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Entries in shelby shaw (14)

Wednesday
Aug212013

In Which We Provide A Masculine Contemporary

Major Fall, Minor Lift

by SHELBY SHAW

Prince Avalanche
dir. David Gordon Green
94 minutes

Forget all the roles you think of when you think of Paul Rudd, including his memorable role as Josh in 1995’s Clueless. Now Rudd is moving on from his current oeuvre of Apatow-ridden comedies and familiar funny-guy castings in David Gordon Green’s new film, Prince Avalanche.

Alvin (Paul Rudd) works in constructing the streets of a quiet area of Texas, evident from the state’s embroidery on his work clothes. With him for the labor is Lance (Emile Hirsch). Lance is out of high school, but he has the vernacular and tendencies of a thirteen year old. He is also the younger brother of Alvin’s significant other, Madison. Madison is not around in Prince Avalanche; she is home with daughter Olive, but letters are written back and forth over this summer of 1988.

Just as Frances Ha is a film about the transgression of female friendships, Prince Avalanche can be said to be a masculine contemporary, one that is slow and steady. If watched on mute about 80 percent of the film would be mistaken for a documentary episode on the Discovery Channel.

Alvin tries to learn German in anticipation for a trip with Madison, reads mail-in magazines, builds campsites, and takes charge. There’s often a feeling of Alvin shaking his head in wonder at how Lance’s seemingly-eternal youth is channeled into dance moves and trying to score with ladies instead of how to catch a fish, set up camp, and make a general effort to become A Man. There are a lot of long takes and overall less happens than one might have hoped for, but more comes through than one may have expected.

After falling asleep in a hammock he sets up by himself - alone for the weekend while Lance tries to “squeeze the little man” in the city - Alvin's elaborate dreams go on so long that it isn’t clear whether or not he’s dreaming at all.

There is something of a music video in the attention paid to all the slow zooms and pans of Texan wildlife that more strongly resemble New England than Texas: bright flaming oranges and deep lush greens amid the tall, dark, wet stripes of endless barren trees. But it’s all left behind when Alvin’s dreamscapes delve into a deeply surprising surrealism.

The mystery of the reappearing aviator, the relationship budding between Alvin and Lance, the solitude of the nature – it all slips away as a phone conversation between Alvin and Madison plays out in clear voices over light uplifting music set to a rapid discourse through the woods. It feels like hearing a cold reading and watching something else, like being handed too much of the truth of their failed relationship, spelled out when all this time things were anything but spelled-out clearly. Prince Avalanche yields a strange and affecting climax in the most anti-climactic sense.

At the end of this sequence Alvin comes walking through the trees, blue paint dashing through the forest until, the camera tracking downwards, there is a straight blue line on which the phrase “i love you so much” is written in blue. It’s as if someone made a Tumblr gif of a film and it somehow got put into the real thing.

Prince Avalanche is not so much about becoming an adult as it is about two different men learning how to take the reins of their lives with the help of one another. There are a number of things never explained, like Alvin’s medications, or the mysterious woman who appears only to the two of them, or the truck driver who is always lugging pop and booze to them on the road.

Even Madison’s true relation to Alvin is not fully disclosed until long after Prince Avalanche has picked up. But it is this kind of floating of the story that has Green entrusting it to his audience – backing out at the first sign of discomfort or surprise makes Prince Avalanche the “weird Paul Rudd movie.” Don’t back out. Alvin may realize he’s impossible, but it doesn’t make him any less capable. Even Lance proves that.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about The To Do List.

"All Things At Once" - Tired Pony (mp3)

"The Ghost of the Mountain" - Tired Pony (mp3)

Tuesday
Jul302013

In Which We Are Held Accountable For Sexual Curiosity

Way Too Long

by SHELBY SHAW 
 
The To Do List 
dir. Maggie Carey 
104 min.

Maggie Carey’s directorial debut was a 2001 documentary called Ladyporn in which two female students attempt to “produce a porno for women.” Carey’s first feature, The To Do List, seems to spring from a similar well. Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is valedictorian of her Boise high school’s class of 1993, and she has the record-breaking GPA to deserve it – but she has one last thing to learn before her pre-Georgetown education is complete: sex, and all of it.

