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Robert Altman Week

Monday
Aug232010

In Which I Don't Know What This Room Is For

SALLY'S PSYCHIATRIST CALLED

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Who knew all it would take is divorce for the Drapers to finally develop onscreen chemistry? It's a real screwball comedy figuring out who's to blame for Sally's masturbation mishap. I've never enjoyed Jon Hamm and January Jones in an episode so much as I did in this one. They're a regular Ross and Rachel now! Too bad for Don that Henry Francis is kind of that dude. The dude who is normally that dude, Roger Sterling, was very much not that dude this episode. He was more like Walter Sobchak

You know who else is that dude? Pete Campbell! Man I know he's a rapist and always acts like a snitch but he is kind of killing it on the regs this season! When he invoked his paternal responsibilities I gave him a LOL high five through the TV. Wouldn't it be cool if Pete ended up being like an awesome dad? I'm kind of thinking he will be. He's always been the most feminine friendly and forward thinking of the Mad Men men.

It's never not going to be slightly clumsy setting up new villains and love interests in an already established universe, but Mad Men is doing its damndest. I'm really starting to cotton to Focus Group Faye, who is clearly going to be Don's next romantic Donquest, especially once I realized she was the former Mrs. Christopher Moltisanti.

Cara Buono didn't get to do too much on The Sopranos, but that character never had a chance in hell following Adriana La Cerva. However, Dr. Faye might have some good odds on Rachel Menken, who let's face it wasn't even THAT great, we just think of her fondly in comparison to Bobbie Barrett and the grade school teacher.

Can't we just shut up and enjoy the sparks between Faye and Don? I mean, she's hot and smart and has a heavy New York accent and is obviously supposed to be his equal. They haven't even kissed yet, but they had a lot of heat sake bombing together. Just let it play out, okay? You know it's all going to go to hell sooner or later.

The new villain, Ted Shaw, is clearly a foil for Don meant to remind us of the "old" Don from the "old" Sterling-Cooper, the Don we are used to, the Don some people have been bemoaning the demise of this season. Brilliantly, by parodying what was annoying or has become rote about the "idea" of Don Draper the character, Shaw makes us no longer want to see Don be that guy. He's the Cy Tolliver to Don's Al Swearengen.

If anything, we now want Don to change even more because we are realizing that his greatest strength is that ability to change. No longer chained to being "Don Draper, Sixties Alpha Male" could be ultimately liberating for him, just like it will be liberating when Joan and Betty realize what Peggy already instinctively knows, that it's not that much fun to be Mrs. anybody compared to how nice it is to just be yourself.

What was more tone-deaf, those Clorox bleach ads that suggest using Clorox to get your mistress's lipstick off your collar (UR MISSING THE POINT) or the AMC in-house promos for Jerry Bruckheimer's Pearl Harbor? Who is more tone-deaf about Pearl Harbor, Jerry Bruckheimer or Roger Sterling? Wasn't Don's date with Bethenny Anna Newlin Van Nuys the best Benihana date scene since The Forty Year Old Virgin?

I can't believe Roger was such a racist dick in that Honda account meeting. It was obviously not just about Pete Campbell's chip or whatever. We know from his blackface exploits that Roger can be a racist dick but I thought he was just going to say something racist but wry (wrycist?) like "Japanese girls. Beautiful. Sideways vaginas." 

Sally overshadows Bobby, but Meadow Soprano was also always more central to Sopranos plotlines than A.J., although I loved in the last seasons when A.J. came to the forefront and whiffed spectacularly at being the kind of man Tony Soprano is.

Real Talk though, what was Sally getting off to watching "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."? That one of the dudes kind of looked like Don? Or that they were tied up together? Is she into gay slash fic? Or was it just run of the mill masturbation out of boredom and horniness? I mean her friend was ASLEEP. It's not like she was masturbating ON her. 

I enjoyed the whole Honda plot where they incepted the other ad dudes. I reference Inception so much lately that my friend tells me my references have no meaning. That's when I say "yeah exactly maaaaaaaaaaan" and hit the bong knowingly. 

Actually I spent most of Inception trying to figure out what Leonardo DiCaprio's character's name was (Dom? Tom? Thom? Rob? Bob?) much like I spent this Mad Men trying to figure out what Don's new nemesis's last name is (Chaw? Shaw? Schaw?)

