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Entries in elizabeth taylor (2)


In Which Lindsay Lohan Is Almost Preternaturally Alive

The Lindsay Lohan Problem


The internet’s collective anticipation of the Lifetime network’s Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton biopic Liz & Dick was palpable — it was meant to be Lifetime’s culminating achievement in low-budget ill-considered melodramatic crap cinema, with the grand and legendary movie star Taylor played by bedraggled former child actor and tabloid train wreck du jour Lindsay Lohan. The incongruity was sublime, and viewers were eager for the failure that Liz & Dick would be.

Sure enough, Liz & Dick did serve up some of Lifetime’s signature camp. It begins with a title card that reads “The Last Day of Richard Burton’s Life,” and its plot is scaffolded by interludes in which Taylor and Burton, sitting in director’s chairs and dressed all in black, reminisce about and explain the movie’s action, an expository device that is supposedly taking place in the dying Burton’s mind. It ends with a title reading “Elizabeth Taylor kept Richard Burton’s letters for the remainder of her life,” choosing to leave off on a “no duh” note.

Along the way it chronicles Taylor and Burton’s epically obnoxious love affair. “I’m sleeping with your wife,” a drunk Burton, played by Grant Bowler, shouts at Taylor’s husband Eddie Fisher after she and Burton begin their affair. “You do know I’m shagging him senseless, don’t you?” Taylor says to a hotel employee, randomly. In a triumphant curtain call after his successful performance in Hamlet, Burton brings Taylor up on stage. “In the words of the immortal bard: there will be no more marriages!” he says. A producer pitches Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Taylor at a party but says Burton wouldn’t be right for the male lead because he can’t picture them fighting — so naturally they make a scene staging a mock fight to convince him. They really are insufferable.

And the script clunks along nicely. Toward the beginning of the film, Burton tells Taylor he can’t leave his family for her, and she is beside herself. “I don’t loathe you,” Taylor says. “I hate you.” Later, he calls her “miss pudgy digits” in a fight, and she has a fit, staring angrily at her hands. “They are fat! And they’re pudgy!” she screams. Of course, subtlety was never a hallmark of the biopic genre. “We were meant for each other,” Burton tells his brother shortly after the affair begins. “That’s what she said to Conrad Hilton, Michael Wilding, Mike Todd, and Eddie bloody Fisher!” his brother replies. If I understand all of this statement’s implications correctly, Elizabeth Taylor was married many times.

Still: Liz & Dick looks lovely. It is set mostly in Switzerland and along the coast of Italy, and its sets are adequately luxe. Lohan has had some unfortunate plastic surgery, but her styling was good — at many moments she looks genuinely fierce. And her and Bowler’s performances are low-energy, but not ridiculous. Comedians took to Twitter the night Liz & Dick premiered, giddy to live-tweet this televised disaster, but many of their tones turned grudging quickly after the movie began. Sure, they got shots in when Lohan, portraying 1984-vintage Taylor, dons an absurd salt-and-pepper wig and enormous glasses, but for the most part the fun Twitter had with the film seemed halfhearted. Liz & Dick was ultimately a disappointment. As Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times noted, “The film’s real failure is that it’s not terrible enough.” It could have been worse, and when viewers are expecting so-bad-it’s-good, that is a grave fault.  

Liz & Dick’s failure as a failure was surprisingly frustrating. Its mediocrity was so dissatisfying because it disrupted the narrative — Lohan’s descent through eating disorders and substance abuse and jail time from the accomplished ingénue she once was. And she was certainly set up for a monumental fall from grace. When she starred in the remake of The Parent Trap at the age of twelve and the remake of Freaky Friday at seventeen, she was favorably compared to Hayley Mills and Jodie Foster. The Parent Trap’s director Danette Meyers likened her to a young Diane Keaton.

