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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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Wednesday
Jul112012

In Which Don DeLillo And Robert Pattinson Are Together At Last

More Erotic When It's Wasted

by RACHEL SYKES

Cosmopolis
dir. David Cronenberg
108 minutes

In the opening shot of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Robert Pattinson stands downcast outside a Manhattan office block. Dressed in black, or so the old joke goes, the most famous vampire in the hemisphere slouches beside a skyscraper, innocuous, glum and keeping to the shadows.

Sunglasses cover his eyes. “I need a haircut,” he says.

Cronenberg’s film, adapted from Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel, follows a day in the life of Eric Packer (Pattinson), a billionaire who at the age of 27 wants nothing more than to have his hair done. Though he might click his fingers and have a solution provided, Packer is looking for something. On this particular day, he demands a barber shop with mirrors and a swivel chair, a place where he can sit and look at the reflection which he has stopped seeing amongst the glaze of his skyscraper and the sheen of his limousine.

“Where is your office? What do you do exactly?” Packer’s wife asks.

But as he rides around Manhattan in a car proofed against nuclear war, it becomes clear that Packer exists in the ultimate hyper-real. Computers have replaced the walls around him, providing constant code without information. And on these computers Packer can watch as his net worth decreases, second by second, and he gradually sabotages his personal wealth. His financial decline neatly parallels the protests visible through the blacked out windows of the limo. These are marches against globalisation, against the future, protesters who damage the protagonist’s vehicle but never pass through the glass. As it becomes increasing clear, the 1% which Packer, which Pattinson, embodies can only be destroyed by itself.

Any satisfaction garnered from watching Cosmopolis will depend on your ease with Pattinson’s automaton billionaire. An early poster released before its premiere at Cannes showed a glittering overview of the New York skyline fading to black under the tagline: “How far can he go before he goes too far?” But by the time the poster was released to cinemas, ambiguity had been sacrificed for the solemn face of its star, a face which for this moment is potentially as global as the New York skyline itself, sitting alone in a dilapidated version of his limousine. A yellow cab is still visible through the window over his right shoulder, the protests just apparent over his left. But directing attention consistently to the centre of the poster are the names, in capital letters, of the Trinity: PATTINSON, CRONENBERG, DELILLO.

A hyper-awareness of name and stature, the star, the director, the author, seems fitting for a film obsessed with transience, youth, and power. Over the course of 100 minutes a string of associates and/or lovers pass around or through Packer’s car, all emitting a specific, loaded language which stings with its twin obtuseness and directness.

“You smell of sex,” Packer’s wife says to him, when he discovers her hiding in a book store.

“It’s not the sex you think I’ve had,” he replies. “It’s the sex I want. That’s what you smell on me.”

A wearying sense runs through Cosmopolis that sexuality has festered, that intimacy is a fallacy. These supporting characters prove to be only cameos in the death throes of the protagonist, each with neat taglines which seem to be rejected from their mouths. “Destroy the past,” one adviser says, “make the future.” And as Packer sabotages his own life, we witness each character fade to irrelevance, their speech becoming ever more obscure and verging wildly between the bizarre and the ridiculous.

It is this language, directly lifted from DeLillo’s text, which fills the film and moulds its silences. The most palpable reaction in the cinema in which I sat was that of suppressed laughter. Several people scoffed as one protestor ranted about shoving custard pies in the faces of the famous. But full belly laughs emerged as Paul Giamatti, a beige dressing gown obscuring his face, announced that the fungus between his toes has begun to speak to him. In this climactic scene, shot in one take, and intended as two-handed theatre, the problem of Cosmopolis’ dysfunctional language crystallises. This is not the dialogue of Harold Pinter; this was not written to be said out loud.

And there the ultimate futility reverberates, not in the story, not in the characters, but in language itself. To DeLillo, sex dominates with equal ineffectuality, the creator and the destructor of everything in the individual. It permeates the dialogue – it is powerful, omniscient, it appears in the life of Packer both as therapist and stalker.

“Sex finds us,” Packer says, “Sex sees through us. That's why it's so shattering. It strips us of appearances.”

