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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 ellen copperfield (53)


In Which We Assume The Worst When We See The Best

The Bonfire of the Bosom Buddy, Part II


I was watching The Polar Express and trying to recover the spirit of Christmas for some muffins I was planning when it occurred to me: doesn't that train conductor remind me of something ineffable and someone specific?

My aunt told me it was Tom Hanks, and I was like, "they modeled the conductor after a producer on Big Love?" She explained that Hanks was the owner of a long and storied Hollywood career, while her daschund Leopold stared at me unforgivingly for my ignorance. I spent this past weekend watching all of this old-timey actor's moving pictures, and I have summarized the plots of these films so you can easily find what interests you. UPDATE: I watched more movies of this old gentleman. He must be 80 by now. Was he also the male lead in Mad About You? If so, I will address it in a forthcoming feature-length essai.


A man has sex with a mermaid and feels somewhat bad about it. The mermaid's father frowns upon the match because it conflicted with the IPO of his underwater company.


A repressed homosexual finds a riddle in his morning coffee. He pretends to have a relationship with a woman and convinces her that the message in the coffee was of such tremulous importance that they can never consummate the immense attraction between them. She dies.

The Money Pit

A home restoration project goes south when a man realizes his wife is Shelley Long.

Bachelor Party

A famous football player insists that protection is for Ravens while attempting sex. The woman mishears "Ravens" as "cravens", freaks out, and ends up majoring in communications. Todd Phillips is passed out nearby and gets the idea for The Hangover.


Two white police officers pay tribute to a long-running television series by visiting Santa Claus at the North Pole. Santa tells them to come back when they're animated.


A man shrinks to the size of a gumdrop to become a boy again and lives inside a huge piano with all his friends. Older women are constantly intuiting he's more advanced sexually than he professes. To return to full size, he is forced to rape a gypsy woman.


A comedian is infected with AIDS by Denzel Washington.

Turner and Hooch

A man and an anti-semitic dog fight crime.

The 'Burbs

You may be more familiar with a recent remake of The 'Burbs, Saw IV.

Joe Versus the Volcano

A pet detective finally marries his true love (Courteney Cox) and decides that Meg Ryan is likelier to have a successful big screen career. He struggles to find a way to break off the engagement before deciding to burn his penis off in an active volcano.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

A journalist with no imagination finds it easier to make things up than interview any more astronauts than he has to. He uses a revolutionary technique to clone himself. He names the clone Malcolm Gladwell.

A League of Their Own

An alcoholic womanizer leads a baseball team of women to greatness and inadvertently creates a popular daytime television program. A text card at the end of the film specifies that they would have achieved nothing without a male manager.

Sleepless in Seattle

A woman facebooks a guy and he ends up taking it way farther than it ever has to go. She falls in love with his eight-year old by accident and they go live on a cute houseboat for the rest of their lives.


The two main people in a gay man's life are Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington, and he's still unhappy as a clam for no discernible reason. Andrew Sullivan cameos as "another guy with HIV."

Forrest Gump

The thinly disguised life story of Joe Biden. He has a sexual relationship with Robin Wright Penn and everyone has some misgivings that she took advantage of him. Biden emphasizes the fact that he rides Amtrak in his speeches because he is unable to pilot an automobile.


A pilot lands a plane. Everyone pretends to be impressed, including the seagulls.

Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney loved Jews, including Carl Bernstein, Jonah Hill and Barbra Streisand. You believe us, don't you?

Apollo 13

A bunch of guys head into space, reassuring their wives with platitudes like, "We won't fuck up in space," and "It's space, what could go wrong?" and "Kevin Bacon's coming with us to space, this will be hilars." These predictions prove largely inaccurate.

Captain Phillips

A man is almost certain that he is going to die, so he decides to make up an improbable story that he figures won't matter because he will be dead anyway. He lives, and crosses his fingers every night that no one finds out his lie.

