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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Jul152014

In Which We Observe Lizzy Caplan In Her Natural Environment

Arching Back

by ELEANOR MORROW

Masters of Sex
creator Michelle Ashford

Lizzy Caplan's fake eyebrows are organisms in themselves. They represent the little amputations that everyone has on Showtime's Masters of Sex. They indicate the very opposite of what seems most probable. It would be most probable for Lizzy's titular boss, William Masters, to be happy with his blonde, pretty wife and new baby boy. Instead, he is miserable: when his son cries, he maliciously places "Bye Bye Love" on the record player. When his mother objects, he sends her back to Ohio.

Masters' own missing pieces are all figments of his imagination. He is not really devoid of anything, since he is a man. Others shamed by the explicit depictions in his revolutionary sex studies are reduced to menial labor and propositioned in bathrooms, but he not only gets his sex study back, he gets a new gig at a hospital with a lewd president (Danny Huston).

It is the wackiest kind of fun to watch Michael Sheen play this man who can emit so little of himself into others without ceasing to function. Masters' spastic attempts at trying to relate to people at all transform into misunderstandings that feature great deal of apprehension on both sides. In the bedroom he is like a tiger, all energy directed towards what he wants. A killing lion is to be envied; isn't William Masters just Aslan in a gynecologist's wardrobe?

The revolution can never completely succeed or fail because of men like Masters, who never forget that they are beasts, and never stop being ashamed of it. It is substantially easier to feel sympathy for someone like that than, say, Alec Baldwin. Don Draper can damn well help being who he is. Masters lacks that basic programming of self-awareness, and never bothers to apologize for not having it.

A friend of mine recently visited St. Louis. She said there was nothing there. Masters of Sex is as far from a love letter to the area as you can imagine. You can ascend, she said, in a tiny little pod that takes you to the top of the city's signature arch. At its zenith, you are still somewhere between the ground and the sky, and you have had to give up so much to reach it.


Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson does not seem to spend very much time with her two children by her first husband. The show seems to share Sheen/Masters' disappointment with the sinister beasts, even though Virginia's kids are adorable and nearly self-sustaining. To feed them she tries selling diet pills, something she obviously would never do.

Children on Masters of Sex are solely an appendage that no one knows what to do with. When one philandering doctor's wife finds out his infidelities, she brings the kids to the hospital so that they can all confront him. (The offending adulterer hides under a desk.) The young ones are always around when you do not want them, and missing or nonexistent when you do.


Virginia breaks up with would-be fiance Ethan on the phone, and Dr. Masters hears her doing it in the next room. Later, Virginia asks if he heard her, as she had intended, and he said that he had, and did not sound pleased by the content of the call. How difficult it is to not hear a judge's sentence and think your fate is not being described as well!

The best part of the entire show is William Masters' home. The doctor has no eye for furnishings himself, and how his wife arranged the space is pleasing to him, but also a disturbing exertion of control. He strains at that, and there is something so lonely about his environment - open spaces in the living area that he feels drawn to not occupy, or move through quickly. Standing in the middle of his own house, he looks as if he might disappear into the wallpaper.


At times people fall out of love. But that is only rarely, if it really was love at the start. Usually what happens is that a misunderstanding of sorts existed. It went uncorrected at the time. The affair went on, resonating like love in each chasm or enclosed place, dwarfed only by innocence and naivete. No one on Masters of Sex can claim to be innocent, so it should not be surprising that these people are so frequently unsure whether or not they are in love.

There is a snake that lived in Nysa that always acted in the same fashion as its prey. If its prey fell in love and cozied up to the snake, the reptile would return the warmth to whatever extent he could. If the prey struck out at him in jest, he responded the same. And finally, when the prey ceased being prey, the snake hid.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Paradise Is You" - La Roux (mp3)

"Cruel Sexuality" - La Roux (mp3)

Monday
Jul142014

In Which There Is No Such Thing As Cocktails

Fictatorship

by DICK CHENEY

Tyrant
creator Gideon Raff 

Tyrant, the new series on FX from Homeland creator Gideon Raff, concerns yet another man with a white wife: Barry Al Fayeed. He could be almost anyone. Barry (Adam Rayner) is also a white man playing an Arab. Some of his relatives in the fictional land of Abbudin are also played by non-Arabs, certainly most of them are non-Muslims. He has returned from a cushy Californian life as an M.D. to his native land for his nephew's wedding.

It seems very daring to make a show about the Muslim world without ever mentioning Islam. It seems very daring to make a film set in any Muslim country when the sets and locations are so obviously Tel Aviv. It is this weird discomfiting feeling that Tyrant feeds off of, like crashing a wedding it turns out you were invited to all along. In fact, you are the guest of honor.

