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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
Jun082011

In Which Strange Birds Flock To Remote Marshes

Dry Season

by RACHEL MONROE

1

For most of December, it was 45 degrees inside our house, and I only took off my long underwear to get in the shower. Even then, the few bare-legged seconds were miserable enough that I mostly didn’t bathe. It didn’t seem all that important, suddenly; my boyfriend and I had broken up, and I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to look at another human being again. What was dating but spending time talking to someone you would eventually break up with?

But being alone wasn’t much fun, either. I cooked wearing mittens, puffing out sad clouds of breath into the cluttered kitchen. I felt sorry for myself. I couldn’t stand being in my room, but outside it was even colder, so I stayed in and sulked. My bed became a nest of Heath Bar wrappers, half-read books, papers I was supposed to grade. In the middle of the night, I’d stretch my toes and touch a spoon. Tangled sheets, dust that was somehow unvacuumable, shards of glass on the floor from whatever the cats had knocked over in the night. I was incredibly boring to be around. I kept apologizing for this, boringly.

The things I found pleasure in embarrassed me: exfoliating scrubs I couldn’t really afford, Jane Austen, when my cats fell off the table. Licorice tea. Kate Bush. BBC miniserieses. I started reading Middlemarch and wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks. I got kind of fat. I told my roommates everything (I needed to tell someone). No one would kiss me. The winter started to feel infinite.

photo by liz donadio

2

The problem that Virginia Woolf doesn’t deal with — and so, perhaps, those stones, that river — is that once you have the room of your own, you still have to sit there, in your chair, with your own brain.

Marion Milner doesn’t address Woolf directly in A Life of One’s Own (published in 1933, five years after A Room of One’s Own, and out of print for nearly 30 years until it was recently reissued by Routledge), though there’s the clear reference of her title. But while Woolf worried more about the systematic oppression of women and its impact on their creative integrity, Milner’s struggle takes place within the bounds of her own brain.

Basically, Milner wanted to figure out what she wanted. She starts out thinking it’s a simple question worth an afternoon of introspection, and then quickly figures out that it’s harder than it looks; she’s much better at tricking herself, pleasing other people, obsessing about her hair, and feeling vaguely anxious about nothing in particular. And so, A Life of One’s Own is a document of seven years worth of Milner trying to notice the way her brain works and then messing with it through introspection, automatic writing, annotated lists, thought experiments, and sketches done with her eyes closed. She doesn’t want to be your guide or your guru; she just wants to walk you through her experience, and hopes you may pick up something of interest along the way.

Milner started her project when she was 26, and finished the book at 33. Even though all this took place more than 80 years ago, there’s plenty here for, say, a thoughtful, creative, anxious person in her late 20s to relate to. We know we should know better by now, but we don't.

Okay, I’ll presume: Milner could be you. (And by "you", I guess I mean me.) She doesn't know what she wants, so she takes out a blank piece of paper and writes WANTS in big letters at the top, then comes up with dozens of things, none of which are quite right. Her list, in part:

To think out why I can’t ‘get at people.’

To buy silk stockings I bought the wrong ones.

To make S. think I’m not so innocent as I look in fact, rather a woman of the world did I?

To make love with someone I loved I didn’t because there wasn’t anyone.

She is frustrated with herself; she says things, then takes them back; she can’t keep her thoughts straight:

I’ve discovered where a great part of my thought goes. I was thinking about my new frock and red shoes.

At the Club I wanted T. to be thinking ‘What a charming and interesting-looking girl’ although I hate his voice and face.

So you’ve thought what have you done, a little work, a little vague chat?

I don’t know what I want. I’m a cork bobbing on the tide.

I don’t feel very much like writing down my soul’s adventures.

I liked the smooth roundness of my body in my bath but would like someone else to like it.

She tries to trust — but can't completely — the "still small voice... that tells me in spite of the clatter of the crowd, 'This is ludicrous, absurd,' 'That is stupendous, immense.'"

But what tricky things to track, your thoughts. As soon as you start to look, they change shape or sink back into the murk of your mind, like the blobs in a lava lamp. They don’t fit easily on spreadsheets, something Milner — trained in psychology, surrounded by scientists — struggles with at first. But she found that she "could not afford to ignore" this "private reality, a reality of feeling rather than knowing." This private reality either does not exist or does not matter to "the scientist" (a specter who haunts the book, a judgmental figure in a white coat, frowning), but Milner happily co-opts scientific language and methods for her own uses; the book is full of observations, hypotheses, tests, re-formulations.

