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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Brittany Julious

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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In Which Lindsay Lohan Is Almost Preternaturally Alive

The Lindsay Lohan Problem


The internet’s collective anticipation of the Lifetime network’s Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton biopic Liz & Dick was palpable — it was meant to be Lifetime’s culminating achievement in low-budget ill-considered melodramatic crap cinema, with the grand and legendary movie star Taylor played by bedraggled former child actor and tabloid train wreck du jour Lindsay Lohan. The incongruity was sublime, and viewers were eager for the failure that Liz & Dick would be.

Sure enough, Liz & Dick did serve up some of Lifetime’s signature camp. It begins with a title card that reads “The Last Day of Richard Burton’s Life,” and its plot is scaffolded by interludes in which Taylor and Burton, sitting in director’s chairs and dressed all in black, reminisce about and explain the movie’s action, an expository device that is supposedly taking place in the dying Burton’s mind. It ends with a title reading “Elizabeth Taylor kept Richard Burton’s letters for the remainder of her life,” choosing to leave off on a “no duh” note.

Along the way it chronicles Taylor and Burton’s epically obnoxious love affair. “I’m sleeping with your wife,” a drunk Burton, played by Grant Bowler, shouts at Taylor’s husband Eddie Fisher after she and Burton begin their affair. “You do know I’m shagging him senseless, don’t you?” Taylor says to a hotel employee, randomly. In a triumphant curtain call after his successful performance in Hamlet, Burton brings Taylor up on stage. “In the words of the immortal bard: there will be no more marriages!” he says. A producer pitches Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Taylor at a party but says Burton wouldn’t be right for the male lead because he can’t picture them fighting — so naturally they make a scene staging a mock fight to convince him. They really are insufferable.

And the script clunks along nicely. Toward the beginning of the film, Burton tells Taylor he can’t leave his family for her, and she is beside herself. “I don’t loathe you,” Taylor says. “I hate you.” Later, he calls her “miss pudgy digits” in a fight, and she has a fit, staring angrily at her hands. “They are fat! And they’re pudgy!” she screams. Of course, subtlety was never a hallmark of the biopic genre. “We were meant for each other,” Burton tells his brother shortly after the affair begins. “That’s what she said to Conrad Hilton, Michael Wilding, Mike Todd, and Eddie bloody Fisher!” his brother replies. If I understand all of this statement’s implications correctly, Elizabeth Taylor was married many times.

Still: Liz & Dick looks lovely. It is set mostly in Switzerland and along the coast of Italy, and its sets are adequately luxe. Lohan has had some unfortunate plastic surgery, but her styling was good — at many moments she looks genuinely fierce. And her and Bowler’s performances are low-energy, but not ridiculous. Comedians took to Twitter the night Liz & Dick premiered, giddy to live-tweet this televised disaster, but many of their tones turned grudging quickly after the movie began. Sure, they got shots in when Lohan, portraying 1984-vintage Taylor, dons an absurd salt-and-pepper wig and enormous glasses, but for the most part the fun Twitter had with the film seemed halfhearted. Liz & Dick was ultimately a disappointment. As Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times noted, “The film’s real failure is that it’s not terrible enough.” It could have been worse, and when viewers are expecting so-bad-it’s-good, that is a grave fault.  

Liz & Dick’s failure as a failure was surprisingly frustrating. Its mediocrity was so dissatisfying because it disrupted the narrative — Lohan’s descent through eating disorders and substance abuse and jail time from the accomplished ingénue she once was. And she was certainly set up for a monumental fall from grace. When she starred in the remake of The Parent Trap at the age of twelve and the remake of Freaky Friday at seventeen, she was favorably compared to Hayley Mills and Jodie Foster. The Parent Trap’s director Danette Meyers likened her to a young Diane Keaton.

The praise for Lohan’s acting ability continued so profuse that one might have begun to sense some hyperbole. Meryl Streep, her co-star in Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, said, “She is very present and alive, almost preternaturally alive, on camera.” Tina Fey said of Mean Girls, “I would watch Lindsay to learn what it is to be a film actor.” Around the same time, her father, Michael Lohan, an abusive cocaine addict who had been arrested multiple times for assault, began to seek the media spotlight. She wrote a hit song about him, “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father),” which Tommy Mottola described as “one of the best I’ve heard in my career.”

