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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

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Life of Mary MacLane

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Entries in julia clarke (8)


In Which We Weep Quietly By The Turkey

Do You Like Italian Food?


dir. John Crowley
112 minutes

My dad has an annoying habit of reminding us all that the moment is fleeting. “Cherish these times,” he’ll say darkly when we’re innocently eating waffles at the breakfast table. “Soon they’ll be gone.” To be fair, my dad is Australian and has been living in America for decades now, so he personally understands the meaning of familial separation in exchange for opportunity.

Brooklyn is about such opportunity and the heartbreak that comes with it. Based on Colm Tóibín's novel, Brooklyn tells the story of a young woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) traveling from a small town in Ireland to BK. A priest helps her adjust to a job at a department store and pays her tuition for night school so she can become an accountant. The reasoning behind her departure from Ireland is precisely the same reason why millions of immigrants braved tumultuous seas and homesickness to go through Ellis Island: opportunity.

Brooklyn is advertised as a nostalgic, 1950s love story: trailers show Eilis and her plumber boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen) eating cotton candy on the Coney Island pier and chastely hugging each other in a classic New York diner. She wears charming cardigans and full 1950s skirts, and he says, in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Do you like Italian food?” It’s adorable, and it’s New York.

But the real love story is in fact between Eilis and her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), who has heroically arranged for this journey in the first place. Rose tells her that there are very few career options in Ireland, and indeed, right before Eilis moves away, she’s working part time at a subpar family grocery that overcharges its customers and has an owner who is a gossipy, vengeful woman. There weren’t many options for women in the 1950s anywhere, and even fewer in a small town in Ireland.

I cried pretty much the entire time watching Brooklyn. My sister lives in Dublin at the moment for the same reason Eilis comes to America: when my sister lived in the U.S., she wasn’t getting the same opportunities career-wise that she could get abroad. She moved to Dublin to earn an MBA and is now in charge of some twenty people at a rapidly growing company. I’m forced to keep in touch through texts and skype. I see her once or twice a year if I am lucky.

My sister and I lived together for about a year when we were both out of college. It was very tumultuous at first because I didn't like her boyfriend, and I was something of a brat. Despite that, she was patient. She helped me grow up: when I was working two jobs to pay the rent, when I had no friends, when I had no boyfriend, she would make me laugh, would pick up a sandwich for me from our favorite coffee shop. She brought me breakfast in bed on holidays; she would often leave notes on the bathroom mirror if we missed each other in the morning rush. We went to the movies together a lot. Most of all, she loved me when I felt most uncertain, most vulnerable: I was in a new city and had no idea what I wanted to do. Like Eilis, I feel deeply indebted to my sister, and I credit her for showing me who I needed to be.

Performances are solid. Saoirse Ronan is believably innocent and kind, a woman we easily care for deeply. In one particularly moving scene, she helps cook for and serve some down and out men at a Christmas dinner. None of the other girls she knows want to do it, citing the men’s horrible smell. The priest tells Eilis that most of these men built the tunnels and bridges of New York, and all of them are Irish. Prejudice, presumably, means they’re now out of jobs. One gentleman sings a traditional Irish song in Gaelic at the end of dinner, and Eilis weeps quietly by the turkey. As did most people in the audience. It’s strange because the scene is in many ways begging for a tear: able-bodied men unable to work, persistently singing the song of home despite the unspeakable distance. It’s nearly cliché, and yet it works.

In one scene in Brooklyn, Eilis waves from the ship to her mother and Rose. Rose waves furiously, maintaining a brave face, but her mother tries to pull her away because the parting is too traumatic. Years ago, when my sister was visiting me in New York, we shared a cupcake in Penn Station, desperately trying to enjoy every moment we had together before she got on the Long Island Railroad to JFK. As the train pulled away, I ran after it, waving earnestly. It’s not the same as it was in the 1950s — not at all — and yet, it is exactly the same.

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Suffragette.

"River Lea" - Adele (mp3)


In Which We Would Rather Be A Carey Than An Edith

Burn Things


dir. Sarah Gavron
109 minutes

In an ill-advised effort to promote Suffragette, Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan wore t-shirts that said “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” — a line from Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1913 speech that, clearly, it’s best to forget rather than flaunt. I was immediately reminded of Patricia Arquette’s cringe-worthy Oscar speech dismissing the race problem in favor of women getting equal pay in Hollywood. Just because you’re teaming up for one movement doesn’t mean you need to dismiss another. Suffragette brings up a major problem with revolution, though: it’s hard to fight for everything at once.

