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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

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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Tuesday
Jul042017

In Which We Avoid Conflict Whenever Possible

Very Firm

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Fearless
creator Patrick Harbinson
ITV

When Fearless begins, attorney Emma Banville is living with three other people in her house in Suffolk. The first is an ISIS operative named Miriam (Karima McAdams), who has a baby son. The final resident is her boyfriend Steve (John Bishop), her alcoholic photographer boyfriend. Her idea for the present and future is this: how can I bring a child into this life? Since she cannot conceive naturally because of an operation, Emma plans to adopt. When she presents her credentials to the agency involved, they are like, thanks but no thanks.

As her makeshift jury, we feel no more sympathy for Emma than her self-selected judge. A criminal defense solicitor, she is convinced she is not complicit in the crimes of her clients, and she proves it by housing a terrorist and defending a local man falsely accused of killing a fifteen year old girl in 2002. Fearless suggests there is basically no distinction between these two sorts of people; it is roughly the dramatic equivalent to those who cold-bloodedly explain that terrorist attacks are actually quite rare. Treason is a far worse crime than murder, and there was a point in history where this was manifestly obvious to everyone.

Fortunately Ms. Banville does not live in a world of greys. She has an adversary who obfuscates the moral instability of her world: Heather Myles (Robin Weigert), an American NSA operative who is responsible for every single bad thing that happens in Fearless. Evil is obvious, the opening title sequence of Fearless suggests as a young girl meant to represent Ms. Banville leaps over a wall tattooed by the words truth and justice. Various clips suggest the historical subtext to Fearless – that England was somehow duped into the Iraq War and that Tony Blair was some kind of fool for believing in the U.S. as allies. What this has to do with Donald Trump I'm not quite sure, but he also puts in an appearance during the awful prologue.

Thankfully, the rest of the series itself is quite a bit better. Helen McCrory – Damian Lewis' wife in real life and Narcissa Malfoy in the fake one – is one of those actresses who suddenly became stunning as she crested her 40s. Even though scripter and Homeland veteran Patrick Harbinson has her smoking a cigarette in every scene of Fearless, this can do nothing to obscure her inner beauty. McCrory is a performer of devastating, uncompromising range who takes scenes that would be outright dull for anyone else and turns them into a rollercoaster of human pathos. She does more on the end of a simple telephone call than Helen Hunt has done in her lifetime.

The rest of the cast seems largely selected by virtue of it being impossible for McCrory to dominate them onscreen. Most are placid shields that absorb her measured tenacity. Her colleague Dominic, played by the amusing and subtle actor Jonathan Forbes, is the perfect rejoinder to McCrory's ups and downs. As the detective who originally made the case against her client, Wunmi Musaku is a little too cold-blooded to be believable, but it is great fun watching the rest of the cast smash up against the impenetrable wall she represents.

The legal aspects of Fearless, including the twists and turns in the case, are relatively contrived and serve largely as background noise behind McCrory's eloquence. That she is not able to try her own case in front of the court as a barrister is an aspect of the British justice system clearly unsuited for the small screen.

It is fun to see America positioned as a great evil in the world. Recently, their intelligence services have really made a mess of things in British film and television. Perhaps it is useful for England to think of its international reach as a subtle counterpoint to America's cynical warfare, only the field of international security is not quite as morally definite as Fearless suggests. When MI5 comes to Emma's flat in order to arrest her lodger, the woman slips her a SIM card valuable to the other men in her ISIS cell. Even though the British authorities have apparently been listening in, they do not arrest Emma.

Emma is implicated, but she does not trust her government. Instead of going to the authorities immediately, as every aspect of her should be screaming, she prevaricates and decides to leak nude photos of the murder victim to the press. Sadly, this accomplishes nothing and even makes Emma look like more of a sleazeball in the eyes of everyone she knows – including her husband, who accepts a photography assignment for three weeks in Sweden just when things are at their most delicate. In response, Emma smokes another cigarette and visits the hospital where her father is on the brink of death. No matter how many unpleasant things she does, she knows how to have fun.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Monday
Jul032017

In Which Pamela Mitchell And Samuel Beckett Attempted A Romance Of A Kind

In Better Form

I had no need to drink at the magic fountain to be able to bear living outside of it.

Samuel Beckett met Pamela Mitchell in September of 1953. Ms. Mitchell was a Vassar grad who had spent her post-graduation 1940s working for Naval Intelligence as a civilian during the Second World War. This naturally led to a career in the business side of the theater. She was negotiating with Beckett on behalf of her boss, Harold Oram, who has purchased an option on Waiting for Godot. They began an affair, and the letters that Beckett sent her during and after their romance were more likely than Beckett's typical correspondence to give us some inkling of the man he was. Perhaps he felt he owed her something. Beckett's letters to the woman, abridged here for length and content, remind us how little of life he found to enjoy.

