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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
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

Friday
Feb242012

In Which We Are Simply A Natural At This

Piece of Cake

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Rachel McAdams has Olympic caliber poise. Somewhat jelled, her smile is red-lettered, her jaw, prominent, and her body, sprightly. It's as if she just landed a double axel or performed a clean dismount from the balance beam, no sweat. In romantic roles her male co-stars regularly lift her, carry her, or nimbly swing her, but I suspect it’s McAdams who supplies any, if not all, cantilevered grace.

What lends most to screen is her strikingly nostalgic features. Owing perhaps to the alien twinkle in her eyes, her dimples, or her downy skin, McAdams appears especially saturated on celluloid; especially Sirk. Like Jane Wyman she is puckish and beautiful, and at times lost in thought. Both women look buffed — a near satin sheen. Both women have incredibly expressive foreheads.

In The Vow she plays Paige, a woman who after emerging from a car accident induced coma, suffers from amnesia. She cannot remember the last four years of her life which include an artsy, permissive turn — sculpting, air-dried hair, loft living — and more importantly includes her marriage to Leo played by Channing Tatum. As a result she wakes confused and returns to her old life: estranged parents, law school, quotidian suburban customs, blueberry mojitos, a sister’s wedding, sweater sets, and Scott Speedman. Unfortunately, not much happens. Despite the potential for something far creepier, sadder, syrupy and even peculiar, the film bops from scene to scene as if dispirited and mooney, much like Tatum-speak and Tatum-mien.

Ironically, it’s McAdams’ performance as a character whose life has been erased, that provides the most vitality. She has filmic gumption and a bounty of grins and laughs that rescue stale moments. (Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock pioneered that particular bail out; McAdams and Anne Hathaway have revived it). Moreover, Paige has whims. She resists but ultimately surrenders to tickling, she feeds a stray cat, she buries herself in an oversized sweatshirt, and offers plump strawberries to Leo’s friends at breakfast. Her wedding dress was pink and her vows were written on a coffee shop menu.

Regardless of these parts, Leo and Paige’s love story plays out like a music video. Or the music video for a song on The Vow’s original soundtrack. Or something Josh Hartnett may have done in 2004. In many ways, its finest function is as a catalog of required proportions: McAdams’ hands are the size of Tatum’s neck and when he scoops her up, she screeches. He is shirtless for nearly forty percent of the film. She wears a classic rotation of outfits: pajamas (his), pajamas (hers), formal wedding attire, messy studio clothes, lace underwear. She has a six-to-one, charismatic to gross, ratio of habits. Even so, they are never that gross.

The camera loves McAdams. It is her moon. Tina Fey admits learning from her throughout Mean Girls. "That was the first movie that I had ever been on. And I would watch – I would stand with the director sometimes and watch her scenes. And I would say to the director: Like, that’s really small. Is she doing it? And then watching her on film, watching the dailies, I’m like: Oh, yes, she’s amazing. She’s a film actor. She’s not pushing. And so I kind of learned that lesson from watching her…"

What Fey recalls, those "small", minor mannerisms are McAdams’ register of finely controlled facial muscles. She can call upon each one as if summoning an invisible series of nylon strings secured to her cheekbones, chin, temples, ears. The slightest twitch or eye roll, easy! The faintest pout or cartoonish gaze, done! A toothy hee-haw, no problem! A single, bulging vein, why not! She is a natural. She knows when to elongate her neck, how to scurry in heels, how far to dip back when laughing, how to kiss passionately and dispassionately, and how to eat cake as if it were more satisfying than the man sharing the slice with her.

McAdams’ performances are truly athletic. And unlike Keira Knightley or Scarlett Johansson, whose acting we often watch as curious spectators, (anthropological!), too far removed from their traits to relate, wondering perhaps how they will pull it off, McAdams, we simply cheer.

There’s a moment near the end of The Family Stone, where McAdams — who plays Amy, the cranky and defensive, but ultimately very loving "mean sister" — is sitting in an ambulance on Christmas day with the guy who "popped her cherry” years ago. His name is Brad Stevenson (Paul Schneider). He is shy, mumbles and has a slight swallow. He’s an EMT who wrapped her present in a clock radio box. "Don’t worry, it’s not a clock radio." She’s gruff and impatient but appreciates the gesture, and perhaps even him, once more. Inside the box is a snow globe that McAdams cups in her hands as if it were hidden treasure. As if she was a child. As if she might, in that moment, be living inside the stillness of a snow globe. She smiles and quietly exclaims, "Wow, Brad.” The scene is interrupted by yet another madcap Stone family moment, but the peaceful way Amy appreciates Brad, the way McAdams says "Wow" as if it were her first word, chimes until the end of the film

As Diane Keaton, who starred with McAdams in both The Family Stone and Morning Glory, remarked, "She's like a violin. She can do anything, and she can play anything. She's a dynamo, but she's also soft. She can be bitchy but also light. She can do serious drama; she can do comedy. She has a lot of things going on, which makes her absolutely captivating.”

