In Which We Live In Detroit Until We Find Something Better

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Alcohol-Related Pun on Steel City

by ETHAN PETERSON

Detroiters
creators Tim Robinson, Sam Richardson, Zack Kanin and Joe Kelly
Comedy Central

detroiters-casting-call-detroit-520x245Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson) lives in a crumbling Detroit one-family home by himself. Without a woman in his life, he has to find solace where he can. He loves his city more than anything, and why not? He knows everyone in it. When Duvet and his partner in their advertising agency Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson) go out to a business lunch, they have six or seven drinks, because they will most likely not be paying. Detroiters focuses on the day-to-day lives of two compulsive, functioning alcoholics in a realistic way we are not used to seeing on television, let alone on a network like Comedy Central.

For Sam, drinking is a way of dealing with the fact that his sister Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon) has a successful marriage with Tim, while his happiest romantic entanglement comes when a local woman mistakes him for a prostitute. We see Sam when bartenders and other service employees accuse him of drinking beyond his limit – this is the only time he is really mean to anyone in Detroiters. The rest of the show consists of him making allowances for other people in the same fashion as he chooses to do so for himself and his terrible disease.

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One particularly tragic episode consists of Sam and Tim trying to round up money to pay for an employee’s health insurance. They ask a local attorney for the money that they are owed. Sensing their inebriation, she does not take their entreaties seriously, and they end up with $20 from her son, who purchases a t-shirt from Sam for the purpose of ejaculating into it.

Sam and Tim’s other acquaintances are equally seedy, and most of the locations they visit in the city of Detroit consist of either an abandoned school, a restaurant or bar that has not altered in any significant way after the year 1985, or a dilapidated urban residence with few windows or open spaces. Given the dire surroundings, there is plenty of reason to drink in Detroiters.

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It is less clear why Tim Robinson (Saturday Night Live, where he was a staff writer) and his character are so focused on consuming alcohol. Tim Cramblin has a productive, loving relationship with his wife and a business he inherited from his father. Later on in Detroiters‘ nine episode first season (the show has been renewed for a second) we meet Cramblin’s massive father (Kevin Nash), who was confined to an insane asylum after portioning out platters of feces to the participants in a pitch meeting. Seeing Tim’s biological family ostensibly should help explain his life, but instead it only gives rise to more questions.

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Richardson and Robinson are both Detroit natives themselves, and there is a consistent insistence on casting actors who are actually from Detroit, which does give Detroiters a weird verisimilitude. Their attachment to place as a defining factor in their lives is probably simply another byproduct of their alcoholism, but it is a relief to see this illness in a context that is not out-of-control abandon. We sense that Tim and Sam will be alcoholics for their entire lives, and the only thing that will stop them from abusing alcohol and drugs would be to leave Detroit, which they will never do.

There is something a bit perverse about portraying emotionally stunted versions of yourself, but the broadly talented Richardson has already made a short career out of doing this in Veep and in feature films. At times, it is disappointing that in a role he wrote for himself he offers no real introspection in his character. We see Sam reflected in his city, and this view represents only part of the whole. Robinson and Richardson’s humor is usually confined to the expectations we have for other people and the world relative to ourselves. When people or events let them down, they are momentarily disappointed, but the combination of alcohol and their own perverted friendship allows them to take the righteous view.

There is this crazy scene in a Mary Karr book – actually this might happen in every Mary Karr book – where stranded for an indeterminate period of time, she unpacks an entire bottle of vodka she plans to continuously sip from for the duration. Sam Duvet has the crutch of his best friend to enable him even when drinking alone cannot cure his sadness or even annoyance at the city where he was born. In its best moments, Detroiters shows how different individuals find something, anything, that allows them to go on.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which We Were Not There To Take His Place

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Composting Now

by DAN CARVILLE

Around late January, when Christmas was just the echo of an echo of crumpled wrapping paper, I ran out of ways to convince you to come back.

Apologies in advance for the second-person. I know it is the dirt worst, even worse than consecutive semi-colons, but you can lay the blame on my total lack of composure. I was pricing a belt at T.J. Maxx on Wednesday and tears ruined the buckle, rusted it out.

A lot of bad things have happened, if I’m being honest. I know in a relationship, a real relationship that is what you have to be, or it catches up to you. A phone call out of the blue announces the lie has evaporated.

I don’t lie anymore, not even to myself.

One of these unfortunate occurrences put me inside of a hospital. (It was nothing you did, and it was not really happening to me, anyway. He only goes after those we love, especially when we love ourselves too much to risk it.)