As she sums it up in the preface, A Life of One’s Own is her account of her attempt "to manage my life, not according to tradition, or authority, or rational theory, but by experiment." Or, as the haiku-like subhead for chapter one puts it: "Discovering that I have nothing to live by/I decide to study the facts of my life/By this I hope to find out what is true for me."

Some of that experimentation is through language, through the search for the right verbs and metaphors to translate her mind’s movement. It keeps secrets. It noses for crumbs. It spreads its tentacles, or narrows into a focussed beam of light. It behaves like water, a worm, a butterfly, a baby, a room that needs sweeping, beetles skimming the surface of a pond. Her ideas are "strange birds seen in remote marshes."

photo by liz donadio

3

In “On Self-Respect,” Joan Didion looks back at a "dry season" from her own past and "marvel[s] that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor." But isn’t that exactly how it goes? When I'm happy, I'm too busy swimming or kissing or eating cookies to track the topography of my moods; when I’m uncomfortable — mentally, I mean — I poke and poke and poke at my brain as if it were a sore tooth.

Is this what wallowing is? Is this how a person becomes boring — a brain that spends all day chewing on its own misery? Milner finishes her book in London in 1933, as fraught a time as any, but politics don’t enter into her account at all. Milner’s husband, baby, parents, friends, and colleagues barely warrant a mention. A Life of One’s Own is, in its essence, an exercise in self-absorption.

For a while, I liked to pretend that Joan Didion was my spirit animal. If I found myself whining (mentally, I mean), spirit-Joan would slap me hard enough to sting. She did it out of love. Spirit-Joan says: The fastest way to alienate yourself from the world is to let your worry about your worry keep you at arm’s length from everyone you know, even yourself. Worrying about your own boring self-absorption is certainly no way to become more boringly self-absorbed. Spirit-Joan says: Get some self-respect.

While I was reading it, I talked about A Life of One’s Own so much — maybe because I was happy to have something to discuss that wasn’t my own sadness, or maybe because talking about this book was a different way of talking about my own sadness — that three of my friends bought it. Then I started to get nervous. Wasn’t there something kind of Oprah magazine about the whole thing, only made a bit exotic through 80 intervening years and the fact that Milner calls dresses "frocks"? WWJDS (What Would Joan Didion Say)?

I think what I mean is, is it okay to think about yourself this much? What about the rest of the world — its orphans and endangered species and your best friend’s lost cat?

photo by liz donadio

4

Consider the scene near the end of Middlemarch, after our heartbroken heroine, Dorothea, has spent the night crying on the floor, she wakes up calm and goes to the window:

...there was light piercing into the room. She opened her curtains, and looked out towards the bit of road that lay in view, with fields beyond, outside the entrance-gates. On the road there was a man with a bundle on his back and a woman carrying her baby; in the field she could see figures moving perhaps the shepherd with his dog. Far off in the bending sky was the pearly light; and she felt the largeness of the world and the manifold wakings of men to labour and endurance. She was a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining.

And a parallel scene toward the end of A Life of One’s Own: Milner is on a weekend steamer train out of London, feeling conflicted and confused about her professional life, until she’s struck by the half-second image of "a fat old woman in apron and rolled sleeves surveying her grimy back garden from her doorstep."

An educated woman, trapped in her own head, looks out the window of her mansion/steamer train and sees a her poorer, working twin. Both Milner and Dorothea receive the image as something of a knock on the head reminding them of the wider world, with its gardens and babies and chores to get done. Of course, neither Dorothea nor Milner goes on to interact with these working women; instead, they’re just an occasion for epiphany, and the privilege inherent in that is something to save to dwell on on a gloomier day.

The point is, Milner dives into her brain and comes out the other side. Three-quarters of the way through A Life of One’s Own, something changes; other people start to creep in the edges of the narrative. Toward the end of her experiment, Milner is amazed to find that, instead of finding transcendence through nature and solitude — a major theme of the first half of the book — she now "chiefly reckoned each day’s catch of happiness in terms of [her] relationships with others." She marvels in the wordless communion that comes from "spreading myself out towards a person," sharing moods, even in silence. She gets really into sweeping: "I seemed to like it because it was a kind of communication, it expressed my feeling for the house I kept clean and the people who lived in it.” Once she calms down her own mind, other minds start to matter.

