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Alex Carnevale
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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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Monday
Jul112011

In Which We Start Again As Beginners

Sadder Than What Came Before

by TRACY WAN

Beginners
dir. Mike Mills
105 minutes

Much like describing the liquid in a glass, a decisive moment in life is either an ending or a beginning, depending on the light. It takes time to notice that the end of a great relationship is also the onset of a period of incomparable potential; it takes even longer to remember when that sadness woke up as happiness. In the subdued, painterly palette of Mike Mills’ Beginners, the lines become impossible to draw  it takes many, many sketches.

Hal (the ever heartwarming Christopher Plummer) drew his line at age 75, months after the death of his wife, by coming out to his son Oliver (the slightly canine Ewan McGregor). He does so emphatically, matter-of-factly, establishing himself as the brand of gay man who wants “to do something about it.”

When the film opens, Hal has already passed lung cancer. He leaves behind innumerable bottles of medication, a beautiful house, an affectionate but dependent dog (Arthur) and Oliver, the confused and grieving son, the one in charge of sorting the aftermath.

The most evident thing about Oliver is that he is sad, the kind of sadness that defines, if not creates, a person. So much, in fact, that it can be seen from behind a costume of Freud. When he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent), who plays along as the patient to his clinician, she dissects him instead. Through forces inexplicable in language but familiar to the dimension of relationships, they leave the party together, and stay together.

The film is largely episodic, with the arc of Oliver’s relationship with Anna being braced by flashbacks of his past, strongly tied to his relationship with his parents. We see a series of impassive kisses between them contrasted by the tender moments between Oliver and his new girlfriend, elusive and sad in her own way.

We see Hal discover house music, get sick, fall in love. This inter-cutting retraces Oliver’s mannerisms to his earliest memories, and his emotional dysfunctionality to an irreversible moment: the realization that two people who love you might not love each other--that even if they do, sadness still seeps through.

As a story with an autobiographical spine based on Mills' relationship with his own father Beginners comes close to being hermetically sealed. It overflows with cultural markers, particularly in the sequences of historical images that Oliver narrates as artifacts of another time. This is the sun in 1955. This is the president in 2003. When a friend incites him to vandalize various empty spaces in LA, Oliver favors statements that evoke "historical consciousness" instead of the common vulgarities.

These moments, although refreshing, are simultaneously isolating; they inform us, but also turn away from us. A film so preoccupied with the past and its demerits finds it hard to undress its melancholy, which travels from frame to frame, 1955 to 2003, New York to L.A. (and back). It is in eyes of people who come together despite their personal sadness, who find it hard to provide for each other’s immeasurable lack.

As Oliver wisely notes, "our good fortune [allows] us to feel a sadness our parents never had time for." Beginners makes the time for it, amply so, perhaps excessively. There is always the desire to leave that melancholy behind and like Hal, turn the page and do something about it. Discover house music. Fall in love.

Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal. She last wrote in these pages about Keira Knightley in Last Night. She tumbls here.

"Slow Show" - The National (mp3)

"Driver Surprise Me" - The National (mp3)

"Runaway" - The National (mp3)

Friday
Jul082011

In Which We Experience The Subtle Ferocity Of Cy Twombly

photo by Mario Dondero, Rome. 1962

The Rush

by AMANDA MCCLEOD

Cy Twombly was born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr. in Lexington, Virginia on April 28th, 1928. The nickname Cy was passed along to him by his father, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, who himself was nicknamed after the famous pitcher Cy “Cyclone” Young. Twombly Jr. graduated high school in Lexington in 1946 and over the course of the next four years proceeded to study at the Darlington School in Georgia, at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Washington and Lee University back in Lexington, and finally at the Art Students League of New York where he would meet fellow artist and friend Robert Rauschenberg.

It was during his time in New York that Twombly became widely exposed to the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning.

Living in New York during the rise of American post war painting allowed Twombly incredible insight into the present art world. Of his experience as a young man amidst the new art capital of the world, Twombly recalls "In New York I lived in galleries ...I hardly ever went to school. I looked at anything and everything." It was here that he would create his earliest calligraphic or scribble paintings, influenced heavily by the paintings of Franz Kline.