By 2006, when she was nineteen, the train wreck narrative was already beginning, as her heavy partying and dramatic weight loss made her a constant figure in the tabloid media. She gave an interview with Evgenia Peretz in which she may have admitted to having an eating disorder — though she later claimed she was misquoted. Lohan and her management were outraged by how she was portrayed in the Vanity Fair article, but reading it now, its take on her is remarkably positive and optimistic.

“She may be the most compelling and charismatic and real of all the actresses on the very young A-List,” Peretz wrote, and also called Lohan “a serious and emotional young woman” who “clearly has great reserves of strength.” This was around when Lohan began several years of living in hotels, and Peretz spun this wholesomely as well, calling her “the Eloise of Chateau Marmont.” Lohan talked about how she had a quiet dinner with some friends for her nineteenth birthday — “That’s how much I’ve changed,” she said. “When I turned 18, I had a party at Avalon with an ‘I'm a Slave 4 You’ theme.” The Peretz article thinks it’s telling the story of a star who has made missteps, but is ultimately back on the right track.

The next year Lohan had two DUIs and the first three of her four stints in rehab. She had cocaine either on her or in her system during both of her DUIs — a drug she had denied that she was ever involved with, sensitive because of her father’s history with it. “It’s a sore subject,” she said about cocaine in the Peretz article. For Lohan the four years following have mostly been violated probation, car accidents, shoplifting, jail time and community service, and getting dropped from one movie after another.

Despite all this, people want to believe that there is something brilliant about her, if only to make her current situation appear even more dismal. Many still buy into the narrative of her potential — Richard Brody called her performance in Liz & Dick “thrillingly immediate.” The myth of her prodigious talent has played a part in enabling her destructive behavior. As Ken Tucker says in his review of Liz & Dick, Lohan has “been cut so many breaks, it’s difficult to root for her anymore.” Her entitled attitude is clear, with stories of her being constantly late to movie sets, skipping court dates and community service, even stealing a necklace from a jewelry store. “I think the root of the problem,” said an anonymous source in Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair story about Lohan, “was every single person telling her how amazing she is, kissing her ass all the time.”

In 2007, an executive on Lohan’s film Georgia Rule wrote a cranky open letter to Lohan about her behavior onset. “We are well aware that your ongoing all night heavy partying is the real reason for our so-called ‘exhaustion,’” he wrote. “You have acted like a spoiled child.” This is probably a realistic assessment of Lohan — she is someone who got too much money, fame, and praise too young, who has never been expected to grow up in any meaningful way. After Robert Altman died in 2006, Lohan wrote a long, strange tribute to the director, filled with spelling and grammatical errors. “He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do,” she wrote, and concluded bizarrely with the closing phrase “Be adequite.”

The letter revealed Lohan not as a movie star of rare talent or as a legendarily troubled public figure, but as a young woman who had been making movies while she should have been going to school. But this picture of Lohan — as an undereducated and spoiled party girl — doesn’t wash with what she had been set up for, with what she was supposed to become. After her film work post-Prairie Home Companion did not live up to the hype surrounding her talent, the story couldn’t just be that she had disappointed. She had to have disappointed because of some darkness in her soul — if her life wasn’t going to be a legendary success, it had to be a legendary tragedy.

This is where the “old Hollywood” connections start coming in. Lohan has done photo-shoots re-creating ones done by her idol Marilyn Monroe twice — one for Playboy that was inspired by Monroe’s nude pictorial from the magazine’s first issue, and the other for New York that was a re-creation of the last photo-shoot Monroe did before committing suicide. It’s as if it is already decided: Lohan will lead a sad, destructive life before facing a tragic and untimely death — and she’s complicit, helping to create this narrative.

And this is where Lohan playing Elizabeth Taylor starts to take on significance. Lifetime was most likely trying to cash in on the similarities between Lohan and Taylor’s lives — and they do have points in common. Both were promising child actors with controlling stage mothers. Federico Fellini invented the term “paparazzi” to describe the photographers who followed Taylor, and Lohan has been continually hounded by the paparazzi for nearly ten years. But their stories are more different than they are alike. At the time that Liz & Dick begins in 1963, Taylor was twenty-nine years old, had been married three times, and had three children and one Academy Award. Importantly, Taylor was the rare child actor to become a genuine adult movie star, which Lohan so far is not.

