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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Apr012014

In Which We Have Fond Memories Of Almost Nothing

Amplification of the Senses

by ELEANOR MORROW

Growing Up Fisher
creator DJ Nash

Is the idea of a blind person doing something with difficulty that other people do with ease somehow amusing to you? If so, you are in for a treat. At one time, it seemed like the only reliable source of blind jokes was the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but Monica has moved on, I have moved on, most blind people presumably have moved on. The one exception is the creators of the situation comedy Growing Up Fisher, who seem to derive great joy from watching Mel Fisher (a way too goofy J.K. Simmons) do such sighted people tasks as standing on a roof in the middle of the night, cutting down a tree, or walking without assistance.

Based on a true story crows the opening chyron of this NBC multi-camera affair. The least plausible part of the entire show is the sex-crazed 11 year old son (Eli Baker) of the blind man constantly asking his dad how he can best get intimate with a woman. The entire arrangement is a bit unorthodox, but perhaps not as orthodox as the fact that Jenna Elfman's face has not aged in any way over the past twenty years.

Joyce Fisher (Elfman) is a lovely woman who the show takes great pains to point out what a pathetic mess she is. Even though she's a charming blonde with a questionable interest in the works of L. Ron Hubbard the only date she can get is with a grocery store clerk. Meanwhile, her blind and ancient husband has his pick of the local women.

He never let the fact that he couldn't see prevent him from doing anything. These words are uttered almost a million times in Growing Up Fisher. Mel's wacky shenanigans seems enough to merit a separation on their own - once, he actually drives a car with his daughter as a passenger but the reason Joyce really ended the relationship was to "find herself." You will not be surprised to learn that the most entertaining/offensive part of the show is young Henry Fisher's Asian best friend, who is named Runyen and is strangely a preteen homosexual caricature. I guess kill two birds with one stone?

The success of certain family oriented comedies like Modern Family and The Middle has increased the demand for the portrayal of children. The breeding kennels on which such child actors are produced have become regrettably depleted. Fred Savage had a certain ethnic flair that is lacking from these roundly nondenominational homes. Since representing any specific background with its own idiosyncrasies would be theoretically alienating to some viewers, everyone is just a WASP.

Growing Up Fisher lapses into a Jason Bateman voiceover at every opportunity, which is exactly what no one ever asked for. Moreover, there is not even any nostalgia being recalled the show basically takes place in the present, which means the disembodied Bateman voice is from the future. Instead of telling us what the world has become decades from hence and what happened to North West, he has to continually inform us about how zany his dad is all the time.

Writing for children is very difficult, and although it is somewhat plausible that an 11 year old could be obsessed with the older girls in his apartment building, it is very unlikely he would know what to do with them should they consent to his plans. Even less realistic is the idea that he would rely on his father for advice every step of the way.

Growing Up Fisher was originally conceived with Parker Posey playing Jenna Elfman's role, and publicity photos were even shot with the two as a couple:

Somehow, this throws everything into further doubt. The same boy's mother could be a striking, tall blonde woman who loves terrible science fiction, or she could be the original Party Girl and nothing else in the world would be any different. It is indeed something of a mystery how a bald lawyer and a blonde woman could father two semitic looking children. I believe that anything that comes out of Parker Posey is wonderful.

Looking back, I sometimes tongue a scone and think of what The Wonder Years was actually about. Like Growing Up Fisher, the voice-over really sucked, the lessons and moralities were incredibly blase and obvious, and the setting was nondescript and Midwestern. What actually made The Wonder Years interesting was that despite the central dullness of American life, events of great tragedy and depth surrounded the mundane: Winnie's brother was KIA in Vietnam, fathers got in financial trouble, couples broke up unexpectedly and the repercussions were completely real.

In comparison, these vapid family sitcoms deal with nothing in the real world that might alienate their audience; Growing Up Fisher feels like sketch comedy in comparison. Now Winnie has a Maxim spread, Dan Laurila was arrested after beating up Dan Hedaya for stealing his look, and Fred Savage straight up murdered that guy.

That's not all that is different today. Children aren't even really children they're just adults-in-training, and the training extends almost interminably, until the day they make television shows about how fucking precocious they were. You shouldn't have let your blind dad fix that satellite dish, buddy. For Christ's sake, Winnie's brother was only a child.

