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Entries in alex carnevale (147)

Friday
Mar072014

In Which We Saunter Jauntily Down A Red Road

Always There

by ALEX CARNEVALE 

The Red Road
creator Aaron Guzikowski

Jason Momoa's sexuality is like an extruding pimple on some poor sap's face. When he bends down to retrieve something from underneath a car, he always looks up, as though there were something above he wanted to view him as well as whatever was below. His sex is always there. Momoa's jawline is rearranged by a scraggly beard that constantly has to be reworked on set. There is a person whose job it is to only deal with Jason's facial hair. If something goes wrong with the facial hair, this person, whose name we can presume is named something like Anne, will be disemployed and have to do a much worse job, like be responsible for Channing Tatum's goatee or work construction.

The only person I've ever been attracted to as much as Jason Momoa is Robin Wright Penn. The year was 1998.

In his new show The Red Road, airing exclusively on the Sundance Channel, Momoa portrays a half-Indian ex-con named Philip Kopus making collections for his crooked white father (Tom Sizemore). In old age Sizemore looks an emaciated shell of his former self, yet he still clings to a certain firmness of spirit that matches Momoa's artful solidity.

After Philip gets out of prison, he spots a police officer with whom he matriculated from high school searching for a missing boy. He immediately knows the boy is dead and suspects the killer, resolving to protect this person from harm.

His high-school buddy, police officer Howard Jensen (NZ actor Martin Henderson) appears to be a repressed homosexual former football player. The man just wants to protect his two girls, both of whom are named Rachel for no reason I can fathom. Having white children appears to be a considerable responsibility, and when the older Rachel takes up with an adorable local member of the Rampough Indian tribe named Junior, Rachel' mother Jean (Julianne Nicholson) freaks out. In a fugue she takes her husband's gun to go find her daughter and accidentally (oops) runs over a local Indian boy.

The casting of Julianne Nicholson in this role is against type, and basically all wrong, which is the point. We cannot conceive of what interest Howard would have in this prissy woman, and indeed he sleeps in the guest room.

Putting Jason Momoa in a storyline where he has an adversarial, pseudosexual relationship with a police officer is certainly most thinking people's dream scenario, right up there with him playing Mr. Darcy opposite Selena Gomez. Momoa has the bad early George Clooney habit of looking up through his brow to deliver his line, which I believe Steven Soderbergh cured through shock therapy. It absolutely fucking ruined ER though, I can tell you that much.

Momoa's Philip calls up his cop classmate for a reunion. They meet at a goat farm in New Jersey; I guess there had to be one. The officer looks as out of place as Momoa, feeling out jitters while he holds the biggest gun he can find, cradled in his arms like a baby. At first Momoa stays in the car in order to give the officer command of the meeting. Before long, and when he feels it is safe, he steps out of the vehicle to hand the officer his own firearm, jostled as it had been from the man's wife SUV as she manslaughtered a boy.

The rest of The Red Road concerns the cover-up of these events. Several times, but not sequentially, Momoa will lift his shirt over his massive head for a pinup pose, and in the briefest of moments we can see the chance he had of being the one approaching Pemberley on horseback, instead of the ruffian-type roles he plays now.  Momoa was on that Stargate spinoff, and it was amazing. Khal Drogo was a crying little baby in comparison to this individual:

Even with his trademark scar, Momoa is always complete in himself. In contrast, the teenagers in love on The Red Road resemble each other too closely; we can suspect that Rachel and Junior may share the same father, or at least much of the same blood, and this more than anything else is the reason for their coming together. (We know that this sort of conglameration often happens when children are not told who their parents are, and recognize something of themselves in their cousins.)

Sherman Alexie is probably turning over in his bed, but there is a lot of unmined material here. The Red Road's Juliet/Rachel is not so fetching really, and Junior makes even worse decisions than Romeo, bringing his girl to places as dangerous to him as they are to her. Momoa is like a brazen Mercutio at times, and those moments where his absence of malice seems most obvious are when we permit ourselves to like the characters in The Red Road. It is the grace period we afford the people in our lives before, inevitably, they disappoint us.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"This Blue World" - Elbow (mp3)

"New York Morning" - Elbow (mp3)

Wednesday
Mar052014

In Which She Had Never Wanted A Daughter

Helen the Obscure

by ALEX CARNEVALE

On her twelfth birthday, Helen Lawrenson's mother told her that she had never wanted a child. She informed her young daughter she had tried everything she could to end that pregnancy: hot mustard baths, huge castor oil doses, enemas, riding horseback, skipping rope. Even falling down stairs.

Helen's mother cried every time she heard Christmas carols.

