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Robert Altman Week

Monday
Aug162010

In Which Right Now My Life Is Very…

Did You Get Pears?

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Who else cheered when Allison chucked the golden snitch at Don? Yes that's right, Donald "This Never Happened" Draper, "this actually happened." You can't just stick the tip in one night and then pretend you forgot about it the next day because you were so wasted! I mean, you can! Unless you have to see them all the time by necessity, but that's why you don't dip your dick in the company cold cream!

Sometimes it's more important to tell the truth than to save face. The first three seasons of Mad Men were about the social pressures and restrictions that stop people from being honest with others, let alone themselves. So far this season has been about the unassailable internal problems that override those human constructed dams.

Everyone's an expert and a hypocrite when it comes to matters of the heart. When Allison's feelings about Don start leaking out in the conference room, Peggy tells her to stuff them in a sack. Later when Peggy finds out that Pete knocked up Trudy, she is unable to do anything but bang her head on a desk. Perhaps a more subtle gesture could've been used to indicate Peggy's feelings, but I thought it was very accurate.

Often when real emotional trash goes down you'll have a visceral physical reaction that feels especially unwelcome given that you are dealing with feelings, which theoretically ought to just give you mental anguish. And yet there you are, banging your head against the wall, or doubled over in violent pain, or throwing up in the hallway.

The difference between what should happen and what does happen is another one of Mad Men's major themes, along with the differences between the person you are and the person you present yourself to the world as being. Even if you want to keep your inner feelings entirely to yourself, as Don does, your body might still sell you out.

Don criticizes Faye Faith Popcorn for sticking her finger in people's brains and getting them to talk. One of Jon Hamm's greatest skills as an actor is his ability to convey simultaneously the many different levels of Don Draper's bluffing while making it fully believable that most other people would see only the very top layer. 

Peggy's cool downtown party was perfect. I swear I went to that party last weekend. The guy with the bear head turned out to be a bear. Telling a lesbian that your boyfriend rents your vagina is the kind of flirty neg cool art dykes live for.

How many sweatshop drug parties and exhilarating dashes from the NYPD will it take Peggy's new lady friend to unlock her potential bicuriousness? Who will get Peggy to cuckold her dopey fiance first, her new lesbian buddy or her metrosexual officemate? 

This episode was directed by none other than silver fox John Slattery! Perhaps that is why it was so very wry. It's like Matthew Weiner heard the internet complaining about how season 3 focused way too much on Don and Betty's marriage breaking down and not enough on the Sterling-Cooper office, and then granted us our dream of banishing Betty to a plotless corner so that we can spend more time with Joan, Pete, and Peggy.

We all know what the ancient couple with the pears signifies for Don's new secretary. Bobbie Barrett was a gateway drug and now Don's going to start banging old ladies on the reg. The real tragedy of this episode is that my intended, that all American idiot Ken Cosgrove, has given his dowry to some betch. Farewell to thee Kenny C, my blond prince of Vermont. I'm sorry your pretty boy swag was too much for creative. 

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find last week's Mad Men review here.

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"We Shall Be Free" - Woody Guthrie (mp3)

"Oregon Trail" - Woody Guthrie (mp3)

"Springfield Mountain" - Woody Guthrie (mp3)


Sunday
Aug152010

In Which If It Wasn't Hard Everyone Would Do It

The Bonfire of the Bosom Buddy

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

I was watching The Polar Express last week and trying to recover the spirit of Christmas for some muffins I was planning when it occurred to me: doesn't that train conductor remind me of something ineffable and someone specific?

My aunt told me it was Tom Hanks, and I was like, "they modeled the conductor after a producer on Big Love?" She explained that Hanks was the owner of a long and storied Hollywood career, while her daschund Leopold stared at me unforgivingly for my ignorance. I spent this past weekend watching all of this old-timey actor's moving pictures, and I have summarized the plots of these films so you can easily find what interests you.

Splash

A man has sex with a mermaid and feels somewhat bad about it. The mermaid's father frowns upon the match because it conflicted with the IPO of his underwater company.

The Money Pit

A home restoration project goes south when a man realizes his wife is Shelley Long.

