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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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Entries in durga chew-bose (46)

Friday
Dec032010

In Which Black Swan Trumpets Disaster

Tortured Dancer

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Black Swan

dir. Darren Aronofsky

107 minutes

Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller, Black Swan, is a cannonade of ballet’s absolutes turned burlesque. Like a self-doubting teenager who applies too much make-up or wears too much jewelry, the film piles on element after element and never once — despite its patent mirror motif — stops to consider its own reflection. In a world where precision wears the crown, Aronofsky’s cumulative fanaticism feels unwieldy.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a tortured young dancer whose reach for perfection as lead in Swan Lake results in her fatal undoing. Delusive eruptions of anger and suspicion, fright and mutilation, pilot her to the end without ever establishing reality or any basis for comparison. The entire film is a cold sweat panic attack that wobbles cartoonishly under a score of clichés — a devoted and despotic former ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey) who paints nightmarish portraits of her daughter, Nina’s infantilized Capezio pink and plush toy bedroom, a doppelganger dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), whose drugs, tattoos, drinking, and sex life tempt and thieve, and the company director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), whose “Attack it! Attack it!” method of teaching is sexed up with adages on “losing yourself” and “letting go” in order to become “transcendent.”

At first Portman’s performance as Nina is fascinating because her initial calm is almost macabre. As tokens of imminent craze begin to surface — jealousy from other dancers, stress rashes, a ripped toenail while practicing her thirty-two fouettés — the prospect of a diametric character becomes exciting. But Portman doesn’t break from the mould. She is the stereotype of a strained dancer, taut to the point of tears or possessed in a spate of delirium. No layer of warm-up shrugs or pastel legwarmers can hide overwrought, flinty intensity.

Like years of corset tightlacing, her entire face recedes into her fixed bun; even her eyebrows appear pinned. Her performance reaches its ceiling and remains there. And like so many thrillers that misfire, the camera ceaselessly orbits and stalks her every move; Portman’s Nina spends the majority of the movie trapped in what might as well be a hermetic maze of eternal mirrors.

While there are moments of stunning beauty, indelible is not a word that comes to mind. Ashen skin set against total darkness is contrast and nothing more. Music that bullies instead of chaperones is not moving, it’s simply too loud. A girl in a delicate white gown can so easily look like a girl in a nightgown. Rare are the moments where Black Swan takes off, and en masse, it’s the props that are deserving of praise. Like the celebratory cake, a gift from mother to daughter. Replete with bright pink edible flowers, lustre dust, and royal icing, it looks sickeningly sweet and under no circumstance would a dancer consider even one slice. The cake — so ridiculous and ornate like a Havisham relic — both mocks and infantilizes Nina. It’s the most heartbreaking and in some ways creepiest cake ever. A perfect prop!

Ballet in film indulges some of our guiltiest pleasures: drama is at its highest concentration, the pursuit of perfection is infinite, rivalry is both tacit and public, company hierarchy breeds paranoia, discipline breeds mania, and the dancer’s lissom body — a complex and almost cruel layering of muscles and bones, a miniature torso, a long neck — is impossible to ignore. With that in mind, some of the worst ballet films are in fact some of the best ballet films. We pander to their production because like CIA thrillers— cover-ups, classified files, lampooned conspiracies — ballet’s backstage can be similarly entertaining. Both genres are met with “It’s what you’d expect” approval and recommendation, and some even garner cult status.

So why isn’t Black Swan one of those terrible but wonderful ballet films? And what does it take to make a great ballet film a great ballet film? A central love story? A repellent but ultimately well-meaning impresario? Real soloists as lead characters? Or perhaps no lead characters at all? Is it a question of proportions? An even ratio of clichés to nuance? For every scene where she can’t eke out a perfect turnout, count one where she can let loose at a downtown walk-in class. For every question, another question?: “Why do you want to dance?” “Why do you want to live?”