Helen copied in her diary that quote from Wilde's De Profundis: "I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me. The silence, the solitude, the shame - each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience."

at age twelve

When she lost her virginity at 19, she contracted syphilis. After her treatment, she was never once sick again in her life. Instead Helen would have many abortions of her own, including three in a single year. Or at least that is the claim in her marvelous, forgotten memoir Stranger at the Party. I have always prided myself on being able to tell exaggeration from the truth, but Helen Lawrenson made them indistinguishable in her own work.

Stranger at the Party is full of such revelations:

Even my erotic dreams had a literary tinge. I never dreamed of Rudolph Valentino or Clark Gable. Not me. My all-time favorite is the night I dreamed that President Franklin D. Roosevelt went down on me in celebration of his having been elected for a third term. When it was over, we lay on the bed, side by side, smoking - he with a long ebony cigaret holder, I with a short ivory one - and talking, but not of sex or politics. In the dream he said, "What was the first book you ever read?" "The Sunbonnet Babies," I replied.

The idea that women were nothing before the revolution is severely misguided at best, outright sexist at worst. Born in 1907, Helen knew from her first moments that she was the center of all subjectivity, and she determined to prove this at length. (Her grandmother told her not to read Jude the Obscure, it was "a dirty book.")

Helen entered Vassar like it was Oz. "Certainly my standards were higher in those years than they have ever been," she suggests, and it is not the only time she is both funny and sad at once. Helen took a job doing all kinds of writing for Hearst newspapers, where she was willing to take advice from anyone, given that she did not have to accept it then and there. "One of my fellow reporters said to me early on, 'Don't rush around like a fart in a mitten. The idea is to do your job but never act like you take it seriously.'"

with Bernard Baruch

She had first learned about sex from a wayward aunt, who had described it in some detail and revealed that everyone did it, "even Lillian Gish." She dated around some when her job afforded it, but struggled to find meaning in it. She wrote in her diary

I can never mix for long in the fluid exchange of social life. Every once in a while I must withdraw from it and revert to watching. My mind is always standing off and criticizing, seeing myself act, hearing myself talk even watching myself think. Sometimes I have wished that I could feel in an experience, in a relationship, the ecstasy of the moment, aureoled with an ironic consciousness of what went before and what would come after. The trouble is that I want to have that intellectual detachment and also at the same time completely to submerge myself in unself-conscious emotion, drench my ego in feeling, render it momentarily impossible, for it to hover in the air, observing coldly the material me.

She never found this, even when she fucked the most famous rabbi in America.

with Nast

Then Helen met magazine publisher Condé Nast. Their relationship was not aesthetically pleasing on most levels. At 5'9" and losing most of his hair, Nast possessed wonderful posture and never carried cash on him. He said he would not lie to Helen, and she reports that he never got angry with her. "Above all else," Helen writes, "he was a man who loved women. This austere-looking, sedate, fastidious, impeccably-mannered, dignified man, treated with deference by everyone, was perhaps the most deeply sensual person I have ever known. To put it bluntly, he was cunt-crazy. He loved to taste it, smell it, feel it, look at it, above all, fuck it.... It was his primary interest in life, and he pursued it with wholehearted, shockproof, uninhibited enthusiasm."

She claims he never traded anything for sex, although "there were also those who truly liked him for himself, not for his name or worldly position." Helen was hired at Vanity Fair because no person who currently worked there could have been considered any kind of expert on the arts. When Nast interviewed her for the position, he concluded the meeting by commenting, "Even if you don't get the job, perhaps we could have dinner sometime." Her salary was twenty-five dollars a week. 

She disliked the magazine at first, along with the ignorance of those who edited it. "It's a mechanized wit, all triviality," she writes in Stranger at the Party. "These people and their friends don't seem to know what is going on in the world, except in their own rarefied purlieus." She had her first date with Nast later that year. He didn't touch her, and had his chauffer drop her off near her apartment on West 3rd. "Tell me, madam, do people actually live down here?" Nast's driver asked her.

Eventually Nast suggested she marry him, using the following words: "We get along together so well and I love you very much." She declined half-because of his backwards political views and also because she was not in love with the man. When Helen had her first childe, Nast sent roses for the mother and a dress of organdy for the baby, "trimmed with real Valenciennes and a pink satin bow." Some people will always be grateful for how you treated them.

with her husband Jack

She met her husband Jack in the trade union movement, and in her book she claims he was the love of her life. They shared all the same views, Helen tells her readers, in such a maniacal tone I was eventually convinced that this was the least important thing two people could have in common.  

Stranger at the Party makes a show of pointing out of how indiscriminating Helen's travails in love were when it came to race. A convict named Bumpy (you don't want to know the reason he is called this) occupies an entire chapter, and Helen concludes that he was "ahead of his time." She also had a thing with the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and any number of Irish men, though she complained of her husband's drinking.

