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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Jul102014

In Which Dorothy Thompson Could Not Forget Vienna

The Potent Man

by ALEX CARNEVALE

They say it's dead, but for me better the corpse of Vienna than any other place.

The sight of Sinclair Lewis sober was extremely rare. His wife, the writer Dorothy Thompson, had to rely on Vienna's key strength to ressurect her husband from his hangovers: coffee. "Coffee in Vienna is more than a national drink," she wrote. "It is a national cult. Palaces have been built for it: palaces where there are satin-brocaded walls, deep divans, onyx-topped tables, great windows curtained in gold-colored silk. These palaces are center of Vienna's most perfected cultures." Every cafe in town was an institution in itself, "sometimes a club, sometimes an office, sometimes just restaurant, but always full of life, atmosphere, and - smoke."

Vienna's black marketers gravitated towards the Cafe Atlantis, across from the Imperial Hotel. The Lewis' apartment was not far from there. Christmas in Vienna in 1933 might have been a sedate affair had it not been for Dorothy's parties. It was there she felt a final distance in her marriage and realized she was in love with one of her guests: a German artist and writer named Christa Winsloe.

It was Dorothy's third lesbian infatuation. She wrote in her journal, "It has happened to me again, after all these years. It has only, really, happened to me once before." There were aspects of women that she missed in her messier relationships with men, and probably ones she never wrote down. What she would say was that women had softer mouths, and that sex was like, "being made love to by an impotent man."

Dorothy saw the relationship that Christa had with her ex-husband. As she saw, what they shared was as close to loving as a lesbian woman could have with a man. "For two divorced people," Thompson would say later, "they are the most married couple I have ever seen."

Christa Winsloe

It was a fight between the two ex-marrieds that precipated Dorothy's entrance into Christa's life. Christa and her ex had fought on New Year's Eve, driving her into Dorothy's arms. They talked for hours. "We kissed each other and she called me 'liebling' and said 'I will write to you and telephone, and you will not get rid of me.' And I felt full of beatitude." Dorothy checked her enthusiasm for the young relationship at the door, trying to convince herself she would be happy to have simple friendship with Christa.

Her own marriage was getting worse at the same time. Lewis' drinking had worsened, and although his wife was pregnant, he did not treat her any more sensitively. She practiced ice skating in order to prevent weight gain from the pregnancy. One night she came home to find Lewis had wrecked the apartment in a drunken rage, destroying all the rented furniture. He hit her for the first time in their entire marriage when she objected.

posing for a bust

For her, this was the last straw, although Lewis still tried to reunite with his wife, writing, "You seem to me in my mad life my one refuge and security. You see, I don't care a damn - not anymore at least - for fame and all those amiable experiences, but only (and this is a not-too-easy contradiction) for you and Mickey on the one hand, and Freedom (whatever that empty thing may be) on the other." A geographical separation made the two feel a deeper alienation, constituting a second violence. (Lewis had relocated to London while Dorothy wrapped up their affairs at their summer home in Vienna.) Just before leaving Vienna, she also lost her pregnancy.

with her son Michael

She pretended to forgive Lewis, but instead of returning to London, she took the train to Berlin to report on the rise of Nazism. Fleeing that damned place, she moved to Portofino with Christa and a gay butler named Giovanni. She kept her husband apprised of her living situation, informing him that the Italian manservant "does everything but our hair." She also told him how "terribly funny it is sharing a house with another woman."

Much later he would call her to tell her the news: this tendentious alcoholic was the recipient of the Nobel Prize. "Oh have you!" Dorothy responded. "Well, I have the Order of the Garter!"

The initial attraction between Sinclair Lewis and Dorothy Thompson had always been a bit of a longshot. Lewis' friends called him Red; he was losing that hair, and precancerous lesions from acne dotted his visage. According to her, he looked like he had "survived a battle with flamethrowers." The day her divorce became final she invited him over for dinner.

As soon as they were married and things started to go sour, Thompson began looking outside of her marriage for what the man inside it could not provide. She entertained her guests at the Austrian villa where she and Lewis spent their weekends. She kept meticulous, anonymous notebooks on the activities of her and her lovers. One reads

I went for a walk with E. and in the woods he turned suddenly and put both hands on my cheeks and we clung together. His mouth tasted deliciously of love, like the smell of semen, and I could have lain down with him right there in the woods then and there as I could have done for five years, except that we agreed that we wouldn't.

As she got older, the affairs turned into even more questioning events. Lewis would come home drunk and strike their son, only inspiring a new round of "What does it all mean?" Household staff could only watch in shock as the couple's bitter arguments went from room to room.

