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Alex Carnevale

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Kara VanderBijl

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Mia Nguyen

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Durga Chew-Bose

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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)


In Which We Are Simply A Natural At This

Piece of Cake


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)


In Which We Charm Absolutely No One

Notes on 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)


In Which We Generally Play It Where It Lays

Los Angeles Dossier


Flanked on four sides of a kitchen island in West Hollywood, friends were exchanging details about a serial arsonist on the loose in Los Angeles. Copycat fires had been reported; revenge or thrill-seeking were pinned as possible intent. A description of the suspect had been released by the LAPD: male, heavy-set with a receding hairline and ponytail, driving a white and tan mid-90s Lexus sedan. It was New Year’s weekend, eighty degrees and sunny, fifty-some fires and counting. It was also my first time in L.A.

News of the arson spree was being tossed around between bites of tortilla chips, riffs on Noomi vs. Rooney, and fanciful guesses as to how the Mayan apocalypse would hit. One girl in red polka-dots shared her excitement about the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. I would miss it having returned to New York by then. At one point Dion’s “The Wanderer” came on and everyone fell into a brief stupor, twisting slightly and opening new beers.

Growing up on the east coast and having attended college in Westchester, pictures of friends bunched in kitchens, leaning against and perched on counters, gabbing, had swept — much with my affection for the Dunnes, both John and Dominick, any picture of Robert Evans, noir Los Angeles, and Ice Cube’s Raiders hats — into a vague notion of images that were “very L.A.” It was an indefinable place despite countless landmarks and friends who called it home. Its celluloid portrayals caused it to unnaturally ooze thrill and ease for someone far too impressionable like myself.

L.A. wasn’t real, real. "Some of these buildings are over 20 years old," Steve Martin points out to Victoria Tennant in his satire-celebration, L.A. Story. Mailer called it "a constellation of plastic." Of course Andy Warhol loved it for that very reason. "It's redundant to die in Los Angeles," Capote deadpanned. Dorothy Parker said it was “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city," and Kerouac rued "the loneliest and most brutal of American cities." Saul Bellow wrote that "in Los Angeles all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn't tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California."

Frank Lloyd Wright echoed Bellow's sentiment: "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles." Fran Lebowitz compares it to a "city-like area" that surrounds the Beverly Hills Hotel. And Montell Jordan testified that "South Central does it like nobody does." To me, Los Angeles was counterfeit. I hadn’t grown up with winds or fog or earthquakes. Seasons were dependable. And yet, entirely wooed, arson and apocalypse aside, in that moment with my forearms resting on cold tile, like Brenda Walsh or Annie Banks might, I too felt for the time being, merrily very L.A.

I stayed with my friend, Zoë, who up until recently had been living in New York. My vacation coincided with her renewed appreciation for Los Angeles. She was once again a California girl. Even her ponytail, which always flops to the side of her head, seemed to spring and twirl better with Pacific air.

She bought sunglasses like the ones Woody Harrelson wears in Natural Born Killers while I tried on bigger ones like the pair Gena Rowlands wears (and does not take off at dinner) in Minnie and Moskowitz. Most days Zoë wore her mother’s red corduroy zip jacket that she rolled into wide cuffs. It matched the red beams at LACMA where I took a picture of her near the re-created Charles and Ray Eames living room. I only now just noticed that that particular photo never developed.

At the tar pits adjacent to LACMA, my attention was stolen by a white vertical tower. Thirty-one stories tall in a district that upholds a seven-story height moratorium, the Variety skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard is a stark giant crowned by its name in red lettering. Its stature is somehow comic, especially in Los Angeles. It appeared oversized; as if it was a spoof building, a prop, a facade, a mirage?

Designed by William Pereira, it boasts three hundred and sixty degree open views of the city. Didion might describe its lines as "alienating" and its build thick like an upright block of butter wrapped in wax paper. Jerry Bruckheimer, if he hasn't already, will use it for a heist helicopter landing in one of his next productions.

