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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

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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Tuesday
Dec042012

In Which Mindy Kaling Forgets Dessert

The Mindy Project: Notting Hill Episode

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

From the moment we were introduced to Ed Weeks’s character, Dr. Jeremy Reed, on Fox’s The Mindy Project, Hugh Grant has been the obvious comparison. Like Grant, Weeks is tall and British. Like Grant, Weeks’s long face is one-third forehead and steadied by an all but imperceptible rascally smile. Like Grant before him, Weeks is that precise blend of reticent British rearing mixed with a skewed and slightly overeager American awakening. Dr. Jeremy Reed, as with some of Grant’s most memorable roles, is the London version of what might have happened had '80s Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe merged into one. Self-loathing and self-loving, both. A sometimes dope with great hair whose romantic exploits are punctuated by a woeful second act.

For this viewer, a Hugh Grant rom com inspired Mindy Project episode seems inevitable. But which one? Nine Months? Two Weeks Notice? Bridget Jones? Dr. Reed and Dr. Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) could duke it out in the street as “It’s Raining Men” plays. After all, Castellano possesses some distinctly Mark Darcy traits. Or, like in Love Actually Dr. Reed could get caught making out with the office receptionist backstage at Dr. Lahiri’s best friend Gwen’s (Anna Camp) kid’s Christmas recital. And of course, there’s always About a Boy: bored of the New York dating scene, Dr. Reed pretends to have a kid (stealing Gwen’s of course) in order to meet single moms. While one of Grant's most-loved roles as Will Thacker, the lovestruck travel bookshop owner in Notting Hill might be a less obvious Mindy choice, we thought here at TR we’d give it a go.

The episode would begin with Mindy waxing about her favorite neighborhood in New York—probably the West Village. Like Grant’s appraisal of Notting Hill, Kaling’s character, Dr. Lahiri, would catalog the brownstones, the smell of sugar wafting from Magnolia Bakery (the cupcakes, she’ll admit, are overrated), the coffee shop where every movie is shot, the bookstore where every movie is shot, the dollar pizza for hangover breakfast, and the store that sells clothes for grown women who want to look like Parisian toddlers.

Next, Mindy leads us to her obstetrics practice where everyone is huddled around the receptionist’s computer looking at red carpet pictures from the previous night’s Golden Globes. (Likely the Globes so that Mindy can reference the year Matt Damon boasted about getting a better seat than Jack Nicholson). Everyone wittily banters.  Betsy (Zoe Jarman) mentions she has a crush on Ryan Seacrest and Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) the nurse, who may as well be a beefier Rhys Ifans (Will's lovably bizarre roommate in Notting Hill, Spike), makes some quintessentially weird yet apt comment. “Funny you should mention Ryan Seacrest in a room full of OB-GYNs, Betsy. After all, his name is an anagram for Try Cesareans."

Then, the most famous movie actress in the world walks in for an appointment. She’s an Emma. Emma Jones. Or Emma Hudson. Or Emma Wood. She’s played by Rachel McAdams or Anne Hathaway. She’s wearing sunglasses, a cornflower blue garment washed Mets cap, t-shirt and jeans. Everyone at the office gets weird and whispery, and awkward. Morgan is not altered in the least. Castellano gawks. Jeremy and Emma are immediately, very sweetly, smitten.  Mindy, seeing potential for a Notting Hill romance, calls everyone to her office for a meeting.

From her desk, she orders Jeremy, without any explanation, to recite a few lines.

“Come on Bridget, we belong together.”

AND

“In my opinion, all men are islands. And what's more, now's the time to be one. This is an island age.”

AND

 “Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?”

Jeremy goes along with it but is confused. Danny interrupts, having figured out what is going on and bluntly asks, “Do you think Andie MacDowell and Julia Roberts are hot?” Mindy rolls her eyes and explains to Jeremy while apologizing for reducing him to stereotype that he’s basically Hugh Grant. The gang all agrees and Mindy insists he “Notting Hill the day” and ask Emma the actress out on a date. Betsy chimes in and instructs Jeremy that, just like in the movie, he should rush out when Emma leaves and accidently spill coffee on her. Castellano corrects her. “Orange juice. It’s orange juice not coffee that Hugh Grant spills on Julia Roberts.” Everyone turns. Mindy is impressed by but prepared to mock Castellano for his detailed knowledge of the 1999 romantic comedy. Because the gang was already invited for dinner at Mindy’s that evening, she suggests that Jeremy invite Emma, just like in the movie.