Still, how to get there? Ultimately, for me, the most instructive thing in the book isn’t any of Milner’s brain-tricks or explicit revelations; it’s the way the Milner who writes the book (age 33) treats the Milner of the early diary entries and experiments (age 26): with a sort of fond blend of exasperation and empathy. What if we could, for one afternoon, hang out with an older, more chilled out, more self-accepting version of ourselves? I would probably take mine on a long walk and talk about boys and cry. Just like how sometimes I think about time traveling to hang out with my overwrought 20 year-old self, and just brushing her hair and cooking her a big breakfast.

Midway through A Life of One’s Own, Milner experiments with sketching a dragon: "I could not have said at all what it meant, I only knew that I thought it would be fun to have a picture of all that I disliked in myself." Which is a funny idea of fun. But why not? It can be fun to look at your own sadness or anxiety or general mental clumsiness. And it can be fun to come out the other side of it, and look back fondly, and then go out to meet the world.

Rachel Monroe is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is on a commune right now, but usually she lives and works in Baltimore.

Photographs by Liz Donadio.

"Beat For" - Jamie xx (mp3)

"Fog (Jamie xx remix)" - Nosaj Thing (mp3)

"Far Nearer" - Jamie xx (mp3)


Tuesday
Jun072011

In Which Woody Allen Ruins The Left Bank

Without Wonder

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Midnight in Paris
dir. Woody Allen
100 minutes

Midnight in Paris captures the reverberating warmth of the only place in the world that meets all of your expectations by kissing them fondly on both cheeks. As with all places you have never or only rarely been to, the images feel prehistoric, frozen in a time and place well outside of our hectic present.

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) bicker about whether not they should move to Paris. They have just accompanied Inez’s parents on a business trip, and Gil — whose career has been successful and entirely unsatisfying — hopes to find inspiration for his first novel. Inez finds his pipe dreams of living in a Left Bank garret and becoming a novelist completely ludicrous.

Tension only increases when Gil and Inez meet up with some of Inez’s friends, Carol (Nina Arianda) and Paul (Michael Sheen), a pedantic asshole who belittles Gil at every opportunity. None of his companions want anything to do with Gil’s Paris — a city that nursed the creativity of his literary heroes — although they have quite a bit to appreciate about the Paris that can be consumed for the price of a museum ticket.

Inez wanders in and out of antique shops, devours profiteroles in restaurants. Her continual disagreements with Gil color all of their scenes together — even during a kiss, she whispers, “You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?”

One night, while Gil strolls alone through the streets, a group of friendly Parisians invite him into a vintage Peugeot and take him to a party across town, in the 1920s. Believing it to be a costume party, Gil laughs in the face of a very sincere Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), who is pretty enough but definitely not as obnoxious as he probably was in real life.

Within five minutes Gil believes that he has actually traveled back to the Paris of his fantasies and learns that when the Fitzgeralds offer you a drink, it is best not to refuse. Allen gets us to hate Inez quite rapidly because she hates Paris, and who hates Paris? Gil refuses to address the growing problems in his relationship, opting instead to invite his fiancée along on his escape from reality. It is no wonder that Inez cheats on him with Paul, who, unlike Gil, has evolved past a ninth grade reading level.

Owen Wilson is Gil Pender is Woody Allen, the least Woody Allen of all Woody Allens not played by Woody himself. Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) is absolutely ridiculous in every way we would expect Hemingway to be ridiculous, stringing monosyllabic words together in quick succession and going on about how much he wants to fight. Adrien Brody cameos as Salvador Dali. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) seems to like Gil’s novel a little bit more than she actually would have. Midnight in Paris comes off as an overblown English major’s wet dream.

Gil steals Inez’s pearl earrings to give to Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and spends far too much time lying to Inez, whose father has hired a private detective to monitor Gil’s comings and goings. It is all a lot like Match Point, except Gil steals Pablo Picasso’s girlfriend and then he does not have to kill her in the end because she is already dead.

Inez, Adriana, and an alluring little ingénue named Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux) direct Gil’s experience in Paris, over which he progressively loses control. When Gil asks her what she has been up to, Gabrielle smiles and replies, "Dinner with friends."

Allen slowly narrows the scope of his story little by little — from the grandiose lights of the Tower to a string of bulbs hanging in a narrow alley — until it is possible that a world containing Montmartre and La Place de l’Opera should also contain an American screenwriter and his fiancée on a bridge, overlooking the lily pond that in all likelihood engendered the entire Impressionist movement.

Like all Woody Allen doubles, Gil is afraid of death, and we get the impression that settling into a future with Inez will be the end of him. Since settling is inevitable, you might as well settle in the present, where the worst thing that can happen to you is getting caught in the rain.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Breillat's Fat Girl. You can find her website here.

