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Simon Says: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

1 Feb

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a Disney movie that’s based on a novel written by Victor Hugo way back in 18-something.  I haven’t read it (although I have read Les Miserables, so check this blog later for more on that) but I have watched the movie more than a few times.  Though it came out after the “Disney Renaissance” on the heels of Pocahontas, a mediocre Disney film, I found Hunchback to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  Though it has a few missteps (i.e. gargoyles), its positives more than make up for it, and Hunchback is one of my favorite Disney films to date.

So imagine my joy to find out that there was a stage show based on the Disney movie, based on the book.  I had always thought the music was one of the highlights of the film (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung “Hellfire” in the shower) and I was super excited that the show was finally releasing the studio album.  The album dropped on January 21st of this year, and of course I was first in line to check it out.  What did I think?

Warning: Spoilers ahead.


The Good:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Studio Cast Recording) is a faithful adaptaion of the source material, and mixes a lot of the old songs from the film that I love with new songs that feel right in place, both thematically and stylistically.  If you liked the music from the movie, then you will love this.  It sounds like the old songs have been dusted off and polished up like the bells of the french cathedral itself.  My favorite songs from the movie are my favorite songs from the musical.  The vocals are nothing short of amazing.  Esmeralda’s caring heart and Frollo’s inner darkness can be heard in their vocals.  “The Bells of Notre Dame” deserves some special mention; if you have watched the movie, you may notice some changes in the backstory here.  But I actually like the changes.  We get much needed backstory on (now Archdeacon) Frollo, the musical’s main antagonist.

The new songs are great too.  About half of this soundtrack is new material, written by Alan Menken, the guy who did the original music for the movie.  As a result, a lot of this new stuff fits.  I really liked the track called “Made of Stone” that appears near the end of the soundtrack.  It’s a song about Quasimodo’s darkest moment, and you can just hear the defeat in his voice.  It also does a good job of using the gargoyles the right way.  They’re more like a chorus from the Greek plays of old, existing in Quasi’s mind to help him develop his thoughts.

The Bad:

The ending.  Oh my gosh, the ending.  I don’t think I’ve cringed harder listening to a soundtrack (and I’ve seen Avenue Q twice).  If you want to avoid major spoilers about the ending, just skip this next part.

Okay, in the climax of the movie,  Quasimodo and Esmeralda are trying to escape a crazed Frollo, who’s chasing them with sword in hand.  The three are on the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, Frollo hellbent on murdering them.  Hundreds of feet below, a great fire is burning, surrounding Notre Dame in hellish flames.  A scuffle sends the three over the side, and Quasimodo and Frollo end up hanging on for dear life.  However, Frollo is able to regain his footing and pulls himself up to a gargoyle outcropping.  As Esmeralda desperately tries to drag Quasi up, Frollo raises his sword over the two, ready to deliver the final blow.

“And he shall smite the wicked,” Frollo bellows, “and plunge them into the fiery pit.”

At that moment, the gargoyle below Frollo gives way, causing the mad man to slip.  He grabs onto the rocky outcropping in a last ditch effort to save himself, before the stone structure breaks from its hold completely sending Frollo into the fires below.

That is an epic, amazing ending.  Couldn’t have written a better ending myself.

Here’s what the musical does:  Frollo begs and enraged Quasimodo not to kill him.  Quasimodo hesitates for a moment, but his gargoyle friends tell him to go ahead and waste the old man, and Quasi pushes Frollo off the side of Notre Dame.

So why do I have a problem with this?  They’re basically the same ending, right?  Both end with Frollo falling off of Notre Dame.

Well, in the movie, Frollo meets his end because of his own madness and obsession.  His quest to conquer the gypsies and what he sees as “sinful” sends him into a hell of his own making.

The musical, however, decides to kill Frollo by killing Quasimodo’s character.  Quasi goes from a misunderstood misfit to a homicidal psychopath in a few moments.  This isn’t the Quasimodo we see in the rest of the musical.  As in the movie, Quasimodo shows himself to be the real man, and Frollo the real monster, because of his sense of right, his kindness, and his willingness to let his obsession (Esmeralda) go.  But I can’t buy it when Quasimodo shows that he’s just as willing to murder as Frollo is.  It’s ironic, because the whole point of Hunchback of Notre Dame is that Frollo is the real monster,nut in this show, Quasimodo becomes one when he kills Frollo.

The Final Verdict:

With all that, you may be surprised to read that I still really enjoyed listening to this soundtrack.  I suppose that like the movie it’s based on, it has its own share of problems that are kind of hard to overlook, but once again the good outweighs the bad.  If you loved the movie, or if you’re looking for a good album to sing along to, give this a shot.

Just ignore the last two minutes.



Trend Story- Internet Memes at College

2 Jul

A trend story I’ve written for my Critic Review in Spring 2012.

Trend Story


          Jack Li, 21, studies finance at Baruch College.  He describes many of his classes as “insufferable” but one class in particular that he had recently driven him crazy.  In this class, the professor talked with a very thick accent, making understanding impossible. This was one of the most important classes Li needed to take.