Hospitals all look the same, halls too wide for human occupation. Signs point us in the wrong direction, away from the place we need to be. I remember one time I was in a hospital; I was just a little boy, I had seen The Rocketeer; it was supposed to keep me awake, only the thing was it put me to sleep instead.

I should have known that basic irony would be the defining jest of February. The reason I give a gift is to show who I am, the kind of person I might be under better, more favorable circumstances. I guess what I started thinking is, what if I am that person now, and the gift just proves how much further I had to go.

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Why you left is nuncupatory. The fact is you are not down in the Metro when I go there, and believe me I questioned city personnel. I keep thinking to myself how I never did anything bad to you except not take the trip you wanted me to. You never suggested I go, but you should not have had to ask. It eats at me a lot that I did not do that for you, but it is not even the biggest bite.

Day one of therapy was like a bunch of swarming minnows, taking plankton-size chunks. My metaphors run away from me. Writing is inadequate to this particular task. There is something missing from it that can only be conveyed by the actual passage of time, not the gasp between paragraphs.

I did go back. I also returned to where we first met, hoping I would glimpse you through an aquarium. That first day we met I was not really looking forward to seeing you. I canceled the night before, wrapping myself in a thin black blanket and reading until all my bad thoughts went away, of how maybe I was not the person you thought I would be, and would I hate myself for the lack of authenticity?

My therapist gave me this idea. He asked me what kind of person I thought I was. The only way I could answer is this: I never do things for the sake of them. He told me that some people might view that as a character flaw. I wanted to scream.

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But I did not. There is no anger there, even that has faded with the time we are given to get over ourselves. The training for this in the life of a man is minimal. I am, like plenty of others, not unfamiliar with being dismissed, but the way you did it.

That has nothing to do with it. It is what I tell my class (I am teaching now, you never let me tell you, it is great fun and you always told me I should do it and I did, I’d talk to you about it in these warmer nights if you let me, my lips brushing against a pillow like a perpetual greeting). What I tell my class is, the way you say something doesn’t matter at all. If you’re saying the right thing, you could tell it backwards and we would still shake at the end.

March comes on like a refrain. Everyone is telling me to be social. “Don’t retreat into yourself,” a friend says. “It takes too long to realize nothing’s there.” I have my books and movies. I finished Carrie: the ending was just awful. I tried another Theodore Dreiser, and I noticed a theme. A woman is humbled, and she takes a man with her into the gutter. She makes a choice to save herself or save him, and whatever decision she lands on, she regrets.

You must have some regrets. I never met anybody that didn’t second guess themselves, but I suppose that is why you are not here right now. I would have liked to watch that movie with you, and I wish we had never disagreed. It is another character flaw, to enjoy bouncing hard against something soft, and then doing the reverse. I’m working on pushing the soft parts together, says my therapist.

It is the opposite of what you are supposed to do in writing, and maybe that is what I find difficult about relationships at times. It feels like pressing the cathodes of a battery against each other, nuzzling their charged tips.

I pray a lot now, which is funny considering I told you how silly I thought it was. Well, now I know why people do it: it is for when you want something real bad and divine intervention is the only way they can think to get it. I pray for you to come back in my life, and sometimes for wonderful things to happen to you. I figure if you are happy maybe it doesn’t improve my chances, but it couldn’t hurt them. Plus, you’d be happy.

That’s not where these pleas to God end, however. I don’t imagine just having you around. That’s peanuts. I imagine marrying you in front of everyone I know. It gets worse. Even though we’re already wed, I propose again. We could renew our vows. I was looking for a ring, but it wasn’t good enough. The only thing that would say what was in my heart right now is seaweed and grass. I go back to the earth — I’m even composting now. I miss you. When you walk through the door, you won’t recognize me. I ran to lose weight, and I kept doing it because I know you would have wanted me to. I’m volunteering for Hillary. I’ve seen so many places on these travels — the end of the park, choruses of concrete, metal detectors exchanging compliments, lightning bugs kneeling and circling my big stupid head. That’s not all. You’re here and praying too. My clothes are better, my spirit is larger. I am king of all the animals, and I sprinted a block to return a dollar that had dropped out of a girl’s pocket. You won’t recognize me at all.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

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In Which We Saw The Pictures You Are Looking Fine

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.

Hi,

My fiance Edward has a very complicated relationship with his extended family. He spends a lot of time explaining all their various inadequacies, including how terrible they have made him feel at various times in the past and present. Sometimes when I agree with him on his observations, he concurs with what I have been saying to him and seems to appreciate my commiserating, but other times he seems upset that I am criticizing them — usually in far milder terms than he himself has offered.

Sometimes I wonder whether he would be better off putting major distance between himself and them, and other times I am not sure what the right decision would be, but I do wonder if I am going to be punished at some later date for agreeing that some of the things they do are unhealthy and emotionally abusive. At the same time, I am not willing to keep my mouth shut about this. What are my options?

