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Entries in eleanor morrow (51)


In Which Colin Howell Wished Only To Be Caught

No Service in the Club


The Secret
creators Stuart Urban and Jonathan Curling

The secret in The Secret is as follows: a God-fearing Christian man named Colin Howell grows tired of his wife and takes up with another man's beloved, a woman named Hazel Elkin. At a public pool in Northern Ireland he strokes her legs and thighs underwater. She has been desired, but not recently, and not in so open a fashion. Many women do not wish for worship, but those who do find it relatively intoxicating.

But this is not a secret for long. They are too open about their adultery — isn't it awful how people who commit indecent acts on some level wish to be caught? The shame is twice as uneasy as the act itself. This is not something religion instills in us, we bring it with us to our faith, or lack thereof.

In any case, they are spotted and Colin's priest comes to him with an accusation. (This is all a true story, or at least as much of it as we can stand.) Colin denies the allegation, but altogether not fervently enough. When Hazel is approached by the priest, she confesses immediately.

So at some point Colin gets in his head that if his ungrateful wife Leslie and his girlfriend's meek husband Trevor are still standing in the way of their love, instead of fading away as seems appropriate, it might be time to murder them. The real Colin Howell, it emerged recently, watches The Secret from his prison cell in Co Antrim. He can probably be proud of the performance James Nesbitt gives in his stead.

At first it seems like The Secret is just having a laugh at the expense of persnickety zealots. This is untrue, and potentially damaging to Colin's current reputation in prison. You see, Colin did hide his murder of his wife and his girlfriend's husband, but he never lost sight of what God wanted for him. (Police amazingly believed it was a double suicide.) And which is more important, really?

The first indication Leslie had that something was wrong was the money she found in the pockets of her husband's athletic gear. He used it on a payphone to call Hazel during his runs. In order to prevent their late night phone conversations from being recorded on the telephone bill, each lecherous conversation between Colin and Hazel was kept to a period of nine minutes, the perfect length for anything.

After Colin was caught out the first time, he insisted that he had never consummated the relationship. The spouses and their church believed them — what else could they do? Leslie Howell considered suicide and took a trifling overdose without success. She spent money on new clothes, dieting to become more appealing to her husband. After her father died, the inheritance was enough to pursue a new life. After she died, her killer took that money, some quarter of a million pounds.

The night of the murders, Hazel mixed a strong sedative into her husband's food. Colin blocked his children's doors with a hockey stick so they wouldn't walk in on things. He planned to gas Leslie quietly as their children slept, but she woke in her last moments, and he had to smother her with a quilt to finish off the murder, as she cried out for her son. For this murder, he will serve nothing close to life in prison: just twenty-one easy years.

Instead of turning Colin into an uncaring sociopath — he isn't a mass murderer after all — Nesbitt plays him as a twitchy cautionary tale. His singing and guitar playing in church is solid if unspectacular. As a father he is kind to children who had to live without their mother, and even had six more kids with his second wife Kyle. As a doctor he committed more crimes, touching female patients when it suited him. This is a person who maybe only has a few things wrong with him, but they are the worst possible things.

Maybe the wildest part of Colin Howell's story is that he was free and clear of murder charges but that he felt guilty enough to confess decades later. The Secret itself, despite being a retelling of a well-known true crime story, is still sensitive enough a subject to inspire secrecy.

"We have been left trembling in the wake of it," said one of Howell's daughters about the television production. "The insensitivity of this intrusion is in direct proportion to the trauma that it causes." The fact of a failed marriage is the real secret, the disastrous life that led to the killings. These Christians believed as a corollary to their faith that unhappiness must be concealed, hidden. This misery should have been abandoned by any of the participants, but since they knew no other reality, they kept on living their nightmares.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

"Dear Brother" - Nadia Nair (mp3)


In Which The Frosted Tips Of Tom Hiddleston Electrify And Outrage All Concerned

Foreign Bodies


The Night Manager
creator Susanne Bier

Tom Hiddleston's frosted tips have taken on a life of their own. As a brunette, Hiddleston was a swerving force of flowing locks, always looking down on you through his nightmarish blue eyes, with an expression that seemed to say, "I know you are surprised that I am also a person as you are." Yet there was always something alien about the man, and frosting those tips has brought that inimical quality into the light.

Hiddleston's character in The Night Manager is a former military man who works at a hotel in Cairo for some reason. He starts to take an interest in the mistress of a powerful Arab man and decides to save her from her wicked life, using his frosted tips alone. She is all beaten up from her boyfriend, and looks like she has just been in a car crash, but he feels like this is the optimal time to start a romantic relationship with her.

The next time he sees her, her little poodle is covered in her blood. If you think this is a somewhat heavy-handed allegory for western imperialism, you have not read very much John le Carré. This is actually him being subtle.

I recently watched David Gordon Green's very funny, somewhat racist version of a true story, Our Brand Is Crisis. The movie was never attempts to be particularly complex in the style of The Night Manager, and it ends when Sandra Bullock's heartless political consultant suddenly grows a conscience because she was furious the man she was working for was trying to do the best for his country.

