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Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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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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Monday
Aug072017

In Which Wim Wenders And Sam Shepard Begin To Understand Each Other

The Irredeemable World

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Don't Come Knocking
dir. Wim Wenders
122 minutes

Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard's 1984 film Paris, Texas runs 147 long minutes. The central performance, by Harry Dean Stanton, is quite breathtaking in its solipsism, and the movie includes many of Wenders' signature shots of the harsh environment of the American West with which he fell in love. Like any film by Mr. Wenders, you have to wait a good hour to decide exactly how much up its own ass this production will end up being. His collaboration with Sam Shepard, then, seemed so unlikely precisely because the playwright got through to what actual people wanted and desired so much more organically than Wenders ever did.

If you could not tell, I was never the biggest fan of Paris, Texas, although it is a gorgeous and moving film. Wenders and Shepard finally reunited to atone for the sins of the past with 2005's Don't Come Knocking, which is substantially better in every way. Let me tell you why.

First of all, there is the matter of Sam Shepard's performance as the titular character, a vain and stupid actor named Howard Spence. Besides Harold Pinter, there probably has never been a playwright who was as good on film as Shepard, who is now no longer with us. Shepard was a genius for the stage; I mean he just knew exactly how everything should be played, but the amazing thing is he never wrote this in his scripts. His plays are all meant for the actors to do as they will, which is funny because he knew better than anyone how many bad actors there were after decades in the theater.

Buried Child was probably Shepard's best ever play, but 1980's True West was his broadest story and will probably end up his most well-known effort. The only Shepard play I ever saw live was Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly switching the main roles of True West, which kind of never made sense to me, even though they were both very good at it. The idea was it kept the concept of the two brothers fresh, and the actors enjoyed it. When I went to see True West at the Circle on the Square, Bruce Willis was sitting across from me, because he was doing True West on Showtime, maybe the worst version ever done of the play. He was horrified by what he was seeing, probably because he knew the role did not suit him.

The best part of True West and every Shepard play is the language. He knew exactly how people talked, and his characters did not talk the same. This was not David Mamet where it turned into this weird omnipoetic thing or Suzan Lori-Parks where the language overwhelmed everything and became more like a chorus. This was people and how the main fact of their speech patterns indicated their desires, ambitions, and flaws.

In Don't Come Knocking, he takes on this very slight, often drunken man who walks off the set of a Western he is filming in Utah. The first thing Howard Spence does after he escapes is go visit his mother (Eva Marie Saint). That's one of the things I enjoy most about Don't Come Knocking. His mother picks him up at the bus station, she has a couple scenes with him after that, and then he just goes on his way.

Howard heads to the Montana metropolis he passed through while he was working on another film. While he was there, he impregnated a waitress named Doreen (Jessica Lange) who he kind of had a thing for. He wants to get back to that, even though twenty years have passed. In Don't Come Knocking, she never takes him back, because this is not a Hollywood movie, thank God, it is a Sam Shepard play only with better sets, if not actors.

In that town of Butte is a woman named Sky (Sarah Polley). Sky recently lost her mother, and she carries the woman's ashes around in an urn. It was clear then that Polley was a dynamic talent, and her mere presence in Don't Come Knocking is completely overwhelming. Shepard has this great scene where he meets her and at first he thinks she's a fan, and even after she convinces him that she is not one, he still warms to her slowly. When you've been hurt the thing you learn is how dumb it is to trust someone in those first five minutes.

Sutter (Tim Roth) is an insurance man sent to bring Howard Spence back to the set by any means necessary. When he finally finds Howard, he handcuffs them together. This is such a Shepard thing, and it is a great onstage conceit in general. Roth has always been terrific when it comes to bringing a basic humanism to every kind of role, even that of the traditional antagonist. But as in many Shepard plays, the true antagonist is far more difficult to discern.

Shepard and Jessica Lange, his one-time wife, have this supercharged scene that takes place as they are walking through the main drag of the town. In this sequence, Wenders works considerable magic with windows and reflections, and the dialogue is so completely right for how people who know each other a little, but not a lot, make sense out of the conflict intrinsic to their lives.

Howard Spence knows that he has a son named Earl (Gabriel Mann) this entire time, and he goes to see him. Earl responds by throwing all of his own belongings out of his window onto the street and breaking up with his girlfriend Amber (Fairuza Balk). She sticks around anyway, sensing that this difficult moment is not really about her.

Polley is phenomenal in her scenes with Shepard, but she interacts with her potential stepbrother even better. in both circumstances she glows with a vital radiance all the other participants in Don't Come Knocking are so keen to recapture. We never do find out if Sky is actually Howard Spence's daughter, and it is implied that she is probably not. But that actually only improves things for Howard Spence, because he finds it easier to love someone he never was told he had to be responsible for than his actual son. In typical fashion for this great American author, one form of love ends up being a bridge, the only true path, to the other.

In every narrative, the idea is that by the end something has to change. Shepard gave this rule of stage a clever and brutal twist. He conceived of the idea that people could try to evolve, but nothing could actually change them - not dialogue, not action, not violence, not death - they could only react to it unconsciously, like putting on a winter coat to repel a cool breeze. Things were altered, but not necessarily what was needed.

The most redemption Howard Spence receives is a soft hug. This is not only enough for him, it is beyond his wildest expectations. Years and years of loneliness change what gives us pleasure; the merest thought of those we truly care for, not the return of the affection, can provide solace. It is enough to see and be around those we love.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Friday
Aug042017

In Which We Move Our Base Of Operations

Credit Where It Is Due

by ELEANOR MORROW

Ozark
creators Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams
Netflix

Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) has perfected the art of the diet, and here is his secret. He never eats, not once in Ozark, but there is a good reason for this. He never sleeps either, which is maybe the easiest weapon Americans have against obesity. He can't feasibly do either of these things, because he is very afraid of his employer, a Mexican drug dealer named Del (Esai Morales).