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

"Stranger" - Skrillex (mp3)

"All Is Fair In Love And Brostep" - Skrillex (mp3)

Monday
Mar312014

In Which Nothing Can Ever Tell You How Bad Noah Is

God Wants You To Cease Filmmaking

by DICK CHENEY

Noah
dir. Darren Aronofsky
A billion minutes

It feels like an eternity waiting for the only sex scene in Darren Aronofsky's Noah. It takes about ninety minutes into this mess for that to happen. In an instinctual move brought on by the realization that Anthony Hopkins has restored her ovaries, Emma Watson instructs her bf (Douglas Booth) to throw her a high hard one in the area every thinking person calls a hermione. He complies, and we wait for this transcendent moment humanity was denied for too long. Instead Aronofsky cuts away. An entire family sitting next to me whispered, "Goddamnit."

Emma clearly fired her hairstylist for calling her Granger too often, because this is completely unacceptable.

Noah (Russell Crowe) has been instructed by some vague dreams that the world is about to end. He goes to see his "grandfather" who drugs his son and later hits on his wife. Methusaleh (Anthony Hopkins) is the devil in disguise - for Christ's sake he is Lecter - and for good reason. He is the only performer in this utter disaster with the least bit of acting ability.

actually there was a kind of frosty sexual tension between RC and Ray Winstone, but it was never fully explored. Sequel? Jk.

Lynne wanted to see Noah because she loves when two animals, two animals of the same species, are brought together in close quarters. I asked, hadn't she had enough of that?

He can't stop thinking about how weird her ears are. He will never stop thinking about how weird her ears are.

Noah's wife Naameh (a completely insane Jennifer Connelly), reprising her entire performance from the weirdly cold blooded roles she is forced by her agent to play, has had enough of this proximity to another person. So far, all her marriage to Noah has brought her is two mediocre sons and a tent in the desert. He never fucks her, not even on her birthday.

Connelly's Naameh has one completely bizarre scene where tears run down her face and around her mouth, making her look like some depraved ex-wife shown up at Noah's doorstep. You start to wonder why Noah is even in a relash, given that he never looks directly at Naameh the entire movie. When they finally reconcile later he resorts to a bro hug because he doesn't want his mouth to touch her gross tears.

this is the mother of all retouched photos. Actually she looks like the wicked witch of the west tbh
It is hard to know who to blame for this disaster. I could joke and say it was on God for making Aronofsky in the first place, but that would probably be a premature assumption. All of the director's screenwriting efforts have been complete fuck-ups, and in Noah, he even loses the visual éclat that brought him to prominence in the first place.

the people who cut down trees in Avatar were evil, here they are heroes. Missin u always James Cameron

Instead of feeling like a surplus of excess, the visuals of Noah are highly dated. At times the CGI looks unprofessional, and the characteristic bestiary is never even viewed in its entirety. The animals have no personality, even as themselves. We never see them up close, just as a indeterminate mass. No one care for them. Lynne could only conclude that the makers of the production held some bias against any type of creature at all.

The ark itself is a massive disappointment, looking more like a sloppy 2x4 than a construct befitting the God who commissioned it. The only thing that would have made it worse is Frank Gehry.

at least have them kiss with tongue. It's not too much to ask.

No scene in Noah is more than ninety seconds, lest we realize the complete clichéd absurdity of what is being communicated or said, or see how little there is to this entire thing. Aronofsky has never been the slightest bit skilled at subtlety the individuals in his films rarely turn out to be anything other than what they are. As Ila, Watson herself never provides any kind of Eve-ian sexuality; in fact there are few roles in cinema she would seem more ill-suited for, given her mincing, sexy mouse-like appeal and flaccid Englishness.

For some reason Aronofsky figured it would be better to have everyone doing poor English accents, while allowing Crowe to just talk as he normally does, and Connelly to keep her own American whine. Noah is a linguist's nightmare, and it's also a completely racist festival that includes only whites. No one is even tan, though many are dirty.

"Guys, there is this really mean blog post about our movie. Let's build another ark."

What is most missing from this piece of shit is wonder. The world ending and a boat floating across its flooded ruins is supposed to be at least partly enjoyable, the way that falling from a great height suggests a thrill we will remember for the rest of our life, no matter how much longer it may go on. There is no wonder to the animals or the places the ark goes, no delight even at finally reaching land we suddenly cut to the entire group on a beach, without even seeing the discovery. At that moment, I felt like Tom Hanks when he found out Captain Phillips was utter bullshit extremely upset and disappointed with myself for even witnessing this debacle.

