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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 (221)

Friday
Sep092016

In Which Queen Sugar Delights And Amazes Us All

Dandelion Wine

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Queen Sugar
creator Ava DuVernay
OWN

The two sisters at the heart of Ava DuVernay's first original series are always waking up in a man's house, a place not quite their own.

Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) rises in a bedroom that looks through prismatic glass windows down on Los Angeles. The entire domicile is transparent, which affords very little privacy when her husband is charged with participating in a group rape with other members of his professional basketball team. She is so disgusted when she finds this out during one of his games that she charges onto the court and begins screaming at him. Strangely, they haul her off instead of him.

Nova (Rutina Wesley) is dating a white guy and practicing some serious herbal medicine in her and her half-sister's hometown in rural Louisiana. She wakes up in this man's arms, but for some reason she feels she cannot introduce him to her family and friends. Actually, we know the reason: it is because everyone else on this show, with the except of a land developer who wants to buy her father's farm, is black.

Charley soon returns home to Louisiana, where her siblings and her aunt are generally uncomfortable with how bourgeois she has become. The rest of Charley's family seem to be struggling financially even though their father Ernest (the enigmatic and charismatic Glynn Turman) dies in the first episode of Queen Sugar, leaving behind a massive tract of farmland.

Charley's husband Davis West (Timon Kyle Durrett), who plays power forward, checks their residences in Aspen and Palm Springs and eventually discovers her whereabouts in time to attend the funeral. He claims he is innocent of raping anyone, suggesting that he merely brought the victim into the room where the alleged crime took place before excusing himself to play Candy Crush. West is a fantastic character — because DuVernay is invested with giving all her creations an elemental human dignity, he is not just brushed off as a sociopath.

I remember reading Magic Johnson's autobiography when I was eleven. Boy was that an eye-opener; I can't believe they had this thing at the local library. He had sex with a different woman in every American city. The real mystery is how he didn't contract AIDS more quickly. NBA players do some unfaithful things to their wives; it is unclear as of now how much of this Charley expected or could be willing to forgive.

Her immediate response after confronting her husband is to retreat to bed. She takes a serious amount of pills to dull the pain of being who she is, but not so much that she is unable to hear when her son comes into her room to tell her that her father is on the verge of dying.

The concept that we know what kind of people with which we are involved is an important theme in Queen Sugar, the best American serial to premiere in many years. DuVernay has the most important writing talent there is — she is able to make us feel distinctly for people when we are already predisposed to see a situation or circumstance as manipulating our feelings, without then also feeling controlled.

The incredible cast she has assembled for Queen Sugar begins with the tremulous intensity of True Blood's Rutina Wesley, but Wesley requires strong presences to play off in order to be at her best. As Charley and Nova's brother Ralph Angel, the Ghanian actor Kofi Siriboe portrays a man fresh out of prison. He struggles to take care of his young son financially and resorts to intermittent crime to meet his financial obligations. The boy's young mother is a drug addict who has abandoned the child in the past.

Ralph Angel is reluctant to make a connection with his son's teacher, Reyna (Marycarmen Lopez). The low-key sexual energy projected by Lopez gives Queen Sugar the shot in the arm it requires at various intervals. DuVernay's long experience in the industry has allowed her to make quite a few stars in such a short time, and she really reveals how terrible most black roles are in Hollywood just by proving these new performers are capable of star-making performances.

All the main sets in Queen Sugar are absolutely gorgeous, and Louisiana is perfect as a place that can switch between paradise, limbo and hell within the space of a few blocks. The only disappointing scene takes place when Davis West comes to visit Charley in Louisiana in order to tell his side of the story to his teenage son Micah (Nicholas Ashe). Instead of probing the area for a landscape that would show Davis to be sufficiently out of place in Louisiana, DuVernay shoots the moment in the gym of the local high school.

DuVernay herself is from Los Angeles, although she spent summers in Alabama where her father grew up on a family farm. The Bordelon patriarch's house borders land which he stopped maintaining in his last years, forcing him to take a job as a janitor. What DuVernay is consistently successful at as a writer is allowing us to see particular situations through her character's eyes. She recognizes what should be obvious to anyone alive: that we are more shaped by what we observe in others than anything else in our world.

She extends her empathy, which is more serious than anyone working her medium, to the lives of children, which are so often ignored or simplified in drama. Queen Sugar is rife with the possibilities of different intersections that a family drama affords; individuals in the Bordelon House relates to each other person in a specific way, changing them, altering their presence in our own lives. This gives Queen Sugar a feeling of versimilitude that has been missing from television since The Sopranos.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Sep012016

In Which The Neon Demon Locks Herself Away

Ryan? Ryan?