That final example references the greatest ballet film: Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 The Red Shoes. In its climactic seventeen minute ballet of the same name, the most hallucinatory fantasia of optics and illusion dissolves the stage’s limitations into a celluloid nightmare. Likewise, the stage’s presence—its design, its costumes, the validity of live audience — imparts a physical power to the camera. Two art forms that are typically at odds converge. The ballet of The Red Shoes within the film displays the most harrowing commitment to art; a plenary account that Black Swan tries too hard to attain and ultimately misses entirely.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"My House" - Hercules & Love Affair (mp3)

"Athene" - Hercules & Love Affair (mp3)

"Blind (Frankie Knuckles remix)" - Hercules & Love Affair (mp3)


Friday
Sep242010

In Which This Is How To Know If He's Right For You

Young and Modern

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Based on font alone, YM was the lesser Seventeen. Italic serif trumps squat sans-serif any day. More accurately, toting a magazine whose title spoke to a future, more seasoned age, far outweighed one that might pass for a daytime soap or a new, travel-size tampon ad campaign.

But YM had the juice! They had free numerology booklets, Britney in a diamond-filled bathtub, Ryan & Reese in multiple issues, more contests, more MTV, more visible tattoos, and cheesier Photoshop — at the time, a good thing. They also featured a higher count of dimply, floppy haired boys on their covers: Barry, Devon, Gavin, Scott, Matt. So in that spirit, here are a few vague abstractions, a "Where Are They Now?" if you will.

"The Audible Knuckle-Cracker"

In a bi-coastal long distance relationship

Masterly maneuvers inside lining tears in her peacoat sleeves

Had a pet snake as a kid and named it Palindrome

When complimented about her piano hands she reflexively lies and complains about her fictional childhood piano teacher Thérèse

Untangles gold chains for friends when she's high

Equates talking about the annals of finding suitable work clothes to talking about the weather

Answers the phone with "Sup" or "Yo"

"The Braided Bed Head"

Always opts to sit on the floor

Has an ongoing theory about pets looking like their owners with the exception of celebrities

Takes pants-less Photobooth pictures of herself in her Ecru-Tulipe Saint James long sleeve

Recommends that everyone read Marguerite Yourcenar's Alexis

Has a fantastic sense of direction and can gauge if you respond better to points of compass or landmark routes

Things she hates that people assume she loves: botanical tattoos, Nicole Krauss books, marzipan, impromptu hula hooping

L-shaped couches give her bad vibes

"The Future Jenna Lyons"

Can switch from blonde to brunette seamlessly

Takes an adderall and then pops her pimples, plucks her eyebrows, and bids on trompe-l'œil eBay serving dishes

Lieutenant jackets, Ikat weaving, chunky statement jewelry

Has a twin brother that she rarely mentions; as kids they were Lands' End catalogue models

Is always caught skulking in photographs or lifting things with claw hands

Was worried Chanel Vamp nail polish would get discontinued again so she stashed a supply in her closet

Has low blood pressure

"The Clinique Happy"

Still collects Sanrio cell phone charms

Mouths the words as she reads on the subway

Three beers in, she'll request Soulja Boy and flawlessly execute the "Crank That" dance

Wears her mother's college graduation ring

Has no patience for people who stand on escalators

Never got the whole Winona Ryder thing

Her How-To "Cake Icing Technique" video has 427, 131 hits on YouTube

"The Girl with a Boy's Name"

Can only read in bed if she's wearing a headlamp

Describes her extended family using a wine lexicon: Acetic, Aggressive, Bold, Dry, Nutty, and Corked

Dresses up as either a cat or an iPod for Halloween

When discouraged about life she refers to her Model UN plenary address from junior year

Always has her shawl collar oversized Harris tweed blazer

On days when she occasionally wears mascara, friends of her parents sigh emphatically and tell her that she looks like Natalie Wood

Has especially postural Kyphosis in a dress

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find her Seventeen investigation here.

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"This Electric" - Badly Drawn Boy (mp3)

"This Beautiful Ideas" - Badly Drawn Boy (mp3)

"A Pure Accident" - Badly Drawn Boy (mp3)

Friday
Sep032010

In Which Alice In The Cities Develops Promptly And Rather Eerily

Not One Picture Leaves You In Peace

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Alice in the Cities

dir. Wim Wenders

110 minutes

Philip Winter is stricken with writer's block. Having missed his magazine deadline, he sells his car to a garage in Queens, bringing to a close his failed American road trip. Nearby an organ ushers us through a pan of Shea Stadium on a clear day and eventually settles on the organist, an elderly woman with cat-eye glasses and a sedate smile.

This scene near the start of Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities, isn’t extraordinary. In fact there is something remarkably untouched about it, as if it were cut from a reel of lost documentary footage. The camera's surveying sweep and soft focus appears infinite yet arbitrary, as though the movie might turn on itself entirely and follow a trail of summer vestiges instead: colossal cranes at a downtown construction site; teenagers on the boardwalk; an overcrowded public pool and the patter of kids racing to the diving board, oblivious to the lifeguard's warning whistles.