I mean, I feel so fucking embarrassed for this shit (below). Emma has like five scenes in the movie, and 90 percent of her lines consist of telling someone her belly hurts:

God will have his revenge on those responsible for these lies.

I mean yes, The Fountain was completely embarrassing and stupid, but it was just some revolting made up story, it didn't have actual things like drama and exciting moments that you expect from the story of Noah. At the very least Noah could have made a compass or done something besides send a really tired seagull out to find land for him. Deprived of all the things humans do in order to survive difficult situations, Crowe's Noah just growls a lot and tries to kill his grandchildren. It would be laughable if it was not so completely dull and boring. Throw in a swordfight, or cast Antonio Banderas as Jennifer Connelly's latin lover. Anything but this.

0/10

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Don't look at the metacritic Jennifer. You won't like what you see."

"Lonely Child" - Christina Perri (mp3)

"Sea of Lovers" - Christina Perri (mp3)

Friday
Mar282014

In Which We Encounter The Vampiric Profundity of Thomas Mann

The Courtship of Katia Mann

by ALEX CARNEVALE

To use the words of young Nietzsche, I love and affirm in "the atmosphere of ethics, the Faustian flavour, the cross, death and the grave." In art I believe in pain, experience, recognition, love, profundity, and confront all superficial beauty with either irony or impatience, as seems appropriate.

Four fantastic years of Thomas Mann's life were spent in the arms of a man. Sex with women had never really interested the German writer, although he was able to maintain an erection with women at times while picturing a more masculine partner. His lover during those four annums was Paul Ehrenberg, a German Jew far lovelier than Mann himself. Mann enjoyed the company of Paul, who was a talented violinist and his brother Carl. But the older man was already a visible novelist and critic with a promising future. Nor could Paul's affections entirely be relied upon; Mann wrote of his boyfriend, "How is so much torture possible?"

No, Ehrenberg was the wrong choice for so many reasons. Thomas Mann needed a wife.

Mann's requirements were not demanding. He wanted a woman who was not overly desirous of sex or demonstrative of her ardor. He needed a wife who would not feel thrummed down by the extensive time he devoted to literary craftsmanship, someone with her own life and family. When he first met Katia Pringsheim, that characteristic of a woman enmeshed in her tight knit family was also a curse. How to pry her away.

Katia Pringsheim 

Twenty-year old Katia was not lacking for suitors, and the leading candidate was a professor in his early fifties who, from all available evidence, could furnish her with more of the comfortable upper-middle class life to which she had become accustomed. In Germany before the war, there existed an entire echelon of upper-class, mainly secular Jews, none of whom could ever have imagined the gruesome fate that awaited so many of them.

Katia's father and twin brother Klaus both favored the well-mannered professor over Mann, and it was only Katia's mother, a former actress, who saw something in the awkward, regimented behavior of the writer. Showing up at Katia's door looking somewhat like A.J. Soprano in his military school uniform, Mann was never terribly good at controlling how he appeared to others. "Gently and tactfully," he had written of the brothers Ehrenberg, "they overcame my gravity, diffidence and irritability by accepting them frankly as concomitants of talents they respected."

The pursuit of this woman, unexpectedly, roused something in him. He struggled to work up the courage to have someone introduce him to Katia, even though a few of his friends knew the Pringsheims well. Watching her across an amphitheater, he described "her appearance of wanting to hide her awareness that many people were looking at her." He wrote about her in his journal, mostly to describe how ineffectual he felt his passion was, and sometimes to jot down ideas for stories which paralleled his own experience:

Detail for a love story. As passion wanes, there is an increase in one's ability to conquer, to make oneself loved. For days he had suffered frightfully over her, full of yearning, weak, disoriented broken down, ill. Then after seeing her again in a big hat which did not specially suit her, he suddenly felt healthier, fresher, more free, more forward, less full of yearning, stronger, more "egoistic," able to challenge, score points, pay court, make an impression.

As all this was going on, he was slowly, exhaustively, finishing his reading of Goethe.

his writing desk
Eventually, Mann felt the strong inclination to make himself known to Katia. On a daily basis she bicycled to her experimental physics classes, but when it rained she took the tram. He watched her have a fiery argument with a conductor who demanded a ticket she had thrown away, and something else took over. The next week he pretended to return a book to her house, and in ensuing days he invented other excuses to call on the Pringsheims.

Mann shocked himself by how much he admired her; she was "a miracle, something indescribably rare and precious, a creature who through her more existence has more cultural value than the output of fifteen writers or thirty painters." He also could not help but notice her essential boyishness, an androgynous charm that called to him.

