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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Features Editor
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 (160)

Tuesday
Mar052013

In Which It Was Something We Cannot Explain

My Chagall Memwah

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Chagalls planned to return to Paris after the Second World War. They waited in New York, Marc and his wife Bella did, exhausted by its crowds and pollution, for their home in France to be free. Occasionally they stayed in a hotel in the Adirondacks to get away from the bustle. "Here the only Jews are God himself and us," wrote Bella Chagall.

To pass the time Bella penned her memoirs. (At this point in time they were not yet better known as memwahs.) Put down in her glorious Yiddish, she described her life in Russia before her family had been splintered apart and taken from her. She wrote for hours at her desk in her characteristic black dress. She had been afraid to tell her story before, despite encouragement from friends and family, because of her shyness. The Russia she reimagined then no longer existed.

Marc described his wife during their last months together.

All calm and deep presentiment. I can see her again from our hotel window, sitting by the lake before going to the water. Waiting for me. Her whole being was waiting, listening to something, just as she had listened to the forest when she was a little girl.

Bella died of strep throat six days after the American army liberated Paris.

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"I don't recognize the world," Marc Chagall wrote after her death. In her biography of the artist, Jackie Wullschlager describes him turning his canvases to the wall. He wept uncontrollably during his wife's funeral, she tells us, shocking onlookers. As he dealt with her passing, news flowed in of relatives alive and dead in the war. Joy and grief intermingled freely. In his confusion he even addressed a letter to Joseph Stalin.

"Bella and Ida" 1916

In tandem with his daughter Ida, Marc worked through his wife's papers. His daughter's many friends flowed through the apartment; on any given day as many as six languages were spoken there. Family members returned to the Chagall's Paris home, and there was naturally celebration for those who had survived. He wrote his friend Jean Grenier to say "I am very miserable at this time. I have lost the one who was everything to me - my eyes and my soul. If I continue to create and live it is because I hope to see France and the people of France again very soon." And to another: "I must cure myself of myself."

Ida and Marc, 1945

Spring reinvigorated Marc Chagall's creative drive. He had grown accustomed to working with his wife - he considered her opinion on his work invaluable. Bella's favorite color was green; sometimes when she sat for him she read passages aloud from the Old Testament in Yiddish. His many paintings of his wife are not simply portraits, they show Bella Chagall in the act: of gardening, of drinking, of existing as if her husband were only moments away from entering the scene. The empathy they display - albeit for an extension of himself and his love for her - nearly screams.

detail of "Bella with White Collar", 1917

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Ida Chagall met Virginia McNeil through a friend. Roughly the same age, Virginia required work: her husband was an insane, depressive drunk poet, and their five-year old daughter could not count on her father. The Englishwoman became the family's new housekeeper after repairing some socks, moving into the house with young Jean. Marc called the girl Genia because it sounded more Jewish.

Virginia McNeil could not help but be attracted to the older widower. Watching him paint, she took every opportunity to flirt, observing his shirtless attire during working hours. They hid the relationship from their daughters at first. When they vacationed in Sag Harbor, Virginia slipped in and out of Marc's room at night. This new, illicit relationship came out in his brush. "You must be in love!" his friend told him after seeing one particular painting.

Chagall did not get along with young Jean/Genia McNeil - he had never been fond of any children while they were children, not knowing how to relate to them. When his relationship with Virginia became more obvious and official, he demanded the girl be sent to boarding school in New Jersey. A month later, Virginia told him that she was pregnant.

in New York, 1942Their relationship recollected his marriage when it could. Marc suggested Virginia convert to Judaism, but that never came to pass. He settled for having her attempt to make Russian food. Before the birth of David Chagall, Marc preemptively left for Paris, enlisting a friend to circumcize the baby. The day he sailed for Paris on the SS Brazil, Virginia sent for Jean to come home from boarding school exile. Chagall had not even left her enough money to pay the bills.

