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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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
Aug282013

In Which We Wallow In A Palpable Misery

What She Saw In You

by LAURA HOOBERMAN

In the opening scene of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 film Last Tango In Paris, we bear witness to a hunched and graying Marlon Brando pulling at the edges of a camel-colored overcoat and screaming a succinct plea to the ceiling of the overpass that creates a line between his body and the evening Parisian sky. Against the mounting noise of the metro moving overhead, he shouts, “holy fuck,” matching its mechanic droll and squeal decibel for decibel. To his right ambles by a beautiful young woman draped in white fur, the softness of her face punctuated by the brim of a black wool hat. Upon that brim, blossoming flowers writhe against her forehead. She pushes ahead of him, looks back, disturbed.

They find each other again, almost impossibly, in a phone booth and then, again, in a squalid and abandoned apartment. They listlessly discuss their considerations for renting the space and dance about one another in a grotesque courtship. He pulls her toward him, and, against the fraying wallpaper, fucks her. When she moves to tell him her name, he stops her.

This apartment becomes the battleground of their intimacy. They meet here, and under the weakly protective guise of anonymity, engage in expansive bouts of sexual experimentation. Their intertwined shadows on the floor are filmed as browns against gold. She is shown frequently, and pointlessly, topless. Their conversations are punctured by his refusal to discuss the past and her pervasive frustration with his abrasiveness and palpable misery.

We discover their histories only through peripheral plotlines that bleed outward from their shared, ethereal existence within the flat. He, Paul, is an American living in Paris whose wife’s suicide left saccharine splashes of blood all over the bathroom of their shared home. He returns briefly to find the stains still there – vast and impermeable. We watch him move through shadowy high-rises and the shadowed urban streets. His grief seems complex and boundless, but he wraps it in tight, neat violences. To his wife’s corpse, drenched in flowers, dressed funereally, he whimpers, “it took you 35 cents and a cheap razor to get out of our marriage.”

She, Jeanne, has a fiancé who shadows her with a film crew in a fashion that suggests proto-reality television. He observes her through this detached, cinematic lens and imparts upon her manipulative and self-absorbed abuses. Her first love from youth was her cousin, a prodigious piano player with whom she once engaged in mutual masturbation beneath suburban oak trees.

While the film lingers about the spectrum of Paul’s emotional deterioration, it lingers, with almost equal fascination, on Jeanne’s physicality, the shapes her body takes against the background. She is shown, in one scene, thrashing wildly against her fiancé in tense combat as the metro rushes by. We sense that her body exists as the plaything for these volatile men, that not only is she designed to be looked at, but also to be pummeled, debauched, almost in the pursuit of discerning a boundary that does not exist.

In the film’s most notorious scene, Paul sodomizes her with a stick of butter while sputtering forth gibbering phrases that hint disjointedly at incestuous taboo. In another, his dirty talk features the imagery of dead and dying pigs. There seems to be little meaning to it. After some time passes, she cannot help but wonder if they’re in love.

The archetypal love story progresses from anonymity to intimacy to either consummate togetherness or heartbreak. Paul and Jeanne waver, with pressing immediacy and reckless confusion, between anonymity and intimacy. The film occupies this territory of extremism, brought into existence within the decrepit apartment in which they both touch and recoil from one another. At one point, laying pressed against him, she whispers, “it’s beautiful not knowing anything.” This line exists at the crux of the film; it represents the lure and possibility of pure escapism, the erasure of both the profound and minute elements of identity. What Paul and Jeanne know of one another are unspoken truths that emerge from physical and visceral relations in the wake of extreme vulnerability. This is problematic, because these are terms we use when talking about love.

Aesthetics appear to my mind a more immutable and digestible force than ethics. One could watch the film on mute, and, surprisingly, in many instances find its sepia-toned intimacies and intimations more beautiful than vulgar. In one scene, Jeanne and Paul are in an elevator after she has abandoned her fiancé, and she lifts a lace and white wedding dress up to reveal shadeless brown thighs. The light is soft and flickering. They are drawn thus in a dizzying escalation upwards. He accepts her physicality and its implications into his encumbered arms. You consider the whirl of filth and havoc out of which such a rare moment of tenderness arises. You do wonder, briefly, if perhaps love is not only this much closeness, but exactly this much brutality.

If it is, it’s a sort of shit brand of love. And the film isn’t a love story. It’s a story about grief and need and the rare breed of expansiveness that has arisen within their contained and artificial reality. Paul’s single mandate of anonymity allows implicitly for all other forms of linguistic and behavioral freedom, and thus the space in which they exist is infused with not only debauchery but also liberation. For diffusely emotional reasons, they are continuously compelled toward one another. You think about that. You think about her, the perplexity she suffers with him. It’s much easier to ignore someone who ignores you than someone who actively treats you poorly.

