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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
Aug312012

In Which Joan Didion And John Gregory Dunne Write Together

In Hollywood

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

We’ve written twenty-three books between us and movies financed nineteen out of the twenty-three.

John Gregory Dunne, The Paris Review, 1996 

When he was done, the executive asked the writer, “Do you know what the monster is?” The writer shook his head. The executive said, “It’s our money.”

–John Gregory Dunne, Monster, 1997 

The millennium is here, the era of “fewer and better” motion pictures, and what have we? We have fewer pictures, but not necessarily better pictures. Ask Hollywood why, and Hollywood resorts to murmuring about the monster. It has been, they say, impossible to work “honestly” in Hollywood.

Joan Didion, I Can’t Get That Monster Out Of My Mind, 1964

Scriptwriting partners Joan Didion and her late husband John Gregory Dunne had a code for when it was time to cut their losses with a production company and fly the coop. In meetings, while negotiating the terms of a script, if Joan and John sensed the beginnings of disaster — studio dawdling, uneven notes, nonplussed silence — one would look at the other and say, White Christmas. Their choice of words, however, had little to do with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, with treetops glistening or sleigh bells in the snow. Instead, it relates to Vietnam. As Dunne explains in Monster, his 1997 account of Hollywood’s pecking order detailing the eight-year, twenty-seven-draft saga of Up Close and Personal, Joan and John’s code was a nod to the Fall of Saigon. In April of 1975, “White Christmas” was played by army disc jockeys on the Armed Forces Radio Network as a secret signal to the remaining Americans that “the war was over, bail out.” 

John shares this anecdote a quarter of the way through his two hundred page book as part of an epiphany he and Joan have days before his aortic valve replacement surgery in 1991. To a degree, their penchant for weighing a project’s cost imitates Dunne’s expedient writing style. Bottom line? Utility leverages storytelling. Luckily, his reserve of keenly culled nuggets on Hollywood types, like Didion’s and his brother Dominick’s (perhaps the most imbued by celebrity) is never scarce. For every six or so tailored sentences, one diverges and is often marvelous. Hollywood hobnobbing, near spurious hooey.  

For instance, at a breakfast meeting with Scott Rudin, the producer detailed to John and Joan a visit he took to Michael Jackson’s Neverland with director Barry Sonnenfeld. Michael was late, en route but still in the air. And so, Rudin kicked back, enjoying the Ranch’s amusement park and zoo. He and Sonnenfeld were invited to stay for lunch and were seated at a table set with expensive linen. They were served ham and cheese sandwiches under silver domes on expensive china which they “washed down with Pepsi-Cola,” as Michael was the company’s spokesperson. For dessert? Bite-sized Snickers in a silver bowl.  

Similarly absurd was Dunne’s account of Sunny von Bülow’s room in the Pavilion at Columbia-Presbyterian where John coincidently was recovering. Every afternoon a high tea was served “while a cocktail pianist in black tie played such the dansant favorites as “Send in the Clowns,” and “Isn’t it Romantic?”” 

As a quick aside, Sunny had been comatose for close to ten years at this point and her husband, Claus, had been twice accused of attempting to kill her. Incidentally, Dominick had covered the second trial for Vanity Fair, having only written for the magazine once before — a March 1984 piece entitled “Justice” chronicling the trial of his daughter’s killer. Like his sister-in-law, who zeroes in on diagnostic if not sometimes distracting ritz (in Blue Nights, the red soles on her daughter’s wedding day Louboutin’s that showed when Quintana “kneeled at the altar” or Madeleine-type episodes brought on by Saks or the St. Regis) Dominick too, never missed an occasion to mention Sunny von Bülow’s embroidered Porthault sheets.  

Despite the Hollywood mixing, Monster is in many ways the ultimate articulation of Dunne’s pragmatic writing style and accordingly, the writer’s and any writer’s inherent nearness to the idea of End. After all, in it he admits that the central reason he and Joan agreed to write Up Close and Personal in 1988 was due in large part to Dunne’s health. Earlier that year John had suffered his first collapse while speed walking in Central Park. “When I regained consciousness, I was stretched out in the middle of the road rising behind the Metropolitan Museum, a stream of joggers detouring past without looking or stopping, as if I were a piece of roadkill,” he writes. Heart surgery was inevitable and as doctors’ visits, tests, and hospital bills were soon to pile — a “very expensive gig” — the WGA’s health insurance became crucial. The deal was closed.  

