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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

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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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Monday
Nov192012

In Which We Sleep On Nucky Thompson's Couch

Familiar Story

by DICK CHENEY

Boardwalk Empire
creator Terence Winter

You know what is a completely original idea I have never heard before? A woman in an unhappy marriage to a powerful man begins an affair with her husband's younger, attractive subordinate. The relationship comes about because of the ethnic connection between the two lovers. This general plot has never even been experimented with until now.

furio, your taste in fashion was unmatched by American men

Much of Terence Winter's Boardwalk Empire is a lot more interesting if you pretend The Sopranos never happened. (This is equally true if you have never seen Goodfellas or Casino.) There's actually a scene in Martin Scorsese's completely retarded blowjob of the Dalai Lama, Kundun, that I am completely reminded of every time I watch HBO's prohibition-era drama.

The potential child prophet is shown a variety of objects, some commonplace, other more valuable, on a woven blanket. Whichever object he selects, as in the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, indicates the likelihood he is a god returned to Earth to appear on Dr. Oz. (I believe roughly the same process was used to appoint Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the house, except the correct object in question was a needle filled with Botox.)

wait, someone might actually want to watch this guy. Let's exclusively give him scenes with Gretchen Mol. $$$$This reminds me of Boardwalk Empire insofar as the show's writers can't decide between a variety of individuals. There is an insane number of characters in Boardwalk Empire, actually over 100 of them, with 80 of those wearing an identical hat. It's difficult to know exactly who to focus on when you love them all the same. 

As a viewer, keeping track is exhilarating and discouraging, because whoever you do choose to invest in will likely end up bludgeoned by Bobby Cannavale or set on fire by Bobby Thompson. Both are unpleasant and humiliating, and make you wonder why no one was called Robert in the early part of last century.

so he decapitated a guy with a shovel, who hasn't done that?

Relatively safe from this merry-go-round of death is Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). Nucky had a very difficult home life as a child, and tries very hard to be a good stepfather to the children of his wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald). For some reason the fact that Nucky excels where his father failed does not really capture our attention the way that Tony Soprano's poor parenting did.

The writers of Boardwalk Empire can't possibly believe a few kind words outweigh the countless murders and the numerous infidelities Nucky implausibly consummated while succoring Broadway actress Billie Kent. Thompson was very nice to his girlfriend - she called him her gangster - but there is a hard and fast rule, in drama and in life, that being nice to someone who is going to die does not count.

Examining the weirdly sympathetic portrayal of Al Capone yields roughly the same feeling. The man who gave a bad name to so many Italian-Americans being presented as the heroic godfather and loving parent to a deaf child when he is basically their Osama Bin Laden leaves a terrible nausea in my sizable gut. It's roughly analogous to the disgust that rose inside me while I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II and terrorists blew up the USS Barack Obama. A sinking feeling. Get it?

Tommy, run

When I think about who I actually empathize with in Boardwalk Empire, my faith in people is usually destroyed within minutes of them garnering my favor. All the emotional reserves I placed in the Picasso-faced Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were destroyed the moment I saw him in a liquor commercial and his countenance wasn't half exploded. Marlon Brando would have rather clawed his eyes out, and I think a lot less of Terence Winter that he did not insist upon it.

the president also smokes after a fresh kyll

I won't make any more lighthearted remarks about how disgusting I find the constantly topless Gretchen Mol. Such commentary is completely misogynistic and diminishes the righteousness of my jokes about Nancy Pelosi. At least Gretchen is trying. I even received a nice jolt in my Dockers when the only living Mrs. Darmody had intercourse with an unemployed man who intensely resembled her late son. The pseudo-incest represented a sweet moment, akin to when George W. Bush makes Laura put on a massive white wig before doggystyle.

My momentary engagement with Gretchen's plight vanished when she drugged and drowned this Jimmy-lookalike in her whorehouse bathtub as a means of getting her son declared legally dead. I have never known a woman who actually killed a man, and I have certainly never known an attractive woman who has done this. That's as close to a compliment as I can pay Gretchen Mol.

"You're going to buy me a wedding ring and fly me to Honolulu? YESSSSSSSS"

The death of Nucky's handsome bodyguard Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) on last night's episode, due to the treachery of an Italian-Jewish coalition against the Irish, attempted to strike an ironic note. After Owen's body is sent to Nucky's home in a wooden crate, Margaret breaks down crying, recollecting the previous day when she told Owen she was pregnant with his baby. "Whatever you tell me next," she informs him before his passing, "let it be the truth." "I'm hoping it's a boy," he responds.

