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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

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Thursday
Jun162016

In Which We Search Desperately For The Real Villains

Comfortable Men

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Nice Guys
dir. Shane Black
119 minutes
 

I started to ask myself: who would I be if I didn't live in a world that hated women? I've been unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, but I did realize I've long been mourning this version of myself that never existed. - Jessica Valenti

Earlier this year an employee was fired at Nintendo of America after a group of misogynist messageboard posters targeted her as a perpetrator in the heady crime of making changes to an American release of a Japanese game. (She wasn't responsible for those alterations, not that it matters.) They started "researching" her past and decided to shame her for various opinions she held in her dissertation about the prosecution of sex crimes. Nintendo responded by digging further into the woman's life, uncovering a job she performed in order to supplement the measly income and health insurance she made working for the company. They fired her for this moonlighting, even though it was explicitly allowed in her contract. It was nothing more than an excuse to side with trolls over a talented member of their own company.

The women-haters who brought this all about seem like the real villains of this story. But there are worse ones: men (and sometimes women) who buy into harassment and support the atmosphere it generates. These good-intentioned people — how often we hear them say they love women — have a distinct point where they completely capitulate to pressure of any kind. They are comfortable with the concept of women as long as the women in question are simultaneously making them comfortable. Enter the nice guys.

It is perhaps natural that fathers today want to protect their daughters more than ever. Star of The Nice Guys Holland March (Ryan Gosling) does not particularly subscribe to this point of view. After the death of his wife, he is raising his daughter Holly (Australian actress Angourie Rice) on the wages of a private eye. During her summer off from school, Holly tries to aid her helpless pop on a case where he attempts to determine the whereabouts of a pornographic actress named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).

Holly is almost shot, murdered with a knife, run over by a car and abducted throughout Shane Black's The Nice Guys. At the end of it you would be hard pressed to say that Holland is any kind of a good parent, but you have to give him credit for allowing his daughter to be her own person, albeit a miniaturized version of himself. "I hate you," she tells her dad during one particularly feisty moment, but the rest of the time she is simply upset whenever she is not included in the excitement of his job. 

The rest of the women in The Nice Guys are either evil beasts doing the bidding of men, or whores. Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) appears halfway through the film as a cold-blooded concerned mother. In The Nice Guys, Basinger portrays the head of the Justice Department, a lawyer working for the car manufacturers in order to ensure they are not penalized for defying environmental regulations. She hires the nice guys to find her daughter; instead her daughter is murdered and she does not even get a refund.

The joke Black is making is that there are no nice guys. Exhibit A: the closest Black has ever come to writing an effective woman character is a thirteen-year-old virtually identical to Nancy Drew. Still, you have to give him points for effort. Unlike the producers of the new Ghostbusters, he knows his own limitations.

A particularly wretched article appeared in The New York Times recently, announcing that anyone who thought Paul Feig was less than a complete genius (for his patronizing character of a ghettoized black woman?) is a person who clearly hates women.

Paul Feig is another "nice guy," only he isn't very nice and he can't write women for shit either. I guess some credit goes to him for making an action film with an all-woman cast. The fact that is a cynical cash-in on fan nostalgia and the movie looks completely tone-deaf and unfunny, not to mention borderline racist, is besides the point. This particular beacon of feminism is a man drawing a huge paycheck for making a group of talented women the focal point for a hate campaign while he lurks in the shadows.

Feig's last movie was quite financially successful as well. It spent a solid two hours making fat jokes about Melissa McCarthy — but hey, since she was the star, it was a progressive piece of revolutionary feminism. Actually, Spy was mean-spirited and awful, and anyone involved in its production should be pretty ashamed of the Chuck Lorre-esque bigotry the movie espoused. It may have somehow escaped the notice of those determined to justify everything that this nice guy does, but women have — gasp! — been starring as the lead draws in feature films long before Paul Feig was born.