Later in the book, in a rare moment of self-reflection Dunne describes the replacement valve’s clicking sound and how it signified “reassuring proof [he] was still alive.” This newer, louder heartbeat, so to speak, appealed to John’s mortality. So much so that Monster itself is structured around Dunne’s many hospital visits, often yielding for more thoughtful bits as if the narrative, like John, had been ordered to meter the pace.  

Even Joan, whose voice is rarely heard in Monster, has her say with respect to John’s condition. One evening, a couple years after John’s surgery while dining at Chinois in Santa Monica, a certain Michael Eisner, who too had had a similar operation, expressed to Dunne that his bypass surgery was in truth “more serious” than John’s. Didion, maddened, immediately shouted, “It was not!” "[She’d] never been an easy fit in the role of the little woman."

The clicking sound of John’s valve resonated with Quintana too who, entertained by the sound, began calling her father the Tin Man. While throughout Monster many friends and colleagues fall ill or die—of old age, of a sudden heart attack, of complications from AIDS, of unhealthy sped up lifestyles—there is an indistinct quality to that last image as both John and Quintana have since died. As though John was writing from his prophetic gut, from that sense of congenital doom and loss that writers are born with, of which his wife described in her 1966 essay “On Keeping a Notebook.” Perhaps it is Dunne’s use of “reassuring proof,” like a child who despite being promised something, commands an actual “Promise.” Or maybe it’s him and her, father and daughter, paired in a single moment, attune to each person’s inherent rhythm. Or maybe it’s simply this reader’s willingness to let the image go there. Either way, the “clicking” abides. It greets the page and far outlasts it. 

It was John Foreman, a friend and producer, and former Princeton classmate, who first approached Joan and John about writing a screenplay based on Golden Girl, Alanna Nash’s biography of the network correspondent, Jessica Savitch. Five years prior, Savitch had died in a car accident. Martin Fischbein, president of the New York Post, was also in the car. At this point, John and Joan had already written the screenplays for The Panic in Needle Park, Play it as it Lays, A Star is Born, and True Confessions. At this point, they were still incapable of “good meetings,” meaning, they could not schmooze or quicken deals. They were not ‘package’ material and certainly understood that screenwriters occupied an “inferior position on the food chain,” or as Jack Warner (of the Brothers) once said, were thought of as “Schmucks with Underwoods.” But they liked Nash’s book and were ready to proceed with Disney. Or so they thought. 

With Disney comes the Kingdom. And with the Kingdom comes the fairy tale. But Jessica Savitch’s story was no fairy tale because in the fairy tale the princess never dies. She is however made over.  

Savitch was a woman whose news reporting inexperience was outdone by her ambition. Impelled by some inner fidget, she restlessly wanted more. Her strive had presence, prompting collateral excess. As Dunne describes, she had “an overactive libido, a sexual ambivalence, a tenuous hold on the truth, a taste for controlled substances, a longtime abusive Svengali relationship, and a certain mental instability.” In Disney’s eyes, her “ugly duckling turned golden girl” story possessed too much ugly. Interracial love affairs, cocaine, a gay husband who eventually hung himself, and abortions, were all embargoed narratives. The stuff of Didion and Dunne. A couple who no matter what city they visited, made sure to stop at its courthouse.  

Having come off the success of Pretty Woman, Disney wanted a similarly Cinderella setup. As Dunne puts it, they wanted a Pretty TV Reporter. That is, they wanted a Rodeo Drive sequence, in which instead of swapping sky-high over the knee boots for a polka-dotted polo dress, Michelle Pfeiffer as Tally Atwater would lose her perm and pink blazer for more beige, more poise, and ultimately, the guidance, respect, and love of her news channel director. His name would be Warren Justice — “an appropriately classless first name” — and the role would go to Robert Redford. Near the end of Monster, Dunne fondly remembers one evening when while watching Three Days of the Condor on cable, Redford called him to discuss his character in Up Close. There he was, code name Condor, on Dunne’s television. And there he was too, on the other end of Dunne’s phone. For John, “he was, when all was said and done, Robert Redford.” At a glance, infinite.  

