In Which It Has Been Burning Since The World

In the Brush

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Firewatch
Campo Santo Games
PC, Playstation 4

Henry (Mad Men‘s Rich Sommer) has fled the world to become a fire lookout in a large national park. He looks like this:

Firewatch_20160209230737 copy.jpg

It is disgusting. Henry’s boss is a woman, Delilah (Cissy Jones). Henry is lonely because he sent his wife Julia to her native Australia because of early-onset dementia. He was tired of Julia blaming him for everything. At times, Henry seems confused about what exactly his wife’s problem was — is it Alzheimer’s? Dementia? Perhaps she was only seeing another another man. Julia was forty and they had been together for over a decade. It could be that Henry simply became tired of her.

Henry wants something new, and his boss’ throaty voice suffices. He flirts with her quite a bit, and she pretends to be receptive so they can get through the summer. If you try to take a cable car to see Delilah, she in no uncertain terms tells Henry that this is unsafe and she would not welcome this intrusion. The stunted relationship between Henry and Delilah is the core element of Firewatch, which was released this week on the PC and Playstation 4 console.

One of the creative minds behind Firewatch is Chris Remo, who was involved in a similar game that consisted of walking around different places and reading detailed notes that the characters in the story had written. This game was about teenage lesbians, and it was called Gone Home.

Walking through an empty house in the middle of the night offered a unique type of gameplay experience. There is something similarly creepy about playing through Firewatch; I guess part of it is that you are a ne’er-do-well sexist pig who was so turned off by your sick wife that you took this lonely job, and the other part is that you only see human beings twice in Firewatch.

The first time Henry is searching for two teenage girls setting off fireworks. They are skinny-dipping in the lake so Henry cannot get close to them. They tell him in no uncertain terms to stay away and explain what a creep he is for bothering them. Even though he is peeping them, he acts offended.

Later, Henry is told by Delilah that the girls have disappeared. He makes no effort to find them, and the two plot to conceal their knowledge of seeing the women.

The second person Henry sees in the startling wilderness of Firewatch is a man at the edge of a cliff, watching him. You see this man only once in the five hours it takes to complete the game, and it is scary that one time. Firewatch is not a game about that, though. It is not a game about being frightened, since its protagonist is a white male. It is a game about what is so frightening about everyone else.

The rest of the time in Firewatch you are utterly alone.

No one wants to see a sad movie, least of all me. The last sad television show that achieved any kind of actual success was probably Roots, I can’t think of anything else particularly depressing that people enjoyed. The Killing? Six Feet Under? Sadness is being eradicated from the film and television medium because it does not sell very well. It is up to video games to pick up the slack and treat these important themes with the respect and comprehensiveness that they deserve.

Chris Remo and the other developers that make up Campo Santo are not the only one fetishizing this kind of darkness. Other independent games have explored such new subjects as depression, the Holocaust and prison. Bringing new perspectives into game development has resoluted into so many different types of games than were available in the past. In the USC video game design program, women now outnumber men, and their games will probably be pretty depressing too, because being a woman and a video game designer involves interacting with a young, misogynistic group of individuals.

The resulting creative anarchy and internet blowback can make the VG industry very difficult to endure. But it is also an exciting time for producing this type of entertainment, since the financial and artistic rewards have never been greater. It used to be that only a few people and companies could produce high quality games, but now the democratization of programming tools ensures that those with the right technical know-how can realize their ideas with a small staff.

Firewatch feels like a narrative constructed by a small group of people rather than something focus-tested to death. The script is single-minded and compelling, if overly jokey at times. Writer Sean Vanaman left Telltale Games after working on their episodic choose-your-adventure style adaptation of The Walking Dead, and he brings a similar philosophy to Firewatch. Much like in Sean’s previous games, the interactive decisions you make are of no real consequence — it is more about the illusion of choice, the sensation of affecting how the characters behave.

An entire summer passes watching for fires, and avoiding getting into trouble. Henry is not the most sympathetic protagonist, and he projects misery at everything that happens to him. Paranoia grips him when he discerns someone is listening to the sexy conversations he and Delilah have been having over the walkie-talkie. The magnificent art direction in Firewatch, realized by artists Olly Moss and Jane Ng exceeds the depth of the characters. You forget about Henry and Delilah. It is just you yourself in a deadly, gorgeous landscape.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Surrender to Mountain” – GoGo Penguin (mp3)

In Which We Attend The Wagner Festival With Friends

Wolf and Kind

by ALEX CARNEVALE

In order to meet Hitler, Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford had to learn German. A lot of her friends were dating young storms, which was what they called the Nazi stormtroopers. She found a restaurant where Hitler sometimes ate. It was named Osteria Bavaria.