The praise for Lohan’s acting ability continued so profuse that one might have begun to sense some hyperbole. Meryl Streep, her co-star in Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, said, “She is very present and alive, almost preternaturally alive, on camera.” Tina Fey said of Mean Girls, “I would watch Lindsay to learn what it is to be a film actor.” Around the same time, her father, Michael Lohan, an abusive cocaine addict who had been arrested multiple times for assault, began to seek the media spotlight. She wrote a hit song about him, “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father),” which Tommy Mottola described as “one of the best I’ve heard in my career.”

By 2006, when she was nineteen, the train wreck narrative was already beginning, as her heavy partying and dramatic weight loss made her a constant figure in the tabloid media. She gave an interview with Evgenia Peretz in which she may have admitted to having an eating disorder — though she later claimed she was misquoted. Lohan and her management were outraged by how she was portrayed in the Vanity Fair article, but reading it now, its take on her is remarkably positive and optimistic.

“She may be the most compelling and charismatic and real of all the actresses on the very young A-List,” Peretz wrote, and also called Lohan “a serious and emotional young woman” who “clearly has great reserves of strength.” This was around when Lohan began several years of living in hotels, and Peretz spun this wholesomely as well, calling her “the Eloise of Chateau Marmont.” Lohan talked about how she had a quiet dinner with some friends for her nineteenth birthday — “That’s how much I’ve changed,” she said. “When I turned 18, I had a party at Avalon with an ‘I'm a Slave 4 You’ theme.” The Peretz article thinks it’s telling the story of a star who has made missteps, but is ultimately back on the right track.

The next year Lohan had two DUIs and the first three of her four stints in rehab. She had cocaine either on her or in her system during both of her DUIs — a drug she had denied that she was ever involved with, sensitive because of her father’s history with it. “It’s a sore subject,” she said about cocaine in the Peretz article. For Lohan the four years following have mostly been violated probation, car accidents, shoplifting, jail time and community service, and getting dropped from one movie after another.

Despite all this, people want to believe that there is something brilliant about her, if only to make her current situation appear even more dismal. Many still buy into the narrative of her potential — Richard Brody called her performance in Liz & Dick “thrillingly immediate.” The myth of her prodigious talent has played a part in enabling her destructive behavior. As Ken Tucker says in his review of Liz & Dick, Lohan has “been cut so many breaks, it’s difficult to root for her anymore.” Her entitled attitude is clear, with stories of her being constantly late to movie sets, skipping court dates and community service, even stealing a necklace from a jewelry store. “I think the root of the problem,” said an anonymous source in Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair story about Lohan, “was every single person telling her how amazing she is, kissing her ass all the time.”

In 2007, an executive on Lohan’s film Georgia Rule wrote a cranky open letter to Lohan about her behavior onset. “We are well aware that your ongoing all night heavy partying is the real reason for our so-called ‘exhaustion,’” he wrote. “You have acted like a spoiled child.” This is probably a realistic assessment of Lohan — she is someone who got too much money, fame, and praise too young, who has never been expected to grow up in any meaningful way. After Robert Altman died in 2006, Lohan wrote a long, strange tribute to the director, filled with spelling and grammatical errors. “He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do,” she wrote, and concluded bizarrely with the closing phrase “Be adequite.”

The letter revealed Lohan not as a movie star of rare talent or as a legendarily troubled public figure, but as a young woman who had been making movies while she should have been going to school. But this picture of Lohan — as an undereducated and spoiled party girl — doesn’t wash with what she had been set up for, with what she was supposed to become. After her film work post-Prairie Home Companion did not live up to the hype surrounding her talent, the story couldn’t just be that she had disappointed. She had to have disappointed because of some darkness in her soul — if her life wasn’t going to be a legendary success, it had to be a legendary tragedy.

