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We Peaked On The Phone
by Molly Lambert
Since Alex is spearheading a movement to review bad forgotten romantic comedies that are several years out of date, and since This Recording is always on a quest to understand why Hollywood has such a hard time making a decent romantic comedy, or any kind of decent romance for that matter, unless it stars The Joker and Bubble Boy as cowgays, and since often a bad film can tell you much more about the mechanics of success than a good one I have taken it upon myself to review Cameron Crowe’s 2005 film Elizabethtown.
Bubble Boy: The Original WALL*E
It’s a little stupifying that a silent comedy about robots packed more emotion than any of the talky rom-coms that might somewhat better mirror actual life. Also, I had dumb bone to pick with the fact that WALL*E is a junky Bender robot and his love interest is a sleek sexy iPod thing. Can we say “out of your league”?
“It’s kinda like Knocked Up, but with robots”
I know it’s a throwback to Chaplin in The Little Tramp. In his films sometimes actually fell in love with girls whose economic station was the same as his own, like in City Lights. In real life, he was kind of a sex addict with a thing for much younger girls.
“I’m sorry Charlie. I”m just not that into you.”
I don’t think ephebophilia is a direct criteria for genius, but certainly a lot of the greatest directors (and artists, musicians, etc.) have also had some of the most fucked up sex lives. There’s definitely not no connection between wanting to play god with a camera and thinking it’s a great idea to marry your dead wife’s twenty year old sister (that would be Peter Bogdanovich)
Deadpan: good for comedy, bad for marriage
Buster Keaton married a nurse from a psychiatric hospital he stayed in. Some of my favorite directors are pederasts (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen). Even if Hitchcock never cheated once on Mrs. Hitchcock, you do not look at that guy’s canon and go “now there is a dude with a healthy set of sexual standards for women.”
“Do you think you could act more icy and removed?”
You could chalk all this up to an “appetite for life” if you think that’s a worthy excuse for deviant behavior by geniuses, (it is not). An inability to follow The Golden Rule may satisfy in the short term but inevitably causes existential horror and terminal aloneness in the long. The common thread here is that all of these dudes are enormously narcissistic Falstaffian personalities.
Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire: “I swallowed your cum!“
For these directors, their appetite for sex is an outgrowth of their appetite for acclaim, for drink and illicit substances, for foodstuffs. Orson Welles’s daily dinner during Citizen Kane included a whole pineapple, triple pistachio ice-cream and a full bottle of scotch. (Yum.) These directors are great, perhaps, precisely because they are such Caligulan figures, such Nietzschean Supermen.
“God that’s hilar Lloyd. You are so dull. Let’s make out.”
You would never say that about Cameron Crowe. No, Cameron Crowe espouses a gentler, more insidious, shall we say more emosogynist approach to women. He wants to be both earnest and cool, populist and a cult favorite, a nice guy and a golden god of sex. If he were a band he’d be Coldplay. And when you look back at his work, it seems clear that this has always been his deal.
Alex’s fave actress Kate Hudson preps to eat yr soul
Crowe’s ambition to be a great American director reached a frothy boil in Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, and then collapsed like a sad soufflé in his two tremendous misfires of followups, (science fiction abortion) Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown. Like Jersey Girl, Crowe’s Elizabethtown is a film about failure that is itself a complete failure, which in its total ineptitude becomes an interesting relic of half-formed ideas and attempts.
Elizabethtown and Jersey Girl both begin with the protagonist’s career collapsing in on itself. In Jersey Girl, it is a misguided assessment of Will Smith’s bankability that sets off Affleck’s downward spiral. In Elizabethtown, the horrifically miscast Orlando Bloom takes the blame for a failed shoe launch at a Nike-like company headed by Alec Baldwin, one of the few bright spots.
Orlando Bloom is spectacularly wrong for the part of Crowe’s loserly everyman, and word on the street was that he filled in at the last minute for first two choices Jimmy Fallon and Ashton Kutcher, who both proved themselves (unsurprisingly, one might say) unable to act whatsoever in a dramatic context.
Because tiny Englishman Bloom is so miscast as Kentuckian industrial designer Drew Baylor, he adds a strange transparent quality to the film. His performance is so perfunctory and passive as to become invisible, which makes Elizabethtown seem at times like a first-person-shooter rom-com. In being so very bland, he draws attention to the central problem of Crowe’s films.
Cameron Crowe’s male main characters are always ciphers. Expressing a minimum of personality and a maximum burden of expectation, they seek out the company of a female who will somehow justify them and their existence. They often start the film embroiled in a relationship with an unstable Slutty Girl with a catch phrase, Kelly Preston in Jerry Maguire’s “Never stop fucking me!“, Jessica Biel’s “It was real, and it was great, and it was really great”, Cameron Diaz in Vanilla Sky‘s “I swallowed your cum!“
“I enjoy sex and have a personality, and so I must be destroyed”
After summarily dumping the Slutty Girl, they get to quickly plunge into a tremblingly meaningful relationship with the wispy, sometimes wayward, yet basically devoid of any bad moods or qualities whatsoever Good Girl (Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane, Renee Zellweger’s Dorothy, Penelope Cruz’s Sofia, Ione Skye’s Diane Court) who teaches them how to live/appreciate life.
“I have no personality or life, and I’ve never even seen a penis!”
The legacy of Say Anything, in which a totally boring guy decides he should date the most popular (and also boring, but smoking hot) girl in school in order to somehow justify his own medioctrity, can be seen at its most full blown in Zach Braff’s Garden State. Other perpetrators are Wes Anderson, who generally throws the “foreign girl” wrench into the mix, Kevin Smith, who adds lots of homosocial gay subtext, and parts of Judd Apatow’s oeuvre.
