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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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Friday
Sep302016

In Which Wherever We Go Billy Also Goes

Passing Time

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The amount of talking in The Magnificent Seven is truly impressive. Someone is moving their mouth every single second in Antoine Fuqua's version of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. The original version is the most tolerable of Kurosawa's westerns, which were revolutionary for their time but never compared favorably with American iterations that perfected the genre. Kurosawa too was fond of the endless throes of dialogue, but this chatty aesthetic demands a cast of actors who can pull off this mealy-mouthed script by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective).

When you think of the sheer number of conversations in this movie which accomplished absolutely nothing, you begin to realize that all the talking is purely for show. Watching The Magnificent Seven with no sound would be just as easy, and the only thing missed would be having to listen to the completely shitty accent Chris Pratt has brought to the role of Faraday.

As the staid and boring marshal putting together this dream time to seek revenge on robber baron Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), Denzel Washington is completely miscast. His white co-stars get the vast majority of cute quips, but the filmmakers seem to force humor into the diegesis: this is more a sad story than a funny one, and a dramatic opening scene in which Bart Bogue murders Matt Bomer emphasizes this is no buddy movie.

Unlike most directors, Fuqua has no fear of using music to set the mood or situation. He is deeply afraid that The Magnificent Seven might become dreadfully boring if the tension, humor or speech were to drop for a second. There is a moment where the group looks out on the operation of Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke collecting what I hope is a mighty check) and a horse nuzzles the ground with his paw. The presence of authentic moment is almost shocking because there is no dirt, disease, or poverty in this edition of the American West.

Kurosawa aimed at a different type of versimiltude. When his heroes moved through the grass, they felt it on their fingers and arms. Pizzolatto turns all of the characters here into verbose outlaws who converse at length in full sentences. "Let the shot surprise you," explains Ethan Hawke at one point. I have no idea why or what this could mean. It is difficult to believe that anyone ever talked like this before the 21st century. "You have to hate what you're firing at," he screams.

Fuqua is a lot more at home when the action begins. The group first enters into a fight with the local lawmen of the town who permitted Sarsgaard to threaten the citizenry. Without a clear villain for most of the film's running time, the focus is generally aimed at Pratt. He is a very charismatic centerpiece, and covering your ears slightly when he speaks makes his accent sound vaguely tolerable.

Learning more about these guys isn't exactly fun. It's implied that Hawke's tiny character owned slaves, but this does not seem to bother Denzel any. No one so much as takes his shirt off, eats or goes to sleep, which turns them caricatures — just as they descend into parody, Fuqua ratches up the dramatic music so that we forget how stupid this all is. "It's a box of death," says someone. It could be anyone.

The film's only happy surprise is the presence of Haley Bennett as a frisky townswoman. She has no actual agency except to beg men for her life, but coming off a breakout performance in the disaster that was last year's Hardcore Henry, she shines. "I had a father, thank you," she informs Chris Pratt, and the only potential interesting aspect of the narrative is destroyed. Fuqua makes her run around without a bra whenever the film starts to seem the slightest bit homoerotic. God forbid one man ever touch another, even if only in kindness.

I really don't know whose idea it was to kill off important characters, since there was serious potential in a sequel that could have been, you know, an actual Western. (Then again, box office receipts haven't been particularly amazing.) This revenge plot of hired men defending a town was always pretty lame, and Kurosawa basically used it as a excuse for everything else his film contained. It did not matter that the story was purely background since his filmmaking offered so much else. Here there is just basic revenge, except the man they are trying to kill gets one scene at the beginning of the movie and then shows up suddenly at the end.

Then again, neither Fuqua nor Pizzolatto seem terribly interested in this time period or material. Working with a budget of $100 million, it seems obvious most of it was spent on the cast. Production values are not noticeably different than films made fifty or sixty years ago, and performances are substantially worse. The film's climatic finale is perhaps its most disappointing element. Watching a Comache sling arrows at a bunch of cornered men, it feels like the enemy is completely outnumbered.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Thursday
Sep292016

In Which We Dismiss An Impossible Idea

Letter to the Father

by RUBY BRUNTON

I realize now that all that time he wanted me. And that’s really hard for me to say, because I never think anyone wants me.

I see people I want everywhere, on the train, in a café, at a bar, riding their bikes down the street craning their necks to check for oncoming traffic (I love necks. I run my fingers down the backs of necks, bite into them, watch the little hairs standing up.) I stare at these objects of lust, hoping they’ll stare back with a look in their eyes that says, “I want you too. I want you so bad, I dream about you.”

But it never happens. They remain preoccupied with their phones, coffees, beers and bikes and don’t even notice me staring. So it is only after years of reflection that I am able to state that what he wanted was me. For so long, I couldn’t believe someone like him would even look at me in that light. Or I thought that only happened to other girls, those self-assured femme fatales or whatever. But maybe that’s what got him going, my naiveté, my lack of prowess, my obliviousness to his desire. Maybe he liked that I was delicate, that if he lay me down I might shatter. Maybe, just maybe, he really did care. But how many girls have fallen for that. How many had fallen for that.