No one has ever regretted their choice of eyeshadow this much.

Any scene in Tyrant can be vaguely construed as offensive to someone. In one, Barry's teenage OTP eats some eggs for breakfast while staring at a photo of some children being killed. The metaphorical aspects were breathtaking. Other scenes push the boundaries even further, simulating the immense thrill we would get from watching Tom Cruise in an adaptation of Alex Haley's masterpiece The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

I'll take Pasadena, but to each his own. Some people even like Braavos.

It is good that we get this jaunty, impersonated thrill from the concept of Tyrant, because we do not get it from any of the show's white characters, Barry's wife and goofy children. Despite being the grandchildren of an impressively autocratic and disgusting dictator and sporting the lovely last name of Al Fayeed, Barry's kids know less than nothing about the Arab world. Having visited the area more a few times and read The Trouble With Islam (well, actually Lynne read it to me while I furiously thrashed myself), here is some of what I have learned about the area: 

1) They call a sandwich a cocktail, and there are no cocktails.

2) The only things they love about the United States are Dairy Queen and The Wolf Of Wall Street.

3) Women in the Arab world prefer showercourse, because of the lack of cleanup. It's too hot to extract come from sheets using a magnifying glass and the sun's rays.

They leave a lot to the imagination in this part of the world. Miley Cyrus is dead there.

4) If the country you are in has a q in its name, or a vowel at the end of it, you are most probably in deep shit.

5) Wear a hat, or failing that, a burqa.

6) Do not, I repeat, do not, marry a white woman.

7) Jerry Seinfeld was a god-fearing Muslim until Kramer came into the picture, forcing him to go to synagogue and make that dreadful webseries.

Wait, Dad was a horrific dictator? I'm totally surprised. OK, let's go jetskiing past that mass grave.

Each episode of Tyrant consists of someone being a real blockheaded poopsicle, usually Barry's brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), who takes over for his Castro-esque father to lead Abbudin into the 21st century. Barry remonstrates Jamal with typical brotherly insults and jibes, like, "You're such a penis head!" and "You murdered over 50 people, Jamal, gosh!" 

"Make her eyebrows look more Semitic! Claire Danes had no problem doing this."

It's hard to imagine anyone giving up a thriving pediatric practice in Pasadena for this madness. Barry's mother is still alive, and she is still wearing the dress that she bought in 1971:

Like a really poorly dressed West Wing

She tells him that he shouldn't be so hard on his father, and then she has no idea why he ran off to America. After he responds, "All the murdering," she nods and grooms her armpit hair with a lovely diamond-encrusted camel-hair brush.

Eventually Barry's wife starts to get a bit antsy. She throws a variety of bon mots his way, e.g. "You'll never find a bottle blonde woman in this country," and "The different colors in your brother's beard make me absolutely nauseous." She did not sign up to be the wife of an Arab scion; she thought she was just marrying a pseudo-ethnic man with a mysterious past that would never be brought up again. How do you think I got Lynne to marry me?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He has a lot invested in the nation of Jordan, so don't set any TV series there, Mr. Gideon Raff.

the more of an asshole you are, the better dots look on your fabrics.

"Spirited Away (acoustic)" - Lily & Madeleine (mp3)

"Goodbye to Anyone (acoustic)" - Lily & Madeleine (mp3)

Friday
Jul112014

In Which We Learned Everything From Him

Dial Drunk Dad

by SARA BIVIGOU

1. Everything I know about drunk dialing I learnt from my father. Of course, the booze is always an excuse.

Once you’ve got it into your head that you are going to call someone then you will. You feel playground emotions: happy, mad, sad, bad, lonely, are overwhelmed by them. Giddy, you pick up your phone. A surge of useless adrenaline when you dial. The beats that your heart skipped when the person answered are now throbbing in your head. Your head is a banging drum. You speak and only listen to respond. What you’re saying matters little, that you’re talking, that the person you are talking to is entertaining this conversation with a drunk you, that’s important. If you’ve done it right and drunk just enough the talking is a blur. Words out of your mouth faster than thoughts. What even are thoughts anymore? Just speak. How do these conversations ever end? You never remember. Regret in the morning.

2. The last time my father called me, slurring but peppy was to catch me up on his day. My father the doctor, the doctor who lives in a small bachelor’s flat in Libreville, Gabon. He lives in the centre of the city alone. But he is thinking of moving to Moanda, now that he is 60. He is thinking of moving to where he has more friends and some family, a cousin maybe. He doesn’t need the fast pace of capital city life anymore, he doesn’t need the big airport. Last time my father called me about a week after his fourth fiancee broke up with him was to tell me he had a brain tumour.