Their son Michael's nurse observed to Dorothy that "he worshipped the ground you walked on. When he heard you were coming home from a trip he would send for the barber to shave him, insist that all his clothes should be in apple-pie order, dress as though he were going to court. And then, often you'd hardly be in the house, when he'd start a quarrel, and then, as likely as not, he'd call the car and leave the next morning."

Dorothy's affair with Christa Winsloe ended when Christa fell in love with a man, an Italian basso named Ezio Pinza who she had seen perform in Salzburg. She tried to reassure Dorothy that this was only a passing infatuation, but Thompson realized Christa had become another person who no longer knew how to return her feelings. She wrote,

Like all love I wonder now if it was ever there. Oh, yes, it was there, but didn't all the threads run from me to you, and none really run back? You will not answer me, not help me, perhaps only because you do not want to hurt me. I write with my eyes full of tears, and my heart full of tears, and I wish they flowed because of someone else, because then perhaps you would comfort me. Or would you? Why is it that one's own love can sustain one for so long without any reciprocity, and then, suddenly, it can't anymore?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Dreaming a City (Hugheskova) (Demo)" - Manic Street Preachers (mp3)

"Between the Clock and the Bed (Demo)" - Manic Street Preachers (mp3)

Wednesday
Jul092014

In Which We Assume This Will Be Hell To Clarify

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

Lately I have been getting into a lot of fights with my mom about my boyfriend Tim. Even though Tim and I live together in an apartment about twenty minutes away from my Mom's house, she frequently asks him to come over to help her out with tasks around the house. The chores are menial but I resent that she feels she can occupy his time. He feels he can't say no to her but is far from eager to pitch in.

There is another complication to my problem. My dad left when I was four after cheating regularly on my mom. My mom likes and appreciates Tim, but she also continues to encourage me to monitor his comings and goings so that the same thing doesn't happen to me. It makes me paranoid and sometimes I find myself wondering. I've explained this to Tim and he says he doesn't find it out of the ordinary, but I'm worried these two things will drive him far away - possibly to Alaska or the former Soviet Union. How do I handle this ticklish sitch?

Lake T.

 

Dear Lake,

At first it may seem like these are really two separate problems, each requiring their own unique solution. In reality, one complements the other quite well. If your mother actually believes Tim is cheating on you, she will stop asking him to help out around the house.

Maybe you're not comfortable lying to your mom about Tim's "fucking around." After all, she raised you, presumably by herself. Why not be vague and say that you and Tim have been having some problems. When she asks what kind of problems, you must select the only problem that couples have that no one would ever want to get involved with, even your mom: religion. Inform your mom that Tim really doesn't mind helping her, but because of these problems it's hurtful to you to have him spending time there when you need your space. Cry during this, and if the moment strikes you, weep. I once saw a friend sob like a baby while simultaneously sucking fluid from a juicebox full of Juicy Juice. I assure you I never was able to forget it.

Hey,

My friend Judy is a lovely little thing. Her one problem is that she tends to get a little fresh with the guys right away. She rags on them about voting for Obama and loving Christian Dior. Guys that meet her say she seems to operate on her own orbit. As a result, it feels like they don't get to know the real Judy. How can I tell her to tone it down a smidge when you are first getting to know someone?

Virginia M.

Dear Virginia,

Men love charismatic women, so I can only assume Judy's behavior borders on extremely inappropriate. I had a Pekinese who was like that and suffice it to say she later became the star of All Dogs Go To Heaven.

To correct a dog's behavior, it is only necessary to offer some trifling reward. You must do the same with Judy. You say she has trouble making a first impression. Find a man who can last a bit beyond that. When he is unable to tolerate her, you will know to get a new friend. If he tolerates her, then your problem is likely solved.

It's also possible that Judy doesn't need your help. Operating in your own orbit is hardly the worst thing you can do. Think of Luna Lovegood

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"I Don't Want To Be Your Mother" - Rachael Yamagata (mp3)

"Miles On A Car" - Rachael Yamagata (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Jul082014

In Which This Was Made Largely For China And To Hurt Megan Fox's Feelings

Cavities

by DICK CHENEY

Transformers: Age of Extinction
dir. Michael Bay
165 minutes

I don't throw the word genius around a lot, unless someone is washing my feet or my car. We have long needed an American director who was absolutely fearless, and now we have found him. Michael Bay is willing to destroy his actors to get what he wants onscreen. What exactly is Michael Bay's heart's desire? He wanted to make a movie about a love triangle between a father, his daughter and her Australian boyfriend.