One day, when he had had enough, he snapped the professor’s picture, and quickly whipped up a “meme”, with the professor’s face juxtaposed with a funny caption.  Li covertly showed off the meme to the rest of the class, resulting in stifled giggles and guffaws from his peers.

“A lot of my classmates laughed when I showed them it,” Li said.  “It was great.”

Li is not the only one who has done this.  Many other students at Baruch College have started making memes that have to do with Baruch College.

A meme is an image combined with text in an attempt to humor others, usually through catharsis.

          Memes are a new artistic form of expression, and many college students across the country are starting to create memes distinct to their particular college experience.  Baruch students are not alone in this trend: other colleges like Hunter and NYU have also started making and collecting memes as well.Memes have become popular because they are funny,short, and easy to make.

At Baruch, several memes have popped up that range from complaints about the escalators not working to jokes about the eSims application, a web service that does a bad job helping Baruch students register for classes.

Creating college themed memes and hosting them online for everyone to see is quickly becoming the go-to form of artistic expression for many college students.  College memes are becoming more and more popular thanks to the perfect storm of several things.

Websites like 9Gag and Meme Generator give everyone the tools they need to make memes.  Websites like Facebook make it easy to put all of these memes somewhere and show them off.  A healthy dose of student apathy also contributes.

Art has always been about expression and communication, and pop art continually challenges the old notions of the art world, using often-abstract images or wording to convey ideas.  But more often than not, the limit on this expression was artistic talent.  Creating images to express ideas rested only on the shoulders of artists.

But thanks to Internet culture, where one can give out as much as he can take in, making memes has become the de facto way of expressing both emotion and ideas.  The magic of memes is that nowadays, everyone has a shot at it.  College students are now just picking up on this idea, using Internet memes to both inform and to entertain.

These Internet memes were born on the message board 4chan, a website established in 2003.  4chan is an imageboard, meaning that there is an emphasis on depicting things through images.  The website allows users to browse and upload images anonymously, and makes sharing images incredibly easy.

This is where the Internet meme was born, and memes today often get popularized on 4chan.

CUNY Baruch College is just one of the many colleges that have a meme database.  Its operation is based on Facebook, and is run by Baruch student Villi Shteyn, the page opened in February 2012.  It currently has over 2000 likes and 200 Baruch-inspired memes.

“Memes are a medium for expressing similar thoughts in slightly different wording,” Shteyn said.

Each college or university has its own pocket universe, and college-based memes can be started by almost anything.  In New York City, the recent growth in college memes is often credited to the recent spate of protests popping up around the city.  Creating memes about

Shteyn believes that making memes has become a popular way for Baruch students to cope with and share the many stresses that a typical student will encounter at Baruch College.  “They’re definitely art,” Shteyn explained.  “Because just like any song, poem, or movie, they’re the same shit over and over again.”

Yet, memes are a complicated art form in that most of them require some sort of foreknowledge on the part of the audience in order to “get” the message.  Through association, certain images will indicate certain ways an audience is supposed to feel about a particular subject.

A picture of a baby thrusting a fist up in the air, over time, has become a symbol of the small victories in life.  Anyone who understands this picture can caption it using their college experiences, and share it with others.  One baby meme found on the Baruch Memes website was captioned “Don’t know the answer to a question on the test:  answer is in another question.”

The magic of college memes, however, is that they are made through another set of circumstances.  Many memes posted on these Facebook groups are college-specific, and require some inside information in order for the audience to get the joke.

For example, a meme submitted to Baruch Memes from Jessica Soler, a student, depicts a comic strip where a character wearing her iPod walks through the scanners at the library, and screams in pain as she passes through due to the feedback.  For anyone who doesn’t go to Baruch, this meme will go right over their head.  But Baruch Student’s share this experience with the artist, and they get in on the joke.

College meme’s are only growing in popularity, and more and more are being made every day.  Mike Rugnetta, a composer, programmer, and performer, was recently brought on by PBS to talk about memes.  “What’s exciting is that this is a body of work produced collaboratively by tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.  Anyone can get involved.  That’s something we’ve never seen before.”

CUNY Baruch is not alone in the growing trend.  Other colleges are also beginning to host web pages for memes specific to their campus.  Colleges like Hunter College have been created later, but their popularity is growing quickly.

The meme’s from Hunter share some similarities with the memes of Baruch, and many of them don’t require knowledge of Hunter to get.  But similarly to Baruch, Hunter has its own share of insider memes, meant specifically for the enjoyment of the Hunter students.

Another popular picture for memes is one of a college student in a grey hoodie smiling at the camera while holding his phone.  This image also has a definition.  It’s commonly called “College Freshman” and any meme that comes up with this image will usually describe a situation a dumb college freshman might find himself in.  On the Hunter Meme’s page, a “College Freshman” picture is captioned “Time to Cross Hunter Skywalk…takes out phone.”

