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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 (45)

Friday
Jul272012

In Which Your Concerns Are Our Concerns

Carriage Ride

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Of Manhattan’s 96 minutes, 25 of them swap comedy for candor and the veneer of midlife fitfulness for a snowy and plainspoken 17-year-old Dalton girl named Tracy. While she only occupies a quarter of the film's runtime - thirteen scenes, one cry, one carriage ride, five toppings on her pie, two close-ups, and the line, "Let's do it some strange way that you've always wanted to do it" - Manhattan belongs to Mariel Hemingway.

From the moment we see her sitting at Elaine’s with her 42-year-old lover, Isaac (Woody Allen), and his married friends, Yale and Emily, Hemingway typifies teenage limbo: a discomfort with oneself that for a lucky few, can yield the most luminous glow. As Yale waxes about "the essence of art" with Isaac, and as Emily, on cue, rolls her eyes and apologizes, "We've had this argument for 20 years," Tracy smiles and accepts. Her age and inexperience might keep her on the periphery this time, but her silence and presence, and elbows resting keenly on the table, suggest considerable aplomb.

Tanned and wearing a dark crewneck sweatshirt, teardrop necklace, and her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, Tracy's softness is offset by her sturdiness. She looks like she might have, moments before arriving at Elaine's, practiced her serve and volley in P.E. or finished her lifeguard shift at the local pool. She is incandescent in the summer and dimmed in the winter. She is Coppertone® and Hyannis Port personified.

In a piece titled, "The Littlest Hemingway" in a June 1979 issue of People, Kristin McMurran describes Mariel's first Cannes experience. "It had been a full day — a morning jog, four interviews (her French is serviceable), a TV short and a rich lunch at the three-star Le Moulin de Mougins—all amid the hustlers and hookers, yachts and yes-men that characterize the international film festival. Now "Merts" (her childhood nickname) was preparing for her big night."

On the opposite page, a photograph of the back of Hemingway's head topped with "a sprig of flowers in her hair" reveals Cannes' vintage cross of glamour and mania — a cascade of tuxedoed photographers wrestling for room on the red carpet and a shot of the young actress. With frenzy of that kind, one can only imagine that Hemingway's smile was akin to Tracy's: shy and appreciative, as if her cheeks and lips were somehow curtsying. Later, as the film's final moments played, Hemingway nearly fainted in the theater. "A doctor was summoned, and Mariel fell into a deep sleep while the others caroused until dawn at the party in her honor downstairs," McMurran writes. "The next morning Mariel blinked awake. 'Did I ruin everything?'"

Her reaction at Cannes matches Tracy's type of distress — one that she too affects with questions rather than statements. At Ike's apartment while she reads reclined on his couch, looking miniature against his wall of books, she responds to his own doubts about their relationship with, "Well don't you have any feelings for me?," "Well don't you want me to stay over?" The following Sunday night at the pizza parlor, upon receiving a letter in the mail accepting her to the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in London, she asks Ike, "So what happens to us?" Her featherweight voice (with the inflection of a foreigner) — that in some moments squeaks like "the mouse in the Tom & Jerry cartoon" — appears extra shaky when speaking about matters of the heart. For her, nothing is more perilous than those matters.

Tracy is not yet cynical; she hasn't been corrupted. She hasn't begun referring to friends as "geniuses" and art as "derivative." She insists on "fooling around" instead of fighting in bed. She thumbs her earlobes when she's listening and combs her hair until it's soft. She begins sentences with "Well" and "Guess what?" and asks Isaac "to have a little faith in people."

In the film's most devastating scene, the two sit at a soda shop; him with his harmonica and her with her milkshake. Here Hemingway looks especially pure. Her hair is wrapped tight in a french twist, her cardigan is creased on the sleeves (either new or ironed,) and a single ring sits on her pinky finger. Her wide elfin features and thick eyebrows appear holy; the product of one single brushstroke or carved painstakingly out of wax. The moment's melancholy anticipates itself and Isaac breaks up with Tracy. While she dips in and out of adolescence — "Gee, now I don't feel so good" and "I can't believe that you met someone that you like better than me" — her sincerity and logic remain heartbreaking. She lists what they had going for each other and the tally, for any couple, is near perfect.

