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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Senior Editor
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 (174)

Friday
Sep132013

In Which Roger Ebert Worships Ingmar Bergman

A Pornography of Horror

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Mrs. Vogler desires the truth. She has looked for it everywhere, and sometimes she seems to have found something to hold onto, something lasting, but then suddenly the ground has given way under her feet. The truth had dissolved and disappeared or had, in the worst case, turned into a lie.

My art cannot melt, transform, or forget: the boy in the photo with his hands in the air or the man who set himself on fire to bear witness to her faith. I am unable to grasp the large catastrophes. They leave my heart untouched. At most I can read about such atrocities with a kind of greed - a pornography of horror. But I shall never rid myself of those images, images that turn my art into a bag of tricks.

Ingmar Bergman's notebooks

I can't think of Persona without remembering the numerous defenses Roger Ebert made of it.  

Revisiting the film in 2001, Ebert opens his review with "Shakespeare used six words to pose the essential human choice: To be, or not to be?" It is the kind of "common-man" bullshit Bergman specifically ignored, the kind of lazy writing he is making fun of in Persona.

Dumbly, Ebert follows up this banner lede by admitting, "Persona was one of the first movies I reviewed, in 1967. I did not think I understood it," and then spends the rest of the essay proving he still does not understand it at all. Persona lacked the kind of subtlety Ebert's brand of criticism rarely picked up on anyway.

Persona is an insolent work, written in the days that followed Ingmar Bergman's recovery from exhaustion and pneumonia developed while he directed the largest theater in Sweden. It will always be the most sardonic of his films, sketched out as it was at a time of high stress and possible decombustion.

Bergman wrote to himself before embarking on the project:

I will attempt to keep the following commands:

Breakfast at half past seven with the other patients.

Thereafter immediately get up and take a morning walk.

No newspapers or magazines during the aforementioned time.

No contact with the theater.

Refuse to receive letters, telegrams, or telephone calls.

Visits to home allowed during the evening.

I feel that the final battle is fast approaching. I must not postpone it further. I must arrive at some form of clarity. Otherwise Bergman will definitely go to hell.

He was cracking, and Persona's disjointed opening gives evidence of that.

Bergman's journal reconstructs the film's opening sequence from a childhood memory he had:

I imagine a white, washed-out strip of film. It runs through the projector and gradually there are words on the sound tape (which perhaps runs beside the film strip itself.) Gradually the precise word I'm looking for comes into focus. Then a face you can barely make out dissolves in all that whiteness. That's Alma's face. Mrs. Volger's face.

Elisabet Volger (Liv Ullman) is a famous actress who has a nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson) taking care of her. Volger takes a vow of silence. Bergman remarks in his journal that "So she has been an actress one may give her that? Then she fell silent. Nothing remarkable about that." The empathy Ingmar extends to her is really for himself. When Mrs. Volger is presented a picture of her son, she tears it up, staring for hours at the atrocities of the war in Vietnam she sees on television.

There is a disease of overempathy that allows some of us to become easily affected by events we read in the news or see on television. Elisabet is afflicted by this as surely as her creator. Even before the internet and bbs there was still the tendency to get drawn into the suffering of others, that anguish that exists outside of us and for that reason is unchangeable. In the face of this Ingmar had become mute so why not mute a woman, you know, as a kind of revenge?

Liv Ullmann

The performance was a star-making one for Ullman. The feat of carrying an entire movie just from reaction shots had only been achieved once before, in the work of Akira Kurosawa. Ullman's face never moves when we stare directly at it; given the task of playing a mute, every small moment in her representation seems like either an instruction or an exaltation.

Elisabet is a fallen angel and demon incarnate in herself, but at the edge's of Ullmann's performance, Persona feels rather thin. The production itself was troubled from the beginning. On set Bergman shot more takes than he ever had, almost to the point of compulsion; nor was he ever more difficult with his cast. Persona did not concern itself with his own external awareness, only his inner doubts. That he had them and was capable of acknowledging them would always be his unforgivable sin.

During one particular scene in the film, the two women exchange personalities. Alma spends the rest of the film imbued with Elisabet Volger's dissatisfaction and anger, while Volger stands in repose. Eventually they are merely two sides of the same person. The images of the director and DP on Persona scouting locations provide an offscreen male corollary to the events of the film. See here:

Bergman and director of photography Sven Nykvist tried to focus on the unattractive side of each actresses' face, so when you showed them half-illuminated in shadowy light, they would look something not of themselves. Or as the banal Ebert put it, "The two actresses look somewhat similar." With this kind of feedback, it's no wonder Bergman repeated this trick in every single one of the films that followed. It never fails to achieve its distinguishing effect of unsettling confusion.