Bachelor Party

A famous football player insists that protection is for Ravens while attempting sex. The woman mishears "Ravens" as "cravens", freaks out, and ends up majoring in communications. Todd Phillips is passed out nearby and gets the idea for The Hangover.

Dragnet

Two white police officers pay tribute to a long-running television series by visiting Santa Claus at the North Pole. Santa tells them to come back when they're animated.

Big

A man shrinks to the size of a gumdrop to become a boy again and lives inside a huge piano with all his friends. Older women are constantly intuiting he's more advanced sexually than he professes. To return to full size, he is forced to rape a gypsy woman.

Punchline

A comedian is infected with AIDS by Denzel Washington.

Turner and Hooch

A man and an anti-semitic dog fight crime.

The 'Burbs

You may be more familiar with a recent remake of The 'Burbs, Saw IV.

Joe Versus the Volcano

A pet detective finally marries his true love (Courteney Cox) and decides that Meg Ryan is likelier to have a successful big screen career. He struggles to find a way to break off the engagement before deciding to burn his penis off in an active volcano.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

A journalist with no imagination finds it easier to make things up than interview any more astronauts than he has to. He uses a revolutionary technique to clone himself. He names the clone Malcolm Gladwell.

A League of Their Own

An alcoholic womanizer leads a baseball team of women to greatness and inadvertently creates a popular daytime television program. A text card at the end of the film specifies that they would have achieved nothing without a male manager.

Sleepless in Seattle

A woman facebooks a guy and he ends up taking it way farther than it ever has to go. She falls in love with his eight-year old by accident and they go live on a cute houseboat for the rest of their lives.

Philadelphia

The two main people in a gay man's life are Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington, and he's still unhappy as a clam for no discernible reason. Andrew Sullivan cameos as "another guy with HIV."

Forrest Gump

The thinly disguised life story of Joe Biden. He has a sexual relationship with Robin Wright Penn and everyone has some misgivings that she took advantage of him. Biden emphasizes the fact that he rides Amtrak in his speeches because he is unable to pilot an automobile.

Apollo 13

A bunch of guys head into space, reassuring their wives with platitudes like, "We won't fuck up in space," and "It's space, what could go wrong?" and "Kevin Bacon's coming with us to space, this will be hilars." These predictions prove largely inaccurate.

That Thing You Do!

The true story of Simon Cowell's rise to public prominence related for the first time.

Saving Private Ryan

Despite the fact that Jews are dying by the millions in camps across Europe, it ends up being a lot more important for everybody's peace of mind that one goy be rescued by a squadron of morons.

You've Got Mail

A man flirts with a woman on the internet; she is somehow not disgusted by the fact it takes 20 minutes for him to type one instant message into AIM. He misunderstands "Shop Around the Corner" for a sexual euphemism, she apologizes for the miscommunication. Not only does he not accept her apology, he puts her out of business and cuts off her airway with the skin folds from his degraded neck. The funeral is a lovely affair, and each of the eulogies emphasize the dangers of misrepresenting yourself on AIM.

The Green Mile

A magical, physically imposing black man heals people with his touch, so the white prison guards murder him, but not before he cures all their urinary tract infections. It turns out that the black man had the spirit of a white guy (Rob Schneider) inside him all along.

Cast Away

High on cocaine, Robert Zemeckis has an idea that later becomes Lost; a plane crashes on an island and only the boring characters survive.

Road to Perdition

Two playwrights debate the existential nature of life over dinner one evening. Hot topic: 'what does the word perdition mean?'

Catch Me If You Can

Christopher Walken has a son, and - shock, surprise! - it doesn't turn out all that well. The son becomes a pilot and figures prominently in the September 11th terrorist attacks on America. He ends up dating Molly McAleer, probably.

The Terminal

A man who jerks off into people's luggage is apprehended and forced to copulate with Catherine Zeta-Jones while Michael Douglas looks on approvingly.

The Ladykillers

A brother-brother writer-director team misfires with their latest film and decides to nab an Oscar by utilizing the foolproof method of having Tommy Lee Jones do the movie's voiceover.

The Polar Express

A shocking expose of how the Japanese kill 500 of Santa's dwarves each year in front of a live studio audience in the Arctic.

