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Entries in big love (3)

Thursday
Feb172011

In Which We Think About A Move To Houston

An Analytical Mindset

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Big Love

creators Mark V. Olsen & Will Scheffer

The magical key to unlocking the female analytical mindset. Tap directly into her hopes, her wants, her fears, her desires, and her sweet little panties. Learn how to make that lady "friend" your sex-starved servant. I don't care how you look. I don't care what car you drive. I don't care what your last bank statement says.

Frank 'T.J.' Mackey

It's nice to have a lot of people around. Accidents in the home are less often fatal. Tibetans practiced polyandry, a form of plural marriage in which a woman has many husbands. Stuck-up people gave them copious shit about it. Big Love would be a great show if it were just about regular people living in America, but the series' fifth and final season concerns irregular people living in Utah. As time has gone on, the aughts have hit the erstwhile home improvement chain owner hard. Each of Bill Hendrickson's wives has grown increasingly attractive while he no longer seems lively enough to hop on Apollo 13.

Extreme survival circumstances encourage the destruction of monogamy, which explains John Edwards' love affair better than I ever could. Robert Heinlein imagined line marriages in space, where the eldest wife could select any man to her bed, and marriage back into a line is accepted rarely, perhaps only once or twice in a generation. Precautions against incest licensed a variety of exciting arrangements. Did you know that Dennis Hopper once had seven women with the same last name convinced he was in love with them at the same time?

Chloe Sevigny spins like a dervish amidst the various plotlines. The fact that I am able to keep track of the show's characters is an indictment of my own. There are over 60, and these are just a few: Bill's mom, Bill, his three wives, his friend and CFO, that man's three wives, many children, Wayne, Roman Grant (deceased), Kara-Lynn, Frank 'T.J.' Mackey, Heather, Nicki's mother (Mark Kay Place), Margene's mother (deceased), Bill's demon spawn fresh from a Ukranian emigre's belly, Bill's father, Aaron Paul, Albie, a BYU intern, Bill's brother, Benny, Sarah, the man who works in Bill's warehouse and hates him, Bill's Senate colleagues - there is no end to the sheer number of people in Utah.

How many people does the average person know in their lifetime? This is the ideal question for a wisdom of the crowds, which effectively amounts to a conflict of interest. In Utah, many things are different from how we have come to know them on the other side of the world, really. Bill's third wife Margene managed "Why don't we just live in Houston?"

Bill Hendrickson spent his youth stealing because he was cast out from Juniper Creek, the compound where everyone's hair looks like early Elaine from Seinfeld and young women are offered in a book to the men who are effectively their pimps and sperm origin points. Bill (or "Beeeeeeeel" if you're calling him from another room) didn't have a dollar to his name and that was 40 percent of his charm. To solve this social problem, in the fiction of Big Love, Utah authorities persecute the compound and all those who live in this fashion. Joseph Smith had a lovely looking family:

It is no longer precisely who we are supposed to sympathize with, or against. Sunday's episode showcased a set of stodgy LDS officials — with their weird, muted pleas to Bill, they seemed more like psychic representations of his inner struggle than actual characters. Their status as apparitions is the ludicrous exception that proves the rule. At the end of some scenes, the audience cannot be entirely sure whether they are supposed to feel empathetic or hateful towards the heroes of the drama. This reconstructs the soap opera of Big Love as a moral mindfuck, where the antagonist is a constantly rotating ephemeral idea. It's too bad you have to follow along with a scorecard, but it's not really that difficult as long as you're clean and sober.

Everyone on Big Love always is. The luminous Jeanne Tripplehorn sampled some wine and her housemates reacted as if she had ripped their hearts out. When the actress-wives found out Bill was schlepping a waitress who ruined the show's previous season they weren't half as indignant. (He only put it in a little.) Not that the show's creators wish to paint a broad brush, but it seems fair to conclude that for Mormons, sex is okay, but not pornography, unless it is devoid of sex, when it is renamed the Oxygen Network.

At this point in his life, Bill doesn't seem very interested in women. He gets more excited by a vote on the floor of the Utah State Senate, and he no longer has sex scenes with any of his actress-wives, although he repeatedly watches Chloe Sevigny's scene from The Brown Bunny to stimulate himself to orgasm. Once he achieves it, he usually moves on to the intercourse of a flooded planet in Waterworld. His son and fellow-priesthood holder showcases similar passions.