1. We have laughs together

2. I care about you

3. Your concerns are my concerns

4. We have great sex

While Mariel is no Tracy and Tracy is no Mariel — "I'm different. I'm from Idaho," she told McMurran — their reactions to life are rich and replete with teenage-speak and sage musings. It's no wonder that lines like, "Are you kidding me? You should talk!" came so easily to Hemingway who described her Persian cat to People as "such a nerd" and scoffed at Woody's initial interest in her: "Give me a break." That duality of perceiving oneself and others at a young age while also staying young is incredibly rare and is what freed Manhattan of any precociousness and caprice.

Tracy possesses you like the giant she is, standing five inches taller than Woody, able to cup his head like a basketball or drink it like a coconut with a straw. But her personality compliments and her thoughts are sound: "Maybe we're meant to have a series of relationships at different lengths," or better, "You keep stating [the break up] like it's to my advantage when it's you that wants to get out of it."

In real life too, her words were undisguised: "I feel closer to adulthood now, but it makes me sad. I get excited and depressed. If I have a problem I go to someone or just let it out by screaming and crying. Some people are too young when they become famous. I think I'm old enough to handle it now."

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

with her sister Margaux

"Black Marilyn" - Shy'm (mp3)

"Comme Un Oiseau" - Shy'm (mp3)

Tuesday
May292012

In Which We Meet In The Meadow

The Kids Table

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Moonrise Kingdom
dir. Wes Anderson
94 minutes

From above, it’s easy to imagine Wes Anderson’s production of Moonrise Kingdom resembling a fine scale model railroad: coastal New England homes landscaped with ferns and red cedars, with nearby inlets and a pebble beach, and flanked of course by a series of rails for tracking shots. As per Anderson’s request, trailers were not allowed on set and actors were expected to show up camera-ready. The effect? Dioramic. The opening sequence? A dolly shot through a dollhouse. And the director? In a manner, Gulliver-sized. Picture Anderson poking one eye through a window as his finger pokes through another, readjusting the needle on a miniature record player or using tweezers to fill a runaway girl’s picnic basket with books. His airtight world shaped by the romance of expressing first-time feelings with a hobbyist’s delicate, near-crazed hand.

Set in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is the boy meets girl, girl meets boy, both meet world, story of Sam and Suzy, played by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Together they hatch a plan to flee their respective families and summer camp, and be together. Suzy leaves behind her brothers and her parents, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) while Sam escapes his Khaki scout troop led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).

Upon discovering both of their disappearances, a search team is organized — a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Search Team or something from an Hergé comic. Sam’s foster parents are quick to tell local sheriff, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), that they no longer want Sam back. An epic storm begins to brew and Social Services shows up, played by caped-crusader Tilda Swinton. Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel (written perhaps with Seymour Cassel in mind?) make appearances. Bob Balaban narrates. Meanwhile, Sam and Suzy play house, in a tent. Like Pierrot and Marianne without the primary colors. Like Kit and Holly without the killing.

Suzy is the sum of her parts — which at twelve consists of prized possessions, her imagination, growing suspicions about her parents and parenting, and a preoccupation with love. Her nose, slightly turned, gives the impression that if she tried, like Samantha in Bewitched, could twitch and perform a spell.

In the company of boys — her three little brothers or the Khaki scouts — Suzy becomes Wendy. Her inexperience more elegant and less brooding than theirs. We learn that she has an aunt who brought her back a Françoise Hardy record from Paris. Suzy hugs it because it is foreign, feminine, and free; her expression of early onset desire. She will move on to Anna Karina and eventually, Anaïs Nin.

Hayward, who has been a member of Mensa since she was nine, will likely be courted by Miu Miu and invited to audition for Mad Men. Coincidently, time wise, Moonrise occurs almost in tandem with Mad Men’s current season: Suzy Bishop, Sally Draper’s freewheeling, blue eye-shadowed foil. Go-go boots vs. Saddle shoes. Running away to her father vs. Running away from her father (among others). In this way, Hayward could play Sally’s first real best friend. They could pass notes to each other in their shared copy of The Bell Jar. Or ditch class and wander to Tompkins Square Park where someone will offer them mescaline.

