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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

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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Entries in alex carnevale (237)

Friday
Dec112015

In Which The Scarecrow Probably Did Most Of This

Giving Up

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Walk
dir. Robert Zemeckis
123 minutes
 

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Northern French accent is very impressive in Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. “He never gives up,” says his girlfriend Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon). After Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center, he dumped her for a woman who came onto him after his appearance on the local news. In the movie, we never see the infidelity; Annie just peaces out in a cab like nothing too bad happened.

It has been over a month since Islamic terrorists killed 130 people at a concert in Paris. One month later diplomats are in Paris, talking about who will pay for the cost of fighting climate change. The Associated Press article reported that the countries were close to an accord; a group of hard-line countries represented by a Malaysian lawyer named Gurdial Singh Nijar explained that the meeting was “going backwards," since India, China and Malaysia would never agree to any of the conditions set forth by Western democracies.

Annie Allix has had to watch her relationship with Petit glorified. She is presented in The Walk as an ultimately innocuous bystander to his 140 foot-walk across the sky. One hundred and forty feet does not sound like a very far distance, but Petit managed it several times. Bystanders clapped and cheered. Afterwards, his criminal charges were dropped and he was even honored as a local hero.

That was 1974. Two years earlier, eleven Israeli Olympic team members had been taken hostage and murdered by the Palestinian group Black September, with support from anti-Semitic German groups. It did not take much time for people to forget about that. We all have short memories, so it is nice to remember what Mr. Petit did. His girlfriend remembers it, too. In the documentary about Petit's walk, Man On Wire, she explains, "My life was completely consumed by his, and he never thought to ask me whether I had my own destiny to follow. It was quite clear I had to follow his.”

It is remarkable how people can ignore what it happening all around them, and at times even necessary. In The Walk, Petit explains to a customs guard what his plans are, and the guy laughs and waves him through LaGuardia. Petit even employs more than one willing American in his act of terrorism. Such a thing would never happen today, and in fact in seems an insult to towers lost to history that Petit even suggested he would perform his feat again. I mean, why would we want him to? He’s a dick who forced his girlfriend to watch from the ground below through binoculars.

In order to drag out the tension during his walk, Zemeckis includes the appearance of a seagull. A helicopter emerges shortly thereafter, further disturbing the relative peace of Mr. Petit’s walk. The seagull looks angry: there were seagulls before men built towers, and decided to walk across them for no discernible reason.

Now some white men want to set back the economies of developing nations in order to ensure that pollutants are no longer pumped into the atmosphere, and fossil fuels burnt at quite the same rate. If the gesture is reasonable on the part of the assorted diplomats involved, it is also somewhat hypocritical. After all, Western nations were the perpetrators of the original crime to the environment — now that historically less prosperous nations finally have the economic advantages that come with industry, the West explains, “No, we've decided that’s enough!” and has the gall to ask them to pay for it!

It is easy enough for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to substitute for a Frenchman. He actually plays Petit as a bit of a narcissistic asshole, and the constant smirk that dashes back and forth across his face is never wiped off, not even as he crosses skyscrapers. In the days after the walk he was so happy. He had become a sort of honorary American, and as a showman, he enjoyed this new caricature of himself.

Zemeckis' movie, which is about a half hour too long, tries to turn The Walk into a sort of heist caper. This would be great, except that every single one of Petit's associates was a white guy with a beard or moustache who had absolutely no personality. Gordon-Levitt is forced to carry the day. He is entertaining enough, but it's clear that Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have no great love for Petit himself, who comes across as a maniacal dick.

Philippe Petit did not care why his girlfriend helped him walk on that wire. It only mattered to him that he achieved his goal, and what happened afterwards was a mere consequence of his desire. This subtlety was completely excluded from The Wire, constituting a great disappointment, because it is only interesting thing about the story. Petit's fuck-everyone-but-me perspective is a very Western attitude, and it is not just a destructive one — it is a self-destructive one.

What stuns me is the lack of empathy in The Walk, and by the West in general. Terrorist attacks are awful, sinister stuff. Any regular murder becomes a mystery that is never solved until we understand the motives of the perpetrator. For some reason, we have a different perspective on mass murders, actions so objectionable they seem to most people to defy motivation. That is a mistake in judgment, for every murder should demand an equal amount of horror and introspection. With the attacks on the Bataclan, the general understanding seems to be that some specific villains are involved: maybe the Joker, or Scarecrow, or Lex Luthor? I mean, who really cares, get them!