East London in 1912 was pretty rough. Director Sarah Gavron depicts an atmosphere that’s grey and gritty: mysterious liquids pool on cobblestone streets, sunless skies drape over poorly maintained buildings, and smog infiltrates every corner. The narrative of Suffragette centers upon Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who works unbearably long hours in a laundry facility earning very little pay and daily risking her health due to the chemical fumes inhaled, somewhat ironically, in the name of cleanliness. Maud wants to be “respectable,” a euphemism for doing exactly what any man says without question.

Things shake up when Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), Maud’s co-worker and an unapologetic suffragette, wants to give a testimony to Parliament but can’t because she’s been battered, undoubtedly by her husband. Maud’s introduction into the suffragette movement, then, comes quite by accident: she is there to support her co-worker and winds up giving her own testimony, which, as is the case in most power-of-the-human-spirit films, lights a fire within that manifests in numerous teary, conviction-laden speeches about how women and men deserve the same rights.

What’s interesting about Suffragette is that it poses questions about the nature of social change. This is not just a film about votes for women; it’s a film about the complicated nuances of revolution. Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep) the leader of the votes for women movement in England at the turn of the century, encouraged “deeds, not words” in order to get the point across because, she argued, words historically proved futile, at least in the case of the women’s movement. Suffragettes in London at this time would throw bricks in windows, fashion small explosives and commit to hunger strikes in order to get their message out: actions Pankhurst insisted would get the vote.

In one particularly arresting scene, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), a pharmacist who is the most adamant about the “deeds, not words” aspect of the women’s suffrage movement, wants to bomb a politician’s house that is supposedly empty.

Edith’s husband urges her not to go to such lengths, and Violet, newly pregnant, says it is too far. The explosion goes off without harming anyone, but the women find out later that a maid had come back for her gloves, and had she come back two minutes earlier, she would have died. “We break windows; we burn things; because war’s the only language men listen to” Maud tells Steed (Brendan Gleeson), an officer out to stop the group. I’m not into violence, but I saw her point.

A part of me felt the inevitable guilt one feels when watching a film about how much worse the world was for women back in the day, but the story also deliberately points to unresolved issues of equality now. It doesn’t end in a celebratory mood: the climax involves one of the suffragettes throwing herself in front of a horse at a highly publicized race and becoming the martyr for the movement, a move that, the movie argues, is the only means for change.

The grim reality is that violence did work to get the vote, but it didn’t work to make the world fair. There are a lot of things that confirm there’s still a pretty strong patriarchy, at least in my American life: Ryan Adams smugly covering Taylor Swift, the movie Pixels, everyone applauding Amy Schumer’s feminism when all she talks about is how she’s fat, that guy mansplaining the Biblical apocalypse to me at a party (he actually got it wrong), the fact that I have to lean in, the fact that I really do feel uncomfortable talking about my period, catcalls. It’s a hard road.  

“Sister Suffragette” — the song Mrs. Banks sings at the beginning of Disney’s Mary Poppins — is the song, for better or worse, that I found ringing in the back of my head as I watched Suffragette. Mrs. Banks cares nothing for her wifely duties; instead, she’s interested in the pomp and circumstance of fighting for a cause, and the song she sings about it is pretty silly (as, I suppose we are supposed to think, is Mrs. Banks). “You should have been there!” she squeals at the maid, because incarceration is apparently a gas. “Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been cast in irons again!” she belts, shimmying on her carpeted stairs.

The song is cute, as is its interpretation of the cause. Meaningfully, Mrs. Banks provides the suffragette sash to serve as a tail for the kite the Banks children fly in the closing scene. Though Mary Poppins came out some decades after women’s suffrage in Britain, it nonetheless reinforces the idea that though women can vote, they really ought to stay at home.

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

"I Do What I Love" - Ellie Goulding (mp3)


In Which Noah Baumbach Is Mistress To Us All



Mistress America
dir. Noah Baumbach
84 minutes

Despite its cliché, I have come to terms with the writer figure, musing over this carnival we call life, in a story: Nick Carraway is nothing if not iconic. In Noah Baumbach's new film Mistress America, the writer is a young woman named Tracy (Lola Kirke) who is starting college at Barnard and finding it lonely. Her mother (Kathryn Erbe) urges Tracy to call Brooke (Greta Gerwig), the daughter of her soon-to-be second husband. Brooke and Tracy meet up in Times Square, where Brooke announces she lives because she incorrectly thought it was the cool place to be when she first stepped off the bus from Jersey.

