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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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Monday
Dec112017

In Which We Are Not New To This Part Of The World

by jeff blackPros and Cons of Cairo

by HEATHER MCROBIE

PRO: The elevators, I’ve always thought, are like how H.G. Wells imagined time machines. So rickety, so brassy, buttons like old saxophones and levers like The Future. The way the past imagined the future. I know logically it’s because I don’t live in Cairo. When I lived in Amman the elevator just signified nuisance, especially after that time it broke down, 3:30 p.m. in late summer, in an air-conditionless purgatory and my useless fists hitting at the door. It felt like a sign of my uselessness in those years, that I’d be using my energy punching things while obsolete engineering suspended me between two actual places. 

Cairo elevators, as a novelty, are the opposite of purgatory  you are in the past and future together, up and down all at once and with such handsome structure for the journey. When the doors close the stutter noise is so elegant, like the machinery is speaking a second language it learned at a school where uniforms were compulsory. You get in and your companion is a neighbour still smoking indoors or someone coming to fix something else inside the building or just your daydreaming. If the elevator is going up, your daydreaming is that you are Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, except instead of chocolate you are being given the gift of an evening. If the elevator is going down, your daydreaming is that you are plunging, like Jacques Cousteau, in a complicated apparatus whose confines are a small price to pay for the endless expanse it buys you, to explore — a sea, a city. In this Jacques Cousteau daydream Cairo is a coral reef wide as the side of Australia, street corners covered in star-fish. Elevators are the second-best thing made out of iron in this city. The first best thing is bed-frames.

CON: In a taxi, this is not in any of the many views I respect The Way To The Airport.

PRO: The stray cats have never forgotten that they were once worshipped. Like many people on the periphery of my life, I get the tingling sense that they are biding their time  that they know their turn will come again. They have never gotten into the elevator with me, the way they did with my friend. Instead they get me just outside the door, tail-up and too-clever and insistent. When I lived in another Middle Eastern city, the rule I had with my housemate was that a cat had to follow me all the way home  cross the threshold like a bride  and then I’d be allowed to keep it.

Here both I and the cats are too proud to make the necessary moves, and instead share lunch and afternoons as I take cigarette breaks too often between my solitary report-writing. But since I do not have a companion or rule-making housemate here, I indulge them in my afternoon-daydream literary allusions. I talk about Colette’s cats, and T.S Eliot’s. And the other Eliot. My favourite George Eliot novel is the unshowy, graceful Daniel Deronda, a wrought iron elevator of a novel if ever there was one. But even in her maturity Eliot gives in to the literary clemency that cats inspire. The house cat in Daniel Deronda, the opulently-named Hafiz, offsets the handsomeness of the human characters, a single pure indulgence. In breaks from my work I talk to the creatures on the doorstep about which works of contemporary literature would have been improved by the presence of cats. The unanimous verdict we reach is ‘all of them’.

CON: In a taxi, I think of all the people who may have opinions on the act  perhaps doctors or bureaucrats.

PRO: Some of my friends here laugh and others roll their eyes when I tell them that I have come up with the name the ‘Ikhwan Ice-cream Van’. It is the truck that goes round in the run-up to the December constitutional referendum, telling the neighbourhood during the lull of the afternoon that “the people demand the implementation of shari’a”. This is a reworking of the Tahrir Square cry that “the people demand the overthrow of the regime”. Like a bad 2012 remix. The ‘Ikhwan Ice-cream Van’ truck drives up and down the streets with its loudspeakers and its lack of tact. The neighbourhood replies with children running around in groups of five or six, the voices of soap operas tentacling out of windows, and the dissenting mewling of the cats. I love this neighbourhood; it is the first time I have stayed here. It is also the first time I have been here since the revolution. I love it even when, living-alone and lost in my thoughts, I hear things in the night that make me hold the edges of anything I can touch. I should probably state here that the Muslim Brotherhood did not  as far as I am aware and according to my sources  hand out any ice-cream to Egyptian citizens in the run-up to the December constitutional referendum. 

CON: In a taxi, I curse  of all things  my fingernails.

PRO:  My landlady lives in the same apartment building, some floors directly above. With the complications since Morsi’s decree in November and the referendum in December, prices of things have warped, the economy buckled like scrap metal. As it gets colder, the price of staying warm goes up. I know this from the newspapers and from friends but still my landlady tells me I need to stay warm, she has a spare electric heater. From high up in her apartment, she lowers it down to me in a basket, making a pulley system which we also later use for me to send paperwork up to her. The basket dangles past my window. The basket makes me think idly about Moses. This makes me think idly about scrolls. I unwrap the packaging of the sweets I’ve bought like they’re sacred. I lie back into the blank-page of the iron-framed bed. In text and in reality, it is one of the best afternoons the world has given me. I dream that everything I have to write will be sent to me from baskets, from stone tablets, or via elevators. Delivered to my door as certain as a cat.

CON: In a taxi, I make prayers I don’t believe and no-one else believes and even if they did believe they would say it was too late anyway. 

