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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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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 (170)

Tuesday
Aug272013

In Which You Are Not Going To See Me For A Few Months

Cigarettes and Magazines

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Gone Home
The Fullbright Company

design by Steve Gaynor

Now that the 90s are a good fifty or sixty years in our collective past it is possible to take stock of them. Adjectives are inadequate who can deign to describe Rome at its most opulent? It is like staring too long at the sun. Gone Home returns to this moment, represented by an empty house in the Pacific Northwest during a thunderstorm.

Kaitlin Greenbriar is the protagonist of Gone Home, the new game created by the Fullbright Company. Gone Home suggests that Kaitlin is a fairly heteronormative straight A student who comes from a troubled family, which we will learn more about presently. Since there are no mirrors in the Greenbriar house, we never see who Kaitlin is in the present of Gone Home. We have to be content with the family photos and documents that show what her and family looked like in the past.

Rotating and examining various objects in the Greenbriar house up close, with rain pouring down in the background between the fantastic score by Chris Remo, is the game. In 90 minutes or so you can finish Gone Home. By the end you will have opened a safe in the basement replete with accusations of molestation, explored an attic darkroom where Kaitlin's sister Samantha made out with her ROTC girlfriend Lonnie, and felt completely alone in the world.

It is another life completely, each detail reinforced by the accompanying cultural reference. Gone Home contains an astounding level of detail. Along with guilt and fear, each room in the house generally holds a box of tissues, a lamp, and a handwritten letter or list at the very least. There are always more secrets left to find here. Going through your family's private writings and keepsakes feels like a betrayal. On this level, Gone Home is spot on, since no one cared a whit for anybody else from 1990 to 2001.

Gone Home has inspired divergent opinions on the internet; there are no reports as of yet as to what the Prodigy.com userbase thinks of it. Some seem to feel it is wry or obvious commentary on the positioning of homosexuality during this period; others connect with the general Americanness of Nirvana on the radio, The X-Files on the VCR. It is completely ridiculous to make this time innocent or unknowing in any way, and Gone Home avoids this softening at every turn.

The general milieu inspires a nostalgia that already itself feel like an affection borne of a second, additional remembering. Now we not only recall the original period, maybe from news clippings, television and movies, but we also revisit our memories of our memories.

It was as a child that I learned how easy the past is to bring back in conversation, how it let me understand other children when they were no more than tiny, walking mysteries. In a society with no history what is left over becomes even more powerful. At this point Ronald Reagan is just a fucking face on a t-shirt. Much like Sam Greenbriar, 1995 was the worst year of my life, and also kind of the best. When Sam Greenbriar's girlfriend tells her she is enlisting in the military, it is very difficult to get over whether she goes through with it or not.

 As with anything sentimental, a vocal minority loathes Gone Home. There is a deeply reductive idea that any piece of art must appeal to every single person. That seems to me misguided, although I do regret some of the things I said to people who liked The Dark Knight. Those who object to Gone Home's austere precociousness are usually those who did not come of age in the 90s, since it describes the decade perfectly.

Until the 90s, there was the distinct possibility that there existed a place more exotic and fascinating than the boredom we inhabitated. Today we are factually aware that the entire world is just a mirror. Kaitlin Greenbriar returns from college, the place she went to abandon the dullness of her Oregon life. She discovered, we may intuit, that it was all the same - now everything follows you everywhere. Then, youth could be fled or rearranged: people actually forgot the things that Lillian Hellman said and did, Margaret Mead was written about positively in magazines while Norman Mailer and Paul Gauguin were not locked up in jail.

The documents in Gone Home maintain an ineradicable record of our fuckups, making that break impossible. Jeanne, a disciple of Karl Jaspers, wrote that the philosophy of freedom consists of knowing that a choice made today projects itself backwards and changes our past actions. She could have added two words to the beginning of her definition to make it more accurate before now.

