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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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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

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Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

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Entries in emma barrie (5)

Monday
Nov282011

In Which We Tribute The Sweetheart

Gift of the Mundane

by EMMA BARRIE

While You Were Sleeping
dir. Jon Turtletaub
103 minutes

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he feels he mysteriously belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle among scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.

– W. Somerset Maugham

As a child, movies taught me what it meant to be a real family. Real families only exist in late fall or winter. They must live in New York or Chicago, not in sunny Los Angeles. If you have a real family you will know it, because on Christmas your house will be magically outlined in twinkling lights. Everyone will wear hounds tooth coats and cable knit sweaters, oversized to perfection. You will sip grandma’s much-too-potent eggnog, and talk over each other in a comforting rhythm, perfected by decades of practice. To be a real family, you must have inside jokes, history, layers, and an emotionally charged instrumental score. The camera must pan up and away, over you and your snow-covered, neighborhood street.

For me, the Callahans have always been the perfect family. They remain intact in my mind, even though two members (Peter Boyle and Jack Warden) have since died, or become more famous for other things like their roles on The O.C. (Peter Gallagher and Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows). Their loving and realistic family dynamic was one of many things that separated While You Were Sleeping from every other 90s romantic comedy. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the cast of the film spent 15 years living together in house on a tree-lined block in preparation for their roles, arguing about what makes a good pot roast and putting together scrapbooks.

Jon Turteltaub's film tells the story of Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock), a lowly orphaned tollbooth operator in Chicago (hey — it could happen) who one day saves a man when he is pushed onto the tracks. At the hospital, while he’s in a coma, his entire family mistakes her for his fiancée. A rom-comedy of errors ensues. Lucy immediately latches onto this family, and while Peter is in a coma, she falls for his hot but relatable furniture-making brother, Jack. You follow?

But While You Were Sleeping isn't just about two people falling in love. The film doesn't leave you with the idea that as long as you find "the one" you'll be set, rather it's about finding your tribe. Lucy doesn't have any family left, and aside from a few work acquaintances, she can't really call anyone a friend. We learn early on that Lucy has been wandering through the world alone and restless, searching for some sort of connection.

Peter remains in a coma for a majority of the film, and Lucy, as his phony fiancée, is invited to every family holiday event. On Christmas, the Callahans plus Lucy sit around the tree opening presents, and Lucy is given hers. She doesn't expect to get a gift, nor does she care what's inside. The fact that she was given one is enough. She cradles her wrapped present, watching as everyone else exchanges theirs. They rip open wrapping, drown each other in hugs, and exhibit genuine excitement about mundane gifts like mittens or a cordless glue gun.

Lucy couldn’t be happier. She's finally found what she’s been looking for. The camera pans away and we see that on the fireplace, a new stocking with Lucy’s name has been hung. The initiation has begun.

I realize the risk of talking about this movie to someone who hasn’t seen it is that Lucy comes off sounding like a creep. "No no, you don't understand, she just pretends to be a coma patient's fiancée for a few weeks so that she can infiltrate his family! …Oh."

But Saul (Jack Warden), the Callahan’s neighbor and the kids' godfather, is there to sanction the lie. Like Lucy, Saul is not blood-related to the Callahans, yet he belongs with them. When Saul discovers the truth early on — that Lucy was never engaged to Peter — he confronts her. Though she is immediately apologetic and says she will come clean to the whole family immediately, he tells her not to confess. As one outsider to another, he says, "They need you, Lucy. Just like you need them."

Jack, Peter's brother, is played by the most charming guy in the world (I took a poll), Bill Pullman. Clad in light Levi’s and workman’s boots, his hair in a perfect swoop like a bird’s wing caressing his forehead, Jack is a 90s dream man. He even builds rocking chairs, owns two different trucks, and you can practically see the calluses on his hands. He knows just how to banter (Lucy: "You don’t have to walk behind me." Jack: "I'm blocking the wind!"), makes eye contact with her in crowded rooms, and mutters "I doubt it" under his breath when she says she’s not photogenic. He is the perfect first love for any pre-teen. And Lucy is the perfect role model.

Sandra Bullock, in her best role ever — forget that Oscar win for The Blind Side — plays loveable, vulnerable and tough all rolled into one big bundle of knitted sweaters. As Jack says to his coma-ridden brother, "She drives you so nuts you don't know whether to hug her or, or just really arm wrestle her." The answer is, of course, both. In every scene, Lucy follows the dress code of adorable frumpy casual. Her hair is so perfectly messy, her dead father’s coat hangs off her narrow shoulders, her fingerless gloves make her look like she’s about to rob Kevin McCallister’s house.