In road movies these tangents acknowledge the necessary — stops for food, sleep, an empty gas tank — but also salute those fugitive, sometimes beguiling pockets of prosaic realism; a young boy bicycling alongside a stranger's car, peddling fast to keep up, or another child, in another city, leaning against a café jukebox and humming along tunelessly to "Psychotic Reaction." As long as there is road ahead, digressions like these last two, collect, and the push to keep moving abides.

But momentum isn't pure motion; it's also the power that inhabits a moving object. Meet Alice (Yella Rottländer), a nine-year-old girl who Philip (Rüdiger Vogler) is forced to care for while her mother, Lisa (Lisa Kreuzer), disappears for a few days. With nothing more than a photograph of her grandmother's home in Germany, Alice and Philip return to Europe and set out to find the house. In this odyssey, the capricious and improbable nature of their relationship--largely buoyed by Alice's intuitive silence and gamine stomp — outdoes the possibility of threat. Instead, their shared withdrawal and homelessness induces a sense of fantasy.

In one scene Phillip concedes and deposits Alice at the local police station in Wuppertal. In vintage Wenders design — serendipitous Americana souvenir — he attends a Chuck Berry concert in the same German city. The event is surreal. The departure is loud and electric, and resembles a dream. But once the show is over, as if waking from this dream, Alice reappears at Winter's car door. Though their reunion is expected, the way in which it materializes is almost divine. Like the Polaroids that Winter compulsively takes, she too 'develops' promptly and somewhat eerily.

There are two types of precocious girls that exist in film. The first being more patent, cherubic and dovelike, who parades her show business smile and displays a homespun sense of superiority towards adults. Her accessories? Germane. A balloon, a hula hoop, a gold fish, a letter from a dead father, a loose ribbon in her hair that she might later tie around a boy's wrist. This girl asks questions about morals, her mother's first time, and local, unsolved murder mysteries. We won't wonder about her once the movie is over.

And then there are girls like Alice. Agile around adults yet slightly departed. Breathless. She sort of knows what's going on in the next room; she is suspicious of sex. She is clever but not cheeky and her affections might be confused as indifference. We envy her retroactively, hope to win her approval, and wonder about her adolescence: in love for the first time, she'll appear disenchanted; corruptible and sometimes curt, she'll still wear the same ALASKA varsity jacket from childhood. We imagine her in the future as slightly inelegant, a fast runner, whip-smart, warmhearted but impatient. Alice's gestures anticipate a later self rather than entertain a temporary quirk or tap dance.

For Philip, she offers something foreign, or at the very least, forgotten: the dewy and resolute charges of childhood. Alienated by the American landscape, Winter meets Alice at a particularly lonely time in his life. "Not one picture leaves you in peace," he announces near the beginning as he considers the lifelessness of his Polaroids — a rest stop like any rest stop; the framed ashen fragment of a nameless beach. But Alice does not fill this void, she joins it.

At first their exchanges are limited and take on a Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, incoherence. Later he takes a Polaroid of Alice as they ride the ferry. As it develops, Winter's worn-out reflection appears on the photograph. A barefaced metaphor, this image does however band with the movie's larger influence. While some films wonderfully entertain and distract, and offer immediate familiarity, humor, distress, fear, or romance, others impart mood and psychic moments of recognition that inexplicably resonate despite foreign intrigue, foreign relationships, humiliation and heartache. Instead of happening to you, these movies chime in and out with discerning reciprocity.

Less involved with choice, Alice in the Cities patiently imparts emotion to inaction. Stillness, like Philip slowly unplugging the bathtub with his toe, is who we are when our emotions no longer have dramatic gestures or words. Delay, dissatisfaction: these sensations cannot be seized in one cartoonish sigh. These sensations exist uninterrupted. Like Alice, slouched in the passenger seat, as if her entire self might stem from the center of her wilted torso. When I see it, I will know, she repeats to Philip as they drive up and down Wuppertal's gangly streets. Her certainty tolls, and we believe her.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Lazy Jane" - Jake Shimabukuro (mp3)

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - Jake Shimabukuro (mp3)

"Wish On My Star" - Jake Shimabukuro (mp3)