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Tuesday
Jun252013

In Which We Lop All The Chandeliers

Peasants

by MOLLY O'BRIEN

The Bling Ring
dir. Sofia Coppola
115 minutes

Seven years ago, Sofia Coppola made a movie called Marie Antoinette. Spoiler alert: at the end of the movie, Marie Antoinette gets robbed in a pretty major way. The peasants storm the château, ruin her stuff, make off with her head. We don’t get to see the revolutionaries lopping the chandelier from the ceiling, just the shot of a bunch of crystals in pieces on the ground.

A couple years ago, a handful of upper-middle-class teenagers burgled the homes of Hollywood people like Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, and Audrina Partridge. Then, on a tip from a classmate who heard them bragging about stealing Rachel Bilson’s shit, they were arrested. Nancy Jo Sales covered the hullabaloo for Vanity Fair in an article called “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”; in the full-length book that came after the article, she compared the teenagers’ thievery to the 18th century peasants who stormed Versailles.

Coppola must have noticed the connection. In The Bling Ring, the chandelier is back up, sparkling over a rack of cocktail dresses and Louis Vuitton jewelry cases as a small gaggle of girls (plus one boy) scavenge for treasure in Paris Hilton’s mansion. Our contemporary Marie Antoinettes appear in a montage of pixelated TMZ snapshots. The peasants take selfies and put them up on Facebook with captions like “Who’s stepping out with me tonight :)” and “Wanna smoke a bluuunt?”

First: The Bling Ring has more than a few funny moments. The comedy, intermittent though it may be, is the product of the actors, most of them unknowns, who spout marblemouthed adolescent blandishments as if programmed to do so. “That’s chilllll,” they say. “I love Chanellllll.” “So hottt.” “Ooh, this is Balmaainnn,” the raspy blonde coos, holding a gunmetal dress up to her abdomen. Watching these actors interact with each other produces the same effect as listening to teenagers talk on subways or park benches: contact embarrassment and intrigue.

They drive to the beach, yelling over Rick Ross’s guest spot on “9 Piece”. They smoke their joints dramatically, shuffle around to EDM in six-inch heels, insult each other’s outfits or tell each other they look sooo hotttttttttt. They are the children of Laguna Beach and The Hills, only less wistful and more nihilistic. You could wreak serious havoc with characters like these.

As an interpretation of a piece of journalism in a glossy magazine, the film is only sporadically faithful. Quotes are reproduced verbatim, and the narrative progresses much in the way Sales documented it — Marc (Israel Broussard) meets cute, troubled Rebecca (Katie Chang), Rebecca introduces Marc to celebrity kleptomania, more people get involved, everyone gets caught, Marc spills the whole story. But for readers of the Sales story, something is missing.

One major element of the original Bling Ring story absent from the movie is the reality television factor. Alexis Neiers, the young woman who appears as “Nicki” in the film and whom Emma Watson plays, was being filmed for an E! reality show called Pretty Wild at the time of the burglaries, though for reasons that had nothing to do with the burglaries. Her apprehension and trial were major plot points on the show. Real-life Neiers, as she appears on Pretty Wild, is actually kind of fascinating. She’s a mess, an addict, a model who saunters around her house with her “sister” Tess, both girls exuding a sexuality that is, in a single word, terrifying.

Everyone knows that reality television isn’t real. Neither are movies. Still, in the vacuum of unreality, movies have the ability to take the idea of a real person and further animate it, tell another side of the story, make that person even more real somehow. The Bling Ring misses this opportunity. Coppola’s version of Neiers is Watson looking cold and brittle in a pink Juicy sweatsuit, executing one excellent spin around a stripper pole that looks like it took three weeks to perfect. Her reality television background is nonexistent; the only camera that follows her around is the camera on her own iPhone.

So if you’re receiving the story firsthand from Coppola, you probably wouldn’t catch anything significant about the delusional nature of reality TV, nor would you know about the complications of Marc’s status as the rat of the investigation. You’d just see the stuff. So much stuff.

The first two-thirds of the movie are devoted to the stuff. The dresses, the gilded bracelets, the piled-on necklaces, the pillows with Paris Hilton’s face on them, the crystal bottles of vodka, the rolled-up wads of cash stuffed in leather trunks and metal cases, the Ziploc baggie of cocaine, the pistol on Megan Fox’s fiancé’s nightstand. It’s all so shiny and beautiful. It turns the audience into magpies. It made me want to go shopping.