3. A list of the illnesses my father has called to tell me he is afflicted with:

gout

arthritis

pneumonia

presumed heart attack, as in darling I’m calling you now to tell you I am unwell. Your father is sick. His heart is pumping heavy. I can hear the blood in my head. It hurts when I breathe. Listen *and he breathes deeply, exaggerated, strangled* At which point I begin to panic and shout at him. Why is he calling me? He needs to call his doctor. Or an ambulance. I am going to hang up, I say, I am loud and elaborately slow you’re going to call someone to take you to the hospital.

4. I haven’t seen my father since I was three years old. Which is to say I don’t ever in all my life remember seeing him with the eyes in my head. To me he is a voice over the telephone. An idea of a person. A presence felt as an absence. A square of air where a man should be.

5. My favourite family story is the one of how my parents met, in 70s London, on a foursome date gone askew. Good only slightly lapsed Catholic girls that my Mum and her friend (and fellow Modern Languages student) Sylvie were they’d never first date alone, they’d always bring each other. My father asked Sylvie out and respecting her arrangement would invite his friend Didier, for even numbers. The four of them met at some tourist trap restaurant in West London, had drinks and sat down for dinner. By which time Sylvie had demoted my father from conquest to fourth wheel, realised she fancied Didier more. Didier and Sylvie flirted insanely, intensely and are still married with 2 children today. My parents chatted politely, fell in immediate like and all consuming love over the course of the following year. My grandparents begged mum, to the point of almost disowning her, not to drop out of university, to wait to get married. She ignored them. My father was in the process of becoming a doctor, she was going to be a doctor’s wife who could learn many languages at home, while looking after their four children. They had it all planned out like so many 22-year olds do.

A small wedding, maybe 40 people, at mum’s stepdad’s house in Port-Gentil and they moved back to London very shortly after. Within a year my mother was pregnant with her first son and two more after that with me. My father qualified. Something happened. I probably won’t ever know what exactly - his pride, her annoyance, his wandering eye, her hurt. Mother pregnant again in 1984, another boy. But father left before he was born, did not meet him until 2008, when he was taller than him and thin like he used to be and still somehow his exact likenesses. The lesson that my mother drilled into all of us so solemnly that it felt like our family’s pledge: never get married in your twenties.

6. My first full year not in my twenties I got married.

7. Things I’m sure love isn’t:

a feeling

uncalculated

Disney

contagious

singular

8. When you grow up without father a heavy myth engulfs you. There is this gross familiar idea of daddy issues, which is a wariness of your needs. The fear that they are bigger than those of others. Can any man love you enough? Will he be crushed by what you lack? You yourself are constantly checking to see if the hurt is showing. Jutting out like a broken hip bone, revealing itself embarrassingly like spinach between your teeth. You worry that your dadlessness will be used to pinpoint all your sadness. That it is the cause for everything that is wrong with you.

I wonder if my romantic history would be the same. So full of silly strife, of messy longing. I have stalked boys. Been infatuated too many times. Let them cheat on or with me. Shimmed up drainpipes into their bedrooms. Done everything they’ve asked me to, even when that’s meant nothing that felt good. I collected their moods and eventually always took revenge whether it was offered or I had to hunt it down. Found a way to cut the sleeves of all shirts, thrown a lot of records at walls. I’ve been hung up on too many feelings, belly full off useless pride. For a time the saddest most sentimental sort, bad at letting go, even of the worst fucking stuff. And always tired. Eyes either sore from crying. Or itching from the need to cry.

I only know for sure that when you grow up without your father it is possible to fantasize him out of all proportion. The first lies I ever told were all about my dad. He was an astronaut, then he was the one who put the pictures in children’s books, then he was busy and I saw him yesterday and he’d be back soon. And now what?

9. Things I'm sure love is:

amorphous

10. One long afternoon-evening home alone, two-thirds of a bottle of medium sweet merlot down. I don’t know why I dialed my father’s number. 11 digits. What did I want to say to him? Maybe I was sick now? No, I was angry. I had a story to tell. The click that connects an international call, then ring ring, ring ring.

The giddiness, the banging in my head.

Ring ring, ring ring.
Ring ring, ring ring.
Ring ring, ring ring.
Ring ring, ring ring.

11. He did not pick up.

Sara Bivigou is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in London. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Strange Weather" - Anna Calvi ft. David Byrne (mp3)

"Ghost Rider" - Anna Calvi (mp3)