His virility, his mortality, is tested in one scene which details Packer’s daily health check. Bent over in the middle of his limousine for his prostate examination, the doctor announces that his prostate is asymmetrical. From this position, bent double, with it not immediately clear what is happening to him behind, he yells in the face of an adviser: “I want to bottle-fuck you slowly with my sunglasses on.”

More giggles ripple around the theatre. Because faced onscreen with the full absurdity of postmodernism, this much we are forced to understand: sex is disconnected - sex is irrelevant – sex is death. In the face of this, we laugh. Depictions of the sex acts themselves focus on the female form as it writhes on top of the young billionaire. His most intimate moments are with strangers or professionals. The woman, on top, obscures the form of the man below, who seems ultimately powerless to react or resist, and equally powerless to enjoy. And in the face of this, we laugh.

Of course, this is also like the experience of reading Don DeLillo. Especially in his most recent novels, DeLillo can be supremely frustrating when his portrayal of privilege relies too frequently on the obvious to imply its disjointed undertones. “Sex was everywhere,” he wrote in Falling Man, “This was sex. They’d walk down a street together and see themselves in a dusty window. A flight of stairs was sex.” Particularly when a world is in turmoil, DeLillo seeps sexuality into every aspect of the present and beats the reader over the head with its permeation. As a reader, I laughed, again, at this description which bludgeoned a frenetic moment with predictable overstatement. But I thought of Falling Man again, as Pattinson left the barbershop with only half a haircut, and as the few viewers in the cinema around me laughed without sympathy at an asymmetrical prostate.

A cardboard cut-out of Pattinson stood in the foyer of a small, independent theatre which I walked through one Wednesday night in June. His downcast face stared aggressively at the floor, whilst words sprawled over the cardboard boasted Cosmopolis to be “The first adaptation of a DeLillo novel.”

I sent a message to a friend: “This is the First. And soon there’ll be Falling Man. Russell Crowe will star.”

The reply quickly came: “Sex was everywhere. This was sex. The porch seat was sex. Sex will be everywhere… for Russell Crowe.”

Rachel Sykes is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Nottingham. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the longest bunting. She tumbls here.

"Heart of Stone" - The Novel Ideas (mp3)

"Not Enough" - The Novel Ideas (mp3)

The latest album from The Novel Ideas is entitled Home, and you can find their website here.

Tuesday
Jul102012

In Which We Learn To Say Yes To Maybe

A Shaft of Sunlight

by TRACY WAN

Take This Waltz
dir. Sarah Polley
116 minutes

There is always a prospective age, nominated arbitrarily and instinctively, at which we firmly believe we’ll have made it as adults. This number is fluid — it grows with us — but always tucked into a mental pocket. At first, we look forward to it sleeplessly (sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one). Eventually (twenty-five for some, thirty for others, add a decade from that point on), it becomes a threat, a threshold that our failures should not dare to cross. Of course, a fluid number never makes an indelible mark: you never know when you’ve crossed into this realm. We wonder for most of our twenties; somewhere down the line, we get too busy to wonder.

In Sarah Polley’s new film, Take This Waltz, Margot (Michelle Williams) straddles this delimitation, painfully pulled in both directions. Twenty-eight and married for five of those years, she’s an adult by many definitions: employed, settled, committed. She lives in a colorful, tailored-for-two house in Toronto’s Parkdale, with her husband, Lou (a subtle performance by the often burlesque Seth Rogen). He is a cookbook author. He specializes in chicken. Their marriage, at first anyway, seems enviable; they wake up together, eat together, host parties for their loved ones — all evidence of a consonant life. “I love you”s are exchanged, sincerely and frequently, never to fill a conversational void.

But those who grow into adulthood together can also regress into childlike behaviour together. Their rapport, which seems to have congealed in pre-adolescence, reveals itself through playfights, baby talk and repetitive funny voices. It is colored all the more infantile when Margot’s neighbour, Daniel (Luke Kirby), comes into the picture. To say that they develop a relationship that conflicts with her marriage isn’t a spoiler — that decision opens the film. But it is a delight to observe the minute but visible pains of someone caught in between these dimensions of life, projected by a facial palette as nuanced as Michelle Williams’s.

