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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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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In Which We Avoid Conflict Whenever Possible

Very Firm


creator Patrick Harbinson

When Fearless begins, attorney Emma Banville is living with three other people in her house in Suffolk. The first is an ISIS operative named Miriam (Karima McAdams), who has a baby son. The final resident is her boyfriend Steve (John Bishop), her alcoholic photographer boyfriend. Her idea for the present and future is this: how can I bring a child into this life? Since she cannot conceive naturally because of an operation, Emma plans to adopt. When she presents her credentials to the agency involved, they are like, thanks but no thanks.

As her makeshift jury, we feel no more sympathy for Emma than her self-selected judge. A criminal defense solicitor, she is convinced she is not complicit in the crimes of her clients, and she proves it by housing a terrorist and defending a local man falsely accused of killing a fifteen year old girl in 2002. Fearless suggests there is basically no distinction between these two sorts of people; it is roughly the dramatic equivalent to those who cold-bloodedly explain that terrorist attacks are actually quite rare. Treason is a far worse crime than murder, and there was a point in history where this was manifestly obvious to everyone.

Fortunately Ms. Banville does not live in a world of greys. She has an adversary who obfuscates the moral instability of her world: Heather Myles (Robin Weigert), an American NSA operative who is responsible for every single bad thing that happens in Fearless. Evil is obvious, the opening title sequence of Fearless suggests as a young girl meant to represent Ms. Banville leaps over a wall tattooed by the words truth and justice. Various clips suggest the historical subtext to Fearless – that England was somehow duped into the Iraq War and that Tony Blair was some kind of fool for believing in the U.S. as allies. What this has to do with Donald Trump I'm not quite sure, but he also puts in an appearance during the awful prologue.

Thankfully, the rest of the series itself is quite a bit better. Helen McCrory – Damian Lewis' wife in real life and Narcissa Malfoy in the fake one – is one of those actresses who suddenly became stunning as she crested her 40s. Even though scripter and Homeland veteran Patrick Harbinson has her smoking a cigarette in every scene of Fearless, this can do nothing to obscure her inner beauty. McCrory is a performer of devastating, uncompromising range who takes scenes that would be outright dull for anyone else and turns them into a rollercoaster of human pathos. She does more on the end of a simple telephone call than Helen Hunt has done in her lifetime.

The rest of the cast seems largely selected by virtue of it being impossible for McCrory to dominate them onscreen. Most are placid shields that absorb her measured tenacity. Her colleague Dominic, played by the amusing and subtle actor Jonathan Forbes, is the perfect rejoinder to McCrory's ups and downs. As the detective who originally made the case against her client, Wunmi Musaku is a little too cold-blooded to be believable, but it is great fun watching the rest of the cast smash up against the impenetrable wall she represents.

The legal aspects of Fearless, including the twists and turns in the case, are relatively contrived and serve largely as background noise behind McCrory's eloquence. That she is not able to try her own case in front of the court as a barrister is an aspect of the British justice system clearly unsuited for the small screen.

It is fun to see America positioned as a great evil in the world. Recently, their intelligence services have really made a mess of things in British film and television. Perhaps it is useful for England to think of its international reach as a subtle counterpoint to America's cynical warfare, only the field of international security is not quite as morally definite as Fearless suggests. When MI5 comes to Emma's flat in order to arrest her lodger, the woman slips her a SIM card valuable to the other men in her ISIS cell. Even though the British authorities have apparently been listening in, they do not arrest Emma.

Emma is implicated, but she does not trust her government. Instead of going to the authorities immediately, as every aspect of her should be screaming, she prevaricates and decides to leak nude photos of the murder victim to the press. Sadly, this accomplishes nothing and even makes Emma look like more of a sleazeball in the eyes of everyone she knows – including her husband, who accepts a photography assignment for three weeks in Sweden just when things are at their most delicate. In response, Emma smokes another cigarette and visits the hospital where her father is on the brink of death. No matter how many unpleasant things she does, she knows how to have fun.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince Lacks The Granger-Potter Intercourse We Were Hoping For

Harry Potter and The New Victorians


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a short series of photoshoots assembled into an incoherent movie. If you didn't read the books, you wouldn't be crazy to ask what the hell is going on. I mean they basically ruined three of the central moments in the series here. I did not even cry when Dumbledore died.

Many have written themselves into a corner trying to hate on Harry Potter, most notably A.S. Byatt. As she put it:

Ms. Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, ''only personal.'' Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

Whoa. All art serves a purpose. Whatever got 100 million people reading books can't be all bad. In translation, the films can't possibly represent the books, which are essentially an awkwardly written first effort from a juvenile-level author at best. Miss Rowling was in no position to write a great fantasy, but she gave it a shot, and it's easy to write this stuff. Stephanie Meyer owns NBC now, right?

Seriously though, the films were destined to be bad unless one person made them all Peter Jackson-style. They did a good job with the first one and the newness of it, and then the lighting design just started getting darker. Everyone's complexion became vampiric like Twilight. No one is having very much fun. It makes you wish they had all just rewatched Legend 5,000 times before shooting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

But hey, that's what Harry Potter is — it is so general, so easy, it can take on any cultural phenomenon and incorporate it within the flexibility of the narrative (if the lame, we must find seven parts of the villain's soul plot can be called a narrative). Harry and his friends are a projective lense through which we view the younger part of our population.