She was with her friend Derek Hill, in a Munich tea room with his mother, when Hitler strolled into the place from his black Mercedes. Her teacup shook. She nearly dropped it.

Diana and Unity at the Osteria

A month later, Hitler had one of his ostensible allies, Ernst Röhm, executed. Unity Valkyrie wrote to her sister Diana: “It must have been so dreadful for him when when he arrested Röhm himself. Then he went to arrest Heines and found him in bed with a boy. Did that get into the English papers? Poor Hitler.”

Diana Mitford was also learning German, in a Berlitz course. The sisters moved into a Munich hotel together. On Unity’s instructions they dined often at the Osteria, too shy to approach the great man. Whenever one of her brothers and sisters made it to Munich, she took them to a long lunch.

Soon Hitler could not help but notice this tall English girl who always seemed to be having her meal at the same time. He nodded when he saw her.

On February 9th, 1935 a man approached Unity and said, “The Führer would like to speak to you.” They talked of England, a conversation that ended with Unity suggesting he visit. “He said he would love to but he was afraid there would be a revolution if he did,” she wrote to her father.

Unity and Hitler talked movies and the man paid for her lunch, signing a postcard. “I suppose I am the luckiest girl in the world,” she wrote. In order to intensify this admiration, Unity refocused herself on what had only been a passing phase before now: her hatred of Jews.

She was having tea a few weeks later when Hitler invited her to sit with him again. Her third invitation involved meeting Herr Goebbels. Hitler and Unity Valkyrie became fast friends, meeting for tea or lunch whenever Hitler was in Munich over the next four years. Hitler’s advisors were surprised and wary of how much time he dedicated to the woman.

Knowing very little of Great Britain, Hitler never really understood how prominent Unity’s family was in English society — her father was a massively wealthy landowner, and Winston Churchill was her cousin, after all. Unity Valkyrie introduced the Führer to most of her family. Her sister Pam found him “very ordinary, like an old farmer in a brown suit.”

In order to emphasize her devotion to the Nazi cause, Unity wrote a letter to an anti-Semitic newspaper. “Our Jews work only behind the scenes,” she wrote, “and therefore we cannot show them to the British public in their true dreadfulness.”

This letter got Unity headlines in British newspapers. Photographs of Unity Valkyrie giving a Nazi salute accompanied the stories. Later on, as the country neared war, a few British newspapers began coming around to Unity’s way of thinking, and helped in making her sick views more acceptable. She now referred to herself openly by her party name. She tested out her pistol, a 6.35 Walther, while on vacation. When asked why she was shooting cans, she explained she was practicing to kill Jews.

In order to amuse herself, Unity’s sister Nancy tweaked her by claiming the family was 1/16th Jewish. This was not true; the family had a long history of abhorrent behavior towards England’s Jews. Unity sister’s Diana was among the worst offenders. Diana Mitford had married a prominent British fascist and anti-Semite and was deeply in love.

Diana and Unity went to visit the Goebbels family whenever they could, and Hitler invited Unity and Diana to be his guests for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. When they returned to London, Diana was invited to lunch with the Churchills. She told them what she knew about Hitler, insisting that Winston and Adolf would get along famously.

the Mitford sisters as girls

Unity Valkyrie was now permanently ensconced in Munich, where she had two white pet rats and a puppy named Flopsy. She spent her days waiting for Hitler’s call. “The greatest moment in my life,” she explained to a comrade, “was sitting at Hitler’s feet and having him stroke my hair.” She gave parties in her apartment for the SS.

After they stayed with Goebbels’ family for the Olympics, Diana and Unity attended the Wagner Festival, where The Ring and Parsifal were performed. (Parsifal was not a hit with Diana. Hitler explained she would like it more when she was older.) Unity and Diana now felt so comfortable with Hitler that they hectored him about some of his decisions, albeit in the most loyal way imaginable. Hitler’s subordinates were shocked and appalled by this increasing familiarity: they lived in abject fear of their leader’s temper.

the whole revolting family

Hitler called Unity “Kind” and she called him “Wolf.” Diana Mitford became quite close to the center of Nazi power. She was close with both Hitler and Magda Goebbels, and and often watched movies with the Führer. Hitler was only unavailable to the women while he was with Eva Braun at his headquarters in the Bavarian Alps, the mountain retreat called Berghof.

The Goebbels hosted Diana’s wedding to her husband in their lavish apartment. As Unity and Diana waited for the ceremony, they “saw Hitler walking through the trees of the park-like garden. The leaves were turning yellow and there was bright sunshine.” The next day they flew back to England.

