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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Feb272017

In Which She Left Her Hand Where It Was On The Table

Sentimental Value

by TARA LINDHOLM

"She's single-minded," suggested Willie, who was unusual in appreciating his own qualities in other people. – Penelope Fitzgerald

Check-out is at 3, so we have all the time in the world.

Marco splits on the fifth day we are in Seattle. It is not because he does not want to pay the bill, since I was always going to be the one paying it. There is a reason they demand a deposit – that way if you leave, you're ruined. But I don't know if the place always gets their money. I think they do, because otherwise they would not be in business. Anyway, I settle up with what's left of my savings, and I go looking for him.

By the next afternoon I don't care where he is particularly. A strong wind pushes me forward. A good place is the waiting room of a doctor's office, since it is virtually certain to be warm there, and the last thing they want to do is ask a young, potentially fragile young woman how long she has been waiting.

painting by Leandro Manzo

I decide to head to California. I was only going north because of Marco. He was Canadian, but he did not look or sound it; so I guess I only have his word on that. You would think his say-so would not be worth very much, and you would probably be right, but it does take some fundamental amount of energy to lie. Suppose the person you love had the means to lie about that, but nothing else? You could not know where you stood. You wouldn't even be standing.

Anyway, I am glad enough that Marco did not take my guitar, since that would have been more than unkind. He plays it better than I do, but he didn't like playing it half as much. I sell it for $95, which is a substantial windfall. The meal I eat afterwards shakes the rafters. What rafters, you ask? Well, it rains a lot, so if you sleep outdoors, it is best to find cover. Those are the rafters, and when you look up at them long enough they don't resemble anything at all.

Portland is lovely but too cold at night, and the level of scrutiny is appalling. It is easy to make friends but I am not so facile at keeping them. It is hard for me to believe in people, and while I try to bury that distrust so far beneath the surface they will only discover it at some later, greater date, I worry it bleeds into my talk, small and large. What an effort it takes to prevent ourselves from being exactly what we are!

Dave drives me from Portland to San Francisco, a trip he often makes to visit a girl who lives in the Mission. I know he likes me, maybe a little too much, but he isn't brave enough to say anything about it. This is one reason I let him drive me. The whole way down, he plays the worst death metal you can imagine. At the end of the ride he very seriously asks me what I thought of the music. A lot is hinging on this, so I reply, "I am always surprised at what inspires me," and this takes more than twenty seconds to register, like what the fuck have I meant by this statement, but then he frames it for himself. "I used to love watching Oprah," he says.

When he drops me off in a tony neighborhood uptown, I think, well, if he had asked nicely enough and he did not have this other girl, it would have been a warm bed. That's when I get a call from my cousin Cindy. She says I can stay with her as long as I like, only how I am going to get from San Francisco to New York? It is $250 to board a plane, which does not seem like that much of a figure, only I am down to sixty dollars at present with not much in the way of tangible assets except some jewelry that will be impossible to move and has vague sentimental value.

Now I regret not tracking down Marco in Seattle, because he probably would have given a small sum out of guilt and perhaps more if I demanded it. I mull over whether to text him how much he owes me, but if I do that, I won't see a dime. I could tell him that I'm pregnant, but he'll never believe it. No man ever had so much faith in the concept of withdrawal. I can tell him the truth, that I just would like to see him for no real reason. This is what I do, and wait for a reply.

Except for Cindy, who is my cousin, I always feel like people in my life are never reaching out in a timely fashion. When they call me, it is never at the key moment. They want to be close when I am far away in my heart, and when I desire their company, they are floating in the Dead Sea. They wanted to go their entire lives.

In order to make some money, I beg for a bit and get nowhere. San Francisco is overly crowded for this. I have this busted up iPhone I use to get sympathy which works pretty well. Only they always want to know how exactly how you broke it. If you find this protective American male, he might like to hear your boyfriend did it. Whether or not that comes across believable to a god-fearing all-American mark is a gamble. Mostly what you get is a dollar for the bus or to go away. It is easier just to find work.

Before I try doing that, Dave calls me and says they broke up. Do I want to go back to Portland with him? I explain I'm on vacation. Does he want to make it somewhat less lonely? He kisses me on the esplanade like I am the first woman he has ever met, and I bear him a grudging respect for that. I promise myself I will not ask him for money, but he is staying at his buddy's Airbnb and it's a lot better than where I had been the previous night. Marco would not have minded the smell, but I did.

