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Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
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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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Thursday
Jan282016

In Which Nearly Everyone Has Been A Lesbian At One Time Or Another

Road to Somewhere

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Carol
dir. Todd Haynes
118 minutes

The movie of The Price of Salt gets boring just when the book gets interesting. Patricia Highsmith always explained her novel about being a lesbian as inspired by some old blonde woman she saw in a department store. This explanation was ridiculous. In reality, she was that ebullient codger who secretly believed there was no chance a young, beautiful woman would ever want to be with her — so she invented a novel about how there could be a reason, even if there really wasn't one.

Highsmith was a reprehensible person and a second-rate writer. Her prose itself ranged from choppy to mediocre, and The Price of Salt is far from her best work. If it were not for the lesbian angle no one would probably give it a second thought. There were a million novellas written exactly like it, only less boring, during the 1950s. Highsmith's own style is non-existent: whether in her prose or her characters, she was never terribly good at what captivated normal people since she was not one herself.

Enter Todd Haynes, a director who practices humanity like it's part of his morning routine: empathy, coffee and a bagel. Yet Carol is so flimsy that even he cannot elevate it above dull. The plot concerns a divorced woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett) who seduces a young photography enthusiast (Rooney Mara) after Therese sells her a train set at a department store.

The best part of the movie is the seduction itself; for various reasons the novel was extremely subtle about this part, and Haynes apes the slow-moving pace of The Price of Salt. By the time Carol and Therese get around to making it with each other on a Thelma & Louise type road trip that includes absolutely no fun whatsoever, we have all waited far too long to care.

Mara's only acting training has bestowed upon her ridiculously clear visage a wide-eyed innocence popping out of an understated stolidity. She can manage no other expression or emotion, but fortunately Carol is not really that deep of a story.

Carol's husband finds out about his ex-wife's many relationships and makes it an issue in the custody of their child, even hiring a private detective to record the conversations of the two women. There is no moral ambiguity whatsoever; the men are just monsters and women, even those scorned by Carol in her pursuit of Therese, are inviolate as they band together in her defense.

Blanchett tries to save the movie by letting her eyes flit from place to place, constantly, as if instructing us where to look. Her relationship with her daughter and ex-girlfriends is more amusing than the mostly sexual attachment she has with Therese; guess where Highsmith puts all the attention and drama? Then again, a novella about an upper-class lesbian breaking a bunch of middle-aged womens' hearts probably would not have been made as a theatrical feature.

Carol is the better character, but Therese has the more compelling journey and experience. Unfortunately, Highsmith used a young, attractive woman only as a means to an end. She saw Therese as nothing more than an unusual name and perfect body — Haynes tries to remedy the inadequacy in the source material by emphasizing his protagonist's scenes with a boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who inexplicably wants to stick around despite the fact that he realizes he is dating lesbian.

Richard is upset by the fact that his girlfriend is gay, but maybe not as much as he should be. "I never asked you for anything," he yells at her helplessly. "Maybe that’s the problem," she replies before meeting up with Carol.

Visually, Carol is in line with the aesthetic popularized by Haynes' idol Douglas Sirk, who demanded colorful, detailed interiors that complemented the rough, vibrant world beyond. Sirk's style shimmered at the time, but the overall look is more familiar to us since it was adopted for the entire run of Matthew Weiner's Mad Men. Still, Haynes chooses wonderful sets which seem to match the various moods of Carol and Therese as they shunt through a sometimes forgiving but always alien world.

As a thriller, Carol is a mildly compelling effort. As a character study, Cate Blanchett has virtually nothing to sink her teeth into and Rooney Mara can't bring much life to Therese because of her own inadequacies. As a political film, the story may have been unusual in the fifties but we demand more from this subject matter now.