Even in her scandals, Taylor was in different league from Lohan. The boozing and shouting and bottle-throwing portrayed in Liz & Dick are endlessly more dignified than the weird, sordid situations Lohan’s gotten herself into recently. She is known for being so unreliable that a producer on Liz & Dick described her as “the most insured actress ever to set foot on a Hollywood sound stage.” She has hosted slumber parties at the Chateau Marmont with Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey where they “watched old movies and played board games,” which is a euphemism for I don’t know what. Charlie Sheen, whom she became friends with when they worked together on Scary Movie 5, reportedly gave her $100,000 to settle a tax debt. And she was recently arrested for punching a woman in a club after attending a Justin Bieber concert.

Lohan was an incredible talent whose personal demons have turned her into a Hollywood tragedy — that is what many people want to be see as the scenario. Instead, she may just be another child actor whom the system permanently fucked up. When Lohan hosted Saturday Night Live in 2005, Amy Poehler posed as Lohan’s future self during the opening monologue — she came with a message of warning, cautioning Lohan to stop partying and drinking so much Red Bull.

When Lohan asked what movies she would do in the future, Poehler responded with weird accuracy: “Well, let me see. We did Herbie: Fully Loaded, then we did Mean Girls 2, that was a suck bomb, then we did National Lampoon’s Jamaican Vacation, and then we did like eight Lifetime movies, and now we host a Cinemax show called Night Passions.” Lohan’s future was predictable because we’ve heard her story so many times before — not in Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, but in Corey Haim, Gary Coleman, and Danny Bonaduce. Lohan’s life and Liz & Dick are not the epic catastrophes they were meant to be. They’re just run-of-the-mill messes, which makes them even sadder.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Missoula.. She last wrote in these pages about Taylor Swift. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Patient Heart" - Heidi Happy (mp3)

"Dance With Another" - Heidi Happy (mp3)


In Which They Are Almost Perfect As Pants Go

You can find the archive of our Saturday fiction series here.

Professor Pants


The professor is wearing new pants. You might call them camel colored. In fact the word camel springs to the tongue as if it were invented specifically to describe these pants. CAMEL: The “k” of the C, the breadth of the A, followed by the slow ride down to a soothing M and then a lazy slip of an L at the end.  Camel.  They look soft, like the sound the M and the L make in combination. If you ran your hand down their length, the fabric would feel just like that. You wouldn’t though, run your hand down their length, that wouldn’t happen. 

Something about their shape calls to mind The Little Prince, the fitted waist and slight flare at the feet. They are almost perfect, as far as pants go. 

During a smoke break, everyone is talking about them.

“Did you see those pants?” 

“So stylish.” 

Everyone is confused, surprised, bemused even. When the professor passes someone says, "Nice pants." Not in a snarky way but with genuine appreciation. Though we are congenial and feel mutual respect and admiration for one another, “Nice pants.” is not something we would regularly say to him.  It is a special day. 

We have often remarked on our professor’s style to one another. It is something we all have in common — looking at this man sixteen or so hours a week. He tends to dress in button up shirts, slacks, usually pleated, and black leather shoes or hiking boots. We’ve noticed that many visiting male poets sport a similar style:  button up tucked into dark jeans, hiking boots, round-rimmed glasses. Variations include: turtleneck tucked into dark jeans, puffy high-top tennis shoes, glasses. The up-and-coming young NY poet wears something altogether different, maybe turtleneck, blazer, slacks, leather shoes, glasses.

Would a non-beige camel be offended by the term camel-colored? Flesh-colored connotes Caucasian, the peach crayon in the box. Camel signifies a specific sunny beige hue. The color of sand dunes lit at a certain angle, not the dark grey of Pacific North West sand, or the red of the South Western United States. Camel colored sand must be African sand, the sand pictured in the background of a photograph taken with Bedouin rider sporting headscarf. 