His temporary roommate is a slender gay Asian named Bagel. (It's pronounced differently.) I ask what Bagel does for work and Dave explains that he writes the documentation for a software engine. "They actually had really terrible documentation until Bagel came along," Dave says, possibly half-seriously. The only thing I don't like about San Francisco besides the hills is that you can't tell how much anyone knows about themselves. I text Marco again, but this time it is not a question, it is just a depressing emoji. He does not write back.

painting by Leandro Manzo

Sex with Dave is a welcome distraction. He does not have much of an appetite for it, probably because he mixes substantial amounts of marijuana edibles with prescription opiates. His apology, if and when he loses his erection, is a vague grumbling at himself. I grow very tired of this in one week, and think about stealing a laptop. Only I don't do it, since I don't want to get pinched when Cindy is sticking her neck out, coast-to-coast. And I know it's wrong, even if they can afford it.

Finally I ask Dave for a loan. He wants to know what it is for, and I say, it's to go to Los Angeles, since if I tell him I am going to New York, he will realize he will never see me or the money ever again. He just nods, and says he will think about it. That night Bagel comes home and asks me how much it will take to leave. I think about it for a hard second, wondering how much I can get out of the deal. You never know, because documentation can be very lucrative. But if I go too high I know I will not see a dime. "$300," I say, and he hands it to me out of his wallet in twenties. "It's nothing personal," he says, "only Dave will never leave unless you do. He told me he's never met anyone like you." Bagel mimes sticking his finger down his throat.

Above this country, in the air, I stick to the basics. I do not like to fly, but when I do it, I want to believe I am going faster than all the other planes. Why not believe I am the best in the world at something, darling?

Tara Lindholm is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

Paintings by Leandro Manzo.


Friday
Feb242017

In Which Rebecca West Flees To America

Midnight Blue

Rebecca West had a child with H.G. Wells named Anthony, and for a brief second, everything was fine. Then this repulsive, married man showed his true colors. Eventually West fled to America, writing the whole time. The following letters show how difficult it was for her to obtain what was she and her son were owed, and how brave she was for breaking free of him. The process of extricating herself from this abusive and deceptive person took several twists and turns.

Dear H. G.,

During the next few days I shall either put a bullet through my head or commit something more shattering to myself than death. At any rate I shall be quite a different person. I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene.

I don’t understand why you wanted me three months ago and don’t want me now. I wish I knew why that were so. It’s something I can’t understand, something I despise. And the worst of it is that if I despise you I rage because you stand between me and peace. Of course you’re quite right. I haven’t anything to give you. You have only a passion for excitement and for comfort. You don’t want any more excitement and I do not give people comfort. I never nurse them except when they’re very ill. I carry this to excess. On reflection I can imagine that the occasion on which my mother found me most helpful to live with was when I helped her out of a burning house.

I always knew that you would hurt me to death some day, but I hoped to choose the time and place. You’ve always been unconsciously hostile to me and I have tried to conciliate you by hacking away at my love for you, cutting it down to the little thing that was the most you wanted. I am always at a loss when I meet hostility, because I can love and I can do practically nothing else. I was the wrong sort of person for you to have to do with. You want a world of people falling over each other like puppies, people to quarrel and play with, people who rage and ache instead of people who burn. You can’t conceive a person resenting the humiliation of an emotional failure so much that they twice tried to kill themselves: that seems silly to you. I can’t conceive of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame: that seems silly to me.

You’ve literally ruined me. I’m burned down to my foundations. I may build myself again or I may not. You say obsessions are curable. But people like me who swing themselves from one passion to another, and if they miss smash down somewhere where there aren’t any passions at all but only bare boards and sawdust. You have done for me utterly. You know it. That’s why you are trying to persuade yourself that I am a coarse, sprawling, boneless creature, and so it doesn’t matter. When you said, “You’ve been talking unwisely, Rebecca,” you said it with a certain brightness: you felt that you had really caught me at it. I don’t think you’re right about this. But I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing-room in an unnecessary heart-attack.

That is a subtle flattery. But I hate you when you try to cheapen me to myself, the things I did honestly and cleanly. You did it once before when you wrote to me of “your—much more precious than you imagine it to be—self.” That suggests that I projected a weekend at the Brighton Metropole with Horatio Bottomley. Whereas I had written to say that I loved you. You did it again on Friday when you said that what I wanted was some decent fun and that my mind had been, not exactly corrupted, but excited, by people who talked in an ugly way about things that are really beautiful. That was a vile thing to say. You once found my willingness to love you a beautiful and courageous thing. I still think it was. Your spinsterishness makes you feel that a woman desperately and hopelessly in love with a man is an indecent.

