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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

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

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In Which Harmony Is A Totally Unusual Feeling For Us

from Images


There are two godfathers to Fanny and Alexander. One of them is E.T.A. Hoffmann.

Toward the end of the 1970s, I was supposed to direct Hoffmann at the Opera House in Munich. I began to fantasize about the real Hoffmann, who sat in Luther's wine cellar, sick and nearly dying. I wrote in my notes: "Death is everpresent. The barcarole, the sweetness of death. The Venice scene stinks of decay, raw lust, and heavy perfumes. In the Antonia scene, the mother is intensely frightening. The room is people with shadows, dancing, and mouths gaping. The mirror in the mirror aria is small and gleams like a murder weapon."

In a short story written by Hoffmann there is a gigantic, magical room. It was that magical room I wanted to re-create on stage. The drama would be played out with that room set on stage. The drama would be played out with that room set in the foreground and the orchestra in the background.

There is also an illustration from E.T.A. Hoffmann's stories that had haunted me time and time again, a picture from The Nutcracker. Two children are quivering close together in the twilight of Christmas Eve, waiting impatiently for the candles on the tree to be lighted and the doors to the living room to be opened.

It is that scene that gave me the idea of beginning Fanny and Alexander with a Christmas celebration.

The second godfather is Dickens: the bishop and his home, the Jew in his boutique of fantasies, the children as victims; the contrast between flourishing outside life and a closed world in black-and-white.

One could say that it all began during the fall of 1978. I was living in Munich and felt ill at ease. I was still enmeshed in the tax imbroglio, and I didn't know how or when it would end. On September 27, I wrote in my workbook:

There is no longer any distinction between my anxiety and the reality that causes it. And yet I think I know what kind of film I want to make next. It is far different from anything I have ever done.

Anton is eleven years old and Maria is twelve. They act as observers of the reality I wish to depict. The time is the beginning of the First World War; the place is a small town, exceedingly quiet and well-kept. There is a university, a theater, and a hotel some distance away. Life is peaceful.

Anton and Maria's mother is director of a theater. When their father died, she took over the management of his theater and now runs it with authority and shrewdness. They lie on a quiet street. in the back of the theater lives a Jew, Isak, who owns a toy store. It contains some other interesting and exciting objects as well. A frequent Sunday visitor is an old lady who used to be a missionary in China. She performs Chinese shadow plays. There is also an uncle who is a little crazy but is harmless and who takes certain liberties. The house is well-to-do and extremely bourgeois.

The grandmother is an almost mystical figure who lives in the apartment below. She is fabulously wealthy and was in her past a royal mistress and a great actress. Now she has retired, but sometimes she will appear in an occasional part. In either case, it is a world completely dominated by women, from the cook who has been around for a hundred years to the little nanny who is cheerful, freckled and limps because one leg is shorter than the other, and who smells deliciously of sweat.

The theater is both a playground for the children and a haven. Sometimes they are allowed to participate in a play, which they find enormously exciting. The children sleep in the same room, and they have many things to keep themselves occupied - their own puppet theater, their own movie projector, toy trains, dollhouses. They are inseparable.

Maria is the one who takes the most initiative. Anton is rather anxious. Their upbringing is strict, and severe punishment for even the most trivial offenses is not out of the question. The church bells measure the passage of time; the small bell at a nearby castle announces when it is morning and when it is evening. The Vicar is always a welcome guest, even at the theater. One might suspect that Mother has a special relationship with the vicar. However, this is difficult to know right away.

Then Mother decides to marry the vicar. Mother cannot continue to manage her theater; she must become a wife and mother. It is already apparent that her belly is swelling. Maria does not like the vicar; Anton does not like him either. Mother transfers the ownership of the theater to her actors; crying bitterly, she bids her people farewell and moves into the vicarage with Maria and Anton, who are raging with anger.

Mother is a good wife to the clergyman. She plays her part irreproachably: she gives birth to a child and invites the parishioners in for coffee after the morning service. The church bells ring, and Maria and Anton brood, thinking of revenge. They are no longer allowed to sleep together in the same room, and the cheerful Maj, the nanny, who has become pregnant, is fired and replaced by the vicar's sister, who is a dragon.

