Quantcast
Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

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

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.

Entries in alex carnevale (191)

Tuesday
Nov082011

In Which A Long Long Time Ago

Suicide by Planet

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Melancholia
dir. Lars Von Trier
131 minutes

Melancholia begins with the two stalest of film clichés, presented back-to-back: the end of the world, and a wedding. The nuptials are those of Michael (an absolutely overwhelmed Alexander Skarsgård) and Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who wishes she were anywhere but at her own wedding reception. The camera jumps from person to person in nauseating fashion, wobbling back and forth as if it were almost about to fall off a tripod. We are meant to be viewing things from the distorted perspective of Danish writer-director Lars Von Trier.

Not a single event occurs in Von Trier's Melancholia without rousing some kind of reaction in its audience. Such a maddening display of provocation! Von Trier is obsessed with the theater, the excitement that comes from mixing up the unfamiliar with the predictable. Some of his sketches are kinda funny, others are absolutely turgid. The wedding sequence reaches its nadir when Dunst starts having unprotected sex with a new hire at her advertising company. At the same time, the party's guests learn of a larger planet named Melancholia heading towards Earth at an unbelievable rate.

As the titular planet accelerates towards them, von Trier pulls out every trick imaginable for his blonde protagonist. There is basically not a moment in Melancholia where Kirsten Dunst isn't drunk or in some drug stupor induced to treat her underlying depression. She is so out of it that as the film spirals on, her sister Claire, sleepily portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is left to carry the action. Anxious and unable to speak above a whisper, I pretty much can't think of a worse person with which to spend the last days of your life.

Von Trier has apologized in advance for Melancholia. In his tongue-in-cheek director's statement on the film, he demurs, "In Visconti, there was always something to elevate matters beyond the trivial...elevate it to masterpieces! I am confused now and feel guilty. What have I done?"

Indeed, Melancholia features many unusual trappings for the director lavish and austere, his best images resemble the still paintings he sometimes thrusts at the audience. Then again, at times you would have to be convinced that you weren't watching Armageddon or Deep Impact, and it's this synchronicity that has the director second guessing himself. Thankfully, von Trier spoils the will-they die-or-won't-they? tension in the film's dynamic opening: a music video depiction of the planetary collision that lies ahead. What follows in the next two hours is mere anti-climax.

The wedding of Dunst's Justine occupies the entire first hour of Melancholia. It occurs on a large estate ("kitschy" according to von Trier, who finds all trappings of wealth equally absurd) facing an eighteen hole golf course. The preparations for the event are lavishly undertaken by Claire's husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who we are told has gone to all this trouble as a kind of farewell to his wife's sister: seeing her happily married, he hopes to finally separate the two. Justine makes that impossible by dumping her new husband, quitting her job and squeezing in a nap all in the same evening.

If anyone can play a shitshow, it's Kirsten Dunst. She based fifty percent of her performance here on Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, the rest of the time she simply acts inebriated, swigging from a whiskey bottle and leaning on her dance partners as they fear for her collapse. She is believably crazy, and later on informs her sister that she "knows" that Earth is about to be struck by a planet just as she knows we are all alone in the universe and no one will miss us. It's hard to take this seriously next to slow motion shots of Gainsbourg's young son embracing her. But you weren't taking this seriously, were you?

As with his own estranged biological father, Gainsbourg and Dunst's dad (John Hurt) abandons them twice in the novelistic melodrama. Their mother would like to leave her ungrateful kids, but can't. Children are sheltered and taken care of, but everyone else leaves the person who is supposed to care about them most. For the fatherless von Trier, the idea of psychological subtlety is anathema to his existence. Melancholia is Von Trier laying the basest reflection of his personal trauma on us, and it certainly comes across as more heartfelt than multiple sequences of chicks staring at an approaching planet about to engulf them.

After the wedding, Justine shows up at the estate again, a complete shell of a human being. Her sister cannot even manage to talk her into a bath. It is only the news of Earth's pending destruction that brings her alive again.

Eager to display her "acting chops", Dunst puts on quite the display as she admires the planet with her corporeal form. This topless exhibition is also supposed to be construed as the subtle overshadowing of her sister, who observes her nude forms as violins screech meaningfully on the soundtrack. Perhaps won over by the full frontal, Kiefer Sutherland becomes quick to agree with Dunst's dire conclusions, succumbing more swiftly than he did to the panicked admonitions of his wife.