Rebecca West

To H.G. Wells

Dearest Jaguar,

I hate being separated from my Jaguar. Do you realise you were away from me for a month and that I have only seen you twice since? I hate it. I am going up on Monday to see about that studio. There is no life for us separately. Just a few nice hours over our books and articles and then when we can’t write any longer an empty feeling.

Your loving Panther


To Ottoline Morrell

Dear Lady Ottoline,


Thank you so much for the diary. Its blue watered silk is a special joy to me as I hate leather anywhere except on my feet. I hope you had a pleasant Christmas. I am feeling rather uninterested in New Year's, as I feel so doubtful of having one of my own, as I am going over to Paris by air tomorrow. If I arrive there whole I am going to leave flowers for Katherine Mansfield, who is out at Fontainebleau and (I hear) very very much worse. I shall be back about the 10th — do let me know if you’re in town. I lunched the other day with Mary Somerville who talked much of you. I think she’s so picturesque — like the youth of a Raeburn old lady. With best wishes for the New Year.

Yours very sincerely,

Rebecca West

To Sally Melville

Dear Sally,

I am as miserable as Hell. I have gone back to H. G. I am going down to the country with him this evening. What else can I do? He says that if I go back to him he will leave Anthony as much money as his other boys—that will mean about £20,000. I daren’t gamble on making that myself because I feel dead beat—and though I might marry I could never get any man to give Anthony £20,000. So there it all is. I could cry when I think of how I’d planned to go to Italy alone —  I’ve never been alone in my life. I am sick of it all. I could have made H. G. get divorced and marry me — he wanted so much to get me back, but I thought it wiser not to. I don’t want Lettie to know of this. I’ll have to tell her later but not now.

Yours,

Rebecca

To Sally Melville

Dear Sally,


Alas! I couldn’t see a soul. H. G. has been giving me an awful time lately, firstly by absolute dependence on me — Then a fortnight ago he began to realize I really was going — then he got horrid — tiresome and jealous and quarrelsome—and never left me alone an instant — Then this last week he got very affectionate — he really is very fond of me — but still was dreadfully jealous — and wouldn’t let me see a soul—man or woman. It’s rather trying — and I’ve had no time to do my lectures — no energy pray Heaven I’m not sick on the boat for I shall have to do them there—and I feel so dog tired.

I don’t know when I shall be back. My dear, I’ve often thought of giving you the enclosed — it’s what Violet Trefusis gave me and is fairly good (very old, I believe) I’ve often thought it would suit your style. Take it, dear S. M, as a token of my very great affection for you.

My best wishes to both you and J. B. It’s midnight and H. G. has just gone and I’ve still to go over my papers!

Yours wildly,

Rebecca

To Bertrand Russell

Dear Mr. Russell,


I cut off from England in a state of such despair that I couldn’t see anybody. Otherwise I had very much wanted to see you and tell you about a problem that has vexed me very much. Now other circumstances have turned up, and although I’m still too stupid to tell you about things I’m driven to write to you about it after all.

May I tell you the story of my life? I’m afraid it amounts almost to that.

I left H. G. in 1923 when Anthony was nine years old, for various good and sufficient reasons. He demanded from me rather more than a husband usually demands in the way of continual help and care, he would give me only the barest amount of money, he prevented me from doing much work and the money I earned, such as I could do, he insisted on my spending immediately on the household expenses, he was extremely bad-tempered and cruel in case of illness or any difficulty arising out of our illegal relationship, and, above all, he was jealous and hostile to my son. He grudged every penny he spent on him, and even objected to my spending my own earnings on him. He was furious if I devoted any time to the child, and he loved exposing the child to strangers by advertising that he was his illegitimate child. This is to give you only the bare outlines of the relationship. The details would persuade you that I was compelled to leave him out of consideration for Anthony.

I had several times tried to leave him before but I never succeeded till I went to America for six months. During my absence he caused ghastly trouble by going to Anthony’s school and parading his parenthood before the other children so that some of them tormented the child about it. But when I came back things went along fairly indifferently until last year.