Unity marched with Hitler through occupied Poland. On this tour she took ill with pneumonia. Over her sick bed, Unity’s father met Hitler and found him quite personable.

The Daily Mirror gave Unity Valkyrie a political column, where she explained that England and Germany should be allies, and suggested the future of Europe hinged on the togetherness of the Nordic race. Through her friend the Führer, she knew well of the vicious murder perpetrated against Jews, praising a massacre in which Jews were herded to an island in the Danube and left there to starve to death.

The papers suggested that she and Hitler might marry. Unity informed Hitler that Churchill was planning war, and his intelligence confirmed the possibility. The remaining English in Germany were now being evacuated, and Unity no longer had any friends in country. She refused to leave but grew miserable. “I might disappear into the mountains in Tyrol, perhaps, if war is declared,” she wrote to Diana. “Of course the other way seems the easiest way out, but it seems silly not to wait and see how things turn out. It might all be over in a week.”

On Sunday September 3rd, Unity Valkyrie received a telegram informing her that Britain had declared war on Germany. She wrote her parents to say goodbye and suggested that after the war they could all see Hitler often. She told the consulate that she would like to be buried with the signed photograph of Hitler and her Nazi party badge. In the gorgeous Munich park where she had often walked Flopsy, Unity shot herself in the temple with her Walther.

A bullet in the head does not kill as often as we are led to believe. Unity Valkyrie regained consciousness a week later. The bullet lay obstreprously in the back of her skull, and could not be removed. Hitler sent roses and called as often as his schedule permitted. In the hospital Unity attempted to put a final stop to things by swallowing her swastika, which had to be extracted via probe.

being taken to the hospital

Her family knew nothing of Unity’s condition and the German press were silenced. Eventually the story broke, with the papers reporting Unity dead. By the time her family was able to reach her, she had lost thirty pounds and could not stand upright without assistance, but she was still alive.

Forever a Nazi: Diana Mitford as a crone in later years

Hitler paid all the medical bills. In England Unity required police protection. Unity’s brain damage was severe, and it was a long time before she had even realized what she did to herself. Friends described her mental age as 11 or 12. Eventually she learned to drive. The rest of the family was similarly embarrassed by what their daughters had been up to during the war, and Diana went to prison for three years. After her release, her favorite diamond swastika was returned to her. Like her mother, she hated Jews with every breath until her death in 2003

The reason Hitler nearly conquered the continent was not because of a polite ignorance of his aims, or fastidious desire to avoid bloodshed. Many British people saw nothing wrong with what he professed in Mein Kampf. Perhaps Hitler understood a great deal more of the character of Great Britain than Unity believed.

Unity in the last years of her life

Before the war, their sister Jessica Mitford moved as far away as possible from this collection of hateful shrews and became a communist in northern California. She barely reacted to the death of Unity Valkyrie, writing, “Of course I mourned for my Boud years ago when I realized we couldn’t be friends anymore.”

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Can’t Take It Back” – Lissie (mp3)

“Back to Forever” – Lissie (mp3)

In Which We Remain Miles Away From Our Closest Neighbor

al ltheirjejrierj.jpg

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hey,

My friend Michael recently moved to New York. Naturally we have met up a few times, and I recently introduced him to my girlfriend Lenai. Michael is very good at making a first impression, and he surely did so on Lenai. She thinks he is great and wants to hang out with him often. Unfortunately I know that Michael was not quite as fond of my partner as I was, and he has made it clear that he would prefer we just interact on a one-on-one basis for the most part.

This makes thing awkward, since in other to see Michael I would have to explain to Lenai why she is not really wanted. And I have no answer to the question Lenai poses about why we are not seeing him more. I feel strongly that the truth js not really an option here, but I could also see any deception backfiring and I don’t want to ruin what I have with Lenai. Please help.

Edwin K.

hard to say mia nguyen

 

Dear Edwin,

You need to find a naturally combative situation that will pit Michael against Lenai ina. a circumstance that will lead Lenai to not want to interact with Michael again of her own volition. You presumably know her values better than I do, but issues of conflict are often the plausibility of anal, the sexism of Bernie Sander, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (I once was dumped by a woman for telling her that Ariel Sharon was a gr8 man.)

If Michael intrinsically dislikes Lenai, conflict will emerge sooner or later. Get him very drunk or high on whippets. Some people are just assholes on whippets.