We rarely see any of the kids do anything with the stuff. The few scenes when they do — when the crew’s ringleader smiles to herself in the mirror through a mist of perfume, when the initially hesitant Marc tries on a pair of Hilton’s hot pink heels and falls in love with them, when one of the tertiary characters picks up the gun and briefly becomes a maniac—are magic. The rest is just stuff.

Maybe the problem is the lack of suspense. We all saw what happened to the kids. The Antoinettes became victims and received their restitution. Between Sales, Pretty Wild and TMZ, there are no unknowns. Even when a story’s out there, a handful of explosive characters can make for a good story. Coppola defuses them. We know these kids are shallow, vapid, superficial. That’s why we want to watch them. It’s too bad the movie, which could have been dynamite, doesn’t rise above those same descriptors.

Molly O'Brien is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about the king. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Til I Lost" - Tom Odell (mp3)

"I Know" - Tom Odell (mp3)

Monday
Jun242013

In Which There Is No Other Side To The Pillow

Company

by AMANDA OLIVER

There are photographs of my father from when he was in the Navy. He has written on the back of most of them and he keeps them in the top drawer of his dresser.

When I was growing up he did not share the dresser with my mother or anyone else in our three-bedroom ranch house. It was his, one of the only things that was just his, for photographs and clothing. Mahogany wood bought with wedding money. He always let me go in and through it, though. My father never told me that anything was his, not mine, even when we got older and most people would think an adult has no business in another adult’s dresser drawers, even, maybe especially, their father's.

I think of people who only get to do this after their fathers, their mothers are gone. I have always been allowed there.

I used to pull out these photographs a lot. Walk across my parents' thick, red bedroom carpet, pull on the gold handles, and tug it open. In the summer the swollen wood would squeak and I’d have to shimmy it open, a little left, then right. I visited here when outside got boring or I had finished another book or my brothers were on play dates. When I felt little kid lonely, which seems like the worst lonely to be, even now. I would head to the top drawer in moments when I missed something I couldn’t name, couldn’t remember or call my own. As I got older I took the photographs out on days that I stayed in bed so long that there was no cool other side to any of the pillows. They kept me company.

They're thick, they're square, some are Polaroids. Some are pictures with postcard designs on the back.

I never read the backs when I was little. I was more interested in what country I had never been to that he had. Guessing which pictures he was high in. Wondering how long he had been on a particular ship for.

One of the last times I visited home my father told me, You can take some of them if you want. I carefully selected a stack, knowing I wanted them all, but couldn’t bear his dresser emptied, even though he’d have let me do it. I felt like a curator of something exceptional in a museum I had been given free reign over.

Now I keep them in a small box in my apartment hundreds of miles away from home. I was embarrassed with myself the first time I bothered to read the backs because I kept thinking I didn't know Dad could write well. I'd always pegged my reading and writing on my mother. She was the one who took me to the library, who read to me for a half hour before bed every night. The one who edited my papers for school and typed them on a typewriter, carefully whiting out the occasional mistake. She was the one who had finished college and then gone onto graduate school. One spring day when I felt guilty for disappearing for the summer she told me, "You are entitled to your life." She shares favorite quotes and books that arrive by mail in brown paper bag packaged boxes and pink enveloped cards. She signs my father's name to these things. 

My father shared his dresser drawers. He said Hi Puppy when I came home drunk in my teens and early twenties, ignoring or not noticing. My father finished one semester of college even though the Navy would have paid for all of it. My father let me charge the laptop I wanted in college to a credit card my mother ended up paying off. He is the one who told me once how he felt my first book in his bones, always had. I have never once disappointed him and I have done many disappointing things. My Dad keeps the phone calls short so I don't need more than one Okay, I'll talk to you soon.

Here I'm playing Old Salty as the ship sways one way I'm swaying the other. This is a good picture of the well deck of the LSD we're in. Behind me are 2 pusher boats. The ship's stern gate you lower to let us out, and of course the ocean. Notice the water line, see how we rock. This was taken on my old boat the 1609.

He tells me stories about being in the Navy sometimes. He always has. When we visit with each other, when we have both taken ourselves away from our phones and computers, when he is home from his second shift at work and I have just arrived by plane, he lets me ask him as many questions about his life as I want. My father is often as unfocused as I can be, but his patience for questions, for storytelling, is unending. I have only started to recognize how lucky this has made me.

