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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Tuesday
Jul182017

In Which We Have Written And Discarded Some Sansa Stark Love Scenes

He Did It All With A Knuckle

by DICK CHENEY

Game of Thrones
creators David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
HBO

There was a moment during Sunday's Thronesing when I was pretty sure Jon Snow was going to strike Sansa Stark down. She was talking at length, in front of a large crowd, about her plan to make child-aged heirs to fiefdoms homeless, and he let loose a "No!" deep within his caustic stomach. All the nearby lords were like, "Sansa, the fuck are you doing, girl? You have done exactly shit except watch a couple husbands die and now you think you're Disraeli?" Thrones is just fanfiction now.

They should honestly make Thrones silent at this point. Jamie Lannister can mime with his faux right hand if he can't sign. You see, the original Game of Thrones was actually about how various families operated when they pursued power  but now it is about decimating a Big Bad, in this case a frozen army that is going to be awful susceptible to three enormous dragons. I mean, what can they really do against these beasts, hole up in a refrigerator like Indiana Jones?

Sure, Game of Thrones was always like a light, easily passed stool but now it gives me various headaches with the plot holes and the reinvention of various characters. Only one thing can never be retconned or re-envisioned, and that is how much of a useless mound Bran Stark is. Maybe I'm feeling particularly hostile because no one can ever bother to write dialogue or conflict for Daenerys Targaryen and her group of ne'er-do-wells looks to average a height of 4'11". 

I think I was most angry when I saw Arya Stark destroy the Freys in one scene. How hard is it exactly to murder all of King's Landing given that? This mass poisoning was roundly unsatisfying, and the sexist way she spared the women like they were not culpable as well irked me, too. Thrones has a terrible time struggling with its innate sexism. Women are quick to anger and murder, men are all Father Brown. Even when you flip a stereotype on its head, it's still a fucking stereotype.

Speaking of Father Brown, Samwell Tarly living with his wife and child in the Citadel was such a letdown. I mean, would it have been that hard to give the maesters some secret power over their betters, for example a blood pressure test or access to unlimited antibiotics? Instead they are a shittier, primal version of doctors, having inherited only the egotism and propensity for note-taking. 

Now that every single one of Cersei's children is dead, I was semi-interested in how she would appear altered as a character. Instead we are witnessing a quick rehabilitation of her as a powerful executive, only the point of all this is not exactly clear. She at least is a good performer – we feel how lame and pathetic the regular stars of Thrones are when a particularly charismatic and attention getting actor takes over the scene: the immensely talented Richard Dormer as Beric Dondarrion, or the disembodied hand of Ser Jorah Mormont.

Thinking too long about this stuff gives me a headache at the worst possible time, before Lynne and I curl up to a solid hour of the Starz series Power. It seems they have taken the criticisms of Thrones' constant nude scenes to heart: now we cannot even get so much as a bodice or some ample cleavage. What a world. To fill the gaps, I have composed this brief elegia to the Sansa Stark that was. Enjoy.

When we had to pass in a narrow space, doing the hard work of reassembling Winterfell, she contrived to bump me with a round hip. She looked bemused and tricky and smug, darting her blue and challenging glances. She finished a sandwich, licked her fingers, tried to give me a wink. But she couldn't close one eye without nearly closing the other. It made her look like a blind direwolf.

When she would come to show me where something went, she would manage to press the heat of a mellow breast against my arm. She built the big awareness of Sansa. The infrequent small talk — "Did you know that Brienne always smells like a hot dog that has been left out for a couple days?" — bore little relation to what was happening between us. Wasn't I supposed to be her brother?

Finally, she managed to trip and turn and be caught just so, gasping, a silky weight, breath warm, eyes knowing, lips gone soft and an inch away, and not enough air in the frigid room.

I straightened back up and gave her a little push. "Now, Sansa, we can't do this."

"Oh Jon," she said, "ethics and everything. The little sister. You talk so many bold games about knighting those traitors, it gets confusing for a girl. I guess you think it would be a lousy thing to come here to take care of me, and then take care of me too many ways? But there are all kinds of ways. How it is you should be so stuffy you make me seem sort of cheap and obvious?"

