved when it comes to The Room. Where did I learn so much trivia? How can I quote so many lines? Why am I so in love with such a shitty movie?

Perhaps that answer lies with Wiseau’s utmost sincerity. Remember: the movie was initially billed as a drama. Wiseau thought this movie was worth making; heck, he thought it was worth 6 million dollars! People say The Room is like Rocky Horror, but that’s certainly more in reputation than in content. Most cult classics (Troll 2; anything Ed Wood) are horror movies that aren’t scary. The Room really is unique; no other shitty movie is like it. In a way, isn’t that what makes a good movie? Well, that’s merely one thing; unfortunately, it’s the only thing The Room’s got.

Relive it through these choice quotes. Make sure to use your Tommy Wiseau voice!

These are some of the movie’s best quotes, in order of utterance, so you can replay the entire film in your mind’s eye right this second!

Two’s a party, three’s a crowd; So how’s your sex life?; I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her! I did not! Oh hi, Mark! Hi doggie!; You’re my favorite customer!; Chocolate is the language of love; Anything for my princess!; I got the results back and it’s offical: I definitely have breast cancer; You are tearing me apart, Lisa!; WHAT KIND OF DRUGS DENNY?; You’re not my fucking mother! He beat her up so bad, she wound up in a hospital on Guerro St.,  HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!; I feel like I’m sitting on an atomic bomb waiting for it to go off; You just a chicken, Cheeep cheeeeep cheep!; Don’t touch me matherfucker! (sic); Leave your *stupid* comments in your pocket! Everybody betrayed me! I fed up with this world!

Stuff to Bring to a Screening:
Like all midnight-movies, you need to make up weird traditions otherwise the shitty video starts to get boring. The Room is no different. While its subculture may seem daunting to a neophyte, all you really need to know is one thing: be drunk and throw spoons liberally. This section was adapted from House Of Qwesi “A Viewer’s Guide to The Room” published on The AV Club. Go read it!

Spoons! – Can’t watch The Room without spoons; they’re so important most screenings hand them out at the door. Spoons are kind of the best part about The Room. Completely unexplained or related to the plot, pictures of tacky pictures of spoons line The Room’s room and pop-up all movie. Whenever you see the spoon painting, throw spoons at the screen. As the movie keeps going and people get drunker, you can throw spoons whenever. Rarely will you be in a situation that encourages you to throw so much plastic cutlery–take advantage of it!

Footballs – There’s a scene in the movie where the characters play footballs in suits. Suddenly, one of them trips, falls, dies and is never heard from again. The moral is: if you and your friends play football in the theater, be careful! Don’t break the screen or the projector! Underhand tosses only! Don’t kill your friend! Just toss it gentle, like dad used to. And remember, nobody likes a stuck-up hunk! Share your football with the other boys!

Scotchka – Johnny doesn’t drink, but when Lisa mixes him this tastey concoction, he sips it right down. Is it because Scotchka is the most delicious drink of the decade? Absolutely not, fuck no. Skotchka is terrible and proves that Wiseau must be an alien from another planet because no human being in the history of ever would want to drink this. If you bring/buy Skotchka for a screening, be prepared to find yourself in the bathroom making out with someone wearing a Primus t-shirt and missing the end of the movie.

 

The Military-Industrial Complex and Pulpiticians of Conventional Morality (heretofore, The Man) says  everybody loves Christmas and all its Yuletide cheer. The reality: most of the world doesn’t give a shit about Christmas (or Jesus even), and plenty of people who should be happy are exhausted from the holiday’s obligations and/or disenfranchised by X-mas’ tacky displays of hyper-consumerism. In short: Christmas sucks for plenty. The following media confirm your your suspicions: Christmas is a capitalist conspiracy funded by Coca-Cola, wrapping paper conglomerates, and the American-Dream-Propaganda-Machine known as Hollywood, with the agenda of tricking innocent people into wasting money on garbage, time with people they hate, and the fetishistization of a corrupted Pagan fantasy!

Awesome TV Specials Proving Christmas Sucks — Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) perfectly articulates the angst of Christmas season, set to delightful jazz piano. “I always end up feeling depressed!” Charlie Brown bemoans. The little bald boy resents Christmas’ commercialism–Money! Money! Money! The Meaning of Christmas!–a flyer explains. Minus the secular message, it highlights the holiday’s biggest problem: people demanding gifts. The first episode of The Simpsons, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (1989) shows you can’t pick your presents, your family, or even the winner of a dog race; there’s a reason the 90’s most biting satirical wit set its first sites on Christmas. How can we combat Christmas woes? Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza makes up his own holiday in “The Strike” (1999). “Festivus for the rest of us!,” Frank declares, inventing a holiday founded in the traditions of conservatism (a pole instead of a tree), self-improvement (Airing of Grievances instead of gift-exchange) and father fighting. In short: the best way to escape Christmas’ dark chill is beating up your dad.

