In Which Nothing Is Here But Everything Is Permitted

Versus Godard

by BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI

Is everything permitted to the one who loves? For example to spy through the slats of the blinds, or to seek in the beloved’s garments the signs of his intimacy, or to rummage in his pockets to touch all the objects that, proofs of his betrayals, become proofs of his existence…

Strong in the love that I have for the cinema of Godard, I fish here in troubled waters, and I discover, precious as only the “real” can be, the “vulgarity” of Godard.

I am speaking of Godard‘s two most recent films, which I saw recently in Paris, their sound mixing scarcely finished, in the following order: Deux on trait chases que ie suit d’elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her); five minutes of recreation (those are Godard’s words, or as, laughing, he said to me “fine del prime tempo”—end of the first part); then, Made in USA.

I think Godard expects a single judgment on these two films; he finished filming Made in USA one summer Friday and began Two or Three Things the following Monday. He edited the two films at the same time, probably in two connecting cutting rooms, like two hotel rooms for an illicit couple. Another prosaic observation — the order in which Godard showed these two films lets one suppose that he prefers Made in USA projected last. (Dulcis in fundo.)

Godard must be a great devourer of newsprint; one can find the origin of his two films in last months’ newspapers. The idea for Two or Three Things: comes from a news item read in Le Nouvel Observateur: a married woman (about thirty years old), mother of two children, living in some housing development, prostitutes herself each time the desire seizes her to transform herself from mother of a family to consumer of all those products that neo-capitalism offers to Frenchwomen — Paco Rabane dresses, sunglasses, Polaroid cameras, and so on, all things whose acquisition her husband, an auto mechanic and radio ham, cannot guarantee her.

As for Made in USA, it is the Ben Barka affair, revised and corrected by Dashiell Hammett and Apollinaire, with Anna Karina in the role of Humphrey Bogart and Godard in the role of Howard Hawks. Comes the dreaded moment, the instant of the choice that Godard — not without masochism – imposed on us to make when he decided to shoot two films at the same time and to show them one after the other. Thus his victory will be his defeat and his defeat his victory. While Two or Three Things is at its origin a news item, Made in USA is drawn from a political assassination. Let us call to our aid Roland Barthes, who enlightens us on the difference between these two terms; the political assassination is always by definition a partial fact that refers necessarily to a situation existing outside it, before it, and around it: politics. The current event, on the contrary, is a total, or more exactly, an immanent piece of information. It refers formally to nothing other than itself.

But here is Godard reversing this rule scandalously; Made in USA keeps a structure tragically closed, while the current event of Two or Three Things, which ought to have derived its beauty and its meaning — an immanent entity resolving itself into its immediate données — from itself, opens like one of those strange and ineffable flowers of dreams or of hallucinations, which never stop blooming, disclosing in their petals new existences, new vegetable contexts, unpredictable as the resonance that they were brooding over, the things it signifies and their dream duration is unforeseeable.

Now, Made in USA, a political film, a traitor to politics, paralyzed in its great freedom by an ideological conformity, its colors fading from the very fact of the magnificence of their enamels — never in cinema have reds, blues, greens, been so red, so blue, so green, and everything seems true to Atlantic City — which, like Alphaville, should have resembled Paris and on the contrary resembles Atlantic City really too much, just as the “toughs” who should have made one think of Franco-Moroccan gorillas are, more or less in spite of Godard, too “tough” and in the end are only “toughs” — and yet, Made in USA, — the one that I like the less of these two films because it is too Godardian to be able to be really good Godard, here it does have unexpected events, very violent starts, that shake its entire armature; then, its structure recomposes itself, strengthens itself again, becomes enclosed, anti-Godardian. I was alluding to the deaths of the minor characters whom Godard has Anna Karina kill, and which are the sublime moments of the film.

It is as if the old man with the odd Eastern accent, or the writer who is Belmondo’s double or the parallel policeman, existed first of all thanks to the bullets that they encounter. Thanks to their blood, and thanks to Karina, who, after having fired, addresses long looks of comfort to them. Godard makes them live in making them die, one by one, and, to end with, we are encircled by these poetic deaths of minor characters.