The song they played at the end was "I Enjoy Being A Girl" from Flower Drum Song, a song that figures heavily into my own personal mythology since I protested having to sing it in probably 4th grade on the basis that it was sexist. I got in trouble a lot in elementary school for arguing about radical gender politics (nothing has changed).

The important thing is, Don's going to get horizontal on a couch with somebody other than the whore who slaps him around. Soon Don will be forced to talk to a therapist about himself. And you know what? It will probably be good for him.

There is no change without acknowledgement. Maybe even Don is ready to admit that the "old" Don Draper, which was Dick Whitman's conception of a sort of ideal man, kind of fucking sucks. Since that life phase is over anyway, why not let go of it completely so that a better more zen Don Draper might emerge? It's like Inception.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She twitters here and tumbls here.

"About a Girl (acoustic)" - Nirvana (mp3)

"Bad Girls" - Donna Summer (mp3)

"I Enjoy Being a Girl" - Tiny Tim (mp3)

Sunday
Aug222010

In Which The Darkness Was In Some Way Better

The World at Sagres

by EMMA KEMPSELL

1

The cold came quickly, and we were unprepared. We had been staying up late, with the windows open, not wearing enough clothes; we had grown used to icy drinks.  All at once we were too hot, and then too cold. The snow fell like sleep and was pushed to the sides of the streets, and we tried to stay indoors. The city seemed deserted, but it was quietly alive; amber streetlights shone against the white, pavements crunched gently underfoot, sparkling in the burning glow and fairy lights hung from the trees which lined our street. We made a tent with soft blankets, and fell asleep with old movies on TV. When I couldn’t sleep I would try to align my breathing with yours, but I could never keep up and I always ran out of air. The house often creaked, and it scared me, but you said it was simply ‘settling’. 

2

My brother’s eyes appear to be blue. However, on closer inspection they are predominantly grey. He is a conglomeration of our parents’ features. His voice is much like our father's, and grew more so with age; sometimes, for a split second, hearing him say, ‘hello’ on the phone can be startling. He is lean, on the taller side of average height. His hair is dark, with a few stray premature greys. It is short, thick and needs cutting. He has a short beard, which he grew to hide a scar on his cheek after reading that Paul McCartney had done the same.

3

I wait for you. Patiently at first, but with growing unease. I was lying with you on the couch watching the news on TV, but I wasn’t watching. I was trying to remember, for the future, what was happening now; not like a memory frozen in a photograph, but alive like flowers pressed in a book, more physical and less painful to look at. I had my back to the couch, my head on your chest and one arm over your stomach. My eyes kept closing; you were wearing black. We sat up past one, waiting, and then you had to leave. Something in me told me that you weren’t coming home, but you wouldn’t listen, and I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking. I lay there for a while, half asleep, angry at you for not understanding what I wasn’t saying, and a little grief-stricken at the thought of you not being there, and then I went to bed. My eyes wouldn’t close until I heard you at the door.

4

Despite my initial protests, on my foot she wrote that I loved him. It washed off quickly in the bath that night. 

5

She lay in the rose-colored bathwater, while the last of the day’s sun glimmered through the window, picking up cylinders of dust dancing in the air. Under the rippling water, the light threw shooting stars delicately across her skin. Dipping her head back, she filled her ears with water; as her heartbeat grew louder,  the sound of Eva Cassidy singing grew softly into the distance. She lifted the plug with her foot and felt the water rush from under her. Everything has water under it, she thought, as she felt herself grow heavy. She lay there until the bath was empty. When she stood up, she squeezed the water from her hair; it wasn’t exactly clean, but smelled so good that she couldn’t bring herself to wash it. She picked out the flower petals from the drain, but instead of throwing them away, placed them on the windowsill to dry out. Looking in the mirror, her face was dewy and pink, the water had been a little too hot to begin with, and was still warm when she got out. With a towel around her lithe body she fixed a drink with a little too much gin, and dropped some raspberries in it. She went up to the roof to cool down and sat under the blue unclouded skies, smoking unselfconsciously, until she began to feel a little heady, the cigarette died, the ice melted and the raspberries sank to the bottom of the empty glass. 

6

We were stuck uptown in a cab when it started to rain. The city had been hot and buzzing in technicolor for a week, now it was dull and only waiters were on the streets, bringing tables indoors. It was late afternoon on a Friday, and everyone was leaving at once. Red tail lights gleamed on the wet roads, flags hung heavily on the street. A fire engine sped past wailing, and you pulled at your tie. With the windows rolled up, the silence and the meter running, it felt like we were drowning, so we got out. You took my hand and we walked all the way downtown, in the rain. 

