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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

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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Wednesday
Mar252009

In Which Nobody Says I <3 Tokyo Even Once

City Porn
by FERNANDA DIAZ

Tokyo!
dir. Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-Ho

To attempt to label Tokyo! as the latest in the genre-franchise of city porn created by Paris, Je T'aime and the upcoming New York, I Love You is to miss the point. As an urban romantic, I was at looking forward to a similar production with Tokyo-fetishizing monologues or time-lapse scenes that exposed the "zany energy" of the Japanese capital. But Tokyo! delivered a different kind of love letter to its namesake through three surrealist vignettes that are actually more like breakup e-mails, simultaneously asserting independence and lamenting a looming loneliness. Perhaps this is because Tokyo is not an easy city to romanticize--at least not compared the the more obvious process of zooming in on the glossy grit of a New York or a Paris, or even a Mumbai. Tokyo's clusters of bright neon signs and otherwise slate-colored landscape are familiar enough that one can pick it out of a big-city lineup, but, let's be real, Sofia Coppola might be disproportionally to thank (blame?) for that. Also to thank/blame for my fantasy of just walking around Tokyo sullenly for a week like ScarJo did.

On the western pop culture objectification scale, Japan's capital city is quirky enough to be used as a plot point, yet impenetrably foreign enough to prevent all-out adoration. Tokyo! fits correspondingly in that same spot, and since none of the three films were made by Japanese directors, using that scale seems appropriate. (It's also worth noting that actual French filmmakers were wildly outnumbered by American ones in Paris, Je T'aime). 

Regardless, to watch Tokyo! is to realize that it's a far simpler task to idolize our cities all out of proportion than to truly try to understand their impact on us. In Tokyo!, all three directors seem to have silently agreed to this challenge. The film itself is not difficult to love--and it's taken me this long to mention that it's definitely really good--but its merits can only be measured once you figure out that it didn't take the easy way into the city's psyche. Either that, or Tokyo is just unavoidably depressing.

French directors Gondry and Carax and Korean Joon-Ho. "Interior Design," Gondry's short about transformations and new beginnings, is the film's most obvious draw. It is also the most cheerful of the three stories, but considering the protagonists of the following two shorts are a chaos-creating sewer-monster and a man who hasn't left his apartment for eleven years, the few hints of playfulness seem monumental in comparison. 

In "Interior Design," a young couple moves to Tokyo, he an aspiring filmmaker, and she of the much-relatable "not sure yet" category of 20-somethings who squat on a friend's tiny couch (which is tinier in Japan) while pretending to apartment hunt and actually just staying in and cutting pictures out of magazines all day (kind of like what everyone does on Tumblr!). 

The Japanese Lelaina Pierce?Curiously enough, "Interior Design" is adapted from Gabrielle Belle's Manhattan story, "Cecil and Jordan in New York," and yet it is the highlight of the film, either defeating the point or making it. I'm not sure which -- it is tempting to qualify it as an inherently Japanese tale with minuscule apartments and careers in origami gift-wrapping, but those are just the details. At the core is a universal identity crisis for which the city has no answer, and a transformation that takes her further away from its streets.  

Leos Carax's short "Merde! " is a take-it-or-leave it absurdist horror story about a crazy (caucasian) dude in a green suit who comes out of the sewers to terrorize Tokyo with grenades and face-slaps. My brother swears it's an allegory for the Rapes of Nanking, but I just fixated on how the monster reminded me of Heath Ledger's Joker.

I would argue that the city itself is most central in Carax's short, as the Japanese newscasters, protesters and lawyers unite in a fixation with this creature and in defense of their fellow citizens. (I don't like elaborating on movie plots because review spoilers bother me, so I won't go further into it).

Carax: Basically, it doesn't have much to do with Tokyo...I could've made it in any big, rich city in the world.

The final short is the most Haruki Murakami-like one -- really the only Murakami-like one, but I am limited to him in my Japanese author knowledge and so it is the comparison I must ignorantly make. "Shaking Tokyo" is about a hikikomori, an individual who lives in isolation and has completely withdrawn from an outside life, who gives it all up after a slight glimpse of a delivery girl's garter belt. 