In one of Moonrise’s scenes, after setting up camp, Sam proposes they list an inventory of everything the two have brought; standard scout practice. As Suzy catalogs her books, three cans of cat food for her cat, her binoculars, no brush (she’ll use her fingers to comb through knots, no big), I was reminded of Joan Didion’s essay, “On Keeping a Notebook.”

She writes: “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentment of loss.” Sam, an orphan runaway whose foster parents have disinvited him back home, is exactly that. And while his impulse to account for their belongings is due in part to his scouts training, it also seems deeply necessary to Sam. A brief moment in which he can list what is his, and hers, and theirs to share.

Time and again our childhood presents itself as a tribute to past events rather than a remembrance of them. We bestow it with our present day’s understanding of how things work. I do not recall once using the word ‘adventure’ as a kid, but I certainly went on a few. Imagination, fictional heroes, a sense of enterprise, and an older brother reluctant to play — indispensable.

But to try and congeal our childhood, to make it exact, is much like staring at one’s reflection for too long. The familiar grows unfamiliar. It is best, I imagine, to keep the blur. As a kid, the Pulitzer seemed far more praiseful when I thought it was the “Pulitz Surprise!” As though a man in a suit knocked at Philip Roth’s door with balloons and a giant check. The alphabet too, enjoyably sped up and somehow richer when perceived as Elemeno-P! Still, I am forever envious of anyone who can identify his or her first memory with clarity.

Because we cannot re-learn newness or re-experience the seconds before our first kiss or first cruelty, we keep kernels. That’s what Moonrise does. While the conversation might be lost, we do remember where we were sitting when an adult, perhaps feeling especially vulnerable, spoke to us for the first time as if we were one too. Or how during that one summer, there was a bad lighting storm and a girl named Suzy who wore her mother’s perfume. Or the way our parents looked on especially hot days in various states of undress.

In Didion’s essay, she refers to her childhood note-keeping as a “predilection for the extreme,” spinning stories not from “accurate, factual record,” but from some intersection of what is familiar with what is unknown— perhaps the writer’s truest romance. I imagine Laura Bishop speaking to her family through a megaphone as Anderson’s exaggeration, his “predilection for the extreme,” of parents and their sometimes yielding, droopy effort. But also, of those widening gaps that exist between some parents — a love that knows no better than to wear itself out. Halfway through the film I imagined down and out dads, Walt Bishop and Royal Tenenbaum, at a nearby dive bar, while Frances, Bruce, Angelica, and Danny Glover, dine and gab at the Bishop house. Both parties, bittersweet.

In his 1962 manifesto, “White Elephant Art Vs. Termite Art,” Manny Farber reproves Truffaut’s  “reversal of growth” in his films, stating that the filmmaker’s passage, “back into childhood,” depicts youth in a false, insincere manner. It’s feasible that Farber on Anderson would sound much like Farber on Truffaut: “…the critic-devouring virtue of filling every pore of work with glinting, darting Style and creative Vivacity.” After all, Moonrise does shy from momentum. At its most violent — emotionally and physically — naïveté emerges unbreakable. At their most desperate, characters remain taut.

Similar to an aerial view of Anderson’s set resembling a model railroad (which incidentally reminds me of Farber’s painting, entitled “My Buddy”), Moonrise Kingdom adapts the real into curio-type make-believe. Pinocchio storytelling, reversed. The world and its troubles, as Farber notes about Truffaut, are shrunken. “Suicide becomes a game, the houses look like toy boxes — laughter, death, putting out a fire — all seem reduced to some unreal innocence of childhood myths.”

