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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Monday
Jul282014

In Which Boyhood Keeps Us In A State Of Perpetual Anxiety

Familiar Story

by SARI EDELSTEIN

Boyhood
dir. Richard Linklater
165 minutes

Critics are swooning over Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood, most notably because it took twelve years to film see, for instance, Dana Stevens' rave. Linklater has claimed it was the longest shoot in film history. But this cinematic accomplishment does not serve a particularly novel take on adolescence or aging; instead, it offers a familiar story of coming-of-age as masculine disenchantment and growing older as decline.

Nominally about the boyhood of its protagonist, Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane), Boyhood is actually about the effects of time more broadly, as it portrays the same actors over the course of twelve years. Thus, the film’s central subject is aging, and how years look. We see how twelve years register on the faces and bodies of the young actor as well as on the more familiar Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play his parents.

The landscape of rural Texas its canyons and vast expanses affirm the power of time to change its subjects, to work deep ravines and crevasses into the earth. But while time renders the natural world ever more beautiful and mysterious, the film works hard to show that age has the opposite effect on people. According to this film, aging is not about progress or improvement, nor is it about the acquisition of wisdom. According to Boyhood, life involves nothing but a progressive winnowing away of idealism.


Though the hard-working mother of two, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), achieves some version of success (home ownership, graduate degree), she can’t find a decent husband or a modicum of financial stability. Moreover, the tenderness we witness with her children in the early scenes of the film dissolves into power struggles, nagging, and alienation.

Mason’s father, played by Ethan Hawke, is perhaps the only sympathetic man in the film, though he begins as a clichéd deadbeat dad. While he is absent for much of their childhood, he comes to desire true intimacy with his children. By contrast, Mason’s two stepfathers represent more conventional versions of “manhood," associated with alcoholism, violence, and emotional frigidity.

Boyhood dwells on the vapidity of traditional rites of passages; birthdays and graduations are rendered empty performances. When he turns fifteen, Mason is given a gun, a bible, and a suit and tie, the paraphernalia of the normative Southern man he is supposed to be. In one of the final scenes, his mother breaks down as her son leaves for college and sums up the film’s bleak view of aging when she semi-comically announces, “You know what’s next? My funeral!” Thus, far from celebration, rites of passage merely bring her closer to death. And Mason keeps viewers in a state of perpetual anxiety (avoiding car accidents, abuse, and injury by a hair’s breadth), as if to remind us that growing up is simply about not dying.


In this sense, Boyhood shares a sensibility with last summer’s sleeper coming-of-age film The Way, Way Back, which also rendered adulthood as an undesirable achievement. In that film, fourteen-year-old Duncan begrudgingly endures a summer vacation with his mother and her hostile boyfriend, Trent, at a beach house in a small New England town. To escape the claustrophobic climate of the beach cottage, Duncan finds refuge at a nearby waterpark whose loopy slides and swimming pools signal the film’s refusal to adhere to conventional ideas about linear development.


Where Boyhood portrays coming-of-age as disillusionment and fails to represent any alternative to the adulthood of the prior generation, The Way, Way Back challenges reigning ideas about how individuals experience the effects of time. In the film’s final scene, Duncan’s mother joins him in the “way, way back” of the family’s wood-paneled station wage, aligning herself with her son and his “backwards” way of seeing the world.

The movie thus ends in the same place it began; Duncan has not outgrown this childish status but has come to embrace it, reclaiming the lowest position on the hierarchy as a badge of honor and a preferable perspective. The Way, Way Back reminds us that growing older does not require one to conform to a life course rooted in stages and in the gradual assumption of normative gender roles.

Boyhood, on the contrary, is about the relentless stampede of years and their predictable and grim effects on individuals. Like the HBO television series Girls, Linklater’s movie makes a claim to universality with its title. But this boyhood is specific; it is a white, middle-class, Texan boyhood. In one scene, Olivia casually suggests to a young Latino landscaper that he go to college. To her surprise, the nameless character crosses her path years later at a restaurant; he has attended college and tells her, “You changed my life.” This surprising scene, strangely sentimental in the context of this cynical film, hints at the other boyhoods that might be imagined. Where Mason refuses to embrace the capitalist dictum that his parents, teachers, and supervisors relentlessly proffer, this young man seems to have wholly embraced the promise of the American dream. In a way, then, the movie acknowledges the specificity of version of boyhood it presents and implies that perhaps Mason’s anomie is itself a privilege.

Sari Edelstein is a contributor to This Recording. She teaches American literature at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She doesn't tumbl or tweet. This is her first appearance in these pages.

"Ghostly" - Home Video (mp3)

"Calm Down" - Home Video (mp3)

Friday
Jul252014

In Which Amy Schumer Obliterates Her Own Vanity

Impossibly Amy!

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Amy Schumer's face is a bit too bulbous in certain regions, resembling a squirrel with nuts saved up for winter. Her comedy is mostly self-deprecating when it comes to her appearance. She makes jabs at herself about her weight, her voice, her profligate sexuality basically anything that is not her hair or navel.