I can’t help but wonder how she missed out on learning anything at all about sex acts when going through sex ed in school, a notorious time to crack jokes and act like a know-it-all (which, in some people’s cases, wasn’t acting at all). Didn’t she at least see Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Think of movies from 2002 that you know, it doesn’t seem so far in the past. Maybe she scoffed at the very idea of Fast Times, but her best friends really didn’t try to convince her, or force her to watch it on VHS the way they eagerly plan a whole night to watch Beaches?

How could Brandy not have a single inkling of sex? She has two best friends (who seem to be her only friends) deemed “slutty” by everyone else. She has an older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) who got sex out of the way when she was 15. Brandy’s unending innocence with all things sexual may be comically unbelievable on its own – like when she consults an Encyclopedia Britannica for “rim job” – but putting into perspective the lack of Internet and today’s aggressively candid portrayals of sex in “reality TV,” movies, and books may almost make it acceptable to be so far out of the know. MTV’s The Real World did premier in 1992, but that was when MTV actually stood for “Music Television” and pop – not pulp – culture.

Brandy’s desire to become a wise sexpert, and not necessarily a lustful sex icon, begins with Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). With a name that already sounds like a colon-related STD, Rusty looks like a surfing model or boy-band frontman and is home from college for the summer. There is a precise lonesome quality of Rusty’s that lets us see no harm with Brandy pursuing him.

Sure, our first image of him is at a party, playing guitar surrounded by girls – before somehow mistaking a drunken Brandy for a blonde he’s meeting for sex – but he is never popular with other women otherwise. He keeps more or less to himself at the pool and keeps a playful, not sinister nor even suggestive, banter with Brandy, or “Newbie” as he calls her in regards to her new lifeguard gig. Brandy’s haute crush on him and determination to ultimately give him her virginity is like a harmless crush on a celebrity.

Brandy is trying to accomplish many things, from hand jobs to orgasms, but she never lets anything such as emotional attachment or reputations – her own or the guys’ – get in the way. When the other lifeguards at the pool find out about her list of sex acts to complete, they assume she’s writing a sex manual. As Derrick (Donald Glover) puts it to Rusty, Brandy can do anything sexual that she wants to do because “it’s all research.” Guys are in awe of her, but is it because she has sexual freedom without reputational tarnish or is it because of her undertaking to complete this sex encyclopedia? Can women only be awed or held neutrally accountable for sexual curiosity if it can be backed up by a bigger purpose than just personal experimentation?

Later, Brandy masturbates while wearing a Clinton shirt and achieves orgasm with her face next to Hillary Rodham.

Brandy makes plans with Derrick to make Rusty jealous. But when she gets to his house, Derrick is the one to propose a plan: cunnilingus. She’s surprised he’s wanting to do this with her, but he explains that he was dumped for not being good at it. He wants to practice to make perfect, she wants to get it done to know what she’s dealing with for future reference. It’s the only time male and female sexuality are equated or even compared. Derrick is doing exactly what Brandy is doing, but it isn’t made to seem that way, and they never “practice” anything else afterwards. Their mutual symbiosis is just another one of her endeavors.

Regardless of how much respect or awe or coolness she may (silently) gain, Brandy never gets called a slut nor is treated like one, she is never pressured, and is never put into compromising situations except when others constantly walk in on her experiences. Initially Brandy's friends are supportive of her sexual journey, and at one point she is even encouraged to look at all the progress she’s accomplished in one summer. Only when Brandy disregards the boundaries of her girlfriends is she denigrated for her behavior, by her own best friend no less.

When Fiona (Alia Shawkat) begins to dance around the idea of a date with Cameron (Johnny Simmons), Brandy’s best guy-friend and painfully-obvious True Love, emotions come into play for the first time, even though at this point Brandy has already dry-humped with her friend Wendy's ex-boyfriend. Is it that only when threatened by losing sexual attention women are more prone to competition with one another, creating allies and cutting off foes? Or is it that Fiona and Wendy are calling Brandy out on her no-boundaries promiscuity, despite in the name of discovery research, for the sake of girlfriend code? It isn’t until Brandy’s sexuality branches out to include and protect certain guys that her friends – who are considered “slutty” but are never actually shown exhibiting this trait – disapprove of her behavior. 

