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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 (188)


In Which Jessica Chastain Remains A Hell Of A Drug

Protective Coloration


Crimson Peak
dir. Guillermo Del Toro
119 minutes

Del Toro cast Mia Wasikowska as a girl whose mother dies and reappears to her as a ghost, a trauma that causes her to do the voiceover for Crimson Peak. I know he has not seen any of Mia's other movies, since directors are obsessed with having her do the voiceover for her characters; here she intones in complete seriousness, "Ghosts are very real." Del Toro uses her hair as a lethal weapon, so blonde it is almost white. By the end of the lengthy trudge that is Crimson Peak we can barely tell whether she is a ghost or angel. Sadly, it probably does not matter.

Wasikowska's character is an aspiring author, and Del Toro even names her Edith. She has written an entire manuscript by hand, and her rich father uses his influence to get her ghost story read by a potential publisher. That man does not really think her concept is marketable, and so when she meets Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) a mining entrepreneur, she puts her writing aside for love. Her father (Jim Beaver) disapproves and hires a private investigator to dig into the background of his daughter's boyfriend.

Guillermo Del Toro is great at tons of things that don't actually involve making a compelling story. He is a genius at art direction, at style, at composition and framing. He is pretty bad to mediocre at surprising anyone. There is nothing the least bit scary about Crimson Peak, outside of the early scene where Mia's mom appears, her black ghost fingers wrapping around her child, to say, "Beware Crimson Peak." It was all downhill after that.

Casting is not one of Guillermo's fortes either. Perhaps his first choice for the role of this drama's Heathcliff, Benedict Cumberbatch, could have convincingly portrayed a man who after three murders, is suddenly unsure whether he still wants to fuck his sister (a brunette Jessica Chastain) and take the money of his soon-to-be-deceased wives. Hiddleston is so dull he resembles a brooch.

It would have made the film vastly more interesting if they had just swapped the female casting, allowing Chastain to play a fledgling author and Mia an incestuous blonde.

Del Toro offered Universal the pick of two projects; the other being a Lovecraft adaptation. Given the amount of patience it takes to sit through the one note plot of Crimson Peak, they made the wrong choice. Chastain tries to save the entire thing, but her perverse glee in her circumstances is kind of inappropriate given she is a poor woman whose only romantic option is her brother.

At the end she is playing the piano and despite yourself you feel even more sorry for her than you do for Mia. Wasikowska chose to become part of this family; Chastain was born into madness.

Crimson Peak would have been a lot better with even the slightest bit of humor, since there is nothing particularly entertaining in watching Wasikowska fall ill from the poisons her husband's sister/fuck-buddy places in her porridge. She is maybe saved by a doctor who admired that mane-like hair before her marriage to Thomas. The doctor is played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and his wretched accent is a highlight of the film's ending sequence. (His acting is not.)

Crimson Peak has the name because red clay seeps up through the snow in Jessica Chastain's decrepit manor. Del Toro turns the one set he does he have into a magnificent showpiece, but it seems clear he is working on a budget after the visual splendor of his recent films. Pacific Rim had a lot worse of a script, but at least you knew that Guillermo was having a good time. If you want to remake Rebecca, just remake Rebecca.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Do You Like That" - Lena Fayre (mp3)


In Which We Reclone Ourselves As Conrad Coldbrook

A Great Honor and A Real Pleasure


A Borrowed Man
by Gene Wolfe
304 pp. Tor Books

Colette Coldbrook is the only living member of her family. Her mother died several years back; it is suggested that she may have committed suicide. Her father died of a heart attack. Her only sibling, her brother Conrad, was strangled to death in her home. Solving this mystery, and a host of others, is the job of the reader of A Borrowed Man.

Before his death, Colette Coldbrook's brother gave her the contents of their father's safe — a book by one Ern Smithe titled Murder on Mars. What little we know of the book is gorgeous, but it is not the sublime contents of the book that matter: it is what makes the book important enough to be locked in a safe.

Part of A Borrowed Man is a elegy for what the printed word offers us, not for the limited physical fetishism that is so often argued by well-meaning simpletons, but what it means to have different collections of human knowledge in different locations and sizes. "If one guy could control all those scans, he'd have a lock," muses one character.

In the near future of A Borrowed Man, Wolfe is attempting to describe an entirely weird kind of nostalgia. So many science fiction writers devise thinly veiled critiques of what they perceive as the world's major problems: late capitalism, dull nationalism, a disturbing reliance on technology. None of these things are particularly a concern for Mr. Wolfe outside of economic inequality. He is prematurely nostalgic for what is great about the world now, what we do not realize is better than it ever was.

Colette's father Conrad is the Rashomon of A Borrowed Man. A polymath scientist/financial advisor, he was never a kind man. His identity revolved around his intelligence and avarice, which makes him a quintessential homo sapien of our time. On the fourth floor of his house was the laboratory he kept locked, secret from his wife and children. About halfway through A Borrowed Man, we find out what he keeps in one of the rooms, and it stuns us. In the other rooms are things far stranger.

Colette can't make heads or tails of the book her father clearly valued so highly. She does what seems obvious: finds a reclone of the now deceased writer of Murder on Mars in a library. She checks him out for a small deposit. This Ern Smithe is the narrator of A Borrowed Man, and there is a lot he does not know about the future into which he is thrust.