With my divining rod, I searched the ground for a source and came upon a vein of water. When I began to drill, it gushed out like a geyser. My notes continue:

Through my playing, I want to master my anxiety, relieve tension, and triumph over my deterioration. I want to depict, finally, the joy that I carry within me in spite of everything, and which I so seldom and so feebly have given attention to in my work. To be able to express the power of action, decisiveness, the vitality, and the kindness. Yes, for once, that would not be a bad idea.

From the very beginning one can see that with Fanny and Alexander. I have landed in the world of my childhood. Here is the university town and Grandmother's house with the old cook; here is the Jew who lived out back; and here is the school. I am already in the place and beginning to roam around in the familiar environment. My childhood has of course always been my main supplier, without my ever having bothered to find out where the deliveries were coming from.

On November 10, I write in my workbook:

I often think of Ingrid Bergman. I would like to write something for her that would not be too demanding, and I see a summer porch in rain. She is alone, waiting for her children and grandchildren. It is afternoon, the whole film is set on a veranda. The film will last only as long as the rain. Nature is showing her fairest face; everything is enveloped in this soft unceasing rain. When the film opens, she is speaking on the telephone. Her family is out on an excursion around the lake. She talks with an old friend of hers, who is much older than she. A deep trust exists between the two. She writes a letter. She finds some object. She remember a theater performance - her big breakthrough. She sees her reflection in the windowpanes - and can catch a glimpse of herself as a young woman.

The reason she has stayed at home is that she has sprained her ankle - it is only a slight sprain; mostly it feels good to be alone. Toward the end of the film, she sees the family returning from their trip; the rain is still falling, but it is now a peaceful, quiet drip.

Everything should happen in a major key.

The porch in summer - everything is enveloped in a soft chiaroscuro. In this piece there are no hard edges; everything must be as soft as the rain. A neighbor's child comes and asks for other children. She has bought wild strawberries, and she is given a treat. She is wet from the rain and smells wet. It is a kind life, a good, simple, incredible life. When she sees the child's hands, the most unusual thoughts come to her, thoughts that she has never had before. The cat purrs, stretched out on the sofa, the clock ticks; the smell of summer pervades over all. She stands in the doorway to the porch and looks out over the meadows with the oak tree, the meadow that leads down in the old bridge and the bay. To her, everything looks both old and familiar and yet new and unexpected. It is strange how longing emanates from sudden solitude.

This looks like a different film, independent of the first, but the material came to good use in Fanny and Alexander, the decision to depict a life, luminous and happy, was there from the moment I found life truly difficult to bear.

Harmony is not a feeling that is totally unusual or foreign to me. If I am just allowed to live quiet and create in a calm environment without being tormented, where I can have a clear perspective of my existence, where it is possible for me to be kind and not need anything or have to keep lots of appointments, then I can function at my best. Such an existence reminds me of the good-natured passive life of my childhood.

On April 18 I wrote, "I don't know much about this film. Yet it tempts me more than any other. It is enigmatic and demands reflection, but the most important thing of course is that the desire is there."

On April 23 I note: "Today I wrote the first six pages of Fanny and Alexander. I actually enjoyed doing it. Now I am going to write about the theater, the apartment, and the grandmother."

Wednesday, May 2:

I must get away from rushing and straining. I have the entire summer in front of me to do this, more than four months. On the other hand, I should not stay away from my desk too long. But no, it's all right to walk around a bit! Let the scenes settle themselves down as they please. Let them become what they will. Then they will be on their best behavior!

Tuesday, June 5:

It is dangerous to invoke the infernal powers. In Isak's house lives an idiot with the face of an angel, a thin, fragile body, and colorless eyes that see all. He is able to do evil. He is like a membrane for wishes that quivers with the slightest touch. It is Alexander's experience of the Secret that makes him what he is. The conversation with his dead father. God showing himself to him. His meeting with the dangerous Ismael, who sends the burning woman to annihilate the bishop.

The manuscript was finished on July 8, not quite three months after I began it. There followed a year of preparation for filming, a long and surprisingly pleasant time.

Then, I suddenly stood there and had to materialize my film.