I remember the second class I had with him. I don’t remember the first. I think we just went over the necessary formalities. Grades, deadlines, dates and downloadable resources. The humdrum admin of academic life. Later, he talked about the constitution. I didn’t know Australia had a constitution so I guess that’s why it stuck in my mind. During the second class, he stated the specifics. He talked about indigenous law and land rights. I had a head full of questions. How could the foundational legal system result in one group getting everything of value while the other was stuck with arid land? After the lecture I approached the front to ask him what would require a long and complex to answer. Before he tried, he asked my name. “Ruby.” He said, turning it over and over on his tongue. “Ruby. That suits you.” He began to answer, but realizing the time - about 9:30 - suggested I come back the next day during his office hours.

I had a full time job and was trying to complete a Master's degree with a full-time load of three evening classes and countless assignments and group projects. There was little chance of me making it up the hill to the university during his office hours. It was almost impossible to finish all my teaching paperwork in time to be a student in his class. I was wrecked from the insomnia. I would lie awake at night, unable to sleep, my brain so full and churning. Night after night. I would doze off sometime before dawn and, an hour or two later, rise to splash cold water on my face.

In his third class, I fell asleep. Not a deep, head down on desk, faint snores emitting kind of sleep. I was listening intently, and then I just drifted away. When I came back to the room, I saw him staring at me and I felt embarrassed. When he’d finished the lecture I walked down the front to apologize. I explained that I was an insomniac and he said he was an insomniac too. He hadn’t slept properly in over ten years, he crept downstairs after his wife was asleep and read, watched movies, went online. He mentioned his cellphone was always on and he would always answer.

“Are you in theater as well?” he asked.

“As well as…?” I asked.

“As well as your parents," was his response.

“H-h-how did you know my parents were in the theater?” I stammered.

“I googled you.” And then, seeing my expression of surprise, he added, “I do it to all my students,” as though to put me at ease.

I thought it was strange, but not suspicious. Not then. Besides, I had other worries occupying my brain. The lack of sleep was dangerously altering my work mode, my position at my school had come up for review. Teaching jobs are not good for insomniacs anyway, the requirement to be switched on and lucid at all times, the expectation to be charming. I was close to flunking one of my evening classes and I didn’t care about the other. I began to seriously question if an advanced degree was going to help me. I had borrowed thousands of dollars in the hope of escaping teaching for a “career” which was such a vague concept at the time it seemed laughable.

Still, something continued to draw me to his law lectures. There was a formula, and at the time my brain required stability. The case studies were engrossing. Copyright law intrigued me. I was set on writing my final project on sampling in hip-hop. He was very supportive, finding book and journal titles for me in his spare time.

During his lectures, he kept his eye on me, making sure I was awake, enjoying seeing that I was fully engaged. Afterwards we would go straight to his tutorial, where he took relish in repeating my name. “And what do you think, Ruby?” He’d ask in front of all the other students, not caring that he said my name the most. “Surely Ruby has some thoughts on this.” And he’d catch my eye and smile. The day of his sixth lecture I took off from work. I had an appointment with the university counselor who advised me to drop two of my classes. The workload was too much for my fragile, sleepless body, my fragile, sleep-deprived mind. “You should keep going to one of your classes,” He said, “It’s very important that you maintain an attachment to the university. Or you may fall into the abyss.” I weighed up the options. I felt I could drop the film module, I felt it would hardly be relevant to my vague future career. Besides, the instructor hadn’t seen one film I’d describe as decent. That left Public Relations, where I had a 100 percent pass rate, but could not stomach the thought of another group project on how to minimize a media disaster for major oil companies accused of spills. I wanted to keep going with Law, but I was so far behind. The counselor advised me to take the easier option.

I went to his sixth lecture anyway, and afterwards made my way to the front, one last time. His face sank: “Are you not enjoying my lectures? It can be a bit of a boring subject at times, but I do my best to make you laugh.” I tried to smile.

“I love your lectures" I said. "But we’ve only completed 10% of the final grade. I’m sinking and I’m fairly sure I’m going to fail.” He said I was one of the smartest students in the class and with a little help would pass easily, with merit, even. He said we should talk about it, outside of the confines of the classroom. He took out his business card and wrote his cellphone and personal e-mail address on the back. “Don’t bother with my office line,” he said. “I rarely answer it. Try my cell. And remember you can call anytime. I’m awake through the night.” He gave me a smile that seemed nervous, rather than suggestive, but if it had been the opposite I wouldn’t have noticed. Sleep deprivation is a strange hallucinogen; I walked around with a veil over my eyes, never knowing if what was happening was actually happening.

I sent him a message that read, “Ruby”, and he replied with a smiley face. We agreed to go for a coffee the following day. I didn’t go to his seventh lecture, or eighth, or ninth. The tenth lecture was the final one, and there was supposed to be a party after, but I wasn’t there. I had reached a stage where words on a page no longer sat neatly next to each other. I had attempted to search the library database for articles but drowned in a sea of titles that hurt my eyes. I finished 75 percent of my final Public Relations grade and stopped going to classes after that.

