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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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Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Sep092014

In Which We Bathe In The Shadows Of The Masters

The Great Jean Renoir

by ALEX CARNEVALE

There is a special and essential cachet attached to unfinished books. Despite their incomplete nature, the tomes naturally have an affinity with puzzles or codes, and because of this the texts themselves are often subject to more than one reading. Also because they are not whole, other individuals feel more assertive about adding or subtracting writing from the original, under the supposition that they are putting together the work the way the author imagined. It is this way with Andre Bazin's seemingly innocent 1971 appreciation of his favorite filmmaker, Jean Renoir.

Even Truffaut's introduction to the volume he edited completely obfuscates the book itself. He writes,

No one should expect me to introduce this book with caution, detachment or equanimity. Andre Bazin and Jean Renoir have meant too much for me to be able to speak of them dispassionately. Thus it is quite natural that I should feel that Jean Renoir by Andre Bazin is the best book on the cinema, written by best critic, about the best director.

Andre Bazin, whose health deteriorated year after year, found the strength to look at films and to comment on them until his last day. The day before his death he wrote one of his best essays the long analysis of The Crime of M. Lange — having watched the film on television from his bed.

Renoir's work excited Bazin more than any other. He was working on this study of his favorite director when he died. His fragmentary manuscript has been reconstructed and completed by his friends with the assistance of his wife, Janine Bazin.

I am responsible for the final organization of the work, for its division into ten chapters approximating the chronological development of Renoir's work. Obviously Bazin would have done it differently if he had had time. I think he intended to devote a chapter to the themes treated by Renoir, another to his work with actors, another to the adaptation of novels.

In one of his last letters, Bazin wrote me, "I am circling around Renoir by reading the life of Augustus, the novels of Zola: La Bete Humaine and Nana, Maupassant... I will eventually have to approach him more directly but I am now at a point where I know either too much or not enough. Too much to be satisfied with approximations, not yet enough to fill in all the variables of his equations."

I am not far from thinking that the work of Jean Renoir is the work of an infallible filmmaker. To be less extravagant, I will say that Renoir's work has always been guided by a philosophy of life which expresses itself with the aid of something much like a trade secret: sympathy.

Before Bazin's book even begins, Jean Renoir weighs in with a foreword of his own:

The more I travel through life, the more I am convinced that masks are proliferating. I have difficulty finding a woman whose face looks as it really is. Our age is a triumph of make-up. And not only for faces, but more important, for the mind as well.

The modern world is founded on the ever increasing production of material goods. One must keep producing or die. But this process is like the labor of Sisyphus. Forgetting Lavoisier's dictum, "In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost; everything is transformed," we convince ourselves that our earthly machines will succeed in catching up with eternity. But to maintain the level of production on which our daily bread depends, we must ever renew and expand our enterprises.

It turns out that Renoir does not know Bazin very well, other than by his little French beret. He struggles with the same problem the author of Jean Renoir has — knowing too much or too little about his subject. For the final version of Jean Renoir is as much an obliteration of its subject as a celebration.

Almost every section of Jean Renoir contains the same blandishment about the director. Each section begins, "Renoir is the greatest living French director" or "Renoir is unmatched" in such-and-such field. This kind of repetition would be the first accessory sacrificed if the author had been alive to revise his work; here they serve as eerie reminders that the admiration is rehearsed.

The second part of Jean Renoir amounts to lame defenses of The River and Paris Does Strange Things, two films that for various reasons seem to have offended Bazin's sense of the cinema in some way. He waves aside his own objections and Truffaut replaces them, in the book's third section, with Renoir's own autobiographical reminiscences of his days as a young, inexperienced directors, film treatments, and interviews.

Renoir writes, What I know is that I am beginning to understand how one should work. I know that I am French and that I must work in an absolutely national vein. I know also that in doing this, and only in doing this, can I reach people from other nations and act for international understanding.