Despite the campiness of the humor and the mildness of the 1990s setting (the interiors supplied enough Nineties to make up for the dialogue), The To Do List is like a Lifetime original with swearing and better cinematography. For a film about being deflowered on as many accounts as one girl can manage, nothing is raunchy or terribly obscene – no nudity (despite often losing her top), no explicit footage of hand jobs, blowjobs, or even straight-up intercourse, which is always censored with thickly wrapped blankets almost to the point of absurdity. The “real life” goal in such a constructed deliverance made me think of Lizzie McGuire if she tried to learn sex from Clarissa Explains It All.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these places about replacing her artifacts.

"Here Comes The Snow" - Matthew Ryan (mp3)

"Summer in the South" - Matthew Ryan (mp3)

Tuesday
Jul162013

In Which We Slowly Replace Our Artifacts

Constellation Prize

by SHELBY SHAW

I once read that birth control pills were somehow linked to cellulite. In high school I had heard that the Pill would clear your acne, make you lose weight, and “most importantly” make your chest bigger. It seemed the perfect teen solace and I knew a number of girls who went on it for the promise of clearer skin. Couldn’t I then go on it to help my womanly development come along? I wasn’t exactly a late bloomer but in some respects I would say I was. I never took the Pill in high school.

One cold Chicago night I took home a sick friend and shared my bed with him while I made him tea. In the midst of our musings and questions and bigger thoughts, I asked him what he would do if he got a girl pregnant. “I’d kill myself,” he replied instantaneously, a sort of loud guffaw. He quickly followed up by saying that “of course” it “depended on the girl” and the situation. Of course. I told him I wasn’t on birth control and that if I had a baby I would travel to Europe to raise it, live with my aunt in Paris. We talked of other things, casually drifting around a harbor of related topics. I then suggested that we should have sex.

+

Recently I returned to the textbooks from my class on Western Esotericism, one of the best courses I took during my last summer in art school. It was refreshing to break into educational assets and not just think that my young obsession with Harry Potter meant I knew anything about historical magic. The first performance alumnus of the school, who went on to become an astrologer through the University of Chicago, graciously mocked up the natal charts of each of the ~13 students in class. She then gave a brief summary of what it meant about us, how to read the chart in the future, and signed us up for her weekly horoscopes.

It’s important to keep in mind that the horoscope you probably read on Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, any tabloid magazine, or other largely-read source is drawing upon your solar sign. This is your horoscope from the perspective of your zodiac in tropical astrology (ancient Greek), i.e. Aquarius, Gemini, etc., based only on the vernal equinox. Sidereal astrology (traditional Hindu) relies upon the fixed position of the planets and stars at the exact time and location of your birth. A natal chart makes it privy to you and only you, as opposed to a general horoscope written for all the people born around the world within the same 30 days as you.

+

Once you fall for someone with tattoos, it’s hard not to fall for someone with tattoos. The same thing goes for piercings or hairstyles or wardrobes. Reminders are curious things. I’ve only felt tattoos on me but I’ve not had one myself. I used to think I would get a tiny crack on my chest, like a break in concrete, but I thought it wouldn’t be recognizable as anything deliberate, more like a stray pen mark by mistake. I most recently had wanted “CANCER” written across the inside of my left wrist but I told myself it would come off as more offensive than intriguing when I would disclose how no, I’m not a survivor of, nor am I living with, cancer but rather Cancer is my zodiac sign.

Since I tend to think akin to Dionysius’ via positiva I’d prefer to use symbols for my life, and Cancer is denoted by crab claws that are otherwise known from puberty as the 69. Tropically I’m a Cancer but in sidereal tables I’m a Gemini. I’ve never looked into the Gemini sign other than casually, because it is my brother’s tropical sign (he is therefore a sidereal Taurus.) I have, however, been leaning towards Dionysius’ via negativa as of late, which is the opposite of using symbols and looks for ultimate metaphysical knowledge through the absence of absolutely everything, particularly images and meaning.

