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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 eleanor morrow (59)

Tuesday
Mar012016

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

Foreign Bodies

by ELEANOR MORROW

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)

Tuesday
Jul282015

In Which It Is More Difficult Than You Think

Orange Blossoms

by ELEANOR MORROW

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)

Tuesday
Jul072015

In Which We Harken Back To A More Disturbing Epoch

Aging Well

by ELEANOR MORROW

Another Period
creators Natasha Leggero & Riki Lindhome

Once in a generation a television series comes along which obliterates everything that came before it. M.A.S.H. Seinfeld. Firefly. The character of the Jewish butler Mr. Peepers (Michael Ian Black) in Natasha Legero and Riki Lindhome's triumphant new series set in turn-of-the-century Newport, Rhode Island has never before been attempted, and it probably never will be again.

The ever-young Ian Black, 43, is an actor who has bounced from project to project without being taken seriously as a dramatic fulcrum. In Another Period, his essential Jewishness at first seems suppressed, only observable below the surface. He is invisible as a Hebrew to the member of the wealthy family he has so dutifully served for most of his life.

The Commodore (David Koechner) enlists Mr. Peepers to keep his secret: he is bringing his mistress (Christina Hendricks) onto the family's staff, both to create easy access for his selfish, cheating trysts, and to ensure that she does not get restless waiting for him to separate from his morphine addicted wife Dodo (Paget Brewster).

Making Paget Brewster look dowdy is the work of some various makeup, but Hendricks keeps things chaste as well. This leaves the real attention to two of the Bellacourt daughters, Another Period creators Leggero and Lindholm.

Lillian (a vampish yet subtle Leggero) is in an unhappy marriage to a gay man named Albert (David Wain). In Another Period's second episode, she plans to tell the police he has abused her in order to win a divorce. Her plan goes awry when they don't take spousal abuse seriously, and she is forced to confront the issue with her husband. He demands financial compensation for their separation — he will pretend to be dead so that she can remarry. In return, he gets to occupy a cute little house with his boyfriend Victor (Brian Huskey), who is married to Lillian's sister Beatrice (Riki Lindhome).

On the surface, you would think would all be played for laughs. There are moments of humor in Another Period, but there is also a deep pathos in the desperation the Bellacourt sisters feel, first because they are completely unhappy in their marriages, and secondly because the sexist society they inhabit seeks to keep them illiterate and insincere. Their sister Hortense (an unrecognizable Lauren Ash) is a suffragette who doesn't realize her sisters exemplify the downtrodden female status every bit as much as she does.

The Bellacourts demand that their children reproduce in a timely manner, and so Lillian and Beatrice are regularly forced into semi-consensual sex but their homosexual husbands. Albert accomplishes his goal in the manner of a sneeze, masturbating into his wife's vagina while covering her face with a napkin. Victor sucks on the finger of a nearby manservant to achieve orgasm.

In order to rationalize what essentially amounts to an imprisonment, the Bellacourt sisters take out their anger on the servant class. Mr. Peepers consciously avoids the venom of his betters, but the new house maid is the victim of Beatrice and Lillian time and again. Lillian names Hendricks' mistress character Chair, and the nickname sticks.

There is no greater respect for women among the underclass. Chair is constantly harassed and abused by another member of the staff. No one steps in or comes to her aid, not even the patriarch of the house. There is a much deeper realism here than we find in English versions of the same.

Another Period never avoids depicting life as it actually was at this time: dark, nasty and downright Dickensian. Dickens made his first trip to America in 1842, when he was only 30 years old. He complained the whole time he was there, of people like the members of the Bellacourt family. Another Period answers the question of why that might be.

The show's explicit scenes of rape and abuse are unlike any other to make it basic cable. In addition, no show on television has ever confronted the issue of incest head-on the way that Another Period does. Pushed to an irrational extreme by abuse and neglect, Beatrice finds herself falling in love with her brother Frederick. The two engage in disturbingly childish pastimes, like allowing a servant to pull them in a small boat across the grounds of the Bellacourt estate, and consummating unprotected brother-sister sex.

Ian Black's Mr. Peepers navigates this environment as an ethnic minority in plain sight, patching together the various strands of the family into a cohesive whole. What initially seems like a parody of Downton Abbey's Carson becomes something far greater. Carson was just a white man beset by ill fortune to become some asshole's manservant. In his explosively concealed Judaism, Ian Black is something far greater.

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.

"Blue Flower (live)" - Mazzy Star (mp3)

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