7

The air smells differently at night, as the world settles and the wind cools. My brother used to describe it as having a ‘taste’. As a child I would smell it as I got out of the car, returning from long trips away from home. I would be half asleep, even newly awoken when I was lifted, or in later years, led out of the car and into the house. The smell of the air at night stays with me, but the sense of security from those days is long gone. 

8

That smell still sends me running back up the stairs of the house that I grew up in. To the landing where we used to hang the holiday rainbow lights. To the hallway where I tied my shoelaces for the first time, as we were rushing to leave the house; where the phone sat under pictures of us in the garden - running, laughing, picking apples, making snowmen. To the living room where we danced and watched cartoons in the morning. To the car where we sat in the back and listened to R.E.M. and watched never ending green and yellow fields, where seeing my parents sitting in the front seat gave me such a feeling of security.  She said we were too young to understand, but we’d seen the end of the world at Sagres. We’d seen more than she had. We had understood more than anybody wanted to admit. That smell still makes me cry. 

9

When dawn came the sky changed very quickly and the clouds moved swiftly, like incandescent waves on a cobalt blue sea. The sun glimmered diffidently between the hours of three and four and was replaced at five with billowing clouds of grey and white. At dawn, it feels as though you are the only person alive, and yet it is anything but lonely. There is no noise of technology and other sleepy peoples who have yet to be awakened. In a couple of hours, billions will have joined in the fight to claim the world as their own, but for now, you have a head start. Save for the birds, the world is yours. 

10

The only light comes from the candles on the cake. The camera zooms in and the flame glows and blurs, just like the memory will later. Everybody sings ‘Happy Birthday’ without trepidation, but there’s still a tension hanging in the air. Red paper cups are held tightly, nervous smiles exchanged. Loud voices, silliness and sometimes even hands over faces, cover up real feelings in front of the camera. As the candles are blown out, kids shout, ‘Lights! Lights!’ and they flicker on as if they are unsure, as if the darkness was in some way better. Smoke lingers and the camera accidentally zooms in on his head, on the hair covering the new scar above his ear. In less than five months, the real darkness came. 

11

I heard someone yell something that sounded like my name, and within five seconds, my mind tried to convince me that it was you. But that’s impossible. Sometimes all I want is to see your face smiling, for you to dance with me, or stroke my hair to get me to sleep. Once, when I was a child, my brother and I ran to meet someone we hadn’t seen for years. I want to dream that it was you. I run down the street that we grew up on. We used to walk it together, your hand enclosed around mine. I see your figure looming in the distance, it has been years; it feels like forever. My hand drops from my mother’s and my feet slap hard, painfully on the ground, my hair flies behind me. Tears are running down my face as quickly as I am running towards you. But it feels like slow motion. Purple flowers in nearby gardens blur; the sun is shining, like it always did, as you get closer and closer. My blue eyes are swimming. Everything is a hazy mess of gold light, green, and purple flowers. I see you clearly, wearing jeans and an old pale red sweater that I still keep in my closet. I can almost feel you hugging me. How small I’ll feel, enveloped in your arms, my eyelashes wet, and the smell of your neck. But we don’t live there anymore, and no matter how hard I try, I almost never dream of you. The house that I grew up in burns slowly, enveloped in red flames. But I remember everything and everything stays the same. Through the constant blaze, I can see it all, and it feels like there is something burning inside of me.

Emma Kempsell is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Aberdeen, Scotland. She tumbls here. Photographs by Lina Scheynius.

"Odessa Medley" - Paul Cantelon (mp3)

"Un Bouquet des Violettes" - Paul Cantelon (mp3)

"Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon" - Paul Cantelon (mp3) 

Friday
Aug202010

In Which It's The First Time We See You In The Doorway

The Devil's Advocate

PETER BOGDANOVICH: Despite the bad notices on Macbeth, you still spent the next four years acting in other people's films to finance and shoot Othello. I guess the best of those films was The Third Man - you even did that one for Othello, didn't you?

ORSON WELLES: Yes, I could have had a third of The Third Man if I hadn't needed cash.

PB: Besides playing Harry Lime, what else did you do on it?

OW: I wrote my part -

PB: Every word of it?

