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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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Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Jan062011

In Which When Pilot Fish Fasten On Shark They Contribute Only Drag

You can find the first part of this series here.

The Fireplace Still Burns

After his divorce from Gwyn, John Steinbeck settled into a bit of a rut. He questioned almost everything about the way he lived his life, and fell into something of a writer's block. In his personal affairs he was clearly a lonely man who was not exactly a pleasure to be around, and his prolific letter-writing took over as his major connection with others. The explosion of energy we find in these letters to his editor Pascal "Pat" Covici, constitutes the journal he felt he had to keep while working through the pain of losing his family.

with his two kids, john and thom

To Pascal Covici
September 1948

Dear Pat —

The thing makes a full circle with 20 years inside of it. Amazing, isn't it? And what wonderful years and sad ending ones. I am back in the little house. It hasn't changed and I wonder how much I have. For two days I have been cutting the lower limbs off the pine trees to let some light into the garden so that I can raise some flowers. Lots of red geraniums and fuchsias. The fireplace still burns. I will be painting the house for a long time I guess. And all of it seems good.

There are moments of panic but those are natural I suppose. And then sometimes it seems to me that nothing whatever has happened. As though it was the time even before Carol. Tonight the damp fog is down and you can feel it on your face. I can hear the bell buoy off the point. The only proof of course will be whether I can work — whether there is any life in me. I think there is but that doesn't mean anything until it gets rolling. Women I will have to have of course, only I wonder if I have learned to keep them in their place. They have a way of sprawling all over and that I can't have any more. I haven't enough time and I couldn't take another sequence like the last two.

Anyway this is just a note to tell you I'm in a new shell or an old one, like a hermit crab and the ink is now out of two of my pens and this is the last one. I have no more ink in the house tonight. I'll keep you posted.

Affectionately
(and write to me)

John

To Pascal Covici
September 19, 1948

Dear Pat:

You are right — I do get the horrors every now and then. Comes on like a cold wind. There it is, just a matter of weathering it. Alcohol doesn't help that a bit. I usually go into the garden and work hard.

At that moment Ritch and Tal Lovejoy came in for a cup of coffee and then I watered the garden and here it is dusk. A very quiet Sunday and I've enjoyed it. My hands are literally tired from moving rocks. And it is a fine feeling.

It has been one of the dark days that I like very well — overcast and almost cold except that flowers like it and seem to be on fire in such a light. I think flowers' colors are brighter here than any place on earth and I don't know whether it is the light that makes them seem so or whether they really are.

I debated strongly about whether to dress and go out to dinner or whether to cook something and stay home in quiet and determined on the latter.

So I'll close and send you more reports.

October 18

Dear Pat:

I got to reading Auden's introduction to the Greek portable and it is very fine. He is such a good writer. Have you read Lady Godiva and Master Tom by Raoul Faure? A really blistering study of a woman.

I shall be going to Los Angeles with Kazan about the first of November and to Mexico soon after. Probably be gone for about a month. I have not worked on The Salinas Valley. I don't want to now until everything is clear because I think I am about ready for it and I'm letting it stew. It would be bad if the whole conception turned out no good. But I'll do it anyway. I am really looking forward to the doing of it, good or bad.

I miss Ed and I don't all at the same time. It is a thing that is closed — that might possibly have been closing anyway. Who can tell? Great changes everywhere and every which way. I still get the panic aloneness but I can work that out by thinking of what it is. And it is simply the breaking of a habit which was painful in itself but we hold onto habits even when we don't like them. A very senseless species. There is no future in us I'm afraid. I can hear the music beginning to turn in my head. And by the time the spring comes I hope I will be turning with it like a slow and sluggish dervish or some mushroom Simon Stylites, a fungus on a stone pillar.

Friday

Dear Pat:

The week I've put in planting — things I'll probably never see flower - either because I won't be here or I won't be looking. I have no sense of permanence. This is way stopping-place, I think, as every other place is. I've made my tries at "places" and they don't work. But this is a good way stopping-place and a good one to come back to — often.

