In Which We Remember You From A Bygone Era

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The Five Questions

by LINDA EDDINGS

for Adam Cave

Reported but not observed, belt buckles contain pressure that — once loosened — behaves as a refraction of light. Above that, jury-rigged consecrated cathedral of always. I make the conversation linger, but what’s resolved in a strike of tugboats five star hotel room windowless blinds?

Penance less than death is expectant surprise, like “unusual to see you here.” The cold commands ask little and I am always trying to say what I belong to. Once shelter was all kicking off the shawl to keep dry. Now it rains harder than it must.

Berries planted upside skip the hills and cut-out pigeons, policy-holders, urgent wheat in the deep end of the pool. Atop the sun shine leggings and motorbikes waiting for hypnosis and the tendrils sweep the high grass where the robins bicker gently as if asking a name.

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He writes, “There is no mind better > than the one I have > to pull space around > for the warmth of quiet > nothingness stuck on a pin. > It is what I see when > I have stopped > resembling myself.”

The devil panics when he sees the beginning of a crosswalk.

I am dreaming, drowning. All that middle-aged love. Pillow up the bed and under, glimpsing without eyes or place to evince the resulting dilemma. Grief-stricken or opaque, I asked you to put it away the day before yesterday. What does that make today?

Surely you saw the last bit of him go. Certainly there was music, definitely there remains a chorus, in the place of kings.

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You see, he died so I could sleep, men were at my window. A star fell from the earth to land on the sky. The pitter-patter lasts until expired, like milk. Vast reverie, as in never coming up for air, or wiping my nose. He is in a hole when I am not. Then announcements: the citadel of December, embossed in red leather. Whether just arriving or leaving finally, where water leads into other water. Enough to ford the tide, graduate. Pages overcome, avalanched on my new bed. Spring was always the wrong season, smiles were too seductive or not enough. My mother, my father in the navy. She watched us go. I came the whole way, all of it, spilling out. Just for this?

I fear being beholden, so bend to choose among the fleet. The unmoving man gestures at the head of a pin and is untouched by choice. Beset on all sides by stone, I stir to collect and shatter on the waves.

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

Images by Tenesh Webber.

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In Which Ida Lupino Wore A Lot Of Face Paint

This is the first in a two part series about the director Ida Lupino.

She Lived By Night

by ALEX CARNEVALE

When Ida Lupino arrived in the U.S. for the first time at the age of fifteen, Paramount representatives greeted her at the dock in Hoboken, New Jersey. She and her mother stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. The next day that picture of the English actress was on the cover of the Los Angeles Times. “By the time we landed,” she wrote her father, who was staying behind in England, “we looked like a couple of dead seagulls.”

Paramount told her they felt she could be the next Jean Harlow, who was a platinum blonde whereas Ida was a brunette. She was nonplussed, and it was not long before she was making her dissatisfaction known. “I cannot tolerate fools, won’t have anything to do with them,” she told the press. “I only want to associate with brilliant people.”

Before she ever debuted in a starring role, Ida Lupino contracted polio. Her feet were so painful she could barely stand. She thought of killing herself. As she recovered, she returned to the set long before doctors thought she would. That year she made $23,400.

with Howard Hughes

By 1935, Lupino already had a reputation as a handful. Some directors were scared away by her outspoken nature. “‘I’m mad,’ they say. I am temperamental and dizzy and disagreeable.,” she told the press. “I can take it. Only one person can hurt me. Her name is Ida Lupino.”

Her first Hollywood boyfriend was a British stage performer named Louis Hayward. Unlike the Jewish performers who took on stage names to conceal their ethnicity, Hayward’s real name was Seafield Grant. This lothario was nine years older than Ida, and had to compete with a variety of men who Ida found uninteresting, including Howard Hughes. Hayward hated when Ida wore makeup, calling it face paint.

with first husband Louis Hayward

At eighteen Lupino was loaned to RKO for a series of films which did nothing but stall her career. She rented a house above the Hollywood Bowl. Returning her hair to her natural color, she decided to leave Paramount. England had no interest in her return, so she fired her agent and married Louis Hayward in the Santa Barbara courthouse. The couple moved to Beverly Hills with their terrier. After a two picture stint with Columbia, Ida demanded from mercurial director William Wellman what would become her breakout role: the slut in an adaptation of Kipling’s The Light That Failed.