Watching it today, I see that the long version could have been trimmed down half an hour to forty minutes without anyone noticing it. As it was, the work was heavily edited down to the five different episodes for television. But from that point down to the reduced theatrical version was a long step.

The basic chords in Fanny and Alexander are summed up exhaustively in The Magic Lantern:

To be honest, it is with delight and curiosity that I think back on my childhood. My imagination and sense gained nourishment, and I cannot remember ever being bored. Rather the days and hours exploded with these strange wonders, unexpected sights, and magical moments. I can still roam through the landscape of my childhood and re-create the lighting, smells, people, places, moments, gestures, intonations, and objects. Seldom do these memories have any particular meaning; they like bits of film, short of long, with no point, shot at random.

This is the prerogative of childhood: to move in complete freedom between magic and oatmeal porridge, between boundless terror and joy that threatens to burst within you. There were no limits except forbidden things and rules, which were like shadows, mostly unfathomable. I know, for instance, that I could not grasp the concept of time: You must learn to be punctual; you have been given a watch, you must learn how to tell time. Yet time did not exist. I was late for school, I was late for meals. Unconcerned, I roamed around in the park by the hospital, looking around and dreaming; time ceased to exist, then something reminded me I was hungry, and trouble began.

It was difficult for me to differentiate between what existed in my imagination and what was real. If I made the effort, perhaps I could make the reality remain real, but then, for instance, there were always the ghosts and the visions. What was I supposed to do with them? And the fairy tales, were they real or not?

Translated from the Swedish by Marianne Ruuth. You can purchase Bergman's Images here.

"Barbara" - Rufus Wainwright (mp3)

"Perfect Man" - Rufus Wainwright (mp3)

The new album from Rufus Wainwright is called Out of the Game and it was released on May 1st.


In Which We Award Elvis Presley A Black Belt

Dr. John Carpenter


Thanks to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen's supremely detailed 1999 book, Elvis, Day by Day, the trivial details of Elvis Presley's life are open and accessible to any inquiring fan. Guralnick and Jorgensen used letters, receipts and financial records to tell Elvis' story. The end wasn't maybe the greatest portion of the man's life.

September 28th, 1970

Someone calls up Elvis' road manager and demands $50,000 to reveal the name of the assassin who will kill Elvis during his Saturday evening show.

December 20th, 1970

When his father and his wife Priscilla confront him about his overspending, Elvis freaks out and hops a plane to Washington D.C. He fails in a bid to meet up with J. Edgar Hoover, but he does get facetime with President Nixon. The two like each other immediately.

March 1st, 1971

A surveillance system is installed at Graceland. Elvis places the four monitors next to his television.

September 22nd, 1971

Elvis takes in a movie in his private theater almost every night.

February 23rd, 1972

Over the last year he has grown increasingly distant from his wife. She lets him know she is hooking up with karate champion Mike Stone. In response, Elvis has someone award him a fifth degree black belt.

May 7th, 1972

Elvis heads to Los Angeles, flying on the ticket of one "Dr. John Carpenter." By the end of July Elvis and Priscilla are legally separated.

September 31th, 1973

Elvis picks up the newly crowned Miss Tennessee in Los Angeles, brings her to Las Vegas. While she is out shopping he invites Cybill Shepherd over.

February 2nd, 1973

Elvis presents Muhammed Ali with one of his robes. Ali later reflects, "I felt sorry for Elvis because he didn't enjoy life the way he should. He stayed indoors all the time. I told him he should go out and see people."

February 18th, 1973

Men rush the stage during Elvis' midnight Las Vegas show. Elvis punches one of them in the face. Afterwards, he informs the audience that, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen. I'm sorry I didn't break his goddamned neck is what I'm sorry about."

May 27th, 1974

The Jackson Five appear at the Sahara. Elvis has two of his people take his daughter Lisa Marie to the show.

August 29th, 1974

Elvis awards karate certificates to every member of his band.

November 19th, 1974

The National Enquirer runs a headline "Elvis at 40 - Paunchy, Depressed, and Living in Fear." By next year Elvis will be hospitalized for shortness of breath. He and Linda spent most of the time in the hospital watching the nursery over closed-circuit television. He spends three weeks there, and when Linda is not around he passes the hours by watching Monty Python.