Maybe it is as Jessica Valenti says in her new memoir, and the whole world hates women. This does not mean, prima facie, that this was always so. Women did rule nations, empires. They accomplished a lot before The Nice Guys ever came onto the scene. Given the title Shane Black gives to his movie, you would have thought there was some larger point at work here about men's relationship to women. Instead The Nice Guys becomes turgidly boring after an entertaining first hour, subsisting mostly on Black's back-and-forth banter. The basic overall message of the film is how difficult it is being a good person.

Russell Crowe has no chemistry with Gosling for some reason, which is how The Nice Guys falls apart. The two men have very little in common besides their occupation and their status as bachelors. Despite the insanely long running time of The Nice Guys, neither ever even meets or approaches a woman in a sexual way. It is as if Black believes that treating a woman as a romantic equal is ultimately too much like objectifying her as a sexual object. Except for very young girls who might be their daughters, Gosling and Crowe's characters are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of adult women.

One scene near the end of the film is particularly disturbing in that regard. Gosling and Crowe wait in the lobby of a courthouse after testifying in front of a grand jury about the machinations of Kim Basinger's corrupt lawyer. She goes over to sit by them and explain her actions and sadness at her daughter Amelia's death. Strangely, the two men cannot even bring themselves to look at her face, that of a grieving mother. Instead Gosling speaks in German, comparing this powerful fallen, woman to Adolf Hitler.

Whether or not there is an active misogyny behind this filmmaking, I don't really know or care. It used to be that Hollywood was where society took steps forward; now film is purely a reactionary medium. Even contrived, white savior stories like Mississippi Burning and Schindler's List did the important work of showing why human beings deserved to be treated as equals. The Nice Guys barely believes that women exist as anything other than children. This horrendous state of affairs really stands out when a B-tier remake of a soulless franchise that was never really much to begin with, directed by a man, becomes a rallying cry. Women actually do make films — it's not just the nice guys.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Wednesday
Jun152016

In Which We Have A Bad Feeling About This Choice

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.

Hi,

I have yet to meet my girlfriend Sara's parents, but from what she has told me, they are very religious Christians. I really want to make a good impression on them, but I don't know a whole lot about what they believe or why, and many of the things Sara has explained to me about it seem rather disturbing. What's the best way to come across well to these people?

Jayson C.

Jayson,

It's possible Sara was overstating the extent of her family's focus on Christ. After all, she has a decade or three of experience with these people and that is a lot of time to collect memories. Without knowing exactly how religious her family is, we can assume a couple basic things: they believe in God, they believe that Jesus is their savior, and they are planning on a solid vote for He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Defy any of these three basic principles and you are in for a long night. Disagreeing with anyone about politics is a recipe for disaster, but it is even more so when their beliefs come from faith, since their connection with Christ may well be very important to them. Be prepared to mention certain fun facts about Jesus, and come up with some pre-planning material that shows you honoring Jesus but not in a traditional way; e.g., "It must be tough to walk around in a loincloth all the time!" and "Besides Larry David, that guy was arguably the most fantastic Jew ever." Thank me later for these delicious bon mots.

If it turns out Sara's family really is quite devout, ask questions about it, and respond with vague encouragement, like "I understand," and "That must have been hard for you." If you really like Sara, you can develop a belief in God later on by reading C.S. Lewis or something. 

Hi,

Recently I have been going on a lot of first dates since I broke up with my boyfriend. All of the guys I have met online seem exclusively devoted to getting to know each other over alcohol. I'm not much of a drinker but I don't want to come across as a stiff. Is there anyway around this singular focus on drinking socially?

Mary A.

Dear Mary,

There are two distinct problems at work for you here. The first is that you don't want to come across as if you're not enjoying yourself or partaking in the central activity of the evening. This has been a challenge for alcoholics and non-drinkers since the beginning of time. The solution has usually been to drink something else. If you get there early and consume something non-alcoholic, it will probably be an hour before you have to order something else. By then you can claim you're feeling tipsy and order something else with no alcohol in it. You could go the entire night in drinking one or zero drinks in this fashion. 

