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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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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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Entries in alex carnevale (151)

Friday
Aug152014

In Which Cate Blanchett Vamps Like A Mere Servant

Ungrateful

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Some things are too good for critics.

In the Lincoln Center Festival production of Jean Genet's The Maids, Cate Blanchett prances around the stage in her undergarments until that special moment when Isabelle Huppert begins humping her red dress and choking her as anyone with a brain would want to be throttled. If you can't enjoy watching Cate playact sadomasochism with one of the finest French actresses of her generation, something is probably wrong with you.

There is something completely non-American about The Maids that is impossible to translate, even when the words themselves are done better than they ever have in a rewrite by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. Any production of this oft-staged comedy is on some level shameful and difficult to watch, since there is no amount of crossdressing or wackiness or satirical commentary that makes people feel OK about servants betraying their employers.

Why do so many theatrical reviews read like histories? It really doesn't matter how anything was performed in the past. The past no longer exists, I think this was a major theme of Mr. Holland's Opus or perhaps The Nutty Professor.

Now, today, you can see Cate Blanchett writhe and spread her legs as Claire, the youngest of the two maids in the employ of Madame (Elizabeth Debicki).  When older sister Solange (Huppert) puts her hand in her sister's mouth as she is straddling her, there is not a lot of thinking that has to go on to realize that this is the kind of fun we never end up seeing anywhere except pirate romance novels. The overall cumulative effect is something like if the girl of your dreams suddenly began slobbering all over you, jamming her fingers in your mouth.


The fact that a play from the late forties could still have any shock value in it at all shows how prudish American culture is, but that is the not-so-interesting part of watching Blanchett smear her makeup and monologue the inner desire she has to poison her fickle employer. Murder is less shocking than transcendent sex play; it is also a lot more understandable.

Cate's ministrations eventually make you realize that, is it really so bad when Bradley Cooper's girlfriend slobbers and jams her fingers down his throat?


Under the bright lights of NY City Center, Blanchett's face oscillates like a sun dial. She is always the center of any action on the stage, just subtle enough to not be overwhelming. Director Benedict Andrews dresses her older sister up more modestly, like the young girl she is not. Huppert's strong accent and sonorously low voice make her sound even more alien than her statuesque blonde sister, and the fact that she makes Blanchett's Claire seem normal is the basic premise of this production.


At some point an actress like Blanchett is just playing herself, or off herself. The latter is a lot more fun. The best part of The Maids occurs when Elizabeth Debicki finally enters the proceedings as Madame halfway through the play, and the natural order of things returns to the household.

We always find it easier to laugh when the existing social order is intact. Disturbingly, the most regular arrangement of individuals comforts us. It was either William F. Buckley or Genet who taught the West that there was a reason things were the way they were. I suppose in some twisted way those two men were peers and co-conspirators.

Hilton Als called this version of The Maids "a rip-off", I guess because there was a video screen, I am unclear on the actual reason. Watching a screen display what is already in front of you is a complete waste of time, but you have to remember that almost half the audience at the performance of The Maids I attended waited in line to get headphones that would assist with their ability to hear the show. If they squinted they might be able to tell Cate Blanchett apart from Elizabeth Debicki, but that would be the sole way they could do it. The only people who go to the theater are actresses, tourists and senior citizens, and it has always been this way.

And critics.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Miles Away" - Philip Selway (mp3)

"Waiting for a Sign" - Philip Selway (mp3)

Friday
Jul252014

In Which Amy Schumer Obliterates Her Own Vanity

Impossibly Amy!

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Amy Schumer's face is a bit too bulbous in certain regions, resembling a squirrel with nuts saved up for winter. Her comedy is mostly self-deprecating when it comes to her appearance. She makes jabs at herself about her weight, her voice, her profligate sexuality basically anything that is not her hair or navel.