I know that the American cinema will collapse because it is no longer American. I know too that we must not spurn the foreigners who come to us with their knowledge and talent; we must absorb them. It is a practice which has served us rather well from Leonardo da Vinci all the way to Picasso. I believe that the cinema is not so much an industry as people would have us believe and that the fat men with their money, their graphs, and green felt tables are going to fall on their faces.

Jean Renoir never made another film after Jean Renoir was published. No one would give him the money.

The best part of Jean Renoir is the book's filmography, an appendix in which Renoir's various projects are taken up by a variety of critics and directors. (Truffaut himself writes the majority of them.) These short discussions of the films innovated the concept of a "recap," for they prove that simply describing a cinematic plot reveals vast differences in character and perception. This is most evident in Truffaut's rundown of The Rules of the Game:

The nine principal characters of The Rules of the Game have a sentimental problem to resolve, and since the film shows them on the eve of a crisis, we will see them behave at their worst. The only sincere person the pilot Andre Jurieu awkward in an unfamiliar milieu, unleashes a tragicomedy in which he is the only victim, precisely because he has not followed the rules of the game.

Ludicrous skeletons, the characters of The Rules of the Game, viewed at a critical moment in their decay, forsake the farandole ("It's nice but it's a little old-fashioned") for a danse macabre which assaults the senses. For the ostensible purpose of a party, they are led to disguise themselves, which is to say, to take off their masks. The shadows of the masters and servants mingle and merge in an image of a sybaritic life style which cannot last: man is imperfect, he is a born liar, and besides, "If love is endowed with wings, is it not to flutter?" The Rules of the Game is a profoundly pessimistic film, a bitter and prophetic carnival in which friendship itself is exposed as just another empty game.

The word game is used over 200 times in Truffaut's two page description.

At some point in any hagiography, the idolatry itself becomes absurd. In Jean Renoir, there is no evidence of insincerity on the part of Jean Renoir's admirers. No doubt he was their very favorite, the person whose artistic work can be credited in part for giving birth to their own, whether it be new movies or essay-length film criticism. But there is also a movement just as strong away from what Renoir has accomplished; it equates to the difference between the sympathy they admire in Renoir and true empathy.

Admiration, especially the deeply ingrained kind, eventually distances the ardor from its subject. The act of writing a book in celebration of their cinematic hero feels like filing him away in history. None of their work would exist without Renoir, Bazin & Godard & Truffaut find themselves admitting, and having said this, they have finished with the man, eight years before he died in Beverly Hills. As Eric Rohmer puts it in his review of Renoir's Madame Bovary, "the roads that lead to art and truth are different, and it is the point where they cross which has always fascinated Renoir. Each perspective is true, each is false. They complement one another."   

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Oxygen" - Marie Fisker & Kira Skov (mp3)

"I Lost Something In The Hills" - Marie Fisker & Kira Skov (mp3)


Monday
Sep082014

In Which We Attempt To Revere Anna Akhmatova

The First Exchange

by JANE KENYON

As we remember Keats for the beauty and intensity of his shorter poems, especially the odes and sonnets, so we revere Akhmatova for her early lyrics - brief, perfectly made verses of passion and feeling. Images build emotional pressure:

And sweeter even than the singing of songs
is this dream, now becoming real:
the swaying of branches brushed aside
and the faint ringing of your spurs.

I love the sudden twists these poems take, often in the last line. In one poem the recollection of a literary party ends with the first frank exchange of glances between lovers. Another poems lists sweet-smelling things - mignonette, violets, apples - and ends, astonishingly, "...we have found out forever /that blood only smells of blood." These poems celebrate the sensual life, and Akhmatova's devoted attention to details of sense always serves feeling:

With the hissing of the snake the scythe cuts down
the stalks, one pressed hard against another.

The snake's hissing is accurate to the sound of scythe mowing, and more than accurate: by using a snake for her auditory image, Akhmatova compares this rural place, where love has gone awry, to the lost Eden.