PRO: I met you at the church at just the time you said  the traffic mushed all over the bridge couldn’t keep me. Evening was falling in great chunks like stubborn shop-front shutters: a section of sky, and then another, and then another, dimmed itself in turn. Cafés are opening now like oysters or like flowers or like scrolls. Café after café unfolds. The streets are thick with people and also some roadblocks and also some cats. I tell you about my research and all the things I didn’t write properly. I tell you about all the places I haven’t seen or should have seen more properly. In general my way of looking is  all there is still to do, to be done. This is early-evening thinking. You look like early evening too, lashes falling. You look like Moses baskets falling from the sky, the way your eyebrows shoot up when you are explaining something. You wave your hands around like palm trees. You laugh like copper or brass. We go into one café where I take photos and you laugh at me. We go to another one where I’m really feeling all these things so then you don’t laugh at me. When we walk back out and into the thick of the street the church makes a noise like pearls or the sea or something and I don’t want to leave. I explain to you about coral reefs and cats and Costeau diving-suits and the Moses baskets and all the everything-all-at-once that I love. At least, I try to explain things.

CON: In a taxi, weighed against all of that, is the inconvenience of bodies.

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

 

Friday
Dec082017

In Which We Effort With All The Subtlety Of The Period

Clap Your Hands Over Your Eyes

by ETHAN PETERSON

Happy!
creators Grant Morrison and Brian Taylor
SyFy

Happy! begins with Nick (Christopher Meloni) alone in a bathroom of a bar. The unavoidable irony (the first in the completely expected series of many such switcheroos) is that he is miserable. Nick - a former cop turned killer for hire - throws up and imagines blowing his head off. In his fantasy, his cranium spurts with blood as go-go dancers accompany his distress.

Distress was also the name of a 1995 science fiction novel by Greg Egan. It is the kind of actually meaningful project that SyFy could approach if it wasn’t constantly trying to copy the dismal success of The Walking Dead. Distress concerns an African scientist who develops a theory that makes her the target of a disturbed cult, and an intersection that changes humanity completely. Egan, unlike Grant Morrison, was the sort of writer to take seriously, because his development of characters doesn’t solely turn on making a cop a hitman, a prostitute a sensitive soul, and an Italian mobster the victim of molestation.

Such ugliness makes Happy! an adult comedy, except in typical SyFy fashion, it shies away from any true unpleasantness. Death as conveyed by Nick is painless, efficient and actually somewhat boring. Meloni, who is the classic case of an actor of limitless talent who never found the right role (he came close in Oz), is tries his best to save this tonal mess of a series.

Worst is Happy himself, an imaginary friend voiced by newly remarried comedian Patton Oswalt. As usual, Oswalt does a fantastic job trying to make the awful material Grant Morrison writes for him sound the least bit humorous. Unlike say, the stuffed bear Seth MacFarlane created in Ted, the joke is not that Happy says things that are amusing coming from a cartoon unicorn. Actually his dialogue is quite dull, and before he emerges to haunt Nick so he can save the little girl whose daemon he is, the show is considerably more exciting.

While the art direction in Happy! is up and down, Brian Taylor (Crank) clearly brings a joy to the production design. Happy! looks just as good as feature films which cost a great deal more, and Taylor's energetic gambits with angle, lens and mood all pay off. If you didn't actually have to have a story, and could focus merely on acting performances and visual composition, this show would be in a class of its own.

Unfortunately, the source material is lacking. In the tradition of his brother-in-spirit Mark Millar, Morrison’s only instinct is to splatter more blood, and have Nick say things that could be construed, optimistically, as parting shots even Bruce Willis would leave on the cutting room floor. Like Millar, Morrison seems to think there is a puritanical aspect of America that is shocked by such gruesomeness. But who can even be shocked by their own way of life? With or without an invisible friend, Happy! is a dreary ride through the mind of a self-involved person. Ultimately, this is a trip that each of can take at any time, simply by closing our eyes.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Dec072017

In Which We Would Like To See You Again

Christine's Piety

by BOBBY VOGEL

Lady Bird
dir. Greta Gerwig
93 minutes

Lady Bird is a phenomenon now, but it is still hard to be prepared for this film. We are simply not conditioned by current cinema to notice what it notices: the way an awkward young woman falls back on words like “cool” and “awesome,” not because she is inarticulate, but because she is nervous and confused and in love; or the way she suddenly feels desired when a young man says he’d like to see her again; or the way her voice deepens and grows in confidence when she responds to him.

Or the way when sitting in a group and something astonishing happens, and you hear others reacting, you might immediately look not at the event but at your best friend’s face, to see her reaction. Or the faintly attracted, disinterested way you notice a handsome new boy when you already have a boyfriend. Or how, when stuck in a car with friends who are bad to you, at the very moment you realize it, you muster the nerve to get out by sneaking proud glances at yourself in the rear-view mirror.