She signed with Warner, where she starred opposite the tiny, not-yet-a-star Humphrey Bogart in They Drive by Night. In her biggest roles, Ida played crazy with a certain contained zeal. It was not something that was done well very often, and it distinguished her from an entire generation of actresses. Her next film with Bogart inspired the jealousy of Humphrey’s wife Mayo Methot. She made more than Bogart on the film High Sierra: 12,000 a week.

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Ida was now a star, and this upset her husband Louis tremendously. He began complaints to her when they woke in the morning, and she pretended to go along with it, explaining to the media that “the man is the master of the house.” Louis kept her away from parties; their usual entertainment was recording the conversations of friends during dinner and playing it back afterwards.

Her closest friends had always been men, with whom she felt she did not have to be competitive. Joan Fontaine and Ann Sheridan became her closest actress pals. “Ida Lupino,” Fontaine wrote of her during this period, “is the nearest thing to a caged tiger I ever saw outside a zoo. I don’t think she has ever been still a whole minute of her life.” Absolutely never bored, Ida was most alive in the evenings, when her mind roamed endlessly.

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with Bogart in “High Sierra”

After her father died of cancer, Ida reevaluated her career. A disastrously boring film where she played Emily Bronte was shelved for years before being recut and released to little fanfare. She feared being typecast as a crazy woman, and an idea popped into her head as a way of avoiding the fate Warner had consigned her to: she would be a director.

During the war, Ida visited returning serviceman. Louis Hayward, now a captain in the Marines, was deployed in Japan, where a bullet cracked his helmet. He went into combat carrying a camera purchased for him by his wife. When he returned home, he was intensely traumatized. Hayward was treated at three different hospitals for depression, but none shook his basic conclusion: He was done with Ida Lupino.

Ida went from a nervous breakdown to a new, Casanova-esque boyfriend in just over a year. The Austrian actor Helmut Dantine was a violent, drunken sociopath who could be charming when he was slightly sober. (Louis Hayward remarried in May of 1946.)

Newly single, Lupino focused on her writing. William Threely was her pen name, and she sold a screenplay she wrote with her friend Barbara Reed to RKO for $3,000. Warner demanded Lupino sign an exclusive contract – her previous deal allowed outside work, an extremely unique arrangement in the industry. When Lupino refused the new terms, she was on her own completely at 29 years old.

Like her last husband, Collier Young was ten years older than Ida. Unlike Hayward and Dantine, he was not an actor but a frustrated Hollywood writer. He was not her first American man, but he was the first one she married, at the Presbyterian Church in La Jolla. “One of the exciting things about Ida,” Collier explained to the press, “is her unpredictability.”

Even as she continued writing, directing was foremost on Lupino’s mind. Many women had been successful screenwriters before Lupino, and a few had even stepped behind the camera. None had ever done with Lupino’s ability. In 1945 she met Roberto Rossellini, who told her that “In Hollywood movies the star is going crazy, or drinks too much, or wants to kill his wife. When are you going to make pictures about ordinary people in ordinary situations?”

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

In Which We Run And Swim And Jog The Whole Time

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.

Hi,

Things were going very well I thought, between my boyfriend Charles and myself. Even though we have been together for six months, he feels that it is too soon to meet any of my family. The reason, as he explains it, is that he grew too attached to the family of his ex-girlfriend and when she dumped him it was like losing his entire life. He says he wants to take things slow.

I think this is probably bullshit but I wanted to check.

Anna C.

Anna,

Meeting the family is an important time in any young boy’s life. For a man, however, it is no big deal.

