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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Wednesday
Jul162014

In Which We Find This Troubling To Contemplate At All

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

One of my good friends just found out she's having a baby. I'm happy for her and genuinely excited that she and her partner are going to be parents. But I feel like my friend is changing so quickly! We used to make fun of women who posted pictures of their "baby bump" and we promised each other we'd never be so silly. Now she's doing all that stuff, and I don't know whether to bring it up with her or see if it's just a phase. 

Jean C.

Dear Jean,

It depends. Do you think parenthood is just a phase? 

Sorry, your friend's life — and her friendship with you  will never be the same. All you can do now is show up to her inevitable shower(s) with pastel-colored bags full of tiny, expensive clothing that her mewling, drooling offspring will outgrow immediately and hope for the best.

By which I mean, be supportive. We all make promises about what we'll never do, say, or like that we grow up to break. For example, I said I'd never use the word "offspring" again, but here we are. Telling your friend that you're disappointed in who she's becoming will basically ensure that you'll attend the funeral of your friendship instead of your friend's blessed event.

Hey,

I met Tim in fall of 2009. Outside of the few times when he was drinking our relationship has always been relaxed and comfortable. Tim doesn't really drink very much, probably because when he does drink, he drinks far beyond the point of excess, and frequently doesn't remember his activity at all.

Let me emphasize that Tim does not get violent when he drinks this much. He generally becomes useless to anyone, fumbles around and can barely take care of himself, which means that me or his friends have to exhaustingly take care of him for the rest of the night.

I'd be lying if I said how I view Tim wasn't affected by these times, but I still consider him my partner and friend. How can I help him without ruining the relationship?

Lauren M.

Dear Lauren,

Everybody has flaws except for young Joan Didion. She should have been preserved in amber. Here are some things that ultimately ended my relationships:

1. Whenever he wore a suit, he would yell, "Zoot suit riot! Throw back a bottle of beer!" Fucking idiot.

2. He asked me where recycled plastic went. When I responded, "A recycling plant," he giggled like it was a joke.

3. He chased pigeons like a poodle.

4. During sex he would get super embarrassed if he sweat at all. Then he would apologize, roll off me and check his e-mail.

5. His sister was named Veronica Toolings. Just no.

6. He would put his hands on my face every time we kissed. When I asked him why he did it, he said because Ryan Gosling did. We didn't break up because of this, but it was still pretty weird. We broke up because he moved to Brazil.

7. If we went to the movies, he bought three boxes of candy. He would save one for later that night.

8. He killed a guy. It was self-defense, but it still worried me at times.

See? Tim is not so bad after all. He most likely has a severe allergy to alcohol that means he will not be a functioning alcoholic, which is way worse than someone who can't hold his liquor. If you really want to make him better, try to get him to take some other drug that is fun when he goes out that will replace alcohol, like mushrooms or arsenic.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"That Point When" - My Brightest Diamond (mp3)

"Whoever You Are" - My Brightest Diamond (mp3)


Tuesday
Jul152014

In Which We Observe Lizzy Caplan In Her Natural Environment

Arching Back

by ELEANOR MORROW

Masters of Sex
creator Michelle Ashford

Lizzy Caplan's fake eyebrows are organisms in themselves. They represent the little amputations that everyone has on Showtime's Masters of Sex. They indicate the very opposite of what seems most probable. It would be most probable for Lizzy's titular boss, William Masters, to be happy with his blonde, pretty wife and new baby boy. Instead, he is miserable: when his son cries, he maliciously places "Bye Bye Love" on the record player. When his mother objects, he sends her back to Ohio.

Masters' own missing pieces are all figments of his imagination. He is not really devoid of anything, since he is a man. Others shamed by the explicit depictions in his revolutionary sex studies are reduced to menial labor and propositioned in bathrooms, but he not only gets his sex study back, he gets a new gig at a hospital with a lewd president (Danny Huston).

It is the wackiest kind of fun to watch Michael Sheen play this man who can emit so little of himself into others without ceasing to function. Masters' spastic attempts at trying to relate to people at all transform into misunderstandings that feature great deal of apprehension on both sides. In the bedroom he is like a tiger, all energy directed towards what he wants. A killing lion is to be envied; isn't William Masters just Aslan in a gynecologist's wardrobe?

The revolution can never completely succeed or fail because of men like Masters, who never forget that they are beasts, and never stop being ashamed of it. It is substantially easier to feel sympathy for someone like that than, say, Alec Baldwin. Don Draper can damn well help being who he is. Masters lacks that basic programming of self-awareness, and never bothers to apologize for not having it.

A friend of mine recently visited St. Louis. She said there was nothing there. Masters of Sex is as far from a love letter to the area as you can imagine. You can ascend, she said, in a tiny little pod that takes you to the top of the city's signature arch. At its zenith, you are still somewhere between the ground and the sky, and you have had to give up so much to reach it.


Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson does not seem to spend very much time with her two children by her first husband. The show seems to share Sheen/Masters' disappointment with the sinister beasts, even though Virginia's kids are adorable and nearly self-sustaining. To feed them she tries selling diet pills, something she obviously would never do.

Children on Masters of Sex are solely an appendage that no one knows what to do with. When one philandering doctor's wife finds out his infidelities, she brings the kids to the hospital so that they can all confront him. (The offending adulterer hides under a desk.) The young ones are always around when you do not want them, and missing or nonexistent when you do.


