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Entries in eleanor morrow (41)

Wednesday
Jan132010

In Which Big Love Walks A Lonely Road

The Very Ecstasy of Love

by ELEANOR MORROW

How should we treat the ones we love? The new season of Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer's HBO series Big Love puts this issue into the sharpest of focus. Do they need a firm yet giving hand? Do they require a major degree of autonomy to function? When is it right to criticize and challenge those we love, and when is the same behavior certain to destroy them?

It's rare to see actual bad parenting portrayed on television, and this only one strange element about the relationship of Big Love's character to its audience. We can't fully sympathize with characters who treat their children in this fashion, and yet we're drawn into the dilemmas of the Hendricksons slowly but surely, without realizing what exactly we're doing. In case you're overly prejudiced against multiple partners and have avoided the show, the Hendricksons are currently spawning new babies quicker than Brad Pitt's rimjobs: Teenie, Aaron, Lester, Ben, Nell, Wayne, Sarah, Cara Lynn are only the beginning of the large brood routinely ignored by their parents.

weirdly, this is the most attractive Harry Dean Stanton has ever beenNone of these kids are turning out very well. The oldest is Sarah, played by Amanda Seyfried. Last season had her dealing with a pregnancy that got deus ex hendrickson'd into oblivion. Now she's just a regular Mormon girl dealing with her Mormon problems, like what dress that goes down to my ankles should I wear today? Given that she's more occupied with movie roles where she's tonguing Julianne Moore, the intriguing questioning Mormon Seyfried portrayed will be missed as a crucial part of Big Love's success, absorbed into a relationship in the same fashion as any other girl you know.

What can fill the void? Nikki's surprise daughter Cara Lynn has been a fun start. The junior math whiz tells her dirtbag father that she doesn't like it with the Hendricksons, but we sense that's about to change when she realizes she can do whatever she wants on her new compound.

The surprise daughter trick has worked quite well as a plot device in soaps, and that's the direction Big Love has headed. The seedy prophet Roman Grant tied the show into a very disturbing portrait of a cult that subjected its members to a series of disgusting circumstances. With his departure from the drama, the stakes have lessened somewhat, and the soap aspects naturally come to the foreground. Before, there was always the distinct and frightening possibility that any character would end up in the joy book of Juniper Creek and became another cog in the wifely machine that is polygamy.

For this reason, I expected the premiere to be more of a reboot than it was. What we really care about are the ties between people on this show, and since Juniper Creek is no longer the pressure point it was during the first three seasons, the show is desperately in need of a new antagonist who represents the morality of the outsider who produce, direct, and write this show. Fortunately guest turns by Sissy Spacek as a lobbyist, Željko Ivanek as Nicki's ex and the return of once fourth wife Ana are promised in the abbreviated nine-episode season to come.

The new opening sequence is a neat metaphor for how the show has changed over time. No longer are wives and husbands swirling away from one another in a fog. They now just fall singularly like Mormon Don Drapers into a new abyss of their own making.

honey, would it make you feel better if we recast you after this season? go play with your brothersThe tension between Roman Grant and the Hendricksons wasn't the only captivating storyline that made Big Love so exciting. There was always some fear of Bill, Margene, Nicki and Barb being discovered and outed. Now it's obvious that every attorney and police in Salt Lake City knows that Bill butters his bread in three houses. If they knew how rarely he was actually getting laid, they might not be so acrimonious. Bill's sex life has struggled terribly now that he's opening his collaborative casino project with the kind and potential Mormon-hating indigenous people of Utah. The focus is on Bill's business, for better or worse, and by the end of the season premiere, his business is in serious trouble.

