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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Brittany Julious
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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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Tuesday
Feb092016

In Which We Will Never Drink Out Of Cups Again

Portmanteau

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Knight of Cups
dir. Terrence Malick
118 minutes

There is this scene in Knight of Cups where Rick (Christian Bale) is dry-humping a prostitute named Della (Imogen Potts) and he interlaces his hands with hers and they sort of swing them back and forth in a silly way, like two kids might. The couple never actually speaks to each other, we only hear their inner thoughts in voiceover. This is a Terrence Malick joint.

Were you interested in the less cohesive aspects of The Tree of Life without necessarily needing a whole lot of plot or exposition? Knight of Cups provides that important experience, in a package you will recognize completely. Half the shots might have been ripped straight from Grand Theft Auto V and L.A. Story. Los Angeles, and Christian Bale as an amoral womanizer, are both too familiar.

Knight of Cups is not really about any of that. Malick photographs most of the movie with a convex lens, and much of the camera movement creates motion sickness. Do not be alarmed — this is the strongest emotion you will experience during the journey of Rick, or as I prefer to call him, Master Rick.

Master Rick spends a lot of time strolling. The only time he shows the slightest bit of evidence that the world as it exists is affecting him in any way is during an earthquake. To be completely honest, I have trouble identifying with a character like this because I recently cried during an episode of the now-canceled CBS sitcom Angel from Hell.

Master Rick's brother Barry (Wes Bentley) takes him on a tour of the less impressive aspects of Los Angeles. Malick is deeply afraid of actual homeless people, so he casts actors in their roles. Much like Master Rick, Barry is very disappointed in the world. He sticks a fork in his hand and proclaims that he wants to feel something. This is the same guy who filmed an image of a paper bag getting knocked around in the wind and proclaimed that it was beautiful.

Master Rick gave me this idea. It is time to hold actors responsible for the content of their roles. An actor never really kills or maims, so you will not have to judge him for that. You will have to evaluate the sons of Stanislavsky on what they say. David Mamet always said that action talks and bullshit walks, but I mean, does it?

A brother's untimely death is the reason that Master Rick is sad. He tries to get over it by objectifying and projecting himself into various women. It turns out that his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett) is not having any of that. She wriggles away from the touch of Master Rick! The two have zero chemistry; it occurs to us that maybe Christian Bale cannot even understand his ex-wife's accent. She complains that he became angry for small things, like maybe she was not the best housekeeper or she was facebook messaging a real estate agent named Gary Percival.

None of these examples are actually in Knight of Cups, but the movie becomes very boring so it is natural to imagine the lives of the characters if they were not complete clichés. "When I'm with you, I forget everything else," Natalie Portman puts it at one point, wearing a mesh sweater that looks like a fishing net.

Nancy and Master Rick start having sex in a bathtub (this might have been a flashback) but their dog interrupts. (I don't know the exact breed, it could have been a pinscher of some kind.) Nancy and Master Rick shared a contemporary style bungalow with a really nice pool, but neither of them struck me as swimmers. None of this really seems to affect Master Rick and Malick generally shoots Bale from behind, forcing us to intuit his responses to most of this horseshit.

Knight of Cups features a consistent focus on animals and how they move and walk: if they sway, if they dart off balance, how a duck saunters, how a fly buzzes, that sort of thing. This observational perspective channels how a child reacts when he sees an animal, emitting a basic wonder that they are not as we are. Such intimacy with nature originates as a childish notion, and most of us move beyond it by the time we reach the advanced age of ten. I get the feeling that when Terrence Malick witnesses a bee buzzing he probably achieves a hard-on, or at least wants to get one.

I don't mean to be too harsh on this guy. Maybe he hasn't seen the 100 movies released last year about disassociated and depressed white men. Malick has the character most akin to him explain that women — and their associated problems — are "a distraction." He probably doesn't understand that on some fundamental level casting a bunch of beautiful, talented actresses as accessories to the travails of a rich, complainy white guy is incredibly offensive. I mean, Master Malick was born in 1943. There were not even civil rights then, and suffrage for women in America was only twenty-three years old.

