Category Archives: University of Alabama

Watch like there’s nobody dancing

If you’re a young college type like me, in twenty-five years you may find yourself trying to explain The Harlem Shake to your children. From their end, I suspect it’s going to be a lot like your Dad trying to explain the Berlin Wall.

And you may have seen my school’s crack at it.

It was last week, the height of the fad, and hundreds of my schoolmates in Spider Man costumes and inflatable bananas showed up in front of the library, but after twenty minutes with no moves bustin’, I reached for the iPhone.

See, white people like to see other white people being fun and cool, but they especially like to see white people being humiliated.

So before the cops ran everybody off, Myranda and I immortalized the achievement for YouTube. But getting my first taste of YouTube success wasn’t like I suspected. Interestingly, the more views we got, the more aware I was of my place in this internet.

But here’s the thing about our video: You may have actually seen it without me showing it to you. And for a blog with exactly eleven regulars, that’s pretty much the big-time.

Besides, it made a local dent, at least. Right now it has 150K vies; Local blogs, the Tuscaloosa News, and even someone from the Huffington Post embedded it.

But it has also become Alabama’s official entry into the Harlem Shake collection (a gathering permit will take ten days, and the fad will be ancient history by then). Soon I realized my first glance from the internet has come at a terrible cost.

But at least with all the YouTube earnings I’ll be able to take everyone out for Sonic (at happy hour, of course).

Let’s makah movie!

Last night we had a short film festival here at UA. Of 16 student films, 11 were dramas. I made bingo:

This event is called Campus MovieFest. It gives you exactly one week to shoot and edit a five-minute movie, and they’ll even lend you a camera and MacBook to do it. At the end they screen the top 16 films. Most are actually creative and clever, some are a little iffy. The latter generally fall into three categories:

(Generally one or more of these applies to everything I do.)

Still, as long as you remember to calibrate your standards, the festival produces some pretty good stuff from all sorts of kids. Of course, it’s something else entirely for the film students. Sometimes they plot and plan all year long, waiting, until CMF week finally begins and they bust out in crack filmmaker commando squads.

My girlfriend Myranda is film major, so I got it firsthand this year. Ho boy, did I get it. For me, making a movie is a fun project. For her kind, it’s Thermopylae.

The buzz this year was a sci-fi flick called Manta. Supposedly the team used a crowdfunding site to raise $2800 for everyone to cut class, fly out to the desert for the week and also build a space station. Myranda was miffed.

No, she was feral.

I saw her point. It’s a five minute film fest open to everyone; this kind of thing is geared toward amateurism and creativity, not for the film school’s Spielbergs Jr. to roll out their heaviest Hollywood artillery. Well, baring certain special cases, of course:

But I wasn’t as worried about it. The judges are students and faculty from all departments, not just film. So while the Manta guys are thinking like film students, the judges are thinking like us layfolk.

This gives the little guy two advantages.

First, what film students think makes a good movie and what normal people think makes a good movie don’t always line up.

Second, the judges usually seem to get the spirit of the competition.

Each year we see pretty Vimeo fodder get upset by flicks that are rougher around the edges. It used to confuse me, but I realize now that if the judges judged simply on being-the-best-ness, we would always just end up with a handful of film school titans battling it out while everyone else beat eachother with rocks and sticks.

So the top 16 was a hodgepodge. You saw clever ideas without technical know-how and know-how without clever ideas, but most often films somewhere nicely in the middle.

The only problem was the last film of the night. It was about talking fruit; they picked it to end on a light note, which is fine. Unfortunately, to bring up attendance nobody knows beforehand if their movie will be screened or not, which meant this happened to everyone who didn’t get screened:

Manta got nominated for best drama. And that’s all it got. I thought the dialogue was great but the story lacked an arc, but whatever. The film that won the whole thing was a comedy about a hiring people to be living furniture, and I was very excited about that.

Oh, almost forgot, we made a movie too!

The Critic

I write theatre reviews for Bama’s student newspaper, The Crimson White. I do it because if I always do a little bit of everything, I never get anything too hard or too important.