But it was with Two or Three Things I Know About Her — “her,” this is the moment to say it, is not Marina Vlady, but Paris — that I really felt the pleasure of Godard’s “vulgarity.” I call “vulgarity” his capacity, his aptitude, to live from day to day, close to things, of living in the world as do journalists, who know how to arrive on events at the right time, and pay for this punctuality by necessarily undergoing the effects even of the most trivial, like the duration of a match flame. This “vulgarity” is to be a little too attentive to everything, and for that we are deeply grateful to Godard. It is for us that he risks that, because it is to us and for us that he speaks directly, to help us, men existing around him, and that is why it seems that he addresses himself always to someone who is very near him and not to eternity. Thus a monolithic current event, like that of Two or Three Things I Know About Her, which could be extinguished in itself, becomes “means,” “vehicle,” of a discourse that concerns us all. The prostitution of the women of the housing developments is only the pale reflection of the prostitution to which we have all, more or less differently, adapted ourselves, but with less innocence than Marina Vlady with her animal, peasant gentleness.

This new Godard full of anger and pity at the same time makes a single gesture and embraces innumerable souls, who are behind innumerable windows of suburban buildings and whom no one would mourn if floods or the bomb were to cross them out of the world forever. The light becomes pink and blue on the resonant partitions of the low-rent apartments; it is a light that we know already, and that resonates familiarly in us; it is the sun of work days, Wednesday or Thursday, in colonies that do not know that they are colonies (in Made in USA, I had forgotten to say, everything seems to happen between ten o’clock in the morning and six o’clock in the afternoon one Sunday in July, the bistros almost deserted, boredom for whoever remains in the city).

During this time someone speaks alone in the next room, and the walls are so thin, that everything that he says reaches us distinctly, like the words of the priest behind the grating of the confessional. It is Godard who speaks a monologue in a low voice. like a speaker operated on for cancer of the throat, and who says the rosary of his reflections on cinema and cinematographic style, questions himself and answers himself, protests, suggests, speaks ironies, explains to us that the shots, whether they are fixed, panoramic or dollied, are autonomous, with an autonomous resonance and an autonomous beauty, and that one must not preoccupy oneself too much with foreseeing a montage, for in every way the order is born automatically starting from the moment when we put one shot after the other, and that ultimately one shot is worth as much as another (Rossellini knows that), that if they are charged with poetry, the relationship will be born in spite of everything… and when his extraordinary moral discourse is seized with a slight shaking — and that often happens — it is as if the presentiment of a tragedy were assailing us; the characters of Two or Three Things I Know About Her will end their day with death, or by turning off the lamps by their beds, either ending not making much of a difference.

May 1967

In Which We Feel Ill Yet Considerably More Appealing Than Usual

Completely Organic

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Big Sick
dir. Michael Showalter
124 minutes

TBS_onesheet_Quotes_NZ_LR.jpgAt one point in The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani makes a short speech detailing what he likes about the woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan) he picked up at a comedy club. (He does not mention that he liked that she was sick, but it is implied.) The things he primarily mentions are that she is in fact a woman, and that she is very fond of birds. When he finds out that she has an infection in her lungs, he has no reaction to it until he sees a graphic tee in her closet and remembers her wearing it. You see, a woman’s personality is probably mainly a function of whatever clothing she donned at the time you chose her as your wife.

In other scenes, Kumail is made very upset by a series of Muslim women forced upon him by his mother (Zenobia Shroff). They are all quite lovely people and one even does an amazing magic trick; he never takes the time to get to know any of them. American culture, we may infer, has trained him to select a partner as alike to Zooey Deschanel as one can possibly manage.

In real life, Emily V. Gordon clearly has some talent outside of her passion for water fowl. She hosts a podcast for Christ’s sake – do you think Saint Peter would dare look askance at her at the pearly gates? We never learn about that part of Emily except what the alarmingly engaging Zoe Kazan implies non-verbally. Instead we know only that she is a psychology student with very little grasp of basic human psychology. When Emily is placed in a medically induced coma during The Big Sick, part of us is greatly relieved, because watching two people have nothing in common except Whole Foods is not the most thrilling use of two hours.

The Big Sick picks up when Emily’s mother Beth (Holly Hunter) and her father Terry (Ray Romano) come on the scene. It is suggested that Beth comes from a deeply anti-Semitic North Carolina family, and that Terry’s ability to ignore their various taunts is what endeared him to her. Because Terry recently cheated on her during a work conference, she is very critical of him during The Big Sick. When he tries to tell a joke, she immediately puts down his sense of humor, and she frequently heckles him by shouting “Terry!” but since she is Holly Hunter, I don’t think he minded.