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He had planned to only visit Paris, staying in the rooms his daughter rented for him. Instead he remained apart from his child for two years. Ida tried to explain to Virginia, with whom she continued to consummate an uneasy friendship, that her father had purpose in Paris: "People are waiting for him. Their expectation is something to be treasured, not despised. He owes Paris at least a semblance of return. It's like a gift; it must be given at the right time. Paris is Paris, beautiful, decaying, full of sweetness and bitterness."

at the window of his apartment, 1958

Eventually, he did miss Virginia. Maybe he had from the start, but between gallery events and lectures, there had been too much to occupy his attention. He brought her to Europe instead. The happy family:

Her essential non-Jewishness haunted their life. As a replacement for his wife the goy remained inadequate. His paintings continued to be concerned with Bella alone: they were constantly surrounded by the woman in heart and in mind. When he talked to Ida, they spoke in Russian, excluding Virginia from their conversations. This use of language replaced any lingering respect he could have had for Soviet Russia after seeing what the country had done to his friends and relatives.

Jean was constantly envious of her new brother; they sent the girl to live with her grandparents in England. Marc and Virginia attempted to live together in France, but Marc had lost the sexual desire which tied them so closely before. As Virginia flirted with their hippie neighbors and entertained ideas of other men, Marc spent most of his time with the famous artists he counted as friends.

In June of 1951 they went together to Israel. Both were uncomfortable in this foreign place; they barely touched each other. The distance was obvious. Virginia wrote, "I longed for some of the passionate tenderness that filled Marc's paintings, and it was something I couldn't explain to him. By nature, Marc was shy and undemonstrative in love. He talked a lot about love in general, he painted love, but he didn't practice it."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about W.H. Auden coming to America.

with Bella in Marseilles, 1941

"Song For My Brunette" - Mathis Haug (mp3)

"Sad And Lonesome Day Blues" - Mathis Haug (mp3)

Is It More Important To Be A Great Artist Or A Great Person?

Ellen Copperfield & Frida Kahlo

Damian Weber & Andy Warhol

Isabella Yeager & Auguste Rodin

Timothy Stanley & Louise Bourgeois

Brittany Julious & Lorna Simpson

Sarah Wambold & Grant Wood

Alex Carnevale & Lee Krasner

Ellen Copperfield & Dorothea Lange

Elaine de Kooning & Mark Rothko

Alexandra Malmed & La Monte Young

Barbara Galletly & Willem de Kooning

Alex Carnevale & Fairfield Porter

drawing of Marc and Bella as a young couple

 

Monday
Jan282013

In Which We Imitate Our Loves

Nearer Everything

by ALEX CARNEVALE

What the American male really wants is two things: he wants to be blown by a stranger while reading a newspaper, he wants to be fucked by his buddy when he's drunk. Everything else is society.

Wystan Hugh Auden arrived in New York City in January of 1939. His friends in New York shared the attitude of his friends in England: they were as unhappy to see him arrive as the English were to see him leave. "Just a note to ask you not to bring Auden and Isherwood to see me," wrote Louise Bogan to Edmund Wilson. "I can't say I want to spend an evening being examined by two visiting Englishmen as a queer specimen."

Impressions of Auden and his friends Christopher Isherwood did not noticeably improve by the spring. "He's pretty eccentric and does strange things like picking his nose and eating what he finds," observed Paul Bowles.

with his one time sexual partner and friend Isherwood

Auden was unsurprised at the vastness of American wealth. That he was used to. It was this country's waste that deeply bothered and disturbed him. "The great vice of Americans is not materialism," he wrote, "but a lack of respect for matter."

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In between trying to get New York's monied elite to give him and Isherwood money of their own volition, Auden reviewed only the books he liked. (He had no stomach for rendering negative notices.) Despite his relative poverty - he and Isherwood shared a shabby Yorkville apartment - he prioritized taking Benzedrine in the mornings and Seconal at night. The upper intiated his writing for the day, and the downer allowed him to sleep after all that had happened.

When he finally quit amphetamines twenty years later, his social charm - what was left of it - disappeared as well.