Amy is primarily a Jewish woman. Since Jewish women are not so often blonde, Amy passes for a shiksa at first glance. When the unsuspecting goy realizes he is not dealing with one of his own kind, he instinctively rebels against this momentary betrayal. This explains any and all venom against Ms. Schumer on the internet, except from the wives of the married men she has been with. When they told her they loved her, she told them that they loved their wives.

It is possible that Jesus could return to us, but not in the form He took the first time? It is, isn't it?


In one of her sketches, Amy Schumer returns to her domicile and finds her boyfriend wearing clown makeup. She accepts his explanation that he was wearing the makeup as a surprise for her, even though it seems very obvious her boyfriend is hiding a clown woman in their bedroom. The joke is that Amy forgives things that she should not.

In another sketch, Amy's friend and writer on the show, Tig, has cancer. When she asks Amy to run in a 5K supporting cancer research, Amy keeps finding excuses that would prevent her from participating. The joke is that Amy is an insensitive boss and human being. We all know that's not true!

In another sketch, Amy is on a date with a man who is telling her about his experience on 9/11. After she orders her sandwich, Amy remarks of the woman who took her order, "She's cute" after thinking about it for several seconds. The joke is that Amy is so self-centered that she pays compliments to people outside their hearing, I think. Amy finds it very difficult to concentrate during her date's story. Later, she directs him to be quiet while she attempts to Shazam a song playing in the restaurant.

Melissa McCarthy is a lot less conventionally attractive than Amy, but it is still revolting how she is used as a punchline for her weight, and how Chuck Lorre wrote a whole TV show about how the only man she could find would be a guy the size of a house who she met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. (This is actually the horribly offensive plot of Mike & Molly.)

Amy's self-deprecating schtick more closely resembles Tina Fey's. Listening to Fey put herself down over the course of season after season of 30 Rock became exhausting, then ridiculous as the actress who portrayed Liz Lemon turned into a sex symbol. There is a deep uncomfortability with sex at the heart of Tina's act in general. It is the reason why her stylings translated so terribly to the movies, where our revulsion and disbelief at how much she claims to have eaten is not nearly as desirable or sympathetic over the course of two hours.

Tempting as it may be to film Amy getting dumped by Bradley Cooper and go on a road trip with her best pal (one of Judd Apatow's daughters, most likely) there are only a select few people who mankind is willing to pay to watch denigrate themselves for our amusement, and the list grows every time Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen replicates via simple mitosis. In her new movie with Apatow, Trainwreck, Amy wrote her own role as a woman who tries to "get over her self-sabotaging ways."

Amy's putdowns of herself are fresher and more biting (and at the same time Joan Rivers-ancient) when she refers to her own promiscuity. Amy recently whispered to James McAvoy on the Tonight Show that she has been known to use too much teeth during oral sex. He seemed vaguely disgusted and semi-turned on. When he stood up he was 5'1" max and Amy did not appear to be interested any longer.

In another sketch, Lisa Lampanelli sings a really awkward and dated song about her breasts being unusual.

In another sketch, Amy portrays a therapist counseling a group of troubled husbands. Each of the men advocates severe violence as a solution to their marital problems. Amy attempts to dissuade them from such a drastic course. At the conclusion of the sketch, Amy's Australian boyfriend enters the room to complain that he has been waiting for too long. The men suggest ways she might kill this man.

In another sketch, Amy expresses her frustration about how terrible her mother is at using any basic technology. In another sketch she and Parker Posey complain to a waiter who does not understand their dietary needs.

Some critics have taken issue with Amy's many bon mots about her vaunted promiscuity. Offstage, Amy makes it clear that while she is far from sexually inexperienced, she does not treat relationships in any kind of frivolous way. Even on her show, Amy shows herself as vulnerable and committed when her partner seems to require the opposite. This seems like an impossible woman to tear your eyes away from for more than a second, let alone cheat on.