“Just making you a multi-volume scrapbook and mix CDs”
In Elizabethtown, all the gimmicks that worked so well in Almost Famous are trotted out only to flop around like dying fish. There are long sequences set to music that are meant to evoke emotion, and instead only evoke the cognitive dissonance of having the soundtrack and what you are seeing onscreen not match up at all with what you are actually feeling. It is truly bizarre.
The worst part of the film (and that is saying a lot) is Susan Sarandon’s eulogy for her dead husband, which she delivers to a packed house of mourners. During her speech, the crowd seems to experience a cathartic release of laughter which turns into tears of joy for the whole mad business of living. And yet, nothing Sarandon says is remotely funny, touching, or true.
Watching the funeral guests collapsing in fits of tear-stained laughter as she tells a totally bizarre but never humorous anecdote about a neighbor’s erection, Elizabethtown becomes like Brecht or Godard. The spectator feels utterly divorced from what the characters in the film seem to be experiencing given that they are witnessing the same exact onscreen events that you are.
The same effect occurs throughout, as in its two overlong mix-tapey montages which are meant to demonstrate Drew falling in love with Claire, Kirsten’s Dunst’s “kooky” good girl, a flight attendant he met on the way there. We know they’re falling in love because the soundtrack and editing tells us so, but it doesn’t reflect any real feelings we get from the dull characters or choppy contextless dialogue. Josh Schwartz’s TV shows also do this.
acting out Bob Dylan covers in alternate virtual realities is the height of spontaneous romance am I rite?
Crowe’s fetish for quirky stewardesses seemed less weird somehow when Zooey Deschanel played one in Almost Famous. Here it feels forced, patently unreal, faker than Dunst’s Southern accent. The implausible dream girl naturally has no life of her own, preferring to spend her time bonding in late night gab seshes with Bloom like a sugared up preteen who just got her first cell phone.
an entire generation of Cinderellas and no glass slipper.
When she’s not showing up suddenly to encourage our incredibly passive hero with broad blank platitudes about life, she is making him creepy scrapbooks and ten volume mix-tapes to take on his road-trip through the South back to his home. She is in no way an actual human She is merely a collection of quotes and clothes and half-baked Amélie quirks. She could be a blogger persona.
“OMG NO WAI! That’s MY favorite band too!”
In short, Crowe’s girls are not so much people as they are a fantasy every-girl who will be utterly consumed in The Nice Guy’s problems without ever presenting any conflicts of her own. They exist solely to validate his existence, and in actual life they just plain don’t exist. They are as real as a Real Doll. A harmless male fantasy that is not really harmless at all, just as harmful as encouraging women to think that someday their prince will come.
Lloyd Dobler = The Original Trenchcoat Mafia
In Say Anything, the best moments (besides Jeremy Piven’s) all belong to Lili Taylor’s character, Lloyd’s jilted misanthrope of a female best friend who wants to spend the graduation party singing all the songs she wrote about her ex. In some alternate better movie, she’d get involved with John Cusack’s character instead of the bland, charismaless Diane Court.
Corey Flood = The Female Duckie
Elizabethtown also contains the seedling of a better unmade movie, one that would be about the hometown best friend character played by Paul Schneider (of disputably emosogynist classic All The Real Girls) and his father, played by Rufus-sirer/songsmith/Apatow rep player Loudon Wainwright III.
Paul Schneider: All The Real Sideburns
The relationship between these two characters, Loudon’s insistence to his son that one cannot be both parent and friend to one’s kids and Schneider’s attempts to prove him wrong by acting as peer to his own young child, provides the few sparks that the movie manages to generate. One wishes the film were about them, instead of Bloom and Dunst, whose dialogue and soundtrack-propelled no-mance are like reading a Tumblr feed.
Some Inane Inspirational Quotes From “Claire”
“Men see things in a box, and women see them in a round room.”
“I’m hard to remember, but I’m impossible to forget.”
“I want you to get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that’s happened.”
“I’m completely cool with anything you want to say or not say.”
“I mean everybody’s got to take a road trip, at least once in their lives. Just you and some music.”
“Sadness is easier because it’s surrender. I say make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
“Some music needs air. Roll down your window.”
Claire Colburn: I think I’ve been asleep most of my life.
Drew Baylor: Me too.
Drew Baylor: I see you right there. I see you right there.
Claire Colburn: There you are.
Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls here.
“Snowy Atlas Mountains” – Fionn Regan (mp3)
“Put A Penny in the Slot” – Fionn Regan (mp3)
“The Cowshed” – Fionn Regan (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING:
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Harry Potter Has An Inexpensive Outlet for His Sexuality
by Eleanor Morrow
Secret Diary of a Call Girl
creator Lucy Prebble
Being a star in England is sort of like being a mobster in New Jersey – your influence ranges far and wide, but it ends at the Holland Tunnel. In the case of Billie Piper, that notoriety takes her as far as the Chunnel.
Yet the one-time pop singer chose a fairly gratifying career trajectory. Once she began acting in earnest she starred in the remake of the long-running science fiction program Doctor Who. The only thing more baffling than people enjoying Doctor Who was the inexplicable popularity in the same quarters of Heroes.
Then she went from scifi babe to taking her clothes off every week on Showtime. It would be like if the telepath from Star Trek: The Next Generation did DVDA. (Did she?)
The show in question is Secret Diary of a Call Girl. It airs on Showtime in “The States” as Europeans term our country, because otherwise no one would be able to understand their pronunciation of United. Sorry! I think the wounds from the whole taxation without representation thing are still a bit raw.
Nevertheless, this is an export that is much appreciated. Belle/Hannah is a lady of the night. She used to have a very well-mannered female pimp who still calls her from time to time. She also keeps a journal, which I can’t think is a good idea for any reason. In one episode, she was even approached by a reporter — as if not cooperating with one would actually bury the story of her banging a married politician! Things are so much chiller in London — the weather, for example.