This entire sob story may well be true, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a story. It sounds like Charles had quite a positive experience with the last family he met, and we can presume he has no such strong familial bonds of his own. It is indeed inappropriate for a family to become too close to their in-law before he is properly made their in-law. You can tell Charles this.

Not wanting to meet your family is a major red flag: it signals he is probably going to dump you and doesn’t want the extra guilt of knowing the people who sired you before he does so. I would just end things now.

Hi,

A friend of mine who I will call Nancy absolutely refuses to return any of my calls or texts. We did have an argument over her current boyfriend, but we have been friends for over ten years and it has never gotten this bad.

Even though the argument Nancy and I had was not my fault in any way, and she was the one who I asked my opinion, I regret giving it. I don’t like conflict and I want to resolve this. How can I get her to listen?

Gillian R.

Dear Gillian,

Some people are very stubborn, far more stubborn than you or I could ever be. They realize they are vulnerable if they open themselves up the slightest bit, so the only solution is to ward off the doorway to that soft inner part. If you can’t get through the door, you’re unable to access what’s inside. I spent around thirty seconds crafting this metaphor, but I think it gets the job done quite well. The door represents…nevermind.

In the context of a dismantled romantic relationship, just showing up somewhere is pretty creepy, although it definitely can work. In the context of your friendship, it is not nearly as threatening so you should probably just do it that way.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Undermine A Piece Of Magic

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Temporary Equilibrium

by ELEANOR RAY

A bad poem is one that vanishes into meaning. – Paul Valéry

Arguing against Frank Stella’s famous assertion that “Painting is made with colored paint on a surface and what you see is what you see,” Philip Guston claimed that a painting is “not there physically at all.”

For Guston, who spoke energetically about his varied experiences with the paintings he admired, powerful works could not be seen quickly or definitively. “The art of the past is a hidden art,” he once said. Despite his acknowledged difficulties with talking about painting, Guston was unwilling to wave away the stubbornly elusive quality of the paintings, and the ordinary objects, that moved him. He understood that, as Wittgenstein put it, “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.”

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Philip Guston, Book, 1968, gouache on panel, 30 x 32 inches

For Guston and Morandi, painting what was around them – books and shoes, bottles and boxes – provided a way to engage with certain aspects of painting that, while always in plain sight, refuse to be pinned down. Giorgio Morandi’s paintings reveal a heightened sensitivity to the basic problems and possibilities of painting. Looking at Morandi in my earliest painting years felt like learning to read for the first time. As a new painter, I must have had a sharpened awareness of the many possible mistakes threatening to undermine representations of a three-dimensional world – problems inevitably occurring in attempts to make certain objects appear further away than others, or to distinguish between masses and air. Morandi makes these difficulties his subject, turning them into exhilarating ambiguities.

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Natura Morta (Still Life), 1954, Oil on canvas, 26 x 70 cm 

In a long horizontal still life, the white stripe on a box’s front could be read as the top plane of a second box. The empty space to that box’s left begins to look like another, closer box, pressed against the surface of the painting, its top plane invisible at eye level. The objects to the right of the tallest box appear almost stuck to it, relying on it for support, and listing downwards with gravity as that support weakens. The grey back space appears to rest on top of the frieze of objects like a slab of stone.

Objects clustered together form a heavy mass that seems to push a solitary, lighter object up, as if on a scale:

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Philip Guston, The Scale, 1965

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Morandi, Natura Morta (Still Life), 1956, oil on canvas

In their effort to balance an object lifted at their side, a mass of objects exerts pressure on the adjacent empty space, turning it into a palpable mass, an invisible object.

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The necks of bottles swap places with the ones behind them and the spaces in between.

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Darker objects recede into a hole, leaving the things in front of them to float uncertainly, the tallest among them holding up the framing space like a piece of a stage set.

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A shadow falls onto a group of objects from off-stage.

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Three rectangular orange shapes separated by decisive black lines stubbornly remain boxes, one set back from the others.

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Morandi gives so much responsibility to a single line. Lines standing in for the space between two objects have an insistently tactile presence.

What is the meaning of a line? When does its meaning disappear?