However, there is absurdity and a fondness for the silly in Anderson’s portrayal of childhood. It’s of another world entirely. A group of Khaki scouts build their tree house a few stories too high. Like something from a Shel Silverstein illustration. Wobbly it soars and yet, the scouts see no problem with it. Some embellishments are more subtle. Suzy, an avid reader, sits with her back straight, rarely slouching, and with her book held upright directly in front of her face. Only cartoons, spies, and kids who are pretending to read, read like that. In Wes Anderson’s world, unnatural posture comes off as whimsy. 

During production, Billy Murray taught Gilman how to tie a tie and McDormand showed Hayward what a real typewriter looks like. Both images could pass as scenes in the film. Both images, a child’s first. Casting two kids whose faces and voices we’ve never seen or heard before, who were suddenly sharing scenes with legendary actors, certainly adds to the film’s offbeat charm. While his films have many clear influences, Gilman and Hayward are brand new, imperfect and not yet easy to place. Without his scout uniform, glasses, and Davy Crockett hat, I can’t be sure what Gilman even looks like.

Owing to Anderson’s penchant for trinkets, Moonrise appears too dear in parts. One “Jiminy Cricket!” comes very close to being one Jiminy Cricket too many. But there is comedy and tragedy, and parents who fail. There are gestures that declare love and choices that are brave. Ear piercing in the wilderness accounts for both. In some scenes and in small portions, the dialogue is wonderfully defenseless. In this way, Anderson, who co-wrote the script with Roman Coppola, expresses feelings as if they were an English translation of a foreign proverb: clumsy, a bit chunky, but just right. A brand new way of saying something tired but heartfelt.

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 Seventeen. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Call Me Maybe" - Carly Rae Jepsen (mp3)

"Talk To Me" - Carly Rae Jepsen (mp3)


Friday
Apr202012

In Which We Went Out On Him All The Time

A Certain Age

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Seventeen
dir. Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines
120 minutes

"You need a half-a-cup of white sugar and half-a-cup of brown,” instructs Mrs. Hartling, Southside High School’s Home Economics teacher. In Seventeen, the documentary by Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines, Mrs. Hartling’s class is in the final lap of their senior year. They are loud and unimpressed, near delirious. Sitting on a counter, one boy casually beats batter with one hand while resting his head on the other. Another student, Lynn Massie, is taking a nap. When questioned about skipping class, one girl quips, “So?” Her parting shot, “Kiss my ass.”

The year is 1982. The town is Muncie, Indiana. And the kitchen classroom, like Mrs. Hartling’s shrill and grinding voice, her tunic apron and Estelle Getty glasses, is a time capsule dressed in blue checkerboard curtains, fluorescent lights, plywood cupboards, and beige stoves. Today, pie: “Never re-roll a pie crust! Ever!” Tomorrow, citizenship, and “how to be a good person, to be honest.”

Conceived and produced by Peter Davis for PBS, Middletown was a six-part television documentary inspired by the sociological studies of Robert and Helen Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929) and Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts (1937). Divided into categories — religion, work, politics, play, marriage, and education — the series is a close and critical meditation on everyday working class American life in the early 1980s.

Reminiscent of Robert Drew and D.A. Pennebaker, Middletown is a slow moving train, slackening its pace in Muncie. Happenings, whatever they may be, are coeval. The mayoral election no more important than the pizza parlor facing foreclosure or a couple’s second go at love.

But Seventeen, the sixth in the series, never made it to television. Scheduled to air nearly thirty years ago on April 28th, 1982, the film was deemed too controversial and ran into what Davis calls, “an institutional buzzsaw.” While it eventually went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, hailed as “without a doubt one of the greatest movies, perhaps the greatest, about teenage life ever made,” PBS’s decision to cut it from the series resembles an adult dismissing his or her adolescent years. A shame, because more so than revolt or hotheaded choices, a “me too” moment in high school is closest to windfall.

Teenagers being teenagers, the plenary account — smoking pot, “getting good and drunk,” merrily swearing, giving birth while the baby’s father is at “the Boy’s Club playing basketball,” being angry and scrappy and rude, partying and getting sad, reading “dirty books” out loud in the library, disrespecting teachers, crudely talking about sex — was simply too hot for TV. Like the girl in Mrs. Hartling’s class, whose duelling “So?” is nasty but also bankrupt and idle, Seventeen is a portrait of what it is to be young, pivoting from stitch to sweet spot, stitch to sweet spot.