This is where the “old Hollywood” connections start coming in. Lohan has done photo-shoots re-creating ones done by her idol Marilyn Monroe twice — one for Playboy that was inspired by Monroe’s nude pictorial from the magazine’s first issue, and the other for New York that was a re-creation of the last photo-shoot Monroe did before committing suicide. It’s as if it is already decided: Lohan will lead a sad, destructive life before facing a tragic and untimely death — and she’s complicit, helping to create this narrative.

And this is where Lohan playing Elizabeth Taylor starts to take on significance. Lifetime was most likely trying to cash in on the similarities between Lohan and Taylor’s lives — and they do have points in common. Both were promising child actors with controlling stage mothers. Federico Fellini invented the term “paparazzi” to describe the photographers who followed Taylor, and Lohan has been continually hounded by the paparazzi for nearly ten years. But their stories are more different than they are alike. At the time that Liz & Dick begins in 1963, Taylor was twenty-nine years old, had been married three times, and had three children and one Academy Award. Importantly, Taylor was the rare child actor to become a genuine adult movie star, which Lohan so far is not.

Even in her scandals, Taylor was in different league from Lohan. The boozing and shouting and bottle-throwing portrayed in Liz & Dick are endlessly more dignified than the weird, sordid situations Lohan’s gotten herself into recently. She is known for being so unreliable that a producer on Liz & Dick described her as “the most insured actress ever to set foot on a Hollywood sound stage.” She has hosted slumber parties at the Chateau Marmont with Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey where they “watched old movies and played board games,” which is a euphemism for I don’t know what. Charlie Sheen, whom she became friends with when they worked together on Scary Movie 5, reportedly gave her $100,000 to settle a tax debt. And she was recently arrested for punching a woman in a club after attending a Justin Bieber concert.

Lohan was an incredible talent whose personal demons have turned her into a Hollywood tragedy — that is what many people want to be see as the scenario. Instead, she may just be another child actor whom the system permanently fucked up. When Lohan hosted Saturday Night Live in 2005, Amy Poehler posed as Lohan’s future self during the opening monologue — she came with a message of warning, cautioning Lohan to stop partying and drinking so much Red Bull.

When Lohan asked what movies she would do in the future, Poehler responded with weird accuracy: “Well, let me see. We did Herbie: Fully Loaded, then we did Mean Girls 2, that was a suck bomb, then we did National Lampoon’s Jamaican Vacation, and then we did like eight Lifetime movies, and now we host a Cinemax show called Night Passions.” Lohan’s future was predictable because we’ve heard her story so many times before — not in Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, but in Corey Haim, Gary Coleman, and Danny Bonaduce. Lohan’s life and Liz & Dick are not the epic catastrophes they were meant to be. They’re just run-of-the-mill messes, which makes them even sadder.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Missoula.. She last wrote in these pages about Taylor Swift. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Patient Heart" - Heidi Happy (mp3)

"Dance With Another" - Heidi Happy (mp3)


In Which Something About It Feels Too Familiar

In A Great Man's Bed


In the first adult night you know sleeplessness, you lie vanquished, blinking at the ceiling. In this bed, the man you wanted snores next to you. His successful belly larger and quivering in a way you didn’t expect from the smoothed look of his professional-man V-neck sweaters. You have been pursuing him for months — waiting with methodical patience, you joked, like an Austen character. You’d never had to wait for a man so long. Now, it seems, he doesn’t want you. Or he does; he wants you, but you haven’t slept with him yet. He held you and kissed you and then said some untoward things about how he couldn’t date you, as if dating was ever your only goal. You find yourself both mystified and repelled: Well, yes, let’s be frank. You wanted him to wither in his love for you. Like the Southern belle you so violently resist being, this was the only imaginable outcome.