The real backfire you should be worried about is that Michael changes his mind, since you do not seem to be working all that hard to get these two to enjoy each other’s company. Pushing people further apart sometimes brings them closer together.

shsodsokdosdoskodksodksd

 

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Hey,

Things have been going decently well with this girl Paisley. On our third date something happened that has made me a bit worried. We were at the movies (seeing The Revenant) and we were holding hands. When the lights came up, I disolayed a visible erection that Paisley seemed to take notice of. She seemed a little out of sorts for the rest of the evening, but I’m not sure what her reaction really was.  

In the ensuing days nothing seemed all that different. When we went back to my place though she made an excuse and went home. I’m trying to figure out how to proceed, since I haven’t had a connection this positive with someone in awhile.

Jeff P.

just plain afraid to fail

Dear Jeffrey,

Our minds all go to different places when we see a signifier. You have entered the realm of the purely semiotic. Each individual brings different experiences to the idea of a large p rising through some bro named Jeffrey’s shawts. Maybe she didn’t expect it; or maybe it triggered an identification with some negative moment in her life. Who knows, you might never know. Maybe she was hoping you would take it out!?

On some level she was probably aware your penis was living a quiet and flaccid life before this, and at the slightest hint of contact with a human being it would choose to spring to alert, screaming with the urethra as its de facto mouth, “I am aware of the current circumstances, Jeff!”

It is important not to let this slow you. If you do not show a woman that you desire her sexually, she will not be able to respond in a concomitant fashion. There is no such thing as taking it slow. The faster you are able to establish a connection between the body and mind of a woman, the sooner you will have a real relationship, versus the penis-observer functionality that you and Paisley are currently operating under.

 

shsodsokdosdoskodksodksd

“Here With Me” – Susie Suh & Robot Koch (mp3)

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.47.32 AM.jpg

 

 

 

In Which We Will Never Drink Out Of Cups Again

Portmanteau

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Knight of Cups
dir. Terrence Malick
118 minutes

There is this scene in Knight of Cups where Rick (Christian Bale) is dry-humping a prostitute named Della (Imogen Potts) and he interlaces his hands with hers and they sort of swing them back and forth in a silly way, like two kids might. The couple never actually speaks to each other, we only hear their inner thoughts in voiceover. This is a Terrence Malick joint.

Were you interested in the less cohesive aspects of The Tree of Life without necessarily needing a whole lot of plot or exposition? Knight of Cups provides that important experience, in a package you will recognize completely. Half the shots might have been ripped straight from Grand Theft Auto V and L.A. Story. Los Angeles, and Christian Bale as an amoral womanizer, are both too familiar.

Knight of Cups is not really about any of that. Malick photographs most of the movie with a convex lens, and much of the camera movement creates motion sickness. Do not be alarmed — this is the strongest emotion you will experience during the journey of Rick, or as I prefer to call him, Master Rick.

Master Rick spends a lot of time strolling. The only time he shows the slightest bit of evidence that the world as it exists is affecting him in any way is during an earthquake. To be completely honest, I have trouble identifying with a character like this because I recently cried during an episode of the now-canceled CBS sitcom Angel from Hell.

Master Rick’s brother Barry (Wes Bentley) takes him on a tour of the less impressive aspects of Los Angeles. Malick is deeply afraid of actual homeless people, so he casts actors in their roles. Much like Master Rick, Barry is very disappointed in the world. He sticks a fork in his hand and proclaims that he wants to feel something. This is the same guy who filmed an image of a paper bag getting knocked around in the wind and proclaimed that it was beautiful.

Master Rick gave me this idea. It is time to hold actors responsible for the content of their roles. An actor never really kills or maims, so you will not have to judge him for that. You will have to evaluate the sons of Stanislavsky on what they say. David Mamet always said that action talks and bullshit walks, but I mean, does it?

A brother’s untimely death is the reason that Master Rick is sad. He tries to get over it by objectifying and projecting himself into various women. It turns out that his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett) is not having any of that. She wriggles away from the touch of Master Rick! The two have zero chemistry; it occurs to us that maybe Christian Bale cannot even understand his ex-wife’s accent. She complains that he became angry for small things, like maybe she was not the best housekeeper or she was facebook messaging a real estate agent named Gary Percival.

None of these examples are actually in Knight of Cups, but the movie becomes very boring so it is natural to imagine the lives of the characters if they were not complete clichés. “When I’m with you, I forget everything else,” Natalie Portman puts it at one point, wearing a mesh sweater that looks like a fishing net.

Nancy and Master Rick start having sex in a bathtub (this might have been a flashback) but their dog interrupts. (I don’t know the exact breed, it could have been a pinscher of some kind.) Nancy and Master Rick shared a contemporary style bungalow with a really nice pool, but neither of them struck me as swimmers. None of this really seems to affect Master Rick and Malick generally shoots Bale from behind, forcing us to intuit his responses to most of this horseshit.