+

Akhmatova was born Anna Gorenko near Odessa in 1889. Soon her family moving to Tsarskoe Selo, near St. Petersburg, and there she began her education. Studying French, she learned to love Baudelaire and Verlaine. At the age of ten she became seriously ill, with a disease never diagnosed, and went dear for a brief time. As she recovered she wrote her first poems.

Money was not abundant in the Gorenko household, nor was tranquility. Akhmatova did not get on with her father, Andrei Gorenko, a naval engineer who lectured at the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg - also a notorious philanderer whose money went to his mistresses. (We know little of Akhmatova's relationship with her mother.) Akhmatova's brother Victor recalls an occasion when the young girl asked their father for money for a new coat. When he refused she threw off her clothes and became hysterical. (See. Akhmatova: Poems, Correspondence, Reminiscences, Iconography: Ardis.)

Andrei Gorenko deserted his family in 1905. A few years later, hearing that his daughter wrote verse, he asked her to choose a pen name. He wished to avoid the ignominy, as he put it, of "a decadent poetess" in the family.  She took her Tartar great-grandmother's name.

When Akhmatova was still a schoolgirl she met Nikolai Gumilev, a poet and founder of Acmeism who became her mentor and her first hsband. Nadezhda Mandelstam has said that Akhmatova rarely spoke of her childhood: she seemed to consider her marriage to Gumilev the beginning of her life.

She was slow to accept his proposal. He sought her attention by repeated attempts at suicide until he finally married him in 1910. The bride's family did not attend the ceremony. Having won her at last, Gumilev promptly left to spend six months in Africa. On his return, while still at the train station, he asked her if she had been writing. By reply she handed him the manuscript of Evening, her first book.

+

Their son, Lev Gumilev, was born in 1912, the same year Anna published Evening. By 1917, when she was 28, she had brought out two more books, Rosary and White Flock. Despite the historical tumult of World War I and the Revolution, her poetry quickly became popular. But tumult was private as well as public: by 1918 her marriage had failed; Akhmatova divorced Gumilev and the same autumn married the Assyriologist V.K. Shileiko. This unhappy alliance - Shileiko burned his wife's poems in the samovar - lasted for six years. Ordinary family life eluded Akhmatova, who went through many love affairs. Before her divorce from Shileiko, she lived in a menage a trois with Nikolai Punin and his wife; Punin later became her third husband. Motherhood was not easy. ("The lot of a mother is a bright torture: I was not worthy of it....") For the most part, Gumilev's mother raised her grandson Lev.

In the years following her early triumphs Akhmatova suffered many torments, as the Soviet regime hardened into tyranny. Gumilev was executive in 1921 for alleged anti-Bolshevik activity. Early in the twenties Soviet critics denounced Akhmatova's work as anachronistic and useless to the Revolution. The Central Committee of the Communist Party forbade publication of her verse; from 1923 to 1940, none of her poetry appeared in print. The great poems of her maturity, Requiem and Song Without a Hero, exist in Russia today only by underground publication or samizdat.

During the Stalinist terror of the 1930s the poet's son Lev and her husband Punin were imprisoned. Akhmatova's fellow Acmeist and close friend Osip Mandelstam died in a prison camp in 1938. (Punin died in another camp fifteen years later.) During the Second World War the Committee of the Communist Party of Leningrad evacuated Akhmatova to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. There she lived in a small, hot room, in ill health, with Osip Mandelstam's widow Nadezhda.

In 1944 Akhmatova returned to Leningrad, to a still-higher wave of official antagonism. In a prominent literay magazine, Andrei Zhdanov denounced her as "a frantic little fine lady flitting between the boudoir and the chapel...half-nun, half-harlot." The Union of Soviet Writers expelled her. A new book of poems, already in print, was seized and destroyed. For many years she supported herself only by working as a translator from Asiatic languages and from French, an activity she compared to "eating one's own brain."