At the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, McAdams and Gosling won the award for Best Kiss. She in a bustier and jeans and he chewing gum and wearing a white Darfur t-shirt, the then couple reenacted their Notebook kiss as Maroon 5’s "She Will be Loved” played. The crowd went crazy, Lindsay Lohan screamed "Oh my God!” and Hillary Duff giggled with her sister. The entire two minutes are a pop culture capsule and emphasize McAdams’ irrefutable appeal. As she walks off the stage with Gosling, who picks up her blazer and coolly throws it over his shoulder, McAdams looks flush, a little embarrassed, but triumphant with her Golden Popcorn, silly sure, nevertheless, a medal.

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

"Mad Mad Me" - Bonnie Prince Billy & Mariee Sioux (mp3)

"Bird Child" - Bonnie Prince Billy & Mariee Sioux (mp3)

"Loveskulls" - Bonnie Prince Billy & Mariee Sioux (mp3)

Tuesday
Jan172012

In Which We Charm Absolutely No One

Notes on Margaret

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Margaret
dir. Kenneth Lonergan
150 minutes

Kenneth Lonergan’s hold on the countless ways we fail to communicate is Margaret’s most bewitching coup. Rather than gaining mileage from what is unsaid, his teenage protagonist, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) clashes with each person in her ever-growing sphere as she tries to reconcile with a fatal bus accident in which she feels partly responsible.

Discovery, as Lonergan lays bare, is often achieved with fight. Shushing, shouting, crying, dismissive arm-waving, passively listening, correcting someone’s grammar, mimicking, misunderstandings, storming out and slamming doors, all inch Lisa further from resolve but closer to breaking through her childhood safeties and habitat, the Upper West Side — a character unto itself in Margaret.

Anna Paquin is terrific as a teenage girl. She struts to her desk. She pouts. She still has baby fat. Her skirt is too short and her henley shirts, too tight, but with stretched sleeves to pull over her hands in more contemplative, panicked moments. Her hair is greasy at the roots. Her eyeliner, reapplied regularly. Her eyebrows are over plucked and her stare is restless no matter the emotion — eagerness turned frustration, grief turned anger. Her attitude thaws with adults who outdo her wit or minutes before she loses her virginity.

On screen, teenage rebellion is charming. But not Lisa Cohen’s. Hers is not easy to look at — it overcompensates, it’s at times ugly and a bit ridiculous. It’s authentic. For years on screen, Kirsten Dunst sought to be Lisa Cohen.

In one scene she wanders drunkenly around a party, stumbling from a boy named Paul to another boy named Darren. She is bold and willing with Paul in the bathroom but it’s the way her body flops down on the floor in the hallway to make-out with Darren, only to struggle as she gets up, that is exact.

Lisa Cohen is both the heroine in a 19th century novel and a character from a post 9/11 graphic novel.

Margaret is cut somewhat messily; some jumps are more abrasive than others. In this way, everyone’s story is told alongside Lisa’s. Everyone is defenceless, including the audience.

She dismisses a boy’s phone call and we are immediately dropped in his bedroom where he sits on the edge of his bed, crying beside his Pavement poster.

A conference call with lawyers and loved ones, and Lisa, contrasts with three New York buildings — Lisa’s urgency calmed momentarily, not by a parent or a friend, but by her city.

“What’s Indiana like?” Lisa inches in to ask her teacher. They are sitting on the couch in his sublet. Seconds later the camera cuts away, and in the next scene, she stands at his front door as he apologizes for what just happened.   

Like Maurice Pialat in A Nos Amours, who too directs and plays the father of a teenage daughter, Lonergan is Karl, Lisa’s dad who lives in California, remarried. Shots of Karl pacing outside his beachside house as he speaks somewhat idly to his daughter, contrast with her relentlessly shifting world. His sky is blue and empty while wide shots of Lisa walking home after school are peopled and hectic — a huddle of boys part as she digs her hands in her skirt pockets and passes them, bothered by the unwanted attention.

Margaret slows in parts to truly appraise emotions. Instead of dialogue as a tool used to forward plot, it rationalizes a character’s feelings. Lisa’s mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) is dating a man named Ramon played by Jean Reno. One night she asks Lisa’s opinion about a date outfit. Their exchange is immediately cruel and spirals as if on each side, the breaks have jammed. But neither is in fact mad. Both are hurting and experiencing the kind of homelessness only possible in one’s own home, at the end of a week that crawled with failed attempts. A mother readying herself for a date is no match for a daughter afflicted with misunderstood angst.

Lonergan’s long takes ripen as Lisa’s emotions, no matter how sincere, heighten. It’s as if something on screen thickens, like batter, when the camera sticks with a conversation that at first appears to have no direction. It’s exhilarating. 

At an outside terrace, Paquin, Jeannie Berlin, who plays a dear friend of the deceased, and a lawyer meet for lunch. They discuss legal options. Lisa interrupts a number of times. Salads are served. It brought to mind a scene in Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours where three adult children, mourning the loss of their mother, discuss her will and the family’s summer home. They speak diagnostically much like in Margaret where emotions turn to equation. In both films, unglamorous details are entirely involving. 

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

"Carolina" - The Gertrudes (mp3)

"Flashbulbs" - The Gertrudes (mp3)

"Six Jars" - The Gertrudes (mp3)

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