The Da Vinci Code

Dr. Robert Langdon is infected with HIV by Denzel Washington.

Charlie Wilson's War

Mike Nichols' 100 minute logic proof that Elaine May had all the talent.

Angels and Demons

Dr. Robert Langdon gives up treasure hunting and retires to a tropical island with Audrey Tautou, Emily Blunt, and Denzel Washington.

Ellen Copperfield is a contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about how to politely dump someone.

"Down by the River" - Neil Young (mp3)

"Philadelphia" - Neil Young (mp3)

"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" - Neil Young (mp3)

"The Losing End (When You're On)" - Neil Young (mp3)

Friday
Aug132010

In Which It Was As Important To Me As Anything of Mine

Something To Do With the Sofa

The conversations of the critic Mel Gussow and the playwright Harold Pinter are weird mostly because Pinter is an actor, and accustomed to a certain kind of pretension. He was an actor even before he was a playwright, and he never really liked interviews. Gussow feels the need to pin him down on a number of things, and Pinter acts like a terse little ninja. His ejaculations, elicited by one of his greatest admirers in the theatrical world, contain nuggets of prose as self-centered and yet as enduring as any literature has to offer. - A.C.

MEL GUSSOW: Could you trace the genesis of Old Times?

HAROLD PINTER: I think I wrote it last winter. Yes, last winter. About a year ago. Well, there's nothing I can tell you about that because it was just a very odd thing really. It was one of those times when you think you're never going to write again. I was lying on the sofa reading the paper and something flashed in my mind. It wasn't anything to do with the paper.

MG: Something to do with the sofa?

HP: The sofa perhaps, but certainly not the paper. I rushed upstairs to my room. I live in a very tall house. I usually find great difficulty getting to the top. But, like lightning, I was up.

MG: What was the thought?

HP: I think it was the first couple of lines of the play. I don't know if they were actually the first lines. Two people talking about someone else. But then I really went at it. Incidentally, you did ask me for my "fourth." Actually what it is is reading. I read a great deal of poetry.

MG: What poets?

HP: Recently I rediscovered Pope. I haven't read him since school. Lines and verses are always on my mind. Donne. Gerard Manley Hopkins. "Margaret/ Are you grieving/ over Goldengrove/ unleaving." Modern poetry. Philip Larkin. Yeats and Eliot.

MG: Do you still write poetry — as poetry?

HP: Yes. I've written two poems in the last couple of years. Very short. I wrote one about six months ago, about seven lines, but I remember I did 13 drafts of it.

MG: How many drafts of plays do you usually write?

HP: About three. But that was as important to me as anything of mine - that poem. But you know any poem is — emotionally. I used to write a great deal of poetry a long time ago.

MG: It does seem to me, again about the last three plays, that they're more lyrical. Is that something you're aware of?

HP: Yes, I am aware of it. I think it's very dangerous territory.

MG: Why is it dangerous territory?

HP: You can fall on your arse very easily in attempting to express in, if you like, "lyrical" terms what is actually happening to people. You can over ... I did it, in Silence, but I cut it. I had a passage. It was very very interesting, actually. When I wrote it, I sent the play, as I always do, to Samuel Beckett, whose opinion, to put it mildly, I respect. And... I know him.

MG: Do you always send him your plays?

HP: I began, I think, with The Homecoming. Yes, I do always. And he writes the most succinct observations. He liked Silence very much. He wrote, I remember, one very short remark, something to the effect, 'Suggest you examine or reconsider speech, fourth speech, page five.' Or whatever it was. So I looked at this speech immediately, and thought, well, I don't see anything wrong with that. What do I have to reconsider? It seems to me perfectly in order. But I'll keep it in mind. I will bear this matter in mind. I wrote to him and said, thank you, but about this speech I'll listen to it in rehearsals, and see what I think of it. Rehearsals started, and I heard it, and I thought it was perfectly all right. Then, after about two week's rehearsal, Peter Hall came up to me — I hadn't been around for a few days — and said, 'There's one speech in this play that I do not think is working at all.' And that was that speech. Off I went and heard it properly again and realized that, of course, Beckett was totally right.

with james fox & joseph losey

MG: Why wasn't it working?

