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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 (241)

Monday
Jun052017

In Which We Enter The Theater Of All Our Operations

The Only One

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Wonder Woman
dir. Patty Jenkins
141 minutes

When Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) sails into London in 1918, all she can think of is how ugly the city is. Long before landfall, Diana's mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) was fearful of how she might react to the idea that she is a mutant. Hippolyta create an elaborate mythology to explain why she has no living father and lives in a cloistered society of immortal women without men or children. As explanations from single mothers go, I have heard far worse. Herodotus placed this Diana's tribe of women on the coast of Northern Turkey – in Wonder Woman, this paradise has become a safe haven from the civilized world. When Diana goes to leave Turkey, her mother says, "You may not return."

I was very confused by this milquetoast comment: did Hippolyta mean there was a chance she might not make it back, or that she was not allowed back? Maybe I missed something. In any case, the disappearance of Diana's mother and aunt from the narrative of Wonder Woman is a massive loss, because in the rest of the movie she never has a significant conversation with another woman.

This turns Wonder Woman into quite a boring slog of male faces. It is Diana's mindless desire to reach the war's battles, because she has various abilities which could aid the Allies. Her assistant Steven (Chris Pine) is absolutely tiny, and in his fake German uniform that he uses to spy for the United States, he looks something close to Humpty Dumpty. Steven has no loved ones, or anyone in his life that he cares about, so when he meets Diana, he cannot wait to make her his entire life.

Other men react to Gadot's presence in a similarly typical way. In a meeting of various politicians, they all loudly object to the appearance of a woman. Steven's three associates are a Sunni Muslim, an American Indian and a Scotsman. They relate to Diana only as an object, but after they see her deflect bullets with the plates on her arms, they are devoted to her because of the protection from harm she offers during the war. Wonder Woman manages to make a film about global violence which barely ever shows death at all.

Gadot plays Diana Prince as a straightforward innocent. She does not really appreciate any of the subtleties of espionage, which is meant to be a credit to a direct approach in times of trouble. Wonder Woman goes to great lengths to excoriate generals who wish to pursue an armistice with the Central Powers, but by the end of the film Diana is giving everyone soft hugs, even the Germans who gassed a Belgian town.

Gadot herself unsurprisingly offers little as an actress. Both Robin Wright Penn as her mentor and Nielsen are fantastic in Wonder Woman; they look a lot more like warriors than Gadot does, and generally highlight the Israeli model's struggles to portray basic emotions in this role. When she becomes angry, her Diana Prince is frantic and hotheaded, but there is no acceleration between the two mental states. The saving grace is that her chemistry with Pine is very good, and it is a disappointment that the film leans so little on their romance.

It is unclear how such a person could become a hero to her gender, since we never see Diana's conduct appraised by any actual women in Wonder Woman, just men who are so overwhelmed with her physical prowess that they assume a greater wisdom behind it. Unfortunately this reductive attitude, while useful in identifying warriors, is mostly reinforcement of the patriarchy. All the best moments in Wonder Woman happen before she ever enters the male-dominated world.

After she thinks back on the events of her life, Wonder Woman evinces Diana Prince in an office inside of the Louvre. She is tapping away on a tablet and has become something of a typical bourgeois drone. It is quite sad to see her reduced to a normal existence, but I suppose if she was doing something important, she would have no time to team up with a bunch of yet another bunch of men for 2018's Justice League. Who knows? One day, in the far future, she may deign to speak to another woman again.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Mar302017

In Which Nella Larsen Went To Europe To Escape Her Marriage

In Quicksand

by ALEX CARNEVALE

She had just published her masterpiece, Passing, but Nella Larsen was alone every weekend in the summer of 1929. Her husband Elmer Imes was a brilliant physicist. After ten years of marriage, he vacated the premises to meet women, sometimes in faraway places like Canada. "He needs it," she wrote sadly in a letter to her friend Carl Van Vechten. Nella was left to amuse herself in Harlem, where the heat was usually pretty sticky. She decided to learn how to swim.

Carl Van Vechten
Her husband was denied a lucrative position at the University of Michigan at the last moment, and decided to relocate to Fisk University in Nashville. She had no intention of going with him. All her friends were in New York. She did long to be in a new situation, but Nashville was impossible: Nella had been expelled from Fisk as a teenager for violating the dress code, and some of those administrators were still there. She channeled her planning into her work. She would pen a novel "partly in the United States and partly in Europe," she wrote in her application for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

As George Hutchinson notes in his phenomenal biography of the writer, Nella went on to explain that "the theme will be the difference in intellectual and physical freedom for the Negro – and the effect on him – between Europe, especially the Latin countries Spain and France. I have never been in these countries and therefore feel I am not prepared without visiting them to judge attitudes and reactions of my hero in a foreign and favorable or more unfavorable environment."