Ebert's defenses of the man who fooled him more than once continued after the aging director allowed him access for a long profile. Even when the director himself began to shit all over his past works, Ebert held firm.

The worst part of Persona is actually the scene where we see both faces; because of the dullness of the monologue Bibi Andersson delivers, and the self-indulgence of the shot.

Bergman explained where this came from to Ebert:

The most beautiful of all is that you're close to the human face, which is the most fascinating subject possible for the camera. On TV a few days ago, I saw a little of Antonioni's new picture, The Passenger. And you know, I am an admirer of Antonioni, I've learned so much from him, but I was struck by the moment they cut from his film to a closeup of Antonioni himself, for the interview. As he was sitting there, here was his face, so normal, so beautiful and so human - and I didn't hear a word of what he was saying, because I was looking so closely at his face, at his eyes. The ten minutes he was on the screen were more fascinating than any of his, or my, work.

If Bergman is telling the truth, he is indicting himself. If he is lying, then the emperor has no clothes. It is the kind of no-win situation Persona explores as a binary theme that has been imitated in so many pictures since.

on the set of Persona

At one point Alma discovers Elisabet's view of her in a letter she intercepts. In that bit of correspondence, Elisabet marvels that Alma's convictions are so totally unrelated to her actions. It is no wonder Bergman felt disoriented as a filmmaker around this time.

Yet it is even worse for the critic, who is permitted no ambiguity in his judgments. Bergman describes the situation of the artist in Volger/Alma there is always some outstanding question of seriousness, an overwrought scene can be ascribed to a joke or reference. No one ever had to ask, after reading an Ebert review, did you like the movie? The proper question was rhetorical, and ancient. Must all life be a chorus of good or bad? Have you not thought it might be something more?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about the murder of Joe Orton and the romance between Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Movie Music Kills A Kiss" - Califone (mp3)

"Moses" - Califone (mp3)

The new album from Califone is entitled Stitches and it was released on September 3rd.

Wednesday
Sep112013

In Which We Crack Under The Pressure Of Kenneth Halliwell

The Younger Man

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Joe Orton's partner Kenneth Halliwell started to crack long before he read his boyfriend's diaries, before he began imitating Joe's voice on the telephone to find out what people would say about him to the man he lived with. In a tiny London apartment, Orton's secrets from Halliwell were few and far between. But as Kenneth found out, he did have them.

It was not much of a surprise to Halliwell that Orton, one of the supreme playwriting talents of his century, cheated on Kenneth Halliwell quite frequently. The younger man also wrote privately about his dalliances. Upon meeting a beautiful blonde boy that year Orton wrote, "He had a softness about his body that wasn't the softness of a woman. I hoped he would let me fuck him."

joe orton accepting the award for best play the year previous

Threesomes were routine. Orton recalls one particular scene in his diary:

After awhile I turned Dave over and shoved my cock up his arse. He gave a yelp and I took it down. A. Tills produced vaseline and I put it on my cock. A. Tills put some up blue-eyed Dave's bum and I began again. It went up like a treat. "Flat! Lie flat!" I said. He did so. Actually, it was quite exciting. After I'd come and withdrawn, I noticed A. Tills had come. Dave rolled on top of me and rubbed himself off on my belly. We lay in bed for awhile, half asleep. The ceiling was very clean. Moulding of leaves. An alarm clock besides the bed said 4:00. "I must go at five," I said, thinking that Kenneth would be back by then.

Orton was becoming the most notorious young playwright in Britain, his fame quickly spreading. His dialogue was unmatched in his industry, and the dark humor of the work found an enchanting balance between silliness and depravity. Other plays could not help but seem impossibly buttoned-up compared to the excitement plays like Entertaining Mr. Sloan, The Ruffian on the Stair and What the Butler Saw inculcated on stage.

from "Loot"

In contrast, Halliwell's writing never got off the ground at all, not matter how many manuscripts he send to his boyfriend's representation. This lack of any discernible success in the field left Kenneth Halliwell despondent. Orton's diaries find him complaining of Kenneth's foul moods and hypochondria almost constantly, contrasting his own libacious second life with a domestic arrangement that seems unhappy at best, mutually abusive at worst.

On the first of May in 1967, Orton writes:

Kenneth H. had a long talk about our relationship. He threatens, or keeps saying, he will commit suicide. He says, "You'll learn then, won't you?" and "What will you be like without me?" We talked and talked until I was exhausted. He said, "I am disgusted by all this immortality." He began to rail savagely at Tom and Clive and, after a particularly sharp outburst, alarmed me by saying, "Homosexuals disgust me!" I didn't attempt to fathom this one out.

left, Orton, center Kenneth Williams, right Kenneth Halliwell

He said he wasn't going to come away to Morocco. He was going to kill himself. "I've led a dreadful, unhappy life. I'm pathetic. I can't go on suffering like this."