I said nothing, only thought of Sam giving it to his girlfriend in warmer climes.

"I'm getting mad to keep from crying," Sansa said, brushing her hair back from her face. "I mean you're so stuck on this role you have to play. Seven gods, I suppose I am the little sister, but I am also an adult, Jon. I told you before I've run into some doors and had my share of black eyes. My husbands are all dead now. I had a disaster of a marriage and a very fast annulment. But you have some kind of boy scout oath... Now I feel degraded, and... damn it, get out of here!"

I laughed and caught her. She leapt about, saying in effect that the precious moment had passed, and to the Narrow Sea with it, and we couldn't retrieve the situation, it was spoiled, etc etc. I stilled her mouth and each time she talked it was with a little less conviction, and finally she stood docile, trembling, taking huge noisy inhalations, her strong pale neck bent forward while, with clumsy fingers, I unlatched the little hook on the back of the potato sack she was wearing for some reason.

"This is n-n-n-nutty," she whispered. I told her that indeed it was. I could feel Littlefinger's eyes on us from the alcove above. Time moves slowly, then, as in an underwater world. She had hitched herself to rest upon me, so distributed that she seemed to have no weight at all. She had her dark head tucked under the angle of my jaw, her hands under me and hooked back over the tops of my shoulders,  her deep breasts flattened against me, used loins resting astraddle my right thigh.

"Golly, golly, golly," she said in a sighing whisper. "Do you think that Jamie ever made Cersei this happy?" I told her I hoped that he had.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Monday
Jul172017

In Which We Refuse To Fight For The Planet

The Ape Hunter

by ALEX CARNEVALE

War for the Planet of the Apes
dir. Matt Reeves
140 minutes

Bad things keep happening to apes. Even though only two living apes in War for the Planet of the Apes are actually able to speak English, the species still lives in deep nature, and their lifestyle is not in any way altered from when they were beasts, we are supposed to believe that these creatures have transcended some invisible line of sentience. The life of an ape is by far the most important thing in War for the Planet of the Apes, even though the apes seem to be killing just as many humans, if not more.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) gets very, very upset when Woody Harrelson assassinates his family, so he decides to strike out with a few of his ape buddies to murder him out of revenge. The circumstances of Woody's slaughter are kind of unclear: we never actually see him end Caesar's family and the patriarch is conveniently elsewhere when the violence happens. This is just the first dumb shit thing Caesar does, but it is far from the last.

If Caesar were a human being, he would be an unsympathetic failure. But since world-class CGI gives him the saddest and fiercest looking face, reminding everyone of a puppy, we decide we can forgive him everything. The only thing Caesar eats during War for the Planet of the Apes is a light brown substance that looks like birdseed, since if he bit the head off of a bunny rabbit, we might realize he's not perfect. 

Bothering me even more than Caesar's diet is his lack of fungible genitalia. None of the apes have penises, despite walking around in the nude presumably among friends. These apes abhor sex, and never show the slightest romantic interest in other apes. There is one woman ape, who is most notable for being the nanny to Caesar's son. She has no other function or utility. There are a few human women who we see briefly as soldiers later on, but the only other woman in War for the Planet of the Apes is Nova (Amiah Miller), a nine year old who is unable to speak because of a virus that has spread all over North Carolina.

 

In a weird editing accident, director Matt Reeves did not notice that he placed a scene where a gorilla named Red places a flower in Nova's hair right next to a scene where she does the same to him. It is actually the only emotional misstep in the entire movie, which does a fantastic job balancing a goofy humor and the unending, merciless onslaught of tragedy. Reeves for the most part goes to great trouble in order to differentiate the apes, and the remarkable special effects at work here by Weta Digital capably transmit a very basic emotional journey between these limited characters.