Wystan and Chester

At the beginning of April, Auden met Chester Kallman at a poetry reading he was giving in Brooklyn. A few weeks later he wrote his brother John

Just a line to tell you that it's really happened at last after all these years. Mr Right has come into my life. He is a Roumanian-Latvian-American Jew called Chester Kallman, eighteen, extremely intelligent and I think, about to become a good poet. His father who knows all and approves is a communist dentist who would be rich if he didn't have to pay two sets of alimony. This time, my dear, I really believe it's marriage.

After the two had sex for the first time, Auden gifted his new partner a volume of William Blake.

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Auden's focus on Kallman arose out of his own loneliness in his new country. The next year he would be able to summarize his plight better: "The person you really need will arrive at the proper moment to save you."

The couple was temporarily separated while Auden taught for a short time at St. Mark's School in Massachusetts. He disliked the buttoned-up place as soon as he arrived, finding the faculty and administration closed-minded and anti-Semitic. When he returned to Kallman, the two planned a bus trip to New Orleans. The entire way down Chester attempted to seduce every hot young thing he came across. Auden called it their honeymoon.

The book he came back to again and again during this time was Pascal's Pensées.

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The pair moved on. About 130 miles north of Albuquerque, Taos represented the home of D.H. Lawrence's widow Frieda. They did not care for these new surroundings either, with Auden quipping that "it's curious how beautiful scenery tends to attract the second rate." The diverse community of writers in the area only emphasized how much it would never be as engaging as New York.

Auden refused to shower during this period: he would only bathe himself in a proper bathtub. (As Stravinsky would put it, "He is the dirtiest man I have ever liked.") They were driven out of New Mexico, to the Grand Canyon. Auden concluded he could only stay for a moment or forever. With the kind of bizarre sincerity he became known for, he wrote that "the Boulder Dam gives one hope for the human race."

God returned to Auden's life around the time that Hitler entered it. In response, he began reading Kierkegard almost exclusively. Publicly he remained quiet about the war, admitted later that "All that could be said, had been said. There was no point in my saying it again, a little more hysterically." He registered for the draft, applied for U.S. citizenship and moved to Brooklyn.

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Chester Kallman could always bring out Wystan's jealous side. It was not a great look for the older man. The lack of sexual chemistry between the two became a sticking point; Kallman wanted to fuck and be fucked as intensely as possible, and Auden could not begin to service his needs. "I don't think," Auden once said, "Browning was very good in bed."

It was equally destructive that Kallman seemed to delight in the jealousy his behavior inspired. This drove them apart for a time. Whenever Kallman quoted Hart Crane, Auden reacted like he had been slapped in the face. Auden took a teaching position at a small college in Michigan and then in Ann Arbor.

from a course on romanticism he taught at Swarthmore

After a miserable time at the puritanical Swarthmore, Auden returned briefly to Europe for the first time in six years in spring of 1945. Upon setting foot on English soil, he said, "My dear, I'm the first major poet to fly the Atlantic." He visited Italy and Germany, finding them both inadequate in different ways. He now felt the only place he could learn to improve as an artist was New York City.

He returned there later that year, moving into a studio apartment in Greenwich Village. This constituted his first time ever living alone, and there was never a moment when the place was anything but an absolute mess. There he composed his new book.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Jack Reacher.

"It Comes And Goes" - Dido (mp3)

"The Day Before The Day" - Dido (mp3)

 

Friday
Jan112013

In Which We Cower At His Androgynous Face

Don't Touch Me

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Jack Reacher
dir. Christopher McQuarrie
130 minutes

Tom Cruise does not touch anyone in Jack Reacher. He punches or kicks them if the occasion calls for it. For a mere moment he may press against his own arm or leg. Once, but only once and just for as long as it takes him to flash a smile, he grabs a woman and pulls her to a window. Then he instantly lets go. Most of all, he never strokes his own face, keeping his arms constantly slack, as if the plastic surgery that keeps him looking younger than his considerable years might suddenly fade away were he to draw his hands above his waist.

There is a philosophy in writing that it is important to be inclusive of all of the senses. There is a philosophy in Jack Reacher that it is important to focus on none except sight.