OW: Carol Reed is the kind of director who'll use any ideas - anything that's going. I had notions for the dialogue, and Carol liked them. Except for my rather minor contribution, the story, of course, was by the matchless Graham Greene. And the basic idea - though he took no credit for it - was Alex Korda's.

PB: Who produced.

OW: Yes, it's the only film Alex and I ever really did together.

PB: Did you have anything to do with the actual setups and shots in the picture?

OW: Just a very few ideas, like the fingers coming through the grille.

PB: What about the first time we see you in the doorway?

OW: Pure Carol. He had a little second unit specially set up for it, and at the end of every day we went there and tried it again, over and over, till he thought it was right.

PB: Was the last scene at the funeral your touch?

OW: No, it was not. It was a great shot invented by Carol - not by Greene or anybody else. Wonderful idea. I was there when they shot it. I wish I could pretend I'd contributed, but I was just standing there, watching them shoot it.

PB: The picture seemed influenced by you...perhaps because of the casting of Joseph Cotten.

OW: It was Carol's picture, Peter - and Korda's.

PB: Well you have the smallest part but it dominates one's whole memory of the film.

OW: That's the part, you know. Every sentence in the whole script is about Harry Lime - nobody talks about anything else for ten reels. And there's that shot in the doorway - what a star entrance that was! In theatre, you know, the old star actors never liked to come on until the end of the first act. Mister Wu is a classic example. I've played it once myself. All the other actors boil around the stage for about an hour, shrieking, "What will happen when Mister Wu arrives?" "What is he like, this Mister Wu?," and so on. Finally a great gong is beaten, and slowly over a Chinese bridge comes Mister Wu himself in full mandarin robes. Peach Blossom (or whatever her name is) falls on her face and a lot of coolies yell, "Mister Wu!!!" The curtain comes down, the audience goes wild, and everybody says, "Isn't that guy playing Mister Wu a great actor!" That's a star part for you! What matters in that kind of role is not how many lines you have, but how few. What counts is how much the other characters talk about you. Such a star vehicle really is a vehicle. All you have to do is ride. Like Jean Gabin in this last epoch of his career; he now has written in his contract that he never shall be required to bend over. Literally!

PB: Your Ferris wheel speech about Switzerland and the cuckoo clock is so convincing that we seem to agree with you even though you're the heavy.

OW: When the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they've never made any cuckoo clocks - they all come from the Schwarzwald, in Bavaria!

PB: Is it true that you unknowingly threw Lady Eden off the set?

OW: Not unknowingly. Clarissa Churchill wasn't then married to Eden; she was doing publicity for Alex. He liked having all kinds of fashionable folk on his payroll... Well, one day, Clarissa brought all these society friends of hers to visit the set, and they wouldn't keep quiet. Carol was far too nice and much too English to tell her to shut them up, so I did it for him. I didn't throw her out, but she went, and that was the end of our friendship. I'm sorry about that.

PB: Many people still associate you with that role - Harry Lime.

OW: In every way, the picture broke every known record, and the people went insane. Wherever you went, you heard nothing but that zither.

A wire from Alexander Woollcott after the Mercury's Mars broadcast (October 30, 1938), when a good part of the country was frightened into believing that New Jersey had been invaded by Martians; on the rival network at the same time were Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; Orson had it posted in his office for years:

This only goes to prove, my beamish boy, that the intelligent people were all listening to a dummy, and all the dummies were listening to you.

PB: I've often wondered if you had an idea, before you did it, that The War of the Worlds was going to get that kind of response.

OW: The kind of response, yes - that was merrily anticipated by us all. The size of it, of course, was flabbergasting. Six minutes after we'd gone on the air, the switchboards in radio stations right across the country were lighting up like Christmas trees. Houses were emptying, churches were filling up; from Nashville to Minneapolis there was wailing in the street and the rending of garments. Twenty minutes in, and we had a control room full of very bewildered cops. They didn't know who to arrest or for what, but they did lend a certain tone to the remainder of the broadcast. We began to realize, as we plowed on with the destruction of New Jersey, that the extent of our American lunatic fringe had been underestimated.

PB: You claimed innocence afterwards.

OW: There were headlines about lawsuits totalling some $12 million. Should I have pleaded guilty?

PB: What happened to the lawsuits?