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

"Everything" - Nine Inch Nails (mp3)

"While I'm Still Here" - Nine Inch Nails (mp3)

Friday
Aug162013

In Which There Is One Actual Word For It

Headed Separate Ways

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Blue Jasmine
dir. Woody Allen
97 minutes

Watching foreign actresses playing white American socialites is an occupation, like lawyer, seamstress, or federal agent. There's an actual word for it, but it's filthy.

There are these tiny little apartments in San Francisco, maybe you've seen them? They're for wealthy people. Everything is for wealthy people, Woody Allen's new film Blue Jasmine tells us, and he knows this from experience. About eighty minutes in to Blue Jasmine, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) suggests that he and Jeanette (Cate Blanchett) spend the next three years in Vienna. Watching Cate Blanchett consider this proposal is the task of the person with the job that sounds like a filthy word.

Foreign actresses all loathe the American parts they have to play because they're fake and made up. After the death of her husband, Jeannette has moved to San Francisco to be with her sister Ginger (British actress Sally Hawkins). Even though she has no money and no other place to go, she still flies first-class.

It's like a regular American family, except all the people in it are, you know, not Americans. There's one point where someone asks Jeanette where she grew up and she reflexively lies, another time she says "New York." We never find out where she grew up, but Allen takes great care to inform us that these women are adopted.

The main incident in Jeanette's life, the one that really stuck with her, was meeting her husband Hal. They were together for 30 years, you see. In this time, in the fiction of Blue Jasmine, virtually nothing happened except vacations (St. Tropez), golf (The Masters). Nothing really happens to rich people, Allen is informing us, so your jealousy of them is misplaced.

Now impoverished, Jeannette takes a job as a receptionist in a dental office. The man Woody Allen hired to portray the dentist fills his own coffers by performing in a stage show as famed Jew Arnold Weinstein. Jeanette disapproves of her sister's boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) because he is some kind of weird 1990s Woody Allen memory of what the one working class person he met briefly at an event was like:

Flashbacks interrupt the tedium of Jeannette's San Francisco life. She had a beautiful home with her now-deceased husband Hal. He was the gentile Bernie Madoff, but even when we know what is behind them, his slick business assertions enthrall everyone present. Until one significant moment, we are as overwhelmed by Alec Baldwin's choice in belts as his wife and everyone he meets.

That's until Andrew Dice Clay comes on the scene; somehow his body has crumbled into this beautiful thing:

Hal is of course repulsed by this construction worker brother-in-law, and steals all the money that he won in the lottery by funneling it into his Ponzi scheme. (That's how poor people get $200,000, Woody Allen could imagine no other feasible way.) But Dice Clay's Augie is equally repulsed by Hal, and it reflects poorly on both of them that they cannot find any common ground whatsoever.

In the present of Blue Jasmine, a divorced-with-two-kids Ginger bags groceries and looks for a new boyfriend, someone her sister will be more impressed by. This is what she finds:

These women are not as hapless as they first appear. They do not really have very bad choice in men, although once Chili is so mad that he breaks a telephone. Not a cell phone, like a telephone you might have seen in The Maltese Falcon.

Jeanette tries taking a computer course, but all she gets from that experience is an invitation to a party. That's where she meets another widower. She lies to him about her past, about the husband who hung himself in his prison cell. For a few vague moments, Jeanette considers the possibility of a new life containing all the allure of her previous existence.

Woody's grasp of low culture is what you would expect of a 77-year-old man. Unlike the upper class, the lower class is constantly forced to change its parameters, but for the very wealthy, it is always Paris before the war. His assessments of the people he chose to surround himself with feel somewhat relevant.

We judge Jeanette/Jasmine the most harshly. Everything Blue Jasmine does to win us to her side falls flat: we see the excess of her old life and have to admit she deserves her new one. It's a bad reflection on the people who put this maudlin little stage show together that we can't feel pity for a sobbing once-rich woman babbling to herself in a public park, but it's a condemnation of ourselves as well.