Undoubtedly the worst part of War for the Planet of the Apes is an interminable sequence where Woody Harrelson completely explains his motivations and history as a person. After many years of watching the man, it might be time to admit that Woody is a variously passable comic actor and an intensely inadequate dramatic actor. He is completely unsuitable to this role as a grim, uncomplicated villain, and he gives us very little insight into how humanity in general is adapting to their new position in the world. 

The last half of the film occurs at a single location: a military base and prison camp underneath a small mountain. The battle that ensues there is relatively limited in scope, and it is very hard to account for the $150 million that was spent on this project. There is no actual war between humans and apes in the film, which is something of a disappointing development given all the promotional media and trailers promised actual conflict between the species. Like the historical figure he is meant to represent, Moses, Caesar's only purpose is to flee conflict and establish a sanctuary for his race. Everyone else in War for the Planet of the Apes waits patiently and silently for this to happen. 

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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Friday
Jul142017

In Which We Look Up From The Apartment Below

The Nitty Gritty

by CLAUDE CHABROL

Rear Window
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
112 minutes

Whatever happens, I think the release of Rear Window will tend to create a united front in film criticism. Even the Anglo-Saxon critics themselves, who had shied away from some of Hitchcock's films for a while, regarded Rear Window with seriousness and sympathy. Indeed, right from its opening, Rear Window does present an immediate focus of interest that puts it on a higher plane than the majority of Hitchcock's earlier works, enough to warrant its entry into the category of serious films, beyond the mere entertainment thriller.

In fact, in this review, I do not want to concentrate on an element that is all too clear already: the culpability of the central character, a voyeur in the worst sense of the word. Rather I want to engage in drawing out certain elements that are less obvious, but even more interesting, which enrich the work with very specific resonances and make it possible to brush aside the objections and the criticisms that ensued after a superficial viewing of Rear Window at the last Venice Biennale.

In its first few minutes Rear Window presents us with an assembly of rabbit hutches, each of them completely separate and observed from another closed, incommunicable, rabbit hutch. From there it is obviously just a step, made with no difficulty, to the conclusion that the behaviour of the rabbits is, or should be, the object of attention, since in fact there is nothing to contradict this interpretation of the elements before us. We merely have to acknowledge that the study of this behavior is carried out by a rabbit essentially no different from the others. Which leads to the notion of a perpetual shift between the real behavior of the rabbits and the interpretation that the observer-rabbit gives of it, ultimately the only one communicated to us, since any break or choice in the continuity of this behavior, a continuity multiplied by the number of hutches observed, is imposed on us.

While the observer-rabbit is himself observed with a total objectivity, for example that of a camera which restricts itself to the observer's hutch, we are obliged to acknowledge that all the other hutches and all the rabbits in them are the sum of a multiple distortion produced from the hutch and by the rabbit which is objectively, or directly, presented.

So in Rear Window the other side of the courtyard must be regarded as a multiple projection of James Stewart's amorous fixation.

The constitutive elements of this multiple projection are in fact a range of possible emotional relationships between two people of the opposite sex, from the absence of an emotional relationship, via the respective solitude of two people who are close neighbours, to a hate which ultimately turns to murder, by way of the sexual hunger of the first few days of love.

Once this is posited, another, essential element should be added: what might be called the position of the author, which, combined with the artistic factors imposed by the very nature of the enterprise, is developed through the characters directly presented and openly avowed by the strength of the evidence and the testimony of three biblical quotations, as Christian.

With these premises duly established, I leave to the reader the conclusion of that syllogism which definitively fixes the moral climate of the work, to pass on to what would properly be called its meaning.

The window which overlooks the courtyard consists of three sections, as stressed in the credit sequence. This trinity demands scrutiny. The work is in fact composed of three elements, three themes one could say, which are synchronized and in the end unified.

The first is a romantic plot, which by turns opposes and reunites James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Both are in search of an area of mutual understanding, for though each is in love with the other, their respective egos, only minimally divergent, constitute an obstacle.

The second theme is on the plane of the thriller. It is located on the other side of the courtyard, and consequently is of a rather complex, semi-obsessional character. Moreover it is very skillfully combined with a theme of indiscretion which runs through the whole work and confers on it a part of its unity. What is more, this thriller element presents all the stock characters of Hitchcock's earlier works, taken to their most extreme limits, since in the end one no longer knows whether the crime may not have been made a reality simply by Stewart's willing it.

