Quantcast

Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.
Tuesday
Oct102017

In Which We Black Out The Capitol Lights

Today we welcome our new music editor, Janice Levens. Ms. Levens is a poet and musician living in Los Angeles. She is writing under a pseudonym for reasons that will become clear as soon as 2018. Her reviews will appear every Tuesday until she is suspended from This Recording for social media-related reasons.

photograph by Shane McCauley

Flyover State

by JANICE LEVENS

Cry, Cry, Cry
Wolf Parade
Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, Dante DeCaro & Arlen Thompson
producer John Goodmanson
October 6th on Sub Pop

The voices of Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug sound a lot alike. When we last left Wolf Parade they were fresh off 2010's astonishing Expo 86, a sterling return to form after 2008's half-hearted At Mount Zoomer. The best tracks on Expo 86, like "In the Direction of the Moon" and "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" were written by Krug, and this trend continues on Cry Cry Cry, a tightly woven studio album by this four-piece of artists who still struggle to reach a cohesive compromise in sound.

Much of Cry Cry Cry was written on Vancouver Island, the warmest part of Canada. Fittingly then, much previous angst has been wrung out of Krug and Boeckner. The man who wrote and performed "I'll Believe in Anything" on Apologies to the Queen Mary only peeks out from behind the gauze in tracks like the echoing ballad "Am I An Alien Here", when Krug pretends at being depressed: "Happiness is easy, it's a story that you tell." You know he is lying because only a few stanzas later he is complaining about David Bowie being dead.

photograph by Shane McCauley

Boeckner is somewhat depressed about the U.S. president, but for the most part he seems a lot happier with his first marriage in the rear view mirror. His other project is Operators, and the tracks he produced with Devojka, Sam Brown, and Dustin Hawthorne - free of Krug's trademark inflections and orchestral effects - seemed a fresh and exciting on 2016's eclectic Blue Wave.

In Wolf Parade, it is Boeckner who adapts to Krug's style, and while it is a decent echo of Spencer's darker use of synthesizers and guitar, his compositions never approach the highs of "Baby Blue." Still, he gets close on "Flies on the Sun", because any credible reflection of Spencer Krug is pretty much like looking at God in a puddle. And to be completely fair, he is a far better live singer than Krug and his voice is substantially improved from when Wolf Parade originally formed.

Despite his experimentation with his solo-ish project Moonface, Krug's songwriting retains a morbid core, like apples that differ in color and taste. Even Krug's more frivolous songs like "Valley Boy" still touch on the vague sadness that is the inevitable consequence of interacting with people he does not respect. As usual, Krug's lyrics manage to come across as devastating and sincere even when they approach the absurd, as they do on "Lazarus Online" when he suggests, "Let's rage against the light." It is meant to be hokey - "like getting punched in the heart" - but it is still weaker than anything you would find on 2005's Apologies to the Queen Mary, a masterpiece that included the best selections of Krug's early work.

On "You're Dreaming" Krug sings, "Never mind the time/I’m up all night with the century ghosts/They don’t have a mind/They would never think of leaving/And we’re dreaming." You see, once you achieve your dream, as Krug has with his considerable, deserved success, all you can actually do from then on out is imagine what it would be like if that dream had never come true. Krug explains it would be "just like life," only not. "Scenes of shattered glass, all your systems in collapse." Krug, we can infer, is waiting for some future tragedy to arrive so that he can become beautiful again. Cry Cry Cry, then, is like a self-contained snow globe of potential sorrow, one that can only come true by being shattered in retrospect.

Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Monday
Oct092017

In Which There Remain Monsters Among Our People

Rainer in 1973

Steak For Dinner

by ALEX CARNEVALE

I always make the same film, again and again.

It is fairly easy to be disgusted by the rollicking, painful life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. No one could reasonably believe he was not culpable for his many crimes, even the ones he committed as a child. It is in fact difficult to believe he ever was a child.

He hated everything about his life then, and resolved to change it completely. There is something very brave in all Rainer did, even his cruelty. He proved that being bold could succeed on the force of its own enthusiasm.

He fled boarding schools, his parents  anything to avoid supervision. His father was a doctor who treated prostitutes, Fassbinder's first friends. His ghastly mother confided her dreams to him, fantasies in which she married her young son. So in that sense, what did he have to work with, really? But no man is less explicable by his childhood than Fassbinder, except perhaps de Sade.

There is the story of the man who was forced to eat his fellow sailors after a shipwreck. He hid food away in his attic for the rest of his life. Rainer did the same thing but with money, stacking his entire salary on the bed of his hotel room during the shooting of his last film, Querelle.

This is making him seem sympathetic. He cannot be, no more than a demon could become an angel. What happened in the country of Germany after the Third Reich remains unclear to most outsiders. In any case, it is probably still happening.

Rainer's life could not help but be a reaction to what occurred there. His bisexuality opened him to an entire coterie of foreigners, disenfranchised men and women who were as strange to the natives as himself. Women were the particular victims of his love/torture combination; many of them suffered merely by his presence.