None of these women seem to have a particularly close connection with Master Rick. A few of the sex workers would be the same age as his daughter. Natalie Portman gives off a weird sister vibe with Bale and their intimate scenes together feel remarkably like incest. She puts her foot in his mouth and laughs. She is the most like him, the only other character in Knight of Cups who actually has a dilemma and story of her own. So of course it is hinted that she kills herself.

One of these women is a stripper with a philosophical streak named Karen (Teresa Palmer) who tells Master Rick he can be whatever he wants to be. "We're like clouds, aren't we?" she explains to him. He responds to that by pushing her around in a shopping cart and skateboarding. Master Rick is inert, but sometimes he can follow a woman if she is looking back at him while she moves forward. I have never met anyone like that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Better or Worse" - Beacon (mp3)

Monday
Feb082016

In Which We Would Never Lie To A British Person

Sickness and Remorse

by DICK CHENEY

War & Peace
creators Andrew Davies and Tom Harper
 

The BBC is a strange institution. The thought of taking money that could be used to feed and clothe your poorest citizens and spending it on period dramas and left-wing news reports has always seemed a bit gauche, but I mean what the hell you only live once.

The venerable screenwriter Andrew Davies is still working at 79. He is back with the BBC, because I guess he was the only person there who actually lived during the events of War & Peace? "People like bonnets. I don't think you can underestimate that," Davies said recently, complaining about the reason his state-run media was not interested in his adaptations of some minor English novels. They demand the classics and that's what he is giving them!

It is fortunate that we do not have to suffer through such a proliferation of period adaptations in this country, and England is taking that bullet for us. I think something similar is going on with Muslim immigration? Turning War & Peace into a Jane Austen novel is an extremely audacious move. Much like the novel this BBC adaptation (exported to America later this year) is a dull slog punctuated by a couple of exciting moments.

Apparently Russia in the 1800s was basically England. If you did not know any better, how would you even tell this is taking place in a country other than Britain? One of the actress in War & Peace attempts a Russian accent, but no one else even tries. It is a weird disconnect: like did they not tell her no one was going to do this? Was she going ham on her own? Was Andrew Davies napping during the filming of this scene?

So many questions. Pierre (Paul Dano) inherits a massive fortune from his father despite the fact that he is one of many illegitimate sons. We never hear about any of the other children. Pierre's friend Andrei (James Norton) is extremely unhappy living in St. Petersburg society. Despite the fact that Andrei's wife has a child on the way, he heads off to the war against Napoleon. Dano stays behind and marries a terrible woman.

All these events seemed quite important to Leo Tolstoy, but I mean, they weren't. No one even talks about Napoleon very much except to notice he was something of a dick, and this entire Russian society was wiped out by the murderous delusions of the communists. In order to make War & Peace relevant, Davies focuses on the psychological and existential aspect of the novel. The scenes of war represent spectacle we have to endure to uncover personal revelations that can only be realized in the context of wealth.

Dano, one of the most charismatic and understated actors of his generation, is given the awful role of Pierre. Director Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders) dresses him up like an idiot and most of his scenes are boring tripe that leave him looking off into the distance in utter unhappiness.

Despite embracing altruism and becoming a Freemason at one point, Pierre never grows or changes as a character and everyone involved in the story takes advantage of his good nature. Coming suddenly into a large amount of money is the kind of hypothetical moral problem that only England and Russia could find entertaining.

Making things substantially worse is the presence of Natasha (Lily James). Since she decided to ruin Downton Abbey with a disturbing lilt to her voice and her total lack of respect for the memory of Lady Sybil or her sex tape, James has insisted on appearing as almost every historical character: Cinderella, Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, Gandhi.

In the future all roles will be portrayed by Lily James, hopefully after she spends a solid semester in acting class. Natasha wears progressively less clothing as the series goes on, giggling whenever anyone else speaks. If anyone happens — if she is scared, happy, sad, angry, bored — her eyes become misty and red like she is going to cry. "The girl is a treasure," Pierre explains, since we would not otherwise believe any man would even want to marry her.

Davies tries to spice things up by lending special emphasis to the affair Dano's wife Helene (Tupence Middleton) has with Dolokhov (Tom Burke). They have sex on a table with some plates quaking underneath their wintercourse.

