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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Wednesday
Nov212012

In Which We Haven't Got A Clue

With a Bow

by MAGGIE LANGE

I have to give her snaps for her courageous fashion efforts.

In 1995, an indignant sophomore struts down a hallway clutching a Clinton era-sized cell phone to her ear. Her best friend also storms past lockers, mewling equally distraught complaints in her phone. Then suddenly, like paired butterfly wings coming together in flight, the two girls meet, snap shut their cell phones and resume their conversational swagger. Each half of the pair is festooned in plaid mini-skirts, coordinated jackets, and jaunty woolen sweater vests. They walk in unison, but just for a moment. As they part, one intones the reassuring best friend refrain: “Call me.”

This is the moment that Clueless becomes Clueless. In this scene, the movie confirms its position as a stylized beacon of perfection and order. When Cher meets her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash), their rendezvous is perfectly synchronized. Clueless was a restoration of order to the teen comedy after 1988’s awesomely nihilistic Heathers tried to poison any sense of rhyme or reason from the genre.

Skipping into the 1990s with a plot ripped from Jane Austen's Emma, Amy Heckerling’s rendition brought an inventiveness of language and clothing that firmly landed Clueless as a cultural touchstone.  In a moment when the other zeitgeist films waded through angst-ridden waters (1994’s Reality Bites, 1995’s Before Sunrise, 1996’s Trainspotting), Clueless confirmed its adherence to neatness and coordination through its language and costume.

The tied-with-a-bow perfection of Clueless is perhaps what gives its latest revival such a distasteful vibe. In Vamps, out last month, director and writer Amy Heckerling has cast Alicia Silverstone as a girly vampire, the high-school debate teacher from Clueless as her arch-nemesis, and recruited Clueless’s costume designer Mona May for her signature outrageous wardrobe. Though this does not a sequel make, that’s the connection that team Heckerling is pushing, most notably in a Clueless reunion spread last month.

In the upcoming movie, Silverstone’s character, Goody, spends her days focusing on getting a date with a cute boy and bonding with her best friend - the priorities of Cher, a character that has proven a bit of a one-hit wonder for the actress, who seems exceptionally connected with the part. (Not that I buy this, but it was rumored that Silverstone was the one to pronounce Haitians like a San Francisco refugee group, 'Haight-ians,' which does prove some art/life overlap.) Almost fifteen years is certainly a moment for some nostalgia, but not a listless comeback.

Yes, there was a Clueless television show, but that just came across as serialized nonsense caught in the hype, rather than the trickier nostalgia revival or an attempt to recall something that was sort of perfect. It’s also unduly ironic and upsetting that this is a revival using the ‘undead’ as its characters, which itself is a trope that has been declared DOA for the past half-decade. It’s a crutch in the form of pointed canines. But let’s not dwell on the teeth.

Clueless is not really layered, or if it is, it is in the manner of one of Cher's outfits: well-matched, carefully coordinated effort over something with a lively, effortlessly hip life of its own. Below the lip-gloss, there is something to the movie. It’s got substantive appraisal of forgiveness, the glee in youthful hubris, the resilience of friendship, the humor and heartbreak in misconstrued romance, and in true Austen fashion – the comfort of having everything in the right place.

Of all the movies in existence, Clueless has the strongest sense of irrepressible happiness in its hipness. It has a joy that comes from being completely part of its own moment. The following is most likely an instance of movie mythology, but when asked about how the film should look, sound, and seem by various members of the crew, Amy Heckerling replied: “happy.” This is so nice to hear, so awesomely simple and earnest and 90s.

After the dark, crude, or caustic vibe of many teen comedies, this was a momentary restoration of the happy-go-lucky.  The resolution of the film is proof perfect of this - a slightly undercut “marriage plot.”  Cher and her best friend devoted much of their extra-curricular activities to matchmaking two of their teachers, who wed in the final scene of the film. In this finale, each of the main characters is paired with his or her match and the stakes of the scene are who might catch the bouquet.  Other equivalent girl-centric and zeitgeisty high school movies like Juno or Mean Girls resolve sweetly but not perfectly. Not everything neatly falls into place, not every left shoe is paired with its right.

