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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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Sunday
Jan312010

In Which We Are Either Betty, Veronica or Neither

The Italian Archie

by ALEX CARNEVALE

James Ivory's The Golden Bowl begins with two lovers in the ruins of Rome, explaining why they can't be together. The woman Charlotte (Uma Thurman) has no money. Neither does the man, native to Rome Amerigo (Jeremy Northam). So it is concluded they cannot really be together, despite the exquisite image of their bodies pressed against one another.

A few years later, the man marries Charlotte's girlhood friend Maggie (Kate Beckinsale). This is not in itself a tragedy. The new woman is warm and loving, her father is loaded with cash he plans to spend on building a museum on the Upper East Side of New York City. Amerigo is ostensibly happy with his new arrangement, but then Charlotte appears in his life again in time for his wedding to Maggie.

Early in The Golden Bowl, Charlotte and Amerigo go shopping for a wedding gift for the latter's fiancee. They visit a jewelry store where they see the eponymous Golden Bowl. Charlotte appraises the rest of the collection and pronounces the verdict, whether out of malice or good sense: "There is nothing here that she could wear." The two quarrel about the collapse of their previous relationship. Over time, Charlotte becomes engaged to Maggie's overbearing father. Charlotte and Amerigo then consummate their relationship on the sly.


Adultery is tricky business in the cinema. The male adulterer is rarely approved of. He is largely given a bad rap; he sometimes hurts Richard Gere's feelings. Charlotte's portrayal is no better.  Such drama is the kind of illusion only important to the rich. Perhaps the relative economic status of these individuals is immaterial, but as they stroll casually through an epic mansion, their concerns seem less important than the decor. The once-deprived Amerigo stands at attention to the splendor of the other creatures whose world he inhabits. For him, the only real world is Rome. He is always trying to go back there.

Cheating on someone seems exciting, for awhile. Cheating on your wife with her father's wife, even more so. The excitement thus heightened, Amerigo's swarthy attentions are naturally paid to his vivacious blond former lover rather than his brunette wife who so recently, we suspect, had breast enhancement surgery. Such were the strange vicissitudes of life around the turn of the century.


Banging your wife's father's wife is known in some circles as the reverse Oedipus; in other circles it invariably results in a Cleveland Steamer and the severing of all concurrent relationships. Our families naturally become closer together in affluence, and such implausibilities are rapidly rendered most plausible.


Looked at from the other perspective, it is still harder to merit sympathies for the victims of such Biblical indiscretions. Maggie is a naïve imp; she cares for Amerigo's child from a previous whatever with all the aplomb we expect from how the wealthy tolerate weaknesses in the less fortunate. If the would-be victim is already vulnerable, aren't they asking to be taken advantage of?

Anjelica Huston plays the original matchmaker of Maggie and Amerigo, Fanny. No one better channels the way a segment of yourself disappears by how you behave than Huston when she practices her craft. Having set up Maggie and Amerigo, Anjelica's Fanny feels great guilt, even harassing Amerigo when he risks appearing with Charlotte in public: "I have noticed before with you that you like having a thing without liking to call it by its name."


Despite disapproval from such quarters, Amerigo carries on his affair. Naturally, the possibility of love within other love excites him. It excites every man with blood flowing towards his penis. Amerigo becomes the victim of these two feminine ideals. Henry James essentially told us about the first Archie.

Uma Thurman or Charlotte or whatever you insist on calling her, is the escape. Amerigo met a woman who freed him from an entire part of his self-possession. There are reasons, in themselves, to disregard everything you know.

Kate Beckinsale or Molly McAleer or Maggie is the darker, more intensive brew. (Brunettes are always symbols for something or other.) From the moment you start dating her, you have to be good with the idea you will appear in every page of her personal journal, that she will take everything from you and spit out whatever doesn't make sense or reconfirm her view of the world. Such paramours are usually either a tremendous disappointment or the love of your life.

Despite having two female protagonists, emanating from the approximate direction of The Golden Bowl is a rare misogyny. Someone once called a friend of mine a literary misogynist, but this wasn't quite true. The real adulterer is not a misogynist or hypocrite, for he does not pretend to offer any of the comforts of a lover; he manages the abandonment of those comforts. When you find a woman willing to give that up, you can hardly blame the man involved.  

The relationship between Charlotte and Nick Nolte's Adam Verver is the most fascinating of those in The Golden Bowl. We all wonder at how relationships begun under shaky premises evolve and develop. Charlotte has no love for Adam; she disdains his museum, she finds his art collecting eccentric in a fashion that deliberately takes attention away from her. In time, they move closer together, eventually becoming intimate. In this case the American identity, in photos and film, the art forms themselves, repossess the people they represent.