Virginia breaks up with would-be fiance Ethan on the phone, and Dr. Masters hears her doing it in the next room. Later, Virginia asks if he heard her, as she had intended, and he said that he had, and did not sound pleased by the content of the call. How difficult it is to not hear a judge's sentence and think your fate is not being described as well!

The best part of the entire show is William Masters' home. The doctor has no eye for furnishings himself, and how his wife arranged the space is pleasing to him, but also a disturbing exertion of control. He strains at that, and there is something so lonely about his environment - open spaces in the living area that he feels drawn to not occupy, or move through quickly. Standing in the middle of his own house, he looks as if he might disappear into the wallpaper.


At times people fall out of love. But that is only rarely, if it really was love at the start. Usually what happens is that a misunderstanding of sorts existed. It went uncorrected at the time. The affair went on, resonating like love in each chasm or enclosed place, dwarfed only by innocence and naivete. No one on Masters of Sex can claim to be innocent, so it should not be surprising that these people are so frequently unsure whether or not they are in love.

There is a snake that lived in Nysa that always acted in the same fashion as its prey. If its prey fell in love and cozied up to the snake, the reptile would return the warmth to whatever extent he could. If the prey struck out at him in jest, he responded the same. And finally, when the prey ceased being prey, the snake hid.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Paradise Is You" - La Roux (mp3)

"Cruel Sexuality" - La Roux (mp3)

Monday
Jul142014

In Which There Is No Such Thing As Cocktails

Fictatorship

by DICK CHENEY

Tyrant
creator Gideon Raff 

Tyrant, the new series on FX from Homeland creator Gideon Raff, concerns yet another man with a white wife: Barry Al Fayeed. He could be almost anyone. Barry (Adam Rayner) is also a white man playing an Arab. Some of his relatives in the fictional land of Abbudin are also played by non-Arabs, certainly most of them are non-Muslims. He has returned from a cushy Californian life as an M.D. to his native land for his nephew's wedding.

It seems very daring to make a show about the Muslim world without ever mentioning Islam. It seems very daring to make a film set in any Muslim country when the sets and locations are so obviously Tel Aviv. It is this weird discomfiting feeling that Tyrant feeds off of, like crashing a wedding it turns out you were invited to all along. In fact, you are the guest of honor.

No one has ever regretted their choice of eyeshadow this much.

Any scene in Tyrant can be vaguely construed as offensive to someone. In one, Barry's teenage OTP eats some eggs for breakfast while staring at a photo of some children being killed. The metaphorical aspects were breathtaking. Other scenes push the boundaries even further, simulating the immense thrill we would get from watching Tom Cruise in an adaptation of Alex Haley's masterpiece The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

I'll take Pasadena, but to each his own. Some people even like Braavos.

It is good that we get this jaunty, impersonated thrill from the concept of Tyrant, because we do not get it from any of the show's white characters, Barry's wife and goofy children. Despite being the grandchildren of an impressively autocratic and disgusting dictator and sporting the lovely last name of Al Fayeed, Barry's kids know less than nothing about the Arab world. Having visited the area more a few times and read The Trouble With Islam (well, actually Lynne read it to me while I furiously thrashed myself), here is some of what I have learned about the area: 

1) They call a sandwich a cocktail, and there are no cocktails.

2) The only things they love about the United States are Dairy Queen and The Wolf Of Wall Street.

3) Women in the Arab world prefer showercourse, because of the lack of cleanup. It's too hot to extract come from sheets using a magnifying glass and the sun's rays.

They leave a lot to the imagination in this part of the world. Miley Cyrus is dead there.

4) If the country you are in has a q in its name, or a vowel at the end of it, you are most probably in deep shit.

5) Wear a hat, or failing that, a burqa.

6) Do not, I repeat, do not, marry a white woman.

7) Jerry Seinfeld was a god-fearing Muslim until Kramer came into the picture, forcing him to go to synagogue and make that dreadful webseries.

Wait, Dad was a horrific dictator? I'm totally surprised. OK, let's go jetskiing past that mass grave.

Each episode of Tyrant consists of someone being a real blockheaded poopsicle, usually Barry's brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), who takes over for his Castro-esque father to lead Abbudin into the 21st century. Barry remonstrates Jamal with typical brotherly insults and jibes, like, "You're such a penis head!" and "You murdered over 50 people, Jamal, gosh!" 

"Make her eyebrows look more Semitic! Claire Danes had no problem doing this."

It's hard to imagine anyone giving up a thriving pediatric practice in Pasadena for this madness. Barry's mother is still alive, and she is still wearing the dress that she bought in 1971:

Like a really poorly dressed West Wing

She tells him that he shouldn't be so hard on his father, and then she has no idea why he ran off to America. After he responds, "All the murdering," she nods and grooms her armpit hair with a lovely diamond-encrusted camel-hair brush.

Eventually Barry's wife starts to get a bit antsy. She throws a variety of bon mots his way, e.g. "You'll never find a bottle blonde woman in this country," and "The different colors in your brother's beard make me absolutely nauseous." She did not sign up to be the wife of an Arab scion; she thought she was just marrying a pseudo-ethnic man with a mysterious past that would never be brought up again. How do you think I got Lynne to marry me?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He has a lot invested in the nation of Jordan, so don't set any TV series there, Mr. Gideon Raff.

the more of an asshole you are, the better dots look on your fabrics.

"Spirited Away (acoustic)" - Lily & Madeleine (mp3)

"Goodbye to Anyone (acoustic)" - Lily & Madeleine (mp3)