But in Clueless everything matches. When everything matches things get tacky fast, but also it’s also remarkably soothing. There is something deeply simplistic (see 2000) in those complicated outfits. Cher and Dionne always coordinated in a way that didn’t seem like planning, but rather intuitive mirroring. It suggested a neat authenticity to their relationship. Cher’s clothing, from the plaid regalia in the first scene, to a vampy red number she dons for a party in the Valley, matches from head to toe.

The solidest example of Clueless's impeccable perfection is almost ineffable: the idyllic match between the film and its star. Alicia Silverstone, with her sleek blonde hair, annoyed pout, crisply warm enunciation, is an ideally 1990s combination of sass and earnestness. Other similarly manicured teen films fall short - most notably 2000's Bring It On and 2010's Easy A. Though choreography and neatly matching uniforms helped out Bring It On’s attempt at a perfectly synchronized world, Kirsten Dunst had a little too much bitterness behind her smirk. With Easy A, Emma Stone had an endearingly Cher-like aura, but she outshone the subject matter and rest of the cast by being the most winsome person ever. The realm of the perfect is avoided by most lauded high-school movies. They are sprawling and messy, à la American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, perhaps in order to capture a little more realism.

Realism is not Clueless’s aesthetic. The language in Clueless parades through the film like the coordinated clothing. It’s snappy-sassy, goofy, irreverent, peppy and colorful. It’s certainly of the moment, but it’s also outside from time in an absurd way: did anyone ever say: “as if” or put up their fingers in a  ‘W’ drawing out the middle of “whatever”? This invention of language is a staple of the teen film, even though real-world applications frequently relegate it to quoting the film, rather than cooping it, something meta-acknowledged in Mean Girls with “fetch.” It can never quite be dated, because its exaggeration makes it timeless.

In this timelessness, Clueless accessed the removed world of the American teenager. It is not necessarily dated to the 90s, but to a time idealized by 15-year-olds. The characters are full of pretense of wanting to be older and taken seriously, while also resisting understanding from anyone outside of their generation. Right before her DMV test to acquire a driver’s license that will give her the freedom of an adult, she looks for the image of adulthood: her “most capable looking outfit” thinking this might persuade others of her maturity. When Cher throws her clothes around on her bedroom floor, it’s less Gatsby-style materialism, more honest toddler. So, while the film is certainly a roman a clef of sort, it keeps its characters in a make-believe world outside of consequences. Cher never gets her license, avoiding that responsibility. Unlike in Emma, the film doesn’t end in the commitment of marriage for the main character but rather a happy realm of possibility. The simple perfection achieved by the film is matched to a youthful hubris that everything can be perfectly coordinated and matched. It ends with blissful frivolity.

You’re probably going like, is this a Noxzema commercial or what?

In 1995, a young woman wakes up and pads across her bedroom to sit fresh-faced, in front of her Clinton era-sized desktop computer. Bright images flash across the screen, skirts sashaying across the bottom and tops, blouses across the top. After browsing for a couple minutes and making a few misguided matches, she selects an ensemble that would dress her from head to toe in coordinated perfection. She smiles slightly and nods. A union of perfect happiness.

Maggie Lange is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in New York. You can find her website here and her twitter here.

"Sister" - Joshua James (mp3)

"Wolves" - Joshua James (mp3)

The new album from Joshua James is entitled From the Top of Willamette Mountain, and it was released on November 6th.

