Quantcast

Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

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

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.
Thursday
Nov172011

In Which God Generally Likes To Watch

Black Furniture

by JESSICA FERRI

The Devil's Advocate
dir. Taylor Hackford
144 minutes

Are you a really good lawyer or is your dad just the devil? This is the type of question that plagued our minds in the 90s. The Devil's Advocate is a genuinely disturbing film — Keanu Reeves moves his face more in this movie than any other he's made.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a Florida prosecutor turned defense attorney who has never lost a case in his life. After he gets a pedophile off scot-free (even though he knows he's guilty), the Devil himself takes notice and sends a minion to hire Lomax and bring him and his wife (Charlize Theron) to New York. Because, obviously, if Lucifer went into business he would be a high-powered lawyer in Manhattan. He explains, "the law is everywhere."

The struggle between good and evil is of course, the struggle between the Godless (New York) and the God-obsessed (the South). Speaking with the Southern accents of a middle-school drama class, we know it isn't good when the naive defense attorney takes his peach of a wife to the big city to work for Al Pacino. Lomax's Mama, a bible-beater, begs him not to go. New York, shot with cameras laid flat on the ground or five million feet in the air, does indeed appear threatening. This is pre-Brooklyn New York. There are no locavores. This is pure indulgent, black furniture Manhattan. People eat steaks.

As for Pacino, his pact with the devil must have ended in 1997, because he still looks pretty good in this movie. Good enough for it to be believable that he's surrounded by women that he can turn into lesbians at the drop of a hat. With a mere whisper, he can order the Zebra that is the blow-job-under-the-table-at-a-crowded-restaurant. Did I mention his character's name is John Milton? And his favorite sin is Vanity.

Keanu and Charlize do their part, frenching up against walls — it's the 90s, you know, times were good. Sex drives were up. The Devil's Advocate was Charlize's "breakout" role, and I think you can see why. You get a man off for murder and you go to the local bar in Gainsville, Florida and do some shots with your wife who is hot enough to melt asphalt. If it were 2011, you'd be shaking your head over $2 beers saying, "I'm just lucky to have a job."

But this kind of behavior gets you in trouble. Charlize can't pick out a color for their "classic-eight" on the Upper West Side, and her friends turn out to be demons. One asks, "My boobs: real or fake?" She pleads with Kevin not to leave her alone at the party, but of course he does. When he gets back to the apartment she's got her hair in a towel and she's drinking Red Label. Someone's in the dog house!

Night after night goes by, and Kevin's working on triple-homicide where we're supposed to believe that Coach (Craig T. Nelson) was mean enough to murder his wife, his maid, and his son. Seriously?

One night Charlize dreams about a baby, because she's from the South, so obviously she wants to get pregnant. But then, shit, someone steals her ovaries, and low and behold, John Milton is sticking his hand into some holy water just to watch it sizzle. No one believes that Pacino has raped Charlize or stolen her ovaries, so she totally loses it. (I'd be pissed, too.)

Upon being wheeled into the loony bin, she tells Kevin it was all of that "blood money" they took — all the cases when they knew the defendants were guilty. At this point you think Kevin would have figured it out, but no, his Mama has to show up at the hospital to tell him about a church trip to New York in 1966 where she met a man who quoted scripture to her — "I send you out a sheep among the wolves," what a turn on! — and knocked her up. So Kevin's father is none other than, yeah, you guessed it.

After Charlize offs herself by slitting her own throat in the hospital (a scene in which Keanu Reeves really deserves an Oscar, I'm not sure why he wasn't nominated), The Devil's Advocate moves from a delightful little analogy (If lawyers are Satan, should we question our materialistic value system as Americans?) to full-on camp. Pacino wants Keanu to do it with his sister, which is not a problem. Even though she's thin with breast implants, she has really beautiful red hair. Red, get it? Like the fires of Hades!

Before Kevin sells himself to the devil by having sex with his hot sister, he realizes, thanks to health and unemployment insurance, that he has free will! Since he can't kill his Pops, he turns the gun on himself and blows his brains out, igniting what must be one of the most ridiculous "Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!" sequences of all cinema history, with some kind of Lacrimosa playing in the background as Pacino screams until his eyes bug out of his head and it's not special effects he's just really good at it, as all the Devil's dreams turn to ash. Even silicone implants apparently turn to ash. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, etc.

