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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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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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.

Thursday
Jun152017

In Which We Were Safe With Yukio Mishima

Yukio and Yoko Mishima

Truly Enticing

by ALEX CARNEVALE

When Yukio Mishima graduated from high school, honored as the class valedictorian, given a silver watch by the Emperor, his mind was occupied by one prevailing thought: "Now I am ready to die."

The next year he received his draft notice. Perhaps out of panic, or because he had been susceptible to illness ever since he discovered he was gay, Mishima came down with a cough, a cold and a fever. He was excused from service. By the time the war ended, all the people who had read his writing or cared about it (except his mother) were dead, either by their own hand or purged by the new leftist government.

with his sister Mitsuko

Mishima's native city of Tokyo was in ruins. The most common sight on the streets was the viewing of a metal safe; all that was left of what used to be a home. Very little of this touched Mishima, who had learned to ignore the vagaries of reality in favor of his own world. He wrote,

Japan's defeat was not a matter of particular regret for me. A far more sorrowful incident was my sister Mitsuko's death a few months later. I loved my sister. I loved her to an inexplicable degree.

His father forced him into law school, where he tried to think of the dull preparation for a bureaucratic career in as literary a terms as possible. Pushed into a job at the prestigious Ministry of Finance, he stayed up until all hours of the morning writing, so much so that his superiors chastised him for his sleepy look. But this was government, the only chance of him "failing" at it was to appear out-of-the-ordinary. (His colleagues even knew his literary work: they had him write a speech for a minister, before rejecting it as too flowery.)

Nine months into his new job, he fell off a train platform out of tiredness. His father relented and allowed him to tender his resignation shortly thereafter. He told Yukio, "Then quit the job and become a novelist, but make sure you become the very best in the land."

with his gift from the Emperor Mishima's new novel was autobiographical, a subject he would never completely abandon again. He wrote to his editor, "I will turn upon myself the scalpel of psychological analysis I have sharpened on fictive characters. I will attempt to dissect myself alive." That book was Confessions of a Mask, and the revelations within would change his life forever.

Today Confessions of a Mask seems dated and juvenile with respect to Mishima's other work. It is essentially his memoir of becoming, and since it is easier to think of Mishima's unraveling than his coming together, parts of the novel are easy to misread. The veiled discussion of his own homosexuality undoubtedly helped Confessions of a Mask become a sensation in Japan. The book was talked about everywhere, turning Mishima into the household name he desired.

The violence in his work was also divisive. He had been confusing pain with pleasure from his early days confined in his tyrant of a grandmother's basement, and the range of it in his stories matches any in the literature of Japan. Once, in order to write about it convincingly, he watched a medical student vivisect a cat.

The homosexual culture that emerged in Japan after the war, with the first gay bars and meeting places in Tokyo, could have had its central star. Amazingly, Mishima was able to suggest his immersion in these places was a cover that allowed him to research his next creation. The world which had rejected his early ambitions now embraced them to a startling degree. Even his father had to approve of Mishima's financial success in his chosen field. The family moved into a new house.

Fame gave Mishima the gratification he needed: the man barely ever drank or smoked. His intense focus on his writing meant that he met every deadline. His penmanship was flawless and his work rarely needed anything but the most cursory of edits. Explaining his behavior was easy: "Most writers are perfectly normal in the head and just carry on like wild men; I behave normally but I'm sick inside."

His first view of the west came in 1951. He sailed into San Francisco, and spent ten days in New York, which he described as Tokyo "five hundred years from now." He found it overwhelming and spent most of his time at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Brazil he was able to exercise his sexual needs whenever he liked, meeting teenage boys in the park and bringing them back to his hotel room. He hated his week in Paris, and spent most of his time in London sitting in dark theaters. (He would produce a play a year for the rest of his life.) He looked forward to Greece and found it more to his liking; it was as old as he felt.

When he returned to his country, he immediately sought a relationship with a woman that he could use as a cover. He began dating a coed whose chief virtue was her willingness to participate in what he described as "his masquerade." His mother chaperoned every date.

The Sound of Waves was the novel Mishima wrote after his trip. It has been described as his most normal work, and it certainly it appealed to more people than anything else he had produced to that point. Something had changed in Yukio during his journey around the world. His American biographer John Nathan suggests the travel freed him from feeling that the only environment in which he could survive was his native one. The Sound of Waves would also be Mishima's debut in English, as Knopf was reluctant to publish the "homosexual novel" Confessions as a debut.