Amy is primarily a Jewish woman. Since Jewish women are not so often blonde, Amy passes for a shiksa at first glance. When the unsuspecting goy realizes he is not dealing with one of his own kind, he instinctively rebels against this momentary betrayal. This explains any and all venom against Ms. Schumer on the internet, except from the wives of the married men she has been with. When they told her they loved her, she told them that they loved their wives.

It is possible that Jesus could return to us, but not in the form He took the first time? It is, isn't it?


In one of her sketches, Amy Schumer returns to her domicile and finds her boyfriend wearing clown makeup. She accepts his explanation that he was wearing the makeup as a surprise for her, even though it seems very obvious her boyfriend is hiding a clown woman in their bedroom. The joke is that Amy forgives things that she should not.

In another sketch, Amy's friend and writer on the show, Tig, has cancer. When she asks Amy to run in a 5K supporting cancer research, Amy keeps finding excuses that would prevent her from participating. The joke is that Amy is an insensitive boss and human being. We all know that's not true!

In another sketch, Amy is on a date with a man who is telling her about his experience on 9/11. After she orders her sandwich, Amy remarks of the woman who took her order, "She's cute" after thinking about it for several seconds. The joke is that Amy is so self-centered that she pays compliments to people outside their hearing, I think. Amy finds it very difficult to concentrate during her date's story. Later, she directs him to be quiet while she attempts to Shazam a song playing in the restaurant.

Melissa McCarthy is a lot less conventionally attractive than Amy, but it is still revolting how she is used as a punchline for her weight, and how Chuck Lorre wrote a whole TV show about how the only man she could find would be a guy the size of a house who she met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. (This is actually the horribly offensive plot of Mike & Molly.)

Amy's self-deprecating schtick more closely resembles Tina Fey's. Listening to Fey put herself down over the course of season after season of 30 Rock became exhausting, then ridiculous as the actress who portrayed Liz Lemon turned into a sex symbol. There is a deep uncomfortability with sex at the heart of Tina's act in general. It is the reason why her stylings translated so terribly to the movies, where our revulsion and disbelief at how much she claims to have eaten is not nearly as desirable or sympathetic over the course of two hours.

Tempting as it may be to film Amy getting dumped by Bradley Cooper and go on a road trip with her best pal (one of Judd Apatow's daughters, most likely) there are only a select few people who mankind is willing to pay to watch denigrate themselves for our amusement, and the list grows every time Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen replicates via simple mitosis. In her new movie with Apatow, Trainwreck, Amy wrote her own role as a woman who tries to "get over her self-sabotaging ways."

Amy's putdowns of herself are fresher and more biting (and at the same time Joan Rivers-ancient) when she refers to her own promiscuity. Amy recently whispered to James McAvoy on the Tonight Show that she has been known to use too much teeth during oral sex. He seemed vaguely disgusted and semi-turned on. When he stood up he was 5'1" max and Amy did not appear to be interested any longer.

In another sketch, Lisa Lampanelli sings a really awkward and dated song about her breasts being unusual.

In another sketch, Amy portrays a therapist counseling a group of troubled husbands. Each of the men advocates severe violence as a solution to their marital problems. Amy attempts to dissuade them from such a drastic course. At the conclusion of the sketch, Amy's Australian boyfriend enters the room to complain that he has been waiting for too long. The men suggest ways she might kill this man.

In another sketch, Amy expresses her frustration about how terrible her mother is at using any basic technology. In another sketch she and Parker Posey complain to a waiter who does not understand their dietary needs.

Some critics have taken issue with Amy's many bon mots about her vaunted promiscuity. Offstage, Amy makes it clear that while she is far from sexually inexperienced, she does not treat relationships in any kind of frivolous way. Even on her show, Amy shows herself as vulnerable and committed when her partner seems to require the opposite. This seems like an impossible woman to tear your eyes away from for more than a second, let alone cheat on.

It sort of bothers me that no matter how disgusting a male comedian is, no one accuses him of betraying his gender or political movement because he makes a joke about his balls.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"On My Own" - Kodakid (mp3)

"Goin' Out West" - Kodakid (mp3)


Thursday
Jul242014

In Which We Figure Out The Advice For Ourselves

Unsolicited Advice Culture

by KATRIN HIGHER

There has been a certain increase in volume among my acquaintances and friends, as well as peers and strangers, where the casual sharing of advice and normal human interchange of ideas of yore has been replaced with a commanding flood of unsolicited or bash-one-over-the-head-with advice mania. Why has everyone become a self-help guru/mother/father/best friend?

The last few years have been filled with “You Shoulds,” “You Shouldn’ts,” “Why aren’t yous” “Stop this, stop that," “Get pregnant now." It is to the point where I now look at sugar and wonder if it’s going to send me to the ER if it happens to be refined.

abigail van buren & ann landers

The origins of “giving advice” are not exactly clear, but culturally and anthropologically speaking, it makes sense that elders give others in their groupings some sage life-advice as a way of passing on the traditions that help everyone live smoothly.  But our frantic modernity has created something that is pathological in its flogging insistence of what one should or shouldn’t do, buy, eat or wear.