The Root of All Evil –Arnold Scwatzenegger’s Jingle All the Way (1996) is a shining example of people confusing Christmas as a time for consumption rather than reflection. Sinbad and Arnold try to get their sons a rare action figure and the film tries to purport an anti-capitalist message; however, Jingle All The Way cost 75 million dollars, spawned a series of action figures, and totally sucked. Talk about falling into preformative fallacy! What about schlocky crap cashing in on nostalgic goodwill? Star Wars Christmas Special (1978) was the first appearance of Boba Fett, but is considered so lame even George Lucus himself won’t release it on DVD to make money off of itJim Carry showed the world how easy it is to turn into a hideous monster with, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2001) a lame cash-in on animation legend Chuck Jones’ classic. There’s countless more, but I’m getting too ornery to continue!

How Fucking Romantic — I think the worst holiday movies are the ones that guilting people into enjoying the Christmas spirit. Like Tim Allen’s Christmas with the Kranks: the film that reminds us lots of people use Christmas as a way to ostentatiously compete with neighbors through the display of gaudy lawn ornaments. Hopefully, Tim Allen is done making Christmas movies because America will never forgive him for Santa Claus 3. Vince Vaughn also makes a lot of bad Christmas movies: besides Fred ClausFour Christmases argues that you should have to see every family member in one stressed filled day, even if you’re phony and don’t like any of them. Worst of all, Ben Afflick’s Surviving Christmas: Afflick literally buys a family for a quarter of a million dollars and tries to have sex with his purchased daughter. You may also remember Afflick’s (Reindeer Games (2000), in which he pulls off a huge heist while folks are busy celebrating Christmas. You’re a jerk, Ben Afflack! There’s a reason suicides spike in the holiday seasons.

Deck the Halls with BLOOD!: Some people hate Christmas so much it sends them into a kill-crazy rampage. In fact, it inspired Bob Clark to invent horror cinema’s most notorious genres: the slasher film.  In Black Christmas (1974), a deranged serial killer haunts a sorority house (go Pi Kappa Sigma!) around Christmas time and establishes troupes John Carpenter and Mike Myers would perfect four years later. In 1984, both aforementioned films would be ripped-off with the Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) franchise (spawned four sequels and inspired a similarly named zombie spin-off, Silent Night, Zombie Night). Coca-Cola mascot, Santa Claus, has also been a source of murderous anxiety:  Satan Claus (1996) shows a psychopathic roaming New York, amputating body parts to decorate a really gross Christmas tree; Santa Claws (1996) is an almost-soft-core porno about a crazy Santa stalking an erotic horror actress; cleverest of all, Santa’s Slay (2005) reveals Santa was actually a demon tricked into delivering presents but eventually able to break his curse with capricious murder. Then, there’s the really stupid ones. Like Jack Frost (1996), the movie where an anthropomorphic snowman made of acid kills people by eating them and rapes a girl with his carrot nose (also, the first film to feature “sex symbol” Shannon Elizabeth). Or, Gary Busey’s The Gingerdead Man where the nefarious cookie-killer (made by a witch by combining Busey’s ashes and magic spices) throws his foes into ovens. So good, the film inspired two sequel, The Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust (2008) (the cover shows Gingerdead Man crucified on a cookie cross) and Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver (2011). Strangest of all, Christmas trees have gotten in on the murderous action. I haven’t seen Trees (2000), Trees 2: The Root of All Evil (2004), or the unrelated Treevenge (2008), but I don’t suspect any of them are good in the traditional sense of the word. This section was inspired by, “ko1ru” a list maker on Listal. Thanks!

Miscellaneous:  If you’re looking for more bad-holiday fun, check out: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) (immortalized by that really sweet Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, 1993). Hulk Hogan’s attempt at a family Christmas cash-in, , and, who could forget Adam Sandler’s

In the 90s, sitcoms were a sure thing. Proof: 76 million people watched the Seinfeld’s finale and the franchise  earned 2.7 billion dollars since 2010. Then suddenly, the decade changed. Cable diversified, cheap reality TV got  popular, and, because of genre-pushers like The Office, critics agreed the multi-camera form was dead.