After talking until about eight he suddenly shouted out and hammered on the wall, "They treated me like shit. I won't be treated like this." I agreed that they both had chosen to agree with me on all things whether sensible or not. "You had tea, they had tea, you had jam tarts, they had jam tarts. And those photographs of Mustapha - he was so unattractive, and because you had him they said, 'What a dish.'"

I'd noticed all this the previous evening. I'd also noticed that they'd been over-enthusiastic in praise of anything connected with me. "Surely you expected this?" I said.

Orton and Halliwell on vacation, 1965

Orton was a voracious reader, and Halliwell endeavored to be his guide. This caused substantial resentment between them the older man, by seven years, felt he was more educated, and that it was his duty to instruct the more talented Orton. Halliwell privately began to loathe the perceived crudity of his partner's work just because he was so fawned over.

Orton with a friend, 1965

Their sex life was furtive and occasionally disturbed. After Kenneth had parted with a few of his valium to loosen them both up, Joe

had a hard on. And we had a furious sex session. He stuck his finger up my arse and wanked me. And he said I could fuck him if I wanted to. "I can't overcome that particular psychological inhibition with you," I said. He sucked my cock. And then I tossed him off after a very long love-making session. I came, but I don't know how much, because he wiped it up before switching on the light.

Later that week, they tried again.

When I got back home, Kenneth H. was in such a rage. He'd written in large letters on the wall, JOE ORTON IS A SPINELESS TWAT. He sulked for awhile and then came round. He'd been to the doctor's and got 400 valium tablets. Later we took two each and had an amazing sexual session. I'd decided that I'd fuck him. But it didn't work out. "I'm not sure what the block is," I said. "I can fuck other people perfectly well. But up to now, I can't fuck you." This is something strange. I had a big hard on. Yet, when I turned to put it up him, it just went off. Anyway we made love and came. He sucked my cock. I've got a mark on it where he did it too hard.

To get away from things they vacationed in Tangiers, where both men slept with such young servants as their hotel could provide. Orton called ninety-five percent of the boys Mohammed, subsisting on a steady diet of hash cakes, valium and vaseline. When Joe got back to London he made a habit of checking out men's bathrooms looking for sex. He was relieved to be able to talk in English again during his fucks, noticing how much sex missed a common verbal language. Kenneth was less on his mind than ever.

Kenneth Halliwell

The reverse was true for the increasingly jealous Halliwell. In Tangiers he attacked Orton for the first time when the younger man nastily criticized him for his predilection for being masturbated to orgasm. Halliwell punched Orton in the back of the head.

Getting Kenneth to snap only increased the vigor of Orton's nastiness, and he clearly thought nothing of the danger he was putting himself in by acting this way. The blow to the head, in retrospect, was the first enactment of Orton's murder.

When they returned from "paradise" for good, Orton's play Loot, his finest work, was beginning its long run on the London stage. Meanwhile What the Butler Saw was being reshaped and polished with Halliwell's help. Orton reunited with those he'd missed while he was away.

I went to the negro's room again today. He told me his mother died of cancer. "Of the womb," he said, "and that's a terrible thing, you know." He said, "It's it's the breast than they can cut them off. Only it doesn't always work. I know a woman who had her breast off and now she's dead. Oh, man, that cancer is a terrible thing. Most people don't live, you know that." He said his father died when he was seventeen. He had several sisters and brothers in England and in America. Mostly their marriages are failures," he said, "they don't seem to get on. And they separate. I don't know what you feel about this. I feel pretty bad." He said, "I've a West Indian paper here. I just bought it. I'm looking for a job." We took off our clothes and I let him fuck me.

Then, after he'd listened to the one o'clock news on a portable wireless - "the news is bad all over the world. My God! I don't know a single spot where the news is good" I fucked him. I took a lot longer in fucking him. "I come off too quick, man," he said morosely as I got up off him. "If I could pick up a gay doctor I'd ask him about that."

The night Joe Orton was murdered by Kenneth Halliwell, he had been groping a woman in front of him, Sheila Ballantine. He was doing so completely playfully, to show how one of the actresses in Loot had overdone her own sexual promiscuity. Halliwell could barely see in front of his eyes he tried to tell Orton that he'd gotten a bunch of pills from the doctor, that he was considering suicide. His lover dismissed it as typical Kenneth; Orton was more concerned about a meeting he had with the Beatles the following day.

halliwell in tangiers

On August 9th, 1967, Kenneth Halliwell bashed Orton's head in with a hammer after taking 22 nembutals. (Halliwell's father had ended himself by putting his head in a gas oven.) The pills killed him before Orton died of blood loss in his bed. On Halliwell's desk the police found a note:

If you read his diary all will be explained.

