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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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 (227)


In Which Margaret Atwood Deserves Equal Recognition

Known For Being A Person


The Heart Goes Last
by Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese, 320 pp.

"Sometimes you miss the newspaper," mumbles one character in The Heart Goes Last, the new novel from Margaret Atwood. Life in the twin towns of Consilience and Positron consists of one month as a civilian, and one month as a prisoner in a penitentiary. Atwood heard in her own newspaper about the vagaries of for-profit prisons, and decided they were some kind of hostile omen for the future of mankind.

Atwood has looked at the United States in the past with a viewpoint that alternates between condescending paternalism and utter forgiveness. The United States is a mess, she explains, full of different impersonations and desires that cannot help but fall into irretrievably broken pieces. Her protagonist Charmaine is a housewife turned bartender with no parents. After economic collapse forces her to reside in a car, she enrolls in the Positron Project.

Nothing really sounds all that bad about this dystopia. Charmaine and her husband Stan quickly grow apart, with him informing her that the shampoo on offer makes her smell like paint remover. There are evil workings behind the scenes, however, and Charmaine has just the right levels of cruelty and empathy to carry out Positron's executions with a smile on her face.

The entire story of Charmaine's struggle in dystopia is more window dressing than anything else. Atwood's real skill is on offer when she describes how human beings make decisions in the face of all the aspects of their lives. No other writer can as entertainingly explain how complicated and multilayered human motivations are. Even though Charmaine and her scooter mechanic husband Stan are flimsy archetypes when The Heart Goes Last begins, Atwood can't help but humanize them from their stale beginnings as she goes along.

Stan discovers that the scientists at Positron have discovered a way for human beings to imprint on each other "like ducklings." Stan meets a woman he knew outside of Positron who has accidentally imprinted on a blue teddy bear. Observing her love for the inanimate object becomes a turn-on for him as well. It is the most stirring emotion he has in the entire manuscript of The Heart Goes Last. "A person is a person no matter how creepy they are," observes Atwood.

We get the sense that Ms. Atwood may not really believe that statement. Charmaine's attentions wander from her husband to the man, Max, who lives in her house while she is doing her mandatory month of hard time. Atwood details their adultery in a relatively safe way, but the fashion in which she gets inside Charmaine's head, deciding how completely she gives herself over to the man who is not her husband, is chilling. In a broad satirical piece she has effortlessly unraveled a deeper psychological profile.

Stan finds out about the affair from the wife of the fellow Charmaine is boinking. (The sex of the married pair consists mostly of abbreviated intercouse with Stan occasionally begging Charmaine to "let go!"). Max's wife begins to force him to have sex with her on a regular basis. It is the darkest part of The Heart Goes Last, and the subtext is that there can be no compulsion between a man and a woman in this area. Men are helpless and inadequate when they cannot fill their roles as gainful providers, Atwood explains, but they are still men.

Most satires burn out of steam by the third act, but Atwood is supernatural at teasing out mysteries where there really aren't any. Near the end Stan takes up work in a sex robot factory, where he has some harsh words for people who desire such imitations of life. This joke seems relatively old, given that lifelike sex toys have been on the market for over a century. Atwood uses this discussion as an argument against relativism, as a way of explaining that not every human sexual desire deserves equal recognition.

Atwood's most recent novels in the Oryx and Crake universe were not for everyone. They were highly realized science fiction containing the interplay of genius level characters on a massive, world-breaking canvas. Despite their scope, Atwood is absolutely expert at never losing a grasp of the personal even within a large story. There is a conscious effort in The Heart Goes Last to slow things down. She has written a book that can have its impact on anyone, that addresses its lessons to a broader audience, with a firmer hand. It would be a bit overbearing if we didn't feel like this inspirational pamphlet was actually good for us.

Though much sought after, control is impossible in The Heart Goes Last. Even the ownership of time is brokered over — are the moments Charmaine spends fucking her boyfriend in an abandoned house those to do with as she pleases, or do they essentially belong to her husband? The fight against being taken over by events outside ourselves does nothing to change the fact that there is something intrinsic inside us that wants to be told what to do. In The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood wonders, at length, what exactly that thing is.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Wedding Ring" - Glen Hansard (mp3)


In Which The Complexion Of Jesse Eisenberg Renders All Else Dark

Missing Out


American Ultra
dir. Nima Nourizadeh
96 minutes

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) has a more pallid complexion than usual. He only goes outside at night, when the rays of the sun aren't present to make his skin burn or discolor. He has tricked a woman named Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) into embodying this drastic way of life as well. There is a great question here waiting to be answered about why such people live as they do. Stewart had a nicer tan when she was a vampire.

American Ultra, the second film written by John Landis' son Max, is a not very funny romp through West Virginia, since the town itself is devoid of any Americans other than Rose (John Leguizamo). We quite literally never see another person, which is funny because John Landis was quite interested in how Americans spoke and acted, and the zany half-comic romps he specialized in thrived on jokes about how the individual took his place in a greater whole.

American Ultra is devoid of any specific comic relief. Eisenberg is depressed and upset he can never live his West Virginia birthplace. This is because he is secretly a government project designed as a drone of sorts. Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) sends out the other members of his program to hunt him down for no discernible reason, since he is just working at a Cash N Carry and having very infrequent sex with his CIA handler/girlfriend.