+

There were twelve gods of Olympus. Hercules had to overcome the Twelve Labors. There are twelve signs of the zodiac and twelve houses in the horoscope. There are twelve months in a year. Days run on twelve hours or twice the twelve. There are twelve inches in a foot. I was twelve when I became a woman. Eggs are sold generally in a dozen. Christmas is remembered as twelve days. Jesus had twelve disciples, but I honestly don’t know anything about Christianity and therefore can’t really weigh any significance in the claim. My high school AP Studio Art portfolio had to have a twelve-part series. There are twelve school levels until you’re a graduate (excluding, of course, kindergarten). To get to Hogwarts you must board the train at Platform 9 ¾ and nine is three-quarters of twelve.

+

I was once at Trader Joe’s, chock-full of groceries and en route to the cashiers, whose lines I chose purposefully based on attraction. Suddenly a man, 30s, about my height, nervous and soft-spoken, came over to me browsing olive oils or sea salts, both of which were in the same aisle. “Excuse me, but you look exactly like my friend’s wife,” he said. I wasn’t sure how that was supposed to be flattering or enticing since it obviously made it seem like he had a thing for his friend’s wife.

“Well I can’t say I’m your friend’s wife,” I replied. He shook his head, my resemblance apparently uncanny.

“Why are you wearing all black?” he asked. This question immediately told me there was no possible understanding between us.

“Oh, this is just my Tuesday outfit.”

“Oh, really?”

I nodded and restrained myself from admitting no.

“I thought maybe you were in an orchestra.”

At this point I realized he was trying very hard in the middle of a Tuesday in summer, no other plans or targets in sight. My so-called orchestral uniform (a comment I found quite humorous) or “Tuesday outfit,” which I threw out there as a sarcastic remark on the unremarkability of the thrift-store dress I was wearing, was brought up throughout conversation. I said I was in Trader Joe’s every Tuesday and, clearly a little anxious about this, my stranger in conversation made it clear that he wasn’t always in Trader Joe’s on Tuesdays. I made a mental note to never return to Trader Joe’s on any Tuesday.

+

Girls just want to have fun, or something. Girls don't want to grow up. Girls with eating disorders, particularly anorexia, don't want to grow at all. They would rather stave off their inevitable  and necessary — maturation into womanhood, trying to prolong the physical sense of youth while inside they have long been buried, the first shovelful of dirt thrown into the grave the first time food was denied, regurgitated, or abused. It's not a new notion of the Cult of Domesticity  eating disorders have been around for centuries if not forever  because girls and women are not trying to embody a submissive and cute, oblivious and tittering child. They are trying to hone in on the purity of a body unchanged, the timbre, so to speak, of Humbert Humbert's attraction to young nymphettes in Nabokov's classic, before puberty turns their faces into oily canvases of reds and pinks, their fingers become grubby, and their bodies overall begin to seemingly disobey the order of what had been the natural pageantry of childhood beauty. Even Humbert Humbert began to develop a disgust with Lolita's hormonal display.

And yet, I am consistently amazed at how beautiful the coming generations are. Beauty is undeniable, no matter one's age, gender, or life; it is acting on attraction to said beauty that gets people into pedophilia and adultery. Openly observing beauty to yourself is harmless, natural, and should be done so as to take your mind off of yourself and prove that you acknowledge others. I used to pour over fashion magazines, big fat ones with glossy covers and Condé Nast titles. I could name nearly all the supermodels in all the spreads, and when up-and-coming models were gaining career momentum, I was personally proud, pointing out their photos to people who didn't know or care. If anything, they would comment on how I knew all the haute couture faces on every deathly-glossy page.

I stopped reading fashion magazines in the middle of high school when I realized they were just heavy sheets of paper with images of women whose genetics I never did, and therefore never would, possess. Many of these women didn’t even have the genetics the magazines endowed upon them in ads. There is always someone better than you, but more importantly, there is always someone better than who you thought was best already.