Then she struck out on her own, and through the course of the show she’s gotten herself into plenty of sticky situations. Although you never get to see whatever it is that comes out of men’s penises when they’re excited, you do get to see quite a bit of Billie Piper. She reminds me of your too promiscuous college roommate, or she reminds you of your mother. Neither is a flattering comparison.
As with any person’s naked self, this begins to grow a bit boring after awhile. Belle is always sexing herself up in some new way. She really makes sex for money a colorful affair, kind of like a detective getting all the interesting cases. And yet, the rest of the time, she’s seemingly normal, usually crowing about just how normal she is except for her job.
Then she meets Alex. She introduces herself to him in a hotel bar thinking that he is a trick she’s supposed to bang. Her forward-thinking approach works well on the young doctor, before she opens the envelope of cash he’s given her and realizes its his passport and identification for a job interview.
He asks her for her number, and she relents. They have an awkward first date and before long they are a regular couple. The handsome young doc and his Belle. Soon enough, it begins to haunt her. She must tell him. She must tell him. She must tell him.
In the season’s climactic moment, Alex walked in on her having sex with a paraplegic. Instead of recognizing the nobility of finding your girlfriend engaged in such an act, he freaked out a lot. He calls Belle a whore, as if she had been unaware of what she was. He is disgusted by her.
I’m not sure I could ever be reconciled to a person who behaves like Alex did, and I’m sure Belle should know better. Worse than being a prostitute it seems, is disapproving of them. It’s a one-two punch that might not make these two the perfect couple, but hey, they’re trying.
Eleanor Morrow is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about another Showtime series, The United States of Tara.
“Ready, Able” – Grizzly Bear (mp3)
“I Live With You” – Grizzly Bear (mp3)
“Two Weeks” – Grizzly Bear (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Games without frontiers.
You need to stop it now.
The age of the avant-garde.
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A Generation of Canadian Media Culture
by Melanie Strong
Up here, where the secretive and unassuming Canadians live and breed, generations have been raised on Saturday morning cartoons and after dinner sitcoms. In that, myself and my fellow Canucks are no different than any other Westernized country.
In fact, much of our collective cultural consciousness has been permanently altered by the broadcasted American stations to which we all tune in. Our childhoods and our childrens’ hoods are filled with NBC, HBO and Dan Rather’s eyebrows.
Knowing full well that a country is only as patriotic and tax-paying as its media makes it, a lovely concept called Cancon was created to feed 50-60 percent Canadian content down our collective gullet on any Canadian broadcasting station.
This content often took the form of cheaply produced drama series, hastily concocted news programs and and even sketchier sketch comedy programs. Many of these attempts by our entertainment industry have been largely forgotten. It has become the shorts in between these and other shows which would come to define us as a culture. Our childhoods predominantly featured renditions of the song “Don’t Put It In Your Mouth” and the awareness that drugs are sometimes bad and that we should ask our mom or ask our dad.
Don’t you put it in your mouth / Don’t stuff it in your face / Though it might look good to eat / And it might look good to taste / You could get sick / Real quick / ICK!
Drugs, drugs drugs! / Which are good? /Which are bad? / Ask your mom or ask your dad!
Such sage advice can be attributed solely to an organization called Concerned Children’s Advertisers. The CCA is responsible for over thirty public service announcements that predominated my awareness of the dangers of the world around me. If it weren’t already known that the 1980s were drug-fueled (see: He-Man), I would have guessed it anyway from the amount of anti-drug advertising that seeped into my brain. Speaking of drugs and brains, check out your brain on drugs:
Perhaps, for me, one of the most touching commercials of my youth comes from the CCA and also deals with the effect of drugs. Using The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, this public service announcement (PSA) shows the difficulties of dealing with a drug-addicted friend:
Still makes me all girly-eyed.
As well as all of these anti-drug commercials mave have worked on us (they didn’t), the PSAs also focused on bullying, self-image and abuse. Check out more here.
Not everything on TV is real.
The War Amps of Canada are an organization originally created to help veterans who had lost limbs in the line of duty. It eventually evolved to provide financial and social support to all amputees. As part of this, the War Amps took it upon themselves to do educational outreach about safety, to hopefully reduce the amount of accidents experienced by Canadians each year.
“I am Astar. I am a robot. I can put my arm back on. You can’t. Play safe.”
Our government, in an effort to prevent obesity and heart disease (so as to not clog up our wonderful universal health care – NB: didn’t work) created a program, in association with Health Canada, called Participaction.
There’s nothing quite like vintage claymation.
Keep fit and have fun, with Hal Johnson & Joanne Mcleod!
Aside from warning us of the dangers of our lifestyle, Canadian advertisers and the government decided to educate the toque-wearing masses.
Hinterland Who’s Who catches a frazzled mind’s attention immediately with its haunting lone flute introducing the latest indigenous animal deserving of thirty seconds of undivided attention.
The beaver. We used to hunt ‘em some good.
The Muskox, Canada’s ton-ton.
And, ahhhhh, Canadian history. Heritage Moment quotations can still be heard echoing through drunken kitchen parties from Vancouver to Cape Breton (that is, coast to coast).
“Dr. Penfield, Dr. Penfield, I smell burnt toast!”
Guess what you didn’t know about Canada?
Finally, the National Film Board –long a saviour of independent filmmakers and animators nationwide – is responsible for the epitome of the Canadian mythos:
The Log Driver’s Waltz: This is rendition performed by the McGarrigle Sisters (Kate McGarrigle is the mother of solo artists Martha Wainwright and Rufus Wainwright.)
Canadian Content for This Recording:
“Far Away” – Martha Wainwright (mp3)
“Mostly Waving” – Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton (mp3)
“Consumption” – Laura Barrett (mp3)
“Kennedy Killed the Hat (Dance Remix)” – MSTRKRFT (mp3)
“You Can Heal” – The Heavy Blinkers (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Molly explored the fifties TV angle.
We gave you a lil’ mixtape.
When you’re with me, I’m free.