Mondrian believed that representation and the “superficial trompe-l’oeil techniques of traditional art” veiled the abstract forces in painting. He sought to reveal what he called “the universal” by eliminating objects from his paintings, working only with relationships between colors and lines. Philip Guston, during a period of working abstractly, worried that making a recognizable image would lead his work to “vanish into meaning,” a favorite phrase he took from Paul Valéry.

After a period of working with only a few lines in ink, however, Guston then began to draw the things around him — books, shoes — and realized the importance to him of the “mask” of representation: “One of the difficulties with this essence thing is that it’s not hidden. [It’s] too evident. I don’t think we want those forces to be so evident to us, that when they are somewhat masked they seem to last longer to me. In fact, I think that’s where the enigma is, in the hidden.”

In conversations, Guston talked about the excitement of a mark becoming an image, a pleasure he could find in a single line: “I remember when I did this [Edge], that horizontal line, just like the edge of a box, that horizontal line seemed miles long.”

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Philip Guston, Edge, 1967, and Paw, 1968

In Paw, single lines mark the spaces between fingers on a hand, which, in turn, makes a line like the one in Edge. The quality of these lines recalls for me, or makes me more aware of, the human simplicity of hands painted by Giotto, Masaccio, or Manet.

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Masaccio, The Tribute Money (detail), c. 1424-28, Fresco, Brancacci Chapel, Florence. Detail of St. Peter’s hands retrieving tribute money from the mouth of a fish.

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Giotto, Resurrection (Noli me tangere) (detail), 1304-06, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

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Édouard Manet, Olympia (detail), 1863

Like Wittgenstein’s language games, Morandi’s paintings work like a simplified version of our own language that helps us understand how we use words. He brings painting to the edge of representation, painting objects so simple that they are nearly reduced to shapes and lines, but never are. He locates the power of a line in the tension between its simplicity as a mark and its existence as something else the space between two boxes or fingers. We can’t see a line or a shape in his still life as merely what it is because we can’t separate it from its participation in the painting’s representation. The language of painted notation disappears when you try to isolate it, as in the detail below. It remains visible only when hidden “under the shadows of natural objects.” (Cennino Cennini, 1437: “This is an occupation known as painting, which calls for imagination, and skill of hand, in order to discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of natural objects, and to fix them with the hand, presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.”)

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Morandi detail

Going as far as Mondrian does in removing the veil of representation risks removing the veiled forces in the process. A diagram of the geometry in a painting is not more powerful than the painting itself. An explanation of the meaning of a word is not more useful than the word.

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The tension between a line’s (or shape’s) essence and its mask is perhaps clearest to me at the outpost where Morandi’s work lives, though Stanley Lewis can convince me that this tension also becomes clear at an opposite outpost, that of representation in extreme, saturated detail.

Stanley Lewis embeds a strikingly simple visual drama into his aggressively detailed and worked up surfaces. He organizes a complex landscape into large masses and volumes that influence each other like Morandi’s boxes. He relishes the sensation of one object passing behind another, disappearing from sight – a drama Guston called “delicious” in Piero della Francesca’s work, where “the spaces between the forms seem as important, as charged, as the volumes themselves.”

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Piero della Francesca, Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon (detail), 1452-66, Fresco, San Francesco, Arezzo

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Stanley Lewis, Lake Chautauqua July, 2010, Oil on canvas, 27 x 43 inches

In Lake Chautauqua July, a striped sail partially obscured by a tree becomes a metaphor for the vertically stacked landscape with its bands of sky, clouds, horizon, water, brush, and grass. The left side of the painting mimics the shape of the sail, its top edge formed by the curve of the tree. As soon as the sensation of this larger sail shape emerges, the space to the right of the tree begins to slip behind it like a tectonic plate, creating a current across the painting that the docks seem to follow.

This sensation of slippage implies a past and future for the image. But, despite its writhing details, the painting maintains a lucid stillness, and the motion of wind moving across water or passing through leaves remains suspended. John Goodrich referred to this quality in Stanley Lewis’ work as “a kind of quivering, temporary equilibrium.” Isn’t this also the equilibrium between abstraction and representation?

