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Alex Carnevale
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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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Friday
Feb242012

In Which We Are Simply A Natural At This

Piece of Cake

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Rachel McAdams has Olympic caliber poise. Somewhat jelled, her smile is red-lettered, her jaw, prominent, and her body, sprightly. It's as if she just landed a double axel or performed a clean dismount from the balance beam, no sweat. In romantic roles her male co-stars regularly lift her, carry her, or nimbly swing her, but I suspect it’s McAdams who supplies any, if not all, cantilevered grace.

What lends most to screen is her strikingly nostalgic features. Owing perhaps to the alien twinkle in her eyes, her dimples, or her downy skin, McAdams appears especially saturated on celluloid; especially Sirk. Like Jane Wyman she is puckish and beautiful, and at times lost in thought. Both women look buffed — a near satin sheen. Both women have incredibly expressive foreheads.

In The Vow she plays Paige, a woman who after emerging from a car accident induced coma, suffers from amnesia. She cannot remember the last four years of her life which include an artsy, permissive turn — sculpting, air-dried hair, loft living — and more importantly includes her marriage to Leo played by Channing Tatum. As a result she wakes confused and returns to her old life: estranged parents, law school, quotidian suburban customs, blueberry mojitos, a sister’s wedding, sweater sets, and Scott Speedman. Unfortunately, not much happens. Despite the potential for something far creepier, sadder, syrupy and even peculiar, the film bops from scene to scene as if dispirited and mooney, much like Tatum-speak and Tatum-mien.

Ironically, it’s McAdams’ performance as a character whose life has been erased, that provides the most vitality. She has filmic gumption and a bounty of grins and laughs that rescue stale moments. (Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock pioneered that particular bail out; McAdams and Anne Hathaway have revived it). Moreover, Paige has whims. She resists but ultimately surrenders to tickling, she feeds a stray cat, she buries herself in an oversized sweatshirt, and offers plump strawberries to Leo’s friends at breakfast. Her wedding dress was pink and her vows were written on a coffee shop menu.

Regardless of these parts, Leo and Paige’s love story plays out like a music video. Or the music video for a song on The Vow’s original soundtrack. Or something Josh Hartnett may have done in 2004. In many ways, its finest function is as a catalog of required proportions: McAdams’ hands are the size of Tatum’s neck and when he scoops her up, she screeches. He is shirtless for nearly forty percent of the film. She wears a classic rotation of outfits: pajamas (his), pajamas (hers), formal wedding attire, messy studio clothes, lace underwear. She has a six-to-one, charismatic to gross, ratio of habits. Even so, they are never that gross.

The camera loves McAdams. It is her moon. Tina Fey admits learning from her throughout Mean Girls. "That was the first movie that I had ever been on. And I would watch – I would stand with the director sometimes and watch her scenes. And I would say to the director: Like, that’s really small. Is she doing it? And then watching her on film, watching the dailies, I’m like: Oh, yes, she’s amazing. She’s a film actor. She’s not pushing. And so I kind of learned that lesson from watching her…"

What Fey recalls, those "small", minor mannerisms are McAdams’ register of finely controlled facial muscles. She can call upon each one as if summoning an invisible series of nylon strings secured to her cheekbones, chin, temples, ears. The slightest twitch or eye roll, easy! The faintest pout or cartoonish gaze, done! A toothy hee-haw, no problem! A single, bulging vein, why not! She is a natural. She knows when to elongate her neck, how to scurry in heels, how far to dip back when laughing, how to kiss passionately and dispassionately, and how to eat cake as if it were more satisfying than the man sharing the slice with her.

McAdams’ performances are truly athletic. And unlike Keira Knightley or Scarlett Johansson, whose acting we often watch as curious spectators, (anthropological!), too far removed from their traits to relate, wondering perhaps how they will pull it off, McAdams, we simply cheer.