To much relief, Polley never succumbs to polarities. Daniel does not possess what Lou lacks; the deprivation that Margot experiences in her marriage is not in love or attention. Lou, for all intents and purposes, is a perfect husband — but sometimes perfection is not what one is seeking, merely the change.

Daniel’s attractiveness lies within his otherness. From the moment they meet, he undermines Margot, confronts her, calls her out on her lies. He is acute and frank, aggressive but tender; most importantly, his dynamic with her never allows for childishness. Together, they are unreserved, combative, and it is something that we want Margot to have, if only to see her behave with the sobriety of her age. With Lou, Margot exchanges pet names; with Daniel, an unwavering description of exactly how he’d fuck her (harder than he wanted to).  When she tells him that she’s married, he replies: “That’s too bad.” It had only been hours.

One of the many things that Margot confesses to Daniel is her fear of connections: she can’t stand “being in between things.” This film is marked by these liminal spaces, both theoretical and physical, in which decisions are made. On the sidewalks that separate Daniel’s house from Lou’s, Margot and Daniel run into, then plan for, each other. In two instances, Margot sits inside her house, and Lou watches her from their porch — on the first occasion, they make up and kiss through the windowpane; on the second, he tells her to leave, and she does.

“Sometimes I’m walking along the street, and a shaft of sunlight falls in a certain way across the pavement and I just wanna cry. And a second later it’s over. And I decide, because I am an adult, to not succumb to the momentary melancholy.” Sadness can be chosen or it can be denied. In this moment and in many other ways, Margot’s character resonates with me, and with so many of the women that I know. The difference between herself and her niece, she tells Daniel, is that the toddler chooses the melancholy. He isn’t so sure — what if Margot just can’t figure it out? And in the grander scheme of things, she doesn’t. She’s in between, and hates it there.

More than a story about new love and old love’s loss, Take This Waltz explores our ability to make that decision — to not crave a different shade of happiness when life casts its bluer shadows. When Margot leaves Lou for Daniel (again, not a surprise), the film goes through a montage of utopian adult scenarios: they make love in different positions, then with different people. When Margot says “I wuv you,” Daniel does not reciprocate in the same language. She finally cooks for herself. It would be easy to think that she’s crossed the threshold, armed with this new adulthood that her previous life lacked. The new gets old, too.

As it turns out, the most adult realization that we can have is that we will never have it — this idea that happiness is hidden somewhere, in someone, for us to pick from our lives’ branches and call our own. With each new person, we can only learn to love the imperfect yearnings in our old selves. This film’s biggest feat is that it doesn’t start or end anywhere conclusive. It ends in a gap. It decided upon it.

Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal. She last wrote in these pages about Steve McQueen's Shame. She twitters here. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Golden Cage" - Whitest Boy Alive (mp3)

"Bizarre Love Triangle" - New Order (mp3)

Monday
Jul092012

In Which We Responded With Broken Sentences

image by Erik Madigan Heck

On My Own

by HAFSA ARAIN

In Pakistan, they don’t let girls make mistakes. We are kept from any type of wrongdoing – for if we do wrong, then we shall never be married. It is almost a sin to be an unmarried female adult. In many ways, my insistence on being alone has been a reaction to that injustice. I am alone in order to prove my independence to the world. I had those thoughts on many occasions: signing apartment leases or job offers, completing college admission packets and receiving fellowships. Girls like me didn’t use to do these things! I thought with a sort of desperation. I am a trailblazer! I had those thoughts when I moved out of my parents' home at 18, when I traveled the world at 19, at 21, at 22, at 23. I am a trailblazer.

Somewhere along the line, it came to be that this was not enough. Being alone was not enough. Even for just one gloriously short time in your life, you need someone who has loved you and who you have loved. They try to tell you this in movies, and you scoff at it. And then it hits you: they say this in movies, because it is true.

