Texas's Unknown WWII Prisoner Camp: Jan Jarboe Russell's The Train to Crystal City

Categories: Books

It's a little known and dark episode in Texas history: the WWII family internment camp in Crystal City, just north of the Mexican border. Thousands of German and Japanese immigrants -- and their American-born children -- were held in the Crystal City facility, deep in South Texas. Jan Jarboe Russell, a contributing editor for Texas Monthly, recounts the events in her new book, The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.

Russell focuses her story on two American-born teens, Ingrid Eiserloh of Ohio and Sumi Utsujogawa of California. The Eiserlohs were forced to leave their home in Ohio because a neighbor reported they had a large cistern in their basement. It could be used for a secret room or "filled with quicklime used to dispose of dead bodies in the event of war," the neighbor alleged. That one unfounded, unproven accusation got them sent to the camp and eventually to Germany.

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Podcast: Winners, Awkward Moments and Losers from the 2015 Oscars

Categories: Film and TV

There was an awkward moment between Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson and her mom, Melanie Griffith, on the red carpet before the Oscars on Sunday. But the world got to see Johnson's impressive talent for pretending uncomfortable situations don't seem to bother her (see also: Fifty Shades of Grey). It was an eventful Oscars, and that was only the start. Your Voice Film Club hosts Amy Nicholson, Alan Scherstuhl, and Stephanie Zacharek break down the 2015 Oscars winners and losers, while Amy and Stephanie unveil their all-time favorite Oscar dresses. Plus, Amy tells us about how Channing Tatum is going to blow our minds in the new Coen Brothers movie, Hail, Caesar! As always, send mail to filmpod@villagevoice.com and follow us on the Twitter at @voicefilmclub.

[Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast on iTunes]

An Artist's Exploration of the Crisis in Ukraine Begins by Remembering the Past

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo by Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak
"Will the Grass Grow Over It?" by Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak
Propaganda can kill, and one famous example is the story of The New York Times reporter Walter Duranty who, in 1931, regurgitated Communist propaganda into a series of 13 articles about Joseph Stalin's rule over the Soviet Union and, in doing so, winning the 1932 Pulitzer Prize. While a misinformed America slept, Stalin forced individual farmers to work on collective farms and fulfill impossible government quotas. Unable to consume their own grain, a 1932-33 famine in Ukraine resulted in the starvation and death of almost seven million persons.

This is a very personal story for artist Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, whose parents escaped the famine, and who understands the dangers of complacency. Her paintings, drawings and collages, which incorporate objects and materials brought back from her ancestral home interspersed with newspaper clippings and photographs, are a graphic cry for help. On display now at Hunter Gather Project, her work draws attention to the current crisis in Ukraine, with Russia not honoring the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, breaking its promise to respect the existing borders of Ukraine.

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Houston Author Kathryn Casey Explores the Texas Killing Fields in Deliver Us

Categories: Books

True Crime Author Kathryn Casey
To most of us, I-45 is just another highway. To true crime author Kathryn Casey, it's a crime scene. A 50-mile stretch of I-45 connects Houston to Galveston. Over the past 40 years, dozens of bodies of young women, mostly teenagers, have been found dumped in the woods that border the highway.

Casey's newest book, Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields, is a look at the reasons the majority of those cases remain unsolved.

"I've been looking at pictures [of the victims] for 20 years, off and on, in the newspapers. I wanted to know what happened to them and why the cases weren't being solved.," Casey says.

During the three years it took her to write the book, she found there were several factors.

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"The Infinity Machine" Starts the Menil's Byzantine Fresco Chapel Reinvention

Categories: Visual Arts

The Menil Collection/George Hixson
"The Infinity Machine"
In Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's installation "The Infinity Machine," a cluster of mirrors dangles from the ceiling, slowly rotating in the darkened interior of The Menil Collection's Byzantine Fresco Chapel. There are oval mirrors, gilt mirrors, beveled mirrors, wall mirrors, hand mirrors, in all shapes and sizes. Some are vintage, some are antique. In the center of the mass, two mirrors face each other, reflecting infinitely.