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

"A Different Room" - Travis (mp3)

"Anniversary" - Travis (mp3)

 

Monday
Aug052013

In Which We Still Feel Philip Johnson Had Much To Learn

His Glass House

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Philip Johnson's estate in New Canaan, Connecticut features eight buildings:

1) his house
2) a guest house
3) a gallery devoted to paintings
4) a gallery devoted to sculpture
5) a library
6) a folie
7) a ghost house
8) a tower

Thirty-three acres surround these structures, all as meticulously put together as the buildings themselves.

with his mother and sisters, 1917

Philip Johnson's mother Louise took a lot of staged photos of her children. She was relatively late to motherhood, and had not entered it lightly. She parented her only son with great purpose, pushing him towards academic achievement. She did not wish to be his friend. When he felt his first stirrings of attraction towards other boys in his class, he asked his mother what these feelings meant. "Philip, how should I know?" she replied.

with his sister

When Philip was a teenager his father was appointed by the government to investigate reports of pogroms in Poland during the first World War. The family sailed for Paris on the Aquatania. When they returned to Cleveland a few months later it was hard not to find it a disappointment.

He made few friends at boarding school — he was more concerned with winning the respect of his classmates. After being voted "Most Likely To Succeed," he entered Harvard, where he had none of the status of his more bourgeois friends, but all of the money. Finances were never a concern for young Philip: his father had purchased Alcoa stock i(n Philip's name) before the company became a behemoth. He bought a car and began amassing a library to his tastes. Philip tried kissing a few of his classmates with varying degrees of success. His father told him to forget about wanting to fuck men.

in Cairo 1928

Philip was depressed throughout his time at Harvard. A visit to Egypt claimed his virginity  he mated with a guard inside the Cairo Museum. Because of his numerous absences, he found himself a semester short of a bachelor's degree. Instead of finishing, he put his car on a boat crossing the Atlantic and arrived in Berlin. It was 1929.

Men of his particular predilection were numerous. The city thrived around him. "The Americans were the conquerors of Germany," he said later, "and the young Germans were eager to accomodate them. Paris was never that gastfreundlich." He observed the Bauhaus with wonder, making his first acquaintance with the artists there as a patron. The first painting he bought was a Klee.

PJ in Berlin, 1930

Other members of the group impressed him less. "Kandinsky is a little fool who is completely dominated by his swell Russian Grande Dame of a wife," he wrote. "He has millions of his sometimes painful abstractions sitting around the house and thinks he is still the leader of a new movement. It is sometimes pathetic, sometimes amusing."

Two months after the Museum of Modern Art opened in New York, Philip was back in America, finishing his degree so he could relocate himself in the institution's shadow. He became infatuated with a boyfriend named Cary Ross. In a letter to a female friend, he wrote that "You are the only one who knows about Cary and me, and to whom I can talk now. As you know the only reason it came about was because he is good-looking and identified with that group down there in my emotional life. Well it seems now that it was merely a passing whim with him, and he was too weak to tell me, and let me go on thinking more. He came up the other day, and naturally I soon found out where the land lay, and am now in a species of hell which I heartily dislike."

with Mies Van Der Rohe and Phyllis Lambert

Philip worked at the MoMA for no salary; he did not require any money from them and even paid for his own secretary. He travelled to Berlin often in order to indulge himself. The art dealer Julien Levy later said, "He showed me a Berlin night life such as few could have imagined. The grotesque decadence I was to discover over and over again in Berlin those few short weeks could only be compared, one might suppose, to Paris during the last days of Louis XVI."

Unlike in his youth, depression passed through Philip like a whim. He enlisted Mies Van der Rohe and his associate Lilly Reich to design a New York apartment he had purchased on a lark. He wanted the place to eschew the contemporary urge towards art deco.

Philip busied himself by preparing a massive event designed to feature modern architecture, the first in the MoMA's history. Despite or perhaps because of his experience with the artists of the Bauhaus, the final exhibition diminished Gropius, Le Corbusier (Philip was not a fan) and Van der Rohe quite significantly, placing their American peers on at least the same level. The arrangement satisfied no one, and Frank Lloyd Wright was also made furious by his depiction in the catalogue.

Philip replied,

I feel more than badly that you have misunderstood my intentions and actions to such an extent, and I am writing in the hope of clearing up as much as possible the reasons for your complaints. Please believe that I have appreciated your efforts to remain friends despite the many misunderstandings which I sincerely regret.