I awakened the other night with a great sense of change happening somewhere. Could not sleep anymore and all night the sense of change, neither pleasant nor unpleasant but happening. It hung on for several days. Gradually my energy is coming back a little at a time. It is so strange that I could lose it so completely. One never knows what he will do ever.

Just now the rain started, very gentle and good. I hope it rains a long time. There has not been enough.

I'm sorry I was so closed in, in New York. But I realized more than any time in my whole life that there is nothing anyone can do. It's something that has to be done alone. Even with women, and that's good, there is largely no companionship except for a very little while.

This has been a long bleak day.

Saturday

Curious sleepless night after a long time of oversleeping. There was a great thunder and lightning storm in the night and rain fell. Maybe the changing pressure kept me awake. I know I'm very sensitive to changing pressures.

Beth [his sister] is supposed to come down today. I hope she does. It is a long time since I have seen her. We have a lot to talk over. And she is usually so surrounded that there is no chance to see her alone.

with bob hope on a USO tour of Southeast Asia in 1966

Monday

This is turning into a diary. Beth did come down and I got to see her alone for the first time in a long time. She is well but of course is working too hard as always.

This time I am going to send this

love,

John

To Pascal Covici
November 1, 1948

Dear Pat:

Well that is over. Thanks for your letters. They helped. I'm leaving for Hollywood tomorrow and for Mexico on Friday. I'm pretty much relaxed, I think, things have been about as disgusting and nasty as they can get and they didn't kill me. I wish I could thoroughly believe that this is to be a new leaf. I wish I could be sure I have learned something. I am not sure of either. But I can try. At least if I try it again there will be a shudder of apprehension.

Gwyn once told me that she could do anything and I would come crawling back. At the time I was very much in love with her but even then I told her not to depend on it. A woman holds dreadful power over a man who is in love with her but she should realize that the quality and force of his love is the index of his potential contempt and hatred. And nearly no women or men realize that. We will not mention this again in a post-mortem sense. Only if it becomes active will it be necessary. I think I am getting strength back — perhaps more than I have had in 17 years and perhaps more than I have ever had. I want the hot words to come out again and hiss on the paper and I think they may. My needs are filled.

I hope you will write to me. I thank you for the fine bale of yellow pads. I shall make good use of them, I hope. And on your next trip out here I will get you drunk on red wine and music and the old ghosts we have neglected will walk again and wail on the wet rocks. This is a time of change and maybe of destruction, but the waves and the tide will not change, no matter how much we blast or are blasted. The black roots of the little species may put own new leaves. It is about time. There has been nothing erected for a long time. Matter is creative, that we have known and studied, but we have forgotten that the grey lobes in the head are creative too — the only and unique creative thing in the whole world of our seeing and hearing and touching.

A lot of high flown language but let it flow. Never again does it have to stoop to critics, or friends or lovers. It can be as good or as silly as it can be, not wise and smart and little.

And that's all for now. I will write to you from Mexico. I'm working on the life of a very great man but primarily a man. It would be good to study him closely. His life had a rare series — beginning, middle and end, and most lives dribble away like piss in the dust.

I'll be talking to you soon.

John

Many of his friends became worried about him. Mildred Lyman, of the McIntosh and Otis office visited him before he left for Mexico and wrote to Annie Laurie Williams:

"He is deeply disturbed and frightened about his work. If it doesn't go well in Mexico I honestly don't know what will happen. The fact that so much time has elapsed without his accomplishing anything to speak of worries him a great deal. He has a defense mechanism which is constantly in action and it is hard to get behind that. What John needs more than anything right now is discipline. I'm afraid that he wanted to get to Mexico for reasons other than writing. I heard quite a bit while I was with him about the gal, and I don't think that bodes any good. She's a tramp. He writes tons and tons of letters late at night. He is in a strange mood and has a very peculiar ideas of women these days. He eats at odd hours and not properly, stays up late and sleeps late and tries so hard to convince himself that he likes it."

