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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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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 (152)

Thursday
Jul032014

In Which We Burrow Under Scarlett's Skin

Scarlett Inside Of Scarlett

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Under the Skin
dir. Jonathan Glazer

108 minutes

Under the Skin uses a lot of non-actors from the Scotland in which its Stranger in a Strange Land-story is set, filming by a hidden camera on the dashboard of a van. None of them imagine that Scarlett Johansson is anything but a confused American, and a very poor driver. In their thick Scottish accents you can barely make out what they are saying even if you knew what driving directions they were conveying to her. The joke is that they are both aliens to each other.

In this third film by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) Scarlett is supposed to be an alien, though. Despite the fact that her exaggerated features and pin-up body have made her look inhuman in comparison to her fellow actors for almost a decade, Under the Skin tones back that otherworldiness throughout.

Instead, it is supposed to be Ms. Johansson's awkward, mannered gestures that suggest she is not from Earth. This succeeds about as well as you would expect while a swirling, faux-Kubrickian cinematography tries to obscur Scarlett's utterly human sexual presence.

Scarlett is not the only alien in Scotland. There is also a motorcycle-riding alien is who is a bit suspicious of the positive inroads Scarlett seems to be making in the Edinburgh comunity. Like Scarlett, this speedier iteration murders human beings for their carapaces, seeming to find as much pleasure in his own shell as he does in dissecting theirs. In Under the Skin, death is not the end for the bodies the aliens discover and appropriate for themselves.

Scarlett eventually meets up with a creature as bizarre as herself a man with severe facial bloating and scarring. She tells the elephant man that he has wonderful hands, although it unclear why she would offer such a compliment. The music becomes seriously wacky as they touch and the elephant man shows her his dick. Taking the joy out of watching Scarlett Johanssen walk backwards nude is an impressive achievement.

For some unknown reason the grotesque man's plight affects her, even though it is hard to believe she has any concept of beauty, despite being extremely humanoid in her actual form:

In the film's opening scene, she delicately picks an ant off a body she stripped for its clothes. None of her human movements come across as the slightest bit unnatural, and this last gesture seems almost too familiar. Like the rest of Under the Skin's symbols, the ant parallel is so facile it doesn't really hold up under interrogation. Whatever point the film is making about how real people react to a beautiful woman is subsumed by how staged it feels that Scarlett is involved. The thing you really need to keep in mind is this: Scarlett is not one of us, and she never will be.

Disoriented by encounters with human beings where they don't want to kill her or put her on the cover of their magazine, Scarlett attempts to approximate humanity by eating cake and sampling physical love. Further disturbed, she flees into the woods where rapists live. One particularly goofy criminal tries to have his way with her. He screams, "Black Widow!!!" and attempts to enjoy the horrific act, but he only ends up tearing her skin as she flees. Frightened by her actual shape, he douses her with kerosene and burns her body.

By that point we are somewhat tired of looking at Scarlett, as the director clearly enjoys her form more than is healthy. To make Scarlett's body such a centerpiece betrays a love of that voluptuous shape. In Under the Skin each individuated part of her body always seems to be pleasantly extruding in every direction. Unfortunately, there is nothing subtle or transcendant about her physicality; the only advantage it offers is constant presence.

This makes it very difficult for her to carry off the role of an alien, especially since that curvy physique is so familiar to us anyway. It is not supposed to be fun to watch her, so when it is, we feel uneasy. That effect, at least, is unique.

