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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
Jun202017

In Which They Ruined William Shakespeare For Us All

Beautiful Tyrant

by DICK CHENEY

Still Star-Crossed
creator Heather Mitchell
ABC

It was my genuine mistake that I thought this show was going to be about if Romeo and Juliet lived and entered into a completely unhappy marriage, with Juliet still upset about the residual effects on her concentration from imbibing the poison. When Romeo and Juliet died in Still Star-Crossed, I was in shock, because I figured this would finally be the interracial romance that would work out well for everyone involved, unlike every single time Kerry Washington falls in love with a white man.

Replacing Romeo and Juliet as the stars of Still Star-Crossed are Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch) and Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs). They are roughly the same size, and they wear very similar outfits. The plot of Still Star-Crossed is somewhat confusing – a member of each family died because everyone could not accept their love. Yet in this show the Montagues and Capulets decide to force their families to intermarry, even though the couple in question is not in love at all. Nor do they hate each other, they are just kind of neutral when it comes to all this.

Still Star-Crossed is the brainchild of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee writer Melinda Taub, who wrote the YA novel from which this is all abstracted. Sadly, even Ms. Taub appears to absolutely loathe this adaptation of her work. She never talks about the show on her twitter, just tells people nervously to buy her book. This is a sad deal, since Shakespeare can really be improved on, as you have recently seen with the Democrats who regularly have Donald Trump stabbed to death by a bunch of minorities. Considering pretty much everyone in the New York theater industry is a liberal, I expected more subtle commentary on current events, like maybe Twelfth Night with Trump as Duke Orsino.

Still Star-Crossed probably would have been a semi-decent TV movie, but it is hard going to sit down for the entire forty minutes of this show. At some predictable point in every episode, the writers get tired of the fake Shakespearan lilt to all the dialogue and one of the women is just like, "Wanna get something to eat?" The show is also fond of stealing lines from Shakespeare's other plays to spice things up. There is even this one part where someone must have wholesale copied an anti-Semitic monologue from The Merchant of Venice.

Shakespeare was never my absolute favorite or anything, and it seems like he is finally fading out of most curriculums. The reason is that he is not super great at writing for women and some of his racial attitudes were a wee bit retrograde. Or maybe The Tempest is proto-Amiri Baraka: I didn't major in semiotics, people. I had this one teacher who was just crazy about Falstaff, I have no idea why. Even Orson Welles made this guy look like a bumbling fool. I have learned to detest writers who turn tragic circumstances into comedy, and the reverse as well, but that was until I saw Still Star-Crossed. I mean, this was destined to be a comedy – Melinda Taub is a graduate of the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.

There are some jokes in Still Star-Crossed. At one point Benvolio tosses this crazy guy who killed a bunch of people off a building – the man's body is dashed on the parapets below. Rosaline is looking down on the corpse with something like regret, and Benvolio deadpans, "Did you forget he tried to rape you?" I'm sure she didn't want to be reminded of that, but as rape jokes on network television go, I guess it was fine.

In another subplot, Juliet's father (Anthony Stewart Head) keeps seeing her as a ghost. When he finally tracks the girl down, she says, "Beware." Instead of asking what he should beware, he just stands there with a goofy look on his face. What a weird show.

The costumes and environments remain weirdly inconsistent throughout Still Star-Crossed. Even though everyone involved in this story should ostensibly be of the nobility, Benvolio usually looks like he is wearing rags he picked up off the floor, and it is impossible to tell which Capulet is the servant and which is the master from their mode of dress. At one point I was pretty sure a man was romancing a princess of some sorts, since she was wearing a frock from the Jasmine collection. When he tried to kiss her, however, she told him that even though she was a servant, she was still a lady. Perhaps she meant that literally.

I really try to give Shonda Rimes the benefit of the doubt, even though it's obvious that her major influence on this project is to make the cast pleasantly multiracial, except no Asians. With that said, no one ever brings up race at all in Still Star-Crossed. At first this seems fine because who cares if we're not going for a historical look at this period, but in practicality it means that ethnic differences, even national differences, cannot be acknowledged as part of the plot. Even though from all appearances this is a show about a race war, the core conflict can never be described in those terms.

I think what is really hurting Shakespeare is that he does not have that one solid IP to hang his hat on. Hamlet is very pretty to listen to, but it is depressing and somewhat of an Oedipus Rex ripoff if I'm honest. Richard III is shit. Falstaff was a mistake. The comedies are about as humorous as T.J. Miller's stand-up. Macbeth is kind of fun for an act or so but it all gets a bit predictable, doesn't it? Julius Caesar is wretched and hackneyed. King Lear was probably his best play, but it makes no sense now and is incredibly sexist. Othello is decent, but no one has ever been like, oh my god, I am so psyched for Othello tonight. I think he probably should have written some more uplifting work.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Monday
Jun192017

In Which Rachel Reminds Us Of Ourselves

Where to Begin

by ELEANOR MORROW

My Cousin Rachel
dir. Roger Michell
103 minutes

As the only woman to successfully consummate a relationship with both Daniel Craig and Darren Aronofsky, Rachel Weisz has so much to teach us. So as not to be overwhelmed with her outstanding Rachelness, we never linger on her trademarked self-possession too long in My Cousin Rachel, Roger Michell's adaptation of a dull Daphne du Maurier novel. Her scenes are all flitting, finding her dashing in or out of a room. She is continuously interrupted by the son (Phillip) of her now deceased husband Ambrose.