Saving Private Ryan

Despite the fact that Jews are dying by the millions in camps across Europe, it ends up being a lot more important for everybody's peace of mind that one goy be rescued by a squadron of morons.

You've Got Mail

A man flirts with a woman on the internet; she is somehow not disgusted by the fact it takes 20 minutes for him to type one instant message into AIM. He misunderstands "Shop Around the Corner" for a sexual euphemism, she apologizes for the miscommunication. Not only does he not accept her apology, he puts her out of business and cuts off her airway with the skin folds from his degraded neck. The funeral is a lovely affair, and each of the eulogies emphasize the dangers of misrepresenting yourself on AIM.

The Green Mile

A magical, physically imposing black man heals people with his touch, so the white prison guards murder him, but not before he cures all their urinary tract infections. It turns out that the black man had the spirit of a white guy (Rob Schneider) inside him all along.

Cast Away

High on cocaine, Robert Zemeckis has an idea that later becomes Lost; a plane crashes on an island and only the boring characters survive.

The Circle

A few guys are really attracted to Emma Watson to the extent completely unjustified by her looks, personality or apparel. One day, they hear her say she likes guys with beards, so they quickly all grow beards and spy on her in the bathroom. When confronted, they apologize and are rewarded with multiple seasons of their pet projects by Netflix.

Road to Perdition

Two playwrights debate the existential nature of life over dinner one evening. Hot topic: 'what does the word perdition mean?'

Catch Me If You Can

Christopher Walken has a son, and - shock, surprise! - it doesn't turn out all that well. The son becomes a pilot and figures prominently in the September 11th terrorist attacks on America. He ends up dating Cardi B, probably.

Bridge of Spies

A bunch of people in Hollywood beg all their friends to pretend a movie is interesting. It isn't.

The Post

Rich white people pretend that things they did were important. Ta-Nehisi Coates guest stars as a skeptical onlooker.

The Terminal

A man who jerks off into people's luggage is apprehended and forced to copulate with Catherine Zeta-Jones while Michael Douglas looks on approvingly.

The Ladykillers

A brother-brother writer-director team misfires with their latest film and decides to nab an Oscar by utilizing the foolproof method of having Tommy Lee Jones do the movie's voiceover.

The Polar Express

A shocking expose of how the Japanese kill 500 of Santa's dwarves each year in front of a live studio audience in the Arctic.

The Da Vinci Code

Dr. Robert Langdon is infected with HIV by Denzel Washington.

Charlie Wilson's War

Mike Nichols' 100 minute logic proof that Elaine May had all the talent.

Angels and Demons

Dr. Robert Langdon gives up treasure hunting and retires to a tropical island with Audrey Tautou, Emily Blunt, and Denzel Washington.

Ellen Copperfield is a contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Take Note Of Cézanne's Early Work

The Quadrille


"Talking about art is almost always useless," Paul Cézanne told an interviewer near the end of his life.

Either you see a picture immediately or you never see it at all. Explanations don’t help a bit. What good does it do to comment on it? All those things are imperfect, imprecise things. We talk as we do because it’s amusing, like drinking a good bottle of wine.

In spring of 1859, Paul Cézanne fell in love for the first time. Unfortunately the woman in question, whose name was Justine, was already involved with a classmate. He wrote, “What fantasies I built, as mad as can be, but you see it’s like this: I said to myself if she didn’t despise me we should go to Paris together, there I should become an artist, we should be happy." She never took notice of him.

To make himself forget the girl, he spent all his time at the Free School of Drawing. While there, you were forbidden to ever go to the bathroom. Cézanne disdained the nude models, and at first he shied away from depicting the human form at all. He was far from the best of the group.

That honor went to a painter named Jean-Baptiste Chaillan, who was also fond of fucking the nude models. "The love of art veils any over-excitement at all the nudity," Paul told his friend Émile Zola. Instead of finishing law school, Cézanne went to Paris. Zola was ecstatic to have his friend in town. With only a modest allowance from his father supplementing this venture, Cézanne ate cheap meals and only splurged on cigarettes. 