By the end of November of that year, he had written to Covici to say, "I did Thanksgiving very well but Xmas I will not try. I will get a gallon of wine and the prettiest girl I can find and I will forget Christmas this year." By the following summer, he was feeling at least a little more energized, writing to the novelist John O'Hara, whose Appointment in Samarra had been a literary sensation.

To John O'Hara
June 8, 1949

Dear John:

Your letter made me very happy. This is a time of most profound readjustments, emotional as well as in other directions and the reassurance of a letter like yours cannot be overestimated. Everything dried up as it is bound to, and got out of drawing and with three more mixed metaphors I will have a literary bouillabaisse, or how do you spell it.

I am extremely anxious to read your new book. There are lots of reasons for this. I believe that your hatreds are distilling off and that your work is all ahead of you. Maybe the training in hatred in all of us is necessary. For hate is a completely self-conscious and personalized emotion and a deterrent to a clear view but it may be as necessary to developing ability as the adjectives we later learn to eliminate. But we must first use the adjectives before we can know how to leave them out.

I've had seven months of quiet out here to try to reduce the maelstrom to tea kettle size. For myself there are two things I cannot do without. Crudely stated they are work and women, and more gently — creative effort in all directions. Effort and love. Everything else I can do without but if those were effectively removed I would take a powder instantly.

Being alone here has allowed me to think out lots of things. There is so much yapping in the world. The coyotes are at us all the time telling us what we are, what we should do and believe. The stinking little parasitic minds that fasten screaming on us like pilot fish that fasten on a shark, they contribute only drag. I think I believe one thing powerfully — that the only creative thing our species has is the individual, lonely mind. Two people can create a child but I know of no other thing created by a group. The group ungoverned by individual thinking is a horrible destructive principle. The great change in the last 2,000 years was the Christian idea that the individual soul was very precious. Unless we can preserve and foster the principle of the preciousness of the individual mind, the world of men will either disintegrate into a screaming chaos or will go into a grey slavery. And that fostering and preservation seem to me our greatest job.

This will probably be a long and boring letter, but I need some one to talk to and good or bad for you, you are tagged.

You see I worked last year but it was all experiment and notes. I've been practicing for a book for 35 years and this is it. I don't see how it can be popular because I am inventing method and form and tone and context. And of course I am scared of it. It's cold lonely profession and this is the coldest and loneliest because this is all I can do, and when it is done I've either done or I never had it to do.

Ernest Hemingway, Sherman Billingsley and John O'Hara

I've reread your letter and this is another day. You know I was born without any sense of competition. Consequently I have never even wondered about the comparative standing of writes. I don't understand that. Writing to me is a deeply personal, even a secret function and when the product is turned loose it is cut off from me and I have no sense of its being mine. It is like a woman trying to remember what child birth is like. She never can.

Again I have re-read your letter. And you are quite right. A man is always married. I wonder though whether he can be married to idea — with different people carrying the ball (oh Jesus!). I will know sometime maybe. Being married to me is a very hard thing. I am kind and loving and generous but there is always the rival (work) and to most women that is worse than another woman. They can kill or eliminate another woman but that rival they cannot even get close to no matter how you try to make them a part of it. And there's the necessity for being alone — that must be dreadful to a wife.

This maundering will probably go on for some time.

Now it is even more days later. I thought, after I stopped writing the other day, regarding your words about a wife. And do you remember in the Mabinogion, the ancient Welsh story of a man who made a wife entirely of flowers?

My boys will be with me in another two weeks and I will be glad. I deeply resent their growing and me not there to see. that is the only thing I resent now. The rest is all gone. But imagine if you couldn't see your daughter for months at a time when every day is a change and growth and fascination. I saw my oldest boy turn over on his back and discover the sky and in his look of wonderment I remembered when it happened to me and exactly how it was.

That's all now. But I would like and need to keep in touch.

John

You can read the first part of this series here.

meeting lyndon johnson with his son in 1963

"Convict Lake" - John Vanderslice (mp3)

"White Wilderness" - John Vanderslice (mp3)

"The Piano Lesson" - John Vanderslice (mp3)

with third wife Elaine Scott

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If You Feel Something, Might As Well Write It Down And Mail It To Someone

The astonishing letter writing of Vladimir Nabokov...

