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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 (176)

Monday
Oct142013

In Which Black Is Generally The Color Of My True Love's Hair

In the Dark

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Ain't Them Bodies Saints
dir. David Lowery
96 minutes

Casey Affleck has taken another job. Someone, we will get to who, has cast him as a savage but moral outlaw. His love for Rooney Mara is eternal, even though she is kind of blah. Still, he claims that a police officer she murders was felled by his bullet, his gun.

A shootout, freely violated by bystanders and policemen, is the center of Ain't Them Bodies Saints. You wouldn't think there would be enough time for musing and remembrance during this kind of an event, but you have not been to a slaughter emceed by Casey Affleck. Everyone was having too much fun to stop shooting their handguns.

with the director

Black is David Lowery's favorite color, a deep black that a regular television set can't even render. You have to be on his level to even see the movie. What you don't see, some of it you hear. On occasion, young mothers (Rooney Mara) will monologue, usually after her six year old daughter asks a question such as, "How long will my braids last?" or "What's a convict, Mommy?" Such things are routinely said if you are waiting for your husband to break out of prison.

God (Casey Affleck) is a vengeful criminal. He plans to return for his wife and daughter pending his escape from the penitentiary. Here we have the basic, exciting elements of a story, but wound around each other such as they are in a music video. This is to ensure the same predictable satisfactions will not happen on Casey Affleck's watch. Oh, our God is a vengeful God!

Before returning for his family, Affleck heads over to Keith Carradine's to let him know the plan. Keith's moustache is very upset by this, but he manages to keep his shit together. You know the kind of person who always says one more thing, beyond the thing you wanted them to say? That's Keith Carradine in every single one of his roles.

For her part, Mara passes the time with a deputy of the police force (Ben Foster). From all evidence he is kinder to both of them than they are to each other. He plans to defend them from Casey Affleck, but how well did that work out for Abraham? (Casey Affleck possesses his own bible, it is the manual you get on airplanes to teach you how to open the doors.)

You know what Bonnie & Clyde didn't do? They didn't whine about it. Actually, they did, nevermind.

The swirling sound of Aint Them Bodies Saints is the only highlight, since Rooney Mara is basically placid throughout all of this. Since crying would be a cliche, she cannot cry. Since acting anxious, in the manner of Kirsten Dunst on a Tuesday, would make her seem like she is on drugs, that's out as well. Maybe she does something unusual in the dark part of the frame that we can't see. Something may happen to her there.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Take My Breath Away" - We Are Scientists (mp3)

"Courage (demo)" - We Are Scientists (mp3

Tuesday
Oct012013

In Which We Disturb The Spirit Of The Beehive

Monster

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Spirit of the Beehive
dir. Victor Erice
98 minutes

Victor Erice's first film. It begins with all the kids in the street, greeting the man who brings them film reels from Madrid. This month it's Frankenstein. In the audience is young Ana.

Ana possesses a mother and a father who can barely be in the same room with each other. We do not know for certain, but it seems the reason for this is that both prefers to have another life in addition to the one that occupies their days. Their two daughters Ana and the older Isabel, 7 are the least of their concerns.

The scene that has always haunted me from The Spirit of the Beehive is the one where Isabel jumps through a fire she lights with a friend. Ana watches on, perched like an owl. The expression on her face is a cross between bemusement and utter fear. On the set of The Spirit of the Beehive Erice demanded that the other actors speak in a whisper when Ana was around. Anything else would ruin the moment.

Isabel and Ana see the house in the distance. (Earlier, the girls put their ears to the train tracks to hear something new.) When they approach the abandoned well next to the empty shack, it is both frightening and a little anti-climactic, but in a good way since you can only handle so many small deaths.

When she returns to the house, Ana finds a mustached man fleeing the Franco regime. He is an enemy of the state and he has been wounded. Naturally she provides this person with medical aid and sustenance such as she can find:

Next she huddles over the refugee's leg to change the bandage. The Spirit of the Beehive is often discussed as a film about childhood, but Ana discards any naivete through Isabel's psychological torture and the realities of her provincial life.

In another scene, she is instructed by a nun about the facts of the human body; nearly every part of the lesson is wrong. She is happier to be of use in the dessicated residence at the end of her prairie, or among her fantasies brought to life.

Throughout, Erice's use of light and composition was wildly ahead of its time in independent filmmaking, and it also set a new mark for cinema in general. We never see this kind of naturalistic work anymore, since all the abandoned places are far away and Vancouver's a lot easier if you're going to leave L.A. Then again, Victor did not go very far either.

Audiences were initially quick skeptical of The Spirit of the Beehive. The film's first viewers even expressed their condolences to the film's producers after an early screening. When The Spirit of the Beehive won the grand prize at the San Sebastian FF, half the crowd booed.

Isabel tells Ana that in order to summon Frankenstein, she must simply call him by saying, "It's me Ana." This incantation brings about all the ghosts in her life: a frightened man destined to be gunned down by his captors, her sister playing dead, her father in a hallucinatory dream.

When Ana sees the blood she is no longer a child, yet Erice never lingers over anything obvious like that his principle seems to be that is whatever is on the surface, let it lie. Whatever is underneath will have to breathe eventually.

In order to solve the mystery of Frankenstein, Ana has to give over to her desires. It is something her parents never learn to do. Her mother flirts with her daughter's doctor when Ana runs away; her father meekly views the rebel corpse. He remains more concerned with his bees than his young family.

Isabel holds very different priorities. She torments her younger sister, and it goes slightly beyond the normal persecution of an older sibling. Erice pushes the envelope until his audience itself feels Isabel's victim. We have no way of lashing out at her for what she puts us through, at least not in the way the family cat does when it scratches her finger trying to get away. There are so many difficulties.

I don't know to what extent The Spirit of the Beehive operates on a subconscious level. It appears sometimes to be a magic eight-ball of cinema, in the fashion in which it pulls up a different fortune for each person who watches it, a sort of proto-version of the videotape in The Ring. Some of its inhabitants must feel betrayed: by their government, by their families, by those closest to them. It was that sort of time in Victor Erice's home country, and he wrote of this pain in the only way he could.

Some of Erice's audience must have resembled the cynical caricatures of Ana's world, so it is no wonder they did not like to see themselves painted in such a light. Erice shows many different sides of the story, never doing the judging for us. We all have periods when we get lost inside of ourselves, when we find it difficult to admit that we are only one of many. We feel that collected way that Ana does when she watches Frankenstein: the unusual mingling of fear and fascination nothing else can inculcate.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Roger Ebert and Persona 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.

"Black Out Days" - Phantogram (mp3)

The new self-titled EP from Phantogram was released yesterday via Republic.

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.