In the car, Zoë and I listened to the radio or the Boogie Nights soundtrack. More and more, my adolescent habits seemed to spark as if willed alive again by K-Earth 101 and one night, I spoke on the phone to a friend for over two hours. I haven't done that in years. Ann-Margret in a yellow shirt lying on pink sheets with a teal blue phone. Sally Field as Gidget. Dionne and Cher.

We spent a lot of time going places to hang out. We climbed up a hill on my first night — the first of many views — and ate graham cracker flavored frozen yogurt the next day while we talked and scraped the bottoms of our Styrofoam cups while staring out at a parking lot.

The sun warmed through my jeans — in January! — and struck me dumb. Nobody believes they are as invincible and the day infinite as a teenager on vacation, and that’s exactly how I felt. Even now, writing about the sun — and the sunsets too, which are an entirely different kind of spell, and that cruelly or precisely, no picture can ever capture — I feel foolish. From the car one evening as we drove through Silverlake, I stared at the sky’s airbrushed pinks, peaches, and lavender, only to look away because I only had one day left in L.A.

There’s a great picture of Ronnie and Phil Spector where he’s posing in the background holding a microphone stand while she’s in the fore, charming the camera with her attitude. He looks half her size. I always turn up the volume dial for The Ronettes — a regular occurrence during my stay. Nowadays it's Phil's trial pictures that are most vivid: his freakish wigs and chilling, googly stare.

Celebrity trials are another spectacle here. The wood-paneled court rooms, the lawyers, the lawyers' families, the media circus, the outfits, all of it. In college, I remember my friend Akiva, who grew up in Beverlywood, told me that his brother recorded on VHS tapes every item broadcast of the O.J. Simpson murder case: a plenary account of television segments and updates. Los Angeles media experienced a coup d’état of celebrity trial magnitude. A black leather glove.

Retention and analysis of proceedings, exclusive interviews, and tell-alls, create a specific type of mania spurred only when celebrity, power and privilege cross the judicial system. As Camille Paglia put it, "Television is America's kingmaker." And as Akiva put it in a recent gchat, "OJ is LA." I recently learned that Joan Didion was given press credentials and an opportunity to write a book about Kobe Bryant's 2003 rape case. She turned it down after the first day of trial. The cover art alone, in serif purple and gold, DIDION, KOBE, might have been the most L.A. gospel ever.

While Jacques Demy's only English language film, 1969's Model Shop, is not a great, it tempts. It ambles from Hollywood Boulevard to Santa Monica, from Beverly Hills to Malibu and loafs from a girlfriend’s apartment to a car garage, from a pink plush Rent-A-Model to band practice. "You don't buy a $1500 car just 'cause you like it. You don't have a cent and you don't even work! You get a skateboard!" a girl scolds her boy at the start. Conversations move in and out of burnout meters, never quite changing our protagonist, George — a ne’re-do-well who is about to get drafted. He meets a mysterious French woman Lola, played by Anouk Aimée, and seeks out one last human bond, if that.

What Demy does so masterfully is capture LA’s devil-may-care lure. Undoubtedly he was smitten with the city’s airy and delayed character. After all, the very first image is a blonde in bed, sleeping in. Her room is a mix of beach and artifice, bohemia and Barbie: piles of records, hanging stockings, a wig on its stand, an orange bra, a striped towel, neutrals and neons, both. Los Angeles is the film’s most palpable antihero. Los Angeles is the slacker, the layabout, the intrigue and the crush.

Demy splits the screen in two: sky and road. Pale blue and pavement. Billboards, Standard Chevron signs, palm trees and cars. It does not impose itself on anyone. And as I experienced it too, the faraway beach or winding hilly roads, there is something incredibly tacit about Los Angeles’ strangeness. It courts you. It’s still too new to simply exist — the trivia, infinite amounts of it, is what sustains the city.

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

"Blue Skies" - Deborah Wedekind (mp3)

"I Dreamed A Dream" - Deborah Wedekind (mp3)

"For All We Know" - Deborah Wedekind (mp3)

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