Our Brand Is Crisis is a rollicking and funny portrait of what might ostensibly be a very dull election for the president of Bolivia. Bullock's interactions with poor young men are a novelty, turning the plot into an actual referendum on the goodness of people and what it means. Our Brand Is Crisis takes something completely simple and problematizes it into something deeper. The Night Manager does the exact opposite.

The same sort of rigorous moral certainty pretends to pulsate through The Night Manager, but we can sense the bullshit. It is naivete, pure and simple; the idea that international relations, and the managing of various dictatorial regimes would be pathetically facile if only the people on the ground would go after the real bad guys. In The Night Manager, that bad guy is a British arms dealer who also runs a multinational corporation, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).

This cartoonish Bond villain had the temerity to sell weapons to someone! Tom Hiddleston's frosted tips did not really seem to understand that governments manage this monstrous feat almost every single day. When he finds a written list of weapons Roper plans to sell, he immediately calls British intelligence to complain. Four years after he gets a woman of color killed, he is night managing a resort in the mountains when Roper shows up with an entourage.

The Cairo parts of The Night Manager are transparently not filmed anywhere near the city, but up in the mountains we get a fantastic sense of place. In the evening, with the cold restraining the flagging movement of those blondish tips, Mr. Hiddleston starts to grow active in his den, like a nocturnal rodent. He is not very handsome in this guise, or very strong, or very smart. But he is busy.

Laurie is a great performer, but The Night Manager accentuates too many of his weaknesses. He is not naturally intimidating, fearsome or menacing. His friendliness seems to complete explode his cruelty. Sure, he is capable of awful things but combined with a braying smile, we sense he must be a far more complicated man than Tom's tips give him credit for.

Director Susanne Bier has Laurie give elaborate speeches about the virtues of capitalism which come across completely ridiculous. The rest of the time is spent making his subordinates dance with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Debicki, looking quite sussed). Intelligence professionals back in Mother Britain meet for hours to think of how they are going to shut down this maniac. I don't know, maybe they could just arrest him? Christ.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Steel & Stone" - Caleb Caudle (mp3)


In Which It Is More Difficult Than You Think

Orange Blossoms


Fort Tilden
dir. Sarah-Violet Bliss
95 minutes

"The criminal mind always sets its own traps," a man screams at Allie (Claire McNulty) as she peels off the down a Brooklyn street on a bike after hitting a child. Her friend Harper (Bridey Elliott) is even worse, hitting up her greasy ex-boyfriend for drugs and writing a check for iced coffee. They live in the most magnificent New York apartment I have ever seen:

Sarah-Violet Bliss, a writer for Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer series, is like an even meaner Nicole Holofcener. Her satire of her peers is savage — at first it seems like there is nothing redemptive in Fort Tilden. Bliss' debut film takes place in an area of New York City where everyone wants to live: children, families, dogs. Fort Tilden makes it look like an unrelenting nightmare of posturing and whining, persistently disgusting gentrification.

In one scene the two women are shopping in a thrift store when they see a small Asian teenager stealing their bikes. Instead of stopping him or trying to intervene, they just observe him pedaling away. A woman behind them in line wonders aloud, "That boy just took your bikes, and all you did was watch him do it." Things are immaterial to a certain type of person, captured effortlessly in Bliss' writing. They can be replaced. Everything can.

White people are especially disgusting, Bliss argues in her satire, and they are incapable of ever understanding their privilege. Their power comes from their ignorance of what power is. Any attempt at recognizing the racism of cultural norms just transitions into appropriation. This goes for underrepresented minorities themselves as well. "You have to let these people do what they are going to do," Allie ironically explains to Harper at one point. "You just have to take punches."

It emerges that the origin of Harper's casual lifestyle is her father's imperialist Indian business. He takes advantage of his position in the country and sends her money to continue her lifestyle. "It's not my fault that I am his daughter," she explains after being thrown out of a cab by a Indian immigrant. Fort Tilden's attempt at constructing real drama to underlie Bliss' brilliant one-liners is disturbingly insightful, making me wish that she would shelve some of the wackier Broad City-esque humor and make something that reaches even deeper than the story of two shallow Brooklynites.

As Allie, McNulty projects a saucy innocence that you would expect of a blonde girl about to be sent to Liberia by the Peace Corps. Bridey Elliott (daughter of comedian Chris Elliott) carries Fort Tilden with a retinue of facial expressions that express every conceivable emotion as the girls try to make their way to a beach date with two guys they met at a party the night before. 

After these two find a quartet of stranded kittens, they begin to argue over which one of them posted a picture on the internet. The fight escalates, and one of the women says that the other isn't an artist. This is the worst thing one person can conceivably convey to another at this time in our lives.

By the end of Fort Tilden there is actually some disappointment. This sadness comes not from the massively entertaining and humorous film constructed by an exciting new voice who spent too much time watching Broad City. The real let down of Fort Tilden is the world that is being satirized. There is not really much to it, and the movie culminates like the sad, disturbing end of a wet dream.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"I Got That Feeling Once Again" - The Memories (mp3)

"Love To Break Your Heart" - The Memories (mp3)