K.H.

P.S. Especially the latter part.

Yet the very last pages of the diary, those covering the week before Orton's murder, had been torn out.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Paul Bowles and the romance between Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"A Good Sadness" - MGMT (mp3)

"Plenty of Girls in the Sea" - MGMT (mp3)

Monday
Sep092013

In Which We Decide To Give Up Everything Even Sex

Curtains

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Marcel Duchamp introduced Peggy Guggenheim to all the artists he knew in Paris. By various looks and expressions it was obvious to Duchamp that the heiress knew little of modern art, so he endeavored to teach her. He did not ask for money in exchange for his services, since the instruction of women was not considered a financially profitable task. Moreover Peggy was planning to open a gallery in London, and he saw it as something of a duty to ensure the place was filled to his liking.

When she was not with Duchamp, Peggy socialized in Paris with frenetic abandon. At a party thrown by James Joyce she observed across the table a slender, quiet, bespectacled amalgam of Irish masculinity. She stared at Samuel Beckett the entire night.

They walked the entire way back to her apartment on the Rue de Lille. Beckett's novel Murphy had begun to slowly appear across Europe. Although she had not read it, she knew it was accomplished, and she had already pleasantly digested his views on Proust. As a friend of Sam's later wrote, "She wanted to be a part of whatever good things were going to happen to him."

Peggy Guggenheim at “peep show, manipulated by turning a huge ship’s wheel, shows a rotating exhibit of reproductions of all the works, including a miniature toilet for MEN, by screwball Surrealist Marcel Duchamp.”

In her own book, Peggy wrote that Beckett was a "a tall lanky Irishman of about thirty with enormous green eyes that never looked at you. He wore spectacles and always seemed to be far away solving some intellectual problem; he spoke very seldom and never said anything stupid." They spent the next 24 hours in bed together. The only interruption came when Beckett leapt out of the sheets to purchase a few bottles of champagne and return. After Peggy finally left the embrace, Beckett murmured, "Thank you. It was nice while it lasted."

She found his long expositions on Irish painting a bit tiring, but pretended as well as she could to listen the entire time. Besides Joyce he told her he felt Journey to the End of Night was the greatest novel written in French or English. He gave her all of his books; intellectually she felt they were really clicking.

Joyce called for Beckett the next day. Both he and Guggenheim made a point of telling everyone they knew about Beckett's Parisian night and morning.

Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett did not see each other for more than a month, before Peggy made a show of running into him. Peggy was housesitting for her friend Mary Reynolds nearby; did he want to come back for a drink?

They spent the next fortnight there, Beckett drunk throughout. The sex was far from exciting - Beckett struggled to maintain his erection when he consumed alcohol. When that happened, the two would just keep drinking as they strolled through Paris until they came out the other side. The affair ended for the first time when Beckett fucked an Irish girl visiting from Dublin. To explain this behavior to Peggy, he told her "making love without being in love is like taking coffee without brandy." She did not buy this bullshit whatsoever.

SB in the 60s

They reconciled shortly after Beckett was knifed by a pimp. Peggy visited his hospital bed then, insisting as seductively as possible that she loved him. Joyce paid the cost of a private room for his protege, and passed the time waiting for Beckett's recovery by roaming, blind, through the hospital's wards. Seeing him reduced to a patient, she eagerly forgave him.

Peggy's London gallery opening was a tremendous success. One attendee called her the female W.C. Fields. She did not stay in London long enough to enjoy this adulation, because her Beckett was in Paris.

Beckett was no longer interested in being with Peggy. He had moved on to a pianist named Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, six years his elder. Suzanne nursed the wounded writer back to health, and eventually she would become his wife in 1961. Peggy reacted to the rejection by sleeping with one of Sam's friends, briefly reigniting Beckett's interest.

Meanwhile, she prepared an exhibition of Kandinsky's work for her new gallery. She became somewhat obsessed with getting her Irishman back, writing to her friend Emily Coleman that "I love being with him. It is more and more my real life. I have decided now to give up everything else, even sex if necessary, and concentrate on him." She was aware of Suzanne's presence in Beckett's life, but struggled to view the older musician as proper competition, remarking that "she made curtains while I made scenes." Beckett refused to sleep with Peggy despite her entreaties.

She did not sell a single Kandinsky.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Paul Bowles and the Fullbright Company's Gone Home. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"By the Throat" - Chvrches (mp3)

"Lies" - Chvrches (mp3)

The new album from Chvrches is entitled The Bones Of What You Believe and it will be released on September 23rd.

standing unhappily next to her husband's self-portrait