This is The Golden Bowl's way of suggesting that all love deserves a context. Everything deserves a context, argued James in every line of his extant prose. His mastery was in making the unappealing overly appealing, and then switching it around again. He was never afraid to push people towards each other, even in hatred, to see how the rest of the world was accommodated by the result.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"Simple Line of Decline"  - For Love Not Lisa (mp3)

"Travis Hoffmann" - For Love Not Lisa (mp3)

"Traces" - For Love Not Lisa (mp3)

 

Thursday
Jan072010

In Which We Request A Do-Over On This Last Decade

In the Aughts

by ALEX CARNEVALE

for Leonard Michaels

For most of the aughts, Ellen was the smartest person I knew. She dressed impeccably for parties, she always knew the right moment to use the word 'oeuvre.' People were delighted to be in her presence, as if she glowed incandescently. Later she came down with an eating disorder and wasn't quite as fetching as in earlier years. After all this, she asked me what she was like then, since a woman is rarely aware of her powers. I told her. She exclaimed, "But I was a failure!"

I attended a university where I was perplexed most of the time. In Wayland dorm I met Danish, who had the misfortune to be even more alienated than I was. His roommate spent all his time working out and continually watching movie trailers on his iMac. We observed him with a mixture of fascination and regret that we could not be as he was.

I took a class on the Caribbean writer Maryse Condé; I was the only non-African American female in the class. Once I was pumping my leg up and down absorbed in some lewd thought or another. Someone touched me on the shoulder and asked me very nicely to stop shaking the ground.

My college friend Andrew never found such emphatic endings to his conquests. He preferred to slowly bring up suggestions/complaints to his girlfriends. Once, without thinking, he told a very lovely girl she was too tall.

A phone call or dinner used to be required for intimacy. Then, suddenly, it became available wholesale. I experimented with how quickly I could become close to someone, how emphatically I could ascend in their worldview. All closeness seemed magical, and then waned, and this too was natural.

For the longest time I pretended the pleasure of everything wasn't in its anticipation. Enjoying things became passé, remembering the past fondly was easier on the heart. Danish began dating someone seriously, and all else seemed like a major joke in comparison. When I met his girlfriend, her eyes shone with his light, which in retrospect strikes me as gay.

Ellen and I caught up later. I could tell she was better, but none of her normal pallor had returned. In this fashion I began the inevitable process of confusing pity with sexual attraction, an eventuality that I learned was actually best described in Stanislavsky's An Actor Prepares and the work of Harold Brodkey.

A few of my friends entered the military because they wanted to try to change who they were. For the most part they were successful in this venture.

The first college girlfriend I had was named Alice. She wasn't necessarily as into Fiona Apple as I would have liked, but she did find my then-cutting edge jokes about 9/11 humorous. The morning that 9/11 happened, my political science professor ignored what was happening in favor of what was on our syllabus. It was difficult to respect him, or anyone, for awhile.

I became friendly with a couple that lived nearer to the bottom of College Hill named Jasmine and Ted. They entertained a coterie of lovers and sycophants that I found amusing before I realized I was one of them. As an icebreaker, I used to ask girls their SAT scores. This rarely worked out as well as it might have, but I wasn't deterred in the least. There is a real glory in being as obnoxious and self-involved as you can for short periods, provided you can get over it by Yom Kippur.

Although usually the life of the party, Danish would occasionally get surly if a frat house didn't treat him with proper respect. If a frat boy tried to argue with him, Danish made a habit of mocking his girlfriend's hairstyle and choice of handbag. Once, one of these offended young women punched me in the face. Another time, someone was dragging my couch across the Quad, and when I asked the guy what he was doing, I recognized him as my English 21 TA.

I met a jittery Irish catholic named David with a penis shaped like a soda can. Shockingly, he was incredibly attractive to women. Once, he introduced us to his new girlfriend, a recovering alcoholic. As Andrew put it, "Either we've lost a drinking buddy, or she's about to have a hard life."

Somewhere in there, Dave Eggers decided he'd prefer to only half-shave his face everyday.

Jasmine and Ted wed somewhere in Chelsea, I gave a moving but inappropriately long toast about how much they taught me about love. Old acquaintances and lovers swished around on the floor, Jasmine's sisters were dressed exquisitely. I wrote a rather solemn poem about my emotions that took its cues from Byron's “The Dream” while Andrew blew coke in the bathroom in what I assumed was a committed tribute to Jay McInerney's masterful Bright Lights, Big City.