This is the stuff of clichés, but there are no clichés in this coming-of-age film. It proceeds in vignettes. What feels clichéd in a single scene is every time redeemed by a detail that would be missed by one who is critical of clichés. The film avoids them not by daring to be different but by daring to be similar. It seeks common ground, that is, between itself and its audience. It trusts its audience to trust it, which is a radical thing to do in a time of inhuman cinema, destructive of the qualities needed for that trust. A pervasive inhumanity can only prepare us for alternating evils: give in to the false pleasures and manipulations of Hollywood, or be made mistrustful and cynical, be made to always be on the lookout for clichés. Those of us who have chosen the second option out of necessity are challenged by this film. Lady Bird rejects this problem and suggests itself as a third way.

It is, then, truly an ambitious film. Its director-writer, Greta Gerwig, positions herself as a wise woman, as a filmmaker that the defiant and radiant Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) could have learned from. A character who renames herself is not the kind of person who would listen to just anybody. Gerwig understands the way Christine smiles at New York City the first time she sees it, emerging out of the stairs from the subway as if she had lived her whole life underground until then. But Gerwig also understands how the excitement of a new home won’t make you happy if you’re running away from an old one.

She understands how Christine might, on one random Sunday away from home, almost inexplicably, walk into a church service and listen to the music. She also understands why she might only watch from the balcony, or not stay for very long, but be moved nonetheless, and walk away with new hope and a little more self-understanding. Gerwig’s religious scenes are like Eric Rohmer's in their almost muted piety and in their full confidence in that quietness. Gerwig knows that piety is a powerful thing and need never be loud. She also knows that piety can be ridiculous, inflamed, or very disagreeable, and that it might especially seem so to someone like Christine.

Lady Bird is a love letter to its characters, and to those watching who might also love its characters, and learn from that love modeled by the director. But love letters sometimes never rise above platitude; they sometimes lack the tension of stinging self-awareness. It can be the mark of both a cynic and a mature man to be skeptical of love letters. The cynic doesn’t want to feel his feelings. The mature man wants to feel them thoughtfully and in proportion. He wants to feel them in a way that leads to a deeper understanding; he wants to leave room for his reason. The immature person might want to obliterate his reason; he might want to feel his feelings too much, or linger in his memories for too long. Lady Bird proceeds in vignettes because we remember our lives in vignettes. One feels that Lady Bird the character is remembering her youth as an adult via Lady Bird the film. This is an accomplishment by the director. It is not a crutch of autobiography, but an invitation to remember with her.

Still, one worries that Christine lingers too long in her memories. Understanding the film as a succession of memories illuminates at the same time as it disturbs us in its overwhelming affection for them. Christine seems to be unusually invested in and attached to her adolescence, or rather, to its very end. The cusp of adulthood is brilliantly remembered and depicted, but perhaps overly loved.

That heightened love has the tendency to hide or impoverish Christine’s inner life, especially its darker moments of guilt or regret. It is conceivable that our decent director does not find “guilt” to be helpful, or has not reflected that reflecting on guilt can change the quality of that guilt, from something that haunts you to something that saves you. One scene shows a young man, guilty of hiding a secret from his unaccepting family, suddenly sob. Guilt, here, is portrayed as something to overcome or escape from, and secrets are shown to be special, inviolable, and at the core of one’s identity.

Other scenes recommend the notion that privacy, secrecy, and safety make up the sanctuary where one can become who one is. The family bathroom, door locked, is the only place Christine can be her true self. The film obscures the interplay between public and private in which one contemplates, in private, what one has done and said in public, and what one will or will not do in the future. Thoughtful, public action implies private thinking. Otherwise solitude is self-absorption.

It is a mark of Lady Bird’s realism that this complaint may be read as description. Unbearable family life destroys the dynamic between public and private. When the family-authority cannot maintain its power without belittlement or manipulation (not unlike how Hollywood works), then the private becomes a shelter from that authority. One escapes from the public to the private. The private becomes a place to contemplate, not reality, but fantasy. This is why teenagers like Christine might decorate their bedrooms. It is healthy for young people to fantasize or decorate their future selves. But they should imagine becoming someone they could admire and respect after hard work and experience. Christine wants to become someone now, without sweat and without failure. Early in the film, she admires a favorite song because it was “written in 10 minutes.”

We shouldn’t expect Christine to grow up immediately. But we should expect it, hypothetically, in five or ten years, if we are to expect adulthood from the film itself. Lady Bird sometimes seems to assume that identity comes easily, that conflict can be solved by sentiment or a phone call, or even that watching TV news is political engagement. Christine follows the American wars overseas, but she never talks about them, just as she never really talks about who she wants to be outside of the near future. The gist of her voiced introspection is that she wishes her house had a dedicated “TV room.” It is perhaps the saddest remark in the film, full of hope yet on the verge of stasis.

Bobby Vogel is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. He is a writer living in Texas. You can find more of his writing here and here. You can e-mail him at bobbyvogelfilm@gmail.com.