It is fair to say Rainer attracted masochists, but that cannot be the entire reason for how he subjected his partners to abject horror. He was never an attractive man, but from the first moments he entered acting school, Rainer's charisma was explosive. Both men and women coveted the approval that came through his obsessive, unrelenting nature. In this fashion, he won people over; this dogged persona converted even his staunchest enemies to his corner. Then again, they may have only been relieved to escape his wrath.

His first defining sexual relationship was with the actress Irm Hermann. Thinking he would marry her, she opened herself to him completely, moving in with Rainer and his boyfriend. Her acting jobs paid their rent. Rainer never let her make a single move without his knowledge, berating the woman he claimed to love almost incessantly. Many years later he said that Irm "finds her identity or her pleasure only in suffering, in being oppressed." It was sadism made all the more disturbing by the fact that some part of his allegation may have been true.

He beat her continuously, first in her own squalid apartment, then in public. On occasion the violence occurred in front of their friends. He repeatedly suggested that she should kill herself. Eventually she tried, taking forty soma. When Rainer found her unconscious, he believed her to be faking and struck her again. What else could he have done? 

Once he told her at dinner in a restaurant that for each steak she ate, she earned a fuck. The meat repelled her, she could not keep down even one. This cause Rainer to remark coldly, "I said, eat it, not puke it up. If you want a fuck, you've got to keep the meat inside you." Irm represented only his first major cruelty. Irm's beatings were merely practice. When he dumped her, he made her give him all the money she had.

Irm eventually named her child by another man what Fassbinder asked her to in a telegram. Have you judged him yet?

In Paris Fassbinder sold himself to men from within the confines of a popular sauna. During a dinner party on the set of Querelle, he and his guests used the company's black member as an ashtray.

He wrote off all this sordid behavior as a context for art. One of the most disturbing aspects (but truly not the most disturbing) was that those who surrounded him were more fascinated than horrified, more excited than aghast.

He succeeded partly on this tightrope, but also on the merits of his art. He may have been a tyrant, but it was quite obvious he was the most exciting young director in Germany.

Once he wore out his welcome in the theater, he moved to film. It suited him far better. Fueled by the rejection of the major German film academy, he eclipsed the output of all his peers in a relentless orgy of filmmaking.

It is true that his first films were not very good on either a technical or storytelling level. At the time, though, standing out did not require those virtues. Simple looking at screenshots from his films is enough to understand why they were more titillating than any pornography, more violent than seemed possible in a scarred, censorious German society. Fassbinder's films show caricatures without seeming unreal.

In 1973 Rainer took over a theater in Frankfurt. He ran it into the ground in short order. Allegations of anti-Semitism, perhaps unfounded, dogged his last production, and his reckless temperament was on full display. This experience murdered the theater for him, forcing Rainer to admit that on some level he remained too unreliable for a medium that demanded the same show every night.

He might accomplish something once and preserve it forever on film. He had zero chance of making a habit of any virtue.

On set, his manner had the same impatience as his off-set mien. He eschewed repeated takes, giving his actors something to be thankful for, given that the abuse suffered at his hands was partly mitigated by immediate satisfaction of the result.

He told his actors, "Everything I examine I have somehow or other, also to rework, in order to have the feeling I've experienced it." It was the closest he could come to an apology for who he was. What a roundabout way of describing a total lack of self-control. A peaceful thought in the hands of a saint, a frightening one in the hands of the devil.

Men held the greater attraction for Rainer over time. They could plausibly fight back, and he loved that resistance, the ebbing away of his considerable power over others. Having more than one person dependent on him was part of the fun, he sometimes encouraged his male lovers to cut off the hair of his girlfriends.

His relationship with the Moroccan actor El Hedi ben Salem ended after the man completed his amateur performance as Ali in Fear Eats the Soul. Salem loved Rainer desperately, but the director was not as enamored with Salem's children, considering them an unnecessary complication. Eventually, when the film's production concluded, Rainer cut him off without a word.

Contemplating revenge, Salem drank himself in a stupor and he stabbed three others with a kitchen knife. On the run, he reached out to his ex. Rainer refused him completely, and Salem hung himself in a French prison cell. It was a familiar tune for Rainer; these sorts of stories followed him.

Rainer's next target was Armin Meier. Meier was fairly gorgeous, the actual product of Nazi experiments in perfection. Rainer found him working in a butcher shop, and considered him basically a plebian orifice. He was not entirely happy with Armin's lack of sophistication, but the boy was beautiful.

Meier killed himself eventually too, just from Rainer's abuse, but not before Rainer turned him into a cocaine addict. Meier loved the happy drug, but Rainer wasn't satisfied with the high it provided. He drank bourbon out of a beer stein constantly as he was working, and cycled pharmaceuticals according to his mood. The illiterate Meier killed himself on Rainer's birthday; it was a feeble revenge, but a revenge it was.