The mirrors hang from the dome of the chapel, where, a few years ago, a visitor would look up and see a 13th-century fresco depicting Christ Pantocrator ("ruler of all"). Illuminated by just a couple of small spotlights, the dozens of mirrors reflect darting and flickering light across the walls and over visitors. A haunting, otherworldly hum of sound emanates from eight speakers around the room. At intervals, a voice counts to eight. The "audio collage" is truly otherworldly, incorporating recordings collected by the Voyager I and II probes as they passed the outer planets of our solar system. The sounds are recordings of solar winds striking the electromagnetic fields of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It's like the spaceship equivalent of driving through a neighborhood with your windows down.

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Houston Ballet Unveils Stanton Welch's Take on Romeo and Juliet

Categories: Ballet

Courtesy of the Houston Ballet
Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez will dance the leads opening night.
Imagine that you've been doing the same choreography by a revered figure in the dance world for a classic ballet with beautiful music for more than two decades. Audiences like it, so why not leave well alone? That makes sense, right?

Except that Houston Ballet's Artistic Director, Stanton Welch, decided he couldn't leave it alone. For the past three and a half years, he's been developing his own new choreography for Romeo and Juliet, and when the ballet is unveiled this week, it will be the first new production telling the tale of the two star-crossed lovers here in 28 years.

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The 5 Side-Scroller Puzzle Games You Must Play at Least Once

Categories: Gaming

Puzzle games are in a renaissance thanks to the mobile market right now, but while things like Candy Crush and its various knockoffs remain insanely popular, there have been some amazing entries into the side-scroller puzzle genre. Not just inventive, head-scratching play but in some cases unforgettable story lines and daring, avant garde characters. If you've never gotten into one of these types of games before, here is a guide for you to get started.

Thomas Was Alone
There probably has never been a game that broke more molds than Thomas Was Alone. Its characters are represented by nothing more than differently sized and colored rectangles, and yet the narration by Danny Wallace infuses them with more nuance and depth than any Grand Theft Auto protagonist. The graphics are as simple as Pong, but still sharp enough and beautiful enough to keep holding their own into the eighth-generation systems. Are you a girl looking for the perfect equal representation of women in gaming? It has literally never been done better than with the blue box Claire and the purple box Sarah (Laura is pink and a love interest to Chris, but still definitely her own woman).

As a puzzler, Thomas Was Alone is not overly difficult. You'll probably be able to get through it without ever looking up a walk-through even if it takes more than a few tries to get to the exits. The themes of cooperation and personal relationships play out heavily in the actual gameplay, making them powerful storytelling tools. My favorite is one where Thomas and James must slowly and carefully edge themselves across a vast abyss with spikes waiting to catch them if they miss. Not only is it a neat thing to physically do, it actively feels as if it cements the two rectangles as a team. Add in the fact that the plot is basically The Matrix Trilogy if Stephen Fry had written it (and it didn't suck), and it's one of the most engaging games ever.

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A Lawyer's Head Injury Unveils Hidden Artistic Talents

Photo by Mark Reyes
Artist Patrick Fagerberg with piece from "Embracing the Sublime" exhibit at Gremillion & Co.

A man walks into a bar, gets hit on the head by a 400-pound camera boom, and emerges almost unscathed. Or so that's what Patrick Fagerberg thought, after his plans to hear the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark went horribly awry in 2011. "I was at South by Southwest for an OMD concert," said Fagerberg, who heard the first note of the guitar before being knocked out. Taken out on a stretcher, he was stitched up and released from the hospital after just 7 hours. "I was happy that my neck wasn't broken," said Fagerberg. "Two days later, I couldn't put sentences together. I knew I was in trouble."

With that single note, the legal career of this successful Austin defense attorney ended and the darkness set in. "I had to grieve my own death. The depression was horrendous," said Fagerberg, who struggled with substance abuse and the loss of his girlfriend and career, eventually turning to cognitive therapy and psychotherapy to deal with the stages of grief.