There’s a moment near the end of The Family Stone, where McAdams — who plays Amy, the cranky and defensive, but ultimately very loving "mean sister" — is sitting in an ambulance on Christmas day with the guy who "popped her cherry” years ago. His name is Brad Stevenson (Paul Schneider). He is shy, mumbles and has a slight swallow. He’s an EMT who wrapped her present in a clock radio box. "Don’t worry, it’s not a clock radio." She’s gruff and impatient but appreciates the gesture, and perhaps even him, once more. Inside the box is a snow globe that McAdams cups in her hands as if it were hidden treasure. As if she was a child. As if she might, in that moment, be living inside the stillness of a snow globe. She smiles and quietly exclaims, "Wow, Brad.” The scene is interrupted by yet another madcap Stone family moment, but the peaceful way Amy appreciates Brad, the way McAdams says "Wow" as if it were her first word, chimes until the end of the film

As Diane Keaton, who starred with McAdams in both The Family Stone and Morning Glory, remarked, "She's like a violin. She can do anything, and she can play anything. She's a dynamo, but she's also soft. She can be bitchy but also light. She can do serious drama; she can do comedy. She has a lot of things going on, which makes her absolutely captivating.”

At the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, McAdams and Gosling won the award for Best Kiss. She in a bustier and jeans and he chewing gum and wearing a white Darfur t-shirt, the then couple reenacted their Notebook kiss as Maroon 5’s "She Will be Loved” played. The crowd went crazy, Lindsay Lohan screamed "Oh my God!” and Hillary Duff giggled with her sister. The entire two minutes are a pop culture capsule and emphasize McAdams’ irrefutable appeal. As she walks off the stage with Gosling, who picks up her blazer and coolly throws it over his shoulder, McAdams looks flush, a little embarrassed, but triumphant with her Golden Popcorn, silly sure, nevertheless, a medal.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She last wrote in these pages about Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Mad Mad Me" - Bonnie Prince Billy & Mariee Sioux (mp3)

"Bird Child" - Bonnie Prince Billy & Mariee Sioux (mp3)

"Loveskulls" - Bonnie Prince Billy & Mariee Sioux (mp3)

Thursday
Feb232012

In Which We'll Always Love You But That's Not The Point

Great Reserves

by ELENA SCHILDER

The first Shit Girls Say video went viral sometime in late 2011. You remember. A guy in a wig says, “Can you pass me that blanket?” and “What’s my password?” because those are things that girls say. Critics of the video and its creators claimed that most people say things like “Can you pass me that blanket?” at one time or another, gender notwithstanding.

Some forms of contemporary female speech have the quality of a low hum, like the sound I imagine a cloud of bees would make. It feels like it’s there to fill gaps, to distract and ease the faultiness of modern conversation — whose faults we owe, maybe, to a more general and well-documented mood of distraction in the culture. We look up from our phones, say something, look back down at our phones, write something to someone else who is not there. And girls — adaptable and socially attuned as we are — have the capacity to bridge those gaps with seemingly superficial and effervescent ways of speaking to one another.

Of course, there is something sad about this form of speech, which takes no pleasure in originality, and instead serves to make people feel comfortable. These phrases are like compulsive tics of speech — said just to say something, almost to oneself. It makes me think of the process by which, as a woman in my mid-twenties, I learned to use exclamation marks in my text messages and emails. I did it to create the feeling of ease I described above: I didn’t want other people to think of me as harsh or biting, and I wanted to provide a feeling of acceptance and enthusiasm. But now that I do it, I often feel like I can’t go back.

+

The Roches are three sisters from New Jersey: Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy. They made the album that most of their less die-hard fans care about — self-titled, and produced by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp — in 1979. Their music is most accurately described as folk music, with beautiful three-part vocal harmonies and strange, sometimes dissonant arrangements. They write witty lyrics, some of which are also silly. In 1979, on Saturday Night Live, they performed a manic a cappella version of The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. In their brashness, they remind me a bit of the theater kids I knew growing up.