It must be the opposite of love to retreat entirely from one's city, to reject it as a home and see it only as a place from which to hide. But ultimately it is Tokyo's own earthquake that literally and figuratively shakes the film's hermit out of his apartment cave, indirectly changing his life. 

While writing this, I almost forgot that there's actually quite a happy medium between the initial excitement visible in the title and the seeming widespread despair of the stories: the enjoyable viewing experience. Even deep in the characters' crises and confusion, the tone in all of the shorts is of half-joking, and there is never a sense that the filmmakers are taking the subject matter too seriously.

head hurting I put on the Lost in Translation soundtrack for inspiration, and after two loops, I realized it was making me want to kill myself. The spacey monotone of the music and the gray loneliness of Tokyo! were too much all at once. But I turned the music off, and screened the film through my mind yet again, realizing that what lacked in romance it made up in explicable magic that might not necessarily be optimistic but is still beautiful, and actually quite fun.

Fernanda Diaz is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan, and she tumbles here.

 

"Happy Up Here" - Röyksopp (mp3)

"I Love The Unknown" - Clem Snide (mp3)

"Girls" - Death in Vegas (mp3)

"Alone in Kyoto" - Air (mp3)

Monday
Mar232009

In Which Girls Relate to Billy Madison Too You Know

large_love-you-man-453

I Love You, Man
by MOLLY LAMBERT

I Love You, Man
Wr/Dir: John Hamburg
2009

Critics were split on I Love You, Man and so was the crowd I went with. Half thought it was funny (if not memorable) and inoffensive and the other half thought it was bland and misogynistic. I remember a similar argument after Knocked Up where a female friend defended Leslie Mann's character's actions against a guy arguing that Paul Rudd's husband character had done nothing wrong. Bromantic passions run high. 

run, run, run from adult responsibilityWhat's bland is not Paul Rudd's character, who's actually quite well sketched out, but Jason Segel's. Which is strange because Segel's brand of creepy-funny seems like an ideal match for Rudd's muddled adorableness. I was expecting something more along the lines of The Zoo Story or The Cable Guy

Instead what happens is that Segel's character seems to shift from scene to scene to suit the needs of the questions posed to Rudd's character. Which could also be funny, but it's just kind of confusing. Lots of ideas are set up and never returned to again. There are some really funny bits in the movie and the chemistry between Segel and Rudd is charged with a first date giddiness, but the film never quite makes the leap from good to great.  

Comedies have focused on male immaturity for more or less all of time. What is so weird about these movies to real life slacker girls like me is the way they all portray women as inherently responsible. I must have slept through that memo. Women are always shown being driven endlessly towards goals of marriage, responsibility, financial security, with the men bucking against it.  

Andy Samberg and Paul Rudd demonstrate two different delicious flavors of handsome Jewish guynessBesides Charlyne Yi, girls in these comedies tend to all get cast in this light. The single friend in I Love You, Man (the charming Sarah Burns, memorably from a FOTC episode) is typed as desperate for a man, any man. Most of her laughs come from this, and she's really funny. But in a movie where a single male character who doesn't have his shit together is portrayed as having a life worthy of emulation, it feels a little bit sexist.  

they live in Silverlake, naturallyRashida Jones is as winning as she can possibly be, but she is meant to be the Ralph Bellamy of this love triangle and has no chance against a Rush covers montage. By the time the movie gets to the couple questioning their decision to get engaged I was pretty sure they ought to break up. Like in Apatow movies, a lot of timely and sensitive real life issues about gender and relationships are touched upon and then buried under jokes.