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by Molly Lambert
Just because The L Word is over doesn’t mean you’re at a loss for hot same-sex television pairings. Forget the endless seduction wankfest that is Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf, it’s all about the tender loving care made manifest by Blair and Serena.
OMG CUTEFEST ON THE MET STEPS, AND NO BOYZ!!!
In the wake of so many bromosocial movies and sitcoms and fan-fiction about threesomes between Obama, Joe Biden, and Rahm Emmanuel, we have no choice but to champion an alternative sisterly kind of love. A deep feminine bond.
If you’re in the dark about “shipping” and what it means for a Big Love fan to “ship” Barb and Margene, you can learn up at Fan Secrets. Unless you’d rather just not know about the dark underbelly of the internet. It’s a strange and deviant world.
Blair: “sorry Chuck. I love you but I’ve chosen dykeness.”
Kanye And The Real Girl
In a time when the economy is crumbling and heterosexual relationships are fraught with violence, who can be blamed for taking safe refuge in the (beautiful in totally different ways) bosoms of rich and fashionable fictional socialites.
power lesbians Amber Rose and Pink planning a business lunch
Kanye’s girl got a (ex) girlfriend
Pretty sure Amber Rose’s ex girl could take Kanye in a fight.
Perpetual belle of twitter John Mayer has a man-boner for Kanye, likes sex and he’s good at it.
channeling Lady Gaga and Archie Andrews
Beyonce and Bey-Z, the ultimate in being a diva
Kelly Clarkson’s new single “I Do Not Hook Up” is about eschewing casual sex in favor of a longer lasting emotional connection. It was written by Katy Perry, of last year’s bisexual crossover hit “I Kissed A Girl.”
I’m a ninth wave feminist. What does that mean? You’ll find out when you get here. Get on my level, womyn.
Other Gay Couples We Like:
Steve Buscemi and Paul Rudd (kute!!!)
Jason Segel and Alex Carnevale’s favorite actor Jack McBrayer
Jason Segel and Paul Rudd do “Dracula’s Lament”
Back in the dull heteronormative world, Emily Gould convinced me to resurrect my short-lived but remarkably successful (thank u Ed Westwick fans!) ladyporn venture Mrs. Skin, now with her contributions. So if you are a straight girl or gay dude or bisexual octopus person come check out our gallery of hot menfolk. Occasionally NSFW.
Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording
YOWWWWWW KELLY CLARKSON!
I Do Not Hook Up – Kelly Clarkson: (mp3)
Don’t Let Me Stop You – Kelly Clarkson: (mp3)
Long Shot – Kelly Clarkson: (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING:
This Recording Is A Boston Marriage Between Equals
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It Was So Real There For Awhile
by Alex Carnevale
dir. Zack Snyder
American history begins in 1776, predated slightly by the discovery of barbarism. Most cultures bask in their refinement and sophistication. Americans have a love-hate affair with the idea of being brutes. Since we are ignorant of other history not our own, we tend to think of ourselves as more powerful and destructive than we really were.
This is the attitude of Alan Moore. He is never named in the 2 hours and 43 minutes that comprises Zack Snyder’s film version of his graphic novel, but he is in every scene.
To the British-born Moore, as to many others of his generation, the governmental excesses of the Cold War era (specifically U.S. excesses) were just another example of how nasty and cold we could be to those who stood in our way.
The man who is murdering all the superheroes of the World War II – Vietnam period in Watchmen shares this perception. It is rare you have a film that sympathizes to some extent with its primary villain. And that is just the beginning of the things Alan Moore did that made Watchmen the finest superhero comic of all time.
Snyder has resisted altering any of the original’s details, and his is a devoted portrait of a time and place in alternate American history. In this version of reality, we have won World War II and Vietnam by the virtue of these superbeings fighting in our stead, and now, in the 1980s, we have turned on those to who we owe so much. No director has had so much fun with the World Trade Center towers since Oliver Stone.
Rorschach getting his grub on
The personages of Watchmen are what burn brightest. Individual issues of the comic tended to focus on the detailed origin stories of each member of the drama, and how they got to whatever miserable post-heroic existence we found them in. Moore used a narrator, Rorschach, whose origins are maliciously recalled with great zest in the film version. With two separate unreliable narrations, Watchmen likely made Richard Roeper pee his pants and call his mommy.
Even more scandalous to our modern superhero sensibilities is the raping, killing behavior of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s The Comedian. He’s not even a villain, and he’s about a hundred times worse than Heath Ledger’s castrated Joker. He is splendid in the role and he gets even more attention than he did in the graphic novel. The Comedian is Hunter S. Thompson and George Patton all rolled into one.
carla gugino before the worst make-up job of the modern era
Also buoyed by the limitations of film is Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre. Her rounded ass and high breasts invade every scene, though she’s more Anna Faris than Michelle Pfeiffer. At the very least she didn’t have to endure the production team’s horrific attempt at age makeup, as Carla Gugino did as Malin’s mother. Ackerman is no great beauty, but her old school body does have a certain timelessness, and you have to admire the actress who will get naked in a movie where she’s half-nude the rest of the time.
not having exposed thighs is one of the major tenets of firefighting
Then there’s Dr. Manhattan. Turned into an all powerful blue superbeing by the vagaries of modern science, Dr. Manhattan is a literal Deus Ex Machina, and the most enjoyable God in comics since Galactus. Most of the New York City audience viewing Watchmen spend most of the time staring at Billy Crudup’s blue, special effects addled schlong. Better to focus on that then the maudlin dialogue. We’re missing the small moments of Manhattan’s life, but then, something had to go from the original.
never go back to a defraction chamber to get your watch, never
A large portion of the film focuses on the history of the characters, subsuming the simple murder mystery of the present. The trick is old hat, but Alan Moore’s level of detail gives it new life. For those of us who already knew these characters as well as we did ourselves, the implosion of Billy Crudup into Dr. Manhattan is like the E! True Hollywood Story reenactment of something that really occurred.