Knight of Cups features a consistent focus on animals and how they move and walk: if they sway, if they dart off balance, how a duck saunters, how a fly buzzes, that sort of thing. This observational perspective channels how a child reacts when he sees an animal, emitting a basic wonder that they are not as we are. Such intimacy with nature originates as a childish notion, and most of us move beyond it by the time we reach the advanced age of ten. I get the feeling that when Terrence Malick witnesses a bee buzzing he probably achieves a hard-on, or at least wants to get one.

I don’t mean to be too harsh on this guy. Maybe he hasn’t seen the 100 movies released last year about disassociated and depressed white men. Malick has the character most akin to him explain that women — and their associated problems — are “a distraction.” He probably doesn’t understand that on some fundamental level casting a bunch of beautiful, talented actresses as accessories to the travails of a rich, complainy white guy is incredibly offensive. I mean, Master Malick was born in 1943. There were not even civil rights then, and suffrage for women in America was only twenty-three years old.

None of these women seem to have a particularly close connection with Master Rick. A few of the sex workers would be the same age as his daughter. Natalie Portman gives off a weird sister vibe with Bale and their intimate scenes together feel remarkably like incest. She puts her foot in his mouth and laughs. She is the most like him, the only other character in Knight of Cups who actually has a dilemma and story of her own. So of course it is hinted that she kills herself.

One of these women is a stripper with a philosophical streak named Karen (Teresa Palmer) who tells Master Rick he can be whatever he wants to be. “We’re like clouds, aren’t we?” she explains to him. He responds to that by pushing her around in a shopping cart and skateboarding. Master Rick is inert, but sometimes he can follow a woman if she is looking back at him while she moves forward. I have never met anyone like that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Better or Worse” – Beacon (mp3)

In Which We Would Never Lie To A British Person

Sickness and Remorse

by DICK CHENEY

War & Peace
creators Andrew Davies and Tom Harper

The BBC is a strange institution. The thought of taking money that could be used to feed and clothe your poorest citizens and spending it on period dramas and left-wing news reports has always seemed a bit gauche, but I mean what the hell you only live once.

The venerable screenwriter Andrew Davies is still working at 79. He is back with the BBC, because I guess he was the only person there who actually lived during the events of War & Peace? “People like bonnets. I don’t think you can underestimate that,” Davies said recently, complaining about the reason his state-run media was not interested in his adaptations of some minor English novels. They demand the classics and that’s what he is giving them!

It is fortunate that we do not have to suffer through such a proliferation of period adaptations in this country, and England is taking that bullet for us. I think something similar is going on with Muslim immigration? Turning War & Peace into a Jane Austen novel is an extremely audacious move. Much like the novel this BBC adaptation (exported to America later this year) is a dull slog punctuated by a couple of exciting moments.

Apparently Russia in the 1800s was basically Britain. If you did not know any better, how would you even tell this is taking place in a country other than Britain? One of the actress in War & Peace attempts a Russian accent, but no one else even tries. It is a weird disconnect: like did they not tell her no one was going to do this? Was she going ham on her own? Was Andrew Davies napping during the filming of this scene?

So many questions. Pierre (Paul Dano) inherits a massive fortune from his father despite the fact that he is one of many illegitimate sons. We never hear about any of the other children. Pierre’s friend Andrei (James Norton) is extremely unhappy living in St. Petersburg society. Despite the fact that Andrei’s wife has a child on the way, he heads off to the war against Napoleon. Dano stays behind and marries a terrible woman.

All these events seemed quite important to Leo Tolstoy, but I mean, they weren’t. No one even talks about Napoleon very much except to notice he was something of a dick, and this entire Russian society was wiped out by the murderous delusions of the communists. In order to make War & Peace relevant, Davies focuses on the psychological and existential aspect of the novel. The scenes of war represent spectacle we have to endure to uncover personal revelations that can only be realized in the context of wealth.

Dano, one of the most charismatic and understated actors of his generation, is given the awful role of Pierre. Director Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders) dresses him up like an idiot and most of his scenes are boring tripe that leave him looking off into the distance in utter unhappiness.

Despite embracing altruism and becoming a Freemason at one point, Pierre never grows or changes as a character and everyone involved in the story takes advantage of his good nature. Coming suddenly into a large amount of money is the kind of hypothetical moral problem that only England and Russia could find entertaining.

Making things substantially worse is the presence of Natasha (Lily James). Since she decided to ruin Downton Abbey with a disturbing lilt to her voice and her total lack of respect for the memory of Lady Sybil or her sex tape, James has insisted on appearing as almost every historical character: Cinderella, Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, Gandhi.