OW: Most of them, as it turned out, existed in the fevered imagination of the newspapers. They'd been losing all that advertising to radio, so here, they reckoned, was a lovely chance to strike back. For a few days, I was a combination Benedict Arnold and John Wilkes Booth. But people were laughing much too hard, thank God - and pretty soon all the papers had to quit.

PB: What about CBS?

OW: The day after the show, all you could find were sound mixers and elevator men. There wasn't an executive in the building. During rehearsals they'd been rather edgy, but what was there to censor? We were told not to say "Langley Field" because that was a real place, so we wrote in "Langham Field" - little things like that, so they couldn't complain when the lid blew off. But as I say, we were surprised ourselves by the size and extent of it.

download the complete War of the Worlds broadcast here

PB: Is it a true story that when Pearl Harbor was announced, nobody believed it because - ?

OW: Dead right. Particularly since I had a patriotic broadcast that morning and was interrupted in the middle of it. I was on the full network, reading from Walt Whitman about how beautiful America was, when they said Pearl Harbor's attacked - now doesn't that sound like me trying to do that again? They interrupted the show to say that there had been an attack. Roosevelt sent me a wire about it. I've forgotten what - I don't have it. Something like "crying wolf" and that kind of thing. Not the same day - he was too busy! - but about ten days later.

PB: Then the Martian broadcast didn't really hurt you at all. Would you say it was lucky?

OW: Well, it put me in the movies. Was that lucky? I don't know. Anyway, thanks to the Martians, we got us a radio sponsor, and suddenly we were a great big commercial program, right up there with Benny, Burns and Allen, and the Lux Radio Theatre, with C.B. De Mille. The next step was Hollywood.

From an interview in Cahiers du Cinema, no. 87, September 1958:

Many of the big characters I've played are various forms of Faust, and I am against every form of Faust, because I believe it's impossible for a man to be great without admitting there's something greater than himself, whether it's the law, or God, or art....I have played a whole line of egotists, and I detest egotism...But an actor is not a devil's advocate: he is a lover. In playing Faust, I want to be just and loyal to him, to give him the best of myself and the best arguments that I can find, because we live in a world that has been made by Faust - our world is Faustian.

An actor never plays anything but himself. He simply takes out that which is not himself. And so, of course, in all these characters there is something of Orson Welles. I can't do anything about that. And when I play someone I hate, I try to be chivalrous to the enemy. I hate all dogmas which deny humanity the least of its privileges; if some belief requires denouncing something human, I detest it.

PB: What do you think of cynics?

OW: I despise them.

PB: Why?

OW: Don't need to explain that. If it isn't self evident -

PB: Skeptics?

OW: Well, skeptics have nothing to do with cynics.

PB: No - it's another question.

OW: I don't care one way or another about skeptics. Cynics are intolerable, I think.

PB: Which do you value more highly - your instincts or your intellect? [OW grunts] It's a key question.

OW: Isn't it better to leave these key questions to the kind of people who enjoy them?

PB: Then what must you think of psychoanalysis?

OW: About as valuable as - but considerably more expensive than - consulting your local astrologer.

PB: By, the way, I forgot, your Othello won the first prize at Cannes.

OW: Yes, and the Russian Othello got it a few years later. There must have been two Othello first prizes at Cannes.

PB: They must like the play.

OW: Yes - it's very big in the south of France! Did I tell you how I'd found out I'd got the prize?

PB: No.

OW: You see, you cannot release a picture without what is called a "certificate of origin," for which the picture has to have a nationality. And you also need that in order to get it into a festival. The Italians and the French, and the Americans - who might have been able to enter Othello, didn't want to; they had their own pictures. So, because it had been shot in Morocco, I entered it as a Moroccan picture. Well, you're never told if you've won until the end, you know, but I was sitting in my hotel room, and the director of the festival, Robert Favre Le Bret, called me on the phone and said, "What is the Moroccan national anthem?" And that was how I knew I'd won the first prize. Because they always play the national anthem of the winning country. And, of course, there is no Moroccan national anthem, or wasn't then, so they played something out of Chu Chin Chow or something, and everybody stood up. There was no Moroccan delegation or anything. I think I'm the sole winner in the Arab world of a great international prize.

You can find the first and second parts of the Orson Welles journey here and here.

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"Indestructible" - Robyn (mp3)

"U Should Know Better" - Robyn ft. Snoop Dogg (mp3)

"Criminal Intent" - Robyn (mp3)