When Pierre finds out that his wife is cheating on him, he challenges Dolokhov to a duel. Amusingly, he shoots and wounds his larger opponent. "The one thing I am thankful for is that I didn't kill that man," he explains to Andrei, who is aghast. "To take a man's life is always wrong," Pierre says. "For you, perhaps," Andrei responds. "For me there are only two evils: sickness and remorse."

It is difficult to feel too invested in any of the action taking place, since unlike in American stories, no one ever receives their just deserts. At the most someone gets told off or discarded. A few of the women die as is Tolstoy's want, but only long after we have stopped caring. War & Peace is just a Jackson Pollock canvas of shit, shit and more shit.

In this morass, Napoleon (Mathieu Kassovitz) becomes a sort of weird anti-hero who has correctly identified a poisoned, ancient society and is determined to destroy it. Unfortunately he does not do so, and this adaptation of War & Peace practically writes him out of the story altogether, even though he is one of the book's central figures.

The best thing in War and Peace is usually Andrei, who is the only individual of any virtue. ("He's intense and deep," Natasha says of him.) Andrei's wife dies during childbirth soon after his return from the front. Instead of doing anything interesting, he becomes a recluse who focuses on the problems of military organization, leaving the raising of the son to his parents. Pierre draws him back to society with disastrous results.

I do not really think English people could adapt War & Peace without making it about England. If it is true that the Russia of this period was doomed to destruction, then so was England. Unless, as seems likely, they were very different places.

As the miniseries soldiers on, the focus on Lily James' Natasha exceeds all reason. She is the worst character in all of War & Peace, a simpering ninny who jumps into bed with her mother for advice and only talks about which boys she is interested in. It takes most of the novel's length to even get her married; it feels like she turns down five or six proposals. Maybe we could understand this from a beautiful creature, but this is Lily James: she should probably settle for the first Andrei who agrees.

Ayn Rand once testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee about a pro-Russia propaganda film produced by MGM called Song of Russia. She explained to the committee why the movie did not reflect anything about the Russia she knew. A racist Democrat from Georgia named John Stephens Wood asked her whether or not Song of Russia was useful propaganda if it fulfilled the purpose of keeping America allied with Russia against their Germany during the war.

I will never forget what she said. It was this: "I don't believe the American people should ever be told lies, publicly or privately." Such a seemingly innocuous statement, but it is true on every single level. Personally, I don't believe the British people should be told lies, publicy or privately. War & Peace is full of them, and it was paid for by their taxes.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Better Hand" - Young Fables (mp3)

"Paradise" - Young Fables (mp3)

Friday
Feb052016

In Which We Recommend You Take A Job Typing

Self-Centered

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Manny Streisand was her father, known in Flatbush as the instructor of troubled men at the Brooklyn High School for Specialty Trades. The E. 7th street tenement he was born into charged a rent of $15 a month. Heading into Manhattan for the only honeymoon he could afford, Manny Streisand banged his head against the windshield when the car in front of him stopped short. Five years later, he began to suffer the first of many seizures. On August 4th, 1943, he was dead.

His daughter Barbara was almost a year and a half. She was not yet Barbra, she was still Barbara. She did not cry as a child, despite the fact that her grandfather was a malicious tyrant. Her mother Diane, unable to cope with her husband's early passing, was keen to drop the girl off with a caretaker whenever she could.

When she was old enough for school, she was old enough to experience its displeasure. Her peers called her Big Beak and drew attention to her lazy left eye. The Yiddish word for an ungainly misfit was "mieskeit," and everyone knew that was her.

Her mother was attractive enough to find a second husband, and young Barbara did not care for her suitors. Barbara tried to turn them away like Penelope. When these strange men kissed her mother, Barbara thought they were trying to take Diane from her.

A neighbor in her Brooklyn building knit the young girl a sweater to wrap around her only toy: a hot water bottle. Her mother became concerned by Barbara's lack of interest in eating. The only time she paid attention to the girl was when she was force-feeding her something or other, possibly a knish.

She sang for the first time at the age of seven. She rushed breathlessly into her mother's embrace afterwards, eager for her approval. Her mother told her, "Your arms are too thin."