With the focus shifting towards Bill's casino venture, Margene Hendrickson's plucky, sexpot saleswoman wife has become the unwitting protagonist of Big Love. Where last season she tried to get Bill to bring on a saucy foreign fourth wife, this year her reinvention as Home Shopping Network star promises more laughs than all the scenes Bradley Cooper wasn't in during He's Just Not That Into You. The show's writers have turned one of the most easily pigeonholed characters on the show into one of its deepest.

beeeeeeeeeeeeellllll?In contrast, Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb has become minimized as a result of the focus on the other two wives. Barb's done it all - she beat cancer like a champ, she found dry land in Waterworld, and she got excommunicated from her religion. While the experience of being disliked by Indians is somewhat captivating, she's run out of creative steam and it's going to take a major shakeup to make her anything other than Bill Paxton's dialogue coach.

That brings us to Chloe Sevigny. What starlet was more likely to have a face tattoo and a heroin addiction? And yet Sevigny only keeps on working in what can charitably be described as the role of a lifetime. Her Nicki is a tic-ridden, subversive amalgam of woman, so good and bad at once she'd give Jesus (or Joseph Smith) one hell of a headache. To add insult to Mormonism, she's never been more beautiful. With her father out of the picture, it simply leaves more room for the note perfect scenes between her and her similarly conflicted mother Adaleen (the magical Mary Kay Place). In these scenes on the Juniper Creek compound we get the most obvious evidence of how corrupting an ideology that pervades every aspect of our being necessarily is.

this is a really cute hat bill. could our tribe have it?Over time, Big Love has grown more suspicious and derogatory towards polygamy. This is only right - what to the non-cultists looks like a unique but not entirely savage family arrangement over time reveals itself to be more corrupting than you can ever imagine. Bill himself has nothing more to give to his wives, and as if compensating, they find little in common with him. The practical benefit of having a large family is virtually all that can be said in the favor of this family structure.

And yet we ultimately recognize that the ideology which pervades the hypocritical government persecution of the Hendricksons is just as all-knowing and insolent. We should never speak for others, even when what they do is strange and weird to us, as long as it is freely chosen. No one needs a lecture on why polygamy is generally bad for wives and the children that result from such arrangements. The gay married masterminds behind the show Scheffer and Olsen have no intention of giving one. All families have something that redeems them, no matter how disturbing their structure. What redeems the Hendricksons is an open question.

Financial freedom is part of the equation, as it is for every other family in America. But there is something larger beneath that about what we see when we look at our children. Staring in a mirror at the daughter she didn't see in twelve years, Nicki Hendrickson puts on a look of total care and total dominance. She wants nothing of Juniper Creek for her daughter, but she is not perceptive enough to learn or diligent enough to figure out that her daughter may in fact want something of Juniper Creek. But then, if children didn't always surprise their parents, what exactly would be the point of having them?

family meeting: I really hate what you guys have been wearingEven as Big Love conscientiously and dutifully assails the evils of polygamy, it is also offering a brief that the human heart remains capable of more love than we commonly give it credit for. On the other hand, it also endorses a more cynical view - sooner or later, we run out of this mysterious and desired substance.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about John Lennon and Bob Dylan.

"The Great Elsewhere" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

"Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

"Flare Gun" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

You can purchase the new FF, Heartland, here.

Sunday
Dec062009

In Which Bob Dylan and John Lennon Were Earlier Versions of Someone

When John Lennon Met Bob Dylan

by ELEANOR MORROW

We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they'd say, 'We're recording in a month's time and you've got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.' ...so I'd go out to John's every day for the week, and the rest of the time was just time off. We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day.... Mostly it was me getting out of London, to John's rather nice, comfortable Weybridge house near the golf course.... So John and I would sit down, and by then it might be one or two o'clock, and by four or five o'clock we'd be done.

- Paul McCartney

Things were once so easy for The Beatles. Their influences were women and whatever Carl Perkins songs they'd take for the album. The Lennon-Bob Dylan scene from D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back was far from the first time John Lennon mincingly met Bob Dylan, from whom he may have thefted a number of self-involved "makeovers" over the years. The offending footage is like raising the curtain on The Wizard of Oz.