The last theme reaches a complexity that cannot be defined in a single word: it is presented as a kind of realist painting of the courtyard, although 'realist' is a term that in the circumstances is a particularly bad choice, since the painting depicts beings which are, a priori, mental entities and projections. The aim is to illuminate, validate and affirm the fundamental conception of the work, its postulate: the egocentric structure of the world as it exists, a structure which the interlinking of themes seeks to represent faithfully. Thus the individual is the split atom, the couple is the molecule, the building is the body composed of X number of molecules, and itself split from the rest of the world.

The two external characters have the double role of intelligent confidants, one totally lucid, the other totally mechanized, and of witnesses themselves incriminated. Thus generalizing the exposé. Risking a musical comparison to illuminate the relationship between the themes, one might say that all three are composed with the same notes, but elaborated in a different order, and in different tonalities, each vying with the other and functioning in counterpoint. What is more, there is nothing presumptuous in such a comparison, since, within the rhythm of the work, it would be easy to determine four different constituent forms definable in musical jargon.

As one would expect in a work as structured as this one, there is in Rear Window a moment which crystallizes the themes into a single lesson, an enormous, perfect harmony: the death of the little dog. This sequence, the only one treated peripherally to the position of the narrator as articulated above (the only one where the camera goes into the courtyard without the presence of the hero), though grounded in an incident that in itself is relatively undramatic, is of a tragic and overwhelming intensity.

I can well understand how such vehemence and such gravity could seem rather inappropriate in the circumstances; a dog is only a dog and the death of a dog would seem an event whose tragic import bears no relation to the words spoken by the animal's owner. And these words themselves — 'You don't know the meaning of the word "neighbour"' — which encapsulate the film's moral significance, seem all too clumsy and too naive to justify such a solemn style. But the displacement itself is destroyed, for the tone leaves no room for doubt and gives things and feelings their real intensity and their invective: in reality this is the massacre of an innocent, and a mother who bemoans her child.

From then on the implications of this scene become vertiginous: responsibilities press upon one another at every imaginable level, to condemn a monstrously egocentric world, whose every element on every scale is immured in an ungodly solitude.

On the dramatic level, the scene presents the dual interest of a thriller plot development, aggravating suspicion, and an illustration of a theme dear to its author - the materialization of a criminal act that is indirectly willed (in this particular case, this death confirms Stewart's hopes).

From this point of view the confrontation scene between the murderer and the 'voyeur' is extremely interesting. The communication sought by the former — 'What do you want from me?' — whether blackmail or confession, involves the latter, who refuses from a recognition of its baseness, and in some way authenticates his responsibility. Stewart's refusal in this way illuminates the profound reason for the loneliness of the world, which is established as the absence of communication between human beings, in a word, the absence of love.

Other works of Hitchcock, like Rebecca, Under Capricorn or Notorious, have demonstrated the corollary of the problem: to know what the power of love can be. What is more, this aspect is not absent from Rear Window, where the embodiment of the Grace Kelly character draws her precious ambiguity from the opposition between her 'possible' and her 'being'. The possible is in fact the perceptible irradiation of her beauty and her charm, powerful enough to transform the oppressive and lonely atmosphere of the invalid's room into a flower garden with, in an unforgettable shot, James Stewart's head in repose.

Simultaneously, with her appearance on the scene comes the inexpressible poetry which is the love of two human beings: more than justified by the knowing coquetry of the author in the work's construction, this poetry brings into the stifling atmosphere of Rear Window, which is the atmosphere of the sewers themselves, a fleeting vision of our lost earthly paradise.

Since I don't want to go through the evidence yet again, I shall just leave it up to the spectator to appreciate the technical perfection of this film and the extraordinary quality of its colour.

Rear Window affords me the satisfaction of greeting the piteous blindness of the skeptics with a gentle and compassionate hilarity.

April 1955