+

“I notice you’re not wearing any rings,” said the stranger in Trader Joe’s. At this I was alarmed because I didn’t (and still don’t) think I looked quite the age of the average married woman (a number I admittedly do not know) and laughed lightheartedly with/at him.

“Yes, I’m not wearing any rings.” My bare fingers were openly gripping the handles of my reusable bags, full of groceries that were getting undesirably warm. I find statements of obvious circumstances to be utterly obnoxious.

This man then went deeply  or so he thought  into how a Greek god is assigned to a different finger. Naming them each, I interrupted him because I had heard something similar to this thought, and I immediately had been charmed by the topic of ancient Greek mythology, spouting facts before he could. Surprised, the man asked if I studied mythology in college. I laughed at him again. I said I was currently in school and taking a class on Western Esotericism, but that the mythology we covered in it was more like a refresher from my youth.

+

I was born on a Saturday over two decades ago, on the Fourth of July. I began to detest any red/white/blue color scheme as soon as I could voice such a distaste. I’ve always found it amusing how America declared itself as its own country, independent of Great Britain, yet we borrowed patriotic tunes from pre-existing British scores for the USA’s own anthems, and we made a flag not too different in layout but  most entertaining  not even using different colors from the ex-Motherland. How independent were we that we couldn’t even choose different colors for our “new” country’s flag?

It’s no secret the Founding Fathers had esoteric agendas in Freemasonry and occultist practices that have bred a whole slew of Internet sites backing up conspiracy theories and deep analyses of their secret and deliberate decisions hundreds of years ago. They even wrote a movie, I’m sure you’ve seen it, it’s called National Treasure and it had a sequel. While certainly not a non-fiction, historical film, aspects of the story are based on various hypotheses surrounding little-known factoids. It is a curious thing, the hidden past, but that’s why it’s called esotericism and not exotericism. America is hardly the beginning anyhow.

Supposedly the Founding Fathers chose July Fourth to declare independence, two days after voting on reaching independence, because it held esoteric astrological properties. In trying to uncover the truth behind this (in)famous date I was born on  my expected due date, mind you  I read that the star Sirius, apparently linked to Satanism, held the Sun in its astronomical positioning on July 4, 1776. The astrologer who did my natal chart told me that the specific star aligned with my specific birth is Sirius. “It’s one of the greatest stars,” the astrological expert told me in class. I recently bought an old necklace that has written, on one side, “CANCER” and has the corresponding symbols beneath; on the back is a gold coin with a woman’s profile and “1776” written on the bottom. Do I think there’s any connection here? Maybe I should wait for the next National Treasure to find out. You’ll see me in it.

+

I’ve stayed in contact with very few friends from high school, mainly due in part to their dependent use of Facebook and my abhorrence (and therefore avoidance) of the site; if you search me on Facebook you will find, among other people with the same name, a blonde porn star, or so I’ve been told. It explains the nude searches on Google that have driven people to my site for zero seconds. “Shelby Shaw” is the fictional character name of the fisherman who brings shark casserole to the Olsen twins’ family in Our Lips Are Sealed. I decided to recently make my Twitter account public because I’ve settled on a voice for it that doesn’t impose on the voice of my appearance when I’m with peers, professionals, or no one.

One friend who I stayed in touch with post-graduation, and regard highly in my small circle “from home,” invited me to the lake by his house one night a couple summers ago. We sat in my car around 3 a.m. waiting for a meteor shower to dazzle us beyond our expectations of the vastly blank sky. We waited and waited and the shower still didn't come. “Ten minutes and then I have to go,” I warned, concerned about whether I’d be able to stay awake for my half-hour drive, always littered with dangerous deer on twisted streets. In the moonlight, a startling shade of bright, the car was surprisingly dark, and my friend leaned towards me, over me, brushing close. “What should we do with those ten minutes?” he asked. I don’t remember how I ended up in the passenger seat of my own car.