Last year H. G. took a violent loathing to me. I don’t know why. He hadn’t seen me for several months. Just about this time Anthony fell dangerously ill with a novel form of pneumonia which was at first mistaken for TB. H. G. came to see him when he was most dangerously ill, but left for the Continent and sent no word of enquiry for five weeks. At the end of that time I wrote and told him that Anthony was better and got a curt letter of acknowledgment. During the six months Anthony was in the sanatorium he visited him once, for about an hour. He made no move to pay the expenses of the illness, which amounted to over £300, until I sent him a bill for £30 and told him that he had got to pay it because I had no more money. He paid that bill but offered no further assistance. (I had better explain that my sole private income derived from H. G. amounts to less that £300 a year.)

During the autumn I was more and more conscious of an insane antagonism, which came to a head at Christmas. Gyp and Marjorie Wells asked Anthony down to Easton, either for Christmas or a later weekend. As we had made our Christmas plans I accepted the alternative and received innumerable insane letters abusing me for keeping Anthony with me for Christmas. He also refused to pay Anthony’s school fees for Stowe unless he was described at school as H. G. Wells’ illegitimate son. I was pursued by letters so insulting and accusing me of such unheard of offences — such as having wasted enormous sums of money he had given me and having prevented him from seeing Anthony (he has never in his life seen Anthony except at my suggestion) that I went to Charles Russell and said that he must carry on all communications for me.

It happened that Russell advised me to adopt Anthony legally to save death duties and save him various minor inconveniences. This I did. It should have cost me about £50. H. G. turned up and opposed it. And what alarms me is that he instructed his counsel to bring forward all these stories about me—which shows that he believes them. I was of course able to produce all his letters showing that he had never been denied access to Anthony, so it didn’t matter. Also he assured the court that I was an unsuitable person to bring up Anthony, and exposed him to the society of persons who were not respectable.

This did not impress the court — but what did was that the £8,000 he has settled on Anthony (which is mostly tied up till he is 21) are all the subject of revocable settlements. Therefore I had to buy him off. I had to promise to let Anthony spend part of his holidays with H. G. and to consult with H. G. about his education, and to make him one of Anthony’s guardians in my will.

Now this last is what strikes me as serious. His behaviour seems to me insane. I am aware from my knowledge of him that he has a violent anti-sex complex like Tolstoy’s—You punish the female who evokes your lust. But it seems to me to be reaching demented extremes. I hear from the lady with whom he lives at present (who is quite mad) that he frequently hits her and gives her black eyes, and so on, which is surely not done in our set. (This was not cited as evidence of cruelty, but as evidence that they were living a rich and satisfying life.) Also this month has shown him quite unbalanced. He went down to Stowe before the term ended and created more trouble, and has removed Anthony to Easton from this perfectly lovely villa for the last three weeks of his holidays. (The boy adores him—I’ve always brought him up to do so, which I rather regret now.) This has all been done with an extraordinary and insane air of a saint struggling with the personification of evil. He has shown in every way of late the most extraordinary unwillingness to let anybody have their own way. For example, he opposed his son Frank’s marriage most virulently on the ground that the selected female was common, and then summarily forbade them to have children.

You may perceive that I do not feel the smallest confidence in leaving H. G. as guardian of my only child. I think that if I died he would get bored with the boy, and would get his fun by frustrating him at any crisis.

Therefore—

I wonder if you would be Anthony’s testamentary guardian also? I haven’t a soul I can turn to in this difficulty. The man who would have attended to it out of affection for me died two years ago. My sisters are silly and inexperienced. I have few friends who are sufficiently interested and enlightened to understand children. I am sure you would always want an adolescent to have just the freedom that I would. Obviously you would be the best person in the world. It plainly wouldn’t be any adequate compensation but I would also provide in my will that so long as you were Anthony’s guardian you could have so much a year paid into the funds of your school. We could settle the amount later.

Would you do this? I know it’s a lot to ask—but I feel you are a really merciful human being — and Anthony ought not to be left in the care of this lunatic.

I’m here till the beginning of October.

Yours ever,

Rebecca West

I haven’t explained this well — but the point about having you as guardian is that H. G. is afraid of you and wouldn’t dare to oppose you or do anything in your sight that was manifestly reactionary.