But returning to Up Close, where within the first seven minutes of the movie, Pfeiffer clumsily spills the contents of her purse everywhere. Redford, forever wearing a collared shirt, bends down to help her clean up one tube of lipstick, a loose tampon, some change, and a crumpled dollar bill. Nickels, dimes, no Money, and a pair of female things. Pfeiffer is crestfallen, and in her boss’ eyes, nothing but nerves and legs. Within the first ten minutes, he asks her, “Do you always wear that much make-up?” Later he offers her a job as the weatherperson in which she wears oversized clown glasses and a goofy yellow rain jacket and hat. 

An early draft of Up Close was given to Mike Nichols who responded with the “graciously noncommittal comment” that his marriage to ABC’s Diane Sawyer created an unfitting atmosphere for any project about TV news. While Joan and John never mentioned this detail to Nichols, Diane Sawyer’s first on air experience at a channel in Louisville, Kentucky, was what inspired Tally Atwater’s debut.  

A few years past and not much came of Didion and Dunne’s original Up Close script. In those in between years, Joan worked on her Central Park Jogger piece for The New York Review of Books and John finished Playland. They had meetings with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer detailed in a section titled, “Bully Boys,” began writing a script in which they called Michael Crichton for advice on string theory, and endeavored incorporating with Elaine May and Peter Feibleman as a rewriting team and company, only agreeing to work on productions that had already began shooting. No more first drafts, no more free meetings or readings; “the meter would start running the moment the screenplay arrived.” 

Then Scott Rudin rolled in. Monster is dedicated to him, along with director, Jon Avnet and in memory of John Foreman. Rudin did as Rudin does: he got the movie made. He was “the bully boy’s bully boy.” But most importantly he offered Dunne the most producer-ly advice ever. When asked by Dunne what he thought the movie was really about, Rudin, forever skewed to money and éclat, answered, “It’s about two movie stars.” 

Which briefly brings to mind Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom. Rudin is an executive producer on the show and one cannot help but wonder if he gave Sorkin similar advice. The show, much like Up Close is less about the news and more about the dopey hearts of those involved. Basically, it too is centered on two or more “movie stars.” The newsroom is their stage and so far, their love entanglements are its crux. Everything else is merely crosstalk. Women with alliterative names in silk shirts flail their arms, stutter, shriek, and may as well be spilling the contents of their purses everywhere. Meanwhile, the men speak in sports metaphors, are romantic dolts, and threaten to congratulate their female coworkers for having gumption and good ideas. Music swells, smug smirks are protracted. Sorkin, forever the guy who writes soap operas about guys on their soapboxes.  

While Rudin did push for more romance in Up Close, reminding Joan and John that it was a love story after all — to “deliver the moment, deliver the moment” — John was adamant about one thing. He told Rudin, “I don’t do love.” Thing is, composer Diane Warren and Céline Dion sure do. Avnet hired both and the song “Because You Loved Me” came to be. Number one in the United States for six weeks, its music video featured Céline in a makeshift control room performing with burning credo as clips of Pfeiffer and Redford, punch-drunk and sweet for each other, fade in and out. Today, sixteen years later, clips of Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels’s Mac and Will could comfortably replace those of Tally and Warren.

While an appraisal of Sorkin, Dunne and Didion, all in one breath, is slightly offhand, it does invite a closer look. In October 2011, A.O. Scott did exactly that for his review of Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, which was co-written by Sorkin. In it, Scott opens by referencing Didion’s 1988 New York Review of Books piece on the presidential election entitled, “Insider Baseball,” published mere months before she and John agreed to write Up Close. “The process” as she explains and as Scott quotes, is “not about ‘the democratic process’ or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals.” As Scott spells out: narratives that function as “durable forms that cater to this appetite for exclusive knowledge, inviting the reader or viewer to learn something about how the professionals do it and to feel vicariously, like one of them.” 