The film itself doesn’t think about her much. The magnitude of Brando’s celebrity rests in the film’s forefront, and Paul’s withering psychosis occupies the bulk of our thematic focus. Jeanne is sketched less deliberately, existing fundamentally as the springboard against which Paul reacts and as a point of our aesthetic attention. Any indication of strength on her part is drawn as the sort of feistiness found charming by misogynistic men, rather than referring back to any fundamental fierceness or resolve. I find this personally sort of problematic, because I want to relate to Jeanne. On a certain level, with only tepid approval, I do relate to her. She and I are members of the club of girls who feel big and confusing things for destructive men.

I sort of want to vindicate her, to draw her into focus. I can imagine being her. Imagine being young and inexperienced and having a body that appears to you as a map of questions yet to be answered. Imagine being stalked by a man who has accessed the darkest parts of you, who grabs you and demands your attention after you have ostensibly tried to break things off. “That was one thing, in the apartment,” he tells you. “Now we can start with the love.” He brings you to an archaic ballroom and vacillates wildly between being charming and cruel. He pulls you onto the dance floor. Each set of bodies that surround you, you think, represents some unique possibility of love. The effect of existing among them is dizzying. You realize your profound differentness from these forms that float into one another and float in and out of your periphery. You do not have what they have. This man holding onto your waist, pulling at you, is dangerous.

You find yourself in an apartment with this unknowable man. You want to murder this void of distilled emotion he has created within you. The boundary between your interiority and external reality has become distorted and strange. If you don’t pull the trigger, where is there to go? And if you do pull it, who have you become?

It is discomfiting to exist in her head, to consider the extent to which emotions can be widly untamed and un-categorizable. The first time I watched the film, I felt primaily disturbed by the images and dialogue that are designed to be disturbing, revolting. What makes the film an uncomfortable watch is what makes it resist a softer analysis, but there was for me certain softness to the film, a light ethical pulse. Upon finishing Last Tango In Paris a second time, all I could think was that it is a truly terrifying thing to mistreat one another.

Laura Hooberman is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Greenpoint. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages about her life in New York.

"Dream Sequence" - Tythe (mp3)

"Careless Woman" - Tythe (mp3)

Tuesday
Aug272013

In Which You Are Not Going To See Me For A Few Months

Cigarettes and Magazines

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Gone Home
The Fullbright Company

design by Steve Gaynor

Now that the 90s are a good fifty or sixty years in our collective past it is possible to take stock of them. Adjectives are inadequate who can deign to describe Rome at its most opulent? It is like staring too long at the sun. Gone Home returns to this moment, represented by an empty house in the Pacific Northwest during a thunderstorm.

Kaitlin Greenbriar is the protagonist of Gone Home, the new game created by the Fullbright Company. Gone Home suggests that Kaitlin is a fairly heteronormative straight A student who comes from a troubled family, which we will learn more about presently. Since there are no mirrors in the Greenbriar house, we never see who Kaitlin is in the present of Gone Home. We have to be content with the family photos and documents that show what her and family looked like in the past.

Rotating and examining various objects in the Greenbriar house up close, with rain pouring down in the background between the fantastic score by Chris Remo, is the game. In 90 minutes or so you can finish Gone Home. By the end you will have opened a safe in the basement replete with accusations of molestation, explored an attic darkroom where Kaitlin's sister Samantha made out with her ROTC girlfriend Lonnie, and felt completely alone in the world.

It is another life completely, each detail reinforced by the accompanying cultural reference. Gone Home contains an astounding level of detail. Along with guilt and fear, each room in the house generally holds a box of tissues, a lamp, and a handwritten letter or list at the very least. There are always more secrets left to find here. Going through your family's private writings and keepsakes feels like a betrayal. On this level, Gone Home is spot on, since no one cared a whit for anybody else from 1990 to 2001.

Gone Home has inspired divergent opinions on the internet; there are no reports as of yet as to what the Prodigy.com userbase thinks of it. Some seem to feel it is wry or obvious commentary on the positioning of homosexuality during this period; others connect with the general Americanness of Nirvana on the radio, The X-Files on the VCR. It is completely ridiculous to make this time innocent or unknowing in any way, and Gone Home avoids this softening at every turn.

The general milieu inspires a nostalgia that already itself feel like an affection borne of a second, additional remembering. Now we not only recall the original period, maybe from news clippings, television and movies, but we also revisit our memories of our memories.

It was as a child that I learned how easy the past is to bring back in conversation, how it let me understand other children when they were no more than tiny, walking mysteries. In a society with no history what is left over becomes even more powerful. At this point Ronald Reagan is just a fucking face on a t-shirt. Much like Sam Greenbriar, 1995 was the worst year of my life, and also kind of the best. When Sam Greenbriar's girlfriend tells her she is enlisting in the military, it is very difficult to get over whether she goes through with it or not.