Gail A.

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Dear Gail,

Assessing the quality of the relationship with Edward’s family is the key issue. If there is nothing positive there or if we are talking about one seriously destructive family member, then you can absolutely attempt to cut this off like it is an abscess, especially if you have emotional leverage on Edward. He has already shown himself to be a vulnerable weakling who is easily taken advantage of by those who claim to love him, so why not put him through this all over again?

I am joking, although we do have considerable power over those we care about. In order to use your power over Edward for good instead of ill, you must think about what would truly be best for his emotional long-term well-being. Once you have come to a conclusion about that, you need to go full steam ahead in pursuit of your goal. The key aspect of handling this that will make it easier for both of you is being open about your aims from the start.

Explaining to Edward that you are going to do what you can to bring him closer to his family and make it work, and that you will not be sympathizing with any of his complaints since it is destructive to that goal will probably have the desirable effect of making him complain less and perhaps focus more on the housework.

Hi,

I have been dating my girlfriend Randi for over four years. I have noticed that recently I have become less attracted to her. She has been going through some life changes and hasn’t had as much time to take care of herself, and as superficial as that is, I feel that is having an effect on how I view her. I really wish that this were not the case. I find myself fantasizing about being with other women when I am intimate with her. I know that is shameful, but I don’t know what else to do and I don’t feel I can tell her.

Julie D.

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Dear Julie,

Excepting the rare type of person who is not really concerned about the role of exciting sex in their lives, once you lose the desire to be intimate with your partner, you need to try to get it back, or you should move on. Any couple that is not having sex is missing the second most important aspect of their relationship, and it is very difficult to make things work after that.

Your instinct not to tell Randi about this is also dead on balls accurate. Nothing good will come of her realizing that you view her as a bag of effluvium. Four years in, she probably thinks you love her so much that you truly don’t care how she looks, but really everything here is telling you it is best to peace out. It is possible to bring that attraction back, but you’re not married and you presumably don’t have kids, so the incentive to make this work is just not there.

shsodsokdosdoskodksodksd

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Softly Close Our Eyes In Water

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Lotus Born

by MELISSA HUTTON

Afterbirth
dir. Mia Wasikowska
14 minutes

Mia Wasikowska’s short film Afterbirth begins with a single woman and her bare shoulders in a bathtub filled with blood. A crying newborn is taken away just as soon as he is brought to her chest. She sits. She slides beneath the blood-water surface. What follows is Wasikowska’s quiet and sensory study on both maternal and self-love.

Igor Charkowsky, midwife and swimming instructor, had been experimenting with water births in Russia since the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that they came into widespread practice in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. After visiting and observing Charkowsky in practice, midwife Susanna Napierala writes in her book, Water Birth: A Midwife’s Perspective, “Charkowsky likens an ‘air’ birth to someone freefalling and then colliding with the solid ground.” Charkowksy considers the immense pressure and force of gravity on a newborn as she’s pushed out of her liquid environment and into the world. He encourages adults to relate to newborns on a deeper level; to understand that they feel everything because all they are is feeling. Charkowsky meditates on the sensitive, open nature of our biological and psychic energy fields at birth and during embodiment. Birth doesn’t have to be precious. Living is traumatic. It is a form of labor. Water can ease the difficulties of labor and serve as a gentle transition for both the parent and the newborn.

Slightly preceding the practice of water births in the U.S., Clair Lotus Day, a clairvoyant, nurse, and teacher in California, questioned the practice of cutting the umbilical cord. Although it seemed to distress most newborns, it remained a widespread standard. Letting the umbilical cord fall off on its own was something that had previously only been observed in chimpanzees by Jane Goodall. In 1974, Day got pregnant and planned for a lotus birth. Dr. Sarah J. Buckley defines it as, “the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut so that the baby remains attached to the placenta until the cord naturally separates at the navel—exactly as a cut cord does – at three to ten days after birth. This prolonged contact can be seen as a time of transition, allowing the baby to slowly and gently let go of the attachment to the mother’s body.” Day found an obstetrician sensitive to, although skeptical of, her desires and was able to bring her baby home, placenta intact. In a few days, the cord dried out and fell off on its own. Clair’s baby was lotus born. While every person is entitled to whatever birthing method makes her feel safe and happy, many accounts of lotus births advocate for the period of restful transition that the practice allows.

