Some may say that 1969 was the year of the Apollo 11 moon landing, but at The Michigan Daily, an even more momentous occasion was about to take place: the formation of the Arts section. While the Daily covered the arts in the years prior to 1969, it wasn’t until late August of that year that the section was formally listed on the Editorial Board, with Leslie Wayne as the section’s first editor.
Arts coverage began with a diverse range of topics — a tradition that continues today.
Reviews of records like B.B. King’s 1969 effort Live and Well, a recording writer Bert Stratton claimed “is the equal of any other electrical guitar recording and is unquestionably the best of B. B. King,” along with attention to classical and other popular music, like Pink Floyd’s show at the Hill Auditorium in October 1971, allowed the young section to cast a wide net.
Furthermore, attention toward the local theater scene, including a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Play” in 1969 and Musket’s take on “George M!” in 1970 helped establish the Arts section’s roots within the community. Attention to other events in the early years of the section, notably the eighth Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1970, tied Arts to what would become long-running events and stables in Ann Arbor.
Film commentary was present in these early years with Arts as well, with some of the section’s earliest critics offering their opinions on films that would become cornerstones of cinema.
Film critic Bruce Shlain asserted in 1972 that “director Francis Ford Coppola has flipped ‘the gangster movie’ on its ear. To say ‘The Godfather’ is merely better than the gangland-oriented movies which precede it, would hardly touch upon its uniqueness.”
On the record-breaking “Jaws,” Jane Siegel said of the film, “Like a good old primal scream, ‘Jaws’ releases the day-to-day tensions and pressure which we build up and repress. It appeals to our willingness to be shocked and our fascination with death and disaster.”
Closing out the ’70s, Arts continued its attendance of live music including some of the decade’s biggest acts. Writer Mike Taylor went to three separate Bruce Springsteen performances over the course of a couple weeks in 1978, while Dennis Harvey reviewed Fleetwood Mac’s performance at Crisler Arena. In his review, Harvey wrote, “Admittedly, the Mac is neither one of the best or the most original of 1970s bands … But their finest songs capture a feel of silky folk-pop-rock catchiness that’s effortlessly appealing.”
Into the ’80s, Arts further grew with significant additions to the section’s leadership and coverage.
In 1985, the year John Hughes’s “The Breakfast Club” — which the Daily said was a “flawed but still strangely compelling film” — released in theaters, the Arts section began to expand with the introduction of associate editors and beats (areas focusing on a particular aspect of the arts). The initial beats — movies, music, books and theatre — have developed and shifted in the 30 years since their beginnings with additions like TV/new media in 1997 and style in 2014. Meanwhile certain beats, including books and theatre, have exited or merged into new beats, notably community culture.
Another introduction in the early ’80s was “The Weekend,” a weekly arts and culture insert that aimed at prepping the University’s students for their brief reprieve from the school week with “The List,” a collection of upcoming campus cinema, parties and shows. Also inside were features on culture, style and interviews with random students over the phone. Amusingly, on Jan. 10, 2002 there was not one but two pieces about the mullet in “The Weekend.”
Amid these changes, writers kept offering their opinions. “Reds” topped Richard Campbell’s “Obligatory Ten Best Movies of the Year,” for 1981. The list also featured “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Thief.”
The rise in prominence of television and cable TV during the decade led to Tony Sibler writing, “Throughout this entire country, our only common language is television. But it is much, much more than a common language. It is our pillow each night to shed tears into. It is our punching bag to strike. It is our dreamworld to escape to and our unattractive reality to come back to.”
This fascination with other forms of media would carry into the ’90s with television coverage beginning intermittently with “Turn on the Tube” and becoming more consistent as the decade went on.
New technology also affected the experience of other sections. Steven Spielberg, who terrified with “Jaws,” used special effects to bring dinosaurs back to life in 1993’s “Jurassic Park.” The depictions of the prehistoric creatures caused reviewer Brett Forrest to say, “The varmints are so lifelike, you will probably be glad the film is not 3-D.”
Video games began to receive artistic credit as Stephen Gertz crowned “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” the best game of 1998, a year that saw the release of other heavyweights like “Grand Theft Auto,” “Half-Life” and “Metal Gear Solid.”
The DVD format caught the attention of Erin Podoisky during January 1999. Podoisky claimed the new format would “take your home video experience into the 21st century.”
The Arts section and the media consuming culture as a whole agreed with Podoisky, as DVDs replaced VHS. Arts began reviewing DVD releases, not just on the quality of films but the disc’s features as well. This led to some eyebrow-raising antics, exemplified by Bob Hunt’s January 2005 24-hour binge of the third season of “24.”
These advances led to the 2000s, where “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy garnered three perfect, five-star ratings from the Daily.
Where Hussain Rahim reviewed Kanye West’s debut album, The College Dropout. On the rapper who would later become notorious for his percieved arrogance, Hussain wrote, “He’s not trying to scare you with his prison record or tell you he’s the best rapper ever. He knows he’s not.”
Where “Lost” premiered and took viewers, “On a horrifying thrill ride that is unlike anything on television today,” according to writer Doug Wernert.
On Sept. 15, 2005, “The Weekend” magazine gave way to “The Statement.” To further fill in the absence, the pilot issue of “The B-Side” launched on April 12, 2006, then-Managing Arts Editor Jeffrey Bloomer describing it as “a new features section that will give us a chance to write about things that don’t usually fit on our page. It’s a work in progress, but in the fall, you can expect to see it weekly, and maybe — if we can find the money, that is — even in color.”
With the title “The Sun Also Rises,” the premiere issue speculated about the coming summer’s entertainment offerings, including “Superman Returns” and Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere, and analyzed the legal quandary a burgeoning YouTube faced with copyright issues. Since then, “The B-Side” has turned its eyes to the local arts scene with extended pieces and profiles on various artists, organizations and events within and around Ann Arbor — and yes, Jeffrey, it’s printed in color.
Today, the Arts section, run by Co-Managing Arts Editors, LSA seniors Adam DePollo and Chloe Gilke, continues to embrace the variety of coverage and respond to constantly shifting entertainment media that have been present since the section first began in 1969.