I got a one-year grace period from the department, one year to pull my act together and re-enroll. But a year later, I had abandoned this project all together, turned my back on my accumulated debt, my half complete degree, the school where I hated teaching anyway. I moved to New York City, had a string of strange part time jobs, made new friends, began to sleep. He was all but forgotten. Even now, I can barely remember what he looked like. What his voice sounded like. How his inelegant accent butchered the two syllables of my name.

 

Years later, a scandal slash publicity stunt exploded over every social media outlet. A Toronto lecturer professed his undying allegiance to great male authors. All the sexual radicalism he needed could be found in books written by men. The most sexually explicit novel to garner his praise was The Dying Animal, which naturally piqued my curiosity. A condensed version told the story of a 62-year-old male professor who knows exactly how to seduce his 24-year-old student, having done it successfully countless times before. I didn’t suddenly view my own lecturer as a predator, but the blinders fell from my eyes. He was not some lame séducteur falling on every female that walked through his door.

But he had wanted me. He had attempted to solidify his presence in my life by offering me the fatherly support I had been missing for the previous ten years. He had wanted to take care of me.

I arrived at the café late, and he had already found a table. He stood up when I arrived, and kissed me on the cheek. I had been advised by my doctor not to consume alcohol or caffeine and so I ordered a chamomile tea. He ordered a glass of wine. I told him more about my research topic, the articles I’d read, the cases studies that related to my thesis. He asked me about my family, where I grew up, my plans for the future. As I spoke, his eyes bore into me; his toes touched mine under the table. I grew distressed, thinking of how much money I already owed the university, how I may have been about to lose my job, how impossible the idea of producing 5,000 coherent words on copyright law seemed. He placed his hand over mine, and it stayed there until it was time to leave. His fingers stroked the back of my hand. I don’t know why I didn’t pull my hand away.

The café was closing. He had office hours, I had decisions to make. The last words he spoke to me were, “I’m here for you, Ruby. Anytime. For anything.”

I never saw him again.

Ruby Brunton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a New Zealand-raised, NYC-based poet, writer and performer. You can find her twitter here and tumblr here.

Sketches by Tracey Emin.

 

Wednesday
Sep282016

In Which What Happens After They Broke Up Haunts Them

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

My ex-boyfriend Rob and I broke up because it wasn't financially viable for either of us to travel the distance to see each other all the time. Rob moved to a different area in early September. I know through facebook that he has dated other people the year after we broke up, which is not surprising. The women he was with were very beautiful and it kinda makes me feel a little insecure.

Because of his move, Rob has been trying to get in touch with me, saying he wants to see if we still have a connection now that circumstances have changed. I'm really conflicted about what I should do. I really like Rob, but at the time I felt like he could have done more to make things work, even though both of us agreed the obstacles to a real relationship were many.

On the other hand, I don't want to be unreasonable. We had great physical chemistry and it's not like anything really terrible happened. I just feel like we had our chance. Am I being stupid?

Jane W.

Jane,

Rob sounds like a total asshole. You mean he actually dated people and they were — gasp! — attractive human beings. Where did he get the idea this was okay?

It's actually a good sign that Rob was dating superficially attractive women, because it means he was likely not bonding with them on the interpersonal level that you were. You really get Rob, and you have a lot in common, I mean probably.

Breaking things off with Rob instead of demanding more was the strongest move you could have made. Now you are openly in the catbird seat. If you really want toy with him more, ask him to meet up just as friends. At this point he will be ravenous with desire. Then, explain some of the difficulties you had in the relationship. He will insist they were nothing and offer ways to correct him. By the end of this encounter, you will have his balls in a vice. He will no longer be able to procreate with you, but perhaps that is for the best. Do you really want to be the soccer mom to a Rob Jr.?

Hi,

Over the past few weeks, I have really been connecting with a girl on Tinder. We have so much in common, and we talk on the phone frequently. Right now she is away for the first part of the semester, but in a little over a month, she will be on campus and we've made all kinds of plans about the time we want to spend together.

Recently, however, I learned that she is a fairly hardcore conservative and will be voting for Donald Trump in the election. We have yet to really talk about politics. She is from a conservative family and they are all supporting Trump. I don't know if there is pressure on her to do so as well, but I find this pretty troubling.

Should I tell her why I feel uncomfortable moving things forward, ask her about her choice, or just forget about this potential relationship?

Davis R.

Dear Davis,

It sounds like you're worried that voting for Trump could be communicable.

At some point in life you're going to have to accept that other human beings do things for different reasons than you do. There are plenty of valid reasons that someone could vote for Donald Trump:

— they are related to that Secret Service agent that Hillary Clinton made eat out of a trough in her Chappaqua barn

— they owe money to Jared Kushner

— they are the inventors of the "Stop & Frisk" policy

— they love the creation of new adverbs

— they are Catholics

— they need a heat-check on potential boyfriends to see which ones aren't completely superficial know-it-alls

Maybe this young woman is actually testing you, and will be voting for Gary Johnson. After you leave college, someday you will understand that a person's political preferences don't describe their entire story. If you haven't sensed that this woman is an outright racist, you should probably get to know her before dismissing her. Plus, she might have useful connections in the Secret Service.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.