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While Buckley emphasizes gentle detachment from the mother’s body in her definition of lotus birth, she doesn’t exactly emphasize the significance of the child’s attachment to the placenta itself. It is almost genetically identical to the newborn and sustains her life during gestation. The two and the mother can be considered a single unit with the placenta as an essential, external organ. Considering the placenta not an anatomical waste but as much a part of the baby as the heart or lungs can make cutting the umbilical cord prematurely seem unwarranted and cruel. The only difference is that once out of the womb, the placenta begins to die. Disrupting the connection, while life-threatening in utero, is not as physically threatening after birth. In recent years, delaying cord cutting three to ten minutes after birth has become a standard practice. Enough research has been done to suggest that nutrients are still being delivered to the newborn from the placenta during this window of time. Delaying cord cutting is necessary. Complete umbilical nonseverance serves no apparent physical purpose. But that doesn’t tell us anything about its necessity.

In the 2011 book Lotus Birth, midwife Alice Scholes imagines that any discomfort associated with the idea of preserving the placenta could arise from the discomfort we have in acknowledging death. Lotus birth involves preserving, salting and drying the placenta as it dies. According to Scholes, being born is death of life in the womb. But there is nothing immediate about it, as the word death and our experience with it might suggest.

Shivam Rachana, who compiled Lotus Birth, writes, “with the placenta still attached, the sense of being in the space between worlds is very apparent. The baby is here but is still there. The time of transition from the beyond into the physical plane of existence is obvious.” Lotus birth acknowledges the significance of coming into consciousness. It draws it out and emphasizes its nature as a transition. Birth doesn’t need to be a jolt, but an awakening, slower, resembling a tide or a wave. In Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Bernard considers “into this crashed death—Percival’s. ‘Which is happiness?’ I said (our child had been born), ‘which pain?’ referring to the two sides of my body, as I came downstairs, making a purely physical statement.” Birth and death are not opposites but entry points; ways to cross through the porous boundaries of consciousness. Sometimes death comes on slow. Other times, it crashes. Birth might crash, but it doesn’t need to.

Birth is at once deeply personal and universal. It is a product of a community and research, no matter how a person decides to deliver. In Lotus Birth, authority resides not in one person, but in the collective voices of those invested in lotus birth, in those who have experienced lotus births, and even in those who are not voiced, who do not advocate for these particular birthing methods. Living in a techno-medical birthing culture instills skepticism for those who provide alternatives to the widespread practice of hospital births. I have long associated birth with fear and images of a woman in pain lying flat on her back and being told by a man wearing a green mask, to push. Even so, I don’t need to read an argument against gentle or lotus births to make me wary of these alternatives. I already am.

To get through the day or a pregnancy we collect information from our environment. Information that guides the choices that added together might resemble a lifestyle. We let our information take on a general direction that feels personalized but is not entirely unique to ourselves. It’s like how Maggie Nelson wonders in an interview, whether it really is a “great throbbing consciousness” that we all lean against and share, “even if that sharing is characterized by dissensus or mirage of separateness rather than a blurry unity.” Like Virginia Woolf in The Waves, she wonders about the boundaries of the individual and where culture starts. What separates us is not as solid as it seems. With faith that this idea has a way of slowly but surely finding its way to the surface, we can think about lotus birth and come closer to this understanding.

In Lotus Birth transpersonal psychologist Renuka Potter writes about placental consciousness, which is not unlike Nelson’s idea of a “great throbbing.” Potter writes, “It is quite likely that the trauma of birth causes the baby to lose its hold on the deep consciousness of itself as a being grounded in placental/earth consciousness, the unconscious wisdom of the body, the mammalian brain. If the cord is not cut, this familiar wisdom or sense of being that still resonates in the placenta can be accessed by the baby.” The placenta is both organ and circumstance. It anchors the newborn to the earth and reminds her from where she came. I It is dilation, concentration and a direction to look towards if you’re all right with its death. And if God is anything it’s that.

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Potter’s mention of access lends itself to the idea that my ideas and my sense of being don’t come from me, but from my physical interactions with and across a bigger consciousness. I am born into consciousness, but it’s not my own. And just like anyone else, I’m intelligent at birth. Stephen Gaskin — husband of Ina May Gaskin, Mother of the Natural Birth Movement — writes in Spiritual Midwifery, “A newborn infant is just as intelligent as you are. When you’re relating with her, you should consider that you are relating to a very intelligent being who just doesn’t speak your language yet. And you shouldn’t do anything gross to her before she learns to speak with you.”

Not doing anything gross to each other is the dream. But that’s not enough because I want to be individual. I want there to be something that separates me from you. (A couldn’t-be-more-human motivation that changes color and tone as your point of view changes, as it runs the gamut between thoughts of a young emotional white woman to the underlying cause of every racial, gendered, classist, ableist and ageist form of oppression.) My sense of individuality and the expression of my intelligence relies, moment to moment, on the position, time, size and place of my body. Whether or not I can or want to communicate it to you depends on yours.