Before her departure for the continent, she found out the name of her husband's Nashville-based lover. It was Ethel Gilbert, a white administrator at the school. She said nothing to Elmer Imes — what could he tell her about their marriage that she did not already know? Privately, she was a mess. She spoke only to Van Vechten about the situation. Elmer wrote to the author of the controversial Nigger Heaven, that he should "cheer Nella up occasionally. She seemed a little blue about my leaving."

Nella traveled to Nashville in May, dreading having to look the woman her husband was sleeping with in the face. lmer knew that she was shortly off to Europe on her fellowship, but she when she confronted him with evidence of the affair in New York, he begged her not to end the marriage. They agreed to separate and revisit things upon her return.

The S.S. Patria departed for Lisbon, after a brief stopover in Boston, on September 19. Nella stayed in the Avenida Palace Hotel there. The best room in the place was ten dollars a day. Lisbon struck Nella as a clean, happy city. Two white Virginians who had relocated to Nice showed her around the theater district. Much of Lisbon featured citizens darker than Larsen herself. She could not get Elmer's affair out of her mind. It was all the more present, knowing he was with Ethel and in love while she was all alone.

She took the train to Madrid and sailed from Barcelona to Majorca, an overnight jaunt that had her arrive at dawn. She found the island a charming refuge, meant as it was to be a safe haven for expatriates and tourists. She moved into the Hotel Reina Victoria, a lavish outpost where she contracted a mild case of pneumonia.

the Hotel Reina Victoria

She was yet to begin her book on Europe, instead focusing her attention on a story about a cheating man living in New Jersey. She wrote to her husband and Van Vechten regularly. To the latter she suggested that she was "trying to make up my mind to take a house. I can get a very good and a servant for fifty-five dollars a month. Food for the two of us will come to about thirty dollars a month. The only thing is that I have to take the house for six months and how do I know what I'll want to do next May?"

She ended up taking the villa until May 1. She struggled to meet people, even expatriates. "Perhaps being a bit lonely is doing me good," she wrote Carl optimistically. Elmer sent Nella a check for her expenses beyond what the Guggenheim Fellowship covered; at Fisk he pulled down a salary of $5,000 a year. She spent what he sent her quite freely, troubling Elmer, who told Carl that "I am rather holding my breath and pocketbook for Nella's needs. She has seemed to need a great deal so far."

"The work goes fairly well," she reported to the fellowship committee. "A little slower than is usual with me. But – I like it. Of course that means nothing because I really can't tell if it's good or not. But the way I hope and pray that it is is like a physical pain almost. I do so want to be famous."

Elmer Imes
Nella amused herself with an another self-exile, a Scotsman named Norman Cameron who had fled the civil service in Nigeria. He introduced her to Robert Graves and Laura Riding, more permanent residents of Majorca confined to their own seclusion. Norman introduced her to the local society, but she did not stay in Majorca long.

Because she did not look her age – she was 40 – Nella fit in well enough with younger people. Learning polo and going out at night left her precious time to work on her New Jersey novel, which she had titled Crowning Mercy. Her relationship with Mssr. Cameron had been unceremoniously ended by a younger German girl was living with the Graves. She went on to Paris in May, where a plan to visit Carl's friend Gertrude Stein was foiled by problems of timing.

In Paris she met Arthur and Rose Wheeler, who had retired to Paris after Arthur had made substantial sums in the New York finance world. She heard less and less from Elmer, for whom his wife's absence was a case of out of sight, out of mind. He was also upset about her spending and lavish Paris digs near Montparnesse (Man Ray lived underneath her). Elmer sailed to Europe with Ethel Gilbert, and they toured Austria and Italy together. Nella's novel, now called Mirage, was rejected by Knopf.

Fisk University

By the time Nella Larsen finally returned to the United States, both parties had lost any faith in the possibility of salvaging the relationship. Nella briefly moved to Nashville to enhance her standing in the divorce case. A judge would award her alimony of $150 a month, which was around half of Imes' weekly salary.

She wrote to her friend Dorothy Peterson,

About the divorce. I've about come to the conclusion to get it here. It can be done discreetly in ten days for a hundred dollars or so. Can you imagine that? There are about eight grounds for divorce in Tennessee:

1. Adultery.

2. Desertion for two years.

3. Failure of wife to remove to the state if husband is living and working in Tennessee (Note these last two. It explains a lot, especially why I am here still after coming for a mere visit).

4. Habitual drunkenness contracted after marriage.

5. Non-support.

6. Commission of a crime.

7. Bigamy.

8. Cruelty.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Nella in nursing school, second from left

Thursday
Mar232017

In Which Josephine Baker Endures An Overlong Childhood

So Far

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Before he permanently disappeared from her life, Josephine Baker's white father did her one favor. He paid for her mother Carrie to receive six weeks of treatment in a white hospital in St. Louis. Josephine Baker's given name, Freda, was German and so, probably, was her father. Three letters on her birth certificate testified to his identity, letters she would not see until the document had to be procured when she left the United States: edw.