There’s so much going on in the mise-en-scène of Watchmen that’s hard to keep track. Director Zack Snyder was more than keen on replicating some of the most compelling images of the graphic novel (I suggested a few here); and there are four or five easter eggs in every frame. For the trained eye, the rewatch value is through the roof, but when A.O. Scott doesn’t understand something, he gets grumpy.
We owe the majority of the film’s criticisms to its terrible ending. They probably should have changed it from the comic book, because the rote destruction of major metropolises is now a serious cliché. That no one saves the day in Watchmen is not its only innovation, but that smart plot point gets lost in the exchange of dramatic exclamations.
Also wondrously out of place is a long sequence in which Silk Spectre and Nite Owl uses the Archimedes for firefighting and a post-rescue bang on the ship. This is a comic book excursion that puts aside the plot for the greater glory of giving the film some action. Snyder was of course damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. As it is, we may as well be watching the stop-motion comic they released before the film.
The violence, Snyder’s addition to the milieu, is beautiful and attention-grabbing. As terrible as 300 was, its director’s passion for bones splitting creatively impressed where the dialogue and story did not. This is the only thing that makes it a Zack Snyder movie, and while it’s fun to watch, there’s a problem.
Here every snap of femur is well-wrought — the only issue I have with the proclivity for the slo-mo violence is that when the film gets quiet and serious (and it is overly so when Dr. Manhattan brings his girlfriend to Mars), you want to laugh. Violence is just as beautiful as the surface of another planet, but in a work of art it’s no easy thing to put the two next to each other, and let the audience appreciate both.
This was the problem that kept Watchmen from the silver screen — not its deep complexity of vision or helter-skelter plot. The major challenge is tone.
Watchmen is both comedy and drama. Not only that: it is melodrama, it is serious art, it is slapstick comedy, it is irony and juxtaposition, it is superhero shtick and superhero opera. In one sense it is the funniest movie of its kind, and yet you cannot imagine a superhero movie taking itself this seriously since the depressing, boring The Dark Knight. Nothing so brightly colored has been this dark since Dick Tracy, from which Watchmen the movie takes much.
For all the critics who bash Watchmen, they’re missing the point. To them Alan Moore is just another superhero creator, with the same old origin stories colliding into a happy-ish ending. But for those of us whose brainflow was reversed by the complexity of Watchmen, this translation is our version of the good old days. We are watching heroes of a genre they invented, not characters in a made-up story. To those who already know the story, this version is a nostalgia rollercoaster.
Strangely, the Cold War has gone from a dark period of government distrust to a soaring period of moral clarity, where we could nobly be destroyed by a great evil instead of tearing ourselves apart.
Moore’s ideas about the future and the past were what made Watchmen so exciting, and if you don’t already know the story, you’ll spend most of the film’s 203 minutes figuring out who is who. (Better to read the comic first, in this case.) Beyond mere understanding are some wonderful futurist visions of what we might have become. The blunt lack of charm in the Nixon character obscures the more deft takes.
We see Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian winning the war in Vietnam; protesters calling for a return of the police to the streets; superheroes forcing each other into non-consensual sex, screwing up press conferences and causing collateral damage. In so many ways, still, this is not what our idealized heroes do.
Ours is a savage history, the British writer tells us, but we can be equally sure it is not the only history. We are today in a period of time in which no great number of losses on the battlefield is sustained, when fewer people go hungry than ever before, when the majority of human rights violations are seen before the world. We have already accomplished the ending of Watchmen, and we are still unhappy with the result. It sounded good in theory, but in practice it was two naked blue dudes tag-teaming us.
If a man from any century before the old twentieth saw how far we have come, he would wonder at the majesty of what his fellow beings have accomplished. Is it so quickly that we forget? Watchmen, on the page and on the screen, is the crucial reminder of what it took to get us here.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He lives in Manhattan. He tumbles here.
“You and I” – Jeff Buckley (mp3)
“I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby” – Jeff Buckley (mp3)
“New Year’s Prayer” – Jeff Buckley (mp3)
“Opened Once” – Jeff Buckley (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
The best superhero comics ever.
Me and M. Night.
The sequel shall be called Moonshade.
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from an issue of Granta magazine in the mid-1990s
The Case Against Babies
by Joy Williams
Babies, babies, babies. There’s a plague of babies. Too many rabbits or elephants or mustangs or swans brings out the myxomatosis, the culling guns, the sterility drugs, the scientific brigade of egg smashers. Other species can ‘strain their environments’ or ‘overrun their range’ or clash with their human ‘neighbours’, but human babies are always welcome at life’s banquet. Welcome, Welcome, Welcome–Live Long and Consume! You can’t draw the line when it comes to babies because . . . where are you going to draw the line?
Consider having none or one and be sure to stop after two the organization Zero Population Growth suggests politely. Can barely hear them what with all the babies squalling. Hundreds of them popping out every minute. Ninety-seven million of them each year. While legions of other biological life forms go extinct (or, in the creepy phrase of ecologists, ‘wink out’), human life bustles self-importantly on. Those babies just keep coming! They’ve gone way beyond being ‘God’s gift’; they’ve become entitlements. Everyone’s having babies, even women who can’t have babies, particularly women who can’t have babies–they’re the ones who sweep fashionably along the corridors of consumerism with their double-wide strollers, stuffed with twins and triplets. (Women push those things with the effrontery of someone piloting a bulldozer, which strollers uncannily bring to mind.)
When you see twins or triplets do you think awahhh or owhoo or that’s sort of cool, that’s unusual, or do you think that woman dropped a wad on in vitro fertilization, twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars at least . . . ?