I continually drift, towards and away from assigning individual traits to you and myself. So does the woman in Afterbirth. She floats through the days in both playful and eerie ways. Her struggle to recognize her newborn is the same as her struggle to recognize herself.

My movements, as singular as they may or may not be, are what grant me access to different parts of a collective consciousness. Potter suggests that we have a greater connection to it around birth. And that’s because this consciousness potentially resides in the placenta.

Lotus birth addresses anxieties of embodiment and perceived separateness. Lotus birth stems from a desire for children to enter the world feeling alright in their bodies, a luxury we probably didn’t have, in order to more easily access a fulfilling mode of being. A lotus born child is not secure for life. But it’s not a bad way to start. With lotus birth, we are momentarily secure in knowing what is firm about the boundaries between ourselves and others. And in being so, we are less distracted, confused, or weighed down by our sense of being individual. It is like feeling the earth beneath your feet after searching, treading water. It is like in The Waves when Bernard thinks, “I have had one moment of enormous peace. This perhaps is happiness. Now I am drawn back by pricking sensations; by curiosity, greed (I am hungry) and the irresistible desire to be myself,” or when Rhoda thinks, “The still mood, the disembodied mood is on us, and we enjoy this momentary alleviation (it is not often that one has no anxiety) when the walls of the mind become transparent.” Lotus births are multiple and continuous. A lotus birth is not a single occasion that we’ve missed. We come up over and over again, experiencing lightness and alleviation just to be drawn back to the self and the everyday, knowing or at least hoping we’ll come up again.

I was born in air, in a hospital and without a midwife or drugs. A doctor cut my cord. My birth may have been more traumatic than it needed to be but I don’t remember and I will never know. In recognizing lotus birth and the placenta, though, it is easier for me to think about being and my body. Newborns are sentient beings at a vulnerable stage in their embodiment. Transitioning doesn’t have to be cut abruptly with the cord. Time can be manipulated. Birth can be elongated. With lotus birth we can realize our time between worlds and grant ourselves a period of grace and rest.

Afterbirth takes place between these worlds. We never encounter the placenta or see the cord cut in Mia Wasikowska’s film, and at first glance, the title seems synonymous with postpartum. But the themes and the tones are placental. The film spans the days that follow a birth. The woman, played by Kathryn Beck, is blonde with wide and calm eyes. There are no visitors. Her contact with anyone but her baby is limited. Their contact with each other is not void of emotion or care. It’s mechanical. Our focus is drawn in and lingers on the woman as she fastens a pair of lettuce leaves to her chest. She performs typical mothering responsibilities but imagines her baby born to a pair of wildly social caricature parents. When asked to watch another woman’s baby in a restroom, she picks him up out of his stroller and switches him with her own. The mother returns, horrified, and asks what she’s doing. Surprised by both herself and the other woman, she smiles and sputters gently, “It was a joke.” It feels like she’s experiencing a time lag, or time underwater. It’s both serene and melancholic. It’s without particular focus until she’s brought back to the surface and reminded that at some point she’s had a child; and that this is only the beginning. Birthed in water but having his cord cut, the baby hasn’t been wholly born and so it could be said that the woman hasn’t been wholly born into being his mother. At the end of the film, as the infant cries, his mother sees a strand of hair wound tightly around his finger. She unwraps it and he’s calmed. She picks him up and strokes him between his eyes, which he softly closes. It’s through this isolated moment that we sense the beginning of deep love and security between bodies. The two, for the moment at least, are lotus born.

Melissa Hutton is a writer from New York and this is her first appearance on This Recording.

In Which Brendan Behan Was At The Height Of His Powers

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The Gift

by JOHN MONTAGUE

What really interested Brendan were my impressions of life on the Left Bank, which was then the intellectual capital of post-war Europe. The underground clubs like the Tabou, and the Rose Rouge, where Juliette Greco sang, the terraces of the ‘Maggots’ or the Mabillon were all well known to Brendan Behan. And they had already heard of him as a writer: Sinbad Vail, son of Peggy Guggenheim, had printed Brendan’s delicate story “After the Wake” in his magazine Points, though Brendan later repudiated it because it exposed his liking for boys.

In the exuberant bohemian atmosphere of Saint Germain, where Genet and Baldwin were leading lights, and Gide was the local Nobel laureate, no one cared a ‘fig’ about homosexuality. But back in melancholy Dublin, such sexual diversity was dangerous, and the naturally loquacious Brendan had to try to keep his mouth shut.