You know, Donald Trump is a disgusting creature, but at least he identified a problem and explained the steps he would take to solve it. A bunch of politicans are more concerned about striking non-binding "agreements" to limit emissions from countries that will never stop polluting, and couldn’t care less about the vagaries of international accords. The West is in a war, but they do not know the war they are in, and would not be able to identify the villains or their motivations if asked. Meeting in Paris at this time proves how exactly dense they are.

Petit could never stroll into Manhattan today to start making his terrorist-esque plans. Walking across a wire seems quite hard, but maybe not as difficult as taking your own life in order to destroy the lives of people you never even know. That our enemies are willing to go to such lengths for either their religion or their hatred of our world should say something about the conditions in it. This violence is a sickness, but it is also a symptom.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"One Last Time" - Broadway cast of Hamilton (mp3)

"It's Quiet Uptown" - Broadway cast of Hamilton (mp3)

Tuesday
Nov172015

In Which Absolutely Nothing Is Taken For Granted

Ambush

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Negroland
by Margo Jefferson
Pantheon, 248 pp

"There are so many ways to be ambushed by insult and humiliation," writes Margo Jefferson in her new memoir Negroland. Reviews of the book so far focused on Jefferson's class, implying that she had set out to write a history of the lives of upper class blacks in America. 

There is that history here, but it is strange to call it the story of the bourgeoisie. When we tell the history of other peoples and places, focusing exclusively on the most wealthy and powerful people of the time seems pretty much conventional. With African-Americans, some special dispensation must be made. 

Jefferson grew up in a white area of Chicago. She was one of the only black students in her school, and as such, she dealt with a condescending type of racism. It is this kind of subtle racism that has replaced the good old Confederate flag waving kind, for the most part. 

When students at the University of Missouri confronted their president, they were aggrieved by his tone more than anything. They asked him whether he knew what systematic oppression was. He responded by saying, "I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer. Systematic oppression is when you don't believe that you have the equal opportunity for success."

In the first part of her book, Jefferson tells the stories of black Americans who achieved success in the white, racist world of early America. These are inspiring stories, in some cases moving ones, although Jefferson tells them with a scholarly distance that makes of them no more than the facts of their lives. The point of this approach is to pretend unbias — but we cannot really manage this, since every black person who lived during this time is a hero even for existing. 

"Nothing about us is taken for granted by anyone anywhere in the world," Jefferson explains of a guided tour through the black magazines of the period around her youth. Ebony was set on explaining the black experience in a facile way, and looking back on the headlines from the time betrays the fact that there was no such consistent experience. 

The story of Jefferson's own life reiterates this message. She believes on some level that her tony upbringing isn't representative, that it does not tell the full story, hence the inclusion of so many other histories as a preface to her own. She moves through each excruciating grade with a memory that exceeds most conscious descriptions of childhood.

In gorgeous prose she lays out the specific details, careful to avoid any and all cliche. There is a fear of being critiqued that haunts her writing, a preemptive self-critique that is at times welcome and in other moments a source of frustration. "We were the third race," Jefferson explains at one point, though we know it is not true. 

Ms. Jefferson was a profoundly unhappy high schooler. She remained on the outside circles of her cliques, orbiting them like a moon. "I crave the gift of recreational shallowness," she admits, perhaps not entirely sincerely. Eventually she switches to telling her story of disillusion from a third person perspective, as though she is not herself at all. 

In its last third, Negroland nearly dissolves in anger. In the absence of sense-making, the book becomes a spirited intellectual recollection of blackness, mostly avoiding Margo's unhappy time at Brandeis. More history introduces on the ending of Negroland, as Jefferson decides exactly how pessimistic she should be about the immense volley of racism she has experienced, most of it underhanded and hinting, like the light stroke of a pen.

There is something more pernicious about such an assault. It is why freedom of speech remains valuable; for if we exterminated the most vile viewpoints from our society we would never know of this other, skulking racism that follows people of color from place to place. By the very end of her book, Jefferson has no idea what exactly led her to construct the sense of the self that she currently has. "It is too easy to recount unhappy memories," she sighs, and tries to write something encouraging to make Negroland less of a eulogy. There is a feeling there beyond her exhortation to "Go on" that we have not come very far at all.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Friday
Nov132015

In Which We Are The Most Sympathetic Character In The Affair

Into the Canyon

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Affair
creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi

The concept of a trigger warning was invented by the ancient Greeks, who placed cautionary notices before the most disturbing of Sophocles' plays. For the past 100 years white males who never served in the military have not required advanced warning of the flashbacks brought on by the consumption of descriptions or portrayals of traumatic acts.