Kumail does not have much in the way of an inner life, but he knows he must bond with his girl’s mother so that she will forgive him for telling her he wasn’t sure they had a future together, which is apparently the most nightmarish thing one person can say to another. His plan is to eat with Beth, and he even sucks down whipped cream from a can. This is bonding across racial lines, I guess, but The Big Sick doesn’t try to force any kind of mutual understanding. In Chicago, everyone relates to everyone else on what is basically a surface level.

Some things that Emily and Kumail enjoy doing together are reading. They make out on a couch, and sometimes have sex. Once, one of them takes a shit while the other waits patiently. This is apparently true compatibility? I really don’t know, I guess whatever works, but it seems like these two are going to encounter some serious problems down the road given that the euphoria inherent in taking drugs and watching movies with someone else generally wears off by the end of an evening.

I don’t know that there was ever really enough in this meet-cute to account for a feature length film. But it is Kumail Nanjiani who carries the entire thing on his shoulders. As he seems to realize, his stand-up comedy is not terribly funny, and The Big Sick makes his true calling abundantly clear – he is an actor, with a natural ability to deliver all kinds of lines in a spare and convincing manner. While Zoe Kazan gamely struggles with the various awkward speeches she has to make at times, Nanjiani takes them at his own pace, showing how explaining and articulating yourself, no matter what the substance of your talk is, remains a moral act.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Give and Receive At Different Times

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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.

Hey,

My friend Sally often asks me for advice. We discuss the issues in her life at extreme length, as she does not operate on anything like a “gut level.” Frequently, and especially with relationships, she has gone against not only what I recommended, but also what she herself agreed was best. I can accept that people I care about will sometimes be hurt of their own doing, but she seems to step willfully into situations that are obviously flawed in their premise.

It’s gotten to the point where I am not sure what to say to her about such things. Maybe if she experienced deep horror firsthand, it would change her decision-making process? Do you think people do learn from their mistakes?

Also, how do I tell her I can’t be this kind of sounding board because of how painful it has become for me

Dana S.

Dear Dana,

It is natural for some of us to become emotionally involved in the problems of others, especially of friends and family we know and care about. Sally has developed the same respect for you and your thoughts that anyone does for a tiny, impotent angel who sits on their shoulder. In other words, she strongly believes that you are no longer the least bit real.

It is at this point you should decide how much you really care abour Sally. If you are pretty distant from her troubles, I think receding into the fabric of heaven is more than your right. But if you really care for and want her to avoid doing something she’ll regret, take it the whole way and really impose yourself on the situation. If she ends up resenting you, who cares? It’s not like she is your wife.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Hi,

Through an online dating website I recently met a woman, Ellen, who has just gotten out of her marriage of two years several months ago. At first I was hesitant to pursue things with Ellen thinking it would get complicated. We have a great connection, but it is not easy to handle the presence of someone else in her life with whom she has a long, shared history. Further complicating the situation is the fact that he actively tries to get her back. More recently, she spent an entire night sobbing when he sent her a long letter.

Honestly, I’m tempted to tell her to contact me once these issues sort themselves out. On the other hand, I do feel something with her I haven’t with other women so sticking it out does have its appeal. What should I do?

Michael S.

Michael,

Participants in the degrading, sexist institution we call marriage have every incentive to stay in their committed, legal union. The tax breaks are just insane, and the thrill of unprotected sex pretty much never goes away. I am sort of joking, but sort of not.

When a woman leaves her marriage, it means that she is really not having it. There is one key exception to this situation — when her husband cheats. Then things are kind of up in the air because forgiving him is very possible and you could end up on the outside of this situation rather quickly.

Assuming that is not the cause of the divorce, you’re probably in a far more stable situation than you imagined. Most women aren’t going to jump into another relationship after something this serious goes haywire, so if she is sticking around, she isn’t just experimenting and probably has actual feelings for you. If you are there for her during this difficult time — and not just as a pillow — she will remember that kindness.

On the other hand, if she starts having all night talks with her ex, you are free to express your disapproval and disassociate until she does.