In this he succeeded with Transformers: Age of Extinction. Mark Wahlberg's daughter informs us that she has been "taking care" of Marky Mark since his wife passed. (A robot winks meaningfully after that.) It is a poor choice of words at best, a mild and innocuous felony at worst. Unfortunately, Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) had to die:

This is actually how Natalie Wood died IMO

The lifespan of women in Transformers is limited in the extreme. They get tired and fatigued from running and screaming for help, and heart disease claims them in the end. Megan Fox has actually been dead for over a decade. In the last Transformers movie, which I believe was subtitled Transformers: My Pea Is Your Pod, Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf perished in the warmth of Optimus Prime's nasal cavity, requiring this reboot.

Not a single person from any of those previous Transformers movies is even peripherally involved in Age of Extinction, but all of the characters still talk the exact same.

Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) owns a fledgling robotics company that has not produced a single working robot. When he meets Optimus Prime (Christian Bale), he immediately begins planning to steal the alien technology and use it for his own nefarious means. His household is "under control", because after his wife died, he prohibited both himself and his daughter from ever dating, which I believe is both illegal and extremely creepy unless you're Indian.

She couldn't even get a flirtatious moment with Mark Wahlberg? Racist.

Because Transformers is way more successful outside of America, Bay has included a variety of token ethnicities. After the blowback from his ghetto Transformers incident from the NAACP (they later honored him with a lifetime achievement award) Mr. Bay has steered clear of including any black characters in the entire movie. There is not even an African-American dinosaur robot

Instead, Bay really appreciates Asian audiences. That's why he has included a female executive (Li Bingbing) in Age of Extinction, who Stanley Tucci regards as "extremely impressive." Naturally, even though she is his subordinate, he hits on her throughout the film and eventually she seems open to his disgusting advances. (How do you think Michael Bay obtained children?)

There is also a Samurai transformer who appears to be attired like the cover of a Midwestern edition of The Art of War. His accent is so unbelievably sinister and racist that it makes Aunt Jemima look progressive, (Unfortunately, I learned this is Ken Watanabe's actual accent. Sorry Ken.)

I can't feel sympathy for the pricks who tow cars. I really can't this time you guys.

Inside of every Transformer is the life force known as the spark; "we cah that a soul" Wahlberg bleats. In a massive alien ship he finds special transformer killing guns and turns into Rambo.  Cade sends his daughter away but she comes back to fight on the side of the good robots. Kelsey Grammar tries to have the daughter gunned down for no real reason by the evil island spirit on Lost and Mark Wahlberg is like, "Ya tried to kull my dawghter." I miss Dr. Frasier Crane.

The dinosaur part of the story goes something like this: the transformers killed the dinosaurs. The only reason they offered is because they have a less than respectful view of the artistic aspects of The Land Before Time. Mark Wahlberg acts like he would rather be anywhere, showcasing an intense contempt for the man he is portraying. Incidentally "Cade" is a very difficult word for a robot to say, and Optimus Prime goes out of his way not to utter Cade's name so as not to confuse his ethnic Autobots.

Mr. Bay, remember that time you gave that extra brain damage as you screaming, "Autobots Assemble" at her while dressed like Nick Fury?

Even though Cade's daughter Tessa is only 17, she has developed an intense emotional connection with a race car driver. God knows what they have in common or where they met, but it's up to this fellow to prove his worthiness to the girl's father. This disturbing wooing of permission is not only deeply retrograde and sexist, it occurs during a car chase.

The action culminates in nothing very exciting. The last film ended with a set piece that destroyed the city of Chicago, which was at least therapeutic. Age of Extinction concludes suddenly after one of the robots is destroyed; I believe the robot's name was Gastroenteritistron. He wanted to bring Optimus back to his "creator," which is probably Morgan Freeman in a suit if the last ten years of cinema is any indication.

There was no one with brown eyes in this entire movie, it was like a 21st century 'Triumph of the Will'

In the end, Optimus decides he is really very sick of humanity, and would do anything he could to get away from them. He watched his Autobot friends hacked and divested of their Happy Meals and metal belongings, and in doing so he witnessed the destruction of his entire way of life. Age of Extinction had the largest ever opening in China. Every invading culture is quietly subsumed and irrevocably altered by the victims it claims.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location who misses Hot Pie.

"If The Morning Comes" - Transfer (mp3)

"We Don't Have To Be Nice Anymore" - Transfer (mp3)