In his autobiography Chronicles, Dylan is relatively charitable about how he viewed The Beatles, although he was still courteous enough to put the proper distance between them and him.

The Beatles: not gay. Dylan biographer Howard Sounes described the meeting between Lennon and Dylan this way:

Lennon said later he was "very high and stoned," but he looked healthier than Bob, who appeared painfully thin and very pale. For a while, the banter was charming, like a scene from a Beatles movie. Lennon snapped off smart comments and Bob giggled. "Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair?" Lennon asked, in his comedic voice. "Take Zimdon." When the car passes a couple kissing in the street, Bob directed the camera to them. "Oh! Oh! Get those two lovers over there," he said, brightly. But his words became increasingly slurred and muddled. Toward the end of the segment, he begged chauffeur Tom Keylock to hurry to the hotel because he said he was about to vomit.

No one could become something else like Bob, and Lennon may well have discerned another direction for his career, one that would immediately stray from straightlaced songwriting efforts. Lennon saw a darker version of himself, and reached across a taxicab to inhabit it like another costume. The rest of The Beatles weren't far behind.

in belfastDylan would later have a long talk with all The Beatles, and although he can't really be blamed for breaking up the group, we can assume he didn't preach solidarity:

In London, Bob met up again with Dana Gillespie, and received The Beatles at the Mayfair Hotel. Bob Johnston flew in from America to assist in the recording of British concerts, and sat up most of one night while Bob rapped to The Beatles. Johnston believes the experience changed the group forever. "All four of The Beatles were in his hotel room and he talked to them all night long. They never even talked," he says. "When they came out the next morning they were John Lennon and George Harrison and Paul McCartney. They weren't The Beatles." As McCartney has said, "Dylan was influencing us quite heavily at that point."

tom murrayClinton Heylin's biography of Bob accounts for a similar event that's become somewhat apocryphal:

The occasion when Dylan descended from Woodstock to meet The Beatles, at their New York hotel, may have become overly imbued with Import, but on the night of August 28, 1964, two cultures fumbled for a common creed via a bag of weed.

bob & allen ginsbergIn the company of Victor Maymudes and Al Aronowitz, Dylan ascended the Delmonico elevator that evening to meet the current arbiters of change in pop culture. When he entered the Beatles' suite and went in search of 'what he usually drinks, cheap wine,' he was informed by Brian Epstein that they only had champagne. Apparently offered some pills, Bob suggested some pot and proceeded to roll a joint. As the Fab Four partook for the first time, enlightenment apparently dawned, though in the cold light of the following morn, it proved illusory.

As McCartney put it afterrwards, "I was wandering around looking for a pencil because I discovered the meaning of life that evening and I wanted to get it down on a bit of paper...Mal handed me the little bit of paper the next morning...and on it was written, in very scrawly handwriting: THERE ARE SEVEN LEVELS."

with bob deniro and david blueYou can't mock The Beatles for listening to everything Bob had to say, although it was a heady measure of their innocence that they took this much advice from someone who was supposed to be their peer. After Lennon died, Bob Dylan dealt with a stalker and feared for his life. He retreated even further into a distressing amalgam of different selves, as Todd Haynes made a long point of indicating.

Earlier this year, Dylan passed unnoticed through a bus tour of Lennon's Liverpool home. It's hard to imagine what he thought he could take from such an experience. The answer is tied up in The Beatles innocently engrossed with whatever Bob had to say to them. If there's one thing Bob is good at it, it's bringing something new to something old.