Brooke is a self-proclaimed autodidact (that’s why she didn’t need to go to college) who works as a SoulCycle instructor who also freelance interior decorates. She has aspirations of opening a restaurant that is also a store and a place to get a haircut. Brooke is also selling "so many things," twittering her mediocre thoughts, and wondering aloud if she should open a cabaret hall called “High Standards” where she sings all the standards. “That’s clever,” Tracy shouts. Brooke speaks breathlessly, enthusiastically. She wears flowing silk blouses and can hold her liquor.

To Tracy, wide-eyed, naïve, and, upon meeting Brooke, beaming, Brooke is a tumbleweed of sophistication, creativity, and energy: “Being around her was like being in New York City,” Tracy narrates, and I eyerolled in my seat. Getting rejected from the literary society, procrastinating her schoolwork, and feeling underwhelmed by college, Tracy spends one night with Brooke and suddenly is rejuvenated and charmed by the glittering world of a thirty-something who “lives as a young woman should,” has a relentless vault of dreams and ideas, and who sees life as an opportunity, not a disappointment.

Of course, not all that glitters is gold (I think Tracy actually says that in voiceover) and the reality that is painfully obvious to the audience when Brooke first ambles down the steps in Times Square sets in for young Tracy: Brooke is actually a huge asshole. She’s self-obsessed, unapologetically cheats on her boyfriend, can’t hold down a steady job, uses her friends before unfeelingly disposing of them, has a history of bullying people in high school, and worst of all, claims she doesn’t need therapy because “there’s nothing she doesn’t know about herself.” Her charm is actually whiny desperation, and she represents not New York City but instead everything that’s wrong with what my mother deems “your generation.”

The twist in Mistress America is what all those twists are with writer-narrators: through the putting down of a story, the writer becomes aware that perhaps she is just as flawed as the character she has constructed. That’s what happens to Tracy, because at Brooke’s urging, she forcefully kisses a young man she meets at college despite his girlfriend’s existence. She also writes an offensive short story about Brooke as a means to enter a literary society, even though it’s a pompous group of jerks who carry briefcases and don Warby Parker frames and who rejected her the first time. I guess, of course, that’s the point: that writing a story that defames someone will get you into the club of people who make it their business to be jerks, and then there you are, also a jerk, but at least your talent is recognized.

Performances were OK. Greta Gerwig is fun to watch in a painful sort of way. Her Brooke is dressed well but also clearly broken inside, exactly what Brooke is supposed to be. She’s clumsy and confident at the same time, making it clear her arrogance is masking insecurity. Lola Kirke's Tracy is also awkward, although she is unable to cover it with any believable amount of bravado. Tracy doesn’t change much in the film, except that she quits the writing society in order to make herself feel better for diatribing Brooke.

A pivotal plot development is that Brooke must make amends with her old friend Mamie Claire (Heather Lind), who according to Brooke stole her fiancé, her idea for hipster flowers on t-shirts at J. Crew and “literally” her cats. It is on this journey to Connecticut, to make peace with Mamie Claire and also ask for money to start the new restaurant, that Tracy really begins to understand Brooke — flaws and all — and casts her for what she is (an asshole) in her short story. The visit ends with Brooke’s former fiancé telling her to just not go through with the restaurant — he’ll pay her not to do it — and then everyone gathering around reading Tracy’s story about Brooke and finding it offensive to women.

In nineteenth-century British novels, characters who don’t belong in British society are shipped off to Australia, or sometimes America or Canada. It’s a trope much like literally everything that happens in Mistress America, and unsurprisingly, Brooke is sent off to California by the end of the film. On Thanksgiving Day, she is packing up the commercial apartment in Times Square she illegally holds as a residence when Tracy comes looking for her to make amends for the mean story she wrote. Brooke forgives her; they tell each other they’re smart, and then they share a meal together and giggle about things. We don’t hear what they talk about because music is playing and it’s supposed to be sentimental and conclusive.

Mistress America has been called “screwball” by many critics — it has fast-paced dialogue and sort of larger than life scenarios — and it does fit that description, although it doesn’t attempt to echo anything of a classic screwball comedy. Instead, it proves that we — or at least people who live in New York — are soulless, cardboard people with an unquenchable and unreachable desire to be unique and notorious. Our only hope is moving to California. It’s best not to write that story.

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

"Levitation" - Beach House (mp3)