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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
Jul192016

In Which We Never Went To Jail For So Long

Savior Chic

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Night Of
creators Richard Price & Steven Zaillian
HBO

John Stone (John Turturro) finds it very difficult to drape his physique in the right way. He has long legs, perhaps a bit ungainly for the abrogated shape of his torso. His feet are coated with unsightly blisters, the residue of dyshidrotic eczema, and he claims he wears sandals in order to expose them to the healing air. These winsome character traits are mostly a distraction for Stone's work as a criminal attorney in the New York City court system, depicted here with an absurdly pleasing amount of over-faithfulness. Richard Price was tired of his books turning into garden variety procedurals since he put so much work into detailing exactly the way things are. The result of his frustration is The Night Of.

Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is just as fun to watch as Turturro's overwrought lawyer. The sparring between he and his legal opponent becomes the main centerpiece of A Night Of, while the accused Nazir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is instructed never to speak. When he does talk, he sounds like a fourteen-year boy instead of the college student he supposedly is.

Every Pakistani-American male I have ever met is acutely aware of how American society defines him, but somehow growing up in an insulated Queens neighborhood Nazir remains blissfully innocent of the world around him. On some level we have to buy this conceit in order to believe in A Night Of, since it allows us to enjoy the story of a proud family of American immigrants turned into a showpiece for white guys to debate the true meaning of the justice system.

In the show's first episode, Khan finds himself ensconsed in the blood of a woman he has met the evening previous. In his pocket is the knife which carved her up. Despite the fact that the lifelong abstainer was under the influence of copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, he never once entertains the idea that he might have done this horrible deed. And so what if he did? He's still entitled to a defense.

Stone gives him this, hectoring him at length whenever Khan speaks up to proclaim his innocence or talk to cops. Price's depiction of the entire process of Khan's arrest and incarceration is the most realistic depiction ever done in this medium, and Steven Zaillian, who directed all but one of the series' eight episodes, revels in each tiny parcel of procedure. Every single notation or moment within the process is adjudicated its own little sense of justice, until it begins to make up a larger moral whole.

Price has been critical of the police and larger justice system in his novels, but A Night Of is mostly about how great everyone is. As Dennis Box, Bill Camp delivers a star-making performance and gets most of the good lines here, going on and on to his Pakistani suspect about how he is the only one who really believes in the truth. The veteran theater actor commands the scene with his unmistakable presence; there is not even any describing his poise — it just emerges like a force of nature.

Price has always been interested in how and why people lie. Deception is simply the greater part of both Box's job and Stone's job. The dance between the two of them is the only sunlight in the bleak views of Queens and Manhattan. A Night Of offers this contrasting diegesis without much in the way of a musical score to tell us what to feel. The spareness adds rather than subtracts from the mood.

Scenes with Khan's parents Salim (Peyman Moaadi) and Safer (Poorna Jagannathan) also take on intense emotional weight because of their novelty. Poorna Jagannathan's understated mothering plays well in comparison to Turturro's intensely louder role. We see John Stone at home, so sure of himself in everything he does, so convinced he is the hero of something. In The Night Of, no other people are afforded that same silly confidence, the braggadocio that only comes with being white.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Monday
Jul182016

In Which Stranger Things Have Not Yet Occurred

The following review contains mild spoilers for the first three episodes of Netflix's Stranger Things.

Pleathers

by DICK CHENEY

Stranger Things
creators Matt Duffer & Ross Duffer
Netflix

Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) lives in a run-down half ranch ever since her husband left her and moved to Indianapolis. Her clothes are draped over her shoulders in a casual-Mom esque way, the colors all poached green and residue brown. The makeup she does apply tends to make her look older, not younger. She is completely familiar yet entirely fraudulent as a divorced Midwesterner, since a remarkable feature of the Midwest is that it only has Jews in Ohio or Chicago.

Most of Winona Ryder's family died in the Holocaust so she could play this gentile imitation of life. Her sons Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), are maudlin, secretive individuals unhappy in themselves and uneasy with others. Jonathan is an amateur photographer who enjoys taking photographs of his unsuspecting classmates. Will is a strong student more interested in bonding with his tight-knit group of friends than his disassociated family.

Stranger Things leans so heavily on the concept of the 1980s that it will fall over and collapse without constant referring to its own time period. Between games of Dungeons & Dragons, Will's friend Mike (Finn Wolfhard) tells his parents about the guy his sister is fucking, a bro named Steve Harrington whose idea of a good time is shotgunning a beer. Everything in this epoch seems way toned down from what it actually was, like the 1970s never actually touched the small town of Hawkins, Indiana.

Mike's sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is the breakout star of Stranger Things, which attempts to arrange a bunch of clichés from the terrible science fiction of the period into some kind of amalgam of inventiveness. She does the dirty deed with Steve Harrington, and the next day her friend has disappeared and her mother is screaming at her for telling the truth. This is such an absurd fate for a honest woman living her life as she sees fit.

Slut-shaming is everywhere in Stranger Things, a concession to small-town American values and how they stay intact no matter how much the surrounding world changes. In order to hide a young girl who they find in the woods, Mike Wheeler and his friends dress her up in a wig and do her makeup. No one in this society could possibly deal with a young girl who shaved her head.

I was actually alive during the 1980s. It was nothing like this, and as Tony Soprano famously said, "Remember when is the lowest form of conversation." To further enforce the prurient sense of nostalgia at work in Stranger Things, the chief antagonist is portrayed by a desiccating Matthew Modine. His role is as completely vacuous as the faceless monster who appears to absorb Will Byers into his carapace in the show's dull first episode.