I feel as strongly as ever that I have a great deal to learn, much more so after the the experience of trying to make an exhibition. I still hope that we can have a good visit when I come West this spring...

For Philip Johnson toadying was itself an art of the highest order.

philip in NYC 1933

The moment Hitler emerged on the world political scene, Philip Johnson heard of him from his German-American supporters. Philip knew very little of world politics when he attended his first Nazi event in Potsdam, NY; his life in the city among gays and Jews effectively constituted Hitler's worst nightmare. Philip had even recently jumped into a relationship with a jazz singer named Jimmy Daniels. After all, Harlem was only a short trip up from his Upper East Side stomping grounds.

Jimmy Daniels perhaps a decade later

When Hitler came to power in January of 1933, Philip defended the man to anyone who would listen. He wrote an article for his Jewish friend Lincoln Kirstein's magazine entitled "Architecture in the Third Reich." Although he had not grown up hating Jews, he was receptive to Hitler's views of them. When Hitler ordered the murder of gay Nazi Ernst Rohm because of his homosexuality and potential challenge to the dictatorship, Johnson presciently left Germany.

Sony sold the building Johnson designed in New York to AT&T this year. I walk past it all the time  it seems to me it would be wholly at home in Nazi Germany. It is not surprising that Philip found something to admire in Hitler  many gentile intellectuals of the period did, just as many are attracted to the charisma of contemporary dictators now. But it is disgusting to be attracted to the Nazi aesthetic itself.

Johnson left his position at the MoMA in order to join up with Huey Long, the "left-wing" populist whose plans to redistribute wealth were ironic considering Philip's position. The MoMA board was completely embarrassed when Philip informed them that he was leaving to become Long's "Minister of Fine Arts." When he arrived in Louisiana, Long refused to see Philip.

After Long's death later that year, Philip attempted to join the cause of the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin, another populist whose anti-Semitic radio addresses were familiar rhetoric across the Midwest. Coughlin founded the National Union for Social Justice, an organization based on the man's plan to attack banks and the country's wealthiest citizens. Philip's biographer Franz Schulze rationalizes Philip's dabbling into politics thusly: "He could, when so inclined, impose an immense concentration on whatever concept seized him."

philip and jeannette in Nice

Because he was gay, Philip Johnson knew he could never properly be a Nazi.  Among his friends were those loyal to Germany, and this put him in the government's crosshairs. The FBI began assembling a dossier on Philip. He complained of Jews trying to buy a magazine he was interested in, and was disgusted by his experience observing a Polish ghetto. He was ever more convinced of the superiority of his mother country, and planned to celebrate when Hitler conquered England.

He took a position for the German propaganda ministry and dispatched reports in English favorable to Germany from the "front lines." Reading his reports, bile rises in every mouth. Such indiscretions are routinely tossed aside by those who wanted to embrace Johnson fully as an architect. I can't myself look at any of his buildings without remembering the things he said, even if he was a young man.

his later attempt at a synagogue

During the war, Philip was admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He had co-written one of the books assigned for his class in the history of architecture. One of his projects at Harvard was to build his own house, a lot he purchased at 9 Ash Street in Cambridge. He tried to put his Nazi past behind him by joining the Harvard Defense Group, but he was eventually dismissed after complaints. He tried to apply for a position with U.S. Naval Intelligence but was rejected for obvious reasons. The FBI continued to follow his activities.

Most people at Harvard actively avoided the young Nazi, but occasionally some found his personality charming. After sitting next to him at a socialist dinner party, Betrand Russell commented to the host that "your friend Philip is a diabolist, which is a strange thing for a friend of yours to be, but how much pleasanter it is to spend an evening with a gentleman you disagree with than with a cad you agree with." After his first year there, he moved into a room in the Hotel Continental, hiring an English butler and a Filipino houseboy to keep the place familiar while his new home was constructed.

