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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

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 (237)


In Which Margaret Atwood So Impotently Loved The World

illustration by jason courtney

Old Fashioned


by Margaret Atwood
331 pp

I once knew a writer who created, in a series of novels, a charismatic detective. Over time he began to loathe his own sleuth, and dreamed of killing him. Something like that happened with Margaret Atwood in the ensuing years since her brash novel of the future, Oryx & Crake, induced a subgenre of speculative fiction. 2009's The Year of the Flood followed, and the trilogy is concluded with MaddAddam, out from Bloomsbury this year.

The inviolable, elusive Crake was her detective. There is still so much we do not know about Crake. What is certain is that he had parents, but that they died. His father was murdered by the government, and his mother took up with another man who Crake called his uncle. After this/because of this, at some indeterminate point, Crake decided to change humanity permanently. To inculcate his plan, he started playing a computer game online with some friends.

The singular invention of Atwood's novels is the existence of the Crakers, the homo sapiens spin-off that Crake made with his online friends in order to ensure Earth would be a better place for everyone to live. They are small, gendered creatures of mirth and happiness who speak to animals and feel no shame of their sex. Their genitals, penis and vagina both, glow blue in excitement.

In 2003, Usenet groups and stuff were recent history. Atwood updated the cultural references for the satire in MaddAddam, since the original corporate puns (Helthwyzer, AnooYoo) that constituted her ridicule were dated at the time she wrote them. The important thing is that we do and do not recognize our world in this bleak parody of it.

Usenet is old-fashioned like Crake, who played an online game called Extinctathon instead of a more fashionable tract. Atwood rewrote the story of Crake from the perspective of all the women in the novel in the next two volumes, shedding light on Crake in small mysterious scenes told by those knew him before. He was sort of a creep, really, but we cannot say that for certain, since there is still so much about those who made us that we do not really know.

The central figure of MaddAddam is a woman named Toby who knew Crake. The main thing about her that engenders our sympathy is her love for a man in their group, Zeb, and her rage at the possibility of his betrayal.

Toby's relationship with a Craker named Blackbeard is actually the central one. He appears to be her bedmate at times. (Humans and Crakers produce small, green-eyed offspring with blue genitals.) Blackbeard is a young Craker, the first Craker to learn how to write in the short history of the Crakers. He writes:

And in the book she put the Words of Crake, and the Words of Oryx as well, and of how together they made us, and made also this safe and beautiful World for us to live in...

And Toby set down also the Words about Amanda and Ren and Swift Fox, our Beloved Three Oryx Mothers, who showed us that we and the two-skinned ones are all people and helpers, though we have different gifts, and some of us turn blue and some do not.

So Toby said we must be respectful, and always ask first, to see if a woman is really blue or is just smelling blue, when there is a question about blue things.

And Toby showed me what to do when there should be no more pens of plastic, and no more pencils either; for she could look into the future, and see that a time would come when no pens or pencils or paper could be found any more, among the buildings of the city of chaos, where they used to grow.

And she showed me how to use the quill feathers of birds to make the pens, though we also made some pens from the ribs of a broken umbrella.

An umbrella is a thing from the chaos. They used it for keeping the rain off their bodies.

I don’t know why they did that.

This language is childlike, but it is not childish. It is the most fun to watch Atwood communicate in these ways, when it feels like she is rewriting language itself in order to speak more honestly. As Chesterton wrote, "Satire may be mad and anarchic, but it presupposes an admitted superiority in certain things over others." MaddAddam mostly abandons the hit or miss satire of Oryx & Crake, replacing it with descriptions of Atwood's improvements to Earth.

In MaddAddam, Atwood discovers a new standard, a better way of living. Here all the detritus that filled the streets and avenues branding, high level MMO play, government spying has been cleared out. Things really are better because of Crake, we come to understand, and that is a more bracing critique than a pun or the recording of a cliche.

Atwood's perspective demands so much of the world. She holds mankind to the same standard she holds individual people, which is a rather high one. Like all liberals she is not as concerned with the method of control so much as humanizing its victims. In disordered Earth she even hypothesizes that man might not even be the most intelligent species on the planet. (That honor belongs to Earth's genetically altered pigs.)

illustration by jason courtney

While some may find it a bit tiresome at times to relive all the ways Ms. Atwood finds our current predicament lacking, excitement levels increase substantially in her vision of what is to come. MaddAddam is a parable, and all parables tend to insist it is the darkest before the dawn. Atwood delights in the breaking down, futiley attempting to resist her own inner desire for an anarchy she finds both horrible and necessary.

Having Crake live over and over again through the eyes of those who knew him is an enticing thought; two sequels may not be enough. What about Crake's barber? Even though Crake's base psychology (revenge) was obvious, he was also a thoughtful God. It's obvious that Margaret Atwood would have better at being God than almost anything or anyone.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Lost Land" - Alela Diane (mp3)


In Which Black Is Generally The Color Of My True Love's Hair

In the Dark


Ain't Them Bodies Saints
dir. David Lowery
96 minutes

Casey Affleck has taken another job. Someone, we will get to who, has cast him as a savage but moral outlaw. His love for Rooney Mara is eternal, even though she is kind of blah. Still, he claims that a police officer she murders was felled by his bullet, his gun.

A shootout, freely violated by bystanders and policemen, is the center of Ain't Them Bodies Saints. You wouldn't think there would be enough time for musing and remembrance during this kind of an event, but you have not been to a slaughter emceed by Casey Affleck. Everyone was having too much fun to stop shooting their handguns.

with the director

Black is David Lowery's favorite color, a deep black that a regular television set can't even render. You have to be on his level to even see the movie. What you don't see, some of it you hear. On occasion, young mothers (Rooney Mara) will monologue, usually after her six year old daughter asks a question such as, "How long will my braids last?" or "What's a convict, Mommy?" Such things are routinely said if you are waiting for your husband to break out of prison.