When she was five, Josephine Baker's mother was finally ready to take her and her brother Richard into her own home. They called their mother's new husband Papa. The poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis were composed largely of Russian Jews, Italians or blacks. Josephine and Richard slept with Carrie's two other children on one mattress, riddled with bedbugs. For food they raided the trash of a local outdoor market. Oddjobs occasionally made them a dime. With her brother, she tossed coal to the rest of the kids from freight cars.

As Josephine got older, babysitting was a safer way to make money. Sometimes she would be screamed at by black housekeepers for kissing their white babies. Weekends brought the ghetto alive with massive street parties. Josephine told a redheaded street urchin that she considered him romantically. He responded, "You're a nigger!" and dashed off.

She found consolation in animals, once picking up a snake she found and bringing it into the house, where it was quickly stepped on. Later, she was very close to a pet pig. At seven, her mother sent her away to work in a white family's house.

with Golda Meir

Her new mistress beat her ferociously, and then woke her up at 5 a.m. to start work the next day. She did not last long in service, and was sent back. Her next employment was nearly as brief: she screamed when the man of the house tried to fuck her at night. Her mother only asked her, "How could you ruin such a wonderful chance?"

Josephine Baker's first experience of school was at the segregated institution sometimes called Dumas, often referred to as Colored School No. 1. Richard and Josephine had to pass by white schools to get there, and would be heckled with various slurs on their way. Meanwhile, Josephine's mother's drinking had gotten out of control, and she criticized her daughter for the girl's lighter skin color whenever she could. The girl's only relief from this life was the local black theater, named after Booker Washington. Her friends there would cover for her when she ditched school.

A local family of musicians offered to take Josephine in for a time, and her mother instantly agreed. The matriarch of the Jones family was a virtuoso on trumpet, and the Jones children played instruments as well. She was relieved to be out of the company of her natural family, which was further ripped apart by her mother's frequent infidelity, but she was still dreadfully poor. "When I think about the troubled days," she wrote in her autobiography, "I feel like crying: it is so far."

Many whites in St. Louis were convinced of their racial superiority; they harassed black woman and men in the streets without fear of reprisal. Riots broke out frequently, killing as many as seventy people of color. Many blacks were driven from their homes into Josephine's neighborhood. The year 1917 accounted for 38 lynchings in St. Louis.

By the time Josephine was 13, her mother decided it was best to simply marry her off. Her new husband Willie Wells was nearing thirty, and he had a job as a steelworker. Their furnished room cost $1.50 per week. This marriage lasted a better part of a year before Josephine cut Wells' head open with a beer bottle. Her next job was that of a waitress at the Old Chaffeur's Club. She performed at the Booker Washington when she was allowed.

This job let her leave St. Louis on a tour, and she could not have been happier to be gone. In Memphis every hotel had bedbugs and the traveling blacks weren't welcome anyplace decent. The "theaters" Josephine played in usually served other masters: one was a blacksmith's shop, another a salon. New Orleans excited her more, and Philadelphia the most. She could not follow the cast to New York, since you had to be sixteen to perform there. So she stayed behind in Philadelphia and married a light-skinned dancer named Billy Baker.

After Josephine was old enough to hit Broadway, she made her way to Boston, too, where local families would take in chorus girls. Critics noticed Josephine's act even in the background. "One of the chorus girls is without question the most limber lady of whatever hue the stage has yet disclosed," wrote one admirer. In racially divided Chicago the production had to advertise that it did not want. blacks to attend.

Instead of returning to St. Louis, Josephine went to Atlantic City for the summer, where she hit the stage at the ominously named Plantation Cafe. Atlantic City was also deeply segregated, and hotels had signs that read "NO DOGS, NO JEWS." That no blacks were permitted to enter was implied.

Josephine Baker was living in Harlem when she was discovered by a rich American woman named Caroline Reagan. Mrs. Reagan had an amorphous gender identity – Gertrude Stein said of her that she was "neither fish nor flesh nor fowl." Lacking any appreciable identity, she looked to black culture to provide one for her. This plan entailed bringing African-Americans to Paris, where they would entertain the French with their very different type of show. Mrs. Reagan offered Josephine $150 a week and was turned down, but $250 sealed it.

In order to get her new black friends to Paris, Mrs. Reagan used all the connections her diplomat husband possessed. Josephine had never been divorced, but that is not what her passport said. She was terrified the amorphous circumstances of her marital past would prevent her from setting sail on the massive Berengaria.

Josephine's farewell happened at Club Bamville on 129th Street. She was deeply ambivalent about leaving the only country she had ever known. "I can only recall one single day of fear in my life," she wrote. "One day, which lasted only one hour, maybe one minute... it was over between America and me." Caroline Reagan described the scene of the Berengaria's departure: "A quarter of Harlem was on the docks."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.