Dinner at Mindy’s is cozy. Her apartment is all white bookshelves and warm lighting. Think Nancy Meyers seashell tones with Jonathan Adler orange and fuscia throw cushions. Emma gets along easily with everyone. She laughs with her mouth wide open. She finds Morgan especially charming and watches Mindy admiringly. She compliments Betsy on her outfit and Betsy, like Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill, declares that she and Emma should be best friends forever. Jeremy has obviously fallen in love. Mindy catches herself staring at Danny who is uncharacteristically well behaved at dinner. He looks handsome and relaxed.

Unfortunately Mindy forgets to make dessert. She rummages through her fridge, freezer, and pantry only to find a half-empty jar of Nutella. She hands everyone a spoon—one scoop each. But there’s a little left and Betsy insists that they fight for the last scoop: “Whoever’s the saddest act here, get’s to finish the jar.” They all play. Morgan doesn’t quite get the game and starts confessing to weird shit he’s done in his life like lying every time he’s claimed to see the image in a Magic Eye. Mindy goes on a tangent but then realizes she’s pretty happy with her laugh right now. Danny’s speech is oddly sentimental. He mentions his divorce and hints at perhaps being lonely. Embarrassed he ruins the moment by taking the last scoop of Nutella before Jeremy, Emma, or Betsy get to go. Jeremy and Emma leave together. “I Do” by 98 Degrees plays.

The episode ends with Mindy, the next day at work, standing at the threshold of Danny’s office door, grinning. “Hey Danny,” she says. He stares at her impatiently. "Yes, Mindy?" She looks at him with puppy eyes and says, “I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy, asking him to…” Danny shoos her out before she can finish. He appreciates being made fun of by Mindy.

The camera pans out of the office and onto the street where a group of 30 something girlfriends are gabbing and dressed like Parisian toddlers. 

The Mindy Project airs tonight at 9:30 p.m EST.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Ocean's Eye" - Peace (mp3)

"California Daze" - Peace (mp3)

Tuesday
Sep272011

In Which The Moon Is Not Only Beautiful

This week we look back at the films of Roman Polanski.

Sublime Torture

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Bitter Moon
128 minutes
dir. Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski's love affair with camp was no surprise to European audiences who had experienced the wacky fun of disembodied hands brushing against Catherine Deneuve's carapace in 1965's Repulsion. Horror for Polanski was only a pretext to a greater amusement. At the age of 21, Denueve was practically carved out of stone and Polanski's defilement of her had to be addictive, to the point where married the next woman he cast in a similar role.

When he meets Emmanuelle Seigner in 1992's Bitter Moon, Hugh Grant is taking a cruise to Istanbul so he and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) can from there explore India. After seven years of marriage, things have coalesced to a standstill. On the journey he meets fellow passenger Peter Coyote, cast as a paraplegic with a beautiful wife. Coyote remains a bit too vital for the role, but with fake yellow teeth and an enigmatic plea to Hugh, he begins to regale us with the story of how he comes to be an invalid with Emmanuelle Seigner as his caregiver/companion.

The time was Paris, fifteen years earlier. The romance is achingly familiar. On their first date, he watches Emmanuelle play hopscotch in the street. Maudlin music rumbles on in the background, heightening the tragedy which is to follow. For the moment, things are in the nascent stage. He rubs her feet when she says they are cold, she keeps something he gave her in a little green notebook. During the evenings, she listens to him read poetry, crouching on the floor, peering up at his armchair like a favored pet.

Polanski pairs Emmanuelle's seductive milk dance and George Michael's "Faith" for fun. Covered by only a bathrobe, she smothers the substance all over her body to the songs' opening notes and Peter Coyote attacks the outpouring. It is both hysterically unerotic and perfectly in sync with Polanski's own sensibility: A man's orgasm, synchronized to the ejaculation of bread from the toaster. She observes him shaving with a straight razor, his first mistake. He intones, "Her pussy was a neat, discrete little cleft." It takes a serious while for their sexual proclivities to become grating.

Critics amazingly did not understand this was a comedy. New Republic critic Stanley Kauffman called Bitter Moon "swill," which strengthens the theory he has been dead since 1988, and Martin Peretz has been ghostwriting his material ever since. (Kauffmann also called Swift's A Modest Proposal "outrageous!") Even such complaints themselves are addressed in Bitter Moon: Peter is a frustrated writer whose editor (Stockard Channing) begs him to come back to New York because he has lost touch. For good reason, he refuses.

