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Entries in durga chew-bose (44)

Wednesday
Mar192014

In Which Barbara Loden Had Been With Worse

Beauty

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

In a 1972 episode of The Mike Douglas Show, co-hosted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Barbara Loden is introduced by her hosts as "a very lovely lady," as "married to a very famous gentleman," as "wife of Elia Kazan," as "a mother," and as a "filmmaker in her own right." Seconds later, polka-dotted set doors slide open and Loden appears.

She is wearing white jeans, a black knit shirt, and lace-up boots. Her bangs flop over her forehead and her blond highlights have grown out — color-blocking her long, thin and wispy hair. Loden looks like a dream. She has the smile of a young Cloris Leachman, she begins her sentences with "Gee" and speaks of being "bashful." She is from another time. Like a woman in a Sunkist beauty ad — the kind from Teen magazine: "Leaves your hair looking squeaky-clean, smelling lemon-fresh." It’s as if at any moment she might turn, stare straight into the camera, and sell you a bar of Dial soap.

Loden’s voice is soft and her words are considered. It is nerve-wracking to listen to her, a cause for concern. She is wary when discussing her marriage to Elia Kazan, especially in comparison to that of John and Yoko: "We lead a rather insulated life. We don’t get around much." Loden barely reacts when it’s made clear that Douglas hasn't even watched her film, Wanda, but is posing questions nonetheless.

However, once she starts talking about her movie — the only one she would ever write and direct — poise outdoes caution. Loden speaks faster and with finality. Her thoughts accrue in increments. She uses her hands. Her focus turns urgent. It’s clear she feels a deep kinship with her character, Wanda Goransky, a woman Loden says is living "an ugly type of existence," a wife and mother who has abandoned her marriage, her children, and herself. She is uncertain of what she wants but persuaded by what she doesn’t want. Loden is her advocate. Wanda is Loden’s orbit.

"She’s trying to do the best thing that she can. Life is a mystery to her," she says, though not to Douglas, not to John or to Yoko, but to some perhaps doubtful though vital, and resolving side of her nature.  

Premiering at Venice in 1970, Wanda, was released a year later in New York and L.A. Largely ignored and omitted in the United States, like so many endangered American independent films, Wanda was revered in Europe. Marguerite Duras, who writes in The Lover, "My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women," as well as Isabelle Huppert, who released a DVD of Wanda in France in 2004, were fans.

The film begins with a shot of a Pennsylvania coal mine. The landscape is lunar and the machinery looks miniature: crater-sized puddles and Tonka-sized trunks. Mountains of coal denote work, hard work, repetition, and men. We immediately know that Wanda, the title character, whoever she is, is likely detached from this world, these men, this work — especially if the work is hard and repetitive. A Woman Under the Influence, which also starts at a work site, is called to mind. Five Easy Pieces, too. Mabel Longhetti, Rayette Dipesto, and Wanda Goransky: all women whose lives, in various ways, have been trivialized. As Loden puts it, they simply "drop out."

But it’s the echoing sound of machinery at the start of these films that creates a discrete type of stillness: moving parts that carry out tasks, strictly physical, toiling tasks — tools, methods, with functions that function. When Wanda appears moments later, waking up on a couch — a single white sheet as her blanket — she is hungover and bothered by a wailing baby. Wanda is neither functioning nor ready to carry out tasks. If this family and town are hers, they are hers to escape.

Before the movie really takes off, a series of events where Wanda is alone or Wanda is with someone who makes her feel even more alone, unfold. A portrait is painted of a woman who is trying to get as far away from herself as she can and who hasn’t yet found her "use." She walks far distances — a tiny white blemish crossing mountains of gunmetal gray coal — to beg for money, to catch an empty bus, to show up late for divorce court, to look at the judge, point to her husband and say, "They’d be betta off with him."

