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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

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Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Sep042014

In Which There Is Something Surgically Wrong With Steven Soderbergh

Fear of Needles

by RACHEL SYKES

The Knick
creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler

This summer, TV seemed unseasonably dark, from the return of Hannibal and its totem pole of corpses, to the wonderfully pansexual Penny Dreadful, and the gruesome, woman-beating second season of Bates Motel.

Now, providing the season with its passage to September, Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick has aired its first episodes on Cinemax, showcasing a grotesque but uniquely historical approach to this season’s yen for horror. The Knick, like its predecessors, is straight from the Gothic tradition, exhibiting a kind of gross-out Gothicism which, much like Penny Dreadful, combines Victorian facades with blood, guts, and gore. The first episode opens in a suitably druggy haze, the camera slowly focussing on an opium den where Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) lies semi-conscious, surrounded by nakedly “exotic” women. So far, so period drama - except that minutes later Dr. Thackery is dashing off to The Knick, the show’s eponymous hospital, pulling off his coke-white shoes, injecting a needle between his toes and, only a little later, into the only part of his body with a visible vein: his penis.

This, in a nutshell, is how the show works, as a curious mix of turn-of-the-century repression and heavily mutilated bodies. Set in a downtown Manhattan hospital in 1900, The Knick follows Dr. Thackery and his team of surgical pioneers as they take-on breath-taking surgeries, staged in explicit detail before a gallery of starkly unmoved benefactors. And it’s not just the patients who suffer horribly: besides Dr. Thackery’s nerve-shattering addiction to cocaine, the show obsesses over the parallels between life-saving and/or endangering surgeries and the violent incidents that regularly afflict the hospital’s staff.

While the finance director (Jeremy Bobb) has his teeth pulled out by creditors, the hospital’s only African American doctor, Algernon Edwards (André Holland), is punching strangers in alleyways, where blood splatters onto the sidewalk and into the camera. The bloody tone is set most shockingly in the first episode when, after an exceptionally brutal caesarean section, and just minutes after Clive Owen shoots-up between his toes, Thackery’s mentor lays a sheet over his leather sofa and quietly, but gorily, shoots himself in the head.

Scrubs, this is not. In fact, the completely humourless set-up of The Knick reveals just how firmly Soderbergh has his sights set on History. The Knickerbocker hospital is real enough; the original was founded in 1862 although, located on Convent Avenue and 131st Street in Harlem, it was significantly further uptown than The Knick of the show. Up until the late 1970s, The (real) Knickerbocker gave free surgical and medical treatment to the “worthy sick poor” of New York City and, like the characters of The Knick, its employees regularly battled the high mortality rates and poor conditions that afflicted many down and out citizens in turn- of-the-century Manhattan.

Into this sound historical backdrop, The Knick adds Dr. Thackery, played so sternly by Owen that you can never be quite sure his face can move. Thackery’s gut-punching surgeries, numbering two to three per episode, anchor Soderbergh’s portrayal of the poor and the needy but curiously distance the viewer from the worthiness of the show. The Gothic elements of The Knick are a symptom of the city’s poverty and corruption; the flickering electricity that dims the lights, and fatally electrocutes one of the nurses, is not in any way mysterious or supernatural, but the result of bureaucracy and administrative extortion.

In much the same way, patients have their bodies turned inside out not only because it is their only hope for survival but also because we, as viewers, know that the goriness we are watching will lead to more successful procedures, to safer caesareans and quicker heart bypasses. We know, in other words, that the extraordinarily messy surgeries that Dr. Thackery and his team attempt will eventually be successful, but the benefit of hindsight effectively distances us from the shocking brutality of the show.

The problem with The Knick, then, is its middle ground between prestige and Gothic drama. At times, it’s like watching a version of Mad Men made only from its moments of shock, where lawnmowers continually eviscerate people’s feet and every employee presents Peggy with a sawn off ear in a box. Running throughout the first episodes of The Knick is also the suspicion that a more interesting show lies beneath it. This comes down, as ever, to gender and race.