Stranger Things gets substantially better from there. Ryder, it turns out, plays a fantastic Christian woman, and her considerable charisma is always a relief to engage. Just as entertaining to watch is the breakout performance of Hawkins' only sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour). The rest of the casting on this project is as sublime, and it is great fun to watch all these characters engage with one another, no matter how slight the premise.

The science fiction elements of Stranger Things are in fact pretty dreadful, and contain nothing much in the way of science at all. This decision appears purposeful. Like much of the cinematic output of that dreadful decade, the context of horror in this small town is more basic fantasy, and not overly ambitious fantasy at all at that. Joyce believes that she can contact her son through the electrical circuits in her house. Mike's telekinetic friend that he found in the woods has a similar idea, and things develop slowly from there.

The synthesized music adds to general fantastic atmosphere. It would have been easy to turn this flimsy story into a tongue-in-cheek situation, but almost nothing is played completely for laughs, and the general tone in Stranger Things is, if anything, over-serious. "Sometimes people don't say what they're really thinking," one of the characters explains to Nancy at one point, but in Stranger Things they mostly do, again and again.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Friday
Jul152016

In Which You Could Hardly Call Such A Thing Beauty

Tinseltown

by DAN CARVILLE

for D

You asked me, picking at your lower lip, did I see you as a person or a woman?

I guess what bothers me the most, besides you retching when I told you the score, is how you said you gave up on people. It was not for you to decide that bit of business. I had all this faith in you. I know now that it was not faith in your desires, but only faith in mine. The way I love you almost appalls me, too.

Since that day, I saw again an image I cannot forget, of a round window there in a place that I know. I always search for myself in it, as a fool looks for what he remembers of his own face in the mirror.

You said you were below a bridge, looking out on the canal. Your throat closed (you had pertussis last year). I credit you for this everything in the world that deserved to be taken seriously, you gave it that allowance. But you did not laugh a lot.

I know I sometimes go on and on about reflections. But I really only love them when nothing is reflected, and I get to thinking, whatever might belong there. Is that now a sadistic way of looking at the world? That is what you said to me. You did not admit you wronged me, lied to me, destroyed the feeling there.

I have never forgotten anything either. I only pretend to so I can seem more like other people.

Slipping away from the city, all the trees shed their lights when the train swings near. Place aches, so I will not go to any of ours again, half-hoping to find you swiveling your neck to absorb the next scene. Within the frame, one man calls to another, hidden beyond a door. God, you said you loved all those things. I tried to forget that, and here it is.

We talked sparingly of my true theistic beliefs. You see, I do not care who views me praying for you, or against you. When a person does not care where they are going, only with whom they have been, it makes a sorry sight for any decent deity. I have to admit I am the one who did all this, tracing a new pattern over the old. It resembled the original too closely, I see now.

I grew to trust the writing advice of Derek Lam when he was first my instructor, and then my friend. I showed him some of these lines, especially the one where you did not realize what you had managed. He said that the second person, used it in this way, was so overdone. He'd had enough of the editorial, worldly You. Who gave these writers, he said, the right to make their primary subject all of ours as well? I told him this struck me as a kind of disturbing fastidiousness to one particular part of speech, and I also mentioned that he didn't know you.

That address comes before the invention of self, incarnate in us all. It reforms speech as the primary act. Calling to a person so radiates truth, because I would never lie to you, my darling. (See how this statement excuses both of us from culpability?) Calling to a woman is no different. In stockings and tights, denim or polyester fleece, the sullen take their bows. I looked for you there, among the carollers, thinking I had heard your gravelly voice. 

There is a Manichean residue on what you touch, as well as the oil from your hands.

A laminated card, or a picture shifting out of its frame. A half-eaten sandwich that resembles the skull's refractions in brightest light or unexpected darkness. A ramshackle, bouncing strategem. Rumors of insanity in final days, last strokes. A telescope tripping on its legs.

I showed someone else the things you said. "She was probably just confused," my correspondent wrote, "don't you ever feel that way?" I said I did about various things, including bocci and Old Maid. A moment later my phone rang. The voice on the other end of line said, "You can't understand why a person would be wary of someone who is never confused, or at least not very often?" I hung up the phone.

The thing about the second person is, 'you' constitutes the highest form of address. It will always be what we call a king, or a queen. You (you) can never take that away from me (again, you). In the border wars of Apollonia, men would bring their wives to see the fight, and the fight to see that they had wives. I have been party to this general type of thing before, but never as completely as when you exposed who you are to me.

I should not have listened so closely to you.

Take, for example, a capsule. Sealed inside, a daring pilot knows nothing of the world he enters. Each cadet is equipped with the same rations, the identical equipment. Of maybe 1000 pilots, one or two turns over the possibilities within the fragile walls of his enclosure. He emerges from it like the rest, but what he sees will be different from his fellows. The place he has come to is not unfamiliar.

I told all those pilots that they also didn't know you, not like I thought I did.

A couple of days before I told you to go away you sent me some pictures of yourself. I nearly did not recognize you because you looked so unhappy in them. The light I saw was only my own light, and the stars their reflection.

Imagine how the world would be completely changed if only everything limited itself to one chance. Or don't, but that is how I plan to live out my days. It is as you said. From high enough up, they all look like ants.

We always have a right to defend ourselves. I hope you are done, and that no one heard you.

Taking another form (not the tu form) comes beset with danger; this vibration of language is what gives time all its legerdemain. On occasion, I prevented myself from turning towards you, where you sat, arraying your things around you like the function of a light disorder. You showed me the inside of the capsule: exactly what was foretold when the man wrote, "Not to be pulled in." Pressing indistinctly on the high cheekbones of your face. You could hardly call such a thing beauty.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about the falcon and the angel and the light in the trees.