September 26, 1953

My dear Pamela,

Last night over at last and safely. The first act went well, the second less well, the new Didi frogetting his lines all over the place, with me sweating in the back row. The audience didn't seem to mind. The lighting was bad too. It will be better next week. The new Pozzo gave it up finally as a bad job and Blin had to play. The Rossets were there and Pat Bowles. The new programme wasn't ready. I'll send it when it is. I had a good evening with the Rossets, they turned out very nice. We dined at the Escargot where you and I were.

I look forward to having good news of your light home and then of the Giant. I shall see Lindon next Monday and get him moving on the letter he promised you, if he hasn't sent it already.

Those were good evenings we had, for me, eating and drinking and drinking through old streets. That's the way to do business. I'll often be thinking of them, that is of you. Write me sometime and happy days.

s/

Sam

October 31, 1953

My dear Pamela,

Horribly sorry to hear you are ill. Write soon that it's all over.

I'm writing this at 10 o'clock in the morning in a cafe in Montparnasse. I'm as dull as ditchwater and can hardly hold a pen. Nobody can read my writing but it's the best I can do. I went to Godot last night for the first time in a long time. Well played, but how I dislike that play now. Full house every night, it's a disease. No news from H.L.O. and his option expires today.

It's cold and bright and I wish I were on the banks of the Marne. Another fortnight and I shall. Another fortnight of translating Molloy and Watt and rehearsing with the touring cast. What will you do when you leave hospital? Convalesce in Massachusetts before going back to the good works?

Have they filled you full of penicilline? Wish I could think of something likely to amuse you but can't.

Have to go down now to the bloody theatre and encourage the new Pozzo. Pen drying up too, like myself. Are there any French books you'd like me to send you? Ce serait avec joie. Or fashion rags? Let me know. Let me know above all that you're better and the fever gone.

Love

Sam

January 12, 1954

My dear Pamela

Yes, I'm gloomy, but I always am. That's one of the numerous reasons you shouldn't have anything to do with me. More than gloomy, melancholy mad.

Can't write a word, it's awful. I'll have to write something on Jack Yeats, who is having a big exhibition here next month - his first in Paris. I'm looking forward to it enormously, haven't seen anything since 1950. But dreading having to write about it.

Continue to gallivant. Hope you enjoyed Sleepy Hollow and that the ice wasn't too thin.

Love and succedanea

Sam

July 25, 1954

Mouki. Thanks for your good letters. I can't do any more than scribble a few lines. Not much change here, thought I suppose a big one compared to when I arrived over 2 months ago. It may well drag on more if not longer. I wanted in London re: Godot and may be obliged to dart over for 24 hours. I hope not. Guinness is out, can't wait indefinitely on his good pleasure, or for a gap in his endless commitments. Producer Glenville too seems up to his eyes in more lucrative undertakings and perhaps we'll have another producer. In any case have told them to get on with it with whatever people available and to hell with stars. If the play can't get over with ordinarily competent producing and playing then it's not worth doing at all.

Don't be killing yourself in that foolish office if half-a-day's work is a possibility and enough to keep you going. One can really do with very little money living as you are now.

Love

Sam

August 19, 1954

Dear Pamela

Thanks for all your letters and news of your doings. Do not get silly ideas into yr head about hurting. It is I the hurter of the two.

And most evenings walk along the beach, or over the hill to the mountain view, but not this evening. Should have made quite a good butler, no, too much responsibility, but a superior kind of house-boy. Soon the leaves will be turning, it'll be winter before I'm home, and then? It'll have to be very easy whatever it is, I can't face any more difficulties, and I can't bear the thought of giving any more pain.

See nobody and have long since lost all desire to.

Fortunately there is plenty to do, more than ever, and fortunately the nights are still long and fairly good with the old sea still telling the old story at the end of the garden. My room has a French window out to the garden and I can slip out of an evening and prowl without disturbing anyone.

Here are a few books you could read, if you have not already:

Sartre: Nausea

Malraux: Man's Fate

Julien Green: The Dark Journey

Celine: Voyage to the End of Night

Jules Renard: Journal

Camus: The Stranger

Love

Sam

August 27th, 1954

Dear Pamela

Here things drag on, a little more awful every day, and with so many days yet probably to run what awfulness to look forward to. Delighted to hear that you are enjoying just being in Paris, the air, the people, the sights and food and drink. I'd give a large slice of my uncertain expectations for a bottle of Invalides Beaujolais, for consumption on the spot. And I suppose when I do get it, there'll be some other misery to spoil it. The first bottle anyway.

So it goes, with ungratitude for such a great thing as to be able to rise and move from one's place, if only a few sad steps.