Too slow as a seamstress, she loses her job at a factory. Too broke to buy a drink, she wakes up hungover in motel beds with men who hurry out in the mornings, who reluctantly drop her off anywhere. In one scene she stands on the side of the highway, licking ice cream as a man peels away in his car. Never did a woman with a goofy high top ponytail look so scrappy, so dejected and doomed.

Aimless, either looking at clothes in a department store and standing beside mannequins which bear an uncanny resemblance to her, or going to the movies, only to fall asleep curled up in her seat, her purse two rows down, emptied of what little she had, Wanda continues to wander. And yet, shit out of luck, she doesn’t mope or mourn — her nothing-to-lose manner is less attitude and more delusion and wear. She’ll look for a comb to neaten her bangs instead of accounting for where she’ll be sleeping that night. The camera gets near to her face, as if convincing us that Wanda is unafraid, if not entirely withdrawn.

But then she meets Mr. Dennis (Michael Higgins), a hapless robber and miserable man, and she attaches herself to him. Maybe it’s his gruff way or that he tells her who he is, what to do, and what he doesn’t like — "I don’t like nosy people," "Go back to your comics," "Why don’t you do something about your hair? It looks terrible." Whatever it is, Wanda is fastened to and maybe even fascinated by Mr. Dennis. 

He buys her spaghetti at a diner. She eats it with her fork in one hand and her cigarette in the other. "Did you want that piece of bread?" Wanda asks. “That’s the best part,” she continues while mopping up the leftover sauce. Later, when Mr. Dennis orders her to take the wheel and drive, she does. But Wanda does not use it as opportunity to take control. She follows instructions. She does as she’s told.

Unassuming, loyal, already on the lam, Wanda makes for a perfect accomplice. But first, her clothes have to go. "No slacks! When you’re with me, no slacks!" Mr. Dennis yells. "No hair curlers! Makes you look cheap!" He throws both her pants and her box of curlers out the car window. When Wanda asks him where they are going, he barks: "No questions! When you’re with me, no questions!" While his tone is threatening, Wanda’s been with worse. He’s a bully — a hapless, miserable bully. 

In one scene, Mr. Dennis’ temper dissolves. Standing in an open field as Wanda sits on the roof of his car, the two drink beers and eat sandwiches. The sun is setting and he lends her his jacket. It’s the first moment in the film where two people talk to each other, where vulnerability isn’t an action or inaction, but a single sentence that reveals more than we were ever expecting to learn about Mr. Dennis: "If you don’t have money, you are nothing."

For Wanda, who ignores questions about her kids while painting her nails on the side of the highway, who exchanges her ponytail for a smarter-looking pin-cushion top bun, yet still looks taken down, being "nothing" isn’t so bad. Like Rayette in Five Easy Pieces, whose Stand by Your Man adages are infinite and misguided — "I'll go out with you, or I'll stay in with you, or I’ll do anything that you like for me to do, if you tell me that you love me" — Wanda, too, will do anything, especially if it keeps her moving and at length from recognizing what it is that she wants. 

Barbara Loden died of breast cancer ten years after making Wanda — a debut which feels incredibly close to the writer, director, actress; a debut which is a cumulative expression and hopefully, liberation of herself. Her marriage to Kazan appeared restrained and guarded, and while in some interviews he praises his wife’s film, in his memoirs he writes: "She wanted to be independent, find her own way. I didn’t really believe she had the equipment to be an independent filmmaker."

The word "equipment" is interesting to note. It implies invention and esprit, substance, smarts, ideas of Loden’s own, courage. It is also used by Barbara herself on Mike Douglas' show. When describing Wanda’s inability to take control of her life, to claim desires, Loden says, "She has no equipment." It is a startling coincidence, a fluke that might mean nothing, but one nonetheless. It underpins Loden’s pressing need to make a film about a woman whose story had been told for so long in other people’s words. Her vision was born from a gameness she often concealed as a model, actress and wife, but that she laid bare, masterly, on grainy 16mm, shot over the course of ten weeks with a crew of four.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Love Never Acted" - Eleni Mandell (mp3)

"The Man Who's Always Lost " - Eleni Mandell (mp3)

Friday
Feb142014

In Which We Open Our Medicine Cabinet

Overnight

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

I.