The professor tells a story about standing amongst the dunes of a Chinese desert. If he had taken one step further from the path, he says, he would have lost all sense of direction and become lost.  He relates this to the concept of bewilderment. He considers the difference between feeling lost and feeling bewildered. Maybe bewilderment is something we enter into intentionally whereas becoming lost is something that happens by accident. The dunes are the same color as his pants. He stands amongst the Chinese dunes wearing these camel colored pants and a blue shirt that fairly wavers against a blue sky. 

We are enthralled by these pants, their incongruity with our previous idea of this professor’s style, their sleek cut and slight flare, their apparent softness — almost velveteen. Khaki would not begin to describe their color or fabric. He is speaking about the expansion and contraction of language in time, through, over, between times and out of time, navigating the difference in relation between these prepositions and their relationship to language. He utters an especially piquant pun. Soft chuckles all around.

That blue, what do you call it? Sky blue? Whose sky and at what time of day? Not early morning and obviously not evening. Max Ernst would know. It’s all over his paintings. It’s all over California, though looking into a sky that blue sucks in sight and offers no relief. There’s no edge to it, no gradation, no change: it bewilders. How can anything real be really that blue? That must be why the surrealists loved it. We’ll call it surrealist blue. The name of that crayon is surrealist blue.

We have been told that we are terrible schmoozers and it’s probably true. The style of a visiting female poet and her accompanying interest in anime was an especially hot topic a few months prior. She wore a white silk kimono over baggy green jeans tucked into puffy white tennis shoes. A light colored scrunchy held her long brown hair in a pony tale. The author party before her reading was a complete bust as usual. As an attempt at chatting up the visiting writer, one of us struck up a conversation with her about her tennis shoes. We were chided harshly the next day in class. It is clear that we are not ready for the real world.

Does it make sense to feel color in your mouth? Is that something that happens? That surrealist blue causes a distinct presence of sensation in the mouth as if it is being filled with something or that it has unknowingly closed itself around something that fits its interior ridges and concavities completely (perfectly). It is difficult to separate this sensation from the desire for it. Is it that the colors fill the mouth with this sensation or that the mouth wants to eat the colors, to fill itself? Is there a word for the desire to eat colors?

The professor has something to say about desire. He says things about the body too. We listen, nodding, being too young, really, to know the meaning of desire. It is something you learn from having a long stretch of lack.

Combine the sensation of a German "r" rasping in the rear of the mouth approaching the throat, a French "r" that purrs towards mid-mouth and a Spanish "r" flipping in behind the teeth, say them all, make them with the mouth and feel them resonate filling up the mouth and this would approximate the desire. The sight of a lover's clavicle, that shadowy trough, or the curve of a shoulder in chiaroscuro. 

Lindsey Boldt is a writer living in Oakland. You can find her website here. Her play Dating by Consensus, written with partner and collaborator Steve Orth, debuted at Small Press Traffic's Poets Theater 2012. She is the author of "Oh My, Hell Yes" and Overboard and recently co-edited a book of homages to the poet Etel Adnan titled Homage to Etel Adnan.


In Which We Consider The Problem Of Ex-Girlfriends

Myriad Complications


dir. Alexander Poe
71 minutes

I can’t help but read the new comedy Ex-Girlfriends, Alex Poe’s first feature film — which he also wrote, produced and stars in — as less about girlfriends than about the business of being a storyteller. On its surface, the film is about love and its complications, and untangles a succession of moments in the lives of three people who find themselves interconnected in strange and unlooked for ways. At its heart, however, it’s more about our ache for something profound in our lives, and our tendency to inscribe beauty and significance into ordinary, sometimes unlovely things.

The plot is pretty simple, except where it becomes convoluted. A boy named Graham meets a girl named Laura. Boy chases girl. Pandemonium ensues. Journey of romantic conquest becomes journey of self-revelation. But the girl is an ex from Graham’s past who reappears the same day he’s dumped by his most recent girlfriend and the love story is complicated by a quadrangle involving Graham, his friend Kate (Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter), Laura (Kristin Connolly) and a guy both Kate & Laura are dating, with all the vectors pointing in all the wrong directions. And as for this notion of self-revelation, isn’t that just another word for fleeting moment of clarity that evaporates with your morning cup of coffee?