Despite our knowledge that this flashback presents Owen telling a fucking lie, he comes across as more human than he did during his entire run on Boardwalk Empire. Even a liar is endearing in the moments he's telling the truth. The disappointment comes afterwards.

Then, dreamy, half-amusing, half-tragic music sang him off. And now he looks like this:

Guess he promised marriage to some women in the Russian baths

The opening sequence of Boardwalk Empire has taken on a new meaning of late. Last night's episode took the discord between reality and fiction still further by watching American excesses flood the beaches of Atlantic City. Beachgoers rushed into the surf to claim bottles of whiskey floating in the water. Even if there never was a storm to later destroy that very boardwalk, this was metaphorical overkill. Using the past to say something about the present is inherently unfair. It's a dirty trick, the vain task whereby winners rewrite history according to their own impulses. Sure, Al Capone is still a disgusting gangster, and women weren't getting the diaphragms they justly deserved. But really, that can mean nothing to us now.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. He last wrote in these pages about the Showtime series Dexter. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Something In Between" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

"If You Have To Leave" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)

Thursday
Nov102011

In Which Lemmy Is Most Likely God

Trick Question

by HANSON O'HAVER

Airheads
dir. Michael Lehmann
92 minutes

In the early 1990s, a group of men set out unknowingly, as these feats invariably are unknowable to make the most tumblr-ready film of all time. The result, 1994's Airheads, was received as a disaster, both critically and commercially. It opened in 11th place, grossing less than $2 million. Only in hindsight, as the internet enters its fifth year of nineties revisionism, can the film's accomplishments truly be celebrated.

Airheads stars Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler as members of a struggling rock band, the awkwardly named The Lone Rangers ("How can you pluralize The Lone Ranger?"). Adam Sandler's character, Pip, is a hint at his later mastery of the 'grown man talking in baby voice' archetype. Fraser, as a non-time traveler and Buscemi, as a surprisingly svelte non-psycho, play somewhat against type. What the band lacks in talent and cohesive sound they make up for in ambition and fake UZIs.

The plot is as follows: Desperate to get their demo heard by A&R execs and radio disc jockeys, they sneak into a radio station. With much prompting from realistic-looking plastic firearms (which are secretly filled with hot sauce, in lieu of bullets), they force a Hawaiian-shirted on-air personality to play their song. (Notice how bands in movies about bands trying to make it always have one song. See also: That Thing You Do.) But then! A discarded cigarette causes their demo reel to malfunction, and the band decide to hightail it out of the studio.

They have second thoughts about leaving upon realizing that the building has been surrounded by members of Hollywood's Finest. Instead, they head back into the studio, lock the doors, and, this time, really take everyone hostage (the previous interaction had just been one of those quotidian fauxstage situations). Because this whole thing happens on-air, a group of heavy metal aficionados join the police in the parking lot, in an expression of solidarity with the Rangers.

One of the hostages, a mustachioed, pre-Seinfeld fame Michael Richards, reveals that the radio station is about to change formats, from hard rock to adult contemporary. This invokes Stockholm syndrome from the hostages. Eventually, a clever but evil (signifier: he has a goatee) A&R executive negotiates a deal with the band, as do the police. Next comes a minor prison sentence and an At Folsom Prison-esque concert. The film ends with one of those "what happened next" slides that doesn't make sense for a fictional movie to have: "THE LONE RANGERS served three months for kidnapping, theft, and assault with hot pepper sauce. Their album, LIVE IN PRISON, went triple platinum."

In 1994, I was not concerned with things like youth culture and authenticity and how the former views the latter. Consequently, I'm not sure how this movie was perceived by its intended audience. That said, if its box office reception is any indication, it probably wasn't seen as an accurate representation of The Way They Lived Then.

After all, by 1994, heavy metal was completely finished (at least in today's memory of 1994; in reality, metal bands were still going platinum). As a point of reference: grunge hit Reality Bites came out six months before Airheads. The Lone Rangers are, undoubtedly, a metal band. They reference Tommy Lee and places like The Whisky. Yet they wear pieces of flannel (one gets the feeling these were added by a panicked market researcher) and take on an unmistakable slacker vibe. This intergenre awkwardness is perhaps best illuminated by the fact that the soundtrack features 4 Non Blondes covering Van Halen. Thus that the film wasn't successful in 1994 shouldn't be surprising; what is weird is that Airheads isn't particularly popular today.