Soon after his arrival in the city, Rauschenberg convinced Twombly to follow him to the famous Black Mountain School, where they would spend the summer and winter of 1951. In 1952 the pair would be awarded grant money by The Richmond Museum of Fine Arts, allowing Twombly to travel all across Europe and North Africa, ending the trip in Rome. Only a short distance to the Tyrrhenian Sea, Rome’s bustling city streets were studded with monuments and heavy with history, simultaneously modern and ancient, solemn and celebratory. It was here that Twombly would be exposed to, and inevitably fall in love with, Italy and its rich heritage and culture. In 1957, at the peak of his career as a young American painter and sculptor, he relocated permanently to Rome.

in Rome 1960

Actually, it wasn't all that scholarly, my reason for going to Rome. I liked the life. That came first.

I fantasize often about a young Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly sitting street side at a cafe, having coffee on a warm Roman afternoon. It is easy to see them both there, well tanned and wearing summer shirts, casually discussing the merits of assemblage and found objects in sculpture. Two of America’s greatest painters vacationing in a city known both for being holy and pagan.

An artist friend of mine once told me that Twombly and Rauschenberg, at one point during their initial travels, began to argue over the fact that Twombly was spending all the grant money on artifacts. Twombly, like Van Gogh (who once said he’d rather buy a Japanese print than buy a weeks worth of bread), would forgo food and even financial security for art.

untitled bacchus series VII

It was easy to become enamored with Cy the moment I read he was an American abstract painter who up and left the heart of the American art scene at its peak in exchange for a quiet villa. But this was not the exact moment I fell in love with his unique take on abstract expressionism.

I first witnessed his Quattro Stagione series on a cold February afternoon while visiting MoMA. I didn’t yet live in New York and had only been visiting with a friend, but I managed to make two trips to the museum during my three day visit.

I had spent the previous summer studying art in Florence, surrounded by the culture and language of Italy. At this point in my studies I was insatiable and wanted constantly to see and be surrounded by art. Upon entering the MoMA atrium that day I recalled having only heard of Twombly in passing. His name sounded funny and I couldn’t recall what slide was attached to it during my Post-War American Art lecture the previous semester. This all changed the moment I saw the towering Four Seasons and the word “primavera” scrawled haphazardly in pencil across the canvas. I stood there entranced as the white walls of the MoMA began to fall away and suddenly, without knowing it, felt myself as close to experiencing Stendhal syndrome as I ever have.

photo by robert rauschenberg

The Four Seasons, those are pretty emotionally done paintings. And I have a hard time now because I can get mentally ill. I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days

Because what exactly was I seeing here for the first time in person? The Four Seasons were equally symphonic and chaotic. It was painting but drawing, it was representation but not, it was brutal and delicate, equally calligraphic and gestural. Inverno (Winter) felt dormant and cold, Primavera (Spring) felt painfully temporal with its tiny hyacinth like purple splotches, and L'Estate (Summer) was blinding and dripping, as though Icarus’s wings had melted right upon it. There was the neon yellow of pollen and the deep crimson of dried blood. White paint permeated the canvases like a fog or a veil and reignited in me a barely bridled lust for painting and paint itself.

After that first encounter the more I read about Twombly, the more he became everything I desired from a painter and artist. He was an expatriate who continually subverted his own genre and culture, who did so almost gently and with whimsy, who breathed new life into seemingly archaic themes. A man who would not be confined to one medium or mode, who was informed as much by history as by his own impulses, and who, most alarmingly, was still alive and working 60 years into his career as an artist.

robert rauschenberg's photographs of twombly in Rome

To paint involves a certain crisis, or at least a critical moment of sensation or release.

Twombly easily stood apart from his contemporaries, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, because of his general refusal to incorporate contemporary imagery and subject matter into his work. Instead of examining humanity at large through contemporary symbols and icons, Twombly paired the painterly impulse of the Abstract Expressionist movement with themes that are more in line with those of the poets Ovid or Rilke than that of a modern newspaper. This in contrast to Johns and Rauschenberg who would often use actual newspaper in their works, directly referencing the present, incorporating contemporary objects and imagery.

untitled Twombly work

People make too much of the mythological titles. For me they are just a springboard. They're especially alive here in Italy and in Greece. But it’s simply about human beings. Human emotions haven’t changed much.

When I look at Twombly’s work I am struck by his allegiance to both the past and present, to that which is inherent and that which is contemporary. His paintings are the incarnations of fever dreams, wrestling equally with myths and his own perception. His works are the result of raw impulse mediated with such devotion that the result possesses and mesmerizes us. His palette is at once dazzling and of the earth.