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Neon Demon
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
117 minutes

It is difficult, so difficult to find something nice to say about The Neon Demon. There is one scene where a cougar tears up the hotel room of Jesse (Elle Fanning) and it's obvious the two have the same eyebrows. Jesse looks nothing like a model, and it is honestly hard to believe that she is one. Everyone asks her how old she is in Los Angeles. When Robert (Alessandro Nivola) sees her for the first time, he looks like he is having a spiritual experience. 

None of Winding Refn's previous films were enjoyable on a story level either, but Ryan Gosling is so compulsively watchable that he was able to salvage a lot of what made them sort of actually dull. Here there is no Gosling to be found, which is kind of sad since he would be fantastic in pretty much every male role currently occupied by a vague Gosling lookalikes:

Alessandro Nivola is old, married Gosling

Desmond Harrington is a divorced Gosling

Karl Glusman is a Jewish Gosling

Keanu Reeves is a decrepit Gosling

As a photographer's assistant Jena Malone is by far the most entertaining part of The Neon Demon — she appears to become what Jesse might become, and her dry humping was on point. Malone has been an impressively subtle film actress since she drove Julia Roberts crazy as a preteen in Stepmom, and The Neon Demon is only worth watching when she occupies the screen.

Malone is the cipher for the more violent aspects of The Neon Demon, which don't really come into play until the film's third act. Everyone in Jesse's world becomes more and more envious of her, and the sensation that she is going to meet a grisly fate becomes relatively overpowering. "My mother said I was dangerous," she explains to Malone, who cannot even believe that the thing she most desires is talking.

Viewing The Neon Demon made me want to watch Stepmom just so I could believe human beings had a soul again. There is this scene where Ed Harris tells his wife that he is getting married again, and she asks him, "What makes you think it is going to work this time?" and he just sits there and doesn't make a sound. 

Perhaps knowing how boring this movie is, Refn moves things along at a fairly rapid pace. Jesse nabs some various roles and the men and women that surround her become very jealous. One of them basically asks her what it's like to be the sun, and she says, "It's everything."

At one point it actually seems like Refn might have some fun, and Jesse closes out a fashion show as electronic music more positively. Things go downhill quickly from there, since there seems to be an underlying point that modeling is akin to human trafficking.

As always, Refn's lightning is the strongest aspect of his composition. He is never focused on making Jesse beautiful, which would be impossible, and instead strips her of everything: gender, identity, personality. It's almost a surprise that her hair never gets cut off in The Neon Demon. Instead she is merely transformed into a more exaggerated version of herself that cannot help but be more appealing to those around her.

The Neon Demon probably would have been a lot more enjoyable as a silent film, and it disappointing that Refn backed off this approach after seeing how unfriendly it was to audiences in his last project, Only God Forgives. "True beauty is the highest currency we have," espouses Nivola at one point, and this is about the general emotional depth of this project, which probably would have been on the cutting edge in the late 1930s. 

Maybe The Neon Demon is intentionally bad, like an act of self sabotage? At that point the tremulously poor dialogue would start to make the slightest bit of sense. Keanu Reeves plays the manager of the motel that Jesse lives at, and his mock-threatening attitude towards women and young people is the only evidence of self-awareness in this turgid shitshow. He puts a knife down Jesse's throat, and we are kind of sad this is only someone else's dream.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Friday
Aug192016

In Which We Have Frozen All Of Our Desires

Smilla's Sense of Smell

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Engagements
play by Lucy Teitler
dir. Kimberly Senior

Sex Object: A Memoir
by Jessica Valenti
224 pp., Dey Street Books

"Why does anyone want to get married knowing what we know now ?" whines Lauren (Ana Nogueira) in Engagements, a play by Yale graduate and Mr. Robot writer Lucy Teitler. She spends the rest of the play's 80 minutes complaining about how degrading it is to live in Boston.

Whit Stillman has resorted to making period pieces since his own knowledge of what to satirize was last relevant in the late 1990s. It used to be that the upper, educated class of any society was the first to understand new things and create trends, but this is no longer the case. Technology democratized haute. As she pursues a PhD in Victorian literature, Lauren faces detractors who denigrate her chosen field because it is gauche to study the novels that first attracted you to literature. She possesses no special knowledge or distinguishing trait.