So can anybody answer why the The Big Bang Theory is so popular? Chuck Lorre and his merry band of nerds must have figured something out with around 15 million viewers a week (insanely high in a Hulu/DVR/DVD watching culture), the ability to outperform every competitor in its time slot, newly minted cable syndication rights and a recent contract renewal extending through 2014. New sitcoms can’t last (i.e. ABC) and experimental sitcoms can’t draw (i.e. NBC); however, the traditional CBS style sitcom seems stronger than ever. That’s because The Big Bang Theory (henceforth, TBBT) relies on familiar half-hour comedy troupes but tweaks convention for the 21st century.

1. OLD SCHOOL: Start Broad, Get Specific: Like campaigning politicians, successful sitcoms aim for “the middle,”  to avoid confusing and offending everybody. TBBT, like other Chuck Lorre shows (Two and a Half Men) use a multi-camera form over sixty years old. Location is established through a small set selection; act structure is transitioned by commercial breaks; conflicts are resolved by the episode’s end (or in part two). Since most people are of average intelligence (hence, average), never write a TV show too smart; people like TV formuliac because you can miss an episode or zone out. Don’t get complicated! The central conflict of any given TBBT episode is twofold: a) “Nerds React Poorly to Normal Things”–Leonard/Sheldon/Raj/Howard’s are unable to relate to “normal” society; or, b) “Stupid People React Poorly to Non-Normal Things”–Penny, or a non-male cast member encounters can’t relate to hyperactive nerdiness. These conflicts become the underlying conceit of every sitcom: humans can’t flourish in all situations; therefore, it’s funniest to watch them flounder.

2. WAVE OF THE FUTURE! Find a Fanbase: “How does a show about theoretical physicists play stupid?” Good question. TBBT both mocks and lauds physicists but mostly confuses them with irony (science’s true weakness). This is fundemental to TBBT‘s success. In today’s fickle television market, sucessful shows find passionate fan communities with blogs and message boards. So TBBT has jokes about Star Trek, math, Latin, memes, etc., because a sitcom’s individual jokes don’t matter: the form is so established people know when to laugh implicitly. Only smarty pants critics care about bullshit like “dialogue”. TBBT is just average intellect–corny jokes that reaffirm stereotypes like, “Nerds are weird,” “Blondes are dumb,” and “Relationships are laborious and endlessly complicated”: same shit, different sitcom. The jokes are cake, and the cake is a lie–fanservice tricking nerds into watching a show designed for adults who vote Republican (Middle America!).

3. OLD SCHOOL! Establish Strong Relationships: Critics and fans agree that TBBT‘s greatest asset is character development. Lorre and co. understand this, so they rightfully takes things slow. The entire first season minus 2 episodes develops the dynamic of the core characters (Penny/Leonard/Sheldon); season two explores Raj and Howard and introduces Penny/Leonard “sexual tension”; season three (eventually) resolves the tension introduces new love interests; season four explores the group’s dynamic (season five’s been a crapshoot thus far). A weaker sitcom sets up those first three arcs in season one: not TBBT. Lorre also casts sitcom staples (Johnny Galeck, Roseanne; Kaley Cuoco, 8 Simple Rules For…) for face recognition, and reliablity. TBBT only took one big chance; surprisingly, it’s that chance that’s won the show two Emmys.

4. WAVE OF THE FUTURE! Figure Out What’s Working, Double It: Let’s face it: Sheldon is the reason people watch this show. I like him; Grandmas in Tulsa like him; parents with autistic children like him (seriously, there’s tons of blogging about Sheldon’s ambigious mental predcament). Sheldon’s great! A cursory glace at Neilson numbers and focus groups confirms this. So, the writers  recognized it and made Sheldon integral to every episode’s plot (if he’s not the star, he’s providing irreverent commentary). In fact, the writers literally invented a gender-complementary replica Sheldon. Mayim Bialik is Amy Fowler, an intensely intellectual and socially inept neurobilogist who dresses, looks, and acts exactly like Sheldon. While Bialik is funny, the character also came after allegations that Sheldon might be gay…and gays don’t play in Middle America. More Sheldon, more money!