Love

Sam

March 12th, 1956

So glad to have your letter after so long. I find it increasingly difficult to write - even letters. Good for nothing but doddering about my place in the country, where I am at the moment. The cold was desperate all last month and I think it has killed the cedar, though there are still traces of green in the burnt needles that make me hope it will recover. Have been digging holes for new plantations and hope to get them down this week - including a blue cypress! Gave up my dream of a golden yew on being informed its maximum rate of growth was one inch a year.

I did not realize your Nantucket place had been sold and understand how much you must miss it. I have corrected proofs of Malone for Rosset and the book should be out soon. Don't buy a copy for God's sake and don't even read the one I'll have sent to you. My God how I hate my own work.

Shall be fifty (50) in a month's time and can well believe it. 18.000 days and not much to show for them. Better stop before I start. No news anyway. Just jog along, on the flat of my back 15 hours of the 24. Often think of our brief times together. Cold comfort. Forgive wretched letter. At least it's a sign of life. Write again soon.

Love

Sam

Friday
Jun302017

In Which We Remain By Jamie Foxx's Side At All Times

Real Blaxploitation

by ETHAN PETERSON

Baby Driver
dir. Edgar Wright
113 minutes

No film has ever represented the abduction of black culture into dominant white paradigms so much as Baby Driver; few films have ever been so brazen as to celebrate the same. When Baby (Ansel Elgort) meets Leon (Jamie Foxx) in the basement hideout of robbers intent on going after the U.S. Postal Service for some reason, Leon is immediately suspicious of a young white man who purports to embrace crime. (It turns out, subsequently, that he has a similar distrust of all such white people.) Leon implies, not so subtly, that he cannot understand why someone who is white and lives in the American South would ever resort to crime. What is the point of pissing in Paradise?

Edgar Wright, the stylish British director who frequently feuds with clueless studio executives, writes a marvelous scene to illustrate this misunderstanding. Baby is listening to "Tequila!" a 1957 song by the son of Mexican immigrants who was forced to sign away his royalties to the tune. That music, constructed by a person of color for the pleasure of all, is overheard by Leon. He instantly bristles at the appropriation. "I have enough to listen to with the voices in my head," he informs the crew's driver, who mainlines tracks in order to soothe his tinnitus.

The suspicion that Leon focuses on this young Atlanta resident is justified later on. Despite the fact that Leon never threatens him with violence or even speaks to him in anything like a raised tone, Baby wishes him harm, and ends up acting on his hatred in Baby Driver's most mystifying scene. Baby never even thanks Leon for saving his life when a militant witness to a bank robbery chases them from the scene. This is the hero of Baby Driver – a white man with no idea how good he has it.

In Baby's private moments, he fantasizes about his dead mother, who drove into the back of a semi because she was distracted. Baby sees a local Atlanta waitress named Debora (Lily James), who is five years his elder, working in the same restaurant his mother did before her untimely demise. He immediately begins imagining Debora in the role of his mother in similar "memories." This transference is not even subtle, and it suggests that Wright is consciously or unconsciously as disgusted by the life choices of his main character as we are. For her part, Debora has no qualms about pursuing a relationship with a wealthy criminal.

In order to humanize this thief, Edgar Wright has him live a double life as the kindly caretaker of his foster father (C.J. Jones). You see, we might feasibly theorize, it is fine that Baby derives his own identity from music composed by others, since he is a caring son to this mute, wheelchair-bound African-American. We never learn how Baby's foster father became mute, or how was ever able to take in an orphan boy in his condition, because Baby Driver is about as interested in the plight of an elderly black man as I am in the plight of an attractive white 23 year old.

The first hour of Baby Driver marches on quite blissfully without a single non-musical moment. Once Wright runs out of licensed music by blacks, Latinos or gays, the film sort of comes to a thudding halt. Attempting to spice up the diegesis is Buddy (Jon Hamm), who has been living as hard as the actor who plays him, sampling the finest cocaine with his wife Monica (Eiza Gonzalez), a former stripper. The two do not really have much in the way of chemistry and spend most of Baby Driver's running time making out gratuitously.

It is Elgort's magnificent performance as the title character that makes Baby Driver possible at all. Wright often obscures or brilliantly covers for the weaknesses of his stars, but outside of Hamm's broad, not-so-splendid performance, the entire cast is well-suited for these flashy roles. Elgort in particular makes every line meaningful and renders his silent moments as enthusiastically as his quiet vehicle operator is able.

Even among this group, Foxx steals the show as the only character in this milieu with any sense. Despite taking on a series of lesser projects that he needed in order to presumably pay escalating debts, Jamie finally seems to be growing into himself as an actor now that he has reached the place we all arrive at eventually: middle age. That Baby Driver consigns Leon to such an ignominious fate means that it misunderstands the events it describes about as thoroughly as this handsome young white fellow ignores his privilege.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.