A leg was broken. Its double-sided woodscrew had loosened and its metal thread was irreversibly stripped. Now, my parents’ mid-century olive green chaise lounge looked comically dejected and lifeless, no longer possessing its coy, come hither posture. Few things look more miserable than a purposeless chair, especially one whose purpose is for lazing. So, my father went to the local hardware store to replace the double-sided screw and then after, to a bicycle shop next door where he had the metal flange rethreaded with a tap. But the wood inside the leg was also ruined. The man at the hardware store told my father to fill the hole with matchsticks and carpenter glue and instructed him to, Leave it overnight. The next day, the wood leg—walnut brown and tapered—screwed in effortlessly and the chair was once again, herself.

II. 

The overnight Greyhound from New York to Montreal takes roughly eight hours, give or take twenty minutes. It leaves at 11 p.m. from Port Authority and arrives at the Berri bus station in the morning. Depending on the season, you board when it’s dark and disembark when it’s dark, or board when it’s dark and disembark when it’s light out. No matter the season, you arrive a little wobbly; gum-breath and flat hair. You yawn as you stumble down the stairs because Greyhound stairs, it seems, are built steeply and induce deep, near-stagy yawns.

III.

When I search for the word “overnight” in my inbox, these are just some of the results that span nearly five years of emails.

1. Countless promotions: Overnight holiday delivery ends today! FREE Shipping Overnight! Overnight and Saturday delivery, etc

2. A note from my father about our puppy, Willis, who was taken to the emergency room because he was throwing up and because his heart was racing: They are doing x-rays now and they may keep him overnight. 

3. Finally, some renovations and fresh coats of paint at my old apartment in Boerum Hill. Thrilled, my roommate wrote: so Frazier is painting the kitchen and we have to let it dry overnight. i will put all the shit away tomorrow in the day. isn't this exciting. There is no reply thread to that e-mail because I likely texted back, Fuck yeah.

4. Dispatches from various family members updating me about my aunt’s cancer treatment:

They may request Jen stays overnight for observation following the first treatment.

Jen will most likely spend overnight at the hospital, however, she is not in a room.  Dolores will be keeping me posted.

she's scheduled for chemo on monday (she'll stay overnight in hospital) and tuesday so they can check her white blood cell count

5. A gchat with my friend about a new boy in her life. On April 2nd, 2013 at 6:07pm, she wrote:

he’s just completely changed the way he talks to me in the last two weeks and i don’t know what the hell is going on

And then three minutes later at 6:10pm, she writes: he went from hot to cold literally overnight!

6. A link (and the full text) of a New York Times profile of Chirlane McCray pasted into the e-mail:

He flirted with her mercilessly, she said, calling nonstop and trying to steal an unwelcome kiss. “I actually told him, ‘Slow this down,’ ” Ms. McCray said. Her resistance became less diplomatic: “Back off.”

But a romance blossomed: Mr. de Blasio, five years her junior, won over her family with an overnight visit that earned him a new moniker: “Brother Bill.”

7. An e-mail from my roommate while I was home in Montreal this past Christmas. A picture was attached depicting the street outside my bedroom window: We got about 6 inches in Brooklyn overnight and it is 10 degrees out. The subject of the e-mail was “Snow day” and I remember thinking how six inches was nothing compared to winter in Montreal. Appraising the difference made me ache for my friends yet promptly miss my parents who were sitting in the next room.  

IV.

Bad timing. I developed a rash on my left cheek — a patch of red that felt like sandpaper. I was meeting an old friend the next day and considered cancelling with a text: Hi! Sorry, feeling sick – lame, I know…blergh. Raincheck?

No response.

The worst part of cancelling a plan is waiting for the acknowledgement of the cancelled plan.