You could call it a romantic comedy — Ex-Girlfriends is, after all, funny and sweet and captures the lives of 20-somethings in New York — but it’s really a hybrid sort of thing. Through its use and misuse of the common tropes & beats of romantic comedy — including first-person voiceover, quirky sidekicks played for dubious hilarity, and a madcap car chase to win the object of attraction which hinges on the highly banal detail that she can’t check her email because she doesn’t have a smartphone — it interrogates the romantic comedy as a genre capable of representing the messy reality of love in our lives.

Similarly, one of meta-gags employed by the film are the MFA workshops in which Graham, a fiction student at Columbia’s School of the Arts, presents and endures comments on the very story that the film is telling. His fellow students are a Greek chorus of derision. They don’t want things as they are; they want a prettier version, a more enlightening version, a version that empowers and reassures us with its articulation of things important and empyrean in life. Things as they really happen, oh how very boring…

Throughout, the film plays with conventional emotional & narrative expectations. There’s no sex, for example, and ideas of love and happiness are only seen in their absence. It’s not clear why exactly Graham wants Laura back in his life — does he love her, or this merely a habitual apophenia, willfully creating significance out of a random constellation of details, such as the fact that she’s read War and Peace? — and all the ex-girlfriends (except Kate) seem to blur together: a revolving door of blondes with soft faces and soft eyes and softer voices. All blondes being equal here, are we being told here that no one of these girls is qualitatively better than the other?

And yet it’s a tender film. The characters all have the grace of human awkwardness — because they are so flawed and so yearning, they move us — and there's a kind of weariness that colors the mood: in the way the city is depicted (water or bridges are always in the background; you can’t help but be aware of how New York is a city surrounded by water, and how vulnerable we are in that isolation, especially in this post-Sandy age), in the plot-structure and use of voiceover, in the music, and in the way that moments of silence or non-verbal response are sometimes stretched out between characters and left to linger in the air… But that weariness is also ironic, the weariness of someone weaned on Proust who tastes a madeleine for the first time and discovers that it’s, eh, not what you thought it would be. It is weariness as something palpable you note and file away; the failure of significance is in itself what becomes significant.

Still, Ex-Girlfriends offers Jennifer Carpenter’s Kate as a counterpoint. It’s fitting that her character is the one non-New Yorker in the film and that she sets a chain of events in motion with her arrival in the city. She’s ferocious, her voice pugnacious, her body wild with uncontrolled energy and emotion; she seems to exist in a different world than the other characters. In Ex-Girlfriends' most poignant scene, she and Graham lie next to each other, just two friends, lonely & exhausted, and she asks, “Will I ever find real love?” “Yes,” he says. “When?” “Later.” And that’s it.

If this exchange feels incomplete, the slippage into the fragmentary is emblematic of what the film has to tell us about stories & how we locate ourselves in them. It is impossible to represent totality, in film or in fiction, or even in 3 a.m. moments of perfect drunken clarity. Our perceptions about ourselves and the world are always incomplete. We mine the past, we make lists representing who we were and where we’re going, and rifle through the archives of memory knowing that the moment, the fragment, the very things that fail and remain unfinished have a vitality that is indelible.

In his attention to such moments, Graham is not a cynic; he’s a romantic. He doesn’t stop hoping, or longing, or working to create meaning, or believing in the astonishingness of what is (or what fails to be), or even in the promise that true love is still out there. Someday, something different will surface. The gerbil wheel will break. The Mobius strip will take you somewhere else. You’ll wake up to a different reality. And you wait for that moment that will make the other moments make sense: “the moment when your eyes will lock and everything will come together…”

For the characters of Ex-Girlfriends, as for many of us, that moment hasn’t yet come. Maybe it never will. And maybe failure and repetition are just ways of saying that transcendence is no more important than this hands-on, knee-deep, impassioned mucking through the damned untidiness of life itself. Memory bleeds. Coincidence is the order of the day. Happiness, like everything, is arbitrary.

Ex-Girlfriends runs at Cinema Village (22 E. 12th Street) Nov 28-Dec 6, and is available for download from iTunes & OnDemand.

Shahirah Majumdar is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Vertigo.

"Most of the Time" - Bob Dylan (mp3)

"My Back Pages" - Bob Dylan (mp3