Readers with even passing familiarity with tumblr know that platform exists almost primarily to blog (and re-blog) an endless cycle of pictures of semi-nude girls, nude girls, stills from old movies, memes, and band photos. Because we're caught in a 90s revival (Read: early 90s revival no one is wearing Miller's Outpost or listening to Backstreet Boys. Yet.), a huge percentage of tumblr's images hail from that time period.

Airheads would seem to be a perfect match. Off the top of my head, here are examples images from the film which, if blogged, would get hundreds of notes: Brendan Fraser's girlfriend in a leopard leotard; Adam Sandler; Brendan Fraser shooting hot sauce from an Uzi into a microwave burrito; Steve Buscemi looking tough; A screen shot of the scene where a metal fan admits "I used to wear corduroys!"; Steve Buscemi's eyes (the internet loves Steve Buscemi); Michael Richards in a fake mustache with subtitles about his hemorrhoids; the band playing in prison uniforms; the list continues but you get the point.

It's a mystery, then, that Airheads isn't omnipresent in the way that pictures of girls who are naked in places where they shouldn't be naked are omnipresent. The best barometer of tumblr success is the existence of a "Fuck Yeah ____" blog; as far as I can tell, there is no Fuck Yeah Airheads. (There are "Fuck Yeah" tumblrs for, among other things, candy, dreadlocks, Fight Club, hot girls, hot boys, Glee, dykes, and Chron's disease.)

There are two possible explanations for this. A: The internet doesn't like Airheads, presumably because it is a bad movie. This is possible, except when has quality control ever stopped the internet from embracing anything? Thus we're left with option B: The internet doesn't really know about Airheads. This seems unlikely (doesn't the internet know about everything?), but a quick survey of my friends on tumblr just confirmed: They're mostly unfamiliar with the Airheads. In which case, if they ever get around to watching it, tumblr is in for a treat.

Hanson O'Haver is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Lou Reed's album with Metallica. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Degenerated" - The Lone Rangers (mp3)

"Curious George Blues" - Dig (mp3)

"Bastardizing Jellikit" - Primus (mp3)

"I'm the One" - 4 Non Blondes (mp3)

 

Friday
Oct012010

In Which It Feels The Same But Different Somehow

Half-Awake

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Boardwalk Empire

creator Terence Winter

The list of things that would never have existed without The Sopranos grows longer by the day. Mad Men, Ryan Gosling, the Brown University class "Middlemarch & The Sopranos," Michael Imperioli's career, 326 instances of James Gandolfini having sex with women, some of my fashion choices during 1998, and now Boardwalk Empire. People enjoy comparing these shows to novels, and since novels usually have terrible beginnings, we shouldn't be surprised that Terence Winter's version of the Roman myth begins slowly. As someone remarked, they should have just had a title card that said "Prohibition Begins."

Let's not let that discourage us from what appears to be an astonishing new show with a few severe but not unfixable problems. No one remembers that the first season of The Sopranos was a cartoonish melange compared to what followed. You usually need a season to work out the kinks in a concept, although Weeds only needed one season to completely ruin one.

Fictional depictions of historical life either adhere devoutly to realism or descend into wild fantasy. No one can take anything Chuck Bass says seriously anymore, but in contrast Boardwalk Empire seems fairly keen on not having anyone wear out his welcome. Many Gentiles struggled to tell the faces of the Italian foot soldiers apart in Winter's previous television effort, and there are no shortish of burly, mustachioed guys here. Al Capone looks more like a NJ extra than a crime lord on the come.

But no matter — you can always recast, or just kill people off, especially when one of those people is being played by Gretchen Mol. (Unfortunately for a lot of people, you can't kill off Al Capone.) The number one problem foreseen with Boardwalk Empire was whether audiences could tolerate Steve Buscemi's pasty face, and it's generally been concluded that he's at least competent in the role. Here's what I don't understand — other actors gain and lose weight for roles, and Joaquin Phoenix performs an accidental bj on Casey Affleck for the sake of his art, and yet Buscemi can't hit the tanning salon on the way to the set?

In The Sopranos Buscemi played a convict relation to Tony who returned to the family as an awkward accoutrement not long for this world. (They had smuggled his character's semen out of jail, and it became two twin boys. Remind you of anyone?) Here he is the most permanent fixture of life, a googly-eyed reproduction of a boss that is itself new enough to garner our attention. The fact that the real life Nucky Johnson more resembles James Gandolfini is a sad reminder that life is not usually as novel as it appears on television.