At the vast but spiritually tiny mansion, horses become restless under the wordly glare of impending doom. Von Trier has placed himself in the position of a master, bluntly delivering a bloated final cut in two parts, each titled after a Lawrence Durrell meme. To meet their planetary destruction head-on, Kirsten, Charlotte and her son Tim construct a weird little monument to death, as if to ward off the bad and embrace the rest. It's not totally unsurprising, but it's a little expected.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Adrian Lyne's Indecent Proposal. 

"American Pie" - Madonna (mp3)

"American Pie/Daughter" - Pearl Jam (mp3)

"The Saga Begins" - Weird Al (mp3)

Monday
Nov072011

In Which The Life We've Been Living Will Bleed Us Dry

Messing Around

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Indecent Proposal
dir. Adrian Lyne
121 minutes

When Robert Redford first sees Demi Moore in Adrian Lyne's 1993 movie Indecent Proposal, she's taking a handful of free chocolates from a dress store in Las Vegas. I'm not sure why they offered chocolates to their customers. Her husband is Woody Harrelson, an architect. A few years earlier, Demi grudgingly became a real estate agent to fund his dream: a house built on the beach. Woody works tirelessly on his plans for the house. When it's almost completed, it looks like this:

Perhaps disturbed by how ugly her husband's dream house is, Demi is prone to incipient rage about how she has to pick up his clothes, how he leaves the toilet seat up. Coincidentally, every fictional husband in history shares these exact same things. Maybe Woody has never seen a television show before, since there is no evidence of the appliance in his house.

After he loses his job and the bank threatens to foreclose on his beach castle, Woody tells his wife he'll do something, he'll drive a cab, or wait tables. Apparently all those jobs were taken as well. He has never heard of the internet, he doesn't even have one of those AOL discs you could find in any magazine in 1993. He calls his wife 'D', like maybe she's his streetball partner in White Men Can't Jump.

Not watching television has its detriments. When the bank threatens to foreclose on Woody's house, he wakes up in the middle of the night with a capital idea: let's head to Las Vegas! Leaving Las Vegas, unluckily, was still two years away from being made at this point, which probably could have saved both these people a lot of trouble. Demi says, "I love you." Woody says, "I know." Demi says, "Even without the money," kind of a strange statement, given all they have to their name is $25,000 at this point.

Still, the sex is tremendous. At one point they do a position that I hadn't known existed, it was kind of a free fall into a half twist on a bed full of money. They lose the very last of their money at roulette. Bob Redford has been killing time playing blackjack, waiting for this eventuality to become reality. After luring Demi in by promising she's only to be his "good luck charm," he invites Woody and his wife to his magnificent suite. "He just won a million dollars!" Woody groans, as if this were a matter of simple luck.

After they accept an offer of $1m for one night with Demi Moore, Redford picks out a really steamy dress for her: its smell is redolent of pears. She is presented before servants, and it is clear she is going to be sacrificed, the only question is to what. A ceremonial gauze adorns her life fluid. Bob Redford is dressed in all white, a regalia akin to command in the armed forces. Suddenly he gets this really hopeful look on his face:

In the bracing exchange that follows, Robert Redford's little erection feels like a gloved hand. "If you were mine," he says, "I wouldn't share you with anyone." He flips a coin to decide whether to fuck her, and it says he should fuck her. They should release an alternate version of Indecent Proposal with an original score composed by Nickelback, simple piano and violin intros and outros don't do justice to the spiritual malaise.

For the money he transfers to their account, it appears he takes her ceremonial flower. Demi's scent is now onions and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Bob makes her labor at menial tasks for his amusement, and then releases her back to Woody Harrelson.

Melodrama recognized as real life is the recipe for satire, but Lyne is not really aiming at that. His problem is not with these pathetic people but with this place and time. Indecent Proposal constitutes a European's critique of an overly crass America, made on their terms with their movie stars, the most obnoxious ones he could find. More than anything, Lyne finds Americans to be overly sentimental, not realist enough to survive the perils of life.