Sorkin’s breakneck dialogue deals with characters, mainly men, who run countries, television networks, professional sports teams, who invent algorithms in order to make friends and humiliate girls. As Scott points out, these characters are all, by some means, a performance of Didion’s sentiment. They claim “specialized” speak, when inevitably the tensions return to sex and money, and winning. Proximity to transparency, to insider-y yackety-yak, assumes entrance. And yet, as Didion reminds, “what strikes one most vividly about such a campaign is precisely its remoteness from the actual life of the country.” Her remarks about the electoral process could be applied to Sorkin’s Zuckerberg, to Will McAvoy, President Bartlet and Billy Beane: “These are people who speak of the process as an end in itself, connected only nominally, and vestigially, to the electorate and its possible concerns.” All that walking, all that talking.  

Interesting then to examine Dunne’s Monster, which in many ways is the ultimate insider’s look into Hollywood’s process. Written from the vantage point of someone who was involved from the very start, from meetings to rewrites, rewrites to more meetings. From the Beverly Hills Hotel where Nora Ephron, who was staying across the hall, volunteered business advice or to Tony Richardson’s Bonjour Tristesse-type St. Tropez hamlet — Le Nid du Duc — where his daughter, the late Natasha ‘Tasha’ Richardson was once a chain-smoking teenager who wore a micro miniskirt and as Didion writes in Blue Nights, “devised the fables, wrote the romance.” Or back in LA, a few years later, for the funeral of Tasha’s father and a gathering of friends in his Hills home — the Kings Road house that once belonged to Linda Lovelace. The list of trivia goes on and on. Who, what, when, where, why, how, Hollywood!  

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion were deeply embedded in the “private idiosyncrasies of very public people.” As Dunne affirms, he was simply there — “the reporter’s justification for what he does.” Surely, Sorkin could sniff out his next script there too. Didion and Dunne’s ‘White Christmas,’ an elucidation of what A.O. Scott terms the “half-secret language…a body of artisanal lore.” 

It was recently announced that Didion would be penning a script with Todd Field. Todd Field who wrote and directed In the Bedroom and Little Children, and who in Nicole Holofcener’s 1996 Walking and Talking, proposes to Anne Heche’s character by hiding the ring in her round birth control pack.

As a filmmaker, his movies look like worlds Didion might mine: tortured, grieving parents in one, and the crepuscular, discontented mood of middle-class suburbia in the other. Both films are literary. Both films portend menace, as if from the opening credits, somebody has a hunch. Both are carefully constructed — quiet and sustained like a yawn. Both are all whites, pale blues, and greens, with freckled, sun kissed skin. In both films, light filters through windows no matter how melancholic the scene. Even each poster’s plain serif font: exactly bookish. Precisely Joan. And yet, no matter how ideal the pairing of Field and Didion, Dunne tolls — that “clicking” sound, sounds. Her all white office; his wood-paneled office. His, hers.  His first draft and her reworking of it. “The version the studio sees is essentially our third draft,” Dunne told George Plimpton. He went on to share that he and Joan, before beginning any script, would watch Graham Greene and Carol Reed’s The Third Man. “The best collaboration between writer and director I can think of.” 

Monster, despite little emotional bulk is nostalgic by nature. Eight years, twenty-seven drafts, and two presidential elections later, John wrote it as though summoning memories at a table of close friends, far into the night, long after dessert was served and more drinks were poured, at that delirious hour when leftovers are pulled out of the fridge, unwrapped, and eaten without plates. One gets the sense he could have written twice as much. One gets the sense his memory was trained to pocket stories, not for sentimental reasons, but because he knew what he was seeing, others would savor. His account is entirely generous, if not a little boastful. His last words, “We also had a good time,” belong sincerely to Joan.  

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

"Leaving Pieces" - Triste L'Hiver (mp3)

"Spiral Blue" - Triste L'Hiver (mp3)

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)


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