I have been alone always. I have never been attached to someone; I have never been part of a couple. A boy in high school once asked me out, and I refused, citing my religion as an impetus for singlehood. Boys in high school never asked me out, for they never noticed me. And beyond this being a point of pain for me, it was a type of twisted success. I attempted to be as invisible a teenager as I could be – standing out was asking for trouble. Being single was part of blending into the grey, blank walls. I stood by my locker when he asked me. He was nervous and jittery. I responded with broken sentences. Getting asked almost felt like a series of increasing pressures. I would not have known what to wear, what to say, how to act around him. Saying no was a relief. But for some reason, I cried on the way home on the bus.

by Erik Madigan Heck

In college, I asked a boy out once, though I was never fully sure why I did it. I knew he wouldn’t like me as I liked him. He was nice to me, so we went out for tea one time. But he had no intention of carrying on. It was as though I asked him out as a dare to myself, something with which I could test my own courage. It was an experiment in how American I could be: how much I could resemble the other girls in my classes. They had all had pasts; they had all had baggage. (“I just have all this baggage,” they would say, “you know, from past relationships.” Or, “I just find it so hard to trust someone again after what he did while I was studying abroad.”)

It was easier for them, I used to think. Their parents didn’t mind that they dated people, with some parents even encouraging it. My parents were afraid of dating, they were afraid of the whole concept of “the opposite sex." My parents were not American – they were and are the opposite of American. They were afraid of us being American, because if we were American then they wouldn’t understand us anymore. If we were American, then we were lost to them.

I disregarded the pain of having lost love (a common story among women my age), because I have never been in the position to fall in love in the first place. I had crushes on boys, a solidly unpleasant state when the feelings are unrequited. Though however unnatural the crush feels in the moment, it is probably the most natural feeling in the world.

I chose not to think of the question: who would I have to be for them to like me back? The image of the American woman is so different from the image I project. I am not white; I am not thin. I do not drink alcohol, and I cannot pull off a pencil skirt. I have never been able to relate to any women I have seen on television, in magazines, or even read about in books. Absolutely none of those women were Muslim women, and very, very few were South Asian. Women like me were never part of anyone’s consciousness – it is almost as though no one had ever even considered us.

by Erik Madigan Heck

That, and the fact that I am a woman’s woman. For as long as I can remember, women have found me to be a wonderful and completely non-threatening friend. In junior high, a girl named Sarah told me I had been a “girl crush” of hers for a long time. Everyone wanted to be my friend: for me to read them my lousy poetry in high school, to nod along with my radical thoughts in college, to hear me gripe about my life in my early twenties. Being a side character in someone else’s story became my comfort zone. When we hung out, I was the friend with whom they could always share the cab ride home. Women almost counted on me never having a boyfriend, never wearing a sexier outfit than them when going out, never being flirtatious with their beaux.

So many women, and thusly, men, have reduced me to being completely non-sexual; I am good for homo-social relationships only. I find it so hard to blame them for that assumption. Muslim women are seldom seen as anything other than oppressed. My friendships have become strained on the issue of my singleness: women will sympathetically extoll my virtues in an effort to prove me wrong. “You’ll see,” they’ll say, “There’s someone out there for everyone.” To me, that only sounds naïve.

I have to face the truth: I might never be with someone. I might never have a boyfriend, and I might never get married. I have never met a man who wanted to be with me. I am alone. I have to learn to be okay with being alone – no, with being single. Loneliness is okay once in a while, but being single is never okay. Because being single is not a value you have, but the net worth you own. And my net worth is only myself. No one has ever seen me as sexy: only as a capable, good-humored and worthwhile friend. In the end, I will add it onto my list of failures: I did not get into that Ivy League school I applied to, I did not write that book I meant to write, and I did not find someone to love me back. Not even for just a little while.

Hafsa Arain is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living outside of Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her childhood.

Images by Erik Madigan Heck.

by Erik Madigan Heck"Dancing On My Own" - Robyn (mp3)

"True Love Will Find You In The End" - Spiritualized (mp3)