HP: Well, because...it simply went over the top in lyricism. The trouble was that it was basically inaccurate and non-specific and, I think, that is the problem trying to use language in this way. It has to be absolutely specific. If it's at all generalized then it's nothing else but indulgence and it's illegitimate. This applies to the use of any kind of language in any kind of context, but particularly the kind of language you were referring to in these latest plays.

MG: Do you feel that you have to guard against emotion?

HP: I don't quite understand you.

MG: Do you not want to get carried away by something you don't control? Something you cannot do with the accuracy you demand? Silence. The idea of lyricism denotes to me a kind of emotion.

HP: What I'm interested in is emotion which is contained, and felt very, very deeply. Jesus, I really don't want to make a categorical statement about this. But, perhaps, it is ultimately inexpressible. Because I think we express our emotions in so many small ways, all over the place - or can't express them in any other way.

MG: This would seem to be a lesson to be learned from Beckett, who without demonstrating obvious emotion can be quite emotional.

HP: Yes, with such simplicity of means.

MG: I remember years ago when you wrote about how much Beckett meant to you, at the time you were referring to his novels. How do you feel about his plays?

HP: What can I say?

MG: Do you feel at all as pupil to master?

HP: No, not as pupil to master. I think he's the most remarkable writer in the world, that's what I feel. I don't feel pupil to master, for a start, because I don't see where I relate to him at all.

performing 'Krapp's Last Tape' 

MG: Some people think you do, particularly in the last three plays.

HP: Well, let them say...this terrible business of categorizing. I don't feel that on just one letter alone, apart from anything else. I feel that his achievements, what he's been able to do in his life, in his writing, are so far beyond my own that I don't see any kind of comparison at all. I think he's a great writer. And I'm certainly not that in the way I understand the term, and I do understand the term. The term has a very clear meaning to me. I can tell you who I think are great writers very simply. They're so evident. They're obvious.

MG: Name some obvious.

HP: Well, Doestoevski. This is in my mind. Joyce, Proust. They haven't got their names for nothing. And Beckett. Silence.

MG: It is something to strive for, isn't it?

HP: I don't see it in those terms. I don't have that kind of ambition. I mean you can't strive to be a Great Writer.

beckett with buster keaton

MG: You can strive to be better.

HP: Always strive to be better. One curious element I find in what is called 'literary life' which I notice. I must say particularly in New York — there's an extraordinary competitiveness. But I must say quite honestly that it is something I have never felt remotely. I'm just not an ambitious person.

MG: What first set you to writing plays? Was there something specific that kicked off The Room, your very first play?

HP: Oh, yes. I know the image. I know what happened. I was at a party in a house and I was taken for some reason or other to be introduced to a man who lived on the top floor, or an upper floor, and went into his room. He was a slender, middle-aged man in his bare feet who was walking about the room. Very sociable and pleasant, and he was making bacon and eggs, and cut bread, and poured tea and gave it to this fellow who was reading a comic. And in the meantime he was talking to us - very, very quickly and lightly. We only had about five minutes but something like that remained. I told a friend I'd like to write a play, there's some play here. And then it all happened. I used to write a great deal of prose in the past, when I was young. And a lot of it, including a novel [The Dwarfs] was in dialogue.

MG: To go back, for a minute, what did Beckett say about Old Times?

HP: Well, he was...very much in favor of it. He did have one reservation, one speech. No, I'm not going to tell which one it was.

MG: Is it still in?

HP: It's in.

MG: Same reason?

HP: No, not the same reason. But I stuck with it. I've no alternative but to stick with it.

MG: Peter Hall didn't spot it?

HP: No. Mind you, it hasn't been an easy one. I must confess that.

MG: Does Beckett send you his plays?

HP: He isn't writing any. He sends me his books, but I never - I'm not in the same position at all. In other words, I don't send him back my notes. I'm very happy to have his. I wouldn't dream of it. Anyway, I have no notes, no notes at all.

MG: When did you first meet Beckett?