Does Boardwalk Empire attempt a simulacra of the period in which its action rests? Occasionally; but it is more insistent on a steampunk aesthetic that makes its denizens more like aliens than real folk. The show's real protagonist is Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a up-and-coming thug who returned from the first World War lacking a healthy fear of death. His relationship with his wife is easily the highlight of the show so far, as she is the proto-New Jersey Jew and they get along in a funny way.

Sopranos production designer Bob Shaw creates a wonderworld of unlikely lighting and subtly changed interiors given the limitations of stage sets to represent entire whorls: Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago, the three centers of crime. When Buscemi's Nucky hits the boardwalk, it's more reminiscent of Disney's hotel than the actual degrading atmosphere of that troubled city, but let's face it, the bright and pastel fantasy is more interesting than the reality.

So it is with much of the milieu. When Boardwalk Empire gets historical, or tries to make fun jokes for tenured professors with unique portrayals of Lucky Luciano and gags about Arnold Rothstein fixing the 1919 World Series, it gets a little bogged down by its details, letting the background of the characters speak more loudly than their actions in the drama. Then again, part of the fun of The Sopranos was constant set-up with unexpected payoff — it was never too certain if your favorite hood was going to make it through another episode or become the next boss.

Deadwood experimented with the same time-shifting, and gradually morphed from hard-boiled western to a gaudy fantasy world of death. Boardwalk Empire is violent, but death and dying is not savored in a sadomachistic way. Wildness is celebrated, is cherished, as an expression of freedom. Once you start dating a call girl and gambling in the six figures every night (adjusted for inflation) a lot of joy is sucked out of things, a happiness that can only be regained by continuing to behave as if nothing else mattered. These are the feelings even a contemporary journey to Atlantic City invariably elicits.

Nucky rules the roost, taking kickbacks from every commissioner in his bureaucracy. Jimmy is his driver, and when he meets up with his mirror image in Chicago Al Capone, blood runs thick. Scorsese shoots the whole thing exactly the same way he would have in 1988, adjusting for inflation. Actually the Ray Liotta of 20 years ago would be a great add here. As in all Scorsese productions, the unattainable women are blondes and your sister and wife are brunettes.

The show is already better at creating convincing storylines for its women than its northern NJ cousin. It was genius to cast No Country for Old Men's Kelly MacDonald as a battered wife in Nucky's parish seduced by his power. Her inclusion was a master stroke; things will likely improve when they discard her immigrant accent and have her journaling about how much she loves Henry James. Her romantically-challenged storyline with Enoch has yet to be very convincing. No matter how many times they show Steve Buscemi pleasuring a woman, it never gets any easier to believe.

The rest is easy to fabricate, because our ideas of these times is already bound up in films like The Untouchables. (Mamet's influence on the dialogue is almost painful.) The way of speaking is neither too foreign or too modern, and the show takes advantage of the fact that modernity lurks 75 years in the future in Bill Gates' garage. Misunderstandings and isolated incidents affect life in unexpected ways. The freedom of doing whatever you want during a restrictive time in America is literally intoxicating.

Sometimes we forget how restrictive the society we live in now is. It's disappointing to live in a world where there is not more than an outside chance you will not be caught after committing a murder. The inherent chaos of perpetrating crime in this context creates a sprawling pastiche of action and character that is unlike even Boardwalk Empire's obvious progenitors.

Comparing any television show to a novel is an unserious analogy. No novel written in this period or any other had the luxury of so much action or such a spread of characters. Boardwalk Empire is more reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, an epic poem with many individual endings and stories.

Eventually the show will focus on who really possesses power — basically men in ballrooms stroking dogs — and will soon become a not-very-veiled attack on the indiscretions of the financial industry. All shows about criminals seek to prove that the taint of crime touches every sphere of life. It is tough to equate the actions of America's early entrepreneurs with offenses against the SEC. The first was the inevitable byproduct of the wild American economy, the second was the inevitable failure of a bureaucracy that was itself unregulated in a regulated industry.

In fact, there is a great danger in judging the past by the standards of the present. We live perpetually with the idea that this is the only age, but in reality the ancient Egyptians pursued the dream of flight and may have even constructed airplanes, the Indians of central America built massive suspension bridges, and indoor plumbing in Crete far predates the birth of Jesus. The tumultuous but vibrant life of another America is proof that these times look straight at their antecedents, not down at them. We have come not far at all.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about the double life of James Tiptree Jr. He tumbls here and twitters here.

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"Don't Wake the Dead" - Guards (mp3)

"Crystal Truth" - Guards (mp3)

"Long Time" - Guards (mp3)

Time Has Been Kind To You My Friend