I found myself on São Miguel Island last December, driving a car through thick fog down a muddy road that supposedly ended in a lagoon because my Dad mentioned the Azores once. He saw the islands in the distance from his ship heading to the Straits of Gibraltar. I google 59 Mercedes Benz model 219 because that is the car in the picture on a dirt road in a forest. He bought it from Chief Petty Officer Knight in Little Creek, Virginia and the guy who fixed it up before he went to head home didn't like sailors. Gave him a cracked distributor cap. The car, the beautiful grey car, broke down in the Poconos on the ride home with a guy name Ray who was a state basketball champ. A few months later my father sold it for five hundred dollars to a man who collected that particular model.

I find I write my sentences all of the ways my teachers called incorrect. Fragmented, spaced, told the wrong way. This began before I read my father's pictures, but my words ended up the same. I keep a pen, paper with me everywhere I go so I can write down individual words that taste good that day and sentences with no paragraph yet. My patience is for words and stories.

I worry sometimes about what it means to be a daughter to my mother and to my father. I hold myself to the expectations of the people I know, the people who raised me. My mother was thirty-one and my father was thirty-seven when I entered their lives, but for many years I held onto the childish belief that they barely existed before me.

I think about the people they were. My father on Navy ships he needed to climb aboard. My mother in a yellow hoodie not unlike the heather grey one I lived in for most of my early twenties. A picture of them wrapped around each other at a state park after a family picnic. The story my father tells about watching a fly go through a room on acid. It had ripples. The mistakes I swore for years my mother never made. My parents, with eight brothers and sisters apiece, growing up eating ketchup and mustard sandwiches less than ten miles away from one another. The people they were before they had to be something for me.

My father is sixty-five now, my mother fifty-nine. When they are in town visiting me my father drives around and watches people, notes how busy everyone is. “That guy’s yelling about something!” He tells me he loves it here and I ask him if he’s ever been to Berlin. He tells me no, Crete. Cannes. He points at a man dressed in nice pants, a button-down and hat, tells me, “Look at him!” and I do.

When I trade obligations for a suitcase or a backpack and trains and planes to new places I think about my father saying, Peaches, Daddy loves you. You kids are the best things I ever did. I know that my roots run deep down into oceans I’ve never been to. Started on ships I’ve never sailed on.

Amanda Oliver is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Washington D.C. You can find her website here.

"Made Out For This" - Denison Witmer (mp3)

"Right Behind You" - Denison Witmer (mp3)

Saturday
Jun222013

In Which We Confront The Zing Of Sun-Warmed Meat

Good at Keeping Limp

by VICTORIA HETHERINGTON 

[—Brie should be left out in kitchen to ripen for a ;few days. She stands as afternoon light deepens and bends through the kitchen window, softening then melting the brie, which comes apart in her fingers. Folding pieces of pita past her teeth against her tongue, rough on her throat from not chewing. Delicately unpeeling the spicy salami package, the zing of the sun-warmed meat muted by excess –]

  • S. said: 2 girls she knew went rehab for heroin habits, are successful artists now. remember: dont let her influence me into thinking this ok/normal/glamorous
  • dont eat for the next 2 days. but don't smoke either
  • sunny today, didn't go outside. I hate how quick time passing, months all superimposed on one another esp. when remembering dates
  • it was feb 1 I got into university; it was june 20 grandma died; it was september 17 when I met P.
  • it was first day of gr. ten, me & classmates played orientation games all day
  • I was face-painted & sweat-salty & carried full plate of cookies w/another paper plate folded over it
  • I won big plastic lei during games & kept it on during bus ride home. It was packed bc. rush hr, people pressing into me & still climbing obstinately up the stairs, & I picked patch of september sunlight thru dusty window & stared
  • taking up as little space as possible: how typical, & crushing cookies against chest to maximize space (but carefully; I still stuffed bra w/socks)

[—Her stomach squirms with desire as the tidal bingeing urge rushes over her, and she seizes her hairbrush, and as she drags it through her hair, trying to feel pleasure in its shine, its resistance against the brush, the crackle at its ends, pulling herself back into her body from the bad, floating place she crams food into, registering pain in her stomach and back–]