More popular than ever, Mishima's freedom was unencumbered. He became consumed with bodybuilding. For the next fifteen years of his life, he worked out three times a week, slowly increasing the girth of his upper body. At his peak he looked something like this:

working out at a Korakuen gym

Mishima's commercial and critical success returned him to New York, where the astonishing news of his fame had not travelled so far. He asked a friend what to do to become famous in this country. His friend responded, "Faulkner and Hemingway could walk arm in arm down this street and nobody would pay any attention." A New York production of his play meant that, until he could not afford the $16 a day it cost, he lived on Park Avenue. His new hotel, in Greenwich Village, was $4 a day. He even learned how to ride the subways.

Mishima's off-Broadway debut was doomed from the start, but the experience was valuable. He had to again learn what disappointment felt like. When he returned to Tokyo (via Athens), his parents were determined to quiet rumors of their son's homosexuality by finding him the right woman. His mother almost certainly knew her son's true feelings, but felt a bride would solve a lot of Yukio's problems in general.

The family reviewed applications as if it were a job opening. The major disqualifying characteristic for Mishima was interest in his work. He wanted his new partner to love him for his body, not his writing, for whatever reason. Mishima's figure was not exactly appealing for some women: he was more a sex object to men and admirers of his work. He addressed the possibility of his marriage in his public writing, telling potential suitors that "with regard to her behavior in the outside world, I will not be generous with her; the world will be watching."

The woman who would become Yukio Mishima's wife was a 19 year old college sophomore named Yoko Sugiyama. The day before he married her, he burned all of his diaries.

at the airport leaving for his honeymoon with Yoko

In time, Yoko would learn her husband's true proclivities, but she never discussed them openly, even after his death, and denied them to anyone who asked. John Nathan has speculated that it was the position of homosexuality in Japan that allowed the marriage to persist happily - there was nothing abhorrent, strictly speaking, about being gay in Japan during this period, and bisexuality was also recognized as a legitimate preference. Far more unacceptable than being gay was being unmarried.

The wedding reception was in May at Tokyo's International House; the families were still simmering over a difficult negotiation of terms. The press followed the couple on their honeymoon. Mishima wrote,

As we walked down the corridor on the second floor, a girl from the beauty parlor picked up the telephone in the corridor and began informing someone of our every step in a voice so loud we couldn't possibly have missed it. As the elevator doors closed we heard her report, "They've just stepped into the elevator." In our room whenever a girl came to clean up or bring us something she was always accompanied by two or three others who just tagged along for a good look at us on their way out. When a waitress from room service appeared and Yoko ordered a cream soda and I ordered one too, the girl said, "You drink the same drink! That's passion!" I was appalled.

june 11, 1958

In his marriage Mishima was often caught between his mother and his wife. The two never got along. Living in the same home did not help matters; both felt possessive of Yukio. Despite the not-so-passionate nature of the arrangement, the couple was generally suited to each other. Yoko was not terribly entertained by the friends her husband had made as a single dilettante, and disliked his focus on bodybuilding. Each led their own lives, but Mishima surely relied on his wife for advice and for the most part they abided by one another's wishes.

In 1959, Mishima built a new house for his entire family. It was a disturbing piece of architecture, embodying both his experience in the west and a judgmental view of his own culture. Each morning he would wake up, eat and sunbathe, and then turn to his exercise regimen. The afternoons were about meeting with agents and directors. All of his writing was done in the evening before the routine began again. That year Yoko gave him his first child, a daughter they named Noriko, who was followed by a son Ichiro three years later.

The year his daughter was born Mishima also finished his massive new novel Kyoko's House. It sold based on his reputation, but the massive tome has never been popular with critics or readers. He had never worked harder on any of his plays or novels, and the reaction saddened him deeply.

Violence on the Japanese political scene frightened the vulnerable author, and the family was protected by a bodyguard. Mishima penned perhaps his most brilliant short work, My Wandering Years, which described his first trip around the world. John Nathan focuses in on one particular passage from the period:

Today, I no longer believe in that ideal known as classicism, and I have already begun to feel that youth, and the flowering of youth, are foolishness. What remains is the concept of death, the only truly enticing, truly vivid, truly erotic concept. For all I know, that twenty-six-year-old, that classicist who felt about himself that he was as close as possible to life, was a dissembler, a fraud.