There is something very noxious about the tendency of people to interfere in each other's business. At the same time, the frontier was a dangerous place and Joseph Smith probably couldn't stop after the third wife or so. Opinions about polygamy are more mixed than even Big Love allows; opinions about the abuse of women in plural marriage aren't mixed at all.

In the time he spends between writing memoirs about the Holocaust, Daniel Mendelsohn found the time to recently denigrate Mad Men for its sanctimonious view of the 1960s, a point of view akin to the conviction that he hates monkeys because they eat too many bananas. It's not just Leonardo DiCaprio in every single movie who is losing his grasp on reality, the simpleton who confuses satire with real life remains complicit. Don't ask me which Big Love is from scene to scene; it would be impossible to rightly tell without a magnifying glass.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing here.

"Service Animal" - Women (mp3)

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Tuesday
Feb162010

In Which Big Love Takes A Gamble And Loses Itself In The Process

Don't Tell Your Dad

by JESSICA HOPPER

Big Love

Season 4

The new opening credits of HBO’s Mormon polygamist zonk out, Big Love, signaled a new tack with a terrible visual metaphor: the shows adult leads falling perilously into the dark infinite, unable to grasp hands. Swathed in a mess of blowing semi-formal wear they emoted hard at the viewer scrunching their brows. The previous three seasons opened with Beach Boys and pairs skating, the three wives switching off with their shared husband.

Gone are those days and the connection! The center will not hold! Said the metaphor. The credits, unfortunately didn’t give us any warning season four is quickly gaining momentum, with each episode, headed straight for overplotted hot mess, filled with yelling characters that don’t even relish hating, you just regular hate.

The dramatic tension of the show’s previous seasons revolved mostly around keeping their dozen-deep polygamist love hive in the burbs secret from the judging eyes straight world and/or fending off the persecuting creepiness of the gnarly compound sect Nicki and Bill both came from. Now that Nicki’s murderous prophet daddy done got killed, they’re bumping the tension up by making every character on the show, save for Margene’s newborn and Bills mom’s parrots have explosive secret problems that blow up at the rate of five a show.

These are kept from easy resolution or redress by Bill insisting “Not now!” anytime someone tries to speak to him, or misunderstand his motives, or demand an explanation of his out of control prophetic-maniacal bullshit. That person, invariably furrows their brow and stomps away, and/or moves out. Once the reveal comes out, there is the part where Bill squinches his face and says “Why didn’t you tell me?”, sometimes in a mad way, though sometimes in a empathetic good TV dad way. Once that happens, everyone starts yelling at each other to get over it.

The characters' problems are infinitely spinning out into quick resolutions, with most every twist hinging on “don’t tell Dad!”—very Brady Bunch of them. Don’t tell dad about the Native American meth head's baby you are harboring, or your weird feelings since yr unplanned preggo miscarriage or your secret non-Mormon wedding! Don’t tell your dad that his third wife has glanced upon your boner, Ben, though you only liked it when she wasn’t flirting back! Oh wait, too late, your religious zealot little sister, (that impossible to look at brace-faced pubescent ginger—a 2.0 new season replacement who is a ringer for Darla from Finding Nemo), Teeny, spilled the beans for ya!

This season’s had more use of “reveals” than a month of the Pitchfork news page: Barb has been secretly wishing to be regular Mormon, she ran over a meth head on the res, that she hates her job and her dramatic Mormon homelife is still on the burner.

Nicki revealed a secret teen daughter who was re-revealed to her by her creepy rapey-vibe fingernail-less first husband, JJ, she told Margene she might not love Bill, let it be know she still has sexy feelings for her old boss, that maybe she doesn’t believe in her faith, that she doesn’t believe her dad was the prophet, that third wife Margene is making $9,000 secret dollars a month on a then still-secret home shopping network. She may still secretly be on the pill and pretending to “try” to get preggo and that she too, loathes her dramatic Mormon homelife is in slow reveal. She also sometimes hides her secret teen daughter in birdseed box in the yard, but that not a real secret. 