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Stanley Lewis, West Side of House (with Detailed Shingles), 2001-2003, Oil on canvas, 32 x 37 inches

In the lower right corner of West Side of House (with Detailed Shingles), a break in the surface where the canvas has been cut and moved abruptly interrupts the form of a terracotta pot. The pot appears to have broken open to reveal what it’s made of juicy gobs of paint frozen in motion like dried lava. Stanley Lewis’ paintings sometimes seem to be turned inside out, requiring you to see through their innards to an image. They remind me of Guston’s romantic dream of peeling open a painting by Rembrandt or El Greco to see what kind of teeming inner life of flames or fibers it contains.

The inner materials Guston imagines for paintings provide an alternative to Frank Stella’s literalist declaration that “painting is made with colored paint on a surface.” The “quivering equilibrium” in Stanley Lewis’ work is one between matter and imaginative experience, between a teeming surface and a spatial world. We can’t fix what we see into paint or image alone, or force it into schematic generality; it remains hidden in its particularity.

Eleanor Ray is an artist and writer living in New York. You can find her website here.She last wrote in these pages about Elena Sisto.

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In Which We Know Where The Maze Ends

What’s Older Than Ed Harris?

by DICK CHENEY

Westworld
creators Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan
HBO

There’s a moment near the end of the first season of Westworld when Ed Harris is shot in the arm from a very long distance. Blood spills out of the artery, and he is just overwhelmed with delight. He has never been so surprised in his entire life. The truth is he probably has been that shocked before, but he simply cannot remember it. The novelty of that bloody, unexpected injury is only a reminder of how he was hurt before.

Would you possibly be interested in hours and hours of this kind of dialogue? Androids talk to each other the same way the humans do on Westworld: in a boring, quasi-philosophical monotone. Having all the androids and most of the humans wear the same clothes/costumes for ten consecutive episodes was a great way of saving HBO money, but I grew to hate Jeffrey Wright’s black suit and the suburban mom pants constantly worn by Evan Rachel Wood. She looks like a corpse flattened by a truck.

Westworld creators, the husband and wife team of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, spent the entire season sketching out the “mystery” of this garrulous place: it was primarily that one storyline was a flashback to the younger days of the park’s owner, William (Ed Harris). (You will note this was also the basic premise of Lost.) All the viewers of Westworld figured this out rather quickly, so there is some question as to why this had to be veiled at all.

There was one other key mystery of the place, which is that a lot of people were androids who maybe didn’t seem like it at first due to the various deceptions of the park’s creator Ford (Anthony Hopkins). This led to a chilling scene in a basement and a few more ones in retrospect if you have the time to go back and watch the early episodes. (I’m retired, so I have that kind of freedom.) More and more people turned out to be androids as time went on. It was difficult to trust the death of anyone given that they could simply have created an android version of themselves to take the bullet, as probably occurred in this season’s final scene.

We all knew where this completely dull show was going: eventually the androids would rebel and murder a lot of the humans. In last night’s season finale, they did it, laughing and smiling the whole time. It was unclear why their murder spree was so joyful until we realized that it too was simply another storyline created by Ford. As Evan Rachel Wood opened fire on the executive board of Westworld, it was just another fake storyline — albeit one with real casualties.

The best part of Westworld‘s story, we found out last night, was also fake: the awakening of Maeve (Thandie Newton), who discovered she was an android and decided to leave the park. The story of one human being on a mission to destroy the world entire is always a strong plot, and she was supported in her mission by the completely charming Felix (Leonardo Nam). The fact that one murderous android was distinctly more sympathetic than another murderous android gave me a lot of pause.

No one ever made it very far past the basic concept of Westworld before. It is easy enough for machines to take over a space designed for them, with few modern weapons, that they have inhabited for 35 years. Keeping a rebellion going depends on substantial ingenuity, and the element of surprise would not really hurt. Neither detail really plays much of a role here.