When I told Ellen I couldn't stand to see her anymore, she seemed distracted or unwilling to listen. There should be a term - there probably is a term - for nostalgia for something that hasn't happened yet. I explained this to her. She said, "I know what you mean." I still wonder if she did know. She began dating a guy who had the word executive on his business card and smelled like vanilla.

In a writing workshop, a troubled young woman wrote about an unhappy sexual experience (cunnilingus) with a classmate, who happened to be sitting next to her. The story took place during the sex act in the minds of the characters, in what I privately felt was a ripoff of that Susan Minot book. The normally quiet classmate objected to the story on several grounds, trying to improve it seriously. Our professor said (to someone), "I can't help but wonder how much of yourself is in it." "Didn't you guys see Todd Solondz' Storytelling!" I screamed.

I worked for a novelist who lived in an apartment overlooking a park on the Lower East Side. I noticed he didn't have any male friends, except a noted artist who had recently passed on. I felt the urge to ask him the reason for this predilection. "Why would I want to talk to a man," he said, "when I can talk to these beautiful creatures?" Shortly thereafter, I found myself leaving his employ.

Danish began to work at Google. The guy who created Urban Dictionary worked on his floor. No matter what we pitched him, he always told us no.

My dad met some of my college friends. "Your gay friend seems nice," he said, pointing to Morgan. "Because of the sideburns?" I said.

Before a writing workshop I was in, a red-haired girl with knee-high socks and what I viewed as an extremely poor attitude asked me, after reading what I'd written, if I was insane. I reread the offending story and felt I had to concur. Until then, I had not realized this no doubt pertinent development.

Ellen revealed that she'd been dumped by the executive and was now fielding offers. She used to control men with the glint of a smile, the sweep of a blouse. Now they controlled her, or so it seemed. I asked her what was most difficult about her breakup. She said, "He used to bring me warm milk before bed every night." That took me about four weeks of therapy to work out.

In the 00s I tried to like people I wouldn't normally have liked. More and more, people were vastly different from their appearance, a development I attributed to adults rather than children being my peers. When I met someone I cared about, I usually informed them of this directly. In a similar case I took up an indirect approach that met with better results. Then I switched back again. After a fashion, I surmised that it was the world that was changing, not me.

At first I introduced myself to people without thinking. Then I became more cautious. What benefits could I bring them? What boons, what booty? The uncanny wisdom, the magnificent self-deprecation; how could they possibly interact with me and not grow irrevocably changed for the worse?

Since my parents never divorced, I witnessed the first serious endings to long relationships. Frederique had been dating a guy who worked at a magazine; directly before dumping her he passed along a year's worth of issues in a bound volume.

I worked for various people: Nobel Prize winners, toity fools, moronic news anchors, magnetic visionaries, complete shitheads. All of these flawed people had one thing in common: they had no idea how to blog.

Once I found myself walking across an island near the coast of the Eastern seaboard. It was early morning. The date seemed significant, but I found I could not recall it. Ahead of me, Ellen raised her skirt and let it blow through the mist. I thought of a place we could go, but we never went there.

Soon enough it was explained to me that apparently I liked unavailable people, enjoyed drawing them out the way they'd never be able to do with me. After this process, I grew bored with what they couldn't provide me. This struck me as something of a devil-may-care attitude and I resolved to keep it up no matter how much pain I caused myself.

A movie came out based on my early years called 8 Mile.

Sometimes I will hear from someone I knew in the 00s. (This happens fairly regularly, since this is still the 00s.) Occasionally it will be a person I met in the 90s. I am astonished and not infrequently appalled that they consider the Alex they knew then to be in any way similar to the me that exists now. They are confused. Increasingly, their messages describe events that I can't fully recall. Perhaps I can blame a selective memory, but some of these incidents, as described in their correspondence, sound glorious. My life was so obvious, it would have been such a simple matter to grab it and not let go.

I visited Danish in San Francisco, where he chose for his lodging the top of the highest hill. He seemed happy, if a little restless. His ex-girlfriend drove us around Berkeley. His hair was wild like the mane of a fetching pony. She took some unknown delight in this. Her jokes about American Idol were essentially spot-on. I took pictures of them together.

One of my sociology instructors had served an unhappy term in the Israeli army. He was an impressively ethical man; I loved showing off what an incredible moralist I was. I went over to his house on Thayer Street for Passover and he got me so drunk I fell asleep in some rose bushes. After I told him what had happened, he said, "I knew you were a pussy.”

After a spirited debate, I was awarded the title of most empathetic person on Earth.