Hi,

I recently met a guy, Aiden, through some mutual friends who is attractive, confident and fun to be around. The only concern I have is that he insists on meeting up at concerts that are frequently loud. He usually drinks to excess, and while he is great fun under these circumstances, the entire night is rather exhausting for a weekday. 

Maybe this kind of thing would have appealed to me when I was in my early twenties, but we’re both in our early thirties and the idea of being a sweaty mess every time I see Aiden is a disturbing project. On occasion we will do other things, but it seems this is his idea of fun and he goes to two or three shows a week.

Marjorie W.

Dear Marjorie,

Compatibility means that you enjoy doing the same things at the same times, like going to shul on the high holidays, or interchanging each other’s limbs so you can feed each other bagels chock full of gluten. Couples require these shared activities, or else they will begin to resent one another. The fact that you are already resenting Aiden’s choice of fun this early on in the relationship is maybe not the best sign.

You will then wonder, will he grow out of what he enjoys? It’s not impossible to do so, but since music is a wonderful expression of the soul, it would be hard to imagine he will suddenly enjoy listening to it performed. Maybe if you got him a really great stereo.

In Which It Would Be Best If We Did Not Speak Of Valerian

No Longer Professional

by ETHAN PETERSON

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
dir. Luc Besson
137 minutes

valerianposter.jpgLaureline (Cara Delevingne) and Valerian (Dane DeHaan) are exactly the same size, with exactly the same lips, with identical throaty timbers to their voices. Watching them kiss is like pressing the heads of two mushrooms together. “Will you marry me?” Valerian asks her as soon as he can – it is quite literally three minutes into the movie that he proposes to her – not super seriously, but more like a flirtation. At the end of the movie he is gobsmacked when she accepts. This is actually far and away the best part of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, although there is no sex and Laureline wears a series of increasingly more conservative outfits throughout the movie.

Usually when a character finds himself, he casts off the various trappings and limitations of his existence for a freer, more carefree life devoid of the anxiety that held them back. Throwing off the Puritan influence is a very American thing to do as you get older, but in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, you begin as a frivolous, sex-crazed tramp and you turn into an overserious family man. In his last, most bizarre monologue, Valerian explains to Laureline that he has a duty to something larger than himself. He states to her without any irony whatsoever, despite the fact that in the previous scene he learned his organization was responsible for genocide. “I work for the government,” he states in Mr. Besson’s excrecable script. “I have a responsibility.” This is like making a Holocaust movie where upon discovering the death camps, the protagonist immediately restarts the trains.

The species that Valerian’s people decide to eliminate are a humanoid group of translucent blue bipeds who powered their planet through environmentally sustainable pearls they harvest from the ocean. Well, believe you me, if coal and oil could simply be lifted out of the ocean, we would have almost no problems at all. Is this where the French believe their power comes from? Because the essentials of life come so easily to these azure creatures, they have never evolved past a primitive society and have no knowledge of technology.

After they are almost annihilated by it, they decide they had better learn. Unfortunately, they have no more pearls, and the tiny creatures that multiply these little spheres are nowhere to be found, either. There is one left, though, and when they go to pay a merchant for it, Valerian intervenes and takes it instead. Laureline’s job during this important mission is to take the cargo back to the ship.

Once they have the treasure, Valerian and Laureline head to a place called Alpha, where all the denizens of the universe cohabitate together in one metropolis. We only see the wider city when Valerian asks his ship for some images of the place; afterwards, when Valerian and Laureline are on Alpha, it is mostly just grey corridors.

There are some aliens they encounter at this point, all of whom look and sound like Jar Jar Binks. Did Luc Besson rent The Phantom Menace by accident and assume that it was the first Star Wars? The special effects at work here would be a lot more impressive if there was one alien in the bunch who was more than a caricature for Laureline to verbally abuse.

At this point Clive Owen shows up, intent on destroying what remains of his long and industrious career in the cinema. The weird thing about Valerian, besides the many oddities I have detailed against my better wishes, is that Owen’s commander character is essentially the only other person in the entire film. I mean, My Dinner with Andre did not have very many characters, either, but there was a pretty good reason for that.