5. WAVE OF THE FUTURE! Take advantage of Medias: Did you watch TBBT‘s Comic Con Pannel discussion? Because thousands of nerds did. Every month, I see advertisements for syndicated TBBT in my DC comicbooks. 250K Twitter followers; full-motion bus ads; constant late-night talk show cast appearences: TBBT knows how to diversifies its demographics. Since practically anyone can watch the show, any advertiser stands making money from its commercial slots. This readers, is really why TBBT is sucessful: it’s Chuck Lorre certified to make money for years and years to come.

To conclude, I present The Community Counter-Argument. Community went head-to-head with TBBT this season for Thursday night comedy superiority. The outcome: Community is on hiatus and TBBT is renewed until 2014. Critics love Community! How did this happen!? Perhaps because Community openly mocks baby-boomers, Christians, political correctness, and junior college week after week (in fact, the Christmas episode mocked all the aforementioned, simultaniously, in song, while parodying Glee). Or, because Community’s central premise is deconstructing sitcom conventions to show their trite staleness and immobility (also their endeering sentimentality, but that’s hard to catch). Maybe it’s the broad ensemble cast; the complicated plots; the truly esoteric allusions (compared to TBBT‘s facile references); Chevy Chase; etc. Whatever it is, if you ask any TV super-fan, they’ll agree: Community is a great show; TBBT a competent one. So it makes sense why Community might get canceled. Middle America doesn’t want change, commentary, or convention rejection. Middle America wants to see the same thing they saw yesterday packaged with slightly sleaker colors. This is the secret to successful entertainment writing: aim broad, go for the middle.

I’m preemptively sad about seeing The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 because it’s going to make me re-confront my mortality. That’s the point of a supernatural coming-of-age story, is it not? The hero’s epic quest overlaps with his maturation into adulthood; defeating the ultimate nemesis is synonymous with surviving puberty. When our protagonist faces death, he can leave childish things behind him. That’s why Harry dies at the… Well, I’m getting ahead of myself!

The Harry Potter franchise makes me feel old. At the start of Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry was ten ­— I was eight. I’m twenty now. Because of publishing delays, eventually my age matched Harry’s: I was seventeen when Deathly Hallowscame out — and I read it in 29 hours. I felt like the last book didn’t mark the real end of the franchise because there were still movies, but now those are finished, too. I can’t help but feel nostalgic at the dissolution of my childhood iconography. Harry Potter is arguably the biggest pop-culture sensation of the “Millennial” generation. Not much of anything gets as popular as Harry did, especially something based on a dumb, “dying-medium” book! But serialization allowed Harry to grow up with his audience, and the franchise turned a sad single mother into a multi-million dollar sensation. Perhaps coolest of all, like no other books from our childhood, Harry Potter made little kids genuinely enjoy reading — even if it’s just four thousand pages of witchcraft and wizardry.

Rowling did not invent the fantasy bildungsroman genre — for that, we can thank C.S. Lewis’ proselytizing Narnia books or Lloyd Alexander’s criminally under-appreciated Chronicles of Prydain. What makes Rowling’s novels unique is the way the characters aged with the novel’s readers. If you started reading the books at the right time, your teenage angst overlapped with Harry’s teenage angst; your first kiss overlapped with Hermione and Ron’s first kiss. When children of the future read these books, they’ll be able to read them all in one big binge. But we had to wait for years before we found out how Harry would beat Voldemort. While writing about maturation, coincidentally, Rowling’s prose style matured with each successive book — the stories got longer, and characters dealt with increasingly “complicated” problems (i.e. making out). The Sorcerer’s Stone seems like a bedtime story compared to the sprawling epic of The Deathly Hallows. But Rowling’s influence reaches far outside Potter. Children’s book publishers soon noticed all the money being raked in by the nerd with the lightning bolt scar. Much to the chagrin of media watchdog groups across middle America, witchcraft, the occult, and the supernatural are perhaps the primary genres of contemporary young adult lit. To this day, Harry Potter-inspired books proliferate the kiddie shelves: Artemis Fowl,  BartimaeusSpiderwick Chronicles and even Twilight wouldn’t exist if Harry Potter hadn’t reaffirmed the marketability of teen fantasy. Anyone who says books are a dying medium must not have seen the lines outside Barnes and Noble when Order of the Phoenix came out.