The deep waters of Ernest Hemingway...

Elaine de Kooning's memories of Mark Rothko...

Gustave Flaubert and George Sand's squabbles...

Gertrude Stein knows more about these things than most...

Let's face it, Anne Sexton was one hell of a woman...

James Agee's magical Plans for Work...

The last letter of John Cowper Powys to Henry Miller...

The autobiography of Robert Creeley...

The cagey love affair of William Faulkner...

Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett lie for fun and profit...

Elizabeth Gumport and Dawn Powell...

John Ashbery explains Fairfield Porter through his letters...

Jessica Ferri on Sylvia Plath...

Georgia O'Keeffe's journal and letter writing has no equal...

The stormy relationship of Rimbaud and Verlaine...

The brilliance of William Gass' letters....

...nothing could have survived their life.

Wednesday
Jan052011

In Which You Have To Be Free, You Have To Be An Individual

Emotionally I Am In Deep Trouble

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Husbands (1970)

dir. John Cassavetes

You never felt the camera. You didn't know where the camera was. Only when he picked up the handheld camera, and then you knew you were being taken care of. He really made love to you. He really knew how to use a handheld.

- Ben Gazzara 

In real life the screaming monologue is unusual, but it's the centerpiece of an actor's repertoire. Most interactions are less obvious. People generally put on more of a big dumb show the less they actually care, and less of a show when they care the most. Genuine reaction flares in the eyes but then most people try to cap it, because feelings like jealousy, anger and sadness are associated with embarrassment and weakness. 

John Cassavetes' movies are so good because they don't point at themselves. That's how they go so deep without tipping into pretentiousness or kitsch. The emotional moments feel real because they are subtle, and most emotional moments are subtle.

Husbands explores the conflict between personal selfishness and the desire to connect. The blocking is clumsy and realistic. Watching the three characters continually reassemble themselves in the frame is fascinating. The action always feels like it just occurs. All of the sequences feel like they are in real time, and it is as excruciating to watch uncomfortable events unfold as it is pleasant to watch the long bits of improvised physical nonsense. Cassavetes goes especially extra hard on himself.

Most of the movie is closeups, a dialogue of glances between the three best friends. It's a love story about male friendships and the ways men display affection for each other. Some critics argue that male romantic friendship is the founding trope of American literature, back to Huck and Tom (Gatsby and Nick, Ishmael and Queequeg). 

Male friendship fascinates me because it's not a thing I can observe firsthand without changing the dynamic. Although god knows I try. What I love about ensemble casts is that they replicate how romantic a whole friend group can be. I am so fucking bored of bromances. How hard is it to write a conversation between a man and a woman that resembles anything that happens in real life? I have conversations with men every day. 

Black Swan's shortcut around writing realistic female characters was surrealistic female characters. What do women talk about alone together? What does anyone talk about? Stupid bullshit trying to make each other laugh. Songs we've been listening to a lot. Sometimes we gossip, but if I've learned anything in life it's that men gossip the most.

Husbands is so great, so rueful. It reminds me of my other favorite 1970s borderline misogynist depending on your personal feelings about whether it's a critique (I think they both definitely are) film Carnal Knowledge. I'd throw Shampoo in there. They romanticize masculinity from a standpoint of extreme cynicism. Can you romanticize a subject and critique it simultaneously? I'm not sure there's any other way to do either. 

I don't believe that men are naturally worse than women. I worry a little that men might think that. They underestimate their goodness and our badness. Women are definitely not more moral or responsible at all. The most moralistic responsible people I know are all men. Men have more opportunities to abuse power, but I don't believe that women wouldn't abuse it in exactly the same ways. Ask Madonna's twenty year old boyfriend what he thinks. People with power use it to subjugate those without.