Reacher befriends a Pittsburgh lawyer named Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is defending an army sniper accused of killing five women and a man with a rifle. Her father is the district attorney. For some reason her dad informs his daughter that trying to defend this man is career suicide, because a defense lawyer taking a high profile case has never managed to do anything but harm her career.

The scenes between father (a whimperingly bad Richard Jenkins) and daughter are distinguished by the certainty that the two could not possibly by related, looking completely different as they do, and the fact that they, too, never touch.

Reacher does not drive his own car; sometimes he demands the cars of people whose arms or wrists he has broken. His attitude towards men is that he treats them like boys, perhaps as a preemptive measure to paint them with that brush before they have a chance to do the same to him. His attitude towards women is that of a white knight who must patronizingly protect every female he encounters. He calls any woman younger than him a girl, and any woman his age Helen.

To be fair, there are only two living women in Jack Reacher. Alive or dead, the determinative aspect of the women present here is that they are utterly helpless. After realizing she is the target of a dangerous conspiracy, Helen walks down a long hallway alone before she is tasered by a black man in an elevator. She is whisked away like Princess Peach; only the man who cannot touch her can find her.

tom mapother with director christopher mcquarrie

What happened to McQuarrie, the writer of The Usual Suspects, is what happened to his psychotic directing partner in that enterprise: Hollywood, impressed by the pair's (relative) ingenuity, commanded them to make an increasingly dull series of superhero films which make money abroad relative to their modest budgets. As if to throw off the yoke, McQuarrie pads Jack Reacher's score with moody, nostalgic music more along the lines of something you'd hear while accidentally tuning into TCM. There is also an extended silent car chase that is just unconventional enough to not be satisfying in either a new or traditional fashion.

But then Tom Cruise would feel familiar in any environ. Near the end of Jack Reacher Robert Duvall makes a cameo as the owner of a gun range where you can fire exploding rounds hundreds of yards at distance targets. It is a completely expected surprise, and Duvall is playing line-for-line the same character he played in Lonesome Dove for some reason. Like Cruise, that too was a carbon copy of several roles he played before. McQuarrie has always had a passion for giving his characters a particular flaw, with a rule that there is only one such malfunction per character, and it is referred to constantly.

Jack Reacher's most compelling character is a police officer named Emerson (David Oyelowo). He gets the film's seductive opening moments, the best part of its ridiculously long running time, before Reacher himself enters the picture. Later we are meant to wonder at length as to whether Emerson ordered the code red. (He did.) When Helen asks him why he did what he did, he tells her that he did not have a choice. Werner Herzog, portraying a survivor of a Siberian work camp turned underwritten criminal, forced him.

Steven Spielberg was the first choice for the role but he dropped out to make a movie about a heroic rabbit who fought in Vietnam.

Despite its stunt casting and completely ridiculous plot, the humor in Jack Reacher is completely non-ironic. You would think this would come as a relief, but actually the jokes revolve around a singular concept: younger, larger men underestimate the penchant for violence of an ancient midget. When you consider these moments more closely, they do not make sense at all. In more than one scene Reacher has a weapon trained on him and the individual holding it decides not to pull the trigger or swing the bat. The subtle suggestion is that Reacher gets by more so on his own good fortune than any innate ability.

For an investigator, Reacher is remarkably lacking. No one uses an iPhone or a computer for any reason in Jack Reacher. Even legal documents are laboriously printed out in the same fashion as they were decades ago. In Tom Cruise's world, Adobe Acrobat was never even invented.

In the film's final scene Reacher drives his car backwards down a hill, slumped down in the driver's seat, as bullets surround him. Waiting in a nearby office is Helen. For some reason her starkly pale legs are unadorned, out of focus, tantalizingly at the edge of every frame. All else is darkness, the primacy of her sexuality is overwhelming. Evildoers and virtuous ones alike are neither repulsed or attracted to her. They ignore her presence as children on a playground stop themselves from examining the sun too long.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"For Once" - Ra Ra Riot (mp3)

"Binary Mind" - Ra Ra Riot (mp3)