Lauren sleeps with her best friend's boyfriend Mark (Michael Stahl-David). She fucks him in a gazebo and it is admittedly great: really emotional and both of them come at the exact same time, like Prince having dinner/sex. Mark turns out to basically be a dirtbag, but what the hell, like most satire these days, Engagements is really about women and how they relate to the concept of men as objects.

I recently read Jessica Valenti's memoir about guys masturbating on top of her during her subway trips. The best chapter in Sex Object is about this Brooklynite with whom she shared a certain emotional connection named Ron. Ron was very clear about one thing: he was a feminist. He also had what appeared to be a titanic addiction to cocaine, and in lieu of a sexually transmitted disease, he passed that on to Jessica Valenti. Once, while he was in missionary, he asked the author to marry him.

lucy teitler

This was the most upsetting moment of Sex Object, and incidentally, of Engagements as well. Ryan (Omar Maskati) gets down on one knee to illustrate a point to the girlfriend (Brooke Weisman) he met at Yale, and she mistakenly believes that he is about to ask her to marry him. Any proposal should be answered at the time in which it is administered. If you want to be with someone for the rest of your life, what difference does it make how they ask you this question? And if you don't, you should end things then and there. This basic rule would have allowed Jessica Valenti to avoid a lot of trouble.

Instead of telling her friend about this gazebo-sex, Lauren decides to learn more about Mark at first. Since he is such a paper-thin character these scenes are not totally satisfying. He sends her anal beads in the mail and follows that up with a vibrator. This is not usually the sort of psychology employed by a man who is serious about a woman, and there is something bizarrely childish about Engagements that parallels the worldview of the show Teitler writes for, Mr. Robot. Neither show is filled with particularly good liars.

jessica valenti

Eventually Jessica Valenti meets someone she really cares about, a bro named Andrew. Almost immediately she is in couples therapy with this guy, and for some reason he is really resentful of the trauma that she has gone through. Men are so exhausting to pacify. She makes a really specific point of mentioning, in Sex Object, how keen her sense of smell is. A lot of times she will come home from her day of work, and she detects a bad smell in the apartment that he does not notice or care about.

Maybe that's something important in compatibility. It's a word I have been thinking about a lot. In memorable scene in Sex Object, even the most simple act is enough to convince Jessica of her husband's value. Valenti writes

Once when I was pregnant I refused to drink a glass of water Andrew had brought me because it smelled terrible. Water doesn't have a smell! he yelled, but he brought me another, because he is a kind person in that way. Boston smells the worst.

The Boston of Teitler's Engagements is a sad and lonely simalcrum. There was recently an article about how bad single women in New York have it. It's true that in New York these creatures outnumber their male counterparts by two to one, but things are far worse in Boston. There are like three guys in all of Boston with any personality, and even those men can barely plan an afternoon beyond, "I have Sox tickets" or "we should stay in." Being an unmarried woman in Boston is a recipe for a lengthy stay in psychoanalytic therapy.

There was an emotional moment on The Real Housewives of New York this week when Skinnygirl mogul Bethenny Frankel told her friend that she had a picture of her fiance cheating on her. "I don't want to know," LuAnn sobbed, and married the guy anyway. I don't know exactly why the rise of female empowerment also precipitated a dramatic lowering of standards among powerful, sexy intelligent women. Bethenny Frankel's boyfriend, for example, looks like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.

Even Jessica Valenti ends up settling. Two years into her difficult marriage she becomes pregnant for a second time and decides to have an abortion. Her daughter Layla struggles with selective mutism, despite communicating well with her mother. Boston is so far from the city of her dreams. Sex Object is a woefully depressing book, both for the ways it tells us our culture treats women, and how the author has managed to make a meal out of these desiccated ingredients.

In Engagements, Lauren dates a series of unimpressive men, a list that includes a janitor, her college-aged neighbor and the boyfriend of her cousin. None understand her or even attempt to do so, and she cannot bring herself to like or respect them; it is only important whether or not they like and respect her. Her friend Allison (Jennifer Kim) eventually finds out that her boyfriend and husband-to-be has been sending the sexual gifts to a variety of women, and keeping a spreadsheet so that he doesn't mail the same vibrator twice. It emerges that this meager, sadistic amount of attention was basically enough to captivate an educated woman who studies the Victorians, and the excitement of betraying her annoying friend sufficient erotic charge. Who could ask for anything more?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.