Perhaps most decisive was the subject of interracial dating: “White girls don’t mess with black guys but we swallow our pride for you guys because we care for you guys,” Tink and Massie inform their dates at the fair. When a cross is burned on Lynn parents’ lawn, she challenges the taboo and continues to see John. Harassing phone calls result; threats are made — parent to classmate, classmate to classmate. “My mom carries a gun and she ain't afraid to use it. Neither am I,” Lynn barks into the receiver.

In his 1985 review of the film, Vincent Canby likened Lynn to Belle Starr. One, a high school senior with Kristy McNichol hair, nervy swagger, and a slight squawk when she yells. The other, a 19th century Oklahoma outlaw. While the comparison is dreamy, it does appreciate the fugitive quality of adolescence, that roaming fidget and fixed urge to not give a damn.  “Get me the hell outta here,” Lynn mumbles in monotone one day. She’s referring to Muncie. But without much of a plan, the here is more immediate: that day, that week, her house, a dip in her after school plans, her bad mood. Lynn's solution? “Gonna get bombed outta my head."

Although those rarely seen on screen bits are true (and do wonder what would happen if Albert Maysles, Larry Clark and Joey Jeremiah were to toss around a few ideas), Seventeen does enjoy the airier side of high school: the boys, the girls, the feelings, the prom, the epistolary mechanics of it all. In one scene, Lynn, who emerges as one of the Seventeen's main faces, sits in her car with her girlfriend and reads a note from a boy. She’s already read it, chances are more than once, and skips over words feverishly only to jump back and enjoy them for what feels like the first time. As if running her eyes up and down a BINGO card, anticipating a win, she holds the crumpled piece of paper breathlessly. Moments later, dulled by after school boredom, Lynn coolly admits to cheating on him multiple times. She chucks his note on the dashboard and smiles, “I went out on him all the time.” The girls laugh, roll down the windows, turn up the radio, and sing off-tune.

At the championship basketball game, angst fades and the gym’s yellow lights, the pompoms, the players, all burnish the crowd’s faces with what PBS originally had in mind. A row of high school seniors watching their last basketball game is a conceit often used in movies because it’s so easy to pretend the entire world exists in those minutes. Even Lynn lets loose a keenness she would never reveal to her teachers or parents.

Later that week Lynn invites everyone over for a party. Her parents, Jim and Shari, are present but not as chaperones. They drink with her friends, even making breakfast late into the night, drunkenly frying eggs and flipping pancakes. One boy chews on a piece of bacon, catching it before it falls out of his mouth. He can barely stand up. Nearby, an off-duty soldier shares his story about being “15 or 20 miles from the warzone,” as a crowd hangs on his every word. The Four Tops, “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” plays.

The house is chaotic but grows drowsy, and gets at why this, the documentary, is the best way to portray a teenager. Those moments on the weekend when the party starts to die down and boys get hungry and girls are told not to be shy, and unfailingly, someone is trying to revive the affair with music or booze, is specific to that time in life because later on, though the same nights recur over and over, “passing the time” is no longer a valid activity. Even the expression expires.

In the film’s most moving scene, a group gathers in a bedroom listening to the radio. Their friend, Church Mouse, has just died in a car accident and they’ve dedicated a song to him at the local station. “Crank it!” one boy shouts as Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” begins. It plays in its entirety. The lyrics resonate sincerely — a perfect send-off. You realize early on that nobody will cry, and briefly, you half expect the friends to grow up before your very eyes. Never have you seen them so thoughtful at school. As the song fades, so do those sober minutes. Somebody mentions how Church Mouse was buried in his tennis shoes. He pauses and continues, “I wanna be buried face down so the world can kiss my ass.” And just like that, the kids are back. Gloriously so.

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

"Out on the Road" - Norah Jones (mp3)

"After the Fall" - Norah Jones (mp3)

joel demott

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