Margene has revealed she meant to kiss her husband’s teen son, that she has feelings for him, that she lied about and let him lie about it (she cries in a plush mascot animal suit and runs off at this disclosure), that she has been making megabucks hawking bracelets on TV and not sharing them, the vastness of her sexual needs, and she also lies in a fake reveal to the viewers of her program about being a single mom. She did not disclose that she has seen Ben naked and also glanced at his boner when he was reaching the hot cocoa for her (needless TMI for any parent, surely).

Ben pretended to be in Idaho when he was hiding from his dad, and then told everyone his dad threw him out, even though all Bill suggested was that it was best he leave for a while, a while not being stipulated, and could have been a night or 45 minutes. During the course of the aftermath of that, Ben stomped angrily out of many rooms, including into a bathroom and out of an auditorium. Everyone yells WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOU SECRETLY CAST BEN OUT OF THE HOUSE?!, but not in unison. They take turns.

Bill, mainly, has only one and a half -–well, maybe two--secrets, aside from being a polygamist (as well as a now fake regular Mormon), and that’s that about 36 years ago, in his lost boy days, he beat a clerk for some Walkmans—which he revealed in a political debate and then walked off stage. His confession also sort of implied that did a bit of hustling in the park back in his day, which should be enough to keep him from being elected to Senate, but apparently, this batch of Republican voting Mormons were moved by his tenderoni display of humanity.

And still, no one is doing any boning except for the teen daughter who went from being awesome and college bound to having a throbbing desire to get married and procreate at 19.  She is now moving to Idaho, which seems like a fitting punishment.

Half a season down, half to go! Will the show reclaim its watchability OR will it continue to descend into a show where no one is getting laid, everyone is yelling and you hate everyone, including the children that don’t have any lines?

Jessica Hopper is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago and the author of The Girls' Guide To Rocking. She last wrote for This Recording about Lars Von Trier's Antichrist

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Wednesday
Jan132010

In Which Big Love Walks A Lonely Road

The Very Ecstasy of Love

by ELEANOR MORROW

How should we treat the ones we love? The new season of Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer's HBO series Big Love puts this issue into the sharpest of focus. Do they need a firm yet giving hand? Do they require a major degree of autonomy to function? When is it right to criticize and challenge those we love, and when is the same behavior certain to destroy them?

It's rare to see actual bad parenting portrayed on television, and this only one strange element about the relationship of Big Love's character to its audience. We can't fully sympathize with characters who treat their children in this fashion, and yet we're drawn into the dilemmas of the Hendricksons slowly but surely, without realizing what exactly we're doing. In case you're overly prejudiced against multiple partners and have avoided the show, the Hendricksons are currently spawning new babies quicker than Brad Pitt's rimjobs: Teenie, Aaron, Lester, Ben, Nell, Wayne, Sarah, Cara Lynn are only the beginning of the large brood routinely ignored by their parents.

weirdly, this is the most attractive Harry Dean Stanton has ever beenNone of these kids are turning out very well. The oldest is Sarah, played by Amanda Seyfried. Last season had her dealing with a pregnancy that got deus ex hendrickson'd into oblivion. Now she's just a regular Mormon girl dealing with her Mormon problems, like what dress that goes down to my ankles should I wear today? Given that she's more occupied with movie roles where she's tonguing Julianne Moore, the intriguing questioning Mormon Seyfried portrayed will be missed as a crucial part of Big Love's success, absorbed into a relationship in the same fashion as any other girl you know.

What can fill the void? Nikki's surprise daughter Cara Lynn has been a fun start. The junior math whiz tells her dirtbag father that she doesn't like it with the Hendricksons, but we sense that's about to change when she realizes she can do whatever she wants on her new compound.

The surprise daughter trick has worked quite well as a plot device in soaps, and that's the direction Big Love has headed. The seedy prophet Roman Grant tied the show into a very disturbing portrait of a cult that subjected its members to a series of disgusting circumstances. With his departure from the drama, the stakes have lessened somewhat, and the soap aspects naturally come to the foreground. Before, there was always the distinct and frightening possibility that any character would end up in the joy book of Juniper Creek and became another cog in the wifely machine that is polygamy.

For this reason, I expected the premiere to be more of a reboot than it was. What we really care about are the ties between people on this show, and since Juniper Creek is no longer the pressure point it was during the first three seasons, the show is desperately in need of a new antagonist who represents the morality of the outsider who produce, direct, and write this show. Fortunately guest turns by Sissy Spacek as a lobbyist, Željko Ivanek as Nicki's ex and the return of once fourth wife Ana are promised in the abbreviated nine-episode season to come.