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8 Kid's Books and Movies That Were More Than a Little Intense

Categories: Books

Photo by Karen Cox

People in this country spend their childhoods reading and watching material aimed at their age group, but of course times change. What is considered quality or age appropriate during a certain period of time might not look so great to parents in ensuing generations. Books and films created for kids seem to have many functions besides pure entertainment. Many of them also attempt to pass along a lesson of some kind, as anyone whose ever watched Sesame Street can confirm.

Many of the really old fairy tales went to very dark places, when one thinks about it. For instance, Hansel and Gretel tells the story of two kids abandoned in the woods so their parents won't have to feed them during a famine. After finding their way home, they are left in the woods again, where they are eventually captured by a cannibalistic witch, using her candy house as bait, who enslaves Gretel and locks Hansel in a metal cage to fatten him up. Hansel tricks the witch for a few weeks by offering a bone he finds (presumably from an earlier victim) each time she asks to feel whether his finger is growing plumper. Soon though, she decides she'll eat both children regardless of how thin they are, and Gretel manages to push the witch into her oven, burning her alive as she screams in agony.

The kids then discover the witch's treasure trove and make their way home where they find their father. The stepmother responsible for sending them to the woods has died in the meantime, and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

Let's think about that. What would happen to me if I wrote a children's book today that involved sending young kids to fend for themselves in the woods because they had become inconvenient to their parents? Where they were captured by a cannibal and tormented for weeks, before they finally were able to burn her alive? I'm pretty sure every parents' group in the country would rise up to destroy me, although I read "Hansel and Gretel" as a young child and loved it. I still love the Grimm's Fairy Tales, although those often covered frightening and violent subject matter. I'm not a parent, and I won't take a position on whether or not certain kid's material is too harsh or scary for little kids. I was exposed to a lot of great stories that had really sad or scary moments in them as a child. These are a few though that often come up when I ask people I know what stories upset them as kids. Warning: This article will contain a few spoilers.

8. Watership Down

I loved this book as a child, and saw the animated film version when it came out in 1978, when I was nine years old. Inspired by stories about rabbits that the author Richard Adams would tell his daughters on long car rides, "Watership Down" tells the tale of a group of rabbits led by Fiver, who was born with the ability to see visions of the future. After experiencing one showing the destruction of their warren, he and his brother Hazel lead a band of rabbits in search of a safer home. They have many adventures along the way, including encountering a murderous group of other rabbits, and that's all I'll say. The book is great, and won several awards for best children's books, and is considered a classic. It also covers some pretty dark material, with a lot of themes involving death. The movie adaptation is also very good, and is considered a classic of its own. The movie in particular is violent, with lots of bloody fights, and I remember it scared my little brother when we saw it together.

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Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth Speaks of Humankind's Ability to Go On

Categories: Stage

Photo by Scott McWhirter
Wade Gonsoulin as Mr. Antrobus, trying to keep warm amid the coming Ice Age
The set-up:
How much poorer would the American theater be without the riches of Thornton Wilder? A world without Our Town or The Matchmaker is unthinkable. A place without The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) would be darker still.

What a unique, spectacular view this play presents. The flip side to his bleak masterpiece Our Town, Wilder called Skin a "fantastic comedy," and it's nothing less than the history of mankind done up as vaudeville, sketch comedy, theater of the absurd, and heartbreaking family drama.

Wonderfully goofy and beautifully enlightening, it switches mood within a sentence, turning dark and brooding, then comically silly, ultimately inspiring and uplifting. Skin catches you up with brilliant theatrical strokes as it breaks the fourth wall, never letting us forget we're watching something artificial, but then Wilder's somewhat one-dimensional characters suddenly become the voice of all of us struggling to make sense of the world, and tears well up in our eyes. It's a Wilderean tour de force, a magnificent, intimate epic. This play is everything a play should be.

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