There is one other entity who gets more than two minutes of screen time, although it is not really very much more. Bubble (Rihanna) is a slave whose master (Ethan Hawke, who else) forces her to perform in a number of different guises. Dane is sympathetic to Bubble, so he forces her at gunpoint to ensconce him like a second skin so he can save Cara from a particularly malevolent group of aliens who want to snack on her delicate brains. After Bubble completes this task, she dies from a wound we never see her suffer.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is very boring to sit through, but more than that, it is a nasty, cynical racist piece of trash.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which We Really Want To Return To England

War of the Ancients

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Dunkirk
dir. Christopher Nolan
106 minutes

Dunkirk-poster-2349857-600x875.jpgBane (Tom Hardy) is a fighter pilot during World War II. Having been soundly thrashed by the German forces, British and French troops, instead of making a final stand, decide to flee back to England in abject fear. In contemporary British military history, this is the biggest win Christopher Nolan (The Prestige) has on hand to glorify.

Nolan’s last decent movie was Inception, although watching it back is something of a chore. He took Batman very seriously, perhaps even more serious than Bruce Wayne did, but those movies are tough to watch now, too. Interstellar was an amusing mess, but it posed more questions than it answered. For example, what sort of actor does Nolan work well with? Why does Tom Hardy do the Bane voice in the loud torrent of moviegoing experience that is Dunkirk? And is it really necessary for Mr. Nolan to keep making movies that barely have women in them?

Dunkirk is supposed to be thrilling, if a bit exhausting to experience. Sitting through it feels substantially longer than the stated running time. The first thing it made me think of is the bravura sequence that opens The Revenant, where we are thrust in the naturalistic midst of a battle that surely seems not to be performance for our edutainment. At times, when Nolan gives over to some of that chaos, we feel some of that same sense of immersion, and war seems a terrible, random tragedy.

This is a fleeting feeling, however, since Mr. Nolan feels compelled to give us some semblance of a glimpse, but only that, into the mindset of these men. Their main driving emotion, across the board, is complete and utter fear. The only really determined member of the cast is Dawson (a particularly intolerable and affected Mark Rylance), who is a civilian slowly traipsing over to France in order to ferry soldiers back to England.

Substantially more charismatic is a British private played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who is only intent on getting off the dangerous beach. Meanwhile Bane flies a plane intent on providing cover for the evacuation. Tom Hardy does more acting with his eyes during these gorgeous sequences of flight than others do with their entire body.

Violence is naturally condemned by not having to suffer the indignity of identifying the perpetrators or their motives. Near the end of Dunkirk, we briefly see a few Nazis – just as quickly they are gone. I am not completely sure if their exclusion is a weird pardon or something, since the reason Hitler did not slaughter the Brits at Dunkirk was probably because his closest female friend was from that great country.

The best part of Dunkirk is the time dilation that Nolan thankfully does not overly explain. It means that the narrative jumps around in its chronology, and since there is not a whole lot of caring about the actual characters involved in this escape or a focus on the significance of their deaths, the only thing to do as a viewer is figure out why exactly Nolan opted for this approach. Given time, I couldn’t think of a reason other than to make abject war more interesting.

I saw Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX. The sound was completely overdone — there is such thing as overwhelming the senses, and another involving completely decimating the long-term hearing of your audience. Visually, if you compare it to films of ten years ago, it looks substantially better than all of them in this loud and oversized environment. But if you compare it to, say, the preview of Justice League, it appears rather restrained, a reserve that pushes Dunkirk into sheer forgettability. This indicates that Nolan is intent on straddling the line between action blockbuster and art film. I wish he would simply pick one.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We Illustrate The Strength Of Our Connection

Honey-Machine

by MELISSA HUTTON

In the fourth grade, my class went on a school trip to the Buehler Challenger and Science Center in Paramus, New Jersey. If I hadn’t googled the building today I would have told you it was a dome with silver panes, widescreens and shiny floors. Buehler is an extension of Bergen Community College, nondescript and supported by aging and discolored concrete columns. We followed adults, brushing our hands against the wall or each other, buzzing and wondering what our “mission” would be. In a room with a dark screen we were given blue vests and assigned roles. My name was called. My pulse jumped. My teacher said, “Control.”

Sylvia Plath wrote her five-poem bee sequence in October 1962. The first poem, “The Bee Meeting” opens with the speaker feeling as nude as a chicken neck, wondering if anyone loves her. There is a man dressed like an astronaut but called a surgeon in a green helmet, / Shining gloves and white suit. The villagers are anonymous. The bees are hysterical. If I stand very still, the speaker continues, they will think I am cow parsley. Being seen is dangerous and sometimes the best thing I can be is absent.