Moore eschews the buttoned up sexuality of her other roles in which she invariably played a soldier or widow. Her lips constantly pursed, she seems on the verge of an orgasm that sadly never arrives. Her imitation of an ingenue rebounds on herself, bouncing back like a miscast spell, dimming her potential. Her lawyer (Oliver Platt) evens says, "You probably could have had two million."

Redford's inherent cragginess deepens as he continues to purse the married woman. He just wants to sweep her to Paris, he says. It's the city of his dreams. The way he touches her back informs her she is a cherished heirloom, like a brunette brooch. He tells her he needs her.

Whereas the original novel of Indecent Proposal featured Robert Redford as a billionaire Arab who takes the wife of a Jew for his own nefarious means, Lyne's version has none of that. Redford more resembles the fabled pre-socialism Dutch archetype of Das Hammerschlong, the wealthy landowner who does not covet his neighbor's belongings, but ends up with them in the story's unlikely denouement.

As for Woody Harrelson's character, he takes a job teaching, and his enthusiasm for the work of Louis Kahn is entirely misplaced. His female students stare at him in admiration. When he tells them how much he loves the library at Exeter, he is entirely blind to the irony. Woody donates a million dollars to an endangered species charity to get Demi back, but it doesn't work, so the wisdom of Robert Redford has to be enough to set these gentile Americans aright. Dutch archetypes have such strange taste in women.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Cameron Crowe's Singles.

"A Simple Game of Genius" - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (mp3)

"Alone on the Rope" - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (mp3)

"The Death of You and Me" - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (mp3)

Tuesday
Sep272011

In Which The Moon Is Not Only Beautiful

This week we look back at the films of Roman Polanski.

Sublime Torture

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Bitter Moon
128 minutes
dir. Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski's love affair with camp was no surprise to European audiences who had experienced the wacky fun of disembodied hands brushing against Catherine Deneuve's carapace in 1965's Repulsion. Horror for Polanski was only a pretext to a greater amusement. At the age of 21, Denueve was practically carved out of stone and Polanski's defilement of her had to be addictive, to the point where married the next woman he cast in a similar role.

When he meets Emmanuelle Seigner in 1992's Bitter Moon, Hugh Grant is taking a cruise to Istanbul so he and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) can from there explore India. After seven years of marriage, things have coalesced to a standstill. On the journey he meets fellow passenger Peter Coyote, cast as a paraplegic with a beautiful wife. Coyote remains a bit too vital for the role, but with fake yellow teeth and an enigmatic plea to Hugh, he begins to regale us with the story of how he comes to be an invalid with Emmanuelle Seigner as his caregiver/companion.

The time was Paris, fifteen years earlier. The romance is achingly familiar. On their first date, he watches Emmanuelle play hopscotch in the street. Maudlin music rumbles on in the background, heightening the tragedy which is to follow. For the moment, things are in the nascent stage. He rubs her feet when she says they are cold, she keeps something he gave her in a little green notebook. During the evenings, she listens to him read poetry, crouching on the floor, peering up at his armchair like a favored pet.

Polanski pairs Emmanuelle's seductive milk dance and George Michael's "Faith" for fun. Covered by only a bathrobe, she smothers the substance all over her body to the songs' opening notes and Peter Coyote attacks the outpouring. It is both hysterically unerotic and perfectly in sync with Polanski's own sensibility: A man's orgasm, synchronized to the ejaculation of bread from the toaster. She observes him shaving with a straight razor, his first mistake. He intones, "Her pussy was a neat, discrete little cleft." It takes a serious while for their sexual proclivities to become grating.

Critics amazingly did not understand this was a comedy. New Republic critic Stanley Kauffman called Bitter Moon "swill," which strengthens the theory he has been dead since 1988, and Martin Peretz has been ghostwriting his material ever since. (Kauffmann also called Swift's A Modest Proposal "outrageous!") Even such complaints themselves are addressed in Bitter Moon: Peter is a frustrated writer whose editor (Stockard Channing) begs him to come back to New York because he has lost touch. For good reason, he refuses.