Segel and Rudd display two brands of feminine masculinityThe only trailer that ran before the movie was for Inglorious Basterds, which was strange. Despite the fact that I finally just saw (and loved) Death Proof, I can't feel myself getting that stoked for a war movie, even a Quentin Tarantino war movie. I'm just not sure I care yet about B.J. Novak and Samm Levine murdering Nazis. Can I give you a maybe? If it were a World War One movie I'd be so down.

even though Mahnola Dargis really hated ILYM, she agrees with all of humankind that Paul Rudd is the fucking cutest ever War movies are the ultimate bromances. They have the same message as most of these comedies; that nothing in the world is better, more fun, or more awesome than the not-gay but gayish close friendships between straight men. Most movies violate Bechdel's rule so flagrantly that it's depressing to talk about.

What we need are more girlmances. I guess Sex and The City is a girlmance. Big Love is definitely a girlmance. Gossip Girl is a gossip girlmance. Little Darlings is a great classic girlmance. I have high hopes for the long-rumored Amy Poehler and Isla Fisher collaboration Groupies if it comes to fruition. 

One thing I Love You, Man got completely right: Sunday night programming on HBO really IS amazing. Or at least it was until ten last night, when Big Love and Eastbound & Down wrapped up their seasons. I was already subjected to one Entourage promo tonight and had to wash my eyeballs out with Axe bodyspray. When does Curb start again?   

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording.

 

Tuesday
Dec162008

In Which Emily Gould Spends A Rainy Sunday At The Museum

59

The World Was On Fire

by EMILY GOULD

"Pour Your Body Out"

Pipilotti Rist at MOMA

The summer I was 16 my parents went temporarily insane and let me go to art camp at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Ten years later, aka this past summer, I moved into an apartment a block away from the Pratt campus. The neighborhood has changed a lot in ten years; New York City in general has changed a lot. Also I have changed a lot, although possibly in some ways not enough.

At art camp I smoked pot for the first time, cheated on a boyfriend for the first time, and spent a lot of time waiting for the G train for the first time. I drafted a little template for my whole early adulthood in those two weeks, it now seems!

But one of my strongest memories from art camp is of going to a museum where I saw the video ‘I’m a victim of this song’ by Pipilotti Rist. My friend Bennett was visiting – he remembers things better than I do and he says it was the Whitney or the Guggenheim. All I remember is that we got obsessed and could crack each other up for months afterwards by singing Rist’s version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ to each other.

Or screaming it to each other, really, I am talking about the part at the end where Rist takes the song a million miles away from Chris Isaak and Helena Christensen rolling around getting weird bits of black sand all stuck to their pouty bottom lips territory and just shrieks every line: “NO I DON’T WANT TO FALL IN LOVE! WITH YOU!”

‘Victim’ is more than just hilarious Swiss whimsy, though, I eventually realized. Unlike Isaak, Rist telegraphs actual meaning with every line. The deliberateness of her pronunciation means you have to actually think about the lyrics. “It is strange what desire will make foolish people do,” you find yourself musing.

This song is also notoriously easy to get stuck in your head, as the video’s title suggests. Song stickiness is something Rist, who used to be in a band called Les Reines Prochaines, thinks about a lot. Here, in one of her first videos, from 1986:

Rist jumps around with her breasts exposed and sings the first line of ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ over and over again, cranked up to double-speed. Whenever I watch it I’m reminded of how one little piece of a song will sometimes reverberate through your head just like that over and over while you do some kind of repetitive activity like swimming or biking, and you’ll barely even realize that you’re thinking of the song until finally you do and then you laugh at how literal your subconscious is being, like for example if you are spending a lot of your time missing someone and the song-bit is “Hey, what’s the matter man? We’re gonna come around twelve with some Puerto Rican girls who are just dyin’ to meet you!

So yeah, Rist is not a girl who misses much.

"Times are tough and wild. Let’s hence look after the commonplace, the ordinary life. I’ll prepare something for you to eat; you watch TV, do yoga, smoke a joint." - Pipi Rist

The other brilliant thing about her videos -- besides their deft appropriation and repurposing and wild enweirdening of pop songs -- is how visually arresting they are, and how they manage to be visually arresting without recourse to being grotesque, which distinguishes them from just about everything else you are likely to find yourself unable to look away from.

I was reminded of this the other day when I went to see the video installation that Rist has built in a multi-story atrium in the new(ish) MOMA building in New York. But first I watched this video of Rist talking about how this “kind of useless big room will be made to enlighten the body.”