But why read a book when you can just watch a movie? What enshrined Harry Potter’s place in our pop culture subconscious is its corresponding multi-million dollar film franchise. Finally, illiterate children and busy adults could jump on the bandwagon! Since the franchise is so long and so potentially-lucrative, it would have been risky to leave the task up to just one director. Each film wildly varies in tone and style because there are more Harry Potter directors than there are Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers. Together, the films make an excellent case study on adaptation. The first two movies were directed by Chris Columbus (writer of Gremlins and Goonies) in hopes of marketing the film toward little kids — if you remember, the first two movies saw “Harry Potter Mania” at its peak. Like any high-concept blockbuster, Harry Potter toys/candies/feminine hygiene products/crap/etc. proliferated Wal-marts and Targets across the country. Remember when people willingly paid money to eat those shitty jelly beans that taste bad on purpose? Weird!

As the books got “darker,” Columbus stepped down, and the films came under the control of more “adult-friendly” directors. Alfonso Cuarón, future director of Children of Men, directed The Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuarón was able to maintain the detail (ex: every painting moves) and the suspense (ex: the scary werewolf) that makes the third book so exciting–and Azkaban is certainly my pick for best film of the series. Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) headed The Goblet of Fire. For lack of space, I will only say that Newell’s film is very unsatisfying (that is, it’s long, completely loses site of characterization, and generally just sucks shit). Thankfully, David Yates saved the franchise with a more nuanced understanding of the characters (Dumbledore is so badass in The Order of the Phoenix), a grasp on cinematography and special effects and a willingness to take the series in a darker (read: violent) direction. I’m not sure how Yates got the job directing expensive summer blockbusters because besides the Potters, Yates has only directed made-for-TV movies, but the point is moot. Yates picked up where Cuaron left off and figured out the best tone for the series. Who says a kid’s book can’t say “bitch”?

Perhaps what I’ll miss most about Harry Potter is the spectacle that followed every new book and movie. I remember going to a Chicago suburb that transformed their entire downtown into a mock Diagon Alley. They had butterbeer, candy, fake Quidditch: it was awesome. Pending unforeseen remakes, I’ll never bring a wooden stick to AMC on a Thursday at 11:45 ever again. Besides Star Wars, movies don’t usually make people nerd out, buy a costume and shout Latin incantations at strangers. Even though the series is essentially about growing up, Harry Potter also created a world of perpetual innocence; the characters had to learn about the terrifying consequence of unchecked power, but they also had to learn how to take care of dragons and how to fight cave trolls. Magic, by definition, allows anything to happen — it defies logic. And something about that idea only makes sense to the our “inner child”— someone who isn’t jaded and already bitter about the world around them (look out! Things get loftier!). Harry Potter affirms that courage is rare, but essential; wisdom and age have no correlation; companionship and relationships are essentially the fundamental”meaning of life”; and, dare I say it, love really is a force to be reckoned with. Those seem like good lessons and I’m glad I learned them early. Even if I tried, I probably couldn’t think of a better teacher then an imaginary wizard. Thanks Harry!

I wrote this feature with my friend Amy Harwath. I think it’s pretty funny/interesting, so I put it up here to show some folks. It was originally published in buzz Magazine:

I’m not used to seeing naked people outside of dark bedrooms. I’m especially not used to drawing a naked woman in a room full of artists who already know what they’re doing. But I’m getting ahead of myself… Amy (buzz Community Editor) asked me, “Does life drawing mean naked people?” Short answer: Yes, it does!

On Monday nights from 7-9, RJ Karlstrom and Lawrence McGown hold a life drawing group at McGown Photography Studio (located at 5801 W. Springfield Ave). I rode two miles past I-55 to find out if there really would be naked person. Yes there was!

In the middle of McGown’s white-walled studio was a small plywood platform propped up by milk crates. Seven people surrounded the platform with pencils and sketchbooks. On the platform was a naked woman basking in spotlights. Her eyes were closed, and she looked pensive. I picked up a sketchbook and tried to draw. As I sketched, I wasn’t sure what to focus on— certainly not her boobs, right? After some rudimentary sketches, I asked Karlstrom for an interview. “Do you want to talk outside?” I whispered. “What?” Karlstrom said. I continued to whisper awkwardly, “Is here okay for talking?” I asked. “What? You don’t have to whisper. You can just talk at a normal volume,” Karlstrom said. He’s right: there’s no reason to be timid. I was in a room where artists gather to practice drawing the human form— not a library or something.