In the future all roles will be portrayed by Lily James, hopefully after she spends a solid semester in acting class. Natasha wears progressively less clothing as the series goes on, giggling whenever anyone else speaks. If anyone happens — if she is scared, happy, sad, angry, bored — her eyes become misty and red like she is going to cry. “The girl is a treasure,” Pierre explains, since we would not otherwise believe any man would even want to marry her.

Davies tries to spice things up by lending special emphasis to the affair Dano’s wife Helene (Tupence Middleton) has with Dolokhov (Tom Burke). They have sex on a table with some plates quaking underneath their wintercourse.

When Pierre finds out that his wife is cheating on him, he challenges Dolokhov to a duel. Amusingly, he shoots and wounds his larger opponent. “The one thing I am thankful for is that I didn’t kill that man,” he explains to Andrei, who is aghast. “To take a man’s life is always wrong,” Pierre says. “For you, perhaps,” Andrei responds. “For me there are only two evils: sickness and remorse.”

It is difficult to feel too invested in any of the action taking place, since unlike in American stories, no one ever receives their just deserts. At the most someone gets told off or discarded. A few of the women die as is Tolstoy’s want, but only long after we have stopped caring. War & Peace is just a Jackson Pollock canvas of shit, shit and more shit.

In this morass, Napoleon (Mathieu Kassovitz) becomes a sort of weird anti-hero who has correctly identified a poisoned, ancient society and is determined to destroy it. Unfortunately he does not do so, and this adaptation of War & Peace practically writes him out of the story altogether, even though he is one of the book’s central figures.

The best thing in War and Peace is usually Andrei, who is the only individual of any virtue. (“He’s intense and deep,” Natasha says of him.) Andrei’s wife dies during childbirth soon after his return from the front. Instead of doing anything interesting, he becomes a recluse who focuses on the problems of military organization, leaving the raising of the son to his parents. Pierre draws him back to society with disastrous results.

I do not really think English people could adapt War & Peace without making it about England. If it is true that the Russia of this period was doomed to destruction, then so was England. Unless, as seems likely, they were very different places.

As the miniseries soldiers on, the focus on Lily James’ Natasha exceeds all reason. She is the worst character in all of War & Peace, a simpering ninny who jumps into bed with her mother for advice and only talks about which boys she is interested in. It takes most of the novel’s length to even get her married; it feels like she turns down five or six proposals. Maybe we could understand this from a beautiful creature, but this is Lily James: she should probably settle for the first Andrei who agrees.

Ayn Rand once testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee about a pro-Russia propaganda film produced by MGM called Song of Russia. She explained to the committee why the movie did not reflect anything about the Russia she knew. A racist Democrat from Georgia named John Stephens Wood asked her whether or not Song of Russia was useful propaganda if it fulfilled the purpose of keeping America allied with Russia against their Germany during the war.

I will never forget what she said. It was this: “I don’t believe the American people should ever be told lies, publicly or privately.” Such a seemingly innocuous statement, but it is true on every single level. Personally, I don’t believe the British people should be told lies, publicy or privately. War & Peace is full of them, and it was paid for by their taxes.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Better Hand” – Young Fables (mp3)

“Paradise” – Young Fables (mp3)

In Which We Recommend You Take A Job Typing

barbra7

Self-Centered

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Manny Streisand was her father, known in Flatbush as the instructor of troubled men at the Brooklyn High School for Specialty Trades. The E. 7th street tenement he was born into charged a rent of $15 a month. Heading into Manhattan for the only honeymoon he could afford, Manny Streisand banged his head against the windshield when the car in front of him stopped short. Five years later, he began to suffer the first of many seizures. On August 4th, 1943, he was dead.

His daughter Barbara was almost a year and a half. She was not yet Barbra, she was still Barbara. She did not cry as a child, despite the fact that her grandfather was a malicious tyrant. Her mother Diane, unable to cope with her husband’s early passing, was keen to drop the girl off with a caretaker whenever she could.

side the cartel

When she was old enough for school, she was old enough to experience its displeasure. Her peers called her Big Beak and drew attention to her lazy left eye. The Yiddish word for an ungainly misfit was “mieskeit,” and everyone knew that was her.

Her mother was attractive enough to find a second husband, and young Barbara did not care for her suitors. Barbara tried to turn them away like Penelope. When these strange men kissed her mother, Barbara thought they were trying to take Diane from her.

barbra3

A neighbor in her Brooklyn building knit the young girl a sweater to wrap around her only toy: a hot water bottle. Her mother became concerned by Barbara’s lack of interest in eating. The only time she paid attention to the girl was when she was force-feeding her something or other, possibly a knish.