 As with anything sentimental, a vocal minority loathes Gone Home. There is a deeply reductive idea that any piece of art must appeal to every single person. That seems to me misguided, although I do regret some of the things I said to people who liked The Dark Knight. Those who object to Gone Home's austere precociousness are usually those who did not come of age in the 90s, since it describes the decade perfectly.

Until the 90s, there was the distinct possibility that there existed a place more exotic and fascinating than the boredom we inhabitated. Today we are factually aware that the entire world is just a mirror. Kaitlin Greenbriar returns from college, the place she went to abandon the dullness of her Oregon life. She discovered, we may intuit, that it was all the same - now everything follows you everywhere. Then, youth could be fled or rearranged: people actually forgot the things that Lillian Hellman said and did, Margaret Mead was written about positively in magazines while Norman Mailer and Paul Gauguin were not locked up in jail.

The documents in Gone Home maintain an ineradicable record of our fuckups, making that break impossible. Jeanne, a disciple of Karl Jaspers, wrote that the philosophy of freedom consists of knowing that a choice made today projects itself backwards and changes our past actions. She could have added two words to the beginning of her definition to make it more accurate before now.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Blue Jasmine and Philip Johnson. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Everything" - Nine Inch Nails (mp3)

"While I'm Still Here" - Nine Inch Nails (mp3)

Monday
Aug262013

In Which We Follow Her Inside The Prison

True Nature

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Orange Is The New Black
creator Jenji Kohan

No one holds Piper Chapman’s hand. Not really. Instead, she is groped and ignored and ridiculed. This stays true to the fish out of water narrative of Orange Is The New Black and Piper is a classic fish out of water. Nice, quiet white ladies do not end up in prison. And if they do, it is because things happen “to” them rather than “because” of them. But as Orange Is The New Black unfolds, we soon learn that Piper is not hapless or innocent or quiet. She is certainly not nice. No, like the other women in the prison, Piper is a woman who made choices and must now face the consequences.

Piper (Taylor Schilling) is serving 13 months in prison for helping smuggle drugs across the border for her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause. It is no surprise then to learn that Piper must now serve her prison sentence with Alex. For the first few episodes, Piper makes her animosity toward Alex well known, ultimately blaming her for her prison sentence. In true Piper form, she has neglected to take responsibility for her own actions and her complicity in the crime.

Orange Is The New Black is about finding the humanity in people we often assume have none. We stigmatize the experiences of people in prison without knowing what led them to this environment. For Piper, the reality of prison has not sunk in. Her only possibility of survival is to accept both what she’s done and her true nature as a woman who is not as perfect and nice as she thinks she is.

It becomes evident as the show progresses that the most compelling characters and stories have little, if anything, to do with Piper. There are no magical negroes or spiritual guides for Piper’s experience in prison. The show is a powerful and overt representation of race relations both in and outside of prison. The stereotypes are thick with vitriol in the show’s initial episodes, though they dissipate as the show progresses. As Piper begins to acclimate herself to the culture of prison, there is a real possibility that for Piper’s sensibilities, even speaking openly about race (prejudiced or otherwise) is a shock.

Elsewhere we are drawn into the romantic yet troubling “relationship” of Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) and correctional officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry). We are fascinated by Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), Piper’s roommate and an older woman who must come to terms with the possibility of her own parole. And Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), a transgender woman and a truer protagonist of the show, is all glamour and wisdom and heart. She could certainly warrant a spin-off on her own.

The opening credits of Orange Is The New Black are particularly compelling. Featuring a theme song by Regina Spektor, we view a series of close-ups of different women’s faces. None are particularly “pretty” and really, that is not the point. The credits go on for a long time and they linger.

What we find ourselves more drawn to is the sheer abundance of faces – young and old, wrinkled and baby-faced – that represent the varying demographics of the prison system. Yes, jails are disproportionately filled with black and hispanic men and women. But there are many different “types” of prisoners, and the circumstances that led to their imprisonment are as diverse and distinct as their faces.

In a recent interview for Fresh Air, Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan noted that a show featuring a rich cast of multidimensional and racially and sexually diverse characters could not “sell” without a protagonist (a white and blonde and pretty protagonist) like Piper. Granted, the initial source material for the television show is the memoir of the same name written by Piper Kerman. But many elements (such as Piper “reuniting” with Alex) were created or altered specifically for the show.

In the interview, Kohan said:

In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You're not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it's a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it's relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It's useful.

Still, Orange is the New Black represents a teachable moment for its lead. It is OK to hate Piper. In fact, as the show progresses, the writers and creators have made sure to highlight Piper’s flaws (and there are many). Within these walls Piper finds herself. And as nauseating as that reads, what she unwraps is someone who is not as great or insightful or “good” as she thought she was and what other people have told her she must be. In prison, Piper discovers what makes her like anyone else. That she must be locked up to understand this only speaks to the ways in which her privileged life has sheltered her from the realities of her own adulthood.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about a solitary existence.

"Your Face" - Delorean (mp3)

"Unhold" - Delorean (mp3)