July 22nd, 1975

Elvis shoots his doctor in the chest, off a ricochet, while waiving around a handgun in the examination room. Later, he forks over $200,000 without interest for the construction of Dr. Nick's new home.

with Ginger Alden

August 28th, 1976

A review of Elvis' show at The Summit in Houston reads like this: "The show was a depressingly incoherent, amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn't act like 'The King' of anything, least of all rock 'n' roll."

December 21st, 1976

In San Francisco, Elvis tries to get Linda Thompson to leave for Memphis by telling her she looks "worn out." He keeps his other squeeze, Ginger Alden, in a private room until he persuades Linda to take a flight out of town. After she does, they never see each other again.

August 16th, 1977

Elvis dies in a pool of his own vomit.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find the first part of this series here. She last wrote in these pages about Dorothea Lange.

"An American Trilogy" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

"The Girl Of My Best Friend" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

The Best of Ellen Copperfield on This Recording

Dorothea Lange's Failed Marriage

Sex Life Of Marlon Brando

The Onset Of The Western Canon

Entitled To Madonna's Opinion

The Kurt Cobain Experience Unfolds

Barbra Streisand Grows Up In Flatbush

A Sneaking Suspicion of Literature

Anjelica Huston Falls Off The Horse

Prefer To Be Simone de Beauvoir

The Marriage of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra

Elongated Childhood of Jorge Luis Borges

Jokes At The Expense Of Tom Hanks

Which One Is The Gay?


In Which We Become A Mystery To Ourselves

I Sometimes Really Feel That Way


My first day teaching creative writing to middle schoolers, I walked into the room where my class would meet, normally a health classroom, and found a large piece of butcher paper taped to the blackboard. Written in teacher handwriting across the top of the paper was the question “WHAT IS UNINTENTIONAL INJURIES.” I was on my laptop, trying frantically to record all the examples of unintentional injuries that had resulted from the health class’ brainstorm (“to accidently drop a baby,” “committing suicide on accident,” “accidentl death”), when my group of eighth graders started trickling into the classroom.

There I was, strange adult, rapt by the results of a seventh grade health class activity and clearly taken off guard by their appearance in my classroom. The eighth graders didn’t laugh at me, didn’t even smile, only stared at me skeptically. I scrambled to put my computer back in my bag and stand at the front of the room like some sort of authority, but the damage was done — it is a particular kind of indignity to be regarded as freakish by a group of nerdy pre-teens, one of whom is actually named Anakin.

There was just no way to explain to them what I was doing. “Look at this thing,” I said, pointing to the butcher paper. “Isn’t it funny?” They only eyed me more dubiously. In my first act as their teacher, I had inadvertently revealed my strongest personal compulsion, which is to hoard verbal matter, overheard conversation, stray remarks, stray thoughts, notes, lists, e-mails, gchats, text messages, diaries, notebooks, any and every piece of paper on which something mysterious or funny is written.

For instance: I have in my pocket at this moment a note I don’t remember writing to myself that I found recently on my floor. It reads, “Landscape quote: O pardon me thou bleeding piece of Earth.” (Googling reveals this is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.) Also in my pocket is a note card where it says in my graduate thesis advisor’s handwriting, “Question / Is there a historical reason for the great number of rear/alley entrances/exits in Missoula bars?” Also: a stranger’s to-do list I found tucked in a book I ordered online; its only noteworthy item is “Return Cal’s pants!”

Why I keep these things, why I needed to document “What Is Unintentional Injuries,” why I write down any interesting group of words that I hear or see, even just phrases that materialize in my brain suddenly but insistently — it is impossible to account for this practice completely, even to myself. As Joan Didion writes in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

The easy justification, the one Didion is referring to, is that these random words might some day make it into a piece of writing, and of course they might. But I can tell you this happens for me remarkably rarely: the sentences I treasure most as found artifacts do not transform gracefully to components of writing, either poetry or prose, that could be judged as traditionally “good.” For over a year I kept a file on my computer where I recorded my most emphatic thoughts, in an attempt to identify my mental refrains. I believed this file might become a useful reserve of poetic lines; instead it only serves to illustrate my incredibly vulnerable self-talk.

