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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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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In Which We Do Not Bake Cookies

Grandma and the Charisma of Old Age


dir. Paul Weitz
78 minutes

Old ladies are having a moment. From the box-office to the bestseller list, women of a certain age are coming out of the woodwork. This is a remarkable shift for a culture that tends to ignore women over thirty. (Recall Maggie Gyllenhaal’s recent revelation about being too old, at 37, to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man.) If older women are typically rendered invisible and expected to practice what critic Kathleen Woodward calls the “pedagogy of mortification,” then this is certainly a moment of unusual prominence. From this summer’s Blythe Danner vehicle I’ll See You in My Dreams to the biopic Iris to the documentary Advanced Style, it has never been so cool, so interesting, to be an “older” woman.  

One easy way to explain this trend is to read it as consolatory cinema for Baby Boomers, who have long grumbled about becoming seniors, extended midlife into the sixties, and even coined the term “new old age” to evade the prior terms of growing old.  And yet, even if we can attribute this trend to a market eager to see themselves – and their age category – in appealing ways, these films nonetheless do some important cultural work; they ask us to reimagine growing older in creative ways and to see maturity as complex, fraught, and individual.  

The new film Grandma is a strident critique of longstanding assumptions about old age. Grandma explodes the connotations attached to the cultural position of the grandmother. Played by Lily Tomlin, the eponymous grandma is Elle, an adjunct professor and lesbian poet, à la Eileen Myles. She wears a faded jean jacket and sneakers, drives her late partner’s antique car, and generally exudes an iconoclastic, devil-may-care attitude. In the film’s first scene, she ends a relationship with a much younger woman, underscoring the point that advanced age does not negate sexual desirability.  

The plot is set in motion when her teenage granddaughter, Sage, shows up asking for money to pay for an abortion. Their names themselves are a cheeky reversal of age norms as well; the grandparent is not the Sage, but rather “Elle,” or “her,” the focus of our attention and the film’s subject. Elle has no savings and has cut up her credit cards, so they embark on a kind of lesbian-feminist quest narrative, driving the beat-up car to cafés and tattoo parlors, asking old friends and lovers to provide cash.

Typically, what drives a film is young romance, but Grandma quickly reveals its primary interest in Elle’s private life. Very early on, it is clear that the dalliance between Sage and her thuggish boyfriend is cliché, shallow, and unworthy of further attention. Instead, it is Elle’s relationships that take center stage: her grief over the death of her long-term partner, her ambivalence about a new relationship, even her apparently impulsive, brief first marriage to a man. Where older women have long been marginalized as sources of humor or wisdom, Grandma sidelines the younger characters, foregrounding Elle’s personal life as the more compelling. Indeed, the movie manages to call our attention to the sex life of a seventy-year-old woman even though it seems to be premised around a sexually active woman fifty years younger.

When old friends and lovers prove too impoverished or stingy to provide the needed funds, Elle and Sage have no choice but to ask Elle’s middle-aged mother/Sage’s estranged daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) for the money. A corporate type, she is walking at a treadmill desk and wearing a magenta skirt suit when Elle and Sage find her. The film seems to scoff at her conventionality. In fact, if Grandma liberates old women from tired stereotypes, it tends to reify other age categories in predictable ways: adolescence and middle age are rendered familiar and one-note.  

The film’s feminist message extends beyond its mere act of making an old woman an appealing protagonist. It also offers an extended discussion, almost a tutorial, on abortion. After encountering violent protesters outside the clinic, Elle asks whether the procedure will involve a D&C, the doctor explains that she will use a vacuum because “we’re not in the dark ages anymore.” This scene is not only medically frank, but it highlights that abortions can take place in modern, clean facilities with kind doctors. We have, in other words, moved beyond the dangerous operation that Elle endured in her youth, and the film clearly wants to ensure that we continue to make such abortions available to women who need them.   

Grandma ends with Elle walking, alone, at night, down a poorly lit urban street, exactly the kind of place where grandmas traditionally fear to tread. Like the film’s candid discussion of abortion, this final scene also upends the tacit rules that have elided and restricted the representation of female experience. And this scene emblematizes the film’s overall project: it enables us to envision old women beyond familiar, circumscribed scenarios, offering us instead a road story that resists closure, holding open multiple paths and possibilities for how to negotiate advanced age. Grandma is not really about family; it is definitely not about domesticity; and the only cookies in sight are store-bought.

Sari Edelstein is the senior contributor to This Recording. She teaches American literature at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She doesn't tumbl or tweet.

"Fener" - Beirut (mp3)


In Which We Have Executed Ourselves In The Wake Of This Tragedy

Gandalf the Feminine


The Bastard Executioner
creator Kurt Sutter

Gandalf (Katey Sagal) detects a prophecy that a white guy will free Wales of the English. She says the word shire quite frequently; her entire body is tattooed with what she is. She stabs the pregnant wife of the white guy (Lee Jones) with a knife right in the blonde babe's swollen belly. Upon witnessing this tumultuous scene, Fox executives immediately greenlit The Bastard Executioner to series.