+

The final decade of her life was relatively tranquil. During the thaw that followed Stalin's death, the government released Lev Gumilev from labor camp and reinstated Akhmatova in the Writer's Union. She was permitted to publish and to travel. In Italy and England she received honors and saw old friends. She died in March 1966, and was buried at Komarovo, near Leningrad.

1984

There is a certain hour every day
so troubled and heavy…
I speak to melancholy in a loud voice
not bothering to open my sleepy eyes.
And it pulses like blood,
is warm like a sigh,
like happy love
is smart and nasty.

Twenty-first. Night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capitol in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing -- who knows why--
made up the tale that love exists on earth.

People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings, fear parting,
and when they sing, they sing about love.

But the secret reveals itself to some,
and on them silence settles down...
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I'm sick all the time.

1917

translated by Jane Kenyon

"Those Dreadful Hammers" - Esben and the Witch (mp3)

"Dig Your Fingers In" - Esben and the Witch (mp3)

Friday
Sep052014

In Which We Pay Attention To Our Breath

The Virus

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

2002 was my freshman year of high school. It was also the year my family bought a computer. Until that point I had composed essays on an electric typewriter and collected rocks for fun. My parents were neither cheap nor obstinate; they were just blind to the benefits of modern technology.

I took to the Web right away. Myspace was still cool, primarily a place for musicians and artist types to show off tattoos. In order to have an account, it seemed you needed a pair of horn-rimmed glasses or Converse All Stars. I had neither but knew a boy who did. His profile replaced TV as my primary source of entertainment. I checked it obsessively, looking for evidence of a girlfriend, of course, but mostly just wanting to immerse myself in a world that seemed more creative and exciting than my own. Eventually I got up the courage to message him on AIM.

Our conversations were uneventful and exhilarating. We swapped favorite lyrics and book titles. Occasionally, he suggested we grab coffee, but we never followed through. Though I knew nothing would come of it, I lived for the hour we spent each evening, typing back and forth. He had just started initiating contact when our computer contracted a virus, stranger and more debilitating than any I have seen since.

For months, my romantic efforts were undermined by midget porn. The moment you logged on to the Internet, videos of small men pounding even smaller women filled the screen. The pop-ups were so detailed there was no point in buying the full-length movie. More than horrified, I was livid. Web access had come to feel like a basic human right. Rather find something else to do, I stared at the screen and sulked.

My mother found the whole thing hilarious. When I had visitors, she insisted I take them to the computer room. “Make sure they see the midget porn before they leave!” she said, “That's not something anyone should miss.” For many of my friends, this was probably their first experience with sex, and I wonder sometimes if it had any affect on their long term preferences.

I remember one actress in particular with Shirley Temple curls and a butterfly tattoo above her left breast. Her moves were acrobatic and graceful. It was clear that as a child someone had carted her to and from gymnastics lessons. I was saddened by her lost innocence and suddenly desperate to hold onto my own. I flushed a half smoked pack of cigarettes down the toilet, vowed to focus more on my studies, and toyed with the idea of joining student council.

I was aware that I would not always be young and sheltered, that time would eventually thrust me into gritty adulthood. I struggled to embrace the moment and failed miserably. At sleepovers, instead of enjoying myself, I thought about how someday I would be too old to play Truth or Dare. I was experiencing, for the first time, something I now feel everyday: premature nostalgia.

I am haunted by the impermanence of things. Dinner parties, jobs, relationships – they all seem so fragile. To remedy the problem, I take meditation classes at the local Hare Krishna temple, where a man in an orange tunic urges me to pay attention to my breath. I obey, but the rise and fall of my chest makes me frantic. I imagine myself gasping for air on my deathbed, all the people I have met and places I have seen fluttering through my mind. This is going to take either a lot of practice or a lot of SSRIs.

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Dallas. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her vital signs.

"Body" - Karen O (mp3)

"Sunset Sun" - Karen O (mp3)