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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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Friday
Sep162016

In Which We Have Always Been An Extremely Wealthy Orphan

How Did You Survive?

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Handmaiden
dir. Chan-wook Park
144 minutes

Things start to become complicated for Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-Ri) when she is giving the mistress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) she serves as a maid a bath. In order to pacify her patron during the slow process of cleaning her body, she offers Lady Hideko a lollipop. Hideko complains of a tooth in her mouth, and in the minutes-long scene that follows, Sook-Hee inserts her thumb in and out of Hideko's jaw to smooth the sharp tooth with a scraper.

Legendary South Korean director Chan-wook Park is known for moments like these — those which could be played for laughs, but instead fall into a grey area where they become absorbing as actual moments. In his masterpiece Oldboy there is a scene where the protagonist eats a live octopus that is similarly wild without becoming amusing. There are many humorous moments in his adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith, but the core relationship between a woman and her servant is never treated with anything but the utmost seriousness.

Chan-wook Park decided to make a Hollywood film with 2013's Stoker. Written by Wentworth Miller, the resulting picture was about as silly as his South Korean noirs, and watching international actors in his familiar style was great fun. Sadly the movie, which starred Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska among others, never achieved nearly the audience it should have. 

The Handmaiden gives Park a more heady eroticism to work around. He is the master of how audio cues alarm and excite us, and watching two pert Korean women share a bed becomes a cacophony of swells, sucking, and other substantial sounds. Sook-Hee's job to is convince Lady Hideko to marry a fellow con-artist so that he can commit her to an insane asylum and the two can make off with all their money.

Naturally, Sook-Hee and Hideko fall in love. The art direction by frequent collaborator Ryu Seong-hie frames every scene of The Handmaiden perfectly. Despite being shot mainly on one Japanese estate like Stoker, even interiors retain their complicated composition without becoming overly busy. Sook-Hee meets with her collaborator under spare branches that frame an endless walking path. As in most of Park's work, the aesthetic composition of someone's surroundings tends to reflect whatever inner struggle dogs them.

The two con-artists and their mark spend the summer in a Japanese bungalow far above a lush jungle. As Count Fujiwara, Jung-Woo Ha is the Korean Peter Sellers — completely serious in one moment and mugging for Sook-Hee the next. Park turns even the slow pace of a novel meant to ape a Victorian one into a plot that spins forward so quickly we feel like the mark ourselves.

Oldboy was a Korean film based on a popular Japanese manga about a drunk who is imprisoned for fifteen years in a private prison without knowing why. Spike Lee remade the film with Josh Brolin for some reason and it was a tremendous bomb. Lee's remake was stylistically very fun, but perhaps too dedicated to Park's original to truly feel like its own story. In both versions of the tale, the best part occurs during the main character's imprisonment, when he feels hatred as well as an absurd wonder for his own unexpected plight.

There is a long sequence in The Handmaiden explaining the elaborate backstory of Lady Hideko that feels much like this. As a young girl, Hideko is made to serve her uncle, who is a character sort of akin to Count Rugen in The Princess Bride. Hideko's aunt and carer hangs herself from a cherry blossom tree, and even in a lavish house, Hideko feels much like Oh Dae-Su in Oldboy. Park cycles through a litany of familiar Japanese imagery to identify the various sexual proclivities which comprise a corrupting element. This culminates in an unforgettable scene where Hideko is entangled with a wooden dummy while suspended in the air. She is the focus of a general, universal desire. "I could perish happily knowing that I tasted you," Sook-hee admits to her at one point before scissoring.

The Handmaiden is, however, missing the discursiveness that Oldboy embraced at times: the sense that one subject might relate to each other more by association than it ever could directly. Instead it is tightly wrapped around itself, repeating scenes and moments from different perspectives until we understand them in a completely new way each time. This approach gives The Handmaiden the deepening qualities of the best fiction, and gives the story a texture it never achieved in any other form. The truth comes undone like a tightly woven braid.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Thursday
Sep152016

In Which We Decide To Become An Actress Living In Los Angeles

Afternoon Audition

by ELEANOR MORROW

Loosely Exactly Nicole
creators Christian Lander & Christine Zander
MTV

Better Things
creators Louis CK & Pamela Adlon
FX

Every single person faces the prospect of reincarnation. When we emerge into our second lives, we live either in Van Nuys or Silverlake and go to endless, disappointing auditions. Such is the subject of two new television series, FX's Better Things and MTV's Loosely Exactly Nicole.

The latter features a ubiquitous presence on MTV of late, comedian Nicole Byer. It is not hard to figure out why the network is so high on her, since Byer is probably the most charismatic performer they have by leaps and bounds. Loosely Exactly Nicole details her life with roommate Devin (Jacob Wysocki), a massive gay man who has a natural rivalry with Nicole's other best friend Veronica (fellow standup Jen D'Angelo).

The three of them spend a very serious amount of time talking about men, but it is all talk: even though Nicole's boyfriend Derrick (Kevin Bigley) features on occasion, he is more just a stationary penis for Nicole to ride during the evenings. During the day, she is a nanny for a Taiwanese kid (Ian Chen), who she takes to her auditions if it seems absolutely necessary.

Loosely Exactly Nicole is the first show to make life in Los Angeles seem the least bit bearable. At times the production seems like it occurs in a series of parking lots; even the scenic park where Devin goes to reunite with a standard-looking white guy from his past looks like dogshit. This seems a conscious choice to make Nicole stand out even more from the world around her. It turns this MTV series into an inspiration, aspirational project for young people: simply by being fabulous you can ascend above your shitty surroundings, wherever they may be.