The Roches remind me of the nuances of female speech because their lyrics often articulate the shared sentiments of womanhood in a startling way. Of all their songs, people are most attached to the slow and deliberate “Hammond Song,” written as if spoken by an older sister to a younger sister, warning the younger girl not to “go down to Hammond.” The song makes the ages-old argument against doing what Felicity did, following a man without first taking care of oneself. “We’ll always love you, but that’s not the point,” they tell the wayward one, and, “You’d be okay if you’d just stay in school.”

Watching and listening to the Roches of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the years of their youth, I want to describe them as innocent. But it’s a description that may say more about the observer than the observed.

The Roche sisters seem to exist in a pure, girlish space that is either pre-adolescent or pre-Lewinsky, depending on how specific you think such innocence is to the 1970’s and the influence of second-wave feminism. Either way, they display a lack of self-consciousness in their demeanor, clothing, and songwriting that simply doesn’t have a modern equivalent: they are often coy without appealing to anything so narrow as “sex appeal.” The cover of their 1980 album Nurds shows them butt-bumping the camera — a cheeky joke, but not at all raunchy.

+

I recently took part in an argument about whether the new Diablo Cody movie Young Adult is misogynistic. On the surface, this argument, like the similar arguments I’ve had about movies like Bridesmaids or Knocked Up, doesn’t interest me. Good stories, we learn in writer’s workshop, should be true to themselves before being politically aligned. But a lot can be surmised about the political and cultural milieu into which stories are introduced by observing repetitions among characters and storylines.

In college I took a class on genre theory, and because I found the classification of genre to be a helpful way of thinking about stories, I have continued to think about them as falling into one of four categories: romance, satire, tragedy, and comedy. Of course, many stories engage more than one category. The thing about Young Adult, or — to take one example — the ever-popular Mad Men, or the Shit Girls Say video, as well as many other products of the culture, is that their portrayal of women is largely satirical or tragic. And that isn’t to make a criticism of the artists responsible for them. But when I watch Mad Men I sometimes feel a little scared, as if all the air is being sucked out of the room. Those women are chronically sad.

In the history of literature, much has been done with the sad woman, and even more has been done with the woman so empty, spoiled and materialistic that she can only be parodied. The Roches give me the same good feeling that I got when I read Harriet the Spy, another relic of 1970s New York girlhood. Women, like men, have great reserves of mischief and playfulness and, to be simple about it — happiness. And there is no law that says these characteristics can only be allotted to the pre-pubescent and the radically naive.

+

In a classic episode of My So-Called Life, Sharon tells Angela that once you have sex, you can’t go back to just making out. And the Roches say that if you go down to Hammond, you’ll never come back. Of course, experience often bears out the truth of these hypotheses. Once you’ve come around to the legitimately tragic parts of being a woman, or found yourself saying things you never thought you’d say in the interest of making conversation with the girl selling you a pair of $200 leggings, it can make you feel like Peggy Lee sounds when she sings, “Is that all there is?” — in other words, cynical and asthmatic.

Poignantly, Maggie and Suzzy Roche’s 2004 collaboration is titled Why The Long Face? Why indeed?

Elena Schilder is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about American Beauty.

"Hammond Song" - The Roches (mp3)

"No Shoes" - The Roches (mp3)

"We Three Kings" - The Roches (mp3)

Wednesday
Feb222012

In Which We Only See With Young Eyes

The Comfort of My Mother and The War

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

I think of reading a book as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love.