The telling of the story is as exhausting as it must have been to live it. "Have you ever truly idolized a woman?" he berates Hugh Grant as he passes along the story of their romance. (Under the spell of the tale, monogamy instantly becomes as abhorrent to Grant as Jews were for Agatha Christie.) Polanski has always reveled in making Seigner as feminine and then suddenly as masculine as possible, stretching her austere and extraordinary beauty like another skin. In some ways, she could not be more exposed than she is in Bitter Moon where every body part takes on a luscious, explosive tinge. Peter's response is to tell her, "It's a pity you're not in publishing." His penis is shaped like a question mark.

"I've always found infidelity the most titillating aspect of every relationship," he tells Hugh. When Grant first began cheating on Elizabeth Hurley, a great outpouring of sentiment began on her behalf. How could anyone cheat on such a beauty! was the requisite outcry. This of course was the only possible more sexist position than the one Grant himself inhabited. "I came to resent her failure to excite me the way she used to," opines Peter's hilarious narration. Later, he gives Emmanuelle a concussion by slapping her face when she criticizes his writing.

Peter soon finds that he loathes the sight of her. Soon enough, he is free, focused on indulging himself: "Every time I looked in one woman's eyes I saw the reflection of the next." She returns only to torture him and take her revenge for his behavior. Yvor Winters' poem "The Bitter Moon" is apropos, always apropos:

The Bitter Moon

Dry snow runs burning
on the ground like fire
the quick of Hell spin on
the wind. Should I believe
in this your body, take it
at its word? I have believed
in nothing. Earth burns with a
shadow that has held my
flesh; the eye is a shadow
that consumes the mind
Scream into air! The voices
Of the dead still vibrate
they will find them, threading
all the past with twinging
wires alive like hair in cold.
These are the nerves
of death. I am its brain.

You are the way, the oath
I take. I hold to this
I bent and thwarted by a will
to live among the living dead
instead of the dead living; I
become a voice to sound for.
Can you feel through Space,
imagine beyond Time?

                             The
snow alive with moonlight
licks about my ankles.
Can you find this end?

Winters always took things a line too far, not unlike Roman Polanski.

 

The basic outline of Bitter Moon is not of Roman's own making, and so he invests every frame with his own ideas and feelings about what is going on. He is powerless not to impose himself on Pascal Bruckner's story, not to make the summation of every scene his own outsized finding. This setup shows off his power better than when he pursues his own material.

In Bitter Moon, Polanski's composition is an incredible mishmash of biting satire and broad comedy. At times, his control is almost overwhelming: the blue and yellow jacket Mimi first appears in makes another appearance when Peter tries to dump her on a bench one Paris evening. Women resemble or do not resemble each other depending on the flavor of their environment, the underlying meaning of the transformation. Cinematographer Tonino Colli's longtime collaboration with Pasolini's similar strategy unifies the film's structure. Each contained frame is prearranged, quietly and masterfully extending the satire.

"What did I do?" she asks him. "Even a criminal is told his crime." "You didn't do anything," he informs her. "You exist."

Bitter Moon is a film outside its own time. In 1992, it was impossible to imagine that someone could even get bored of sex with Emmanuelle Seigner. But now we can fathom every starlet completely. Two weeks ago I saw Kate Winslet in an airport and I almost offered her a tissue as consolation. We don't have ingenues anymore, we possess known qualities. In some ways, this makes people more exciting, that possibility of knowing them in their entirety. But in other ways, it is nothing more than a cold fright.

After hearing out Peter's story in the present of the cruise ship, Hugh Grant cannot possibly approach Emmanuelle in the same way. Instead of woman, she better resembles a crushed grape. Yet in the usual fashion in which pity is constantly confused with sexual attraction, he makes out with her hard and asks where they can be alone together.

Hugh's wife tries to play the same game with another passenger, but it disagrees with her constitution and she throws it up in the toilet of their cabin. Polanski turns the whole thing into a cosmic joke simply by using pop music, with the climactic scene pumping out Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love" while Kristin and Emmanuelle make out at a New Year's party. By the end almost everyone has done something they're ashamed of.

The Museum of Modern Art screens Bitter Moon at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 9/28.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Cameron Crowe's Singles. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

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