The new opening sequence is a neat metaphor for how the show has changed over time. No longer are wives and husbands swirling away from one another in a fog. They now just fall singularly like Mormon Don Drapers into a new abyss of their own making.

honey, would it make you feel better if we recast you after this season? go play with your brothersThe tension between Roman Grant and the Hendricksons wasn't the only captivating storyline that made Big Love so exciting. There was always some fear of Bill, Margene, Nicki and Barb being discovered and outed. Now it's obvious that every attorney and police in Salt Lake City knows that Bill butters his bread in three houses. If they knew how rarely he was actually getting laid, they might not be so acrimonious. Bill's sex life has struggled terribly now that he's opening his collaborative casino project with the kind and potential Mormon-hating indigenous people of Utah. The focus is on Bill's business, for better or worse, and by the end of the season premiere, his business is in serious trouble.

With the focus shifting towards Bill's casino venture, Margene Hendrickson's plucky, sexpot saleswoman wife has become the unwitting protagonist of Big Love. Where last season she tried to get Bill to bring on a saucy foreign fourth wife, this year her reinvention as Home Shopping Network star promises more laughs than all the scenes Bradley Cooper wasn't in during He's Just Not That Into You. The show's writers have turned one of the most easily pigeonholed characters on the show into one of its deepest.

beeeeeeeeeeeeellllll?In contrast, Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb has become minimized as a result of the focus on the other two wives. Barb's done it all - she beat cancer like a champ, she found dry land in Waterworld, and she got excommunicated from her religion. While the experience of being disliked by Indians is somewhat captivating, she's run out of creative steam and it's going to take a major shakeup to make her anything other than Bill Paxton's dialogue coach.

That brings us to Chloe Sevigny. What starlet was more likely to have a face tattoo and a heroin addiction? And yet Sevigny only keeps on working in what can charitably be described as the role of a lifetime. Her Nicki is a tic-ridden, subversive amalgam of woman, so good and bad at once she'd give Jesus (or Joseph Smith) one hell of a headache. To add insult to Mormonism, she's never been more beautiful. With her father out of the picture, it simply leaves more room for the note perfect scenes between her and her similarly conflicted mother Adaleen (the magical Mary Kay Place). In these scenes on the Juniper Creek compound we get the most obvious evidence of how corrupting an ideology that pervades every aspect of our being necessarily is.

this is a really cute hat bill. could our tribe have it?Over time, Big Love has grown more suspicious and derogatory towards polygamy. This is only right - what to the non-cultists looks like a unique but not entirely savage family arrangement over time reveals itself to be more corrupting than you can ever imagine. Bill himself has nothing more to give to his wives, and as if compensating, they find little in common with him. The practical benefit of having a large family is virtually all that can be said in the favor of this family structure.

And yet we ultimately recognize that the ideology which pervades the hypocritical government persecution of the Hendricksons is just as all-knowing and insolent. We should never speak for others, even when what they do is strange and weird to us, as long as it is freely chosen. No one needs a lecture on why polygamy is generally bad for wives and the children that result from such arrangements. The gay married masterminds behind the show Scheffer and Olsen have no intention of giving one. All families have something that redeems them, no matter how disturbing their structure. What redeems the Hendricksons is an open question.

Financial freedom is part of the equation, as it is for every other family in America. But there is something larger beneath that about what we see when we look at our children. Staring in a mirror at the daughter she didn't see in twelve years, Nicki Hendrickson puts on a look of total care and total dominance. She wants nothing of Juniper Creek for her daughter, but she is not perceptive enough to learn or diligent enough to figure out that her daughter may in fact want something of Juniper Creek. But then, if children didn't always surprise their parents, what exactly would be the point of having them?

family meeting: I really hate what you guys have been wearingEven as Big Love conscientiously and dutifully assails the evils of polygamy, it is also offering a brief that the human heart remains capable of more love than we commonly give it credit for. On the other hand, it also endorses a more cynical view - sooner or later, we run out of this mysterious and desired substance.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about John Lennon and Bob Dylan.

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You can purchase the new FF, Heartland, here.