 

Therese is often taking pictures of Carol with her camera. Every time she frames her shot, Carol demurs and acts embarrassed, then goes on to pose for her, a repeated moment that keeps on occuring several times as Carol unfolds. Maybe they didn't realize it would be ridiculous for Carol to adopt this attitude whenever she sees a lens. This empty banters leads us to suspect there is no actual engagement between these women, only an observation of each other's beauty. It reminds us that Highsmith had no actual grasp of what draws one person to another besides infatuation.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Fighting a Sandstorm" - Sia (mp3)

"House on Fire" - Sia (mp3)


Wednesday
Jan272016

In Which The Predictable Outcome Arrives With Too Much Fanfare

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

Hey,

Is there any way of asking someone to be quiet during sex that won't immediately end the sexual encounter?

My partner, who I will call Travis, is extremely loud at the point of orgasm and I find this incredibly distracting. He also enjoys talking at length during sex, mostly about his own adeptness and unusual abilities in that arena. I really like Travis, but I will be forced to break up with him if this continues.

Janice E.

Dear Janice,

For centuries men and women have silenced their sexual partners by insisting that while they love the vociferous reaction to their genitals, people might overhear and it is best to keep things at a reasonable volume. This is quite realistic in city living, but if you are miles away from your closest neighbor, this excuse may ring a bit hollow. One option would be to get a pet and insist the loud volume of the wintercourse is violating the pet's well-being. The pet has to participate in the lie, however, and if I have learned one thing from my pet parakeet Kevin LaSame, it is that he is an asshole.

It is better to be honest about the situation. Be sure to not frame this as a criticism. Explain "I was about to have the most wonderful orgasm of my life, and then you screamed and I started laughing..." Travis will think to himself, "Wow, look at all the pleasure I gave her. I pretty much ruined it with my volume, better keep that in check from now on! What's on TV, the new X-Files, I bet Chris Carter's writing has not aged all that well!!!" Men are such simpletons.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. 

Hey,

My fiancee and I are expecting a child together. It was unexpected but we planned to have a family anyway so we're both exciting for everything that is to come. There is one problem we keep coming back to, which is the name of the baby. We have chosen not to learn the sex of the child, but no matter if it's a boy or a girl, my fiancee wants to name the child Morgan.

If the child is a boy, I am worried this name is going to cause problems. If the child is a girl, the name is a lot better, but I really don't like it and it lends itself to no reasonable abbreviations or nicknames. My fiancee also wants to give the baby a middle name — which is a family name — I am not crazy about this either, but I could stand it a lot better if my child was not going to be named Morgan.

I have tried to talk with my fiancee about this but she seems rather fixed in her views. I don't know what I can do to change her mind.

Michael S.

Dear Michael,

Getting pregnant and married in the same calendar year or even in the same period of time can be a stressful process. Your fiancee is exerting control perhaps in the only way she can, since you are presumably monitoring what she eats, reads, and shits.

It is probably going to be very easy to change her mind about this. All you need to do is establish a negative connotation between the name and some other thing in her life. Consider getting her interested in the Showtime series Dexter, which features an incestuous family with the surname of Morgan. Just don't watch the last season, as it could impede childbirth and general happiness.

Maybe she is too fixated on this name to let that bother her. One good thing to do is to show her the clunkiness of her chosen name in context. Like pretend to be calling out to your child, or alternately, striking your child. "Morgan, no, stop! Bad!" etc. This will quickly encourage her to alter her choice to something more acceptable to both of you, like Marissa or Dandelion.

"High By the Beach" - Lana del Rey (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Jan262016

In Which Sometimes The Sun Goes Round The Moon

The Strange Case

by VLADIMIR NABOKOV

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written in bed, at Bournemouth on the English Channel, in 1885 in between hemorrhages from the lungs. It was published in January 1886. Dr. Jekyll is a fat, benevolent physician, not without human frailties, who at times by means of a potion projects himself into, or concentrates or precipitates, an evil person of brutal and animal nature taking the name of Hyde, in which character he leads a patchy criminal life of sorts. For a time he is able to revert to his Jekyll personality — there is a down-to-Hyde drug and a back-to-Jekyll drug — but gradually his better nature weakens and finally the back-to-Jekyll potion fails, and he poisons himself when on the verge of exposure. This is the bald plot of the story.