The telling of the story is as exhausting as it must have been to live it. "Have you ever truly idolized a woman?" he berates Hugh Grant as he passes along the story of their romance. (Under the spell of the tale, monogamy instantly becomes as abhorrent to Grant as Jews were for Agatha Christie.) Polanski has always reveled in making Seigner as feminine and then suddenly as masculine as possible, stretching her austere and extraordinary beauty like another skin. In some ways, she could not be more exposed than she is in Bitter Moon where every body part takes on a luscious, explosive tinge. Peter's response is to tell her, "It's a pity you're not in publishing." His penis is shaped like a question mark.

"I've always found infidelity the most titillating aspect of every relationship," he tells Hugh. When Grant first began cheating on Elizabeth Hurley, a great outpouring of sentiment began on her behalf. How could anyone cheat on such a beauty! was the requisite outcry. This of course was the only possible more sexist position than the one Grant himself inhabited. "I came to resent her failure to excite me the way she used to," opines Peter's hilarious narration. Later, he gives Emmanuelle a concussion by slapping her face when she criticizes his writing.

Peter soon finds that he loathes the sight of her. Soon enough, he is free, focused on indulging himself: "Every time I looked in one woman's eyes I saw the reflection of the next." She returns only to torture him and take her revenge for his behavior. Yvor Winters' poem "The Bitter Moon" is apropos, always apropos:

The Bitter Moon

Dry snow runs burning
on the ground like fire
the quick of Hell spin on
the wind. Should I believe
in this your body, take it
at its word? I have believed
in nothing. Earth burns with a
shadow that has held my
flesh; the eye is a shadow
that consumes the mind
Scream into air! The voices
Of the dead still vibrate
they will find them, threading
all the past with twinging
wires alive like hair in cold.
These are the nerves
of death. I am its brain.

You are the way, the oath
I take. I hold to this
I bent and thwarted by a will
to live among the living dead
instead of the dead living; I
become a voice to sound for.
Can you feel through Space,
imagine beyond Time?

                             The
snow alive with moonlight
licks about my ankles.
Can you find this end?

Winters always took things a line too far, not unlike Roman Polanski.

 

The basic outline of Bitter Moon is not of Roman's own making, and so he invests every frame with his own ideas and feelings about what is going on. He is powerless not to impose himself on Pascal Bruckner's story, not to make the summation of every scene his own outsized finding. This setup shows off his power better than when he pursues his own material.

In Bitter Moon, Polanski's composition is an incredible mishmash of biting satire and broad comedy. At times, his control is almost overwhelming: the blue and yellow jacket Mimi first appears in makes another appearance when Peter tries to dump her on a bench one Paris evening. Women resemble or do not resemble each other depending on the flavor of their environment, the underlying meaning of the transformation. Cinematographer Tonino Colli's longtime collaboration with Pasolini's similar strategy unifies the film's structure. Each contained frame is prearranged, quietly and masterfully extending the satire.

"What did I do?" she asks him. "Even a criminal is told his crime." "You didn't do anything," he informs her. "You exist."

Bitter Moon is a film outside its own time. In 1992, it was impossible to imagine that someone could even get bored of sex with Emmanuelle Seigner. But now we can fathom every starlet completely. Two weeks ago I saw Kate Winslet in an airport and I almost offered her a tissue as consolation. We don't have ingenues anymore, we possess known qualities. In some ways, this makes people more exciting, that possibility of knowing them in their entirety. But in other ways, it is nothing more than a cold fright.

After hearing out Peter's story in the present of the cruise ship, Hugh Grant cannot possibly approach Emmanuelle in the same way. Instead of woman, she better resembles a crushed grape. Yet in the usual fashion in which pity is constantly confused with sexual attraction, he makes out with her hard and asks where they can be alone together.

Hugh's wife tries to play the same game with another passenger, but it disagrees with her constitution and she throws it up in the toilet of their cabin. Polanski turns the whole thing into a cosmic joke simply by using pop music, with the climactic scene pumping out Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love" while Kristin and Emmanuelle make out at a New Year's party. By the end almost everyone has done something they're ashamed of.

The Museum of Modern Art screens Bitter Moon at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 9/28.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Cameron Crowe's Singles. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

digg delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe

"Is It Done" - J. Mascis (mp3)

"I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

"Bird on the Wire" - Leonard Cohen (mp3)