Watching this movie in your adolescence, hoping for connections to people that don’t yet know you exist, Lucy has lines that feel like they were written specifically for you. She asks a still-asleep Peter, “Have you ever, like, seen somebody? And you knew that, if only that person really knew you, they would, well, they would of course dump the perfect model that they were with, and realize that you were the one that they wanted to, just, grow old with.” I think I have that scribbled in margins of notebooks somewhere.

Not only is she likable and human, Lucy is resilient. In fact, she’s kind of a badass. To the untrained rom-com eye, she may seem like a pathetic and spinstery lady who dips Oreos into her cat’s milk bowl. But the truth is, Lucy doesn’t crave pity. Her parents died and she works in a tollbooth. I would pity her if she asked for it. But for Christmas, she gets her own tree and pulls it up through her apartment window with a rope. Sure, the rope breaks and the tree crashes through someone else’s window, but she’s doing it. While we want Lucy to get out of the tollbooth and visit Florence like she’s always dreamed, we don’t ever really feel sorry for her. She doesn’t whine about the lack of stamps in her passport. She never succumbs to going on a date with the tenacious and obnoxious Joe Jr. — the landlord’s son who asks her out relentlessly. If she really felt sorry for herself and was so depressed about being alone, she would have gone to the Ice Capades with him years ago. Lucy is one tough cookie, not some helpless waif.

Watching Lucy and Jack fall in love is an absolute pleasure. (That’s what I would have written on their report cards if I was their fourth grade teacher and they were falling in love before my eyes. An absolute pleasure.) Unlike most rom-coms of its time, While You Were Sleeping lacks the Motown montage. We don’t see them repaint a room or bike ride on the boardwalk or go into a lot of stores and try on outfits. Instead we see them gradually fall in love one night as Jack walks Lucy home along the water. We hear the jokes they make, and the conversation that endears them to one another. Then we see them slip and slide across an icy path, because what is a rom-com without some physical love-humor?

While You Were Sleeping was written by Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric LeBow, both who only have the one credit to their names. Most mornings, I consider writing them a letter. I want to know what they’re doing now. I want to know if they’ve written other things as touching and perfect, but for whatever reason every studio has passed. I want to know if they quit the biz after While You Were Sleeping because they told the story they needed to tell, and then decided to become carpenters or school teachers. Most importantly, I want to know if they want to collaborate with me on a variety of projects.

As a tribute to those dialogue-geniuses, I will leave here this lovely family dinner scene, transcribed, forever immortalizing it on this webpage:

Elsie: I could never make a good pot roast.

Saul: You need good beef. Argentina has great beef. Beef and Nazis.

Ox: John Wayne was tall.

Saul: Dustin Hoffman was 5’6″.

Ox: Would you want to see Dustin Hoffman save the Alamo?

Midge: These mashed potatoes are so creamy.

Saul: Spain has good beef.

Midge: Mary mashed them.

Saul: Cesar Romero was tall.

Elsie: Cesar Romero was not Spanish!

Saul: I didn't say Cesar Romero was Spanish.

Elsie: Well, what did you say?

Saul: I said, Cesar Romero was tall.

Elsie: We all know he’s tall.

Saul: Well, that’s what I said. Cesar Romero was tall. That’s all I said.

Towards the end of the film, Lucy admits to the Callahans she was never Peter's fiancée, but instead kept up the act because she fell in love with Jack and, more importantly, she fell in love with the entire family. "I went from being all alone to being a fiancée, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, and a friend," she says through tears.

It is possible the first time I saw the film, I thought the Callahans might never forgive her. But watching it now, I know they have to — and not because the film is formulaic or because it needs a happy ending. I know Lucy will be forgiven because I have come to know this family, and I have learned how strong their bond to Lucy has become. Saul is right: they do need her, just as much as she needs them.

In the last scene of the film, Jack shows up at the train station to propose, slipping a ring into the token slot. In the spirit of the movie and in the spirit of the family, all the Callahans join in, a gesture sure to convince Lucy she is forgiven. With hearts made of gold and full of warm hot chocolate, they all crowd around the token booth, instructing Jack on how to propose. "Lucy, I have to ask you something," Jack says in a voice so gravelly and rugged you’re just waiting for his muscles to pop through his Gap denim-lined jacket.