+

I used to have my entire childhood room covered in advertisements of my favorite models and fashion spreads from major and obscure magazines alike. I had quotes from articles and interviews, illustrations and comics, a few original photos here and there, some original artwork. I took pride in the fact that if I died, one would need only to read my walls. I taped smaller finds and artifacts in hidden places of my room, my desk, my doorway. "I'll keep the surprises coming, they'll think they know me and then they'll find more," I thought. This was throughout middle school.

During high school I tore everything off my walls, in careless strips knowing full well that they wouldn't be able to be pieced back together. My mother ran down the hall to see what I was doing when the sound of ripping paper wouldn’t cease. She yelled as I silently continued my actions. I remember being very serious about it but not really feeling certain of what my hands were doing. "I just don't look at these things the same way anymore," I said in a low voice that night as she cried in bed, not knowing what to do with me. Soon thereafter I re-wallpapered my room in new ads, photos, clippings, etc, but mostly the walls were covered with a first layer of upside pages from a French-English dictionary which had yellowed slightly. The replacement of my artifacts was slow, but still happened. About a year after the first take-down, I repeated my actions and my mother repeated hers. I never put anything up on those walls again after that.

+

Towards the end of our drawn-out conversation, the man in Trader Joe’s leaned in and lowered his voice for privacy, or maybe perverse intimacy, as he asked me, “So, what are you doing later?” I loudly replied, “I’m going to see The Dark Knight with my old roommate.”

Only now, in writing this, did I decide to research the facts on the association of Greek gods and wearing rings. If you Google it, you’ll find the exact script I heard in Trader Joe’s, ways to pick up women despite it being a belief from antiquity. To think I had this used on me once makes me all the more merrier that I never returned the voicemail the TJ’s man left me later that week. I had given him my number only because I gave him credit for trying so hard for half an hour with a passing audience; I knew from the beginning that I would never pick up or return his calls. I felt like I couldn’t go back to the same Trader Joe’s after that, and definitely not on a Tuesday. I never ran into him again, or if I did I never noticed.

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The inside of the wrist tends to be a popular place for seriously commemorating the deceased or for girls to get small hearts and stars like an unknowing cult of cool (which, we know, is therefore ultimately uncool.) Gypsies  although I’m sure other sects of beliefs and lifestyles agree with this  believe that you read the left palm for foresight of a person because its lead directly to the heart, and we already know the Greeks believed the ring finger to belong to Aphrodite, and sometimes listed as belonging to Apollo, because of its connection to the heart, to love.

I can trace a prominent vein from the Mound of Jupiter (Zeus, index finger) all the way to my chest. On the inside of my forearm, this prominent vein is met by another vein, or two, and forms the sign of Jupiter, something of an obscure “4,” which is my rising sign, which is also, I was told by the astrologer, the sign of the writer. The only time I had my palm read was at a bat mitzvah party, or perhaps it was a sweet sixteen. I don’t recall if the woman who was stereotypically in costume as a fortune-teller had been the one to tell me about the gypsies or if I had already known it before then.

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When I was very young, not raised Protestant like my mother or Jewish like my father, I deduced that religion of any kind was silly and devotional worship was the opposite of freedom. I’ve come to see that the lack of any sort of belonging growing up  whether in a stable family life, a consistent group of friends, a string of angst-scorned heartthrobs  has prompted a never-ending search for something that feels like an answer but always ends up being left blank, the way I would feel stupid for talking about “problems” to therapists who told me what I was already thinking or agreed with my own deductions or simply sat and listened and waited for me to make the next move in progressing myself along, which seemed pretty counter-productive. What I needed someone to tell me, what I was searching for from school psychologists to private practice psychologists to the psychiatrist who visited me in Northwestern Hospital’s emergency room one night around 2 a.m., was for someone to tell me what on earth I’m doing here.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York City. She last wrote in these pages about The White Queen. She tumbls here and twitters here

Artwork by Alexandra Levasseur.

"Gonna Make My Own Money" - Deap Vally (mp3)

"Bad for My Body" - Deap Vally (mp3)