But you’re not a belle any longer, and this isn’t your territory. Slowly, over the past two years, you’ve been gradually unlearning the role of the petulant chit. By this point, you’ve been sexually rejected a healthy amount of times to declare yourself unencumbered any longer by that illusion, and you’re grateful for this development, because most belles take even longer in life to learn rejection. They prattle into their thirties, lazy tumbler of Jack & Diet in hand like a scabbard, balking and gasping in the first moment of being unwanted, like giant, drunk toddlers. You’ve seen it. One day soon, when it becomes obvious you’ve crossed over, your male friends will take pleasure in reporting these moments to you. “They even had boyfriends!” they’ll say, incredulously, like that impediment would actually stop a woman from setting her snare. In a sick, competitive way, you will delight in their downfall. “Well,” you’ll think, “It has to happen sometime.” Like any true Southern woman, you were taught to be a tactical misogynist at heart. It’s a deformity you will spend your entire adult life correcting.

So here you are, in a great man’s bed. It’s an insignificant moment, but for this last hurdle. It’s that hour of reckoning in which you must process that a man isn’t in love with you, and because you are a well-oiled insecurity-powered machine, it’s difficult, almost impossible, not to blame yourself. But this is the first time you’re resisting that impulse. It’s a battle, because he is lying near you, sleeping negligently. You could choose to cry quietly in the darkness, or to cling to him, to curl up against him and make an empty demand or two. You are fighting it so hard you can’t sleep, and it’s kind of amazing, because you’ve never fought at all it before.

After a while, you conclude that there’s nothing wrong with you, and that he must not understand. Then, with this resolution passed, you commit to the idea of having sex with him, but never letting it be more than that. You know you’ll get what you want out of it somehow.

It’s a lovely period of time. You perch on his sofa reading copies of The New Yorker with a blanket tucked around your legs, sipping Maker’s Mark in the afternoon. He makes you a lot of great sandwiches. The behaviors are reminiscent of a love affair, but not. You never go out in public together and that’s all right. You tell him one day your plans to read magazines at the bookstore, and an hour later, he’s standing above you as you pore over a copy of Scientific American. It’s an ersatz spontaneous gesture so self-consciously romantic it reeks of sociopathy. Later, it seems to have been the moment of climax. He loses interest within a week, and with one swift conversation, you don’t call each other anymore.

You find, within six months, when you are now pretending to be in love with a lawyer in New York, that he isn’t done with you. You’re chums. At lunch one day, over chips and watery salsa, he casually reveals he’s never experienced anything “like that” with a woman before. You understand he means the same thing you felt the night you lie awake in his bed; the distinct feeling of someone not being in love with you. Beneath the table, you cross your legs in triumph, even though that day you have a heat rash on your thighs.

Throughout the summer, you’re still obsessed with the lawyer, but you start sleeping with another writer. It’s one of those exchanges where you’re attracted to someone solely for their mind. You let that sort of thing happen more often than not, as if coming into intimate contact with brilliance will supernaturally benefit you. He’s fun and gives you what you ask for, and you don’t feel compelled to coquette around him, except maybe the heavy-drinking part. He delivers a box of gourmet cookies to your office when you’re in deadline. He falls asleep with his head on your thigh during My Man Godfrey, and you know then that despite the fact that maybe you should, you could never be in love with him. He’s moving soon, so you spend every night unconscionably at his house. He wants more from you, and it makes you weep, because your heart is pledged to the lawyer, who, every day, is becoming more like a bearded figment of your imagination.

You’re relieved when it’s over. Something about it feels too familiar. You recall a young man in the city before this city, the one who would take you out to dinner and drive you around town at your behest, like a hired car. You were both enduring acrimonious breakups, and it seemed only natural to have some kind of miserable companionship. He kept you in liquor and once even tried to buy you a pair of shoes, like an Emirati prince or something. He introduced you to his most dazzling friends and you had a good lark, but couldn’t help but feeling friendlier about things than he did. There was never any hesitation about thanking him for his generosity with sex. Once he gave you $40 to take a cab out to a party at his home when you were downtown and couldn’t drive. You showed up with nothing but a clutch full of lipstick. You referred to that period as your “fancy prostitute” days. You didn’t realize they weren’t over.