Mishima's popularity declined noticeably in the years that followed, and much of his work from these years has never been properly appreciated either at home or abroad. He continued to subsist on the revenues from what he considered his trivial work, largely read by the Japanese housewives who had propelled his novels to their first success.

John Nathan had been responsible for a successful translation of Mishima's 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. After reading Mishima's novel Silk and Insight he decided that translating it would be a losing battle, both because it lacked the intensity typical of the author's work, and because the political undertones could not possibly make sense to a Western audience. After Nathan informed him he would not embark on the project, Mishima never spoke to him again.

Mishima's view of Japan was changing. In order to restore the nation to its former glory, he enlisted himself in the Army Self Defense Force and entered basic training. (Some suspect that his love of masochism was his principal motivation in this.) This position allowed him to maintain an ongoing friendship with a variety of young men, allowing him space from his wife and family.

Mishima was 42 and yet burned to keep up with the younger soldiers. His fantasy of becoming a warrior would persist until his death, tied up in political views that encouraged Japan to regain its former greatness. When another Japanese writer won the Nobel Prize, it was enough to set him off the rails completely.

taking a break for a meal during boot camp

Mishima planned his own death elaborately. He said farewell, in his way, to everyone that he knew, ending conversations with an unusual sayonara rather than the more typical "see you again soon." He told no one specifically what he planned, although he did float the concept of showing his suicide live to a friend who worked in television. The idea that he would become more respected and famous in death than he was in life was only a part of his desire to die, expressed for the first time when he was a young man. It had never truly left him.

Along with his comrades-in-arms, Mishima abducted a Japanese general that day. He had already mailed journalists with his manifesto and a photograph, in order to ensure the reasons for doing what he intended would not be obscured. Mishima had assigned the ritual decapitation to a friend, Morita, but even after several attempts the man was unable to perform the task and another comrade, Koga, beheaded both of them. Yukio's insides splattered to the ground. His wife placed a pen and manuscript paper in his coffin.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Wednesday
Jun142017

In Which We Have A Thoughtless Feeling Inside

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,

For the past year, I have awoken myself early to go for a run before work. Recently, my roommate Anna's doctor suggested that she start running, and she invited herself along on my morning runs. I have tried to make the best of this, but she talks the entire time about her worries and her complaining about the pace gets kind of annoying as well.

Previously this had been a peaceful part of my day; now it has turned into a chore. I can't just tell her how much she ruins this for me, since we have to go on living together, and it is kind of hard to hide what I'm doing considered our close proximity. Is there any way out of this?

Laney F.

Laney,

I mean if you told her you were doing personal training on the side and would be sending her a bill that would probably get things moving in the right direction. But no, that will not accomplish the prime goal of any useful lie – to directly eliminate the hurt feelings the truth so seems to consistently cause.

Since she seems to obey her own doctor, it may be best you have your doctor chime in on this as well. Maybe your "doctor" can inform you that you need to be running at night. Without you to push her she might give up the mornings and running altogether, at which point you can covertly switch back. This introduces a lot of complications, but could be the most pain-free solution.

A fake boyfriend that Anna hates and who criticizes her is probably your best bet. You can use a friend or hire an actor; she will probably see that this is a couples activity now and gracefully bow out. Problem solved.

Hi,

I recently broke up with my girlfriend of nine months and I feel like I am going through the twelve stages of grief. It is hard to connect with someone else and the energy required to keep up with dating is not really in me right now.

Still, I feel like meeting someone else would probably help me get over things faster? I want this to be as pain-free a process as possible, and it feels like all I do is think about Maggie or compare other women to her. I have written her and called but she doesn't reply. Do you have any tips for getting through this rough period?

Walter S.

Dear Walter,

Every human person allows their perspective on the world to be altered by different things. Think of what you did – and this need not be related to romance at all – that last altered your point of view on life as a whole. Was it a trip, a fuck, a movie or book? You'll want to repeat whatever that is, in hopes of giving you an identification with someone else's situation that has a chance of putting yours in perspective.

As for the not answering your messages: if someone is ignoring you, that means it either causes them great pain to have to communicate with you, or they simply do not give a shit anymore. Either is really bad news for you. It is not only not healthy to continue sending messages into a void and believing you might get a response, it is a waste of your energies that could be directed on someone who actually values you as a person.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.