  • bus lurched lots & man standing closeby caught my eye
  • he raised arms to press hands up against ceiling for balance, smirking at me. Long nails, I remember.
  • Him: whats in the textbook? Deep voice with strange warble at its ends. he wasnt like my craggy father, more of mountain than person still, & he wasnt like peach-fuzzed beanstalk boys I knew either
  • he was young man & he was very, very dangerous
  • Me (shyly): its actually a sketchbook. Like, duh. Check out stippled black covers, ever seen textbook like that? I showed him drawings: me hanging from cross with wires coming out of skull, flower with bones as stamens, woman balding like water-damaged doll
  • I remember there was printout of trent reznor glued to inner front cover
  • Him: Interesting, eyes fixed coldly on last drawing, & 3 people looked on
  • Him: I am an artist in every sense of the word. I make music that, in my opinion, will crack the world wide open and teach these monkeys a thing or two. I also make art. What do you do?
  • Me: Im a student, I just started gr. ten. People started watching, & older woman openly stared. I misunderstood these gazes, & he ignored them
  • Him: I would like to buy you a coffee
  • He was losing hair, widows peak exposed white, & hair glued down forehead in strands. I remember standing beside him at counter, in dim Second Cup, thinking he seemed out of place
  • Me: I need to be home by five for piano lesson. Back outside again. Him: I can see from your eyes that youve suffered.
  • I hadnt really he changed that

[—Now ice cream, melting too quickly in the summer heat, her teeth freezing. After tonight, she tells herself, she will fetishize red peppers, carrots, smell them – so fresh and dew-bathed, yanked from the earth! – and she will lovingly pluck the right nectarines from the grocery store piles. The embarrassment of riches here. Doesn’t she want thin upper arms, a thin face, ropey legs? To make a certain impression? –]

  • The next day: us sitting in park, he a big unwashed animal/gigantic stain under a sun-lit oak tree, me sitting v straight so socks wouldn't fall out of tank top
  • Him: some people shouldnt have children. Were just brains piloting meat puppets. That squirrel has huge nads. I feel like I could say anything with you. Could I give you a hug?
  • he got up on knees, shuffled over to me on knees, thighs long & broad, arms outspread
  • he ran nails between my shoulderblades & I shuddered. Him: Now you like these nails.
  • Me (thinking): I still dont like them because theyre gross. I never opposed him though. Childhood taught me 100% compliance, withstanding furies of my father & cold indifference of my mother, arctic stream that, even in more clement times, never completely melted
  • He was angry to discover my socks, pressed them against his nose: at least theyre clean
  • It hurt so much & I cried whole time
  • he didnt wash the blood from his sheets for months
  • Lived w/father in dark basement apartment, worked 1-2 shifts at all-day breakfast place (pre-recession obv., no way he could get job now)
  • I would fake sick days to go & visit him at restaurant
  • always nearly empty. One day, late autumn, he had to rake patio & I sat on damp chair watched him do it
  • He went inside to wipe rake & I folded hands & looked down at them, sucking in stomach, wanting to look right for when he got back
  • Door to patio was all glass; when done cleaning rake in resto bathroom he, instead of  coming back out, came to door & stood staring at me, pressed against glass
  • His fingers pressed so hard against glass his finger-pads going white from pressure, long nails bending back

 

[—It comes up by itself the third time, jumping up from her stomach over her teeth, clouding the water like delicate watercolor washes, excess paint springing from a brush and running through an enormous cleaning bowl –]

 

  • He showed me picture of his mother, looking back over shoulder at sink, surprised, hands blurred w/long-ago domestic activity
  • Me: so pretty! Him: She looks like a monster now, too much drinking & smoking & fucking & fighting
  • he too damaged (he explained) to give me Christmas present or to water plants long-dead in basement window
  • I didnt recognize infections he gave me, suffered quietly & walked funny & soaked in baths until pain eased
  • I would come back to him like windup toy, back to his fathers house through browning falls leaves then ice
  • thinking: this is how it works, youre assigned to someone & thats it, you do everything they say
  • When I broke up w/him he got on knees, begged, lower lip wriggled, all the sad things except tears
  • Said he wouldn't stop sending me emails & would do everything to prove he could be better
  • Wrote & recorded song for me, still remember whole thing like yesterday: you think I wont change/that Ill stay the same/as if I loved torture/you must be insane

 

[—Spreading powder over her face, evening out the red patches and blurry sleeplessness, settling in the deepening cracks around her mouth. Lora texts: ‘my darling is it all right if you bring whiskey instead? im staring down world’s worst wine hangover.’ She rubs in lipstick, mashing it together, and waits five minutes before responding. ‘Esophagus,’ she thinks, tapping a cigarette into her hand, is a very onomatopoeic word when you think about it –]