Her mother found another man, one in the garment business. He impregnated her but refused to get married for some time. Diane Streisand moved into a one-bedroom on the corner of Nostrand Avenue. The rent was $105 per month.

Barbara's new father Louis Kind hated her, would criticize her clothes in front of her friends, brought no money to the family, beat his new wife. When one of her friends asked why Kind owned a different last name, she told the girl, "Oh, he uses that name for business."

On the plus side, her new father possessed the only television set she had ever had. She imitated everything she saw, showing her mother the correct way to hold a cigarette for the first time at the age of ten. Lucille Ball was generally regarded as the best.

Her first band in elementary school was Bobbie and the Bernsteins. She was Bobbie, backed by twin sisters, her closest friends at school. She never invited them over to her house out of fear. One of her classmates told her, "Barbara, please don't sing anymore."

For her fourteenth birthday, her mother nixed the idea of going to see My Fair Lady. Instead, her and her friend Anita Sussman saw The Diary of Anne Frank. At first she cried at the bracing similarities of her own existence, but afterwards it occurred to her as if there had never been a question: that part was made for her.

With her family in tatters, she sought a second home and found it in Jimmy and Muriel Choy, a Chinese couple who owned a restaurant on Nostrand Avenue. Kosher food had the disadvantage of being associated with her awful parents; Chinese food meant magnificent life in comparison. She schlepped from table to table as a waitress, the only Jewish one they had.

High school was a different matter. Her desire to perform became a singular force of will, the only one she required. She had never been identified as gifted in school, but a mandatory IQ test quickly revealed the truth. With a quotient of 124, she was quickly shuttled into the honors classes. Still, she did not fit in with the smart students, and she ate alone. One teacher called her "self-centered."

Sex was taboo in her home. Information had to be attained through other avenues. She asked Muriel Choy whether the man was always on top during intercourse. Muriel responded, "Not necessarily."

Her first romance was with the best-looking guy in her theater troupe. She had always been considered the ugliest girl in school. He did more than admit she wasn't: he told her she was attractive, the first person who had ever done so. Her second boyfriend was a black guy named Teddy. People were absolutely flabbergasted.

The pace of things began to pick up, even if the world wasn't exactly to her liking. She auditioned for Otto Preminger's cinematic version of the Joan of Arc story, Saint Joan. They chose a gentile. Her mother separated from her abusive stepfather and had to sue for a measly $37 a week. To make ends meet, her mother sold undergarments in her building's laundry room and asked her daughter to steal milk bottles from where they sat outside their neighbor's doors.

A theater near her home would play Italian films. She did not understand the language. When Jerry Lewis movies filled the theater, she imitated him in the lobby for other patrons. Her mother let her use their college savings ($150) to fund an apprenticeship at an upstate New York playhouse. Her first part was as a Japanese child leading a goat, and the role meant she had to clean up the animal's droppings after every performance.

She continued to lie about her age, hoping she would be accepted into a year-round program at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Her mother trashed the clothes that her theater friends gave her out of kindness, and accused them of enslaving her daughter. She adopted a new style: skirt, stockings, shoes, leather bag, all blacker than black.

Some time later on, in her aspiring actress days, another student spotted Barbara and took notice. James Spada's 1995 biography of Barbra, Streisand: Her Life, has him remembering his first vision of the girl: "I remember this funny-looking girl on the stage sitting cross-legged...she had a very small part, she didn't have many lines. But boy, by some magic wave of her wand she was making everybody look at her," Dustin Hoffman said. "Did you ever see those pictures of a mother bird with the worm and there's a bunch of baby birds with their mouths open? Somehow there's one that's straining more than any other to get that worm from their mother. That would be Barbra."

She met Warren Beatty, five years her elder. She rejected him for the moment, put off by his strategy of chasing every tail he saw. Her own early rejections were brutal one casting agent wrote over her photo, "Talented. Who needs another Jewish broad?" When she invited her mother to watch her perform a particularly moving scene in acting class, her mother told her to give up and take a typing job.

Until then, her name had been Barbara. But she decided that there were a million Barbaras, and if she removed the 'a', only one Barbra.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

with Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford

"Fight or Flight" - Sonya Kitchell (mp3)

"Lucifer" - Sonya Kitchell (mp3)