How bad is The Bastard Executioner? Miles Corbett (Stephen Moyer) plays the main villain. He has become older and more powerful than we could possibly imagine. Moyer stands about 5'5" soaking wet, and he gets a cute scene where he is anally penetrating a servant. The man who discovers him — his brother — dies within the hour.

Sutter loves killing off characters, which explains why The Bastard Executioner has so many. It makes sense on the most basic level — with such a massive retinue, there must be one you will like. Unfortunately The Bastard Executioner often seems like a parody recasting of actors from Sons of Anarchy roleplaying at a Medieval Renaissance Fair.

I understand that Kurt has a marriage, and happy wife = happy life, but having Sagal write the terrible music for his shows and overact like crazy in every single scene she appears has gotten tiresome after a solid decade. I mean not even Rossellini put Ingrid Bergman in every single one of his movies.

The langorous boredom of The Bastard Executioner is intermittedly interrupted with bouts of ultraviolence — a man stabbed in the back of the head, a woman (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) taking penis doggystyle with an annoyed expression on her face, the disturbed visage of a completely burned man (Kurt Sutter) — but about an hour in, for just a moment, things begin to get truly interesting.

Gruffudd (Matthew Rhys) is far and away the best performer in the entire ensemble. Martha, his fake wife on The Americans, so frequently called out "Claaaaark!" and it is her siren song we hear when Rhys makes his appearance as a leader of a rebel group plotting violence against Edward II. This man packs more charisma into his soft facial hair than Kurt Sutter has in any single one of his protagonists.

The best bet would be to scupper the entire rest of whatever this bizarre pre-industrial Robert Altman mishmash that Sutter has created here, offer Rhys millions and make him the complete and central focus of The Bastard Executioner as he should have been from the word go. Keri Russell could play his prostitute.

As long we are just using entire casts to make different shows, Breaking Bad should be reimagined as a series adaptation of Robert's Rebellion. I'll show myself out.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Every Time I Fall" - Holychild (mp3)


In Which We Turn On This Nancy

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.


My boyfriend Satchel has a female best friend who I will call Nancy. I never really get the sense that Nancy is overly interested in Satchel - she runs her own business and tends to date older guys. On a regular basis, however, she will come up with some semi-dire emergency where she will require Satchel to pick her up or help her move. When I think about it, it's no more than some friends do for each other, and it's not like Satchel is ditching me to be with her. At the same time the fact that he comes at her call can't help but rankle me a bit. Am I wrong to be upset, and what should I do about this fiend Nancy?

Sara U.

Dear Sara,

It sounds like Satchel has some feelings for this Nancy. Unfortunately saying anything about it is likely to exacerbate the situation, and this is the rare situation where reverse psychology can backfire greatly. You cannot be pushing them closer together and you cannot be separating them more apart.

All you can do is subtly alter Satchel's view of her with descriptive language. Nancy is

- desperate

- needy

- you feel 'sorry' for her (omit this if your boyfriend is a bleeding heart I Want To Save Her type who is creepily turned on by the suffering of others)

- escort

- awkward

- "hanging all out"

You also should by no means keep your anger completely inside. The key is not to annoy or carp at him. Instead, address one specific situation and never mention that there is a larger problem. Suggest Nancy is manipulating him this one time and act surprised, like you didn't think either of them had this sadistic of a friendship and he's a shithead for running to her.

Whatever you do, don't make them address their friendship. This could turn out badly for you. And if you are the kind of woman who has troubling asking for help, you had best shed that particular inhibition, because that is a quality Satchel enjoys in other people. Escort.


My girlfriend, let's call her Olive, has a group of friends. These women love to go out together and get dressed up. They want Olive to go with them at least once a weekend. This kind of boozing just is not my thing, nor are the places that they go any fun at all - they look like the cocaine hangouts of Patrick Bateman.

I care about Olive, but having this lifestyle be around my own life — I am very career focused and prefer to spend my free time going to movies or museums — is a real drag. Plus, it seems clear her friends don't really like me, probably because they have detected my disapproval of them. I don't want to be the person who holds my SO back, but I can't love these people or like what they enjoy doing.

Bernard T.

Dear Bernard,

I think the very same thing happened to Romeo. Juliet went going to trashy bars and he killed himself because of this. That should be a cautionary tale for you.

It sounds like this is a phase Olive will grow out of, probably sooner than you think. She may keep being influenced by her friends, however. You don't have to love her friends, or even like them, but maybe she would see things from another perspective if she disliked the behavior of one of your obnoxious friends. However, this strategy is useless if all your friends are wonderful.

If that is indeed the case, you need only make your friends her friends. Then she won't need her old friends.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"Operate" - ASTR (mp3)