Brendan’s sexuality was complex and seldom fulfilled. He liked women but his early years in prison had given him a feeling for the fine manly forms of his fellow felons. He confided to me that what he would really like was ‘a boy on top of a girl, and myself on top of that,’ a pyramid not easily choreographed in the pious Ireland of our youth, or indeed, anywhere west of Bangkok.

Brendan Behan

When we re-met three years later, in 1954, we were both young married men, and by lucky chance, living more or less side-by-side, in Dublin’s genteel Herbert Street. It was noticeable that Brendan was migrating steadily from the North Side slums of his youth to the more sedate south, perhaps in a curve towards respectability?

Few people think of Behan as a husband, but that was the role in which I finally came to know him best. And my own wife took to him immediately, as she was meant to. When they first met, as Madeleine and I were walking by the misty Canal, he surprised her by asking if he could put his finger in her mouth.

“Bite, daughter,” he cried, “bite as hard as you can, on the knuckle.” A surprised Madeleine did as she was instructed, until Brendan’s face whitened.

“Jaysus, girl you’re a fine specimen, and may you have many children. But,” he continued, his eyes narrowing with mischief, “do you know what you’ve gone and done? You’ve married an Ulsterman. A grand girl like yourself, you’d expect a bit of appreciation and affection. But all you’ll get from one of that lot is a pair of cold feet in the bed.”

Madeleine Montague, John’s first wife

Then he launched into a fluent stream of street French, which delighted her exile’s heart; she found his command of argot unusual and impressive.

Brendan was now at the height of his powers, a formidable little bull crackling with energy and affection for the world. A trip to the Markets for an early morning cure, home to heavy breakfast, a few hours hammering at his antediluvian typewriter: that was how he completed Borstal Boy and began The Hostage, plus a new novel that opened sensationally: “There was a party to celebrate Deirdre’s return from her abortion in Bristol.” If he spent the rest of the day in the pubs, it seemed a natural enough reward, and, if you caught him early enough, there would be a gas session.

We did not discuss writing much, but there was a mutual respect despite the disparity in our achievements; Brendan’s fame was now worldwide, and I was only getting back to real writing after three years of wandering and teaching in the States. If I published a poem or review, he usually found something decent to say about it, although he still smarted from what he regarded as the unfair treatment he received. Dubliners like Iremonger, Jimmy Plunkett and even John Jordan he always spoke well of, but beyond the lingua franca of Dublin men and oppressed and besieged by culchies, there was his simple belief that writing was something sacred. He might joke about it, as he did about everything else, but it was what mattered. “You may roll in the gutter, as long as you don’t destroy the gift.” It seemed to me a very romantic attitude but later I came to regard it as almost a prophetic summary of his descent into the toils of self-destruction.

During these early years of marriage, Brendan tried his best to harness his demons. He was very proud of Beatrice and her extraordinary capacity, at least at the beginning, for quiet amusement at his antics, even when they were sometimes excessive. There is a lovely picture of him crushing his great animal head against her pale face, and his imitation of her, brush in hand before her easel, was one of his new party tricks. If the daughter had arrived earlier, I am convinced that Brendan would have lived, because he loved children as much as or more than he desired young men. I have a favourite image of him festooned with children at Blackrock Baths, performing elaborate belly flops for delight. And whenever Madeleine’s pretty little niece came to stay with us, Brendan would fire bags of bon-bons through the window, ‘pour la petite.’

Montague, center

By eerie coincidence, my first marriage was also childless, and I recall a sadly hilarious exchange with Brendan cross-examining the novelist Benedict Kiely, in genuine puzzlement, as to how he had managed to have so many children, while Ben mumbled some vague consolation. It was as if he truly believed that he might be doing something wrong in the love department. For, despite the casual exchanges that sometimes prevailed in Dublin’s bohemia, we actually knew very little about sex in those days. And almost certainly nothing about problems like infertility, which even doctors discussed in hushed tones.

In my experience, in a childless marriage there is a tendency to revert to former habits, because the anchor that children provide is missing.

What aspects of his ‘peculiarly complicated personality’ brought about his downfall? There was his sexual ambiguity, for Brendan was, to use a Dublinism, a ‘bicycle’, or bisexual, pedalling forlornly with both feet. Most of his younger male contemporaries endured the occasional pass from Brendan, if he took a shine to you. But the advance usually so shy and stumbling as to be easily brushed off: the publicity-hungry Behan, who sought the crowd’s applause, was also deeply vulnerable. At the height of his fame, when he was staying in a West End London hotel, he took a fancy to a telegraph boy, who was bringing him messages of congratulation. Brendan was afraid to lay a hand on him, but liked him so much that he began to send telegrams to himself, just in order to see the boy and exchange a few pleasantries.