Control, before a sweaty palm grasping an iPhone meant both a desire for and relinquishing of it, meant that I sat on a high chair next to Nicole. She had thick bangs and the highest ponytail. I could swivel a camera around scanning the other half of my class in the artificial aircraft. I could type commands into the computer in front of me. I could speak into a microphone.

Luce Irigaray describes in her essay “A Natal Lacuna,” how in Unica Zürn’s work, the visible appears in a frame like a back-to-front-window, through which an interior universe is transmitted, vomited, or expelled through the real or fantasmic orifices of the body. Scientific inquiry involves boxes, jars, educational space centers and putting things in them. This makes subjects visible and observation possible, much like an essay. In Thinking with Irigaray, Elaine Miller writes, The order of the visible often paradoxically obscures, rather than manifests, life. Jars and windows make subjects visible but the environment unnatural. The visible is wonderful, but limited. Invisibility is not absence but excess. According to Irigaray, it is possible to recognize overabundance all at once in the register of beauty. Sylvia Plath wrote the bee poems on a draft of The Bell Jar, back-to-front.

We didn’t notice that the material about NASA was dated but it didn’t matter anyway. Space was cool, as was having a keyboard and a mission. This was a few years before any of us would hide Myspace from our parents and toggle with our top friends and their hearts. It was many years before I’d read Sylvia Plath’s bee poems. It was a self-contained experiment, technology without overload.

The feeling of overload—is often lived as if it were a totally new phenomenon and as if it were dictated by the new technology, not the people using it. I’m always repeating myself, but productive repetition compels us to do the work of breaking what seem like involuntary habits and re-directing our patterns of thought.

After the first half of us sat in mission control, we switched with our classmates in the artificial spaceship. Me and Nicole hurried to our seats inside the spaceship to find out that the kids now in our mission control seats were doing something we didn’t realize we could with the camera. We felt like we’d missed out. We could’ve done more.

The widely-used metaphor, Knowing is seeing, has certain connotations. R.B. Zajonc’s study on mere-repeated-exposure shows us that repetition itself, with the absence of negative stimuli, can enhance positive effect. It is a function of classical conditioning. We do not need to be aware of stimuli around us to develop an inclination towards it. Exposure accounts for our tastes. My body accounts for my preference. Productive repetition compels us to do the work of breaking what seem like involuntary habits and re-directing our patterns of thought.

After Buehler, I’d repeat myself many times and communicate in clippings to form stringy and prismatic hexagonal connections, always ending in excess and knowing I’d very likely never fill the spaces in between…

1. Honey bees detect gravity with magnetic material in the bands across their abdomens. Their bodies are magnetic all over but higher concentrations are in the abdomen and the antennae. How instructive is this! says the speaker in “The Swarm,” The dumb, banded bodies.

2. Reiteration itself is the point. Reiteration of metaphor and of ideas through language is necessary for further exploration. Repetition of ideas unexamined is potentially restrictive but it is during repetition and replication that ideas are mutable—bound to evolve and change. Scrolling is a means of repetition and further exploration. It is also a reminder of our inability to know everything, which can slip quickly into feeling like an inability to know anything.

3. Of Sylvia Plath’s bee poems, Jessica Lewis Luck writes, If she chooses life, then she must acknowledge that life is built on biological structures and processes beyond her control. Without a director, there is no rational center and there is a certain lack of control of the outcome of the self. Here is my honey-machine the speaker in “Stings” offers, It will work without thinking. Like the bees and the hive Plath describes, there is no authority. But the body is the self. No matter how far you go into the mind you will always find the body. The hidden and immaterial is not within us but between us. Our relations with others and the world are not visible. But we desire control over that which is reflected back to us.

4. Virtual proximity is this term coined by Janine Solberg, meaning the potential to find or encounter a source through the use of finding aids, search technologies, metadata, and similar mechanisms. It is about the potential to make the right sources visible; the voices and experiences that are routinely pushed to the side. It is about how the work of reevaluating your sources and your position in relation to a source never ends. It is about the company you keep. Because lives and connections seem to take shape and become visible online, virtual proximity requires acknowledgment if not an acceptance of continuous human interference and processes beyond individual control or awareness. It requires at the same time that we take responsibility for them.