New York University also has its own meme page on Facebook.  It was founded on Feb. 6, 2012, and now has over 6,000 likes and hundreds and hundreds of memes.  Each one is submitted by a NYU student, and each one says something about their experiences and NYU.

“A lot of people have responded to it because it connects to what they experience on a daily basis and because people would rather mock the system they are in than get off their ass and actually do something about it.” Shteyn said, about college memes.  “I am one of those people.”



The Room: A Mediocre Movie, A Midnight Event

31 Mar

by Simon Jones

Published: May 16, 2011 

On the last Friday of every month, the Village East Cinema shows a very unique midnight movie.  People line up outside the theater as early as 10:30.  Once inside, the smell of alcohol flies through the air along with footballs tossed by the audience.  As the theater darkens, the entire audience erupts into applause.

Fans eagerly participate with the movie.  The shout out quotes ripped from the script, riff on the dialogue, and throw plastic spoons at the screen.  As the movie enters its sexual scenes, people wave their lighters and cell phones in the air.

The film being shown is The Room.  The Room is an independent film, directed by a previously unknown filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, which has the reputation of being one of the worst movies ever made.  Considered his magnum opus, the film is often called the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”.  A CNN article explains that The Room, originally released in 2003, bombed in the box office.

Despite all this, though, The Room has attracted a major cult following.  Movie theaters in major cities around the country, including the Village East Cinema, now do midnight screenings reminiscent of showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, except whereas The Rocky Horror Picture Show is often admired for its clever writing and music, The Room is usually celebrated for its mediocrity.

George Gross hosts the midnight screenings at the East Village Cinema.  ”It’s fun getting together with a bunch of strangers and enjoying an inside joke,” Gross said.

According to, The Room is currently being shown in cities all over the world, including Portland, Chicago, Toronto, and even London.  And since the Village East Cinema has started screening the film, the showings have always sold out.

The Room screenings are unique because of the audience participation. During a screening of the film on March 28, 2011, the audience participates in almost every aspect of the film.  Fans flocked to the theater with bags full of plastic spoons to be thrown at the screen later on.  Footballs were thrown around the theater before show time, a homage to the football scenes of the film.  One fan even showed up to the theater dressed as the main character, complete with long black hair and accent.

Saul Zandi was the one of the first people online for the screening on March 28, 2011.  “The Room is kind of like a litmus test,” Zandi said.  “It’s something else to everybody.”  The showing along with seasoned veterans of the midnight screening, contained a lot of “room newbies” whose first time attending a screening.  Lauren O’Conner, new to the screening, giggled heartily as she announced ,“This is my first time seeing it.”

The back story to The Room is almost as strange as the film itself.  The director, Tommy Wiseau, has virtually no history.  In interviews, he refuses to answer questions about his origins or where he got the $7 million to make The Room.  With his heavy, yet indistinguishable, accent, and long black hair, at best, Tommy Wiseau is an enigma.

Tommy Wiseau wielded heavy control in making his film.  The first few minutes of The Room contain the opening credits, which points out that Wiseau was the director, producer, writer, and producer again of the movie.  Tommy Wiseau also plays the main character in the film.  Wiseau’s ineptitude in both directing and acting help create the popularity of the movie.

Douglas Walker is an Internet comedian who reviews movies every week under the guise of the Nostalgia Critic.  He reviewed The Room in July 2010.  “It’s really worth checking out,” Walker said, in his harsh review of the film.  “It’s one of those movies you have to see to believe.  No one could willingly make a movie this interestingly bad.”

Written as a drama, the story includes the main character, Johnny, and his fiancée, Lisa.  They are both excited about their upcoming marriage, but things get complicated when Johnny’s best friend, Mark, starts sleeping with Lisa.  While deceptively simply, several factors turn the film into a bizarre mess that makes it so popular among fans.

The Room is a film that is all over the place.  Denny is “like a son” to Johnny, and often pops in on him and Lisa.  At one point in the movie, he’s threatened by a drug dealer dubbed Chris R., and Johnny and Mark have to save him.  This incident is never alluded to again in the film.  Likewise, Lisa’s mother, Claudette, while sitting with her daughter, mentions out of nowhere that she “definitely [has] breast cancer”.   It is never addressed or mentioned afterwards. Lisa is seduces Mark three times in the film, but Mark is surprised each time it happens.  In one scene Johnny goes from being angry about rumors that he hit his fiancée to laughing at a story about a woman hospitalized from domestic abuse.  Characters are introduced with no exposition as to who they are, and one disappears halfway through the movie for no reason.  The main character, Johnny, has many lines that have become popular among fans.

A lot of the movie is taken up by scenes of characters playing football, once while in tuxedos, awkward sex, and pans across San Francisco.  A particular fan favorite is a scene at a flower shop that lasts no longer that 30 seconds.  Stock phrases such as “Oh Hi” and “Don’t worry about it” are used constantly throughout the film.

Tommy Wiseau himself may best explain the essence of the midnight screenings.  In his interview of the DVD of The Room, Wiseau gives a command to the midnight audiences.  “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other. Enjoy the movie!”