At the end of movies like The Devil's Advocate, no matter how bad things get (bullet through head usually equals death) you can always go back and do-over. We all can't be this horny and this successful without a fall-out, right? If this were a Von Trier film, he would have fucked his sister and then ran out into the moonlit streets of Manhattan, covered in blood, chased down by naked women. But it's the 90s, we need to reset. And so we're back at the beginning. Kevin's got another chance at the case back in Florida — and he does the right thing, gets the hell out of there with Charlize. Unfortunately for Pacino, this film signals his full metamorphosis from Michael Corleone to Mr. "Hoo-ha." Look for it in his monologue at the end:

Jessica Ferri is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She blogs here, and you can find her website here. She twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

The Cinema of the 1990s at This Recording

Elena Schilder on American Beauty

Elizabeth Gumport on Wild Things

Hanson O'Haver on Airheads

Alex Carnevale on Indecent Proposal

Emma Barrie on While You Were Sleeping

Jessica Ferri on The Devil's Advocate

Durga Chew-Bose on Titanic

Molly Lambert on Basic Instinct

Alex Carnevale on Singles

"Among Angels" - Kate Bush (mp3)

"Wild Man" - Kate Bush (mp3)

"Lake Tahoe" - Kate Bush (mp3)

The new album from Kate Bush, entitled 50 Words for Snow, will be released on November 21st.


Wednesday
Nov162011

In Which We Imagine Ourselves As Veronica Geng

with Philip Roth

Veronica in the Extreme

by HELEN SCHUMACHER

Even after her death, her friends didn't hesitate to call her a monster. Veronica Geng, a contributor and fiction editor at the New Yorker during the '70s and '80s, was stubborn to a fault. Roger Angell, who was responsible for bringing Geng to the magazine, declared her the hardest person he ever had to edit. Best known as a humor writer, Geng's satire could be relentlessly brutal, but she wrote with a sui generis wit and dexterity that gave her work an extraordinary quality and had colleagues willing to look past her fierce temperament.

Geng joined the New Yorker in 1976 after a piece she wrote for the New York Review of Books, a film review written as a parody of Pauline Kael, got the attention of Angell. The short piece mocks Kael’s notoriously overenthusiastic review of Robert Altman's Nashville. In Geng's spoof the movie is called St. Pete, and Geng writes: "The picture’s a knockout. There’s nothing the matter with it. It's Altman’s farewell to the movies, with their Esperanto sensibilities, their bogus art and darling 'actors.' It's as if the whole sanctimonious-aesthete-in-tinsel-land scene bombed out ten years ago, and he’s the only one who’s noticed, or who's cared."

Veronica Geng (the surname is Alsatian) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and spent much of her childhood in Philadelphia, where she lived with her younger brother and parents. Her father worked as an officer in the army's quartermaster corps and, in her teens, he moved the family around Europe — to Heidelberg, Munich, and then Paris. After high school graduation, Geng returned to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania (where she wrote her honors thesis on Seymour Glass) before moving to Manhattan and taking up with the city’s literary scene. Up until her breakthrough NYRB piece, Geng had been laboring away in book-editing gigs and composing freelance pieces for glossy women’s mags under the pseudonym Phyllis Penn.

with her brother

In 2007 Geng's brother, Steve, a career thief and drug addict, published a memoir about his junkie exploits and relationship with his sister. In it he describes Veronica as an extremely private, guarded girl who was endlessly rolling her eyes at those less quick-witted than her and who liked to make her brother laugh with impressions of the politicians of the McCarthy hearings. She was a dedicated student and reader, but still known to smuggle gin in perfume bottles on Girl Scout trips.