The peanut gallery pipes up from behind: "Get down on one knee, it’s more romantic." "He’s proposing, let him do it." "I am letting him do it." Lucy, in true Lucy fashion, places the ring on the tip of her index finger, inspiring lonely middle school girls everywhere to take note in their diaries of what adorable gesture to someday mimic.

Halfway through While You Were Sleeping, Lucy’s boss Jerry chastises her, "You’re born into a family. You do not join them like you do the Marines!" But the film proves otherwise. It proves that if you are wandering the world feeling restless or alone, it's possible, as Maugham said, to come upon a place where you "mysteriously belong." As a lost and misplaced adolescent, I never tired of watching the film. Never tired of the pot roast, the chatter, the reassurance. Yes, we have a place in the universe and yes, when we find it, there will be people waiting to welcome us home.

Emma Barrie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about her heirlooms. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

The 1990s Really Seem To Have Occurred

Elena Schilder on American Beauty

Elizabeth Gumport on Wild Things

Hanson O'Haver on Airheads

Alex Carnevale on Indecent Proposal

Emma Barrie on While You Were Sleeping

Jessica Ferri on The Devil's Advocate

Molly Lambert on Basic Instinct

Alex Carnevale on Singles

"Wherever Would I Be" - Daryl Hall & Dusty Springfield (mp3)

"This Never Happened Before" - Paul McCartney (mp3)

"Don't Tell Me" - Madonna (mp3)

Tuesday
May172011

In Which We Move From One Part Of Brooklyn To Another

Heirlooms

by EMMA BARRIE

I have a desk I found on the street. I carried it up three flights of stairs by myself. I have six records, but no record player. I bought them because they were colorful or had funny album art (a guy in a beret pretending to make out with a baguette) and I thought I'd hang them on my wall. I did, and my living room looked like a dorm room. So now I just have records — with titles like "Bread, Love and Cha Cha Cha" — which I've never actually heard. I have 3D glasses I saved from when I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D. I popped out the lenses, so now I can use them to look goofy or hip whenever I want.

I have an old watch that used to belong to my grandfather that I took in to get the battery replaced. The man laughed at me and told me I just had to wind it every morning. Now it's a thing I look at when I want to remember how young and inexperienced I am. I have nine journals and notebooks, most of which are a quarter of the way full (or less), all of which have neat handwriting for the first few pages and then messy handwriting thereafter.

I own a lot of books with colorful spines, nothing with drab colors, signifying my lack of classics and my abundance of modern lady fiction. I still have note cards with my name in cursive on the front that acted as thank-you notes for bat mitzvah presents, 11 years ago. I promised all my relatives I’d put their money, or silver Tiffany's heart necklaces, or binoculars capable of night vision "to good use!" I have boat shoes I've never worn because they make me look like a Nantucket mom. I have a pocket book from when I tried to be a real lady, and a leather uncle-wallet from when I succumbed to being a little boyish. I have a guitar I play every third Thursday of every fourth month when I’ve had a few margaritas (only "Landslide" and alternate versions of "Landslide" I wrote myself). I have two scratch tickets that are technically worth $13 if I could figure out where to collect my winnings.

I have a sweater vest that doesn’t look good with anything else I own, as is often the case with sweater vests. But I refuse to give it away because I’m convinced that someday I will own the right undergarment. I have a replica "Dundie" trophy given to me by a gray-haired-really-goofy-looked-like-he-should-be-doing-magic-tricks customer from my salad days of barista-ing after I told him I loved The Office. I tried to give him a free coffee in exchange and he said, "No, then I’d feel weird. It just is what it is."

I have a box of incense from when I thought I was that person. I have two still cameras from when I thought I was THAT person. I have body lotion I bought in France over a year ago that I still use, but it’s just Nivea (German-owned, Duane Reade-sold). I have a lot of things I thought would be cute but as it turns out, I don't have the head for: headbands, handkerchiefs, beanies with earflaps.