Along those lines, it is difficult for Westworld to come back for a second season with much of the same cast. The finale featured the hasty establishment of some new characters to replace the old — perhaps more significant members cast have actually been killed, and it seems important that they are not part of the park’s future. Unlike most shows, we never became terribly attached to any of these people/non-people to begin with.

It is a function of old age that people are always asking for advice. No one has ever seen a man like Donald Trump become president before; how could we possibly know what to expect no matter how long we have been alive? When my wife Lynne asks me if I should watch Westworld, I say no. Then she often asks why. I ask her if she has ever thought about whether the roomba that vacuums our living room ever wanted kids or engages in vigorous wishful thinking. After she says no, I tell her to watch The Crown.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Went To Sleep For Fifteen Years

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Hurt Those Creatures

by ELEANOR MORROW

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
dir. David Yates
133 minutes

There is an ongoing trend, in the age of climate concern, to attribute human qualities to everything that surrounds us. This attitude extends to every creature in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling’s not-so-humorous and not-so-exciting jaunt through the world that would eventually give birth to Harry Potter. There are oversized rhinoceroses desperate to mate, duck-billed platypuses who love nothing more than to steal, and mastodon-type creatures who only crave the touch of others. Would that any of the actual characters in this story had such manifestly human motivation!

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It is almost shocking to see a Rowling film in which the actors are actually decent performers. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them manages a marvelous cast in comparison to the shit show that was the last gasp of Harry’s quest to kill a man without a nose, that fellow who did something completely heinous: left him alive. In those last movies, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint looked completely checked out, not that they were really suited for their roles in the first place.

We desire a real love story, but instead of providing it, none of the characters in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ever give over to animal instincts. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is the actor’s usual sexless fop; despite being exposed to several beautiful women who invite him into their home, he can’t escape quickly enough. His platonic friend Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) lives with her sister (Alison Sudol) and has no man in her life. “What makes Albus Dumbledore so fond of you?” someone asks Newt halfway through the film, but we never get the pleasure of finding out.

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Despite being named after the most magnetic iteration of 20th century masculinity, the Muggle at the heart of these events, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), is a baker/veteran nearing 30 who works in a canning factory and has never had intercourse. During a particularly revealing interchange with Newt, Kowalski asks him whether he likes canned food. Newt just shakes his head.

Well, there is nothing wrong with canned food. Usually it tastes just fine, and it keeps forever. It’s pretty good for the environment, but you have to understand that these are the types of people who only care about such things to the extent that they do not actually affect their lifestyle. Newt keeps all the endangered species he collects in his suitcase. In his head he is a progressive, but in actuality he is nothing more than a fancy zookeeper.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them inserts Newt in New York just after the war. In America, Muggles are colorfully referred to as non-Mags. You can tell that Rowling’s trips to this country were relatively sheltered, because it is remarkable how completely whitewashed this New York is. Percival Shaw (Colin Farrell) is a magical official trying to track down a devastating cloud of smoke. If that idea excites you, you may suffer a coronary when the time travel yarn Harry Potter and the Cursed Child makes it to the screen.

The best way to do a prequel series would have been to create certain circumstances under which we could finally appreciate why the death of Mr. Potter was necessary – for example, it may have prevented Now You See Me 2 from ever being shown to audiences. If you have read the spoilers for Rowling’s return to the character, you know that he has been basically put out to pasture in favor of his son, a spoiled brat with a famous father. There are no more orphans, just beneficiaries from Rowling’s tremendous financial success.

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I am probably too hard on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Rowling at least does a nice job unraveling the basic mystery here, and Yates’ command of the various special effects required by the series has come a long way. The art direction of the animals themselves is immensely pleasing, and Redmayne’s use of animals to save the life of a Jewish woman he barely knows is a lot more enterprising than a mere spell. There is one moment where Newt emerges in the Arizona wild where we actually feel the beginnings of a great adventure. A few minutes later, Newt’s platypus is robbing a jewelry store, and all we want is to go back.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing at This Recording here.