I met Molly Lambert in playwriting class. She didn't stop talking for three full minutes before I got a word in. Morgan tried to make out with her on Halloween but was shut down. Danish told me that anyone who went to Harvard-Westlake was bad news. Molly's play was called Bake-Off, and she forced our professor to play a wacky hippy who takes LSD in her staged reading. I was the only one amused by that. I had never made a friend from Los Angeles before.

Whenever I think I'm about to see someone I know on the Williamsburg Bridge, I cover my face with my hands.

I remember talking about Stanley Elkin's teaching methods with my advisor, a woman who had released three similarly brilliant novels. After reading a student's first chapter, he sketched an entire cliched manuscript that would no doubt follow. He did it to show what a predictable hack his disciple was. I listened attentively to my advisor's long blond locks and stroked her Alaskan malamute Tony. She said, "You will find it impossible to believe what all the people you know now will become."

My mother wrote a novel and asked me to read it. In it my father perishes and she's left with my brother and I. We're very affected by Dad's death, but we are able to move on. I returned the novel to her with the typos corrected.

Meeting people unhappier than you are is Darwin's mood corrective. There is always someone who has it worse and is still paying for it. For example, I recall feeling terrible about one of my romantic disappointments. I related the story of the incident to David, who couldn't stop smiling. "Someone loves you," he told me. I never could take him seriously after that.

Once I met a very special woman. My own interest surrounded her every thought. The fact that I was capable of this kind of affection was wildly out-of-character. Unfortunately, she also perceived this and the relationship fell apart quickly thereafter. It is astonishing how much of life is mere accident, however predetermined it appears in hindsight. Much later, she approached me with the kind of maddening reserve you expect from debutantes, a fashion that always signals doom.

My professor of poetry picked me up in an Oldsmobile the color of dogshit. We went to Keith Waldrop's house and watched Cocteau's Orphée with a bunch of other people. His wife had recently left him, and he was drinking too often. When he taught us Spring and All, I didn't believe a single second of it.

"It does no good," I recall explaining to Andrew, "to be both sensitive to others and not tough enough to inure yourself from them." "You sound like a seven year old," he said. "Grow up."

Life spiraled onward, you could never get a month off to just think about stuff. My Jung typology wavered and then settled on INTJ. Women wore overcoats or freshened their makeup on the subway; I worked on Long Island and maintained a serious attitude about things. Whenever someone asked me how they looked, I told them.

In a writing workshop I wrote a story about the close rapport of my parents. Never had I portrayed anything so evidently personal from my own life. There was general agreement from the class that my parents should separate and weren't a great fit together. This seemed to express how I felt about the two sides of my own personality – one incredibly kind and taciturn, and the other imbued with utter James-Dean-esque darkness.

I moved uptown. Mothers became ubiquitous, seniors more so. Once an elderly man and I slept through No Country for Old Men and when we woke up during Tommy Lee Jones' incredibly boring monologue, we both received an identical look from our paramours. Shortly thereafter I departed my relationship. I don't know what he did about his marriage.

Danger stalks me at every turn, intrigue is as familiar as incense. The world sometimes tilts on its axis when viewed from the right perspective. A man isn't born, he is unearthed and then poured into a smaller or larger cup depending on the circumstances. After metaphors collapse, people still fill the streets. That was the end of the aughts.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"The Way I Are (French version)" - Timbaland (mp3)

"The Way I Are" - Timbaland (mp3)

"The Way I Are (Private Tool remix)" - Timbaland (mp3)


Thursday
Dec242009

In Which The House Is A Mess But It's Ours

Material Boy

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Family Man

dir. Brett Ratner

125 minutes

Great directors make bad movies all the time, so why shouldn't bad directors occasionally make a good movie by virtue of simple chance? So it was with Brett Ratner's 2000 effort The Family Man, a masterful Christmas movie jam-packed with every cliché Brett and his casting director could think of.

"I spent all our money on hohos and houses in malaysia"This is not to say that The Family Man is anywhere near perfect. In a genre where Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell's abortion of a movie gets replayed more often than another flat Charlie Brown Christmas special, The Family Man actually has something to say about Jesus' big day. (Christ that kid is such a bummer; he's the male equivalent of the Jersey Shore grenade.)

someone cast this guy in a buddy comedy with the situationThe first problem with The Family Man is that the protagonist is named Jack and his love interest is named Kate. Although Lost had yet to be created, a little foresight would have been appropriate. Likewise with Tom Brady's two sons by different mothers that he inconceivably named Jack and Ben, this name game is downright unsettling. (Just as in Lost, Ben is the one who is half-Brazilian.)

"which super bowl do you think dad played better in?"Originally titled The Luck of the Dreidel, The Family Man isn't the first Christmas movie to be written and directed by Jews, and it damn sure won't be the last. The chosen people generally craft the most moving eulogies for Christmas because they fundamentally understand longing for an event that they will never be able to fully enjoy.