For all his impulses in that direction, Brendan seemed reluctant to pass through the mirror, to use Cocteau’s image. For, after all, one does not love in a vacuum, and declaring his homosexuality would have entailed a whole change of lifestyle that Brendan ultimately shied from. Or perhaps his real torture was that he was more or less equally attracted to both sexes, an ambivalence which might have been an albatross.

The above is excerpted from John Montague’s memoir Company: A Chosen Life, which was published in 2001. Montague passed away in December in Nice at the age of 87.

In Which We Forgive Her Almost Everything

Did You Morph Yet?

by DICK CHENEY

Power Rangers
dir. Dean Israelite
124 minutes

powerrangersintl.jpgRita (Elizabeth Banks) returns to American society in the year 2017. For 65 million years she has inactive in the deep sea, but a fishing net trawling the bottom of the Pacific Ocean finds her body. She was consigned to this bitter, watery fate by Dr. Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston). She subsists primarily on gold and water, so obviously a jewelry store makes a useful target. Before she presses a silent alarm, an employee at Jared offers her a variety of gold rings, which she consumes orally. When a single cop arrives he is armed with a shotgun, and when she does not turn around in sufficient time, he tries to put her down.

All I could think during this was how great all of it was. Power Rangers has tons of exciting moments, for example a black teenager (RJ Cyler) explains to his new friend Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the former star quarterback, that he is “on the spectrum.” Someone actually was like, “We should make the Blue Ranger an autistic comedy figure!” and another person responded in the affirmative. This was a real moment that happened in our world. Once this unlikely pair discovers a underground cavern together, Bryan Cranston (Heisenberg) informs them they must save the world or at the very least, their small California town named Angel Grove.

In another equally fantastic scene, Kimberly Hart (the ravishing, important Naomi Scott) is explaining to Jason why she was put into detention. It emerges that the reason for her punishment is because she cyberbullied her friend for taking a nude photo and sent it to everyone. Jason registers this information with sufficient interest, before responding, “You should focus on being the person you want to be.” It was unclear whether this meant more or less cyber-bullying, but I really did not care at that point. I was just so happy.

There are a lot of montage sequences as well. Such summaries were not the better part of this Power Rangers reboot, since they felt a bit forced and were composed mostly of Bill Hader one-liners – he plays an annoying robot. He wasn’t as bad as in Trainwreck, but that is not saying much. Fortunately, Dr. Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) is mentoring all these young people so he can teach them how to kill Elizabeth Banks’ character. Hilariously, Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) has zero faith in them whatsoever and spends all his time thinking about how he can materialize outside of being an aspect of his starship’s AI so he can lead these hopeless fuckers.

After eating up that gold, Rita is sufficiently strong and she finds out there are all these new rangers around. (She used to be the Green Ranger and I guess in a way she still is.) You know how sometimes actors will just phone in roles they believe are beneath them, like Bryan Cranston in everything since Breaking Bad? Elizabeth Banks gives you your money’s worth in every single scene, in what feels like a subtle apologia for how terrible Pitch Perfect 2 was. She tracks down the lesbian ranger (Becky Gomez) and almost chokes her to death, and then tracks her to find the rest of the Rangers. Within an hour she has imprisoned them all, and she even kills the autistic one because whatever.

This is not even the height of Banks’ performance. As soon as she finds out that these new power rangers do not have the collective camaraderie to “morph”, which is some kind of code for a communal sexuality which would allow them to display post-pubescent armaments and weapons, she is constantly being like, “Holy shit, you guys haven’t even morphed yet?” and laughing hysterically. A great villain has emerged, and even when she is excommunicated from Earth at the end of Power Rangers and begins to freeze as she hurtles through the deep recesses of space, I began to feel seriously envious that I will never be Elizabeth Banks or even be able to get to know her in a casual, friendly setting like doubles tennis or carpooling.

It is not even Banks alone. The cast of Power Rangers is all completely perfect, even the irresponsible Michelangelo of the group, a Chinese-American teen named Zack (Ludi Lin). He is the Black Ranger, which seems a tad racist but whatever. I have never heard of a Chinese person named Zack, but that’s probably more my fault than Zack’s. That is what is so wonderful about Power Rangers. It is such an empty vessel that no one even cares what you put into it.