Within the first three episodes, every male character has done something illegal and typically anti-heroic, making the men invariably complex whilst the women are presented as strong and, worst still, moral. The most interesting character, Dr. Algernon Edwards, is paralysed by the racist system he is placed in, left pandering to superiors who know less than him and observing on surgeries he initially pioneered. Although everything about The Knick screams its seriousness, the storylines favour tradition over innovation, patriarchy over matriarchy, and white men over black when the inequality it registers might have served as a better focus.

Perhaps, though, the show is headed somewhere different. As early as episode two, stifled by the short leash that Thackery has him on, Algernon takes matters into his own hands and begins to treat the hospital’s unwanted African American patients in an abandoned basement. A show about the challenges facing an African American hospital seems infinitely more watchable than the show that The Knick purports to be and perhaps, if Soderbergh leaves behind Dr. Thackery’s slow circling of the drain, The Knick will uncover its purpose in amongst its detail.

Rachel Sykes is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Nottingham. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. .

"Blue Movie" - Lowtide (mp3)

"Missing History" - Lowtide (mp3)

Wednesday
Sep032014

In Which We Find This Impossible To Announce

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,

This started eight months ago when I met a guy who I will call Jeff online. We really hit it off and we were talking quite frequently despite living in different cities. Eventually we decided that I should come and visit him. Our first meeting was great and just seemed like a continuation of our online communication.

Jeff makes references to past relationships, although since we were just getting to know each other, I did not wish to pry. After that weekend, Jeff confessed that he was divorced and that he was not interested in getting married again. I asked him what he was interested in and he said that he wasn't sure, that he had done the long distance thing before and wasn't very successful at it. At the same time he expressed a desire to keep seeing me.

In the intervening months, I have tried to be more protective of our feelings. Jeff has come to my city to visit me and for the most part we have a great time with very little meta-relationship talk, as he seemed to request. Am I right to be taking this at his pace, or should I just bail?

Andrea R. 

Dear Andrea,

Learning all about someone from the person themselves leaves many blind spots open, Andrea. You need a third party who can give you a better view of Jeff. See if you can make up a reason to have a conversation with one of his friends: maybe a buddy is an industry peripheral to yours, and you can claim you are only looking for some general advice.

With that said, you can't necessarily assume there is any foul play involved. Men will say a lot of things; just because he's not considering marriage now doesn't mean the idea is permanently dead to him. Even lemmings have to be coaxed into heading for a cliff, but once they build up some momentum, death is a sweet release.

Demanding a commitment is the surest way not to get one. Make sure Jeff knows you are exploring other options and he will quickly ask you not to be if he cares that much. If he doesn't ask, then you know he doesn't care.

Hey,

As you know, recently a bunch of private photos of female celebrities and models leaked across every cavern and hidey-hole of the internet. My fiance Craig downloaded these photos and he and his friends sent them back and forth to each other.

I am completely creeped out by this. Are these guys actually masturbating to photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Sybil, or is it just some harmful/harmless fun? Am I judging Craig and his gross, mouthbreathing friends too harshly?

Jackie C.

Dear Jackie,

There appears to be something of the Streisand effect at work here. How turned on can someone really be by watching Lady Mary's little sister opine about the residual odor of her boyfriend's balls?

We'll never truly know why Sybil left Downton Abbey. Did she have a lunch date? Was the guy who played her Irish husband tickling her savagely between takes? Did Elizabeth McGovern shit in her catering as a practical joke? A certain amount of curiosity as to what greener pastures Sybil is occupying strikes us as natural.

If he's still talking about this disturbing breach of privacy long after Kate Upton's tan lines have faded from the cultural memory, then I would say you had a right to be perturbed. Novelty fades rapidly: even Bradley Cooper barely even bothers to look down in the shower anymore.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"Possibility Days" - Counting Crows (mp3)

"Cover Up The Sun" - Counting Crows (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Sep022014

In Which There Is A Lot Going On In Daniel Radcliffe's Life

Magnetic Poetry

by MIA NGUYEN

What If
dir. Michael Dowse
101 minutes

Daniel Radcliffe plays the lead in Michael Dowse's What If as a miserable medical school dropout anguished with the pain of a two-year-old break-up. What If explores the disturbing vagaries of being told "let's just be friends" by someone you love. Despite all of the unfortunate events happening in the life of Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), he manages to find the most perfect and peaceful perching spot on the roof of the house of his sister Ellie (Jemina Rooper), overlooking the gorgeous Toronto skyline. He utilizes the spot to mope and wallow with his one and only friend, the fluorescent glow illuminating from his iPhone.