5. Honey bees leave the hive for flowers. Honey bees return and dance in the colony’s language: Electrically charged figure eights. A honey bee born without a magnetic abdomen is a honey bee born without gravity. A honey bee born without gravity is a honey bee born without language; she can’t dance or she is left to find other means.

6. Biology is a site of play and indecision is the most accurate model. Real time updates are ripples that televise, restate and upset the status quo. Disequilibrium is a catalyst for making social change the new balance. Reiteration itself is the point. Beauty is realized in overabundance and invisibility is light. Organizational structures of the brain, and by that I mean metaphors, illustrate connection strengths, vicinities, and relationship patterns. Productive repetition compels us to do the work of breaking what seem like involuntary habits and re-directing our patterns of thought. (An indecisive body works the hardest.)

That day in Paramus, I had my photo taken in a baggy sky blue space suit. My eyes were huge and my body looked small. For years, it was my favorite.

Melissa Hutton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York.

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In Which We Stare Down Alison Brie In The Past

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Perils of Adam

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Little Hours
dir. Jeff Baena
90 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 1.26.37 PMYou can tell how much writer-director Jeff Baena loves his girlfriend Aubrey Plaza in the opening moments of The Little Hours. Fernanda is a young witch posing as a nun in 15th century, and as she drags a donkey across a landscape that looks suspiciously un-European, the camera can barely hold its attention off of her. Baena writes his life partner into the most objectionable role, but this is a subtle message also esteemed in the source material of The Decameron: the unlikeliest things are also the holiest.

Plaza looks a lot like Alison Brie since for the most part all we see are their full-lipped, pouting faces and icy eyes. Even with her body obscured, there is something indecent about Alison, and no matter how prim she looks, we realize she will be disrobing at some point in every narrative. In The Little Hours, that comes in the garden of a convent, where she pounces on the mute gardener, Massetto (Dave Franco).

Even thought The Little Hours does not focus at all on the beauty of its female leads, it would be a hard thing to obscure it. Baena not only seems devoted to Brie and Plaza, but this is also the best Molly Shannon, also playing a nun, and John C. Reilly, as the local priest, have looked in years. Baena gives all of his actresses and actors a quiet dignity, except for one.

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Dave Franco was maybe not the best actor to begin with, but he is supposed to be the straight man here and in this role he fails miserably. Attempting not to draw undue attention to Franco’s physical form, Baena makes a show of his considerable deficiences. First of all, the man’s gargantuan adam’s apple slides up and down his throat perilously for the entire film. I don’t know what everyone involved might have been able to do about this, but preventing Franco from repeatedly swallowing during his scenes would have been a welcome start.

The Little Hours initially focuses on Alison Brie’s desire to leave the convent against the wishes of her father Ilario (Paul Reiser) in order to select a husband, but it is quickly distracted by her embroidery. Reiser never appears in the movie again and Brie never does manage to find a husband. Instead of any plot per se, we receive a series of jokes involving the aggressive nature of Ms. Plaza. Some are funny, like when she assaults the convent’s handyman and calls him a Jew. Others are not really as enlivening, since they involve her brandishing a knife repeatedly and saying ‘fuck’ more times than is really entertaining.

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Baena’s last directorial effort, Joshy, was a clone of The Big Chill that was very serious and depressing. In contrast, The Little Hours is even less significant or thematically memorable than a Mel Brooks movie. It is at least a great deal funnier, which is not actually saying a lot. It is obvious that the film was made on a considerably tiny budget, and it shows. The Little Hours avoids displaying the local town at all – we just see actors going and returning from the place. Even the props and costumes on this production are third or fourth rate.

Late in the film, Fred Armisen shows up as a bishop. His presence adds a striking focus to the proceedings, as if what we really required to enjoy the bad behavior of these purported adherents to the word of the lord was an antagonist who doubted their sincerity. It is a missed opportunity that he only receives a few scenes, and that they are the most amusing in the entire film reminds us that The Little Hours is about as meaningful as a Portlandia sketch.

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I don’t know what turned Baena off from making serious cinema instead of something this frivolous. He might taken a page out of the comparative success of The Big Sick and made something that comes a little more directly from his heart. He could make a movie about why Aubrey Plaza is interested him. Does he have a large penis or cooking skills that would otherwise explain why she lives in the house?

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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