I have two pairs of headphones from when I thought good sound was a thing that mattered to me, and a mug that says, "#1 Father" from sweaty August days spent in the village, smirking at ironic thrift store mugs sold on street corners. I have a wall calendar with photographs of flowers and italicized inspirational quotes I worry visitors will think I’m serious about (e.g. "Cut the 'im' out of impossible.") I have a Blade Runner DVD from when I tried to get a guy to like me and I have a Father of the Bride 2 DVD from when I was just being honest with myself. I have approximately 8-12 backpacks and tote bags that I switch depending on outfit, occasion, or if one somehow collected a heap of gold glitter at the bottom and I don't want to get it on my uncle-wallet. I have a non-working flip phone and its archaic Duplo-looking charger.

I have a pair of black Converse from high school on the tongue of which my then seventeen year-old boyfriend wrote, "I love you" in Sharpie. I have a shirt claiming that I helped orient college freshmen and a few sweatshirts claiming I went to colleges I only visited. I have a lot of those socks that make it look like I'm not wearing socks, and two foreign Netflix DVDs from one year ago I have never watched nor exchanged. But it's important that you know they’re foreign.

I have a nightstand that my stepfather went out and bought me on my first day of college while I sat on my bare plasticy dorm bed and watched one roommate hang her "I Love Lucy" poster and another roommate scotch tape her Weezer concert tickets to the wall. I have a lot of pennies and nickels in a mug that says "Happy Birthday!" in a fun party-font, as if it was scribbled by the strings of balloons, over a picture of my then nine year-old brother and a five year-old me. I’m not sure who the recipient was, or what parent forced us to get it for what other parent or grandparent. But somehow it made its way back to me.

I have a stuffed lamb I pretend is a forever childhood thing, but really my mom sent it to me a year ago. I have two quilts from Urban Outfitters that I pretend I just can’t remember where I bought. (Family heirlooms?) I have a replica mix CD of the one made in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (though his was a cassette). I downloaded each song one at a time on Limewire, on my turquoise transparent iMac. I burned the CD with my much coveted and finally obtained attachable turquoise-to-match CD burner. I have a lot of letters from people I don't talk to anymore, telling me they will always love me. I imagine showing them to my children when they question my past, or ask if I had a life before they were born.

I pack it all up.

Emma Barrie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here, and you find more of her work here. She last wrote in these pages about her grandmother.

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"A Treatease Dedicated to the Avian Airess From North East Nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer)" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

"The King's New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

"Youology" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

"Free Press and Curl" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

Thursday
Jan272011

In Which We Walk Around With Candy

We Love You, Be Careful

by EMMA BARRIE

illustrations by Ren Rossini

My grandmother died this week, and as a tribute to her, I would like to share a few things I think made her a class act. Everyone in the world loved her, and by breaking down the code she lived by, it is easy to see why. These tricks and traits work not only for a grandparent or old person, but also for a twenty-something just trying to get by.

1

Repeatedly call yourself crazy. This way, everyone will know what to expect. I often got voicemails on my machine that began with, “It’s your crazy grandma!” and that way I was not surprised when what followed was: “I’m working on my autobiography and I’m at the part about winning an Oscar!” (My grandmother never won an Oscar.) I think if I start telling people how crazy I am, or introducing myself with, “Hi, I’m your new crazy friend, Emma,” I will be able to get away with saying pretty much anything else I want, and nothing will ever seem like a non sequitur. I’ll finally be able to recite Elton John lyrics during lulls in conversation, and no one will bat an eyelash! “They said, get back honky cat.”

2

Tell everyone how wonderful and extraordinary they are all the time, even when they do things that are completely ordinary or unimpressive. It will raise spirits, and make people want to be around you. Comments like, “Your voice on my message machine sounded so lyrical!” or “The way you pour Snapple into a paper cup makes you look like Audrey Hepburn!” are surefire ways to win someone over. It worked on me for 23 years, and I’m no idiot. I plan to start complimenting my family and friends excessively, so that everyone will feel great about themselves, and in turn feel great about me. “Look at how you put your socks on one foot at a time, so delicately but also with such force! I can imagine Gregory Peck putting on his socks in a similar manner! Bravo, you!” I plan to say to my boyfriend tomorrow morning.

3

Speak in hyperboles. Say, “This is the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted!” and “This is my favorite movie!” about every flavor of ice cream and every movie. No one will trust your judgment, but it won’t matter, because you’ll be the one everyone will want to be eating ice cream and watching movies with. Those were the best two sentences I have ever written.