Often you joke that you’re married to your job, which is a robust, ironclad lie, but gives you a fine excuse for emotional unavailability, like a man would have. Regularly you work ten-hour days, because you’re actually expected to. Your desk in the office is the fortress from which you weave most of the fantasy of the lawyer; you only have hundreds of interminable hours to stare longingly into the nearly wordless white space of his emails.

It’s too difficult for a young woman to be alone. You can’t decide if this is just another stupid cultural vestige or a universal lady-thing, and it’s not worth deciding. You feel like it’s still important to keep a coterie of admirers — men who will buy you dinner and fawn over you, or at least tepidly try to sleep with you, that fateful action that affirms for the Southern woman there’s still a pulse humming beneath her delicate wrist. When the younger girls at the office discuss similar behaviors and misadventures, you resist the urge to vomit in the wastebasket. You wonder how you all became sufferers of the same affliction.

Eventually, something strange happens. The great man approaches you about a writing job. He doesn’t have time to work on a script and needs you to do it. The pay is excellent, possibly better than anything you’ve tackled up to that point. You don’t even meet in person to discuss the project; a few email exchanges are all that’s required. When it’s all said and done, you fill out a tax form and zip it over to his accountant. You slept together and didn’t speak for months at a time. Now he throws you work every once in a while, which, from your current position, feels more comforting than sex. So far, he’s funded a trip to Milwaukee for a friend’s wedding and at least one month’s rent.

A while later, when you find yourself gambling on elective unemployment, you call up the writer like he’s your trusty older brother, just to hash out this big decision you’re making. All along, you’ve carefully followed each other’s careers, but haven’t nosed in much more than to send a kind note. He’s one of those slick self-marketers; this is a skill you wish you’d gleaned from him somehow. He charitably dumps all of his publishing contacts on you like he’s been waiting for this moment for years. He talks about you like a promising racehorse. He never spares the opportunity to deliver a sunny blandishment of the most chivalrous nature, even though you’re living with another man now.

Think of all those nights you lurched onto a sofa in a dimly lit room with a friend of a friend who paid you the right compliment. Who leaned in and mumbled something nearly devastating while you pouted, selecting Everly Brothers songs on the jukebox. Who had a fascinating job but a stunted, teenage personality. Who addressed you only as “Lady” like you were a shadowy noir archetype. The way you gave into their advances half-heartedly, out of a temporary, bloodshot reverence and a pitiful predatory struggle against loneliness. It’s all been a doubly selfish act. You couldn’t stand yourself, so you broadcasted your need for momentary suitors to serve as a patient, blurry mirror, maybe just for an evening or six.

But now you’re married and hidden in the private violence of matrimonial passions. If you must be honest, you always nursed a remote fear that it would hurt too much to belong to one single man. The thought of relinquishing your sweet, schlubby cast of lovers is almost too much for the belle to bear. It came more naturally than expected. You were sincere in your desire to marry. You entered into it with everything — all those womanly forces of insecurity hewn into one fine point, directed at one totally kind and unfortunate person.

It was freeing to give up on people you didn’t really want. And no matter how cruelly you thought you may have treated them, they’re just elegantly narcissistic men, who either don’t remember or never noticed. You had no idea that each of those specious interactions would become some kind of respectable transaction, some goods exchange. They sit with the late-night memory of you drawn behind a murky velvet stage curtain. From what you hear, they seem to revisit it fondly. Perhaps it’s because your deception was so bald and fanged they enjoyed your honesty. Or more likely, it’s because your maudlin personality felt like a wild and forbidden comfort — the only remaining purpose of those learned Southern behaviors, the stuff of any good hooker worth her heart of gold. There are still so many favors to call in.

Natalie Elliott is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about her marriage. She writes the column Miss On Scene for The Oxford American. You can find her twitter here.

"Sleep Late, My Lady Friend" - Nilsson (mp3)

"Without Her" - Nilsson (mp3)