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

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"Honey, Don't" - The Beatles (mp3)

"Every Little Thing" - The Beatles (mp3)

"Eight Days A Week" -  The Beatles (mp3)

"Rock and Roll Music" - The Beatles (mp3)

 

Monday
Nov302009

In Which We Tuck In Our Nips And Nip In Our Tucks

The End of Surgery

by ELEANOR MORROW

Dallas and Dynasty had their moments. They can't touch the greatest soap opera ever to air on television, Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck, which finishes up its run over the next few weeks. Dismissed as trash TV by people who eagerly descend to the painful depths of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice for a living, Nip/Tuck was once the most popular show on cable. Its final season has been largely buried in the wake of Murphy's more popular Fox show Glee, but that shouldn't change what Nip/Tuck did for cable television.


Although soaps pride themselves on being long-running, the genre never had characters like doctors Christian Troy and Sean McNamara. Over time, two hunky Miami plastic surgeons have turned into two chipped and degraded Greek statues living in Los Angeles. There is something marvelous about how much Murphy cares about both bodies. McNamara's nude form tried to take his own life in the ocean a few episodes ago, and Troy's battle with cancer last season reduced his to a black-and-blue stump.

When the show premiered, there was something new and different in this approach, and even after the hype from Nip/Tuck's edgy plastic surgeries faded, the focus on the human form remained rare in any media. Television prefers to ignore or paint over human bodies, and even when it dips toes into nudity, rarely is the disrobed character not having sex.

In real life, we are as often nude by ourselves as we are with others. We are confronted with the fact of our bodies at every moment, and there's no surprise that with a surfeit of attention on them, obsessions ferment and fester. People who consider plastic surgery have taken that attention and elevated it to a need. Few McNamara/Troy patients actually can justify their desire for plastic surgery. That this is also the requirement of the people who perform these surgeries is the novelty of Nip/Tuck.

Over the years, Murphy has written every possible storyline for his doctors. The most successful one in the show's history had them pursued by a serial killer named The Carver. Since it's hard to make two rich plastic surgeons overly sympathetic, a twisted killer was the ideal foil. Murphy revisited this angle in a different way last season with Sean's Hollywood ascendancy (with an amazing run by Bradley Cooper as a jealous co-star), with his insane, murderous agent Colleen Rose.

Like any good soap opera, Nip/Tuck has nothing better to do than to flesh out the long stories of its more sympathetic peripheral characters. After being traded for a Lamborghini in the show's first season, blond tart Kimber Henry has basically done everyone on Nip/Tuck, and somehow she is still sympathetic. Following a person, real or imagined, for long enough generally accomplishes this trick. Every con artist knows that as soon as we see someone troubled do a good thing, we are won to their side of the issue. How do you think Chris Brown got booked on Good Morning America?

Murphy cast Mario Lopez as Christian's rival this season. One thing soaps do well is introduce new characters and repurpose old ones. If you really thought about it long enough it wouldn't make sense for Lopez and Christian to fight over Kimber, but since we've been with the latter pair longer, we want them to win out even though Christian is ostensibly the Iago of this interplay. This kind of complicated understanding between drama and audience is only possible in long form television.

With an idea of keeping the stakes high and sticking with Sean McNamara's utter inability to treat women as well as he says he wants to, Murphy cast Rose McGowan in a four episode-arc as a killer nurse after Sean's money. Although this is now the fifth or sixth time this basic plot has been featured, it is impossible to enjoy it any less. This campy fun turned into a custody battle with Sean's mother-in-law, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Nip/Tuck doesn't deserve to be bashed by the actors who walk through it.

Dramas, especially soaps, tend to replicate what's currently working. This typically happens even if the gimmick in question isn't effective anymore. In contrast to the hammy meaninglessness of Shonda Rimes and her Desperate Housewives counterparts, Ryan Murphy accomplished the feat of making a silly show serious. To make these people believable took an incredible sense for where our disbelief meets trust in the artist.

Eventually someone will realize how brilliant Nip/Tuck was and make something in its image. Let's hope the irony of such a tribute isn't lost on the creator.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.

"No Use Left for Me" - The 88 (mp3)

"God Is Coming" - The 88 (mp3)

"Kind of Light" - The 88 (mp3)

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