Chaillon had made a similar journey to the big city. Much to Paul’s chagrin, Chaillon painting from six to eleven and spent the rest of the day lazing about the Louvre and talking to girls. Cézanne was not much more productive, to Zola’s disappointment. "Convincing Cézanne of something is like persuading the towers of Notre Dame to execute a quadrille," he complained.

"Don’t think I’m becoming a Parisian,” Cézanne said by way of a response. He applied to art school twice, but was not accepted either time. He was terrible with women, and found all new relationship risky and threatening at their core. It was the work of Édouard Manet which finally gave him a model for his own varied artistic inclinations.

"It’s because I can’t capture my sensation at the first go," he said, "so I lay in some color, I lay it in as I can. But when I start I always try to paint with a thick impasto like Manet, giving form with the brush." Manet also took note of Cézanne’s early work. He was just seven years older than his admirer, but it took over a year before Cezanne was back to not being impressed by anyone. (Zola’s critique of the artist helped in penetrating Cézanne’s heavenly view of Manet.)

Thereafter Cézanne had finished with idol worship; he was not content to sit in admiration of any except himself. Sometimes Cézanne when painting the countryside would leave his canvas there "to be reclaimed by the natural environment,” explained Renoir. “I wanted to copy nature,” Cézanne explained, "I couldn’t. I searched, turned, looked at it from every direction, but in vain. It's invincible, from all sides."

By 1866 he had developed this persona completely. "Paul looks superb this year," noted a friend, "with hair thin on top and extremely long, and his revolutionary beard."

The paintings Cézanne managed in the following years found their way into the collections of the biggest names in art. According to Paul's biographer Alex Danchev, Gauguin owned seven canvases, Degas had another seven, while Monet was in possession of fourteen Cézannes, including three that hung in his bedroom. Renoir exchanged paintings with Cézanne frequently, and his wife even cooked by Paul's recipes. 

Where Renoir and Cézanne eventually parted ways was in their view of Jews. Renoir was aghast at Cézanne's association with the Jewish painter Pissarro. In the wake of the Dreyfus affair both Renoir and Degas refused to talk to Camille Pissarro or any Jew, while Monet, Gauguin and Zola supported their friend. This political conflict turned into an aesthetic one, dividing a close community. Cezanne found himself in the middle – for the most part, he avoided the politics. But he never abandoned his mentor and comrade Pissarro. 

It was Pissarro who taught Cézanne that painting was more a profession than a dalliance, and that a great deal of work had to go into it. Pissarro's background was far from the privileged European life Cézanne was used to: he was the son of a nephew who married in his aunt in the Virgin Islands. Pissarro's politics were left of left, and he had no use for the institutions of the art world. "Pissarro wasn't wrong," Cezanne later wrote, "he went a bit far, however, when he said we should burn the necropolises of art."

The Parisian world was shattered when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. Paul had no intention of fighting in the conflict. Instead he had intercouse with a nineteen year old named Marie-Hortense, and she gave him a son, which they also named Paul. He took years before telling his parents about this state of affairs, and they found out first from other sources.

What Marie-Hortense liked most about Paul was his money. "My wife only likes Switzerland and lemonade," he explained. He must have been drawn to her dirty blonde hair, which soon went completely dark. Cézanne rented a small house where Marie-Hortense was both his maid and lover. Using Marie-Hortense as his model meant not only was he flattering her form, but Cézanne could have hours of silence to himself. She spent her free time reading tawdry romances and he dashed off to Provence whenever he grew tired of her.

He did paint his new wife quite a bit, and all indications are that their relationship suited him just fine. After his death, she sold off plenty of his work to raise funds. There were so many paintings when so few would have sufficed. She never had a particularly high opinion of her husband's oeuvre.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which Mervyn Peake Set The Standard For Us All

This is the first in a series.