Obviously I wish there were more media depictions of how romantic female friendships are (we're working on it). I don't mean romantic like Black Swan, I mean romantic in the road-trip sense. Sismance is still a pretty small genre. Things depicting women are usually about female rivalry. Female rivalry as a media trope is way overrepresented and female friendship is super fucking underrepresented. 

That is what women really love about Sex And The City. Did they ever even want to fuck the same guy once? Isn't it crazy that they maybe didn't do that plotline during the whole run of the show? When they fought, it was always over something regarding the friendship, usually Carrie semi-accidentally being an insensitive jerk. Definitely those kinds of conflicts are more common in real life than cut a bitch catfights. 

I really like Mary McCarthy's novel The Group about a group of female friends from college, because I have a tight-knit group of female friends from college that I love more than anything, and I am totally curious about how people fucked in the thirties. 

I can't really put into words how much I love my friends. I wouldn't even know where to start. Husbands goes without dialogue for long stretches and just relies on the characters interacting with each other, demonstrating their deep devotion to one another in the most indirect ways. It is frustrating and occasionally transcendent.

I realize this post isn't really very much about Husbands, but I can't possibly improve on Husbands. I never have too much to say about things I just love, and I am always seeking things that will make me want to stop talking. I guess my articles are never really about the thing they're supposed to be about, and I improvise. There is a four and a half hour version I would like to see that Ben Gazzara says is his favorite cut. 

Cassavetes initially cut Husbands around Ben Gazzara, then made other cuts where he and Peter Falk were the principal lead, before ending up with the final cut where they are all represented equally. Thinking about your own life from the point of view of your closest friends will make you go blind. It's hard enough just being yourself.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She's on twitter and runs GIF PARTYJPG CLUB, and Google Image Search. You're sensitive? You can't even vomit.

"Ohio" - The Black Keys (mp3)

"Act Nice and Gentle (Kinks cover)" - The Black Keys (mp3)

"Tighten Up" - The Black Keys (mp3)


Monday
Jan032011

In Which It's The Best Jewish Comedy Western Since Blazing Saddles

Nature's Cathedral

by MOLLY LAMBERT

True Grit

dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

110 minutes

Who incepted my fantasy about wandering the wildernesses of New Mexico with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon? Who told the Coen brothers that every scrappy tomboy sees herself in Rooster Cogburn? When did Matt Damon get so goddamned awesome? Is he Leonardo DiCaprio's black swan because he reminds us that what we don't love about Leo is his humorlessness and inability or unwillingness to make fun of himself?

Since they slayed it on the first try with No Country For Old Men, you might think the Coen Brothers would shy away from making another Western. Apparently they're going for the hat trick and doing Blood Meridian next, although you never know if they'll zig. If they can manage to make Blood Meridian not humorless, I will give them a billion percent of my mind futures. True Grit is a perfect modern existential Western, a tribute to The Wizard Of Oz the way O Brother Where Art Thou was a retelling of The Odyssey.

Matt Damon knows how to play a white hat in an interesting way. He always brings something of a black hat attitude to it. That's why he was so great in The Departed and The Talented Mr. Ripley as a black hat hiding behind a white hat façade. He is a genuine movie star. True Grit reminded me a lot of Hayao Miyazaki movies, which feature determined little girls on dangerous missions in dreamlike environments. National treasure Jeff Bridges really gets his Orson Welles in Chimes At Midnight on.

In addition to Western tropes, all of the Coens' own tropes are here too: severed limbs and digits, repetitions of key phrases that become funnier as they are repeated, salty old men and fast-talking women. The Coens are tender-hearted nihilists, and so are all of their characters. Do other directors resent the Coens because they make it look so easy? I am sure that making it look that effortless is actually really fucking hard. 

My favorite classic existential Western is Man Of The West, Anthony Mann's claustrophobic take on the genre. Existential Westerns are Waiting For Godot against the background of nature. They replicate what it's like to be inside your own mind, and recall all the weird Jungian dreamscapes you've ever seen in your sleep. Attempting to convey in film the intense spirituality of landscapes is Terrence Malick's life's pursuit. 