Monday
Nov192012

In Which We Sleep On Nucky Thompson's Couch

Familiar Story

by DICK CHENEY

Boardwalk Empire
creator Terence Winter

You know what is a completely original idea I have never heard before? A woman in an unhappy marriage to a powerful man begins an affair with her husband's younger, attractive subordinate. The relationship comes about because of the ethnic connection between the two lovers. This general plot has never even been experimented with until now.

furio, your taste in fashion was unmatched by American men

Much of Terence Winter's Boardwalk Empire is a lot more interesting if you pretend The Sopranos never happened. (This is equally true if you have never seen Goodfellas or Casino.) There's actually a scene in Martin Scorsese's completely retarded blowjob of the Dalai Lama, Kundun, that I am completely reminded of every time I watch HBO's prohibition-era drama.

The potential child prophet is shown a variety of objects, some commonplace, other more valuable, on a woven blanket. Whichever object he selects, as in the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, indicates the likelihood he is a god returned to Earth to appear on Dr. Oz. (I believe roughly the same process was used to appoint Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the house, except the correct object in question was a needle filled with Botox.)

wait, someone might actually want to watch this guy. Let's exclusively give him scenes with Gretchen Mol. $$$$This reminds me of Boardwalk Empire insofar as the show's writers can't decide between a variety of individuals. There is an insane number of characters in Boardwalk Empire, actually over 100 of them, with 80 of those wearing an identical hat. It's difficult to know exactly who to focus on when you love them all the same. 

As a viewer, keeping track is exhilarating and discouraging, because whoever you do choose to invest in will likely end up bludgeoned by Bobby Cannavale or set on fire by Bobby Thompson. Both are unpleasant and humiliating, and make you wonder why no one was called Robert in the early part of last century.

so he decapitated a guy with a shovel, who hasn't done that?

Relatively safe from this merry-go-round of death is Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). Nucky had a very difficult home life as a child, and tries very hard to be a good stepfather to the children of his wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald). For some reason the fact that Nucky excels where his father failed does not really capture our attention the way that Tony Soprano's poor parenting did.

The writers of Boardwalk Empire can't possibly believe a few kind words outweigh the countless murders and the numerous infidelities Nucky implausibly consummated while succoring Broadway actress Billie Kent. Thompson was very nice to his girlfriend - she called him her gangster - but there is a hard and fast rule, in drama and in life, that being nice to someone who is going to die does not count.

Examining the weirdly sympathetic portrayal of Al Capone yields roughly the same feeling. The man who gave a bad name to so many Italian-Americans being presented as the heroic godfather and loving parent to a deaf child when he is basically their Osama Bin Laden leaves a terrible nausea in my sizable gut. It's roughly analogous to the disgust that rose inside me while I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II and terrorists blew up the USS Barack Obama. A sinking feeling. Get it?

Tommy, run

When I think about who I actually empathize with in Boardwalk Empire, my faith in people is usually destroyed within minutes of them garnering my favor. All the emotional reserves I placed in the Picasso-faced Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were destroyed the moment I saw him in a liquor commercial and his countenance wasn't half exploded. Marlon Brando would have rather clawed his eyes out, and I think a lot less of Terence Winter that he did not insist upon it.

the president also smokes after a fresh kyll

I won't make any more lighthearted remarks about how disgusting I find the constantly topless Gretchen Mol. Such commentary is completely misogynistic and diminishes the righteousness of my jokes about Nancy Pelosi. At least Gretchen is trying. I even received a nice jolt in my Dockers when the only living Mrs. Darmody had intercourse with an unemployed man who intensely resembled her late son. The pseudo-incest represented a sweet moment, akin to when George W. Bush makes Laura put on a massive white wig before doggystyle.

My momentary engagement with Gretchen's plight vanished when she drugged and drowned this Jimmy-lookalike in her whorehouse bathtub as a means of getting her son declared legally dead. I have never known a woman who actually killed a man, and I have certainly never known an attractive woman who has done this. That's as close to a compliment as I can pay Gretchen Mol.