Tons of excuses will also get you out of drinking. Unpalatable ones include, "I have to get up early tomorrow" or "I don't like the taste of alcohol." In this scenarios you seem disinterested or strange, since why would you meet at someplace that served alcohol if you did not really want to drink it? Explaining that you have an operation in a few days or that you took medication for your knee is a substantially better way of getting out of a jam.

The larger problem is avoidable, too. If being at a bar isn't your thing, you'll want to have dates that don't take place there. Otherwise, it is tough to communicate this later on; and why shouild you have to spend an annoying night when you could be doing something more to your taste? Just cancel on the bar and ask to meet in a park, which is a much better date overall. Coffee usually communicates disinterest, so I would avoid that. 

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Tuesday
Jun142016

In Which The World Merely Reflects Marcella Backlund

Crawling Back to You

by ETHAN PETERSON

Marcella
creators Hans Rosenfeldt & Nicola Larder

Marcella Backland's husband Jason (Nicholas Pinnock) comes home from work to tell her that he doesn't want to live with her, or their two biracial children, ever again. Pinnock is probably one of the world's most underrated performers, imbuing each scene with a merciless foreboding it only sometimes deserves.

Marcella (Anna Friel) does not take it all that well; but she had to on some level know that this was coming. After twenty years of marriage, Jason goes back to work. Marcella calls him. She is so surprised that he simply returned to his job as the in-house counsel for a conglomerate that she drives over there and totals his SUV.

Otherwise Marcella is simply a housewife until a detective comes to her door. He isn't there about the car — police officers in Marcella Backland's world have total immunity from any crime, like unfaultable angels. Instead he wants her memories from her job as police detective of a serial killer who suffocated men and women by placing a plastic bag over their head and watching as they slowly became deprived of air. Marcella's temper has always been something of a problem for her so she sort of simultaneously empathizes and is revolted by this unspooling of violence.

Marcella has frequent blackouts. Early on in the show, which is available on Netflix in some regions and is the best noir to appear in quite some time, she meets with a psychotherapist about this problem. She talks to him in her distinctive way, a manner which is so completely unique that watching her becomes a distinct excitement.

She is not the type of person who is able to hide all of who she is, so she can only manage to conceal some of it. But this choice is still conscious, and so what emerges to friends, colleagues and lovers is a kind of abscess of a person.

Friel has openly talked about how exhausting it is to play Marcella. You can see why: unlike the quirky beauties she has portrayed in the past, this cop contains a real ugliness. Marcella is an attractive person for completely unlikely reasons. Her emotionality is never weaponized, only her logic, which is the only thing that makes her likable.

She eventually sleeps with Pinnock, in something of a goodbye fuck. Like most of her interactions, this also turns into an interrogation. She wants to know why he abandoned her and was unwilling to work through their problems. It emerges that the wealthy family whose company Jason works for also provided a mistress in the form of a leggy blonde named Grace (Maeve Dermody). She dies within the first few episodes, but Marcella's reaction to the affair and the revelation that her husband's sidepiece is pregnant is muted except for the fact that she blacks out and finds Grace's corpse, holding it in her arms.

Throughout the subsequent investigation, Marcella conceals her own possible guilt. We do not truly know how much violence she is capable of and, charmingly, neither does she. Marcella fortunately never carries a weapon on the show, although this backfires on more than one occasion, endangering her own life and the lives around her. I think the presence of a handgun would remind us too much that Marcella has abandoned her directive as a peacekeeper, and is more simply a psychotic angel of restorative justice.

Without over-the-top violence or sex, Marcella feels so much tauter and more open to possibilities. The top-notch cast that surrounds her exhibits a mirroring amount of peccadilloes. How difficult it is for most people to cover their evident weaknesses simply gives us another reason to admire the protagonist for muting her own. Too often an ensemble seems merely a representative cast of characters. On Marcella they are a psychic echo of their center, a woman only beginning to understand herself in middle-age.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.