Even being the complete center of all subjectivity has a shelf-life.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Can't Remember To Forget You" - Shakira ft. Rihanna (mp3)

"Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte" - Shakira ft. Rihanna (mp3)

 

Wednesday
Dec182013

In Which We Should Not Be With Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer

by ALEX CARNEVALE

I always make the same film, again and again.

It is fairly easy to be disgusted by the rollicking, painful life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. No one could reasonably believe he was not culpable for his many crimes, even the ones he committed as a child. It is in fact difficult to believe he ever was a child.

He hated everything about his life then, and resolved to change it completely. There is something very brave in all Rainer did, even his cruelty. He showed that being bold could succeed on the force of its own enthusiasm.

He fled boarding schools, his parents  anything to avoid supervision. His father was a doctor who treated prostitutes, Fassbinder's first friends. His ghastly mother confided her dreams to him, fantasies in which she married her young son. So in that sense, what did he have to work with, really? But no man is less explicable by his childhood than Fassbinder, except perhaps de Sade.

There is the story of the man who was forced to eat his fellow sailors after a shipwreck. He hid food away in his attic for the rest of his life. Rainer did the same thing but with money, stacking his entire salary on the bed of his hotel room during the shooting of his last film, Querelle.

Here I am, making him seem sympathetic. He cannot be, no more than a demon could become an angel. What happened in the country of Germany after the Third Reich remains unclear to most outsiders. In any case, it is still happening.

Rainer's life could not help but be a reaction to what occurred there. His bisexuality opened him to an entire coterie of foreigners, disenfranchised men and women who were as strange to the natives as himself. Women were the particular victims of his love/torture combination; many of them suffered merely by his presence.

It is fair to say Rainer attracted masochists, but that cannot be the entire reason for how he subjected his partners to abject horror. He was never an attractive man to look at, but from the first moments he entered acting school, Rainer's charisma was explosive. Both men and women coveted the approval that came through his obsessive, unrelenting nature. In this fashion, he won people over; this dogged persona converted even his staunchest enemies to his corner. Then again, they may just have been relieved to escape his wrath.

His first defining sexual relationship was with the actress Irm Hermann. Thinking he would marry her, she opened herself to him completely, moving in with Rainer and his boyfriend. Her acting jobs paid their rent. Rainer never let her make a single move without his knowledge, berating the woman he claimed to love almost incessantly. Many years later he said that Irm "finds her identity or her pleasure only in suffering, in being oppressed." It was sadism made all the more disturbing by the fact that some part of his allegation may have been true.

He beat the everloving shit out of her, first in her own squalid apartment, then in public. On occasion the violence occurred in front of their friends. He repeatedly suggested that she should kill herself. Eventually she tried, taking forty soma. When Rainer found her unconscious, he believed her to be faking and struck her again. What else could he have done?

Irm Herrmann

Once he told her at dinner in a restaurant that for each steak she ate, she earned a fuck. The substance repelled her, she could not keep down even one. This cause Rainer to remark coldly, "I said, eat it, not puke it up. If you want a fuck, you've got to keep the meat inside you." This was only his first major cruelty. Irm's beatings were merely practice.

When he dumped her, he made her give him all the money she had.

Rainer in 1973

Irm eventually named her child by another man what Fassbinder asked her to in a telegram. Have you judged him yet?

In Paris Fassbinder sold himself to men from within the confines of a popular sauna. During a dinner party on the set of Querelle, he and his guests used the company's black member as an ashtray.

He wrote off all this sordid behavior as a context for art; among the most disturbing aspect (but truly not the most disturbing) was that those who surrounded him were more fascinated than horrified, more excited than aghast.

He succeeded partly on this tightrope, but also on the merits of his art. He may have been a tyrant, but it was quite obvious he was the most exciting young artist in Germany.

Once he wore out his welcome in the theater, he moved to film. It suited him far better. Fueled by the rejection of the major German film academy, he eclipsed the output of all his peers in a relentless orgy of filmmaking.

It is true that his first films were not very good on either a technical or storytelling level. At the time, though, standing out did not require those virtues. Simple looking at screenshots from his films is enough to understand why they were more titillating than any pornography, more violent than seemed possible in a scarred, censorious German society. Fassbinder's films show caricatures without seeming unreal.

In 1973 Rainer took over a theater in Frankfurt. He ran it into the ground in short order. Allegations of anti-Semitism, perhaps unfounded, dogged his last production, and his reckless temperment was on full display. This experience murdered the theater for him, forcing Rainer to admit that on some level he remained too unreliable for a medium that demanded the same show every night.