While Steve's memoir provides the rare account of Veronica's childhood, traces of the personalities and events that shaped it show up everywhere in her writing, in particular, the voice of her bullying father, an insecure man who hid behind military diction (an infantry manual was among the reference books Geng kept at her desk). As fellow New Yorker Ian Frazier, with whom she shared a deep, long-standing friendship, points out in the introduction to one of her collections, of all the voices Geng used in her writing, the voice of the overbearing American guy was the one she knew best. "She could be playful with the overbearing-guy voice, and she sometimes even celebrated it," Frazier wrote. "More often, though, she fiercely mocked it. Her contempt for it, and other contemporary stupidities, was withering. … She just understood better than the rest of us how coercive, how oppressive, such voices can be."

Undoubtedly, one of her greatest virtues was her manipulation of the voice of power. While most of us grow numb to its tyranny, she never lost her ear for it, nor her indignation at its pompousness. Often she executed her slick attacks by taking the quotes of politicians and placing them in a new context, exposing their asininity and hypocrisy. Fittingly, she claimed her two favorite books were Alice in Wonderland and the paperback collection of the Watergate transcripts.

"My Dream Team" begins with an epigraph from the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings of Senator Arlen Specter questioning Hill as to why she never took exact notes on Thomas' sexual harassment, knowing that her "evidentiary position would be much stronger" if she had. In the piece, an assistant stealthily takes stream-of-consciousness notes (but with full attention to proper legal notation) while in conversation with a lecherous co-worker.

I hereby affirm that the person whose words I just wrote down while pretending to work and ignore him, and whose actions I intend to note insofar as I can see while feigning inattention and writing fast enough to keep up with his lohgh lhoggohr shit what a stupid word to pick under this kind of pressure his blabbering—I do solemnly swear and state that this person is one and the same Mr. Barry Sloat, co-worker and subject of Contemporaneous Notes Parts 1-85; and further I avow that this, Part 86, commences on October 6, 1995, 3:45PM, when Mr. Sloat made known his presence in my office doorway, whereupon I once again made Standard Warning Statement (as per Manual p.5) in conformance with EEOC Anti-Entrapment Guidelines (Attachment to Part 1) and then wrote down what he said, contemporaneously with his saying it. By the way (chance here to squeeze this in while Mr. Sloat pausing for dramatic effect enjoyed by him alone), I also attest that I am not type of woman who normally uses 'shit' as expletive, but crossing it out now might look as if I have something to hide.

Mr. Sloat resumed talking few seconds ago but only telling au pair anecdote again (#4: see Appendix A, Full Versions of Au Pair Anecdotes He Tells). Heeeeere's punch line!...

Geng cloaked sharp observations in nonsense, and sometimes nonsense was just nonsense. Her work could be as difficult as it was funny. In an article for New York magazine published upon the release of a posthumous edition of Geng's essays, Jennifer Senior wrote, "Geng was one of the writers [Wallace] Shawn hired during the sixties and seventies whose work was extravagantly intelligent but not always intelligible — 'extreme writers,' as his successor, Robert Gottlieb, so aptly called them, who would require time and faith to develop a constituency."

Initially given this time and faith, Geng thrived at the New Yorker, taking on a role as fiction editor. Frazier called her the best editor of humor pieces he had ever worked with. He has said, "I wrote humor pieces specifically for her to read, and when she didn't like them, as happened sometimes, I would be depressed for days and consider radical revisions of my entire life in order to make myself funny again." As an editor, she worked with Donald Barthelme (with whom she shared a knack for absurdist quips), Jamaica Kincaid, Roy Blount Jr., William Trevor, and Milan Kundera. Philip Roth came to depend on her as an unofficial editor for nearly all of his work.

In one of her best known shorts, "Love Trouble Is My Business", she draws inspiration from a quote by Village Voice columnist Geoff Stokes that commented on a Times article containing the line: "Subjects such as the Soviet Union seem to haunt Mr. Reagan the way vows to read Proust dog other Americans at leisure." Stokes' declaration that the Times article would be the only time the words "Mr. Reagan" and "read Proust" would appear in the same sentence inspired Geng to write a noir detective story using the words "Mr. Reagan" and "read Proust" in every sentence. It begins: "I glanced over at the dame sleeping next to me, and all of a sudden I wanted some other dame, the way you see Mr. Reagan on TV and all of a sudden get a yen to read Proust.” True enough! It later continues: “She chuckled insanely, like Mr. Reagan looped on something you wouldn’t want to drink while you read Proust. Then she touched me, with the practiced efficiency of a protocol officer steering some terribly junior diplomat through a receiving line to meet Mr. Reagan — and funny, but I got the idea she wasn’t suggesting we curl up and read Proust. As her hand slid along my thigh, I noticed that she wore a ring with a diamond the size of the brain of a guy who read Proust all the time, and if I'd been Mr. Reagan, I’d have been dumb enough to buy her another one to go with it.”