Let me explain my position.

Reviewing student theatre is more interesting than I thought. I’m not a theatre student, but I tooled around enough with the drama kids in high school to wing it. See, in my drama days at George Washington High School, when talking about what we did, we generally used two adjectives:


Our entire descriptive lexicon consisted of positive superlatives, meaning that anything anyone did on stage was a monumental achievement in art.

…for our own department. We judged other schools by a standard in which the highest point was mediocrity. But, of course, the feelings were mutual. So my senior year when both George Washington High and East High did Macbeth, it played out like this:

(Our Macbeth was gender-reversed. I played a witch. It was fun.)

This happens because every student show is the entire department’s baby. Even if you aren’t acting, directing, designing, stage managing, on tech crew, ushering, or doing publicity, odds are your BFF (theatre kids generally have five or six of these) is acting, directing, designing, stage managing, on tech crew, ushering, or doing publicity.

…and everyone worked so hard and I love everyone so much and you were all AMAZING!!

People grow out of this in college theatre. The competition is stiffer and there are more aspiring careers and less “gonna go out for Desdemona because I’ll maybe get to kiss Mike Skeen.” But college is still just one step away from high school, so there’s a lot of that DNA in the mix, too.

I reviewed our own Animal Crackers, a Marx Brothers farce from the 30’s. It was alright. It had troubles, but it was alright. The review said it was alright. In fact, the editors headlined it “Animal Crackers maintains constant laughs.” But this didn’t set well for those fresh off the boat from high school theatre, a place in which “alright” is the word for “contagious skin disease.”

I know this because I have a mole inside the theatre department. I don’t hear from any other theatre people because you don’t talk to the enemy. But, of course, people outside the department don’t read them, bless their hearts. So the reactions to my reviews usually look like this:

Now lets cut to UA’s second to last show, City of Angels, a clever little musical by the guy behind A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I thought it was my worst-written review yet. I took notes, but it’s hard to take notes in the dark and still pay attention to what’s happening.

Trying to read my handwriting afterward produced these translations:

So on these notes I rattled the thing off in one draft. It wasn’t particularly clever, and was packed with jargon and references to past shows I was sure would get zombie-eyes from everyone but theatre students (which is a small market) and theatre-goers (which is even smaller.)

Except this one didn’t just vanish into the student journalism ether. In fact, the reaction was stunning. Not that the reaction itself was surprising – though it was, mind you – but the fact that it got a reaction at all. My secret theatre mole messaged me and said that it was my best one yet. I didn’t agree, but hey, maybe that meant the theatre folks weren’t so upset. But then regular people started to mention it, too. An old professor in the Starbucks line said, with devious a grin, that I was a harsh critic. But another professor told me the show sounded great and he would be sure to “yuk it up.” My roommate Chris actually decided to go because of the review.

The web version even got a comment. I never get comments! I write things, put them in the paper, you don’t read the paper, and we all forget. That was the system. You’re all really screwing with my balance here!

But I started to figure it out when someone told me it read like a review in Time magazine. He was right, though I had it pegged for a New York Times review. There was a reason I didn’t try to write reviews like the Times. I figured Times reviews were for rich, white, old, educated, New Englanders, while I wrote for a community in which I sold a college football ticket for $400. (I actually told the NY Times about it.)

I was worried that when I wrote this:

…my engineering major friend saw this:

Or so I thought.

You see, the reaction to City of Angels got me thinking. What if average UA kids don’t want reviews that are accessible, or funny, or easy going down – everything my review wasn’t. Why would they? They don’t care about theatre. But maybe, just maybe, they want to care about theatre. Maybe all they want are reviews that sound like Time magazine, reference past shows, and throw around stage jargon because it makes our department sound real. Maybe the people want to think that, instead of cute fodder for grandparents there’s a legitimate artistic organization, and instead of a collection of misfit drama kids, there’s a community of devoted, professionally-minded performers.

Maybe the only one who needed to respect the drama kids was me.

…or maybe they just liked the joke about those two shows hooking up.