Under the Skin does the best it can to distract from this unsettling contradiction Glazer's manipulative camera tricks are satisfying at first, but exhausting taken in total. It is a serious achievement that we want so badly to avert our eyes from this situation, creating a moral dilemma for ourselves that rarely exists in cinema. Under the Skin's anguished unfolding, stepping on a thin line between pain and wonder, exemplifies the reason it is rare.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Still Madly Crazy" - Robin Thicke (mp3)

"The Opposite of Me" - Robin Thicke (mp3)

Wednesday
May142014

In Which We Get Pretty Used To Being With Gwyneth

The Clocks Represented Soy Gelato

by ALEX CARNEVALE

There is a point near the end of the new Coldplay album Ghost Stories where Chris Martin compares his relationship to the mother of his children with the flight of a flock of birds. Like the coordinated journey of such creatures, Gwyneth must fly away in something like a migratory pattern. The implication is that the bearded Englishman hopes that his goop will return.

So fly on
Ride through
Maybe one day I'll fly next to you


What exactly was the problem that led to the conscious uncoupling? Ghost Stories cites several complaints that Martin had with his soon-to-be ex-wife:

- She did not enjoy watching television with him, i.e.  "Late night watching TV/Used to be you here beside me/Is there someone there to reach me?/Or someone there to find me?"

- Sometimes he waited for her call, but she never called, so it was impossible to masturbate without hearing the sound of her voice.

- Despite his elaborate plan to convince Gwyneth that British come had certain restorative autoimmune properties not present in the American editions, she preferred smoked fennel and an orange scented millet.

- She was more interested in other guys at times, especially ones whose albums were not as whiny/complainy, or included musicians playing instruments.


It is difficult to see what Gwyneth saw in this creature from the beginning. On the surface Martin appeared to be the equivalent of a broken jack-in-the-box: sometimes he would write a semi-decent song, the rest of the time he would just pout about wristwatches and fixing ww (white women). Martin is now completely done with ww, having selected a girlfriend ten years his wife's junior, half-Asian model Alexa Chung.

"I wish you could have let me know," Martin "sings" on the Timbaland produced "True Love." Could he not just read her blog?

Other lyrics are even more depraved and pathetic. In "Another's Arms," when he is not kvetching about not having Gwyneth there when he is watching telly, he sings, "Got to put yourself into me," which has to raise some eyebrows. I guess he means a finger or a strap-on? As usual, Martin's vocals are half spoken and half sung except when he reaches into a falsetto for a couplet about how Gwyneth refuses to do some sexual act he grew accustomed to during the recording of Parachutes.

I guess he hopes to make Gwyneth jealous by dating this woman, although he probably could have accomplished much the same effect by cozying up to a human-sized stick of celery and licking it lasciviously at intervals.

It is a virtual certainty, based on some of the subtle references in Ghost Stories, that Gwyneth has what can be charitably described as a unique set of sexual needs. Blowjobs are of course out of the question; "You want to see the mother of your children with a dick in her mouth?" she reportedly once screamed at L.A. hotspot Navarro. Handjobs were more of a grey area, since they usually do leave the other hand free for web browsing.

As subtly described in Ghost Stories' finest track, "Ink", Martin felt he got a tattoo that said "together through life," but instead Gwyneth's changing needs interfered with their coupling. For some reason, Martin explained in a recent radio interview, she demanded that every single door in their home become a 'sliding door.'

When she would emerge through each transparent entryway, she would get this super-disappointed look on her face implying that she was upset by the reality of her life: two adorable children and a husband who cannot sing and constantly demands oral.

The now fractured family spent a sedate Mother's Day at the Paltrow family compound. Even after writing an entire album about how sad he is that Gwyneth prefers to make guys dress up like Richie Tenenbaum and invite her into their fort for some salty seitan snacks and a bottle of gluten-free Riesling, he still has to see this woman on a frequent basis. At times he puts the new album on in the car for his whole family to listen, turning his day-to-day life into a neverending awkward conversation about how "Daddy and Mommy still love you very much."

"Daddy?" their son Lozenge would ask in an extremely grating voice, "Was it really necessary to tell Mommy that her chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. reminds you of the chemistry between Angelina Jolie and the woman who does her makeup?"