The news is not great, you guys. On the film or on the generation it purports to depict. The piece of art that accomplishes largely the same thing as Harry Potter is The Up Series, a British invention of documentary television that checked in on seven kids at ages 7, 14, 21, 28...every seven years and so on. The results were mind-boggling.

Neil turned out to be the most unpredictable of the entire group. At seven he was funny, full of life and hope. By the time of 21 Up he was homeless in London, having dropped out of Aberdeen University after one term, and was living in a squat and finding work as he could on building sites. During the interview he is clearly in an agitated state, and it becomes apparent that he has mental health issues and is struggling to cope with life; he mentions he had had thoughts of suicide. At 28 he was still homeless, although now in Scotland; by 35 he was living in a council house on the Shetland Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, writing and appearing in the local pantomime. By the time of 42 Up he had finally found some stability in his life (with some help from Bruce--he was living in Bruce's apartment in London and Bruce had become a source of emotional support) and was involved in local council politics.

Harry, Hermione and Ron are juniors in high school and yet they haven't ascended much further than heavy petting. The adults in their lives are impotent creatures — even the murderer who takes the Unbreakable Vow is kind of a weak shit in the end.

The biggest evidence we have of the most serious villain to haunt non-Muggles in history is a smoky shadow in the sky. This was Voldemort! He had unlimited power! His lieutenants murdered untold wizards. But hey, what could he do? These three were about:

Over time the series has resisted efforts to make it less British, and for an American child, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince becomes a bizarre instruction of repressed sexual politics. The main crux of the matter is, all the pale faces have a very Victorian sexuality and have to observe customs or they're crying about another girl kissing their man, just kissing. How can an inner city girl who has worked two jobs by the age of 16 supposed to empathize with such an empty beacon of a woman?

A strange Muggle moment at a diner opens Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry gets hit on by an appealing black waitress who tells him that she gets off at eleven. It's obvious from her dress that she could have Harry screaming his dead parents names in ecstasy by the time she's done with him. Yet he happily retreats into his fake Victorian world — one that doesn't seem quite so magical anymore. I thought the point was that Hogwarts isn't identical to whatever Muggle High School Potter might have attended. I guess if Hermione can go to Clown College, Harry doesn't need more school.

On the whole, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince doesn't offer a terribly great image of English men and women, but it's an even worse portrayal of young people forging out in the world. Harry's bosom buddy Neville Longbottom has one scene in this movie, and he's serving Harry the lord a tray of hors d'oeuvres at a party for the more fameball Hogwarts students. And Harry thanks him.

The paring back of all the original and interesting material from the novel notwithstanding, what's left over is a bunch of teens who bear more resemblance to the cast of Gossip Girl than the fearsome force that created Dumbledore's Army in the previous novel. In addition, Rowling clumsily wrote all her best characters out of the script. Harry's uncle Sirius, played by Gary Oldman, formed a unique relationship with the orphan wizard. And then Sirius was killed off for no real reason, and Hagrid got turned in an impotent animal lover. For shame!

Shit, even House Slytherin looks like they're going to break into tears at any moment. Draco Malfoy shouldn't engender sympathy, you want to scream at David Yates, the film's clearly overmatched director. I'm not sure what's worse: that he thinks a giggling schoolgirl who likes Ron should get all the laughs, or that the only lines granted to people of color are apologies and invective?

A major element of the previous films, and somehow deleted in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is the idea that what appears one way on the surface is something different indeed. I saw the film with a capacity crowd on 66th Street, and there was the occasional gasp at some new special effects feat — the way leaves moved on a tree, or the sight of dead tarantula as dusk fell on Hogwarts.

But mainly everything is exactly what it seems to be: Snape is the villain getting his task from his master, and the film ends when he carries it out. Dumbledore has Harry's best interest in mind, everyone gets with the person they're supposed to. The worst thing you can do is not make choices in a fantasy.

Since Rowling isn't much of a writer, the books follow a similar, easy template. There is some sort of mystery that these three Scooby Doo types must sort out.

In the films we are thankful for this progression; it keeps us guessing instead of watching a series of interrelated scenes that never quite add up to a whole. In The Half-Blood Prince, the point was supposed to be us finding out who the Half-Blood Prince is. But no one every really asks that question, no tries to solve it. It's the entire plot of the book and yet it has disappeared from the film! I'll grant you that it's not a very satisfying riddle, but at least it was a riddle.

So we're left with the personal issues of these three beanpoles.

Even stripped of the magic that made Harry a sensation, screenwriter Steve Kloves could have been forgiven had he not directly ignored and never sufficiently investigated the love between Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. "You're my best friend," she tells him as she leans up against him. They know each other too well. They don't know Ron: he's like a child that needs constant reassurance, and they both fail to connect with the other adults in their lives. Here they had something, and they threw it away.

Harry Potter was about being an outsider, an outcast. The first image of this film is flashbulbs popping off at the newly famous Potter. He's not an outsider anymore, he's a star, and it doesn't matter if Hermione Granger's parents were dentists — she's going to Brown now. Harry plans to drop out of school. He's mired in existential dread. "Voldemort killed my parents," he tells everyone in hearing range, as if they didn't remember. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince features Harry losing yet another father figure. I'm afraid I cried all the tears I had for the last three.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She lives in Manhattan, and tumbls here.

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