 

Thursday
Feb232017

In Which Howard Hughes Felt Overly Constipated

Desert Inn

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Rules Don't Apply
dir. Warren Beatty
127 minutes

In the last year of his life, Howard Hughes focused his efforts on two of his favorite pastimes: taking drugs and watching movies. His two most important drugs were Valium and a laxative called Surfak, and he took them both in incredible quantities. In order to relieve constipation, you were supposed to take maybe one Surfak over the course of a day or two. Hughes would take ten or twenty over that period. His prostate gland swelled to over three times normal size. His kidneys shrank in fear.

There is something sad about going out this way, Warren Beatty displays in Rules Don't Apply, his sensitive and entertaining depiction of Hughes' final years on earth. But there is also something very hateful about Howard Hughes that Beatty generally avoids putting his finger on, maybe because he tasks himself with playing the role of the reclusive scion.

Hughes watched the same movies again and again. In particular he watched Bulldog Drummond pictures repeatedly, over the course of several days. He also liked mysteries, even when he knew how they ended.

Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) becomes a member of Hughes' management team. In Hughes' inner circle, none of these "executives" had any authority over each other, and all were granted a great deal of leeway in how they interpreted the man's instructions. Starting his work for Hughes as a driver, Frank meets Marla (Lily Collins), one of Hughes' contract actresses and drives her and her mother (Annette Bening) around in Hollywood, where they have never been.

In what is perhaps the most direct tribute to his film's subject, Beatty spent a great deal of money recreating the place in Rules Don't Apply. In the course of funding the project, Beatty has taken on an improbably large coterie of producers. An astonishing sixteen people, including the current Secretary of the Treasury, are credited as producers on Beatty's film, in what might be a warped commentary on the way Hughes did business. Hughes excelled in one-on-one conversations where he could convince people to do what he wanted. It cannot have simply been money or power which accounted for his influence on individuals.

Rules Don't Apply depicts Hughes in the best possible light considering the facts: here he is merely a crazy nut with a heart of gold. The real Howard Hughes was contemptuous of black people and an incredibly unethical and mostly ineffective businessman with some strokes of genius. His personal relationships were few. A long scene in Rules Don't Apply occurs when Hughes finds Marla drunk and waiting for him in a bungalow. He has been informed that to protect him from being declared an invalid as part of an airline deal, it would be better if he were married. So he proposes to the first woman he sees, and they have sex on the couch.

Ehrenreich's character of Frank Forbes loses his admiring view of the boss rather quickly, and the preternaturally talented actor shows every disillusionment on his face. It takes Frank Forbes until the end of Rules Don't Apply to realize that Marla had sex with Hughes and bore his child. Once he does understand that, he forgives her and spends the rest of his life with her. I mean, it was Howard Hughes, what else could she do? Ehrenreich's chemistry with Lily Collins is so insanely exciting that I wish the entire movie had been them talking to each other with no Howard Hughes. Then again, Howard is supposed to be the villain.

After intercourse, the only thing Hughes really retains from the encounter is his promise to give all his contracted actresses their own automobiles. Marla cannot even start hers and, soon afterwards, moves back to Virginia. Frank moves to Las Vegas where Hughes unsuccessfully tried to enter the casino industry for some reason. Rules Don't Apply rarely gives the full context for Hughes' business dealings – it is not that kind of biopic.

Instead Beatty's film focuses on a unique theme – the concept that we know as little about ourselves when we are old as when we are young. Rules Don't Apply faithfully depicts Hughes' notorious aversion to children. Hughes once wrote a several page memorandum to evict an annual Easter Egg Hunt from his casino in abject fear of the damage they might do to the premises. In the final scene of Rules Don't Apply, the son Howard Hughes never actually had watches him sitting in his bed with a small television nearby. "I should really get out more," Hughes announces, and the kid takes his advice.

Certain aspects of Rules Don't Apply remind us of what made the casting and performances of an earlier age in Hollywood so artistically and commerically successful. Beatty is a master at finding the right person for each role, and the cinematography of these familiar environs renders Los Angeles a gorgeous and frightening place. Other particulars of the film's production seem haphazard or rushed – the editing lacks transitions, and short shrift is given to any introspection or continuity.

Instead, we keep returning to this dreary magnate, who alienated almost everyone in his life. We sense that Beatty has met many men like Hughes, who were so wealthy that the only code they were able to live by was that of their own personal preference. Talking to such self-involved individuals, especially when you require their money to pursue your dreams, is a particularly noxious sort of defilement, and depicting it onscreen weirdly justifies it. I loved Rules Don't Apply, but I can't imagine anyone else feeling the same.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.