First of all, if you have the Pocket Books edition I have, you will veil the monstrous, abominable, atrocious, criminal, foul, vile, youth-depraving jacket — or better say straitjacket, You will ignore the fact that ham actors under the direction of pork packers have acted in a parody of the book, which parody was then photographed on a film and showed in places called theaters; it seems to me that to call a movie house a theater is the same as to call an undertaker a mortician.

And now comes my main injunction. Please completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn, consign to oblivion any notion you may have had that Jekyll and Hyde is some kind of a mystery story, a detective story, or movie. It is of course quite true that Stevenson's short novel, written in 1885, is one of the ancestors of the modern mystery story. But today's mystery story is the very negation of style, being, at the best, conventional literature. Frankly, I am not one of those college professors who coyly boasts of enjoying detective stories — they are too badly written for my taste and bore me to death. Whereas Stevenson's story is — God bless his pure soul — lame as a detective story. Neither is it a parable nor an allegory, for it would be tasteless as either. It has, however, its own special enchantment if we regard it as a phenomenon of style.

It is not only a good "bogey story,” as Stevenson exclaimed when awakening from a dream in which he had visualized it much in the same way l suppose as magic cerebration had granted Coleridge the vision of the most famous of unfinished poems. It is also, and more importantly, ”a fable that lies nearer to poetry than to ordinary prose fiction,” and therefore belongs to the same order of art as, for instance, Madame Bovary or Dead Souls.

There is a delightful winey taste about this book; in fact, a good deal of old mellow wine is drunk in the story: one recalls the wine that Utterson so comfortably sips. This sparkling and comforting draft is very different from the icy pangs caused by the chameleon liquor, the magic reagent that Jekyll brews in his dusty laboratory. Everything is very appetizingly put. Gabriel John Utterson of Gaunt Street mouths his words most roundly; there is an appetizing tang about the chill morning in London, and there is even a certain richness of tone in the description of the horrible sensations Jekyll undergoes during his hydizations. Stevenson had to rely on style very much in order to perform the trick, in order to master the two main difficulties confronting him: (1) to make the magic potion a plausible drug based on a chemist‘s ingredients and (2) to make Jekyll’s evil side before and after the hydization a believable evil.

The names Jekyll and Hyde are of Scandinavian origin, and I suspect that Stevenson chose them from the same page of an old book on surnames where I looked them up myself. Hyde comes from the Anglo-Saxon hyd, which is the Danish hide, "a haven." And Jekyll comes from the Danish name Jokulle, which means "an icicle." Not knowing these simple derivations one would be apt to find all kinds of symbolic meanings, especially in Hyde, the most obvious being that Hyde is a kind of hiding place for Dr. Jekyll, in whom the jocular doctor and the killer are combined.

Three important points are completely obliterated by the popular notions about this seldom read book:

1. Is Jekyll good? No, he is a composite being, a mixture of good and bad, a preparation consisting of a ninety-nine percent solution of Jekyllite and one percent of Hyde (or hydatid from the Greek “water" which in zoology is a tiny pouch within the body of man and other animals, a pouch containing a limpid fluid with larval tapeworms in it — a delightful arrangement, for the little tapeworms at least. Thus in a sense, Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll’s parasite — but I must warn that Stevenson knew nothing of this when he chose the name.

Jekyll’s morals are poor from the Victorian point of view. He is a hypocritical creature carefully concealing his little sins. He is vindictive, never forgiving Dr. Lanyon with whom he disagrees in scientific matters. He is foolhardy. Hyde is mingled with him, within him. In this mixture of good and bad in Dr. Jekyll the bad can be separated as Hyde, who is a precipitate of pure evil, a precipitate in the chemical sense since something of the composite Jekyll remains behind to wonder in horror at Hyde while Hyde is in action.

2. Jekyll is not really transformed into Hyde but projects a concentrate of pure evil that becomes Hyde, who is smaller than Jekyll, a big man, to indicate the larger amount of good that, Jekyll possesses.

3. There are really three personalities — Jekyll, Hyde, and a third, the Jekyll residue when Hyde takes over.

The situation may be represented visually.

 

But if you look closely you see that within this big, luminous, pleasantly tweedy Jekyll there are scattered rudiments of evil.