God (Casey Affleck) is a vengeful criminal. He plans to return for his wife and daughter pending his escape from the penitentiary. Here we have the basic, exciting elements of a story, but wound around each other such as they are in a music video. This is to ensure the same predictable satisfactions will not happen on Casey Affleck's watch. Oh, our God is a vengeful God!

Before returning for his family, Affleck heads over to Keith Carradine's to let him know the plan. Keith's moustache is very upset by this, but he manages to keep his shit together. You know the kind of person who always says one more thing, beyond the thing you wanted them to say? That's Keith Carradine in every single one of his roles.

For her part, Mara passes the time with a deputy of the police force (Ben Foster). From all evidence he is kinder to both of them than they are to each other. He plans to defend them from Casey Affleck, but how well did that work out for Abraham? (Casey Affleck possesses his own bible, it is the manual you get on airplanes to teach you how to open the doors.)

You know what Bonnie & Clyde didn't do? They didn't whine about it. Actually, they did, nevermind.

The swirling sound of Aint Them Bodies Saints is the only highlight, since Rooney Mara is basically placid throughout all of this. Since crying would be a cliche, she cannot cry. Since acting anxious, in the manner of Kirsten Dunst on a Tuesday, would make her seem like she is on drugs, that's out as well. Maybe she does something unusual in the dark part of the frame that we can't see. Something may happen to her there.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Take My Breath Away" - We Are Scientists (mp3)

"Courage (demo)" - We Are Scientists (mp3


In Which We Disturb The Spirit Of The Beehive



The Spirit of the Beehive
dir. Victor Erice
98 minutes

Victor Erice's first film. It begins with all the kids in the street, greeting the man who brings them film reels from Madrid. This month it's Frankenstein. In the audience is young Ana.

Ana possesses a mother and a father who can barely be in the same room with each other. We do not know for certain, but it seems the reason for this is that both prefers to have another life in addition to the one that occupies their days. Their two daughters Ana and the older Isabel, 7 are the least of their concerns.

The scene that has always haunted me from The Spirit of the Beehive is the one where Isabel jumps through a fire she lights with a friend. Ana watches on, perched like an owl. The expression on her face is a cross between bemusement and utter fear. On the set of The Spirit of the Beehive Erice demanded that the other actors speak in a whisper when Ana was around. Anything else would ruin the moment.

Isabel and Ana see the house in the distance. (Earlier, the girls put their ears to the train tracks to hear something new.) When they approach the abandoned well next to the empty shack, it is both frightening and a little anti-climactic, but in a good way since you can only handle so many small deaths.

When she returns to the house, Ana finds a mustached man fleeing the Franco regime. He is an enemy of the state and he has been wounded. Naturally she provides this person with medical aid and sustenance such as she can find:

Next she huddles over the refugee's leg to change the bandage. The Spirit of the Beehive is often discussed as a film about childhood, but Ana discards any naivete through Isabel's psychological torture and the realities of her provincial life.

In another scene, she is instructed by a nun about the facts of the human body; nearly every part of the lesson is wrong. She is happier to be of use in the dessicated residence at the end of her prairie, or among her fantasies brought to life.

Throughout, Erice's use of light and composition was wildly ahead of its time in independent filmmaking, and it also set a new mark for cinema in general. We never see this kind of naturalistic work anymore, since all the abandoned places are far away and Vancouver's a lot easier if you're going to leave L.A. Then again, Victor did not go very far either.

Audiences were initially quick skeptical of The Spirit of the Beehive. The film's first viewers even expressed their condolences to the film's producers after an early screening. When The Spirit of the Beehive won the grand prize at the San Sebastian FF, half the crowd booed.

Isabel tells Ana that in order to summon Frankenstein, she must simply call him by saying, "It's me Ana." This incantation brings about all the ghosts in her life: a frightened man destined to be gunned down by his captors, her sister playing dead, her father in a hallucinatory dream.

When Ana sees the blood she is no longer a child, yet Erice never lingers over anything obvious like that his principle seems to be that is whatever is on the surface, let it lie. Whatever is underneath will have to breathe eventually.

In order to solve the mystery of Frankenstein, Ana has to give over to her desires. It is something her parents never learn to do. Her mother flirts with her daughter's doctor when Ana runs away; her father meekly views the rebel corpse. He remains more concerned with his bees than his young family.

Isabel holds very different priorities. She torments her younger sister, and it goes slightly beyond the normal persecution of an older sibling. Erice pushes the envelope until his audience itself feels Isabel's victim. We have no way of lashing out at her for what she puts us through, at least not in the way the family cat does when it scratches her finger trying to get away. There are so many difficulties.

I don't know to what extent The Spirit of the Beehive operates on a subconscious level. It appears sometimes to be a magic eight-ball of cinema, in the fashion in which it pulls up a different fortune for each person who watches it, a sort of proto-version of the videotape in The Ring. Some of its inhabitants must feel betrayed: by their government, by their families, by those closest to them. It was that sort of time in Victor Erice's home country, and he wrote of this pain in the only way he could.

Some of Erice's audience must have resembled the cynical caricatures of Ana's world, so it is no wonder they did not like to see themselves painted in such a light. Erice shows many different sides of the story, never doing the judging for us. We all have periods when we get lost inside of ourselves, when we find it difficult to admit that we are only one of many. We feel that collected way that Ana does when she watches Frankenstein: the unusual mingling of fear and fascination nothing else can inculcate.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Roger Ebert and Persona and the romance between Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Black Out Days" - Phantogram (mp3)

The new self-titled EP from Phantogram was released yesterday via Republic.