Katia's mother had soundly cast her vote in favor of Mann, but the rest of the family, including Katia, was not as convinced. Mann mostly expressed his feelings to Katia in a mode of worship, a predilection that made the object of his affection uncomfortable. It did not help that they were always chaperoned, ensuring the two would continously encounter various black holes in conversation. Mann did better in his writing, expressing himself in a way that felt oppressive in person. He tried to logically reason things out:

I am quite aware of not being a man who arouses simple and instantaneously safe feelings. To prompt mixed feelings and 'perplexity' is after all forgive me! a sign of personality. Someone who never provokes doubts, never astonishes, never causes a slight feeling of dread, someone who is always simply lovable is a fool, a phantom, a figure of fun.

beach day

This did not even represent the full spectrum of his "awareness."

I am aware of causing a certain awkwardness through my 'lack of spontaneity,' of ingenousness, of unself-consciousness, all the nervousness, artificiality and difficulty of my nature, hinders everyone, even the most well-meaning people, from coming closer to me or even dealing with me in a bearable, comfortable way; and that troubles me all the more when I detect in people's behaviour towards me that warmer interest which is called sympathy, and in spite of all the obstacles, this happens with quite incredible frequency...

You know that personally, humanly, I could not develop like other young people, that a talent can function like a vampire bloodsucking, parasitic. You know what a cold, impoverished, merely representative, merely symbolical life I have been living for years, know that for many years, important years, I regarded myself as nothing, in human terms, and wanted to be considered only as an artist. Only one cure is possible for the attachment to the representative and artistic, this lack of instinctive trust in my personal and human side: through happiness; through you, my clever, sweet, good-hearted, beloved little queen. Be my affirmation, my justification, my fulfilment, my salvation, my wife. 

Katia felt she could not give him an answer yet. He despaired at her reticence and caution, and his friend Kurt Martens encouraged him to give her a deadline or pull away for a time altogether to see what she would do. Mann resisted putting this pressure on Katia, correctly thinking that making his feelings seem so changeable was more likely to unnerve her than draw her closer. Instead, he continued along the same lines, making the legal case for himself:

Silly little Katia. Still carrying on about "overrating,' and insisting you will be unable to "be" for me what I expect you to be. But I love you. Good God! Do you not understand what that means? What else is there to expect and to be? My wife is what I want you to "be," and in that way to make me absurdly proud and happy. After all, what I "make of you," the meaning I give you which you have and will have for my life is my concern, and it gives you no bother or responsibility.

Katia and her brother Klaus
Mann's letters were unlike any others she received, and slowly she began to warm to him. Whenever the idea of marriage came up, a deeply fearful look overtook her (Mann described it as that of a "hunted doe"), but other than that, the couple enjoyed spending time together. Finally, one afternoon before she was to leave Munich for the summer, Katia and Thomas were permitted an afternoon alone. Afterwards he wrote "there was a indescribably sweet and painful parting which is still present in all my nerves and senses."

He doubted her until the very moment of her assent. "Her naivety is extraordinary supreme and dumbfounding," he wrote. "This strange, kind-hearted and yet egotistical little Jew-girl, polite and without a will of her own! I can still hardly believe she will ever bring the word Yes to her lips."

the Mann family many years later

Mann tried to appeal to Katia's more rational faculties after all, she was a student of mathematics. She insisted that in comparison to him, she was stupid and not worthy of his adulation. It was his letters that finally got to her. Mann's desire for her to be his wife was so evident and honestly broadcasted, that she could not truly feel she was getting any part of the man that was not the real thing. In one particular missive, he even confessed to weeping at the sight of her handwriting.

At first she had been overwhelmed. Now she was simply whelmed, and Mann knew it was his moment. "I believe you feel as strongly as I do that it is high time to put an end to this in between state! Do you not think that once we belong together in the eyes of the world, the relationship will be much more clean-cut and comfortable?" Mann biographer Ronald Hayman described the moment: "When he took her in his arms, he was half-surprised she neither pushed him away or called for help." The wedding took place on February 11th, 1905. Katia conceived on her honeymoon, and the two had sex very infrequently, mainly indulging themselves only to get Katia Mann with child.

After the engagement, Mann lost all touch with the Ehrenbergs, and Paul himself was married by the next year.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Baron in the Trees" - Picastro (mp3)

"Vampires" - Picastro (mp3)