She sang for the first time at the age of seven. She rushed breathlessly into her mother’s embrace afterwards, eager for her approval. Her mother told her, “Your arms are too thin.”

barbra14

Her mother found another man, one in the garment business. He impregnated her but refused to get married for some time. Diane Streisand moved into a one-bedroom on the corner of Nostrand Avenue. The rent was $105 per month.

Barbara’s new father Louis Kind hated her, would criticize her clothes in front of her friends, brought no money to the family, beat his new wife. When one of her friends asked why Kind owned a different last name, she told the girl, “Oh, he uses that name for business.”

On the plus side, her new father possessed the only television set she had ever had. She imitated everything she saw, showing her mother the correct way to hold a cigarette for the first time at the age of ten. Lucille Ball was generally regarded as the best.

barbra2

Her first band in elementary school was Bobbie and the Bernsteins. She was Bobbie, backed by twin sisters, her closest friends at school. She never invited them over to her house out of fear. One of her classmates told her, “Barbara, please don’t sing anymore.”

For her fourteenth birthday, her mother nixed the idea of going to see My Fair Lady. Instead, her and her friend Anita Sussman saw The Diary of Anne Frank. At first she cried at the bracing similarities of her own existence, but afterwards it occurred to her as if there had never been a question: that part was made for her.

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With her family in tatters, she sought a second home and found it in Jimmy and Muriel Choy, a Chinese couple who owned a restaurant on Nostrand Avenue. Kosher food had the disadvantage of being associated with her awful parents; Chinese food meant magnificent life in comparison. She schlepped from table to table as a waitress, the only Jewish one they had.

High school was a different matter. Her desire to perform became a singular force of will, the only one she required. She had never been identified as gifted in school, but a mandatory IQ test quickly revealed the truth. With a quotient of 124, she was quickly shuttled into the honors classes. Still, she did not fit in with the smart students, and she ate alone. One teacher called her “self-centered.”

Sex was taboo in her home. Information had to be attained through other avenues. She asked Muriel Choy whether the man was always on top during intercourse. Muriel responded, “Not necessarily.”

Her first romance was with the best-looking guy in her theater troupe. She had always been considered the ugliest girl in school. He did more than admit she wasn’t: he told her she was attractive, the first person who had ever done so. Her second boyfriend was a black guy named Teddy. People were absolutely flabbergasted.

The pace of things began to pick up, even if the world wasn’t exactly to her liking. She auditioned for Otto Preminger’s cinematic version of the Joan of Arc story, Saint Joan. They chose a gentile. Her mother separated from her abusive stepfather and had to sue for a measly $37 a week. To make ends meet, her mother sold undergarments in her building’s laundry room and asked her daughter to steal milk bottles from where they sat outside their neighbor’s doors.

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A theater near her home would play Italian films. She did not understand the language. When Jerry Lewis movies filled the theater, she imitated him in the lobby for other patrons. Her mother let her use their college savings ($150) to fund an apprenticeship at an upstate New York playhouse. Her first part was as a Japanese child leading a goat, and the role meant she had to clean up the animal’s droppings after every performance.

She continued to lie about her age, hoping she would be accepted into a year-round program at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Her mother trashed the clothes that her theater friends gave her out of kindness, and accused them of enslaving her daughter. She adopted a new style: skirt, stockings, shoes, leather bag, all blacker than black.

Some time later on, in her aspiring actress days, another student spotted Barbara and took notice. James Spada’s 1995 biography of Barbra, Streisand: Her Life, has him remembering his first vision of the girl: “I remember this funny-looking girl on the stage sitting cross-legged…she had a very small part, she didn’t have many lines. But boy, by some magic wave of her wand she was making everybody look at her,” Dustin Hoffman said. “Did you ever see those pictures of a mother bird with the worm and there’s a bunch of baby birds with their mouths open? Somehow there’s one that’s straining more than any other to get that worm from their mother. That would be Barbra.”

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She met Warren Beatty, five years her elder. She rejected him for the moment, put off by his strategy of chasing every tail he saw. Her own early rejections were brutal one casting agent wrote over her photo, “Talented. Who needs another Jewish broad?” When she invited her mother to watch her perform a particularly moving scene in acting class, her mother told her to give up and take a typing job.