My Favorite Movies

by WOODY ALLEN

When I awake during the night, to quell my existential panic I make lists in my mind. This sometimes helps me fall back asleep. Almost always the lists are of movies - adding and subtracting titles, substituting. My tastes seem to me unremarkable except in the area of talking plot comedies where I seem to have little tolerance for anything and certainly not my own films.

Fifteen of Woody Allen's Favorite American Films In No Particular Order

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Double Indemnity

Shane

Paths of Glory

The Godfather: Part II

Goodfellas

Citizen Kane

White Heat

The Informer

The Hill

The Third Man

Notorious

Shadow of a Doubt

A Streetcar Named Desire

The Maltese Falcon

Twelve of My Favorite European Films And Three Favorite Japanese Films

The Seventh Seal

Rashomon

The Bicycle Thief

The 400 Blows

Grand Illusion

Rules of the Game

Wild Strawberries

8 1/2

Amarcord

Throne of Blood

Cries and Whispers

La Strada

Breathless

The Seven Samurai

Shoeshine

(Note: If we take Citizen Kane from the top list and put it in the second list, this would be my list of the best films ever made.)

Silent comedies are all taken up by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

I put comedies in two categories - comedian's films which can be awful save for the comedian's work and comedy movies that have plots. Of the comedian's films or broader sillier films that I always laugh at are:

Duck Soup

Monkey Business

Horse Feathers

A Night at the Opera

A Day at the Races

Monsieur Beaucaire

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Casanova's Big Night

Airplane!

Of talking plot comedies, I'm hesitant to say my list because my taste is eccentric and there are any number of comedies I love that would make me seem foolish or should I say, foolish in the eyes of the world. Plus there are any number of iconic comedies that never have and never will give me a laugh and I don't like to hurt the feelings of anyone who turns such a tough dollar making screen comedies or even their descendants.

I will admit my list is always topped by The White Sheik, and when I think of American comedies my conviction is that no finer ones exist than Born Yesterday and Trouble in Paradise. Also The Shop Around the Corner is pretty damned good (I get a lot of fishy looks when I tell people I think Born Yesterday is the best all-time American stage comedy but it's the way I feel. A close second is The Front Page, the play.) After the above four, my insomnia list gets dicey for public consumption with a few predictable choices but many very personal ones. Incidentally, my list never includes my own comedies.

From a note to Eric Lax

"United" - Pete and the Pirates (mp3)

"New Year" - FM Belfast (mp3)

"Dreaming" - Seapony (mp3)

The Best of Woody Allen on This Recording:

Emily Gould on Manhattan

Alex Carnevale on Mighty Aphrodite

Pauline Kael on Interiors

Sarah LaBrie on Match Point

Yvonne Georgina Puig on Crimes and Misdemeanors

Tyler Coates on Annie Hall

Julie Klausner on Hannah and Her Sisters

Molly Lambert on Woody's sequels

Joan Didion versus Woody Allen

Karina Wolf on Woody's New York

Durga Chew-Bose on Mariel Hemingway

Monday
Jun062011

In Which The Beetles Will Feed On Your Eyes

Don't Let Me Down

by DICK CHENEY

Everything tends towards catastrophe and collapse. I am interested, geared up and happy. Is it not horrible to be made like this?

- Winston Churchill

There is nothing like the throes of war. When I first heard about the attacks on our country almost ten years ago, I made love to my wife, as I recalled last week. But that is not everything I did. I also told the secret service to get the president into a limousine and load it up with more alcohol than Katy Perry demands backstage at her concerts. (She hates carnations almost as much as I do.) When President Bush found me curled up in a fetal position inside the vehicle, smelling of Pop Tarts and gin, the first thing he said was, "You're pissing me off." Then he smiled and sucked grain alcohol from my belly-button.

HBO recently greenlit a BBC co-production of a World War I drama where the protagonist will be played by one Benedict Cumberbatch. (Scrootenjew Meeperschmidt wasn't available.) If this miniseries also ends up starring Rebecca Hall, I suggest we send the Storm Crows to ravage the BBC offices and demand satisfaction. The British always have funny ideas about war, they always think it's about falling in love like in The English Patient. They're like, "awesome war guys, let's go have consensual sex with the local populace." No. War is more about falling out of love with life and embracing death.