Colette explains her problem to the reclone, speaking to him in a private place because she believes she is being bugged. She lies to him about many aspects of her story in order to elicit his help, and he senses this, but it is still his fundamental duty to help his patron. Shortly into his acquaintance, Colette appears to be abducted and A Borrowed Man largely consists of Ern's efforts to locate her and find out the purpose of the book her father kept in the safe.

Like most of Wolfe's books, A Borrowed Man actually hinges on very little. Late in the story, like a proper detective, Ern makes an extensive explanation of what has actually been going on here. It is easy to be satisfied with how he wraps up the many mysteries of the novel, but there are several inconsistencies in the denouement that seem to contradict each other.

This is the hint Wolfe offers us to look back at what we have read with a more critical eye. The concept of the unreliable narrator, initially developed by Chaucer, has never found so intelligent a proponent. The concept of intelligence itself is a major theme here; Wolfe gets in a line about how it is generally confused with verbal felicity.

Ern Smithe opens one of Conrad Coldbrook's locked doors with his copy of Murder on Mars. The book seems itself a key — or is Ern the key? It is hard to believe Colette and her brother never tried the book on the door. Difficult as it is to admit when we are being lied to, it is too much fun to read Wolfe doubting every assertion, so you can make all the decisions about the real story yourself. That is the mark of the master, and why Gene Wolfe is the best American writer working today.

When Ern Smithe meets reclones out in what is called New America, he never identifies them in order to protect the innocent. We know that people can reclone their deceased love ones. The clones will have the memories of the people they were, but still be their own individual. That this is a characteristic of people, nations and families is the main idea in A Borrowed Man. I am tired, as Wolfe is, of being told this world is flawed and getting worse. Without the memory of who we all were, and how awful humanity was to itself before now, can we ever be happy?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Too Late For Lullabies" - James Morrison (mp3)

"Something Right" - James Morrison (mp3)


In Which We Have Not Made Any Meaningful Changes To The Woman

Golden Girl


dir. Billy Wilder
114 minutes

Billy Wilder's last film was a terrible comedy called Buddy Buddy that he made with Walter Matthau playing a hitman. Just before that, he wrote and directed Fedora, which no one liked very much either.

Wilder used Sunset Boulevard's William Holden, who plays a film producer trying to recruit a former Hollywood star named Fedora for a part in his remake of Anna Karenina, which he has titled The Snows of Yesteryear. No one wanted Wilder to make movies by this time, and he had to recruit outside financing through his agent's German connections to get Fedora released.

Because of his many laurels and awards, Wilder thought himself above any kind of criticism by this point. He wanted Marlene Dietrich for the title role but she refused to be photographed in her old age and was disgusted by the entire story he was pitching. It suited his small budget anyway to cast European actresses and dub their voices. Wilder shot Fedora in the Greek islands in something of a hurry, since a budget of $6.7 million was not really a lot for what he wanted.

The entire movie hinges on the idea that Holden's character thinks Fedora has been immaculately preserved by time and is imprisoned by a soggy countess in an ocean villa, but this is untrue. Fedora is actually the countess, and the Fedora impersonator is her daughter. She has managed this switcheroo because the right side of her face is scarred.

Matt Drudge celebrated Hillary Clinton's 68th birthday with an ironic picture of her face this weekend. The point he was making is that plastic surgey has made her look unlike any other 68 year old woman not so medically blessed.

Drudge's sexist laugh is a bit of a dirty trick, since plastic surgery is usually only indentified by TMZ or when it goes completely wrong, like what happened to Kate Beckinsale. (The lead role in Fedora is a open commentary on Greta Garbo, who was obessed with her aging proces.)

Given whatever has been done to her, Clinton looks at least fifteen years younger. It's difficult to criticize her for this, since Richard Nixon once lost an entire election by dint of his wrinkles. In a flashback scene — Fedora has about ten of these, and they are all completely wretched and tone deaf in typical Wilder fashion — we see the moment when Fedora wakes us and realizes her pre-Botox-esque treatments from a sketchy doctor have gone tragically wrong.

In this way, Fedora is making a bland point against Hollywood's obsession with youth. Wilder felt deeply discriminated against because studios wouldn't fund his films in his last decades. Given the relative quality of his writing in Fedora, they were correct to abandon ship. When it played in front of its first American audiences, Fedora waa basically laughed out of the theater and Wilder stormed out in horror and rage.

Wilder fired his editor, but eventually he gave up on making any meaningful changes to Fedora. The main setting, on the Greek island of Corfu, is magnificently beautiful, which makes the tone of the film — somewhere between wacky comedy and sob story — all the more wrong. Ugly people in a wondrous setting makes for a bad time.

Fedora actually begins with the actress' funeral, which added to the general malaise the film engendered in its audience. This framing device is so pathetically old-fashioned and out of date it lends extra years to a film that badly needed to feel current. Strangely, Fedora feels more modern today than it did then — not in its lighting or sets, which remain utterly dated, but in the way it merges a screwball comedy feeling with more serious themes.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Leather and Wood" - Deerhunter (mp3)

"Duplex Planet" - Deerhunter ft. Tim Gane (mp3)