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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 (216)

Thursday
Jun162016

In Which We Search Desperately For The Real Villains

Comfortable Men

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Nice Guys
dir. Shane Black
119 minutes
 

I started to ask myself: who would I be if I didn't live in a world that hated women? I've been unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, but I did realize I've long been mourning this version of myself that never existed. - Jessica Valenti

Earlier this year an employee was fired at Nintendo of America after a group of misogynist messageboard posters targeted her as a perpetrator in the heady crime of making changes to an American release of a Japanese game. (She wasn't responsible for those alterations, not that it matters.) They started "researching" her past and decided to shame her for various opinions she held in her dissertation about the prosecution of sex crimes. Nintendo responded by digging further into the woman's life, uncovering a job she performed in order to supplement the measly income and health insurance she made working for the company. They fired her for this moonlighting, even though it was explicitly allowed in her contract. It was nothing more than an excuse to side with trolls over a talented member of their own company.

The women-haters who brought this all about seem like the real villains of this story. But there are worse ones: men (and sometimes women) who buy into harassment and support the atmosphere it generates. These good-intentioned people — how often we hear them say they love women — have a distinct point where they completely capitulate to pressure of any kind. They are comfortable with the concept of women as long as the women in question are simultaneously making them comfortable. Enter the nice guys.

It is perhaps natural that fathers today want to protect their daughters more than ever. Star of The Nice Guys Holland March (Ryan Gosling) does not particularly subscribe to this point of view. After the death of his wife, he is raising his daughter Holly (Australian actress Angourie Rice) on the wages of a private eye. During her summer off from school, Holly tries to aid her helpless pop on a case where he attempts to determine the whereabouts of a pornographic actress named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).

Holly is almost shot, murdered with a knife, run over by a car and abducted throughout Shane Black's The Nice Guys. At the end of it you would be hard pressed to say that Holland is any kind of a good parent, but you have to give him credit for allowing his daughter to be her own person, albeit a miniaturized version of himself. "I hate you," she tells her dad during one particularly feisty moment, but the rest of the time she is simply upset whenever she is not included in the excitement of his job. 

The rest of the women in The Nice Guys are either evil beasts doing the bidding of men, or whores. Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) appears halfway through the film as a cold-blooded concerned mother. In The Nice Guys, Basinger portrays the head of the Justice Department, a lawyer working for the car manufacturers in order to ensure they are not penalized for defying environmental regulations. She hires the nice guys to find her daughter; instead her daughter is murdered and she does not even get a refund.

The joke Black is making is that there are no nice guys. Exhibit A: the closest Black has ever come to writing an effective woman character is a thirteen-year-old virtually identical to Nancy Drew. Still, you have to give him points for effort. Unlike the producers of the new Ghostbusters, he knows his own limitations.

A particularly wretched article appeared in The New York Times recently, announcing that anyone who thought Paul Feig was less than a complete genius (for his patronizing character of a ghettoized black woman?) is a person who clearly hates women.

Paul Feig is another "nice guy," only he isn't very nice and he can't write women for shit either. I guess some credit goes to him for making an action film with an all-woman cast. The fact that is a cynical cash-in on fan nostalgia and the movie looks completely tone-deaf and unfunny, not to mention borderline racist, is besides the point. This particular beacon of feminism is a man drawing a huge paycheck for making a group of talented women the focal point for a hate campaign while he lurks in the shadows.

Feig's last movie was quite financially successful as well. It spent a solid two hours making fat jokes about Melissa McCarthy — but hey, since she was the star, it was a progressive piece of revolutionary feminism. Actually, Spy was mean-spirited and awful, and anyone involved in its production should be pretty ashamed of the Chuck Lorre-esque bigotry the movie espoused. It may have somehow escaped the notice of those determined to justify everything that this nice guy does, but women have — gasp! — been starring as the lead draws in feature films long before Paul Feig was born.