The Small Room


Mervyn Peake's first home was in a Western enclave in northeast China, in the port of Tientsin. If you walked out his front door for more than a few minutes, you would experience the foreignness of the place wholesale: therefore Mervyn's parents (his father was a doctor) and his older brother Lonnie felt it was best if Mervyn, in his first years, kept to the premises of their Victorian home.

Dr. Ernest Peake and Mervyn

At first the house, built almost entirely of grey stone, would be enough for him. The year was 1913. In his notes for an autobiography of this period, Mervyn wrote, "Whatever happens, I return and I must return to the compound. Now that I shall see China no more... I am lost without the long dry compound."

In this very English home, the family's cook entertained Mervyn by allowing him to kill the chickens for their meals. Dogs, parrots and monkeys were all common sights in the compound. As a child Mervyn began writing rather early. In one note he listed his "Fears": "the black jersey, the shapes of clothes hung over chair backs, the changeling." It was not living things which scared him. In Tientsin Mervyn joined the local Boy Scout troop.

Summers were intensely hot in the city. As far north as Tientsin was situated, the winters could be monstrous, too. Mervyn rode a donkey to his first day of school. He found other children engaging, and became best friends with a one-eyed Russian boy who possessed a natural wild streak. "He is my God," Mervyn noted in his journal. Confined to his Western education, Mervyn was naturally curious about the world outside his enclave. He learned Mandarin, and spoke the language until he died.

When he escaped the compound, he saw lepers and homeless who his father treated medically, and patiently moved from stall to stall where various meats and goods were sold. Chinese medicine was in a state of perpetual infancy, so Dr. Peake trained assistants in basic hygiene and physiology. He went door-to-door to find the pregnant women of Tiantsin so he might administer basic prenatal care.

Mervyn was fascinated by the procedures his father performed, but the sight of needles and blood made him queasy. Still, he sympathized with the deeply ill, finding empathy for amputees, lepers, and other victims of disease. In the summer of 1917, Dr. Peake had plenty of patients: the city had flooded and the heat was unbearable. Mervyn stuck his head into watermelons to cool off. When the heat became too much, the family went to an English mountain resort in the town of Kuling:

Mervyn's mother Bessie was also a missionary, and she and her husband took Mervyn all over China once he was old enough. Shanghai was the most modern place Mervyn had been, and he found it "a frozen, icy, tinkling horro of mules and motor cars, western houses.... A stench of sweetmeats and dung."

Mervyn, the man who would become England's finest illustrator and a mercurially talented novelist, was already drawing what he could. His father Ernest possessed an artistic inclination, photographing all of the strange sights he saw, including radical surgery. He let his young son view these images at the boy's leisure, and Mervyn would try to draw some of them, reimagining others.

Mervyn, Lonnie & Bessie

When his wife developed heart problems, Dr. Peake moved the family back to England, purchasing a practice in Surrey, and taking over an estate called Woodcroft. Dr. Peake smoked a pipe and was generally regarded as somewhat strange; such traits are usually written off in a man of medicine. Mervyn was enrolled in Eltham College, where he sometimes ran afoul of the rules. Punishment involved a caning to his precious hands.

To get along, Mervyn further developed his own interests. His cryptic journals of that time in school enumerate what these may have been: "The invisible man. The watchers. Jewels inside hooting like an owl. The sleepwalkers. The fire in the small room." He might have been expelled from the place as a twelve year old if he had not possessed such a stunning talent for art. Although he read constantly, his spelling was never remotely palatable and he probably suffered from a learning disability. By far his favorite book was Treasure Island.

Even though he liked Eltham, he never graduated or performed well in the place. His instructors frequently remarked upon his uncleanliness, but he rarely quarrelled with fellow students. His brother was working as an accountant in the Phillipines, and Mervyn's career path was relatively obvious. He enrolled in the Croydon School of Art, two stops away by train from his home at Woodcroft. He did not even last the year there before transferring to a Royal Academy in Piccadilly in 1929.

On his left hand he wore a silver ring with a large, green stone. It was here that Mervyn Peake encountered the opposite sex for the first time in his life.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.