We are made to think of mud, sea foam, wine drenched mouths, plums, peonies, and flesh as much as we are made to think of greying marble and roman ruins. Language floats throughout his work as gregorian chants might echo in a cathedral. The phrases haunt, beg repetition, and demand to be swirled around the mouth and ruminated on. His use of language at time evokes equally the first words of a child and words murmured in the heat of passion.

Action must prove from time to time the realization of life. Act is therefore the primary sensation. In painting act is the formation of image, the mechanical action of its evolution. The direct or indirect impulse brought to exasperation in this high act which is invention.

- from an interview in L’Esperienza Moderna

What at first would appear to be childlike in his scrawls and smears will often reveal itself to be phallic, bloody, or relating to bodily fluids. His depiction of Leda and the Swan is not a charming pastel image of a doughy nude caressing a swan, it's the raw aftermath of a struggle. Here is a tumult of feathers, blood, scratch marks, phalluses, hearts, breasts, beaks, scars, and stains.

"Leda and the Swan", Rome 1962Twombly’s dizzying red Bacchanal series is as much blood as it is wine. If you’ve ever read anything about Maenads you’ll understand why these paintings evoke both frenzied fear and drunken ecstasy. These depictions are true to the very base of the mythologies from which they spring forth.

It is through Twombly’s reconsideration of these themes that he urges us to also re-examine their nature, and by extension of our own mythology, the nature of ourselves. Twombly himself has spoken of his works as sort of an experience, the resulting images are what is left behind. The art critic Roberta Smith noted that "his raw mark making could be seen as Surrealist automatism pushed to unprecedented extremes."

I'm a painter and my whole balance is not having to think about things. So all I think about is painting. It's the instinct for the placement where all that happens. I don't have to think about it. So I don't think of composition; I don't think of colour here and there. All I could think is the rush.

The MoMA acquired a sampling of Twombly’s sculptures. I visited them on the first viewing day and found myself no less enthralled. Of his sculptural work Twombly remarked, "I love my sculptures, and I was lucky I had them for fifty years because no one would look at them, and I really liked having them around." It is clear to me why Twombly didn’t mind having these works around. I found myself hardly aware of my own presence when looking at his masterful assemblages. They are quiet works, not exactly monumental but none the less objects made to drink in and know. They feel ancient, beyond design as we know it today, just as his paintings often feel primordial.

Rauschenberg combine materials photographed by Twombly

Twombly has stated that “white paint is my marble”, and it is clear here that this is effective, because these sculptures appear classicized and almost spiritual. They embody a sort of playfulness in material that gives us a glimpse at Twombly’s sense of humor. A paint stir, a paper cup, or plastic leaves take on the feel of a mausoleum in their stark white incarnations.

Meanwhile brief instances of blue crayon and electric pink paint provide shock and excitement, their pigments suspended somewhere between subtlety and ferocity upon the white surfaces. One can even see the artist’s own thumb print imbued in neon pink, calling to mind a certain lipstick mark that was left on one canvas of Twombly’s triptych Phaedrus by the artist Rindy Sam, who could not keep herself from kissing his work out of adoration.

Q: Do boats have a particular meaning for you?

CT: Yes, boats. I like the idea of scratching and biting into the canvas. Certain things appeal to me more. Also pre-historic things, they do the scratching. But I don’t know why it started.

Q: It’s a very basic kind of mark making.

CT: Infantile.

I cannot bring myself to blame Sam for kissing one of Twombly’s works. How could anyone? Twombly has more often than not made me want to use my hands, to grasp either at clay or at paint or conte crayon, to speak and read in languages both my own and not. As Jerry Saltz put it, his work will make you start thinking between your legs. The very infantile and instinctual impulses that gave birth to his work make me want to tear into blood oranges and blackberries, to dig my hands deep into the mud, and to drink in color as though it were wine.

Twombly continually reminds me of the very pleasure that is to be found in merely existing, in being human, and in having the miraculous ability to control language or line, be it on paper or canvas. It is both painful and impossible to imagine a world without Twombly, but not nearly as much so as imagining a world deprived of his artwork. He is and will always be my favorite artist.

Amanda McCleod is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She wrote about the sculptures of Cy Twombly here.