“Huge rooms always mean to honor the spirit in a way, like a church, like it’s the house of God,” she continues - she’s wearing dorky thick-framed black glasses and a puffy bright yellow and orange jacket, as if she’s playing ‘wacky German-accented artist’ in an SNL sketch or something - “And this is one of my biggest fights, to reconcile thinking and body.”

Also Rist says on a placard outside the atrium that she wants visitors to absorb “spiritual vitamins” from the piece, which is called ‘Pour Your Body Out.’

Keeping all this in mind, I set out on a dark cold rainy Sunday afternoon, walking past the Pratt sculpture garden to the G train, which came fairly promptly. I transferred to the E but got off too early, at 53rd and Lex, so I walked – it was really pouring – through the luxury shopping and sad office district that surrounds the MOMA.

Am I imagining this, or do lavish shop windows just look especially pathetic and false to everyone right now, as if the sad hollowness of material culture has been revealed once and for all? Possibly I’m imagining this. Probably there’s still someone somewhere who’s still in thrall to the idea of buying a new wardrobe for ‘resort’ season.

Anyway I walked into the MOMA, paid my $20, stuffed my dripping raincoat in my bag, walked into ‘Pour Your Body Out,’ took off my boots (no shoes allowed on the carpeted area) and lay down in the exact center of the room, which is this carpeted ring surrounded by a raised carpeted donut. Immediately I was swarmed on all sides by wide-eyed, joy-filled children, who unworriedly ran around me and over and into my legs as if I was just another pink pillow or lump of carpet.

One eight year old girl’s mom was trying to get her out of the carpeted circle:

“We have to go back to the hotel.”
“Fifteen more minutes!”
Maybe FIVE more minutes.”
“Fifteen more minutes!”
“Can you explain to me exactly what you find so fascinating about this place?”

She couldn’t. I can’t either, really.

It’s just three huge walls of projected oversaturated color, mostly landscapes and closeup views of grass and puddles and soft bodies which a camera zooms up and around and over, as if your tiny body is being astrally projected into these fantastical surroundings. Sometimes all three walls seem to display the same image and at other times they’re different.

One sequence captures the feeling you get sometimes in botanical gardens of wanting to grab the flowers and rub them all over your body and stick them up your nose and stuff. In another sequence, someone wades through a puddle full of shiny crushed aluminum cans and other bits of shimmering dross. In another, a warm pink body is rendered abstract by the camera’s swoops and dives.

At one point, as a green strawberry floated in viscous pink liquid across the screen, I surprised myself by having the clichéd though that it would be fun to come here on mushrooms, but then I imagined cranking up the intensity of the sound and color and the plush softness of the pillow-nest and the warm surrounding bodies just a tiny bit and realized, yikes no thank you.

Plus imagine if you were on mushrooms and you decided, as I did after half an hour or so of Pouring My Body Out, to poke around in the gallery right behind the atrium and you ended up stepping from the sepulchral warm pink to this small black grotto where Nan Goldin’s slideshow ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ plays for forty five minutes of every hour? You would be so. fucked.

Though I had seen most of these pictures individually or in books had never seen the whole ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ before and in some ways it’s like Rist’s videos’ perfect dark counterpoint, because while it’s also riveting it is emphatically grotesque.

from Nan Goldin's The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency

Goldin’s photos and the funny/sad music that accompanies them – ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ plays over a pastiche of drag queens and tarted-up East Village party girls, that kind of thing – do seem artlessly grotesque – it would be unforgivable if they seemed to strive for grotesquerie. They’re just shiny disgusting completely unignorable portraits of a particular world, which is gone.

There is a whole dead New York world that lives forever in this dark room, trapped and pressed flat in here, living in colors as rich and saturated as the ones on the walls in the atrium. This artwork doesn’t contain any spiritual vitamins. But both rooms are what I came to see.

Emily Gould is a writer living in New York, a sometime yoga instructor and editor of Emily Magazine. This is her first appearance on This Recording.