His wife Wendy (Laura Linney) becomes aware of this situation relatively early on in Ozark. Quite naively, she attempts to empty their joint checking account and bail on her husband with about $30,000. (She also counts on the financial support of a lover who is later out of the picture.) Linney and Bateman have very little in the way of sexual chemistry, but that is no problem, because once Marty finds out about his wife's move against him, he dissolves their marriage in favor of a financial partnership intended to raise their two children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skyler Gaertner).

Everything in Ozark is generally gloamed in a somewhat annoying blue light, but not even less than stellar cinematography can take away the charm of this Missouri region. The Byrdes are forced to relocate out of Chicago because of a long monologue in which Marty saves himself from a bullet in the head, and they could not have selected a more lovely place. Wendy is designated with the task of finding the nuclear family an inexpensive home to house their belongings, and she chooses a gorgeous mansion directly on the water.

It is there that Marty spends a lot of time observing his children. He no longer has a day-to-day straight job that keeps him away from his kids. On an impulse, Wendy informs the teenagers that their father launders money for a living, and they generally take this news in good humor. During an extensive voiceover where Marty explains how tarnished cash can be magically transformed into useful assets, he makes it seem like the violent and evil business of which he is such a massive part is no more than the actions of a typical accountant.

In fact, Ozark does a great deal to convince its audience that this family is has only been placed in an untenable situation. Early on, an FBI agent named Trevor (McKinley Belcher III) oftens Marty immunity against prosecution from the government. This is a pretty heady possibility, since Marty seems to know very little of his boss' operation and basically only has $8 million in three suitcases that indicates he is on the other side of the law.

Watching him work that $8m is the primary fun of Ozark. He quickly employs a mendacious local woman, Ruth Langmore (the astonishingly talented Julia Garner), to rob a local strip club for him, and watching him interact with people who lack the income and power to resist the charms of his financial acumen is terribly enjoyable. Bateman has always been a disciplined and engaging actor, and this role, where all his comedy is bound up in verboseness without turning that way of speaking into something silly, suits him completely.

Linney has a somewhat broader challenge here, because she is the most unsympathetic member of the family with the least realistic character. Unsurprisingly, she turns Wendy into a much more multifaceted person than is ever evident in Bill Dubuque's fast-paced, thrilling scripts for Ozark. Watching her work as a local realtor is perhaps too familiar of storyline, but on the plus side, it allows us to see the local poverty from a unique vantage.

Netflix has been missing on so many of its original offerings lately, that it is exciting to see something of Ozark's quality emerge onto the scene. Sadly, enduring repeated seasons of this milieu would probably be more trial than godsend. There is a fun, brisk comedy to this fish-out-of-water story that keeps us engaged in the action. The second the heat falls down and lingers on any of the stiffer characters, we feel considerably more bored. There is not really too much depth to this Breaking Bad-clone, but that is all right.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Wednesday
Aug022017

In Which We Pretend That It Never Happened

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.

Hi,

I know that no one is perfect, but bad puns really bother me. I guess even more so when they are not actually puns and more like metaphorical descriptions of my boyfriend's own invention. I have told him that I do not want to hear about his penis meadow or anything "humorous" about his balls. It's not that the subject itself grosses me out, and testicular cancer is a leading cause of death among young bros. 

It's more just his entire way of speaking has started to get on my nerves. We have been together more than two years and I know I should not let these niggling, trifling aspects of our relationship bother me. Is this indicative of a broader problem or am I simply nitpicking/blowing this way out of proportion?

Jana L.

Jana,

It is easy to get on someone's nerves when you know them pretty well. At some point you gave your boyfriend a response to this behavior that he liked, even if that is not at all what you were trying to indicate. 

Since this is a problem with a simple solution, you need to approach it in the same way. Obviously you need a way to seriously communicate with him that this is unacceptable and potentially un-American. Sit him down like you are going to break up with him, and then reveal the situation. He will do anything you say after that.

Hi,

In the wake of my recent breakup, I have had a really hard time meeting people. It is very difficult to tell whether a guy is looking for something serious or not, and I find myself becoming more withdrawn – this is not the kind of person that I am, and I sense it is not super attractive when combined with the fact I sometimes bring up my ex or seem cynical about relationships. I don't want to be like this, but questions about why I am dating online seem to come up no matter what I do. 

The larger problem is that I seem to be either moving things too slowly, or not giving off the right vibe to find a relationship. Do you have any tips for this?

Moana C.

Dear Moana,

I have tips for everything, even great lunches you can give kids. 

You have to demand the best from potential partners. If you do not, or excuse them for things, they will either identify you as not a romantic option, or learn that they can treat you however they want. Let me tell you a quick story about my friend Laura. Laura was dating a guy and he stood her up one time. He had an excuse, but I don't remember what it was, but it sounded flimsy as fuck. She really liked him so she pretended it didn't happen and accepted his apology. Two weeks later he was killed in a car accident. 

Did you like the twist ending? If someone isn't treating you the way you want to be treated, you should tell them. The fact that they may not know you very well is all the more reason to set up those boundaries now. 

At the same time, it is important to push the momentum of a new relationship. If you like someone, you should want to spend a fair amount of time with them. Such activities not only leave a distinct impression on men, but they reveal a whole heck of a lot – like if he is texting other girls, or as he probably refers to them, possibles.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.