The human race hardly needs to be more fertile, but fertility clinics are booming. The new millionaires are the hot-shot fertility doctors who serve anxious gottahavababy women, techno-shamans who have become the most important aspect of the baby process, giving women what they want: BABIES. (It used to be a mystery what women wanted, but no more . . . Nietzsche was right . . . ) Ironically–though it is far from being the only irony in this baby craze–women think of themselves as being successful, personally fulfilled when they have a baby, even if it takes a battery of men in white smocks and lots of hormones and drugs and needles and dishes and mixing and inserting and implanting to make it so. Having a baby means individual completion for a woman. What do boys have to do to be men? Sleep with a woman. Kill something. Yes, killing something, some luckless deer, duck, bear, pretty much anything large-ish in the animal kingdom, or even another man, appropriate in times of war, has ushered many a lad into manhood. But what’s a woman to do? She gets to want to have a baby.
While much effort has been expended in Third World countries educating women into a range of options which does not limit their role merely to bearing children, well-off, educated and indulged American women are clamouring for babies, babies, BABIES to complete their status. They’ve had it all and now they want a baby. And women over thirty-five want them NOW. They’re the ones who opt for the aggressive fertility route, they’re impatient, they’re sick of being laissez-faire about this. Sex seems such a laborious way to go about it. At this point they don’t want to endure all that intercourse over and over and maybe get no baby. What a waste of time! And time’s awasting. A life with no child would be a life perfecting hedonism a forty-something infertile woman said, now the proud owner of pricey twins. Even women who have the grace to submit to fate can sound wistful. It’s not so much that I wish that I had children now, a travel writer said, but that I wish I had had them. I hate to fail at anything. Women are supposed to wish and want and not fail. (Lesbians want to have babies too and when lesbians have babies watch out! They lay names on them like Wolf.)
The eighties were a decade when it was kind of unusual to have a baby. Oh, the lower classes still had them with more or less gusto, but professionals did not. Having a baby was indeed so quaintly rebellious and remarkable that a publishing niche was developed for men writing about babies, their baby, their baby’s first year in which every single day was recorded (he slept through the night . . . he didn’t sleep through the night . . . ). The writers would marvel over the size of their infant’s scrotum; give advice on how to tip the obstetrician (not a case of booze, a clock from Tiffany’s is nicer); and bemusedly admit that their baby exhibited intelligent behaviour like rolling over, laughing and showing fascination with the TV screen far earlier than normal children. Aside from the talk about the poopie and the rashes and the cat’s psychological decline, these books frequently contained a passage, an overheard bit of Mommy-to-Baby monologue along these lines: I love you so much I don’t ever want you to have teeth or stand up or walk or go on dates or get married. I want you to stay right here with me and be my baby . . . Babies are one thing. Human beings are another. We have way too many human beings. Almost everyone knows this.
Adoption was an eighties thing. People flying to Chile, all over the globe, God knows where, returning triumphantly with their BABY. It was difficult, adventurous, expensive and generous. It was trendy then. People were into adopting bunches of babies in all different flavours and colours (Korean, Chinese, part-Indian–part-Indian was very popular; Guatemalan–Guatemalan babies are way cute). Adoption was a fad, just like the Cabbage Patch dolls which fed the fad to tens of thousands of pre-pubescent girl consumers.
Now it is absolutely necessary to digress for a moment and provide an account of this marketing phenomenon. These fatuous-faced soft-sculpture dolls were immensely popular in the eighties. The gimmick was that these dolls were ‘born’; you couldn’t just buy the damn things–if you wanted one you had to ‘adopt’ it. Today they are still being born and adopted, although at a slower rate, in Babyland General Hospital, a former medical clinic right on the fast-food and car-dealership strip in the otherwise unexceptional north Georgia town of Cleveland.
There are several rooms at Babyland General. One of them is devoted to the premies (all snug in their little gowns, each in its own spiffy incubator) and another is devoted to the cabbage patch itself, a suggestive mound with a fake tree on it from which several times a day comes the announcement CABBAGE IN LABOUR! A few demented moments later, a woman in full nurse regalia appears from a door in the tree holding a brand-new Cabbage Patch Kid by the feet and giving it a little whack on the bottom. All around her in the fertile patch are happy little soft heads among the cabbages. Each one of these things costs $175, and you have to sign papers promising to care for it and treasure it forever. There are some cheesy dolls in boxes that you wouldn’t have to adopt, but children don’t want those–they want to sign on the line, want the documentation, the papers. The dolls are all supposed to be different but they certainly look identical. They’ve got tiny ears, big eyes, a pinched rictus of a mouth and lumpy little arms and legs. The colours of the cloth vary for racial verisimilitude, but their expressions are the same. They’re glad to be here and they expect everything.
But these are just dolls, of course. The real adopted babies who rode the wave of fashion into many hiply caring homes are children now, an entirely different kettle of fish, and though they may be providing (just as they were supposed to) great joy, they are not darling babies anymore. A baby is not really a child; a baby is a BABY, a cuddleball, representative of virility, wombrismo and humankind’s unquenchable wish to outfox Death.
Adoptive parents must feel a little out of it these days, so dreadfully dated in the nineties. Adoption–how foolishly sweet. It’s so Benetton, so kind of naive. With adopted babies, you just don’t know, it’s too much of a crap shoot. Oh, they told you that the father was an English major at Yale and that the mother was a brilliant mathematician and harpsichordist who was just not quite ready to juggle career and child, but what are you going to think when the baby turns into a kid who rather than showing any talent whatsoever is trying to drown the dog and set national parks on fire? Adoptive parents do their best, of course, at least as far as their liberal genes allow; they look into the baby’s background, they don’t want just any old baby (even going to the dog and cat pound you’d want to pick and choose, right?); they want a pleasant, healthy one, someone who will appreciate the benefits of a nice environment and respond to a nurturing and attentive home. They steer away (I mean, one has to be realistic, one can’t save the world) from the crack and smack babies, the physically and mentally handicapped babies, the HIV and foetal-alcoholic syndrome babies.