After making the unsurprising and predictable discovery of catching his ex-girlfriend having sex with his anatomy professor in a supply closet of the hospital they both worked in he ended the relationship. The infidelity between the two closely paralleled the lives his parents led: two doctors who cheated on each other constantly with other doctors in the hospital. He didn’t want to follow the same fate of lying, cheating, and manipulation for himself.

In addition to living with his sister Wallace serves as a father figure to his nephew. The two disobey the rules by bingeing on tubs of ice cream with horror movies while she’s away at work. Unfortunately, What If skimps out on the family dynamic in favor of its broader love story; weaving both together might have provided a bit more edge.

What If quickly settles into a romantic comedy groove with the appearance of Allan (Adam Driver) and jacked and brash sense of humor, which audience members rely on to sit through the entirety of the film. His tall stature in relation to Wallace’s is laughable at best, making their friendship heartwarming and engaging. (One was little, one was big, but they were the best of friends.)

Allan tries to fix Wallace’s social displacement and anguish by inviting him to his tumultuous social gathering at a house party where he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off and complete each other’s sentences in front of a refrigerator filled with magnetic poetry.

After calling it a night, he walks Chantry back to her apartment only to find that she has a boyfriend, but she willingly scratches her phone number on piece paper from her sketchbook and hands it over to him. This act inculcates his madness for her bright red lips, coy personality, and closet full of cute vintage dresses.

Wallace, like any guy who gets friend zoned, goes home absolutely livid. He climbs on top of his perching spot and ponders if he should even keep her number, allowing the wind to drift it away from his hand. His facial expression screams, "What's the point of even keeping her number if she has a boyfriend. I want someone that can instantly put out. It has been two years!" The piece of paper drifts through the wind with the fairy coming to life on screen as an animation, which closely follows through Chantry’s emotional journey throughout the movie and gives us a better idea of what she does for a living as an animator.

The two rejoice and encounter each other outside of a Princess Bride screening (ugh) and decide to be friends. They go out drinking and rambunctiously dance at nightclubs. Alcohol eases the pain in any situation, even in the friend zone.

The friendship between the two blossoms into a spectacular rose bush and Wallace enjoys talking to Chantry about everything. He falls in love with her, madly in love, but can’t express it. Chantry invites Wallace over for dinner to meet her boyfriend of five years Ben (Rafe Spall). Ben works for the United Nations and suspects Wallace’s sexual pursuits for Chantry with quick mutters and jabs while hastily dicing an onion. Ben resembles someone who you don’t want to be stuck in an elevator with because he will suddenly start a conversation.

In one scene, Allan and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) invite the friend zone pair on a beach trip. Allan and Nicole pursue a late night skinny dipping excursion, leaving Chantry and Wallace by the fire. Chantry suggests skinny dipping in the dark with Wallace, a dangerous game, but she plays it anyway. In addition, she plays the juvenile I’ll show you mine if-you-show-me-yours game with Wallace underneath the moonlight and he obliges, of course. It’s purely innocent.

Allan and Nicole’s mischievous scheme of taking their clothes leave the two out cold for the night. Being naked doesn’t even lead to second base and they end up spending the night back-to-back in a sleeping bag furious.

Chantry gets a job offer as a project manager in Tokyo and feels an exorbitant amount of pressure to make a decision. It’s the only source of control she feels she needs to take advantage of. Instinctively and rationally, she sits alone with a pencil and writes a pros and cons list. She allows to be honest with herself and her feelings for Wallace. Her heart can no longer deny that their friendship is more than just a friendship. The calculated risks and steps Chantry takes guide her onto an illuminating path on questioning her career and 5-year long relationship with Ben. She finds happiness in her honesty and becomes unafraid.

Mia Ngyuen is the features editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find her website here.

"Scar Issue" - The Color Morale (mp3)

"Developing Negative" - The Color Morale (mp3)