"You're going to buy me a wedding ring and fly me to Honolulu? YESSSSSSSS"

The death of Nucky's handsome bodyguard Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) on last night's episode, due to the treachery of an Italian-Jewish coalition against the Irish, attempted to strike an ironic note. After Owen's body is sent to Nucky's home in a wooden crate, Margaret breaks down crying, recollecting the previous day when she told Owen she was pregnant with his baby. "Whatever you tell me next," she informs him before his passing, "let it be the truth." "I'm hoping it's a boy," he responds.

Despite our knowledge that this flashback presents Owen telling a fucking lie, he comes across as more human than he did during his entire run on Boardwalk Empire. Even a liar is endearing in the moments he's telling the truth. The disappointment comes afterwards.

Then, dreamy, half-amusing, half-tragic music sang him off. And now he looks like this:

Guess he promised marriage to some women in the Russian baths

The opening sequence of Boardwalk Empire has taken on a new meaning of late. Last night's episode took the discord between reality and fiction still further by watching American excesses flood the beaches of Atlantic City. Beachgoers rushed into the surf to claim bottles of whiskey floating in the water. Even if there never was a storm to later destroy that very boardwalk, this was metaphorical overkill. Using the past to say something about the present is inherently unfair. It's a dirty trick, the vain task whereby winners rewrite history according to their own impulses. Sure, Al Capone is still a disgusting gangster, and women weren't getting the diaphragms they justly deserved. But really, that can mean nothing to us now.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. He last wrote in these pages about the Showtime series Dexter. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Something In Between" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

"If You Have To Leave" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

Saturday
Nov172012

In Which We Tell The Story Of Something Inside Us

Enjoy the depths of our Saturday fiction series here.

Inspiration

by LINDA EDDINGS

She began the story with a coda, thinking that when it was over she could put the coda wherever it was you placed such things, right before the end.

The idea for the story was a woman housesitting for her boss, a certain Mr. Williams. In the tale's opening minutes a strange man came to Mr. Williams' home, but the woman opened the door anyway. The man offered her fish he had recently caught from a river. She accepted and cooked them. Before she could thank him something had frightened him away.

It was later revealed, in this version of her story, that the thing that frightened the fisherman away was the woman herself later on in the story, perched on the roof of the house. She had subsequently traveled back in time to protect herself.

This had, upon her departure from the Starbucks near the mall, felt like a stroke of genius. When she reappraised it the next morning on her way to work the twist was verifiably the stupidest thing in the world.

Next the housesitter received a phone call from Mr. Williams that shortly followed the cooking of the fish. He asked his employee to find an ancient helmet in the upstairs closet. On her way there, the housesitter became lost. She mused on the metaphorical development of saving your own self from danger. Was it possible to hint at this in a more subtle way?

In the bathroom at work, getting up from the toilet, her iPhone dropped into the bowl. She tried to put it in a bag of rice but, hours later, it would not turn on. She wondered what she had done to deserve this and decided on nothing. Making this happen to the housesitter of her imagination was an easy step, and she found that the woman suffered more easily, surprising herself as quickly as her author.

Her dream the next night involved being returned to her high school. The corridors whipped around the classrooms like cars racing around a track. She arrived late for the next class, and everyone had a copy of The Great Gatsby. The classrooms swept about her like a train on rails, and now when she looked out into the hallway the world there was a cold and frosty London. Each member of the class told her to get a handful of pebbles. She did, and a blonde man loaded them into a handgun. He shot a man in a top hat approaching from the street, and she woke up.

Mr. Williams transitioned from being a slightly effete, if well-intentioned superior to a man stressed by forces beyond his control.

While working out that morning, she saw the running of the bulls on the news. Those absconding showed a requisite amount of fear and in some cases, exhilaration. The bulls, to her mind, were absolutely terrified. The housesitter found the helmet, somewhere deep in a closet preserved from the onset of the years. The headgear allowed her to see things as they truly were.

Linda Eddings is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.

"Twirled With Slight Fingers" - Sam Willis (mp3)

"Weird Science" - Sam Willis (mp3)