Jorge Luis Borges was born in the center of old Buenos Aires in late August of 1899. The particular date of was of no importance to young Jorge, who despised his own birthday. He did not like gifts when he had done nothing to receive them.

with his sister at the palermo zoo in 1908

Jorge was constantly in ill health. He could not see or speak clearly. He loved tigers and there was one at the Palermo Zoo. If he could persuade his mother to take him there, he would plant himself obtrusively in front of the tiger cage, refusing to leave. His mother feared what would happen if she tried to drag him away.

young Jorge's drawing of a tiger at age four

His mother gradually began to use the threat of removing his books at a sort of blackmail. His father possessed an elaborate library of over a thousand volumes. (Clearly he did not anticipate the e-book.) The senior Jorge Borges had tried his hand at poetry, penning a sonnet or two before he set his vocation temporarily aside in favor of practicing law. His father took charge of young Jorge's education in a few crucial ways, using an orange to explain Plato's theory of forms.

He did not enter school until he was eleven, wearing huge glasses and a jacket and tie his mother purchased specifically for the big day.

By 1913, he had moved on to secondary school. He did decently well in some subjects, barely passing French, drawing and geometry. His first story appeared in the school's literary magazine. In it, a tiger kills a black panther, but then is himself killed by a man's arrow. He titled it "The King of the Jungle." His byline simply read "Nemo."

1914. Dr. Borges moved his family to Geneva, where he planned to get an eye operation. He and his wife agreed to send their children away to school in England so they could tour the continent as a way of revitalizing their marriage. A German ship, the Sierra Nevada, set course for Bremen, and this family was on it:

Because of the chaos that surrounded the Great War, an English education rapidly became impossible. The only subject that Jorge was able to excel at, given his lack of French, was Latin. Language became his only strength; he taught himself German to read Schopenhauer in the original.

His father's attempt to reunite with his wife was a failure. The man sampled the prostitutes of Geneva at his leisure. Dr. Borges' now-teenage son began to write for the first time, crafting sonnets in French and English, largely patterned after Wordsworth. He embraced the German expressionists as soon as he discovered they existed. In due time, all of these literary possibilities were supplanted by Walt Whitman.

He made his first Jewish friend, a boy named Simon. He taught his first clique how to play the Argentine card game truco. The first woman he fell in love with was a Czech named Adrienne. He could barely bring himself to speak in front of her and she was completely uninterested in eighteen year old Jorge.

His other romantic forays were thwarted by his shyness and the general uncleanliness of Geneva's women.

His first girlfriend was named Emilie, and he was entranced by her green eyes and red hair. He was possessed by a ginger. By the next year, he spoke of her as an object, writing his friend to ask if he had sampled Emilie's wares.

When his father found that Jorge had never consummated his relationship with Emilie or any other woman, he gave the boy the address of a brothel. On his way to the landmark Jorge was consumed by the idea that if his father knew the place, he might well have been with the same woman. Jorge was unable to rouse an erection, so his father took him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a weak liver.

His father gave him a long manuscript. "What's this?" Jorge asked him. "My novel," his father said.

His family traveled a bit around Europe before a sojourn to Majorca. He later described Berlin as one of the ugliest cities in the world.

Although the family returned to Geneva, Jorge never completed his high school education. His relations with women were reduced to a platonic friendship with a whore he called Luz. He wrote to his friend in March of 1921, "I tell you, I really loved that Luz. She was so playful with me and behaved with such ingenous indecency. She was like a cathedral and also like a bitch."

Jorge and his mother

The family returned to Buenos Aires later that year. Some of his childhood haunts remained familiar to him, but most now were opaque and foreign to his eyes. He wrote to his Spanish buddy, "Don't abandon me in this exile of mine, who is overrun by arrivistes, by corrupt youths lacking any mental capacity and decorative young ladies."

He fell in love with a girl, and the feeling was mutual. Her name was Concepcion Guerrero, and she was the daughter of Spanish immigrants from Granada. Her father taught elementary school, and the family lived in the poverty stricken orillas. He could not bring himself to apprise his mother of the relationship. "God knows how it all will end," he wrote.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Jackson" - Craig Finn (mp3)

"When No One's Watching" - Craig Finn (mp3)

"New Friend Jesus" - Craig Finn (mp3)