In her capable hands, what could have been a silly exercise in form was turned into a taunting and brilliant sketch. Geng commented on composing the piece, “What a gift! … Stokes’s premise was so ripe that even writing bad lines was fun — like making lists of improbable rhymes. ("It was too early to read Proust, so I went out and bought myself a pint of 'Mr. Reagan'.") … The title (which piggybacks on Chandler) has an extra meaning for me, because it's my business to love trouble."

Geng did not just love trouble, she created it. Her brother claims it was a favorite game of her and Frazier’s to slip inappropriate and senseless material past their editors. She fought bitterly with those who tried to edit her writing, yet she was heartless when she thought a friend's work wasn’t up to par. In 1992, a dispute with Tina Brown, who had recently been hired as editor of the New Yorker, led to Geng's departure from the magazine (whether she quit or was fired is up for debate). Her personal life could be similarly rocky; the scorn that was aimed at politicians and the ilk with great acuity in her writing was less charming when she directed it at her friends and lovers.

Geng never married, instead preferring to be the mistress to professional athletes, actors, musicians, and other writers. Mark Singer, another New Yorker staffer whom she dated, said, "She was one of the most feminine women I ever met. In her posture, her figure, her walk..." Her most significant relationship was with the photographer James Hamilton. It was Hamilton who would arrange her memorial service after she died from a grapefruit-sized brain tumor on Christmas Eve 1997.

It may have been characteristic of Geng's writing to adopt the voices of others, but she did it with flair and humor distinctly her own. From those voices, she crafted work the reader could crawl into — her essays smug shelter from bland hegemony. Her brother recalls a conversation with Roger Angell after her death when Angell told him: "When people as different as Veronica come along, everything changes. Veronica changed humor because there was nobody like her. Your sister was so passionate about the work she did here she changed all of us."

Helen Schumacher is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and here. She twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the films of Clouzot.

with her brother Steve

"You and the New World" - Treefight for Sunlight (mp3)

"The Universe Is A Woman" - Treefight for Sunlight (mp3)

"They Never Did Know" - Treefight for Sunlight (mp3)

Tuesday
Nov152011

In Which We Return To Something Like Pasture

Padlock

by RACHEL MONROE

On my birthday I realized the most complicated relationship in my life was a geographical one. This didn't make me feel any better. Baltimore was endearing there was, for example, the gala I got to attend where the mayor wore stilettos and Dee-Lite played “What What In the Butt” for all the rich grown-ups to dance to. And yet somehow it was not enough. People told me I should stop talking about leaving, maybe take a road trip instead. Feel it out. But the week before I left town, I saw five dead birds, and one that was dying. I regarded this as an omen I was suddenly really into omens and told everyone I was in the market for a new city.

In true rebound fashion, I drove my Volvo through places with a similar aesthetic of collapse, but where the houses came in different shapes. This was late October, early November, an ideal time to look at things teetering between the bleak and the beautiful, and to feel that sort of teetering within yourself: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, home. I got oil-painting clouds, a gaudy sunset in Detroit, bleak Ohio rain, the kind of foliage the northeast pretends to have a monopoly on. All the small towns were named after other, more desirable places: New Paris, Miami Valley, El Dorado. It seemed that none of us wanted to be where we were.

Except, that is, for me. I didn't particularly want to be in Ohio or El Dorado or Baltimore, but I did want to be in my car, my own cozy speedy ecosystem, moving between these places. Having the same feelings about different things was like having different feelings, for a while. I daydreamed the Rust Belt still-lifes I'd paint when I got home: The handsome handymen of Pittsburgh-Detroit-Columbus-Minneapolis. Twilight with cows. "Entire block for sale!!" Sincere Auto Care. In Indiana, a gas station named GAS, a liquor store named BEVERAGES, a budget motel named BUDGET MOTEL, all within a mile of each other: the surge of joy this gave me was pure, even though (or because) none of it had anything to do with the clutter of my daily life.