Essentially, a typical session is, “a progression of poses and posing times,” Karlstrom explained. Each week, the group starts with quick, 2-3 minute warm-up poses. Once everybody is loose and comfortable — artist and model alike — the group gets into the more intricate 10-minute poses. After a break, there are two 20-minute poses, “and those are the ones that people really sink their teeth into,” Karlstrom said. These poses are the most detailed, and the drawings are likely to become something an artist can exhibit. Karlstrom gave pointers to neophytes like us. “I personally would start with almost a stick figure, just so you have all the proportions right,” he said. A common beginner’s mistake is to start with an outline — “You’re gonna mess up,” Karlstrom said. The problem with outlines is there’s a lot of space between the two shoulders, and it’s easy to lose perspective. However, “if you start out with faint lines, show where the shoulders are, the angle of them and the angle of the back, you really can’t go wrong.”

What’s the point of drawing naked people, anyway? i talked to a professional artist, Wesley Ann, who attends the MELD group regularly. “The human figure teaches you to draw anything,” she said. The shapes, curves, turns and dimensions of the human form make it a challenge. “You can do a building with just straight lines, but with the human figure, you have to turn the line.”

During the group’s break, I had a chance to speak with the model, Emily Fetterer. I was curious to find out how a model gets over the initial apprehension of being naked in front of strangers. Fetterer said, “You have to tell yourself that these people are here to practice their art, and you’re helping them do that. The only way you can help them is if you accept your own body. By being comfortable and saying, ‘Here it is,’ you’re putting yourself out there. There are all kinds of bodies and all kinds of beauty … The apprehension about one’s own body fades. It helps me with my own body image.” Being naked isn’t the job’s only challenge. Fetterer explained, “There are days where you don’t even want to see yourself naked, let alone a whole room of people see you naked. But you said you would model that Monday, so you come and get into it.” Standing still starts to hurt after a few minutes, especially if you’re under explicit instructions not to move. “I’ve been modeling for awhile, so I know what cool poses look like,” Fetterer said. “I’ll take a cool pose, but three minutes in, I start thinking, ‘Oh my God, what did you do?’” The hardest poses involve leaning or holding an appendage in an awkward place. “The worst part is if your limbs fall asleep and they’re tingling and you just have to push through until the pose is done,” Fetterer said. And what happens if you have an itch? “You just zen through it,” she said.

Having the MELD group gives local artists the opportunity to practice sketching the human form without paying a fortune for a model — each session is only $7! I was uncomfortable at first, but after five minutes, that went away. Yes, there’s a naked person standing in front of you. So what? Grab a piece of charcoal and try to sketch the shadows of her areola.

The first time I saw the Black Keys was in 2005; I’ve seen them five times since. I would gladly see them six times again. They’re a reliable festival show, and a great headlining act. When I’m listening to the Keys play, I try and figure out what is it in their essence that’s so compelling. Why are they so fun to watch? What makes so many different types of people like these guys? What makes them so successful? Howare they so fucking cool?! Watch out! Things are about to get gushy!

So I have a theory: Even though Pat and Dan met sort of on accident they quickly realized that they’re playing styles meshed together well. They started writing a distinct, yet accessible type of music and combined the old school musical dedication with a progressive attitude toward 21st century media technologies. Ok, now here me out!

Let’s talk about the music first. Auerbach and Carney like blues music and rock music; fortunately, the two have gone together well in the past. I think that’s why when you watch Dan play guitar you can hear some Hendrix, some Page, old blues greats, and even that fuzzy-80s-alternative/90s-grunge feel. He has an esoteric knowledge of blues (evidence: Chulahoma) and a loving admiration of American rock music (evidence: Magic Potion): then, he combines the two. Dan’s guitar playing could be a textbook for History of American Rock Music 101–Dads like it just as much as sons do; bros like it just as much as hipsters! That’s because guitar rock will always be in style!

So, that’s the old; Pat’s the new! Whenever someone talks about the Keys live show they eventually say, “Man, that dude’s a hell of a drummer.” Indeed: Pat Carney is a hell of a drummer. He hits the drums so intensely; he concentrates so closely; he sweats and perspires so liberally! It’s uncanny. I used to think Pat was played so intensely because when you’re a guitar/drums duo there’s something the drummer must keep in mind at all times: “If the drummer screws up, everything is going to sound terrible.” And that’s true. But I think there’s more to Pat’s drum playing than fear. His live intensity is, I bet at least somewhat, stemming from a need to be a good performer. Both Pat and Dan seem to get that: they sound good, but they look cool too. They look like they’re trying to put on a good show because… Well because they are. But even in the studio, Carney seems like a very forward thinking musician. He’s certainly versed in 4/4 rock playing, but also bouncy jazz, tumbling blues, and syncopated funk/hip-hop. The latter has been in close focus on the Keys most recent records, but it’s been evident since The Big Come Up (seriously, go listen to “Breaks”). Carney can genre-mash with the best of them (take that Dave Byrne!). But the coolest part is the synthesis of the two: even though the Keys had a sound everybody could be into, they in no way sounded like anybody else–well, except that one band.