Sam Claiflin (Me Before You) portrays Philip as an immature, coddled orphan who idolized the father who adopted him after his mother perished. When Ambrose develops a serious brain tumor, he packs off to Italy where he meets his wife. Since Ambrose lives in the most glorious part of England one can ever imagine, this choice seems a bit bizarre; then again, no one can ever properly account for the tastes of the English.

As a local woman obsessed with Philip, Holliday Grainger steals the show in My Cousin Rachel. She disapproves of Philip's stepmother, and after Rachel arrives in England, she and her father/Philip's godfather Nick (Iain Glen) do everything they can to persuade Philip that his stepmother is a freespending, manipulative malingerer who only wishes to deprive him of his considerable fortune. "You are very lucky," Nick tells Philip, since he has so much money he can give it to Rachel freely and without any caution.

Philip's father abandoned the entire concept of women to care for his son, and Philip took up his father's example. It is not so terribly difficult for Sam Claiflin to act like a eunuch and virgin – he always look vaguely pent-up and constipated in himself. Whenever he plays concern or caution, he tenses up his cheekbones, giving his countenance the look of a castrated horse. Out of kindness, Rachel throws him a fuck one night since he reminds her of Ambrose.

This turns out to be a very serious mistake, since afterwards Philip expects more sex. This results in a very uncomfortable scene where Rachel lies motionless in a garden of bluebells while her stepson penetrates her missionary-style. It is the only really good look we get at Rachel in My Cousin Rachel, and what a harrowing moment it is. 

The idea that the blind assumptions of men about women are more likely to bring about feminine doom rather than patriarchal instability is a funny one. Roger Michell, who wrote the adaptation of the novel as well as directed My Cousin Rachel, expands on this idea and tries to make it work onscreen in a new way. He succeeds completely, and the film becomes a dreary, upsetting portrait of unhappiness.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Friday
Jun162017

In Which We Serve The Mistress A Margarita

Sleeping Beauty

by ELEANOR MORROW

Lady Macbeth
dir. William Oldroyd
83 minutes

Is there ever a decently plausible explanation for doing something evil? Every single immoral act that Katherine (Florence Pugh) commits during the short running time of Lady Macbeth has a justification that is very moral indeed. It is difficult to imagine Lady Macbeth as a sympathetic character, and yet giving the ostensible reasons for her behavior is the basic task of the not-so-surprising events of this film concerning what the West identifies as the Russian way of life.

It is a great time to begin understanding Russia, only not really, since it is the single least rewarding area of study left to the West. Privileged and humanist, Europe can never see their Eastern neighbors clearly, and from America this nation seems only a dark, abiding, inextinguishable, blurry flame. Katherine is married off to the son of a wealthy Russian landowner many years her senior. Her new husband Alexander (Paul Hilton) has no interest in her at all; later we learn he was in love with someone else. He never tells Katherine this, or much of anything, and this rejection on its most basic level is her first and most significant experience of profound disappointment.

Katherine has no one to commiserate with, least of all her black servant Anna (Naomi Ackie) who has been reduced by fear of her masters. Florence Pugh, after only a tantalizing few roles onscreen, has already addressed herself as one of the most appealing British actresses working today. The point she is making in Lady Macbeth is that she is just as fearless as her character, and her various bouts in the nude as well as extensive lovemaking sequences demonstrate this fact. Her blend of androgyny and raw sexual angst is more than a novelty.

Only there is nothing much erotic about Lady Macbeth. With her husband away, Katherine quickly begins a complex relationship with a snotty servant named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). When her father-in-law discovers the infidelity, he does nothing to Katherine except a slap, informing her that he cannot even look at her. There is the constant suggestion of the past that lies between the characters, but playwright Alice Burch leaves so much to our imagination that at times it seems a shame that there is so little space in the diegesis to ponder Lady Macbeth's tight mysteries.

Her father-in-law Boris (the wild-looking Christopher Fairbank) refuses to release her lover from confinement, so Katherine poisons him. Anna is driven mute by this act of violence – someone she thought helpless has murdered the most important person in her world, and she never does come to terms with that. After she gains her freedom, Katherine arranges her life in as pleasant a fashion as she can imagine; only she cannot picture much in the way of happiness, since her experiences so far in life have been unpleasant. Katherine is alone as the lady of the house for only moments.

The estate itself is rarely depicted, and we acquire no greater sense of the hierarchy or rules at play in Katherine's world. A bizarre, creepy egalitarianism pervades the manor, and this lack of order is no more evident than when Katherine finds a few of the grooms torturing Anna in the stables for their amusement. Instead of identifying their crime, which she is unable to manage because she no longer has a working concept of right and wrong, she scolds them for wasting her husband's money and time.

Directer William Oldroyd lingers on the faces of his performers at great length, attempting to give a sense of the drama merely through reaction shots. Pugh herself has a terrifically expressive face that suits this choice, but the other actors in Lady Macbeth offer very little in contrast to her oversized presence. It is damn near impossible to keep up. As an allegory, this concept of self-determination seems a valuable one. It is only important for a person without state or property to be something, Birch seems to be explaining in this adaptation of the 1865 Nikolai Leskov novella, and what the thing is remains less important than that it is. Presenting this as a cultural difference is spin city, but you have to admire the effort.

During Oliver Stone's embarrassing, fawning hagiographies of Vladimir Putin, we learned that nothing has changed when it comes to our considerable ignorance of any other continent. Lady Macbeth is more along the lines of Stone's blind searching for equivalence than careful analysis of history, but Pugh saves the entire attempt with the furtive wildness in her eyes and laugh. It is always a thrill to see someone with enough good sense to set themselves free.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.