Genes matter, more and more, and adoption is just too . . . where’s the connection? Not a single DNA strand to call your own. Adoption signifies you didn’t do everything you could; you were too cheap or shy or lacked the imagination to go the energetic fertility route which, when successful, would come with the assurance that some part of the Baby or Babies would be a continuation of you, or at the very least your companion, loved one, partner, whatever.
I once prevented a waitress from taking away my martini glass which had a tiny bit of martini remaining in it, and she snarled, Oh, the precious liquid, before slamming it back down on the table. It’s true that I probably imagined that there was more martini in the glass than there actually was (what on earth could have happened to it all?) but the precious liquid remark brings unpleasantly to mind the reverent regard in which so many people hold themselves. Those eggs, that sperm, oh precious, precious stuff!
There was a terrible fright among humankind recently when some scientists suggested that an abundance of synthetic chemicals was causing lower sperm counts in human males–awful, awful, awful–but this proves not to be the case; sperm counts are holding steady and are even on the rise in New York. Los Angeles males don’t fare as well (do they drink more water than beer?), nor do the Chinese who, to add insult to insult, are further found to have smaller testicles, a finding which will undoubtedly result in even more wildlife mutilation in the quest for aphrodisiacs. Synthetic chemicals do ‘adversely affect’ the reproductive capabilities of non-human animals (fish, birds), but this is considered relatively unimportant. It’s human sperm that’s held in high regard and in this overpopulated age it’s become more valuable–good sperm that is, from intelligent, athletic men who don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, have AIDS or a history of homicide–because this overpopulated age is also the donor age. Donor sperm, donor womb, donor eggs. Think of all the eggs that are lost to menstruation every month.
Baby’s lineage can be a little complicated in this one big worldwebby family. With the help of drugs like Clomid and Perganol there are an awful lot of eggs out there these days-all being harvested by those rich and clever, clever doctors in a ‘simple procedure’ and nailed with bull’s-eye accuracy by a spermatozoon. One then gets to ‘choose’ among the resulting cell clumps (or the doctor gets to choose, he’s the one who knows about these things), and a number of them (for optimum success) are inserted into the womb, sometimes the mother’s womb and sometimes not. These fertilized eggs, unsurprisingly, often result in multiple possibilities, which can be decreased by ‘selective reduction’. They’re not calendar babies yet, they’re embryos, and it is at this point, the multiple possibility point, that the mother-to-be often gets a little overly ecstatic, even greedy, thinking ahead perhaps to the day when they’re not babies any longer, the day when they’ll be able to amuse themselves by themselves like a litter of kittens or something–if there’s a bunch of them all at once there’ll be no need to go through that harrowing process of finding appropriate playmates for them. She starts to think Nannies probably don’t charge that much more for three than for two or heaven knows we’ve got enough money or we wouldn’t have gotten into all this in the first place. And many women at the multiple-possibility point, after having gone through pretty much all the meddling and hubris that biomedical technology has come up with, say demurely, I don’t want to play God (I DON’T WANT TO PLAY GOD?) or It would be grotesque to snuff one out to improve the odds for the others or Whatever will be will be.
So triplets happen, and even quads and quints (network television is still interested in quints). And as soon as the multiples, or even the less prestigious single baby, are old enough to toddle into daycare, they’re responsibly taught the importance of their one and only Earth, taught the 3Rs–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Too many people (which is frequently considered undesirable–gimme my space!) is caused by too many people (it’s only logical) but it’s mean to blame the babies, you can’t blame the babies, they’re innocent. Those poor bean counters at the United Nations Population Fund say that at current growth rates, the world will double its population in forty years. Overpopulation poses the greatest threat to all life on earth, but most organizations concerned with this problem don’t like to limit their suggestions to the most obvious one–DON’T HAVE A BABY!–because it sounds so negative. Instead, they provide additional, more positive tips for easing the pressures on our reeling environment such as car pooling or tree planting. (A portion of the proceeds from that adorable bestselling BABIES calendar goes to the Arbor Day Foundation for the planting of trees.)
Some would have it that not having a baby is disallowing a human life, horribly inappropriate in this world of rights. Everyone has rights; the unborn have rights; it follows that the unconceived have rights. (Think of all those babies pissed off at the fact that they haven’t even been thought of yet.) Women have the right to have babies (we’ve fought so hard for this), and women who can’t have babies have an even bigger right to have them. These rights should be independent of marital or economic status, or age. (Fifty- and sixty-something moms tend to name their babies after the gynaecologist.) The reproduction industry wants fertility treatments to be available to anyone and says that it wouldn’t all be so expensive if those recalcitrant insurance companies and government agencies like Medicare and Medicaid weren’t so cost-conscious and discriminatory and would just cough up the money.
It’s not as though you have to take out a permit to have a baby, be licensed or anything. What about the rights of a poor, elderly, feminist cancer patient who is handicapped in some way (her car has one of those stickers . . . ) who wants to assert her right to independent motherhood and feels entitled to both artificial insemination into a gestational ‘hostess’ and the right to sex selection as a basis for abortion should the foetus turn out to be male when she wants a female? Huh? What about her? Or what about the fifteen-year-old of the near future who kind of wants to have her baby even though it means she’ll be stuck with a kid all through high school and won’t be able to go out with her friends any more who discovers through the wonders of amniocentesis and DNA analysis that the baby is going to turn out fat, and the fifteen-year-old just can’t deal with fat and shouldn’t have to . . . ? Out goes the baby with the bathwater.
But these scenarios are involved merely with messy political or ethical issues, the problematical, somewhat gross by-products of technological and marketing advances. Let the philosophers and professional ethicists drone on and let the baby business boom. Let the courts figure it out. Each day brings another more pressing problem. Implanted with their weak-cervixed daughter’s eggs and their son-in-law’s sperm, women become pregnant with their own grandchildren; frozen embryos are inadvertently thawed; eggs are pirated; eggs are harvested from aborted foetuses; divorced couples battle over the fate of cryopreserved material. ‘We have to have better regulation of the genetic product–eggs, sperm and embryos–so we can legally determine who owns what,’ a professor of law and medicine at a California university says plaintively. (Physicians tend to oppose more regulation however, claiming that it would ‘impede research’.)