It sort of bothers me that no matter how disgusting a male comedian is, no one accuses him of betraying his gender or political movement because he makes a joke about his balls.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"On My Own" - Kodakid (mp3)

"Goin' Out West" - Kodakid (mp3)


Thursday
Jul032014

In Which We Burrow Under Scarlett's Skin

Scarlett Inside Of Scarlett

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Under the Skin
dir. Jonathan Glazer

108 minutes

Under the Skin uses a lot of non-actors from the Scotland in which its Stranger in a Strange Land-story is set, filming by a hidden camera on the dashboard of a van. None of them imagine that Scarlett Johansson is anything but a confused American, and a very poor driver. In their thick Scottish accents you can barely make out what they are saying even if you knew what driving directions they were conveying to her. The joke is that they are both aliens to each other.

In this third film by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) Scarlett is supposed to be an alien, though. Despite the fact that her exaggerated features and pin-up body have made her look inhuman in comparison to her fellow actors for almost a decade, Under the Skin tones back that otherworldiness throughout.

Instead, it is supposed to be Ms. Johansson's awkward, mannered gestures that suggest she is not from Earth. This succeeds about as well as you would expect while a swirling, faux-Kubrickian cinematography tries to obscur Scarlett's utterly human sexual presence.

Scarlett is not the only alien in Scotland. There is also a motorcycle-riding alien is who is a bit suspicious of the positive inroads Scarlett seems to be making in the Edinburgh comunity. Like Scarlett, this speedier iteration murders human beings for their carapaces, seeming to find as much pleasure in his own shell as he does in dissecting theirs. In Under the Skin, death is not the end for the bodies the aliens discover and appropriate for themselves.

Scarlett eventually meets up with a creature as bizarre as herself a man with severe facial bloating and scarring. She tells the elephant man that he has wonderful hands, although it unclear why she would offer such a compliment. The music becomes seriously wacky as they touch and the elephant man shows her his dick. Taking the joy out of watching Scarlett Johanssen walk backwards nude is an impressive achievement.

For some unknown reason the grotesque man's plight affects her, even though it is hard to believe she has any concept of beauty, despite being extremely humanoid in her actual form:

In the film's opening scene, she delicately picks an ant off a body she stripped for its clothes. None of her human movements come across as the slightest bit unnatural, and this last gesture seems almost too familiar. Like the rest of Under the Skin's symbols, the ant parallel is so facile it doesn't really hold up under interrogation. Whatever point the film is making about how real people react to a beautiful woman is subsumed by how staged it feels that Scarlett is involved. The thing you really need to keep in mind is this: Scarlett is not one of us, and she never will be.

Disoriented by encounters with human beings where they don't want to kill her or put her on the cover of their magazine, Scarlett attempts to approximate humanity by eating cake and sampling physical love. Further disturbed, she flees into the woods where rapists live. One particularly goofy criminal tries to have his way with her. He screams, "Black Widow!!!" and attempts to enjoy the horrific act, but he only ends up tearing her skin as she flees. Frightened by her actual shape, he douses her with kerosene and burns her body.

By that point we are somewhat tired of looking at Scarlett, as the director clearly enjoys her form more than is healthy. To make Scarlett's body such a centerpiece betrays a love of that voluptuous shape. In Under the Skin each individuated part of her body always seems to be pleasantly extruding in every direction. Unfortunately, there is nothing subtle or transcendant about her physicality; the only advantage it offers is constant presence.

This makes it very difficult for her to carry off the role of an alien, especially since that curvy physique is so familiar to us anyway. It is not supposed to be fun to watch her, so when it is, we feel uneasy. That effect, at least, is unique.

Under the Skin does the best it can to distract from this unsettling contradiction Glazer's manipulative camera tricks are satisfying at first, but exhausting taken in total. It is a serious achievement that we want so badly to avert our eyes from this situation, creating a moral dilemma for ourselves that rarely exists in cinema. Under the Skin's anguished unfolding, stepping on a thin line between pain and wonder, exemplifies the reason it is rare.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Still Madly Crazy" - Robin Thicke (mp3)

"The Opposite of Me" - Robin Thicke (mp3)