On March 12, 1943, Philip Johnson was drafted into the army. He never left the U.S., or even advanced beyond the rank of private. His fellow soldiers called him "Pop" because of his age and general ineptness.

with Frank Lloyd Wright after the war

Through the influence of his friend Alfred Barr, Philip returned to the MoMA after his discharge from the army in 1944. Shortly thereafter, he bought his estate in New Canaan and began construction on what would be known as The Glass House. The irony was lost on him, and in fact irony itself did not emigrate to America until a decade later.

The Glass House was Philip's primary residence on the estate. It was first and foremost a bachelor pad except to the extent that it did not afford a measure of privacy, kind of like a closet that wasn't. Since such a structure could only be realistic on an estate that allowed total isolation from passersby, The Glass House is of course impossible except for the very rich, who tend to value their privacy more than most.

By 1949 he had completed the Guest House, opaque where his own residence was open. He moved in and immediately set to work on an article documenting the construction of both buildings. He invited the editors of every architectural publication he knew to come visit. In the meantime his attempts to pass the licensing exam in his field failed again and again. In order to continue practicing what was now his trade, he relocated his office to New Canaan and began teaching part-time at Yale.

One of his commissions in the years that followed was the design of a synagogue in Port Chester, New York. He had won the job by promising to deliver his design at zero cost. The resulting structure is among the most revolting of Johnson's designs  the wholly uninspired, predictable interior clashing with an exterior that was nothing short of repulsive. Years later Philip would continue his half-hearted desire to atone for his Nazi past by designing an Israeli nuclear reactor.

Sorek Nuclear Research Center

In 1954 Philip finally passed the architectural exam and relocated his practice to Manhattan, where he shared space with Van der Rohe. Together they collaborated on the legendarily bad Seagram building, although the vast majority of the responsibility for the building's dullness fell on Van der Rohe alone. He would make his own name during the ensuing decades, falling in and out of the zeitgeist depending on the various whims of the media and his peers.

Philip was forever wanting to add structures to his New Canaan parcel, and the pavilion he added to the lagoon was the worst of his ideas. Aesthetically, it was a hodgepodge, and its intrusion on nature — in effect, in created a small island where there was nothing — made it not only objectionable but dangerous. "There is something attractive about making some part of a building precarious," Philip would later claim airily. "It is titillating. I sometimes get an erection when I jump over that little stretch of water."

Philip fared better in the museums he designed in the 1950s as his star rose. He had already had good practice when he fashioned an extension of the MoMA, and his work on the fantastic Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Nebraska and an art museum in Fort Worth emboldened his confidence. His proposals for Lincoln Center were not well-regarded among his peers, but his early designs for it have aged better than many of his more celebrated structures.

one of his unbuilt plans for Lincoln Center

In his personal life, Philip had dumped his serious boyfriend for a gorgeous Yugoslavian immigrant named Peter Vranic. They kept each other supplied with what the other lacked; as Philip would later put it, things were "very violent, very sexual, very physical, and very short." When Vranic found out he wasn't in the now 50-year old Johnson's will, however, he bailed. In the chaos of this turmoil Philip met the man he would spend the rest of his life with: then-RISD student David Whitney.

Early in their relationship, Philip had treated David like a fawning admirer, installing him in a Manhattan apartment. There David established friendships with Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns to satisfy him whenever Philip ignored him. Whitney used Philip's money to great effect, and soon buildings had to be constructed to accomodate the paintings his lover desired. Before David's arrival, Philip had only installed an oval-shaped swimming pool near The Glass House, but with David's input he designed a large art gallery, completed in 1965. A sculpture gallery followed by 1970.

david whitney in 1975

David Whitney died in 2005, five months after Philip. Tours now run through The Glass House from May to November. An extended survey of the place runs about $100 and should be booked in advance. Taking a virtual tour on the website is far more cost-effective. If you did not take care to remember, you would think that The Glass House had suddenly popped into reality to serve some new master — it is no good as a museum. This place sheds history, now rendered invisible among the structures Philip imagined.

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

photo: Richard Payne

"On the Street Where You Live" - Matthew Morrison (mp3)

"Ease On Down the Road" - Matthew Morrison (mp3)