"Queen of (K)nots)" - Matt Nathanson (mp3)

"Modern Love" - Matt Nathanson (mp3)

"Drop To Hold You" - Matt Nathanson (mp3)

The seventh studio album from Matt Nathanson, Modern Love, was released on June 21.

photo by robert rauschenberg

The Finest Artists of the Period

Elaine de Kooning recalls her time with Mark Rothko

A conversation with Picasso

Alex Carnevale on the life of Fairfield Porter

Hilton Kramer on the legacy of Mary Cassatt

The surrealists and Giorgio de Chirico

Amanda McCleod and the Whitney Biennial

The unfamiliar masterpieces of Bonnard & Vuillard

Molly Lambert takes an art class

Will Hubbard and Franz Kline together at last

Amanda McCleod and the sculpture of Cy Twombly

The studios of the damned

Joshua Bauchner on Anselm Kiefer

Amanda McCleod sails along with JMW Turner

Alex Carnevale on the meaning of the self-portrait

Will Hubbard connects poetry and painting

Wal Mart, Lexington, 2007, Photo by Cy Twombly

Thursday
Jul072011

In Which We're Really Down On Optimus Prime

Falling From A Great Height

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
dir. Michael Bay
684 minutes

Are you constitutionally unable to tell Josh Duhamel and Johnny Knoxville apart? If Chris Evans were also put in that room and had not shaved for a week or more, would he blend in as seamlessly as the wallpaper? Is Frances McDormand's agent suffering a foreclosure on her home?

Does anyone else get the sense that if Shia LaBoeuf were four inches taller, he would have made a great Boromir?

this happened to barbara hershey a lot in those days

I'm working on a John Malkovich oral history. (It will be done after I give Agatha Christie the Roald Dahl treatment.) Don't you want to go back to those halcyon days? Let's all find out what it was really like to be on the set with Liam Neeson during The Man in the Iron Mask. Whoever greenlit A Portrait of a Lady deserves something; perhaps a nice home in the suburbs?

For the better part of a half hour, LaBeouf slides down the side of a Chicago skyscraper while it is coming down, in a cutting edge satire of 9/11. Not a single piece of glass is embedded into anyone's body, in fact it seems to have given them a glossy sheen. You can light a match from the glare off the pearly countenance of the actress who replaced Megan Fox. You don't want to do something after Megan Fox has done it, you want to do it well before or not at all.

it's easy to confuse megatron and ellen pompeo because they have the same wrinkle lines

Optimus Prime gets all of ten lines in this movie, and it has a running time roughly equivalent to The Sorrow and the Pity. I used to watch Transformers, it was my second favorite after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was very into Raphael, I thought he was like a straight Dagny Taggart. I read The Fountainhead when I worked at an aquarium one summer and now whenever I smell penguin feces I feel a stirring call to achievement.

If you openly admit your last movie sucked, why not maybe change it up a little? I want to know what Major William Lennox does when he's off duty. Just hang out? Get his Lexapro prescription from CVS? Duhamel never takes the earpiece off once during the entire running time of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which probably beats the record set by Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible. The fucking microphone was almost in his mouth at points.

putting michael bay in charge of the space program might be the right move for all concerned

Frances McDormand begins to attain a growing confidence in Sam Witwicky (25-year old Shia LaBoeuf). She praises him constantly, especially when he uncovers a plan that the Decepticons have to transport the planet Cybertron into our solar system. They develop a mother-son esque relationship, because Sam's real mother is something of comedic joke. He dreads his parents' visits and feels discouraged when they mock him for not being employed after his graduation from college.

this exact pose is in every adaptation of a john irving novel

His girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) surprises him at his new job, telling everyone she sees "I'm Sam's girlfriend." She wants him to be happy in his work. When, unexpectedly, he shows up at her job, she's thrown off. Carly's close relationship with her boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) is a major red flag for Sam, and he overreacts. Looking to mediate the situation, Dylan gives them both cars. It's a nice gesture, but ill timed. Every five to ten minutes, Carly gets in or out of a car that's transforming into a larger car.

The last sequence in Transformers: Dark of Moon depicts the destruction of Chicago at great length, working in the disintegration of several prominent landmarks. The "heroes" destroy a teleportation machine crafted by the Einstein of autobots that is worth more than their lives. For some reason, the Decepticons spare the entire rest of earth, giving every indication they are not huge fans of Rahm Emanuel (Sacha Baron Cohen).

When one machine touches another machine, there's still two machines.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about Super 8. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"Why Don't You Call Me?" - James Blake (mp3)

"To Care (Like You)" - James Blake (mp3)

"Give Me My Month" - James Blake (mp3)