Still if you look closely at Hyde, you will notice that above him floats aghast, but dominating, a residue of Jekyll, a kind of smoke ring, or halo, as if this black concentrated evil had fallen out of the remaining ring of good, but this ring of good still reamins. Hyde still wants to change back to Jekyll. This is the significant point.

It follows that Jekyll’s transformation implies a concentration of evil that already inhabited him rather than a complete metamorphosis. Jekyll is not pure good, Hyde (Jekyll's statement to the contrary) is not pure evil, for just as parts of unacceptable Hyde dwell within acceptable Jekyll, so over Hyde hovers a halo of Jekyll, horrified at his worser half's iniquity.

...

I would like to say a few words about Stevenson's last moments.

As you know by now, I am not one to go heavily for the human interest stuff when speaking of books. Human interest is not in my line, as Vronski used to say. But books have their destiny, according to the Latin tag, and sometimes the destinies of authors follow those of their books. There is old Tolstoy in 1910 abandoning his family to wander away and die in a station master’s room to the rumble of passing trains that had killed Anna Karenin. And there is something in Stevenson's death in 1894 on Samoa, imitating in a curious way the wine theme and the transformation theme of his fantasy. He went down to the cellar to fetch a bottle of his favorite‘ burgundy, uncorked it in the kitchen, and suddenly cried out to his wife: what's the matter with me, what is this strangeness, has my face changed? — and fell on the floor. A blood vessel had burst in his brain and it was all over in a couple of hours.

What, has my face changed? There is a curious thematical link between this last episode in Stevenson's life and the fateful transformations in his most wonderful book.

V.N.'s Chronology of Madame Bovary

First Part

1815 Charles born

1821 Gustave born

1827 Charles begins lessons with village priest (spring)

1828 (spring) confirmation

1831 (spring) is removed from school

1834 (spring) fails in medical exam (father hears of it five years later)

1835 (spring) passes exam, becomes "officier de sante"

1835 (fall) goes to Tostes to practice

1836 (Jan.) marries first wife, Heloise Dubuc

1837 (6th or 7th Jan.) goes to Les Bertaux first time

1837 (early spring) first wife dies

1837 (later in spring) goes to Les Bertaux again

1837 (Sept.) makes proposal to Emma Rouault

1838 (June) wedding

1838 (Sept.) ball

1839 (Sept) no ball (all winter at Tostes)

1840 (Feb.) turkey from Rouault

 

Second Part

1840 (March) Tostes to Yonville, Emma pregnant

1840 (summer) Bertha born

1840 (summer) walk to the nurse's house.

1841 (Feb.) walk to cotton mill

1841 (March) Bertha taken home

1841 (early April) visit to priest

1841 (early May) leaves for Paris

1842 (spring) Rodolphe brings farmboy to be bled

1842 county fair

1842 (winter) affair with Rodolphe

1843 (3rd Sep.) Rodolphe leaves Emma

1843 (4th Sep. Monday) the date fixed for their elopement, see Chap. 12; no other 4th of Sep. falls on Monday in the early forties. Emma falls sick - brain fever.

1843 (17 Oct.) recovery

1844 (June) opera, Leon "after three years of absence"

Third Part

1844 (all year) affair with Leon

1845 (summer) roses

1845 (autumn) Charles with Bertha in garden

1846 (mid-Lent, early March) fancy dress ball

1846 (March) Emma asks Leon for money

1846 (March) Emma dies, aged 26-28

1846 (around end May) Felicite runs off with Theodore, taking all Emma's clothes; Leon marries

1846 (early summer) Charles find Rodolphe's last letter

1846 (winter) Homais getting rid of beggar

1847 (around March) mausoleum

1847 (summer Aug) Charles finds all letters; goes to cemetery, sells horse; meets Rodolphe; dies next day aged 33.

1847 Homais calls Louis Philippa (1830-1848) "one good king"

1848 (Feb.) revolution

1856 (April, Napoleon III is now Emperor) Bertha, aged 15, works in a cotton mill. Three doctors have succeeded one another at Yonville between 1847 and 1856; Homais has just received the Cross of the Legion.

"Mystery Light" - Alice on the Roof (mp3)