 

  • After I took P. back he revealed: was in love w/his sister (1 yr younger than me, so 14 then)
  • Kissed her on her mouth in front of me, pretending like playing around
  • My parents baffled just 6 months before meeting P. on bus things in household went like this: father discovered Id put on makeup one morning so drove around school 3 times until I removed completely w/wetted hands; had to be home 4:30pm every day; phone calls monitored; certain outfits, books, cds confiscated & thrown out; hours of solitary confinement for swearing. Me 100% compliant & things went fine. Now this
  • Confronted P. about incestuous feelings. I feel angry, he confessed in flat tone, w/same blank curiosity he looked at balding woman drawing. It makes me want to hit you
  • Me: So hit me. Nothing you can do will make me love you again. You little shit, he hissed, ran after me
  • Never known fear like that, never ran down a hall & halfway up flight of stairs like that, never screamed like that, never struggled like that fighting with elbows knees & feet
  • Dragging me over to counter, yanking me one step at time, grabbing knife from beside empty Puritan cans, pressing to my throat, making thin bleeding line all around my throat
  • By then I was v good at keeping limp
  • Started drinking w/Tara many times/wk, her boyfriend bought booze for us & started drinking w/us too
  • Would empty whole bottle in alternating vicious gulps in coffee shop washrooms, baby duck champagne mostly, before school, after school
  • I would stumble home fantasizing about putting on new dress, coming over to cook P. dinner, descending into nightmare basement & sweetly accepting his horrid gratitude
  • Would slip tiny nugget of palytoxic coral from Taras exotic fish tank into boiling pasta along w/spices, enough to kill us both
  • Little sisters would wait by window for me every night, crying
  • Parents stopped talking to me
  • This boyfriend, tall dude named Eliot, slept w/me after Tara left him
  • Sweaty together in his bed as his big dick shrunk down & I tried not to stare at Pokémon posters on walls, I told him everything
  • Cried, streaming from entire face, choked out whole story
  • Eliot stood, shiny long back in front of me, bright in afternoon light, & punched wall
  • Pulled fist out of big hole in drywall, Pokémon poster collapsed inside of it like miniature tent
  • Eliot, rubbing tender knuckles: I am going to break his legs
  • Me, seized by desire: Im going to watch
  • I would arrange meet P. in Pizza Pizza, Eliot would identify, I would suggest smoking joint, Eliot would follow us to nearby park
  • Slipped out of house at 9:15pm into thick winter air, shaking like leaf
  • Bright shop, saw P. examining wilted slices w/fingers on chin as if posing, clothes so dirty, clownlike feet, hidden swordlike cock
  • Spotted Eliot w/jolt of recognition, sitting on nailed-down stool & watching us over a book, & stifled strange wild laughter: Eliot prided self on never reading
  • P. shook hot pepper flakes & squirted BBQ sauce all over pizza & followed me out of shop
  • Can recall every streetlight lighting up every naked branch, felt like walking to my own death
  • Can remember everything he was saying: I am so pleased to see you, Grace. I now work at a belt factory. I have a casual relationship with a woman named Natasha. I have suggested bondage & she is considering it. I am thinking of her dripping wet cunt right now.
  • Motion out of corner of my eye: Eliot, head lowered, charging towards us
  • Tackled P. & both go down hard on hard ice, Eliot punching P.s head over & over
  • P. flopping like huge fish & screaming: Grace! Grace! Call 99! Call 99!
  • Eliot yanked baseball bat from backpack he carried our booze in, leapt up & kicked P. in stomach, P. stopped squirming away, curling into ball
  • I run & run & run run run

 

[—They tumble into the car and Lora is all flirty business before the door even shuts, accepting the white bag offered by the shadow-faced dealer in the front seat, passing up the bills she rolled and unrolled and rolled in her long-fingered hands on their way to the car. “You all must be busy tonight,” Lora tells them, getting more comfortable, taking out her key already, making room, easing herself into a little nest within the bunched-up clothing. It would be so easy, Grace thinks, for them to kill us. Lora looks over at Grace, and grinning with benevolent, intoxicated misunderstanding, squeezes Grace’s hand –]

Victoria Hetherington is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Toronto. Good At Keeping Limp is an excerpt from a work-in-progress made possible by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Images by Alexander Calder.

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