So, I opened my medicine cabinet and reached for a tube of a cream – who knows what, it was thick. I padded it on my cheek with certainty despite itchiness and uncertainty. I went to bed moody, embittered.

The next morning I woke up and checked my phone—no texts—and clomped my morning clomp down my hall and to my bathroom. Focus in the morning is a far off thing and I nearly forgot about my rash. But there it wasn’t. Barely red; barely there. Overnight, just like that, it was gone. Someone should bottle and sell the sense of relief spawned from a rash gone. Suddenly, I felt invincible. Overnight, I was made invincible.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about The Mindy Project.

Thursday
Jan232014

In Which Mindy Kaling's Name Is An Anagram

From the Mouth of a Babe

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano have finally kissed. Until now, The Mindy Project has been building up to this moment where the gruff and grumpy, sometimes jerk (played by Chris Messina) is wooed by (or woos) his colleague, the sincere and occasionally clueless, though ever-confident, Lahiri (Mindy Kaling).

They are, after all, a match made in Jack and Kate Spade heaven. His waxwear messenger bag to her allover print silk blouse. His Barbour jacket and dude-type maxims to her sequined sweater and Twitter tailored specificity. Theirs is a Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks pantomime with hints of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (mostly the slapstick physical comedy; after all, Kaling trips and falls in nearly every episode of the show). She’s a Romantic with a plan and an endless supply of silk, men’s pajamas. He’s a guy who punctuates his sentences with how much he can bench at the gym. Their sexual tension is perfect for TV.

The show resumes on April 1st, but until then, let’s revisit that time we riffed on what might have happened, had their repartee taken a Notting Hill turn. - DCB

The Mindy Project: Notting Hill Episode

From the moment we were introduced to Ed Weeks’s character, Dr. Jeremy Reed, on Fox’s The Mindy Project, Hugh Grant has been the obvious comparison. Like Grant, Weeks is tall and British. Like Grant, Weeks’s long face is one-third forehead and steadied by an all but imperceptible rascally smile. Like Grant before him, Weeks is that precise blend of reticent British rearing mixed with a skewed and slightly overeager American awakening. Dr. Jeremy Reed, as with some of Grant’s most memorable roles, is the London version of what might have happened had '80s Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe merged into one. Self-loathing and self-loving, both. A sometimes dope with great hair whose romantic exploits are punctuated by a woeful second act.

For this viewer, a Hugh Grant rom com inspired Mindy Project episode seems inevitable. But which one? Nine Months? Two Weeks Notice? Bridget Jones? Dr. Reed and Dr. Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) could duke it out in the street as “It’s Raining Men” plays. After all, Castellano possesses some distinctly Mark Darcy traits. Or, like in Love Actually Dr. Reed could get caught making out with the office receptionist backstage at Dr. Lahiri’s best friend Gwen’s (Anna Camp) kid’s Christmas recital. And of course, there’s always About a Boy: bored of the New York dating scene, Dr. Reed pretends to have a kid (stealing Gwen’s of course) in order to meet single moms. While one of Grant's most-loved roles as Will Thacker, the lovestruck travel bookshop owner in Notting Hill might be a less obvious Mindy choice, we thought here at TR we’d give it a go.

The episode would begin with Mindy waxing about her favorite neighborhood in New York—probably the West Village. Like Grant’s appraisal of Notting Hill, Kaling’s character, Dr. Lahiri, would catalog the brownstones, the smell of sugar wafting from Magnolia Bakery (the cupcakes, she’ll admit, are overrated), the coffee shop where every movie is shot, the bookstore where every movie is shot, the dollar pizza for hangover breakfast, and the store that sells clothes for grown women who want to look like Parisian toddlers.

Next, Mindy leads us to her obstetrics practice where everyone is huddled around the receptionist’s computer looking at red carpet pictures from the previous night’s Golden Globes. (Likely the Globes so that Mindy can reference the year Matt Damon boasted about getting a better seat than Jack Nicholson). Everyone wittily banters. Betsy (Zoe Jarman) mentions she has a crush on Ryan Seacrest and Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) the nurse, who may as well be a beefier Rhys Ifans (Will's lovably bizarre roommate in Notting Hill, Spike), makes some quintessentially weird yet apt comment. “Funny you should mention Ryan Seacrest in a room full of OB-GYNs, Betsy. After all, his name is an anagram for Try Cesareans."