I have a lot of love for Westerns, because I am from the West. I romanticize Western tropes, and so this movie was perfect for me because it was a romantic but not bloodless take on the Western. I also loved No Country For Old Men, which was decidedly anti-romantic. I love that the Coens can execute both and see no conflict in the differences between them. I respect versatility more than just about anything.

For me, True Grit and Black Swan both captured the atmosphere of dreams and nightmares in a way that Inception did not at all. The immanently mystical quality of some places, especially natural environments, derealization, the ways in which life sometimes feels like a three character play in which you are all three characters. 

Avatar was James Cameron's Wizard Of Oz remake. The Wizard Of Oz is the ultimate existential fantasy movie, and seeing it for the first time is a lot of people's first mundane psychedelic experience with art. In dreams you are often on a mission of some sort, and it is comforting to think about having such a clear purpose in life. In real life our personal directives are much less obvious, if they are discernible at all.  

The modern existential Western/Wizard Of Acid/spiritual landscape film that best captures and approximates my own internal processes is Easy Rider; the avatars of 1970s Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson are in constant battle for my eternal soul. God help you if Jack Nicholson wins. God help me if Dennis Hopper does. There's an excellent argument to be made that I am also McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Genre tropes always sound like liabilities in advance. I've seen enough bad child actors to be instantly wary of a movie centered around a child actor, but Hailee Steinfeld is a born natural. She more than holds her own against the A List actors all around her.

Fun facts about Hailee: her dad is "Body By Jake" as shown in the Pie-O-My episode of The Sopranos, she is a valley girl like me, that diva bitch from Glee snubbed her and it made her cry. If I was caught off guard by the ending of True Grit (and what an ending), it's because I expected her to grow up to be Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona.

Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is the cowardly lion. Bridges is one of my absolute favorite actors. I have a major soft spot for second generation actors, because a lot of them seem to understand how to treat acting like it's a regular job. They are not necessarily less prone to be divas, but certainly Jeff Bridges doesn't seem like a diva.

Neither does Matt Damon. That's why they are so good. They never pull focus, even when hamming it up. They understand how to collaborate, how to work on a team. It's a quality I think all the best actors have. Can somebody please cast Owen Wilson in their next Western? Shanghai Noon/Knights fan #1 over here, and I'm serious. 

The Coens always create a sort of collaborative seeming world, perhaps because they are themselves collaborating. One wonders if Joel and Ethan ever disagree on things. Surely there must be times when one of them sees a shot one way and the other sees it some other way, and they have to compromise. Who is Micky and who is Dickey?

Here's how to fix The Fighter. Wahlberg and Bale swap roles. THINK ABOUT IT. Wahlberg would be much more genuinely menacing as the fuck-up crackhead brother, as anyone who's seen Fear can attest. Bale's natural smarminess would make the sympathetic lead more complex and interesting. Bale and Amy Adams actually had the best chemistry in the movie in their one real scene together. To make it up to me, they can do a webcast of True West where they switch roles every other scene.

Fargo is a kind of Western (a Midwestern), wherein Frances McDormand is the law. The Big Lebowski is a Western, in addition to being a neon noir detective movie. I was a little sad Sam Elliott never showed up in True Grit. He could have been The Wizard.

In the FMK situation that will be this year's Academy Awards, I think I'm going to have to kill The Fighter, fuck Black Swan (it was college!), and marry True Grit. But I need to see both of the latter again to be sure. How exciting is it to have so many actually good films in theaters? Winter movies are summer tentpole movies for film geeks.

Best Existential Westerns:

The Searchers 

Dead Man

Man Of The West

High Noon

Unforgiven

Once Upon A Time In The West

The Good The Bad And The Ugly

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

El Topo

Ride The High Country

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia

There Will Be Blood

Easy Rider

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. If somebody can hook her up to be artist in residence at the Gene Autry Museum she'll murder your enemies for you. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"River Crossing" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"A Great Adventure" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"Your Headstrong Ways" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" - Iris DeMent (mp3)