He married one of his actresses, Ingrid Caven, half to see what it was like, half as cover for his homosexual needs. Fondly recalling her husband's proposal, Caven once said, "He'd always go to the men's public toilets for sex and then we'd go out on the town."

In the 1970s, cocaine took over Rainer's life completely. He would plan the locations in his films based on their convenience to his drug suppliers. He not only sampled the drug constantly, but had to ensure that all those around him were likewise in its thrall. He particularly foisted it upon his actors, claiming at great length that it would improve their performances. This had two positive consequences from Rainer's perspective: his actors would become increasingly indebted to and intoxicated by him, and they would struggle to find other jobs because of their addiction.

with Andy Warhol

He enjoyed making his stars ugly with makeup. His favorites he allowed to keep their natural beauty, but everyone else had to come down to his level. In most ways, Rainer was amazingly perceptive of his own ugliness. He looks like a blob among his fitter gay friends; his profile looking more natural with women, made less repellent by proximity to their beauty.

He began mimicking de Sade openly in shooting his 1976 film Satan's Brew. The drugs consumed him entirely. As he spiralled towards his death throes in his final years, he would sleep for only three hours during the night, eat like a horse, manage two bottles of bourbon per day, top that off with several Bloody Marys, a coterie of joints or hash brownies, and put himself down with a sleeping pill called Mandrax, a quaalude you could mix in a pipe with weed or hash. Rainer loved showing his friends just how much he could consume, the vast quantities of uppers and downers it required to even let him sleep those three hours. He was a mess. 

On June 10th, 1982, his girlfriend Juliane Lorenz found him lying dead on his bed with a cigarette in his mouth. A policeman told reporters, "Even Fassbinder's just a man." The funeral proved otherwise  who can really tell if those in attendance were sad, disgusted, or just envious of the rain?

Ms. Lorenz has taken up the legacy of the man she found dead in her bed. It's macabre but necessary; even a demon deserves a lawyer. Do not envy her the task: it's impossible to hide all the terrible things about Rainer. They just keep coming out, even from those who loved him. His ex-wife described the scene of his death, mere days before Rainer's passing: "The room was utterly disgusting. It was a pigsty. It was so dreadful. Ashtrays, cigarette ash and old newspapers everywhere. Whiskey bottles, everything you could imagine lying around. It stunk, and his bed was so filthy that I didn't want to sit down on it, it was that bad. He was as possessive as ever."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Friday
Oct062017

In Which We Have Killed Before Long Ago

Canadian Noose

by ELEANOR MORROW

Alias Grace
creators Sarah Polley and Mary Harron
CBC/Netflix

I have searched, sometimes in vain, sometimes pleasurably, for what Sarah Polley likes about Margaret Atwood’s novel about the 1843 murders of two Canadians. Alias Grace, a miniseries in six parts, opens with the languorous voiceover of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), who explains with a monologue virtually identical to that found in The Handmaid’s Tale, about why she is a rotten woman. At first you do not believe her verbal tale of self-immolation, but then the sheer amount of time she spends denigrating herself wins out. She is a bad gal, so what does that make everyone else in her world?

A local reverend (David Cronenberg) wants Grace freed from her lengthy stay in prison as a result of a murder conviction, so he invokes the presence of an alienist named Dr. Jordan (Edward Holcroft). His plan of treatment initially frightens Grace, since she has grown used to various quacks scanning her brain with primitive metal rods. Alias Grace never becomes very exciting. It is mostly just sad, but halfway through you surmise that it is intended to be like this.

In this central role, Gadon has her ups and downs. Overall, her performance is understated and at times rather sleepily. Mary Harron (American Psycho) always directs her actors in this fashion, and it would probably work in this period context if almost every other character did not project the same sleepy egoism.

The exception to the rule is Mary (the stunning Canadian actress Rebecca Liddiard), a servant at a bourgeois Canadian manor where Grace finds work. Her entrance about halfway through the miniseries’ first installment is a shotgun blast of energy to this dreary milieu.

Not helping matters is the frame story, which places all of Alias Grace in flashback. Similar to how The Handmaid’s Tale at times felt held back by its extensive exposition, Alias Grace struggles to decide whether its present or past is more vital. Ironically, this is the very test that every historical depiction must surmount. Instead of making us feel like this 19th century tale has something fresh to say about the present, (and at times it does), I was fixated on how everyone here seems absolutely miserable in the past.

Visually, Alias Grace is an absolute feast for the eyes. Harron's eye for how the right set conveys the meaning of a particular scene is surpassed in her industry only by Jane Campion and Guillermo Del Toro, and she dives into as much compositional depth as Del Toro does at his height.

Within Atwood’s massive oeuvre, Alias Grace never approaches the wild highs of her best fantasies. To be fair, it is not meant to. Still, I feel her more rambunctious, silly work tends to match our current period better. I wish Polley would work on Oryx & Crake, her undisputed masterpiece, or some of her more recent sex satires. Polley is such a strong writer that you stick with Alias Grace long after the characters seem to solidify into granite.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.