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In Which We Always Thought Of Ourselves As A Good Judge Of Character

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At the Finish

by JESSICA FURSETH

The text he sent me, telling me he misses me and wants to be my friend. I respond I would like that too, but I don’t know how. We sigh, as far as that’s possible to do over text, and then do nothing.

That I’m old now, meaning I know you don’t get to be friends, not right away like this. The god of break-ups owns this time, and the deity will make you sit in the waiting room flicking through the thoughts in your head, working through every little tedious thread in the tangle.

That I know why we broke up but I don’t think he does because he keeps asking me: “Did you leave because I’m so broke right now? Did you end it because I take drugs sometimes? Was it because of that guy you met, the one you keep meeting up with?” I feel the anger swell in my chest when he asks this, because it’s none of these things and yet all of these things, and so much more. But most of all it’s how he doesn’t hear me when I try and tell him. I spent the best part of a season trying to salvage things, trying to explain what the problem was, desperately sifting through all the words in my arsenal to find the ones that would show him how I felt. More than anything I wanted him to understand.

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The moment when it started breaking. Of course I didn’t understand at the time but with hindsight I can see it: a freezing day with grey fog hanging low over the city, on a bus because the train wasn’t running. He told me something about what he believed in and how he wanted to live, some dream about communal living and sharing resources and a commitment to social activism. All things I can understand and even admire, but the opposite of everything I wanted for myself, as a fickle introvert with a bad case of wanderlust. And felt an ache swell in my chest, realising in a flash that I’d put my eggs in his basket without understanding who he really was, and how could I have let that happen? I got off the bus and went home alone, deflated. We recovered, but I slowly started to retrieve my eggs, one by one, keeping them safe in my own house again because I didn’t trust him with them anymore.

Some Humpty-Dumpty metaphor.

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That time he broke it off via text message while we were trying to work it out, sending me a missive while I was standing in a train station buying wine for a weekend away. I couldn’t even engage with what he was saying, blinded by the indignity of being dumped by text: “I am ending this because you no longer put our relationship first.” Or something like that; I’m not sure what it said exactly because I deleted it, too surreal a message to exist in the world.

What I remember is that I laughed, then shook, and then I raged at the absurdity, the humiliation of being dumped in the manner of my mobile operator informing me I’ve exceeded my monthly data allowance. When I got back there was a wall of ice between us, which melted as he came knocking on my door late at night. We spent three days in bed, in a time capsule, but it didn’t last.

The fact that I felt relief when it finally ended. Too many repetitions of the same arguments. I’d stare at him in disbelief, across the pub table or across the stream of text messages, wondering how it was possible to have been with someone for so long and have it end in such confusion. How black and white it felt, everything he said. How he refused to allow for the fact that things could change. How I was probably equally frustrating to talk to for him but I can’t see it, because when you are breaking up, you no longer are who you are.

That I’m realising you never quite finish with someone you used to love, not really. My ex and I still possess pieces of each other, even as he lives on the other side of the city where he calls another woman girlfriend and I have someone else who answers to boyfriend. See it didn’t take long; I told you the breakdown was a relief.

The worst thing about this is realising how wrong I was about him. How it took me so long to get to really know him, blind to reality at an age when I really should know better. How it makes me look at my new boyfriend with a twinge of skepticism, wondering what’s lurking under the surface, as I’ve always thought myself to be a good judge of character but maybe not. I don’t often wish things were different, but I’d give a lot not to feel this way as my new boyfriend deserves better.

That I regret nothing about my ex. Not getting into it in the first place, nor any of the things that caused it to end because when it was good, it was fantastic. And when it started to break down, it felt natural. I can never admit this to him though, because it’s cruel. But I know what it feels like to be so broken up about a relationship that you can hardly breathe, and this isn’t it. All I know is that I toss my phone across the table in frustration at yet another text message where he completely misses the point. But even as I do, I know it was all worth it.

Jessica Furseth is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her website here and she tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by the author.

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