"When I first got into show business, my step-father bought me a wild shirt which....said more about what he thought show business was than what I thought it was."
Known as one of the most interesting interviewees around, Tom Waits delivers the goods in his PBS Blank on Blank interview, "Everything and Nothing." Though he is only asked four questions, Tom still manages to speak for over five minutes on topics varying from why moles are awarded prizes for burrowing under rivers to the never-ending surreality of New York City. Much like Waits' music, the interview is an insightful, funny stream of consciousness ramble that seems to have emanated from some garbage strewn Los Angeles back alley. For any Waits fan, the interview is yet another spoken word jewel that he seems to be capable of summoning at will.
Rather than recording a conventional interview, the creators of "Everything and Nothing," David Gerlach, Patrick Smith, and Amy Drozdowska, have fashioned an animated short film that transforms Waits' words into scenes. This decision breathes even more life into Waits' vivid words and transforms an already entertaining interview into a fully realized vision. Though this digital story would score well in almost all of Jason Ohler's Digital Story Assessment Traits, I have chosen to critique it using the Story, Media Application, and Media Grammar traits.
This interview is not so much a story as it is a series of Waits' observations about topics that interest him. For instance, when he is asked where he would like to go, Tom answers "Stonehenge," and then details the number of moles currently living under the monoliths, as well as why moles award each other for burrowing under rivers. The film animates all of this. Without the animated visuals, such an aside would seem quite non-sensical. With the film, Waits' observations, which venture into some even stranger territories, somehow coalesce into what feels like an actual story. Well, it at least has good story bones.
I feel that the creators of "Everything and Nothing" were wise to choose animation as the visual medium to support the Waits interview. A more cinema verite approach would be antithetical to Waits' fantastical and "out there" observations. The animations are well drawn and considered. The animator, Patrick Smith, does not illustrate all of Waits' meanderings, only the more bizarre ones, which makes the film visually stimulating.
This "story" definitely has its fair share of bumps. It's rambling, non-linear, and does not seem to have a central theme. However, when interviewing Tom Waits, such considerations go out the window. Waits' musical sensibilities are firmly rooted in the jazz tradition. Thus, spontaneous improvisation is the norm. He practices this tradition not only in his music, but in his interviews as well. While matching Waits' words to images, Smith necessarily goes "off course," which, when viewed through the lens of Media Grammar, could be judged as being "wrong." However, in this case, I think such criticism would be misguided. Listening to or viewing a Tom Waits interview is meant to be disorienting. It's supposed to violate the rules of Media Grammar. That's what Waits is all about.
All in all, "Everything and Nothing" is a well-done, entertaining interview conducted with a master of the form. I would recommend it to anyone.
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I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.