Director Dean Israelite has surely earned the right to make a sequel to this amusing film. I am not totally sure what it would be about, but I have some ideas. The pregnancy of the Pink Ranger seems imminent, and also could she at the same time be cyberbullying the Yellow Ranger? Could the robot played by Bill Hader be really into Grey’s Anatomy? Could Jesus be the villain turned hero, and be made an honorary ranger? Where does Aaron Paul play into this? Could he be the Blue Ranger’s Magic: The Gathering buddy? The possibilities alarm me in their vividness.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Crack Open Scarlett’s Shell

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Kristen Stewart In The Car, With The Anime

by ETHAN PETERSON

Ghost in the Shell
dir. Rupert Sanders
106 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 8.40.41 AMMira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) has this faux-anime haircut where as she slips down a hallway her hair is fringing upwards and downwards. She murders an android in the first ten minutes of Ghost in the Shell, and afterwards she is very upset, since her mind is in an inorganic body. “You’re not like that,” explains her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek). Well, her stilted acting is exactly like that, so it is odd that it turns out that before her incarnation as Scarlett Johansson, she was a human Japanese anti-augmentation activist.

Scarlett’s wretched performance in Lost in Translation made her the poster child for misunderstanding the Japanese. This version of Ghost in the Shell has been absorbed in some controversy or other since it was announced, even though making crude American versions of foreign stories has become quite routine. The nation of Japan requires no protection from anyone, and although they have not appropriated as many cultural traditions as they have exported, they look upon American adaptations of their IP as amusing parallel universes. The sensitive aspect of this particular casting was that Asian actors have not been as successful as actors of other races in breaking into leading roles, and Paramount accounted the Pepsi-esque kerfluffle as the reason no one has gone to see Ghost in the Shell in theaters.

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Then again, would you really prefer a Japanese actress be subjected to Rupert Sanders’ version of Ghost in the Shell? This is the kind of mess that probably should have been canned on the set. The voicework done by Michael Pitt in this movie is so amateurish it could have been present in a Sharknado sequel. In one scene Scarlett is about to be raped by a variety of Japanese mobsters, and she is tazed by them repeatedly before killing them all. In another she interrogates a man who is clearly innocent for ten minutes of screen time. Her breasts look disturbingly small, like they were altered in post, and her eyes are made slightly ethnic as well.

Michael-Pitt-in-Ghost-in-the-Shell

What surrounds her has the appearance and quality of the shit Luc Besson takes almost every morning. At some point we begin to detect that Ghost in the Shell is just a big stall with no discernible story, with all the texture and emotion of a fan-film. Ghost in the Shell‘s director Rupert Sanders is most famous for cheating on his wife with Kristen Stewart, easily the finest artistic decision he ever made. This was the fifth of sixth draft of a script designed to translate the emotional reserve resonant in the original medium into something understandable for a mass audience.

The art direction here is a stolid mess, from the flat representation of Killian’s bodysuit to the enormous, unexplained avatar heads dotting the landscape of this city. We never get any sense of the setting as a place where people actually reside. Sanders has clearly seen Blade Runner and virtually nothing else in this genre.

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There is this great scene in Blade Runner where one of the characters sees an android waiting for him outside his apartment. After a brief conversation he invites her up, and we see this massive apartment complex from the inside, realizing there is nominal safety behind one of the doors, only we do not know exactly one, or what else might be behind it. This sense of dread and hope is accomplished in under a minute as they walk to the door.

Sanders is hopeless when it comes to creating any kind of atmosphere. He cannot feasibly make Ghost in the Shell gritty since it is not really that kind of story, given that the protagonists are police officers. He cannot really focus on the technical aspects of a sentient entity outside of a corporeal body, since he and screenwriter William Wheeler have clearly not thought for more than thirty seconds about these issues. As Killian’s creator, Juliette Binoche gets all of six or seven incredibly cliched lines before she is quite predictably murdered. Nor can he reframe Ghost in the Shell as an action-centric revenge piece, since that is not really the story for the most of the running time, and his command of the gunplay and intricate cinematography required to make it exciting is nonexistent.

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Ghost in the Shell goes wrong in so many directions, but even the empty, um, shell of something beautiful could have been entertaining enough for ninety minutes. Hell, one of John Woo’s best movies had substantially less plot than this but overcame it simply through masterful choreography and a multiplicity of violence. Once they forced John Woo to make a movie about two guys who switched faces and he pulled it off. I still marvel at that. The art direction here is just not on the level of the original anime, and recreating various scenes and shots from the 1995 film just reminds us what a pale imitation we are forced to witness.

What is also troubling about Ghost in the Shell is that it reminds me that action movies are not made anymore without humor. In this new jokey environment, Ghost in the Shell is completely serious, barely even attempting to make jokes of any kind, and we are so not used to this after superhero movies that are really more ensemble comedies than anything else. Scarlett has her particular uses, but her poor comic timing is only exceeded in this medium by Alicia Vikander. Reportedly she pocketed $12 million for this piece of trash, so more power to her.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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