He might accomplish something once and preserve it forever on film. He had zero chance of making a habit of any virtue.

the prince and the queen

On set, his manner had the same impatience as his off-set mien. He eschewed repeated takes, giving his actors something to be thankful for, given that the abuse suffered at his hands hands had to be offset by immediate satisfaction of the result.

He told his actors, "Everything I examine I have somehow or other, also to rework, in order to have the feeling I've experienced it." It was the closest he could come to an apology for who he was. What a roundabout way of describing a total lack of self-control: a peaceful thought in the hands of a saint, a frightening one in the hands of the devil.

Men held the greater attraction for Rainer over time. They could plausibly fight back, and he loved that resistance, the ebbing away of his considerable power over others. Having more than one person dependent on him was part of the fun, he sometimes encouraged his male lovers to cut off the hair of his girlfriends.

His relationship with the Moroccan actor El Hedi ben Salem ended after the man completed his amateur performance as Ali in Fear Eats the Soul. Salem loved Rainer desperately, but the director was not as enamored with Salem's children, considering them an unnecessary complication. Eventually, when the film's production concluded, Rainer cut him off without a word.

Salem in Fear Eats the Soul

Contemplating revenge, Salem drank himself in a stupor and he stabbed three others with a kitchen knife. On the run, he reached out to his ex. Rainer refused him completely, and Salem hung himself in a French prison cell. It was a familiar tune for Rainer; these sorts of stories followed him.

Rainer's next target was Armin Meier. Meier was fairly gorgeous, the product of Nazi experiments in perfection during the second World War. Rainer found him working in a butcher shop, and considered him basically a plebian orifice. He was not entirely happy with Armin's lack of sophistication, but the boy was beautiful.

Meier killed himself eventually too, just from Rainer's abuse, but not before Rainer turned him into a cocaine addict. Meier loved the happy drug, but Rainer wasn't satisfied with the high it provided. He drank bourbon out of a beer stein constantly as he was working, and cycled pharmaceuticals according to his mood. The illiterate Meier killed himself on Rainer's birthday; it was a feeble revenge, but a revenge it was.

He married one of his actresses, Ingrid Caven, half to see what it was like, half as cover for his homosexual needs. Fondly recalling her husband's proposal Caven once said, "He'd always go to the men's public toilets for sex and then we'd go out on the town."

In the 1970s, cocaine took over Rainer's life completely. He would plan the locations in his films based on their convenience to his drug suppliers. He not only sampled the drug constantly, but had to ensure that all those around him were likewise in its thrall. He particularly foisted it upon his actors, claimed at great length that it would improve their performances. This had two positive consequences from Rainer's perspective: his actors would become increasingly indebted to and intoxicated by him, and they would struggle to find other jobs because of their addiction.

with Andy Warhol

He enjoyed making his stars ugly with makeup. His favorites he allowed to keep their natural beauty, but everyone else had to come down to his level. In most ways, Rainer was amazingly perceptive of his own ugliness. He looks like a blob among his fitter gay friends; his profile looking more natural with women, made less repellent by proximity to their beauty.


He began mimicking de Sade openly in shooting his 1976 film Satan's Brew. The drugs consumed him entirely. As he spiralled towards his death throes in his final years, he would sleep for only three hours during the night, eat like a horse, manage two bottles of bourbon per day, top that off with several Bloody Marys, a coterie of joints or hash brownies, and put himself down with a sleeping pill called Mandrax, a quaalude you could mix in a pipe with weed or hash.

Rainer loved showing his friends just how much he could consume, the vast quantities of uppers and downers it required to even let him sleep those three hours. He was a mess. 

casting actors to play himself

On June 10th, 1982, his girlfriend Juliane Lorenz found him lying dead on his bed with a cigarette in his mouth. A policeman told reporters, "Even Fassbinder's just a man." The funeral proved otherwise  who can really tell if those in attendance were sad, disgusted, or just envious of the rain?

Lorenz has taken up the legacy of the man she found dead in her bed. It's macabre but necessary; even a demon deserves a lawyer. Do not envy her the task: it's impossible to hide all the terrible things about Rainer. They just keep coming out, even from those who loved him. His ex-wife described the scene of his death, mere days before Rainer's passing: "The room was utterly disgusting. It was a pigsty. It was so dreadful. Ashtrays, cigarette ash and old newspapers everywhere. Whiskey bottles, everything you could imagine lying around. It stunk, and his bed was so filthy that I didn't want to sit down on it, it was that bad. He was as possessive as ever."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Pennies and the Fountain" - Glen Hansard (mp3)

"Drive All Night" - Glen Hansard ft. Eddie Vedder & Jake Clemons (mp3)