My first White House was Gerald Ford's and whenever we were addressing an overseas conflict he demanded we slip our dicks out into the open air. Don't get me started on my years with President Ford, controlling him was like trying to swordfight with yellow straw. The day we lost to Jimmy Carter I murdered a Canadian black bear. Sure, things went bad, but the below photograph depicts my first Oval Office orgasm.

I can only compare those initial moments of war, the look on the face of your adversary as he considers the prospect of his own demise, to waiting in a doctor's office with the best magazines in the world. Since the only good magazine left in the world is National Geographic and I never see that at my grandkids' pediatrician, it's better to imagine peeling open a shopping catalogue and discovering that anything can be purchased. During the initial phases of the first Gulf War, I demanded a lightsaber one morning and I had it by the afternoon. Carved in a grip of human bone were the words "Dick Maul."

We tore down statues in Iraq because it made a good image for television. I have no idea why Khal Drogo does it when he enslaves entire towns, killing and raping women and children. He already proved his point. There have been great men who enjoy war as much as Khal Drogo seems to, but there is no one who has ever enjoyed saying the word stallion as much as he does. From the looks of it, the populace Drogo enslaves is also quite religious, and their gods resemble the Old Gods of Westeros, perhaps some starfaring race that colonized the planet.

About his experience managing war, Churchill wrote "I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can't help it — I enjoy every second of it." Every delusional warrior demands an adversary as mighty as he imagines himself. Ned Stark may not have the same affection for war as the Lannisters did during Robert's Rebellion, but you can't blame Cersei Lannister for not tying up her loose ends.

Even thousands of pages after the first visit from the King that opens A Game of Thrones, I am not entirely sure why Robert Baratheon goes to visit Winterfell. He had never done it before; he does not recognize the children of his best friend, and he can't look into the face of his friend's wife, who resembled the woman he lost.

The death of Jon Arryn must have guided his actions to some extent, but it is impossible to believe that King Robert lived his entire life siring bastards of brown hair and it never occurred to him to find it strange that none of his children by Cersei Lannister shared that characteristic. If Robert wanted a man loyal to him running the empire, he had better candidates in King's Landing. It seems more likely to me now, given my encyclopedic knowledge of warcraft, that he went to Winterfell to start the war he felt was coming.

The Lannisters hate the North. They hated it during that long overdue visit. They hated it so much they did not bother to be sure of Bran's death before they left. The very chill of winter must have upset them greatly.

Last night we got the first of many chapters in the relationship between Tyrion and his father, and it restored me from the anger I felt during last week's dwarfless episode. There is always a halfman in the middle of a war. He survives longer than his brethren because killing him would be an act of cruelty rather than an act of war. In order to accentuate his weakness, Tyrion uses the full thrust of his vocabulary and diminishes his true capabilities whenever possible, reminding me of how I ensured George W. Bush would be elected by a majority of Americans twice.

The problem with centering a television show around the excitement of war, is that real war is too confusing and complex to portray as anything except riotious, hilarious murder. For over three decades, that fraud Roger Ebert would begin every single review of a Vietnam movie by meaningfully citing Francois Truffaut's maxim that you can't make an anti-war movie because films about that subject make war seem like fantastic fun. He would just reuse this opening whenever a Vietnam movie came out, it started to get kind of weird after awhile, like he had just forgotten and we were supposed to pretend we didn't notice.

As in my own case, Truffaut's early years in the French armed forces consisted of him trying to escape his service. Unlike Jon Snow, the reason for escape from his enlistment was not because he wanted to go off and serve in a different war. He had experienced the first excitement of fighting, but once that passed, he realized that nothing else about the experience would be so great.

The first part of anything is the only part worth holding onto. The first time you ask Francis Fukuyama to lie for the sake of his country is the best time. The first minutes of eating a Frosty is a decadent pleasure, the rest recycles past guilt and shame with each wet bite. The first time keying David Frum's Oldsmobile and telling him you saw Puerto Ricans do it is the only time that matters. A chess move only counts with a victim.

I can't even feel bad for Sansa Stark. Arya, at least, is abandoned to the King's Highway. Ned Stark rots in a dungeon. Syrio Forel never dies. Renley Baratheon forces another guy to shave his chest with butter. Robert Baratheon hunts a boar, somewhere. Sansa is held up as an ideal in a time without any, and to watch her naivete fade stirs a warm excretion in my heart. She will never be higher than before she is forced to fall. 

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find last week's Game of Thrones recap here.

"Dead Or In Serious Trouble" - Kaiser Chiefs (mp3)

"Heard It Break" - Kaiser Chiefs (mp3)

"I Dare You" - Kaiser Chiefs (mp3)