Maybe it is as Jessica Valenti says in her new memoir, and the whole world hates women. This does not mean, prima facie, that this was always so. Women did rule nations, empires. They accomplished a lot before The Nice Guys ever came onto the scene. Given the title Shane Black gives to his movie, you would have thought there was some larger point at work here about men's relationship to women. Instead The Nice Guys becomes turgidly boring after an entertaining first hour, subsisting mostly on Black's back-and-forth banter. The basic overall message of the film is how difficult it is being a good person.

Russell Crowe has no chemistry with Gosling for some reason, which is how The Nice Guys falls apart. The two men have very little in common besides their occupation and their status as bachelors. Despite the insanely long running time of The Nice Guys, neither ever even meets or approaches a woman in a sexual way. It is as if Black believes that treating a woman as a romantic equal is ultimately too much like objectifying her as a sexual object. Except for very young girls who might be their daughters, Gosling and Crowe's characters are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of adult women.

One scene near the end of the film is particularly disturbing in that regard. Gosling and Crowe wait in the lobby of a courthouse after testifying in front of a grand jury about the machinations of Kim Basinger's corrupt lawyer. She goes over to sit by them and explain her actions and sadness at her daughter Amelia's death. Strangely, the two men cannot even bring themselves to look at her face, that of a grieving mother. Instead Gosling speaks in German, comparing this powerful fallen, woman to Adolf Hitler.

Whether or not there is an active misogyny behind this filmmaking, I don't really know or care. It used to be that Hollywood was where society took steps forward; now film is purely a reactionary medium. Even contrived, white savior stories like Mississippi Burning and Schindler's List did the important work of showing why human beings deserved to be treated as equals. The Nice Guys barely believes that women exist as anything other than children. This horrendous state of affairs really stands out when a B-tier remake of a soulless franchise that was never really much to begin with, directed by a man, becomes a rallying cry. Women actually do make films — it's not just the nice guys.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Friday
Jun032016

In Which On Some Level We Were Happy For Paige

If This Feeling Flows Both Ways

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Moving to Nairobi is the best thing that ever happened to Tatiana Evgenyevna.  Outside of the American embassy, she has the largest office in Kenya. Sure, the guys in her department are a bit weird, but who cares? There are plenty of more worldly men in the foreign service for her to prey upon. What she did to Oleg drove him straight into the arms of the father of the guy with first dibs on Paige Jennings.

Paige's first kiss remains an enjoyable succour. It had been a long time in coming, and the fact that it occurred with a fellow who can drive her around and who is about as unreliable as peanut butter and jelly made it all the sweeter. Her perception has always been that her mother was the stronger, more dominant partner in her parents' relationship. This guiding force marks every step of her relationships with men, for it is only the very strongest people who do not on some level mimic the person who gave them life.

I worry about the impact on Henry. Despite looking like he is in his early twenties, everyone treats Henry like he just got off the ship to America. "Henry, do you want a fucking popsicle!" Philip shouted at one point. It isn't nice to make fun of your son, unless he is more addicted to video games with some really horrid graphics than he should be.

There should be more to Matthew Beeman. He is just so devoid of any content. He seems depressed, honestly, and when you think about it there is only one other individual on the show so deeply unhappy with what fate has brought him. Frank Langella's morbid, historical Gabriel has no woman to warm his bed. He lives in a house that looks like it belongs in World War II era Smolensk and he can't even get decent borscht unless he makes the garish substance himself.

Such maudlin people generally come to a defining decision that their entire lives have been building towards. For Gabriel, it cannot be betraying his country. It can be taking the blame for the people he loves most: namely, Philip and Elizabeth. Now that their vacation is over, it is back to straight murdering. Reviewing all those past murders (Elizabeth doesn't even count her kills) is immaterial, because it would make us realize the hard truth that there is only one hero in the Jennings household, and it recently made out at length with Matthew Beeman.

Paige's invaluable reports on the guy she has been tonguing alarmed her parents, but I was more alarmed by the lack of detail. "His mouth felt like sandpaper and tasted like pop tarts," for example.