Nicole goes on various tinder dates since her thing with Derrick is more of a friends-with-benefits type situation. On one such meet-up, the white man informs her not to get another drink unless she plans to sleep with him. (He had spent too much money this week.) This is the most agency any straight white man shows on Loosely Exactly Nicole; this species is basically a blank canvas for Devin, Veronica and Nicole to project themselves onto at intervals.

Despite a relatively memorable physical form, Byer is so much more of a chameleon than you would think. One episode has her changing hairstyles, and it takes this small cosmetic change to show off what astonishing range she truly has as an actress. The writing on Loosely Exactly Nicole never lets her down: it is consistently hysterical. Watching Amy Schumer after watching this turns Amy into a parody of itself, since all of Byer's sex commentary is so much dirtier and true-to-life. It will be very difficult for a stronger comedy to emerge from this fall season of television.

Better Things, the apology project from Louis CK after he masturbated in front of all those women, does not benefit from this comparison. Pamela Adlon plays herself as Sam, a Los Angeles-based voice and television actress who unlike Nicole Byer lives in a beautiful home with her wonderful children. It is pretty unclear why Adlon is so unhappy. If she actually had to lead Nicole Byer's life, my guess is that she would drown herself in the La Brea tar pits.

It made sense when Louie was whiny and annoying since the theme of his show was what an entitled prick he was to everyone in his life, at all times. Adlon has a similar perspective on her life, except we are supposed to sympathize with her completely. Louie was also painfully short on actual love stories and geniune connections with people. Better Things features Pamela Adlon obssessing over a guy from her past who texts her that he is thinking about her:

This eerie anxiety when the ellipsis indicate the other party is typing on their iPhone is the kind of soft touch Adlon & CK bring to some of Better Things' more intimate moments. The show falters the most when brings Adlon into broader, showbiz comedy, like a scene where Bradley Whitford performs fake cunnilingus on her. That sketch falls so flat that it makes me wonder whether the half-hour format really suits what they were trying to do here.

Better Things is so much less interesting when Adlon not-so-hilariously fuming at the clerk in a drugstore or complaining about the teacher of her children. Sam's three daughters are very young, with her oldest, Max (Mikey Madison), just entering her teen years. Max asks her mother to get her pot, a suggestion which is met with complete disdain and utter rejection, even though it is honestly didn't seem that crazy 20 years ago, let alone now, for a kid whose mother is an actress living in this house:

Adlon's actual ex-husband lives in Germany and does not have much of a relationship with his children. We get some sense of how isolating that is for her, and yet the real Pamela Adlon seems like so much more of a happy person than Sam. When it is most predictable, Better Things feels like a televised spin-off of Bad Moms, even though Adlon does not really do anything very questionable with or around her children. She is mostly just sad, depressed and exhausted. It is maybe not the best sign for a comedy that it is most compelling without the jokes.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

Wednesday
Sep142016

In Which We Behave At The Expense Of Culture And Class

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,

My boyfriend Davis served a short prison term from 2011-2012. He was incarcerated because of a drunk driving incident where he harmed another driver.

Davis and I have been talking about possibly getting engaged in the next year. My question is whether you think I should mention any of this to my family before or after the engagement/wedding?

Mallie R.

Dear Mallie,

It is impossible to keep such a thing a secret if you are going to include Davis as part of your family. It is going to come out at some point, e.g. when his prison buddies show up to take you hostage demanding liters of your blood or Jim Beam.

The key is to present this information to your family in the correct way. That correct way includes while Davis is performing some relevant community service, like ladling out soup at a kitchen, counseling young individuals on the error of his ways, or cunnilingus. Let your family know that Davis is a changed man. I assume he gives speeches for a modest rate as a part of his rehabilitation? OK, see ya.

Hi, 

After my freshman year of college, I feel like all the people I met there are so much more like me. It is difficult to go back to my high school friends. The subjects they talk about seem rote in comparison, and all they want to do is smoke pot, play video games and gossip about things that frankly do not matter much to me anymore.

Is there any graceful way to get out of this or hang out with them without wanting to tear my hair out?

Karen B.

Dear Karen,

Becoming educated means that everything you once enjoyed will now taste and smell like shit. You will never be able to enjoy your high school friends as you once did. They are lost to you, as is the music of Kelly Clarkson, the thrill of Orange Julius, and anything purchased from Urban Outfitters.

It is on you to uplift your old friends. Take them to see art and music: perhaps a production of It's A Wonderful Life staged by a local regional theater might lead them to realize what silly dodos they are being. They need to love each other, but not at the expense of culture and class. Explain why every painter since 1891 was a total asshole. They will be unable to find out such information on wikipedia; perhaps they do not even know what wikipedia is? You must show them.

Hi

My fiance and I recently went on a cruise to the Bahamas. While we there I noticed him looking at other women and their bodies quite often. I don't say I have never noticed him doing this before, but the extent of it was troubling. I worry that this means I'm not good enough for him or that he has a wandering eye. Do you think I should be concerned?

Jennifer D.

Dear Jennifer,

The vast majority of men think they are in a novel checking out the women that mar their vision of the world. Each time a female enters their field of vision, they have no choice but to observe her, to take in all that she is and wonder, 'Would I be a happier individual if she was my everything?" It's gross.

Men need to feel they are slightly viable to other women, that they are not simply an emasculated husk of penis parts. By noticing women they wish the object of their attention to return the favor of a momentary appraisal. Then they can reject the advances: I already have one of your kind, but thank you for noticing my mere existence.

You might ask yourself if this simple interplay is necessary. At least he feels comfortable existing in your presence.