Stewart proved herself a talented performer capable of a superstar-like role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria last year, but she is not really suited for open aggression — just subtle tear downs and sideways looks. American Ultra basically pretends she doesn't exist, focusing mostly on the self-defense Eisenberg offers against those trying to murder him.

Eisenberg has established his credentials in a variety of quick-talking roles. He is still doing the same basic schtick, but he has a novel way of putting a twist on what is essentially a variety of similarly narcissistic characters. There is a hint of something more vulnerable in the character of Mike Howell, but the clueless direction of American Ultra never touches it.

It is supposed to be comic that a stoner is killing all these people without really meaning to, but director Nima Nourizadeh does not really give a humorous flair to the action. The only depth given to any of the characters is a man from Howell's program named Laugher (Walton Goggins) who offers Howell empathy after failing to murder him. He is the only one to receive it: otherwise, Howell is a savage killer, dismembering and cutting up his victims in fast and explosive ways. Watching it is vaguely like witnessing Hannibal Lecter eat.

Beneath the clueless and rote direction, there is another script here. Hollywood has a rich history of writer-director collaborations that barely even spoke to one another. Famously Lee Tamahori never understood that David Mamet's 1997 script for The Edge was a satire. There was nothing special about anything in the script of Casablanca, but it accidentally became a kind of phenomenon. A more recent example of such discord might be the recent Fantastic Four, which looks like someone spliced five different scripts together and called it a day.

American Ultra contains nothing that bad. It is just so devoid of any kind of character development that we forget there used to be movies like this, narratives which contained no content, and which in some level are designed to be appreciated by children or pets. Fortunately or unfortunately, we expect more now.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Tilted" - Christine & the Queens (mp3)

"Narcissus is Back" - Christine & the Queens (mp3)


In Which We Return To Berlin From The Camps

Back in the High Life


dir. Christian Petzold
98 minutes

Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) survives a concentration camp, but not without substantial disfigurement in the face region. Even though most survivors decided to flee Europe in droves, Nelly is the exception. What distinguishes her from all her compadres is that she had a very attractive husband: Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld).

After the war Johnny found work at a busboy at a club named Phoenix. The place is pretty gross, full of American soldiers looking for prostitutes and low production values on all of the singing numbers. When Johnny sees his wife after so much facial surgery he doesn't recognize her at all, but he sees to the resemblance to the wife he betrayed to the Gestapo. He has learned that Nelly stands to inherit millions from wealthy relatives as a result of the war, and convinces his wife to portray his wife in a scheme that will net him millions and her a cool $20,000.

$20,000 in 1942 would be a neat $300,000 today. There is a continuing suggestion by individuals that the world is getting worse, but Phoenix reminds us that in some important ways it is getting substantially better. The film also presents the Jewish question in no uncertain terms. "Why would you want to come back here?" a doctor asks Nelly about her return to Germany.

It is a valid question with a valid answer. Nelly's friend Lene has found her accomodations in Israel, in Haifa or Tel Aviv, but Nelly refuses to leave Germany. Lene is a strong Zionist, and Phoenix spends considerable time and energy explaining the necessity of a Jewish state. Of course, this was never something given by anyone to the Jews. There were reparations to some Jews for what they lost during the war, but most never received a thing, including help establishing the nation-state that would serve as their stronghold against a virulently anti-Semitic world.

Like many Jews, Nelly does not even consider herself to be one. Her husband Johnny, however, did. When the Gestapo took him into custody and asked him to reveal his wife's whereabouts in return for his own freedom, he told them that she was hiding in a hidden compartment of a boat.

As her husband unknowingly embroils his actual wife in a scheme to convincingly portray what he believes is his deceased wife, she tries to get to him explain that he had no choice but to give her up, or that he had done it unknowingly. To Johnny's credit, he never bothers to lie about this.

German filmmaker Christian Petzold received various forms of blowback for the presentation of his country in Phoenix. Unlike other German efforts depicting the moral crises of the time, he never bothers to show off Germans innocent of the crimes of the Third Reich. Every single person Nelly knew is culpable and complicit in Johnny’s plan to defraud her estate of millions. Even Johnny, when pressed by Nelly to excuse himself from the complicity in her capture, declines. It is very difficult to be knowingly dishonest about annihilation.

Lene continues to beg Nelly to leave Johnny alone, knowing that no good can come of their association. She gives her friend a revolver, explaining "sometimes it is just enough to show it", subtly suggesting that if she were to kill Johnny for what he did to her, he would deserve it.

There are many people who are similarly afraid of violence, or believe it never has the capacity to touch them. These well-meaning individuals are convinced that eliminating the tools of violence are enough to prevent people from harming each other. They argue that other things in our society cause murder — video games, television, lack of psychiatric treatment for the mentally ill. They are mistaken.

Without handguns or weapons of any kind, the Nazis still would have been what they were, Phoenix argues so persuasively, in a way that is entirely unique to Holocaust cinema. The film itself never shows anything more shocking than a sob or a muted scream. That is horrifying enough. In an interview with Film Comment Petzold described the plight of a German attorney who remembered the Nazis coming into a courtroom, asking each person there whether or not they were a Jew. "Not a Jew," he told them, in the moment he committed his first crime.

Although its plot is most similar to Vertigo, Petzold smartly stays away from any more specific allusions to Hitchcock's genre. Phoenix never takes many twists or turns, but this is as it should be. Instead the film brings out one overriding emotion at length, like the prolongation of a single musical note. When the music finally crests, nothing's left.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.