Staying in strangers' houses was like dipping a toe into various potential futures. In Minneapolis, I made pancakes with a man named Waffle, who then beat me at backgammon, and everyone was a puppeteer. In my Chicago future, I was married to a graphic designer, and we used cloth diapers. Pittsburgh-me had fantastic leg muscles from biking up the hills. Also, she had learned how to weld. I was infatuated with all these Rachels, but none of them seemed worth settling on, and I was aways eager to meet another. (Maybe she would have exciting tattoos!) So I took the scenic route out of town and had an eruption of feeling every time a crowd of birds lifted into the sky. If I wanted a place artfully vacant enough to fill up with myself, Detroit seemed like the perfect fit.

The city's appeal and opportunity, people like to say, is in the absence of things. "We’ve got all this empty space in Detroit," a 33 year-old owner of an accessories boutique told the Times last year. Red lights start to seem optional when there are no other cars in sight. Backyard chickens are for dilettantes; in Detroit, they keep goats and pigs. I was sleeping on a friend-of-a-friend's couch, in a house he didn't pay rent on because he was hanging drywall and tending the garden and generally making sure the place didn't get burned down.

Three days before I got there, he had bought the sky-blue Victorian down the block for $500. In Pittsburgh I had bought some biscotti that I planned to give as gifts to people who hosted me, but I was embarrassed to even say the word "biscotti" around this guy, so they sat in my car getting staler. Grand, abandoned Detroit, dotted with wide grassy lots where buildings had been, and burned down, and returned to something like pasture. Here, maybe, was a place wild enough to be worth settling.

I liked how time, too, was funny and open there. When your house cost $500 and you farmed the vacant lot next door, the idea of a career sounded like a relic of that old economy people prayed to in quainter, plumper cities. And besides, there were no jobs.

My host and I took his pitbull for a walk in his bad and beautiful neighborhood as the sun was setting. He wanted to show me his new house, with its backyard sugar maple Even though I stopped myself from taking any photographs of artfully collapsing buildings because I was trying to impress him, I did say that I thought the tall trees lining the sidewalks were pretty, majestic even. He laughed and pointed to a neighbor's van with one corner of its windshield shattered; a majestic branch had broken off a majestic tree and fallen such that it broke through the glass and pierced the van's dashboard. It was stabbed in there so deeply that the neighbor hadn't been able to pry it out. So he just drove around like that, in a Phineas Gage van, although he would have to figure out something better once the serious winter started to set in.

It seemed as clear an omen as anything else, though what it was trying to tell me, I hadn't quite figured out. Once he unpadlocked the front door, we had to feel our way around the rooms (and why had I assumed that the lights would work in a $500 house?). Over the past three years, there had been a foreclosure, and eventually an eviction, and maybe also a squatter. And was it out of spite, or panic, or resignation that these people had left the house so stuffed with stuff? I hovered on the threshold of rooms made impassible by moving boxes full of dirty sheets, cheap plastic toys, enough holiday decorations to cover all the bases. There were dishes in the drying rack by the sink. They'd left their pots and pans in precarious stacks on the kitchen floor, like a booby trap for nighttime prowlers. Or like a booby trap for people like us.

I'm back in Baltimore now, still thinking about that house. I had long car rides to consider its implications, its small human story something less epic than an omen, and infinitely more sad. Wherever you go, there you are, sure. But that leaves out the other important part. Wherever you go, there is there, too. No $500 house is unhaunted, and all the handsome handymen are alcoholics, and Pittsburgh only has 59 sunny days a year. No city is empty, no whitewashed barn is without its ghosts. Maybe you brought some of the ghosts with you. But most of them were there already, and you were just driving too fast to see them.

Rachel Monroe is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Baltimore. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here.

"Where Have You Been" - Rihanna (mp3)

"Talk That Talk" - Rihanna (mp3)

"Drunk On Love" - Rihanna (mp3)