Then came Noah Solloway (Dominic West), whose life is every white man's nightmare. Despite being married to an exciting, sexy woman named Helen (Maura Tierney) who had an ample trust find and creating four not-so-wonderful children with her, Noah was unhappy. He started up with a waitress named Alison (Ruth Wilson). The first season of The Affair largely consisted of the sex he had with her and how mediocre Alison's own marriage with Cody (Joshua Jackson) seemed in comparison to the intercourse. The first season ended with everything exposed and Noah wanting to be with his mistress full-time.

The second season of The Affair finds Noah and Alison living at a guest house secured by the publisher of his forthcoming book. As with the first season, The Affair reviews the same events from the different perspectives of each character. The first season limited this to Noah and Alison's viewpoints during their infidelity, but the second season includes their spurned partners in the story, Helen and Cody.

Tierney became well-known in the 1990s through roles on the sitcom Newsradio and ER. She was great as Noah's wife in season one, but we had trouble understanding who exactly she was, what she did that made it so easy for Noah to dump her for a younger, more sensual paramour. This season Helen Solloway has emerged as the signature star of The Affair, a performance that culminated in a masterful episode where she drank to excess, took a "pot lozenge", and accidentally crashed a car with her young children inside.

Amazingly, Helen came out of all this even more sympathetic than she has before. The Affair does a perfect job describing a phenomenon that has never before been accurately portrayed in the television medium: how something ostensibly good can be terrible, and something awful on the surface might actually be for the best.

Here is what I mean: in the wake of his separation from Helen, Noah seems to be doing everything right. He has finally finished his long-awaited second novel, Descent, and he is in a love relationship that actually pleases him. Due to Helen's accident and arrest, full co-custody of his children is granted to Noah, and his soon-to-be ex-wife is even paying his attorney's fees to defend him from a vehicular homicide charge. Things could not be going better for him.

Yet on the inside, Noah is corrupt. He goes to visit Alison at a yuppie retreat and fucks her up against a tree in an abrasive scene that rubs up against sexual violence in a disturbing way. When we aren't right in our love relationship, The Affair seems to be suggesting, everything else is destined to fall apart. Being white, rich and gorgeous, guys like Noah usually get away with his crimes, but watching The Affair, we know better. His punishment is his life.

As Alison, Ruth Wilson was a bit out of place in season one. She was so clearly not from Long Island that it was a bit silly to see her as a native Montauk girl. In season two, the show's writers have been able to dig a bit deeper into who she is, and Wilson has responded by massively improving her own acting. Because of the loss of her son (to secondary drowning) Alison was already the show's most sympathetic character, but she suffers even further here. The rich couple she works for treats her horribly, and Noah is barely better. She has not made the best choices, but plenty were made for her.

Dominic West also has been astonishing this season. He was always great at anguish, but here his Noah is often spare and repressed. When he becomes angry he is frightening, but we are not scared simply by the depth of his rage. Rather, it is more at his ability to manage his anger, to integrate it seemlessly into who he is.

Noah's friend Max pursues a relationship with his ex-wife without Noah's knowledge, and gives him $50,000 in order to expedite the process of their divorce so that he can be with Helen. When she is filled in on the plan, she rejects the entire premise, and is drawn closer to her ex-husband through the sudden illness of their son Martin.

The scenes in which Noah and Helen meet with a mediator to settle the distribution of their assets are filled with tension and excitement. The Affair is most captivating when it focuses on the little horrors, when it completely avoids the soapy revelations of the Rimes-universe. Simple things like going out for lunch are fraught with a kind of dread that other serial dramas fail to approach in screaming denouements.

West found success with his portrayal of the morally solid cop at the heart of HBO's The Wire, but in the role of Noah he has found something even more complex to sink into, to inhabit totally like a second skin. So many of the scenes where Noah discusses his view of writing are cringeworthy, but this is intentional — Noah is a semi-professional at everything, and there is no arena of his life where he feels completely at home.

Such a person — a fraud, but only sort of — is refreshing when we are used to seeing individuals at the peak of their powers. Even Don Draper, for being a distressing mess, did have some underlying speck of genius to salvage his life. Noah Solloway does not even have that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Fields, No Body" - Matt Bauer (mp3)