Let’s take a quick break and talk about the White Stripes. It segues nicely into the most important question of my generation: “Who’s better, The White Stripes or The Black Keys?” Sure, the Keys have lasted longer, but good-gosh-darn if the White Stripes (ok, specifically Jack) isn’t still one of the most important bands in contemporary rock music. Based on sheer subjective preference, I like the Keys. Obviously, there is no objective winner–but the guy who just drank his 8th PBR at your loft party will certainly say otherwise. I think the contrast between the two bands, however, further proves my point about the success of the Keys. Jack White has said that he works best with creative parameters. Parameters like, “Only two people in the band: drums and guitar” or, “Only two colors: red and white” or, “Weird mythos and backstory and keep in mind strange art  movements from the first half of the 20th c. (De Sijil)” or, “Look toward out-of-fashion genres and music that represents my Tennessee heritage for inspiration.” I remember watching an interview with White (which was almost certainly on Under Northern Lights) where he said limitations and perimeters gets his juices flowing–but eventually it becomes creatively stifling. So, in a way, The White Stripes were a “project” (perhaps an oversimplification) whereas the Keys are a “band.” I like all the “project-y” stuff about the White Stripes: the wife/husband/brother/sister/candy-stripe/duo-blues-rock is totally awesome. Plus, the proof is in the sonic pudding: White is one of the best songwriters (as in: combination of music and lyrics) and he made some absolutely perfect songs–regardless of their complicated back story. However, the Keys couldn’t be any more the opposite to this creative ethos. I’ve never read any interviews where Pat and Dan pontificate upon lofty artistic aspirations for what they want their band to sound like. They’re just dudes who enjoy making music; they’re music is the result of two dudes who enjoy making music making music together. It’s so much simpler this way. Longevity is not supremacy:  the reason Keys lasted longer is because they were always open to experimentation, while Jack White founded the White Stripes in jarringly specific traditionalism. He realized that he could then establish different perimeters with different projects and keep the White Stripes legacy separate to the rest of his career.

Now that that’s settled! Let me finish explaining why The Black Keys are the savviest band in America. They figure out they both know how to play and that they like playing with each other. The next logical step is to write a collection of  songs that feels like 13 Billboard singles from 1960-2002 (heck, one song actually was: remember that great “She Said, She Said” cover?). The Big Come Up is an album of songs that will always be fun to play live, songs that show off the eclectic musical knowledge and playing style of both band members, and–while certainly low-fi–a fine testament to what Carney and Auerbach can do in the studio. It’s probably why Pat and Dan named the thing The Big Come Up–they must have known they had a good idea and they must have known that one day they’d be famous! Or maybe they were just being snotty-ironic 20-somethings. I don’t know.  But I do still think that The Big Come Up is the Keys best album because of how perfectly the songs sound in sequence (this is also why I think Brothers is their second best record). Ok, you have the perfect touring album: now tour the ever loving shit out of it. That’s what the Keys did and it’s a primary reason why I’ve seen them so many times. They tour all the time. I saw them open for Radiohead (not a bad gig), at like three Lollapaloozas (since 2005) and two different solo gigs! But I didn’t even see them every time they play Chicago! They play constantly! It’s probably easier with just two guys: not a lot of gear, not a lot of schedules to work with. But now they have more band members and they still tour all the time! How do they do it? Constantly touring is how musicians have been making it forever–literally. The Keys know that, and I think that old-school mentality makes up a lot of their dedication.

Plus, the Keys knew how to take advantage of 21st century musical opportunities. They had blog buzz and plenty of celebrities name dropped them sound cool. They’ve licensed their music out to tons of products: they say, “Who cares. We just want to keep making music, and we’ll use that money to keep making music.” And that they do: working with expensive producers like Dangermouse and making cool corporate-sponsored hip-hop genre-smash records is expensive, but the Keys have the money to do it. Even though the Keys’ are channeling the spirit of age-old blues music, they could never have been so successful without the internet. Again new meets old! They combine a bunch of good things, and not coincidentally, it ends up being a great thing.  Of course, my argument is merely speculation. I make no claim that the Keys had intended all of this stuff to happen–don’t you try and trap me into your intentional fallacy bullshit! I merely think all these factors have culminated into one of the most popular, most innovative, and most reliable rock bands of my generation. And regardless of all my pontifications, shortly after I start daydreaming while watching the Keys, I’m quickly snapped back to reality to remember: “Holy shit. This is fucking cool.” If the Keys come to town this fall, you better believe I’m buying a ticket.