HP: From about the age of 19 I started to read him, the novels, and I was quite bowled over by those novels. When we did The Caretaker in Paris in 1961, Roger Blin was in it, and one day he said, 'Would you like to meet Beckett?' It was almost too much for me — the thought of such a thing. I had written to him. Eventually. You can imagine. It was 1949 when I started to read Beckett and I didn't manage to write to him until about 1959 — when I wrote him just a short note trying to say what I - something. And got an extremely nice letter back. So then I was in a position of meeting him. The longshot of it is that I came into this hotel and he was very vigorous and chatty and extremely affable and extremely friendly and we spent the whole night together. And that was really...very good. And since then, we've really seen quite a lot of one another.

MG: How do you feel about other playwrights?

HP: Well, my taste is quite catholic. I do enjoy a great deal of writers. I think...Edward Bond is a very good writer...I've always liked Edward Albee's work. I like Heathcote Williams. When you ask me that kind of question, there are people I could tell you but they suddenly slip my mind.

MG: Kafka's on your list with Joyce, Proust, and Doestoevski.

HP: Oh, yes. Definitely. I'd like to have had a drink with Kafka, too.

MG: What novelists?

HP: I don't read many modern novels. I do find my reading goes back to Nazi Germany. I read a lot about Nazi Germany. At the moment I'm reading a biography of Heidegger. It's not my field, but I take an interest. Before that, I read a biography of Wittgenstein, which just came out. Heidegger became a Nazi apologist. He was a Nazi. I think the whole period is probably the worst thing that ever happened.

MG: Reunion is the only time you've dealt even indirectly with the Holocaust?

HP: Yes.

MG: Would you ever write about it?

HP: I don't know. There's something in me that wants to do something about it. It's so difficult.

MG: Do you go to the movies often?

HP: Not often. You know American movies meant an awful lot to me. I was brought up on them. I had a very rich cinematic education, much more than the theatre. I never went to the theatre.

MG: What movies did you see?

HP: I'm talking about the 1940s. I saw all the American black and white gangster films, which were great.

MG: Your next project is writing a screenplay of Kafka's The Trial. Why The Trial at this time?

HP: I read The Trial when I was a lad of 18, in 1948. It's been with me ever since. I don't think anyone who reads The Trial - it ever leaves them, although it can be curiously distorted by time. Speaking to a number of people, who remember having read it when they were young, they look back and think it's a political book. They rather tend to think it's like Arthur Koestler. In my view, it isn't at all. I admire Koestler, but I wouldn't be interested in writing a screenplay of Darkness at Noon, because it's so specifically of its time and place. But The Trial is not that case at all. I find it very difficult to talk about, except that it has been with me for 40 years, and I've had a whale of a time over the last few months entering into Kafka's world. The nightmare of that world is precisely in its ordinariness. That is what is so frightening and strong.

MG: And you are certainly aware of Orson Welles' film.

HP: Yes. Orson Welles was a genius but I think his film was quite wrong because he made it into an incoherent nightmare of spasmodic half-adjusted lines, images, effects in fact. As I said, I don't think Kafka is at all about effect, effect, but about something that happens on Monday, and then on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday and then right through the week. This man in The Trial is arrested one morning in his bed by two people and he is then let out, he goes to his job, a case is taking place. There seems to be a kind of implacable but invisible force and he is finally executed. The important thing about it is that he fights like hell all the way along the line. It reminded me of the shot in John Ford's film The Grapes of Wrath, when the man is protecting his shack when the tractor comes up: 'If you go any further, I'll shoot your head off.' The fellow takes off his goggles and says, 'There's no point doing that because I'm going to knock your house down. I'm getting paid for that and if I don't do it there'll be another guy who will.' He says, 'I'll still knock your head off.' 'Then you'll have to shoot the other guy's head off. you've got to go to the bank in Oklahoma City, and you'll have to shoot all of them. Then you'll have to go to the bank in New York. How many people can you shoot?' He says, 'Get out of my damn way,' and he knocks the house down. One of the most terrible sequences in cinema, in a wonderful film. That's what Kafka's looking at: who do you shoot?

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"Supereight" - What A Lovely Universe (mp3)

"Endless Summer" - What A Lovely Universe (mp3)

"Baby, It's Out There!!!" - What A Lovely Universe (mp3)