Stan's comment that they should tear down the entire FBI building was pretty apt. It appeared his previous conversation with Oleg was the best possible tact to get him to come back with actual, useful information. No word on whether Stan will start exchanging soft kisses with this new Russian turncoat. As Oleg, Costa Ronin is a captivating performer, and the gorgeous hallway scenes with him and Tatiana were delicate and reminiscent of period film.

It is time for something very bad to happen to Oleg. His conversation with gorgeous mother suggested as much, and we have never really seen him the slightest bit uncomfortable, except romantically. It will be fun to see him broken down or followed by Elizabeth and Phillip, and I would expect a new head of the Russian branch of the KGB in Washington as well after Oleg's leaks work their way back home. I guess it also possible this is his way of saving Tatiana from Africa.

Next week's season finale focuses on the capture of scientist William Crandal. Since we know he will never give Philip up since the man is his closest buddy and most intimate friend/father figure, I would expect him to give up Gabriel, who I am spnot sure he ever liked much anyway. The Americans has only two seasons left, and since it doesn't come back until next year, they will want something salacious to get people talking. We always knew Paige's first time would be special.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"How Wonderful" - Young Magic (mp3)


Friday
May132016

In Which They Consider Themselves The Awkward Stepchildren Of The Nuclear Age

Pleasures of the Open Air

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

Next to a nude man in a queen-sized bed, Elizabeth Jennings slightly uncovers herself so that her asshole can experience the routine pleasures of the open air. It is always pleasant to wake up next to someone before they do. Their lives are in your hands, or at least remain perilously close to your hands, for those fleeting moments.

When I was a kid I had a friend who never liked to leave his bed. He did all his homework there. Sometimes he convinced me to sit on it and play the game of Life; other times I requested we do so on a table like human beings. If there is no safe place, then a place must be made safe. I have developed plans to place this sentiment on a bumper sticker and merchandise it on several platforms.

Nothing really changed on the family's vacation except Paige is now working people like a pro and Elizabeth feels moral compunction over some simple blackmail. It was honestly his fault for going up to her apartment in the first place and drinking wine. Then, he demurred at the slightest touch of her hand to his leg - bullshit. He knew why he was up there, he just wanted to seem somewhat reluctant to make them both feel better.

Pastor Fucking Tim can't leave well enough alone. When someone goes out of their way to secure you a great deal on international travel, you do not tell him that his daughter is sad. Tim will likely never come back from this African country, panicking his wife. Then he will show up suddenly with an African bride. Tim's ill-advised trip to Africa reminded me of how little an impact racism or sexism plays in the Cold War.

Despite the fact that Oleg seems to sleep with every single one of his gendered colleagues, nothing is made of this and the elegant, hardscrabble Tatiana seems to be using him for intel. It is still kind of messed up that they are so willing to be with this whimpering sod of a KGB officer. When Oleg finds out, defects to the United States and begins to feed her false intel, this will make Tatiana even more ridiculous. Unless this has already occurred?

Sleeping with other people, or pretending to, is the main intelligence-gathering function for women in the KGB. Just once I would love to see Elizabeth get what she needs by friendzoning some poor security guard. Presumably things are the same on the American side – we will never know since the closest thing to a woman operative is Agent Gaad's wife, who has taken him to Thailand for debriefing. For some, The Day After came and went a long time ago.

Paige's slow descent in agentdom is going better than ever, but it would be fun to see Hans get more screentime on the show as a boy she casually meets at church and brings home to her parents. They could sit on the edge of her bed and listen to records. I doubt she is wanting to talk much about God, but she could tell him all about her parents, and how all their friends are as straight and white as the day is long.

While Elizabeth was babysitting three Korean-American children, she taught them all the ways of her people. Pizza, racquetball and Chevrolets. It is impossible not to become addicted on some level to what is on offer, precisely because of the availability. We get good at everything we do repeatedly, finding all the shortcuts. If Elizabeth were to disappear to another part of the country, leaving all this behind, we sense she could do it without a second thought. Masks become habits.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Brand New Feeling" - Matt Costa (mp3)

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