While high-tech nations are refining their options eugenically and quibbling litigiously, the inhabitants of low-tech countries are just having babies. The fastest growth in human numbers in all history is going to take place in a single generation, an increase of almost five billion people (all of whom started out as babies). Ninety-seven per cent of the surge is going to take place in developing countries, with Africa alone accounting for thirty-five per cent of it (the poorer the country, the higher the birth rate, that’s just the way it is). These babies are begotten in more ‘traditional’, doubtless less desperate ways, and although they are not considered as fashion statements, they’re probably loved just as much as upper-class western babies (or that singular one-per-family Chinese boy baby) and are even considered productive assets when they get a little older and can labour for the common good of their large families by exploiting more and more, scarcer and scarcer resources.
The argument that western countries with their wealth and relatively low birth rate do not fuel the population crisis is, of course, fallacious. France, as national policy, urges its citizens to procreate, giving lots of subsidies and perks to those French who make more French. The US population is growing faster than that of eighteen other industrialized nations and, in terms of energy consumption, when an American couple stops spawning at two babies, it’s the same as an average East Indian couple stopping at sixty-six, or an Ethiopian couple drawing the line at one thousand.
Yet we burble along, procreating, and in the process suffocating thousands of other species with our selfishness. We’re in a baby glut, yet it’s as if we’ve just discovered babies, or invented them. Reproduction is sexy. Assisted reproduction is cool. The announcement that a movie star is going to have a baby is met with breathless wonder. A BABY! Old men on their third marriage regard their new babies with ‘awe’ and crow about the ‘ultimate experience’ of parenting. Bruce Springsteen found ‘salvation’ with the birth of his son. When in doubt, have a baby. When you’ve tried it all, champagne, cocaine, try a baby. Pop icons who trudged through a decade of adulation and high living confess upon motherhood, This Baby Saved My Life. Bill Gates, zillionaire founder of Microsoft, is going to have (this is so wonderful) a BABY. News commentators are already speculating: will fatherhood take away his edge, his drive; will it diminish his will to succeed, to succeed, to succeed? National Public Radio recently interviewed other high-powered CEO dads as to that ghastly possibility.
It’s as though, all together, in the waning years of this dying century, we collectively opened the Door of our Home and instead of seeing a friend standing there in some sweet spring twilight, someone we had invited over for drinks and dinner and a lovely civilized chat, there was Death, with those creepy little black seeds of his for planting in the garden. And along with Death we got a glimpse of ecological collapse and the coming anarchy of an over-peopled planet. And we all, in denial of this unwelcome vision, decided to slam the door and retreat to our toys and make babies–those heirs, those hopes, those products of our species’ selfishness, sentimentality and global death wish.
“Tony Hart’s Revenge Theme” – Halves (mp3)
“Burial on a Windfarm” – Halves (mp3)
“Take Exact Revenge” – Halves (mp3)
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BB Winston Churchill Reads TR
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Minor Changes to a Formula
by Will Hubbard
Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling
The Museum of Modern Art, sixth floor
West lot, exterior, first floor
The children build them first. Shaved pine, notched and sanded, “interesting playthings typifying the Spirit of America.” On my grandmother’s rug, amid incessant sneezing, I was given the use of my father’s Lincoln Logs.
Cabins were boring, a castle or highway was more to the point; but only so much can be done with right angles, and after all, “the more logs a child has, the more things can be built.” If the pieces don’t fit together, they must be balanced upon one another. Imagination leads to instability, danger, and eventually a pile of rubble and a smile.
Older and richer, we turn toward customizability. The offer is familiar, communes of gently curving asphalt, white trim and light-hued siding. In being each one slightly different from the next, they achieve a paradoxically heightened, gross uniformity. Shallow matches of form and function parade as taste, suggesting that minor changes to a formula might satisfy the entire range of human needs.
Ipods were all exactly the same, no two iPhones will ever be. Which experience is more pleasurable?
And what if your house really did come in a box? I imagine long-stay travel, emergency housing, ephemeral communities in fields of hip-high, autumn-gold grass. How much variation could be found in the box, and could there be peace-of-mind—or better yet, release-of-mind—in your adult set of Lincoln Logs?
I wonder, too, if we are educating a citizenry that actually possesses the intuition, motivation, and time to discern what they could actually need in a dwelling? Doesn’t part of our joy in buying anything derive from the very notion that it’s just like the object other strangers are putting into their homes, into their mouths and heads? A remote though strangely intimate bond is created by the marketing of identical objects and ideas.
Frank Lloyd Wright got it right, of course. His American System-Built Houses were pre-cut in the factory; construction was assembly, pure and simple. And yet four drawings of these structures reveal little aesthetic uniformity—each has its particular elegance, and seems fitted to its site rather than to the drowsy whims of its financiers.
The poet and builder Robert Kocik once said something very interesting to me about his trade: that if it was very difficult to construct a dwelling, it would be very difficult to live there.
Sadly, it’s raining when I walk out to tour the Saran Wrap house. I am allowed to seek a moment’s calm shelter among its aluminum stilts, and the drops make no sound as they kiss the plastic windows above. I ask the guards, as though they’re real-estate agents, if I can take a quick look inside. They laugh to each other; they say “no way”. They say it is because of what might be tracked in on the soles of my feet.
Will Hubbard is the contributing editor to This Recording. This is his tumblr.
“Queen of the World” – Ida Marie (mp3)
“See Me Through” – Ida Marie (mp3)
“Oh My God” – Ida Marie (mp3)
“I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” – Ida Marie (mp3)
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Did you read Tyler’s piece?
It made our whole deployment!
Evil jellyfish attack.