Dear Abby was started in 1956 by Pauline Phillips and the current syndicate describes the column as “well known for sound, compassionate advice, delivered with the straightforward style of a good friend.” Ah, a good friend you say!

Advice columns have their merits. It can give the lost soul some comfort to hear words of blanket facebook quote-like wisdom or uplift. But it looks to me that it’s gone the way of explosive capitalism and advice-giving hubris. After Dear Abby, we got Ann Landers, then advice columns in all of the lady mags and even Playboy. Here’s how to solve your problems, everyone! The dawn of Oprah turned this ethos into a worldwide brand.  This is not an Oprah-bashing article mind you, but her show took strident advice-giving to capitalistic heights. Each special expert guest told you how you need to be living, or else, also you must buy this and that or else.  They are like insidious infomercials disguised as care-giving.

YOU NEED TO HAVE. I need to have this or else, or else WHAT?! As a result of this advice-on-steroids culture, we end up questioning our own decisions and worth according to the journeys of other people as default, instead of listening to ourselves and perhaps the select group of people you have learned to trust over time.

It makes sense that the commodification of giving advice would arise quickly with the increase in technology and communication; it is the perfect advertising strategy. You must click on this and do as these gorgeous rich people did or else you will rot, hurt others with your ugly rotten face, and ultimately die alone while leaving everyone disappointed especially your lover and mom. Please work out and meditate while doing yoga and drinking grass juice at the same time as having a child before 30! Oprah and her Drs Oz and Phil, the media, self-help books, and now the internet have created Advice Monsters swarming around in our day-to-day lives.

I hear it from strangers while waiting in line, from casual acquaintances, good friends and family which, is fine, though annoying, and from anything and anyone in between. The gamut runs from “You should really go Paleo” to as invasive a comment as “You really shouldn’t wait so long to have children…wait…you’re not even married yet?!” It is as though everyone has become a mother from the 1950s waiting in the wings for their daughter to meet the strapping young man at the Sadie Hawkins dance. Stand up straight! Posture! You have to marry him or you’re worth nothing! If you don’t do this, my life will actually have no meaning! Wait...

I crowdsourced this theory of mine, reaching out to friends and peers, asking them whether this is something they noticed and the particulars therein.  Not only did literally everyone I ask emphatically respond with a resounding YES, they all had several particulars to choose from. The majority noted that most comments and advice centered around: diet, exercise and weight; but circumstantial advice is given especially during pregnancy and motherhood, as well as to those, like me, who are in their early 30s and as of yet or forever, child-free.  

Personally, I do not want to go Paleo or quit sugar even if that did help you. I will not be going gluten-free thank you very much, and yes, even though I happen to be 33 years old, I am not going to “just have a baby and not think about it” (this has been said to me by two baby-boom aged people as well as a few people my age or younger (!)).

So why do so many folks become these insistent life coaches? I sometimes share helpful tips, sure, and it is a normal part of human nature to impart small quips of everyday successes onto your friends in a reasonable manner like: “Hey I tried this lip gloss, it’s great!”  However we have entered this hyperbolic and seriously boundary-crossing territory which I can only attribute to a blend of media saturation and one’s insecurities desire of control and validation.

It is a way for someone to feel justified in their (perhaps expensive) choices, in making them feel less alone.  There is an illusion of power when you insist that this stranger you meet in the Quinoa department should not be eating gluten: “Do not eat gluten for I am the goddess of this Whole Foods and shall save you, dear child! (Speaking of child, do you have any?  I hope you’re not feeding them sugar I –).”  In reality they are crossing a line into territory that is zero of their business. The power you wield regarding this privileged and lucky version of your life is not going to work on everyone; quite the opposite in fact.

We all have so many varying, complex and interesting needs that do not fit into a set world order and manner of living.  The yoga-pant wearing Oprahtic sages, the bearded bartenders telling me to not drink beer, think they are doing us favors, but really, we feel invaded and guilty about not being enough or not having enough or doing the wrong thing. My life doesn’t work according to your script and as a good friend once said “keep your eyes on your own paper.” I don’t know if I believe that you just genuinely care about me, person sitting next to me at this weird dinner party.

Aren’t we evolved enough now to really start looking at boundaries more closely? To mind our own business especially when it comes to the bodies and the small or giant life-choices of others? We have simultaneously turned into a more open-minded culture (good) to a boundary crossing group of lifestyle dictators (bad). I don’t mind if you tell me I have to try this new chocolate bar, but I do mind when you tell me I better start having children or the alternative will be that I die unfulfilled, alone and full of moths.

Katrin Higher is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Astoria. You can find her twitter here.

"Love Is In The Air" - Keith Zarriello (mp3)

"Wash Away The Pain" - Keith Zarriello (mp3)