Chris Martin answered his child the only way he could, "Iron Man 2 sucked hard," he told the boy. "But your mom never sucked at all."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"True Love" - Coldplay (mp3)

"O" - Coldplay (mp3)

Monday
Apr282014

In Which Amanda Knox Remains The Victim In All This

Mindful Malaise

by ALEX CARNEVALE

La Grande Bellezza
dir. Paolo Sorrentino

142 minutes

The central character of The Great Beauty is the rather unfortunate-looking Jep (Toni Servillo). He postulates himself as a journalist of sorts, but he is more a critic of his culture. Since he resides in Rome this is no culture at all: it is a series of sex scenes bookended by lonely walks among ruins.

Rome began to fall for the first serious time in July of 1776. America was born on that day, or didn't you take social studies?

There is a scene in The Great Beauty where Jep, the master indiscriminator, happens upon a woman in a pool. (He has been peering through her fence.) "Aren't there any men who want to just tawk to you?" he growls while she paddles. Naturally, she accepts this peeping tom's invitation to a degrading party that evening. Jep was watching her bathe, what else could she have done?

Like any Roman after the fall, Jep requires no reason to use a woman, it is only a function of his being a Roman that dictates the misogyny. None of these people have ever even had the decency to watch Treme.

Toni Servillo attempts a brusque affability in the role, but he is badly undermanned for the part, appearing to be at most a disturbed creeper obsessed with his own failures, at best a non-murderous Patrick Bateman. He has a terrible habit of never moving his head to look at people, and this is not the only way he has totally abdicated his humanity. Humbert Humbert had like a scary amount of charm compared to this doltish fellow.

After publishing a mournful novelette, Jep acquires a kind of notional cache with some very desperate and pathetic people. Some have family who were complicit in the Fascist takeover of their country. Others are only intelligent enough to believe what they read.

Jep treasures this gross social life because he has not been able to write any fiction in over forty years. This case of writer's block leads him to go around interviewing artists, mostly women, who differ from him mostly because they have something to say and he does not. This disparity in inspiration angers him, so he tells the women that their art isn't very good, or goes off to have unprotected sex when his editor thinks he is reporting.

The party he invites the stripper lounging in the pool to is terribly unfun. The Great Beauty makes a congo line look like a scene in The Human Centipede; the viewer has no choice but to avert her eyes. In the shadow of neon and garbage, Jep and his friends wonder aloud what other countries think of Italy. This is most important to him, as if he were content with a bronze at a beauty pageant.

Rome is a pretty rough city for women, who at the very least are met with constant catcalls. Many of the men are not afraid to approach a woman alone and harass her, touch her body, suggest she put on winter booties when they are out of season, or make her murder someone in an Amanda Knox-esque fashion. It is even worse to be a man in Rome, The Great Beauty argues for like eight hours, because you have to witness all of this and are thus incriminated in the sexist effluvium by proxy.

These decadent events that celebrate the fall involve a great mix of ages. It is implied there is family money at work in these gatherings. The great mass of people at the soiree are constantly peeling back their heads and aiming them skywards. It isn't that the dancers don't enjoy their escapades, but it seems best to check if something more funsies is on the horizon.

There is little mention of God in The Great Beauty, for he is forsaken in the end, and that is why the city of Rome is cursed. In the painful and over-elaborate cinematography of the dying metropolis, Jep trolls for women in the shadows; there by the river! He is a connoisseur of people who he can decide not to be sympathetic towards later on.

"There is no reason anything is beautiful," wrote John Cage, who was beautiful. The Great Beauty attempts to convince us that even something aesthetically appealing on the surface can be disgusting underneath, a lesson most of us learn before third grade. Jep is unable to absolve himself from the decline that surrounds him, and that is the only heartening part about this cynical film. If a man tumbles from the roof of a building, he might very well enjoy his ride down. But coming down so quickly is a bit disorienting. A man could, probably, only fall so far so fast.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Country Life" - Jaki Whitren (mp3)

"Ain't It Funny" - Jaki Whitren (mp3)