“Why do I keep forcing myself to think about this?” reads one item in the list. Another reads, “I have to not think about it.” “We have all learned to ignore it” and “It’s no one’s fault,” read others. There are pleas: “Don’t get some other girl.” “Don’t bring your girlfriend.” “Don’t kiss where I can see you.” And confessions: “I’m fairly obsessed with you.” “Sorry I’m so obsessed with you today.” But most of all there are just so, so, so many feelings: “I sometimes really feel that way.” “I am a happy person always.” “I’m always sad, but it’s okay.” “Am I sad or happy?” “I am sad or happy.” “I have no feelings.” “I’m a thing, I’m a feeling.” “I’m a thing.”

Didion also mostly records cryptic phrases, but she relates the strange items that she writes in her notebook as guideposts to memories, the one detail needed to evoke an entire place, time, and mood. The phrase “So what’s new in the whiskey business” written in Didion’s notebook calls to her mind a blonde woman conversing with two fat men by the swimming pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel — an intact context exists in her memory. “'So what’s new in the whiskey business?'” Didion writes. “What could that possibly mean to you?” But for me it is exactly the lost significance, the sentiment that is not meaningless but only unmoored from its origins, that appeals to me about this kind of collecting.

I suppose this can’t be separated from my relationship to poetry: that I love the way that poetry makes words strange and frees everyday speech from its everyday uses. Any carefully written thing can be loved for the beauty and ingenuity of its language, but it is poetry’s main selling point that we may enjoy it at the level of the poem, the stanza, the sentence, the line, the word, the syllable. And much of contemporary poetry is explicitly about divorcing words from their contexts, evoking emotion without a discernible story. So while the sentences I write down rarely become poetry, I have noticed that it is often other people who love poetry who I see also grabbing their notebooks after hearing a startling turn of phrase.

And it is often these same poetry lovers who produce fodder for notebooks: my experience in grad school for poetry was remarkable for the incredible sentences I heard and read delivered offhand. I have recorded in old class notes countless statements like, “Pennies are probably our most happy coins,” “‘I don't want to think about that’ is what my sisters say,” and “Debra says squirrels smell like mice with rotten teeth.” My colleagues annotated my work with comments like “Sexy connotations!” and “I read your movements as ‘begat, begat, begat’ and also ‘subsumes, subsumes.’” Taken in context, none of these remarks are as odd as they seem written here; that’s why it’s so important for me to remove the context, so I can delight in them.

My collecting is not only about enjoying language in its mystery but also becoming a mystery to myself. I often write things on my cell phone’s Notepad feature late at night, when I am half-asleep or drunk, that I puzzle over in the morning.  There are two identical entries that say, “Rom com: woman lives in vegas and is a court reporter.” Another: “Hersheys kisses mutant chocolate chip something.” One of the things I am most grateful for in life is to find traces of my own former thought processes and feelings that I could not possibly replicate or inhabit again. I read “I’m fairly obsessed with you” written in the file of my thoughts and I have no idea whom I was addressing.

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget,” Didion writes. “We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” She ignores that to forget can be a supreme grace.  I treasure all of the diaries I kept when I was a child precisely because of the distance I feel from the girl who wrote them. Seventh grade Alice: “It’s totally cool because it’s like we’ve moved on to another level of flirting.” Eighth grade Alice: “You know I’ve been thinking way deep things lately.” First grade Alice: “Dear Alice, I don’t know. Love, Alice.”

I have always been a person who is “sensitive,” and I take too long to get over everything. Reading old journals and notebooks, I am reminded that feelings are, in their essence, immediate, and they pass over us like shadows. All the words I collect are artifacts of sentiments that do not exist and could not even be conceived of again — ideas that once desperately needed to be expressed disappear, leaving husks of language that I save, I care for.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Missoula. She last wrote in these pages about baby giraffes.You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Images by Yayoi Kusama.

"Met Your Match" - Brendan Benson (mp3)

"Thru The Ceiling" - Brendan Benson (mp3)

The new album from Brendan Benson, What Kind Of World, was released on April 21st.