4

Put other peoples’ happiness above all else, even if it means being environmentally unfriendly. As a child, I would often stay over at my grandparents’ apartment. I was four or five or six, and my grandmother would give me a huge bowl and wooden spoon from the kitchen, and ask me to make a “concoction.” I was then allowed to go into their (at the time, seemingly) giant bathroom and use shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste, perfume, and anything I could find. I would mix them all together in the bowl like a minty soapy stew. It was incredibly wasteful, but I was too young to notice and my grandma was too old to give a shit, as long as I was having fun. Life is about happiness! In the moment! We survived the depression! Make some concoctions! From here on out, I’ll be having parties where we throw out batteries and then dance around them. My place, Tuesday nights, E-mail for details. BYOBatteries.

5

Sew cartoon characters onto all of your clothing. This immediately shouts, “I’m friendly and harmless!” to everyone you meet. Also, it makes it really easy to boss people around. When Snoopy is stitched on your blouse (grandma’s word choice), you can get people to do whatever you want without them thinking you’re being demanding. You’re just kooky and playful! I’m going to sew Dora the Explorer onto all my skinny jeans. It’s your new crazy friend, Emma!

6

Carry candy. This should be obvious, but it’s not. Not enough people carry candy around with them at all times. When I lived in LA, I would go to the bank, and the women there would be snacking on Tootsie Rolls and Gummy Bears, asking me when my grandma was coming back to deposit more money. Everyone always seemed so disappointed to see me. If you don’t carry candy, and someone else you know does, at least have the smarts not to follow or be related to them. Next time you see me, ask me for Skittles. I will have them in all my jeans and cardigan pockets. They will be warm and a little linty, but at the end of the day, you’ll like me a lot better than at the beginning of the day, when you didn’t have candy at all.

7

When people are leaving your home, shout after them, “I love you be careful!” If you’re a real pro like my grandma was, you can get away with saying it all as one word, and the last part will just seep into the subconscious of whoever you’re shouting it to. No one will question why you’re telling them to be careful, and if they do walk into a street and get hit by a truck later in the day, you can say you did everything possible to prevent it. Imagine a guilt-free existence! My whole family has spent lifetimes of being careful, thanks to grandma. Other ideas of things I could shout to people on their way out to make their lives better: “Love you pay attention to changes in tide and phases of the moon!” “Love you don’t be coy!” “Love you nobody likes a hero!”

8

Keep money in your filing cabinet, under M. You will never forget where it is. You can also keep origami paper under O, and Red Vines under R, like my grandmother did. I plan to turn my entire room into a giant filing cabinet using fitted bed sheets I hang from the ceiling like big file pockets, and I will never lose socks or dimes or bobby pins or used Kleenex ever again. This method of storage is actually brilliant.

9

To make yourself feel better when someone is being rude to you, whisper obscenities behind their back. My grandmother never wanted to fight with anyone, but calmly reciting a curse word as the instigator left the room made her feel better. Curse words popular with my grandmother were “baldy” and “shitface.” “Baldy” was specifically for my grandfather, because he was bald, and “shitface” was reserved for anyone who beat her at one of those old lady tile games (Rummikub anyone?). I realize now that I am not vocal enough when it comes to my anger. So the next time someone beats me at the Seinfeld trivia board game, or is acting all bald at me, I will whisper “baldy shitface,” under my breath as they walk away.

10

Go out with a bang. Leave creepy things to people in your will, have a really absurd last request, and kick it on your ex-son-in-law’s birthday. When someone you love has a dying wish, you are pretty much obligated to obey it. As a result, my 28-year-old brother will have a stuffed bear in a raincoat that sings “Singing in the Rain” for the rest of his life. Also, my mother will never throw out a box of stale chocolates, because “they were an incredible bargain.” This is the most brilliant trick I’ve ever heard. After I finish writing this, I’m going out to buy a box of raisins. I’m going to write one friend’s name on each raisin. When I die, my will is going to say, “Each friend must sleep with his/her specific raisin under their pillow forever. Every morning, ‘Oh raisin my raisin’ must be the first thing that comes out of your mouth. It is my dying wish. Please.” Then I plan to choose someone’s birthday to ruin by dying on it. That way, every year on this person’s birthday, people will only think about me and how sad they are to have lost me. Everyone will forget that there is also a birthday taking place. I have a list of people who have wronged me, and they all have tally marks next to their names. Whoever wins gets their birthday fucked with for the rest of time. That’s what happens when you mess with your crazy friend Emma!

Emma Barrie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about waitressing. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here.

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