Then, the most famous movie actress in the world walks in for an appointment. She’s an Emma. Emma Jones. Or Emma Hudson. Or Emma Wood. She’s played by Rachel McAdams or Anne Hathaway. She’s wearing sunglasses, a cornflower blue garment washed Mets cap, t-shirt and jeans. Everyone at the office gets weird and whispery, and awkward. Morgan is not altered in the least. Castellano gawks. Jeremy and Emma are immediately, very sweetly, smitten.  Mindy, seeing potential for a Notting Hill romance, calls everyone to her office for a meeting.

From her desk, she orders Jeremy, without any explanation, to recite a few lines.

“Come on Bridget, we belong together.”

AND

“In my opinion, all men are islands. And what's more, now's the time to be one. This is an island age.”

AND

“Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?”

Jeremy goes along with it but is confused. Danny interrupts, having figured out what is going on and bluntly asks, “Do you think Andie MacDowell and Julia Roberts are hot?” Mindy rolls her eyes and explains to Jeremy while apologizing for reducing him to stereotype that he’s basically Hugh Grant. The gang all agrees and Mindy insists he “Notting Hill the day” and ask Emma the actress out on a date. Betsy chimes in and instructs Jeremy that, just like in the movie, he should rush out when Emma leaves and accidently spill coffee on her. Castellano corrects her. “Orange juice. It’s orange juice not coffee that Hugh Grant spills on Julia Roberts.” Everyone turns. Mindy is impressed by but prepared to mock Castellano for his detailed knowledge of the 1999 romantic comedy. Because the gang was already invited for dinner at Mindy’s that evening, she suggests that Jeremy invite Emma, just like in the movie.

Dinner at Mindy’s is cozy. Her apartment is all white bookshelves and warm lighting. Think Nancy Meyers seashell tones with Jonathan Adler orange and fuscia throw cushions. Emma gets along easily with everyone. She laughs with her mouth wide open. She finds Morgan especially charming and watches Mindy admiringly. She compliments Betsy on her outfit and Betsy, like Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill, declares that she and Emma should be best friends forever. Jeremy has obviously fallen in love. Mindy catches herself staring at Danny who is uncharacteristically well behaved at dinner. He looks handsome and relaxed.

Unfortunately Mindy forgets to make dessert. She rummages through her fridge, freezer, and pantry only to find a half-empty jar of Nutella. She hands everyone a spoon—one scoop each. But there’s a little left and Betsy insists that they fight for the last scoop: “Whoever’s the saddest act here, get’s to finish the jar.” They all play. Morgan doesn’t quite get the game and starts confessing to weird shit he’s done in his life like lying every time he’s claimed to see the image in a Magic Eye. Mindy goes on a tangent but then realizes she’s pretty happy with her laugh right now. Danny’s speech is oddly sentimental. He mentions his divorce and hints at perhaps being lonely. Embarrassed he ruins the moment by taking the last scoop of Nutella before Jeremy, Emma, or Betsy get to go. Jeremy and Emma leave together. “I Do” by 98 Degrees plays.

The episode ends with Mindy, the next day at work, standing at the threshold of Danny’s office door, grinning. “Hey Danny,” she says. He stares at her impatiently. "Yes, Mindy?" She looks at him with puppy eyes and says, “I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy, asking him to…” Danny shoos her out before she can finish. He appreciates being made fun of by Mindy.

The camera pans out of the office and onto the street where a group of 30 something girlfriends are gabbing and dressed like Parisian toddlers.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Young Blood" - Sophie Ellis-Bextor (mp3)

"The Deer & the Wolf" - Sophie Ellis-Bextor (mp3)