"do you really want to be a hitman for the rest of your life?" "wrong movie"Jack Campbell is portrayed by Nicolas Cage somewhere in between the follically relevant days of Moonstruck and the I-hope-I-don't-get-my-wig-stuck-in-Mount-Rushmore madness of National Treasure. Campbell is a greed obsessed automaton who gave up his one chance at true love when he decided to go to London for business school and leave Kate (Tea Leoni) behind. This was ostensibly the right decision until an angel played by Don Cheadle tells him it's not and magically transports him to a new reality. The magical Bagger Vance-Jar Jar Binks-Yoda African-American character is profoundly embarassing and yet somehow reassuring.

"who do you work for?" "stringer bell, duh"There's a lot of important analysis to be done by either Deleuze or Foucault depending on if one of them is still alive about what all this means, but that analysis will be as little remembered the hackeyed It's A Wonderful Life-esque setup. It's what follows that makes The Family Man more than the sum of its Jews. Jack Campbell is magically transported to an alternate reality where he never visited that sinful financial capital of England. Instead his world has been completely flipped upside down! He lives - gasp - one hour away in New Jersey!

Unlike Jack from Lost, new Jack is a dedicated husband and father to two children...and it turns out it's not all that great to marry your first love. Really wish someone had screened this movie for Tiger Woods. The Family Man gets a lot of mileage about how horrifying suburban living is. For example, it turns out the other Jack Campbell's best friend in suburbia is Jeremy Piven. (That fellow is known for being so country.) For his part, Piven was probably bouncing powder by the baleful during this shoot, because he reprises his entire performance from Grosse Pointe Blank verbatim.

"and then your limo outruns the apocalypse!"Instead of being a high-powered Wall Street executive, Campbell is a car salesman for his father-in-law's dealership. He runs the entire dealership, and from the number of employees and customers we observe, he seems to be doing quite well for himself. Yes, Hollywood's idea of a slumming it is a car salesman who probably takes in seven figures. Considering that by all accounts Cage was chalked up and buying homes in every time zone during this period, we can't blame him for not getting the details right. Had we known future screenings of this movie would be this ironic, The Family Man would have probably deserved an Oscar nomination.

the less money you have, the better sex is because you can't afford birth controlThat's because Ratner gets everything else right. The comic timing is brilliant and the script more than keeps up; Cage's winsome desperation is ideal for this role of a dick we learn to feel empathy for. Jack Campbell tries to dig himself out from his poverty-stricken, two car garage existence so he can give his family all the things he can't when he's selling marked-up foreign automobiles at exorbitant prices. Then, unexpectedly, he starts to enjoy his new life.

Jack wows his real boss in an alternate universe with his heady ideas about the financial industry. This juxtaposition is made all the more enjoyable now that we know that executive would kill for a successful car dealership like former NFL player Brad Benson runs in New Jersey. It's truly an amazing feat for Hollywood to misunderstand the world this badly. But hey, the best movies are based on tweaking the most common fantasies. Campbell's remorseless Howard-Roark style doesn't look like very much fun, but neither does a family you never have enough time to see and a wife who's too tired to fulfill you sexually.

What's unique about The Family Man is that it destroys both fantasies. The message of Grosse Pointe Blank, The Family Man, and virtually every other project Jeremy Piven has appeared in is that too much work makes Jack a dull boy, but also that the work sets you free. Both films deserve to be remade starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris, and both films are ambiguous about what sort of life is actually best. When white males allow stereotypical ethnic traits into their world (anti-Christmas moneylending, African-American mysticism) they learn what will allow them to improve their old world, not survive in a new one.

When Jack Campbell snaps back to the 'real' world, he finds that in his absence Kate also became a financially-obsessed automaton, and she changed her name to Mary Rambin and adjusted her date of birth by ten years. One semester abroad can really change people. He finds her as she's moving her entire business to Paris, and instead of just feeling happy for her, he decides to reruin her life. No wonder Mary is so screwed up.

Christmas is a holiday with flaws. The build-up is extensive, costly, and aesthetically gauche, and the hype never fully pays off. Christmas Eve is all chills and anticipation and Christmas morning is a flat rejoinder to the excitement, like pressing on a soap bubble and watching it pop. We can never enjoy life as much as we'd like to, because it's more important to find what's wrong with our lives and fix it than to take it as it comes.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here. He twitters here.

"My Grey Overcoat" - Peter and the Wolf (mp3)

"The Highway" - Peter and the Wolf (mp3)

"The Apple Tree" - Peter and the Wolf (mp3)