Until then, her name had been Barbara. But she decided that there were a million Barbaras, and if she removed the ‘a’, only one Barbra.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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“Fight or Flight” – Sonya Kitchell (mp3)

“Lucifer” – Sonya Kitchell (mp3)

Sonya-Kitchell

In Which We Knew A Wizard Once And He Was A Dick

Dumbledont

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Magicians
creators Sera Gamble and John McNamara

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 8.32.05 AMFor one magnificent moment, The Chronicles of Narnia is mysterious, frightening, and full of possibilities. Then it introduces Jesus, a lion. At least, when those white kids entered that wardrobe, there was the possibility something entertaining would come out of it. The Magicians, adapted from Lev Grossman’s trilogy of the same name, does not even have that.

How boring is The Magicians? Well, let me get your take on how much you care about the emotional problems of white Ivy leaguers, who are the central characters of The Magicians. OK, so you know that doofus Rory Gilmore was dating whose father owned a newspaper? His name was Logan Shewterprince or something like that. That guy was a selfless, altruistic champion compared to these people.

My professors — not at any Ivy League-affiliated institution — used to tell me that I used too many rhetorical questions in my writing. When I asked them why this was a problem, they explained they weren’t sure, but they had been told it was a sign of bad writing. Well, if they were telling the truth then both myself and the writers of The Magicians have a lot to answer for, since seventy percent of the dialogue in this thing is questions, and no one has the answers.

Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is a white guy with big problems. Driving a car makes him nervvies, so he Narnia-enters a magic liberal arts college in upstate New York, Brakebills, to study magic. (The campus looks vaguely like Columbia.) It is emphasized that few of the students or faculty are very good at magic, except for a blonde woman named Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who wears skirts that end at the midpoint of her thighs. Alice can’t really act very well, so it is good The Magicians will write her off the show basically after the first season.

And there will be future seasons. Despite the fact that The Magicians spends a lot of time hinting at satire of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, holding back the criticism just enough to ensure none of the jokes are actually funny, The Magicians is at least better written than most of the trash that has made its way to the execrable SyFy network. This is maybe not saying very much.

The scenes with Coldwater at his school are pretty bad. Ralph is a good-looking fellow, but an incredibly low energy actor and he more whines than delivers most of his lines. He makes two other white friends and starts vibing with the blonde girl. No indication is given why any of these people care for him at all; he is the male Mary Sue and don’t you forget it. In a much more amusing subplot, Quentin’s muggle friend Julia Wicker (the super-charismatic Stella Maeve) is denied entry to his magic Cornell and starts learning these arts in a cult where tattoos mark the levels of achievement involved.

College and the process of education is not only ripe for satire, but this journey can also feature a tremendous amount of satisfaction for the viewer. Within moments of Quentin’s entrance to Brakesbill, we are told that the university is not very important, the faculty are shit and no one has a terribly great grasp of what magic is or how to operate it. At least we got the sense that Hogwarts was an important place where lots of smart, important people walked the halls. Brakesbill might as well be a homeless shelter with a bar.

Even avoiding parody, The Magicians cannot succeed on its own enthusiasms. Magic in The Magicians is wacky, pointless, stupid and ill-defined. Without extended explication, we can never know what any of the stakes are in this battle over what being white and privileged really means. Recently, some universities revealed they were sending students to a white privilege conference, where they could fully fathom the meaning of their advantages. Some white idiot is always trying to do good and he ends up doing bad or worse, insignificant. This is the only moral of The Magicians.

In order to test Julia’s magical aptitude, a white man locks her to a radiator in the women’s bathroom of a bar where whites go to congregate. I am not joking, there are two people of color in The Magicians. The black character has his eyes torn out and the Indian-American named, for some reason, Penny (Arjun Gupta) experiences unprotected sex and summons a demon from an alternate reality. This is just in the first episode! Was this show executive produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

The only interest here lies in the future of Julia Wicker, who quite clearly should have been the protagonist of The Magicians. At her birthday, Julia thinks she is about to be raped in the bathroom by a guy (David Call) who looks like the genetic cross between Ryan Gosling and Peter Dinklage. He chains her to the radiator in the squalid restroom. She chafes at her constraints and breaks them. Her master is so impressed by this move that she is subsequently locked into a walk-in freezer in Brooklyn. Unbeknownst to Julia, her companion in the cold is the master of this coterie, a ginger woman (Kacey Rohl) who explains in a squeaky voice that she is impressed with her.

Julia is looking for some kind of meaning from life, since now that she knows there is magic, she no longer has the slightest bit of interest in Yale Business School. She ignores her white boyfriend and spends all her time brooding about how she wasn’t accepted at the university Quentin Coldwater gained admission to after performing a few card tricks in front of the admissions committee. It’s a good thing neither of them were Asian, Latino or black, since they would not have had chance at Brookbills to begin with.

Ethan Peterson is a contributor to This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about The Dark Forest.

“Until We Go Down” – Ruelle (mp3)