This is an editorial I wrote about Ebertfest and how I think it works. I hope you like it!

After spending a week at Ebertfest, I think I’ve pinned down its raison d’etre. There are two types of movie festivals: ones for industry types, and ones for movie consumers — or, more aptly, typical dudes. Ebertfest is most certainly the latter. If you get a chance to go to Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto, it’s because you made a movie, work for a studio, write for a news organization or have a lot of money and connections. Ebertfest is the opposite. No contracts are signed, no news is broken. Anyone can go to Ebertfest — in a lot of ways, that’s the point. I’m not saying Ebertfest is strictly a gathering of Midwestern “common folk”; there are tons of journalists, artists and amateur-blogger hipsters (that’s me!) in attendance as well. Please indulge as I deconstruct the festival further.

Ebertfest exists for three reasons: The News-Gazette, the University and Townies.

These three factors are not mutually exclusive, nor are they meant to be taken entirely literally. Let me explain. Roger Ebert grew up in Urbana (read his review of 45365 for more info); he went to college at U of I (read his review of Synecdoche, New York for more info). Ebert used to work for The News-Gazette, and he remembers these years fondly.

On page 64 of the Ebertfest program, Ebert writes, “Champaign-Urbana’s News-Gazette is locally-owned, not in a chain, and a damn fine paper. My first school of journalism.” The Gazette responds, “Thanks, Roger. We’re pretty fond of you, too.” (Then, it goes on to recommend you read Melissa Merli’s writing, which is something I suggest as well). Ebert really really likes Champaign-Urbana. I’m using The News Gazette as more of a symbol (a synecdoche, perhaps?) to represent CU. That’s why Ebert doesn’t have the festival in Chicago (where he lives now); he’s filled with pride for his hometown; plus, he probably likes the chance to eat at KoFusion.

But that’s only a third of it. The College of Media is also essential in making this festival happen every year. Ebert and his wife, Chaz, are very transparent about this. Higher-ups in the College of Media plan everything from the logistics of getting filmmakers into town to making the website look pretty. The president loves it because it makes our University seem cultured, as apparent in his greeting letter in the program. Then, student volunteers handle the sundry of odd jobs as the festival unfolds: checking tickets, holding doors, popping popcorn, pointing at bathrooms. Finally, student media turn Ebertfest into an event — or we try to, at least. That’s why our friends at the DI designed and printed the festival programs. If I’m allowed to go meta, it’s also a way to teach student writers how to cover a media event.

Wait! Don’t forget the ordinary people! The “typical dudes” I mentioned earlier are the real reason the festival can exist. A cursory look around any screening’s crowd revealed that non-journalistic, non-University-affiliated adults — geriatric ones, in particular — are one of Ebertfest’s target demographics. I met a delightful lady from Ohio who told me that she and about 50 of her friends rode on a bus for six hours so they could watch movies at 1 p.m. in the afternoon (she also recommended I check out Reading Lolita in Tehran).

Townies have businesses that can afford to sponsor the festival in exchange for ad space; Townies can take off work to watch a cartoon about a man’s relationship with his dog. Sometimes, Townies  get tedious: Plenty of banal comments were disguised as “questions” during the festival’s Q&A sessions. And it’s silly to watch an old lady knit a scarf while Rachel Harris gives a provocative comparison between TV and movie acting.

Yet, other times, the “common-folk” ask much more interesting questions than the critics do: When a gentleman asked Norman Jewison why he made racially progressive movies during a time when movies like that risked being unpopular, Jewison provided an anecdote both touching and wistfully sad (if you’re reading this article, sir, that was a fantastic question).

It makes sense that Ebertfest is a “people’s” film festival. Ebert himself is an egalitarian writer of art criticism. The reason he wins Pulitzers, publishes books, maintains a TV show and has almost half a million followers on Twitter (so jealous) is because he proves that movies are fun. That’s why he calls upon his friends, his town and his University’s alumni to help him achieve the aforementioned in the most tactile of ways. Ebertfest manifests itself as a convergence between homebred old people, too-cool college kids, and a variety of writers/weirdos (the terms are synonymous). It also means I got a chance to sit 100 feet away from Tilda Swinton.